Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Archive for the ‘Homeschool’ Category

Dear Daughters, I am NOT proud of you …


Mama ain't Proud of you

There. I said it.

You got 98% for your spelling test? Well, sure. You’ve been drilling those words into your brain for a week. Should I be concerned about the fact you’ll probably never use the word “bipartisan” in a sentence again … at least for another twenty years? And that even then you probably won’t know what it means?


You got an A+.

That’s all that matters, right?

Well, I’ve a got a secret for you: I am not proud of you.

don’t think it was a good idea for you to skip break to “get ahead” in your English. And I definitely don’t admire your teacher for letting you do so.

(And don’t even get me started on keeping kids in at break as punishment for not being able to sit still. That’s like depriving someone of oxygen as punishment for breathing too deeply. Kids need to play!)

When you come home with loads of homework and spend all afternoon doing it – even skipping Family Movie Night to study before tomorrow’s big test – I am not pleased. I admit that I admire your tenacity. It’s great that you’re doing what you committed to do. I’m pleased that you’ve found something that is important to you, and I’m very glad that you have the self-motivation to make sure you achieve your goal.

But, Honey, here’s the thing. Why do you care so much? It’s just a test. It means nothing. Frankly, if the teacher hasn’t managed to convey enough in six hours every … single … day … for you to be able to pass a Grade 4 test, what on earth has she been doing with her time?

And do you honestly, truly care about fault lines and plate tectonics? I mean, if you do, fantastic! Let’s study the crap out of those things! Let’s make models and do experiments and really understand the whole fandango.

But I know you. And I know that all you care about is that grade. That 98%. That A.

Why is it so important to you? Why would you give up your afternoons, evenings, and weekends for it? Especially when you’re only 10 years old?

I am not proud of that.

Frankly, I’ve failed.

Because you should be outside, playing. Climbing trees. Building forts. Covering yourself and everything else for twenty feet in thick, sticky mud that makes me want to cry when I think of the laundry I’ll have to do.

That would make me proud.

My friends on social media all post status updates and photos of their kids – JJ just won this award for science. Amy just became a prefect. Susanna came first in her class. They’re all so proud of their kids.

But not this Mama.

Your success is not a number on a piece of paper. Your success is finding your self in the midst of this crazy, noisy world. When you have the courage to tell people – firmly – that you will not hug them, I am proud of you. When you can gently but truthfully tell your best friend you’re “peopled out” when she asks to play … and when she graciously accepts that … I am proud of you both.

When you then realise you would LOVE to see her, and you have the courage to change your mind without shame or guilt, I know you’re growing inside. When she is happy to spend the afternoon with you without a shade of bitterness or malice, I know her parents are doing a good job.

When you feel your friend’s pain, and weep quietly for her when she’s not here, I love you to the shattering, splintered ends of my bursting heart. When you ask me to advise you on how to counsel her, and trust that I will understand that you won’t ever tell me the whole story (because it’s not yours to tell), I admire and respect you. I would move the earth for you.

When you forgive the unforgivable sinner, young and innocent though you are, knowing (as you do) that he will never, ever apologise … my darling, then I am proud of you.

Because those are the things that really matter in this life. And they have nothing to do with fault lines or sentence diagramming or times tables or dates and maps.



Why I don’t limit my children’s exposure to electronics

It’s a digital age, and the debate for and against the use of electronics rages back and forth. We’re told that it isn’t safe for our children to spend so much time online, or behind electronic devices of every kind.

They need to play!

That’s the war cry from every camp.

Proponents of unlimited electronic access claim that this IS playing in the new millennium, while the opposition insists it is harmful for both the brain and the body – not what playing is supposed to be at all.

My approach to life is to take all the views and consider them, then do what I was going to do anyway. Sometimes what I’ve learned along the way influences what I end up doing … This means that, at times, I have seriously held to each of these views.

But now, like a real grown up, I have my own views. So here they are:

5 reasons why I don't limit my children's exposure to electronics

5 Reasons Why I Don’t Limit My Children’s Exposure to Electronics

  1. I don’t want to.
    I keep searching my gut for some kind of feeling that says, “No, this is wrong. They’ve fried their little growing minds with too many electronic inputs. Make them stop!” But it never happens. I can’t find it. And, seriously, my “STOP IT!” gut reflex is VERY strong. If I’m not hearing it, it ain’t there.

