Monday, 8 January 2018

Drowning in Choice

Drowning in Choice.

Being a parent is hard. Every choice has ripples. Every thing you choose to say and do, and everything you choose not not say and not do. You'd think that being someone who is child-led in their educational approach would be super cool with choice.
Yet choice, especially too much choice can be really toxic. It can be a way to side-step big or scary parenting decisions you don't want to take responsibility for.
I know because it was a common thing for both my parents to do.
My mother took me aside at the tender age of 8 and asked if we should leave our home and if she should leave her abusive alcoholic boyfriend. I was a smart kid, a really smart kid but I should not have been allowed to make that choice. I choose to stay, because at least I knew how bad it was where we were. The fear of the unknown was bigger than the fear of what was. 
This kind of choice was used as a weapon against me. If I was upset by something I had chosen it was then my fault, I made the choice, I was to blame.
This is the toxicity of too much choice too young. This is the toxicity for side stepping parental responsibility.
That said the idea that I must control everything about my child's life is just as toxic. When their whole lives are planned down to the subjects they study, the university and even beyond. Obviously this level of controlling isn't helpful either. I watched kids fail and fail and fail, because they were dancers forced into the sciences, and scientists forced into dance classes.
Today we have more choice than ever before but it is stressful and damaging.
We as parents need to manage that by stepping in and making the big choices, being the adult sometimes because it's part of our job to take that responsibility because they are children. No matter how smart and knowing our kids are they don't always have the development, experience and understanding of time to make them life choices or deal with the consequences. While giving kids a say is important making them responsible for choices you didn't want to make is crippling and toxic.
At the end of the day you are the parent. The adult. The person who chose to have this child. Until they are grown you are responsible. Limiting or over ruling when needed isn't fun. It isn't "cool". They might be angry, or sad or hurt. Yet hopefully having the resolve that their safety, well-being and "greater good" in their life is more important than that. It is just as important for your children to see you make hard choices as it is for you to allow them to make them.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Trauma vs Mental illness

"Help! My child is being bullied and has an anxiety disorder, should I take them out of school?"

There is a real difference between the complicated and delicate time of childhood and mental and emotional well being, and being terrorised physically, emotionally and mentally.

While it is possible to have both a mental health condition and be being bullied, it's difficult to tell if this case while they are still enduring the violence towards them. Is it paranoia if they really are out to get you?


I read this sort of post a lot. There seems to be this tenancy in schools to treat the victim as a problem, not the bullies, or abusers. If the family follow suit and labels a child "ill" or "broken" by being the subject of abuse it will have its own deep and traumatic emotional scars. We have to come away from the idea that it is normal to hurt people. That being cruel and hurtful is wrong and bad, not some right of passage to endure. It makes victims internalise their abuse and continue to hurt themselves long after the trauma has ended.
War, is normal, after all. It makes it no less traumatic. Just because it is common doesn't make it any less damaging.
My daughter only spent three academic years in school and yet all these years later there are scars. She doesn't like to be the centre of attention, because if she was praised by a teacher at school the violence she received would be worse. She was only four years old. Yet the pattern changed her, maybe forever.
Being different is a punishable offence at school. 99 % of verbal slurs and attacks attacks are about being gay (according to Stonewall). 54% of gay kids never feel there is an adult who will support them about being gay. 6% had death threats of their sexual identity. Over 66% of LBGTQ had suffered bullying at school.

What this means is I have a feminine bi-sexual male friend who was segregated, medicated and further ostracised by the school and told repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, he was the problem. He is 31 now and up until recently any violence or abuse he suffered he truly felt he deserved.
This the problem with treating the victims rather than dealing with the problem.

I couldn't find the UK numbers but in America suicide due to bullying is the third leading cause of death in teens. For every child that dies 100 children attempt suicide.

Treating the child like they are the problem is damaging to the already hurting victim of abuse. There are no other situations like this we would allow. As adults if someone behaves like this at work it is the bully that is reprimanded (and rightly so) not the victim.

Mental illness.

Of course you can have a mental illness, be it an anxiety disorder, depression, or something else, and be bullied.
Mental illness has several triggers, from SAD (light levels) to past trauma, to chemical imbalance and the big one, stress. However mental illness is often the first diagnosis teens get and mental illness can often be misdiagnosed. From ADD, to epilepsy, to ME, to Lyme disease there can be biological and dangerous conditions very quickly labelled and leading to complications especially with dangerous medications come into play.

If the trauma is still on-going it makes are solid diagnosis difficult. Being sad because someone is punching you in the gut every day is not abnormal. It exceptionally normal. So is being anxious that you don't know when that gut punch is coming. That's not an anxiety disorder. That is fear of something very real and tangible.

