Rhubarb and Runner Beans

A 'Rhubarb and Runner Beans' style Mushroom Risotto!

  • By Sarah Allen
  • 17 Nov, 2017

An easy family meal with very little ending up in your bin!

I was chatting about food the other day and mentioned the delicious risotto I had made for lunch. My friend asked me for the recipe so I thought I would put it into a blog post in case anyone else would like it. I have added some tips to keep this a low waste meal with very little going into the bin. It could be created with even less packaging, if you have shops nearby that sell food in bulk or unpackaged. However, this is how I cook it, which will be possible for most busy families, and could be made from your supermarket shop.

Serves : I have specified quantities for adults or children so this could be adapted to any size family. I have classed a child as being primary school aged (because mine are!) so less will be needed for younger children and more for teenagers.


1 small onion (buy loose or grow your own; they are easy to grow in a small space from onion sets and store well for a year round supply!).

About 4 mushrooms per adult and 2 per child (Button mushrooms are often available loose in supermarket; my preference would be chestnut mushrooms which can often be found unpackaged in farm shops).

Rape seed oil (I prefer this to olive oil as it is grown in the UK but any vegetable oil is fine. Recycle the bottle after use).

A splash of white wine or balsamic vinegar (Wine is better,  if you have a bottle open! Avoid plastic wine corks. Recycle the bottle and metal cap after use).

Risotto rice, about 75g per adult and 50g per child  (The Co-op sell this in cardboard, it does have a plastic window though. Recycle the cardboard and write to the Co-op, like I have, to ask for them to get rid of the plastic. If you buy your rice in plastic film this can be recycled in most Sainsbury's supermarkets with carrier bags, check with your local store).

Vegetable stock cubes (I use Oxo and recycle the foil and cardboard after use).

Grated Cheese (I use a strong-tasting cheddar but use whatever you have in, recycle the bag at Sainsburys with carrier bags).

Mixed dried herbs (The ones bought in the supermarket will probably have a plastic seal that has to be thrown away. Take the plastic lid off the glass bottle when you have used up the herbs and recycle both).

1. Peel and finely chop the onion (ideally compost the skin or put it in your food waste bin if your council provides one). Lightly saute in a pan with a glug of oil.

2. Wash the mushrooms, slice and add to the pan of onions. Cook for a few minutes.

3. Make the stock. I tend to use one stock cube and about half a litre of boiling water. Add the wine or balsamic vinegar to the stock.

4. Fry the rice for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Add a ladle or two of stock and stir. This needs stirring regularly and topping up with a ladle of stock as it is absorbed. Some risotto recipes say to constantly stir, but who has time for that!?! I tend to potter around in the kitchen tackling the endless tidying and washing jobs a family creates whilst keeping an eye on the risotto.

5. Once all the stock has been used up and mostly absorbed it should be about ready. Check to see if the rice is cooked. If not add a ladle of water and check again once absorbed.

6. When the rice is cooked, add the cheese. I do not measure this but just add some, stir until it is melted and add more if I want it to be cheesier! Serve with a sprinkling of mixed herbs.

If you have any left over, cool quickly and store in the fridge or freeze. There has been quite a lot written about reheating rice and for a while I was worried and never reheated it. However, now as long as it is piping hot I will reheat rice. I am not an expert, but all I can say is I have never been ill doing this, you will have to make your own decision. To reheat I use a microwave, add a little water (so it doesn't dry out) and heat it covered with a plate until piping hot. I might add a little more grated cheese.

By Sarah Allen 17 Nov, 2017
I was chatting about food the other day and mentioned the delicious risotto I had made for lunch. My friend asked me for the recipe so I thought I would put it into a blog post in case anyone else would like it. I have added some tips to keep this a low waste meal with very little going into the bin. It could be created with even less packaging, if you have shops nearby that sell food in bulk or unpackaged. However, this is how I cook it, which will be possible for most busy families, and could be made from your supermarket shop.
By Sarah Allen 11 Nov, 2017
By Sophie, aged 12
By Sarah Allen 03 Nov, 2017

This article is inspired by the train journey I am on right now. I'm 25 minutes away from Paddington Station; can I express my thoughts to you in this time?

I realised yesterday, that this will be my first weekend away without my children or husband. So the last time I did something like this was over 9 years ago! How can that be? What have I been doing? I haven't been stuck at home all this time. I've been on holidays, visited friends, been on days out, beach walks, camper van adventures etc. But my world has grown so much smaller since the birth of my daughter. I imagined I would be one of those parents, that many of you are, who carry on with adventures, baby strapped safely in a sling, off exploring the world and living life together with their children. I saw one of you today at the train station. You had your 2 year old boy with you, rucksack on your back, your son carrying a backpack with toys for the journey. My pre-parent self would have recognised you "That will be me when I am  mother" I would have thought. So the realisation that that isn't me came as a shock. Not a sudden blow but a slow realisation, especially once my second child was born, that the world I could cope with was small, minute in fact, just 'popping' to the nearest city a mere 11 miles away became a massive day out revolving around feeds and nappy changes. So a day's shopping may only have equated to visiting a couple of shops. Slowly, I gave up, I stuck close by to home, venturing to a few nearby places.

