it’s a big world out there


How do you encourage thinking outside the box?

How do you give kids a chance to find out what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes?

I feel very strongly about the injustices I see in our world, how some have so much while others have so little. I feel very strongly about the way distrust of difference, hate, and racism seem to be becoming ‘normal’ according to the media and our politics when what I see in Jesus’ life and words is always a loving reaching out to the marginalized, always a challenge to injustice. Jesus himself summed up God’s instructions for the best way to live like this:

One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

(Mt 22:34-36 MSG)


For Andrew & I it really matters that we help our children to see that there is a big world out there, a world full of people that are made in God’s image, precious to him, loved by him. We want to nurture trust, open-heartedness, an inquisitiveness about difference, respect and a longing for justice in our children.

It’s not always straight forward helping our children to see things or understand things from someone else’s perspective.

Simon Baron-Cohen first described ‘Theory of mind’, or ‘mind blindness’ talking about human instinct to discern that we think individually and that others may think differently, and therefore act differently. He wrote extensively about his hypothesis that this is a major area of brain development and function that happens differently in people with autism. Uta Frith has suggested another hypothesis, called ‘Weak Central Cohesion’ which highlights the difference between a brain wired to instinctively to see the forest first and only then the trees, and those that would see the tree first and only then the trees, and then the forest! A theory that explores how different ways of thinking learn to see the big picture, and make connections across different contexts. (Or at least that’s what it seems to be talking about as I read about it!! find out more here.)

Both of these theories seem helpful when thinking about the daunting task of encouraging out of the box thinking, seeing things from another’s perspective, learning to find out what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes (now that’s a great metaphor I’ll look forward to unpacking with B & T!).


They remind me that for my girls it is very likely that they will learn these things in a different way to many, that they may need support and may need me to be very intentional about creating opportunities to explore because all this may not be their comfort zone thinking.

The theories also remind me not to expect inference learning to be happening, they remind me too that learning one new thought does not make the next new thought any easier to pick up. Sometimes help is needed connecting up the dots.

We have been lucky to have lived in a multicultural city, and to be a part of a church also vibrantly multicultural as B & A  grew up, and where T was born. It was easier there for all our senses to be exposed to the wonders of difference – different food, different colours, different accents – all were around our family life pretty much all the time. We became God parents again while we were there, and together found out about, and had a go at cooking Sri Lankan feast food for the meal after D’s baptism (we didn’t do as well as D’s mum did cooking us a roast dinner though!!). It has  been amazing (& will continue to be) to share birthday, Easter and Christmas traditions with each other as families, and to hear stories about family life in Sri Lanka before they moved here.


God Mum & God daughter: one very happy me, and one totally gorgeous D (appearing here at clearly nurturing with permission!)

Now we have moved somewhere less multicultural those natural everyday, living-alongside-each-other-opportunities are not as frequent and I find myself trying even more to be intentional about creating opportunities for those hands on, face to face connections that give us a chance to keep on finding out more about the big world on our doorstep.


Journey Home – a game (The Big Issue)

Games and books are great, and they do start great discussions. We love ‘travel the world’ (ELC) and have recently had good discussions with our older two playing ‘Journey Home’ (The Big Issue) (We would recommend looking through the scenarios that come up in the game before playing with your teens, some are hard hitting, some may be ones you want to take out at first and put back into the game when you feel they might be better equipped to talk about them). We try to add thoughtfully to our book collection, looking for books that are from a different perspective or context. We have been enjoying Susie Poole’s, ‘Sister Lucy’s Great Big Family’; Amnesty International’s, ‘We are all born free’ with it’s beautiful illustrations; Beatrice Hollyer’s, ‘Wake up world’ that looks at a day in the life of children around the world; Mary Hoffman & Karin Littlewood’s, ‘The Colour of Home’ with T recently. And A has just been given  ‘Here I stand’, by Amnesty International which looks as though it’s going to be very thought provoking.


But there is nothing like those encounters which involve the senses, and let us meet people even through photos and stories told first hand.

