No Poo, Thrifty

Healthy Hair and Baking Soda (How, Why and When to use it- and when to step away)

6 October, 2014

One of the biggest questions I get asked these days about giving up shampoo is about whether Baking Soda (or Bicarbonate of Soda) will destroy your hair. This is a big deal as it shows me that the world has moved WAY past the “Does it smell?” stage, which lasted about seventeen million years. (The stage, not the smell! Pahaha.) Now people have accepted that No Poo is officially A Thing and are getting down to the nitty gritty about what to use. AWESOME, WORLD! Go us!

However, it is also a big deal as it tells me that people haven’t read my book. WHAT? WHY? IT IS LIKE TWO QUID AND EXPLAINS EVERYTHING, I mean EVERYTHING about No Poo and Baking Soda and what to use and why and the ins and outs of all the alternatives without being confucius. Read my book and you will be the President of No Poo University. Actually, can I be president? You can be the librarian.

Oh. Am I being a little, erm, intense?

*does a distracting hula dance* Look, I’m still fun, see, woowheee hoopla doopla!!Use bicarbonate of soda for healthy hair

Why Bicarbonate of Soda?
Bicarbonate of Soda/ Baking Soda is the first alternative people who stop using shampoo turn to. This is because the mechanism between this ingredient and your hair is pure and simple. Baking soda effectively turns the glorious protective sebum of your hair (the bit that makes it looks greasey!) into soap. Sometimes when you use Baking Soda you can feel a slipperiness all over your hair- this is the soapification in process. It is also the cheapest alternative (apart from water) you can use, costing about 2 pence per application.

How do I use it?
The internet is chockablock with the wrong information about this. Even my own blog has been there with the inaccurate info, when I was first starting out. This is because you use different amounts of bicarb at different times. To start off with you are really trying to strip out your hair of all the silicones piled upon each hair shaft- stuff inherent to most commercial shampoos. You will need something close to a heaped table spoon of bicarb stirred into a cup of water and then poured onto it every section of your hair. You will leave it on for one minute, massaging it through. You will need to do this kind of wash at least 3-4 times at the start of your No Poo journey. Once you start heading through the transition stage you will gradually decrease the amount you use. Once you are through transition you will be using just 1/2 teaspoon in half a glass of water and it will be making your hair as clean as it was at the start. This is because your hair is clear of extras and the bicarbonate of soda is working straight on your sebum.

What will it do to my hair?
A successful bicarbonate of soda wash will firstly make your hair SQUEAK with cleanliness as you rinse it off. Your hair will then be shiny, bright, and light. And gradually, as your hair gets more and more used to it, it will become less greasy. You will soon be able to go a week, possibly two weeks, even three weeks without using anything on your hair apart from water.how to use baking soda for happy shiny healthy hair

If it is dull, waxy, heavy, flywaway or brittle then read on….

Why might it be bad for my hair?
There are a few blogposts out there where No Poo-ers have suggested that Bicarbonate of soda have destroyed their hair. This is a bit of a bummer as I think as an entry No Poo ingredient Bicarbonate of Soda is the absolute business. (I literally buy it in bulk and use it for EVERYTHING! From deodorant to cleaning.) It is very hard to get wrong (unlike the egg, with which even the most die hard No Pooer has had a catastrophe with) and really truly gives a good clean up to every head of hair, particularly dealing with the waxiness of transition.

Once you understand the science of No Poo (Gosh darn, I wish there was a simple and comprehensive guide to the chemistry of No Poo! Oh wait! What is THIS?!) it is easy to see that using too much bicarbonate of soda will strip your hair of all of its sebum and the only place that will take your hair is to the Unstoppable Ferris Wheel of Grease Over Production – the very thing we are all trying to leave behind us. If you remove your sebum this effectively frequently your hair will keep producing too much sebum to replace it. Damaging the equilibrium of your hair this way will make it dry and brittle on the ends and heavy at the top.

