Tag Archive | parenting

Did you see Planet Child?

I watched the first in a new series about children’s development last week called Planet Child. Did you see it?

In it the twin doctors, Chris and Xand van Tulleken, were observing how children in other parts of the world are given greater independence at a very young age, having very different lifestyles from those in the UK, and how this impacts on their development.

As a result of these observations the doctors set up an experiment for three groups of seven year olds to simulate that experience of  independence, where the children had to navigate their way across London on their own without their parents. (Safely under observation – although the kids didn’t know that).

It was dead scary watching!

Scary for me as a parent – not the kids – they seemed happy enough, and it was fascinating to watch.

Now, I know ‘it is telly’, as in it’s all very contrived, well edited to get us to believe what they want us to believe, and has many flaws as an experiment as such. And there were many unanswered questions.

However a fascinating premise that came out of it was that it seems the more time children spend on unstructured activities, the better it is for their overall development.

And this immediately made me think of all the home educating families who use less structure and more autonomy in their approach to their children’s learning and are often criticised for it, many educationists believing that kids learn nothing without a structured regime of learning. Yet it appears it is exactly this autonomy which gives the opportunity for the children to develop many essential personal skills, needed in order to be able to apply themselves and what they’ve learned to real life. Life-skills in other words. Skills which are often inhibited by an approach that spoon feeds them a curriculum in a structured environment where they’re told what to do, when and how to do it. Like school.

Ironic! Since it is so often this autonomous approach, often interpreted as the parents being uninvolved (so wrong!), which many professionals find so hard to get their so-called educated heads around, even though there is increasing proof as these home educators graduate that an autonomous approach works well.

Autonomous approaches to education don’t drill kids to follow an extrinsic curriculum, pass tests and get grades, as schools do, (even though most of the home schooled youngsters go on to choose to gain qualifications in their own autonomous way). What it does, is develop a broad-thinking, educated person with a wide range of skills that enable them to make appropriate independent choices.

Unstructured activities are good for kids, the programme concluded (although clearly within certain boundaries – ‘it is telly’ after all!) Unstructured education has the same advantages.

Just thought I’d say in case you’re having doubts about your autonomous home educating approach!

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Happy Spring: What better time…

Easter Holidays!

What better time than this to celebrate the season of rebirth, regrowth and the earth’s burgeoning vitality. When days of longer light can make me feel that my own sap is rising along with that of the trees and plants!

Spring amid the concrete

And what better time than this also to get yourselves and the children outside, experiencing and learning about our essential connection to the earth, how all species are connected to the life of others and imperative for the longevity of the planet, for our own health and wellbeing and that of the children.

I was reading recently about how the increase in childhood conditions and diseases may be exacerbated by our children’s decreasing contact with the earth, the soil, fresh air and green spaces in particular. And how parents should do all they can to reconnect, to encourage learning about the natural world supporting us, and perpetuate a care of it. From the tallest tree, to the tiniest insect, and all those essential organisms we can’t even see – it’s all important!

What better time to do this than when Spring makes it easier to be outside, when it is so pretty and inviting and downright dramatic with its April showers!

So why not get out to spot and experience:

  • Birds – with bits in their mouths, either for nest building or for baby feeding, or singing their Springtime songs
  • Insects – from creepy crawlies in the crevices to the first bee or butterfly you’ve seen this year
  • Rain – appreciating the fact that it is essential for survival. How often do you consider that? And consider also ways in which you can economise with your water usage – waste less of this essential resource
  • Young – the best time for seeing newborns, especially lambs. There may be a farm or a centre nearby you can visit, a river for ducklings
  • Plants, shrubs and tress that are beginning to leaf up or bloom. If you have a garden get the kids involved in growing things, in pots if you don’t, in order to learn about the vital elements needed in order to grow; nourishment, light, water – which we need too! Along with health giving contact with soil!

You may live in a concrete environment, but that is all the more reason you need to teach the children about the earth that lies underneath and to find ways to get them back in contact with it. Otherwise how will they know it’s there, grows our food, supports our lives, and that it needs our attention? Use the season to celebrate this earth and the abundance of life bursting around us, on which all ultimately depend, however city central we live.

