I am delighted to be sharing this interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
This week, I’d like to welcome speech and language therapist, blogger, and mama of four Ronni Ozpolat to Frida be Mighty. I first came across Ronni on Instagram, and I love the insights she shares so honestly and openly about life as a busy home-educating Muslim mother. Ronni is creative, driven, and passionate, and she has a wonderfully peaceful approach when it comes to parenting. I am so pleased to be sharing this interview with you, and I know you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did!
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
Hello! I’m Weronika (Ronni for short), a homeschool mum of four children aged 9, 6, 3 and 1. I am married to Sefer, a Kurdish man from Turkey, and we live in the south west of England. I trained as a speech and language therapist and went on to do postgraduate research on bilingualism and autism. Now I am a blogger at www.multiculturalmotherhood.com and I have just started to run speech and language therapy courses for parents to enable them to help their children develop the communication skills they need. My course ‘Raising Talkers’ empowers parents of babies and young children with the knowledge and confidence to boost their child’s language skills and will run again in July. My new course ‘Clear Speech’ will begin in June. The ‘Clear Speech’ course will train parents to do speech therapy with their children at home!
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
As a homeschool family we are blessed to have so much freedom. However, we do have a daily rhythm for most weekdays. In the mornings we tend to do “school” work. We start by doing maths and literacy which for us includes reading, spellings and copywork. Then we will have our morning snack which will normally be fruit and nuts or a homemade treat we have baked. After snack we will usually do just one other subject, usually history, science or nature studies. I find that most topics can include a variety of subjects so nature studies, for example, can include art, science or creative writing. Each day we also do our foreign language learning as it is very important for me that my children grow up bilingual and are able to speak both Turkish and English.
After lunch we go out. I encourage my children to spend as much time as possible outdoors so afternoons are often spent in the woods or at the park. We meet up with other homeschool families at weekly homeschool groups or meet friends for a play date.
Are there any philosophies or books which have influenced your approach to parenting?
One of the books I read very early on was ‘Unconditional Parenting’ by Alfie Kohn. This has had a big influence on my parenting style though it can sometimes be difficult to go against the mainstream. Once you have read this book you realise that conditional parenting techniques, such as rewards and punishments, are so ingrained in society that it can be difficult to shield your children from them completely. However, unconditional parenting is a good aim to work towards.
Another book which had a big impact on me was ‘Three in a Bed’ by Deborah Jackson. I read this book when my second child was a few months old and my only regret is that I had not read it sooner! It completely changed my view of co-sleeping and greatly improved our family life. I would recommend it to anyone who has a baby or is expecting one soon.
You are home educating your four children. Are you influenced by a particular approach to home education?
Yes. My homeschooling approach has been greatly influenced by the Charlotte Mason philosophy. As soon as I started to read about this philosophy it just made complete sense to me. Charlotte Mason was a wise women who gave excellent advice to educators and home educators and it amazes me that a lot of the things she wrote about are still so relevant today. What I like most is that she says to delay formal education until the age of six or seven and this is in line with research suggesting that children do better when they start school that little bit later. On top of this, I love how she says to spend so much time outdoors; four to six hours is what she recommends. Nature study, in particular nature journaling, is encouraged and we have greatly benefited from it in our homeschool.
You consider yourself a “nature schooler”, can you tell me about this?
There are many different homeschooling terms these days but the one that I adhere to most is nature schooling. Nature schooling is about making nature a big part of your education and lifestyle. We started to follow the nature curriculum ‘Exploring Nature With Children’ around two years ago and this completely changed our lives! The more we learnt about nature, and the more time we spent outdoors, the happier we became.
The children love to be outside, particularly my youngest who is a real outdoorsy girl and would spend every waking minute outdoors if she could! It is wonderful to observe the children’s interest in the natural world growing day by day. I am passionate about encouraging others to partake in outdoor play and learning too so I started a campaign called ‘Seven days of outdoor play’ to get more children playing outdoors. This campaign will run four times a year, once per season, to encourage people to get outdoors every day for a week no matter what the weather! It will run again at the end of June.
You write a lot about multiculturalism, and your experiences as a Muslim convert. Growing up without celebrating the Muslim festivals and now celebrating them with your children, was this a steep learning curve? I ask because my husband is Jewish, and I’ve learnt a lot about Jewish holidays since we had our daughter! How do you make celebrations such as Ramadan special for your family?
The biggest difficulty I’ve faced with different celebrations is not so much adopting the new ones but leaving the old ones behind. As a Muslim, I am only supposed to celebrate the Muslim festivals and this is really difficult because my whole family is Catholic and expect me to celebrate their festivals with them. We have to compromise and I think everyone who is part of a mixed faith family will have to do this. While I won’t go to church with them, I do still go to my parents’ house for dinner at Easter and Christmas.
