Homeschool Londoninium

Apologies for not blogging of late. I’m in London (and soon New York and then London again). I’ve been having fun but am mostly knackered. In Lagos I have a nanny and a housekeeper/cook and a driver. In London I have two kids swinging from my neck 24 hours a day (hubby working abroad).

Before I had kids I had seen a kid bounce off the walls (literally throw herself against a wall and use the ‘bounce’ to propel her towards the opposing wall) but I’d never experienced a kid suddenly grab you in a neck lock and use your neck as a swinging post without warning.

London is awesome – especially during clement weather but it always makes me appreciate my Lagos lifestyle. When you have staff you can ensure a peaceful, consistent routine for your kids. When it’s all on you the first thing to go south is bedtime, then bath time, then meal times and before you know it you’re approaching the sort of feral existence you only see on documentaries about social work.

So we’ve done museums and parks and walks and relatives and children’s centres and soft plays and zoos and farms and various modes of transport but not much cuisinaire rods or French.

There’s really not much to say about homeschooling in London other than that in the land where the school system mirrors the class system closely – opting out of the school system is seen as very anti-social and given the side eye anti-social behaviour deserves.

The kids have enjoyed the mod cons of London living but miss ochre stew (way too labour intensive for me – even if I knew how to make it) and consistent high standard of care. Food for thought…

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Homeschool blues

“I’m so tired and confused

Ain’t got nuthin to lose

But my blues, my blues, my blues…”

 

Sometimes I get the homeschool blues – and it’s not just me.   A lot of homeschool mums talk about the loneliness of homeschooling.

Everyone has different lonely issues.  For me it’s  a feeling of being a bit disconnected rather than not having any friends. Easily done in a big city.

In London as a single gal I was too busy to be lonely.  Throughout my 20s I worked 3 jobs and when I wasn’t working I wandered the city like an enthralled Dick Whittington.  When I got engaged  me and my fiancee moved to Jakarta, Indonesia for a year, the blues began – feeling disconnected from reality, feeling depressed without understanding why.  It started again in Lagos, I used to and sometimes still feel like a ghost wafting around the city.  Few notice a ghost, much less miss it.

Working helped. I then joined a couple of  organisations. Firstly the Nigerian West Indian Association and then Nigerwives (foreign wives of Nigerian men).  Both have given me a kind of community to belong to, a social safety net although we don’t skip down the street singing Kumbaya.

‘My blues, they comfort me,

Shroud me, hold my hand

Soothe my insecure heart because they understand’

 

Homeschooling has been another shift.  It asks a lot of you and the grass often looks greener on the other foot. Joining schooling mothers in their education anxiety looks like a fun social activity – especially if it includes cupcakes and herbal tea and you feel like you’re part of a special shared experience – the first day, first performance, first sports day tears etc.  The birthday parties, the knowing smiles at Saturday football.

My kids aren’t lonely yet, but sometimes I worry that they will be.  They have a lovely set of kids that they know and are close to – almost cousins. There’s enough to do plus extra curricular activities, church if I can get a car  (that’s a long story – let’s not go there) and we still go to playgroup once a week even though my son is usually the oldest there.  But sometimes I see how enthusiastic my eldest is (still!) about school and  wonder if he’s missing out.  He remembers his nursery very fondly and when we go for our piano lessons in a local school he loves the glimpses and sounds of other children – he doesn’t want to leave.

All in all homeschooling is great, but you do have your dog days. Times like this I find blogging helps to put things in perspective. I have the happiest boys in the world. People always remark on how happy they are and always laughing.  They don’t have time for the blues.

Laddered tights

Worn out shoes

Unpaid bills

And bad news

My blues, my blues, my blues…

Education anxiety is profitable

A British woman here in Lagos has just started a school that offers as its USP  a guarantee that ‘your kids won’t need a tutor’.  It sort of made me laugh and also reflect on the education culture here in Lagos where this could actually be a successful USP for a new school.

Schools are easy to start in Nigeria.  Where corrupt, ineffective government meets undersupply of decent education, there’s a sweet spot to start a profitable school.  Firstly, little competition with subsidised state schools.  These are inadequate in both availability and standards. Even domestic staff send their children to private schools where they can afford to. Secondly, little in the way of inspectors breathing down your neck. Thirdly, many schools here have waiting lists over a year long.  At every level,  there just are not enough schools and parents are always looking for something better.

