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To be held in a good light

17 November, 2015

Yesterday we had some friends over and we were all sitting around the yurt relaxing, kind of observing with humour the travelling espresso convoy that Ramona’s buddy had set up using the Playmobil. But, as things can sometimes do, it unravelled a bit and he got frustrated and a bit stuck in his play and Ramona really helpfully dived in, grabbed the vehicles and shoved them behind the bed.  As you can imagine, he was, erm, upset.

“Mona!” I exclaimed, sort of in shock that she was so able to do the very, very thing that would make her friend see red. Ramona stood boldly in front of him and gave a little preach about how she thinks he should play. His mum, ever loving and wise, observed outloud how Ramona was trying to create a space to talk about what was going on for him, perhaps get some perspective and move through the frustrating part of the game. Sure enough, once Ramona had delivered her sermon she retrieved the vans and gave them back to her friend.

It wasn’t all solved (no one really likes a sermon) but after a little while the game moved on. Ramona really did just want to see her friend happy again.

It was a perfect example of something I’ve been thinking about almost constantly this couple of weeks, about how important it is to assume the best of our children. How much they need to feel held in a good light. It is such a simple phrase, but it was the one phrase that keeps pinging around my mind after a seminar with Genevieve Simperingham on Peaceful Parenting.  The idea that our starting point is always to assume the best of our children.

It’s not easy to do when so many of our words around children are so polarised (are they good or bad?) or just negative (naughty, mischievous, deviant) and we have such a prevalent view that children are by nature selfish. (That one comes up all the time in my comment section – but it simply isn’t true. Yes, they are instinctively focused on their own needs, but I am blown away all the time at their selflessness and generosity.)

If we go through our days holding our children in a good light the whole day takes on a better hue. It’s not about spin doctoring, simply changing the way we speak about children (although that helps greatly – for example, changing “bossy” to “leadership skills”) but about changing our whole perspective on childhood! We must believe in our children’s goodness and give them the opportunity to reveal that goodness.

 If we wait to see what they were hoping to achieve, rather than jumping in to halt their unhelpful action. If we see their good intentions and then talk about ways they could have executed them. Trust them. Seek to understand them. Show empathy.

A few times in my life I have found myself in a tangle with someone. It’s felt like they have misunderstood me, like they always take my actions the wrong way, like I have to constantly explain myself or tiptoe around them, I’m left groaning in my mind knowing how they would have interpreted something. And, what sometimes happens is that, because I am feeling so stink, I start to act defensively, and my mind bubbles up with stinkness.

It is oppressive, feeling this way around someone. It crushes our journey of self-love. It isn’t living. It is no way to live.

And yet I think a lot of children have to live this way. They have adults in their lives who think they are selfish, naughty, attention seeking, destructive. And when their behaviour is seen this way, they then get in a spiral of it, and they are disconnected and not themselves and can’t really think they are loveable, by their own selves, or their parents.

Really, I think all we all really want is to be held in a good light. Our greatest friends are the ones who really know us, the ones we never have to sensor our words with. The family members we want to hang out with are the ones who have faith in our decision making. We move like magnets towards the people that make us shine.

I want my children to catch me looking at them with love and understanding in my eyeballs. I don’t want them to detect disappointment in my voice – frustration, perhaps, yes, because I want to be authentic!  I want my tone to be an empathetic one. I want them to feel good and understood. I want them to know that I know their hearts are good! I want them to shine when we are together.


The one thing that makes your kids mean – and it’s not religion

10 November, 2015

One of my clear memories as a nine year old kid is being sat on the first row at Sunday School having being asked to close our eyes and imagine Jesus standing in front of us. I must have thought it was quite a nice thought because my face broke into enough of a smile for the Sunday School teacher to growl to the whole class “Well, Lucy obviously thinks Jesus is funny because instead of praying she is laughing!”

I was struck with shame at the teacher’s words. I can sense even now the pound of my heart in my ears drums, feel the red sweeping up my neck to flush out my freckles, the determination not to let my lip wobble. I was the minister’s kid. Blonde haired and sweet looking but fiercely mischievous. I’d already been asked to leave the choir. The teacher probably shouldn’t be blamed for taking my smile as an obtuse grin. I felt deeply misunderstood but no way was I about to show it.

The one thing that makes kids mean

Spot my angelic self

I have been shown a lot of kindness during a lifetime at church too. Roast dinners cooked for us while our parents set up the evening service. The incredible gift of Hungry Hippos one Christmas when we couldn’t really count on many presents at all. One church-Aunty taught me to cross stitch (and then completed my Happy Mother’s Day piece when the week before the big day I had only done the H.) Other grown-ups who took me under their wing, and still to this day send me birthday cards across the oceans, tracking me down at various addresses to let me know I am still in their thoughts.

So I felt a lot of things when I read the recent news about how religious kids have been found to be meaner than their non-religious friends.

Instances of my own shaming and punishment at church sprang to mind. And yet so did all the kindnesses. And the unavoidable blueprint I have in my mind for wanting to tackle injustices and inequality.

The main thing that struck me as I read about the research was this is about parenting, and general adult-child relationships, not religion.

There is ONE THING (and probably other things too) that makes our kids mean. And it sure is found in the church. But it is also found in many non-religious families. And schools. And in public spaces.

And I care to address it because we all need to face it. If the recent research makes us all think: religious = mean kids, non-religious = kind kids then we have been led up a wildly incorrect and dangerous path.

We need to talk about empathy for starters. Empathy, seeking to understand another’s feelings, putting ourselves in their shoes, is the only genuine foundation for morality. Being able to empathise is key to stopping childhood mean-ness and is the foundation for a lifetime of kindness.

The one thing that short circuits the development of a child’s empathy?

Not experiencing empathy in childhood.

Basic, huh? But there is groundbreaking work being done right now that is clearly revealing that in order to become empathetic, we have to experience empathy.

I first heard this concept at a talk by psychologist Robin Grille, who reckons all parents should see themselves as “empathy farmers”… like nurturing the cherry tomatoes in our garden we can grow or stunt a child’s “empathy centre” according to how we treat them.

