“Just a Mum”

1st April 2015

“So, what do you do?”

I used to dig out the flashiest version of my title. By the pinnacle of my corporate IT career this was: “Head of Project Management – I manage the overall programme of projects and I have a team of Project Managers”. Even now as I type it my head tilts up and I look down my nose. Boy, did I sound important!

Standing tall

Hmmm, so what now? I’ve been an at-home-mum for a decade: focussing my attention on the needs of my children; learning alongside them as we have traversed these tricky new paths called new-to-life and new-to-parenthood, concurrently; I’ve cried and felt more wretched than I ever did before; I’ve laughed louder and longer too; I’ve said the things I told myself I’d never say and done the things I wasn’t going to do; I now know so much more that I didn’t even know before that I didn’t know; I’ve never felt so very exhausted and exhilarated at any other point in my life…

So what have I been doing this past 10 years? What do I have to show for myself? What have I been achieving for the nation, for the future, moment to moment, with my children?

Pani popo making together

OK, here’s a small sample of my day. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing many, MANY, meals. As babies, my children were often lying on their backs learning how to move their bodies whilst soaking up what it is to be a human being in this room (the first step to understanding their place and value in the world). I’d chat to them while making breakfast, snacks, lunch or dinner, go to them when they needed and allowed them to take in all that was going on. Sometimes they were in a sling that I had taught myself to adjust so they were close to both me and the action, while snuggly safe. A relationship of respect was being created, experiencing how to treat other people, learning to trust that needs will be met so that learning can flow unhindered, and creating a sense of self through enjoying our own space – the cooking itself was really a by-product, considering the importance of all this other great stuff.

As toddlers they moved about desiring, discovering and discarding household items and furniture, along with their toys. They kept a check in with what I was doing – yes, I’m still preparing food – and when necessary I interrupted my flow to avert or clean-up a hurt or mess. With my support they began learning about real life cause and effect and had much practice at emotional management. Patience and self-control were role modelled by me to maintain a calm energy in the kitchen even when the unreasonable and irrational was running rampant (we’re talking most of the time here for both of these). Relationship-wise I was now very much their secure base and safe haven. From this place of safety my children could get on with the business of learning to be amazing human beings. The cooking tasks themselves were being noted and sometimes participated in with much excitement and little skill, but that doesn’t matter as it’s building the WILL to learn that’s far more important than WHAT they learn at this stage.

Stirring sauce

Once they grew a little older I strapped on an apron and had them up with me helping to cook. Peeling and chopping food, mixing, pouring, sifting, yes, licking, were building up their small motor skills. Cause and effect lessons generously arose with every session, along with taking responsibility for cleaning up messes. We chatted while we cooked and continued to build on our relationship – laying the foundation for how my children would go on to interact with other people.

As the older ones became the big ones of the family they practiced teaching the younger ones how to do the tasks – in so doing built up their brains’ understanding of empathy and leadership. They also moved on to more difficult cooking tasks such as using the stove, oven and other equipment, planning the menus and doing the complete cooking process themselves, including serving. Along the way they also discovered the use of trial and error in experiencing how to cook something that tastes good, perseverance to try again and a dose of humility when it all turned to custard (sorry custard, I’m not sure why that phrase is so degrading of delectable custard). These are all vital learning dispositions ideally practiced during childhood. Conflict management arose in abundance – I want that whisk! – along with risk management – hot stoves, knives, standing up at a high bench. As a Project Manager I was hugely grateful to have good skills in these areas.

Chopping veges

Aside from preparing food there were many other daily tasks, experiences and interactions I was sharing with my children, not just for 8 hours a day, but sometimes 24×7! So, really? Have I been “Just a Mum” or have I supported the generation of three confident, competent and contributing human beings to offer our nation? I believe my contribution to society is worthy of the highest regard, valued equally to the highest paid CEOs and specialists in their fields. Every interaction I have with my young daughters has the potential to help the world be a better place. I propose to never again let the word “Just” precede my title of Mum. Will you join me in this?