Triple Package author Amy Chua describes Nigeria as one of the most successful ethnic groups in terms of education, hard work and prestige oriented success. I can testify to that somewhat as my father in law grew up in a very remote village and somehow (while also working as a houseboy) made his way to Harvard. He is now the king of that village.

So back to this school that guarantees your kids won’t need a tutor.  It has to be understood in the context of Nigeria’s woefully underfunded universities.  Nigerians want to leave and study abroad at superior institutions and then get lucrative jobs, so the parents are very anxious about and prioritise academics plus they want to see a return on the money they’ve already paid. Even in schools costing 20 thousand dollars a year – it’s not uncommon for children finish school and come home to a few hours of private tuition costing up to 10 thousand Naira (£40) a night to ensure they are up to international standards.

This is from the age of 4 by the way.

It’s a reminder to me of everything that’s wrong with education here.  I find such a guarantee to be highly suspect.  Surely no child aged 4 ‘needs’ a tutor.  This is all relative to the parents’ mindset.  Then on what basis can you guarantee an outcome?  I’ve never heard of this before. such a claim suggests that your guarantee is going to be prioritised above the child’s needs.

Perhaps I am being too harsh and she means benignly that each child will simply have the attention and support they need to stay with the class. Education is any man’s game and most people go into it from the well meaning motivation of wanting to provide something better.  Unfortunately lot of those starting schools do so with gimmicks or cheap imitations of antiquated British models. Often white skin and an English accent are all that are needed to convince parents of their credentials. Unfortunately that’s indeed sometimes the best guarantee that people know what they are doing here.

But then why pander to education anxiety?  And at the end of the day,  anxious parents are still going to hire tutors.  They can’t help it. They want more, better, faster, higher.  It’s a competition and they are going to win whatever it takes. A more successful peer group for their child will only heighten their anxiety.   Only therapy can fix that, by the way, not a guarantee.

Players with dough

Playdough how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

There are certain activities that you always come back to and playdough is one of them.

First of all there’s something very earth mothery about kneading your own playdough. Back in the days of ‘When Adam delved and Eve span’ you added your value with your labour and your labour increased your worth. Yup, I’m aware its only playdough and that being worth your weight in playdough is not as good as being worth your weight in gold.
Secondly the science tells us play dough is calming. When my boys are just a bit too shouty and I haven’t got anything planned or I need to get on with something – that’s the perfect moment to throw some luridly coloured play dough at them and let them have at it. It will buy me at least 15 minutes for the 1 year old, half an hour for the 3 year old.

Because I’m not organised enough to have cream of tartar I tend to make mine with the basics. I go to this site.

It has worked well for me for a good two years and it’s just getting better.

 

It’s not rocket science – it’s preschool!

My first nursery report for my son said ‘distracted easily – disruptive – can be heavy handed with his peers – and also listed all the things he could/couldn’t do – like identify colours. It left a bad taste in my mouth for a two year old. Cos if it said, sits very still, compliant and knows his periodic table would that sound any better for a toddler? It was the start of me questioning other things – like the fact that this nursery had a small play area but no space for the children to run/wander etc. The rooms were on the small side and while very nice to look at seemed more catered to girls who sit playing with dolls than boys.  And all this for a tidy $1500 per term for 3.5 hours a day.

I’ve seen people commenting on early education online saying they can’t bear people who say they homeschool when the children are under five as if there’s really nothing to say about that. Don’t these same kids go to nurseries or schools? Isn’t there a huge body of research dedicated to early years education? Don’t some of these schools cost nearly $40K per year not including the extra curricular activities you might want them to do? Seems like there’s something to talk about – sorry if the pictures of playdough and cardboard crafts bore you!

On the other hand I do sometimes wonder why we have needed so much research and science and disappointed parents to tell us what we already know to be true – kids under 5 should be playing with playdough and cardboard, making a mess, getting wet, doing chores, dressing themselves and talking and being read to and being exposed to the real world gradually and positively. It doesn’t seem like rocket science – why make it so?

