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/

2017 So Far…

This is just a super quick post to update my fabulous readers! This year has been amazing so far and I wanted to let you know that although I haven’t posted much yet, there is soooo much coming!

2017-goals-and-planning

Bullet Journal

The big thing is that I started bullet journaling. There is going to be an epic post on this coming up very soon, so stay tuned (or hit the “follow” button!). If you don’t know what this is, very briefly, it is a planning system that turns a simple notebook into a diary, planner and journal. The key component is that you place an index at the front of the notebook, number your pages, and list everything you put in there in the index so you can find it again later. You keep to-do lists, plan for the future and track whatever you like in the book. I highly recommend you check out the Bullet Journal website and watch the intro video by Ryder Carroll, the guy who first created the concept. Then head to Pinterest and search for “bujo”….

So that’s been taking up a great deal of my attention for the last month.

Kids, Birthdays & Birth

I’ve been running creative writing workshops for local home educated kids, which I am LOVING so much and am figuring out ways to do more of that.

img_2841-2It’s been a very Minecraft-focused period for the Munchkin and the Bean, they are obsessed and learning so much. I am bowled over constantly by how creative they are becoming. The Bean also turned 5 a couple of weeks ago! How crazy is that?! Of course, he had to have a Minecraft cake, and I confirmed, yet again, that cake decorating does not come naturally to me!

I did a lot of reflecting on his birth around his birthday this year, it being the fifth anniversary of an event that completely changed my life in so many ways. You can check out my post about his incredible birth here, and the contract I used to get the lotus-caesarean here.

Coming up, I am going to be blogging about what’s going on in the midwifery world right now, with bizarre and potentially discriminatory action by the NMC.

Living Life On Purpose

A few weeks ago, I decided to set myself a couple of challenges. One is a 30 days of yoga challenge, which I am actually sticking to and loving! The other, is to stop yelling at my kids. I’m not the perfect unconditional/gentle parent, I admit that and when tensions run high, I resort to yelling. I became really aware of how frequently I raised my voice and have made a conscious effort to stop, cold turkey. No yelling at all. I have messed up twice. I’ll post a more detailed account of that, the reasons for it and how I’m handling it.

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The first page of my bullet journal

My main focus for 2017 is to live more intentionally. I’m aiming to be productive and present in the moment, not letting my time disappear with no real recollection of what I’ve been doing, which is all too easy to do as a busy mum at home with two crazy kids. The no yelling is part of that, as is the bullet journalling. But the most significant thing is the de-cluttering. I signed up to a course late last year and got all inspired. Hubby and I did a massive purge in December and took two carloads of stuff to a charity shop. But we have loads more to do, so I’ll be posting updates on that as we progress. There might even be “before” and “after” photos!

That’s all for now, folks.

TTFN

3 Top Tips for a Chilled Out Winter with A New Baby!

90338.jpgThis time five years ago, I was heavily pregnant with the Bean – wait, what? Was that really five whole years ago? Where has the time gone?! Three years before that, hubby and I moved 220 miles when I was 26 weeks pregnant. I really don’t recommend doing that! It’s been a few years since I had a tiny baby, but I remember it pretty clearly and have definitely learned a lot since then. You find that parenting is rather like being on a swing. It takes a bit of effort to get going and coordinated, but once you’re in the swing of it, you forget the effort it took and it becomes second nature. I hope that some of these tips from a wise old bird will help a few new parents this winter.

1Layer up! Obvious really, but this is my number one top tip. I didn’t really get it the first time around. I kept wearing the types of clothes I had worn pre-baby and was forever the wrong temperature! Nursing burns serious calories (so go ahead and let yourself have a slice of that home made cake at baby group), and in your hormonal post-partum state, you may get hot flushes. You’ll want to wrap up against the cold, but then when you arrive at your destination, be prepared to shed layers to be comfortable.

Same goes for baby, by the way! Several layers is better than one thick snowsuit, especially if baby is going to be in a car seat or be worn in a carrier (more on that in a mo). It’s super important not to put baby in anything too thick when they are in their five-point harness car seat, as if the worst should happen and you are in a collision, that padding can prevent the straps being tight enough to keep baby safely in their car seat.

