Tag Archive | child development

Did you see Planet Child?

I watched the first in a new series about children’s development last week called Planet Child. Did you see it?

In it the twin doctors, Chris and Xand van Tulleken, were observing how children in other parts of the world are given greater independence at a very young age, having very different lifestyles from those in the UK, and how this impacts on their development.

As a result of these observations the doctors set up an experiment for three groups of seven year olds to simulate that experience of  independence, where the children had to navigate their way across London on their own without their parents. (Safely under observation – although the kids didn’t know that).

It was dead scary watching!

Scary for me as a parent – not the kids – they seemed happy enough, and it was fascinating to watch.

Now, I know ‘it is telly’, as in it’s all very contrived, well edited to get us to believe what they want us to believe, and has many flaws as an experiment as such. And there were many unanswered questions.

However a fascinating premise that came out of it was that it seems the more time children spend on unstructured activities, the better it is for their overall development.

And this immediately made me think of all the home educating families who use less structure and more autonomy in their approach to their children’s learning and are often criticised for it, many educationists believing that kids learn nothing without a structured regime of learning. Yet it appears it is exactly this autonomy which gives the opportunity for the children to develop many essential personal skills, needed in order to be able to apply themselves and what they’ve learned to real life. Life-skills in other words. Skills which are often inhibited by an approach that spoon feeds them a curriculum in a structured environment where they’re told what to do, when and how to do it. Like school.

Ironic! Since it is so often this autonomous approach, often interpreted as the parents being uninvolved (so wrong!), which many professionals find so hard to get their so-called educated heads around, even though there is increasing proof as these home educators graduate that an autonomous approach works well.

Autonomous approaches to education don’t drill kids to follow an extrinsic curriculum, pass tests and get grades, as schools do, (even though most of the home schooled youngsters go on to choose to gain qualifications in their own autonomous way). What it does, is develop a broad-thinking, educated person with a wide range of skills that enable them to make appropriate independent choices.

Unstructured activities are good for kids, the programme concluded (although clearly within certain boundaries – ‘it is telly’ after all!) Unstructured education has the same advantages.

Just thought I’d say in case you’re having doubts about your autonomous home educating approach!

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You can tell who’s been talking…

Babies must wonder what all this Christmas palaver is about. They stare at all the going’s on in amazement, too young to understand what we’re up to, however much we talk to them. Our behaviour and our hype must seem bizarre,even if entertaining. But I’m sure they absorb the excitement if not the explanations.

Babies – their wonderful world on BBC2

And we should be explaining – well – talking to them, however young and however they look back at us in bewilderment. For talking with them is essential for their development whatever age they are and whatever we’re chatting about.

There have been some great programmes on the BBC recently about babies’ development which I’ve been absorbed in. It talks about how the interactions babies have impacts on their development later on. And engaging through talk and attention was one part of their growth which was discussed; how those babies and toddlers who’ve been talked to, and with, have a greater vocabulary and dexterity with language at a later date. Even more importantly; they are the ones who achieve better educationally. So even if you think your baby isn’t responding you need to keep chatting away to them about what you’re doing and the things you see as you take them out and about.

I cringe when I see babies – any kids actually – being ignored as if they were an uncommunicative blob, or being pushed along in their pushchairs, backs to their parent, whilst said parent is engaged with their mobile. I know there’s a case for this on occasion – maybe. But I suspect it happens too often. It may be a boring talking to a baby, but it is a responsibility that comes with the parent package.

In fact it’s just as important to talk with any toddler – any youngster – and that parents continue to do so. To explain, answer questions, observe, whatever, for it all impacts on the development of their brain.

I have heard that some teachers are dealing with children starting school who are so unused to being talked to, and to whom the concept of conversation is so alien, they hardly talk at all. Their spoken vocabulary is so inhibited that staff have to spend the first part of the term focussing on that, let alone anything else like reading and writing. A shocking sign of someone neglecting their parental duty to engage with their kids. Teachers can always tell which kids have been talked to!

What some parents perhaps don’t realise is that talking to the little ones whatever age they are doesn’t just impact at the time, but equally importantly affects their development later in life too. The fact that they need talking to carries on throughout their childhood. And it’s not only important for language development or academic achievement. Conversing also creates the foundations of relationships and social skills essential for our health and happiness.

So whatever is going on in your house this Christmas, make sure you chat about it with the littlies. Of course if you’re home educating you get to chat to them all the time – no wonder homeschooled kids turn out to be so well developed! And if you’ve got a baby in the mix make sure you include them in it too. You are contributing to their education even at that early age.

Hugs for brains!

sdrThe minute I saw Charley I grabbed her in a massive hug. I tend to do that anyway. It’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done. And I don’t get so much opportunity these days, now we’re no longer home educating and they live independently.

I drool loving messages in her ears along with the kisses while she laughs and hugs back – she has the best hugs ever.

This time as I held her I said; “This is why you’re so intelligent, you know.”

She looked back at me laughing. “How come?”

“Well apparently, research now shows that the more you hug your babies the better their brains develop, so come here.” (Read the article here)

I grabbed her again as we joked at the idea of her being my baby when she’s about to celebrate her 25th birthday.

You’re never too old for hugs, brain development or not.

The beauty of home education is that you get an extra amount of time for hugs. For expressing your care and value and love for them. And respect of course.

They don’t always want it. Charley didn’t so much when she was tiny and very reserved. Anyway, she always wanted to be chasing about, too busy for huggy stuff. Nowadays she’s the most huggy person ever.

But I do think it is another one of those little things that going to school can affect; the time, opportunity and even inclination to express your love for one another especially through hugs and touch.

School creates tension in households with its rules and demands and stresses. Admittedly we all have those to negotiate in life, but so many of the school demands are unrealistic and unnecessary and placed on kids too young; the demand of the homework for one. Not to mention the tensions of school relationships which to me seem wholly unnatural, despite the ridiculous idea people have that kids have to go to school to ‘socialise’. School is the last place I’d want my kids to learn about socialising (post about that here) as relationships there are built on unhealthy tensions and are rarely anything like those relationships outside of school.

And I believe these tensions come home with them and affect the relationships within the family. There are bound to be tensions when the relationship many parents have with their kids after school boils down to arguments about getting their homework done, issues over uniform, or not behaving like so-and-so at school does!

Parents of school kids have a lot to counteract in maintaining their precious relationships with their kids at home.

Families who home school have the opportunity for hugs and holds whenever the need arises.

And it is all those hugs and holds which impact on the way your child develops emotionally and mentally and spiritually from then on. It is the natural part of the human existence that we all intrinsically need. And we should never skimp on it. Hugging time missed out on can never be replaced.

Better get on with it then!

 

 

 

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!

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!