Friday, 30 January 2009

Closer to fine?

I’ve had a few days of wanting to listen to the Indigo Girls and not engage with people. But I have, in fact, been going to work and so on, so I must have managed not to succumb to this desire.

So, what’s brought this on? Several things, I guess. Culminating in that feeling of being in a bubble.

Personally, I was dismayed to find Peter Hitchens leaping to the defence of home education as I find the man’s view generally objectionable and I loathe the Daily Mail. In fact, on the same day that Hitchins was writing about home ed, Melanie Phillips (that fount of all bile) was contributing this piece to the world’s understanding of lesbian and gay parents. This bit really put me back in touch with who I am, I must say.

“The prevailing argument that all types of family are as good as each other as far as the children are concerned simply isn’t true. While some children emerge relatively unscathed from irregular households, children need to be brought up by the two people ‘who made me’ - or, in adoptive households, in a family which closely replicates that arrangement.
Where that does not happen, the child’s deepest sense of his or her identity as a human being is at some level damaged.”

What a relief, to find that I am still a malign influence in the eyes of the Daily Mail. Not much of an accusation really - that D and I are damaging our children’s deepest sense of their identity as human beings! Maybe I need to keep in mind that my enemy’s enemy is not always my friend.

The thing is, I imagine that some people home educate partly to keep their children free from the corrupting influence of material that would tell them about people like me and families like mine. Some home educate because they think that schools are a hotbed of ‘political correctness’. So I guess they’re happy to get the Hitchens seal of approval. But I know that when Hitchens says,

“What the modern left really don't like about homeschooling is that it is independent of the state, and threatens its egalitarian monopoly from below. If it became a mass movement, it would be very dangerous to their project of enforcing equality of outcome, while using the schools to push radical ideas on sex, drugs, morality and politics.”

he has no idea that he’s being read by a ‘homeschooler’ with ideas on sex, drugs, morality and politics that are way more radical than anything the Nu Labour state schools teach. I take it he thinks that this govt is the “modern left” but I can’t quite imagine what it’s left of these days. But then, maybe I’m just one of those “few retired hippies and eccentrics”. Guess so.

Back to Indigo Girls, I think.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Dani's response to the HE review

Now sent (slightly amended - the final version is now shown here). Response number 624.

Question 1: Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know why you think that.

No Response

I am not prepared to answer this question as written, as it presumes that there are specific issues to do with the welfare of home educated children as a group, and I do not accept this premise.

As the questions on this review are so ambiguous and confusing, I think it will be difficult for many respondents to give yes/no answers which accurately reflect their opinions. I hope you will therefore give due weight to the actual content of the responses, and not attempt to draw inferences from the statistics.

If you are asking whether home educated children are as well protected as school children by the current safeguarding system, my answer is yes. You cannot presume that children are kept safe if they attend school, and there is no reason to presume that home educated children are seen by fewer trustworthy people in the course of their day to day lives than schooled children are. My home educated children, for example, spend time with dozens of other children every week, and are regularly cared for at clubs, classes and groups by ten different trusted adults outside their immediate family. Home education, in itself, is not a significant risk factor, and does not merit this kind of special attention.

As I understand it, the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is the same as the system for safeguarding children who are educated at school. Unless there is reason to believe otherwise, parents (whatever their educational choices) are presumed to be caring for their children properly. If anyone (teacher, neighbour, friend, member of the public, health professional) has concerns about a child's welfare, they may report their concerns to the relevant local authority, who are supposed to investigate and offer support and services to help the family. In cases of severe abuse or neglect, local authorities have powers to become very closely involved with children's upbringing, including to the extent of removing children from their families.

If you are asking whether this current system is doing an adequate job for children (whatever their place of education) who experience abuse, I would say no. I don't think the current system addresses the root causes of child abuse. There are numerous cases of children who were well known to the relevant authorities but who nonetheless suffered serious harm at the hands of their parents. There are also numerous cases of children who have suffered serious harm within the care system, and many others who have suffered harm as a result of the system's unwarranted scrutiny of their families. Yet more children face abuse at home or at school, without being able to get any help from 'the system'. Either their carers do not notice their distress or do not care enough to take action, or the children themselves are silenced by shame or fear of worse consequences if they speak out.

