Why have millions of us spent Lockdown walking through the countryside?

Illustrated by Shelly Oyston

We mustn’t lose our connection with nature once this is over.

As I became accustomed to our new normal, I began to hope we would never completely return to the old normal. The old normal was fume-filled roads packed with angry cars, stressed out guilt-ridden parents unable to find the time they desperately needed and wanted to spend with their children. It was about money and material objects over peace and friendship.

Then the pandemic struck.

The new normal became family walks in the countryside, regularly checking on our elderly parents, homecooked meals and family board games. Chatting for hours on the phone to friends. Children having proper conversations with their parents who properly listened. Adults who had never had time to read a book in years, reading again. Children reading more. Youngsters baking with their parents, going for long bike rides in the fresh air, spending quality time with their pets.

Social media has been flooded with pictures of families together in the countryside, forest paths, unusual trees, beautiful sunsets, wild flowers, rare insects, pretty butterflies…

I know I am not alone in feeling the healing powers of the countryside when I walk through it. The sheer beauty in every direction, the tranquillity. It is sublime.

But we forget easily. Who still uses the hashtag #bekind? We thought we would all change forever after the tragedy of Caroline Flack dying from suicide, but something else always comes along. This time it was Covid-19.

We have to make sure we don’t slide back into our old lives.

We simply must try hard to stop trying so hard! Let’s give ourselves the space to enjoy each other and enjoy life. As we’re returning to full time work we have to ask ourselves some very serious questions. Do we need to work the amount of hours we work? Is a saunter in the countryside more relaxing than flopping on the sofa after a hard day’s graft? Do we need to spend £1,000 on little Mikey’s birthday or can we take him and his friends to a FREE woodland play area? I know which he’d prefer so why do we insist on blowing our money all the time? When we do blow money on expensive gifts for our children, how long do they play with them? How soon are they broken or forgotten or both? Yet memories last forever and a peaceful mindset sets us up for life.

The countryside never stops changing, we have the 4 seasons with all the mini-changes in between. The more experienced you become with the country, the more new things you will see. You’ll begin to recognise the flora and fauna and the clues to which animals have made their homes nearby. Not only will you become experts in animal tracks and burrows and nests, you’ll be come expert poo-identifiers too! You can walk the same track again and again and see something new every single time. There are books to help you identify the different birds, insects, animals and flowers so your children can tick off what they see and search for the more elusive ones. My latest picture book in the “Who Hides Here” series, “Footprints in the Forest” is a very basic introduction to tracking, teaching young children which animal has made the footprints they find when on their family walks through woodland and forests.

There are other fun ways to enjoy the countryside too. Once lockdown has completely ended, the local forestry groups will start putting on events again such as den building, making nettle soup, identifying pond creatures, etcetera. Local to me, Guisborough Forest has an excellent range of events, why not check out your local groups?

I have high hopes for our future. I think we’re going to be happier and healthier. A large part of it is due to our reconnection with nature. We just must not forget and slip back into our old ways.

Lockdown Culture Shift

Yesterday evening, I mistimed my dog walk and was still out when the clapping started. I therefore walked and clapped (I’m such an excellent multi-tasker). My dog was surprised and excited, but we managed it. As the clapping ended, we were approaching the estate near where I live. And there I happened across the most peculiar thing.

First of all, as we approached, we could hear a general murmur which gradually increased as we got closer. It reminded me of something from the olden days. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first, then I recognised it. It was the sound of a large group of happy voices, like you heard when you entered a pub or a party in days gone by. But those days have ended. So what could it really be?

As we rounded the corner, in the glorious evening sunshine, we saw the most beautiful sight: crowds of socially distancing neighbours, still out in their front gardens, holding conversations with each other. The atmosphere was joyous. People were smiling, laughing, nodding and generally being cheerful. There were no cars, so some people were standing in the middle of the road. Children were out in slippers and dressing gowns, an old lady was resting on her walking frame, some people had brought a glass of beer or wine out with them. As I walked through the whole estate, there was no exception. Every single street was buzzing with happiness and social togetherness (albeit at a distance).

Honestly, it made my heart swell. I realised that many of the neighbours, despite living in the same street, would not have met each other before lockdown. At the most a quick nod or wave or unfelt “how-do-you-do?” Now, because people were all out the front at the same time every Thursday, they’d all not only met each other, but got to know each other too. I am certain, many ever-lasting friendships have been made during lockdown.

It got me thinking. Why did we not already know our neighbours? Because we were too busy that’s why. Why were we too busy? Because we were trying to fit in both parents working full time, children, pets, hobbies, clubs…

When women made huge progress to equality in the 1960s, Britain’s workforce almost doubled. This made the cost of houses go up, so both partners needed to work to pay the mortgage and we got stuck in a never-ending hamster wheel.

