Tag Archive | family life

Read; for your children’s sake!

The best thing ever on a summer afternoon is to take a book outside and read. 20150806_134010

Notebooks inevitably go with me and I inevitably end up writing – often inspired by the reading whether it’s a novel, non-fiction, whatever! But to have an afternoon devoted to reading outside in the breeze and sunshine is my favourite summer delight. I can spend hours reading, when I probably wouldn’t if I was still inside.

Funny how we can spend hours watching telly or web surfing, yet seldom devote that amount of time immersed in a good book. Soon as I get outside that changes – I can relax and lose time to it.

And apparently we get a double dose of benefit if we do so. Not only do we get the important benefits of natural light, but reading itself also improves wellbeing and has other benefits on society too, like increased empathy and reduced stress. (See this research from The Reading Agency)

And, as if you needed another excuse, your children need to see you reading.

As parents we’re always keen that our children read. It’s an essential part of their development, education and lifeskills. And the biggest influence on children’s connection to reading is whether and how much we read. If they see you reading regularly, they’ll be drawn to it too, especially when you appear to be getting so much pleasure from it.

It doesn’t matter what format you choose to read in. Just as long as you’re reading.

There are so many little moments in a day we could be reading; on journeys, in a queue, waiting room, on the bus, trips out with picnics, waiting for the dinner to cook, with your lunch. The more you read, the more they’ll want to.

The effect may not be immediate or apparent. But by reading, you’re establishing a valuable attitude to it and that’s what counts. They might want to run about and build dens, that’s fine, but you can read whilst they do so. Then they’ll have that image of you – their most important adult – attaching importance to the activity of reading. That lays the foundations of what they’ll attach importance to in times to come.

So take a regular afternoon reading. Take things to read on your family picnics, outings, journeys and holidays. Or just slope off into the garden on a sunny afternoon and take a moment out just for yourself to have a home holiday with a good book.

See if you don’t feel the benefits too!

(If you haven’t read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ it’s a sweet, funny, family story just right for an outdoors read to move your mind and emotions!)

Mood miracle!

I know it's not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

I know it’s not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

It’s amazing how one little moment can become a mood miracle!

Last week was a bit of a wretched one. They can get like that sometimes, can’t they!

I’ve done book events for the new book ‘Who’s Not In School’ and much travelling recently, working in between, and was a bit exhausted with it despite meeting lots of lovely complimentary and sweet people.

So I strode out under the sky early this weekend; for even cloudy is supposed to help the spirits. The tide was seeping over the marshland in that calm and comforting way it does, lifting birds and gently filling creeks. I watched it a while.

Then coming back to the garden I saw that our Buddleia was bedecked with more butterflies than I’ve ever seen in one place. So rather than going in and getting involved back indoors, probably back at laptop, I took a cuppa and sat there and watched them. Not something I’ve ever done – or thought of doing – before.

There were so many I started to count and in just a few minutes counted ten different species. And there were more than one of each species so you can see how many there were in all.  I was totally absorbed.

And then I noticed something else had happened; something honeyed had happened to my spirits.

The doldrums of the week had vanished. Banished by mindful attention to the butterflies and that natural life outside the laptop.

I must remember, must remember, must remember, to take a few mindful moments outside each day and then maybe the week wouldn’t get so far down as wretched. I used it all the time as an antidote to children’s indoor moods. I’ve got to remember that I need it just as much!

And if you’re interested in butterfly watching you and the kids can get involved with the butterfly count this August – another great reason to be outside.

Teach them everyday food habits

Isn’t food info confusing? You think you’re guiding the children towards a healthy habit of eating then new research comes along and challenges it and you find it’s not so healthy after all.

I watched the programme; ‘Trust me, I’m a doctor’ last night and discovered that several of the habits I thought were healthy turn out not to be!

One was the idea of using healthy oils, like sunflower or vegetable oils, to cook with as an alternative to the demonised butter. On the programme it showed that some of these oils. although okay in the cold state like perhaps in salad dressing, were quite unhealthy once cooked as the heating process released harmful substances.