  2. Even if they spent all day plugged into some device or other, they’d be spending less time attached to electronics than either of their parents do.
    We do this for a living, and we love it. I don’t think it’s wrong or hypocritical for parents to say, “Do as I SAY, not as I do” … I do think that there are times when that response is precisely reasonable and valid. So it’s not that I think I’d be a hypocrite if I gave them less access to electronics than I have.

    It’s just one of the ways our family enjoys time alone together … like reading, watching a movie, going to an art gallery, or taking long walks. We don’t have to be doing the same thing at the same time, or even talking, to be having quality time. This is one of the benefits of being an introvert – or a family of introverts!
  3. I’m interested in them doing what interests them.
    And the things they do on these devices interest them a lot. People learn best when they get to follow their interests. My kids have improved their reading and research skills. They have a bigger vocabulary and a wider range of interests generally now.

    They have their own tastes – music, hobbies, people, clothes – than they ever could have gleaned from me alone. They have had safe exposure to all kinds of people – people I could never have found and introduced them to. They have career interests that didn’t even exist five years ago. And they have the confidence that comes from knowing they could learn ANYTHING. Between sites like Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and YouTube, there’s nothing you could want to know and not be able to learn. And they’re teaching themselves stuff all the time.

  4. I wouldn’t ban them from going to school as a punishment, so I won’t stop them from spending time on electronics. It’s how they learn. And it’s what they love. Besides, they don’t really do things that need punishing. #JustSaying.

  5. These are life skills they’re learning.
    No matter what they do for a living, it will involve something electronic, somewhere along the way. In Goldilocks’ case, she’s already using the web to earn a fair amount of pocket money, and she has big plans for a future career based entirely online. The sooner she acquires and masters those skills the better, in my opinion.

    I feel that I am empowering my children with the skills to keep up with the future. And if they can learn to do things like programming and design along the way, so much the better. So many doors open up when you have these skills. And no one online cares how old you are. If a thirteen-year-old could give you a great, mobile-responsive website, and you didn’t know the developer as just a teenager, you’d be delighted with the result. And that teenager would be empowered by having learned and used real world skills.

Here are some things my kids do a LOT of, that don’t involve electronics:

  • Climb trees
  • Climb jungle gyms
  • Swim
  • Ride bikes (depending on where we live at the time)
  • Make tree houses
  • Make wendy houses
  • Make fairy houses
  • Make doll houses
  • Make doll clothes
  • Weave complex narratives for their newly outfitted dolls
  • Write novels
  • Create puppet shows and plays
  • Jump on trampolines
  • Play in the ocean
  • Go for long walks
  • Play in the river
  • Play in the garden
  • Organise their rooms
  • Mess up their rooms
  • Play dress up
  • Try on makeup
  • Read stories to each other
  • Haggle at the market (and achieve samoosas or macaroons!)
  • Do their chores
  • Help with the cooking and laundry
  • Babysit
  • Study for school
  • Draw
  • Colour in
  • Paint
  • Sew
  • Make things out of clay
  • Create complex science projects
  • Run
  • Dance
  • Sing
  • Play the piano
  • Play guitar
  • Look stuff up in real books – with pages and everything!

And a whole lot more. They choose to do these things – sometimes more often than they choose to use electronics.

We need to guide them to make smart choices – choices that support their goals and their health. But we don’t achieve this by taking away their choices. They understand the consequences of their choices, and by and large they DO make good choices. Their choices are never rooted in rebellion or deceit. They are honest with us, and if we have been firm, they accept that with respect and good grace.

But that wouldn’t have happened if we had kept them away from the things they love to do simply because it seemed like they’d spent too much time on those things. The things they love to do are precisely where I want them to spend their time. These are the things that lead us to the truly joyous discoveries we make in life.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

[Blink. Blink. Puff. Swallow.] Did she notice?

“My daughter has Tourette’s,” I explain. “So she might sometimes tic during lessons, or even during free time. [Blink.] Sometimes it’s worse during free time, actually. [Puff.] Because she’s so relaxed.”

Should I mention that I have it too? Is it obvious? Can she tell?

“What sort of tics?” the new teacher I’m interviewing asks, oozing buckets of compassion and a very clear no-problem-I’ve-seen-it-all-before attitude that blankets me in calm reassurance.

[Frown. Blink. Don’t twitch!]

“Mostly, she blinks,” I say. “It’s not very noticeable. When she’s stressed or angry or confused or concentrating hard or very relaxed or tired – or if she’s had too much wheat or sugar – she has vocal tics, too.”

