Saturday, June 14, 2014

Confessions of a converted home school Mum with free range children

Earlier this year I made a decision I had been contemplating for some time, to withdraw my youngest from mainstream school into distance education.  There were a number of reasons underpinning the decision yet the greatest influence was finding an environment in the best interests of our 8 year old.

Several years prior a teacher at the time had suggested there was a cognitive delay.  So off we went for testing.  A CT, blood tests, psychological testing (including the WISC Wechsler Intelligence Scale for children) & wouldn't you know it, the results came back as the psychologist predicted, way above her age/stage of development. So we tried to appease the school's referral to the extended reading program, to bring the reading skills up to what they considered 'average'. Then in discussion they informed me of what reading level she was at & I compared this with the public school system, had a chat with a reading recovery specialist & wouldn't you know she was already exceeding where she was suppose to be, the Catholic school in which we were enrolled had expectations children should read 7 levels higher at that stage than was age/stage recommended. There was in fact no delay at all. I had even sent her off to tutoring. The tutor writes curriculum & testing for schools & highly experienced & told me a month later I was .....something in nice money up the wall, there was no way my daughter needed tutoring. At the same time the tutor also gave me a great book on de-schooling children & the criticisms of the current education system & concerns we are losing focus on where we are going with educating children, most importantly the legacy we leave behind of the neurological impacts on the most vulnerable brains in our society.

At that time in our life there was a lot going on, there were certainly ample ways to explain a child's behaviour.  We had a significant threatening situation & had to move frequently due to my career.  Our lives were extremely disruptive, we had a home break-in, an ongoing stalking issue & then more & despite this I thought my children were holding their own. There were issues around sleep & safety & anxiety pertaining to both of these, yet we were working closely with a group of professionals who all had complete faith I was on the right path. I attempted to educate the school on trauma in children, how it presents in the classroom; I even brought in the psychologist to educate the staff on ways they could modify their teaching to bring out the best in our little amazing person & also provide a supportive environment which did not exacerbate her diagnosis of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). At one time I took in a plethora of information from my CP resources, particularly designed for schools to explain at each age & stage of development how trauma impacts on child development & the neurological impacts of trauma on children.  Even with the acknowledgement they thought PTSD was "only in soldiers" & even when they contemplated how many children had experienced trauma in the school environment yet were being managed from a view they had a different diagnosis, trauma had never been considered as an influencing factor on their behaviour. Yet we still could not adapt the classroom or teaching style to improve the situation. It was like banging your head against the same wall & hoping it would stop hurting. It just wasn't working.

I've seen this across so many educational environments it is frustrating & saddening to see how far so many professionals remain from providing in the best interests of children. I overheard a teacher at a social gathering some time ago advising a group of people about autism based on the latest in service training she had attended & yet it was completely in correct based on the current psychological research! This same teacher now works on curriculum!!! I don't know where we are going, yet it scares me to think where are children are headed.

Society is very willing to accept that a grown soldier, educated, trained & skilled in their profession, goes off to face combat & witnesses the very events they are trained for & is neurologically impacted to the point they are told they may never recover (that is currently accepted by our Veteran services). I am not disputing PTSD in adults here, merely concerned as why we accept trauma & it's impact in adults, with their logic & rational thought, access to services, training & education & yet why is difficult for our society to understand or accept that children, whose brains are still developing, whose amygdala & hippocampus & vital components of their neurological wiring & synaptic formation is still occurring. Whose responses to stress, fear & how to manage these is yet to be determined. It doesn't take a neuroscientist to tell us that if you throw in trauma, domestic violence, parental issues & dysfunction, this will dramatically impact on the wiring of a child's brain.  What fires together wires together.

When it comes to parenting & capacity assessments there are clear risk factors which impact on the development of the child.  These same risk assessment tools & factors are used widely in attempting to determine a parent's capacity to understand, prioritise & provide for their children's needs.  Why these are not used as an educative tool when people conceive I have no idea.  Why it is more important to discuss the right bra to wear, when half the time you want them off when you are feeding, than it is too teach first-aid & how to communicate appropriately with your child only demonstrates we are not as evolved as we think we are.

