Screen Free Survival

Surviving Lockdown without Screentime: our tips.

Isolation is not easy for any parent. Putting aside the larger picture, a disturbance in routine is never going to be easy for a child. The idea of no parks, playdates or playschools filled me with horror and heartbreak when I first heard the news. However, we’re a month in now, and quarantine has become very much the new normal for us. I wanted to take the time to share my survival skills for families going on this journey too, particularly those who make the decision to have no, or limited, screen time. Isolation is not easy for any parent. Putting aside the larger picture, a disturbance in routine is never easy for a child. The idea of no parks, playdates or playschools filled me with horror and heartbreak when I first heard the news. However, we’re a month in now, and quarantine has become very much the new normal for us. I wanted to take the time to share my survival skills for families going on this journey too, particularly those who make the decision to have no, or limited, screen time. 

Routine Charts

A predictable day is my greatest weapon when it comes to parenting. Young people love the security and feeling of control which routine offers. As an adult, it also stops me from spiralling and spending the day sitting in my dressing gown and scrolling through the news. On the good days, it gives me a sprigboard to flourish with ideas and craft activities, walks and yoga. On the bad days, it stops me from deteriorating into a ball of stress sand loosing my grip on the day. For us, sleep times, meal times and outdoors (/exercise) times have been the key elements to securing a positive and achievable routine. 

Our Yoto

My favourite isolation product has been a glorious device called A Yoto. We have found that being screen free (around the little ones) has had such a huge positive impact on the kids’ behaviour and mood that we’ve been without them for almost a year. It’s been a really fantastic change for our family, and we spend so much more quality time together. However, screen-free parenting is relentless. There’s no high-value distraction like TV for five moments of peace. We also like to encourage our little ones to be autonomous and have control over their wants and needs. We have invitations to play set up over heavily structured activity, we facilitate them being able to get their own snack and drinks, wash themselves and such, very much inspired by the Montessori ethos. However, when they want music they have to ask us to turn something on (normally resulting in frustration that I didn’t get the RIGHT version of Mamma Mia), which has always not quite fit in with our parenting choices. However, I recently discovered Yoto, a screen free music player operated by the children with two large buttons and cards. My eldest slots in one card and listens to Arabian Nights, another for English Nursery Rhymes, and Kids’ radio is available at the touch of a button. It provides some much adored respite from the soundtrack of “Mummy?” which has been stuck on repeat since the outbreak. My favourite bonus is that some of the cards allow family members to record their own stories; so when we have tears from missing family members, we can listen tot hem reading a story anytime. 

Family Meetings

Another great parenting weapon against squabbles and power struggles is a family meeting. Empower yourselves and your children to voice areas of concern, stress or gratitude once a week. Keep an agenda pinned up week-round so that of a problem arises, you can calmly put it on the family meeting agenda to discuss when everyone is feeling calm. 

Forest School Activities

Outdoors time is so important for kids, there is advice emerging at the moment focussing on children having at least three hours of outdoor time a day (good to have goals). However, with long family walks and parks off the cards, it can be hard to get creative with outdoor time. Luckily for us, forest schools have been on this for years! Phew. We’ve been using the Forest School Activity Cards from Jane Worrell & Peter Houghton for ideas on how to make the most of our daily walk, and our time spent in the garden. 

Charlotte Mason Curriculums

Any pressure for learning went straight out the window at the start of this (probably before the start of this), however, I have been craving structured activities to provide my 4 year old with. I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted and low on creative ideas, so I’ve been downloading home education activities and printing them from home. FiddlesticksEd, who we found of etsy, has some breath takingly beautiful resources, which have so many uses.  The cost is so minimal, it’s such a blessing to have the pressure to think of fun activities eased. Though I don’t think we should place any pressure on ourselves to educate our kids in this time, thinking and learning is SO good for their behaviour and happiness; and we need to cut ourselves some slack and not try to produce everything ourselves from scratch. 

