Tag Archive | parenting

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!

For those who do things differently

Okay I admit it! Sometimes, just sometimes, I wanted to be in a position that wasn’t quite so different.

It got increasingly tedious to have those conversations outside the dance or pottery clubs whilst I waited for the girls as there was always the inevitable question; ‘So where do yours go to school?’

I’d pause a moment, then say; ‘They don’t actually. They’re home educated’

Slight neurotic giggle and other mother moves away from me like I’m diseased.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that; many parents who asked really engaged with the idea and were keen to know more. And I grew more skilled at judging who I wanted to mention it to.

Today though home education is far more popular and widely known as parents find school practices more and more distasteful. There’s a liberal helping of information and support on the net and an ever-increasing community to dip into, groups to attend, others to network with, so it feels less scary.

Community is the theme of this issue of The Green Parent magazine and I was thrilled to be asked to contribute as it’s a special anniversary issue. The editor, Melissa Corkhill, asked me to write about the home education community and the many and diverse groups that support it. (A big thank you to all of you who helped with my research and offered your thoughts). So you’ll find me in there too this time.

But the real reason for this post is to tell you about the lovely opening story in this issue in the welcome from the editor. It’s about a mum who wanted to do things a bit differently from her own peer groups and family tradition and how hard it was at first to find support for her ideas. She felt very sad and alone. I think many of you will identify with this. But a chance encounter with another mum initiated her rescue.

Now we have the Internet to find like minds but that is no comparison to a warm human connection in real physical terms. Nothing like being with people to learn from.

Melissa follows her editor’s column with a little piece about what she has learnt from her ten years at the magazine and it’s so encouraging I thought I’d quote it here:

It’s possible to have a job that makes you desperate-to-get-in-the-office excited, You can run a business from home with a home educated child on your lap, next to you at their own mini desk or playing noisy games outside the door, sometimes you might even get a bit of help from those children but being with them through their childhood is the most important work”

So absolutely true!

There’s plenty else in the magazine to read too. And perhaps there’s some mum nearby that you could help do it differently like the mum in the story. For having that community support is irreplaceable!

Rural living: it’s not only roses

outdoorsMay2014 005It’s Countryside Awareness week. And the beauty of it is that it’s as much about the people who live and work in rural areas as it is about countryside in itself – beautiful though it is.

We don’t often think about them, other than they’re lucky bods and it’s all roses. Few understand that at times it can be the opposite of roses, it can be downright thorny. Not that you’d get that impression through the media or from the politicians who unwind in second homes without any of the hardships country living brings, making policies from the comfort of their city towers that stick in the throat of those who reside there all the time.

For example, in their campaign to get everyone using public transport, putting road and fuel taxes up, they forget that this absolutely cripples those who have no public transport on their doorstep. Who are dependent on their cars to get to work, get their kids to school/college/activities, fetch shopping, get to surgeries, etc. They don’t face that reality on a daily basis as we do.

Another example, in supporting everyone getting online to do business, banking, pay bills etc. they forget that for some their download speeds are so low it’s well nigh impossible to conduct any kind of business without lengthy waits, never mind bothering with Youtube! Mobile signals are just as bad – what use an App when you’ve no signal?

And when people moan about services being disrupted because of leaves on the line or the buses are late they should remember that they at least have services. Getting about in snow, ice, gales, fog, floods and living on a daily basis with exposure to the same is no joke. The only service we have here is our bins emptied and that doesn’t always happen.

It’s all relative of course. And our rurality also brings us a deeply tranquil connection to nature instead of city stresses – unless we’re stressing because the car won’t start!

But we should remember that there are 12 million people living and working in the countryside and it isn’t all tranquillity. In fact the suicide rate among farmers is one of the highest. Employment is sparse to non-existent and working on the land can be an extremely hard way of life with the minimum of wages in return. Yet as Robin Page says in a comment in the Telegraph last weekend the coverage rural living gets is stacked in favour of urban living dismissing issues of country dwellers as less important.

But without those who do work the land, there would be NO FOOD! The land would not be managed as it needs to be to sustain our life. And there would be no land to give us all the resources we need to support our city lives.

Life does all come back to the land and the people who look after it.

So maybe you could pay that some respect as you organise a walk with your kids in support of people working hard  in rural areas. And teach them to understand that the land beyond the cities and the people who work it are equally important.

The success of failure!

Who’d equate success with failure?

Not many perhaps – except all the successful entrepreneurs; they’ll have failed many times in order to finally achieve but we don’t often get to hear about that background to their success.

One of the most important ways to help our children to succeed is to encourage them to understand that failure isn’t a negative thing. It is a natural part of the learning and achieving process from which we learn. And those people who succeed are not necessarily the cleverest, the luckiest or the richest. They are the people who didn’t stop when it didn’t go right, but went on trying and trying until they finally got there. And that if you can maintain enough resilience to do that, you are bound to succeed.

