Archives for category: Parenting

shell-sand close upIf we take the time to watch children, and I mean really watch them rather than pre-judging or paying lip service to this as we busy adults are prone to do, then they can do as Rudyard Kipling suggest, ‘teach us delight in simple things’. It doesn’t happen though unless we give them the time and freedom to become truly absorbed in whatever captures their interest, be it an unusual stone, an insect or inviting puddle.

If you’ve ever tried to walk anywhere fast you’ll know how much there is for young children to marvel at in everyday life and how open they are to its possibilities. Us adults in contrast miss so much by virtue of being in a rush and plagued by preconceptions. With this in mind storytelling guru #MiltonErickson implores adults to look afresh at our environment saying “Did you know that every blade of grass is a different shade of green?” 1 In so doing we can open our minds to new possibilities and be rewarded with wondrous awe and wonder, discovering a wealth of patterns, symmetry, joy and inspiration in everyday nature.

If you need a reminder of nature’s awe and wonder then google ‘sand grains microscope’ on the internet and be amazed by the gloriously detailed, highly patterned images that you will see.  I guarantee you will never look at a sandy beach in quite the same way again! Inspired by the sticky globule left by some gorgeous Longiflora lilies, my 11 year old dusted off her magnifier to take a closer look. What followed said it all, as she gasped with awe as a multitude of dash-like lines came into view. How fitting then that her science homework was to create a cell? Choosing a plant cell to make, she set to work with jelly, a bouncy ball and loom bands to create the different #cell parts! If you want to have a go at making your own cell or even a cellular cake, check out http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Model-Cell. For more microscopic inspiration treat yourself to The Natural World Close Up (Giles Sparrow, 2011). Much more than just a coffee table book, children and adults alike will be wowed by the close up views of nature revealed. So go ahead and enjoy nature close up this weekend.

1 (My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson, Sidney Rosen, 1991).

Image source – http://geology.com/articles/sand-grains.shtml

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From Japan to Malaysia and America to Australia, helicopter parenting it seems is a universally recognised phenomenon credited with reducing physical activity, stifling risk-taking and creativity and developing depression in children. We know of the health and emotional benefits of children accessing outdoor environments, but should they really have to do so in order to recover from the stresses of everyday life? With children’s lives increasingly mapped out, filled by an endless stream of classes, clubs and tutoring designed to give our children the best start in life, it is ironic that freedom to play with sticks, stones and mud outdoors may actually be what children need best.

I firmly believe that our role as adults is as ‘memory and meaning makers’ for children. It is also about instilling children with the confidence to explore the unknown, take calculated risks, make mistakes and ultimately learn from these. This cannot happen if children are cosseted and deprived the freedom and opportunities to practice making decisions.

So how do you make decisions in your household over what to do and when? Do the adults make all the plans? Are the children in control or do you manage to achieve the holy grail of calm consensus? With a background in consensus building – it’s what I used to do to help disparate groups make decisions and galvanise action, I find these same techniques have currency in family life too. That’s not to suggest that processes like these should happen all the time, as that would tip this into the realms of micro managing and would be far too unspontaneous for my liking, but when I get out coloured paper and start cutting it into business card size pieces, the excitement among my 7 and 10 year old is palpable. In fact they have now taken over the paper cutting stage of the process! What makes it all the more special is picking a good family moment, like a leisurely Saturday morning breakfast, where the plan evolves magically from a table strewn with paper and cereal packets.

We start by each writing our own priorities on separate pieces of paper. The only rule is that this needs to include a couple of essentials like ‘tidy my bedroom’ or ‘put my clothes away’, after all this is essential preparation for life.  Once finished all the ‘cards’ are turned face down and we take it in turns picking a card to turn over and read. If we agree with the idea we leave it face up, if not it is turned over. Any cards left face up at the end of this stage have been agreed by us all without a smidgen of sibling rivalry. With a firm foundation of consensus we then look at the face-down cards to agree what should happen to these ideas. Often the reason the card was turned over becomes readily apparent, with ideas like ‘Go to the moon’ having crept in from my 7 year old! We talk about why we can’t, in this case go to the moon, and then I secretly plan a moon-themed tea anyway, because, why not? Sometimes we add headers for Saturday and Sunday to start to plan each day, other times we just go with the flow.

