Off for some ‘Blue Sky Thinking’

I’m taking a little mini-break in Brighton next week. This is because I want to enjoy some of the events in the Brighton Fringe. One in particular!

Who’d have thought that all those little ‘shows’ of Chelsea’s I watched when she was a little girl at home would eventually develop into a real live show in the Brighton Fringe, this year written by her talented partner Rich Foyster.

They’re producing it themselves, having set up their own little Indie company, Popheart Productions, and this time she’s one of the actors too. I can’t wait to see it. Last year’s show sold out and they’re taking that one to Edinburgh in August. Amazing stuff! How did that little girl become so brave and entrepreneurial?

So this is my little plug in support of them:

‘Blue Sky Thinking’ (trailer here) runs from 21st – 27th of May at 8pm and is hosted by The Sweet Dukebox, at The Southern Belle, Waterloo Street, Hove. BN3 1AQ

I’ll let you know how I got on, but being her mother I’m bound to be mesmerised and proud!

 

 

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A funny way to find out about home education

It’s hard to describe what it means to me when people let me know how inspired they’ve been by my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘ (see the My Books page) And how it gave them the courage to abandon schooling and change how their child learns.

I feel both humbled with gratitude for the kind words and the fact that folks take the trouble to let me know (if you enjoy a book – how often do the authors get to know that?) And am elated and delighted that the book has succeeded in its aims to help families find the courage to make changes to something that wasn’t working for them.

I remember when we were in that situation. When our dull-faced children (who weren’t like that pre-school), became switched off, unmotivated and uninspired by the world around them as time in school went on. And how they developed an ingrained sadness – often illness – that also switched off their smiles as well as their desire to learn.

Thank goodness home education switched it all back on again.

When I began to meet other home educating families I heard similar stories about their child’s altered behaviour more dramatic than ours; stories of tantrums, aggression, frustration and anger leading to shouting and violent moods. All changed once removed from school.

For the short time our two remained in school I deliberated with the decision, weighed the pros and cons, looked at what little info was available at that time (hardly any), until the climax described in the book pushed my decision to go for it. We felt nothing but jubilation as a consequence. I wished I’d done it sooner.

For most people I know that home schooling appears to be an unimaginable step, so unimaginative are we at seeing other approaches to learning having any kind of success.

Such have we been conditioned!

So I wanted to tell our story of educating in a lively, enjoyable way in the hope that not only could parents begin to imagine how it actually does work, but also introduce different ideas about alternative learning approaches which can be just as successful, but which parents rarely come across. Who’d ever read a book on education, after all? I knew I needed to make this book on education – for that is what it is – more readable.

So when I read how the book has achieved those aims I set for it I am immensely moved.

I hope it continues to do so. And I hope I continue to hear about it!

And to all those who’ve already let me know; a Great Big THANK YOU!

A plea to drivers – slow down for children

I’ve been out on my bike several times this week. This is to take care of my mental fitness as well as the physical. (There’s a good article about it here)

It works for the kids too as I describe in my ‘Home Education Notebook’, lifting moods and discharging niggles that build up like static if we spend too long inside. (See chapter 24 ‘The Outdoor Miracle’ and chapter 30 ‘Exercise for Education’s Sake’ where I talk about how it impacts on intelligence).

I have cycled round these narrow country lanes and enjoyed the feel of the wind on my scalp, since I was a youngster. So I have to admit to neglecting to get a helmet yet. Luckily, I no longer have to set an example to little kids; there’s none to see this bad practice. And thankfully, my daughter who cycles in the city, has the wisdom to wear one – glorious gold it is – unlike her mother!

But I need to update my habits. Because rural cycling is not like it used to be with the odd vehicle pottering slowly by. Cars come racing by on the narrow country lanes as fast as they do on the main roads. Faster in fact, as they use the back roads to avoid the speed limits on the major ones and consequently I’m sprayed with mud, stones and the wind rush of a car doing more than 50 miles per hour, pushing far too close in attempts to get by rather than wait for a wider stretch of road. When did people get so impatient? And when did people become so ignorant and disrespectful of other road users? Perhaps riding a bike for a week should be a standard part of the driving test.

It was just this type of behaviour that killed one of the children in the school where I was teaching at the time. This was the days before helmets were standard. The lorry raced past far too fast and far too close, without any regard at all for the fact cyclists wobbleespecially children – even without the wind rush. The child didn’t stand a chance and went under the rear wheels. A helmet wouldn’t have saved him. But a careful driver would. We all grieved for weeks. I can’t even begin to think how the parents felt.

We cannot wrap our children in cotton wool. But we can teach them to be wise, understand what using the road entails, be careful and of course wear a helmet.