[Swallow. Blink.] Thank God for sunglasses and people who like to sit outdoors. Even if the wind is unwinding my plait. And is that what’s making her hair so fuzzy? Does my hair look as fuzzy as that? Should I consider a different shampoo? I wonder what would work? Hmm … will it be expensive … ?

“Can you give me an idea of the kinds of tic sounds she makes, so that I can recognise them when they happen?” Her question interrupts my distracted thoughts, making me frown and twitch as I try to reign my brain in and focus on what actually matters. This is about Goldilocks.

“Tsp-tsp-tsp. There’s one like that. A kind of blowing one: plp-plp-plp. She swallows sometimes [does she? why did I say that? I can’t recall if it’s true or not! What kind of parent am I if I can’t even keep track of my daughter’s tics? Mind you, I can’t even keep track of my own! Oh dear – am I ticcing now? FOCUS!] She sometimes repeats the end of what someone else has said, and she’s got mild echolalia. It’s especially strong with the word ‘thanks’: nks-nks-nks’ … she doesn’t know she’s doing it, most of the time. Drawing attention to it makes it worse.”

tourettes can't be "turned off"

The fact is, she can’t control it. Well, she can – but only at great personal cost. We don’t tell people that it can be controlled, because then they’ll expect her to control it. They don’t know what they’re asking … but we do. So we don’t tell.

Some secrets are okay. If they help people.

Trying to keep the innocent falsehood from leaking all over my face is ramping up my tics. My mouth really wants to contort and I just know I’m going to have to get away for a private tic bomb pretty soon … hee hee … tic bomb .. ticka bomb … Trevor Noah and the Mad Indian Scientist skit … ha ha ha … I’m laughing on the inside and my brain is running away like a locomotive on acid.

Is it necessary to mention that she got Tourette’s from me? Is it as obvious as it feels? Does it help … or does it seem like a self-absorbed self-diagnosis? Does it matter if she knows or not? Is it relevant? Is it useful? Wait – what did she just say?

“One of new students is high-functioning autistic (I hate that term … but I love that she has some feeling for this space). And I’m sure my son would be somewhere on the spectrum … IF I ever had him tested. I’m not really all about the labels.”

Ah … relief floods my senses as I realise I’m not alone: she really does get it. Wait – labels? Is that judgement I sense? Is she judging me for labelling my kids? Have I labelled them? And is it wrong to have done so? Doesn’t it help me to give them the care they need?

“Don’t worry,” she reassures me, in that self-assured way that only seasoned educators can really nail. “This is a safe zone. No bullying of any kind will be tolerated. The truth is, these kids are here because they don’t fit the conventional education mould. And that’s how I work with them: at their pace, focused on what they’re interested in. You said she’s teaching herself to code? Can she bring her laptop so that she can do that here – maybe show some of the other kids who are interested?”

Do you ever stand outside of yourself, and just kinda watch? Do you look at what you’re thinking, and wonder why? And when you do, does it make you twitchy? Or is that just me? ‘Cause this was fairly normal, as my meetings go.

The week after next, Goldilocks is joining a homeschool collective. The teacher is very experienced in conventional teaching. But she’s also very experienced in life. With kids of all kinds and a good deal of close range exposure to life on the spectrum, she has enormous respect for allowing learning to unfold.

She’s very supportive of unschooling, and she understands our need to give Goldilocks a little more stimulation than just 12 hours of Sims every day. Armed with a laptop and surrounded by like-minded young people between the ages of 11 and 23 – not to mention all the animals our Fauna Fairy needs – I think this is the right thing for Goldilocks at the moment.

I hate to devolve my responsibility to someone else, but the plain truth is that I spend all day glued to my screen, and my darling daughter needs more than that. So let’s see how this works out.

This whole working-from-home, home-schooling challenge

Your own work. Your own way

Earnster: Your own work. Your own way

I’d like to share one quick story on how the internet can help our children achieve financial independence.

Richard (not his real name) will (hopefully?) complete his Matric later this year in Gauteng (he is not a homeschooler).

His dad joined one of Peter Carruthers’ courses about 3 years ago. (Peter founded the Academy of Small Business – you may remember the link I shared on Facebook a few months ago.)

A month into the course he got too busy to give it any more attention. He asked if his 15-year-old son, Richard, could complete the course in his stead and Peter agreed.

Some months later, Dad wrote that Richard had just revamped the family BnB website (Mom was petrified) but bookings were suddenly pouring in so fast that they were filling rooms at nearby BnBs as well.

