Monday, December 24, 2007

on authority and fallibility

Here were the poster's options when a child was ignoring, back-chatting or refusing to do what she told him to:

"1. Ignore even though this means you don't get what you want done.
2. Physically make him - by picking up etc, not by smacking.
3. Keep repeating until they eventually do do as you have asked."

All of these options assume that what the parent wants is what is going to happen and what should happen.

1. Is it possible that what the parent wants is simply wrong?

2. Is it possible that there is an alternative course of action for parent and child which everyone will prefer to their original preference and be genuinely happy with?

3. What do children learn from being ignored/physically made to do things/having someone repeating instructions at them ad nauseam? That Mum is boss, right? What is that authority based on and how long is it going to last? If the power struggles are bad with 6 year olds or 3 year olds, the teen years are going to be nuclear meltdown. We can't control our children for ever, and the sooner we establish a relationship of mutual respect and trust, the better.

Me, I'd always try to negotiate something everyone is happy with rather than setting myself up as the authority figure.stop asking them to do things they don't want to do.

Positive alternatives:

1) suggest things with actions not words (e.g. not "put your coat on!!" but just get the coat ready to put on if they want it). It's like those Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where what the parents say is just blah blah blah.

2) acknowlege that you might be wrong (maybe they just aren't cold)

3) be ready to save the day later (by tucking the coat in your rucksack).

4) think of something even better for everyone, the more playful the better

No need for conflict :-)

Astonishingly, these ideas were flamed only by the original poster, and two other commenters on the thread were supportive. That must be a less-mainstream mainstream message board...

Friday, November 30, 2007

contact point questions

questions to those who aren't signing the petition:

Do you think your children have the same right to privacy as you do? (I am assuming that most of you are as furious as me at the State bureaucracy posting your bank details to gawd knows where)

Are you anxious about the potential for violent ex's to trace their ex-families through such a database? (I am assuming that security will not be fail safe. There are simply too many people who will have access to the database for it to be secure)

If this database was applied to adults (full name, DoB, address, work place, previous employment, salary, any contact with any state agencies, including health care, counselling, maybe arrests (whether or not charges were brought), social services), would you feel comfortable?

You may be happy with your 6 year old being monitored in this way. How do you think your 18-year old is going to feel? Any differently from a 19-year old who is supposedly beyond the age to be included? And yet, do you think the government will simply delete them from the database when they reach 19? How would you feel about being on such a government database as an adult?

ContactPoint database

The internetz are full of British outrage about the loss of personal information in the child tax credit data loss scandal. how dare they? thunder all the Mumsnet and NetMums mums. The Conservative opposition is opening up a hiiiiuge lead in the opinion polls.

But the ContactPoint database, delayed rather than cancelled by the government in the light of the data loss scandal, isn't getting half the outrage. This petition still has less than a thousand signatures.

So many personal details will be on this database (name, DoB, address, school, GP, health visitor, any other professionals having contact with them)

I finally worked out why so few parents mind the prospect of their children having their information shared in this way. It is because people don't think of children as having a right to privacy. Those Netmums and Mumsnet sites are full of anecdotes about children, in extruciating personal detail, and that's why.

I would be interested to ask them, however: you may be happy with your 6 year old being monitored in this way. How is your 18-year old going to feel? And do you think the government will simply delete them from the database when they reach adulthood? How would you feel about being on a massive government database as an adult?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

was school necessary or conducive to my learning?

(from a post over at the frog pond)

not necessary.

one set of important things to me was languages, and i learned more by visiting friends in those countries and by being penpals between visits than I did in school. i finally have an understanding of grammar having taught myself Latin in adulthood (don't ask why. It was important to me as part of a creative project)

other important thing: maths. school maths sucked. I had private tuition with a friend of my parents, leading to a qualification beyond what school offered.

most important thing: music. school music was always a joke. I went to a private music centre on saturdays where i got both practical and theoretical training to a very high standard (i could have gone to a conservatoire at 18 if I'd chosen that route)

the sport i love(d) is/was swimming, and my school to 16 didn't even have a pool, so I had to flail around with hockey sticks rather than doing what i actually enjoyed. the closest i have got to a hockey stick since leaving school is playing ice hockey on frozen ponds using ice axes as sticks and a terry's chocolate orange as a puck. but i digress.

so... school was peripheral.

school friends - i am in good contact with two people from school. we have shared interests which have nothing to do with school. several of my closest childhood friends were not at school with me, including my very oldest friends who i have knwn since babyhood and was never at school with.

it was just such a waste of TIME, and the really exciting learning was happening elsewhere

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How bad just normal can be

On the bus today there were three mums with their children, all "nice middle class white well spoken". You get the picture - neat haircuts every one of them, and smart clothes.

Mums in the middle of the bus, chatting; two children at the front, the rest at the back.

Mum number 1 only engaged with her children when one told tales on another "Mum, Ben is standing up" "BEN!!!" (in warning tones, turns round and finds child is sitting down - tale bearer laughs a lot, and who can blame her. Mum is a fool).

Mum number 2 kept turning round and telling child (at other end of the bus) not to take things out of her bag because "they'll get left behind if we have to get off the bus in a hurry." Child said "I'm not taking them out, I've just opened the bag to look at them". Mum said "If they fall out, you aren't allowed to cry". Only other interaction of this mum and children was her telling them repeatedly not to use more than one crayon at a time, and then to put it away before getting the next one out. All at 90 decibels across acres of bus.

Mum number 3 was being horrible to her daughter. Daughter cried, mum didn't go to her. Daughter eventually went to mum. Daughter then headed back towards the back of the bus, bus started moving, mum caught daughter to sit her down - fair enough since the bus was lurching. The next exchange was weird. The mum kind of grimaced at daughter, daughter grimaced back, and then the mum gave her a right going over for looking at her in a disrespectful way. The child burst into floods of tears. It struck me as an interaction where the child is desperate for love and affection, but has no idea what it is she is supposed to be in order to earn it. And the parent is inconsistent and just plain unkind.

Mum number 4 (me) got off the bus many stops before she had intended, and waited for the next bus, musing on the glories of the teenage years these women have ahead of them, and on the likelihood of them being invited to play an active role as grandparents in due course.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Public transport musings

I was on a train recently, and the child in the seat in front was sitting with her aunt (the mother was sitting with the baby further up the carriage). The aunt started listening to her iPod and reading a book. Nothing for child to do - aged 3 or 4.

I started passing objects through the gap between the seats, and she started passing them back. When that palled, I passed over a sheet of stickers and a colouring book with a couple of pencils. The aunt looked really surprised. the child coloured and stuck happily for about 20 minutes. I couldn't understand why child was expected just to sit quietly for a long journey.

In such a situation, I often wouldn't make any contact with the adult at all, just invite the child to join in with our play, or offer little objects which are age appropriate, if I have any. I can't bear the way people expect their children to go into neutral in those in-betweeny times on buses and trains.

For myself, and for any children travelling with me, I always have activities in my bag. If I am taking children for several hours in a constricted public space, it is my responsibility to make that a pleasant experience for my own family and for us not to make everyone around us unhappy, as far as possible.

What about the mothers who try to stop their bored children kicking off their shoes or making finger drawings on misted windows? I usually try to exchange conspiratorial glances with the beleagured child - I hate the way that all adults are assumed to be part of the adult conspiracy by default. But I find it very difficult to find cheerful liberating things to say to the mother - mostly leading by example, I guess, in trying to keep travelling children occupied and happy with whatever objects are available. I love seeing a family on one of those 4-seater tables on a train with all their books and colouring and games and snacks spread across the surface, obviously settled in all the way to Glasgow.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Happy Endings

Me I much prefer a story with a happy ending. I'll take As You Like It over Hamlet any day of the week.

I have always preferred children's books, into adult life, and a considerable part of the reason is that they (together with the best heroic fantasy) have a moral clarity. Good and evil, while often complex, can be differentiated, and good wins in the end. Actually, I think this is, in the end, true to life. In the end, evil fails on its own terms.

I knew Harry Potter 7 would come out right - because I trusted that JK Rowling would not have forgotten her target demographic demands closure and a morally satisfactory outcome.

But mounting a campaign against unhappy endings? I really don't think that's necessary. Make it clear to children that the endings aren't happy (or even make it clear it's not a very good book - at least, I hated the first and haven't bothered with any more) but BURNING BAD BOOKS? wtf?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The consequences of being openly judgmental

Because when people feel criticised they won’t hear the good ideas anyway.

Most people don’t like to be criticised, especially if they feel an element of guilt about their actions.

I’ve been on the receiving end of it. One shuts down, emotionally and mentally, and just tries to get the criticiser to shut up, however right they are.

There is an art in offering advice/criticism/suggestions - and it often involves saying nothing at all when one judges that it will not be well received. If people want one's advice, they'll ask for it (and even then the best response might be to say nothing at all)

So many people mistreat their children. They complain about them, they send them to school against their wills. They leave them crying in the night. They complain that they cannot sufficiently control them, as if they were radio cars, not autonomous humans.

