Paused for thought

Paused for thought

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Sensationalist Headlines





I recently read an article behind the headlines that a bar of chocolate a day can help you lose weight. It was really interesting. I'm well aware that the media like to pick up stories and sensationalise things, but I hadn't realised just how lazy they are in getting their facts and arguing for access to actual data to support their stories.

It reminded me of an opinion piece I read a few months ago advising of the impact of eating sugar when pregnant (that links have been made between a mother eating sugar and childhood obesity) and there have been countless others. We must do one thing, we mustn't do another. I recall a time when broccoli was a cancer busting super food. More recently is has been written that it's "toxic" and could be to blame for having an underactive thyroid.

I do appreciate freedom of speech. It enables me to spend a balmy evening writing my thoughts and opinions which are no more grounded in scientific research than a lot of the articles I'm referring to. But surely there comes a point when it's not sensible to allow half thought out poorly researched articles to be published? Especially in the mainstream media. So many people depend upon newspapers to present them with facts and therefore assume that if a story is published it will be accurate. Not many people read the retraction or amendment notes wedged quietly in the middle of the paper a few days later in tiny print and muddled in among adverts or squeezed quietly under another over-hyped story.

It’s not just science based stories that get this treatment of course. Opinions are offered on individuals, different shops, sports, you name it it’s there. And so is the audience unwittingly taking it as fact. I’m not suggesting for a moment that any of us should stop reading newspapers, certainly they have their place in providing information to the public, but perhaps more that we should see them as reporting the beginnings of a story rather than a completed one; opinion pieces which are for entertainment and not to be taken seriously; stories which have been printed without proper research and investigation by an inquiring mind. For the fact, perhaps you would be better off undertaking the research yourself.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Challenging minds



Yesterday my 2 year old asked me a question (to be honest he asks me many questions everyday but this one really stood out). He wanted to know if I knew that a Tyrannosaurus Rex had a loud roar. To be honest I don’t know that for certain and I admit that I’ve never asked myself that question. The idea of a T Rex with a weak little voice made me giggle inwardly but as I was explaining to him what I thought, I realised that my basic knowledge of dinosaurs, along with many other things, is open to challenge. Instead of being facts learnt through direct exploration or research, a large chunk of my learning is based upon a series of assumptions or information that I have learnt in a parrot like fashion, without ever questioning the source or the extent of the original research. I suspect that if I questioned every nugget of information I would be exhausted and I would be exhausting to be around too, but this moment made me reflect.

Another moment that had that effect was today when discussing leaving presents for my 4 year old’s teachers, and asking him what he’d like to buy them and why. The thoughtful answers and sound reasoning that he gave astonished me. That at 4 he can have such an understanding and appreciation not only of the world around him but of the people in it. He really sees them, not just as people who he knows but he notices the little things, thinks about them, and finds a solution to a problem so that his parting gift to them is really happiness. For example the teacher who hadn’t seen Wall-E (she watched it just for him) and he thought she might like a book version as she said she had enjoyed the film so much. The teacher who leads forest school but doesn’t have her own pair of binoculars so always shares with the children so he wants to buy her a pair. The teacher who gets hot and he thought might appreciate a little hand held fan.

These are just two examples of thoughts that have come from the minds of my wonderful little boys. It makes me wonder why, when the minds of children can be so interesting and supple, more adults don’t think to take a moment to learn from children. Why are there so many adults keen to step in and help a child out when they were perfectly happy doing their own thing? Why do adults feel the need to ‘teach’ in so many situations rather than learning together? Child led learning has been around for years but yet the principles which are so interesting and positive seem to be forgotten in so many situations. Nurseries, schools, parents, childminders. We all have the ability to exercise the opportunity to learn together and especially to learn from children and encourage their inquiring minds. It saddens me that this can often be overlooked. That fascinating little minds are not encouraged to grow and flourish through nurture and stimulating conversation, but instead trampled into the mould that society expects of them. In the coming months, as my eldest joins primary school, I am determined to keep this thought at the forefront of my mind and encourage and welcome the challenges and thoughts from my amazing little people.




Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Fun creations



In and amongst the madness of "Project House" I lost my regular notebook and when I was in a rush (as always) for a meeting I scooped up an old one instead. Flicking through to find a fresh page I stumbled across a brainstorm of ideas I had mulled over when I was looking to make a little pocket money alongside my role as a stay at home parent. One of these centred on creating craft kits for children to be used on rainy days or during the school holidays. A gap in the market, I had thought, especially if I could cost them at a low price and help busy parents to find a little more time by preparing the kits for them. I put that idea to one side, as it turns out this busy parent didn't have time with 3 under 5 to have more than the thought to set something up. I did have some good ideas though that I have used with my own children, and these have helped to sharpen my mind when thinking of the impending 7 week summer holiday that is nearly upon us. I'd like to think that these ideas might be of some use to others so I have noted our family favourites below for your delectation.