And, contrary perhaps to what some institutional religion teaches (but not what many religious texts actually teach) it isn’t taught through teaching lessons in morality, or shaming, or punishing.

It is taught by kindness.

By putting ourselves in our children’s shoes, trying to get what is going on for them, meeting their emotions and being their in the experiences with kind hearts, their empathy centres in their brains begin to flourish, creating new neural pathways and literally growing brain cells whose job is to make us kind.

Mind = blown.

The last couple of years has seen a huge increase in knowledge around brain development and emotional intelligence, studies exploring the way empathy develops through stuff like our right supramarginal gyrus, which, frankly, sounds like something out of Dr Seuss. It is all covered in this absolutely BRILLIANT video of Robin Grille talking about the peace code we have in our brain, activated by kindness.

“Our brains’ empathy centres grow – or fail to grow – according to how we are nurtured.”

“The brain of a child grows in the way that child is treated. So in an empathic environment the brain of this child grows in one way. But in an environment that is harsh, punitive and cold, the same child’s brain would grow quite differently. So, our early childhood relationships grow our brain. The shape our behaviour and that is how we create the kind of societies that we are going to have.”


And the thing is, and perhaps this explains the research about religious kids being meaner, a lots of things get in the way of us treating our children with empathy.

I see lots of these amongst the church. (And in non-religious homes too.)

Teaching a lesson.  Often, instead of attempting to understand what needs a child might be expressing when they do something that seems mischievous, we are tempted to launch straight in with a lesson in morality. We fail to listen, we fail to create a space for our child to be heard, for their emotional and physical needs to get met.

Punishing and shaming. We tend to err on the side of punitive. In some countries – I’m eyeballing the States – a religious upbringing is synonymous with a childhood filled with violence (which must feel like an utter slap in the face to God) with the popularity of Christian books advocating physical assault and even in more progressive societies, the genuine fear that children won’t grow up to be kind leads people to treat children harshly. The very thing that will lead them to be unkind. Gah.

Cheering up/ giving a positive spin. And then there is the nice, cheery face of Christianity, and the general sense that kids should “look on the bright side”… which is actually an empathy blocker. It is SO easy to do. “Oooof! At least you only grazed ONE knee!” But it is a missed opportunity to simply be there and actively hear our child’s pain.

This list of empathy blockers from Robin Grille’s Heart to Heart parenting book is a bit of an eye opener. 

   In some ways raising kind children is simple. We treat them kindly. We don’t call out grins we think are inappropriate, we don’t shame them into better behaviour. We listen to them, assume the best of them.

And in other ways it isn’t. Because in order to give empathy, we also need to be receiving it! We are far more likely to be pulling out all those empathy blockers when our own emotional needs are not met. If parents need to do one thing to parent more kindly, it is to find a friend, or a whole tribe of friend who we can be honest with and who can encourage and support us. (This can sometimes be easier said than done, hey?)

We haven’t been a part of a church community for a couple of years, one of the reasons being that we struggle with how it sits so comfortably within a archaic control paradigm, and y’know, homophobia etc. But we truly believe that the bible actually teaches kind and empathetic parenting, and that people of faith should be championing this new, peaceful vision of adult – child relationships. (I wrote a letter to the Pope about that, actually.)

More than anything though, let’s not be distracted by the research from what is the real gamechanger for kindness in childhood – neuroscience is helping us out big time here. Central to developing kindness in children, from any home, religious or not, is that they experience empathy. All of us can make that happen.


10 things that are worse for your child than playing on the ipad

2 November, 2015

*ping* Another notification from someone about the problem with ipads. This time ipads are responsible for humankind never stepping outdoors again. Yep, our children will be the last generation that played outside.

I guess people think I like this stuff because I wrote a book on families rewilding and often post about how good it is for kids to get outdoors and fun things to do outdoors and all that nature shizzle.

But you know what? I think the ipad is a TOTAL bogeyperson.

(HA bogeyperson! What do we want? Non gendered language for bogeypeople! When do we want it? Now!)

(Actually the person that sent me the ipads are evil link this time, Thalia, from Sacraparental,  happens to be brilliant and gets all this stuff.)

We set up technology as the enemy of nature and it isn’t. Taking the ipad out of our child’s hands is a quick and easy answer to a multi-faceted problem, and it is a disrespectful, short-term and narrow minded solution.

I can think of many, many things that impact our child’s well being and relationship with the earth more than playing on the ipad.

Here are ten.

1- Being told the things they love aren’t important
This one is so close to my heart, because I am learning as I parent. I had a list of things I would never “let my child do” but as her different likes and loves unfold she is showing me that it is not up to me to tell her what she should and shouldn’t love. I have some knowledge and wisdom from my longer life, and I will share it non coercively. Celebrating with them over the things they love is a far better way to developing a trusting relationship with our children. Imagine if your other half didn’t like you doing your favourite hobby so huffed and puffed around yo every time you did it? That would feel so awful, that constant undermining, and it would hugely damage your relationship.

2- A parent that doesn’t partner with them
Instead of telling them the things they love suck, the invitation is to partner with our children. To help take their love of something on the ipad and take it to the next level. It is to trust that technology can open huge doors for learning. They love Happy Feet? Perhaps they are working through themes of loss and grief and reuniting (I *may* be talking from experience…) how about entering into imaginative play with them and the penguin stuffed toys, or getting all the penguin books out, strewing about some penguin costumes and seeing if they want to take Happy Feet to a deeper level? The potential is for a huge connection, begun by an ipad…

The invitation is also to PLAY with them. Not use the ipad as a babysitter but take it in turns to play, as another child would, to find out about their favourite game. Last week we had a huge car journey and I sat in the back and played Ramona’s favourite game, The Dolphin Show, for 4 hours straight. We were trying to get a million points in order to get the dolphin that farts rainbows. After about 3.5 hours, she turned to me and told me about something cruel someone really important to her had said to her, and described how her heart had been hurting ever since. I had observed that for a few days she had been really quite emotional, but I hadn’t been able to get to the bottom of it. Spending time jumping through hoops (no really, we were jumping our dolphins through hoops) really joyfully (it is THE BEST GAME) deepened our connection to a point that she felt able to fully open up.

