Sunday, 26 February 2017

DUMB movies make your kid stupid, selfish, sexist and boring

You can feel a rant coming on, can't you?

I recently began watching The Shanara Chronicles  on netflix. Terry Pratchett's story has so much potential, interesting premise and characters, even good actors, but what made me press 'stop' and never go back was the skinny, under-dressed, big-eyed, pathetic lead character - Amberle. A princess warrior (apparently) who wears skin-tight leather trousers and a bustier when supposedly wielding a sword and only manage to get a few cuts on her bare arms.

I'm sick and tired of these flat chested, anorexic bimbos telling my young daughter what to be!

Over time we've seen the portrayal of women in adventure movies shift from impossibly big-breasted/narrow-waisted/wide-hipped sex symbols to 'warriors' clad in scanty leather armour, to wearing nothing more than body paint and now to looking like teenage boys. (So who's casting that look?) It makes me seriously worried about the future for my young daughter. Let alone what boys actually think of these portrayals of their friends as they grow up. What are the expectations of girls in relationships? If girls can't even dress seriously for a job, how can they expect equal pay? Why should a man be more appropriately (and safely) dressed than a woman? Why do we need to see her 'sexy bits' anyway? Isn't it her skill and intelligence that will get her out of trouble?

Add to this the yawning chasm of decent material in kids films generally, modelling a narrow field of career suggestions such as:
  1. princess
  2. dancer
  3. singer
  4. model
Where are the engineers, the scientists, the writers, the mechanics, the biologists, the veterinaries, the animal wranglers, the hair dressers, the occupational therapists, the physios,  the speech therapists, the martial arts professionals, the teachers, the horticulturalists, the editors, the plumbers, the electricians, the soldiers, the pilots, the captains, architects, the garden designers, the skippers, the racing car drivers, the police officers, the doctors and nurses, the chefs, the surgeons, the waiters... I could go on and on and on....

Real Lives, Real Excitement
So I decided I would put aside a few minutes and come up with scenarios for books/films that are actually interesting and give kids a wider view of the sorts of careers they could have. Exciting lives they could lead, interesting situations they could find themselves, which don't involve a high school musical/dance/singing competition.

Here they are:

The Apprentice Zookeeper
David's dad has been taken prisoner by the gorillas in their enclosure. Does David know enough about these magnificent, dangerous creatures to get Dad back alive?

Five Steps
Jordan lives on Mars, where five steps outside can kill you. When his little brother goes outside in a sandstorm, can he find him?

Ride Like the Wind
In Mongolia the horse is king and growing up is dangerous. Can Sika prove herself worthy to ride with her father?

Training with the enemy
 Allie's parents hate football. They hate the Hampton Howlers even more. Allie wants to go to the Olympics but how can she get there without the right coach?

Freak Island
Working with his biologist father, Alex has discovered a ferocious new species. Can he capture it?

Children of the Dust
In Africa friendship can be dangerous, especially if your friend is a child soldier.

The Moon Pool
Sallie lives at the bottom of the ocean in a research lab where the pets are rather unusual.

Big Feet
Charlie has a new pet that no one wants to cuddle.

School and other Pains
Cassie lives in the outback where her classmates meet only once a year.

Silver Shoes
Re-training abused horses takes patience and skill, but Sarah's choice is un-trainable.

The Colour of Love
Sometimes all you have left is the will to survive. Julie's parents are struggling to protect the last pride of lions on Earth.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Movies and books which won't send your kid off the deep end

I don't know if you've noticed, but a LOT of kids' movies these days are very loud and obnoxious, resulting in similar behaviours in my child. Immediately after watching she's hyperactive, irritable and eventually (after arguing about everything) explodes into tears and has to be sent to her room for some quiet time to recuperate. Sassy American TV shows are particularly galling. We're trying to instill in my daughter respect for others, especially the adults who are charged with protecting and educating her. It doesn't matter how you cut it, adults and children are not equal. As adults we have experience and wisdom that only comes with age and making lots of mistakes. There is no fast track to knowledge. Kids must learn in stages, and listen to their elders. Some movies and TV shows do nothing to teach kids respect for themselves or anyone else.