Last weekend we hosted an evening about EAPPI  because my sister has been travelling and working with them. It was a great opportunity to find out about such a seemingly distant and difficult to understand area of the world. I made Baklava, and A & B helped put out other mainly middle eastern snacks with Aunty Em before guests arrived (while I put T into bed who was having a full blown implosion after having a brilliant play date at a friend’s house after school).

Then we enjoyed them with a few friends and listened, asked lots of questions and discussed as Aunty Em showed us photos she had taken in Hebron, and told us about Zidan and his daughter who she had met there. Telling us about their home, school and about the street where they live. It was such a good ‘doorway’ to ‘step into’ what life is like for many in Hebron, and a way of finding out about both Israelis and Palestinians working for peace together in the area.


Zidan picking fruit hebron/West bank/photo/Emily


school girl at a checkpoint hebron/West bank/photo/Emily

‘..he really did you know!’

‘He really did you know A! really really!

really a baby, really on earth – our planet, he really was really just like us!’ T.

I just love the watching the moments when the ‘penny drops’. At the beginning of the week things all suddenly made sense to T in a new way. Over Christmas we had talked a lot about what (& who) was real, and about how Jesus was real. But for T this last weekend it became her understanding in a brand new way.


We had been to look round an art exhibition, ‘The Art of Mary‘, at Southwell Minster. So we had been talking a lot together that day about how some pictures showed Mary in a nativity scene, and how other artists showed Mary by painting mothers with their babies. T found it difficult to accept that these were Mary – they didn’t look like ‘Mary’ perhaps, or they were not in a familiar nativity setting, so we talked about how Mary was a Mum just like the Mums she knows now, and that Jesus was a baby just like babies she knows now. Of course then we had to answer other questions:

‘where is Jesus now?’ – ‘do you remember the stories that tell us how Jesus grew up, and did amazing things, and said wonderful things? how he died, and that he came alive again? Jesus went to his home in heaven, he is still alive – king of heaven now’

‘where is Mary now?’ – ‘with Jesus in his house in heaven’

‘and where is Joseph now?’ -‘with Jesus in his house in heaven’

‘but they were real?’ – ‘yes, a long time ago’

‘how long ago?’ – ‘well a bit more than two thousand and sixteen years ago’

‘but really real? was baby Jesus really real?’

These questions came and went for the next couple of days, over and over.

At the same time T has begun learning about space at school, the stars, planets, sun and moon – and with Tim Peake in the international space station she has been fascinated with his appearances on TV and the images of earth he has been sending back. She has a new understanding that we humans live on earth – a real planet, in big space near the sun, surrounded by stars.

As these things do it all fell into place for T in a conversation with A during the week. A sudden new insight that Jesus was a really real human baby just like babies she has seen and cuddled, and that he was a human on this planet earth just like her – but in the past. She was just so excited as she blurted out her discovery to A.

Since then the discovering has continued because of course she wanted to work out where on planet earth Bethlehem is, and where ‘real Jesus’ lived, and went to bed, and walked and ate tea! How far it is from where we live. It has helped no end that my sister has studied and lived in the Middle East so we have found those places on the map, and again made connections about it being real – real places where Aunty Em has lived, and where Jesus lived in the past. (and when she has got her head round that I can show her others in our family tree who also lived, worked and wrote there!)

lebanon (em's photo)

photo by Emily Richardson

So this morning before school we were looking up maps in our junior atlas but I am looking forward to showing her the maps in my Bible and exploring the places she knows from the stories we share about Jesus – don’t think any of our children’s Bibles have maps in, but maybe B & A’s teen ones have… I will have a look tomorrow.

I’m also setting myself the challenge of brushing up on the other (ie not Bible) historical sources that give us evidence for the real existence of Jesus… I think I remember something about there being more evidence about Jesus’ life than there is for Julius Caesar! But something tells me that with my curious 5yr old I need to be more certain and much more specific than that – Josephus, Tacitus & the rest here I come in need of a refresher crash course!!

