You can never predict how it all turns out

Funny how things turn out!

After leaving conventional teaching in disgust, after having my own children in school and removing them to home educate, after them graduating to college and Uni and finishing with rather a distasteful view of institutional education, my youngest had an interview for a job in a nursery.

There’s no way she’d consider working in a school environment, but this is one with a difference. It’s one where children are mostly playing – unstructured play at that. There are few toys because the managers want the children to be imaginative and inventive. And they wanted a candidate that wasn’t necessarily qualified in childcare (they’d had those before and weren’t impressed as they didn’t know how to be around children), but one that knew how to play with and inspire children, work on their own initiative and be prepared to be outside in all weathers and get muddy. Charley fitted those criteria perfectly – it almost described her home educated childhood. It certainly described some of her education.

She and I talked about that education on the way to the interview in the hope that she’d remember some of it; what the really important aspects of it were like choice, respect, diversity, experience, relevance and building confidence, all of which are so important, many of which were missing from her Uni experience! But she was really too nervous to take it in so I stopped all that and told her she should just be the honest, intelligent, articulate person she is.

It’s all we ever can be really – be ourselves. No good pretending to be something different. No good trying to fit other people’s agenda – parent’s, schools’, social media. No good avoiding truth about ourselves, our skills, our strengths and weaknesses; best to work with them. Best to be true to yourself, however much you know or don’t know. Just be strong, face up, be who we are best at and let others be as they will be. And be brave.

On the way home I tried not to grill her about the questions. Inevitably her home education was discussed.

“They had the impression that home education meant sitting at home on your own with a workbook in front of you” she told me. “But I told them it’s not like that at all. I told them a little bit about what we did and they said it was nice to meet a home educated person.”

“Well, you’ve changed their mind about Home Ed, broken through the same old myths,” I said. “Whatever the outcome, you’ve made a difference today!”

We travelled quiet. She was hoping. I was thinking how ironic it would be for things to come full circle and she to end up working with children. It’s never what she intended. But you never know how things are going to work out. You have to be flexible and adaptable, think for yourself and create your own life plan rather than staying in conventional tramlines and home education certainly prepares you well for that.

Youngsters today are facing enormous challenges in a time of too many employees for far too few jobs. They’ll certainly have to be adaptable, resourceful and resistant to the rejections they face until their turn comes along, try and keep their personal self esteem intact, confront disappointments and be persistent and courageous. However they’re educated, those are the qualities we need to nurture.

Luckily it was Charley’s turn this time and she is thrilled. They are thrilled to have her they said.

Ironically, we’d discussed previously whether it was even worth applying since she didn’t hold those relevant qualifications. Good job we didn’t stay within those tramlines of thinking for you never know how things are going to turn out!

Are you walking unconsciously through life and teaching your kids the same?

Gone walking!

Gone walking!

I got up from the computer and wandered outside. I was immediately aware of the soft caress of breeze and birdsong. The swish of stems and leaves sang with them and I inhaled the scent of fresh mown grass with every breath.

I just stood and absorbed it for a while. A much better break than going on Facebook! And part of the practice of being mindful which I’ve been trying to invest in after reading about it recently.

My first thoughts about mindfulness were; we certainly have to be mindful as parents. Mindful of what we’re doing, how we behave towards our kids, what messages we might be giving them through our attitudes and responses to life and to them, what kind of people we might be steering them towards being – by how we’re being!

But then I thought; maybe that’s also a reason to be mindful for ourselves. For our own restorative well being, so we can be supportive and calm people as well as parents!

Practising mindfulness is just practising consciousness, in ourselves, of ourselves, so that we keep ourselves centred and strong and not knocked about by outer things – like Facebook!

Usually once during the day I go out and walk. This is to stretch my limbs as much as the dog’s. But I’ve noticed, since reading about mindfulness, how although my body’s taking a break my mind isn’t.

I’m charging along, usually churning over some concern and missing the time to give my mind a rest. What I thought was an opportunity for mindfulness had become as stressful as sitting at the computer. Body was out there – brain was still at work.

How often have you done that?

I’m going to try and change that as I practice mindfulness more consciously for if it isn’t conscious – then it’s not mindfulness. And stop filling moments that could be song filled and soft with raging, tossing warfare between issues all vying for attention. Issues need attention, but to be resolved wisely, we need to put them aside sometimes too.