“So … what do YOU do?”

Arohanui, Sarah x

Addendum: We seem to believe in our society that the question “What do you do?” refers to what our paid job is because we assume that that must define us most completely. I no longer believe this. I believe that “what we do” is actually more honestly stated as how we utilise our lives, the actions we take that inspire us; that invigorate us; that have us live life to the full. So, perhaps what I do is create opportunities for growth in myself and others I interact with.

Sarah Amy Glensor Best is a Mum, first and foremost. She is also an author, educator and facilitator of child, parenting and communication topics. She has recently released her first book entitled, “Changing the World is Child’s Play” which can be ordered through the Publisher, Ako Books, www.akobooks.co.nz.

Playing at changing the world

25th March 2015

There’s so much we can do with children.

Loving baby

We can treat them with love and respect. We can shame and humiliate them. We can meet most of their needs. We can gloss over their needs in favour of providing for a never ending stream of wants in the hope that they will co   mpensate. We can provide opportunities for children to experience life. We can wrap them in cotton wool and plead that they may never be hurt. We can be there with them through life’s challenges. We can try to make them be independent. We can find them to be hard work. We can love them dearly…

But let’s focus on what we can do with children that actually makes a difference in the world. Oh, that’s right, that’s all of the above (due to the adaptive nature of young children’s brains and the influence we adults have on this highly environmentally-impacted development process).

OK, so how about narrowing down the field a little. What can we do with children that makes a positive difference in the world? Ah, now we’re talking.

And do you want to know the best news?

I’d put good money on these things that make the most positive difference being both cheap and fun.

Wanna know why?

Because children develop to their wonderful genetic potential by experiencing an environment of love, light-hearted, repetitive learning and opportunities for imitating back-to-basics real-life stuff like cooking, gardening, storytelling and dancing their self-expression. Children experience the full extent of their physical abilities through feeling safe and relaxed enough to be able to move and experiment freely with their bodies. Children learn to care for others by being cared for and seeing the adults in their lives caring for others. Children develop an appreciation of hard work and anticipation by observing adults patiently awaiting the fruits of their labours. Children are designed to learn. Our job is to support this natural process.

Waitangi weekend girls camp 012

“Changing the world is child’s play” is a collection of inspirations for fun, real life, world-changing experiences that anyone can have with children. 36 topics, each with an invitation and inspiration to act, for anyone who spends time with children: real life, real fun, real change. This is a place to begin changing the world for the better. A place to start when wishing to make a difference or when needing something else to try when children are around. You can even do them on your own, as child involvement is not a prerequisite here. Though for maximum world impact I recommend the inclusion of children during these adventures you’re about to embark on due to their dynamic brain development which you are supporting.

Richard with girls

So how could we all be using “Changing the world is child’s play”? A book of love for life (real life, simple and available to all), love for fun and for children, ideally all at the same time. Some people will take up this book to help them enjoy children more (believe me, I’ve been there and, oh, does this work); some for inspiration and new ideas; some are keen on affirmation on the good they are already achieving through conscious care of children; some to satisfy their desire to grow themselves or to make some sort of a mark during their time on this planet; some for a basic, and, may I say, much underrated, love of life. You don’t even need a reason, just say “yes” and get on with it.

Image of a Playcentre Trainee (3)“Changing the world is child’s play” has been shaped with the dedication and passion that is becoming my child advocacy signature. Much like childhood, my adventure as a first-time about-to-be-published author is developing through a journey of fun and challenging, real-life learning. Haere mai (welcome) and arohanui (much love) to everyone who wishes to join me on this exciting path through life.

