The Children’s and Teen Health Summit

I am so excited! My friend sent me a link to some free presentations around children and teen health and parenting issues, although many of the topics would be of interest to non-parents too! There are new presentations available every day for a week and we are currently on day 3. Each talk is available to watch for 24 hours but there is also the option to purchase all 30 presentations. I started listening to a couple yesterday and just had to share. I feel that parents can be so easily convinced to do things a certain way to make sure they are seen to be doing a good job and bringing up well-behaved children, or simply because they lack the confidence to follow their own judgement, but really, we need to look deeper within ourselves and question what is really best. We must be responsible for our own lives and health and be aware of the impact our choices have on our precious children which means questioning the brainwashing information that is all around us that we often blindly accept. Many of the talks discuss hot parenting topics such as unconditional love, our expectations of our children, learning and education, relating to our children, attachment, family life, diet, pregnancy and health and well-being. Yesterday I listened to Naomi Aldort, author of “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” and found very much in line with my existing attitudes. It talks about how to change our behaviour as parents in order to change our children’s behaviour. However, she points out that this is not about manipulation but about allowing the child’s natural unfolding of the mind through nurturing, which results in natural co-operation without the need to control. Parents who say their children are behaving “badly” are more likely to behaving in a way that is provoking this “bad” behaviour due to their own experiences as a child or their idea of what it means to be a parent. When we address this our children will show dramatic shifts in behaviour and life is more harmonious all round! She also touched upon the topic of household chores, which I found quite amusing being subject to a rota of chores myself as a child! Could you stop telling your child to do chores completely? This morning I listened to another discussion, “The Fearless Parent” with Louise Kuo Habakus. This particular talk touches on plenty of health issues including illness, homotoxicology and vaccinations, but the theme is that as parents we should be making informed choices and educating ourselves on ours and our children’s health. It is about putting you in the driving seat and making confident choices without fear. One topic which really interested me was wifi. I have known for a while now that EMF radiation can be damaging but it really hit home just how damaging it could be and how much more vigilant we need to be with reducing our exposure. Children absorb up to 10 x radiation than adults due to immature skulls that facilitate absorption. There have been links to leukemia, brain tumors, infertility and neurological problems. Other countries in Europe are starting to ban wifi in schools whilst we are ignoring the warnings and exposing our children to more and more of this radiation, through mobile phones, tablets, wifi and more. It baffles me why a toddler needs to play on a smartphone anyway but sadly I see it all the time. If I told you that EMF radiation from these devices has been classified as a group 2b possible carcinogen (cancer causing) and that this classification is the same level as exhaust fumes, lead and DDT pesticide, would you think about taking steps to reduce your child’s exposure? You can switch off the wifi in your house, turn off your mobile phone and set limits on their own time on these devices and you WILL be making a positive change and reducing their exposure levels. Yes it is all around us, but we can take measures to reduce their direct exposure. Just like you wouldn’t want them standing behind a car exhaust breathing in all the fumes 24/7 but you would probably be happy for them to walk around a busy town with lots of cars…the closer they are to to point of radiation the more effect it will have, so start in their home environment.

Having a look at the schedule it looks like there are loads of interesting topics coming up that I am desperate to hear. Day 4 there will be a whole talk regarding the EMF radiation I have discussed. To access the presentations click here. If any of the talks resonate with you I would love to hear your thoughts!

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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.

