No Rules = No Boundaries?

If you watched Channel 4’s documentary, Feral Families on Thursday 26th October, and have never come across the ideas of positive/unconditional parenting or unschooling before, you would be forgiven for thinking that “no-rules-families” (btw, this isn’t a “thing”, no one uses this term. I have no idea why the filmmakers went with it – oh, yeah, sensationalism) have no boundaries and no discipline.

The narrator said this several times.

But I saw boundaries in the programme and I would bet my right arm that each family featured uses some form of discipline at times – it just might look completely different to the kind you would see in an authoritarian household.

Discipline has come to be synonymous with punishment.

But I would like to point out that rules are not the same as boundaries, and discipline is perfectly possible without punishment.

**This post contains affiliate links. You never pay more for anything you buy after following a link, but I may make a small commission that helps me to continue to bring you top quality content**No rules parenting, or unschooling, does not mean no boundaries or no discipline

What Are Rules and Boundaries?

Let’s check the dictionary, shall we?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “rule” as:

One of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct or procedure within a particular area of activity.

With the synonyms: regulation, ruling, directive, order, court order, act, law, by-law, statute, edict, canon, ordinance, pronouncement, mandate, command, dictate, dictum, decree, fiat, proclamation, injunction, commandment, prescription, stipulation, requirement, precept, guideline, direction.

Boundary, on the other hand, is defined as:

1.1 often boundaries A limit of something abstract, especially a subject or sphere of activity.
‘a community without class or political boundaries’

With the synonyms: dividing line, divide, division, borderline, demarcation line, line of demarcation, cut-off point, threshold, limits, parameters, bounds, outer limits, confines, extremities, barriers, thresholds.

They’re quite different, aren’t they?

They have different dictionary definitions and different real-world use too, different connotations.

I am in no way attempting to speak for any family other than my own here. If you disagree, I welcome respectful debate in the comments section. But what follows is an examination of my beliefs and the way our family works.

Unconditional Parenting

So, we parent positively, unconditionally, gently, respectfully. Pick a term. They all apply. The husbeast and I are not authoritarian by nature, well, not much. We certainly don’t believe that as parents our primary role is to rule over our children like monarchs over subjects. We don’t believe that our children are our property, we don’t own them. We believe that our children are individual humans with rights.

A revolutionary concept to some people, yes, but to us, it is simply common sense.
I really wish Feral Families had actually explored this concept properly, as I did feel it left the viewer with little better grasp of this parental philosophy than at the start. So let me try to explain what it means to parent in this way:

Far less catchy, but it might be more apt to say that families like ours avoid arbitrary rules. We tend to steer clear of the word “rules” in general because of the connotations attached. As I suggested above, the words “rules” and “boundaries” have different connotations, they feel different. To me, rules are fixed, immovable, inflexible and rigid. They are prescriptive and unresponsive.

Boundaries can change to suit changing circumstances, such as a child growing up. Boundaries are guidelines to help everybody grasp where the edges are, and within the playing field, they are free to roam.

This is the heart of our style of parenting.

We value freedom and exploration. But most importantly, we value respect. If we want our children to respect us, then we, as the adults with more life experience, must model respect by respecting our children.

It’s Not Cricket – Except When It Is

I can’t help but picture a cricket pitch (hubby will be proud to read this). Ok, so in case you aren’t familiar (hi there, American readers! I see you!) the boundary of a cricket pitch is a very long rope. It lies around the field of play and if the ball goes over it, the batting side gets extra runs (points). But it’s a rope, not a painted line. Guess what it does from time to time… it moves. It can get knocked, nudged, lifted, shifted. Got juniors playing on the field? Bring the boundaries in a bit. It makes the game fairer. They can’t be expected to hit the ball as far as the best adults in the country. Can they?

The boundary rope in cricket is much like parenting boundaries!

Do you know what else they do in cricket? The fielding team moves around. They don’t have fixed positions that they stay in for the entire innings. The bowler is planning a few short balls? He lets his teammates know so they can adjust their positions based on where the batsman is likely to end up directing the ball. There is all this flexibility in a game of cricket.

Fifteen years ago I would never have believed you if you told me that. I saw cricket as a long, boring game with TOO MANY RULES.

Well, do you know what? That’s what I think of traditional parenting now.

Do this, do that, go to bed, eat this, do it my way or the highway.

Nope, not for my kids. Giving orders, expecting compliance without taking the time to reason with or explain anything to children is utterly disrespectful of their autonomy and personhood.

I choose to respect them. I choose to give them choices and freedom. Do you know what happens when you do that? They are a) happy, and b) don’t go batshit crazy with rebellion as soon as they can.

Call me nuts, but I’d quite like my boys to have an open and trusting relationship with me when they hit their teens. I know?! Crazy, right? I actually want them to feel they can come talk to me if they have a problem.

When you have flexible, adaptable boundaries and everyone in the family understands the values (in place of rules) that you share, then you have more harmony, fewer battles, fewer upsets.

What is “Well-Behaved” Anyway?!

I’ve been told several times this week that my kids are extremely well-behaved. It’s cropped up repeatedly in a few short days for some reason. Part of me is thinking ”yeah, right now, but you’re not with them all the time! They have their moments!” Of course they do, they are kids! They have upsets, they have disagreements and they are still learning – they are kids!

