Nature Spotting Challenge (In more ways than one)

Getting kids to go outside is generally not a challenge. Most children love to run and play in the open air, and most toddlers are pretty curious about the world around them. R is no different. He loves to be in the garden or the park, and he gets so excited when he spots something new and interesting. 

It’s just a little less common. As R is partially sighted, pointing out wildlife, often gone in a flash, or small insects and plants can be a struggle. The same is true of giving him a check-list of wildlife to find. With this in mind, I took him out on our version of the Nature Spotting Challenge, and tried to find some close-up nature for him to get acquainted with. Too much stimulation can be overwhelming for him, so we stretched it out over a week or so!

Heading to the park, we discovered that there are loads of ways to discover nature without being able to see perfectly. Using our bodies to climb and feel different textures and shapes was a great way to find out about the great outdoors. R climbed on a gigantic tree trunk and used his hands to feel all the ridges and bumps. The Oak trees have so much character and must be hundreds of years old.

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We took off our shoes and socks and walked over the grass, and R pointed out daisies and buttercups, all of which stand out really beautifully against the green grass. I sat him down and showed him the different feels of moss and clover compared with grass. 

R went up close to see the touch and smells of the bushes, and told me it smelt ‘delicious!’ 
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As our nature week continued, when he couldn’t quite reach to get as close as he would like, we had a handy stepladder available! 

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Animals can be fast moving and difficult to spot in their natural environment, so we decided to head to the farm, so we could get a closer look. R absolutely loved seeing and feeding the goats, and we saw some baby chicks being born! 

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And we did see SOME animals out in the wild… the slow ones! Can you spot the snail we found?
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Our checklist also included lots of things that we can hear. We heard ducks and woodpeckers, as well as crickets and herons, and other natural sounds such as streams and even thunder this week. We were even *lucky* enough to feel the rain when we weren’t expecting it at all!

By thinking outside of the box, our family was able to take part in this amazing Center Parcs challenge, and introduce our son to the natural world in a way that he could really appreciate and understand. Now to go make some jam with our strawberry pickings! 

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Watch and Learn

Just a quick lesson learned from my 1 year old today, proving that he continues to teach me just as many amazing things (if not more) than I could possibly hope to impart to him.

Not everything has only one answer. It doesnt matter if you’re following society’s strict notion of what is ‘correct’, just as long as you’re doing your best and enjoying yourself along the way.Great job carving out your own path and ‘sticking it to the man’ little boy!

 

Do you remember?

Waking up each morning, with purpose in your smile,
Feeling that hand picked for you, was every twist and trial.
Knowing that you’d taken time, out of your own routine-
To grow and change and learn it all, while you were still a teen.

To move with friends out of our youth, and into being grown,
To contemplate and sometimes change, which seeds had then been sown.
Standing in the sunlight, just talking, me and Him,
I’d never been so open, simply letting prayer in.

Hours of our days went by, we’d argue, talk, debate,
Discuss the meanings of our lives, the love, despair and hate.
That feeling when it came together, we knew our world was true,
I miss those bursts of energy, do you miss them too?

The passion and the zeal to learn, the way we had to grow,
It sometimes seems a distant me, a life from long ago.
Now, going through the motions, I long to be inspired
But life gets in the way somehow, and I just end up tired.

In some ways I have so much more than ‘six years ago me’ had,
A home, marriage, my baby boy, so much to make me glad.
But still sometimes I glance behind, and hope I’ve not forgot,
The girl I knew back then who felt, so strongly, at Orot.

Messy Play

This morning, I completed a morning of arts and crafts. Not being the most artistic person in the world, I rarely reach for the PVA glue in my free time. However, as part of my Sunday teaching job, I joined twenty 5 and 6 year olds, in rolling up my sleeves and picking up my felt tips.

As a five year old, we have already been trained to love arts and crafts. Talent does not really come into it. Sure, some kids are better at staying in the lines and glueing accurately, some can be trusted with the glitter pot whilst some clearly cannot, but generally, kids are not aware of these differences. The enjoyment of icing your own cookies is not marred at all by the fact that the kid next to you has a pretty passable flower on his biscuit, while you have mixed so many colours that you just have a pool of brown sludge on yours. Cover it with sprinkles, that’s right-no one will guess.

But as we get older, we let go of the hobbies that are not either ‘for our own good’ or that we show some proficiency in. If we are not artistic or creative, then the enforced lessons after primary school until we can let go of the subjects, are at best- an annoyance, and at worst- highly embarassing.

Where does this embarassment come from? We weren’t worried as a kid to have our ‘artwork’ proudly displayed on the refrigerator, regardless of its similarity to whatever it supposedly depicted.