VegFest London 2014

P1040599At the end of September a friend and I went to VegFest in London (with the babies!) It was busier than I expected, which was difficult with the babies, but I am not suprised because the event had a lot to offer. Whether you are interested in vegetarianism, veganism, you are dairy-free or just interested in healthier eating or greener living, it was a great place for information, tasters and discussions. In fact the less you know about veganism the more you will gain from the event! I will definitely go again next year, when I can hopefully leave Poppy behind! Because there were so many talks, demonstrations and workshops we would have loved to stay for, but the babies were getting restless. We managed to pick up loads of leaflets though, all reaffirming my reasons for going (mostly) vegan and motivating me to try harder! As for the dairy debate, all I can say is that I am so glad we no longer consume that junk, and I can’t believe how brain washed people are into believing it is good for them! I will put some links at the end of this post if you want to educate yourself further on this matter.
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For those of you who haven’t got a clue what vegan’s eat then take a look at the photo’s below and know that it is not just slop or lettuce leaves! Granted, the doughnuts are not going to be the healthiest choice, but my point is that you don’t HAVE to be health obsessed to make positive changes to your diet, and you can still have a treat when the mood strikes. On the other hand, healthy choices can be delicious too! We had a wrap filled with all sorts of healthy goodies for lunch. I was completely stuffed and yet could probably have devoured another it was beyond delicious. The choice of food was amazing, from chocolate to cheesecake, burgers to burritos. If you think veganism is restrictive, think again!
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There were also stalls with beauty products, clothing, petitions and more. The children’s area looked like good fun with cooking classes and other activities, and there was a cinema area that was showing informative films. And it wasn’t limited to vegetables! There were also discussions on raw food diets, lots of information about healthy and not so healthy fats, sugar, juicing and even green products such as cloth maternity pads! Overall it was well organised, despite the queue to get in and the broken lift fiasco, and I would have loved to have spent more time there. However, I don’t think I would want to take kids again as it was too busy to focus on everything and them! For the price of the tickets it was well worth a trip, although be warned, you could easily spend a fortune on all the tempting stalls.
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Some of the posters and flyers were eye-opening. I initially chose to cut down on meat for health reasons but I can’t deny that the facts on farming make me feel pretty sick and they do make me think twice if I ever get a meaty craving. It is too easy for us to detach ourselves from the reality, when we buy our meat all neatly packaged up in the supermarket with pictures of happy animals on the front. We are allowing outrageous torture to animals and damaging our environment at the same time. If you do eat meat, at least know exactly where it comes from and how the animals are treated. But even organic doesn’t always mean cruelty free due to the very fact that farming is a business and therefore certain procedures have to take place in order to meet demand, and don’t be fooled by the words ‘free-range’ either.
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There is loads of information out there on the health benefits of vegetarianism, veganism and going dairy-free AND it is better for the environment. It makes me laugh when people think that vegan’s don’t get enough nutrients. Sure, there will be unhealthy vegan’s out there, but if you are following a plant based diet with plenty of variety, some raw foods, good fats and natural sources of protein…you are bound to be getting exactly what you need. People often wonder if Poppy will be bought up as a vegan, as if they are worried that she won’t grow properly or have lifelong problems because I am so irresponsible I am depriving her of protein! But I am not worried in the slightest because I know that everything she needs is available in the fresh, wholesome foods we eat. Most of the information we are given about dietary requirements are inaccurate and even worrying. The popular eat well plate for example has a small section suggesting that we need some foods high in sugar and fats (with photo’s of fizzy drinks and biscuits). No one in the world NEEDS these sorts of processed foods, ESPECIALLY not a baby! Of course you can enjoy them in moderation if you choose, but this information is given out in schools which I find irresponsible and misleading for parents who don’t know any better. I have taken Poppy’s health into my own hands so that I can be absolutely sure she only gets the best.
P1040537 They weren’t as energetic on the journey home!

For more info take a look at the following links:

http://www.viva.org.uk
http://www.milkmyths.org.uk
http://www.vegansociety.com/try-vegan/why-go-vegan
http://www.grownathomewithlove.wordpress.com/tag/food-intolerances/
http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/cows/dairy-industry/
http://www.vegsoc.org/
http://www.govegan.org.uk/
http://www.london.vegfest.co.uk/

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

The Importance of Play

I have been learning all about play, and I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why it is so important to the healthy all round development of children. First of all it is worth saying that there are so many different types of play, too many to mention here, and lots of ideas surrounding exactly it means to play. It is difficult to define play because it is context dependent, ever changing and personal to the player. Play is not the same as being playful. True play is always chosen and controlled by the child and is characterised by a deep concentration. This is important because adult led activities are not the same as free flow play!

