My children, my teachers

Welcome to the August 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Life Learners

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have talked about how they continue learning throughout life and inspire their children to do the same.

Travelling in Scotland

Life learning is an interesting, relevant, large and worthy topic for parents to explore. Here’s my post about how I continue to be a learner now I’m a parent with two young children.

Background

I was fortunate to be to able to spend the majority of my twenties studying, training or travelling. My son was born just shy of my thirtieth birthday, my daughter followed almost three years later. I have spent the past half decade parenting, finding some time to also pursue my hobbies of writing, yoga and walking. More recently, I started volunteering at my children’s playgroup, which has led me down a new and exciting career path in Forest School.Our family in Quebec

Forest School training

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On the forest school training course

I am at the beginning of a year of training to be a Forest School Practitioner, having taken an initial training course and now consolidating my skills through further voluntary work, studying in order to complete my portfolio and the start of paid employment one session per week in the role of Leader at Woodland Adventurers, an outdoor session for 2 to 3 year olds at playgroup. If all goes to plan, I will be a qualified practitioner by the end of 2016. Studying is in addition to my main role as mother and home educator of my children, who are now 5 and 2 and a half years old.

Learning and parenting

Ewan and his Mummy
Baby Ewan and mummy

After my son was born, I spent many hours devouring every natural parenting book available, mainly when Ewan was nursing. I was in the very fortunate position of being able to dedicate most of my time and energy to my son, without a job to return to or other children to already care for. Becoming a mother sparked a period of new self-directed learning, with the ultimate aim of becoming a better, more informed mother. This more choice-based, learner-led research was a far-cry from the more formal, directed learning of my past. It also bore in me a period of creativity in writing, which is still developing.

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Our family of four

By the time my daughter was born, I had far less time to read, savouring the snatched moments I was able to read for any length of time, if I wasn’t too tired to do so! Life has just got busier and busier since then, although my thirst for knowledge has anything but abated. I love reading about natural parenting and more recently about the natural world, doing so whenever I can.

Home education as co-learning

DSCN4280We are at the start of our home education journey, as my son has just left his small, nurturing playgroup and forest school. We are already co-learners, as I learn more about the world alongside my children. My son’s curiosity is unquenchable; it is amazing to observe and a real privilege to witness and support. He asks many questions I cannot answer, which is a humbling lesson to me and an important lesson to my son in learning that adults do not possess all the answers, but have to research and learn themselves too.

My children as my teacher

We facilitate each others learning in many ways; my son and now my daughter are definitely my greatest teachers, about myself and about the world we live in. They teach me something new every day. Some of this is very tangible, like what my son teaches me about forest school, as he is far more experienced in this environment than I am. His questions are also very revealing, as they cause me to stop and think about the world, looking at it in a fresh way. A lot of his ‘teaching’ is more difficult to define; he is my mirror, as he reflects my behaviour. At times this can be unnerving, as I experience qualities or modes of behaviour in him which I need to address in myself, but at other times this can also be rewarding, as I see reflected in him some of my better qualities.

Ewan on an expedition with Daddy in Snowdonia, Wales
New ways of learning

I look forward to the many riches home education will bring us. It is a new, exciting and in some ways daunting path to go down, as it is so far removed from more conventional ways of learning and living. I am confident home education is the right path for us; it has already opened up many doors, including new ways of learning, meeting some inspiring people and leading a more alternative lifestyle.

My children also cause me to slow down, to ponder and to look afresh at what I take for granted or never knew I didn’t know. Operating at their level instils in me a renewed sense of wonder of the world, as well as playful fun. I have started to learn how to play again, indeed given myself permission to play, for play as also necessary for adults.

Forest School

A number of my past learning experiences have been negative, in particular part of my PGCE year training to be a teacher. This has adversely affected me, to the extent that I lost confidence in my ability to teach. The initial forest school training week was excellent, it was worth it’s weight in gold as it turned my low self image completely around, in essence restoring faith in my own abilities.

Training to be a forest school practitioner
Training to be a forest school practitioner

One example of this was when the trainer asked me what I’d grade myself on a scale of one to ten for the wooden peg I’d just carved using a sheath knife. My answer of five was rebuked as my trainer said ‘it’s a 10’because it’s the first time you’ve used this tool and you’ve done a good job‘. His aspirational language boosted my self-esteem, so I felt in a very comfortable position in order to continue to learn, he also modelled good practice, the way I could mentor my future learners. He had also broken the task down into small, manageable tasks, so I always felt confident I could achieve them. This was a valuable lesson in how to facilitate learning with my own children, my future learners in the forest school environment and myself.

