We’ve recently been away visiting family in the country. Can I just say there is no better family holiday entertainment than going to stay in the country and discovering there’s a real live mouse in the house! My little city kids thought that was very exciting. When Granny said she’d put out a mouse trap, Henry (my 3 year old nephew) picked up the board game Mouse Trap and gave it to Granny to catch the mouse with. Hilarious!
Every time we go away, I’m absolutely amazed at how much stuff you need to go on holidays with kids. At least Birdy packs for herself now, but she always wants to take a ridiculous amount of toys. Whereas all Molly needs to keep herself occupied is a baby doll and a copy of Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox. We did a six hour car trip from Dubbo to Darlington Point (near Griffith) and Molly was quite happy reading Where is the Green Sheep? to herself for most of that time.
Is there any child in Australia who doesn’t have a copy of that book?
When Birdy was born we were given four copies of it, and we gave two away which I’m regretting because the other copies are now so worn out. When I was a kid, I think every parent knew off by heart the words, “Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter…” Or this one: “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf. Then one Sunday morning, the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” These days I think every parent knows the words, “Here is the blue sheep, here is the red sheep, here is the bath sheep and here is the bed sheep. But where is the green sheep?” It’s almost become a developmental phase that between the ages of one and three children become obsessed with that book.
What is it about that book? Why do toddlers love it so much?
I think it’s the perfect combination of the everyday and the absurd. It’s full of things that even babies recognise – the sun, the rain, a car, a train – and yet the pictures are also portraying something outrageous, like a sheep dancing around a lamp stand with an umbrella in the rain. Yet the pictures are so simple and iconic that even Molly at eighteen months will point to the umbrella and say “ella”.
The first time I read this book, I found it very strange and I wasn’t the only one. I was a bit surprised to read Mem Fox using nouns as adjectives. Lines like ‘Here is the bath sheep’ are a little grating at first, because we’ d normally say ‘Here is a sheep having a bath’, or ‘Here’s a sheep in the bath’. And yet somehow it really is perfect for little kids. The other day I discovered that it won the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award in 2005. I can see why. It is literally teaching my daughter to speak. She now points to the moon and says ‘moo’ and at the star and says ‘ta’. So even though we might get a little bit sick of reading the same book over and over and over again, it is actually the best way to encourage speech and literacy in little ones. Of course, once they get older, it’s good to read more widely, but for a one-year-old all you really need are three or four copies of Where is the Green Sheep?
(PS. If you’re looking for other great books to encourage your toddler’s speech development, why not check out the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year 2013 shortlist and past winners.)
Have your children enjoyed Where is the Green Sheep and made you read it over and over again? What do you think of it?
The other day my husband taught me a vital lesson in the art of listening… to our kids, that is. (Of course, I always listen to him!) It was about 5 o clock and getting cold outside. I wanted to start cooking dinner. Molly came in from outside and started tugging on the baby gate near the back door. I assumed she was getting cold outside so I opened it for her and stood aside to let her come in. She said, “NO!” very crossly and slammed the gate shut. Then she burst into tears. Assuming she still wanted to come in, I opened it and again she slammed it shut, cried “NO!” and burst into tears. I figured she must have wanted me to come outside with her so I said, “I’m not coming outside, I’m cooking dinner” and she got in a huff and ran back outside to Dad.
A few minutes later Chris comes in and says, “Aren’t you listening? Can’t you hear Molly calling to you? She’s saying, ‘Mumma, push. Mumma, push.’ She’s asking you to come and push her on the swing.” As soon as he explained it, I could hear exactly what she was saying. But because I’d never heard her say that before, I couldn’t understand her until I had the translation.
I actually think the most important thing we can do to encourage our babies to talk is to make the time to listen. And I mean really listen. Getting down on their level, looking them in the eye, waiting patiently and really listening to what they’re trying to tell us.
Obviously it’s also important to talk to your baby, play with your baby, read to your baby, include them in whatever you’re doing, but children will absorb language from all around them, whether you deliberately teach them or not. But to speak they need to be motivated, and the best motivation is when using words gets them the result they want, whether that’s getting a push on the swing, a bottle of milk, or simply getting Mummy’s attention.