Children are no different to adults.  They are affected by trauma, if not more so, than the adult developed brain. Grief & loss to a child can be in many forms; loss of parent through death, disability, violence, separation/divorce; losing a bet, instability, change.  Fear & anxiety impacts on the child's thought processes.  Any adult with a list in their purse to go shopping, distracted in the car on the way there & then forgets the list must realise a child has nowhere near the capacity to store information & file it appropriately & so there is overflow & children can only take in as much as their brain can prioritise.  A child who has experienced trauma, who is hyper-vigilant, distressed, angry, confused, has very different stuff going on in their brain than a child whose greatest issue of the day is who to hang out with at play lunch. Yet the jury is still out on those adults with long term impacts of trauma whether they have childhood predispositions & other underlying foundations impacting on their resilience & capacity to manage trauma. Resilience is another soap box blog altogether. One of these predispositions being examined is the exposure to childhood trauma. The trajectory for children with a mental health diagnosis into adulthood can be scary & we must do everything we can to understand how to minimise trauma in childhood & when it does occur to provide the best possible learning environments to ensure children are given the greatest chances we can provide to grow into psychologically healthy adults.

In my experience I would estimate 95% of all the traumatised children I have worked with as being first diagnosed with a PDD (pervasive developmental disorder), with ADHD, OCD, Asperger's as it was previously known & many other disorders.  Usually told more about what they cannot achieve than what they can & neatly boxed into these defined criteria that suit the needs of adults. Rarely did I see the diagnosis of PTSD on a child's repertoire of psychological/medical information. If we even go back a step further, I hear time & time again parents & professionals talking/discussing & contemplating children's behaviour based on the parents observations.  It is far easier to imagine a child's disruptive behaviour as something which is "wrong" with the child, than ever consider outside the box & to consider if the child is being exposed to something traumatic. Children do not come into the child protection system without being exposed to trauma.  Children of parents with mental health diagnoses are going to be exposed to trauma. Children of parents where there is violence in the home, will be exposed to trauma. Your behaviour, your habits, your lifestyle WILL impact on your child, good & bad. Embrace the responsibility & do our best. Stop passing the responsibility to our most vulnerable members of society to fix an issue that we have created. Stop with the over diagnosing of children whose only mistake is trusting adults to interpret their behaviour & ask the hard questions - what went on before the behaviour occurred? What is causing the behaviour?

I cannot begin to attempt to count the number of times a child has disclosed sexual abuse or not disclosed sexual abuse (yet we know it was occurring) & yet teachers, even counselors & the odd psychologist & pediatricians/general practitioners, base all their diagnostic skill on the parent's disclosures of information. Rarely do I ever see a professional think outside the box & really take a long hard look at what the child is attempting to communicate through their behaviour. Too often the general public put so much faith in professionals & stop listening to their instincts.  I heard a scary story the other day, a little professional gossip of a well known & well respect child psych who has the most violent relationship with their partner & has used their power, knowledge & reputation to seek horrible revenge on his ex wife.  What kind of professional this person must be & how would these values impact on his treatment of his clients? No one is immune in our society.  If we want the best for our children we need to seek it, demand it & keep evaluating if we are on the right track & using the right tools to succeed. I had to hold back on many occasion when I spoke with teachers about why they had not reported what the child had disclosed, one response sticks in my mind "oh but I know that parent, he/she is so nice, I couldn't possibly imagine that to be true".  So I put to the teacher "so are you saying the child is lying" & I could tell from the look on their face they had never unpacked what impact their decision had & what message it would send to the child. Make choices people, make well considered choices. Listen to your children & watch their behaviour as the silent voice they are unable to put into words. If only we had the power to remove teaching registration & send some professionals back to school! If ever a politician wants to slide into power suggesting criminal charges for mandatory reporters who fail to report, you'll have my vote.

The only way to ever really know what is going on for a child is to pool every piece of information from every aspect of the child's life. Speak to more than one person. What do they eat, how do they sleep, observe their interactions with people in their lives, their primary carers "tell me about your day from beginning to end". Where there is smoke there is fire. "Tell me about your best day ever", "tell me about your worst day ever". Ask questions that reveal who the child is & be the voice they cannot use. I once had a situation where a parent could not possibly believe a family member had committed an offence against their child.  Despite the child constantly asking not to go to that person's place or calling & asking to be picked up at random times or time & time again giving the parent clear signals the child was not happy about the relationship, it was much easier for the parent to believe the child as having a behavioural disorder than it was to consider the unthinkable. Get to know your children!

