Friday, 19 May 2017

Fighting the Clutter and Simplifying Play

I've never been the tidiest person, but recently the amount of mess in my house has been getting me down. I was getting dragged into a 'my house isn't big enough' mentality, feeling sorry for myself, when actually the real issue is that we have too much stuff.


The amount of toys our kids have has been an issue for a while - even when Eleanor was a toddler, we already felt like we were drowning in toys. So of course now we have two, it's almost impossible to keep up with the sheer amount of stuff they have.

The thing is, they hardly play with it. Especially Eleanor. Whenever she complains about being bored I'll reel off a list of all the things she could do, but of course she's not interested. And Ezra will happily drag all his toys out of his box then proceed to play with the nearest non-toy item (preferably a dangerous one). I honestly think that the more toys a child has, the more overwhelming they find the choice and the less likely they are to play.

Alas, I think it is too late to get Eleanor on board with the 'less is more' message. But Ezra, being unable to speak and having a shorter attention span, can be merrily forced to go along with this as long as he doesn't see me getting rid of his stuff.

So, one nap time, I emptied out all his toys on the floor.


Yeah. What a mess, eh? No wonder it took me so long to tidy every evening, and no wonder he didn't seem to play with anything - there's just too much going on. So I set to work sorting through the mess.

I piled up all the cuddly toys - he hardly plays with these at the moment so I selected just one for him to keep, a little jingly Peter Rabbit toy. I fished out anything that wasn't actually his, as Eleanor's stuff had snuck in a little. I chucked away one particularly battered toy that we'd had since Eleanor was toddler and was past it's best. I found all the teethers and put them to one side to wash. And I weeded out any toys that I thought he was a bit big for.

I ended up with this.


These are the toys that he will actually play with: a bead maze, his toy kitchen and play food, a shape-sorting bus, two push-along vehicles, a shaker, stacking blocks, soft blocks, a jingly ball and the aforementioned Peter Rabbit toy.

Most of the rest has been shoved in a bag for now and when we get chance we'll go through it and decide what to keep for when he's older and what can go to charity. The teethers are still awaiting cleaning, and will be kept somewhere safe so they can actually be used for their purpose rather than as toys.

I did this three days ago, and he doesn't seem to have noticed the sudden lack of stuff. But he does seem to be taking more interest in his remaining toys now he can find them more easily. And it's quicker to tidy everything away at the end of the day. Win win!

Have you found that less is more when it comes to toys? How many toys do you think your child 'needs'?

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

'Rhyming Stories: Pip the Dog and Freddy the Frog' by Axel Scheffler

Another bookish post for you this week. In my mission to get Ezra reading books instead of ruining them, I've started getting down to the library more regularly. Last week we picked up this lovely book:

I love Axel Scheffler's illustrations - well, who doesn't? - and I really enjoy reading rhyming text so this is right up my street. It's also a really good choice for Ezra as the two short stories aren't too overwhelming for him - much as I adore them, he's not ready for the Donaldson/Scheffler stories yet.


Ezra's favourite of the two stories is Pip the Dog. Mainly because he thinks it's funny when I bark like a dog!


I'm happy to make silly noises in stories if it gets the kids engaged, and there are plenty of opportunities to practise my dog impression in this story. I'm still working on the difference between a happy woof and a sad woof, but I don't suppose Ezra's that bothered!


He seems less keen on Freddy the Frog - obviously my croaks aren't as funny as my barks - but it's still a sweet little story. There's no real plot to either story but then little toddlers aren't going to follow one anyway, so it's nice to just enjoy the rhymes and descriptions at this age.


Freddy the Frog is a good one to read with your little one on your knee, as then you can bounce them up and down to join in with the race! As I mentioned in my last post, I'm on the lookout for books that you can do actions to, so this is another fun one!

We've both really enjoyed this book - it's colourful, cheerful and gives opportunities for giggles with funny noises and bouncing about. I spotted another 'Rhyming Stories' book while at the library so think I'll be picking that up next week!

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.


