A Festive Country Weekend

Though London is fun at this time of year, I am always pleased when we get the chance to escape the city for a day or two and get out into the countryside. Mr Techno and I have a great group of friends from our university days, and we all try to meet up a couple of times a year for a country weekend.

Usually we have to rent a cottage, but we got lucky this time as one of the girls’ parents were on holiday and kindly offered us the use of their house whilst they were gone. Her dad is an apple farmer and they have this great, old house in Kent, with more than enough room for all of us.

Mr Techno picked Tom and I up from nursery on the Friday evening and we headed straight down, arriving just half-an-hour after Tom’s normal bedtime. The timing was perfect, as he went straight down to sleep, so we could concentrate on catching up. We are the only ones of this group to have a kid. In some ways it is good – Tom has a lot of very indulgent adults in his life – but it does mean that the others aren’t really aware of the needs of small children. We are lucky that Tom is such a good sleeper, so we do at least get to enjoy adult time!

On Saturday, we were all very excited to go on a proper country walk. In fact, we were so excited that we decided to go on two walks.

The first was a wander around the farmland, which took about an hour. We all went, including the four dogs. Mr Techno and I quickly realised the buggy wouldn’t be able to cope with the terrain, so we ditched it. Tom walked some of the way, and then we took it in turns to carry him.

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Of course, we had to stop off to visit the horses.

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And the chickens.

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And the ferrets. Tom was less sure about the ferrets – they tend to be a bit bitey. He took shelter leaning against Mr Techno’s legs.

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After lunch, Tom went down for a nap. Mr Techno and a couple of the others stayed home, whilst the rest of us headed to Bewl Water for a longer, very muddy walk.

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After all the walking, we definitely felt like we had earned some food. We cooked up a big Christmas dinner. Tom went to bed and the adults enjoyed the food, wine and company. Knowing I’d have to be up early, I flaked out just after midnight, but some of the others were still going strong at 3 am.

Needless to say, Sunday was a rather subdued day. I had to get up at 6.30 as usual with Tom, so had a quiet start whilst everyone else…recuperated. Once they appeared, we had a lovely lazy morning, grazing on leftovers and reading newspapers by the fire. Tom and I did escape outside for a while as well – he had started chasing the dogs around the house and clearly had some energy to burn!

We headed back to London after lunch, thoroughly refreshed by time away from the city with some great friends.

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Forest Kindergarten Open Day

I was very excited on Saturday to be going to an open day for Hackney’s new outdoor nursery, Free Range Urban Kids (FRUK). The group was founded by two local mums about a year ago, but has just now got all the right registrations in place to start offering full nursery days, rather than just the two-hour sessions they ran previously. They are accepting children from the age of three, which means Tom is still too young, but are also offering 2 hour ‘stay and play’ sessions twice a week for 0-3 year-olds and their parents. They are opening officially in January, so we were pleased to have a chance to go along to see what will be on offer.

Outdoor nurseries or forest kindergartens are relatively new to the UK and still pretty rare. The name is pretty self-explanatory – they are childcare settings where sessions take place pretty much exclusively outdoors, no matter what the weather (in a year of running their sessions, FRUK say they have never had to resort to their back-up indoor option). It is a movement that started in Scandinavia, but is beginning to spread to other parts of the world, in part due to the growing anxiety about the lack of time children now spend outdoors.

The philosophy of FRUK and forest kindergartens in general is very close to our parenting approach. Sessions are very much child-led and focus on free play  in nature. The staff at the open day talked a lot about the importance of teaching children to assess risk themselves, rather than removing them from it. So while they scour the play area before sessions start to remove any needles, used condoms or other unsanitary items often found in parks first thing in the morning, mushrooms, rose bushes and other plants are left in place. The children are taught not to lick or taste anything, and to identify plants that might be harmful, so they know not to touch them. They are encouraged to climb trees, swing in hammocks, and get muddy. They are taught to use tools, such as small hack saws and peelers for whittling wood. There will be a fire for warmth and cooking, so children will learn to respect both the uses and dangers that fire represents. Principles taken from the Montessori and Reggio approaches are brought into session planning and setting up the space.

