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Where it began…

Growing up in the 80’s in a small country town in the UK, I have many childhood memories of running down by the river, mucking around by the salt marshes, riding my bike around the block until the street lights came on, “knocking” for friends to come and play a few streets away, visiting local forests with a group of kids (all of us under 10 years old with the youngest being 3!!) going on adventures for hours and doing many of these things with little to no adult supervision. I can remember how I felt and what this freedom gave me. I felt trusted and responsible which in turn made me feel confident and capable. I remember just being, I remember the freedom and I remember the creativity that came with that freedom.

Fast forward to 2019. I’ve been living in beautiful New Zealand for 14 years and I’m married to my wonderful (and I mean that, you’ll see) Chilean/Australian husband Rod. We live in a lovely townhouse in central Auckland with our 4 daughters (aged 7, 4 and 4 (twins) and 2) and I found myself asking how can I gift this freedom of uninterrupted time and space to play, learn and grow to my children?

Earlier this year I found myself on the Conscious Kids training programme. Everything I was feeling about being outside as a child myself and what it gave me was real, this was actually a “thing”. The training programme lighted a spark for me, and so my journey begins…

To TV or Not to TV?

Early this year we spent a week glamping on a rural homestay with only the great outdoors for entertainment. Like all holidays having that week away from it all was very rejuvenating and when every day things aren’t present you find life can carry on.

It was very inspiring watching the children explore their surroundings and having the freedom to wander together around the grounds of this homestay. We could see and feel connection particularly between our oldest three and the age gap closing.

As I watched their friendships blossoming laughing and chatting together, I wondered how we could encourage more of that on our return. The only time they really spent together during the day was either before school or after school and at the weekend – and then it dawned on me. We had not had any TV or screen time the entire time we were away, so I wondered.. what if the TV was “broken” when we got home? I’ll be honest, my husband and I were slightly sceptical on how any of us would go with this however, no harm in trying a little experiment just to see.

I didn’t think we watched a lot but I knew we were all in a routine with it. After school when they were tired, I thought I would give them (and me) some “quiet” time while I did dinner. In the evenings after the kids had gone to bed, we could go one episode after another just sitting watching so tired yet so caught up in a storyline. At the weekends when it rained or when we wanted to get something done or even have some “quiet” time we would turn the TV on.

The biggest challenge we found with TV time was when it was turned off and the turmoil it brought to our home. I would give the 5 and 10 minute heads up dinner was ready or agree to the end of an episode. But it didn’t actually matter. It was like the TV had turned my tired children in to “something else”.

It’s been 11 months now and the impact this change has made on our family home life and our children has been quite significant.

By breaking the distraction (TV) therefore removing the routine (no TV) the creativity and connection both as a family and as a couple has strengthened. In the evenings my husband and I chat, debate, set goals and sometimes we might even solve a problem or two.

The kids connection with each other has really blossomed. Yes they still have gripes but they work through it and play creatively with their imaginations and collaborate and build! My goodness do they build! Huts, tents, 2 bedroom units, one bedroom units – in my living room, with all my furniture and while I’m cooking dinner. And my tired children no longer become “something else”.

Weekends we are out of the house even more than before finding and exploring new places on our doorstep we never knew existed. In the wind. In the rain. In the cold. In the sun.

It would be fair to say listening to the Rugby World Cup games on the radio or for my lovely husband watching his favourite soccer team play on his phone doesn’t quite have the same impact, neither does watching a movie on a Saturday night on the iPad.

Just to note that we’ve not actually banned TV from the children we just don’t have one right now and I can’t say that it will stay that way forever. Having just recently moved house, we did go shopping for a new TV but it didn’t eventuate so we just left the shop.

There is quite a bit of research out there now about screen time and particularly for children, the impact it can have on their development. This era of parenting is a minefield to navigate. Technology and screens are everywhere with vast amounts of information good and not so good that our children can get exposed to whatever their age is.

Removing the “information” from our home has been a really interesting and eye opening experience for all of us and actually one of growth and enhanced connection. 

I’m not sure how I feel about re-introducing screen time to be honest it’s been more peaceful without it, however I’ve always been aware and mindful of being too restrictive on certain things as I worry restrictions can lead to binges or even hiding these things. We’ve all experienced this at some point in our lives (I’ll call out chocolate for me personally) so it’ll be a challenge for us to find a balance of screen time (and what they’re watching) that we’re comfortable with.

As we all know, Christmas is not too far away bringing fun traditional family movies and shows we all love to watch so it’ll be interesting to see what Christmas brings for us this year.

