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Parenting, unschooling

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

21 October, 2015

Children rights and you, oh parent….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

teresa brett - child rights in the home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I had a lot to say about that!

*crawls to bed*

unschooling, yurt life

Living off the grid – the beginning

24 September, 2015

We are about to begin living off the grid and we have All. The. Emotions.

We are back in NZ on the cusp of a whole new thing.

We had incredible flights here, the girls were total heros and the kindness of strangers went a long way. (Homage to the general public who are kind to children right here.) Those flights were sandwiched by a week in California, making ourselves truly at home amongst the totally marvellous unschooling tribes of San Francisco who roomed us and fed us and took us to their pottery workshops and museums and beaches and forests. (So much to say about that! Perhaps a whole other post … for now my photos on Instagram will have to do.)

Jet lag has been no issue this week; we are buzzing out on excitement alone- carried along from 5am to 10pm on rolling waves of let’s-buy-the-chickens-and-have-a-mudpie-kitchen-and-a-forest-school. (Um. And maybe a few good kiwi flat whites.)

Because on Saturday we move on to our new land, putting up our first little yurt next to a beautiful stand of native Kahikatea trees, ready to begin cultivating a huge veggie patch, a few orchards, and a life of wild learning and growing together. We popped in there yesterday, our first day in NZ and as we walked around there were two little piwakawaka (fantails) flitting around us, chirping and swooping and it just felt like they were giving us a little welcome, saying, make your home here with us!

When I was a tiny tike, despite always living in the inner city, I always said when I grew up I wanted to marry a farmer. (You can imagine the horror that bought my feminist mama. I also wanted to change my name to Eric so maybe that evened things out a little.)

It is a bit surreal to think we are well and truly becoming farmers now, living off the grid using solar energy and our stream for water.Rewilding - Family moved from South London to a yurt in a forest in NZ

Over the next few weeks and months we have to build our own composting toilets (read about golden poos right here) and bathroom, we have to tap the springs so we have fresh water, put up our bigger, mammoth yurt, find places for our chickens and cows, and start planting out the food that will fill our bellies.

After a few months of travelling around (still planning posts about Paris and other adventures – i have been a bit distracted all summer by writing my new booooook) it feels so, so, so good to be grounding ourselves, embracing rituals and rhythms, connecting with the community of kindred spirits we have in NZ – in particular the family we are sharing the land with.

I can’t wait to be a part of Ramona and Juno’s learning journey as we learn together on the farm, through simply living and responding to creative urges and engaging with the natural world around us.
(I am an official Channel Mum vlogger person thingy and I did a video about our unschooling beginnings which you can see here…)

I feel so happy to imagine this childhood for our kids, one filled with bugs and mud and native birds and forest, one where they won’t lose touch with their wild selves.Yurt family - 30 days of rewilding

And then, amongst all this huge sense of anticipation and happiness are these random pangs of sadness. A memory from this summer, of swimming in an English river with my lifelong best friends or laying down in the long grass to watch the meteor shower with my beautiful sister, will shoot into my mind and just take my breath away.

And, underneath all these feelings, the grief and joy and hope, is this sort of intangible fear.

It feels funny to type that out. To name it. But there it is. It is a quiet vibration just humming amongst it all. Because we can’t separate what we are about to do from all the horror stories of intentional communities we’ve heard. We can’t deny the fact that are not born farmers, or that we are all stepping out of our existing community of marvelous hippies to do this together.

But it isn’t the scary kind of fear. Because we know, know, KNOW we have to do this.

We walked on to the land on January the 1st this year and went “THIS IS IT! This is our very future right here! This dell has been marked with our names!”

And we are certain we want to start living off the grid with others. We have always yearnt for interdependency and life-sharing and are convinced that sustainable living looks like this.

We didn’t want to grow old wishing we had taken a chance on nurturing a tribal way of life when we had it.

And if we can do this with anyone, it is with the family we co-own the land with.

