Tag Archive | family life

Do children need forcing over shyness?

Charley and I had a jaunt out together the other day. She’s a lovely young adult now and we share grown up things together like art centres, charity treasure seeking or walks. And I always enjoy the opportunity to chat – and listen. How did she become so intelligent and astute? Sometimes I feel I’ve been overtaken!

Quite randomly we got to talking about shyness, particularly in children. She was painfully shy; pulling hat down over eyes rather than engaging with people. Hated crowds, hated people noisy places, and generally had a serious frowning face as a baby. It was a good job our first child was beaming as I might have thought it was me making her miserable.

Her Gran could get her giggling though and when she did crack out a smile the sun shone. But she was never one for leaving my legs and joining in.

Yet she recently managed a very difficult conversation with a boss. How did she get from being the shy little girl, shy big girl as well, to someone who could deal with situations like college, Uni, colleagues and bosses? As a home educating family, whose children don’t experience the affray of school, you’re often accused of failing to push them out into the big wide world. ‘They have to get used to it’ you’re told. Is this true?

It’s a dilemma for parents: How much do we push interaction and how much do we leave it to develop naturally?

Not being a parent who was comfortable with any kind of enforcement, and being shy myself, I felt very strongly I shouldn’t push. That in the right environment, with the right encouragement and a consistent demonstration, with exposure that a child feels comfortable with, you don’t need to push interaction it will develop naturally through developing confidence. And confidence comes from support and experience.

This is what Charley says about it; ‘I hated it when people approached me when I was little. I felt sick and like I wanted to cry. I was so grateful to have you as a shield if I needed it and I can look back and see now that you let it be alright if I didn’t want to talk to people. If you’d pushed me out before I was ready I would have thought you were ganging up on me as well, as that’s what it felt like. Instead I had the choice to interact or not and very young children need that protection’.

I knew that sick feeling well, so I was determined that she shouldn’t suffer the same. We are all different and all have different characteristics.

However, I knew that Charley did need to become confident in dealing with people. And I thought about certain strategies to pass on as she grew to help her over those difficult situations. I remember telling her that sometimes all you have to do is look people in the eye, say hello, then look away and they’re satisfied with that and leave you alone. I made sure that I approached people with confidence so she could copy my example (I was bluffing but she didn’t know that!) and told her about ice-breakers, where you talk about something that’s common between you – even the weather. And smiling always helps! Little tips like these she could put into practice and gain experience from using.

As we were chatting about this Charley went on to say; ‘As I got older I realised that being shy, and not being physically able to speak to people, wasn’t going to be help me progress and get where I wanted. So I had to get over it so I took courage and went for it as my confidence grew. I also wanted people to think I was approachable. Looking at people and smiling changes their responses to me and helps them relax’.

And now you wouldn’t know she was shy and she seems very good at putting people at their ease. Better than her mother probably! She certainly does when she’s photographing them – there’s no worse subject than me, but she managed it for my blog.

Yet this was a child who was not taken to toddler group, contrary to the advice of health visitors who think it’s a way of ‘socialising’ them. (That’s rubbish and you can read why in my book ‘Mumhood’). She was not sent to school. She was not forced into group situations before she was ready. She was not forced to party, mix, engage, unless she chose to, just came along as we did it, but whether she interacted was up to her.

And I wanted to write this here in support of all those painfully shy children who are forced to ‘get over it’. And all those parents who worry or who think they should be forcing their children to mix – you shouldn’t. Or that home education is going to compound the problem. It doesn’t.

You don’t have to push them out there – they want to get out there for themselves when the time is right. And they will do – Charley is proof.

Budget, bunny bottoms and an occasional shop

I’ve just been on a trip. It wasn’t planned. My foot got caught in a bramble and catapulted me down a bank side. Not enjoyable, although I did have a nice view of a bunny’s bottom as it bundled for cover in terror.

It’s my own fault. I go about gawping at all the natural delights without watching where I’m putting my feet. Rabbit holes have caught me out before now, and trails of ivy across the wooded path where I sometimes walk.

