Magic stays with you

Part of the Waldorf curriculum is on fort-building with children. You might think it is all frivolity, but fort-building is about creating magic with your children as well as teaching them skills to be practical, safe, nurturing and creative. I am quite sad really that there are many grown-ups out there in the world who do not know how to build safe loving homes.

If you look at some photographs on Pinterest, you will see how magical forts are.

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My children’s father and I used to build forts with our children when they were little. We would use bedsheets, cushions and torchlights to create magic – as I was working full-time in those days and did not have much time to spare, I just used glitter pen to draw stars on the sheets, but when shined with torches in a dark room, you see something magical. And we all felt that whenever we crawled into our little fort.

The magic stays with you forever. Today, I went shopping for a present for my beloved partner. He is a man who hated possessions so what could I get him? There is so much I want to give him but there is nothing he wants materially. So I decided to buy him materials to build a very grown-up fort – a teepee tent – so that I can create that magic with him on the cliff of our house. I think that is a very precious gift indeed ❤

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F0r an article on how to build a fort, click here

Legs Are For Walking

Parenting is a very personal journey, and I am sure I will be slated for this post. However, I will still post this, because I would like to see a shift in mindset towards raising healthy kids.

Each time your child whines, “Carry me” and you give in, you are not ‘spoiling’ your child emotionally. You are de-skilling your child. You are taking away his opportunity at that moment, to learn resilience. You are also not giving him the opportunity to work on his developing muscles.

Let us start from the scientific angle. Children need to develop muscle tone. It is that muscle tone that allows a flexible foetus to be curled up in the womb, to develop into a baby who could sit up, crawl and eventually walk upright. The primary muscles required for this is the group of muscles that are loosely referred to as the core muscles. The core muscles can be visualised as a broad belt encircling the human body. Weak core muscles are the cause of bad posture, which over time, can lead to chronic back pain. For a child with weak core muscles, you see slouchy sitting position (exacerbated by hours sitting down). A floppy child is also often tired, because in that suboptimal position, he is not breathing efficiently. Her internal circulation may also be compromised. She may not be as active as she should be for her age group. Having weak core muscles is certainly not a good foundation for a young body that still has many decades of living to get through.

As children do not go to the gym to strengthen their core muscles (and there is no need to), they need to walk at every opportunity. On the emotional development side, children also need to learn to be resilient and self-sufficient. By three – yes, during the Terrible Threes – they should be learning about their body and the world they live in. Walking is one of the fundamental movements in life, and it also moves a child towards being independent from the mother. It empowers them.

If a child has strong physicality, she feels empowered. She is not afraid of feeling breathless or hot or tired. She embraces the different experiences. She feels confident about exploring the world and confident of her place within it, once she is comfortable with her body and its many experiences. You are empowering your child, when you move her from whining “Carry me” to “Yes, I can, Mummy.”

Children need to move for their brain development, and being attached to a parent like a limp rag doll does not constitute moving.

It is also about learning boundaries. Children need to know that there are certain things in life that they have to do for themselves, which Mummy cannot do for them. And walking is one of them.

Teaching boundaries to children is one of the challenges of parenting, namely how to teach them with love so that they grow up joyous. For me, over the course of five children, I discovered that it is with love, laughter, firm rules, consistency, joy, forgiveness and unconditional love that we teach our children that they have to accept parental autonomy. Parenting is not about giving in all the time, but a healthy balance of meeting your child’s needs as well as teaching him the things he needs to learn.

So if you have a child who is older than three, I would like to suggest trying to do away with the pushchair/stroller and see the changes. You will thank me in a few months time … big smile.

Photograph: 2 year old Georgina trying to keep up with her parents and siblings in foot-high snow.

Why I advocate NO PLASTIC TOYS for children

I first became a mum at 17. Back in those days, I was fiery, idealistic and willing to fight till death for my ideals. When doting grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends bought plastic toys for our kids, I would politely return them and caused a lot of bad feelings.

At 47, I would probably do things differently these days.

However, I still feel the same aversion towards plastic toys from the numerous examples of tortoises and other sea creatures being poisoned to painful deaths by discarded plastic. I am also concerned about the environmental pollution that this plastic industry and its resultant mountain of plastic waste that chokes our planet.

I was concerned about the health aspects, too. Children put toys in their mouths, don’t they? We had a dog that suffered cancerous growth all over his body, because he ate plastic bags.