Underlying all these failings of the current system is not a lack of information about home educating families, but a lack of respect for children's rights and freedoms. These rights include the right to be heard and listened to with regard to their education and all aspects of their lives, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom from harm and abuse of all kinds. I do not think that the current system for safeguarding children is actually based on a commitment to respect these rights, and so it fails to keep children safe.

It seems to me that if you want to improve the current system for safeguarding children, you should make a fundamental shift away from imposing a single set of values on everyone, and put serious resources into offering real, responsive and sympathetic support to families who are having difficulties. You should give children a real voice in society, so that they are more likely to speak about abuse wherever it occurs. You should look at the abuse that happens every day in schools, and break down the ingrained power structures that enable it to survive and thrive there. You should stop wasting energy and resources trying to micromanage every aspect of the lives of law abiding families, and accept that there is value in difference and diversity.

2. Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

2 a) Be healthy

No Response

I am not able to answer yes or no to any of the parts of this question as written, for two reasons. Firstly, I do not accept the notion of 'outcomes' to be 'achieved' by children. I understand that local authorities like to be able to measure the impact of their own activities by asking the public if they have benefited or if their lives have been improved. This is a very far cry from setting these 'outcomes' out as if they are hurdles for individual children to jump. This is completely at odds with my approach to raising my children. I do not have ambitions for my children, other than ones they choose for themselves. I am not prepared to measure them up against someone else's ambitions for them.

Secondly, even within this flawed framework, the question does not make sense, because home educated children are not a homogenous group. As I understand it, the question is not asking about my own children, but about home educated children in general. I have included some specific comments regarding each outcome.

Of course home educated children can be healthy, if their health is good. If they are ill, then they are not able to be healthy. Being home educated has no relationship with whether people are able to be healthy. This is like saying "do you think that bus drivers are able to be healthy?"

I find it offensive that children who are living with ill health, and their families, should be portrayed as being some kind of failures by the glib phrasing of this "outcome".

2 b) Stay safe

No Response

This is like saying "do you think children who go to Girls Brigade are able to stay safe?" Whether a child is safe depends on the individual circumstances of their life, not some incidental factor like whether or not they are home educated. My home educated children, like all other people, make decisions about risk and safety every day. As their parents, we give them information which we hope will help them to make wise decisions. Sometimes they have accidents and hurt themselves. Sometimes they make wrong decisions and learn from this experience. They are loved and supported, whatever they do. I think "stay safe" is a simplistic and meaningless phrase when applied to the complex business of living a life.

2 c) Enjoy and achieve

No response

This is like saying "do you think local government officers are able to enjoy and achieve?" What on earth does it mean? Enjoy what? Achieve what? All the home educated children I know (some hundreds of children) enjoy their lives for a good proportion of the time, and achieve a wide range of amazing and impressive things they have chosen for themselves to do. Nobody enjoys every single day of their life, but again, this has very little to do with whether or not they are home educated, go to Girls Brigade, like toffee, or any other incidental fact about them.

2 d) Make a positive contribution.

No response

I don't understand what this means. Make a positive contribution to what? Who defines 'positive'?

2 e) Achieve economic well-being

No response

Are children supposed to 'achieve' this while still children? Is this not actually about measuring the levels of child poverty in the country? If so, there is little any individual child can do about it, home educated or not.

3. Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?


The Government does not have an obligation to ensure anything of the kind. The Government's obligations are set out in law. The relevant section of the Children Act 2004 is Section 10, which obliges local authorities to "make arrangements to promote co-operation between—
the authority;
each of the authority’s relevant partners; and
such other persons or bodies as the authority consider appropriate, being persons or bodies of any nature who exercise functions or are engaged in activities in relation to children in the authority’s area."

These arrangements are to be made "with a view to improving the well-being of children in the authority’s area so far as relating to—
physical and mental health and emotional well-being;
protection from harm and neglect;
education, training and recreation;
the contribution made by them to society;
social and economic well-being."

This is not the same as ensuring that all children are able to achieve the five outcomes.

The act goes on to say:

"In making arrangements under this section a children’s services authority in England must have regard to the importance of parents and other persons caring for children in improving the well-being of children."