Now to look at me, everything was fine. I had loads of friends (mainly new ones I met through antenatal classes or new mum groups). I was out most days, chattering, socialising and appearing happy with my life. To be fair, I did love this unexpected social whirl I was part of and I was grateful for my children but daily life was hard. "Walking through treacle" a friend described it. This was me every day for a long time, possibly years. I thought this was normal. Every parent with small children is tired. I was tired too. Nothing unusual with that. But I was tired all the time on a good day. I felt overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks, every day. I felt unable to cope. Running out of milk was stressful, having to order a birthday present online consumed my mind and felt so difficult to achieve (that makes my head slightly ache thinking of it now as the memory reawakens in me). On a bad day my head hurt (a head ache lasted two days at a time), I felt dizzy and foggy. Friends advised me to go to the doctor. That was too much to deal with, so I didn't go.

Things did get slowly better for me. I am 9 years into parenthood and life isn't how it was. This wasn't a quick shift, as my children grew and started school it didn't all just naturally get better and it wasn't linear. I would be fine for a while and then not so good. Mental health is like that, we get good mental health days and bad mental health days just as our physical health fluctuates. What changed for me was three things. I realised how I was feeling was not OK, I shouldn't be feeling like this all the time. This realisation was due to an honest conversation with a friend (thank you) who suggested I might have been suffering from symptoms of depression. She was worried about my reaction as this is still, wrongly, a taboo thing to say. I recognised in myself what she was saying and this helped me to understand my feelings. She is not a doctor, so this is not a diagnosis but it made me realise things had not been right. I can't be sure what was causing my symptoms, it was probably a complex mix which included stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation along with a depressed mood. For me, it is not exactly important what was wrong it was the realisation that things weren't right and that felt, strangely, like a relief. I now understood this wasn't normal, I didn't have to just tolerate it as a part of parenthood and that things could change. Since that conversation (about 5 years ago) I have done two other things. I have learnt what I can and cannot cope with and I try to be firm and clear with these and so protect my mental health. I notice triggers in myself, by that I mean I can identify when my mood is slipping and I able to (often) do something to stop myself feeling worse. This self-knowledge has been a slow process.

Anyway back to today, my train is now nearing London, I have butterflies in my tummy and I am worried about managing the tube and the onward train. I'm a 41 year old woman who lived in London for 7 years who, in the past, would not think twice about using the Underground. Getting off the train at Paddington, I see the woman with the two year old again. Only now she has 2 large rucksacks on her back with a doll wedged between them. "Blimey, I'm pathetic!", I thought. She turns around and she has a baby strapped to her front. Wow! She was with her partner as well as her children, but still, here I am with sweaty palms, feeling sick with tears starting to prick my eyes! "I can't do this!" I think before taking a few deep breaths and start to turn these nerves into excitement. I am getting my confidence back, I have a spark, a fire in my belly. "Hi London, Sarah's back!!"

Why I am writing this? What am I trying to say? I think I am reaching out to those of you who are struggling. If this is you at the coal-face of parenthood, I am sending you solidarity. I'm saying I know it's hard but it will get better. However, if every day leaves you overwhelmed, if the fog isn't lifting ever, get some help. Talk about it, you don't have to got through this alone. Take up every useful offer of help and ask for help, be specific, your friends do want to help you, they just might not know what to do. See a doctor. If you have a friend with kids, look out for them, find out what specific things you can do to help. If you can see they are overwhelmed,  maybe even book them the doctor's appointment.

As for me, I made it through the London Underground. I made it onto my train. Today London, tomorrow the world!

By Sarah Allen 28 Oct, 2017

During October half-term we spent a few days exploring our capital. Although I used to live in London, I haven't visited much recently and my 7 year old had never been. So I was wondering, how far we could continue with our eco-friendly principles in a large, polluted city?

Eco-friendly highs

- We travelled by train from our home town of Exmouth in Devon, into London and back. Like many people, we then used the tube or our feet to travel around. This is so much better than our normal reliance on cars to get around in Devon.

- I used my reusable coffee cup and sent no single-use coffee cups to landfill. We used our reusable water bottles every day and didn't buy any bottled water.

- On the journey to London we brought along our own home-made lunch stored in containers or in a bees wax wrap, we also had unpackaged bananas and cookies bought in Lidl bakery without any packaging.