Think about it; we can only fail when we stop at a failed attempt.

Our children will have failed many, many times in their tiny lives even before they get to the age of five when everyone suddenly starts talking about succeeding or failing in school. Although no one measured it and no one made their early attempts into failure.

For example they will have failed to walk, fallen over many times, but just kept on getting up again. They will have failed trying to balance their food on a fork or get it in their mouths. They will have failed to catch a ball, do up laces, build a tower, climb up something, ride a bike, master the things they want to say. But none of those failures mattered so they just kept on going, learned from trial and error, until they achieved what they wanted.

And that’s the important part of it – they hadn’t been taught by the others around them that those failings mattered. So why teach them later on – particularly in relation to education? Why teach them that failing makes them into failures, as we tend to in schooling?

If we told our toddlers that they were failures and made them feel shame when they were trying to walk and talk then maybe they wouldn’t keep going.

Our negative attitude to failing is something that children learn – usually from adults. Wouldn’t it be great if that was something they never learned?

Maybe we should be careful not to teach it!

Perhaps instead of hidden signals of negativity towards failure we should be boosting their resilience. Supporting their confidence in their intention to achieve. Showing them how to learn from the things that don’t go right first time. Helping them understand that failing is positive in that it makes us extend ourselves and grow.

And that failing is only a failure if you stop there – and you don’t have to! If you keep going you can eventually turn your failure into a success, even if by deciding you need to take another route.

That’s how failure creates success. And that’s what our children need to know about it!

A better remedy than drugs

charley4mum She just used to lie there. Utterly content. Or spend hours dribbling soft wet sand into Hogwart-like towers. Absorbed. Needing nothing. Demanding nothing.

This used to be what happened when we took our youngest to the beach. It was like a magic injection of calm. This energetic whirlwind would just melt into a relaxed serenity that never happened in the house.

It didn’t have to be the beach. Any outdoors would do. And it had to be for a decent length of time. Then the journeys home would seem as if with another person than the one we took out.

I used to wonder how others managed.

Where we lived at the time we could open the cottage door onto an area of grass in front, safely enclosed by hedge and gate, and she would shoot out across it like an arrow from a bow. You could see it was just something she inherently needed. And I used to wonder how families, all cooped up in concrete places managed with an energetic child, managed to satisfy that need in their children to be out, active and uncontrolled for a while.

Because it is a need; a requirement for the healthy development of mind and body. But quite often this is disregarded. It is masked by keeping kids passive and dormant in front of technological entertainment. Then correcting their frustrated combustible behaviour with drugs or leaving it for the teachers.

Wet playtimes can be a teachers’ curse. When the kids haven’t been outside it’s a recipe for a tricky afternoon. But after summer playtimes, especially when they have the opportunity to be on grass, you’d see kids lolling about and they’d come in happy and relaxed, with a shine in their eyes, and cooperation and goodwill in their spirits.

We must find ways in our shuttered, concrete, technological lives to give children long, free, times in the opposite. They don’t necessarily need an organised activity, they just need to be out there. Take warm things if need be or a big umbrella and rugs to make a camp, let them take personal items or toys. Or nothing at all and just rely on imagination. Ours could make whole soap operas with bits of stone and twigs in a city park.

One thing that is important to take is the time.

And make forays into open spaces an important part of your family’s timetable – yep – parents have to do it too, and willingly! Until you begin to unwind. And demonstrate how you can discharge the stress from closed in lives by spending hours in the open.

It’s a far better remedy than drugs!

Holding babies – could it be the beginning of their education?

prickles and flowers 001I always held the baby in my left arm. I thought this was to automatically free up my right, being right handed, to carry on doing the essential jobs – like put the kettle on!

Apparently though, it isn’t to do with that at all.

I’m reading a little more about how the brain works at the moment. I’ve always been fascinated about how the brain affects the way we feel and what we believe, as well as how we grow and learn. I’m forever intrigued by the question; are we just the result of our brain activity then?

Ruby Wax’s book ‘Sane New world’ is the result of her own voyage of discovery in managing her depression through mindfulness. So she’s studied the brain and writes about it in ways lay-folk like me can understand. She shows how its growth and development influences who we become and what we feel.

Simply put, brain development is about electrical impulses and connections which develop from the moment we are born. And if there was ever any doubt in your mind about the important reason why parents should be engaged with their babies, she dispels it in a lovely little paragraph about holding them:

“The memory of how Mommy is with Baby influences the baby’s physiology, biology, neurology and psychology. How the brain grows is affected by how she put you down, held, smiled, ignored or forgot you; she is the uber-regulator, the big boss of brain development. The neural clusters for social and emotional learning are sculpted by Mommy’s attunement with Baby. She grows these neurons in the baby by making direct eye contact with her left eye to Baby’s right eye. This is why Mommies usually hold babies in their left arm so this eye contact is made easier. When they gaze into each other’s eyes, their hearts, brains and minds are linking up. These face to face interactions increase oxygen consumption and energy. Also holding the baby in this position means it can hear Mommy’s heartbeat. Seeing her loving face looking down on Baby triggers high levels of endogenous opiates so he experiences pleasure in later social interactions by the positive and exciting stimulation form Mommy.”

