We chat to children’s book author Tai Snaith about her new book ‘Slow Down, World’, and how we can encourage our kids to appreciate the little things in the everyday again – It’s mindfulness for kids!
What was the inspiration behind your new children’s book Slow Down, World?
I had begun using clay in my practice after taking on the task of hand glazing 550 tiles for our house when we renovated two years ago. When I started working with clay, I developed a real appreciation for taking things slowly and this change in my process started me thinking about slowing down in general.
I found that if I slowed my process down, I had more time to discover new things, play and understand myself better. Then I thought, surely this is a great concept to be sharing with kids?
As a parent with two small kids it is easy to get into the habit of rushing them all the time, giving them screens when you need a break and generally ‘gearing them up’ and trying to do too much stuff rather than slowing them down and focusing on a few simple things.
I tried to slow myself down first, and then I’d get them to slow down with me. I also want to enjoy my time with them and not make it too high-pressure or stressful. Now my kids use clay when I do and we walk a lot more than we used to. I thinking walking allows your mind to wander as well as your feet.
What do you hope kids can take away from Slow Down, World?
I hope at the very least they find beauty in the images. I used to be fascinated by the hand-made illustrations of Jeannie Baker when I was younger and I hope I can inspire young artists with my own books like I was inspired by hers. I also hope it can be a simple and pleasurable experience between parent and child at bed time that slows and simplifies their fast-paced little minds, and helps them feel calm and ready for sleep.
What age group is the book aimed at?
It is aimed at anyone from 3-12yr olds. There are different messages that each of the ages can take away from it. My three-year-old loves finding the snails on each page, and our seven-year-old niece loves the idea that the girl is brave and can face many challenges. Some kids love using the mindfulness tips in the back for guidance or even ideas for school projects, (my six-year-old is doing a term on the human body and mental health is a large part of it, so I will be reading this book to his class).
Your book is beautifully designed with handcrafted pages – what handmade elements went into creating the book?
The backgrounds are all watercolour on a special matte, pastel-coloured card, the foregrounds and landscapes (trees, clouds, buildings) are all made from fired earthenware and porcelain clay, which I then painted. The figures of the girl and horse are made from a special blotting card with gouache paint and ink – a technique that is not easy, but achieves a nice look and almost looks as if the whole thing could come to life as an animation.
In a technology driven world, what are some ways parents can encourage their kids to slow down and be mindful of their surroundings and the world around them?
There are a few basic and easy things I can recommend:
– Get some clay and set them up outside. You just need basic tools, water, a board and a slab of clay. It doesn’t matter what they make, even if they just chop it into lots of pieces or poke holes in it, it’s great for their minds.
– Go for a walk and pick some flowers. Smell each one and name the colours and the plant name. Take them home and put them in a vase together.
– Spend time with animals. I can’t encourage this enough. Animals have a way of teaching kids to live in the moment and understand being gentle, kind and to communicate without words.
What are some of your fondest childhood memories?
Most of my fondest childhood memories are of my pony, Apples, and the adventures we went on together at Warialda, at my father’s farm. I remember lazy summer days where I would sit backwards on her back and read my book while she ate green grass in the orchard, and hot days swimming bare-back in the dam. As well as jumping over many ditches and fallen tree logs that seemed insurmountable challenges at first, and eventually I conquered them over time. By the time I was a teenager there was not a fence or log that we had not jumped over!
How do you balance your children’s time and yourself with digital based activities vs. non digital activities?
I am pretty careful with this and aware of my time on the computer and on my phone, especially if the kids are around. I make sure if we go to the park together or walking to and from school, I turn my phone off.
We talk at dinner and we often make things together after school and on weekends. Eye contact is really important with young kids and I hate to think what this generation of iPhone users is creating in terms of bonds with our children.
I try to be clever and use my phone when I would not have to be looking at my child, otherwise; when I’m pushing the pram, on the toilet, hanging the washing out, stacking the dishwasher. I know it seems crazy- but I think parents need to get good at using these devices in between quality time with children.
Now my kids are big enough to have a bath together without being watched, I check my emails while they are in the bath. I think I have just gotten good at developing a new routine around that stuff.
The only times my kids watch screens is when they’re sick and I want them to stay still, sometimes they can watch an educational show after school if they are tired, and after their bath they have to together discuss what they will watch for half an hour before stories and bed.
I think the main thing is that you have a routine that you are happy with and that doesn’t feel out of control. I am also really aware of making sure kids get lots of physical activity in their routine – this is hard if they’re attached to a screen.
What are some simple living practices that kids can add to their daily habits to-do-list?
– Walk to school each day. Studies have shown that subconscious human minds take in up to 4000 things every second (sounds, sights, smells, changes in light, etc). Walking through nature each morning will wake up your child’s mind and develop neural pathways they otherwise wouldn’t in the car and traffic.
– Be aware of the colour of the things you and the kids are eating. We talk to ours about making sure they have as many colours as possible on their plate. This way, you don’t make a huge deal about them being vegetables or not, just about appreciating balance and variety. Also talk about where food comes from.
– No screens during the day. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but in our house we make sure we stick to this as much as possible. We go to the book library and toy library every week and try to spend as much time as possible exploring outside too.
– Listen to your breathing in bed at night time.
– Take a deep breath before starting a meal, especially if your child rushes their food.
– Use visualisation techniques to think your way through anxiety and fear. There are some great practical exercises for parents tackling these issues with their kids to look at in the back of my book.
What are your top five simple things in life that you enjoy the most?
1. Gardening. With or without children, this is my number one simple pleasure. I love the process of collecting seeds, saving them and then planting them again.
2. Cooking something you have grown in your garden and sharing it with your family.
4. Making anything with my hands. Apart from my artwork, I also love to make seasonal things; wreaths from vines in the garden, birthday cards, flower arrangements, anything really.
5. Spending a Sunday with friends and family in the backyard. Sitting around in the sun, drinking wine and cooking homemade pizzas in the outdoor oven.
Do you have any tips to help kids get through tough times (when everything becomes too overwhelming)? Any practices they could put in place?
Visualising the worries as ‘things’ and letting them float away helps.
There are a few tips in the back of my book around these practices which are specially created for under school-age kids, also Smiling Mind have some great school-age and school-related practices on their free app (great for kids seven and over).
Tai Snaith, 36, lives in Victoria with her partner Simon and two children, Leo, 6, and Gil, 3. Her new book; Slow Down, World, is published by Thames & Hudson, $24.99, and is available now in all good bookstores nationally and online. You can also find out more about Tai’s work via her website, Facebook and Instagram.
See more stories on mindfulness and practicing simplicity HERE.