Tag Archive | family life

“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

Hurtful and potentially damaging

I sit in a cafe where no one is talking. Everyone has their head down. Do they all hate each other? Are they depressed?

No – they’re staring at their phones.

Phones distract from real social interaction study shows; click the pic for the article

A child pipes up in a train carriage with a reasonable question for his mum about their journey. At first she ignores him and continues to stare blankly at her phone. So does everyone else in the carriage. He asks again, a little louder. So she yanks her earphones out her ears with a vicious glare and screams at him to leave her alone – she’s already told him – will he shut up – and various other hurtful remarks. Then she returns to watching her screen. He has no such entertainment and has to be content with nothing. And learn nothing about interaction but a lot about how it’s okay to ignore one another if you’ve got a phone in your hand. For that’s what most folks are doing.

We recognise additions to drugs and alcohol but we’re soon going to have to acknowledge addictions to technology which some people use compulsively. Not to mention to excuse inappropriate behaviour.

Like alcohol changes behaviour and severe alcoholism can ruin relationships I fear that compulsive checking of notifications and absorption in social media or gaming could be sending us the same way. We may have more facilities than ever with which to communicate but is this diminishing our skills to do so in warm humane ways, face to face? Diminishing interactions which communicate feelings and meanings more accurately than a digital emoji can. It’s certainly in danger of ruining our parenting and trashing the responsibility we have of teaching kids how to be social.

People would once have chit-chatted to strangers at the next table, on the next seat or in the bus queue. Now we’re all heads down creating isolation and distance. We’re learning how to ignore the person next to us in the room – familiar or stranger – by engaging with others miles away, or by gaming, which can overtake the desire to connect with anyone at all.

It’s easier not to. Our phones give us a chance to disengage and close ourselves in a digital bubble, avoiding the slight social difficulty of face to face, eye to eye.

The trouble is, apart from the fact that it is deskilling the youngsters – well and the oldsters too who are supposed to be setting an example – disengagement leads to desensitisation. Desensitisation makes it easier not to care. When you care less you can commit offenses and crimes against others more easily, you can bully more easily, you can disassociate the responsibility we all have to care for one another and maybe be polite to one another which makes a day go round more pleasantly than screaming.

I don’t know what preceded the incident on the train when mum sounded off loud enough for the whole carriage to hear. I acknowledge we’re all driven to less than acceptable behaviour with our kids on occasion, although she kept it up all journey. But I do know that kid did not deserve to be spoken to like that – no one does. Or be ignored for the rest of the hour’s journey without anything to do. He needed his own phone! Better still, he needed someone to talk to.

We all do. However updated we all are, and connected as we need to be to modern communications, it is nothing more than hurtful to be in the company of someone who clearly seems to prefer to communicate with someone else. It hurts us all; child or adult.

And it’s something we perhaps need to give serious thought to as we parent and prepare our kids for the wider world. Phones are absolutely brilliant. But we have to consider and take charge of them and their place in society, not have them in charge of us. Or replace the time given to the warm loving interactions we all inherently need.

5 Tips for new home educators

Experimentation, trial & error, play are all valid ways to learn

It’s that time of year when the numbers of home schoolers suddenly shoots up!

And it’s a rise made up of all sorts of parents; those who never intend to start their child at school, through those who’ve done it a while and don’t want to ‘go back’ after the summer, right to those with teenagers who really need something different now.

Making the decision is often the hard part. Then it’s exciting and inspiring to get launched into it. However you sometimes get a rebound where you think; ‘Heck! What now?’

So I thought I’d post five quick tips to bump you over that bit.

