Thursday, November 03, 2005

Home education - a valid option

The article below is reprinted with permission by Sally Lever and is taken from her excellent newsletter on downshifting and healthy/simple living "Fruitful"
I highly recommend subscribing to Sally's newsletter. To subscribe, please send a blank e-mail to

© Helen Moore.

I have always been interested in Home Education (HE), even before I had children. I used to hear the odd thing on Radio 4, or an article in the Sunday papers and I always thought what a good idea it was – but it was just a thought.

Anyway, fast forward umpteen years, and on marriage number 2 and at the grand age of 37, I give birth to my first son, Rupert. I now live in London with my husband Tony, who is a musician, and we have a great lifestyle. We’re both based at home and we both do work that we find really interesting and satisfying. As I was working, I never really considered home education as I thought that I didn’t have the time, and as we were really keen for our children (we now have Angus as well) to have the best education on offer, we opted into the private system – the state system in Haringey is pretty dreadful. Initially he went to a little pre-school group around the corner which he seemed to like, but as we were committed to him going into the private system, he had to start at a ‘proper’ nursery attached to a pre-prep.

So, come the September, he went off to ‘school’, although still only 2 ¾ years old. Nothing really went ‘wrong’, and I can’t criticise the school in any particular way, but it was a slow realisation that we were going in the wrong direction – we felt like we’d run to catch a train, and now we were sitting on it, we didn’t like where it was going, or the other people on it. Rupert didn’t hate it, but it didn’t particularly like it either. I think the catalyst for our decision was having to look at schools that he would go to when he was 7 (you have to look at other schools incredibly early in the private system). These schools just seemed so detached from reality – a call back to the Empire or something, and the parents were caricatures of snooty middle-class people – think Margot and Gerry (with bells on!) My Eureka moment, came when I was at an awards ceremony and got chatting to Janey Lee Grace who is a Radio 2 DJ – she was heavily pregnant with her fourth child. The topic of education came up, and I was rolling my eyes about school fees and so on, and she just said, ‘Oh no, I educate mine at home – it’s sooo much better.”

It wasn’t the fact that she was educating at home that really struck me, it was the fact that she was this trendy 40-something working woman with a brood of children who was managing to fit it all in. I didn’t think that I would be able to do it, but once I heard about someone else doing it, that was it! I phoned Tony from the awards ceremony, he agreed and that was that really! And once we’d worked out how long we’d be spending on the school run and so on, we figured out that HE would be right up our street. Not to mention the fact that there is an HE club five minutes walk from our house, which fifty, yes fifty, children attend. The more we find out about it, the more enthusiastic we are becoming – the amount of material available for home ed families, not to mention the support, is truly amazing.

It was great not having to send him off to school in the morning (definitely a bonus for our lifestyle too – being a musician household, we’re not renowned for our early starts, and we were dreading the day when our lovely relaxed morning routine would be broken by the dash out of the door to sit in a traffic jam at 8.15 in the morning.)

So, we have taken the first step. Rupert is thriving at home with piles of books, watching documentaries, and looking up stuff up the ‘pootier’ as he calls my computer! We’ll let you know how we’re getting on.

How downshifting benefits your health and wellbeing.

The article below is reprinted with permission by Sally Lever and is taken from her excellent newsletter on downshifting and healthy/simple living "Fruitful"
I highly recommend subscribing to Sally's newsletter. To subscribe, please send a blank e-mail to

© Sally Lever

About 17 years ago, I consulted a Complementary Therapist for the first time. I had decided to take a different route and try out what was for me an unknown and unexplored alternative to the conventional medicine I had always relied on in the past. Why? Because I was pregnant for the first time, suffering chronic morning sickness (of the “all day” variety) and unwilling to risk harming my baby by taking conventional drugs. This experience was to be a revelation for me and my introduction to a totally new way of viewing my own health and wellbeing, as well as that of my child.

Priorities and values

Suddenly, with the prospect of being responsible for someone else’s life, my priorities had changed. No longer did my health come second to my availability to work and earn money. Some would say that my behaviour was a natural reaction to surging hormones – nature taking over and asserting itself. I prefer to see it, with hindsight anyway, as the start of a shift in my priorities and values.

When we choose to prioritise our quality of life above our standard of living, magical things can happen with respect to how we treat ourselves. For most who downshift, improving health and wellbeing take a driving seat, often where it has previously been denied or ignored. And for those who are forcibly downshifted through ill health, this change in circumstances can be very challenging indeed. For those who take the route of voluntary simplicity and decide of their own accord to slow down their pace of life and reduce their stress levels, miraculously, it seems, health issues suddenly seem to become less of a problem. How does this happen?

Trading money for time.

The answer is very simple. Downshifting involves deciding to accept a lower level of income in return for more time to spend as we want to spend it. In order to practice preventive medicine and optimise our health and wellbeing, time is exactly what is needed.

Spending more time on ourselves benefits our nutrition. Real food, home cooked, is higher in nutrients, lower in harmful additives and costs less than convenience food in money terms. Growing and preparing food can also be an enjoyable experience for many, rather than just a means to an end. Thus, the process of looking after ourselves in itself becomes a stress-relieving activity.

By reducing our stress levels, we strengthen our immune systems and are therefore less likely to succumb to infection or contract stress-induced chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, depression, chronic fatigue states or diabetes.

When we spend more time on self-care, we are more likely to find a form of exercise that suits us and that we find enjoyable.

When we are ill, time gives us the opportunity to explore the options with respect to treating the illness. We can choose to take a more holistic approach through diet, exercise and rest, alternative or conventional therapy or lifestyle changes.

During the pregnancy that I mentioned above, one thing I came to realise was how incompetent I was as a patient! I was so lacking in self-awareness that I didn’t have the first idea how to answer my homeopath’s questions. Ok, to be fair to me, they did seem to be rather odd questions, like “How do you feel in a thunderstorm?” What on earth did that have to do with how long I could keep a meal down? I got impatient with her and wanted a quick fix, when really what was needed was my cooperation and thoughtfulness. Often I felt like cutting out the middle man and just throwing my carefully prepared platefuls of food straight down the toilet! I was afraid that I would not cope with the situation and that my baby would not survive. My anger soon dissipated when I realised the homeopathy was working and I was starting to benefit from giving myself time to be more self-aware rather than fighting my affliction or denying it existed.

What other aspects of downshifting are beneficial to our health and wellbeing?

Trading an unhealthy environment for a healthier one.

One of the parts of our lives that we attempt to optimise when downshifting is the way in which we earn a living. Hopefully we will take steps to modify our employment to suit our values and minimise stress levels. Looking at our working environment can be part of this. What effect does working in an air conditioned office have on our well-being? What about fluorescent lighting, noise levels, access to sunlight, fresh air and water? Trading an unhealthy environment for a healthier one can benefit our wellbeing by reducing the physical stresses we have to endure and by bringing us into contact with fewer infections.

Reclaiming the responsibility

In my experience, many downshifters discover during the process of changing their lifestyle that they feel more able to accept responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. They learn to face up to the challenges of making self-care a priority.

