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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.


30 Days of Rewilding – find your place in nature and watch your family bloom!

6 September, 2015

 30 Days of Rewilding takes the form of thirty short chapters, easily digested on the fly, to help you find a sense of home in the natural world. I am so sure that these stories of people who have been transformed and restored by connecting with the wild will inspire you to dive into a love affair with nature, and take your family with you. (People are so enjoying it that it rocketed into its category as a Number One Bestseller! Whoop!) 

30 days of rewilding book

From a brick house in Peckham to a yurt in a forest in New Zealand
30 Days of Rewilding is motivated by our own story and the move we made two years ago with our young children from our (awesome, messy) Victorian terrace house in South London to a (beautiful, chaotic) yurt in a forest in New Zealand. It is a massive change, but the most significant part of it, for me, has been getting in touch with my wilderness DNA.

Through conversations with a variety of people from authors to CEOs and visits to projects around the world from a Forest School in Germany’s Black Forest to a playgroup in South London, people are invited to restore their connection with nature.

There are the mothers who find deep well-being as a result of meeting under each new moon, youth at risk who have had their feet set back on track through wilderness trails, and families who have begun a life-long fling with the wild.

Their stories will make you want to re-discover the ancient pact with nature written on your bones.

Why 30 Daily Readings? 
I was inescapably drawn to write this book because it is something we have found happening to us over the last two years; a rewilding. But as I was writing it I began to believe in the concept of the book more and more – daily readings for busy parents. Because there are TONS of books out there telling us about how sad it is that children can name more Dr Who characters than native birds, and we KNOW that sucks. But the only way children fall in love with nature is when adults nurture an environment where this can happen. Deep, happy-making connections are made between adults and children, and people and earth, when we together go out to poke the moss, watch the beetles, count the stars.

The idea of the book is that over the month readers gradually, through the different activities and stories, discover a sense of belonging in nature.

Early Reviews Say

“Oh my, it’s so amazing! I love it so, so much. A heart palpitating amount. I just read this in one sitting because I couldn’t stop, I was too busy fist pumping and nodding vigorously. I am now itching to plant some spring bulbs, walk through the woods and run into the sea. All of the links made between being outside and having good mental health are sobering and brilliant and SO TRUE- for both children and adults. I am sending it to everyone I know.” Hannah,

“I loved your book! I feel totally motivated to re-wild us all- to get out in nature and take on some of your ideas. Today we just sat in the grass in our barefeet and I wiggled our toes and talked about what we could do. Wonderful inspired ideas and a lovely way to get kids away from screens!” Becky,

Kindle People: 30 Days of Rewilding is available through Amazon

For Non Kindle People: Also available as a simple PDF which can be read on any Ereader or computer. (For Ereaders I advocate the use of Nook, free to download and comes with a cheeky freebie mag already downloaded.) Download 30 Days of Rewilding as a PDF here.

I would be stoked if you could share this post around and give some reviews on Amazon, help me spreadeth the word. And if you are a twittery type, join me tomorrow night on Twitter at 7pm BST for a chat with the hashtag #30DaysOfRewilding

Thank You
It is you readers that keep me motivated to write, you know? I feel so, SO privileged to have you and your encouragement. *sends a blooming blossom your way*

THAAAANKS!!!  And enjoy your bank holiday if you are getting one!30 Days of Rewilding Zenobia

Featured, Parenting

5 reasons vulva is not a dirty word

5 August, 2015

“That woman has a vulva. And that one. She’s got one, probably, and her too. There are vulvas EVERYWHERE.” We were at the pool, in the changing room, and Ramona was quite accurately pointing out that there were vulvas all over the place.  Did I want the slippery, pube littered tiled floor to open up and swallow me? Just a little? Oh Yep. I had taught my daughter the word vulva on purpose… but I wasn’t ready for that.

I’ve come a long way since then, I like to think that these days I would barely bat an eye lid at the word vulva announced loudly across a public place. In fact, now when my children talk about vulvas I am pleased as punch. 

