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Featured, Parenting

Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids (that aren’t toys) 2016-2017

18 September, 2016

**This list of Gift Ideas for Kids has been Updated for 2016 – 2017**

We spent six months travelling around Europe in a campervan. We had a tiny stash of playthings and our three year old toddler Ramona thrived. She was a case study for how kids play in nature. She had a twig that would be a wand one minute, a baby the next, a spade in the morning and a guitar in the afternoon.

During that time I came to believe that too many toys can push a child’s imagination right under the bed and will eventually wreck the planet our children have got to enjoy for the rest of their lives. (Read my thoughts on that here.)

These days I think that rather than having such a negative view of toys we can just view them as one part of the big picture of childhood. As parents (or caring adults in a child’s life) we need to provide a nurturing environment that values fun, communal games, imagination play, art, creating, music, nature. Toys aren’t evil. They bring kids a whole heap of enjoyment, so let’s not be too harsh on them!

However, we all want to be that awesome adult that opens the doors a little more on a child’s imagination. We want to give a kid a gift that they will remember forever!BEST LIST EVER! Sixty Great gift Ideas for Kids- that aren't toys

Pin for later: Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

This list of gift ideas for kids is for you. Whether it is for Christmas or a special birthday, this list has a unique and awesome non-toy gift for every child.

This is a crowd sourced list of gift ideas for kids. Using Twitter and Facebook I asked 6000 people: What is the best non-toy present you ever received as a kid?

Here are sixty ways to show you care, and for the most part they fire a child’s imagination and cause less havoc for the environment. Many of them are free, or cheap and plenty of them can be found in charity shops or secondhand stores. There is a common theme of taking children seriously- of trusting them and their abilities, of giving them tools to create.

(When a celebration is coming up and it’s a pressie-giving kind of time, I reckon a good, frank chat is the best starting point. The child/ parents have a better idea about what the child would enjoy/ needs like a hole in the head. But the second port of call should be this list, for sure. Bookmark it and share it with your family members!)

**New video** Here I share my favourite things from this list and add a few extra ones to the list – including the present we had handmade for Ramona’s sixth birthday! 

Here we go….

Gift Ideas for Kids – Tools & Equipment

I am reading “Escape from Childhood” by John Holt at the moment and the thing he is really convincing me of is how much kids NEED to be useful. Exactly like adults! They love to be taken seriously, to have serious implements and to be able to truly, genuinely help and build and be busy working. When considering gift ideas for kids we should think about great it must feel for them to open up proper tools and equipment.

1-A small fruit tree to grow and nurture.

2- Same goes with a proper hammer and nails. Throw in some wheels and planks and they’ll be set for days. or perhaps a toolbox filled with things were a massive hit; rope, screws, pulleys etc.

3- Sew them a baby sling for their dolls. Here is a tutorial for an easy sling for your toddler’s doll – it has never failed to please a tot in my experience!

4- Gardening equipment- a proper trowel, some organic slug killer and some seeds.

5- A greenhouse. A reader says “When I was 9 I got a greenhouse. To this day it is still my best Christmas present ever as I spent hours with my Grandad learning how to grow food.”

6- A pocket knife. Every kid age 4+ needs a good simple pocket knife, a lesson in using it safely (sitting down, striking away from you, with an adult in range) and a bit of wood to carve.Sixty Great Gift Ideas for kids - that aren't toys

7 – Cress seeds were specified for very young children- imagine helping to feed your family at only age 2?! Plus they pop up all year round and don’t take as much patience. You can also make them a head to grow them in so it looks like hair! Classic!

8- My sister put together a survival kit for her six year old son- a good rope, pegs and a tarpaulin for den making, camo paint, a good torch. Flipping heck, that was a hit.

9 – A wind up torch. Sustainable and fascinating for children. They especially love head torches.

10 – A good baking bowl, a whisk, some scales. Show them you have faith in their ability to make something yummy.

11- The ingredients to make something yummy! One reader explains about the special thing she did for Christmas “I once gave my daughter’s friend a bag filled with the ingredients, Christmas cutters and the recipe to make their own Christmas gingerbread. They loved it.”

12 – Kitchen implements- one tweeter is getting her 2.5 year old son a peeler with a big handle as he genuinely loves helping in the kitchen. One reader received a sieve when she was young and it was her favourite present ever. I think I might get my three year old a good grater- they are so fulfilled when they are doing something worthwhile. A garlic press was another great suggestion. And every kid needs an apron.

