The Art of Boring Children

I am an incredibly boring parent.
Of course, part of this is down to my personality, but a large part of my remarkable boringness is by deliberate design. I believe that being boring is a useful part my parental arsenal.
I am surprised that being boring isn’t more frequently suggested in parenting manuals. I have found it helpful on many occasions.
A certain degree of boringness is vital for regulating children. But there is more to boredom than just that!
So, here are three main uses of boring your children. It is so handy, there may well be more, but three will do for now.
1) Teaching children creativity. This is probably the best known use of boring a child. Craft shops and Arts teachers would like us all to believe that creativity can be taught by demonstrations, that children will naturally be creative if you do arts and crafts activities with them. I have not found this to be the case. It is cheaper and quicker to leave some arts materials out and then make no suggestions at all. Give your children nothing to do and they will have to find something by themselves. Boredom unleashes creativity.
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2) Extinguishing undesirable behaviour. I have frequently bored my children into stopping certain behaviours by always responding in the same flat and uninteresting way. It has really helped with whining and rude language. You do have to be careful not to annoy your child rather than boring them! But, if you succeed in being boring and predictable in your dull reaction, some behaviours will simply stop. Children don’t really like being bored and would rather do something that gets you interested and interesting.
3) Persuading children to do something they would rather not do. We are very sparing with this. It is mainly used for important hygiene tasks. If the boys simply refuse to comply I sometimes employ my ‘nothing will happen until you wash your hands’ rule. I do absolutely nothing until they wash their hands. Sometimes their hands have been in very unpleasant places.
This even has limited success in getting children to sleep. Boring books (ideally pitched just a little too old, so the child sort of enjoys it, but finds the plot moves too slowly and there is a bit too much description) and repetitive songs have sent my children to sleep too many nights to count.
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Boring children is basically harmless. It doesn’t cause children any real stress, NIR does it arouse Shane. But it encourages children to get creative and try something new, whether that’s play dough or hand washing or thinking of a pleasant thing to say.
Of course, there are hundreds of circumstances when it isn’t helpful at all. But, there are times when nothing is quite as handy as being the most boring mummy possible.

A poet to save the Earth.

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Husband and I went to see The Frogs Saturday night. Not the original Greek one, the modernised musical. It was at the Mumford Theatre.
It was a fun production, and a really wonderful date night!
But, they substituted the writers. Instead of popping down to Hades to fetch Aeschylus and ending up with a poetic duel between Aeschylus and Euripides; Dionysus went to fetch Bernard Shaw, who ended up having a battle of words with Shakespeare.
I was a bit surprised by the choice of Shaw and then slightly disappointed by the Shakespeare selection. Shakespeare is too easy a pick, surely. And with the number of Shakespeare plays currently in production and the popularity of his poetry, I don’t think he really needs bringing back. Did he ever leave?
So, I started thinking, who would I chose to bring back? Which dead writer do I think could speak to our current situation?
Of course, Aristophanes says he wants a poet, but his poets were what we call playwrights. He wanted to bring back a writer whose work was performed to a large public.
A playwright it is, then.
Well, how about J.B. Priestly? Surely the central message of An Inspector Calls about the wide reaching effects of our mist callous actions could be spoken to even greater effect in today’s global economy. But, like Shakespeare, this play had never really left our stages.
Perhaps Oscar Wilde, then. His trivial characters with their endless wit would fit right in with our modern media of quips in 140 characters or less.
My final suggestion is J. M. Barrie. Not just Peter Pan (though, really, that play about never wanting to grow up, about the power of belief and the trap of the roles we choose; could take us all a long way), what about Quality Street? In Quality Street Pheobe pretends to be a younger girl, her own nice, in order to go to a ball with a man she loves, only to discover that he loves her – the real her, and not the silly, younger version at all. Surely all that Barrie has to say about aging will help us now with our aging population. What about The Admirable Chrichton and it’s exploration of how the stories we tell differ from the experiences we share and how those class divisions, which vanish when people are stranded on a desert island, return in full force once those people return to society. Societal pressures and their impact on family life, could there be a more perfect subject to explore today?

What my children taught me about orbits and volcanoes.

