Tag Archive | family life

The parenting endurance test!

January can feel like an endurance test!

I find it hard to keep my spirits on the bright side when my daily walk, which I take for that very reason – keeping bright, becomes grueling rather than graceful at this time of the year.

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The best bit of a wet January morning; shiny droplets on the winter flowering cherry

Recording my pictures on Instagram helps me focus on the charms rather than the challenges, even if I have to seek them sometimes.

But that’s a good way to get through all challenges; remind yourself of the best bits among life’s barrage.

A parent asked me recently how I managed to get through the challenge of the years home educating with such ‘patience and grace’?

The short answer is; I didn’t all the time!

For, although it is mostly the best bits I write about to encourage and inspire – and it is an inspiring thing to do – it is certainly a challenge, verging on an endurance test sometimes. But isn’t all parenting like that – not just home educating?

The thing is; you know your kids are absolutely delightful beings. You know you completely love them to bits. You know home educating is totally the best thing you’ve ever done. And you know you don’t want it any other way.

BUT…..

There are times you are inevitably going to shout ‘FFS’!!!

I had those times too.

You would also have those times if the children were in school – believe me!

The longer answer to the above question was that I built strategies to help me through the grueling bits. We need that with both parenting and home education.

You’ll need to take deep breaths – often.

You’ll need to step back and let be – often.

You’ll need to stop worrying – that’s a decision as much as any.

You’ll need to trust that time will sort it.

Get outside – often.

You’ll need to look after yourself – as much as the children. Your mental and spiritual well being is included in that; build strategies to help refocus when needed (like me with the Instagram).

And you need to winkle out the best bits. There are always good bits.

Seasons change. January passes. Kids grow. Family life changes rapidly. All challenges change just as rapidly too.

All will be well.

(For more enduring comfort and reassurance try my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Or just for mum support; ‘Mumhood’. See the books page for details)

‘Home educating can’t be that bad!’

Louise Walters is a friend and fellow writer who lives with her husband and five children. She is also a home educator so, always keen to showcase others, I asked her if she’d tell us a little of how it works out for her.
Her honest account reminds us that nothing is ever all roses – but can still work!
Here she is:
Two years ago I decided to home educate my then six year old son, Finn. He was such an unhappy child, it was difficult to witness. It took me a long time to make the decision (I had wondered about it even before he started school. He is August-born and quite “young” for his age, and looking back on it now, it’s clear he really should not have started school aged just 4). The annoying thing is, I wasn’t new to HE. My oldest child, now 21, spent time in and out (mostly out!) of school and in many ways I was an “old hand”.
But I didn’t feel like that. I always worried; how can I teach all the subjects? How will Finn get his qualifications when the time comes? How will I find the time to work? That last, if I’m honest, was (and remains) my main concern. However, I know enough about HE nowadays to understand that not a lot of “teaching”, in the school-sense of the word, is needed.
Finn learns organically, using all the means available to him: books, internet, museums, field trips, libraries, pens and paper, paints, Lego, cinema, theatre, home ed groups… anything and everything, essentially. And we actually spend no more than a couple of hours a week doing anything that resembles “school learning”. We have literacy and numeracy workbooks. They are incredibly boring. Really, they are for my benefit… I have something to “show” for their learning when the Local Authority makes its annual request for info regarding my educational provision.
I’m a writer, but have little time for that. The big advantage is I am my own boss. I don’t watch much TV and try to work for an hour in the evenings (not always possible). I also occasionally negotiate writing time during the day with the boys (Oh, did I mention I later took Finn’s brother out of school too?! Home educating can’t be that bad, can it?) Negotiations go like this: “Boys, you do these two pages in your maths workbook…” Grumble, grumble… “Then you can play with Lego/watch DanTDM/colour/dress up/split the atom for an hour and I will write.”
The truth is I love writing and I love home educating (most of the time), so it’s up to me to make it work. I have days when I fervently wish they were back in school, even if it was for just a couple of days a week. That would be perfect, and perhaps when they are a little older, that’s a route we’ll explore. In the meantime, I know I’m doing the right thing, and the boys are learning with such little effort. My youngest just started to read as if over night. I hadn’t been actively teaching him to read. So there seems little point in bringing all this to an end. (They do spend Saturday mornings in  a school, attending lessons at a music school that hires school premises. So they get a nostril full of that school smell once a week. And I get a couple of hours alone in the house. Bliss!)
I haven’t mentioned socialisation, mainly because it’s not an issue. It amuses me that people who have not encountered HE before often ask, “But what about socialisation?” first… kind of a compliment, really, when you stop and think about it. Socalisation is one of the easiest aspects of the whole thing: I don’t keep the kids locked up all day. We are out and about, meeting all kinds of people, of all ages. Finn is less shy now than he was in school. His little brother has never been shy, full stop.
I’ve ran out of time to write. We are off to a home ed play rehearsal. It will be noisy, chaotic and fun. I wonder if I could sneak in my laptop…?
Louise is the author of ‘Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase’, published by Hodder in 2014. better-uk-paperback-pic-2
albu-web-ready Her second novel, ‘A Life Between Us’ will be out in March 2017 from Troubadour Publishing. She is working on a third novel, which is about a struggling single mother who decides to home educate her autistic son.
Find her site here; http://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/