I read in the news at the weekend about a new entry into the Swedish dictionary “snippa” – a version of “willy” but for girls, because none of the nicknames or the anatomical words seemed to be good enough. 

I don’t know Swedish, and despite being a massive, MASSIVE fan of the Dime Bar cake they sell at IKEA,  I can’t comment on how worthy the Swedish version of vulva is.But I do hope we don’t create a new British word for female genitals as VULVA is a beaut. There are many reasons ‘vulva’ should be a part of our vocab, but the very last reason is vital, something every parent needs to know. 

I reckon it just needs a campaign team. I’m here and I am stepping up as the Alistair Campbell of Team Vulva. 

Vulva is powerful

Would it have been better if Ramona had pointed out all the “minis” or “nonnys” or “fuffs”? I wonder if it would have felt cuter, and I think that’s partly why I feel those are not good words for female genitals. They reduce these powerful parts of a woman to a strange little collection of fairy syllables. 

Where as “vulva” – it sounds powerful. Like it could be the entrance way to a portal of intense pleasure and the exit for a ten pound human. Or something. 

A mother once told me her child refers to hers as a “Volvo” – which perhaps sums up partly why it feels like a good word- like the car, it is solid, reliable, hard to break. Even by a baby the size of a watermelon. (Okay, it can sometimes feel broken, but nothing that a few stitches, a bag of prunes and a gallon load of birth hormones can’t fix.)

Vulvas themselves are rarely dirty

Sometimes we might be tempted to discourage vulva- exploration because we have a feeling it is genuinely a bit grubby. Well, guess what. The mighty vagina is self-cleansing, and the vulva needs only the most very basic of water washes to keep the whole thing spick and span. (For a funny diagram about not getting the V’s mixed up see here.)  It has the perfect balance of microbes to keep it healthy and clean and in a good environment it will thrive without any effort at all. 

One small child I know for a while there would thrust a finger under any nostril and shout YUMMY! It was, of course, laden with vulva microbes. Fortunately the parents knew enough about this stuff to simply explain, without any shame or horror, that “Yummy Finger” was just for her nose.  Little children often know more truth than adults, for a healthy genitalia is designed to smell good- jam packed with appealing pheremones and things.

There really doesn’t have to be any EW GROSS factor about vulvas. 

Vulva-talk is natural and an important part of development

Talk of vulvas is rife in our family at the moment- exactly as it should be, according to natural, healthy child development. Intrigue, exploration, play and learning about genitals happens between the ages of three and, well, I guess, forever, really, and these can be precious moments for a child picking up a sense of being okay, of shamelessness, about their private parts and their sexuality. 
There was one part of the article about Spinnas that I enjoyed. The creator of it suggested that when parents see their child touching their vulva to “smile encouragingly”- how inspiringly different to world where children are shamed when they show a healthy curiosity about a part of their body. 

The origins of the word are perfect 

Do you know “vulva” most likely comes from the Old Latin “volvere” meaning to roll it or, more literally “wrapper”- our vulva is the wrapping on one jolly bonanza of a gift. Women’s bodies are the vessel of humanity! The genesis of generations! Our wombs BIRTH THE FUTURE! And our vulvas are the golden ribbon around the present and the icing on the cake.

Knowing the words “vulva”and “penis” are critical for child sexual abuse prevention

And here is the most important, the really serious case for why “fanny” and “vajay” don’t cut it. People who work in child sexual abuse prevention understand that knowing the anatomical terms for genitals can actually protect children from abuse. It is three pronged- children knowing anatomical terms for private parts usually indicates that there is healthy communication about genitals meaning children are more likely to discuss any scared feelings/ scary situations they experience with their parents or carers. Using these words also deters predators as it shows an understanding, and finally it helps specialists in the aftermath of child sexual abuse as children can accurately describe what happened. 

