Sunday, 5 March 2023

Joyful Homeschool

I am certain that some British friends would wince at my use of the term "home school".  In the UK the term for teaching your children at home is "Home education".  Some people can become quite pedantic about not using the term "home school" because they say it implies school at home, which is, quite rightly what we are trying to get away from.   However I have found the term "home school" to be very useful.  It certainly rolls off the tongue more easily that "home education", and I have found that it is more easily understood by questioning strangers.  Funnily enough my children have taken to using "home school" to describe what we do in spite of my correcting them in the past. I think they simply find it easier to say and they find they are better understood.  

I think you'll agree that "joyful home school" has much more of a ring to it that "joyful home education".  My argument, like our American friends (who typically use the term "home school" in favour of "home education") is that in actual fact home school is not school-at-home.  The word school has several definitions, one of which is the place which children go to to receive an education,  this could be home could it not?  Similarly the word "schooled" as in "home schooled" simply means to receive an education.  So using the term "home school" certainly does not mean the replication of the institute of "school" at home. 

All that to say,  today I am talking about my word of the year "joyful"  and how I am going to be attempting to apply it to our home school (home education!).  

Before I begin I would like to take a moment to reflect on my February focus which was "Joyful Parenting".  I read "Yell Less, Love More"  By Sheila McCraith, and am about half way through "Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys" by Noel Janis-Norton.  I really enjoyed McCraith's book she is very honest and wears her heart on her sleeve which really helps you to feel a connection to her; it makes her very relatable.  I also enjoyed all her tips for yelling at your children less. She gives lots of ideas for strategies to use to get a handle on your yelling.  It is a fairly gentle approach to parenting and does ask her readers to examine what behaviours can be triggering, and how to manage them,  I like this idea more than the idea of having to spend time in counselling to supposedly overcome your triggers, learning to manage them is much more realistic.  However I have found that what you mostly need is a heck of a lot of self control to stop yourself from yelling, and what I really need more of are strategies to stop my children from doing things that cause me to yell.  This is where "Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys" by Noel Janis-Norton has been really useful.  I absolutely love her no-nonsense way of talking about children's behaviour, no messing about with talking about "big feelings", she quite honestly describers some behaviours as annoying (thank you!)  and gives really practical and achievable ways to help your children become less annoying!  I am about half way through this book and am already putting some of her techniques into practice, for example using praise (shocking!), more specifically descriptive praise ("I noticed you put your plate in the kitchen") rather than hyperbolic praise ("Oooh fantastic plate carrying!"), and reflective listening.  I am finding the reflective listening really helpful with my 6 year old he responds really well to it, but I often forget about the techniques and fall back into old habits of yelling, begging and coercing.  I also realise I also need to get my husband on board so that we can be a united front for things to really change.  There is still much to work on, and I will be continuing to hold "joyful parenting"  in my mind as I move into my March focus of "Joyful Home school".  

When I saw that I had chosen "Home school" to be the focus on this month I wanted to skip it, or switch it with something easier.  How on earth can I make our home school joyful? It really doesn't feel joyful right now.  The main problem is that my boys do not want to do anything that I suggest.  All they want to do is play with their friends or have their eyes on a screen.  Screens have become extremely problematic in our house in spite of me restricting them.  And I do believe strongly in restricting screen time (you can read my blog post about it if you like).  I don't believe children's brains are developed enough to be able to self regulate their screen time when it is, by nature so incredibly stimulating and addictive.  What is more, I do in fact have to give them an education.  I am obligated to by law.  I know that this can look very different to a school education, and I understand that some people who take an "Unschooling" approach to their children's education would encourage me to let them do what they like, (which I hear can include unlimited screen access), but I am just not the right personality to be able to do that.  It would cause me far too much anxiety.  Also I love learning and what I longed for when we decided to home educate was to share my love of learning with them; I want to show them all the beautiful things, all the art, all the music, amazing world history, astonishing geography, mind-blowing science, I want to show them the world, and I want them to share in my excitement about it all and I want to share in theirs.  So how can I do this without the tears, tantrums and repeated chants of "no," or "I'm not doing it," or "it's boring", or "I hate...(insert whatever it is I'm suggesting here...")?  The answer right now is that I don't know!  To be honest I really don't understand it because, as much as I hated school, I loved learning, I loved finding things out, drawing diagrams, writing descriptions, stories, being creative... Is it because I am Female and I'm just wired differently? I don't know, but something needs to change.