So the fear bit? Mixed in with all those other emotions it is like sitting in a little carriage perched at the very top of an enormous, towering rollercoaster, staring down at that deep, inevitable, belly dropping swoop and roaring “WOOHOOOOOO!!! LET’S DO THIS THING!!”

Living off the grid beckons!


Read about our move from South London to a yurt in a forest in NZ, amongst a load of inspiring stories in my new book, 30 Days of Rewilding – find your place in nature and watch your family bloom.  The Telegraph did an amazing feature on it and on the first day of release it went to Number One in its category on Amazon. Whooop! I guess, what I’m trying to say is, um, read it, if you like…

Family Travel, unschooling, writing

Family travel | Chiang Mai, Thailand (ARGH! ELEPHANTS!)

30 June, 2015

The baby elephant swung its thick grey trunk over to Ramona, moving his snout across her body while she ripped the sheath from a corn cob. Before she could hand the sweet corn over, another trunk, this one about 8 times the size, reached over her shoulder and pinched it. Grandad elephant, with his big gnarly tusks, doesn’t get the snacks after the whipper snapper, thanks very much.

It was magical, getting up close and personal with these jungle beasts. There was a crowd of them right next door to where we were staying, a motel at the foot of the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

We’d wake up to the sound of them trumpeting to each other as their mahouts got ready for the day ahead. We followed them on a little trek, Juno shouting POO! POO! most of the way because, turns out, the jungle is where they do most of their biz. We were even there for the precious moment when the baby elephant did a sneeze and farted at the same time – such a classic. We were all completely delighted!

As we spent more time there, we watched them carry tourists around the jungle, splash in the river on command and pose for a photo.

And we were left pretty saddened by it.

It wasn’t really at all what the website portrayed it to be with it’s “Keeping Elephants Alive” slogan…. Keeping them alive, sure, but shackled and controlled.

It is incredible standing next to one of these magnificent creatures, but you also feel like you’re not really meant to. They are meant to be crashing around a dense jungle, stampeding together, getting furiously protective of their babies, not chained too many metres away to even stroke them with their snout.

We still enjoyed our time in the foothills of the Chiang Mai mountains- we visited a waterfall and ate our weight in tropical fruits. But it was with relief that we got in to the city, where we didn’t feel accused by the neighbouring elephant’s eyeballs.Family travel in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai turned out to be incredible! Totally wasn’t expecting to fall so in love with it. We were surprised (and gladdened to our CORE) to find tasty flat whites amongst the street food stalls. We stuffed our faces with every kind of noodle and curry. We sat in little shacks filled wall to wall with enormous cuddly toys. (Yeah, it was weird, in a way only a city full of hipster designers can be!)

And then we came across Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai’s only true elephant sanctuary. We were finally able to visit a herd of elephants with good consciense! (We had good conscience, I can’t tell you about the elephants – cheeky, a few of them were, I suspect.) The Thai woman who began this elephant sanctuary actually has royal protection as she has received so many death threats for being so determined to rescue Thailand’s elephants from illegal logging, and an often undignified and cruel tourism trade. Here is a video I made all about this part of our trip:

There are over 40 elephants spread around 300 acres, and they aim to try and rehabilitate some into the jungle where possible. There is no riding, no shows, humans are the ones that have to step back when an elephant goes where it wants to go – it was perfect and totally soul-lifting. family travel thailand - elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai

We only had 8 days in Thailand so tried to tick off a few Must Dos – i.e a massage. Mine was done by a blind man, a member of the Association for Blind Massage, a Chiang Mai social enterprise. It was completely brutal. Sheesh. I almost cried – except that I didn’t want the big Thai lady getting a massage next to me, who did huge, smelly burps every time her masseuse rubbed her back, to think I was a wuss. But I did feel about an inch taller afterwards. Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand - elephants and pad thai

Less of a typical “Thailand Must Do”, but a major “Our Family Must Do” was a visit to the local Chiang Mai flea markets. Unexpectedly enormous and filled with old delights, the Prince Royal College secondhand markets were full of proper Asian antiques, and – the stuff I love- a load of manky household crap. BRILLIANT. I bought, get this, a big Pestle and Mortar. Hahahahaha. It weighs 8 kilos. Exactly what we need in our suitcase at the start of a 3 months travelling adventure. I was like; BAG IT MY FRIEND!

