How can they call themselves Generation No Hope?

Posted May 11, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Why do I keep puzzling over the way young people behave, and what can the 40-50somethings who raised them do to support teens?… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see 

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (and it just happens to be where I went though 10 years before). i read it with my bookgroup and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (which just happens to be where I went 10 years later). I read it with my book group and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

My daughters are teenagers so I meet a few of their friends – and my friends’ children. I’ve also taught applies studies classes with students at two universities. Currently I’m mostly coaching students at an arts university in London: a very creative place. My favourite exhibit in the current main atrium exhibition is a huge text work saying “Show us, don’t tell us”.

But my students have a serious problem turning up at class.

And yes, it could be because I’m a rubbish teacher. But let’s pretend I’m not.

The kids at school seem ok but the current batch of first years I’m working with seem frightened to learn or make mistakes. The third years were never great turner-uppers either, but considerably better than this batch of first years. However despite not always being consistent academic strivers they will turn up at a tutorial and say “I want to get an A, or a first for this class”. It’s a perfectly acceptable dream but it’s one you can only achieve if you can put the hours, effort, reading and brain power into it. Telling your tutor you want an A isn’t the most effective way to get a top grade!

I remember my uni years as distraction-central. By the end of three years I was confident in everything except getting a first in my degree subject (and not surprisingly I didn’t). At uni I remember being cold and broke and often happy. I don’t remember my spirit being broken. But that’s what seems to be an increasingly huge problem for the students I meet now.

IF YOU FOLLOW MY OTHER BLOG HTTP://ISLINGTONFACESBLOG.COM (interviews with people who live or work in Islington) PLEASE HAVE A LOOK AT IT AS I’VE JUST MIGRATED THIS TO A NEW WEBSITE (so you won’t be following using wordpress any more). IDEALLY FOLLOW VIA FACEBOOK OR TWITTER.

Life paths are never quite what you expect.

Life paths are never quite what you expect.

The mobile (like a pram in the hallway?)
The Year 1s – who are 18-19 years old as few have taken a gap year – are dependant on their phones. It is a huge strain for them to be parted from the pleasing ping of a new message. Quite a few operate two phones. Their focus is extremely limited, even if their ability to multi-task is pretty good (allegedly).

Perhaps what’s more striking about this new generation of students is the number who have mental health issues. These are very broad and can range from difficulty sleeping, via panic attacks and stress from being asked a question in class through to very serious problems. Not eating well is pretty much obligatory unless you are a student who super eats well, and instgrams it too.

Alcohol plays its dangerous part, though perhaps less for London students (it’s the price of a pint down south!).

Naomi Klein's book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It's depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes - massaged reality - over the messy facts of reality.

Naomi Klein’s book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It’s depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality.

It’s got to be instagram perfect
Everyone knows how to pose for a perfect selfie and has a whats app and insta account meaning news and reality are filtered. This may be fine, it may protect from a hard life at home or some kind of trauma but could it be part of the problem?

At Migrants Organise they tried running a poetry workshop for young people – creating a group of half refugees and half British residents. After one session in which the refugees talked about their journeys to the UK and their experience of homelessness the other half (the secure youngsters from the UK) simply didn’t come again. It’s hearsay but I’m told they found the experience of hearing about horrors of another kind of life totally traumatised them. They couldn’t bear to hear it. So they voted with their feet and stopped turning up.

No one had blamed them.  But not knowing doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Are they a generation who value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality?

A spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by http://www.adbusters.org/spoofads/

Camel cigs were so cool… but here’s a spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by http://www.adbusters.org/spoofads/

Brand loyalty
Or is the bizarre acceptance of brands as a positive thing part of the problem? No one is perfect – especially women who look at the advertising mirror of young gorgeous photoshopped women in new clothes and judge themselves harshly against this.

There seems to be an absence of a critical gene – except for the face in the mirror or when tagged maliciously on Facebook.

1980s throwback
I came of age in the ’80s. We took pride in being cynical, enjoyed irony – liked our own creativity. And managed life without phones… Life was simpler and even if I graduated into a recession the buzz of living and independent adulthood was irresistible, even if I decided to downgrade my ambition when I figured out I couldn’t be head of the UN. 30 years on I still hope things will get better and my career will continue to be something I enjoy and stay good at.

But my anxious university students fret over the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of hope – often without making the effort to try and get these things. Worse I don’t know how to energise or console them. Something has gone wrong when a 19 year old can look around the empty classroom and say “we’re generation no hope”. This is not the way a non-ironic late teen or 20something should be thinking.

