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Stuck in a Parenting Rut? 40 Unconventional Tips for Finding Your Mojo

25 November, 2014

We woke up grumpy yesterday. Not just on the wrong side of the bed, but the wrong side of the stratosphere. Ramona was snapping at me, I couldn’t appease her. I was getting impatient, Juno was clinging to my knees like moss on a log.

I plonked on the sofa and looked at the clock. 8.05 A.M. EIGHT OH FIVE AM?!? Give me strength.

“Shiver my timbers, children o mine. We are grumpy. Can you think of anything we can do to shake these blues away?” Without even a moment’s pause Ramona said “Have a bath, put my pyjamas on and bake chocolate biscuits.”

So, that is what we did. (Well, we tried to make biscuits but we got all maverick, slopping in some milk, and then it turned into a cake which meant we then made butter icing and shook sprinkles all over and then we sat down and ate the whole thing ourselves. It was decadent and perfect.)

And that good mood has lasted us a solid 24 hours.

It was however, the first time Ramona has been able to identify and articulate her own fug remedy. And I’m definitely crap at soothing myself out of a mood. It made me want to make a list of all the potential mood lifters for families who encounter that stuck in a rut syndrome. (A list! Yes, a list will solve everything!)

It goes without saying, that the first steps for cranky kids and cross parents is validation. Everyone needs to know it is okay to be angry, grumpy, sad or to have rubbish days. Children need to hear that their big feelings are accepted and that there is room for their bad selves. That is unconditional parenting.

But when bad moods are due to disconnection, or getting in a cycle of bad communication, or simply feeling stuck in a rut as a parent, there are some things that we can do in order to get through it, to reconnect, to laugh our socks off and feel at peace again.

So, with the help of marvellous Lulastic readers on Facebook (come and say hello), here are FORTY ways to re-connect, shake the grumps, and start having fun.

Forty ways to find your parenting mojo again

Madness
We have always relied on a little bit of the ludicrous to break a bad mood.

1 Dance. We will stick on the loudest, bassiest, most fun music we can find (actually, we have a playlist for it- Grumps Begone) and then we just GET DOWN. Reader, Lorella says these mini discos always start with this favourite song.

2 Facepaint. A new face, a new mood. I have a whole bunch of face painted faces in an album on my iPad and we chose one of those and rock our animal selves for a while. It normally ends in Ramona painting my face in her signature style- red all over.

3 Fancy Dress. We all tumble into the dress ups and become flamboyant mermaid ninjas.

4 Pots and Pans. LOUD NOISES. We bang and crash them and and chant and shout a sing and let it all out in a rhythmic way.

5 Roar. A reader explains that they let it all out with a lion roar. I very much like that sense that our bodies can perfectly capture our feelings- if we are feeling fierce we can BE FIERCE.

6 Epic den. In your lounge, as big as you can make it. The perfect spot to sit out chicken pox. See Tinker Studio for diy teepee inspo.

forty ways to reconnect with your children

7 Pulling faces. Bex and Missie Lizzie both rely on face pulling contests. It is silly and fun and will end in giggles, but perhaps more importantly it involves eye contact- one of the fundamentals for reconnecting.

The great outdoors
The outdoors, isn’t it great? It is the one stop shop for the irascible. Readers share about the almost immediate impact of soaking in Vitamin D on moods.

8 Find a spot of grass, your lawn or a patch of park, throw down a thick rug and lie on your backs and watch the clouds. Spot the dragons and alligators and candy floss. (That last one is WELL EASY.)

9 Pack a picnic and eat outside. On your balcony, at the beach. A picnic, for us, involves no caramelised onion tarte- but a can of sweet corn and a can of tuna, and crisps with which to shovel them in.

10 Find a place to run and race and leap about. After running races we can usually be found collapsed in a heap of giggles. Mary says “Sometimes you just the grumps! And kids need to understand that people have mood changes, bad days, sad days etc and that its ok to feel that way. Love support and time and then an epic round of puddle jumping and tree climbing followed by lots of hugs.”

11 Follow My Leader is also a temper shifter- and particularly ideal if a child’s anger comes as a result of feeling powerless.

12 Teddy Bear’s Picnic… All the cuddly toys shoved in an ikea basket, plus a packet of hobnobs. A tree to sit under= winner.

13 Barefoot babies. Whatever the season, shake off those shoes and socks and connect with the earth beneath your feet. Sarah says “We go outside and walk barefoot on the grass – grab some of that great earth energy!”

14 Go to your local beach, woodland or river, whatever the weather. Victoria says “We did it a couple of weekends ago in the rain and sat on a grey pebble beach having hot soup out of a thermos & eating cheese & tomato sandwiches…”

Water
A wise old sage once said “Cranky kids need to get in the water”. Find a way…

15 Bath. You have to turn the taps on, and then help your child in the water and stuff. (Hehe. It is so easy, but it is our absolute first resort.) Crank the connection up by getting in yourself and washing each other’s hair.

16 A colourful bath. Depending on the depth of the bad mood, you may need more help. We stick a few drops of food colouring in to make it extra awesome. (Um, in case you are wondering, and you don’t have food colouring on hand, sliced up beetroot also works a treat…)

17 Bath paints. They are crazily simple but combine the pleasures of being in water with being messy and creating something. Recipe here.

18 Pool. If you aren’t the irritable one than consider a swim at the pool. If you ARE the irritable one STAY AWAY. Those tangled cossies, sweaty legs, pubes stuck to your feet will be way, waaaay too much.

19 Water play. Perhaps you need five minutes to hide in a room and east your secret stash of maltesers. Get out the pots and pans again, several towels, and let your kids have a riot on the lino. Thalia says “Outside water play. ‘Go and get drenched. Sure you can take your soft toys…’

Eat

Speaking of secret stashes… Kids need to know that comfort can be found in eating. Ha, I jest. Sort of. Hey, no disorder is going to come of pulling out the pizzas at times of immovable grizzliness. (Don’t quote me on that.)

Anyway, anyway…. LOOK, PIZZA!!!

20 We have saved the day with DIY pizza. I don’t know what it is about it, but my children absolutely love the awesomeness of designing their own dinner. (Which we have sometimes eaten at 3pm.) Ramona’s speciality is with sprinkles of popcorn.

21 Get an ice cream. This is probably our second resort… It involves a famous chain that prey on the whole word with their scary clown man and addictive sugary substances with extra msg…. One I avoided for TWO DECADES. Then I had kids and realised that their ice creams cost 30p and if you go through the drive thru YOU DONT EVEN HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR. OR, THEREFORE, YOUR PYJAMAS. 60p buys both my children so much happiness- I actually feel like it is US exploiting THEM.