Earlier this year (when Dad signed up for Earnster.Ninja), he mentioned that Richard’s headmaster wanted help in getting Richard to focus on the coming exams. Richard wasn’t paying attention to his schoolwork anymore. You see, Richard is working on an online business that solves what he sees as a big problem most young people face. Richard has even retained online freelance help (from India, if I’m not mistaken) to help him write emails and letters because (like many of us when we were teens) he does not yet write well. The exact nature of this piece of software is not known to me, but last I heard, an overseas company wanted to buy him out. In Dollars (not the Zim kind).

No wonder he cannot focus on his Matric…

If a school-going child can do this (admittedly distractedly), I think a homeschooled child with time and vision has all it takes to make a success of an internet business. And if not, it can be written off as “part of the learning curve”.

At least, the cost of losing your business online is a fraction of a fraction of the cost of losing a “bricks and mortar” business.

And if you follow Peter’s advice, you won’t close your business anyhow, since he’s figured out how to teach you to have winning ideas and how to implement them without risk.

I spoke to Peter Carruthers earlier today and he tells me there are 5 more seats left on the current Earnster intake. He only takes 200 students at a time, to ensure he can give proper attention to all the course participants. It’s his personal touch which makes this course so different.

Here’s the link to the Earnster course: http://bit.ly/Earnster.

(Full disclosure: this link above is an affiliate link. If you sign up for the course via this link above, I will get a small commission. If you don’t want to do that, simply point your browser directly to www.Earnster.Ninja ).

Toughen up – or tough enough?

A question for the collective wisdom of anyone who happens to read this:

We’re involved in some home school groups which subscribe to a much more traditional approach to schooling than we prefer. It’s their choice, obviously. Red Riding Hood also prefers more structure, and measurable outcomes – that sort of thing. (Sorry – tangent.)

So, at a group activity a few weeks ago, two of the moms were overseeing a craft activity. (I didn’t know about it or I’d have been there too.) One of them needed an eraser and asked my daughter to get it. But the way she asked was, “You get it!”, with a ‘playful smack’ on the thigh.

Did I mention my aspie daughter is tactile defensive AND averse to loud noises?

When she told me about it later, she broke down crying.

I don’t know that mom beyond the most basic acquaintance, and I didn’t see her until ten days later – at an outing, surrounded by kids and chaos. I didn’t have an opportunity to bring it up. She’s one of those “can do” people who believes kids should be toughened up, and frankly I have no idea how to address it with her. I doubt she’ll even remember, and I suspect that if I mentioned it, she’d be inclined to repeat similar acts – behind my back – since my child “obviously needs toughening up” and isn’t getting it at home.

Perhaps I’m projecting here.

This is the kind of thing that made me take the kids out of school in the first place. I am highly confrontation-averse, but I just want to punch this woman in the face!

Sorry this is so long, but I’d be very grateful for some insight.

Why I don’t believe in testing in schools

tests teach us we're wrong and badHere’s the thing: what does a TEST actually measure? You see, when I was at school, I aced tests. I really, totally, was awesome at passing them, as evidenced by the 90% average I maintained for pretty much all of school. Academics came easily to me.

I was one of the lucky few.

But just because I passed tests didn’t mean I could do, or understand, the work. As it happens, I could and did, but that had no bearing on passing the test. Or at least, very little.

In practise, all tests did very well when I was taking them was stress me out – and, as I said, I was one of the lucky ones. Less academically-inclined students were reduced to near panic. In fact, when we were in matric, a student in a nearby school killed himself as he sat down to write his Maths paper, by jamming two pencils up his nose into his brain.

Seriously?! Can it POSSIBLY be that important?? Surely, if you can do the work, you can do the work, and there are more effective, and far less deleterious (because it’s a cool word) ways to measure that?

I’m no expert, so bear with me here. But what if, say, the teacher observed the kids, and saw who could do it and who couldn’t? And what if (and yes, I know it’s “out there”), the people who couldn’t do the work, instead of being ridiculed and penalised, were taught – gently – to actually be able to do the work? It’s just a thought.

Maybe if we had MUCH smaller classes, more teachers, and more focus on imparting valuable, useful lifeskills relevant to each specific, UNIQUE learner, they’d actually learn stuff?

And that, my friends, assumes we’re talkiong about schools AT ALL.

I mean, when last did you use long division, or trigonometry, or advanced calculus? I really do want to know. And yes, I’m even talking to you architects and engineers out there. Because even the ones I know personally don’t use the stuff. (No, Maths teachers. You don’t count in this particular poll. We all know you use Maths. You’re paid to.) Even my accountant uses a calculator – and he has a head for numbers!

