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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Why teenagers are growing up slowly...

It's been a while, and I haven't got much time to write today, so I've just quickly edited together a post based from an article I've been reading that I would like to share with you.


You can read the full article here on newsweek. It's fairly old, but interesting nonetheless, especially for those of us who are still relatively new to the idea of home education.

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Here’s a Twilight Zone-type premise for you. What if surgeons never got to work on humans, they were instead just endlessly in training, cutting up cadavers? What if the same went for all adults – we only got to practice at simulated versions of our jobs? Lawyers only got to argue mock cases, for years and years. Plumbers only got to fix fake leaks in classrooms. Teachers only got to teach to videocameras, endlessly rehearsing for some far off future. Book writers like me never saw our work put out to the public – our novels sat in drawers. Scientists never got to do original experiments; they only got to recreate scientific experiments of yesteryear. And so on.


Rather quickly, all meaning would vanish from our work. Even if we enjoyed the activity of our job, intrinsically, it would rapidly lose depth and relevance. It’d lose purpose. We’d become bored, lethargic, and disengaged.

In other words, we'd turn into teenagers.


Allen has concluded that our urge to protect teenagers from real life – because we don’t think they’re ready yet – has tragically backfired. By insulating them from adult-like work, adult social relationships, and adult consequences, we have only delayed their development. We have made it harder for them to grow up. Maybe even made it impossible to grow up on time.


Basically, we long ago decided that teens ought to be in school, not in the labor force. Education was their future. But the structure of schools is endlessly repetitive. “From a Martian’s perspective, high schools look virtually the same as sixth grade,” said Allen. “There’s no recognition, in the structure of school, that these are very different people with different capabilities.” Strapped to desks for 13+ years, school becomes both incredibly montonous, artificial, and cookie-cutter.


As Allen writes, “We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.”


And we wonder why it’s taking so long for them to mature. The old explanation used to be they needed time for the wave of raging hormones to dissipate. The newer explanation is that their brains simply aren’t developed yet: their prefrontal cortex hasn’t converted from gray matter to white matter, their amygdalas have a surfeit of oxytocin receptors, and their reward centers have a paucity of dopamine receptors. Few can say for sure yet how these anatomical features actually interact and create modern teenagers, but the gist of it is quite simple – until their brains are finished, they’re not ready for real life.

“Most parents will tell you that this idea of the immature teen brain is one of the few notions that truly provides them comfort,” says Allen. “They feel like it gets them off the hook – that it’s biological, not a fault of parenting.” But Allen speculates that our parenting style may indeed be causing their brains to be this way. Brains of teens a hundred years ago might have been far more mature. Without painful real-life experiences, modern teens’ brains never learn to tell the difference between what they should fear and what they shouldn’t. Without real consequences and real rewards, teens never learn to distinguish between good risks they should take and bad risks they shouldn’t. “We park kids on the sidelines, thinking their brains will develop if we just wait, let time pass, as if all they need is more prep courses, lessons, and enrichment courses. They need real stress and challenges.”


As for the risk behavior we associate with adolescence, Allen cautions that “We don’t give teens enough ways to take risks that are productive.” So they turn to drinking, drug use, delinquency, and the like – because those are the only things thrilling. I read on a friends facebook newsfeed this morning about the traic story of Isobel Reilly, but was most concerned that the police are considerin charges of child abondenment for the parents who allowed 15 year olds to be home alone. I think it's terrible that the parents went out knowing the children were drinking, but surely a properly 15 year old could be left unsupervised and trusted not to take class A drugs? To be honest, I'd hope they could be trusted not to et drunk, but sadly as our teenagers are restricted so much by society and the school system, it's so common to see them behaving outragouesly when given a little freedom. Look at freshers week at any university - it's total carnage.

“According to Allen, teens aren't naturally passive – their environment makes them passive. We’re writing them off at exactly the time we need to bring out their potential.


Allen came to this perspective partly from his scholarly research on teens, which we’ve written about before, and partly from his clinical practice with individual teens. His book tells the stories of a dozen patients who came to him in trouble. At first, these teens all manifested their problems differently, and seemed to have different symptoms. Sam was uncommunicative, unwilling to ever talk (she was forced to see Allen by the rules of her group home). Perry was a high-achieving boy who became an anorexic. Tim was pushing himself to success, when suddenly he dropped out to draw comic books. Tonya was a small, shy student on path to get pregnant and drop out, like her sister.