Get Growing

A huge source of relief for us as adults has been growing our own food in the garden. Even growing tomatoes on the windowsill has huge therapeutic benefit. This is something your kids can befit from too. The sense of contribution and pride they get from being trusted to sow seeds, to water plants daily, to think of ideas for which veggies we should go, is so wonderful. We even had some chickens arrive during our first week of lockdown, and my eldest being responsible for checking for eggs every morning has given her immeasurable joy. Empowering your little worker-bees to assist in all elements of the home and garden is fantastic for their longing to contribute and be trusted. It’s also very grounding to immerse yourself in nature and how she just keeps keepin’ on! 

Lockdown is a period of uncertainty for all of us. I have certainly found that the more regualrity and predictibility I can bring to my day, the happier we all have been. Follow my instagram @heymummawolf for loads of nature-based activity ideas and mindful parenting tips.

Mindful Autumnal Leaf Waxing

The shift from summer to winter is a really magical time. The blaze of colours that the trees put out before their winter rest, the cold air in your lungs, the call of the seasons to draw in and rest with mother nature. We’ve just moved out of the city, and the enchanting shift to autumn has had so much more impact for us this year than ever before, so I decided to try and capture some of that magical palatte with my toddler. We planned to make a waxed leaf mobile for Philly’s playspace, to help bring the outside in, and work some mindfulness into a cute little craft activity. Here are the steps we took so you can try.

Supply list:

Long stick to hang your leaves on

Leaves in a range of colours

Beeswax or vegetable glycerin

Thread and scissors

Newspaper

Step one was a nature walk to gather resources…nature’s most vibrant medium at this time of year: leaves (and one long, dry stick to dangle your dried leaves from). I find this kind of walk is the most beneficial to little ones when you have the time to be completely child led. Take the time to follow their lead. Have an open topped basket or bag to gather recourses, and try not to curate them at this stage (although it’s tempting). You want your little one to be learning that their input is valid and their contribution is interesting to you. Ask them lots of questions about what they see, smell, hear, feel about their surroundings and why they have made their selections of what leaves to bring home in the basket. A nature walk like this is really grounding (as well as sensory balancing) and an excellent first mindfulness technique. Learning to take in the senses when calm is a skill which can allow you and your child to calm panics and sensory meltdowns when stressed.

Next step is to lay out your findings. Making the time to tie some thread to the stalks of the leaves in advance will make the process much smoother! Discuss observations you can make, and be genuinely curious for your child’s observations about what you’ve gathered. Drawing attention to the shift in seasons will be really valuable for learning. Lay down a heat proof mat next to your findings to rest your hot pan on, and some newspaper to let the waxed leaves dry on.

Then, heat up your beeswax (or make up your vegetable glycerin solution if you’re vegan) in an open shallow pan. Your little one can stir the mixture (supervised of course) which will make their contribution feel all the more valued. The next step is to dip your leaves into the melted wax by holding the thread and allowing the wax to cover the whole leaf. Pull the leaf out and allow in a few moments for excess wax to drip off, before laying them on newspaper to dry (or hanging them up to dry is even better if you have the space).

Once your leaves are dried off, work together tieing them on to a stick to create a beautiful mobile of natural colours, textures and shapes. Get to your child’s level when considering where to hang it so that they can enjoy their efforts too!

I’d love to see your waxed leaf creations. Please share on Instagram with #heymummawolf or share to your stories and tag @heymummawolf and I’ll share my favourites (with permission).

What is hypnobirthing?

Hypnobirthing has become a household concept in the last decade: now the royals have been giving it a go, even your Nanna has probably heard of it, but many people still aren’t sure of exactly what the method of birthing entails. Perhaps visions of candlelit baths, mix with images of Derren Brown hypnotising pregnant people and leave you feeling generally uncomfortable. Perhaps thoughts of Earth Mothers birthing naked in the woods leave you feel inadequate, or incompatible with calm birthing. The relieving news is that hypnobirthing is for everyone: no mater what your birthing day will bring.

