Thursday, 27 March 2014

Quick and easy ideas for pre-schoolers - Treasure Map

 Following a blog post in "Childhood 101", we've created an Adventure Box in the sitting room.  It currently contains: walkie-talkies, pretend phones, a compass, torches, small fishing nets, bug viewers, binoculars, leaf/flower/mushroom/butterfly identification swatches, and other similar bits and pieces.
After a few days I realised that it really needed a map or two.  I have plans to cut down an out-of-date superfluous OS map to use, but I thought that some hand-made maps were required too.

This week while Bug was napping I set to work with C to make our "Treasure Map".  We'd been talking about it for a few days, so he had some ideas that he wanted to work on.  I started out by getting him to draw the outline of an island, and then we talked about things that we could include.  I drew a couple of items in (the volcano, river and swamp) and then he got the idea and started drawing things on as well.  He drew in a play park and a rain-forest.  Between us we filled in the spaces on the map and then coloured it in together.

I then talked about how we could make the map look old.  He nodded, but was still horrified when I screwed it up.  After I flattened it out and then screwed it up and flattened it out again a couple of times he got the idea that this was part of the effect, not because I was throwing it away!
Next he insisted that I go and make a cup of tea.  Earlier in the week I had mentioned the use of a cold, damp tea-bag to make the map look older, and since the screwing up effect had worked so well, he was keen to see how this one would work.

Making this map took under an hour, and it was a really lovely collaborative hour - definitely time well spent.  He also came away from it with new ideas about how to make things look old, ideas about drawing different things, a little geographical and map-work knowledge, and of course a treasure map that he is delighted with.  Later that afternoon we took a trip out in the car to visit a museum and park that we hadn't been to before (Calendar House and Park in Falkirk for anybody who lives in central Scotland, well worth a visit), and C took his map with him in the car, so that he could give me directions.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 3 – Seek not perfection, or why bad parents are good parents

Tom starts this chapter by outlining a few different cultural variations on how parenting can work, to illustrate the point that there isn't a single "right" way of doing things.  He then goes on to suggest that our construct of the lonely stay-at-home-mum isn't right either.  Far from suggesting that mums should head back to the corporate grindstone as soon as possible (this is Tom Hodgkinson after all!) he suggests that parenting should involve as many people as possible, and be a sociable activity.  That women should not shun work, but seek work which creatively fulfills them, and which they can be flexible with, as required in those early years of parenthood.  Once you make the decision to both work and look after the children, you can enjoy doing both.  We constantly talk about "having to" look after the children... what, those joyful creatures that we chose to bring to this earth?  Surely we can find a way of doing it that isn't a chore.  And the key to that lies in...

...Not trying to do it right.  There isn't a perfect way of bringing up children.  Find the way that works for you and do it.  The best quality a mother can offer her children is her own happiness, contentment and independence - not selfishness, but self-love.  Try to keep a light touch on the tiller and leave the children alone a bit more.  We need more lazy-and-loving-it parenting.  Carry on with your pleasures and  just let the kids tag along, rather than putting their wish for a soft-play trip first and ending up sitting alone with a coffee and a kindle.

Turfing children out into the fresh air not only leads to more time for us to do what we'd like, but it also leads the children to the "fleet of foot, the burning flame in the eye, the natural child, the tough, self-sufficient boy and girl."  In short, being a lazy parent and getting more time for the things we want to do, is good for the children.  (Not advocating neglect of course - there's a clear difference between encouraging independence, and starving and under-dressing your child) 

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I'm sure that I'm like so many other mothers out there when I admit that I spend an awful lot of time worrying about whether or not I'm doing it right.  This chapter is quite reassuring for pointing out what we really all know, that there is no "right".

I'm a stay-at-home-mum, but I admit that I'm quite looking forward to next term when Bug starts pre-school and I'll have at least two mornings every week without having to look after the little ones.  I have many work plans simmering away because I just don't find the time to make them work (too many hours Scouting I think!).  I do feel much more able now to just let them play while I get on with things around the house, from decorating/personalising the inside of the caravan, to chopping trees down and making fires in the garden, doing the ironing or cooking a roast.  Sometimes they come and join me, sometimes I have to abandon my efforts to go and referee a fight or clear up a disaster, and sometimes I don't hear from them for an hour or so... it's all good.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Happiness is...