Erecting the tarp
Erecting a tarp

My training involves developing a lot of practical skills, as well as acquiring greater knowledge of the environment. At first the enormity of what I need to learn can appear daunting. However, I learn and practise alongside my children, having family wood skills days/sessions, where we light fires, practise using tools, put up shelters and identify trees and flowers together. This learning is carried-out in tandem with my children and brings us closer together as a family.

Humility

Tessa and Ewan in the woods
Tessa and Ewan in the woods

One of the many things forest school training has taught me is humility; that there is no end to learning, once you know something it opens up a vast area of what you don’t know. Perhaps accepting you’ll never have all the answers is part of this discovery, as is the patience to accept we can never know it all, for there is nowhere near enough time in one lifetime or the resources available to do so.

I can do it!

It is all too easy to feel completely overwhelmed with the massive amount going on in our lives as busy mothers, juggling this with a myriad of other roles. So I try to take the essence of forest school into my everyday life (when I can);

I break down my tasks into small, achievable tasks, in this way nurturing myself and congratulating myself when one task is complete, feeling ready to move onto the next. By embracing learning as more achievable, it can be seen in a new, positive light as fun and enjoyable.

A sleeping Tessa in the Burbage Valley
On one of my many walks

giving myself a break; At times this means asking my husband to look after the children so I can go to my yoga class, for how can I nurture others or be open to learning if I am exhausted? I also find time to go for long walks, often with my youngest in the sling; spending quiet, reflective time in nature offers me the space to unwind and recharge my batteries, ready to face the demands of my everyday life. My mother also looks after the children on designated days, so I can spend dedicated, focused time studying and writing without my children around to distract me. I always miss them when they’re not with me, but I realise I need to prioritise some quiet time in order to learn.

co-learning with my children, as mentioned above.

prioritising learning over the housework; I find this a challenge, especially as I study in my own home where there are so many jobs calling to be done. I try to be disciplined to study, but do not always achieve this, as I find it difficult leaving the housework. However, over the years I have learnt to let my standards drop as I use my ‘free’ time more wisely.

being organised; in order to juggle the many priorities in my life, I find I need to be very organised. I write many lists and jot things down on my phone or a post-it note, as well as keeping a diary and a journal. I have so much floating around in my head, all the to dos as well as what has already happened and needs processing in some way. It always feels good to tick a job off when it has been completed, as well as to reflect on what has passed in order to learn for the future.

In this way, I feel that what I am doing is actually do-able, most of the time! There is never enough time in the day, so we must use the time we do have wisely. One of the richest gifts parenting has so far offered me is in teaching me about new ways of learning. This post has helped me reflect on this process, for learning is a journey, not a destination, it has no end. I look forward to discovering more about how fellow parents learn by reading your posts too. Thank you for reading.

My family at the knighting ceremony
My family at the knighting ceremony

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • The Financial Advice That Saved My Marriage — Shortly after they got married, Emily at Natural Parents Network and her husband visited a financial planner. Many of the goals and priorities they set back then are now irrelevant, but one has stuck with them through all of the employment changes, out-of-state-moves, and child bearing: allowances.
  • Lifelong Learning — Survivor at Surviving Mexico–Adventures and Disasters writes about how her family’s philosophy of life-long learning has aided them.
  • Inspiring Children to be Lifelong Learners — Donna from Eco-Mothering discusses the reasons behind her family’s educational choices for their daughter, including a wish list for a lifetime of learning.
  • Always Learning — Kellie at Our Mindful Life loves learning, and lately she’s undertaken a special project that her family has been enjoying sharing with her.
  • We’re all unschoolers — Lauren at Hobo Mama embraces the joy in learning for its own sake, and wants to pass that along to her sons as she homeschools.
  • My children, my teachers Stoneageparent shares how becoming a parent has opened doors into learning for her and her family, through home education and forest school.
  • Never Stop Learning — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses her belief that some of the most important things she knows now are things she’s learned since finishing “formal” schooling.
  • Learning is a Lifelong Adventure — Learning has changed over time for Life Breath Present, and she is more excited and interested now than ever before.
  • Facebook: The Modern Forum — Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains why Facebook is today’s forum – a place where people from all walks of life can meet to discuss philosophies, debate ideas, and share information.
  • 10 Ways to Learn from Everyday Life (Inspired by my Life in Japan) — Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different offers tips she learned while living in Japan to help you learn from everyday life.

