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Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Stop Yelling Challenge

Children are wonderful.
They can also be intensely frustrating and annoying.
Especially when they are tired, or worried about something, and especially when you are tired or worried about something.
These are the times when we leave sanity behind and start yelling at our children.

I've been a bit of a yeller.
I wouldn't dream of yelling at other people's children when I was teaching, but somehow you forget that when they are your children.  You yell up the stairs to tell them what you want them to do (but we get cross if they yell to us to tell us what they want to do!).  You shout when they fight with each other.  You shout when they won't do as they are told.  You yell when you're late and they think it's a good time to have a lie down on the floor and make funny noises.

Here are a few ways that I'm trying to cut down the yelling in my house.

  1. Go to them.  If it's dinner time in ten minutes, and I want them to put away what they are playing with and get ready for dinner, rather than shout up the stairs, I take the trouble to walk up.  This way I get to see what they are doing (and how much clearing up there is to do), so I can tell them how nicely they are playing, or how amazing their Lego building is... before asking them to stop.  Because I'm right there, they know that they can't get away with not doing it, so compliance comes a lot quicker, and I can give more specific instructions to help with the clearing up too.  It might be easier to shout up the stairs, but I would just end up marching up there shouting ten minutes later when I find that they've completely ignored them, so it's a lot better all round to just go up.
  2. Get Closer.  If they are playing in the garden and start fighting (over the scooter or the swing or what day it is or...) I could just shout at them from where I am.  "Come here!"  "Will you two stop fighting!".  The result: I'm cross because they are fighting.  They are upset with each other.  They are upset with me because I'm shouting at them.  Instead I try going out there.  Maybe I ask one of them to come and help me with a job.  Maybe I join in the game and redirect it slightly or get something else out of the shed so they don't both need the same thing.  Maybe I have a quiet word with the one who's being unreasonable, and help them to calm down.  Whatever I do once I'm out there is likely to calm things down, while shouting from inside would have escalated the situation.
  3. Take deep breaths.  When I gave them half an hour's notice that we'd be leaving the house at 9.30am, then I told them at 9.15 that it was time to tidy up and get their shoes on.  Then I asked them again at 9.20am to get their shoes on.  Then I helped them tidy up and told them to put their shoes on.  It's now 9.35 and one is dressing teddy (with no shoes on) and the other is lying on the floor and squeaking (with no shoes on).  This is the time when mummies explode.  What are my options?  I could put their shoes on for them... no, because I refuse to do things they can do for themselves and encourage laziness and helplessness.  I could walk down the path and get into the car, fuming... no, because there would be panic and tears, and then they'd realise that I won't actually go without them so it's just an empty threat.  I could carry them down to the car without their shoes on... not ideal, because either they would be angry at my heavy-handedness, or they would think it's hilarious and ask to be carried that way every time.  I could shout and yell and they would cry and I'd be angry and we'd all leave the house in a tearful wobbly mess (the usual outcome).  Or... I could count to ten.  Accept that I'm going to be late for wherever we were going.  Take deep breaths.  Get down to their level.  Explain again where we are going, that I understand that they were having a nice time and don't feel like going right now, but point out that I need them to put on their shoes now.  Can you tell that this is the one I find trickiest?  Because after I've counted to ten and calmly explained things to them, if they still don't seem to be getting ready, then the volcanic eruption is even worse, because I've been trying to suppress it.
  4. Give them a hug.  If they are doing something wrong, and they know it, they probably feel pretty bad already.  Sometimes the best response is a hug and a "lets see what we can do about this", this makes them feel as though you and they are working together, not that they have to hide their mistakes because mummy will go mad.
Let's just say... I'm a work in progress.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Zentangling

For the uninitiated, Zentangling is basically just doodling.
The Zen bit comes because when you're zentangling, you can pretty much zone out of everything else, so it's a good way to clear your head.  

For more information about Zentangling, check out the Zentangle website.  Zentangling can produce some really beautiful art, and a quick search on Google Images will get your jaw dropping and your fingers itching to get on with it.