I also didn’t like the feel of plastics, and toys with flashing lights and electronic sounds were the ultimate nightmare for me.

But enforcing this tough policy has resulted in surprisingly pleasant outcomes. The main one is that my children learned to engage themselves actively, either with pen and paper, make-belief dolls from corn stalks, paper costumes, pet circus and a whole myriad of creative past times that became the hallmark of their materially poor but spiritually rich childhood. They never asked for Disney programmes or any TV programmes or merchandise associated with the ‘in’ movie or iPads. When we saved up and took our young children to Disneyland Paris, my youngest son Jack screamed in terror when Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck approached him. Because in his world, mice and ducks are not made of plastic and neither do they wear shoes.

My children learned to love being outdoors too, because the garden was a whole lot more interesting than sitting in a room devoid of electronic entertainment. They learned to climb trees, build tree houses and burrows, caught insects, drew leaves and grew things. Whatever the season, they would be out in the garden. I attribute their immunity to childhood diseases largely to their outdoors lifestyle, for those were the days before hand sanitisers and needless medication. Fever, coughs, colds and diarrhea were treated with lots of water, rest and fresh air rather than a trip to the doctor or medication.

Having no toys in the house also disciplined us parents. We had to make cars and cookers and dollhouses from discarded cardboard boxes. We had to get up early to take them out for walks. We had to think harder on how to engage them rather than letting them be passively entertained by the television. We had to incorporate them into our lives (shopping, cooking, reading), which brought us the precious closeness that we enjoy to this very day.

But thinking deeper beyond these points, I really do think that children’s playthings should be things that exist ‘naturally’ in real life, like pots and pans and wooden spoons. Why buy plastic tea sets when they can play with real freebies? It doesn’t make sense, right? By compelling our children to engage with their natural world also grounds them to this beautiful planet.

Yesterday, whilst walking with my partner along a breathtaking beach at sunset, I could not help but notice these tiny turquoise medallions in the sand. I could not resist investigating further, and was blown away by the delicacy and complexity that exists in the smallest, humblest organisms that escape the notice of the world at large.

What are those blue buttons? I emailed my father this photograph.

Blue button jellyfish, he replied, though they are really colonies of polyps, known as Chondrophores.

How so very lovely they are, dotting the beach like tiny turquoise orbs, making the sunset walk even more magical. I hope my children will find such enchantment in nature, as they walk the beaches and woodlands and roads of their adulthood, as I have, growing up with a toy-less childhood, which opened my eyes to the bountiful beautiful free things around me.

Your children, your legacy

If you are a parent, bringing your children up is your most important job, because how you bring them up is your legacy. They are a continuation of your love, your values and your way of life.

I was 17 when I first became a mother.  I did not do such a good job, but I am blessed in that I had a man with deep happiness in his soul to co-parent with me. We also had a lovely, close family who cobbled together to make it work in the most beautiful way (I think it is a combination of Welsh, Spanish and Cockney English that fostered this lovely philosophy of kindness rather than cold rigidity). I relaxed my unrealistic ideals about how children should behave, learned that love is the most important thing of all, and that everyday happiness is to be valued.

Almost 30 years later, I see the product of this philosophy.

My second son, Kit, is looking after my doggies for a few weeks, and he parents them up exactly the way that his father and I brought him, his brothers and sisters up. The doggies live in a relaxed household with Kit. He made a house for them in the shed, with rugs and a favourite couch, but the doggies chose to be indoors with him and his girlfriend. Instead of enforcing discipline, he moved them indoors without a second thought, because that was how his father and I brought him and his siblings up – they slept in our bed for the longest time, all happy sweaty bodies piled in together, never mind what we read in books about discipline and boundaries.

Kit takes the doggies everywhere with him. In the past week, they have been to Portland beach in Hampshire and later in the week, camping in Cornwall. He could have sent them to boarding kennels, which would have been simpler for him, as he will be on a camping trip with the boys. But his father and I, we took them everywhere with us too because we could not afford nannies and maids. We enjoyed their company anyway – they were fun kids, always full of life and resilient; they never sick, whiny or tired.

Our children were never perfectly behaved, they were not ideal kids by far, and but they were happy. We did our best to keep ugliness out of their lives, though mainstream thinking was that we must be tough to children to teach them how to cope with the tough ‘real’ world.