So, in our house we've gone back to 'the good old days'. She loves The Sound of Music, and classic TV show Little House on the Prairie and a more recent offering based upon Flora Thompson's autobiography of life in the late 1800's Lark Rise to Candleford.  I know what you're thinking - these are so OLD FASHIONED! But not only are the stories interesting and exciting, she is learning a  lot about history and culturally relevant information that helps her make sense of who she is and who we are as a family.

In addition, I have just ordered a whole bunch of DVDs which I will put in the birthday and christmas box, to be given during the year, (not all at once!) Perhaps on a really rainy day when all craft/storynory/reading/board game options have been exhausted, I can whip out one of these DVDs.

Nostaglic? Of course I am! I was brought up in the seventies. In Australia we had a lot of TV shows from the fifties that did me no harm. This list of movies involves some (wait for it) old fashioned values. So if you're a wildly enthusiastic bra burning feminist, click away now before you get angry at my choices. I make NO APOLOGY for being a traditionalist. I believe very strongly in the traditional family and traditional values. If you don't agree, that's fine. But it's my choice and I have very good reasons for upholding these values.

Most of these movies are based on classic children's books by the best writers in the world. A couple are for sheer fun and silliness.

Anyway, enough of that. Here is the list!

We've read the books, (Heidi, Heidi grows up and Heidi's children). This is the story of a little girl without close family who goes to live in a totally different world and finds herself very much attached to her fierce looking grandfather. The lifestyle is completely different to what she is used to (milking goats, homemade cheese and bread, living high up in the alps) but she makes friends and is cherished by all who come to know her. A story of resilience, if ever there was one.

Little Women
We're reading this at the moment. The book does take some skill to read out, as the language is antiquated, but she is nevertheless enjoying getting to know the characters.

The Secret of Moonacre
We loved the book. Can't wait to see what the movie adaptation will be like.

A Little Princess
Don't know this story. Should be fun to find out!

The Secret Garden
What an amazing story of children's courage! We loved the book.

Huck Finn.
I read this at school many years ago. Its a strange and sometimes scary book, but kids love it because Huck is so plucky and somehow manages to get out of trouble. Historically speaking it is interesting too, with issues such as slavery and friendship between people of different ages and races.

Tom's Midnight Garden
A classic timeslip book with an unusual relationship at the heart of it.

The Shaggy Dog
I remember this well! A bit of silliness, magic and mistaken identity.

The Swiss Family Robsinson
I read this as a child. So thrilling! Made me think what it would be like to believing on an island with nothing but your wits and ability to make what you needed. A terrific family saga.

Davy Crockett
There is a harshness about pioneer America that needs to be told. Heroes weren't always so clear cut and people led quite hard lives. Davy tries to do the right thing. I know its glamorised him a bit (the man who boasted he'd shot 100 bears). But that gives us room to chat about such things and the historical context.

The Parent Trap
Always a favourite, no matter which version you see. I'm hoping this one is fun!

The Railway Children
This lovely story about WWII and how children perceived it is brilliant.

Swallows and Amazons
Reminds me of my own childhood, when we roamed the neighbourhood and played in the bush. Our made-up games gave us hours of fun and taught us so much about getting along with others and the importance of creativity and problem solving.

The Absent-minded Professor
Another bit of silliness. Lots of fun. Stokes the imagination!

So there's my current list. You may have other ideas which are just as good or better. The important thing is that these stories are told simply, not with huge, loud amazing special effects. I would add a couple more - The Neverending Story and Fly Away Home.

Friday, 30 December 2016


Easy peasey
This is the easiest summertime lunch for a child of any age. Delicious, nutritious and a sure winner on taste, visual colour and texture. Did you know that the act of chewing helps our brains grow? And in adults,  the act of chewing releases hormones that calm us and make us feel good. So NO VITAMISING YOUR FOOD, PEOPLE!

