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Have you noticed how much you need to pack in your kid’s lunch box as well as to share with the class? What ever happened to the classic Vegemite sandwich?  Now, it’s fruit plates, sushi muffins and so much more!

There’s a lot of talk, this time of year, post-hols-and-with-the-schoolyard-looming, of the humble school lunchbox and what should go in it.

My son is going to Kindy this year, so I’m new to all this. I must admit, I’m a bit gobsmacked by the AMOUNT of food that’s expected to be packed for a six hour stint in the classroom and playground. There seems to be all manner of muffins, and snacks, and fruit platters, and sushi, and rice paper rolls, and bread rolls, and olives with cubed fetta and sundried tomato and some sort of marinated mushroom. Plus a drink, half a sack of popcorn and a tub of yoghurt. And some grapes, preferably seedless.

There are lots of fancy lunchboxes, with nifty little slide-out compartments, so you can send a veritable buffet of food options for lunch and your child can pick and choose. There are fabulous cool bags, and ice block-thingies to keep your sushi fresh, and neat little pockets to store a drink bottle in. It’s all terribly organised, and the expectations are clear. Buffet up, Mama, you have work to do.

I am a child of the 70s; a latchkey kid, with parents who favoured the Free Range approach before it was even called that. Basically, I’m so old I am almost desiccated. Even so, the buffet-lunchbox approach seems excessive to me. I hate to play the ‘in-my-day’ card but, heck, I’ll do it anyway.

In my day, I distinctly remember being sent to school with:

1. A vegemite and cheese sandwich on wholemeal bread.

2. An apple.

3. A mandarin or carrot.

4. Possibly a water bottle, if anyone remembered and usually they didn’t. If I needed a drink, I could find a water fountain somewhere or, failing this, a puddle. Like I said, Free Range. Use your initiative. Find your own way, even if it does involve slurping from a puddle to avoid dying of thirst. All of that.

My lunch was packed in a recycled paper bread bag, which more often than not retained a veritable avalanche of bread crumbs that stuck to everything inside. I did envy the other kids who had proper brown paper lunch sacks, clean and crumb-less, and always hoped that Mum might buy the same. Great expectations, and all that. She never did, by the way, being somewhat embarrassingly before her time in regards to waste and recycling.

If I needed a drink, I could find a water fountain somewhere or, failing this, a puddle.

My school also put on Dry Roll Days semi-regularly. On Dry Roll Day, the whole school abstained from bringing lunches and, instead, purchased plain dry rolls – white and fluffy as clouds – for about fifty cents. The reason for this was twofold. Firstly, it was an attempt, well intentioned but perhaps misguided, to make us comfortable middle class kids experience how it might feel to have limited food options and be a bit hungry. I’m not sure how successful this was, given we had breakfast before school and afternoon tea and dinner afterwards, and could buy as many dry rolls as we pleased, and we did. Secondly, all those fifty cent pieces we handed over for our dry rolls went to a charity, which provided food to people who needed it.

All well and good, but I’m not sure if Dry Roll Day would cut it today. There would be all sorts of worry about malnutrition and the like. Stern notes might even be sent home, reiterating the value of healthy food choices. It sounds dramatic, but I have heard of such things. Teachers policing lunchboxes and pouncing on illegal biscuits, only to have a tetchy word with Mum at the school gate about sending broccoli florets instead. That sort of thing.

It’s all rather daunting if you think too much about it. You can’t spend your whole life dodging behind the lavender bush near the school gate, because you sent a donut to school for your child’s morning tea. Or can you? There are fourteen years of school, counting Kindy and Pre-Primary. That’s a heck of a lot of dodging. Bad for the knees, I’d wager. It’d be better for everyone to Mum up to things, and learn to make rice paper rolls and the like. Even if your child turns up their nose at them and asks for a vegemite sandwich instead.

Not that I’m worried about my boy doing this, of course. No, not one little bit.N

Accredited Practising Dietitian, founder of and Mum of three, Kate Bullen has gone from A for Additives to Z for Zinc, providing you a guide to keeping your family’s food healthy and nutritional.

 

 

 

Additives – may include preservatives that help keep our food safe to eat, or colours and flavours added to make food tastier and more appealing to eat. Most people don’t react to food additives, but some people do. If you think your child might be reacting to food additives, please speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Breakfast – it really is the most important meal of the day. Research has shown that children who eat breakfast are more likely to have a healthy diet. Quick and easy breakfasts include a piece of fruit, some toast, a smoothie or a couple of Weetbix with milk.

Calcium – needed for strong bones, which is most important in growing children. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are our best sources of calcium. But, we can also get calcium from other foods including almonds, tahini, salmon and dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy.

Drinks – the easiest, cheapest and healthiest drink is water, followed by milk. Drinks are important to stop children getting dehydrated – particularly in our hot summer months. Encourage regular drinks of water throughout the day and get children in the habit of having water as their first choice of drink.

Eggs – boiled eggs are our family’s easy meal. My children will have boiled eggs at least once a week – add a bit of salad to the plate, and some toast – and an easy, healthy and tasty meal is ready to eat. Children typically love eggs and they are a good powerhouse food with plenty of protein and other vitamins and minerals.

Fruit – summer fruit is the best! Watermelon, grapes, mangoes, stonefruit – all so tasty and plentiful. Fruit is great for snacks, but also delicious when whizzed up with some milk and yoghurt to make a smoothie, or used in baking muffins. Frozen grapes are an easy fruit to add into the lunchbox – and stay cool till lunch which increases the chances of them being eaten!

