An Open Letter to Parents Considering Home Education Dear parents,

Firstly I hope that your journey to this point hasn’t been too traumatic. I’ve heard so many horror stories, and my heart breaks for all involved.

Only you will know if this is the right move to make, but I’m sure many have given you their opinions on the matter.

‘You’re bonkers for even thinking about it.’
‘I could never do it.’
‘You’re braver than I am.’

Sound familiar?

I’m going to be straight here, home education is no walk in the park. In fact it’s been the biggest challenge of my life, and believe me I’ve had my fair share over the years. Although home ed may be the best option for your child, have you given full consideration to the impact it will have on you?

You must, absolutely, factor yourself into the equation you see. It’s not all about them, you are vital to this being a success. If you aren’t fully prepared, it could end up being disastrous.  

The big questions to ponder…

Are you mentally strong enough to cope with the additional responsibility? Can you cope financially if it means taking a pay cut? Do you have a support network in place? How are you going to feel about having no separation time from your child(ren)?

I thought I’d asked myself all this prior to pulling my then-6yo daughter Polly out of year two in 2015. I can now see, however, that there were bases I didn’t have covered. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Go over these questions again and again until you know for certain what the answers are. 

For Polly, home education has been the best move, because she desperately needs the flexibility that it provides. She was drowning at school, masking her autism and trying so hard to fit in that she couldn’t cope. She has grown and flourished since being at home. Gone are the two hour meltdowns every night, and slowly but surely the challenging child is becoming a lot less so.

The thing is, getting my girl on track came at a very high cost: my mental health. Already severely sleep starved and chronically stressed, it pushed me to my absolute limits last year.

I very nearly fell over the edge.

Been there, done that. Twice. Mental breakdown is not pretty, and I never want my children to have to witness it

I realised that if I didn’t take action about my frame of mind, one of my worst nightmares could become a reality. Getting back to super clean eating and having a break from the booze is working wonders for me now, but it’s a shame it had to get as bad as it did for me to recognise that a disaster was on its way. 

It’s all too easy to get engrossed in the vicious cycle of negativity though, isn’t it? My kids’ challenging behaviour was too much for me to bear. The fighting and screaming and shouting made me want to run away. Having a drink became my only guarantee for quietening down the ringing in my ears.

When Polly dug her heels in, and refused to do any learning, I’d take it personally and get upset with her. My internal monologue became toxic, full of unhelpful comments. It told me I was a useless mother and crap wife. I wasn’t cut out for home education, and I was going to mess it all up. 

I felt helpless and trapped by the circumstances I’d created.

I started thinking that putting Polly back into school was the only solution

Which was ludicrous, because even throughout the toughest moments, it’s been clear that we did the right thing. The positive changes in her can’t be denied.

I’d like to say that alone makes it all worthwhile, but it’s not. I’m a mama of three, and at points, home educating Polly has come at the detriment of her brother and/or sister. It’s not a pleasant thing to admit, but it’s the truth.

I’m not writing this to put you off, quite the opposite. I wanted to share my story with you just in case there were holes in your plan. Just in case it made you think of other complexities that you might have overlooked. So you can cover all bases before taking the plunge.  

A few tips

Touch base with your local authority, and see if there’s any assistance available. You could be surprised. We are in contact with the home education team and the ASD service, and have only met lovely people. They can see that we’re providing a safe, varied and engaging learning environment for Polly, and we more than tick their boxes. They’ve offered us behaviour strategies that I might not have come across independently, and I’ve been grateful for their expertise. You have nothing to hide, so you have nothing to be afraid of from them.

Don’t fret about how much work the kids are doing, as long as they are learning. We aim for an hour of maths and English each day, which we do first thing. We have workbooks, games and computer-based programmes. Once we get the basics done, we are free to do the fun stuff: science experiments, baking, art work, trips out. I aim for Polly to keep up with where she would be if she were still at school. Some days she breezes it, others it’ll take hours to complete a simple task. No two days are ever the same, and some days are best written off and forgotten about.   

