E+E Column: Balancing the real and virtual

This column comes to you from the beautiful and tranquil Lake District after a not so beautiful 11 hours in the car (we detoured via Durham) getting here this weekend. The kids coped admirably, even the baby who has recently developed a very loud aversion to his car seat. To my surprise, neither of the big two slept throughout the journey but were pacified with Super Mario Brothers on DS, the soundtrack of various Disney films provided by the magic of bluetooth and a steady supply of snacks. It got me thinking about what a good option technology can be in one’s parenting tool belt and about the importance of balance.

We read so many articles, both research and opinion based on the dangers of too much technology whilst simultaneously living with our smart phones always within arms reach. I suspect, as with most things in life, it’s about being balanced with our technology use. And importantly, making sure we apply balance and any limits to ourselves as well as our children. Although too much screen time undoubtedly affects children negatively more than adults, it surely does affect adults too, just in different ways. My pet hate is people using their phones excessively when we’re hanging out socially and I have been guilty myself on many occasions of brushing off the kids requests for attention because I’m busy checking facebook or replying to an email.

So I’ve decided (again-this is a fairly regular resolution!) to try even harder to balance my personal technology use. To leave my phone in another room, not to check my social media channels on an hourly basis, to fully engage with the children and give them my attention without my mind wondering to an item of my to-do list that I could complete with a few taps of my fingers. Hopefully if the kids see me treating technology as if it’s not the most important thing in the world, able to put it down and focus on other pursuits, they’ll be able to mirror it in their own relationship with it and will grow up with a healthy perspective on using screens.

So I’m celebrating how easy technology has made certain aspects of our lives (online grocery shopping, being able to get online even in the sticks, an amazing emerging political landscape as people can engage and mobilise quickly and with ease) but am also reclaiming the ability to turn my back on it, to fully immerse myself in reading stories with the kids, to taking a walk in the beautiful countryside and leaving my phone behind, to having a conversation without needing to ‘google’ for unknown answers. This week as we enjoy being in Wainwright’s country I will embrace the DS and portable DVD player when the weather forces us in the caravan but am very much looking forward to climbing a (little) mountain or two, visiting museums and catching up on some knitting!


E+E Column: Musings on Matrimony

I do love a good wedding. What’s not to like? Good food and drink, music, dancing, a chance to catch up with old friends and family and of course, most importantly, being able to witness two people declare that they love each other so much that they are certain they want nothing more than to wile away the rest of their days together. Yesterday saw me and the small folk nip down the A38 to a dear friends wedding on a farm near Avonwick. It was a beautiful, relaxed affair and the sound of laughter resonated throughout the day. Even the weather cooperated and the rain stayed at bay while the celebrations occurred.

September is also the month Dan and I got married and we celebrate 7 years of wedded bliss (!) this year. We were given a lot of advice upon our engagement and, to a lesser extent, over the years people have continued to share their nuggets of wisdom on the recipe for a happy marriage. I am definitely no expert, it’s still relatively early days for us compared to those celebrating their 50th or 60th anniversary but for me, 7 years and 3 kids on, it boils down to three things. Being willing to be the first to apologise, not taking your spouse for granted and remembering to have fun. I reckon if you can manage these three things you’ve got a good chance of being in it for the long haul and (this is obviously the goal!), being happy together.

Being able to apologise is probably the hardest, at least for me. I’m pretty stubborn and basically I like being right! But I’ve found that apologising is an amazing way of opening up lines of communication that have previously ground to a halt and actually resolving an issue. A bit of humility works wonders it turns out.

The second ‘nugget’ that I’ve mentioned is an easy trap to fall into, especially after the honeymoon period wears off – taking your spouse for granted. When you’re living with another person and slipping into the routine of life as a couple, sometimes you forget to ‘woo’ each other and that spark that initially drew you to each other can start to flicker or go dull. It’s not hard to fix though. Simply pay attention to them, ask about their day, cook them a meal, find a film to watch together, a game to play together, a special place to take them. Make them feel special.

Finally – having fun. This ties in with the last one. When you’re living together and doing all the boring things that come with life – housework, childcare, work, bill paying…etc, fun sometimes manages to escape us ad monotony seeps in. I’m not even going to tell you how to remedy this one – it’s pretty self explanatory!

I was inspired by Maddy and Mark’s wedding – it was a day just oozing love and I’m pretty damn sure that their life is going to be full of laughter, fun and adventures. This one’s for you guys – congratulations! May you always be excellent to each other!


E+E Column: It’s a Love/Hate Thing

All summer long Sophia and Isaac have swung between fighting like cat and dog or being thick as thieves, giggling and playing lengthly complicated games that I daren’t interrupt. Whether they’re going to have a good day or not seems to be predetermined before they even encounter each other after stumbling out of bed and by 9am I usually know how the rest of our day is going to pan out.

It’s frustrating as a parent when they’re having a less than harmonious day. On those days every single word and action of one has the effect of annoying the other, regardless of it’s intention. It seems as if they cannot be left together unsupervised without one ending up in hysterical tears after some slight wrongdoing. These days are long and they are tiring. The only solution I have found is to keep them separate where possible or otherwise constantly occupied. Not particularly satisfying as solutions go, especially when you’re trying to look after a baby, cook and fit in a bit of work alongside refereeing the warring parties.