22 Chocolate cake! Or biscuits. (Whatever.) Eating something so rich, on the best china has an opulence that feels like a snatched magic moment. (*Maggggic moooooments….*)

23 A chocolate platter. Bring it all out man. Come on…Help the kids think that they have struck gold. You will love it too, and that is partly what the list is for. Finding things that will lift the mood of everyone. It’s legit, anyway. There is Valium in chocolate… I mean endorphins…. Or oxytocin…. Or something….

Make a plan

If you are lucky you might also have time to execute it….

24 We have planned lantern works for the evening…. We made lanterns and then went for the most basic little stroll carrying our lanterns as soon as dusk settled.

25 We have planned movie nights, with tickets and bags of popcorn.

26 We have planned, and done, treasure hunts. For preschoolers, they actually enjoy the planning as much as the hunt. Ruth says “Sometimes I’ll make up a treasure hunt and leave clues around the house.”

27 We have planned camping trips… Making lists (they fix everything) of what we will do and what we will need to take.

It is about dreaming… Of thinking of another day, a different day.

Get your needs met

If you, as the parent, are not coping, do something immediately that will give you hope.

28 Phone a friend. Share your sadness but move on to happiness. Discuss your real feelings, but take a moment to remember some things you have to be thankful for.

29 Dream of sea wind. Plan a trip for your own mental health. Perhaps you all need to get away for one night in order to feel the sea wind in your hair.

30 Book it an afternoon in. Email your other half and discuss an afternoon in the next week that you are going to book in in order to go solo to the cinema.

31 Swap your kids. Call your friend and organise a child swap for the very next day… You have two kids while the other rests and then swap.

32 Start a jar of awesome. My friend was telling me about her friend (it sounds like an urban legend, but I’m sure it’s true) who has a jar of awesome. Every single day she puts something in there, either a little note of something she is thankful for or a trinket to remind her of something special. And then whenever she feels blue she raids the jar, for something to give her the warm fuzzies.

Stop

33 Cancel. Can you cancel the appointment, quit any agenda? Swap the dentist for a trip to the beach. Sometimes these decisions feel irresponsible… But they can be the key to happiness.

34 Hands Free. Adele says “Recently what’s helped is me forcing myself not to look at the phone or computer for the whole day or at least most of it. I’ve realised that my being distracted makes us ALL grumpy.” THIS. SO MUCH!

35 Quit the now, for a few moments. I love this one from Becca “Looking at baby photos with them. Remembering that innocence and vulnerability – that we are the caretakers of (hard to remember at times of extremis.)

36 Stop hanging out together. Ha. You know, as much as possible. Adrienne says “Making ‘cubbies’ out of overturned chairs, blankets, under beds or tables, wherever. Separate cubbies for each child (and even for mummy) if we’re all getting scratchy. I realised when my children were quite young that they are all introverted and time alone is really important for each of them. I tried to help them identify their feelings when they were overwhelmed by too much people – and I would ask them ‘do you need some time by yourself?’ NOT as a punishment but as an option for them to choose.”

Emergency Supplies

Sometimes, if we are on our way home and the girls and I are cranky pants I will pray that there is a package from my family awaiting us. Well… Better than God, or my family:

37 Secret Parcel. The next time you find something awesome in a charity shop, be it a box of fuzzy felts or a puzzle. Squirrel it away on top of the wardrobe for when you need a trick.

38 Unknown craft materials. A tiny packet of new modelling clay, a new stamp, some stickers. Something small and as yet destroyed turned into art will give you a breather and your children some fun.

39 Unseen fancy dress. Again, it is all about the stealth supply. The next time you see a flouncy dress in a charity shop, tuck it away and pull it out when you are down in the dumps.

40 ideas for reconnecting with your children

40 The parent’s stuff. Oh yes, I have been known to willingly hand down to my 18 month old an entire bits and bobs draw so that I can cook dinner. Some people call these “treasure baskets“… I call it “the things I don’t have a home for draw”- key rings, touristy fridge magnets (things usually sent in a parcel from my family), the camera case, a lighter… (Jokes.) You get the idea. Grown up stuff… They love it.

BONUS FEATURE!!!

The Four Healing Salves

I heard today of this ancient shamanic concept and feel it is a perfect one to remember, particularly for those of us for whom these bad days happen all too often. I hope it isn’t cultural appropriation to share it with you.

There are four activities that, if we can incorporate them into our weekly rhythm will keep us whole. I see that nearly all of them are present in the above list in some way, so they have a beautiful restorative impact too.

Singing. Be it listening to music, or belting out anthems on our way to work, singing releases all sorts of goodness for our soul.

Movement. Busting the moves, jiggling at the lights, yoga or sports.

Story. Being enthralled in the magic of a story, phoning our friends simply to share stories, catching up with people.

Silence. Sitting on the beach with the whisper of the wind, twenty minutes of meditation, stilling our minds as we cuddle our children to sleep.

How are you doing with those? I see these salves as an invitation to self care, to meet the needs of my own soul so that the next day I can get covered in facepaint whilst dancing to the Monkey song and stuffing cake in my gob at a Teddy Bear’s picnic on the beach.

I really believe that we don’t have to get stuck in a rut – that we all have the power to change things. I reckon these ideas could help break the cycle of disconnect, get you all laughing and rocking your awesome parenting mojo again.

Do any of these work a treat for your family? Do you have any other suggestions? As always,I looooove to hear from you…

Featured, Parenting

Living the dream- two parents, four boys, one bus and the whole of New Zealand for the rest of their lives

6 November, 2014

We are hitchhiking on someone else’s dream at the moment. Friends we met at the very start of this year, when we were just a few weeks on this fair New Zealand soil, at the unschooling retreat in Foxton. (Going to that retreat was one of the best things we could have done, arriving new here. We made so many fast friends and felt like part of an instant tribe. We held the third unschooling retreat just down the road from our yurt last weekend- 120 unschoolers in the mountains…. Awesomeness.)

Anyway, just one of these families happened to be travelling around the country in a bus. Kind of like us at the time, but with double the children and with indefinite travelling plans, where as we were basically on a hunt for a spot to furrow down our wandering roots.

We kept connecting with Us In A Bus (it’s not actually their surname but you wouldn’t know it to hear us refer to them) through the year and on Monday we began a little holiday with them, our buses united on the road once again.

IMG_1258.JPGWe are having a bit of a lush time … Totally buzzing out on their nomadic lifestyle. It is helping us recall our hoon around Europe last year (I’m remembering swimming in lakes beneath beautiful sunsets and Tim is remembering banging his head a lot and not having anywhere to do a poo.)

I love Ange and Hamish’s dream, I am totally loving sneaking in with it for a bit. It is a dream fuelled by Lego, sand castles and espresso.

They had safe jobs, a house in a nice town, four happy boys. And then they bought a bus, and began roaming NZ, playing and learning together. Soon they discovered they loved it and sold their house, establishing the bus and the road as their only home. And now they are all happy.