For many people, they'll have been subconsciously zentangling during boring RE lessons or board meetings for years, without ever knowing that it had a name.  I'm one of these.

Discovering the Zentangle website was something of a revelation - they even have Zentangle teachers!

A pretty good way to start is to just draw a loopy line across the paper, crossing over itself many times.  You then fill in each space with a very simple repeating pattern.  You can, however, get much more creative, and put in some very deliberate shapes and patterns, as you'll see with your Google search, and the one above, which features flower shapes.

The "proper" zentanglers only use very fine black pens, but it isn't absolutely necessary.  You'll see from the example above, which was my first attempt at a Zentangle greetings card, that I've used an italic handwriting pen, and coloured pencils.  It's not rocket science, just go with what you've got to hand.

Enjoy your zentangling!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A bit of reverse progress on the model railway

I've posted several times over the last year or so about the progress (slow though it may be!) on the model railway. (here, here, here and here)

You'll notice that we are now selling the house and moving to a rented house for a while before we choose another property, so inevitably progress on the railway has halted.  In fact, the railway was dismantled at an early stage in the marketing of our property, so that the large room upstairs looks a bit more... roomy.
Most parts of the model were carefully taken to bits and packed away ready to be rebuilt to fit whatever space we have available in a few months when we buy a new home.  A different fate awaited the two corners which I'd worked so hard on with C.  Unsure yet how to pack them, Hubby popped them into the newly emptied attic for the time being.  I went in there to fetch out Bug's guitar and found carnage.
Some small mouse-shaped rodents had taken a shine to the papier-mache it seems, and this is all that remained of our hard work:
I managed to rescue a couple of people, my picnic bench and bridge and a couple of sheep, but that's about it.  To be honest I'm quite impressed with how chilled out I am at seeing hours of work destroyed.  It means we'll start afresh with our new layout, and we've learned a few things on the way.  Next time I'll use modroc or plaster to build the scenery for a start, I imagine it's slightly less palatable than the flour/water paste I used for the papier-mache.  I'm intrigued where the rest of the people, the Fimo food and the sheep are gone.  I'm imagining a Borrower or Beatrix Potter-esque scenario with lots of miniature sheep decorating a mouse-hole somewhere.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Spicing up the ordinary

Just a quick post today, on how you can use things creatively to get a bit more milage out of them.
We have a paddling pool, 
we have a hand-me-down pop-up tent.  
So why not put the tent in the paddling pool?

This has been used now as a submarine, an underwater mermaid house, a port/harbour for the boats, a cave for sea animals and much more!

Try an unusual toy juxtaposition and see what happens!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Taking Stock - Take 2

It's been a busy few weeks, so here I am back ready to take stock once more.  I think I'll go for bullet points, because everything is pretty jumbled!

Trip to Hereford.  
  • In our week and a half here, I managed to select a Primary School for C, enrol him and buy the uniform.
  • We went for choosing a school and village we like first, and then hoping to find somewhere to live nearby.
  • Also enrolled Bug at the nearby Pre-school.  It seems a bit chaotic compared to the great place they have been attending, but I can always get involved on the parent committee and also hope that it's a bit more purposeful when it's not the end of term.  She'll be attending two full days each week.
  • Found a house to rent!  This was an absolute nightmare.  Houses with more than two bedrooms were few and far between, those allowing dogs even more difficult to track down and they seemed to be let almost as soon as they were advertised or were more than half an hour's drive from the school.  Thrilled to find this one only three or four miles from the school/pre-school.
  • Once all the above was sorted we were able to relax a bit, with some wild swimming in the Wye, a bike ride/walk in the woods (and a trip to the minor injuries unit), and a great 5th birthday for C.

 
 Trip to North Wales

  • Sadly picked a poor campsite, where caravans and tents were packed in and children were running wild and very noisy until late at night, so not much rest on the site.
  • We did get to castles, beaches (lots of swimming in the sea), and steam railways, and a boat trip, as well as spending a couple of days with Nana and Grandad and Auntie J.