So the obligations of Government and local authorities are *not* to ensure any particular outcomes for individual children, but to cooperate with partners in order to improve children's well-being, having regard to the importance of parents.

Section 11 of the same Act requires local authorities to carry out their *existing* duties with regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It does not give them additional duties or powers. Nor does Section 175 of the Education Act 2002.

If the government did have an obligation to ensure that all children were able to achieve these five 'outcomes', the government would be in big trouble.

When my local authority installed a zebra crossing on the busy road between my house and the nearest park, this improved the well being of all the local children with regard to their safety and gave them easier access to the park, thus making it easier for them to be healthy.

But it did not *ensure* that my children are able to "be healthy" or "stay safe". If my children don't use the zebra crossing to get to the park, or don't want to go to the park at all, or if a driver ignores the zebra crossing and my children are injured on the road, I would have no claim against the local authority or the government for failing to ensure their safety or health.

Nobody can ensure these things. That is not to say we should not think about them, but ultimately each person is responsible for their own decisions and the consequences of their choices and actions. I cannot control the future for my children, and nor can the government. It is a waste of everyone's energy trying to come up with ways for the government to achieve something that is impossible.

4. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for supporting home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?


I think local authorities should give supporting home educating families a try. They might find it helps them to fulfil their obligations. As things stand, very few authorities offer real support, which I would define as services that assist families to achieve their own aims. Some home educators would like easier access to public exams. Some would like a free venue in which to hold group meetings. Both these things are easy for local authorities to provide, and difficult for individual families to arrange for themselves. But very few local authorities even ask home educators what they would like in the way of services. Instead, they send letters inviting themselves to visit, in order to assess the suitability of our children's education (something that is well beyond their remit). This is not support. Support is something that is offered, without strings, in response to an expressed need or request from the recipient of the support.

5. Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?

No response

I can't answer this, as there is no "current system for monitoring home educating families". I don't want to see a change to this situation, as nobody has the authority to monitor us and I think this is how it should stay.

However, most local authorities, and apparently the author of this review document, seem to think that there is a system for monitoring us and that local authorities have a duty to do so. This is frustrating, as we all spent a lot of time and energy on the 2007 consultation leading to the publication of the DCSF guildelines on home education, which clearly state at paragraph 2.7 that "Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis."

I would not want you to think that answering No to this question meant that I was happy with the current situation. What I would like is for local authorities to understand the law on home education, offer real support where it is required, and otherwise to leave home educating parents alone to get on with raising and educating our children, as is *our* duty under section 7 of the Education Act 1996.

6. Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?

Abuse of children occurs in all kinds of homes. Any family *could* be used as a cover for child abuse. Having read extensively and thought seriously about this issue for many years, I believe that the key thing which enables adults to harm and abuse children is the fact that adults are able to control many aspects of children's lives, through a complicated web of practical and emotional relationships and structures. Because we generally live in small family groups, where all the economic resources are controlled by adults, and because children rely in the first instance on their parents to meet their emotional needs, parents have a lot of power over children in all families. Most parents have no wish to harm their children, and take care not to use their power to do so, even unintentionally. Some parents who have been damaged by their own life experiences, do cause harm to their children in a variety of different ways. When this happens, the very structures which give parents power and control over children also make it possible for the abuse to be concealed or explained away.

I don't think the government can ensure that this does not happen in home educating families, any more than it can ensure it does not happen in families where the children attend school. I think there are things the government could and should do, but unless the power relationships between children and adults change, and people who have been emotionally damaged are supported through appropriate therapy to acknowledge and control their behaviour as adults, there is no way the government can ensure that abuse is prevented in any group or community.

Having said that, there are valuable practical steps that can be taken to support children who are facing abuse, and there are things the authorities could learn from home educators about how to provide services that would actually be of help to home educated children who experience abuse, whether this is in their home or elsewhere.

The first thing is to provide training for local authority staff with responsibility for child protection, so that these staff have a better understanding of home education. Home educating families are often erroneously or maliciously reported to social services because their children are visibly not at school, and it can be extremely distressing for perfectly law-abiding parents and their children if they are visited by a social worker who approaches home education from a position of ignorance and prejudice. Home education *in itself* is not a cause for concern, and if social workers were more knowledgeable about the law and about home education methods, there would be a much better basis for communication between home educators and local authorities. This in itself would, over time, enable home educators to feel more able to communicate with the local authority if they have concerns or fears about a child.