Have a Happy Spring!

 

 

A personal education philosophy

I’m popping this here because it’s something I’m asked about and some parents like help with, especially in the light of the LA often asking for it. The thought of ‘educational philosophy’ can be rather daunting. Don’t fret; it doesn’t have to be – it’s just your thoughts on education, so it’s best to have some, then call them philosophy!

However, it can be a bit difficult to think about if it’s new to you to do so, so some of these ideas might help with a starting point.

At the risk of shocking everyone with this admission; when I first starting out teaching I thought, like many others, that education was just something delivered by schools quantified by exams. I didn’t teach for long before I completely changed my mind about that.

I also soon worked out that ‘qualification’ was certainly not a measure of an educated person, judging by the way some of the supposedly educated behaved. And teaching for exam passes didn’t necessarily make young people educated either.

When we home educated our own two children we had to think about what education really was, if it was not something that was just learning a prescribed syllabus, delivered by schools for the purpose of grades, which by then I definitely didn’t believe it was – and we weren’t planning on doing anyway.

What was it then?

Our ideas changed over the time we home educated and have matured even since then. And this is an attempt to try and note some ideas down that may help you decide upon your own.

A precise educational philosophy is quite hard to capture because it is entirely based on your definition of education in itself. And that has been influenced by your own schooling and by society’s definition of it as a grade-getting process that is measurable in those terms only. And accountable in those terms only – in terms of how many and how high.

But I believe education is something far broader than that. And I look at it not in terms of grades, or perhaps in terms of what education is, but more in terms of what an educated person is.

My definition tends to be person based. Not qualification based. Because it’s not the qualifications that matter – it’s what you do with them. And you need far, far more personable skills and elements of character to apply yourself to an educated life than qualifications.  Elements like respect. Or responsibility. Or care. Or the ability to communicate.

Grades are no good without those.

You can have the most qualified, titled and knowledgeable person in the world who can be an arrogant arse and not care a damn for the next person. I wouldn’t call them educated. So care does come into it.

You can have a person who has been privately and expensively educated who looks down on those who’ve had less opportunity as if they deserve less respect. But I wouldn’t call that the behaviour of an educated person. So respect comes into it.

And you have people who seem to spend lifetimes collecting degrees but are unable to function happily, communicate and establish relationships, or understand how their awareness of others and the planet is important. Their educational qualifications don’t seem a lot of help. Awareness is part of being educated too.

So I believe that however ‘qualified’ or ‘educated’ in the conventional sense of the word a person is, it’s how he BEHAVES that matters and counts as to whether they are really educated.

People who are educated are people who not only have knowledge and skills but are people who show respect, responsibility and care towards others both near and far, towards their environment both locally and globally and who show awareness, compassion and understanding, who are keen to be the best they can, make the best contribution they can, and who strive towards good, happy and fulfilled lives. And I know that now we’d need to define good, happy and fulfilled but I’ll leave those definitions to you!

But these are the types of qualities I expect an educated person to have, however many grades. It is about the quality of a person – not the qualifications.

And that’s very difficult to measure. But schools feel the need to measure something so they focus on the measurable bits and neglect the rest. That’s where it’s gone so wrong.

Now, this is all very philosophical but how do you home school to that?

Well – creating good, happy and fulfilled lives on a daily basis is a start! One day at a time; make each day a good one and you make for a good education and fallow days count here too. (See this blog)

I also understand that many parents worry about describing it to the Local Authority. We did too and I spent many hours contemplating it. I describe what happened in my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’ including the letter with our educational philosophy we finally sent to the LA. So I thought it might help if I copied it here too:

We are unable to fill in your enclosed form because it is inappropriate to our Home Education situation and the education we plan to provide for our children.

We plan for the education of our children to be centred around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, mostly democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input. Our aim is for happy, confident, self motivated children who take pleasure in learning. We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers, and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage an interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.

We see learning as an integral part of our children’s daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects. Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting. It may take place from the minute they wake to the minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily in a formal procedure. We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned. Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.

We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social events, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction.