  1. Relax! Be confident in the fact home education works for thousands – it can work for you. But it takes a long time and is a long slow process – obvious but oft forgot! And it takes a long adjustment period if you’ve come at it from schooling. We forever read that a relaxed and mindful approach to life creates just as much success as a tense and driven one – now is the time to really practise that. Your child’s education will be better for it. So take some time to find the best way forward; time to research, time to connect with others, time for trial and error until you find a way that works for you. You have the time – because you won’t be wasting it on tedious school processes where the kids are learning nothing!
  2. Enjoy it. Learning IS enjoyable, although that’s difficult to tell in the system sometimes. A learning life is enjoyable. Don’t think that if you’re enjoying it then it’s not ‘proper’ learning! And happiness is important for learning and achieving anyway. Unhappy kids don’t reach their true potential. (There’s a post here about that)
  3. Connect with others. Take some time to find other home educators and visit groups, read or see what others are doing. Learn from them. There’s a huge range of approaches and groups and it may take time to find one that works for you. And for goodness sake don’t worry about the ‘socialisation’ issue – there isn’t one! (As I point out in this post)
  4. Diversify your learning approaches – and your thinking. Consider the difference between schooling and educating – there is one! Learning can happen at any time, any venue, in or out, in a multitude of different ways from the way it’s done in school. (Read this post) It does not have to take place inside, at a desk or table, in silence, sitting still, or through academic exercises. Children learn best when they are inspired through observation, experimentation, trial and error, going out, experiencing things practically as much as possible. So you’re going to have to diversify your thinking if you’re stuck thinking about classroom ways of learning only!
  5. Get out lots. Play lots. Talk lots. Whatever kids are doing they are learning – they just can’t help it. You can formalise it later, just enjoy it for now. Wherever kids are there are opportunities for learning. whether it’s spotting ants on the pavement, discussing the dinner, playing with others in the swimming pool, journeying, holidaying, meeting others. Play is essential for learning too. Use libraries, sports halls, museums, galleries, garden centres, shops, parks, playgrounds, nature reserves, sites of specific interest – natural – historic – scientific. Learning out and about stays with kids far better than sat inside.

This may also be a useful reminder for all of you who’ve been home educating a while now. If you’re anything like me you can get all up-tight about it and forget these simple ideas. So enjoy your home education too.

Whatever stage you’re at, may you have as much fun home educating as we did.

Could I really afford to homeschool?

One of the reasons people think they could not home educate is to do with money; they think they couldn’t afford to. There is obviously the consideration of parents working and earning and how to manage this around homeschooling. But home education doesn’t have to be expensive in itself; money doesn’t guarantee a good education!

I wrote about this in my ‘Home Education Notebook‘ (see the My Books page) so here’s the extract in case this is the way you’re thinking:

Some people think that the more money you have the better education you will be able to provide or access. Some people think the more money you throw at a child the cleverer they will be. Some people think the more costly the institution the better the education inside it will be.

But none of that is guaranteed.

You can of course buy a private institutional or taught education. You can buy into an area where the schools are considered top. You can buy courses and resources and tutors if that’s your thing. But none of these are guarantees of a quality education either.

This is because education is not really a commodity that can be bought like other items outside of a person like clothing for example. It’s not an App or an add-on or a piece of food.

Education is more a state of being. And that is very personal – not commercial. And open to anyone.

Developing an educated state of being is entirely personal, individual, and requires something that’s not stuck on the outside of a person. It requires something within to happen instead. It requires a human shift. Therefore, it is about people; all of whom are different, all of whom will respond to their educational opportunities differently, and all of whom will grow into a different person in reaction to learning opportunities.

For a person to become educated they have to engage with it themselves. They are the ones who have to make the shift. What happens on the periphery may make a little difference but it is the learner who has to make it happen within and that’s why it really cannot be bought.

There’s a saying that sums up what I’m getting at quite precisely, it goes; ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’.

I reminded myself of this several times during our home educating years. In fact it’s still relevant now when I want to try and control what the young people do and they’re having none of it – quite rightly. I can have all the ideas I want about what I think is best for them but unless they engage with those ideas they’ll have no effect at all. And they also have their own valid ideas!

Same with home education. I could lead the children towards all kinds of fascinating activities (in my view) but I couldn’t force them to engage.

I used to get intensely frustrated. Especially when I had all my planned activities dismissed as readily as I dismissed their choice in crap telly programmes. I used to spend enormous amounts of time and energy thinking up these engaging activities, then enormous amounts of time and energy in the frustration of them being disregarded, but it was my fault.

As they grew, they began to take over their education for themselves and it would have been a lot better if I’d butted out. But being a parent – okay a bit of an interfering parent – I still reckoned I had to have a lot of input. Some of the time it was welcome – most of the time it was more about me wanting control and doing my bit as an educator and as such was not welcome.

This, like trying to buy education, didn’t work. Because both with the buying and the control, neither guarantee that learning is going to take place. Whatever we try to buy or do – the learning still has to come from the learner.

It doesn’t matter how much you do, it doesn’t matter how much you buy or spend, or the energy you put into it, real education can only take place through the responses of your learner. You can’t buy that!

In a way, that’s quite a comforting thought; it does at least take some of the burden off your shoulders as a parent. Of course your burden maybe instead to facilitate those activities but even that isn’t always going to work. Sometimes the children are just not having any of it. Those days you just have to go with it knowing that things always change and others will be better. But in the end, you can lead a child towards being educated, but you cannot force them to partake of it. Canny provision of stimulating things around them often works as a strategy to engage or inspire them. But in the end it is up to them. And that’s no different whether it costs a little or a lot.