But what they want to hear is not “apologise, pick yourself up, strive to do better by yourself and by your child.” Instead they want to hear “you’re doing your best, girl. It’s a really hard thing being a Mum. You have to be cruel to be kind. They’ve got to learn. They all go through it. (S)he'll be fine soon, tears all forgotten”

There’s a part of me screaming “those children have to have someone advocating for them” but maybe it does more harm than good – maybe it sets the mothers on a self-defensive path of following the consistency principle. It certainly gets one seriously flamed. And being flamed is good for getting the adrenilin flowing, but less good at stomach-ulcer-avoidance.

I wish I’d read this:

“To so many parents, stopping a child crying by cuddling it will spoil them and
no research will persuade them otherwise unless they repeatedly see
real-life examples. I wish I could package up all that I’ve been lucky
enough to learn and experience and hand it to other parents, but I
can’t. All parents have to make their journey themselves and I have
to just hope that the small exposure they may have to how we do things, and
to how our children turn out, might add to any other exposure they have to
similar families and might, just might, give them the confidence to trust their

before setting off on yet another doomed crusade on the mainstream boards. It’s right. Small steps, Ellie, small steps. Just live your life, and treat the children you meet yourself as fully human, and let the ripples spread in their own time.

Better to look to learn rather than to convince or teach. Whether others are doing the same or not is their responsibility. If there are spaces where one learns little of value, avoid them. There is an arrogance in going to those of different beliefs and values and saying "here, try mine, they are much better". One will always be convinced of the moral superiority of one's own position, or one wouldn't hold that position, but that does not mean that it is infallibly better, and nor does it mean that explaining it to someone else is going to be helpful to them. Much better to find spaces in which one can challenge and refine one's own ideas than to attempt to teach others.

'Sfunny, I've taken to the idea of unschooling as the ideal for children like a duck to water, but have had this big blind spot in my dealings with other adults...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Reasons to Consider Home Education #10

I merely mentioned the story of the guy who is prison because someone else
suggested that 'all' HE adults were well adjusted individuals, which is not
true. ALso, on that topic, someone also said that most people in prison would
have been sent to schools - but that is another point which is hardly worth
mentioning, since most people go to school. Therefore, you cant compare it. Its
not about where they were educated that makes them a criminal or not.

Absolutely. Now I see why you mentioned the story it makes more sense.

I think we should all be concentrating on what our children want and need to be happy and fulfilled now, and equally what we ourselves need to be happy and fulfilled now. Put our creative problem solving into that rather than worrying about whether this particular educational path will stop our child becoming a rocket scientist one day or whether either HEing or schooling our children is more likely to make them heroin addicts - it's going to be much more complex than that, but being unhappy is a good indicator of future self harm one way or another...

I'm not saying anyone else isn't concentrating on happiness of all members of their families, it's just a little unrequested homily for you.

Did I ever tell you the story of my childhood friend who read English at university, then swopped to theology, then went off to become a monk, then decided not to do that yet, then did 3 science A levels in a year aged about 25, then did a medicine BA, then changed his mind about becoming a missionary doctor in south america, then went into a Dominican seminary, and eventually became a priest?

That's what life is all about - doing what is right for right now, and finding ways to chase your dreams wherever they take you, and even if the road is not straight.

If a child will be happier not going to school today, send them tomorrow, or next week, or next term, or next year, or in 5 years - send them when it makes them happy.

I just feel that I dont want to deprice my child of any of the skills she
will need to cope in the real world, and I think the classroom is the
safest place to expose them to situations that will teach them these skills. Its
not foolproof, of course people get bullied and so on. But you gotta do what you
think is best, and I think that as a parent my first option will be to send my
child to school, and if that doesn't work out, then I will consider other
options. HE being on the list, but definitely not the only other

I think the real world is the best place to learn skills you need to cope in the real world. It's all the real world, but the subsection of it within the classroom is an artificial and arbitrary environment with codes of behaviour completely different from those one encounters in society at large. What you get good at in school is learning how to be good at being at school. A glib answer, but a heartfelt one.

Maybe its about independence? Is that part of the subtext here? That children are going out and coping alone without Mummy/Daddy's apron strings to hold on to? Again - I have an unusual philosophy on this one. I was brought up to believe that independence is something you take, for yourself, as and when you are ready. This is one of the reasons I have no idea when I left home. I gradually spent less time there, I gradually moved beloved objects to my other place of residence. My mother says she remembers vaguely a time when I said "oh, feel free to chuck them out, I'll never wear any of the clothes in that wardrobe again" and that for her was the moment when she thought "Oh, I guess her actual home is where all her clothes she actually wears are, now!" but I'll have been in my mid-20s by then and largely living independently for 5 or 6 years already. I have never regretted leaving home, there was no wrench, and I know it's still there whenever and if ever I need a place of refuge. That's unconditional parenting, that is. And, from the inside, let me tell you that there is nothing like the confidence engendered by choosing for yourself how and when to take steps towards independence, small and large.

Reasons to Consider Home Education #9

I don't think HE is the best option for every child or every family. Nor do I think it is the only option. But it is a legal option, and I think far more of us should at least consider it seriously with our children, get ourselves informed and think about the pros and cons.

At school-choosing time, it'd be "this CofE primary, or the one round the corner which we are in the catchment for, or do we feel like a Steiner-WAldorf, or are we going to be sending our children to a very posh prep school or can we get into this RC primary, or shall we home educate?" Just one on the list.

it simply isn't seen as an option by many families, and they don't offer it as a possibility to their children even if their children are clearly unhappy about starting/continuing school. I think they should, because happy children learn better and live better than unhappy ones.

Reasons to Consider Home Education #8

I became a mother before my working life had barely started, therefore I haven't
experienced that spectrum of my life. Just because you have no ambition to
pursue anything else, does not mean its wrong for mothers who do wish to pursue
something. Im a very good mother, always there for my child and will still be
there for her when she goes to school. I feel for me, its very important to
maintain an identity which is seperate from my children, but which doesn't harm
them and if possible, which can help them to become better people. Me going to
university sets an example to my children, and especially to my daughter that
woman can do and be what they want and should not be bound by the confines of
motherhood and homemaker.

I support your actions and goals 100%, both in carving your own path and setting an example. If your children were suicidally unhappy at school, you'd be able to find a way to achieve your own goals AND to HE your children. I'm not hoping for that, obviously, and indeed school may well be the best solution for ll of you. But there is choice, there is always choice, given optimism and imagination.

Its no good the parents teaching the child that bullying is wrong, that's as
good as saying 'Dont touch the stove, it will burn you.' The only way a child
will find out these things is if he experiences them for himself.

I don't believe that direct personal suffering is the only way to learn. Think about the implications of that possibility for a moment... there are children who kill themselves in this country every year as as result of school bullying. It still exists, and it can be life threatening. No one at any age should get used to bullying. In school you have to deal with it day in day out with the same bullies for years. You'd leave a workplace where that was the case. Zero tolerance is the way forward, like I said before. I think a HE child would encounter bullying, but they would never have to live with it - there would always be an escape. "I don't like the way you are acting towards me. Goodbye". Child learns a lesson in power and self respect. Bully learns a lesson too.

To answer your question about having ever met a HE'd adult. I have. He's
currently serving time in prison for possesion of herion. Guess he was never put
in a situation as child where he was put under pressure to do something and had
to learn to say no
urgh. What an awful story. Thing is, of course, that most of the drug-use jailbirds most people come across went to school... so it can't really be used as an argument against one or the other, can it?

Reasons to Consider Home Education #7

HE children might only be exposed to activities which interest their parents
Yes, an HE familiy would need to be careful to expose children to a wide range of activities and opportunities. It would certainly be possible to live in something of a bubble, and HE families should guard against that so child can discover their own interests.

I want my children to learn to compete against other children

I'd rather parents taught their children to compete against themselves than against other people. To strive to do their best, and to achieve all they are capable of rather than to beat Sally on a test.

There are HE children out there achieving the most astonishing things, which anyone competitive minded would regard as "winning", but they weren't necessarily competing against anyone else to get there. Maisie, Angus and Travers MacNeice spring to mind (published a best-selling biography called "The Lion Children" about their life on an African research station before they'd all hit teen-dom).

And there's nothing stopping a HE child engaging in competitive sports, and engaging seriously in them, if that's their thing. I know lots of parents do want their children to compete against other children, those just aren't my values.

You need to go to school to learn about teamwork

Heh - I think a half hour visit to HESFES or to any of the weekly home ed meets would explode that myth and the big difference is that HE children learnto cooperate with children of all ages, to help the little ones and accept help from the big ones, not everyone the same age. Much more what they'll find in adult life.

I want to reclaim my own life, which I can start to do when the kids go to

[what I didn't say in a public forum: so you thought having a child was a 5 year commitment????? Or 3 year, if you're starting with pre-school????? I know a mum who always says with that hint of self sacrifice under-ridden with deep pride at continuing to be useful that "being a parent is a life sentence"]

Yes, I can see that too. But I have to say that I see mums come to the end of maternity leave and go back to work with a sigh of relief just as their child starts to communicate, to have interests, to grow slowly into independence - just as things start to get a bit more interesting.

And similarly, children at 3 going off to preschool, or at 5 going off to school at just the age where they don't need the parents' undivided attention 24/7, but happily get on with their own thing for periods of time. The age where they just begin not to need constant supervision when playing with other children - it gets more and more fun to be around children as they grow, IMO, but most of us miss out lots of the god stuff.