3- Learning Latin
Some schools still teach that. Shiver my timbers. If we really want to target something that stops children playing outside it should be the thing that ties them to a desk for several hours everyday (635 hours a year for under elevens!) learning stuff that is often age inappropriate, doesn’t recognise the important of play and the biological imperative for movement and may well never be used again in their lives. (*cough* algebra *cough*)

While we have chosen to unschool in order to foster a more curiosity led education, schools around the world have successfully changed; schools in Finland have reflected research on this and introduced far healthier learning foundations in State schools, there are Forest Schools in Germany. You know what would make the BEST target for a child’s time not spent playing outdoors? It is the classroom.

4- Parents that don’t make an effort with nature
Here is my bugbear…. all this reminiscing about our natural childhoods (er, mine was spent watching Going Live) and freaking out about Nature Deficit Disorder, without realising that the responsibility for our child’s relationship with nature lies with us! You know what? If WE love nature, and prioritise it, if we run barefoot in the forest and climb the trees and lie and look at the stars, this love will so likely become infectious. Children don’t learn by us telling them (the ipad is the enemy of nature, darling!) but only by modelling.

10 things worse than ipads for children

Technology and Nature are friends! Thanks Annie from Fable and Folk for the picture.

5- Double Standards
Oh, by golly, if I read about Steve Jobs not letting his kids play with an ipad one more time I will send Apple a scary barbie in the post, I will, I tell you!!! The double standards! OH MY!! This is the kind of unfairness that I think could really damage a child’s likelihood to grow up caring about fairness.

6- Having nowhere to play outside
How about targeting society’s obsession for turning every spare bit of land into malls, instead of handing them over to the people for nature places? (Okay that is a little bit Daily Mailish… let me pull back from the extremisms.) Society is narrowing the places that childhood has been traditionally spent, either by building on them, or risk assessing them (try swimming in the many beautiful swimming holes in the UK without getting the “Do Not Swim” sign pointed out to you) or disallowing ball games from them. How about giving children access to the streets for free play?

7- Having little say over the activities in their life
A child is a person. They deserve to get a say over their activities. When their hobbies are directed and their play manipulated they will get frustrated and learn that their own wants and needs don’t count for anything. Having an ipad in the house and not letting a child use it if they want to just totally sucks.

As the brilliant Peter Gray says “Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.”

8- Parenting advice based on nothing
Really, what was that original article article based on? Yeah, nothing. That’s what I thought. It’s just a lament from a dude who is actually really successfully using technology to provide a livelihood for himself and to help people around him. Oh! Technology can be GREAT! There are articles floating around that seem quite research heavy, but on a second glance leave me ABUZZ with questions about who they were studying, and how, and if there is really anything meaningful in there.   Let’s stop the fear mongering research, let’s scope out all the stuff out there –  like this other Psychology Today article by Dr Peter Gray comparing limiting computer time today to hunter gatherers limiting bow & arrow time, or the quiet release of the American Academy of Paeditrician’s new guidleines on screentime for young ‘uns, let’s make decisions that reflect all our family’s needs.

9- People who think “drastic” measures are called for
How about not being drastic? How about simply being mindful and thinking things through and coming up with ideas together that reflect everyone’s desires? How about considering the burgeoning role that technology is playing in our world (genuinely, that is something we can’t change, love or hate it) and considering a family approach to reflect that? How about trying some stuff – moving towards letting go of limits like some families, or having tech-free zones decided as a family, or coming up with guidelines together (this is what we did at a family meeting recently. Family meetings will probably only be a success if your relationship is built on mutual trust and respect.

Drastic is really the opposite of good advice, for parents, in really any situation. For some nuanced, yet traditional, ideas on child hood and screen time see here.

10 – Playing with this toy.  

 A Shape Shifter Punisher, with a rather rude rocket. 

There are worse things to play with than the ipad. That’s all.


Now, I really don’t have the answers for your family. We have tried a lot of things and I have felt torn a lot of the time in the past between my real rational preference for unschooling and letting the girls choose access freely, and then my inner desire for a really “natural” childhood for them. Just now we are in a good space of free reign over technology, but with them choosing OFTEN, far more than the ipad, the options of imaginative play, putting on shows with puppets, river fun and cooking. Which is what I think occurs naturally once we free up all our triggered, negative emotions around screen time. And it has been this partnering thing that has been the piece of the puzzle that now makes it all feel good, for all of us.

It’s close to my heart this technology and children and earth stuff. I love the internet and ipads, and I love trees and oceans, and I don’t believe they should be pitted against each other. I think we are the unfortunate generation of parents who are lumped with having to muddle our way through this technology and social media and internet saturated life whilst trying to hold on to values that are important to us. On the other hand perhaps we are the fortunate ones- we can carve a way for future generations! What a privilege and responsibility – let’s make the journey of childhood in the 21st century one filled with empathy and respect and connection.

As usual, would love to hear from you! Either here in the comments or over on Le Facebook

Parenting, unschooling

Parenting: “Child Rights” or “Don’t be an arse”

21 October, 2015

We are three weeks into our new homesteading life and what I want to do is tell you all about it. The pet ducks we are going to pick up, how our big family bed takes up most of the yurt (hmmmm, bed), the vintage potato mashers we hung to scare the birds away from our seedlings,  the forest walk I went on that was actually really scary so I had to do the whole thing singing songs from Frozen to stop my mind stewing on the fact that there was only one set of foot prints in the muddy path ahead of me. EEK!

But I actually need to get a lot of things off my chest.

I have had these thoughts milling around in my head for months. Since I wrote that post 10 Habits that Infringe on the Rights of Children … and got an extreme response across the internet. But this week the criticism sort of crescendoed.

So for yurt dwelling and potato mashers and forest life check out my Instagram and keep your eyes peeled for the very next post….

So back to 10 Habits. Remember that? It was a Marmite post.