Ange was explaining this morning the rut she felt stuck in before. Tied to a mortgage, no time for fulfilment.

It was when their youngest child was one, after a bout of health issues, that Ange realised that the isolation she felt was having a serious impact on her sanity. They realised that something had to change, if not everything. At that moment they began planning a path out. It took them a year but now they have the life Ange has always imagined was possible for them.

IMG_1256.JPG
Hamish, Ange, Will, Ethan, Micah and Arlo in a gondola (the word gondola totally cracks me up. Maybe because it reminds me of the word gonads.)

Ange describes wanting a community to bring their kids up with, and somehow, through the freedom of life on the road, they are discovering this. Communing with families all over the country.

They have found places to stay through online networks (like home education Facebook groups) and friends of friends of friends. Sometimes staying a night, sometimes two months if everyone is enjoying themselves.
They’ve had hitch hikers having a sleepover in their (tiny) lounge and have rolled out an extra bed for a visit from Nana.

The boys build stuff and play board games and draw and read and climb and dig and explore, Ange and Hamish taking it in turns to either play or work, running their online businesses with their excellent mobile internet and solar power.

Ange is the driver of their eleven metre beast, wrapping it around some of New Zealand’s gnarliest bends, and Hamish is in charge of meals with each boy choosing a favourite dinner to eat once a week.

In some ways their life is like every other large family’s- they eat around 5:30 each night, time is spent helping the boys navigate tussles, there can never be too many stories read to them, or enough biscuits.

But in other ways it is completely and utterly different. They are free to go wherever they want, they are together all day and all night, they learn from whatever it is they happen to be experiencing.

IMG_1257-3.JPG
Last night we parked up on a magnificent beach, putting our buses nose to nose. Right now I am typing this up, looking at the rain thrashing the window and the sun trying to zap the ocean but failing.

The school bus has just driven into the bay, tooting it’s horn frantically, as if trying to round us all up.

But the classroom isn’t for these boys. They are too busy playing for that…

It isn’t everyone’s dream- it is theirs and they have found a way to live it.

And for a little bit, we are living it with them.

Well… drinking their coffee and using their whizzy internet, at least.

Ps You can virtually hitchhike with them via their Us In A Bus blog and their Us In A Bus Instagram and their Facebook.

Attachment parenting, Breastfeeding, Featured, Parenting

Until they are done (Breastfeeding a four year old & an 18 month old)

30 October, 2014

Ah, breastfeeding. Just me and my little one… and my big one… and a small pink babushka doll… half a chewed orange… an awkward pair of fairy wings… and a small bunch of wild flowers.

I never expected such a crowd.

Yet here we are!

*smiles brightly*

It’s not often we all squeeze up together like this. Early on in my tandem breastfeeding experience I decided that three of us at once was too tricky for me to handle. (In one sense “tandem” is a good word- it brings to mind the gargantuan effort of tandem parachuting – a wild enough thing without another person tangled around you. But in another sense, it doesn’t quite do, as there are more than two involved. There are three of us trying to get our heads/ lips around this. I think “triptych breastfeeding” better captures the ungainly mechanisms of it all!)

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

18 month old Juno is in the stage of breastfeeding that makes me think that the whole “grass is greener” part of human nature begins early. She takes a few gulps on one side, then pats the other as if to test the waters, then moves over to the other one.
She isn’t quite at the inanimate objects sharing her milk stage (that began with Ramona at two, nursing a micromachine…) but she will often bring some kind of contribution. The marmite toast she is halfway through or a bit of lego she can’t leave behind.
Juno is restless… always on the go, climbing and discovering… when she snuggles in for Mummy Milk it is one of the few moments of stillness in her day. Her eyes flicker vacantly at the sky or our ceiling, I can almost see her processing all that has gone before. I watch her watching her own little show reel. And then the eye lids droop and sleep stills her body.

Ramona will be four in two weeks… and as we approach her birthday I wonder if we are approaching her weaning. Some weeks she doesn’t have a drop of my milk. Most nights she will fall asleep during a story, or just snuggled against my side while I give Juno milk. I guess we have been on the world’s slowest weaning journey over the last year… creeping down at Ramona’s pace, soon to be done.

When I bring the topic up she vehemently declares she isn’t finished with it… “I’m going to have Mummy Milk ‘till I am FIFTEEN!” (Ah.. . the internet’s worst nightmare.) She still sees breastfeeding as her greatest comfort.

People say that mothers breastfeed for a long time for their own sakes… because they can’t let go of their children. You only need to breastfeed through a pregnancy to realise this isn’t the case… I never quite got over the weird physical feeling of breastfeeding Ramona while I was pregnant.

We are touched out, have things to do, no time to sit and watch eye lids flicker, no room on our laps for a babushka…

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

And yet.

I never imagined to still be nursing Ramona at four. But there are one million things I never imagined I’d do as a parent… yet have found myself embracing them when it appears apparent that this road is for us. (Every family has their own paths to take… and it is often the children who grab your hand and reveal it, don’t you reckon?) If you detect any lactating smuggery in this post… please don’t. I understand that for all sorts of reasons this path isn’t for all…. and it has been a rocky one for us at times. (*clumsily inserts all the journey metaphors*

It is pretty special to be meeting Ramona and Juno in a place that mothers in ancient and modern cultures across the world have met for millennia.

(On a rocking chair set in long grass. Hehe.)

Tim took three snaps and at first I didn’t like them one bit. I was so stern in the first! Like a Victorian teacher! But… I’m growing to like the fierceness. My expression is the courage of every parent to walk the way their children beckon.

And the second one…. it seems so immodest, with my spilling breasts. And then, I remembered that that is the accusation pointed at nursing mothers constantly. I’m not going to point it at myself. Breastfeeding can be a bit messy and gaping and vulnerable… but pfft, so is love. That is the world’s sexualisation issues. Not mine or my child’s.

So, there we are. The three of us… and the rest. Just breastfeeding until they aren’t any more.

Featured, Parenting

Urge (allowing our children’s yearnings to bloom)

27 October, 2014

“I’d love it if you didn’t climb up the side of yurt, Ramona. I’m worried that it isn’t strong enough and that the wood might break.”

She looks me in the eye, defiance pulsing out of her, she reaches out and grips onto the wood. Without breaking eye contact she pulls herself up….

It is one of the most frustrating parental moments. It feels as if they are setting out to push your buttons… but what if they aren’t?

What if they simply have an urge that they can’t resist? And they maintain eye contact in order to test if they can retain their connection with you (the number one priority of any young child – critically essential for survival) whilst following up the call of their heart?

Schemas

Schemas are “a fancy word for the urges that children have to do things like climb, throw things and hide in small places. 

They are the building blocks for the brain, repeated behaviour that in turn forge connections in the brain, patterns of unfolding, learning and growth.