Read With Me


Laura's Lovely Blog

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

'Clip Clop!' by Nicola Smee

I haven't done a post about what we're reading recently. Eleanor is now a very independent reader (and reads the same books over and over) so I don't have much to say about her reading habits these days. And Ezra is in full-on book devastation mode so I'm ashamed to say I haven't been reading much with him.

Except for one book.


As you can see, this book hasn't escaped his destructive powers entirely, but a slightly bent and nibbled front page is nothing compared to some of the havoc he's wreaked. (I've even had to throw books away - sob!) I think he's sparing this book because he loves it so much!

It's a really simple, short story, perfect for older babies and younger toddlers.


This book is absolutely made for bouncing a baby along to. Every parent has played horsey one time or another, and this story gives you lots of opportunity to make your little one giggle.


The rhythm of the text encourages you speed up your bouncing until ...


This is Ezra's favourite page - I lean back for the HALT and forward for the fly and his face lights up every time!


I love the playful ending - anticipating the child asking for another read of it! Although Ezra is too young to say 'again' himself, he will often turn back to the first page, indicating he wants another 'ride'. It's so short and fun I'm more than happy to do a repeat reading.

I'm now on the lookout for more books that encourage actions - any ideas?

I'm linking up with Read With Me hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.




Read With Me

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Review - FotoJet Premium photo editing and collage

You may have noticed my header's changed. I've been undergoing the slow (for me) process of prettifying my blog but I'd been putting off the header. Photo-editing is not my forte at all and I was really worried about doing a bad job of it.

Then FotoJet got in touch to offer me a chance to try out their Premium account. It felt like the universe was telling me to get on with that header once and for all!

So, what do you think to the header? Nice, isn't it? It may not look like much, but to me it was a real challenge! I started out with this photo:


I uploaded it onto the FotoJet Edit section and resized it so it would fit my blog template. (Unfortunately a Blogger-specific header wasn't an option in the Design section, but there were lots of options for social media headers and posts.) It was pretty straightforward to do this, even for a novice like me.

I then set about adjusting the photo a little to make it a little less washed-out. The free version of the website does have some pre-set effects that you can apply, but I thought I'd try out the Advanced features for a more customised look.


After I'd played around with the different settings until I had the look I wanted I added the text. I wanted a clean, fuss-free font so used one of the free options, but there are loads of fancy fonts that are exclusive to the Premium account if you feel like being more creative.


After a bit of playing around I got the header you can see above - not bad for a technophobe, eh?! Just a shame there's nothing that can be done for Eleanor's weird photo pose ...

Overall I found the Edit function really straightforward, so I decided to get adventurous and use the Collage function for my next project. Eleanor is having a half-birthday next month (on account of her birthday being so close to Christmas) so this was a great opportunity to get her invites done.

In the Collage section of the website, there are lots of templates for different occasions, including some lovely invitations. I chose this one, which is only available on the Premium account:


I added a photo of Eleanor (from her actual birthday, just to confuse people even further) and used the effects to brighten it up.


I then edited the text - changing the font and positioning very easily - to include the party's details. I didn't screenshot that bit as obviously I don't want the whole internet knowing when and where the party is, so you'll just have to trust me that it looks great!

I was very impressed with how easy to use the FotoJet browser app is and would recommend it to anyone who needs to do photo editing or graphic design but doesn't know where to start. Whether you're a blogger setting up headers or you need to make a really eye-catching invite or flyer, this app will help you through all the tricky bits. The Premium features are very useful to have, especially if you want to fully customise your work or have a very particular design in mind.

If you're interested in giving FotoJet a try, check out their website where you will also find information on signing up for a Premium account.

DISCLAIMER: I was offered free access to a FotoJet Premium account for the purposes of this review, however all words and opinions are my own.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

YES YOU CAN! A book to fight gender stereotypes

"The boys don't let me play football because I'm a girl."

My heart sank when Eleanor told me that. She loves playing football. She's been going to a football class since January, and long before then would beg available adults to have a kickabout in the garden with her. She's pretty nifty with a ball. But, whatever had been said to her, she was getting the idea that the game wasn't for her.

