Sunday, 25 June 2017

Five Little Things : On the Road

Often as you're driving places or when you stop overnight somewhere you stumble over little treasures and think wow, how lucky I am to have found something so beautiful here. This was the case for us a few weeks ago traveling home from friends in Bourgogne. 

We picked a village on our way, not too far from the motorway, just a place to stop overnight and break-up our journey. It was called Sainte Suzanne and while the "glampsite" turned out to be a little disappointing, the village was anything but. The cobblestoned roads, the soft evening sun, the haunting castle ruins, the clustering roses and the magnificent stained glass windows in the church. Here's what I managed to capture on film.

Photo roses Sainte Suzaane, France

Stained glass window Sainte Suzanne

Stained Glass Window Sainte Suzanne

Stained Glass Window Sainte Suzanne

Virgin Mary Sainte Suzanne

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Constructing buildings, constructing themselves - How kids build skills through building activities

To conclude my series of posts about building, I'd like to share some of the observations I've made about the positive effects of construction play on my children. As I've mentioned, building, like making stuff, has been and continues to be a popular activity in our home. Child psychology and development specialists have a lot to say about why building helps children develop a wide variety of skills. They often focus on playing with building blocks but many of the things they talk about can also be applied to building with other materials. 

lego plane
Self-designed Lego Plane

With my own children I've observed how building develops their problem solving skills, their capacity to learn through trial and error, their creativity, imagination and self-expression as well as their motor skills (fine and gross depending what they're building with) and their spatial awareness. 

Photo why building is important for kids
Building with Montessori materials

In the first case, problem solving skills, it might be at the planning stage - how do I make what I want with the materials I have? Or in the spur of the moment - how do I stop my tower from leaning over? How do I make my wall more solid? There are several ways they might find their way to their solutions all of which are interesting learning processes. Trial and error is probably the most common method. Although it might sometimes be frustrating in my experience it means the child really owns their solutions and doesn't forget them. 
Why building toya are great for kids
Building at the beach

Alternately, in our household, a sibling or parent might demonstrate something to them either directly because they are asked or inadvertently by modelling through their own construction techniques. Both these are interesting visual ways of learning. This kind of learning happens a lot here when our building sessions are cooperative and we try to construct things together be they block towns or Star Wars replicas. 

Why building is great for kids
An outdoor table and chairs

Lastly, my older kids also turn to books or the internet for inspiration - Noah recently had a lot of fun with a book of lego models we got out of the library and he also uses his favourite graphic novels to find models for airplanes, boats and space rockets that he builds out of lego. This is also a technique they've used for building cabins and other outdoor constructions.

Why building is great for kids
Kapla Towers

In terms of creativity and self-expression as I mentioned about the sandcastles last week, I can clearly see how the children are using this activity to process information they've received elsewhere and then express their own design ideas. Furthermore, we often build to play with. For example, Noah and Lotta might build some lego planes so they can play a mail delivery game or a cardboard island with stones for rocks and leaves for trees to play at Playmobil pirates. In this way the construction activity is a gateway to realising their creative vision, concretising their imaginary worlds. 

Why building is great for kids
Montessori COunting Rods and Steiner Rainbow Toy

Motor skills are put to work in many different ways as is spatial awareness, when placing blocks, when trying to have things balance, when working with tiny pieces of lego. In bigger outdoor projects, motor skills are further developed through tool use.

Why building is great for kids
Building with Montessori Materials 2

Of course a lot of this is happening without any of us really thinking about it or naming it at the time. Like the best of learning (speech, walking, etc) the children are doing it for themselves in a natural and fun way. Our job as parents is just to provide the materials and as much enthusiasm as we can. 

Why building is great for kids
Building a dry stone wall

*There is so much more I could say about why you should get building with your kids and why I'll continue to make it a priority here. This article on is a great place to go for more information and has a good set of tips for construction play with your kids.

Why building is great for kids
Building an obstacle course

Why building is great for kids
Building a Shelter

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Five Little Things : Building at the Beach

Photo Sandccastle Fort

So I'm carrying on this little series of posts about building and children. Today I'd like to share some photos of Maya, Noah and Lotta's recent construction fun at the beach. As you know once the weather gets good round here we spend a lot of time at the beach. Building sandcastles and various other stuff is one of the kids favourite beach activities.

Photo Sandcastle with Moat

Frank and I sometimes get involved, helping find the right rocks or shells, occasionally digging a trench but as the kids have grown they've asked less and less for our input except for the obligatory photo session to record their work for posterity! The older kids constructions have gotten more and more complex and creative. It's easy for me to see how they're applying what they've read in books and seen in films about castle construction and defense. Sometimes they'll explain that to me too - look mum I dug a really deep moat so no one can get across! And also the influence of the standing stones that are found throughout Brittany - the walls and the circular plan of Maya's construction for example.

I love seeing them at work, concentrated and happy, engaged with their task and working through translating the vision in their head into something physical. And of course, I love their pride in their work. 

