Posted June 24, 2015on:
When A.A. Milne penned his famous poem, ‘Now We Are Six’, he displayed a completely accurate understanding of the different stages of children’s interaction with the world. Now my son is six he really does believe that he is, ‘as clever as clever’, and seems to require an awful lot of negotiating to get anything done, if things are not going his way he has taken to putting on a whiny noise or fake crying, which is profoundly irritating. He frequently reprimands me if I have forgotten to use my telepathic skills to remind him to do something that only he knows that needs doing, and gets annoyed with me if I keep mentioning that he should be doing this or that. He is a very good reader and good at comprehension so he doesn’t require my assistance very much when he does things on the computer because he can follow the instructions. Most of the time I feel as if we are only getting away with him not turning into a complete horror because he is fundamentally a good child.
Alistair is a bit torn between growing up and staying a little boy, he enjoys his exciting dreams, digging in the sand pit, collecting sticks and stones, wearing face paint, baking and talking to imaginary friends. He often says that he doesn’t want to grow up (I have told him nobody does – it just happens) but can articulate that feeling so well that I am impressed with his use of language. For all of his bravado he still likes me to rescue him from the top of the climbing frame in the playground but is very comfortable using the Trim Trail in school. I have to admit that I really like it on the very odd occasion when he is ill, not in a Münchhausen By Proxy kind of way, because he becomes my baby again and is soft, cuddly and isn’t bossy for a short while. However once he is back to full health he is like a busy bee exploring the exciting world around him.
If you look up childhood milestones on any parenting site one of the main characteristics of a six year old is the desire to test boundaries and see how mad they can drive you. Apparently you are meant to stick to your guns and not budge, we however fail on that parenting advice and still work on the principle of choosing our battles wisely and then putting our foot down when, ‘peas get above sticks’, as my Grand dad used to say. One battle we seem to be having at the moment involves teeth cleaning and saying that all of his teeth will fall out isn’t washing because the little entrepreneur that he is just works out how much money he will get for his teeth. Also telling him that the Tooth Fairy won’t take his teeth doesn’t wash because that is just silly. We have talked to him about the long term health implications of not cleaning your teeth and allowed him to watch little snippets of ,’The Truth About Your Teeth‘, on BBC 1 and he is slowly coming round. When we visited the dentist, the dentist was impressed with his teeth and was surprised that he had made them sparkling white himself – I think that the fact that he just drinks water or milk and only gets sweets in rare batches helps too. Prevention is always better than cure.
Alistair is really looking forward to the school holidays and so am I – it is a time for enjoying life just because you can, not to tick off boxes so that you can be categorised. The greatest thing I want for Alistair is that he enjoys being who he is now in every stage of his life and can find his inner-peace when I am not nearby.
Illness has always been one of those things that I am terrible at judging, particularly with my own health. For some bizarre peculiar reason I don’t consider myself to be ill until I can’t function properly and am unable to do the smallest things. Unfortunately this has often resulted in me battling on incompetently and admitting defeat in a flood of tears. Everyone around me seems to know when they are ill and are really good at discussing symptoms and how it is effecting them. My inability to detect illness makes it quite difficult for me to decide how ill my son actually is and therefore he has missed very little school because if he can walk and talk then he is well enough to go.
Last week he was really tetchy and everything I did or didn’t do for my son seemed to be an indication of how little I cared for him. We went to the playground to play on the playground equipment and the mere prospect of leaving caused an unprecedented amount of fuss – well out of proportion to the request. I had an inkling then that maybe he was going in for something and that hunch was correct as he spent most of the weekend sleeping and watching Miss Marple. We decided to keep him off on the Monday to let him rest more until he felt better. On Tuesday he woke up saying he didn’t feel well enough for school and I wrongly assumed it was because he had enjoyed being off too much so I sent him in anyway, dressed with green socks for sports day. He did pretty well and won one race, came second in three and lost another.
Near the end of the school day I had a phone call informing me that Alistair was feeling sick and needed to be taken home. Obviously I had made the wrong decision and he was in fact ill and maybe should have been at home. As a result of this I am keeping him off for two more days and have had to cancel a much awaited play date – he didn’t make a fuss about that indicating that he really wasn’t feeling very well.
