Monthly Archives: June 2014

Multi-racial/Multicoloured lessons from the countryside – Explaining things to children.

We all have things to explain to our children.  If a child’s two parents come from different countries/backgrounds/faiths/race etc., there will be many basic things that they have to communicate and explain, for example different mother tongues or food and the need to appreciate both.  In our case we obviously had to explain the difference of skin colour.

We saw it as our duty to explain to baby Sam right from the beginning that we had adopted him and that he was dearly loved.  That bit was easy enough, but he also needed to understand why he had brown skin and we did not and why his hair was curly and ours was not.

As I have said, we often visit our cousins’ farms in Herefordshire.  Some facts of nature become clear to children when they see the animals.  However when they are very small, they can jump to their own erraneous conclusions and sometimes our attempts to explain things go a bit wrong as well.

I think that I started by explaining to Sam about flowers.  For example, flowers like poppies had seedpods and he could see them.  Red poppies had seeds that grew into more red poppies.  Blue flowers had blue flowers.

poppy_flower_nature My explanations fell down badly when I carried on, looking around me at the farm and saying that the brown and white cows had similarly marked calves.


So far so good.

(At the back of my mind I was blocking out the fact that some white sheep have black lambs.)

 I then turned to hens, but alas – as I was in mid-sentence, in front of us walked a little bantam hen.  She was followed by a grey chick, a black one, a yellow one, a white one and a brown one!

That was one biology lesson that failed.

Another day I’ll tell you about my Australian friend’s attempt to explain things to children. Her husband was a Malaysian and they were bringing up their family in Malaysia.

I don’t feel the need to be serious all the time in this blog. We might as well laugh when bringing up children. Despite our best attempts, our explanations don’t always succeed.

Ethnic minority people visiting the countryside

I have friends who live in rural Co. Durham.  When their grandson went for interviews at various universities in cities like Leeds and Manchester, he was surprised to see “so many black people”.  This set me wondering.  Have I grown so used to city life that I take it for granted that we are a multicultural society that includes black and Asian people?  How come an intelligent 17- year-old was surprised?  This has me baffled.  Do people who live in the countryside ever meet people from other backgrounds?  Don’t they see people of all colours when they look at the news etc. on Television?

A while ago I remember reading an article in The Guardian, stating that ‘ethnic minorities do not visit the countryside very often’.

[That article could also have said  ‘poor whites in cities do not visit the countryside very often’.  .  About twenty five years ago, our elder daughter was doing a dance project in a deprived area of Southampton.  It was about three miles away from the sea.  She discovered that many of the children there had not actually ever seen the sea! I found this amazing and depressing.]

The picture painted of no people from ethnic minorities ever venturing into the countryside may be exaggerated. I certainly have friends from ethnic minority groups who really enjoy visiting places all over Britain.

During Jah’s second summer with us, we visited many places in the English and Scottish countryside.

As a family we feel very fortunate that we have country cousins who are farmers in Herefordshire.  D. and I visited them at the end of our honeymoon.  It was a great thrill for us both, but especially for me.  I was twenty two years old and had never been on a farm before.  We now visit them most years and have done so with all our four children and our grandchildren.

Some of these cousins have an Open Working Farm, Shortwood –

Alone at Shortwood

“About Shortwood Farm.

Set in 150 acres of glorious Herefordshire countryside, Shortwood Farm is a rural idyll, attracting visitors from all over the country. With its wide array of activities, countless educational benefits, and a truly personal approach, Shortwood really does cater for everybody.”

Shortwood is essentially a family farm.  The family members are always thrilled when a school group from Birmingham visit.  They love sharing the country with city children.  I know that there are City Farms in London, and many children love going to them.  They also do a wonderful job.

Below see a birthday party activity at Shortwood Farm – “feeding the pigs”!

feeding pigs

tiny ponies When we went to Scotland we always camped (and Yes it did rain sometimes!!!)

For the first two years of being a family of six, we all fitted into this van with an attachment tent.  Later we bought a trailer tent.

Fiat camper vanWaking up in a field and so close to nature is a lovely summer experience.Scotland 1980

 boys fishing

Sometimes one wonders as a parent whether we have done the “right thing”.  Inevitably one doesn’t do everything “right”, but we felt that Jah’s presence in our family was good.

I don’t remember meeting any other mixed-race families on the campsites, but Sam was relaxed about this, now that he had his “little brother – the same colour as me”.

Jah’s hair is cut at last. Robert, the children’s cousin comes to stay.

 After several months we realised that it would be a very long time indeed before an adoption order would be granted.  We asked our social worker Pat to contact Jah’s birth father.  He was interested to hear how Jah was settling in with us. Pat then mentioned the matter of his hair and the unavoidable delay in the formal adoption, due to the apparent disappearance of his birth mother.

beside the sea 2 Permission was easily given for Jah’s hair to be cut.  This was a relief.

It was D. who took Jah to the barber.  I asked him to describe the event, as I was not there.

“I took Jah to the barber in Highfields to have his very straggly dreadlocks cut off.  I think I had prepared the barber for the event.  I was a bit unsure of Jah’s reaction although he had said it was OK.

The barber was matter-of-fact, but pleasant.  He was Afro-Caribbean and the barber shop was right in the middle of the large Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood.

It seemed to me that when the dreadlocks came off, they fell to the ground with an audible little thud, so matted were they.

But the best part was that Jah was obviously if quietly pleased.  Almost literally, a load off his mind”.

Jah looking important with new haircutJah looking suitably “important” with his new hair cut.

Robert comes to stay

Our ten-year-old nephew Robert who lived in Sweden, was due to arrive just before Easter.  As I have mentioned before, he was coming to stay with us for the summer term.  He was signed up to attend the same Junior school that Sam attended.  In those days children did not attend school until after their 5th birthday, so Jah would attend a few introductory days in the summer term, but would not start officially until September.

Since Robert was two years older than Sam, he would be in the top juniors.  When the school photographer came to photograph children, they took photos of brothers and sisters together and in this instance, they took an excellent photo of cousins Sam and Robert together.  They made a handsome pair, with their very different colouring.

We all loved having Robert to stay.  We heard quite a bit of “In Sweden we do/ we don’t do….”.  Robert did not appreciate the stilted ‘mock’ Swedish accent of the Swedish cook on the Muppets, and he said this a few times. Fair enough! Things he did like as far as I remember were wine gums, pancakes and playing football. In all, he was a great temporary addition to the household.

One thing that offended Robert was that in England the children had to change for P.E. in their classroom.  I think that “In Sweden” they had a proper changing room with showers, but such facilities did not exist here.  He was in top Juniors, where the children are ten or eleven years old, so I suppose Robert had a point.

The boys had great fun supporting Sam’s favourite football team – Spurs.  In fact they all got on very well, but the grass on our lawn was beaten into the ground with the endless games of football. We had some great trips out.  The top favourites were to The Tower of London and London Zoo. zoo photo

On one of those visits we had some time to spare before catching the train back to Leicester.  We asked Robert if he knew of anything special he would like to do.  We loved the reply of this highly intelligent boy.

“I’d like to go to the Biggest Toy Shop in the world”. So we set off to Hamleys and a good time was had by all.

Jah found that he was no longer the newcomer into the household. We observed him enjoying that feeling and for a while he stopped asking about the progress or otherwise of the longed-for adoption.