No incontinent handbags and stay chilled in the heat… One Green Summer series

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Baking hot 29 degree sunshine, parched ground, no shade. My son was taking part in an Under 9s cricket tournament and he was putting masses of pressure on himself. My daughter was generously giving out rocks she had smashed open to reveal crystals within…. then regretting it and trying to reclaim them. In short, the temperature was rising!

There was no better day to test out the children’s double insulated water bottles from Klean Kanteen, promising to keep their water iced for 40 hours or (not terribly weather appropriate right now) their hot chocolate warm for 12 hours.

Made from stainless steel, I was reassured that the materials are non-toxic and BPA free and very critically for poor me who has been known to drip water from my handbag like an incontinent guinea pig… THEY DON’T LEAK.

The lid is plastic, but compared to the usual twist cap bottles we use that seem to need replacing every month (because they get yucky in the cap, split when dropped or get chewed lids) this is a massive reduction in plastic.

The kids like them, find them easy to open and close and are pleased with the fact that no one else at school has them.

Meanwhile, I have been testing the entirely plastic-free Reflect bottle. It’s made from sustainably harvested bamboo, stainless steel and food-grade silicone. Nothing else. It is a good-looking bottle, equally at home by the yoga mat as it is going to the beach.

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The plastic-free Reflect bottle

They are very effective. All three bottles can be hot to the touch on the exterior when left in the sun, in the OVEN TEMPERATURE car for example, but within the water remains icy loveliness.

And as for the cricket tournament, it all ended well. My son’s team came second, and my daughter gave the crystal rock back to the (wailing) child who she had ‘reclaimed’ it from. And the water remained as chilled at the G&T I came home to.

For more info, and to check out the plastic-free bottles and other products, visit: http://www.kleankanteen.co.uk

I was sent this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

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Parents – this could change your life

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Crying, screaming, biting, whining, throwing food, pulling hair, making a mess, answering back, swearing, screen battles, refusing to do homework or go to bed, taking drugs, not coming home. And that’s just me.

Oh yeah, parenting is full of challenges that will push you to your limits and beyond, making you feel that strange cocktail of love, anger, helplessness, fear and despair.

As the mum of an autistic child, I’ve also had to get used to the idea that parenthood isn’t always the straightforward, happy place I thought it would be when the lines on a stick first turned blue.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be great parents, and then wonder why we end up a version of ourselves that is hard to like – let alone inspire the kind of confiding intimacy with our children that we dreamt of.

And yet, we expect to be able to do all this without any help: The hardest job on the planet with zero salary and zero training. Back in the new-born days, many of us read baby manuals – these have been shown to reduce your confidence – the more baby books a mother reads, the more depressive symptoms and the lower self-confidence she reported. This insightful analysis of the baby industry is well worth a look.

Books can be amazing resources, but with raising small people they only get you so far before the perfectly formed theory hits messy reality. Once I’d realised the traditional methods of ‘threats and rewards’ are not only ineffective, but damaging to my relationship with my children, it felt like I was learning a new language – which is pretty hard to do on your own. I knew where I wanted to be, but couldn’t work out how to get there.

I decided to try a parenting coach instead – someone who could teach me the theory like a book would, but then take it to the next level and make it real and relevant to MY life and MY issues.

Andrea Rippon of Practical Parenting Skills runs courses in Parent Effectiveness Training. I was attracted by the ethos of honest communication, seeking understanding and shared problem solving that her approach encourages.

I soon discovered that the main premise behind it is instantly liberating – THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD BEHAVIOUR. What even when she kicks my head while I’m driving? Even when he gives that look he knows will make his sister explode? Yep. All behaviour is communication – it might not be the clearest form of communication but they are doing their best with the skills they have right now to meet their needs.

From this starting point, Andrea busts plenty of myths around parental consistency (get this YOU DON’T NEED TO BE CONSISTENT – adaptability is a far more useful skill), helps us explore which values we should hang on to from our own childhood (are those values truly serving you and your family) and guides us to speak to our children in a respectful way that engenders their respect towards us, even from the earliest age.

