The parenting endurance test!

January can feel like an endurance test!

I find it hard to keep my spirits on the bright side when my daily walk, which I take for that very reason – keeping bright, becomes grueling rather than graceful at this time of the year.

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The best bit of a wet January morning; shiny droplets on the winter flowering cherry

Recording my pictures on Instagram helps me focus on the charms rather than the challenges, even if I have to seek them sometimes.

But that’s a good way to get through all challenges; remind yourself of the best bits among life’s barrage.

A parent asked me recently how I managed to get through the challenge of the years home educating with such ‘patience and grace’?

The short answer is; I didn’t all the time!

For, although it is mostly the best bits I write about to encourage and inspire – and it is an inspiring thing to do – it is certainly a challenge, verging on an endurance test sometimes. But isn’t all parenting like that – not just home educating?

The thing is; you know your kids are absolutely delightful beings. You know you completely love them to bits. You know home educating is totally the best thing you’ve ever done. And you know you don’t want it any other way.

BUT…..

There are times you are inevitably going to shout ‘FFS’!!!

I had those times too.

You would also have those times if the children were in school – believe me!

The longer answer to the above question was that I built strategies to help me through the grueling bits. We need that with both parenting and home education.

You’ll need to take deep breaths – often.

You’ll need to step back and let be – often.

You’ll need to stop worrying – that’s a decision as much as any.

You’ll need to trust that time will sort it.

Get outside – often.

You’ll need to look after yourself – as much as the children. Your mental and spiritual well being is included in that; build strategies to help refocus when needed (like me with the Instagram).

And you need to winkle out the best bits. There are always good bits.

Seasons change. January passes. Kids grow. Family life changes rapidly. All challenges change just as rapidly too.

All will be well.

(For more enduring comfort and reassurance try my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Or just for mum support; ‘Mumhood’. See the books page for details)

What’s wrong with solitary?

There was something sad about the solitary swan I saw on the field the other day. Knowing that they usually mate for life I was feeling for it. Had it lost it’s mate? Or had it not started courting yet – it looked to be a young one?

From the BBC Earth website - click on the pic

From the BBC Earth website – click on the pic

Whichever, it was as heart wrenching as seeing a solitary child standing in the playground. The one that no one’s playing with.

We have a kind of cultural feeling of wrongness surrounding the idea of solitary. Forgetting that some solitude in a child’s day is as important as social. But we rarely remember that, making assumptions that it’s lonely to be solitary and often forcing associations onto kids they just don’t want, instead of respecting their need for space.

I suppose the important point about solitude is whether it’s chosen or not. And whether that’s a positive choice.

We are all very different. We all have very different needs in that department. Some people need more personal space than others. Some like to be surrounded by crowds and people all the time. But some prefer less and there is nothing sad about making the choice to be solitary at times and we should respect that.

Obviously no one likes to think of their child as being unpopular. But choosing to schedule some time away from others in their manic day is as important as choosing some time for yourself away from the demands of others or always having to be on show.

I know adults who have such hang-ups, and fear sometimes, about being solitary for a while they go to strange lengths to avoid it. their biggest concern being what others might think of them; that if they’re spending time on their own others might think they’re sad or unpopular.

I spend huge amounts of time on my own. And I did as a child. I’m neither sad or unpopular. It’s just I’ve recognised it as an important part of my mental well being, to help me be the person I need to be, and to slough off the crash of mainstream life.

With constant connectivity, even our solitary spaces are invaded now, and our image is so public. But let’s avoid this becoming so invasive that we buy into this negative attitude to solitude and never give ourselves, or our children, time and space for individual reflection, in which to be imaginative, inventive, creative, and who we need to be. And avoid perpetuating the myth that being on our own is somehow wrong. It’s not. It’s healthy.

And perhaps I need to stop anthropomorphising and doing exactly that about the swan!

‘Home educating can’t be that bad!’