A lot of people loved it, I got messages from parents looking for someone to articulate WHY they need to treat their children with respect when they feel it so strongly, and from child rights advocates who could clearly see that the way we treat children in the home impacts the whole experience of rights in every country. And there were lots of people for whom it wasn’t a revelation at all – simply just the way they parent. (A lot of unschoolers in that category.)

But then there were the haters. Like I’ve never had before. Some feminists called it “sanctimonious trolling” and some mothers literally feeling happy about calling me a dickhead and dissing my children’s names.

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

When that happens to you you get a bit introspective. (Am I really a sanctimonious trolling dickhead?)

 And you try really hard to see things from other people’s points of view. (They are frightened by the idea of not having control over their children.)

And you even question if you really think that, because if so many people think it is crazy, then maybe that makes you crazy. (Am I crazy?)

This process has left me with many thoughts. But I will share only a few with you right now. (Forgive that introspection. It’s a bit more relevant from here down. I guess I feel like my blog is actually a pretty safe place to talk this stuff through, I have so, SO rarely had vitriol in this comment section! Thanks, friends.)

I missed a lot of nuance
I often write a blog post and then I go back through and remove the “perhaps”s and the “I wonder if”s because I want to be clearly understood. I don’t want to make my blog hard reading because it is jam packed with caveats and context. Which does mean sometimes I come across as holding these intense black and white opinions, without any room for movement. I wish I had, for example, explained that I don’t always manage to correct these habits. That some days I suck at it and then I tell my children I am sorry.

I missed out a discussion on rights and privilege
I  agree with one of the criticisms, that I failed (and fail often here on this blog) to acknowledge my own privilege, as a white, physically able, middle class woman with access to security, education, safe employment.  I don’t believe it should be possible to have a conversation about anybody’s rights without recognising that there are huge oppressive structures at work such as race and economic inequality  And also that I can not help but write with this lens on; in lots of ways my analysis comes from this position of privilege. Alongside everything I write I need to remember that my experience is not the experience of all mothers or women.

Parenting with a recognition of your child’s rights is available to every parent
One of the accusations I’ve experienced is that parenting with respect is only available to the white middle class of this world. It is just not the case. In fact, it seems prejudice to say that. In this corner of the parenting world I have met people from every section of society doing life with their children this way.

In the comments of the original child rights post, I felt there was a breadth of people talking about their experience of this kind of parenting. Sunshine posted in response to my suggestion that we ask before doing anything to our children’s bodies.  “My toddler, whome has Down syndrome and is a tad delayed in development started wiping his own nose and cleaning his own hands and face after a messy meal at the age of 1. Practicing beforehand. And he absolutely loves this freedom. When I ask him if he would like a tissue ( towel) he dramatizes his YES, PLEASE!! If he doesn’t want to ( which is rare) I leave him be, booger and all. Just to illustrate that children are great learners even with their challenges, and they appreciate the chance to control their own discomforts.”

If you are interested in unschooling and child rights and disability please do follow Living Outside the blog, a differently abled mama with a child on the autism spectrum.

And if you are interested in the experience of people of colour and respectful parenting I want to point you in the direction of Akilah of Radical Selfie who writes for Everyday Feminism through the lens of a Black unschooling family, I began following her on Instagram a few weeks ago and what a delight! I also enjoy Darcel of the Mahogony Way – and in particular this interview with another black unschooler.

And I believe that talking about ageism (or adultism/ childism) belongs in intersectionality rhetoric
“Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.” (Geek Feminism)

You’ll notice that in that description of oppressive institutions ageism isn’t mentioned. I think it is a huge and grave omission. Children are oppressed daily by various adults in their lives. They live in a world set up for people bigger than them – the light switches are too high, the taps too far away (these may seem minor but accessibility is absolutely vital in the fight for differently-abled people’s rights) – in most countries in the world children are legally allowed to be physically assaulted.

In the very group, a feminist and social justice-parent discussion group, that described my child rights post as “trolling” they had a discussion yesterday about using gaffa tape to keep a child’s pyjamas on at night. With absolutely no acknowledgement that those pyjamas might be uncomfortable or that the child may be too hot. There is not a people group in the world, apart from the young, that a social justice minded group would collectively believe it was okay to coerce in this way.

Adult privilege must be acknowledged. Please read more here on adultism and a Day in the Life of an Adultism-Aware family and Teresa Brett on adult privilege as toxic to our parent- child relationships. 

Rights don’t trump other rights
People seemed worried that talking about child rights in the home would negate the very serious, often fatal, rights of children in developing countries. Things like child labour and FGM and trafficking are absolutely sickening violations of the rights of children that are close to my heart. I do not believe that aiming to observe child rights in our homes undermines those violations. I believe the opposite. That a full and practical discourse around child rights in more economically stable societies will impact rights every, both by raising the profile of children as fully human, and by raising a generation of people who, having not been the victims of abuses of power, will not allow that to happen systematically, globally. (Crikey, what a sentence!)

Pitching FGM against “taking things off children” (which was one of the things I pointed out we do commonly that infringe on our child’s rights) is a tactic we don’t need in a world where a team of one hundred people are planning to colonise Mars within the next decade. We have HUGE resources available to us, we are achieving IMMENSE things, why not believe that all forms of oppression are evil, and fight them all?

I also think that using the “why use your energy on this minor issue when THIS is happening in the world?” is a form of silencing, commonly used by right wingers and Daily Mail commenters.  I don’t believe in rights being exclusive in that way.

People also raised concerns that this style of parenting was mother hating. Nope. I believe it is mother loving! There is deep, profound joy in this consensual living malarkey. There is a shrugging off of “shoulds” and a general up-turn of the nose towards society’s ridiculous, imposed expectations on mothers. If parenting is seen a a partnership, between child and adult, there is less burden, not more.   Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune is a very practical guide to how this partnership can be very unburdening. 

