Tag Archives: mind/body/spirit

The True Face Curriculum by Siobhan Curham

true faceSiobhan Curham is on a mission to help teens find their true selves, with her fabulous book True Face, which came out last week. I’m so happy to have her guest posting here at the Hearthfire today.

I asked her what her dream curriculum would look like (and I so wish we could implement this in schools right now – it looks brilliant!).

One thing that baffles me about the education system is that it’s so geared towards preparing us for our adult lives: cramming our heads full of knowledge, training us to pass exams, providing us with qualifications, and yet no time, or very little, is spent looking at who we actually are. Instead of tailoring education to fit the unique needs and talents of the individual, we’re forced to squeeze ourselves into a ‘one size fits all’ system. Only it doesn’t fit all at all.

And when you combine this with the pressure from the media and society to look and act and think in a certain way, it’s all too easy to lose sight of our true selves before we’ve even left school. Then, when we do leave, we can end up in jobs and relationships and lives that make us feel unhappy and uncomfortable because they just don’t fit.

Losing sight of my true self when I was a teenager caused me to drop out of uni and end up in a job that I hated. It took me years before I regained the confidence and clarity to remember who I truly was and follow my true calling as a writer.

So, if I could give school curriculums a TRUE FACE make-over, here’s what I would do…

Finding Out Who You Truly Are

There would be regular sessions designed to help students identify who they truly are. They would frequently be asked questions such as: What are your passions? What are your talents? What are your strengths? so that their academic education could be adapted accordingly to ensure that they shine.

Feeling Good About Your True Self

Building on the findings from the previous section, I would help students feel good about their own unique talents and characteristics and strengths – even if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. Especially if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. The world desperately needs more free-thinking, free-spirited people. It does not need any more reality TV stars.

Having a Healthy Body Image

To counteract the air-brushed images we’re constantly being bombarded with by magazines and the media, students would be taught that true beauty exists within all of us. And that to live our best, most fulfilling lives, we need to eat for vitality, exercise for fun and revel in our so-called ‘imperfections’.

Turning Wounds into Wisdom

Students would also be given the tools to turn any painful experiences into lessons to live their life by. Turning wounds into wisdom is one of the most freeing things you can do in life and absolutely vital for happiness during the teenage years.

Overcoming Your Inner Voice of Doom

During the school years you can often become plagued by your ‘inner voice of doom’ – the voice in your head that tells you that you’re just not good enough, popular enough, attractive enough, clever enough. I would provide students with simple techniques to counteract this inner voice and encourage them to create an inner voice that is way more supportive.

Making and Being True Friends

There are few things more depressing than reading the statistics about bullying in schools, so a substantial part of the True Face Curriculum would be focused on creating a culture of encouragement and support. There would be regular Random Acts of Kindness days and mentorship schemes.

Mindfulness Techniques

With anxiety, self-harming and depression amongst young people all massively on the rise, there would be regular lessons in basic mindfulness techniques so that students would have the tools to help themselves when life gets tough.

Studies are showing that meditation has a transformative effect in the classroom and on students’ lives, so I would make this a daily practice.

Finding Your True Calling

Lots of time would be spent studying inspirational women and girls from all walks of life and all different professions. So that when teenage girls are surveyed about what they want to do when they leave school 70% don’t reply ‘be famous’ (as they did in a recent poll). My goal would be to have 100% answer that they want to in some way create, adventure, pioneer and explore.

Although I might not be in charge of the curriculum (and writing this post has made me really wish that I was!) all of these subjects are covered in TRUE FACE and my talks and workshops for schools.

You can find out more over at the TRUE FACE website.

See what I mean? How much more meaningful could school be with Siobhan in charge? Thank you so much, Siobhan, for visiting the Hearthfire today. If you have or are a teen and like the sound of these ideas, I would strongly recommend grabbing a copy of True Face.

Things I learnt in a yurt

As both a teacher and a writer, I am pretty much destined to be ‘always on’ and not switch off and relax. Last week, however, I found the secret to relaxing and recharging in a lovely yurt in Northumberland with my family. I thought I’d share a little piece of my experience here, so here’s what I (re)discovered, in no particular order:

The joy of disconnection

No phone signal, no electricity (although we could charge our phones etc in the central kitchen block) gave us all a much needed digital detox that allowed us to reconnect to each other. The stash of board games and the handily-supplied Dummies Guide to Card Games wouldn’t have had as much use if we’d been able to tweet, facebook and bbm as normal. And that would definitely have been a shame, as even the resident teen agrees.

