Life’s a beach…

Today we visited our local beach (Bar Beach) with buckets in tow to collect some sand for our sand table.  Bar Beach was recently cleared off squatters in preparation for a huge construction project (Eko Atlantic) and it all looks quite inviting. Acres of golden sand leading out to the sea.

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Anyway we ran into a group of area boys who are territorial young men you generally have to ‘dash’ a few hundred naira (a few dollars) to get safe passage.  So I brought my  Naira but honestly when we rolled up at the beach, I didn’t feel comfortable even with our driver present. Oh and they wanted a few thousand naira for access. And I had a feeling by the time we’d collected some sand they’d want a bit more naira on top.  Anyway we turned around and scuttled off home.

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These guys used to ‘manage’ the beach back when there were squatters so you can see their disgruntlement at having the rug rudely pulled from beneath their feet by politicians.  It’s not like any provision was made for them. Also it’s pretty much what happens with more children out of school than any other country.

Ru-bear cried his eyes out. Pampered child of the West that he is, he thought area boys were a cuddly cartoon gang like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and didn’t understand why they wouldn’t let us access the beach. Time to wake up and smell the slave-labour produced coffee, Son.

Looks like we’ll have to find another beach.

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Homeschooling, discipline and race

I know some homeschooling mums homeschool for reasons to do with race or culture or religion and they are all very personal issues that can be complicated so it’s difficult to have an opinion.  As we are in Nigeria, which has a black majority I don’t have to confront a race issue but when I went back to the UK funnily enough I did.

I attended a black homeschool fair I’d been invited to. Partly because it was the only homeschool fair I knew of. I would have gone to any homeschool fair available. I was also looking forward to it because I figured culturally I would also have stuff in common with the other mums there too.

Anyway, both of my sons started acting up at this fair.  It was like the devil took them. They were bored and I guess felt the strangeness of the place anyway they made a helluva lot of noise and all the other parents looked at me like I didn’t know the first thing about parenting (all their kids were sitting quietly staring at my kids with their mouths open) and to cut a long story short I had to leave. *sigh*

A male friend  who was there by sheer coincidence took all of this very seriously. He has four sons up to the age of 18 and can set his watch by them (but he beats them).  He came to tell me how horrified he was by my sons’ behaviour and that I should not call myself a homeschooler if I can’t keep my kids in line.   Then he came to my house the next day to show me how to keep my kids in line.  (By then I was quite broken like those parents on Supernanny).

Now for  the race part. In that in telling me off my friend berated me that you cannot not discipline  your black sons properly because whereas a white wayward kid might be tolerated by society, your sons will end up in prison and be treated harshly by the system and fail to find employment and fail at everything else and then well – at this point it’s looking pretty bad, huh.

And so I was forced to confront the race issue.  He even said I had no excuse because corporal punishment is still the ‘norm’ in Nigeria.  I could ‘beat’ my kids without worrying about the authorities.

And so far I’d been avoiding smacking them -bar the odd tap.  But now I was told that because of a racist society I needed to step it up.  And it really set me thinking.  I don’t want my boys to be automatons and I don’t think physical chastisement is the only way to go and I don’t agree with the kind of chastisement I got which involved slippers, belts, canes and once a cling film box that left nasty cuts on my arm from the metal edging but I think every parent has to make a personal choice and each child is different.  I can’t say physical punishment didn’t do me any harm because I was often afraid of my mum even well into adulthood and out of fear I lied to her and kept things from her when sometimes I would have done better to confide in her. However, I did pretty well at school and socially and kept well away from trouble.

So I really don’t know what the answer is.  Since this advice, I have been a lot more aware of discipline. I even bought ‘To Train Up a Child’ even though that’s a bit too extreme for me and I don’t find that level of discipline necessary – I still like having expressive, impulsive kids because these qualities are also my strengths but I have implemented time out in a more consistent manner with the three year old and applied it to the 18 month old with surprisingly effective results. I have nipped boisterous or disrespectful behaviour in the bud and yes, sometimes I have given a smack to the three year old on his hand or quickly tugged his ear to get his attention.   An ear tug makes them surprisingly and immediately present in the way yelling doesn’t.  I have pretty much stopped shouting as a result.  I have also started sitting training, which is a way for me to know that they are safe and quiet while I get on with something else, rather than following me from room to room whining.

Disciplining my kids is definitely a work in progress and my mind is not made up.  What do you do for discipline and why?

Visiting schools

Although I planned to  homeschool my son for at least this next academic year, I decided I should visit some schools to put his name down for next year in case I thought he should enter school and to see what schools are doing.  Big mistake.  Huge.

Visiting schools is like being a vegan and going to steakhouse just to, you know, look.

Firstly,

Teachers really don’t like to hear that you homeschool. They take it personally and then look at you like you are and your progeny are odd and troublemakers. The teacher at one school immediately told me that if my son didn’t join them immediately he would on no account be allowed in next year. Because a homeschooled 4 year old is unteachable and maybe even a danger to others. I dunno.