 

Genetically Modified Food – relatively new in Australia, and really comes down to personal choice. As yet we don’t know if there are any long term effects of eating genetically modified food. Most foods will be labelled if they contain genetically modified ingredients.

Hunger – does this phrase sound familiar “Mum – I’m hungry”? I hear this many times a day! Sometimes it’s true hunger, sometimes it’s ‘boredom hunger’. Children typically need to eat every two to three hours as they only have little stomachs – so this can be a clue as to whether they are truly hungry. If you don’t think your child is hungry, try re-directing them to another activity until it is time to eat to avoid ‘boredom eating’.

Iron – if you have a teenager at home, you might want to check if they are getting enough iron as the amount of iron they need increases during the teen years. If they don’t get enough iron, anaemia can develop. The best sources of iron are red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, wholegrain breads and cereals.

Junk food – it is almost impossible to completely avoid junk food, but keep it to special occasions. Once a week is occasional, when junk food is eaten every day then you may need to reassess a child’s diet.

Kilojoules – the preferred unit of measuring energy in Australia, abbreviated to kj. Kilojoules are what you will see referred to on food labels. Calories are the alternative measure of energy. One calorie = 4.186 kilojoules.

Legumes – baked beans, chick peas, lentils and kidney beans are all lentils (sometimes also called ‘pulses’). They are a great sources of protein and fibre – try adding some legumes into your next mince dish. Lentils go almost unnoticed by children, so can be a good one to try.

Meat – choose lean meat with very little visible fat. Red meat such as beef and lamb is a great source of iron and zinc.  Eating lean meat a couple of times a week is a great way to make sure your kids get plenty of these nutrients.

Nuts – fantastic sources of protein, fibre and vitamins. Great snacks for older children, although not appropriate for taking to school due to the risk for any children with nut allergies.

Overweight and obesity – current research shows that 23 per cent of primary school aged children are overweight or obese. If you are concerned about your child, speak with your GP and an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Probiotics – good bacteria to help keep the digestive system healthy.  Most useful to reduce the likelihood of antibiotic-induced diarrhoea. Whenever my children have a dose of antibiotics, I usually get some probiotic yoghurt and milk drinks to have daily for a couple of weeks.

Recipes – involve your children in cooking and planning family meals, and they will be more likely to eat the food. This is a win-win!

Sugar – naturally occurring sugar in fruit and milk is unlikely to be a concern in a child’s diet as they provide other important nutrients. Added sugar in foods (eg. biscuits, cakes) is something to watch out for, as sugar can be easily over-eaten – particularly by children.

Trans Fat – avoid as can increase cholesterol levels. Most often found in processed foods such as biscuits and pastries, fried foods and takeaways.

Underweight – less common than overweight, but can still be cause for concern. If you are worried about the weight of your child, please speak to your GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Vegetables – very few of us eat enough vegetables. Children will typically model their eating from their parents. If there is one change you make to your families eating, then I would strongly encourage it to be eating more vegetables. This is a change you won’t regret!

Whole grains – choose whole grains instead of refined and processed grains to get more fibre and antioxidants.

Zinc – essential for normal growth and development in children. Good sources of zinc include lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils, nuts, seeds and wholegrain cereals.

For more information, head to Kate Bullen’s website www.dietitianonline.com.au

Many of us will be able to recall the enjoyment of shared reading: being read to and sharing reading with our parents. However, my research has found that of the 997 Year 4 and Year 6 respondents at 24 schools who took part in the 2016 Western Australian Study in Children’s Book Reading, nearly three-fifths reported that they were not being read to at home.

A sample of these children also participated in interviews, where I asked them how they felt about shared reading. While a few children did not mind no longer being read to, others were disappointed when it stopped. For example, when I asked Jason about his experience of being read to by his parents, he explained: “They kind of stopped when I knew how to read. I knew how to read, but I just still liked my mum reading it to me.”

 

“Benefits of shared reading include facilitating enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skills, spelling…”

His experience is common, with other recent research suggesting that more than one-third of Australian respondents aged six to 11 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted it to continue.

But why is it so important for us to keep reading with our children for as long as possible?

Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people. Benefits of shared reading include facilitating enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skillsspellingreading comprehension and vocabulary, and establishing essential foundational literacy skills. They are also valued as a shared social opportunity between parents and their children to foster positive attitudes toward reading.

When we read aloud to children it is also beneficial for their cognitive development, with parent-child reading activating brain areas related to narrative comprehension and mental imagery. While most of the research in this area focuses on young children, this does not mean that these benefits somehow disappear as children age.

“This research suggests that we should not stop reading with our children just because they have learned to read independently.”

As young people’s attitudes towards reading reflect their experiences of reading at home and at school in childhood and beyond, providing an enjoyable shared reading experience at home can help to turn our children into life-long readers.

However, not all shared reading experiences are enjoyable. Some children described having poor quality experiences of being read to, and children did not typically enjoy reading to distracted or overly critical parents. In some cases, parents attempted to outsource this responsibility to older siblings, with mixed results.

While many children really enjoyed the social aspects of reading and being read to as valuable time with their parents, they also felt that they learned from these experiences. For example, listening was felt to provide an opportunity to extend vocabulary, and improve pronunciation. Gina recalled the advantage she lost when her parents stopped reading to her, as: “When they did read to me when I was younger, I learnt the words; I would like to learn more words in the bigger books and know what they are so I could talk more about them.”