Fire is not just for warmth

Toasting marshmallows around the fire pit 🙂

Obviously, as curator of the hearthfire here, I was already familiar with fire’s magical and restorative properties, but it never hurts to be reminded.

Balancing comfort and wildness is crucial in this kind of break

and we were lucky to find a place that achieves exactly that. Glorious decor and the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in on holiday beautifully countered the illusion of rugged isolation (we were alone in a field, but 5 mins from the centre of the site and underfloor-heated toilet/shower block), and empowered us to tackle the terrain.

Hareshaw Linn, in nearby Bellingham. A beautiful, if occasionally challenging, walk in the rain.

My camera is not good enough!

I really wanted to capture the beauty of the candlelit yurt at night, the wood-burning stove, the stars in the pitch-black skies, but apparently I’m not equipped for that :(.  My wildlife photography skills are also lacking, unfortunately, so you don’t get to see the toads, bat or many many finches that we did, although this little fella who snuck in out of the rain was quite obliging, bless him.


Real relaxation is invaluable

Of course, I ‘know’ this, but I do find it hard to properly relax and not feel I should be doing something productive – something that I think is common to many. But with no laptop and no goals, no guilt was possible for this week and it was definitely the right thing for me. I’ve returned refreshed and reinvigorated and with my creativity topped right up. Bring it on!

For anyone curious, we stayed in Merle Yurt at Wild Northumbrian Tipis and Yurts and I would absolutely recommend them for family holidays or quiet getaways.

Stress and Aromatherapy

Who doesn’t suffer from the effects of stress these days? Personally, I’ve had issues dealing with stress and anxiety since I was a student. Back at uni, I discovered that essential oils were one of the best ways to treat myself and try to bring back some balance, and they’re still something I reach for regularly to deal with lots of small day-to-day things too.

Personally, I tend to use the stimulant-type citrusy oils quite a lot, like Bergamot and Grapefruit. Both of these can be used with depression and anxiety, and I find the citrus scents uplifting. They’re great combined with a woody or resin base note like Frankincense (brilliant for stress, as it encourages you to regulate your breathing) or Sandalwood, or with a spice such as Ginger. This kind of blend works particularly well (for me) when I’m stressed/anxious but need to focus to get things done. I use these in traditional oil burners, evaporating off water with a tealight below (I have burners all over the house!), and also usually have a nice citrusy blends in a roll-on to apply to pulse points when I’m out and about.

When I need help winding down, or sleeping, Clary Sage or Marjoram are the ones I reach for, often combined with Vanilla for its warm and comforting smell. Again, this can be in a burner, but I’m just as likely to pop a few drops onto a tissue and slip it in my pillowcase.

If you’re interested in finding out more about aromatherapy, I’ve been using Valerie Ann Worwood’s books for years, and would highly recommend them. The Fragrant Pharmacy is where I started – that gives a great overview of essential oils for medicinal purposes. There is also The Fragrant Mind, which (unsurprisingly) focuses on “Aromatherapy for Personality, Mind, Mood and Emotion” and The Fragrant Heavens, about oils for spirituality.

Happy Halloween: marking the festival creatively

Are you trick or treating with the kids? Waiting in, prepared for the trick-or-treaters? Looking for something to do to tap into the spirit of Halloween but not sure what? Here are a few suggestions.

Decorate your windows

with simple paper cut outs for silhouettes and tissue paper to get a nice glow. Simple, strong outlines work best: orange tissue for a no-mess pumpkin face (use black paper or black marker to make the features so the orange face glows) or a circle of white tissue with a black wolf or bat silhouette against it also looks good, as do spider and bat silhouettes in black paper straight on the window.

Remember the dead

This time of year has always been about honouring those who have gone before. A simple and unobtrusive altar or shrine can easily be created using photographs, momentos or items which symbolise loved ones, perhaps together with a candle for focus.