And as drivers, we must always SLOW DOWN and give plenty of SPACE to cyclists, particularly CHILDREN. Remember that we are not the only road users and make sure that we are not one of the careless bastards who passed me today who put people at such risk.

 

An exclusive from my home ed notebook…

‘…No Prizes For Getting There First’

Have you ever been on the London Underground? 

No doubt those of you who live in London have and I used to when I lived there.

But even though I know what it’s like, even though I grew up there and therefore you’d think I was used to it, I am still amazed when I go back. Amazed by the rushing.

Everyone, whatever the time, is always rushing.

You go into the station and everyone’s rushing past you on the stairs to get to the platform, even though some of the trains run regularly so if they miss one there’ll be another coming along soon. And when you step off the train and leave the station everyone is still rushing. Rushing past you as they head in a rush to the ticket barrier as if it were some kind of race and there’s an invisible finishing line they’re all desperate to get to.

As everyone rushes past – and we’re not exactly dawdling yet we’re still being rushed past – and leaves us behind it does make us feel exactly like that; exactly as if we’re being left behind, despite the fact we usually meet them all again seconds later standing waiting on the platform.

But with everyone rushing past I start to get anxious. I start to feel like I ought to be rushing too, in case we’re missing out on something. What that something might be I have no idea but I definitely feel there must be something I’m missing otherwise why is everybody rushing? Why is everybody surging forward at a stressful pace? What’s the point in legging it down the tunnels only to stand waiting because the train’s not here yet, fiddling with phones that have no signal?

And do you know what?  It’s catching. It’s compulsive. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m rushing along too. It’s downright unnerving, as infectious as it’s stressful. And I really have to get a grip on what I’m doing if I don’t want to become contaminated by it. If I want to avoid dashing towards that non-existent finishing line as if I was part of that hypothetical race too. And I have to ask myself the question – do people know there is no race, no finishing line and no prizes for getting there first?

I expect the question you’re asking right now is what’s this all got to do with education? Well, the reason I’ve described this scenario is because I see exactly the same race happening in education.

Just like me in the underground, it’s easy to feel a certain amount of tension and anxiety if we are not all rushing along the same mainline route, towards the same result as everyone else. And not only that we also tend to feel very, very anxious if we’re not doing it at precisely the same time as all the other children, if we don’t get off the marks at the same age, reach those imaginary milestones at the same time, and cross that imaginary finishing line at the same stage of maturity.

Whenever I hear parents talk about their child’s education, they talk about it exactly as if it were a race and a rush. Certain stages must be gained by a certain time. And if that doesn’t happen, like me in the underground, the child will be ‘left behind’. In schools this feeling is very real. Heavily unpleasant.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. And actually – there is no ‘left behind’. You can achieve anything at any time you want to. And many have.

Education isn’t a race. You don’t have to achieve in certain time frames. You can actually never stop with education – you can take it as far as you want to, when you want to.

There is no point in rushing children along when they’re clearly not ready, developmentally, to achieve something. Nothing dire will happen to them if they don’t all do the same things at the same time or reach them in the same way.

Another important point to remember is that there is no finishing line and there are no prizes for getting there first, wherever ‘there’ may be. There is nothing to be missed out on and the feeling that there maybe is simply that; a feeling, not reality. Just like my feeling in the underground.

You have the choice to plan an education that suits your child’s readiness, which will be far more successful than one you’d pushed them through at an unsuitable pace to ‘keep up’. You don’t have to pay too much attention to what everyone else is doing. The race everyone else is in needn’t concern you. Your child’s own particular needs do.

Racing and rushing has nothing to do with education. In fact spending more time usually gains an education of far more quality and meaning than one that has been rushed through in attempts to meet other people’s deadlines that have no personal value to your child.

That is probably part of the reason that we chose to Home Educate. Because we didn’t want our children stressed by the thought that it was a race to get somewhere, or to have them feel stressed if they didn’t keep to a particular time.

Time is something we wanted to give them. Time to pay attention to quality and depth of experience rather than experience education as something which, as it rushes on, they must keep up with.

It’s best not to let the sight of others racing to this imaginary finishing line in a mad lemming-like way distract you from what you believe is right for your children. If rushing and racing isn’t right for you – don’t get caught up in it.

Just like the folks in the underground, mainstream education can seem a bit lemming-like. I watch families racing towards the eighteen year old bench mark worrying themselves sick about when they’ll have to toss themselves off the educational precipice. And I think to myself – do they know there’s another way? Do they know that education actually doesn’t have to be rushed, have a time-limit, or a precipice?