A brief lesson from the waggy-tailed-one:

Happiness is... playing with the children

Happiness is... my ball

happiness is... lying on the sofa

happiness is... a cuddle

happiness is... running in the woods

happiness is... the beach

I would love to also have added that happiness is... swimming, but I didn't take my camera on our walk this morning when the daft mutt decided to go swimming in the new pond at the nature park.  Happiness is... also food.

Let's face it, dogs just know about the good things in life don't they!

I challenge you to write your own blog post, and link it to this one (and from this one using the comments) about what happiness is, using your pet to illustrate.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

To nap, or not to nap, that is most definitely the question.

When C was a baby he didn't like to sleep.  We spent hours and hours rocking him, feeding him, soothing him, reading to him, patting him, cuddling him and we just couldn't get him to go to sleep, or stay asleep.

When I started to go slightly bonkers through sleep deprivation I decided that something had to be done.  Now, I know this is controversial, but after unsuccessfully trying many methods, we left him to cry (aged about 9 months).

What a revelation!  Within two days I knew that we had done the right thing.  Far from "emotionally scarring the baby for life" (yes, I did get that on one parenting forum I belonged to), his entire personality changed.  Within two days we had a happy, smiling, curious little boy, instead of the crying and whinging I had thought was normal, just because the poor boy wasn't getting enough sleep.  As an added bonus, I was also now getting enough sleep, so was also doing a lot less crying and whinging too.

I was a convert to the absolute importance of sleep.  C now had a settled sleep routine, and slept (mostly well) from 7pm until 7am and also napped.  At the age of three he dropped his regular afternoon nap, but still napped at least once a week until he was four.  He sleeps well now too, aged four and a half.  He's still a real life child, so of course he'll sometimes fight sleep, especially if excited or in a new situation, but generally will sleep from 7pm to 7am most nights.  When Bug came along things were different.  I'm not sure whether it was her sleep personality or whether I was just much more aware of the importance of sleep, and so settled her down as soon as she showed any sign of being tired, but she was always an absolute dream sleep-wise.  She slept well and regularly, and up until a couple of months ago, was still enjoying a very regular two hour nap in the afternoon, every afternoon.

Then she started to show signs that maybe she didn't want a nap, ("I don't want a nap!" was a pretty good clue), her naps were a little shorter some days, and as she was approaching three I became a little less rigid about keeping the routine, and she seemed to cope okay.  I found that, with C at pre-school all morning, it was delightful to be able to go out and do stuff on an afternoon, without having to wait until Bug woke up, and so her naps were dropped more and more often.  I could see she was tired, so we did try to throw in a nap every few days, but they were getting left behind.

Then, last week, she started to wake up between 5 and 6am, instead of her usual 6.30-7am.  One night I woke up to hear her chatting at 3am.  She was completely naked, playing with her dolls on her bedroom floor.  Hubby said he thought he had heard her at about 1am, but he had fallen asleep again.  She was freezing.  She'd been awake for a couple of hours, and it took a good half an hour to settle her back to sleep again.  When I thought about it, I realised that her defiance, tantrums, reverting to baby noises, hitting and general unwillingness to co-operate had all escalated over the last couple of months.  She was really, really tired.

So we are back to napping.  Forget the afternoon activities for a while to give her a chance to catch up on some sleep, and let her nap.  Who knows when she'll be ready, but I have to concede that for now, she isn't.  My children have once again demonstrated to me the importance of getting enough sleep for children's general well-being, behaviour, development and so on.