We spent our first few days feeling sad about chained up elephants and also being extremely jetlagged and basically all really mad with each other. But by the end of our time there we were just floating on a massive Pad Thai buzz. Happy that we had spent our baht on some good, ethical stuff.Family Travel Chiang Mai Thailand

What is the trick to finding good ethical tourism? I don’t have lots of great answers. This week showed us just how entangled the industry is with untruth and propaganda. Research as much as possible online (we didn’t touch the local tiger place as I’d read about some awfully cruel practices there), talk to lots of people on the ground, make one or two choices to support local social enterprise. But mostly, realise that travelling is less about ticking off all the “Things To Do” and more about being in a place, eating the food and talking with people. That is where the real experience is to be had. I reckon.

Like, if we’d filled up our days with all the suggestions of visiting exotic, caged creatures, how would we have found ourselves perched at the foot of a two storey marble cat with a moustache and a handbag, drinking the yummiest mango smoothies ever?

Family Travel, unschooling, yurt life

Heart-thumpingly, fringe-snippingly exciting

23 June, 2015

We are off! We have 15 minutes to go; Tim is making last minute coffees, the girls are bouncing around in the corner simultaneously wrestling and playing Mummies and Daddies (this involves Ramona giving birth to Juno over and over again) and I am doing a sneaky little blog. These sum up our priorities EXACTLY.

We are facing down a 12 hour flight to Thailand, the start of a three month trip that involves frolicking with elephants in Chiang Mai, touring about the UK with our friends and family and then a whizz through San Fran. HOORAY!

We have packed down our little yurt and said cheerio to all our beautiful friends in the Coromandel, for when we get back to New Zealand in September we are going to be moving onto our new land! ARGH!

*reins in the exclamation marks*

I am generally excited about everything right now, this is obvious in how short my fringe is getting- I’ve come to understand that when I am buzzing out a little I tend to gravitate to the mirror and cut my hair.

Here are somethings I am weeing my pants about:

Happy Hair Workshops in Bristol and London
THESE ARE HAPPENING! SO cool! They are open events, everyone is invited, I will be talking through the world of giving up shampoo and toxins and covering other Hippyshake kind of stuff. I did the last New Zealand one of these a few weeks ago, 75 people came and we had an absolute BLAST. So much fun. Please do come! Find the Bristol event here and the London event here.  

 Camp Bestival
One of the funnest weekend in our family’s life was when we took Juno and Ramona to Camp Bestival just before taking off around Europe in our campervan. There is incredible music, stack loads of creativity, an enormous arts and crafts tent; just this weird little universe of families all letting loose together.  I saw a sign there that year, scrawled by a mum, “Families who festival together stay together” – it makes up in truth what it lacks in rhyme.

Partying in the meadows of a castle, with the tunes of musical legends beating down around you, while the children are being entertained by a Picasso inspired style Puppet Show. Nothing beats it. Let me know if you are going so we can hang out…

Annie here has the full download- everything you need to know and here is the Camp Bestival site itself.cb

Staying in super spesh places
We have booked loads of our accommodation through Air BNB for the first time ever. It has been really cool being able to tailor make our wants/ needs and then hit search and discover loads of unique places to stay. In Thailand we are staying at someone’s apartment in Bangkok, next door to an Elephant sanctuary in Mae Wang amongst other places. (It’s possible- but I’m not entirely sure- that if you sign up using this link that I get points… try it and see, it will be like giving me a virtual high five…)

It sort of feels like for the next three months we are going to join that tribe of digital nomads, families blowing on the breeze, lives made possible by the Internet.

