Meaningless crap!

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perfect for decoration

Apologies for the title but I can’t think of anything else to call it.

It came upon me when I was standing writing this first draft in a damp notebook out in the dusky field, with dripping stems and little creatures settling into night. And I haven’t managed to refine it – the title sums it up too well.

You see, I’ve had a couple of excursions to city lately and it’s a bit of a shock!

I love the city and the contrast of it and had some shopping to do towards Christmas. But I get a bit overwhelmed with the crowds and the crush after this rural solitude, especially as we visited a huge shopping outlet which I would normally recoil from in terror. But I was even more overwhelmed than normal.

Actually, I came away appalled.

It was the amount that did it! The mountains of totally meaningless crap that people are persuaded to buy for those who have everything they need anyway. Most of it disposable meaningless crap that has no doubt cost the planet in resources to produce and will doubly cost the planet when it ends up in landfill after Christmas.

The pointlessness of it! The vulgarity of the amount!

Could we not all take a serious moment to consider this? To consider the cost earth-wise of all this dustbin bound paraphernalia? Of yet another present for a child who probably is inundated with presents to the point of boredom, another ornament or plastic trash for the Christmas house already creaking under the strain?

The earth will certainly be creaking.

More does not mean better. But judging by the amount we buy at Christmas this seems to be the ethos we’re upholding and the lesson we’re teaching our children.

Don’t get me wrong; I like buying gifts – a few. I also like making them, purchasing them second hand, or finding something that’s valued. And I suppose I have my share of meaningless crap too – just not that much – the decoration, wrapping and gifts have been thoughtfully created or reused. Nature has a hand in it too.

But couldn’t we create a more meaningful way of gift giving and enjoying Christmas with loved ones than one which is charged with commercialism, materialism and trashes the planet far worse than the living room floor is trashed  after present opening?

What kind of lies is this telling our kids? That the more we buy the better Christmas is? That the more presents we get the more people love us? That waste or pollution doesn’t matter at Christmas and yet another set of lights or disposables is okay?

I don’t think so.

As the sun sinks itself into its rosy bed for the night and my nose and finger ends start to chill I ponder this. I ponder ways of making Christmas more meaningful than materialistic. With less cost to the purse and the planet. Less commercial hype for the children. And more imbued with a sense of togetherness than a sense of buying.

Meaningful lives cannot be bought. They are made. Meaningful celebrations are the same. And we certainly need to think about the meaning in planetary terms.

The 29th is Buy Nothing Day (check it out) – we need to do it for far more than a day!

Our home education journey by Julia Pollard

I’m thrilled to be handing this post over to Julia from Classroom Free to tell us her story – an inspirational read:


“In March 2015 we will be celebrating twelve years of home-educating. Twelve years! Other than my marriage and being a mama, it’s the longest that I’ve stuck with anything – and if I’m honest, I’m more than a little surprised.

You see, I was such a ‘mainstream’ mama. I was such a yes sir mama. I was such a follow the rules and do as I am told mama, don’t question authority and cause a fuss mama.

At 28 years of age, I was doing what was expected and raising two children of school age. We had done the usual mother and toddler groups, gone on to nursery school, and then handed over the reins to primary. My life was a whirl of daily school-runs, birthday invitations, sleep-over arrangements, and avoiding school gate gossip. I thought that it would be that way for many years to come. I was wrong.

At the tender age of 4 years old, Joseph started to struggle. He was diagnosed with speech dyspraxia, and he had to wear an eye patch to correct a lazy eye – along with glasses. He became an easy target for ‘bullies’ – although that seems like a harsh word to use when referring to primary aged children. Joseph was bringing broken pieces of his glasses home with him several times a week. He became incredibly withdrawn and would refuse to enter in any sort of conversation, instead he preferred to retreat to his bedroom and shut the door.

The change in such a short time was incredible. He went from being a happy-go-lucky, always laughing and smiling, running to get to school early child, to becoming sullen and quiet. His behaviour regressed drastically, so much so that he wouldn’t get dressed or feed himself. He was physically sick during the morning walks to school and complained of stomach pains daily.

He lost his joy.

He lost that dazzling sparkle from his eyes.

He lost his smile.

I found my pain.

