Ebola Update! Everyone’s homeschooling now!

Well, not really, not yet.   Some international schools were supposed to resume Monday 18th but they have decided to postpone reopening to give people a chance to return (many parents have gone on vacation and have understandable stayed abroad until they feel more confident about returning).  The Government has declared a national state of emergency and requested schools/nurseries etc not reopen until they assess the situation to be safe.  Interestingly, private schools are making their own decisions. Most are saying they will open a week later. I find this odd, disturbing even – schools wouldn’t ignore government advice in the UK for fear of litigation. On the other hand perhaps this is good news, it shows confidence.   The problem with children is that they are not hygienic.    I have visited enough schools during lesson time to know that young children, like to touch toilet bowls, avoid hand washing, drink tap water, soil themselves and are generally icky.  They have no sense of personal space and all the stuff you’re not supposed to do during an Ebola outbreak, its pretty much guaranteed they will do.

None of this is my business by the way since I homeschool. I’ve finally taken my kids out of camp. I may be travelling to the UK soon with my kids to sit out the next few months.  I haven’t so far because its unplanned and very costly as its still holiday time.  BA is charging 5000 dollars for 1 adult, a 3 year old and an 18 month old for an economy ticket from Lagos to London.  But you know what, we may have to just pay this because we are so worried.

Every one is worried, hand sanitiser is mostly sold out everywhere and where it is sold you can pay up to £25 a bottle.  That’s about $40!   My nanny was so happy today we gave her a pair of gloves and a mask and she put them on immediately with her long sleeved sweater to get her bus home.

We still are doing the odd playdate with just one or two friends and going to restaurants but some people are holed up in their homes, not seeing anyone or they’re leaving.

The next few days will be crucial. We have 10 confirmed Ebola cases. Will there be more?  Will there be dreaded secondary contact cases?  The whole country is holding its breath.  This is make or break time for Africa’s most populous nation.

 

 

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Some parents be like…

At international playgroup recently, I saw a mother with her son in a body lock while he flailed and screamed.  Been there, done that so I wandered over to offer moral support and maybe learn something.  As I approached, she was trying to force feed him some goo.

“Tell him you will beat him if he doesn’t eat!” she said to me in a strong Indian accent.

“Huh??”

“Please,” she begged with the most angelic smile. “Tell him you will beat him if he doesn’t eat.”

Cheeky. I thought. What do I look like, some nutter who goes around smacking other people’s kids? The  toddler looked at me sullenly.

“Auntie will beat you,” She scolded. “Eat your food!” “Its the only way he’ll eat,” she said apologetically.  “Please – tell him.”

“Erm, so I’m not going to do that,” I said, thoroughly discomfited by the whole episode. Maybe this would end in a  Mediatakeout or DailyMail.com story.

“Maybe wait a bit. He’ll probably eat when he gets hungry,” I suggested.

“He needs to eat now before he falls asleep,” she snapped.

Aware that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, I beat a hasty retreat but I did learn something – that not every parent get’s their advice from Dr Spock.

Selfish Reasons to have more Kids and other books about genetics

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So… I’m obsessed about genetics.  I don’t know how this happened. I just watch my kids growing and become fascinated about who they are becoming and how I’m affecting that.  Selfish Reasons to have kids argues that I’m really not affecting their destiny as much as I thought.  That took the wind out of my sails a little. I mean homeschool is hard, you like to think you’re having an impact.  Since reading this book I’ve had to rethink my intentions a bit and make sure I’m still working on and improving my own life alongside homeschooling because if I can’t stop making it about them becoming x, y or z. this ship has sunk before its even left port. Oh and great book – although I STILL DON’T BELIEVE YOU!

 

Another book on genetics I’m still reading is The Son Also Rises – Surnames and the History of Social Mobility

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What I find very interesting about this book is again the impact genes have on social mobility.  As my husband keeps assuring me – it’s all much of a muchness – but  I believe he thinks this way because he’s a Warrior not a Worrier.  This is another genetics book that blew me away – all about gender behaviour.  Mothers are just programmed to worry more about stuff that doesn’t matter.

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If you know of anymore fascinating books about behavioural genetics, holler at your girl!

 

 

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!

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…

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…

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.