13- Their own cookery book. Several times a week Ramona picks something out of her cookery book and bakes it. She is five.

14 – Something to pull apart- give them a screw driver and an old type writer and the afternoon to take it to bits and explore its inners.

15- A rock tumbler. A reader explains “I loved collecting rocks when I was about 9- it was so cool being able to polish them!”

16 – A magnifying glass and a book of native Insects.

17 – A microscope “I spent months finding things to look at and getting family members to guess what it was- the best was tiny slivers of onion skin.”

18 – Binoculars – plus a guide to bird and wildlife. We just bought a pair for our eight year old neighbour and you have pretty much never seen a kid more excited!!!!

19 – A calligraphy pen, nibs and ink. “I was given these age ten, and shown how to use it. I still have it!”

20 – A DIY science kit. Or DIY anything kit really!

Gift Ideas for Kids – Art and creating

The emphasis here is on good quality stuff. Just like adults, children deserve to work with good quality materials. It is frustrating scrawling on crap paper with crayons that barely make a mark. Seeing the vivid colours of acrylic paint on canvas is much more likely to stoke a child’s passion for creating art, no? These gift ideas for kids might just stoke your own memories of receiving creative crafty pressies.

21- A ball of bright coloured, good wool and instructions for finger knitting will open up a whole new meditative world.

22- Ingredients for DIY porcelain clay- a little box with corn flour and bicarb and instructions. They’ll love the making and the shaping.

23- Proper non toxic acrylic paint, high quality watercolours, and proper paintbrushes.

24 – A good quality sketch book. These are unbeatable in terms of art – acrylic and watercolours just feel and look magical with beautiful thick absorbent paper.

25- A selection of blank canvases and an easel.

26- A candle making kit. (I have made candles since I was 11 when I got my first kit and loved it. And the only fire I caused was when I was 22 and being VERY experimental. Just a shame the fire happened on my future in laws dining table.)

27 – More kits: A perfume making kit – what a cool way to learn about chemicals and stuff.

28 – A sewing machine. I got my first when I was 12 and after a fairly quick lesson from my Aunty have seen ever since. Or even just a hand sewing kit with fabric, needles and threads.

29 – How about these wonderful chalkboard puppets? Handmake some chalkboard blocks and give them along with some chalk and then, the best bit, PLAY TOGETHER!

30 -A box of craft materials that is all their own- ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, buttons, fimo etc. Red Ted Art has a lot of gift ideas for kids in the form of arts and craft gift boxes.

31 – Jars of homemade playdough and a box of cutters and tools (found in secondhand shops.)

32 – A box. It was the third best gift, suggested by over thirty people! The best explanation comes from reader, Clare “The best ‘present’ I ever got was a great big cardboard box. I made it into a house and played in it for YEARS. The best thing about it was that my parents got really involved in it- my mum made curtains for it and they never complained about having a tatty old hoc in the living room and let me keep it as long as I wanted.”

Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

Gift Ideas for Kids – Music and Culture

33- A mixtape – burn a cd with a selection of fun songs. Ramona has been given some of these and they are her favourite gift by a mile. I have gone on to make them for other children and my kids have helped select the tunes. So cool.

34 – Audiobooks- Roald Dahl stories are fantastic and tantalise imaginative minds.

35- A subscription to a magazine such as National Geographic. A reader explains how she felt about her subscription given to her by her neighbour age six, “At first, we just looked at the pictures but I read more each year as I grew. In our sleepy village,nit was a very welcome window into different cultures. And I always felt very grown up and acknowledged when I read them.”

36- Instruments! A good drum, maracas, a ukelele. A good xylophone. The brain patterns used in music are the same as those used in maths so giving kids the tools to create music is important. And fun. But make sure they are GOOD- in tune etc or children will lose interest.

37 – A song. Rope people in to help you, friends to strum chords on the guitar. Record it on YouTube and send it to them! We have done this a few times, it’s weird and fun. Write your own or just change a few lyrics to an existing one.

38 – Investment in a creative venture- for example Hadar Manor is crowd funding her new album and in return for contributing you can get anything from a shout out on the album to a personalised song, written sung and recorded for you.

39 – A poem. No, really, really! How special, for a kid to have their own poem. Written on beautiful paper. For them to treasure.

40 – A story. Ramona and Juno’s Grandad has written them both a story, printing it out into a book and gluing in photos.  It was about cats. They LOVE their personalised stories! How about writing a story about them? Or drawing a comic featuring them? It doesn’t need to be about them.