But what helped all these kids – Sam, Perry, Tim and Tonya – was a taste of real life. They found a way to do something meaningful in real life, interacting with adults, outside the realm of the high school artificial bubble, and outside the hovering control of their parents. For some, it was volunteering at organizations that really needed their help – where they felt they were making a real contribution. For others it was tutoring younger kids. For others, exploring a passion without regard to its value to their college application. Or it could be a job (not a McJob) where they interacted with adults. A little went a long way.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Reclaimed Parquet Floor

So I haven't been brilliant about keeping up to date with the rennovations we've been doing on our house. I was hoping to wait until we'd finished and then do before and after pictures, but Matt thinks it will be more fun if we keep it going and show you progress. He's probably right, and more importantly, with home improvements you're never really finished are you? So I could be waiting forever!


So the first thing I want to show you is our floor. When we viewed the house it looked like this



Not my favourite carpet/wall combo, and sadly the previous owners destroyed the carpet when they left. Actually, it wasn't that sad, because I hated the colour and it was a good excuse to replace it!


The carpet went right through the hallway, living room and dining room, so it would be a large area to replace.


But we were in luck - My parents were having their beautiful old (very expensive teak) parquet floor replaced and said that we could have it! What a blessing.


So we pulled up the carpets and started to remove the broken tiles that we found underneath.



They hadn't been stuck down well and came up very easily. The skirting boards then had to be removed as the wood will swell in the different weather conditions we have in this country. That means we have to leave a gap around the edges of the room for the wood to swell into - or risk it all buckling up under the pressure.


By removing the skirting board and lifting it slightly higher (level with the top of the flooring) we can hide the gap so that the wood appears to reach the edge of the room, but it actually has plenty of hidden breathing space.


We were warned that the old bitumen on the wood blocks would react with most modern adhesives available on the market today, but we found a good one by Laybond which works fine with reclaimed blocks.


We cleaned the blocks up as best we could with chisels, screwdrivers, sand paper etc... and cleaned every speck of dust from the floor. Then it was time to lay out a pattern.


We took a gamble and deicded that there were probably enough blocks without measuring and just started sticking down and working from one corner of the room to the other. I don't recommend this method, but we got lucky and it worked for us.



And with a lot of help from friends we finally managed to get everything stuck down. It's not as easy as it sounds by the way. The adhesive isn't sticky at all, so whne you push a block up next to the one before it, it often moves it and then pushes a whole row out of place. The adhesive goes solid in two days, so you need to make sure you have plenty of exit space etc... without walking on your carefully place blocks!


Next job, removing the red stain my parents put on it. This required the hiring of a large floor sander. We got ours from HSS on a special deal that included the edging sander. Good job too. The floor sander is a nightmare. Because the blocks are reclaimed and all slightly different heights, they rip the belt off the sander really easily and we were getting through loads of them. The solution was for Matt to do the entire floor using the edging sander! Back breaking work, but he is doing it without complaint and I'm incredibly grateful (there is no way I'd mange it!).


So here is what it looks like with the red stain removed.


By the way, this produces an INSANE amount of dust. Make sure you rent a dust mask and don't bother painting any walls until you are done! We have had to take the curtains down or they would be orange by now.



So that's where we are with the flooring so far. Still needs to have the gaps filled and be sanded down a few more times and then varnished, but we're hoping it will look great.


We're also planning to do a different type of parquet on the floor upstairs as we also inherited a roomful of this:


Which we are planning to clean up and have in the school room and hallway. Wish us luck!


Please feel free to ask us any questions if you fancy having a go at a similar project. It's been really hardwork, but not difficult. Considering professionally laying it would have cost around £145 per sq metre (and that's even with you providing your own wood!) it's been totally worth it. It's been a steep learning curve for us, but we'd love to help anyone else avoid some of the pitfalls that have set us back if we can.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

My son is obsessed with 'Fizzy Juice' and 'Soda' (read 'fanta' and 'lemonade').


Initially I would only allow him to drink one or two of the more expensive brands such as fruitizer, because they are literally fruit juices watered down and carbonated, with no e-numbers. It seemed fine, but the quantity he wanted to drink was going to kill us financially. So slowly we started buying cheaper drinks and I was horrified to realise the we had deteriorated so far as allowing him to drink a supermarket brand of cherryade (8p a litre) as a special treat for his birthday.


Where did it happen? There has to be some middle ground between letting him drink rubbish and spending a fortune on buying drinks, when realistically I would prefer he was just drinking tap water (a tall order for a three year old who see's his daddy drinking pepsi)!


That's when I came across Water Kefir.



These blobby little jelly like crystals are actually a bacteria which are going to turn my ordinary tap water into something infinitely more delicious and healthful, but the most important part - it will be fizzy!