Do adults never get overwhelmed by their emotions? Do adults never fall out with one another? Of course they do. But does that make them “badly behaved?” Hardly. “Bad behaviour” in adults might include: breaking the law, public drunkenness, being rude.

I’ve been pondering what is meant by the people who choose to praise my kids in this way. I’ve been reflecting on what behaviour they have seen that leads them to say this, and what behaviour they might be comparing it to in order to reach the judgement that my kids are doing it “well”.

I hope it’s safe to say that my kids have never been drunk in public (or private – stop it!), nor have they broken any laws. But I’m not sure these well-meaning adults who have been describing my kids as “well behaved” lately would be referring to these behaviours. It’s pretty typical in our culture to have expectations that children should, in public at least, behave like “well-behaved” adults.

Children are not supposed to run or make noise; or show emotions such as frustration, anger, pain or upset. Happiness and joy are acceptable, as long as they don’t get too exuberant. These things would, I presume, be considered to be “bad behaviour”, rather than drunkenness or anything too extreme.

In general, I can say that my children tend to be kind, happy and responsive (well, not so much the Monkey. He’s going through that phase when many parents resort to getting their kid’s hearing checked because they never seem to bloody hear a word you say). Is this what people mean by “well-behaved”? I think it might be.

Does this mean that the behaviour they are used to from children is very different? Are their children or grandchildren far more prone to public drunkenness than mine? *joke*

Are the children they encounter more frequently sullen? Frustrated? Defiant? Are those children parented in a more mainstream way? Yeah, they probably are (law of averages).

Discipline – The Art of Learning

So we come back around to those rules and discipline again. Do lots of rules, and punishment for breaking them, result in “well-behaved” children?

There is actually quite a bit of evidence on this, which is far beyond the scope of this blog post. But the definitive answer is “no”. You might have seen this coming. This isn’t just my kids, or one or two other families that we know of. This is widespread and backed by studies.

People who grow up with lots of rules, rewards and punishments are prone to lack solid intrinsic motivation. This means, once they are free from that restrictive household, they aren’t able to live up to the standards set by those rules etc.

Alfie Kohn cites lots of research on this in his book, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason. I highly recommend ALL parents and parents-to-be read this book. They should give it out to expectant mums when they first register with the midwife!

So, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s all well and good, but what do I do when my kid won’t put his damn shoes away if I can’t stick him on the naughty step any more?”

First of all, is it truly important that your kid picks up their shoes? How old is the kid? What’s the worst that could happen if they leave their shoes in the middle of the hall/doorway/stairs?

I picked this example because this is something we are working on with the Monkey right now. Is it truly important? Well, not in a life-or-death way, no, actually. But it is a courtesy that I think matters. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone could trip on them. He could grow up to be the kind of guy who never picks up after himself and ends up either being nagged by his partner, or alone because a string of people leave him because of his filthy habits. So yeah, I do kind of want him to just pick up his shoes and put them on the damn shoe rack, that’s what it’s there for.

He’s five, going on six. He’s definitely capable of putting his shoes away. But does he really get why he should? Not so much. He’s not thinking about what life will be like when he’s thirty. He’s just come running in from going bonkers outside. He’s running to grab a drink or flop out on the sofa to catch his breath.

Is it appropriate to punish him for this? For perfectly normal, five-year-old behaviour with absolutely no malice behind it?

Punishment is to make someone deliberately suffer in retribution for their actions.

Is that ever appropriate in a parent-child relationship?

No, in my opinion, it isn’t.

My role, as a parent, is to guide my children, to help them learn. How can I effectively lead them to learn if I am consumed with forcing them to bend to my will? How will they learn if they are never allowed to make mistakes and then seek solutions for them? To me, discipline is not about punishing my child, i.e. making them suffer, it is about giving them the opportunity to learn.

So when the Monkey leaves his shoes in the hall, what am I to do? First of all, I let him know that he has done this by saying what I see: “I see shoes lying on the floor where they could be tripped over.” Often, this is enough to get him to come back and put them away. Sometimes it isn’t. So I go to him and get down to his level and tell him that I would like him to go and put his shoes away. I remind him that in our family, we value thoughtfulness and that someone could get hurt if he leaves his shoes where they are.

That will do it, 99.99% of the time.

There is no “need” for punishment. What good would yelling do? What would it teach him?

In her book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Rebecca Eanes goes into great detail about positive discipline and about creating family values. It’s another must-read. Along with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlish. Both books are packed with practical, actionable steps to help you move away from punitive, authoritarian, “doing to” parenting, towards a more positive and “working with” style.

Feral Families?

To wrap this up, what I saw in Feral Families, were three families that focus on boundaries, rather than rules; working with, rather than doing to; and more positive and harmonious lives than many traditional families can boast.

One of the parents explained that it was important for her kids to be safe – that’s a boundary. As she said it, the baby in her arms reached for the knife she had just been using. The mother moved the knife out of reach, laughed and reiterated to the camera about safety. This clip seems to have caused a stir on the internet, but what I saw was in no way shocking, terrible or warranting social services being involved, something some ignorant buffoons with too much time on their hands have been braying for since the program aired. What is wrong with a mother moving a knife out of reach of her child?

