Tag Archive | kids

An imperative lesson

Some are starting work out there, even before it’s light

It is beautifully quiet where we live now. So quiet you notice the slightest noise; a fox’s bark, an alarmed pheasant, or the tiny scamperings of the mouse who has found its way into the roof space above the ceiling.

So we’re really sensitive to the rumblings of heavy machinery past the cottage at 5am.

The vegetable cutters start early. Some work through the night. I’m woken by the clanking of the rigs and trailers. I also have a sudden sense of gratitude that it’s not me turning out in the freezing cold and rain that I hear hammering down.

The gangs of workers are dropped off for their working day in dark, cold, muddy conditions, no shelter, no heat, cutting the cauliflower and broccoli that’ll be ready for you in the supermarket later today.

Surrounded by growing food, it was easy for our home educating children to learn where food comes from and what’s required for it to grow, that this doesn’t happen in super markets, but out on the earth.

And that it needs certain conditions; dependent on the elements of the earth. And it’s important that we all know how those elements are sustainable – if we want food to be sustained that is!

Stuck in a city centre, as far removed from the earth as I am from the Houses of Parliament, I worry that this essential part of education will be neglected. And families these days might not want contact with the earth and the elements, cosied as city dwellers are by the convenience of pavements, transport, concrete, shopping under cover and easily accessible eats!

So how to get across the importance of understanding the precious resource that the planet is – the only resource actually, for everything comes back to what it gives us – and how not to pollute it so much?

We need to learn to exist without creating the waste our lifestyles produce; by not subscribing to the hypocritical politics that ignores the real issue of consumerism, not be seduced by the commercial hype that continues to suggest that it’s okay to keep buying plastic bottles, disposables in any form, pollutive cleaners like wipes and chemicals. And remember that all our consumerism wounds the planet, contaminates the place we’re dependent on for our food.

Part of any child’s education should be to understand this stuff. Part of our duties as educators is to prioritise this understanding – to get kids back to the earth and caring for it as part of their everyday existence. Along with the simple idea that everything manmade that we buy will eventually pollute in some way, or has already done so in the manufacturing of it and that might come back to haunt us through the food chain (one example here)

A sombre lesson – worth the learning.

What small change can you and the kids make to your family lifestyle to stop your contribution to it? (Here’s an inspiring contribution from one family)

Learn to love the earth, buy less plastic for a start!

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Home education – in case you didn’t know!

Wow! I can’t believe I started this blog in 2009 and I don’t think I’ve missed a week’s post in all that time. Mostly I’ve posted twice. What do I ramble on about?

Well, mostly about home education, although parenting comes into it too because that’s an essential part of it. And kids and books. And there are seasonal rambles out in the countryside which is where I’d rather be instead of under the laptop! I’ve published five more books since then and watched my teens grow into mature, working young people who amaze me with their drive and accomplishments.

Most of my writing has been to raise awareness, understanding and confidence in out-of-school education because it works – people need to know that. In many posts I’ve set out the facts so the endless myths about home schooling can be dispelled.

Here are some of them again in case you’re new to home educating or need some to pass on to others doubting your choice!

All sorts of approaches to learning!

  • Home educated children achieve good grades like other children do. They go to university, college, or into work like other young people. All of those I know have done so. Their academic, social, intellectual and personal skills, reputed to be in advance of their school peers, are what got them there.
  • Home educated children are not isolated. Most interact with a wide range of people, in a wide range of places, doing a broad range of activities, with loyal friends. Some have far more life experience than those children in school. Most have mature social skills and confidence standing them in good stead for interviews etc.
  • Home education/home schooling both refer to educating out of school although most don’t like the term homeschooling as it suggests ‘school at home’ which it isn’t, there are other approaches to learning. And the word ‘home’ in the title is a misnomer anyway since much of the learning takes place outside of the home, with others, in the community visiting places like museums, galleries, libraries, sports halls, going on field trips and other activities, etc.
  • Many families turn to home education because schools fail to provide for their children’s needs, both academic and personal. In some cases this has been a life line for children who’ve suffered in school the kind of abuse that just would not be tolerated by adults in a workplace. Home educators are the parents who take initiative to do something about their children’s suffering rather than just ignoring it.
  • Children who have been written off by the educational system or labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’, for example, have gone on to achieve a good academic standard through home education.
  • Home educating families are mostly as ordinary as any other families who have the same ordinary aspirations for their children to achieve and be happy. They come from all ranges of the social, educational, financial and cultural backgrounds that make up our society.
  • Contrary to what most parents think, children learn in a multitude of different ways, not just in the conveyor belt style of the educational system. Home educating gives children the opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best, increasing their chances of success. This doesn’t necessarily mean academic cramming. It means acknowledgement of the myriad of alternative approaches there are to learning, to opportunities, to qualifications, to being educated, and making best use of them.
  • In my experience as a home educator within a wide network of other home educators, and whilst researching for my books, I have never come across an incidence of abuse which is often cited as a reason to ‘monitor’ home educating families. However I saw plenty of cases of abuse when I worked in schools.

Do feel free to share these on!

How long can you put your technological comforter down for?

