Wordless Wednesday 5th August 2015

Baobab Tree


Camping With Kids – The Low-Stress Way!

Bell TentAugust is here, though it doesn’t feel like it here in Yorkshire, as we’ve had plenty of rain over the last few weeks. For most families August means summer holidays. As a home educating family, we can take our holidays all year round and take advantage of lower prices and smaller crowds. But for those who have little choice but to go away during the school summer holidays, now is the time to pack up the car and go in search of sun, sea, sand, or whatever recreation the family are hungry for.

We went camping a few weeks ago, so I thought I would share some of my hints and tips for making camping with kids a better experience. We love camping, or at least, I love the idea of it, somehow the reality often doesn’t quite measure up. So I hope that by getting these thoughts down in a blog post I can be better prepared to follow my own advice in future!

Let’s start with some MUST DO tips.

1. Research your campsite. Get online. There are some great websites to help you find the perfect site, many of which allow you to search by preferred amenities as well as location. You can also talk to other parents who go camping and get their recommendations. There are Facebook groups dedicated to family camping, so check them out and ask for other people’s favourites campsites.

We’ve stayed at a few places around the UK, but only revisited a site once. Jasmine Park near Snainton, North Yorkshire, has been our destination of choice two years running. The facilities are great and the kids love it there. It’s also the ideal location for us as we love the beach and forest equally, and Jasmine Park sits right between Scarborough and Dalby Forest, with Whitby, Filey and other wonderful beaches a reasonable drive away, as well as attractions such as Flamingo Land and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The Munchkin Going Ape @ Dalby Forest

The Munchkin Going Ape @ Dalby Forest

2. Figure out what to do. Do you want to spend most of your time on-site? Or use the tent as a place to bed down between outbound adventures? That will help you decide on the best campsite, but it also sets the tone for your trip. My kids love running around the campsite and finding other kids to play with, they also like having all their amenities on hand, with food and toilets just a quick dash away. But I enjoy getting off site and exploring. I also suffer with hayfever, so in the height of summer being on grass, near bushes and trees is a recipe for disaster. Getting to the beach or into a town or city suits me best. So we try to balance everyone’s needs with a combination of on-site frivolity and local exploration. Luckily the kids do love adventure too, so it’s great to get out and enjoy doing lots of fun things together. The Munchkin is particularly partial to Go Ape, which is why we love camping near Dalby Forest.

3. Be prepared! Especially in Britain, with our delightfully unpredictable weather! Pack for every kind of weather. Last summer it was tipping it down when we arrived and, knowing that we would have to get the tent up while the kids wanted to roam, I put them in their waterproofs and wellies and sent them off to explore while then-hubby and I got the tent up and unpacked the car. We then had glorious weather for several days and needed repeat applications of suncream while at the beaches. I’m a list person, so I make a packing list for all our trips and my camping lists run to two columns of a full page of A4! There’s a great resource here at Bring the Kids for those who need a hand getting started.

Remember that the nights will be colder, so take blankets as well as sleeping bags, and jumpers to throw on for midnight loo-dashes. And don’t forget the pillows! I usually do, so we end up using rolled up towels and getting up in the morning with impressions on our cheeks.

Now, what mistakes have I learned from? What should you NOT DO?

1. Don’t take too much food. Following on from my last tip on being prepared, I have historically packed way too much food to take camping. It starts with this idea that we’ll all be sat around a BBQ eating sausages for breakfast and dinner, then we have to take plenty of snacks to satisfy the bottomless pits that are my children’s stomachs. However, what always happens is we end up throwing out some meat and other fresh items that spoil in the hot tent, and bringing home three shopping bags full of snacks because we were all too busy to be snacking all day.

Lesson learned. Take nothing! Or the bare minimum, then once on site and unpacked, head to the local supermarket, or village shop and stock up on essentials that absolutely will get eaten.

2. Don’t stay too long. Last year we booked an entire week, but ended up coming home early as we were all too tired and fed up to make it to the end of the week. All families are different, so be realistic about how long is long enough for yours. 3 nights is my absolute max in a tent. What with the hayfever and “joy” (note: sarcasm) that is an airbed. Of course, I could invest in proper campbeds to make sleep more comfortable. A friend of mine has the most amazing camping gear, with enormous bell tent and campbeds (pictured at the top of this post), which looks very comfortable.

