Educating with Freedom

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Last month many of our friends found out which primary schools their 4 year olds had got in to. We, in theory, will be doing all that next year.  I was struck by tales of mums in tears because their child did (or didn’t) get in to their first choice of school.  There is so much anxiety around education and schooling in this country and I worry about how that transfers onto our children, the last thing we want is for their place of learning to become associated with anxiety.  I also worry that the school system is so rigid and test based that parents feel disempowered to take the lead in their own child’s education.

From way before we even became parents we’ve long admired the Finnish model of education with the ethos being to wait until the child is 7 before introducing formal education i.e. numeracy and literacy. In the early years the focus is on play-lead learning and developing social skills such as caring for others, empathy and self-care.  It’s also worth noting Finland has some of the best education outcomes in the world.

As the UK is not set up for a delayed start we would either need to ‘home educate’ or find the funds for something along the lines of Steiner so his early learning is play- / creativity-based and child lead. Every fibre in my body feels we start formally educating children far too early.  I also feel culturally there is a rush for our children to hit every milestone as soon as possible, when there is much to be said for letting their childhoods and achievements unfold at a natural pace, lead by them and facilitated by us.

In terms of our approach to parenting our instinct has been to sit back, and let the Little Chap take his time in discovering his capabilities and the world around him. For our family this has worked very well.  For example he stopped wearing nappies a couple of months after he turned 3.  Some of his male peers were considerably earlier than that.  But what I can say is that we never had any tears, there were no battles, and pretty much nothing in the way of ‘accidents’ because we gave him the time and space to do it when he was ready, there was no ‘training’ involved.  We had no need to rush that transition.  It’s been totally stress free, and actually a real pleasure to tune in to his pace and watch him succeed in his own right.  And I want to offer him that same approach to his early years of education.

There seems to be a huge shift between how our infants learn and how our pre-schoolers and beyond learn.  We didn’t sit down and formally teach our chap to roll over, to reach out for toys, to crawl, walk, say his first word. These things happened naturally through us playing together, him watching us, through his own biological imperative, through him testing things out in his own time, through us gently encouraging and facilitating.  None of his progress has happened as a result of us sitting down and making a lesson out of it. It was his own curiosity / frustration which lead him to try to roll over (and fail) and try again until he figured it out.  And then suddenly this style of learning stops and learning through play becomes ‘learning to the test’ and little fidgety children are expected to stay seated, to focus on one topic; and just as they are in the flow, the topic changes and they’re expected to switch gear and with it their focus.

Currently Little Chap is in the very common phase of asking a million questions every day; How is the sky made? (ask your father). When I’m bigger can I fly my helicopter up to heaven and bring Granny Anne down? (if only!), How is poo made?  Do foxes eat poo? Does anything eat poo? (I googled that one, it’s a surprisingly large list).

A recent non-poo-based question was ‘how are volcanos made?’.  I’m not even sure how he got to hear about volcanos but it prompted him and I to sit down and watch some videos on volcanos.  Vince went out and bought a book on volcanoes and a volcano making kit which they made together. In that one project they got to learn about mould making (by using plaster of Paris to create the volcano), they did some painting to make it look realistic and then some chemistry in the form of mixing store cupboard ingredients to make the erupting lava.  The Little Chap also asked his Uncle Grant to tell him about the time he was filming at a Volcano and they sat together and looked at the pictures of that trip as the stories unfolded.

None of these activities felt like ‘education’ to any of us, they were fun, we all learned stuff and we had the time to follow these activities through until he was ready to shift focus.  But the point is he expressed an interest, he chose the topic and therefore he was totally engaged.  This is what I want for his early education.  I want him to be able to immerse himself in a subject, an experiment, the creation of a piece of art until he’s done.  I want him to freely follow an ever unfolding thread of learning.  I want him to learn to learn for the love of it and not because he’ll be in trouble with the teacher if he doesn’t.

