Choice, trust and the future

During a recent discussion, the topic of allowing our daughters to choose their own path, came up. I realised that, while some people felt the same as us, not everyone understood why Husband and I feel that it is so very important for the 3 Miss’ to make their own choices. So I thought I’d talk about that a little bit.
I often wonder what the future will bring for my girls. I’m sure every mother does. I wonder who they will be, I wonder who will bring joy and love to their lives, I wonder what challenges and obstacles they will face, and I wonder what dangers lay ahead for them. I hope that they live happy, healthy, peaceful, joy filled lives. Again, I’m sure every mother does. I believe that one of the biggest gifts I can give my daughters is the ability to face their lives and make their choices with confidence, compassion and common sense. I want to raise the kind of women who can make choices with confidence, compassion and common sense. After all, that is what we are all doing. Every minute of every day. Making choices. Good, bad or indifferent, every aspect of our life reflects every choice we have made.
If you want to become accomplished at anything, you practice. There will be 100 people waiting to hand you that old chestnut “practice makes perfect”, so it makes total sense to me that if I want my daughters to grow to be the type of adults who can 1) make a choice and 2) make a good choice, then it is my job as their parent to let them practice. That is why our daughters, though they be small children, are given the autonomy to choose.
My daughters choose what they’re going to wear, they choose when they’ve had enough to eat. They choose when they want to play outside, and when they want to play inside. They choose what colour they want to paint their rooms. They make a million small choices every day, with our encouragement.
But we also give them the autonomy to make important choices. My girls make choices regarding their bodies. They choose when they want to cut their hair. They choose whether or not they want their ears pierced and they choose whether they will give someone a kiss or a cuddle. These may not sound important, but let me tell you why they are. A child, male or female, needs to have the confidence to speak up about their body and what happens to it. A child needs to know that if something is happening to them that is making them uncomfortable or that they don’t like, they are allowed to say no, and in voicing their discomfort they will be heard and validated. A parent cannot hope to teach a child that their body belongs to them, if they are insisting or forcing a child to do something with it, that they (the child) don’t want to do. Whether it is something seemingly insignificant like getting a hair cut, or something obviously damaging, like forcing them to kiss or cuddle someone they don’t want to. If I was to force any of my girls to cut their hair against their will or force them to go and cuddle a family member they’re not familiar with, all I am teaching them is that they must do as the adults in their life are telling them. Whether they like it or not. This is a hugely dangerous message to send to any child. In this regard our girls will, without exception, always make their own choices with regards to their own body.
The girls are also allowed to choose not to. Husband and I allow them to tell us when they don’t want to do something, and our girls have just as much of a right to say no, as we do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that we allow disrespectful or rude behaviour, because we don’t. They are also far from little wildlings that have complete run of the house. But rather than work in a militant fashion of “you will do what I say”, we offer advice, suggestions and guidance. And obviously if the situation is one where someone can get hurt, we will of course pull rank. But again, if I want to raise women who know how to use their voice to say no, I have to actually allow them to get used to using their voice to say no.
And I encourage this. I encourage it to show them that I trust them to make the right decisions.
And there, I think, is the most important thing when it comes to letting our girls decide for themselves. I want them to grow into teenagers and adults that will make good choices in life. I want them to know that if they make the wrong choice, or even a choice that I don’t necessarily agree with, that I will still love them and support them no matter what. I want them to trust that I will always be there to back them up. I want them to be able to trust me enough to come to me when they’re in trouble. That trust starts here and now. I show Miss 5, and the two little ones, that I trust them to make the right decision, by allowing them to. I show them that if they make a mistake I will still love them and support them. I do this because, really, if we can’t trust each other now, with the small and insignificant stuff, how will we ever be able to trust each other later, when it really counts? Because to them, it has always been big stuff.
And then there’s school, and the point for all this choice and trust business 🙂 Miss 5 chooses what lesson we do next. She chooses the topic we’re going to work on and she chooses when we are done for the day. She tells me if she doesn’t feel like working on her numbers or her sight words, and we switch to something else. If she’s hungry, we stop so she can eat, she drinks and uses the bathroom as she needs to and we follow her lead. I have faith in her judgement, and I trust that she will make the choice to learn, and so far she has amazed me. I think of how prepared she will be in 10-15 years time, when she has to start making decisions regarding work or uni or travel, and I’m glad we have chosen this path. I think of my own teenage years, and the friends that I had in school, and I remember how lost we seemed to be. We we’re expected to make – and teenagers now are still expected to make – life changing decisions, when the previous 12 years had been spent speaking when spoken to, eating and drinking at allocated times and asking permission to use the bathroom!
I know that some people don’t agree with anything I’ve just said, and indeed probably think – quite smugly – that I’m in for a world of hurt. All I can do is repeat something I read by Mr John Holt that resonated. “Be wary of saying or doing anything to a child, that you would not say or do to any adult whose good opinion and affection you valued.”