Photo by Arup Malakar courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo by Arup Malakar courtesy of Creative Commons

3. Don’t forget to have fun. Being on holiday with children can be deceptively stressful and camping can sometimes highlight that stress. The weather goes against you, people get tired and grumpy, you run out of something essential, you don’t get enough sleep. But hopefully these tips will help mitigate most of that. Focus on the positives. Chances are the kids will love most of it, no matter how much or little you plan to do or what you do or don’t pack. Enjoy their enjoyment, live vicariously and savour those moments away from the hum drum of normality. These are the bits you’ll look back and remember, not the day to day grind, but the fun and adventure.

I hope these camping tips help you plan the perfect camping holiday. I haven’t covered camping abroad, as we haven’t done that yet. So if you have any tips on that I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Likewise if there are any other essential camping tips that work for your family do please leave a comment.

We’re jet-set in a few months, flying off to Florida for two weeks with extended family. So I’ll be blogging about the plans and preparation for that and then a post or two afterwards about how it went, so do please hit the follow button for updates to your inbox.

You can find me on social media via the links below. Thanks for reading.




While You Were Away…

parenting-word cloudAs some people may have gathered from my last post, something’s stirring over here at Spirited Mama!

I am indeed, still alive and still as spirited as ever. I decided that it was time to dust off this blog and breathe some life back into it. My life moved away from blogging for a while, I didn’t feel I had much to say and was focused on writing my fiction. But my mama bear is stirring and has things to say again.

It’s funny how life is this constantly shifting current, taking us from one place to another, often seemingly without us controlling it at all. There is definitely an ebb and flow to energy and that changes the course of our lives.

beach1So what happened while I was away? The Munchkin is now 6 years old and the Bean is 3. How did that happen? I’m also now a single mum. Both kids spent some time at a Montessori nursery, but are now both at home full time, so you can expect to see lots of posts about home education and parenting in general. I’m still nursing the Bean, and am a vocal advocate of full term breastfeeding, so that might come up from time to time too. I don’t have as much to do with supporting women and families with their births, but still admin a VBAC support group online and keep half an eye on the state of birth in the UK, so if something catches my eye I’ll probably mention it here. I want this blog to continue to be a resource for those with birth choices to make, even if that isn’t my primary focus these days.

Aside from parenting, what else has happened in the last few years? I’ve published two novels and a short story in the Echoes of the Past series, with novel number three due out this summer. I’m currently running a crowdfunder to raise funds for my publishing costs, so if anyone would like to contribute and help out this single mama trying to earn a living from her passion, then do please hop over to my Pubslush page and chip in what you can. But this blog isn’t about my books really, so I won’t be bombarding you with promos and the like, don’t worry. You might see a few book reviews of kids’ books though!

I’ve also really embraced Twitter, hence the title for this post. It’s become my favourite social media platform in many ways. It’s not great for holding conversations, but I love it for connecting with other people and keeping up with their news. Sometimes it is like shouting into a crowded room though, so I try to engage with people to make it meaningful to be there. Follow me via the link below!

I think that’s all from me for now. Check out my social media links below and hit the “follow” button to keep up to date with new posts here. I’m really looking forward to jumping back in to this crazy world of #pblogging with you all!




Wordless Wednesday 22nd July 2015



Still Alive

I haven’t blogged for quite some time. Last year saw massive upheavals for my family, a whole heap of stress, oh, and I finished my novel!

i’m hoping to find the time to pop back in here from time to time to chronicle my parenting journey, but most of my writing time now is consumed with my books and writing-related blogging, competitions and marketing.

So please pop over to my author site and follow me there and do please buy my book, Echoes of the Past: Seeds of Autumn.



Has Virginia Wade Been Written Out of History?

imageIn the days after Andy Murray’s amazing victory at Wimbledon, this image has gone viral. Why?

The reporting of Andy Murray’s triumphant victory in the men’s singles Wimbledon final on Sunday has provoked some angry online comments, including this image, which implies that the press have ignored Virginia Wade’s victory in the women’s competition in 1977.

This is a ridiculous and inflammatory argument on several levels.