If you’re thinking that this all sounds too planned and contrived for your liking, don’t worry there’s plenty of scope for being spontaneous. Some of the actions are as quick and simple as ‘buy a bone for the dog’, while others involve much more preparation and time, and some, dare I say it chore-orientated actions never seem to get done! So last weekend a trip to Ikea was agreed but there was still time and space to combine this with our first family trip to Lakeside, bungee trampolining and meatballs, (beef and pork I hope), at Ikea for tea! Consensus building may not be for everyone but for us it is a fun and satisfying way to avoid wasting time bickering in a family with two independent-minded children. Most importantly perhaps it’s a delight watching children’s growing sense of responsibility and pride at being listened to and valued, as their vision and ideas, even that trip to the moon, are realised.

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I’m convinced that collecting is in the blood. Just as infants are intuitively drawn to explore novel and familiar objects with their hands and mouth, you may have noticed how babies and children playing with the treasures in a Treasure Basket frequently appear to sort the items into different piles – the significance of which sadly we will never know. I also firmly believe that in the right hands (and mind) anything and everything can form a collection and provide satisfaction and meaning in the way it is arranged. Like the shiny drawing pins which I’m guessing were hastily removed from my son’s door judging by the paper signs strewn all over his floor.  I ventured to ask if he knew where the pins were as walking barefoot was in danger of becoming hazardous and he replied with evident satisfaction “They’re here guarding my shark’s teeth!” True to his words his lining up schema had metamorphosed the humble drawing pin into protection for his precious shark’s teeth. His arrangement of special pebbles and finds, which may look like clutter to the untrained eye, to this 6 year old is tantamount to a shrine! I marvelled at the ingenuity and wonderful fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination needed for the feat of balancing the pins without piercing fingers and wondered whether this is how the idea of barbed wire came to be?

On walks to the river through the industrial estate passersby will see another favourite form of collecting in motion. With eyes peeled on the dusty ground for scrap metal, the intrepid metal detectives transport their hoard of finds on bike and scooter, making for some unusual sights and sounds. Back at home their greasy finds are cleaned ready for use, display or simply left forgotten in the graveyard of useless things found in the utility room.

And now it seems our puppy too has the collecting bug. With walks incomplete without another stick or bone to add to the collection accumulating in the front garden. Yesterday’s log was so huge he looked ridiculous!  So important is this urge that even though evidently keen on a walk and all that that entails, on finding the right stick he has taken to stopping resolutely until allowed to return home, be it 5 metres or 50 meters away!

Now I don’t normally mix blogging with mentioning our resources, but with collecting at the forefront of my mind – we’ve just developed two great new collections, and the comments of Teach Nursery ringing in my ears “Wow I love them. How do you go about deciding what to put in the collections? They’re brilliant”, I thought I’d make an exception. There’s definitely something very appealing and satisfying about developing collections of sensory-rich resources. Maybe it’s the opportunity to look at everyday stuff with child-like eyes and appreciate its awe and wonder or perhaps sheer escapism. What’s clear is that my children also share this passion so the looming summer holidays are destined to bring lots more collecting opportunities with or without sun.

Don’t you just love those moments where a combination of children’s creativity, intelligence and mischievousness shine? One such example last week means that I can no longer look at Salad Hands in the same way!

It happened amidst the usual morning rush when I asked my 6 year old if he could get the sandwiches out of the fridge to go into their packed lunch bags. I knew something was occurring when he sat protectively clutching both bags, something I normally struggle to get him to take responsibility for! When I eventually peaked inside his lunchbox I discovered a pair of wooden salad hands! With a wide grin he explained, “I was going to eat my lunch with them!” On his way to the kitchen he’d spied the salad spoon samples that I’d sourced for a possible product. Sadly supply problems meant the product never actually came to fruition. Shame really judging by how they caught his eye and inspired his imagination.

The image of him sitting at school grappling Edward Scissorhands-like with his wrap has made me smile ever since. A bit like that classic Red Dwarf episode, the one with the mind boggling Mimosian anti-matter chopsticks.  As for his explanation, it was the sort of comment which makes you bristle with pride and know that they’re going to be OK when they grow up! In his sister’s lunchbox he’d included half a chocolate bar. Once rectified and returned to the fridge, this gave great cause for celebration at this wonderful moment of brotherly love.

So often when it comes to working with children our role is critical in either supporting or crushing children’s ideas. The chocolate was easy, being banned at school and only allowed as a rare treat, but what of the salad hands? In my rush I reasoned with him that he would probably get into trouble if he took them to school and he accepted this logic. But since then I can’t help feeling that in doing so I robbed him of his magical idea. Which brings me to tea tonight…!