Alistair is very rarely ill and is always on the move so when he told me he felt ill and stayed unnaturally still I should have listened to him instead of suspecting that he was trying to miss school. Being a parent is so difficult at times because you swing from worrying that they are seriously ill and in need of hospital treatment to missing the signs that they are ill.
When you become a mother for the first time it is really quite amazing the changes you have to make to accommodate the little bundle of joy, who is tiny but requires the same amount of luggage as a Hollywood Diva. The one thing I noticed that was affected by having a baby was the type of handbag that was most practical to use when being responsible for prams, car seats, changing bags and bags with toys in them.
Before I met my husband I was very much a bum bag type of person, which made look pretty nerdy and far to practical for my own good. In the time between meeting my husband and having my son I had started to use proper girly handbags and filled them up with essential items that I thought I may need but in reality never used. A few days into my new role as, Mummy’, I soon discovered that a handbag you held in your hands was completely impractical, partly because you need all of your hands to do the job and also I just kept forgetting to pick it up when we went anywhere. Another thing was that I never managed to brush my hair or put any make up on so a traditional handbag was pretty redundant.
I forgot about a bum bag being a fantastic alternative (baby brain) and went in pursuit of the perfect bag for me. Initially I just stuffed my few essential items like a phone or purse in the baby changing bag because that was easiest. My baby changing bag was not as glamorous as some you can buy but it did the job. We used to joke that a large laptop bag would be perfectly adequate for carrying baby things. I tried a smallish cross over bag, which carried hardly anything but was useful and I rarely forgot it. After that I settled upon a leather back pack, which did the job and carried almost everything I needed.
Now my son is 6 years old and can carry toys and blankets in his own bag I use a very simple flight bag with just my phone, purse and camera in it.
I have never really gone back to using girly handbags simply because I dislike carrying too many possessions around. A small bag is liberating and like a medal saying, ‘Congratulations you have survived the baby stage – now get your life back!’
I really truly thought that I had managed to bring up a child who like the simple pleasures of sticks, stones and mud as opposed to wanting to blow copious amounts of cash going to places where he will end up finding sticks, stones and mud to play with. Alas I have been virtually unsuccessful in this attempt – I give my son pocket money so he can have a bit of financial freedom. My crafty boy hides his cash and still expects me to pay because he wants to save his money and it is not fair that I expect him to spend his. One thing I have discovered is that if you don’t expose children to places that are screaming out for cash they are no longer distracted by the need to spend and they settle to play with what they have around them. Bearing this in mind I have thought of five activities that won’t cost you a penny – unless you buy sweets and ice cream of course.
Make A Mud Kitchen
This is definitely not for the feint hearted and those who cannot abide dirt but it will keep them entertained for hours. Choose a corner of the garden where there is mud that is easy to access, bring out the pots and pans, add water and let your child have fun. Put old clothes on them and it won’t matter how dirty they get. I remember spending the whole summer holidays playing in the coal bunker – I got so filthy and looked as if I had been down a mine but I can’t remember the paid activities I did that year.
Make Natural Sculptures
I always mention this one and talk about Andy Goldsworthy as an example. Basically all it involves is collecting any bits of nature or rubbish (as long as it is safe) lying around and making a picture out of it. We live right by an estuary and there is often loads of treasure lying around for us to use; drift wood, plastic bottles, old shoes, bits of plastic, straw and stones. You will be surprised at how creative your child an be and how explaining what they have made can improve their language and imagination skills.
Visit The Local Playground
This activity does sometimes coincide with a visit to the sweetshop but often allows you to relax and chat to other parents while your child is completely occupied by other children in the playground. Visiting a playground regularly means that you don’t have worry about having playground equipment in the garden at home. In my experience children tend to look for the mud and stones in every playground they go in so don’t put them in their best togs – it will only drive you mad.
Make A Picnic And Go To The Beach
If anything was invented for children to run free and parents to relax a little – it was the beach. make sure you set ground rules like; don’t go into the sea without supervision, stay within sight, Keep off the road and by no account go home with anyone else you should be able to let your little monsters run free. You will find yourself making sandcastles and digging moats, so cast off your inhibitions and dig down and get sandy.
