Tag Archive | families

Why birthdays?

The lovely Charley

It’s my youngest’s birthday later this week – youngest adult that is – all grown up now!

We’ll be getting together at some point to celebrate…years later from those birthdays I described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ when we started home educating and everyone found it suddenly necessary to give the kids ‘educational’ presents instead of toys!

People fail to see that toys (and playing) are ‘educational’ anyway – whatever that is, and many toys sold as educational simply aren’t!

Anyway, it’s not about the presents, is it?

So what are birthdays about then?

I always said that a birthday is not just a celebration of the day they were born (bit of a trauma in the back of the car with this one – as I describe briefly in the book). But more a celebration of the person, of them being here on this earth, and of the wonderful contribution they make, to our lives, to society, to being here.

And that’s what needs to be kept at the forefront of birthdays – the reason we are here – the contribution people make on a wider level. I guess many small children wouldn’t yet be aware of that concept. But as they grow, knowing they can make a contribution makes them feel valuable. When people feel valuable they feel loved and respected and consequently return that; they act differently, they act with responsibility and respect, they up their game. Those who are cared for, care more.

I always wanted my kids to feel valued. To feel that they make a difference too.

And that’s the best thing to celebrate birthdays for. The fact that these little people are here. The difference they have made. The difference they have to potentially make to so many as they grow and become the people they need to be.

Birthdays are so much more than presents. Birthdays are the day to celebrate a being, being here! And an opportunity to really appreciate that there are. I’m so looking forward to celebrating the presence of ours!

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How long can you put your technological comforter down for?

A city centre poster causing a stir

Now I’m going to say something some might not like; put down your technology and listen.

I know; you’re going to need your technology to read this! And anyway – I don’t actually mean listen to me – I mean listen.

Really listen. To others. To your own thoughts. To the world around. Most especially to your children.

I think it’s rather ironic that society looks down on babies and toddlers with dummies stuck in their mouths as slightly distasteful or inferior. Yet many of the adults I see use their phones and tablets as little more than something to emotively suck on and bring them similar comfort. Most especially to overcome discomfort, particularly of the social kind!

Few can look another in the eye. So they stare at their technological comforter instead.

I know these gadgets are useful – we couldn’t function without them now. But has our attachment to them crept beyond being useful, to being an addiction?

I suspect it is for many people. And I also suspect it’s impacting on relationships.

Whilst we connect to our technology so obsessively we’re neglecting something far more important: human connection. Humane connection.

We’re losing communication skills. We’re losing observation skills which help us understand each other. We’re losing time engaging with each other – really engaging, which helps us learn about human relationships and practice the skills required to make them successful, whoever they’re with.

We’re neglecting time that we could be engaged with our kids.

It is human engagement that nurtures relationships, builds care and empathy, grows love. I fear some folks are becoming desensitised to what it is to be together socially, lovingly, meaningfully, especially with regard to parenting.

Some of the human connections we encounter make us uncomfortable. So what – we have to learn to deal with that, to get over it. And to stop turning to our dummies when it gets a bit awkward. Be more courageous. And consequently build the skills for strong relationships within our families, with the wider world of people – even those we don’t know that well.

People matter. Connecting meaningfully with people matters.

Strong relationships make us happy. With each other. With our world. With the earth.

Strong relationships save the day.

Technology just keeps us busy and keeps us dummified.

How long is it acceptable for a child to suck a dummy for? How long is it acceptable for grown-ups to suck on theirs?

It’s worth talking about in your family! It’s worth building healthy habits in the family right from the start!

Two books:

I thought these two little books that came my way this summer might be of interest.

The first is The Music Man’s Songbook by Jon Lawrence. This is a charming little book of song scripts, with a CD to go with it, that will get the children learning, thinking, moving, counting and finally sleeping! They can use it either with mums and dads or on their own. The author says that he was particularly interested in getting the children moving and the songs are open to as many physical interpretations as you like! Anything to get the kids active! It’s published through Bird’s Nest Books and is available directly from them or through Amazon. Find Jon’s website here.

The second is Katy Elphinstone’s book of advice for parents of autistic children: ‘Dos and Don’ts Autism and Aspergers, Advice for Parents and Carers’. Having read it through I find it full of common sense for parents of any children as well as those on the autistic spectrum. It’s contains the most down-to-earth ideas; ideas that we sometimes completely forget when in the throes of dealing with difficult challenges. A short book, well worth dipping into. You can find more about it – and buy it – here; http://www.dos-and-donts-autism.com/ and on Amazon.

