Tag Archive | parenting

The parenting endurance test!

January can feel like an endurance test!

I find it hard to keep my spirits on the bright side when my daily walk, which I take for that very reason – keeping bright, becomes grueling rather than graceful at this time of the year.

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The best bit of a wet January morning; shiny droplets on the winter flowering cherry

Recording my pictures on Instagram helps me focus on the charms rather than the challenges, even if I have to seek them sometimes.

But that’s a good way to get through all challenges; remind yourself of the best bits among life’s barrage.

A parent asked me recently how I managed to get through the challenge of the years home educating with such ‘patience and grace’?

The short answer is; I didn’t all the time!

For, although it is mostly the best bits I write about to encourage and inspire – and it is an inspiring thing to do – it is certainly a challenge, verging on an endurance test sometimes. But isn’t all parenting like that – not just home educating?

The thing is; you know your kids are absolutely delightful beings. You know you completely love them to bits. You know home educating is totally the best thing you’ve ever done. And you know you don’t want it any other way.

BUT…..

There are times you are inevitably going to shout ‘FFS’!!!

I had those times too.

You would also have those times if the children were in school – believe me!

The longer answer to the above question was that I built strategies to help me through the grueling bits. We need that with both parenting and home education.

You’ll need to take deep breaths – often.

You’ll need to step back and let be – often.

You’ll need to stop worrying – that’s a decision as much as any.

You’ll need to trust that time will sort it.

Get outside – often.

You’ll need to look after yourself – as much as the children. Your mental and spiritual well being is included in that; build strategies to help refocus when needed (like me with the Instagram).

And you need to winkle out the best bits. There are always good bits.

Seasons change. January passes. Kids grow. Family life changes rapidly. All challenges change just as rapidly too.

All will be well.

(For more enduring comfort and reassurance try my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Or just for mum support; ‘Mumhood’. See the books page for details)

What’s wrong with solitary?

There was something sad about the solitary swan I saw on the field the other day. Knowing that they usually mate for life I was feeling for it. Had it lost it’s mate? Or had it not started courting yet – it looked to be a young one?

From the BBC Earth website - click on the pic

From the BBC Earth website – click on the pic

Whichever, it was as heart wrenching as seeing a solitary child standing in the playground. The one that no one’s playing with.

We have a kind of cultural feeling of wrongness surrounding the idea of solitary. Forgetting that some solitude in a child’s day is as important as social. But we rarely remember that, making assumptions that it’s lonely to be solitary and often forcing associations onto kids they just don’t want, instead of respecting their need for space.

I suppose the important point about solitude is whether it’s chosen or not. And whether that’s a positive choice.

We are all very different. We all have very different needs in that department. Some people need more personal space than others. Some like to be surrounded by crowds and people all the time. But some prefer less and there is nothing sad about making the choice to be solitary at times and we should respect that.

Obviously no one likes to think of their child as being unpopular. But choosing to schedule some time away from others in their manic day is as important as choosing some time for yourself away from the demands of others or always having to be on show.

I know adults who have such hang-ups, and fear sometimes, about being solitary for a while they go to strange lengths to avoid it. their biggest concern being what others might think of them; that if they’re spending time on their own others might think they’re sad or unpopular.

I spend huge amounts of time on my own. And I did as a child. I’m neither sad or unpopular. It’s just I’ve recognised it as an important part of my mental well being, to help me be the person I need to be, and to slough off the crash of mainstream life.

With constant connectivity, even our solitary spaces are invaded now, and our image is so public. But let’s avoid this becoming so invasive that we buy into this negative attitude to solitude and never give ourselves, or our children, time and space for individual reflection, in which to be imaginative, inventive, creative, and who we need to be. And avoid perpetuating the myth that being on our own is somehow wrong. It’s not. It’s healthy.

And perhaps I need to stop anthropomorphising and doing exactly that about the swan!

‘Home educating can’t be that bad!’

