Too busy to be kind?


Despite the pic – Harrods wasn’t on our agenda!

I had a few trips to London over the summer for book events mostly.

After the gentle surroundings here I got a bit of a bruising by the city hubbub. It reminded me of why I moved out!

However it’s good to get out your rut – it makes you appreciate what you’ve got so much more.

Since Charley was with me we inevitably did some shopping, but she’s a bit like me in that shopping isn’t a particular pastime – it’s more of a mission. In and out ASAP. And only particular shops.

We were in the West End for four hours but we only did two shops – her favourite and mine.

Hers is the cosmetics shop Lush. That one with the fantastic smell when you walk past. I can see why she likes it. But it’s not just about the products alone, it’s also about the interest and kindness of the staff.

As a sales strategy it really works. Charley spent far more than she meant to. But it wasn’t only about that, she said, she also came away feeling good. She came away with a gift and a feeling of friendship and care – they certainly do the job well.

But what a great job, to give the gift of feeling good to someone. Customers not only come out with the products, but with a sense of care being taken over them as customers. How rare is that? How much better our daily experiences would be if we were made to feel like that more often. If we could make others feel like that?

Her freebie came with a card which talked about Random Acts of Kindness and on receiving this gift she should pay it forward and make a gift to someone else. What a wonderful philosophy; so much better than the sales attack you get in some shops.

However, I didn’t get either in my favourite shop. I think staff realise that their customers should be left alone to get their heads stuck in books and the more they read and discover the more they’re likely to buy. For my favourite shop was Foyles, the renowned bookshop. And despite my anti-spending philosophy I bought a book from them. Just to show my support.

And of course because I love books!

But it will also generate my own act of ‘paying it forward’. Because we have a philosophy; as we bring things into the house, we try and let things go, usually to a charity shop. Or perhaps a friend. It will be my Random Act of Kindness for the day.

And it reminds me of the fact that sometimes we get too busy to remember to be kind. Yet kindness creates kind responses. And is, of course, a lovely way to parent!

Look and Learn!

Did anyone here ever get to see the magazine for children; ‘Look and Learn’ or are you all too young?

I remember my brothers having it and being absorbed by the pictures, images being an expensive medium you didn’t get to see much back in the day before the Web and image rich media like Instagram and Pinterest.

I got a memory jog when copies of it came up on EBay. They look really retro now. But it was fab to have something so illustrated when books where so expensive.

And it’s also struck me what a fabulous title and approach to learning it was; looking and learning.

Looking, as in observation, is an integral part of becoming educated. Not that schools have that much time for this activity. But parents and home educators do.

We’re actually quite bad at observation, I think. It’s not something that we do much. Looking at things intently has had a poor reputation, not to mention stigmas attached like Nerds who do plane spotting or Twitching!

This needs changing, for observation is the foundation of science; of learning and education. The magazine got it right when they called it ‘Look and Learn’.

Encouraging children to look – really look at the world around them – initiates all kinds of responses and learning opportunities. Whether you’re looking at things near hand in detail, looking to the wider world, looking at others and how they behave, or observing anything that you see, it creates opportunities to talk, question, wonder, maybe find out, research, and it stimulates motivation to take things further.

You could base a whole education on observation. By observing the world and how it works and finding out about it as a result, how it links to other things and what you need to do as a result is a sure foundation to becoming educated.

Look and Learn is a brilliant tag and reminder of such a simple approach to learning you can use at any time, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

So I reckon that it makes sense to give plenty of time for looking and observation. Learning is bound to be the result!

If you haven’t homeschooled, you’re not qualified to judge

As much to learn out of school as in it

As much to learn out of school as in it

I don’t understand some folk’s aggressive judgemental attitudes towards those families choosing to home educate. There can be some real personal mud-slinging on some of the forums about it occasionally.

What’s particularly offensive is that they’re often made by those who have no experience of it.

One of the most blanket statements I often hear is ‘It shouldn’t be allowed’.

I’d like to ask; why not?

Is it because mere parents couldn’t possibly get education right for their children?  Schooling doesn’t get it right for many either, does it?

Or because children can become isolated? But aren’t many isolated in school? Isolated by bullying, by cliques and gangs, by being different, by having different learning needs.

Or maybe people think it shouldn’t be allowed because parents aren’t teachers. Yet it’s sometimes the teaching in schools that’s causing children to fail – not because teachers are poor at what they do, but because their hands are tied by a system that identifies an elite few for success and makes failures of the rest.