Home education can't "fix" anyone. However if you take away the terror, the violence and stress a lot of problems resolve. That is not to say there will not always be scars. It will take time, and patience and a lot of support. Therapy and medication might help too. Whether it is learning to understand your triggers, and work through things, eat better and ask for help when you need it, to finding the medication that works for you, or simply being safe, home education gives the opportunity to find out.
 It might change the direction of your child's life forever. Yet if the statistics are to be believed you might just save their life.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

"How do I make my child write?"

"How do I make my child write?"

"I can't get them to write anything down!"

There are a couple of things going on with this post. Writing, pen on paper is something of a dying art. While I am all for handwriting it is hardly going to be the way most people communicate in the 21st century. 
Cursive is something I taught my daughter but here's the thing, if their brain development isn't in a place where this makes sense, or they don't have the motor skills forcing them is going to make them resistant. If they are coming from school the utter fear of the shame and blame of making a mistake might be the reason. 
Writing, is amazing, it is used as the primary way we communicate these days. That is the key. If they don't have the ideas, opinions or good rhetoric writing doesn't have a meaning. Encouraging their ideas and focus on that rather than anything else. Not on spelling or structure. Certain shapes and forms are unless you are actually working with cursive and ink.Why do we make this shape at the end of a letter, well that is how an ink pen moves across a page. Writing used to be hand-made inks on velum and parchment, with first feather quills, and then metal ones and even them they made plenty of mistakes. Context is important. Why does it look like this, why does it have this shape?
A t is smaller when written than an l because they didn't cross the t's until after they had finished writing the line or even page. It was so they could tell it was a t not an l. This makes a weird arbitrary rule make sense. Vowels have curls because they are usually in the middle of words and need to link up with each other. Really writing doesn't make sense until you understand by use, ink on a page.
Because people tend to be worried about the mess (this is just what happens with ink pens) we give children pens later and later, or not at all.
 One of the main reasons a child can struggle with forming the shapes is a lack of drawing and painting.
Painting and how you hold a brush is very similar to how you hold a pen. 
From making your own paper and ink, to trying to make your own quills, this contextualises writing. It also happens to be education and fun!
If it is about "regurgitating facts" you are missing the point. That is a different skill to writing. Writing is and was an art form. Those are struggle with pens and paper can find typing an absolute boon. As long as the ideas are communicated, as long as their voice is recognised and valued they will want to do so. If you de-value what they write or say why will not want to write.
Reading a lot is one of the best ways for children to understand writing. I would just let my daughter write out her story (as weird and wonderful as they were). I wouldn't correct her spell or structure (save for some punctuation). I just let her read and write freely.
"How did she learn anything!"
Well by the time she was about 12, I was having her proof read some of my blogs and written work, because I'm dyslexic and she isn't. I hadn't "taught" her. No she learned by copying the structures of other writers, sub-consciously. From Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dhal, Michelle Paver, and hundreds of amazing writers. This innate understanding of language from watching it being used is how we all learn a lot of things, from walking and talking to making music. 
If you want your child to "write more" you need to understand what it is you actually want. Is it nice neat letters, is it a clear understanding of what they are talking about, is it a comfortable and confident voice, or something else?
If it is ideas or knowing, typing stuff is just fine. If it is pretty handwriting, encourage them to paint and write with ink. If it is to understand the structure of writing, it is reading really good books. If reading is a struggle I try my blog on reading here.    

There is a shameful truth that in our current educational model and world view that it doesn't matter how clever someone is, unless they can express that on paper. This was not the case for most of human history and some of the world's most amazing ancient "writer's" had someone else to put the idea onto paper, clay and stone. Their ideas and voice are no less valid because of this. Writing was a job, a very specific one. Writing for the masses is a relatively new idea, and while I applaud the ability to use personal agency and voice, some human's really struggle with the written word. It can not be the only measuring stick we use to value someone. It is not the true measure of a talent, or knowing, or thought. For them non-dyslexic out there I want you to imagine reading on a bus or train, something very wobbly. This can make you feel dizzy and sick, the words moving about as your eye can not track the word on the page. Dependant on the level of dyslexia that is the amount of turbulence. I never got motion sick while reading on a bus or train and I found out at 26 years old that it was because the words always move around on the page to me. The first time someone put an overlay onto a page and the words stopped moving was a revelation. If you are not dyslexic but you think your child might be I suggest looking at this. 
Once you understand that they are being "difficult" or "lazy" or not "trying hard enough" is because dyslexia effect your memory. It is actually quite difficult to learn in general, and it can be extremely mentally taxing. 10 minutes reading or writing or maths can make you need to take a nap!

