Friday, 28 February 2014

Springing in the Garden

Spring is making an appearance in our corner of Scotland.  The daffs are nowhere near flowering, but there are bulbs popping up galore, and the snowdrops are in full flower, with crocus beginning to open as well.  The birds are singing and the mornings are getting lighter.
Thoughts of course turned to the garden.  While frost and snow hasn't kept me out of the garden this winter, it has been pretty wet.  All the big jobs I gave myself to achieve have not yet been completed.  Still, out came the Suttons catalogue.  I went straight to their website and just popped things into my shopping basket.  The next stage was whittling down my purchases as I had £65 worth of stock in my basket!  I ended up buying a bush type tomato, a cucumber plant, a chilli plant, three blueberry bushes (the children have both requested to have a blueberry bush in their patch of garden), and a couple of packets of flower seeds.  Normally I grow tomatoes and cucumbers from seed, but last year my cucumbers didn't take, and my tomatoes started off too late to get to ripening in time, so I thought I'd try to grow fewer plants in the greenhouse this year, but get a head-start with bought plants and concentrate on keeping them really healthy for a good crop.  The blueberry bushes were the most expensive item, and I ended up spending about £40.
What have you started off in your garden so far for the Spring?

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Party Party Party - Jungle theme children's party.

Bug has just had her third birthday - I can't believe she's three already, as I still remember blogging before she came along!

She decided that she'd really like a party, and as her birthday fell on a few days holiday from pre-school, we decided that we should make a trip down to Devon to see all the family, so it would be a tea party for Bug, C and all the cousins (five of them aged from 1.5 to 7 years old).  I can't stand big children's parties with stacks of children racing around.  The pack mentality seems to rewind evolution and turn them into rampaging animals.  I was quite pleased to be organising a sensible sized family gathering.

I offered Bug the choice of five themes: number fun, jungle, British wildlife, flowers, and under the sea.  She opted for a Jungle theme.

Together we made some jungle theme invites: these were simply green card (postcard sized), with some snakes cut out of snake-print paper, some frogs and leaves stuck on, some ants drawn on and all the relevant information written on.

I don't like party bags - in fact the idea of spending money on some rubbish that will be imminently thrown away gives me the heebie-jeebies.  At a previous party we made paintings on canvas that could be taken home.  On this occasion I decided that we could do a craft activity (making snake decorations) and these could be taken home, but we'd want something else too.  I found a party website, but was disappointed how many "jungle theme" items included giraffes, lions, zebras etc. - as far as my knowledge goes, these animals live on the savannah not in the jungle!  However, I was able to find some plastic cups with monkeys on (in the end they didn't have these in stock and we got penguin ones - but never mind!), some little jitterbugs, packets of toy insects, and some foam flying butterflies.

Decorations: Bearing in mind that we were travelling for ten hours to the venue, and I could only take so much with me to decorate my sister's sitting room!  I hung a large mosquito net above the table, and filled it and the surroundings with 25 green balloons, then hung green crepe streamers liberally around the place.  I also made some bunting with green leaves, frogs and monkey faces.  We finished off with the snakes that we made at the beginning of the party.  My oldest nephew (it was his house) also brought out his box of bugs and distributed those around the place.

Activities: We started off making the snakes - these were brightly coloured A4 construction paper.  We drew a spiral on to the paper and invited the children to decorate them with felt pens, holographic paper and stickers.  When they had finished we cut around the spiral and hung the snake by his tail.  This took about 20 minutes.  We then played Pass the Parcel, I had put plastic insects between all the layers, and then the prize was a wooden snake model to make.  Of course, with this game it's important to choreograph so that everybody gets a layer.  We followed this with Musical Monkeys (it's a bit like musical statues, only everybody has to dance and pose like a monkey).  Youngest nephew wasn't interested in this game at all, and Bug was pretty oblivious too.  C doesn't go to many parties, and this was his first time joining in with a game, so I was sad to see how devastated he was at being out at an early stage.  The other cousins had monkey dancing down to a tee though.  I asked Big Grandad to adjudicate this game, he used to do all our parties when we were children, but he didn't get into the spirit of it at all, and ended up delegating to 7 year old nephew!  After the games it was about an hour into the party, and time for the ...

