Play time; an essential part of your child’s development!

You don’t need a beach – anywhere, anything and any weather will do!

With the Easter holidays here I thought it was a good time to reblog this article about play. Play is essential – and not just for burning off all that extra chocolate!

The saddest thing I ever heard was a remark from the grown up, home educated daughter of a friend. She was shocked to observe children in a playground at a school that; ‘They don’t seem to know how to play’. Having had a play-filled childhood herself she found that terribly tragic. I do too.

In many households I’m aware that play has been replaced by entertaining kids in front of a screen. It’s safer. It’s easier. It’s quieter. And it makes no mess. All of benefit to busy parents. The tragedy is that the kids are missing out on the valuable influence play has on their development. (Check out this site).

Childhood play does not have to cost anything or even require toys, although they have their uses. You don’t need expensive outlays. In fact the best type is unstructured and evolves simply from a child exploring and experimenting with the things around them.

We used to collect anything with potential that came into our house – but you have to get in an imaginative frame of mind to see potential in the first place. You might not think there’s any reason to keep all those old yoghurt pots, boxes and cartons and wrappers, but give a collection of things to a kid and you’ll be amazed what they do with them. And that’s what we want to encourage – the kind of imagination needed to create play with them. That’s what gets the brain working. And it needs to start when the kids are really young so they develop a play habit. As they grow their play will become more sophisticated and skilled. They are never too old to play and experiment. In fact, some scientists have suggested that having a playful approach to science lead them to make some of their most important discoveries.

Explorative, investigative play is the most valuable kind. The ‘make it up as you go along’ type. There’s times you’ll need to be involved. And definitely times you should keep out of it even if you start the ball rolling. The less structured the toys are, the more inventive they have to be. When out one day and no toys to hand I remember our youngest ‘talking’ to dolls she invented which were nothing more than two twigs next to her that she’d tucked up in leaves.

Kids want to explore their world – its properties and how they can manipulate it – they want to explore your world and do what you’re doing too. Play gives them the opportunity.

For example – if you’re cooking, they’ll want to cook. If they’re too small to be involved give them a selection of utensils similar to the ones you’re using and they’ll ‘cook’. Let older ones invent their own meals.

If you’re using tools, give them a selection of tools to use too and things to use them on (keep the old DVD player or let them unscrew an old plug!) Don’t let silly ideas of Health and Safety put you off – just use your common sense.

Here are some things to collect for your kids to play with: plastic tubs, jugs, cartons, tops, bottles, utensils, wire, string, different papers, cardboard, bags, boxes large and small, tins, socks, (good for puppets or pairing in maths!) shoes. Old sheets, blankets, dressing up clothing (your old clothes!) fabrics, materials, braids and ribbons, magazines. Pots, tins, pans, cups and plates, books, buttons, videos, CDs and DVDs, mobile phones and other gadgets. Foodstuffs; they love playing with flour, dry pasta, lentils and dry beans etc, mixing syrup and vinegar or anything. Corn flour and water’s a good one! Outside; soil, sand, bricks, wood, twigs, tyres, stones, pebbles, screws, bolts, leaves and stalks…one man’s junk is another kids’ pleasure.

Anything can be used to inspire play. Use recycling centres and charity shops to source stuff. Keep that imagination primed. Poundland is good if you’ve got a pound to spare because materials are cheap and you can afford to let them experiment rather than worry over how much glitter glue they’re using. But don’t stop in the stationary isle, look at all the foil plates, plastic beakers, tools, garden stuff. Don’t worry if their creations are unrecognisable – we’ve been through the over painted picture that resembles a mud bath – but creations shouldn’t be structured and tidy whatever big companies try and sell you in little packets. Messy and obscure creativity will develop into refined and practised skills and mental agility. It extends understanding of language and communication, maths and science and helps them understand their world.

And get outside. Kids need play in wide open spaces as well as restricted places. They need individual play and social play. They need to experience the outdoors. Playing outdoors is where their connection to their planet starts and thus their responsibility for it.

Kids who’ve played and experimented with a wide range of materials and resources in a wide range of situations are confident, resourceful, skilled, intelligent and adept at decision making and problem solving, very necessary skills for leading a successful and happy life.

A habit of imaginative play born in childhood is one of the most valuable and educative habits they could have. It is never a waste of time. Get them playing as much as you can. It’s probably a far more educative experience than any you’ll find in a workbook, in a shop or on a screen.

Let them have fun. And don’t let yours become children who don’t know how to play. The benefits both developmentally and educationally are so worth it.