Avoid the damaging nature of baking soda by:

  • Just as you are trying to INCREASE the amount of days in between washes you should try and DECREASE the amount of Baking Soda you use. If you are already through transition and are using anything more than one teaspoon in a cup of water once a week than I’d suggest you are using too much.
  • Use 1/4 teaspoon – 1 teaspoon for one wash and then use an alternative for your next wash. Ideally something with incredibly nourishing elements such as an egg.
  • Rinse the absolute HECK out of it. Left over BS in your hair will feel grim
  • Every month or so you should so a moisturising head mask – either with heated coconut oil, or a mashed up banana or a mashed up avocado.
  • If you have long hair you need to also use something acidic on your ends in order to smooth down the cuticle layer of your hair shaft. A spoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water sprinkled through the ends of your hair and rinsed off will do this. (This will solve flyaways too.)
  • Try to nail the water only wash. Use steaming hot water to massage into your scalp, scrubbing out the sebum down through your hair shaft to the very ends of your hair. Then scoot your hair under a cold rinse. The colder the better. Hollering allowed. Towel dry – hefty rubbing also helps. Use a water wash instead of another baking soda wash.
  • If your hair is waxy be assured this is a natural part of transition. There comes a point when not even BS can shift the wax. For this you need the super sonic combo of egg, lemon and white vinegar – a mask that will hit reset for your hair, shifting all the wax. YESSSS!

I hope this has answered all the questions out there about using Baking Soda for happy, healthy hair. Now BUY MY BOOK GODDAMIT.

I jest, I jest. But if you WOULD like to become an expert on your own hair please consider it. All the recipes mentioned briefly here- the conditioning masks, hot oil treatments and Wax Tackling egg combo are in there. As well as suggestions for dry shampoos and loads of tips about getting through transition. It is designed to be a reference point for all the tricky stages of your No Poo journey. It is available here in every country and currency and it downloads on to all computers, Kindles and E-readers and is also ready to print, if you like something in your hands.  All for a couple of bucks.No Poo Guide Transitional period

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.)
sale
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?

Thrifty

Oi, Beetroot Face! Homemade, Natural Blusher

29 September, 2014

In my latest experiment for Cosmo I’ve tackled something I’ve wanted to do for a while- Beetroot Rouge! Yep, a quick, easy, natural homemade blusher using my absolute FAVE root vegetable. Homemade Natural Rouge - Beetroot Blusher

It was SO MUCH fun and effective.

You will need:

A small vestibule (I used a vintage tobacco tin, obviously)

A whole, fresh beetroot sliced very thinly

An oven or dehydrator

A coffee grinder or nut/grain mill

No children (for some reason they are intrigued with these little mounds of bright pink dust and think playing with it is just as much fun as I think it is, pah!)

Get the How To and the results right here…diy beetroot blusher

Activism

Let’s mobilise in hope and anger

24 September, 2014

Don’t mention the NZ election to me. Unless you want swears and tears.

I’m so mad. The main losers of this right wing party settling in for their third term, with a MAJORITY (62 seats!!!) are New Zealand’s poor people… And women … And children… And our conservation areas… Also, equality took a big hit… And climate change.

This government is especially terrible at acting like climate change is happening. For a country known for being “clean and green” it does a suspiciously large amount of fossil fuel pushing. And for a country whose very close Pacific neighbours are among the first experiencing the devastating consequences of rising sea levels RIGHT NOW, it buries it’s head in the sand far too much.

You would never know, from NZ’s media, that people here care about the climate. On Sunday, alongside millions of people all over the world, Kiwis rallied for a People’s Climate March. Stuff.co.nz covered the march in Brazil, the UK and Australia but failed to mention the gatherings in NZ. (Just like pretty much every NZ media outlet failed to let people know the extent of National’s deceit and corruption. Please, please, please read Hager’s Dirty Politics if you still feel an element of trust in this government. It leaves no room for doubt. National’s political gaming and duping of voters belongs in some Elizabethan backwater not this thriving, creative and intelligent society.)

I am going to be a pain in the lazy arse of NZ’s journos this year. If you are an NZer, could you do this too? A bit of civillian action to hold NZ media to account? Phone them up/ send an email/ write a comment. (I’ve done all three this week.) Let’s become a dog with a bone on this because if we can transform the bias media here we can transform the political landscape, I’m convinced.

