By Belinda Lee
Sometimes it’s difficult to write a post on how our days have been. And this isn’t because it’s difficult to write about. Simply, every time I write about how wonderful, amazing and fulfilling a day has been, I realise that it absolutely comes across as arrogant, conceited and, to be honest, showing off. This is never the intention.
You see, most days, for me, ever since taking this journey of home education with my three children, are wonderful, fulfilling and amazing. Hard days are days when no one (including me) wants to do the work, and instead, we go to the local trampoline bouncing play centre and have five hours of jumping fun (pelvic floor training fun). Hard days where little kids throw tantrums and cannot regulate their emotions become our hug days, where we bake cupcakes together, and hug it out on the couch whilst reading a funny book that has no pictures.
This is a far cry from the end of last year, where I was booking appointments and assessments for Mr. 6 with mental health experts such as paediatricians and child psychologists, and having conversations with them over the phone about what is wrong with him.
Today, he is simply a very different child.
I asked Mr. 6 today for five reasons why he likes being home educated. Here they are:
Sometimes I feel the need to check with my children, to see if everything is okay, and they are happy. Is this working out? Is home education making you happy? Are you happy with the way things are? And the reason is, that is the reason why I first started to home educate, was simply because my children’s mental health is of the utmost importance to me.
Now, yes, every parent would probably say the same thing. Why would a parent say anything different? But the little man I have this year, and the little man he was last year, are two completely different little men. Something has shifted, and an overall confidence has replaced a scared and shy little boy. School and kinder may not have directly done that to him – it is more a case of what HIS priority is. Being away from family was the issue. And when you look at his responses to what makes him happy about home education, you can see why – he is finally receiving what he needs.
Mr. 6 is no longer chronically shy (he is still cautious but no longer shy), loves making friends and being around them, but more than anything, he is happy, secure and confident in what he does, how he talks and who he is…every day. I have had many people tell me just how different he is this year, and how he has changed. To me, it is nothing short of miraculous to see Mr. 6 sometimes steal the limelight from our very bold Miss 5.
Mental health is such a major issue in Australia. We are spending $8 billion each year to just treat mental health issues. It is stated that almost half of all Australians have had a mental health issue, and 1 in 7 children between four and 17 of age have a mental health issue currently being treated. My son was nearly this child.
In such an affluent country, why is the prevalence of mental health problems so high, and why is the expenditure on it so very high?
Health Direct’s website advise the following eight tips for good mental health:
1. Build relationships
Having good relationships with other people is
the most important factor contributing to a sense of wellbeing. This can include family, friends, workmates and others in the community. Investing time and energy in your relationships can lead to great benefits for all involved.
2. Exercise and stay healthy
Exercise has been shown to increase wellbeing as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Good physical health is related to better mental health so a healthy diet, avoiding excess alcohol or drugs, and regular check-ups with the doctor can all help.
3. Develop gratitude
Count your blessings. Try keeping a gratitude journal and write down three positive things for each day. This can lead to increased wellbeing.
4. Identify and use your strengths
We all have different strengths and weaknesses but finding out what you are really good at and using those talents can increase wellbeing. A strengths questionnaire is available at Authentic Happiness < https://www.authentichappiness. sas.upenn.edu/testcenter>. Using your strengths to help others or contribute to the community creates a sense of meaning and purpose.
Flow is the state of being so highly involved in an enjoyable activity that you lose track of time. This usually happens when the level of challenge is about right for your level of skill. Flow can happen during work, hobbies, creative arts or sports.
6.Give to others
Making a contribution to the community, however small, increases social wellbeing. Many people feel a sense of contribution through meaningful work, but this could also be attained through volunteering, helping a neighbour, or performing small acts of kindness. Take some time to do the things you really enjoy. Pleasant events can lead to positive emotions that can cancel out negative feelings.
7. Spirituality or religion
For some people, being involved in spiritual or religious practices can improve wellbeing, help in coping with stress and reduce symptoms of mental illness. This can include belonging to a faith community, meditation, prayer, mindfulness, or practices such as yoga and tai chi.
8. Seek help
If you are struggling to feel happy, cope with everyday life, find meaning or feel connected to others, see your doctor or a mental health professional. One in five Australians will experience a mental health disorder at some time in their life – depression, anxiety and substance abuse are the most common of these disorders.
Mental health problems are caused by so many issues. Now, I am not a mental health expert. But I cannot but help join some dots in wanting to understand why it is such an issue. Why are people simply not happy? Is it because society’s expectations on our youth are too demanding? Are we trying to put our kids through too much so they won’t miss out? Is it social media? Is it the iPad addiction? Is it the foods we feed our kids? What could it possibly be?