An educated person can come from a poor background or a rich background. Becoming educated starts with an attitude not an income. Being educated is a state of mind not a state of finance.

Poverty has been cited as being one of the causes of poor education. But the kind of poverty that really impacts is a poverty of thinking, more than a poverty of purse.

Obviously good nutrition and warm comfortable homes, opportunities to get out and about and see the world all contribute and money does play a part in those things. But you can still have an engaging education despite the challenge of not having those things – they are all influential in degrees anyway. And not guaranteed to have an impact. Money is not the only influential factor.

The poorest family can have the richest love and support of their children and the wealthiest attitude to learning and personal advancement. It’s that attitude that money has nothing to do with.

Money can’t make an education. A state of mind does. And an educative state of mind can evolve despite the state of the cash flow!

 

 

Fascinating approaches to home education

I had a long and thought provoking comment from Nav on my recent post ‘The Hypocrisy of Educational Discrimination’, about her home education – did you see it?

It was so interesting I invited her to expand the ideas she’d touched upon about their approaches in a post here. She describes being inspired by many other thinkers which she’s condensed in to five big ideas that influence their home education. I think you will be inspired too so do read on. Here’s her piece:

A Vernacular Home Education By Nav K

A science session outside with friends

I’m an English psychiatrist of Punjabi-Indian heritage, on an extended career break (possibly permanent one) and my husband is an English writer (with recentish Cypriot heritage mixed in). We live with our two primary school aged children in a rather small house, on a bit of land in rural Ireland (a move we made partly to make home education possible for us). My husband and I have always been drawn to the vernacular (I’m using that to mean designed or developed specific to the place) and to being part of nature, rather than separate from it. These ideas have guided our home education and made it a family and personal journey.

I’m the main educator in our home and I can’t tell you then that we follow a specific approach such as Unschooling, or specific school curricula, or Reggio Emilia or Charlotte Mason approaches – I think we are probably drawing on them all to different degrees in pursuit of the best education that we can access. I have some favourite educational thinkers (a bit of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky is very influential and contemporary thinkers Kieran Egan and Gillian Judson are wonderful guides) but I also try to read widely and influences come from many thinkers outside the discipline of education. As a result, we’ve developed some underlying big ideas / philosophies or principles for our family education, which keep evolving of course, as we learn more together. The overall aim is not just to get clever, but to develop wisdom.

5 Big Principles and their influence on our learning:

  1. Seeing the grand, beautiful whole

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”~ Albert Einstein. Recent research into the brain has shown that the right hemisphere tends to take in a whole, complicated ‘picture’ of the world and the left brain specialises in breaking this down into smaller pieces (I’ve simplified this incredibly here). The writer Iain McGilchrist argues that humans have let the left brain dominate too far. For example, the left part of our brain helps us develop computers and artificial intelligence but would not be able to “see” what could go wrong by hurtling down this path so entirely and so quickly. Did you know that many university biology courses now have little or no outside-the-classroom work, looking at plants in their natural setting? If you love nature and plants and want to study them at that level of education, you’ll probably end up in a lab looking at tiny, tiny details through a computer aided microscope and manipulating genes for 3 years. So at home we use technology such as the laptop and internet but in a careful, thought out way for our learning and much of what we do means going outside, visualising and manipulating with our bodies, using all our senses if possible. We’ll do maths through dance and art rather than a online maths app. When we aim to discuss any topic that involves breaking something into its parts to study them closely, I try very hard to bring the whole back together again with my children.

  1. Everything is connected

All the educational school ‘subjects’ could be described as different but true ways of seeing the world and as individuals we might find ourselves able to understand or enjoy some ways of seeing in preference to others. At home we often discuss how knowing something of all these major ways of seeing the world could complement each other, rather than just being separate entities and I try to help my children find connections, for example the maths in music, dance, and nature (or any of these to learn maths); how science tries to pinpoint things more precisely, but so does language. We spend a lot of time exploring metaphors and analogies for anything we study. Have you noticed how all the greatest thinkers on any aspect or area of expertise have used striking metaphors? (Einstein being an example above!).

  1. Serious practice leads to serious fun!

(I stole that quote from my children’s wonderful music school director and it has become a mantra at home when things are tough.) Persistence and tenacity, focusing on small specific goals in each practice session to gain mastery at something the children have chosen to pursue (like learning to play a piece of music or completing that story or poem) rather than giving up when it gets tricky, allows you not only to feel the pleasure of mastery but then get incredibly and ably creative with it. We talk about this a lot at home using examples of people whose work inspires us. For example, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe who is widely recognised as starting American Modernism mastered painting ‘life-like’ from observation before she went on to develop her own original amazing style, as did many other great painters.