When the Bean was little, I spent the extra cash on some nursing tops, rather than making do with what I had. I highly recommend Boob for fantastic tops for this time in your life. I still wear my hooded jumper from time to time. You can add layers safe in the knowledge that you can easily get to your breast to feed baby, without the discomfort of bunching up excess fabric or getting a chill from having your side/belly/chest uncovered.

Invest2 in a good carrier…. or six! I know not all parents will agree on this one, and each to their own, but I find a pram or buggy totally impractical in winter. I’ve never figured out how the parent holds an umbrella while pushing a pram, and the thought of slipping on ice and a pram rolling away down the steep hill that we live on is unthinkable! The Munchkin was in a pram a fair bit when he was little, but it was spring-summer and I hadn’t yet really discovered babywearing properly. We did have a sling, but I didn’t get on with it. It took me a while to get to a sling library and find a better carrier. He was ten months before we ditched the pram and started wearing him exclusively.12043191_1060903917277302_6469733779818377733_n

The Bean has only ever been in a buggy when we were on holiday in Florida and it was too hot to wear him. At home, I’ve never felt the need to use one with him. I got seriously into babywearing after he was born, and invested in several fantastic wraps, a ring sling, and a gorgeous custom made, Dr Seuss-themed, half-buckle mei tai by Madame GooGoo! I was wearing this in London one day, when a woman approached me from behind and told me she had seen pictures of my carrier online (sling makers often share photos of their finished products before shipping them) and long been an admirer of it, she was so surprised to see it in person. The sling world is like that, very friendly and approachable. Carriers also retain their value quite well, so can be sold on when they are no longer in use. I had to sell this carrier on last year. I often wonder where it is now and if it is still getting lots of use.

Babywearing in winter is a great way to keep each other warm and safe. Light layers, as mentioned above, are best, to avoid over-heating. I absolutely loved putting my babies in leg warmers, as in the picture above, a great compliment to babywearing and cloth nappies.

Most high street carriers are unsuitable for babywearing safely. They don’t allow for parents to follow the “TICKS” guidelines, and forward facing positions place stress on the wrong parts of a baby; chiefly their spine and crotch (these are jokingly referred to as “crotch-danglers” in the babywearing community). So, if you are going to wear your baby, make sure that your carrier enables you to wear baby in the correct position (Tight against your body, In sight at all times, Close enough to kiss, Keep the chin off the chest, and Supported back – upright, facing you,. These are the T.I.C.K.S.). Back carries are great when babies get a bit older, but newborns are best worn on the front so that the TICKS can be observed.

There is a wealth of detailed information out there for those wanting to wear their babies, so I urge you to take a good look around the net, find a local sling library, and get support. There are loads of groups on Facebook dedicated to this!

3Don’t over-do things! If you are just about to have a baby, or have recently given birth, for goodness sake, don’t try to take on too much this festive season! It’s not worth it. Take it easy. Nest, or snuggle into your “babymoon” and enjoy your new baby. Get help in for Christmas, from family or friends. Don’t feel you have to cook a huge feast for all of your extended family. Traditions are great, but they can wait until next year if they involve a lot of effort. Let yourself have this pause from the hectic hustle and bustle of the season, your body will thank you. Stock up the freezer with easy-to-heat meals; get shopping delivered instead of traipsing around a supermarket with a baby; say no to the invitations that you know you need to skip this year; keep it simple. I had the Bean at the end of January, so Christmas 5 years ago was a fairly low-key affair. I was waddling everywhere and unable to sleep comfortably due to my huge bump.

Nursing a newborn means resting and nourishing your body, rushing about trying to fit in too much won’t do either of you any good. If you have commitments that can’t be skipped or delegated, then find ways to manage them. You might have a school run to do with an older child, or a relative to care for. Of course you need to do these things, but try to have realistic expectations of yourself.

I hope some of this is helpful. If you have any more tips for the season, do please share them in the comments below. I love to hear from readers!

 

25 Christmas Countdown Activities

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It’s that time of year! Once Halloween and Bonfire Night are done and dusted, when the smell of gunpowder has settled, I can let myself get excited about Christmas. Our family is still quite young, but we are developing our own set of traditions around the festive season. My favourite thing to do is plan a special activity for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. We use a modified version of Elf on a Shelf, totally free of the sinister “I’m watching you” tone!

Instead, our elf, Erol, can be found each morning with a new activity for us to do that day. Some days we stay home and do a craft, others we head out to see friends or family, and on a few days throughout the season we do something extra special. I thought I would share our countdown with you.