Finally, for the people suggesting I take the idea of a child’s right to be touched consensually too far, because I think it’s best we always ask before touching another persons body, I read this piece on Teacher Tom (marvellous blog!) about how his class of preschoolers, when given the chance to formulate the class rules came at it with this “extreme” rule; “Don’t do anything to anybody before you ask them.” Children get it. They want their body autonomy to be observed, even when there may be good intentions.

teresa brett - child rights in the home

Why do we need to talk about “child rights” and not just “be kind to your kids”

Do parents really need to read something about how they are infringing on their child’s rights? Why so intense? Why not be kinder and simply talk about kindness?

I do get this one. The last thing parents need is to feel like they are being compared to Vladimir Lenin. (On the positive side, you’d probably look pretty alright next to him yeah?)

On one hand, I haaaaaaaate the idea of putting more shit on parents. Sheesh mcneesh, some days I’m just thankful we’ve made it through the day alive. The place is a tip and all we’ve eaten is cocopops but YES WE MADE IT!

On the other hand, I believe a recognition of child rights is something we need in our homes. Almost every critical thing levied at the concept of child rights in the home was something that has been tossed about as reasons to oppress women and people of colour and the differently abled and other minorities. They aren’t intelligent, they are selfish, they don’t understand, they are physically dependent on us. In the fight for equal status for women, people of colour, the differently abled, the elderly, the rights rhetoric is the critical thing.

 In all of those cases people used to say “come on, we don’t need to talk about rights! We can just be NICER to them!” but it is only a rights framework that really brings to light the structural abuses of power that must change. It is only the implementation of those rights that has begun to change things (and we still have a long way to go on all of those institutional prejudices.)

I believe this will be the case for children too. I believe we are getting there. Robin Grille, in his brilliant book, Parenting for a Peaceful World, calls it the Child Liberation Movement. And it will be like the civil rights movement and the emancipation of women – we will eventually recognise that children are fully human and get the full quiver of rights that comes with it.

But “Don’t be an arse to your kids” simply doesn’t cut it.

Child rights-aware parenting is a Thing. It is done by lots of people! Thousands! 
I was kinda shocked how dismissive some people were of child rights in the home purely because they couldn’t imagine it working. People couldn’t visualise a life with their children without Time Outs.

You can’t naysay something just because you don’t know anyone who does it. There are so many people living this way. Talking to their newborns about picking them up, asking if they can wipe their child’s nose, giving children body autonomy and dignity and giving space for their voice.

I also wonder if people immediately put barriers up to imagining this kind of world. perhaps because we are triggered due to having been a powerless child, it is hard for us to see ourselves as adults, delivering the same kind of power dynamics upon our children. We have a bit of an internal revolt about it. (My original post should have  been far more sensitive to this idea – that many of us have been marginalised as children, and this will raise a lot of emotion, that would possibly appear as anger or disgust.)

Knowing there are thousands of people who have dealt with this inner turmoil and triggering and are now living respectfully with their children might release some naysayers to suspend that disbelief and find more out about it.

Once you decide to live in a rights-respecting way with your children there are bountiful resources to support you. There is Dr Laura Markham with her suggestions of Time Ins instead of Time Outs.  There is Joyce Fetteroll of Joyfully Rejoicing with her perfectly practical suggestions on living life with children without forcing them. There is Teresa Brett with her book and parenting course.  There is Genevieve Simperingham with her resources on Peaceful Parenting and phone consultations.

Once we deal with our huge feelings of, historical or present, internalised oppression and look at this idea of parenting this way objectively, I believe we can see that it is the logical way to a more socially just world. As Teresa Brett concludes;

“If children have not experienced what it feels like to be dehumanized, dismissed, and marginalized as children, they will not feel the need to perpetuate injustice on others as they grow more powerful in the world. If they have experienced trust, respect and mutuality as their paradigm, they will be the change our world needs.”


I had a lot to say about that!

*crawls to bed*


It takes a village – to be the parent you want to be 

16 September, 2015

Sometimes my husband and I are AMAZING parents, we are just real great at it. Calm, fun, creative. On days like these you might see us, after each smoothly putting a child in their car seat with no stress or tears, give each other a little fist bump, with the exploding hand thing after. Like we are teenagers in an American basketball movie. 

And then other times, we are really bad at this job. Good grief! We emanate stress, we are triggered by our children’s emotions, we start running on the “control mindset” that seems to be our default. There are no fist bumps on these days- these are the weeks we take it in turns to cower in the toilet. 

When I look back over this rollercoaster of parenting, I feel VERY able to trace it to times that we were feeling really supported- or not.  

Those darker, grumpier times have almost always been due to isolation, of being away from a supportive group of friends and family, because of big life changes or just getting out of rhythms that connect us to people we need and trust. 

There is a powerful phrase about it taking a village to raise a child. It is so true that children thrive on the multi-generational, diverse, chaotic grounding of community. But perhaps it is mostly true because of the support a village gives the parents.

We are exhausted 

Before I was a parent I thought I knew tired. Insomnia, exam stress, work trip, too much coffee, very late night, early morning train= EXHAUSTING! Oh how I can now laugh/ cry/ laugh-cry! I was only on Level 7 out of 30- now I’m on the bonus level and it’s not even a game I want to PLAY let alone WIN…

It’s not just the physicality of parenting, the putting new batteries in a broken toy with one hand, whilst doing up shoelaces with the other (and saving a falling bowl of coco pops with your foot) that happens all day.

It’s the mental and emotional strain just as much. The incredible privilege of watching out for other people’s needs, every minute of everyday, and the need to be so mindful of our own feelings and the impact of those on our children. Holding it together is well knackering! 

We need people who aren’t quite as tired as us in our village. 

When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts.  A mother always has to think twice, once for herself, and once for her child.  

– Sophia Loren

We have things to do

I want to be the parent who plays, and joins in, and opens doors for my children’s curiosity to blossom. Not the one who is tidying and doing jobs all the time. This sort of means our house is a tip, and that loads of jobs, erm, don’t get done. I do feel like this isn’t meant to be the case. 

I’m so inspired by a bunch of my friends (who live in a separate town to me dangnamit) who spend all day every Monday at one of their houses, tidying together. They do it on a rolling schedule so that once a month each one of their houses gets a full on seeing to while all the kids play. It is such a simple thing and a way that villages have done jobs forever. There is a saying on our farm:

If it feels like work, there’s not enough people doing it.