 

Mad hares and swallow moments

Bluebells to look forward to

Bluebells to look forward to

I’m excited now the equinox has passed! Now that from this time on, for six months, there will be more light than dark. Despite irritating disruptions like clock changes I shall be waking in the light and there’ll still be enough light after supper to meander outside.

Outside things are changing. Mad hares have been leaping. Birds are home making. Shoots are surging and bursting open and when the extra light shines on me I feel like doing the same. There will be bluebells to look forward to and one of these coming days I might even toss my thermals off!

Thermals are required both inside and outside this house. Apart from the fact it’s old and draughty and I get damn cold sitting writing, I also try to ration the heating for both budget and planetary reasons. I want to go on enjoying this light and atmosphere and it needs preserving for those coming along behind me so they can do the same.

Winters can be challenging and I know I’m taking conscience a bit too far when it’s so cold in the house the dinner won’t defrost. But when it’s bad I light the log fire. Or hoovering is good for a warm up – the house is much cleaner in the winter! And I have jumpers that reach my knees and plenty of woolly rugs.

Now though, with longer hours of sunshine, I can utilise natural radiation and sit by a sunny window. Sun warmth penetrates deeper and faster than any heating and although I may have grown soft with modern comforts I appreciate the sun’s heat and the turning of the season more than any fire. So I do what I can to preserve it, however little a drop in the ecological ocean that may be.

It all helps.

And whatever little action you take will help too. Never think it’s not worth it.

Because all these little actions we take, added together, not only make a difference in lessening the impact you make upon the earth and its atmosphere and sunlight, are also a message in example to others. It may influence others’ actions.

Just like everyone follows a trend, like saying ‘hey’ in greeting instead of ‘hello’ for example which changes societal behaviour, we can change people’s behaviour towards the earth by our example and create new trends and habits. A good one to start with would be not to buy wet-wipes – have you seen the damage they do?

So, yea, I’m getting more than a little excited to see that added sunshine. And if any words I write here in my appreciation of it educates others enough to change one small thing they do to help preserve it, then I’ll be well chuffed.

Just as I am chuffed to see the sun rise each day, to witness the first feathered arrow dart across the sky as the summer swallows come, or see the mad hares leap about the fields in mating games.

And after writing this I will get up and leap about just as madly in order to warm up and resist putting the heating on so that the order of the natural world is disrupted a little less by pollutive habits.

May I plead with you to do the same and make one small change in your actions today, thus setting an example to your children and future generations and showing them how important is this earth?

Children are made readers…

First morning back at my desk and I’m having a bad attack of post holiday blues!

I’ve had such a lovely time away with my eldest. But such a painful time when it comes to parting again. Such is the nature of being a parent of grown offspring. It’s made up of greetings and partings and gaps in between. How parents managed before mobiles and Skype when they were so completely cut off from each other I’ve no idea!

Although I tried hard not to think about the work I do here; the writing and blogging etc, I did sneak into a book shop for a good browse and stroke of all the lovely books. The aesthetic of them will forever appeal to me, despite the advantage of ebooks. They’re part of a writer’s world. That and the coffee shop and a chance to sit among books and eat cake; two delights in one!

And over one stand of books in the children’s department I noticed a little sign which said:

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.

What a thought!  Couldn’t resist posting it here to remind all parents that time spent with a child on their lap looking at a book does so much more than you think; it teaches them about reading.

We can’t do it enough; we should read to them as much as we can, whatever age, however old they are. As long as they want us to. Such a simple thing. Such a loving thing to do. Such an important thing to do – give our time and attention to our children and develop a love of books and reading at the same time.

If we all did it enough – instead of assuming we needn’t bother as children will be taught to read by schools or schemes – children would read naturally and organically with a little encouragement and help. Their delight and curiosity about reading ignites the motivation to want to do it – why would they not read then? It’s parents who start that off.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents – not necessarily in schools – a thought worth keeping in mind.

Still speaking…!

Will the children still be speaking to me when they’re older?

I used to wonder this sometimes – you do so worry when you’re a a parent!

And when irrational fear really got hold I could imagine even worse scenarios: what if they grow to hate me? What if they think I’m absolutely mad for taking them out of school? What if they never forgive me for what I’ve done to them?

I guess these questions sneak through many a parent’s mind, most particularly home educating parents. Please tell me it’s not just me!