My generation raised these kids. We did something very wrong – it’s personal, and political. And I haven’t even mentioned the need for them – and us – to tackle climate change…

What is it we can do now to help? Do you have any ideas? Please share.

What’s all the fuss about bucket lists?

Posted April 9, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Before you draw up a bucket list, think hard. You might be gifting it to friends, or causing a family drama about how many kids you should have had… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Nicola with her two daughters. (2015)

Nicola with her two daughters. (2015)

Everyone has a bucket list nowadays.

What used to be a wish list of dreams – things you might love to do one day – has taken on not just the status of a corporate to do list but also a certain mystical reverence. It has become something that must be done, and if not by you then your nearest and dearest.

When 15 year old Vaishali Bance Suhayr died recently, after years of poor health, her family took over her bucket list. According to the Evening Standard her aunt went swimming with dolphins, her mum wrote her name in concrete and her eldest sister is planning to skydive and crowdsurf. Actually it’s a really lovely way to remember someone… another auntie is to scuba dive, another plans to walk the Great Wall of China and her dad is going to milk a cow. All things Vaishali had put on her list.

If you plan to keep your family busy after you’ve died then a bucket list is essential.

Except I don’t have a bucket list.

Shock
So on a date night with my husband (at Plum & Spilt Milk’s secret first floor bar in the super posh Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross) we tried drawing up a list of some things we’d like to do, or hadn’t yet done over a glass of Punk IPA (him) and Essex-grown wine (me). His list is mostly places he’d like to visit. But then to my shock – and I’m hoping he’s joking – he added, “Have a son”. We have two daughters and I’m 52, so I won’t be producing the son he’s never mentioned he’s wanted before.

It was unsettling.

And I don’t think his teenage, feminist daughters will be best pleased by this news either.

Image0023

Dad and daughter digging for ancient relics in a mole hill (2011).

Thus it was serendipity that the first story on the radio we woke up to the next morning was how the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has just discovered that his Dad was in fact not his biological father. Rather cruelly he’d been obliged to have a DNA test after journalists started snooping around his elderly mum’s personal life. Justin Welby is 60, and allegedly had not a clue that his genetic origins were in anyway questionable. Rather sweetly a top tweet has said something on the lines of how appropriate for a Man of God, now he knows what Jesus must have felt… (!)

In contrast I felt rather smug hearing poor Welby’s discovery… perhaps such revelations will help my DH remove such an outrageous desire for a son off his bucket list. Because children aren’t always the right chip off the old block. Even a much longed for son or daughter.

This post is to warn anyone tempted to dream up a list of things they want to do – either while they still can, or just because YOLO – that you have to be careful what you wish for, because if it comes true the consequences may well turn your life upside down.

But it’s also interesting: having children is such a steep learning curve, but the mix of genders arriving in your home does seem to affect that experience. I’ve loved having two daughters, and I reckon I’d have been happy with boys too. I remember years ago when bleary-eyed from a non-sleeping baby, overhearing our next door neighbour who had three sons, saying how much harder it was to raise boys. She then added that having a girl didn’t really count because they were so much easier to entertain. Obviously she was joking (and I was super-sleep deprived, never mind accidentally listening in), but how different are gender-blended families? Is my husband right – did we make a fatal mistake by settling with just two kids? Not that there’s much I can do about it (and nor do I wish to).  In fact I’m rather more inclined to count our blessings.

Over to you
What do you think? Does just having just boys or girls in your family make you less of a mum or dad? I know the answer is of course not, but I’m asking for your secret thoughts on this -not your politically correct ones…

Where are the kids?

Posted February 10, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , ,

How much freedom do you give your kids? I didn’t give mine enough when they were little according to a smart-thinking dad and geographer, Daniel Raven Ellison, who is deeply concerned about the lack of free range children. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Exploring London with dad and dog isn't the same as playing out in your nearest bit of woodland. Find out more by reading research by Daniel Raven Ellison

Exploring London with dad and dog isn’t the same as playing out in your nearest bit of woodland. Find out more by reading research by Daniel Raven Ellison

“Where have all the children gone?” sang Cat Stevens.

Or rather “where are the kids?’ as my husband might say… Mine have come home from school and are making some pasta before homework. They got to school on their own, and back again, but they haven’t done any exploring today.

OK, it’s February and cold, but what if it was a warm, long summer holiday day with light until late evening? where would they be then? Would they be out and about? Probably not.

Daniel Raven Ellison, a fascinating explorer and campaigner, has done research about children playing out and his work is published in London Essays at this link http://essays.centreforlondon.org/issues/green/londons-empty-childhoods/ I totally recommend reading it.