I didn’t know what to do. I talked to his teacher, his head teacher, the dinner ladies. I started volunteering to help in class, I assisted with reading and swimming lessons. I was willing to try anything I could in order to observe and see for myself what was going on. I needed answers. Just what was happening to my child, what was he going through? Any reference to bullying was strongly denied by the school and instead our own family life was brought into question. Were there problems at home? Any changes in circumstances? Were there problems within our marriage? It could only be our fault.

I searched the internet for help, looking for advice on school phobia and bullying. I was lost. I was losing my child and I didn’t know what to do about it. Joseph wouldn’t readily speak. He would hardly eat. He wouldn’t play games or do things that he had previously loved. People were telling me that he was just being naughty, that Joseph just didn’t want to go to school, but I knew that wasn’t the case.

I was scared.

Joseph turned five.

How long could I let it go on for before I lost him – my beautiful happy, funny and smiley boy, forever?

Those online searches came up with a site called Education Otherwise (EO). I had never heard of home-education before and didn’t know that there was an alternative to the school system. When I was struggling with bullying myself during my secondary school days, my mother told me that it was law that I attended school. All children had to go or their parents would be imprisoned. I believed her and had no reason not to. I had never heard of anyone home-educating in the UK.

The feeling of relief that washed over me as I began reading about home-education on the EO site was absolutely immense. I can’t begin to put it into words. There was actually something that I could do to help my son. There was a legal alternative to school. Wow!  That felt huge.

I discussed things with my husband and he too felt relief. It felt like at last there was light at the end of a very dark tunnel. We talked and talked, researched and researched some more, not wanting to just jump at what seemed like the ‘easy’ option. This was a child’s education we were toying with, we had to get it right. We talked about changing schools, but figured that the issues Joe was experiencing could easily happen anywhere – he would still be wearing his patch for some time to come, he would still struggle with his speech, he would still wear glasses. Could we risk that?

Within the week we had sent in the de-registration letter – not just for Joseph but for his older sister too. Chelsea was then 7 and although was seemingly doing ok at school we had numerous little niggles. We felt that we would work better as a family if we home-educated them both. Our initial thoughts were that we could home-educate for just 6 months to a year to build up lost confidence, develop self-esteem, and work on the speech issues. We wanted to give Joseph every chance of fitting back into the system.

For Chelsea we felt that we could tailor her education to suit her needs better than a teacher with a class full of students could ever do. We found out that Chelsea was struggling desperately with maths work but excelled in literacy. We knew that Chelsea was frustrated at the time restraints of lessons. She often wanted to work for longer on her stories and poems, and found that she didn’t get the help she needed in order to understand numeracy. As she was deemed as a ‘good girl’ she would often be left waiting with her hand up throughout the lesson whilst the teacher saw to the more disruptive members of the class.    At home we could offer Chelsea the help and time she required.

It was very much a temporary solution to a difficult problem. I really didn’t think that I was clever enough to teach my children long term.

At first we tried to do ‘school at home’. I worked out lesson plans, timetables, pencilled in breaks and lunch times – the lot.  Disaster! Our lessons would always overrun as the children became enthused on a topic, or a lesson would lead on to another topic and go off in another direction entirely. I became totally disheartened by it. All that effort planning our days was going to waste and I was starting to feel like a failure. I believed that children needed such structure, planning and discipline in order to learn. I thought that they needed to sit at desks with pens, paper, and textbooks being told what to learn and when. Isn’t that why schools are organised in such a way?

Of course, I was very wrong.

I started reading all I could about child development, learning styles and teaching methods. I explored books written by the likes of John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. I became more relaxed and less in need of structure. I dropped the idea of having to ‘teach’ things and stopped myself from searching for an educational value in everything. I began to realise the value of living a happy life and the way we are always constantly learning. I became less focused on educating my children and more focussed on creating happy children. I sought to offer pressure free childhoods and realised that a love of learning can easily be a by-product of such. I didn’t have to force feed information in order for my children to learn.