Louise Walters is a friend and fellow writer who lives with her husband and five children. She is also a home educator so, always keen to showcase others, I asked her if she’d tell us a little of how it works out for her.
Her honest account reminds us that nothing is ever all roses – but can still work!
Here she is:
Two years ago I decided to home educate my then six year old son, Finn. He was such an unhappy child, it was difficult to witness. It took me a long time to make the decision (I had wondered about it even before he started school. He is August-born and quite “young” for his age, and looking back on it now, it’s clear he really should not have started school aged just 4). The annoying thing is, I wasn’t new to HE. My oldest child, now 21, spent time in and out (mostly out!) of school and in many ways I was an “old hand”.
But I didn’t feel like that. I always worried; how can I teach all the subjects? How will Finn get his qualifications when the time comes? How will I find the time to work? That last, if I’m honest, was (and remains) my main concern. However, I know enough about HE nowadays to understand that not a lot of “teaching”, in the school-sense of the word, is needed.
Finn learns organically, using all the means available to him: books, internet, museums, field trips, libraries, pens and paper, paints, Lego, cinema, theatre, home ed groups… anything and everything, essentially. And we actually spend no more than a couple of hours a week doing anything that resembles “school learning”. We have literacy and numeracy workbooks. They are incredibly boring. Really, they are for my benefit… I have something to “show” for their learning when the Local Authority makes its annual request for info regarding my educational provision.
I’m a writer, but have little time for that. The big advantage is I am my own boss. I don’t watch much TV and try to work for an hour in the evenings (not always possible). I also occasionally negotiate writing time during the day with the boys (Oh, did I mention I later took Finn’s brother out of school too?! Home educating can’t be that bad, can it?) Negotiations go like this: “Boys, you do these two pages in your maths workbook…” Grumble, grumble… “Then you can play with Lego/watch DanTDM/colour/dress up/split the atom for an hour and I will write.”
The truth is I love writing and I love home educating (most of the time), so it’s up to me to make it work. I have days when I fervently wish they were back in school, even if it was for just a couple of days a week. That would be perfect, and perhaps when they are a little older, that’s a route we’ll explore. In the meantime, I know I’m doing the right thing, and the boys are learning with such little effort. My youngest just started to read as if over night. I hadn’t been actively teaching him to read. So there seems little point in bringing all this to an end. (They do spend Saturday mornings in  a school, attending lessons at a music school that hires school premises. So they get a nostril full of that school smell once a week. And I get a couple of hours alone in the house. Bliss!)
I haven’t mentioned socialisation, mainly because it’s not an issue. It amuses me that people who have not encountered HE before often ask, “But what about socialisation?” first… kind of a compliment, really, when you stop and think about it. Socalisation is one of the easiest aspects of the whole thing: I don’t keep the kids locked up all day. We are out and about, meeting all kinds of people, of all ages. Finn is less shy now than he was in school. His little brother has never been shy, full stop.
I’ve ran out of time to write. We are off to a home ed play rehearsal. It will be noisy, chaotic and fun. I wonder if I could sneak in my laptop…?
Louise is the author of ‘Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase’, published by Hodder in 2014. better-uk-paperback-pic-2
albu-web-ready Her second novel, ‘A Life Between Us’ will be out in March 2017 from Troubadour Publishing. She is working on a third novel, which is about a struggling single mother who decides to home educate her autistic son.
Find her site here; http://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/

Angry!

Warning: I’m about to be blunt.

It’s not often I get angry. In fact parents have often said to me how patient I am. Some told me they wouldn’t have enough patience to home educate.

But the children rarely made me angry. They’re children; they’re learning and they’re not finished yet. Why would I be angry with that?

What really makes me seethe with fury is the ignorance of those who are grown up, those who should know better, those who are supposed to be setting an example for these young people to learn by.

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A definitive example of ignorance!

Walking along the footpath that weaves it’s way through the trees and hedges in a delightful tunnel, which offers shelter from the open flat landscape here and the cut of the ever present wind, I come across two plastic bags hanging in the trees.

This is not that uncommon. We all see them blowing about the landscape and caught among the branches.

These weren’t like that though. These were two bags of dog poo that someone hung there.

Now it’s bad enough leaving dog poo for others to tread in, especially on pavements. But at least on the earth in wild places it decomposes. But poo that is bagged up in plastic and then chucked down, unable to decompose, demonstrates complete ignorance. Even worse, this act of ignorant desecration beats it all. As if the perpetrator thought it was someone else’s duty to clean up after them and collect the bags – even in remote places.

What I can’t understand is why someone, who I assume wouldn’t leave bags of shit in their own environment, i.e. their home, feels it’s okay to do so in the wider one. And in a place I assume they walk because they value it; I’ve also seen dog poo bags hung on fences and stiles – is this how we treat places we value? How irresponsible is that?

For whether it’s our home, our garden, our city pavements, our countryside, or the wider world, desecrating it like this is NOT OKAY! We’re responsible for ALL of it.

That’s what folks seem so ignorant about; the fact that’s it’s ALL our world, from our personal spaces to our planet.

And this is why we need to teach our kids to LOOK AFTER their world. Their bedroom world, their home, their town, their park, their planet.

Surely this is a fundamental of any education. A habit of care and an understanding of how this serves us. And of the fact that NO ONE should be cleaning up after us – we are ALL responsible for our own shit.

We can care all we want about learning facts for exams. But how important is that in the wider perspective of not giving a turd about the places we live in which support our learning lives, about environmental issues? This is a responsibility as much as learning anything is.