The most obvious of behavioural responses from children are ignored time & time again. In particularly sexual abuse matters, a child can attempt to disclose to an adult over 30 times before someone actually listens or engaged enough with the child's communication they actually listen. For goodness sake people, stop looking for ways for your child to behave & ask yourself WHY is your child not behaving. Step aside & ask someone else for their opinion & another & another.  Stop looking for a solution that suits your needs & ask yourself what is in the best of your child. Stupidity is doing the same thing over & over again & expecting a different result.  If your child is not responding to their medication, if they are not responding at all, if the situation has deteriorated, get a different opinion.  If your child is misbehaving (or what you consider misbehaving) ask yourself whose opinion is determining this, are they qualified, are they bias.  So often well meaning family members & friends with their own personal views give unsolicited advice about how to manage your child's behaviour, yet they really don't have a damn clue about how a child's brain & behaviour work in partnership, they sit on the side lines throwing in their bit here & there & really don't stay for the whole show! They have no idea what is going on for your child. Sometimes it is the very actions of adults which are the antecedent to a child's behaviour, children respond to how they are treated. Some people couldn't possibly contemplate that the way they behave with your child is actually influencing your child's response!

Everything we do, every function, our language, our physical activity, how we respond to each other, everything is wired up in our brains. A child under stress is no more likely to manage their emotional responses appropriately than an adult under stress who often turns to substance abuse, medication, working out, social networking & armed with a number of coping strategies NOT available to children. Yet society still pushes its expectations that a disruptive or child not performing must learn to adapt.

School is certainly not the be all of every possibility to learn. I can remember contemplating the decision to try distance education for sometime & it was hit with a great deal of criticism. The main one was the perceived impact on social skills. I found this ironic given the major concern at the time was bullying & obviously the social environment of the school, the teasing, name calling, picking on her body shape, telling what she should & shouldn't eat (at 8 years of age), being pushed in the pool at swimming & called "fat" & yet wearing her size & healthier than the many underweight & over exhausted children being pushed hard, who had no social skills & pushed vulnerable children into swimming pools! I would much prefer to have a well mannered, thoughtful & pro-social child rather than one that can use knowledge like a weapon. What was my daughter going to miss socially from the school environment? Competing with the same children who won every event & every competition? At the school cross country children were divided into age groups, not skill groups.  So every single year the same children ran against the same children. These same children won their groups & the same children were forced to enter the arena last to the laughing & later teasing of the other children.  Is there no one else out there that finds this type of learning social skills environment disturbing? What was my daughter learning from this humiliation each time?

At the very same time the teachers were telling us there was potentially a cognitive delay, because lets agree here, teachers have completed approximately one unit of psychology in their degrees & that is the limit of the neuroscience & brain function knowledge. If only they would stick to teaching & teaching well, then maybe we would see less children being referred for assessment & less parents unnecessarily concerned about their children; at this very same time our amazing little person at 5 years of age auditioned for a community play, having never performed in public previously.  The audition for The Sound of Music consisted of learning a song right there & then & performing it on her own on the stage before several judges.  In the car in the time it took me to go to Spotlight & grab a few things, my eldest Googled the song & they practiced & yes we had the next 6 or so months of practice & performances.  At then 6 years by the time the show came around & as little Gretel in the sound of music, she had learned her lines & songs before any of the adults.  Had no issues with confidence on stage & despite falling asleep every afternoon on the way to our 4-5 hours of rehearsal 3-4 times per week, I couldn't convince her it was too much.

The performances went off without a hitch.  We were often home at midnight or later & wouldn't you know the teacher even suggested in the middle of the play that maybe I should withdraw her as it was obviously the reason (the new one) my daughter was not achieving her expectations. Sometimes teachers get it so wrong.

Children are a sponge of information & behaviour.  As horses & dogs respond to our emotional behaviour & mirror these very responses, so do children. When learning about children's behaviour we often refer back to Pavlov's dog experience, behaviour training & modification is across all species. If you want a different response, do something different, change yourself before you consider changing your child & watch what occurs. When I was working through behaviour modification I decided to play a few prompting exercises with my children (who were totally unaware).  There were times I could not grab their attention & I could have raised my voice or repeated myself, instead I used a behaviour modification technique referred to as prompting. I chose a word relevant to each child & before I gave instructions or asked a question I used the word first.  Eg. Chocolate or money.  Maybe you could try it with your partner if you know their motivations well. I had also battled with my son taking out the garbage & tried another behaviour modification technique. Instead of asking, I just placed the rubbish outside his door where he would either have to move it or go over it every time.  Then we of course he took it out as it was in the way, I thanked him big time for being so helpful. Then after a few days I put the rubbish back in the place it had been.