So I thought I’d tell you not to worry because they do – they are still speaking. In fact both of the girls at different times have told me I’m among their best friends. And considering they do have great friends – yep; people still have friends even though they don’t go to school! – I rate that as a great honour.

We’re still the family team we ever were, described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. Amazingly those two little girls in there are now grown up, confident, competent and, of course beautiful, young women.

I’ve been talking to some other grown up home educated young people recently and one mentioned the family unity she felt through home educating, where you all pulled together rather than apart, like some of her friends seem to. In fact, I don’t know any home educating family who have ended up like my worse scenarios, so no need to worry!

Our team still loves spending time together. We still have a good giggle. We talk about everything and anything. We share much. Of course we’re still speaking!

And I’m going away tomorrow to share a few days with my eldest so it will go quiet on here for a while. She and I will be busy gabbing and catching up and the only interruptions allowed will probably be caused by cake! :)

What happens after home education?

I know this is a question on many parents’ minds and I’ve recently been talking to some young people now graduated from home educating for an article about it for Education Outside School magazine. (Look out for the next issue) But one young lady; Beth Levicki, wrote so much so well I thought parents would be interested in reading it separately.

She is now 19, having been home educated since September 2001, trying primary and secondary school for short periods. She began taking GCSEs at home when she was 14 and, by the time she was 18, had passed 6 GCSEs. She currently attends College studying A-levels and hopes to go to university in a couple of years.

This is what she wrote:

…I did year one at primary school and became home educated in September that year. I returned to primary to try mainstream education once more, but soon left to become home educated again. I didn’t return to primary school but decided that I wanted to give secondary school a try. I started secondary school at the age of eleven but found it wasn’t for me and left to be home educated again seven weeks later. I remained home educated for about eight more years, until last year when I decided I wanted to do A-levels at college, and have been attending college since September of last year.

While home educated, I did six GCSEs including English Language, English Literature, Maths, History, Biology and Psychology.

My first GCSE was Biology which I did with a distance learning course with mum’s guidance. The tutor would send me tasks, worksheets and practice papers to complete, and I would send them back so she could mark them and give feedback.

The other GCSEs I did with more of a DIY approach that mum helped with. We would buy the textbooks for the subjects and download the syllabuses, go through them, complete practice papers and tasks in the books and learn all of the information needed for the exam.

When it came down to doing the work, I really enjoyed the subjects and learning about them, but I didn’t enjoy the way in which I was supposed to learn them because it just came down to ticking the correct boxes to pass an exam, which I found very frustrating. But I realised that in order to open some doors in the future I had to just push through.

I worked best in the evenings so it was easier and more comfortable for me to sleep late, and work later on in the day, than forcing myself to get up in the morning when I definitely didn’t feel motivated. I also attended a drama group and a scout group so I had to find time to study around these activities.

I found the atmosphere in secondary school very patronising. It seemed none of the students actually wanted to be there and rebellious students made lessons very difficult. Some of the subjects I didn’t like but I was still forced to learn them which impacted my enjoyment negatively at school. There was also a lot of pressure to get questions right and do well which was very stressful at such a young age.

However, in home education, everything was a lot more relaxed. I was able to study subjects I wanted to learn, at my own pace. I believe that home education was the best choice for me during my childhood and teenage years because it was the most enjoyable and comfortable way for me to learn.

College, on the other hand, is more laid back than secondary school ever was. It’s very autonomous and requires self-motivation but, because I was able to choose the subjects that I wanted to do, self-motivation isn’t a big problem. Students are treated like adults and most of them want to be there and do the work to go to university or get good jobs. Instead of calling teachers ‘miss’ or ‘sir’, the tutors are called by their first name, making the environment friendly and comfortable which helps.

Overall, I suppose I’ve always wanted to be treated as an adult. I got that treatment at home and college but never had it in secondary school which is probably why I never enjoyed it.

I’m not a huge fan of working in big groups, especially in primary and secondary school where other students were rebellious, distracting and complaining a lot of the time. That atmosphere really stressed me.

Independently, however, it was much more relaxed. There was no pressure to be right all the time or to be as good as other students.

In college, even though I’m working with other people, the lessons are more like conversations. Ideas are bounced around and questions are asked about the subjects and there’s a lot of learning from each other rather than just the knowledge being spoon-fed by the teacher.

I’ve always been a bit of a not-very-confident introvert, so have had doubts about making friends that I could be myself around in the past and thought it was going to be much the same when I started mainstream education again. But I knew that I had to come out of my shell, so I pushed myself to talk to people and I now have a wonderful group of friends whom I feel comfortable (and share a lot in common) with. I’ve also been very open to the fact that I was home educated which doesn’t bother them in the slightest.