Food:  Keep things simple.  At parties children don't eat nicely and make a beeline for anything sweet or fattening.  I went for plenty of pizza, lots of fruit, some iced buns (with bugs/butterflies on top for the jungle theme) and the cake, which was simply Blackforest Gateau.  Normally I would have liked home-made pizza, buns, cake etc. but since I was away from home, in this instance it was Sainsburys.  Drink was "Jungle Juice", half a carton of tropical fruit juice, half a carton of orange juice, half a carton of mango juice, a bottle of lemonade and a tin of fruit cocktail, all in a punch bowl with a ladle - that went down very well.

All in all I was pretty pleased with the party.  I think it was just about the right balance between excitement, and being low key enough not to be overwhelming.  There was plenty of time for the cousins to play together with toys, to exchange presents, but they came together for the craft, the games and the food.  There was space and time for the adults to chat.  There wasn't too much food left over.  It didn't take too much clearing up (important since it was at my sister's house).  And of course, most important of all - Bug loved it.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Missing Link

So far this year, so good.  I had a system in place, several actually, and I was on top of things.  

  • The children and I had a great morning routine sorted out, so that there was time for dressing, teeth, housework, breakfast, playing without too much exasperation or nagging.  
  • I had a system in full operation for the laundry and ironing, which was all under control.  
  • I had a system of organising the weeks meals, shopping and cooking.  
  • There was plenty of time to do crafts and activities with the children.  
  • I was getting Scout stuff done, as well as crafty bits and pieces.  

But it turns out that there is one crucial link in all these systems, and if something happens to that link then it all falls apart.  Well, over the last 9 days that link got ill.  Here's the link:
...It's me, in case you're wondering...
A horrible cold, feverishness, headaches, and then a tight chest and a cough that could wake the dead (all night long).  I'm sure that when I used to have a real job (Primary School Teacher) I would occasionally get a virus.  I'd feel horrible for a couple of days, but then I'd get over it.  It seems that at the moment I'm just not able to simply throw off a virus, this is the third or fourth in the last twelve months that has completely wiped me out for several days.  

I'd get up and get dressed, get C to pre-school and then go home and lie on the sofa for a couple of hours (abandoning Bug to the ravages of CBeebies or whatever mischief she could get up to).  We'd go and get C, then I'd prepare them lunch, get Bug off for her nap and go to sleep myself (abandoning C to the ravages of CBeebies or whatever mischief he could get up to).  I'd then spend the remainder of the afternoon on the sofa under a duvet, emerging only to make the dinner.  Hubby got home and I went to bed.  
As you can imagine, the house is a tip, and my lists... my systems... all the jobs waiting to be done, well, they still need doing.  The worst is that over the last few days I've felt better in myself - the aching and the fever have subsided, I'm just worn out from coughing all night.  So I'm desperate to get on and get things done, but don't have the energy!

Never mind.  Determinedly positive.

  • feeling lots better
  • going to visit the family
  • exciting day planned for Bug's 3rd birthday on Friday (3 already!)
  • I got everything under control, so I'll get everything under control again
Here goes....

Monday, 10 February 2014


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 29 – Stop working, start living – PLAY
 Tom urges those who enjoy their jobs to skip this chapter.  It's for those who aren't happy with their chosen method of earning money.  He suggests that life and work don't have to compete.  Enjoying oneself need not be something that you save up for and squeeze into the time you have in between working.  Instead of separating out the different areas of your life, could they not be more integrated?  Can you not make money out of what you enjoy doing anyway?  Or find ways to enjoy what needs doing?  If you can give up the job you don't enjoy you'll find you spend less on commuting and coffee shops.  Jobless, you can integrate working for a bit of money in various ways, with working around the house and just enjoying yourself and giving your time to your community.  Tom isn't suggesting that we all give up work and go on social benefits either, he's suggesting that we become independent of corporations and government.  Changing your work so that it's less stressful and more fun, so that you earn "enough", not lots, and still have time for play is another option.  Go freelance, with a varied "portfolio" career.

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

 I'm all for this plan, though I do question how many people could "enjoy" cleaning toilets, maintaining train tracks in terrible weather, wiping people's bottoms and the like.  If everybody gave up work and earned money doing things that they enjoy, then how would our country fare?
I'm planning to do just this though.  I've already given up work to spend time looking after my children, so now it's just a case of building up this portfolio career and making money from doing things that I enjoy... keep watching this blog and you'll see how successful this is, or whether, in order to pay the bills and feel that I am properly contributing to my family, I end up back in a "proper job".

