Tag Archive | families

“Butterfly”

I’ve been totally inspired by the recent mini series on ITV entitled ‘Butterfly’. It followed the dilemmas and conflicts of a family who is coming to terms with the fact their youngest child wishes to transition from being a boy to a girl.

A scene from ‘Butterfly’

It’s a subject I have no direct experience or knowledge of. But I could readily imagine the challenges people would face in a society made up of many who find it difficult to accept differences in others.

As home educators, some of us have already experienced the kind of bigotry and opposition that can ensue when you wish to forge a path that’s not considered ‘normal’! We came across several members of the public in the early days that considered our choices not only to be ‘weird’ but also detrimental to our children – happy as these people were to overlook the fact that their schooling was already harming them.

Thankfully home schooling is more widely known about, understood and has a rising awareness in the media. However, although there has been much in the media recently about gender identification and transition, I can imagine that many still find it hard to acknowledge and remain open about. And for those families experiencing it firsthand there must be many challenges beyond the comprehension of most of us, some of which the programme identified. The needs of a child who has a strong desire to transition are paramount but, as the programme identified, the impact of those needs reaches round the whole family and beyond, so we all could do well to improve our knowledge in order to learn how best we can be supportive and understanding.

Mermaids, an organisation who recognises transgender needs and supports families in this position, maintain that those with support go on to have the most positive outcomes. They have a variety of articles on their site to help increase understanding. And there is also some information about gender dysphoria on the NHS website.

As with everything outside of mainstream, and for every minority community, there is always much to overcome in order to move society towards an awareness and acceptance. I’m hoping this brave and enlightening programme has done some good in that direction.

And perhaps part of our job as parents is to support all children, not just our own, through our own attitude, awareness and acceptance, thus teaching our kids to do the same.

I’m certainly the wiser for it, as well as being inspired. I recommend a watch!

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Home educating time for yourself

“So how do you get time to yourself?”

This was one of the questions often asked by other parents when they discovered we were home educating and – shock horror – were with our kids all the time!

Sometimes, so appalled were they at the thought of not having the kids away from them in school all day, it even preceded the more important questions that were actually about learning and education! We generally got fewer of those – apart from the ones like ‘How do kids learn anything without being in school?’

Anyway, you’ll no doubt be gaining the answers to that as you progress through your home ed life.

But the time-to-yourself issue is very personal and different for everyone, depending on how much you feel the need for it, and how you want to manage it within the relationship with your children.

I say that because all our home ed is dependent on our relationships. And part of education is learning about relating to others with respect and consideration. And that’s at the core of finding time out for yourself, however it is needed.

It’s a subject I talk about in ‘A Home Education Notebook’.

And in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ I tell the story of how I first started practising this in a tangible (if laughable) way. I described how I’d tell the kids I was slipping upstairs to read quietly whilst they were happy playing and I’d be down to help with anything in a little while. Did it work? Well, after spending the first few sessions worrying myself sick at first about what was going on whilst I wasn’t there it developed into a habit I was able to practise with some success when I’d got to the end of my tether (yep – I wasn’t perfect!) and needed some time to myself. Didn’t always work. But evolved as the children grew. They do need to be at a certain age and stage of development to be able to manage it.

But I saw it as part of their social education – part of the give-and-take of living with others – they won’t always be living with their parents hard though it is to imagine when they’re young.

I explained it to them this way: when the kids were busy immersed in their playing or other individual pursuits I didn’t pester them as I could see they were busy. So referencing that, I talked to them about me needing time to be busy in my own way and I’d appreciate it if they could keep their requests for when I’d finished. This is part of the respectful way we interacted in the home and the way we learned together about having consideration for others’ personal space and privacy at times.

Everyone needs time out from each other who ever you are, whatever relationships you’re in; lovers, relatives, parents, kids, siblings, etc. Taking time apart is not a denunciation of love in any way and should not be tied up with that. It’s just a natural need, greater in some than in others. Some never need it at all. I actually need quite a lot of solitude. Sod’s law I have far too much now and can go head-crazy! 😉

I just thought I’d mention it in case you’re one of the parents who I’ve heard about that can feel guilty wanting time away from their kids. We need time away from our partners, or our own parents too on occasion – but somehow that isn’t something we feel so guilty about.

Guilt has nothing to do with your personal need for personal space. We are all individuals and should take the time we need, asking for respect for those needs from the people we love. Respect is an essential ingredient to all loving relationships. If you need time out – arrange it.

And then you can go on loving your kids in the way you want and building a strong respectful relationship with them that will last a lifetime.

As ours has.

Here they are on a recent visit home; Charley left, Chelsea right

Learn for personal excellence – not for beating others

I’ve been reading the work of Alfie Kohn recently. In particular ‘The Myth of the Spoiled Child’. 