  1. Learn from inspirational masters and experts

We rarely find ourselves using specific teaching materials aimed at primary school these days. We find someone who inspires us or is an expert, somehow. This is usually through reading their books or finding their work on the internet. For example, we love the Royal Institute Lectures for science and maths, available online. We sometimes manage to persuade experts leading classes for adults to let our older daughter attend (like a recent series of archaeology lectures about our part of Ireland). We grab skilled friends to teach us what they know whenever they visit. I support the children to learn anything science or maths related and my husband focuses on creative writing because of our own knowledge and experience in those areas.

  1. Play to learn

Play is necessary for health, learning and for having fun! We make a lot of time for unsupervised free play. From experience we have found huge benefits to adventurous physical play, particularly outside: there is lots of rough and tumble wrestling, tree climbing, exploring rivers, swimming in lakes and the sea (when we can make it happen); but also other quieter (…well sometimes quieter!) forms of play, like fantasy / role-play and constructional play. We try to encourage that it occurs outside, in all weather. If quantum physics entanglement theory is correct, then whatever we spend time looking at (and perhaps listening to, smelling, tasting and touching) could help us become a little bit of what we interact with. So if the children spend much of their time out together with other nature, they might truly be part of it, value and defend it, rather than covet and relate more to screens and machines.

There is a lot more to our personal and vernacular home-education than I can write here and there isn’t the scope to give each big principle or the thinkers behind them, the words or time they are due, but I hope I’ve made a fair attempt at describing some of them.

After lots of encouragement to do so, I am currently busy putting together a simple website to document and share these ideas in greater depth. I hope they will be useful to parents thinking about, embarking on or already on a home education journey. If you would like to know when it goes up on-line please send an email to home.edgeucated@gmail.com

Why should home educating always be positive!

I was sharing some tweets with Kate @kateonthinice recently as she reported a positive home educating day on her blog. 

She’d fallen into a trap common with many home schooling families. The trap that makes you believe that just because you chose to home educate, every day should be positive. And actually there’s two traps, the second one being that if it isn’t you start to feel guilty about it!

I did it! I bet many home educators reading this have done it too – are doing it now perhaps? But now I know that this is absolutely crazy thinking.

Regularly check in with the things that make you feel good

Crazy in the first place to assume that you can make every day positive when in fact, you’re just human and some human days are totally crap, home educating or not! And crazy to overlook the glaringly obvious fact that, whatever you are doing, it is never always positive.

Life isn’t like that! Why would we assume home educating is one hundred percent positive all the time?

Get real!

Ironically, I’ve been reading lately about keeping happy. (I needed a booster after a recent bereavement). And there was quite an amazing idea in this book along with the usual notes about checking in with the small things, understanding your bad habits, getting exercise, etc.

The basic idea in conclusion was that generally we are born happy. We generally do not come into the world negative. But as we grow and experience difficulties and challenges which are inevitable if we want to do anything, we encounter things that makes us unhappy. What happens then is that we easily get into the habit of becoming tense about these things, then these habits become our default and before we know what’s happening we’re practising negativity all the time.

What we have to do to counteract this is to remember to put our default switch back to positive – remember the things that make us feel good and act on them. Remember that challenges sometimes get in the way of feeling positive but they can be overcome. And remember to return to our positive default when they have.

Nice idea!

In relation to home educating the same thing can happen. After a while we can easily become too serious. We can become bogged down with comparing our pathways to school ones (which is what we wanted to abandon remember). We can sometimes get too heavy with our youngsters. We can get over burdened on occasion with the magnitude of what we’re doing in stepping away from mainstream.

What helps on these occasions when you feel a bit negative and worry whether home educating was a positive decision after all, is to remember; 

  • life is never one hundred percent positive and schooling would equally be throwing up a whole bunch of negatives
  • to seek out others to talk to
  • to keep a balanced perspective on it all by remembering why you did it in the first place
  • to step back and see the bigger picture!

And stop feeling guilty if your days go askew for a while – totally understandable – parenting often goes askew whatever you’re up to. Don’t blame home education.

Life often goes askew. But guess what?

You can change it!

 

(Don’t forget; ‘A Home Education Notebook’ may help with some of those times too). Available  Eyrie Press. or Amazon. See the My Books page for more details.