Children are the most amazing people to be around, to listen to, to learn from.  I learn from my children every single day.  I don't want them to be me or to fulfill any dreams I may have had, I'll do that. I would like to seem them go out into the world with their own ideas & unique personalities & be who they are destined to be. There are so many myths out there, adult generated ignorant myths about learning & children's behaviour, they underpin the diagnostic tools we use, they underpin what is considered acceptable & appropriate behaviour, they underpin whether a child will succeed in life or struggle.  Adults hold the balance of power when it comes to how a child will grow, learn & develop. Too often I see adults caught up in their own ignorance, their own needs, desires, wants, their children are just along for the ride & as long as they are quiet, don't ask for much & do what they are told, all goes well & then they wonder why their children are so distant when they are older. Adults stuck in fear of what might happen if they listen to their child's interest, goals & needs. Adults who listen more to adults than to their children. It is adults who sit in front of specialists & give their view about how their child is behaving.  Parents are a great tool when it comes to observation, yet they are incredibly bias.  As professionals if we are to be fair to children & leave no room for error, then we must observe children across all environments & be prepared to ask the hard questions. As parents, we need to be as authentic & honest as possible. Tell the truth, through your child's eyes.

When my daughter was a toddler we went travelling around Australia.  Everywhere we went she would collect shells, rocks & insects; sorting them into order, by size, colour & sometimes classify them according to their origin.  We had all these little containers & interesting little finds, even a pipi jammed down the back of the seat & not discovered until a week or so later!!!!! ewwwwhhh!  I mentioned to a psych friend "oh it's ok she doesn't persist in lining them all up", a day later we were at an appointment & bumped into each other again & there was my daughter with her shiny rock collection lining them all up! This grew into a liking for things that glittered, colour, sparkled & bling. When she was 4 years old we gave her a university textbook on entomology.  The insect books for early childhood were just not cutting the mark. I had an interest & studied a few units in anthropology & I put a skeleton on the wall & when the speech therapist asked waving her hands "and what do we call these", our little bright spark replied "phalanges". I tried curbing the sticking fingers down foreign holes in the dirt & wall, I was terrified she would be bitten by a spider & we had to have discussions around safety.  There were times she couldn't sit still in a dull & boring classroom & there were the days when at 3 years of age with enough paper to cover the width of the dining room, armed with soft waxed crayons in bright colours & a black felt tip pin, designed the new pre-school environment. Despite all the boxes people could tick, she never ticked them all.  One teacher (her best one to date!) described her as "eccentric", the psychologist as "quirky & different" & come on people, where are we headed when we try to standardise children & make everyone as much the same as possible.  Where would with be without difference? Where is the fun in everyone being the same.  We have rules; 3 in fact. 3 values in our house. 1. Respect for yourself. 2. Respect for others. 3. Responsibility for your actions. Everything falls under these 3 rules.  If you have respect for yourself you take pride in yourself, you look after your environment & when you have respect for others you do the same.  When you take responsibility for your actions, you cop it on the chin when you stuff up, these are opportunities to learn. So if I am to respect my children & I am to have respect & I am to take responsibility, then I encourage their interests, explore their strengths & listen to them when they tell me something is outside their comfort zone.

I can still remember the day my son came home in primary school when he was shown a picture of an elephant & the class were asked what it was called & he replied "a pachyderm" & was chastised for being incorrect.  On another occasion his year 3/4 teacher had written red all over his literacy piece & he was really upset he had been given a poor mark.  I asked the teacher to explain so he could learn what all the red was for & she said it was his handwriting which was difficult to read, yet the more you tried to encourage him the tighter he would hold the pen/pencil to try harder & the worst it would get. On testing at 7 he had a reading level of 12 years of age, he loved reading the Encyclopedia of Aviation when other children were reading "Sam & Jack" home readers.  I asked her had she read what he had written, she couldn't even tell me what it was about & I thought it was brilliant!  I can remember a question in a test once that asked him "What do you call a train that doesn't carry people".  I ask you all how many answers can you, as adults, come up with? Remembering the test is designed to only have 1 answer.  This is not teaching, this is not learning. Its conforming, it's assimilating. This is not encouraging children to think for themselves, to extend their knowledge & certainly not appreciating the vast experiences & range of knowledge children have.