It's seriously hard to complete a degree with a tiny baby in tow (I know people who've done it) but with a 5 year old or a 7 year old, you'd be able to do your coursework while they are busy colouring or writing stories or whatever, and you could probably even take them to the library with you as they got older (now what an educational experience that would be!) I know many lecturers who wouldn't mind having a child in their lectures in the slightest, so long as they weren't disruptive, and in fact I know a woman (single mum) in the unenlightened 1970s who used to take her toddler to lectures when the child care fell through, and have the little one doing colouring in a corner. The mum was the lecturer!

Also worth asking: why should it be the mum who is at home full time (when there are 2 parents). Many men LEAP at the chance to go part time or stay at home entirely for a few years, jumping out of the rat race with a great sigh of relief.

It's all just a question of finding ways to maximise a family's happiness, and if that involves school, then wahoo. But it needn't necessarily.

Reasons to Consider Home Education #6

There is a lot more to say about this mixing-with-all-strata-of-society-at-school issue.

This country is about as non-socially-mobile as it has ever been. The situation was probably better in the late middle ages, when a bright boy could become a priest (which is how Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, son of a butcher, became the most powerful man in England,apart from the king).

Things were much more mobile even 30 years ago - talent could rise academically and economically. What made that possible within the education system? Grammar schools (almost all gone in the last 30 years), the assisted places scheme, whereby bright children could go to the best private schools on government assisted scholarships (now abolished), a well-paid, intellectually-independent and socially honoured teaching profession mostly staffed by graduates of good universities who helped their brightest pupils aspire high, whether they were from leafy Berkshire or a sink estate in Newcastle.

That has been progressively undermined by the working conditions of the last 20 years (centralised government deciding syllabus and teaching styles, centralised testing every five minutes, mountains of paperwork, abusive treatment at the hands of pupils and parents... I know lots of bright and inspiring and subject-passionate people who go into teaching. Some of them have even done a year beyond the NQT year before they've had enough and go to private schools or leave the profession altogether. Those who are left are those with a real vocation, but their job is damn tough. They have my undivided admiration, but I still think the majority of parents can do better for their children than the teachers can manage given their working conditions).

The abolition of the university grant and introduction of student fees didn't help either.

The truth is that we live in a class-ridden society and perhaps the best way to opt out of its prejudicial structures is to opt out of some of its institutions - like schools, for example.

Reasons to Consider Home Education #5

I WANT my child to have to deal with different and complex relationships
everyday, and not just people that i choose to socialise her with. I mean, lets
be honest, an HE parent gets to choose which kids their child mixes with -
rather than letting their child come across many different people from many
different cultures and classes, and choose their own friends.

An honourable HE parent supports their child in exploring their own interests, and within that the child will meet children of all sorts of backgrounds, with the same interests (e.g. football or swimming lessons or whatever).

It is worth thinking about the degree of social mobility within schools - not really an issue in primary school, but by secondary school, children pretty much sort themselves according to socio-economic status (I have a reference for that - it's in John Holt I think or maybe in "School is Not Compulsory"). And how much does socio-economic status affect parental school choice? When middle class parents say "Billy's got a place at a good school" they aren't just talking about OFSTED reports, they are talking about people Like Us on the PTA and at the school gate.

Sending children to private schools or faith schools accentuates the ghettoising even more.

I don't see the challenge of social mixing as being peculiar to HE, or even a particularly big deal, because HE families come from all sorts of backgrounds and from rich to poor, and because there are fewer of them, children will tend to get to know most of the ones in their area, either well or casually, so there's plenty of social mix going on.

Reasons to Consider Home Education #4

Socialisation is the thing which ALWAYS gets thrown at HEers as the reason not to do it.

HE parents do not keep their children locked in cupboards. At least, none that I know. Like I said before, there are active HE groups almost everywhere in the country. Take a random local area: perhaps an under-7s learning group once a week, an under-7 playgroup once a month and under-5 meet-ups in people's houses once a week, an all ages social get together at an adventure playground once a week, ice skating once a week, swimming once a week, climbing wall once a week, and once a week a whole bunch get together for foreign language classes. Pottery, needlework... it's all happening.

That's before you take into consideration the families who post on the local list that they are going on a nature walk at X on tuesday, and everyone is welcome to join, or that they have set up a tudor day at a local museum cost £5, only 25 places available. And of course families have informal get togethers all the time which no-one knows about because they aren't posted on a list anywhere.

Did I mention the summer camps? As far as I can see, half the HEers in the country spend most of June and July camping in fields at HE festivals (HESFES is the famous one) which are a big mix of social and learning and having a blast.

It's a whole glorious subculture, and it's growing FAST.

HE children still make friends at the park or at cubs or swimming or sunday school or wherever.

The difference for HE kids is that if they don't get on with someone, they don't have to spend 6 hours a day with them 5 days a week...

So, what precisely is it about the social milieu for HEers which bothers you? It's different, for sure, because it's not being in that bizarre and artificial environment of being in a room full of 30 people the same age (name a single situation in adult life where that would happen). But rich and varied and as social as the child wants - yeah baby.

Reasons to Consider Home Education #3

I think HE is a good idea as long as the people doing it are educated
themselves enough to be able to teach, and self disciplined enough to ensure
their children learn sufficient life skills for their adult life.

Actually, I think it is a lot more important that parents should be prepared to FACILITATE than TEACH. People are not buckets - knowledge cannot be poured into them - people learn what they are interested in learning, whatever the best intentions of the teachers and the National Curriculum devisers.

Parents do not need to know everything about the life cycle of a newt themselves, but they need to be prepared to find out with their child, or help their child find out, if their child needs/wants to know (and I'm thinking: library for books on newts, a 10 second google fest, visit the zoo and meet the newt keeper, ditto at local nature reserve...)

Life skills for adult life - absolutely - that is the parents' responsibility, for HE parents just as for parents who send their children to school. (In fact, you could say that HE parents are taking that responsibility even more seriously, since they don't entrust it for 6 hours a day to a school teacher looking after a room full of children all at once)

I also feel that some children can be pushed into doing it when they would love
to be at school and as and when that happens, the childrens needs should come
first and they should be allowed to attend.

I agree 100%. If a child wants to go to school, they should certainly be allowed to try it (and to stop it if the whole asking-permission-to-go-to-the-toilet and waiting-for-teacher-to-spot-your-hand-is-up-before-you-talk behaviour code is too much to handle)

Also i know some dont allow/teach their children along the same lines of schools
and their children do not take gcse's etc, and i feel that is wrong as those
exams are vitally important for a good education/grounding for college/uni etc
and its all well and good the parents saying that qualifications dont mean that
much/are not necessary, but again they are making that decision for their child,
instead of giving them informed choices..

Teaching along the same lines as schools would be a pretty poor second to what is possible. I mean, truly, so much of what is done in schools is make work (like doing pages and pages of maths problems when you understood the principle 2 hours ago). And there's so much time wasting while little Dennis the Menace tears the classroom to bits and the teacher can't tell the other children what to get on with because (s)he's too busy dodging flying chair legs.

HE can be truly responsive to the child in a way that schooling cannot be. There can be a much more holistic approach, a much more flexible approach. Learning can take place anywhere, in all sorts of mediums.

GCSEs - how important? Honestly? School qualifications are not the be all and end all, partly because of grade inflation (25% get As at A level now. It just doesn't differentiate between the brightest students so the better universities pretty much assume anyone applying to them will have at least BBB at A level). And GCSEs are completely irrelevant as long as you've got A levels under your belt.That's for the university aspiring types.

For others - employers want maths and english GCSEs and really aren't that bothered about exactly what else.But it's not just GCSes and A levels is it? It's SATS every five minutes from the age of 7. Any of you with school age children know how stressful those are for children (and do they help them learn? No. They measure what they have learned, within a very narrow range. So naturally, the teachers teach them to be as good at possible at that narrow range of things, leaving little time for other learning in the classroom. They have to, to look after the school's position in the league tables). It's like pulling up potato plants every 2 days to see if they've grown potatoes yet. Doesn't give the plant much change to get its roots down and actually grow some blo*dy potatoes.

Reasons to Consider Home Education #2

All fine and dandy but how can you HE AND go out and work to pay the bills?

two part time jobs?

One parent working from home? (or both?)

One parent working, the other not?

Reasons to consider home education rather than schooling #1

Child can learn at own pace. They never get left behind. I know SO MANY PEOPLE who didn't understand some concept in maths aged 6 or 7, and never ever got the hang of it after that it just wouldn't happen to a HE child. There are so many people who come out of school functionally illiterate. They weren't ready to learn in year 1 or 2, and after that it gets more and more difficult to keep up with everything, because so many instructions are given in writing, and so much of the educational product is expected in writing. This wouldn't happen with an HE child - learning can happen perfectly well through conversation and image until child is ready to learn to read, but you can't do that with a room full of 30 kids.

Similarly, HE children never have to wait. I have vivid memories of a teacher taking me aside and giving me a right royal telling off because of my "attitude" problem in a particular subject, when actually what happened was that he'd spend half an hour every lesson going through the homework ALL OF WHICH I HAD GOT RIGHT. Of course I was bored rigid. What was the point in listening to him? I'd understood this stuff, and he knew it because he'd marked the homework. That never happens to a HE child.