 
 
Home again
  • Living within an hour of Glasgow we had house guests for the Commonwealth Games.  Auntie J and Uncle S were staying with us, and Big Sis and family were camping in the vicinity too.  
  • We spent a day babysitting for Littlest Nephew (age 2), served dinner for 11 a couple of times, went to the Safari Park and went swimming.
  • A little anxious about the state my showhome was getting into, but to be honest I'm losing motivation, as we're a month in, and still only one viewing.  It isn't easy to keep the house and garden looking awesome, and with no potential buyers I begin to wonder if there's any point.
Youth Hostel weekend
  • My sisters, our mum and I, and all the children have now made a weekend away together at one of Britains Youth Hostels an annual expedition.  This year we headed to Boggle Hole, near Robin Hood's Bay, near Whitby in North Yorkshire.
  • We all had a horrible journey on Friday, so arrived late, and of course the children were very excited to see one another, so took a very long time to settle to sleep.
  • Saturday we spent the morning pottering in Whitby, and then walked along the beach to Robin Hood's Bay in the afternoon, and back along the cliffs.  Six year old and seven year old nephews had been blown away by excitement on the beach and entirely submerged themselves, fully clothed, in rock pools - yet were surprised when the weather changed and we had a chilly walk back across the cliffs to contemplate.  I think they both felt a little silly, sheepish and sorry for themselves by the time we returned to the hostel and they were bundled into warm showers.  Bedtime went a lot easier tonight!
  • Sunday we were determined not to stuff the poor critters straight into the car for another long journey, particularly since Friday had been effectively wiped out.  We planned a trip to Falling Foss Tea Rooms, which involved a lucky space in a busying car-park, a walk through the woods, and a lucky find of two adjacent empty tables in the increasingly busy, lovely tea garden with fabulous playpark. 
  • We all eventually headed our separate ways at about 1.30pm.  My journey home was broken by a drink in a pub garden and playpark with some great friends in Jedburgh, and then on home for dinner.
  • Lovely to see the joy the children wear when they see Daddy after a couple of days without him.
And Now?
  • Still no more viewings on the house.  At what point am I supposed to start worrying about this and reconsider first my choice of Estate Agent and secondly the asking price?  I keep being reassured that Summer Holiday and Commonwealth Games may have interfered with house searches, but things will now get busy... bring it on then!
  • Working hard to keep house and garden looking nice, while at the same time arranging removal firm for the end of the month and commencing packing, and of course... that little thing... looking after two young children.
  • Trying to stay calm, measured and positive.  Hubby is worried about what happens if the house takes too long to sell (while we're paying mortgage on one and rent on another, and he takes a pay cut when we move).  I'm trying to stay optimistic, looking into my options for starting paid work again earlier than anticipated if necessary, while still being flexible so that I can be there for the children. 
  • Also trying hard to stay calm and positive with two tired children following all our exciting adventures, who are unsettled because of the move, new school, new house etc. etc.  I'm trying to be understanding and calm (not too much shouting), while still maintaining the firm boundaries that they need so much.  Trying to make sure that I take time to play with them too, rather than being too busy getting everything else done too.  They need me just now.
  • It would also be quite nice if I could keep up the exercise and diet and lose a little more weight over the next six weeks.  I lost half a stone in 5 weeks just before the holiday, and another half a stone would not be missed!


Monday, 7 July 2014

How are we doing?