 

Secondly

 

Once you leave the safe haven of your own convictions, you now fall victim to self doubt.  Teachers give a pretty hard sell  and will leave you in no doubt that if your  child doesn’t attend this particular school then they can’t be sure but they don’t think it will end well.

Thirdly

As soon as your family and friends hear that you are visiting schools they now feel emboldened to share their innermost misgivings about homeschool.  They will champion whatever school you have in mind if only to make it clear to you that up to now they have been discussing you privately in lowered gossipy tones.

Fourthly

The schools are so nice, you feel kind of silly – like really why am I killing myself homeschooling when my son could be sitting here like little Einstein doing puzzles every morning while I have coffee and cakes at the Wheatbaker Hotel with the other Desperate Housewives.

Fifthly

Your homeschooled child has built school up into this Disneyworld of possibilities in his mind.  At one school he was so enraptured when it was time to leave he burst into tears. I wanted to tell him that in ‘real’ school time they wouldn’t let him play in the pretend kitchen longer than 10 minutes and he would have to fight for kitchen space with 20 other children – but I bit my tongue as he wailed and railed.  I felt bad. I felt guilty.

Sixthly

Having ordered a thousand dollars of homeschool supplies for the year from Amazon, my husband is now looking at me with a thin lipped smile – presumably to avoid beating me (he doesn’t really beat me), when I now tell him ‘I don’t know’ what to do about the schooling and maybe Ru-bear should go to school after all.

If you want to homeschool – here’s my advice. Don’t go on school tours and don’t have a plan B.  Homeschool only works if you are committed.

Homeschooling amid the hurly burly

It’s really hard to homeschool and have a life unless you’re a scheduling genius.

Homeschool is definitely making me aware of how important organisation is.  I’m used to flying by the seat of my pants, always saying yes to everyone and impulsively moving to the beat of my heart.  Yeah – that doesn’t work so well when you’re homeschooling.

Been back in Lagos two weeks now and in this time I’ve had 6 weekday meetings, two weekend meetings, two playdates, a wedding, a children’s birthday party, a fathers day brunch, and had to unpack 6 suitcases, plus try to do the scheduling that needs to be done for the homeschooling. It is getting better but yikes, its been hard and my kids haven’t done too much except a few puzzles and playdough. They haven’t even been with me all that much. I draw the line at TV – if they have to watch TV in homeschooling time they should really be in school but that’s a small victory.  Bad homeschooling mommy!

That said, I think its ok when you have a few weeks where nothing’s happening. All other schools are closing now for summer recess and I’ll be pressing forward with our lessons so we can make up for some of this lost numeracy and literacy time I hope.

As we say in Naija, I’m trying ooo!

Children teach themselves in good time.

I don’t think children can teach themselves everything but homeschooling my 3 year old has taught me that I can’t teach him everything.  He is learning way too quickly for me to keep up. In fact he prompts me to teach him, by showing me what he is currently teaching himself.

 

Like this past week or two, I’ve noticed that he is teaching himself a sense of time and past present and future.  He wants to talk about something that happened in the past so he will say it happened yesterday.  ‘We saw Mickey Mouse, yesterday, Mummy,’ when in fact it happened some weeks back.  ‘Is daddy coming today, in the night.’ He’ll ask.   He will strive to locate the days of the week.  ‘Is it Monday, Mummy?’ ‘Are we going to playgroup today?’.  So he is just showing me, now is a good time to give him guidance on days of the week, temporal spacing and past, present and future tenses.  He is ready!

I think if he was going to school, I would have missed this.

 

New School Year

I’m feeling some anxiety about my next school year.  I was excited when my books arrived and did the Carlton Dance.  But now that I actually have to start teaching I’m feeling a ton of pressure.  And I don’t know why because my kids are doing ok.  We had an awesome summer, they learnt so much and all the stuff school can’t teach you, like how to vibe with adults and how to be super confident  around complete strangers and give great hugs and be open minded and excited about life.

So why, now I’m back in Lagos do I feel kind of jittery about starting the work.  I’ve been unpacking for just over a week and we haven’t even done any music practice.  I made the week’s playdough yesterday but that’s it.  I feel sort of defeated and not sure why.  I think it’s something to do with worrying about my kids falling behind and being responsible for that and  feeling like I’m not being my own high expectations for how much I think we should be able to do each day (and I’ve never met my own expectations for how my life should be lived) and shock horror, thinking my kids are playing too much.  Like yesterday.  We went to playgroup in the morning then we came home, they had lunch while I ran errands.  They went outside to play, they played inside, my oldest son helped me make playdough then they had some playdough time and then he was on the iPad for the rest of the afternoon.

Visiting schools give me anxiety, one reason why I’m happy to homeschool.  I visited a school in Lagos recently  where at 8am  the 2 year olds were all seated in a row doing puzzles.  It was like something out of Ender’s Game.  This has also given me anxiety by the way that I haven’t done enough puzzles with my son and he won’t have as high an IQ as other kids  (even though intelligence is largely genetic).