We chose a life of happiness and trust instead, accepting that life is imperfect and so long as we have 75% good, we are OK.

They have grown up into strong, nurturing adults. I think it is because their father and I gave them a stable childhood filled with love, and the latitude to be naughty rather than aiming for perfection. That little forgiveness and softness is so important, I find, because it teaches children to be forgiving and soft in adulthood.

The Joy of Learning

The world is full of magic to be discovered, and it was my children’s library and laboratory during their childhood years.

I would like to begin by saying that I am not an educationalist, but my children’s father is. He has a Bachelor of Education degree from King Alfred’s College, Winchester, but the best of his education philosophy (in my humble belief) comes from his mother.

My mother-in-law was brought up in a poor part of South East London. Her mother was a Spanish immigrant who did not speak much English and went blind when my mother-in-law was 11. The war came soon after that, so my mother-in-law had a very low level of formal education. She worked as a cleaner, cleaning offices and schools. But she self-taught, despite her limited hours, to better herself. She finished her years of work as a clerk at London Electricity Board, a huge achievement for a girl who did not go to school and had a lot of responsibilities.

The great thing about my mother-in-law is, she did not harangue her blue-eyed boy to study, study, study. And so, my children’s father grew up cycling round the Kent countryside from the age of 4, played with the family pets, and later on, jammed away in a rock band in some mate’s garage. He is the most balanced, happiest person I know, and he learned a lot and earned enough to buy us a magical life.

When my kids were young, we did not have enough money to keep up with what other families were doing. Thus, my kids grew up without electronic toys or even a colour television. We had to ‘make do’. Pots, pans, wooden spoons when they were young, and later, family games of Pictionary and Charades. We built forts from blankets and sheets, collected interesting things from our walks for our Seasonal Nature Table, and from this way, we all learned about ourselves, the natural world, family values and the beginnings of language, literature, the sciences.

Later, when iPads became the rage, we could have afforded it but somehow never got around to buying it for our youngest child. Her former school had made it mandatory for each student to have an iPad, the much touted learning tool, but she did not do too badly without ever having owned an iPad.

We had to work harder as parents because we did not have the whizzy gizmos to educate our children. We don’t use the internet to babysit them either, so much as the temptation was there to allow them to passively learn from the ‘Net, we taught them the old fashioned way, namely by experiences in the real world.

My second son built a real-life go-kart with his father in the garden shed. He raced the go-kart, became quite good at racing, and then sold it for profit. He wasn’t an academic child, and he certainly did not leave school with a string of A’s, yet he managed to win a scholarship to study Mechanical Engineering & Electronics at Southampton University, and in a time where there are many unemployed graduates, he is second in command of all the weapons on a Royal Navy warship. He is 27, exuberant, boisterous, balanced, loves life.

His younger sister is enjoying the closing years of her very magical childhood, living in a land of aquamarine oceans, blue skies, winding island roads. She rides shotgun to school everyday with her father, chatting away happily, and often, with her mother too. She talks about her day, uncensored, with passion and heat. The teachers were sometimes unfair, there were bitches in her school and dumb boys. History and English Literature are confusing, Maths is boring, and the Sciences are easy. As for English Language… “don’t get me started” with a roll of her eyes.

Unbeknownst to her, as we soothed her, answered her, rebuked her, we are teaching her. Not only about the syllabus, but our family values, the ways of the world, humanity.

And because we limit the time she is allowed to spend studying, she dives on her books with great gusto. And because she is only allowed limited time on her subjects, she on her own accord brings them into her real world, in our car conversations and whenever she makes the connection with the real world. And her eyes and quicksilver brain are always searching to make the connection, sometimes between the most innocuous events and objects. A casual conversation about “those shoes” became the laws of Spanish grammar and ultimately, the trivium. She argues heatedly, sticking her head between her parents’, intent on getting her point across.

We see the joy of learning awakens in her, and it is a great feeling.

“Teaching Them to Find Beauty in Themselves”

Last week, when I was back in my hometown and staying at my parents’ house, I walked past my 14 year old daughter’s former nursery. Laughter and happy chatter assailed me as I walked past the high brick wall and wrought iron gates. I couldn’t resist peering in.