The true beauty of the sessions is giving yourself a space each week to think about how your family functions, and the chance to have personalised, targeted advice from Andrea. My group had a warm, sharing atmosphere where honesty was our currency and we supported each other to explore the relationships that matter to us more than any others.

We take courses in yoga or pottery and we get massages to sort out the sore spots in our bodies, yet so few of us seek the support to help us truly invest in our family. Not many courses are life-changing, but this one is.

I attended Andrea’s parenting course in exchange for honest feedback.

Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers.  She has been running Person Centred People Skills courses for 20 years.  She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children by using these evidence-based communication skills.  Her next Open Programme  for parents, carers and grandparents, starts in Norwich.  She can also offer Parent Coaching by Skype.  She writes a regular Parenting Column for the Eastern Daily Press. 

Accidental wildness

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Back to school after the half term break and we’ve let wildness slip. Well, ‘formal deliberate’ wildness that is. We’ve nevertheless still achieved something wild every day, those Random Acts of Wildness, although not necessarily of the ‘photo and tweet it’ variety.

We’ve discovered a good climbing tree. If I give them a boost up to the first branch (at my head height) they can then get scarily high. The branches seem sturdy but there is definitely an element of risk (which is why they love it so much).

My daughter is obsessed with picking wild flowers at the moment, and the leaf mantises that we are babysitting necessitate the collection of lots of bramble for them to eat. They’ve gone to school today,  I felt like such a celebrity in the playground when I was holding them!

We also had a gardening session on our jungle (aka back garden), with both kids working well together to rescue snails and prune overgrown shrubs.

At the weekend, there was a gorgeous split second of wildness when a stoat crossed the road ahead of our car, followed by 6 or 7 kits. Too cute!

I’m heartened that whilst we’ve been a bit lacking in planned nature time, we’ve still managed to make space for outdoors discovery every day.

Next on the list; a picnic to celebrate Picnic Week!

30 Days Wild – week one

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It was typical that all things were against us for our first few days of being wild. The wet and windy half-term weather combined with lots of driving for a family funeral meant we were up against it to fit in moments of nature.

Day 1: A wet walk, collecting pebbles and leaves. We wouldn’t have bothered with a walk today, given the weather, but it was good to get the wellies on and get outside.

Day 2: Hours on the M25 but there were birds to be spotted through the window – we saw a kestrel, herring gulls and two buzzards in the course of our journey.

Day 3 – 5:  This is where the game changed. We went camping to a basic, natural and beautiful campsite with lots of friends. It is harder to pick the unwild moments from the day, because there weren’t any.

Wild highlights included:

  • finding toad tadpoles
  • making mudcakes
  • collecting an incredible array of sea creatures and shells at the beach (starfish, crabs, anemones, clams, bristle worms to name a few)
  • being woken early by birdsong – there was a particularly vocal robin at 5 am
  • and mainly just being outside all the time.

This was wildness that took more than one bath to scrub off.

Day 6: Back to school, but incredible sunshine. My daughter picked poppies on the way to school (her teacher is very tolerant of the random assortment of nature that gets brought in by my collector girl on a daily basis). After school, we lay in a hammock  and looked up at the trees – we are living with Granny at the moment and enjoying her beautiful garden very much.

Day 7: We’ll be trying some art activities from ‘Collect, print and paint from nature’ by John Hawkinson later. It’s very old-school (published in 1968) and we won’t be setting up a killing jar for butterflies as recommended (using 880 ammonia or carbon tetrachloride!), but the rest is lovely!

It’s been a week of extremes – days where it has been hard to fit in wildness, and days where it has been abundant. I’m glad we’ve managed to make a little space for nature whatever the week and the weather has thrown at us.

The world needs young nature geeks

They say that whatever issue you have with a toddler, you can multiply by ten for the teenager. Whilst inspiring tiny children about the great outdoors has its challenges, they are nothing compared to trying to keep young people involved with and excited about nature as they hit the often rocky, hormonal years of teenagedom.