Since that incident, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to listen to Molly and try to understand what she’s saying, but it takes commitment. Just yesterday I was pulling up weeds in the garden when Molly climbed up on the double swing with Caillie and said, “Mumma, push. Mumma, push.” So immediately I dropped the weed I was tugging and started pushing her in the swing. But even while I was doing it, she kept saying, “Mumma, push, Mumma, push,” and I thought, “What now? Mumma is pushing!” Then she made this little musical sound, “Mumma, do do do do, la la la Push!” and I realised that she wanted me to sing the Wiggles song I always sing when she’s on the swing. “Push me on the swing, feel the air, through my hair, swinging, swinging, on a swing.” That was what she wanted all along! That’s why it had to be Mumma push, not Daddy push or Caillie push, because she wanted the song. Sometimes, even when Mummy thinks she’s listening really well, it still takes a while to get the message!
Yesterday was a bit of a milestone day for me. I spoke at a conference for librarians for the very first time. Fortunately I was able to get some tips from the illustrious Collett Smart, but I thought today I would share with you just a little of what I was talking about: Bibliotherapy, – Seeking solace in stories.
So what is bibliotherapy?
Bibliotherapy is using books to help kids with the tough issues they face in their lives. So there tends to be a focus on disability or chronic illness, but it also extends to issues like divorce, loneliness, grief and loss, depression, ageing, basically any difficult or confronting issue that a child might be facing.
How does it work?
It works in two different ways. The first and most obvious one is to help the child who has the problem by normalising it and helping them to realise that they’re not the only one dealing with this issue. So for example with my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party, it can be used to help a child with a food allergy to see that they’re not alone, that it’s normal to make mistakes and it can also give them some ideas about how to deal with their problem. So with some discussion and activities, bibliotherapy should help children to find their own solutions to their problems. It may also help them to realise that solutions may be possible.
The other main purpose is to help raise awareness and empathy among those who don’t have experience with the issue. So for example, Sharon McGuinness has written a beautiful book called Coming Home about a young girl whose father has severe depression. That book can help to raise awareness among people who don’t have experience with depression and give them a little insight into what it might be like for children who do live with that.
Does it actually help kids to read about these kinds of tough issues?
The best kind of bibliotherapy is when the issue is just wrapped up in a good story, with great characters, who aren’t defined by their issue or their disability. It’s really important that the characters aren’t two dimensional. There has to be something more to them so that children can identify with them. And if children are drawn into the story, then they’ll learn something without even realising it. It’s only when you talk about it more that some of those things they’ve learned will become more conscious.
What parents should keep in mind is that learning to empathise with others is actually an important skill in itself. So if your child brings home a book from the library about disability, even if your child doesn’t have a friend with a disability, it’s still valuable for them to learn to think about what life might be like for someone who does. Because that skill of being able to empathise will be valuable later when they do come across someone in life who is a bit different to them. And there’s actually some evidence that childhood is the best time to learn that skill. So I would even go so far as to say that if we can teach our children to walk around in another person’s shoes, and to develop that empathy, we could even be helping to build a more compassionate and empathetic society in the long term.
Finally, if you do have a tough issue that your child is dealing with such as grief, divorce, disability or ageing, here are some good resources.
|Anthony Best||Davene Fahy||Sky Pony Press||Aspergers|
|Amy & Louis||Libby Gleeson||Scholastic Australia||Moving House,Losing friendships|
|Bear’s Last Journey||Udo Weigelt||North-South Books||Death/Grief|
|Big Dog||Libby Gleeson||Scholastic / Bright Stars||Fear of dogs|
|Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House||Libby Gleeson||Little Hare Books||Moving House/Friendships|
|Coming Home||Sharon McGuinness||Wombat Books||Parental Depression|
|Do you know Millie?||Gordon Winch||New Frontier||Moving|
|Goodbye Mousie||Robie H Harris||Aladdin||Death/Grief|
|Herman and Rosie||Gus Gordon||Penguin/Viking||Loneliness|
|Living with Mum and Living with Dad||Melanie Walsh||Walker Books||Divorce|
|Looking for Rex||Jan Ormerod||Little Hare||Ageing|
|Marty’s Nut-Free Party||Katrina Roe||Wombat Books||Food allergies|
|Mum and Dad Glue||Kes Gray||Barron’s Educational Series||Divorce|
|My Mum’s Got Cancer||Dr Lucy Blunt||Jane Curry Publishing||Cancer|
|Nathan’s Wish||Laurie Lears||Albert Whitman & Co||Cerebral palsy, disability|
|The Very Best of Friends||Margaret Wild||Margaret Hamilton Books||Death / Grief|
|Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge||Mem Fox||Omnibus Books Scholastic||Ageing / Dementia|
|When I’m Feeling Sad/Kind/Scared/Angry etc||Trace Moroney||The Five Mile Press||Understanding emotions|
|Ziba Came on a Boat||Liz Lofthouse||Penguin/Viking||Refugees|
Have you ever used a book to help your kids understand a difficult issue? Did it help? Why or why not? Are there any you would recommend to add to this list?
