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Archive for November, 2009

I just wanted to share a couple of links. The first is a truly amazing and inspiring piece of writing about Parenting in Freedom, and the second is to do with home education in England. It gives a very good overview of the current crisis in home education in England, and I thought people here might like to read it, to see what all the fuss is about in case they’re not already aware. I am planning a post about the current issues but until I manage to get that done, Elective Home Education in the UK, a brief history? is a very good place to start.

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Something upset me yesterday at soft play (again – why oh why do we still go there?) – my son’s hair is getting quite long now, which hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice, and people frequently say it needs cutting. That’s just water off a duck’s back. I have asked R several times if he would like me to cut his hair for him, and the answer is always the same – No, he wants to grow it long. So I’ve asked if he would just like me to trim his fringe for him. The answer is still No, he wants to grow that long too. So, that’s the end of the matter as far as I’m concerned. Until such time as he says Yes, he would like it cutting, it will remain uncut. My family have suggested I do it anyway while he is asleep, but I absolutely will not sneak about in the night doing something to his person that he has expressly said he doesn’t want doing. I just won’t. It is dishonest and disrespectful, and aside from anything else would seem very wrong.

So, back to soft play this morning. R’s hair was mentioned several times by several people. We had the usual boring conversation about how he won’t let me cut it, and how he’s said he wants it long, and how neither of us are particularly bothered about it. Still the comments persisted, and at one point it actually felt quite threatening, with one of the women saying she had some scissors in her bag and would do it now for him. I actually had to move away from her. R just looked a bit bewildered by everybody going on about it all the time, and I said something jokey about not coming here anymore if people were going to start threatening us with scissors. But really, I was upset. As I’ve said the bottom line for me is that R has said repeatedly he doesn’t want it cutting, so I won’t cut it. It’s a simple as that. But it seems for most people the idea of actually respecting your 3-year-old’s wishes is absurd, and they think I should ignore what he says and cut it anyway. I really wish it wasn’t even a topic for conversation. I really wish it mattered as little to other people as it does to us; but this letting his hair grow seems to be taken as some kind of sign by people – a sign of otherness, of difference, something that sets us apart, and they’re all desperate to cut it so we can be the same again, and they can feel comfortable with us. It’s bizarre.

Anyway, my point is, our hair – yours, mine, our children’s, is ours and nothing to do with anyone else. Nobody has any business making anybody else (and that includes children, of course) feel pressured to cut it, don’t cut it, dye it, don’t dye it, tie it back, cover it, or anything else. There have even been stories of schools refusing admission to 5 year olds because their hair is ‘too long’. This morning was a vivid illustration of the way people think they can act for and on behalf of children without their consent. People also have no qualms about commenting on the appearance, demeanor, personality and everything else of children, as though it’s any of their business. One of my old friends’ son came home one day at the age of around 11, having been to get his head shaved without telling her what he was doing. She was plainly disgusted with him and told him he looked like a “thug”. What a message to send to the poor child. All that disapproval, along with the brand new label of “thug” on his young shoulders, where it didn’t belong. All he had done was shown a bit of autonomy, a sign that he could think for himself, and look where it got him. I don’t think for a minute that he was seeking her approval by doing that, but wouldn’t it have been nice if she could have reacted more positively? As with my own son, even at the age of just 3; it’s his hair, and his decision.

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Hello to you all

I would like to share with you a very positive and child friendly experience myself and my children had recently whilst on holiday.

Firstly, to begin, I am someone who believes that children should be allowed to run free and should not be made to sit still and be quite whilst adult eat or chat among themselves. I don’t believe that children should be told that it is wrong to interrupt or that children should be seen but not heard. Rather, I have always preferred my kids to have freedom. From my daughter and then my son being as young as 6 months and just able to sit unsupported in restaurants or cafes I have always got them out of the pram or car seat and left them free. Myself I am someone who can not sit down still for a long time. As a young child I used to scream in assembly at school because I hated being made to sit still and also I was and stil am extremely claustrophobic. Therefore naturally now I have children of my own I am able to easily put myself in their shoes and see what they want.

Anyway to begin the point of this post; last week our family holidayed in Centre Parcs in the Lake District. While I am certainly in no way affiliated with this company (lol) I would like to tell you what a wonderful holiday I had.

All activities we went on, whilst well organised, were not of the  ‘you must do this, you must do that’ style that I have been used to with activities and groups I have been to in the past either from SureStart or franchises like Tumble Tots!