41- Lost My Name team sent Ramona and Juno personalised books featuring their name. The stories are totally unique, funny and the illustration is cracking without any rubbish gender stereotypes.

42- Books, books and more books. This was the most popular response by miles. The child especially enjoys receiving a book with meaning- one mum explains “her eyes light up when I say “this is something I loved when I was little, and I thought you’d like me to read it to you.”

43- Last Christmas we were living on the other side of the world to my husbands family. They sent over a book that they had recorded the story into- Ramona loves hearing the voices of her Grandparents, Aunties and Uncles reading to her.

44- A photo album or scrap book. Reader Sally explains that her three year old loves these.

Sixty Great Gift Ideas For Kids - that aren't toys!

Gift Ideas for Kids- Experiences

Days out were probably the second top answer after “box!” Kids love hanging out doing stuff with people who love them, and memories last WAY longer than toys. If giving an experience that doesn’t already come in the form of a card or voucher, draw them up a personalised one that they can open. It feels so much more exciting! These are gift ideas for kids that keep on giving WAY after they have been cashed in.

45 – A season pass or vouchers to something- an outdoor play area, a private woods such as Westonburt or a wildlife lark or donkey sanctuary.

46- A micro love bomb- let them have a whole evening hanging out with you, doing WHATEVER they want. Like, really, anything. (Based on Oliver James’ miraculous Love Bomb idea- a whole weekend to reset connection and attachment.)

47- A micro adventure- grab a tent, pack a little gas cooker and have a night in the local woods. Even London has accessible woods you can do this in.

48 – A visit to stables to ride on a horse- Ramona adored this for her third birthday. A reader adds that when she was seven she was given a Shetland pony-owning day “7 year old heaven!”

49 – Sew them something magnificent for their fancy dress box –  a mermaid outfit or a pair of wings- see a tutorial for easy toddler wings here, you could make them any size.Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

50 – A tent and sleeping bags to camp out in the garden.

51 – A day out in a big city- the museums, a picnic, feeding the skanky pigeons, climbing the towers.

52- A voucher for a den building afternoon. Take wood, hammers and nails and build a fort together in the local woods.

53- A course. Six weeks of a children’s photography or pottery or dance classes.

54- Adopt a whale/ dog/ monkey. This is a delightful idea, the child has a sense of investment with an animal and they can make a real difference for a charity.

55- A box of second hand clothes and costume jewellery for a fancy dress department. One Tweeter said the stash she was given included a WEDDING DRESS. Brilliant.

56- An experience for a baby- a jar of threaded beads, jewels and shells for them to shake and look at.

57- And another idea for a baby- a box of tissues entirely theirs to pull out. (This is probably my favourite of them all- even at seven months old Juno has worked out how to undo the lid of the baby wipes and delights in pulling them out.)

58 – Organise a visit with a local craftsperson or skilled person.Imagine spending an hour with a beekeeper or on a tractor or hammering nails with a builder or watching an artist blowing glass or making cheese or something more specific the child loves! You could give a box of beers to the tradesperson in exchange! One reader had a day of work experience at a farm when she was a child and she cherishes that memory.

59- Car booting/ junk store shopping. Write a voucher and include ten smackeroonies and set a date and go and find the most obscure antiques you can! We bought tap shoes at a junk store for both our kids- unbelievable amounts of entertainment!!!

60- Fruit picking. One of my most treasured childhood memories is of going strawberry picking with my Nana and Grandad when I was small. I remember my Nana stuffing her face, the red juice dribbling down her chin. She was an upright, honest citizen but I think she thought eating them as you go was part of the deal! Traditional activities like this are magical – I could almost make a list of gift ideas for kids based entirely on old skool chores. Ha!

Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

***

What an epic, epic list of gift ideas for kids. Thanks to everyone for sharing your ideas and stories. I am inspired and have my kid’s Christmas gifts sorted: a grater for Ramona and a box for Juno.

May your Christmas and birthday celebrations be ever imaginative and may you become a gift rockstar in the eyes of the children in your life!!!

PS We are blogging from a yurt in a forest in NZ these days – follow through Facebook or Instagram and keep up with our Youtube updates:


PPS If you are looking for creative gifts for mums and dad please check out my book 30 Days of Rewilding – designed to help families find their place amongst nature.
PPPS Check out the comments below for more gift ideas for kids – this is an organic, evolving list with people adding to it constantly via the comments!

Pin for Later:Sixty Gifts for kids that aren't toys. Amazing ideas for non toy gifts.