I admit I worry that they are learning things in nursery that my son isn’t. But of course they are! And vice versa. And it’s likely preschool kids are going to do better on standardised tests because that’s where their learning is focused. There’s no point me homeschooling if I’m gonna cry that my son is not going to ace those tests. Nurseries and preschools here mostly teach children to sit still and take direct instruction (and grade it like it’s a subject) even though the research is pretty clear that this is diminishing children’s creative ability. Children need to PLAY – some more than others, kids are individuals and some of them do actually dig sitting still and reading but even they need to do a lot more playing than they need to sit still and learn. They need time to have conversations with adults about what they are doing and they need to do it outside of a printed list of adult expectations about their general knowledge.

Actually if you talk to teachers, most of them want to do more play but they are terrified of the parents howling to them that their kids can’t read by 5 or won’t get into the Ivy League school that they (the parents) have set their heart on. Parents come with their own educational baggage and ignorance and prejudice. They really need to go examine those rather than pushing teachers to go against recommended wisdom. Parents either don’t know or don’t want to know about the education that will make their kids into well rounded individuals. They still want to teach rocket science to preschoolers.

Teacher knows best

I’ve never held myself up to be a homeschooling expert. It’s just conversation and questions and a healthy does of opinion. I’m sharing my odyssey is all – I try not to slip into evangelising. If I’ve ever held myself up to be some sort of expert I apologise – I’m so not. This is about what’s going on for me in my homeschooling world. I’ve been homeschooling less than a year and my kid is only 3. In many cultures he’s supposed to be at home. Home not schooling.

It’s been an important journey for me in a lot of ways, raising so many questions about education, parenting, womanhood and life. I have been surprised – shocked even and have had to question certain the world is flat ‘certainties’ I’ve grown up with. I would never have gone on this journey if my child had been going to school or nursery. Funny how everything suddenly becomes the teachers’ problem. Your job is just to complain if you don’t like the end result.

Last night I spent a few hours on the phone with a distressed mum who was not happy with her kid’s learning at a popular preschool here. I understood her complaints – the teaching wasn’t organised enough, not transparent enough, the facilities weren’t good enough and the head had no formal early years education. Fair dues.

We assume that the teachers know and we don’t and we can’t do it ourselves because we don’t have this special knowledge that they have and then it turns out they don’t have any special knowledge. Errrr hell yeah it’s a recipe for disappointment! What are teachers teaching when they have not had any accredited teaching/training? Are they imitating teaching as they understand it – probably informed by their own childhood? Are they enthusiastic about a particular type of teaching philosophy and following that? Perhaps they just downloaded a curriculum?

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you need any kind of teaching/training to teach YOUR OWN CHILD or even just to give one on one teaching to another child (although it would probably help) but when you are responsible for many children’s education where you can’t tailor it to the individual and you need to set a pace and manage a variety of goals then I think being educated yourself in the management of early years education is important. Otherwise the parent might as well do it themselves, right? That’s partly why I homeschool, because I’m not seeing the genius behind what many nurseries here in Nigeria do besides provide a nice forum for play, socialisation and learning. As soon as you want to tinker with their set menu – you quickly get frustrated and disappointed.

Fieldtrip Fridays #8 – work soft, play soft

We’ve been trying to find a beach for a field trip – nothing fancy, we’re not planning to swim, just collect seashells and enjoy the sounds of the sea and the feel of the sand. I want to make a sea-side sensory box – something a bit like this.  There are a lot of beaches in Lagos actually, the problem is safety.  I’ve already experienced how touts or ‘area boys’ (unemployed young men who consider the area their territory to harass and demand money from people) can ruin a nice afternoon out so I’m wary. I also don’t want to pay or take the risk of a boat ride until I get proper life jackets for the family.

This week we went to Dreamworld Africana which bills itself as a theme park for kids.

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It is quite easy to get to off the Lekki Expressway and offers a range of fun things to do from amusement rides (it has a roller coaster) to indoor/outdoor play areas.  I’d been saying for some time that I really needed a soft play area – rainy season lasts from April to October and some weeks can be relentless rain and (almost) chilly so great to find a place to go at such times.

Mummy look at me now!

Mummy look at me now!

If I’m honest the main draw for me was the soft play rather than the rides (some of which were dodgy, double check the restraints – some seemed to have ‘melted’ in the sun and were useless. The  soft play was like any good soft play centre you might find in the UK. Perhaps a little small but definitely good active fun for little boys and girls.  It has an area for older kids and younger kids.  Just the place to hang out with other mums and have a natter.

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And the best bit was the drive home…

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