Arohanui, Sarah x

 

Crafting expressions of ourselves

16th February 2015

Creating a message or making marks expressing our very soul onto a clear page can bring relief and clarity for flurried hearts and minds… It’s also just plain fun!Home art day (9)

Drawing, writing, cutting, scribbling, dotting, splatting – can be used to express our innermost thoughts or feelings about others.
Rubbing, sticking, twisting, scraping, crushing – can all be used for expressing emotions as well as realising and releasing our creative energies and urges.
Artistic expression can spontaneously express a number of emotions. Perhaps the love of life, or being so angry with the world that you could eat the sun. Confusion can sometimes be cleared with artistic fervour. I believe any state of being or message is possible to express with arts and crafts.
Try these:
• Art for art’s sake. Create an area where crafts and arts can be undertaken whenever needed or wanted. Provide tools for this: paper – blank pages or books, different drawing and writing implements, perhaps sticky tape, scissors, glue, paints, brushes, newspaper. Add to this collection over time.

Rosa & Kendra (34)
• Crafty support. Work together to store arts and crafts tools so that they are readily available. Find containers and sort items into them. Model and support “when we make a mess we clean it up” whenever craft time is over.
• Scrapbooking. Provide support for children “scrapbooking” their own way, whatever they would like to gather and display.
• Collect. Gather natural additions to crafts – such as sticks, leaves, shells, stones, sand, flowers, pinecones or pine needles – use containers to store and keep them separate and ready for use.

• Use nature itself. Look out for opportunities to leave your mark on nature in a positive way. Sand drawings or sculptures, bark garden creations, fallen leaf piles up to the sky!
Te Horo Beach fun (133)

• Crafty mistakes. Support children to work out what to do themselves as much as possible during their creative endeavours. All mistakes will be learning opportunities for next time!
• Tricky crafts. Try some more tricky crafts together. Perhaps making poi or weaving flax/harakeke, or making a model aircraft.
• Use it. Utilise recycling items in your collection for use in crafty constructions.
• Model life! Create models of real life things if that helps you express how or why things work.
• Express! Support children when working through real life situations by utilising craft work to express feelings and questions.
• Dear … Create helpful alternatives to verbal communication together such as drawing or writing notes for each other.

When crafting with young children it’s helpful to either take their lead as to what you’re both creating or keep your designs as open as possible in order to allow their full creative expression. If we draw a house our way children are likely to attempt to copy this rather than create their own expression of a house. However if we draw swirling lines all over our page this leaves ample room for creative freedom in the children.

Happy crafting. S xx

World changing play

16th February 2015

So can child’s play really change the world?BrainEarth

Yes. But first we need a little bit of science.

Human brains are designed to adapt. This occurs throughout our lives but adaptation is most prominent during childhood. We now know the following about children’s brain development:

  • From conception to birth the brain cells multiply and migrate to the places the genes suggest they should. Connections between brain cells are created as genetic and environmental learning begins in utero.
  • From birth through the early years the brain cells connect up influenced by their genes and, increasingly, by the environment in which the children find themselves. Throughout childhood foundation connections are utilised over and over again, stimulating the production of myelin. Myelination is the process that protects and speeds up the firing of these repeatedly-used connections. So, the environment is influencing the layout of each child’s brain as it adapts to what happens to and around them, most of the time.
  • During the teenage years the brain consolidates the learning of childhood. The brain retains those connections that it deems to be of most use, these are the ones that have been used the most. These myelinated connections can be considered to be “hard wired” as they will likely remain with us through our adult lives.

Therefore whatever is happening most of the time around children is influencing how their brain will be structured throughout adulthood. Every experience and interaction children have contributes to this adaptation process of their brain, thereby making a difference to how the children will think, feel and act throughout the rest of their lives.

Sept var 022How we treat children influences how they will treat themselves, others and the world, later in their lives. We can change the world by changing how we treat children.

Next consider play. A child’s play is their work – what they are intended to do each day. As we’ve seen above, a child’s brain adapts to everything they do and experience, and this adapted brain has a ripple effect out into the world. Therefore child’s play has the potential to change the world.