Secondly, local authorities should offer universal services for children, regardless of their educational setting, and should make an effort to publicise these to home educated children as well as schooled children. Many areas have active networks of home educators, with regular meetings and gatherings. If approached politely and respectfully, HE group organisers may well be willing to distribute information about an open access helpline or children's advocate, if this were something available to all children in an area.

At a national level, the government could clearly indicate support for a shift in the unequal power relationships between adults and children by changing the law to give children equal protection from assault, and abolishing the archaic and unjust defence of "reasonable punishment". This government's persistent refusal to take this step gives the lie to their claims of being concerned above all with keeping children safe.

Finally, I think the government should put more resources into talking therapies for people who have experienced abuse and anyone who abuses their power over children. I think this would be a much more valuable and effective use of funds than attempting to track every child and tick boxes for the simplistic 'outcomes' discussed in documents like this review.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Meme - 8 random facts about me

We've been tagged by Gill and I'll give this a go as I'm up and waiting for the supermarket shop to arrive. I think I've done something similar before, so I'll try not to duplicate.

1. My mum was born in the street behind the one in which I grew up.
2. My first independent swimming happened when I fell in a river. Nothing like an incentive!
3. A sabotaged bomb saved my mum's life in childhood and so, you could say, I'm here thanks to the actions of some brave resistance in Nazi occupied Europe somewhere.
4. I can fall asleep anywhere.
5. I love a Torch Song.
6. I was born as the youngest of four in a boy, girl, boy, girl pattern.
7. I once bleached my hair to a very unappealing colour and shaved it all off to a number one buzz cut. That was a cold winter in Yorkshire.
8. I wanted to be five foot eight inches tall when I was a kid. This was never going to happen and I see the world from about seven inches shorter than that.

Tagging? I don't really do that. But, if you're reading and you want to tell us something about you - please do.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Families, children and the state

All this review stuff has had me thinking a lot about children, families and the state. I’m not someone who believes that the state has no place in family life. I believe that the family home is not a safe place for far too many children – and indeed women. I should probably say men too but the figures do reveal that it’s far more often women and children who bear the brunt of abusive family relationships. I am aware that the NSPCC might not be the most trusted of organisations among home educators at the moment, but I’m prepared to accept their figures as they’re properly sourced. I’m no fan of this government and I think they have control freaky tendencies but I also think that we need to be honest about the fact that family homes are not always a refuge from the harsh world outside – sometimes they are a prison. That is, I imagine, as likely to be true in home educating families as any other.

So, if I accept this, why don’t I like the premise of the current home education ‘review’? Well, for a start there is the assumption that home educated children are *more* at risk of living in an abusive background than schooled children. But what really worries me is that the ‘solution’ that the government will likely propose will be based on inspection – by people who will probably be fairly ignorant of the theories and practice of home education. If I were to suggest one thing to the government that would increase the likelihood of home educating families engaging with state services – of all kinds – it would be to ensure that the relevant staff have been given proper training with regard to home education.

In short, I believe that the government could do a great deal to increase trust in its already existing social services, if it were to train its staff properly and challenge the prejudiced and suspicious attitudes that many of them display when they encounter home educating families. People won’t come and ask for support if they know that their choice of education will be under threat and/or seen as a symptom of a dysfunctional family. Should a home educator have a concern about another home educating family, they will be wary of services staffed by people taught that ‘regular school attendance’ is the key to healthy child development. They may also be aware that the reputation of home educators as a whole can be at stake when social services staff, or others, generalise from a position of ignorance. I think it is this ignorance – something the government could certainly attempt to rectify – that they should sort out, before they start to suggest that increased *inspection* will be in anyone’s best interest.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Latest govt consultation

Oh, blimey, here we go again. It seems that there are people in govt. who will not rest until they have managed to secure more powers for the local authorities, in regard to home educated children. The latest govt consultation can be found here. I think this is the third consultation that we have had to respond to in less than two years.

