Tag Archive | parenting

Look and Learn!

Did anyone here ever get to see the magazine for children; ‘Look and Learn’ or are you all too young?

I remember my brothers having it and being absorbed by the pictures, images being an expensive medium you didn’t get to see much back in the day before the Web and image rich media like Instagram and Pinterest.

I got a memory jog when copies of it came up on EBay. They look really retro now. But it was fab to have something so illustrated when books where so expensive.

And it’s also struck me what a fabulous title and approach to learning it was; looking and learning.

Looking, as in observation, is an integral part of becoming educated. Not that schools have that much time for this activity. But parents and home educators do.

We’re actually quite bad at observation, I think. It’s not something that we do much. Looking at things intently has had a poor reputation, not to mention stigmas attached like Nerds who do plane spotting or Twitching!

This needs changing, for observation is the foundation of science; of learning and education. The magazine got it right when they called it ‘Look and Learn’.

Encouraging children to look – really look at the world around them – initiates all kinds of responses and learning opportunities. Whether you’re looking at things near hand in detail, looking to the wider world, looking at others and how they behave, or observing anything that you see, it creates opportunities to talk, question, wonder, maybe find out, research, and it stimulates motivation to take things further.

You could base a whole education on observation. By observing the world and how it works and finding out about it as a result, how it links to other things and what you need to do as a result is a sure foundation to becoming educated.

Look and Learn is a brilliant tag and reminder of such a simple approach to learning you can use at any time, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

So I reckon that it makes sense to give plenty of time for looking and observation. Learning is bound to be the result!

The tricky job of parenting kids who game

Did you see the Horizon programme on gaming last week; ‘Are video games really that bad?

I think the dilemma of how much children should be gaming is a concern of every parent wherever children are educated.

If they’re home educated, they have more time for and access to gaming. If they’re at school all day, and just want to game in the evenings and nothing else, the parents still have the same worry about whether the work’s being done or never getting to see the kids!

The programme raised many interesting points, many on the positive aspects of gaming and how it could be influential to mental development for both the young and the rest of us!

But of course, research and statistics can be stacked to show anything you want them to show – I’m very aware of that and so should we all be.

However, after watching this programme and another one on Panorama; ‘Could a Robot Do My Job?’ which suggested that the most valuable preparation for the world of employability were skills; technological, creative thinking and caring skills, my feeling about parenting remains the same.

That education and our parenting, and how your kids turn out, is never the result of one influence.

Decisions about gaming and technology are never taken in isolation, there are far more intangibles that come into play. For example; parenting styles and how much interaction parents have, conversations about the games and discussions about how to respond to them, or what else is on offer at the time, the home environment, the child’s personality, all play a part. And these issues affect the way our children grow, how they develop, and how they respond to the things in their lives, either educational opportunities – or gaming.

The way in which children respond to gaming and the violence that they witness there has been of huge concern. And the programme asks whether this is likely to make children themselves more violent. But as the programme points out, it is not the violence in the game that affects kids in isolation, it’s often the frustration children feel – and this can be influenced by other factors besides gaming like how much they do it and how much they get out for active play, for example – which affects what they do as a result of gaming.

Parenting children who game is no different to parenting children who do anything; it’s about maintaining a balance between all activities and aspects of their lives, having conversations about life and what is healthy and what is not, constantly being involved and keeping communication open!

Forget forever busy – learn from nature!

One of our fledglings that'll be flying thousands of miles!

One of our fledglings that’ll be flying thousands of miles!

It won’t seem right without the swallows in the sky. They’re gathering to make their epic Autumn journey.

I see them swooping about the sky as if with pure enjoyment. If you live in a city it’s more likely to be the House Martins and Swifts you see flitting around, flexing their muscles for their long migration.

Nothing marks the turning of the seasons more than the summer visitors going – people and birds! And the harvest gratefully done, the fields a little quieter for a bit, fallow and golden, the garden dropping down to seed head slumber.

I won’t be tidying the dead stuff away. I leave it for all the little creatures and insects to overwinter in a duvet of fallen leaves. They can sleep in peace and shelter.

I’ve written about this fallow time before. How these seemingly fallow times can be so developmental and we shouldn’t worry about children having fallow times too. These are as instrumental to their progress as productive times. Just because there’s nothing tangible to show for it doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in their minds. Intellect needs fallow on occasions; it’s a valuable to growth as stimulation is.

It’s the same for the parents actually. Parents, especially mums, mostly operate at high energy levels, whether running round after toddlers or finding new ways to negotiate teenhood, it’s all exhausting. Even twenty somethings can exhaust you with concerns, says she with experience!

And writing, or any creative pursuit, certainly exhausts you. You certainly need fallow times in order to recuperate some of the energy expended on a project to bring it to harvest.