Rowan, from the farm

Life should be enjoyed; parenting and chores can be a pleasure when done together. 

We have hopes and dreams 

I am learning that I am the parent I want to be (kind, patient, creative) when I have chance to work. (I know! Me! Technically lazy but actually quite ambitious!) I neeeeed time to concentrate and bring to fruit the ideas that ping around my brain. My natural desire to learn and create didn’t die when I birthed my children, if anything it grew and grew. When I don’t get the opportunity to focus on my own shizzle for a bit I am frustrated and distracted with my children- perhaps also out working a little bit of deep down subconscious “motherhood has thwarted me” narrative. 

Two of my friends in London do a sort of “child swap” where one morning a week one of them has all four kids while the free mum does some writing, a few days later the writer has all four kids so the other mum can have the morning off. Working, reading, relaxing, fun, whatever- one delicious morning every week to yourself can be a sanity restorer. (Quick, write a list of mates to ring up…) 

We need shoulders 

Our mental health as parents relies on us having shoulders to cry on, arms to lean on, ears to vent in. Especially for those of us (possibly many, many of us) dealing with emotional baggage from childhood, we need a space where can be honest and open about our feelings. Having other adults we can call on to talk through stuff with us, to give us a huge hug, to let us know we are enough, but that we don’t have to be enough by ourselves… We are born to have this kind of community. Having a group of people we can be vulnerable with and talk through struggles with restores us, makes us able to be the parent that can laugh and dance and be really present. (I also believe we should be authentic with our children too, but not to burden them with our emotional needs.) 

 The Embrace, Gustav Klimt

Build a village

I found myself beaming today as I opened up a facebook group I’d been invited to, called Takes a Village. Alot of isolated mums are found on facebook and forums, that’s for sure, I spent my first three months as a mum almost solely online googling “Is [insert very normal newborn behaviour] normal?” Takes a Village is a local, open group where mothers can connect and build a friendship offline in order to start doing bits of life in a villagey way, raising their kids, cleaning together, getting well needed breaks. The creator of the group, Rachel, set up the group one evening, and in the morning she woke up to 128 members. A few days later and it has 250 members- it doesn’t sound like much but it represents about a tenth of the NZ population. Hehehe. 

Rachel says “I moved to a new town in November and although I joined the local playgroups I’ve found it hard to develop the intentional sort of friendships that extend beyond focusing on children’s play. These days children don’t get to witness as much of ‘village life’, meaning amongst other things, you end up with many adults spending the afternoon playing with their children inside and frankly being a little bored. So I started this page to see if there were any other parents who, like me, craved more adult time and interaction during the day. I created it in the evening, and by the time I went to bed there were already 70 members. 

We are hardwired by nature to be a part of a tribe, but these days we move away from our families and change locations so much it’s hard to make old friends. So we end up on our own, which with small children is incredibly hard. This page was a way to bring people together and help each other – with cleaning, with cooking meals for new mums, de-cluttering, babysitting, baking, gardening, sharing skills – whatever people want.”

Parents have already organised themselves, met up and some have begun a roster of meal cooking for the group’s pregnant women’s transition to motherhood. It is potentially so life, and society, changing. 

If you are a parent, you are probably weary, likely have a list of jobs as long as your arm, but you deserve a shoulder to cry on and the fulfilment of your hopes and dreams – be they writing a novel or doing a poo solo.

Can you send a text now? Start a Facebook group?  I hope you find a way to find your village. You and your kids are well entitled to more fistbump days. 


80 Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids | Things To Do Outside

7 September, 2015

I have basically spent the summer making a list in my head of all the fun outdoor activities kids can get up to. Why? Don’t ask me! It is the slightly tragic nature of a blogger I think, to turn everything you do into a (mostly unpublished) blog post.Every fun thing we have done outside (and there’s been a humoungous about of fun activities- check out Instagram) has gone on The Great List Of Outdoor Activities In My Head.

Well, what is the point of an In-My-Head list? Eh? Eh? NO POINT.

So here it is, the Very Ultimate, the Mostly Free, the Really Fun List of Outdoor Activities for Kids. Thank me later. Actually you probably won’t because you’ll never look at a screen again as you’ll be having too much fun outdoors with the kids. Harumph.

(This might seem like strange timing, the week that kids are going back to school. But to me, it is IDEAL timing. This list is a big fat reminder about how important it is to make the most of the times you have with your kids when they are not stuck in a classroom. You could print this list out and cut it up and have an instant “Outdoor Activities Jar” and then whenever you are looking for things to do that are free and fun and outside you can pick one out and VOILA!)

Why play outside?
Whilst writing my book, 30 Days of Rewilding, I researched just how happy and healthy the outdoors can make us. There is quite a lot of evidence that suggests mud can fight depression (really!) and living with a green space close by makes you live longer (I KNOW!) –  connecting with nature has a hugely restorative role.

For children in particular, I feel that the Great Outdoors is BIG enough for them! It can hold their rambunctiousness, their loudness and their energy. We don’t have to say “Use your inside voice” or keep nagging them to stop being so wild. These outside activities don’t come come with a “NO JUMPING NO RUNNING NO SHOUTING NO BALL GAMES” sign like so many areas of our children’s lives do! Because the earth can absorb it all – our children can be fully themselves outdoors.

The wilderness is enough for our children’s wild side.

I love that.

So here we go, 80 fun outdoor activities for kids!
Amazing Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids
Fun Activities in the garden

The ideal place for dabbling your feet in the Great Outdoors is obviously your garden! I believe gardeners are up there with oil-rig climbing activists in terms of protecting the planet. Getting children involved in gardening activities is the first step in nurturing nature lovers, I reckon.

Make bird feeders. Collect pine cones, spread lard on the segments and cover with seeds. Hang on the trees!

Little fingers are great at weeding. Show them the easily identifiable weeds to pull.

Get a seed catalogue and let your children chose the flowers they want to grow.

Little hands are great at digging. Get the children to plant the holes for the flowers they want to plant.

