Tag Archives: outdoor play



“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

It has always struck me as a little odd, having a sandpit on a beach.

This beach is full of shingle though (despite, as Arthur pointed out, being called Blackpool Sands). It’s a beautiful spot, but sometimes a boy just wants to dig.

And swim: the waves were rolling in, but we were playing in the sea not long after this picture was taken.

Not bad for nearly the end of September.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

A question of balance

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-six

Finding balance is at the heart of any parenting journey, whichever way you choose to do things.

But I feel like having headed off down the unschooling path there’s a whole other challenge to be faced – because it’s not just your own views and needs and desires you’re trying to factor in, and those of the people whose opinions you value, but those of your child(ren) as well.

I thought, when Arthur was just a hypothetical, that I knew exactly what kind of parent I’d be. My experience as a teacher had taught me that I was likely to be fairly child-led, but I also knew (or thought I knew) that I would eschew screen-time in favour of more ‘wholesome’ pursuits, and envisaged hours spent elbow-deep in arts and crafts (to satisfy my own desires as much of those of my hypothetical child).

It turns out that, apart from in very special circumstances, Arthur’s not super keen on painting and gluing and sticking. And he really, really loves his iPad. I guess that’s partly my fault for letting him loose on it in the first place, but there was always a niggle in the back of my mind (birthed both by my genuine belief in the power of cinema (teaching again), and by the residual resentment left by my own television-starved childhood) that suggested that maybe moving image (and video games) has a potentially vital part to play in the development of a modern child.


So he watches things. Movies, mainly – and more recently a few TV shows. I favour retro offerings: there’s something about modern editing that reminds me a little too much of the addictive appeal of drugs – hallucinogenic, exciting, but ultimately leaving you hollow and empty. And so yes, I curate the range of films and TV shows I give him access to.

I also refuse to let him sit and watch as much as he might like to. For most parents I imagine that’s not especially controversial – the idea of setting strict limits on the amount of screen time a child should have is pretty much a given – but in the unschooling community it’s enough to make me at the very best an outlier.

It comes back to the whole addiction thing though, for me. To that innate human tendency (maybe not all humans, but certainly lots I know) to do the thing that’s bad for you even when you know you’d be better off doing something else. With Arthur, I see the switch from real engagement to glazed-over eyes, the prickliness when I ask him if he would like to do something else, the closing down of perspective on the ‘real’ world as the virtual world becomes increasingly compelling – and it is then that, for better or for worse, I intervene.

I get the whole unschooling thing about letting kids find their own way through the multitude of distractions on offer. I get that it has huge payback for their self-efficacy to genuinely get to choose how they spend their time. I get that I might not always get it right when I make a choice for my son – and that the impact of that on him goes beyond my simple error to something deeper in his developing personality.

And yet, I will still push to get him outside. I will fight his desire to stay cocooned on the sofa on a sunny day, because I know that once he crosses the threshold he will remember how good it feels to breathe fresh air and have the space to run.


We had a day like this last week. Arthur basically wanted to hibernate: stay in his pyjamas, cover himself in soft things, and hunker down in his nest. And we did that, for a bit. I hunkered down with him – because more than often when he wants to sit and watch a movie he wants one of us to watch it with him – and we watched Peter Pan, and we talked about it.


And then he wanted me to to put something else on, and despite the fact it was getting close to lunchtime he wanted to stay in his pyjamas: and I said no.

So instead we got up, and got dressed, and got out of the house. We took the aerobie to the green, and raced each other through our giggles, and looked for blackberries. And it was awesome. And he loved it.


And part of me thinks (or at least thought, in that moment) that we should be doing that all of the time, because of course being outdoors is way better than being cooped up inside with a screen. But then part of me knows that his imagination is relishing in the inspiration it is getting, day in day out, from its exposure to the Disney and Studio Ghibli back catalogue.

Ultimately I have to remind myself that it is all about balance. And my balance won’t necessarily look like yours, or my mum’s, or my friend’s, or my sister in law’s.