- We stayed in a Premier Inn and there were the usual little containers of UHT milk. We didn't use any of them. Instead we asked for a little jug of milk which was poured out for us in the restaurant, this saved numerous bits of plastic from ending up in the bin and tasted so much better! I had never really thought of doing this before but it makes perfect sense.

- I had my normal shopping bags with us and refused single-use bags including the 'souvenir' bag from Hamleys.

- I took along my hankies and used them (but also had to use tissues as well)

- I carried our metal straws in my bag and used them instead of plastic straws (this was trickier that it should have been, see lows!).

- I took home our receipts to be recycled.

- I put drinks cans into the recycling bins in the street.

Eco-friendly lows

- Lots of things went into the hotel bin that we would have composted at home such as teabags (which were also individually wrapped in paper), apple cores, banana skins and tissues. This meant we generated a lot more rubbish than we would at home.

-We ended up using a total of 7 plastic straws! We asked for drinks to be served without straws and they arrived with straws (Wagamama), we asked for glasses in a cafe and were given the glasses with straws, we were in a restaurant which states it will not give out straws unless you ask (Las Iguanas), the first drinks came without straws, the second drinks came with straws.  

- There was bound to be so much more hidden wastage by eating out each day. We could not control what was bought and wasted in restaurants, cafes and hotels in the way we can at home.

- We were hungry at Exeter station last night so bought a KitKat to share, the plastic packaging went straight in the bin!

A little aside on children. I strongly believe my children have a right to choose, just like you and me. I have been criticised for this in the past but I feel being respectful to them is top of my list of priorities. So this means, they get to choose off the menu. I might prefer them to have a glass of squash served in a reusable cup but they might choose a single use plastic bottle. When I go out with my friends, I might prefer they ask for a drink without a straw but they might choose a straw. I don't tell my friends what to choose so I don't tell my children. These highs and lows are my highs and lows (even though I have written 'we' from time to time in this post as we were out as a family). Having said that, I believe children will largely copy their adult caregivers and see this often in my children in their growing understanding and care towards the living planet.

I am actually quite pleased with how we got on and feel we have kept our environmental impact fairly low this week. It's clearly no way near perfect and we would have possibly had a lower impact on the planet by staying at home but I feel this was reasonable considering the options available to us.

By Sarah Allen 22 Oct, 2017

At the start of the year, I must have been thinking about New Year Resolutions and I made a throwaway (!!) comment on my FaceBook page wondering publically how long I could go before I bought something in non-recyclable packaging. The answer came to me quite quickly, it was the next time I went shopping! This didn't deter me, I was determined to reduce the amount of rubbish my family threw away. I have always been a keen recycler making sure everything that could be recycled was recycled. However, I was still frustrated, that despite my efforts, there still seemed to be quite a lot in the bin. This is what I have done since January this year. It's not perfect, I haven't got all the answers, it won't work for everyone (especially since recycling facilities vary considerably from local council to council let alone country to country). I have found, as the year goes on, this has gone beyond pure recycling. I think like lots of things the more you do the more you see! A great reason for not spending too long cleaning the house, I find! However back to waste, the more I looked into recycling the more I saw this wasn't exactly the best solution (always). However my main focus has been keeping rubbish out of my bin but as you will see other ideas have crept in and I don't think I could write this without mentioning them as well. I have made the changes mentioned, by taking lots of small steps, changing one thing at a time. When something ran out I looked for a better alternative. Personally I couldn't have done it any other way, making lots of changes at once would be, for me, overwhelming and most probably hard to sustain. It took me about 6 months to implement what I am describing and I am still considering alternatives 10 months in.

I stopped buying non-essential items in non-recyclable packaging

I started looking at the things we were buying that I considered to be non-essentials. So for us, it was items like chocolate bars and crisps. I felt if they weren't essential we didn't need to buy them! If I had said in January that I wasn't going to buy crisps or chocolate there is absolutely no way I could have done this! I just thought for now we don't need chocolate so I wont buy any and I found this thought process kept occurring shopping trip after shopping trip. I have since found lots of recyclable options. For chocolate both Lidl and Tesco sell cardboard and paper/foil wrapped large bars of chocolate, that we can simply break pieces off to eat at home or put a few squares into a lunch box. Also Cadbury's Crème Eggs, Animal Bars and Chocolate Oranges all actually come in recyclable packaging. I find I keep my eye out now for alternatives and they appear every now and then, for example I saw some mint chocolate, wrapped in paper, in a pound shop recently. Sweets and chocolates can sometimes be bought loose in a Pick and Mix. Unfortunately a lot of these seem to have a cup and a plastic lid and you have to fill the whole cup (I'm not sure if the cup would be widely recyclable). We have a Pick and Mix in our market in which you can choose as little or as much as you want and pop them in a paper bag; a lot of the sweets are unwrapped.