Sixty Great Gift ideas for Kids - that aren't toys!

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Give a child a knife and you’ll empower them for a lifetime

19 August, 2014

I’m taking a little break from being the internet’s favourite filthy hippy to write a little something about one of my other favourite topics: children and knives!

Well, more widely, about how capable kids are and how it is up to us to either encourage their skills or make them afraid.

I was doing a bit of cleaning and tidying around the yurt yesterday, trying to get it ship shape. (By “cleaning and tidying” I mean “sitting on the sofa reading The Help”.) I looked out onto the deck and saw that Ramona and her mate Sandy were taking apart the washing basket, pulling each bit of weave out. It was on its last legs already but they were massively hastening its demise. I wondered to myself: do I mind? Well, it only cost 50p from the second hand shop and 50p spent on a thrilling activity where they analyse the process of basket weaving through deconstruction is 50p well spent. Also, very good bit in the book.

So I left them to it. I looked out about 20 minutes later and saw that they had found a bungee cord and had rigged up, from the floor of the deck to a hook on the wall, an enormous sling shot and they were firing bits of weave like arrows into the fruit trees. I was blown away! It was completely genius! They spent another half an hour working out what items fired the best. They are three and five years old and they had pretty much devised a contraption that would teach them about velocity and aerodynamics and they were having a complete blast.Childhood and risk

It made me consider how if I was in a worse mood I would have very quickly put an end to this activity. I have done it before, acted out of grumpiness (primarily) when I have observed Ramona making a mess – closing the door on what was almost certainly going to be an amazing learning experience and chance for creativity. (I say “almost certainly” because it is the only way kids are wired: to learn.)

I am glad that early on in our parenting story we decided to consider our stance on risk. As I think, apart from general parenting grumpiness (*puts hand up*) it is our own fear that impinges on these moments. It is our sense of risk that narrows our children’s scope for being able and shorts their learning journey.

Our children often have the natural skill, the ability to focus and the desire to DO STUFF. They have it all there. They just need a few things from us:

A chance
A friend mentioned the other day how her Aunty was on her back for letting her seven year old help chop the veggies. A seven year old? With a knife?! I’m sorry but that is a bit absurd. In some countries five year olds are out hunting. Ramona has been chopping veggies with me for dinner since she was about 2.5. Give children a chance to help, to be a part of things.  With something sharp we can show them how to keep it safe, but then stand back while they work it out.Give a child a knife and we empower them for a lifetime

Photo from our trip to a forest kindergarten in Germany

“We live in an increasingly risk-averse culture, where many children’s behaviour is constrained. We raise them and educate them “in captivity” because of our anxieties. We are continually hypervigilant, as our anxieties are fuelled by stories and images of violent and aggressive crimes. And then we label children as troublemakers or failures because, as a society, we often fail to see their potential.” Professor Tanya Byron

A realistic safety check
We do have a bigger picture and we are able to foresee in a way that children aren’t. We have a policy now of scoping out all the water in an area before giving the kids chance to free range it. However, far too often we cry DANGER! when realistically, the risk is small.

When it comes to sharp knives and cooking – there is no life/death scenario happening there.

A philosophical approach to accidents
Ramona has a burn on her arm from where she was frying something last week. She leant over just too far and touch the side of the pan. Definitely feel like a rubbish parent when out and about- especially as it looks far too much life a self harming injury…

But the funny thing about it is that I have an identical burn – in fact I have TWO on my arm from doing the same thing TWICE. And I am 32 and have been cooking my own dinners for 15 years! Clumsiness isn’t an attribute of toddlers alone.

Accidents happen regardless of age. It is how children learn.

And better a broken limb than a lifetime of being fearful, eh? (I wrote all about that once…)

Our reactions in check
In Letting GO As Children Grow (I HEARTILY recommend this book! Totally underrated) Deborah Jackson talks about how our eagerness to help children learn about safety can actually hurt them much more. She discusses the use of scissors- scissors are really quite harmless yet when a young child picks them up we start to hyperventilate. This reaction then underpins all their future interaction with scissors, making them timid and unlikely to use them well.

And, with mess, consider if it is worth getting the hump over a child’s creative chaos- could this be the moment they realise they want to be the next Picasso- or simply a genius child artist like twelve year old Keiron?!- before balling them out.

Make it a practice to take a few seconds to asses where you are coming from before you react to a bit of risk or deconstruction.