First of all, the press have not completely omitted the vital information that Andy Murray won the Men’s singles final.

Daily Mail: “first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years” 

The following as pictured on The Guardian’s website here:

The Independent: “Champion – Andy Murray, the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936”.

The Daily Express: “Magical Murray – First British man to win Wimbledon in 77 Years”.

The Sun: “Finally, after 77 years, 15 PMs, 3 monarchs, Brit man wins Wimbo”.

The Times: “Murray ends 77-year wait for British win” as the headline, above it is a photograph with the caption: “Andy Murray savours victory and the Men’s Singles trophy…”

These front pages came under fire by someone blogging for The Guardian here and yet the one and only front page pictured that can honestly be said to be omitting the fact that Andy Murray is the first MAN to win for 77 years is the Telegraph, with its “After 77 years, the wait is over”, the text under the photograph and in the article is far too small to read, but I have to assume that it clarifies which tournament he won. The blogger quite rightly points out a selection of other winners at Wimbldon since Fred Perry, though I notice he or she did not mention any of the male or female doubles winners, such as Jamie Murray, that Britain can celebrate, or seniors or juniors. Why? Because the writer either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about doubles tennis. Just like most people in this country. It is a sad fact that the men’s singles game is of significantly higher public interest than any other form of the game. The hypocrisy of the writer of this unnecessary and inflammatory article is staggering.

Secondly, the women’s game is a completely separate sport for most of the year, only coming together at the major tournaments. British fans are famous for completely ignoring tennis for 50 weeks every year, only becoming enthusiastic followers during the two weeks of Wimbledon. Their knowledge of the players, therefore, is very sketchy. They will recognise Federer, Nadal and Djokovic because they have won Wimbledon. In the women’s game, they will probably recognise the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova. Now they will have heard of Marion Bartoli, the press coverage of her win is a related matter but probably deserves its own blog post. Those who follow the game a little closer will also recognise Azarenka, Kvitova, Errani, Radwanska, Wosniacki and many other great and up and coming players.

Anyone who watches any tennis at all will know all about Virginia Wade. Not only was she the last British woman to win Wimbledon, she is also currently a well-known broadcaster who appears on tennis programmes all year round, along with other British stars of the past like Sue Barker, Annabel Croft, Sam Smith and Jo Durie. The current players’ achievements are measured in terms of “the first British woman to … since …….. [one of these players]”. None of them would consider themselves to have been airbrushed out of history, their achievements are remembered with pride and affection by the British public, to as great an extent as the way in which they remember Tim Henman.

Admittedly it has taken many years of hard work by Billie-Jean King and many others to get prize money in the women’s game on a par with the men. However, this isn’t just the case in tennis. How many people can name a female British cricketer or footballer, despite the huge advances made by women in these sports? Tennis is also the only major sport to even have a professional women’s tour. Football? All amateur. Rugby? All amateur. Cricket? Some female international players get paid, but not whole teams and not from all countries. The women’s games just don’t attract the same volume of spectators that men’s sports do, and therefore less sponsorship, less TV income and lower income for the players.

Maybe women don’t have as much time and energy to go and watch sports events, which could cause a lot of knock-on effects and many men probably have less interest in the women’s sports than the men’s, for whatever reason. In tennis, the lack of a ladies’ tournament contender for a title is sure to have limited enthusiasm for the women’s game for British fans for the last thirty years, though that is about to change…

laurarobsonHowever, don’t blame the media entirely, they are writing for the public and will cater to the interests of their audience. Now that Britain has Laura Robson and Heather Watson to follow, just watch what will inevitably happen to the headlines when one of them wins Wimbledon (the women’s tournament, of course,) no-one will expect the headline “Laura Robson the first Brit to win Wimbledon for 40 years” to imply that Andy Murray’s win doesn’t count just because he’s a man! The headlines will be just as big, but they might not happen to mention she won the women’s tournament. Why should they? Why should we constantly have to clarify whether we are discussing men or women when it comes to a big achievement? Why should it matter, if we are all equal? And when we are discussing a male only or female only sports title, a big photograph of the winner holding the trophy ought to be a big enough clue which title is being discussed.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood here. I am a feminist and am often among the first to point out how important the language we use is. However, this case just stank of looking for an argument, of seeking to stir debate where none need exist. The papers DIDN’T “airbrush Virginia Wade out of history” at all, most headlines included the word “man” or “men’s” and those that didn’t largely clarified in the by-line or photo caption. Are the British public considered so lazy that we have to now assume the majority will not even read the first line of a front page story and literally JUST the headline? Really? Typsetters for the national press beware! Your punchy headlines now have to be painstakingly PC, even when a photograph speaks for itself.