Crisps are a bit of a problem to buy in recyclable packaging. In theory, tubes of crisps like Pringles are mostly recyclable. The plastic lid, tube and metal base can all be recycled; although cutting the metal base off the tube isn't ideal but is doable.  Pringles still have a non-recyclable plastic seal. Some brands sell crisps in a tube that has a cardboard base, so much easier to recycle but the one I tried still has a non-recyclable seal. I would say, however that these tubes are the best option I have found, creating the least amount of non-recyclable waste. For packed lunches a few crisps can be put into a plastic tub with a clip on lid and they stay crispy. There is also the option of making your own crisps. I have made my own using potato peelings! They are honestly delicious but need eating immediately, I haven't found a way to store them and keep them crisp yet. 

Non-essential items, obviously, extend well beyond crisps and chocolate! Every time I think of buying something I consider if it's essential and whether I have something similar already. I am not saying I never buy non-essentials, I just consider this carefully which has been good for my purse as well as the planet!

I looked for alternative packaging for essential items

Items that we needed to buy but were not recyclable were the next thing I tackled. Just because it was not recyclable in one shop doesn't mean it will be the same in all shops. What is an essential item will, again vary from family to family but this is some of the things I swapped.  I was buying liquid soap, the bottle was recyclable the pump went in the bin. So I swapped to bars of soap bought unpackaged or in cardboard. I was buying corn flour from Tesco and the packaging had just changed so that it was in a non-recyclable mixed-material tub (not a great move Tesco!). So I kept my eye out for an alternative and found Lidl sell their corn flour in a cardboard box, with the flour inside in a paper bag. I have found it can be tricky to know what all the packaging is by just looking! Often there is plastic lurking inside cardboard with no details of this on the box. I have dealt with this through, sometimes, trail and error. You soon find out when you open the packaging at home! The other technique I have used is to give the box a little squeeze!! (not enough to damage it, of course). Yes, I am that crazy lady walking around the supermarket, squeezing then rejecting products! If there is plastic, you can often hear the sound of it or sometimes the product doesn't move around much. I think I am sounding more crazy the more I try and explain this! Maybe you can't teach this stuff in a blog post it comes from experience!! By changing products one at a time I have found that most of what I buy is now recyclable.

I refuse items I don't need

In March I went to a talk about Zero Waste by Bea Johnson. She wrote the book "Zero Waste Home". If you haven't read this book I could not recommend it more. She is on a very different level to me, think one jar of non-recyclable waste a year. She is truly an inspiration.
This was great timing for me as it encouraged me to refuse the things I do not need. She has a 5 R's system for dealing with waste which I have slightly adapted and added to. I do the following in this order: Refuse, reduce,  reuse, repair, rot, recycle. By refusing what I do not need I do not have to deal with the waste created from it. An example of this is unwanted items coming through my door. I do not want charity bags or advertising leaflets. I donate my unwanted clothes etc. to charity shops, but I take them directly to the shop. This keeps my clothing local, it means local people will benefit, I am already taking the journey into town so there is no additional transportation and the charity shop gets a good price for my donation. To stop the plastic bags coming through my door I write a polite note asking that they are not delivered explaining we are working towards becoming a zero waste house and I appreciate their support. I also ask the same about advertising leaflets. This has drastically reduced the amount I have received. Other items I regularly refuse are straws, plastic bags, receipts and paper bags. Refusing something sounds a bit rude but I just politely say "No thank you" and from time to time explain why. I generally find people are ok with this and sometimes they are interested and want to know more. Other items I refuse are plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables. Whenever possible I buy produce loose without packaging, this in fact can be quite tricky unfortunately. In some shops it is virtually impossible to buy fruit and veg loose. I try to buy the majority of my fresh produce from local independent shops who sell items unpackaged. Some supermarkets do sell loose produce (often with plastic stickers on them, unfortunately) so I do buy from them as well but my local shops are much better. I also try to be realistic and if I need something and I am near a shop that sells it plastic wrapped but I would need to drive into town to buy it loose, I will buy it in the plastic packaging and recycle it.

I have swapped from disposable items to reusables

Again, Bea Johnson had a huge influence in me making this change.  I knew I could make some swaps here and this would be a positive environmental step but I hadn't really considered how ridiculous it was to be spending my money on something and then to throw it away! Why do that if there is an alternative? So immediately, the day I heard her speak, I bought (her book, of course!) a cloth bag and a metal straw. The cloth bag I use, predominantly, for buying bread. I can use this in supermarket and independent bakeries and it has made a significant difference to the number of plastic bags I have been bringing into our home. I started reusing bread bags prior to buying the cloth bag. I just shook out the crumbs and took the bag back to be reused. If the bread had been frozen, I found the bag needed to be washed. This isn't ideal as it takes so long for a plastic bag to dry but it is doable. I still do actually reuse plastic bread bags as I still have some. This is also a way to buy loose cakes and pastries. I do still buy sliced bread in a bag as it is much cheaper, I then recycle the bag. The metal straws are great for my children as they like to use a straw so I have them in my bag ready for them to use if we have a drink out. Occasionally, I will use one if I have something like a smoothie which can be difficult to drink without a straw. I am pleased, this year, that many businesses are stopping the use of plastic straws and many will be using biodegradable alternatives. this is a really positive step in combatting plastic pollution. However, reusing is a better step using a lot less resources. The example of our metal straws can illustrate this point. They will, probably, last a lifetime. No more resources needed to make them, transport them and recycle them. I would also question how well biodegradable straws actually rot away in normal waste disposable such as landfill. Other reusable items I have switched to include hankies instead of tissues, flannels and small face cloths instead of face wipes or cotton wool and using reusable coffee cups and drink bottles.