It’s sad research, but he has a positive outlook arguing:

London is full of great childhoods, so let’s let children out to enjoy them.

Can parents do that? Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

In praise of a day in the woods & other microadventures

Posted January 21, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

What did you do at the weekend? Or more challenging: what did you do after school? The same as you always do? Or something which makes your heart sing – either doing it, or remembering it? This post takes my family to a pub-crammed village famous for inspiring artist Stanley Spencer and Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame in Berkshire on a micro-adventure. Nothing too strenuous happened – you might just as easily call it a day trip. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Impressive den in Quarry Woods near Cookham. This area inspired Wind in the Willows writer Kenneth Grahame.

Impressive den in Quarry Woods near Cookham. This area inspired Wind in the Willows writer Kenneth Grahame.

Big adventures are fun, but they are often hard to organise, and expensive. Of course you don’t have to cycle the Alps to have an adventure. You can have them in the UK, but as so much of British outdoor life is weather dependent getting a party together (especially of mixed ages) to do something on a set day you can all make can be easily spoilt by grey skies, a stiff breeze and a downpour.

And so micro adventures were born.Big adventures are fun, but they are often hard to organise, and expensive. Of course you don’t have to cycle the Alps to have an adventure. You can have them in the UK, but as so much of British outdoor life is weather dependent getting a party together (especially of mixed ages) to do something on a set day you can all make can be easily spoilt by grey skies, a stiff breeze and a downpour.

The name appears to come from Alastair Humphries, see his website here.

But a micro adventure can just be going somewhere different, or going somewhere you know well and really exploring it in a different way.Instead of going on mega trips occasionally – he was 24 when he decided to ride around the world by bike (which took four years!) – he goes on little ones, often. I love this idea. I need my adventure quotient topped up, ideally outside. For me one exciting walk a week is enough, but I also try to keep bigger adventures on the go in case I lose inspiration. At the moment my family is finishing off the New River Walk (approx. 30miles from Hertfordshire to London along a stream that is neither new, nor a river). We just do a short stage when we fancy. I’m also planning to walk a lot more of the Thames Path.

The shelter we put up... view from our fire! Learning skills at Conkers in the National Forest. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

A shelter Nell and I put up while learning outdoor survival skills at Conkers in the National Forest – lighting a fire in the rain and then toasting marshmallows on it. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Alastair’s website is all kids in sleeping bags roughing it without tents – you can do that in a garden too, it doesn’t have to be a super glamorous overseas location. His current challenge is to get people to commit to spending one night a month under the stars for a year. It’s a lovely idea and you’d learn so much from it. I’m thinking about it… but rather suspect that I won’t.

Alastair is super creative (he funds his blog by asking people to shout him a coffee – the £2.50s add up and as a result he’s got a fab site). His adventures are incredibly varied and I am sure would be happy to spend a day climbing a tree to really develop a sense of what that particular oak is really like, and which little critters and birds visit it.

My micro-adventures tend to focus on taking the dog for a walk in the woods. There is nothing I like better. Although if you can throw in an art gallery and a nice cosy pub I’ll be extra happy. So visiting Cookham in Berkshire (the train from London goes to Maidenhead, then you change for the 10 min ride to Cookham) was perfect.

Coming down the chalky side of Winter Hill some teenagers were playing on the shallow flooded meadows. it was icy and couldn't hold their weight but they were having such a fabulous time 'moon walking' and sinking up to the top of their wellies. it looked a lot more fun than spending the weekend on your phone.

Coming down the chalky side of Winter Hill some teenagers were playing on the shallow flooded meadows. it was icy and couldn’t hold their weight but they were having such a fabulous time ‘moon walking’ and sinking up to the top of their wellies. it looked a lot more fun than spending the weekend on your phone.

I followed a 7-mile walk through Quarry Wood and up steep Winter Hill then down a chalk hillside for a last one and a half mile stroll along the River Thames back to Cookham and the Stanley Spencer art gallery in the old Methodist church.

Cookham, or “village in heaven” as the crabby but talented Stanley Spencer called it. His art is full of portraits of the locals and local scenes. I love the way flowers twine themselves into his pictures and the majority are making Cookham the ultimate destination.

