Sunday, 11 September 2011

25 Manners Parents Should Know

Having coming across a really horrible list of "25 manners your kids should know" today (which I'm not going to link to as it's just so disrespectful to children, but I'm sure you can google it if you're interested), which just made me sad, I couldn't sleep until I'd whipped up an alternate version, so voila...  

 A rebuff to "25 Manners your kids should know"

#1: When asking for something, say "Please." If your kids see it as normal they'll start saying it at some point without you ever having to ask them to. Plus, it's just nice.

#2: When receiving something, say "Thank you." Ditto the above.

#3: If children interrupt you when you're speaking with other adults, rejoice in the fact that they have something they want to share with *you*, and remember their childhood is fleeting and you'll miss those interruptions when they're all grown up. If there is an emergency, try to notice the smoke/flood/explosive nappy before anyone needs to interrupt you anyway.

#4: If you would like your children to use the phrase “Excuse me”, use it reguarly and appropriately yourself, and see number 1 and 2 for reasons.

#5: When you have any doubt about doing something, ask yourself first whether it will enrich your relationship with your children. It can save you from many years of grief later.

#6: Listen to what your kids dislike. And what they like. And what they love, what excites them, what fills them with joy and fires their curiosity. Because if you're interested in these things you can enrich their world and make their lives joyful.

#7: Tell your kids how amazing they are every day. Kids with high self esteem don't tend to bully others. If your child makes an innocent remark about someone's physical characteristics, apologise yourself if appropriate, and take the opportunity to talk to your child about people's differences and how feelings can get hurt.

#8: When people ask you how you are, tell them and then ask them how they are. Your kids will see that's the way the world works and want to join in. (See numbers 1, 2 and 4)

#9: When you have your kids' friends over, remember that between them they will have many, many multiples of the energy of just your kids. Make sure you have enough coffee in. (For you, not them ;) ) When your kids go to friends' houses... put your feet up and make the most of the break, you'll be missing them like crazy before they're due back!

#10: Knock on your kids' doors -- and wait to see if there's a response -- before entering. Extend your children the same rights over their privacy as you would any other human being, and you'll find they follow suit. (See numbers 1, 2, 4 and 8)

#11: When you make a phone call, remember that at one (or, more likely, several) point during the call, you will need to take someone to the toilet/change a nappy/get someone a drink/break up an argument over Lego/find the remote/have a nervous breakdown. Either perfect your 'phone between ear and shoulder while doing all the above' move, or get a bluetooth headset.

#12: Be appreciative and say "thank you" for any gift you receive from your kids. I've had a piece of blue tac wrapped in foil before now. (And yes, I kept it :) )

#13: If your kids swear, remember they're just words, and you give them power. Take it as an opportunity to discuss people who might be offended and where such language would cause a problem.

#14: Don't call people mean names. That includes your kids. That includes saying how annoying/naughty/exasperating they are.

#15: Make every day fun. Know what they enjoy and fill their lives with the opportunity to do it.

#16: If a play is boring, make sure they can let you know and you can leave quietly and go get ice cream. Or go to the park. Or go snuggle up and eat some fish and chips. Because life's too short.

#17: If you bump into somebody, immediately say "Excuse me." (See numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, and 10) And not “Oh S*** sorry” (see number 13)

#18: Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and don't pick your nose in public. (See numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 10 and 17)

#19: As you walk through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else. (See numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 17 and 18) That is, once you've manouvered through the door with a pram, three children, a nappy bag stuffed to bursting, and four bags of groceries, picked your toddler's favourite teddy off the floor without trapping your fingers in the door hinge, and gone back for your shoe that came off ten yards ago without you noticing because you were too busy answering “Why?” for the fortieth time that hour.

#20: If you come across one of your kids working on something, ask if you can help. If they say "yes," do so -- you may learn something new.

#21: When a child asks you for a favour, do it without grumbling and with a smile.

#22: When your child helps you, say "thank you." They may never want to help you again, but if you help *them* every single day you can be pretty certain that they will.

#23: Make food fun! Make monkey platters and muffin tin meals, fairy bread butterflies and broccoli trees, mashed potato clouds and glow in the dark drinks, glittery jelly and traffic light toast. And finally, always, always eat squirty cream from the can.

#24: Keep a napkin in your bag. In fact, keep 20. They're invaluable for mopping up spills, cleaning sticky faces, drawing pictures on in restaurants, constructing origami frogs, and putting on questionable public toilet seats when even your five year old looks at it as if to say “You've got to be kidding me!”

