Monday, 14 July 2014

Diet Drama

We don't 'do' diets.  Not in the trying-to-lose-weight sense, anyway.  What's the point, when they're all about what you can't eat?  Depriving yourself of something just makes you think of it as a treat or reward, when the truth is, most such things are usually pollutants to our bodies and not a treat at all.

However, our diet as in the food that we consume on a regular basis has become very restricted and not particularly healthy, with far too many processed foods for my liking.  I read an article on food phobics (not that any of the boys are - they're just fussy to various degrees) and read of a little boy who was hospitalised with malnutrition because all he would consume was yoghurt.  It certainly jolted me into wondering how nourished - or otherwise - our bodies are.

So for example, the other day I made an effort to cook a good sausage casserole. The vegetarian sausages were processed, but the rest was all good food.  Sadly the boys didn't think so.  One refused the vegetables, another didn't like the spices used, and the third decided that he no longer likes sausages!  They moaned and complained, and I'm sad to say I lost my temper.  I am not a 'foodie', and dislike cooking generally - I just do it because I love my boys and want the best for them.  So after all the effort of making something good, to have them reject it, I was at the end of my tether.  Anyway, after we all calmed down, we had a chat and I told them how it made me feel: that I hate cooking, I do it for them, that giving them only the food they like (processed stuff like pizza, fish fingers etc) all the time makes me feel like I'm not doing what's best for them.  I wasn't trying to emotionally manipulate them, just to calmly explain why it upset me so much, and to say that we need to look at what we eat and why we eat it, and improve our general diet.

Since then I have been trying to educate myself further.  It is a huge deal for me as a fairly fussy vegetarian who does not like trying new food myself, so I know I need to improve my thinking, and I do that the only way I know: by immersing myself in positive information.  I watched "The World's Best Diet", researched hidden veg recipes online, sorted through my recipe books to dig out some old favourites, and generally am musing over ways to help the boys (and myself) eat better.  I am not going to cut out all treats, like cake etc - but I am going to try to make it at home rather than buying in processed, mass-marketed stuff.

The fussiest eater of us all is Youngest, but I think it is mostly down to familiarity.  He refuses to eat all vegetables on principle (I have to hide them in pasta sauce etc), but he will eat my lentil bolognese, which has chopped carrots, celery, onions etc in it.  He eats it because he always has since he was weaned and is familiar with it.  So part of my strategy needs to be to familiarise him with other food.  If his diet improves, the range of meals that I can give the whole family will improve a lot!

Other than that, we are doing a lot of talking about why we eat certain foods - what we benefit by eating them - and I have asked the boys to help me plan the week's meals to make sure we are regularly getting the main nutrients that we need.  This does feel like a mammoth task though, so if anyone out there has any tips etc, I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Space to Notice, Space to Think

This morning we had a lovely visit from my sister and niece who are right near the beginning of their own home education journey.  I'm really enjoying our chats about HE, the pitfalls (wobbles) and benefits (oh so many).  She had found an article talking about the five main types of education, which we were discussing. Personally, I said I think there are an infinite number of ways to home educate, as there are an infinite number of combinations of personalities and needs of those (parents and children) on the home ed journey.  Here, we swing between semi-structured, project-based, unschooling and others, but I think if I had to choose one way to describe our style it would be "seasonal".  For us, it provides the best of all worlds.

As mentioned previously in my Summer Wind-down post, we have entered a season of unschooling - not doing any led or structured work, as the energy levels in the house made it very clear that that was what was needed now.  And as I said to my sis, although the challenges of this season are that the wobbles seem to be more of a temptation when not doing any obvious work, I am already thoroughly enjoying the benefits of seeing what interests naturally spring up without any coercion at all.  Already I have noticed lots of drawing, many games being invented, and several bookworm moments, including one beautiful one last night, when Youngest and I were waiting for Middle to finish in the bathroom, and Youngest brought a book to show me while I folded laundry.  While he waited, he started reading the words - and continued reading the words until he had finished two pages, exclaiming in surprise "I can read!"  Of course I knew he could read - he has been reading the stories at the end of each Reading Eggs lesson to me for months.  But apparently he did not know.  He had not equated his ability to sound out the words on the computer screen with the ability to pick up a story book and just read it, start to finish.  Last night he read his whole book out loud, and then ran and joyfully told his big brother, "Finally!  I can read!"  I can tell you, I would not have missed that beautiful revelation moment for anything.