One of the advantages of working from home (and home educating) that I’m personally very grateful for is that when I or my sons are ill, there’s noone putting pressure on us to return to work or school. When we need to rest, wrap up warm, take extra fluids or get more fresh air, we can adapt our day to incorporate this and recuperate in our own time.

Ultimately, it’s not up to our GPs, our bosses, our family or anyone else to keep us well. It’s up to us.

Copyright Sally Lever

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Climate Change Health Impacts in Australia

I am rarely political in my homeschooling musings, however I am enthused by the actions of a new political web presence in Australia you may have heard of - Get Up! It may not be everyone's cup of tea and has certainly drawn criticism from some quarters, and I definitely don't agree with all the political commentary or the thrust of each campaign, nor will I into the future, but I like to keep up with postings on their blog

Prompted by a request to protest Preventative Detention, I checked the blog and found information on Climate Change Health Impacts in Australia. The blog pointed to the full report,, which I promptly printed on recycled paper to read later, and to a news article with quotes by Ian Lowe, a scientist and commentator I have great respect for.

As home educators, the future health of our children, and our nation, is of utmost importance. What's the point of educating and bringing up these kids with such dedicated care if we're not looking after the environment they will live in? Information, I'm told, is power. When we're informed we're able to make decisions that can protect ourselves and our children. There is so much happening that heralds doom and gloom I'm often tempted to turn my head and look the other way. Burying myself in busy work is one way I stop myself from feeling totally overwhelmed. However, this let's my children, and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren I may one day enjoy, down. I can't allow my fear and apathy to have such devastating effects on their future.

Home educators face discrimination and inequity every day, and most of us accept those disadvantages, as well as lower incomes, as the price we pay to enjoy the freedom to educate our children at home, protected from the haphazard and diffident school education system. We don't have a lot of time to pursue to interests beyond the home and local community. It doesn't surprise me, though, that home educators are often very politically active about issues that are dear to their hearts, and that most of these issues relate to building a better, sustainable and more caring world.

Basing life around the welfare and education of children naturally creates aware, sensitive and caring community members.

Take a look at Get Up! and join their mailing list, if it's something that you'd like to introduce into your homeschooling learning programs. Even if you don't agree with the politics, the topics raise interesting and important issues of national importance for discussion with your children, especially adolescents.

If you have a favourite blog that brings awareness about important issues we need to consider as parents and educators, please bring it to my attention by posting a comment below.

© Beverley Paine

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Answering "Why aren't you at school?"

What do you reply when you or your child(ren) are asked:
"Why aren't you at school?" or "You're not in school today?" or "Which school do you go to?"

We live in the outskirts of a small country town on the Atherton Tablelands, Qld, where everyone knows everyone (or so it would seem). We have always been a homeschooling family. Our children are aged 16, 13 and 11 years old. When we first started, we were the only homeschooling family in the area. Nowadays there are dozens of families homeschooling in this area.

When the children were little and people asked why they weren't at school, the children used to shyly answer that they were homeschoolers and then pass over to me to say anything more. Right from the start, I was keen to
tell people that we were homeschoolers and the responses we received were always very positive. There were many different responses: "You're so brave. I couldn't do that!" "Can you do that?" "How can you do that?" "Why would you want to do that?" "What will you do if they want to go to university?" "How will they get a job?" "Of course you can do that, you are a teacher." etc.

I answered questions easily and used my feelings about the questions and answers as a barometer, to show me where I felt insecure or confident.

A couple of days ago the 16 year old was asked the question and I was tickled pink to hear her reply with confidence that she is and always has been a homeschooler. She was able to answer the questions herself, happily, with confidence and with experience. It feels good to be at the other end of the 'tunnel' and to see that what I dreamed to be possible for our family, really has come true.

Grace Chapman.


Monday, August 01, 2005

A Current Affair - News... or Roadtesting Products?

I'm not a regular watcher of A Current Affair, put off by the blatant promotion of products and all too often aggressive reporting style. I wasn't surprised to find this little gem at the bottom of TVs A Current Affair website - it confirms that this program is definitely NOT a NEWS program:

"Would you like to appear on ACA? Simply tell us a little bit about yourself and we'll let you know when we're looking for extras or people to roadtest products!"

I remember when ACA was a current affairs program, reporting on local news and providing background information to many stories presented more briefly in the News. It like the internet now - hard to tell fact from fiction or opinion. In a study done in Australia about consumer's perception of advertising, advertising is said to be more trustworthy because there is no hidden agenda as there can be with news media and politicians.

A recent survey by the research organisation Ipsos Australia unearthed signs of growing scepticism about matters far more serious than advertising: 63 per cent of survey respondents agreed that "I don't trust news and current affairs programs as much as I once did".
Hugh Mackay, Advertising as the real thing
Fairfax Digital, January 3, 2004

I'm not sure if I fall into to growing group of people falling prey to such scepticism, which paradoxically, contributes to a more sympathetic attitude to advertising, but I know that when I'm interested in a product, I'm put off by the kind of fake 'news' reports paraded by programs like ACA. Give me an honest, well-constructed advertsising campaign any day. But what works best? I suspect that the current affair 'ads' win the ever-increasing competitive battle for our dollars.

As Mackay asserts in his article, advertising is a cleaner industry than it used to be, with regulations providing protection against false, misleading or exaggerated claims. Plus, I belong to the growing crowd of remote control freaks that don't hesitate to hit the "mute" button or change channels when confronted by ads I find offensive or patronising - like Mackay says, I "simply won't give them space in my mind". But I'm much less likely to tune out or away from a personal interest story that's been cleverly designed to hook and hold my interest. We all know that ads are geared to manipulate our emotions and thus sell us whatever they're designed to do, but how many of us know that these so-called "current affairs" programs are covertly doing the same?

Surely programs such as "A Current Affair" would be more suitably named "A Consumer Affair".

© Beverley Paine

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Read This!

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro.

Read the article:

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Procrastination – Fear of the Unknown

Welcome to the new year. How are you going so far? Got so many new things you want to do that you are overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin? Haven’t mounted the horse yet? Or, have you dived into your new year resolutions and projects and are gasping for air because you’ve taken on so much? Only got a hold of the galloping horse’s tail? Or are you riding the horse, enjoying the rush of wind on your face?

This is the time of year that can be painful for the procrastinator. If you are having difficulty making decisions that require you to do things that you don’t normally do (like whether to homeschool or not) perhaps the following quote, placed on your mirror will help you.

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.
Patanjali (c. 1st to 3rd century BC)

Or perhaps this one does more for you…

To escape criticism—do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.
E. Hubbard

Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing isn’t it? It can be paralysing. Yet it’s opposite, Love, is equally as powerful and is likely to bring about more of your preferences.

© Grace Chapman.

