Tag Archive | child development

Rewards to come

Chelsea and I were having a giggle on the phone the other morning. We speak most days – treasured times!

Chelsea performing on International Women’s Day

We talk about all sorts of things usually starting with current irritations, concerns and recently the bloody weather. And we talk about creative pursuits, finding solutions and sometimes even more philosophical ideas that inspire us; that really make us think.

Sometimes of course we just rant!

This time we were talking about delayed gratification. The skill more usually associated with the development of children but which, we noted, some of the adults around us don’t seem to have matured enough to acquire!

Being able to delay gratification is important. It means, when necessary, we are able to put off immediate rewards for longer term benefits. We need it for saving perhaps – by not spending now we will benefit by being able to afford something later on. Or for health as another example – by resisting too many pieces of cake I’ll benefit health wise in the longer term. Tricky one that!

The need for instant gratification in little people is sometimes desperate. They want it and they want it NOW. And no amount of reasoning will enable them to see otherwise if they are not at a level of maturity to have experienced the gains. And that’s what gradually enables them to practice the skill for themselves; by actually experiencing it. For example, by seeing how resisting frittering away those pounds whenever they’re in the sweet shop, made it possible for them to buy that Game later on which was much more expensive. They need to have benefitted from it to really understand gains.

Each child is different and each child matures at a different rate – so don’t sweat over it!

But it struck me how this applies to us too. That we, as parents, most particularly home educating parents, have to practice letting go of the need for instant gratification where education’s concerned.

To really grit our teeth sometimes, in order to keep faith in our conviction that by risking moving away from the instant reassurance of educating our kids in a proven mainstream way with proven outcomes, we will instead earn later gratification by seeing them enjoy a happier route to education outside of mainstream by a different approach.

Because they all do!

Many home schooled kids who’ve graduated before yours are proof. And if you can delay your need for that familiar mainstream reassurance now, and stick with the approach your gut tells you is right for you and your family, you will be rewarded.

Just like the children, in order to do this you need support, you need to exercise patience and faith, courage and confidence. When you wobble you need distraction or reassurance from those who’ve done it already. As you’d encourage your children to keep their eye on that Game or whatever they’re after, you should keep your focus on your longer term goals. And remind yourselves regularly of the principles behind your choices. Write them down. Post notes round the house if you need. Read what others say about their journeys. And my books may help.

And remember what it feels like when your child wavers from their course of a longer term goal and have a little wobbly, be kind to yourself when you waver too. It’s a natural part of the process!

I watched my little girls, of ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ fame, grow from the need for having it and having it now to the skill of seeing a wider view and manage to practice restraint in order to manifest later rewards. And I have watched them develop away from the need to always do what they want when they want, into intelligent, social, caring and hard working members of society who can make wider contribution beyond themselves.

As no doubt yours will.

And one day you’ll also be getting phone calls that really make you think!

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Disconnected!

We’ve been another week without an internet connection. I’ve had to decamp to a friend’s house to use hers. For the other problem with rural living is poor mobile signal – not enough for me to go online on my phone at home.

Such are the disadvantages of living in remote places. But we’re used to it!

It has its upside. It means that without the seduction of social media, emails and messaging I focus more intently on new writing rather than allowing my time to be eaten away by responding to notifications. It’s easy for that to be an excuse for not getting the real work done. I admit I can be a bit dilatory at managing that!

The absence of the internet also reminds me to practice skills that are independent of it, to be more resourceful, to re-visit other activities, perhaps less sedentary, that do not depend on that connection. And it’s a good reminder that we need variety in our daily lives to bring a healthy balance and outlook, to help us maintain other skills and interests, practical and physical as well as social, to make us more rounded people.

Exactly the same for our children. They need this variety too; involvement in an assortment of skills as well as internet ones, most particularly the physical, practical and personal, to make them healthy, rounded, skills-rich adults.

I’ve enjoyed watching some of the ‘Back in time…’ programmes that have taken families back to life in earlier times, mostly before internet and telly. And some of the comments the youngsters on the programme have made suggest that they have enjoyed living without their phones, internet and telly at times because it has made them focus on each other. Conversation has become a pastime for example, or communicating over board games. Another remarked they’ve become closer as a family.

Now, I acknowledge that I was as grateful as anyone to distract a restless child with some screen based pursuits.

But I’m now aware that this has become such an overused activity that children are lacking in many of the skills they would have naturally gained from connected family time. Some cannot converse adequately, use language effectively, interact with peers appropriately and are starved of the nurture family closeness brings because of long isolate hours entertained by screens, disconnected from real people. Even communal meal times have been overturned by TV dinners.