But that’s ok, because if there’s one thing that I am learning about this parenting business it’s that we all get to do it the way we want to – and it’s only when we’re persuaded to make decisions that we really don’t believe in that the trouble really starts.





“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

This weekend, whilst I was getting off getting inspired at the first ever National Lido Conference, Arthur and Leigh went to Dadfest: a weekend of camping and outdoorsy events for Dads and their kids.

It was a pretty intense experience by all accounts, but Arthur was full of excitement when I saw him last night.

Most exciting of all he got to try archery, which is one of his current favourite things. Just look at the concentration on that little face…

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 



“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

We have had a day of ‘getting things done’ today, which has meant that for much of it Arthur has been left to his own devices.

Sometimes, that’s a disaster.

But today, with Leigh and I busying ourselves with organising and tidying and planting, he has been a little star.

I found him at one point this afternoon with his balance bike upside down, bits of twigs strewn around him. I asked what he was doing, and he told me he was using his bike as a stick cutter. Obviously.

I’m still not entirely sure what that meant, but he was clearly utterly absorbed in experimentation. And rocking quite a cool outfit too…

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 



“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

I love watching Arthur play, especially outdoors.

He is becoming so imaginative and agile and brave: balancing and climbing and reaching and exploring. Even when he is playing on his own – in fact especially when he is playing on his own – he buzzes with the energy of all that he is discovering about the world.

He fell not long after I took this picture, balancing on the beams that spanned the brook, reaching down for his bucket that had tumbled into the water. He managed to catch the beam before he got too wet, and though he needed help to right himself he never lost his calm. Once he was freed from his precarious position he quickly re-found his focus, and carried on as if nothing had happened.

I’m not sure you can teach skills like that.


Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Mud glorious mud

The unschooling diaries: week thirteen

This week, we have finally managed to start sorting the garden out for summer.

It’s not an especially big space, and because our house is essentially built into the cliff face it’s on three different levels – and has no grass. So over the wet, windy Devon winter it really does start to look quite sorry for itself, and I start yearning for a house with a proper garden with room to run and explore.

I’ve realised, though, that there is actually an awful lot we can do with the space we have. Rather than bemoan the lack of lawn, I’ve decided instead to focus on what an interesting space it is, and its huge potential as an outdoor classroom. So, with Arthur taking the lead of course, we’ve been exploring exactly what that might look like – and having lots of messy fun in the process.

We started with some digging and pulling up of weeds in our raised beds. Arthur was very keen to get involved, and was fascinated by the bugs we came across along the way. We found snails, slugs, earthworms, a centipede, woodlice and a caterpillar – and had a good chat about each of them before getting on with our work.


We also got the tuff spot out into the garden, creating a mud-filled paradise for Arthur’s beloved diggers, made even more fun when we added water to the equation.



We managed to work some arts and crafts in there too. When we were in Lanzarote we’d talked about how Cesar Manrique had used volcanic ash in his paintings – Arthur had been quite intrigued by the unusual textures it created. So, inspired by the puddle that formed after some overnight rainfall, we decided to try some mud art.

We started with some puddle painting, using oil and food colouring to create colourful swirls on the water. This didn’t work brilliantly as Arthur got a bit over excited with the amount of oil he added, but it was still lots of fun!


Especially fun was, of course, stamping in the oily puddle – and seeing how much Arthur was enjoying making footsteps on the deck I decided to give him a bit of a canvas.


Then, after a slight diversion to make a magic potion, we got properly stuck in and covered a large sheet of paper with pva glue before pouring on the muddy concoction and mixing it up with anything else that took our fancy…


There was more focused preparation too, with Arthur climbing inside the raised beds to get the earth ready for planting (and make some mud castles).


It was all so much fun! And tidying up was even more so: Arthur was super keen to use the hosepipe, and I in my infinite wisdom let him. It was going great until he accidentally splashed me whilst I was holding the tuff spot, and I yelped, and he laughed, and… well, let’s just say we both got very wet!



All in all it’s made me very excited about our little garden, and the fun and learning that is going to happen there in the weeks and months to come. There is something about being outdoors that just can’t be beat.