So I ordered my little bacteria colony from ebay. All they needed was a jar of tap water a few spoons of sugar and off they go! I read online that you can add fruit to help the process along and flavour the kefir, so we sliced up some easy peeler tangerines and added a few raisins. I also added a little honey. I'm told they like it, and as they are new to me I thought it might help them settle in. ;)


Interestingly, after 24 hours you could see the fizzing and all the fruit had floated to the top of the jar. You strain the water off and put it in a jug in the fridge and add more water to the kefir 'grains' to start the process again.


I wasn't sure how it would taste, but was willing to give it a go. I was totally surprised to find it actually tastes a lot like shloer. It was delicious! A total non-alcoholic champagne substitute. I could definitely serve this up on a date night and Matt would not be able to tell the difference.

But the real test was to find out if Will would drink it, with no added sugars/flavourings. The result: YES! He had two glasses with breakfast this morning and was over joyed to be allowed soda with his cereal. He thanked me over and over again like I was the kindest mummy in the world! :D


It's not as fizzy as something like 7up, but it could easily pass for something like a fizzy grape juice from Marky Sparkys. I'm really looking forward to trying out different flavours.


Now most importantly, the Kefir grains have already doubled in size. This means they are reproducing and they are happy. If your kefir is happy it will reproduce and you will never have to buy it again. In fact you should get enough to start giving it away. If it is unhappy, it will die and you will have to buy a starter again. By keeping them alive I will only ever have to pay for sugar to make 'fizzy juice' which I can buy in bulk really cheaply. We can flavour it with fruit from our garden. A luxury drink, for virtually free!


Now that I'm trying to cultivate bacteria in my kitchen I have come to think of them as pets. I would actually be quite sad if I lost the colony. So we are now a family who keeps ants and bateria as pets. I know it's wierd, but I don't care. They are saving us loads of money and will make a great science lesson for the kids as they get older.


There are loads of health benefits to Kefir too. But I'll save that for another post.


Friday, 15 April 2011

Making fifteens

Today we had some friends over to help us make fifteens.


They are great because they require no oven (it's like a fridge cookie) and only minimal adult supervision. The only thing you need to measure is the condensed milk, everything else is counted.

So the recipe for those who'd like to try it goes like this:


  1. 15 digestive biscuits, crushed
  2. 15 chocolate buttons, smashed up
  3. 15 marshmallows, chopped up
  4. 15 glace cherries, chopped up
  5. 150ml of condensed milk
  6. A few handfuls of shredded coconut
Mix everything but the coconut together to form a dough.
Roll it into a sausage shape.
Roll the sausage in the coconut.
Wrap and place in the fridge until firm, then slice.

I find the best way to let a preschooler chop things is to place them in a mug and use big scissors. The cherries/marshmallows can't escape and the blades are nowhere near fingers. However, if you have friends over, sometimes it's best to just let the mummies do the chopping!


This recipe is great for encouraging counting, and will probably be the first recipe I allow Will to make unsupervised in the future, as there is no heat and not a lot can go wrong.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Not FLY but motivated

FLYlady has been great at various times in my life. She has kicked my lazy butt into gear and provided some much needed organisation and routine into my chaotic life. But, it's too much right now.

I genuinely do think FLYlady is great if you have the energy. She is certainly thorough and it's such a blessing that she does all of this for free. But if like me you want some structure, routine and organisation without the intensity, I want to recommend Motivated Moms.

You do have to pay, but it's only $8 for the year (and realistically you could use the same one next year if you just cross out the dates) and it's totally worth it.


To not have to think about keeping on top of the house, but simply have a weekly or daily (your choice) checklist in your planner or on the fridge is such a blessing. I don't have to know how long it is since I last deep cleaned the microwave, or changed the hand towel by the sink, because the checklist will tell me when to do it again. Running a house like this, on routine, is so much more streamlined and less stressful than approaching it in an ad hoc way, where things often go unnoticed (especially in a large home).


So I wholly recommend Motivated Moms, I don't think $8 is ridiculously expensive (about £5) and saves you having to plan it all out yourself. I'm pretty sure there is an iPhone app too (sorry, not available for blackberry or android), which means you can just check stuff off and it disappears. This seems like a nice idea, but if you don't have the paper copy, no one will see it and be inspired to help you ;)

I also prefer the paper copy for homeschoolers, because it's easier to point to a chart where everyone is chipping in and checking off, than to have your kids come check in on your phone everytime they do something. Even if your kids have phones of there own, do you want to pay £5.99 for everyone to have duplicate copies (which don't sync) or do you want one master list printed on the fridge which everyone can see for a one off £5 payment? Sometimes technology just isn't the future!


Does anyone else have any other systems/methods they use to keep on top of their homes? What are they?

 
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