So I guess I’m also anxious because even though I homeschool and I claim to eschew the pressurised, standardised testing environment of school that reduces our kids to test scores and doesn’t nourish the whole person I still want them to be top of the class, which is ridiculous.

As we’re still in preschool, I’m still using the ‘Homeschool Your Boys’ preschool curriculum but with the following add-ons,  handwriting, science, phonics, history, drama and cuisinaire rods.  A lot of this stuff I’m doing in case my son needs to go to school anytime.

The reason why this blog is so useful to me is because even as I’m writing I’m seeing that my fears are mostly baseless and feeling more relaxed.  We’re not following the school year but it is only June and other kids are about to go on a really long vacation while we’re about to start all this new fun stuff. So I have time to get au fait with it all before ‘it really matters’.

Right now I’m scheduling our days so that we can have more structure and working out what my life is going to be about over the next 12 months. Was thinking of freelancing for someone else but I’m not ready yet.  My nanny needs constant direction, my home is starting to look like an episode of hoarders and my youngest son is suddenly starting to demand more attention. Go figure.

So  although I’m fearful and feeling overwhelmed and held back by my own inadequacies, the big picture is not that dramatic. It’s ok.  No really. It is.

 

Groundhog Day for homeschoolers

Sometimes the reaction you get to homeschooling makes you feel like you’re living a groundhog day existence.

Last night at a soiree for breast cancer I bumped into the head of my son’s former nursery.  She’s a lovely woman but she got increasingly passionate about me removing my son from nursery.  Her comments went something like this.  ‘Please put Amaru back into nursery he needs it.’  ‘He needs his own life’ ‘I have been working with kids for over 18 years, I know this’  ‘Even if you don’t put him in my nursery put him anywhere’  ‘Let him go, please’.

 

I could tell she genuinely felt concern for my son’s well being which I appreciate and I value her opinion as an experienced childcare practitioner as well as someone who actually knows my son.

I could not deal with her comments at the event because I found her distress distressing and also I don’t see the point of getting into the homeschool debate with people who know nothing about homeschooling. I’m not an evangelist for homeschool – each to their own – and its a very personal decision.  I will take responsibility for my son, but not your feelings.

However, of course her comments annoyed the hell out of me.

‘He needs his own life’.  Is this some sort of joke?  My son is still 3 years old last time I checked.  He has friends, he has private space and he has regular activities – what is this ‘life’ he is missing out on?   I think  I know what she was trying to say, the routine of his own day outside of his home, where he is shaped by his relationships with others etc.   If  this woman was talking about a 10 year old, I could relate but at this age, I think my presence is still beneficial to my son’s development in myriad ways. I have heard of so preschoolers being slapped in schools here, humiliated for not being able to keep up, shouted out and getting urine infections because they’ve been left in their filth all day by negligent helpers.   When you release your children to the care of others there are pros and cons. Right now I don’t that he needs his own life as much as he needs proper care, loving discipline and one to one support with his work.  Oh and lets not forget none of that shouting, slapping etc is free. £1000 per month

‘If you don’t put him with us, put him anywhere’.  Anywhere? Really?  My child?  There are people who are intrinsically opposed to homeschooling and once I identify with them – I don’t engage with them.  These are people would would respect and like you more if your child went to an awful school where they were bottom of the class, hating every minute than if you said you were homeschooling them.  Because most people are sheeple and can’t handle difference, perhaps  they’ve slaved their whole life just to fit in. In that case how dare you opt out?

‘I’ve been working with kids for 18 years, I know this’  I can’t argue with someone else’s experience. But this is the same nursery that bribes children with buckets of sweets.  Education is constantly evolving and nobody has ‘the’definitive answer’ to what it should look, that’s what makes it hard.  Teachers are constantly learning new methods of engaging with children and new theories about behaviour etc.  The latests science actually suggests, its all in the genes, so then it barely matters what school they go to.

‘Let him go’  This really annoyed me because it suggested I have made a selfish emotional decision that has nothing to do with my son’s benefit.  This is the only way she can understand my actions.  It demonstrated an ignorance about homeschooling that made me glad I had removed my son from the nursery.

Back in the saddle

It’s great to be back in Lagos after two months in the UK and USA visiting family.   It’s great to be able to travel during term time and not have that end of term cabin fever so many parents and pupils get.  I don’t know how I’ll feel when all my friends fly out of Lagos leaving us with just the thunderous downpours and flying saucer-sized cockroaches for company but perhaps I will appreciate the piece and quiet.

 

I’ve had the chance to do even more reading around homeschooling and look at things from a different perspective. I’m still committed to homeschooling but I also wanted to visit a few schools and see what my son’s missing out on. I don’t think you gain anything by being some kind of hell-bent zealot.

I’m now in the process of unpacking (my luggage is still arriving at the airport in dribs and drabs from BA’s malfunctioning baggage system) and rescheduling our homeschool for the year.

 

But more on that later – it’s good to be back in Las Giddi!