 She also says that the linking up of the right and left hemispheres of the brain are accomplished through mum and baby ‘eye contact, facial expressions and speaking goo goo’. In fact, all of a child’s early brain development is based on interactions with mum. And new research shows that even genetic development can be influenced by parental behaviour and changes continuously.

So if ever you needed a good reason to forget the jobs and hold your baby remember that in doing so you are enhancing their mental, emotional, and even genetic development and tendencies.

I never needed another reason – I just loved it anyway. And wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But to all those who doubt the importance of mums (or dads) being at home they need to remember that they are doing a vital job of developing a new member of the human race.

And there’s no substitute for holding!

Parenting, education and prickly issues

prickles and flowers 003

prickles to get through – but blue sky waiting!

Parents get plenty to deal with. Home educating parents get plenty more!

There are always concerns and prickly issues to mull over, options and alternatives to make decisions on; how to handle one issue, how to get through the next. Is there ever a smooth pathway to follow?

At times, maybe! But smooth all the time would mean that you’re making no changes, you’re not setting challenges which promote achievements, and life would get dead boring – or just dead.

At least when you’re overcoming prickly issues as a family you know you’re alive and living, choosing and evolving and, most important of all, learning and growing.

When we’re buried in concern though it’s often hard to see a solution. Yet it’s quite often the simplest solution that is the most workable. We also want a solution straight away and in real life that rarely happens – we need to be patient.

So I’m offering five tips today that I found helped to ease the way through – patiently:

1)      Stop picking at it and give it some time and do other things. Allowing some time to pass always helps dilute the intensity of problems and it’s the intensity that can prevent us from seeing simple solutions.

2)      Talk about it with someone not involved. People who are not involved can give a more objective perspective rather than the emotional one we can be wrapped up in.

3)      Take it for a walk. Or take yourself for a walk. It’s amazing how time outside, with wider horizons, can calm and widen our mental horizons too.

4)      Beware of over thinking. Try to stop thinking and focus on actions you can take for the time being. Even action not related to the issue helps.

5)      Try and make some small changes remembering the simple saying; ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’! If you want a different outcome, you’re going to have to do it differently! That’s true of parenting, education, life in general.

We cannot always find an immediate and ready made solution to prickly issues. But be reassured that they will be resolved. And finding ways to deal with the uncertainty mean time not only helps you – it’s also a great set of skills to pass onto your kids!

What do you want for your children?

What do you want for your child in education? Whether you’re home educating or they’re at school, what do you want for them? What do you want them to end up with?

I’m asking this because there’s such a cross section of ideas on this one.

When I’ve asked before most people just mention qualifications, only measuring education by those outcomes.

Some people see education as not having an outcome but rather as an ongoing process, not answerable to grades, but a personal development and achievement which is not measureable.

Others don’t need it measured, they just want their children to grow, progress, thrive and be happy. A forward flowing process that works towards creating happy, productive people who are a pleasure to be with.

And that’s what I always wanted for my children. For I reckon they needed to be happy in order to achieve and build confidence. Children who are unhappy rarely reach their potential.

Having happy children doesn’t mean they never face up to challenges, or overcome difficulties. It’s not those things that stop us being happy. It’s being disrespected.

So whatever learning environment they were in I wanted them to be respected. This way they would know how to build respect for themselves and others, you cannot develop confidence if you’re in a climate where you’re disrespected and have no say.

That’s another thing I’d want – for them to have charge over their education, with guidance perhaps, but certainly some control over what happens to them. This is the only way they build independence. Keeping them bound to a prescribed or spoon-fed educational path over which they have no influence is no way to nurture independence.

And nurture is maybe one of the most important aspects of all. Education needs to nurture them. Nurture them as people as much as learners who are gaining knowledge and skills. Nurture them personally so they in turn understand what that feels like and how to pass it on to others. Nurture their individual needs and personalities, weaknesses and strengths, gifts and attributes.

And finally I’d want them to have inspirational experiences that make them even hungrier to learn about the world, to go out into it and make their own little difference, by being productive and proactive, loving and kind, respectful and responsible. Nurturing, inspirational, exciting, varied experiences and opportunities are what do that.

So I wanted their education to be the same; nurturing, inspiring, varied and experiential, knowledge and opportunity rich.