When my eldest daughter was given a detention by her religious teacher I had to inquire why. There was a discussion on child protection & the best home environments for children (I thought to myself this should be interesting given I'm also a single parent) & the religious teacher had made the statement "a child thrives best in a home where there are two married parents of opposite sex".  So my daughter raised her hand politely & asked "what about if one parent dies" & again "what about if there is domestic violence" & again "what about if the parent works away all the time" & the more she challenged the teachers obvious narrow minded & ignorant views on what his Catholic principles taught him the more she was in trouble.

Children are who they are as a result of the lives, people, environments & situations they have been exposed to.  With or without a diagnosis, they are people just like adults & they can modify their behaviour & be influenced by our behaviour just like we influence each other. Children are not the problem or a problem, we are.  We are the people responsible for who they become, how well they do & what opportunities they are provided with. The most ignorant part of our society is the belief children can do exactly what we say, when we want, as long as we find the right diagnosis or pills, the right information & when they don't perform like trained animals, when the diagnosis isn't meeting our expectations, then it's obviously wrong & we need another one, there is obviously something else wrong with them, heaven forbid it could be something related to the people & experiences they are exposed to. Don't get me wrong.  There are correct & well justified diagnoses, yet the epidemic of mental health disorders in children has reached all time levels & we need to start thinking outside the box & ask why?

As an educated & experienced adult there are times when the behaviour of others hits me like a 747 & sometimes it hurts, is painful, confusing & sometimes I can't even acknowledge it. I recently had a situation where I was over the moon about something, the happiest I had been in years; I don't recall a day when I felt that happy in a while.  I was so excited I wanted to share it with a few people & one of those people happen to instead of saying "wow great news" or something along those lines, decided to share with me something I didn't recall or at the time had no idea about.  It totally reversed my feelings. In fact the consequences from that information have had a ripple effect & the chances of that moment coming by again would take a miracle. There are people in our lives, people in children's lives, people who through ignorance or their own issues can't help bring negativity wherever they go.  They need to tell children what they can't do, tell you what are your faults more than celebrate your strengths.  If you can manage it, take a good look around, take stock of who these people are in your life & take active steps to minimizing the impact on your lives until they sort their own crap out. If your children dramatically alter their behaviour, become distressed, anxious or worse in the presence of different people, that is a good sign those people are not in your child's comfort zone.

The school my youngest was attending pushed hard for a diagnosis, a word, something to call "it".  They explained without that they couldn't access special funding for an aide.  Oh for goodness sake.  She didn't need an aide, she needed someone to understand her needs.  A good early childhood teacher well versed in individual planning & emergent curriculum would understand.  Why is it so hard to say, this is what works well for this child & yes there are few things we need to work on in order for the child to reach age/appropriate milestones, yet do we need to push so hard we squish all the good stuff, eradicate their strengths & we end up with these rude, boring, violent even, ignorant human beings. Why is the mental health rate of our children one of the highest in the world & only going up?

Look with open eyes at your children.  Try to wipe your own lens from time to time & see them with fresh eyes.  What are their interest, what makes them dance, sing, holds their attention.  It doesn't matter if its quirky, if the other kids don't like it. Does it bring out the best in them, is it healthy, is it good for them & is there anyway you can do something about encouraging this passion, interest & bring out their innate strengths.

As we traveled around Australia all those years ago our little toddler would have this siren type noise, we often video taped & giggled at.  It turned into words, then songs & when she was 3, dressed in a feather boa, my vintage hats, as many bling type necklaces she could find & gloves up to her arm pits, trying to balance in my shoes on the foot stool, out came this enormous operatic voice.  We thought it was cute & I didn't realise until I recorded some of it, there were a few adaptions from watching Dora the Explorer & she was singing opera in Spanish. This of course went on to singing more & more & more.  Singing on the toilet, singing in the shower, singing was always an indicator of her mood. If she is off singing in the paddock or somewhere you can guarantee she is happy & feels good in that moment. Singing brings out her best. Someone once said to me "don't you find that really annoying".  I can't explain what went through my mind, only heaven help her children & no wonder she refused to see the play commenting "I hate musicals, my kids won't like them either".