There is some interesting information on the importance of sleep for children from:
The National Sleep Foundation
NHS Live Well

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Six ways to encourage happy eating

I've had a few comments from friends and family asking what I did to get the children such adventurous appetites.  Their favourite meals include Chinese food, paella, curries, Mexican food and Moroccan meals.  I didn't really set out with any plan, I just enjoy cooking, enjoy different types of food, and have never cooked anything for my children other than what I'm cooking for me and Hubby to enjoy.  And I guess because I love food and cooking so much, I've also done the following:
  1. Involve the children in planning the menu.  I don't mean that you only cook what they want to eat and end up with chicken nuggets every night, but you could get them to choose meals for a couple of nights a week, perhaps encouraging them to look through recipe books, or watch a cooking programme for ideas, or giving them a handful of suitable options to choose from.
  2. Involve them in the shopping.  I know, I know, sometimes children can be an absolute nightmare in the supermarket.  Now that Bug is 3 she no longer sits in the seat in the trolley, and instead fights with C over pushing the trolley.  I find it helps if I give them their own shopping list of about five items (preferably for the meal they have chosen), with pictures.  I don't always have time for this, in which case I say, "Right, C. The next thing I want you to find is...."  They start asking about different products, or suggesting that we try something, which sometimes even means that I try something new too!
  3. Involve them in preparing the food.  My two absolutely love helping to cook.  C is now so proficient at a couple of recipes that I think he'd remember what to do if I wasn't there.  He's getting good at chopping too, though I do need to leave extra food prep time, as they are a lot slower at chopping than I am, and a watchful eye is of course always required.  Bug's favourite part of cooking is "just having a little nibble".  She'll try anything, so I do need to be careful to keep raw meat out of reach, but she'll have a nibble of onion, mushroom, chilli, and herbs and spices various.
  4. Operate a "try everything" policy.  Whatever you put on their plate, they have to try - but if it's something new or something you know they aren't keen on then keep the portion small and don't get upset if they don't eat it all - as long as they've tried it.  For example, C has expressed several times that he isn't fond of mushrooms.  That's fine.  It doesn't stop me cooking with them!  Unless they are chopped up very small, I usually let him know they are there.  I've explained that our tastebuds develop as we get older, so he always tries them.  Usually he then passes the rest over to Bug, who loves them.  
  5. Small portions.  Children's appetites are unpredictable.  Offer small portions, especially if its something new.  A large portion can look a little overwhelming, and if we insist on them finishing a large portion, then we are also encouraging them to overeat even when they are full up - hello, obesity problem!  Better to offer small portions, with the option to top-up with seconds, or some bread or salad.  Last night I made a mackerel dinner, with a lovely tomatoey pasta dish.  I know they like pasta, so they had a good spoonful of that each, but mackerel was new to them, so I only gave them a very small portion.  C wasn't sure on the mackerel, but he did eat most of his serving, and had some extra pasta.  Bug loved the mackerel and had more of that and more pasta.
  6. Eat together around the table.  Its difficult to encourage children to try something new, to take an interest in food or to join in conversation, if you are all sitting watching the television.  Sitting around the table gives the opportunity to learn table manners, and to actually take part in the meal.  We don't do it all the time, but most evenings, dinner is around the table as a family.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Idle Parent - STOP THE WHINING

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 2 – Stop the whining
Tom suggests that we need to achieve a careful balance.  We want to let children play as much as possible (bearing in mind that the last chapter was all about getting them to help around the house), while avoiding spoiling them.  This will stop them whining.

The only other animal that moans and whines is the domesticated dog.  It's an expression of powerlessness and dependence.  They are so used to getting things done for them, that when they want something and it isn't forthcoming, they make the whining noise.  We adults do it too.  Listen to yourself in the workplace when things aren't going as you'd like - you whine to your colleagues.

So what do we do?  We need to either replace the whine with a calm request for help, or we need to teach them to do things for themselves and resolve their own problems.  Routines are good.  Routines, especially when devised in partnership with the children, and allowing time for play, will empower children to get on with things themselves.  We aren't talking about a military style strict regime here, but a simple routine showing what order things get done, applied with a light touch.  Naughtiness is the child's way of rebelling against tyranny, so don't be a tyrant.

Another way of stopping the whining is to stop whining yourself.  Make sure you get enough sleep and aren't too stressed.  Resist the urge to work harder for longer.