The tools
John Holt talks about how our children are worth good equipment. How is a child meant to fall in love with painting if they only have these cheap paints that have almost no colour to them? My children can craft for so much longer if we do it with nice stuff that works rather than the nasty kids versions.

There is also a safety thing here- when it comes to cutting vegetables, there is probably less damage to be done with a sharp knife than a blunt one was it requires less pressure.

Patience
It is probably the one I struggle with most. When we bake together I am ITCHING to take the beater out of my children’s hands so I can get it done. ARGH WHY DO I DO THIS? I realise that the process is equally as important with the end product with children, but still I have to stomp on my impatient brain particles during it. Last night we baked pikelets and Juno, 16 months, did most of the beating. Pretty amazing!

An open door
For our first five months in the yurt we weren’t hooked up to solar so we depended on candles for light. You can imagine how fascinated the girls were with that. I would sit for almost 45 minutes each night whilst they lit them and blew them out, lit them again. It was important to me as I felt sure that if I was to say no to the playing/ working with candles Ramona would find a way- her urge was THAT strong- with or without me. And without me would be far, far more dangerous.

“If we become the locked door that stands between them and what they want, the only options we’re giving them are to push against us or sneak around us. If we stand beside them and help them figure out how they can get from where they are to where they want to be, then we become their partner.” From Joyfully Rejoicing.

One of the great gifts we can give our children is the space and freedom to discover the world and their own place within it. This is a gift that begins in our own home, as we give them chance to genuinely participate and as we trust them with implements and as we leave them alone without our constant verbal motivation. But it is one that will bloom and grow as they march on out the door.

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”By embracing a little risk and trusting our children more we are letting them know about their unique and powerful place in our exciting world.

I said something to Ramona in passing once, when she was asking me permission to do something(she does this, I don’t know where she gets it from.) I said “Sure, mighty girl. Go right ahead, the world is your oyster!” It has stuck with her, and now, every so often when she is discovering something brand new or thrillingly reaching her own upper limits, she will shout excitedly, “THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER, EH, MUM?!”

It is, Ramona, it really is.

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Emotional Memory – explaining a child’s and a parent’s raw reactions

9 June, 2014

I was recently introduced to the concept of emotional memory by psychologist Robin Grille. It allowed me to look at a recent event in a new light.

A few months ago, one of our last days in UK, the four of us rocked up to a park, eager to get some air after being stuck in a bit of gnarly traffic. It was a crazy windy day, perfect for kite flying. As we unfolded our kite our three year old daughter began to scream. She threw herself on the floor, thrashing about, her face purple, her arms and legs crashing onto the muddy grass. “PUT THE KITE AWAY” she screamed. “PUT IT AWAY AWAY AWAY AWAY” through heaving sobs.

We were astonished! We were at the park, one of her favourite places. And I was really excited about flying the kite. I’d been belting out Mary Poppins’ “Let’s go fly a kite! Up to the highest heights! LALALALALALALAAAAA!” all the way through the London traffic, to my whole family’s obvious delight.

We validated her rage and distress and then we, a bit reluctantly, folded the kite back up and put it away.

She calmed down, crying quietly. Once the kite was back in the van she cheered up and we got back to the important task of chasing each other around trees.

As I ran through the wild winds contemplating Ramona’s meltdown I was struck by the fact that the very last time the kite had been played with Tim had broken his ankle. It had gotten caught in a tree and as Tim leapt from the branch after untangling it, he fractured his bone. One of the kids in the garden had come to get me and as I ran out I just saw Tim flat on his back with pain – a rare, rare sight. Ramona was just standing there, flummoxed by her indestructible dad on the ground.

For Ramona, the kite holds an emotional memory of her dad being hurt, disappearing into A and E for several hours and then hobbling about in a cast for a few weeks. Of course she didn’t want the kite out! Of course her way to communicate the trauma she felt was through an epic meltdown!

It is not often that our children’s big emotions can be so directly traced to a past memory, but over the last week I have become convinced that this possibly explains quite a few of the most random tantrums. Emotional Memory - explaining a parent's and a child's raw emotions
(Photos from before the kitegate!)

Emotional Memory in Children

Robin Grille is an author and psychologist with over 25 years experience and he spoke convincingly last week of the power of emotional memory. Our bodies and minds can hold on to trauma from many years ago and, without us even being able to recall the incident, we can have a huge reaction when something stirs that body memory within us. Cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that we have body memories even from birth, and it is possible that some of the intense emotions children experience could be linked to their entry into the world.

