Tag Archive | children

The earth is more important than maths and grammar

Bread in the making!

Pulling out of London on the train recently I love to look upon the back gardens. Behind the terraced streets these little green oases must offer some much needed sanctuary to the wildlife (never mind the humans)!

From the centre of the city, where the soaring icons, office towers and blocks of flats butt up against each other without a scrap of space between, we begin to pass these tiny, tatty back gardens where people are making such a champion effort to provide that sanctuary with what little space they have. And even those rammed in high-rise blocks boast boxes and planters and gardens on rooftops in gallant attempts to create a little natural space where nature can flourish among places covered in concrete. Sometimes it does it on its own and a buddleia protrudes from a wall and weeds grow on sidings. But many Londoners are giving it a helping hand, creating spaces to invite insects, birds and critters we’ll never see to drop in.

When I see these awesome attempts to give nature a welcome I am filled with awe and wonder. And immediately stop taking for granted the abundance of natural space and greenery I have round me where I live now. I grew up in a top storey flat in London so I know what it’s like to be concreted in. I know how precious these few natural oases are. We didn’t have one!

I’m also thinking about the children who live without them now. About the generations of children who never experience countryside. And how they will ever be able to understand the significance of nature and natural science.

From the tiniest miniscule organism, through all the plants and animals, to the largest oldest tree everything has importance in the ecology of the planet. Everything needs a place. And we depend upon it all for our food, for our air, for our survival and that of the planet. And I worry that those children with shuttered, sheltered existences will never have the opportunity to know anything different, will never truly understand that significance, being so far removed from it on their pavement journeys between home and school and their virtual lives of indoor entertainment.

Surely this knowledge and experience is far more essential to an education, will have far more impact on a future, than times tables and grammar? It is imperative. But as kids follow academic curriculum and obedience to indoor culture I wonder how nature will make its impact known.

So I urge all families to help your kids understand the ecology of the earth that is battened down beneath that concrete, understand that it is still what everyone needs for their survival wherever they live, whether they have contact with it or not. Cities and towns have places to go to get down to the earth, they have planters and gardens and parks, and even farms, where that understanding can begin. And failing that you can simply stand in the supermarket by the fruit and veg and ask the question; where does all this come from and what aspects of nature do we depend upon to get it here, from the bees that pollinate, to the insects and leaf matter which make the soil, the animals that fertilise it, to the workers who make it possible. That question will take you on a journey.

The earth may not be under your feet as it is now under mine, but it is just as essential to your life. And it’s essential to every child’s education that they understand that!

Making my mouldy bits shiny!

 I’m off on a little holiday. And looking forward to refreshing and rubbing the mould off my stale bits!

It’s easy not to notice it growing. But when I get so bored that complacency and loss of love of the nice things sets in so bad that I realise I’ve even got used to life looking grey and fuzzy, I know I need to do something about it.

New experiences recharge and polish up those rusty complacent bits.

It’s the same for the kids. they seem to come alive in new places.

Far from switching off their brains, new experiences boost their development and education in ways we sometimes fail to appreciate. New experiences bring new opportunities for discussion and questions, consequently new language (even if still English), new imaginings, development of new neural pathways and growth of intelligence. It’s all good stuff.

So whenever you have the chance to get away and take the kids with you rest assured you’ll be developing their mental agility as you develop their horizons – yours along with them. And enjoying yourself meanwhile. Holidays are as educational (if not more) as studying at home.

Home educators have the chance to do that all the time, funds allowing. Anyway, cheap holidays (we used the relatives in different parts of the country mercilessly) are as valuable as exotic ones. It’s the newness that counts.

It’s such a shame that schooling inhibits so many families from doing the same, pretending it disrupts the child’s education. It doesn’t really. What it more accurately disrupts is ticks on sheets and stats on tables, but I’ve never considered that true education anyway.

True education takes place in true life – not necessarily school life. And it takes place any where at any time, as most home educators discover, whether on holiday or not.

So wherever you take yours, may it be a happy and restorative (if educative) one and make your mouldy bits shiny again! More whenI’m back.

What would your word be?

I was thinking about LOVE the other day.

mind mapping doodles

Not particularly the love between two partners. Or the love parents have for their children, although both are precious and were involved in it.

I was thinking about it in respect of the work I was doing.