HE families don't have to follow the national curriculum. They can follow the interests of the child. If it's all about dinosaurs this month, it can be all about dinosaurs, and that can come into maths and writing and art and science and history and old uncle tom cobbley and all. You can catch the questions of your child when they happen, whereas a physics teacher faced with "why do clouds stay up?" will have to say "er... actually today we are doing ticker tape timers" and the moment is lost.

HE families do not have to cope with bullying. They can truly have a zero tolerance attitude. In adult life, if someone bullies you, you get out of the situation. HE children similarly have freedom of association, a basic human right denied to all school children who, by definition, have to mingle with a given group of people whether they like them all or not.

HE children have true socialisation. Instead of being with a group of people whose birthdays all fall within the same school year (think about it - how many good friends did you have at school outside your year?) they have a much wider cross section of ages and abilities and classes and experiences to be friends with. Just like adults have, in fact (because, let's face it, not all my friends are within a year of me in age, and neither are yours). They are out there in society, mixing with check out ladies and bank clerks and other children and the gas meter man and bus drivers and that old man who walks his dog round the block everymorning at 1043 precisely, at one mile an hour, and everyone else who makes up local society.

HE children make friends with other HE children of all sorts of ages. A 15 year old has so much to offer a 12 year old. A 6 year old has so much to learn from an 8 year old. And that's normal, natural, accepted in the HE community.

HE children do not have to live on an externally imposed timetable (unless their parents mimic the school day). They choose their commitments and they learn to keep them (brownies or football or recorder group or whatever it is). They are well prepared for the independence of adult life.

HE children get to go to all the cool places when they are not jam-packed in the school holidays Not only museums and zoos and parks and swimming pools, but also cheap holidays in June or September - because HE families don't have to follow school terms

HE children go to true experts when they get passionately interested in something. Where a schooled child is pretty much reliant on Mrs Bloggs the Teacher, a HE parent faced with something beyond their ability or knowledge will either get knowledgeable (everyone is learning in HE) or use their networks of friends and family to find someone with real expertise who can help. I know HE children whose parents knew some who knew someone who knew a really famous scientist, who was delighted to spend an afternoon discussing evolution or astrophysics or whatever it was.

HE children get to socialise just as much as they want. In most local areas there are active HE groups, and truly, if you went along to all of the joint learning and social occasions, you'd never spend any time at home at all.

You can stop whenever you want. If your child wants to go to school at 6 or 8 or 13 or 16, that's fine. Quite a lot of HE teens go to 6th form colleges for A levels or other higher qualifications. A LOT do Open University courses in their teens. There's nothing holding them back, you see.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Watch What You Eat

The UK government is introducing food grants for pregnant women to try to get them to eat healthily. No kidding, this is real.;jsessionid=KRLQTTMJLI2C1QFIQMGCFFWAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2007/09/09/npreg109.xml

It seems to me that it is a somewhat short step from such a grant to a system where all pregnant women are required by law to eat 2 meals a day in government-registered cafeterias, where their food intake is carefully monitored by nutritionists and the number of spoonfuls is counted by new public sector employees.

Oh yes, tax me a little more please in order to pay for such madness.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My child won't finish her dinner

Not my child: someone on a parenting forum was worrying that her child wouldn't finish her dinner.

I would back right off.

It's such an anxiety, isn't it, when we don't think our children are eating enough? But by trying to force our children to eat we risk them losing any understanding themselves of when they are full, when they are hungry, what foods they do and don't like (and when we stop understanding that we are full or hungry, we open the door to being overweight later in life, or being unhealthily thin). One of the most important things your child can learn is how to self-regulate their food intake and, by definition, you can't make it happen, you have to LET it happen. (there was something about this in the papers just a couple of days ago - about parents trying to get their children to eat another spoonful and how harmful it can be in the long run)

Reassurance: no 4-year old is going to starve themself, as long as you provide food they like.

1) some people are grazers, not big meal eaters. You could try just letting go of the expectation of big meals, and providing healthy snacks for child to eat during the day.

2) I would mix up the family meal time for a bit - it can be such a big deal, yk? My feeling is that once adult meal time conversation is interesting to a child, they'll come and take part - there's no need to "train them" up to it. Have carpet picnics, TV dinners, breakfast in bed - just let go of that whole everyone-sitting-together-and talking-and-eating-together thing, because sometimes it's much easier to eat when there aren't two or more adults watching your every move.

3) can child say what she wants to eat? Go with it. You'll find it's beans on toast 3 times a day for a week, and then suddenly there'll be a day when it's all about apples or all about bananas, or it's chips with everything until suddenly rice is flavour of the month. Or maybe it'll be just chocolate for one day (I don't know many people who'd do that for more than one day, but you have to do it once to realise how icky you feel at the end of it. No lecture needed, just offer something bland like yoghurt to help the poor tummy recover!!!) Left to themselves, people don't eat a balanced diet every day, but when you work it out over a week or a month, actually all the right stuff is going in.

The more you worry, the more you will communicate your tension to your child, and the more she'll pick up that food is something to be anxious about. So you really have to chill out, if you possibly can, and then food will become more fun for everyone for many years to come!

Oh - and where did we get this thing about finishing our plateful? It's so arbitrary! My parents' generation will have picked it up in the days of rationing, and passed it on to us with new justifications. When I was little it was all about the starving children in Africa (well send them my ruddy left-over mashed potato then, I'm FULL UP!!!!)

It's taken me a long time to learn to stop eating when I'm full. Sometimes my eyes are bigger than my tummy. Sometimes the eyes of the person serving up for me are bigger than my tummy (if that makes any sense).

If you don't want to put leftover food in the bin, then
1) put it in the fridge for your own breakfast
2) only have a tiny helping yourself and then clear anyone else's plate
3) yes, tiny portions. Or maybe the meat in one little bowl and the rice in another, so if child only eats one sort of food, the rest can pop in the fridge.
4) get chickens or pigs to eat the scraps
5) start composting, and think about all that goodness going to grow next year's peas

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sibling rivalry

I wonder why and how siblings develop a competitive edge? Many many of them do.

Perhaps it goes right back to mama soothing the baby when older child also needs attention and touch?

Rivalry can spill over into the rest of life.

Some people I encounter only know they want sometihng when they hear that someone else wants it or is having it. Some people will happily have a small piece of cake until they realise someone else is having a larger one. Some people prefer to be the fastest swimmer in their lane. Some people want to read the book I just started rather than any of the other 20 lying around the room.

I have no idea how one combats it or engages with it with small children, except perhaps to encourage them to find happiness and fulfillment through their own actions rather than by comparison with the actions of others (this is a place where only children have a real advantage over siblings, I think - I rarely encounter onlies minding other people playing with their toys, or comparing helping sizes or whatever; I see it all the time among those with siblings).

- have toys and spaces which are really one person's, and if they say "leave" or "let go", their wishes are respected, in the same way that if the shopkeeper says "I'm closing now, please finish up, pay and go" you have to respect and adhere to that.

- having more parallel play going on, where one is baking cakes and the other is painting or something, so that the comparisons are irrelevant?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

...and mothers are people too

One of the big factors in women stopping breastfeeding seems to be blocked ducts, and then often mastitis.

A friend just had a bout of full-blown antibiotic-requiring mastitis, so I emailed her all the advice I could think of which I had ever encountered. I think if women were given good advice about blocked ducts, lots of them would feed for much longer than they do.

Please add further anti-blockage ideas in the comments...

Sometimes one can clear the blockage by pushing the milk through with a hand while baby is suckling (pushing from the armpit past the place where it hurts all the way to the nipple, or from the torso all the way, if it's a blockage right on the front. They often seem to be in the armpit though).

Avoid wearing a tight bra, or anything else which constricts the flesh on or around the breasts. A tight t-shirt can be enough to induce a blocked duct for some women.

It often helps to have the bottom of the baby's mouth (the bit which does the real sucking) on the same side of the breast as the blockage. Prepare for some odd contortions...

It might help to lie the baby on their back, and have mama go on hands and knees over baby while breastfeeding to clear the block. It looks very odd but the gravity helps. Mooing is optional.

If your breast is hurting, the moment important thing you have to do on that day is to clear that blockage. Hot towels, cabbage leaves, lots of nursing on that side, maybe try a breastpump - whatever it takes. If you go to sleep with it still blocked, you risk infection and fever.

The most outrageous advice I have heard (but also, anecdotally, the most effective) is: your baby is not the only person in the house with a mouth. I've often heard of people enlisting the help of their nursing toddlers to clear a baby-induced blockage - they suck so hard that it takes seconds. And if there aren't any of those available, a co-parent is also an option. They'll save you 5 days of illness for a few moments of cultural dissonance, in the complete privacy of their own home. And remember, they can always spit not swallow if the whole idea is utterly revolting to them (though the breastmilk would probably do their immune system the world of good ;-b )

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bad reasons not to have children

There was an article in the Times by a woman who has two children who appears to regret it rather bitterly. There's a nice fisking at:

I think I know why this woman is so bitter. It is because she thinks that motherhood entails sacrificing all sorts of important aspects of ones autonomy - physical (childbirth, breastfeeding, children climbing all over one), intellectual (as expressed in having a career, and childless-adult-dinner-party kind of conversation), and emotional (tension in the new nexus of relationships between the two couples and their children).