Also, what was most refreshing, was the fact that myself and my husband could sit down and enjoy a meal or drink while our two children (age 18 months and 3 years) could be free to run round and enjoy themselves without nasty stares or comments or orders to keep them more supervised. Quite a few of the bars or restaurant even had suitable playareas which as a parent who needs a holiday as much as their children, is most welcome.

Finally another positive feature of this holiday was the absence of parents swearing and screaming at their children. I am by no means judgemental as I know how hard work children can be at times. However, I do cringe when I hear children as young as two being threatening with a smack, dragged around, sworn at or even hit in supermarkets and the like which is all to common around where I live!

So that is the end of this post. I just wanted to share with the readers a totally positive and child friendly experience!

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I could write about SureStart and get all political, discuss the problems I have with Every Child Matters and the DCSF, and Ofsted (the body that inspects SureStart). I could write at length of how it really doesn’t resonate with the values I have for my own child, and how I even find some things they say more than a little sinister.

But instead, I’ll say just two things. Firstly, this is how SureStart describes what it is all about:

It is the cornerstone of the Government’s drive to tackle child poverty and social exclusion working with parents-to-be, parents, carers and children to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of babies and young children so that they can flourish at home and when they get to school.

I could go through that with a fine tooth-comb and pick out the things that makes me wary of it. But instead, I’ll say just one thing: where’s the “happy”? Because it takes a good dose of happy to “flourish”, whether at home or “when” (and shouldn’t that be “if”?) a child goes to school.

However, despite this, I did take my child to my local SureStart children’s centre on a few occasions. In fact, I even volunteered for them for a short while (and that is another story). But this is why I finally stopped going:

SureStart runs lots of “themed” play sessions. Unlike traditional “Parent and Toddler” groups, which tend to function more on a “benign neglect” basis, SureStart play sessions tend to be a lot more hands-on, and every available moment is spent with the parent interacting with their child, one on one.

(In fact, it’s the reason our local SureStart doesn’t have adult chairs; it forces parents to sit on the floor. Chairs are available for parents with disabilities, but they have to be requested. A breastfeeding “comfy” chair, costing £500, was purchased by our local SureStart, but it’s only of use for those with young, small babies, as the arms are so high that it’s uncomfortable for feeding an older baby or a toddler. But still, it ticks a box.)

One of the sessions they run is called Musical Mayhem. Now, I like mayhem. I like music, too. So I took my toddler, then about eighteen months of age. We started off sat cross-legged on the floor, and the Play Leader got a box full of percussion instruments out. Each child was to walk to the centre of the circle and pick an instrument. B picked a small drum. Then the Play Leader put on a CD of children’s nursery rhymes and themes from well-known kids’ TV shows, and all the children that were able, played along; those that weren’t, their parent did.

So far, so good; not very “mayhem” to my mind, but everyone was enjoying themselves.

And then, the session ended, after about fifteen minutes. The children were to return their instruments to the centre of the room for the next session to start, which was to be dancing to the same CD, singing along. However, my child, and another little boy who looked slightly older, did not want to return their instruments.

They were enjoying playing them and making noise. It was a lot of fun, and they were happy. I realise SureStart doesn’t do “happy” in its mission statement, but it was enough for me.

They went off together into the corner of the room. At eighteen months of age, I’d not have expected interaction like this; it’s the age of “parallel play” after all. But here he was, actually interacting with another child. They swapped instruments. Yes, at just eighteen months of age, my child was learning, by himself, to share, to an extent. SureStart might not care about “happy”, but they do talk about “social development”, or so I thought.

They played with each with the other’s instrument, and then their own again, raising a rumpus and dancing around. “Physical development”, much?

And of course, they learned about the different instruments; the shape of them; they learned that a drum makes a “bang” sound, that it is made from a kind of stretched skin; but that a triangle makes a “chime” sound and is made from metal. “Intellectual development”, at all?

But the Play Leader didn’t see that. She saw two naughty little boys who weren’t obeying the rules. At first, she was like the long-suffering school teacher; “come on boys,” with a smile, hand held out; “it’s time to sing and dance now!”

But when they didn’t listen, she looked at me, and the other little boy’s mother, and made it clear with a glare we had to take the instruments off them.

I thought of how much more they could have learned if they’d been allowed to play along while the others sang and danced. They might even have played for the others, to assist them with their singing and dancing. Think how the “intellectual, physical and social development” boxes could have been ticked and those particular Key Performance Indicators met, for SureStart! But for me, even more than that, think how happy my child, and his new friend, might have been!

But instead, I had to soothe my crying toddler while taking the musical instrument from him. He was upset for the rest of the session, and didn’t join n the singing and dancing. His “physical, social and intellectual” development was nowhere to be seen for the rest of the session. Eventually I walked out with him because he clearly wasn’t enjoying it. I’ve not been back since, either.

