Community

Community

The word community evokes different emotions. For some the thought of ‘community’ brings up warm sentiments, for some their experience has been negative and at times, painful.  With such a broad understanding of community interwoven with a myriad of personal experiences, it can be helpful to step back and look at what community is and then explore why it is important. The Cambridge Dictionary[1] describes it as ‘the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group or nationality’. From research completed in public health[2] a different definition is given:  ‘A common definition of community emerged as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings.’

Both these definitions feel devoid of emotion. Searching further there is a beautiful zulu word ‘Ubuntu’ which translated means ‘I am, because you are’. It is part of the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which literally means that a person is a person through other people, embedded in the philosophy that community is one of the building blocks essential for humanity. The late Desmond Tutu said this:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity. [3]

I find this definition beautiful, powerful and, also, challenging. Perhaps a rallying call for humanity? Where community has generally been seen as geographically local, in our ever-evolving online world the concept of community is enlarging. This is even more so in our post Covid world where community can be seen as transglobal with dynamic groups forming community via zoom and other online platforms. Yet in our western culture there is increasing individualism, a drive for personal success and a seeming disinterest in the world around us. Loneliness is a reality for many [4]. We need to rediscover community.

On a very personal level my desire for deeper community developed when we had our first child. Living in central London at the time, we were fortunate that our block of flats was opposite a small park. The surrounding flats were full of a culturally diverse mix of people which led to a beautiful gathering of mums from around the world in the park with their little ones. I quickly realised that life as a mum could be quite isolating; the daily rhythm and desire for sleep often disconnecting you from others. Where the park bought conversations and smiles on sunny days, on the wet days we could find ourselves each in our own flat missing the social interaction. It didn’t take long for there to be a regular gathering in our flat with shared meals and lots of little people, ‘more the merrier’ seemed to be the unadopted mantra. Our flat became a space of seeming chaos with numerous toddlers bouncing around and creating mess; on reflection what I experienced was the buzz of life done in community. The ups and the downs of being a mum; space to laugh and to cry, to be vulnerable and to encourage, to release each other to have a little space (maybe even grabbing some sleep), and to laugh with the little ones as they played and explored. The kids had fun too!

Leaving London was a necessity when we found out we were having twins – our small third floor flat with no lift was far from ideal. Moving west and landing in a small city with an active three year old and then giving birth to twins was hectic – I craved community, it developed slowly over the first year with our house becoming a place for mums to gather. Yet I longed for more!  This led to us as a family choosing to create an intentional community home. Moving to Bristol we took a risk; renting a large townhouse and inviting people to come share our family home. For seven years we lived with a range of people of different ages from 0 – 65, singles, couples and two families, some for short seasons and a few for the duration. Our extended family developed a rhythm of shared meals, evenings hanging out and adventures together. Challenges were discussed, dreams were encouraged and birthed into reality. Sadly our landlord selling led to us stepping into a regular small, terraced house for just the five of us, but the desire for a community home does not go, and it is a dream we still pursue.

What we learnt in that time was that life is richer with when shared with others; yet not always easier – we had often had to work through some tough issues – choosing connection, being vulnerable, choosing to forgive both others and ourselves, this is where community is built. In real, gritty, and vulnerable living. On our wall was a framed print with the words ‘May we catch each other with grace[5] when we fall short of who we want to be.’ This underpinned the values we embedded in our home.

It was during these years that we stepped out of school and became home educators; this had never been the plan but a decision we have never regretted.  I knew very quickly that finding community was key to us thriving as a home ed family.  This community was slow in developing but it did grow, as did we as a family.  What I recognise for healthy community to flourish is that we have to be willing to be vulnerable, to love, to sacrificially give, to open our homes, to welcome in chaos and mess. Within this, acknowledging we are different, we have different opinions, different educational approaches, different families and within this variety there is opportunity to learn and develop. Always choosing connection.

