Think back to your sweetest childhood memories... I remember my dad cultivating a corner of our backyard and growing what I thought was impossibly tall corn, we planted the seeds and watched them grow until the plants soared into the sky, the flowers opened and did the dance of pollination in the wind followed not long after by the formation of fruit which we patiently waited for. Dad would whisper "not yet...not yet" until finally one day..."now" and we had permission to peel back the husks and bite into the sweetest juiciest corn ever grown on planet earth (or our part of the planet anyway). On lazy summer days in that same backyard, in the absence of a swimming pool, my brother and I would be handed the hose and a bucket and left to run wild, making rainbows and waterfalls and spouts up into the sky (yes... couldn't do THAT these days but wasn't it lovely back then?) We would often just disappear into the bush for hours on end, returning dirty, exhausted and clutching armloads of wildflowers and weeds that would be guaranteed to keep our dad sneezing for days.
TV doesn't feature much in these memories. Sure, we had a telly and it was even a colour one but it wasn't a major player in our spectrum of entertainment. We'd be allowed to watch if we were sick and resting or treated to an hour or two of cartoons on weekend mornings while we built a cubby from the sofa cushions but generally, when mum needed us out of her hair, we'd be shoved outside and simply told to go play.
It's a different world in which I now raise my own kids. So many kids have their own iPad or DS or some kind of electronic device at their disposal. Most families seem to have DVD players installed as standard in the car. Quality children's programming is available on several channels from early in the morning until late at night, perhaps even 24hrs a day if you have cable! I listened to an interesting podcast the other day here... you should hear the noise that came from his children as he removed them from their 'screens' to take them outside to play. Plus our newscasts are filled with tales of woeful happenings. There is not a parent I know that is not painfully busy so I can totally understand all the reasons why parenting nowadays relies heavily on the 'Electric Babysitter' but I worry about the memories we are making for our kids.
So how do you strike a balance between keeping your kids safe, entertained (translation - out of your hair while you get things done) and helping them to develop into whole healthy humans? Well here's what we do and while not all of this is achievable (or desirable) for all families, maybe there's an idea or two that could help.
One of the most difficult challenges I face as a mum is fighting off my mothering instincts to make sure that the kids are safe and unharmed. Many studies are overwhelmingly show that kids need some time for unsupervised play and helicopter parenting doesn't allow for it. Unsupervised play is where they learn how to assess risks and resolve issues by themselves and as a result develop confidence in themselves and their choices. We make sure the boys are aware of obvious dangers (you know - snakes, traffic, electric fences, spiders, falling from great heights) and we try to keep the place free from potential disaster (nasty tools are kept locked away) and when it's appropriate, they are sent outside to play without us watching every move. We'll check up on them occasionally and make sure we are still in earshot but we leave them be to have adventures and sort out their own fights.
When dad's in the shed, the boys work alongside him, learning how tools work and that when things are broken, they can be fixed and that often, scraps can be recycled into new toys. They also learn that some tools are dangerous and care should be taken when handling them.
We include our kids in most aspects of running the household. Maaaaaan it can be frustrating sometimes because doing the dishes or making dinner with the 'help' of the mini dudes generally makes simple jobs take a lot longer but the basic life skills they acquire in the process makes it worthwhile. When I'm doing the dishes, I wash while they stand on a stool and rinse, then stack (which I then re-stack safely). If I'm cutting up vegetables, they're given a knife and allowed to chop up the scraps into little pieces to feed to the worms. If I'm sweeping, they can use the dustpan and brush to pick up the pile of dirt. When I'm hanging up washing, they can hand me the pegs. And with these tasks they can learn the ins and outs of running a household. We grow vegetables and so they are included in all aspects of our gardening and are given the opportunity to voice opinions on what they would like to grow.
We have a telly, but we try and use it responsibly, thoughtfully, sparingly. When I'm pressed for time and need the house to be in order it is mighty tempting to turn it on and have two perfect little zombies glued to the screen but I really make an effort to use this powerful tool minimally. We don't have a DVD player in the car and on the long drives we talk, or think, or sleep, or eat, or play games, or (no point glossing over it...) fight and scream and whinge and carry on but to their credit, there is really only about an hour of that. At home on inside days the boys have lots of building blocks and access to as much recycled bits and pieces, crafty stuff, sticky tape and glue as they want.
My house constantly ebbs and flows between chaos and control as the boys destroy it and, after they sleep, I try to restore it but... I recently was asked by one of our kids friends if we ever planned to finally buy an ipad or DS for our kids (insert*massive sigh*). The honest truth is nope, I have no intentions to do that soon. Am i a mean mum? I don't think so but as my boys get older I know my motives will eventually be brought to question so I want them to know this.
When they become adults, it is inevitable that large swathes of their time will be spent in front of a screen, for work, for paying bills, for shopping, for leisure and they will look back on their childhood fondly remembering the simple life. Will they remember the triumphs of a computer game? A status that reached over 50 likes? A particularly funny FB pic about cats? NO, my hope is that they'll remember trying to catch a chicken, the time they finally found a queen of sheba orchid on a wildflower hunt or the best airplane ever built or robot or rocket pack.
What are the sweet memories you're building in the lives of the children around you?
Comments will be approved before showing up.
This year, it's time to sow… quite literally. Tanya's back to sowing seeds, getting her hands dirty in the potting mix whilst I'm cranking up the vintage Singer and getting touchy feely with fabric, friends and Boomerang Bags...
No doubt that our global consumption of plastic products is bad for the planet but it ain't all about the waste. Plastic can be pretty bad for us too...here's some top tips to avoid single use plastics for Plastic Free July.