Encouraging children to find their own interests is relatively easy in the early years, when they're oblivious to stereotypes around them, but as they get older they start to become more aware. I remember her coming home from nursery school saying that, "blue is for boys," despite it being her favourite colour. Luckily she doesn't seem too deterred yet, but I know as she gets older she'll feel the need to conform more and more.

I try to tell her that colours are for everyone, and boys and girls can be interested in whatever they want, but it sometimes feels like I'm swimming upstream.

I recently saw a tweet about a Kickstarter campaign for a new book called 'Yes You Can' by Cheryl Rickman and it sounds like just the book I need to show Eleanor that she really can be interested in whatever she wants. It features three girls, one who plays football, one who climbs trees and one who skateboards and loves to be creative. (There are also boys who love dolls and diggers.) They are transported to a world where interests and hobbies are separated by hair colour - an indirect nod to the absurdity of gender stereotypes.


Cheryl was inspired to write the book after hearing all sorts of gender stereotypes aimed at young children, including her own daughter:

“Football? You should've been a boy!”… “Why do you play with boys' stuff?”… “You don’t want Spiderman painted on your face, that’s for boys…  how about a lovely butterfly?!”… “Boys don’t wear pink! That’s for girls!”… “Boys don’t cry!”… “His hair’s a bit long for a boy!"

This video tells more about the project:




Cheryl explains, “The aim of this project is to show children how silly gender stereotypes are, and equip them with tools to enable resilience, self-compassion, self-awareness and self-belief to let any gender-specific teasing wash right over them. To tell kids they don’t have to change who they are to fit out-dated expectations.”

Sounds great, doesn't it? The only catch is that money needs to be raised through the Kickstarter campaign in order for the book to be published. So if you can help, and think this is a project worth supporting, you can donate to the campaign here. Rewards for donating range from a free eBook aimed at parents to a school workshop.

I really hope the campaign is a success, I think Eleanor would love this book and it would be great to see lots of other children feel empowered to make their own choices about their interests and hobbies.

Happily the boys now let Eleanor play football with them. But she is still in a minority and very conscious of that. Armed with this book, I think she would feel proud to be herself and follow her own interests.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Six things I love about cloth nappies ... and one thing I don't!

A mini Eleanor stomps beneath a line of her nappies!
This week is Real Nappy Week 2017 and as I've now been using cloth nappies for a total of three years I thought I should mark the occasion! Eleanor was in cloth nappies from 4 months until around two and a half ( when we rather disastrously started potty training) and Ezra has been in cloth to some degree since he was about 4 weeks old.

But why do I do it? Isn't it a faff? Anyone who knows me will know that I rarely do things that make life hard for myself, so there must be some good reasons for using cloth! Here are the reasons I love reusable nappies ...

1. There are loads to choose from

Seriously, loads. When you're first dipping your toe into the world of reusables it can be dizzying. Luckily there are now lots of nappy libraries dotted around the country so you can try different types. I didn't know of any when Eleanor was born but Bingley Nappy Library has since opened up for West Yorkshire people and I got some great advice from there when I was struggling to make cloth work with Ezra. I'd really recommend looking up your local nappy library if you're considering switching to cloth.

The great thing about the variety of options is that there is something for everyone. Babies come in different shapes and sizes (I should know, I make them big) so not all nappies will fit every baby, but you're bound to find some that'll work. And you can use different nappies for different needs: I use a combination of Bumgenius Freetimes for a smaller fit but shorter periods, some very old-school Totsbots cotton nappies with a wrap for longer stints and used to use Totsbots Bamboozles as a night nappy (more on the 'used to' in a bit). I also have a few others if I fancy a change! Here's a picture of most of my stash on a rare day when Ezra hadn't pulled them all down off the shelves:

You can see I use washable liners and wipes too (bottom shelf) - this is in part due to the sensitivity of both my children's skin but also it's just easier to chuck the lot in the wash!

2. It saves you money

Yes, the initial outlay might make you gulp. But then you're pretty much set up for the next two years - more if you use the nappies again with another child. Think about how much you'd spend on disposables in that time! Depending on what type of nappies you buy, you could easily save over £1000 by using cloth. And the variety of options means you can go for what your budget can manage - you can even get traditional terries for a couple of pounds a pop, which are surprisingly versatile if you're good at folding! (I'm not, as I discovered.)