Plant a small herb garden with your child, let them know it is theirs to care for.

Let your children pinch out the new shoots on the tomato plants.

Let the children harvest the vegetables – they will only learn to be careful with the practice!

Put the kids in charge of watering – this is a critical job and one they can do so well!

Build a worm bin for your scraps – see a how to here – and put your children in charge of collecting the right scraps and monitoring the worms health.

Build a compost heap your children and put them in charge of checking the temperature – see a how to here!

Make a mud wall. Dig up a little corner of your garden till you get to the kind of clay-like dirt. Plaster a bit of your fence with it and then start moulding faces into it, this is something epic that the kids can work on everyday – it will soon look like you have a wall of gargoyles!80 fun outdoor activities for kids

Playing outdoors!
“Our challenge isn’t so much to teach children about the natural world, but to find ways to nurture and sustain the instinctive connections they already carry.”
– Terry Krautwurst

Outdoor Activities in the forest
Every town has a nature reserve – it doesn’t have to be a great forest, a simple local woodland where trees are gathered will do. Cool in the summer, covered in the rain, forests are the ideal environment for outdoor activities. 

Build a den. There is a traditional technique where you perch one big long stick in the V of a tree to make a sloping spine for the roof. You then lean long sticks against it. But I’m sure you and the kids will come up with your own way!

Go on a scavenger hunt. Create a list of things to find; mushrooms, feathers, birds nest, badger holes. Go on a mission to find them.

Give the kids a camera and let them make a nature documentary.

Roll a log onto its side and discover all the critters living beneath it.

Make a crown out of leaves and twigs.

Use your den as a stake out, wait and watch and record the wild life you see. (If you do it at dusk you might get lucky and spot some badgers.)

Whittle sticks into arrows and use a tree stump as target practice.

Take paper and pencils and take bark and leaf rubbings. (For those of you who missed out on this as a child: put the paper on top of the thing you want to rub, then gently move your pencil over the top.)

Weave with nature. Make a grid out of twigs tied together with thin strips of flax. Now you can weave weeds and blossoms all the way through it.

Collect a hamper of nature’s wonders to bring home for a seasonal nature table.

Play wild bingo – like a scavenger hunt but better – there are downloadable ones here by the amazing blog Seeds and Stitches. 

“If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
Rachel Carson

Outdoor Activities at the beach

The place I hear the call of the wild the loudest? At the beach! If you go there often enough you need to “do” anything- the sounds of the crashing waves and the amazing textures and treasures are totally enough. But to get started with the fun, check out these activities.

Float a log out to see and then try and sink it by throwing stones at it. (Tim and I used to play this all the time before we had kids HA HA – genuinely fun!)

Create a dam system right by the tide mark – help your children stoke up their engineering minds by working out a plan for building a dam. You need a lower bed of stones/ sand, and then you need to build the dam bit up. Too much fun to try and capture water in it, without letting the dam wash a way.

Chasing waves – it is a classic not to be overlooked. This is perfect for children of all ages. If it is a nice day you need more of a penalty than “got wet by an incoming wave” – work out some kind of jail for kids to go in when they get wet.

Body surfing – there is a technique for this awesome surfing with out a board – check it out here.

Sand sculptures – like sand castles but more intense. My girls love making giant, fancy mermaids using all the stuff the tide washes up.

Drift wood monsters – build up monsters using driftwood and seaweed.

Crabbing – turn over rocks at low tide to see some great ones. Alternatively grab a net, some bait and a wharf (ideally.) Crabs are such fascinating creatures, with their weird goggly eyes and drunken stagger.

Fun Games to Play Outside
As well as activities there are loads of games for kids to play outside. Here are a few new ones and a few classics too.

Kubb is one of those games I have been recently introduced to which I love. It does need a bit of makey do before hand, but once you have it it will basically become a family heirloom. Think chucking bits of wood around in a systematic, strategic way. Yep, you got it: Viking Chess. Here is how to make and play Kubb.

Bowls… Whatever it is NOT just for grandmas. You see, you, the toddlers and the teens will get right into this, you will! And there is a set of bowls in every charity shop I have ever been in ever. So. yeah.

Hit the target. If going out and getting a fancy set of bowls doesn’t float your boat, simply set up a bit of target practice with whatever you have to hand. Pin a scarf on to a tree and then collect a load of pine cones. Wile away hours trying to hit bullseye. You will. you really will!

Sardines – I was tempted to say “Hide and Seek” but you can see this list is an original one and Hide and Seek has no place on an original list of things to do outside, hello?! Ha. Sardines on the other hand – it is quite an underrated classic! In this game once person hides while the whole crowd counts to 50. Then the crowd split up to hunt down the hider. When they find them they just hide with them, until everybody is hiding there. It makes me giggle just to think about it!

What time is it Mister Wolf? Oh, talking about fits of giggles! This is a childhood game that involves kids of all ages, perfect for outside. You have a wolf, with her back to you, and a set of keys (or another item) set just below her back. All the kids stand 6 metres away and ask “What’s the time Mister Wolf?” while she is thinking of and saying her answer the kids trying and sneak up to grab the keys and take them back to the finish line. But after the wolf has said “XXX o clock” she turns around and everyone has to freeze. If she sees someone moving they are out, and if the keys are gone she has to guess who is holding them. FUN FUN FUN!

Outdoor Activities on a camping trip
A lot of the beauty of camping lies in the being – you know? Not busying yourself with activities and games… but sometimes you need a bit of inspo, right? These outdoor activities are great for any time but ESPECIALLY whilst camping! 

Build a fire, wrap potatoes in two layers of tin foil and cook them up. The taste of fire-baked spuds is out of this world!

Star gaze. It is such an obvious one, but when you are flat on your back with a rug wrapped around you, while the milky way reveals itself to you, you realise why it has become such a classic wild activity!

Create a camping tableau. As you go through each day bring back to your pitch daily mementos. Gather your rocks and pine cones and shells into a beautiful nature shrine.

Leaf Garlands. Use strips of flax to stitch leaves you have collected together. Wrap them around your guy ropes.