What do you need?
On my kidlet's plate below you will see small samples of three types of cheeses - Jarlsberg, cheddar and Bocconcini. Also, green grapes, kiwi fruit, carrot sticks and nectarine. YUM! Make your own variations.

Important tips
  • It takes 15 times for a child's palate to get used to new foods, so persist! Don't give into the 'I want a biscuit/MacDonald's/ice cream/toast' whining. 
  • Provide what is nutritious, looks fabulous and tastes great. With no alternative. Eat this or nothing, is my policy. And it works. 
  • Some of this selection could be included in the school lunchbox. 
  • Make the preparation of food part of the fun for your child, teaching them the value of fresh fruit and vegetables as a natural part of the diet. 
  • Each meal, the plate should be 1/4 protein, (dairy, meat, fish, vegetarian soy meats etc), 1/4 grains (bread, rice, pasta etc) and 1/2 fruits or vegetables. Did you get that? ONE HALF of the plate should be fruits and/or vegetables. Our bodies are designed to eat mostly vegetation, not mostly meat. 
  • Enjoy shopping for fabulous fruit and vegies together
  • Enjoy preparing meals, looking through cookbooks together as part of learning and also bonding. We love it.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Good Food for Our Kids - It shouldn't be this hard!

me on a writing retreat near Canberra with Danny the dog
So, I teach in a learning centre, (when I'm not writing and visiting schools as an author) and I see lots of different types of people coming through the doors. I see  caring parents interested and invested in their child's academic progress, which is why they are prepared to spend money on getting extra assistance for their children. They're nice people. They're also very busy people.

As a working mum myself I know how hard it can be. I reach a small panic late in the afternoon - 'what they heck shall I cook for dinner?' I also wrestle with what to put in my daughter's lunchbox every day. I also wrangle the husband to make good choices about food and serve correct portion size, (why do men seem to think a little girl eats the same amount as themselves?) on the nights when I'm working.

The point of this blog post
A while ago I started taking photos of the meals my daughter and I prepared and today I thought, why not share what we've learned?

When I see kids sitting staring at screens, with chubby little legs and arms, a double chin and a glazed look in their eyes I feel sorry for them. They are not getting the right food! So if this can help a few kids by helping their mums and dads make better choices, I will be extremely pleased!

We are not perfect. I certainly am not. Some of my suggestions you'll think - "Whaaat? No, that won't work for me." But hey, that's fine. It's about sharing the ideas and getting you to think differently. It's about making informed choices, wherever you can, noticing what you're putting in the trolley, putting in the cupboard, putting on the plate, putting into the lunchbox. Change happens slowly. The last thing we need is more pressure!

So I encourage you, come with me on this journey. We will have fun, we'll feel better about ourselves as parents and most importantly, we'll have happier, healthier kids. There will be pages to the right of your screen with suggestions and I welcome your input too. yummy ideas ought to be shared!

Let's go!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

ACTIVITY - Get your kid moving!

Why do we need to move?
There's so many screens now, competing for our child's attention, with x-box, TV, DVD, Cinema, Wii, ipads, phones... Phew! think of all the hours wasted staring at these things! And none of it helps our  mental or physical state. NONE of it, no matter what the manufacturer tells you about their 'wonderful' product that reproduces reality so faithfully. Blargh!

Our bodies are designed to move. Every part of the skeleton has at least one function, for instance, your ribs expand as your lungs inflate with air. They also protect your lungs, heart and stomach from impact. We tend to take our bodies for granted. Until something terrible happens to them.

Movement is a stimulus for the body. Hormones of all different kinds are released when we move. These hormones help the body regulate itself, from how it uses energy, to improving our mood. Just stepping outside, under trees and taking a deep breath has a magical effect.
Movement stimulates our body to heal itself, too. Nowdays, within hours of knee replacement surgery patients are up and walking about, using that new knee! Seems cruel, but doctors and researchers have discovered that the body's immune system is stimulated by movement. Exercise increases the flow of secretions which improve digestion.

