26 Apr 2014

Bumble Bee Dance

I just had to share this picture that my daughter and 18 month old granddaughter made together. I love the wild energy of it!

25 Apr 2014

The Ancient Forest

Long ago Britain was covered with forest. It must have been amazing and so magical - I wish I could time travel there. This is part of that ancient forest that was uncovered on the beach by the winter storms near where I live. The wood is black with age - who knows how many thousand years ago that tree was alive and green?

Trees are so very special; I have known this since I was a child, when I would sit for hours up a tree, just watching the world go by.  I was not bored, I was in a special, meditative kind of place that needed no words, no structure, and, most importantly of all, no adult input. It is so vital to give our children space to do this kind of thing. Climb a tree, play with mud and pebbles, dig in the earth, plant seeds. This is how they learn their deep connection to the earth and all that is living. It is one of my greatest wishes that people will begin to remember this. That they will go and sit under trees and speak to them. That our cities will become green and growing, full of trees and gardens.

13 Apr 2014

Easter Fun 3 - Chalk Art

Children really enjoy the freedom of this way of making art. All you need is a tub of coloured chalks and a patio or paving stones. You can get special big fat chalks for children to use very cheaply. But if you get a large tub, as I did, don't give them all out at once - one or two of each colour is enough and they will last longer that way and not get wasted and lost. 

This is the picture that Emily and I made after our Wildflower Walk (see post for April 11th). We used the shapes of the leaves and flowers of daisies and dandelions. We decided it was fun to make up new colours for the flowers, and Emily drew exceedingly long stalks which make an interesting effect don't you think? It is surprising how art comes alive when you allow children to be inventive.

When my children were little they spent hours doing this, and also got into trouble with the neighbours for making works of art on the pavement outside our house. I didn't stop them though - after all it rains so often in Britain that the pictures are very fleeting. Luckily no more was said and they carried on doing it. But do make sure your kids don't scribble on other people's private property or walls!  

Copyright Ruth Snowden, 13/4/2014

12 Apr 2014

Easter Fun 2 - Pace Eggs

I made these yesterday with four year old Emily. First of all we hard-boiled the eggs with onion skins to make them a rich raw sienna colour. You can also use spinach (green), or beetroot(pink). You might also try using food colouring.

These are the eggs after we boiled them:

When the eggs were cool we took them out into the garden to paint them in the sunshine. (If you do this make sure the paint is non-toxic paint, for children.) Emily discovered that when you mix blue and yellow you get green, and when you mix red and blue you get purple, which was very exciting. When I was a child we often painted faces on our pace eggs and then stood them up in an egg cup.

Later on, when the paint was dry, Emily's little sister, Molly, arrived. I pretended to be the Easter Bunny and hid the eggs around the garden, along with two chocolate Easter eggs I had bought for them. They had great fun hunting for them and putting them into a little felt basket. Then they had more fun peeling and eating the pace eggs. I only made three because that was all the eggs I had left, but they scoffed the lot, so it was probably just as well.

In Cumbria where I live, people always used to take pace eggs on Easter picnics. A competition was held, rolling the eggs down the side of a fell (mountain), and seeing whose egg got the furthest with the least breaks. Children could easily do this in a local park if you can find a grassy bank to roll them down.

Pace eggs are a very old tradition, and in some parts of Britain there are still Pace Egg Plays, where St George battles with the forces of evil, such as dragons etc. Many of these have died out but there is nothing to stop you inventing your own with the kids and letting them put on a little play!

Copyright Ruth Snowden, 12/4/2014

11 Apr 2014

Easter Fun 1 - Wild Flower Walk

I have been asked to do a few posts about simple, low-cost activities you can do with the kids to celebrate Easter. Did you know that Easter is derived from the name of Eostre, who is an old Anglo-Saxon goddess? She is associated with hares, so maybe the Easter Bunny is a lot older than we may realise! Another pointer to the fact that Easter is really a pagan festival in origin, lies in the fact that it always falls on the Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring equinox. But whatever - the joyful message of spring-time, resurrection and rebirth is similar for Christian and Pagan alike.

Take the kids for a walk somewhere in the countryside or park and see if they can identify a few wildflowers. (You can find them growing as `weeds' even in a city!) Take a wildflower book if you can, or for very small children maybe print off a simple little tick chart of your own using photos from the internet. Here are three common ones to get you started:

Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)

The name derives from the French dent-de-lion, `lion's tooth', because of the shape of the leaves. . The Officinale part of the Latin name is a give away - it means it was used as a medicinal herb. Older children will probably be amused by its Old English name, piss-a-bed, so called because of the strong diuretic effect of the roots, used in folk medicine. It has many other names and country children used to use `dandelion clocks' - the fluffy seed heads - to tell the time (very inaccurately!). This was done by counting the number of puffs it took to blow all the seeds away. Children still love this game and it will help tiny ones to learn counting. Look for dandelions in lawns, flowerbeds and gardens. The roots are often ground up to make dandelion coffee and the leaves are used to make tea, or in salads. You can also make wine from this plant.

