Tag Archive | natural world

What is education for except to learn about our world?

It’s nearly time for the Big Garden Bird Watch again, run by the RSPB. (26th – 28th Jan)

I’m mentioning it because it’s a great activity for the family to do. To help you all get connected to the other species we share the planet with.

And that’s the most important lesson for the children to learn; the fact that we do only share this planet. We don’t own it and we’re not necessarily the most important species on it.

Everything is inter dependent on everything else. Every species has a contribution to make. Our contribution is to use our bigger brains to learn and use our privileged position at the top of the food chain responsibly and wisely! Otherwise our children’s children will not be able to enjoy what we’ve had.

Any activities that help get this message across are a valuable part of education. After all; what else is education for except to learn about the world we inhabit, the species on it, how we relate to them and how to take up a responsible place among them.

Education is not just about maths and english and test passing and qualification- getting for a good job and lots of money as most see it, even though that may be part. Education is about becoming an educated person. And an educated person is one who has understanding and empathy, a conscience and sense of responsibility to the world in which they live, as well as a collection of facts and academic skills which support that.

First and foremost education is about people – and other species – learning to live together; why else would we need to be educated?

Far more important than an English, Science or Maths degree although that can contribute; the biggest contribution we as an educated species make, is the way in which we use our education to help us live in the world with the others that live here, from the biggest mammals, through the human race, past the birds, down to the smallest insect and beyond into the minutest of living organisms. And I haven’t even mentioned plant life within that, the ecology of which we all depend. This is stuff the kids need to know about!

So any awareness, like that raised by the Big Garden Bird Watch, is a valid part of that education. And a useful activity for any home educating family! See the links for more!

 

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Cringing for Christmas

Nature’s decorations!

Why do I cringe at Christmas?

Is it the expense? No – although it is a consideration.

Is it because I have to find pressies for relatives I hardly know. Not really – I like choosing and giving gifts.

Is it the thought of the potential for overeating a mass of stuff that’s totally unhealthy but that I enjoy so much? Partly – but I get over it!

Is it because I am a Humbug?

No. It’s none of those things. The real reason I cringe at Christmas is because of the burden the earth has to bear.

So this is a plea that your family – you and the children – consider ways to make your Christmas less of a burden for the earth.

Part of their education is about the planet. To understand it better. To build knowledge of its species. To appreciate how they are part of it and how to relate to it in sustainable ways. We cannot abandon our responsibility to that just because it’s Christmas.

It doesn’t mean a kill-joy Christmas. It just means finding a better balance to what you do. And asking a few questions:

  • How can we moderate the waste we make?
  • How can we give without the earth bearing the brunt of it?
  • What can we reuse, recycle, make, rather than buy? (Wrapping paper as well as presents perhaps)
  • What throw- away articles can we do without? (Wipes, serviettes, paper tableware, for example)
  • How can you make a Christmas that doesn’t cost the earth? Make more of it instead of buying it!
  • Ask before you buy: do I really need this?
  • And consider how much more stuff the kids really need? Love isn’t bought or given through presents.

Giles Brandreth has a lovely idea that he expressed in the media recently. He’s going to tell his grandchildren that he doesn’t want any more stuff. What he’d like from them instead is for them to learn a poem off by heart for Christmas.

Learning poetry has a beneficial effect on the brain, helping with language development and flexible thinking – so he’s perhaps giving them a gift in releasing the kids from present buying whilst boosting their development at the same time!

But whatever you do for Christmas, creating or learning poetry or whatever, please do it with consideration of the earth.

The kids can suffer from SAD too

It’s around this time of year that I begin to feel the effect of the diminishing light hours.

My spirits and motivation drop like wilted geraniums left in the frost, my energy and enthusiasm along with them. I imagine I’m like the trees whose sap is seeping back to their roots, discarding their summer leaves so they’ve not got much to do till next Spring. I want to be the same!

It becomes very difficult to feel any kind of joy in stuff when I don’t get enough daylight. I soon succumb to being a SAD person. Achievement can be difficult. I have to work hard to combat it. Hence the daily walk recorded on my Instagram feed. 

I also realised it could be the same for the kids. Confined inside on dull dark days irritations and conflicts could soon cloud the atmosphere of generally happy home educating days. So, grey and cold or not, if we didn’t have another other activity planned out of the house that day, they got dragged out for a walk of some sort. And despite resistance, it lifted the mood every time – even if sometimes it was just gratitude at being back in the warm! (You can read more about our day to day Home Ed life in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’).

With the continual reports of rising mental health issues among children at younger and younger ages I do wonder if this is a major factor. Kids are outdoors less and less, indoor virtual entertainment being both easily accessible, attractively seductive and convenient for parents too perhaps, especially for those less keen on braving the weather. Kids are outside in natural light and spaces for smaller amounts of time than ever before. It’s got to have a detrimental impact – as it does on many adults.

