I have been thinking a lot about the importance of making memories. What with the end of the decade and the departure of my eldest son for university, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with holding onto memories of my kids as little ones. And also, if I’m honest, a little fearful about how many more opportunities there will be (or won’t be) to make new family memories.
I’m not a huge fan of New Year Resolutions as I’m not convinced they lead to real change. But I do like to set my kids a bit of a challenge to mark the New Year. You might remember, a couple of years ago I asked them to write my New Year Resolutions for me with interesting results! This year, I asked them to come up with their five favourite family moments from last year.
As usual, what I thought was a bright and clever idea taught me a salutary lesson in teenage priorities. “Five?!” they said. And scratched their heads. I could see them wracking their memory banks for a single important event last year at which I was present. They could remember lots of great times, but none of them included family! In the end, the eldest came up with four rather vague memories (one of which actually happened in 2018 and the other was being dropped off at university – a double-edged sword of a family memory for sure!). The youngest cribbed two memories from his brother, made one up that I know he hated and concluded “We need to do more 🙁 .”
Aaagh! As if I hadn’t been desperately trying to get him to join in with family life for the whole year!
Getting outside is great for everyone’s well-being. And children love the outdoors because it’s always changing – every time you step outside your front door is a little different from the last. Maybe there are fallen leaves where there weren’t any before? Or perhaps there’s a wind blowing into your face? Or puddles where before it was dry? Children love novelty. But sometimes adults can lack a little imagination when it comes to ideas for outdoor play when it’s cold or wet….
The great thing about outdoor play is that it doesn’t matter if you make a mess. So, avoid tidy up time by investing in waterproofs and a warm hat. Then head outside and take the opportunity to get stuck into nature no matter what the weather throws at you. Here are 12 top ideas for outdoor play when it’s cold or wet that children of all ages (and their parents) can enjoy. Continue reading →
Boosting children’s resilience is all about helping children feel a sense of mastery and competence, that what they do matters and that they have control and influence over how they feel and what they achieve. Building children’s resilience involves allowing them to set goals, plan a route forward, take risks, rise to challenges and learn from mistakes. It also means helping them to find ways to regulate their emotions, experience contentment and build a happy memory bank that can help them through difficult moments.
There’s no holiday club or after school activity specifically for building children’s resilience. It is built from lots of different experiences which all contribute to kids feeling “I’ve got this!” (and “if I haven’t, I’ll find a way!”). But it definitely doesn’t come from sitting at home at a screen. So here are my top ten ideas for activities that you and your family can do this summer to boost your children’s resilience. Have fun!
With school holidays fast approaching, this is the time that parents start to dread the annual holiday exodus. That long haul flight seemed such a good idea when you booked it! (And the 5.30am take off time made it so much cheaper!). Or perhaps you’ve decided to drive to France this year because Granny doesn’t like planes? Long journeys with young children start to look a lot scarier the closer they get. Even a short hop by train to the seaside can seem like a round the world trip when you have a toddler in tow.
Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you long journeys with young children are a breeze if you just follow my advice. But there are definitely a few basic steps you can take that will optimise your chances of surviving the journey with stress levels (largely) below explosion point. Here are my top tips: Continue reading →
Boredom is good for children because it stimulates curiosity and fires the imagination. At its best, boredom is a creative state that leads to new ideas and new play. And we know that good quality play drives children’s development and builds intelligence.
But boredom is good for children only when it results in children using their imagination to rise to the challenge of boredom. If they always turn on the TV or reach for tech as an easy chewing-gum boredom filler, then that spark of imagination is lost.
Imagination is vital for children of all ages. It stimulates children to explore their environment in new ways, which in turn leads to learning and skills development. Imagination also enhances social skills – after all, empathy is really just the ability to imagine being in someone else’s shoes.
And, because imagination is an internal resource – a habit of mind – it is something that children need to develop through practice and repetition. Adults providing imaginative activities for children is never as effective as children inventing their own.
Here’s how parents can harness the power of boredom to support children’s development: Continue reading →
School holidays can be a nightmare for parents of teenagers. Teens are too old to be parked in childcare but they can’t always be trusted to make great decisions about how they spend their days. Boxset binge-watching and Xbox marathons are fine every now and then but for six whole weeks?! So prepare yourself for the school holidays with these great ideas for tempting teens off tech. (And they might even learn some non-digital skills while they’re at it…) Continue reading →
Some of the hardest decisions parents of teenagers face are around how much freedom to give at what age. What is the correct curfew time for a 14 year old? At what age is it ok for them to go to the shopping arcade with their friends? Take a train by themselves? Have a girlfriend/boyfriend over? And what about parties? And alcohol?
