Tag Archive | education

Balancing the crazy parenting scales!

I SO appreciate the comments, compliments and messages I receive via this blog, Twitter and Facebook.

You can't force a tree to blossom or a child to bloom

You can’t force a tree to blossom or a child to bloom

THANK YOU!

They are a delight to read and help restore balance and perspective on days when I’m laying words in isolation and never hear a voice except the one in my head – which gets dead boring! Especially messages like one recently telling me how valuable my work was to their parenting life, despite not being a home educating family.

That’s nice to know. Because firstly, I’m for all parents, I’m for families, whatever route they take. And secondly it confirms such an important point; family life and education (all education not just home education) are interconnected. And the trick is to maintain the balance between them.

What a balancing act parenting always is, with decisions to make about how we parent and what to do for the best, all the time.

Even now mine are older, I constantly question how I should react, support, advise, not only as in the ‘right’ thing to do (whatever that is), but what’s right for our individuals and in the wider picture.

Looking at a broader picture sometimes can help maintain balance when we’re bogged down in concerns which seem overwhelming at the time. In the perspective of the broader picture it helps sometimes to ask; will this really matter in a week’s time, a month’s, a year’s, ten years? So it can ease a concern by balancing it with that broader time frame.

A world-view frame also helps when little dilemmas about our children’s behaviour constantly rise and we wonder how best to deal with them. Often these boil down to; should our child be doing this, should we stop them doing this, should we make them do that? And how to encourage what we want them to do?

I looked at it this way; their behaviour matters, not because I want ‘good’ little children. Neither do I want oppressed little children; that doesn’t make for good. But behaviour is about respect.

I wanted children who respected the world, who respected others, who didn’t abuse, who showed concern and consideration, and who were likeable little beings as this benefited both them as individuals and the wider world and its people. And the best way to encourage that caring behaviour is to demonstrate it.

Respect is just care really. It’s not about dominance. Or indoctrination. Or being either strict or liberal. It’s about mutual care and consideration for the world and all things and people in it. Respect for our children. And that’s why education is so important and tied up in our parenting. Because it is only through being educated about these things that children can practice them. We guide them by the way we show it, the way we behave, through our demonstration and explanation.

However, keeping that in balance; children are never finished! They need time to mature into – tidying up for example, not hitting others, not snatching, being helpful, being able to see others’ point of view, sharing jobs, stuff like that. This is where we need the balancing perspective of a time frame, and of a wider picture. We have to guide, encourage, be tolerant and consistent. They will get it wrong.

But never use that wider picture as an opportunity to compare your child with others. Although we all want to operate within a social world, we are all individuals in it, developing in individual ways at individual paces. And we all develop educationally at individual rates too. Sometimes parenting – and educating – requires us to bite our lips and wait. Be patient.

Just as you can’t hurry blossom on a tree you can’t hurry your child’s bloom either.

Another point about this balancing act is one that’s very easy for me to say now, but hard to accept when the children are little; the children are going to change! Nothing stays the same. The blossom nor the child!

The toy strewn floor will one day be empty. The fact that your child can’t seem to add two and two together right now will probably make no difference by the time they’re sixteen and competent in maths. The child who won’t tidy up will become the student who’s moaning to you down the phone about their housemate’s mess. That’s really funny when it happens!

So I found it best to maintain a balanced perspective on all these niggles, between rules and flexibility, between what really matters and what you can just let go for the sake of a good relationship, and consistently demonstrate respect for one another. Demonstration is the biggest influence of all.

And we don’t have to get it right all the time either – we’re still learning. I describe a tantrum I had in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ where I get my behaviour and perspective horribly wrong. But guess what, the children forgave me as I forgave them, and despite my mistakes we have a wonderful adult relationship now that is based in love and respect and immensely treasured.

For I had to learn too; even through the ‘unbalanced’ bits, you never stop your education – however old you get.

And just like children, we all need that pat on the back when we get it right, which is why your messages move me so!

Thank you!

What’s normal about The Emperor’s New Clothes?

We’re quite normal really. Although judging by some folks’ reaction to home educators you’d think we were aliens.