Here is a little conversation I had with Juno this morning:

Last, but not least (cos GOSH that would be offensive!) SEEING OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!
About 7 million of my friends have had babies while we have been away, so of course, I CAN NOT WAIT to meet these new souls. And my nephews and niece have grown up into giants so I need to do some serious playing of Hide and Seek and Ninja Mermaids and stuff with them. I get the tingles when I think about crunching all these people I love up!

HOORAY! Right, Tim has turned the car around, we are really, really DOING THIS… think I still have time for one more snip of the fringe though…

Featured, Parenting, unschooling

How to start an Outdoor Play Group

12 June, 2015

I stuck my head out of our door to call the kids in for tea a few days ago. Ramona and Juno and our neighbours had been playing on the 6 foot high mud pile outside our house so I was expecting a bit of dirty wreckage…. I wasn’t expecting one of the boys to pop out of the sludgey mountain completely and utterly covered, from scalp to toe. The whites of his eyes shone out of this thick, black, magnificent dirt. They were playing mud ninjas, so, y’know… obviously. It was all I could do not to collapse in a hilarious heap. It was exhilarating to see someone so abandoned and wild and free.

And I was a weencey bit glad he was walking the 50 metres home to his own bath…

One of the things I have loved the most in our last 15 months living in New Zealand has been this sense of being nestled right amongst the mud and trees and birds. Whenever we are feeling a bit down we can just open the door and pick some fruit or climb a tree (time outdoors is one of the five best keys to happiness and we have really experienced that) and the girls are developing a whole education in the natural world. Ramona surprises me almost daily with little observations she has made about the animals that surround us, and then there’s Juno who mostly speaks Animal, with 3 or 4 perfect bird calls under her belt… amidst a tiny human vocab.

“‘Is the spring coming?’ he said. ‘What is it like?’ …
‘It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth.’”

—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Early last year a few of us got together and began an Outdoor Play Group – a group of parents and children that simply play in nature. It is pretty much the one thing in our week that we are committed to, every Tuesday we spend from 10-2 at our friends little slice of wilderness. It is a hugely important part of our lives, where the girls can play uninhibitedly and where I get the chance to be nurtured by time and conversation with other parents. I’ve written before about the many, many reasons to get outdoors and play in the wild. 

Here is a little video I made today about our own outdoor Play Group, Nature Space:

(It looks quite wholesome, I know, and it sort of was, with a lot of chatter about penises and poo muted out!)

I thought I’d put some ideas out there, that might help parents set up their own Outdoor Play Group. Here are 8 steps for setting up an Outdoor Play group – follow these and you could have your own group in a matter of weeks!How to set up an outdoor play group amongst nature

Check that an official Nature Play doesn’t already exist close by

Firstly check there isn’t an official Nature Play Group already in your area – you could be one of the lucky devils able to jump on board with one already rolling. Clare Caro (she is an inspiration) has developed an organisation that is leading a well supported movement of Outdoor Play groups in the UK, under the banner Nature Play. Double check this list to make sure you don’t already have one near you. If you do, find out how to get involved through Clare’s web site.

Find a team
Find two friends who are interested too. I watched a video a few years ago that has stuck with me ever since. It is about how the first guy that jumps up to dance will stay just a loner until a couple of other dancers join him – then a movement begins. (Watch it here. It’ll make you smile!) This goes for beginning pretty much anything and everything. You alone are FANTASTIC but you need two friends to build momentum. Once there are three of you, you are good to go!

