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

Royal babies, kids and the education gamble

A new royal baby on the way, how lovely is that. How lavish will their life be with the  royal couple and their take on parenting. I wonder how hard that is to manage and how torn they are between their royal duties and just being parents.

But I don’t wonder much – I wouldn’t want it, or my baby to be so public.

This baby I guess will never want for food or shelter or the stuff many have to do without. They will no doubt have an exclusive education, never be spoken down to, ridiculed, neglected, lost in a crowd, or bullied by the people who teach them as some of our youngsters are.

So they are luckier than most – but I wouldn’t want to be them. I would want to break out, particularly of the institutionalisation they will no doubt endure.

Like I wanted to break out of the institution of school.

It was never about the work – it was about the irrelevance.

I don’t think it’s about the work for most youngsters. Most youngsters are hungry to learn. They want the learning if it’s relevant, they also want to work because of the pay packet that it brings, as we all do.

But what young people don’t want is all the other stuff done to them in the name of education; the tedious restrictions put upon them by a system that’s out of date, designed by up-their-arse politicians with no experience of children’s development, trying to win punters and using our kids like lab rats in their climb up the political stats.

They don’t want the ridiculous rules which adults impose upon them, not out of usefulness but out of control and the desire to keep the youngsters subservient and quiet and teach a mass rather than an individual.

And they don’t want the gloom of insignificance pressed on them by the violation of that individuality and the total disregard of them as people, in preference to a regard for the institution.

And most of all they don’t want to be shuffled into packs by useless testing schemes, like cards are shuffled into suits, with a hierarchy and self fulfilling prophecy as damaging as a crap hand in poker. Education is becoming a similar gamble about what you’re dealt, rather than what you’re capable of.

I wonder if the new royal children will ever feel that about being royal, as some of our youngsters feel about schooling?

I suppose home educating families at least had the choice to opt out.

The royal children are sadly stuck with it!

Small world ignorance

You’re walking along looking at nature and what do you see? flytipping 004

Two old sofas, a collection of cushions and a mattress. Nice!

I can never comprehend the mentality of people who do this. Who drive out to rural places and offload their unwanted junk.

Nothing identifies an uneducated ignorance more than this kind of behaviour.

Because it is ignorance. And a lack of the sort of education I meant when I said in the blog called ‘Another approach to Learning’ that education is only valuable if it’s transferable to living in responsible ways. Being educated to do that is far more valuable than any grades or GCSEs.

Children need to be educated about the natural world, how relate to it, to understand the bigger picture, understand our responsibility towards and dependency on that wider world, how that world is the essence of all that we have and all that we need for survival both personally and as a species.

Instead we seem to be perpetuating a mentality of small world selfishness; like how to get rid of junk from your own patch and sod everyone else.

Another illustration of this small minded ignorance was on the news; plant theft. Seems a bit bizarre that crimes against nature are newsworthy. But they are and the Sunday papers carried a piece about another one; stealing birds eggs.

These crimes are newsworthy because the balance and perpetuation of all species is important; it’s vital work that develops our knowledge of our world and the ecological cycles within it.

We are all dependent on the whole of the ecological balance and I would say that our children’s understanding of that is even more important than maths and English really. Our lives and survival depend upon it. But it is very easy to forget that, cushioned as so many are from the realities of nature’s world.

So surely that is exactly the reason why education about the natural world is even more essential.

Educating our children about ecological matters, about the impact humans have upon them, how we can reduce our footprint and maintain a balance between all living organisms, of which we are only one, is the responsibility of us all.

Preparing our sweet earth for next year's food

Preparing our sweet earth for next year’s food

Nature needs to be more than a walk in the park or a spider removed from kids’ lives. It’s the foundation of science and needs to be fundamental to all their learning and develop understanding that it is from nature that our lives spring, our food springs, our houses and our cities spring, where everything we own comes from. We are only one small part of that huge natural picture. One tiny, insignificant and humble part really and dependent on it for our life.

There is no understating our responsibility towards educating our children in that understanding, to instil nothing less than reverence and respect for nature and her cycles. To make sure that even though their worlds might be small, their mentality about it isn’t.

So get the kids out in nature at every opportunity, engage and learn as much as you can, then snuggle up and watch something like Autumnwatch.

And even if you don’t believe in rules in your parenting there’s s simple one that’s worth them knowing;

‘Take nothing from nature except photos and memories. Leave nothing other than footprints. Kill nothing other than time’!

I wish the wretched Fly Tippers who’d committed this awful crime had the mentality to understand why that’s so important!

And here’s a nicer view of nature – this year’s food happily harvested – to finish with.

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