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What we did last week

As I’ve mentioned before, we have to report to the board of education, once a year. We have to show that Miss 5 has made advances in the previous 12 months. As part of this report we have to provide a record of what we do, including dated examples of her work and photos. I have a display folder and a few work books for her to keep examples of her work, and this blog – hopefully – will be enough to cover the rest. So every week I hope to briefly describe what we have done in the previous 7 days.
I keep our weekly plan fairly vague, with lots of room for Miss 5 to pick and choose where we go next, as well as lots of flexibility to swap and change things around if we come across something better, or more interesting. We have decided that we are going to have one “home economics” day a week (which is really just me saying I still have a house, a husband, two other children and a never ending pile of laundry that needs to be seen to!), during the course of this day we clean the house – Miss 5 helps with the chores, or helps by cleaning her room or tidying up the playroom with her sister, we do any gardening that is required, and we have a shopping/cooking lesson. All the chores are age appropriate and I don’t force her, but most of the time she’s happy to chip in and do her bit. Last week we planted a whole bunch of veggies. We planted spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin, zucchini, capsicum and peas. Miss 5 goes out every day and checks the growth of the seedlings and makes sure there are no weeds or snails. She had a ball digging in the dirt and watering the seeds and seedlings. She also found a grasshopper and chased a little lizard 🙂
Miss 5, like her mother, is a bit of a fan of Jamie Oliver. So on our Home Ec days, we go through Jamie Oliver’s 30 or 15 Minute meal cook book. We read the recipes and she picks one that she likes the look of. Then we write out the shopping list, go to Coles and she finds the items on the list and checks them off. When we go through the checkout, she pays. When dinner time rolls around, she – with my help, and the “help” of Miss 2.5 – follows the recipe, and cooks dinner for the family. Last week she picked Falafel Wraps. She did a really, really good job. THe next morning we talked about not being able to find certain ingredients in the store and how we substituted. We also talked about Miss 2.5 accidentally tipping too much water into the falafel mix, making it too runny. We talked about what we did to fix the problem, and what we might do differently next time.
The other structured activities we did this week were worksheets and reading. We made a stop at the local library and stocked up on books. There were books for entertainment and books about Ancient Egypt. I also set her up with some yarn and some sticks that we found in the backyard, and we practiced some weaving. Surprisingly she found this quite difficult, and even more surprisingly she did not cope well with finding something that she couldn’t quite figure out. It took a fair bit of coaxing on my part to convince her to keep trying. I think the fine motor skills are something that we will have to work on a little bit more in the future. She did make me laugh, however, when she decided the weaving project looked like a guitar 🙂
The rest of the weeks learning was led by Miss 5. One of the things that is amazing me most about her and the process of natural learning, is the amount of creativity and thought and ingenuity that she shows in her ideas, when she’s been given the space and freedom to explore them. This week she decided that she wanted to grow some crystals with her little crystal chemistry kit. She also decided that she wanted to make a sculpture. She took the bowl of coral and shells that she has been collecting from our travels up north, and glued them together. When the coral proved to be too heavy for the glue she was using, she got some blu tac and held it together with that, until the glue dried. She also organised a music concert with her instruments and her sisters. They played music together for over an hour! We finished reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and she painted a picture of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, her favourite characters in the story. We finished our story stones – the stones have pictures painted on them, you put them into a bag and take turns pulling out a stone and telling a story involving the item in the picture. And, I taught Miss 5 and Miss 2.5 how to play Uno!
All in all I was fairly happy with the week. There are, as always, some things that we will tweak, and try differently this week, but I think we did well. I have a vision of how I would like to manage our Home Education, eventually, I just need to work, with Miss 5, towards finding that groove that I can see in my mind.
We managed to tick off reading and writing everyday, we did science and practical life skills with the cleaning and the gardening. Science, maths, health and reading with the shopping and cooking. Plenty of art, story telling, music, playing and being outside.
I spoke to Miss 5 again, about school and whether she was sure she still wants to be at home, doing what we do. Her answer was “I definitely want to be at home and doing all of this cool stuff, with you mummy.” So it’s full steam ahead, into another week 🙂

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And the week looked a little like this.