The other surprise was to do with organic food. There is no doubt that growing organic food is far, far better for the environment. But tests they’d conducted for the programme showed that in view of our personal health, the fact that veg were organically grown or not made little difference.

One good piece of news for me was that the claims made about the health benefits of the extortionately priced Manuka honey were just a con. The cheap brands, which are all I can afford, were just as beneficial. Excellent – I always had my suspicions anyway, being aware of selling hype.

One of the benefits of having the children learning at home with you is that you can plan meals, talk about nutrition, shop for, cook and eat together and incorporate a healthy approach to food choices and eating into your everyday habits.

It is these lifestyle habits and routines established at home with you, in particular what and how you parents eat, that influences the children in the long run. Your attitudes inform theirs really. And learning how to feed themselves well is an essential aspect of education.

Okay so they might dodge into a fast food chain occasionally, especially when they’re teens, but we don’t have to be perfect. The best we can do is be conscious and educate them to be aware. To discuss, to develop healthy habits and to educate them to the idea that the fuel we put in our bodies affects not only our physical health, our heart and other organs, stamina and muscle tone, but also our mental and emotional health too. It’s worth being conscious of it.

Just as I am conscious that too much chocolate is bad for me, despite my desire for it. And I might even get around to trying the method they suggest in the programme to wean me from it!

That’s going to take one helluva lot of imagining…!

Tolerance for those who do it differently

I’m hatching a follow up to my newest book ‘Who’s Not In School?’books 001

We’ve had some lovely reviews. But I’m also trying to take on board the not so lovely ones and make adjustments, give people what they want.

Some want an image of Home Ed respectability and felt Little Harry will give home schoolers a bad reputation. Others complained it was an image of a structured family and left others out. It’s difficult knowing who to please!

It’s also difficult to capture a good story with just a few words to play with. Far easier to indulge a writer’s passion for lots and lots of them!

Some of the children’s stories I’ve read in the past have been fantastic. Some not so good.

The best, I think, are stories that leave you wondering and talking with the children, like ‘Horrid Henry’ (by Francesca Simon) – what a child! Or ‘Pippi Longstocking’ (Astrid Lindgren), who lives outside all our preconceptions. Or books with a message like ‘Wonder’ (P J Palacio) which raises our awareness of our response to children with facial disfigurement.

I suppose my message with Harry was that whoever they are and whatever they are doing children have reasons for what they do. Admittedly some of these doings need moderating as they mature and increase their understanding of why certain actions might not be desirable, if they want to become happy and involved members of society that is. But we need to show patience and understanding in our guidance until they get there.

And especially tolerance of all the different types of people there are in the world. And of those who want to do it differently.

Home educating families are among those who want to do things a bit differently.

But everyone is different really; all children are different whether in school or out, all parents are different. All writers are different too and produce a different kind of work.

Tolerance and understanding are the keys to us all living gracefully together whoever we are and whatever we purport.

How wild are you?

Nothing like taking some time over the weekend to sit among the rose petals and read. Although I don’t think that’s quite what Simon Barnes meant in the book of his I was reading; ‘How To Be Wild’! wild book 002

This is a trip through various wild places with him, mostly on his doorstep in Suffolk, but also in Zambia, as he talks about our connection with the natural world and why we need it. How we need to preserve it. I was drawn to it through that mutual interest and the fact the marshes he walks through are so like the ones I also frequent when I’m getting my regular dose of the wild.

I couldn’t thrive without this connection. I think many people can’t, but maybe they haven’t recognised that fact. We need to keep in touch with wildness to understand that it runs through our own genes however sophisticated and concreted we try and make our lives.

Our health needs it, our psyche needs it. But most don’t get enough of it – some don’t get any contact with wild places and the natural world. Sadly, many kids don’t – some are almost afraid of it.

If our children have no contact then they’ll have little regard, because contact breeds knowledge and understanding. We are spawned from the wild and basically need to preserve it in order to preserve ourselves. Experience is the starting point for understanding.