But then I suppose this is the common reaction to anyone doing things differently; suspicion, fear and walk away quickly pretending it’s not happening. Most people are afraid of different. Most like to stay within the recognisable confines of what everyone else is doing. Follow the crowd – even when the crowd might be wrong. Most don’t want to confront change.

In schools, change is foisted on staff and pupils whether they like it or not. And most of the change in educational politics recently hasn’t done the staff or pupils any good. You only have to read stories like this, or this, or this, to know that to be true. But parents till go on accepting the propaganda they are told about education, just so they can stay within the ranks of what appears to be normal.

The daft thing is that home educating parents are as ‘normal’ as any other. They want the same recognisably normal things for their children as anyone; for them to be happy and healthy, for them to work hard, achieve and reach their potential, to be educated and intelligent and to go on to find work and pay.

The only difference is that home educating families take a different route to get there. Yet despite that they all still achieve those same ‘normal’ outcomes. The grown up home schooled youngsters now graduating are proving it. They are ending up at exactly the same point as school-users; with good grades, in higher education or work, with good friends and social connections, leading ‘normal’ happy lives where it’s not even noticeable where they were educated.

The only difference was that they didn’t have to endure the bizarre educational policies foisted on them by idiots who have little professional understanding of the subject and are only interested in votes.

In fact, another home educating parent and I were talking about ‘normal’ the other day. She’d come to the same conclusion as me (and I suspect most other home schooling parents), that the longer you are away from the system and educating successfully in other ways, the more you come to realise how totally bizarre the school system actually is when you examine it.

Frankly, it is schooling which is abnormal. Not home education.

It puts me in mind of the story The Emperor’s New Clothes.

You can get anyone to believe anything is normal, like the Emperor’s clothes, if you convince them to do so however bizarre it might be.

And it requires you to look at something with new eyes – or maybe through the eyes of a child – in order to change to a new norm.

Easter – wake up with the earth!

pussy willow 007

Pussy willow coming into flower

Easter time; the season of rebirth. And if we get some warmth and sunshine so I can be outside it’ll make me feel reborn too! That’s the effect being outdoors has. It wakes me up and energises!

The Easter break surely is the best time to get re-connected with earthy things.

If you live in cities it’s all to easy to forget about the earth under all that concrete – I know – I grew up in central London. It never enters your head neatly tucked out of sight beneath those hard pavements; you never think that it sustains all life. It provides all food, all the materials we need to create our homes, machines, gadgets and clothes; everything we own originates from the earth. That thought is truly amazing.

It’s also worth considering how much we’re going to pollute that life-giving earth with yet another mound of packaging over Easter.

How about doing Easter differently? How about an experience instead of packaging! One that will reconnect you and your children with the wonders of the earth at this time of year as it emerges from its winter shackles? Visit a farm and see what food is being planted, seek out some lambs, look for sticky buds and pussy willow and go somewhere you and the children can bury your nose in spring flowers. Start growing some cress (you can do this in eggshells!) or sow some sunflowers.

This doesn’t have to cost the earth, either literally or budget wise. Especially if you don’t buy into that commercial con that Easter has become. Enjoy a chocolate egg by all means but you can get ten chocolate egg-sized eggs with minimum waste, for the same price as a massive box with hardly any chocolate in it if you compare the weights. I’ve got wise to it now and won’t let companies fool me. And like to consider the needs of the earth as well as my need for chocolate! Share that with the children, help them understand the earth, its needs and and how delightful it is.

A prettily packaged egg encased in a mass of plastic lasts a few moments on the eye and in the mouth, but will pollute the planet for years.

Memories of good times spent outdoors under the sky, watching hatchlings or touching sticky buds, lasts forever and through our connection reminds us to act in ways that will preserve them!

Play time; an essential part of your child’s development!

You don’t need a beach – anywhere, anything and any weather will do!

With the Easter holidays here I thought it was a good time to reblog this article about play. Play is essential – and not just for burning off all that extra chocolate!

