When ‘Me time’ results in punishment -7 tips to help prepare children when you go away.

hen I was lucky enough to have five days of ‘Me time’ in Malta a few weeks ago… Since returning I’ve been ill, hence the delay in writing. I’ve also been punished for going away!

I went to Malta with my sister, where we stayed with our Auntie and Uncle (who spend some of the year living over there – lucky them!) We had the most fantastic 5 days, mainly just chilling out and enjoying the sunshine, with a Music Festival and Spa Day thrown in:)

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Photos courtesy of my big sis – ta Krusty:)

Coming home was bittersweet – of course I’d missed everyone, but I could have happily stayed in the warm, slow-paced world for a bit longer. The Stinker surprised me by bringing the Ps to the airport to meet me. Seeing their little faces when I came through the Arrivals gate and I immediately burst into tears! (Cue lots of cooing from the onlookers) Hearing their voices again set me off again; Piccalilli sounded so grown up – how does that happen in such a short period of time?!

We sat and had a welcome home drink (tea of course!) before everyone needed the loo and I was back in Mummy-mode and ushering the Ps in the right direction. In her excitement (well, her usual state!) Pickle ran round the corner and cracked her head on the corner of the Coffee Shop counter (a sharp, marble corner at that). Mummy-mode went to the next level when I noticed the blood gushing out of her head. To cut a long story short, the First Aid and Health and Safety team at Bristol Airport were fantastic and we left about half an hour later thankfully without needing a hospital trip (it was just another knock to the head so it might sort Pickle out?!)

The journey home was lovely and everyone was telling me about the great things they’d been doing with Nanny and Daddy, and enjoyed listening to some of the things I’d seen and done in Malta.

Now, I’m sure most of the parents reading this will recognise this scenario…

The following day the punishment began! The Stinker was in work so we were back to a usual home ed day. Well, everytime I asked anyone to help out with anything you’d think I’d asked them to jump off the building! Everything I offered was not what they wanted. Whenever I tried to comfort them I was pushed away. I had known this could happen from previous trips away and the reading I had done, but I didn’t expect the resentment to be so bad!

When the Stinker came home from work you’d have thought he’d been the one who had been away for five days from the welcome he received! Luckily I was expecting this, but it was still a bit upsetting when Piccalilli wouldn’t let me near her😦

I guess it took about five days (so the length of time I’d been away) for things to return to normal, but the main thing I had to do was not push them while letting them know I was there for them and not planning on going anywhere else.

I know that Piccalilli is still a little worried that I might go away again after an interesting conversation this week, when I was going to vote:

“Mummy, don’t go away”

“I’m not going anywhere”

“But you said you were going to a boat.”

Every family is different, but here are some ideas to make a trip away, without the little people, run smoothly:

  1. Prepare them for the fact that you will be away for a short time, but don’t tell them too far in advance of the trip. I told the Ps a couple of weeks before I was going, despite the fact that I’d known for months. “Warning children 3 years old and younger too far ahead of time does not help them, especially if the focus is on talking about the parent being gone and for how long,” says Julia Heberle, an associate professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa., and a developmental psychologist. “Children this age have barely mastered time vocabulary, so ‘tomorrow’ can just mean ‘not now,’ or ‘forever away.’ ”
  2. Make home sound more exciting than your trip – I made sure I talked a lot about the fact that Nanny was coming for a sleepover and all of the exciting things they would be doing with her and Daddy while I was away missing out!
  3. Follow their lead and only talk about the trip if they raise the subject. Poppet wanted to know what I’d be doing while I was there, Pickle wanted to help me to pack my case, whereas with Piccalilli it seemed the best option to not discuss it too much!
  4. Keep Goodbyes short and sweet (but always say them and reassure that you are coming home). I was lucky in that I left home at 3am so my proper goodbyes were said at bedtime (although I did sneak kisses and cuddles before I left the house!)
  5. Leave or send little love reminders. Whether you leave notes, a special toy or secret messages on the bathroom mirror or send messages and photos, make sure your children know you will be thinking of them while you are away. I knew that my phoning would have upset the Ps but I still sent photo messages so that they knew what I was getting up to (and I also received photos of them!)
  6. Keep everything as normal as possible at home. This can be hard to do, but it minimises their stress levels. Even though my mom helps out weekly with the Ps, I still left her a run down of the days. I know that Pickle struggled while I was away, but think this would have been even worse if her routine had disappeared too.
  7. Be prepared to be punished when you return! It’s natural to be angry when you love being with someone and they have left. Sometimes children don’t understand how to verbalise their anger at your having gone. If your child ignores you when you come back, you could say something like, “It’s ok to be angry with me for going away. I will always love you.”❤

 

 

Independence vs Idleness – Are we really learning?

