Passing compliments.

Isn’t it lovely to have compliments about your children? It is nice when people notice, when one of the children do something that little bit extra that makes people feel the need to comment. Because so much, so often is a focus on the negative. Its easier isn’t it? I think we all do it to a degree, we focus on the bad, the negative, the things which irritate us and wind us up. We remember the bad moments. We always remember the bad things people have said to us don’t we?

We often get so caught up in the day to day, and become so used to people “testing” and questioning our home educated children, that when someone actually pays a compliment it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. But yes, thank you, they are rather wonderful human beings.

When a random parent approaches me in the woods to ask if “that boy over there” is mine, I answer yes rather apprehensively, knowing i was distracted looking after the little one. She goes on to tell me how kind and helpful he was when her daughter got stuck in a tree.  When an elderly lady approaches my daughter to ask if her brother was with her, to then go on to say how lovely and helpful he was helping her get up a sand dune away from the beach. When I have a random parent asking me how old my daughter is and going on to tell me how lovely it is that she cares about me, that she offers to help and thinks about me because so many 15 year olds are not so considerate about their parents.

This comes in particular after seeing how far J has come socially. At aged 9 he was a very angry, wound up and controlling little boy. He was highly strung, he didn’t have a lot of faith in many people and needed to know what was happening, what was going to happen at all times or he would really struggle. We know this was his Autism, part of who he is. We weren’t able to surprise him like you do some children, he would hate it and if there was a change of plans then wow that would really disrupt him. He was being bullied in school, his head teacher believed him to be unkind, nasty and immature. She did not believe that there was any other diagnosis to be made, just that he was unpleasant. His class teacher disagreed with her, but didn’t get far.

When we first started home educating, J and the opportunity to attend a local workshop, I was unable to attend due to having a small one, and so I dropped him and his sister off and stayed local, just a phone call away. It did not go well, he got very agitated and in the end I was called to come and collect him. I was pretty mortified. I apologised profusely to the organiser and worried that this would be the way of things. We had several different incidences along the way, J getting angry and us having to quit what we were doing and remove him from a situation, there was ups and downs but we learnt along the way.

So much so that when it came to his ADOS assessment and feedback, his formal diagnosis, they were not able to suggest anything that we weren’t already doing. They agreed that the approach we were taking with regards to his education was the best one for him and that it was allowing us the opportunity to really get to know and be able to control his triggers. And so, we continued.

A big turning point came 11 months after taking him out of school, when he had an incident with another boy while we were out. J got hurt, he was upset, but he was able to come and tell me and the other boys parent. We were able to deal with it, quickly, and then able to continue our day. They were soon playing and laughing together again without a grudge being held. It was noted by other parents how much this showed how far J had come in the space of the year, that we no longer had to leave altogether due to his anger.

Here we are now, 3 yrs out of school. Some of those ASD traits will always be present, they are part of his make up and who he is. But to see him out with friends you often wouldn’t guess. He will now attend things on his own, he really enjoys a lego club that runs each fortnight and he goes to without any of us, and he is now able to have frank and honest conversations about education, about laws about his future. He is feeling more open to more structured learning, for a long time he was put off by his experience of school. He adamantly declared that he did not like Science, Geography, English etc…. yet here we are now and he is looking forward to a formal science class once a week next term, he is starting work on his GCSE Geography book and following his own interests. For a long time he would tell me it was selfish when I told him that when it comes to his education we have to focus on what is right for him and not for his friends, but now he understands that it is his future and his friends are focusing on theirs. The great thing he has come to realise is that this doesn’t stop them being friends. That understanding that he now shows is a true marker of how far he has come.

At the other end we have learning at a more basic but equally impressive level. N has shown massive progress learning his colours, animals, counting etc.. his speech is coming on brilliantly and he has developed a great love of books and stories. He will follow the words with his finger while we are reading to him and has even memorised his favourite stories. He receives his little passports package each month and has been learning about the world, landmarks and oceans so far.  His understanding of these is brilliant, he is able to find the countries on his map to put his stickers in the right place after completing the activities. He loves practising his map reading skills, he always gets his map of the safari park we have membership for when we visit. I think he enjoys following the map more than seeing the animals sometimes. He confuses many people who enter into conversations with me in public. They see this rather small (because he is on the shorter end for his age) little dynamo. He has mad long curly hair, big blue eyes and a beautiful smile. He can charge around playing IT and play fighting with the older ones, and he talks and tells you what he is doing fantastically. He has confidence to run and play and jump without running off too far. Yet I say he is only just 3, no he doesn’t attend nursery or pre school. The look of surprise is an unspoken compliment in itself.

 

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A welfare concern?

I am sat here wondering, why something that is a legal right of parents is so often considered a risk to a childs welfare? It just seems that there are so many professionals and organisations who consider home education to be an area for concern.

