We’re in this week’s Bella magazine talking about home ed.
(Btw, when I started to wonder about home ed, my first thought wasn’t really “Am I a weirdo?” It was more “Will people think we’re weirdos?” And then I figured that they probably do anyway and I’m fine with that.)
There are few things the boys say that wind me up more than “I’m bored.” (And there are few things that make me feel more like a parent than how wound up I get about them saying it.) I’ve never really known how to respond before. Sometimes I go with listing the many and varied things they could be doing. Sometimes I choose the old “You don’t know how lucky you are” chestnut. Occasionally I even growl “Only boring people are bored…”
But I’ve just been reading a novel – Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – that features the perfect response:
Bernadette and I were driving Bee and a friend, both preschoolers, to a birthday party. There was traffic. Grace said, “I’m bored.”
“Yeah,” Bee mimicked, “I’m bored.”
Bernadette pulled the car over, took off her seat belt, and turned around. “That’s right,” she told the girls. “You’re bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”
I love that so much. It applies to life in general, of course, and it’s great for home ed. Because we don’t do any formal education, because the boys are learning through living, sometimes they will be bored. But because they’re at home, if they choose to, they can do something about it in a way I don’t think they could if they were at school (god knows, I remember watching the classroom clock and wondering how 45 minutes could ever last sooooooo looooooong). I like that instead of learning how to tolerate being bored, they’ll be learning that it’s on them to do something about it. To make life interesting. For themselves.
I saw the following on Twitter: @ckingwriter Apparently, mums are asked an average of 23 questions an hour by their kids, says @bbcr2zoeball on @BBCRadio2 Sounds about right.
My first thought was “and yet of course they can’t learn without school…” but I’ve gone on about that enough, I think. What it did make me think about is just how much they talk. I wouldn’t say it’s a downside of home ed – because I love to listen to them, I love chatting with them, I love their questions – more that it’s a tiring side of home ed.
Last week we ended up in McDonalds (it’s a long story – so long that I started writing it here, bored myself and deleted it) and, as the boys started to eat, they fell silent. Both of them. At the same time. I looked from one to the other and thought about how weird it was that they were quiet.
And because they were quiet, I was quiet too. I wasn’t answering any questions. I wasn’t saying “Just a minute…” or “Hang on…” I wasn’t shushing one while answering the other and then shushing the second while dealing with the first (walking to town the other day I felt like I was in a conversational tennis match – two entirely separate conversations, one on each side, me in the middle trying to keep up with both).
In McDonald’s they were probably quiet for two minutes before they noticed me grinning at them and said, “What?” I told them that’s the longest I can remember them being quiet perhaps ever and they both burst out laughing. They then both tried to stay quiet, with me timing them on my phone. Joe managed 13 seconds. Harry – who likes a challenge – lasted 12 minutes.
I missed the chatter, of course I did, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the peace. (In McDonald’s!)
Harry didn’t talk until he was 3. At all. He made sounds in a speech pattern, but he didn’t say any actual words. (He’s doing it in this video, if you’re interested.) Oddly, we weren’t particularly concerned – he was extremely communicative and easily made himself understood, to the extent that we sometimes forgot that he wasn’t actually talking.
At preschool, he didn’t even do the gibberish – he didn’t say anything at all. Sometimes he would miaow. Yes, really. After he’d been at preschool for a while, they referred him to a local authority speech therapist. She came out to see him, sat and played with him and then said there was nothing they could do because he wouldn’t talk to them so they couldn’t understand the problem. Um…
When he started school, he was talking to us at home, but not really to anyone outside the home. They said it wouldn’t be a problem – they had ways of dealing with it, they’d give him extra tuition, etc. He’d been there a couple of weeks when his teacher took me to one side and asked me if it was normal for him not to talk. I told her it was and that this had been discussed. She assured me it wasn’t a problem. Then the school nurse phoned and asked to come and see me at home. “He doesn’t talk at school,” she said. “I know” I said, wearily. When she came out, we chatted for long enough that Harry relaxed and talked to me in her presence (if I remember rightly, he pulled his pants down and did a ‘bum dance’…) and she left, saying obviously he was fine and she’d feed that back to the school.