I have seen some people suggest that I could grab one of their interests and run with it.  For example, my boys are quite into Minecraft, and I have seen products online such as Minecraft Maths books for example.  Unfortunately my boys know from a mile away when I am trying to make something "educational", they're not that easily tricked!  

Likewise,  some have suggested that by letting them really get into the thing they are interested in, I might be facilitating for them to be then next amazing xbox game designer or coding expert.  However I would argue that in order to be a producer of something that requires creativity, a game designer for example, one needs to have a bank of experiences, images, sensations, art, understanding about the world etc in their hearts and minds to draw from in order to create something new and exciting.  I don't believe anyone ever created anything extraordinary from simply playing the old games day in day out.

What is more I quite simply don't want them glued to a screen every day.  I do not believe it is healthy, I do not believe it is nourishing or enriching and I do not believe it will help them to turn into good men who give something positive to the world.  I want to spend time with them, get to know them, share experiences with them and have opportunities for expanding their hearts and minds with new ideas and knowledge.  And I want them to experience all the good and beautiful things first hand. 

Talking to the boys, what they do seem to enjoy is field trips, though there is still a degree of resistance in leaving the house.  Unfortunately field trips can be expensive, they're tiring, and some things just can't be learnt through field trips alone.  They enjoy doing experiments, but again not everything can be learnt or experienced through an experiment.  

I want them to be free to enjoy their childhoods without the pressure that comes with a school education, but I also need to teach them maths, and how to write and spell and at the moment, this part is like pulling teeth! Help! I really have no clue what the answer is at the moment, so of course I am doing what any sensible person does in an unknown situation, I am going to buy books!  (My husband will be thrilled!) As March unfolds I will see how I can inject more joy into our home learning, and I'll report back here so you can find out how it went! 

I really believe home education can be a joyful experience for both me and my children, at least 90% of the time, that's the goal.  Joyful home school here we come!

Saturday, 4 February 2023

Joyful Parenting

 At the beginning of this year I chose "Joyful" as my word of the year, and I have been using January to think about this word and map out how I will navigate creating a more joyful year for myself.

One area of my life which I have been finding especially joyless has been my parenting.  So I've decided to have parenting as my focus for growth in February.  Currently my parenting is feeling very joy-less.  I have got myself into a lot of bad habits.  Joyful parenting for me does not look like:

  • Yelling,  
  • shaming, 
  • making my children feel sad, 
  • punishments,
  • distracting myself from my children with social media, 
  • Not praising
  • not having time for my children,
I'm ashamed to say I've been doing far too much of this recently. 

    But equally joyful parenting doesn't feel like:
    • Being nagged constantly,
    • Feeling overwhelmed,
    • Experiencing sensory overload from the constant noise and requests,
    • my children saying unkind words to me,
    • Feeling guilty
    • not having any me-time.

      I matter too.  

      Let me tell you a bit about my parenting over the years, I've been doing it for over 10 years now so I feel I have a bit of experience.  

      When I had my first I was very idealistic.  I read books like Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn,  How to talk so kids will listen, how to listen so kids will talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, No bad kids by Janet Lansbury, The Gentle Parent by L.R Knost, and books by Sarah Ockwell Smith, and others.  So you probably get the idea of where I was hoping to come from with my parenting. 

      Now I am not saying that there books are bad (except Unconditional Parenting)  they are all good and have wonderful ideals, but they have become unrealistic for me, they have become a source of guilt and shame.  I cannot live up to the way parenting is presented in these books, maybe it would work if you have one or two children and they are in school and you have no housework, but, and I cringe to say it, gentle parenting hasn't worked for me or my children.  And we are now in a not-very-pleasant situation where we all shout at each other far too much, we don't speak kindly, I feel resentful, and they appear ungrateful and no one is really happy. 

      I am certain some reading this will think that I was just doing it wrong and maybe there is truth in that but I need to find a way forward that works for me and my children that doesn't leave me feeling guilty, like a failure and like I have ruined my children's lives. 

      But February is about being Joyful so I'm not going to spend any more time on self deprecation, adding more guilt to the load I already carry isn't going to help me.  I need a way forward that is going to be positive for me and my children. 

      So, what does joyful parenting look like for me and my children?

      Praising my kids - I didn't believe it when Alfie Kohn said don't praise you kids, it never felt right and I don't believe it now either.  I weep at the number of times I held back a cry of joyful praise at something wonderful one of my children had done, and instead joylessly described their drawing, observed their behaviour back to them, asked them a question about how they felt.  
      How my heart sings now to cry "good boy" to one of my children.  Who doesn't want to be called good?  In Genesis we read God creating humanity and declaring it was "very good".  If God can call us good they I sure as heck can tell my boys that they are good, even very good!  Yes praising my children is joyful and I'll be doing as much of this as I can this year. 