Parent Perspective: How to be a Nature Play Advocate

Growing up in the 80’s in a small country town in the UK, I have many childhood memories of running down by the river, mucking around by the salt marshes, riding my bike around the block until the street lights came on, “knocking” for friends to come and play a few streets away, visiting local forests with a group of kids (all of us under 10 years old with the youngest being 3!!) going on adventures for hours and doing many of these things with little to no adult supervision. I can remember how I felt and what this freedom gave me. I felt trusted and responsible which in turn made me feel confident and capable. I remember just being, I remember the freedom and I remember the creativity that came with that freedom.

Fast forward to 2019… I’m living in a lovely townhouse in central Auckland with 4 daughters (aged 7, 4 and 4 (twins) and 2) I ask myself how can I gift this freedom of time and space to play and holistically learn to my children?

I’d heard about Conscious Kids an outdoor learning programme for children ages 5 to 12. They run school holiday programmes, one day week programmes and other programmes designed specifically for schools. Their ethos and purpose connected with me immediately and we decided to try a day of the school holiday programme over the summer holidays. My eldest daughter, loved it. We spent most of the summer holidays outside like many other families and I just noticed how much happier the children were and how much more connected they were to themselves, each other and us as a family unit.

As back to school fast approached and the weather continued to get better I wanted Miss 7 to carry on with this freedom of play. I discussed the one day programme with my husband and we agreed this would be a fantastic option for us to try for a term to compliment her schooling.

I knew this had to be agreed by the principal so I got working on my email and asked if we could trial one term. I am so thankful our school principal was supportive and viewed Miss 7’s enrolment of the Conscious Kids one day programme as a “dual enrolment” which is recognised by the ministry.

It was important to me that this day wasn’t viewed as a “day off school” so with discussion from our principal I wrote a “review” each week on her day Conscious Kids and included photos so her teachers and our principal knew what she had be doing and what she was learning.  Linking my reviews back to the curriculum so they could also see the connection and also be able to engage with her about her day. The feedback from both her teachers and the principal was extremely positive and it gave them all a greater insight in to the benefits of child led play outside.

Shortly after Miss 7 started the one day programme, my curiosity and desire for more knowledge (especially raising 4 girls) found me on the Conscious Kids training workshops.  What I learnt on the workshop resonated with me and took me back to all those feelings as a child, the connection I had with this way of learning was profound. Being the only parent that was not a trained teacher on the course gave me a greater understanding to the way children learn, the teaching profession itself and the challenges our teachers face. As a parent to 4 girls this information was validation of what I knew deep down. Hearing from influential speakers attending the workshop was invaluable and inspiring.

After completing the workshop I started volunteering on the Conscious Kids one day programme in term 2. Having learnt the theory and then have the opportunity to see it in action well, I was in awe of the children and what they were achieving outside. I was able to take my two 4 year old daughters with me on the programme and to see their development as the weeks progressed was like magic. The freedom of uninterrupted play gave them the time to get a spark and smoke when trying to start a fire with a magnifying glass (and believe me it took some time!); that feeling for them was incredibly powerful. Their observation of the older children inspired them try different things without eachother. This gave them confidence in themselves as individuals. These are just two of the many experiences that have enabled them to feel like they are capable. I began sharing what they were doing on their days at Conscious Kids with their pre-school which sparked interest and discussion on opportunities where they could be doing more with the children. 

Halfway through term 2 of this year I was invited by our school principal and deputy principal to meet and discuss some ideas on what they can be doing as a school to have more outdoor learning. We discussed a number of ideas and the following week I was able to take one of the Directors from Conscious Kids for a wider discussion. The school is already on a good path for outdoor learning so being able to be part of enhancing their journey for outdoor play for children is one step closer to making a difference. We’re talking and planning for more.

I do believe as parents we have an important role on how we can bring awareness to everyone around us for more time and space outside for our children.

So, here are my learnings on my journey so far:

Knowledge

Absorb and take the information that’s out there.

Read blogs and articles, listen to podcasts, follow people doing great things in this space and find out who the outdoor educators are in your area and in NZ. Go to workshops if you’re able to or hear influencers speak. Understand what child led play based learning really is and what the adults role is. Take some of your learnings and practice on your children, take them outside and just watch and observe.

Meet like minded people

Join a nature playgroup or Playcentre if you can, they are out there. Its inspiring to meet likeminded parents you can share ideas with and learn from. The nature playgroup I go to once a week with my 2 year old has been great for information sharing and ideas raising my girls as well as meeting some lovely mummy’s and daddy’s. My daughter and I look forward to it every week!

Share

Tell your stories.

Share what your children have been doing outside and what they’ve learnt. They don’t have to be doing a one day programme it could be something they love to do at home. Being able to recognise learnings from their outdoor play and sharing it with their teachers gives a greater understanding of the child they’re teaching and what they are capable of. These stories provide connection for your child and teacher and can also provide an opening for teachers to discuss these adventures with you. A number of schools have apps that they share information and messages on and there is usually a space where you can share a story on your child only the teacher can view… failing that send them an email and include photos if you can.

