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?"

Monday, 23 June 2014

And relax...

My brain is a little fried.  Anybody got any good mantras or relaxation tips?

I'm trying "Everything is going to be fine" (repeat to fade); "This too shall pass"; "People do this all the time - what am I getting stressed about?"

It also occurs to me that we moved house and around the country, four times before I was ten.  Perhaps I should ask Mum and Dad how they achieved this with three small children, without ever seeming even slightly ruffled?  

I can breathe a sigh of relief now, as the Home Report has valued the house at a value we're happy with.  So that's done.  The garden is gradually getting tidied up, the house is still looking pretty tidy.  I sent back the Estate Agent brochure with some corrections - some of it didn't even make sense... at the fee we're being charged??!!  So that's those things done.  The house will go on the market, and somebody will buy it.  The sooner the better!
Hubby has got all sorts of things organised.  He's looking at houses to rent for a few months when we move down, caravan storage, other storage... all sorts of things.

My next jobs are:

  • chasing up the Estate Agent to get on the market, brochure completed, sign up etc.
  • get a couple of minor repairs seen to, as well as a touch up with paint here and there, and keeping the house and garden clean and tidy
  • I have one appointment at a school, and one at a pre-school in Herefordshire for a couple of week's time, and now need to follow up the messages I've left today to get appointments to visit the other two schools and nursery.
"Everything is going to be fine."

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Ochils Fest and holiday planning

The Ochils are a range of hills running along north of the river Forth, from Stirling eastwards towards Fife.  They are part of a Devonian lava extrusion, which has formed a steep escarpment to the South due to the Ochil Fault.  The plateau is undulating, and 721m at the highest point, and the south face is cut with steep ravines.  

Along the base of the southern escarpment, are the "Hillfoots" a series of towns and villages which were based on mill industries using the steep streams.  The Hillfoots are Menstrie, Alva, Tillicoultry, Dollar and our own village of Muckhart.

So that's what the Ochils are.  The Ochils Landscape Partnership aims to increase access to this environment, provide opportunities for community involvement, restore parts of built heritage, and tell the story of the area's cultural, social and industrial heritage.  It also aims to enhance the lives of people living in the Hillfoots, and increase visitors to the area.

One of their biggest projects is the Ochils Festival, taking place for the month of June.  There are loads of FREE events to celebrate the landscape, heritage and people of the area, from foraging, musical instrument making, cemetery walks, woodcarving, bushcraft, pond-dipping, archaeology and much more.  The culmination of the month was the Ochils Fest, which happened this Saturday.  Again, it was FREE!  There were jacobite re-enactors, a puppet show, inflatables, leather work (where you could make a leather pendant with your Norse initials stamped), tree cookies (where you could paint a wooden disk to make another pendant), bird box building, and of course, the burger stall.

We had a great time!

What community events do you love in your area?

I thought I'd also add something here about plans for the Summer holiday, since in Scotland that's starting at the end of this week.  Here's our list of "Stuff to do" so far:

Week 1- go to the Almond Valley Farm Park; visit my friend Izzy in Pittenweem (this will also involve a walk by the sea, since it's the far corner of Fife); play with ice; just play in the garden a lot;
Week 2 - Glasgow Science Centre; drive down to Herefordshire; visit schools and choose a school / village combination that we like;
Week 3 - Herefordshire - apply for place in school of choice; look at houses to rent and houses to buy; have a fun day for C's 5th birthday;
Week 4 - North Wales - holiday, days on the beach, nice walks, visit with Nana and Grandad, go on steam trains;
Week 5 - (Have we sold the house yet?) Auntie Janet staying with us for the Commonwealth Games, Auntie Jo and family camping in vicinity (also for Commonwealth Games); fun day at park with cousin; Isobel vaccinations(!); day at Safari Park; drive to North Yorkshire for annual youth hostel trip with my sisters, my mum and all the children;

plus regular swimming trips, walking the dog, and me going absolutely mental trying to keep the house pristine for viewings until it's sold!

Week 6, 7, 8, 9 - no plans yet, but we'll be moving house at some point in here, and buying school supplies and uniform, and....

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Selling the house

Things here chez Ink-Spots have gone slightly crazy since my last post.  Ten days ago Hubby got a new job - in Hereford!