So how does this help kids?
Kid's bodies are constantly changing and growing, learning and adapting to their environment. Its an inbuilt response nature has given us in order to survive. its something we are born to do. It stimulates our mind too. That's why climbing trees, running, cycling, skating, kicking a football, dancing etc make kids laugh. They enjoy it, whether its a team sport or by themselves. The thrill of moving their limbs in the space around them, negotiating speed, accurate timing, hand-eye coordination, breathing. There's a lot going on. And it makes kids feel good.

Studies show that depression can be improved with exercise. Anxiety can be reduced. Friendships improved. Coordination improved. School work is positively affected. There is no downside really! It's about finding the right activity for your child.

Changing bad habits isn't easy. Getting your kid away from the telly might provoke some argument, but be firm. This is what parenting is about. Too many people use the TV as a babysitter. You might need to get outside and kick a ball around too. Is that such a bad thing? Here are some simple suggestions that don't cost money:
  1. Walk around the block. Even if you live in an urban area, you can do this.
  2. Find a nearby park. Walk there if possible. Take something to do, whether its ball, frisbee or notepad and pencil for jotting down plants and animals you see.
  3. Walk to the local library. Make it a weekly outing you both enjoy. Sit and read the paper or choose a DVD to watch at night while your child browses the shelves.
  4. Kick a ball in the backyard together.
  5. Tree climbing. The confidence this activity gives a child is quite miraculous. It can include use of ropes for safety and fun.
  6. Yoga stretches on the balcony if you don't have a garden.
  7. Park the car further from school and walk there and back when you do the drop-off and pick-up.
  8. See if there is a nearby bus stop your child can walk to to take the bus to school.
  9. Join a local team sport.
  10. ride your bicycles together 
  11. gardening together - plant a vegie patch, digging over the soil, adding mulch, planting herbs and vegies etc.
  12.  A community garden. If there isn't one, start one!
Other activities include:
  1. backyard trampoline. Invite friends over for afternoon play
  2. bicycle, skate board, scooter park
  3. swimming
  4. karate or other martial arts
  5. soccer/football/basketball/baseball team
  6. Cub scouts club
  7. cricket/horse riding
  8. dress-ups
I'm sure you could think of your own ideas. The main thing is to improve activity. Good luck!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Hold onto your hat - I'm about to rant. Feel free to disagree with me.
A Personal vacuum - We've become a society of narcissists, thinking mostly of ourselves, focusing upon our individual rights and not the good of others. I see it all the time - people seem to live in a personal vacuum, walking around plugged in to some device, never actually speaking to each other. When someone is attacked in public, onlookers don't get out their phones to dial for help, they start filming, uploading to youtube for their moment of fame. Has this become the general direction of humankind?
Our Western culture has given this to the world - 'self esteem.' It goes far beyond the healthy confidence it was designed to imbue. It's self-obsession. How did it come to this? TV, TV and TV.

Role Models - Let's examine for a moment the role models that are presented to our children: Pop stars and reality TV stars. We admire them, talk ceaselessly about them, discuss every fragment of their lives, pouring over poorly worded magazine articles and blurry photographs as if these people are inspiring and intelligent; worthy of our adoration, when in truth they're empty-headed, self-absorbed, whining, vindictive and petty. When do we actually see or hear of people who are truly inspiring, who sacrifice themselves for the greater good, or to help others? When do we discuss people who have achieved amazing things in this world, against all odds? We rarely do. The closest we get is the sports report and its more about which player got caught using drugs to enhance their amazing performance  At the end of the news bulletin, along with the cute baby animals, there's a ten second grab about some accidental hero, by which time we're standing in front of the microwave waiting for our high calorie dinner to cook or the kettle to boil. We're disengaged.

