This post is sponsored by the Hunter Alliance for Childhood.
Reading, writing and arithmetic were once the cornerstones of childhood learning but (for the most part) our parents and grandparents still found time to play. Newcastle based Mum of three, Lenora Newcombe, believes that our children are missing out on the good old fashioned fun of childhood thanks to the pressures of a downward push within our education system, over-scheduling, sexualisation and commercialism. If Lenora has her way, parents will find their way to a whole new set of Rs for their children – real food, real play and real life. And Lenora isn’t just talking about change, she is actively trying to do something about it.
In 2009 Lenora established the Hunter Alliance for Childhood (HAC) and next month will see the inaugural Expo for Childhood launched in Australia. I asked Lenora to share a little about the HAC and the upcoming expo;
Christie: Tell us how the Hunter Alliance for Childhood came to be
Lenora: Probably since my eldest child started school 10 years ago, I envisaged starting a group of this kind. There was so much I had discovered from others, and my own research, in the first few years of parenthood, that I wish I had known before I became a parent, and that I was busting to share. This was not the sort of information that came instinctively to me. Being caught up in all the excitement of becoming a first time parent, I simply went along doing what every other parent seemed to be doing, without thinking too deeply about it. And this was also not the sort of information parents could generally expect to obtain from their G.P. or Early Childhood Nurse, or even from the plethora of parenting manuals at the local library or bookstore.
Also, although I had already completed a University degree in Early Childhood Education, there seemed to be some huge chunks of crucial information that I had missed out on during my studies – information that was fundamental to an understanding of what children really need in order to experience childhood in its fullest sense and why this even matters to the future of society.
After making the decision to begin to parent more consciously, I soon noticed that there was not a lot of support offered for individuals choosing to resist mainstream protocols and parent more simply. Many a time it has been openly ‘suggested’ that I am sheltering my children from the ‘real world’ by not offering them the latest branded clothing, techno-plastic playthings or teaching them to read the newspaper and program a computer at the age of three (a little exaggeration with the last two examples here… lol). I firmly believed that the world of a child should be quite different to that of the adult, and that children may just need a little ‘sheltering’ – though I like to think of it more along the lines of preserving their childhood sense of wonder and innocence.
The concept of a group like H.A.C. remained just a thought until in 2009 I chanced to view a documentary titled, ‘Consuming Kids: the Commercialisation of Childhood‘ (available to view free on-line). This powerful film explores the phenomenon of the disapearance of childhood in today’s consumer culture and, ironically, seeing it on television, somehow made it all too uncomfortably ‘real’ for me. Enter H.A.C., and the first item on the agenda was to share this film with as many people as possible in the hope of sparking passion amongst the community to take action to reclaim childhood, not only for our own children, but for future generations.
The huge majority of us parents make decisions based on a strong commitment to providing the best opportunities for our children based on what we know. But how do we know what we don’t know?
Throughout our parenting journey we are certain to receive a whole lot of mixes messages about “the right way” to parent. In order to shape a unique parenting style that sits comfortably both within our hearts and minds, we need to know what our options are, without blindly accepting the latest parenting trend of the time (remembering that sending preschoolers to work in the mines was at one stage in human history considered ‘the norm’). The good news is, the most important thing we can do for our families is to simplify, and focus on really ‘living in the moment’ with our children. But what that means exactly and how this translates into practical terms in day to day family life, is where H.A.C. hopes to be able to support parents and professionals in living and working with children.
Christie: The HAC philosophy has three major components – Real Food, Real Play, Real Life. How would you describe each of these and why are they important?
Lenora: ‘Real Food’ refers to whole foods, free of pesticides and harmful additives. As with every other aspect of a healthy childhood, simplicity is the key. Real flavours, colours and smells (i.e. not chemically manufactured) are important for children’s sensory development, and over-processed foods are undoubtedly causing issues for the overall state of health and well-being of children, including the lesser acknowledged dietary links to social and emotional difficulties.
‘Real Play’ refers to unstructured, child-directed time where children can engage their imaginations and creativity and use their bodies freely. In particular, research shows that time spent outdoors in nature is crucial to the emotional wellbeing of both children and adults and has real therapeutic qualities for a wide range of conditions.
‘Real Life’ refers to concrete, sensory experiences and human interactions, as opposed to more abstract experiences epitimised by the virtual life of television and computers. For example a family bushwalk or a told story as opposed to a wildlife documentary or Disney DVD. Today’s children seem to have far more information than experience, and this comes at a cost to their ability to problem solve, relate to others and overcome the challenges that life inevitably presents.
Christie: What can visitors to the expo expect?
Lenora: The Expo for Childhood is not your typical ‘expo’. The main objective of this event is not to sell products (though there will be a great range of resources available for purchase from over 30 stallholders), rather, it is to support families and hopefully whole communities, to reclaim childhood and to simplify and enjoy the exciting journey of raising our next generation of citizens. Interstate bookings attest to the uniqueness of this event.
Christie: What do you believe the highlights of the expo programme are?
Lenora: Certainly the presentations on offer for parents and teachers are the major highlights for our adult visitors. We are privileged to be hosting international speakers, authors and academics from a range of disciplines. Susan Perrow’s workshops and seminars are sure to provide participants with a wealth of resources for dealing with challenging behaviours at home or at preschool, and for finding new ways to engage children in ‘Real Life’ & ‘Real Play’.
Kathy Walker, who has been instrumental in the development of the new play-based curriculum for Australian Early Childhood Services, will provide an understanding exactly why ‘real play’ is crucial to allowing our children to develop into resilient, successful and happy people, and how adults can foster positive play at home and in the playground.
The brilliant Dr Michael Sichel (Autism Specialist and author of Good News for the Alphabet Kids) will be sharing some invaluable insights into drug-free treatments for serious child health issues. He is the absolute leader in his field and has had enormous success helping children to overcome Autism Spectrum Disorders and behaviour and learning challenges.
Regular Childhood 101 contributor, Tricia Hogbin, will be presenting a variety of eco-themed workshops for parents and leading a discussion on ‘nature deficit disorder’ which includes a screening of inspirational speaker Richard Louv in his keynote address in Melbourne last year.
Our special guest is Sue Dengate, author of the ‘Fed Up’ book series and founder of the Food Intolerance network. Parents will have a unique opportunity to speak personally with Sue in two 3 hour meet and greet sessions on Friday and Saturday, following on from her formal presentation on Thursday evening. Representatives from the ‘Additive Alert’ (bestselling book by Julie Eady) Team will be sharing important information on how to avoid harmful additives for children, and nutritionist Anita Pugh will be presenting on reducing children’s toxic load through ‘Simple changes and fast snack options for busy mums and dads’.
Therese Rutherford will be presenting a chemical-free cleaning workshop and the list goes on… You can view the full program of events here.
For the children, the highlights will be puppet shows, a magic show (with an eco twist) and a birthday party cooking workshop, additive free, of course!
For those who are interested in finding out more about the Expo for Childhood or who would like to purchase a ticket to attend, full details can be found here on the Hunter Alliance for Childhood website.