The problem is that different parents make different decisions. It would be really handy if there was a universal consensus that all parents of teens would stick to, but there isn’t. There will always be teens who are allowed to stay out later or walk home in the dark (or do whatever it is you are telling your teen they can’t do) and that can make it really tricky to feel secure in your decision-making and stick to your guns in the face of a protesting teenager. Continue reading →
Regular readers will know that I am passionate about play. Play helps children organise their brains and wire up their neurons. Children need room to roam, physically and imaginatively, so their opportunities for play are as wide and as varied as possible. That’s how they develop flexible and adaptive brains that can rise to challenges and solve problems. Good quality play builds intelligence.
If children’s play is confined to a particular type or activity or location then they can miss out on that full range of developmental opportunities.
Parents’ desire to keep children safe is natural and right. But, in the modern world, keeping children safe often equates to keeping children indoors. That increased time indoors (in often sedentary or low-movement activities) is having a direct impact on children’s physical development and future health. But it also impacts on their brains. Continue reading →
Little girls often have a bit of a thing about princesses. Which can be a problem if your aim is to raise your daughter to believe she can be anything she wants to be (rather than encouraging her to sit around looking pretty and helpless until rescued by a handsome prince). But fairy tale princesses don’t have to be pathetic, it all depends on the story.
Here is my selection of books for 2-6 year olds that feature sassy princesses, with attitude and intelligence, perfect for empowering your little girls.
These days we place a lot of emphasis on reading with our children, and rightly so. But I can’t help feeling that the art of telling stories to our children (as opposed to reading stories to them) has been a little bit pushed aside. Making up stories – whether we are reworking an old classic or inventing a quirky tale of our own – is a wonderful way to help our children experience the magic and immediacy of imagination in action. It also gives parents the chance to adapt stories to the themes and issues most relevant to our own children.
When we read a story to children, our eyes are on the book and we are bound to the words on the page. When we tell a story to children, we can make eye contact with them, our hands and faces are free to be much more expressive and there is a wonderful sense of suspense: “Where will this story go? How will it end?” Usually nobody knows! As a result, children who might squirm and get distracted when you read a book to them often listen with rapt attention to an unknown unfolding story. Continue reading →
Sometimes, if you want to tear teens away from their tech and grab some quality family time, the best plan is to get them out of the house for the whole weekend and as far away as possible from the temptations of that Xbox. Occasionally, I have managed to convince my two to leave all their gadgets behind, but usually I opt for a strategy of booking relatively low-tech accommodation and keeping them as busy as possible once we are there.
Camping is the ultimate option for reducing tech (though I realise not everyone shares my passion for a weekend without a warm shower or a good night’s sleep). The lack of Wi-Fi and electricity means there is simply no arguing about who is watching what or playing which device – it’s a game of cards or read a book or have a conversation!
My mission to find new ways to entice my teenagers to make more time for family activities (and less time for tech) continues. Now that the weather is warming up, the options are widening – and our early successes with indoor caving and climbing and bouldering have predisposed the teens (just a little) to come along for the ride.
The trickiest bit is finding family activities that all of us will enjoy. Two of us like running: two don’t. I love high ropes: my husband thinks they are hell on earth. We all enjoy bowling – but I’m not convinced that bowling really counts as a high-energy family activity?
Like many people, I worry about my teens spending too much time staring at a screen. As a family, we are all pretty active but we tend to do our sports separately rather than together. We usually have active holidays (such as trekking in Nepal) and we can be quite adventurous with fun family activities in warmer weather.
But in the winter our family time tends to be indoors and/or sedentary (Sunday lunches, lots of cinema, a bit of theatre and the occasional museum trip).
Keeping teenage boys engaged with reading isn’t always easy. At a time in their lives when instant gratification thrill-seeking instincts are in the driving seat, books for teenage boys have to compete with the higher adrenalin kicks and quicker pay-offs of sport and computer games, the social approval of hanging out with peer groups and the no-brain-input-required of easy watching TV box sets. The odds aren’t good.
To compete with those alternatives, books for teenage boys need to offer thrills, excitement and the kind of page-turning compulsion that keeps them reading even when the technology is calling. Not to mention, stretching them to new emotional levels and providing insight into themselves and the world they are about to inherit.
This is my list of books for teenage boys that simply cannot be dismissed as boring! As long as you can get him to start one of these books, he won’t want to put it down! (Got younger boys? See these recommendations!) Continue reading →
This Easter I took my two children (aged 12 and 14) on a two-week adventure trip to Nepal. It was meant to be the stuff that childhood memories are made of: a year in the planning, we crammed the trip with mountain trekking, white-water rafting, an elephant safari, jungle walks, crocodile-spotting, cycling, cultural tours and middle-of-nowhere star-gazing. Smiling, wind-swept (and wearing unwise harem trousers) we flew back into Heathrow just before a huge earthquake shook Nepal killing an estimated 8,000 people.
Since the news broke, my feelings about the trip have been very confused. I feel incredibly lucky to have got out in time. I feel privileged and grateful to have seen this amazing and inspiring country before the earthquake destroyed historic sights and devastated the infrastructure. I feel shocked to the core knowing that people we met have lost everything and villages we visited have been levelled. And underneath it all is the horror that my children were there, that it so easily could have been them. Continue reading →