In The Atlantic Laura Palumbo, a prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), explains how teaching the words vagina, penis and vulva promotes positive body image, self confidence, and parent-child communication; discourages perpetrators; and, in the event of abuse, helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process. 

Are you on Team Vulva?


Keeping it real

30 July, 2015

Isn’t the internet a strange old beast? I am, personally, in love with it. We are lovers. I’d like to cover it in Nutella and lick it. We are having an intense tryst at the moment because: UNLIMITED WIFI HERE IN THE UK! YEAH BABY!  After 18 months of being in an internet-less yurt in New Zealand, we are sucking the life out of all the wwws over here.

But how much does it skew everyone’s perception of what is real? I mean. What family life is like, how exhausting parenthood is, how hard it is to just recycle the little boxes that the takeaway you’ve resorted to came in?

Everything is a showreel. Facebook and Instagram – white, white, walls and children not wearing their pyjamas. Even when I livestream on periscope I tilt the camera so you can’t see the morning’s cereal bowls with the crunchy nut cornflakes that haven’t been crunchy for hours. Not very many people are upfront about the shitty bits, eh?

I wonder if this blog lately has been a bit like that “oh we are going on a big trip! Having a lovely time in Thailand with the baby elephants! We are REALLY respecting our children’s rights! Now we are in London and we have shiny hair that is really growing fast thanks to this nice brush!”

A lovely family walk amongst the nature no stress here folks move right along

A lovely family walk amongst the nature no stress here folks move right along

When I post a blog, I usually am feeling all the happies. I tend not to be very public with my woes, ever. (I’m British.) And I don’t like to talk about difficulties my kids are facing with people on the internet. My blog isn’t a facade at all, I don’t mean to give a false impression – I just wouldn’t flip open my laptop if I was feeling really mega bummed about something.

So I’m making a concerted effort to do that right now… because right now we are having some HARD days.

We watched the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, yesterday because we happen to be in Peckham, home to the legendary Peckham Plex where every film is a fiver all day every day. Yeah the carpet is so sticky that it pulled my sandal off and yeah there tends to be a culture of shouting at the screen but a fiver is well cheap.

I was almost on the cusp of tears the whole time. Thinking about how all the change we have brought on to our family in the last 18 months and how that must be so epically intense for our children to deal with.

And they are really dealing with it right now.

(At least I think that is what is going on. I think it’s the change. We’ll never know unless we can get Pixar involved to take a peep in our kid’s head… that’s how it works right?)

It is emotion central round here. The epicenter of rage and the source of all tears. We are every slammed door and every overthrown chair.

And then there’s the children.

(Jokes… I’m too lazy to overthrow a chair.) Me and Tim seem to take it in turns over who gets to run away from the sadness and shut ourselves in the toilet.

All the emotions are triggering things in us and we are trying to figure out what we need and how to get it whilst helping our children meet theirs and not really feeling like we are doing that very well at all.

On days like this, parenting this way doesn’t seem like the path to harmony one bit. There are little shivers of doubt and a sense that families who Put Their Foot Down probably never have bad days.

We are all just on. the. verge. All day. (And all night.)

It takes a village to raise a child, eh? And I guess we have left ours for a few months, and we are sort of popping in to our old one and our kids don’t remember the neighbours and the friendly village dog that used to lick their knees now seems like a strange menace.  And did a poo right by the swings.

All the normal things have gone, the daily rituals and things we could all rely on and yes, there is lots of fun and joy involved, but we are floundering a bit. The framework on which we hang our lives is back on a parcel of land in New Zealand and we are just bumping along from thing to thing. (I like to think we carry this framework around with us, in our family culture but I’ve totally misplaced it. It’s probably somewhere in my hand bag with my sunglasses, a mouldy sock, a half eaten apple, a small furry penguin, a few of those orange things that kinder egg toys come in, two Frubes and a mooncup but gosh darn I can’t find iiiiiiiiittttttt…)

In between little (freezing) picnics catching up with old friends we are rampaging drama queens; moody and explosive.

