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March 2013

Less parenting and more freedom

Risk taking is how children learn their limits_Tricia Hogbin-001

Parenting is one area I’m yet to apply the ‘less is more’ philosophy. Realistically, I’m an over-protective mum who worries unnecessarily about something happening to my child.

Apparently I’m not alone. Parental anxiety has been hypothesised to be increasing in Australia, resulting in a decline in childhood activities such as walking to school or playing outdoors.

I’d like to lighten up and adopt more of a free-range approach to my parenting.

I was inspired a while back by a conversation I had with an elderly farmer. He shared how at only eight years old he’d go bush for days at a time taking only his dog for company. I’ve heard similar stories of children from my grandparents' generation having responsibilities far beyond anything thrown at today’s children. My Gran became the mother-figure to her four siblings at only 13 years of age.

Obviously, I don’t want my daughter to have to face the hardships dealt to previous generations, but I would like her to possess some of their independence, resilience and problem-solving skills.

Being conscious of wanting to give my daughter more freedom, I was interested in a recent study by Queensland University of Technology that examined the concept of overparenting.

You’ve probably heard of ‘helicopter parenting’ where parents hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. Similarly there’s ‘lawnmower parenting’, where parents attempt to smooth out and mow down all obstacles in the way of the child’s success.

The study suggests that these overparenting actions result in reduced child resilience, a sense of entitlement, child anxiety, reduced life skills, and an inadequate sense of responsibility or self-efficacy. These are all attributes I’m sure few parents wish upon their children.

I’m not a helicopter parent, nor a lawnmower – but I’m currently far from free range.

I'm going to embrace a less is more approach to parenting. Less supervision, instruction and scheduled activities and more unstructured independent outdoor play time.

I’m starting small. I’m letting my daughter wander our property slightly unsupervised – and am trying not to watch her every move. I’d like her to ride her bike, build a cubby, play in the mud, and perhaps even encounter a risk or two. Because without facing these risks I’m not certain our children will grow into capable, confident and resilient adults.

[Originally published in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 30th March 2013]

Nature inspired playful learning

Nature inspired playful learning

Most days Little Eco and I stumble across something unusual. Slime mold, turtle shell, fallen eggs, camouflaged moth, and a forest of mushrooms emerging from a cow poo are just some of what we've found recently. 

These encounters usually lead to a whole lots of playful learning.

This week I'm over at Childhood 101 sharing Five steps to nature inspired playful learning

Speaking of elsewhere....I finally created a Little Eco Footprints Facebook page

To dig or not to dig?

To dig or not to dig. No dig gardening versus cultivation.

I’m about to start my new veggie garden. The first row is pegged out and I’m deciding whether to dig or not to dig.

In the past I’ve preferred not to dig. Not only because digging isn’t much fun, but because using the no dig gardening method you can go from grass to a planted bed in just a few hours (or less). 

No dig gardens are particularly suited to areas that have poor, contaminated or compacted soil, or even no soil. I once created a productive no dig garden directly on concrete in a small rental courtyard.

Making a no dig garden is a bit like making a lasagne in that ingredients are layered.

First there’s a layer to supress weeds and grass, which is usually thick and overlapping wet cardboard or newspaper. This is followed by layers of organic materials.

Just like a good lasagne, the quality of your garden will depend on upon using the right ingredients in the correct proportions.

Ingredients can include anything you’d happily put in your compost pile: straw, manures, hay, leaves, coffee grounds, grass clippings, shredded paper, seaweed, compost, kitchen scraps, and worm castings.

The best ingredients are those that you can find locally and cheaply.

My favourite are free manure from horse stables, cheap mushroom compost from a mushroom farm, and spoilt bales of lucerne sold cheaply as mulch.

Just like for compost making, it’s important that the ratio of carbon rich and nitrogen rich materials is right.

High carbon materials tend to be dry, like straw, autumn leaves, and shredded paper. High nitrogen materials are typically moist, like manure, compost, kitchen scraps, and seaweed.

I alternate carbon rich and nitrogen rich and layer the carbon rich much thicker than the nitrogen and manage to luck on the correct ratio.

It’s important to wet each layer as you go.

Finally top with pockets of good compost or soil which can be planted directly into and then dress with mulch.

I’m keen to make better use of the existing soil at our new property, so despite my love for not digging, I’m contemplating digging – perhaps even double digging.

A little research into soil cultivation methods has revealed that digging ain’t digging. Double digging, bastard trenching and broadforking with a Gundaroo Tiller. I’m now contemplating them all. I suspect my spade is going to get a good workout.

Do you dig or not dig?

[Originally published in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 23rd March 2013]

How to make newspaper pots {a video from Little Eco}

Little Eco makes newspaper pots - a how to video

Little Eco is interested in making 'How to' videos for kids.

We made the following short video on how to make 'gorgeous little' newspaper pots for fun. She did so well (in my biased mum opinion) that we decided to share. 

In the video Little Eco shows how you can make newspaper pots for seedlings and seeds using things you have around your home. 

She's keen to make more - so watch this space for a 'How to sow seeds'. 

9 steps for lead-safe urban gardening

9 steps to lead safe urban gardening

Urban chook keepers may be feeling a little wary after learning that a recent University of Newcastle study found high levels of lead in home-grown backyard eggs.

Thankfully, it is possible to garden safely and grow your own food in lead-contaminated urban areas.

Nine steps for lead-safe urban gardening:

1. Grow food plants in raised beds lined with landscape fabric and filled with uncontaminated soil. Container gardening is another option.

2. Cover all areas of bare soil with grass, gravel, or thick mulch.

3. Ensure chooks don't have access to contaminated bare soil, for example by laying pavers in their pen or housing in a chicken tractor over raised garden beds containing uncontaminated soil. Ensure they always have access to uncontaminated soil for dust bathing, even if it's just a large pot of soil in the corner of their pen. Restrict free ranging to areas where they can't access contaminated soil.

4. Locate food gardens away from painted buildings that were constructed during and prior to the 1970s, as they are likely painted in lead-based paint.

5. In areas where you can't easily create a barrier between old and new uncontaminated soil, favour fruits rather than root vegetables or leafy greens as research has found little accumulation of lead in fruits in comparison to leaves, roots and stems. 

6. Maintain soil pH around 6.5 by adding lime if needed. Lead is relatively unavailable at or above this level.

7. Add loads of organic matter to your soil. Organic compounds bind lead and make it less available to the plant. 

8. Clean produce thoroughly.

9. Consider wearing gloves and wash hands immediately after gardening and before eating.

If you are interested in testing your own garden soil, economical lead-testing kits are available from The Lead Group

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 16th March 2013]