Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

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Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
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Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

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Home Education – A Personal Journey of Freedom

P1040440 Being surrounded by home educating families at a recent picnic, it struck me how happy the atmosphere was. The children just seemed alive, bursting with positive energy and a passion for life, and the parents too had this peaceful sense of bliss about them, like they had found the answer to eternal happiness. Here was proof that home ed is a successful, magical journey, that most people don’t get the chance to see or perhaps don’t even have a clue it exists. I felt compelled to shed a little more light on this wonderful, mysterious community, starting by discussing some reasons why people choose home education. Some of my friends, who are all normal, sane human beings by the way, just like you (no really they are just like you…even those of you reading this whilst your kids are finishing their homework for school tomorrow, those of you who could just never home educate because you are not ‘brave’ enough or don’t know the first thing about anything), …those friends kindly answered some short questions for me about their reasons for home educating and I loved their responses. All of them are so different and yet something so strong underpins them; freedom. I guess first of all I should tell you a little bit more about our reasons. It may seem bizarre that we have already decided to home educate Poppy when she isn’t even a year old. But to me, education begins at birth and should be a continuous, life long journey, with no concrete milestones that dictate when you are suddenly ready to learn the alphabet or how to count to ten. We didn’t dictate when she should crawl, or start babbling, nor did we test that she could do a certain number of tricks by her first birthday (the questionnaire we got from the GP is still sitting unanswered on the shelf, soon to be binned!) Making our decision to home educate early on makes everything just feel so much more relaxed and free to unfold naturally, as it has all along, letting Poppy take control of her learning right from the start. There will be no pressure on us to make a quick decision before she turns 5 when everyone will be talking about her starting school, because by then we will very much submersed in our home ed world and hopefully confident with our decision. An unintentional but major result of being so forward thinking is that we are able to make friends with other children who will be home educated from now, so that when she does reach that tender age, not all of her friends will be heading to the school gates leaving her wondering why she is different. We have been so lucky to have met some wonderful like-minded families, many of which have children close to Poppy’s age as well as older children. It is so encouraging to know that these little Einstein’s will be growing and learning together, hopefully becoming a little community, supporting each other and building long lasting friendships. I know that socialisation, or a lack of, is people’s first concern when it comes to home education, but the home ed community is thriving around here. Yes, she will end up ‘different’ from the kids that go to mainstream schools, but is that necessarily a bad thing? It doesn’t mean she will be unhappy, weird or less socialised, just that she has different experiences to them and therefore will be building a different view, her own individual view, of the world around her. I feel that the school social environment is artificial and hope that Poppy will gain better social awareness and acceptance of others by being around children and adults of all different ages and backgrounds on a daily basis, learning different things from each and every one of them simply by playing with them and talking with them. P1040462 So what about when she gets older? Surely she will have to go to secondary school and take exams? We are not qualified or intelligent enough to teach her all of that! Maybe not, but we don’t need a qualification to provide love and support and I am confident that Poppy will be intelligent enough to learn the rest all by herself. Having studied child development from birth I know that Poppy has a natural instinctive drive to learn, and in the right environment that desire should never disappear. Babies are desperate to learn about the world around them, everything is new and interesting, and then they learn to talk and socialise and another world is unlocked. They play and interact with others, take interest in how things work, ask questions, seek answers…all by themselves! Then what? Aged 5 (5!!!) we suddenly need to guide them in a certain direction to make sure they don’t accidentally miss something out? God forbid they don’t learn how to read and write by the time they are 7, or they leave secondary school not knowing the meaning of pi. The thing is I truly believe that the children themselves are more capable of knowing what they need to learn, than the adults who set this curriculum. I can’t remember an awful lot from school, other than which boy I was going out with at what time! What has really taught me lessons in life are my experiences. Real life experiences that teach me about people, the world I live in, and perhaps most importantly, myself. I was always ‘academic’ and ‘clever’ at school, but it was lost on me because I didn’t know who I was anymore. I checked all the boxes, I could be whatever I wanted, but having gone through this system that aims to give every child the same knowledge, I had no idea what I wanted anymore. I had dreams but I was confused about whether they were good enough, whether I was better at something else that I didn’t like very much. As it happens I didn’t follow my dreams and I haven’t really used anything that I learnt in the curriculum in my adult life either. Ok I can put a sentence together (most of the time) but all of my ‘A’ grades are pretty much forgotten. I am defined more by what I do, my group of friends, my interests and hobbies, my family and my personality than a letter on a piece of paper. So as you can see, we are planning a very autonomous approach to home education. No lessons, no structure as such, just as many experiences as possible, from everyday mundane chores which teach valuable life lessons to adventurous trips around the world. I am excited to see what I learn along the way as well and I know that the fresh, eager eyes with which Poppy views the world will make everything that much more enjoyable and motivating for us too. And as for the fact that I will be spending every waking hour with my daughter, for all 52 weeks of the year…I can’t wait! I could go on forever, but I promised my friends they would be blog famous. So here are a few more perspectives on home education, I hope you enjoy the diversity of these answers and hopefully seeing home education in a new way: Zoe has two children, Vigo aged 3 and Leilani aged 1. Although she worries that her son may feel he is missing out on something by not going to school she hopes that the freedom that surrounds home education will give her children more opportunities and make them happy, confident children in the long run. What are your main reasons for choosing to home educate? “I think it has to be giving them both more of a chance to be children, free to learn through play without constant testing. In the long term, I want to give them more opportunities to choose their own direction in life, however diverse it might be. My dreams were always quashed by my school. I want them to feel confident and happy that they can succeed in whatever path they choose to follow.” What is your one favourite thing about home ed? “Having quality time with my family, doing the things that we love.” 10636236_10154596016970643_2170334459246196159_n Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “My main worry at the moment is whether they will feel that they’re missing out on something by not going to school.” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run? “In the long run, my main goal is to raise happy, confident children with a wide and varied knowledge of the world around them, ready to take on any challenge that faces them.” Michelle has two children, James aged 4 and Imogen aged 1. James was going to preschool when Michelle started to have doubts about the mainstream education system. She decided to take a very child led approach and listen to what James needed, and couldn’t be happier with her choice. What are your main reasons for choosing to home educate? ”It started with not being happy about a 50 child intake for reception aged children at the local school and this coincided with James starting to say he didn’t want to go to pre school anymore. People then started to say to me, “You’ll have to take him when he starts school, he won’t have a choice”…the thought of me dragging him to school when he didn’t want to go just filled me with dread! We started looking into home education and the more we learn the more we know this is the right decision for our family.” P1040455 What is your one favourite thing about home ed? “The freedom!” Do you have any fears with regards to home ed?  “No fears at all. I trust that my children will learn what they need to as and when they need to. Going to school doesn’t guarantee that you will pass all your exams and get a good job!” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run?  I’m hoping that my children will be independent and confident. That they will be able to think for themselves and whatever path they choose they will be happy!” Sam has a little girl called Zara who is 3. Sam is passionate about her daughter learning in a natural way, without having to conform to certain rules or fit into any boxes. By allowing her to be an individual and explore the world in her own way she hopes that Zara will always have a love for learning. What are your main reasons for choosing home education? “Keeping my child in a safe and loving environment, where someone is mentally and emotionally present 99% of the time. Someone is there understanding the hugely specific emotional needs of my child and able to help guide her through those times, the way I want her to learn. Structural learning is so insignificant for me at the moment. I brought this child into the world, I will raise her. Keeping her love for learning alive is hugely important to us. I want my child to explore the world with passion and energy. To continue the way she has been learning since she came into this world. There should be no structure forced upon her – she is her own and I want to keep her individuality as such.” What is your one favourite thing about home education? “That we are within our individual rights to specialise our own learning. We can educate ourselves and our families whichever and whatever way, structured or unstructured, whatever works best for us.” Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “That I won’t be able to provide enough opportunities to explore everything in this amazing world. But maybe we don’t need that. Maybe we, as the ‘learner’, just need to explore our own little space and we are happy with that. I am an introvert. I myself struggle with getting out of my own physical comfort zone. I don’t want my fears to impede on the learning of my child’s. I am NOT worried about not being able to provide enough social encounters. Already, I have found that you can do sooo much of that!” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run? “To be a worldly, well rounded individual, who can get through the toughest of times and let it run like water off a ducks back. Thrive in life and be happy and confident.” P1040433 Ali has 3 children, Winnie aged 1, Alice aged 2 and Anthony aged 8 who is currently in full time education. Although Ali has her reasons for this at the moment she hopes one day she will be able to home educate all of her children. Ali plans to follow a more structured approach than the others but hopes that her knowledge of child development will allow her children to thrive. What are your main reasons for choosing home education? “I chose home ed after learning about the neuroscience of child development and how the school system is a complete contradiction to that.” What is your one favourite thing about home education? I love that it can harness a child’s creativeness, rather than force them into conforming. Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “I worry that as a family unit we will struggle within the home ed community, we plan to follow the curriculum and be quite structured in our approach and I don’t think this is a popular approach.” Sue has 3 children, Elysia, the baby of the group at just 6 months! Ben aged 4 and Sophie aged 14. Being the only one of us with a secondary school aged child, who was taken out of mainstream school, it is lovely to hear positive feedback from Sophie herself. Sue is confident that this was the right choice to make and it is lovely to see that confidence in everything they do as a family. What are your main reasons for choosing home education? “To facilitate and support my children’s learning, to enable them to study subjects that are of interest to them and to spend more time as a family.” What is your one favourite thing about home education? “Seeing how happy my children are and being there to see their excitement when they learn something new.” Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “No fears, there is so much support within the Home Ed community, I can always find an answer to my queries. My eldest has already sat her first GCSE at just 14 and the life skills my children are learning will be there forever.” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run? “Happiness, contentment, to find a career and future that is personal to them, not something that they are doing just because ‘the system’ has taken them there. For them to learn from others and have some incredible life experiences. From a personal point of view I have spent the past 18 months educating myself on Home Education and getting to know my children better than I ever would’ve if they were still at school. Our bond as a family has grown immensely and I can only see us moving in a positive way in the future.” And a final word from Soph…”I love being home educated because I’m studying subjects I enjoy in a relaxed environment opposed to sitting in a dreary classroom studying subjects I probably dislike.” Let me know what you think, and if anything has changed your idea of home educating, or if you are already home educating and have similar reasons to any of these Mum’s. I look forward to posting more about home education in the future as it is seemingly very unknown to those on the outside of it. So many people ask me about the ‘rules’ surrounding home ed, when really there aren’t any! Your child, your choice! Thank goodness for that! 10405536_10154596017315643_5052342720040510202_n