Home Education provides the opportunity to give children a different educational experience that is not a race. Keep focussed on the way you want to do it; on your children, not mainstream children or systemised education, and move along at a pace that suits your family where they can fully appreciate the quality and depth of it. Many home educated children I know have achieved what they wanted to achieve, whether qualifications, businesses or work, without sticking to the mainline route or the mainstream timing.

And they did this because they understood that whether in the underground, or in life, even without rushing you will all get where you want to go in the end.

Taken from ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ For more details see the My Books page.

 

A song for comfort

At this time of year I love to hear the blackbird song. He’s singing his rights to territory and of course serenading a potential mate. His song is the most delightful – up there with the more famous songsters the Nightingale and the Thrush.

I find these moments connected with nature immensely comforting and enriching – whichever I need at the time.

It was the Blackbird song that also prompted a short story from me which surprise surprise won a little competition at the time – not something I normally do. (Copied below)

And following a recent bereavement I was put in mind of how important it is to build these strategies to overcome tricky times in our lives and encourage our children to do the same. Life never runs smooth. There are smooth currents at times obviously, but also rapids, waterfalls and undercurrents to continue the analogy! And part of our duty as parents and educators of this next generation is to be honest about them and help the kids find ways to negotiate them too.

Some find music helps, some use gaming, some use art or social media. Some throw themselves into work. Or running or walking. Or writing – as I do at times. Love from others always brings solace. We are all different and all need different strategies that will help us do this; child or adult. I’m aware in my adult children how they have begun to develop their own. But more importantly how they do not take their spiritual and mental well being for granted but treat it seriously, acknowledge that it needs serious attention at times, and this is something we continue to talk about.

Looking after oneself, mentally and emotionally is as an important part of any education as the academic. We have to see that side of it is not neglected – not easy in schools I fear. In fact, many parents turn to home schooling for that very reason. But however your children are educated make sure some time is spent understanding and nurturing the spirits as well as any other part of the curriculum.

As for the story:

When I was little my mother would take me with her on her walk round the city’s evening streets. The reason she went was to listen to the Blackbird sing.

I felt a bit odd just standing there, unaware at the time that this was my first experience of the power of nature to feed our spirits. What I was aware of though was a special aura of peace upon her face as she stood upon the grey pavements and listened.

Growing up I began to learn a little more about this power. Freed from the taunts and terrors of schoolgirls that were my daily diet I’d spend hours walking the marshes where I could be alone in a completely natural environment. Here the traumas of adolescence were released into a feast of distance and solitude. When I was in a natural place, I could be myself, naturally. No need for artificial smiles, bravado, or attachment to gang behaviours you didn’t believe in. You could just stare at the horizon and be peaceful. You could simply be – although I wasn’t aware it had anything to do with the spirits just then.

But that practice has stayed with me always and now I know differently.

Now I know that in order for us to be well; body, mind and spirits, we need to check in with the natural universe from where the spirit comes. We need contact with ourselves and contact with the earth and the wider universe. Simple awareness will do, meditation, call it what you will, but it won’t be denied.

As long as I have that, a pain in the hip or a twinge in the joints can all be eased. It just takes a moment of appreciation in the way the sunshine can lick the fields into loveliness and I am well. A walk in the raging winds can whoosh deep rooted storms away from both the land and the soul. The song of the rising Lark can pick up my spirits from my boots and lift them high enough for me to see the light all around and beyond the oppressive troubles we attach ourselves to so deeply we become consumed. The lesson in my mother’s face taught me that early on.

When my mother died I felt crumpled and consumed with grief. I lay on the soggy bedcover not wanting to face the world. Yet something told me to get up and open the window and seek the solace I have always found in a breath of fresh breeze, the smell of soil or sea, the touch of nature’s palm. So I did.

And I do not believe that it was coincidence that, at the very moment I leaned from the bedroom window, the sweetest shrillest blackbird began to sing!

An ‘Easy Peasy’ approach to parenting!

I’ve recently been in touch Jo Carter, Home Educator and author of the book Easy Peasy Parenting. Knowing that parenting certainly isn’t easy I was fascinated to know more, so I invited her here to talk a little about her home education, and her parenting philosophies.

This is what she says:

Could we have imagined how it would feel to be a parent? Even if others tried to explain it to us we couldn’t really understand until we experienced it for ourselves.

I was going to be the best parent ever and my children and I were going to have a beautiful relationship. The reality was much different. Oh, there were good times but far too many unhappy times for my liking.

I home educate because I want my children to learn what they want, when they want. There is so much potentially to learn and I believe my children are best equipped to know what serves their needs best. I describe myself as a facilitator. I love that we don’t learn in order to pass arbitrary tests. I love that we spend lots of time together having fun and this has made us close as a family. I love that my children get to choose how to spend each day and with whom.