I am also enjoying our conversations.  For example, this afternoon we went for a short walk to our local shop and back.  Not all of the boys were thrilled to be walking, so we started off chatting about our need for fresh air and exercise.  By the time we got home again, our conversation had ranged through a mind-boggling range of topics: the green cross code; the importance of asking dog owners if a dog is friendly before you approach to pet it; how God can be so big that the universe is inside Him, but he can still see things as tiny as germs; maths and shortcuts to tricky sums; language development and how two countries can share a common language but have different words for the same things; slug anatomy; evaporation, and how a narrow path partially sheltered by trees will stay damp after rain for longer than a path through open grassland; starlings and how they feed in small groups through the day then gather into large groups to roost at night including murmurations, spatial awareness; hedgehog habitats and wildlife corridors - and probably more that I have already forgotten.  It's so lovely to see them enjoying free time for just thinking and chatting.

It made me wonder again: do we have widely-ranging conversations like this during our more structured learning periods too?  Maybe it's just that I have more time to stop and notice when I am less preoccupied with writing achievements in the HE diary, or maybe all the free time really is giving their brains space to just ponder the world around them.  Either way, it makes me really satisfied with the seasonal style of Home Ed that works for us - each season so different, but every season such a joy!


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Boy-Friendly Education

Way back near the beginning of our Home Education journey when I was blogging as Home Ed Novice, I write a post called "Educating Boys": a fairly light-hearted look at the qualities we have noticed that may not be exclusively male, but certainly appear more common among boys.  Almost as an aside at the time, I wondered if the reason for there being so many boys entering home education could be because the education system in our country is skewed in favour of girls.

Over two years later, I am more firmly convinced that this is the case.  Actually in our area there is a good number of HE girls as well as boys now - home education is becoming increasingly popular/ necessary regardless of gender.  Nevertheless, I think state education is harder for boys to deal with than girls: outdoor time is decreasing; time spent indoors sitting still and writing is increasing.  The age that children are expected to enter full-time education is getting younger and younger, which puts boys at a real disadvantage - it is widely known that they generally do not mature as quickly as girls when it comes to social skills, fine motor skills, listening skills etc.  And for a child to find himself behind when he starts school, the system is such that he is highly likely to spend the rest of his school life playing 'catch-up', which is bad for the self-esteem, which in turn makes it less likely that he will catch up - and so on.

When a friend posted the Youtube video, War on Boys, the other day, I knew I had to share it.  It may talk about the American school system, but it is really similar to ours here in the UK - and is really helpful for anyone responsible for the education of boys.   In my opinion, every educator needs to watch this video.  It is not long, but it is very clear and very helpful.  I can't recommend it enough.

I know that talking about male/female differences is a minefield of trying to find a path between absurd political correctness on one hand, and stereotypical generalisations on the other.  Speaking as a feminist, I have to acknowledge that one of the problems which seems to have risen from the feminist movement is that some people have taken the view that boys and girls or men and women are the same.  I completely disagree.  Men and women are equal, yes.  Men and women are neither better nor worse than each other.  Men and women have - or should have (yes, I said SHOULD) - the same rights, same opportunities, same pay for doing the same job.  Yet we are different.  If we fail to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, we are failing our children, in my opinion.  Every man is not the same, just as every woman is not the same.  To say that generally men are built for physical strength is not to deny how strong many women have proved themselves to be.  To say that women are generally more nurturing is not to deny the caring compassionate side of many men.  Generalisations are just that: general.  They are not absolute truth, but they still have a place, it does not mean we need to throw them out completely, otherwise how can we acknowledge that for many (not all, but many) boys the system is failing them?  And then how can we address the issue?