 

“While many children really enjoyed the social aspects of reading and being read to as valuable time with their parents, they also felt that they learned from these experiences.”
Similarly, Craig explained how being read to enabled his academic advantage in literacy, as “they were teaching me how to say more words”, and “that’s why I’m ahead of everyone in spelling and reading and English”. When this stopped “just because my mum thought I was smart enough to read on my own and started to read chapter books”, Craig was disappointed.

In addition, children were sometimes terrified of reading aloud in the classroom, and this fear could potentially be alleviated through greater opportunities to practice at home.

Hayden’s anxiety around reading aloud at school related to his lack of confidence, and his tendency to compare his skills with those of his peers. He described himself as “always standing up there shivering, my hands are shivering, I just don’t want to read, so I just start reading. And I sound pretty weird”. No-one read with him at home, so he had limited opportunity to build his confidence and skills.

This research suggests that we should not stop reading with our children just because they have learned to read independently.

The ConversationWe should continue reading with our children until they no longer wish to share reading with us, ensuring that these experiences are enjoyable, as they can influence children’s future attitudes toward reading, as well as building their confidence and competence as readers. It is worth the effort to find time to share this experience with our children in the early years and beyond.

Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Who doesn’t dream of some time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life? Whether it’s for a weekend or a few weeks, NSW has it all. From the beautiful beaches to the Snowy Mountains NSW has it covered!

Snowy Mountains

The Snowy Mountains have long been a favourite for snow enthusiasts and are perfect for both summer and winter holidays.

Highlights include

Summer

  • Hiking
  • Horse riding
  • Water sports – kayaking, canoeing, sailing, boating, fishing, swimming
  • Cycling
  • Kosciusko National Park

Winter

  • The annual Peak Festival which celebrates the opening of the ski season at Perisher (normally early June)
  • Cross Country Ski Week for all levels (normally early August)
  • Skiing and Snowboarding
  • Kosciusko National Park
  • Snowball fights!

For more information visit

www.snowymountains.com.au

www.peakfestival.com.au

Perisher

Perisher is a great snow spot for families because it caters to the new and experienced as well as the young and old. Perisher has a fantastic Snowsports School which offers lessons to all levels and starts as young as 2 years old.

Another option is the ‘Snowy Daycare’ which takes children from 6 weeks to 3 years and is available for full and half days.

Accommodation

The first step is deciding where you want to stay! The most popular style of family accommodation is a self-contained apartment, however, there are plenty of other styles to choose from as well.

For more information visit

Getting there

Cooma is the largest town in the region and is approximately 400km from Sydney. Jindabyne is closest to Kosciusko National Park and is roughly 465km away and Perisher, and Thredbo and Charlotte Pass are also close by.

For more information visit

www.perisher.com.au

South Coast

The South Coast sure is home to spectacular scenery and exciting activities.

Highlights include

  • Kiama Blowhole
  • Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk
  • Minnamurra Rainforest
  • Mogo Zoo
  • Batemans Bay
  • Jervis Bay
  • Beach fun

Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk

This is a great activity for the whole family. Its beautiful views take in the rainforest canopy, Lake Illawarra and the South Pacific Ocean. A big bonus is that it’s both pram and wheelchair accessible.

It’s located approximately 1.5 hours south of Sydney so could even be a day trip.

For more information visit

www.illawarrafly.com.au

Jervis Bay

Known for its pristine beaches, turquoise waters and national parks, it’s also famous for its dolphins and whales. There are 80-120 dolphins in Jervis Bay all year round, which gives you plenty of opportunity to see them. The whale season is from June to October and is a truly  magnificent sight to see. 

For more information visit

www.jervisbaytourism.asn.au

www.dolphinwatch.com.au

www.jervisbaywhales.com.au

Accommodation

Batemans Bay is a good spot to base yourself in if you want to stay in one spot. From backpackers to luxury, there is plenty to choose from.

  • Big4 Batemans Bay Beach Resort (cabins, caravans and camping)
  • Chalet Swisse Spa at Surf Beach Retreat

Getting there

Follow the Grand Pacific Drive and take your time. Batemans Bay is about 280km from Sydney.

For more information visit

www.batemansbay.com.au

www.visitnsw.com

www.grandpacificdrive.com.au

Hunter Valley

Most of us love a good winery and Hunter Valley doesn’t disappoint! With roughly 150 wine producers and breweries a plenty, you’re bound to come across one you like! However, there are some that are more ‘family friendly’ than others and include kids’ menus, playgrounds and large grassy areas for the kids to enjoy. This then allows the adults get onto the serious business of eating and drinking!

Highlights include

  • Ballooning
  • Horse riding
  • Hunter Valley Gardens Aqua Golf & Putt Putt
  • Extreme Go Karting
  • Drayton’s Family Wines
  • McGuian Cellars (it also has cheese, chocolate and fudge – yum!)
  • Wyndham Estate
  • Potters Hotel, Brewery and Resort

Accommodation

  • Potters Hotel, Brewery and Resort
  • Bellbird Cottages and Swallows Homestead (pets welcome here)

Getting There

The tourist route T33 is a lovely drive. Another option is taking the train.

For more information visit

www.winecountry.com.au

The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains has a lovely laid back feel and is perfect for a quick getaway.

Highlights include 

  • Leuralla Toy & Railway Museum NSW
  • Jenolan Caves
  • The Three Sisters
  • Hop on Hop off Trolley Tours
  • Megalong Valley Heritage Farm
  • Horse Riding

Accommodation

  • Owls Cottage Katoomba
  • Jenolan Caravan Park
  • Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa (for a bit of luxury)

Getting There

Glenbrook is roughly 75km away and the Jenolan Caves are nearly 200km so driving is the most practical option. However, the train or bus is also another way.