When we first have our kids, when we hold our child for the first time, we are just so happy they are here. We are so happy they are safe, and alive and our lives change because they are here. They are so precious to us, they could be covered in scales or have three eyes, we would still love them with all of our being.
But suddenly, when they start life, we want them to be the best. Either we start to live through them, or we just want them to never be second. We want them to be the best ‘them’ they can be. And this expectation makes us see things in them, such as their strength, their musical ability or their intelligence. We sign them up for activities to enhance this, we sign them up for the best schools, we sign them up for things to make them the best. Surely, if you can be your best, you will be happy. We rank them, we judge them, we work so hard to spend money on all these opportunities…to make them happy.
But they aren’t. They are simply not happy. Here’s another idea.
The first welcoming paragraph of the Australian curriculum reads:
The Australian Curriculum sets the expectations for what all Australian students should be taught, regardless of where they live or their background. For F-10, it means that students now have access to the same content, and their achievement can be judged against consistent national standards. Schools and teachers are responsible for the organisation of learning and they will choose contexts for learning and plan learning in ways that best meet their students’ needs and interests.
What I see here are words such as ‘expectations’ and ‘achievement can be judged against’. When I read this for my Mr. 6 and my Miss 5, it makes my heart ache. Because I don’t see words like: helping children flourish in their natural flow (point five of the mental health recommendations); connect with families and community (point one); identify and develop their individual strengths (point four); giving to others (point six); and spirituality (point seven). (Incidentally, spirituality has been removed from most public school curriculums).
At this time, the only expectation I have of my children is that they are truly happy.
Home education in Victoria will take a bit of a shift as of January 2018, due to new regulations requiring all new registered home educators to submit a plan for the year and be ready for reviews, where they will need to demonstrate how they cover the 8 Key Learning Areas, possibly against the Australian Curriculum.
I have read all the requirements for Foundation, Grade 1 and Grade 2 (all 600 pages thus far) to just simply get ready for this. I am currently changing the way I home educate to ensure I meet the requirements.
But nothing here tells me how my children are going to benefit. It simply tells me what is expected of them, what they should achieve, and how this achievement will be measured. It does not teach my children perseverance through mistakes. It teaches them that there is only one answer to every question, and that it will be marked and judged. And put simply, if my child would rather learn his periodic table than practice his reading, I am concerned we may be advised that home education is not an option for him.
My beautiful family is happy. My beautiful son is a happy, free and secure child. I do not aspire for him to get an ATAR of 99.95. I do not aspire for him to be a doctor, or the next Olympic swimmer, or the next Thomas Edison (although, he was home educated!).
I aspire for him to be happy. I aspire for all my children to be happy, and to know how to be happy.
Just like they are now.
And some of you may say, yes, but will they be happy in years to come, without school friends, without certain opportunities, without all those activities and lessons, school sporting opportunities on weekends, etc?
My response to that is this: if they have the best childhood, one filled with happiness, with slow days, with cups of Milo whilst mulling over sums and reading, with warm hugs in the sun whilst reading The Iliad and Shakespeare, with watching the rain whilst indoors and under a warm doona, with helping your brother spell ‘poo’ and ‘wee’ and laughing at each other when Mum finds out, with learning with your family and celebrating achievements instantly when you finally ‘get it’, with slow family days that connect, connect, connect…
… then they will carry with them something worth more than anything money could ever buy.
They will have the confidence to follow their dreams, to achieve their interests and goals, and to strive for that idea.
They will have had time to connect with their family and their community, and they will have grown strong relationships with people who are feeding them positive messages about themselves, and not messages aligned with society’s ideals of who they should be.
They will have had so much time to play, run, jump, kick, somersault and climb, each and every day, that sitting down all day will seem abnormal.
They will discover and develop their strengths, their interests and what makes them tick. They will find that element that makes time flow so fast, they won’t know that they’re working, studying or achieving set goals. They will have found their passion in life.
They will discover what it is to give to others, to consider others, and to be thankful for what they have. Because they are not rushing from life goal to life goal, from activity to activity, they are focused on other things…and will be able to think deeply, and have the time to do so.
And, of course, they will understand their own spirituality, and what it is to be human.
A parent is always happy when their child is happy. My days are full of happy days, and our lives are fulfilled and warm. Schooling takes part, yes, but our home educating provides so much more than one on one teaching for our children. It gives them happiness, security, comfort, warmth and connectivity, delivered in a slow-paced, family- orientated setting. I cannot think of a better start to life for any child.
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