P1020365Every child in the world is born with an innate desire to play. I have already written about the benefits of treasure baskets for babies, and of course babies also benefit from interaction with their caregivers. That is the first way the learn how to be sociable! Poppy enjoys playing on her own too, and no one has taught her that, it comes naturally, just like sleeping and eating. As babies get older they are interested in finding things out for themselves, and ‘heuristic play’, a step up from treasure baskets, is beneficial at this stage. Children make their own discoveries spontaneously and there is no right or wrong way, giving them the confidence to make decisions and learn. Heuristic play enhances physical and cognitive development as children use fine and gross motor skills to manipulate and explore. If play is always adult led however a child’s natural motivation to play will be crushed and they will not be able to think for themselves.

Early physical play builds strength, coordination and skill and also offers a break from cognitive tasks, with school break times improving children’s attention during lessons. Rough and tumble play is a safe way for children to develop emotional control as they fight with friends and self-handicap. This is a normal part of development and can help children to manage their emotions and maintain friendships. Physical development is at the centre of a child’s overall development and so all of that seemingly silly activity you see in the playground is of great importance to every element of the child’s growth!

During this time children actively interact with each other, learning social-emotional skills that give them confidence and build their self-esteem, which will encourage positive relationships throughout their entire lives. The conversations they have during play, with each other and adults, not only help children expand their vocabulary and understanding of language, but are also thought provoking and encourage children to work together to solve problems. Playing with people of different ages increases the child’s scope to develop as they help each other learn, which is actually one reason that I find the typical classroom set up so unnatural. It is not realistic of true life, to have children of all the same age working together. By home educating Poppy I hope she will have friends of all different ages, expanding her learning potential and opening up a social world that school perhaps cannot offer. Anyway…back to play! We all remember playground games – I loved polo polo and stuck in the mud, but there are hundreds and children make up their own games with rules too. These games introduce morals to a child and increase social awareness. Social concepts are formed as children take turns, share and listen to each other. They face disagreements, and learn how to effectively deal with them, and start to learn about consequences (if they do break the rules!) They start to manage their own behaviour and feel that they have their own place in society, or at least in their own small society, but this is just the start of their sense of identity in the bigger world. Social lessons are much better learnt through experience than explanation, and disagreements, falling outs and preferences over friends is completely natural and true to real life. An adult who tries to keep the peace by forcing children to get along at all times is addressing the problem very artificially and temporarily, with the children learning little negotiation or communication skills in the process, and often being left confused.

play

Credits Image: Maciej Lewandowski (CC)

A well-recognised type of play is fantasy play, something I am sure you can all remember. You probably acted out your own experiences, and copied things that you had seen your parents or older siblings do. The whole time you would have been making new links between your knowledge, gathering information, putting everything together in your mind so that it could become embedded and understood, without overwhelming you. There is so much for a child to take in, playing is the best possible way for them to consolidate their learning and deal with that amount of information, which they simply couldn’t process any other way.

Children rehearse the future during fantasy play, and in doing so they function in advance of themselves, reaching the very top of their skill set and extending it further. They prepare for the challenges of life, and this practise run makes them more confident and able to deal with real situations as adults. Their role-play allows them to see life from new perspectives and learn about human interactions. Communication and listening skills, cooperation, empathy and understanding – these are skills that you could easily see on a CV or college application aren’t they? Life long skills that open up opportunities and contribute to a person’s social life and therefore their happiness! What if a child doesn’t have the chance to practise them whilst they are young? Do they just appear from nowhere? No, they are skills just like any other and they need to be refined.

