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The Lee Academy

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Month

June 2017

A Story: Growing Seeds

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful farm, full of life, wonder and imagination. Many plants grew on this farm, and all were taken care of with much love by their growers and gardeners. The leaders of the farm would cherish each of the things the growers and gardeners grew from the ground, because everything was seen to have a beauty all of their own.

One day, a company came to the farm, and said, “We have heard from far and wide the beauty that your farm bestows upon the land. We want your land to give us fruit, so that we can buy these from you, and you may use the money to grow more.”

The leaders of the farm were so happy, that they explained to the growers and gardeners, “We need you to grow fruit. Get your seeds to grow fruit.” So the company randomly handed out the seeds, and asked all the gardeners and the growers to grow fruit.

The growers sowed the soil, carefully planted the seeds they were given, one by one, and watered and fed them daily. They lovingly did this until one miraculous day, a shoot popped out of the seed. The growers were so very happy. They’re seed had become a plant. At that time of love, some forgot about the brief to make fruit, and simply loved their little plant.

When the plants were a little more mature, the growers started to speak to their plants and told them that fruit was what they had to grow. The plants, not fully knowing who they were as yet, were so eager that they dreamed of what kind of wonderful fruit they could all become.

But as some of the plants grew up, some of them started to show that they were not going to grow fruit. Some became spiky pines, some became very tall with long trunks, and some grew these beautiful yet useless things called flowers. And those that were celebrated, were those who grew into fruit. There were strawberries, lemons, apples, oranges, figs and a number of other fruits that made their growers so proud, and also made the plants extremely proud of themselves.

But the flowering plants were sad. “I want to be a flower, Grower. It’s just who I am. Don’t you think my fields are beautiful with the flowers I produce?” said the flowers. The Grower would reply, “Yes, of course you’re beautiful, but you’re a grown plant now, and fruit is all that the company will pay for. So you must try harder.”

The tall trees were also sad. “I want to reach for the skies, to shelter the birds and little animals, to provide a shade for you, to care for you, my Grower. Isn’t that important too?” said the trees.  The Grower would reply, “You are so caring, and that is lovely. But you’re a grown plant now, and the only way the farm can survive is if you produce fruit. So please keep trying.”

The bush with spiky pines and leafy green leaves were sad. They did not have the beauty of the flowers, the height of the trees, and yet they also did not bear fruit like the fruit trees. They didn’t even ask the Grower if they could just be themselves. They simply stayed sad, kept to themselves and always knew that they would not matter, because they did not make the fruit the grower had wanted.

The Growers pushed their seeds, fed them, and the seeds were no longer happy, because they all were pressured to be the one thing they needed to be to be praised by the Farm, the Company, and all the other Growers of the land. They wanted to be loved, accepted and treasured for who they were, but the Farm had changed, and so were the seeds’ happiness in the Farm.

 

One day, a few Growers spoke to each other. “Don’t you think my flowers are beautiful? Who says they should be fruit, when they produce such a lovely scent, and are so wonderfully beautiful to look at? I love my flowers and I want them to continue being flowers, ” they would say.

Some growers of fruit questioned them, “Aren’t you afraid that once their flowers die, they will have nothing to show for it? Why not get them to make fruit, so they can be sold and you and your plants will have money to do more with?”

And the Growers, who loved the flowers would reply, “I’m not afraid at all. Because they have everything that they could ever want right now, just to be loved and cherished as a flower.”


 

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The Competition Era

I sometimes wonder if the human race is the only species that still fights for survival even when food, shelter and more than ideal circumstances are so over abundant. Are we the only species that needs to keep feeling that enough is never enough? Why are some people constantly fighting, and others feel quite happy to ‘settle’ with not much?

Some people (including me) feel that for families to function well, that they stick together.  A long time ago, boys use to stay with their fathers as the fathers worked the land, worked on their trade or went to hunt. Girls would stick with their mothers. There is something so beautiful about this journey, where a child can always feel safe to explore and learn from their world, and always look up to the person that loves them unconditionally.

We have wonderful labels for eras of the past. Ancient times, Medieval, Renaissance, Industrial etc.

I have a feeling that when people look back on us, right here, right now, they would call us the ‘Competition Era’.

Why?

Because we living in a time where we pit our children against each other, rank them against each other, and put them through a rigorous timetable to ensure that they are the best.

Because when children are born, we feed them the thoughts that they will be the best, and can be anything they want to be, as long as they believe and work hard. We also sacrifice so much of ourselves so that our kids can reach potentials that are years (sometimes decades) in the waiting. Maths and English classes on weekends, language classes, practicing musical instruments; I know a lot of very accomplished children who are far more ‘talented’ than mine… but you simply cannot put “I have a great dad because he listens to me when I’m scared” on a piece of paper that is of any significance in THIS current world setting, and that’s the problem.

Also, we are in an age that has FULL access to what is going on around the world. It is the first time ever that the entire human race knows about what is going on to people around the world. Funnily enough, to be human, you would think that we would do all we can to assist, give and help those who are not just less fortunate than us, but those that are actually dying, starving and suffering so badly on the other side of the world.  Instead, you will find, that most of us may give $30 a month, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us too much, to these people.