  • Ask around your friendship group – you might be surprised who will commit to this with you. It is my experience that almost all parents are looking for ways to be more outdoors with their children.
  • Post on local Facebook groups or community forums- your two buddies might not be known to you yet! “Want to get outdoors with your children more? Let’s begin a regular meet up for parents and children! Looking for two team members, please call.”
  • Ask wider Facebook groups to help you with your search – the Attachment Parenting and like minded groups admins might be able to help, as an example.
  • Go offline- put little notices up in the library and at local Tots groups.

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

—John Muir, Our National Parks

Have an open meeting
Draw on your whole community to give your Outdoor Play Group a good boost right at the start. Get people (parents, La Leche group organisers, wise people, elders, any stakeholders)  in a room to share your vision. Advertise this open meeting widely. This is a great way to pool resources, discover fresh ideas about location, and you could well end up with a list of contacts that might form your first attendees.

Location (public)
Scout for a location. The UK and New Zealand are fortunate to have lots of little woods and reserves dotted around the place, or failing that little pockets of “nature areas” within parks. Ideally you will have a little grove of trees, with a small clearing amongst it, enough space to really roam and feel a little isolated from the busyness of a city, enough peace to be able to spot birds. We are lucky to have a little stream running through our area which makes for a great amount of fun in winter and summer. A tiny pond would also be great – as would, even, a tree-less beach. Is it free from buildings and human-made structures? It’s a winner. Even if it’s a public place, being in touch with the council about your plans could be really valuable.

Location (private)
If you don’t have anywhere public try thinking about private spaces. There are privates gardens, or backyards of neighbours or stretches of land owned by trusts… get together with your team mates and start getting in touch with people.  I am sure you will be surprised how many private land owners would be delighted to step in and help provide a beautiful space for your group.

Get grounded in the principles of Outdoor Play
How hard can it be, right? Walk outside, play in the nature. Sort of. I like to think that there are some foundations for really free and beautiful parent-child time spent outdoors though. These include allowing play to be totally child – led. Giving space for children to work through challenges, and conflict. Clare has given a lot of thought to this and I massively recommend being inspired by these Nature Play Guidelines together. We introduced ukelele playing at our own Outdoor play group as a way for the adults to have fun, and to give the children more space to explore autonomously. We were finding that idle parents can spend too much time focusing on their children and almost interrupting their play.

Sort out the deets
Find a day and a time that suits your core team. We do Tuesday 10 – 2/3pm because we all make lunch and eat together. The official London South East Nature Play group do 10-12 on a Thursday. Figure out the slot that will suit you three, trying not to overlap with another local group that parents might attend,  and then let others arrange their timetable around you.

Promote it
Nothing’s really stopping you now, apart from other families joining you! Start a Facebook group and start inviting people to it, visit local tots groups and make an announcement at the end of each group, put flyers up around local venues. It can take 6 months to a year for a group like this to really build up. If there are three families committed to this you will be able to ride this bumpy first stage, as people come and go and get a feel for it. Soon enough you will be maxed out!

Hooray! Here’s to your own mud bath, river paddling, weed ripping, fire toasting Outdoor Play group!

“These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.”

―Anton Chekhov, “A Day in the Country”

Parenting, unschooling, writing, yurt life

What to do when the people you love don’t love what you do

8 June, 2015

A few months go we met up with an old family friend we hadn’t seen in yonks. We’d kept in touch, were really close and were excited about spending time together as we passed through her town. We only had her one hour lunch break so you can imagine our surprise, and sadness, that she spent almost the entire time letting us know in not-so-subtle ways that she was disappointed with what we had decided to do with our lives.

She questioned our decision to live in an unconventional dwelling, telling us our yurt wouldn’t stack up against health and safety regulations. She berated us for not using our good degrees, wondering why we had settled for such simple employment.

We knew some of our family and friends wondered about the same stuff, they’d let us know, respectfully, that they worried about our relaxed parenting style and lifestyle decisions. But we hadn’t ever been grilled for an hour, so upfront and disparagingly.

We were hurt.

But we got over it.

