Tag Archive | family life

Look and Learn!

Did anyone here ever get to see the magazine for children; ‘Look and Learn’ or are you all too young?

I remember my brothers having it and being absorbed by the pictures, images being an expensive medium you didn’t get to see much back in the day before the Web and image rich media like Instagram and Pinterest.

I got a memory jog when copies of it came up on EBay. They look really retro now. But it was fab to have something so illustrated when books where so expensive.

And it’s also struck me what a fabulous title and approach to learning it was; looking and learning.

Looking, as in observation, is an integral part of becoming educated. Not that schools have that much time for this activity. But parents and home educators do.

We’re actually quite bad at observation, I think. It’s not something that we do much. Looking at things intently has had a poor reputation, not to mention stigmas attached like Nerds who do plane spotting or Twitching!

This needs changing, for observation is the foundation of science; of learning and education. The magazine got it right when they called it ‘Look and Learn’.

Encouraging children to look – really look at the world around them – initiates all kinds of responses and learning opportunities. Whether you’re looking at things near hand in detail, looking to the wider world, looking at others and how they behave, or observing anything that you see, it creates opportunities to talk, question, wonder, maybe find out, research, and it stimulates motivation to take things further.

You could base a whole education on observation. By observing the world and how it works and finding out about it as a result, how it links to other things and what you need to do as a result is a sure foundation to becoming educated.

Look and Learn is a brilliant tag and reminder of such a simple approach to learning you can use at any time, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

So I reckon that it makes sense to give plenty of time for looking and observation. Learning is bound to be the result!

The tricky job of parenting kids who game

Did you see the Horizon programme on gaming last week; ‘Are video games really that bad?

I think the dilemma of how much children should be gaming is a concern of every parent wherever children are educated.

If they’re home educated, they have more time for and access to gaming. If they’re at school all day, and just want to game in the evenings and nothing else, the parents still have the same worry about whether the work’s being done or never getting to see the kids!

The programme raised many interesting points, many on the positive aspects of gaming and how it could be influential to mental development for both the young and the rest of us!

But of course, research and statistics can be stacked to show anything you want them to show – I’m very aware of that and so should we all be.

However, after watching this programme and another one on Panorama; ‘Could a Robot Do My Job?’ which suggested that the most valuable preparation for the world of employability were skills; technological, creative thinking and caring skills, my feeling about parenting remains the same.

That education and our parenting, and how your kids turn out, is never the result of one influence.

Decisions about gaming and technology are never taken in isolation, there are far more intangibles that come into play. For example; parenting styles and how much interaction parents have, conversations about the games and discussions about how to respond to them, or what else is on offer at the time, the home environment, the child’s personality, all play a part. And these issues affect the way our children grow, how they develop, and how they respond to the things in their lives, either educational opportunities – or gaming.

The way in which children respond to gaming and the violence that they witness there has been of huge concern. And the programme asks whether this is likely to make children themselves more violent. But as the programme points out, it is not the violence in the game that affects kids in isolation, it’s often the frustration children feel – and this can be influenced by other factors besides gaming like how much they do it and how much they get out for active play, for example – which affects what they do as a result of gaming.

Parenting children who game is no different to parenting children who do anything; it’s about maintaining a balance between all activities and aspects of their lives, having conversations about life and what is healthy and what is not, constantly being involved and keeping communication open!

Searching out wild spaces for the good of the children

My friend has a wild weedy bit with overgrown trees, ivy and stumps at the bottom of her small narrow town garden. This only leaves a bit by the house in which she can have beloved flowers and plants and bit of lawn to lie upon.

A wild playground

A wild playground

This was originally left for the four boys she raised there to build dens, go hide in a jungle, hunt for creepy-crawlies, or collect snails or acorns, bits of bark or other such treasures down among the roots.

Now the boys have been replaced by four grown up young men who no longer live there and she could reclaim some of that jungle for her garden again. But both her and they still want it left, for they all feel it wouldn’t be the same without that bit of wildness to hide in. Something in their souls tell them they still need it.

She did good!

According to George Monbiot‘s book ‘Feral. Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding’, all children need this bit of wildness in which to play. And it is something that is denied most of today’s children. They are denied the innate need to explore in unstructured places in unstructured ways, as we used to. The woods, streams, logs, uncultivated fields many of us played in, provided imaginative kids with the chance to build physical skills, a connection to nature, and confidence as they improvised dens, climbing ‘frames’, had contact with mud and mini-beasts. It has now all either replicated in plastic or in controlled tarmacked and manicured environments.