A brief moment to take stock, before continuing with my mammoth to-do list:

  • the house has been on the market for a week and a half now.  I was beginning to worry about no viewings, despite being told on a regular basis to relax and be patient.  Then we had one on Friday!  The couple were lovely, and it was quite clear that they liked the house, particularly the lady.  I felt much better to be able to show my house, which is really rather nice.  Feedback tells me that I was right, the lady loved the house and wanted to make an offer, the man wasn't too sure though, as there's so much flexibility in the layout that he couldn't quite work out how it would work for them.  They didn't find anywhere else over the weekend though, so there's still hope.
  • I'm off with the kiddies on Wednesday morning.  We're going to Herefordshire to look at schools.  Hubby will join us on Friday night/Saturday morning and we'll find a house to rent.  Then we'll get the children enrolled at school (hopefully it's as easy as that!) before the end of term next Wednesday.  We'll beetle around Herefordshire for the rest of the week, then on to North Wales for a week of holiday before heading home.  So a major part of my list is getting all the holiday stuff and the caravan ready!
  • The house has to be absolutely spotless while we're away, because there's a neighbour keeping an eye on the place for us, and the estate agents have the keys to be able to conduct showings in our absence.  Yep, that's another major part of my list!
  • While we're away C will have his 5th birthday - I can't believe he's five already.  So I mustn't forget to pack candles and matches, birthday cards and presents, balloons and banners ready for the big day.
  • During the Easter holidays, while Hubby was off work and able to look after the children, I took the opportunity for a rare trip to the hairdressers.  I like what she did with  my hair, and I like the pampered feeling, so I've decided to repeat the process tomorrow, ready for the holiday.  I'm not sure that I'll feel quite so pampered while keeping an eye on what the children are up to, but I'm prepared to risk it.
  • On our return we'll have house-guests for a few days, staying with us to visit the Commonwealth Games, so I also need to make sure that they'll find everything that they need when they arrive.
  • That's pretty much it, apart from that I've been trying hard to exercise every day and to eat more healthily as part of a 5 week pre-holiday challenge.  It's time to weigh and measure tomorrow to see how I've done...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Simple activities for pre-schoolers - Alphabet scrap book

This is such a great activity, as you can build in a whole range of skills, and they're all fun!

Take a scrap book with at least 26 pages.
At the top of each page, write a letter of the alphabet (in the correct order).
Each time you want to do the activity, just pick a page/letter.
You can: 
  • write large letter outlines for the children to practice forming the letters, or follow them with their fingers (you can just make out the outline Tt here.
  • use newspapers and magazines and cut out different sizes and fonts of letters, both capital and lowercase, words beginning with the letter, and pictures of things beginning with the letter.  Great for practising cutting and sticking skills.
  • draw things that begin with the letter (I can just make out a picture of Tara the dog, drawn by C on this page).
  • Get them to think of words that begin with the letter and write them down.
It's pretty open-ended, and if they wander off, it doesn't matter in the slightest, because you can always add more to a page at a later date.  

Super-simple, super-cheap (scissors, glue, pencils, scrap book) and super-fun!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How to... cut your child's hair

There are two main things that people worry about when they think of cutting their child's hair:

  1. How will I get them to sit still?
  2. What if I cut it really badly?
Unfortunately, if the first proves to be a problem, then the second is also likely to be tricky.  