A city centre poster causing a stir

Now I’m going to say something some might not like; put down your technology and listen.

I know; you’re going to need your technology to read this! And anyway – I don’t actually mean listen to me – I mean listen.

Really listen. To others. To your own thoughts. To the world around. Most especially to your children.

I think it’s rather ironic that society looks down on babies and toddlers with dummies stuck in their mouths as slightly distasteful or inferior. Yet many of the adults I see use their phones and tablets as little more than something to emotively suck on and bring them similar comfort. Most especially to overcome discomfort, particularly of the social kind!

Few can look another in the eye. So they stare at their technological comforter instead.

I know these gadgets are useful – we couldn’t function without them now. But has our attachment to them crept beyond being useful, to being an addiction?

I suspect it is for many people. And I also suspect it’s impacting on relationships.

Whilst we connect to our technology so obsessively we’re neglecting something far more important: human connection. Humane connection.

We’re losing communication skills. We’re losing observation skills which help us understand each other. We’re losing time engaging with each other – really engaging, which helps us learn about human relationships and practice the skills required to make them successful, whoever they’re with.

We’re neglecting time that we could be engaged with our kids.

It is human engagement that nurtures relationships, builds care and empathy, grows love. I fear some folks are becoming desensitised to what it is to be together socially, lovingly, meaningfully, especially with regard to parenting.

Some of the human connections we encounter make us uncomfortable. So what – we have to learn to deal with that, to get over it. And to stop turning to our dummies when it gets a bit awkward. Be more courageous. And consequently build the skills for strong relationships within our families, with the wider world of people – even those we don’t know that well.

People matter. Connecting meaningfully with people matters.

Strong relationships make us happy. With each other. With our world. With the earth.

Strong relationships save the day.

Technology just keeps us busy and keeps us dummified.

How long is it acceptable for a child to suck a dummy for? How long is it acceptable for grown-ups to suck on theirs?

It’s worth talking about in your family! It’s worth building healthy habits in the family right from the start!

A good reason to spill milk regularly!

I wanted to share a story I read this morning: 

When he was two a little lad was trying to take a bottle of milk out of the fridge when he dropped it and the entire contents went all over the kitchen. Instead of a cross reaction or judgement mum said; ‘What a wonderful mess you’ve made, I’ve never seen such a huge puddle of milk. Well the damage is already done so would you like to get down and play in it before we clean it up?’ Of course he did.

After a few minutes mum said; ‘Whenever we make a mess like this we have to eventually clean it up, so how would you like to do that? Sponge? Towel. Or mop? Which do you prefer?’

Once it was cleaned up she then said; ‘What we have here is a failed experiment in how to carry a big bottle of milk with two tiny hands. So let’s go out into the back yard with a big bottle of water and see if you can discover a way of carrying it without dropping it’. And they did!

What a wonderful way to show that the circumstances we usually judge as disasters – and often attach shame to – can instead be used as opportunities. And if our kids can go through life with that attitude towards mistakes and failures then they are set up to continue towards achievement, whatever goes wrong along the way. In fact, we could all do with that attitude.

I read it in Jack Canfield’s book ‘The Success Principles’, another of those books I dip into to give me the proverbial kick-up-the…!

It’s something I need regularly when I’ve used up all my inspirational energy encouraging others through my writing and forget I need to recharge my own sometimes!

It just struck me as a wonderful way to parent. Wished I’d managed it more!

It’s such a great philosophy: to turn those little mishaps kids have, which sometimes leave us wallowing in frustration, into a positive opportunity to grow and learn – and have fun! The most important thing to learn being that it’s okay to get it wrong and make mistakes – kids and parents – because they are an essential part of the growing and learning process, and nothing that we need to feel bad about in any way. Even the most famous and succesful will have messed up at times.

So have a good day with the kids, have fun messing up, and see what you can create and learn out of proverbial spilt milk!

Uniform oppression and gender choices

I was at school in the late sixties and seventies where the rules about the uniform were like the head; totally dated and oppressive!

Our skirts had to be no more than an inch off the floor when we knelt; none of this mini-skirt nonsense. and you had to have five buttons on your cardigans. Not six or four. Did the staff have time to count in those days I wonder?

I adhered to the rules, even though I abhored uniform. I was the classic Miss Mouse. Miss Average Mouse. I hated attention – was scared stiff of everyone – and being an average mouse was the best way to avoid being noticed.

But it came to the day in the sixth form when I just felt too oppressed to wear it any more and I had a lightbulb moment – why was I doing this? So I just stuck my jeans on.

I got into a lot of trouble. Obvs! I had heated discussions with the head when I got sent to her office. We had rousing discussions in class when all the others wanted to do the same. And I created such a furore because they didn’t know what to do with this good little mouse they hadn’t even noticed before. I think the word expulsion was threatened but didn’t come.

Eventually, when I turned up for school day after day still with my jeans on (and still the only one despite what friends had promised – but I guess their parents were horrified), and after many school debates about uniform, the rules were changed. Sixth formers were allowed to wear their own clothes from that day forward and I never wore a uniform again. Even one female member of staff thanked me as women staff had formerly not been allowed to wear trousers either. Can you imagine that now?