Now during this unusual period where many parents are not working, I’m seeing fathers out cycling with their sons, mothers out walking with the children, dogs being walked leisurely by the whole family rather than a quick cursory walk after tea, I’m seeing the products of children’s art work posted in windows; social media lays testament to millions of children spending time with their parents baking, DIYing, gardening, playing board games indoors and sports in their garden. I think this will have a huge positive impact on children’s mental health.

Perhaps we should take this downtime to reconfigure our lives. Perhaps, if we wanted, one parent could go part time or stop working altogether. This would give us more time to spend with our children. Automatically we think we can’t afford it, but perhaps if we look hard enough, there could be a way?

With only one person working, only one car is needed: less fuel, tax, test, tyres, insurance… Could we buy cheaper clothes and food? Could we downsize our home? Do the children really benefit from rushing to so many clubs? Could we swap an expensive hobby for a cheaper one such as walking?

Of course, everyone’s circumstances are different, and there are plenty of couples who both want to work full time, that is their prerogative. But for those who want to make a change, perhaps it’s more achievable than you think. And more worth it than you think.

Home Schooling Made Easy

Having been a childminder of children aged 0-11 for many years, I know I can help you to keep sane with some top-tips!

  1. PLAN. The days I tried to “wing” it were the days I ended up in tears!
  2. Children learn far more quickly with 1:1 so don’t expect to need to put the same hours in as they did at school.
  3. Remain disciplined. If you have rules and routine, they’ll quickly adapt, but if you waver, they will continually push the boundaries – and your patience!
  4. Split the days into different sections so they’re not doing one thing for too long.
  5. Don’t apologise to them for doing school work at home as you’re setting it as a negative – tell them home-schooling is fun. (But not more fun than school, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for a problem returning them after this is over!)

If you’re suffering from a little self-doubt, because you’re not a teacher, so how can you expect to teach your children, please don’t worry. According to the great Swiss philosopher, Jean Piaget, children learn best through play. The only thing new to you is “scaffolding”. This means that the play has to be structured in a way where once they have got good at something, you then create a little challenge to make it harder and let them continue to play to work it out. For example, when they create lots of snowmen out of playdough, ask them if they can make a dog. Let them try and if they find it too difficult, let them watch you making one then they can try again. Try not to step in too soon – they learn lots from failing. (FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.)

Example Day:

  • Teach them to make their own breakfast. This will be great for when they go back to school, as it’s one less job for you. It’s okay if it takes them ages and it’s messy – you have time AND they can help clean up which teaches them why they should be more careful, rather than you just shouting at them to be careful. Talk to them about why they have breakfast, why it is important.
  • Brush their own teeth and wash their own hands and faces (you can do it afterwards if you think it’s not good enough but just tell them it’s an extra clean). Talk to them about healthy teeth and preventing germs.
  • Tidy their own bedroom, and make their beds. Do not be tempted to straighten their beds after they’ve made them. They need to have pride in what they do.
  • Sit at a table to do some work that was sent from school. How long, is age dependent and child dependent – don’t push them for too long. Only help if they ask you for help. When you check their work, remember to always tell them something good about it (even if it’s only that they tried really hard) before telling them how to do the bits they got wrong.
  • Celebrate their hard work by some free play in the garden. If it’s too cold wrap them up. If it’s too wet, put their wellies on and hoods up or umbrella, if it’s too hot, lotion them and create a shady area. The weather will kindly add variety to what they’re doing. Don’t be garden proud this summer. Everything can be fixed.
  • They must wash their hands as soon as they’re in, then they can have a little snack which they can assemble. You just set the ingredients out. For example, some crackers, some butter that’s been out of the fridge for 10 minutes, some slices of cheese. Yes, it might take them ages to spread the butter, but they’ll get better and better at it with practice.
  • Now it’s time for a little more school work (different subject from earlier)
  • Lunch time is another lesson. They can help you to set the table, and make their lunch, even if it’s just stirring the soup with you and putting bread buns on the plates. Talk to them about what they’re eating, what about it is healthy and why and what is a treat.
  • Time to play out again.
  • Story time: Read a story (or chapter). Older children can read to themselves or each other. To engage children who have lost interest in stories, ask them to guess what is going to happen next, or what do they think they know about a character that they haven’t been explicitly told. They’ll be surprised how much is implied. They need to become reading detectives, then they’ll fall in love with reading. With reluctant/struggling readers, take turns per page or per paragraph – reading is exhausting until they become fluent.
  • Constructive play. This can be playdough, creating pictures, lego, sticklebricks, board games, etcetera. It is important you take part with them, or it quickly goes wrong. It’s a great time for family bonding and conversation.
  • To finish the day, they can phone an elderly relative or any friend or family who is self-isolating and tell them all about their wonderful day. Alternatively, they could write a letter or homemade card to send instead.
  • Now all they have to do is tidy away their work and anything they played with. Plus, they can sort the washing for you or dust and vacuum one room.