I couldn’t get any pictures, as obviously there were lots of other kids wandering around and the nursery have a no phone policy, but the set up was impressive. Sessions are held in an enclosed area of Millfields Park, which has both a wooded area and an open space. A log circle was set up in the woods, with a tarp to keep people dry (thankfully not needed). Various toys, rope swings, and messy play stations were set up amongst the trees. They have a little tented toilet for the kids, and another tent for quiet time, reading and rest. Out in the open area, there was a wormery set up and a mud kitchen. There are various fallen trees and logs that the nursery have asked the park rangers to leave for climbing and imaginative play. It’s worth a visit to the nursery’s Facebook page to see pics of the site.

We had a great time at the open day – we toured the site, looking at the various play options and, in Tom’s case, trying to eat them (he sampled chalk, a lot of leaves and some clay. Enforcing the no licking rule may be a challenge with him!). It was especially nice to meet some other parents who are as mad about the outdoors as we are – sometimes I feel like a bit of the odd one out at Tom’s lovely, but very mainstream, nursery.

The only minor drawback is that the 0-3 year-old sessions will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are both work days for me. However, I have spoken to Mr Techno, and he seems up for taking Tom on Tuesdays, so I’ll be signing them up (pending confirmation of fees). Roll on January!



Monkey and Mouse

 

Finding Time for Outdoor Play

On the days I don’t work, making time to play outdoors is no issue. We have a park around the corner, the Marshes nearby, and lots of other green spaces that we can easily access. Tom still naps twice a day, and we do have to find time for meals, chores, bath time and bed, but that still leaves us with a good chunk of time in both the morning and the afternoon to get out.

Work days are more challenging though. Tuesdays, Mr Techno has off so he and Tom can enjoy being outdoors together (though Mr Techno is rather more weather shy and prefers not to go out when it’s wet). But on Thursdays and Fridays both of us work and Tom goes to a lovely little nursery about half-an-hour’s walk away. The nursery have a great outdoor play area, with a separate bit just for the baby room, and their policy is to get out as much as possible, even when it’s cold. But it is very much a playground – they have that rubberised tarmac stuff on the ground – and I prefer that Tom have some time each day in a more natural environment.

So how do we find time for outdoor play on work/nursery days? Well, one of the unexpected blessings of the nursery being a bit further away is that we can walk in. In fact, because of the way the bus routes work, it only takes about 10 minutes longer to walk than it would to get the bus. We have a cosy footmuff on the buggy, and the rain cover lives permanently in the bottom of it, meaning we can walk in all weathers. I get a bit wet sometimes, but have taken to keeping a ‘kag in the bag’ in the buggy too, so I always have a waterproof to hand. Even better, the route takes us via our local park, so we get to see some greenery on our way.

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We aim to leave the house at 7.30 am. We actually leave the house at around 7.40 am. That gets us to nursery for drop off at roughly 8.10. The tube is close by, so I am generally at my desk by 8.45 at the latest. And I get in having had a bit of exercise, some fresh air, and a bit of quality time with my boy, all of which makes the working day a bit more pleasant.

We have a bit more time at the other end of the day. Unless snack time is running especially late, we generally leave nursery by about 5.30 pm. Tom has his bath at 6.30, so that gives us an hour free. Half-an-hour walking, and half-an-hour’s play in the park.

We are definitely missing the lighter, warmer evenings. Before the clocks went back, we had a good amount of daytime left when we got to the park. Tom could explore, point out doggies, and examine leaves to his heart’s content.

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The dark evenings have been a bit of an issue. But not as much of an issue as I thought they might be. Once I had gotten over my initial ‘I can’t let the baby toddle round the park in the dark’ panic, I realised that this was another case of exaggerating the risk. What, exactly, was I so worried about? Yes, it is a bit harder for bikes to see him, but the park is floodlit, I’m always close, and I plan to buy him a hi-vis jacket (many thanks to Tammy Twinkle for this suggestion!) So why shouldn’t he explore?

And he has had a great time. He’s discovered shadows, and is busy working on the idea that dark patches on the ground are sometimes shadows and sometimes puddles (in the name of science, he has to walk through each one several times to make sure which it is). We have occasional battles over which way to walk, but otherwise outdoor play in the dark is a lot of fun and a great way for us to bond after a day apart.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Reasons to Get Outdoors: The Alternative List

My twitter feed has been going mad today with the launch of the Wildlife Trusts’ Every Child Wild campaign, which aims to get everyone talking and sharing ideas on how to ‘put the wild back into childhood’. There have been some great ideas, articles and quotes shared using #EveryChildWild, which indicates that there are plenty of people willing and ready to engage with the issue. Loads and loads of great reasons to get outside and take advantage of the huge impact time in nature can have on children’s health, development and wellbeing.