Eventually, he started talking at school, but I’d say it took until Year 2. Since he left school, friends (Harry’s friends) who have come to visit have been surprised by how much more he talks. We took one boy with us to Tesco (for a good reason, honest) (we probably had nothing to give him for his tea) and Harry talked all the way there. When we got out of the car, George looked a bit shellshocked. “He never used to talk at all at school,” he said to me. In the supermarket he said to Harry, “Harry! You’re such a chatterbox!” Harry said, “I know…” and grinned.
I’ve written for Parentdish about Harry being shy and it is still the case that he won’t talk – at all – to some people he meets, but at other times he chats away. It seems quite random. In the park the other day, a little boy was stuck on the big slide and Harry reassured him then went over to tell the child’s mum what the problem was. No biggie.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but really all of the above is just background (Harry’s not the only one in this family with verbal diarrhoea) to what we’ve noticed with Joe. When Joe started to talk, me and David found it really weird. Because we weren’t used to Harry talking at that age, when Joe started to speak it was like suddenly hearing a cat speak. We’d ask him questions and then be shocked when he answered them with actual words.
His speech seemed to come along pretty quickly and he grasped sentence structure really easily. Even now, he’ll say something and me and David look at each other. The words “He’s talking like a real person!” have often been uttered. Recently, Joe was setting up a train track and told me one of the pieces was wrong. I asked him what was wrong with it and he said, “It seems to be a road…” (It was road on one side, track on the other.) The ‘it seems to be’ blew me away. It seemed to be such a grown up thing to say.
One of the lightbulb moments I had when I was reading about home ed last summer was how children learn some of the hardest things they ever have to learn – walking and talking, to name just two – before school. Without school. Without formal teaching of any kind. They pick it up from others, from doing, from living. I’d been idly thinking about how a school would go about teaching speech and then I read this quote:
“If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.” ~ Linda Darling-Hammond
I’m not quite cynical enough for the ‘alone in a closet’ but the first part rings true. Watching – or rather listening to – Joe learning to talk has been one of the most thrilling and joyful experiences of my life (you may have noticed this by how often I tweet or facebook the stuff he says). If home education gives us even a smidgeon of that in relation to, you know, everything else, I’ll be so happy I might miaow.
I was reading through the many comments on the home ed post I wrote for Parentdish – Why I am homeschooling my child – and a couple of them jumped out at me because I’ve heard this kind of thing before:
Home-schooling removes children from the real world. Being able to do whatever, whenever we like, is a poor preparation for a world of work in which (like it or not) we have tasks to complete and can’t just go to the beach, much as we would like to, but must persevere until a responsibility is fulfilled.
Ignoring the fact that school really isn’t “the real world” (how could school be more real than home?!), this comment makes me a bit sad. Being able to do whatever, whenever we like may be a poor preparation for a job you hate, but why base children’s education on the idea that their future is going to be miserable? I spent 15+ years “fulfilling responsibilities” and “completing tasks” in a traditional work environment and I hated it a hell of a lot of the time. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to work for myself and I’m much happier. I can go to the beach if I want to, but I can also persevere until a “responsibility is fulfilled” if that responsibility is mine and it’s fulfilling to me. Does that make sense?
Even some positive comments addressed this:
This lady sounds as though she will do a good job,my only concern is that no matter how rounded and well balanced her son `turns out` he will still need the paper qualifacations [sic] to open the `doors` for a fullfilling career in later life !!
Do people have such narrow ideas of what a fulfilling career is? I have paper qualifications and they were basically cock-all use. The thing that’s brought me the most fulfilment has nothing to do with qualifications. Plus, of course, just because a child is home educated doesn’t mean s/he can’t still get paper qualifications if s/he wants to.
I’m currently reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough and he suggests that academic achievement isn’t a true indicator of success later in life, but rather character is more important. I’m still mid-way through, but so far, what’s important seems to be grit and determination and, yes, following through on tasks you find hard. But why should those tasks not also be something you enjoy? I find writing hard. I have been known to have epic flail spirals. I sometimes think about how much easier my life would be if I didn’t feel compelled to write bloody stories all the time. (Seriously – what do people do when they’re not thinking of writing, writing, worrying about writing, worrying that they’re not writing? It must be so relaxing…), but I keep doing it anyway. Because it brings me fulfilment. Why wouldn’t I want the same for my children?
One of the main things I hope will come out of home educating the boys is that they will find jobs they love and that inspire them. Not work that – “like it or not” – they just have to get on and plod through.
