This week was doomed from the start. My husband started a new job a couple of weeks back, and this week he had his first 48 hour shift. That's right. 48 hours as in - leaves the house and doesn't come back for 48 hours. With no notice.
I like to tell the story to my children that if I have notice for something, I can plan ANYTHING. I am a planner, and a scheduler, which is why I actually actively approached The Mulberry Journal and asked to be an affiliate for their planners. Because I knew that I was going to be talking about them until the cow's came home, and recommending them to everyone that I knew (including random strangers in the street who probably don't have 5 children, or homeschool, and probably don't even need to make plans). But I digress. I like charts, and lists, and notes, and rhythms. I am a person who develops habits intentionally, just so that they can help me to fulfil the goals that I have set myself and my family within my most recent schemes. I mean plans.
If I have no notice, then... well, everyone finds out the reason why I have an obsession with plans. With 5 children (3 at home, and homeschooling - 1 at home and breastfeeding), a business, and a casual job (teaching my uni students that I just couldn't bear to let go when I started my business) life can be really busy. Like, really busy. I don't like busy-ness. I like relaxation. Or, as I like to call it, a daily shower.
Or a hot cup of tea.
Or something commonly known as sleep.
Apparently you need sleep, and without it you get hot and bothered, depressed, fat and more likely to have a heart attack... but I digress again (probably because I have had no sleep).
Suddenly stuck at home with 4 kids, and one breastfeeding, and another one very young and attention-seeking because Daddy is not home, and whyyyy is Daddy not home? and another that is becoming very aggressive at the one that is upset that Daddy is not home, and with the same need that I have for a daily shower (I get puked on a lot - the shower isn't optional at this point). I took out the TV. Or rather, someone who had had sleep, lugged it up the stairs for me. And plugged it in.
And I had a blissful 2 hours of quiet. You know? that quiet that you can only get when your 5 year old is so engrossed in Matilda, that she forgets that you exist, and stops attempting to pick up the baby and juggle her while doing some dance improvisation or another. The kind of quiet where you aren't checking one child for injuries because you have dared to close the toilet door at a pivotal time in their sibling relationship and blood-curdling screams can be heard faster than you can say "I haven't even turned the door knob yet".
The kind of quiet where a hot cup of anything doesn't sound like the punchline to a bad joke, and you can't even remember why you don't just plug the TV on 24/7, run a few series of educational documentaries and call that science for the week. I even un-packed the reusable nappies, and used them for the afternoon, feeling wonderfully accomplished in my environmentalism.
And then I left it on. And had a sleep.
Nobody died. But nobody was in a rush to get out the door in the morning either.
One teen glued himself to the bed because he was up until 3am watching something or other, and couldn't bring himself to leaving the bedroom before midday. I remembered that I had forgotten some crucial groceries that I needed to get from the shop yesterday, because I had been home watching that movie. The washing wasn't done by teen #2 so this morning was spent hand-washing my clothes in the shower, trying to create a make-shift breakfast from rice crackers and dried mango, and running out the door to go for a swim in almost 35 degree heat in the middle of the day because I had to wash all of the re-usable nappies from yesterday, hand wash clothes, cook things from the dregs of our produce, try to motivate over-tired teens, and pry Miss 5 from the TV (which I still hadn't put away) which had delayed us a few hours!
Miss 5 didn't want to go for a swim, for the first time since starting this experiment.
She wanted to watch TV.
OK we didn't really almost get a divorce... but there were some tense moments.
Let me set the scene. We began this experiment in a weird post-pregnancy period, when our house was full to the brim with people (and a new little squishy bundle of joy), including my MIL who had just moved in downstairs. And life was hectic. But not in a good way. In a 'I have been confined to the house for 4 months on bed rest, and now I am glued to the couch breastfeeding and watching SVU 24 hours a day, while the rest of the family is trying to kill each other ' kind of way.
Something had to give. And it was the TV.
By week two the mourning period was completely over. My husband had been away at work, and our children had been through their 5 stages of grief with the TV - storming around the house in their anger stage, having random tantrums and staging big sleep-in movements in their depression stage, putting their debating skills to use in the bargaining stage, cruising through their denial stage, and finally they had come to a place of acceptance.
