Changing perspectives…

Changing perspectives…

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I started this blog last summer, when I was a pregnant parent of one as a way to document life as a Mama and Sonnie’s journey through childhood. The reality is, with a return to teaching and being pregnant with Brin, I was just too exhausted to keep it up, especially without compromising time actually spent present and engrossed in Sonnie’s development. That was something I obviously wasn’t willing to do.

That being said, now that I’m into the swing of things with two babes, I found some time (nap time/ bed times/ night feeds) to start reading again. That’s when I stumbled across the most thought-provoking, eye-opening parenting book I have read and I’m only 100 pages in… Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh has made me question and analyse the way in which I want to raise my children so much so that I wish I had started reading it sooner!

It has made me further question some of the choices we (Robs and I)have made on this short journey so far and to plan for change for the better of our children’s development. I already knew that my approach to and thoughts about parenting was slightly different in comparison to some of the parents I meet in my community and this book has made me see that this isn’t necessarily right or wrong.

Thus far Christine Gross-Loh has illuminated that most parenting ideologies are more so cultural than scientific. For example, In Western communities we are highly focussed on how well a child sleeps. A solitary whole night sleeping child is an extremely desirable thing. It is, in fact, thought that it is the key to raising independent children, we go so far as to “train” our children for this outcome. However in most other cultures around the world, where children thrive and not only survive, infants and babies sleep in close proximity to other people i.e. Mainly in the bed with their parents. This is normalised so greatly that, rather than being judged for sleeping with your children you would be “judged for never letting your child sleep with you if he needs to.” We made the choice to co-sleep with Sonnie from a very early age and are doing the same with Brin, not as a solution to a sleep problem but because that’s what felt right to me. When people ask about our children’s sleep, which lets be honest, is the main question we are asked as parents-along with “is he a ‘good’ baby?”- I openly advocate my love of co-sleeping only to be met by looks of scepticism (judgement!) and comments like “oh he needs to sleep in his own bed or you will have problems getting him out.” Yet research from countries such as Finland, Sweden, Japan, and Germany-where co sleeping is more normalised than solitary sleeping (and Children’s health and well-being is at the highest in the world in comparison to the UK who ranked LAST from findings by UNICEF in 2007) – suggests that children who are early co sleepers are in fact more independent and self-reliant later in life. By sleeping next to other people children feel more connected and that their needs are met. Therefore, they are able to respond sensitively to the needs of other people.

 

The other main point that has struck a chord with me in the book so far, is the material possessions we buy for our children, believing we are giving them “the best” and in turn, being a great parent. I am unbelievably guilty for buying excessive amounts of stuff for my children believing that I am enhancing their learning and development and, let’s be honest, temporarily satisfying my love of spending as a form of therapy. The more we buy, the more we want and thus we find ourselves stuck in the work spend cycle.

When emersed in the culture of the UK, it is so easy to get caught up in consumerism, buying more and more, believing that all of these toys and material possessions are contributing to the learning and development of our child’s physical and cognitive growth. Yet I was so alarmed to find myself reading and completely agreeing that having too much stuff in fact does the OPPOSITE.  Gross- Loh highlights that a consumer oriented lifestyle is a significant cause of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety or low self-esteem in children. Even children who are psychologically healthy are worse off when they are constantly thinking about what they own, what they want to buy and what they long for.

The pressure on parents to buy for their children is ever-increasing. Those who ask their children to make do with less risk appearing ungenerous and even stingy or selfish  to others in western societies. However, providing our children with less is a viable pathway to nourish creativity, resourcefulness, moderation, self-restraint and self-satisfaction. Qualities that our children will possess far longer than the material objects we fill our houses with.

Although, I found myself ready to sell off all of Sonnie’s carefully chosen toys and have him live with very little like a Japanese child, I rationalised and came to the conclusion that it’s about finding a happy medium. Something that works for our family. Lots of the toys we do have, have and will continue to contribute to his (and Brin’s) development, whether it is physically, to help him to problem solve or foster his imagination. However,  I found that he had so much to choose from that he would rarely engage in one thing for a lengthy period of time. So with that, I came downstairs and removed 75% of the toys, leaving him a small but decent selection to choose from (I also think having this choice  is important to foster a sense of ownership of his learning and play). I will rotate the toys each week, replacing them with things we already have.

Already  I have noted a difference in Sonnie’s play. This morning he actively engaged in play with toys that he hadn’t touched in months. Not only that, he played with each independently for much longer periods of time.

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One of Sonnie’s play spaces before the cull
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and after

Every child needs things within reason, but every want is not a need and this I think will be the most challenging part for me- refraining from impulse buying to satisfy my wants. One of the  hardest parts of being a parent is to say no but if we say yes to everything we are depriving our children of the satisfaction of saving up for something on their own, of knowing how to be satisfied with less and of knowing that true happiness doesn’t come from material possessions and from having the best of everything, but from appreciating what you do have, from forming meaningful relationships and spending quality time with the people you love.

