Tag Archive | parenting

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!

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.

 

Children are made readers…

First morning back at my desk and I’m having a bad attack of post holiday blues!

I’ve had such a lovely time away with my eldest. But such a painful time when it comes to parting again. Such is the nature of being a parent of grown offspring. It’s made up of greetings and partings and gaps in between. How parents managed before mobiles and Skype when they were so completely cut off from each other I’ve no idea!

Although I tried hard not to think about the work I do here; the writing and blogging etc, I did sneak into a book shop for a good browse and stroke of all the lovely books. The aesthetic of them will forever appeal to me, despite the advantage of ebooks. They’re part of a writer’s world. That and the coffee shop and a chance to sit among books and eat cake; two delights in one!

And over one stand of books in the children’s department I noticed a little sign which said:

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.

What a thought!  Couldn’t resist posting it here to remind all parents that time spent with a child on their lap looking at a book does so much more than you think; it teaches them about reading.

We can’t do it enough; we should read to them as much as we can, whatever age, however old they are. As long as they want us to. Such a simple thing. Such a loving thing to do. Such an important thing to do – give our time and attention to our children and develop a love of books and reading at the same time.

If we all did it enough – instead of assuming we needn’t bother as children will be taught to read by schools or schemes – children would read naturally and organically with a little encouragement and help. Their delight and curiosity about reading ignites the motivation to want to do it – why would they not read then? It’s parents who start that off.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents – not necessarily in schools – a thought worth keeping in mind.

Children are such natural scientists

Everything you observe is science...

Everything you observe is science…

Isn’t nature wonderful! It may still be cold outside, but that doesn’t stop the pigeon sidling up to his mate, or the blackbird singing over his territory. And blowing a gale it may be, but those valiant daffodils still manage to bloom.

Even in the concrete surround of a town or city you can find nature making a home in the most unlikeliest of places, like ants do between paving slabs or hardy buddleia that clings to walls and rooftops.

If you can just stop and observe a moment, you come across the most amazing things.

Kids are really good at this. Grown-ups can be especially bad, rushing on as we do with our day’s agenda.

As a parent, or home educator, it’s best to stop that and follow their example. Because these little observations are the beginnings of science, whether it’s plants or bricks, buses or bees.

Science is one of the subjects that many parents feel unable to help their children with. Yet, the daft thing is, science is so enmeshed into our daily life if you think about it. It’s just that school curriculum has disjointed it and made it unrecognisable.

And the other daft thing is that being in a school can remove children from the opportunity to develop the foundation of a scientific mind. For this foundation starts with simple observation. Observation of ourselves, the world and our interaction with it, followed by the question why, or how or what, is the evidence of their scientific mind developing – and they’re really good at those questions – have you noticed!

A third daft approach to science in schools is that it is made so academic, when in the real world it is very much a practical subject. A real hands-on, get-involved subject you can do in ways with children which immediately engages their interest. Observation and inquiry being one of the most effective ways to start.

By observing as you go, whatever you are doing, discussing what you see, you begin the study of science – the study and understanding of the world around them – both natural and man-made.

Children are fascinated little beings, already full of curiosity and the desire to experiment. It is the desire to experiment and find out that resulted in some of the most important scientific advancements so far.

Children are born scientists most of them, so by encouraging their observation, curiosity and discussion you are encouraging scientific thinking and understanding. And this lays the basis which can be formalised into more complicated academic study and research at a later date.

There are so many subjects on the curriculum which can be linked to the real world of our children through practical means, which makes science relevant and meaningful and develops their understanding. Then there are programmes and YouTube clips and fun scientific games online to extend it.

But the best way to start is to modify our own agendas, pay attention when our kids say ‘look’, or ask why, and begin to observe the real world and find out about it with them. This is the basis of their scientific skills.

Swinging along with the children

Half term brings a gaggle of buzzing children and families onto the streets, in the parks, the pool, the library and the shops. I love to see it. Love to see families swinging along together enjoying themselves. Those who are anyway.

There also seems to be a rash of parents who don’t seem to be enjoying it.

Although children and shopping don’t generally go together well, I still don’t like to hear the remark; ‘can’t wait for them to go back to school’. It’s like people don’t like to have their kids with them. These people make me wonder; why have children in the first place!