Schemas are such an important part in every child’s development that they are covered in training for anyone in the business of care and education of young children – yet not too many parents seem to know about these natural,uncontrollable and totally necessary urges that all children have.”

(read more on Schemas on the fabulous Nature Play site where this quote is from)

or The Call of Their hearts

I have been thinking about schemas a lot recently… the inner urges of a child. Is it too much to describe it as “the call of their heart?” I don’t think so… in fact, I think it is good thing to describe it so… as I believe these inner urges are the thing we as adults experience as that- the beating of our being drawing us towards something. The call to spend time with someone, to change our job, to follow up art.

I’m sure that happiness, for adults, is intimately related to their ability to listen to themselves, to trust themselves, to follow up on those inner yearnings.

And a happy person is a delight to be around. They don’t play out their insecurities on their friends. They don’t second guess motives, or act out of guilt. They respect other people’s decisions and trust them.

So… it could be said…that creating happy people is one of the greatest gifts we could give the world. In fact, I’m going to say it:

Urges look like disrespect sometimes – but allowing the fulfillment of an urge nurtures respect

The amount of times I have heard grownups talk about how important it is to bring children up to respect other people and things could not be added up using my daughter’s colourful vintage abacus. (It’s loads of times.)

It is sort of the unanimous thing, amongst all parenting types. A ground rule. Respecting people and stuff.

Sometimes when children can’t resist this yearning, it looks like disrespect. Let’s stop seeing it that way. Let’s simply say respect has nothing to do with it right here, in childhood.

But let’s say that a children brought up to follow their instincts and to be true to themselves is going to be a PLEASURE in society. Let’s say they might just be one of the most respectful adults out there.

I am pretty sure of that.

If we respect their drive and their desires now, if we protect their right to access what they hope for, they will grow up to respect others and to defend the rights of others.Urge- allowing children to follow thier yearnings

There are small, subtleties involved in allowing children to fulfill their urges, which are sometimes missed.

Like, the conversation that goes “This vase is really important to Hilary. She is worried about it breaking. I hear that you want to hold it. How about we hold it on the rug, so that if it slips, it won’t break?”

and the quiet, murmured one that goes “You are angry. You want to hurt him. I’m not going to let you hurt him. I see you want to hurt him. We will have to find another way for you to feel your anger.” (Because yes, I am an urge-enabler but harming people is never, ever okay.)

And the dance with objects, on this shelf and that shelf, when we can’t find another way… “You really can’t stop flicking these switches huh? But Uncle Les is worried about this radio. I’m going to place it in a cupboard. Now let’s find another switch we can flick…”

Before I had children, I thought I would be someone who wanted to children to understand simply Not To Touch. I’d leave my house exactly as it is… but now I want a YES environment for my children. I want them to have the mindset that the world can be an inviting, and welcome, beautiful place of curiosities and wonder.

I know that a lot of people would think I was a permissive parent. I hate the unconsciousness that comes with that phrase! I have read and read and thought and thought and I feel that letting go of a lot of control is the very best thing for my children.

While I seek to say YES as much as I can, these little conversations that happen are the nuances between being permissive and giving freedom for urges to flourish.

It’s him or me! Whose needs are more important, huh?! Huh?

If we step out of a “control mindset” (read Teresa Brett for more on this!) we encounter a situation where a parent’s needs and a child’s needs aren’t always in conflict. There doesn’t have to be a constant tug of war between what a child desires and our own desires as an adult.

Sometimes though…. There is. My child wants another pancake shaped like a dinosaur. I’ve just cooked ten. I’m tired and slothed out on the sofa. My need involves sitting down for a tick…

I do want to meet my needs as a parent. I am not willing to burn out.

BUT… soon enough my child won’t want me making pancakes… Once my child is a bit older, I have the whole rest of my life to sloth about. When I am 93, sitting for my ninth hour on the same sofa with Countdown on the telly I am going to WISH I spent more time making dinosaur pancakes. I’m so sure of it.

And also…. There is a thing about who is more able to get their needs met. Who is, in this partnership between parent and child? It is me of course. I am the one with access to the resources, the one who can articulate what is going on for me, I can get up and do this, and act on that.

My child however, is bound by her own abilities and my ability to support her getting her needs met.
Urge- letting a child's inner yearnings flourish(autonomously making paint with beetroot and flour)

And also, sometimes, they want to push our buttons…

I began this post by suggesting our children’s inner drive isn’t a push on our buttons. Then I remembered a story told by Larry Cohen, of Playful Parent fame. He had a couple sitting on his couch for a parenting consultation, they were desrcribing how their child was very aggressive, often used to punch them and strike out. He observed this mum and dad, they were just OOZING peace. There words were kind, considered, they were almost sleepy with mindfulness. He looked at them and said “Well, no wonder! She has to be angry for all three of you!”

Sometimes our children DO want a reaction. They dig and dig until they find us. The real us. The one that says OUCH when poked.

It is a strange thing…. Because of course, being a free, content, open, YES parent is a wonderful thing to be… but it is equally important to be an authentic one. When we say YES to an urge, we need to do it joyfully. And if we can’t do it joyfully, we have the opportunity to discover in our selves why not.

And, every parenting moment of angst is a chance to step back for a few seconds, to breathe, to consider the space we are in, what we are going to speak out from… but then sometimes our children need to see us in pain, in frustration, in anger…. Sometimes. Not in a contrived way… in an authentic kind of a way.

They see us then. And they know big feelings are okay, even in adults.

(This is good, because I get those big feelings regularly…)

Let’s bring our children up to be happy, not successful

Argh, that doesn’t sound quite right. I believe that happy = success. Why try and bring children up to be successful in a world that is, frankly, quite unjust? If they fit well within this kind of society than I feel I have possibly done a bit of a rubbish job.

Where as, if they can find contentment and peace- then I will be high fiving my husband about our parenting skills! If they are challenging society’s norms and measure by following their hearts, then I will be feeling like the challenges that came in their childhood of giving freedom to these urges was worth it.

Forget the lessons, the manners, the social norms; they will learn these in time, if they see a need for them.

Make happiness the goal. For your child right now, and for the adult they will become.

Give freedom to their yearnings. Defend their urges.

Parenting

In a gentle way, we can shake the whole world

21 October, 2014

Here I was, sitting at the playground while Juno and Ramona hang off the rusty roundabout, all ready to write about how a one legged Barbie has infiltrated our lives when my husband reads out a BBC headline:

Violence kills a child every five minutes- the majority not in war zones.

And my fingers are struck numb and dumb.

About our Barbie, at least.

My mind shot immediately to a quote I’d read by local child right’s hero Pennie Brownlee just this day- about how we need to completely overhaul our perception of children.

I read the articles about Unicef’s report with these words ringing through my mind. There is an enormous number of children growing up in violent homes- how much can changing our perception of children change the experience of childhood?