I applaud his ideas, especially those about education where he, like me, finds the obsession with competition, grading, testing and trophies for winning rather distasteful.

He says:

“When we set children against one another in contests—from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read—we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health.”

It illustrates something many people misunderstand; the difference between personal excellence for personal excellence’s sake, instead of for the sake of winning.

I’ve always abhorred the idea of competition in an educational climate. Competition is not about personal excellence or individual growth which education should be, it is about beating others. And in today’s school climate very much about league tables and the big commercial and political business education has become.

Some people are fine with that; it’s a competitive world, I hear people cry, and kids have to be taught how to cope. But Kohn has his own strong arguments against that position and why it’s of benefit to no one. Namely that driving our kids to learn and excel because ‘it’s a competitive world’ doesn’t have as much impact on their achievement or do a lot for their mental health as encouraging them to excellence because it is fulfilling. And also avoids making others feel bad – unlike competitive practices.

And isn’t that part of the idea of education? To learn how to live together and contribute with compassion?

He goes on in his book to talk about ways of parenting that revolve around ‘working-with’ the children rather than ‘doing-to’. That can also be applied to the way we educate and is probably the position that most home educators adopt within their approach!

And I love his idea, as the book draws to a close, of encouraging ‘reflective rebelliousness’ where young people are encouraged to question rather than practice mindless obedience, and we should as parents support their autonomy in a way that complements concerns for others.

Certainly sounds a bit like home educators to me! It’s well worth a read!

A funny way to find out about home education

It’s hard to describe what it means to me when people let me know how inspired they’ve been by my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘ (see the My Books page) And how it gave them the courage to abandon schooling and change how their child learns.

I feel both humbled with gratitude for the kind words and the fact that folks take the trouble to let me know (if you enjoy a book – how often do the authors get to know that?) And am elated and delighted that the book has succeeded in its aims to help families find the courage to make changes to something that wasn’t working for them.

I remember when we were in that situation. When our dull-faced children (who weren’t like that pre-school), became switched off, unmotivated and uninspired by the world around them as time in school went on. And how they developed an ingrained sadness – often illness – that also switched off their smiles as well as their desire to learn.

Thank goodness home education switched it all back on again.

When I began to meet other home educating families I heard similar stories about their child’s altered behaviour more dramatic than ours; stories of tantrums, aggression, frustration and anger leading to shouting and violent moods. All changed once removed from school.

For the short time our two remained in school I deliberated with the decision, weighed the pros and cons, looked at what little info was available at that time (hardly any), until the climax described in the book pushed my decision to go for it. We felt nothing but jubilation as a consequence. I wished I’d done it sooner.

For most people I know that home schooling appears to be an unimaginable step, so unimaginative are we at seeing other approaches to learning having any kind of success.

Such have we been conditioned!

So I wanted to tell our story of educating in a lively, enjoyable way in the hope that not only could parents begin to imagine how it actually does work, but also introduce different ideas about alternative learning approaches which can be just as successful, but which parents rarely come across. Who’d ever read a book on education, after all? I knew I needed to make this book on education – for that is what it is – more readable.

So when I read how the book has achieved those aims I set for it I am immensely moved.

I hope it continues to do so. And I hope I continue to hear about it!

And to all those who’ve already let me know; a Great Big THANK YOU!

Why mums matter!

In honour of Mothers Day I want to reiterate something I’m passionate about; the importance of mums. In particular mums at home, who most often get looked down on as insignificant instead of heralded. This is to herald them!

Some people still don’t understand the depth of the impact mums have. Some people still don’t get the role mums play in the well being, development and education of children and consequently the perpetuation of a healthy, educated and caring society.

Apart from the fact that a happy, healthy and organised home doesn’t just run itself, put simply and even more importantly; neither do the children who need one – they need ‘running’ too!

For basically; in order for a child to progress towards being a caring, intelligent, well adjusted, considerate and self-aware human being they need the full time attention from another adult who is the same. This mammoth task usually falls to the mums, especially mums at home.

And there are no short cuts. It takes a lot of time and a lot of input. The richness and quality of one-to-one interaction is irreplaceable when it comes to a child’s development.

So, mums at home are sowing the seeds of loving relationships, of healthy strong bonds, moral values, and an understanding of commitment and responsibility towards other human beings. If no one shows them that, how can they be committed and responsible towards others when it’s their turn? Mums interacting with their children are laying the groundwork of the understanding of what it is to be human.

Our society, politics, work ethic, even our health sometimes is greatly dependent on the quality of relationships and our primary relationship is the one we receive at home in those essential early experiences and interactions with our mums. (Dads too – but in most cases it is still mums who spend the bulk of the time). And it is ongoing – never ending. It needs not to stop – ever! Although it will change. This relationship needs time giving to it. That’s why mums matter so much.

It is also the bedrock of our children’s education.