Louise Walters is a friend and fellow writer who lives with her husband and five children. She is also a home educator so, always keen to showcase others, I asked her if she’d tell us a little of how it works out for her.
Her honest account reminds us that nothing is ever all roses – but can still work!
Here she is:
Two years ago I decided to home educate my then six year old son, Finn. He was such an unhappy child, it was difficult to witness. It took me a long time to make the decision (I had wondered about it even before he started school. He is August-born and quite “young” for his age, and looking back on it now, it’s clear he really should not have started school aged just 4). The annoying thing is, I wasn’t new to HE. My oldest child, now 21, spent time in and out (mostly out!) of school and in many ways I was an “old hand”.
But I didn’t feel like that. I always worried; how can I teach all the subjects? How will Finn get his qualifications when the time comes? How will I find the time to work? That last, if I’m honest, was (and remains) my main concern. However, I know enough about HE nowadays to understand that not a lot of “teaching”, in the school-sense of the word, is needed.
Finn learns organically, using all the means available to him: books, internet, museums, field trips, libraries, pens and paper, paints, Lego, cinema, theatre, home ed groups… anything and everything, essentially. And we actually spend no more than a couple of hours a week doing anything that resembles “school learning”. We have literacy and numeracy workbooks. They are incredibly boring. Really, they are for my benefit… I have something to “show” for their learning when the Local Authority makes its annual request for info regarding my educational provision.
I’m a writer, but have little time for that. The big advantage is I am my own boss. I don’t watch much TV and try to work for an hour in the evenings (not always possible). I also occasionally negotiate writing time during the day with the boys (Oh, did I mention I later took Finn’s brother out of school too?! Home educating can’t be that bad, can it?) Negotiations go like this: “Boys, you do these two pages in your maths workbook…” Grumble, grumble… “Then you can play with Lego/watch DanTDM/colour/dress up/split the atom for an hour and I will write.”
The truth is I love writing and I love home educating (most of the time), so it’s up to me to make it work. I have days when I fervently wish they were back in school, even if it was for just a couple of days a week. That would be perfect, and perhaps when they are a little older, that’s a route we’ll explore. In the meantime, I know I’m doing the right thing, and the boys are learning with such little effort. My youngest just started to read as if over night. I hadn’t been actively teaching him to read. So there seems little point in bringing all this to an end. (They do spend Saturday mornings in  a school, attending lessons at a music school that hires school premises. So they get a nostril full of that school smell once a week. And I get a couple of hours alone in the house. Bliss!)
I haven’t mentioned socialisation, mainly because it’s not an issue. It amuses me that people who have not encountered HE before often ask, “But what about socialisation?” first… kind of a compliment, really, when you stop and think about it. Socalisation is one of the easiest aspects of the whole thing: I don’t keep the kids locked up all day. We are out and about, meeting all kinds of people, of all ages. Finn is less shy now than he was in school. His little brother has never been shy, full stop.
I’ve ran out of time to write. We are off to a home ed play rehearsal. It will be noisy, chaotic and fun. I wonder if I could sneak in my laptop…?
Louise is the author of ‘Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase’, published by Hodder in 2014. better-uk-paperback-pic-2
albu-web-ready Her second novel, ‘A Life Between Us’ will be out in March 2017 from Troubadour Publishing. She is working on a third novel, which is about a struggling single mother who decides to home educate her autistic son.
Find her site here; http://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/

Thought for the New Year

As the old year ends and new one begins I want to say a couple of  things. 20161230_134020

First; I want to say a massive THANK YOU to all those who’ve supported my work during this last year. Without your lovely messages, reviews, encouragement and endorsement I wouldn’t have kept going. No writer can do so without readers.

We’re all like kids really – we all need a little bit of praise and support to spur us on. Thank you for yours. It’s been heartwarming and fuel for my work.

Secondly, as time to take the decs down draws near, I thought I’d leave you an idea to mull over as you launch into your new family year:

Parenting IS Educating. 

And:

Education (in school or out of it) depends on parenting.

Obviously, parenting is not the only influence on your child’s education. But your parenting supports it. Just by loving your children, loving what they do, being engaged in what they do, gently guiding what they do, demonstrating what’s best to do – and to be, you educate.

It may not be evident in tangible ways. But the effect is immeasurable.

Parenting is the most important job you’ll ever do. (See the page)

Finally, do all that you do with your children with respect – there’s no love without it.

Wishing you a loving new year.

A Christmas tip – relaxed engaged!

I’ve been making some cards for Christmas.

I used to always do it with the children. Now they’re not here I do it for myself as a change from wording!

I think the children’s were better!

My subject matter is always influenced by the natural world – my constant comfort and inspiration. And I decided to do a lino cut this time; was going to try woodcuts but that’s a bit beyond my skills.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the cutting out bit, but found it was quite therapeutic carving the lino in the same way it is doing all these colouring books that are about now. It gets you involved with the craft – but not stressing, unlike other forms of work. It was more a state of relaxed engaged.

That’s the best way with everything, actually.

Absolutely the best way with children.

So that’s my Christmas tip to you; remain relaxed engaged, whether that’s The Big Day, the run up to it, or doing activities with the children. Aim for relaxed engaged.

And do plenty of Christmas crafts, for all forms of creative activity are important for the children’s educational development. (Read why here).

It’s therapeutic for you too.

And here’s my efforts just for you – have a lovely crafty time!

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Put yourself in a learner’s shoes

Being back in the position of a learner again would do all teachers good. Because you forget what it’s like and forget to look at learning from the position of a learner.

I’ve been reflecting on this. Because I find I’m a complete beginner in my new role in the bookshop, which I talked about before. Trying to work complicated tills is as alien to me as flying a spaceship and I realise what a horrible feeling it is when you can’t do it!