Anyway, YAY, climate change rallies around the world! Just when you think no one cares about whole Islands getting washed over hundreds and thousands of people turn up in every major city across the world to show they really bloody do!climate change rally thames nz

We had a gathering of 200 (not to be sniffed at for a small town!) with beautiful protest artwork, awesome music and inspiring speakers.
climate change rally thames nz
(Not counting our National MP Scott Simpson who turned up for the photo opportunity -he won’t meet with constituents but wherever there is a camera, he will be found. He literally just used his few words to GLOAT about his party’s win – oh, and he managed to name “protest” as one of the negative forces of society. I also overheard a small kid ask him, quite innocently, if he “Kills trees” – his response was an immensely snide, juvenile and irresponsible “No, SHE does” – and he pointed at the Green Party politician, Catherine Delahunty. Who used her speech to big up the grassroots and to call for immediate action on climate change. Sort of how you’d want a speech at a climate change rally to go, y’know?)

Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest threat facing us at the moment. It should be the first priority of every government. And should govern the actions of every individual.

If we care about poverty and injustice we need to care about climate change. If we care about our future grandchildren, we need to call for action NOW. climate change rally thames nz

There were farmers and anarchists and children and Grandparents rallying in Thames on Sunday. Power to the people indeed. It is really these people, the people who will hold our leaders to account through protest, that give me hope.climate change rally thames nz

What Scott Simpson failed to remember when he called out protest as a negative thing was New Zealand’s astonishingly rich history of it. It was New Zealand who first gave women the vote as a result of their excellent mobilisation, it was New Zealand who played a part in taking the anti-apartheid movement to the next level when nuns and fans and salt-of-the-earth Kiwis disrupted rugby games by piling on the pitch and barricading gates when the South African team toured here in 1981 and Kiwi’s have courageously been taking to the seas for decades to protest climate-destroying nuclear and deep sea drilling. (Read the tragic story of the 1985 Rainbow Warrior and more recent expedition including 2013 former leader of the Greens Jeanette Fitzsimons.)

There is one good thing about having a corrupt, unjust and environment-hating government in power. Sometimes, under more progressive governments, the grassroots can get complacent. We saw a bit of this under Labour in the UK. But when the government persistently show contempt for its people we get mad and we mobilise. This election result has upset a lot of people, but let’s harness that emotion. Let’s protest like its the Eighties. Let’s gather, and plan, and march, and strategise. And there let hope be born.

Are you cross enough to mobilise? Tell me what you are thinking…

And did you attend a People’s Climate March? I’d love to hear about it..

PS, Er, yes, sorry. I realise I did go and “mention the election.” This post was intended to be quite a positive one. WHOOPS!!!

PPS Pictures by Bella Pacific Media

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.
photo (1)

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)

Activism

I’m not telling you how to vote, but…

15 September, 2014

It is voting season here in NZ. All the campaigns kicked off a couple of weeks ago and within days the rash of National (the right wing party currently running/ wrecking the country) billboards had been edited. One close to me used to have the Prime Minister saying “Working for New Zealand” now, with a little help, it reads “Twerking for New Zealand”. Excellent.

For the first time ever I have changed my vote. I have always been a Labour supporter. I could only ever see that my progressive, social justice loving vote would be most useful used for Labour.

This week however, I get to vote with full integrity and hope.

Thanks to New Zealand MMP system, our two votes count for far much more than in the UK. (My vote when I lived in central London counted for absolutely NOTHING. And the local Tory MP once sent our household THREE letters without stamps and I was charged postage – THE BLOODY CHEEK OF IT! Postage bandits!)

