Tag Archive | families

Don’t be afraid to make your parenting your own

We all know there are all sorts of ways to parent.

But so may of us get sucked into a crowd-pleasing way without being aware of it. Seduced by the latest fad, the latest trend, the latest style. With keeping up – whatever that is – scared we’re missing out or even worse; denying our kids something important.

So parents can end up flowing along like sheep with the rest of the flock without deciding independently what’s best for their own family and their own family circumstances.

And then we get scared of independently choosing alternatives. This is how many people are put off home education, for example.

‘Alternative’!?

Some folks are scared of even the word! It suggests something a bit drop-out-ish (although I’d argue – what’s wrong with that?) And scared of a path that takes them away from all the other sheep.

But what these people who are choosing alternative approaches to raising their family are really doing is choosing to think for themselves and I admire that. Because people choosing alternatives are thinking. And what’s wrong with the deep thought or philosophising about how to raise the kids, in contrast to not thinking about it or just following others regardless of what’s working well or not? What’s ethical or not. What’s humane or not?

We need to give those who choose ‘alternatives’ deeply considered respect.

I love to read about families who are choosing alternatives, whether that’s parenting, educating, living together, lifestyles. They’re totally inspiring. I read about families who are choosing an alternative way of educating. I read about families who travel having sold the house. I read about families on a personal mission. And I’m in awe of people making these independent choices. They have truly chosen to make their parenting their own.

I often read statements about how much it takes to raise a child and they are scary – and manipulative. But underneath these are just other people’s ideas. They are not always exact.

In contrast, there’s also the idea that happy, healthy, educated, intelligent children can be raised on very little cash. All it takes is an investment of time, energy and love. We need money to put a roof over our heads, buy the food and facilities, but we don’t need the latest game, the latest must have, or Jack Wills gear! Some families are breaking away from that consumerist (and unethical) culture (perpetuated in schools) and choosing to educate their kids with other values. On very little.

For we do not have to ‘buy’ education. We may need an income and a different kind of daily expenditure, but it is relationships, stimulating experience, conversation and interactions that educate as much as curriculum and classrooms do.

However, we have to be brave. We have to swim against the tide of convention in order to make our parenting our own. We have to choose to be ‘alternative’ if that’s what you want to call it.

But did you ever consider what alternative really means? Alternative means diversification – and that is good. It’s diversification that Darwin says is needed to ensure the perpetuation of our species.

Diversification IS what alternative is, is what makes our humanity progress and has done so since its evolution.

So let’s show some respect for ‘alternative’. For people who choose diverse paths.

By making your parenting your own, by choosing diverse approaches to raising your kids, you are helping that process. By making your own decisions about what your children really need, both in their education and their life which are inextricably linked, you are teaching them also how to think beyond convention, think independently, and consequently make their own decisions when their turn comes.

And you are showing them how to brave.

Good on you all!

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Boldly into January

I have to admit I find post-christmas hard. I guess most people do. It’s the lengthy dark hours, the cold, the end of christmas holidays and sparkle that does it. Not to mention work and routine to be confronted.

But a fresh year’s start can also be a time for hope, for review, for new beginnings. Time for looking beyond these first difficult bits. To take stock and consider changes.

Everything always grows and changes – people too!

It was a good time to review family life and our home education I found. Investigate what’s working, acknowledge what’s not! Winkle out all those rancid ideas I might be clinging onto that had become out of date.

It’s often forgotten that no pattern, strategy or plan will work forever. The snag with kids is you find something that works, think you’ve cracked it, then everything changes again. Of course it does; they’re changing all the time. We have to renew along with them. And the education we facilitate has to change too.

In fact, that’s another aspect of education often overlooked; learning stuff is all about change really. About embracing change. Change of ideas, of mind, of knowledge. You have to change in order to learn something; you have to be prepared to slough off old ideas in order to accept new ones. Some people find that really hard. Thankfully the kids are more readily able to do that to accommodate the things they need to learn, adults perhaps less so. But we all need to embrace new ways of working, new skills and new understanding. And a new year is a great time to do so.

We all learn, grow, change constantly if you think about it – the kids, the mums and dads, the grandparents, the ambience in the home. It’s all in a constant state of flux. And that’s how it should be. We don’t need to cling onto old stuff, old routines, old habits, that no longer serve us well. We need to allow change. We need to notice it’s necessary! I often didn’t and created conflict in the house for that simple reason. So learn by my mistakes!

And as you venture boldly into January with your family, embrace the change of the year, acknowledge the children’s need to grow and change as they learn, and don’t be afraid of bold new thoughts!

There are all sorts of ways to live a family life. And all sorts of ways for kids to learn. We just have to remain open to things and prepared to go with the flow and flux and bold enough to implement what we believe in.

Cringing for Christmas

Nature’s decorations!

Why do I cringe at Christmas?

Is it the expense? No – although it is a consideration.

Is it because I have to find pressies for relatives I hardly know. Not really – I like choosing and giving gifts.

Is it the thought of the potential for overeating a mass of stuff that’s totally unhealthy but that I enjoy so much? Partly – but I get over it!

Is it because I am a Humbug?

No. It’s none of those things. The real reason I cringe at Christmas is because of the burden the earth has to bear.

So this is a plea that your family – you and the children – consider ways to make your Christmas less of a burden for the earth.

Part of their education is about the planet. To understand it better. To build knowledge of its species. To appreciate how they are part of it and how to relate to it in sustainable ways. We cannot abandon our responsibility to that just because it’s Christmas.

It doesn’t mean a kill-joy Christmas. It just means finding a better balance to what you do. And asking a few questions:

  • How can we moderate the waste we make?
  • How can we give without the earth bearing the brunt of it?
  • What can we reuse, recycle, make, rather than buy? (Wrapping paper as well as presents perhaps)
  • What throw- away articles can we do without? (Wipes, serviettes, paper tableware, for example)
  • How can you make a Christmas that doesn’t cost the earth? Make more of it instead of buying it!
  • Ask before you buy: do I really need this?
  • And consider how much more stuff the kids really need? Love isn’t bought or given through presents.

Giles Brandreth has a lovely idea that he expressed in the media recently. He’s going to tell his grandchildren that he doesn’t want any more stuff. What he’d like from them instead is for them to learn a poem off by heart for Christmas.

Learning poetry has a beneficial effect on the brain, helping with language development and flexible thinking – so he’s perhaps giving them a gift in releasing the kids from present buying whilst boosting their development at the same time!

But whatever you do for Christmas, creating or learning poetry or whatever, please do it with consideration of the earth.

“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!

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!