So, let’s say you’re not great at spelling. Now, this is not even a thing I relate to because, like, spelling, dudes. It totes rocks! (See what I did there? That’s just how I roll ;)) Okay, I’m back. You’re not good at spelling. Or at least, you’re not good at spelling hard words. Like tourniquet, and epithet and halcyon. You know: every day words. And then you write a test to see whether yoou are good at spelling or not. (You already have an idea on the outcome, mind you.) You fail the test. Or even – you just don’t pass well. The message your brain gets is NOT: oh, wow. Thank heavens I have spell check and the inifinite wisdom of the web should I ever ACTUALLY need to write words like that when I compile those ambulance hand books and grammar usage guides I’ve been dreaming about. No. The message you get is a lot more succinct, insidious, short, and evil.

“You can’t spell.”

In preteen this is sometimes abbreviated to: “You suck.”

The result is NOT a sudden urge to study the dictionary (yes, it happens. no, it’s not a disease). The result is a fundamental alteration in how you see yourself, and what you believe you can achieve. Which is: nothing. Your brain gets the message “I’m an idiot and I’ll never be able to spell”. This cancer grows and destroys everything it touches. Soon, it becomes “I’ll never be able to write a book”. From there, it’s not a big jump to, “I’ll never be able to write a report”. Then, “I’ll never be able to write a letter … an email …”.

I know it sounds extreme. But I work as a writer and let me tell you: every day – every single day – people tell me they can’t write. They apologise for their grammar and spelling and vocabulary and phraseology BEFORE they even contact me at all. Just so that I don’t judge them or something. And because they are so sure they won’t do a good job, they also waste no effort trying to do a good job. They don’t look up spelling and grammar – they don’t even know where to start. Their communication is stunted and immature, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s all because they don’t believe in themselves. And why not? Because they’ve been measured and found wanting.

The truth is a different matter. We all have value to offer the world. Any of us could communicate it in writing and, with today’s amazing (MOSTLY FREE) tools, easily get the writing RIGHT. Or at least good enough. We all use Maths every single day. And we do it well: we buy groceries and balance budgets and plan petrol consumption all the time – and we’re all still here, doing it. We just don’t think we can.

Tests teach us we are wrong – and that that’s bad. But, folks, life is all aboout making mistakes: grand, glorious, bold, beautiful, colourful mistakes of enormous chaos and value. Mistakes teach us. Tests diminish us.

And that’s why I hate tests. Because they are artificial measurements of a reality that doesn’t exist, and the only thing they achieve is to diminish us to the point of being too afraid to share our glorious value with a needy world, simply because we’re so afraid we’ll do it wrong.

Homeschool update

It’s been two weeks.

Red Riding Hood is taking strain at school. She says she hates going, and every morning is an anxiety filled knot. It builds in her like yeast in dough. She’s had a melt down at school and another one last night. Her arm hurts from writing. The noise overwhelms and distracts her. She can’t concentrate, and she is anxious. She is moody and withdrawn all the time.

She IS learning, and she’s slightly ahead of her age in terms of speed and cognitive skills. But the school is everything I didn’t want for them: regimented, noisy, overwhelming. They can only eat or drink during their breaks, something we very specifically did NOT institute in our “home school” as it was too restrictive and, in my view, unhealthy and unnatural. There’s a little bit of room for self-study and following rabbit trails of personal interest, but for the most part it’s very literally by-the-book.

They’re learning to write poetry, though. That’s gotta be a good thing.

Intriguingly, Goldilocks LOVES school. She’s battling to concentrate more than ever before, but she loves the learning and the routine. She’s a year behind where she would have been if she’d been in “regular” school, but she’s coping very well. Her writing, as ever, is legendary – at least in terms of content. The technical bits, obviously, need a lot of work. But less than before, so that’s good.

The thought of trying to do it myself again just overwhelms me. I am exhausted as it is, and when I see how much effort their new teacher invests, I know I don’t have the personal resources. In fact, I don’t have the personal resources for anything right now.

The great irony and awfulness is that I am actually considering putting Red on anti-anxiety meds to cope with the stress of school. Can you believe that?! It’s mental. It goes against everything I believe: regimented learning, controlled by a syllabus. Cattle-pen classes forcing kids together for extended periods without food or water. It’s a bright and happy and free place, but it sounds like Auschwitz.

And now I’m actually considering drugs.

Good grief. What have I become?

I sincerely hope my children survive their childhood relatively in tact.

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