When I say education I don’t mean all that dull academic stuff kids do when they get to school. I certainly don’t mean that mums at home need to be forcing their child, who is often too young and underdeveloped to be ready, to do reading, writing or maths.

What I mean is the kind of irreplaceable foundation for learning and understanding that comes out of time spent with mum (or dad does just as well but it’s mums I’m talking about today).

Just being with mum, looking, chatting and questioning – having their questions answered. From just doing things together in the home or going out and about and talking together whether it’s a trip as mundane as the supermarket or as exciting as a park or a museum. Through all sorts of play, meetings with others, and a whole wealth of experiences in the real world that provoke observation, exploration, questioning and chatter with the adult alongside them.

From these early experiences children learn all the time. The constant chatter gives them the basics of language and communication. Play with all manner of things gives them an increasing understanding of their world (science really). Being read to gives them the foundations of reading and language. Counting, chanting, rhymes, songs, sharing, grouping, etc gives them the basis for maths.

All these experiences may sound so simple yet they are the start of core learning skills. Being with another interested and interesting adult is the best basis for education a child could have.

It is for all these reasons that I champion mums and the time they spend with their children. Just by being there and giving their child time and love they are investing in the most valuable asset to our future: our children and their potential to become intelligent, kind, loving, conscientious and productive human beings.

I honestly don’t think we can shout loudly enough about why mums matter!

 

For more on this and support with your work as a mum see my book ‘Mumhood. How to handle it. Why it matters’ And you can find more round this site about home education.

 

 

There’s nothing wrong with our children

I feel so sorry when I hear parents desperately worrying over their children not being able to achieve certain things at certain times. So I thought I’d post this chapter from my ‘Home Education Notebook’ in the hope it may bring comfort and reassurance if you’re one of them:

I want to reassure you all of something: there’s nothing wrong with your children.

I say this because there are folks who would make out that there is. They make out that there must be something wrong if a child who doesn’t thrive in school, for example, or doesn’t read easily, or can’t run as fast as others, or who is shy.

It’s just that people like to make out that others who are not the same as them must have something wrong with them. But the real truth is that; everyone is different.

It took a while for this to really sink in with me – particularly the implications.

Take gardening as an example.  I just never took to it, even worse my plants seemed to die when everyone else’s flourished. There must be something wrong with me surely, for this to happen.

I did try. My mother was a great gardener. Her roses yielded abundant blooms, her cuttings thrived, her shrubs grew enormous.

Mine didn’t.

All mine did was whither. I planted plants she bought me and they died. I even managed to kill houseplants. I’m sure all I ever did was look at them and they shrivelled.

This soon led me to believe there definitely must be something wrong with me.

I’d watch my mother in raptures round the garden centre and I’d look at my watch and think; how much longer? I’d listen to my friends going on about their plants and their gardens and I’d feel there must be a gaping hole in my emotional development because I just couldn’t feel what they did. I used to visit my friend who had a creeping fig right over her living room ceiling yet all my attempts at growing one had failed. I was useless.

It took a while for this to change.

Firstly, I do actually like gardening now. It’s something I’ve grown into – pardon the pun. Now that I have a little more time I enjoy it more. Now, also, that I have had time to mature my skills and accept that a slower turnover of success is just as fulfilling as a quick fix.

So I began to feel a little better, a little less like I’d got this major inability.

I also learnt two important things; however hard I might have tried at the time I just wasn’t ready for the delights of gardening. I just couldn’t apply myself enough to hone the necessary skills and patience. And I don’t think that whatever I did, at that time, I could have made any difference.

But, secondly, there was nothing wrong with me because of that. It wasn’t an inability, a learning difficulty, or anything else you want to call it. It was just the way it was and I shouldn’t sweat it.

So what about the skills that are pressed on kids in the form of their education? Isn’t it the same thing?

The way I see it, many, many skills are pressed on kids as a means to educate them. Knowledge is forced into them. Subjects are heaped upon them. Achievements are expected from them. None of which children particularly choose. Few of which they particularly like. Even fewer bearing any relation to the children’s lives at all.

And then schools make out there’s something wrong with those kids who don’t achieve.

Yet I can’t see the difference between this and the gardening really. It seems the same problem to me. It seems we expect children to acquire the skills we think they need, regardless of whether they think they need them, and then suggest there’s something wrong with them when they don’t succeed. Isn’t that a bit bizarre?

A love of gardening was something I matured into. I acquired the skills to do it when I became ready. There was nothing wrong with me before I was ready, or before I had those skills.

Many of the things we ask children to do as a way of educating them they are simply not ready for, or able to do, or interested in. But it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with our children. That’s just the way children are.

I find it quite extraordinary that we set a curriculum of subjects that are as important to children as rheumatism and then expect them to enjoy studying them.

We set them tasks to do that are as appealing to them as cleaning out toilets is to me and expect them to do them willingly.

