It is going to be so exciting when the children go back to school in September because they will find some new playground equipment in their school grounds. The PTA and local business Make Us A Website have put money together to buy playground equipment from Playdale Playgrounds. If my memory serves me correctly when we go back to school in September there will be a new Story Telling Chair, climbing wall and a bird table. These pieces of playground equipment will be great additions to the playground simply because of the play potential the children can have with them at playtimes.
The school playground is quite small really but the imaginative teachers have utilised the space to its fullest potential by having different activities in all of the nooks and crannies. It would seem that apart from the sand pit and mud kitchen, the favourite playground activity is to build wobbly towers using crates and terrify any observing adult that they may just tumble when they reach the top. Parts of the playground remind me of the concept of the, ‘The Land‘, in Plas Madoc in South Wales, where children are able to use every day junk to create their own play area. Whereas only a minute part of Allithwaite school playground is dedicated to this type of play (it would look really awful otherwise) the whole play area in Plas Madoc is devoted to imaginative play.
Apparently when you approach, “The Land. A Space Full of Possibilities.” (Guardian) it looks like a dangerous junk yard and would send chills down the spine of any over cautious parent. The whole point of the area is for children to learn about risk in their own way and explore activities that they may be prohibited from doing elsewhere. Children who play in The Land recall exciting experiences where they have built amazing dens and furnished them with mattresses they have found. Others remember building a huge water slide. Inspirational youth worker Claire Griffiths set up The Land and with assistance supervises the children from a safe distance, broken bones and grazes are inevitable but that is all part of the learning process. Play experts from all over the world have visited The Land to observe and gain inspiration from the project.
Plas Madoc is a town stained with deprivation, the local leisure centre has closed and play opportunities are few and far between for children. The Land gives these children a sense of purpose and achievement that can not be acquired in a structured environment. Apparently the risk assessment for The Land is huge and is based on risk verses benefits from the activity, the fire risk assessment is nine pages long. I was lucky to grow up in a time where there was enough space to do all of the things that the children do in The Land before over protectiveness took hold. Being left to your own devices to play and learn about pain and your limitations gives you a strength and independence that cannot be found in a text book.
As parents we really do need to loosen our apron strings and let our children find out for them selves what they can create. It is very difficult though because when your child hurts themselves you can feel their pain and you want to protect them for ever – sadly this does not protect them as it make it difficult for them to deal with adversity in real life.
The summer holidays provoke a mixture of reactions from parents, some embrace the time with their children and others dread the constant need to provide entertainment. Without a doubt the summer holidays is expensive and even if you cut down spending to a minimum, if you are living in poverty it can still be too expensive. Children still require feeding and tend to develop an insatiable appetite because they are outside a lot. If you are a family that has relied on free school dinners to ensure that your children get the food they need the impact of the holidays on your food budget can be catastrophic. Yes there are food banks but the sheer humiliation of having to go to one is enough to reduce families self esteem to zero. Just recently the very astute SNP MP Mhari Black quite rightly pointed out that “Food banks are not part of the welfare state, they are a symbol that the welfare state is failing” (New Statesman) whatever your political leanings are, you do have to agree that she has made a very valid point.
It is becoming more apparent that the establishment is making every effort to undermine families who have to rely on benefits to survive and the broadcasting companies seem to be in cahoots by producing belittling reality benefits programmes. The shocking thing is how remarkably easy it is to go from a comfortable lifestyle to poverty simply through redundancy or ill health. We are all part of the system and we are all at its mercy – maybe not today or tomorrow but sometime we will be, when we are most vulnerable. Getting out of the poverty trap seems to be like trying to climb out of a greasy pit and being pushed back in again once you see daylight. People are having to apply for jobs in any sector of the workforce and can apply for hundreds of jobs just to be perpetually rejected. Common sense tells us that it would be better if the Job Centre provided career guidance and directed people to apply for jobs they could be good at and enjoy rather than reduce self esteem to nothing and increase debilitating mental health problems.
Although the welfare of children is taken into account the emotional impact really is not, children suffer in every single possible way due to family poverty. In April 2013 Caroline Hoggarth, headteacher of Greengate Infants School in Barrow, wrote an extensive report on poverty in the Furness area. As Lead Commissioner of, ‘The Furness Poverty Commission‘, she lead a high calibre team on researching poverty in this area of Cumbria. The research found that poverty is increasing and the impact on the town as a whole will continue the awful devastation caused by redundancy and lack of jobs. The report includes quotes from people who had answered the questions and shows that they never aspired to be in the position they were in, it just either crept upon them or they were born into that lifestyle.
Living in poverty can be devastating for children as it deprives them of everything that is necessary to develop into rounded and confident adults. When children go to school they are expected to spend their time learning and eventually applying what they have learnt to everyday life, in a perfect world this really does happen and a child does absorb themselves in their lessons. However children who face the harsh truth of poverty and dysfunction are too distressed and tired to deal with learning, imagine trying to feel enthusiastic about capital letters if you have spent all night hungry, cold, listening to arguing and feeling self concious because you haven’t had a bath. The Furness Poverty Commission Report states. ‘The head of a junior school reported several children ‘unprepared for school- tired, hungry, struggling with emotional tensions at home. This dramatically affects their ability to learn’. A school adviser reported ‘the stress of family poverty seriously affects children’s ability to learn and to form supportive social relationships in school’
Every summer holiday children are uprooted from a routine that generally ensures that they are safe and teachers are making sure that they are well, they are receiving free school dinners and they are not alone. As soon as they leave the school gate with their term’s work in their carrier bags they are at the mercy of their family circumstances. For many they will enjoy days out, time with family and learning new exciting skills like how to swing as high as a bird. Others will spend their holiday hungry, tired, lost and facing the reality of their situation. Children are very much affected by their circumstances and suffering the effects of poverty and deprivation in your formative years can leave an emotional and educational scar that may never heal.
I know that the Summer Holidays is all about making sure that children are entertained and not whining about being bored every five minutes but to me it is all about getting my son back. I am really pleased with his progress in school and he has learnt an awful lot about a lot of things but now it is time for him to relax, enjoy playing and not have to do anything structured at all. We have many plans to do simple things that are actually scientifically quite exciting like making butter and putting eggs in vinegar. I am going to do a puppet show for him and his friend and no doubt we will go on adventures on the Estuary. We will go on day outs and just enjoy being together.
I am so happy that my son is growing up to be such a wonderful human being and the fact that he is completely on my wave length is even more fantastic. He has a thirst for learning, has an amazing imagination and is compassionate – yes he can be noisy, messy, whiny and just plain irritating at times, aren’t we all, but it never ceases to amaze me how much I fall in love with him more every single day. When we first met I loved him because he was my baby and it is instinctive to love and protect him, now I love the person that he is and and am so proud of him.
The Summer holidays brings back memories of spending time in different playgrounds learning how to climb, slide, swing and look at the world around us. Our shared experiences, when he was very young, have bonded us for ever and all of the times that I enjoyed like looking for fairies or messages in bottles he also remembers, we share the memory and become a little bit closer. There have been times when I have taught him a lot of things and times where he has shown me that determination and never giving up is still a way to get there in the end.
I have learnt that true happiness comes from watching your child embracing life and confidently facing new experiences. My greatest delight this summer is that my little boy has got a friend very close by to play with and have many adventures with.
The stellar speed at which time is racing past is the most important reason why I am going to make the most of being able to kiss and cuddle my son while he is still pocket sized because one day I will turn around and he will be man sized with children of his own.
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.