Having said all that I’m sure you must appreciate that our children have to recover from the numbing effects of school, which has damaged their learning potential, and it may take us some time to settle into our Home Education. We look forward to this with enthusiasm and excitement.

We hope this fulfils your requirements.”

An educational philosophy doesn’t have to worry you. You will already have ideas about what education should be or you wouldn’t contemplate home educating. These ideas are the basis for a philosophy and they just need formalising and getting down, always allowing room for change and moderation. Allow them to develop over a period of time and read lots others. Use any of the ideas you like here to help.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Think what you want for your children personally (things like confidence, keenness to learn, happiness, etc)
  • Think what you might want for them academically – helps to focus on skills here –  in line with where they’re at right now (it’s best to not look too far ahead at this point)
  • Think about others – have you ever seen a model of a family or child that you’d like to strive towards (probably you have examples of the opposite – also useful!)
  • Think what suits your child’s needs, your needs and your circumstances and what kind of lifestyle/approach will help you move towards the above.
  • A final point to remember; children change, so their needs change, so your approach and styles and philosophy may change throughout your home education. Therefore it is wise to include this fact in any statement you may make to the LA

Allow yourself room for flexibility – the key to successful home education – and development of ideas as, like ours did, these will change.

Just as home education changes you. Exactly like life really!

If you’re new to home education you’ll find more help in this book, especially for beginners.

The longest job…tips for surviving!

Being a mum was the longest job I ever had. (Still is!)

It took me a few years to realise the implications of this, when a degree of restlessness was making me twitchy and at times less than happy.

This was absolutely nothing to do with my devotion to my role as a mum, nothing to do with the unconditional love I had for the children (still have), and absolutely nothing to do with the honour and value I attach to the role of being a parent and home educator.

It’s just that before, as an employee, when I got restless in a job I could look to change it, either apply for a new job, a new role, a new venue or some other rethink that refreshed my working life and renewed enthusiasm.

Can’t do that with being a mum! Once a parent always a parent. There’s no changing jobs. And it’s the same with home education – most are in it for the duration.

Of course, we don’t ever not want to be parents or home educators – I’m taking that as a given. But like with any job, it’s inevitable that at times you get bored. But that’s not the fault of parenting or home education, it’s just to do with the human psyche and our own personal needs requiring some attention.

It’s something I do harp on about regularly and I’m not apologising because it’s important; that we should pay attention to our own personal development and fulfilment as much as we are attending to the children’s. Mostly, though, we don’t, we let constraints of time, busyness, budget, practicalities, get in the way. There are so many reasons – or excuses!

So how to change that dissatisfaction that can build up with this long-term job? I found a few ways over the years:

  • Firstly, acknowledge that being happy and satisfied all the time is not achievable. That’s not the reality of life – again thanks to the human psyche. Once we accept that this is the case, we can pause a day or two, accept that this is the case today and nurture ourselves through with gentleness, instead of beating ourselves up about it as we sometimes do!
  • Happy and satisfied are also not finite objectives, but an ongoing changable process of development with ups and downs, moods, and mishaps and mistakes we have to learn how to deal with.
  • We can learn to deal with them by trial and error with things like distractions and contrasts; relaxing activities versus busy activities, creative activities, getting outdoors, using green spaces, sports, watching a good film, meeting others.
  • Then plan some time that is exclusively devoted to your own personal activities/work/pursuits that do not involve the children, where you develop a mutual respect between you of time to be left to your own business and they have to get on without you. (There’s a funny scenario where I start this described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘) This is not neglecting the kids, it’s teaching them the valuable skill of getting on independently.
  • Look at ways of changing your home education routines. Look at the bits that work. The bits that don’t work. Kids grow and change all the time and we sometimes don’t notice that everyone’s needs have altered since we started and so we need new approaches to accommodate them. You might need to back off more these days!
  • If you’re fighting with the kids all the time, change how you approach them and their learning. It also may be you’re simply just tired. Check out your reasons – rather than theirs!
  • Remember that circumstances always change with time. Difficulties pass. And if you can find ways to navigate the tricky restless times you will be passing on that valuable skill to your children too.
  • Don’t blame either yourself, your parenting, or home education. Blame is being reactive. Instead investigate pro-active ways to make changes and discuss it with the kids and others.
  • So make exclusive time where you get to go out without youngsters and talk about your dissatisfied bits and share ways of getting through them with other adults. Find out what others do to fulfil their needs and their time management that enables them to do so.