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I know there are benefits to going to school and for some children it’s a place where they thrive but it’s not for everyone.  One of the most common things I hear when I tell people we’re thinking of home educating is ‘but what about socialising him, won’t he miss out?’  Well yes and no.  He will miss out on seeing the same people every day and forming friendships (and potentially enemies) on that basis but home educating doesn’t mean staying at home all day.  We would meet up with other children (of all ages) being educated outside of school.  He will have playdates once school is finished for the day with his friends who do go to school. He will hang out with his beloved cousins and the whole host of adults he encounters in his life.  He’s currently not in school or even pre-school and yet already he’s one of the most social three year olds I know.  He instigates conversation with his peers and adults alike.  I don’t think his socialisation will be a problem.

For the sake of super easy access to 25-30 other children his age on a daily basis I’m not prepared to accept unquestioningly the structure and ethos of school.  Why are primary school aged children getting homework when research shows there is little benefit and a very real risk of negative psychological effects?  The school day is long enough, I believe they should be playing, or doing recreational activities they love, spending time with their families.  And yet I regularly hear parents talk about the nightmares they have getting their child to do their homework, how there were tears, tantrums, bedtime anxiety over homework not completed, how the parent spent the evening finishing the homework etc.  As the young people say: WTF?? The more empowered amongst my friends send the homework back to the school, unfinished, with a note to say they are not putting their child through that level of stress aged SIX, and I applaud them for this.  Why are we doing this to our little children?  If primary aged children want to continue working at home then happy days, let them do it with joy in their hearts, but at this tender age, and where there is resistance and anxiety, we run the risk of turning our children off learning completely if they feel forced.  There is plenty of time for them to develop self-discipline around study when they are mature enough to understand the benefit.

And why are we testing them so young?  It is absolutely not for their benefit.  Teachers are saying they don’t want to be doing it, it’s box ticking, it’s for the stats, not for the healthy development of our children.  These tests aren’t measuring a child’s self confidence, self-esteem, creativity, wellbeing, love of learning, ability to engage in a topic of their choice, life skills, social skills, vocational skills, empathy, dexterity, and these are some of the vital skills we need for a healthy, happy adult life.

Not all children are destined to be academic so what about them?  Where do they get their educational and personal validation from if all the tests are about academic ability and demonstrating you can commit a bunch of facts to memory?  We each have our own set of valuable talents and abilities, and when we emerge from the school system (for many of us) that is where we begin to learn who we are and how to be who we are with confidence (I’m still learning), how to figure out where we belong, what we are good at outside of whether or not we know how to do quadratic equations.  It’s a worry.

School never suited me, I did well enough academically but even in primary school I used to look at the cars driving past the school and long for the freedom of those drivers…I was eight!  It’s therefore little surprise that I’ve spent most of my working life as a freelancer or self-employed.  I find institutions stifling.  I never wanted to be a sausage in a sausage factory. The current school model is based on the early days of British industrialisation when children were being primed for life in a factory.  That is just not the future our children are facing.  With the rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence taking over the human workforce we are going to need to get creative career-wise.  And therefore we need to be teaching our children how to be adaptable, free-thinking, self-directed, entrepreneurial individuals with a life long love of learning.  This way they will stand a chance of finding their place within a fast changing world.  I simply don’t feel confident our school system is going to do this as well as we can, for our specific child, particularly in the earlier years.  As a side note, some years ago I came across an exciting alternative to mainstream secondary school (unfortunately as is always the case the fees are ££££) but the style of learning they offer would have suited me to the ground.  I’m certain I would have flourished there and I would love the same for our Little Chap.  I highly recommend a watch of their video.

We will certainly visit our local schools, we’ve by no means made up our mind (although having written this post my gut tells me I may have!) but I will remain open to what our local schools can offer.  Taking the unconventional route feels both liberating and daunting, taking the conventional route feels societally simpler but at right angles to our values and how we choose to live our lives.  We’re a way off needing to make a decision, thankfully, but these things creep up and I want us to glide into this decision feeling well informed, and not rush it because a deadline is snapping at our heels.  So watch this space, I will post an update once we are clearer about the path ahead.