Boys who weren’t allowed to wear shorts!

However, I find it very alarming that gender inequality still goes on in schools (did you see these programmes?) and affects our kids achievement.

And I find it equally distressing that it is still women who mostly have to fight it. Despite this recent article about boys (girls are rarely as newsworthy – have you noticed?)

That it is women and even young school age girls who are criticised for their looks, style, weight, sex, when it is irrelevant to their education and profession, and those kinds of references are rarely used about men. Even more saddening that this starts right back in schools, as the remarks about girls in this article about gender neutral uniforms recently showed.

I thought we’d moved on from the day when, doing some supply teaching, I was taken aside by the male head to be asked if I’d wear skirts to work instead of trousers, without any professional reason.

“Think of it as humoring my male preference,” he said.

Doesn’t that make your skin crawl?

As a young vulnerable teacher needing a job what could I say? Children are even more vulnerable when people and attitudes like his persist.

So we need to raise and educate our youngsters to understand the true meaning of equality, of gender equality particularly, to be bold and make sure they know their right to choose, to open conversations about it regularly, and make sure we parents are not perpetuating the wrong attitude to each other, whatever gender

And a final ironic note; home educated kids still manage to become educated even with uniform! Funny that!

Is this all that matters to parents?

So schools are doing their best to get punters before the term starts again.

I’ve just seen this banner hanging outside a school on my travels.

I found it incredibly sickening.

Are exam results the only thing kids go to school for? Are they the only thing that is the measure of an education or an educational establishment? Are results the only things that parents care about so the only thing that will ‘sell’ the school to them?

Is this all there is to sell?

Where does it say what EXPERIENCE the young people are going to have there? Does that not matter at all? Would you not as a parent want to know about your child’s LIFE in school while they are learning?

Okay I’ll stop ranting now and instead put my brain to answering the question; what would I like to know about a school that would induce me to consider it?

Here’s the five things that I came up with to put on a banner:

  • the widest range of inspiring activities your child will ever experience with a high proportion of adults to help them
  • encouragement of individualism, independence in learning, and choice making, irrespective of age
  • development of respectful relationships between ALL, regardless of age, stage or hierarchy
  • equal importance placed on ALL subjects including the practical, physical and creative and the freedom to choose between them
  • NO testing or publication of any results, emphasis instead on personal development

If schools don’t want to be considered as factories, as some are accusing them of being, then they should stop measuring themselves on a factory style output. Education is about developing young PEOPLE. Not producing commodities. Or percentages!

Tell me; what would your five most important things be?

The earth is more important than maths and grammar

Bread in the making!

Pulling out of London on the train recently I love to look upon the back gardens. Behind the terraced streets these little green oases must offer some much needed sanctuary to the wildlife (never mind the humans)!

From the centre of the city, where the soaring icons, office towers and blocks of flats butt up against each other without a scrap of space between, we begin to pass these tiny, tatty back gardens where people are making such a champion effort to provide that sanctuary with what little space they have. And even those rammed in high-rise blocks boast boxes and planters and gardens on rooftops in gallant attempts to create a little natural space where nature can flourish among places covered in concrete. Sometimes it does it on its own and a buddleia protrudes from a wall and weeds grow on sidings. But many Londoners are giving it a helping hand, creating spaces to invite insects, birds and critters we’ll never see to drop in.

When I see these awesome attempts to give nature a welcome I am filled with awe and wonder. And immediately stop taking for granted the abundance of natural space and greenery I have round me where I live now. I grew up in a top storey flat in London so I know what it’s like to be concreted in. I know how precious these few natural oases are. We didn’t have one!

I’m also thinking about the children who live without them now. About the generations of children who never experience countryside. And how they will ever be able to understand the significance of nature and natural science.

From the tiniest miniscule organism, through all the plants and animals, to the largest oldest tree everything has importance in the ecology of the planet. Everything needs a place. And we depend upon it all for our food, for our air, for our survival and that of the planet. And I worry that those children with shuttered, sheltered existences will never have the opportunity to know anything different, will never truly understand that significance, being so far removed from it on their pavement journeys between home and school and their virtual lives of indoor entertainment.

Surely this knowledge and experience is far more essential to an education, will have far more impact on a future, than times tables and grammar? It is imperative. But as kids follow academic curriculum and obedience to indoor culture I wonder how nature will make its impact known.

So I urge all families to help your kids understand the ecology of the earth that is battened down beneath that concrete, understand that it is still what everyone needs for their survival wherever they live, whether they have contact with it or not. Cities and towns have places to go to get down to the earth, they have planters and gardens and parks, and even farms, where that understanding can begin. And failing that you can simply stand in the supermarket by the fruit and veg and ask the question; where does all this come from and what aspects of nature do we depend upon to get it here, from the bees that pollinate, to the insects and leaf matter which make the soil, the animals that fertilise it, to the workers who make it possible. That question will take you on a journey.

The earth may not be under your feet as it is now under mine, but it is just as essential to your life. And it’s essential to every child’s education that they understand that!