I find it really interesting chatting to people, usually with grown-up children, who wish they’d realised that home education was an option… After just over a year in the world of home ed I know I am not an expert, but I certainly feel much more confident (as do the Ps!) when answering questions and discussing the route we have taken.

We are, of course, still discovering ‘how’ we do things; it changes regularly and can be different day to day!

But one thing I know is that I left the teaching profession (and then removed my children from it) for a reason. When people say “Oh, you’re a teacher so you know what you’re doing”, I find it quite amusing.

We most definitely don’t do ‘school at home’ (although that is one route that some home educating families take) –  when I said this to a pilates’ friend last week, she responded “Oh, so where do you do school?” When I explained that what I meant was that we don’t have a rigid timetable and don’t spend hours doing sit-down learning, rather we learn through the activities we are doing (with some sit-down learning when the Ps request it), she seemed slightly shocked (“Doesn’t someone check up on you?”) but even more keen on the idea!

We are ALL learning all the time – we don’t need to be sitting at a desk listening to one person talk and then completing a comprehension (or memory) task based on what we have heard. I am passionate about helping my children to become learners, to be inquisitive, to be capable of getting by in life, to be confident in who they are.

I really want the Ps to grow up to be independent learners, keen to find out about the world in which they live, without having to be pushed to learn (often pointless) information. Most of the learning we do is child-directed – they tell me what they are interested in and I facilitate their learning of that topic. Some days we follow our ‘topic’; some days we find out about something random inspired by a walk or visit; some days we don’t appear to be learning much!

But I am sure that most of the time the Ps aren’t being idle… Pickle isn’t as keen to ‘learn’ in the formal sense of the word as Poppet, but some of the facts that she shares amaze me and make me realise that she is definitely an independent learner who does pick up and awful lot of knowledge in her own way (usually physically!). And Piccalilli is already showing signs of loving learning (she often asks for her own books to do ‘writing’ and loves answering questions about the stories we have shared!), which I believe is heightened due to being brought up in a learning environment.

I have always loved learning, but remember very few ‘facts’ (I just don’t think my brain works that way!) I am sure that the Ps will grow up to be incredible, independent learners:)

A few pictures of that past week’s ‘learning’ activities:

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Making fruity fridge flapjacks, inspired by the ones our lovely neighbour let us try:)
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Making bird nest hangers to help the birds mend broken nests thanks to ‘A Little Bit of Dirt’
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Measuring our Space Rocket plants for Tim Peake:)
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Working out how to double-scoot to make the trip home from the shop easier!:)

Ducks, Dogs, Digging and Dilemmas…

This week has been all about Ds!

Pickle adores young children! A lovely day spent at Slimbridge WWT this week saw her making friends with lots of 3-5 year olds and being kind and caring but with a lot of fun and silliness in her play with them; as always she was very popular! We also got a lot of comments from people about how the Ps were generally very friendly, sociable and eloquent. When I explained to a few that they were home educated their responses ranged from “Oh that explains it then” to one of wanting to find out more as a possibility for their own child’s future. It feels great to be in a position where I now feel confident enough to discuss our own journey into home ed and our first year, sharing the great parts and the occasional pitfalls with interested people. The ducks didn’t really get much of a look-in on this trip but that’s ok ’cause we’ll probably be there again next week!

Pickle’s adoration of animals might be even stronger than of young children and, although she loves dogs (and regularly asks for one as a pet), she is slightly nervous of them after having been bitten three times! We have a lot of friends, neighbours and family with dogs so the Ps get a lot of contact with them, but Pickle was still very jumpy when we went to a friend’s house this week and her little dog (I mean tiny!) was running and jumping up. I was exactly the same when I was little so I empathise hugely with how she feels. Despite her nervous start, by the end of our time with our friends Pickle was cuddling and playing with the dog:) And once again asking when we could get one!

We spend a lot of time digging! I’ve been doing a lot of gardening over the past week, with a lot of ‘help’ from the Ps. Pickle particularly enjoys making mud pies! The little bed that I’ve given over to them to grow whatever they would like won’t have any soil left in it soon… I was chatting to a friend about how much muddier, and happier, Pickle has been recently! She really is better off when she can be outdoors getting messy – I’m just glad we have the space for her to do so… I only wish we had a utility room so the dirty clothes didn’t have to be trailed through the house (saying that, this week a lot of the muddy play has been done in the nuddy!!)