So it was no surprise to me the play went well & several adults approached us on leaving who had been in audience & wanted to meet the Mum of the child who could sing with the big voice.  I was never so proud.  One lovely man asked for her autograph & she was so touched.  There was a big empty void after the play finished & we tried a few different options, singing definitely improved every other aspect of my daughters life & without it the rest was a struggle.  Several people had made a comment of her having a natural vibrato & I should consider a coach.  We tried a dance school, theatre group & yet she was plopped in there with kids who spent more time in dance than they did anywhere else & after a year of fees & perseverance to have a short 5 min end of year performance in which they mimed a song & didn't sing at all, it had totally missed the bar.

Along the way we tried other ways to bring out her confidence, whilst trying to persist with school & with the bullying I spoke to the owner of the gym I was attending & they started a kids circuit class, it was great. We then found our wonderful singing coach, who also has a background in Opera & so we couldn't be more excited.  Everything seemed on the way up, I still hadn't made the change to distance ed yet at the end of 2013 when the crap really hit the fan, knocked it flying & there was no more fan to keep us all cool, it was time for something big. I had two very fragile children who had worked their butts off trying to hold it altogether only to have it all ripped out from underneath.

So despite all the work we had done, moved to a place they had finally felt safe, adopted horses & chickens & watched ducklings arrive, despite the months of training both children to sleep in their beds, taking up swinging, joining the gym, addressing one issue after another & with gusto; with one big swoop it was all gone.  So with being out of options & with the help of friends I will always cherish, we packed all our things into a storage container, purchased a few back packs & when Mr Abbott offended the Indonesians & Bali was off the cards, we flew out to Rome before Christmas to spend the whole school holidays in Europe, visiting family & being as far from the mess & the hurt & the ignorance & the unhelpful school environments & the unhelpful people who had contributed to it.  I wanted to give them time to see the world through new eyes, to meet kind & amazing people.  To see the world without anger & violence.  To meet families where kindness & laughter is abundant.  To laugh loads, to sing, have fun, giggle & feel safe doing so. I wanted to show them what we were leaving behind was not what was ahead of them in life.

For two months our physical activity was walking for nearly 8 hours a day around some of the most gorgeous & ancient cities in the world.  Our history lessons were touching & gazing upon a city buried under ash, the cobbled roads of Pompeii, the girls researching where to go to next, mapping out & absorbing history first hand.  Learning flag colours from tasting the Margarita pizza, once created for Queen Margarita of Italy & discovering the meaning of the red, green & white toppings, learning then takes on a completely new relevance.  Fighting your way through the crowds at the Louvre to sit in awe of the Mona Lisa, terrifying your Mum up the Eiffel Tower, appreciating the challenges & poverty as we passed beggars & gypsies every day. These were the greatest of all our days & we only wish my son could have come with us.

When we returned the anxiety kicked in the moment we were on the plane, by the time we hit the tar in Sydney it was in full swing & we were all a bit on edge. Being forced to return wasn't going to do one thing towards fostering positive relationships.  We tried going back to the way it was, fitting back into school. My eldest tried out a new school.  Yet as the weeks passed we were seeing more & more of the same results as we had the year before.  Something had to change. It meant going against all the adult opinions & believing in my children, in listening to their inner voices, to their crying, to their pleas & knowing time & time again the things that they were good at, their special & unique & different things were nowhere to be found in the current school system.

So here we are nearly at the end of our first time of distance education, although my eldest decided to leave school & do full-time distance through TAFE in the two courses she intended to do after finishing high school, only now will complete 2 years earlier & already clocked up more work experience than she would have in the time she would have spent at school. Within weeks of her deciding, several friends followed suit.

Each fortnight as our packs arrive from the distance education unit we are more & more excited.  I regularly chat with the teacher who has exceeded our needs & listens intently, has a practical & professional understanding of trauma & the needs of different children (given distance education is often utilised by children who are unable to fit mainstream).  We've just negotiated around developing a few penfriends & as mini school is approaching where all the children are online like a school assembly, we've been asked to work on the National Anthem with our singing coach, record it & it will played for the school.