But I still love being out there. Now the weather’s improving it’s all the nicer and I get out often, looking for both inspiration and soul refreshment. Over winter there’s been times I’ve often resorted to coffee shops and city centres for this purpose. But the snag with that is the expenditure and the hoards of people all shopping. cafe books 002

When did shopping become a pastime, rather than a necessity? Probably when corporate politics saw the potential to fleece people without them even needing anything!

We used to shop out of need. Now we shop out of greed. For, let’s be honest, much of what we shop for is non-essential. We could do without much of it.

I’m not against shopping as a pastime if it’s what you like. I like charity treasure seeking with the girls! But as long as it is what you like and not something you’re doing as a slave to commercial trends and con merchants.

We can be so conned and from so many sources. Conned into believing we need much more than we do, or we’re not as good as others if we don’t have stuff, or if we haven’t got that kind of ‘disposable income’ we’re somehow inferior.

I’ve decided to resist this. I’ve decided to look seriously at anything I’m tempted to buy and ask; do I really want this or am I conned into believing I do with clever marketing? (Supermarkets are masters at this). What can I use/do/create as a solution rather than buy as a solution?

The beauty of this approach is that it lessens my dependency on the expensive antidote to doldrums that shopping can become making me a slave to big income when moderate income will do, it makes me far more resourceful and stretches my mental skills, it’s a good example to my young people and shows them how to be thrifty and I also find I’m not as poor as I thought because not only am I keeping money in my purse, I’ve changed my attitude as well.

For once basic needs are met; food, shelter, warmth, etc, feeling poor can be as much a state of attitude as a state of finance. We can be rich in love even without money, for example. Rich in what we already have, without needing anything else. And if life feels flat and we’re thinking about buying a solution, creating a solution or seeking an experience instead of shopping can change that feeling by giving a sense of achievement far more fulfilling that a quick shopping fix. I think so many young people are dissatisfied because of slavery to shopping fixes that soon wear off.

And of course, the less we buy, the less we pollute the earth. So not only does it make us more resourceful, it pays greater respect to the resources the earth already has given, and lessens the impact on what’s left of it.

So, I’m on a drive to minimise spending and maximise resourcefulness.

Although I’m not sure how many brambles and bunny bottoms will be involved! I’ll keep you posted.

Balancing the crazy parenting scales!

I SO appreciate the comments, compliments and messages I receive via this blog, Twitter and Facebook.

You can't force a tree to blossom or a child to bloom

You can’t force a tree to blossom or a child to bloom

THANK YOU!

They are a delight to read and help restore balance and perspective on days when I’m laying words in isolation and never hear a voice except the one in my head – which gets dead boring! Especially messages like one recently telling me how valuable my work was to their parenting life, despite not being a home educating family.

That’s nice to know. Because firstly, I’m for all parents, I’m for families, whatever route they take. And secondly it confirms such an important point; family life and education (all education not just home education) are interconnected. And the trick is to maintain the balance between them.

What a balancing act parenting always is, with decisions to make about how we parent and what to do for the best, all the time.

Even now mine are older, I constantly question how I should react, support, advise, not only as in the ‘right’ thing to do (whatever that is), but what’s right for our individuals and in the wider picture.

Looking at a broader picture sometimes can help maintain balance when we’re bogged down in concerns which seem overwhelming at the time. In the perspective of the broader picture it helps sometimes to ask; will this really matter in a week’s time, a month’s, a year’s, ten years? So it can ease a concern by balancing it with that broader time frame.

A world-view frame also helps when little dilemmas about our children’s behaviour constantly rise and we wonder how best to deal with them. Often these boil down to; should our child be doing this, should we stop them doing this, should we make them do that? And how to encourage what we want them to do?

I looked at it this way; their behaviour matters, not because I want ‘good’ little children. Neither do I want oppressed little children; that doesn’t make for good. But behaviour is about respect.

I wanted children who respected the world, who respected others, who didn’t abuse, who showed concern and consideration, and who were likeable little beings as this benefited both them as individuals and the wider world and its people. And the best way to encourage that caring behaviour is to demonstrate it.

Respect is just care really. It’s not about dominance. Or indoctrination. Or being either strict or liberal. It’s about mutual care and consideration for the world and all things and people in it. Respect for our children. And that’s why education is so important and tied up in our parenting. Because it is only through being educated about these things that children can practice them. We guide them by the way we show it, the way we behave, through our demonstration and explanation.