Or perhaps viewers took issue with the toddler wandering around the picnic with a blunt pallet knife at the end of the program? This was not a knife for cutting. It was a tool with no sharp edges for serving cake. This is so far from dangerous I can’t even fathom any possible objection.

I could talk at length about allowing children autonomy and the chance to take risks, but I feel that may be another post. So I’ll leave it there for now.

Do please let me know in the comments what you thought of the programme, or of my thoughts on this subject.

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The Importance of Creativity: Feed Your Soul

You might have noticed by now that I’m pretty passionate about creativity, both for adults and kids. Creativity forms a bedrock of my family’s entire educational philosophy and is a primary reason for us choosing home education. Not to mention my chosen career of Writer!

Enjoying creativity is one thing…

But why is creativity IMPORTANT?

Aside from the fairly obvious things about creative expression being a good way to unwind and de-stress, creative writing, in particular, has some pretty impressive benefits for both adults and children. I’m going to cover a handful of them for you today.

There is oodles of research on this out there. But if dry research papers are not your bag (they’re not mine either!) then here is a handy summary.

Aids Crucial Areas of Development For Children

Expressive writing, which includes poetry, journalling and writing stories, has been proven to improve problem-solving abilities and facilitate creative thinking in different situations. This kind of lateral thinking is incredibly valuable in both personal and professional spheres. Encouraging children to engage in expressive writing now will help prepare them for their future.

In the more immediate term, creative writing gives children the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe and constructive way. Learning to manage big emotions can be challenging for children, especially if they are sensitive, as mine are. Being able to sort through their feelings by writing them down in creative forms can help them to process what’s going on in their life and feel better able to cope.

Developing the skill to express themselves also builds self-confidence in children. With so many negative messages bombarding this generation from all of the information around them, a bit of confidence in their own abilities to communicate and be themselves will be invaluable.

Picasso famously said that all children are artists. But is it inevitable that they cease to be?

Children Are Naturally Creative

It seems obvious to someone like me. But I realise it may need saying anyway.

All children are naturally creative. Think back to your own childhood, or focus on the early years of your child’s life when their imagination ran wild and free. Sometimes it didn’t serve them so well, (monsters under the bed), but how about all that time playing out stories with their toys? They are capable of creating vast worlds and complex stories spontaneously with just a few simple cues.

Some people would argue that this creativity naturally declines as a part of growing up. I disagree. I think it is a trait that needs nurturing, absolutely, but in incidences when creativity does seem to abandon children it is not because this is the natural result of maturing. Rather it is the fault of a society and education system that not only devalues creativity but is fundamentally anathema to it.

If you haven’t already watched it, I highly recommend all parents, and anyone with an interest in education watch Sir Ken Robinson’s influential Ted Talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity? This video has been viewed over 46.5 million times, all around the world, since it was published online over a decade ago.

Valuable for Mental Wellbeing In Adults

Expressive writing aids organisation and planning for people who engage in it. These are important skills for both children and adults. [1]

It probably comes as no surprise to those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, but I wholeheartedly endorse this research! As someone who is somewhat keen on organisation and planning *innocent whistle* this little fact is music to my ears.

What’s more, writing poetry has been found to reduce anxiety. [2] Research from Oxford Brookes University has found that writing poems and haikus can relieve work related stress and also stimulate a better work-life balance.

Journaling or blogging can enhance mood and writing a weekly gratitude log has been found to enhance motivation and generate a more positive outlook. [3]

Writing about traumatic events has also been found to be beneficial to long-term healing. [4]

What About Getting a “Real” Job?

Well, creative writing helps with that too. One study found that engineers who were out of work found new jobs more quickly if they practised expressive writing than if they didn’t. [5]

Writing notes by hand has also been proven to improve the retention of new information, which may aid in all sorts of professional and educational endeavours. [6]

Sir Ken Robinson, creativity and education expert has wise words for us all.

It is also widely recognised now that creative thinking is one of the most valuable skills in the modern job market. The world’s problems need increasingly creative solutions and employers are valuing creativity when selecting candidates for interviews. [7]

We Ought To Be Valuing Creative Careers Anyway!

Not everyone can or wants to be an engineer, financial advisor, or doctor. Wouldn’t the world be a sad and empty place without writers, artists, musicians and dancers?

Why are we telling children not to pursue these careers?

It sort of made sense 40 years ago, when people were guaranteed a job if they went with the flow through the industrialised public education system. Well-meaning parents wanted their children to enjoy a secure future and so advised them against the perceived “high risk” arts career choices where “failure” was almost certain.

But when university graduates are no longer able to find work and the modern economy is becoming centred around self-employment and entrepreneurship, it makes far less sense to blindly funnel people towards academic subjects at the expense of those that stand a higher chance of being a) useful and b) fulfilling.

I absolutely love this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, on Your Elusive Creative Genius. It’s definitely food for thought.

Find Your Passion

I write novels, I blog and keep a journal. I found my passion.

  • What is your passion?
  • What were you born to do?
  • Are you doing it?
  • What about your children?
  • Do they want to write and create?
  • How can you help them?