Here in Thames, NZ, Pennie and a small team have been teaching respectful parenting courses for several years- and I’m sure- I am so sure!- there is a palpably different parenting culture here. It is apparent at tots groups, in the kindergarten, here at the playground. There is just *that* much more respect for children. I’m sure of it.

New Zealand is one of the 41 countries that have laws about violence against children- although absurdly this government has made noises about reversing it, and surveys seem to show 50% support for this.

The law came in in 2007- probably one of the most controversial laws implemented in recent years. It basically made smacking a crime. Which, if you consider children as being real people with real rights, makes real sense- but very few other countries are willing to go there. Now, this wasn’t a case of just awesome old New Zealand generally just being awesome: great beaches, inventive personalities, relaxed working environs, anti smacking bills! Not at all, actually the statistic on child abuse here are dire, truly dire. They really HAD to do something about being one of the worst OECD countries for child abuse.

I hosted an event earlier in this year with the politician that made that law happen, Sue Bradford, and I was convinced by her report on the difference it had made to the lives of children here. There had been an increase in reporting of child abuse, and nearly every incidence of abuse reported was serious. (It is often suggested that laws like this will put gentle parents who non thinkingly give a violent shake when their child runs across the road in prison- NZ shows this simply isn’t the case.)

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I believe that we can build a world where childhood can be free from violence- where children don’t grow up in fear. We all have a role to play in that- by respecting the children in our lives, recognising their rights and defending them. Family life is far less violent now than it has been in history- we can be encouraged that culture does evolve, albeit slowly. Paradigms and perceptions do shift. Heck, it used to be commonplace to leave babies deemed to weak or sensitive on a hillside. (Read Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World for more on this.) We can change the culture of parenting and the experience of childhood.

And when we, as parents and teachers and neighbours and grandparents, are willing to consider children as rights holders, then their right to safety and security might be written into law. The UK has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child – but as yet have no anti-smacking policy.

We need these laws, absolutely, but we need a cultural shift too. And we can herald that.

It’s easy to feel immensely hopeless and unendingly helpless, reading about the violence bleeding into so many children’s lives. Children dying this very day. I want to hold a minutes silence for them in my heart.

I guess I want that silence to somehow warm a kernel of hope. To set my parental feet in the ways of non violence, and gentleness, and respect. To hold tight onto what history shows us about change. We can only do a little bit, but we should do it, and we will see few moments the ripples that can make across the world.

Here are some other words from Pennie, to finish my sort of inspo-rant:

“Here in New Zealand, when enough of us begin to change the way we behave with babies and children, we can look forward to climbing up from our dismal position of last on the table of OECD countries for child abuse, neglect and fatalities. I look forward to that day with all my heart.”

Oh, yes! Let’s herald that day. Let’s increase the minutes on that statistic until it’s a statistic that doesn’t exist anymore.

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IMG_1239.PNGWe are out to change the world for our children, for all children.

One legged Barbie can get her rant (non-inspo variety) on this blog another day…

Parenting

Words every new parent needs to hear

1 October, 2014

I was once asked by a friend, Catherine, what words I think every new parent needs to hear. I thought I had it down with:

Be prepared, for a good few years, to never tear a piece of toilet paper off an intact roll. From one to four, unwinding toilet paper will be your child’s hobby and life passion. Start convincing yourself now that loo roll on the roll is overrated and you will face the toddler years triumphantly.

But then she told me she wanted to put my message in an e-bundle filled with messages from authors, poets and artists.

And I thought I’d have another crack.

I wrote a piece called “Changing the world – whilst changing nappies” and it is about being persuaded by Gandhi that good parenting is the most important task we can do if we care about creating a fair, just and beautiful society.

(I see your Loo Roll and I raise you GANDHI.)

I write “When we raise our children gently, with compassion and kindness, they will multiply that goodness and pass it on. When we stand back and allow them to grow in autonomy, we are raising people who will question injustice. When we nurture attachment we are encouraging fearlessness. When we treat our tiniest babies with the utmost respect we are ensuring they will tread with respect in the future. When we love our kids with abandon, in turn they too will love others.”

My article went in to this bundle, the New Mama Pack, and became part of the most INCREDIBLE resource for new mothers in that most vulnerable, and courageous, fourth trimester. (The fourth trimester is that three month period straight after birth when most mammal babies are still in utero but because humans have to get out of their bed to release their inconceivably pressured and tiny bladder at night we get our new tikes early.) The babies are new, the mums are new, and there is a massive need for support. The New Mama pack is a whole tribe of Mamas welcoming the newness and holding your hand with songs, videos, articles, ebooks. It is some of the most creative mums out there articulating the words they think every new parent needs whispered in their ears…Breastfeeding Ramona
(Ramona and I in all our messy, jumbled, unshowered-but-at-least-I’m-out-of-PJs- newness!)

I am STOKED to let you know that for 72 hours there is a MAHOOOSIVE SALE! It has gone from £290 to £29 and it is only available for two more days. If you are a new mum DELVE ON IN, or if you have a friend about to give birth, please consider this as a baby shower present. (Infinitely better than yet another pair of booties. Yes, those teeny weeny booties make you want to die of cute but they will FIT FOR A DAY.)
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Click here to purchase this e-bundle through my affiliate link at this whoppingly discounted price (sale lasts until Friday…)

And here is another little bit from my own article, words from Mother Teresa. Words that I want to scribble on to every new mum’s palm so they grab her eyes as she wearily sits down for the fifty millionth feed of the day…

“Following her address a member of the audience stood and asked “You’ve done so much to make the world a better place, what can we do?” He clearly wanted to assist her work. Mother Theresa smiled and said simply “Love your children.” The questioner seemed perplexed and was about to speak again when Mother Theresa raised her hand. “There are other things you can do,” She said, “But that is the best. Love your children as much as you can. Love your children. That is the best.”

What words do you want every new mum to hear?

Parenting

Birthdays and baths and breastfeeding mermaids

19 September, 2014

I read this lovely post yesterday by Ruth. Just a simple, whimsical look at their bath time tradition. Reading it was like soaking in a hot bubble bath – just the soothing thing I needed. Most of my social media time this week has been taken up by the NZ election. I feel permanently angry and despairing about the media’s shocking bias towards National and the general population’s tendency to swallow it whole.

Reading Ruth’s post made me feel sorry for you lot, my lovely blog readers. You come on here and then I slap you you round the head with a rant about politics or parenting. Well out of order.

I thought I’d just give a little catch up on our lives – hoping some gentle musings might provide an antidote to all my ra-rah clamour.