When you work for yourself, and by yourself as most writers do, you’re often looking for help and support wherever you can find it. there are no colleagues or work mates to see each day, bounce ideas off, solve your problems, or give you a morning’s encouragement. So I was looking for that through reading. And I came across this question: What is the word that describes what you want in life and which would drive your decisions?

Someone had quoted ‘freedom’. But that wasn’t my word, I reckoned. So what would my word be?

It took some thinking about before I came to the conclusion that my word would be LOVE.

Love is what fuels our focus, binds us to our important people, drives our purpose and weaves threads of pleasure to hold our day together with something other than work. Whether that’s love for each other, loving to care, love for our homes and our sanctuary in whatever form, love for our lifestyle and  work indirectly as it may seem hard but helps us buy the things we need. Even with the imperfections that there inevitably will surely be, there is still love.

But sometimes it gets buried.

When you’re a parent you get anxious. It’s impossible not to really. When you’re a home educating parent that anxiety can get doubled. Although it shouldn’t be; home educating is no more of a threat to our kids’ well being and education than school is! But going against the groove of convention doesn’t often ignite feelings of confidence, and sometimes we need confidence to love.

The trouble with anxiety is that it can mask love.

So this post is just a reminder to say; remember the LOVE as you parent and home educate.

You had children because of love. Your parent practices evolved because you love your kids. And you home educate because you wanted to do what you thought was right by them.

But don’t let an intensity over education mask the real important gentle love that you need to give time for. Do things some days just for love. See what transpires.

I know that there were days I got too intense and messed up because I lost touch with the important love.

So I thought I’d just bring that to the forefront of your thinking.

Have a lovely day!

And do let me know what your word would be!

Where do manners fit into modern parenting?

I’ve been wading through Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’.

I think I’m a bit of a literary philistine really; these long classics don’t do a lot for me. The great long convoluting paragraphs nearly had me tossing it across the room with boredom. Good job it’s summer for it may only be the fact of enjoying some long weekend reads in the garden that kept me at it.

But Oh the frustrations at the reserves and inhibiting manners. Sometimes I wanted to slap Fanny Price for being so correct and ‘proper’!

However, I may be a rebel occasionally (not really), but I do see a point to some moderation of behaviour. Not for the sake of polite convention, in an old fashioned sense. But for the sake of consideration of others.

I think this is a point that some parents don’t get about manners. Manners are not about unquestioning convention or suppressing the kids. They are about consideration.

It’s not about old fashioned habits that don’t really matter like not putting your elbows on the table. And nothing to do with the frustrating conventions I’ve just read about that were so restrictive.

Manners are just little considerations for others. Like perhaps not speaking with your mouth full so you avoid spitting food at others! And you don’t speak when others are speaking generally (unlike the example of folks shouting at each other on Jeremy Kyle), because you’re giving others the consideration of listening to them first.

The point is that you understand and respect the circumstances you’re in.

For example; there were some little ones tearing up and down and round and round in an outdoor cafe the other day, in a space not made for tearing round despite being outside. It was full of other people, unsteady elderly and staff carrying full trays of crockery and hot food. The parents obviously thought this was okay, despite the fact that it was disruptive, inappropriate to the circumstances – there was a massive park space all around for running in – and lacked consideration and respect for others.

And that’s where manners come in – that’s what they are: Consideration and respect for others.

But manners have bad press in some circles. Some believe they are oppression and inhibit a child’s self expression.

We all want to express ourselves. However, we all want to be liked too. Acting out of respect and consideration for others has to be in balance with our desire for self expression.

It’s not like we’re imposing the kind of restrictive behaviour of Jane Austen’s time! We’re just making simple, considerate, useful rules (for want of a better word) for living – and loving – together.

If we want the privilege of enjoying company, good friends and relationships, then we need to act in ways that not only expresses respect for them, but earns respect from them too. Manners are lifeskills; little considerations and empathy for others that help us to achieve that. They’re a two way dialogue of living together.

You might think it’s important not to restrict any kind of self expression like running round in cafes or picking your nose in public. But don’t expect your kids to be liked or admired for it. They need some guidelines on what’s appropriate, so they can observe how others behave and see how they fit into it. Or how will they learn?

A little guidance and explanations of what manners do for us, until they make their own choices, is all that’s needed without resorting to anything as authoritarian as the Austen era.

We all choose our rules, obviously. But that’s always going to be within the climate of wanting to enjoy a warm respectful community, surely.