Thought for the New Year

As the old year ends and new one begins I want to say a couple of  things. 20161230_134020

First; I want to say a massive THANK YOU to all those who’ve supported my work during this last year. Without your lovely messages, reviews, encouragement and endorsement I wouldn’t have kept going. No writer can do so without readers.

We’re all like kids really – we all need a little bit of praise and support to spur us on. Thank you for yours. It’s been heartwarming and fuel for my work.

Secondly, as time to take the decs down draws near, I thought I’d leave you an idea to mull over as you launch into your new family year:

Parenting IS Educating. 

And:

Education (in school or out of it) depends on parenting.

Obviously, parenting is not the only influence on your child’s education. But your parenting supports it. Just by loving your children, loving what they do, being engaged in what they do, gently guiding what they do, demonstrating what’s best to do – and to be, you educate.

It may not be evident in tangible ways. But the effect is immeasurable.

Parenting is the most important job you’ll ever do. (See the page)

Finally, do all that you do with your children with respect – there’s no love without it.

Wishing you a loving new year.

Don’t weed your children’s learning!

I find the need to be outside quite hard to accommodate this time of the year. I have to sometimes push myself out in dreary or battering weather to get some daily doses of the tonic everyone needs for indoor spirits. Without it I know I go stir crazy! So I tog up most days and get a daily walk.

Summer memories

Summer memories

It’s easy in the summer. All coffee breaks can be out there. And there’s plenty of light for walking after work hours. And weekends inviting me to garden, even if the format of that is just chopping back the weeds.

I’m not a great gardener. I find it a bit confusing. I’m puzzled by the desire to nurture some plants whilst killing others. Buttercups, daisies and dandelions spring to mind – what a delightful burst of yellow they are. I have great trouble classing them as weeds and pulling them up or worse still spraying them. There’s a hierarchy of plants I just don’t buy in to.

I have the same dilemma with education. There’s a hierarchy that’s evolved around academia which puts some important subjects and skills, like creative ones for example, in the ‘weeds’ category. And I think this is more to do with snobbery than value.

I admit, there are some skills that are invaluable for kids to learn – reading springs to mind. And it is essential for living in our society to have a practical comprehension of language, numbers, scientific concepts and technology. We want to communicate, budget and cook for example and need to skills and knowledge to do so.

But outside those practical applications why should our children’s learning be controlled by what others deem as essential subject matter? Why should the Romans be more important than Evolution. Or non-essential Grammar be more important than creating a story? Or the skill of long division be more important than the skill of inventing for example?

When we home educate we can really examine the curriculum. And this leads to examining the questions; what’s really important to know? And why is it important to know it?