    Make something – even if it’s just an impression!

  • I once read that a day always feels better when you’ve made something. That’s so true – try it – whether a loaf or a cake, a photo or a painting, a difference – by changing a room round perhaps or different habit/routine, a discovery, or even footprints in the mud! Try it!,
  • Remember that the kids are learning all the time, whatever you do – or don’t do.
  • There is a whole chapter devoted to looking after yourself in ‘A home Education Notebook‘. It’s that important.

In our rapidly changing culture we rarely stick at anything for long. Parenting and home education is something that we have to stick at for years and years. However, there will many changes that occur throughout those years, some naturally, some through the course of time, some you can implement yourself. You just have to pay attention to the need for them. Restlessness and dissatisfaction is often a sign you haven’t!

If you’ve developed strategies others might find helpful please share in the comments below.

Home Educate for the present

You can’t help but have noticed the massive trend for mindfulness at the moment.

You rarely go into a bookshop without seeing a mindful colouring book or a manual of mindful prompts and practices. Many companies are pushing it at the consumer – the capitalism of which rather belying the point!

I always think of home educating parents as mindful people. You kind of have to be in order to do it.

I know some of you may recoil from the concept of mindfulness as a load of psychobabble that has no relation to the serious business of education.

But I don’t think I’ve ever met a home schooling parent who isn’t mindful in that they are making conscious choices about the way their children are educated. They are mindful of the fact that a learning life does not have to be endured for some future reward, it is important that the kids are happy and fulfilled now. And it’s that which leads towards a happy and successful relationship with life thereafter. That is the way parents are mindful. It means being conscious of what you’re doing.

Of course, there are all sorts of interpretations of being mindful – awareness being the one I’m using here. I don’t think you could home educate without being very aware of what you’re doing, both day-to-day and with regard to the future.

But therein lies a danger of conflict.

Because mindfulness is an approach that is based very much in the now. Yet our educational agenda can sometimes become obsessed with the future.

It certainly is in schools. It seems like every activity undertaken has an agenda that is focussed towards forthcoming results. Test results. Exam results. Qualification of it, in some form or another. The quality of the present learning experience is prostituted for that.

It is natural as we parent to wonder about the future for our kids. Obviously we want the best for them. We wouldn’t be human if our considerations didn’t stray beyond the present as we raise them and guide them towards living good lives.

However, it’s important as we educate to balance that with what’s happening now, what their needs are now, making now an inspiring experience.

In fact I’d go so far as to say it needs to be imbalanced – for the now is far more important. Simply because what’s happening now will determine the future and if you take care to make the present a good experience of learning, then the children will want to go on with it and that’s an attitude that sets them up for life. If you take care of the now the future will take care of itself.

Educate because learning is a great thing to be doing, at this present moment.

By adopting a mindful/awareness practice yourself you will inspire the children to have mindful practices of their own which promotes a healthy and conscious way of living; with themselves, with others, and with the planet. It escalates out in beneficial ripples all around.

Being mindful is good for parents. Good for home education. Good for kids. Good for everyone.

Worth taking a moment to be mindful of it!

There’s more generic reading about mindfulness here if you’d like to explore some more.

Bringing you closer

Occasionally in an evening when my eldest is walking home through the city after rehearsals she rings me. This is so I can ‘keep her company’ if it’s a bit dark and spooky as she walks alone.

Sometimes, on a bright night I ask; ‘Can you see the moon?’

Picture from Wikipedia

When the youngsters lived here permanently in this rural spaciousness it’s something we’d always share – popping outside to see the moon – together.

She looks up now and we share the fact that we are both looking at the same moon – together. And even though there are two hundred earth miles between us now, when we share the sight of the moon in that moment the distance doesn’t feel so great.

Just thought I’d share that with you in case any of you, as you raise and some home educate your children, worry about the relationship you will have with them as a result.