Going to a hairdresser gets pricy though, and organising a hair-cut after school or on the weekend isn't always easy.  You really don't need to worry though, as there are a few things that you can do to make a home hair-cut go smoothly:
  • Remember - practice makes perfect, for both of you.  The more you do it, the more you and your child will get used to the process and the easier things will be.
  • Start young - while they are still a baby or toddler nobody really cares what their hair looks like, so a wonky fringe or sticky out bits won't matter.  Once it starts to matter, you'll be a pro.
  • Hair grows - if things go wrong, you aren't ruining their hair forever.  The disaster will soon grow out.
  • Communicate - explain that you'll be cutting their hair, make sure that they know that it won't hurt, but that you need them to keep their head still etc. etc. and keep talking to them all the way through so that they know what you are doing and what you need them to do.  They aren't one of those hairdresser dolls!
  • Distract - you know how short your child's attention span is.  It's no different when you're cutting their hair.  While you are carefully checking that you've cut it evenly, your child will be debating how to get out of the chair and go and do something more fun.  While they are still little, make sure they can't run by fastening them into their highchair.  For all children, this is a great time to put them in front of the TV.  I've also found that putting the chair in the garden works well (and you don't need to sweep or vacuum afterwards), or doing it in the bathroom, where they can sit naked, watch their sibling in the bath, and then get straight in as soon as you've finished (again, easier on the cleaning up).  I've also heard of a ritual involving chocolate cake and a magazine for the haircut!
  • Mirror - children naturally want to see what you are doing to them, just as we like to see what's happening at the hairdressers.  So as well as distracting them, consider providing a mirror, either one that you can rest on a chair nearby, or a hand mirror.  That way they can look at what you're up to whenever they want, instead of trying to turn their head while you're poised with the scissors.
  • Prioritise - decide which bits of hair need cutting the most, and start with these.  For Bug it's generally the fringe that gets done first, as having her hair in her eyes is a bit of a bother.  With C, it's usually the hair around his ears and the back of his neck that gets scruffy the quickest.  If they are struggling with the cut, then just do these bits and then release them, you can always do the rest another time.
  • Praise - praise them for sitting still, for letting you cut their hair, for looking in the right direction.  Just keep praising every little thing that they are doing to make the process easier!
  • Sharp scissors - buy proper hair cutting scissors (not your kitchen or paper scissors), which don't cost all that much, and keep them sharp.  This makes cutting much easier.
  • Safety first - where possible, keep your hand between your child's head and the scissors, so that if they do move suddenly, you'll cut your hand, not their head or ear.  For C's hair I tend to have my hand palm-down on his head, and cut just at the back of my fingers, so his hair is mostly about a finger's-width long.  The bit around the ears I can't keep my hand in the way, so I warn him to keep really still for that bit.  For Bug I have my hand the other way up, take a section of hair between two fingers, and pull out to the desired length, then cut along my fingers to make a straight cut.   Also, if you have another small child in the vicinity, don't put the scissors down!
  • Cut dry - I usually pop them straight in the bath or shower after a haircut so that they aren't itchy, so I usually cut their hair dry (though Bug has very thick hair, so I do sometimes damp it down with a wet comb).  Sometimes once they've washed their hair I notice bits that I've missed, so I always keep the scissors handy for the next couple of days so that I can tidy up any odd tufts.
  • Tell your child how great they look.  Even if you think you've made a mess, don't tell your child that.  Tell them how smart their hair looks now, or how cool they look with their new "do".  You can tell them "Oooo, I just spotted a bit I missed, let me tackle it", or even "Mummy's made a good start on your hair, we'll go to Grandma's/hairdressers and get it finished off."  If you tell them you've turned them into a laughing stock, they won't trust you to do it again.
If you cut their hair regularly throughout their childhood, it'll become a bit of a bonding experience too.  By all means take them to a hairdresser if they are having something you've not tried before, or if you're emotionally attached to the long hair that they want you to cut, but there's no reason why cutting it yourself shouldn't be the norm.

My mum cut my hair when I was young, in fact I can only think of a couple of occasions when she didn't right up until I was about 16 (when I first started cutting it myself - and believe me the first times I did that were a disaster that she needed to rescue!).  I think she still occasionally cuts one of my sister's hair, and also at least one of the grandchildren.

Monday, 30 June 2014

5 ways to make sure that you have a lot of fun with your kids


Having fun with your children doesn't always mean expensive outings to "fun factories" (theme parks, zoos, soft play etc), though there is sometimes a place for those.  Having fun with your children can be boiled down to these five simple steps:

  1. Give them time - If you're always rushing and trying to get things done, or if you're always rushing them to get ready or get on to the next job, then you squeeze out the time to enjoy the children.  Children need time.  Time to think, time to formulate their thoughts into words and sentences, time to assimilate new experiences and ideas - you are their biggest, number 1 audience.  They'd prefer to spend time with you than with anybody else in the world (while they're still little anyway!), so take time to listen to and be with them.
  2. Get down to their level - I don't mean dumb down your vocabulary or your sentence structure - though it's easier for them to understand you if you keep your sentences shorter while they are learning.  I mean get down on the floor.  If you are always standing over them you look intimidating, and you can't join in the game properly from up there.  Even if you're doing something else, consider sitting on the floor to do it.  They like having you down there, they can touch base for a cuddle, some reassurance, an affirming bit of eye contact or a smile.  Say you're sitting reading a book or magazine on the floor, you'll be amazed how much easier it is for a little person to sidle in for a quick kiss or cuddle than if you're in the protective embrace of an armchair.  Better still though, put the book down, and join in the game, or make a game.  It might be an impromptu tickle-fest, a game of horses, chase, wrestling.  Or it might be towing the teddies around the room in their "train".  If you're not down there, you can't join in.  Equally, if they are sitting at a table doing their homework, playing a game, or doing some craft - rather than looming over their shoulder - sit down with them.
  3. Let go your inhibitions and play - It's very tempting to chat to the other adults at the playpark.  In fact, that's a really good reason to go to the playpark - the children can race around with their friends and you get to have a grown-up conversation.  It's worth though, sometimes putting aside that conversation and playing with the children.  Not pushing them on the swings or even worse, the see-saw - but actually playing.  You swing too!  You go on the slide or the zip-wire.  You climb the frame.  Even better, set up a game of rounders, french-cricket or football that you, the other mums and the children can all play together.  The children will learn some new skills, and see that physical activity is something that grown-ups do too.  You get to have a lot of fun with the children and get some exercise.  WIN-WIN!
  4. Do a hobby together - whether your hobby is football, darts, crochet, or baking.  Try doing it with your child.  Get them their own simple equipment and do it side-by-side.  Help them if they get stuck, but more often, just chat while you do it, and let them see what you do.  Some hobbies are better if you work collaboratively, and you give them simple tasks to do (for example, working on the scenery for the model railway), while others demand a lot more instruction (knitting and crochet).  You could even take up something new together, for example ice-skating, woodwork climbing or pottery, and go to classes together to help you both develop.  Imagine their delight when they find they can do it better than you!  Doing something together in your leisure time ensures that you are both getting something out of it, gives the opportunity to just enjoy one another's company and chat, and is something that could last a lifetime.
  5. Tell them how great they are - Spending time with your children, doing things with them, listening to them and enjoying their company will make you feel good.  Nobody ever said "I wish I'd spent less time with my children."  It will make them feel good too.  Children who feel good, act good.  They like feeling good. They know they are valued, and that the person they love, loves them.  A good foundation of self-esteem will last them a lifetime.  They will feel confident in themselves and will not put up with ill-treatment.  There's no harm in telling them that you enjoy spending time with them either, though you don't need to go over the top.  Just spending time with them tells them that you think they are great.  Of course, as they get older, they also want to spend time with their friends, and your input becomes less important, but if they have a firm base, and spending time with mum and dad is enriching, fulfilling and fun, then they'll always come back to that base from time to time.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Idle Parent - THE MYTH OF TOYS





I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 7 – The Myth of Toys

All toys should be banned.  That's how Tom starts this chapter.  Small plastic pieces that get spread around the house only make more work for us - cleaning them up.  Children don't actually need toys.  They WANT toys, they tell us they NEED toys, but actually, they often have many toys that rarely get played with, and the real fun games where you get joy and laughter are usually the ones involving a few improvised props, rather than proper toys!  Tom also talks about the joys of making toys.  As a parent of a youngster, what could be better than seeing your baby chewing on the sock puppet that you've lovingly made, or as your child gets bigger, you can teach them to sew or do woodwork and make toys together.

We're not talking about rejecting play.  Rejecting bought toys is different.

It doesn't help that kids TV sells stuff.  Commercial TV stations do it in an obvious way, with lots of adverts for plastic toys, but CBeebies does it in a sneaky way, just by selling lots of merchandise branded with Night Garden, or Andy's Wild Adventures, Mr Maker or whatever show your little darling adores.  Avoid advertising, and also, if possible, trips to toy shops!  If you do face a trip into town, and a possibly demanding child, apart from being the demon who just says "no", if you really feel compelled to buy them something, get them sweets.  They'll be just as delighted, but the sweets will be consumed without leaving you with some plastic trash taking up space in your house.