So, my dilemmas… The Ps are all so happy at the moment but I’ve just signed Piccalilli up for her free hours at a lovely, little, local playgroup (the same one the big Ps went to in fact) from September. This isn’t a dilemma in itself as I think she’ll really love it, but if she doesn’t she won’t have to go. It just throws up lots of other dilemmas for me… e.g. If the big Ps had stayed in school, now would be the time I’d be looking for jobs to start from September – that isn’t what I want to be doing, but I do feel the need to contribute to our family; I know, I’m educating our children but we still need money! I’m also aware that I need to stop stressing about it because it just makes me unhappy and grumpy and a pain to live with – Sorry Stinker❤

 

 

 

A year into our journey and a wonderful week!

It’s been just over a year since our home education journey began – I still can’t believe I’ve had the Poppet at home learning with me for that long (about 6 months with the Pickle too). We definitely still have many ups and downs, good days and bad days, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

We had the best week ever last week and I’m sure it was partly down to nicer weather (between the unseasonal hailstorms!) and my feeling relaxed…

As part of the week I decided to document #anunschoolday on instagram and thought I’d share the best photos from one day here…

Our morning started with me finding Piccalilli playing in the bath, while Pickle had a lie-in (her favourite place is bed!) and Poppet unravelled some wool to do more knitting!

Then Piccalilli asked if we could go on the big swing while the big Ps were getting dressed and when we returned to the house everyone was hungry, so we ate some yummy ‘alien’ pancakes! After breakfast we all went back down the garden and they all pottered happily while I planted potatoes.

Our afternoon consisted of Piccalilli napping in the car while the big Ps did Pony Club. When we returned home Pickle enjoyed making a log cabin (with the Stinker’s help) while Poppet planted the Space Rocket seeds.

It feels like our journey is really finding it’s direction and everyone is finding their place… it’s not easy but springtime is definitely a great time for us:)

 

 

 

 

Purple storm clouds – when the anger rolls in…

I feel like I’ve had a breakthrough with Pickle this week… but who knows what will happen next week!

She struggles with a lot of her emotions and can often be an anxious, nervous child. To outsiders this is not at all obvious as she is amazing at putting on a face and is often the ‘life and soul’, the comedian, the ‘Pickle’!

But behind closed doors she sometimes finds it hard to deal with her emotions and tries to hide them away, resulting in big violent outbursts at difficult times.

After a particularly tense few days last week I decided to talk to her (not for the first time!) about how she felt when these outbursts took over her. It was interesting to listen to her describe it as a ‘dark purple storm that she couldn’t get out of’. I asked her what colour made her feel happy and she replied lilac. So we practised blowing the purple storm away and letting the lovely lilac return. She also said she wanted to be cuddled and I’ve read a lot about how hugging children can really help during any emotional times.

The next time I saw the storm trying to take over I reminded her to blow it away and let the lilac come back – she did and it worked so well!

I’ve also been reading a lot about allowing children to have ‘freedom of the mouth’ during times of rage; basically accepting angry outbursts for what they are – a release and healing process – and ensuring that children feel able to have these moments if they need them. This doesn’t mean they are allowed to simply scream and shout and be rude and unkind – these things are responded to with a simple “We don’t talk like that in our family” and an attempt at distraction. But if it is truly a cry for help in a stressful situation, then giving time to listen (and simply listen), hold and reassure is our way out of the storm.

So, this week has been a good week for us, which I will share later:)

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When is it time to let go? 7 tips to increase your child’s independence…

Poppet has been showing signs of growing up recently, changing from a little girl to a, dare I say it, young lady?! She has mini strops on a regular basis (which remind me of myself when I was 13, not 7-and-a-half!) and is desperate to have more independence and responsibility.

As our oldest child this is all a steep learning curve for us, so I’ve done my usual and researched lots on how best to allow her more independence without letting go completely.

I have never wanted to ‘control’ my children but do realise that as parents it is the easy default to go to at difficult times (like trying to get out of the house in the morning!) A survey which has tracked more than 5,000 people since their birth in 1946 researched the impact of over-control on children. “Parents also give us [a] stable base from which to explore the world while warmth and responsiveness has been shown to promote  social and emotional development” said Dr Mai Stafford, of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Lifelong Health and Ageing unit at UCL. “By contrast, psychlogical control can limit a child’s independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behaviour.”

I would hate for my children to grow up to be ‘contingent children’ (part of our reason for home educating them I think!) but really don’t think this will be the case as our children certainly don’t fit the criteria of depending on others for their happiness or incentive to achieve (although they occasionally make poor decisions which is another sign, but don’t we all!)