However, keeping that in balance; children are never finished! They need time to mature into – tidying up for example, not hitting others, not snatching, being helpful, being able to see others’ point of view, sharing jobs, stuff like that. This is where we need the balancing perspective of a time frame, and of a wider picture. We have to guide, encourage, be tolerant and consistent. They will get it wrong.

But never use that wider picture as an opportunity to compare your child with others. Although we all want to operate within a social world, we are all individuals in it, developing in individual ways at individual paces. And we all develop educationally at individual rates too. Sometimes parenting – and educating – requires us to bite our lips and wait. Be patient.

Just as you can’t hurry blossom on a tree you can’t hurry your child’s bloom either.

Another point about this balancing act is one that’s very easy for me to say now, but hard to accept when the children are little; the children are going to change! Nothing stays the same. The blossom nor the child!

The toy strewn floor will one day be empty. The fact that your child can’t seem to add two and two together right now will probably make no difference by the time they’re sixteen and competent in maths. The child who won’t tidy up will become the student who’s moaning to you down the phone about their housemate’s mess. That’s really funny when it happens!

So I found it best to maintain a balanced perspective on all these niggles, between rules and flexibility, between what really matters and what you can just let go for the sake of a good relationship, and consistently demonstrate respect for one another. Demonstration is the biggest influence of all.

And we don’t have to get it right all the time either – we’re still learning. I describe a tantrum I had in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ where I get my behaviour and perspective horribly wrong. But guess what, the children forgave me as I forgave them, and despite my mistakes we have a wonderful adult relationship now that is based in love and respect and immensely treasured.

For I had to learn too; even through the ‘unbalanced’ bits, you never stop your education – however old you get.

And just like children, we all need that pat on the back when we get it right, which is why your messages move me so!

Thank you!

Just a bit excited…

Who’s Not At School? Illustrations by James Robinson

I’m just a smidgen excited! Okay – maybe that’s a bit of an understatement, but I’m not big on dramatic announcements.

It’s just that a new project is about to come to fruition next month.

I’ve long wanted to write something for children. For something I loved best of all when mine were small was having them curled in that perfect space between lap and arms sharing a picture book together. It is the most delightful experience to hug a child on your knee and absorb a story together. And that’s where readers are made as I said in a recent post.

The best kind of stories of all are those you can identify with, those that make you suddenly think; this is just like us!

That rarely happens when you’re a home educating family, just like with other minority groups. Nearly all stories feature children going to school as if home education didn’t exist, wasn’t real, or the families weren’t living real and proper lives that were as important as any other family lives.

Time for that to change and hopefully ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is helping. This was a story so mums and dads would have something fun to read that was perhaps a little bit like them, as well as raise awareness.

But the children need one too. So a publisher, illustrator and I have got together to produce one….maybe more than one, who knows!

And I’m excited to tell you it will be available in May. So come those times when your child wants you to read them a story there’ll be one out there which has an inquisitive, curious and adventurous little home educator just like them! But I think many a family will recognise themselves in there however they are educated, most of all I hope it’ll raise a smile and plenty to talk about.

I got my daughter to read it as some of her antics were what inspired it. She twigged…and it made her giggle. She’s grown up now but that doesn’t stop her perching on my lap – also with a giggle!

If you pop over to the publisher; Bird’s Nest Books you can find out more and sign up for the newsletter to get the publication date first hand.

And I’ll try and keep you posted through the excitement!

Easter – wake up with the earth!

pussy willow 007

Pussy willow coming into flower

Easter time; the season of rebirth. And if we get some warmth and sunshine so I can be outside it’ll make me feel reborn too! That’s the effect being outdoors has. It wakes me up and energises!

The Easter break surely is the best time to get re-connected with earthy things.

If you live in cities it’s all to easy to forget about the earth under all that concrete – I know – I grew up in central London. It never enters your head neatly tucked out of sight beneath those hard pavements; you never think that it sustains all life. It provides all food, all the materials we need to create our homes, machines, gadgets and clothes; everything we own originates from the earth. That thought is truly amazing.