I think people - both men and women - should embark on parenting with as much seriousness as they would embark on any other creative project. I don't mean that children are a project (urgh), I mean that being the best parent one can be, and having the most possible fun in the process, is the way to approach it. A woman wants intellectual stimulation beyond the interests and needs of her 6 year old? Fine. Find a way to get that stimulation, don't blame the 6 year old for existing, or for their supposed limiting of opportunity. It boils down to optimism. Er... and TCS, I guess.

The self-sacrifice memes are at the root of that woman's book and article. She does not know that one can have, or at least approach, an autonomy-respecting relationship with one's children. I'm not surprised - self-sacrifice is deeply engrained in most women - we learned it at our own mothers' knees - and I think that learning to express what one actually wants oneself is one of the biggest hurdles to happy motherhood (it's certainly my biggest hurdle).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why I don't share details about members of my family

My own personal details shouldn't bother people. If I want to tell you all about my two heads, or my ingrown toenail surgery, then you might think "oh gawd there goes that boring me me me person again" because actually my personal details are not quite as thrilling as I think they are, but I'm just a bore, I'm not doing something morally wrong.

But once I start sharing with you all the details of my aunt's hysterectomy and the dreadful mess the surgeon made of it and the infections she had Down There, and exactly what impact it had on her failing sex life, you might start thinking "wtf? Does this aunt mind having these revolting details shared with complete strangers? What if I am one day introduced to her? However am I going to treat her with the respect and courtesy this poor woman deserves instead of going into howls of laughter any time someone mentions having Something Else Removed?" [by the way, I don't know whether any of my real aunts have had hysterectomies, this was a completely invented story]

It's EXACTLY the same when we talk about our children in public, but on a less extreme level. If I have told my parents all about my (fictional) 10 year old son's intense interest in airplanes, then the chances are that they will act on that. When we next visit, they'll strike up a conversation about airplanes. They'll already have arranged to take him to an airshow. Dad will have got out all his (fictional) aviation magazines.
No harm done?

- My fictional son had no chance to tell grandpa himself about his interest, to watch the delight in a shared theme blossom on grandpa's face, to go to the attic together to find the aviation magazines.
- My fictional son had no chance to see posters for the airshow and ask the grandparents themselves if they'd like to go.
- My fictional son also had no chance for this interest actually to fill only one wet Thursday afternoon. Because my telling stories about him concretised a personality trait, it will take quite some doing (and some considerable disappointment for grandpa) for him to move from airplanes on to car engines. Perhaps he'd really prefer not to go to the airshow, but to visit a car showroom, but that'll really disappoint the grandparents.

That's why it bothers me - because our children become essentialised outside the home or online - oh - her child is the one who wets the bed; her child is the one who had the huge tantum in Asda. People become defined by anecdotes told about them, rather than by being themselves.

This post was written for a public messageboard. I think that there has to be a place for an adult to say "we went to the swimming pool today" because their own story is intertwined with that of their child. Rather than a public forum, perhaps one is best to use a private messageboard, an email, a PM, a passworded blog. Or telephone or AIM for conversations which are not recorded (or in person of course).

There are limits to the kind of information one should share in any context - I am still working out what I think those limits ought to be - perhaps they vary somewhat from person to person.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Third way parenting

Heh. Here's a way of articulating it:

1) try to discipline our children so they do what we want and they don't always get their own way. This requires naughty steps, hitting the children, telling them off, praising the good and ignoring the bad - whatever discipline steps the mum takes, it's basically behaviourism a la Skinner - we are trying to alter who our children are and what they want by the provision or withdrawal of affection. And that's the standard kind of parenting.

2) let our children do whatever they want. disaster. Ends up with burnt out mums having breakdowns, years and years of self-sacrifice with more and more resentment under the surface, mum getting to the stage where she doesn't even really know what she'd prefer herself, she's got so used to servicing the desires of her children. Also very likely to end up with children who find it almost impossible to interact with other children or adults because they don't comply with every request. Likely to be called "spoiled brats".

3) consentual parenting. Unconditional parenting. Natural parenting. Taking children seriously. All sorts of trendy words for closely related philosophies which suggest finding common preferences. there's a battle where child wants a and parent wants b. In standard parenting a happens with a tantrum, or with mum getting hit and bit. In bratty parenting b happens with mum feeling angry underneath. In the third type of parenting, parent and child work together to find either a way of a or b happening which both are happy with, or discover c, which actually both are happier about than either was about a or b. It can happen with pre-verbal children, you just have to get good at reading their cues and offering possibilities in ways they understand. the parent is responsible for helping their child interact with society in constructive ways (ie not becoming a brat), but through reason instead of discipline.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Politicians get it wrong

So.. the teachers are saying that testing school children every five minutes is worse than pointless, but both the DfES and the opposition say that they think it's an important way of ensuring standards;jsessionid=LW5ZPXF1YA22NQFIQMGCFFWAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2007/06/10/nexam110.xml

Hint: teachers - you should all simply refuse to administer the SATS.

Children playing in fridges

Mother of a toddler says
"what do I do? My child keeps playing in the fridge"

I think it's a really normal phase for a child to be interested in emptying things out of the fridge.

In this situation, I would get to the fridge quickly, and quietly remove eggs, anything liquid in an open container, and put them somewhere cool (sink of cold water for open milk cartons maybe?) and then I would turn the fridge off and give the child a LARGE tupperware container or washing up bowl to put the food in.

At first, you may well have to help with putting them into the bowl rather than having them strewn across the floor. Encourage child to experiment with tasting butter/cheese/vegetables/fruit (some children like eating raw onion, garlic, brussel sprouts, cabbage at this age...).

When all the food is out of the fridge, help them put it all back. Rinse and repeat.Honestly, if it wasn't for these sorts of passing interests in our children, we'd all have fridges full of archeological specimens we'd forgotten all about... (or maybe that's just me)

(and think in your mind that this exploration is not likely to last more than a month. It might be significantly less time. Anything really perishable can go in the freezer for a couple of hours)

"no, this is a terrible idea. Children should not explore in fridges"

Why are there forbidden zones which a child should not be helped to explore safely?

...those no go areas vary from person to person. For some people it's going in the fridge at all. For some people going in the fridge is ok, as long as it's with the parent controlling what they do in it (and I'm in that camp to an extent, since I'd quietly remove open yoghurt pots before the child noticed), but for some mothers the whole kitchen is a forbidden area and the child is left crying outside a stairgate.

... which means that the "need to leave alone" is not that the child needs to leave it alone for some rational universal reason.

Speeding lorry advancing at 40 miles an hour - every parent would see the middle of the road as a no go for their child at that moment - the child needs to leave the middle of the road alone in order to stay alive, and parent would be right to force their child back on the pavement in the heat of that moment. But the fridge scenario is not black and white at all.

It's a fridge not a toy. I can't see any rational person entertaining their
child by letting them into the fridge. And it has nothing to do with road safety.

If a child is really keen to get in the fridge and play with the objects in it, I think it is better to find a way for that to happen which makes both parent and child happy rather than to make child very distressed over what is actually parent's arbitrary limitation.

There are all sorts of ways of keeping the food cool while playing in and around the fridge. I'd slip meat into the freezer as soon as it came out of the fridge. I'd probably grab a bag of Tesco economy frozen peas out of the freezer (like about 60p worth of peas) and use them to form a cool cushion at the bottom of the container the food was going into. If this game looked likely to be played tomorrow as well, I'd make a HEAP of ice cubes that night so I could keep the stuff cool for no money at all. The child might even get more interested in the ice cubes than the food, at which point the fridge could be filled and shut and turned on again.

That's just in a 2 minute brainstorm. If this was a real situation in my house, I'd be putting a lot of creative energy into making a good solution for everyone because a) tantrums are exhausting for everyone, children and parents and b) what an opportunity for a child to learn all sorts of things about colours and shapes and textures and tastes and counting and stacking and... so many things our children do can be embraced as learning opportunities rather than things we have to stop them doing and c) it'll be a passing phase. The more the parent helps their child explore whatever the phase is safely and fully, the less likely the child is to want to go back to it again and again and again, when parent's back is turned, eventually finding a way past the fridge lock and destroying a week's worth of groceries.

And no, road safety has NOTHING to do with fridge locks or household safety - that was exactly my point! There's a black and white "children must not be left in the path of speeding lorries". There is no clear right and wrong here - there's no obvious "children mustn't play in fridges because they'll die" - there are only the limitations of their parents' willingness to make it possible for them to explore in this particular environment.

And as for toy/not toy - that's an arbitrary distinction too, as every child (along with any adult who has ever put a 1 year old on a kitchen floor with a metal saucepan and two wooden spoons) knows.

Quote of the month

"I think Montessori isn’t considered proper education - it’s a bit faddy. Nowhere near as faddy as the national curriculum and sats if you ask me. "

home education cartoons

These are just lovely!!!

(found via Carlotta's Dare to Know blog)

Friday, June 08, 2007

exams are not important

"But how will your home educated child get proper qualifications?"

