Wish I could pay bills with buttercups!

DSC06049What utter delight it is to walk out on a May morning. When the sun is up and the buttercups are awakening to it with me, opening their faces with an early smile of petals, the sun warming the may blossom and wafting its scent through my senses.

Is this my bank holiday? No! My normal working life. My breaks from early work at laptop, and keyboard to return to after this stretch of back and brain.

Such is my writer’s life. Does it sound idyllic? This bit of it is, but when I wither under worry about not enough pennies coming in to provide for necessities let alone luxuries, it feels different.

Thankfully, this luxury is free. But living here also comes at the price of winter hardships, travel challenges and an internet speed so slow messenger pigeons would be quicker.

I’m not whinging, just telling how it is; penny pinching is more normal for writers than the giddy heights of people like J K Rowling and Steven King more usually getting coverage. Each have had their hardships too, but it is their millionaire status that hits the headlines most of all, creating a picture of wealth and glamour the rest of us rarely achieve.

Like with all jobs we all have to take the rough with the smooth and measure out whether the compromises are worth it. And that comes down to what you value.

Values are part of the curriculum now, as if you could teach something so inherently learnt from living and experiencing life. Heaven forbid that values will be compartmentalised into subjects and targets and tests like everything else curriculum. That would be one sure way of losing the point. For the test of having values and understanding what it is we value, is evident only in living your life and knowing yourself. There’s no test for that. Only time and experience qualifies it for you. Allows you to know what you value.

Like me walking out on a May morning. I may not have enough money to buy a posh coffee or move somewhere with a faster internet speed but the buttercups are my reward and the peace and the birdsong. Things I truly value as well as having enough to pay the bills.

So don’t take for granted what you read about authors. Most writers labour with love not with money. And all sales are most gratefully appreciated and help to keep us going. So look out for some new books to buy coming within the next month or so.

But also remember to enjoy those things around you that cost nothing but are worth so much.

Back to work…screwing up courage

My little break away with Chelsea went far too quick – isn’t it always the way with holidays and loved ones. We tramped the city, visited the Fringe events (her production amazed me – so proud) and hugged a lot.

Too soon it’s time to say goodbye and the missing begins again. I imagine you’re with your little ones twenty four seven so you don’t get the missing yet, but although I swap the pavements back for the lush green and bursts of blossom I also love it doesn’t make up for the missing.

And the prospect of work is not made easier by returning to a caustic comment, on the blog before last, accusing me of arrogance. That hurts.

I try my hardest to offer a balanced perspective here. Why is it arrogant to say it how it is? I don’t think people realise what courage it takes for writers to put their work out there and how easily it’s broken!

I swap the cityscape for this view from my bedroom window on my return

I swap the cityscape for this view from my bedroom window on my return

Anyway, smoothing ruffled feathers I have other things to look forward to; new books to come out next month (more soon on that) and an event to think about where I’ll get to meet some of you which is always so inspiring.

And breaks in between will mean roaming out among the greenery and bloomery to sample the season’s delights.

It’s what helps my heart survive!

A visit and a tribute

The lovely Chelsea – not often I get a picture!

Getting all excited about having a few days away and visiting my eldest tomorrow.

It’s so long since she’s been under this roof and we all miss each other. Although we speak regularly on the phone there’s nothing like sharing moments in physical space close enough to hug!

I was thinking the other day how little blogging there is about older kids – if kids is the right word for grown up ones. You read of all the beautiful babies and of mums paying tribute to their gorgeous little people, nestled as they are under the muddled motherhood roof. And shining out of the muddle and challenge of early parenting you read about the love and the intensity of feelings we have for them that accompanies it.

Is there anything so deep and consuming as the love parents feel for their children. anything that feels so complete as your baby’s head under your chin or that circle of love and protection that you can surround these small beings with as you enfold them on your lap.

Well, that feeling is just as strong when they are grown, when you can’t enfold them quite as easily and they don’t always want it anyway. But it’s not something that’s often written about. So with mine in mind I thought I’d equal that up a bit for parenting doesn’t just finish with age!

Although the children and the love matures, it is still there. And so is that loving connection even if it isn’t connected by a roof.

When you start with small kids, especially when you home educate them, you’ll no doubt have the hope, as I did, that your love will stay as precious even after you’ve inflicted your parenting on them! That your relationships will stay strong as it always was and you still stay friends.

Well, I’m just paying tribute here to my two closest friends, my two beautiful children who’ve grown into amazing twenty-somethings, who are just as revered as all those babies you read about, whom I admire and respect as never before. And with whom I perhaps have an even stronger bond simply because you have to let it go and trust that now you have no control over it like you did when you could keep them with you, wherever they go and whatever they choose to do, the bond becomes unbreakable simply because it is their choice – as much as it is mine – unlike when they were little.