One of us needs to take a chill pill and it should probably be me… have any? *hopeful*

If I was updating Instagram today there would be a picture of me hiding under the covers with a book while Juno tries to put a toy screwdriver into my ears brrrrrrrrr and Ramona will be yelling for someone to play tag with her for the fifty billionth time and Tim will be asking if we are bringing our children up all wrong.

So… no feedback needed. I just wanted to make it very, very clear that our life isn’t some romantical, respectful, nomadic dream. We are trying, really trying, to embrace joy and freedom but some days… some days are just shit.

Activism, Featured, Parenting

10 habits that infringe on Rights of Children (and how to change them)

14 July, 2015

Do you dream of a fairer world, a cherished earth, a more peaceful community? And do you interact with children? As a parent or teacher or aunty or kind member of the public?

Nuzzle in, you. This post has your very name on it.

A few years ago, during my Masters at LSE, I spent three months studying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child under the tireless child rights advocate, Peter Townsend. The course was heavy but inspiring and I vowed to work on child rights for the rest of my life.

I went on to work for Oxfam as a campaigner, and imagined I would end up working on the rights of children through social policy.

And it would be easy to see me now, sitting in my pyjamas drinking tea, and wonder what happened to that vow.

But in actual fact,when it comes to human rights and social change, I feel as powerful in my role as a parent as I did as a campaigner.

When we studied the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) we covered poverty, child labour, hunger, trafficking, homelessness, but we didn’t ever look at the home and family life.

I’ve come to believe that the UNCRC can inspire us to observe children’s rights as parents and teachers and neighbours, and that this in turn this will lead to societal change that makes all those huge, global issues, much less likely to occur.  And, if we can raise a generation who have had their rights observed, the impact on global social justice will be boundless. 

Unicef say “The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated – i.e., as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.”

Unicef is slightly optimistic when it uses past tense here  – I think we are in the process of changing our view on children, but things haven’t quite got there yet. This post is going to take 10 everyday, simple habits that impede children’s rights, and consider a way to change them.

I did begin by going through the Convention, article by article, and pulling out the relevant bits – freedom to express views (article 12) and to impart information and ideas (article 13) and the right to dignity (article 23) but it got almost as heavy as my Masters, so I stopped that.

Instead, the guiding principles of the Convention, cover most bases:

All rights apply to all children without exception.

  • It is the State’s obligation to protect children from any form of discrimination and to take positive action to promote their rights.

  • All actions concerning the child shall take full account of his or her best interests. The State shall provide the child with adequate care when parents, or others charged with that responsibility, fail to do so.

  • Every child has the inherent right to life, and the State has an obligation to ensure the child’s survival and development.

  •  The child has the right to express his or her opinion freely and to have that opinion taken into account in any matter or procedure affecting the child.

And actually, these guiding principles can be distilled even further, I reckon. I think most adults have a good sense of what their rights are, and when their rights are being abused or repressed. This means that it might be helpful to think about upholding child rights simply by asking the question “how would I hope to be treated in this situation?” 

Here are ten things lovers of human rights and warriors of social justice do regularly to impede the rights of children.  We can break habits, and form new ones, humans are amazing like that. Let’s do this….Habits that impede rights of child in the home (and how to change them)

1 – Taking things off children. We do it in the name of safety sometimes; snatch scissors from a toddler or a phone from a baby. Sometimes we just do it absentmindedly- we want something they have, so we just take it. This act is discriminatory – excluding children from using something that they would like to.

What to do instead: Even with the very smallest child we can ask for something back, and explain why we would like it. If we are patient, and allow them to fully process the request (for young children this can take longer than you think!) with our hand out, it is highly likely that they will return it. We can explain things to children just as we do other adults.

We can also question our motivation for taking it – is it really unsafe for a toddler to use sharp things? I don’t believe so. At all. Juno has been picking up knives with our supervision since she could first handle any items. She has learnt to use sharp things very carefully as a result. Being committed to child rights means questioning a lot of assumptions we have about our children’s abilities!