To improve a micro-adventure it helps if there are options for all your party. So my husband, Pete, went on the Stanley Spencer guided walk around the village, my teen daughter turned up late for a quick tour of the gallery and then met me and Pete in the pub. We stayed on for tapas and another cheeky drink while she took the earlier train back to London for a David Bowie tribute gig…

There are at least six pubs in Cookham, and all seemed to serve food (there’s also the Teapot Tea shop in the high street which had delicious looking cakes). We tried the lovely old Bel & the Dragon, an old coaching inn. But a glass of white wine cost £9!! So for the next round we went to the Old Swan Uppers where for £7.50 I got a half of good beer, an even better glass of wine and a packet of crisps. Both were dog friendly, and both had lovely staff and roaring fires. My family wanted to talk about Spencer – his art and wives. I managed that, and was also happy to talk over my route which had included a quick detour to see the house that Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame lived in while writing the book. Behind is Winter Hill’s thick wood (and beyond that Quarry Wood), both very obviously the model for his book’s scary Wild Wood – home of Badger and those evil weasels who go on to take over Toad Hall. The house is now a prep school, Herries.

Just being outside was incredibly reviving. When I got back into the warm I felt tired and content – happy to go along with my family’s suggestions. And the dog just lay down and slept. My plan this year is to keep a day a weekend as free as I can so that the micro-adventure habit can blossom. Perhaps what I like best about this plan is that anyone can come along, but it’s still fun if you’re the only one who wants to head outdoors.

  • Walk route was in Country Walks near London by Christopher Somerville. I used the 1994 edition, but this links to a much newer version. Somerville is my favourite walk guide -his routes are great because you don’t have to have your nose in the book. It does help if you can bring an OS map too though.

What skills do your kids have?

Posted October 28, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

Here’s a challenge – besides reading, writing and asking for a better phone what skills do your teenagers have? And what do they need?  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

We sing when we set up camp... "We didn't start the fire," (King Charles) went down well. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Learning to light a fire, in the rain.  (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

It’s time to take stock about the practical skills my teenagers now have. When my daughters were little, learning was fun and they were willing to try all sorts of things from street dance and trampolining to modelling with sticks. Now they are teenagers life looks more restrictive – there’s a lot of peer pressure and instinct to shop and chat. Both are absolutely fine.

However both my girls now babysit quite often and the oldest is thinking about what she could do during a gap year between school and university. So what practical skills do they have? And what do they need?

DIY experience: how about re-covering a chair seat using an upholstery stapler? This is a goodbye pic to my chair which I recently passed on to a Freecycler.

DIY experience: how about re-covering a chair seat using an upholstery stapler? This is a goodbye pic to my chair which I recently passed on to a Freecycler. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Life saving
One brilliant tick goes to Lola’s school that organised a first aid session, at a very cheap rate, after AS and A level exams last summer – definitely something worth asking your child’s school to do. Everyone needs to know the basics of first aid because it saves lives. Not long after this training Lola had to step in when a friend collapsed with a diabetes emergency. She said it was very scary to be the only one in the room not screaming, but at least she’d had a little bit of training to know how to use the recovery position, how not to panic and the sort of info you need to tell 999. She also accompanied her friend to hospital which was clearly the right instinct. Going back to the party afterwards was definitely not though!

At 18 in the UK some kids have already been at work for two years, but most have just been at school. Entrepeneurship skills are hard to acquire (I have enough trouble myself making ends meet and spreadsheets balance) but table top sales and babysitting start the process off well for school and college-aged kids. The only problem is that most of these “babies” are in bed, or just about to go to bed, so the teenager doesn’t have much responsibility. What they’ve got to be able to do is step in if things go wrong – and that often needs practice, especially keeping a cool head.

Life hack: trying out a clever way to rethread worn out shoe laces.

Life hack: trying out a clever way to rethread worn out shoe laces.

Life hacks
My daughters see my repairing all sorts of stuff – clothes, sofas, chairs,cushion covers etc. I don’t do it well. There’s no such thing as in invisible repair in my home, but I like the story of a repair showing. I hope seeing me mend things (with my sewing kit and sugru) will inspire them to mend stuff. But I don’t think it does. So today when Lola was queuing to buy some tickets on the net I challenged her to rethread some worn out laces into a shoe. At first she said she couldn’t, then she half did it saying that made the shoes look cool. I want to pass these shoes on to a charity shop so I passed her a pencil to see if that helped poke the worn shoe lace through the eyes… and it did.

You can’t teach practical skills – or common sense – but hopefully you can encourage all children, of any age, to think creatively in order to get what they want. Mine are brilliant at using words to browbeat me: now they also need to learn to use the other side of their brains to mend and repair things – not just to save money when they don’t have much, but to avoid having to throw stuff away unnecessarily.