Write something seasonal

Here’s a couple of fun exercises I’ve used with a keen student creative writing group around Halloween:

  • Practice ‘show, don’t tell’ by writing a paragraph in which a character is scared. You must demonstrate their fear as many ways as possible and avoid the word ‘scared’ and its synonyms.
  • Write a poem, a brief monologue or a flash fiction piece inspired by an unusual phobia. A handy list of phobias is available online at the phobia list.

Practise divination

Again, this is traditional at this point in the year, when the veil is said to be thinnest. If you’ve got divination tools such as tarot or oracle cards tucked away somewhere, now is a good time to pull them out and give them a go. If you’ve never really got to grips with them, try shuffling and concentrating on being open to whatever you most need to know right now. Draw a single card and see what it says to you. Don’t reach straight for the book or leaflet – what does the image mean to you? Do take notice of ideas that appear in your mind; a lot of good information is too easily dismissed.
For the more practised, here’s a great Halloween spread, working on the principle of Samhain as a beginning and an ending and seeking guidance for the coming year. Simply draw three cards: what to cast off, what to hang onto, what to bring in. This can be done as a simple three card spread, or made more complicated by applying these three ideas to different areas that you want to focus on such as love, career, family etc.
What do you do at this time of year?

Doing More Things: a happiness project of sorts

Lately, I’ve been trying to be more present, do more family things, that kind of stuff. It’s definitely working. I’m seeing the benefits in my own health (especially in terms of stress-related issues) as well as in that of the family. Here are some recent highlights:

Saturday mornings at the zoo

We joined Twycross Zoo‘s ‘Friends’ programme last summer and are now into our second year of membership. This month, they started a Junior Friends scheme where the kids spend two hours on activities with Education Officers, while we wander round the zoo for a bit (and sample the fabulous cooked breakfasts…). I think the kids’ highlight so far has been making papier mache pinatas to stuff with lemur treats. I’ve been really impressed with the activities and it’s a great start to the weekend.

Prioritising walks

With two lively dogs (a terrier and a lurcher), a day without walking is never possible, but I have in the past been guilty of letting dear hubby take them on his own so I could get some work done. I always knew, of course, that a good walk is a brilliant way of taking a break as it can recharge and refresh, but when you’re struggling to get everything done it can be hard. No more, though – me and my health first, then work. (And of course, work often improves too when you actually take care of yourself…)

A positive to-do list

This is an idea I got from the blogosphere somewhere (I’m really sorry I don’t recall where exactly), but it worked really well for us this summer. At the start of the summer holidays, we each made a list of things we wanted to do during the break. We pinned it up on the calendar board and used it for inspiration to avoid frittering away the summer. Not that we had no down time, or ran ourselves ragged! It’s all too easy to get to the end of the summer holidays and realise that you haven’t done anything special – this list helped us escape that feeling. Isn’t it ridiculous that we need reminding that we want to do fun things? But still, having recognised that, we were able to act on it. It’s definitely an approach I’d use again.

Magical Monday: 10 Fabulous Full Moon Facts

  1. Today’s full moon is known as the Old Moon, the Wolf Moon or the Ice Moon. (NB: different traditions have different names for each moon).
  2. Violence and crime is said to increase at the full moon, with more cases of assault, murder, arson and suicide.
  3. The rutting season for deer (and other herbivores) appears to be related to the full moon.
  4. More babies are said to be born at the full moon.
  5. Trying to conceive at a full moon is supposed to increase your chances of a son (it’s the new moon for a daughter).
  6. The Old Moon is said to be a good time for spells and rituals relating to the home and family and material matters.  
  7. Salmon and other animals are noted to migrate in greater numbers at the full moon.
  8. Cutting your hair at the full moon is claimed to make it grow more quickly.
  9. The full moon is associated with the Mother aspect of the Goddess.
  10. Herbs harvested at the full moon are believed to be more potent, as they contain more essential oils.
So, which of these have you heard before?

Family Friday: top tips for walking with kids

We’ve taken our kids walking for several years now. The youngest was probably three when we started regularly walking as a family (she’ll be eight in a fortnight). We’re not enormous distance hikers – five miles is a long walk to us, and we probably more regularly do around three.