Teaching our kids about the little things personal to them, teaches them also a habit of taking care that will ripple out into the wider sphere.

And it’s OUR OWN ACTS WHICH EDUCATE. It’s a responsibility every grown up has.

So hopefully the next generation will grow up with the intelligence to understand why care of our environment, personal and planetary, is important, why it impacts on us all, and why it’s not okay to hang plastic bags of dog shit in trees.

(Sorry if the language offends – it gets like that when I’m angry!)

Facing up to end of hols…

I had a lovely Christmas. The young people were home again and we were able to relax and enjoy the fire, the food and a regular foray outdoors.

Then they go again, spirits drop, January comes and there’s nothing to be done except get back to work

I sometimes find that very hard; doesn’t everyone after Christmas?

You’d think it was easier working at home. It isn’t! There’s no one to give you encouragement, to share with, or even give you a cheery ‘good morning’. You face it alone. I can soon plummet into the ‘what’s-the-point’ syndrome.

Yesterday though I was rescued by a lovely reader sending me this wonderful message about my latest book ‘A Home Education Notebook’;

My husband bought this for me for Christmas. We commenced home education of our 8 year old and 5 year old on 14-12-16, so two weeks ago. 
I’ve read the first chapter and intro and I feel like it was written by me and for me. 
I will continue to read but its magical, truly magical. 
My da has leafed through it. Supportive but not entirely convinced by home ed and rather nervous of it, the bits he has read have lit a flame and already expanded his awareness. I suspect I will be filling my shelves with your books.”

She’s made all this writing worth it again, as do all the other kind people who send me messages and tell me how the book has helped. I’m SO grateful – without you I would stop.

So, returning the favour, if you need a boost to get you going again here’s a little extract from the book that might encourage;

This book is to remind you that you’ve chosen this path because you thought that was best for your child – and you DO know your child best.

It’s also to remind you that HOME EDUCATION WORKS. You chose this route because you thought it would be better – and it is in many circumstances.

It’s been going on long enough now for there to be home educated adults out in the ‘real’ world working, living productive happy lives, contributing to society, who have ‘normal’ social lives and plenty of friends. And as someone once said to my daughter; “you couldn’t tell” they’d never been to school. We weren’t sure how to take that at the time, but we had a good laugh over it.

There’ll be quite a few things you need to laugh over. It’s often the best response…

I know how lonely it can feel sometimes stepping away from the mainstream, even with the wonder that is social networking which wasn’t around when we first started. I know personally how you can doubt, worry, wobble, cry, lose the plot and feel you’re losing yourself sometimes even though you love home educating, love your kids and on the whole love what you’re doing.

I’ve been in that situation too but there is one absolute truth I can tell you for certain; it was bloody WORTH IT! I have no regrets, not one single one.

It is an amazing thing you do in home educating your children, you are incredibly courageous in making the choice to step away from convention; it is truly an inspirational uplifting experience for the whole family.

When you lose touch with that, as is inevitable at times when you’re tired and troubled, this will hopefully help you feel like that again…

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Thought for the New Year

As the old year ends and new one begins I want to say a couple of  things. 20161230_134020

First; I want to say a massive THANK YOU to all those who’ve supported my work during this last year. Without your lovely messages, reviews, encouragement and endorsement I wouldn’t have kept going. No writer can do so without readers.

We’re all like kids really – we all need a little bit of praise and support to spur us on. Thank you for yours. It’s been heartwarming and fuel for my work.

Secondly, as time to take the decs down draws near, I thought I’d leave you an idea to mull over as you launch into your new family year:

Parenting IS Educating. 

And:

Education (in school or out of it) depends on parenting.

Obviously, parenting is not the only influence on your child’s education. But your parenting supports it. Just by loving your children, loving what they do, being engaged in what they do, gently guiding what they do, demonstrating what’s best to do – and to be, you educate.

It may not be evident in tangible ways. But the effect is immeasurable.

Parenting is the most important job you’ll ever do. (See the page)

Finally, do all that you do with your children with respect – there’s no love without it.

Wishing you a loving new year.

Merry Christmas!

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A beautiful quiet is laid around the cottage this early pre-dawn time.

I open the curtains and creep back into bed to wait for the light to rise. Watching.

Beyond the steamy panes there’s a glow to the East. Light enough to show me the frost  whitening the field. From the other window the dark still sparkles with stars.

These crisp, clear, quiet dawns always put me in mind of Christmas and fill me up with peace. And love.

May your Christmas be as peaceful and sparkly as a starry sky and your new year as hopeful as a clear and promising dawn.

Merry Christmas.