Thursday, 21 September 2017

The 'Gender-Neutral' Experiment

There's been quite a bit in the news about girls' and boys' clothes recently. Whether it's the takedown of Clarks and their flimsy girls' school shoes, the news of John Lewis's 'gender neutral' children's clothes or various other stories around the issue, it seems to be a really hot topic.

There is a certain type of internet commenter who will jump on any story about 'gender neutral' clothing or any call for an end to gender segregation in clothes, saying that "girls will be girls and boys will be boys". These are the comments I understand the least. Because surely these people should welcome an end to separate boys' and girls' sections in clothes shops.

Hear me out on this one. By their logic, it is human nature for girls to like pink and butterflies and boys to like blue and diggers. That's just the way it is. There's no point to putting all the clothes together, they say, because boys and girls will still gravitate towards clothing currently aimed at them.

Well, let's put this to the test, shall we? Let's have all clothes shops get rid of their boys and girls sections and see if kids still automatically colour code themselves. It's an experiment!

While we're at it, let's make the experiment a bit more rigorous. Let's dress babies in all colours of the rainbow rather than predominantly pink or blue from birth. Let's get rid of the boy/girl divide in toy shops too (Let Toys Be Toys are working on that very successfully) and make sure our children are all given equal access to those toys. Let's pair every book featuring a damsel in distress with one about a princess who does her own rescuing, and every macho superhero book with a story of a gentle, caring boy. Let's even up the numbers in kids' TV shows and get rid of the stereotypical behaviour in there. Let's stop talking to little girls about how pretty they are or to little boys about how strong they are quite so very much. You see where I'm going with this, don't you?

Really, if you believe gender difference is innate and not a result of the society and culture we live in, then this is the perfect opportunity to test out your hypothesis! Great, isn't it? Just get rid of all the stereotyping that our children are surrounded in from birth, and see if the girls still reach for pink every time while the boys head for blue.

Come on then, internet commenters, let's get this experiment under way. Prove us lot in the PC brigade wrong.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Review: 'One Happy Tiger' by Catherine Rayner

I've been to the library with Ezra again and picked up this little gem of a book.

I have a vague memory of reading 'Augustus and His Smile' with Eleanor a few years ago and really loving it. I adore Catherine Rayner's illustration style - how you can see the sketching and experimenting that goes into each picture and yet they are still all so realistic. I think it's a really good way of showing children that art doesn't have to be 'perfect' in the conventional sense to be beautiful and evocative. There are pencil lines showing and paint bleeding and yet each illustration is a joy to look at. I may well point this out to my perfectionist five year old!

The reason I chose this book for Ezra is because, as well as introducing counting, it introduces feelings. It's very important to me that both my children grow up to be emotionally literate - to recognise feelings in themselves and others and respond appropriately. While feelings do come up in many board books, I was impressed at the range of emotions covered by this little book - it goes beyond the usual 'happy' and 'sad' to show various more subtle emotions such as curiosity and surprise.

At the moment Ezra isn't as in love with the book as I am - he prefers rhyming books, or books with actions - but I might revisit this book when he's a little older as I just love the gentle way it introduces different emotional states. And the illustrations are just lovely - the detail in every page is so fascinating to study.

It's not often you find a counting book worth writing about but this is definitely one. It's so lovely to read, to look at, to talk about and has a depth you rarely get with counting books. As soon as Ezra is showing more of an interest in numbers I'll be getting this book again!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Review: Animal-themed books from Maverick

Ezra has recently got into animals in a big way. We rediscovered Eleanor's old toy farm a couple of weeks back and since then he's been fascinated, and has even started trying out animal noises - mostly 'baa' but also the occasional 'neigh' and even 'do-do-doo' for a cockerel!!

When the lovely people at Maverick Books sent me two of their latest picture books to try out, I was delighted to see they were animal themed - more stimulus for Ezra's animal obsession!

We tried out 'Hamster Sitter Wanted' by Tracy Gunaratnam first. This is a fun little story about a pair of adventurous hamsters who find themselves in charge of a mischievous litter of baby hamsters and need to find a sitter fast so they can continue their thrill-seeking lifestyle.

As is customary in our house, bookworm Eleanor had a read of it herself first and was a bit unsure about it - I think the humour didn't quite come across at first when reading in her head. But when I read it aloud to both children, she soon started chuckling at the funny names and the antics of the baby hamsters in the fabulous illustrations by Hannah Marks! It's a good story for reading together, talking about the jokes and pointing out the funny happenings that aren't mentioned in the text. Noticing details that aren't obvious in the text is something that Eleanor worked a lot on in Reception so this was a good continuation of that.