“At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” Flavius Josephus,  Antiquities

Then all I need to do I guess, is prepare myself for the moment when the penny drops about Jesus also being fully God – and those questions and wonderings will be a whole other challenge I’m sure!

How do I learn?

The new term is just about to start for my household; the washing machine is on permanently, pens and pencils keep being put in the right orders in pencil cases, we are making sure the kids touch base with their friends, we are having endless conversations about what will happen on the morning, and stress levels are rising.

One of the jobs to do over the next day orFeatured image so is to help T (our youngest) to do her homework – an ‘all about me’ sheet to help her draw/write/decorate, and a questionnaire for me to fill in about her preferences, fears and interests. Slipped into this pack of papers is a sheet explaining different learning styles – a reminder that we are all different in the ways we most comfortably learn. It got me thinking and exploring. Are the four basic learning styles (auditory, visual, physical (Kinesthetic), reading & writing) a good way of thinking of T’s learning, or is there a model that would better take into account ASD characteristics?Temple Grandin described her experience of ASD as ‘thinking through pictures’, and I read a lot about how the visual learning style is the comfortable place for children on the ASD spectrum. But I recently read an article (about unique ASD learning characteristics which talked more about how although there may for some children be a very clear favourite learning style, there is still a blend of many styles just as there usually is for NT (neuro-typical) learners. In fact the article went on to suggest that a variety of opportunities is best.

The article helpfully added other distinct styles to the list of possibilities – modelling (having people around to imitate or watch), categorising & organising, self-talk (going through something out loud by yourself), needing the literal. Thinking about it with T in mind I also wanted to add that being asked to do something directly could stop the learning experience, and also wondered about her extraordinary imagination and its relationship to her learning. It has been really useful to make the time to think about it (yes as usual mostly when I ought to be sleeping but can’t!), and to watch how T does gravitate to some of these styles in particular and yet also engages with others quite often.

Of course I began to wonder how I take this into account while trying to share faith with her in the day to day. There are definitely some comfort learning zones for her, and some definite unique strengths. There are in all of us, and those must of course affect how we grow in faith, learn about faith, and experience (and process) the things of faith. Am I creating a variety of opportunities to learn in the day to day of the home, am I allowing her to dig deep in her comfort learning zone – a place where she will be most relaxed and receptive, most able to understand and appropriate ideas. Inevitably my mind has been scanning over the holiday weeks wondering what opportunities for nurturing faith we have had together, the intentional ones and the unexpected, and how they have given a chance for different learning styles to be used.

There was a scavenger hunt with cousins to find things ‘that God made’ that matched different categories which opened up great discussions and moments of praise and wonder (physical, visual, catagorise); travelling in the car listening to worship songs (auditory, physical – because each sentence had an action created for it by T!, self-talk – as T has gone away from those journeys singing bits of songs over and over and processing them, changing words here and there to make them her own); Bible stories shared, read and retold (writing & reading, visual and lots of imagination re-living the stories in play, self-talk); celebrating birthdays with family who acknowledge God’s faithfulness (modelling, physical, auditory); attending church – our own and others (auditory, visual, physical, modelling, reading & writing); discussion and answering questions (auditory, categorise); being in nature – walking, picking fruit, looking after pets, being at the beach, visiting farms – and being able to recognise God’s love and care, creativity and ‘bigness’ (physical, modelling – T was with us as we expressed some of those thoughts, visual and imagination); drawing and crafts – some at sunday schools, some just at home for fun – but nevertheless an opportunity to talk and learn about faith (physical, visual); camping with other Christians at New Wine & going to groups (modelling, physical, auditory, visual, reading & writing); praying together (imagination – T & I have been exploring meditative listening prayer when we can, auditory, self-talk?).

Looking over the holiday weeks in that way has excited me – how many more creative opportunities await? There will be plenty I will try to initiate (indirectly perhaps with T), and lots more that will just happen. I pray that in each of them we will learn together in different ways – nurturing our knowledge of God, our experience of Him, our trust and faith.

To find out about your learning styles try the quick questionnaire here

or your child’s here

I have summarised the ASD learning characteristics here, if useful feel free to print out!