#25: Offer things at the dinner table. If someone reaches over the dinner table for something, and gets their sleeve in the ketchup, refer back to number 24.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


When I look back to when I was pregnant with Sprout, 6 years ago now, I can't believe how little I knew about our options: options for his birth, for parenting, for healthcare, for education. For everything. Not because I didn't read or look things up or ask my midwife, but because until I started making choices different from the 'norm', I didn't realise how many choices we really had.

I had no clue that children didn't have to go to school.

No idea that vaccinations weren't compulsory.

Not the faintest inkling that I didn't, in fact, have to do everything the midwife told me I had to.

I really wish I'd known.

So in the spirit of making informed choices I've put together a page called "Or you can..." (also accessible via the tab at the top of this blog) of links to information about choices that aren't routinely presented to you, covering everything from pregnancy and birth to education. I'd love it if it was shared widely so that as many parents, and parents-to-be, as possible have easy access to see alternatives that, just like me, they didn't know were even an option.

Friday, 17 June 2011


Patience is a virtue, so they say, but is it one that can genuinely be worked towards?

Joyce of Joyfully Rejoycing has started a new project over at  I Will Always Be There For You, a window into what radical unschooling can look like, the unconventional moments we might share with our kids. You can see Sprout in her post today The King Of Flour, about the fun evening we had that sprang from Sprout's artistic (and messy!) curiosity about flour. An evening where in a different life we might have got angry, but we didn't. From our perspective, there are two facets to this: a calm reaction to what could have been a kind of 'trigger' situation, and seeing the possibility of taking a moment and making it joyful, fun, and memorable.

I already looked here this week at that second facet, the places that Sprout and Squidge's curiosities take us. So the flour post is very timely in regards to that first facet, the calmness, in a week where three different people have commented on how 'patient', or 'calm' I am. Now, it will probably tell you something that, when I related these comments to Gruff yesterday, he laughed so hard he almost choked on his coffee.

I am *not* a naturally calm person. I was brought up in a family where we were often shouted at and routinely smacked. Nature or nurture, I had a volatile temper. We have never, and will never, smack our children, but I have shouted. Lots. And then a good while ago, after watching a friend who never seems to get angry with her child and thinking how I'd love to be more like that, I made a conscious decision to try and stop. Stop shouting. Stop scaring my kids when I'm one of the two people they trust most in the world. Not only does shouting not 'work', but it damages these two amazing little people here...

...*and* damages my relationship with them.

At first I made the mistake of just trying to stop shouting, and dealing with my anger another way, deep breaths or leaving the room. This did. not. work. Doing this just left me feeling helpless to deal with whatever was going on; after all if I couldn't respond to the anger-inducing situation and really let them know I was angry, what was I supposed to do?

Instead I started looking at what I was getting angry about. Were these situations genuinely 'anger-inducing'? Or was it me? The major things that upset me were when the boys hurt each other, or went out of their way to upset each other. In addition Sprout went through a period of being very angry himself, and taking it out in a violent way on me. When I really looked at it, the things that were making me angry were symptoms of something else. One friend lent me some wise words: Remember, to a small child, hitting *is* a language.

Once that light went on in my head, it became much easier. When Squidge hit Sprout, it was because he was unhappy about something or struggling in some way. When Sprout hit me, it was because he too was struggling with some aspect of what was going on, and he didn't yet have the cognitive ability to work it out nor the vocabulary to let me know. It made it so much easier to separate their behaviour from the actual problem, then I was free of the anger and free to deal with the situations as they arose, and address the root cause, whether it was that I'd spent too much time with Squidge one day leaving Sprout left out and frustrated, or we'd had a week pottering round at home and forgotten that Squidge feels frustrated if he doesn't go a bit further afield at least once every few days. I could still let them know that it's not okay to hurt people, while at the same time looking at why they had done that in the first place, and identifying cues that *I* was missing. I found wonderful advice here on how to continue doing this in the times that I struggled with most - the times when Sprout was so angry and frustrated over something that he was repeatedly hurting me.