We bought our very first family puzzle. 1000 pieces and more exciting than anything we had tackled during our last week of adapting to the quiet of a screen-less house. Grandma was super excited, and Mr 15 wasn't far behind her. Guests dropped in and helped us to work out colour gradients to complete a never-ending blue puzzle sky. Miss 5 organised patterned pieces in to little coloured bowls. Mum and Dad stayed up late, drinking hot tea and completing little puzzle parts. And it didn't stop there.
Our '100 miles an hour' Miss 5 started finding joy in quiet pursuits. Such as watching the baby trying to crawl (awww).
And for the first time in her whole life, Miss 5 actually got bored enough to begin entertaining herself, for large stretches at a time. Miraculous! Her table became a lego city.
An uno table...
and a puzzle sorting station...
Quiet mornings were spent drinking tea and listening to the happy sounds of creative play.
Quiet evenings were spent reading books and listening to kids debating over the placement of a difficult puzzle piece.
Quiet ... in a house with 7 people, including teenagers, and a newborn. I didn't think that was possible. It was like a children's book set in the 1950's - except even more quiet.
The experiment had worked!
Then I spent one night up with the baby, and slept in for a couple of hours.
And I woke up to...
Lots and lots of screens
Everyone on screens...
(to be continued)
Continuing on from our last post - Socialising vs socialisation in homeschool (part 1) -
What kind of socialisation are they learning then?
We know that in particular, high school brings a whole host of new and uninspiring social challenges to the life of children who have only just begun to develop physically, and emotionally, and are thrown into a world of peer pressure, premature sexualisation, drug use and abuse and a host of other issues that most adults do not have to deal with in their everyday life.
And they do this in an environment where they often do not have the opportunity to be appropriately guided or supervised by adults, and thus teach each other what is normal, abnormal, socially acceptable or not (and often these norms are not in congruence with your own expectations or family values). Although I could write a book on this subject, I will simply share the thoughts of one school teacher who recently stated that "every high school has problems with drug abuse, sexual harassment and disruptive and rude children. Your child is just going to have to learn to adapt to learning in that environment".
There has been much written about the ineffective socialisation of children in schools, who are being taught social skills by children their own age!
...just think about the implications of that
If children are surrounded by only other children (and the ratio of children to adults is nearing 1 to 40, or 1 to 20 as a best case scenario) and have minimal meaningful adult interaction (other than teachers delivering instructions) for most of their day, 5 days out of 7 days a week, then how much are they really learning about being a responsible, valuable member of society?
Conversely, many children who are learning at home are in a very good position to gain important socialisation andsocial skills. Research has shown that mothers and other close relatives are the people who most influence the socialisation of children throughout their life, including; teaching us the correct behaviour, attitudes, and expectations and instilling important personal values to help us navigate through our social lives. In addition, home schooled children live their lives out in the world; in public spaces, doing the shopping, visiting parks, beaches, museum's, libraries, nursing homes, and a million other places where they are expected to interact with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Children who live in the adult world learn acceptable behaviour from observing desirable behaviours (and occasionally, less-than-desirable behaviours, and others' reactions toward them) all day, every day, rather than just for small snippets of time.
In this way, children are socialised into the world in which they live, rather than being socialised to survive in an environment which will be obsolete once they graduate and move on to the real world...
If this sounds idealistic, my personal experience is that my extremely loud, active and boisterous son (who is still active, outgoing and boisterous!) has, within months of starting home schooling, gone from a child who would run around the supermarket *yes, run*, hiding in clothes, and building forts out of toilet paper rolls in the laundry isle (despite my best attempts to thwart this behaviour), to somebody who will come along shopping with me, assist with his baby sister, help me to load and unload groceries
..and then go and build forts in the backyard with friends, or run around screaming in the park, instead of in the shopping centre!
It is not a case of him 'becoming like an adult' or 'losing his childhood' but rather, he has learnt through watching others, that it is inappropriate to run amok in the shopping centre, however it is completely appropriate to do so in the park/ at the beach/ at home!
And because he is not sitting at the desk for 6 hours in the day, he is in no rush to use his 'free time' in the shops to run around, because he knows that there will always be plenty of time to run around later.
How about socialising?
Socialising is a much simpler affair. Homeschooled children often have many daily opportunities to interact with and play with other children both at home, and through home schooling groups, co-operatives and sport/ special interest groups and classes - often so much, that a limit needs to be put on how much socialising they do, and how they can fit everything else in!
And the difference between socialising at school and at home/ in a home environment, is that when children have the opportunity to run around with other kids, it is very often supervised by adults who love and care about them, rather than in groups of children who are left with very little supervision, or opportunity to seek meaningful assistance/ guidance from adults and are left to make their own social rules.