Living with Depression

The most revolutionary act one can commit in this world is to be happy.
Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams

The past three months have certainly seen many fast moving events changing many people’s lives in different ways. I figure it’s part of the evolution of our way of life on this planet and imagine that life as we know it is going to become more shaky as time moves on. In relation to education in particular, I guess conditions in institutions ie schools will become more extreme. Although this will be uncomfortable for many, it will make it easier to implement the very necessary changes to the way we educate our children en masse. My daily prayer is that each of us will have the faith to follow our hearts with clarity and trust.

My own time has been spent being very inward as I miscarried early in September, at three months, then eight weeks later I urgently needed a curette which I trust has placed me on the path of recovery.

Emotionally, the miscarriage led me to feel many energy draining emotions again—sense of loss, sense of failure, confusion, fear, resentment, bitterness and disheartened. My heart felt too flat to want to look after anyone, including myself. To all the ladies I know who are excitedly awaiting the arrival of their babies … please don’t think you can’t share your excitement with me. Now more than ever, I love to hear other women’s expressions of how they are feeling.

In late September we explored the north west of Queensland. Lawn Hill National Park was our ultimate destination. We were only there for 24 hours when we were asked to leave because a bushfire was raging down the gorge! There hadn’t been a fire of such a size for 2 years! We were there long enough to explore the gorge by canoe for a few hours one morning. We also managed to walk through the forest. Now that was a beautiful experience. I’ve never walked through such a forest before. The trees are so old and so different from the tropical rainforests that I’m used to. The feeling of being in that forest touched my heart very deeply.

The Gregory River is a wonderful haven to camp alongside. It is such a contrast to the surrounding hot, dry country. The five of us enjoyed our selves very much in different ways—fishing and putting the fish back into the water, canoeing, sketching, making music, reading, eating and chatting with the locals and (for me, wallowing in long bouts of silence).

Our time away from home provided the opportunity for me to explore my strong, dark feelings and I allowed them to dominate my actions. What a brave family I have! They weren’t comfortable with the way I was behaving yet all I could see reflected in their eyes was their Love for me.

By the time we arrived back home I felt a strong sense of appreciation—for our cool, wet environment [how wonderful to feel soft green grass beneath my feet] - for familiar friends—for family. I still wasn’t at my optimum level of good health but I was ambling along, doing what ‘had’ to be done. Routines were established—daily reading together (mainly me reading out loud) chores, daily listening to or making music. I set to work with collating Stepping Stones, tending to the vegie garden, running the house, helping in the office (Our business is designing and installing alternative power systems.), doing an occasional day as relief teacher and being with the children. Any form of guided language or math study with the children was nonexistent. They weren’t missing it and I was too flat to push it. Therein lies the beauty of home based learning. While our family was experiencing many unexpected challenges [financially, physically and emotionally], the individual needs— emotionally, physically and mentally—were still being met. The children’s lessons were first hand experience with life—problem solving where a great deal of emotion was involved. They heard Dad and I sharing our fears, they heard and felt my feelings of depression—and they saw us acting not as victims but as people who take responsibility for shaping their lives.

It was an opportunity for me to review some of my beliefs. (I was even wondering… What is a value? Sometimes I think I’d just rather be a ti-tree! They grow, they have a beautiful scent and shape, they flower, provide shade and shelter… a tree just knows how to be!) Here are some of my beliefs about life..

* I am responsible for shaping my life.

* Life is beautiful. Life is simple, not always easy but it is meant to be simple.

* Look for the blessing in any situation/ make lemonade out of lemons!

* Acknowledge my feelings at all times and choose to ride with the feelings that serve me best. It’s OK to feel anger, hurt, sadness, jealousy, fear etc.

* If I don’t like the way that things are looking, then look through a different window. For each person in this world there is a unique way of looking at things. Choose the window that serves me best.

* It is possible to feel joy at any given moment. Sometimes I just have to stretch deeper inside myself to feel it. That isn’t always easy but it is simple.

* Love is my foundation.

One very special fact I have been reminded of through first hand experience is that the virtues of Kindness, Love, Gentleness andPatience, are very powerful medicine. I am eternally grateful to my parents, family and friends who helped me see and feel this in many different ways.

Towards the end of my acute recovery time I read a lot of novels. (Dirran loved this period of time. Whenever he came romping onto my bed with a book, he knew I’d be happy to read it with him. It was a very close time for us.) Anyway, I couldn’t read so many novels without sharing some of the more impressive ones with you. Reading novels leads me to process so many of my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I am especially drawn to books from the young adult fiction shelves.

I wonder what Summer will bring? Cyclones? Floods? Snow? (not likely up here) Watermelon! Mangoes! Swimming in the river! Lots of smiles and compassion, love, always love...

© Grace Chapman.

How do you view your world?

To live is to change;

to be perfect is to have changed often.

Perspective. How do you see your world most of the time? Is it full of burdens or challenges? Do you see challenges/difficulties as opportunities for growth? Growth of what? The heart—not the physical heart but the storehouse of love, peace and joy. Do you see the child who is behaving radically different or difficult as a burden, or as an opportunity for you to stretch your way of being?

What an eventful three months! It seems disasters, crises and challenges are falling thick and fast. Generally speaking from what I have seen, many are having the ‘rug pulled out from under their feet’ - providing the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. I send my love to all of you—especially those who are focusing their efforts on recovering and rebuilding their lives following any disaster/crisis/challenge.

We have not escaped the stormy seas —Amongst other things, I miscarried at three months, Nick’s job almost disappeared and it seemed that no one wanted to install solar power systems but I say that we’ve ridden the stormy seas and are now on calmer waters. I am grateful to the many friends who offered me kind words of comfort and understanding when they learned of the miscarriage. I didn’t think I would sink as low as I did - but there’s no accounting for the power of hormones, feelings, and ‘lost’ dreams. I am eternally grateful to my Mother and Father who rearranged their lives to give me the time and space I needed to recover mentally, physically and emotionally. Just thinking about the love and compassion that I received ~ and know that people have for each other ~ overwhelms and excites me!

I speak with many people who are worried that they might not be doing the best thing for their children. I know that feeling well. I lived with it for the first few years of being home based learners, even though I ‘knew’ I had made the best choice for our family. It was the choice that reflected our values but once the decision was made there was still an underlying sense of doubt. Not anymore though. If there is one thing I could give to families just starting out as home based learners, it would be to encourage you to know what you value and make the choices that reflect those values. That goes for people who enrol in schools too, as well as for families who have been home based learners for a while. Save yourself the sleeplessness and agony of being unsure. Whatever you choose to do, do it with joyfulness. Joy comes from doing what we know is right. When we are joyous, then hurts don’t hurt so much and happy times last longer. Joy helps you to do your best and doing your best leads you to feeling joyous!

Joyously. Passionately. Without reservations. That’s how we are meant to live our lives so once you’ve made a decision on you’re approach to home based learning, do it without reservation. That doesn’t mean you won’t see any trains coming your way nor will you do it with any lesser degree of excellence. Change your approach when you see the need to do so. If lots of ‘distractions’ are coming your way, then embrace them without worry about what ‘schooling’ the kids are missing out on. Life, what happens in your family, is your child’s greatest education. The distractions could be an opportunity for you to find out what you value. Prioritise. Choose to do what best reflects your values—and don’t look back! We’ve got all the time we need and I believe that if we live our lives joyously, without holding on to worry or guilt to drain our energy, then we really will do all the things that are important to us. And we will see more of the golden opportunities that always surround us.