So now imagine two children playing families. One child is the Mummy and the other the Daddy, and they are pretending that their dolls are their children. They care for the dolls like they have seen adults doing, they talk to each other in a grown up way, they have an argument about whose turn it is to go to the shop, they decide to go together and when they are there they recite things they need to make a cake and use wooden blocks and beanbags as eggs and flour. A typical childhood scene, that may be seen as simple fun, and yet those two children are learning more than ever and enhancing every single area of development. How? Acting as mummy and daddy teaches them about relationships and the imagination involved in becoming someone else promotes creativity and flexibility of thought which is vital for learning. As they care for the dolls they begin to gain a sense of responsibility and care, unlocking new emotions and an empathy and understanding towards others. The argument they act out may be something they have overheard themselves, and by re-enacting it they begin to understand the complicated emotions involved in human relationships and that they are normal. They see different points of view and learn how to manage their own emotions and understand other peoples. Perhaps the argument reflects a difficult time in their home life, and through role-play they are working through their own difficult emotions and easing their pain. They solve a problem together by deciding to go to the shop together. They are learning to work cooperatively, as well as trying out new ideas, adapting their thoughts and thinking outside of the box. As they shop for the cake ingredients they use their current knowledge of baking and it becomes embedded in their minds, and they show their creativity in using different items to represent to food. This ability to symbolise is the first step in developing abstract thought. Perhaps they build on their knowledge further as one child suggests that the cake could be made with brown sugar instead of white and the other suggests it is a lemon cake and so they choose a yellow box to represent the cake. They may even be exploring a scene from a favourite book about baking a birthday cake, helping them relate to the language within that book so that it is more meaningful to them and the next time they read it they notice new things that they hadn’t before. The whole time they are talking and listening and using their bodies. The children are also in deep concentration, completely engrossed in their play. This concentration is vital for a child’s development; it is the single most important factor in learning.

Credits Image: Lars Plougmann (CC)

aloneAs well as learning about the world, children do a great deal of learning about themselves during play. They may use play to deal with traumatic experiences and feel in control of worrying situations. Play helps children become emotionally literate, increasing their resilience to mental health problems, which in this day and age is definitely worth noting. The processing of emotions during solitary play impacts other areas of development. It is often a very deep play where children are free to gather ideas, dwell on feelings, relationships and embodiment, all of which are at the heart of creativity. Art, literature and music may be created as a way of dealing with emotions that the child has come to understand during their play. I remember playing on my own at home a lot as a child (probably because my sister thought she was too cool for me!) and I was, and still am, a rather creative person. In fact I specifically remember writing poems when I was feeling angry, sad or confused, or creating art when I was happy or finding or changing my own identity. As a child play may be the healthiest and most natural way to deal with the plethora of inevitable emotions you are faced with.

During the first five years of life children learn more rapidly than any other time and opportunities to play contribute hugely to healthy holistic development. Of course well-rounded, healthy children, who grow up into stable, intelligent adults, have positive outcomes for the whole of society. Even adults benefit from play! In a technological world where I see toddlers playing games on their parents phones, preschool children being bought computers for Christmas, and TV’s being used as babysitters, I wonder if the next generation are being given enough encouragement to play? Children are not communicating with each other, they are not moving, they are not thinking for themselves, they are not exploring their word. Play is the most natural and effective method of learning; if we deprive our children of play, we deprive them of a wealth of developmental benefits that can never be replicated with technology.

So why not try a screen free week, get out there and play!

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Credits Image: David Robert Bliwas (CC)

Treasure Baskets for Babies

ImageThe Montessori assignment I am currently working on is all about play, and part of it focuses on play in young babies. I always knew the importance of sensory play, but this reminded me of how to get the most out of a treasure basket and inspired me to make a new one for Poppy. Before now she has had the same few sensory items in a small basket, which no doubt she was getting bored of.