I leave you with one last thought
children without proper adult supervision
... Lord of the flies
That would have never happened if they were home schooled!
Following on from my last rant (erm, I mean, post) "why we homeschool" about my surprise at the interest that our family's decision to homeschool has attracted within our family, our circles of friends and our wider community in general, I will try to articulate some of the finer points throughout the next few posts as to; why we have decided to continue homeschooling after our three month 'trial' period, what home schooling means to us, and our personal answers to the main questions that we are asked on a regular (sometimes weekly) basis;
"What about socialisation? - children need to be around other children their age"
"How do you know that your children aren't behind other children?"
"how can you stand to be around your children all day every day?" (yes, I am actually asked this, and it is quite regularly!)
Now, before I attempt to answer some of these questions, I will stipulate that these are my personal opinions on why Iam choosing to home school my children right now. They are true for our family though may be completely irrelevant for yours.
The opinions that I have about what is right for my family may not be right for your family, and if you are a parent who cannot home school for financial/ personal reasons, or does not ever wish to home school, then I am completely without judgement of your decisions, as every family is different, and you are the expert in your own life :-)
The very first question that I am often asked (like many home schoolers) about home schooling is "what about socialisation?". When I am asked this, I am often not sure if the person is addressing the issue of our children having the opportunity to socialise with (i.e. meet up with, and enjoy the company of) other children, or if they are talking about the socialisation of our children as responsible and thoughtful members of the greater community. So I will address both.
What is socialisation?
By definition, socialisation is defined as 'helping someone to grow up to be an accepted member of the community' and by this definition, my thoughts are that taking children out of the artificial, heavily legislated environment of institutionalised learning can very well be the perfect opportunity to increase their skills in socialisation. That is, in learning to be a thoughtful and responsible member of the community.
Whereas in school, children are grouped into categories based on their ages and gender (i.e. most of the day is spent with children their own age, and friend groups are further divided into not only age groups, but groups of children who are born in the same year and are of the same gender) home school does not limit socialisation in this way.
Are children learning socialisation in school?
In school, children learn how to operate within a dictatorship, where there are unequal power balances which are not ranked by intelligence or worthiness, but by age, and grade ranking.
If you will think back to your own school days, children in prep (or grade 8 in high school) were automatically the lowest class of the school in every respect. In prep / year one/ year 8, you had little to no voice or control over your life, your learning, or your actions. Older children had power over younger children, stronger children had power over weaker, and teachers had the ultimate unquestioned power, based on their age, size and ability to force submission on to you, either through grading your efforts or behaviour, physical punishment (which has now been outlawed) and verbal admonishments in front of your class members.
My own experience with my children has been that this system of comparisons between children, ranking classmates and public verbal put-downs in front of classmates resulted in a gradual decline of their enthusiasm for school, learning and their overall general happiness. I cannot count the number of times my children would come home after being 'rated 3 out of 10' (for prettiness/ attractiveness/ 'hotness') by fellow class members, being 'rated as the worst singer in the whole of grade _ ' or even being told by a teacher that they had taken longer than everyone else in class to finish a certain task, and therefore they felt less than adequate in some way.
It is my personal belief that authentic socialisation cannot happen in this artificial institutionalised environment, where not only are children ranked and compared, disempowered and silenced, but are surrounded by people their own age, all day every day, and thus are learning social and socialisation skills (i.e. how to survive and adapt to their immediate social environment) in an environment that is completely different to that of the outside world.
If you missed the first instalment of Week 1 of our TV -free experience, you can catch up over here - long story short: 5 kids (4 living at home - one probably chilling out at her house, watching a whole lot of TV with a martini, or whatever young adults drink nowadays...), a newborn baby, an anti-technology Mum and a few kids that have developed a slight screen addiction while I was on pregnancy bed rest.
In the first week of our TV-free experiment, we travelled back to 1990, when people actually talked face-to-face and before Facebook was a thing. Our teens started socialising in person, however I realised that other people's teens live on the internet and are less enthusiastic for face-to-face interactions, so I buckled slightly, and compromised on the evening social media time, so that our teens could organise social events online!