Sometimes it seems as if “tantrums” (that word seems quite disrespectful in light of all of this, eh?) are triggered by the most trivial, insignificant thing (i.e the Reasons my Son Is Crying meme) when there is a good chance the trivial thing has triggered a body memory of something big.

Of course, I also reckon some children are simply pissed off a lot of the time because they have so little say over their lives.Emotional memory can explain a lot of children's tantrums

Emotional Memory for Parents
Traumatic memories of childhood also stay with us and inform our parenting. Do you ever find your self having a quite irrational, emotional response to your child’s behaviour? You find yourself triggered by their meltdowns, or mess, or their lack of appreciation? It is possible that that is because of memories of your own childhood are brought to the surface by your child.

During one seminar last week – “When Parent’s were children” – Robin had us all close our eyes and focus on the behaviour in our child that “triggers” us. We then imagined ourselves at that age and dwelt on what was going on for us at that time. It was incredible how, with a bit of help, we were able to see how much our own childhood impacts our parenting.

If we want to support our children through their own emotions, without our own baggage getting in the way, we need to take a look inside and find some healing for any childhood trauma we are carrying.

As Robin put it, we need to look out with one eye and in with the other.

There is also a possibility that we can’t cope with our child’s emotions because we are unsupported.
If I was unsupported as a parent I could easily have looked at Ramona’s kite-triggered meltdown in the park and taken a picture and sent it into Reasons My Son is Crying with the tag “We got the kite out at the park.”

Fortunately, despite not even being aware of the concept of emotional memory, I had other parenting philosophies that allowed me to validate and support my daughter through her emotions.

We need to try and find a small tribe of parents who understand and can hold our hand through tricky spots. (Perhaps that it what the people involved in that meme are trying to do – but I’d argue it is very much at the expense of their children’s dignity.)Emotional Memory and a child's tantrums

Responding to a possible emotional memory

So, the next time your child goes for the nuclear reaction, welcome it (they are possibly working through past pain) and validate it (“You feel so angry, it is okay to feel angry.”) and give some space for your own feelings (“Is this bringing anything up?”) and find some support (be it a whisper in your friend’s ear “Eeek, this is a bit embarrassing but my child really needs me right now!” or a respectful recount of the incidence in a private Facebook forum – do you have one of these? I think they are very useful.)

I think awareness about the concept of “emotional memory” could be an incredible tool in enabling us to support our children through their emotional explosiveness and in stopping the baton of childhood trauma being passed from one generation to the next.

I’m fairly sure that experience with the kite in the park, as we held Ramona through her trauma, had a sort of healing effect on her. I hope so – we are going to a kite festival in a couple of weeks so we are going to find out! *nervous face*

(Mind you, me being unable to to refrain from skipping around the crowds singing Mary Poppins might set her up with another, altogether more traumatic, Emotional Memory.)

PS Come and connect with us on Facebook for more peaceful parenting and thrift blogging & discussion!

Parenting

Could the concept of adultism transform relationships between adults and children?

14 May, 2014

The concept of Adultism – a stealth prejudice in many of our homes

“Isms” are rare in my circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Nearly everyone I know is involved in a journey of eradicating any sexism, racism or other prejudice in their lives. We are all aware that NO ONE should be treated worse because they are different.

Apart from children.

They are different and they are treated poorly because of it.

Adultism

Consider how happily we humiliate children in public- forcing them to say “please” and “thank you” before giving them the item they want.

We treat their bodies like our property – taking stuff out of their hands without invitation, moving them aside without an “Excuse me”, forcing clothes on them.

We talk about children while they are right there “How old is she?” “Is she a good girl?”

We fail to take their conversation seriously – a toddler will be explaining something, or telling a story, and so often, instead of listening and responding sensibly, we chuckle, and interrupt with “Hehe, you are TOO CUTE!” And we catch other adult’s eyes to laugh at this funny little thing’s wild story of a broken leg and a horse called Shakira.

We don’t trust a child’s judgement- frequently over ruling their own ideas and solutions, often just with one word “No” or four words, “Because I said so!”

We question their feelings – “You’re not scared” and we tell them to stop feeling them “Don’t be sad!” in a way that I have never heard one adult say to another.

We give children no say in their activities and force them to tug along with out agenda “Right, time to go!” or “You don’t want that mobile phone, here have this maraca instead!”

We tell children not to listen to their own bodies, but to trust US because we ACTUALLY know what they’re bodies are saying “You haven’t eaten enough! You can’t possible be full!” Or “Come on, it is 8pm you must be tired.” Or “It is freezing! You must keep your jumper on!”