It’s not the same. And it doesn’t have the same impact on our children either. Apparently the lack of freedom to play in wild places, now mostly claimed in the name of housing, agriculture, farming or misguided attempts at conservation (according to Monbiot), has been linked with the increase in disorders in children like hyperactivity or inability to concentrate. Playing among trees and plants helps settle children down where playing on concrete or indoors has the opposite effect.

It’s actually the same for me. The same for most people, I suspect, if they just recognised it.

Monbiot acknowledges the need for housing and for food and farming and battles rage constantly over the political issues which balance these against the preservation of wild spaces.

But whilst these battles and political agendas continue, the children are increasingly denied health giving opportunities to be really wild.

So us parents are going to have to work harder not only to get the children outside away from insidious indoor comforts, but also to find the wild spaces where they can return to something like their roots.

Sugar Rush

Heck – I’m shocked! I thought I ate healthily but now realise I’m consuming far too much sugar. 

It was watching Jamie Oliver’s programme Sugar Rush that shocked me into looking at my planned consumption for today.

I’d perhaps start with muesli and granola which I know contains some sugar but I was unaware of how much, especially in relation to the amount recommended we should have – no more than four teaspoons per day. It would be easy with some cereals to eat more than that in one meal! I need to re-plan.

If not salad, I might have a small sandwich or Peanut Butter on toast for lunch. Apparently, both that and the bread contain sugar. And I’d planned a vegetable curry for tonight to which I may add a little jar of Korma sauce but discovered that this too is loaded with sugar. And there was me thinking it was okay to have a Kit-Kat this afternoon because I hadn’t had any sugar today.

Think again!

I thought we ate fairly healthily in this house. But the programme has raised my awareness of the dangers of hidden sugars that we unwittingly eat, and that’s without having sugary fizzy drinks which are the worst offenders. However some ‘fruit juices’ and flavoured ‘water’ can be equally harmful if you consume a lot.

But the worst news of all is what hidden sugars are doing to the children.

We think as parents we’re doing our best by our kids encouraging a reasonable diet. But Jamie shows how these ‘hidden’ sugars are sneaking into what we thought would be healthy. And how they are damaging enough on our kids’ teeth and weight, even without giving them any added sugary treats in the form of sweets. So we need to be even more vigilant than we are.

But what is absolutely criminal is to be consciously giving them such a sugar full diet of junk food, sweets, cola and other soda drinks to the extent of what was illustrated in the programme.

Apparently one of the biggest demands for surgery on children is not the removal of tumours, organs or other consequences of terrible diseases, it is the preventable procedure required to pull out rotten teeth. How shocking is that?

And apparently there are more lower limbs removed from (mostly preventable) obesity people in later years, who have developed Type Two Diabetes from a sugar high diet, than there are from soldiers injured in combat and war.

It is a terrifying prospect. Jamie was shocked by what he found. I’m shocked.

You should watch the programme (on All4). It needs discussing with the family. And the family’s eating habits examining, plus an investigation into how much hidden sugar in processed, ready-made food you’re all eating; it’s part of their education. And the sugary drinks need keeping to a minimum and maybe some serious changes making.

Otherwise one of our family members could become one of those startling statistics.

It’s going to be quite a trial to keep my eye on what I’m eating during the day. But I am determined, for I want it to be the case that I choose when to have sugar and am not consuming it in total ignorance.

We all need to do the same both for ourselves and for our kids.

After watching Jamie’s report, how could we not?

Read; for your children’s sake!

The best thing ever on a summer afternoon is to take a book outside and read. 20150806_134010

Notebooks inevitably go with me and I inevitably end up writing – often inspired by the reading whether it’s a novel, non-fiction, whatever! But to have an afternoon devoted to reading outside in the breeze and sunshine is my favourite summer delight. I can spend hours reading, when I probably wouldn’t if I was still inside.

Funny how we can spend hours watching telly or web surfing, yet seldom devote that amount of time immersed in a good book. Soon as I get outside that changes – I can relax and lose time to it.

And apparently we get a double dose of benefit if we do so. Not only do we get the important benefits of natural light, but reading itself also improves wellbeing and has other benefits on society too, like increased empathy and reduced stress. (See this research from The Reading Agency)

And, as if you needed another excuse, your children need to see you reading.

As parents we’re always keen that our children read. It’s an essential part of their development, education and lifeskills. And the biggest influence on children’s connection to reading is whether and how much we read. If they see you reading regularly, they’ll be drawn to it too, especially when you appear to be getting so much pleasure from it.