Hey friend,

I am aware this may be an emotive subject for some, and this post is not designed to be a critique of your own choices around education, we are all striving to do the best we can for our own children.  I’m still trying to figure this stuff out and I’m choosing to do it here because if I’m honest I have been fearful of negative reactions and people telling me we’re going to fuck our child up or turn him into a weirdo so I needed to walk through that fire and put my thoughts out there.  Fear can be a crippling voice in one’s head, but my gut tells me we’ve got a lovely boy so we’ve done a good enough job so far, and there’s nothing to say we can’t continue to do so.  I’m inclined to listen to my gut over fear.  I can see pros and cons about both routes and I would love you to share your thoughts and experiences, whatever your choices have been.

Header image courtesy of: www.homeschoolersanonymous.org

Setting myself up to fail?

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A month or so ago, after reading my Creating Daily Rituals post, a friend asked if I feared I might be ‘setting myself up to fail by creating a list of daily goals?’  ‘Was I creating a situation where I would end up berating myself if I didn’t hit those targets?’

These were great questions and really got me thinking.  My initial response was, no, I didn’t think I felt pressurised by it and I had faith I’d just get back on the bike if I did fall. Little did I know this theory was about to be tested!

Two weeks later (and two weeks ago today) our little family of three set off for a much needed break to see friends in Norfolk.  I did yoga that morning (check) and I confidently wedged my yoga mat into the back of our rammed-packed-jammed car as we set off (check) (insert smug halo smiley face emoji here).

On our first morning I joyfully rolled out my mat and began…only to have to stop for two false-alarm loo trips (not mine) and the flow was gone – ha! no pun intended!! – so I called it a day on the yoga front and we headed off for a beautiful but bone-breakingly bitter jaunt to the seaside. By the next morning the Little Chap had become really unwell; horrid throat infection, swollen glands etc.  We knew he was truly suffering as our usually stoic boy just wanted to sleep and stay ‘home’, so he and I pretty much holed up for the remaining half of our break, and my yoga mat remained forlornly rolled up in the corner.

Our first morning back at ‘home-home’ I woke up feeling like I was now coming down with the Little Chap’s virus (par for the course in parent-land) but I managed to limp my way through Adriene’s ‘Yoga for when you are sick video (man, that girl covers all bases). Hooray I was back on the mat (check).  And then I became too sick to do ‘Yoga for when you are sick’ and took to my bed for the next 4 days.  I had excruciating sinusitis and there was no way I was lowering my head below shoulder level for fear of it exploding. Where is that tank of gas ‘n’ air when you really need it?

So between being away, and round the clock comforting of a sick child, and nursing my own poorly self*, I fell off my ‘bike of virtue’ on every level.  I stopped making entries in my Daily Greatness Journal, I stopped doing yoga, I stopped updating YNAB, (I did listen to quite a lot of meditations on Buddhify to ease my suffering so err…check) but essentially my ‘Daily Rituals’ list crumbled big time.  With this lack of action, my friend’s question ‘have I set myself up to fail’ rolled around in my mind.  And yet despite the evidence seemingly being to the contrary, my resounding answer was ‘No!’.

In the past, the answer would have been a self-flagellating ‘YES’!  Followed by a big dose of ‘I’m clearly not cut out to have a regular yoga practice / keep on top of my finances / keep a journal so I’m giving up the lot’.  But this time feels very different and I’ve been curious to understand why.

I think there are several factors, but for me the key element is around making ‘conscious choices’.  Just as I had previously made a conscious choice to implement various positive actions into my daily life, likewise I made a conscious choice to hit pause on all those good things as circumstances changed.  Less a case of falling off the bike, more a decision to park it up for a bit.