Next, we read 'Clumpety Bump' by Phil Allcock. This is a story about a lazy horse who 'can't be bothered' to take his owner, Wally Wobblebottom, on his many errands to help his friends. Eleanor liked this one from the start, perhaps because of the horse owner's funny name! Ezra really liked the horse, and being able to try out his animal noises as I read. And I loved the moral of the story - that doing something for someone else is good because it makes them happy. It was a good conversation starter with Eleanor about why we should help others even if we don't feel like it.

We really enjoyed both of these books, and I'm sure we'll be revisiting them many times as Ezra's love of animals develops!

DISCLAIMER: I was given these books for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 21 August 2017

The Ish Mother Reads: 'Delusions Of Gender' by Cordelia Fine

I mentioned in my last post that I've been trying to read after the kids have gone to bed every night. Well, it's paying off - I actually finished a book intended for grown ups for the first time in ages! And a brilliant book it is too.

Gender is a hot topic at the moment with the documentary 'No More Boys and Girls' starting last week - and coincidentally, the day after the first episode, I finished reading 'Delusions of Gender' by Cordelia Fine. (This really is a coincidence - as any of my Instagram followers can attest to, I actually started reading it back in January! In my defence, I have read other books in the meantime ...)

It's the kind of book I want to pass on - because what it says is so very important. It is a thoroughly researched and meticulously thought-through look at our society's view of gender, how that view has been formed and our society's view of how that view has been formed.

I have to admit at times I found it difficult to read - I haven't studied science in any form since I was 16 and I don't remember neuroscience being on the GCSE curriculum, so at times keeping track of the argument was tricky. That said, it is written surprisingly clearly considering how densely packed each chapter is. The references take up a considerable chunk of the endpapers because Fine really has left no stone unturned in searching for the answers to our questions about the 'gender divide'.

Unsurprisingly - to me, anyway, it may well surprise others - Fine reveals that male and female brains are extremely similar, and that the reasons for gender difference lie in our socialisation. She has read the literature, lots of it, on both sides but has found the case for innate gender difference paper-thin and pulls no punches in debunking much of the evidence put forward for this case. It's a truly fascinating, witty read, and made me think a lot about how we raise our children according to the stereotypes even when we're trying not to.

I found that the book really challenged me, even though I was in agreement with it. It made me realise that I still see the world through a social filter, and that my own efforts in 'gender-neutral' parenting are in fact still heavily biased towards the traditional model. I always knew this - hello, stay-at-home mum with full-time-working husband here - but hadn't fully considered the implications for how this affects my parenting. No matter how much I reinforce the message of gender equality with my kids, our lifestyle still reinforces the status quo.

I'm not about to hand in my SAHM notice just yet - hopefully I will have plenty of time to redress the balance in years to come - but it has made me more aware of the need to show my kids that our family life isn't the only way, nor is it even the norm these days. I don't think I'm doing too bad a job though, seeing as a few weeks ago Eleanor told me she'd be going back to work the day after her baby was born!!

It's also a sobering read as it reveals just what I'm up against as a parent who tries to challenge gender stereotypes - these stereotypes are firmly ingrained in our culture, can I really take on an entire society? But much as I don't think the stereotypes will be entirely wiped out in this generation, I'm hopeful that just trying now will make things easier for my children, and their children, and so on.

I'd recommend this book to - well, anyone really. Gender inequality affects us all, so we all have an interest in knowing the actual science behind it.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Trouble With 'Me Time'

There's much talk in the parenting world about the importance of looking after yourself when raising your children. Filling your cup. Attending to your own wellbeing. Putting your life jacket on first. Getting some 'me time'.

Books, articles, videos talk about the importance of this, including (perhaps especially) in the world of gentle/attachment/positive parenting. You can't deal with the stresses that daily life with kids throws at you if you don't take care of yourself. You can't stay patient with your children when you're all strung out. In short, if you're not getting what you need, you can't provide for your children's needs.

And I agree with all this. I know that when I'm tired (which is always) I'm more likely to snap. I know from experience that always putting my child first and never getting any time to do stuff I like will lead to me feeling resentful, and projecting that resentment onto my child. I know that I need to take care of myself.

My question is this. HOW?

How do I make time for me?  When my eldest doesn't fall asleep until close to 9pm some days and my youngest wakes through the night. When my other half, who wonderfully takes the early morning shift after Ezra has woken at 4am, has to leave for work at 6.30am so I have to be up by then no matter what kind of night I've had. When my toddler is so active that the only time I can get stuff done in the day is when he's napping. When the evenings are so chaotic with two children with very different bedtimes that trying to get and keep both asleep is a two-person job. What space is there for me time?

I've recently started doing a bit of reading and crochet after the kids are in bed. It's great, I'm using my brain and my creativity, I love it. But it means sacrificing some chores so there's more to do the next day, or going to bed later so I'm more tired the next day. How is that an improvement?