The first thing I thought I should do is take a look, and I mean a really good look, at exactly what my daughter knows and can do, and then guide her through the next step. I have sat with her doing number puzzles and word puzzles, to gauge where we need to start. I am a little surprised to find that – even though I always knew she was a bright little button – Miss 5 knows more than I assumed she did. I’ve been pretty impressed listening to her spelling words, reading and writing and adding and subtracting. I’ve watched her write words by following the letters on the giant alphabet poster we have, sounding the words out and diligently writing them down. It may be phonetic, and it may not be one hundred percent correct, but the thought process behind it is amazing to me.
So we have been doing our number puzzles and our words puzzles. We have been reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, which is a bit more advanced than anything else we’ve read, so there are a lot of words she doesn’t understand, which means we’ve been working on her vocabulary. We have added to our “box construction” corner (box construction is the name Miss 5 has given to finding boxes and cartons and making things out of them. She uses masking tape and scissors and creates all sorts of things. It’s a great way to improve motor skills and great for problem solving), and this week she has made an aeroplane and an elevator that moves up and down on a piece of string. We have cleaned out the last of the summer veggies from the veggie patch, and decided on what we want to plant to get ready for the winter harvest. And we have started delving into the world of Ancient Egypt.
We have been learning about mummies. Miss 5 is entranced. She is particularly fond of explaining to people the embalming process, paying close attention to what was done with the brain! We have had discussions about amulets and the gods and goddesses.
Which brings me to one particular discussion we had. Miss 5 has quite the reputation of coming up with very astute, often wise and always hilarious comments, and this was one such time. We were talking about the different gods of Ancient Egypt, and how different gods looked after and protected different things. This lead to a discussion about religion in general and peoples beliefs in the afterlife, heaven and god. Miss 5 wanted to know about other religions, so we were talking about other ancient cultures like Rome and Greece, as well as different people we know who are of different faiths. We came to Christianity, and our conversation looked a bit like this;
Miss: So that’s the one with the big cross?
Me: Yep, that’s right.
Miss: And how many gods does that one have?
Me: People who are Christian or Catholic believe that there is just one god. And he takes care of everything.
Miss: Everything?!
Me: Yep.
Miss: Really?
Me: Yep.
Miss: What about the animals, and the trees?
Me: Yep, he takes care of them.
Miss: And the Mums and Dads?
Me: Yep.
Miss: What about the little kids?
Me: Everything. The people that believe in that god, believe that he takes care of everything.
Miss: Wow. That’s a lot of work for one person.
Me: I suppose it is.
Miss: If he moved to Egypt, he could get some help.
🙂
And that has been our week. We have also spent time outside, although not as much as usual as Perth has had a week of 40 degree heat. But there has been time for playing in the garden, catching up with friends and giving the slip and slide a workout.
It’s been a good week
🙂

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Letting Miss 5 choose when we do school work