There are many more ways we oppress children because of their age- I could go on and on; they are tripping out of my typing fingers because I know them too well. I am guilty of at least a couple of these every single day.

And all of these examples, if we were to change “child” to “woman” or “disabled person” would be completely and utterly OUTRAGEOUS. But we feel free to treat children this way simply because they are young and often don’t have the words to protest. (Or they do protest and we call it a tantrum.)

Adultism

The concept of adultism, as defined by Dr Checkoway is “…all of the behaviors and attitudes that flow from the assumption that adults are better than young people, and are entitled to act upon young people in many ways without their agreement.”

I believe that awareness is the first, crucial step towards change. It was reading Parenting for Social Change by Teresa Brett and Escape from Childhood by John Holt that opened my eyes to the way I was allowing a corrupt power relationship to perpetuate injustice in my own home. Despite being utterly committed to a fair world, free from any “isms” I was allowing this massive “ism” to happen under my own roof.

(I’m not sure how served we are by the term “adultism” as opposed to “ageism” which seems a more technically accurate term, and one that already has some traction due to older generation having their rights overlooked. It is possible that ageism, in relation to young people, might be a more palatable phrase.)

Gosh, this is all sounding a bit heavy, isn’t it? I have woken up all fired up about it this morning!

I also feel really positive though as awareness is happening, all over the world. Just as so many people in the world are challenging, and defeating, racism and sexism, I believe we are beginning the journey to challenging ageism against young people.

One day childhood will be experienced differently- we will treat children with respect and they will be free to enjoy their full plethora of rights. This concept of adultism could be the things that transforms this.

What do YOU think? 

Read my follow up post to this: A day in the life of a family challenging adultism.

Family Travel, Parenting, Thrifty

Yurt Sweet Yurt – Family Life under Canvas

8 April, 2014

Yurt Sweet Yurt – Family Life under Canvas

Waking up with something crawling on my face has pretty much been a lifelong fear of mine. A fear that was finally realised last Wednesday when a tickling sensation on my cheek pulled me from my dream (my dream was probably about sleep – both my day time and night time reveries are basically about getting more sleep…)

I pulled the tickling thing off my face and flung it on to the floor, I hunkered under the duvet and begged my dream to return quickly, quickly, quickly. But it was too late, I was wide awake and needed to know what the Thing was.  I grabbed the torch and peered under the bed.

I was actually relieved to find an enormous Praying Mantis. Far, far better to have a goggle eyed, try hard stick insect having his devout way with my face than his cruel, shiny black scurrying cousin, the Cockroach.

We have a lot of cockroaches and other members of the insect community in our place. ALOT. There isn’t much you can do when the outside is so inside, y’know? Little cracks where the canvas wall meets the floor and gaping holes in the tree house kitchen. There are some serious blurred lines between our home and nature right now. family living in a yurt

If the rest of it wasn’t so darn perfect it would definitely be too much.

family living in a yurt

But fortunately (unfortunately?) we LOVE living here.

We love the yurt which feels like an almost sacred space with it’s circular fluidity. The few things we lugged over from England just fit in it so ideally. The look is retro-yoga-retreat-chic, yeah.Yurt Life

We actually love having nature all up in our grills. We spend 90% of most days outside, which is what life is meant to be like I think. It is still HOT here so we eat our meals on the deck. Both the girls have swings that fly off the deck too.living in a yurt

We have a sort of kitchen cabin off the deck, and through that an old caravan which has become a bit of a play / craft room. We don’t have a bathroom (we smell more than usual) and have a little walk to the composting loo which takes a bit of getting used to.
living in a yurt

We love living cooperatively with the other two families on the farm. It is making us fairly certain that we want this community life for our family.living in a yurt

We are surrounded by these little native owls called Moreporks and they sing us to sleep cooing “morepork! morepork!” There are plenty of nocturnal possums too but they have an unwelcome, evil witch cackle.family living in a yurt

We love milking the cow (Yep! I am rubbish at it as I have way too much empathy) and collecting the chicken eggs and eating whole meals with 0 food miles. family life yurt

We will have to see how we get on with the winter. It will involve waking in the night to put a log on the pot belly stove and pinning up wooly stuff all over the inside to insulate. It will be cold but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, eh? We will be so jolly hardy by the end of it.family living in a yurt

I just need to be more assertive and get on less intimate terms with the local bugs.

