Are you neglecting part of your child’s education?

We love our kids. We lavish care and attention on them, buy them treats, take them places, see to their education and welfare. That’s our responsibility as parents.

So if we’re taking that responsibility seriously, why then is obesity becoming an epidemic?

I know that’s a sensitive and contentious question. No one wants to point the blame at anyone. Parents have enough of that.

But I look at it this way; we would consider it total neglect if we did not educate our kids in the skills of reading and maths for example. Yet we don’t see it as neglect when we fail to educate them in the skills of maintaining a healthy weight, and teach them through our own demonstration.

I’m raising this issue after watching this shocking report on Inside Out East about Type 2 Diabetes and how, in many cases, it leads to surgery which could have been preventable. It’s here:

It’s a subject that has had much coverage around the news to raise awareness of this growing problem. (Read more here)

I also live in one of the poorer areas like those in the programme where there are almost more people who are obese than otherwise, and I can see the size of the problem, if you’ll forgive the pun.

When you are surrounded by people who are all similar to you, you begin to see this as the norm; it becomes a cultural norm, you begin to think it doesn’t matter as everyone seems to be overweight – it must be okay. And it’s all too easy to over indulge when fast food, buns, cakes, chips and chocolate leap out and tempt you at every turn. I should know; I have a dangerously sweet tooth that’s very difficult to manage!

But it does matter and when it comes to causing harm to our kids no one can take the responsibility other than ourselves as parents and mentors. I agree that companies cash in on our weaknesses. But they can only do that if we comply; the ultimate responsibility lies with us.

According to the report people are having amputations that could have been prevented by taking some of that responsibility. Is that what we’re leading our kids towards too?

What’s it worth to develop a lifestyle that avoids such dire consequences?

Kids do what we do. Whilst they’re kids we have an opportunity to lay down some fundamental habits that set them up for life. You cannot control them forever. But you can give them a good start – you have, in this case, to practice what you preach. Be what you want them to become – that’s the most influential way. Words don’t work as well as actions.

The habits you cultivate in your family now are the ones that will impact on your children the most, whilst they are children. After that it’s up to them.

But habits of lifestyle and habits of learning are equally important subjects of an education. And are surely all part of the duty we share to facilitate a future for our kids that is happy, healthy and wise.

Why is the concept of home education so alien? We all do it all the time!

I do wonder why the idea of home education seems so weird and alien to many parents.

For don’t we all ‘home educate’ from the minute we leave school? Isn’t that what we do all the time in life? Isn’t that why you’re scrolling the Net or reading this?

As soon as we’re free from institutionalised learning we start to educate ourselves in all the other things that really matter. We practice skills to help us lead independent lives, look after ourselves independently, increase our job skills and professional skills, learn how to connect and communicate out in the real world instead of the false cloisters of an institution.

We learn new stuff to do with our latest technology. We might take on a new course of study – just for ourselves not for school. Learn another language as we travel. Learn a new recipe. Learn new skills as we take on a new career. When we get to parenting our learning curve rises very sharply.

In other words we ‘home’ educate, or more accurately ‘SELF EDUCATE’ (which is really what home education is) all the time.

So why should the concept of home education appear so bizarre to so many, creating bigotry and derision in extreme cases, when it’s what we naturally do all the time throughout all of our life?

The ability to self educate, both mentally and practically is THE MOST IMPORTANT skill we could ever develop, setting us up for personal growth and development to continue throughout life and enhance our life for ever after. So surely home education does all the youngsters a great favour in teaching them that?

Learning new stuff as I finally sign up for Instagram!

Learning new stuff as I finally sign up for Instagram!

And the idea that education can only happen in a school is surely the most inhibiting one a person could ever have? That’s the mindset that seems the most alien to me!

Mindsets need changing.

Self education, or DIY learning, whatever you want to call it, is the best skill to have in order to create a productive and fulfilling life. A skill that we surely need as schooling becomes increasingly out of date and out of touch. But it’s sadly one that’s often totally ruined by schooling, institutionalising it beyond people’s understanding of how to do it.