For more information visit

www.bluemts.com.au

www.stayz.com.au/accommodation/nsw/blue-mountains

Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie is still close enough to Sydney for a quick trip, or you could make this a stopover on your way up north.

Highlights include

  • Whale watching (June to October)
  • Water fun – swimming, surfing, fishing, kayaking,
  • Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park
  • Timbertown Heritage Theme Park (on 87 acres of natural forest!)

For something a little different, why not visit the Observatory? Imagine what the kids will be thinking when they look through the telescope! It’s open on Sunday and Wednesday nights throughout the year.

Accommodation

I stayed with my family at the Mantra Quayside Apartments and found the location good and apartment to be a reasonable size.

Other spots are

  • The Observatory Resort
  • Marina Holiday Park

For more information visit

www.port-macquarie.net/

www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au

www.pmobs.org.au

Getting there

The distance from Sydney is approximately 380km so no need to rush.

Flying is with Qantas and Virgin.

Coffs Harbour

How can you not enjoy a place that is home to The Big Banana??

Coffs is a great spot to break your journey if you’re on a road trip from Sydney.

Other highlights include

  • Dolphin Marine Magic Show
  • Helicopter Scenic Flights
  • Sky Diving
  • Water fun

Accommodation

We stayed at the Breakfree Anuka Beach resort and loved it. The water slide was a big hit in our family! Other options are:

  • Smugglers on the Beach (I love that name!)
  • Park Beach Holiday Park
  • Aqualuna Beach Resort

For more information visit

www.coffscoast.com.au

Getting there

By road the distance is approximately 540km, so allow enough time if not stopping on the way. From Port Macquarie it is roughly 150km.

Flying is with Qantas, Virgin or Tiger Air

Byron Bay

Byron Bay is such a melting pot of people and ideas. It’s a good spot to base yourself in as there’s plenty to do in the area.

Highlights include

  • Amaze’n’Place – Alstonville
  • Macadamia Castle – Knockrow
  • Crystal Castle & Shambhala Gardens – Mullumbimby
  • Art
  • Ballooning
  • Hang gliding
  • Loads of water activities

Accommodation

  • Lennox Beach Resort (baby-sitting services for a fee)
  • Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park

For more information visit

www.visitbyronbay.com

www.byronbayaccom.net

Getting there

Being 800kms from Sydney there are a few options to consider.

Driving is one of them, as is also the train and flying.

Flying into Ballina is with Jetstar, Virgin and Rex.

Helpful driving tips

  • Make sure you have plenty of water with you
  • Don’t get low on petrol
  • Keep mobiles charged
  • Keep first aid kits topped up and carry essential medication
  • Tell someone your itinerary, especially if travelling to isolated areas.

For travel information visit

www.virginaustralia.com.au/en

www.qantas.com.au

www.jetstar.com

www.rex.com.au

www.tigerair.com.au

www.sydneytrains.info/

http://www.nswtrainlink.info/

www.dubbobuslines.com.au

For 20 years, Harry Potter has indulged the imaginations of children millions of times over, and with the recent announcement of two new books being released later this year, the debate of whether future generations should be exposed to witches, wizards and wands will no doubt reignite.

As much as reciting the spells, waiting for an acceptance letter from Hogwarts or imagining what Diagon Alley looks like, there is more to the Wizarding World than meets the eye.

Here are five important lessons children can learn from the Harry Potter franchise.

1. Friendship. Throughout the series, the strength of the friendship between the characters is what holds everything together.  This is especially important for children to witness that having a large group of friends isn’t necessarily better than having a couple of strong friendships with people you know will always have your back.

2. The importance of reading. Hermione’s love of reading and knowledge was one of the things that got the trio of protagonists through sticky situations. If Hermione, a strong, intelligent female, can love to learn, and read, hopefully it’ll inspire a new generation of children to be like her.

3. Bravery. The books exemplify how being brave isn’t just the people who fight in battles, but are too the ones who stand up for what they believe in, even when it’s difficult.

4. To always stay true to yourself.  The characters can teach children that no matter who you are, what, or whom you love, you shouldn’t change for anyone.  This is particularly important now more than ever as children become adolescents and feel an enormous amount of pressure to “fit in”. Sometimes the people who aren’t like the rest are the most interesting.

5. Never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help can be one of the hardest things to do at any age, but if children can see that Harry would ask for help when he needed it they can see that it’s nothing to be afraid or embarrassed about.

Do you ever see yourself in your kids? This mum loved stray animals when she was younger, and now her own son can’t help but follow in her footsteps.

There are children who love animals, and wish for nothing more than a lion on the bookcase and a crocodile under the bed, and there are those who run screaming at the sight of a dog.

It goes without saying that I have the first kind of child. In very many spades.

The other day, he picked up a feather and ate it – I know – and then told me he was now able to grow his own feathers and turn into a bird. He would soon fly far away from me, he confided. Far, far away. Despite my preoccupation with possible feather-eating-diseases that the Child was no doubt incubating then and there, I was fascinated.

“What colour are your feathers?” I asked, wondering if he would choose to be a brightly coloured parrot, or perhaps a peacock.

“Grey!” the Child said, eyes sparkling.

Ahem. A practical choice, grey. It seemed out of character. The child would, if he could, festoon our house with dinosaurs and cows and pigs and penguins. Tigers in the garage. Otters on the roof. That sort of thing.

