Things in our garden …

I just posted some of the places in our garden that the children (and I!) are enjoying at the moment. Here are some more of the things we like to have and do in our garden … what I love about this is that we can add anything we are interested in and change anything that is old. We can care for things and play with things, and learn about soil and home and country and the stories that working in the ground unlocks. We can let our imaginations go …

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Parenting: The Celebration of Transformation

060I was an early childhood teacher before I became a parent. It now seems like a previous existence! I entered family life with a background of theory about small children, years of classroom experience, and just a little knowledge about babies … and was to quickly find out that theory is all very well, classroom experience is only useful in the classroom, and the little I did know about babies still equated to knowing nothing at all. I will never forget the day our midwife made her last post-natal visit: I was gripped with fear and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this little tiny person my body had produced (what do you mean this is your last visit?) I just couldn’t fathom the idea that she thought we’d be fine. She smiled, and gave me a kiss … and left. I looked at our brand new son and thought that being a mummy is easier with the baby on the inside!

I was stunned at how much I had to learn – from scratch. Breastfeeding was harder than I thought it would be. Sleeping was a mystery. Teething was distressing. Fevers were frightening.  Food and decisions about health care were whole other issues!  I felt overwhelmed by all the advice that people shared with me, out of the goodness of their heart, and a little confused at the vast array of parenting styles and methods to choose from.

Despite feeling so unprepared, my husband and I still must have had some form of composure about us: our little guy was a ‘good’ baby who didn’t cry too much, a cute little thing who smiled at everyone and an inquisitive chap who was interested in everything (and therefore got up to quite a bit of mischief). The first year of his life was full of life lessons for all of us. It was wonderful and exhausting all at once. In reality we were as fine as any other new parents – stumbling along and finding our way in our re-defined relationship as a family of three. We had a go at every idea in the book (and devoured every book in the library), and then threw it all out the window and just went with what ‘worked’. We breastfed, didn’t use a dummy, co-slept, wore him in a sling. We used NVC and baby sign language. We used natural cloth nappies, and had a go at Elimination Communication. We did baby-led weaning and fed him only home-cooked meals.

Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Our son knew what he wanted, we knew what we wanted, and it took some experimentation and some occasional compromising from each of us, to find a happy medium.

I have often marvelled at the bravery of the first child for being the ‘guinea pig’. They open wide the doors of parenthood and thrust us through them, willing or not! They are the trailblazers who will grow up and move on to the next developmental challenge before we feel that we have really mastered the last one. They test our patience, our creativity, our energy levels, our values and our relationships. They make us wake up to ourselves! I have found that parenting has been the single most effective way to learn how to listen to my own ‘truth’. I have learned more about myself on this journey than any amount of personal development I may have done before my first birth!

I have my favourite parenting books, and my favourite parenting ‘experts’ but I do not rely on them for all the answers. Since becoming a parent, I now interact with families socially through playgroups, mothers groups and women’s groups. I have shared my experiences and learned from my friends as they travel their own parenting journeys beside me. I have learned enough to believe that nobody can claim to have all the answers, because we only know for sure about our own experience with our own families, and all the rest is theory until it ‘clicks’ with you. I am inspired and interested in finding out more about what will enhance my understanding of my children, and thus our family life. It is exciting when we become our own teachers, and are forgiving of our mistakes.

Parenting has empowered me as a woman, a mother, a wife and a teacher, and I have learned that:

– parenting involves acknowledgement of the value of pain as a teacher (frustration, tiredness, disappointment and worry!),

– whichever way we parent it needs to come from the place of our own truth and intuition,

– parenting is a journey of discovery and learning, but is most inspiring when we keep looking and keep learning, rather than searching for THE answer, and

– for parenting to ‘improve’, it should be regarded as a sacred celebration of transformation.

We can get bogged down in the day-to-day elements of parenting and family life. I have found in my journey that the thing that keeps me going is to celebrate (daily) the sacred, the beautiful, the funny, the quirky, and the clever, but also to not overlook the ugly, the scary, the annoying, the angry and the frustrating. All these moments cycle in and out of focus but are ever-present in our parenting.

Written by and Copyright to Jennifer McCormack, May 2010

First published by Kindred at www.kindredcommunity.com

Please do not reproduce without my permission

Celebrating Play: Investigate – Plan – Create

Today’s post is a guest post from my eight-year-old son Kaelan. He’s been sick for a week now, but I knew he was better when he was lying on the couch looking at a pile of felt circles I had been cutting out.  He asked me what they were for and I replied that I wasn’t sure yet – I just didn’t want to waste my scraps and they were too bulky to store so I was cutting them into shapes that I could use later. He was staring at them so intently, and about 10 minutes later he got up to do some drawing. About half an hour later he came back with a big grin on his face, and two pages of visual instructions:

 

This is the kind of stuff we did in high school art classes: visualise the concept, plan it out and then create it. Can you work it out? I was so impressed with his conceptual layout of the process!

