Going To Ground

Darker mornings and evenings have been steadily creeping up on us over the last few weeks and as they do, I am becoming increasingly jealous of those creatures able to hibernate until warmer days return. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about Autumn and Winter that I love; the gorgeous changing colours of the leaves, bonfire night, all of my children’s birthdays(!), having a good excuse to spend wet chilly days inside with a fire roaring in the hearth and endless mugs of hot chocolate to warm the insides. But, in my heart of hearts, I am a summer enthusiast. I love being outside, I love not needing to pack jumpers and coats when we go out, I love not having to wear shoes, I love salads and ice creams and summery cocktails… In the summer I have more energy, more enthusiasm and more motivation.

As October has unfolded I’m finding my energy levels dwindling as I become more tired, I don’t feel like working out and I just want to eat all the comfort food. Although I think a gentle slowing down is natural (especially as my intense half-marathon training is over now) I’m aware that if I give into these hibernation-esque tendencies, I might get into a slump that it’s hard to dig myself out of come Spring! Both in terms of my body and mind, I’ve been working hard all year to keep myself healthy and I don’t want to undo all that work with a few months of duvet-days and one too many mince pies. So I’m guessing the answer, for me at least, is to try and adjust my routine to the seasons outside.

Back in the day, we would have risen with the sun and gone to bed with the sun so I’m guessing going to bed a little earlier, now we’ve lost our long light evenings, would help. I’ll probably do a little less running over the coming months and a little more weight lifting , choosing to exercise in the warmth of my home rather than on the dark damp roads outside.  And as time outside with the kids will be limited by the weather and temperature (Forest School continues all year round but I’m less inclined to wile away 6 hours at the beach when we’re in single digits), I’m going to try and be inventive with things we can do inside that don’t revolve around a screen and that will entertain all three children. So yes, I might partake in a going to ground of sorts but I will aim to make it a healthy, happy hibernation this winter.

Enjoying Autumn at Killerton

E+E Column: A virtual world

I was going to write about the summer holidays this week, the six weeks that stretch languidly ahead of every family as the schools break up and children everywhere celebrate the start of a well deserved break. I was going to write about how I mourn the temporary pausing of our weekly groups, especially Forest School, and the loss of structure. I was going to sneakily plug Exeter Forest School (absolutely no shame there though, they are incredible and deserve all the good mentions they get, I’d highly recommend their holiday clubs!). But then I thought that actually the summer holidays aren’t something to be dissected or moaned about. Children (and our hard working teachers) need these weeks in order to relax, reflect on the last academic year of learning and to have fun. Kids need the freedom and space to be kids, free of desks, phonics and bells. 

But this train of thought did leave me pondering about just how different the childhood of my children is to mine and to what a vastly different world they’re living in. Thankfully the summer holidays remain a constant but a lot else has changed. When a toddler can navigate their way around an xbox and a 6 year old can request to go out to hunt imaginary creatures in a game using the latest AR technology, the technological advances that we’ve made over the last few decades are highlighted even more strongly. Those that know me in real life know that I’ve got a bit of a bugbear about kids and ‘screen time’. I strongly feel that we all spend too much time in front of screens and that this is having a negative impact on the younger generations. Ironic given that I’m married to someone who works in (and loves) IT, that the main home ed curriculum we use is online-based and that recently I myself, have found some freelance work doing social media management. 

Not surprisingingly, I’ve had to make my peace with it. I do recognise that technology can and does have many incredibly positive and creative uses and that the connections it allows us can help mobilise people and bring about change. I also recognise that we all need a bit of a down time with our favourite show or video game. And I promise that I’m definitely not criticising Pokemon Go…anything that gets us outside is a plus in my book! But I guess I feel nervous about how this increased use of technology will affect people in the future. We can’t turn back now but the future is unknown and being a control freak, that scares me! I’ve come to the conclusion that all I can do is try and help teach my children how to use technology positively and in moderation, how to switch off and to show them the value of being outside and looking up, not down. I probably shouldn’t worry too much though…of her own accord, Sophia spent this morning successfully learning to knit – no screens needed! 

Fun at Forest School!

