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

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

Society is broken?

kitty-551554_960_720No it’s not!

Teenagers are hooligans!
No they’re not!

Kids today – they don’t know they’re born!

It was better in my day!
No it wasn’t!

Old people are always whinging!
No they’re not!

Mental health is at it’s worst!
You may have a point.

I want to correct a few myths: there are no more violent criminals, sex offenders, murderers, losers or wasters than there were before. Read a Shakespearean history or tragedy and you’ll see that those times were far more dangerous than now.

What is different is that we are all better educated. We’re literate. And my goodness that literacy has gone wild – it’s everywhere, newspapers, magazines, social media, posters in shop windows… In addition, we’ve made leaps and bounds with technology and again wow – news on the television, radio, social media again, emails…

So what has happened is that we all know far more than we did before. Back in Shakespeare’s time, if someone murdered somebody in London, it was unlikely a person in Newcastle would hear about it. Not only did the news not travel far enough or fast enough, but the murders were likely to have been far more frequent and therefore not as shocking as it is today.

What has stayed the same is that bad news makes great gossip. Nobody cares that a teenager held the door open for me today as I struggled with too many bags of shopping, but they all want to know about the teenager who threatened another with a knife. Just as in the 1500s bad news is the news that travels. The difference is that it now travels at lightening speed all across the whole world. Therefore, it feels like our lives are constantly threatened by evil. Sometimes it feels that the whole world is wicked and nothing good is happening. On top of that, the wonderful computer algorithms can exacerbate that feeling. Yesterday, I was looking on line for a new bed – now, whether I’m on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Google or wherever, I keep getting adverts for a new bed. The same happens with bad news – if you open a document about a dog being stolen, the algorithms will suddenly inundate you with stories of stolen dogs until you feel it’s no longer safe to have a dog and make you completely paranoid if you already have one.

I don’t know if mental health is worse now, because it used to be a taboo subject. I’m sure it’s always been far bigger than we ever realised, but I do wonder if it’s even worse now, due in part to the way we are inundated with news (almost exclusively bad news) from waking first thing in the morning (I always check my updates once I’ve turned my alarm off), to going to bed (I always check my updates once I’ve got into bed). I know I’m not the only one obsessed with my phone!

Well that’s all pretty miserable isn’t it! But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be. Remember those algorithms? They can work in your favour too. Search for a happy kitten and you’ll be inundated with happy kittens, search for a hero story and you’ll be inundated with hero stories. Top tip: I love the Good News Network on Facebook for this. You can play a part too – try to share lots of positive thoughts. If you’re having a good day, let people know. It will make someone else’s day and then they too may share something positive for you to see. It will pop up in your Facebook memories and make you smile again on that day each year for the rest of your Facebook life. 😊

Of course, if you’re having a bad day, we all know it can negatively affect your mental health to keep it to yourself. I’m definitely not saying to hide your feelings. If your way of dealing with it is to share on Facebook that’s your decision, personally, I find it more beneficial to speak to a friend or family member face to face when I’m struggling. But you know you and you need to do what’s right for you.

However, when we are having a good day, how can we make sure our perception of the world avoids negativity and focuses on positivity? It would be nice if, upon finding something we don’t like, we thought what we could do to make it better instead of just complaining and feeling down about it. Helping others and fixing problems raises your spirits and your self-esteem. If your local school committee is not doing enough for the children, join their committee. They are probably desperate for extra helpers. If the town’s full of litter, organise a litter-picking group – our borough council supply litter pickers and bags for the local town group.

If you do have to make a complaint about a business, be sure to balance the karma by sending a letter or card complimenting another business. You’ll make that business’s day and you’ll feel much better too. 😊

Take back control. Make your own little world a better place and watch the love spread. That reminds me of this awesome little video. Clearly designed for very young children but I love it and I’m a not-so-young grown-up! The Pig of Happiness

Keep smiling folks and spread the love. 😊