1) Tie a knot on the end of your thread

2) Thread the needle

3 – 9) add circles of varying diameters

10) use your (left-handed) scissors to cut the thread

11) tie a knot on the end

12) your finished item should be a stack of circles from largest to smallest.

He drew this plan yesterday but due to being so sick he was too tired to test out his instructions. Today, however he was very keen, and here is the result:

 

I think they will look really lovely on our Christmas tree this year! In the meantime we’ll hang them in some place where we can appreciate them. His sister said, “Kaelan that’s pretty awesome”. Perhaps in a gesture of appreciation he then continued to make her a felt story mat, and his littlest sister a little felt kite. Felt scrap craft turns out to be a great way to convalesce (and it solves the problem of what to do with all those little pieces I was hoarding).

The story mat with pond, lily pads and two boats

Celebrating Play: Simple holiday fun, OUTSIDE

This Christmas holiday break has been WONDERFUL. Nothing else to do except play with family and potter about at home. Christmas brought some fun new focus to play in the form of some wonderful new playthings, but most of the time we’ve been outside enjoying our environment with friends and family.

There has been some of this:

beaches, creeks, swimming pools - water seems to be the key to happiness in summer!

and some of this:

These three can spend hours shifting rocks ... I seriously considered giving them rocks for Christmas 🙂

lots of this:

pottering about at home

and a bit of this:

Red Riding Hood is loving the variety of public parks at the Gold Coast

 

All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

I was rummaging through my “filed” papers (read papers that were put in a file – about a year ago – to be further sorted and filed!) for some bits and pieces to read up on as I prepare for the Storytelling For Young Children Workshop, coming up on the 8th October – and of course I got a bit lost in all the other wonderful things I found in there … including this gem, which I can almost recite by heart, I love it that much. It is written by Robert Fulghum, and I would cite the source if only I knew it. I recommend reading Robert Fulghum’s writing, particularly if you are a dad. Parenting from a dad’s perspective is so important.

 

All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I have learned:

 Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back that aren’t yours. Say sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.

 Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

 Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

 And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

 Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Waiting is a Gift

When I came to the Gold Coast to teach, 10 years ago, I was very fortunate to have a number of mentors who guided me in my teaching and my ability to work with parents. These people also opened my eyes to the practical rather than theoretical applications of early childhood training. It was so exciting to find a new way of actually using all the ideas that I’d learned about at uni, and experimented with in my first 2 tentative years of teaching.

I think the single greatest concept presented to me in this time was one particular phrase, which has stuck in my mind ever since, and completely influenced the way I have since begun parenting my own children. It was a phrase offered as a summary of an activity presented in a parenting class at the school, run by one of my mentors. In answer to a question about appropriate times of life to introduce adult and abstract topics and behaviours, her reply was: “Waiting is a gift.”

When is the right time for girls to wear makeup and dress like women? Waiting is a gift

When is the right time to begin teaching focussed literacy? Waiting is a gift

How do I work with my young child’s impulses? Waiting is a gift

It seemed like the answer for everything and it totally transformed the way I approached my teaching. At the time I was working with 4 – 6 year olds, and there were quite a few children in the class who were used to having their own way … NOW! This was a behaviour that I detested, to be honest, although now I realise that this is partly part of a child’s development and partly due to social and environmental learning. I began applying my new motto in my classroom, and stopped responding to every request, every question, and every demand from the children.

Sounds rude doesn’t it? I didn’t do it rudely though, I would just wait for a while before responding to questions, pause for a moment before I would go to attend to a child, finish my current task before turning my attention to the child tugging on my clothes. Even I would not respond immediately if a child had tripped over, dropped something or accidentally hurt someone else (emergencies and serious accidents not included – you should see me move then!), definitely I would not respond straight away to tale-telling and complaining about others. It was challenging and confusing for the children at first but after a couple of weeks the children would begin answering their own questions … or asking a friend. They began to either wait quietly for me to come to them, or try to solve their own problem in their own creative ways.

There were of course many children of temperaments not suited to this treatment – those who were naturally impulsive, spontaneous, excitable, demanding, or not used to being ‘ignored’. These children were about to embark on a long journey exploring the ‘practice of patience’ with their teacher – and it ended up being one that bonded us very closely together over the two years I was their teacher.