Don't give children everything that they ask for.  Saying "no" is not unkind.  Say it firmly and kindly, and mean it.  Saying no to things is helping your child to learn that they don't need those things after all, becoming more self-sufficient and less materialistic in the process.

Learn to say no, avoid situations that lead to arguing and whining (toy shops), and encourage your children to play outside where there is more than enough of everything that they need. 

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I confess that I sometimes catch myself whining at the children.  I hear myself moaning that "it isn't my job to pick up after you wretched kids all day long".  Instead of whining I should either make sure that they have less stuff to leave lying around, or I should teach them to put it away and look after it.

They don't whine all that much.  C has a bad habit of lying on the floor with a pathetic whimper if I'm asking him to do something dreadful like putting his shoes on.  Bug does have a bit of a whine when she wants something, but she's only just three, and hasn't realised yet that her immediate desire or occupation isn't the centre of everybody else's universe - it's a hard lesson.  I'm pretty good at saying "no".  I don't like to get things just because I've been asked.  I like the children to earn them, save for them, or even occasionally to get them as a spontaneous surprise, not just because they've asked for them.  I also agree that avoiding situations when whining will happen is a good idea.  We do occasionally go on shopping forays, where mechanical coin-greedy machines call to the children, where toys are stacked enticingly and where new clothes hang all pristine and wanting to be bought.  In those circumstances I like to set expectations: "We're going shopping.  These are the things that we need to buy:... We will be going to a toy shop but we will just be buying something for... so don't ask for anything else.  You may sit in the silly machine in the shopping centre, but I will not be putting any money in it.  When we've finished we'll go to the park."  Remind them of these expectations as you approach each bit of the shopping trip.  If they know in advance that the answer will be "no", then they rarely bother even asking, certainly not whining about it.  And knowing that they'll get a good run around at the end of the ordeal is also useful.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Loose Parts

It sounds a lot ruder than it is, I assure you!

Have you ever heard of Loose Parts Theory?  I hadn't, but now that I have, I find that it's been part of the way we use our space the whole time!

At C's pre-school they have just revamped the outside space.  There's now a canopy and rubber matting which the grass grows through to make it "all weather".  I was on parent-rota duty there the other day, after the staff had been out resources shopping, so the children spent the morning outside in the garden exploring all the new equipment.  It has now been organised and laid out so that the children have easy access to it, and it was explained to me that this is called "loose parts".

Of course, I went away and Googled it.  Apparently "Loose Parts Theory" was designed by an architect called Simon Nicholson in 1971, in the construction of play spaces for children.  He suggests that the more loose parts there are in an environment, the more engaged and creative the children's play will be.

So what are "loose parts"?
Basically, anything which can be moved, carried, combined and redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.  They can be natural or synthetic, or even edible!  Examples might include: stones, tree stumps, logs, twigs, tyres, planks, pallets, crates, boxes, gravel, pebbles, marbles, moss and lichen, fabric, buckets, spoons and tongs, straws, chalk, rope, string, shells, pine cones, cushions, play props, dressing up clothes, junk, spades, cups, plant pots, cardboard tubes, beads, corks or bottle tops.

And what do you do with them?
You make them accessible, and you encourage the children to play with them however they choose.  You help the children to re-order them at the end of the play session, you replenish them, add to them and change them as appropriate.  And that's it!

If you think about pre-school and nursery settings, and our own homes, you'll probably realise that your indoor space is full of loose parts - things that the children can freely access and use in a creative way.  Whether it's a dressing up box, a basket of pegs, the Lego, the box of blocks, the kitchen cupboard full of tupperware tubs etc.  Indoors it's just about access.  Letting the children know that it's okay to use these things in their play, and teaching them how to put away afterwards.  It's the outdoor spaces that are often missing the loose parts.  You'll see a trike, a scooter, maybe a sandpit or paddling pool, maybe even a climbing frame, swing or play house... but how often do you see the small bits and pieces that the children have free access to?