But, (and thank goodness that there is a but), when they’re having a good day there are a delight to watch and spend time with. They are kind to each other, they cooperate to dream up complex games that entertain for hours, they cuddle, they giggle, they stand up for each other, and they seem to have endless fun. Being only two years apart means that more or less, they can play at the same level and one of the most heart warming moments I’ve experienced as a parent was when I woke up at a rather late 8.30 (I blame the baby!) to find them quietly in the box room, making creations with hama beads together. Upon chatting to Dan, they’d actually been in there for over an hour, working silently side by side as they slowly woke up to the day. It made me so happy and proud to see them working and playing together so peacefully.

It is those moments that I need to remember to cherish. Because despite the fact that there are days when they seem to squabble from sun up to sun down, these days are probably the minority – although it doesn’t seem that way when you’re in the middle of one! And actually, it is blindingly obvious that, bickering aside, they love each other to bits, they enjoy each others company and are loyal to the end. When I think back to my childhood, yes, I do have memories of us all annoying each other and fighting with my big brother but the majority of my memories with my siblings are of climbing trees together, looking after the little ones and happily wiling away days playing together. And I am happily and quietly hopeful that my three will have the same recollections in thirty years time.


E+E Column: Not back to school

September has snuck up on us, seemingly out of nowhere, and with it a new academic year. Both online and in real life, parents I know are talking about their children returning to school or starting for the first time. However, for the second year running, Sophia (my only child currently of school age) won’t be going to school. I still see September as a milestone of sorts though, not least because we do roughly stick to national term times in our home education. It’s a chance to reflect on the past year, assess where we’ve reached and what areas might need attention and to plan ahead for the coming year.

Last year we threw ourselves head first into being officially home educated by following a curriculum (albeit a fairly gentle one). It was a lovely start to things and helped give me something to follow whilst I found my feet with Sophia. The first term was a roaring success but the novelty and ease of using a curriculum wore off with the subsequent two when you added a restless three year old and new baby into the mix. So this year, we’ll be winging it a bit more. Sophia is a competent reader, getting better every day – her first real reading love is the Rainbow Magic fairy books, not quite War and Peace but we’ve all got to start somewhere! She loves maths and requests to do workbooks or exercises with manipulatives (such as cuisinaire rods or money) with me at the weekend so I think as long as we keep up with those and add in handwriting practice we’ve got our basics covered. We’ve inherited several science kits that she is keen to try her hand at and our home education group is looking at the Victorians this term so I think we’ll take that project home to expand on.

However, having just said all that, I am a firm believer and advocate for play based and informal learning in the early primary years. Countries with a school starting age of 6 or 7 consistently show children with higher academic scores and in my mind, more importantly, higher levels of general well being and happiness (though I admit, I’m still not quite sure how you measure that) than the UK and other countries where children are more likely to start at age 4. So this year I’m going to encourage lots of play, make sure we continue to spend time outside everyday even when the weather turns, spend lots of time with friends and ensure we do lots of crafts and baking. I’m taking a holistic approach to incorporate learning into every moment of our day, from watching the formations of geese fly south whilst out walking to measuring ingredients for some delicious creation that we can then curl up and watch Bake Off with! And I feel certain that by next September, I’ll be looking back and marvelling at how much she has learnt, informally and through play as well as through our more structured time, and once again, will be feeling blessed that I’ve been able to join her on these early years of her learning journey.


E+E column: Feeling dazed, but beautifully so…

Apologies for the pun-tastic title but having just come back from the Beautiful Days festival, held at our very local Escot near Ottery, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for the play on words! This was our first festival experience as a family and despite a lot of rain, a lot of mud and not much sleep, it was a resounding success…I think.

It was with quite a lot of apprehension that Dan and I approached the weekend. Were we mad to be taking 3 small children to a music festival, especially a six month old who likes to move and a 3 year old who doesn’t like loud or busy places?! But there’s a reason why Beautiful Days is known as a family festival and our every need was met. We took ear defenders which solved the noise issue for Isaac and a fire breathing robotic metal dragon absolutely delighted him and provided frequent requests of visiting it. We discovered ‘kids row’, a group of tents including a library, story telling tent and soft play tent that were free to go and hang out in, letting Elijah test out his new found crawling skills in a less muddy environment than the rest of the festival. And Sophia? Well, she loved it all. From the kids yurt where she taught a lady to finger knit to the circus skills tent to the upcycled drumming area to the fairground rides.

But actually what both of them loved the most was playing with their friends (old and new) and listening to good music. Dan and I were so happy to see them really engaging with some of the musicians we went to see, heads bobbing and great big smiles spreading over their faces. As lovers of music and keen amateur musicians, it was very gratifying to see that we have passed down the same appreciation for music. In fact, Sophia was so eager to be in the midst of it all that she ran off and managed to get semi lost, not once but three times, in her search for good music. Although stern words were had, it was hard to be too cross when it was such an innocent and sincere pursuit that sparked the action.

The weather, as you might have noticed (!) was fairly shocking and the continuous heavy showers actually led to us admitting defeat a day early and packing up and heading home on Sunday instead of Monday. We were sad to miss some of the artists that were billed for that afternoon and even sadder when the law of sods came into force and Sunday evening was beautifully warm and sunlit but such is life. The heavy rain on Monday vindicated our decision and we were glad to have enjoyed our first festival together as a family so thoroughly and to have left on a high rather than even wetter, muddier and let’s face it, probably pretty damn grumpy on the Monday instead!