First of all, model what it looks like to follow your passion and express your creativity.

Then nurture theirs. Give them space to create without criticism. Give them access to learning opportunities that will enhance their creativity.

If you’re looking for a creative writing program for your child, then you could always check out my online course, Fun and Ink *shameless plug alert*. I help young people learn how to write fantastic stories that they feel proud to share with other people.

Whatever your child’s creative passion, you can help them to flourish.

What are your thoughts? Have you found creative or expressive writing to be beneficial in your own life? Do you have a child who loves telling stories? Let me know in the comments.

Creative Writing has enormous benefits to both children and adults.

Top 5 Summer Activities for Kids

Beating the boredom over the long summer can be a challenge for some parents. I promise you are not alone! The lure of unlimited screen time can easily lead to weeks of lethargy and inactivity for a lot of kids. It’s understandable, parents need to work and get things done and the kids may be wiped out after a hard school year.

top 5 summer kids activities water blob, sprinkler, chalk, squirt gun painting

If like us, you home educate and don’t especially observe term times, it can still be tricky to get through the summer. Many home ed activities do take a break until September, and the higher crowds at parks, museums, the beach and so on, can sometimes result in home educators feeling trapped at home in order to avoid those crowds. I jokingly refer to school holidays as hibernation time for our family! After all, why brave the crowds on a Saturday in August when we can go any other time and enjoy a bit more peace and space?

If you’re stuck for ideas on how to keep the kids entertained at home this summer, these are my top suggestions.

This post contains affiliate links. You never pay more, but I may make a small commission, which helps to pay for more content you love here on the blog. Thanks 🙂

  1. The Water Blob!

Seriously, this is so cool! On a hot day, getting outside and making the most of the rare British sunshine is a must. The water blob is basically thick plastic, sealed at the edges and filled with water. This outdoor water bed-come-trampoline-come-slip-and-slide is fun for the whole family.

The above video shows exactly how to make it, including adding food colouring to make it bright. You can also put these battery powered LED lights or outdoor rope lights underneath to light it up at night!

2. Spray Painting

Not the graffiti kind. Take a water gun, fill it with watercolour paint, or water mixed with food colouring. Pin up some sheets of paper and let the kids go wild! It’s a chance to coax them into being creative when they might not otherwise want to be. I first came across the idea on Fireflies and Mudpies.

3. Pavement Chalk Art

pavement sidewalk chalk kids street art

In a similar vein to the spray painting, chalk gets kids outside and expressing their artistic side, all while playing and having fun. I remember countless days playing hopscotch and drawing on the paving in mine and my friends’ gardens. Let your kids’ imaginations run free with this open invitation to create and play.

4. DIY Sprinkler System

Fantastic Fun and Learning has this terrific list of home made sprinklers, from simple to elaborate. You can turn your garden into a full on water park if you’re feeling ambitious and crafty! That should keep the kids entertained for a whole afternoon. But if quick and simple is the order of the day, then try this water bottle sprinkler idea by Housing A Forest. Take an empty plastic bottle, pierce holes in it, tape a hose to the neck and turn on the tap! You can as easily use a skewer rather than a drill to make the holes.

5. Writing or Journalling

If the weather isn’t so great, or if it’s too hot to be outside for long, then having a few indoor activities to fall back on is a good idea. Summer is a great time to get kids journalling. Invite them to write a little about their day, their hopes and dreams or try their hand at creative writing. This epic list of summer writing prompts is sure to keep them busy.

Your child could also try scrapbooking and save their favourite memories from the summer along with doodles, notes, photos and stickers.

The options are endless, but hopefully, these ideas have given you somewhere to start. Check out my Pinterest boards for more ideas!

Unschooling – Why We Don’t Need Holidays

We’re an unschooling family.

With the schools breaking up for the summer, it seemed like the right time to talk about the fact that we don’t take a “school” holiday. There a lot of myths around home education, one of which being that we have to follow school terms. We don’t!

home education homeschooling taking vacations, we don't need holidays

What Is Unschooling?

There are a lot of special terms, or jargon, around education. So let’s just get this one out of the way. I described us as an “unschooling family”. What on earth does that even mean?!

Unschooling is an educational philosophy or style based on the principle that children have an innate curiosity and desire to learn and that traditional schooling actually damages this. The idea is that when children are allowed to direct their own education, they will gladly learn anything they are interested in, and crucially, retain the information far better than they do if they are force fed information.

When children come willingly to a topic, they genuinely want to know all they can and they will absorb the information, or develop the skill, with no need to be “taught” by someone else. They can acquire the information through a variety of sources, and it is the parent’s role to provide access to those sources.

No limits are placed on education, or no arbitrary ones, at least. We don’t follow a schedule, or have a bell that tells us “that’s enough maths, time for geography”. If they want to spend four hours measuring things, they can do so. If they want to obsess about dinosaurs for eighteen months, they can do so. This actually happened. The four hours measuring never did, that was just an extreme example to illustrate the point.

Educational Value in Everything

Those eighteen months where all the Munchkin and the Bean were interested in was dinosaurs were AMAZING. The level of obsession was a bit intimidating, sure, but they came through it with encyclopaedic knowledge.