See, here’s the deal. SureStart’s aims? Problematic, to say the least. But more than that; without happiness, none of it will ever happen. Certainly not for every child. And I thought Every Child Matters?

 

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A thoroughly infuriating, although predictable, article from the BBC today tells us that something called “tough love” is good for children. That “it is confidence, warmth and consistent discipline that matter most” when raising kids, and that “a balance of warmth and discipline improved social skills more than a laissez-faire, authoritarian or disengaged upbringing.”

Isn’t that lovely? All parenting styles on this whole planet neatly summed up for your reading pleasure, or…not. There are, as we know, as many ways to raise children as children themselves, but this list containing only “laissez-faire, authoritarian or disengaged” parenting betrays an all-too common prejudice against parents who fit into none of these categories. As usual we are not recognised, we do not exist. We manage to parent without being authoritarian or disengaged and without any guidance from the state, and that just won’t do.

I don’t doubt for a second that trying to balance warmth and discipline when raising your children is better than being authoritarian or disengaged but, thank goodness, they are not the only options. There IS another way. There are lots of other ways. Personally I find the words “warmth” and “discipline” hard to reconcile, because that is not the way I parent. The word discipline does not get used in our house, and the concept is not practiced, although I hope that we as parents and the atmosphere in our house do generally have a degree of “warmth”. Neither are we disengaged or authoritarian. It is perfectly possible to be both disengaged and authoritarian anyway – this list is meaningless!

There is so much in this article that I’d like to pick to pieces, but for this post I’ll focus on the “tough love” aspect.

So, let’s think about that for a minute. What is “tough love”? As I said to Ruth earlier, I dislike the term intensely, because to me all it does is let parents who know they are disrespecting their children off the hook. I have it in the same category as “it’s for your own good” and “we only want what’s best for you”. It’s a get out clause that allows the adults to justify their actions towards the child by making it sound like they are doing it for the child, instead of to the child, which is actually the case.

We know that “tough love” and disrespect for children is fully approved of by the Government by the fact that it refuses to outlaw “reasonable chastisement” ie the hitting of children by adults. They must really like this report, then, and indeed it goes on to make several recommendations to the Government, all along the lines of more interference into private family life by local government lackeys in the form of Sure Start schemes and Health Visitors.

And of course to your average non-thinking BBC believer that all sounds quite reasonable – they recognise that a certain type of family struggles more with raising their children in the state-approved way, and so the state “helps” those families. But just think about those very narrow definitions of the different ways of parenting; you’re either “authoritarian” or “disengaged” or “laissez-faire” or you might even be one of those lucky families who manage to get it right and instill “warmth and discipline” – and where does that leave the rest of us? Where does that leave families who would rather raise their children in the way that works best for them, regardless of what the state approves of?

The whole game is given away at the end of the article by Parentline Plus chief executive Jeremy Todd, who says:

We welcome this report and hope that it stimulates debate among policy makers around how best to support families to transform our society into one where we top the league tables for outcomes for children and well-being.

Got that? “support families to transform our society into one where we top the league tables for outcomes for children” I bet Ed Balls wishes Todd had kept his mouth shut. Doesn’t he know the line is “It’s for the chiiiiiiiiiiildren”? You can’t go telling everybody it’s really about league tables to make the country look good (and more than likely getting yourself a nice fat pay rise into the bargain)!

So, we understand now, if we didn’t before. They could not care less about our children; they just want them to perform in the proper state-approved ways, and meet all the state’s tick-box criteria for childhood, so that we can get to the top of the all important league tables that Jeremy Todd thinks we should care about so much.

There are going to be a lot of us letting the side down then, aren’t there, if that’s the case. Send in the Sure Start advisors and the Health Visitors to make sure we buck up our ideas.

I mention Ed Balls because it is him who makes these decisions regarding our children: whether to listen to reports or take advice, or dismiss them. That’ll be the same Ed Balls who’s wife Yvette Cooper had this to say to the Guardian in 2007:

It was the 2001 election, and I’d agreed to do a Today interview from home. Ed [Balls] was away, and it was just me and my eldest, who was two. I’d asked a friend to stay over to look after her while I was on air, but the press office had got the time of the interview slightly wrong, and I was still getting up when I heard the package before me begin. So I was frantically looking for the number of the studio, and I got through just in time. Then I heard a thump. It was my daughter, who had fallen out of bed, and was coming howling down the corridor. I had to leap up and slam the door in her face, and then put the duvet over my head so the listeners couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t even say, this has happened, could you call me back, because I was coming off the back of a feature about children’s hospices, and I would have sounded flippant. But I couldn’t actually take in any of Humphrys’ questions. I knew she wasn’t hurt, but I just felt a terrible sense of guilt, about doing everything badly.