Adopting the Muslim festivals has become easier since I had children. Before I became a mum the celebrations were pretty much non-existent because it is quite difficult to celebrate on your own. My husband’s family live in Turkey and as my family are non-Muslim, we didn’t have anyone to celebrate with. Now that we have children we try to make a big thing of the celebrations.
During Ramadan we change our focus so that we spend more time learning about Islam in our homeschool. I made a Ramadan calendar for the children, which is just like an advent calendar, and I fill it with different things each year. Eid is a big celebration. It is like our version of Christmas so we dress up, go to the mosque and the children get presents. Recently, I have been trying to give them less presents and take them somewhere nice instead so that we can create some special memories. This year I am thinking of taking them to Warner Bros. Studio to see the Harry Potter tour!
You are a trained speech and language therapist. Is there any general advice you would you give to parents of young children who are worrying about their child’s speech?
Speech and language difficulties are quite common in young children. Recent research suggests 15-20% of young children have an early language delay. Stammering and speech sound difficulties are also common problems. If your child cannot say 50-200 words and start putting two words together by the age of two, they may have a language delay. You can ask the GP or health visitor to refer your child to speech and language therapy. However, I know waiting lists are very long.
You could also get a private speech and language assessment. The way that a parent interacts with their child is the strongest predictor of a child’s language skills, so knowing the best way to interact with your child is crucial to helping them to acquire the communication skills they need. You can look at the articles on my blog for tips on speech and language issues or sign up for my course, ‘Raising Talkers: How to help your child to talk’.
I know you’ve been teaching your children to speak Turkish. Do you have any tips for parents who want to introduce a second (or third!) language to their children? Does it matter how old they are, for example?
The ability to speak more than one language is so beneficial. Bilingualism offers cognitive benefits such as increased attention and flexibility and even delays the onset of dementia. If you would like your child to learn another language, the sooner the better. Children’s brains are like sponges and soak up all of the language they hear. It is not confusing for them to be learning two or three languages from birth, in fact, in a lot of places around the world this is completely normal! So, start as soon as you can but the way you approach language learning will differ depending on your circumstances.
If you speak another language yourself, you can speak this language to your child, if you are fluent in it. If you are not, you should try and get someone else to speak to them in that language. This could be a relative, friend or babysitter if they are young. When they are older, you can get a foreign language teacher to work with them. It is also really important for your child to hear the language from more than one person so see if there are any language schools or mother and baby groups for people who speak a certain language near you. Concentrate on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. Above all, make it fun!
Which aspects of parenting bring you the most joy?
Seeing my children grow. As a speech and language therapist, I studied child development in detail and I just love to observe my children growing and developing. I am in awe each time I see them reach a different milestone. It is incredible how much they change in the first few years. As we homeschool, I am blessed to be able to spend so much time with my children and I love that I am there to witness every first. The first steps, the first word, the first time they are able to blend letters to make a word or the first time they learn to ride a bike without stabilisers. I am there sharing every moment with them.
Which parts of motherhood do you find challenging?
Knowing how to juggle everything is a struggle. Since I became a mother, I have always juggled motherhood with other things. My eldest child was born when I was in my second year of university so I immediately became a student mum and learnt how to do all my studying in the evenings when she was asleep. This is pretty much how it has continued. I spent the best part of a decade at university, as I started a PhD (as yet unfinished) around 18 months after I graduated. I began my blog five years ago but have taken it more seriously in the past 2 years. So now I juggle being a homeschool mum and blogger. Also, I have recently started running speech and language therapy courses for parents too. It’s always busy!
How do you make time for self-care, and what does that look like for you?
Unfortunately, self-care is something that is seriously lacking in my life. I always put myself last. I would like to get back into bellydancing again as I used to do this a lot when I was younger and even taught it for a while. However, classes tend to be in the evenings and, as I am breastfeeding my youngest, particularly during the night, it makes it hard for me to go out at that time. I recently joined a local book club which meets once a month so this is the start of me doing something for myself!
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
A beautiful childhood should be all about happiness. There is nothing more important than being happy and nothing I want more for my children than that. If they are happy then I believe they will be successful in whatever path they choose in life. So I aim to make my children happy each day by spending quality time with them and making an effort to connect. Outdoor play is also really important so I encourage my children to spend time outdoors each day. Spending time in nature definitely boosts their mood and benefits them in so many ways.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
You can do whatever you want to do if you have enough determination. I had my daughter while I was a university student and everyone thought I would drop out. I was determined to prove everyone wrong and finish my degree, so I did! If you believe you can then you will.
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
It is so hard to choose just one! I think it would have to be the Beatrix Potter stories. They are timeless, the fact that they have never been out of print in over 100 years proves this. I love the old-fashioned language and the beautiful watercolour illustrations. The stories are engaging and fun and my children never get bored of them! That is the ultimate sign of a good book.
Thank you so much Ronni! You can find Ronni on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and read her blog here. You can find out more about the online courses Ronni runs here.