Parenting

Children thrive when they are set free from rules

28 January, 2014

A piece of academic research ignited our collective imaginations this week. The study, carried out in New Zealand, revealed that several primary schools abandoned their playground rules to great success, with one head teacher vowing never to return to rules. Instead of descending into mayhem the children simply got on with playing, and they were happier and calmer and better behaved throughout the rest of their school day.

I have never seen one news article spread so fast- people from every walk of life were sharing this study on social media. Why were people so excited by it?20140128-141709.jpg

I think it is because it confirms what we all want to believe- children are much more capable than we give them credit for and they blossom when they are given freedom.

Many of the people who posted it shared that it reflected their own childhoods. It seems as if the “Seen and Not Heard” of adult-child interactions had benefits for children – kids were expected to get out of the way and therefore were granted a lot of autonomy, gathering in small tribes away from the adults.

In recent years, as parenting has become a lot more hands on, children are spending much more time under the gaze of loving adults. And, perhaps with the disintegration of community life, there is less opportunity for children to gather together for child-only play. And it seems, in order to help children along adults have inputted more and more guidelines for safe, healthy play.

I think this study has made people reconsider all of this. If children are truly thriving without rules, organising themselves and quelling bullying behaviour, let’s encourage more of this. Let’s allow this study to impact our everyday interactions with children. Let’s aim for more freedom and more autonomy for kids.

Here are a few suggestions:

Assess your rules
Do you have a lot of rules in your household? What are they, do you need them? Can you strip them back to the things that you really value? We have one general principle; No harming people or things.* All other stuff is up for negotiation and on the spot responding.

There are many, many families who have no rules and find their children act responsibly and with respect when given this freedom. Some families opt for conversation, rather than rules.

“Children who live surrounded by rules, instead of learning about principles, end up becoming adept at getting around rules, finding the loopholes in rules, disguising non-compliance, or deflecting blame for non-compliance (i.e. lying about what they did). These are the skills that they then bring into adult life.” ~ Robyn Coburn

* We don’t discipline around this though. If Ramona pushes or hits while I am around I will get down on her level and say “I’m not going to let you hit Joseph” and I immediately distract so there isn’t another opportunity to do it and then later on, when we are both calm we have a talk about how she was feeling, what went on and how we might respond another time she gets frustrated.

 

Give them space
Give your kids as much space away from adults as possible. The happiest I’ve ever seen Ramona is over the course of a week that we spend once a year with all our friends and their children camping in a big field. The adults laze around eating and we hardly see the kids at all. The 15 of them just look after each other.

Can you find ways to create this kind of environment for your children? Talk to other parents and begin “Idle Saturdays” in a park where the kids begin to look after each other as a little tribe. (The more the merrier, for happiness I think. And it may take a few days of this to really see the benefits.)

Trust them
An overwhelmingly loud theme from this study is TRUST. We can trust even small children to make good decisions – especially so when guided by other slightly older kids. It is entirely possible that if children make bad decisions it is BECAUSE of our mistrust and our lack of empowerment! If a child is used to being guided and helped they will learn to not trust their instinct and abilities. If left to it they will discover, learn and upskill all by themselves. They will learn how to negotiate sharing a toy with a peer because they REALLY WANT TO PLAY WITH THE TOY, and if we constantly get involved with our pleas to share, honey, SHARE, they won’t discover the tricky, essential art of negotiating with other equally eager children. If we jump on them every time they try and pour themselves a drink they will never believe they are able to have a drink of juice without spilling it… so they keep on spilling it.

Trust children. It is better for them and easier for you.

Watch with your ears
We saw a beautiful and empowering way of interacting with children whilst visiting the Forest Kindergarten in the Black Forest. They had a phrase “Watch with your ears” which meant that the adults rarely got involved in children’s activities and debates, instead they were present as busy bystanders – listening out for any signs of crisis that might need help. The workers there found that when an adult is close by kids act differently- they are less likely to work things out with each other and less likely to overcome a challenge.

Can you step back a little? Spend less time hovering and more time watching with your ears? Give your children and their friends more time and space to organise themselves.

Share the study
Would you consider sending the news article to your child’s school or kindergarten? Although they might not go the whole hog they might consider granting more autonomy to the children in their classrooms and playground.

You might have guessed that I think autonomy and self-direciton is absolutely crucial for a child’s happiness and a family’s well being! Here are 23 Ways to Nurture Autonomy in our children. 

I’d love to hear how you felt about this study. Did you find it inspiring? Why? Are there any other ways you think we can give children more freedom in order to see them flourish?