Create a nature welcome mat. Make your site feel like home by collecting small rocks and spell out WELCOME at the start of your pitch.

Forage for nettles and make nettle tea or chuck them into your dinner. Chop and fry an onion, 3 cloves of garlic in a huge knob of butter, add 6 cups of stock and 6 handfuls of nettle. Cook through, blend and eat! Heat takes the prickle out but wear gloves for harvesting!80 outdoor activities for kids-3

Tree spotting. Bring along a book about the native plant life. Tick off the ones you spot.

Introduce your children to the tradition of campfire stories. Sing some songs from your childhood, tell some tales and see the whole family getting into it!

Choco-Bananas on the fire. Split your bananas open with a knife, chuck in as much chocolate as you want. Wrap in two layers of tin foil and bake them.

Build a swing. A campsite isn’t home until it has a little rope swing hanging somewhere. You need sturdy rope, a thin but strong log and a knife to carve out a hole for the rope to go through. Toss it over a healthy, thick branch two times and have fun!

“As children observe, reflect, record, and share nature’s patterns and rhythms, they are participating in a process that promotes scientific and ecological awareness, problem solving, and creativity.”
Deb Matthews Hensley

Nature Crafts

When we do nature crafts we not only use nature but we tend to do them all outside too. Doing nature activities outside means there is very little stress about mess.

Get the glue, a bowl and some autumn leaves outside and craft up a beautiful bowl. See a video tutorial here.

Painting pine cones with fun colours.

Painting sticks and hanging them up.

Painting stones.

Use biros to draw faces onto acorns, with their little caps on- I made a minion once, by accident. He was awesome.

Nature mobiles – cross two sticks over each other to make a cross. Use thread to hang leaves or shells or feathers from it. (To be fair these are beautiful in a very rustic way – possibly too witchy looking to hang above a baby’s crib.)

Leaf Kebab sculptures – thread leaves onto a super thin (perhaps whittled – see below!) stick almost like a kebab. Place them in the ground or on show somewhere.

Ice hangings- place flowers and leaves inside plastic bowls, with a loop of string coming out of them – freeze them and you have an incredible looking bit of ice art!

Replace the flowers and leaves with seeds and nuts and not only do you have a crafty garden decoration but you have a bird feeder. Amazing. See this and more over at Red Ted Art. 

Use whatever you can find, wherever you are to make Land Art – see the Artful Parent for a SUPER inspiring interview with Richard Shilling about Land Art for kids.

(And check out my Pinterest board for all of the above crafts and a stack load of outdoor craft activities for kids.)

Things to do with sticks

A brilliant bushcraft any child over three can get involved with is whittling. There is a real sense of joy to be found in whittling a stick nice and smooth! These sticks can be turned into all sorts of things.
Amazing fun outdoor activities for kids

Make a wand!

Make a sword.

Make a javelin and have a tournament.

Whittle a whistle for the more advanced.

Build fairy houses.

Play pooh sticks – race your sticks down the stream.

Outdoor Activities for toddlers and small children

One of the ways you can really help the little people in your life fall in love with nature is to set up an Outdoor Play group – for babies to older children. See how to do that here.  But here are some everyday outdoor activities for toddlers…

Chalking. Give your children a little package of chalks and let them chalk up the patio, the trees, anything in their path. This is amazingly liberating for them!

Natural painting – with just some different mixing bowls and paintbrushes get them to mix up different coloured paints. It is amazing the difference colours leaves and muds can produce and kids LOVE this activity!

Mudpies. The ultimate small child entertainment system! Grab some wooden spoons and bowls, head to a muddy area and let them go for it!

Ice smashing. A great one for winter and summer. Freeze some little plastic figures in ice cream containers of water. ONce they are frozen solid give your child some utensils to bosh them out. We do this ALL THE TIME – and no injuries yet. Just a lot of delight!Amazing fun free outdoor activities for kids

The middle years – roughly six to twelve – is a time of greatly expanded interest, curiosity and capacity for assimilating knowledge and understanding the natural world. Rapid cognitive and intellectual growth occurs, including many critical thinking skills achieved through interaction and coping in the nonhuman environment.Intellectual development at this stage is especially facilitated by direct contact with nearby natural settings, where a world of exploration, imagination and discovery becomes increasingly evident to the child.
Stephen R. Kellert

Outdoor activities for older children and teens

Nature play isn’t just for young kids, my friends. In 30 Days of Rewilding I interview a few people who have seen – or experienced – something amazing in the great Outdoors. Youth- at – risk who have got their lives on track by wilderness trails or teenagers who have found themselves by being lost in nature. 

Bushcraft. Older children can thrive learning survival skills, learning how to use good tools and how to identify edible plants. (Youtube is one place to start learning!)

Weaving flax flowers. Kids from about 7 plus will be able to make these beautiful flowers using this tutorial. 

Camping out by themselves.

Overnight trails. We used to do this when I was a teenager as a youth group, to fundraise but it is also possible in larger teams through Oxfam Trailwalker. An amazing challenge for young people.

Ice sliding. Fill a deep over tray with water and freeze it – rush to a hill and SLIDE. I took a bunch of young people to do this once when I was a youthworker and we were all crying with laughter.

Hill sliding. So simple, but when we did this the majority of people around us were teenagers and they were having a right royal blast! Literally, get a box, a steep hill, and go for it! Check out photos here.


Playing outside is such a simple way that families can reap all the happy-making, health-boosting benefits of the Great Outdoors, whilst also nurturing our in-built love of nature. I reckon that a childhood spent playing outside, the chance to be loud and wild and create adventures, is a great gift we can give our children, and one that sets them up to be resilient, content adults.

What do parents owe their young that is more important than a warm and trusting connection to the Earth?
Theodore Roszak

Some of these activities you will find in my BRAND NEW EBOOK! 30 Days of Rewilding – find your place in nature and watch your family bloom. Discover a load of inspiration for you and your family to go on a beautiful, nature loving adventure. Buy from Amazon Kindle or my own store as a pdf downloadable on any device or computer.