We expect them to practice skills that are as irrelevant to them at that stage in their lives as training to be an astronaut is to me as a parent.

And then, when they don’t succeed (surprise, surprise!) we call them failures. We make out there’s something wrong with them. Extraordinary!

It takes a long time to mature into things. Like wine and good cheese, Shakespeare and advanced maths. And some of us never do. But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong in that. There are other nutritious things besides wine and cheese to enjoy, other subjects to get to grips with. We have to be at a certain stage to see the benefits of certain tasks (like cleaning the toilets – or writing perhaps). And some may never reach enjoyment of them. (Definitely me with the toilets). But there’s nothing wrong in that either. Some skills will never, ever be for us, however hard we push and practice. It’s just the way we are – it’s called individualism. There’ll be other skills we’re good at.

Just because your child can’t write, or can’t read, can’t do maths, doesn’t take to sitting down doing any kind of school work, or didn’t thrive or achieve in school, does not mean that there is anything wrong with them. We must make sure we avoid thinking about our children in that way.

Allow the individual to be the way they are

What we must do is allow each individual to be the way they are without thinking there’s something wrong with them if they’re not the same as other children.

Some kids mature into reading late. Some kids mature into writing late. Some take ages to understand the intricacies of maths. Some take ages to understand the value of perhaps doing things they can’t see any immediate relevance to. Some kids never get it at all. Some kids have very special other skills that are harder for us to appreciate and value. It doesn’t make them wrong for being like that. Some dyslexic children have very special skills that those of us who are not dyslexic will never have but it doesn’t make anyone wrong.

One skill is not more valuable than the other – even though advocates of the National Curriculum would have us believe otherwise. It’s hard in our current educational climate to keep faith. To value all the diverse things our children can do rather than only notice what they can’t. It is hard to truly believe in our wonderfully individual children and the special talents they have, particularly when those talents don’t match those required to succeed in schools.

But if we want our children to grow with confidence – and confidence is the very best tool they can have – if we want our children to succeed in life, we must never begin to act as if there’s something wrong with them when they don’t achieve the same as others. They will achieve other things that are equally as valuable to them. We must support them for who they are and what they can do.

I hear stories of children having to see an educational psychologist because they’re not achieving at school. That to me is the same thing as dragging me to see an educational psychologist just because I couldn’t achieve at gardening.

I didn’t need to see an educational psychologist; I needed to do something different.

I appreciate there are rare and specific problems, but generally children don’t need to see an educational psychologist either; they need to do something different. They need a different kind of education. That’s all. There’s nothing else wrong.

I know adults who can’t drive and have never managed to learn. I don’t tell them they need to see an educational psychologist because of it.

Everyone is different. Each child has different learning strengths. We need to change our attitude not the children. It’s only when we try and make everyone the same that problems arise.

No, there is nothing wrong with our children. Nothing wrong, if they don’t fit in school. Nothing wrong if they don’t like academic stuff. Nothing wrong if they take a long time maturing into certain skills. And we must guard against being talked into believing that there is.

Read the book for more stories to comfort and support. See the My Books page.

Fresh new year – fresh ways of seeing

Happy New Year!

I love a new start. New opportunities to learn, new things to do, new ways of being.

But I’ve been thinking about the last – inevitably! And how I’ve enjoyed doing Instagram over the past year; recording my daily being with the natural world. It’s a great change from always working with words under the laptop! And it had other benefits as well which I didn’t spot at first.

The beauty of frosted nettles – when seen with fresh eyes

For a start, it’s made me find something more positive in the sometimes challenging winter days when I tend to keep my chin on my chest and my spirits in my boots. It’s made me look up, lift up, which generally raises the spirits as well as the eyes.

Secondly, it’s made me really look. As I take my daily walk it’s quite hard to be inspired by what you think is the same old…same old… Except it’s not the same old…not if you really put those observational skills to good use. I can nearly always see something different. But the trick is not only to look, but to see with fresh eyes.

And mind.

It’s made me change my mind on many things.

Sometimes we can’t see with fresh eyes because we’re looking with old mind sets.

This could happen when the kids were growing up, when we were home educating. I could get stuck in parenting routines, and former assumptions that had become out of date.

It’s so easy to forget the simple fact that kids grow and change constantly and we need to as well.

To allow them to be different we need to refresh our view of them just as constantly. We need to see our kids with fresh eyes and minds. When things got tricky in the household it was very often the result of me looking at the children – and consequently behaving towards them – in ways that were out-of-date and which failed to allow them to grow into fresh ways of being.

As well as encouraging our youngsters to practise their own observational skills, we should remember to practise our own! And not keep them stuck by reacting to them through the lens of what they were, and not what they are becoming!

Fresh eyes and fresh minds allow children – and parents – to be who they need to be! And is a great way to start the new year.

May you have a happy one to come.