So whether we call it free range children or organic children or we give it some other cute & neat name, I prefer to think it was just listening to my children, letting them tell me what was working & what was going wrong.  It took a lot of thought & challenging my own views about what children need.  Yet I knew more than anyone if I didn't do something different then things would only get worse or never change & that was not the foundations I wanted them to enter adulthood with.

Last week we had a project on symmetry, so off we went on a beautiful excursion taking photos of symmetrical objects & places in the environment.  The teacher has incorporated art & creativity into every aspect of the program (including math, english/literacy, aboriginal studies/history), we have a physical activity program & at present the State has this great program going where children document with their supervisors (me) every 20 minutes.  It isn't just football or athletics or swimming.  It can be dance, yoga (yeah!), horse riding (lucky for us!), it can be dog walking.  So of course we are up there already working towards the Gold medal.

When I was really sick a few weeks ago, so sick I rushed off to hospital & couldn't regulate my temperature, my children were really concerned & it pushed those anxiety buttons head on. All those issues around their loss & grief events over the years came to surface & it was a really difficult time.  My youngest was distressed & the teacher sent out in the next pack a whole unit on grief, a story & a creative literacy activity in which we are researching all about my son who died of cancer & my daughter is writing his story & creating a picture book. We have a major art piece of 'Unique me' in which she has gone to town on a self portrait of herself sitting in a royal chair, with jewels & bling & everything that is unique & different & wonderful that makes up who she has become & wants to be.

I also decided to adopt the journal writing each day, it can be about anything & include pictures.  We also have a Q&A (yep just like the ABC) book, in which those million questions I'm asked when I'm driving or doing something & unable to have Google at hand, are written down & at the end of the week we have a day/few hours where we research all those questions. Right now as I'm catching up on writing, while I've put my study on hold so we can get our heads around this new lifestyle, I can hear music going as they are in their yoga pants, at the table we've converted into a study area, creating & laughing & talking & yes it's all school work. The only time we've had anxiety button pushes is the Naplan testing & there is nothing about Naplan that I can see of benefit to children.

There are great days, good days & days we are still learning.  The only ones who criticise our decision to opt out of mainstream schooling are the ones who are either ignorant or never bothered to look into what they are actually doing rather than what they are not doing.

We have no uniforms, no special ways to have the hair (my eldest will be glad, considering she had 3 hair detentions in 1 term from having a few wavy bits out of her pony tail). There are no lunch boxes, no back packs to remember.  We still go to the library 1-2 times per week.  The other day I tried to change it up a bit as my eldest took my youngest lessons & I listened as she had a completely different way of using spelling words & taking her through her tests, I learned & I'm the qualified teacher!

Some days we have appointments & the week gets away & we work on weekends. Some days late in the afternoon, other times first thing. Living with a child whose anxiety is like a hair trigger, as the day of the Naplan a tree branch broke & fell heavy against the house & she forgot how to write/spell her own name, I can tweak lessons around all the risk factors & all the issues impacting on her learning, so to maximise lessons & build on learning rather than make it a painful struggle every single day. No more bullying on the bus, no more criticisms of healthy eating, no more being told to hold on when you are busting to go to the toilet & can't hold! Yes it is a lot more work for Mum & supervisor & everyone else & as we learn more it becomes easier & must part of the day alongside everything else.

What I can tell you is I have a young person who is singing more than any time I've seen before.  We just picked up a new opera piece yesterday from her coach & now progressed from English to learning a piece in Italian. We go walking & take excursions & learning is very much hands on & relevant, meaningful & rewarding. The trauma is still there & we have to work around that every day.  Right now we are facing a wind storm & it is a fine balancing act when you have a little person whose anxiety is triggered by sound (hence the idea with the music!).

Having seen so much suffering in children, so many lives lost, so many lives where there is little life & having held a little persons hand until it was time to go, I cannot think of anything worth more time, more energy & more persistence than understanding your child's needs. When you listen, open your heart, listen intently, be prepared to do something which might go against your comfort zone.  If you invest anything in your children, give them your time & attention.

It might have been the path we had planned, yet it ended up being the path we were meant to follow.

Thank you to our supporters & sit back, watch & learn something to our critics xoxoxo

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