So…

Tim has finished the yurt extension and installing some solar panels. We now sit in a little cabin add- on in the evenings, with the lights on, reading and talking and feeling properly smug and snug! It is only about 3m x 3m but we are absolutely stoked and are filling it up with treasure found in the local dump shop.
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I turned 32 last week and for the third year in a row we went camping. This time last year we were broken down in Italy – can you BELEIVE that has been a year? This time we managed to not break down but we visited our most favourite place in NZ. You dig a whole on the beach and it feels with hot water from a deep spring (imaginatively called Hot Water Beach hehehe.) We made an epic pool and sat there until the tide came in and swept cold waves in amongst our spa.photo (3)

This is my breastfeeding mermaid look. Someone needs to design a nursing wetsuit, thanks. photo (2)

We are trying to be kind to ourselves. We’ve had a few disappointments/ hurts over the last couple of weeks. Somehow we manage to both internalise and externalise this by being mean to ourselves and grumpy each other. What is up with that? Warped I tell you. We are trying to go easy, seek out simple joys. We are lucky to have formed some deep and lovely friendships already here. If it wasn’t for our new friends this would have been a madly homesick kind of a week.

I have joined the library and am ravishing mountains of books. This is partly about being kind to myself but also because I read somewhere that the SINGLE thing a child needs to learn how to read is just lots of books and reading going on around them. No need to teach. It may happen much later, but it will happen. So bunkering down on the sofa with a good novel while the girls unravel loo rolls/ take every single tin out of the cupboard/ cover themselves in paint is very much a part of their education, thanks. (Any book recommendations HEARTILY received.)

Ramona keeps growing. (What is up with kids growing, eh?) Taking on new extreme challenges. I have always wondered about Ramona’s inability to jump. Perhaps it is a body memory of falling and breaking her leg when she was a baby, but she has never, ever been able to jump off things more than a foot high. However. This week she has begun to jump. Like, parkour styles. Off things bigger than her. Twice as high as her. Backwards. I just love the constant reminders from our children that we can keep our subtle encouragements to ourselves, they don’t need a push towards anything. They will get there, they will find their courage, in their own sweet time.

Juno, meanwhile, has been free running for about six months, stampeding through life. She is Sonic the Hedgehog but less blue. Christopher Wren with blocks. And she has begun saying “Uh Oh!” with stella comic timing.

That is us, for now. How are YOU?!

Treat yourself kindly, my friends. Read a book, take a bath, gobble chocolate.

(And Vote! Just don’t read your Facebook feed until Monday, when you can carry on pretending all your friends are as sensibly progressive as you. Teehee)

Parenting

Kids at school? Protect their rights and nurture their curiosity

10 September, 2014

It is Back To School week. The week that, for a third of my life, filled me with the uneasy combination of dread and excitement. Dread because I hated almost every single element of school, excitement because I usually had a new pair of shoes I wanted to show off. (Although, never did own those magical treads from Clarkes that came with a key on the bottom to unlock the world of fairy princesses. NEGLECTED.)

How has Back to School week been for you? Are you wholly happy with it? Brilliant – head off and read about playing in the wild, if so, it’s about eating dirt basically grows your brain and stuff. If you aren’t fully stoked about your kids at school then read on.

I have in mind here people who question the education system but desire to be a part of it. Or parents who are Unschoolers in heart and spirit but who can’t, for whatever reason, keep kids at home.

I thought it would be good to have a discussion about how families can protect their school-attending children’s rights, curiosity and autonomy. I really believe there are ways of attending school without being institutionalised – but we need to be deliberate about it.Back to school for unschoolers at heart!

(A little musical interlude about my own motivation for this post, to the tune of The Hills Are Alive With the Sound Of Music: My heart is inspired by the world of unschooling! I didn’t like school and I don’t think my girls will go! But we have seen some great Forest Schools, so potentially we might create something like that! I really love it when kids get together, they do amazing things, driven by their innate curiosity. You’ll get, as you read on, that I am fairly cynical about schools. BUT, my husband is a teacher by trade, a really, really amazing one and I do believe there are schools out there that respect the rights of children and allow the child to lead in their own learning. I think they are just few and fair between. Sort of stopped singing about half way through that, got a bit serious pants, sorry.)

Stick up for your kids
My friend unschools most of her children, but her eldest attends the local primary. One day her school jumper had gone missing so the mum wrote a note and sent it in with her kid. But the teacher still wasn’t happy and forced her to wear a real raggedy, lost property jumper. Understandably my friend was pretty upset and rang up the principal and talked it through. She spoke specifically about her child’s rights and body autonomy and they had a really important discussion about how children are PEOPLE. Don’t be afraid of picking up the blower and defending your child. No one wants to be a pain in the arse but parents can change the culture of a school by reminding teacher’s that their students are human and have the accompanying rights.

Actually, be a pain in the arse. I mean, an INFLUENCER
Oh Lord, I know. Life is too busy. It is too hard to try and impact a school. But if there is anyway you can drop something in order to try and take on a new role as an influencer of your kid’s school DO IT! Take a thing you are really passionate about, say, encouraging schools to prioritise creativity and then try and work with the staff to change things. Have a screening at lunchtime – great Ted Talk about creativity and the education system here.  Or perhaps you want to challenge all the superflous rules – send the Head articles about the schools in NZ that thrived when the rules were taken away.  Be a pain in the arse, a good one. (Oops, sounds a bit rude.)

Ask questions and give feedback
Take the opportunity at Parent’s evening to ask questions about autonomy and human rights. If your children aren’t at school yet ask these questions at the open day. Reader, Emma, on my Facebook page says Trust your gut when you visit, and look for approachable, committed teachers.” (Also, read this fantastic post about reception class and induction and the rights of the child.) Things I would want to know are whether children are always allowed to visit the toilet (or “drop their darlings at the launderette” as Ramona has begun to say) whenever they need it. Questions like these also inform the culture of a school.  And when something great and rights-respecting happens give the school a whole heap of encouragement.

Encourage your kids to question everything
Bonnie, an unschooler at heart on Twitter says “My goal with my kids is to teach them to question EVERYTHING!! We are focused on advertising atm. Who, what, why etc..”
(Read more on Bonnie’s blog about the importance of asking questions.)
It would be SUCH a shame, in order to minimise cognitive dissonance, to shut down discourse with kids about some of the , erm, interesting practices at school. What is the point of tests? Do they work? Why did the teacher keep everyone back? Why do I have to come from home from school and spend two more hours on school work? The questions might shed understanding on some of the things that happen, but it will also help your children have a healthy perspective on authority. Ideally they might be able to keep their heads down at school without accepting the code of compliancy into their spirits! There is also a chance that asking these questions could resolve some issues. Over on my Facebook page Deb says My boys do not have to do homework unless they choose as I believe school hours are long enough and they need time to do activities of their choosing. The school has been ok with this. Interestingly the boys are at a similar level to their peers without any of the formal schooling behind them.” – AMAZING! 

Be an open critic
By being a critic I don’t mean being destructively critical, but I mean allowing a space in your home for honest analysis, alongside your children. Be upfront with them about school, apologise that for now school is part of your lives, figure out ways to feel comfortable with it, together. Let honesty an integral part of your conversation about school. Tackle some of the dodgy things about school but celebrate with your kids when the school initiates something awesome.