I thought about this, and realised that in my garden there's a plank of wood, two drain pipes, a stack of plant pots, a pot full of plant labels, a pot full of pine cones and another of pebbles, a couple of piles of logs, a heap of chopped back pine tree branches, a tray of sand, a couple of buckets and a handful of spades.  Yes, I'm pretty confident that my outdoor space has lots of loose parts that the children can and do play with freely (though its pretty messy after a stormy winter, and not at all beautifully organised).  Our pre-school now definitely has loose parts outdoors, and the children are loving the change.  While I was on duty a small group had arranged tyres, planks and other bits and pieces to be a ship.  Some of the younger ones were simply arranging and rearranging pebbles and pine cones in the tyres using buckets and wooden spoons.

Loose parts definitely seem to lead to creativity on a new level.

What loose parts do you have in your play space at home or in a play setting, indoors or out?  And how do you arrange them for maximum accessibility and inspiration?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Family Home Organisation Hub

In my home we don't have one of those gorgeous family calendars with a column for each member of the family.  No.  We're up to date with the technology.  We use Google Calendars.  Hubby and I both have access to one another's calendars on PC and phone, so we always know what the other person is up to, and won't end up both out leaving nobody to watch the children.

We aren't totally paper free though.  They say the kitchen is the hub of the home, and it certainly is in ours.  I love bits of paper, lists and organisation, so the kitchen is full of them!  I'm sure there are tidier ways to organise family life, but I haven't got that far yet.  Here are a few examples of the organisation bits and pieces in my kitchen:
This is our weekly reward chart.  The columns are days of the week, the rows are for "routine, obedience, helpfulness and kindness" as well as a bonus row.  The idea is that the children end up with at least 20 smiley faces remaining at the end of the week for some form of small reward, such as a book, some bubbles, a magazine etc.

Here are our routines.  The morning routine takes us from getting up through to going to pre-school, there's a short one for lunchtime (C. quite often gets lost between coming home and remembering to go to the loo and take his shoes off), and there's one for the evening, which tells the children what they should be doing between 5pm and bedtime.  They are quite simple, and picture based, with no times attached, just so they can see what they should be doing next.  I can point them to the routine instead of nagging them (in theory!).

my to-do list.  It covers three weeks at a time.  There's a column for Scout tasks, a column for potential business/money-making tasks, and two columns for everything else.

Hmmm... not so very tidy.  You can see my to-do list, but you'll also see a visual timetable for the week showing broad activities for am, pm and evening, my purse, and a pile of letters and info from pre-school, as well as the enrolment information handbook from the Primary School. 
the notice board.  On the whiteboard part there are phone numbers for local police, neighbours and baby-sitters, the evening meal plan for the week and the shopping list.  On the pin board are birthday party invitations, a playdough recipe, the dates for different bin collections, our recycling centre card and swimming pool opening times among other things.

How do you organise your family life?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Picnic on the model railway

Today I've been doing some more work on the model railway.  My landscape corner has been waiting for some attention for some time:
My waterfall.  I did some experimenting to get the white water effect.  Underneath the stream is just painted blue.  I stuck cling-film to it with PVA and then blew it with a hairdryer to shrink it.  The trees are ready-made ones.  
This is C's corner.  Now that the fence is finally completed we can add some sheep without worrying that they'll cause problems on the train line.
Grandad made this engine shed for C for Christmas.  He even used real coal for the coal hopper.
Daddy has doubled the size of the layout, but hasn't yet got as far as extending the track.  I'll have to get a move on with scenery, buildings etc. to keep up with the expanding layout!
This bit has been added today.  I made the picnic bench by cutting small pieces of cereal box card.  I then stuck two of these together to add depth and strength and painted them with acrylic paint.  Finally I stuck them in place with PVA.  The people aren't very detailed, but I bought them as a job lot on e-bay, and some of them are in a seated position, so ideal to add to the bench.  I also added a man on the edge of the river, admiring the waterfall.  The picnic bench is a scrap of fabric which I cut with pinking shears.  Now I just need to add some picnic!  You can see to the side a bit of real life twig and lichen.  I'm not sure what it's supposed to be, but I'm conscious that I don't really have enough plants or shrubs yet.
This is my footbridge, which I'm quite pleased with.  It's made in a similar fashion to the picnic bench described above, using several layers of cardboard box card stuck with PVA, painted and then very gently PVA'd into place.  I've also stuck on a man looking out at the river below.  I've just got to hope that C and Bug remember my admonition not to try to move or play with the characters on the scenery, as they are now stuck in place!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Happy Days

I just thought I'd post a little ramble about family life today, as it's proving to be a week of pottering.

