Browsing Tag


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.

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.


Goodbye, dream job! (Gandhi made me resign)

4 November, 2013

When I was a tiny tike, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d reply “A farmer’s wife!” OH MY DAYS! My hard working feminist mum must have had an absolute CONNIPTION! I can just imagine her response to my seven year old self; “Er, why not just be a farmer, Lu? There was this thing called emancipation?” Mind you, for much of my childhood I also wanted to be called “Girl Eric” so my mum was probably used to my clumsy handling of gender issues.

I soon changed my mind about the farming and began chasing the dream of acting. It was pretty serious; after school I landed a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama. But during my gap year in New Zealand I fell head over heals in love with the country and the people and decided under no circumstances could I possibly leave! I gave up my spot at Central and, in a huge swerve towards the straight and narrow, began studying theology. A life in the ministry wasn’t for me, but I knew with conviction that I wanted to spend my life trying to make the world a bit more loving, beautiful and peaceful. I ended up completing a degree in social policy and even working in that field for a few years. When I moved back to London with a beaut kiwi husband I decided I wanted to work in similar fields of social justice but with a more global theme, so began a post graduate degree whilst doing some part time work for Oxfam.

Graduating from the London School of Economics, I was, along with all the other Bright Young Things in my year, gobsmacked that people weren’t grabbing at our sleeves as we walked along the street to hire us. There followed a few months of soul destroying unemployment; one time that I was absolutely CONVINCED I’d found THE job for me only the silly sausages didn’t know! And they hired someone else! Ooof. All the tears were cried that day.

And then, miraculously, in a dearth of London based social justice-y roles, I landed a full time, open ended role with Oxfam as a campaigner in their London office. Hello, Dream Job!

For four years I trained volunteers, planned awareness raising events, lobbied politicians and generally made as much racket as possible about global poverty. I flipping loved it. There was a real atmosphere of imagination and creativity and, most of all, purpose. One of my favourite projects involved taking a bunch of activists over to Copenhagen on the Climate Train for the climate change talks, we did a load of media and joined in with the protests of this global earth loving movement.

And then I began having kids.


During my pregnancy and the start of my first maternity leave I was all “My important work can just pause while I get this parenting thing out the way” but the more time I spend with my children and the more I read about child development, the more I see it as Important Work.

I am certain now that parenting, and adult-child interaction, plays as much of a crucial role for social justice as campaigning.

I read this quote from Gandhi today, and as always, he nails it:

“If we are to reach real peace is this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously the whole world is hungering.”

So, the other week, I resigned from Oxfam. As you know, I’m on maternity leave right now gallivanting around Spain in a camper, but after Christmas we are heading to New Zealand for a few years so I inevitably had to send that email. But it felt pretty big. As if I’m not just resigning from my dream job, but from a whole career.

Because somehow now I want to pour my whole life into this idea of peace and justice beginning in childhood. It’s not that I see it as more important than the work of development agencies but simply newer. We are only just beginning to understand the nature of the relationship between our treatment of children and the well being of society, it’s a massively under-resourced area.

I’m definitely too lazy to become a Professor of Neuro-science but perhaps I could get involved through more writing, even blogging… a different campaigning job… a Forest School… *flies around in a super hero coat trying to fix childhood*

I’ve oscillated wildly from thing to thing before, dreams evolve, so new dream jobs emerge, right?

Although if you ever spot a New Post from me with the title “Life as a farmer’s wife” you have permission to comment with a sweary emancipation themed rant.

PS Yes, we made it to Spain! We have pootled down through Longrono and Zaragoza to the coast where we plan on trundling right the way round. The sun is still hot, the people are so warm and the grape vines are turning fiery red along the road side.


Ch-ching: A Tory raid on childhood

22 April, 2013

The joy of icebreakers, eh? My favourite one is where you say one truth and one lie and people have to guess which one is accurate. People can NEVER believe that I taught Richard Branson how to do the classic nineties dance move, the Running Man.  I love the incredulity shining out of their peepers. Richard Branson?? The Running Man???

Part of my work involves training people in campaigning techniques and political how-to, so one icebreaker we roll out out involves people choosing a position on the cabinet and then coming up with their first big policy proposal. I often make up both the position and a ridiculous policy; “I’m the Minister for Thrift and my first policy is that people need to have darned the holes in their socks at least 3 times before buying a new pair, and also, charity shops that smell of wee will be penalised”   – because SOMEONE has to be a bit of a clown and try and get a chuckle or at least a smile in these most awkward but obligatory ever-so-slightly-warming-the-frozen-water sessions.