Lead

Have your reasons, know your “why”?

There are so many benefits to outside child led play based learning the research is all there. It can be challenging to cover it in passing to a fellow parent or teacher in the school playground who asks “why does your child do one day at Conscious Kids?” or “what does your child get out of having time outdoors”. For me personally, its giving my children uninterrupted time and space outside to do what interests them in their own time at their own pace; free from bells, set timetables and schedules. Some parents have other reasons for their child so if you know your “why” you may influence or inspire someone.

Get outside yourself

The benefits of being outside for children is the same benefits for adults – in all weather. Family bush walks, adventures, free play, climbing trees, local regional parks – so good for your soul. Invite your friends and their children along and set up some experiences. You could throw an outdoor birthday party, maybe even do it in the winter or the rain – push yourself outside that comfort zone, its great feeling once you’ve done it!!

July 2019 School Holiday Challenge Observations

At the beginning of the July 2019 school holiday’s I joined a holiday challenge (because I’m quite partial to a challenge) set up by the lovely Celia Hogan which was to be outdoor for 25 hours over the two week period. I’ve a few reflections and observations I’ll share with you.

When I first started the challenge I had an interesting conversation with a friend who lives in Wanaka who questioned 25 hours because in some places (like Wanaka) 25 hours would be some families weekly quota of outside time (if not more!!). This got us talking about where people live and what lifestyles they have. I do believe we have some extremities in lifestyles between our NZ towns and cities and there are all sorts of factors for this. One of the things I came to realise and certainly being on this challenge is that we make the best of our personal situation and of what we have around us. Whether we are working or stay at home parent, whether we live rural, city side, by the beach, near the forest, South Island or North island, NZ is a truly special place. We have some incredible places available to us that we can explore and you never have to go very far.

So, for us, living in central Auckland with very little backyard and definitely no mud to be found in our outside space, I knew I had to get creative and change our routine a bit to get this time outside. Changing routine in itself was a big step for me as I’ve more often than not found if I mess with the routine kids dinner and bedtime goes downhill fast!!! The two Miss 4’s in particular are super tired after a day at pre-school however as Miss 7 was not at school I felt like I had a bit more flexibility and could pick them up earlier which made me feel I could push the routine a wee bit.

Because we always left the house to get that time outside, the kids really felt my time was with them, free from distraction of “all the things I have to do” or “get ready” at home and around the house. I too was benefitting from taking the time out from everyday stuff and I allowed myself to enjoy the time with my children outside naturally. There was an overwhelming feeling with my inner lioness… it was like I was setting my brood off to run wild, free and “super fast” in open spaces to freely explore their surroundings (its the only way I can describe it!).

There was one place we visited I’d not been to before and taking the four of them out solo was a little daunting (this didn’t actually register in my mind until I got to the place!) I was unsure how this was all going to unfold however I was so glad we did it! It was a lot of fun and quite surprising finding a forest in the middle of the city. The weather on this particular day was incredibly moody which added to the sense of adventure!

And folks guess what else I noticed? The kids did not care about the weather!! Nope not a bit… the rain came down and they loved it! I surrendered to it and loved it too! It’s liberating, fresh and so much fun! It felt great!! If you are following any kind of nature/outdoorsy person or group you will have heard the term “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” if you’ve not heard it, you are welcome – make it a mantra!

Even though each day was a different amount of time outside, some days we had just 10 mins, some days were a good couple of hours (mostly at the weekend and my husband was with us) regardless of the amount of time, it did make a difference to how we all felt. I’m convinced the time we spent outside helped with the mood for everyone at home in the evening – it was like we had pushed a reset button we were all refreshed from the day or re-energised for the day. There was little to no dramas and the kids slept so much better too. Our family connection has been strengthened by spending time outside especially when dad comes too and we make a day of it.

I really enjoyed this challenge, it pushed me outside of my comfort zone a number of times and helped shape the two weeks. This challenge has made me even more aware of the power nature has for our well being. In particular for our children having time and space away from routines and schedules, time to just be in nature. Its incredible some of the things they notice, see and hear and the conversations and play that come about be it imaginary or real.

I think it would be fair to say that we managed to accomplish if not exceed 25 hours of outdoor time over a two week period. However, as we head back to school, I ask myself is it possible to continue to achieve this time outside? Well, I’m just not sure about that yet. However, one of the things I’m going to be more conscious of is to question every day if we’ve all had enough outside time and if not to make sure we get some. Be it 10 mins or a couple of hours that refresh makes all the difference.

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