Engaging Children in Designing your Family Holiday

Lusi Alderslowe
Wednesday, 15th May 2019

How to engage children in a design process of their holidays, using permaculture tools that could also be used by teachers to design a school year, amongst many other things.

The Children in Permaculture project has written many different session plans and activities that can help adults to engage children in permaculture in many different settings. What follows is a description of a way to engage children in a design process of their holidays, although these tools could equally be used by teachers to design a school year, amongst many other things. 

The long summer holidays are a time to relax, enjoy spending quality time with your family, and relish not having to rush to school and after school clubs. However, sometimes at the end of the summer holidays people can feel frustrated that many of the things they hoped to achieve were not done, and disappointed that the children will now return to school and the adults to work. This is why some families have found it empowering and satisfying to design their summer holidays. Here Lusi describes a process which you can do with your children (or even if you don't have children) to plan your summer holidays.



All good permaculture designs start with a thorough survey of the people, knowledge base and landscape. Starting with the landscape, do a bit of research about interesting places to visit and fun activities which you could do, including reading Permaculture Magazine (check out the back pages). Survey other people – ask others what they did on their holidays and what they are doing this year. Then have a dream circle.


Dream Circle

Invite the whole family to sit in a circle. Even quite young children can be involved in this. Firstly, explain how to do a dream circle:

  • There is a talking stick/stone (or other natural object) which one person is holding, when they are holding it they are the only person who can talk, all the others are listening carefully to that one person, and noticing their non-verbal signs too.    
  • Whoever holds the talking stick answers the question “What would you like to do in the summer holidays?”  
  • If there is nothing that comes to you, then you can stay quiet and pass the talking stick to the next person. The talking stick will go round the circle several times, so there will be another opportunity if something new comes to mind.
  • There is one person who is writing down everybody's ideas as they are expressed, preferably on a large sheet of paper or chalkboard, so everyone can see it being recorded. They could add a symbol or picture next to the writing to help those who cannot read yet.
  • Once an idea is said it is your whole family's idea, and it has been written for all to see, so there is no need for anyone to say it again.
  • Include big ideas (trips/destinations) and small ideas (e.g. see my friends, play my musical instrument, cycle).

Go round the circle sunwise (clockwise) starting with the most enthusiastic. Allow everyone to speak. Keep going around the circle until all the ideas are written up and/or people are passing.

Take a break. Go to play outside for a while. If anything new comes up, then you can always add it to the list.

Sleep on it

Sleep on it. If a new idea comes to one of you in a dream, note it down straight away so that you haven't forgotten it by the morning. Transfer to the full list in the morning.


After a couple of days, start to analyse. Examine your list of all the different options. Some may be activities which could be repeated many times, such as swimming or walking. Also, there are likely to be some which are mutually exclusive, i.e. you couldn't do all of them this summer. With this latter group, you may need to decide as a family between these bigger options. Some tools which could help with this process are:

PMI – write down the Plus (aka pros, or positives), Minus (aka cons or negatives) and Interesting points of each option. 

The Permaculture ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share can be used to analyse choices. Remember that the worst Earth Care choice is to fly, so find out how to travel by train around Europe. The websites loco2.com and seat61.com can be very helpful. 

Decision Matrix

This is a great tool for deciding between different options that have multiple different criteria. It can even allow you to weight how essential a criteria is. If using this it is recommended to use the permaculture ethics as a framework. For more info on how to make a decision matrix see: https://lusialderslowe.wordpress.com/2019/05/14/decision-matrix/


Draw a mindmap of your plans for the summer holidays.


For the bigger decisions, it may be necessary to draw up a more detailed design.


The bigger decisions will need a more detailed implementation plan. This will probably not involve young children. NB: Booking trains is best done exactly three months in advance as they get more expensive as the journey date approaches.


Keep looking at your design throughout the holidays to ensure that progress is made towards the goals. I recommend not adding to it once the holidays have started, as there are always new ideas which come up and cannot be achieved!


Reviewing the mindmap every week enables everyone to tick each time an activity has been done and celebrate what was achieved. This is a good time to evaluate how you are progressing, what things are not getting done, and to make a plan for the next week.


Design in some flexibility which allows for variations in mood, health, finances and weather.


The Children in Permaculture Pedagogy

There are various aspects of the Children in Permaculture pedagogy (Alderslowe, Amus & Deshaies, 2018) which are present in this session plan:

*The permaculture ethics are used as the framework for analysis.
*The natural flow stages are all present:                  

  • Asking 'What would you like to do in the summer holidays?' sows seeds of interest.
  • Growing is the main part of the design process.
  • Harvesting when evaluating the design process each week.

*Holistic planning is included as the whole body is engaged through the different design stages: eyes, heart, head and hand.

Find out more:
*Visit childreninpermaculture.com
*Read “Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share in Education: The Children in Permaculture Manual” by Lusi Alderslowe, Gaye Amus and Didi Deshaies (2018). Available from the Permaculture *Association website: https://permaculture.org.uk/education/childrens-resources
*Attend the Children in Permaculture Conference on July 8th 2019, London
*Attend an Introduction to Engaging Children in Permaculture course: May 11th & 12th in Nottingham, Oct 6th & 7th at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire.
*Learn more on the Children in Permaculture Training of Teachers course starting on July 10th 2019 in London.

Lusi Alderslowe is Coordinator of the Children in Permaculture project for the Permaculture Association (Britain).

Useful links

Book: How to Permaculture Your Life

Book: People and Permaculture

How the garden works in educating children