  For quite a while we've been talking about moving closer to the families.  My mum, dad and sisters and their families are all in Devon, while my in-laws are in Stoke-on-Trent.  It's a ten hour drive from where we are in Scotland to the Devon contingent, and at least five hours to Stoke.  We settled on our target location, looking at Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire-type areas.  About half way in between, beautiful, rural, and in England.  Potential jobs for Hubby seemed to come up instantly!  After a moment or two of hesitation, we decided to go for it, and ... we're off to Hereford.

So now comes the stressful bit.  Hubby is still working in Forth Valley until mid-September.  C is due to start school this Summer, and in fact, because there's a slight difference in starting age between England and Scotland, he'll be going into Year One, having missed Reception Class - so he needs to be in place by the beginning of September.  However... school admissions don't operate during the Summer holiday, so if we want him to start at the beginning of term (which would be less nerve-racking for him and easier for the teacher) we need to know where he's going to school before the English Summer holidays begin... in five weeks.  We're heading to Hereford in four weeks time.  In an ideal world, we'd be in a position then to view houses, make an offer, view schools and apply for a place for C.  Not much to ask is it?
So we've had estate agents here last week (cue tidying and cleaning), have made our choice, and have the photographer coming on Monday.  With any luck the house will be on the market by a week tomorrow, or even better - this coming Friday.  Then we've just got to hope somebody loves it as much as we have done.
We've loved Muckhart, our house is gorgeous, we love the countryside, our neighbours and community are brilliant.  It's just in the wrong spot, and we are very excited about the new adventure of our move and our new area.
Following a marathon weekend of tidying and decluttering, the photos here show how the house is looking ready for the market... isn't it lovely?  We're asking for "Offers Over £295K".  The Estate Agent we're using are Slater, Hogg and Howison and I expect I'll post a link to the particulars once it's on the market.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Interview with Bug, aged 3 1/4

Following on from my blog interview with my delightful four year old son last week, it was time to take on my feisty and imaginative daughter... here's how it went:

Hello Bug.
How old are you?
Free.  (This is supposed to be three, but she struggles a bit with 'th-' and it often comes out as either f- or d-.  We're working on it!)
What's your favourite food?
Chocolate mousse
What about your favourite colour?
Tell me about pre-school. 
I love it.
What do you do there? 
Sometimes I don't get to do register.  I play there... and learn.
What can you tell me about your friends?
I like them.
Who are they?
Percy and Eliza and Eleana and Phoebe and Emmy.
Are you good at Pre-school?
Yes (mummy splutters into her coffee, thinking about this week's incidents that have involved pouring a bucket of water over one child, battering another with traffic cones, and walloping another!)
What's your favourite song?
Hey Diddle Cat and the Fiddle.
Favourite game?
I like playing Pooh Sticks
Favourite toy?
My little doggy.
What about your teddy?  
I love him.  I love my baby.
What's your best time of day?
When Daddy comes home.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A cat.
Because I want to.
What's your favourite story?
The Enchanted Wood (Enid Blyton)
What do you think of your family?
I like them.  
What about your brother?
I like him.
Thank you for doing this interview. 
That's okay.  I like doing interviews with you.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Chapter books to read aloud to pre-schoolers

Our bedtime story has been a fixture in the routine since C was about three months old.  To me, nothing beats sitting with two snuggly children on the sofa reading a good book.

Just lately, since Bug's concentration and memory are clearly up to the challenge of following a story over several evenings, we have started reading chapter books as well as our normal diet of one-sitting picture books.

These are the ones we've read so far:

"The Complete Tale of Winnie the Pooh" by AA Milne.  We've returned to this book time and again since C was a baby, and also have the audio books on the i-pod for long journeys in the car.  You have to do all the voices of course, and my favourite is Eeyore.

"My Father's Dragon" by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  I saw this one recommended on a blog elsewhere (What do we do all day), and ordered it immediately.  It's about a boy who stows away in a ship and travels to a far off island to release a dragon from servitude.  A great story, and one I can imagine reading again in the future.

"George's Marvellous Medicine" by Roald Dahl.  I love this story of a fed-up little boy concocting a new medicine to sort out his cantankerous grandmother.

Currently reading:

"The Enchanted Wood" by Enid Blyton.  Yes, I know, she's not so politically correct, but her stories, particularly this fantasy of a magical woodland where new lands keep appearing at the top of a tree, are wonderful.  My children sit there, far away in the Enchanted Wood in their imaginations.  C giggles away when the Old Saucepan Man mishears.  Last night we read the chapters about the Rocking Land, so this morning the pair of them were both tying cushions to themselves and rolling around in the sitting room - "playing Rocking Land like in The Enchanted Wood"!