Before I launch into a list of little ideas that you can grow and create with your own children, let me tell you our very simple 'rules' of play when it comes to undertaking these activities in our family:

1. Follow the leader! My children always lead these activities and I allow them to have freedom of expression. If they want to copy or create together, that's great, if they want to take the idea and throw it as far away from my original thought as possible, that's wonderful too!

2. Adapt to your child. Of my two older boys I have a 'thinker' and a 'doer' when it comes to learning styles and I try to adapt things a little to satisfy, engage and enthuse them both.

3. Prepare a range. From quick and simple to more complex, I try to prepare at least two craft activities ahead or at least get one fully prepared and the other very quickly to hand so that I can be flexible to changes of mind and different interests.


So, on to our favourite creative ideas:

1. Bug hotels. 
My boys adore making these, and I am confident that all of ours are fully booked. It's definitely a very enjoyable way to pass the time in our house. Find a shady spot for them in your garden with some privacy (under a bush or by a shady wall is ideal) and I'm certain yours will be full too.


2. Plants. 
We always love a planting session. Quick and easy and it's lovely to revisit the plants regularly to see them growing. Wild flowers (for the bees) and tomatoes (for us) are especially popular in our house, as are growing bean plants in a jam jar (place a dampened piece of kitchen towel around the inside of the jar and slide the bean in-between the two to watch it sprout).

3. Bookmarks. 
These can be as simple or complex as you like. Stickers, paint, pens, you name it, the idea can probably be worked onto a bookmark. We have used pressed wild flowers on occasion and fixed them to cardboard with double sided sticky tape, or sometimes we get the wax crayons and paint out to make simple but fun patterns.

4. Clock. 
Quartz clock movements are readily (and cheaply) available on the Internet. Paper plates work well as the clock face and are easy to decorate, or we recently used two circles of card and covered them with wrapping paper. A perfect example of following the lead from my eldest son. They're fun and educational too, win win!

5. Marbled painting. 
This can take a little more preparation but is fun and interesting. My favourite 'recipe': ziplock bag; packaging tape to seal; glitter; frame (made from cardboard); water soluble paint mixed with baby oil 1:1. Squidge and squash. Voila! A lovely piece of artwork to add to your collection and display with pride.

6. Scrapbooks. 
The ideas of things to make with scrapbooks seem virtually endless. Use them to create a story, with visual aids or words depending on the child. Or stick special momentoes from days out in them. Perhaps you could start a journal with older children. You could have a page a day, a page a week, or a page a month. Maybe favourite pictures could call a scrapbook their home, or it could be fashioned into a user guide of the galaxy (another idea from my eldest). Or a photo album! The list goes on and again we have fun with them here.


7. Clay modelling
Air dry modelling clay is easily accessible and so much fun. We have made pots, appliances (a particular favourite of our eldest), dinosaurs, cars and much more. The possibilities are endless and most clay takes around 24 to 48 hours to dry out which gives you a chance to revisit it a day or two later and paint it or add some glitter, stickers or whatever catches the eye of your little one.

8. Scarecrows
A personal favourite of mine! Get hold of some old dolls clothes or newborn baby outfits, stuff with hay, poke a bamboo pole through the top and out of the bottom and you have your very own garden scarecrow, great for adding fun and colour to borders or pots all year round. Top off with a head made from a muslin tied around the top of the bamboo pole and filled with hay, some sticker or pen eyes and your little one has a garden friend.

9. The recycle challenge
I get a great deal of enjoyment seeing what this activity brings. Get together a pile of clean dry recycling, for example boxes, plastic bottles, foil, pots, paper. Ask your little ones to make something. We've had sandwich shops, vehicles, castles, puppet theatres, dens and more. Once you're done, if you don't want to keep the creations, your children will love to help sort the recycling back into appropriate piles ready to go in your kerbside collection or on a tip run.


10. Baking
No creations list would be complete without something edible on it! Our favourite recipe is for rock cakes. Simple and easy to make, plus you can add to it with alternative dried fruit or, for an extra special treat, some pieces of dark chocolate. In fact rock cakes were such a standard rainy afternoon activity after our second son was born that when the arrival of our third son was imminent our eldest son said he couldn't arrive yet, we hadn't made any rock cakes!


Whatever creative activity you decide upon the next time rain descends or you have a day at home with spare time to fill, I hope that you have fun and that our top ten may provide some inspiration. I'm sure they will all feature during our summer break at some stage!