A friend pointed out that now is a good time for family discussions on consumerism, advertising etc. Why now? Well the Harry Potter movie has been released, right on Christmas time and look at the paraphernalia that is on sale. It’s a prime example showing how advertising and consumerism go hand in hand. Now, as at Easter, is also timely for respectfully discussing differences in religious practices.

At this time of year, when the accent is on the spirit of unity, goodwill, generosity, giving and receiving, I wish you Joy, Peace and Well-being.

IN appreciation of the individuals who have contributed to the informative and inspiring content of this and every other issue of “Stepping Stones” (SSHED), I leave you with this powerful quote from Cardinal Henry Newman, cited in Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet. p7

© Grace Chapman.

Our Routines Change with our Growth

You may be only one person in the world
but you may be the world to one person.

Routines have changed in our home in the past three months. I still class us as learning naturally but because of the older children’s interest in learning how to do multiplication of larger numbers, I found a few resources which we are still working with. I mentioned them in the previous issue. One was Bill Handley’s Teach your Children tables and the other was Don Tolman’s “Develop Your Mental Muscles” and “Think Fast”.

With the children’s willingness, here’s what we’re doing three/four days a week. We start as early as the children are ready and that’s usually around 8.00 am with Music playing. They alternate which instrument they will play, either piano or violin. Each of them is working at their own pace and I help them with learning a new tune or I just be an audience. My role is determined by their request.

Sometimes they’re reluctant to get started too! A firm but gentle push from me is sometimes required. Once they get going they enjoy themselves. If it really looks like the energy is just not there I let things go. Many times it’s happened , for example, that the middle child has thought a song he’s chosen is too difficult to learn and so he was reluctant to continue. Provided I stay with him and help him over the hurdles, he persists and completes the task with a wonderful sense of pleasure. I can hear it in his voice and see it in his whole body posture.

As each of them completes their music playing they move to the table where we do some play with numbers. The study of multiplication has progressed to other areas, especially the study of number patterns. These lessons are sometimes only twenty minutes long— just as long as it takes to cover the topic. Sometimes we’re there for a couple of hours! It all depends on the level of interest.

The Tolman books are inspiring and easy to follow. We’ve been learning ways to develop our memory. The children have been enjoying being able to recall the order of a pack of cards. They met with instant success on this one. I think I’ll always remember the look of dismay on their faces when they hear themselves rattle off the order of the cards. When we return our focus to these exercises, we’ll be learning more memory skills. Like anything though, success doesn’t just come in a fruit that you peel and consume. It all takes focus, is fun and simple, but requires persistence if you want to get to the goal.

Back to reflecting on our number lessons together… I think the greatest joy from working together has been the fun of counting out loud. We count in twos, in fours, in eights—noticing that eight is double four, is double two. And we count in threes and sixes and nines. Then there’s counting in fives and tens and nines. Once you get going you’ll see how much discussion is generated from the excitement of discovering patterns. And those of you who have done this sort of thing either formally or informally will know just how much I can’t put into words.

Still, none of these sessions is as popular as just letting the children do their own thing. I believe these sorts of discoveries would still be made through the child’s meanderings through life, but I have been too impatient to wait for them…. I wanted to see myself leading the children through the pleasure of numbers. Especially in their younger years, I’ve often noticed the children contemplating numbers and they love to share their discoveries with me.

The only constant is change! I believe it! I began writing this column 6 weeks ago, describing the new routine that our family had fallen into… It’s changed again. The music playing is still in effect—especially since we’ve tuned and repaired the piano, but no-one is keen to be doing any regular bookwork under my direction. They’re still doing puzzles, reading, playing with numbers and much more besides—but I’m not the driving force behind any of their activities. We’re still reading together every day—novels, comics, reference books, magazines etc. There are cubbies to be made deep in the forest, piglets to chase, dolls clothes to sew, doll’s furniture to build, trees to climb and trees to water.

Spring is in the air. There’s lots of cow manure to collect and spread around the fruit trees and vegies. Here’s to mulberry stained faces!

© Grace Chapman.

The Importance of Networking

Recently I had the pleasure of a long conversation with a friend (Rose) whom I haven’t seen in years. Her children range in age from 18 to 5 and she was sharing with me the difficulties they had with the eldest daughter when she was in her final year at high school. (All of their children have a ‘school’ history.) Rose’s family was known as the ‘stick- in -the- muds’, the ones who were strict and different from the rest because they did things together, as a family. In her final year of high school, Rose’s eldest daughter, Kate wanted to be ‘like the rest’. She wanted to go to the parties she hadn’t been allowed to go to. Even though it was well known that the young people at the parties were bent on using alcohol and drugs and sex for entertainment.

Eventually the parents compromised their own values and allowed Kate to attend a couple of selected parties, with a certain degree of supervision. Events and consequences were far from pleasant for her and for her parents. All the things they feared would happen, did, leading the parents and daughter to much confusion and heartache, and in different directions.

The focus of our conversation turned to what could be done about the whole social scene for teenagers in the community. Why does the graduation ceremony have to be followed by a party in which up to a thousand dollars worth of alcohol is consumed and the girls bent on ‘losing their virginity’ if they haven’t already done so? There are many questions we couldn’t answer but we decided that one thing we could do, was to eyeball as many young people when in town, taking an interest in them.

Rose also pointed out that we have playgroups and nursing mothers and tons of other support groups for early childhood but once parenting reaches adolescence, the support network is largely lacking. People don’t talk about the issues rising sexuality nor the questioning of authority. These, it seems, you don’t talk about in public! When she was openly discussing the problems her family was facing, people were surprised that she spoke in such detail. Why? When this is all yet another stage of growth for humans. The reason the parents compromised their values is because they felt isolated and began questioning their own values, replacing them with something less than they were comfortable with.

Some time ago a teenager told me she wished more people would talk about being a teenager and parenting teenagers in Stepping Stones. She wanted to know what other people are thinking and doing. My response at the time was a shy one, something like, “Oh, people don’t like to talk about those sorts of things. It’s awkward. We’d better not go there.” But after talking with Rose, I wonder why not? Why are we more shy to discuss challenges we have with parenting teenagers? When a two year old has tantrums, we talk about it. When a young teenager has tantrums, do we talk about it? Perhaps we are afraid of being judged as failures? We are in the process of turning our society from a judging one to a feeling one.

In case you wonder whether or not what you share with others in relation to home based learning is valuable to someone, wonder no longer. You’ve seen what variety has been published in the past—personal accounts, practical tips, resource lists, reviews, insights, etc —they’ve all counted for something in someone’s life.

© Grace Chapman.