I wonder if deep down we are all meant for community, a movement from ‘me’ to ‘we’.  Individualism, consumerism, and careerism don’t seem to be working anymore, I feel around me a longing for more. Surely we are more than isolated individuals, more than the careers we pursue, and more than the stuff we own? In our western culture our lives can become fragmented, and yet, I believe we all crave connection. There is a deep desire in us all to be real and belong.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. [6]

Sian, Matt and I would discuss community and how it could healthily grow. Being connected by a mutual friend to Juliet our joint desire for community led to the birth of Streams; a place to belong, with a mission to encourage, equip and connect home educators. Our dreams for Streams are big and we are evolving slowly, listening to members, and growing in new ways that were unexpected. However, as we evolve and grow at the heart is always community. Community forms one of our core values: We’re inclusive, we appreciate difference, we know we are stronger when we journey together. Community is experiential, not taught, therefore as home educators we have the gift of being able to build a healthy community around our children.

Our desire is bigger than just our own children. Our desire is that all children grow in a community where they can flourish; collaborating, championing each other, experiencing loss, failure, and success, growing together. A healthy community surely must be the foundation for all education. With so many conversations happening globally about the need for educational reform, a need to move away from competition and standardisation, it surely is essential that community is at the heart.  To bring change we cannot go alone; our world faces huge challenges which are complex and difficult. They cannot be solved in isolation, we have a need for ‘ubuntu’. Only in community can we discover this; dreaming big dreams, championing each other, navigating failures, and, encouraging each other to believe for the impossible.

So, I hope you can take a moment to look at your own community you find yourself in, often it is there even if we don’t recognise it. If you don’t have it, how can you find it or create it, have courage to reach out to connect with others. Let us each to take a moment to examine our hearts, seeking to be more generous, to look out for those who maybe isolated, to be willing to welcome others in.  May we find ways to celebrate together, collaborate, challenge broken systems and create safe spaces that enable growth and flourishing. To do this we need to be brave, take risks, put ourselves out there, be willing to step up and lead for a bit even if it does not feel natural, and, importantly to catch each other with grace when we fall short of who we want to be. My experience is always that we are richer for it and surely the world will be a better place with ubuntu embedded at its core.

[1] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/community

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446907/

[3] No Future Without Forgiveness, Desmond Tutu, Image; New Ed edition (October 17, 2000)

[4] https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/loneliness-research/

[5] Grace, has many meanings, in this context it is defined as ‘kindness freely given’ https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/grace

[6] https://brenebrown.com

 

Image credit: Bethany Sweetland

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind: Part 1

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind: Part 1

People home educate for different reasons. Some parents know before they even have children that they want to educate their children themselves, whereas others find themselves home educating because a school environment is simply not working for their child, or they believe they can provide their child with a more personalised, supportive approach. Regardless of what gets you started on the journey of home education, many parents find themselves uncertain of the best approach to use – should they try and retain the structure of school? Should they buy workbooks? Should they have a curriculum, and hold their child to government-imposed standards? Our reasons for home educating are often what defines our ideas about what that education should look like. If you’ve had time to prepare yourself and do a lot of research on home education, you may have a very clear idea of what approach to take, but very often we come to home education with preconceived ideas and stereotypes ourselves.

Understanding our ‘WHY?’ Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Why have you chosen home education?
  2. Why do you follow the approach that you do?
  3. Why do you use the methods you use?

And the ‘WHAT?’

  1. What motivates us to home educate, or motivates us to home educate in the way we do?
  2. What drives us?
  3. What frightens us? What fears are shaping how we educate/raise our family?

When you spend some time exploring your WHY and your WHAT, you might find that there are some NEGATIVE MOTIVATIONS behind the approach you have chosen. Here are some examples:

  1. Pressure from friends and family – Do you find yourself making sure your child does certain types of work to ‘prove’ to others that they have “done schoolwork”?
  2. Fear of failure – Are you concerned that your child will ‘get behind’ and that others may criticise you if your child does not appear to be performing according to a school-defined standard?
  3. Comparison – Are there others around you that you compare yourself to whose children may be in school or home educated? Are you being drawn into unspoken ‘competition’ with others?
  4. Emotional “baggage” – Consider your own experiences, fears and regrets and whether they affect your educational approach
  5. Fear of authorities – Are you concerned about needing to prove yourself to your Local Authority, doctors, etc? Is this informing your educational choices?
  6. Feelings of inadequacy – Some parents are told they are ‘too thick’ to educate their own children successfully or have experienced educational failure themselves. This need not impact your ability to educate your own child.
  7. Desire to please others – This links to some of the other points above, but could result in you making certain choices because you are trying to make others happy.