      Holding back the yells - I've nearly finished reading a book called Yell Less Love More by Sheila McCraith, and although the release of a yell in the moment might feel like a release of stress and give momentary relief, it certainly isn't joyful, so I'm going to try harder to hold back the yells using the techniques she gives (which by the way aren't fixated on examining your triggers, which I find, quite frankly like gaslighting parents.  Kids are annoying sometimes, lets just say that! they're annoying just because they are annoying!! Not necessarily because of some awful thing that happened in my childhood!  I hereby give you permission to feel annoyed by your children without having to masticate endlessly over why.)

      Get off my phone - Distracting myself from my children isn't joyful, having them see me on my phone a lot also isn't joyful, not being present and missing things isn't joyful. I need to create some SMART targets for myself to get off my phone (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) so this is something else I am going to work on. 

      I also feel like joyful parenting looks like having a good time when I am with my children.  That they like me, trust me and respect me enough to know that what I am asking them to do is the right thing.  I think it feels like boundaries being put in place that mean they understand that nagging is not going to work, and that kind words help you get what you want and make you and others feel good.  I think it looks like getting time to myself to replenish.  It looks like laughing together, having fun together, having my children help me round the house.  Not having to yell all the time, working cooperatively.  I could go on, and perhaps now I am getting into fantasy land, but I think it is right to aim high, to visualise how I want it to be to "manifest" the life I would like.  

      That's all I've got so far and I'm going to use February to read more books and and work out what else makes parenting joyful and hopefully I'll be able to get back to you with an update on how this is going as the year goes on, but I've got all year to work on this so there's plenty of time to figure it out.  The most important thing I am going to need on this journey is prayer, because I can't do this on my own, but "I can do all things through He who strengthens me."  Philippians 4:13. 

      If you'd like to join me on my joyful journey please subscribe to my blog and you'll get all my posts direct to your inbox. 

      Friday, 30 December 2022

      Word of the year for 2023

      Well hello there, long time no see!

      2022 has, in one word been nuts.  Utterly mad, chaotic and crazy.  I had a baby and that's pretty much all you need to know. 
      My word for 2022 was grace.  I was to give myself grace on parenting, art, creativity, home ed, my home, and I did.  Giving myself grace was supposed to mean forgiving myself when I couldn't achieve everything that I wanted to,  grace was supposed to mean forgiving myself when I did not achieve perfection, and it was supposed to mean resting in the moment rather than frantically trying to do everything. Grace did all these things for me, whenever I started feeling like I wasn't doing enough, wasn't good enough I reminded myself that this year I would give myself grace.  2021 was a stinker, bad pregnancy, covid, my husband nearly dying, and numerous hospital visits, slow progress on our house and umpteen other unfortunately events meant I was all out of energy and motivation.  Grace was what a needed for 2022. 
      And I did indeed give myself grace, I gave myself grace in abundance, I totally and utterly clocked off from trying, the grace I was giving myself started mean that I became a bit lazy, I started to give myself excuses for doing the things that I should have been, could have been and wanted to be doing. For much of the year grace ended up meaning not trying too hard at anything. And in the end this was not the goal.  
      Although I did feel a degree of peace in not putting a lot of pressure on myself to achieve, I have ended up looking back and feeling like the year still very stressful and chaotic and I've ended up feeling a little bit disappointed with myself, and and that's not a nice feeling.

      It was back in November that I realised the word I needed for 2023.  It had been in my mind since my baby was born at the end of December 2021.  Joyful.  He was born at home about 20 minutes before the paramedics and midwives arrived, just me and my husband and it was perfect.  When he was born I felt the most exquisite joy wash over me and I began to laugh! His name means joyful. 
      Unfortunately thinks went bad after that, and joy wasn't something I could access for quite a while.  

      But I am so ready for joyful in 2023, and I'm excited to find out how I can make all aspects of my life joyful.  I'm going to explore joyful eating, joyful dressing, joyful home school, joyful marriage and joyful parenting to name just a few.  
      As I prepare for the year ahead I have been turning to the Bible to inform how joyfulness can influence my year and there are two things that strike me most.  First, joy comes from Christ and second joy in not dependant on circumstances. I will talk more about this in the year, but those two factors are going to be infused into every aspect of my word of the year and I'm really excited to experience the year unfolding with joy at the heart. 

      Do you have a word of the year?  I'd love to hear what it is a why.