Following interactions with community nurses and hospital staff following an ongoing, diagnosed health issue with one of the children it has come to my attention that it appears to be policy in my local area for all admissions to a&e of home educated children to be referred to social services. The reason I was given for this was due to the lack of contact with school nurses. Firstly I will clarify that I have emailed our local Elective Home Education team to ensure that they are aware of this current policy and to highlight my concerns about it, I have also contacted PALS. Now for me to process my own thoughts.

Firstly, as a mother of a home educated teen, we received a letter from the school nurse with literature about the HPV vaccine when she was due it, this says to me that despite being home educated we clearly are still within the school nurses radar and remit, school nurses are also able to schedule home visits,  and so details of admission could still be forwarded on. As well as this, home educated children have access to community and practise nurses and GPs, so any details of admissions can also be forwarded on to those.

Secondly, we fall under the support of the Elective Home Education Team, yes, thats right, THERE IS ONE! An actual employed team who specifically support families who are home educating their children and young people. Their case load is huge, because the community in this county is huge. If every home educated child who passes through A&E is getting a social services referral then that is going to cause potentially a massive drain on local resources in purely paperwork alone, not to mention man hours.

Lastly, home education is not in itself a safeguarding or welfare concern, to treat it as such is nothing other than prejudice and to alter services based on prejudice is discrimination.  This is a situation that needs to be addressed. Home educating parents should not be made to feel uncomfortable while getting their children’s illnesses and injuries treated, they are entitled to the same level of support and treatment as any other parents. Likewise, if and when there IS a safeguarding or a welfare concern this should not be solely affected by a child’s schooling.

I hear the same old arguments, but lets look at things shall we? Children in school and below compulsory school age are JUST AS LIKELY to be victims of abuse, they are just as at risk of harm. More so in some ways as they are exposed to teachers prejudices, enforced standardised testing and the stress that goes with that and bullying within the school system.

  • The case of Baby P? He was a baby, under compulsory school age, yet failed massively by local authorities.
  • Victoria Climbie? She was not home educated, nor was she hidden, she was failed by local authorities.
  • Dylan Seabridge? Yes he was deregistered by his parents to home educate him, BUT he was also far from invisible, there were concerns raised and Social Services failed to act. The concern for him was not home education, there were concerns while he was in school, before his parents removed him, it was his welfare!
  • Khyra Ishaq?  She was removed from school amidst concerns around her welfare, again the welfare concerns were there long before she was removed from school. Multiple agencies failed to act.
  • Chadrack Mulo? He attended school, he was absent and this wasnt followed up.
  • There are so so many more examples!

These are all utter tragedies, that could have been prevented so easily.  But routine referrals for something that is not a welfare concern will not help. All they will do is add to an already too heavy workload, drain already very stretched resources and budgets and take away focus and support that could be directed at a child who really needs it.

Our local authority (I can not speak for other areas) has put a great deal of effort into building positive relationships with home educators. The youth connexions service has secured funding in several of its offices to offer teen group sessions to home educated youngsters to work on various certificates and qualifications, our elective home education advisors are positive about home education, open and understanding about the different approaches and well aware of the EHE guidelines for local authorities. Sports spaces, play spaces, local authority run locations all offer services to home educators across the county. I would hate to see hospitals, a service required and essential for so many, become a place where there are feelings of worry, anxiety and distrust all because some one responsible for their safeguarding policies and procedures failed to inform themselves properly about the laws, the requirements and the support surrounding home education.

Litter picking at Blackpool Beach

We had a beautiful day in Blackpool, the sun was shining and warm. We visited the Merlin attractions, sea-life, madam Tussauds and the tower eye. We admired the view of the stunning, long, golden sand beach from the top of the tower as the tide was out. We rode a tram to south pier for the experience of riding on a tram and then we played on the beach.

We had our bucket and spades, the children thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked, luckily we had a towel and a change of clothes (that I bought from a nearby beach market) because these children are unable to simply paddle their feet! In they go up to their necks, even the 3 year old showing no fear at all.

It really is beautiful, still warm as the sun begins to go down and the tide begins to come up and we all begin to get tired and hungry. And so we walk along the seafront back towards the tower where we parked the car, ready to find a restaurant for dinner before driving back to our accommodation. Knowing that the 3 year old will fall asleep in the car so dinner before we set off is a must. Knowing also that we want to watch the sun set over the sea before we leave this place.

While walking along, I notice a Styrofoam chip tray, just sitting on the sea wall. No one is around, there is a bin just a few feet away. Without a word I bend down to pick it up, carry it with me and pop it in the bin as I walk past. Then I spot a burger tray / box, and a plastic drink bottle, again I pick these up and deposit them into the bins as I walk along.

My husband sees me, and as he walks past a discarded drinks can while holding the 3 year olds hand as he balances on the wall, they collect the drinks can and also this goes into one of the bins. The older children have seen, I haven’t said anything to them, they make the decision to then dart off of their paths to collect bottles, cans and chip papers. We form a line almost along the promenade. Not intentionally but it just happens, picking and collecting litter to put in the bins as we pass. Until before we know it we have reached our destination.