I read blogs written by experienced home-educators, and connected with families online. I learnt such a lot and we developed our own routine. We found out what worked for us as a family. I noted that when my children were interested in something they developed a real passion to find out all they could about it. I also discovered that when my children knew they had a reason for knowing something, when it was felt as being relevant to them, they would find a way of learning it. An example I can give is Joseph with his reading. He left school unable to read anything other than his name – they had tried to teach him phonetically and with his speech and pronunciation issues that wouldn’t work for him at all. When he left school he felt like he needed to read like his school-going peers did. I felt under pressure to prove that I could ‘teach’ my children and I was going to be a good home-educating mama. If I could teach Joseph to read it would prove that, right?

Oh how we struggled. There were tears and tantrums on both sides. He was frustrated that he couldn’t read, I was frustrated that he would seemingly know a word one day but forget it the next. We both felt like failures. Then I said enough is enough. We don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I just needed to do what was right for my boy.  So, I announced that we were stopping the reading lessons. No more learn to read workbooks, printed worksheets, or boring simplified reading schemes. Instead we were just going to enjoy reading real books.

We started reading chapter books as a family, snuggled up under blankets on the sofa. I read aloud as the children played with their Lego bricks or train track. Sometimes Chelsea would take over the reading.  At the age of 8 Joseph asked if I could help him to read. Why? Because he wanted to read the instructions for his Playstation games. We started sitting and reading together with purpose and within a week he was a fluent reader. He had discovered a need to read, developed a will to read and thus began to read – even with his dyspraxia issues. It all clicked into place for him.

It took just over a year away from the school environment to help Joseph feel confident enough to leave my side when we were out. I allowed him to cling to me without frustration or pressure, to just be. We had weekly speech therapy sessions at first, which then dropped to fortnightly, then monthly.  The speech therapist was so patient. She said that it was the worst case of school phobia and lack of confidence in a child that she had ever seen in all her years of practice. I was devastated. He hadn’t always been this way.

A year into our home-educating journey and I passed my driving test. This opened up a whole new world of group meetings and exploration. At first I had my boy holding my skirt, but over time he trusted that I would be there for him always and he would go off and play. Joseph made friends easily and more importantly he was accepted.

The change in him was incredible. His confidence grew and he became the joker of the pack again. The glint returned in his eyes and I knew I had my son back.

The speech therapy became less regular. The therapist could see the progress being made at home and saw no need to keep seeing us, she just continued to provide us with support if we needed it. On the day that Joseph was signed off from the sessions, we were told that it was because we home-educated. I quote; “I am of no doubt that if Joe was in the school system, I wouldn’t be signing him off today.”

I was so proud. It really felt as if we had done the absolute right thing. It hadn’t always been an easy ride. Relatives disapproved of our actions and were often vocal in telling us so. I did question myself; was I ruining my children’s future? Was my mum right when she said that Chelsea would only ever be good enough to stack shelves in a supermarket (not that there is anything wrong with that – if my kids were happy and stacked shelves, I’d be happy!).

Now, with hindsight, I know that home-educating was the absolute right path for us to take. Eleven years into the journey, it is still the absolute right road for us to be on. I now have six children and the youngest four have never set foot within the school system. They are vibrant and energetic, they are curious and questioning, with a thirst for knowledge and a strong will to learn. They are amazing. As a family unit we are so close. The children are like best friends, and I have an amazing relationship with all, including the teens. Chelsea is nearly 19 now and studying Psychology, Sociology, and English Literature at college in order to gain a place at University next year.  She wants to study Psychology and earn a degree. Joseph at 16 is still home-educated and happy. He has a great interest in Politics, Journalism, and History and is often found to be reading up on one of these subjects or doing a project. He is under no pressure to decide on his future path just yet, although he is researching college opportunities for himself at the moment.

There are days when I wonder what life would be like for us now if we hadn’t found an alternative to the system, and to be honest it isn’t something I like to ponder on too much. I wonder just how much damage would have been done to Joseph over the years and how he would have coped with it – if indeed he would have. I shudder when I look back and remember the hurt and sadness in his eyes and am so glad that we overcame all we did and Joseph is where he is at now. I know that my own life would be very different. Perhaps I would be travelling along the 9 to 5 work path by now, and I wouldn’t have met any of the amazing people I have – both online and in real. Home-education isn’t just an educational choice, it’s a family lifestyle one.