I’m also NOT saying that there isn’t sexism in sport, or tennis in particular, I’m not saying that it’s right that women’s tennis is often overlooked by large numbers of people. Not at all. All I am trying to say is that this piece of viral vitriol was totally inaccurate and has caused a whole load of negativity around what should have been a huge celebration of Andy Murray’s achievement. I would love to get a quote from Virginia Wade herself and see how she feels about her image and achievement being used to stir needless conflict. I can’t imagine she would be too pleased.

– Thanks to my co-author on this post, Linzy Lyne.

Working With NOT Doing To

This is a topic I have been meaning to blog about for a few weeks now, but a discussion on Facebook this morning has nudged me to grab the little window I have while the Bean sleeps. As parents, we all strive to do the best we can for our children, there are a few different theories about exactly what is “best” and parents from differing schools of thought can have quite passionate disagreements on it. What the hubby and I feel is best is unconditional and attachment parenting. Let me preface this with the confession that we are not perfect, we often do not live up to our parenting ideals. We lose tempers and shout, we say things to the Munchkin that we regret and we spend many evenings despairing about things that have happened. But we chalk it up to experience and promise to try harder.

According to Alfie Kohn, there is ample research to show that children develop best into independent, free-thinking, compassionate and hard working adults if they have parents who give them unconditional love, who steer clear of punishments and rewards and practice “working with” rather than “doing to” parenting.

“Working with” parenting includes giving your child control over their own life, with appropriate limits, of course; so for example, allowing your child to choose their own clothes each day and dress themselves, to the best of their ability! Parents aiming to work with their children might also be sure to give explanations for boundaries, rather than expecting them to be adhered to without question. You won’t hear a working with parent saying “Because I said so!” Negotiation and compromise feature heavily in the working with household. Instead of rewards and praise, a working with parent encourages their child with descriptive responses, such as “I see you doing forward rolls, you really controlled your body and landed just where you meant to.” This gives the child the opportunity to evaluate their performance for themselves and decide how they feel about it. The child might respond with “Yeah, but I was a bit wobbly as I stood up, let me have another go,” or perhaps “Actually, it made me dizzy, I think I’ll stop now.” They learn to motivate themselves and take pleasure and pride in their achievements and to recognise their own limits.

Discipline“Doing to” parenting consists of using punishments and rewards, forcing children to behave in desirable ways. The foundation of this type of parenting is the belief that behaviour is more important than understanding. So for example, a doing to parent might force their child to apologise for accidentally hurting another child, with no regard for whether their child actually is sorry or not. When a child does not immediately follow the parental rules, a doing to parent might confiscate a favourite toy, force the child to isolate themselves for a period of time (time out) or possibly even use physical force, such as smacking. On the flip side, a doing to parent may use rewards and praise as well as, or instead of punishment. Rewards might be very material, such as food or toys, or they might be in the form of a sticker chart. Praise is the verbal reward system and is also quite damaging. Dishing out “good job”s or “well done”s is Pavlovian, pure and simple, it is behavioural conditioning. It teaches children to do something solely for the treat, like a good little puppy. This means that when the reward is no longer offered the child is not motivated to do the task. Alfie Kohn references many studies that have found this result in his book Unconditional Parenting.

Conditional, or doing to parenting hinges on the belief that children are inherently wayward and bad. How many times have you heard phrases such as “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”, “You’re making a rod for your own back” and so on? These comments come from a very dark view of human nature, one that asserts that children must be trained to behave in acceptable ways through systematic use of punishments and rewards. Bad behaviour must be discouraged through punitive measures and good behaviour must be encouraged with rewards; because no normal child could possibly be capable of doing the right thing for its own sake and all will be utterly selfish without punishments to keep them in check.