It’s also worth considering how much we’re going to pollute that life-giving earth with yet another mound of packaging over Easter.

How about doing Easter differently? How about an experience instead of packaging! One that will reconnect you and your children with the wonders of the earth at this time of year as it emerges from its winter shackles? Visit a farm and see what food is being planted, seek out some lambs, look for sticky buds and pussy willow and go somewhere you and the children can bury your nose in spring flowers. Start growing some cress (you can do this in eggshells!) or sow some sunflowers.

This doesn’t have to cost the earth, either literally or budget wise. Especially if you don’t buy into that commercial con that Easter has become. Enjoy a chocolate egg by all means but you can get ten chocolate egg-sized eggs with minimum waste, for the same price as a massive box with hardly any chocolate in it if you compare the weights. I’ve got wise to it now and won’t let companies fool me. And like to consider the needs of the earth as well as my need for chocolate! Share that with the children, help them understand the earth, its needs and and how delightful it is.

A prettily packaged egg encased in a mass of plastic lasts a few moments on the eye and in the mouth, but will pollute the planet for years.

Memories of good times spent outdoors under the sky, watching hatchlings or touching sticky buds, lasts forever and through our connection reminds us to act in ways that will preserve them!

Play time; an essential part of your child’s development!

You don’t need a beach – anywhere, anything and any weather will do!

With the Easter holidays here I thought it was a good time to reblog this article about play. Play is essential – and not just for burning off all that extra chocolate!

The saddest thing I ever heard was a remark from the grown up, home educated daughter of a friend. She was shocked to observe children in a playground at a school that; ‘They don’t seem to know how to play’. Having had a play-filled childhood herself she found that terribly tragic. I do too.

In many households I’m aware that play has been replaced by entertaining kids in front of a screen. It’s safer. It’s easier. It’s quieter. And it makes no mess. All of benefit to busy parents. The tragedy is that the kids are missing out on the valuable influence play has on their development. (Check out this site).

Childhood play does not have to cost anything or even require toys, although they have their uses. You don’t need expensive outlays. In fact the best type is unstructured and evolves simply from a child exploring and experimenting with the things around them.

We used to collect anything with potential that came into our house – but you have to get in an imaginative frame of mind to see potential in the first place. You might not think there’s any reason to keep all those old yoghurt pots, boxes and cartons and wrappers, but give a collection of things to a kid and you’ll be amazed what they do with them. And that’s what we want to encourage – the kind of imagination needed to create play with them. That’s what gets the brain working. And it needs to start when the kids are really young so they develop a play habit. As they grow their play will become more sophisticated and skilled. They are never too old to play and experiment. In fact, some scientists have suggested that having a playful approach to science lead them to make some of their most important discoveries.

Explorative, investigative play is the most valuable kind. The ‘make it up as you go along’ type. There’s times you’ll need to be involved. And definitely times you should keep out of it even if you start the ball rolling. The less structured the toys are, the more inventive they have to be. When out one day and no toys to hand I remember our youngest ‘talking’ to dolls she invented which were nothing more than two twigs next to her that she’d tucked up in leaves.

Kids want to explore their world – its properties and how they can manipulate it – they want to explore your world and do what you’re doing too. Play gives them the opportunity.

For example – if you’re cooking, they’ll want to cook. If they’re too small to be involved give them a selection of utensils similar to the ones you’re using and they’ll ‘cook’. Let older ones invent their own meals.

If you’re using tools, give them a selection of tools to use too and things to use them on (keep the old DVD player or let them unscrew an old plug!) Don’t let silly ideas of Health and Safety put you off – just use your common sense.

Here are some things to collect for your kids to play with: plastic tubs, jugs, cartons, tops, bottles, utensils, wire, string, different papers, cardboard, bags, boxes large and small, tins, socks, (good for puppets or pairing in maths!) shoes. Old sheets, blankets, dressing up clothing (your old clothes!) fabrics, materials, braids and ribbons, magazines. Pots, tins, pans, cups and plates, books, buttons, videos, CDs and DVDs, mobile phones and other gadgets. Foodstuffs; they love playing with flour, dry pasta, lentils and dry beans etc, mixing syrup and vinegar or anything. Corn flour and water’s a good one! Outside; soil, sand, bricks, wood, twigs, tyres, stones, pebbles, screws, bolts, leaves and stalks…one man’s junk is another kids’ pleasure.