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When babies reach the stage where they can sit up unaided but not yet crawl about, you may notice that they begin to show signs of boredom, although sometimes these are mistaken for teething or being clingy as they sit and fuss. In fact even very young babies show an instinctive need to play; it is a vital factor in their healthy development. A treasure basket offers a rich variety of stimulus, that the baby explores with all five of their senses. They grasp, shake, kick, lick, chew, watch, feel, listen, bang, laugh, squeal and are learning every second. It does not contain toys, the purposes of which are of little interest to babies of this age who usually just put everything in their mouth! You may find yourself showing your baby the ‘correct’ way to hold a rattle, or stack blocks on top of one another, but really this is for the satisfaction of the adult as the baby has not yet reached the ‘What can I do with this?’ stage and is much more interested in ‘What is this?’

ImageYou might be pleased to hear that the items in the treasure basket, which will provide your baby with a lot more learning opportunities than conventional toys, are usually very cheap, if not free, as they can be found around the house! It is important to use natural materials such as wood, metal and fabrics, which provide more interesting sensory experiences than the cold hard plastic that many modern day toys are made from. Of course you need to consider the size of the items; make sure that they do not present a choking hazard but are small enough for your baby to grip and manipulate themselves. Another important consideration is the quality of the items, for example I have found the cheaper wooden items may be more likely to splinter, and anything that is made up of small parts should be sturdy (such as screws on a nutcracker or beads on string). I have listed a few ideas below to get you started, but the possibilities are endless!

The amazing thing about treasure baskets is the way in which they develop a deep concentration in the baby, fundamental to later cognitive development. It is not uncommon for babies to sit and play happily for an hour or longer (the nutcracker alone kept Poppy busy for ages!) However, you must not think that your baby will be happy to sit alone and explore the basket whilst you see to the dinner or catch up on your favourite soap. Like any new experience at this age, your baby will feel comfort in the fact that you are close by, reassuring them that it is safe to continue in their new discoveries. To give them this confidence you do not need to do much more than just be there, within their sight, their safe base. By not interfering with what your baby is doing (although obviously if they interact with you then you should not ignore them!) you are allowing them to take control of their own learning, developing the ability to make decisions as they pick and choose the objects rather than being offered objects by an adult.

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Lastly, and probably the most important thing to remember, is that your baby will become bored if they never find anything new in the basket. Have a look for interesting new items on a regular basis and make sure that the treasure basket is constantly evolving. I have already started to collect a few bits ready to have a change around in a few days, and it is actually a really fun project to do! Grannie Sally has even put one together for Poppy when she visits, and she said she loved putting it all together!

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As your baby gets more mobile their play needs change, and they enjoy transferring objects from one place to another. Providing them with plenty of receptacles for doing this will help them to continue their development of deep concentration and satisfy their natural inclinations.

Idea’s for Treasure Basket:

(The basket should be strong, shallow (roughly 4-5 inch in height) and large. It can be round, square or rectangle but should be at least 14 inches in diameter and width.)

  • Wooden spoonImage
  • Wooden egg timer
  • Wooden lemon squeezer
  • Nutcracker
  • Avocado pip
  • Large feather (peacock)
  • Large pine cone
  • Natural sponge
  • Make up brush made with natural materials
  • Loofah
  • Flannel
  • Whistle
  • Pebble
  • Pumice stone
  • Tea strainerImage
  • Bells
  • Bottle brush
  • Leather ball
  • Metal eggcup
  • Wooden nail brush
  • Silk scarf
  • Cotton scarf
  • Ribbon
  • Beads on a string or leather shoelace
  • Small tin
  • Metal teaspoon
  • Mini metal whisk
  • Pastry brush
  • Paint brush
  • Hair brushP1020346
  • Velvet
  • Shells
  • Ball of string
  • Beanbag
  • Small containers filled with rice
  • Keys
  • Small muslin bags
  • Corks
  • Fruit (Apple, orange, lemon)
  • Pegs
  • Curtain rings
  • Chain
  • Large buttons
  • Wooden napkin rings
  • Drawer fragrance cushion

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If you have some great ideas Poppy would love to know about them!