I know that I have home-education to thank for so much and I will always be grateful to those that have fought over the years in order to afford us the right to such freedom.” Julia Pollard

It’s never all plain sailing!

I’m not a sailor so I don’t know why I’m using this analogy! Except my brother is and having listened to stories of his sailing adventures with his family, both local and world wide, I suddenly see how pertinent the cliché about plain sailing is to home education. And parenting come to that.

Whilst raising awareness of home education I obviously want to champion the wonderful advantages, the exciting diversity of the approach, the successful way in which children can learn without school and what a delightful way it is to raise and educate children.

But despite that wonder and delight for the most part, it wouldn’t be true to maintain it is plain sailing all the time; there are some rough waters to negotiate.

This is a little about those:

Sometimes the going is choppy. The sea of family life gets whipped up with concerns and conflicts that, like a windy day in a boat, need negotiating in a different way. Home education doesn’t always proceed in a unwavering, pre-determined journey on smooth water. And that’s okay, because choppy seas do calm down when the wind drops. Steer as best you can through the choppy times and don’t worry or blame yourself for them. Expect choppy at times – nothing is always smoothly perfect.

So you won’t always be proceeding in a straight line through your child’s education. Like zigzagging a sail boat to make the best of the wind you have to do the same with home education. Children don’t develop in straight lines. Neither will they learn and progress in straight lines. Sometimes you will need to go about things in a different way to achieve. If one approach isn’t working, try another. If it’s just not working at all that day, drop anchor and wait for a better learning climate when emotions have subsided.

Neither does education progress at the same speed or gradient like on charts professionals try and make us believe. Sometimes it surges forward, the children are motivated and fired up like they’ve got wind in their sails. Other times they’re completely becalmed and plateau for a while. That’s okay. School kids are the same. Be patient – they’ll pick up again. (Read this blog for comfort).

You don’t get to know how to home educate just from books. Like sailing a boat or driving a car no amount of theory will make you good at it before you start because doing it is what will make it work well for you. To observe and learn from others is enormously valuable, but it is through your own home education practices (and mistakes) that you will begin to see what works for your child, for you as a parent, in your household, with your routines. Everyone is different, every child is different, just as my brother tells me each boat handles differently. You have to live it to get the hang of it.

There will be days you feel you’re sinking. This is normal for everyone. They say that you’re not a true sailor until you’ve got wet. Actually, it’s not getting wet that matters, it’s how you learn and become a better sailor for it. The same is true with home educating. Bad days are normal. After all, teachers in schools have bad days and poor teaching is the result. We are all human. We all have to overcome bad days. Even if you’re having a bad day and you can’t give any more to your children, they can amuse themselves and they will be learning something. You’ll bob up to the surface again. And how you deal with your bad days will be teaching your children how to deal with theirs – such a valuable life skill. (A post for those sinking days)

Once you’ve got going you’ll be able to change direction. As with a boat which you cannot turn it if it’s not moving, once you’re into your home education process you will be able to see where and when to make changes, go in another direction, or try something new. So don’t dabble on the edge, get stuck into your home education and see where it takes you. You’ll find your direction better as you do it and see what works. This direction will change regularly as you progress and as your children develop and mature.

So home education is definitely not all plain sailing. But the comforting thing is; no family life is whatever route you choose.

However, most of the time it is a wonderfully exhilarating and inspiring experience, possibly made all the more exciting by those choppy days!

Memories for your loved ones

autumn14 007You know the time of day when the busyness ends; when you get in, put shopping away, make supper, eat supper, tuck children in bed and, duties done, you finally sink down onto the sofa with a big contented sigh?

Well, I always think that’s exactly what the earth must be doing right now.

It’s settling itself into the soft shoulders of the season its bounteous duties done. It’s drawing its resources back into the ground to nurture and enrich it for next year. It’s laying low whilst autumnal gales race and roar through stems, ripping off the last of the leaves and heaving down those branches not strong enough to bear another growing season. The animals and birds hunker down in the earth’s embrace, managing to survive on the minimum of nourishment that remains around them and sleep it out until it’s worth going out again.

Quite frankly, I sometimes feel like doing the same.

But eager for exercise and light, and keen to see what’s afoot in the changing tides of landscape, I go out.

