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Featured, Parenting

Roadschooling: Two parents, four boys, one bus and the whole of New Zealand for the rest of their lives

6 November, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting

Birthdays and baths and breastfeeding mermaids

19 September, 2014

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

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

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

So…

Tim has finished the yurt extension and installing some solar panels. We now sit in a little cabin add- on in the evenings, with the lights on, reading and talking and feeling properly smug and snug! It is only about 3m x 3m but we are absolutely stoked and are filling it up with treasure found in the local dump shop.
photo (1)

I turned 32 last week and for the third year in a row we went camping. This time last year we were broken down in Italy – can you BELEIVE that has been a year? This time we managed to not break down but we visited our most favourite place in NZ. You dig a whole on the beach and it feels with hot water from a deep spring (imaginatively called Hot Water Beach hehehe.) We made an epic pool and sat there until the tide came in and swept cold waves in amongst our spa.photo (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting

Kids at school? Protect their rights and nurture their curiosity

10 September, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting

Wilting rainbows and 20 other reasons to play in the wild

27 August, 2014

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

It was, of course, a sheep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children who play regularly in nature:

 

score higher in tests monitoring concentration

feel more positively towards peers

show far superior motor fitness such as balance and coordination

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

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

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

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

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

“The wilderness holds answers to more (1)

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.

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. 

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