Stop teaching
Nurturing a child’s curiosity is directly related to us taking off our teach-y hat. They dont need us to correct them, to hand them info on a plate. We can be their partners in learning, to figure stuff out together. But the last thing they need is another teacher at home, using every opportunity to pass on some knowledge. There was a brilliant article in the Guardian on Saturday, an interview with Michael Rosen “Why curiosity is the key to life” … I liked this wee bit:
“Rosen recounts the story of David Attenborough finding an animal bone in the garden as a boy and taking it to his father, a GP, who pretended not to recognise it. Instead, they pored over zoology and anatomy books together: “They shared the excitement of discovery.””School? Protect your child's rights and nurture their curiosity

But then, you SHOULD see your home as an alternative education

Education is different from teaching right? We can let our homes be site of learning an altogether different set of values. Celebrate non-compliance. Nurture solitude. Question praise and reward. Dismantle competition.
The lovely Jessica wrote this on my Facebook page- originally from Geez mag “If regular school trains kids to succumb to authority and conform to the demands of the market (i.e. a good education leads to a high-paying job) then what does an alternative education look like? What manner of ed
ucation can help kids and grown ups criticize power structures and explore creativity that defies market values, honours personal autonomy and yet fosters affinities among groups?”

Consider part time schooling
And finally, on a very practical note, could Flexi-time be a real possibility for you. Your child splits time between school and home. They get more of your education and less of the schools, yet you still get to work.

I’ love this to be a start of discussion. Are you an unschooler-at-heart? How do you do it? Do visit my Facebook page where there has been some really cracking suggestions.

Parenting

Let’s talk about sex, baby

3 September, 2014

I was sitting in the bath this week discussing gender reassignment surgery with my almost four year old daughter, Ramona.

Crikey. What brought us to this point?

Is it this scourge of liberal parenting sweeping the nations that will eventually turn our young children into monstrous delinquents funding their crack habit by servicing the fetishes of immigrants (who stole their future jobs?)

Or just a sort of general sense that we should be open and truthful in conversation with our children, whatever the topic be?

(It could also be the young child’s attention to detail – the distinction between hormone replacement therapy and surgery isn’t on my “Topics To Cover Before Fourth Birthday” list but it is where you kind of end up when your older kids asks whether her female friend might become a boy one day…)

Sex Positive Parenting
When I first heard the term “Sex Positive Parenting” I had been tagged in a tweet directing me to become part of a Sex Positive blogging collective. They had read my blog and thought I’d be a good contributor. I was like “WaHAAT?” ME? I’m, like, a total prude! I was well confused. I come from a long heritage of Christian ministers and I am very much still on the side of the spectrum that thinks sex is best when accompanied with love and commitment. I absolutely love Caitlin Moran and her work, but her mission to help young girls have more sex is something I just can not get on board with.

But, actually, I think now it is possible to be on both ends of the sex-commitment spectrum and still be Sex Positive, because at its heart it is about being truthful – and non-manipulative. And this resonates massively with all my parenting. I have strong ideals about loads of things but the very last thing I am willing to do is manipulate things so that my daughters follow in my footsteps.

My role is to open doors, have truthful conversations and present sex with all its potential goodness and potential badness.
“…that’s what sex-positive parenting really is. Not telling my kids lies about sex to keep them from behaviours I don’t think are healthy. It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices.”

Read more in this great intro by Becoming Super Mommy. (But not at the library because you will get a scary WARNING! RESTRICTED CONTENT! window pop up and you will peer around hoping no one has seen you trying to access nudity and adult sex stuff whilst sitting at a desk next to an elderly man innocently perusing the new Jamie Oliver recipe book *shameface*)

Empowering children against child sexual abuse
I have begun doing some work with the local Child Abuse Prevention Services and it has been incredible to see how much respectful parenting is part of the solution. As part of their work they show parents how to interact with their children in a way that acknowledges their rights, even from birth, because this is one of the building blocks for creating a world free from child abuse. (Which New Zealand has a crazily big problem with, by the way.)

Did you know that being upfront about the anatomical terms for genitalia is also part of this too? They say “Using the proper name for genitals (penis/ vulva/ vagina) from as young as possible gives a clear message to your child that it is ok to talk to you about anything concerning their body, even their private parts. Current thought is that children who use the correct names for their body parts are less likely to be targeted by sexual abusers (because they assume that you have open telling environment with your child) and are more likely to be believed if they tell about abuse (because they use specific language and can describe what has happened.)”
Using anatomical terms for genitalia with children

Head over to their new Facebook page to keep in touch with other ways we can empower our kids and change the culture of child abuse.

Shame and Pleasure
I was struck by the section in Robin Grille’s “Parenting for a peaceful world’ that covers the developmental stage a child goes through at around six where they are discovering the sexual element within themselves. Every child goes through it – an obsession with their genitals amongst other things- and how we respond to it will impact them for the rest of their lives.
“Shaming or moralistic responses to the child’s burgeoning sexual exploration can produce an uptight temperament or result in rebellious, sexual acting out later in life… Both direct injunctions against his sexuality and unspoken parental embarrassment or discomfort are experiences by the child as a heart-breaking rejection of his expanding self… Thus begins the separation of sex from love, genitals from the heart. The need for love and for pleasure is sublimated , and substituted by a need to over achieve, to prove the worth he feels he has lost. Hence he re-diverts his energies towards competitiveness and a high accomplishment drive.”

Reading this made me consider my own sort of Beavis and Butthead attitude (huhhuhuhuhuh) towards things of a sexual nature. Blimey- I don’t want my own inability to say the word “anus” without a smothered giggle to pass on embarrassment and shame as they grow into their sexual selves.

Being shown what a child is experiencing and learning through the genital-obsession stage will really help me respond without shame and only with understanding when the girls hit that specific developmental period.

Nurturing Openness
Which just brings me back to the bath and discussing how some boys are born with penises but inside know they are girls, and vice versa. It was a fairly long conversation covering Ruby Roses’s recent video and Fa’afafine, the third gender present in Samoan culture (and our own culture to some extent- there being such a strong Samoan diaspora community here in NZ…)and then it ended abruptly, Ramona’s attention captured by Juno’s abduction of the blue rubber duck.

I was left feeling ever so slightly discombobulated (how much is too much?!) but in hindsight, glad to be setting off on this path as I mean to continue. Because I want our children to know we can talk about anything and I want them to know they will get the truth from me.

I read an account last week of a guy taking his newly teenaged lad camping to have The Talk. It seemed like a nice idea, father and son chatting about how babies are made.

