Sunday, 19 August 2012

Entertainers not Required

I haven't blogged much about the educational side of things lately - and there's a reason for that.  What with having time off from intense analytical thinking, plus a week away camping, plus planning (and cleaning) for visiting friends, plus feeling a bit poorly, I have pretty much left the boys to their own devices this month.  I haven't assessed so closely what they've been doing, haven't suggested any "work" etc - and there is a definite difference between their (non-directed) days at the moment and their days before the 'holidays', when they weren't exactly directed, but I was definitely more involved with asking them if they'd like to do things, reminding them that they could have time on the educational computer games, and generally strewing.  So I guess even though I didn't expect the "summer holidays" (as defined by schools) to feel any different to our usual life during "term-time" - in practice it has actually been different, with a lot more TV-watching and Wii-playing than we were having - and it looks like we'll be getting ready to gear-up in our learning a little (just a little) at about the same time that the schools are starting back.  Maybe I'm still influenced by school-thinking (It's certainly hard to ignore the 'back-to-school' adverts etc), but it's not necessarily a bad thing - we're all still learning all the time.

One of the things I have learned from these differences is that I do see a need for a little guidance in their learning - albeit very gentle guidance.  I like them to do a bit of Maths & English practice regularly, and I like to be able to observe some learning outside of that as well - but it's all very low-level, and nothing is demanded of them.  I want them to enjoy their learning, and fortunately they do enjoy the computer-based curricula (courtesy of Maths Whizz and Reading Eggs).  Eldest in particular is very proactive in choosing and pursuing the things he is interested in.  I feel very confident in his style of home learning - it's easy for me as a parent/ enabler to follow.  Middle is an entirely different learner, and I'm trying not to push too much or to expect him to follow his brother.  I think in a couple of weeks we'll be reintroducing Maths & English (he has started to show an interest in learning cursive writing again), and other than that, giving him lots of space to choose what he wants to do.  Where Eldest will grab a book and get inspired, Middle is a lot more inclined towards hands-on exploraton, such as art or construction - which is absolutely fine; just a different learning style.  He also likes playing games together, and there are plenty of educational ones available for us to enjoy :)  Youngest is easy - he'll be four next month, and really, as long as he carries on the way he's going with Reading Eggs, he'll be learning to read in no time (at his own pace, which is the important thing).  He goes through phases of enjoying workbooks, so I've got a few of those on standby too.  I do regret not signing him up to Maths Whizz when we registered his brothers simply because it was advertised for 5-13 year olds - I now realise as he is very numerate and loves their entry-level sample games, I could have signed him up too.  Anyway, it's not a problem - there are lots of counting & sorting games etc on sites like CBeebies, which he loves - and of course, lots of maths games that we can play at home - so there will be no lack of stimulation.

I have to say here: I realise that the whole 'providing stimulation' thing is a big con.  I am not responsible for keeping my children entertained, despite the overwhelming advice provided by parenting magazines, websites & experts.  As most Home Educators know, children have awesome imaginations and are more than capable if finding things to interest themselves with, indefinitely. However, as demonstrated by a radio-programme that I was listening to at the beginning of the holidays, there is a general consensus that it is parents who have to keep their children entertained over the summer (I would suggest it is that responsibility that cause so many of them to dread school holidays).  Why is this?  Personally I think it is largely because while they are at school children get used to being told what to do and when to do it.  When they aren't in school they often have a day or so of enjoying the time off, but then having lost their day-to-day usage of self-directed exploration and imagination, very quickly get bored.  Certainly when we came out of school at Easter we did hear "I'm bored" every now and then (but a LOT less frequently nowadays, if ever).  

Also I do think it's an issue that has grown in recent years - there is so much modern pressure in parenting generally: how to do it "properly" (eg who hasn't been to a toddler group where the assembled parents looked on disapprovingly if someone dared to give their little one crisps, or snacks other than raisins and rice cakes?) - and 'properly' seems by general consensus to include providing them with endless clubs, games, day trips etc when not in school.  If I think back to my own primary school years, I don't remember any sense of expecting my parents to roll on the entertainment.  School holidays were spent playing in the garden, playing in our rooms with our toys (no computer games then, which makes me feel like a dinosaur), playing with siblings, friends and neighbours.  Yes, there were a couple of clubs (that did NOT run for the whole holiday), and we had the odd trip to the seaside or the park, but generally we made up our own fun at home... and my parents weren't negligent; there just wasn't the same sense of obligation from what I can remember as there is nowadays to be a full-time entertainer.