Chances are that none of the information in those tweets will come as a surprise. We may not have the statistics at our finger tips, but most of us can list plenty of the reasons experts say we should be outside. It’s just that when its cold, wet and windy, or we have chores to do, or we’ve had a long day, those lofty reasons aren’t quite enough to push busy parents out the door. So here is my alternative list of reasons to take the kids on adventures in the wild – for those days when the more worthy ones just aren’t cutting it.

1) Keeps the house tidy (ish)

Anyone who has spent longer than 5 minutes in the company of a toddler know what havoc they can cause to a tidy home. Cupboards opened and emptied, toys tipped out all over the floor, the clean laundry thrown down and stamped on, the pasta relocated to your handbag… an inquisitive toddler on a rampage can turn your whole house upside down and inside out, leaving you behind picking up the pieces. So the less time you spend in your house, the less tidying up there will be to do. They can chuck leaves, throw sticks, and splash water all they want in the great outdoors, with no tidy up required (obviously do pick up any rubbish though – I don’t want to encourage littering!)

2) Makes them sleep better

Naps going a bit wonky? Toddler fighting bedtime? Chuck them outside and let them run around madly to get rid of the extra energy. Fresh air has an amazing tiring effect on small (and big) people. Hopefully leaving you more time to watch the Apprentice get some chores done.

3) Saves the entry fee for soft play

There are some great toddler classes and soft play centres that can keep your toddler entertained. But they (almost) all cost money. If , like me, you are saving the pennies, one of the big draws of adventures in nature is that they are free. Of all the things I have written about on this blog, the only one that cost any money was Countryside Live (ok, Hackney City Farm did costs us two cups of tea and two slices of cake, but we didn’t have to have them.)

4) Manages the tantrums

We are just beginning to enter the world of toddler tantrums, so I’m aware the worst is still to come. Generally though, tantrums or tears seem to occur much more frequently indoors. There is something about being outside and having physical space that seems to create the mental space to deal better with big emotions. And if a tantrum does occur, it is much easier to stay calm, acknowledge feelings and patiently empathise if you are in a wild space without a whole bunch of other people staring and tutting (yes, I know they don’t really. But it feels like it).

5) Keeps you all warm

Only really relevant at this time of year maybe, but one of the unexpected advantages I’ve found of spending more time outdoors is that we feel warmer when the weather is cold. We wrap up well before heading out, and are generally pretty active once outside (even Tom generally gets a run around). This keeps us warm when we are out and, when we come back in, the house feels warmer in contrast with the outside. As a result, we need to have the heating on less often (and aren’t in the house to use it anyway) which bring us back to saving the pennies. We have now turned the heating on here, but only for an hour in the morning, and more so that some of the mountains of wet laundry might actually dry than for our comfort.

So there you have it, 5 alternative reasons to spend more time outside this autumn. Can you think of any I’ve missed?

You Baby Me Mummy

Barriers to Wild Time #3: Play Inc

Play Inc is all about the comercialisation of childhood; the idea that rewarding play can only come from bought toys or experiences. To be honest, I was feeling pretty smug about this one. After all, Tom is only one. He doesn’t watch tv, so no adverts, and has only a limited number of toys (mainly of the wooden, educational kind, so of course he doesn’t play with them).

But closer examination reveals that a bit of commercialisation has sneaked in. Despite my general desire to avoid ‘brand’ items, Tom actually has a number of items of clothing with popular tv characters. Even worse, several of these depict Mickey Mouse, showing Disney really do get a foothold everywhere (the damn mouse is on two pairs of pjs and his dressing gown, all part of a bundle I got on eBay and didn’t check properly before bidding). He also has a couple of Thomas the Tank Engine things, an inevitable consequence of his name.

I guess I didn’t think these things would be a problem. A few months ago, Tom showed no signs of recognising symbols and I thought he’d grow out of the clothes before they could have an influence. But already he’s beginning to put stuff together – he pulls out his highchair when he sees me getting his plate out, for example. How long will it be before he starts to recognise the mouse from his pjs on items in shops?

I know that, no matter how hard we try, Tom is going to spend his life exposed to all sorts of advertising and brand names. But I’ll try to limit it as much as I can. First step? Those damn Mickey Mouse pjs are going to the charity shop.

At least there are no bulletin boards in the wild!

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