Inside, in the paved compound, about eight pre-school children were charging round energetically on a variety of mini transports, making a lot of noise. A young teacher valiantly managed his boisterous little charges as they zoomed round him boisterously in a sea of toy cars and toy trucks. He almost had his feet run over on several occasions by little wheels. It was a happy scene, what every childhood should be, despite this being in a school setting.

I was compelled to ring the doorbell to connect with this place once more.

For it was a happy place, and one that played a big role in G’s life. My niece Katie attended this nursery ,too, so we have a lovely sense of history within the warm brick walls. G was one when I moved back to my hometown. I was suffering from cervical cancer, and I had four other young children. I moved home with three of my youngest children. Moving home to a house within a stone’s throw from my parents’ seemed a logical decision, and it was. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

My children thrived despite my illness. We lived in a peaceful house not far from the sea, and within walking distance to my parents’ and brother’s houses. Every morning, we would walk to school together. Though it was physically and emotionally exhausting for me to be a single mother throughout the week, it was a happy time for us all.

Though I would have preferred to keep G at home with me – I do not believe in children starting school too early, because I believe strongly that home is the best place for them to learn – I had to send her away for a few hours each day in order for me to get some rest and to get my household in order.

G loved her little nursery. Storytime is run by Mrs. Janet Storey, who was a calm, strong presence in the nursery in G’s time. I was delighted to see Mrs. Storey still at the helm almost ten years later. One could immediately sense that she tolerates no nonsense, but there is an air of fair play and serenity about her.

Mrs. Storey, as serene as ever
Mrs. Storey, as serene as ever
Snapshots of Storytime Nursery with its sweet homely touches
Snapshots of Storytime Nursery with its sweet homely touches

Storytime Nursery was exactly how I remembered it to be. The classrooms were furnished like a home that is composed solely of activity-filled playrooms. Little touches of home are all abound, from the childish drawings tacked to the wall to misshapen clay statues to ornaments and toys. There was lots of artwork going on in this nursery, with chubby fingers pasting leaves or bits of coloured paper, creations that will be hung up on the walls to give it a colourful, homely ambience.

G used to love these art sessions, though she does not excel in the subject these days except when it comes to tribal war paint on her face and body before big athletic events that she is nervous about. Or designing my next tattoo. This is the extent of her artistic activity, despite the many hours spent cultivating it.

She couldn’t read when she left the nursery at five. In fact, she couldn’t read until she was ten. And I am eternally grateful to Mrs. Storey and her staff for not forcing her. You hear horror stories these days about competitive primary schools that expect five years olds to do written entrance exams.

“H is not for hamster,” G used to say stubbornly when shown the alphabet card hanging on the wall. “And that’s not a hamster, that’s a guinea pig!”

She was right, of course, because her father who is from South East London pronounced hamster as ‘amstah. Dear Mrs. Storey devoted her time teaching elocution, getting her collection of Portsmouth oiks and my Cockney child (as well as the well-spoken ones) to say “hot water” in three syllables instead of ‘or woer. I am pleased to report that in this endeavor of hers, Mrs. Storey had been successful: G is often complimented on her elocution. Here’s a short clip of her at five:

Though I am not an educator, I am a believer (from personal experience as a mother of four grown-up children) that the ability to speak well, charisma, charm and a touch of boldness should be included in every child’s success toolkit.  Sausage-factory education seems to be churning out bland, personality-less exam-taking machine that one begins to wonder, “What is the purpose of education?”


There is this famous Jesuit saying: “Give me a child for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man.”

There is no doubt that this little nursery had shaped my child in a beautiful, unusual way. She is physically confident, she speaks very well and she has an unbridled sense of curiosity about the world around her. Though she is not academic by nature (homework is done on the bed in the shortest time frame possible), she has great enthusiasm for learning new things. She speaks four languages, she is in the top set at school for all her subjects, she plays sports at international levels and she has won many trophies. I strongly believe that she is able to develop in this direction, because she was not forced to read and rote-learn things that should only come later in a child’s life. Indeed, she spent those precious early years growing other aspects of her being. A more focused nursery would not have the time or the space to allow her this sweet, beautiful exploration and organic growth.

In parting, Mrs. Storey said to me, “We cannot make children into who they are not. We can only help them find beauty in themselves.”

And dear Mrs. Storey, you have indeed helped my child find hers. Thank you. This is the happy, strong, confident, creative and fearless young woman you have helped nurture during her formative years. G: a force to be reckoned with.

G - a force to be reckoned with