2 – Talking about children in front of them. “Ah, yeah Ramona, woke up so early this morning!” – it is such a seemingly harmless conversation to have, sharing stories about our children while they are there. But would we EVER do this to an adult? Can you even imagine it? Being in a room with a friend, discussing the toilet habits / sleeping problems/ hilarious anecdote about another friend sitting next to you? It doesn’t protect dignity and privacy and you can stop it!

What to do instead: Weigh up the reasons for sharing that anecdote. If you need advice or support, consider sharing it in private, away from your children. But you can also ask your child, if they are there, if they mind you sharing a story. Or, you can include your child in it “Oh, Ramona, you woke up early this morning didn’t you – were you super keen to get up?” – involve them in the conversation as we would an adult.  This goes even for the tiniest baby. Defend your newborns dignity and it will be a parental habit formed for their whole life.

3 – Laughing at children.  Children can be hilarious, sometimes in a purposeful way – laugh right along to their jokes. But they are also funny sometimes in an intriguing, surprising way – and I’d you to consider not laughing at children. Sometimes, adults  find it hard not to smirk, to catch each others eyes and laugh at our children as they go about their lives. Just yesterday Ramona said “Don’t laugh at me, mum!” when I had giggled at something in a kind hearted way. It pulled me up short – even our loving chuckles as they fumble a word infringe on their personhood. I love laughter and joyfulness – it has to be up to you to discern whether your laughter fits with the idea of your child as a rights bearer.

What to do instead: Consider things from their point of view . It is tough not being able to reach things you need, learning all the unwritten rules of society, figuring out who you are. The very last thing they need is “kind hearted” adults giggling along. Dwell on this and it should help you hold it together when you want to snort-in-love.

4 – Picking babies up We get rights all mixed up on this one – we think it is our right to pick up our baby. Well, erm, your baby isn’t really, exactly, yours, you see. You don’t own her. She is not a possession. She is a person. With her own body.

Or we think we are helping when we pick up another child when they’ve fallen or  a baby when they are crying. Would you like a stranger to come up to you and pick you up? Nope. It’s the same. It is.

What to do instead: The alternative isn’t not picking babies up. Babies love to be in arms, it is one of the biggest ways babies and adults connect. PICK UP BABIES! But, do what you would like to be done to you: ASK THEM! Yep, even a newborn. If babies are spoken to this way they soon respond. The “I’m going to pick you up now” spoken to a baby soon becomes “Can I give you a cuddle?” to a young child. This practice of consent from birth could change the world. 

5 – Wiping children’s noses Sometimes we do things to kids in the name of health and hygiene. Sweeping in to wipe their nose for example – I used to pride myself on a swipe that came from behind Ramona’s head, cleared all snot that wouldn’t interfere with her play time.  Yep: stepping all over her right to influence decisions that affect her.

What to do instead: Say “I see you have a wet nose, can I wipe it for you, or would you like to wipe it yourself? and then wait.  It was Pennie Brownlee that opened my eyes to the possibility that most children, if given the option to not have a huge slimeball of snot dripping into their mouth would take it! Same goes with dirty nappies- in a respectful relationship, giving the child the option to come and get their nose wiped or their nappy changed, and given time to process it, is likely to result in them coming over for a wipe/ change themselves.

6 – Deciding things without their input “Right! We are off! Let’s go, COME ON!”  The amount of times I have seen parents suddenly decide it is time to leave the park and expect their children with no warning to come right along happily! We plan our days, our holidays, our visits, our lunches, our leaving times, every thing with very little input from our children because we think we know best. And it is a complete flouting of their human right to have a say in things that impact them.

What to do instead: Give them an opportunity to influence plans. This grows with the child; they are VERY good at letting people know when they are ready to have a say! It might start with a two year old choosing what friends to have a playdate with, and then can grow into a four year old helping the family decide where to go on holiday. Contrary to what people may think, having children as fully fledged decision makers is not a burden – it is a great joy, and it leads to a far, far more harmonious family life. 

