The Happy Heart School

Living lifelong human care, development, education, learning and service for all.

A DIY Kit for Parents

The Happy Heart School is currently building a DIY kit for parents to begin the realisation of fully inclusive schools worldwide right where their child is, especially a special child in cultures and communities who have not yet arrived at capacities and capabilities to support the child and the family. In the interim, I hope you find some of these heart-to-heart sharing relevant and useful.

After 6 years of walking the journey as a special mom and 10 years as a mom, my reflections really went from external to internal to the pragmatic but in the end, the starting point, is the fundamentals. The fundamentals of how a person lives – the heart. It goes back down to honesty, to love & support, to very basic acceptance of ourselves and others, and to learning to live a life with more humility & grace – to gift, to honour and celebrate this one precious mystery, which is life.

If I were to structure a framework which summarises my learning for the last 10 years as a mom, I would recommend the following as a starting point and as way of thinking of how parents might consider caregiving and providing for their children. As a person who has made the choice to have children, I consider this for myself, as my primary duty and responsibility in life.

For my husband and I, the underlying goal as parents, is to support and enable a joyful and meaningful life journey of discoveries and learning towards experiencing and understanding unconditional love, a deep inner security and belonging, and living fully a deep sense of inner freedom and kindness.

1. A Financial Trust

This means being aware of the financial provision for the needs of the child. This is already implicit in every parent’s heart. For a child with extra needs, especially in adulthood and is unlikely to be able to financially provide for himself or herself, parents, state and/or social organisations ought to examine this deeply, if one’s goals is for true empowerment and true support and freedom for the child. This could be setting aside the necessary budget or actually, setting up a Trust for the special child.

2. Healthcare

Until a person falls ill, one does not really appreciate how amazing this basic life gift is, that is often taken for granted. For a child with extra medical challenges, this is even more paramount. The support structure for the child ought to be consistent, well-trained and adequate. So, access to appropriate healthcare is paramount.

3. Parent Support Team

Believe it or not, it takes a village to raise a child. So you really need to know who is truly ‘parenting’ your child, i.e. role-modelling and guiding your child in the formative years. In fact, every adult present in the midst of children really is expected (by the child) to parent the safety & security of the community.

4. Family, Friends & Community

The immediate community is the family, the extended family and typically, family friends. When it comes to family, there needs to be awareness of family cultures. It is incredible how life-giving a child is to a family, because it really catalyses the fusion of a family culture to truly bond, from the parents’ own sub-family cultures to form a nuclear family, to their extended family. So, a typical play amongst cousins could be a pretty emotive experience for those who are not yet able to understand that when a family comes together, it is really the coming together of several multitudes of family and personal cultures. Most people give up by this stage, but what I’ve experienced being a special mom is that if you keep walking and living deeply the various responses to your child with extra needs, the whole extended family will experience a  remarkable healing and growth of closeness & love, beyond beyond what you can ever, ever imagine.

Regarding friends, current developmental intervention observation and wisdom is that a secure child is one who is bonded to two or three friends, at the same time able to be prosocial in community. So many a times, we just think this is a natural process, but for a global society that is really not yet familiar and accustomed to supporting fostering of friendships with special children, there ought to be awareness about adult mediation in order to foster family & friendship bonds.

Community service is interesting. Many don’t know how to begin this journey for their children, so it becomes like a programmed or isolated opportunities. My personal experience of providing opportunities for children to walk this experience deeply is to begin the engagement as a family unit. Children are so good at watching and making their own observations and conclusions about everything that we do. And they are so good about honesty, so involving children in community service, I often find, keeps our community work purer than we are able to do it by ourselves. A caution is that the community work that we engage in as a family ought to be emotionally safe for the children.

5. Homeschool

Every child’s first school is home. So the home environment is key to supporting a child’s learning. By this, I don’t mean setting up a classroom at home. It is more about examining and reorganising the whole home and family environment and activities to support every child in the family. There is much written about this so I won’t go into detail in this, but many life-giving skills can only be practised at home, from years and years of daily living. And then, eventually, it becomes more like an internalised self or personal culture – inner security, family rhythm, ways of communication, expressing love, doing chores etc. A happy and harmonious family is for me the bedrock for a happy heart living.

6. School

This is the next environment that the child enters the most in the formative years. This is very tough currently for special children to be learning in a fully inclusive school due to old mental mindsets and models of what a school is or even what education provides. Many are still thinking that children are to be groomed to go into the labour market or that children are trophies to be displayed or that our love for children is best served by enabling for them successful school performances. A very much deeper awareness needs to be reflected upon and it really takes a lot of honesty and courage by parents to truly support the needs of children to unfold in their own time, and be celebrating just exactly that. Some swing to the other extreme of unintentional neglect in the sense that there isn’t sufficient mediation or motivation for a full living, so a child does not receive sufficient boundaries of safety and security, personal growth, expectations of pro-community life skills. We have seen many children being caught in this trapping of poverty of expectations, especially special children, and then certain negative behaviours eventually become habituated and profiled with the special condition of the child. We have also seen many special children receiving a good balance and integration of push-pull who have truly blossomed and are able to come into their own fully as children and adults.

After 6 years of deeply examining what are the components enabling a fully inclusive school, I personally arrived here:  conviction. One has to arrive at the conviction that full inclusion is the most rightful life-giving gift that we can provide for children – all children, and mostly, for the typically developing children. If one can’t arrive here, one needs to be honest to dig deeper at the old prejudices and mindsets that have led to seriously horrific labelling, categorising and segregation of human lives. When I was surveying all the barriers of inclusion, I found that the barrier to inclusion is within oneself, including for myself as a special mom. It sits just right there – in your mind. You won’t even need to look far. If you can unravel many of the roadblocks within your heart and mind, you will be able to stand for inclusion, and then every step of your life, will simply be towards enabling a fully inclusive humanity. It doesn’t even have to be heroic or have brick-and-mortar impact, but you will start to say no to old practices of disabling human lives.

7. Lifework & Celebration

If everyone honours each child’s every moment as the child’s lifework, everything that you have inherited as a norm or culture in interacting with children changes, in an instant moment.

I like to influence and help my children find a way to organise, meaning a method to understand their own lifework, i.e. to look at their own lives and the lives of others, and how they live in context of a community and understand and be in gratitude how lives are gifts. But truly my way of looking at life has to be completely different from my children’s. I mean it has to be -because our brains are wired differently, and we are born in different times, society, cultures and we will always be in different generational roles in the fabric of humanity. So, every encounter with my children is really interesting now because I get to enter into another world, and how wonderful, to be able to do this through children, who are so trusting and loving, and especially, our own children. The boundless faith, love and trust in children is just such an amazing privilege and deepening life experience for adults.

I love to enable and empower my children to document their lives and their views of the world they live in.  I see this as part of the cradle to cradle thinking, that no matter the length of our lives on earth, we have been able to understand our impact, and be able to express in our own way or have others express with us, how our lives are gifts and life-giving, however the forms and manner. And then collectively, as a family and community, we are consistently in grace, joy and peace in living and closing of our personal life journeys on earth.
Peng-Ean Khoo
September 21, 2013

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