Category Archives: parenting

Someone to Watch Over Me – Childhood Risks

I’m so pleased that my eldest (almost 7) has finally started to play in the street with her friends.  It is well known that if you ask adults about the most memorable and enjoyable times from their childhood they will almost always involve being out of doors, with friends and with no adults around.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play out in the street, I certainly have clear memories of being 3 years old and doing so.  When we moved from the city to a cul-de-sac before we had children, I hoped that we would find somewhere that our children could play in relative safety from traffic.

This has come at an opportune moment as I have just finished reading ‘Beware Dangerism’ by Gever Tulley, which discusses the irrational fears that we have about our children’s safety and how this makes them less able to deal with risks and challenges.  Gever runs a school called Tinkering School which encourages children to build and take things apart using real tools.  This reminded me of photographs that a colleague of mine shared on her return from visiting forest schools in Denmark.  I saw pictures of under 5’s using sharp knives with great skill to whittle sticks.  She talked of how one of the schools had been on the coast and the children were sent off without adult supervision onto the beach, with the only rule that they were to go no further than the edge of the water.  They were called back hours later by a bell.  This approach reminds me of the hours that I used to spend in the woods near our house as a child.  We used to often pretend we had run away – the idea of being independent was always a thrill I’m sure that I am often looked upon as a bad mother.  On holiday last summer another parent looked horrified as my 18 month old stood waiting to go down a big slide.  I watched as her child looked worried about going down the smaller one and an adult stayed carefully by her side.  I looked at the other parent and said ‘She’ll be fine , she does it all the time with her sister’ as she launched herself down the slide smiling and laughing.  I often see parents holding their children on reins as they attempt to climb in playgrounds, as if they are afraid to let them try anything on their own.  I once had an argument with a lady in a charity shop because I was letting my daughter touch china pots whilst I was next to her supervising.  The lady very crossly asked her to stop and I asked her how my child was expected to learn to be careful with things if she wasn’t allowed to touch them under adult supervision.  I want my children to try things with confidence and not to grow up cautious and timid, I never underestimate what they can do as long as they have clear safety  rules.

Lenore Skenazy has a great blog  that talks about kids and risk taking many daft restrictions on children

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My Top 5 Books for Under 5’s

To mark World book day, I thought I would list my top 5 books for under 5’s .  I have chosen the books that the children enjoy, but also that I do not get tired of reading. There were lots on the shortlist but I think these are my favourites.

  Any of the original Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves.  I loved these as a child and my children love them too.  The stories are witty and clever without being too long and my eldest learned some really sophisticated vocabulary from them when she was 3 .  When I was a child (much older than 5) my aunt worked in a bookshop and we would visit her and sit by the Mr Men shelf reading all the ones we didn’t have.  Timeless.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne – not strictly for under 5’s but my eldest had a real thing about Winnie the Pooh when she was 3, to the point that Piglet was her imaginary friend and went everywhere with us.  We used to have to listen to the audio books (with Stephen Fry and Judy Dench) in the car, but I never tired of them.  This is a book that I first read as a university student and found it endearing and hilarious.  Thankfully the children love it too.  Some of the best quotes come from Winnie the Pooh.

 

 Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell  This is a heart warming story about a creature who is teased because he is different and then strikes up a friendship with another creature.  It has beautiful illustrations and a quirky twist at the end.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child  – I love this one, a traditional story retold in an intelligent and witty way,  in the way that only Lauren Child can.  On my first reading it made me say ‘Wow!’  If you love Charlie and Lola you will love this too.

 

Burglar Bill by Janet and Alan Ahlberg –The comical story of a burglar who steals a box and later finds a baby inside. I really enjoy reading this one and acting out the voices of Burglar Bill and Burglar Betty.  There are lots of funny bits in it that make the children laugh out loud.

 

 

Who are the experts?

A recent TED talk about the limitations of experts led me to pose the above question.  In the education of our children – who are the experts?  For some it is the teacher’s job to teach reading , writing  and good behaviour and it is felt they cannot be questioned  because they are the experts.  For some teachers it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children to behave properly and encourage enthusiasm for learning, so when this doesn’t happen it is the parents’ fault.

As parents we are all experts on our own children, we know them best, their likes , dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and what makes them tick.  The expert teacher may say, ‘he doesn’t join in at music time, I don’t think he likes singing. ‘ The expert parent may reply – ‘he sings the songs all the time at home, he just isn’t comfortable in a large group.’  In contrast, the parent may question  their child’s inability to write his name  and the teacher is able to explain all the things that their child is doing in their play that will build the underpinning skills that are necessary before this will occur.