Go Round To Grandma’s
If Grandma lives too far away go and visit friends and relatives instead. Grand parents are generally so excited to see their grand children that they will quite happily entertain them for the whole afternoon – giving you the chance to relax with a cup of coffee, home made cake and a bit of peace and quiet.
These are very simple suggestions but they are surprisingly very time consuming and once you ignite your child’s imagination they develop momentum and can enjoy playing for hours and hours. Whatever you do – enjoy them while they are young! As for my son being very money minded he informed me yesterday that money was not important, life was and he knew that just because he knew.
The year seems to go so very quickly and it seems that once we have settled back into a routine after one set of school holidays we are preparing for another. It is the final half term before the big summer holidays and quite frankly my son is ready for a break from the school system. My son has a decidedly laid back approach to writing, which I am sure will be an issue at parent’s evening tonight, it is not that he hasn’t got the ability or the content – he just wants to be able to take longer than the restricted time allocated to writing. As a writer myself I can see where he is coming because deciding what to write about and making sure that it is something that is worth reading can often involve a lot of thinking, correcting and changing the title until it sounds just right. The pressure to write has increased in intensity as the year has gone on and my son has revolted against it by writing coded letters to the fairies requesting that the teachers are turned into bubbles and blown away so he doesn’t have to write any more.
Before he went to school, my son told stories all of the time and tales of Mr Spider and Pimpa Pimpa were shared between him and his granddad. He enjoys every other aspect of school and is very capable at maths, reading, comprehension, listening and speaking and spelling but writing is his bugbear. The last parents evening I attended involved a lot of discussion about SATs and I felt a wave of stress come over me, until I remembered that he was only in year one and he wasn’t going to do SATs until next year and the big ones for another five years. It is such a great shame that even in a school that values play the pressure to teach to the test always wins out in the end. This is most definitely related to the impact low SATs results has on a school’s OFSTED grading, the ironic part of all this is that secondary schools only use Key Stage SATs results as a weak guide to the groups they should be in.
It really makes you wonder why the Government has harped on about the importance of play in the early years only to begin hot housing them when they start school. The pressure to compete with other countries has meant that passing tests and ticking boxes has become the sole purpose of teaching and learning. When you read articles about how play can incorporate all aspects of learning such as this one by Playdale Playgrounds celebrating the learning potential of sand and water. I am afraid that this need to test all of the time is going to take away the excitement of learning and gradually switch children off.
I guess I am just going to have to start installing an enthusiasm for writing in my son and hopefully this will be just a phase he is going through.
I have to say that I truly love my son’s school, they never cease to amaze me with their desire to promote natural learning as much as possible. The school has a shiny new website that is updated regularly allowing parents to see exactly what their children are getting up to. My latest visit to the Allithwaite CE School website informs me that they have developed a lovely quiet area with raised beds for planting food to harvest, a mud kitchen, outdoor games tables, benches and lots of wood chippings. This information was reinforced when I picked my son up from after school club and he ran into the quiet area and with great excitement told me all about how they were going to grow food and how you can sit and relax with your friends.
I am a firm believer that children need to find their own way to calm down, relax and find inner peace in their own way. Learning to let go and let the chaos of the world clatter around you is a skill that is necessary in this technical age where everything is quantifiable and has to have been done yesterday. The education system has forced schools to be concious of testing children so that they can gain a good OFSTED result so that pressure does inadvertently filter down to the children. As someone who finds it impossible to switch off and truly relax I have been trying to encourage my son to develop these skills while he is young by allowing him to be a bit slobby at the weekends, not making a big deal about homework and spelling tests. I have told him that the holidays are a time to rest so that he can look forward to a break from intensive learning.
The outdoor games tables, which are similar to these by Playdale have made the quiet area look like a potential picnic area, where children can gather round and be sociable. Even if there are not always dice and counters available the children will be able to look at and trace the numbers on the snakes and ladders board. My son has a great sense of ownership in regards to the school playground equipment and would quite happily sleep there if it meant that he could play with his friends even longer.
I am a little envious that they have installed a mud kitchen because making mud pies and playing with mud and soil was something I really liked to do when I was my son’s age. My mum informs me that I when I was a child I could never wear my best clothes until just before we went out because I just got muddy and messy so easily.
It is going to be so exciting at Harvest time to see the vegetables they have grown. My son just finds the world so very exciting and it is a joy to watch him learn and grow.