But in this Era, the Competition Era, it is not what is defined as human. We have been taught to take care of ourselves. We have been taught that no one else will help us if we do not first help ourselves. It is a time where competition of being the smartest, fastest, prettiest, most talented etc is being instantly displayed on social media, for instant self gratification. Our motivation in life is no longer (for the majority) to help and assist those who are suffering so badly, they watch their children die, or the homeless right here in our own streets. Our motivation in life is purely for ourselves, our little circle or people.

I believe that the world is slowly starting to shift, and this is where and why homeschooling is making a remarkable increase all over the world. Suddenly we see that to set out children in competition with each other doesn’t teach our children life skills, how to love others, how to actually survive in this world, how to be human. We see competition, rankings and a full schedule as a fast track way to tell our children that family connections come a far second to self gratification and academic/monetary success.

We teach this to our kids the moment we rush them out the door to go to a really great school that we lovingly paid for. We teach this to our kids when we rush them from school to their violin/soccer/gymnastics/swimming lessons, and tell them to suck it up and do better, and why can’t you just get better at that/get into that league/get that mark? The pressure we hold on our kids is required because WE are putting in the effort to pay for the privilege, as well as sacrifice our own lives to ensure that they have these privilege.

Some would see this as love.

But when the kids are young, this is not what they see.

Love to a child is focused attention, slow conversations, cuddles, attention on things that matter to them (no matter how silly or useless we think they are) and not rushing through those very crucial conversations regarding difficult emotions. Love to a child is make believe games involving parents, rough play and lots of doing what makes them happy.

We are in a Competition Era as we speak. However, some of us are choosing to live a very different life, and choosing that for our children. Because we want our children to grow up knowing that family connections, are more important than anything this world has to offer.

Mental health, homeschool and happiness

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.

See, most days for me, ever since taking this journey of homeschooling with my three children, is wonderful, it is fulfilling and most days are 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 5 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, hug it out on the couch whilst reading a funny book that has no pictures.

This was a far cry from the end of last year, where I was booking appointments for mental health experts for Mr. 6; paediatricians, child psychologists, having conversations with them over the phone about what is wrong with him, booking assessments.

Today, he is simply a very different child.

I asked Mr. 6 today five reasons why he likes being homeschooled. Here they are:

  1. After “work” time, I get to play and I get to play a lot.
  2. I love break times where we eat together.
  3. I love being with my brother and seeing him be silly.
  4. I like seeing friends and playing with them for the whole day.
  5. I like staying inside when it’s cold and not rushing in the morning.

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 homeschooling making you happy, are you happy with the way things are. And the reason is, is that the reason why I first started to homeschool, was simply because my children’s mental health is of the utmost important to me.

Now yes, every parent would probably say the same. 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, no, but it’s more what is HIS priority. Being away from family was the issue. And when you look at his responses to what makes him happy about homeschooling, you can see why he is finally being fed.

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… everyday.  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 4 – 17 years old 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 so high, and why is the expenditure on it so very high?

Health Direct’s website advise the following 8 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 checkups with the doctor can all help.
3. Develop gratitude
Count your blessings. Try keeping a gratitude journal and write down 3 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. Using your strengths to help others or contribute to the community creates a sense of meaning and purpose.
5. Create flow
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 contributing through meaningful work, but this could also mean 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. 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental disorder at some time in their life – depression, anxiety and substance abuse are the most common disorders.

 

Mental health problems are caused by so many issues. Now, I am not a mental health expert. But I cannot 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 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 3 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, to 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 simply, are not happy.

Here’s another idea.

This is the link to the Australian Curriculum. The first welcoming paragraph of this website reads this:

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 5 of the mental health recommendations), connect with families and community (point 1), identify and develop their individual strengths (point 4), giving to others and also spirituality (point 6 and 7, which 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.

If you are not aware, homeschooling in Victoria is going to take a bit of a shift as of January 2018, due to new regulations that will require all new registered homeschoolers to summit a plan for the year, be ready for checks, and possibly, a requirement to stick to the Australian Curriculum for the children you are teaching.

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 my homeschool to ensure I am within the requirements.

But nothing here… tells me how my children are going to benefit. It simply tells me what is expected, 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 it will be marked and judged. And simply, if it doesn’t measure up because rather than getting his reading up to scratch, he would rather learn the periodic table’s list of elements, they are advising that possibly, homeschooling will not be 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 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 homeschooled).

I aspire him to be happy.  I aspire them to be happy, and to know how to be happy.

Just like what 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, that is filled with happiness, with slow days, with cups of Milo whilst you mull over sums and reading, with warm hugs in the Sun whilst reading the Iliad and Shakespeare, watching the rain whilst indoors inside a warm doona, whilst helping your brother spell ‘poo’ and ‘wee’ and laughing at each other when mum finds out, whilst learning with your family and celebrating achievement instantly when you finally get it, slow family days that connect connect connect…

… they will carry with them something worth more than anything 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, with their community and grown a strong relationship around people who are feeding them positive messages about themselves, and not more aligned with society’s ideals of who they should be.

They will have had so much time to play, run, jump, kick, somersault, climb, each and every day that it will be so normal for them, that sitting down all day will be absolutely 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 you have. Because they are not rushing from life goal to life goal, from activity to activity, they are focused on other things… and are able to allow deep thoughts on certain matters through time and having the space 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 homeschooling 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 than this.

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