Sometimes I miss living a life that was a little more adventurous than the life I’m living right now.
I live in hope that when my kids are a bit older we might do more kayaking or hiking or family camping trips. We haven’t really done a lot of that so far. But in my heart I also believe that being adventurous is just as much about being open to ideas and possibilities that come up in everyday life. So on the first day of the school holidays we went for a little bushwalk and Caillie told me she wanted to camp in the backyard and have a midnight feast. Because I’d dearly love to foster a spirit of adventure in my children, if I was half the mother I would like to be I would have rushed home and set up the tent. But I was tired, and it felt like just a bit too much effort. So instead I said, “Why don’t we have a campfire and cook sausages and bacon for dinner and toast marshmallows by the fire, but then go back inside to sleep…” I think it was the marshmallows that clinched it.
What kid doesn’t love toasting marshmallow’s by the fire?
Actually building a fire is pretty damn fun too. Collecting the sticks, discussing which ones look like they would burn well, building it up in just the right arrangement. I must say I was quite proud of my fire. Normally my husband likes to don the Akubra, play the part of the bushman and expertly fan the flames, but he was still at work, so I actually enjoyed doing it myself for once. We all had sooo much fun! We really felt like we were away on holidays camping. Never mind that the Billy tea was full of sticks and the sausages were burnt to a crisp – it was so dark we couldn’t actually see what we were eating which was probably just as well! But we had an awesome adventure in our own back yard. I even went foraging in the fridge for milk and heated up Molly’s bedtime bottle in the billy, which I thought was very hardcore considering there was a microwave just inside the back door.
And the best bit was that after we’d lazed around the campfire drinking tea and snacking on marshmallows, when the mozzies started eating us for dinner, we could all go back inside. By that time, the kids were so tired out from their dinner in the dark that they were both tucked up in bed by seven-thirty! My sister and I still had time to have a glass of red wine and watch To Rome with Love (How funny is the opera singer in the shower?)
As much as it’s fun to be an adventurer, it’s also quite nice to be suburban!
Have you had adventures with your children? What age did they start to be able to handle slightly more adventurous activities? Are there things you miss from life before babies?
PS. For Mums on a budget, his was probably also the cheapest fun I’ve had with my kids for a long time!
We’ve had our regular council clean-up this week.
I love council cleanup. I love seeing the detritus of people’s lives hoisted out on the street. I love that for a few days, outside those perfectly manicured lawns, there are half-rotten pieces of outdoor furniture, mildewy mattresses, discarded prams and broken clamshell paddling pools. It reminds me that even the lives of those who appear to have everything under control still contain a bit of mess and clutter.
There are two basic types of people in this world, chuckers and hoarders. Chuckers enjoy council cleanup because it’s a chance to clean out some mess; hoarders love it even more because they can drive around the streets looking for freebies to collect, just in case they need them for a rainy day.
In my heart, I’m more of a chucker.
I love to de-clutter. I love to give stuff away. But I’m also a big believer in recycling and not wasting things, so I must confess that our backyard is full of other people’s discarded treasure – climbing frames, outdoor furniture, baby swings, even some of our kids bikes have been salvaged from council cleanup.
But all this chucking and salvaging and de-cluttering has raised a much bigger question for me, a question I’ve wrestled with ever since having kids: when is it OK to throw out or give away your kids’ belongings?
Especially without telling them, let alone asking their permission?