Extra ideas:

  • An important topic at Primary age is learning about the world around them. When they’re out in the garden, ask them to search for signs of life: little shoots coming up – will it be a flower or a weed? Who made those footprints? (Check out my book “Who Hides Here? Footprints in the Garden”) Talk about the seasons and why they’re important for plants to grow and which animals come out when.
  • They can do fun exercises in the house or in the garden – when I was a gymnastics coach, we used to act out well known fairy tales and fables, for example Jack and the Beanstalk we would do giant steps for the giant and run away for Jack. We would pretend to be the goose, we would lie down and stretch ourselves as big as possible when the harp sent the giant to sleep, etcetera.
  • Watch a short film then draw a story-board of what happened. Make up a new title. Design a DVD cover. Write a review/give it stars.
  • On-line educational games.
  • Sorting photographs and talking about past adventures, relatives, when you were young, when they were younger, etcetera.

Something You Want, Something You Need, Something to Wear and Something to Read

Christmas book

Ahh Christmas. It’s all about giving and my goodness don’t we all know how to give! The more we give, the better we feel about ourselves. Right?

All that money, all that organising, all that shopping … and for what? For your child to rip off the paper, casting it aside almost as quickly as the toy, as they start on the next present. And the next present. And the next present. Before you know it you have a wrapping paper mountain, and scattered toys already separated from their instructions, batteries and any other important components.

Boxing day – a day for you to have to do all that tidying, all that recycling, all that charity bagging. It feels like we just bought anything to make it look like we bought a lot. Somehow, despite our best intentions, the act of giving is no longer as much fun, or as appreciated as much as it should be. There’s simply too much of it.

I hadn’t heard of the saying “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read”, but now I have heard of it, it makes total sense. Personally, I’d much rather have four great gifts than 100 rubbish gifts! And truthfully, I think our children would too.

I remember watching my son one year – every time he opened a present he wanted to play with it and I was saying, “you can play with it later, open the next one. Hurry up or we won’t be on time for Christmas dinner!” How ridiculous. Even as I said it, I knew I was wrong, but he had too many presents and not enough time, so we had to keep rushing through.

There’s really not much I want and I know I certainly do NOT want tat so I’m going to ask my husband for the “four” and the older members of my family to donate to my chosen charity.

Of course the last one is the one I’m most excited about. Something to read. Hmmm, thinking about it, a book actually covers three of the four, but I’m not sure I can wear a book, so perhaps that will just be a pair of comfy furry socks for when I curl up on the sofa with one of the three books I get for Christmas 😊



Anti-Bullying Week – is Protecting the Victim Enough?

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Anti-Bullying Week is a regular focal point on all school calendars. Very few schools deny they have bullies, they accept the problem and deal with it in the best way they know how. Lessons are based around empowering the victims, explaining how to stay safe and the importance of sharing concerns with a safe adult.

But what about the bully?

It is our responsibility as parents to raise our children to be calm, kind and caring. To make sure that they neither fall victims to bullies, nor become the bullies. This is great in most families. Most families care greatly about their children and raise them responsibly.

There is another group of children however, who are not as fortunate. These are the children who suffer neglect, intimidation, bullying, abuse … from their own parents or family members. This often results in aggressive, abusive behaviour by the child.

Sometimes, I think helping the victims, becomes like constantly mopping up water from a leaky tap. Surely it’s better to fix the tap? If we could help the bullies, there wouldn’t be any victims in need of help.

The bullies need friendship and understanding too. They are rarely happy children. They’re acting out the pain inside. In “The Boy Who Couldn’t” (which was initially called “Bully”), the readers witness Greg’s terrible home life and see how it affects his actions outside the house. We don’t have to like him, but I challenge you to read it without feeling some sympathy for him. Then James’ mum does what I wish I had done … in a very subtle, understated way, she invites Greg into her family. She doesn’t interfere. She doesn’t judge. She’s just there. And without anything being explicitly told to him, Greg knows she cares. This is hugely important in his life. I hope we can all learn not to be judgemental, but to seek the real child hiding behind the guise of a bully. James’ mum, in her own quiet way, makes our world a better place. #notallheroeswearcapes