12 thoughts on “My children, my teachers”

  1. Wow! So much learning! I love how you have incorporated your learning with your children and viceversa! It’s incredible the things we learn when we choose our own subjects and pursue them with the passion only a willing learning can have! 🙂

    1. Hi, thanks for your comments and support. I agree, it is incredible how much we can learn when we pursue our own learning and are also led by our children.

  2. Facilitating the forest school will be so interesting and rewarding – good for you!! And I know what you mean about devouring knowledge about parenting. I spent so much time reading and learning when my first was born – and of course continuing on through today. It’s one of the best things to be knowledgeable about, I think 🙂

    1. Hi Dionna, thanks for your comment and support for my forest schools endevours. I agree that being knowledgeable about parenting is very important and is an ever growing area, expanding as our children grow and as we grow as parents too. I could spend a lot more time reading blog posts and parenting research, if I wasn’t parenting too!!

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment and enthusiasm about forest schools. I am really excited about where forest schools will take me personally and us as a family, it has already led us down a new path…The forest schools ethos really is amazing and fits with our parenting and learning philosophy. From reading your blog it sounds like you also lead quite an outdoor lifestyle too.

  3. I so agree with you that I want my children to hear me say I don’t know something, and then see me modeling trying to gain that new knowledge. So far it seems to be working. For instance, we all love the voice-control function on my phone that allows us to look things up on the fly! I know that’s not very foresty 🙂 but I do love that we keep learning daily, together.

  4. I love that you are so open and accepting of the idea of learning alongside your children. To be honest, that is one aspect of homeschooling that I get really excited about: getting to learn, or re-learn as the case may be, about various topics with my son, exploring subjects and ideas until he has learned all that he can or wants to. So many adults automatically take the stance of “I’m the adult and I know more than you,” but the truth is that there is always something new to learn, and we can continue to grow if we allow ourselves to!

    1. Hi Holly, thanks for your comment. I agree, learning alongside your children is one of the many exciting aspects of home schooling and as you say an aspect which some adults, posed as the experts, have trouble accepting. I believed adults were the vaunts of all knowledge for many years until I became an adult myself, then realised I knew very little! We can learn so much from our children and they from us.

  5. I really like everything that you’ve said here!
    I like the point that you’ve made about how, when you become a parent, you begin a new kind of self directed learning; discovering how best to care for your children, finding new ways to nourish them and grow them as people. That’s a really awesome and interesting point! Parenting is, in itself, a learning experience, in which you are constantly growing and changing.
    I love the idea of Forest School! Not sure if you’ve mentioned where you’re from; I’ve only ever seen people in the UK/Europe doing forest school. I wish that it were a more popular thing where I live, because I think it’s such an awesome idea.
    I wish that I could do that kind of training! Just like you, I did a teacher training here; I actually worked in a day care facility/nursery school full time for about 5.5 months. The center did NOT use AP practices, but I refused to use force/yell/shame/bribe, or do any of the things that the other teachers were doing. It was exhausting to be the only AP teacher there, especially because the other teachers usually assumed that I was refusing to yell because I was ignorant or “too nice”. Their constant shaming/yelling at ME for not yelling at the kids honestly killed a lot of my ability to see myself as a good teacher/caregiver, and it was so, so frustrating. I really appreciate you sharing a similar story/experience here — it means so much to me to hear that someone else experienced something similar.
    Keep on keeping on, Mama. You seriously rock.

    1. Hi Erin, great to read your comments, thanks a lot for your support. I’m sorry to hear you went through such a difficult time emotionally at work, I experienced something quite similar myself so I know where you’re coming from. In everyday life I come across people who are unsure of AP practices and at times receive negative comments because of it. It can be really hard to grin and bear. In a work environment it must be even harder. I had to remove myself from a stressful environment at work because it wasn’t doing me any good, and now am in a much better place, about to start work in a far more nurturing, caring environment where AP practices are followed. I hope you also find somewhere like that. Yes, forest schools is great, I live in the UK where it is a growing movement but I hear it’s not in the US. I hope in time it will be! Thanks again for your comments and support.

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