But most of all, the Child wants that most mundane of animals. A cat. Last year he brought home a letter from school, a letter to Santa, in fact, which he’d deigned to write for his teacher, whom he loves fiercely and who has a rather enviable way with him.

In sloping letters he asked for a cat like Slinky Malinki, no less, who would sleep on his bed, play hide and seek with him, and whom he would, unceremoniously, call Kitty. Obviously, this was terrible news. When I was young and stupid, I brought home a kitten and insisted on a dog, whom my parents had to look after when I went travelling. When I was older, and should have known better, I turned up with a ridiculous Labrador puppy, who was as skittish as a colt and as destructive as a hurricane. My own mother found me a great trial in this regard, clearly not wanting anything else to look after other than the four children she already had who were, just quietly, a Packet of Headaches for many, many years.

 

“NOT A GODDAMN HOPE IN HELL!” he bellowed. “ARE YOU CRAZY??!! WE ALREADY HAVE TO EMPLOY A NANNY FOR THE DOG!!!”

I have, of course, become my mother. Once a collector of strays and lost things, I now DO NOT WANT anything else that requires my time, care, attention, money or organisational skills. I do not want to pick up more poop. I do not want to be woken at un-Godly hours for food, cuddles, a heater, a blanket or just because. Nope, I do not.

I stared at the letter, the longing in it. My heart remained stone but maybe not stone enough. I called my husband, and put it to him. At this point, I should mention that the crazy Labrador puppy I bought is still with us, but she falls apart if left alone for more than an hour, so we have had to hire a Doggy Nanny for her for when we are at work.

“NOT A GODDAMN HOPE IN HELL!” he bellowed. “ARE YOU CRAZY??!! WE ALREADY HAVE TO EMPLOY A NANNY FOR THE DOG!!!”

Right then. Quite. Thank God one of us is being sensible.

I stared at the Child, all spider legs and innocence.

“Did you write this beautiful letter to Santa?”  I asked, heart sinking.

“Yes,” he said. “I want Santa to bring me a cat like Slinky Malinki. He will sleep on my bed.”

“Hmmm,” I said.

“I also want a goldfish,” said the Child, shamelessly. “The goldfish will sit on my bookcase and watch me while I sleep.”

“That isn’t in your letter,” I said, worriedly.

“I also want a rabbit,” said the Child, eyeballing me. “I will play with my rabbit outside.”

I stared at the Child, and saw myself. This is a Bad Thing.

“I think,” I said, “that Santa may have run out of animals this year. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.”

“No, he hasn’t,” said the Child, his bottom lip jutting out. “He HAS NOT run out of animals.”

I looked at his beautiful sun of a face, his bottom lip quivering, and sighed.

“Let’s talk to Daddy about it when he gets home,” I said. “Daddy might have some bright ideas.”

“Really,” said the Child, hopefully.

“Really,” I said.

HA!

I kissed the Child’s soft head and told him to run outside and play. I grabbed an old shoe box, and tucked his letter to Santa safely inside for later.

To let your kids’ play in dirt, or to not let your kids’ play in the dirt; that is the question. Maggie Dent, an acclaimed parenting guru, suggests that kids should be getting back to playing in nature as there are so many benefits for kids’ playing outside rather than their lives’ being dominated by technology.

If you were to mention the name Maggie Dent in parenting circles chances are someone would have subscribed to her values, heard her on radio, attended a seminar or read one of her five books in the quest for answers on how to survive in the world of parenting.

Maggie could never be accused of tiptoeing around the truth. She holds strong on her values and isn’t afraid to voice them. And while her work touches a vast array of issues across the parenting spectrum, from homework and education, emotional development, bullying and suicide, gender differences, play, crisis management and building resilience, her heart never wavers from its true ambition of helping parents raise happy and healthy kids in the modern world.

When Offspring spoke with Maggie she straight up offered to let us in on a secret. A little secret about raising children. All ears tuned in and we waited with baited breath. She may have ensnared a copy of that mythological user manual that failed to be handed out to us when our children were born.

“The secret is dirt,” Maggie quips. And we suspect she quite enjoyed our initial state of confusion. “Dirt, and lots of it.”

“The secret is dirt, and lots of it.”

Could it really be that simple? In her familiar, passionate, banter Maggie went on to explain through her seventeen years of teaching in Western Australian schools and then working as a counsellor, as well as raising four boys into happy and well rounded young men, that the real secret to raising kids is to let them play, explore and have fun while allowing them the chance to make mistakes, get dirty and occasionally get hurt.

“Today’s modern lifestyles, full of game consoles, social media and television is having a consequence on our children’s development and kids as young as five are suffering clinical depression and anxiety disorders,” Maggie explains.

“We have created a world so busy, so competitive and an education system so focused on academic results that we are providing our children with fewer and fewer opportunities for unstructured play. We are diminishing their freedom to just be kids.”

Without hesitation Maggie finger-points NAPLAN testing as well as compulsory starts to pre-primary years as some of the main catalysts.

“We now have a world full of information available at our finger tips but we rely on Google instead of instinct.”

“The irony is that 20 years ago children were turning up to Year One better prepared and with less learning delays, stress and anxiety related illnesses and hyper-sensitive behaviours than the children of today. We now have a world full of information available at our finger tips but we rely on Google instead of instinct and sweeping national standards of achievement rather than tuning into the individual child,” she says.

“We spend so much time trying to safely guide our children and prevent bad things from happening to them that we are dissolving their ability to judge risk for themselves which ironically sets them up for disaster in this unpredictable world.”