The consultation document is a rather sorry little thing that reminds me of an undergrad student’s hurried first attempt at writing a questionnaire. To find out rather more about the consultation you need to read the terms of reference document.

I do have sympathy with the desire to provide safeguards for young people forced into marriage or domestic servitude. I also think that there are things badly wrong with the way we (as a society) attempt to ensure the safety of children from neglect and other forms of abuse. But, when the consultation document says:

“Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?”

I’m somewhat mystified. It seems to me that all kinds of things ‘could’ be used to cover such scenarios. But *is* home education being used in this way? Given the tiny number of home educated children – as a proportion of the population – and the far larger numbers of abused children – as a proportion of the population – is this really a major problem? Many things are used as a cover for the abuse of children, I suspect. How about moving house frequently? Couldn't this be used as a way of keeping abuse secret? If so, should we introduce special monitoring for families that move house frequently? Of course not. That would be a ridiculous waste of resources, wouldn't it? Yes, some abuse may be uncovered, but much more might go uninvestigated while time and money was wasted contacting people about whom there was no concern, other than their choice to move house several times. It seems to me that our choice of educational provision is the same - not relevant in itself.

No, I suspect that there is another agenda here. There are people who are frustrated by their lack of power to swan into the homes of their fellow citizens and tell them how to bring up their children. It’s not about supporting children and young people – far less about empowering them. You can tell how much our govt respects the rights of our children by the fact that it is still legal to assault a child in this country (under the ‘cover’ of ‘reasonable chastisement’) and that our children are subject to police sweeps on the streets (called ‘truancy patrols’). No, it’s not for the children that they keep pushing for more powers. It’s about setting up procedures and making sure that families can’t stray too far from the state-sanctioned norm. It’s about keeping us all in the Five Outcomes Fold.

The consultation document loves the ‘Five Outcomes’ – those banal, mantra like statements of supposed universal desire.

“Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

Be healthy

Stay safe

Enjoy and acheive (their spelling mistake BTW)

Make a positive contribution.

achieve economic well-being”

I don’t like the ‘outcomes’ – as I may have mentioned before... I find some of them downright offensive. How about ‘Be healthy’? Is it a failing to be ill? Should someone have prevented it? If your child has ME, or leukaemia, or even just a common cold, is this a sign of poor care? No. Even worse, is it a failing of the child? Never mind your suffering, kid, why aren’t you achieving health? I mean, I know the government likes to feel in control but how about a bit of humility here? We don’t control these things for our children – much as we might wish we could.

What do they mean by ‘outcomes’ anyway? Are these things to be experienced constantly as day to day outcomes – or at a given age – or at the ‘end’ of childhood? I can’t imagine that children are expected to ‘achieve economic wellbeing’ at the age of eight, are they?

It’s hard to even read this document so it makes sense. Are home educated children able to achieve ‘Stay safe’? Can anyone explain to me what this means? Stay safe? In what way is this an outcome? Is this not a state of being? And does anyone want unqualified safety for their child? On Saturday, our son fell off his bike in the park and grazed his knee. If we had left the bike at home then he wouldn’t have had that accident. He would have ‘stayed safe’. Of course, he wouldn’t have had the enjoyment and achievement of riding eight times round the cycle track either.

These matters are not a list of bullet points to be checked off. A child’s life, anyone’s life, is a patchwork of pleasure, pain, safety, risk, health and illness, achievement and failure. My children, everyone’s children, will sometimes ‘achieve’ their silly ‘outcomes’ and sometimes not. This is called life and, so far, I have found no-one – parent, teacher or government – who is able to weed out the ‘bad’ bits and leave the ‘good’. And, in honesty, it’s not what I’d want for my children. My children need to fail, suffer loss, illness, struggle financially, let others down, put up with things they don’t enjoy and take silly risks. It is through these things that we learn and grow and appreciate what we have. Of course, in common with the vast majority of parents, I do my best and hope for the best for my children. But I’m not stupid enough to think that I can tick boxes and get guarantees.

Once again I am being asked to respond to their agenda, or let them make their own assumptions. So I’ll do my best to answer their questions. I know that those who have not had to think about the relationship between home educating families and the state may think this is all a bit of a fuss over nothing. But the view from here is that this lot are determined to get us ‘better regulated’ and they’ll keep on with their damn consultations until they get the answer they want.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Winter in the park with bikes

We went to Preston Park today.