The further you move away from school, and experience the potential to learn in a myriad of other effective ways, the more you think that it’s the school approach that’s the alien one.

Our human capacity to learn is born when we are – it’s a shame so many put schooling in the way of it.

You’re not finished yet

If you’ve read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ you’ll remember me telling the story of a close friend and the terrible angst she experienced because of the neglect of her Dyslexic son in school. (Find it on the Books page)

Basically they’d written him off completely and he and a class of ‘disruptive’ others who no one cared about were told they were ‘unteachable’. Enough to make any one disruptive. As the lad said at the time; ‘what’s the point of even trying when they’ve already decided we’re not going to make the grade?’ He was willing to learn. But without support and understanding he was unable to in that climate.

She and I met for coffee the other day. Yep – we still do that together after all these years, still support each other

Trying to hide behind her glasses!

My dear friend trying to hide behind her glasses!

through the tough bits, and still swap notes about our ‘children’ now successfully out in the world despite our angst.

We were remembering the times back then when her worries were intense. Following the time described in the book  her young teen was farmed out of the school to do various other ‘activities’, none of which he wanted to do and none of which were really of any value. Except to keep him off the school stats, of course, as she sees it now. (She’s been with me too long!)

“The one thing that kept me going and kept my faith in him intact,” she said over cake – yep we still do that too, “was something you kept saying to me at the time when my doubts were uppermost.”

“What was that?” I was thinking back fast. I’ve made some terrible gaffes in the past.

“Well you were always adamant he was intelligent, even though dyslexia was hampering his results in school. But the best thing you kept saying was ‘he’s not finished yet’. It was so reassuring. And I think about that a lot now. Even in relation to myself and the things I still want to do’.

It’s a good one to keep by you for when you’re fretting over the kids or something you feel you’re not achieving. You can use it about schooling, home education or about your own personal development.

As an update, thanks to her continual support from home and working through stuff with him, her son went on to college where he received suitable help for his dyslexia, then Uni, graduated, has a good job. She kept her faith in him throughout and credits me with prompting her by say ‘what are his needs now?’ whenever she panicked about ‘the future’.

Her daughter whom she home schooled for a while (starting at the end of the book) has just completed her doctorate. That would not have been the case, she feels, if their education had been left in the hands of the system without parental help and belief.

So whether you home educate or your children are in school, if you’re wobbling over certain things not being achieved yet just remember; the kids are not finished yet. Stay on their side, keep believing and keep with their needs now.

And remember, you’re not finished yet either, whatever age you are!

How many GCSEs does it take to breed neglect?

I’m not only a home educating parent! I am other things as well.

And our kids are not just home school kids, they are other things too.

It’s just it can feel all consuming sometimes and become a single identity it’s hard to break. People love to keep others in labelled boxes!

Equally, school kids are not only their grades. Although you’d think that with the way some people are obsessed over them, as if it was the only thing their life was about.

Speaking to a young teen doing ten GCSEs at school at the moment it certainly felt like it for him. It’s become his whole life without room for anything else, each teacher expecting an undivided dedication to their subject when there are nine others also expecting the same.

Nightmare! Or mental illness in the making.

The people and the politics which push the system seem to believe that the harder they push the kids along this line the cleverer they’ll be. This is the propaganda parents are sold.

But the reality doesn’t work that way at all.

The approach which makes the kids ‘cleverer’ if that’s the term – generally intelligent is a better way to describe it –  is diversity. Diversity of skills, of thoughts, of experiences most particularly. The more varied those experiences, pursuits, activities, hobbies, pastimes, interests and learning, the broader and deeper their intelligence will be. And the greater their personable skills which are essential for life and work after school.

The more home educated young adults I see the more it’s obvious how broad minded, open to learning and intelligent they are, some without doing GCSEs at all. They are articulate, inclusive, empathetic, very social and willing. Forging an independent future with an entrepreneurial approach to getting where they want to go.