Friday, 12 June 2015

Safety Not Guaranteed


I find that as a parent I spend a lot of time feeling more real than I perhaps ever have. I look at my boys, I watch them grow and hope that I am guiding them as best I can. I look up to my own parents and admire them more then I ever have before. I feel more able and ready to take chances, but balanced against an overwhelming drive to be risk averse for the sake of my children. Above all else I feel connected. Connected to real life, I live each day. I don't always find the time to do what I want to and the day doesn't always go to plan, but there is something in each and every day that makes me feel real. I am reminded of the conversation between the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse. We had that passage read at our wedding by a very good friend and it remains as true today as it was when it was published in 1922.

I thought about this when I was watching Safety not Guaranteed a few weeks ago. The possibility of life, not closing your mind to opportunity or dismissing the ideas and passions of others. To take that risk, to listen, to believe.

Another thought the film very naturally provoked was going back in time (the key theme for anyone who hasn't seen it). I am normally all for looking forward, learning from the past but thinking to the future, even if that future is what is happening tomorrow. But there is something fascinating about time travel. It's a beautiful but simultaneously terrifying notion that you could learn from history directly rather than textbooks or reenactments. Aside from major historical events or discoveries, there would be the wonderful opportunity to meet people at a different stage of their life. If I had the chance to travel back in time I would go back to 1950, when my parents were turning 4. I'd love to meet my grandparents as they were negotiating those precious preschool years and talk to them about their lives as they were prematurely worldly wise from the war and all the hardship and loss that came with it. I'd love to see my parents at that age, to see some of the memories that they have relayed to me come to life. To watch their discoveries, their excitement as they learnt about the world around them, the love from their parents that surrounded them, protected all the more for the change, trauma and relief that the country had been hurled through over the past few years. 

Naturally I can't turn back time in reality. My grandparents are no longer alive to talk to either, but I am happy to listen to and talk to my parents about these times, to hear more of their stories and to ask them all the questions that I never thought to ask my grandparents. To hear about their lives, their childhood world and perhaps, if I'm brave, about their perspective of mine too.


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Time to be.






I sit here pondering this evening when life got so rushed. I am procrastinating momentarily, taking a break before continuing with the evening which will mostly involve sorting out clothes for the boys for tomorrow, getting their preschool/ playgroup bags ready, sorting myself out for a meeting I have in the morning, bringing the washing in from the line, checking that I have baby food made ready for tomorrow, that sort of thing. I wonder when I stopped filling my spare moments with long evenings or even weekends of writing and playing the piano and struggled instead to find half an hour to sort the laundry out let alone restring my guitar to learn or compose a new tune. 

Almost instantly I look for something to blame, a busy job, motherhood, the demands of refreshing a house that is starting to look tired and worn from years without a lick of fresh paint on the walls. Perhaps I have become slack, maybe I mismanage my time. The truth is, the blame does lie squarely with me but not as the result of any laziness. I realise that I have turned away from those moments that make me feel complete and satisfied and have instead given too much focus to the chores and the mundane everyday things without also making time for some all important relaxation. I have fretted about needing to complete the housework in the evenings so my time during the day is devoted to my young children, none of whom are in full time education just yet. I have worried about what others may think, how I and my family are viewed. The odd critical comment made when I have had to rearrange one thing to get another done can stick with me for years and haunt how I organise myself. In the rush to make life roll on seamlessly I have given up perhaps the most important thing of all. Me. If I want to make a phone call it can take me days to get round to doing it if it is for me alone. I recently had some routine blood tests done and although the results should have been back 3 days later it took me 10 days to make time to call and check that everything was ok (it was). Earlier this year my dental appointment was due but that wasn't arranged until my sons needed to be seen too. I go to order a book online and get distracted by something one of my children or my husband might like or need. I take the boys to get their shoes checked regularly but hadn't noticed until I stepped in a puddle that mine were falling apart. I regularly encourage my boys to take time out of their busy days to play quietly or read a book, even just for a few moments, but I don't apply the same suggestion to my own day.

I don't have the answers to clawing some time back from the depths of modern day frantic living, but I do have a proposal to myself and anyone else struggling. Make a list. It's always my fall back suggestion to myself but it really works. Cross two or three things off the list every day and then put it down and relax. Let go of the guilt. Stop blaming yourself that a letter missed the post or the photos you promised to send are still waiting to be organised. You can't do everything and nobody else can see how much you do already. There will always be someone ready to criticise the choices you make, the things you say, the person you are. It's exhausting keeping up with it all. Don't even try. Let it go. Look at your list and remind yourself of what you have done, what you have achieved over and above all that you already do every day. Live your life for you. Take charge. Find that time. Don't forget about yourself. Most of all enjoy your life.