I found this especially hard when my daughter was at pre-school. She would bring home piles of craft that she’d made and all of it was really special to her and had to be kept forever. Thankfully home-made stuff usually falls apart and you can eventually convince your child that the egg-carton dinosaur really doesn’t bear much resemblance to a dinosaur now that its ears and tail have fallen off and the words ‘free-range’ appear to be tattooed down its back where the green paint has scratched off. But it’s not just art and craft that clutters up the house, it’s also stuff like those stupid little kinder surprise toys, party bags full of junk from the $2 shop, colouring books that are ¾ finished or that favourite top they always want to wear but that is now so stained and full of holes that you’re worried they’ll be mistaken for a homeless street urchin if they go out in public.
How long do you keep that stuff? And is it okay to just throw it away after they’ve gone to bed?
I have a strong memory from childhood of the moment I discovered that my mum had thrown out my absolute favourite pair of shoes. The soles were falling off, and I was seriously in danger of causing myself a permanent disability if I kept wearing them, but I was absolutely devastated that my Mum had thrown them away without telling me. And because I remember that feeling, I always have this lingering sense of guilt when I throw something of Birdy’s away without asking her.
I also know that if I throw something away without asking, I have to be prepared to face that terrible moment when she says, “Mum, have you seen that little parachute man I got at Luke’s party!”, or ‘Where’s my favourite orange T-shirt?” In that moment, will I be brave enough to say, “Honey, I’m really sorry, but I threw it away,” or will I find yourself umm-ing and aaaring and muttering, ‘Gosh, I just can’t remember exactly where I last saw that… Maybe it’s in the wash!’
Do you throw away your kids stuff without asking them, or do you consult them before you heave things out? How do you stay on top of the clutter?
We’ve been away on holidays last week. It was my Dad’s 80th birthday so went to visit him in the little town where I grew up. I also managed to throw to together a mini-book tour, visiting my two old primary schools, a local pre-school and hosting a special Storytime at Griffith City Library. But a holiday can’t be all work and no play and since I had all that family babysitting on tap, we also managed to enjoy an extremely rare kidfree dinner out with some old friends. During our uninterrupted conversation, we got to reminiscing about the travelling we’d done overseas when we were younger, before we had kids. As the stories came out of various shenanigans around the world, I realised that one of the few things I miss from my life before kids was being able to occasionally travel to other parts of the world (that and having any kind of uninterrupted adult conversation for more than five minutes!)
Of course, some people do manage to keep travelling after they have children, it’s just a lot more expensive and takes a lot more organization and planning. It’s also likely to be a different style of travelling. You might be less likely to back-pack around Europe and more likely to spend a week in a resort in Fiji!
I’ve never done one of those Fiji holidays, but they seem to be very popular with families because they include free kids clubs. In fact they’re so popular around here that nearly every kid from Birdy’s kindy class has either been to Fiji or Bali in the last year. She even said to me last holidays, “Mum, next time we have a holiday, can we go to Bali or Fiji so I can get my hair braided?” She wanted to come back to school with braided hair like so many of her friends. So what did we do? We went to Griffith – OK so it’s not exactly Fiji, but there are lots of Tongans there!
For me, half the point of travelling is to see something different and have new experiences and you don’t have to go overseas for that. On our holiday, we drove for eight hours in the car without stopping – that was a new experience. We saw emus on the Hay plains – that was a little bit exciting! And of course there was lots of time with family which is always special. But one of the highlights of the holiday was when we went to Canberra on the way home. We had a really nice day out at Questacon, which the kids loved, then at night we wandered the streets of Canberra in the -5 degree icy wind to see the Enlighten festival. This is where some of Canberra’s leading artists create artworks that are projected onto the city’s most iconic buildings, like the old Parliament House and the National Library. That was pretty spectacular.
Later that night, when we arrived home feeling cold, weary and hungry – we had another completely new experience – we discovered that Birdy and I have knits! That’s probably what we’ll remember – this was the holiday when we had knits for the first time!
So instead of staying up late having red wine and conversation, we stayed up to midnight treating our headlice. My friend Jacqui pointed out to me that this was a pretty serious indication of the depth of our friendship that she was willing to stay up half the night picking knits out of my hair with fine tooth comb. (I have a lot of hair, so it’s not a small job!)
The funny thing is, Caillie and I have now got our hair plaited to stop our knits from spreading. So Caillie did go to back to school after her holiday with braids like she wanted. We just didn’t have to go to Fiji to get them!