Hypnobirthing offers a chance, not only for you and your birthing partner to embrace and enjoy your birthing day with calm control; but for us to change the birthing rhetoric to one imbued with love, and women feeling great success and joy on the day they meet their baby.

First of all lets address the hypno. Nobody can wave a spinning disk and konk you out for the whole of your birthing journey: hypnobirthing is not about loosing control or consciousness. It’s quite the opposite. Hypnobirthing is a set of self-hypnosis techniques which will allow you to totally relax and empower your body to work as it should when functioning at it’s best(more on the science there later). Your birthing partner(s) have the essential role of protecting your birth journey, and assisting in your relaxation, so that your only task on the birthing day is to stay relaxed. This is a little deeper than mindfulness of breathing techniques you may have tried before, and facilitates the function of your birthing muscles. The Hypno refers to a self-directed and initiated sense of stillness and very deep relaxation.

I also want to take a moment to mention that this method is for all people who experience birthing, whatever your birthing preferences and background. While hypnobirthing facilitates a vaginal delivery free from medical intervention for many women, it is a set of techniques that will work whatever your birthing preferences; which will be discussed in depth throughout your course. With simple adaptations hypnobirthing is more that relevant for Mothers who will be birthing via C Section, or planned intervention. You also need not worry that pain relief or assistance will not be available to you as a hypnobirthing Mother: the course actually aims to empower you to make educated and mindful decisions about every aspect of birthing. This means that if your birth journey takes you on a road that you did not expect to go on, for example a special-circumstance resulting in medical intervention, you still have a wealth of techniques available to call upon and embrace your journey without fear.

The hypnobirthing course transforms birth into a bonding experience like no other: for some a hypnobirthing experience even goes so far as to be the defining moment of their relationship (whatever form this takes). This is because hypnobirthing is not just for the Mother, but for her birthing partner as well. Both (or all) members of the birthing team are given an active role, a valuable and nurturing part to play in the birthing day. Birth Partners learn all the techniques (which many find have a beneficial impact on their daily lives: it’s always good to be calm!) alongside the Mother, and facilitate deep relaxation, encourage the birthing muscles and comfort of the Mother with massage, and learn how to support active birth movements. My Mother and birthing partner still jokes that she has the strength of a thousand lions after holding me in a supported squat for a large portion of my birthing day. Both members of the birthing team embracing the day together, without fear, transforms the experience of birth for the Mother’s chosen partner.

While, thanks to your own powers of relaxation, you may feel as though your drifting in and out of the birthing room (I spent most of my birthing day in a garden filled with orange balloons), hypnobirthing allows you to be very present in the birthing experience, and you’ll want to be there! “What about the pain?” I hear you ask. It’s true that what draws most people to hypnobirthing is another line of pain relief. It is true that deep relaxation does offer pain relief: but I offer up the idea that hypnobirthing facilitates your body to birth without pain. I am aware that this is a stumbling block for many people: most women simply can’t imagine a world where birth isn’t painful. That’s totally normal! We live in a culture where almost the entire narrative surrounding birth is that it is synonymous with agony. However, we also live in a culture that inhibits calm birthing with the nature of how we birth, and the fear we feel towards it. Have you ever run a marathon? Swam for a long time? Held a really strong yoga posture for a long time? It is an intense feeling! Perhaps when you start practising it is even painful. However, when we nourish our body, learn how to breathe, and how to use our muscles, the feeling is more of an intensity than of agonising pain. The birthing muscles are just the same as any other muscles. When we feel fear, when we panic, our body draws all resources away from the birthing muscles and send them to our arms and legs (so we can fight of a perceived threat). Midwives have even reported of birthing muscles white with fear, through lack of blood and oxygen. When scared, we also can’t release our happy hormones oxytocin and endorphins, which facilitate labour, create feelings of joy and love, and act as the body’s natural pain killers. However, when we learn to control our fear, to breath effectively and supply our birthing muscles with beautiful life giving oxygen, our muscles can work effectively and will hurt less. Our bodies also release those wonderful feel-good hormones, which means that birth is less likely to stop and start, and actually progresses quicker, and our body is supplied with ample amounts of the body’s natural painkillers. You can imagine this is a much more comfortable state to be in! We also teach active birthing positions which will help facilitate your body’s efforts to bring your baby earth side. When birthing through C Section, these techniques harness the same calm control, which facilitates feelings of bonding and calm control over your medical birthing experience.