Simon lists a number of ways to reconnect with the wild. All of which are doable with family. Here are some of them:

  • Walk. Get out from under rooves and walk under the sky. Even in a city this has benefits as there is always something natural to observe.
  • Sit. Anywhere you can breathe in air and even better if it’s a natural open space. Observe.
  • Drink; although I interpret this as picnic with family and kids. Do it outside.
  • Learn. Name what you see, Keep adding to the list of things you can name. With technology you can identify something in an instant, flower, bird, tree, insect, whatever…
  • Read. And research. Especially about the environment, the planet, the species. Explore nature websites and charities.
  • Visit. Find wild places to visit. These don’t always have to be organised nature reserves. A river walk, wood or wasteland that’s less well known may be nearby without you ever having realised.
  • Join. Volunteer. Get involved. There may be branches of wildlife groups near you to be involved with and check out the less well known ones like Buglife or Plantlife as well as the larger ones like The National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Now the summer’s here see how wild you can be. There’s nothing quite like gathering a clan together and getting out there. You’ll make a difference to your life and you’ll make a difference to the environment by extending your contact and thus your understanding, and that of the next generation who’ll one day be it’s guardians.

Missing Home Ed – so it’s great to meet you!

I do miss those home educating days with little ones. When there were children here full of curiosity and inquisitiveness about their world – like Little Harry in ‘Who’s Not In School’. It’s often misinterpreted for booklaunchnaughtiness when it becomes inappropriate! He’s the kind of child you take your eyes off for a second and his curiosity gets the better of him and he’s doing something he shouldn’t. I had one of those.

I also miss the company of other inspiring home educating parents and the excuse to have a good chinwag about our kids in general – oh – and education of course. My friends have heard it so much from me now I see their eyes glaze over.

So I have enjoyed meeting some of you at recent book events the publisher arranged.

These events are always a challenge for me. I prefer to hide away in natural places (where I write this now) rather than be public. But I’ve been so uplifted by the warm responses we’ve had so far I’m up for some more. So if you want us to visit your group do get in touch here.

I love meeting inspirational people and as home educators you’re definitely inspirational – it’s an inspirational thing to be doing. I never tire of hearing your stories and if we can pass something onto the next set of parents wanting to home educate, then it’s a double advantage.

So if you fancy coming along to any of the events I hope we get to chat.

Or come and let me know what you think of the new book – if it’s kind of course! As I used to say to the children; if it’s not kind or it’s not helpful, don’t say it! I think some of the people who go on forums could do with adhering to that rule! ;)

Otherwise your feedback is what keeps me writing – and emerging from my hiding place. Hope to see more of you soon.

Infecting your kids with learning

I think I might have caught it from the children. Or from home educating maybe.

They would spot and stop and examine everything they saw, wherever we went, from the tiniest bug to the biggest truck. It took ages to get anywhere.

I tried not to be impatient. Because these investigations of theirs were just a natural extension of their education.

We’d talk, speculate, look up, question and hypothesise – or in more general terms just gab on about it. These discussions always took us somewhere. From dissecting owl pellets and ruminating on the prey we found contained in them, which told us what wildlife was around us all the time even if we didn’t see it and the wider ecological cycle…to gawping at the biggest truck we’d ever seen, where it came from and how it got across the sea, what it carried and imports and exports…

Observation and conversation are two excellent learning facilities you can put to such great use when you home educate.

Funny thing is, I still tend to do it now. I spotted a monster fungi on a tree the other day whilst out woldswalk 15 001walking. The dog was more impatient than the kids used to be whilst I tried to get a snap without falling in the ditch full of nettles.

Then, with both girls home this weekend, we’re all doing it on our walks, and they’re reporting back and pointing things out just the same…it’s so infectious and opens your eyes to all the amazing things around us.

If you can infect your children with a delight in all there is to observe and discuss and question and find out about, in maybe just a simple walk to the shops, you will be igniting in them a desire to become educated.

In town today I heard Swifts screaming round the chimneys, saw the fire engine race round a corner, and a pigeon egg on the pavement. So I’m still doing it even though my two have grown up and gone again. But a habit of observation still brings little treasures into a dull day. There’s just so much to see and wonder and learn about.

The world provides an education in itself.

So infect your little one as you walk hand in hand, create a habit of observation and see what treasures you can find. And if you fancy telling me I’d love to hear.