Because we might have half a dozen different Christmas movies on separate days, for example, there won’t be 25 distinct activities here, but plenty of ideas to give you 25 days worth of activities.

img_00061. On the 1st December, Erol arrives with our Christmas tree and decorations for us to put up. I look forward to this day so much, with mounting excitement right through November, and this year, I’ll be honest, I’m having to hold myself back!

2. We attend a home ed forest school every month and this December it falls on the 2nd, so we’ll be incorporating this into our advent activity. My kids love collecting things from nature every time we head out. So we’ll be picking out some sticks, leaves and other forest goodies and making some natural decorations when we get home. Check out these ideas from Rainy Day Mum.

3. Visit friends. We’re heading over to a friend’s place to help decorate their house, eat mince pies, and generally welcome in the festive season with good company.

4. Board game day. Gaming is a big thing for our family. I played endless board games with my parents growing up, especially at this time of year. Hubby and I are very much into modern board games, as opposed to your traditional Monopoly, Cluedo and so on. Hubby has backed soooooo many new games through crowd funded projects and we now have a huge unit with the collection on. Many of them are strictly adults only (being horror based), but we have some great games for the kids to enjoy, such as Ticket to Ride. Cooperative games are a great alternative to play with children, they help reduce aggression and improve team play. Check out this list of top co-op games for families.

5. Make salt dough decorations. My kids aren’t hugely into crafts, so these are limited and front loaded so that we can put up anything we make and enjoy it for the rest of the season. We’re going to have a crack at these.

assorted-christmas-cards-1448895398jeq6. Write and post cards. A few years ago I decided that I wasn’t going to send Christmas cards any more. They just end up in the recycling after a few weeks and when sent in bulk, the well wishes seem to lose meaning. But this year I looked sadly at my over-the-door card holder and remembered it hanging empty a year ago. When I was a kid, my mum would string thread up all over the living room to hang the cards sent to us by friends and family. We would get hundreds of cards. She still follows this tradition, sending and receiving cards, in many cases this is her only correspondence with the other person or family, but it holds great value. It is a chance to catch up and keep in touch. Today, with social media, it is all so frenzied. We over-share, without really connecting. So this year, I am writing a few meaningful cards for people who really matter. I’d like to encourage my children to forge life-long friendships and connect meaningfully with those most special to them.

7. Read Christmas books! One lovely tradition that some parents observe, is to wrap up 25 winter or Christmas themed books for the start of advent and open one each day to read together. I love this idea and may well do it one year, but I don’t like to take on too much, so we’ll just dedicate a few days to this idea this year.

8. Watch Christmas films. This is probably my favourite item on the list. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting watching family films together at this time of year. With many hundreds to choose from, especially if you have access to a streaming service or movie channels, it’s hard to choose just a handful! My top picks have to be: The Nightmare Before Christmas (which we watch at Halloween too), Polar Express, Home Alone and Santa Claus: The Movie. Bring on the cheese-fest! What are your favourite festive films? Let me know in the comments!

9. Make Clay Snowflakes – with melted crayon and glitter! These simple decorations over at Arty Crafty Kids look awesome and I can’t wait to try them out with my kids this December.

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An actual German market, in Konstanz. Image courtesy of LenDog64 on Flickr.

10. Visit a Christmas Market. I absolutely love traditional German markets, the ones that pop up around the holidays. I love the wooden cabins, the smell of fresh food, the hubbub and festive music. Nothing gets me in the mood for Christmas quite like these markets. I can usually pick up a few interesting gifts too. Last year I bought some gorgeous scented candles. The key, when taking the kids, is to see it as a family day out, rather than a shopping trip. Don’t expect to be productive; just enjoy the food, music and atmosphere; take the kids on the carousel; and try to relax and enjoy it.

 

img_013811. Bake a gingerbread house. Or gingerbread men, cookies, cupcakes, mince pies; whatever takes your fancy. Last year we made star shaped cupcakes with some fantastic silicon molds and covered them in glittery frosting and star sprinkles.

This year will be our first attempt at a gingerbread house! I’m going to get one of those kits with everything you need. I can’t wait to let the kids loose with the icing!

12. Go on a Christmas Photo Safari. Create a list of festive sights and see how many you can find and photograph. You could include things like a nativity scene, a star, a Christmas tree, Father Christmas, and so on. You could rope in some friends and make a team effort out of it.