Over to you
What skills do your kids have – or you’d like them to have – which you reckon are essential? Is it washing up, or thoughtfulness or something else?

3 ideas for coping with half term or days the kids aren’t at school

Posted October 15, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Here are some ideas about how to use a half term holiday not to get away but to get to know a place better.  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

You can walk or cycle to explore the Olympic Park.

You can walk or cycle to explore the Olympic Park.

In the UK we have quite a few bank holidays – there are two in May and one in August & then there are half terms. As a freelance working from home, bank holidays and half terms tend to catch me by surprise. And I guess that’s how most children busy at school surrounded by friends feel too. Loads of people seem to go away, but that’s not always possible (or affordable) so what can you do instead?

1)HOW ABOUT STAYING PUT?  We live in London which seems permanently restless – maybe this half term the kids will have time to explore the new parks created thanks to the Olympic Village, Stratford or the changes at King’s Cross. Neither trip will cost anything and is a great chance to develop map reading and app use skills. The visitor centre is easy to find at the Olympic Park is opposite the aquatics building. The visitor centre at Kings Cross is just beyond Granary Square, but that’s much harder to find so could be part of a challenge day out.

Cheap and entertaining: walk the boundaries. Here we are in York on the walls.

Cheap and entertaining: walk the boundaries. Here we are in York on the walls.

2) DO STUFF LOCALLY THAT’S FREE If you are planning a bank holiday outing you could check to see if the places you want to go are open, but I tend to check what’s free to enjoy first.

3) WALK YOUR BOUNDARIES: We’ve recently been holidaying in York and after a summer of fabulous activities and sightseeing definitely needed to keep an eye on our spending. Taking a walk around the lovely City Walls was a good way to avoid window shopping temptation (particularly boring for the dog) and to get to see this lovely city from a different perspective. Find out more about great things to do in York here http://www.visityork.org/

Walking the Islington boundary we ran into an Italian fiesta raising money for the local church near Exmouth market.

Walking the Islington boundary we ran into an Italian fiesta raising money for the local church near Exmouth market.

Few places have such an obvious path around their boundary as York. Where we live in London, with 220,000 others, the boundary isn’t clear at all but recently a fundraising group, Islington Giving, made a useful map of the half marathon-length boundary which we’ve been walking around in bits. Being a little unaware of what’s going on meant that we ended up walking into a lovely surprise…  a street fiesta with Italian food stalls and pretty things to look at, like the balloons (see pic).

Plan a pit stop or a sweet treat for all the walkers in your party (even the photographer).

Plan a pit stop or a sweet treat for all the walkers in your party (even the photographer).

Of course smaller kids need shorter walks – but the more they do them you’ll probably find the more they’ll want to do them, especially if the end is rewarded with something tasty and healthy you’ve picked on the way (like blackberries) or brought along. I know ice cream is evil(ish), but on days when the sun is shining (or you’d like it to be) nothing beats it…

Over to you
Where do you like walking with kids? Is it a place you know well? Is it a boundary? Whatever you’re up to this long weekend, have a good time.

6 signs your kids can read

Posted August 30, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , ,

It seemed to take ages for my kids to learn to read – now at 17 and 14 they are recommending novels to me. This post is in celebration of summertime word play. There are more good ideas about parenting in my book Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird

1 PERMISSION

London

London

love this sign! Found it outside a pizza restaurant just opposite Highgate tube station in north London. For more baby-friendly places to breastfeed (which by rights ought to be everywhere!) see this list of breastfeeding-friendly spots in London compiled by Time Out.

2 ANTAGONISTIC

Kids: ever so scary? Possibly this sign in Newcastle upon Tyne was warning drivers not to run tots over...

Kids: ever so scary? Possibly this sign in Newcastle upon Tyne was warning drivers not to run tots over…

During the Olympics Londoners seemed especially helpful – so when we spotted this sign in the north of England we enjoyed the irony.

3 SIMPLE AS A, B, C

Absolutely no smacking.

A mastered.

Some signs just help the kids learn to read.

4 BASIC DIRECTIONS

Seen in Chelmsford (I was born here, but lived in Herts!).

Seen in Chelmsford.

It’s meant to be a great place.

5 WARNING SIGNS

We enjoyed this Lake District farmer's irritation with tourists.

The kids enjoyed finding this Lake District farmer’s irritation with tourists.

Not everyone likes children, or visitors. This one made laugh.

6 ASPIRATIONAL

Surprise!

Surprise!

Of course we want to see a kangaroo, and a beware kangaroos sign. But sometimes a sticker has to do.

Over to you
Are you and your kids sign spotters?


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