Instead, I’ll allow concerns that inevitably muscle in to flow on through with the breeze, concentrate on what my body and senses are doing and receiving, refreshing my mind. Which is, after all, what I was walking for in the first place.

So many of us walk unconsciously through life, not only missing half of it and then wondering when life went and stress came, but also inadvertently teaching our kids to do the same. And now our kids are becoming so stressed that schools are finding they need to make time for this practice. How bizarre is that!

Surely the practice of mindful, conscious living should come from home?

Better get started! A holiday weekend the perfect time!

Educating Outside School

Just in case you need something to read while I’m not here so much why not check out the excellent Education Outside School magazine.

It’s full of ideas and activities for times not at school and a valuable resource for all those families thinking of staying that way and home educating, or those doing so already! The community grows all the time, especially at this time of year when school term looms and doesn’t look that attractive!

You can read some back copies for free to get a flavour. And look out for the new edition coming soon.

Another good place to get a feel of what it’s like to home educate for real, if you’re thinking about it, is the family blogs – also great for tips, ideas and activities. (See the page above)

And if you want a warm easy story for these final summer days, try ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ (see page for an exert) – you’ll not get through without tissues I’m told – some for tears of laughter!

More from me soon…..

Rain and perfect lifestyles

rain and sun july14 004There’s a lake in the garden that shouldn’t be there. Goodness – did it rain!

It was like driving through walls of wet. The lanes were streams and the garden and fields awash. The gulls are floating round the cabbage crops.

And there was me wanting a few drops to water the parched soil. The torrents were even too much for me to go out in.

I usually like walking in the rain. There’s a shared sense of community with others huddled under hoods, uniting in the challenge you all face; to dodge the raindrops. And lovely scents and sights, or droplets on stems that remind you it doesn’t have to be a perfect day to be enjoyed.

It’s easy to get obsessed with perfect. The media, especially advertising, barrages us with images of perfect skin, perfect bodies, perfect germ-free cleanliness, perfect homes and cars, and perfect kids, it can make us feel inadequate if we’re not careful to guard against this insidious conditioning.

It can also make us think perfect is always the best to strive for – but is it?

Maybe there’s something else to strive for; the wisdom to know and appreciate yourself for who you are even without being perfect. Human is better than perfect surely?

Our bodies, skin, lifestyles will never be the media’s idea of perfect. But they serve us just as well, don’t they? And it’s how well you feel and how well they serve you, how good life is that matters most.

Anyway, who wants kids so inhibited by perfection (you’ve been in those homes haven’t you?) that they, and you, are unable to have relaxed and happy times.

We strive for certain goals, obviously. We strive to maintain certain codes too; codes of consideration for others, kindness, responsibility, etc.

But to be a wonderful person you do not have to be perfect. To raise wonderful young people does not require perfect parenting. And to have caring, loving children who are great to be around is far more valuable than anyone else’s idea of perfect!

All life has its flaws and raindrops. They pass by, floods recede, the garden will flourish again.

We do not need it not to rain for life to be good just as it is.

A top up of a different kind

rain and sun july14 006

Lie on your back and watch the patterns of the day

August is singing at me. It’s causing me trouble staying in at the computer.

It heralds the dawn with purring doves and chinks of sunshine before I really want to be awake. But once I’m aware of it I’m far too stirred to stay shuteye.

It blossoms into a humming day. The morning dew dries, turns dripping greens to dusky yellows and the day shines right up until clear violet sunsets suggest a repeat performance tomorrow. All with birdsong and summer buzzing.

And the air – yummmmm – it’s luscious with the scent of trimmed lawns and cornfields, flowers, warm meadows and the odd whiff of cow. When it showers there’s a new fresh flavour of wet on dry land. Delicious! Sometimes I’m just standing drinking it in.

For sometimes, you just need some time with no agenda, to top you up after life expenditure. The kids do too.

And August is perfect for it.

Time for a book or game outside, a play in stream, pond, fountain or sea, a picnic in a breezy green park – sanctuary from arid pavements. Or simply time to lie on your backs under a tree and watch the patterns against the sky.

Just like storing a harvest of food for leaner months it stores up a harvest of outdoors and sunshine; therapy for winter. I’ll be devoting some time to the relish of it, so excuse me if I go AWOL.

And if you see someone standing still and breathing deep it might be me. Don’t think it strange; just getting the summer top-up that each and every one of us needs.

Don’t forget to reap yours!

Have you got your children back?