This is usually because of the range of experiences they’ve been exposed to during their time learning out of school. And this diversity of experience is sadly what the school GCSE treadmill neglects, thus neglecting the broadness of education that will stand kids in good stead for the future and, I feel, letting so many of them down, chaining them to a track that leaves little time for anything else.

GCSEs are useful. But only if you’ve got the other set of skills needed to know what to do with them and how to do it.

Ten GCSEs are not necessary. Many home schooled kids stick to the standard five and engage in a range of other activities that develop other necessary skills for life ahead. Like conversing with people for a start. Knowing what they want and what they want to go for.

So if you’ve got youngsters out of the system don’t buy into the propaganda that they need heads down at academic study all the time. Exclusive academia makes them dull – Unis and employers don’t want that.

Heads up and engaged with other things is what extends their intelligence and is just as educative.

By using the opportunity home educating gives you to broaden their experiences and activities you’ll also be broadening their brains and personalities, developing the other lifeskills they need to propel themselves towards a fulfilling and productive future that takes them beyond being a homeschool kid!

Their education is not just their GCSEs!

A hug from me

20161012_175742 Sometimes I stand on the step so I can be taller than my daughter.

This is not for egotistical purposes, honest!

It’s just so I can put my arms around her shoulders in an all enveloping hug. And she can put her arms around my middle like she did when she was a child.

Doesn’t matter how old they are or how tall they grow, or even how loving the arms of boyfriends, they still know there’s nothing like a mum-hug to help ease the stresses of adulthood.

And how lucky I am to be looked to still to provide it.

No one is ever too old for a reassuring hug. But sometimes we get too busy to prioritise them.

No one is ever too tall or too grown up. And it doesn’t matter what gender – boys need them just as much and everyone needs to be tactile. Technology can’t do tactile, that’s one thing at least we still need to be human to provide! Lets not be on our technology so much we forget to be tactile. Life could easily become totally virtual.

Even grown up friends and I swap mum-hugs when that’s what’s needed and there are empty arms needing to be filled. We have the need both to receive and give hugs. Nothing shares an empathy or love like a hug does. Nothing soothes as much or feels as good.

My youngest popped back for one earlier. I see how many I can get in before she goes again. And I did stand on the step!

Someone said recently that my books feel like a hug. When life is challenging and they dip into them, that’s what it feels like they tell me. I think that’s one of the most endearing compliments I’ve ever received; I feel truly honoured. Couldn’t wish for anything better when that’s what I’d hoped they’d feel like, along with the odd tip of course, but perhaps that’s not as useful as a hug sometimes!

So if you’re in need today consider this another one. I’m just sorry not to be giving it in person!

Five tips for worriers!

I was a bit overwhelmed really, said she understating it!

Overwhelmed by all the kind people at the Home Education Fair in London recently who came up and told me how they’d enjoyed the books, found them helpful.

One lovely parent said how my latest book (A Home Education Notebook) was like a hand to hold and she gave me a hug. Created a big lump in my throat that did. And is certainly succour to my writer’s soul; reward for the days spent here alone writing it. Another said that whenever worries became too all-consuming, she dipped into it and read something that helped them settle again.

Delighted to hear that.

Coping with worry is a question that always comes up at these dos. As if home educating is more worrysome than being in school. We didn’t find it so!

And it’s also reassuring to look at it this way; worry isn’t exclusive to home education.

Potential worry lurks in all aspects of parenting – in all aspects of life really. It’s not because of home education, and home education isn’t going to be the only thing you’ll worry about as a parent. So if the thought that home education is going to make you worry more is stopping you from doing it, you might as well do it anyway, as you’d worry just as much about your kids in school! It’s part and parcel of the education scene.

Actually – scrub that last remark – for it doesn’t have to be. And finding ways to overcome worry and not let it get the better of us is a valuable skill to have for life, to pass onto your kids, and a healthy mental attitude to cultivate.