13. All the crafts! If your kids are more crafty than mine, then there are hundreds of things you could make and do with them. My favourite list of inspiration is this one over at One Creative Mommy. We did make the scrap ribbon trees a couple of years ago and still have them to hang on our tree 🙂

14. Play games. When I was growing up, charades was my favourite game to play this time of year. I would bore my parents rigid with it for weeks! Making the time to play with the whole family is lovely for bonding and making memories. Make it festive by theming the games around the holiday season. You could play pictionary, set up a candy cane hunt, do a quiz. There are stacks of ideas here, at The Military Wife and Mom.

15. Go carol singing. One of my few positive memories from school is singing carols, it’s one of the items on an extremely short list that I feel my kids might be missing by being home educated. So we get our musical high notes any way we can! We aren’t a religious family, but going to a family-friendly carol service at a nearby church is on our to-do list this year. If you have older children, and a group of friends or family who are up for it, you could even go door to door and collect donations for your favourite non-profit organisation. My family have sung carols for Amnesty in the past. If everyone is enthusiastic it can be lots of fun.

16. RAOK. To really get your kids into the spirit of giving, you could encourage them to perform a random act of kindness every day for advent. We’re mixing a few into our calendar. These can be as simple as saying a cheery “Merry Christmas” to a tired-looking check out clerk in a shop, or paying for the next customer’s coffee in a cafe.

17. Reverse Advent Calendar. In a similar vein to the previous point, we’re going to be doing a reverse advent this year. Each day of December, we will find a food item we don’t want or need, and add it to a box. At the end of the month, we’re taking it to a local donation centre who are collecting food parcels for refugees. You could donate to a food bank, or collect up old toys or clothes to give to charity.

winter-solstice-stonehenge

18. Make Solstice Lanterns. We like to observe the wheel of the year, so the Winter Solstice, or Yule, is a key date in our festive calendar. The ancient pagan celebration is about marking the longest night, the darkest point in the year before the sun returns (it’s easy to see how it became about the birth of the son of God). There may be a lantern parade near where you live, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to be near one of the ancient neolithic sites that marked this day in its construction. If so, consider taking a visit to see the sun rise or set there. This year, we are going to be making lanterns at home.

Stonehenge image © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

19. Christmas Eve Box. This is a fairly new tradition that I’ve introduced to our family. We only started it last year, but it has quickly become one of my favourite things. I have a box covered in scraps of festive wrapping paper and on Christmas Eve, Erol appears with it late in the afternoon. Inside are new pyjamas for everyone, a box of chocolates, a new festive kids’ book and a new DVD. Now we’re all set for a cuddly Christmas Eve together.

20. Stockings! Finally, on Christmas morning, the kids find their stockings, stuffed full of goodies from Father Christmas and handed over by Erol. We don’t make a really big thing out of Father Christmas, my kids know that their main gifts come from family. We don’t take them to visit a grotto. But Santa does fill their stockings with nice little treats; some chocolate coins, a couple of small toys, and a few other bits and bobs. My kids are both early risers, even in winter, so these keep them occupied for half an hour to an hour while the grown ups wake up properly and are ready to start the day.

There are heaps of other things you could do with your family; get the extended family together for a meal out somewhere, go to a pantomime, take a drive or walk out after dark to look at the lights. Let me know what your family traditions are in the comments, I love to hear from you!

You can find links to pretty much all of the activities above, along with many more, on my Pinterest Board: Christmas & Yule Crafts & Activities. Follow me there for future Pins.

I hope you have a magical Christmas!

 

 

 

While You Were Away…

parenting-word cloudAs some people may have gathered from my last post, something’s stirring over here at Spirited Mama!

I am indeed, still alive and still as spirited as ever. I decided that it was time to dust off this blog and breathe some life back into it. My life moved away from blogging for a while, I didn’t feel I had much to say and was focused on writing my fiction. But my mama bear is stirring and has things to say again.