It is really important for you and your family to ‘clean up’ your WHY so that you can make positive educational choices, uncorrupted by these negative motivations. It can be beneficial to examine these negative motivations and baggage we carry around with us, and work through some of our own issues. How we process these depends very much on personal beliefs, philosophies and upbringing, and sometimes we might even need someone we trust to help us. It can liberate us for the journey.

In this blog I hope to share with you some ways you can flip to POSITIVE MOTIVATIONS which will lead to a more positive approach that will be in the interests of your child and your family.

We are going to ask ourselves the questions:

  1. Where do you want to go?
  2. What is really important?
  3. What does success mean to you?
  4. What outcomes do you want for your children?

Some of you may have heard of this powerful demonstration:

A speaker stood behind a table on which were a large jar and a container of rocks. He filled the jar with rocks and asked if the audience thought the jar was full. When they replied “yes”, he took a box of pebbles from under the table, and managed to shake them into the jar, filling the spaces between the large rocks. Was the jar full? The audience replied “yes”. But the speaker produced a canister of sand, and was able to pour it between the gaps between the large rocks and pebbles. Finally, he showed that the full jar could hold even more by adding water to it. The moral of this demonstration is that you must put the big rocks in first! If you started out by putting pebbles, sand or water in the jar, the big rocks won’t fit! The ‘big rocks’ of life must be dealt with first or smaller things will crowd them out.

As a family you need to decide what your big rocks, pebbles and sand (and water) are, so that you can consign them to the correct place in the order of priorities. Here are some examples, although, of course they will differ for every family.

There are so many activities, interests, opportunities and problems vying for our attention that we can easily get sidetracked if we don’t focus on what we regard as most important. If you make sure you fit your ‘big rocks’ into your day you can ensure that they don’t get lost in all the busyness of life. They will form the foundation and help support the vision you grow for your family’s home education journey.

In Part 2, I will look at other factors that might shape your approach to educating your children.

A Family World Adventure

A Family World Adventure

One of our dreams all through our homeschool journey was that one day we would be able to take a year out and go travelling with our family – early on we had met another family who had spent some time going around the States in an RV and the idea of taking a family ‘gap year’ was always a ‘maybe one day….’ at the back of our minds. 

This dream became a reality for us when we were blessed with some unexpected finances and worked out that if we rented out our house to students it might actually be possible for 7 of us to go around the world!  One of our big motivations for travelling was to reconnect with friends in other countries who we had grown close to – Uni friends, homeschoolers, Church families who had moved.  We planned our route focusing on the places where we could visit friends – Perth, Cairns, Melbourne, New Zealand, America, Canada. 

We picked a year shortly before our eldest was due to start sixth form and our youngest was 7 (just about old enough for the trip to be memorable!).  We discovered various housesitting websites and much to our amazement found that there were people out there willing for a family of 7 to come and stay in their houses while they were on holiday (this, and staying with friends some of the time really eased the finances – when we couldn’t get free accommodation we used airbnbs).  We got to look after various dogs, cats, chickens, violent roosters, cows, sheep and Alpacas along the way which all added to the experience!  We managed to get free cars in some of the places we travelled by connecting with other home-school families before we went via facebook groups (God blessed us with vans in Perth & Cairns (from strangers) and our friends lent us their 8 seater van the whole 6 months we were in NZ). 

In terms of education for us it was mainly about the adventure and the experience but we did take along some maths and English books – which we used on the days/weeks when we were more settled and not travelling/visiting.  On the whole we read lots of books about the places we travelled and did as much sight-seeing as we could afford!  We listened to endless hours of audiobooks together on our many epic car journeys and played hours of games at airports and in downtime. 

We spent 6 months in NZ and had a really special time getting to know some Kiwi homeschool families, going to a church and ‘doing normal life’ a little bit in another country.  A friend from the UK came out and spent 2 months travelling & staying with us as well. 

All in all it was an amazing adventure, something our family will always remember which brought us closer together and opened our eyes to what a big, beautiful world we live in!  I don’t think it’s something we would ever have considered doing if we hadn’t already been homeschooling!

Story shared by Mary and uploaded by Streams.