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This evening, after Daddy came home from work, the boys presented their first research projects. I am very proud.
Middly went first. He told us what he had discovered about volcanoes and showed us a little globe with the ‘ring of fire’ drawn on it.
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He read the facts he had written down (only stopping once to puzzle out his handwriting – I’m hoping this will do more to convince him of the importance of legible writing than my complaints do). Then he did a volcano experiment.
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He mentioned how his first try of this experiment hadn’t quite gone to plan (he’d forgotten to crumble up the baking soda and citric acid mixture to make the reaction quicker) and he made sure that it went perfectly this time.
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Seeing him bring this project to completion was wonderful. Middly isn’t always very keen on completing his projects, and this one has lasted almost three weeks. But he kept going and saw it through to the end. I am pretty sure that he’s proud of himself too!
Eldest’s presentation was on Orbits. He had carefully arranged his speech, even planning the explanation for his demonstrations. He was very formal and serious about his project.
He started by rolling a ball on the floor and talking about friction. He threw it to demonstrate the Earth’s gravity. Then, using a string tied to the ball to represent gravity, he span the ball in an ‘orbit’ around his head.
He told us some things he had discovered about space, then finished with another demonstration. He put a quilt on the floor and put several marbles and a tennis ball on it. Then he rolled a football onto the quilt to demonstrate how the size of objects and their distance apart dictates how they react to each other’s gravitational pull. Some small objects collide, if they are too close. Objects that are too far away are not affected at all. Only objects the right distance away will begin to orbit.
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He made a great effort to understand the science and to tell us all about it. Seeing his pleasure in the success of his demonstrations was wonderful.

All in all, today was a very good day to be home educating!
I am really delighted with the success of this approach so far, and looking forward to the next projects!

Let me tell you what you’re doing right.

There is too much guilt in parenting these days.

True, there are some parents out there who abuse and neglect their children. But they are not usually the same people as those who read the guilt-inducing parenting magazines and blogs.

So here is my very important list of things you are already doing right. Please read it and come back from time to time when you’re feeling guilty to read it again.

1) You are feeding your child. (Yes, this still applies if they eat chips, chocolate, non-organic vegetables, and drink fizzy drinks). You prepare or order meals every day? You are doing it right. (And, you’re still covered if the child doesn’t always eat it. The odd skipped meal is fine.) Children need food, this is very important!
2) You are keeping your child warm and dry. (Not all the time, obviously, sometimes you might get caught in the rain, sometimes they won’t wear their coat, and don’t even get me started about hats. That’s not the point.) Your child has somewhere to live and clothes to wear? You’re doing it right.
3) You give your child a safe place to sleep at night. They have a bed? You’re doing it right. Children love to have a soft, safe place to sleep in.
4) You listen to your child. (Not constantly, you are a person, you have other stuff to do!) You know what their voice sounds like? You have some ideas of stuff they like and don’t like? You’re doing it right.
5) You keep your child clean. You change nappies? You bath the child sometimes? You wash clothes and bedsheets from time to time? You’re doing it right.
6) You play with your child. Any game counts. Any length of time counts. Any frequency counts. If you can recall the last time you tried to have fun with your child (it still counts if they cheated or ended the game with a massive tantrum) you are doing it right.

You may feel that these things are just basic. But the basics really, really matter. If you are doing all these things, then you are a good enough parent. You can relax.

When you next take stock of yourself as a parent, please check these items off first. They really matter and you deserve credit for doing them. Tick off all the items on this list and you are taking good care of your child.

But what about educating, inspiring, encouraging, nurturing, what about attachment parenting and building independence and socialisation? I just want to say one more time, cover the basics and that is good enough.

Yes there are other things you can do. And, yes you can still make mistakes and get some things wrong. Honestly, you probably will make some mistakes sometimes. But if you can keep the basics going then you are doing a lot right.

Whatever else you aim to do with parenting, always remember to tick these things off first. We all need reminding from time to time that we do a lot more right than we do wrong.