He does concede that a wooden train set is a great toy.  Adults have fun putting it together too, and as the child grows, relatives and friends can be encouraged to add to it for Christmas and birthday gifts, so that it becomes more and more complicated and elaborate, thus keeping it interesting to play with. 

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I've been sucked into toys gradually.  When C was a baby, nearly all his toys were home made, but as they've got older, and seen other children's toys, it's hard not to.  For a start, they need something for their Birthday and Christmas!  I do try to operate a one-in-one-out system, for example by having a clear out before birthdays and Christmas.  Bug is very reluctant to get rid of anything - I was trying to reduce the number of jigsaw puzzles and that wasn't at all popular.  But most of the toys they have I'm quite happy with.  They have:

  • the model railway - not really a toy at all, but a long-term family project
  • the wooden railway - see Tom's comments above, a great toy with many hours of pleasure still regularly had.  In the Summer I like to see it winding around the patio.
  • Lego - I know, lots of tiny pieces.  I love Lego.  I love building with it, I love seeing Cs creativity and engineering develop as he is beginning to build things which actually look like things, and also his ability (now that I've sorted all the pieces into tupperware boxes based on colour and brick type) to find the pieces he wants and follow instructions.  Bug is still just placing random bricks together and deciding what it is afterwards.
  • Wooden castle - we don't have enough medieval folk to live in it yet, and when constructed it takes up a lot of space, so this doesn't get played with all that much, but I think it'll be erected in the garden during the holiday, and we'll add a few more characters too.
  • Playmobil - Nearly all our Playmobil has been bought second hand on e-bay or has been gifts.  At the moment the individual components are played with separately, rather than in a big townscape scenario, but I know that these will be played with more as C and Bug grow.  All the stuff is quite BIG, and I've seen from my nephew's bedroom how it can easily mount up and then you don't know where to start, so I'm reluctant to add too much more to the collection, though people and animals from e-bay make great rewards.
  • Farm - this tends to need setting up, so hasn't been played with all that much lately, but again, it's something that I can see being laid out and played with a bit more during the holidays.
  • Dolls House - I love a dolls house.  This one is well furnished, though I think could do with some interior decor.  C plays with it more than Bug.
  • Dressing-up box - you can't go wrong.  This stuff is played with all the time.  I turn around and Bug is dressed in a cloak, a blanket, a cowboy hat and a pair of sunglasses or a mask.  Other role-play items include bags, makeshift tents, chairs being arranged as trains, planes or boats and cushions as beds.
  • Kitchens - they both have an array of plates, pans and tea-pots, as well as toy food and real packaging, and at least once a week will bring me a meal they've prepared in their kitchen.
  • Dolls, doll clothes, pushchairs, highchairs and cots - They both play with these, but Bug is besotted with her baby (teddy), and will change his clothes and feed him breakfast before she can be persuaded to do anything else in the morning.
  • Cars - C has always loved his cars and lorries.  On the rare occasion when he retreats into his bedroom to play on his own, you can guarantee that when you put your head around the door he'll have a story CD on, and be playing with his cars.
  • Outdoors - scooters and bikes, a tent, a trolley, a swing
  • Other bits and pieces include Mr and Mrs Potato Head, some K'Nex, some Meccano, model animals and dinosaurs, magnadoodles, aquadoodles, fuzzy felt, jigsaw puzzles etc.
Okay, okay, when it comes to toys I guess we don't fit Tom's ideal.  But I'm okay with what we have.  I see it being played with, we don't have TOO much plastic tat, and I'm comfortable that we're not inundated or over indulgent.  I see plenty of creativity and self-directed play.  I rarely get involved in their play, apart from occasionally to set something up to spark their interest or to make a suggestion, "maybe you could use a sheet across the top of your cave, it'll stay in place better than your dressing gown?"