Focus on their emotional learning. I feel that far too much emphasis is put on a child’s academic abilities, and not enough is done for their mental health and emotional well being. This should be a priority, especially if they’ve had a bad school experience that they’re recovering from. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are all great to counter their anxieties. Getting them to keep an emotions journal or draw pictures of how they are feeling, might also help them process those feelings.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities. If you’re anything like me, you will have torn yourself into pieces agonising over this decision. Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts, if you know it’s the right move to make. Be bold, be brave, and have faith that no-one else knows your child(ren) the way you do. 

Also remember that home education isn’t for everyone, and that’s just fine.  

Wishing you the very best of luck!  

 

Polly Tries: Making Salt Dough Christmas Tree Decorations**This post has been written by my 7yo daughter Polly.**

Yesterday our kindness challenge was to make salt dough decorations. We made the dough, then cut out shapes with our cookie cutters. 

Afterwards we sprinkled them with glitter and baked them in the oven on a very low heat. We let our decorations cool down over night, and painted them with our special pens this morning.

Which was lots of fun.

It was mostly very easy, but mummy mixed the ingredients and rolled the dough for me. I really enjoyed this activity, my favourite bits were squishing the dough, cutting the shapes out and decorating them.

salt dough decorationsHere’s what you’ll need to make your own decorations (batch of 20)

2 cups of plain flour
3/4 of a cup of cold water
1/2 a cup of table salt
1 tbsp of oil
Glitter if you like sparkles
Fabric pens such as these 
String

Here’s how you make them

  • Pre-heat your oven to 130C
  • In a large bowl mix together the flour and salt
  • salt dough decorationsThen pour over the water, oil and mix well
  • Bring the mixture together into a  ball shape with your hands
  • Roll the mixture out on a flat surface
  • Cut your decorations out with cookie cutters 
  • Don’t forget to poke the holes in the top  for the string to go in (we used a chop sicks)
  • Sprinkle a bit of glitter if you wish
  • I made letters out of the left over dough for my name, and my brother and sisters names
  • Put your decorations onto a baking tray and bake for 2-3 hours
  • Let them cool down completely 
  • Decorate as you wish
  • Thread your string through the hole
  • Now they are ready hang them on your tree

on-autism-and-hard-work-finally-paying-offMy family’s struggles have been well documented, in a brutally honest way, here on the blog. I sometimes look back at our most desperately unhappy times, when no amount of hard work seemed to be working, and hope that my kids won’t hate me for over-sharing later on down the line. 

I hope they’ll understand that writing my way through the toughest days was my coping mechanism, and words on the page was medication for me. The older I get, the more I realise that cathartic writing is my Prozac. 

Breaking point

Last October, we were on our knees. With sleep deprivation, and meltdowns and overwhelm. With in-fighting and name calling and screaming and throwing and hitting. With evenings that rendered me unable to do anything but stare into space, and will the ringing in my ears, and white noise in my head to quiet down. I had a strong gut instinct that we needed to make dramatic changes to even have the slightest chance of surviving.

broken-quoteWhen I wrote this open letter to other autism mama’s, I had a feeling it would resonate, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would hit home the way it did. That people would get in touch and tell me that my story was their story. Or that until they read my letter, they’d never felt that anyone else understood them and their challenges. 

A week after writing it, my husband and I made the decision to pull our then-6yo high functioning autistic daughter out of mainstream school and home educate her. You can read more about our journey here.

When your hard work finally starts paying off

freddy-and-polly-making-a-volcanoRemoving the stress and anxiety that school was causing had an immediate effect. We had a flying start, and saw an end to the two hour long meltdowns, which had become a daily occurrence. Our girl was sleeping better than she had ever before, and she was noticeably happier within herself. 

Unfortunately the flying start came to an abrupt end shortly after Christmas. Easter was a low point, then we waded our way through the months (think treacle) until the summer holidays. During this time we took a step back from traditional learning, which was a leap of faith but fortunately the right thing to do.

We’ve never had concerns about Polly’s academic abilities, it’s her emotional intelligence that needs working on. 

inside-out-emotions-groupAt points this year it’s been absolutely grim, watching as Polly took out her frustrations on her younger siblings Clara (4) and Freddy (2). I won’t go into detail, as I wrote all about it here, but addressing this became top of our priority list as a family. 