When our baby son arrived, I continued to encourage him to wait. By not responding straight away to his cries or his falls, he developed a relationship of trust with my husband and I: of course we are here for you, we know when you need us and we will keep you safe, will not let you become distressed, hurt or afraid, but at the same time it is important for you to learn about the world yourself. This is not to say we ignored him, but as I described earlier, I would pause before responding and not rush to console him. Both our children pick themselves up when they fall over, they cry when they need to, and know we are always watching out for them, but also have become prepared to take a risk in their play. A few scratches, a trip over, a bump, these are everyday things.

Over the years, the phrase ‘Waiting is a gift’ has popped into my head when in the supermarket I see my own children walk past the sweets and lollies without asking for something (But instead longingly suggesting that it would be nice to have a special treat today!!). I saw it when they stopped asking me constantly if they could watch a dvd (we watch one once a week), and when I heard my son tell my daughter: “Mummy will come in a moment, she just wants to finish her job first” and “I could help you instead!”, and “after you have had lunch, then you can have a cookie”. I have by no means cured my children of impatience though!! But I am so pleased when I notice these little developments.

My son wanted a play sword, but I didn’t feel that his level of play was ready for a sword yet. I told him that he had to be five years old before he could be knighted and earn his sword: knights have to learn how to use swords properly after all! While he waited to turn five, every now and then he would ask about knights and we would talk about what they would do: good deeds, go on quests, help others, and fight dragons. We talked about how knights behaved: with courteous ‘golden’ manners, beautiful speech and caring for their appearance and their possessions (you can’t use a rusty sword!). He turned five, his Dad made him a wooden sword, we painted it silver, talked about how it could be used, and then knighted him with it. I have no issues about sword play now, because in the waiting he learned that the privilege of having a sword comes with responsible use. At all times when he uses his sword he must remember how knights behave. His knighthood has been withdrawn a couple of times, but never without the opportunity for it to be bestowed once more! In this case, the gift was worth waiting for.

More than that though, the whole idea of waiting implies that there is a time for everything. We are used, as a society, to having our needs met NOW. All advertising is designed around this idea. Why wait, when you can have it faster/cheaper/brighter/better … NOW! Advertising has really zoned in on what children like: colourful, cheerful images with lots of colour and movement. This grabs children’s attention, then it suggests that there is something that they NEED to have, and so, due to the nature of young children, needs become physical desires. They HAVE to have, and children have begun to get used to having their parents jump to it and supply their wants: food, toys, clothing, entertainment, social activities … and this has had its impact on childhood in so many ways!

In the 12 years or so that I have been working with children and families I have noticed a distinct lack of boundaries in children, and also a lack of manners. Yes, I am generalising here – I have noticed it as a trend amongst my own community, and noticed it as a common topic of discussion among my colleagues. Children are so used to having things, that it is nothing for them to accept things without the need for thanks, or to throw things away without any thought except that it will be replaced. Children are also losing the ability to play with their own imagination. Many a child came through our classrooms that we had to teach how to play, because they were so used to watching tv, playing electronic games, going to the movies, and being shuffled to three or four different types of after school activities each week. When could they possibly have the TIME to use their imagination or exercise their own stagnating creativity?

Little children dress like adults now. Mini-me outfits for kids are cute – occasionally – but I don’t want my daughter wearing a pair of knee-high boots with a mini skirt when she is two years old. I want her in overalls and gumboots! Make-up parties for 6 year olds? Sure, if it is a bit of fun at home with mum and some friends, but a full-on make-over at a salon, driven to and from in a limousine? I kid you not, these parties exist! Kids acting like grown-ups because grown-ups think it is cute.

I’m not suggesting these activities are not ok – I’m saying there is a TIME to do them. Teenage activities and concepts are for teenagers. Adult activities and concepts are for adults. Childhood is a time that is too precious to rush away by responding to our children’s desires for better / faster / older / more … they are only children for at the most a tenth of their life! And these are the years that we are the major focus in their lives. Why hand these years over to adulthood?

I think it is time to re-instate rites of passage in our communities. Knighting our five year old son was a rite of passage, it was a beautiful way for him to feel good about having to wait, about having to show us that he had learned and therefore earned something. Little moments like this should not be wasted! The things we gain for ourselves through time and patience and our own effort are not taken for granted. Waiting is a gift not to be wasted.

Thank you, Nansi, for teaching me this wisdom.