But as home educators we also have the added responsibility of providing the best education for our children. Of course this will mean different things to different people but if things don’t seem to be going to plan for our child then we can’t even blame the school for failing them. The buck stops with us.

The responsibility of being a home educating mum could mean that I might neglect my own needs in order to give my children what I believe to be the best start in life. In fact, this is what I used to do.

Feeling overwhelmed by this responsibility, I came across a philosophy that radically changed my life and the way I approach home education and parenting.

I heard the theory, ‘We are meant to be happy’ and it resonated with me. I learned that our feelings are created by our thoughts about a situation rather than the situation itself. Rather than demanding circumstances to be a certain way in order for me to be happy I learned to find happiness in the current situation by changing my thoughts. The irony was that as I learned to accept and find the joy in the moment, my circumstances began to morph.

My mantra became, ‘The best thing I can do for my children is be happy.’ This simple philosophy has been a game-changer for me.  When I am feeling negative emotion in the midst of a busy family day I recognise that my thoughts are unhelpful. (I categorize thoughts as helpful or unhelpful rather than true or untrue.) My first priority is to find better feeling thoughts before I carry on with the task at hand.

Of course this is often easier said than done. Maybe the beliefs I hold run too deep to deal with in a short amount of time. Maybe I can’t stop what I’m doing in order to do one of the processes I share in my book, ‘Easy Peasy Parenting’. In times like these, I remember that my feelings are a result of my thoughts, rather than being caused directly by a person or circumstance. This keeps the focus of attention away from them and hopefully results in damage limitation until I can process the event, and my thoughts about it, more fully.

The philosophy is ‘Easy Peasy’ as all I have to do is be happy and everything else will fall into place. Putting it into practice though is often hugely challenging as we are forced to explore and challenge our, often deeply held, beliefs in the search of better feeling thoughts. I have found (and still do at times) the process to be simple yet soul searching. I imagine the goal of feeling better as my anchor or beacon as I manage the mammoth task of raising and home educating my children.

I share all the strategies and techniques I use on a regular basis to create the joyful family life I always dreamed of, in my book, ‘Easy Peasy Parenting’. Available on Amazon in paperback or kindle version.

Thanks to Jo for her thought provoking piece. Do explore her book and website for further tips and support with your parenting.

 

Making kids feel significant

Don’t you feel small and insignificant sometimes!

Three weeks of no internet at home, despite endless phone calls with our provider full of unfulfilled promises, lies and still not reconnected, and that’s how I’m feeling.

Somewhere to blow cobwebs away – between downpours!

Our problem is that we are just one insignificant customer, at the end of an insignificant lane in the middle of nowhere, with antiquated cabling full of shotgun holes it’s not worth their while replacing, whilst they have big commercial corporations who make them big fat profits to attend to.

Always the case, I suppose.

It takes all my will power just to feel calm – I don’t always manage it. I turn to my usual antidote; getting outside, but that’s a weather challenge at the moment!

At least when I am online (at friends’ houses and when I have enough signal for mobile data) you, my dear readers, make me feel a little less invisible with your warm responses. So thanks for those – always much appreciated. It’s lovely to connect.

It’s amazing to think that when we first home educated we weren’t properly connected to the wonderful web at all. And our first investigations into it led us to a prostitute! (You can read the amusing story in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’)

But what an amazing resource it is for home schoolers now. How connected to everything home educating families can be. You can get instant access to knowledge, curriculum, answers to just about anything, resources – loads of which are free, teachers and tutors, and best of all instant connection to those doing the same as you, consequently instant support. Makes you wonder how we ever did anything without it. (Although I’m rediscovering that at the moment)!

It’s probably had the biggest impact on parents’ decision to take this approach to education and accounts for the enormous rise in families doing so. It also means that home education need not be the isolate experience that people worried it might be at the outset. Minority groups need not be marginalised any more.

Of course, wonderful though the internet is, it cannot provide the most important resource a child could have for their education; the time and attention of another human being.

You can view others online, obviously, you can even read facial expressions.

But someone in the room, by your side, holding your hand and physically encouraging a learner by their presence and attention is the absolute best. It tells the kids they are worth it, they are important, that they are significant enough for us to give our adult time to.

Unlike I’m feeling at the moment!

So however much learning and educating we do online, however global our classrooms progress to being, with thousands virtually learning in front of a screen at the same time, let it never be the case that children are denied that warm humane presence as part of their education.

It’s what shows them how to be humane, the understanding of which is surely part of being educated. And is what shows them that they are significant.