And I believe that if any country in the world could get a significant number of Green MP’s into parliament it is New Zealand. So that is it. The Greens have me hooked. I don’t want to sound like a party political broadcast but I feel the need to inspire conscientious non-voters, or the understandably apathetic about why they should use their vote for the Greens…

They are child friendly
They are, without a doubt, the most child-friendly party in the mix. It was Green MP Sue Bradford who bought in the bills that have changed the life of small kiwis more than any other bill. They banned smacking, they upped the youth minimum wage and they extended the amount of time female prisoners had with their new borns. And they have plans for so much more- their Number One principal in their policy document about kids states “Children and young people’s rights, needs and interests must be prioritised at all levels of political planning and policy-making to ensure positive outcomes for them.” They are a party that GET the fact that children are PEOPLE and deserve the accompanying human rights.vote green

They are future friendly
Despite having been a profesional climate change campaigner for many years, I realise that I have this “odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia” that Naomi Klein spoke about in her beautiful (also long- get a cuppa) piece this weekend. I am in desperate need of people in government that are amnesia-proof. People that know how intrinsic the natural world is to our survival and our well being. I believe that the Greens are the only ones that are fundamentally committed to this. Some have slightly okay environmental ambitions and others- like National – seem completely opposed to the environment. Yesterday we all attended a protest at some extravagantly beautiful conservation land, the Karangahake Gorge, that National have just signed over to a big mining corp. They did it in the most underhand, corrupt way and it is just one of the many harbingers of the government’s contempt for this land and the people that live here. (I explained it to Ramona in terms of “pirates stealing gold” – which is basically is.)

A vote for the Greens is a vote for the future – not policies of the past.
no mining
(Glory, you can never know how many swears I have urged back under my fingernails whilst typing this bit.)

They are fairness friendly
Everyone knows the Greens are hot on environmental justice- but not everyone knows quite how hot they are on social justice. They are consistently on to it- poverty, gender, inequality, indigenous rights- their policies are robust and FAIR. It’s not just theory either- they have a co-leader principle (the party will always be led by one male and one female) and they have strong Maori representation. If you care about fairness, please do explore the Greens – I think you will find their policies the perfect combination of radical and realistic.

A progressive alliance
I used to do a bit of work with a policy wonk- one of the smartest people I know- and we were discussing the Greens. She said that the only thing stopping the Greens really is lack of experience. That with a few MP’s under their belt they could go on to be a serious challenger. It is absurd not to vote for the Greens because they have little experience on the shop floor- we need to help them get that experience so they can keep taking things to the next level.

The current NZ circumstances make a progressive alliance- say Greens, Labour, Mana/ Internet- ENTIRELY possible on Saturday. A vote for those is a vote for a change in government- the thing we really, really need. (I read Hager’s Dirty Politics over the weekend. Oh. My. Days. National and Shonky John Key have slunk lower than you thought possible. Read it, get fired up, vote.) In the last NZ election the difference between a left alliance and the munters we were landed with was literally a matter of a few thousand votes. Your vote counts, it counts, it counts!!

Some further stuff
I’m sharing with you the things that swung my vote, but I really don’t want to tell you how to use yours. Vote Compass is a really fascinating tool to help you figure out which parties align more closely to your values. I found it really interesting. It will help you make a more informed decision on Saturday.

Martyn Bradbury and the Daily Blog’s Progressive Voter Guide
You want a progressive government? Use your vote wisely.

Tune in to Dotcom’s Moment of Truth tonight for a potential twist and to get amped about pushing National out. We’ll be streaming on a bus outside the local library, using their free wifi, and having a radical little party!)

What do we want? A change in government! When do we want it? On Saturday!

Talking It Up

I’ve got a new writing gig and it’s pretty unlikely…

13 September, 2014

If I were to imagine the last place I’d ever be found writing a column it would be a toss up between the UKIP weekly newsletter and Cosmo. Well. Never say never.

Introducing my first column, DIY All Natural Mascara for UKIP.

Just kidding, it’s for Cosmo.

IMG_1016.JPG
I’ll be writing there fortnightly on natural, minimalist beauty. I’m chuffed to have a space to big up radical self love in a forum often reserved for extreme body hate.

(I avoid women’s mags entirely as I am pretty vulnerable to their messages. A little dallying with Heat in the dentist’s waiting room will have me sucking in my stomach and eschewing chocolate for HOURS.)

So far I’ve been surprised at the digital team’s openness toward the non-mainstream – their coverage of Happy Hair and No Poo was awesomely positive. And I like their funny and cynical writing about some beauty necessities.

I’m WELL excited about it- writing about some of my fave stuff (hippy shizzle!) for a new and unlikely crowd. Yahoo!

Any natural beauty fads or recipes you think I should tackle?

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)