So much to learn out of school

So much to learn out of school

It was during the school holidays that we got our children back! I don’t just mean their physical presence, I mean their personalities.

It was when we noticed they were suddenly the happy, smiley, easy-going and cooperative little people we’d known pre-school. Those people who disappeared in school term times and were replaced by fraught, difficult and chewed up little bundles of frustration, and sometimes even aggression, that we didn’t recognise.

I know we all change a little during holidays. Of course we’re more relaxed and have work pressures taken off. But the effect on our children’s personalities in school was more fundamental than this and it was a result of them finding the whole school package distasteful; the unnecessary and rigid control, the dull learning activities, pressure from other not-so-nice children and clear disrespect from some of the adults. Not something they’d been used to.

And why should they get used to it? If we suffered this in work we’d be able to do things about it. We could make ourselves heard, rather than put up with abuse or disrespect. We have opportunities to make choices. We can usually implement changes, even changing jobs if necessary.

Children are stuck. And in many cases are not even listened to. When they are listened to – usually by some adult paying lip service but quite clearly having their own agenda of making the child fit – it’s rare anything changes things for the better.

If I was in that position I wouldn’t want to carry on going to school either.

Yet many people just accept the school environment as the ‘normal’ place for children to be. They think it’s okay for children to put up with unpleasantness, thinking wrongly that it’s something ‘they have to get used to’. And some people even seem to think that we don’t have to listen to, or take into account their unhappiness.

I think we do. And I also think that’s it’s probably fairly intelligent of children to recognise that school is not always the best place for them. They are capable of making judgements and are capable of reassessing them as they grow.

What is also certain is that school is not the only place for education. Children can thrive, achieve and learn outside school too. There’s so much to discover; about the world, about themselves. And for increasing numbers of parents school is the last place they would want their children to do that.

The more home education is known about and the more home educating families that people meet, the more confident parents are about supporting their children and choosing alternative to school.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the child who doesn’t want to go to school. There is something more wrong in the adult community believing that school works for everyone.

A child who does not want to go to school has their reasons. It’s not that they don’t want to learn. Or they’re weak or shy or lazy. It just means that the climate in which they’ve been forced to do it is not good enough. And sometimes it’s so unsuitable it changes their personality.

Kids can make decisions about what’s good enough as well as adults!

That’s one of the major reasons we home educated ours, before school not only changed them into people we didn’t want them to be, but also put them off learning for good.

What are the five best things to teach your children over the holidays?

Will you be teaching yours over the holidays? Whether they go to school or you home educate, will you still be keeping their noses to the educational grindstone?

I hope you won’t be continually forcing academics on them. For they do need other things as well and there’s nothing like overkill to completely put a person off learning.

But have no doubt you will still be ‘teaching’ whatever you’re doing. Because parenting in itself is teaching. And parents affect education as much as teachers do, by the way we raise our children to be interested in the world, observe and be curious about it, talk and interact with it.

This is the real education – the academic bit is just – well – academic! And not a complete education in itself. No point in being able to do sums on paper but have no idea how to budget or save your pocket money!

So what you do as parents over the holiday, all the things you do at home and out of it, all the things they see you do, are the things that broaden your child’s curriculum of life and impact on those academics when they get down to them. And we will be ‘teaching’ them most of it through our own example.

So I was trying to identify the best things we can pass on to our youngsters as we raise them? Things that are just as useful if not more than writing and maths. So these are the things I would hope to ‘teach’ them:

  • To be confident and think of themselves well; as loving caring people important in themselves and how they contribute, not just rate themselves through the things they might be measured by (like grades).
  • To understand how to look after themselves well. To encourage them to build a healthy lifestyle that keeps them fit as in how much they move or don’t, what they eat and don’t, and understanding of what nurtures their general emotional and mental wellbeing as well as the physical.
  • To be happy in their own company as well as the company of others, as it is in time for yourself that you begin to understand yourself and what feels right for you as well as through the perspective others bring.
  • To achieve, resolve and create things for themselves rather than always relying on passive or pre-packaged entertainment or solutions that can fill in time and lives, often letting it slip by unnoticed and eventually unfulfilled.
  • To understand that independent and informed choice fulfils us far more than accepting institutions and mainstreams and trends (and Facebook is an institution as much as school is!) and that we need to make conscious decisions about what we think, what we do and how we behave

What can you add to my list? It’d be lovely to have your thoughts below!