The saddest thing I ever heard was a remark from the grown up, home educated daughter of a friend. She was shocked to observe children in a playground at a school that; ‘They don’t seem to know how to play’. Having had a play-filled childhood herself she found that terribly tragic. I do too.

In many households I’m aware that play has been replaced by entertaining kids in front of a screen. It’s safer. It’s easier. It’s quieter. And it makes no mess. All of benefit to busy parents. The tragedy is that the kids are missing out on the valuable influence play has on their development. (Check out this site).

Childhood play does not have to cost anything or even require toys, although they have their uses. You don’t need expensive outlays. In fact the best type is unstructured and evolves simply from a child exploring and experimenting with the things around them.

We used to collect anything with potential that came into our house – but you have to get in an imaginative frame of mind to see potential in the first place. You might not think there’s any reason to keep all those old yoghurt pots, boxes and cartons and wrappers, but give a collection of things to a kid and you’ll be amazed what they do with them. And that’s what we want to encourage – the kind of imagination needed to create play with them. That’s what gets the brain working. And it needs to start when the kids are really young so they develop a play habit. As they grow their play will become more sophisticated and skilled. They are never too old to play and experiment. In fact, some scientists have suggested that having a playful approach to science lead them to make some of their most important discoveries.

Explorative, investigative play is the most valuable kind. The ‘make it up as you go along’ type. There’s times you’ll need to be involved. And definitely times you should keep out of it even if you start the ball rolling. The less structured the toys are, the more inventive they have to be. When out one day and no toys to hand I remember our youngest ‘talking’ to dolls she invented which were nothing more than two twigs next to her that she’d tucked up in leaves.

Kids want to explore their world – its properties and how they can manipulate it – they want to explore your world and do what you’re doing too. Play gives them the opportunity.

For example – if you’re cooking, they’ll want to cook. If they’re too small to be involved give them a selection of utensils similar to the ones you’re using and they’ll ‘cook’. Let older ones invent their own meals.

If you’re using tools, give them a selection of tools to use too and things to use them on (keep the old DVD player or let them unscrew an old plug!) Don’t let silly ideas of Health and Safety put you off – just use your common sense.

Here are some things to collect for your kids to play with: plastic tubs, jugs, cartons, tops, bottles, utensils, wire, string, different papers, cardboard, bags, boxes large and small, tins, socks, (good for puppets or pairing in maths!) shoes. Old sheets, blankets, dressing up clothing (your old clothes!) fabrics, materials, braids and ribbons, magazines. Pots, tins, pans, cups and plates, books, buttons, videos, CDs and DVDs, mobile phones and other gadgets. Foodstuffs; they love playing with flour, dry pasta, lentils and dry beans etc, mixing syrup and vinegar or anything. Corn flour and water’s a good one! Outside; soil, sand, bricks, wood, twigs, tyres, stones, pebbles, screws, bolts, leaves and stalks…one man’s junk is another kids’ pleasure.

Anything can be used to inspire play. Use recycling centres and charity shops to source stuff. Keep that imagination primed. Poundland is good if you’ve got a pound to spare because materials are cheap and you can afford to let them experiment rather than worry over how much glitter glue they’re using. But don’t stop in the stationary isle, look at all the foil plates, plastic beakers, tools, garden stuff. Don’t worry if their creations are unrecognisable – we’ve been through the over painted picture that resembles a mud bath – but creations shouldn’t be structured and tidy whatever big companies try and sell you in little packets. Messy and obscure creativity will develop into refined and practised skills and mental agility. It extends understanding of language and communication, maths and science and helps them understand their world.

And get outside. Kids need play in wide open spaces as well as restricted places. They need individual play and social play. They need to experience the outdoors. Playing outdoors is where their connection to their planet starts and thus their responsibility for it.

Kids who’ve played and experimented with a wide range of materials and resources in a wide range of situations are confident, resourceful, skilled, intelligent and adept at decision making and problem solving, very necessary skills for leading a successful and happy life.

A habit of imaginative play born in childhood is one of the most valuable and educative habits they could have. It is never a waste of time. Get them playing as much as you can. It’s probably a far more educative experience than any you’ll find in a workbook, in a shop or on a screen.