7 – Photographing (and sharing) them without permission This one that really challenges me, and I have been on quite a journey with it. (In fact, you can see that my Instagram pictures are far less frequent as I try and do this 100% consensually.  When we are snap happy and post these photos publically we are in danger of disregarding children’s right to privacy. And don’t get me started on when we use those photos to publically shame our children… *ragey face*

What to do instead I do have a couple of friends who have sworn never to post anything about their children online ever…. I, erm, am clearly not there! I simply ask their permission to take a photo, and then ask them if I can share it online.Habits that impede rights of child in the home (and how to change them)

8 – Putting children in Time Out Yeah baby I’m calling it! Time Out is a Human Right’s Abuse! Putting a child on a step and not letting them move does not allow our children to experience the right to be a full participant of the community, it erodes their dignity and suppresses their right to have a say in things that are important to them. It just shuts things down according to an adult’s, often quite arbitrary, rules.

What to do instead  In our family, we generally feel that if a hiccup has occurred, it is because the child needs MORE connection, not less. Not to be excluded from our love, but to be encompassed in it.  So we go for something that is highly connecting. Some families however, might have found Time Out to be helpful in cultivating a thinking space.  If you like rules and things, you could consider coming up with rules that EVERYONE agrees with, and then coming up with the matching consequence. A family guide book by consensus – whole schools are run on this principle. (Personally, we go for less rules, more connection.)

9 – Telling them to stop crying It is hard to hear our children crying, either because we are sad for them, or triggered by them, or because we think its not worthy of tears. We “Shush” our babies and say “Don’t be silly, cheer up” to our kids. It’s probably not surprising to hear but: every child has the right to cry, to feel things, and to express their feelings as they wish. (Even if it was because their nutella wrap got torn in two.)

What to do instead: The HuffPost recently published a great article about how accepting feelings is the last frontier in parenting. But it doesn’t have to be a huge one to change. Firstly, if we are being triggered, we need to deal with that.  And then we need to cultivate the practice of validation. “I hear you.” “You are upset”. “You wanted that.”  “It sounds like you are feeling sad.” These words of validation, of letting your child express themselves, becomes second nature when faced with tears.

10 – Telling them what to wear. I would LOVE to have kids that wear cool retro style, ironically sloganned tee shirts with perfect pineaple print shorts. Instead, Ramona and Juno tend to opt for either fourth hand pilled fleecey onesies, bright pink tutus or nothing at all. But, it is more important to me that they know they are in charge of their clothes and their body and things that effect them. Their bodies, their choice, right?

What to do instead: Create more time in the mornings for them to choose their own clothes – with support if needed, particularly at the start. And mostly stop having an opinion on what you think they should wear. It is minutiae that doesn’t impact you in the least (as far as I can see) but very much impacts a child’s perception of himself in the world.

Supporting child rights doesn’t have to mean throwing things we know to be good out the window- but we do need to make the rights of children the framework for which we hang our family life on. 

I think there are quite a lot more – for example, not forcing them to eat certain things, not forcing them to kiss or cuddle. But I feel like this list of ten is a good starting point – possibly the easiest to change. Do you have any that you are working on at the moment?

And also, before I sign off, I want to disclose fully that I am not able to say “I am a true upholder of child rights!” – some days I am great at it, and other times my only aim is to try and stay sane.  But I have absolutely seen my own child rights record improve by being committed to working on these everyday interactions between myself and the children in my life.

I want to live in a world where everyone can experience human rights – and I believe this world is being built not only in UN offices but also within kitchens, playgrounds, schools. Places where children play, where they have their rights observed. Where adults change ingrained habits and children take their place as fully human, with all the rights attached.

A fairer world begins in the home! 

This is part of my slow burning Parenting for Social Justice series. Read all about Non Violent Communication for Parents here and pop your email address down here to make sure you don’t miss another post.