We have a notion in our society that “child’s play” is easy, simple, without purpose and it is considered to be unimportant. However nature has a clear purpose for “child’s play.” That is for children to adapt to their environment, to wire up their brains to define how they will view themselves, others and the world, how they will think, feel and act. When we understand the adaptability of children’s brains we can appreciate that “child’s play” is anything but unimportant. Since every experience children have has the potential to change the world. They’re not just having fun. They’re adapting their brains in relation to their experiences and this will impact on the future of everyone and everything they later come into contact with. That’s a pretty important purpose!

The ideas for experiences in my new book “Changing the world is child’s play” are easy and simple. However they are also purposeful and important – just as I believe “child’s play” needs to be viewed. I am interested in raising the profile of “child’s play” and the potential impact of children’s experiences on the future world. I also wish to expand our society’s appreciation of what “child’s play” really means.

The inspirations, the invitations for action, in this book are about being conscious of the sorts of experiences children around us are having. Our goal is not just about having fun – though having fun helps our brains learn more effectively. Our goal is to provide easy, simple experiences with an important, positive, future purpose, such that changing the world really can be “child’s play.”

Bursting with life

Changing the world is child’s play. By Sarah Amy Glensor Best.

To be published by Ako Books (www.akobooks.co.nz) in early 2015.

 

Rediscovering play

16th February 2015

Sarah’s (short) story of (re)discovering play.

Well here we are. Kia ora to you. This is where it’s at for me. I feel awe struck at the process of brain development that children everywhere are undertaking and which I am impacting with every interaction I am lucky enough to have with them. I also have a sense of being privileged to be part of creating the world’s future. Much like tending a garden with the knowledge that it can enrich our bodies, the earth and even the atmosphere, I treat the role of parenting as an honour, a gratefully received gift, and also as an important, sacred and often difficult responsibility.

While parenting over the past 11 years I’ve had opportunities to practice many skills including patience and letting go of my project management (need to control and organise) tendencies – some of these challenges I’ve actually taken up and even greatly enjoyed. Many times I’ve found myself huddled in a corner or sprawled on the floor in a state of desperation and muddled-brain-ness. “Oh, how did it come to this?” I’ve sobbed, only to be roused by the deeply heartening feel of a soft child’s hand on my arm expressing the empathic need for a hug. I’ve worked through many stages of understanding myself and my children, and even life itself. But, most importantly, my children have reminded me about play.

IMG_1108

Through my teens I felt I had to do the best job I could at whatever I did. I held myself tight, serious and focussed, fairly nerd-like. I was on a mission. During my twenties I was also on a mission, this time it involved being successful at my work, making lots of money and being seen as sexy (and therefore not a nerd) – oh the misplaced joys of flirtatious control. Then my vision of life altered … suddenly … shockingly. “It’s not all about me!” My care for my children became my project. My joy in them became my passion.

As I journeyed through eight years of Playcentre with my three children a new world opened up for me. My desire to be a hot shot Executive Manager dissolved without yearning. Working with adults and children, about adults and children, blossomed from the Playcentre Adult Education Programme and the regular Playcentre sessions where I learned along with other adults and children. Learning and teaching about how children’s brains develop sprouted into reality through my quest to becoming a Brainwave Trust Aotearoa Kaiako/Educator. Then came the call. During my final months of Playcentre and amidst a growing question as to what I would get up to the following child-reduced year, Ako* Books had chosen my book to publish. My book! The one I’d started many years before and sent off only to forget about as baby number three arrived. The one about all the super cool things we can do with children that make a difference in the world. The one that reminds me daily about the joys and benefits of play and being with children. Yes, that one!

Thanks to my children my passion and purpose now include being focussed on children, relationships and play, and all that these create and entail.

“Changing the world is child’s play” is due out shortly, being published by Ako Books. Watch this space for some tasters before then… Ka kite ano, na Sarah x

 

 

* Ako means to reciprocate learning and teaching together, appropriate huh!