I am delighted to be sharing this interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
This week, I’d like to welcome British mama of one Rowan Webley to Frida be Mighty. I first met Rowan through her Instagram account, and I find Rowan’s approach to home education and her insight into children’s play endlessly inspiring, and I love soaking up the wisdom she shares as an early years consultant. She has been so generous with her responses here, and I’m sure you will enjoy reading her answers in this very special interview as much as I did…
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
Hello! My name is Rowan. I am an early years consultant, with a special interest in child led learning and play. I live in Bristol, in the South West of England, with my 7 year old daughter Elsie Bean and our beautiful cat Lily.
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
Yes. When we are home, our mornings tend to be quite slow. Elsie plays quietly in her bedroom until 7, then we have a leisurely breakfast, get washed and dressed, and work together on a few morning chores. These simple acts can take a long time if Elsie becomes absorbed in play. I’ll often find her still in her pj’s, surrounded by Lego, long after I’ve cleared up breakfast and got myself ready for the day, in which case I usually dress her and then find something to occupy myself until she seeks me out. Some days, we don’t start our ‘school’ day until after lunch.
Our ‘school’ day consists of some gentle exercise, working through our morning basket (a collection of books, games and activities, related to our current project), and two main lessons, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Our main lessons vary hugely, but are often project related and almost always play based. This is how our day looks for 3 out of the 7 days in a week. Elsie goes to a childminder one day a week, and I work as a childminder on the other. Weekends are often spent with her Daddy. Late afternoons are for more play, a bit of screen time while I prepare dinner, bath, stories and bed.
Are there any philosophies or books which have influenced your approach to parenting?
I struggled in the early years of motherhood because I couldn’t cope with the influx of advice, and felt like a lot of what I was reading or being told went against my natural instincts. I am an extremely sensitive person, and until recently, saw it as a weakness as opposed to my superpower. I would find myself crying in the supermarket queue at the sound of a crying baby. Even now, I find the concept of not comforting a crying child painful and difficult to comprehend. I don’t really know how, but somehow I found the confidence to be an advocate for my daughter. Reading the natural parenting magazine ‘Juno’ helped me to feel less alone.
You are currently home educating your daughter. Did you always know you would want to home educate, or was it a gradual realisation?
It was a gradual realisation. Having spent the best part of my life in mainstream schooling, as a student myself and later as a primary school teacher, home education didn’t really occur to me until Elsie was about 2.5 years old. My own experiences of school as a child were not unhappy, but neither were they particularly enjoyable. School was just something that I had to endure, and I don’t think the experience offered me a positive and healthy outlook on life. I loved teaching, but saw a lot of changes over the course of my career that didn’t sit well with me.
Once my daughter was born, my entire outlook on life changed, and I began to carve out a life that would enable me to be at home with her. Elsie is a summer baby, and as the deadline for school applications loomed, I felt strongly that she wasn’t ready. Having been a Reception class teacher for the best part of 10 years, I felt that it was an informed decision, knowing full well what would be expected of her in that first year of school.
Are there any educational methods which you feel especially drawn to? Are you taking a structured, planned-out approach to home education or a more free-flowing one?
I’ve been hugely influenced by my reading around different educational philosophies, and the joy of home education is that we are able to pick and choose the elements that we love and that work for our family. I love the beauty and seasonal elements of Waldorf education, along with delayed formal teaching. I’ve been drawn to the practical life skills and respectful approach to parenting of Montessori; When Elsie was 2, I trained to be aForest School leader, and ran weekly sessions for just over 2 years with a fellow childminder. I learned about the benefits of risky play, and of spending prolonged periods of time outdoors.
We’ve been loosely following the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum for the past 18 months which has been great for learning about a wide range of nature based topics, and for providing a focus when we are outdoors. I would say that our approach during the winter months is semi-structured, as neither of us are that keen on being outdoors in cold/wet weather, but still with the freedom to drop everything if need be. In the summer months we pretty much unschool.
You run your business alongside home educating and also working as a childminder one day a week. As a fellow home educating business owner I’m always fascinated about how others make it work – can you talk to me a little about how you organise your time and make it happen?
Honestly? It’s a really big juggle, and I don’t always get the balance right. I’m trying to become more disciplined about dividing my time, but the reality is that I’m often thinking about work when I’m with my daughter, and about her home education when I’m working. Last autumn I made the decision that I needed to streamline things a bit, and be a bit more boundaried around my work, enabling me to focus on Elsie on her home days. Monday, Tuesday and Friday are now very much about being present with my daughter. Wednesday is for working. Thursday is for childminding. The weekends are often split with Elsie’s Daddy, so I’m able to get in another day’s work then.
Which aspects of parenting bring you the most joy?
I love it all, even the hard stuff. When I look back on some of the toughest phases of my motherhood journey… the sleep deprivation, the periods of acute anxiety, struggling with difficult behaviours, worrying about money… it all had positive outcomes or positive lessons for me, and it makes me feel empowered to have overcome them. I have a close, loving and respectful relationship with my daughter, and I am immensely proud of the person that she is. I have no regrets about investing my time and energy into her.
Which parts of motherhood do you find challenging?
The constant interruption, for sure! From finishing a job, to finishing a sentence, to finishing a train of thought. I find it exhausting. As an introvert, I find the constant chatter and lack of alone time a real challenge. This was a big motivating factor in working hard to encourage independent play from an early age, through planning an enabling environment for my daughter with plenty of materials to inspire play. The lack of sleep in the early years was an absolute killer too. Elsie didn’t sleep through the night until shortly after I weaned her at 4.5 years old. Waking every 45 mins all through the night was pretty normal for her. I think I am probably still chronically sleep deprived.
How do you make time for self-care, and what does that look like for you?
It’s been something that I’ve really struggled with in the past, and that I’ve had to get better at as I have suffered with poor mental health. I prioritise an early bed time for my daughter so that I have an hour or two to myself each evening. I read, listen to podcasts, craft or watch a film. I also prioritise an early night for myself. I recognise that I need a lot of sleep to cope with my busy life, and if I don’t get enough, I get anxious and stressed. I’ve been working really hard over the past two years to declutter my home, and get lots of organisational systems in place, such as a cleaning plan and meal plan. That in itself has had a huge impact on my wellbeing. I’m also really mindful about not committing to too many social occasions without time to recharge in between.
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
Play, play and more play. Long stretches of unstructured and unsupervised, child led and open ended play. Time outdoors in nature. Time for rest. Time to be bored, as that is when the magic often happens. Time to work through feelings. Time for reflection. Unconditional love.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
The best advice that I received as a new mother was to trust and follow my instincts. It’s easier said than done in this busy age, with so much to distract you from your true feelings, and friends or family often eager to advise you and share their opinions, but if you are able to tune in to what feels right, it often is the right path of action for you. Finding the confidence within you to be an advocate for your child.
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
Oh, this is SUCH a tough question! Children’s books are very much a passion of mine. For babies, I love the ‘A First Book for Babies’ series by Helen Oxenbury. For the toddler/pre-school years, ‘The Nursery Collection’ by Shirley Hughes. We are huge fans of the ‘Usborne Beginners’ series for non-fiction. Our current favourite? Probably ‘The Quangle Wangle’s Hat’ by Edward Lear.
Thank you so much Rowan! You can find Rowan on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and read her lovely blog here. Rowan sells brilliant invitations to play for young children which can be purchased here (Frida was recently gifted a playdough invitation by Rowan and she loved it!), and Rowan has also recently launched a digital ‘Spring inspiration pack’ which is packed full of wonderful ideas for things to do with children.