As I've practiced more and more being calm in situations in which I would previously have shouted, I've found even my frustration at other things has completely disappeared. Things like spilled milk that I wouldn't ever have shouted about, but would still have frustrated me inside, don't even raise an ounce of frustration any more. If something's an accident, it's an accident. My time with my kids is too precious to even worry about those ones. For anything deliberate, there's always a better way of dealing with it than getting angry, whether it's talking to them about why it's not okay to do something, or with other things turning them into a joyful moment in our time together, such as the evening of flour :)

I still do shout, sometimes, but it's always short-lived now, and it's getting rarer as the more I consciously aim to be calm the more it seems to come naturally in a given situation. Our home is noticeably calmer now. And the less time spent by me doing this...

...the more time there is to do this...



...and this...

And I think I can now say, yes, you can work towards patience. If I can do it, anyone can!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Freedom to shine!

I had the joy of discovering this post yesterday, I Am What I Am. I'd had a wobbly couple of days confidence-wise: Was it 'okay' that Sprout had foregone a drumming workshop in the park with his friends in order to play Lego Universe all day with his Daddy? Were we doing the right thing by Squidge by continuing to let him develop speech at his own rate? Etc etc ad infinitum it seemed. Anne's post helped me reaffirm why we do what we do, why we radically unschool.

We're very lucky to be journeying through life with two amazing boys. Sprout is bursting at the seams with energy and 'get up and go' (or 'jump up and go' most of the time!). He currently loves Lego and all it entails, building it, talking about it, finding out about it, telling people about it, watching stop motion animation videos of it, and playing Lego Universe online. He also loves They Might Be Giants, climbing trees, Power Rangers, make believe in the park, and making potions. Squidge is generous with his cuddles, and says thank you with a blown kiss. Currently he loves cars (and watching his Daddy fix them), watching films, looking for bees, making bread, playing music, and dressing up.

I love that wherever their hearts are taking them, we can help them go, without the restrictions of school (whether that be sitting at a desk, getting up first thing in the morning, or learning what you're told to learn) or any other type of coercion. I love that they have the freedom to set their own pace in their childhoods, however speedy or laid back that might be, and however often that might change. I love that they get to develop according to their own internal timetable, without having labels or stigmas attached. I love that if, for example, they want to see a hologram, I can help them make that happen, instead of it being the wrong time and them being made to learn about phonics instead. I love that if, at 9 o'clock at night, Sprout wants to know why elephants have tails, what sound the letter K makes, whether there's anything that can turn from a solid to a gas without becoming a liquid inbetween, *and* what a sensei is, we have the freedom to help him satisfy his curiosity.

On that note, I thought I'd share a few snapshots of things we've done over the past couple of weeks when we've followed the boys' curiosities and desires...

Being undead skeleton knights...


Going on jungle adventures,
then playing on be funky
with the photos...

Being Power Rangers,
then playing on psykopaint
with some more photos...

Planting cacti...

Making flower snacks
with homegrown strawberries...

Investigating how to get the
ball to go highest and furthest
with a Lego catapult...

Watching the geese at Westport Lake

Looking at mosaics
and planning our own...

Spotting all different
coloured wild flowers...

Feeding the ducks...

Tackling the adventure playground...

Painting our own faces (and
then flying along the pavement
like the beautiful butterflies we were!)...

Putting the world to rights over ice cream...

Painting pottery...

Bouncing high...

Climbing trees (that little
orange spot right at the
top is indeed Sprout!)...

Blowing big bubbles...

Mavelling at prisms and
the resulting rainbows...

Creating nature art...

Playing a creatively-scored
round of mini golf...

Lots of splashing, pouring,
decanting, spraying,
and er, mess :D ...


Changing white flowers to
blue and red with food colouring...

Playing pool...

Finding toad homes...

Swimming ecstatically...

And building a Lego laboratory
for Lego scientists.

This past couple of weeks were by no means typical, but only insomuch as no week is typical. Some weeks we're rarely at home and have more picnics in the park than meals in our own lounge. Some weeks we're so engrossed in a game or a website or a pile of books that we hardly venture out. And some weeks we have so many meet ups with the boys' friends that I have trouble fitting everything in! But however our weeks pan out, I can see the boys shining brightly, and I'm so happy and privileged to be there alongside them.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Flat Sprout!

Flat Stanley - the boy who got squashed flat and realised he could travel by post!

This month we're doing our first flat traveller swap. We've sent our 'Flat Sprout' (with Lego body, who'd have thought it?) ...