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Painting with your little one…

I know a lot of  mums (and dads) dread arts and craft time, especially painting. Second only to glueing  and glittering, the mess is enough to deter. However, the benefits of letting your little one engage in messy play completely outweigh the negatives of having to do a little cleaning up. Painting is not only a visual stimulant and an outlet for creativity, for babies, it is more so a sensory experience where they have the opportunity to feel the texture, squidge it between their fingers and toes as well as enjoying the vibrant mixing of different colours.

I, for one,  couldn’t wait until Sonnie was old  enough to start exploring his creative side and begin experimenting with a variety of media. A whole 7 months passed before letting him try painting. Although I began planning it a while before and was reaaaallly tempted to try it earlier, I held off until I was confident he would be interested and engaged.  That being said, he probably could have given it a go earlier and every baby is different so try whenever you want!

After doing a little research, I made the decision to use edible paints ( A really simple recipe of greek yoghurt and food colouring) as he was putting absolutely everything in his mouth. The bath was our choice of canvas- easy to clean off and I could clean Sonnie at the same time. Win, win.

I made the conscious decision to separate the paints into little tubs as I was intrigued to  observe what he would do and which colours he would be drawn to first. Plus the mixing process is all part of the learning experience. All in all it was an extremely successful first attempt, Sonnie loved it so much he ended up rolling around in it and slipping all over the place!

Since then, we have painted  regularly. I waited until Sonnie had turned one before using proper non toxic finger paints – bought from the Early Learning Centre. The colours were so much more inviting and, although completely not the point of the exercise, he created something that I got to keep. To be honest, he was pretty uninterested in the paper and that was okay.  Although it is lovely to have something to keep, you are going to be bombarded with drawings, paintings and whatnot over the years so just focus on enjoying the experience with your little one. After all, it’s the process that is important, not the outcome.

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Painting in one of the only days of sunshine this year!

If you are fortunate enough to have sunshine, or even dry weather where you live (i’ll take anything other than rain and snow, Scotland!), going outside to paint is great! Just strip your little one down to their nappy, set up the resources and let them go. You can also take full advantage of the natural environment, using the inviting treasures found around you to help in the process.

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Each time we paint, I try to add a new element or focus to observe and determine how he will respond. For this session (the one where he painted himself blue) I put out the paints- cool colours only-only this time I added two brushes. I then added one Sonnie to the mix and let him go, no direction, no modelling. To my surprise he started off by picking up the brush and painting ‘properly’, dipping the brush in the paint and sweeping it across the paper. I genuinely don’t know where he got that from, because I definitely didn’t show him. This then progressed on to painting his hand which, in turn, progressed onto painting his foot. He was mixing the paints, pouring the tub on the paper and using different body parts to mix it all around, all the while smiling, laughing and saying “oooooh”.  I sat back watching in absolute amazement- not once thinking of the fact that I had to clean it all up!

For a baby who usually changes activity every 5 minutes, he was genuinely engaged for around 45 minutes. Every choice was his own, there was no hidden agenda, no expected outcome. That is the absolute beauty of genuine learning through play.

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So if you can, try to let go of control (it’s an extremely difficult thing for us adults to do), sit back and watch magic happen. I promise you, it will be worth the mess. IMG_3792

 

 

 

 

 

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Mud Kitchen Fun

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From an early age, Sonnie has loved spending time outside. Once on the go, he quickly acquired an obsession with stones, bark and puddles. After playing with water- held in a mop bucket!- for a period of time, I knew I had to find a longer term, more aesthetically pleasing alternative. After a lot of pestering and a trip to Nana and Papa’s where wood is in abundance and spare sinks just laying around (y’know, as they are), voilà the Mud Kitchen was built!

It was a fairly simple process, for me anyway. I just watched and gave constructive (but firm) guidance. In all seriousness, it took my husband and dad around half an hour to build with the right tools and equipment. They used an old gate (a pallet would work just as well) cut to size for the back board,  pieces of timber to frame around the sink and a thicker post cut to size for the four legs. They then added the smaller timber round the base to give extra support.

Sonnie has played in his kitchen every day since it arrived in our garden and is eager to get out to it as much as possible. In all honesty, his play hasn’t gone entirely as I expected. Saying that, it never does and that is the beauty of letting him have free reign with explorations, he always surprises me. Like I did expect, he loves to pour, swirl , splash and scoop up the water using his utensils ( which can be bought from Ikea and are amazing!) What I didn’t anticipate, was for him to discover that when you pull the plug out, the water gushes from the pipe below on to the ground. He worked this out in about 10 seconds and was completely enthralled. After “again, again” and  a number of trips back and forth to the kitchen ( we really need an outdoor tap!), I put a plant tray underneath to catch the water. This process kept him engaged for an extended period of time. Now if I want him to keep the water in, I have to add bubbles.

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Washing the dishes…his wife will thank me one day!

 

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Welcome to PlayExploreGrow

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My name is Sinead Lavery and I am a mother to Edison James (with another on the way!), a primary teacher and wife to an Aussie. We are currently settled in my home country of Scotland but like to go on adventures and travel as much as possible.

I have started PlayExploreGrow as a way to document and share fun hands-on -learning activities with my active toddler. I will also share my thoughts on pregnancy, travel and all aspects of mama life.

If you happen to find yourself on my page, enjoy! Any feedback, comments or ideas are always welcome!

Sinead 🙂 x