I started the week on great form, and have been extremely pleased with my progress through my weekly "to do" list - I might even get to the end of it this week, though to be fair, that relies on the weather making up its mind to be nice over the weekend so that the gardening jobs get done.

Tuesday night saw a positive Scout Focus Group meeting in Dundee, talking about proposals for changes to the 18-25 year old Section.

Wednesday morning, C was unwell.  He basically sobbed and felt very hot and lay on the sofa the entire day.  No pre-school.

Thursday morning he came down to our bedroom and lay on the floor (not wanting to wake us), Hubby woke up and discovered him there, feeling sick.  An hour later he was sick, and then he spent the rest of the morning fast asleep in bed.  At lunchtime he got himself up and dressed and has been right as rain, though a little tired, ever since!  Illnesses are strange!  Thursday night I was chairing our Scout District Leaders' Meeting, which was quite well attended, and went well, considering we had lots of quite "bitty" content to cover.

Today C was back at pre-school.  Bug and I did a bit of grocery shopping, while the weather changed in seconds from lovely sunshine to wind and snow and then back again.  This afternoon I had a trip to the Docs, not one of the fun ones (I mean the appointment, not the doc, she was lovely), and asked one of my awesome neighbours to watch the children for me.

Now we've got to the weekend.  Hubby is out Scouting tomorrow, so I'm planning a trip to the garden centre with the kiddies.  We need some ericaceous compost and planters for the blueberry bushes that the children have been asking for, and which arrived today.  And while we're out, we'll head to the RSPB Loch Leven reserve where I can top up my bird food stocks and we can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while looking out at a loch full of birds.  Sunday we have no plans, so it might be a pottering at home day, or we may head out for an explore, and I have Loch Katrine on my radar, though the boats don't seem to be running at the moment.

So... what's got done this week?  Aside from the things I've already mentioned, looking after and playing with the children and things like housework, laundry, dog-walking, exercise etc. I've booked tickets for a children's ballet visiting the Macrobert theatre at the end of March, bought some fabric for a skirt I'm making, bought some printer ink, sent joining instructions and planned for the Scout training course I'm delivering on Monday night, updated the training records for a couple of Scout Groups in the District, collated numbers and deposits ready for our District Camp in May, had a think about some validation methods for section leaders for different Scout training and compiled an Easter Quiz which we are using as a fundraiser for the pre-school.  It doesn't sound  like all that much when it's written down like that!  Actually I did also go to bed early on Wednesday because I was feeling pleased with myself and I wanted to finish the book I was reading (Longbourn, by Jo Baker - a reimagining of the story of Pride and Prejudice but from the point of view of the servants - I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks for the loan Mum).

I've still to gather bits and pieces to sell at the Perth Jack and Jill Sale next Saturday (the stall will be raising funds for Pre-school); I want to finish modelling my picnic bench and picnic on the corner of the model railway, write a magazine article on the origins of nursery rhymes, sort out the greenhouse and tidy up the flower beds in the front garden, so quite a busy weekend in store!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Three Stars and A Wish - a technique for talking about achievements (and issues)

I first came across this technique when I was a Primary School Teacher.  As a way to ensure that I was being positive about a child's efforts, and also as a tool for the children to use when they were peer-assessing.  You have to think of three great things (or things that the child has clearly made an effort with) about the piece of work, and then one thing that could be improved.  For example: *You've really tried to join your handwriting; *I love the first line of this story, it makes me want to read more; *You've used good adjectives to describe Goldilocks; WISH - please read through afterwards to make sure you've used full stops.