Each of us has different responses to worrying scenarios and stresses depending on our natural personalities. But whoever we are the most effective way to deal with worry is to understand something important about it; worry is simply the way we are thinking about stuff. Worry is just thinking or imagining things ahead in a negative unproductive way. Worry is not the real event. Stop the roller-coaster thinking and you stop the worry.

Easier said than done – I know! How do you stop thinking?

You get a grip on yourself and try out some of these tactics:

  1. Replace negative imaginings with positive ones. For example, if you must imagine up front imagine the best possible scenario and how you’d like things to work out perfectly and what that looks like.
  2. Keep your focus in the present. You can’t predict what will happen – you don’t know how your kids are going to grow anyway. Focus on creating a good day now. Take care of the present and the future takes care of itself, I found!
  3. Distract yourself with joy; with music, magazines, films, books, Instagram, whatever engages your mind. Although beware – social media and constantly flicking through stuff can become more frenetic than calming sometimes. Spot what calms you and turn to it when you need to.
  4. Take some time every day to devote to mental time and space – plan some unwind moments. Even a simple
    I took several deep breaths by the peaceful river after the buzz of the HomeEd Fair!

    I took several deep breaths by the peaceful river after the buzz of the HomeEd Fair!

    second alone to focus on something calming, (for example; tea in hand, staring out window, breathing deep three times), works wonders.

  5. Get tough with yourself so that you can pass on these important lessons to your children. Worry is just a mental habit you’ve practiced, so practice something else and you can change it. Catch yourself doing it, engage one of your tactics, change your habit. Free yourself and your kids from this destructive trait.

Overcoming worry and stress is a life enhancing skill that’s important whether we home educate or not. Home schooling doesn’t necessarily add to worry – sometimes it even takes it away.

Let me know what works for you. And if you’ve got any tips then please do leave them here.

And check out ‘A Home Education Notebook’ for further support – and possibly even a ‘hand to hold’!

Advice from the daughter!

I’ve just returned from another trip to see my eldest in the city – a very different lifestyle from the one she started out with here. 20161004_121611

The wrench of parting doesn’t seem to get any easier dammit! I realise this after looking back through my posts to earlier visits with her. But we still have just as much fun. And we’re still always learning. Although as I said in my blog post at the time…

It’s me being educated as I discover new grown bits of this vibrant adult. Not only is she working to keep a roof over her head, she is keeping her more creative passions alive with her performing, teaching others, running a business, and developing her own productions thus creating opportunities for others.

And some people accused us of creating ‘jobless, no-hopers’ by home educating our children.

Some people are just unbearably narrow minded.

“So, I want to ask you a question,” I said as we sat over coffee in a brimming cafe full of others sheltering from the chill. Not the kind of hubbub I’m generally used to in my reclusive, rural, writerly days.

“Other parents just starting home educating want encouragement. What advice would you give to parents and children?”

She burst out laughing over the thought of herself giving advice – she didn’t feel that grown up! But then launched into one of those passionate, pro-active, inspirational outbursts I admire so much.

“I would say – encourage experience in any subject they might be interested in or show passion for whether you know about it or not and don’t just stick to the constraints of the National Curriculum. There are thousands of other subjects which are ignored. Don’t discredit subjects that are not academic subjects … do you want to produce a clone or someone who has had a wide experience of different subjects which could be applied to a spectrum of different careers? And to the kids I would say – don’t just follow the crowd, follow your own interests whether they’re deemed to be ‘normal’ or not.”

Laughter bubbles up again and I catch it too! We both know what an independent spirit she is and how she wants to inspire others to be the same. So much for home educating keeping kids cloistered!

I thought about this on the long way back. Before I go to bed after one o’clock by this time I let her know I’m back safe and we swap loving texts. Among the love there’s more advice to swap;

‘Every day life is about learning is it not!” she writes.

She is so right. I am learning. She loves learning. And I’m convinced that she discovered that from home education!