Essentially we needed to break the bad habits before they became too ingrained, and intervene early enough for past hurt to be forgotten (no mean feat with children like mine, who have memories likes elephants). It didn’t come easy, or happen overnight, but in the last couple of weeks (dare I say it out loud) we’ve noticed a dramatic difference in the right direction.

‘Mean mama’

Yes, she’s autistic, but Polly is also extremely bright. She knows right from wrong, and doesn’t treat anyone else the way she does Clara and Freddy. So for months now, she’s been given an immediate consequence for violence or spitefulness towards them. The banned list includes hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, pinching, throwing things directly at them, and getting up close in their faces and calling them names.   

Although it felt for a long time that she would never get it, eventually she joined the dots. She began to understand that her behaviour would lead to her not getting the thing that she covets the most: playing out with her friends.

autism-mum-quoteWe’ve had tears, screaming fits, fists thrown, punches, slaps, scratches (to me). I’ve had to lock all the internal doors and windows so she can’t run off, and listen while she called me names. We’ve had a hundred rounds of ‘I hate you’, ‘you’re mean’, ‘you’re the worst mummy in the world’.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt through this, it’s that I’m here to be a parent, not my kid’s best friend.

It absolutely had to be done this way, it wasn’t fair on Clara and Freddy to be used as Polly’s punching bag any longer. It’s been soul destroyingly tough at times, but I know it’s for the best. Polly is learning, and things are improving. Slowly but surely, I can see that all the hard work we’ve invested is paying off.

Here’s what we’re doing to break the bad habits that have caused our family so many problems

pops-monopolyFind the thing that your child responds to. The removal of privileges discipline technique is not new, but everyone does things differently. It might seem harsh that Polly has had to lose her playing out time, but it was the only thing that she cared about enough for this to have the desired effect. For other kids it might be taking away their tablet, or not getting a bedtime story that evening. Keep the rules super simple: do this thing, have this thing taken away.

P & C. I can’t make promises of course, but I can say from personal experience, that perseverance and consistency have been absolutely key for us.

The right frame of mind. I know only too well how challenging autism can be, and how easy it is to get caught up in putting out the parental fires, and just surviving through the day. It can feel like nothing we are doing is working, but you must have faith in your own abilities. If you’re struggling with your own mindset, you might find my book Become the Best You useful. I’ve had to recently go back and take my own advice – you can read about my struggles here – and have to say it’s helped massively.

Concentrate on tackling one thing at a time. For years our top priority was getting Polly sleeping better (my next autism related blog will be on this topic). Once we’d finally succeeded with that mission, we could direct all our efforts towards breaking the bad habits I’ve mentioned.

Don’t use ‘if’ statements, remember there is no room for grey in the eyes of an autistic child. Never threaten to punish, especially if you have no intention of following through. Instead give a clear and immediate consequence, come what may – expect a blow up and be prepared for it.  

Pick your battles. Try to let the little things slide, because less is often more. As hard as it sometimes is to bite my tongue, it can be the difference between defusing the situation quickly, or it escalating and having a full scale riot on my hands.

Separate identity. Give the bad habit/behaviour an identity of it’s own, as we did here. Make it clear that it’s the habit/behaviour causing problems and not the child.

Cool as a cucumber. Try and stay calm. This is my biggest challenge, but I’ve learnt the hardest way that our lives are made a hundred times tougher when I lose my temper.

Don’t give up. It can feel so disheartening when nothing seems to be working, but keep at it. It can take months to properly see results.

Best of luck to you! You’re doing an amazing job, never forget that 💗

Open Letter to Autism MamaBTBY stack of booksthe-trouble-with-autism

 

Fire! Fire! Exhibition at the Museum of LondonWe were recently lucky enough to go to an exclusive viewing of the Fire! Fire! Exhibition which is being shown at the Museum of London.  

Fire! Fire! marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. For me it was a fascinating and eye opening way to discover more about my birthplace before, during and directly after the infamous disaster. Entertaining the kids whilst learning interesting facts is the ultimate win in my books.

About Fire! Fire!

The exhibition is running until the 17th April 2017.