So how does that relate to parenting?  I've found this a great technique to talk to C about his day.  It wouldn't work at all with Bug, as she's only just three and still lives in the moment.  If I asked her three things she's proud of from the day, then she'd come up with three things from the last five minutes, including things she's been scolded for!  C though is a more sensitive soul, and loves to use this tool to think about how his day has gone.  We don't do it every day, but he does ask for it every now and then when we're snuggled up for a good-night cuddle.  He has to think of three things from the day that he has done really well and is proud of (sometimes I help), and one thing which he wishes he hadn't done or he would like to do better.  So the other day his choices were: *Putting the toys and bikes away in the garden without being reminded; *Getting dressed in the morning quickly and without moaning; *Being brave and getting back on my bike after I'd fallen off and hurt myself; WISH - making a big fuss and getting angry when Bug accidentally stood on my game.

As you can see, it's a good way of getting the child to think about the things they do well, but also what they could do better; and if the evening has been a bit of a disaster, it's nice to talk about the good things that happened in the day just before sleep time.

What parenting techniques do you have?

Sunday, 2 March 2014


I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 1 – Bring Back Child Labour
 Here in the West we view parenthood as hard work.  We seek ways to entertain our children, to prevent them from becoming bored and to develop them.  The best way to make parenting easier, is to simply do less of it!
Start by doing less.  Don't rush to do everything for the little darlings, just stay in bed a little longer and see what happens.  The answer is: it will make them more self-reliant.  Not only does this make life easier for us, but it also makes things better for them, both in the short term where they feel they are making a useful contribution to family life, but also in the long-term where they seek to sort themselves out rather than relying on the world to support them.  Children who have too much done for them do not have the ability to do things for themselves - the parents are even expected to know the location of the minutiae of childish life.. "where is teddy?"  "Where is my PE bag?".  Children are actually happier when they can do things for themselves.
One way we need to do this is not to make the work "workish", it needs to be part of what we do to be independent people, and a little bit of fun mixed in can't be bad either.  Tom even suggests that the more the children do, the less they will whine, because only the powerless whine.
One way we can do this is by just enjoying the child's company, making things and doing jobs around the house together.  Tom does concede that this can be tricky.  Children see through the media that other children are coddled and cossetted, and spend their time in front of screens, so may protest that they are expected to do more.  Trying to force them to do things makes them resentful - it's about getting them to want to contribute.  The well-being and common good of the family comes above the whims of an individual.  Part of this is to enjoy your own contributions to the home, not to moan about the big pile of ironing!  It's all about doing things together and making it all into a game.

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

 This is all very well, but this morning I asked 4 year old C to put his pile of clean washing away in his wardrobe - despite the fact that he is completely capable of doing so, ten minutes of lying on the floor and moaning followed before I finally shouted at him and got him to come and do it (I could have done the job myself four times by then).  An hour later I ask who will help me make the coffee, and this time I have two volunteers, and the one who was slower off the mark (C), this time has a melt-down because he couldn't help!

I have given the children the responsibility for keeping their own bedroom clean and tidy, and also one other room, which rotates through the family, and I have a timer set for a "ten-minute tidy up" before pre-school every day.  In reality, at the ages of three and four, they still need showing what to do, and to be guided through the clean up.  Bug loves to help load and unload the washing machine and hang clothes.  C has found new joy in walking down the road to where a neighbour sells eggs on the doorstep, and putting coins in the honesty box and bringing back eggs.  They both have their own bit of garden.  Both love cleaning windows (we'll overlook how badly!).  C loves to wield the vacuum cleaner.  Both love to get involved with the cooking and to prepare their own breakfasts.

At this stage I'll settle for getting them to do the things that they enjoy helping with, and to try to make other things fun and teach them how to do more things.  I think we've made pretty good progress for their age, and am hoping that despite his teenage horror at being asked to do things sometimes, C is actually pretty helpful around the house and has the potential to continue in that vein.

I'm not terribly good at enjoying the housework myself.  I do get satisfaction from doing it, but have been known to go down the martyr route, talking about how "I'm constantly following you two around the house cleaning up after you"

How do you get your children labouring around the house?