Repairing items

For me, I don't think this is a major change. I have always repaired holes in clothing (especially since having children). I have a massive, never ending mending pile! If something  was to break now, I would look into repair options more than I might have in the past.


My compost bin is also a great way to keep items out of the bin and has the added bonus, of course, of making compost for my garden. I can recycle food waste where I live, however this uses a lot of resources when I can instead walk outside, put veg peelings in my compost bin and let the worms do the rest of the work. I do still use the food recycling for cooked scraps and when the compost bin is completely full. Other items I compost include the odd tissue we get (not many of these any more), cotton buds (the ones with paper stems) and paper that has been contaminated with food (such as cupcake cases, just make sure you have a closed compost bin if you do this).

Recycle absolutely everything else that I can

I am very lucky my council provides great facilities for recycling. This has been the case for a long time but this year they also started to collect a lot more from the kerbside, saving me trips to the recycling centre. Knowing exactly what can be put in the recycling collection is really important, so reading the information leaflets, checking online and contacting my council directly has all been really useful. So, for me I can recycle plastic, glass, tins/cans, textiles, shoes, batteries, paper, cardboard, electrical items and foil by using the council facilities. In addition, to the kerbside collection I have looked to see if items not collected can be recycled. So I take plastic food bags from things like fruit, bread, frozen peas etc. to Tesco to be recycled with the carrier bags. Generally speaking, if the bag stretches it is made of the same material as carrier bags and can be recycled at supermarkets, though most will recycle cereal bags as well and these are clearly not stretchy! I would advise checking with your local supermarket (I have asked both Tesco and Sainsbury's numerous questions and found them really helpful). Also by asking we are showing supermarkets that their customers care about packaging and the living planet. Plastic film such as the non-stretchy type around products like spinach, the top of ham packets and cheese bags are all recyclable at most Sainsbury's supermarkets, it is worth checking this with your nearest one. Mine is actually in a different town but I save it all up and next time I go on a shopping trip take it with me and recycle it with carrier bags. It's worth mentioning recycling labelling at this point. It isn't always actually that useful. As I said above, a cardboard box might have a plastic bag inside, the labelling might say the box is recyclable but doesn't always tell you the bag is there! The most misleading label in my opinion is the one that says "Not Yet Recycled", this simply means less than 20% of local authorities collect it across the UK.   It doesn't actually mean you can't recycle it.

By doing all this, I end up with very little going in my bin. It might seem like a lot of effort and don't get me wrong in some respects it is. However, I really think a lot of it is simply changing one habit to another. For example, before the plastic bag levy in England many people forgot or did not have reusable shopping bags. Now it costs 5p a bag many more people use reusables. It may have taken time to remember shopping bags (and I am sure the 5p cost was a massive incentive for many to switch) but this is possibly a habit you have now switched to and you maybe don't even have to give it much thought any more. This is how I feel with the habits I have changed, they are new habits now and I don't have to give them much thought.

I have probably forgotten to mention things in this blog post (and I haven't written about every single detail, this may become a different blog post if there is interest) so feel free to ask questions either in the comments or over on my Facebook page.

By Sarah Allen 21 Sep, 2017
 When is the right age to allow your child to use 'proper' tools? I think, maybe, I've been super cautious about this. My children are 9 and 7 and only started chopping vegetables with kitchen knives last year! They did chop mushrooms with plastic knives as toddlers; I remember them sat in their highchair with mushrooms rolling around being cut into chunks for tea (I even remember feeling relieved to be getting some help!). They then moved on to cutting veg up with table knives when they were a bit older.

I think a career in education and early years settings where everything required a written risk assessment has made me look at activities with worried eyes. However, recently the (maybe obvious) realisation has come to me that if children are not given the right tools for the job they can not complete the task properly so therefore may struggle and give up. An adult sized tool may be too big and difficult to manipulate, maybe like an adult trying to knock a nail into a piece of wood using a croquet mallet! Or it could be really frustrating for a child to use a blunt knife that you or I would struggle to cut anything with. Then there are those 'toddler safe' plastic scissors which are almost impossible to use to cut paper! If you have any of those I recommend you put them in with the play dough instead where they actually work.  