Entry into the museum is free, but the exhibition is ticketed. Tickets can be purchased online in advance from the Museum of London website, or bought from the information desk.

Fire! Fire! is an exhibition for all ages, with interactive lift the flap games, touch screen challenges, dressing up and more for the children. My kids particularly enjoyed dressing up in clothes from the olden days, and participating in an interactive story session where Clara pretended to be the Tower of London.

The museum is running Fire! Fire! themed events throughout the year – from guided walks, to family craft sessions, to interactive storytelling, to sleepovers. Pre-booking is absolutely essential, so head over to the museum’s events page for further details.

The museum has created a unique and immersive virtual experience of the Great Fire using the video game Minecraft. Phase one of ‘Great Fire 1666’ was released on the 29th July, and phase two will be released in September. To learn more click here, or watch the video below.

Some interesting facts about the Great Fire of London

The Great Fire started at Thomas Farynor’s bakery on Pudding Lane, on September 2nd.

Six people died from the fire itself, but it is believed that many people died through indirect causes.

Around one hundred thousand people were made homeless as a result of the fire.

Prior to the Great Fire no-one had insurance, and the Fire Office was set up in 1680. They would mark the outside of your home with lead if you had insurance, and firefighting services would be provided to you. It wasn’t until 1866 that public service The London Fire Brigade was established, and firefighting was available to all.

Samuel Pepys, who was an MP at the time, became famous for the diary entries he wrote during the Great Fire. When he had to evacuate his home, he buried his expensive collection of wine and cheese.

Thanks so much to the team at the Museum of London for a great day. We had a fab time visiting, and learning all about the Great Fire! 

much happier mamaI’ve been very vocal in the past about how hard I find motherhood. With three kids under seven, no wider-family support, autism and home ed to contend with, I’m massively up against it.

I don’t think many would argue with that.

But, ultimately, our happiness does largely rest in our own hands. Do you want to know the most effective thing I have done lately to boost my happiness?

I stopped caring so much!

I took a huge step back from all areas in my life and stopped trying so hard to get it all right. You know what? I’m getting much better results.

Parenting. There’s no easy way to say this, but my kids are going to be stressful regardless, and focusing 100% attention on them 100% of the time just makes me miserable. I need down time, I need me time and I’m not afraid to admit that. Giving them a little more screen time so I can do some writing/exercise/cooking/staring into space is helping make me a better mama, which in turns makes me a happier one. 

I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. It's an act of survivalSelf-care. Which brings me nicely on to my next point. If we can’t look after ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else. It’s why they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first in the event of an emergency on an aeroplane. Think about that.  

Home ed. We are flying high with our home education, because I’m not putting pressure on any of us to ‘succeed’ or ‘achieve’. In fact I’d go as far as saying I’m redefining the meaning of these words, that have a habit of causing so much negativity. Winning in our house comes in the form of the kids sleeping more than a few hours at a time; or P wanting to get her workbooks out completely unprompted; or all three children playing together for a whole thirty minutes without it kicking off.

Writing. Draft one of Kate’s Story is now with my editor for a manuscript critique, and I’m enjoying sitting back and taking time away from the book. It’s quite refreshing to have a break from it, and apart from the odd Facebook Live broadcast, I’m not working on it at all. Hopefully when I pick it back up again I’ll be able to look at it with a true fresh pair of eyes, which will help massively with the next round of edits.

Blogging. Although I blog less than ever before, and am not glued to social media 24/7, Mummy Tries is going from strength to strength. I’ve taken on some fabulous collaborations recently, with Huggies, a2 Milk and Amazon to name but a few. Every week people get in touch telling me that they’ve read a post, or my self-help book, and that my words have made a real difference to their lives. I shall continuously be blown away by this feedback, but for me, that’s what it’s all about.

Social life. It’s been amazing to get a little piece of the old me back again, and I’ve had so much fun going out and about with my besties this year. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: friendship is a tonic for the soul, and for someone like me without extended family, absolutely vital to my happiness. I’m heading off this weekend for a three day break without the kids and hubby for the first time since becoming a mum, and cannot wait. Think it’s safe to say I’ve earnt the holiday, and while jetting off to Ibiza isn’t essential to your happiness, it sure does help 🙂

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