Writing can be beautiful, artful and fun!

Home education is too important to take seriously.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

"How do I get my child"

"How do I get my child "

"Help! My child is (under 7) and won't spell out/sit and read/write things down!"

Well there's your problem! You are not teaching reading! Not that that is something you need to sit and force a child to do (all your going to do is get a fight). If you want to encourage your child to read you need two things. Books and time. I don't remember teaching my daughter to "read" we just always had books, everywhere. She would copy me and her Dad looking at books. It wasn't something we worried about.
Stories and reading were a huge part of our bedtime routine (I kind of really miss it now she 15!) and I would tend to stop on a cliff-hanger! I found this would make her excited to go to bed (and hear the story) and it would also mean I caught her under the covers with a torch reading, because she wanted to know what would happen.
You do need GOOD books (I can only think of two books that had anything to do with Princess we ever owned) well written and crafted, slightly gross or scary stories, stories with lots of adventures.
Our favourite was The 13 and 1/2 lives of Captain Blue Bear. This actually an adult book, written in the style of a children's book. In terms of reading aloud it's NOT easy and you look silly (which is always a bonus) but if you have fun with it they do.
We also loved Terry Pratchett, Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman (his Graveyard books hit the mark with my spooky loving daughter). 

What is reading? 

Reading at it's heart is pattern recognition. It doesn't matter HOW they learn (phonics just never worked for us because English is NOT a phonetic language.) We learn to recognise patterns naturally. What is safe, what isn't, what is edible, what isn't. As such if you add a word to a thing, and they see what it is, they will learn pretty quickly that the cookie jar, has the word cookies on it!
The basic understanding that this set of shapes means X will happen but some folks brains are wired to do it later than others. It's worth bearing in mind that in the most successful academic countries do not even begin to teach children until they hit 7 years old.
This is because of brain development. Before that they are learning a HUGE amount about the world in this primary expression: play. 
Now my daughter was reading very young, but not because we "made" her. It was something she wanted to do. I wasn't happy with how they were teaching her words at school so we would play word games at home (a home-made version of snap with words). We kept it light and fun, while her tea was cooking. 
There is another kind of reading. Reading where you are creating a story, a movie in your mind populated with the people written on a page. It is satisfying and emotional, it is uplifting and allows you to see and in worlds you have never experienced. It fosters empathy, heroism (if you have never been seen some be really brave, or strong, or overcoming how do you know you can?) and kindness.
It is deeply important because it the imagination is a muscle that requires practice to use.
Some never experience this. They simply are not wired to.
Some people never had really good stories (women and girls in particular have a real lack of decent books) or were told it was "boring" or pointless to read like this. I get told I am "strong" a lot by people, and I genuinely believe that is because I read a lot. Most of my protagonists I read growing up were strong men, and I put myself in the stories with them. I wasn't a damsel, I was a battle-gruff knight on a horse, not complaining about the rain.  Reading changed how I viewed the world, and myself.
If you foster a love of this kind of reading, the other kind just sort of follows along. Grammar, spelling and writing structure also come with it. 

Home education is far too important to be taken seriously.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My issues with the LA

We are based in Stoke-on-Trent. Our "Home education liaison" is actually a school enforcement officer.
 Previously to [name redacted] we had a brilliant gentleman called [name redacted]. We got on well, had visits and so on. When he retired [name redacted] assumed his job into her remit. That is when for us the trouble began. From the get go [name redacted] was clueless. We gave it time, we explained a lot of stuff, but here is the important thing, she had no desire to learn about home education.
In fact her only response to any queerly any question was "send her to school".

We tried to get our daughter into college to take her G.C.S.E's but the LA (read [name redacted]) blocked funding because? "If you want her to take G.C.S.E's send her to school. There will be funding when she is 14." So we wait, can you guess what happen at 14? Nothing. No funding, no support.Then after some really sloppy and offensive letters followed by some really miffed emails she decides to book a visit. She grills us for 4 hours, brings a social worker with her (unannounced) and refers to the how HE community as "154 troubled families" just as she is leaving. We are told "16". I get a weird email saying that there is now a HE "specialist" at Stoke-on-Trent college (which I don't like). 

This makes me feel all weird and I don't respond (call it good instinct). I called Newcastle-under-Lyme college yesterday whom no longer take HE students because when they have in the last few years the LA refused to cover funding but only after the student had already been enrolled. I have a good long chat with them and discover the the HE specialist stuff is basically NOT college but "school" class with the same age group in a college building. My daughter is bright enough to take classes at university level and she is being held back by this petty and block-headed bureaucrat.