Let them have fun. And don’t let yours become children who don’t know how to play. The benefits both developmentally and educationally are so worth it.

 

Mad hares and swallow moments

Bluebells to look forward to

Bluebells to look forward to

I’m excited now the equinox has passed! Now that from this time on, for six months, there will be more light than dark. Despite irritating disruptions like clock changes I shall be waking in the light and there’ll still be enough light after supper to meander outside.

Outside things are changing. Mad hares have been leaping. Birds are home making. Shoots are surging and bursting open and when the extra light shines on me I feel like doing the same. There will be bluebells to look forward to and one of these coming days I might even toss my thermals off!

Thermals are required both inside and outside this house. Apart from the fact it’s old and draughty and I get damn cold sitting writing, I also try to ration the heating for both budget and planetary reasons. I want to go on enjoying this light and atmosphere and it needs preserving for those coming along behind me so they can do the same.

Winters can be challenging and I know I’m taking conscience a bit too far when it’s so cold in the house the dinner won’t defrost. But when it’s bad I light the log fire. Or hoovering is good for a warm up – the house is much cleaner in the winter! And I have jumpers that reach my knees and plenty of woolly rugs.

Now though, with longer hours of sunshine, I can utilise natural radiation and sit by a sunny window. Sun warmth penetrates deeper and faster than any heating and although I may have grown soft with modern comforts I appreciate the sun’s heat and the turning of the season more than any fire. So I do what I can to preserve it, however little a drop in the ecological ocean that may be.

It all helps.

And whatever little action you take will help too. Never think it’s not worth it.

Because all these little actions we take, added together, not only make a difference in lessening the impact you make upon the earth and its atmosphere and sunlight, are also a message in example to others. It may influence others’ actions.

Just like everyone follows a trend, like saying ‘hey’ in greeting instead of ‘hello’ for example which changes societal behaviour, we can change people’s behaviour towards the earth by our example and create new trends and habits. A good one to start with would be not to buy wet-wipes – have you seen the damage they do?

So, yea, I’m getting more than a little excited to see that added sunshine. And if any words I write here in my appreciation of it educates others enough to change one small thing they do to help preserve it, then I’ll be well chuffed.

Just as I am chuffed to see the sun rise each day, to witness the first feathered arrow dart across the sky as the summer swallows come, or see the mad hares leap about the fields in mating games.

And after writing this I will get up and leap about just as madly in order to warm up and resist putting the heating on so that the order of the natural world is disrupted a little less by pollutive habits.

May I plead with you to do the same and make one small change in your actions today, thus setting an example to your children and future generations and showing them how important is this earth?

Children are made readers…

First morning back at my desk and I’m having a bad attack of post holiday blues!

I’ve had such a lovely time away with my eldest. But such a painful time when it comes to parting again. Such is the nature of being a parent of grown offspring. It’s made up of greetings and partings and gaps in between. How parents managed before mobiles and Skype when they were so completely cut off from each other I’ve no idea!

Although I tried hard not to think about the work I do here; the writing and blogging etc, I did sneak into a book shop for a good browse and stroke of all the lovely books. The aesthetic of them will forever appeal to me, despite the advantage of ebooks. They’re part of a writer’s world. That and the coffee shop and a chance to sit among books and eat cake; two delights in one!

And over one stand of books in the children’s department I noticed a little sign which said:

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.

What a thought!  Couldn’t resist posting it here to remind all parents that time spent with a child on their lap looking at a book does so much more than you think; it teaches them about reading.

We can’t do it enough; we should read to them as much as we can, whatever age, however old they are. As long as they want us to. Such a simple thing. Such a loving thing to do. Such an important thing to do – give our time and attention to our children and develop a love of books and reading at the same time.

If we all did it enough – instead of assuming we needn’t bother as children will be taught to read by schools or schemes – children would read naturally and organically with a little encouragement and help. Their delight and curiosity about reading ignites the motivation to want to do it – why would they not read then? It’s parents who start that off.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents – not necessarily in schools – a thought worth keeping in mind.

