Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

This is a guest post* by Sarah Brykczynski who writes at Moonbeam Disco.

I’ve been told I have far too many rules in my family, and I’ve also been told that I don’t have anywhere near enough.

In my family there are lots of rules but they can basically be broken down into two categories, rules that keep us safe, and rules that keep us functioning as a family. The first category would include not leaving things in high traffic areas of the house where someone could trip and fall. The second category would include not ever hitting each other. When we are angry we might sometimes yell at each other, but we always choose words over hands.

Some of the safety rules that we have just apply to our son, because he is after all not even four yet.

For example, a safety rule we have is that preschoolers only use dangerous tools, like sharp knives, with an adult. These tools are only ever used with hand over hand supervision. They are used often and thus far he’s not cut himself while helping me slice cucumbers, nor burned himself while helping assembling his police station made from plastic bottles and containers.

My child wants to be able to do everything I can do, and I’m teaching him how to do it safely, to the best of my ability. I’ve not meet very many parents that share my perspective on how important it is to teach children how to do things safely and properly.

In my opinion this world is filled with dangerous things; this doesn’t mean you must avoid these dangerous things (like stoves and sewing machines and power tools) you just respect the heck out of them and follow all the safety rules.

This doesn’t mean my child has free access to these things, but he has used them, and he is learning how to use them properly. There are also some safety rules that apply just to the adults. For example, dangerous tools are always put away safely after use, so after using the hot glue gun unplug it and put it back in the arts and crafts drawers.

There some rules I thought only applied to my son that it turns out apply to me too.

One our most important safety rules is the “STOP” rule, and it’s just what it sounds like; if someone screams “STOP!” at you then you stop whatever you are doing immediately. The stop rule is a very, very serious rule that only ever applies to incredibly serious situations.

For example, if I saw my child about to smear chocolate all over the couch I wouldn’t yell “STOP”, but if I saw my child about to run onto a busy street I would yell “STOP!” It is because of this that the stop rule is effective. 

But somehow when I try to explain this the idea does not get across to most people. Yes I let my almost four-year-old walk independently down the street with me (i.e. not holding my hand) next to traffic because I know that if I yell “STOP” he will.

So what happens if he doesn’t stop right? Well, I honestly don’t know because it’s never come up. (Also I know my son very well, and if he’s over tired, over hungry, or just in a kind of mood where I think it’s possible he might not stop then I don’t give him the opportunity, we hold hands instead, and I don’t think he’s ever had a problem with this.)

The way it goes is that he if is about to do something incredibly dangerous I yell “STOP” and he stops, then asks “why?” I explain how what he was about to do would have dire consequences.

I’ve been told “Well that would never work with my child, no matter how many time I tell my child to stop something, my child just won’t stop.”

And I usually have to bite my tongue; because this is not some kind of a control measure used to prevent children for “misbehaving”, but so many families use it this way.

This is a safety rule that ensures a child’s safety and freedom. I mean, if you yell “STOP” and the child asks why and the answer is “because it will make a big mess” (as opposed to “you could end up badly hurt, even in hospital”) then it will not be an effective safety rule.

The whole system is based on trust.

I trust that he will respect this rule and he trusts that I will enforce this rule to keep him safe.

If you can’t trust your child or your child can’t trust you then the whole system falls apart.

I can hear all those skeptics saying “But to trust such a small child especially in matters of his personal safety is negligent because he only needs to not listen once to be seriously injured or even killed.” Well, I agree with the last part one hundred percent and so does my son. He takes our rules very seriously.

As for the other sort of rules, they are important too, and they ensure that we can all live together in harmony. While failure to comply with these rules do not have dire consequences, they nurture the trust and respect we treat each other with. We don’t have any family functioning rules that only apply to preschoolers. I think of these more as social survival rules, rules like we don’t messy with each other’s stuff. So preschoolers wouldn’t crayon on a wall, and adults wouldn’t recycle paperwork without consulting the owner of the paperwork. 

 My son has stuff, and he knows what is his. I have stuff, and he knows what’s mine. I know that if he is using his scissors to cut up his papers, I can be in another room without fearing he will start cutting up things that are not his. If he finds something that he wants to cut, and it’s not his, he will ask me “Can I cut this?” because he understands. Why is it sure a hard concept to grasp that children (and their property) deserve the same respect adults (and their property) do?

 Why is it so hard to see that my rules work really, really well for my family? And why do complete strangers feel they are obliged not only to try to undermine our rules but also question our ability to care for our child because we trust and respect him? 

*This blog was set up to talk specifically about issues in the UK as the conversations on the internet regarding gentle/natural/unconditional parenting do generally seem to be dominated by the US and Canada. However, guest posts from outside the UK are acceped if they are generic in nature rather than discussing issues unique to that country.

Read Full Post »

Lately I have began to think more and more about my daughter starting school (and in fact my son one year after). In all honesty the more I think about it, the more I dread it! My husband does too infact!

I hated school! As a preschool child, or so I have been told, I was very intelligent, but wierd! My first memories of school are of crying because I didn’t want to sit down in assembly. The work in school, I found boring and unchallenging.  All the other children knew each other but I had moved there from Carlisle so didn’t know anyone and had a funny accent.

My husband had worse experiences of school. He was bullied and excluded by the other children, yet although the teachers noticed, they did nothing about it.

What bothers me now about school is the emphasis on achievement even from the foundation stage. The whole importance of conforming and not recognising children as individuals. I think young children should learn through experiential learning rather than following a curriculum. Even before I had the children I remember learning about schools which didn’t follow a curriculum but followed a humanistic and holistic approach to learning (I can’t remember the name though.) I thought what a good idea this would be and how I would have loved to learn in this way.

As much as I try not to also, I am terrified about my children being bullied. It is impossible not to be, there are so many horror stories and teachers are afraid to do anything these days.

I have done my best to socialize my children. They have lots of friends and my days off are spent either seeing friends, in playgroup or in the park or soft play. Hopefully they will learn to socialize and to stick up for themselves. However I still have this worry!

In an ideal world I would love my children to go to a small independent school such as a Steiner or Montessori school but even if there were any round here I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

So Homeschooling is the alternative. The fact I would even consider it is pretty mad. You see I am pretty much Miss Mainstream. I read New magazine, watch Xfactor and the soaps and shop in Primark (and Topshop when funds allow).  Nor am I by any means middle class. My children were formula fed, they eat chicken nuggets and smiley faces. I am not a person who one would even imagine would consider anything so radical as homeschooling. Most people who know me would think I needed sectioning or something to even think of the idea seeing as most of my Facebook statuses consist of things like ‘OMG how long til bedtime?’ or ‘aargh these kids are driving me mad’.

However they are my babies and I want the best in life for them. I want them to be happy, confident and enjoy life so I dread sending them to main stream school.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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?

 

Read Full Post »