I know from personal experience that even the most rural, idyllic childhood doesn’t prevent a rapid descent into nightclubbing and alcohol – who has time for nature then? My children are a while off that, but I wonder how I will keep them connected to our natural world.

Wonderful campaigns such as the Wildlife Trust’s ‘Every Child Wild’ and the work done by The Wild Network help the parents of younger children to embrace nature. Whilst there is no deliberate exclusion of teenagers from these projects (and much remains highly relevant), there is a focus on reaching out to younger children. To then lose that connection in the fug of the teenage years seems such a tragedy.

Time in nature is vital for everyone’s health and well-being and in the turbulent, exam-packed teenage years, stress relief and green exercise are just what the doctor ordered. Despite all the medical evidence, society still thinks it is more normal for a teenager to be holed up in a darkened room on social media than roaming the countryside with a pair of binoculars.

A more worrying aspect is the bullying that young people can experience if they are into nature. Being called a geek, nerd or twitcher can be the least of it. In a world that values material consumption and the quick thrill of the digital, choosing to spend time, often on your own or with the older generation, can mark you out as an odd ball.

A Focus on Nature is a youth nature organisation aiming to address this. It offers a community for young people who love nature, as well as looking at the wider issue of disconnection of teens from our natural world. The website is full of stories of young conservationists getting out there and not just connecting with nature, but taking real action.

Wildlife charities do offer teenage options for involvement. The RSPB’s Phoenix membership provides Wingbeat, the only environmental magazine written by teenagers for teenagers, and opportunities to become part of and blog on the Phoenix forum. For those interested in volunteering or work experience, most conservation charities can give exciting and varied opportunities that could lead to a career in conservation.

With social media, there is a platform ready and waiting for our tech savvy teens. We would all benefit from more young voices to shock us oldies out of our comfortable complacency and to make caring about our planet the norm, not the geeky exception.

Teenagers need nature and green spaces in their life. It will bring them fun, stress-relief, new friends and turn them into true custodians of our world.

It’s been a while (ahem) since I was a teenager and I don’t yet have my own, so I’m very interested in your thoughts and experiences on this important issue.

 

First published in the EDP and EADT.

 

Eco-gifting for the family

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Are you one of the smug people who has nearly finished their Christmas shopping? Or are you a last minute, dash around the shops type? Either way, you are currently being bombarded by marketing galore.

Constant emails and cutesy catalogues will try to persuade you that all women desire purple silk underwear or fluffy ear muffs. Meanwhile, the man in your life absolutely requires a designer leather iPad cover embossed with his initials and the children will have a Christmas to remember ONLY if you buy them their own body-weight in overpriced, branded plastic.

We will all receive items that we don’t want or need and we will all spend a bit more than we should have done. Whilst our bank balances can hopefully recover in the New Year, it’s not so rosy for the environment because all consumerism has a direct impact on the planet. Now I’m not so mean as to suggest we don’t give presents, my children would still be crying by New Year’s Day if I was that horrible. However, burying them in an excess of new possessions doesn’t do them any favours.

Over-gifting your kids can result in them acquiring a spoilt, entitled attitude, not looking after their new toys properly and expecting even more next year. You know what over-gifting looks like: the child is swamped by presents which they open in an increasingly mechanical, zombie like way, finding it hard when the supply eventually stops.

To try and rein myself in (because it is so easy to get carried away) I love the gifting advice that goes ‘Want. Need. Wear. Read’ and try to apply it to shopping for the kids.

Want
A present is never wasted if it is what someone really, really desires. If you have no clue, then ask, or at least give vouchers rather than buying them the thing you secretly want. Yes, Dads with that Star Wars Lego, I’m talking to you!

Need
So it’s a little more on the boring side, but for children this is where the more sensible purchases come in, such as a new duvet set, furniture for their room, hairbrush or swim kit. Although my cousins were given toothpaste every year – I think that may be taking it a bit far.