For his last birthday, I bought my nephew proper child-size workshop tools (this is not an affiliated link, I would love to be paid to write about a product! I think I need to become more popular for that to happen! I just think these tools are great) which he can use to make things for himself out of wood or help around the house. One of my children loves to bake and recent presents have been biscuit cutters and a palette knife which were received enthusiastically. My other child enjoys a bit of gardening, using secateurs to cut back our overgrown garden (this is a never ending task, mostly because no one else seems to enjoy doing it!). In the photo my children are helping cut up beans. They loved it! It was great to see their sense of accomplishment and it was brilliant they were able to complete one of the jobs that needed doing. We had a glut of beans from the allotment which have now been chopped and frozen and hopefully this might encourage the children to actually eat them when they are cooked!  I think it's a win, win! The children are engaged in learning skills and jobs get spread out amongst the family members. This approach could be rolled out more in schools. Often children have jobs such as taking the register to the office or sharpening pencils and generally they love this responsibility. However, maybe this could be extended to include tasks such as painting a classroom wall, maintaining the school grounds, helping to fix a broken bench etc.

What do you think?

By Sarah Allen 17 Sep, 2017

Last year I was highly commended in The Green Parent writing competition having my article, Three Key Principles to Parenting with Heart , published on the website. I was beyond excited, what a compliment, my first piece of writing to ever be published, maybe I could be a writer now! I quickly spread the news amongst my friends, getting lots of positive feedback. I basked in this and felt elated until I came down from my high and started examining what was happening at home.

In my article I had stated “I think I have finally found my parenting style!” but it no longer seemed to be working. I had publically stated, amongst other things, I wasn’t going to use rewards or punishments and I was going to role model calm behaviour. I continued with this but was finding it hard to be calm. I could outwardly project calm (just about!) but frustration was bubbling up inside. My children were angry in their interactions with me and each other and this was almost constant. Most of my conversations with them revolved around behaviour or directing them to get a particular task completed. There was no joy! The more angrily they interacted with me, the more angry I felt and the less I wanted to talk and take part in activities with them.

All along, I kept thinking about what I had said in my original article. Perhaps I had got it all wrong! What must everyone think? Was I being judged? I wrote that role-modelling the behaviour you want means that children will want to behave like the adults in their life, yet this wasn’t happening at home! Maybe children do need consequences and an angry reaction to “teach” them how to behave!

Then thankfully, I realised I was in a negative downward spiral. On Facebook a friend shared a post from Power of Positivity   about 9 things to say to your kids everyday. Amongst these 9 things I was only saying one of them each day: “I love you”. My lack of happiness was stopping me saying “I like it when you…”; “You make me happy”; “I’m proud of you”; “You are special”; “I trust you”; “I believe in you”; “I know you can do this” and “I am grateful for you”. So, my children were not receiving enough from me to help them maintain their feeling of security and self worth so the negativity continued.

In the end, this challenge has strengthened my resolve to continue with my ‘Parenting Style’. I am continuing to stay away from rewards and punishments and instead talking to my children about their behaviour and how it affects others, I am trying to help them take responsibility for their own actions and to trust that they are kind and lovely but like everyone else they make mistakes. I am trying to continue to role-model calm interactions, this remains tricky as I am human too and so also make mistakes and find things difficult at times. But, I am convinced that if I get cross and shout at them that I am teaching them this is how people should communicate. I also have decided to try and throw more fun into family life to plan and take part in activities together that are enjoyable and help us feel happy and to communicate this happiness to my children “I like it when we spend time together”. I am trying to spend most of my time concentrating on the good and the joy and to give the anger and resentment the limited time it deserves. What I've also realised is that change takes time to embed and if I really believe in something it is important to stick with it but also to expect there to be challenges along the way!

Adapted from the article Nine Things to Say to Your Children Every Day  published on The Green Parent Website .

Further Reading:

An Honest Account of a Hectic School Morning

By Sarah Allen 28 Aug, 2017

As a primary school teacher, I have often heard conversations in the staffroom about how children have regressed during the long six week break. Is this really the case? I am not saying the same is for all children, I know I am writing from a place of privilege, we have plenty of time and resources available during the summer. I have always been convinced that learning at home is so important and, at times, maybe more important than the learning that takes place in school. I also have an interest in unschooling, feeling (fairly) convinced that children will learn because they are interested in the world around them. So, I thought I would document the learning I see during the summer holidays and during the first week there was so much! This is not, by any means, all the learning my children have done. There will be plenty of learning taking place when I am not looking and plenty of learning taking place, no matter how hard I look, that I can not see. How can I possibly understand all the learning taking place in another person’s brain? I knew they were learning all the time but I am truly amazed at the education they have had in just one week of the school holidays. In the main, this is all child-initiated. I have set up some resources if I have seen an interest develop but it has been completely down to my children what they engage in. As a little aside, it has been reassuring for me to document this for the first time as I, like many parents, feel guilty if I feel a day has been ‘wasted’. For example, I felt worn out yesterday and they spent a big chunk of time playing computer games. I am also trying to reassess my own thinking that nothing is wasteful, a rest day is beneficial and lots can be learnt with technology. So here it is, a breakdown, subject by subject (I am a teacher after all!) of what was learnt in a week playing at home:

Problem solving through completing jigsaw puzzles.
Playing monopoly included lots of addition and subtraction, number bond practice to 10 and 100 and comparison of two 4-digit numbers.
We worked out how much to pay when buying sunflowers (6 × 50p). We looked at the price of items in shops. The children counted their pocket money and found out the difference between the money they had and the cost of an item they wanted to buy.
Investigating how many pebbles can by stacked on the beach before the tower fell.
Working out what time the meringues would be cooked.
They measured mass in grams when baking.
Building with lego.
When watching ‘Inside the factory’ and ‘The Sweet Makers’ on TV large numbers and negative numbers were talked about as well as dates. They know a century is 100 years.
Spatial skills were developed when playing computer games.

Playing in the mud kitchen, making mixtures (reversible and irreversible changes) and pulling apart flowers (so they could see different flower parts). Also irreversible changes were observed when baking.
Observation of plants were made because we had a sunflower growing in the garden. We have observed the flower open this week and looked at the direction the flower faces. This led to a visit to a farm to pick our own sunflowers and to look if the flowers are all facing the same way.

Illustrating a diary and a book

My 7 year old wrote some eco-friendly tips and she wrote about Lego Friends.
She also played Bananagram, a spelling game.

I have seen them read the following books:
Sams Pizza by David Pelham
Rent a Bridesmaid by Jaqueline Wilson
Alone in the Dark by Holly Webb
The Longest Whale Song by Jacqueline Wilson
We have visited the library and started a reading challenge. We bought some second hand books.

We learnt where tea is grown.
We travelled around in our local environment.

We listened to music in the car and on I-pods. Live music was playing when we visited the High Street.

They played a range of computer games.

Physical Skills
Computer games develop hand/eye coordination and speed up reactions.
Bouncing and catching a ball.
Hula hoop
Playing running games.
Table tennis
Playing on bikes and scooters.

Cooking, nutrition and food
We watched ‘Eat Well for Less’ on TV which gave us recipe ideas and we learnt about maximum daily amounts of sugar and how much sugar is in specific products.
We learnt how tea bags are made.
My 9 year old made meringues.
We saw cocoa beans in a cafe.

We learnt a bit about the history of tea including how it used to be sold loose, by weight, and how much tea was allowed during WWII rationing. We also learnt that soldiers during the war had access to tea and how they made it.
We learnt about food in the 1910s and learnt a little about suffragettes.
We learnt about sweet making in the Georgian period.
The children learnt the meaning of the word ‘historian’ and ‘inherit’.
(This was all learnt from watching TV).

Social Skills
Taking turns playing games.
Resilience because of not always winning the games.
Negotiating what we are going to do, looking at everyone's needs.
Helping each other e.g. with tidying the house.
Having friends to stay and managing with the changes in dynamics.
Sharing our things.
Playing with children of different ages from 1 – 10 years old and interacting with a range of adults.

I am truly amazed by how much my children have learnt during the week. I am not sharing this to show off, although I am really pleased. I share because I value the contribution parents, grandparents, friends and children themselves play in education. Learning is often seen as something that happens in school, only in the presence of teachers but this is not the only way children learn. I want to raise the profile of child-led learning in the home and make parents and caregivers really value the role they play in this.
Feel free to share the ways your children learn during the school holidays.

This blog post is also on Keeping Early Years Unique where I have adapted it (slightly) to a teacher's perspective.

By Sarah Allen 13 Aug, 2017

I spent a lot of time over the summer reading articles about Jean Liedoff’s book , The Continuum Concept . I first heard of the book before I was a parent and then read it once I had children hoping it would give me all the answers to my parenting questions! I have long since realised that no such book exists (for me anyway), how can you have a one-size fits all parenting manual when every family and every child are unique? At the time of reading this book it didn’t make the impact I was hoping for (I really did want an instruction manual!) but recently I have realised that a lot of my interest in attachment parenting and the reading I have done around this parenting style, have their origins in Liedoff’s work. 