Or maybe people think that children miss out if they’re not in school. Yet you could equally say that all those children imprisoned in school are missing out on a wealth of opportunities to learn that are outside it.

It’s even been suggested that some families home educate because they can’t be bothered to send their child to school. However, you could look at that the other way round too and suggest that school users do so because they can’t be bothered to take responsibility for their child’s education themselves or seriously look at whether it’s working for their individual. But home educators don’t usually make those kinds of judgements!

And there’s even been the accusation that home educators aren’t bothered with education. The reality is the exact opposite; home educating families are so bothered with education they daren’t leave it to the schools.

Home schooling families go on in their own quiet way, exercising their right to take full responsibility for their children’s educational needs, usually without accusing those who want to make school choices. And some might not be perfect. But when did school get it perfectly right for every child?

Home schooling is a huge undertaking and families should be applauded for their brave attempts to do something to fulfil their child’s needs, rather than be judged on possible failings.

Most of us have experience of school, so most of us get to know what it’s about and can make informed decisions about it.

But most of the population have not experienced home education. So if that’s the case, I don’t really think these people are qualified to judge.

And if you’re one of those who think it shouldn’t be allowed here are four clips that might change your mind:

How tiny are we?

A bit blurred, but here she is glowing behind the earth's shadow - thanks to Charley for the pic!

A bit blurred, but here she is glowing behind the earth’s shadow – thanks to Charley for the pic!

There are times when I feel utterly lucky to live in a house so uniquely connected to the rhythms of the land. Last night was one of them.

I admit, there are also times when I bemoan it! Times of unstoppable draughts and exposure to freezing elements. Times of mud caked single track roads that are treacherous and slow. Times when I’d just like to dip into a bit of coffee culture nearer than an hour’s drive away! And times of threat from living so near to the sea.

But times like last night, watching the awesome lunar eclipse, with my lovely daughter also awake with the excitement of it, makes me realise it’s worth all that!

It’s worth the draughts to watch sunrises and sunsets as they pass seasonally round the windows. Windows that look out in every direction across a uniquely natural landscape which stretches as far as the eye can see. A house that sits with the rhythms of the turning earth as wild geese in winter or summer swallows call the seasonal changes.

The moon shine starts on our East facing bedroom window and works it’s way around to the South facing one as the night passes on. It lays ribbons of sheen upon the sea then upon the bed as I’ve left the curtains open a crack to watch it. Last night I couldn’t help but get up to watch the phenomenon of the eclipse.

At first the light was strong enough to cast shadow and illuminate the land as if it was daytime. Then as I watched it dull to bruise red, a mist came up on the land and blurred it all, yet up high the stars were still as clear. Finally the shadow on the moon moved over and the brightness returned and I returned to bed wondering how I’d manage living in a house where I couldn’t feel this connected to the earth. An earth which really matters more than tiny little me!

When I’m in the city a commercial culture rules all and it’s easy to believe that is all that matters. I can become entrapped in the cosmopolitan and the superiority it breeds over those that live and work rurally, day after day, far from a man-made culture or a froth topped coffee.

When I’m here and able to witness such incredible phenomenon, that leave me more shaky with excitement and awe than with tiredness, it brings my mind home again to the things that truly matter.


New book news!

I had an exciting meeting with the publisher this week.

More adventures from Little Harry and family soon. Illustration by James Robinson

More adventures from Little Harry and family soon. Illustration by James Robinson

We’ve got two more books in the pipeline; the first is the continuing adventures of Little Harry and the home educating family you met in ‘Who’s Not In School’, written especially for children. And the other is a collation of my posts and articles about home schooling from all the years we were home educating our two children, written especially for the parents!

I’ve written so much about it over the years, some even pre-date this blog. And the Home Education posts which are here are scattered among general parenting stuff and my forays outdoors. So if you’re looking for home educating tips and encouragement, rather than you having to trawl through all of that, I’m collecting it in one book.

For I understand that need for a bit of comfort sometimes as you tread this unconventional path as I felt it too. Or some fresh viewpoints, reassurance, or just the feeling that someone understands, so now you’ll know where to turn. There’ll be new material in there too, especially written for the book.

Hopefully this will be out in time for Christmas (dare I say that word?).

Harry’s adventures may take a little longer, though, as you can imagine that those beautiful pictures take the illustrator a while.