With the development of all those things, other outcomes like qualifications perhaps, fall into place naturally.

What do you want for your children? Do leave me your thoughts.

Finger painting and the champions of resourceful

poppies and girls 6-14 033Think your little ones are going to grow out of finger painting?

Not necessarily – when you forget your paintbrush fingers stand in nicely. As my grown up little one found out when we went out to do some photography and artwork. Being the resourceful girl she is, she tried grass heads and stems too.

There’s never a more valuable skill than resourcefulness. Being able to find answers, to turn whatever you have to hand to good use and to think out solutions in ways you’d never have imagined if you’d had the ready-made answer, is a skill that stands by you for life.

We can become used to money supplying a ready-made answer. We so often buy a solution instead of creating one. But with this increasingly challenging economy that option’s becoming less available. And many home educating parents, deciding to manage on one income whilst they create an education more suitable to their child than the one provided in school, become the champions of resourcefulness.

Resourcefulness is an education in itself.

When you have the skills needed to seek alternative solutions very little can stop you. Resourcefulness demonstrates to your children a mentality of not stopping at a hurdle. Of asking what could be done to get round it. Of seeing life as a surging force of possibility rather than a blocked drain.

We all get stuck at times, admittedly. But we can get unstuck and get back into the flow if we don’t take ‘stuck’ as the final word.

For example, if the budget’s a problem just take a look at all the things you actually don’t have to buy; paper towels for one – use and reuse cloths. You don’t have to buy more clothes and accessories. Or junk snacks and drinks. We don’t have to use money to give us a lift – try ‘doing’ rather than buying to get the same result. And sometimes we’re just in the habit of shopping whether we need to or not – it’s amazing how much richer you can make yourself by breaking this habit!

Another example, do you need some new shelves or storage for all your home educating bits and bobs? Don’t buy them, make them. Paint boxes you can get from markets for free. Build shelves with bits of wood (we used the slats off an old bed) and bricks, tins or jars to prop them up. Make display shelves by stacking orange boxes on their sides.

You can grow things even without a garden – any container will do; food tubs, old pottery or pans, a leaky wellie! You don’t have buy expensive planters. Use Freecycle more often and you’ll be doing the earth as well as your purse a favour.

If you make resourceful, inventive solutions part of your way of living and learning with your children you will give them skills for life that will be as useful to them as anything academic!

Not forgetting when yours are painting that even some of the most admired artists have used various body parts in their work!

And if you’ve got some resourceful ideas you’ve come up with, do please share them in the comments – I’d love to hear.

Letters to move the mind….

The Sunday papers are great for lighting the fire. There’s plenty of it, although the magazines aren’t that flammable with their shiny perspectives and shiny paper; they’re better for lining the dustbins.

It’s rare we buy them as I generally don’t read them; far too much ego stroking claptrap to make the good bits worthwhile. But The Sunday Times found its way into the house this last weekend and I had a flick through it.

I stopped at the Editor’s letter in one of the shiny bits, not sure why. It must have been the word ‘creative’ on the first line. Her piece was a good little take on being creative which, as anyone who visits here regularly knows, is one of my mini obsessions in education: that it is not education without it!

Tiffanie asks what we do to be creative?

And there’s a lovely bit where she even describes shopping as creative; it’s a ‘way of curating your life’ she says. Fabulous phrase – I’m sure my eldest will be glad to read that!

But she also goes on to quote Richard Wurman of TED fame who says that most of us don’t know how to question and that the foundation of the word question is quest and so few have a quest in life. He says that creativity comes from a quest.

I would add that creativity also comes from questioning. And that questioning is not only the foundation of creativity, it is the foundation of scientific progress and discovery and the foundation of education.

Education is surely a creative and scientific quest to fulfil our innate curiosity and thirst to know about life and create the best lives we can.

I also believe that school is increasingly disabling youngsters from doing that.

I’m backed up in thinking that by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. An old friend who popped up on The Culture show like a blast from disconnected pasts. Our connections are linked to childhoods, and although not well maintained, do sometimes cross the tangle of life and ignite shared values. And I rediscovered his fantastic piece of work directed at Michael Gove, a man who understands children’s educational needs as much as I understand infant heart surgery. Bob explains why creativity is important and says that it is beaten out of children by the stagnant system, even by taking away their control of their own art.

Their insatiable curiosity, inherent from being born, also disappears along with their desire to question and discover. It takes away control of their own life too and their own quests. Without a quest they have no motivation, or direction when finally spewed out of institutionalisation with little understanding of the world outside.

This is what results from lack of creativity, lack of questioning, lack of life-lust. No education should result in that.

So we should perhaps all be writing our own letters to papers, to ministers, online, to try and get them to see there is another approach to life and education through creative, questioning thinking. The approach most home educators tend to use.

One that creates ideas that do more than just line dustbins.