My holiday reading has led me to the following conclusions:
1. Children deserve respect; they are just small human-beings like you and me. It’s not that I didn’t think this before, I just think I had a tendency, at times, to treat a child in a way I would never treat an adult. By this I mean, I might laugh at a child’s comment that I found humorous which inadvertently offended the child who was very serious about what they were saying. I would speak to children in a different way than I did to adults e.g. shout “DOOR!” when they had forgotten to shut the door for the umpteenth time. Whereas, if speaking to an adult I would have said “Is it alright if you shut the door please?”. My thinking on respectful parenting has also been influenced by Lucy Aitken Read who blogs at www.lulastic.co.uk

2. Children want to be like adults. They want to please parents and teachers. I have always known this, even way before parenting when I was in the early stages of my teaching career I could see that children wanted to please (unless they had been disillusioned due to the style of education that had been imposed on them or due to a difficult home life). However, even with this knowledge I still sometimes treated my children like they were against me, like life was a battle between them and me.

3. Our present state school system and many of the mainstream parenting ideas in the UK (and many other western countries) are relatively new. If you think in terms of human evolution for most of the time we have lived in small mixed-aged communities where children have learnt by watching adults and older children, with children joining in when ready developmentally. This includes all skills needed for life including learning skills usually taught in school such as reading. If the community was literate, children would see other people reading and would want to read too ( www.schoolingtheworld.org/a-thousand-rivers ).

This has led me to finally (I hope) find a parenting style that sits well in my heart and to adopt the following principles:
1. No sanctions or rewards. This is how most adults live their lives. I don’t only get to buy a treat or go to a nice place if someone else has said my behaviour is good enough! This would mean I was in a very controlling and unhappy relationship and not the sort of equality I would expect. So, when my children behave in an unacceptable way, I ask them to stop. That’s it! It may not work immediately and they may need reminding again. There was a bit of a transition stage when I felt some behaviours escalated slightly as the children were unfamiliar with this no consequence approach. However, now I ask them to stop, I expect them to stop. We may talk about it and then we move on with our day.
In terms of rewards, I want my children to be intrinsically motivated and to do what is right because they know it’s right. If I go back to the idea that children want to be like adults then when parent’s role-model the behaviour they want from their children in their interactions and relationships, children will want to behave like the adults. This then, in turn, has the advantage of parents forming good relationships with other people. Yes, I can admit this can be difficult. Relationships can be hard and when stressed and tired it can feel like children are pushing our buttons. I have found myself shouting “STOP SHOUTING!!” I am hoping this is now mostly in my parenting past, I am striving to behave in the
way I would like my children to behave.

2. Be less child-centred. What?! Less child-centred? How can that be a good thing? I am a trained primary school teacher, have worked as a childminder and in a Children’s Centre and have always felt child-centredness to be very (in fact the most) important consideration. I still think this is the best way for children to learn and an essential part of school and home life. However, if I think about how historically we have lived in small communities where children have learnt from adults and older children. If we are too child-centred we can take away the possibility of children mimicking ‘adult work’. How can children learn from and aspire to be part of the adult world if they have no adult world to observe? By this, I mean adults doing what adults want or need to do in its varying forms: hanging out the washing, preparing a meal, following their own interests and hobbies etc. It is good for children to see this and learn from it and it is certainly good for parents. A quote that has stuck with me for some time is “The greatest tragedy of the family is the unlived lives of the parents” (Carl Jung). I have certainly been that parent who has put my children’s needs above my own (as so many parents do) as if my needs were not important. I have the feeling of losing my identity somewhere along the parenting road. I would support and follow my children’s interests but not my own, often leaving me with a dissatisfied and, at times, a resentful feeling. How refreshing to feel that meeting my needs, is not only important to me, but essential for my children’s learning and development. Right now as I write this, my daughter is entering a competition. We are sat at the same table, I stop to help her when she asks me to but I am able to continue with my own interests which is good for my well-being but also provides a role-model for my daughter showing her that adults like writing, that perseverance is important and that having a go and maybe not winning is okay too!

3. Say what I mean and expect my children to listen. I have realised I often used to tell my children things they already knew. For example, in my house on a school day we always have breakfast first and then get dressed. My children are now 8 and 6 years old. They know what needs doing on a school morning. So why have I been constantly reminding them? By doing this, I thought I was being helpful but now I feel that I was making it sound like I didn’t trust them. Now I generally say nothing (or only remind them when necessary) and mornings (which so often are a major flash point in the day for parents who have children at school) are so much better (not always perfect, of course!). When it’s time to
leave the park I give them a 5 minute warning, then we go. I no longer count down “4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, time to go, lets go now etc” as if I didn’t believe they would leave (because I didn’t believe they would leave!). This is not a total fail-proof approach but in the main I find it successful.

So this is my evolving parenting journey. It’s not the right journey, it’s just my journey. It’s been up and down and I’m sure there are some bumpy roads left but I seem to have found a way that feels right in my heart and that sureness and confidence seems to be paying off.

Further Reading:

How to be an Ally to your Child on the School Run

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