But I’ll keep you posted here. If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll be able to get updates on the progress and news of when it’s available. You can also sign up for the publisher’s newsletter to get updates on their site too.

Meanwhile; perhaps I could just say how much I appreciate the support shown for my work so far. Home educators are not the only ones who need encouragement – writers do too! Your kind words are always uplifting, either here or on Amazon. And all ‘Likes’ on my Facebook Author page, most gratefully received.

Thank you!

And in return I hope you find support in the forthcoming work.

The tricky job of parenting kids who game

Did you see the Horizon programme on gaming last week; ‘Are video games really that bad?

I think the dilemma of how much children should be gaming is a concern of every parent wherever children are educated.

If they’re home educated, they have more time for and access to gaming. If they’re at school all day, and just want to game in the evenings and nothing else, the parents still have the same worry about whether the work’s being done or never getting to see the kids!

The programme raised many interesting points, many on the positive aspects of gaming and how it could be influential to mental development for both the young and the rest of us!

But of course, research and statistics can be stacked to show anything you want them to show – I’m very aware of that and so should we all be.

However, after watching this programme and another one on Panorama; ‘Could a Robot Do My Job?’ which suggested that the most valuable preparation for the world of employability were skills; technological, creative thinking and caring skills, my feeling about parenting remains the same.

That education and our parenting, and how your kids turn out, is never the result of one influence.

Decisions about gaming and technology are never taken in isolation, there are far more intangibles that come into play. For example; parenting styles and how much interaction parents have, conversations about the games and discussions about how to respond to them, or what else is on offer at the time, the home environment, the child’s personality, all play a part. And these issues affect the way our children grow, how they develop, and how they respond to the things in their lives, either educational opportunities – or gaming.

The way in which children respond to gaming and the violence that they witness there has been of huge concern. And the programme asks whether this is likely to make children themselves more violent. But as the programme points out, it is not the violence in the game that affects kids in isolation, it’s often the frustration children feel – and this can be influenced by other factors besides gaming like how much they do it and how much they get out for active play, for example – which affects what they do as a result of gaming.

Parenting children who game is no different to parenting children who do anything; it’s about maintaining a balance between all activities and aspects of their lives, having conversations about life and what is healthy and what is not, constantly being involved and keeping communication open!

Forget forever busy – learn from nature!

One of our fledglings that'll be flying thousands of miles!

One of our fledglings that’ll be flying thousands of miles!

It won’t seem right without the swallows in the sky. They’re gathering to make their epic Autumn journey.

I see them swooping about the sky as if with pure enjoyment. If you live in a city it’s more likely to be the House Martins and Swifts you see flitting around, flexing their muscles for their long migration.

Nothing marks the turning of the seasons more than the summer visitors going – people and birds! And the harvest gratefully done, the fields a little quieter for a bit, fallow and golden, the garden dropping down to seed head slumber.

I won’t be tidying the dead stuff away. I leave it for all the little creatures and insects to overwinter in a duvet of fallen leaves. They can sleep in peace and shelter.

I’ve written about this fallow time before. How these seemingly fallow times can be so developmental and we shouldn’t worry about children having fallow times too. These are as instrumental to their progress as productive times. Just because there’s nothing tangible to show for it doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in their minds. Intellect needs fallow on occasions; it’s a valuable to growth as stimulation is.

It’s the same for the parents actually. Parents, especially mums, mostly operate at high energy levels, whether running round after toddlers or finding new ways to negotiate teenhood, it’s all exhausting. Even twenty somethings can exhaust you with concerns, says she with experience!

And writing, or any creative pursuit, certainly exhausts you. You certainly need fallow times in order to recuperate some of the energy expended on a project to bring it to harvest.

So I wanted to say that whatever work you do, not to worry about fallow. It’s hard to sit and rest and cogitate in a culture that upholds forever busy. But forever busy is not the best way I’ve found, not for kids, nor parents, or for writers or workers.

All of us worry sometimes about the kids never doing anything, about us needing to constantly motivate them, about never being able to write anything again. And the guilt in doing nothing is paramount! The over emphasised work ethic that surrounds us heaps guilt on thicker than mayo on coleslaw.

But it’s best to push all that aside and enjoy a few fallow Autumn moments. For have you noticed, whilst nature’s settling into the season with a sigh, she has no guilt about lying dormant at all!

Neither should we. It’s what charges us all for future success.

Nature I find is often the best teacher. We can learn valuable lessons from her.