We read books, looked at pictures, watched videos, did volcano experiments. They learned so much about the history of the planet, geology, palaeontology, fossilisation, and reproduction! Not to mention special effects in filmmaking.

That knowledge has stuck with them. The Munchkin is now reading, totally self-taught, and can confidently read words like “Carnotaurus”, “Diplodocus” and “Tyrannosaurus”.

Children are learning all the time, so by not placing limits on their learning, we don’t ever prevent them from learning something. That would damage their relationship with education, put them off, or hold them back. Likewise, we don’t insist on them learning anything.

We appreciate that learning is lifelong, they do not have to cram everything they will ever need to know into a fixed time frame. If there is something they need to know, according to their needs, not some prescribed idea imposed on them, they will learn it.

As they go through life, they may decide they need to know how to run a business, or bake a cake, or fix a car, or design a web page. Once they decide, they will know how to find out. That is the central ethos behind unschooling: ensure they love learning and know how to learn. Then they’ll be set for life.

We have never forced numeracy or literacy. Both of them are particularly attuned with numbers. We talk about maths all the time, we explain principles, we illustrate with examples – when they ask questions. As a result, the Munchkin has a profound grasp of the theory of mathematics. So he can figure out the answer to any sum he needs. He understands the principles. If we had drilled him in his times tables and made him learn by rote, I don’t believe he would a) love maths the way he does, or b) understand it.

Likewise with reading. I’m a writer and hubby is an avid reader, so this is super important to us. I was adamant that our children would love stories. I never wanted to put them off reading or writing. So there is no pressure to do either. The Munchkin is 8 now (yikes!) and has been read to almost every day of his life. Our home is filled with books and he sees his parents and grandparents reading all the time. In his own time, in his own way, he has learned to read.

It really only clicked this year, but I wasn’t worried because I knew that this is really common. That when children are given the space to direct their own education, they typically learn to read when they are ready, sometime between 6 and 10 years old.

Our education system pushes reading at ever younger ages. It was bad enough that four-year-olds were having to do reading home work. I hear now that some preschools are forcing toddlers into phonics lessons at two or three years old (parents talking in Facebook groups, I wish I could cite a source as I find this really shocking). To me, this is madness and the only certain outcome is a generation of people who, at best, tolerate reading when they must, at worst, despise it!

Learning While Living

Unschooling families don’t divide up learning from living. Education isn’t something that happens Monday to Friday, from 9 am until 3 pm. Learning happens all the time. When a child isn’t squashed into a time table, they are open to learning from all sorts of activities, at any time they are awake! Their brain even goes on processing information while the child is asleep.

We don’t have a “school room” or “learning area”, because of this basic philosophy. We don’t need to sit at a desk to learn. Really, home education is a bit of a misnomer. A great deal of our education happens outside the home. It happens at the park, in the woods, at museums, at the cinema, at friends’ houses. It happens in the car on our way places, around the table in a cafe.

We don’t follow an educational schedule and we don’t have term times and holidays.

Because learning is not separate from life, and because education is not a negative thing; hard work and unenjoyable; our kids don’t take breaks from it. They don’t get exhausted from needing to focus for six hours a day. They don’t need down time to just watch cartoons – they can watch cartoons whenever they like! They often choose to do other things, but even cartoons can provide learning opportunities.

I was once asked by a well meaning relative if I gave the Munchkin time off for the summer. This was when he was 4. I was so stunned by the question that I don’t think I gave a very good answer.

So let me say now what I wish I had said then:

He’s four. He plays all day, every day, enjoying his childhood. We don’t do sit-down, formal work. So no, I don’t “give him time off”. Time off from what? Being a happy, engaged child? No, I don’t. He is free to be that all the time, all year round.

He may be eight now, but the same is basically true. The Bean is five, so yeah, the above is totally on point for him.

freedom

We enjoy an enormous amount of freedom and I want my children to truly appreciate that.

When I say we don’t take holidays, I don’t mean that we don’t go away anywhere. We travel! We love to travel. But do we go to top tourist destinations in August? Er… no. We don’t. We avoid doing that deliberately!

One huge advantage to home educating is that we are free to travel all year round, whenever we like. We can take advantage of off-peak travel deals, saving us a lot of money! We can also pick quieter times, and avoid big crowds. We don’t have a school to answer to (or fines to pay) if we go off to the USA for three weeks.

Taking a “holiday” or “vacation” is a chance to get away from home and do different things, but the kids don’t “need” to do this in order to relax or get away from school stress.

Also, really crucially, because of our belief that learning is always happening, we totally acknowledge that there is a lot to be learned from travelling. Contrary to what the schools seem to be saying – that if you are on holiday, your child will fall behind because they need to be at a desk being forced to learn during set hours!

Some of it is obvious; visits to Rome or Athens or Egypt are obviously going to be enormously educational. History, culture, geography, art, architecture, politics, archaeology, all without really trying. But then there are the more subtle things, like using another currency, speaking and reading another language, coping with a different climate, entertaining oneself on a plane. These are all important skills.

Being part of the wider world, grasping globalism, understanding cultural differences; being shut in a school room simply doesn’t allow this sort of education to happen.

educational freedom, creativity, outdoors, learning through living

I hope this post clears up any misconceptions you may have had. I hope you like what you’ve read and have a greater understanding of unschooling.