Emphasis mine. No, Yvette, you did not “have to” slam the door in her face at all. You did not even “have to” put a duvet over your head to muffle the sound of her screams. There are many options for what you could have done. You could have put the phone down and gone to your daughter, realising that she was more important than any radio interview could be, but you didn’t. And these people want to give us parenting advice? No thanks, “think tank” Demos, Ed Balls and all the rest of you – you can keep your advice to yourself.

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…who scowl or tut or comment at my son and I when we are in town, at the shop, or anywhere else out and about…

– If my son wants to go on his hands and knees and crawl along the pavement instead of walking, I am going to let him, and we will have a laugh pretending he is a dog and I am taking him for a walk, and you will just have to walk an extra few inches to go around him so as not to step on his hands. You will get over it.

– If my son wants to play on the toy keyboard in the Early Learning Centre, he can do so, even if it is pink and you think that means it’s just for girls.

– Likewise, if he wants to play with the (pink) pram and doll in the Early Learning Centre, he can do so without people laughing at him and making comments about his “feminine side coming out.”

– If my son wants to take his shoes and socks off in the supermarket, so that he can feel that lovely smooth, cool flooring beneath his feet as he runs around, he can, and it is none of your concern.

– If we want to stroll along at a snails pace, discussing what flavour lollipop we shall have, and studying a fly that has landed on a shop window, we will. We will not hurry up for you, and we will not get out of your way. If you are in a rush, that is your problem, and you will just have to go around us, preferably without the accompanying eye-rolling and tutting, if you can manage it.

There are many other examples I could give from when we have been out and about and being ourselves (shock!), instead of fitting into whatever “mother and toddler” boxes people have in their heads. We are not what polite society expects. We are letting the side down. We are doing it our way, and screw you and your pathetic, pointless rules.

Yes! We are often scruffy, and our feet are dirty. Yes! I forgot to comb R’s hair this morning (somehow, I think he will overcome the trauma of this). Yes! We don’t care what you think. Why on earth should we?

We are madly in love, and learning about each other, and we are best friends, and finding out about the world. We don’t follow your rules, and we have no rules of our own. We are living by our principles and letting our instincts guide us. It’s wonderful! I have not showered for days. Nobody, unless they are a coal miner or something, needs to shower everyday. Why do people do it? Because other people do it. Follow the herd. Don’t think.

We are thinking, and we are living. While you tut and roll your eyes, and adhere to your narrow-minded tick-box view of the world (and especially children) you are not living. You are just not dying, that’s all.

We are free and you are not. Now leave us alone.

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SchoolSchool admissions policies are back in the news, and the actor Rebecca Front has an excellent article in today’s Guardian on the dilemmas faced by parents in the face of these policies.

I don’t want to start a debate here about school admissions policies (or approaches to education) as such. Instead I just wanted to post a couple of thoughts on what happens when “gentle parenting” meets a school system in which parents’ decisions are driven more by desperation and fear than by a calm, considered assessment of what is best for their children.

First, what do our children learn from how we make choices regarding their education? The system seems designed to teach children that it’s a “dog eat dog” world in which those with the sharpest elbows win. That their educational choices are entirely a matter for their parents, not for them. That the school in which you find yourself at 11 completely determines your life path, with no second chances. Are we teaching them that “gentle parenting” and “unconditionality” are just a front, and that when the chips are down what matters is a ruthless pursuit of self-interest?

Second, what pressure are we putting our children under, and from what age? Our eldest, T8, has just started year 4 at primary school. We live in an area with a lot of selective state schools – don’t get me started – and some of T8’s classmates are already having tuition in preparation for the selective tests in two years’ time. This puts us under pressure – are we letting T8 down by not following suit? – and more than that it puts the children under pressure.

Third, the system leads parents to fixate on “winning the admissions race” rather than finding the right school for the individual child. There are children who scrape into the local “super-selective” school having been tutored and coached to within an inch of their lives, and who are then utterly miserable. The lucky ones are able to persuade their parents to send them to one of the good non-selective schools to which they should have gone in the first place, and perhaps would have if their parents hadn’t been propagandised by the media (and by years of conversations at the school gate) into thinking the only choices were between St [Name Deleted’s] Grammar School and educational oblivion.

Any thoughts?

Image courtesy of most uncool, under a Creative Commons licence.

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