I follow a few bloggers from the homeschooling community. One of my favourites being the happiness is here blog, if you want to check it out. I have also watched and read numerous reports from “education experts”, and they have all, at some point, made the same statement. Children want to learn. I thought this to be a true statement. I thought it, until I watched Miss 5 this week. Now I don’t think this is true, I KNOW this is true.
I was fully prepared to give Miss 5 a week or two to recover from our trip overseas, and to ease into the idea of doing school at home. However the day after we flew back into Perth, Miss 5 asked me “when are we going to start school Mummy?”. She was so very eager to get started. And this eagerness hasn’t diminished at all. She not only showed how keen she was to get started, but continued to show how keen she was every day this week. Immediately after breakfast, every day, Miss 5 has been insistent. “Let’s get started, Mummy!”, “what are we doing today, Mummy?”.To see for myself how keen she is, is amazing! And it’s incredibly vindicating too. There have been some comments along the lines of “if you let her decide what to do and when to do it, she’ll do nothing but play all day”. I don’t particularly have a problem with her playing all day, but this proves that, left to her own devices, she wants to learn 🙂
I had roughly worked out in my head that we would do around an hour to an hour and a half of “formal” work – Maths and English, with the worksheets that she loves so much – and the rest of the day would be for her to follow her own interests and ideas……. Wait! Can you hear that?! There are at least 20 people reading this, right now, shouting incredulously “What?! An hour to an hour and a half?! ARE YOU CRAZY??”
No. I’m not. Here’s how I came to that figure; The school bell rings at 9am. 25 x 5-6 year old children collect their bags, make their way to the classroom, line up, decide they’re in the wrong spot, move, see their friend, move back, drop their bag, pick it up. The teacher calls to them to hang their bags up on the pegs, line up nicely, every body stop talking, hands on the shoulder of the person in front of you, walk calmly into the classroom and take your seats. It is 9.15am. 25 x 5-6 year olds enter the classroom, shuffle around trying to find their seat (even if it’s the same seat they were in yesterday and the day before), chat to their friends and sit. It is now 9.20am. The teacher explains to the class what they will be doing today, what they’re going to be learning about, how they will be doing it. Teacher gives them any information that they need before the day starts. 9.30am. Teacher asks if anyone has any questions. 25 x 5-6 year olds find that each one has at least 12 questions desperately needing to be answered! And likely nothing to do with school. 9.45am. The teacher calls an end to question time, tells the students what they will need to take out to begin their first lesson or activity, 25 x 5-6 year olds gather what they need, argue over who got there first, take their seats and get started. It is now 9.55am, and they’ve only just begun their day. And so it goes all day. Recess = 20 minutes, coming back into the classroom after recess = 10 minutes. Lunch = an hour, coming back into the classroom after lunch = 10 minutes. Lining up and holding hands = 30 minutes out of the day. Then there’s the time consuming factors that just can’t be helped because of the size of the class. One simple worksheet, that could take one student 15 minutes, becomes an hour long task simply because there are 25 children who will at some point need help with it. Packing away after each activity, waiting until everybody stops talking before the teacher can give the next lot of instructions. When you take all of these little things out of a 7 hour school day, all of a sudden it doesn’t leave that much time to do actual school work. When you think that there is none of that happening here, an hour to an hour an a half of uninterrupted, one on one work, is more than enough.
However, after explaining how I came to be happy with the thought of doing between one and two hours a day, I need to mention that, Miss 5 approached me and made this comment; “Mummy, I like how our school days are nice and quick, and I love how there is lots of time for me to do my projects, but some days can we have more time doing worksheets and that kind of stuff? I really like that kind of stuff, and I think I want to do more”. Just WOW!!
Today is Saturday, and you can bet your boots that Miss 5 has asked to continue with our work from yesterday, while Daddy and the two littlest girls were napping. This child is incredible, and has made this last week a real pleasure.
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First day of school

Today is day one of term one, of the new school year. A big day for all school aged kids and their parents. Today Miss 5 would have started Pre Primary. I have seen all of the Facebook photos of her little friends, dressed in their uniforms, with big smiles on their faces, so proud to be starting big school. It’s been really hard to see, I can’t help but feel that there should be a photo of my little girl in her first day uniform too. It didn’t occur to me that not having one would hit me in the feels. So to make myself feel better and remind myself of the reasons why I don’t have or want a “first day of school” photo, I thought I’d write this.
Currently we are on a family holiday in Mauritius. Husband, Miss 9 months, Miss 2.5, Miss 5 and myself. We were able to get the trip relatively cheap, or as cheaply as we can expect when travelling with 3 children, because it is outside of the school holiday period. In the last week, Miss 5 has had a long conversation with a lovely elderly couple from Zurich, she has spoken to the Mauritian staff at the hotel, as well as other tourists from India, France and South Africa. She has taken in the sights of a third world country, which has lead to discussions on economy, currency, lifestyles and how fortunate we are to have been born in a country like Australia. She has been drawing pictures of the local wildlife, and the flowers that she can see from our hotel room. We have seen the local temples and had discussions about religion. She has tasted foreign food, seen varieties of plants and birds that are different to home, and she has almost grown gills and fins with the amount of swimming she has done. We have collected shells, found pippis, found starfish, walked on the beach and eaten our body weight in chocolate ice cream 🙂 In two days we will be having a Mummy and Daughter day and we will be out dolphin watching together and then snorkeling on the reef. This has been our first week at school.
Coming away from our time in Mauritius, Miss 5 will have learned to play Bocci, she has picked up snippets of French – and has decided she wants to learn how to speak French when we get back to Perth – she has learned a Mauritian dance, and she has learned the valuable life lesson of gratitude. Plus, when we get home, there will be no rush for her to get back to normal in order to start school, she can take her time to get over the jet lag, get lots of rest, swim and play with her sisters and relax before we start with our own lessons.
In the meantime, I will admire the gorgeous photos of my friends’ little ones on their big day, and I will remember that our journey may be different, but it is still pretty special.

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