Within the educational system, most of the why has evolved, not from value to the child or developing adulthood, but for the convenience of measuring them and perpetuation of the system – and the politics surrounding it. A truer reason for what we ask our children to learn is that it’s relevant to the child now as well as their lifelong development – what curriculum would cater for that?

What is more important when we’re guiding our children’s learning is not so much what they know, but cultivating a desire to know, to find out, to continue to learn. In fact, that desire is already there when they’re born – our job is to continue to nurture it rather than chop it off like some do dandelions.

We can look up knowledge and facts at any time, these days. Yet we’re constrained by the idea of curriculum that started way back when compulsory education did, when knowledge wasn’t available to all. Far better to consider a curriculum of skills, experiences and a cultivated mind that can be inventive, creative, and which nurtures the desire to develop continually, rather than weeding out the child’s true interests whilst enslaved to subjects for some extrinsic curriculum and killing their desire in the process.

Or maybe not use a curriculum at all and see where your learning life takes you!

‘Unruly’ and what to do about it.

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There’s times for running and times for not!

Been for a haircut. And the inevitable ‘chat’ with the hairdresser, which I freely admit I’m not very good at. But she cut the girls’ hair when we were home educating, without judgement on what we were doing, and always asks after them.

She’s a lovely young woman who has some fairly powerful views, many of them on parenting, even though she’s not a parent herself. She sees some fairly ‘unruly’ children in the hairdressers whose parents drag them in, dump them in the chair, then leave the responsibility of them to her whilst they pop to the shops!

Even without being a parent she’s aware that this is not ideal parenting. And she’s also aware that many parents should be far more engaged with their kids than they are, then maybe they wouldn’t be ‘unruly’.

The inverted comments illustrate the fact that I’m not sure what else to call them. We know what I mean; not doing as they’re asked or knowing the point of what grown-ups ask, exploring things when it’s not appropriate, inability to understand what’s appropriate behaviour in the circumstances, none of which is a crime but needs guidance.

We all see this all of the time. I saw a child running up and down in a cafe the other day where stressed waitresses were busily carrying out plates of hot food and having to dodge round her. Parents didn’t say a thing – couldn’t even see the problem and thought their child was just expressing important needs, clearly oblivious to whether this was appropriate or not – and to the fact others’ have needs too.

Children’s understanding of what’s appropriate or not evolves in the first instance from interaction with their parents in a variety of situations, where they’ve been talked to, guided, shown, had explained, engaged with. Interaction teaches kids what appropriate behaviour is.

I know some parents feel that a child should be allowed to express themselves in any way they want without that being inhibited. That we should never suppress them in any way.

But I look at it this way, we want our children to grow up to be liked. But we all need an understanding of the fact we are not the only ones in this world, that others need consideration too, that we have to grow and develop within those considerations even whilst being as true to ourselves as possible. We are social animals and social animals operate within boundaries of respect – for others, for self. Suppression is not the point. Guidance and explanation is. If they’re asked not to play with the stuff on the hairdresser’s trolley there will be reasons!

Neglecting to teach them the understanding of this simple truth is neglecting the parental duty of guidance and personal education.

Parenting is difficult. It tests us all the time. The children test us, test boundaries and want to break rules – course they do, they’re inquisitive little beings. Mine certainly did – and that brings us challenges. But the simple antidote to some of those challenges, like how to stop them rummaging in the hairdresser’s trolley of intriguing bits and pieces, is to build a good relationship with the child at every opportunity, one that is based on respectful interaction, dialogue and guidance as to what to do when – and when not! Dialogue and conversation is an effective learning tool. And the time we devote to nurturing that is an important part of our parenting.

It’s part of education too. And even this young woman, without any children of her own, could see that as the role of a parent more clearly than the parents themselves!

Helping your Home Ed household

After the post I did recently about the not-so-little girls who starred in the book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ I had several super messages. It seems people are reassured to know these grown-up home educators turned out okay and thereby find comfort in knowing there’s a good chance that theirs will be the same one day.

