Friday 25 May 2018

Licence to skill - ‘My mum passed on her skills so I can sew and knit’

Taking time to pass on old-fashioned lessons and knowledge to our kids is vital even if they don't always do things perfectly, writes Kathy Donaghy

Nature lesson: Paddy Madden discusses plants with Emma Swords, Anna Callaly, Anna Price, Shannon Farrell and Ben O’Kelly. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nature lesson: Paddy Madden discusses plants with Emma Swords, Anna Callaly, Anna Price, Shannon Farrell and Ben O’Kelly. Photo: Tony Gavin

Kathy Donaghy

When we think back to our childhoods many of us will remember endless summers outside riding bikes, camping with cousins and making tree houses.

Maybe we're looking back with rose-tinted glasses but with children spending less and less time outdoors playing there's a real chance that some of the more old-fashioned skills like learning the names of trees and going fishing are being lost.

A new survey lays the blame at the door of dads, saying the types of activities they typically passed on to their children are being forgotten. The survey showed that fathers are no longer teaching their kids life skills like reading a map, riding a bike and pitching a tent.

More than two-thirds of the 1,000 fathers polled said their own father was more "hands-on" when it came to passing on life lessons.

Three in 10 fathers admitted they have never shown their children how to tie a tie, while 29pc have never demonstrated how to buff and polish a pair of shoes. And the survey, commissioned by Fishing TV in Britain, also found that 60pc of children would rather play computer games than venture outdoors.

Psychologist Sarah O'Doherty says the issue today is time on both sides, both on the parent's side and on the child's. "Everyone is stressed for time. Dads don't have time and kids have so many competing things going on. There's pressure on everyone."

Nature expert Paddy Maden discusses fossils at Robertstown National School in Kildare. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nature expert Paddy Maden discusses fossils at Robertstown National School in Kildare. Photo: Tony Gavin

She makes the point that traditional skills like learning to knit or plant vegetables take time and practice, and sometimes it can seem like there are easier options.

But she says instead of beating ourselves up that we are not doing enough things or learning enough things, it should be about the time you spend with your child doing something that's important.

"Every time I thread a needle I think of my grandmother. People talk about building memories for your children but small things like this are things we don't consider memories," she says.

"We're all time-short and we are impatient. We might ask our kids to do something and it's not done right. It's not about them doing it badly - it's about time and getting the practice.

Fur play: Nature expert Paddy Madden discusses wildlife with Anna Callaly, Shannon Farrell, Anna Price and Emma Swords, children from Robertstown National School in Kildare. Photo :Tony Gavin
Fur play: Nature expert Paddy Madden discusses wildlife with Anna Callaly, Shannon Farrell, Anna Price and Emma Swords, children from Robertstown National School in Kildare. Photo :Tony Gavin

"It's about practice on both sides. And it feeds back into parenting and praising the effort rather than being perfect," she says.

Outdoor expert Paddy Madden (67) has been teaching kids about the natural world for decades. Growing up on a farm in Whitegate, Co Clare, he was always interested in nature. His father would explain what he saw as he sewed seeds and his mother was always busy in the garden.

But he also credits a teacher at school for inspiring him. When he was in third class his teacher asked all the pupils to bring in something to the class on the way to school. Paddy was amazed by the teacher's knowledge of all the things that grew that the children had brought it.

He believes schools have a big part to play in encouraging children to interact with the natural world and teaching them what might be more old-fashioned skills like identifying birds and animals, and growing fruit and vegetables.

As one of the Heritage Council's schools experts, Paddy visits primary school children, passing on some of what he's learned over the years.

He believes that instead of nature being contained in scientific programmes, if it was taught across the whole curriculum, it would help. And when he goes into schools he gets children to grow simple things like mange tout and peas.

For parents, he believes spending as much time as they can with their children in nature is key.

"Get into the garden as much as possible. Get out into the wonderful environment we have. Even if parents don't know the names of everything, get them out and get to see the beauty that's all around," says Paddy.

"At this time of year I'd encourage children to listen to the bird song. Look at the buds on the trees and look at the different colours. Start off small. If you see a tree with a black bud, that's an ash. Get your children to take a twig with buds on it into the house and watch as the buds unfold. It's about getting outside and going for walks," says Paddy.

Christian Hughes (37) from Clogherhead, Co Louth, says he has very strong opinions about passing on skills to his son Beckett, who is almost four years old.

However, he says while some of these will be the traditional 'dad' skills like reading a map or taking an engine apart, he's also the main cook in the house and does all the sewing and repair work, so he's keen that Beckett picks up these skills from him too.

"The kind of stuff you would consider traditionally masculine things like DIY - I have always had an interest in figuring things out. My mum was a professional dressmaker and she would have passed on her skills to me so I can crochet, sew and knit too. I would do 80-90pc of the cooking at home," says Christian.

And he believes that practical skills like finding out how things work and what kind of tools you need to do a job are important in the world, even in a more digital age.

"With Beckett, it's very clear already what interests him. He's mad about dinosaurs. He can tell you every single name, even the complicated ones. I was the one who looked up the names and told him. He enjoys that and I think it's important to foster that at a young age," says Christian.

"As soon as he starts to show interest in things, we'll give him the knowledge. We'll keep on telling him stuff and showing him stuff. I think if you're out for a ramble, knowing how to read a map and knowing which way is west is the kind of stuff everyone should know," he says.

Christian believes the same is true with cooking. "There's a base level of what you need to know to cook for yourself. Everyone should be able to do that. Being able to feed yourself isn't a special skill - it's part of life.

"At the end of the day we'd like Beckett to go into the world and know how to look after himself."

He adds: "I think there's two sides to it - the more traditional skills and the more modern skills of interacting with technology. They're both important.

"With Beckett, when we are doing something new or engaging in something different we'll try to make an effort to explain things. There are things he doesn't understand, but he's at a stage in life where he's going to learn more than at any other point in life and we need to facilitate that. I want to know that he's a capable human being who can look after himself and others."

Irish Independent

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