Sometimes it’s unimaginably still and calm and quiet, maybe with just the faintest of distant ploughing noise, or ethereally misty when the silence is only punctuated by the robin’s shrill melodious solo.

Other times the elements slap me round the ears, pour tears down my face and I huddle by the hedgerow like the winter blackbirds before returning to that settee to watch the Blue tits from behind the comfort of the window. They cling to the rocking feeder and sometimes pop into the bird box for shelter too.

And although we bemoan the drawing in of the dark at this time of the year, the elements still give us something spectacular.

I watched many an autumn sunset fall over city rooftops as a child. Now I get to watch autumn’s most majestic finales across the uninterrupted scape of sky that this fen land offers. I get the light from horizon to horizon. And if we go to the marsh or the estuary we get it doubled as it reflects in the water.

The sunsets at this time of the year are the most spectacular, igniting the sky far better than any bonfire. We watch until dark, silently sharing with grown up kids now too mesmerised to speak. Silhouettes of birds go out to river for the night. Pheasants chuckle from the dark land side. And hares scuttle across the path of the headlights as we hurry home again and hand the night time land back to them.

So despite the desire to hunker down indoors, get out and observe the passing of a season. Seek and share a sunset with your loved ones, however little or large they are; they’ll always remember.

And never be too busy as a parent to give some time to making them those memories!

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How a parent helped her child through school by knowing how home education works

Messages from readers are such a joy to receive – most of them anyway!

I had another recently from a parent telling me how useful my posts were in helping them keep a balanced view of their child’s education.

The interesting thing was that it came from a parent with a child in school; the posts about home education helped keep schooling in perspective too.

One of my best friends was delighted to hear this – she’s been telling me the same thing for years; how we helped her see education a bit differently and consequently support her child in school. So her words have been endorsed – she had the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’ when I rang her today!

She had a dyslexic child who had the classic labels; ‘lazy’ ‘thick’ daubed onto him in class. But she had me in her other ear saying that they were wrong. Hers was a bright child who was just not having his learning needs met by a system which disregards individuals (and very often dyslexics), clumps everybody together within a narrow framework of measurement then, when the obvious happens and some don’t achieve, say it’s all the kids’ fault.

It’s not, but she, like most parents, assumed all teachers and schools knew what they were about.

Sadly, not always, they also have agendas other than the needs of an individual child. I’ve worked in them – that’s how I know – and that’s one of the things I told her.

I also know that there’s no magic training that makes a person a good teacher, no magic technique for teaching that makes teachers recognise children’s needs more intuitively than many parents, and most teachers have no training in dealing with children with special needs anyway.

If you’ve got a child who fits happily within the very narrow criteria schools use for measuring success, you’re very lucky.

Most children don’t actually fit, but that doesn’t mean they ‘fail’ either; instead they are failed by this system.

Anyway, thanks to her faith in her child, her intuition (and my words, she says) she enabled him to succeed against awful odds, go onto Uni and he’s now started his first job. So I asked her what were some of the things she did as a result of our conversations and her observation of our home education that supported them through the many challenges they faced within the school system.

These are some of the points she mentioned, which we’d talked about when we were homeschooling:

  • Stay on the side of the child (particularly when the child feels the school is not), listen to them, believe in them, rather than unquestioningly believing what the school wants you to believe.
  • Remain focussed on the needs of your child. Not on the needs of the institution. Basically we should remember that the school is there to serve the education of your child – your child is not there to serve the school! Challenge them!
  • Understand that children take different amounts of time to learn something, gain skills, to develop and mature. This is quite normal and they are not abnormal if they don’t fit into a prescribed and generalised timeframe. Just because a child hasn’t learnt something when the curriculum says they should, does not mean they’ll never learn it, or that they’re failures, so don’t panic or worry or pressurise. Try and keep it lightweight and be patient.
  • Listen to your guts and your intuition and your child. If you sense something is wrong then it probably is.
  • Don’t always assume that the school and the teachers are right, are professional, or are to be unwaveringly respected. We are trained in obedience to these institutions (banks, schools, health care centres spring to mind). That’s how celebs got away with abuse – no one could believe that these icons weren’t right or good. Basically we know and respect when someone’s doing a good job – and when they’re not. All professionals have to earn respect by their continued integrity and respectful behaviour. Question them if it’s not.

