Tag Archive | kids

Born Naughty?

“Mum, there’s a programme on Channel 4 tonight you might like, I just saw a trailer,” says Charley as she comes through to where I’m working.

I look up from the keyboard and peer at her suspiciously. “Oh, yea? What’s that then?” She knows I’m not into watching telly much, especially fly-on-the-wall type programmes that turn people’s misery into dramatic telly just because it’s cheap to make!

“It’s apparently about children being naughty – whether it’s learned or genetic. Thought you’d be interested as I know how much you hate that word.” She grinned at me round the door frame. She’s heard me ranting over parenting programmes many a time, and use very bad language!

I’ve always hated the concept of ‘naughty’. It goes right back to when I worked in schools back in the dark ages when parents instructed me to not worry about ‘givin ‘im a belt round the ear, cos he’ll need it, he’s so naughty’. A parent actually said that to me on one occasion.

I couldn’t really understand it, for I never had reason to label that child, or any other, as ‘naughty’. I always took the approach; kids have reasons for what they do. I appreciate that small kids aren’t open to reason sometimes and parents could do with some guidance themselves. You get thrown in the deep end with parenting – how could we know how to deal with the more complex challenges it throws our way?

The programme, ‘Born Naughty’ was quite empathetic. But when it opened with a question; ‘Do these children need diagnosis or discipline?’ I quailed at the prospect of these kids like many others just being given pills to calm them down. And I certainly quivered at the images of frustrated, screaming and anxious kids and desperate parents in dire conflict with one another. I never had to deal with anything quite so upsetting or extreme.

But watching the parents my heart went out to them. Parents always get the blame when a child is a screaming whirlwind of tantrum, don’t they? But funny how you never seem to get the credit for when they’re beautiful little people who do all the right things!

We certainly saw some screaming whirlwinds on the programme and the parents said how sick they were of everyone pointing the finger at them when they’d tried their best to manage. But child behaviour is never, ever just the fault of parenting. It’s far more complex than that.

Everyone’s behaviour, our own included, is affected by a multitude of things; our genetic make up, personality and character, our environment and family life, even the food we eat and the opportunity for exercise and recreation to help us burn off stress, feel calm and relax. It is never just the parents’ fault in isolation.

The programme dealt very sensitively with all this and made several recommendations to help parents deal with the challenges they faced with the children’s behaviour. Interestingly it was observed how contact with animals helped one girl, which I talked about in my last blog post.

But the answers lay in a collection of influences that we as parents could not possibly know about if we hadn’t already experienced them. And when you’re parents of young children, you haven’t! It’s as simple as that.

There’s no loss of face in asking for help, asking those who’ve spent hours observing and working with different child behaviours who might have more of an insight that we do with our limited experience.

I’m not in favour of children being labelled, filled with drugs, or forcibly restrained. I never trust the so-called experts unquestioningly.

But sometimes you have to seek help and guidance in order to save the child from themselves. Youngsters cannot understand that their behaviour is what connects them to others which is one of the elements in life that make us most happy. It’s also what can destroy those connections, which benefits no one.

When children are immature they cannot control their impulses as we can. They cannot understand the awful feelings they have or how to manage them. They’re not interested in reasons.

So it’s up to us to try and understand these reasons behind their behaviour – it was extreme anxiety in one of the examples – and guide them towards overcoming it with patience and consistency, so that they can go on to enjoy connected and happy lives.

There is no such thing as ‘naughtiness’ – only reasons. That’s not an excuse. It’s a demand for greater understanding.

And to increase my understanding, I might watch the next one. For a fly-on-the-wall parenting programme, it wasn’t too bad!

Who’s Not In School?

My new book on sale 27th May

Have you ever wondered what a home educating week is like?

Every wondered what a home schooling family is like and what they get up to?

Or, if you’re a home educating family, have you longed for a book that you can share with your little ones that actually has a home educated child as the star?

Later this month there’ll be one to fulfil those briefs!

‘Who’s Not at School’ is a picture book about Little Harry and his family and what they get up to in an ordinary week, from an ordinary swim to some not quite so ordinary experimentation!

Because, actually, that’s what it gets to be like when you’ve home educated for a while – ordinary! And there are so many thousands now, so many who are making such a brilliant job of educating their kids outside of mainstream school, that it’s beginning to seem an ordinary choice to be making. Especially in the light of current political events.

What’s politics got to do with it?

Exactly!

Politics should have nothing to do with our children’s learning, but I have the feeling that the education of our kids is more about political popularity and vote winning than it is about what’s good for a child. And no doubt after the next election there will be even more disruption as another wave of changes hits the system and leaves children and teachers floundering and pressured in their wake.

Home schooling gives parents the opportunity to educate their kids for education’s sake, not for politics’ sake.

You can keep politics out of it and get on with the proper job of learning. Which is probably why so many now choose to do it.

So, who’s not in school? Far more children than you probably realise!