Hypnobirthing offers a chance, not only for you and your birthing partner to embrace and enjoy your birthing day with calm control; but for us to change the birthing rhetoric to one imbued with love, and women feeling great success and joy on the day they meet their baby. For details of upcoming group classes, for information on one-to-one sessions, hypnobirthing for special circumstances; or online skype courses, please give me an email to chat about which option may suit you best at: heymummawolf@gmail.com

Images taken by birth photographer Sadie Wild

Growing Mindfully

As a family, we’ve been trying various organic food options, markets, stalls, delivery services, even supermarkets, muttering “we really could grow our own this year” while the items beep through the till. This self-imposed sense of powerlessness has been a disconnect from our day to day living for some time: an obstacle to being connected to each moment and connected to nature. However green-fingered our ambitions may have been, making the jump to ‘growing our own’ has always seemed just beyond our reach. Partly due to fear of shelling out lots of money on ‘kit’ for little return, and partly thanks to a tired old notion of myself as not being outdoorsy enough, or not having the knowledge necessary to start. In the past couple of years, I’ve worked really hard on challenging the self-defined concepts of my identity and a big part of this has been getting outside and connecting with nature in a really hands-on way. It’s been a while coming, but this year I made it an absolute goal to get planting; and my little tribe took up the notion with huge enthusiasm.

January was a great time to start. A mistake I’ve made in the past is looking at other people’s gardens flourishing in the early spring, planting in hasty jealousy, then losing interest through lack of longterm planning. This year, we bought a book about gardening with a small outdoor space-The City Grower-which did the tricky planning for us and allowed us to really sink our teeth in. As early as January we started making lasagne compost; gathering scrap wood, palates, oil drums and tires to make planters; and hoarding cheap straw from farm shops. We also researched the most ethical seed options we could find, and found this amazing seed co-operative, which just really enriched our experience of seed buying, by doing in with thought and positive intention. By the time we put our first seedlings into their toilet-roll nurseries in late February, there had already been such a build up that nobody was losing interest this time around.

My three-year-old is a very energetic little person, and I normally engage her with movement, so I was worried about the focus required planting tiny seeds like salad greens. Despite reservations, her fascination and precision with this project blew me away! She needed calm discussions before each stage, but the respect she saw me and Luke have for the precious little seeds proved to be infectious. She spent about 30 mins concentrating really hard during the planting (unprecedented for her). When we popped the seedlings into the beds she was able to take regular breaks in the garden, but really the tasks kept her fully engaged for hours. The seeding were her ‘babies’ and she talked to them all with such love and care that I’m convinced that’s the reason they’re still chugging on now. The jobs were strengthening, benefitted both her fine and gross motor skills and her thirst for knowledge on plant life seems unquenchable.

“Here you go little guy you climb up this one”
Ophelia spent lots of time encouraging the peas & beans to climb their supports

Luke and I have already gained a great deal from the garden too. Both of us are prone to anxiety and stress overwhelm and the garden is another place to seek refuge that actually fits in with our busy lives.

The garden has so much enrichment for us, so much for our family that I gain myself from yoga. Connection, balance, calm and connection. I feel inspired an invigorated by seeing my little tribe out in our tiny terrace house green space.