The children were writing out an invoice for some work they’d done. They had to find 15 lots of $3.50. They couldn’t do it. I showed them how I would do it on paper. Nick showed them his way. The children followed our steps but I could see that they still hadn’t understood the procedure. (That is, they wouldn’t be able to do it on their own.) That’s no worry because I don’t expect mastery straight away— 12 year old has been shown examples of multiplication before this. The children were happy enough to have an answer so that they could get on with other things.

I slept on this and woke with an idea. I would show the children, physically, what I understand about place value– eventually arriving at two digit multiplications like the given example. (They understand that multiplication is addition and can do simple multiplications like 7x 89 in their heads.)

I invited the children to hear me tell a story about numbers. I asked them to gather large and small rocks, shells and coral from their vast collection.

I drew a picture of a house and called it the House of Ones. I asked the children to put the pebbles into groups of 10. I then went off on a tangent, showing how these could be recorded using tally marks—they were excited by this and so we played with Roman numerals for a while. That was a major distraction of excitement. We saw how the X is made from two Vs .. We saw many things. Time for a glass of water and a promise to return to Roman numerals another day.

Back to our clusters of ten pebbles, I went on with the ‘story’. ( I really can’t repeat the story—I just bungled along, took lots of slow breaths, trusting that the words would come - being careful not to judge my performance but rather just to enjoy it.) When the ones become a cluster of ten, they have to move into a new house, the House of Tens. (This makes me think of the three little pigs who had to move on, it makes me think of our own children, who once they have amassed enough knowledge, experience etc, move on from familiar houses.) We swapped each cluster of ten for a scallop shell. The scallop shells were gathered into groups of ten and moved on to the new house, the House of Hundreds. They became pieces of coral, then onto the House of Thousands where they became big rocks.

At this stage, everyone was still actively involved and enjoying the pattern. As much as possible, I made sure the younger ones were actively involved in moving the pieces around.

We then played a game of placing pieces in the houses and reading the number. I said things like, “I’m thinking of a number that has 8 ones, 3 tens, no hundreds and 7 thousands.” I then took them one step further— “Given the number 7 038, add on 2 tens. Now add on 7 ones” etc. At this stage, we were still manipulating the pieces. I could see that the two eldest were calculating the answers in their heads but were still enjoying manipulating the pieces and racing each other. Seven year old was losing interest but I didn’t call for her attention, aware that she was still absorbing what we were doing. She was playing a quiet game with her own collection of pieces.

We then went on to removing pieces—subtraction. (By now 7 year old was saying, “I can’t do this”… My response was to smile and add that she couldn’t do this ‘yet’ and reminded her that her mind was still absorbing what we were doing. I wanted her to know that I had no expectation of her achievements.) I went one step further and showed how I would record these actions. The children could see very easily what is really happening when they are subtracting or adding and carrying and borrowing from houses. We’d had enough. Time for a drink of water.

Twelve year old hung around. She wanted to see how this could work with money. We went on together for another quarter hour or so—working around the original question of 15 x $3.50.

As I’m writing this account, 24 hours later, what remains with me is the pleasure we had together. We took time to laugh at jokes ( there are lots of them when 9 year old son is around). We went off on tangents, we ‘went with the flow’. We placed no judgement on anyone’s performance. I know there will be many more such times.

I’m sure this sort of thing happens in lots of homes. If my account has served to help someone appreciate what they are doing, or if it has inspired someone to share what they do, then my mission is accomplished. Can we ever really grasp the full effect of our actions?

The greatness of teachers is measured
not by how much they know
but by how much they share.

Rev. Jesse Jackson

© Grace Chapman.


I recall bedtime with our first born. Life was different then. We’d spend an hour in bed together, singing songs and nursery rhymes we knew, making up songs, telling stories, reading stories, playing games and eventually drifting into sleep. When our second child was born I still did all that – but not quite as often. I had a left and a right side so that each child could still snuggle in close to Mum. I didn’t always lead the singing – sometimes I was tired enough to just let the eldest child lead the singing and often she sang us to sleep.

With the third child, life is much fuller and by the end of the day, I still tuck them in to bed, but singing songs and telling stories is sooo much harder, less frequent. Sometimes I’m so tired that I don’t even want to speak! Actually, it isn’t the singing and storytelling that is difficult, once we start they are quite refreshing. It’s feeling like it that is so hard. Lying on the bed with them, feeling the engulfing tiredness, it’s as if I can’t find one creative thread to inspire me to tell a story – especially one that is energetic, exciting and adventurous. Thankfully our eldest is usually ready to share one of her stories. Also, I realise, that it’s OK for me to take a back seat. They tell the stories through their conversation. As they’re nestling into bed, they say what comes to mind and the gentle chitter chatter of conversation leads them to a peaceful entry into sleep.

However, I’ve discovered a storytelling technique that truly does inspire and refresh me and satisfies the children – as well as being in alignment with my values. Here’s an example of what works for me…

I’ll begin with, “Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lived a …..” And in that pause, one of the children readily volunteers an object. If all three of them suggest something, I use all three! It doesn’t matter – it’s a story – and you can do anything with stories. I’ll then lead to brief descriptions of each of the objects. For example, “Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lived a horse. That horse’s name was … “Pooh.” (Accompanied by mischievous giggles. There is no editing of these stories. We accept what is offered, not necessarily agreeing with it but still accepting.)

“Pooh was the colour of …purple (giggles!) and chestnut. He lived most of his days in a fenced paddock, eating grass and being a horse. When it rained, he … climbed a tree (giggle at the visuals ) or stood in the paddock with his back to the wind and rain. Pooh had a companion that would often stand on his back, also feeling the wind, the sun and the rain. It was a willy wag tail. Little Willy would stand on Pooh’s back, wagging his tail, picking at insects that lived in Pooh’s mane, and doing whatever else it is that wag tails do. At other times, Little Willy stood at Pooh’s feet. They were companions, they didn’t try to be. They just were.

Little Willy became mates with a girl wag tail. Together they built a nest in the tree in the paddock. They chose a spot that was far out on a branch, away from snakes searching for eggs, but under cover of branches, to shelter them from the wind and rain, and to shelter them from currawongs or other birds that might prey on their eggs. They collected small twigs, .. dry grass, … hair from Pooh’s mane, feathers, fluff from thistles.

When they’d built a sturdy nest, the little girl bird laid two eggs. The eggs were the size of the tip of your big toe. She sat over those eggs, keeping them warm and dry. Little Willy shared sitting over the eggs too. They each were able to collect food for themselves and to feel the sun, the wind and the rain, as well as sitting on Pooh’s back or standing at Pooh’s feet.

Eventually the shells of the eggs became thinner, as the birds inside grew bigger. One day there was a tap, tap, tapping sound from inside the eggs. The hatchlings were making their way out. They were ready to see the outer world. When they came out, they were wet and floppy. They couldn’t hold their heads up. With every breath, their skin became drier and their bodies stronger. Their bodies became covered in feathers. All the while, Little Willy and his mate fed the little birds until they were strong enough to fly and feed themselves. ….And that’s the end of the story.