What you give out you get back.

We enjoy a much more liberal period than I’ve been reading about thank goodness. But consideration for others will always play some part in our living together however modern we are.

Home educating just feels so normal!

May using her map

I was recently contacted by Anja, the author and creator of these super little story maps for children: http://taletrails.co.uk/what-are-tale-trails

We were in touch because she and her husband were researching home education and had recently read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. She told me that once they read it they both made the same comment at the same time: ‘it feels so normal’!

I was delighted – as I’d wanted to show home education as a natural way of raising and educating children. Good to hear it’s doing its job.

Following their research, they’ve decided to home educate their daughter May, who’ll be four in July, rather than starting school. So I took the opportunity to ask her about their decision. And about her work creating the Tale Trails.

Anja told me that it was after May started at nursery and never really settled there that they began thinking about it in earnest.

School has been a bit of a stressful topic for the last year and so we started to research other options.

I have always been aware of home education but being an ex-teacher had never considered it. I initially watched YouTube videos that other home educating families had posted online and came across Ross’s. (Click here)

I asked Anja what kind of reactions they’ve had from family and friends about their decision to home educate and how they might approach it.

We have recently told close friends and family that we will be home educating for May’s reception year and that we will take each year as it comes after that. Everyone we have told is supportive and understanding so far. 

I think day to day life will be similar for the first year. We may start introducing some basics if the opportunity arises. May loves baking so weights and measurement always seem to pop up. She already helps me with the maps and children’s stories that I create for Tale Trails so I am sure she will continue to enjoy that! 

Myself and my husband both work part time so balancing family life and work is already well practiced, although it can be tricky at times. Berni is a mountain leader and I write story walks. May often comes out with me to help create maps and stories for Tale Trails and we often go with dad in our campervan and park up beneath the mountain he is guiding on! 

We are planning on moving to an area where other folks are home educating but we will certainly be taking each day as it comes and hope to enjoy living in the moment as much as possible”.

That sounds like a perfect way to approach home educating – with that kind of flexibility and connection with real life and learning which basically happens all the time. It’s clear from the activities May already does with her parents that’s she’s already learning many skills. It’s not necessary to make the sudden dramatic change in style of educating, as occurs when children begin formal school. Education happens continually and organically through an engaged approach to parenting and family life!

The Grumbletrog

Take a look at some of the Tale Trails and see if there’s one for your area. They’re a perfect resource for home educating days out in the field, the children will love the stories and be intrigued by the adventure through the map reading!

I asked Anja what inspired her to do them. She said; “I actually got the idea one day when I was walking with my husband in the Lake district and felt disillusioned with work. He said to me ‘what is it you actually enjoy doing?’ and I said ‘I love exploring new places and creating stories about them’ and he said ‘well just do that then!’ and that was it! I am doing one for Walney island in Cumbria at the moment and wherever folks ask me to do one if it’s a suitable environment. I mainly just do commissions now and I love seeing who contacts me!”

Many thanks to Anja for sharing their story.

Schooling reminds me of Sat Navs!

It was partly the girls’ comments for my last post on the significance of home educating and partly the sad journey back to the train station as they were leaving that made me think of Sat Nav’s.

And that’s when the similarities struck me.

Sat Nav’s are very useful. But the girls’ remarks about ‘obedience’ and ‘permission’ were still buzzing around in my head, like that automated voice that says; ‘turn around where possible’!

It made me think that although Sat Nav’s have a use, the downside of them is that they can both condition us in a tendency to be obedient and inhibit the growth of our independence, if we’re not on our guard.

Think about it: you soon become a slave to the Sat Nav if you don’t have either the skills to understand a map, or the knowledge that there are other routes and choices should you wish to make them.

The schooling system does the same; it can inhibit you from knowing that there are other routes and other choices in life ahead than those the system would have you obedient to! And the system wants everyone obedient. It much easier for them. Much easier for them to perpetuate their strange ideas about what kids need. Much easier for them to perpetuate their own glorification!

Much easier for them if you have to seek permission to think for yourself, as the girls observed in some people.

Permission.

It’s one of those words that always comes up in Life Coaching or inspirational workshops and techniques? When you’re supposed to give yourself permission to do the things you love, live the lifestyle you want and not be a slave to convention. How many of us are actually unquestioning slaves to convention, so much so that we never even realise? Never even realise that we don’t make many of the choices that we could because, firstly we don’t know they’re there and secondly, we unwittingly feel we haven’t the permission to make them?