Because we are one hundred per cent convinced that we have made the right decisions, to give up our jobs, to move across the world, to start living in a yurt, to buy land with another family, to parent in a consensual, rights-respecting way. We have reflected hard and researched hard and then followed our hearts, and we think this is the only way to do life. We are pretty sure footed about this path we’ve settled on.

Most of the time.


I had an email this week from a reader who is experiencing similar backlash about her and her partners desire to shake off the mortgage and hunker down for a more simple life. And it got me thinking about how common this is. People we care about letting us know that they don’t like our disregard for the status-quo. It got me jotting down a few thoughts.

Haters gonna hate?
When I am feeling defensive about all of this, it is easy to say “Haters gawn hate” in my most badass voice. But the truth, I know, is that these people aren’t haters. This isn’t a post about all the anonymous folk that comment on Daily Mail articles about hippies weaving a house out of the old uniforms of veterans. This post is about the lovers in our life who don’t like the way we live. Our siblings, and besties, and cousins, and parents.

They love us
And here is the thing. They love us. It is probably the main reason they tut or roll their eyes or outright berate us over lunch. It is easy to forget this when we are feeling got at. Sometimes it is hard to believe that love can ever look so reproachful. But it can. And we have to remember that.
They are scared
Why would people that love us want to criticize important decisions, especially ones that we have thought so hard about? They are scared for us. They haven’t ever seen people stray from the 9-5 working day. They worry that we will be left high and dry, age 93 without a bean to our name apart from dementia. If we come from well off families, it might look as if we are throwing off the responsibility that wealth can bring. If we come from hard – up families it might look as through we are chucking all their hard work spent raising us away.

And also sometimes they are worried because they think they have seen this before. I recently read a book that looked at the macro picture of The Sixties and it was pretty revealing about how older generations might see our lifestyle now and worry about where it is going to lead. It is easy to look back on the sixties and think, oof, all those hippies had it SUSSED! But in their shrugging off of social norms they really did shrug off a lot of good stuff, too. For example, it seems as though part of their dive into sexual freedom meant they leapt away from commitment, and even, sometimes, consent. I think the liberal, progressive days of the sixties paved the way for today- where we are able to take radical concepts and run with them- so ‘nuff respect for that- but our parent’s generation see this and think we are going to end up like the burnt out, drugged up, love crumpled hippies of the Sixties. And they are scared for us.

Reassure them
Are you able to pinpoint what people are afraid of, on your behalf? If so, you can reassure them, without having to change your decision making. This isn’t about having to explain yourselves, which can get tiresome in the extreme, but putting it out there, explicitly , that they do not have to be afraid.  Sometimes I think people are worried that we have simply “fallen” into this lifestyle, that our parenting is simply accidental laissez faire, as opposed to being a parenting style we have researched DEEPLY. They think our lack of proper jobs is to do with not asserting ourselves, of accepting something less than our full potential. Often, we don’t have to actually explain our position, we simply just need a few choice sentences that can address those deeper fears.

  • We have researched this extensively and believe this is exactly the right decision for us.
  • This is intentional, not accidental.
  • We have a plan.
  • We believe this is the way we can fulfill our full potential.
  • We are committed to our family’s safety.
  • This is the way we can achieve full mental and physical well being for all of us.
  • We have reflected upon the risks of this and are going into this with eyes wide open.

Let other people explain your thinking
We have a book that we sometimes call upon and give to people. It explains our parenting style from a philosophy which many of our family come from (Christianity.) Close family members can be very open to reading materials given to them, and this can be a much easier way of getting ideas across than through conversation. Having someone else explain something can validate it and articulate it better than our flustered, sometimes defensive, selves! This can lead to some quite open and honest conversation.
We can focus on connection
There are loads and loads of reasons Tim and I have opted to stray from the mainstream when it comes to our parenting, our children’s education, our jobs, our home and, well, you know, whole life. Some of them include “because we have given a lot of thought to the idea of schools and think that, for the most part, they stifle learning, stampede over human rights and crush a child’s spirit” also “we don’t have 9-5 jobs because the idea that you are what you earn or that we must find value in being busy, busy, busy is a load of crap” HOWEVER… we don’t tend to say this out loud to many people, y’know?