Daisy (Bellis Perennis)

Another very common little wildflower, much beloved of children. It grows irrepressibly in lawns and flower beds everywhere. Children will love to make daisy chains to wear as necklaces. Simply gather some daisies, keeping the stalks long. Pinch a slot in each stalk and thread the next flower through it. Carry on until you have a long chain. This is undoubtedly a very old game, and the daisy is supposed to bring love, so the chains were likely used in fertility rituals and May dances. The name derives from day's eye, because the little flowers endearingly open with the sun and close at night. It is used in salads and as a tea and herbal tincture. When I was a lass it was also used in simple love divination - you cruelly pulled all the petals off a flower one by one chanting he loves me, he loves me not until the last remaining petal revealed the answer!

Cowslip (Primula Veris)
Country folk still use cowslips to make wine. They grow in damp, grassy places, and may have got their name from `cow slop', the cow pats of dung found in the meadows where they flourish. Like most common wildflowers it has loads of other names - I rather like fairy cups. Magically it is useful if you are feeling anti-social, as a leaf placed under the door mat is said to discourage visitors. Cowslips got quite rare in Britain for a while because of agricultural changes, but thankfully they are now widespread once more, mainly thanks to seed spraying along grass verges by enlightened local councils :-)

When you get home the kids might like to make a wildflower ID chart,  or do some art work using the shapes and colours of the leaves and flowers. You can use leaves to print patterns with using non-toxic paint. If you have a garden they might also like to buy some wildflower seeds and grow a tiny bit of meadow, or a wildflower area in a flower bed. This will help to encourage butterflies, bees and other insects to your garden.

A note about picking flowers
Small children love to pick little posies of flowers and as Granny I often get given these special little offerings. But it's important to teach children that it's only OK to pick the very common, abundant ones and never to uproot the plant. Flowers make seeds and so if we pick too many there will be no new flowers next spring. You also need to make children aware that some plants are poisonous - for example they must not eat buttercups. Get to know your plants! As children get a little older it is good to teach them respect for the plants, asking their permission before picking flowers or leaves. if you get any feeling of hesitation or reluctance then the answer is a firm no and the plant should be left in peace.

Copright Ruth Snowden, 11/4/2014

5 Apr 2014

Graveclothes for the Stillborn

I walked away from being a professional poet some years ago when I found out that it seemed to me to be largely about competition, one-upmanship, being the most clever academic, being published in prestigious poetry magazines, and horror of horrors, performing on stage. None of these things felt important or real to me. But now and again a poem still flows out of me, expressing something that simply cannot be said in prose. 

My daughter asked me to embark on this poignant knitting project because she had been talking to a woman who had had a still-born babe. She told her that one of the awful things was that there were no clothes small enough to dress the child in. So here, with love in every stitch, is a tiny outfit that will go up to the hospital. Now I am going to knit a blue one, and meanwhile, here is my poem. (If anyone else wants the pattern, I will attempt to write it down for you. I crafted this whole outfit from a single 50g ball of random yarn and two small heart-shaped wooden buttons)


You never drew breath in this world;
you died before you were born.
Even your toenails were ready
and your perfect, shell-like ears.

Maybe you got one glimpse
of life's crazy dance and turned back.
But you brought us the gift of silence;
the golden path to the stars.

© Ruth Snowden, April 2014

4 Apr 2014

Full-time Formal School from Age Two? Hmmm...


So - the government wants all children to be in full-time school from the age of two? What does that mean? Does it mean bums on seats, learning to hold a pen, recognise numbers, be `taught' stuff in a formal way? Why do I have a great feeling of unease about this?

Yesterday my two year old granddaughter came to help me in the garden. For the first few minutes she simply stood, unmoving, about ten yards away from me. I let her be. I was in no hurry to involve her in any particular activity. I simply got on with digging out the compost. Then a smile spread over her face, she pointed up into the trees and said bird. She had been listening to the thrush singing - the bird that you can hear throughout this little video. I told her it was a thrush. Later in the afternoon she paused from her task of helping me load the compost into a pot. She listened, looked up again and said thrush.We both stopped and listened together.  It was small moment, but oh, so profound and precious.

Children need space. They need silence. They need to learn how to BE as well as how to read, write, count etc. I think one of the main ills in society now is that everyone is simply too busy. They haven't got time to pop round for a cuppa after school because they have to rush the kids to a swimming lesson/karate class/ extra maths ....fill in the space.

Many years ago I taught a class of infants. One little boy of six was rather slow academically. But one day he brought me an amazingly good picture he had drawn of a tractor. It's a David Brown, he said proudly. He couldn't read - but he sure knew more about tractors than I did. That little boy taught me a very important lesson that day. Let's let a little silence and birdsong into our children's lives. Let them play with water and mud, sticks and moss and pebbles. Leave them be. Let them learn to BE.