I suppose if your children are in school all day you might get out of the swing of doing things together. Not that this happened to us when ours were at school.

Then, when we were home educating, we had to get into the swing of doing the opposite. ; we had to practise not doing things together sometimes.

I was so into providing stimulating activities, of constant communication with the children, debating and hypothesising, coming up with ideas, I had to focus on doing the opposite and ignoring them at times.

Now, I would never normally advocate that parents ignore their children. I’m usually encouraging the opposite, especially when I see so many children who’ve been in school all the time trying to get the attention of a disinterested parent on their mobile phone chatting to someone else rather than the child at their side.

However, when you home school and are mostly together a lot you have to find ways of being separate, to have separate activities, to give the children time to direct and manage their own time rather than us always doing it for them. They need opportunities for their own pursuits, to make their own mistakes, to resolve their own problems, to interact, fall out and solve their own disputes, to work play and occupy themselves independently.

This is vital for developing independent maturity. And independence builds confidence.

Obviously we need to do this safely. And always in balance with other activities. But one mistake I made early on in our home educating life was to think I should always be in charge of providing stimulation, engaging and encouraging them to be busy, all the time.

Not only is this unrealistic – children need ‘down time’ as much as stimulation – but it also inhibits the development of other vital skills they will need to lead their own lives.

I see this in school children. Released from the control school has over their lives some are lost to know what to do without it. Many children also have their lives filled for them with out-of-school activities, play dates, workshops and courses organised by pushy and obsessive parents without consulting the children. So these children rarely have the chance to build the skills needed to organise themselves. To have a taste of leading their own life rather than being lead along a life someone else has mapped out for them.

As with everything, there needs to be balance and contrast in what we provide for our kids. Children need directed time and undirected time, they need engaged time and solo time, they need attentive parents and parents who’ll leave them be at times.

And this is true in all aspects of our parenting whether home educating or not.

De-institutionalising mumhood!

Untitled-12 changedI can bore myself silly doing all this writing about education. I imagine I bore others too quite often!

It’s just I’m so passionate about it; passionate about raising children which is really what education is all about, although you wouldn’t think that from schooling.

Schooling schools children into institutionalised ways. Education should be so mind evolving it de-institutionalises youngsters so they can think in intelligent, questioning, entrepreneurial and diverse ways which develop their mind and their person.

It was my passion for children that drove me to do a mums’ book (see the page) and I just wanted to remind any new mums visiting here that it’s there for support. It’s a book to remind mums that they don’t have to do mumhood in an institutionalised way, just like we don’t have to do education in an institutionalised way.

You wouldn’t think that mumhood is institutionalised – you do it by yourself don’t you?

Not necessarily, it can be as constricted as schooling, conventionalised by traditions, ‘professionals’, perfectionist images, what everyone else is doing and whatever’s trending on social media. All extremely powerful influences that can control what you do, if you’re not careful.

We can be so conditioned to fit into the way we’ve been schooled to be mums that we don’t even notice it’s happening sometimes. We just get gut feelings that this doesn’t feel right, yet think we can’t be right so ignore ourselves, until we start to feel a bit wretched that we can’t seem to meet others’ expectations, our parents’ expectations, social trends or those on forums.

To counteract this we need to listen to our own intuition even if in perspective of advice, remember we are individuals who need to operate to our own circumstances – different from everyone else’s – in consideration of our own characters and those of our children. No two instances of mums and kids will be the same.

We need to make independent and considered choices and be the parents we need and want to be. And I hate to mention it again, but that’s where education comes in.

Our own education develops as we learn to become parents.

But, even more importantly, our children’s education BEGINS TOO. (I explain that further in the last piece in ‘Mumhood’)

That’s why being a mum is one of the most important things you will ever do. You are laying the first foundations and future groundwork of your child’s education. The first few years of being involved with your children is where education starts.

And that’s why mums are so valuable and it’s so important they are happy, doing their mothering the way they need to, however diverse and unschooled it may appear to others.

Some of the educational approaches home educators use may appear diverse and unschooled and unconventional. Yet these approaches develop young people who go on to lead intelligent, responsible, productive, social, independent lives. So those approaches work.

It doesn’t matter if you want to do your mothering your own way, it’ll work too. What’s important is to develop healthy happy children. And it is healthy happy mums who are more likely to do that.

You might like to read the book to find out why!