If it feels like a conversation is honestly and openly spirited, that people have authentic questions, then we are MORE than happy to have a deeper discussion about our reasons. But if it is just a quick talk, or we sense any hostility, than we try and focus on topics that are inarguable:

  • We want to spend this quality time with our children while they are young
  • We want to spend loads of time outdoors, enjoying nature
  • We want our children to experience as much love as humanly possible
  • We have plenty of time later on, if we want, to be more ambitious
  • Children are natural born learners and we want to provide as much chance for them to follow that up as possible

These are the kind of sentences that we think provide a way to connect. They are likely to get people thinking, ah, yeah, I can get on board with that idea. (For the most part, we just say the first one, over and over again, on a loop,  like a politician on the radio, exercising the media training they’ve been given.)

Your life fits you alone
And then, when all is said and done, you are the one living your life. Only you and your family know the right decisions for you. There very much comes a point when we need to stand tall, with our feet on the foundation of our good decision making! We have researched, reflected, looked inside our hearts and out, and we are living the life that fits us alone!

There is a beautiful quote, a slightly less street way of saying “Haters gonna hate” about how an entire sea of water can’t sink the ship, unless it is allowed in. Lulastic parenting lidestyle blog New Zealand

What is going to help you batten down the hatches? To seal up the portholes and fill in the cracks?

I feel at my least vulnerable, and least defensive, and least likely to let a dribble of water into our ship when I have these things:

  • A tribe. A group of people who think like us! Who make our parenting look normal, our yurt look awesome, and our lack of office jobs look ideal. At various times in our lives this has looked like online forums, regular attachment parenting meet ups, bi-annual unschooling camps, even moving to a place where questioning the status quo is a healthy normal. (Here in the Coromandel, New Zealand, living an eco, sustainable, progressive life is very common and it was a big reason we chose to move here.) Come on over and find a tribe at our Facebook page too..

  • This is our friend’s beautiful yurt. We actually know tons of people that live in buses or tents or handmade homes – life can be very good without enormous mortgages.

  • Lots of information. I am zealous about books and studies. I read and read. I keep up with neuroscience so that I can explain the importance of attachment, I keep up with the baby mortality stats so that I can counter any argument to cosleeping, I read everything I can about how children learn, I get my head around the unsustainability of our current housing situation and seek to understand what are the fundamentals for happiness and well being. I RARELY pull these out of my quiver and fire them – it might be tricky to do so uncombatatively! But for my own sake, this all helps me feel confident in the choices we are making.
  • Ongoing family discussion. Tim and I talk a lot about this stuff. It is important that we are together on this journey of understanding. We go over quick fire parenting decisions we have had to make, we discuss books we are reading about sustainability. We sometimes take a while to catch up to each other but we are in it together. A crew learning the ropes. (Oh lordy, I am completely unable to put my ship metaphor away!)

I want to just take a second to validate you. It’s going to be a slightly emosh second as I am feeling quite full of heart that you are here, reading this, one of us … You aren’t alone… we are all here and we can cheer each other on.

If you are questioning the mainstream and seeking to live a life that takes less of a toll on the earth, you are of a crowd that is going to go down in history, that will be thanked by our grandchildren’s grandchildren! They shall call you a legend.  If you are making presence and peace and love your ambition, and don’t really have two pennies to rub together, you are rich. If you are nurturing your child’ spirit, determined to let them spread their wings, to live as partners in this dance of life, if you choose empathy over control,  you are nourishing a generation that will take this love and build a new world with it. 
I am sure I have only scratched the surface of this topic! I would be absolutely stoked to hear some of your own thoughts on this hefty topic.