Home educators are told that they have to by law provide an education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. I often wonder just how many schools really do that!

Not doing tidy!

I’ve had a fabulous Sunday. sundaygardensundown 001

I was outside from breakfast till sundown thanks to a jewel of an autumn day. Not to mention a dashing set of thermals!

The garden needed a tidy. Well – that’s not strictly true. Tidy is not something I do much, either in the house or out.

In the house I don’t do tidy because we need things around to inspire and stimulate. I found this out when home educating, when the children were far more engaged and busy when there was an array of projects, constructions, toys, creations and craft stuff, left about to stimulate them into action. Very useful when the tendency is for them to lay glossy eyed in front of a screen and be entertained. That’s useful too, at times, but they need to be building alternative skills too and nothing like a bit of inventing or creating to get their brains going and practical skills improving.

Little hands just can’t resist when there’s bricks asking to be built, sticky bits asking to be stuck and something to be experimented with. A tidy house with young children in it is not good.

Mine doesn’t have young children in it any more so I leave stuff around to stimulate myself – good excuse that – have you tried it?

And a tidy garden is not much good either. Not only for the children – they love den making with all sorts of junk you’d rather wasn’t out there, and mine was obsessed with digging child sized holes, so the garden never looked that great.

But now I still don’t tidy because under those piles of shabby leaves and rotting logs there is shelter for all the creatures who need it to survive the winter weather, who need rottings to eat and things to hide under. So I leave the garden untidy with autumn fallings to protect and shelter any wildlife that wants to over winter with us.

But, rather than tidy, I had to do some cutting back. This is so we don’t get drenched with overhanging shrubs as we go out the gate, or have our eyes gouged by lashing rose stems that have quadrupled in length over summer, which I can’t see as I go out to the compost heap in the dark and forget to duck.

So this has been my delight today; to be out there. Hard work it may have been – there was an awful lot of it when I looked – but happy-making being outside with nature. And now I can walk about unlashed and keep upright too, as I removed a few of the slippery leaves that slide my feet from under me when I’m least expecting it.

Then, when my arms got too tired to do any more, I shuffled off out the garden at sundown towards the marshland where I get the final sun-shafts right down to the last remaining minute, as there’s nothing manmade out there to obstruct its descent to horizon. The wild geese keep me company and finally an owl as I turn homeward in the dark.

And joy; I pass down paths without any scarring to the face and come inside to see what the untidy house has to offer for the evening!

Nothing but nature to obscure its descent

Nothing but nature to obscure its descent

Peculiar seasons of the soul

How peculiar the season is this year! peculiar autumn14 012

We’ve had August temperatures in October when it’s been warm enough at times for me to sit on the step outside with a lunchtime cuppa.

We’ve had the rich scent of a spring flowering shrub, flowering now despite the fact it’s not spring. And that’s mingled with the perfume of late roses. I’ve collected one for the table – it’s alongside the Christmas cactus, also deciding to flower out of sync with the season.

And I’ve just discovered the stems of a miniature daffodil rising up beside a pot of viola and nasturtiums still surviving despite the first frost.

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Daffodils shooting up already!

Very peculiar!

Although we like to think we can, there’s just no predicting nature.

There is no predicting our own nature either!

I find my own seasons come and go just like nature’s, flushing me through with emotions either blossoming or bleak, bounteous or barren. And our children are just the same. You can almost see the changes in their moods flash across their lovely faces like clouds on a blue sky. It all gets a bit difficult to manage sometimes.

So this is to reassure you, especially if you’re going through a particularly challenging season with the little ones right now, that there is one thing that is comfortingly constant through all this unpredictability; things always change.

Children and nature. Seasons and souls.

Whatever is feeling difficult now, won’t remain so. However peculiar their moods and emotions are they’ll pass; they too experience seasonal changes. As you do. We all do. Nature does. And it’s important to acknowledge your own as well as theirs, let them be and let them pass.

And incidentally, there’s no better tonic than getting all outside and seeking the delights of this season to help lighten the spirits whilst you do so.

A seasonal delight – gossamer strung across the fields catching the autumn sunlight