One of these has been helpful but you absolutely can enjoy family walks without one! (She’s only been with us for a year, and is out first family dog.)

So, here are my top things that encourage kids to enjoy the great outdoors:

  1. Checklists of things to spot. This has easily been the most helpful single thing to get the kids involved. We have a book of family walks which helpfully includes checklists tailored to each route, but we also make out own for other walks. It’s important for the list to be a mixture of easily-spottable things (depends on the route and sometimes the time of year, of course, but cows, acorns, swans are good standbys for us), specific features of particular walks (a windmill, a standing stone) and sometimes number-based challenges (how many herons can you see etc). 
  2. Snacks – ideally hidden ready to be produced at a ‘flagging’ moment. As well as the obvious boiled sweets, dried fruit is good. Water is, of course, essential.
  3. Stiles, brooks and livestock (ideally separated from you by a fence!). I could never have predicted the amount that stiles increase the fun of a walk by 🙂 and paddling in or crossing a brook is also a joy. Spotting livestock is popular as well, but some kids are made nervous by walking through a cow or sheep field.
Do you have any to add?

April A-Z: Health and Happiness

Since I’m posting from my phone (again! Virgin Media to blame), this post will be a fairly simple account of what helps me retain my health and happiness – for the most part at least.

I did hesitate about posting on this topic, since I do have a bit of a stress thing going at the moment. However, since I’m managing that largely successfully and I do (like everyone else currently in UK Education) have an increased load in terms of stress at present, maybe my experience is worth sharing.

For me, walking the dog has been a great help. Exercise has long been known to improve health in many ways, but it can be very difficult to fit into the day when you’re already feeling tired or low. Ironically, it’s a key thing to improve mood and raise energy levels.

I suppose creative work of any kind will work – you just need to find your version of this. Personally, it’s been crucial for me to include fiction writing into my routine. I was already doing a considerable amount of ‘teacherly’ writing and had shelved my kid lit ideas ‘until I have time’. This was a mistake, and I’ve been doing a lot better since I realised this.

It’s hard – but essential – to step back from work regularly. Took me a loooong time to learn this and I am now much better at it. I would argue I’m more effective at work too, rather than less, since I’m not a stresshead all the time these days.

April A-Z: Divination

Divination is the art of foretelling the future or gaining secret information preternaturally or supernaturally.

We’re all familiar with divination tools such as tarot cards, runes and crystal balls. However, there is also a long tradition of divining using everyday items. Incidentally, I also think it’s interesting that, although the noun ‘divination’ relates to this art generally, we tend to use the verb ‘divining’ to describe the practice of dowsing for water, particularly with rods.

Here are some everyday things that have been/are used in divinatory practices:

  • bones
  • water with another fluid floating on its surface, such as ink
  • bird flight patterns
  • clouds
  • coins
  • dominoes
  • dice
  • playing cards
  • a ring or pendant on a chain or string

Some of these require the user to ascribe meanings to different aspects, e.g. to different cards or dominoes, while others involve looking for patterns and images to emerge. Simply tossing a coin to decide something, or using lots (or the shortest straw) to choose someone, can be seen as a kind of divination – of letting the gods choose.

Some may believe that unseen powers control the outcome of our divinatory efforts.
Others, that it’s just evidence of our human tendency to see patterns in things.
Others still believe these represent means of letting our unconscious or subconscious mind or higher self ‘speak’ to us.

Regardless of how it works, we remain fascinated with the possibility of gaining ‘extra’ knowledge, as evidenced by the increase in psychic fairs and similar events.

April A-Z: Attitude Adjustment

In these trying times, I thought I’d share a list of things that have lifted my spirits in the last week:

  • Students – it’s almost a given that when I’m fed up, I’ll have a great lesson or a student (usually not the one you’d expect) will suddenly ‘get it’ or say something lovely that really cheers me up.
  • Music – there’s nothing like a rousing song or a blast from the past to perk me up on the train or bus.
  • Writing – finishing a draft and a couple of editing rounds of a young kid novel was a real boost. 
  • My lovely husband – encouraging me to take a day for myself and go to a couple of Cambridge Wordfest sessions.
  • Reading – starting Katherine Langrish’s “West of the Moon” has given me some much-needed escapism.