This highlights to me that we are all experts and as experts together, we need to question and challenge each other to provide the best possible education for our children.  If we believe that we are the only expert with a valid opinion and don’t listen to those who question us, we limit the possibilities for our children.

Of course this creates challenges for schools, nurseries and parents.  In a busy school day it is difficult to find time for parent/teacher discussion so we need to challenge ourselves to find  new ways to share expertise.

http://www.ted.com/talks/noreena_hertz_how_to_use_experts_and_when_not_to.html

Brain Food – Junk Food may lower IQ.

As parents we are keen to get our children the latest educational toy, send them to the best nurseries and pre-schools and give them the best preparation for school that they can.    A research study conducted by the University of Bristol released today suggests that diet at the age of 3 may have an effect on how intelligent our children are at the age of 8.

The study bases its findings on participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) which tracks 14,000 children born between 1991 and 1992.  It suggests that a diet of predominantly processed,  high fat and sugary foods up to the age of 3 may lower IQ at the age of 8.5. In contrast A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients may do the opposite.  Parents were asked to complete diaries outlining the food and drinks their children consumed at age 3, 4, 7 and 8.5.  IQ was measured at the age of 8.5.  After taking other influential factors into account it was found that children with a predominantly processed diet at the age of 3 were associated with a lower IQ at the age of 8.5, irrespective of whether their diet had improved by that age. Similarly children with a healthy diet at age 3 were associated with higher IQ’s at the age of 8.5.  Diet at the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on IQ.  Though the findings are modest, the results are in line with previous research which shows that quality of  diet at the age of 3 is related to school performance and behaviour. A possible explanation is that the brain grows at its fastest in the first 3 years of life, therefore good nutrition may lead to optimal brain growth.

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So much marketing is aimed at parents and children, making parents feel guilty that they are not buying the child the latest ‘educational’ toy or taking them to classes to improve their language and social skills.  So why not use this as an opportunity to market nutritious food for the youngest children as brain food. Three years isn’t that long a time to limit processed foods and it sets children up with good habits for life.  So maybe next time my 2 year old is nagging for a biscuit or sweet I’ll suggest a healthy alternative –  ‘ Have some special magic food , it will make you clever’.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac

Parenting – the most difficult job in the world?

 

I am  a bit of a ‘netmums’ addict.   Today they launched their REAL Parenting campaign, recognising that we should all stop trying to be a ‘perfect’ parent and to relax and do the best we can in our own situation.

As all parents know , raising children is full of ups and downs.  There is nothing more wonderful than watching your child grow and acquire new skills, they make you proud in so many ways.  With all the joy and love that children give they also take from you a great deal.  They take your independence, sleep, money,time, energy, appearance to name but a few.  So why not be realistic and honest for a change – parenthood can be great but its also damned hard work and if we strive to be perfect parents won’t we always leave a little of ourselves behind?

My attitudes to parenting have changed a lot in the past 7 years.  When my eldest daughter was born I had high expectations of the type of parent I would be. We used real nappies, had home made  baby food and no sweets much before the age of 2, she was exclusively breast fed for 8 months and followed a strict routine.  As an early years teacher I was keen to involve her in lots of creative messy activities , it was rare that you would leave our dining table without bits of glitter stuck to your clothes and she only watched television if I sat with her and we talked about it together.

My 2nd child followed a slightly less strict routine, was weaned on finger food because she wasn’t interested in my healthy mush and developed a penchant for ice-cream.  She has therefore had sweet things from little after 6 months of age.  She watches television with her sister and ‘Charlie and Lola’ is the perfect vehicle for keeping her occupied when you want to get on with things. She is in disposable nappies by the age of 2 and rarely paints, glues or plays with dough and clay.

My 3rd wears a mix of disposable and real nappies, has been introduced to one formula feed a day by 3 months old, and has fallen into a pattern of co-sleeping.

With the first 2 children I didn’t return to work until they were almost 2 year old and was happy to stay at home. This time I’m really looking forward to going back into the adult world again and building a  life for myself.  Does this make me a worse mother?  I doubt it , surely a happy and fulfilled person will be best equipped to raise happy and fulfilled children.

My attitudes to parenting have changed , I feel a more relaxed parent (as much as one can be when juggling 3 small children) and have come to the conclusion that if you pressurize yourself too much about how you should behave as a parent , then somehow you lose a part of you. When all concept of who you were before has gone everything suffers, relationships break down, self esteem crumbles and you find yourself talking about the price of nappies and which level of spelling your child is on.

Give yourself a break, we are good parents, our kids will be fine if we instil in them basic values , love them and listen to them.  Don’t give up everything for them , look after yourself or what will be left of you when they are gone?