What I basically do is frame the stories around cycles of life. Examples of this are endless! As I tell the story I feel myself using all of my senses, imagining how things feel. As I describe how a seedling grows up toward the sun, I imagine myself feeling the warmth of the light and I feel my body moving. I feel the roots moving through the soil. I can smell the earth. I feel the footfalls of an ant along my stalk. All of this imagining and feeling isn’t there when I first begin telling the story. I’m tired remember. All I want to do is be in my own quiet space, but somehow, as we progress through the story, the visualization nourishes me, allowing the thoughts of the day to be replaced by an understanding of how truly wonderful life is.

Just wondering….
If Industrialism removed the man from the house, Schools removed the children from the house and Feminism removed the woman from the house, will Technology make home based learning easier and thus help the family return to the home?

© Grace Chapman.

What is Life Without School Like?

We don’t set aside time for lessons. That’s what suits us best for now (I believe it is the right of every family to do what suits them best. Each family is as unique as the individuals in that family.) Things might change but for now it enables us to live in peace and harmony, meeting the many fantastic challenges that a wholesome life can bring.

“What,” you might ask,” do you do all day long?” Our days are full. We each have our individual interests as well as shared interests. We follow our hearts desires. I understand that this is difficult for some people to fathom. This regular column written by myself is especially designed to help you imagine what life without school is like. It isn’t something that can be described in less than 500 words. Your questions are welcome.

A few weeks ago I did a day’s supply teaching. I hadn’t done so for eight years! The teachers on staff had heard I’m a home schooler and were keen to ask me questions. I was surprised by some of my responses as I realise they would differ from what I might have said five years ago.

One of the questions was, "If you’re not following a program, how can they (the children) keep up with the school curriculum?” My response, “I don’t value the curriculum in the way that I used to. If anything, ours is a values curriculum. The children are learning about themselves, the community and the world through their experiences. The skills of reading, writing, maths computations, etc are being learned through our daily living. They are still learning these things, but they are not our primary focus.”

The next comment to pop up is, “Well it’s alright for you to do it. You’re a teacher.” But no! I believe that anyone who chooses to be a home based learner is able to do so. Sure, it means a big difference in the way that people will do things, but I consider that to be an advantage. Imagine the different society we would have if the majority of people were living the way they believe is best for them rather than living the way they think they should live.

If our children were enrolled in a school, the eldest would be doing her last year of primary school. There’d be a certain level of excitement and anticipation as she mentally and emotionally prepares herself for the ‘leap’ into high school. The middle child would become our oldest child at the primary school and the youngest would be in her second year of primary school - and I would hardly ever be at home because I want to be with my young children.

We were able to enjoy sunny, dry weather for a week. It was almost enough time to dry out the lawn - but not quite! What a welcome relief the change in the weather was. We’ve discovered, through our son, that fungus and bacteria can grow on your fingernail - as well as the furniture- causing the nail to die! Ah! But things are never as devastating as they first seem. As a result of that nail gradually being separated from the finger, we watched the new nail slowly emerge. The timing of the process is amazing. The changeover took three months and never left him with a naked fingertip rich in nerve endings. We treated the finger with twice daily applications of tea-tree oil.

Easter time saw us camping alongside a river in the dry country for ten days. The children ventured out, sleeping under the stars each night and returning for food. We discovered that through osmosis, the children had learned to play Canasta (a card game). The only time we adults ever play is when we’re camping and the children drift in and out, sitting beside us, observing the game. This time, when they sat beside us, they were asking (in hushed tones) questions about how we played our hands. One day the older girls (10 11) asked us to help them play the game. All it took was one adult sitting with them, clarifying the rules and they were off. Within two days, they had also taught the 7 and 8 year olds the rules - and we had to race them to be able to play a game! The 4 and 6 year olds were also sitting at the table; welcome to join in the game whenever they were interested. No one was ever told, “You’ll have to wait until you’re older.”

I guess that’s one of the basic philosophies in our family. The children are welcome to join us in whatever we are doing. We don’t tell anyone that they’re too young to be able to do something. Each person is encouraged to experience things in their own way. It helps keep us all honest too! When I am in conversation with the children, I treat them as my friends rather than someone to be served or tolerated. Children have such a curiousity about their world that everything through their eyes is fresh and exciting. Look at how they can turn washing the dishes into such an opportunity for discovery and pleasure.

Have you ever monitored your every thought, word and action? It really does require tremendous effort, both mentally and physically. It can be quite disconcerting for those around you too. Suddenly you’re not responding in the way that they have grown accustomed to, you’re not making the same sort of jokes, you’re taking longer than usual to respond, you have less to say - because you’re busy monitoring what you’ve just said or done or felt. It’s worth the effort though! Each time I do it, I became aware of what my underlying thoughts and values are. I see how I am creating the circumstances in my life. I realise just how many judgements I make, unconsciously, in a day.

There is a certain amount of structure in our days. I find routine helps me achieve my goals yet at the same time, the routine allows alot of freedom. We all have daily household chores. Monday mornings are known as housecare day, other things fall on other days. We read together every day - purely for the pleasure of enjoying a story together. Sometimes we might read through a selected encyclopedia together, our attention being drawn by the illustrations. These past three months we’ve enjoyed Harry Potter by JK Rowling, Pigs Might Fly and High Valley by Colin Thiele (All highly recommended by us by the way.) amongst numerous other smaller books selected from the town library as well as our personal library.

The children have been collecting Yowies. They were inspired to make a Yowie Paradise out of paper mache. It took three months to complete, not because of the size or complexity, simply because they just worked on it when it occurred to them.-Usually they worked on it for a couple of days at a time, then nothing for weeks. But it’s ‘complete’ now, looking fabulous and in daily use.

I became involved in a community project - to make a love seat out of ferro cement and tile it with mosaic tiles. The eldest child has joined in too. The other two come along with us and play in the park, keeping a casual eye on what we’re doing. In between times, I grow vegies and put SSHED together. Ideally, I could set aside one day a week to develop its content and business even further but that doesn’t fit in with the constraints I’ve placed on myself for now. Soon that will change but that’s another story!

"We must be careful not to use every do-er's question as an excuse to turn life into School, to Teach a lesson, and then give a little quiz to make sure the lesson was learned. There is the old story of the child who asked her mother about something, and, when the mother suggested that she ask her father, said, "I don't want to know that much about it." And yet I do not mean that, if asked a question, we should answer once in a take-it-or-leave-it spirit and then say no more unless asked again. We need tact here. Whenever we talk to another person, child or adult, we must watch for signs that we are not being understood, so that we may try to make ourselves more clear. But we must also watch for signs from the questioner that whether he understands or not that he has heard enough and wants to let the matter drop." ~~~ John Holt

© Grace Chapman.

Standing on the Other Side of the Tunnel

When I first came to the decision not to send our firstborn to a school, I was relieved. Relieved that I would not have to part with my baby and allow someone else, a stranger and possibly not someone I would like, to become the role model in our child’s early life. Being occasionally separated from my young child for half a day was a welcome relief, but to be apart for 6 hours a day, five days a week for up to 10 weeks at a time, seemed preposterous.