A Family Dinner - Australia now has the dubious honour of being the country with the second fastest growing obesity rate IN THE WORLD. We're also the country with loads of sunshine, gorgeous pristine beaches and superb weather for outdoor sports. Huh? People scratch their heads, wondering how this could happen. I can tell you. It's on TV. Every night there are ads, around dinner time, showing happy families settling down to meals which are composed entirely of 'fast food,' be it fried chicken, pizza or globular foods I find difficult to identify. What the hell happened to people cooking from raw ingredients? Oh, right, they go on TV to cook in Masterchef 'competitions' and become famous.

An Appetite for violence - No more does it take a village to raise a child. It just takes TV. Or more to the point, advertisers selling their crap to our kids, poisoning their young minds, molding them as consumers long before they get their first credit card. No more do extended family have a role to play in their upbringing. Heck, not even their fathers get to do that, with the spiralling divorce rate and estrangement of parents from their children. Children live from TV show to TV show, with an endless appetite for shallow meaningless tripe, smack-em-in-the-face computer generated violence, sitting there,with their mouth open and their brains out of gear. And we wonder why they are fat and bad tempered!

Dr Michele Borba article
As if that weren't bad enough, there are actual human beings who disbelieve that TV, movies and video games have any effect upon the human psyche. And yet advertisers spend gazillions on thrusting their products at us for exactly that reason. It works! And here's a point to consider - if they can influence our buying habits, don't you think they can influence our morals?

Lame School - Schools, particularly primary schools, try valiantly to fight against this slide into depravity. But do-gooders have thwarted their efforts, by banning sports and 'dangerous' activities such as running in the playground, hopscotch and ball games. Instead, kids as young as six have iphones. What the hell for?

Our kids are not just mentally passive, a puddle of drool around them as they sit facing the TV, they are also physically passive, getting fatter by the day. The lack of physical exercise makes them bad tempered, because they can't release pent up energy. Their bodies are weakened, with  poor muscle tone, poor posture, poor strength and flexibility. No wonder kids channel their frustrations into fighting and yelling.

But hey, they're fast on google.

Kids and Anxiety - How reading helps

It's such an old fashioned idea, but reading to your child at bedtime is still a very strong way to show your love and reduce anxiety. There are multiple benefits you may not have thought about -
  1. Settling down - It's quiet time, just before lights out, which helps settle them before sleep. This improves sleep quality and helps to eliminate bedtime dramas.
  2. Special attention - It provides one-on-one time, to perhaps discuss any concerns that pop up in the conversation. A child loves having your full attention, to themselves, in the privacy of their room. Make the most of it!
  3. Increased confidence - It substantially improves a child's vocabulary to hear the structure and language of stories. This translates to their own vocabulary as they increase their understanding of spoken words and incorporate them into their spoken language. The follow-on effect is becoming more articulate, allowing the child to express their concerns better and increasing their confidence.
  4. Improved School results - Children who read independently cope much better with the demands of school. The first step is being read to, and if the book is really exciting, they can't wait to get their eyes on it in the morning! Having a love of reading is the key to success in any area of endeavour, any career.
  5. Teaching values - It provides opportunities to share books with important morals and lessons. How else will children learn the values we treasure, such as honesty, sharing, cooperation, acceptance? There are hundreds of fabulous books which are not just written to entertain. Let's get back to books being fun and important social/cultural tools.
  6. Self-awareness - One of the things which worries kids most is the fear of being different, not accepted.Stories allow your child to identify with characters and perhaps feel less different from others.
  7. A big World - Books open up a child's mind, to the many amazing wonders of our world. In a book they can travel to distant places, even distant times in the past, learning, growing, understanding. 
  8. Understanding others - Stories help children see things from another's perspective. Truly great stories tell more than just a sequence of events, they tell a character's journey, whether it be physical or emotional.
So, why not enjoy some quality time with your child tonight? Don't let the cost turn you off either. There's plenty of second hand book websites, such as abebooks and book depository. You are investing in your child's future and enhancing your relationship. There's no downside!