Increasingly it is thought that natural daylight and time outside, especially in green spaces, is vital for our mental wellbeing, for kids too, as well as giving them time to run off excess energy we might not have! This is what Mind, the mental health charity, have to say about it.

And more reasons why our kids need to be outside are outlined in this piece in the Huff Post uk.

So, just as we would never consciously do anything to harm our children’s physical health, perhaps we need to apply that principle to their mental wellbeing too, making sure the lifestyle choices we make aren’t damaging. Getting the family out for their regular dose of natural light and space needs to be part of those choices, wherever you live.

(See The Wild Network for some ideas)

 

How do people get so ignorant?

How could you litter this place?

I just had a super little holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. The best thing about it was being outside on the hills and hollows from dawn to dusk almost, the weather being absolutely perfect.

It was the perfect holiday for me because outside in a natural environment is where I really love to be and, as you’ll know if you’re connected to me on Instagram, I’ll take most weathers. But last week’s constant light and sunshine was an amazing bonus I couldn’t resist. So constant, in fact, I nearly had heatstroke.

The only thing that was less than perfect was the bag of rubbish!

There we were tramping up this hill, so far from anywhere that only the dedicated few would make the effort to go. So you’d think it would only be folks who really appreciate it who’d go there. Yet what does one of those folks do? Decide to leave their plastic bag of picnic rubbish; sandwich packets and plastic bottles, polluting that glorious environment, expecting someone else to pick up after them.

I ask you – what kind of mentality do they have?

We were in exquisitely beautiful countryside, we’re actually able to walk this land as a privilege not a right, we are as such extremely lucky, and that’s how people wish to repay that privilege? By expecting others to clean up after them as they take their personal recreation and enjoyment. This being land where people live and work and depend upon for their livelihood? Never mind the risk to other living things.

How do people get so ignorant? I fail to understand what kind of education they can have had.

As I walked back down the hill, I picked up the dangerous bag, carried it back and disposed of it.

It would have been easy not to.

But I’ve learnt from my daughter. Her integrity almost puts mine to shame. I would never throw litter down – but I don’t often pick it up after others either, as she does.

She and I were walking together through the park in town where someone else has flung their discarded litter about the place. There are bins provided – very near – but no, it’s too much effort to carry litter to a bin. So she picks it up and puts it in the bin in passing. Such a simple unselfish act, she takes upon herself. She does it whenever she walks through and sees the need.

We’re often accused of making our home schooled kids dependent – or depriving them of independence by keeping them at home. (Total balderdash as you can read from this recent post) Yet I see her independently taking responsibility not only for her own rubbish but for the rubbish of those ignorant gits who are dependent on others picking up after them.

Ironic isn’t it!

The hills and remote places were otherwise glorious. And do a great deal to heal the sometimes less glorious thoughts that creep in about the less glorious others we have to share them with.

I do hope you’ll never be one of them!

A song for comfort

At this time of year I love to hear the blackbird song. He’s singing his rights to territory and of course serenading a potential mate. His song is the most delightful – up there with the more famous songsters the Nightingale and the Thrush.

I find these moments connected with nature immensely comforting and enriching – whichever I need at the time.

It was the Blackbird song that also prompted a short story from me which surprise surprise won a little competition at the time – not something I normally do. (Copied below)

And following a recent bereavement I was put in mind of how important it is to build these strategies to overcome tricky times in our lives and encourage our children to do the same. Life never runs smooth. There are smooth currents at times obviously, but also rapids, waterfalls and undercurrents to continue the analogy! And part of our duty as parents and educators of this next generation is to be honest about them and help the kids find ways to negotiate them too.

Some find music helps, some use gaming, some use art or social media. Some throw themselves into work. Or running or walking. Or writing – as I do at times. Love from others always brings solace. We are all different and all need different strategies that will help us do this; child or adult. I’m aware in my adult children how they have begun to develop their own. But more importantly how they do not take their spiritual and mental well being for granted but treat it seriously, acknowledge that it needs serious attention at times, and this is something we continue to talk about.

Looking after oneself, mentally and emotionally is as an important part of any education as the academic. We have to see that side of it is not neglected – not easy in schools I fear. In fact, many parents turn to home schooling for that very reason. But however your children are educated make sure some time is spent understanding and nurturing the spirits as well as any other part of the curriculum.

As for the story:

When I was little my mother would take me with her on her walk round the city’s evening streets. The reason she went was to listen to the Blackbird sing.

I felt a bit odd just standing there, unaware at the time that this was my first experience of the power of nature to feed our spirits. What I was aware of though was a special aura of peace upon her face as she stood upon the grey pavements and listened.

Growing up I began to learn a little more about this power. Freed from the taunts and terrors of schoolgirls that were my daily diet I’d spend hours walking the marshes where I could be alone in a completely natural environment. Here the traumas of adolescence were released into a feast of distance and solitude. When I was in a natural place, I could be myself, naturally. No need for artificial smiles, bravado, or attachment to gang behaviours you didn’t believe in. You could just stare at the horizon and be peaceful. You could simply be – although I wasn’t aware it had anything to do with the spirits just then.