So I wanted to say that whatever work you do, not to worry about fallow. It’s hard to sit and rest and cogitate in a culture that upholds forever busy. But forever busy is not the best way I’ve found, not for kids, nor parents, or for writers or workers.

All of us worry sometimes about the kids never doing anything, about us needing to constantly motivate them, about never being able to write anything again. And the guilt in doing nothing is paramount! The over emphasised work ethic that surrounds us heaps guilt on thicker than mayo on coleslaw.

But it’s best to push all that aside and enjoy a few fallow Autumn moments. For have you noticed, whilst nature’s settling into the season with a sigh, she has no guilt about lying dormant at all!

Neither should we. It’s what charges us all for future success.

Nature I find is often the best teacher. We can learn valuable lessons from her.

Searching out wild spaces for the good of the children

My friend has a wild weedy bit with overgrown trees, ivy and stumps at the bottom of her small narrow town garden. This only leaves a bit by the house in which she can have beloved flowers and plants and bit of lawn to lie upon.

A wild playground

A wild playground

This was originally left for the four boys she raised there to build dens, go hide in a jungle, hunt for creepy-crawlies, or collect snails or acorns, bits of bark or other such treasures down among the roots.

Now the boys have been replaced by four grown up young men who no longer live there and she could reclaim some of that jungle for her garden again. But both her and they still want it left, for they all feel it wouldn’t be the same without that bit of wildness to hide in. Something in their souls tell them they still need it.

She did good!

According to George Monbiot‘s book ‘Feral. Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding’, all children need this bit of wildness in which to play. And it is something that is denied most of today’s children. They are denied the innate need to explore in unstructured places in unstructured ways, as we used to. The woods, streams, logs, uncultivated fields many of us played in, provided imaginative kids with the chance to build physical skills, a connection to nature, and confidence as they improvised dens, climbing ‘frames’, had contact with mud and mini-beasts. It has now all either replicated in plastic or in controlled tarmacked and manicured environments.

It’s not the same. And it doesn’t have the same impact on our children either. Apparently the lack of freedom to play in wild places, now mostly claimed in the name of housing, agriculture, farming or misguided attempts at conservation (according to Monbiot), has been linked with the increase in disorders in children like hyperactivity or inability to concentrate. Playing among trees and plants helps settle children down where playing on concrete or indoors has the opposite effect.

It’s actually the same for me. The same for most people, I suspect, if they just recognised it.

Monbiot acknowledges the need for housing and for food and farming and battles rage constantly over the political issues which balance these against the preservation of wild spaces.

But whilst these battles and political agendas continue, the children are increasingly denied health giving opportunities to be really wild.

So us parents are going to have to work harder not only to get the children outside away from insidious indoor comforts, but also to find the wild spaces where they can return to something like their roots.

Sugar Rush

Heck – I’m shocked! I thought I ate healthily but now realise I’m consuming far too much sugar. 

It was watching Jamie Oliver’s programme Sugar Rush that shocked me into looking at my planned consumption for today.

I’d perhaps start with muesli and granola which I know contains some sugar but I was unaware of how much, especially in relation to the amount recommended we should have – no more than four teaspoons per day. It would be easy with some cereals to eat more than that in one meal! I need to re-plan.

If not salad, I might have a small sandwich or Peanut Butter on toast for lunch. Apparently, both that and the bread contain sugar. And I’d planned a vegetable curry for tonight to which I may add a little jar of Korma sauce but discovered that this too is loaded with sugar. And there was me thinking it was okay to have a Kit-Kat this afternoon because I hadn’t had any sugar today.

Think again!

I thought we ate fairly healthily in this house. But the programme has raised my awareness of the dangers of hidden sugars that we unwittingly eat, and that’s without having sugary fizzy drinks which are the worst offenders. However some ‘fruit juices’ and flavoured ‘water’ can be equally harmful if you consume a lot.

But the worst news of all is what hidden sugars are doing to the children.

We think as parents we’re doing our best by our kids encouraging a reasonable diet. But Jamie shows how these ‘hidden’ sugars are sneaking into what we thought would be healthy. And how they are damaging enough on our kids’ teeth and weight, even without giving them any added sugary treats in the form of sweets. So we need to be even more vigilant than we are.

But what is absolutely criminal is to be consciously giving them such a sugar full diet of junk food, sweets, cola and other soda drinks to the extent of what was illustrated in the programme.

Apparently one of the biggest demands for surgery on children is not the removal of tumours, organs or other consequences of terrible diseases, it is the preventable procedure required to pull out rotten teeth. How shocking is that?

And apparently there are more lower limbs removed from (mostly preventable) obesity people in later years, who have developed Type Two Diabetes from a sugar high diet, than there are from soldiers injured in combat and war.

It is a terrifying prospect. Jamie was shocked by what he found. I’m shocked.