Wear
Much as I love a festive jumper, giving it on Christmas Day means it is hardly going to be worn. If you must, then size up so growing children can wear it the next year too. Onesies, special dresses and organic cotton pjs make excellent choices here.

Read
The gift of a book is the most wonderful of all. What could be more perfect than giving them a whole world, for you to read together or for older children to discover alone? I don’t think anyone can have too many books.

Stockings
What about stockings? That’s helping Father Christmas plan your child’s stocking obviously. I try and keep to the above rules when, er, suggesting ideas to the elves. That is, something from each category of: want, need, wear, read – but we do have a whole stocking to stuff.

Eco-friendly ‘consumables’ are great filler options, such as Fair-trade organic chocolates, dried fruit, an all-natural bath bomb or lip balm, or shower gel. I also feel Santa should always provide useful items such as pants, tights, vests and socks.

When you are tight for time, it is easy to just grab the nearest available items, however eco-unfriendly. Don’t worry though, I’ve collated some green and thoughtful stocking ideas that will help!

Baby and toddler stocking ideas
I honestly wouldn’t go crazy for this age group – a couple of nice, eco-friendly toys and then a few practical items will be plenty.

I love these lovely sustainable wooden grasping toys by EverEarth.

A gnome leaf stacking toy.

Felt animals (3+).

Wooden letters for the bedroom door, like these.

Wooden cars (these mini ones are 3+).

Cutlery and plate sets.

Gorgeous Stockmar beeswax crayons.

Primary age stocking ideas
Eco action trump cards – a fun way of learning about taking care of the environment.

Mini boxes of a favourite ‘treat’ cereal.

Learn about natural energy sources with a potato-powered clock.

A new water bottle – this one is made from recycled plastic and has a charcoal filter.

A wind-up torch.

Wooden jewellery.

A flannel with their favourite character on.

A grow your own carnivorous plants kit.

Lavender and wheat filled teddies, that can be microwaved and will make the bed all cosy (so you can turn the heating down).

Teenager stocking ideas
A bead and hoop necklace, fairly traded and made from all natural materials.

Star wars origami.

These gorgeous birch candle holders.

Vouchers – probably iTunes.

An adult colouring book inspired by nature.

Pretty glass earring dish.

Slightly crazy, but low eco-impact, face drinks mats.

Who says money doesn’t grow on trees? Grow your own money (plant).

I also enjoyed these eco-gift suggestions from River Cottage HQ, and don’t forget second-hand items are perfect too. Now is also a great time to take any outgrown toys to the charity shop so someone else can benefit!

Above all, don’t go overboard on the pressies, do get out for some fresh air and do remember that possessions don’t bring happiness, it’s all about being together in your very own crazy, unique way.

Kate Blincoe is the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting (Green Books) and is a freelance writer.

Newsflash: Princesses can climb trees

As the mother of a strongwilled delightful four year old girl, I try to fight the pink stereotypes that threaten to engulf her every waking moment. I try to help her see that 1) ‘pretty’ isn’t the top objective in life, 2) clothes should first and foremost be cosy and comfortable and 3) that girls can take on the world. I’ve succeeded with 3), she takes no prisoners and has a natural authority. Take on the world? No problem, but expect collateral damage.

However, I’ve so far lost the battle on appearance. Like every other little girl she meets, she adores the Disney princess way of dressing. Four outfit changes a day? Well of course, darling, that is standard. She thinks girls should wear dresses all the time. Leggings are permissible if a skirt is worn over, but jeans and sensible trousers are just ‘too scruffy’.

I’m letting her have this phase. Often, disagreeing with her just cements her view and in the end, it is her body to dress as she will. My small stamp of authority is this: the pink/frilly/yucky/frothy numbers are all secondhand or hand me ons. That way, if they get ruined when this princess climbs trees, makes dens, fights with sticks and rolls down grassy hills, then we are all smiling. It’s what we do, not what we wear, that counts.