Once I put my plan into action, I became nervous. Husband was happy to go along with my idea but what would the extended family say? I was acutely aware that I would be denying them the opportunity to go down a path that they had looked forward to for years – seeing their grandchildren move through school. Also, they had never contemplated life without schooling, even though their own school years were extremely brief. They saw school as a privelege providing opportunity for a good future. However, at the very core of me I believed that home based learning was going to be the greatest thing for the holistic growth of my family so it would be worthwhile risking the unhappiness of my extended family. The family members generally reserved their opinions and watched closely from the sideline, trusting in me, contributing in any way they could. What a wonderful gift!

We quickly evolved into a lifestyle that capitalised on every experience. Learning came through our relationships with each other and our environment. It still comes with every breath we take. By the time our eldest was thirteen, she was seeing differences between herself and friends who were now in high school. She began to wonder if she should be taking more control of her learning and began doing more deliberate studies through books. She wanted to study geography, anatomy and astronomy. She drew up a timetable to follow each day. The younger two were asked to write in a daily diary. I felt that their development through natural maths, science, music and literature was well catered for, but that their writing skills could be better developed. It’s interesting to note that we began to think about what ‘should’ be done and what the children ‘should’ be able to do. I began to see learning under subject headings again (as I did when I first left my position as a regular primary school teacher). They were growing older and perhaps I was becoming fearful for them. Fearful that they just might have missed out on learning something that would prepare them for the adult world. From where I sit now, I see that my decision and our young teenager’s decision could have been grounded in fear -fear of not achieving those ‘should’s.

Standing back a bit though, I see that my actions weren’t totally based on fear. My decision to get the children doing some sort of regular bookwork was so that they could become familiar with filling in forms and expressing themselves on paper. I was looking for a balance. Also, I must clarify, I don’t think bookwork is bad, especially not for those who love this sort of thing, but for the active character, it’s not so comfortable. I love book study, as long as I am not bound to it for too long.

Our eldest is now enrolled in an Italian course with NSW O-TEN and she is trying out the Kumon course to hone her basic bookwork skills in maths. She’s also taking formal lessons in music so that she can learn more about the theory and she continues to study classical ballet. At fifteen years of age, she spends about four hours a day doing study through books. I can see that this amount will reduce over time as she becomes more familiar with what she’s doing. Her choices have largely capitalised on her interests and natural talents in music, dance and performance.

The increased amount of bookwork this year has had quite an impact on our lives. In the first few weeks I had a very strong image of a bird having its wings clipped and being placed in a cage. It was awful. Our eldest was struggling with her apparent loss of freedom yet she had made these choices because that’s what she felt she should and could do. She was missing the usual time she spent dancing with her sister, playing with dolls, sewing clothes for dolls or for herself, playing outdoors and in the forest with her siblings and friends. There was little time leftover for daydreaming, drawing or reading for leisure. There was a growing sense of many duties to perform and little time left over to honour the free spirit. Taking the Australian Bottlebrush flower essence was appropriate at this time, to help her move through a major change in her life.

Several weeks have passed and the bookwork is much easier, being completed in less time. She is also seeing that everything she has chosen to study is well within her capabilities so that she is no longer threatened by what she doesn’t know. Timetables are being modified and she can feel her wings growing back.

What about other teenagers and young adults? One of the greatest rewards for publishing SSHED is that I have been friends with families across Australia for the past nine years. I’ve seen each family follow a different path, fashioned by that family’s preferences. I’ve observed how parents lovingly honour their children’s individuality, allowing for growth in any direction. Dozens of those families now have young teenagers or young adults in their early twenties. Those young people are leading full and active lives. Some have made choices that led them to consequences they wouldn’t ordinarily have chosen but with the support of their family, they have moved through the tunnel and gone on to be happy with their lot.

Some of the young teenagers enrolled in schools to attain high school certificates, some enrolled in correspondence courses to attain certificates and some never sought any certificates, preferring instead to add to their portfolios through whatever opportunities came their way. Their life skills continue to be fashioned by their relationships with their community. Most of them did some form of volunteer work.

When I reflect on this I see that we make our decisions depending on our personality traits. If we are the kind of person who likes to see what’s ahead and to see order in our lives, then we are likely to choose a path that is more structured. If we are the type of person who enjoys surprises and chaos, then we are more likely to be comfortable with a path that places no restrictions on our movements. It doesn’t make one way better than the other. Different intelligences thrive in different situations. That’s what makes our world so diverse. I can see a little bit of myself in everybody I meet! By leading our children to see this, we help them to accept themselves, as well as those who are different from them. I don’t agree with everyone but I can accept our differences.

Oh Yes! One other important thing I’ve noticed when canvassing different families is the relationships between teenagers and parents. Most of the mothers I’ve spoken with are enjoying friendly relationships with their teenagers and young adults. A few are not. Why do you think this would be so? I see that in each of those families one or both of the parents has had the time, space and energy to work through any arising conflicts with their children. I see that some were more flexible in their discipline than others, applying discipline according to the personality of the child rather than using a single approach for all children. I don’t have all the answers but I do like to ask the questions and consider possibilities.

With the benefit of personal and shared experiences from young adults, I would tell anyone who is contemplating home based learning to keep this in mind: If you choose to be a home based learner and can identify your goals, then you will most likely reach them. Home based learning works! Value what you are doing. What’s the big deal really? As parents, those of us who choose to assume the bulk of the responsibility for the holistic education of our children are doing what comes naturally. We are raising our children. Raising children is the most natural thing to do. Those of us who choose to learn outside the confines of a school are giving our children the freedom to learn about themselves as well as the ways of our society through direct involvement, not through simulation.

By choosing home based learning, we have made choices that do not fit in with the way that our society has become. It isn’t yet the most common choice made by families but with an increasing number of people questioning their lifestyles and wanting to strengthen their family relationships, I see that our society is being remodeled—slowly but surely.

From where I’m standing, I can see that our family is loving the benefits of free range, home based, self directed living. I might not have the best floor coverings in the world, but boy do I feel rich!

© Grace Chapman.

Cycles in Life

About a month ago, as I stood at the kitchen sink meditatively washing the dishes I saw how our family has lived through two full cycles. When our eldest was an infant, my life was full. It seemed there was not a moment for me to let out my breath. I was passionately observing and experiencing the growth of a human being—well three human beings really. The prime one was the toddler who was largely in my care, then there was the growth of myself through my new role as mother, then there was my mate and his growth in his new role as father and sole provider of food and luxuries for his family. Speaking only from my side of things, not to detract from my husband’s own sense of responsibilities, life was quite intense for me. I had yet to learn how to balance all facets of my life. I allowed myself to be totally occupied with my passion for our child. I was busy being and doing what I loved.

As time passed and we lived our lives to the fullest, we settled into routines that we could handle comfortably. A few more children were born, this magazine was born and many other life changing threads were woven into our tapestry.