...rather begs the question of whether those qualifications are worth getting. GCSE Physics has become political and, according to one physics teacher, isn't actually about physics at all:

Not a GCSE I'd want to touch with a bargepole... rather like the recent incarnation of New Scientist (which should berenamed New Environmentalist)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

John Bowlby

I've occasionally heard John Bowlby mentioned in "Nurseries are all evil" conversations, so I thought I'd read for myself.

I recently finished "Childcare and the Growth of Love" which was first published in1953. It came out of the context of the end of the second world war, and was the easy-reading version of a UN report on homeless children. There were many children displaced or orphaned during WWII in Europe, and Bowlby was one of the people who studied the effects of different kinds of upheaval.

Not surprisingly, the studies of the time all showed that children are happier at home than in an institution, even if their parents are pretty unsatisfactory, and they are better off with continuity of care in a foster home or orphanage than having lots of different careworkers. So "families" in orphanages were seen as one partial solution. This was all pretty shocking at the time - less than 10 years earlier than Bowlby's studies, children were regularly being evacuated from London and other major cities without their parents. Their physical safety was the main concern, but the emotional damage of such enforced separation had not really been taken into account. Nowadays, of course, it's taken as read that the babies in Rumanian orphanages who were only looked at when it was feeding or nappy changing time would be emotionally, physically and intellectually stunted.

Bowlby quite reasonably concludes that the best place for a child to be is with its parents, and that the state is better placed putting its welfare resources into supporting families rather than whisking children away into institutions, and my understanding is that that is now well entrenched in welfare provision, certainly in the UK.

But he then makes this extraordinary non sequiteur. Children are best brought up in their homes (agreed) so, says Bowlby, mothers shouldn't be going out to work, but should be staying at home with their children. He was, of course, writing at just the moment when thousands of men were being demobbed and needed employment, and I think that must have been the motivation behind the judgement, because his evidence was quite clear that living in an institution is bad for children, and that foster homes are a poor second to the real family home, but his evidence didn't actually show that day nurseries or child minders are a bad thing.

Don't get me wrong. I think day nurseries and child minders may well be a bad thing for small children, but Bowlby doesn't show it, at least, not in this book. Suggestions for further reading in the comments please...

Children mirroring parents

"he kicks, he nips, he shouts, he bites, has the worst tantrums I have ever seen and doesnt listen to a word I say!!!"

He sounds really really angry. Here's what I'd be doing:

1. concentrate on what is making him so furious, and do whatever you can to a) help him do the thing he is struggling with, if it's safe or b) offer something he'll enjoy even better. It's much easier to persuade a toddler into a car seat if you've found out why they don't want to go in it and solved that problem (you want to hold Thomas the Tank Engine all the time while you're getting in??? Oh - ok then! Smiles all round). Someone is more likely not to have any problem leaving the playground if you're suggesting a minimilk from the icecream van on the way home...

2. be very very careful about your responses. Children mirror what their parents do, a lot. I'm not suggesting you're hitting him for a moment, but when you write

"I try and give him trouble"
"I shouted for him to come here several times"

... he might be learning to shout back because that's what people around him seem to do when they are in a situation they don't like. (but maybe I'm reading your words wrong - that was just the interpretation that jumped out at me.

3. You seem to be telling him a lot that things are "naughty". Naughty is just a word, and your child isn't even 2 yet, so he isn't exactly fluent in English yet, let alone being well practised at abstract reasoning. Use as few words as you possibly can to explain what the actual problem is, and to show him without punishing. Punishment is completely meaningless to a child of this age - all they'll see is an arbitrary withdrawal of mummy's love until they do something magic like say "sorry" (whatever that means - just another word). That's why putting him in his room isn't making him penitent - it's just inexplicable, from a child's point of view. If he's reaching for the hot oven, you could say "NO!! That's naughty! Come here at once and listen!" Or you could say "LOOK OUT! Hot!" and then go with him and put your hand near the oven so you can feel the heat without burning and encourage him to do the same, and do safe experiments with the hot water tap and lit candles and things so he really understands the concept of hot. There isn't actually anything "naughty" about exploring the world. Our children just need our help to do it in a civilised and safe manner.

4. Playdates just aren't a time for mums to relax at this age. You need to be down on the floor with the children at all times, helping them interact in a friendly way with each other, making sure both of them have access to toys they want (here's a car for billy and here's one for Jake, look that one's green and this one I've got is red - do you want the red one?). Avoiding toddler conflict requires running pretty constant interference, and I think we are much better helping our children to learn to interact in a civilised manner by being there helping them on the spot than by telling them off afterwards for getting it wrong.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Almost enough to make one turn to religion

... clear instructions for making a paper boat, with optional bible study...

Children as prisoners

I used to go off on enormously long bike rides as a child. The only rules were that one had to give an estimated time of return and one was not permitted to go on one stretch of very busy road with very blind corners. No bike helmets, no molbile phones (they were the size and weight of bricks in those days, anyway, if they'd even been invented)

By the age of 14, I was travelling 100 miles to London every Saturday for the professional training of my choice. Train, 2 tubes and a walk, or train and bus, or train and bus and walk - I got pretty confident at getting to my destination in different ways. Alone.

That sort of thing happens less and less in the UK.

I wonder how parents can now maximise the chances of their children having such freedom? Immediately springing to mind are:

Becoming properly informed about the risks of various activities, the risks of car accidents, bicycle accidents, random abductors etc.

Buying child a mobile phone as soon as they are able to operate one. (maybe - I see problems with parent being a virtual presence there, actually)

Become accustomed to taking their children seriously, so that requests for independent adventures can be rationally approached.

It's all just an extension of parents who don't help their children learn to walk on 6" high walls when they first show an interest aged 1 or 2 because it's "dangerous"

This is somewhat half baked but I have other things I want to do now, so I'll use the old "I should edit this but the baby just jumped off the top of the kitchen cabinets" privacy-violating get-out clause...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ideas for helping a very physical child

Boisterously physical - as in, climbs all over his mother and kicks and has cracked her two front teeth. By accident, presumably.

I suggested:

Find LOTS of opportunities for climbing - trees? playgrounds? softplay? walls? Round the living room without touching the floor? (I used to love that game) If in doubt, scatter more cushions. And a good pair of reins can function like a climbing harness.

Sounds like he needs rough and tumble. How about swinging him round and round by the arms/feet/one arm and one foot? (hint: keep your gaze fixed on one spot and then whip your head round fast to get to that place again, like a dancer - then you won't get as dizzy as him)

Buy a cheap old mattress for bouncing on. Those child's trampolines are good too.

Pillow fights.

Are there any uncles or other relatives who might enjoy a good old rough and tumble?

In all your hours and hours of free time (*chortle - oh no, that's just in the parallel universe where you have a time machine*) might it be worth learning some kind of judo or wrestling or tumbling or something? Then you would know how to fall well and also how to help your child land safely

I think that Lawrence Cohen book called Playful Parenting has stuff about safe physical play, but I can't actually remember if it gave clear guidelines for wrestling. Might be helpful an

Monday, May 28, 2007

fussy eater

So a child won't eat a huge selection of foods, and the mother has decided that she's not prepared to cook the same thing every night. She will offer the child whatever the family is eating, and if they won't eat it, they'll go hungry.

Relevant anecdote
I have a vivid memory of a school dinner which came around on the menu once a month. It was fish with a white sauce and tomato ketchup. The rule was that you had to finish your meal before you could go out to play. There was no choice of meal.

Even bringing the memory of that food back to mind is setting off my gag reflex. I have not eaten tomato ketchup since I left that school. So if their plan was to force me to eat certain foods because it would make me like them, their plan completely misfired.

Oh God, I've just remembered the custard tart thing which had what we described as pepper on top but I guess was cinnamon. That WAS possible to swallow, but only if you held your nose. Strangely enough, not a dish I have sought out in adulthood.

Ihad a friend who was fine with the fish and the custard tart, but his bugbear was the cheesecake. Generally he'd just sit in the dining room for the whole lunch time, but one time he was so desperate to go out and play that he took a mouthful and WAS SICK ALL OVER THE PLATE. His mum came in and tore the headteacher off a strip, and after that the rule changed and you no longer had to eat the food you didn't like (there still wasn't any choice though; just the one meal)

My approach
I'd be taking a completely different tack - rejoice at the veg and pasta and fruit and fishfingers - that's a balanced diet before you even start - and just offer other things on the plate or on a separate plate at the same meal time.

If there are things a child will often eat, but not if there's a bowl of pasta available, give them the other things five minutes before you produce the pasta, so they maybe have a bit of whatever else it was.

I'd be offering a selection of things which my child might want to eat in that meal, and the rejected ones I'd eat myself or pop in the fridge or freezer for another occasion.

I'd be aiming at a balanced diet over a week or month rather than every day. And of course my values would reflect in the kinds of things I offered - whether it was all organic tofu or there was a big concentration of chips, or whatever it might be. In that way, I'd be inexplicitly sharing my understanding of what good things and bad things are to eat. [nb I've never tasted tofu in my life but I had chips for lunch today...]

The theory bit
Why would you be punishing someone for not wanting to eat certain foods???? What precisely are you hoping to achieve by that? I just don't get it as a strategy for developing a balanced diet and adventurous palate. It certainly didn't work for me and my friends at primary school.