But that practice has stayed with me always and now I know differently.

Now I know that in order for us to be well; body, mind and spirits, we need to check in with the natural universe from where the spirit comes. We need contact with ourselves and contact with the earth and the wider universe. Simple awareness will do, meditation, call it what you will, but it won’t be denied.

As long as I have that, a pain in the hip or a twinge in the joints can all be eased. It just takes a moment of appreciation in the way the sunshine can lick the fields into loveliness and I am well. A walk in the raging winds can whoosh deep rooted storms away from both the land and the soul. The song of the rising Lark can pick up my spirits from my boots and lift them high enough for me to see the light all around and beyond the oppressive troubles we attach ourselves to so deeply we become consumed. The lesson in my mother’s face taught me that early on.

When my mother died I felt crumpled and consumed with grief. I lay on the soggy bedcover not wanting to face the world. Yet something told me to get up and open the window and seek the solace I have always found in a breath of fresh breeze, the smell of soil or sea, the touch of nature’s palm. So I did.

And I do not believe that it was coincidence that, at the very moment I leaned from the bedroom window, the sweetest shrillest blackbird began to sing!

Happy Easter!

I always think of Easter as the gateway through which spring passes.  

I love it – more importantly for me because the equinox has passed and, although the weather still can throw up some challenges yet, at least we have more light than dark in a day. After long dark winter days that also darken my moods, it’s a blessing to have that.

It affects the children’s moods too, did you realise?

I relate a story in my ‘A Home Education Notebook’ when, having got pretty much to the end of my tether with the children (my mood’s fault as much as theirs) I bundled them up despite conditions and we went out for a walk. This wasn’t without protest – but I pressed on determinedly.

And I’m so glad I did. For everything changed. Their moods picked up, bickering was forgotten, spirits lifted, the grumpy tweenager even started singing! And when we got back with sniffy noses and blazing cheeks everyone was calmer, more peaceful, more tolerant! It was an antidote to doldrums I could always rely on.

Have you tried it?

There are many studies now that show the benefits of time outside everyday – most importantly for the children, both physically and mentally. And it’s so uplifting anyway.

There’s much to seek; buds bursting – look out for the sticky ones, birds carrying twigs for nests, bulbs blooming, primroses, lambs, the first butterfly/bee/ladybird. And the time when the sun actually feels warm on your face.

Turn yours up to it like sunflowers, cure your family gripes, run off all that chocolate; get yourselves outside.

Have a Happy Outdoor Easter!

What about science if I homeschool?

On one of my walks at the end of last year, when dusk was being blown in horizontally with the gales and snow I found a buzzard – in trouble.

At first I thought it was a piece of sacking blown from the farmland onto the barbed wire fence. But the dog was scenting it from a safe distance, making me suspicious and I went to investigate.

Can’t imagine how it happened but it was ensnared by the fleshy part of the wing onto the barbs and had tangled itself round and round until all it could do was hang. Or so I thought, when I tried to help it went for me with its fierce beak and talons.

I feared I was going to make it worse so called a birding friend for help and we rescued it between us by cutting chunks out the wire and letting the vet see if it could be removed from the flesh.

“It’ll have to be put down, I reckon” said my friend. I thought it was likely too. I watched them go with heavy heart. But couldn’t help thinking that the girls would have loved to have seen it.

“Did you get a picture?” my youngest asked. That had not been my priority at the time and I was keeping my eye on those flesh ripping talons.

Having wildlife on their doorstep, our involvement with the natural world and consequently wildlife, was an organic part of our home educating days. And a great way to introduce the sciences into their learning days.

Science can be a subject potential home schoolers feel they’d never be able to tackle. Yet it surrounds us every day whether you live in the countryside or not. There are critters to identify (my youngest now sees more deer in the town than she saw here), natural spaces to visit, plant life to experiment with even if you only have a plant pot on a windowsill. And the most fascinating aspect of science is often their own bodies – a great starting point. You can do experiments in your own kitchen (Google kitchen science) and go online for all kinds of inspiration, clips, resources, (look at this one from the science museum) There are also a number of generous bloggers and groups who share resources and ideas.

So don’t be put off home educating because you think you couldn’t do the science.

One of the most important aspects of science is encouraging a scientific mind and kids already have that in that they question everything and are always asking ‘why’. Parents just need to extend those valuable scientific skills to others like finding out (research), encourage their observation, hypothesising, classification (naming things) analysis, etc. So easy now with the internet. And let them look at and investigate everything however repellent to you it may be! It’s all science in a way.

If I hadn’t investigated the piece of sacking that buzzard would still be hanging lifeless on the fence. But miraculously its wing only had a flesh wound and it made a full recovery in a rescue centre.

The day before new year they brought it back and set it free. My heart soared with it when I watched it go.

Off he goes