At the time of writing this, our eldest is almost 15. She has moved from being the only bird in the nest to being the eldest of three. She’s learnt to step aside to allow space for her siblings. She can cook and prepare meals, clean up after herself, mend and sew clothes, is at peace with our natural surroundings, can handle herself in different social settings and so on. However, the past twelve months has seen a shift where her dependence on me has increased. This is where I see the cycle.

She’s reached a place within herself where she can see the world that extends beyond herself, her family, extended family and friends and local community. Now she wants to explore the wider world to see how she could fit. She also wants to delve into more abstract learning. It isn’t enough for her to be content with seizing opportunities that come her way and going with the flow. She wants to plan. She now wants to know about life for people in other countries; how animals, plants and people live and grow; she wants to know about those stars and planets that constantly embrace and mystify us; she wants to be able to do more than measure and compute. *² She wants to be able to dance more than just her own style, and so on. She wants to do all this—and more—with me by her side, as her fellow student. What an honour! And not so scary the second time around. [*² Wait a minute—that’s no different from the kinds of questions she’s been asking me since she could speak. How is it different? There is a difference. Nowadays she will voice her questions but will seek beyond my responses. She is using more than just the Parent Almanac, turning also to reference books and other sources.]

When she was first born, the responsibility of being her guiding light was sometimes scary—I didn’t know if I was the right person for the ‘job’. Nowadays I know that I am the best person for the ‘job’.

This latest shift has meant lots of reshuffling for me. It’s meant listing priorities, assessing how I spend my time and looking for ways to fit in my new role while not losing sight of a balance of my needs. Studies of other cultures is easy enough for her to do on her own—there are many brilliant documentaries and it’s easy to discuss her discoveries in conversations throughout the day. Studies of human anatomy are great for us to do together. I can see how my own values are still being stamped on her learning in this area. (For example, extolling the advantages of taking good care of our bodies, treating them as a temple.) Study of anatomy, or for any subject really, is quite dry when only a reference book is used as a source of information, but discussion brings it to life.

Without going into detail in the various areas she has chosen to study, I would say that my present role is to engage in intellectual exchange of interpretation and information in greater depth than I used to. I am still modelling my attitudes to challenges and to the unknown, but that is what she is asking for when she is asking me to be her study companion. She likes where I’m coming from. She trusts me to be honest and to show her as many different ways of seeing and doing things as possible. When she’s ready, I see that she will move into studying subjects or topics through such institutions as TAFE or Open Learning .

I forsee that in another seven years there will be another debut, this time venturing deeper into the wider world, on her own—and, comfortingly for me, with a solidarity and lightfootedness that comes from being allowed the time to get to know her self.

© Grace Chapman.

The Universe of Parenting

Recently a young friend who has been enjoying the past 9 months immensely since the birth of her first child, was upset because she’s not so happy anymore. Her friends don’t have babies and are talking about the advances they’re making in their careers and she’s just looking after her toddler. She’s wondering about her own career and her ability to earn money. Her partner is now returning to work because their funds are running low and she feels that she should be moving ‘out there’ into the workforce with him. She’s not so comfortable with just sitting back and letting someone else earn money on her behalf. She’s worked all her life to support herself.

There are so many issues to consider here and I don’t plan to cover all of them today. Perhaps you could follow up with your own response? . Let’s see if we come up with a similar list: What is a career? What’s so hard about being supported financially by a partner? Isn’t she also supporting her partner by caring for their child? What could be more important than effective, intelligent, parenting when there’s a child in the house? This is only one phase in the rest of her life.

My first response is to look closely at the role of parenting. This to me is the most important job in the world. It is up to me as a parent to sculpt the attitudes and habits of our children so that as adults they will live a life that has respect for themselves and all things. ‘Respect for themselves and all things’ - is putting it very simply yet is the underlying fact that will shape their thoughts and actions. I know how I want this world to be ideally and I live it within my own family and community as close to my beliefs as I can. I’m not going to leave this sculpting job to someone I don’t know so well!

The success of a sculpture comes from knowing the raw materials one is working with and having a vested interest in the end result. [ The analogy falls apart here because I believe that there is no end result with the shaping of a human being. If we choose to live with awareness then we are constantly evolving.] Who better than the conscious parent has access to and will use their intimate knowledge of the nature of themselves and their child to bring out the very best in themselves and their child?

Parenting does not have to be a thankless job that deadens the brain, robs us of our youth and drains the finances. If parenting can be done with intelligence and awareness, then it presents opportunities to study anything you choose but maybe not in the way you imagined. Effective parenting requires the blend of the use of the head and the heart. It can be done in isolation or in company, it can be done with a tight budget or with extravagance. The work place is anywhere the parent and child choose. For me, parenting has expanded my horizons beyond my dreams. There are some dreams that have been fulfilled in a way different from what I expected; there are some dreams that are still in the making and some dreams that I hadn’t even been aware of.

Parenting requires a stamina and fitness beyond no other job. It’s 24/7 for very close to forever. Everything about it is challenging and in the grand scheme of things it’s requirements change. To coin Barry Long¹, “Most adults have deep personal doubts, fears and insecurities arising from their own childhood. Very few know what life’s about. Ignorance abounds. Moodiness and worry are accepted as natural. Emotional manipulation of each other is the normal practice and the selfish right to be resentful, angry and unpleasant is exercised regularly, even with loved ones. No one can be joyous for long. The sorrows and hurts of the past soon rise up again; anxiety, self-doubt, guilt or depression quickly follow. Yet most of this emotional pain and suffering is unnecessary. It is self –made, the habit of it originating and persisting from the childhood years, mainly through lack of parental guidance and instruction.” ¹Raising Children in Love, Justice and Truth.

If one has the luxury to take on parenting as their main job, then there are many degrees of learning to be explored. Apart from the opportunity to explore the emotional, feeling world more closely, there’s the study of nutrition, time management, budgeting and any other subject that comes through the family members’ interests. The home is a universe. If one can juggle and perform at their highest standard with matters that come up through parenting, then one can handle anything in the wider world. Home is the platform.

My friend’s time at home with her child will not be wasted. When she comes out of this phase of her life, provided she lives it with intelligence and awareness*¹, she will have refined and developed numerous new and old skills that will see her well placed in anything she chooses to do in the wider world. [*¹ Such as continually assessing the needs of herself, her child and family, thinking and questioning lifestyles and roles such as that of mothers, fathers, children, work and play.]

Still, having passed through the period of parenting toddlers, I do acknowledge that there are many frustrations to be felt and worked through. There were many times when I wanted to be doing something other than playing in the sandpit with the two year old after having spent an hour of reading storybooks together, eating, cleaning up and singing beautiful nursery rhymes. Surely, after three hours of dedicated play and service to the toddler I could be allowed to be distracted by an interest that didn’t involve the toddler? But no … there were many days when I felt bound by the monotony, frustration and then the guilt. However, many older women often told me that it wouldn’t always be like that. Nothing stays the same and then you find yourself wishing you’d spent more time enjoying the moments. See the cycle in life, the bigger picture, the golden opportunities that are often hidden by our preconceptions and preoccupations. If I could have my time again, I would definitely make more space for myself and for my partner and myself together.

© Grace Chapman.