What are your thoughts? Is this something you would like for your family? Do you disagree with this approach? Polite debate is always welcome 😉

Does the Classroom Really Prepare Kids for Real Life?

This week an interesting article came to my attention. Written by an American school teacher in North Carolina, Anthony Johnson, it details how he creates a year long real world simulation for his fifth grade students. His results are insightful, and not remotely surprising to most British home educators. Many of us are, either intentionally or by result of trial and error, practicing one of a range of similar approaches with our children.
does classroom prepare kids for real life?

Johnson’s “simulation of adulthood” provides his students with “an interactive city where all projects intertwine to create an ecosystem of businesses and homes.” While I’m sure there are home educators who follow the National Curriculum, or other structured systems broken down by subject, it seems that the vast majority of us do not. Rather, we take a holistic approach, nurturing the whole of the child’s natural curiosity and facilitating an education that is more natural. The world isn’t neatly divided into categories that are unconnected. One thing links to another, and another. Economics, housing, health, culture, art, city planning, gardening… all are connected.

This is also how our brains work. Thoughts are not isolated. One leads to another, sometimes seemingly totally unconnected thoughts will surface in unexpected ways due to subconscious connections.

For many home educators, this is the ultimate benefit of this lifestyle choice: our children are free to follow their thought processes through to completion, which is ultimately more satisfying and learning is enjoyable and memorable.

Johnson has found that the relevancy of his simulation, which he calls “Johnsonville”, has an overwhelmingly positive effect on his students. Because they can relate their classes to the real world, to events in their own lives and those of their parents, such as finding a home, paying for it, doing a job, managing projects and so on, they remember the content of their lessons much more effectively. As a result, their test scores are well above average. The average for his school on the state science exam is 58%, while his class averages 85%.

His students are in control and have freedom to explore different elements at their own pace. He facilitates, rather than teaches, exactly as many home educators do. I remember once someone suggested I go into teaching. I grimaced and gave a firm reply in the negative. She was surprised “but you teach your own!”

“No, I don’t. I parent them. I’m a parent, I facilitate their education, sure, but I am NOT a teacher.”

This was a number of years ago, and while nothing has changed at home, as it happens, I do now “teach” a creative writing group for other home educated kids. But I strive to be a facilitator there too, giving the group discussion points and room to be creative. But I no longer shrink away from the mantle of “teacher” the way I once did.

Reading Johnson’s article, as I said, there were no surprises. I felt a great deal of agreement with his approach and there were a few “well, duh” moments, where home educators have known these things for a long time. Project based learning is extremely popular among British home educating families. Children direct their own learning, choosing what topics interest them, and parents give their child/ren opportunities to explore that topic until they exhaust it and move on to something else. We are not constrained by an arbitrary bell that tells us to switch from English to Maths. We don’t have a limited number of hours in the week in which to cover everything the National Curriculum demands of us, for no good reason.

creativity, education

While Johnson’s approach is rare in state funded schools, on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is certainly a vast improvement on standard classroom offerings, it is still a simulation. Its benefits are therefore limited too. For some of us, education is not separate from life at all, it is part of it, maybe even the ultimate purpose of life itself. We don’t separate learning from living. Our children don’t “play” at being adults… well, they do if they choose to, but they aren’t experiencing a simulated real world within a controlled environment, they are actually living real life all day every day.

For instance, my eldest is keen to be a YouTuber. He has played at making his own videos over and over again. He now has his own channel, for real, and is in the process of planning out the series he wants to produce. He will be filming the videos, learning to edit and upload them, how to add graphics and animations, music and other elements. He will experience publicising his channel and connecting with other kids who have their own channels. It’s all real, and it all prepares him for independence. As his parent, I obviously take his safety online seriously and will help him find the resources he needs, but it is his project to run with.

When people raise their concern that home education may be a barrier to anything, especially “socialisation”, I have to stop myself from laughing. People’s misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than being segregated from society in the artificial construct of school, my children are in the world, interacting with a mix of people they simply wouldn’t if they were in school. They get to socialise with people of all ages, in a range of situations, with varying degrees of closeness. My children get to choose when they want to see friends, and when they need alone time to recharge (as introverts, this freedom is invaluable to the three of us). They are developing genuine relationships based on mutual interests, rather than the forced association that is so often the case in the classroom.

This isn’t to say that school children don’t form real, strong friendships, of course they do. I have a few friends now who I was at school with. We see each other a few times a year to catch up. Some children thrive socially at school. But not attending school isn’t the barrier to friendship that many seem to think it is. What often seems to be the case when you dig a little deeper with people who believe the socialisation myth, is that what they were really thinking of was conformity and facing adversity. It’s true that home education allows children to assert their independence much more than school does. But that’s a good thing, in my opinion. I’m not interested in having children who blindly conform, I want them to be themselves.

Peer pressure and bullying are virtually non-existent, because throughout the primary years, children do the bulk of their socialising in the company of adults, who are on hand to iron out disagreements before they escalate. Families then have the freedom to choose more carefully who they spend time with. If bullying does crop up, the two families can easily avoid one another. In my experience, and that of a huge number of home educating families, schools are utterly incapable of handling bullying. Often, the bully is not dealt with at all, and the victim must continue to endure being in the bully’s presence every day.