 I know she works not for the benefit of families and children, but for the benefit of schools, trying to get families to delay leaving until they get as much money as possible (leaving the beginning of one term rather than the end of another) dragging out some of the most painful and damaging environments to very vulnerable children. She has told lies, and half truths repeatedly and does so always to the determent to children and families and to the benefit of schools.This woman is not fit for purpose and needs to be fired and replaced with someone who can actually do her job.

Education and learning are so drastically different for school that it blows my mind that this person is blocking funding and opportunities for 154 children at least in our area. The fact that they feel the need to create a school bubble within the college system to "school" children, rather than educate them makes me so angry. 
Our LA has a long and colourful history of bad judgements, nepotism and lack of action which is what drove us to home educate in the first place!It seems more concerned with keeping funding than protecting children and needs a complete overhaul.  

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The "Right" Way

The "Right Way.

At 15 all of my year was lead into the huge sports hall of our school and we were told, for about an hour, that if we failed* at our exams our lives were effectively over.
This talk was repeated at almost every level of education in one form or another.
"If you don't have G.C.S.E.'s you will fail. If you don't have further qualifications you will fail. If you don't have a degree you will fail. If you don't get a "proper" job you will fail."
Well, the people I knew who failed at school are still people, and some of them went onto amazing things.
In fact the most miserable people I know are the ones who didn't fail. They succeeded every time. Then when they finally hit something they couldn't do, had a breakdown.

*Failing is seen as some poisonous toxic thing to be avoided at all costs. This mentality messes you up. It squashes your desire to explore or try things you are not good at. This fear they put inside is us of failure never quit goes away. Failure is the only way to really learn anything.
It's not just okay to suck at something, it shows us how we can be better.

This awful idea this "if you fail" mantra is one of the most damaging lies you can tell anyone and now we are routinely telling it to 6 year olds. More over it actually stops people from doing the very thing that would make them better, failing.

Three goals.

I am a study nerd. Today I decided to replace my "to do" list with three goals.

Try something new.
Do something you're good at.
Do something you suck at.

I asked my daughter to do the same. This fear of failure, this fear of the imperfect is really hard to shake. It freezes us, it makes us afraid to try.  That is the aim of this mentality. To stop you from trying again.
In this way it shuts out people who don't do well "in the system" policing the kind of success that is "acceptable".
If I fail today I will ask "what did that teach me?" Then I will try again tomorrow.

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

Sunday, 7 May 2017



It breaks my heart when I see all the posts in HE groups from smart, resourceful women breaking their backs to try and get their husbands and even ex-husbands on the same home educational page.
I don't understand. By choice and design my darling and I decided on home education together. We talked extensively before, it was not only my responsibility, but a family team effort. 
It's not all roses and sunshine (we have our moments) but in general we trust and respect each other.
We did come to home education lightly, we came as parents who had been fighting against the school to end or even acknowledge the terrible bullying our wee one was enduring. 
My hubby has always been "hands on"even when he was working split shifts. He could change a nappy pretty much in his sleep. Was the "burp miracle" when all else failed, spit up be damned. 
Yet he always trusted me if I made a decision. From when to bottle feed (she was allergic to my breast milk) to when to let her nap, or wean. If he was unsure, we talked, I'd show him the book or article, he'd read it and once he knew, once he was in the loop he was good.
He wasn't "in the dark" to the hell she was going through. Many a school gate drama happened while he was there.
We set our our rules, together. We had family meetings, and even when things between us struggled we were united in our friendship, respect and educational drives.
It is true that I am often the referee between he and my daughter (peas in a pod) but I tend to be the ideas and organiser while he ends up helping with the "doing" of the activity or project. 
The coolest thing is when he "gets" it. He is a shy man, and going out and doing stuff used to be a struggle but as I have been less able he has really stepped up. He has really gotten into the spirit of "try something new".  He has fallen in love with our local Asian supermarket, especially the Korean noodles.  
He really feels has learned how to talk with his daughter, not just to her. To really hear her as a person. They hangout a lot and enjoy many of the same things.
It is part of the "yes..and.." mentality. It is an improv idea that you always build on and build up together.

I try and give advice to some of those women, struggling. To acknowledge the fear, and shame and blame happening in the brief sound bites. While I know that I could home educate as a lone parent, I know that we are a team. We made a choice to become parents together. We made vows to honour and cherish, in sickness and in health, and honouring and valuing each other is the foundation of it all. I am so grateful and it is something we work on together.

Home education is too important to take seriously.