I don’t subscribe to this view at all. I have seen for myself how kind, well mannered and thoughtful the Munchkin can be and we have never forced him to say sorry, please or thank you. We have never put him on a “naughty step” or told him to do as he is told with no explanation. Today he pushed over the Bean in a scramble to get trains out of the toy box, I swooped in and picked up the Bean as he was very upset. The Munchkin was told, sternly, that he isn’t to push his brother over because he could get hurt just like this. The Munchkin took himself off for a minute and came back to us looking very solemn and said “I want to say sorry to him.” And he did, and gave his baby brother a cuddle.

time-outI’m not going to sugar coat things. Does the Munchkin sometimes (often?!) refuse to eat his nutritious home-cooked dinner because he would rather eat chicken nuggets? Yes! Does he get in a strop over the slightest thing and refuse to help tidy his toys away at the end of the day? Yes! Sometimes it does not matter what we do or say, he will not be cooperative and we find ourselves tearing our hair out in frustration. It is so tempting to yell, to punish him in some way. In truth, that would be the easy option. It is easy and on some level satisfying to yell “Go to your room!” in those situations. Would this be the lazy option? Sometimes, yes. Though I think most parents don’t realise that there is an alternative way, all they know is what they experienced as children and what well meaning friends, family and strangers are telling them to do, as well as what they see on TV or read in baby training manuals. Working with parenting is certainly not the easy option. It is so hard to push aside your own anger and pull your stubborn child into a loving hug instead of yelling. It is utterly exhausting to repeat the explanations for the dozenth time in 48 hours.

But he is three.

This is what I tell myself when I have to remove myself from the room in order to avoid shouting. I take a moment to breathe deeply and compose myself and I say to myself “He is only three”. When I am calm I can go back, give him a big hug and explain to him gently why I would like him to do, or not do something. Even if I just had to explain the same thing five minutes previously. Because he is three and he is still learning. It would be unreasonable of me to expect him to be able to control every impulse, to totally understand and have mastered his anger, jealousy and fatigue.

What about as children get older? Do punishments and rewards become necessary then? How about in schools? Do teachers need to use these tools in order to control their classrooms and get through the curriculum?

Well, I believe that as children get older unconditional love becomes more and more important because they become much more able to comprehend consequences and subtle behaviours. For a fantastic and thorough exploration of communicating with children of all ages, I highly recommend the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I hope that my teenage sons will be able to come to me or their dad if they are being bullied, or have feelings for someone that they need help understanding, or any other problem they may have. Knowing that they are truly accepted by us, no matter what they do or feel will be the foundation for open and honest communication. If they feel that they will only be valued or respected if they behave a certain way they will be less likely to come to us with the difficult problems life can throw at us.

As for schools, well that would be a whole other blog post, I fear. I strongly believe that schools can employ working with principles and some alternative models of education do so very effectively, such as Steiner and Montessori. However, very few, if any, state schools even try to do this. The “better” schools may steer clear of punishments as best they can, but they seem to feel the need to compensate for this with praise and rewards. Alfie Kohn has written books and run seminars for educational professionals, but I haven’t read any of this work. I assume it is of the same high standard as his Unconditional Parenting book and gives teachers and school administrators the knowledge and inspiration to change to a working with model. However, this is difficult within the current state system here in the UK as schools have little autonomy and are inspected by a governing body (OFSTED) that is unsympathetic to alternative models of child care and education.

school-disciplineI feel that sending a child to a “doing to” school can undo a lot, if not all of the good work that “working with” parents are doing at home. I would hope that children would still feel secure in their parents’ unconditional love and that this would be a good enough springboard for them to go into adulthood with all of the things parents wish for their children. However, I fear that detentions and A grades would be the undoing of most children from unconditional homes. My parents raised me in a pretty unconditional manner, but I can’t honestly say that I don’t see in myself the same weaknesses that Alfie Kohn talks about and I attribute this to the schools I attended. I think it is important for schools and parents to work together with children, to have the same foundations and approaches, in order for children to truly thrive. The alternative, and the one we are intending to pursue is to home educate. Though we have applied for a place at a couple of local schools and are crossing our fingers that our local Montessori or Steiner schools get free school status, just to keep our options open. If the Munchkin did end up at the local state school, well, we’ll be buying the principal a few books to read over the summer ;)

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