That's it from "How to be Free" by Tom Hodgkinson.  At some point I'll compile all 29 posts into one list so that they can be easily found, and in the meantime we'll get started on "The Idle Parent" and see how that matches up to our evolving style of parenthood.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Playing with maps

exploring the bronze high-relief map of Edinburgh City Centre
We love maps.  Doesn't everybody?  Apparently not, and apparently it's related to gender.  The Mail is not a news outlet that I take seriously, in fact I tend to go with the principle that if they are printing it then it's dubious, but I came across an article today suggesting that "spatial intelligence is seriously affected by the female hormone oestrogen".  I don't believe this for a second, and I think there are many other reasons why "women go in for occupations which do not require a high level of spatial skill".
However, during my time as a Primary School Teacher I found that when it came to teaching geography or history, many seven year olds had little or no experience of looking at maps, and so it was important to start right from scratch with them.
We're not talking about becoming proficient map-readers and navigators before they start school, but there's no reason why children shouldn't be exposed to maps of different kinds and have some basic map literacy.  Here are a few ideas:

  •  Give them your old road atlas.  When you're planning a holiday, or after you've been, show them where it is on the map.  What do you think this blue bit is?  What about the yellow?  Here's our campsite, look we drove along that road.  Can you see where the railway line goes right by the road, we could see it from our car?  Show them where Grandma and Grandad live - look it's near the sea, we have to drive all this way to get there.
  • Look at bus route  maps, and train line maps on your journeys (freely available from most transport hubs) and point out the stops that you are passing and where they are on the plan.
  • Pick up town maps (usually pictorial) from the tourist office of your own town or places that you're visiting, and use them to see places of interest and find your way around.  Theme parks also usually have these.
  • Go on Google Earth or other mapping/satellite software and show how you can zoom in from a map of the world, to just one country (seeing more detail), to just part of a country (more detail still), to a street map of a town.
  • Make a simple map of your street, showing where people live.  You can either just mark on which house is which, or you can draw the houses.
  • Hide treasure in the garden and draw a simple treasure map.
  • Make a map of a walk.  You can map out any navigational features, but also places that might be of interest to the children.  We have a map of one of our favourite walks showing "secret den", "Ava's stream", "where we built the pixie houses".
  • Postman Pat books, and Topsy and Tim books have simple maps of their respective villages on their inside covers, it's nice to relate the story to the map, and also to ask the children which way the characters might go to the shop for example.
It's all about relating what they see around to them to what symbols and lines they see on a map, and vice versa.  It's not something that one gender can do better than another (Excuse me Mail Online, but I'm definitely a woman, and I am extremely capable with a map), it's something that everybody can do if they are given opportunity and enthusiasm.  What could be more magical than poring over a map and visualising what you see?

Monday, 3 February 2014

Five Blogs I Love

As well as writing my own blog, I love to read other people's blogs.  I'm not half so regular about it as I'd like, but I try to get in there fairly regularly, and also to leave the occasional comment.

Here are my current top five blogs (please don't be offended if I follow you and you're not in this list... you might appear in a "top five" list another time.

Please do go and check out these blogs as I think they are lovely:

The Good Life.  Jo gets me inspired to get out in my garden and keep plugging away at it even when I don't feel like it.  I always feel better afterwards.

The Barefoot Crofter - for wonderful reflective and inspiring photographs and posts
The Barefoot Crofter

The Artful Parent - for brilliant art, craft and creativity ideas for children
5 Ways to Encourage Your Kids Creativity Today -- Easy-to-implement ideas you can do right now or any time!

A Childhood List - For a wide range of activities and ideas to do with children

Mama Scout - Beautiful photographs, inspiring thoughts and great activities

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Ten things to do before your child starts school

I enrolled C at Primary School last week.  He's four and a half.  If we were in England he would already be in Reception Class full time.  As it is, he's attending pre-school five mornings a week.  He still seems quite little, and a bit nervous of what school has in store for him.  