It doesn’t matter what format you choose to read in. Just as long as you’re reading.

There are so many little moments in a day we could be reading; on journeys, in a queue, waiting room, on the bus, trips out with picnics, waiting for the dinner to cook, with your lunch. The more you read, the more they’ll want to.

The effect may not be immediate or apparent. But by reading, you’re establishing a valuable attitude to it and that’s what counts. They might want to run about and build dens, that’s fine, but you can read whilst they do so. Then they’ll have that image of you – their most important adult – attaching importance to the activity of reading. That lays the foundations of what they’ll attach importance to in times to come.

So take a regular afternoon reading. Take things to read on your family picnics, outings, journeys and holidays. Or just slope off into the garden on a sunny afternoon and take a moment out just for yourself to have a home holiday with a good book.

See if you don’t feel the benefits too!

(If you haven’t read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ it’s a sweet, funny, family story just right for an outdoors read to move your mind and emotions!)

Mood miracle!

I know it's not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

I know it’s not that sharp but can you spot the three species we managed to capture in this pic?

It’s amazing how one little moment can become a mood miracle!

Last week was a bit of a wretched one. They can get like that sometimes, can’t they!

I’ve done book events for the new book ‘Who’s Not In School’ and much travelling recently, working in between, and was a bit exhausted with it despite meeting lots of lovely complimentary and sweet people.

So I strode out under the sky early this weekend; for even cloudy is supposed to help the spirits. The tide was seeping over the marshland in that calm and comforting way it does, lifting birds and gently filling creeks. I watched it a while.

Then coming back to the garden I saw that our Buddleia was bedecked with more butterflies than I’ve ever seen in one place. So rather than going in and getting involved back indoors, probably back at laptop, I took a cuppa and sat there and watched them. Not something I’ve ever done – or thought of doing – before.

There were so many I started to count and in just a few minutes counted ten different species. And there were more than one of each species so you can see how many there were in all.  I was totally absorbed.

And then I noticed something else had happened; something honeyed had happened to my spirits.

The doldrums of the week had vanished. Banished by mindful attention to the butterflies and that natural life outside the laptop.

I must remember, must remember, must remember, to take a few mindful moments outside each day and then maybe the week wouldn’t get so far down as wretched. I used it all the time as an antidote to children’s indoor moods. I’ve got to remember that I need it just as much!

And if you’re interested in butterfly watching you and the kids can get involved with the butterfly count this August – another great reason to be outside.

Teach them everyday food habits

Isn’t food info confusing? You think you’re guiding the children towards a healthy habit of eating then new research comes along and challenges it and you find it’s not so healthy after all.

I watched the programme; ‘Trust me, I’m a doctor’ last night and discovered that several of the habits I thought were healthy turn out not to be!

One was the idea of using healthy oils, like sunflower or vegetable oils, to cook with as an alternative to the demonised butter. On the programme it showed that some of these oils. although okay in the cold state like perhaps in salad dressing, were quite unhealthy once cooked as the heating process released harmful substances.

The other surprise was to do with organic food. There is no doubt that growing organic food is far, far better for the environment. But tests they’d conducted for the programme showed that in view of our personal health, the fact that veg were organically grown or not made little difference.

One good piece of news for me was that the claims made about the health benefits of the extortionately priced Manuka honey were just a con. The cheap brands, which are all I can afford, were just as beneficial. Excellent – I always had my suspicions anyway, being aware of selling hype.

One of the benefits of having the children learning at home with you is that you can plan meals, talk about nutrition, shop for, cook and eat together and incorporate a healthy approach to food choices and eating into your everyday habits.

It is these lifestyle habits and routines established at home with you, in particular what and how you parents eat, that influences the children in the long run. Your attitudes inform theirs really. And learning how to feed themselves well is an essential aspect of education.

Okay so they might dodge into a fast food chain occasionally, especially when they’re teens, but we don’t have to be perfect. The best we can do is be conscious and educate them to be aware. To discuss, to develop healthy habits and to educate them to the idea that the fuel we put in our bodies affects not only our physical health, our heart and other organs, stamina and muscle tone, but also our mental and emotional health too. It’s worth being conscious of it.

Just as I am conscious that too much chocolate is bad for me, despite my desire for it. And I might even get around to trying the method they suggest in the programme to wean me from it!

That’s going to take one helluva lot of imagining…!