Well, it will be as warm and loving and respectful as you make it now, full of memories of things you shared together. So make some lovely memories as these small times combine to make a loving life.

And, impossible though you might find to imagine now, one day you might even be sharing moonlight from different locations like we are!

Parents are the foundation of education

When you become a mum the last thing that’s probably on your mind is education or school! It takes ages to settle into a new life as a parent which is why I wanted to offer help through my MUMHOOD book.

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But education is different from starting school if that’s what you think I mean and that’s not what I’m talking about here. Real education begins at home with the parents – usually mums. Whatever follows – home education or school – the foundation of it starts the minute the baby is born and the child’s achievement later in life is dependent on what you do as parents at home from birth.

Since so few parents realise how, I’ve copied an extract from my MUMHOOD book for you below because it’s so important and it’s something all parents have the chance to influence:-

…what many parents don’t understand is that, whatever age your children are, however small or big, their education and their achievement are wholly influenced by you. Their education i.e. their learning, starts a long, long time before school and you are the one who affects it. Both now and in the future.

But don’t worry, it’s not complicated. And it’s not academic learning I’m talking about, or is of the only importance.

Children need to learn something more important than academics. They need to learn about their world and how to fit into it. How to relate to it and to others. How to operate it and how to cope with it. As well as all the skills they need just to grow and get to grips with living on a daily basis.

Whatever age children are they’re learning all the time. And you will be teaching them without even noticing.

You’ll be teaching them skills like; using their utensils to eat their dinner. You’ll be encouraging their speech and teaching them the names of things. You’ll be teaching them how to put their clothes on, build with toys, put toys in the cupboard, or use the tablet.

Just take note throughout your day together and you’ll realise how much you are already teaching your children. It happens just by interacting together, showing them things, getting them to mimic sounds, encouraging them to walk, demonstrating things by example, talking about the things you see and answering their ‘why’ questions.

Through all this your children are learning. Through you – teachers aren’t required here – this kind of learning is equally valuable learning. It is the beginning of their understanding, the basis of all development and learning to come.

That’s how you influence your child’s education right from the start.

The things you do together at home, the attention you pay them, the conversations you have, are the groundwork for everything that follows. The way you engage with them, stimulate them, love them, all the things I’ve mentioned in the ‘Mother and Child’ chapter all influence the way in which your child learns and all the learning that will come after. The first three years of a child’s life are now recognised to be the kingpin for all that follows. And the learning they do from birth to four is the essential spring board for everything they do as they grow.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to establish the relationship with your child I discussed in the last section, why it’s important to be there with them much of the time, talking and listening, playing and interacting. Because everything you do with your child from the moment they’re born counts for something. All the experiences they have. The circumstances they’re in. The vibes they pick up. It all matters.

That’s a fundamental truth about children learning that parents sometimes overlook.

Some parents think that all learning takes place in schools between the ages of four and sixteen. It doesn’t. Some parents think teaching is required for learning to take place. It isn’t. It starts at home through your interaction. That’s why whatever you do with them matters.

But don’t think of it in educational or school terms or you’ll spoil it. Just make times to engage with them, to observe the world together, to discuss it, to encourage an interest in it and how everything works, and stimulate their curiosity.

Children are naturally curious about everything. Their curiosity is one of the most valuable starting points for them to learn about things. If we can keep their curiosity in the things around them alive, their desire to learn will stay alive, and it’s that desire to learn that educates them and which affects their education throughout their life.

Children who are curious are bound to want to find out, to know, to explore and discover. To learn. And even though you might think this is wearing sometimes, it’s extremely positive; it means your child is developing his knowledge, intelligence and his skills all the time. And he’s motivated to learn – the lack of which can be an enormous stumbling block to education in later life.

These natural opportunities stimulate learning of valuable skills all of which your child needs to develop educationally and, more important, personally. Skills and knowledge are the basis from which every child goes forward to find and live a fulfilled and productive life.

That’s why your attention to them in small everyday ways matters so much. Your attention educates.

And you need to pay the world attention too. Your interest, your interest in the world at large, in finding things out too, also has another impact. It demonstrates a positive attitude to learning. And that affects how well they learn. Both now and, importantly, later in life too.