The other thing is - and I'm hoping I'll get some chimes of agreement here so I don't feel so selfish - what little I can get is never enough. When my other half isn't working I'll often sleep an extra hour or more in the mornings, but I still feel tired. I can read a chapter of my book, but I'll want to read more. After nearly six years of broken nights, of giving up my 'me time' out of necessity, I really don't know what it would take for me to feel refreshed and reinvigorated again. The idea is that even a little bit of self care helps. But for me the effect is so miniscule that it may stop me being snappy mummy for an hour or two, then I'll go back to tired and stressed.

I wish I had the answers to these problems, but more than anything, I think it would help to know I'm not alone in feeling like this. Do you feel it too? Or have you found the solution? 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: Sticky Brick Tape

Eleanor loves Lego. She asks for it for Christmas and birthdays, she went to an after-school Lego club in Reception, and she insists on going to the Lego activity days that happen every school holiday. I love to see her building new things, and acting out scenarios with her minifigures!

The only thing that bothers me slightly is that she can be quite prescriptive in her approach. She likes to follow instructions on how to build certain things, and while she might modify those things slightly, it's rare for her to try something completely new without instructions. I'd love to see her be more spontaneous and creative with her builds, although I suppose that will come with time.

One thing I had seen that I thought would encourage her to think outside the (Lego) box is the new craze for tape that you can stick to surfaces and build Lego onto. I was so excited when Sticky Brick Tape got in touch offering me a chance to try some out!

We were sent 4 rolls of the Sticky Brick Tape in various colours. At first Eleanor was quite tame with her experiments, just wanting to try one strip on her wardrobe door, but she soon got really into it and wanted to embellish and create an 'E' for her name.

(Sorry for that last picture - that's her 'smile for the camera' face ...)

We then discovered that the tape is just the right width to stick on the edge of her desk so tried that, and Eleanor came up with the idea of using the curve as a slide for her minifigures.

Then we got into personalising objects with the tape. Coincidentally enough it fits perfectly inside Eleanor's clock, so we decided to use small Lego pieces as counters to represent the numbers around the clock. This was my favourite project I think - it looks really effective!

We had great fun playing with the Sticky Brick Tape and I was very impressed with it. I was concerned that it might not fit perfectly with Lego bricks but actually it was a doddle to build on. The only tricky part was when we tried to build over two pieces of tape for the 'E' - you need to be careful to cut evenly and line it up straight, but other than that it's so simple to use. It's also easy to peel off and move, so if you change your mind mid-design you can easily change position.

We probably only scratched the surface of what's possible with this tape - no doubt as it becomes more widely used there will be lots of inventive ideas around, maybe some that we'll come up with ourselves as we get more practised at using it!

If you want to have a go with Sticky Brick Tape you can order from their website, or they have a giveaway currently running for a set of 4 rolls of Sticky Brick Tape! Click here to enter the giveaway - it is running until Friday 29th September and you can find terms and conditions on the competition page.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with 4 rolls of Sticky Brick Tape for the purposes of this review, however all words, images and opinions are my own.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Review: 'Don't Wake The Tiger' by Carles Ballesteros

It's been a while since I've done a bookish post, but that doesn't mean we're not reading. Eleanor is as voracious a bookworm as ever, and Ezra has at last hit that lovely stage where he will walk up to me, book in hand, and plonk himself on my knee. I remember getting so annoyed with rereading the same book over and over with Eleanor, but having seen the results I'm loving this stage now. And it's easier than dragging him off the back of the sofa.

Our latest trip to the library turned up this little gem of a book, and it's one Ezra has become very fond of very quickly. Credit actually goes to Eleanor for finding it - that girl has a good eye for books. Rainbow Magic obsession aside.

It's a simple yet ingenious book - the sliding image trick has Ezra transfixed! The listener takes on the persona of a monkey trying not to wake the other animals, but with every turn of the page ...

I really cannot say enough good things about this book. It's pitched perfectly for very little ones - the right level of repetition in the text, fabulous bold and funky illustrations, and the wow factor of the changing faces. Ezra will turn the pages over and over to see the face change.

And actually, bigger ones seem to enjoy the trick too ...

It took me a few readings to get the tone right. At first, I read it as if the monkey was scared of the other animals, but Ezra took it a bit too seriously and started to get anxious (the worried 'ooh's I got were rather cute though). So I switched to a more jokey tone - more like 'oh no, what have you done now?' and exaggerated the need to be quiet. He's even started putting his finger to his lips and shushing as I read!

As you can probably tell I absolutely love this book and will be looking out for it in bookshops! Eleanor has even suggested there should be a whole series, with farmyard, sea and North Pole versions!!

I'm linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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