Anyway, I digress.  My boys are no longer part of the system, and their education is less about tailoring to their gender than it is about tailoring to them each as individuals - because we can.  For example, literacy: Eldest has always liked books, I was never really bothered on that count - but Middle took a while to come round to the idea of reading for pleasure (he associated it with "work", until he happened upon the Captain Underpants book series).  Eldest took longer to show any interest in writing, until suddenly (prompted by some diary-style novels that he had read) he decided to write his own journal, and kept it up for several months.  Middle still has not demonstrated any enthusiasm for writing, but I am confident it will come when he is ready.  Youngest is still in the 'learning to write' phase, but his confidence is increasing with reading.  I don't think it will be long before I find him tucked away in a corner with a chapter-book.  He has never experienced any kind of pressure to read or write, and he is showing the most signs of being ready earlier than his brothers - perhaps because it was not demanded of him before he was keen.

Something that I appreciated about the video linked above was its suggestion of encouraging boys to read by providing the right sort of books.  My boys actually all love fiction as well as information books, but it did prompt me to search out some more books for them. One visit to guysread.com, and a further visit to Amazon provided us with a very well received parcel today, containing books on adventurers, Pokemon, sharks, Star Wars etc.  In fact, until the parcel arrived, the boys had been asking to play on their computer games.  I had said they could do so after lunch, and they were hastily munching away when the Amazon delivery arrived.  Once the boys had seen the contents, the games were completely forgotten - and that love of books makes for one happy home educating Mum!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Summer Wind-Down

As you may have noticed, I do like my Home Ed diary.  It only takes me filling in two or three completed activities per child, to leave me with a feeling of "look, we are busy; we must be doing OK" satisfaction.  I know it's false; I know that activity does not necessarily equal learning and that true learning is impossible to measure - but it's fairly innocuous and so I humour myself with it.  If I ever got to the point where a blank diary caused me to majorly panic, I would have to rethink my reasons for keeping it.

Recently I have had the opportunity to check that I am not too dependent on having a full diary as life has gone less structured again.  It has a habit of doing that every now and then, just to keep me on my toes!  All of the hedgehog rescuing and family emergencies have coincided with the children generally running out of steam for planned activities, and so we seem to be entering the period known as the Summer Wind-Down.  In school this might take the form of tired and restless children doing less activities while the teachers try to get all of their paperwork up to date before the school holidays.  At home - or our home at least - this takes the form of everyone running out of enthusiasm for anything other than being outdoors or on their computers playing. It has been like that for at least a week if not two.  I have managed to maintain focus on the Maths and English curricula, but otherwise I do feel like the proverbial horse is dead - further flogging (ie trying to keep it up until the "end of term") would be pointless.

A lovely friend of mine and experienced home educator blogged recently about Mastering Home Education.  Like me, she sees Home Ed as a seasonal experience: one where changes in season are to be expected, even celebrated.  In her post she uses insightful sailing analogies, and it helped me to identify that we are experiencing the educational equivalent of a spring tide, where despite working hard the tide pulls against all your efforts and you make little to no progress. So I figure, why fight it?  Sally's advice in such situations is to "get a tow or change direction and land somewhere else".  A change of direction sounds like exactly what we need!

So I'm going to embrace our lack of enthusiasm for planned activities, and have some time off the structure. No Maths or English (gasp!), relaxed restrictions on screen time (although still limiting the amount that the younger two go on for any one time as they do seems to suffer without breaks), and we'll focus on having fun, being outdoors and generally enjoying the summer - in whatever form it takes.  We just to change tack and give our minds a rest - chance to recharge and enable creativity to flourish.  I'm not sure where this change of direction will take us as it wasn't planned, but that's absolutely fine.  Even if it's less impressive/ reassuring to not have anything written in a Home Ed Diary, I love these seasons where we just meander and take in what's around us before we find a new direction and follow that enthusiastically once more.  For now, I'm just grateful for spring tides!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Do You Have a Naughty Kid?

