Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Half-term? Aunty Grit is here

Oh dear. I saw the headlines! Is it half-term?

Never mind! It's not so bad, is it? Take ten tips from me. I am an alternative educator. I have it nailed, this child-around-you-all-the-time business.

1. Is the very presence of your child irritating you?
The mummy...mummy...mummy? Constant whining? Neediness?

Remember, childhood is short and fleeting. Even if it feels like a life sentence until gin-time.

My solution? Ignore her.

If you really want to be involved in Tinkertop's ongoing education (and shut her up at the same time), then set her a challenge. Throw her a fiver. Tell her you need biscuits for your knitting circle. You need a minimum of 60 biscuits, at least a quarter of them chocolate, five packets please, and none of them must contain hydrogenated fat because that is BAD, Tinkertop, BAD.

Now kick her out the door, or take her shopping, and see what she can do. If she does well, let her have the biscuits. If she fails the challenge, eat the biscuits in front of her.

2. Are you seeing your child as the grunting unsocial offspring you feared?
Grabbing at the dinner table? Farting and belching in public? Answering harumph in a rude and snorty manner?

Consider yourself lucky. You have an advantage over all home educators. You can blame school. We only have ourselves to blame.

3. Irritated by watching your child loll about a sofa all day?
You, the purposeful parent, are filled with duties and obligations and cares of the world! But your cares are not your child's. Your adult necessities do not form the impulses of their day. Your goals are not their delights.

An alternative educator would say, let her be. Staring into space means little Tinkertop is exploring her inner freedom of thought, and that might be a rare pleasure in her school timetabled day. Allowing her thoughts to wander creatively and constructively, enjoying the process of dreaming restfully in her pool of silence, is a joy to see. Truly it is the breeding ground for her great future action and intention. It can only come to fruition in time.

This is so true! Today Squirrel sofa-lolled for two irritating hours, then went up to the roof and threw a coconut off it. See where deep thinking can lead?

4. Do you feel guilty unless you schedule Tinkertop's week in productive activities?
Pah. Everywhere you look you're encouraged to think a holiday activity plan is something you must do if you care about your child. Like a timetable is some sort of measure of love or devotion?

Ignore it. If the pressure comes from a commercial organisation, they just want to sell you something. If it comes form the school, ignore it. They just want to look good in the league tables, or chum up for extra funding for something at the Local Authority. And if it comes from Supermother down the road, ignore it.

Holiday timetables are crap. They conform to the idea that education is a competitive race. It isn't. That is a destructive message given out to make parents toe the line.

Basically, all kids are different. Some kids learn stuff in different ways. And if Tinkertop wants to learn stuff by digging a hole in the ground and filling it with dinosaurs, let her.

5. You are concerned that your child seems apathetic, lethargic and uninterested?
To be honest, if she is switched off and bored, you are seeing what school made her. If it had made her excited about learning, she'd be jumping up and down, raring to go, using half-term to fulfil her dream of painting a scale model of the Sistine Chapel.

It's a problem. You can't change it in a week. But you could start. Give Tinkertop a break. Excepting a medical issue, or something she's not telling you, ask yourself, why should she join in? Why should she have fun in prescribed ways?

Children should not be made to jump continuously through hoops, nor brought to account, examined or made to do anything which sniffs of school if they don't want to.

In other words, her interests will come from herself, if you give her enough time to loll about and find out for herself what they are.

(Just as a precaution, in case the interests take an unhealthy turn, you might want to safeguard the cat.)

6. You can't stand the arguments when the kids are around all day?
Phew! Neither can I. Children can be irritating, can't they? They know the precise buttons to press. Like discussing the bedroom floor in detail at a painfully abstract meta level instead of just clearing the damned thing up. Or bypassing the wind-up stage completely and impulsively bashing their sister in the face with a plastic frog.

But alternative educators have this sorted. We say, falling out, slamming doors, knocking the crap out of each other - this is all normal growing-up behaviour.

Anyway, humans are ridiculous creatures; you cannot take them seriously. What you can do - and call it an education - is to focus on the ways they make up, develop friends, resolve conflict, and deal with argument. Words like consideration, thoughtfulness, empathy, kindness, these are of lasting value.

In fact, if there is any good reason why school holidays exist, this has got to be it. Having the time and space to make up after an argument. But to get here, they must fall out first. See? Now that argument is positively healthy.

7. You wanted the week to be lovely but now it's all gone crap?
Stop reading the magazines that give you the toothy mummy and the cute kid (both blond, aged 23 and 4 respectively), which tell you that normal is permanent happiness, constant loving parents, and a fatty spread that may or may not be butter. Sometimes we all need a good yell. Forgive yourself.

8. Worried that Tinkertop has spent all week obsessively pressing buttons on a computer?
So what? Unless it's XXX-rated kill-murder-death and your child is aged 8. If that's the case, take the damn video game off them.

When you give children freedom to explore their interests they're not going to voluntarily take up your interests of accounting or office administration. When children begin to take charge of their own lives and their own interests it takes time to mature or grow a sense of responsibility.

The problem here is that half-term doesn't give any kid long enough to work out their interests or come out the other end having decided they want to be a rocket designer. School simply does not give them the opportunity to know, nor develop expertise in an area that they are passionate about.

What to do? Let them alone, unless it becomes actively dangerous.

9. You feel uptight because your beautiful house now looks like a landfill site?
Can't help. You may have control issues. I admit to these myself, so I can give some sympathy. Once, I was in love with my house, wooden floors and Victorian upholstery. I never knew the damage kids could bring. Took me years to get over that. Now, when I see the taps, I LAUGH.

Admittedly, this answer is of no practical help. We all have that journey of realisation to make, and we each must deal with that scenario of paint and screwdriver on the wooden flooring in our own way.

10. Tinkertop says she doesn't want to go back to school?
Now you're stuffed. You have obviously succeeded well in half-term, and she thinks, this is the life.

Well, it is, for lots of people. Within the alternative educating community there are thousand of kids like Tinkertop, for whom school does not serve their best interests. We have very high ratio of adults to children; fantastic social opportunities; plenty of group activities. I have never met an incidence of bullying yet in any home ed community. You have the chance to make learning a positive, switched-on experience for kids, where their experience is with the world, directly, rather than mediated through school, text books or the PE teacher who has to cover French again.

See? Half-term could be just the beginning.

Us, we don't do half-term. We stayed at home and the kids completed assignments.


kelly said...

I took my lot to a cafe two days ago. It was quite posh. A lady commented to another diner how well behaved her two grandchildren were. I thought she was having a dig. Then I turned to see one of my kids snorting chocolate milkshake out of his nose, another one bashing the daylights out of his smaller sibling and my one and only daughter muttering "I hate you, I hate you all."

I sincerley hope that the old lady thought they were a product of the school system....rather than my failed attempt at parenting.

Grit said...

i particularly like the threats and muttered curses round the tea table, kelly.

anyway, their society will end up looking like ours ... just project this behaviour another 20 years, sublimate it a bit, and you have a dinner party.