As I read the article I realised that I was probably not going to have The Talk with my daughters, because we have already had it- the first when Ramona was two and discovered I was pregnant and we have micro versions of The Talk almost weekly at the moment. These conversations are both specific and surreal in the way only children can make them. (“Where is the rooster’s penis?”)

Ramona hasn’t quite cracked the physiology of it but we will get there eventually and it will just be another bit added to all the other information she has on hand. A gradual accumulation of info that fits in with all her other knowledge about how the world works- rather than a sex education class.

So, despite my own innate prudishness I want to avoid shame having any foothold at all in our home, and I want my girls to come to see sex in all its potential wholeness. I want to halt embarrassment and allow the tangle of love, pleasure and sexual self to develop unheeded.

*does the Running Man in neon shell suit whilst rapping* Let’s talk about sex, baby… (and toddler… and six year old… and teenager… ) Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…

Share you thoughts, my friends! Have you had The Talk yet?

Parenting

Wilting rainbows and 20 other reasons to play in the wild

27 August, 2014

My friend used to be a teacher in South London and he came back from a school trip to a farm that made us all fall about with laughter and gnash our teeth with worry in equal measure. They were all sitting on the bus, speeding down the motorway when a kid spotted an animal in a field “LOOK! What is that fluffy white thing?!” yelled one of the students.  “It’s a polar bear!” cried another student in response, at which point they all crammed their faces up against the windows to see, murmuring about how they’d never seen a polar bear before.

It was, of course, a sheep.

It is a pretty extreme example, but recent research has shown that  only 3/10 kids can identify a Magpie (while 9/10 can recognise a dalek.)  Those kids weren’t alone in being completely disconnected from the natural world.

We ALL miss out when childhoods are being lived inside. Children miss out, nature misses out, the adults miss out, the future misses out! I’m sure you don’t need any motivation to make the beach or the city farm or that small patch of woodland in your village, your second home. But this is for you to send to your kindly Aunt or curious neighbour – those people who raise their eyebrows when they see your kids covered from eyeball to ankle in mud or cradling two moss covered twigs in their buggy, having named them Baby Booba and Hokey Pokey.Wilting rainbows & twenty other reasons to play in the wild

Ramona looked out of the window last night at a rapidly darkening sky. With the foreboding voice of a prophet she declared “The rain shall come with those black clouds. Let’s get our wellies in.” Her awareness of weather is ballooning  – she is connecting dots that I am sure I never did as a child- whenever the sun shines and the rain comes she searches the horizon for the accompanying rainbow, she is predicting the chance of showers better than most weather forecasters. She is discovering her place within the natural world and seeing the patterns to it in a way that seems almost ancient, the stuff of folklore.

There is a window for young children, under fives, where they are learning about their place in the ecosystem, their “Ecophyscial selves”. This sense of connectedness then stays with them their whole life  – if it is not nurtured they are far more likely to be fearful of nature and only at home in places manmade. (Read more on this biophobia here.

Nature can create a poet as well as a weather bard. Carol Black, author of A Thousand Rivers writes; “The rainbows kind of wilt like flowers.” That’s what my daughter said as she stood at the top of a mountain one rainy, sunny day, watching the colors arcing and dissolving in the air. She was two and a half.”  This long but inspiring article about education speaks of the power of nature in a child’s learning. 

Black also considers the idea that many attributes of disruptive children within school are admirable attributes of children in the outdoors. High energy, leadership, a sense of curiosity and adventure, a pioneering spirit – these don’t sit well within many classrooms but in a meadow or forest these characteristics are wonderful, even vital!

She writes; “One day I watched a nine-year-old boy as he led a group of children scrambling over Vasquez Rocks, a great sandstone formation that slants up out of the California desert. He was one of those magnetic, electrical, radiant boys; kind to the younger ones, strong, quick, inquisitive, sharp as a tack, his eyes throwing sparks in the clear air. It was a joy just to watch him, I said to the friend standing beside me. She told me he had just been diagnosed with ADHD.”

Nature has a calming affect on children. The workers at the Forest Kindergarten we visited in Germany last year were certain that they had far less aggression and conflict in their days compared to normal schools as being in nature had a way of grounding children.

This grounding is a daily grounding but also a yearly one – seeing and feeling and smelling and eating the seasons helps children (and adults) expect and look forward to the changing seasons. Some hot pink blossom appeared on the farm a couple of weeks ago and we spent a happy hour chatting about how this signals the summer! Yippeeeee…

The outdoors is always age appropriate. No matter what the age of children there is something in nature to intrigue and challenge them. A baby can feel pieces of bark within her fingers, a teenager can carve a trinket.

The outdoors is non gendered. Ramona goes to a kindy one and a half days a week- it is amazing philosophically, just like a mass of unschooling kids- but there is quite a strong gender segregation. Colours and toys are clearly marked out by the children as “for boys” or “for girls” – something I’ve never experienced on our days amongst the trees.

In other ways nature is a leveller too – you don’t need any specific toys, threads or equipment to enjoy the outdoors. When you are all littered amongst the branches of a tree your socioeconomic status doesn’t really count for very much. In fact, the more filthy and ripped up your clothes are the more fun you’ve had – this is what I tell Ramona when she is worried about her muddy jeans!

For younger children, playing outside avoids all the typical points of conflict around ownership and sharing. I try to make a point of arranging play times in a neutral outdoor space because asking children to share their own toys is unfair and also hypocritical. A forest has enough twigs (aka swords, wands, diggers, babies) for everyone.

If we want children to care about the natural world, they must experience it. Sir David Attenborough says “no one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”.

Further, kids decreasing time spent outdoors is considered by some conservationists to be the biggest risk to our environment. There is even a term for it; ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’.  Conservationist Matt Williams suggests  “This is perhaps the gravest threat to the long-term health of conservation and the natural world.”

Spending time amongst nature has been positively correlated (it feels weird to use scientific language here, but I do it to say LOOK! It is LEGIT!) with the development of strong imagination and a sense of wonder. I sometimes wonder if the pervasive cynicism that is found amongst my generation is to do with our lack of ability to be in awe or enthralled by something magnificent. (Read more on developing a sense of wonder amongst children here.)

Children who play regularly in nature:

 

score higher in tests monitoring concentration

feel more positively towards peers

show far superior motor fitness such as balance and coordination

have improved cognitive development such as awareness, reasoning and observational skills 

are buffered against life stress and deal better with adversity. (More on all that here.)

Did you know dirt is a happiness maker? There is bacteria in soil that lifts the mood, fights depression and boots the immune system. I remind myself of this research when I find Juno with a beard of mud, where she has happily been shoving it in her gob.

I feel as if I have just begun to scratch the surface of all of this… tell me the reasons YOU love to play in the wild!

PS –  I wrote about some people that bought a forest for £500 on Wonderthrift this week. And this HOW TO on playing in nature is absolutely wonderful – nature play is child led play!

“The wilderness holds answers to more (1)