My two continue to amaze and inspire me in the way they grow and grab at life, as much as they did when they were toddlers, in the way they work and laugh and love, their courage and their strength.

Toddlers teens or twenty-somethings, they have never ceased to amaze.

So I thought I’d write something about the adult children as they are just as precious and surprising as babies and toddlers, and remain forever awesome!

More when I get back!

Recognising mainstream codswallop for what it is!

When I listen to parents stuck in the mainstream education system and hear how concerned they are about their young people I really feel for them.

For when I say ‘stuck’ it really is like that; the systems binds them with a glue that not only keeps their education mainstream but also clogs up their thinking. And they end up believing the propaganda about how doomed their kids will be how if they don’t achieve in the same way everyone else is achieving and at the same time.

When did we stop believing in individuals or possibilities and start believing cloning, I wonder? For isn’t this what we’re doing?

I think about all the home educating families in comparison who have managed to break out of this sticky approach and see education as it should be; the all round development of an individual that equips them with skills to learn – for life, not just between the ages of five and eighteen, in individual ways if needed.

The trouble is that by gluing people to beliefs about achieving GCSEs or A’ Levels by 16 or 18 for example, it’s led everyone to believe that if these results haven’t been achieved by these ages then there is something wrong with their kids and they’ll never have a life!

I want to shout very loudly that this is utter CODSWALLOP!

And even more codswallop comes in the form of making youngsters believe that they are failures without these results and they’ll never work or achieve other things.

If this is what you believe then you need to examine your thinking very carefully and unstick it!

The reality instead is this:

  1. Anyone can take GCSEs at any time of their life if they wish; courses, opportunities, tutors, facilities are there for youngsters to do this if you look.
  2. Equally, it is the same with A’ Levels, other qualifications, degrees, whatever.
  3. These can be achieved in a range of ways and within a range of time frames the only downside being there will probably be a fee.
  4. NO ONE need ever be doomed for doing it differently. Youngsters can add to their achievements any time they’re ready. Some people are not ready until they’re much older. This is their right and is absolutely fine.
  5. It is not necessarily better to have done it early – it just suits others if it happens like that! We all develop and mature at different times and that’s allowed.
  6. There is no law that says that anyone has to do any of this anyway. These are merely convenient hoops to pass through to get places – some of us don’t want to go those places or by those means!
  7. Having exam results is not always a measure of intelligence. It is a measure of whether you can pass exams or not. You can be just as intelligent and educated without them.
  8. There are all forms of intelligence and most of the useful ones, like emotional intelligence for example, are not examinable anyway. An educated person is not merely a qualified person, it is a person who can behave in an educated and responsible way. Many qualified people don’t!

So even if you don’t want to break out of mainstream schooling you can still break out of mainstream thinking and decide what’s right for you and your young people.

There are all sorts of ways to progress and all sorts of pathways to do so. Mainstream is easy if it’s working. Dire when it’s not. Don’t stay stuck in mainstream glue if it’s not working for you and yours!

Don’t worry about the SATs!

 I’m feeling for parents of school children at the moment. The complete hash up over the SATs lately must be really freaking them out.

I know most home educators don’t have much to do with tests, SATs and League Tables etc, but I remember when the girls were in school for that short time how anxiety about what was happening there was all consuming. Especially when it didn’t seem to be happening right. I gave daily thanks we’d made the decision to home school – a decision we didn’t regret for one single second – and get away from those invalid processes.

When we are young green parents though, wanting to trust that the big establishment which the schooling system has become is getting it right for our kids, it’s devastating to know that there’s a possibility – let alone proof – that it’s not!

So this is my attempt to offer you a little bit of reassurance.

Whether using school or home educating parents needn’t worry about SATs.

Not doing them is not going to impair your child’s education for life – as propaganda leads us to believe.

Most home educated children are educated to a good standard without ever knowing what SATs are, let alone being subjected to the stress of them.

SATs are just a way the government’s devised of setting a standard bench mark on children’s attainment in schools (which doesn’t work anyway). They are supposedly a way of monitoring teachers and schools and consequently making the politicians look as if they are doing something useful. They are of no use to a learner’s education whatsoever.

Many will argue that they are; desperate as people are to stick to institutional thinking. And argue that, as a result of them, provision will be improved.

But that rarely happens. And tests rarely reflect true ability anyway. What’s standard, for example? And just what are we testing – all questions that I’ve asked in other articles.