National Space Centre trip

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To keep excitement high and encourage the boys’ research efforts in Great Lesson One I took them to the National Space Centre.
It’s a fair distance from us, and not cheap (£50 for the family including a £2 parking fee!), but it is a great day out!
As well as awesome rockets, there are loads of hands on exhibits.
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Both big boys loved all the computer exhibits. There were a lot of those!
The boys really enjoyed the Baked Bean exhibit where they simulate the weight of a can of Baked Beans on various planets and on the Sun. A brilliant way to clear up the distinction between mass and weight!
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There were several models of the Solar System. Which allowed the boys to experiment with the causes of eclipses.
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Eldest found a video of Keppler’s Three Laws of Orbits, which is really handy for his research.
We really enjoyed the ‘astronaut’ training, which included an exciting ride. The planetarium is pretty impressive.
Plus – a big bonus for Mum and Dad – there’s a reasonably priced cafe.
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Baby left his crusts, and I had to take a photo. It’s the first time one of our children has done so! Baby does sometimes leave some of his meal, which the older two found very worrying at first. As time has gone on, however, I think that Baby’s relaxed attitude to food has really benefitted the big boys.
They came back from the trip with renewed enthusiasm for their projects. I am definitely going to stick to my plan of including a trip as part of each Great Lesson.

Writing Resolution

We’re a week into the year and I need a new resolution.
The current one: more PLACE parenting and less losing my temper, is going pretty well. But, then, my husband is still on holiday, so parenting is currently half the normal workload! It would be pretty poor if I wasn’t doing well.
The problem is that I completely forgot to make a resolution for myself.
I am well aware that I need to believe that I have some life apart from the children. Otherwise I start resenting them and grow even more cranky and short-tempered. Then I start thinking that my parenting job is so hard I have no time or energy for anything else.
I get grouchy because I feel resentful. The boys dislike being resented and become more difficult. I get more tired and spend more time trying to work out how to be a better parent.
But, the more time I spend on parenting research and planning, the less time I have for me. So I get more resentful and so on.
Sometimes the best way to improve my parenting is to devote a bit less time and energy to it. Sometimes the best thing I can do for my children is something that has nothing whatsoever to do with them.
So I am going to get back to working on my writing, and trying to get that second commission!
My (slightly late) Writing Resolution is to do some writing every day. Not a massively ambitious resolution, I know. But, there’s no point being unrealistic. Once Husband returns to work, there will be very few moments in the day that don’t feel like a crisis.

First Research Project

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The day after the First Great Lesson, the boys began their first ever research projects!
I set out books and manipulatives ready for them to fiddle with. We talked about what they remembered from the Great Lesson and what had interested them.
I let the boys poke at the science kits and books on the table. Then I told them that they were going to do their own project and asked them what they would like to use.
I suggested they considered what tools they wanted to use and what they were interested in finding out.
Eldest wanted to use the orary. Middly wanted to do the ‘Volcano Island’ experiment from his new science kit (they both got a few relevant items for Christmas – one of the boons of home ed!).
Eldest settled on ‘How did the planets begin to orbit the sun’ and Middly on ‘Volcano Islands’.
I got them both to write down their chosen titles, then brainstorm what sorts of things they could try to find out.
Eldest also wrote down some ideas of how to find out the answers to his questions (he was very eager to use Google and reluctant to concede that there might be other sources of information available). With a bit of support, he came up with the internet, books from the library and doing some experiments. That was the end of their first day of research!

Despite Eldest’s conviction that Google is the source of all knowledge, the next day we began research using books! Husband went through a paragraph with each boy, showing them how to select and write down only the ‘important or interesting bits’. They managed to read one page each and to get three sentences onto paper. They both needed a bit of help changing a few words and adding a few words so that their writing made sense. But I hadn’t expected them to know how to do this right away. They are on the way towards becoming independent learners. It is really working and I am thrilled!

Day three of research and Eldest (finally) got a chance to use the computer. He managed to get another two sentences, though he needed help to craft them into proper sentences again.
Middly did his first volcano experiment.
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The experiment didn’t go precisely to plan, which is secretly what I wanted. I filmed it for him and we watched it together afterwards and talked about improvements we could make next time.

Today we took it pretty easy research-wise. We went to the library and each boy chose two books to take out. I showed them how to use the Indexes to see if books had the kind of information they needed.

Tomorrow we have the big research trip planned, which I will post about when we get back!
We have been doing half an hour of Maths and half an hour of English every day as well. But, that also belongs in another post!