... complete with passport to Soldotna, Alaska, and we're eagerly awaiting the arrival of Bob in return. Sprout's hoping he gets here this week so that he can join us on our trip to Warwick Castle! He's also been looking on the Soldotna website and is most excited that 'Flat Sprout' is travelling somewhere that has bears and moose!

If you'd like any general info and ideas for flat travellers you could look here and here.

Happy 5th Birthday - It's all about the Lego!

Well, my intention to blog regularly this year is clearly not going fabulously, so I'll try and kick-start myself today with two posts!

First, Sprout set his heart on a Lego party for his 5th birthday, and I do love doing their birthday parties, so I thought I'd share with you what I did as I know I got a lot of inspiration from other blogs and sites such as Amy's at Living Locurto here.

Happy Birthday Banner

We printed off a googled picture of a Lego minifigure and one of a brick, and used them for templates to cut the shapes out of craft foam, along with some randomly shaped letters, and stuck the whole lot together with an industrial amount of hot glue!


This was fun but took a good while - essentially all the food was lego brick shaped. Pretty self explanatory with sandwiches, wraps, pitta pizzas and salad, then the veggie sausages we cooked into the shape of little bricks and built them into a pyramid (seeing as Sprout's other current all-consuming interest is Ancient Egypt!), then my favourite of all, square eggs courtesy of this little gadget here. For the salad bowl I covered a round box (that Squidge's building blocks came in at Christmas) with yellow craft foam, and stuck on black paper in the shape of a minifigure face; the salad bowl itself then just sat inside. Juice boxes were covered in Lego brick-esque craft foam too...


We didn't do party games as I know they'd far rather just go off and play, but there was a paddling pool full of Megabloks for the littlies, and plenty of Lego around (as always!) for the others. Colouring sheets we had from here (scroll down to the bottom), here and here, and there were also minifigure masks we'd made in different designs (just yellow card with various faces copied from actual minifigures)


The plan had been for Lego brick cakes in various colours, but Sprout decided the day before that he didn't want them icing, so in the end they had a somewhat rustic look! I also tried to do cake pops like these, but for some reason mine were too squidgy and wouldn't stay on the sticks even long enough to ice them, so any tips for the future appreciated as I'd love to try them again!

Party bags

Really simple, just yellow bags from here with a face glued on in paper. Inside were bubbles on which we'd put our own Lego 'thank you for coming' labels we designed, along with either these Lego brick sweets or homemade chocolate Lego bricks using a mould similar to this.

The party had the birthday boy's full seal of approval... and I now have a full two months to plan for the next one!

Friday, 7 January 2011

2011 - The Year of the Free!

Ok so I realise I'm about a week late with the New Year post, but hey. This year I'm planning on making things just as magical, fun, exciting and un-schooly (not a word, but it should be) as last, but somewhat cheaper, having made the transition from most-of-the-time-mummy-and-part-time-call-centre-minion to full time mummy. Yay! And also, eek!

We're pretty frugal anyway, but I like a challenge so I though I'd make sure that every day we do something free and fun with Sprout and Squidge. I'm positive that between craft ideas using things we have around the house, activities and fun things that don't cost a penny, and free days out and places to go, that we can do at least one a day until 2012.

So on that note, today we started with two little ideas...

Colour mixing

We used what I think are microwave egg poachers (read: some plastic things that sit in the cupboard and only come out for craft and play purposes!), diluted food colourings, and pipettes. What do you mean, you don't have pipettes in the house??? Weird. Ok you can use teaspoons or something then :) Muffin tins would be a good alternative to egg poachers, but I'm sure you can think of many more.

Sprout was delighted to find he could make the whole lot look like 'swamp water', just in time, he tells me, for the swamp rats to spawn. I blame Shrek.

Squidge, on the other hand, was even happier to discover that he could cover the whole floor in squirted swamp water in the time it took me to answer my phone.

Salt Painting

Our second free idea was a crafty one. Seeing as we had the food colouring and pipettes out anyway (seriously, every household should have pipettes), I thought we could use them for salt painting. (Please ignore the background mess I've skillfully captured in the photo, I'm in the middle of, er, organising!)

The boys drizzled a design on the card in PVA glue, then sprinkled salt all over it. Once we'd shaken off the excess salt, they used the pipettes to drip food colouring onto the salt trails. Sprout was enamoured with how fast the colour spread along the salt pattern and the intricate pattern it made.

So a small but succesful start I think, off now to think of one for tomorrow!