I think the answer is praise. As a kid, we are clapped and cheered for the smallest acts, whether we deserve it or not. Without this praise, we are unable to develop as we should, and we have no encouragement to repeat and learn behaviour which enables us to grow and change.

I found myself doing it this morning, “wow, that’s lovely!” to a child who basically tipped the bowl of icing onto his plate. “Is that a picture of the Greeks?” to a kid who’s scrawlings resembled a pretty intentional scribble. Before a child reaches a certain age, it is impossible to be critical of their artistic endeavours without simply coming across as mean.

And then we grow up. We start to understand that we are in competition, even when it is unspoken, and our competitive urges come out. We want to be the best, something most young children dont even think about, and so in order to keep ourselves at the top of the game, we search for the activities we are most skillful at, and improve on those further, leaving our poor efforts of other genres behind without a second glance.

I dont think this is necessarily a bad thing. We can’t do everything, after all. So why not stick to what we are really good at? As a kid, we are praised for everything, giving us the ability to explore all our possibilities and decide what’s right for us. Later on, we learn the difference between false and real praise, and hopefully gain the truthful kind once we’ve found our path.

But this morning, picking up my gluestick, and sitting next to another teacher, we engaged in competitive behaviour of the most juvenile kind. Both having qualifications in real grown up subjects, and having left artistic endeavour behind many years ago, we pitted ourselves against one another, laughed childishly when each others projects were going wrong and forced anyone who walked into the room to judge our work against one another. Laughing throughout, it was still truly interesting to see the twenty 5 and 6 year old’s reaction to our playful opposition.

Firstly, throughout our game, and letting the kids get on with their own work, we never once heard one of them boasting about their own work or putting down one of their peers. The contentment with which they created their own masterpieces was truly enviable. It didnt matter what anyone else was doing. For the two of us, the competition was a huge part of what made it fun.

Secondly, on showing the kids our own creations, they not only could barely see the difference between them, but while they voted for and against our respective models, a few kids took it upon themselves to do exactly what I had been doing only an hour earlier with their biscuits.

“wow! you both worked really hard on those!”

“you put lots of time and effort into that!”

Placated by a five year old. I think I made the right choice saying goodbye to arts and crafts and sticking to the writing.

Things a kid should know

There is a very sweet if somewhat sickly blog going round entitled “Things a four year old should know.” It was allegedly sparked when a group of bragging mums were showing off about their kids and their particular talents. “My daughter can recite the alphabet” “My son eats fois gras” “My child’s fingerpainting has been displayed at the national gallery” etc etc. This blogger decided the world should know what children really needed to have accomplished by this age, and wrote a flowery piece about how all children should know they are loved, should know that the world is there for their imagination to blossom.. you get the idea. Here’s the link if anyone prefers that kind of thing to sarcasm. http://www.magicalchildhood.com/articles/4yo.htm (the name should tell you all you need to know really.)

However, it got me thinking. Whilst I agree that kids should be allowed to develop at their own pace, and not against a scale or their peers, at what age is it worrying that your kid thinks ‘Chile’ rhymes with ‘While’?

The illiteracy levels in this country are at an all time low. Arguments that it is due to so many immigrants are not entirely, but mostly, unfounded. Some children with two English-born parents are still being polled to have an average of 7 books in their home. A nine year old was recently brought to tears by a teacher because he hadnt brought the right kind of book in for show and tell. Eventually he admitted it was the only book in his house. The title? The Argos catalogue.

I read a bedtime story to R every day. He is surrounded by board books and buggy books and bath books and forever trying to eat my own books. I’m not trying to brag, I wouldnt never consider doing anything differently. Surely this is the least we can do for our children? To give them an opportunity to develop their imagination, to begin to independently discover and play. Whether this is through books, or toys, or outside play, or social interaction, it is a step onto the right path. But what is the next step? Is it possible that we can begin like this, with all the right intentions, and still end up with a 17 year old boy who thinks Salami is a type of fish? (True story.) And if we havent started this way, and are proud of the ‘only’ 3 hours of TV per day which our 14 month old watches, (True story x2) can we ever find our way back on to the right path?

I recently blogged about a woman who home-schooled her kids, and included in her lessons, washing up, nature walk, and colouring. Her kids were I believe about 5 and 8. I’ve also mentioned the Amish community, who don’t study history or geography or even maths and english after the age of 14. So different communities have different beliefs about what makes a well rounded education, and what information is necessary to take into your adult life. But in our society-this just wouldnt be good enough.

Dont get me wrong, I do agree that the most important key to a child’s happiness is that they feel loved and looked after. Without that, all the education in the world is secondary. But truly, I dont think it’s fair to say that those feelings are enough by themselves. We all want what is best for our kids, and I think it’s dishonest to suggest that this doesnt include a fulfilling career, intelligence, enough money and personal relationships, all of which are hindered by a lack of education.