There have been some alarming reports in the press recently about what these tests are doing to our children’s mental well being. It’s probably also having the same effect on the parents and teachers! So I think there’s a case for boycotting the whole darn SATs system, let alone a one-off boycott like recently.

But if you’re one of the parents who is worried that your child’s education is going to be damaged by yet another drastic mess up of papers I shouldn’t be. It won’t. Your child’s education is the result of a whole plethora of influences and experiences over a long period of time, not the odd result.

And if you’re new to home educating I shouldn’t let the time wasting procedure of standard testing mess up the opportunity of a delightful learning day of discovery and experience – as education should be!

Navigating friends and Foes!

Friendships are fragile things. Kids inevitably make them and break them, whether they’re in school or home

Two pigeons deciding whether to be friends!

Two pigeons deciding whether to be friends!

educated. And whatever age they are. We adults do too, don’t we?

I read a little paragraph the other day in a random book which had nothing to do with parenting or home education but said that by keeping children clubbed together we are blocking them from learning what it is to be grown up.

I thought about all the children clubbed together in classrooms when I read that. Especially in comparison with those who are home educating in the wider world, with a high proportion of adults from whom to learn what it is to be adult and how to behave towards others with respect and compassion.

Ironic then, that people ask how home schooled kids will learn social skills! And continue to think that schools and classrooms do this. When in fact they don’t reflect the social world at all really.

Wherever your child is and whatever groups they belong to the hardest thing for a parent is to watch a child be hurt by friends. We torture ourselves with the thought of them on the receiving end of unkindness, being left out, or hostility.

It’s something we have to talk them through and help them deal with by encouraging honesty, diplomacy and compassion. Our own example will teach them most of all – you can’t tell them one thing and then behave differently yourself.

Looking back over our children’s lives, and the times they’ve had to deal with some of the ways so-called friends behave, I was thinking about how we helped them navigate these difficult times. Thought I’d post them here in case any are of use to you. Here they are:

  •  Staying on their side – always – even through inevitable mistakes
  • Always making relationships something you talk openly about
  • Helping them see we are all different and there will be things we don’t like about each other and that’s okay; sometimes we can tolerate them or compromise, sometimes it’s not worth it
  • Making time to listen
  • Encouraging empathy towards how others might be feeling and why this might affect their behaviour
  • Explaining that some friendships may need abandoning
  • Helping them move away from accusation, recrimination and blame, which never helps you to move on
  • Making sure our own relationships with our kids are based in honesty and respect, loyalty and trust, as this is the example of good ones they’ll hopefully have with others.

Friendships are magnificent, important, and where our security lies as much as anything. But it is inevitable that there will be times when they go sour. This is nothing to do with schools or home educating or parenting, it is just to do with human nature. We found that keeping an open dialogue with our children was the best way to support them and help them through.

It still is!

Don’t stick with what it says on the box – or in the school!

There were some interesting comments from Ben Fogle in the press recently as he drew an analogy between the development of Lego and the development of the education system, both of whom he feels had become increasingly prescriptive.

He says that once upon a time you bought boxes of random Lego bricks and created models yourself, now children are frustrated over prescriptive kits that require you to stick to instructions. And this sounds very like schooling which has become so prescriptive kids have little opportunity to build the skills, or learn the subjects, that interest them but have to stick with within restrictive boundaries dictated by others.

Thank goodness for the choice of home education where we can step beyond those prescriptions about learning and approach it another way.

But we also have a choice with the Lego don’t we? And isn’t the issue really about training minds to exercise choice and not stick always with what it says on the box? To be brave and imaginative enough to try other approaches – either with Lego or learning? Lessons or life?

This is indeed what home educators do all the time. And the knock on effect of this creates something else; for once you’ve broken out of the idea that everyone has to go to school in order to learn anything, I believe we develop the skills to see possibilities in breaking out of other frameworks of thinking that can hold us imprisoned if we don’t examine them.

No one has to be imprisoned by Lego kits! Child or adult (apparently there’s a huge Lego cult among adults now too – I watched a fascinating programme about it). And the more we encourage the children to look for possibilities beyond the preconceived or prescribed the more this develops their intelligence, creative thinking and mental aptitude. So equally no one has to be imprisoned by other aspects of life either.

So whatever activities we buy for the kids or encourage them to do, we can also encourage them to consider other possibilities.

We can do that with Lego and we can do that with life; we can encourage vision beyond what we think are boundaries but may not be so at all. Both require innovative thinking. And innovative thinking is as useful a skill for living as being able to follow instructions!