Pop over to the publisher’s site where you can pre-order: http://birdsnestbooks.co.uk/

(And there’s also a home educating story for the grown-ups via my book; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. It’ll change the way you view education forever!)

Education is for living – not just for politics!

Is this all that education is about?

Education! I’ve been going on about it a long time, even if not the education other people think of.

When I talk about it I mean education for life, not schooling, that’s something different. And I’m still being educated now. We all are, even if we’re not aware of it.

I suppose my awareness started way back when I was in school. I wasn’t very old when thought; ‘this is crap! This is so not for me’! But I didn’t believe myself back then; after all, what do kids know?

Moving into teaching I began to see it wasn’t good for a some others either, pupils nor staff. And I also began to see that schooling was not for true education, it was just for schools. For the big industrialisation process that schooling has become.

We went on to home educate partly because we didn’t want to force our children to fit that industrialisation process. We wanted their education to be for living their lives, not for perpetuating school lives and school businesses. We saw education as the personal developmental process of an individual – not an industry. Or an establishment.

Admittedly, we wanted our youngsters to grow and develop towards living and working as part of a community. But that’s about community more than industrial cloning which the government has pushed schooling towards. Communities are about people and education is about people too.

Education is about learning how to live together, how to communicate and contribute, how to further both our individual understanding and world understanding too.

And there are many young people now who have grown their education in individual ways through home educating – or self education as it more accurately is – towards that outcome. Although outcome is the wrong word because education doesn’t really have an outcome, as in an end, it is ongoing and has continuing new, updated outcomes throughout life. This is what we need to understand about education. It doesn’t have limits.

Education is not only about schools.

Education is not only about the short space of time youngsters are in institutions, or about institutionalisation.

Education is not just a political tool which MPs are wielding at the moment to gain our votes.

Education is for life not just for politics. And that might be a good thought to keep in mind when you try and weave your way through the confusion of policies and promises politicians are bandying about in order to tempt our vote.

Education is for life, not just for votes!

What kind of education – and life – would you really like for your child?

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.

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!

Winter days; great for story telling!

National Story Telling Week

This week is National Story Telling week and it’s ignited in me a memory of my youngest balanced on the arm of her grandma’s easy chair by the fire telling stories (she couldn’t sit on her knee because the cat was on it!).

They did this a lot, just talked stories to one another, taking it in turns to add bits and produce ideas. It was an absolute delight to listen to. When I was allowed, mostly I got commanded, by my youngest, to go out the way, but I’d sneakily carry on listening.

It also reminds me of one of the biggest mistakes I made whilst we were home educating.

Listening to her story telling, her vivid imagination, the intonation and expression, I thought what a good idea it would be to get her writing stories at home. She’d love it.

What an idiot, I was!

When I suggested it her face dropped. She sat there looking totally miserable, blank page in front of her, pen unused, ideas vanished.

I encouraged. I cajoled. I suggested starts. I prompted memories of the brilliant story she’d been making up with grandma.

Nothing. The blankness went from her page to her face. Her imagination vacated her like she’d never had them in the first place. If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears I would have thought that she had a blank imagination too.

But I knew different. And luckily I spotted my stupid mistake; she loved making up stories – not writing them down.

Many children hate writing. Many adults do too. Trying to capture and clarify what’s in your head – often just in picture form – into the letters and symbols we use for language can be enough to switch people’s minds and ideas off completely.

I’ve seen it happen in children. I’ve also seen it happen to adults as old as I am, who’ve been writing all their life, yet who still find this transformation process hard.

I may have wanted her to practice her writing skills. But I didn’t want to ruin her inventiveness whilst doing so. I backed off.

Besides, far too much emphasis is put on being able to write, far too young. Having to continually write can even hamper the development of valuable language skills. And we shouldn’t confuse the two.

Children develop language skills by talking and listening, being read to and sharing books together, by continual use of the spoken word, as in story telling.

Formalising it into writing doesn’t need to happen until much later.

My youngest didn’t do much writing at home during the time we were home educating. Occasionally she did a bit, maybe filling in an eye-catching workbook she’d spotted whilst out. Sometimes, in order to practice, I’d suggest writing up some event or making a diary/scrapbook. (Outings are a good one for this as you can stick anything you’ve collected in the book too). We also made a variety of other books, pop-ups, mini-books, lists, games; just bits and pieces of writing that kept it going. Otherwise, the most writing she ever did was about half a small page at any one time. We did loads of other stuff instead.

However, when she went to college at 16 she managed easily, with a bit of formal tidying and guidance. And this is how it was for several of our home educating friends who went onto Uni without having done much formal writing earlier on.

Thought I’d tell you because I didn’t want you making the mistake I did of ruining something that, as well as being a valuable educational activity in its own right, gave her – and her gran – immense pleasure!

Don’t feel you have to be writing every day with your children whilst they’re learning at home. They don’t need it. Enjoy books and a good story telling instead!