It’s funny how life is this constantly shifting current, taking us from one place to another, often seemingly without us controlling it at all. There is definitely an ebb and flow to energy and that changes the course of our lives.

beach1So what happened while I was away? The Munchkin is now 6 years old and the Bean is 3. How did that happen? I’m also now a single mum. Both kids spent some time at a Montessori nursery, but are now both at home full time, so you can expect to see lots of posts about home education and parenting in general. I’m still nursing the Bean, and am a vocal advocate of full term breastfeeding, so that might come up from time to time too. I don’t have as much to do with supporting women and families with their births, but still admin a VBAC support group online and keep half an eye on the state of birth in the UK, so if something catches my eye I’ll probably mention it here. I want this blog to continue to be a resource for those with birth choices to make, even if that isn’t my primary focus these days.

Aside from parenting, what else has happened in the last few years? I’ve published two novels and a short story in the Echoes of the Past series, with novel number three due out this summer. I’m currently running a crowdfunder to raise funds for my publishing costs, so if anyone would like to contribute and help out this single mama trying to earn a living from her passion, then do please hop over to my Pubslush page and chip in what you can. But this blog isn’t about my books really, so I won’t be bombarding you with promos and the like, don’t worry. You might see a few book reviews of kids’ books though!

I’ve also really embraced Twitter, hence the title for this post. It’s become my favourite social media platform in many ways. It’s not great for holding conversations, but I love it for connecting with other people and keeping up with their news. Sometimes it is like shouting into a crowded room though, so I try to engage with people to make it meaningful to be there. Follow me via the link below!

I think that’s all from me for now. Check out my social media links below and hit the “follow” button to keep up to date with new posts here. I’m really looking forward to jumping back in to this crazy world of #pblogging with you all!

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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 😉

Full On Full Time Mum

The Bean is 6 months old today! So I thought I had better find the time from somewhere to pop back here and actually write something. I’ve been quiet for some time, thanks to a little thing called LIFE! I honestly did not realise just how little time I would have with two children. No one prepares you for this at all, I heard it was hard work, but I had no idea that I would literally have about two minutes in the day during which I was not feeding, fetching, doing or playing with one of my kids. I’d heard those jokes about parents locking themselves in the bathroom for two minutes to themselves, but it really is true! I have found myself doing that!

The Munchkin rarely goes to sleep before 8.15 and the Bean won’t settle to sleep until about 10pm unless I am in bed with him. He won’t even settle in the living room with us, he cluster feeds and when he isn’t feeding or dozing in my lap he wants to play. The Munchkin doesn’t nap at home any more, only if we happen to be out in the car at the right time and the Bean naps on the go for the most part. At home it is rare for him to sleep more than 20 minutes at a time, so I have no time to myself in the day either.

I’m finding it challenging, to say the least and I have bleak moments where I feel tearful and frustrated. But I know that this time is fleeting and they both really do provide a lot of joy. So I guess it’s all worth it.

The Munchkin is utterly in love with his baby brother and now that the Bean is sitting up and laughing all the time the two of them can and do play together a bit, with the Bean grabbing the Munchkin’s trains and trying to suck them and the Munchkin tickling the Bean and laughing at his expressions and noises.

The Bean is massive. He was big at birth and has resolutely stayed that way. We don’t weigh him, but he has been consistently in a size or two bigger than his age, he is currently transitioning into 9-12 month clothes and we are constantly getting remarks about his size. Thank goodness we declined all involvement from the health visitors, I don’t doubt they would have been trying to persuade me to wean him early with such silly remarks as “He’s big so he must be hungry and you’ll never be able to feed him yourself”, I have heard this exact comment from a supposed health professional. Sigh. Well, to the naysayers, our little man has had nothing past his lips but breastmilk. Or at least, not until this week… at lunch one day I had just finished feeding him and sat him up in my lap. In the two seconds it took me to re-hook my bra he had snatched some lettuce off my plate and shovelled it into his mouth!

So we’re taking that as a sign of readiness for solids and so begins another adventure in Baby Led Weaning. We used this method with the Munchkin with great success and pleasure and are really looking forward to doing it again. The Bean has had a play with some pasta, carrot and turkey, but so far has just managed to break the food up with his two little teeth and then spit it straight back out. So he’s definitely just in the exploration stage and so we’re not presenting him with food on a regular basis, just every now and then.

He has also decided to forgo rolling and move straight on to standing. He wants to be up on his feet nearly all of the time and is almost cruising the furniture already. He is currently stood in hubby’s lap, grabbing hubby’s face in both hands and slobbering all over it. Ahh, happy times 🙂

G’Night all.

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