Worth thinking also about food as control and as battleground. If a person doesn't have control over food - they are forced to eat things they don't want and when they don't want to eat, in circumstances which they don't want to eat in, that can become a really really serious battleground later on. And in their teens, the way a person might well be taking control over that part of their lives if it's been a battleground through early childhood is through anorexia and bulimia and other eating disorders and binge/slim stuff. Maybe these hypothetical unintended consequences are too extreme and unrealistic, but I'd definitely be wanting to watch out carefully for whatever knock on effects this kind of battle might have both on my child's psyche and on our relationship.

No shoes or socks thanks

I'm sure I've visited that challenge before. Here are some possibilities:

Sandals with no socks?
Those jelly shoe things?
Bare feet?
Some of those little leather baby shoes? (like - that's not me spamming, it was just the first google hit)

Some children go through a stage where they HATE putting on shoes and socks before going out, but once they are outside smelling a flower or something, you can slip them on without the child even noticing or minding. Or leave them off till you get to a piece of rough ground and then offer the shoes.

Are you sure the shoes are comfortable? That'd lead me towards the baby shoes because they are just so soft.

I spent most of my childhood running around with bare feet, except when I was in a nettle patch or among too much chicken s**t :-)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Argument against controlled crying

If considering controlled crying, I'd be asking myself some very honest questions about what I was hoping to achieve, what my perception of the process was, and then what my child's perception of the process was likely to be, and finally what unintended consequences the action might have on top of the grand plan of my child learning to sleep alone.

I personally believe the distress of a crying child left alone for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour, is immensely psychologically damaging to them, both in the short and long term.

I also believe the unintended consequences include: long term damage to child's trust in parent and decreasing likelihood of child being able to communicate their needs successfully; blunting of maternal instinct and increasing inability to respond to child's distress and other wants.

Controlled crying may be training your child to sleep alone, but it is also arguably training you to dismiss their cries as "not serious" or "attention seeking" until they are absolutely frantic.

Maybe I'm wrong. But I'd be really interested to see a correlation study comparing parents who leave their children to cry alone and parents who complain that their children tantrum regularly. There seem to be clear links of relationship dynamic to me.

I'd also be interested to see a correlation studying comparing the controlled crying parents with those who complain later that their teens don't communicate with them at all.

And I also think it is worth noting that Richard Ferber, who invented the technique, has since distanced himself from many of the ways people apply it, saying that while it works for some children to be left alone for a couple of minutes and they drop off, he NEVER intended for it to cause hours of distress for anyone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My child hits other people's children

Not my child; this is the question someone asked advice about at a mainstream board.

Stay with your child in such situations, and get between them and any other children if there's any sign of them hitting. Model the kind of behaviour with other children that you want your child to pick up on. Be really verbal "little girl down the slide and then it'll be your turn. There she goes 1, 2, 3 weee and now it's your go!". "That boy is playing with that ball. Shall we find a ball for you?"

Make sure you always have a soft toy or a book or something in your bag - acts as collatoral in potential toy conflicts. I know some groups of mamas whose children regularly go home with each other's soft toys, because that was the thing each child was happy holding as they parted. Charity shop toys are good for this sort of thing - I'd always be prepared to just give a 60p toy away to some other person's child rather than having a fight start.

Just in case you weren't anyway... you need to be right there with your child, helping them to learn about interacting with the world in a way that will make people love them. It's not a question of telling off, it's just that they've learned to walk and they've learned to talk a bit, and now they are in the process of learning to interact with strange children - they need your loving guidance in getting that right.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

not allowed in the kitchen

And little boy stands on the other side of the stairgate and cries...

"i don't like sam in there when i am cooking for safety reasons."

I'm trying to think what they could be. Sharp knives? Give child one of those ancient blunt little kitchen knives we somehow all have one or two of, which hardly cut anything, and have him help you chop the veggies?

Dangerous objects in low cupboards? Either move them higher and safe things lower, or get those cupboard fasteners from mothercare

Kettle lead? Attach it to the wall so child can't pull boiling water on their head

Hot pans? I learned at my mother's knee to keep the pan handles tucked inwards so you can't pull them off the cooker

I don't think it's ever too soon to teach your child about hot rings and hot water in safe ways - putting a ring on and holding them far enough away to be safe but close enough to feel the heat, and explaining "hot", or whatever. candles are very good for learning about heat.

In your situation I'd be finding ways of making it possible for my child to come in the kitchen safely - because there's going to come a time when no part of the house is a no-go area, so why not work out how to make that possible as soon as you can? - and I'd be finding really cool things to amuse them safely while they are in there. Some salt and flour and food colouring and water? (make his own playdough) or a basin of water and some plastic mugs for pouring at the sink (And when itgoes on the floor, you just mop it up and feel smug because you mopped your kitchen unlike the rest of us)

"i don't want sam wandering or playing the kitchen period, so he has to learn
this, it is a boundary or rule i am setting him. i am happy for him to have his
own way on lots of things but not the kitchen. this is just my choice to keep
him out of harms way"
He thinks you're wrong about that. That's why he cries.
He might be right.

Toddler screaming

"Anytime he cant do what he wants or get what he wants sets him off"

Toddlers are discovering so much about the universe - about what is possible and what isn't possible and what is allowed and what isn't allowed. It must be incredibly frustrating because to them so many rules seem totally arbitrary.

So... I'd be trying to work out really carefully what the child is really after, and then, if possible a) work out a way to make that safe and ok to do right now (e.g. by wheeling the buggy between them and the busy road so they can walk safely without holding hands)

b) work out a way to make it safe and ok to do next time (e.g. by buying toddler reins so they can walk by a busy road without holding hands whether or not the buggy is on the traffic side of them)

c) if you can't think of a b) yet, work out a way to avoid the problem until you do (child doesn't want to hold hands or wear reins, so walk on the back streets for a week or two, maybe)

And remember that it may well be the child who comes up with a), b), or c), even if they are preverbal.

Children are going to get incredibly frustrated at the universe sometimes - it just isn't possible for them to go on the roller coaster because they aren't tall enough, say - but I would save my "no, you can't do that" for the really impossible situations, otherwise working with the child to find a solution that both you and they are happy with.

not allowed to do things

You know the advice women get given about men in Cosmo? "Never try to change a man, just accept him as he is, and then find ways of being happy with the situation" I wonder whether that acceptance might be applied by parents who are in conflict with their children a lot.

Here's an equivalent between parent and daughter:

"She will deliberately do things she knows she's not allowed to do"

She thinks you are wrong about not letting her do those things. Either a) you haven't explained or shown why sufficiently well or b) you might be wrong. [and remember that a gesture may communicate more than a word and a sentence may communicate more than a paragraph - if you can't explain and persuade in less than 15 seconds, you maybe don't actually have a very clear and rational reason for forbidding the thing...]

"I have started sending her to her room telling her she can come out when she's
stopped crying"

(This is a parent who complained that her child doesn't listen) From her point of view, that's got to look as if YOU don't listen!!!

"Something as trivial as her asking for a drink and being told "in a second
babe" can be enough to set her into a full blown rage and I can't handle it any

Don't worry - this one is easy. You say "yes of course you can have a drink. Do you want to get it yourself right now, or do you mind if I quickly finish up what I'm doing and then get it for you?" If she wants you to get it immediately? I'd be inclined to get the drink straight away (that's got to be better than rage), and then in future make sure there are drinks available near her so you don't have to fetch all the time. I know a man who used to keep a stack of bottled water by the side of the couch so that whenever his wife said "can I have a drink please?" he could say "yes of course darling" and hand one over without missing a moment of the footie...

Monday, May 14, 2007

School's Out

this is astonishing. Good news. No more schools in Knowsley, but drop-in education centres.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The problem with copying

... is that you end up making these mistakes. Reproduced here just because I adore these long words...

Dittography (writing the same thing twice)
Haplography (missing out one iteration of a repeated passage)
Homoeoarchon (where two passages begin the same, and only the second gets copied)
Homoeoteleuton (where two passages end the same and only the first gets copied)

Nothing to do with children being people or anything else related to the point of this blog. Just revelling in the polysyllables.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A letter to the Guardian

Dear Sir,

I have several concerns about your recent Home Education piece, ‘Educators fear for standards of home schooling’. First, most in the Home Education community prefer to refer to what they do as education, not schooling. In fact, if James Meikle had read the consulation document to which the article refers, he would find that the current guidelines are very clear (see paragraph 3.11 in particular) that home education may not look like home schooling at all.

Your article opens: ‘The government has issued its first consultation into the growing practice of home schooling to find out whether rules need to be tightened over how children are taught out of the education system.’ This is simply wrong. The DfES are planning to issue new guidelines to LAs to assist with their dealings with Home Educators. There is, explicitly, no plan to change the law. In the email informing interested parties that the consultation had opened, Elaine Haste at the DfES wrote: 'it has been decided not to propose any changes to monitoring arrangements or legislation so this consultation is solely on the issuing of guidelines.' This needs clarification in your coverage; it is overly intrusive LA inspectors who are being reined in to follow the law as it stands, and the current consultation has no brief ‘to find out whether rules need to be tightened’ or decide ‘whether new laws were needed’. Again, this is very clear from reading the consultation document itself.