And actually I think his is really unhealthy.  Why do so many of our teenagers hang around aimlessly in gangs?  Why do they seem to feel that society has a duty to lay on things for them to do?  How often have you heard "but there's nothing for us to DO..."?  Surely it's because they are leaving a childhood where their surrounding adults were expected to constantly stimulate them - to the point where they have lost their ability to think creatively for themselves. If we think back to the years before teenagers were invented (they are a Western phenomenon, only occuring in this last century), admittedly there was far more child labour than we would accept nowadays - but the hedonism and rebellion that seem to be expected of normal teenage life nowadays, just didn't exist.  Children grew into adults with no pause - they were expected to gradually lay down childish behaviour and taken on adult responsibilities.  (There are some great articles on the modern phenomenon of "teenagers" - you can find some here and here).  There wasn't the expectation on society to hand ready-made entertainment to them on a plate - rather the expectation was that young adults would be learning to contribute to society.  So by training them nowadays as children to expect their parents (or teachers) to stimulate them, no wonder as teenagers they struggle to find their own healthy entertainment.

Incidentally, one of the reasons why I'm glad to have turned to HE when we did is that none of mine have entered their teenage years yet - and I hope that by having more of a steady home influence, we will be better placed to help our boys through the tricky adolescent period - rather than losing them to the packs so often created at seconday school.  Not that they won't have friends - of course they will - but they won't have all the unhealthy peer pressure that seems inevitable in secondary school.

Anyway, all of this brings me full circle to where I started: I've not been doing as much with/ for my boys this month.  Modern parenting "experts" would probably gasp with horror - but actually it's been really good for the boys.  They're not being neglected - they are all clean, fed and loved; we've had lovely times together reading, playing etc; I always know where they are and what they're doing (especially Youngest) - BUT I am not their full-time entertainer (actually I never am - but even less so this month).  They have found their own entertainment.  Yes there has been more Wii-playing than I would usually allow, but they've been working together as a team to defeat the baddies in Indian Jones, and have been drawn closer together through that.  There's been more TV-watching than I would normally be happy with - but most of their chosen programmes have been education-based, such as the current favourites from the POP channel: 'Finding Stuff Out' and 'Lab-Rat Challenge'.  They've also been making their own games up on the trampoline, leading to a few incidents where I had to intervene, but generally being active, healthy, having fun in the fresh air without having to be told how to do it.  They've built some amazing lego models because I gave them space to work out for themselves what they wanted to do, without providing suggestions at the first hint of listlessness.  They are learning that the world doesn't revolve solely around them - sometimes Mummy can't drop everything to be at their beck and call: if I can stop what I'm doing to play, I will - I just love being with them - but the times when I have to pack for holiday or just need a few minutes rest to get rid of a headache aren't a total disaster.  They can have fun by themselves too - and you know what?  That's been a good lesson to learn.


  1. Couldn't agree more. I've always given H two choices if she says she is bored,"find something to do or help me with..." whatever I'm doing around the house. If she asks to do something that requires more input from me, eg go swimming, play a board game etc, I'll do my best to facilitate that, but I'm not an entertainer...and guess what...she rarely needs me to be! Usually within a few minutes of the above exchange, she is totally engrossed in a game and not at all bored!

    1. thanks Smunkybee, great response to the boredom plea :)

  2. I think it does children good to be bored occasionally and teaches them to be more creative about what to do with themselves. Sadly my J is only too fond of using any item with a screen to entertain him, so I am trying hard to discourage that! We have also switched off completely from formal learning this month - with the older one home and hubs on holiday there has been too much distraction really, but it's been lovely to just chill out.

    1. Rachel, I agree - mine love screen time too, and I do think one of the inherent problems with too much time 'on screen' is that it seems to switch off their ability to think creatively in the 'real world'. I'm not anti-screen entirely - but this is one of the reasons why we usually limit TV/ Wii/ computer time :)