Tag Archive | parenting

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.

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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)

Who’s not good enough?

How many of you had the feeling growing up that you were not good enough? Especially with relation to your achievements

From an exhibition by Ann Bellamy called ‘Just Be Normal: Memoirs of a Dissenting Child’

educationally?

Answers in the comments below please!

I certainly did.

Being ‘good enough’ as a kid was an impossible task. And the painful feeling associated with it returned when I saw this piece of artwork in an exhibition recently, about being good enough.

Making people feel not good enough is a dangerous mistake we easily fall prey to as we raise and educate our kids.

On the one hand we want to be encouraging and supportive in helping them achieve. On the other hand we don’t want to be complacent about what can be achieved by over praising or staying still. I know there was a point in our home educating years where I was suddenly mindful of the fact that through my constant encouragement towards taking things further, I was inadvertently suggesting that the point which had been reached was never enough!

This is somewhere between a stick and a hard place I fear! I hope I changed.

The important thing is, when we are raising and facilitating our kids learning and growing, to remember that;

the children are already perfect, whole and complete, in the moment.

This does not mean that there is no room for advancement, or that there is not a journey of learning and growing to enjoy. It’s just means that no one is ‘not good enough’ yet without.

And we also have to be careful not to make educating in itself something judgemental and something that suggests the kids are not good enough without.

Of course, you have to define ‘education’! Something I’ve talked about before. (I’ve discussed this in numerous posts, examples here and here and in the last chapter of my ‘Home Education Notebook‘) I know that many make the mistake of equating education with qualification only. So people without qualification can end up feeling ‘not good enough’ if they didn’t go down that route. Hopefully, we are beginning to place that in a different perspective now as we’re recognising that over-qualification has often meant the lack of more important life-skills.

What we want to nurture is a feeling of optimism and potential for change within our learners that comes from an understanding of their many talents, encourage their openness to learning and growing and opportunity, within the context of knowing themselves, what they want, how achieving those things is fulfilling and worthwhile.

And that being ‘good enough’ in other people’s eyes – for that’s what we’re talking about here – bears no relation to their education whatsoever!

 

Don’t be afraid to make your parenting your own

We all know there are all sorts of ways to parent.

But so may of us get sucked into a crowd-pleasing way without being aware of it. Seduced by the latest fad, the latest trend, the latest style. With keeping up – whatever that is – scared we’re missing out or even worse; denying our kids something important.

So parents can end up flowing along like sheep with the rest of the flock without deciding independently what’s best for their own family and their own family circumstances.

And then we get scared of independently choosing alternatives. This is how many people are put off home education, for example.

‘Alternative’!?

Some folks are scared of even the word! It suggests something a bit drop-out-ish (although I’d argue – what’s wrong with that?) And scared of a path that takes them away from all the other sheep.

But what these people who are choosing alternative approaches to raising their family are really doing is choosing to think for themselves and I admire that. Because people choosing alternatives are thinking. And what’s wrong with the deep thought or philosophising about how to raise the kids, in contrast to not thinking about it or just following others regardless of what’s working well or not? What’s ethical or not. What’s humane or not?

We need to give those who choose ‘alternatives’ deeply considered respect.

I love to read about families who are choosing alternatives, whether that’s parenting, educating, living together, lifestyles. They’re totally inspiring. I read about families who are choosing an alternative way of educating. I read about families who travel having sold the house. I read about families on a personal mission. And I’m in awe of people making these independent choices. They have truly chosen to make their parenting their own.

I often read statements about how much it takes to raise a child and they are scary – and manipulative. But underneath these are just other people’s ideas. They are not always exact.

In contrast, there’s also the idea that happy, healthy, educated, intelligent children can be raised on very little cash. All it takes is an investment of time, energy and love. We need money to put a roof over our heads, buy the food and facilities, but we don’t need the latest game, the latest must have, or Jack Wills gear! Some families are breaking away from that consumerist (and unethical) culture (perpetuated in schools) and choosing to educate their kids with other values. On very little.

For we do not have to ‘buy’ education. We may need an income and a different kind of daily expenditure, but it is relationships, stimulating experience, conversation and interactions that educate as much as curriculum and classrooms do.

However, we have to be brave. We have to swim against the tide of convention in order to make our parenting our own. We have to choose to be ‘alternative’ if that’s what you want to call it.

But did you ever consider what alternative really means? Alternative means diversification – and that is good. It’s diversification that Darwin says is needed to ensure the perpetuation of our species.

Diversification IS what alternative is, is what makes our humanity progress and has done so since its evolution.

So let’s show some respect for ‘alternative’. For people who choose diverse paths.