I enjoy a TV dinner, but not all the time.

What I need, and what children need even more as their on going development is more important, is a rich diversity of experiences. They need opportunities to try a range of different activities, explore potential interests, chances to develop a variety of skills, physical, practical and personal for their well being, resourcefulness and healthy maturity.

A balance of life’s activities in other words. Not a life that’s dependent on one.

Nothing like a week with disconnection to make me check whether my time usage was balanced.

If this extreme weather continues I suspect I might be in for another one!

Times to leave the kids alone

Back in the dark ages of teaching I had a class of 41 at one stage! As you can imagine it was difficult to see that every child got their needs met.

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It may have been a very old fashioned set-up but there was time for one to one teaching – just like home ed!

I switched from there to a small village school with only three classes and about sixty kids in the entire school. I had 14 in my class and it was an absolute delight. I could properly teach instead of manage crowds. Every child read to me just about every day and I got to know each of them individually which gave me a better chance of meeting their particular needs. Sadly, such days are just a distant bliss. The system has changed so much that real teaching on this scale is impossible. We misguidedly think big is better – it isn’t, always.

There was a down side to these tiny classes however; it could be a bit intense – the poor kids couldn’t get away with anything! A little natter. A little mischief. A little bit of relief when Hawk-eye wasn’t watching them.

I realised that this wasn’t always healthy. They needed a bit of time to swap notes, share concerns with their desk mate, just let off steam and skive a bit which is human after all. So I decided sometimes I had to turn a blind eye and just concentrate on the important misdemeanors. Not that there were many of those because we’d built a relationships of respect and trust in each other. You can do that with small numbers; build relationships.

It also taught me a valuable lesson for home educating.

Home educating one-to-one can be very intense. It would be easy for it to become overbearing. You have to learn to not watch the kids all the time. And certainly not ‘EDUCATE’ all the time.

This is beneficial for all sorts of reasons, as well as to save you from insanity and education overkill. If your kids are constantly directed and monitored and dare-I-say controlled they never learn to be independent. To think for themselves. To decide for themselves. To imagine and invent and create their own activities and consequently their own education. To be in charge. This is a set of skills lacking in young people when they get to Uni; they don’t know how to take charge, of themselves even, let alone their workload.

I know some home educating parents worry that if they’re not directing, instructing or ‘educating’ their kids all the time they will be considered neglectful.

This is rubbish. It may be the mentality of those who don’t understand the true nature of home education or self-directed learning, which is on the increase (think online courses), but it doesn’t have to be your mentality.

Leaving the kids alone is an essential part of their self development. Learning things together doesn’t take much time really. There will be plenty of time for their own activities – which they have to think up, even if they need some starters as to where to look or some stuff strewing around to tempt them. Each of you in the home ed household needs to learn to respect others’ space and time and to leave each other alone to achieve it, to develop in their own individual ways. They’re bound to be learning all the time through doing so.

So, for education’s sake, for self-development’s sake, make sure there are times you leave the kids alone!

‘Unruly’ and what to do about it.

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There’s times for running and times for not!

Been for a haircut. And the inevitable ‘chat’ with the hairdresser, which I freely admit I’m not very good at. But she cut the girls’ hair when we were home educating, without judgement on what we were doing, and always asks after them.

She’s a lovely young woman who has some fairly powerful views, many of them on parenting, even though she’s not a parent herself. She sees some fairly ‘unruly’ children in the hairdressers whose parents drag them in, dump them in the chair, then leave the responsibility of them to her whilst they pop to the shops!

Even without being a parent she’s aware that this is not ideal parenting. And she’s also aware that many parents should be far more engaged with their kids than they are, then maybe they wouldn’t be ‘unruly’.

The inverted comments illustrate the fact that I’m not sure what else to call them. We know what I mean; not doing as they’re asked or knowing the point of what grown-ups ask, exploring things when it’s not appropriate, inability to understand what’s appropriate behaviour in the circumstances, none of which is a crime but needs guidance.

We all see this all of the time. I saw a child running up and down in a cafe the other day where stressed waitresses were busily carrying out plates of hot food and having to dodge round her. Parents didn’t say a thing – couldn’t even see the problem and thought their child was just expressing important needs, clearly oblivious to whether this was appropriate or not – and to the fact others’ have needs too.

Children’s understanding of what’s appropriate or not evolves in the first instance from interaction with their parents in a variety of situations, where they’ve been talked to, guided, shown, had explained, engaged with. Interaction teaches kids what appropriate behaviour is.