E+E Column: The Power of the Box

If you are the parent of young children or indeed, have spent any time around them, then you’ll know that they can have a tendency to get a little bit obsessive about things. Sometimes, these things are odd but mostly harmless; they want their toast cut into triangles not rectangles, they line up their toys in a specific order or they insist on performing the exact same bedtime exchange with you night in, night out. Sometimes however, their obsession can impact on the rest of the family. It can consume their every waking thought and brings parents to tears and threats of drastic action (well, maybe it’s not quite that bad!)…

I’m talking, of course, about TV shows. Over the last six years, this has happened a fair few times. A program is watched on Cbeebies or Netflix and grabs their attention. Next time the box is on, they ask for the next episode…and then the next, and then the next. Before you know it, every member of the household can recite vast chunks of dialogue from these inane, irritating shows. The characters often have silly names, the plot lines are formulaic and repetitive. And invariably, the theme tune always manages to worm it’s way into your mind and takes hold.

Favourite shows have come and gone in this house. We’ve had hours of Peppa Pig episodes, a love of Mister Maker, a brief flirtation with Thomas, an obsession with Topsy and Tim and their friends and an affair with Bing. These obsessions grip them for a weeks or months, they don’t want to watch anything but the chosen show, they talk about the characters when you’re on the bus or going for a walk, they reenact their favourite storylines at the park with each other. And then, as suddenly as it started, it’s over. They’re not bothered about watching it anymore, they inject some variety into their scheduled screen time again. A sigh of relief descends among the adults.

I need to remember this when we’re in the midst of such an obsession as we are at the moment. Currently, it is all about Paw Patrol (we’ll be there on the double!) I have been subjected to retellings of their favourite episodes, instructed to call them downstairs with the patented catch phrase (‘just yelp for help’), I know all the names of the pups and whose is whose favourite (it changes daily). Each morning, the first words that Isaac breathes are often ‘Can I watch paw patrol?’ I feel like we can’t escape Ryder and his team!

But I know that we will. Before too long they’ll grow bored of watching the same shows over and over again and will move on. They’ll start to choose different shows each time we pop on the TV, they might actually want to watch a movie with me again! But for now, I guess I have to just tolerate, if not embrace, the latest obsession. Or, alternatively, find some cleaning jobs to do upstairs every time that theme tune starts playing….

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!

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The Instant Generation

It was whilst checking my phone for the third time this morning and being impatient at it’s loading speed that I had a flashback to being a teenager with agonisingly slow dial up internet, a family computer and no knowledge of anything beyond msn messenger. And I remember it still being such an awesome thing,  we had the internet!

Roll on 12 years and my children are growing up in a world where the internet is available at the touch of a button, on a variety of devices and there are more social media sites than you know what to do with. So much of our daily life is conducted on the internet from paying bills, banking and grocery shopping to researching rainy day activities, planning holidays and getting involved in political activity.  Just a few years ago, the extent of our virtual world would have been unbelievable. For our children however,  they’ve never known or never will know any different.

And don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a technophobe or technosceptic (I made that one up)! I think technology and the opportunities it gives us is brilliant.  Just take for example the world of home educators. The internet provides a place where parents can go to for ideas,  reassurance,  company and endless resources. Anecdotally I’ve read more experienced home educators saying how much easier or less isolating the internet makes home educating compared to 10 years ago.

But, (there’s always a but) I do think it is important to teach our children to be able to switch off and of the value of the real world and experiencing it fully. I am not one to talk, I still struggle with not checking my phone regularly,  with not carrying it around the house with me. I often find myself immersed in reading something (ironically usually parenting related) only to glance up and realise that one or both of my children would like me to engage with them, and to do so fully.

What a bad example for them, to see me almost surgically attached to my phone,  unable to give my full attention to the people around me. Children have the most amazing skill of living totally in the moment,  of soaking up every little detail of what they are experiencing. I want to be more like them. I don’t want them to grow up to think that the real world isn’t as good as what the virtual world offers. Because it is every bit as good and infinitely better. To get out and interact face to face with other people, to explore our local surroundings,  be it a metropolitan city or rural countryside,  to have to take time and put in effort to complete tasks and challenges. These are important skills and ones that aren’t possible through the internet alone.