Here's my ten things to do ahead of time to ensure that children get the best start possible, whether they start school the week after they turn four, or as in some countries, nearer to age seven:

  1. Enrol them.  Different places have different systems for how to do this.  In England applications open in the autumn term and close in January, you can download the form from or through your local council and you can apply for up to three primary schools, listed in order of preference.  In Scotland applications open in January for a few weeks and you normally apply to your catchment primary, but can then make a "placing request" if you'd prefer a different school.  In Scotland you take along their Birth Certificate, and it's also important to ensure that you have all medical details and contact information to hand to fill in the form.
  2. Build up their concentration and listening skills.  Encourage them to: sit still to listen to a story, sit at a table for a colouring activity or similar (work up to being able to sit still for at least ten minutes).  Ensure that they make eye contact when they are being spoken to, and can retain a simple set of instructions e.g. "take off your shoes and put them in the cupboard".  Praise progress in all these areas, it will pay dividends in the classroom.
  3. Practice the journey to and from school.  This is particularly important if you plan for your child to make the journey on foot or by bike, not so much for you to practice the route in your car!  We all recognise the importance of spending time outdoors and exercising, and if that can be built into the school day then that's a great start.  Our school journey is a mile down a country track, and then a mile back up-hill at the end of the school day, and I want the children to do it on their bikes.  C has only very slowly been building up confidence riding his bike without stabilisers, and Bug is on a balance bike.  For a few weeks now we've been practising a ride to the school and back at least once each week.  Last week was the first time that we made it all the way to the school, and with only a little bit of help on the way back up to the hill.  I hope that continued practice will mean that by the time C gets to school he'll have built up enough strength and stamina that the journey will be a pleasure and not an ordeal at the end of the day.
  4. Ensure that they can dress and go to the toilet independently.  The class teacher may have up to thirty of the little darlings to attend to, he/she can't be expected to help wipe little Susan's bottom, or to do up thirty pairs of shoes and zip thirty coats.  They are responsible for teaching the children many things, but getting dressed and ready for PE or to play outside, and going to the toilet... those are your job.  Make sure that your child has plenty of practice at getting themselves changed, coats and shoes on, and going to the toilet.  Tempting as it might be to do it ourselves for a quick and easy life, it won't do them any favours when they are still putting their outdoor shoes on as all the other children come back in at the end of playtime.
  5. Establish a morning routine.  Maybe you don't do mornings.  If you're a stay-at-home-mum, and especially if you have a small baby around the place and you're not sleeping at night, you may all still be in your pyjamas at 11am.  In a scenario like this, getting ready for school on time might come as a bit of a shock to the system for both you and your child.  Others have long been used to a clcckwork regime as they get the children up and dressed and in the car to drop off at nursery for breakfast on the way to work.  Either way, you now need to think about what routine you will need in order to get in place once your child is at school, and what parts of that routine can be introduced now.  We all get up and dressed by seven-thirty, then have breakfast and brush teeth by about 8.15am.  Because we don't need to be anywhere until nine-thirty, this means that they then have plenty of time for play, but it also establishes that getting-ready-for-the-day routine.
  6. Talk to them about school.  Find out what they already know.  Tell them what you remember about school, and any fond memories.  Get older cousins or friends to tell them about the fun things that they do at school and encourage them to ask questions.  
  7. Make contact with others who will be in their class.  Maybe they already know some people from nursery and pre-school.  Arrange play-dates, and spend time with other children who they'll be at school with so that they can be confident of having friends when they start school.
  8. Attend any Induction or Transition sessions being run by the school.  An open evening, an invitation to the school fete or fun-run.  All will be a chance for your child to get a handle on what school involves, and how friendly and fun it is, as well as where to find the loos and where the children hang their coats.
  9. Read books about school.  You don't have to make a big thing about it, but the year before they start school you can start looking out for "starting school" books at the library such as "I am too absolutely small for school" by Lauren Child or "Starting School" by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
  10. The most important of all: Spend lots of time with your child.  When you found out you were pregnant you may have had lots of images of doing things with your child before they went to school.  Going on trips, playing at the park, sitting on your knee reading a book, making stuff together.  Of course I'm not saying that once they are at school you are too late for any of that, there will always be time for those things if you make it.  But if there is a nag inside you that you haven't done enough of it.  If you fear that moment when you drop them off to school that you've somehow "missed them growing up", then take action now.  Not only will spending lots and lots of time and love and fun with your child help you to shun these worries, it's undoubtedly going to be good for your child.