Week One summary (continued):
Mama socialising: lack of TV after forming a strong emotional bond with Olivia from Law and Order SVU for the last 4 months of my pregnancy was pretty brutal. I found myself emotionally processing a lack of close female friends around me (or around me enough!) and vowed to do something about that! I talked a lot, and for longer, to Mum's at homeschool meet-ups and found that the feeling of isolation was a commonality that most of us shared, so I also vowed to do something about that. I realised that with breastfeeding, I have a LOT of spare time. I am confined to one spot, but that spot can be the beach or the park, or the library, so I chose to do a lot of breastfeeding in those spaces, which gave our little one time to play! Our weekly meet-ups were a success, and we also had an informal meet-up for a third time during the week, which our little one was super happy about
Miss 5: The person who we thought would find it hardest, was one that was quicker to adapt than many of us (least of all, me!). One day of YouTube withdrawals and the internet was all but forgotten. Out came her dolls and games. Her siblings were once again interesting to her! She started spending a lot of time playing with the baby and making up imaginary games. We started reading 2 novels on the couch, snuggled up as I breastfed, and the teens were often bored enough to read a novel along with her (such a win, since Miss 5 usually hates books! go figure!).
A week-day where her older sister tutors younger homeschooled students turned in to an extra play-date day, filled with anticipation and excitement, as she readied the house for her guests, and even my husband started to come around to the idea... until week 2, when it all started to fall apart!
Anyone who follows our blog knows that I am an anti-television advocate. However, homeschooling with 3 children at home, at the end of a difficult 5th pregnancy (with lots of time spent on the couch) once-weekly television events became television weekends, which slowly became full-time TV and internet access in our home!
I have detailed my reasons for television-free time before, including: proven better health outcomes, a more connected family and community life, more time to pursue passions, less arguments and the avoidance of gaming addictions.
As a literature-loving parent, I have always had aspirations of switching off from the modern world, and letting our children run free in nature, climbing a thickly-foraged tree and spending hours reading novels in the quiet of their own space. As a child, this is something that I loved - peace, quiet, space, and an active imagination. Giving birth to our 5th precious child, it just seemed that that vision was slowly fading. The more that television shows and social media crept in to the lives of our teens and our little one, the less that everybody was interested in doing anything else.
So week one started like this. With Mama-bear (me) swimming in breast milk and nappies, newborn snuggles and juggling homeschooling 3 children/ teens. My husband starting a new job (perfect - because he loves television and it can be hard to implement drastic no-TV time when he wants to watch something!). 3 young people who have had the last few months of my pregnancy to build a solid social media habit - and our littlest addicted to watching little girls play with Barbies on YouTube. It was my hope that if I provided an internet-free phone for our teens, and more regular play-dates for our little one, that social media could be replaced with real-life conversations and relationships, and that watching girls play with dolls, could be replaced with actually playing dolls with real friends!
Day 1 was super tough. I am not going to lie. Anybody who thinks that screen-time is not addictive, should try going cold-turkey with the whole family. It is an eye-opener. One teenager slept for most of the day. Either to avoid having to read books, or because screen time had left him not thinking about sleep, and he was catching up. Another stared at the blank television space for 10 minutes, then headed to the nearest musical instrument to start a week of music composition (yes! victory!). Wonderful. Our littlest had about 500 tantrums, missing her internet friends. And I had pangs of guilt, followed by gentle reminders that pelvic displacement in pregnancy could not have been helped, and there are only so many things that you can do with your children while confined to the couch and bed for 18 hours a day!
By day 2 I had become pro-active, and put it out there to our local homeschool group that I would be hosting TWO new meet ups per week. One at a park with a pool, one at a library. I would force myself out, and we would socialise and it would be wonderful. I found that most people felt that 2 days a week was too much. My few friends who were also literature and nature inclined (and had young people at home without ready entertainment) embraced the idea! So out we went. A new routine was born. Every second day we left the house to meet other homeschoolers. Every other day, we studied and read and played games. It was starting to come together!
Week one summary:
Teen socialising: After some stumbling along, we came to the conclusion after the first week, that teenagers are much harder to pull out of their bedrooms than first thought. Our teens were ok. They were generally bored enough to happily get out of bed and in to their clothes for the day by 9am, to come along with me and do something outside of the house. BUT we were having some serious problems in getting other teenagers to join them for activities more than once or twice a week (gone are the days that you hung out with your friends most days... that is done online now?! Or is it just where we live, that this happens?), especially with our teens not on social media, to have ready access to friends, to invite them to things. We came to a compromise and they got internet access for an hour or two in the evening, to catch up and organise events - we will see how this goes! (continued in part 2)...