Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sort of OT: 'Telly's good, innit?

According to Jean Liedloff's Continuum Concept (which I have never read but have now heard and read enough about to know this:) every part of our lives is integral to every other part, so describing my current TV viewing habits, while not strictly about home education, is not totally unconnected. It's not anyway - the programmes I'm watching all have some link to something or other the children are doing and probably learning from. But in the absence of a blog called Sometimes It's Pertaining to t'Telly, this post will have to go here.

I'm going to prove Ms Liedloff's point now, by linking everything into everything else - my mind seeks to do that a lot and this is a great excuse to indulge it. But although I've always instinctively worn and co-slept with my babies, the first I heard of her book was when Jax told me about it on the previous incarnation of this blog, about two years ago. I never was one for reading the manual. I've kept meaning, ever since, to buy/borrow a copy and read it but it hasn't happened yet. From what I've gathered so far though, I suspect that when I do get around to reading it, much will resonate with my experiences of baby- and childcare.

What's this got to do with t'telly? You'll have already guessed if you watched the first episode of Bringing Up Baby on Channel 4 last night. The programme aims to compare three distinct methods of babycare: Dr Frederic Truby King's Strict Routine Method, Dr Benjamin Spock's 'balanced' method, and Liedloff's Continuum Concept, which it attributes to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s respectively.

It's actually aiming to discover which method 'works best' and judging by my experiences and last night's programme, if Liedloff's method doesn't come out on top then there's something seriously wrong. Actually, do any of us stick purely to one set method of babycare? I tried a bit of all three and probably bits of several others (albeit only a tiny bit of Truby King when I was very young and silly) with my five without even properly realising which and whose methods they were, but babyslinging, breastfeeding on demand and co-sleeping is, I found, the natural rhythm into which both I and the babies settled the best.

The only problem I've ever had with it is with wearing a baby on my back, which is really what's required if one is to undertake any serious physical jobs whilst wearing a slightly older than newborn baby. I'm happy to wear a toddler on my back, but can't get used to not being able to see and quickly access a younger child. This makes life a little more difficult when they get to the age our baby is now - about 8 months. She's crawling but still needs carrying a lot, preferably by me, and yet sadly I don't live in a primitive tribe or even a reasonably useful extended family network (apart from one willingly useful and involved Zara) so am stuck with most of the housework, house maintenance work, gardening etc., whilst trying to carry a very heavy baby on my front instead of my back. This is quite exhausting but co-sleeping helps, because at least we sleep fairly well, which is contrary to what Claire Verity was trying to imply would be the case on the programme last night.

I should go and see my lovely friend Tracy, of BabyArmadillo fame. Tracy kindly donated my first ever - and indeed only - proper baby sling, which has been perfect for our requirements, even now. My previous slings were either home-made (two bedsheets stitched together end-to-end) or the Mothercare-type version (Hey, why don't they sell them any more? Hmmm... fear of losing lucrative pushchair sales..?) with stitched leg-holes etc. The home-made ones were much easier and more comfortable than the Mothercare ones, but the one Tracy supplied is absolutely ideal. She'd give me a lesson in back-carrying if I asked her, I think.

Anyway, I enjoyed the programme apart from the Truby King parts, which were surely a blatant travesty of all things human, let alone the poor mites' basic human rights and which were personified by that system's 'mentor', Claire Verity when she said: "I admit that I'm a complete bitch. It is sleep training, but it works," and more blood-curdling platitudes along those lines. The system requires that a baby be held away from the body when [bottle of course] fed "in case it starts to feel comfortable and falls asleep", woken for feeds and left on its own to cry all night. This made horrendous viewing. They kept showing bits of a debate with the three mentors, in which Dreena Hamilton of the Dr Spock method and the Continuum Concept network's Claire Scott were trying to persuade Ms Verity to reasonably justify her method, to no avail, and were both showing remarkable restraint. Ms Verity's shallow explanations and apparently flustered, nonplussed and vacuous responses to their arguments aptly demonstrated the significant lack of intellect required for the Truby King method to be so wholeheartedly embraced.

Other programmes I'm watching these days are:

Bruce Parry's Tribe - I especially enjoyed the Layap this week, in which Bruce attempted to employ the Buddhist concept of "what anthropologists call religious synchronism" (acceptance?), which bizarrely culminated in him persuading some tribesmen to drag some very reluctant yaks over an impassable mountain ridge before realising he couldn't force the success of this venture, giving up and returning to the village. I've learned some religious lessons the hard way myself, but that was pretty extreme even by my standards.