On the radar for the future:

Michael Morpurgo - something like "Nine Lives of Montezuma" or "The Butterfly Lion".  I love Michael Morpurgo, and he's written so many books, all featuring animals, and many introducing other cultures or historic settings, appropriate to a variety of ages and stages.

Dick King Smith - we've got "Aristotle" which I've not come across before, and I also fancy "Lady Lollipop" and "Dinosaur Trouble".  I'll leave things like "The Queen's Nose", "The Hodgeheg" and "The Sheep Pig" for them to read independently when they're a bit older.

Roald Dahl - I'm going to leave "Fantastic Mr Fox" as I think it's a brilliant one for an early reader to manage independently, likewise "The Twits".  "Matilda", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "James and the Giant Peach", and "The BFG" are all on the list as potentials to read aloud though.  We've started "The Witches" but got distracted and abandoned it, so I don't think they are quite ready for it yet, we'll come back to it later.

Enid Blyton - There are two more books in the "Magic Faraway Tree" trilogy, plus the "Wishing Chair" trilogy which are magical to read aloud to small children, and I'm sure we'll have some more of those.  I also have the first couple of Famous Five books, though again, these are books which are great for an independent reader to get their teeth into, so I don't want to read too many of them.

E.B. White - "Charlotte's Web"
Astrid Lindgren - "Pippi Longstocking" and "The Children of Noisy Village"
Beverley Cleary - "Beezus and Ramona" and "Ramona the Pest"
Jill Murphy - "The Worst Witch"
"Aesop's Fables"
Atinuke "Anna Hibiscus"
and James Herriot's Treasury for Children.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Model railway progress - rocky skerry for lighthouse

While in Gairloch last September C found a small lighthouse and boat, which he decided should belong with his model railway, and he spent his holiday pennies on them with much excitement.  8 months later, and we finally have a proper place for them on the railway.

We used a cardboard base, which has bent a lot as the work has dried, so at some point we'll remake this with a plywood base cut to fit the whole harbour.

We started by scrunching up some newspaper balls and taping them to the base to make the shape of our island.  This was a joint C, Bug and Mummy effort.

Next we got a 50:50 mix of PVA and water, and lots of torn up kitchen towel, and stuck down the kitchen towel, brushing them with the mix as we went, and pressing them into the corners.  It's important to ensure that the whole surface is covered with overlapping squares.  Bug particularly enjoyed this job.

Bug, admiring her work
Leave it to dry in a sunny spot for a few days.

After that we painted.  We used poster paints.  Green and black for the rocky island, and a glittery blue for the water.  Both children did this.

To finish off I attached the lighthouse to the top with PVA.  Then I brushed a PVA water mix over the blue paint, and laid on some clingfilm, which was a bit scrunched near the island (where the waves would be).  I also brushed PVA/water mix over the green paint, and sprinkled on some model railway scenic grass.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Power of Song

I realised a couple of months ago that I don't sing anymore.

All through school and as a Primary School Teacher (until about five years ago) I have either been in a school choir or been running one.  I always had music on - something I could sing to, either on the radio or CD.  If I'm honest I think the singing is what kept me a church-goer for so long!  And yes, I love karaoke, and up until I moved from North Yorkshire nearly eight years ago, would be found at least once most weeks singing karaoke.

I've gradually lost my voice.  It started in 2006 when I moved house (and in with Hubby) and didn't go out to karaoke anymore.  At the same time I moved from a full-time teaching job, so no longer ran the school choir.  I still had music around the house, and sang all the time, but somehow that got lost when I had C - I didn't have the music on when he was asleep, because I wanted to be able to hear when he woke up.  I listened to the radio, but usually mostly talking.

A couple of months ago I decided to put the music back on.  I found a radio station that has music that I like, know and can sing to, and have it on around the house and in the car, and I really do sing (loudly!).  It's made an unexpected difference to my life.  My mood really does feel lifted when I've been singing.  I'm actually a happier person to be around!  I have to confess though, that over the years my voice has got out of practice and I'm a little croaky and not always in tune, but hopefully that'll come back.  Who knows - maybe I'll even find a choir again?