Kids are in this position all the time. And I bet they don’t like it either. But we don’t often give consideration to that. Even worse; we get annoyed when they don’t ‘get’ it, as if they’re doing it deliberately – I’ve certainly experienced that both first hand and observed, in schools and out.

I’ve observed that people who are trying to teach can be more concerned with their own agenda – that is, making someone learn – than with the learner’s needs and the manner in which they’re best able to learn it.

I believe the distinguishing feature of a good teacher lies with the focus (- subject matter aside). A good teacher is not focused on what they want to teach. A good teacher is focused on what or how the learner needs to learn. And if the way we’re teaching  isn’t working for the learner we need to look at changing ourselves, rather than trying to blame the learner, as so often happens.

Parents who are home educating have the opportunity to keep that focus balanced in favour of the learner, unlike teachers in schools who have to teach to the demands of a school’s agenda. Which, let’s face it, has nothing to do with most of our learners’ needs!

Being a complete beginner at something, or not knowing how to do it at all (me on the tills!) is a wretched position to be in. But many teachers and parents forget that as we sit smug in our elevated position of knowing and showing.

So we should take ourselves back to our own learning days and remember what it felt like (like getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time). And have some compassion for a learner’s position, rather than impatience. Impatience prevents the learner from learning well. Learning needs to be a positive experience for them to truly flourish.

Thankfully my teachers in the shop have enormous patience with me. The same patience I like to think I had with the learners in schools and my own two home educators here.

But maybe patience isn’t the point. As I said above, the point is the learners needs, sometimes what’s needed in a home ed household is to take advantage of the great flexibility you have with learning, try various approaches or just leave it for another day when the learner is more receptive or mature.

For unlike in the bookshop, there’s no queue of people waiting to see whether your learner can do it or not, or restrictions on when they need to do it. And that was one of the reasons you opted to home educate wasn’t it?

So, put yourself back in the position of a beginner and remember to educate to your learner’s needs and not to some other agenda!

‘Unruly’ and what to do about it.

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There’s times for running and times for not!

Been for a haircut. And the inevitable ‘chat’ with the hairdresser, which I freely admit I’m not very good at. But she cut the girls’ hair when we were home educating, without judgement on what we were doing, and always asks after them.

She’s a lovely young woman who has some fairly powerful views, many of them on parenting, even though she’s not a parent herself. She sees some fairly ‘unruly’ children in the hairdressers whose parents drag them in, dump them in the chair, then leave the responsibility of them to her whilst they pop to the shops!

Even without being a parent she’s aware that this is not ideal parenting. And she’s also aware that many parents should be far more engaged with their kids than they are, then maybe they wouldn’t be ‘unruly’.

The inverted comments illustrate the fact that I’m not sure what else to call them. We know what I mean; not doing as they’re asked or knowing the point of what grown-ups ask, exploring things when it’s not appropriate, inability to understand what’s appropriate behaviour in the circumstances, none of which is a crime but needs guidance.

We all see this all of the time. I saw a child running up and down in a cafe the other day where stressed waitresses were busily carrying out plates of hot food and having to dodge round her. Parents didn’t say a thing – couldn’t even see the problem and thought their child was just expressing important needs, clearly oblivious to whether this was appropriate or not – and to the fact others’ have needs too.

Children’s understanding of what’s appropriate or not evolves in the first instance from interaction with their parents in a variety of situations, where they’ve been talked to, guided, shown, had explained, engaged with. Interaction teaches kids what appropriate behaviour is.

I know some parents feel that a child should be allowed to express themselves in any way they want without that being inhibited. That we should never suppress them in any way.

But I look at it this way, we want our children to grow up to be liked. But we all need an understanding of the fact we are not the only ones in this world, that others need consideration too, that we have to grow and develop within those considerations even whilst being as true to ourselves as possible. We are social animals and social animals operate within boundaries of respect – for others, for self. Suppression is not the point. Guidance and explanation is. If they’re asked not to play with the stuff on the hairdresser’s trolley there will be reasons!

Neglecting to teach them the understanding of this simple truth is neglecting the parental duty of guidance and personal education.

Parenting is difficult. It tests us all the time. The children test us, test boundaries and want to break rules – course they do, they’re inquisitive little beings. Mine certainly did – and that brings us challenges. But the simple antidote to some of those challenges, like how to stop them rummaging in the hairdresser’s trolley of intriguing bits and pieces, is to build a good relationship with the child at every opportunity, one that is based on respectful interaction, dialogue and guidance as to what to do when – and when not! Dialogue and conversation is an effective learning tool. And the time we devote to nurturing that is an important part of our parenting.

It’s part of education too. And even this young woman, without any children of her own, could see that as the role of a parent more clearly than the parents themselves!