Buoyant with enthusiasm, Maggie divulges how play teaches us to learn to wait, to take turns, to develop the art of strategy, to lose and to win graciously. It’s also fantastic exercise and can reduce stress.

 

Perhaps most importantly, unstructured play stimulates our curiosity, our “seeking mechanism”. An under-active seeking mechanism in adulthood can contribute to a person staying stuck in an unloving relationship, or a boring and soulless job. And no one wants to sign their child up for that!

“If we, as parents, teachers, indeed, as a society, don’t start taking play more seriously and allow our children to take a few risks, we are denying them the opportunity to be resilient human beings,” and the sense of urgency in her voice is clear.

Sadly, the problem doesn’t discriminate – country or city, outback or coast – somewhere over the last ten years parenting became a competition with the perception of having to be a perfect parent and also having the perfect child. This in turn is increasing anxiety in our kids.

“I have never met a perfect human being so why do we pressure our kids to be exceptional and perfect? There is no perfect child, parent or teacher. There never was nor will be. Humans have flaws,” she says.

“If we, as parents, teachers, indeed, as a society, don’t start taking play more seriously and allow our children to take a few risks, we are denying them the opportunity to be resilient human beings.”

So are we doomed or is there a solution? Maggie assures us all is not lost.

“Children need to know they are valued and loved. Feeling invisible or unloved causes enormous stress to a child’s nervous system. Often children can become emotionally needy and anxious about getting the love they yearn,” she says.

 

“Remember, children do not see all the cooking, washing and cleaning as signs of love and connection. To feel loved, children need to hear the words, have loving touch and know that you are ‘present’ to them.”

It sounds easy. But in reality parents are busy people. Many parents work or have a litany of demands upon them and limited capacity to play without time constraint. An excuse maybe, but for many, this is reality.

“Anyone with young children in their household needs to make play a priority,” Maggie is staunch on this point. “Spontaneous moments of connection are more valuable to a child than timetabled quality time.”

You can put your diary down.

Somewhere over the last ten years parenting became a competition with the perception of having to be a perfect parent and also having the perfect child.

Often the only time in our busy days, when we can really relax, focus and connect with our children is at bedtime. Perfect. Maggie describes how following a loving bedtime ritual every night is an extremely powerful way of anchoring your love for your child and reducing anxiety.

Maggie gives the tip that the last thing your child should hear every night before entering the land of nod is how much you love them and fostering the concept of a love that transcends all boundaries and absences. A concept she has aptly named a love bridge.

“I always told my boys ‘I love you more than all the grains of sand on every beach, more than all the stars in the night sky and more than all the hairs on all the bears’ and they still remember it,” she says.

“It’s about creating a sense of connection even in absence. For children, particularly under four years, repeating the concept nightly and planting the idea of the enormity of your love can create an almost tangible sense that you are always with them.”

 

“Spontaneous moments of connection are more valuable to a child than timetabled quality time.”

The love bridge can do wonders for anxiety in children (and alleviate some parental guilt for times when you can not be with them).

Are you ready for another secret? It’s about presence not presents. With Christmas just around the corner, Maggie reminds us that children are naturally creative thinkers and don’t need the latest fancy toys to predict and channel their play, instead the best gift would be spending time together discovering, playing and making magical memories. That might mean going away on holidays together or just spending time at home.

“It’s important not to be swayed by advertising and commercial pressures and enjoy a little of the magic that comes but once a year.”

Maggie’s best piece of advice?

“Have fun and spend as much time as you can with your child in the first three foundation years because children who experience joy and delight through free play are psychologically stronger and a have greater capacity to overcome adversity in the adolescent years.”

Adoption numbers are on the rise in Hollywood. Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Hugh Jackman and Katherine Heigl are amongst the celebrities who are growing their families by adopting children. Read about what other stars are doing the same and how their life has changed.

 

Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie

“They have programs in their countries [for] each of them we’re starting…They are from their country and they are of their country and they should know that.”

A-listers Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are parents to six children: Maddox, 12, Pax, 9, Zahara, 8, Shiloh, 7, and twins Knox and Vivienne, 5.

Their three eldest children were adopted from Cambodia, Vietnam and Ethiopia — although, Angie said she’s lost track of the details. “I couldn’t tell you in my own home who’s adopted and who’s not,” Angelina recently said.

“It doesn’t cross my mind,” she added. “There is something really wonderful when you adopt a child from another country because that whole country enters your house. We have different languages in our house, we have different flags up in our house, we have different food and culture and discussions and we go to their countries.”

The Oscar-winner wants her children to one day give back to their homelands.

“They have programs in their countries [for] each of them we’re starting. There’s a TB/AIDS clinic being built for Zahara; there’s a clinic already for Mad[dox]. So each of them will take that responsibility. They are from their country and they are of their country and they should know that, it’s part of their family, we are their family but so is their country.”

 

Charlize Theron

“‘Would you please take me to orphanage, so that I can go and adopt a baby?’

Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron shocked fans with her baby news in March. The actress adopted a baby boy named Jackson.

Charlize opened up about a letter she wrote at eight years of age, sharing her plans for a future adoption.

“My mother found [it]. It said, ‘Would you please take me to orphanage, so that I can go and adopt a baby?’ I always knew I would adopt – always,” she shared.

 

Sandra Bullock

“It was like he had always been a part of our lives. All I said when I met him was, ‘Oh, there you are.’”

Not only did Sandra Bullock become an Academy Award-winner in 2010, she also become a mum. The Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close actress adopted a New Orleans-born boy, Louis, in January 2010.