You should watch the programme (on All4). It needs discussing with the family. And the family’s eating habits examining, plus an investigation into how much hidden sugar in processed, ready-made food you’re all eating; it’s part of their education. And the sugary drinks need keeping to a minimum and maybe some serious changes making.

Otherwise one of our family members could become one of those startling statistics.

It’s going to be quite a trial to keep my eye on what I’m eating during the day. But I am determined, for I want it to be the case that I choose when to have sugar and am not consuming it in total ignorance.

We all need to do the same both for ourselves and for our kids.

After watching Jamie’s report, how could we not?

School doesn’t always equal education!

I recently met another teacher who is now home schooling.

She’s home schooling not because she knew about teaching and thought it would be easy – being a teacher doesn’t necessarily make it so! It’s because she’s seen what goes on in school and can understand why her child is unhappy there.

She won’t be ‘teaching’ her child because she knows it isn’t always required, she’ll just facilitate her further learning. But she’s yet another someone who agrees that school is not the answer to every young person’s learning needs.

We have been sold the schooling system as the norm for so long now it has become well entrenched in our thinking about educating children. In fact it’s created a commonly accepted equation: School = Education.

Now that equation may turn out to be true in some cases, with some youngsters. But it is certainly NOT true for all. And its monopoly of our thinking has masked the fact that other things are also true.

Things like:

Other approaches = Education

Learning outside school = Education

Life Experience = Education

And it is also true that children can learn without teachers and our commonly accepted notion that teaching is required for children to learn is misleading.

Children can learn from a multitude of other people who are not teachers, parents among them. They learn by themselves. They learn through experiences. They learn through their own investigation, exploration, experimentation and research. All equally effective, often more effective because if youngsters teach themselves they are often more interested, engaged, and absorb it more readily.

Teachers in schools have to adhere to prescriptive curriculum, deliver it to crowds of kids in specific, sometimes coercive ways, for the sake of narrow inhibiting outcomes.

This is not really an education. And not the most efficient or inspirational way to learn.

Every time I meet another home educating, former teacher, I see that the number of people who understand this about schools is increasing – even among these educational professionals. (See this blog here). If they are straying away from that system because of what they see happening there, then there certainly must be cause to question it. The more we question the more we might be able to convince the powers that be that there’s a need for it to change.

And the further we can spread the idea that there’s a workable, successful and inspirational alternative to school should anyone need it.

If you’re fairly new to home schooling and want to learn more check out some of my other pages. You’ll find a wealth of inspiration and tips among the other home educators’ blogs. My two books may also help; ‘Learning Without School’ is a guide and ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is an easy to read story of our home educating life that will change the way you think about education for ever after!

The bravery of art

You might think it brave climbing on the roof to do repairs as per my last blog. But it’s not the bravest thing I do!

The bravest thing I do is putting writing out there.

If you’re one of those brave people who do it too you’ll know why.

If you’re not, you might be one of those who think it requires no courage or stamina at all and is just an excuse not to get a proper job!

However, it’s one thing creating something. That’s hard enough in itself especially if you do it day after day on your own. But it’s something harder to make it public. Especially since the majority of the public seem to think they’re qualified to criticise, even though they’ve had no direct experience of doing it themselves.

That’s a bit like home education, I’ve found. Those who have absolutely no experience of it still think they’re qualified to pass judgement.

Doing art work is a bit like raising your child. It’s something you have nurtured and protected, developed and grown with devotion and emotion and times that have cost you dear. And just like with a child, the moment of letting go, letting it out to fend for itself in the battering world, is like tearing a part of yourself off. You want to hide and lick your wounds.

Some people never manage it. Never manage to allow their children or their art work a state of independence.

To do so is immensely brave. It involves trust. It involves confidence. And it will involve taking the knocks that will sometimes be the consequence.

The thing is, no one knows what it’s like to raise your child, they’re not you, they don’t live to your circumstances, they have no understanding of your challenges. And those who never put art out into the world in whatever form; books, pictures, sculptures, films, performing, textiles, designs, whatever, have no comprehension of what that’s like either.

Or what the personal cost is in courage.

I now know both, as a parent and a writer.

Many of us know what it’s like to parent and let our children go. Equally many don’t and insult us with the term ’empty nest syndrome’. But parenting is an art form in itself, so we are all creatives. Even without home educating, when parents are extremely brave and creative in educating their children independently of others, we are all creative parents – have to be.

But less of us know what it’s like to write or paint or perform, create films or textiles or designs, and actually put it out there. This is the bit that takes the most courage.

So whatever creation you come across whether it’s by a five or a fifty year old, perhaps after reading this you could show a little compassion rather than criticism towards those who’ve done it, most particularly if you’ve never done it yourself.

And consider the bravery it takes not only to craft something, but also to share something so personally nurtured with the rest of the world.