‘Local authorities fear the safety and well-being of "a small number of children" is being put at risk by the "minimal" regulation of standards in home schooling, the Department for Education and Skills said in a consultation document’. Not the consultation document on Home Education – I have searched for these quotations in vain. Perhaps you would clarify the source of them. It is very clear from the consultation document that LAs already have power to intervene when they have good reason to believe that children are not receiving a suitable education (see in particular paragraphs 2.7 – 2.10); the safety and well-being of this “small number of children” is instead put at risk by Local Authorities failing to do their job within the current legal framework, as the recent Eunice Spry case amply demonstrated.

And where is the evidence for the reported claims of Tony Mooney that home educating parents cannot ‘deliver seven or eight subjects entered for GCSE’, getting ‘in particular trouble with mathematics, science and languages’? It would only take a phone call to Education Otherwise to hear to what extent that misrepresents the aspirations and achievements of the home educating community. And Mooney’s anxiety over children from ‘working-class estates where parents have not been able to get their kids to school because they have been bullied or are school phobics’ demonstrates a contempt for the ability of the working class to make the best decisions for their children, and to educate them appropriately. Again, might I suggest that your journalist keeps abreast of the latest media coverage of working class home educating parents (here, for example). Is it possible that instead of having ‘twigged it is easier’, such parents have simply lost patience with a state schooling system in which bullying is endemic and, for some, fatal, and have chosen to provide an appropriate education for their children themselves? Instead of relying on the views of polemicists like Mooney, the Guardian might be better turning its critical attention to the parents whose interpretation of their legal responsibility to 'provide an efficient education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child' is to let them take their chances in the failing state school system, rather than putting out misleading information about those who instead make the decision to take their legal responsibility seriously and, in the absence of adequate school provision, educate their children themselves.

Yours faithfully,

A letter to the Telegraph

Dear Sir,

The first thing to surprise me about your recent Home Education piece was the title: 'New rules to cover rise in home schooling'

Please could you tell me the origin of this headline claim?

First, most in the Home Education community prefer to refer to what they do as education, not schooling. In fact, if your headline writer had read the consulation document to which the article refers, (s)he would find that the current guidelines are very clear (see paragraph 3.11 in particular) that home education may not look like home schooling at all.

Most importantly, what are these 'new rules'? The DfES are planning to issue new guidelines to LAs to assist with their dealings with Home Educators. There is, explicitly, no plan to change the law. In the email informing interested parties that the consultation had opened, Elaine Haste at the DfES wrote: 'it has been decided not to propose any changes to monitoring arrangements or legislation so this consultation is solely on the issuing of guidelines.' This needs clarification in your coverage; it is overly intrusive LA inspectors who are being reined in to follow the law as it stands - it would take very few phone calls for your journalist to establish that many LA inspectors have a shaky grasp of the law in this area, and rely on equal ignorance on the part of home educators.

'officials fear that many do little or no work as parents use home education as a front for truancy'. Which officials? DfES officials? Or perhaps LA officials, like those notorious in HE circles for their campaign against home education. Might I suggest that you contact Ann Newstead at Education Otherwise once again, ask to make contact with some media-friendly HE families, and send a journalist to collect some information about the real activities of home educating families and the learning outcomes? 'a front for truancy' may be attention grabbing, but it is painfully far off the mark.

The Telegraph might be better turning its attention to the parents whose interpretation of their legal responsibility to 'provide an efficient education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child' is to put them in the failing state school system, rather than putting out misleading information about those who instead make the decision to take their legal responsibility seriously and, in the absence of adequate school provision, educate their children themselves.

Yours faithfully,

Saturday, May 05, 2007

More conversation about "naughty" wall-painting children

why not just allow a child to draw sitting at a table with paper instead of the
I'm assuming that the parent has done that. I'm thinking of ways to cope with child not wanting to draw on the paper and colouring books provided.

I'm assuming parent has already spread newspaper on the kitchen floor and let the child have at it with plates of paint and potato prints and hand and foot prints, and walking on the paper with paint-y wellies on and everything else.

This is a child who REALLY wants to paint on the walls, I'm assuming.

I don't think any encouragement to draw on house walls is a good suggestion
Why not? You might get some just stunning murals. Or if they aren't any good, you just wash 'em off at the end of the painting session. What's the big deal?

and also having one rule at home and one rule somewhere else is creating more
rules and potential confusion to a young child...why is it acceptable mummy to
draw on our walls and not at x house!
Let's turn that the other way round. One of the things children learn about is property. This is my car, that's Billy's car. This is our house, that's Billy's house. Explaining about some things being ok only at our house is a valuable part of that process.

Plus: why create a false "no" at home in preparation for a real "no" somewhere else? If your "no"s are usually arbitrary and actually not rational, why would you expect your child to listen when you say a real urgent "no" in order to protect the safety of your child, someone else, or someone else's property? You're much likelier to have your child heed your advice if your relationship is based on honesty and trust than if it is based on authority and Conforming to Normal Behaviour Or You'll Be Considered Naughty.

Plus: if there actually ISN'T any good reason not to paint on the walls together, then does saying "no" really make life easier for anyone? Some might regard it as picking an unnecessary fight, or exerting power over someone small when it could instead have been a wonderful game together.

Also, maybe this is just my impression but why is discipline being looked at
like a dirty word...
Because discipline implies one person having power over another, simply by virtue of being the adult. I consider that the last refuge of the unimaginative. If you can't persuade someone to your viewpoint by reason, or by offering something better to do, you then "discipline" them, right?

But if you've actually got good reason why they shouldn't do that thing, and you've really offered much more exciting alternatives, the child won't do it. If the child still wants to do it, maybe the child is actually in the right and the adult is in the wrong. "Discipline" doesn't allow for that possibility.

I would also imagine that a child that goes to school never having had any
discipline is going to be incredibly sensitive/reactive when it comes their way
through school/authority figures
Me too :-) I would just ask: when in history has any good come from people not questioning authority figures when they think they are wrong?

With grateful acknowledgements to the anonymous Frog Pond poster who provided most of these ideas ready for me to communicate into the wider world.

Friday, May 04, 2007

My child is too naughty!

With a list of misdemeanours...

Think PLAY!!!

"throws things". great! find some things which are good to throw - soft balls or cuddly toys and do lots and lots of throwing with her. No need to tell her off - when she throws something you don't want crashing around the house, just pick it up and get some throwable things and as you throw the first thing gently to her, pop the hard thing somewhere out of sight till the throwing game is over. No need to say anything - she'll soon cotton on that fun throwing games happen with certain types of objects rather than others

"draws on the walls" This is a good one. find ways for her to draw on the walls without staining. ELC ready mix paint is good as long as you wipe it off while it is still wet. Can't guarantee any other brands - I've always found crayola washable a bit staining. There are hints on the web about getting crayon off walls, though I've never had that one. Chalk is billiant because it brushes off dead easily. A paint brush and a little pot of water makes a good temporary mark which just dries off. I like those elc bath crayons too for drawing on any tiled surface or on enamel felt tip pens on the fridge and cooker is good - wipes straight off (er... test it quietly one evening before offering just in case you've got a stainy colour - I steer clear of black, blue, purple)

"wont eat" don't let food be a matter of "naughty". Of course she'll eat - all children do! You just need to offer a variety of foods, at least some of which you know she likes, on terms which she accepts - maybe a carpet picnic while you're playing together, or a sandwich while you're on the way somewhere in the buggy. I think the whole Family Meal is something children join in with when it becomes interesting - the conversation and the company.

"she throws a strop whenever she is asked to do anything " what kinds of things? Ask her things which won't make her throw a strop. It might be exactly the same thing, done differently. eg "time to go inside now" *TOTAL STROP* or "hey, you want to go inside and do some more painting on the tea caddy?" *mum chases daughter up the garden path as they go off to have fun inside!*

A teacher responded, and this was my answer...

[quote]Unfortunately, she still has to learn how to behave in other people's homes and at nursery! [/quote]

Well, of course, and a major part of the parents' job is helping their children learn exactly what is socially acceptable.

I would argue strongly that children can learn, with guidance, that there are different rules in different places.

You don't have to sit quietly on a sofa all the time at home because that is what great-granny demands when you go to her house.

[quote]"Imagine how upset she'd be if she thought it was fine to paint on the walls then did it somewhere else and got into trouble - she wouldn't even know she'd done anything wrong."?)[/quote]

Yes. So parent helps child to understand that that's something we just do at our house.

[quote]"I have taught many children who have never been told 'no' and they have a very difficult time settling at school because they never feel comfortable in case they're doing something wrong (if they've never been told it's wrong, how are they supposed to know?)?)[/quote]

My ideal would be that parents help children ease into the transition into an institutional setting, if they decide to go down that route, by being present all the time to start with (like at toddler group), gradually helping their child learn the arbitrary behavioural codes of that place. Making our children submit to arbitrary authority so they'll placidly submit to the arbitrary authority of teachers is a much worse long term strategy than helping them to dance with the society in which they find themselves.

Because these children forced to submit to the arbitrary authority of parents and then teachers are the ones who all the parents in the older children messageboards and the teachers at teachers forums are saying "they reject our authority and they are 6' tall and we can't do anything with them". Arbitrary external authority has a use-by date on it, that's the problem. End rant.