In the real world, in adulthood, we have a stronger word for this: abuse. Or harassment. Both are illegal and treated seriously. If either occurs in the workplace there are usually systems in place to handle it. Adults can often adjust their lives to remove the abuser from daily life. This can be incredibly difficult at times, and many victims need support, but society as a whole does not condone this behaviour. Yet in children it is accepted, sometimes even held up as a rite of passage required in order to “toughen up” a young person to prepare them for “real life”.

But is that what happens? Not in my experience. Most often, victims of childhood peer abuse are psychologically traumatised by it and this then leads to problems in their adult lives. Current research agrees with me.

Anthony Johnson’s approach is truly commendable, and I applaud him for it. But I can’t help thinking how lucky we are to have another choice.

We aren’t simulating life, we are living it.

educational freedom, creativity, outdoors, learning through living

 

For more information on different home education approaches, please check out the following links.

http://www.educationotherwise.net/

http://eclectic-homeschool.com/what-kind-of-homeschooler-are-you/

Working With NOT Doing To

This is a topic I have been meaning to blog about for a few weeks now, but a discussion on Facebook this morning has nudged me to grab the little window I have while the Bean sleeps. As parents, we all strive to do the best we can for our children, there are a few different theories about exactly what is “best” and parents from differing schools of thought can have quite passionate disagreements on it. What the hubby and I feel is best is unconditional and attachment parenting. Let me preface this with the confession that we are not perfect, we often do not live up to our parenting ideals. We lose tempers and shout, we say things to the Munchkin that we regret and we spend many evenings despairing about things that have happened. But we chalk it up to experience and promise to try harder.

According to Alfie Kohn, there is ample research to show that children develop best into independent, free-thinking, compassionate and hard working adults if they have parents who give them unconditional love, who steer clear of punishments and rewards and practice “working with” rather than “doing to” parenting.

“Working with” parenting includes giving your child control over their own life, with appropriate limits, of course; so for example, allowing your child to choose their own clothes each day and dress themselves, to the best of their ability! Parents aiming to work with their children might also be sure to give explanations for boundaries, rather than expecting them to be adhered to without question. You won’t hear a working with parent saying “Because I said so!” Negotiation and compromise feature heavily in the working with household. Instead of rewards and praise, a working with parent encourages their child with descriptive responses, such as “I see you doing forward rolls, you really controlled your body and landed just where you meant to.” This gives the child the opportunity to evaluate their performance for themselves and decide how they feel about it. The child might respond with “Yeah, but I was a bit wobbly as I stood up, let me have another go,” or perhaps “Actually, it made me dizzy, I think I’ll stop now.” They learn to motivate themselves and take pleasure and pride in their achievements and to recognise their own limits.

Discipline“Doing to” parenting consists of using punishments and rewards, forcing children to behave in desirable ways. The foundation of this type of parenting is the belief that behaviour is more important than understanding. So for example, a doing to parent might force their child to apologise for accidentally hurting another child, with no regard for whether their child actually is sorry or not. When a child does not immediately follow the parental rules, a doing to parent might confiscate a favourite toy, force the child to isolate themselves for a period of time (time out) or possibly even use physical force, such as smacking. On the flip side, a doing to parent may use rewards and praise as well as, or instead of punishment. Rewards might be very material, such as food or toys, or they might be in the form of a sticker chart. Praise is the verbal reward system and is also quite damaging. Dishing out “good job”s or “well done”s is Pavlovian, pure and simple, it is behavioural conditioning. It teaches children to do something solely for the treat, like a good little puppy. This means that when the reward is no longer offered the child is not motivated to do the task. Alfie Kohn references many studies that have found this result in his book Unconditional Parenting.

Conditional, or doing to parenting hinges on the belief that children are inherently wayward and bad. How many times have you heard phrases such as “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”, “You’re making a rod for your own back” and so on? These comments come from a very dark view of human nature, one that asserts that children must be trained to behave in acceptable ways through systematic use of punishments and rewards. Bad behaviour must be discouraged through punitive measures and good behaviour must be encouraged with rewards; because no normal child could possibly be capable of doing the right thing for its own sake and all will be utterly selfish without punishments to keep them in check.

I don’t subscribe to this view at all. I have seen for myself how kind, well mannered and thoughtful the Munchkin can be and we have never forced him to say sorry, please or thank you. We have never put him on a “naughty step” or told him to do as he is told with no explanation. Today he pushed over the Bean in a scramble to get trains out of the toy box, I swooped in and picked up the Bean as he was very upset. The Munchkin was told, sternly, that he isn’t to push his brother over because he could get hurt just like this. The Munchkin took himself off for a minute and came back to us looking very solemn and said “I want to say sorry to him.” And he did, and gave his baby brother a cuddle.

time-outI’m not going to sugar coat things. Does the Munchkin sometimes (often?!) refuse to eat his nutritious home-cooked dinner because he would rather eat chicken nuggets? Yes! Does he get in a strop over the slightest thing and refuse to help tidy his toys away at the end of the day? Yes! Sometimes it does not matter what we do or say, he will not be cooperative and we find ourselves tearing our hair out in frustration. It is so tempting to yell, to punish him in some way. In truth, that would be the easy option. It is easy and on some level satisfying to yell “Go to your room!” in those situations. Would this be the lazy option? Sometimes, yes. Though I think most parents don’t realise that there is an alternative way, all they know is what they experienced as children and what well meaning friends, family and strangers are telling them to do, as well as what they see on TV or read in baby training manuals. Working with parenting is certainly not the easy option. It is so hard to push aside your own anger and pull your stubborn child into a loving hug instead of yelling. It is utterly exhausting to repeat the explanations for the dozenth time in 48 hours.