Tommi Miers and Guy Grieve's The Wild Gourmets. Wow, this programme is good. They're making their way up the UK with a Landrover full of cooking ingredients, catching, cooking and eating wild, free food as they go. They were doing amazing things with pike last night. (Did you know a pike can live for 50 years?)

And, in a continuation of this fabulous hunter-gatherer zeitgeist: Ray Mears' brilliant Wild Food. Ray Mears has been an acquired taste for me, but I've finally fallen for him with this series, in which he takes Professor Gordon Hillman ("an expert in the use of plants through the ages") around, exploring at first-hand the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The professor is a real treat: he gives the impression of never having left his study and yet knowing absolutely everything there is to know about every plant in existence, how it's ever been used and why. Ray Mears just gets on with the job of killing and cooking while the professor gently and humbly pontificates to a breathtaking degree about the history and science of it all. This was hilariously summed up in an exchange they shared over the eating of a razorfish this week, in which the professor said something like: "Oh yes, now I wonder whether one can differentiate the various components of the body...?" and Ray Mears cut in with: "Just shut up and enjoy it."

Oh yes, now I wonder whether one can ascertain the deeper economic, social and politican connotations of this present trend in programme scheduling?

Just shut up and enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


This is what our dining table looks like this evening:

Tom's away on his trip tomorrow, having delayed it due to the dog's death and then a university open day. He's modified his plans a bit and is only going as far as the Lake District now, instead of up to Scotland. I'm quite relieved about that, it being his first solo trip.

Grandad called round with some advice and some precious gifts of Kendal Mint Cake:

and the relevant Wainwright books:

I'm torn between feeling glad I'm not going up there at this time of year, sad that I'm not, pleased that he's doing it and worried about his airy disregard for 'insignificant' things like maps.. mobile phones.. any kind of plans..

He is planning on taking some, but I need to see them being packed, to be quite as relaxed as he appears to be! I'm very glad I've got his room to clean out while he's away. I know he's 18, but it's a funny thing: you don't stop feeling like a parent just because they're 'grown up', do you?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I won't be signing this one

I've put my name to two petitions about home education recently. I happily signed the one which asked "the Prime Minister to ensure that all parents are informed of their legal right to home educate their children." and, prior to that I was pleased to be able to sign the one back in November 2006, which asked for "the Prime Minister to Allow home educators to be free from the interference of Local Education Authorities," but I will not be signing this one, which is asking for state funding for home education.

School education used to work OK sometimes until the government started funding it. Let's not ruin home education in the same way. He who pays the piper, calls the tune. Government officials do not and never will know better than good parents, what kind of education is best for each individual child. How can they, without living with the child and spending all their time with them?

There are many ways of securing funding to home educate without resorting to direct state funding. Groups can apply for funding grants, individuals can make use of freecycled and recycled resources, there are public libraries and museums with free admission. But generally, the greater part of learning is absolutely free of charge because it arises from discussion, debate, reading and just plain old thinking.

Ask any home educating family and they'll probably tell you that yes, they could do with more cash for activities, outings, resources and materials. But the vast majority would not accept that cash if it came directly from the government as 'funding for home education' for the very real fear that 'value for taxpayers' money' and all the teaching to the test that implies, will follow soon afterwards.

Home educators and their children are extremely lucky with the educational freedom we currently enjoy in this country. The country benefits from us in turn: both in the short term, with the savings we make for the education industry costs and in the longer term, when our children become financial assets to society. For the most part, we produce highly-motivated, creative, original thinkers who are vital to the progress and drive of our nation, now and in future decades - especially at a time when the schools seem to be turning out exactly the opposite.

Let's not let our greed spoil it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Art therapy

Lyddie's got through about half a ream of paper since the dog died. She started when the dog was ill, roughly last Wednesday evening, rattling off drawings and paintings, at a rate of about 10 per hour, mostly featuring the dog.

Since then she's progressed onto collages and jewellery-making, at a slightly slower rate.

I seem to remember posting something on this blog quite some time ago, in which I said I couldn't really understand the point of just creating pictures and art work for the sake of it, but watching Lyddie in the past week or two has maybe helped me to understand a bit more about that.

And I'm tempted to make this a footer on every single post I write on this blog now:

Thank goodness for home ed, which gives the children time to process things in their own time and in their own way. The more the years pass, the more convinced I am that these natural processes are vital to a child's wellbeing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Our old dog

Sadly she died last week. Thanks goodness for home ed: the boys (who were always her primary carers) were able to be with her 24/7 in her last few days, to hold her while she died, to dig her grave, perform a dignified burial and to take time out to mourn her passing. This has been vitally important to them, because it meant they could do their best for her and also duly process their feelings of bereavement.