I'll give you a clue - the answer's "no".

I read an article today about Pastors' Kids, and the pressures unique to them.  One of the things that struck me was when the author wrote that many Pastors' Kids feel a pressure to be better-behaved than their peers, so they don't make their parents look bad - and that many pastors feel they are being judged for their children's behaviour.  I find this really sad.  I used to be an Assistant Pastor, and the thought that I could stifle my children or lay harsh laws on them, just to try and force them to become a "good" little performing robot to please the judgemental types looking at our family - well, it makes me feel ill, to be honest.

My boys have been labelled "naughty" in the past.  Especially Middle and Youngest.  I take real issue with that label.  Middle as a five year old in school was many things: anxious, emotionally unskilled, depressed, bored - and his behaviour was not always that of a "model student",  but he was not - is not - a "naughty child".  Yet he, and most of his classmates would have said that was what he was.  If Youngest were in school I can only too well imagine the labels that would be pinned to him by now.  But again, he is not "naughty".  He is active, confident, inquisitive, vocal.  In my opinion, "naughty" is a label given to children by adults who try - and fail - to control them.  There is nothing respectful about the term.  Children are not "naughty".  They may do things that you consider to be naughty, but that does not define who they are.  There is no such thing as a "naughty child".

A local friend is trying to arrange a trip to London to see a stage show inspired by a children's film.  It sounds lovely, but I'm told that children under six are not usually allowed, and children over six have to be VERY quiet. There is an autism-friendly performance where you can take noisier children apparently.  This just made me so sad!  It all feels more and more like we are stifling a whole generation.  It's not bad enough that they are funnelled into schools earlier and earlier, subject to a whole battery of tests and assessments, with demands placed on them that they "should" meet certain standards when said standards are arbitrary and unattainable by every single child anyway - now they have to be quiet even in their leisure time.  Don't get me wrong - I appreciate that theatre audiences would not appreciate having the performance drowned out by a child who won't stop screaming - but all I have heard lately seems to imply that a "good" child is a quiet child who sits still and obeys instructions, passes all the standardised tests put in front of them, and takes part in so many extracurricular activities that they have no time to JUST PLAY.  All of the above without whining, complaining, arguing, lying, crying, fighting, procrastinating, sulking - or doing any of the normal healthy range of behaviour demonstrated by a small person still learning to find their way.  THEN they will be a "good child". *Shudder*

The other day a young friend told Youngest that he was naughty.  "I am NOT," Youngest stated confidently.  I was so proud - so very glad that among all the mess and confusion that parenting can be, I have managed to communicate one truth into his soul: he is not a naughty boy.  He is a boy who does naughty things some times - just like every single person on the planet, but naughty as an identity?  No.

I am not interested in raising "good" clones.  I believe obedience is rooted in trust - that if I ask them to do (or not to do) something they trust me to be looking out for what is best for them and those around us.  It is not about "do as I say" control.  I am not an Assistant Pastor any more, but even if I were, I genuinely hope that I would reject the attempts to judge and stifle my children just because of some random job title.  I would hope that a Pastor (or their Assistant) would set a great example of love, love and more love - and nowhere in that love would I expect to see people making their children "perform" as anything other than free to be who they are.  As it is, I have been entrusted with three fascinating, unique and beautiful boys.  I refuse to try to mould them into anyone's idea of what a "good" child is - Yes, I want to provide a moral compass based on love, respect and truth - but mostly I want to help them to be free to find their own identities and to know that whoever they are, they are loved.  Nowadays it seems that is becoming a rare thing indeed.