But he is three.

This is what I tell myself when I have to remove myself from the room in order to avoid shouting. I take a moment to breathe deeply and compose myself and I say to myself “He is only three”. When I am calm I can go back, give him a big hug and explain to him gently why I would like him to do, or not do something. Even if I just had to explain the same thing five minutes previously. Because he is three and he is still learning. It would be unreasonable of me to expect him to be able to control every impulse, to totally understand and have mastered his anger, jealousy and fatigue.

What about as children get older? Do punishments and rewards become necessary then? How about in schools? Do teachers need to use these tools in order to control their classrooms and get through the curriculum?

Well, I believe that as children get older unconditional love becomes more and more important because they become much more able to comprehend consequences and subtle behaviours. For a fantastic and thorough exploration of communicating with children of all ages, I highly recommend the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I hope that my teenage sons will be able to come to me or their dad if they are being bullied, or have feelings for someone that they need help understanding, or any other problem they may have. Knowing that they are truly accepted by us, no matter what they do or feel will be the foundation for open and honest communication. If they feel that they will only be valued or respected if they behave a certain way they will be less likely to come to us with the difficult problems life can throw at us.

As for schools, well that would be a whole other blog post, I fear. I strongly believe that schools can employ working with principles and some alternative models of education do so very effectively, such as Steiner and Montessori. However, very few, if any, state schools even try to do this. The “better” schools may steer clear of punishments as best they can, but they seem to feel the need to compensate for this with praise and rewards. Alfie Kohn has written books and run seminars for educational professionals, but I haven’t read any of this work. I assume it is of the same high standard as his Unconditional Parenting book and gives teachers and school administrators the knowledge and inspiration to change to a working with model. However, this is difficult within the current state system here in the UK as schools have little autonomy and are inspected by a governing body (OFSTED) that is unsympathetic to alternative models of child care and education.

school-disciplineI feel that sending a child to a “doing to” school can undo a lot, if not all of the good work that “working with” parents are doing at home. I would hope that children would still feel secure in their parents’ unconditional love and that this would be a good enough springboard for them to go into adulthood with all of the things parents wish for their children. However, I fear that detentions and A grades would be the undoing of most children from unconditional homes. My parents raised me in a pretty unconditional manner, but I can’t honestly say that I don’t see in myself the same weaknesses that Alfie Kohn talks about and I attribute this to the schools I attended. I think it is important for schools and parents to work together with children, to have the same foundations and approaches, in order for children to truly thrive. The alternative, and the one we are intending to pursue is to home educate. Though we have applied for a place at a couple of local schools and are crossing our fingers that our local Montessori or Steiner schools get free school status, just to keep our options open. If the Munchkin did end up at the local state school, well, we’ll be buying the principal a few books to read over the summer 😉

Yuletide Greetings

It’s almost upon us, Yule, or the Winter Solstice. It falls upon the 22nd December this year and is my favourite time of year. For those in the southern hemisphere it is of course, the summer solstice, so I’m speaking about the seasonal festival here in the northern hemisphere.

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, there is a good, basic explanation of the science here. Yule is an ancient Scandinavian festival that centres on fertility for the coming spring. The ancient Romans celebrated the solstice and called their 7 day festival Saturnalia, after the god Saturn. Solstice customs across Europe were absorbed into Christianity as it spread across the continent and many of the practices can be recognised in modern Christmas celebrations.

Yule has been adapted by modern pagans, of various paths, and features as one of eight annual sabbats. To me, it is a family festival, a time to slow down and be together, to shelter from the winter and celebrate the shortest day and the return of the sun as the days will only get longer from here on (until June, anyway!). We tend to celebrate on Christmas day with our families, as that’s the whole point of the festival for us, but I always look forward to the solstice itself as a turning point in the year and try to find a few moments to appreciate the wonder of the turning of the earth, the change in seasons and the promise of longer days.

As the Munchkin gets older we will incorporate this, and the other seasonal festivals, into our home education activities, chiefly through craft projects. There are hundreds of ideas online for decorations to make with young children at this time of year and recipes to cook and bake together. This year he is still a bit young and really not interested in crafts yet, he hates getting paint or glue on his hands! I took him to a lovely little café last week where you can buy plain pieces of pottery and sit and paint them while you enjoy a drink and bit of cake. They glaze it and fire it in the kiln for you to collect later. The Munchkin was a bit resistant and I did most of the work, but by the end he was at least happy to sit on my lap and pick what colours I should use and what words I should write. I can’t say exactly what we made at this point, but I will take photos after we exchange presents 😉

However you celebrate this time of year, many very happy returns.