What happens after home education?

I know this is a question on many parents’ minds and I’ve recently been talking to some young people now graduated from home educating for an article about it for Education Outside School magazine. (Look out for the next issue) But one young lady; Beth Levicki, wrote so much so well I thought parents would be interested in reading it separately.

She is now 19, having been home educated since September 2001, trying primary and secondary school for short periods. She began taking GCSEs at home when she was 14 and, by the time she was 18, had passed 6 GCSEs. She currently attends College studying A-levels and hopes to go to university in a couple of years.

This is what she wrote:

…I did year one at primary school and became home educated in September that year. I returned to primary to try mainstream education once more, but soon left to become home educated again. I didn’t return to primary school but decided that I wanted to give secondary school a try. I started secondary school at the age of eleven but found it wasn’t for me and left to be home educated again seven weeks later. I remained home educated for about eight more years, until last year when I decided I wanted to do A-levels at college, and have been attending college since September of last year.

While home educated, I did six GCSEs including English Language, English Literature, Maths, History, Biology and Psychology.

My first GCSE was Biology which I did with a distance learning course with mum’s guidance. The tutor would send me tasks, worksheets and practice papers to complete, and I would send them back so she could mark them and give feedback.

The other GCSEs I did with more of a DIY approach that mum helped with. We would buy the textbooks for the subjects and download the syllabuses, go through them, complete practice papers and tasks in the books and learn all of the information needed for the exam.

When it came down to doing the work, I really enjoyed the subjects and learning about them, but I didn’t enjoy the way in which I was supposed to learn them because it just came down to ticking the correct boxes to pass an exam, which I found very frustrating. But I realised that in order to open some doors in the future I had to just push through.

I worked best in the evenings so it was easier and more comfortable for me to sleep late, and work later on in the day, than forcing myself to get up in the morning when I definitely didn’t feel motivated. I also attended a drama group and a scout group so I had to find time to study around these activities.

I found the atmosphere in secondary school very patronising. It seemed none of the students actually wanted to be there and rebellious students made lessons very difficult. Some of the subjects I didn’t like but I was still forced to learn them which impacted my enjoyment negatively at school. There was also a lot of pressure to get questions right and do well which was very stressful at such a young age.

However, in home education, everything was a lot more relaxed. I was able to study subjects I wanted to learn, at my own pace. I believe that home education was the best choice for me during my childhood and teenage years because it was the most enjoyable and comfortable way for me to learn.

College, on the other hand, is more laid back than secondary school ever was. It’s very autonomous and requires self-motivation but, because I was able to choose the subjects that I wanted to do, self-motivation isn’t a big problem. Students are treated like adults and most of them want to be there and do the work to go to university or get good jobs. Instead of calling teachers ‘miss’ or ‘sir’, the tutors are called by their first name, making the environment friendly and comfortable which helps.

Overall, I suppose I’ve always wanted to be treated as an adult. I got that treatment at home and college but never had it in secondary school which is probably why I never enjoyed it.

I’m not a huge fan of working in big groups, especially in primary and secondary school where other students were rebellious, distracting and complaining a lot of the time. That atmosphere really stressed me.

Independently, however, it was much more relaxed. There was no pressure to be right all the time or to be as good as other students.

In college, even though I’m working with other people, the lessons are more like conversations. Ideas are bounced around and questions are asked about the subjects and there’s a lot of learning from each other rather than just the knowledge being spoon-fed by the teacher.

I’ve always been a bit of a not-very-confident introvert, so have had doubts about making friends that I could be myself around in the past and thought it was going to be much the same when I started mainstream education again. But I knew that I had to come out of my shell, so I pushed myself to talk to people and I now have a wonderful group of friends whom I feel comfortable (and share a lot in common) with. I’ve also been very open to the fact that I was home educated which doesn’t bother them in the slightest.

So, I suppose being home educated doesn’t change who you are or what you’re interested in. You just need to find the people who share similar interests and get to know them like anyone would.

…A big thank you to Beth for sharing that with us!