Through the attitude you show towards learning things they will develop their own attitude towards learning things. That’s why it matters that you make your attitude to things around you one of interest and curiosity. Your attitude shows them that learning is worth it. Learning matters, that learning is exciting – even if it’s just learning how to stack beakers and watching the tower fall. It can show that learning is fascinating and has an impact – like learning how to manipulate scissors. That learning is such fun – looking at a book about dinosaurs together. That learning helps us grow – like playing a computer game and gaining skills that help us progress through the levels. That learning helps us – like learning how to do up buttons. That learning makes us feel fulfilled – like learning how to make muffins!

All these simple everyday things you show an interest in helps your child learn about his world and plays a vital role in the development of his personal education.

Learn about things together. Promote learning as worthwhile, whatever it is you’re learning about.

Some of the best ways to develop your child’s capacity to learn are the simplest. Here are a few:

Through conversations; talking together, back and forth, about whatever you’re doing is an opportunity to tell them so much. And more importantly it promotes language and communication skills, it makes them articulate, it develops vocabulary and thinking skills to name a few. Chat about what you’re doing or what you’re both going to do together and why. Explain why things are happening. Answer their why questions. Use your conversations for observation and questioning.

Making observations and posing questions; this can be easily included in your chatter. Observe what you see, point things out, bring your child’s attention to things. Like saying; ‘look at that tiny little ant.’ ‘I wonder what sort of flower that is?’ ‘Now what do we need to buy today?’ ‘What a huge lorry.’ This kind of chatter stimulates your child’s mind and that valuable curiosity about the world. Observe what people are doing and discuss why. Encourage them to ask their own questions.

Reading to them; not trying to teach them to read – just enjoying stories or non-fiction together in whatever format. Reading to them is the basis for them reading for themselves. Reading for themselves is founded in a love of stories, books and eBooks. Any time spent together enjoying books and stories in whatever format is valuable. Reading to them encourages interest in language, shows how it works, demonstrates the skills needed. It is one of the most valuable things you could be doing with your children – whatever age.

Play; it’s the foundation of a multitude of skills. Many parents don’t get how educative play is. But practical play is one of the most educative activities a child can be doing. Through play children learn about the things around them. For example they learn about the properties of things – hard, soft, liquid, solid, etc, they learn how to use things and gain hand-eye coordination skills – how scissors cut or paper folds, jugs fill and pour, things stack, etc, they gain practical skills – climbing, running, catching balls, etc. So many basic skills increase through play. Practical play is the best, play where they’re engaged using tools and materials, recycled junk, art and craft materials, pots and pans, constructional or collectable toys, toys that stimulate them to do things rather than just passively watch a screen or play a computer game. They don’t need complicated, expensive equipment – a den under the kitchen table made with an old sheet or a collection of old boxes stimulates their imagination just as much. Imagination promotes intelligent thinking. Thinking skills are essential to learning.

Through engaging them in the things you do; shopping, cooking, mending things, recycling, going places, whatever you’re doing is an opportunity to engage them, talk to them, explain, involve. It may sometimes need to be on their level, i.e. if you’re cooking give them some of their own ‘ingredients’ to play-cook with or wash plastic pots at the sink, or an old item to dismantle. But if they are involved in life they learn about life.

Physical activity is another educative activity that parents sometimes overlook. You both should be engaging in regular physical exercise anyway whether it’s walking to the shops or a play in the park and spending time outdoors. Apart from keeping fit physical activity also stimulates mental activity. Mental activity is what’s required for learning and education. Physical activity is good for your child in so many ways; it promotes self confidence, health – mental as well as physical, relaxation and sleep, makes them feel happier, helps with development – including that of the brain, increases general wellbeing.

So, in conclusion, just remember that everything you do with your child from the moment they are born, not only will build you a strong relationship, it will count towards their education too. And your child’s attitude towards their world as being something worth learning about will rub off on others. So through your attention you bestow enormous benefits not only on your child and your relationships but, via their interaction, on the wider world too.

As a mum, is there anything you could be doing more worthwhile than that!

(For more on the book; MUMHOOD How to handle it Why it matters, see the Books page or Amazon)