The dogs' graveyard.

Anyone know what this is? It was papery, so I thought maybe a wasps nest. Not sure why it was lying on the grass.

The manor is no longer open in the winter.

Pearlie did a lot of this.

The church was open today.

These paintings date from the thirteenth century. It's the murder of Thomas a Becket.

The kids both did eight laps of the cycle track. Dani did a couple and I borrowed P's bike just to prove that I could still do it too! The batteries died in the camera then, so there is no proof.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Buzzing about

We're having a busy time again now all the groups etc. have started back. Pearl is doing a course of weekly sessions run by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. One of the local home ed mums has arranged this and it's a great opportunity for P to do some fun stuff. The first session was this week and they learned how to make fires and then they made toast and hot chocolate over them. P and her friends A and R were so inspired that they repeated the exercise this afternoon, in A's garden. They were watched through the window by impressed parents!

Leo's continuing to blog a lot. Check out the latest part of one of his stories, complete with cool illustrations done on the drawing application on the pc. He's also been back at groups where he has been playing long imaginary games with his friends and making pizza.

Dani and I have been at work too, of course. Busy times there - for both of us.

The whole family is also really into playing Bananagrams. It was one of Leo's Christmas pressies and its a great game.

I am aware that this blog may be morphing into the old one. Such is life.

Friday, 9 January 2009

A surprise visitor

Check out one of Leo's many blogs, for details...

The long view – a better view

Just recently, I have been struck by the fact that, in the last four and half (or so) years of home educating both the children, it has been almost impossible to see the moments of change and growth, while we were in them. I suspect that this may be particularly so if you take an autonomous approach and don’t make much use of graded and structured resources that can provide a framework for measure. I tend to notice one small incident, creation or discussion and then look back and realise that there has been a great development in skill, competence or understanding. And I’m not just talking about the children here! I think I’ve learned some important things over the years and I suspect that they may be more useful as insights into our home ed than the children’s development.

I’ve learned:

Change, generally, is the one constant in childhood. It is not a problem that we cannot predict what our children will choose, enjoy or dislike – it is important that we remember this fact if we are going to avoid conflict and respect our children’s right to define themselves.

That it is always better to abandon something than turn it into a battle. This goes for activities, games, conversations – whatever. Walking away and giving people space is something I’ve done more and more as the children get older. It’s important in my parenting, as a whole, but even more so because we home ed. I don’t want a home that’s full of tension and fights. Sometimes rows cannot be avoided, but, very often, they can. Problems can still be dealt with. But it amazes me how there are far fewer problems when you don’t approach the issue when angry.

When people are angry, they need time. This is not five minutes. In our family, it is more like an hour. An hour spent calming down – even if it delays your departure to the library or whatever – is an hour well spent.

People changing their minds about what they are doing or want to do is a good thing. It shows that they are reflecting on things. I find this a bit of a challenge because I have always been very much “stick with it and see it through”.

Self-motivation, in enough quantity, leads to a flow and warmth in the house. It is like the movement of a river. People will pick up, engage, put down, wander, re-engage. They may be doing things for five minutes, five hours or five weeks, but the feeling of flow will be similar. When people are feeling under pressure, it will feel like trying to wade through glue. I do not claim that nothing can be achieved by wading through glue, I just know that I don’t like living with that atmosphere.

Modelling concentration, enjoyment, relaxation and commitment is important. I do not just have a right to my own interests and hobbies – I have a duty to show that adults can be passionate about learning. This, for me, covers reading, writing , tv and pc time. It doesn’t mean I spend hours ignoring the children!

Because children’s brains are making new connections and their bodies are improving in co-ordination, as they grow up, a new skill will often emerge like someone pulling a rabbit from a hat. There will be a right moment for someone to learn or understand something and if you are not at that moment it may be counterproductive to be trying. Of course, people need to try things, but they also need every opportunity to say “enough!” or “that’s all I wanted to know” or “I don’t feel ready for/interested in this at the moment, even if you think you know I could do it.”

People often know and understand far more than they are willing to reveal. This depends on the person, of course, but it is always worth bearing in mind. Children are not obliged to share the inner workings of their brain with us just so we can feel well-informed. A respect for privacy is key for me. I need it for myself so I must give it to others.