By making your parenting your own, by choosing diverse approaches to raising your kids, you are helping that process. By making your own decisions about what your children really need, both in their education and their life which are inextricably linked, you are teaching them also how to think beyond convention, think independently, and consequently make their own decisions when their turn comes.

And you are showing them how to brave.

Good on you all!

How can you home educate if you’re not a teacher?

This question comes up so often I thought it might be helpful to post this chapter from ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ in answer.

As you probably know I did start my career in education in the classroom, but the trouble with folks knowing I was once a teacher is that, firstly, it makes them inclined to think that it was easy for me because I’d know what I should be doing. Laughable! And secondly, it makes people think that teaching is required for you to Home Educate and that if you’re not teachers you couldn’t educate anyone.

Absolutely not true!

During my time as a teacher I learnt how to do teacherish things by copying other teachers doing teacherish things, which were not always very nurturing or inspiring things, but what they had to do in order to get through what they had to teach and keep control over some children who were challenging. I’m not proud to admit that I wielded my power over the children too, pushed them towards expected outcomes en masse as I was expected to do. I had no regard for whether it was right or not, or for the individuals within that mass.

I’m ashamed of that now – but like many young green teachers I wasn’t experienced enough to know how else to do it.

Gradually, as I gained in confidence as a person rather than a pawn in an institution, I began to have severe misgivings about what was done to children in schools under the guise of educating them. I realised that much of what children have to do in schools is not worthwhile, not helpful, not healthy even, so it perhaps contributed to my confidence when home schooling, in feeling that our children were better off out of school than in it.

Other than that, much of what I learned when I was teaching I had to unlearn when I started to Home Educate.

Much of my thinking was governed by other teachers at that time. Teachers who believed that children had to be taught in order to learn anything – not true. Teachers who believed that unpleasant forms of coercion (like sarcasm for example) were acceptable ways to get children to learn – they’re not. Teachers who believed that some children were ‘no-hopers’ and un-teachable – very sad. Teachers who had been forced to believe that endless writing, testing, homework, academic exercises and exams were what constituted an education. It isn’t.

There were brilliant teachers too – you will have come across them. But sadly it’s often the less pleasant ones that have the biggest effect. And it was that type of ingrained thinking I had to unlearn, as none of it need apply to Home Education. It is very hard to break bad habits, but I had some serious habits to unlearn.

For to Home Educate successfully I did not need a ‘teacherish’ relationship with my children.

In order to learn children just need a caring, interested, mature mentor. But that person doesn’t have to be a teacher. Teachers aren’t required for parents to successfully Home Educate.

Having been a teacher did not make it any easier for me to know what I should be doing as a Home Educator, except that perhaps I’d already started to think about education generally. But once released from systemised schooling the education you can give your children is open to an enormous range of options. And many of those decisions are as much to do with parenting as teaching and I came from the same starting point as any other parent on that one – I knew zilch!

The things I saw when I was teaching in schools made me start to question. And I continued to question throughout. Should we learn this or shall we learn that? What’s an interesting way to learn it? How best can my children learn? What are their needs now and what suits them best?

These are the questions all Home Educators need to ask whether they are teachers or not. And the answers really have no relevance to what teachers are doing in schools unless you want them to. They have no relevance to whether you are a teacher or not. The answers will not come any easier if you’re a ‘trained’ teacher because all the answers are personal to your child. Just like education should be.

So not being a teacher doesn’t make you less well equipped to Home Educate than being one.

The thing that makes you well equipped to educate your children is to do with caring rather than to do with teaching. It is being a parent who’s prepared to learn a little too.

If we think back to when our children are small, pre-school, we manage to teach them – or rather to develop in them – an enormous number of skills. They learn with our help to walk, talk, use the loo, feed themselves, dress themselves, probably use the computer too…all manner of things. We show them the things around them, we show them how to do things, and we show them the wider world. We are already giving them information and showing them how to apply it.

Home Educating your child is nothing more than an extension of that.

As a parent you have already started encouraging your child to develop skills and acquire knowledge. That’s all education is. Education is the continuing process of encouraging your child to learn about the world, how they fit into it, how to relate to people, as you no doubt already have done.

There is no reason why you cannot go on doing that without any ‘teaching training’ at all. The skills and knowledge children need may become a little more challenging, sophisticated, complicated, but then, parenting is already challenging and you managed it so far. You can manage Home Educating. You can always find help with the bits you can’t. You can learn together – it sets a great example. Nearly everything – including support, is only a bit of research or networking away.

Teachers and teaching in the way that we normally understand them are not necessary to Home Educate. In fact may eventually become redundant in the mainstream, who knows!

All you need to be is a caring, interested, questioning, engaged parent, who is also willing to learn, which is probably what you already are, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

And what a great example you will be setting as such!

(Read the full chapter – and more tips and ideas – in the book. It’s on offer at Eyrie Press.)