I believe that independence is vital, when a child is ready to leave the safe attachment bond they have with their caregivers, and hope my children will all grow up to display the characteristics:

  • self motivated to achieve
  • able to choose activities that they enjoy
  • good decision makers
  • share a collaborative (rather than controlled) relationship with their parents

These characteristics seem to fit so well with home education and the unschooling theory of child initiated learning. Interestingly, independence has to be ‘taught’ to an extent by allowing our children to experience many opportunities of their choosing and providing the following essential aspects:

  1. Love and Respect Of course we all love and respect our children, but it is important to remember to show them love regularly in the little moments and to respect their choices, however odd they might seem to us at times!
  2. Be proud of their abilities However small an achievement might seem to us, it can be a big deal to a 7 year old. Poppet was so excited to complete her first ever mini dressage test completely independently, so I made a really big deal out of it because it mattered to her:)
  3. Ensure they understand the control they have over the world Whether it’s negative or positive they need to recognise the impact they have on those around them.  Displaying our emotions can really help them to understand this (and I’ve found that crying when Pickle has really pushed me does seem to make her think!)
  4. Give guidance but allow them to make their own decisions I often find myself explaining possible outcomes but then try to back off so the Ps can make their own choices. Even little Piccalilli at 2-and-a-half is able to make her own decisions, often resulting in the weirdest outfit combinations (a dress with Poppet’s skirt over the top and wellies on the wrong feet today!)
  5. Teach Responsibility Poppet is starting to desire more responsibility within the family so we have discussed with her how she can have this and the tasks she can undertake to help out. She has also started to show more responsibility for her own learning as she is starting to understand that she can achieve things independently now.
  6. Teach Accountability We all get things wrong occasionally and it’s important to be accountable for our own actions. If children do not learn to take responsibility for their mistakes they will struggle to take responsibility for their achievements. I am not advocating punishment when things go wrong, but I am aware that a discussion and time-to-think often work for us.
  7. Encourage Freedom and Exploration (AKA Risk Taking!) This is another aspect which fits so well with home educating as it is so much more possible to give children the freedom to explore when you have the time and space. We spend so much of our time in the great outdoors so there are often risks to take (usually resulting in very muddy children!)

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I’m sure some people think of home educated children as being less independent as they spend ‘all’ their time with a care-giver, but I can assure you that this is definitely not the case in our home ed journey! Without the constraints and control of school I have seen my children develop in confidence and with that independence; I aim to do everything I can to continue to bring up strong, independent young ladies.

 

 

What happened when I started saying “I understand”? – 5 steps to validating children’s feelings.

Pickle is an anxious, sensitive little soul.

She was the most chilled out baby (For the first five months of her life lots of people didn’t realise she existed as she slept so much!) but as soon as she hit toddlerhood – Is that a word? It’s definitely a stage! – she became difficult, defiant and easily distressed. At the time she spent two days a week with a fantastic childminder, who commented on the fact that in her many years of looking after little ones she rarely saw 2 year olds who struggled so much with embarrassment…

We have spent the past 5 years swinging from feeling resentful to feeling complete and utter panic and worry at what the future holds for our angry young Pickle. We have tried many different ways of dealing with her behaviour, some of which seem to help for a short period of time, but essentially any attempts to ‘control’ or ‘curb’ her just end up upsetting her more and therefore upsetting everyone.

I first read about ‘positive/peaceful/attachment parenting’ when the big Ps were little, and tried to incorporate some of the principles into our daily life. But it has only been the past year (since starting to home educate) that I have completely recognised the value of bringing our children up in a household where they feel valued, listened to, important. I realise that all of this pivots around me (and the Stinker) and how we behave toward the Ps.

The following quote sums it up for me in a much more eloquent way than I could explain it:

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a parent or teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
-Dr. Haim Ginott www.ahaparenting.com

So, I’ve been trying so hard to be positive and respond in a sensitive and calm manner to any issues that have arisen recently. It is hard! But responding to their shouting with shouting just results in… you’ve got it… more shouting!

I have been reading a lot about the importance of validating our children’s feelings a lot recently (like this amusing and thought-provoking take on it over at Lulastic) and completely agree that they, as small human beings, deserve to be valued and listened to. That doesn’t make it any easier! It is all too easy to revert to your own childhood (I’m not saying I wasn’t valued or listened to, but it was still the time of children ‘doing what they were told’!) and to respond with a curt “Don’t be so silly” or “No you can’t…”

I am trying hard to change my responses to “I understand…” and “We could…” – in fact I think the Ps are finding me quite hilarious and I’ve even noticed Poppet responding to Piccalilli in the same way!

If faced with an angry outburst or defiant moment I find the following five steps seem to work best for us:

  1. Take a deep breath and say to myself “It’s not about you” (even when the anger is aimed at me!)
  2. Respond with “I understand that you are feeling angry about…”
  3. Offer solutions to the problem and offer hugs
  4. Don’t take it personally if the solutions and hugs are ignored
  5. When the situation has calmed down talk about what happened and how we can avoid it happening again in the future

Of course I know this is not going to stop difficult situations from arising again but it has definitely diffused any problems that we have faced recently and we have been enjoying time together in the spring sunshine:)

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