It is hard to believe, I know. I remember having that feeling myself. We’re so all-consumed by the parenting stage we’re at, by the age our children are, it’s impossible to see anything other.

We can never see the future, obviously, but equally it seems downright scary to conceive being parents of adults. Or to imagine things other than how they are; kids as grown ups being one of them.

However, I know now that you don’t really need to worry about this. All you need to do is concern yourself with your children now, with their needs now, with making their learning life a good one, now. Just making ordinary life good now; for ordinary life is where learning happens as well as ‘doing educational’ stuff. And it creates a life that helps them grow and develop in ways you can’t imagine now – trust me – it does.

It’s not something you can control or force. I did try forcing, misguided soul that I was, but whenever I set about ‘doing’ education I failed disastrously, we often fell out disastrously. And we probably learned nothing useful, except not to do it that way perhaps.

It was these silly mistakes that could cause the most wobbles – wobbles that didn’t need to happen really. And the lessons I learned from them are what I hoped to pass on through my latest book; ‘A Home Education Notebook‘. Because anything to appease those wobbles and keep us strong has to help a Home Ed household. Our strength is the children’s strength.

A peep inside A Home Education Notebook

A peep inside A Home Education Notebook

Home educating is a long term job. Parenting is a long job, come to that. To endure that we have to find and practice anything we can to give us the confidence to keep going. And I found it helped to:

  • keep contact with those who support you and minimise contact with those who don’t
  • never measure yourself with school benchmarks
  • share your concerns, but only with those you trust
  • join the Home Ed networks like those on Facebook (e.g home education uk) where you’ll find reassuring lists of what grown-up home educated kids are doing now
  • have faith in your intelligence and your children’s intelligence, it’ll get you there!

You won’t have made the decision to Home Ed lightly – don’t let others sway you from your intelligent considerations of it. Your considered intelligence will see you through long term – trust it.

Take care to focus on what you’re doing now, that’s where you’ll find your confidence, then you’ll also find that the long term will take care of itself!

And it’s your lovely feedback which gives me confidence too – thank you.

Will harmony and peace be well and truly Trumped?

A picture for peace and harmony

A picture for peace and harmony

It takes much tolerance to live together. Anyone who is living with others knows that. Family life is a bit like negotiating sea changes; sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s choppy.

All parents know this. Couples know this. Families know this. In fact, my single friends know this too, as they listen to my dilemmas and family challenges and count their single blessings.

But I know my own blessings come family shaped. And when my two delightful family shapes are home again, as they recently have been, my blessings are rich despite the inevitable choppy bits.

These take some negotiating. There’s times I’m trying to calm rippled feelings and no doubt times I’m causing them! Mostly though, they are just ripples of laughter that permeate the house.

This is what family life – in fact all life with others – is about; storms, ripples and rainbows as we accommodate living together, whether that’s on a family scale, a friend and colleague scale, or population scale. In order for us all to live together we have to tolerate each others differences, learn to give and take, build understanding of and empathy for those with different ideas from our own, educate ourselves to be compassionate, curious, considerate and kind. Above all practice respect for one another.

So I rather fear for peoples when we have someone in charge of a major populace who lacks most of those characteristics, instead who openly practices racism, sexism, bigotry and a disrespectful style of communicating with others he fails to understand.

Is that the family climate Trump grew up in? And is it the kind of global togetherness he endorses?

I have to not concern myself too much with it; it’s too depressing a thought.

What I can concern myself with instead is the practices which I believe perpetuate love, respect and togetherness, as we all can. Right from our family doorsteps, throughout all our relationships, both online and in the flesh, so that these actions spread out from us and make our world a more loving and inclusive place.

I believe that always starts at home. With our relationships at home. It certainly should be part of our parenting and education.

Learning to love and live well together is the most important part of our human existence. You can look up any knowledge on Google – you can only learn about love and peace through experience. It should be the most important part of family development, education and politics – but I don’t bear to think about that right now.

I’ll just continue to go on loving and respecting my precious family shapes so they can in turn pass that on around.