The policy proposals offered up are almost always crackpot, parodies of what cabinet ministers might come up with. The best suggestions (from the people who were aware of the need for icebreakers to be a bit giggly) defied logic, commonly went against common sense and -the cleverest- would reject expert research in the field.

Pretty much exactly like the policies our current government is coming up with. 

I haven’t blogged too much about the Tory’s onslaught on the UK’s poor and vulnerable, their attack on social justice and fairness, the damage they are doing to communities that will be felt for generations. There was just such an inevitability to it, I have been resigned to their benefit cuts and austerity bollocks as it was absolutely bound to happen from the moment a disempowered public nodded their desire for political change. (Not that I’ve been quiet about my disgust, it’s just Twitter has been the primary outlet for my #toryrage.)

They have just been doing what Tories do.

But there have been a couple of ministers in the news the last few days who have really gone for this policy parody effect in a big way. Policy suggestions that would be perfect ice breaker material, but less giggle inducing and more jaw dropping because, of course, these are REAL ministers having ACTUAL ideas that may become policy.

First, Gove suggests longer school days for our already overstretched and exhausted children. Partly to make it easier for working parents (although as Glosswitch points out in her awesome write-up there are already means for children to stay at school until 4:30 through optional  after school activities) but of course, primarily, to “improve performance”   – so our kids can grow up to defeat other countries in the unsustainable and misguided battle for economic supremacy.

And now Truss, Childcare Minister, is working her nonsense on nurseries, suggesting that all the efforts of the childcare industry to represent what experts say about child development should be reversed. She wants our toddlers doing educational, adult led, structured activity to prepare them for sitting in classrooms and eventually becoming obedient citizens.

Forget that play has been overwhelming proved to be the most constructive way our children learn, forget that supporting autonomy in toddlers helps them to be intrinsically motivated for their whole lives, forget that our toddler’s rambunctiousness is a beautiful and natural thing that shouldn’t be repressed by squawking about “unruliness.”

Truss’s comment that the whipper snappers are”running around with no sense of purpose” reveals a distinct lack of tot-time. Being in the presence of a two year old is to be taught a lesson in intention. Ramona is absolutely determined to put every single item daring to lie idly around the kitchen into the washing machine, she is doggedly committed to hiding keys and wallets at every available opportunity and resolute in pouring any liquid she sees into another vessel, and another, and another! It might be messy but she is absorbed in her life’s current purpose- discovering EVERYTHING.

A Tory raid on childhoodShe is only 2 and a half but can write her name – the power of child-led learning! (Total jokes, she doesn’t even know what R looks like and I’m proud! We’ve managed to resist “educating” our tot, and therefore not denying her the joy of finding out something new herself)

We often go to our local nursery to play- they let non-attendees come and enjoy the facilities, and I love to see the free playing these kids do, encouraged and supported by their childcare workers. They are an army of bairns hell bent on exploring and enjoying. It is a wonderful setting, the result of years of robust research about childhood and brain development.

These comments from Gove and Truss are a testament to right-wing belief that the human existence is only worthwhile if it is economically useful, that people are only ever as valuable as their financial contribution to society. Even our children are being reduced to sources of potential GDP. This belief sours faith in people, tears down communities, pits one against another and stomps all over concepts of beauty and creativity.

These suggestions are a raid on childhood, on innocence, on imagination, even on commonsense and research. These ministers are looking at our kids and thinking “ch-ching”- seeing them merely untapped sacks of gold for the Treasury.

These hopes are simply in line with a Tory strategy to create a whole society of financial contributors and quiet obeyers. Of desk sitters who question nothing and accept everything until we are top of the global rung once again.

Despite this terrible intent, it is SO very hard to take them seriously, when every minister seems to be on a quest to make themselves sound the most like a character from “The Thick of It”.

But, we must take them seriously as their quest also involves taking all the goodness out of the world.

Thank this very goodness that the combination of these two things mean they will never ever in a million years get voted in for another term. I say this really confidently now. I believe in people too much. There are too many lovers to allow people haters to run the country.

I think the artists, the rebels, the celebrators of innocence, the wild imaginatives,  the advocates of social justice, the kind neighbours and the protectors of childhood are gathering with an urgent sense of purpose (taught by our pre-schoolers.) There is an unruly crowd calling out icebreakery political quackery and gunning for goodness instead.


PS I am ESPECIALLY mad because these absurd ministers have provoked me out of my baby moon hibernation- an intricate process of helping that pesky, thinking bit of my brain, the neocortex, to retreat so I can labour and birth womb-baby in peace. HUH. If this baby doesn’t come soon it’s those bladdy Tories. *blames everything on the Tories*

PPS I’d hate for you to miss a post… enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I won’t be spamalot, promise!