So, I suppose being home educated doesn’t change who you are or what you’re interested in. You just need to find the people who share similar interests and get to know them like anyone would.

…A big thank you to Beth for sharing that with us!

The educational finishing line

We’re never finished!

That might seem to be an odd thing to say but the way some people talk you’d think failing GCSEs or other qualifications, or having none at all, is going to finish you off for life.

Yet here’s me later on in life launching down avenues new, exactly the same as my twenty-somethings are doing. Which is what prompts me to remind folks that we’re never finished. Learning and opportunities go on as long as life goes on and it’s not a race to achieve everything by eighteen.

Most people’s perception of learning and education is rather warped. They’ve been conned and pressured into believing that it can only happen between the ages of four and eighteen and you’re doomed if you don’t achieve what you’re expected to achieve in that time.

Yet, in reality, some of the most fundamentally valuable learning you do in life takes place before you are four when essential learning connections are made. And post eighteen when you get beyond the schooling institution which in many ways inhibits learning because it’s so busy priming youngsters for exam passing it neglects to build the skills needed to lead a real life.

When you get beyond the institution of school – and Uni if it’s even worth going these days – you begin to educate yourself in the ways of the real world and how to function in it. That’s the real valuable stuff.

The trouble with institutionalised education is that it institutionalises minds – both children and parents. And it does a great job of preventing folks understanding that learning is not dependent on an institution. And qualification is not a measure of education – or intelligence either.

The young manager of the cafe was chatting to me about it as he made my coffee. He felt that he’d been let down by college, had been disenchanted by school and was certainly not going to get another stomach full of ‘education’ at Uni. He’d got the measure of it. He also knew that he was not finished by a long way and despite that raw educational deal he wasn’t going to believe that it was the measure of him. He thought quite like a home schooler, even though I hadn’t mentioned it. It was great to hear.

None of us are ever finished – not until we’re finished off that is! You’re no more finished at eighteen or twenty one or thirty odd or over fifty. And school age is not the only chance you have at learning.

Learning and education are about a constantly developing state of mind, not a state of institution.

Although with the state of the politics you wouldn’t know that! So try to look beyond institutionalised propaganda and maybe even have the courage to believe in your kids, allow them to learn when and as they need to and don’t worry about them getting to an educational finishing line:

There isn’t one!

The view from the roof…

A change of view sometimes brings a change of mind!

A change of view sometimes brings a change of mind!

I was on the garage roof quite a bit last weekend. Charles was inside cooking dinner.We have very different priorities!

Although, he’s not interested in cooking any more than I am, it was just his turn. And I like being on the garage roof because it gets me outside.

It was part of the gardening I was doing. It’s a flat roof and thanks to deposits of leaves and blooms from the beautiful roses tangled there it’s almost an unintentional rooftop garden.

However, what isn’t so beautiful is the rapping on our bedroom window on gale force nights. And not just rapping, sometimes it was clawing and scraping like fingernails down glass. Not very soothing or restful when you’re trying to sleep. I lay planning my revenge; a severe chop.

Thankfully, after the raging wet and storms it was fairly pleasant up there. The sky felt lifted, the fields greening up and, unleashed from the bonds of snow and frosts, flushing with a brighter colour and shimmering in sunshiny moments.

Up there, the surrounding land stretches out from house to horizon and is not a view I see regularly. It instantly changed my perspective.

It’s amazing what a change of perspective can bring to a day, not only with regard to the landscape. The view from higher up than normal makes you feel tall both physically and emotionally. Your spirits seem to climb with height and distance. It must be why people like hill walking or mountaineering; the view from the top making you feel elevated in all respects.

Maybe that’s why my youngest liked climbing trees – I can still picture her face now, high up there staring at the distance.

When I lived in London it was at the top of a house of flats and I could stare over the rooves and treetops into endless sky. It lifted me away from weight of immediate concerns. It made me feel that life was larger than just my own little world.

When life makes you feel so very small on occasions it’s worth taking some time to stop looking at it from ground level and allow a change in perspective. For circumstances don’t necessarily have to change for you to feel better.

I got the climbing roses cut back from the windows. And also spent some moments admiring the view, changing my inner perspective, letting go some of the nagging concerns I could do nothing about. After all, life is not just nagging concerns! So not only did I have a more peaceful night following, I had a more peaceful state of mind.

And I only had to climb the garage roof to achieve it!