Now three years old, Louis has become Sandra’s greatest joy. “He’s just perfect, I can’t even describe him any other way,” she gushed.

Sandra opened up about the first time she laid eyes on her gorgeous son.

“The first time I met Louis, it was like the whole outside world got quiet,” she said. “It was like he had always been a part of our lives. All I said when I met him was, ‘Oh, there you are.’”

 

Madonna

“I was accused by a female Malawian judge that because I was divorced, I was an unfit mother.”

The Queen of Pop has adopted two children from Malawi – David, 8, and Mercy, 6 – and has since spoken about the experience.

“This was an eye opening experience” and “a real low point in my life,” the Like a Virgin singer said of adopting David.

“I didn’t know that trying to adopt a child was going to land me in another sh– storm,” she added. “I was accused of kidnapping, child trafficking, using my celebrity muscle to jump ahead in the line, bribing government officials, witchcraft, you name it. I could get my head around people giving me a hard time for simulating masturbation onstage or publishing my Sex book, even kissing Britney Spears at an awards show, but trying to save a child’s life was not something I thought I would be punished for. . . In any case, I got through it. I survived.”

The Material Mum was more prepared for her second adoption.

“When I adopted Mercy James, I put my armour on,” the popstar said. “I tried to be more prepared. I braced myself. This time I was accused by a female Malawian judge that because I was divorced, I was an unfit mother. I fought the Supreme Court and I won. It took almost another year and many lawyers. I still got the shit kicked out of me, but it didn’t hurt as much. And looking back, I do not regret one moment of the fight.”

 

 

Hugh Jackman

“I’m working on an international campaign to shine a light on the fact that there are 153 million orphans in the world.”

Hugh Jackman is happiest, “being with my family, definitely, without a doubt.”

The sexy Wolverine star and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, have two adopted children Oscar, 13, and Ava, 8. The hands-on dad said it was a “no-brainer” for them to adopt children in need.

“When we first went to talk to someone in Los Angeles about adoption, I remember, they said, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘Well, healthy would be good.’ And they said, ‘Well, what about the race?’ We’d ticked mixed race. And he said, ‘Now, listen. Please don’t, please don’t just tick that because you think it’s the right thing to tick.’ And he said to me, that we turn away children every month who are mixed race, because we can’t find families for them.”

He’s also spoken of the joys of adoption.

“A while back, there was a lot of shame attached to it and parents wouldn’t tell their kids they were adopted,” he said. “What’s great is that the focus is now shifting to the care of the child. We were very fortunate and open – I can’t go into details because of the privacy of the birth parents, but I can tell you it was amicable. Adoption is a wonderful thing to do.”

“I’m working on an international campaign to shine a light on the fact that there are 153 million orphans in the world,” the actor recently said. “If that were a country, it would be the ninth-largest in the world, just ahead of Russia.”

 

Sheryl Crow

A year after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Sheryl Crow adopted her now six year old son, Wyatt. The songstress said she always knew she’d be a mum.

“There was a shift in my life when I got diagnosed, [with breast cancer] because it demanded I look at everything and redefine my life,” she said. “I always felt I would be a mum. I have strong maternal instincts.”

The singer went on to adopt a second son, Levi, now three.

“I’ve always had maternal instincts,” she said. “And there are so many different ways you can go about that. My sons didn’t have to be from me. They didn’t have to look like me. I just wanted children to love.”

“They have so much energy and they keep me young!” Sheryl recently told Celebrity Baby Scoop. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I love getting to see things through their eyes.”

Katherine Heigl & Josh Kelley

“She is a special needs baby and because of that it all moved so much faster.”

Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl and her husband Josh Kelley adopted their daughter Naleigh from Korea when she was 10 months old.

“[Adoption has] been a big part of my life and my family,” Katherine said. “My sister is Korean and my parents adopted her back in the 70s and so I just always knew that this is something I wanted to do.”

Katherine went on to talk about her now four-year-old daughter.

“She is a special needs baby and because of that it all moved so much faster. They wanted to get her to us as quickly as possible.”

The couple went on to adopt a second daughter, Adalaide, domestically, in April. “She’s great! She’s a delicious, beautiful, wonderful child,” the Grey’s Anatomy alum gushed of her new daughter.

Mariska Hargitay

 

Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay and her husband Peter Hermann endured a long and emotionally challenging journey to finally reach their beautiful family of five and now, things couldn’t be better for the happy couple.

“They’re awesome and perfect,” the star said of sons August, 7, and Andrew, 2, and daughter Amaya, 2. “My heart just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The actress opened up to Ellen DeGeneres about her surprising second adoption.

Just months after bringing home daughter Amaya after an emotionally-trying adoption process, the couple’s lawyer called them to let them know an agency had a newborn boy ready to be adopted as well.

“It was one of those things that we were not expecting at all and my husband and I looked at each other and have never been more sure about anything.”

The Little Couple

“We’ve dealt with prejudice and many challenges.”

The Little Couple’s Dr. Jen Arnold and Bill Klein introduced their three year old son William on the Katie Couric show in April. And just one month later, they had more exciting news to report.

After years of hoping to become parents and suffering through fertility issues, the couple announced they adopted a 19 month old girl from India they have named Zoey.

“We’re so delighted that Zoey will be joining our family and that William will have a little sister coming home very soon,” the reality TV couple said in a statement in May.

Zoey also has a form of dwarfism like her adoptive parents and brother, Will.