Snow was responsible for me first questioning Harry’s school. A couple of years ago, we had very heavy snow. David was stuck in Paris with work (the poor love) and I was stuck at home with Harry and Joe.
One morning, when we got to school, I didn’t think it was at all safe. Children and parents were sliding and falling on the path up to the main door and I asked the Head whether she was sure school should be open. She said, condescendingly, “You can’t wrap them up in cotton wool, Mrs Stainton.”
I left Harry there, but when I got home I phoned the LEA to ask if I felt the school was unsafe, could I keep Harry home. They told me no – the school’s decision was final and that if the school was open and I kept Harry home, that would represent an unauthorised absence. It horrified me that I had to abide by the school’s decision against my own instincts, not least because the Head later complained about how the weather affected the school’s attendance figures (isn’t the children’s welfare more important than attendance figures?) and a child died from falling on an icy path on the approach to another local school.
Yes, I know some of you will be rolling your eyes and thinking ‘health and safety gone mad’, but that’s not really my point. We all have different ideas of what is safe for our children, I know. (Just yesterday on Facebook I saw one friend complaining that because school was open she had to drive on icy roads she considered unsafe while another friend was complaining that her children wouldn’t be allowed out to play in the snow because the school considered it unsafe.) What bothered me was that I wasn’t allowed to make that decision myself, that the school could override me.
This year it’s been such a relief to look out of the window and know that we don’t have to go anywhere if we don’t want to… but we have been to the park a couple of times, mainly because Joe insists and that kid doesn’t take no for an answer.
I wasn’t planning to write this today, but it literally just happened and I’m still a bit giddy about it so I thought I’d get it down right now.
I’ve been reading The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony Benedet and Lawrence Cohen. I can’t remember how I came across it – I imagine it was mentioned in one of the dozens of parenting/home ed books I’ve read lately and it appealed to me partly because I don’t really do roughhousing and partly because Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen is one of the best parenting books I’ve ever read.
The book begins with the many benefits of roughhousing with your kids – apparently it’s good for emotional intelligence, physical strength, motor skills, it can “nurture close connections, solve behavior problems, boost confidence”. As I was reading I was thinking it all sounds great, but do I really want to wrestle? Not so much. Plus I’ve no idea how to go about it. Where do you begin? I needn’t have worried. In the next chapter, the authors give examples and they’re as simple as putting the kids in a trap (you know, with your arms or legs around them rather than an actual trap) and challenging them to get out. David’s always done this with Harry and Joe – he calls it a “cuddle trap”. Or sitting down on your kid and pretending you don’t know they’re there – I do this all the time: “This cushion is surprisingly lumpy!” Or standing palm to palm and trying to push each other over. Or simple horsey-rides on your knee. As I read, I thought it sounded doable.
This morning, Harry came up to the bedroom and flopped down on my bed. So I sat on him. As I told him about the book I’d been reading, I started to do stuff like grab him with my legs and roll him over. He was already laughing and starting to join in and he looked both a bit surprised and a bit thrilled. I told him if either person wanted to stop and get free they could say a word like “Peanut” and the other person had to stop immediately. He said, “Peanut!” I stopped. I said, “Didn’t you like it?” He said, “Un-peanut!” We started again.
We wrestled for about five minutes, trapping each other with our legs and trying to get free. He is surprisingly strong! And we were laughing so much that Joe came up to join us. I told Joe the rules and added “No biting and no jumping” and we did it for a bit longer. Then I told them there’s a list of activities in the book, from very simple to much harder and would they like to work through them. They both said yes and so we tried the pushing with our palms things and Harry beat me 4-1, FFS. Joe couldn’t quite manage it and got a bit giddy, so we stopped. Then there may have been some trumping and we all ended up lying on the bed in fits.
And it was just fantastic. The whole thing. I loved how excited the boys were – Harry in particular seemed really thrilled. I loved that it was me doing it and not David because it’s not the kind of thing I usually do with them – I noticed when we looked through last year’s photos that when anything physical was going on, David was doing it and I was taking photos of it.
But mainly it was just really good fun (and good exercise – I should think I’ll feel it in my thighs tomorrow).
Bit perturbed that the Amazon blurb says ‘Arriving just in time for Father’s Day … the perfect gift for rowdy dads everywhere’, but the book makes clear it’s great for mothers and daughters too, obviously.