I know some parents feel that a child should be allowed to express themselves in any way they want without that being inhibited. That we should never suppress them in any way.

But I look at it this way, we want our children to grow up to be liked. But we all need an understanding of the fact we are not the only ones in this world, that others need consideration too, that we have to grow and develop within those considerations even whilst being as true to ourselves as possible. We are social animals and social animals operate within boundaries of respect – for others, for self. Suppression is not the point. Guidance and explanation is. If they’re asked not to play with the stuff on the hairdresser’s trolley there will be reasons!

Neglecting to teach them the understanding of this simple truth is neglecting the parental duty of guidance and personal education.

Parenting is difficult. It tests us all the time. The children test us, test boundaries and want to break rules – course they do, they’re inquisitive little beings. Mine certainly did – and that brings us challenges. But the simple antidote to some of those challenges, like how to stop them rummaging in the hairdresser’s trolley of intriguing bits and pieces, is to build a good relationship with the child at every opportunity, one that is based on respectful interaction, dialogue and guidance as to what to do when – and when not! Dialogue and conversation is an effective learning tool. And the time we devote to nurturing that is an important part of our parenting.

It’s part of education too. And even this young woman, without any children of her own, could see that as the role of a parent more clearly than the parents themselves!

Brain training is better done by playing a recorder

I’m often on about the need for diversity in children’s lives. I do hope not too many of them were sat in front of a game all half term.

Of course, gaming is a relevant part of children’s lives now, but like with everything, they need diversity of experience in both their recreational lives and education.

The education system continues to put the squeeze on that diversity, particularly within the Arts subjects, despite the fact that numerous studies show the benefits both to education and mental and personal development that these subjects have.

Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’ Illustration: Sophie Wolfson

Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’ Illustration: Sophie Wolfson

I spotted a report lately that talks about the benefits of musical training in children – although perhaps ‘training’ is a bit of a worrying word. It would sit more comfortably to think that kids picked up a musical instrument and wanted to play it of their own volition and, more importantly, were given the opportunity to do so. But that opportunity is dwindling in schools despite the fact that playing a musical instrument helps children’s all round learning skills and educational development.

The article in the Guardian tells how learning to play an instrument is one of the most effective ways of developing brain function that there is, far exceeding the benefits of Brain Training Games, despite their claims. Learning an instrument can have a good effect on memory and language development which endorses the fact that we should not see subjects in isolation but as collectively good for the intellect and personal development.

It’s not about being good at one particular subject. It’s about embracing many subjects which will impact on children’s all round progress. Diversity of subjects supports diversity of brain function.

Other creative subjects are equally important, (see my post on creative intelligence here) as is sport and physical activity, also increasingly sidelined in schools for the more measurable subjects. Read this one on art in education.  And another on the influence of physical activity on brain function. Of course, these measurable subjects feed league tables which makes them more popular than those which don’t!

It is criminal that schools are forced to lose these subjects to the demands of a narrowing curriculum

Another of the beauties of home education is that you can give the kids the diversity of experiences they need for healthy all round development.

Gaming, sports, arts, or learning an instrument need as much attention as the subjects you’d consider more academic, as they have an equal role to play in children’s development.

Our own too come to that – so I’d better get off Instagram and get the guitar out!

What influences our children’s learning?

I was playing with the idea of children’s learning the other day and drew myself a little picture. This is because the system has taught us to think in a very linear way about how learning happens and it helps to think about it a little differently – especially if you’re home educating.

When you’re home educating you can abandon misconceptions about learning happening in a very unwavering linear way, because it doesn’t.

I think the government wants us to see it like that because it suits the systematic teaching they want to provide. But learning IS NOT the result of teaching, like it’s some kind of App that teachers can stick on what they consider to be hAppless kids! It’s nothing like that whatsoever.

Learning is instead an intrinsic part of who you are, of the influences around you, and how you respond to them.

My picture describes it like this:

learning 001

All these factors influence the way children learn – and achieve. And interplay with each other and every day – every year – will change and be different in the way they influence learning, some stronger than others at varying times and the children constantly changing in the way they respond.

Learning is an extremely fluid process. How could it ever be linear?

Systematic schooling disregards so many of these influences, seeing educating as this one track conditioning rather than the blossoming of an individual, responding to the climate in which they’re developing.

But I think it’s more helpful to keep this picture in mind. Because then you can forget the idea of learning as a simple set of single-track scores and see it instead as the result of complex influences, some of which you can impact on, some of which you can’t, and all of which have to be taken into account and negotiated in order to develop a well educated person. Wherever there’s a problem; one of these influences will probably be the cause.

And this applies wherever they are educated!

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!