As we cross the road to get to our chosen restaurant another family walk along towards us. A coke can clatters and bangs off the curb, startling the horses lined up for the tourist carriages, as a boy has kicked it like a football. The boy continues walking with his family. While my children look on bemused / saddened / frustrated and angered that people can care so little.

We wash our hands thoroughly and enjoy our dinner before crossing back over the road to watch the sun go down. The tide is fully in now, waves crashing against the steps that we had walked along earlier on. Looking down along the sea front there is still so much rubbish to be seen. Cans, chip papers, bottles. There are bins every couple of yards, anyone who had sat on those steps enjoying a chippy dinner would have walked past a bin as they left the beach. Why sit and admire the beauty of the sea and then purposefully allow yourself to litter it? Even when walking back to the car, they continue to pick up Mac Donald’s packaging and even a whole carrier bag, ready tied, full of rubbish but still just dropped on the floor, very odd, I mean, you’ve already bagged it all up!!! We all get to make that decision, help, or ignore.

I set my children an example that day, I didn’t tell them to pick litter, I didn’t plan to do it myself (funny really, as we planned a littler pick during 30 days wild and didn’t get round to doing it as planned). This was not an organised activity it was just me, doing what I felt that I should do. I am hopeful that my example stays with them, is a lesson to them, one that will also in turn be passed on to my grandchildren.

This was all my thoughts this morning! Making my mouldy bits shiny! — Ross Mountney’s Notebook

I’m off on a little holiday. And looking forward to refreshing and rubbing the mould off my stale bits! It’s easy not to notice it growing. But when I get so bored that complacency and loss of love of the nice things sets in so bad that I realise I’ve even got used to life […]

via Making my mouldy bits shiny! — Ross Mountney’s Notebook

Late Saturday night we arrived home following a fantastic family holiday in and around Cumbria. Yesterday was all about those post holiday essentials, unloading the car, laundry, getting food essentials in and of course visiting the grandparents who had missed the children for the week.

This morning I booted up the PC all ready to write down my thoughts and look through and upload some photos when I read this blog article by Ross Mountney.

I have followed her blog since before we started home educating, in fact it was some of her articles that gave me the knowledge and courage to get started, and I have several of her books on my shelf. (I would always highly recommend these if you are home educating, seriously considering it, or just a little bit curious, they are eye opening.)  This morning however, it was like reading my own thoughts written by someone else.

It is so true that over time you get complacent, you take your natural surroundings for granted and stop noticing things. This is your sign to make a change, see something new, take in a different scenery. The importance of this for children is just as great if not more so as for adults. Children gain so much by being allowed to see different areas, take in different scenery and experience new things.

Watching the joy on my 3 year olds face as he ran along the shore of the lake, or as he jumped in to the waves on the beach, being able to give my children the opportunity to feed giraffes, see some stunning waterfalls and try their hands at waterskiing are those moments that would be so heavily restricted by a school time table, but no one can claim that they are not valuable learning opportunities. When we find ourselves in natural conversation about the force of the water and how and why it shapes our landscape, not because a curriculum is forcing us too but because we are walking alongside a fast flowing and winding river and it was just a natural topic of conversation, flowing as freely as the river itself can anyone suspect that these children are not getting educated? When that conversation beings us again to consider the effect that the reintroduction of wolves had on the eco system at Yellowstone, this stuff is not being taught from a book, its in context, in real life.

We arrived home and visited Nanny and my 3 year old told her all about feeding the giraffe, even remembering to tell her about their blue tongues, he was only 3 in May and has never attended a nursery and nor will he be attending school, but I am not worried that he is missing out on learning anything. He knows about tides coming in, he knows about things sinking and floating and he knows that flat pebbles are better for skimming (even if he hasn’t actually mastered that skill himself yet)

We visited the Beatrix Potter attraction, she was a fascinating lady and J was intrigued. He loved her quotes about how pleased she was that she had not been sent to school, he agreed with what she said about it rubbing off some of her originality. He also has a strong love of animals, nature and drawing. But this experience also highlighted the difference in how women and girls were treated from today.

The Black Country Living Museum also gave a valuable insight into historic lives and our country’s industrial past. We included a visit to the traditional sweet shop, chippy and pub as well as having a go with some of the old toys and street games and watching a Victorian school teacher at work with a class.

As well as the obvious and real benefits for the children educationally, the emotional benefits for us all as a family make holidays, even cheap holidays and trips visiting family, so incredibly valuable. To feel the sand under my feet and the waves breaking around my ankles refreshes me. The sound of the water flowing over the stones in the river and the splashing of the water falls wakes up my senses and makes me feel at peace. My mums ashes were scattered at Stock ghyll force waterfalls in Ambleside, it was her favourite place and I sense that when I am visiting, it heals my mind and puts me in a better mindset to tackle the challenges that parenting my own children can bring. Benefiting the family.