Book Review: Recapturing Childhood: Positive Parenting in the Modern World By Mildred Masheder

Recapturing Childhood: Positive Parenting in the Modern World by Mildred Masheder
Published by Green Print. ISBN, 9781854250957
( To obtain copies of this recent book, as well as the others by Mildred please contact the author: Mildred Masheder, 75 Belsize Lane , LondonNW3 5AU or telephone  020 74…. Copies may also be obtained (add £2.00 p&p from e-mailing sales @ positive )

We all worry about the times we live in, the poisoned chalice we may be bequeathing to the next generations and how we should react to the very new circumstances within which children today grow up.  The smallest incidents create a sort of panic in adults which may in itself be one of the most dangerous elements of this new environment.

“Can I have a chocolate rabbit, Pip?”
Five year old Louis has come down from his bed/playroom and is poised on one leg clinging on to a kitchen chair beside me as I consider writing this review. We are in the family kitchen of our fourth child and her husband and two children.
73 year-old grandfather  (me) has rapidly done a “take” on the situation. I am minding Louis for one hour while his mother takes his two year old sister Betty on one of her favourite outings, to their excellent  child-minder who has given up her well-paid office job  to be a professional child-minder.
I see the need for “secure boundaries “ looming.
“Why not?”
I decide to lighten the moral prohibition by a jocular approach.
“ ’Cos, as Ed (his dad)  said earlier “You’re crazy enough without eating chocolate.  Eat that and you’ll shortly be hitting the ceiling.”
“No I won’t. Why are you making fun of it? If you go on with stupid reasons I’ll go on asking.”
“Well, you also said you were feeling sick after playing a computer CBeebies game for half an hour! Chocolate will make you feel worse.”
“You don’t know until I’ve eaten it!”
“Then it’ll be too late. And we’ll have to clean up the mess.”
Louis leapt backward off the chair. It had worked.
“ OK  then. I’ll go up and play. Bye.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. But will he sulk and get his revenge for the prohibition by being really bad?
I creep upstairs. He’s listening to Chopin’s Polonaise and playing with a construction set. I’m taken back to my own childhood .This was my first record for our wind-up gramophone.
I decide to get back to my work and leave him to his. So I come downstairs and muse about drugs and threats of violence , growing up in London as a teenager, bullying at school, too much telly, internet games and inappropriate web sites etc etc. What about my prohibition on chocolate and subsequent reasoning? Had I been any use as a (largely) absentee grand father? Should I have given in?  Shared some chocolate with him?
I concluded that there are, as ever, no absolute answers.  We needed a positive relationship and that was so difficult when I only saw him at most for a few days every six weeks.  The most I could hope for was a balanced approach to prohibition and permission.

A balanced approach is what Mildred is recommending. Balanced and caring. Above all,  with love. But love? What is this? Mildred implies that it is the resolute and careful engagement in the business of  helping  the young grow  in happiness and  creative discovery of self and the world.

We need to listen to the wisdom of our elders.  Mildred is a previous generation to me , being over 90 and 16 years older than me. 16 years nearer to the end of her expressive life and still full of the compulsion to express. Her latest book, Recapturing Childhood, is not a sort of last will and testament, a P.S to a series of expressions  It is fresh and forward looking. It follows logically on from her other titles which have had such good sales and have no doubt been very influential in the field of child up-bringing.

The list is impressive:
•  Let’s Play Together…300 games which put cooperation above competition.
•  Let’s Cooperate (video)… giving  visual demonstrations of these cooperative games.
•  Let’s Cooperate… (book) emphasising the importance of self-concept, creativity, cooperation, social interaction and the peaceful resolution of conflict at successive ages.
•  Freedom from Bullying …about how to diminish the scourge of bullying in schools and so free more children to enjoy childhood.
•  Let’s Enjoy Nature … suggesting over 500  ideas for activities for children and adults to do together in order to enjoy the natural world and so to grow towards being active in helping to protect our planet
•  Positive Childhood… setting out resources for making the journey of childhood fun, active and participatory..
•  Carrier’s Cart to Oxford…a social history of an Oxfordshire village, Elsfield, in the 1920’s, seen through the eyes of Mildred as a child. It sets out the picture as a valuable alarm call to the present day , pointing to what we have lost in the splendours and miseries of the intervening years.
• Recapturing Childhood: Positive Parenting in the Modern World.. by no means is this a nostalgic book. It points to the present situation and to the possible ways of giving back to children an experience of childhood which can form the basis for a happy and constructive life.

Mildred’s book sets out the vital elements of the framework for such an experience of childhood. She cites the latest alarming evidence from research about the poisoned chalice we are passing on to our children. She quotes parents on every point.  These are parents who have consciously  decided  to make sacrifices to achieve a better environment for their family life then might have been  possible if both parents had pursued a career.  This is a limitation in her book , since most parents will have  been obliged , or thought they had to gain two incomes. The mortgage, the annual holidays, the payments on the car,  all these considerations have been built into the concept of ‘the good life’ for most people. This is perhaps why the book is so important.  Their experience  is important for everyone even though it may not be the choice which everyone makes. They blaze a trail that holds lessons for all circumstances in the same way that parents who decide on home-based education illustrate for schools some of the essential truths about education, even though every parent may not wish or be able to do this themselves.

In this sense also, Mildred puts in a special appendix on Steiner schools.  They have much to offer. They are an important part of the educational scene, even though they may not be the answer for every family. There is perhaps no blueprint for all schools but what is certain is that we have a need to reform our present school system and models of how to do it differently are useful in this quest. Steiner is important in the emphasis placed on the arts, in the continuity of relationship between one tutor and the child, and in the regular celebration of learning. Parents need to take into account much of what Mildred writes about childhood in making their choices. They need to be wary of models which are paraded as the only solution. I am with Browning on the subject of panaceas “lest one good idea should corrupt the world”.

Her 13 chapters range through
•  Positive Parenting in the Modern World
•  The Security of a Good Family life
•  Feelings and Emotions
•  It’s good to Talk and Listen
•  Creative Play and the Arts
•  Keeping in Touch with Nature
•  Care of the Body; Exercise, Food and SLeep
•  Happy Schooling
•  Positive behaviour
•  Keeping Technology under Control
•  What Values do we Choose?
•  Controlling our Time
•  Parental Power in action for our children

The wisdom of Mildred needs to be listened to. All young parents should read this book. Not all will be able to heed the call to forego one career, live off one salary, and engage so intensely with their children. But the book is a basis from which each will be able to work out their own unique solution to the opportunity of having their own children, of providing love and care in this overwhelmingly demanding world. It may even give reassurance to those who, in the more straitened circumstances of the post credit crunch world, find themselves with less money and more time on their hands than before.

01.05.09  Philip Toogood. (Trustee of Personalised Education Now)

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