She's been a great education to them throughout her life actually, as well as in death. At 10 and 11 years old, they were desperate for us to keep her, even though I knew I wasn't willing to commit to her care. She was one of my mother's dogs, but due to her incompatability with my mother's other dog, she had to be rehoused. It took weeks for Tom and Ali to persuade me to agree to take her and they had to promise to do everything she required, themselves.

I believed they had the best of intentions to undertake the daily duties of dog ownership but I must admit I had my doubts as to whether they'd actually follow through all the time. They were very young to take on such a responsibility. I really didn't want to end up having to nag them into walking her every day, and was slightly worried I might end up doing the job myself instead.

But my concerns were totally unfounded and I never had to remind them to walk, feed or clean up after her. They've been as good as their word day in, day out and done everything she needed. I only had to supply the dog food, which I didn't mind in the least. She's had a great life with them - in fact, as time went on she learned exactly how to get what she wanted from them, over and above the call of duty! She had a very Gandhi-esque way of passively resisting things she didn't like - she'd just sit down and refuse to be moved, until they had to pick her up and carry her around the place. So there she was, this big heavy labrador-cross, being carried around by my sons like an empress and looking quite smug about it, too.

She knew how to keep them in the field all day if she didn't want to come home and she even slept on one of their beds every night - taking up three quarters of the space, like a co-sleeping toddler does. And she still played in the snow like a puppy, old as she was, and she still wagged her tail when one of us came in the room, even up to the day before she died.

She'll be sorely missed, but I'm grateful to her for teaching my sons about the true meaning of responsibility. They know now what it means to be there for someone every day, even when you don't really feel like it and you might rather be doing something else. That's the kind of thing people say school attendance teaches, but if they'd been full-time compulsory school pupils they'd have had no choice about whether to attend every day, for fear I'd be prosecuted for their non-attendance, whereas they looked after the dog every day out of love and they're definitely the better for it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Not schooly, nooooo...

Now, who's old enough to remember the BBC test card? We were trying to recreate that, honest.

Ok, that's a lie. It's a fair cop: we were doing sums on the blackboard. Autonomous sums though! Lyddie saw the blackboard in Wilkos, so we got it and then she 'wanted to do some schoolwork'.

"You can go to school if you want," I said. "They're starting back this week."

She said she knew they were, but she'd rather be home educated please. Could we just do some sums? So we did. We've done some adds and some take-aways, but they made us feel hungry so we gave up then, before I got all over-enthusiastic about groups-of and shared-bys, which was probably a lucky escape for us all.

I glanced through some maths workbooks we have here though, and by age 5 Lyddie apparently should still be counting things. And by age 6. Though it looks like she'd be allowed to write over the numbers by age 7 though. Yes, that's maybe a bit of exaggeration, but not very much. I have to say, she'd be extremely bored to be still counting groups of things, by now and we certainly haven't done dozens of hours of it. Hmmm.

I also need to mention the Spreading Fame of our own, amazing and wonderful Barbara Stark!

Barbara and her family featured this week on this Radio 4 programme (36 minutes in - well worth listening to,) and we got chatting to a Samaritans lady with her collecting bucket outside Tesco yesterday. "Are you going back to school this week?" she asked Lyddie. I mentioned home education and she said, "Oh I know about that, I heard a really good thing on Radio 4 about it at the weekend," and she went onto say that she wished far more children were home educated, because then the Samaritans might have less work to do!

That's definitely food for thought.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Where are all the real men?

Here is an appeal from me, the single mother of two young men whose older male relatives seem to mostly think (or hope?) are 'someone else's problem'.

If you are male and you have nephews, grandsons or even sons who are being brought up either by a single mother, or a mother plus uninterested male, please take them camping. Teach them how to pitch a tent, read a map, light a fire, catch a fish and shoot a bow. If you don't know how to do these things, then learn together. You can't rely on someone else to do it and it desperately needs doing.

It's not something a mother can do, or even necessarily will realise her sons need. She might have younger children, lack of funds, or just not have the motivation, inclination, time, effort, energy or knowledge to lead those kind of trips. So you might not be asked to do it, much less nagged into it but do it you must.

If you don't do it, the young man might grow up looking for risk and adventure and seeking it in seriously unhealthy places.

There, that's my appeal to the world done for this decade.