Sharing our knowledge about the world, in all senses, is education. In our family this is mainly about conversation. But there is as much ‘educational value’ in discussing why it is that someone had an argument with their friend as there is in a conversation about local history.

Children will make linkages you never considered before. This has been a real eye-opener for me. When the children learn something, they will often make a comparison or link that never occurred to me. These can be highly educational!

If people aren’t happy then make changes. I have always believed this but I’ve learned that it is vital in our home ed lives. The last thing I want is for anyone to feel trapped by the choice we’ve made to home ed, which, for me, is about maximising freedom.

So, there we are. Looking back on the last few years, I think these are some of the things I’ve learned. I couldn’t necessarily pin-point the moment I learned any of them. Sometimes I’ve learned them, forgotten them, and re-learned them. But I hope, each time, they’ve got that bit deeper into my brain! I also hope that I can look back on this post to remind myself of these insights if I have moments of getting stuck, in the future.

Missing the old Greenhouse

I’ve been writing our annual LEA report and I’ve been missing the old Greenhouse blog, which served as a great reminder of what we’d been up to. But our diaries were just about ok.

This has been a week of slowly returning to regular life. I’m sure Leo won’t mind if I mention that he has become a blogging whirlwind and is also working on an extended piece of fiction – 4000 words so far. He was thinking of including some of it in our report to the LEA but decided against – in case his ideas were stolen... He’s reading Inkheart and loving it. I helped him to make a cardboard box castle last week, which was good fun. He dug out all the small figures who should be living in and battling around it – and bought a new knight and a wizard.

Pearlie has been happily pottering and we’ve been doing some logic puzzles that are leading on to stuff about sets. We have looked at it before but are now doing more. We are continuing to use the free MEP resources available on the internet. Oops, this is getting a bit LEA reporty, isn’t it? Shuddup, Allie.

We’ve been shifting stuff around our living room a bit so that we can all see the pc screen for watching things on i-player etc. We took down the periodic table for a bit (yes, we have a map of the world too!) and the children requested a re-showing of the poster of British Prime Ministers. I find it a tad sinister to have Thatcher staring over the pc monitor at me...

Both the kids tidied their rooms today and Leo washed up. We’ve just re-organised our jobs sheet and boosted the pay for certain tasks. I’ve blogged about this before – we all note down little tasks and get paid for them. Washing up after tea pays 25p and tidying a bedroom 50p. I hope we don’t bankrupt ourselves. I’m going to save all my jobs money to pay for entering short story competitions this year. I got another story longlisted in a competition and am determined to keep plugging away. Sadly, that magazine has now gone bust and a prose petry workshop I was hoping to go on has also been cancelled after the organisation stopped running. It seems that the economic downturn is having impacts I hadn’t expected.

Pearl is reading something called “The Bad Spy’s Guide”, which looks like a humorous book. She is still into all things funny.

Dani is knitting away at a new cardy for me. I’m very honoured as she spent all her Christmas C&H vouchers on the yarn for it. She won us a new dictionary in the Guardian Christmas cryptic crossword competition. She’s a clever one, that Dani.

There's been lots of talking here recently. The whole Gaza business has led to many conversations and today we were somehow all discussing Charles 1, Cromwell, The French Revolution and the unification of Germany... Then I left for work, so i don't know what else got discussed.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Same as it ever was

Sorry for the silence. I have little to say at the moment as the situation in Gaza is so awful and that is pre-occupying me. Chat about my safe, warm and whole children feels somewhat sickening while I see others in such straits. I wish I understood what an earth it was for. When Peres speaks of a “real and serious lesson” and I see those little bodies, I could throw up. There is a vile brutality in this species. I have been wondering why it is, if we have the capacity to understand each other’s suffering, we do not have the capacity to stop behaving in this way. It’s not like we don’t know what we do. The lure of dominance, of being the one with the big stick making others cower, it is always there. We achieve such heights of cleverness, with our gadgets and gizmos, but we acquire no wisdom. Generation on generation we are the same thuggish beasts. What is there to stay our hands, if not ourselves? The evidence is there. There is nothing.