Laying the foundations for education – Part 2

…continuing a two parter started in my last post about education, how you can influence your child’s learning from home and what you might be aiming for in the future…

Learning through play

Many parents underestimate the value of play, even though in our grown-up world we adults use play in order to learn about something.

For example we ‘play’ with our new mobile phones in order to get used to them and understand how they work. We ‘play’ with any new technology or gadget for the same reason. What we’re doing is learning through our real experiences of these things. And it is exactly the same for children.

Children like to ‘play’ at being grown-up. Especially games that involve role play like mums and dads, or hospitals, teachers and schools, shopping, going on ‘adventures’ (even if it’s just a den under the kitchen table or behind the sofa). It’s a kind of experimentation. And whilst they do it they are learning, practising skills, gaining experiences. This works particularly well if they can do an activity in a play way, alongside what you’re doing.

They can have their own tools and plants and ‘play’ at gardening. They can have their own bowls, cutlery, pans etc and wash up – or just stand there endlessly filling containers with water. This simple play activity teaches them a huge amount. For example they learn about capacity, about the properties of water, about the properties of the containers and how their size and shape governs their capacity in relation to other sizes and shapes. They learn about volume. They probably chat to themselves all the time developing language. They’ll be thinking and working out. They’ll be exploring, experimenting and building confidence. They’ll be developing hand eye coordination and the skills needed to manipulate tools.

They won’t know they’ll be doing any of that they’ll just be aware of getting their arms soaked. But these playtime experiences teach them much more than they’d learn from either being told or looking at it in a book. Experience provides the building blocks for more formal knowledge and academic skills later. And this is just one example.

Other activities that have the same educational impact which you can do at home with kids can be built round anything you do.

Here are some examples:

  • Cooking or preparing food (or ‘playing’ with pastry, mixing substances, using tools, cutting things up, warming or freezing etc.)
  • Cleaning or washing, in and out of the home.
  • Dealing with waste and rubbish.
  • Helping with other jobs outdoors, gardening – or den making whilst you do them!
  • Looking after the pets.
  • Using technology and the Net.
  • Managing a budget and money.
  • Looking at and enjoying books and magazines.
  • Dressing – dressing up especially in things they wouldn’t normally wear and using make up.
  • Playing games as a family.
  • Family outings and journeys.
  • Social occasions where there’s a mix of people and ages.
  • Anything creative that you do; making things, home decorating, rearranging a room, craft work and all creative activities like painting, collage – with anything at all, junk modelling, card making, drawing, colouring, cutting out, making scrapbooks, collecting and grouping, etc, – builds skills. Just let them have a go and make a mess and they learn loads simply from their minds and bodies being engaged.
  • Any constructional, experimental or inventive activities indoors and out.
  • Talking with you about anything and everything

Basically anything you do to live your lives and do your work your child can be involved in either through conversation and explanation, helping at their level or playing alongside. Involving your child with your activities teaches your child all about living a life.

And through these life experiences, where learning is something which is part of what they do day to day often without even realising it, they begin to see how learning is not something separate from life but something that is a natural part of it.

If learning is a natural part of it then they will be motivated to continue their learning throughout their life whatever form it takes, motivated to hopefully use education to develop and enhance their lives and give them greater access to the things they might want to do later on.

What are we aiming for – later on?

Many parents, when they think about what they might want their children to achieve in their education later on, tend to think about academic gain. They think about their children being good at the academic exercises that will get them good grades.

But other parents think more broadly and more holistically than that. They think about their child being happy and having confidence in themselves and academics fitting in around that. They think about their child having the skills to enjoy good relationships and social activities. They think about their child’s wellbeing; mental and physical, emotional and spiritual. They think about how their child’s personal strengths and interests can be developed; how they can get to know themselves well so they will be able to make informed and relevant lifestyle choices.

The ideal is perhaps to aim for a mix of both. And to maybe think through your priorities, keeping a holistic balance throughout.

Holistically, we need to be aiming for an outcome that is relevant to the whole child and within the perspective of the whole of their lives, not just the time they may be of school age, or the exams you want them to pass.

Sometimes it is best not to think too much about ‘later on’. Because you can never know what will happen. Far better to show your child the real relevant world on a daily basis.

Each day you spend with your child is a natural opportunity for you to help them develop and learn. And to make learning enjoyable.

Aiming for enjoyment in their day to day lives, for them to be stimulated and engaged in the activities they do at the time, is far better than having an agenda outside or ahead of the child. They soon suss it’s irrelevant to them right now and switch off. Switching off to things is the last thing we want them to do, because it switches them off to education too.

Sadly many school type activities switch children off to learning because they are often dull and the children cannot see the relevance of them. Adults might think they’re relevant to the child’s future, but are they really? How can we really predict a future which is so far away?

Taking care of the little times, making them good times, will make a good future. This is a much more natural way to build a future and the foundation for a natural and holistic education that will serve the child for life.