The beach has always been a place of renewal and comfort for me. It is such a joy to see my children finding it to be so too. How, through this building and creativity, they are learning and growing naturally and without artifice.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Five Little Things : Building

Children seem to love building. With wooden blocks, kaplas and legos or with sticks and stones and whatever else they can get there hands on outside. There's a lot to be said on this subject. I'm going to post more about it really soon with some of my thoughts on what my three home educated kids are getting out of their building activities and why I believe they might be an essential part of childhood education. But for now, due to a very hectic week here are some photos of a fort the kids built with their cousins while on holiday using Hazel and weaving techniques.

The proud builders

A guard tower

Child built stick and string well
The Well

Stick Fort
The other guard tower

Photo kids fort building
Vu d'ensemble

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Five Litte Things : Iris

The view through the Iris

There were  many wonderful things about our holiday home in the Ardeches; the magnificent view over the mountains, the wonderful art work in all the rooms, the swimming pool, the friendly neighbours and animals. But one of the things I enjoyed the most were the Iris. They were magnificent in hues of purple, magenta, grape and orchid through to amethyst, mauve and violet. And always that unexpected hint of yellow or cream. 

I spent a wonderful hour or so photographing them and found them to be fascinating flowers. And so poetic too, they take their name from the Greek goddess of rainbows Iris which is lovely and they have such a generous, sensual expressiveness to their form. Not to mention that their yellow 'beards' stand up like a Mohican along the backbone of their petals also called 'falls'. Absolutely stunning. I hope you'll like the photos. 

Photo Bearded Iris

Photo Graceful Iris

Photo, faded lilac Iris

Photo close up Iris

Photo Close Up Iris

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Power of Giving our Children a Foundation of Joyful Living

First of all an apology. I left for holidays in the Ardeche region of France with the intention of posting as normal here. Unfortunately the internet connection in our rural, hillside house wasn't up to the job at all. I couldn't upload a single photo or even really get blogger to load properly. It was frustrating though in fact the lack of a good internet connection did make for a very relaxing holiday and a really good rhythm to my days - early to bed and early to rise, yoga every day and lots of poetry reading. The light over the mountains facing our rental house was amazing and I also spent a lot of time out there with my camera getting some great flower shots and some amazing portraits (more of the flowers this weekend). 

Lotta rolling in delight

Time away from home is always different. It moves more slowly and is full of new experiences which renew and restore us as individuals and as a family. We were lucky to spend this trip with our extended French family - grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins. For the children these kind of trips are magical. These are the halcyon days of childhood they will look back on throughout their lives with fondness and that sense of well being those of us lucky enough to have had a happy childhood carry everywhere with us. They made forts out of sticks, bows and arrows, paper hats and went in the swimming pool three times a day. There were horses and donkeys to befriend as well as getting reacquainted with the family. They were surrounded by happy, loving adults, ate well, played well and fell asleep exhausted as the sun set each day. Noah even fulfilled a lifelong dream to ride in a tractor thanks to the friendly neighbouring farmer.

Baling the hay - Noah gets a longed for tractor ride
Maya loving up the donkey

There is something about the carefreeness of childhood that most people consider sacred. We want our children to be free of worry, to live in the moment and enjoy these years because we know the burden of adulthood. We know what lies the other side of innocence in its most widest sense, the weight of carrying our problems on our own shoulders and also of the knowledge of all the bigger problems surrounding us. Of course children have their own concerns and problems, the business of growing up is a preoccupying and at times frighteningly difficult one. And few children live in a bubble outside of what's going on in the world around them. I did however take the choice during our trip not to share the news about Manchester and London with them. For me it cast a shadow over our holiday, over its lightness giving it a sense of other worldliness almost. I wanted my children to enjoy it unfettered. It doesn't mean I haven't talked to them about this now we're all back home, nor that in general I don't talk to them about current affairs. 

Noah using his bow
Louna and her arrows

Sometimes I think that in this world of suffering and pain, of terrorist attacks and insecurity it is even more important to ensure our children have a childhood, are allowed this magical time of play and lightheartedness. Why? Because it is these moments, these memories that will sustain them through any darkness and suffering they face. You know that memory, the one you can close your eyes and think of when times are very hard, when sad things happen, when the world seems such a terrible place? For me it's running through an arc of water, my friend Paul's hand in mine laughing and laughing and squealing with delight as my sister sprayed us with the hosepipe. Or the feeling of being snuggled into the belly of my Grandad's border collie Nellie her scratchy tongue licking my cheek. It's the memory of walking for hours round the garden of the house we now live in with my best friend Catherine talking and laughing about all the things we were going to do when we were very soon grown up.

These are the kinds of memories I'm interested in creating for my children as much as is humanly possible. Not just because I love them and I want them to have a happy childhood but because I also really believe, that a foundation of joy is the key to our most humane humanity. That it is from that full fountain we can give our best selves to the world, all our love and compassion, all our joy.