Right from being small we are conditioned to be so. Schooling certainly conditions us to be obedient to a certain way of learning, obedient to a future they would set out for us. And before you know what’s happening we’ve lost the skills and the independence to learn any other way (and there are lots of other ways), or the skills to live a life with independent thought and independent choice.

Sat nav’s can be useful. Schools can be useful. Curriculum, courses, workshops, route planners, convention, can all be useful – at times, maybe even a lot of the time.

But we must always encourage our children to see the multitude of choices – some that might be less conventional, to keep a broad and open mind, give them the thinking and reasoning skills to use it through conversations, explorations, experiences, varied activities and exposure to a range of ideas.

And show them how obedience and route planning of any sort is only useful when it is an explored and valid CHOICE.

And when you know that you do have the choice to turn things around when possible, whatever those things may be?

Help, I’m scared of ruining my child!

It’s quite common to hear an anxious plea like this from a home educating parent.

It’s a widely felt concern and a familiar sensation to all who’ve home schooled, once you’re into the reality of home educating day to day. In particular, those days the kids seem to have spent much of the day gaming or doing what appears to be very little!

Firstly, in response to that, I’d like to reassure you that I know home educated youngsters who spent days gaming or doing nothing and they weren’t ruined. Their learning lives were just led differently; they got their act together when required and went on to lead productive happy working lives, some studied for exams and got good grades, others launched themselves into work via other routes and opportunities. We’re conned into the idea (by those who want to keep us obedient to the system) that the sytematic approach to learning offered in schools is the only way to a worthy life. It isn’t.

Whatever they’re doing will have a value strange though it may seem to you!

Secondly, doing nothing isn’t really doing nothing. It may be doing little that you recognise (from that system) as education. But that doesn’t mean that it is nothing of value. Children learn, progress, develop skills, increase their knowledge from all sorts of incidental activities that might look like nothing. For example; gaming; they’re increasing many skills, mental and motor. Chatting with mates, exploring websites, playing and playing around, are all activities which contribute to their development in some way. Just because it isn’t recognisable (by the system’s terms) or measurable (again by the system’s standards) does NOT mean it’s worthless.  Conversations, especially with other adults, are not measurable by the system’s terms but are priceless in developing language, confidence, social skills, understanding, knowledge etc etc.

Thirdly, you are very unlikely to be ruining your child. How come? Look at the logic of it; if you’re a parent who’s reading this, who’s chosen to home educate probably as a result of a lot of long, hard thinking and research, then it’s fair to assume you’re a conscientious parent. And conscientious parents don’t ruin their kids. They learn, adapt, flex, review, research, and keep on learning. That’s what you’re doing.

Take a look at what ruins kids anyway. I assume that to be abuse or neglect, neither of which you’re likely to be doing.

Some days you will be ignoring them. It’s good for them. It develops independence, thinking skills, space to mature as they need to, make decisions, take charge – they never get the chance to take charge in schooling so they never find out how to take charge of life. But for the most part you will be engaging with them, even if just through conversation or idea sharing, showing, demonstrating, or prompting, all of which are valid. Mostly you’ll be encouraging, stimulating, facilitating experiences and opportunities, organising activities. But that won’t be all the time. They’ll soon take over organising themselves if you’ve demonstrated the skills needed to do that and nurtured space for them to do so.

I’ve said many times that kids spend hours and hours in school wasting time, switched off, passively receiving stuff they’re not interested in and which doesn’t inspire them. At home they learn things so quickly so they have hours to game, play, whatever, which stimulates them in valuable ways and increases their motivation. Every minute home schooling need not be (should not be) filled with ‘doing’ education. It certainly isn’t in school. They need stimulating – not coercing.

Finally, isn’t it ironic that rarely would anyone say that a child is being ruined by school! Why make such a blanket statement about home education? Reserve judgement. Do what you feel is right for your child.

Home educating does not ruin children. I don’t know of any ruined home schoolers. All of them are different. All of them have follwed different pathways, some conventional, some not so. But all are intelligent, vibrant, busy, switched on people who have built the necessary skills to move forward towards the life they want….and anyway….like us parents; they’re still not finished yet!

My latest book ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ (see the panel right) is there to help you deal with these kinds of concerns. Find it at Bird’s Nest Books or on Amazon.