Katy is another home educator, finding it was the best choice for her children and is going to do a guest post here in a little while. The illustrator is Matt Freidman of Dude I’m an Aspie fame.

A sentimental celebration

It’s my eldest’s birthday today. It makes me all sentimental and nostalgic as a parent, especially since we cannot be with her to help her celebrate. So, round the phone calls, I’ll have to be content to celebrate it in my own way with a dear friend who I met through her baby being born exactly one month previous.

We are of course together in spirit and always have been since the day she was born. Besotted doesn’t describe it as I drooled over that tiny being. I wouldn’t let the nurse put her in that plastic fish tank thing they like babies in to keep them safe.

Safe? Who wants safe when there’s love to be expressed in the holding? It’s part of the same institutionalised thinking that dominates society, schools, institutions. I’m all for Indie thinking; (you’ll no doubt have guessed with all I write about home education).

Thankfully I got my besottedness under control – it’s hardly healthy – for either of us. But our connections remain strong, supportive and as loving as ever, after twenty odd years, after home educating which sometimes makes people think the kids are going to hate you, and after all the mistakes we make as parents. And even though we have to let go and allow them space to go out into the world and do their thing.

Very necessary!

But the important thing about our connections with our children, the way we attend to them when needed, the way we relate and behave towards them, rather than tossing the random ‘I love you’ their way to make up for the times we don’t, is that it makes them feel worth something.

A child who is made to feel worth something is a child who is more likely to give something of worth to the world.

Her worth is immeasurable, as I’m sure your child’s is to you. Make sure they feel it.

Today I shall be celebrating her being in the world, already giving something of worth to it with her presence.

And as well as her presence the other thing I gained through her birth was that special friend to go out and eat cake with in her honour!

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!

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.

Your child is different from you!

I was born and grew up in the city of London. Right in the centre as far away from rural as you can get.

But all of our childhood holidays were spent in the countryside, so I was aware of these two contrasting worlds. And it didn’t take

A glimpse of rural space to rest my eyes on

much growing up for me to recognise from a hunger within which of these two environments was right for my soul. I soon understood that my spirits wilted when surrounded by concrete, buildings, noise and crowds without a glimpse of rural space to rest my eyes on. Yet the surroundings of greenery, fields and solitary quiet gave my spirits wings and a sense of relief I still require to thrive.

Even though I live in the countryside now and these things are common place I still experience the sudden sense of imprisonment, when shut inside too long or under laptop. Hence why I can often be found scribbling in the shelter of a hedge bottom with my bum in damp grass, or on my daily walk (as you see from Instagram). I’m just letting my spirits heal from the onslaught of contemporary life.

Of course not everyone feels this. Or feels it this way round. Ironically my eldest is the complete opposite.

We made many, many excursions into cities whilst we were home educating here in the country. And as her teen years kicked in I began to realise that, unlike me, it was the city that made her spirits come alive.

I can clearly remember the time when I suddenly spotted, with shock and empathy, that familiar look on her face one day that described that same feeling I’d had when I was stuck somewhere that did nothing for my spirits.

In contrast to me, she needed the city for hers. And that’s where she’s lived since Uni.

That is not to say she doesn’t relish her trips home and the rural things we do like picnics and walks and encounters with wildlife and flowers. And when I’m visiting her we often find park walks to do from the city.

But we both know and accept what we each are, what each needs to thrive, and that those needs are completely different from the other.

It is SO important, I think, to know and accept that our children are NOT us. And allow them to be different. Allow them to be separate.

Allowing our children to be who they need to be, without judgement, and loving them for who they are without conditions, is a fundamental ingredient to being the parent we should be, a parent that all kids need. And inevitably one of the hardest parts!

But we get over it.

The most wonderful result, though, is that from that respect and loving acceptance the relationship can grow stronger despite the independence.

Independence means allowing our children to be who they need to be and loving them just the same – allowing their independence from us, and consequently practising our own independence from trying to keep them like us.

In fact, this is true of all relationships.

So love your children the way they are and in such a way which affords them the opportunity to discover who they need to be, whatever age they are, wherever that is. And make sure you’re not hanging onto keeping them like you.