“We’ve dealt with prejudice and many challenges,” Jennifer said of her life experiences. “I feel very lucky and fortunate that I have the wonderful life I have.”

 

 

 

Jillian Michaels

“They say, ‘We have a referral for you,’ which means they’ve matched you with a child…and in less than 24 hours she says, ‘By the way, I’m pregnant.’”

The Biggest Loser star Jillian Michaels and her partner Heidi Rhoades became parents to two children in May: A 2-year-old daughter Lukensia and a newborn son Phoenix.

“About three and a half years ago I began dating my partner Heidi,” Jillian shared on her road toward motherhood. “We had a very easy going, comfortable and no-pressure relationship. And a year or so into our relationship, I decided I wanted to adopt.”

The celebrity trainer went on to say the adoption process was not easy, and after a year and a half of waiting for a referral from Africa, she switched gears.

“I switched all my paperwork over to Haiti and I get a phone call one day,” she shared. “Heidi is now trying to get pregnant for five months now. They say, ‘We have a referral for you,’ which means they’ve matched you with a child. I was like, ‘This is unbelievable, this is great!’ I come home and tell Heidi, and in less than 24 hours she says, ‘By the way, I’m pregnant.’”

Being a mother often means that you need to give up the things that you love, but these mums have found a way to still be mums do what they love – Surfing!

At first glance they look like any other surfers, bobbing up and down on their boards waiting patiently for the next decent wave. But scan your gaze back to the beach and you’ll soon see the difference, there’s more than a beach towel waiting on the sand for this surfing clan – in fact there’s a brood. Meet Perth’s Surfing Mums – a dedicated group of women who share a passion for surfing and parenting, and see no reason why the two can’t be combined.

It’s not a new phenomenon; the first Surfing Mums group started in Byron Bay with two new mums who were feeling a little lost. They were brought together by their love of surfing and the frustration at having to now sit on the beach with their babies just watching the waves. So they started to meet on a regular basis, taking turns to look after each other’s children while the other went surfing.

Word quickly spread and the idea moved from State to State, and now there are 15 Surfing Mums groups nationally, comprising Surfing Mums Australia.

In 2008 the group became an incorporated association, so members pay either an annual or half-yearly fee and are fully covered by public liability insurance.

The mums get together annually in Byron Bay for the group’s annual general meeting, which of course also factors in plenty of time for them to take advantage of the many amazing local breaks.

WA has two main groups in Perth and Geraldton, with Perth’s group comprised of about 20 members who meet each week for surfing and “beach-sitting” duties. Members are encouraged to buddy up and look after each other’s children, who range in age from six weeks to 15 years old, on a one-on-one basis for a designated time period, before swapping babies for boards.

Cara Williams has been a member of Surfing Mums Perth for two years and is now the national secretary, but she says the group has given her far more than just the chance to go surfing.

As a single mum hailing from the east coast, Cara says meeting others who shared her passion for surfing and encouraging a healthy, outdoor lifestyle was an invaluable support for her.

“For me it’s not just a group, I consider these women to be my friends,” Cara says. “It’s such a great support network.”

There is no question that Cara is mad about surfing, she’s been a keen surfer since the age of 15 and her daughter Lacey Lane is named after a surf break in Queensland. After finding out about Surfing Mums from her Mothers Group, Cara says she thought it was too good to be true and quickly joined up when Lacey was just six months old. She’s never looked back.

“Surfing Mums has given me so much, both mentally and physically and I love that we’re teaching our kids to be active throughout life.”

“It’s such a welcoming group of people and I think that attitude comes from our co-ordinator, Claire Romea Gorton, who is now the national president too,” she says. “We just adore her and she encourages a really friendly and non-judgemental environment. Surfing Mums has given me so much, both mentally and physically and I love that we’re teaching our kids to be active throughout life. We’ve got such a great mix of members and there is a range of ages, some in their late forties and one who only learnt to surf when she in her forties but is amazing. But everyone is really passionate about living a healthy, outdoor lifestyle.”

New members are encouraged to join, even if you’re not a skilled surfer or have never surfed before, they can arrange a few lessons before you join the regular weekly meets. Although it’s aimed at mums, the group is not limited to women – dads and carers are also encouraged to come along.

If you’re not in Perth or Geraldton but love the idea, Surfing Mums is also happy to support the formation of new groups.

According to Cara, one of the keys to success is the buddy-up system, so new members feel more comfortable about hitting the water knowing that their child will be well cared for in their absence.

 

“For me it’s not just a group, I consider these women to be my friends,” Cara says. “It’s such a great support network.”

“In order to do it right, the mums pair up so it’s not just a mass of women and children, there is more responsibility and it works well,” she says. “I get to go out and enjoy a surf knowing that Lacey is in good hands. The Perth group generally meets at Trigg in summer and Cottesloe in winter, or wherever the waves are best, as co-ordinated by Claire.” They also take two annual surf trips. One is a closer, long weekend trip where families are encouraged to come along and the other is the main trip, which this year was an all-mums surfing trip to Java. And Cara maintains that “surfing trip” is not just code for a glorified relaxing holiday with cocktails by the pool, these mums mean business. Picture nine women walking through the airport, each with one or two board bags – clothes stuffed in around their beloved boards. This is clearly not a shopping trip.

“We surfed from dawn until dusk, it was amazing,” Cara says. “It’s something that a lot of male surfers have had the opportunity to experience but not a lot of women, especially mums. We got back and pretty much re-booked for a trip in April, with another mum and I even signing ourselves up to learn Indonesian before we head back.”

 

For more information:

www.surfingmums.com