I made a conscious choice that the right thing to do was to watch crap on YouTubeKids with my poorly little chap at 7.30am when I would normally do my yoga / write my journal, and another choice was made to not make up for it later with some bedtime yoga / journal update as he needed me to go to bed with him as we were in a strange (but oh so lovely) house and he couldn’t settle without me close by.  And again, when the lurgy hit me full-force I made a conscious choice to cut myself some slack and rest up, choosing instead to binge-listen to the incredible S-Town podcast and watch ALL the new eps of Grace and Frankie because these things took my mind off the pain (these, and some strong pharmaceuticals). My friend G sent me a message asking if my sinusitis was ‘the burning kind like when you accidentally snort pool water up your nose, or the other kind that feels like knives being stabbed into all your face holes’ – for anyone interested it was the latter, and it was awful, even laughing at her text hurt.

So today is Friday; as of Tuesday late afternoon I tentatively started to feel a bit better, but the bike of virtue remained firmly locked up in the bike rack of failure conscious choice, until yesterday when I truly felt a good 90% better and I knew I was ready to clamber back on (I’m labouring this metaphor and the irony is I can’t actually ride a frickin’ bike in real life but let’s gloss over that).  I wrote my morning journal entry, followed by an early Operation Bloom Skype call (which is always recharging) and I committed that I would get back on the yoga mat that evening and ease myself back in with a gentle bedtime routine. Which brings me to today, the journal is back in full, twice-daily, flow, I was on the yoga mat by 7.30am this morning for a 20 minute sesh’ and I’ve made a date with YNAB this evening (oh Friday nights, how you’ve changed).  This would never have been me a year ago.

As I pay close attention to this falling off / getting back on process, I am sensing there is a critical tipping point (again, no pun intended) between the falling off bit and the getting back on bit, and if too much time passes where we remain down but without genuinely good reason it becomes harder to jump back on. Under the circumstances I felt totally at peace with my decision to park the bike, because I very much knew it was a temporary state of affairs, and as soon as I started to feel better my thoughts turned to me jumping back on. Amazingly there was no doubt I’d get going again, but even so, when the time came to resume action I noticed, running alongside my steely resolve (!), there was a low-level resistance, a physical apathy.  Had I chosen to ‘string out’ the effects of being ill and told myself (lied to myself) that I should wait until after the weekend, ya know to get fully, fully, fully better, and then get back to the Daily Rituals list I think it would have been a hundred times harder to get motivated, because the truth for me was I was ready on Thursday.  Really listening to myself and taking action right at that perfect sweet spot in my recovery where resolve was high and illness was bidding a hasty retreat has made getting back to it relatively easy (albeit I’m only on day 2 y’all but I’m celebrating the act of getting back on, always the hardest part for me).

It seems to me that over time there are natural ebbs and flows to our activity and motivation levels, sometimes we simply need to hit pause, to park the bike for a bit, but intuiting how to respond most usefully to this waxing and the waning leads us back to our dear old friend authenticity.  Namely us being authentic with ourselves.  To make a personal commitment to choose not to delude ourselves but to really tune in, notice when we really are too sick to do ‘all the things’ and give ourselves unreserved permission to press pause (and boy does that feel good), but in turn create a counter-balance by being honest about when we feel able to return to those good actions; acknowledging the reticence but refusing to let it have the louder voice.

It’s also fine to start off gently, ease ourselves back in to the saddle.  The crucial thing is to get back on, it needn’t be to do the London to Brighton first time out, it could just be a spin round the block in the sunshine.  As my lovely husband says, ‘it’s not how many times we fall off, it’s how many times we get back on again that counts’.

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*Vince and the Little Chap were very sweet at looking after me and keeping the ship running smoothly, I can’t fault them, they picked me flowers!

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Header Image: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_dasha11′>dasha11 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Authenticity, a slippery old fish.

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Tickling Trout – Frans Wesselman

“Authenticity, I think, is simply trying to find the kindest way to speak the whole truth.” Erin Loechner – Chasing Slow

I read this line a couple of nights ago and it leapt right off the page.  I am always on the hunt for just the right language to articulate the wildly wonderful search for authenticity I find myself on.  For the past few months I’ve been working with a treasured friend on ‘Operation Bloom’ and we’ve spent much of our time trying to distill into words our exhilarating, white knuckle ride experiences of tuning in to our authentic selves. Continue reading