The latter point is one I really feel strongly about,  patience. If there’s one thing technology doesn’t encourage,  it’s patience. Everything is instant and easy, just a click of a button away. And I have a theory that having patience is one of the most important traits we can possess. Patience is thinking before we speak,  patience is accompanying an elderly woman home after a fall as she walks at what seems like the pace of a snail, patience is parenting,  endlessly, day in, day out, without reward and often lots of being shouted at and bodily fluids to contain and clean.

Patience is love.

And without love, what have we got? Not much; it is at the foundation of our relationships and of everything good.

The internet is great for a lot of things (blogging for example!) but we need genuine face time in order to nurture and model patience and love in our children.

So that is why I am giving up the internet on my phone for lent. To just use it for it’s intended purpose of calls and texts.  To have to consciously set aside 30 minutes or an hour in the evening to boot up the computer for anything that needs doing. To spend my days 100% immersed in my task at hand, undistracted. To leave my phone at home when I pop to the shops or the park. To prioritise the people I’m with, be it the kids, my family,  or friends, and not do them the disservice of having to fight for my attention with a screen. Will you join me? Are you up for the challenge?

A New Year

Happy New Year people of the Internet! I realise I’m a bit late in this post but better late than never.

We’ve been trying to settle back into normal life after the holidays, a lovely New Years Eve and Day with friends, a trip to the in laws and Dan having time off but have been slightly thwarted by being so busy busy busy with boat viewings. However, it seems to have paid off and we appear to have found a buyer! Exciting times but until the ink’s drying…etc I don’t want to believe it’s happening!

The sale of the boat is tying in with some big changes for us but I can’t say anymore yet so watch this space!

So, to 2013…a space yet to be filled. I’m not massively into resolutions but have thoughts on things I’d like to bear in mind as we go on with the year.

I’d like to start running more regularly. I really enjoy running (my teenage self would be horrified!) but haven’t been more than half a dozen times in the last year! I’m aiming for weekly runs so we’ll see. I think it’s the prospect of 30-60 mins of completely child free time to myself that I enjoy most but the exercise is an added bonus!

I’ve also been contemplating doing a Doula training course for a while now. I am really drawn to the idea of supporting and serving a mother and her family at such an exciting and turbulent time in their lives. But I’m not sure if this is the right time for me to be doing it with the kids so young and I still haven’t thought of a solution for child care for such unpredictable hours. Also, there are already a lot of doula’s in Brighton so I don’t know whether I’d get any work anyway. One for more prayer and thought I think!

My final ‘resolution’ for me is less screen time but it actually applies for all of us! I spend far too much time on my phone and Sophia seems to have none for days and then spurts of lots of TV and time on the laptop so I’m going to regulate and limit that a bit more. My one consolation is that as we rely on DVD’s and Netflix, at least I have some control over what she is watching!

In terms of the kids I think I’m going to start doing a bit of structured learning with Sophia every day or every other day. Nothing heavy but just responding to her eagerness to learn and requests to ‘do’ letters…etc. I’m going to keep it really simple as she’s only just 3 but am trying to follow her lead! I’m excited about one of my home-eddy plans but will cover it in a separate post I think.

She’s really into imaginative play at the moment and that was further aided and encouraged by a till, doctors kit, toy town and sylvanian family dolls house (very grateful small girl here after Christmas and birthday a week apart!) so am going to try and remember to join in when requested and also try and bios up a dressing up clothes stash when we’re somewhere with enough space!

For Isaac, I remember the jump from 12 to 18 months being huge in terms of actual play so am going to try and do more messy/sensory play for him and generally make sure that he gets attention as well as up until recently he hasn’t required or wanted much more than milk and room to explore!

Finally, I’m going to try and spend more time outdoors. After so so so much rain, I’d forgotten how much the kids thrive outside so we’ve already bundled up and went to Stanmer Park for a wintry walk with friends on Friday and went to the park on the beach today. I was chilly but the kids seemed unfazed and loved it.

The proof is in the pudding!

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How about you? Any resolutions or plans for 2013? I’d love to hear them!