Anything can be used to inspire play. Use recycling centres and charity shops to source stuff. Keep that imagination primed. Poundland is good if you’ve got a pound to spare because materials are cheap and you can afford to let them experiment rather than worry over how much glitter glue they’re using. But don’t stop in the stationary isle, look at all the foil plates, plastic beakers, tools, garden stuff. Don’t worry if their creations are unrecognisable – we’ve been through the over painted picture that resembles a mud bath – but creations shouldn’t be structured and tidy whatever big companies try and sell you in little packets. Messy and obscure creativity will develop into refined and practised skills and mental agility. It extends understanding of language and communication, maths and science and helps them understand their world.

And get outside. Kids need play in wide open spaces as well as restricted places. They need individual play and social play. They need to experience the outdoors. Playing outdoors is where their connection to their planet starts and thus their responsibility for it.

Kids who’ve played and experimented with a wide range of materials and resources in a wide range of situations are confident, resourceful, skilled, intelligent and adept at decision making and problem solving, very necessary skills for leading a successful and happy life.

A habit of imaginative play born in childhood is one of the most valuable and educative habits they could have. It is never a waste of time. Get them playing as much as you can. It’s probably a far more educative experience than any you’ll find in a workbook, in a shop or on a screen.

Let them have fun. And don’t let yours become children who don’t know how to play. The benefits both developmentally and educationally are so worth it.

 

Mad hares and swallow moments

Bluebells to look forward to

Bluebells to look forward to

I’m excited now the equinox has passed! Now that from this time on, for six months, there will be more light than dark. Despite irritating disruptions like clock changes I shall be waking in the light and there’ll still be enough light after supper to meander outside.

Outside things are changing. Mad hares have been leaping. Birds are home making. Shoots are surging and bursting open and when the extra light shines on me I feel like doing the same. There will be bluebells to look forward to and one of these coming days I might even toss my thermals off!

Thermals are required both inside and outside this house. Apart from the fact it’s old and draughty and I get damn cold sitting writing, I also try to ration the heating for both budget and planetary reasons. I want to go on enjoying this light and atmosphere and it needs preserving for those coming along behind me so they can do the same.

Winters can be challenging and I know I’m taking conscience a bit too far when it’s so cold in the house the dinner won’t defrost. But when it’s bad I light the log fire. Or hoovering is good for a warm up – the house is much cleaner in the winter! And I have jumpers that reach my knees and plenty of woolly rugs.

Now though, with longer hours of sunshine, I can utilise natural radiation and sit by a sunny window. Sun warmth penetrates deeper and faster than any heating and although I may have grown soft with modern comforts I appreciate the sun’s heat and the turning of the season more than any fire. So I do what I can to preserve it, however little a drop in the ecological ocean that may be.

It all helps.

And whatever little action you take will help too. Never think it’s not worth it.

Because all these little actions we take, added together, not only make a difference in lessening the impact you make upon the earth and its atmosphere and sunlight, are also a message in example to others. It may influence others’ actions.

Just like everyone follows a trend, like saying ‘hey’ in greeting instead of ‘hello’ for example which changes societal behaviour, we can change people’s behaviour towards the earth by our example and create new trends and habits. A good one to start with would be not to buy wet-wipes – have you seen the damage they do?

So, yea, I’m getting more than a little excited to see that added sunshine. And if any words I write here in my appreciation of it educates others enough to change one small thing they do to help preserve it, then I’ll be well chuffed.

Just as I am chuffed to see the sun rise each day, to witness the first feathered arrow dart across the sky as the summer swallows come, or see the mad hares leap about the fields in mating games.

And after writing this I will get up and leap about just as madly in order to warm up and resist putting the heating on so that the order of the natural world is disrupted a little less by pollutive habits.

May I plead with you to do the same and make one small change in your actions today, thus setting an example to your children and future generations and showing them how important is this earth?