3. They look cute

Forgive me for this, but here's where I admit to being a tiny bit of a nappy snob - I just don't like how disposables look. It's not a big factor for me, but I do think cloth nappies are tons cuter. I mean just look at the wrap on this one!


If you've got money to spare you can really go nuts on the cute patterned nappies as there are loads to choose from. I never did but I do have a few exceedingly cute nappies and wraps that I'm rather attached to!!

4. It's not all or nothing

Remember I said I used to use Bamboozles as a night nappy? Well I don't now. They were great for Eleanor when she was little, but Ezra is the very definition of a heavy wetter. Even with three boosters his Bamboozle was still leaking by the wee small hours (no pun intended). So we've switched to disposables at night.

And that's the great thing about cloth - you don't have to use them all the time. Just using one cloth nappy a day could save you 365 disposables over the course of the year. I also use disposables if we're going out just because they take up less space in the change bag and are a bit easier to change on those scary changing tables. 

And even if you do manage 100% cloth (hats off to you) you can use disposable liners and wipes, or use washable ones. It's up to you. You can decide how brave you feel. But you might just find that actually it's not as hard or scary as you thought so then you can do a bit more. And if it all goes wrong, you can sell on your cloth stash - there's a huge market for second-hand nappies.

5. You can't run out of them

I'm chronically disorganised. If I had to remember to get enough disposables in then Ezra would spend an awful lot of time bare-bottomed while I waited for my husband to pick up some more on his way home. But with cloth you can't run out. Well, you can if you forget a wash, but even then, just bung them in and if they're OK to tumble you can have some ready in a few hours. And actually once you're in a washing routine it's fairly easy to keep on top of them.

6. It's good for the planet

I try my best to be a hippy type, but I'm not very good at it. I use surface wipes instead of cloths. I forget we've got food and end up throwing it away. I have the heating on too much. So with cloth I kind of feel like I'm making up for that.

There are debates around whether the carbon emissions caused by washing cloth nappies are comparable to the emissions created when making disposables, but even assuming they're similar, at least you're sending less to landfill. We tend to use disposables when a stomach bug strikes and I'm always shocked at how quickly the bin fills up. That's an awful lot of waste to stick in the ground, and I'm bad enough about chucking things away without adding disposables to the pile!!


Of course, everything has its downsides, and there is one thing I really, really don't love about cloth nappies ...

POO!

There's no skirting around it - poo is horrible. It's not so bad with an exclusively breastfed baby because you can normally chuck the nappy straight in the wash. It's not so bad with a toddler on plenty of solids as it's normally hard enough to just drop in the toilet. But the in-between stage (which is taking a while to get through with Ezra) - well, that's just grim. Sorry. But you're wiping it off their bums anyway, so poo is inescapable with small children!


What do you love about cloth nappies? If you're thinking about using them, what puts you off or makes you worry? 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

We tried Love Bombing and this is what we learnt ...


Eleanor is quite a challenging child. She has many amazing qualities - she is confident, determined, energetic, funny, articulate, bright and has the capacity for great kindness. She is also defiant, stubborn, giddy and hot-tempered. And as much as I love every part of her, the latter qualities often make home life difficult and cause issues at school.

I'd heard of Love Bombing years ago, but at the time, with me at home and only one child to focus on, I didn't think it'd be much different to daily life. Then of course Ezra came along and I couldn't really see how love bombing would work with an infant who also needed attention. But we were running out of ideas, so decided to give it a try.

The idea is that for a set period of time (usually a day or two) you let your child choose what you do together and focus your attention on them. I haven't read the book about it, but here's a good article that explains it more. It is said to have positive effects on children with challenging behaviours, so we thought it was worth a shot.

We chose a day when we had nothing planned and my husband was also around so we could tag team the two of them. If we were doing it to the letter, we should really have sent Ezra off with relatives for the day, but he is very sensitive to separation and still feeds to sleep so it wasn't practical. We did suggest that we could take it in turns staying home with Ezra so the other parent could go out with Eleanor but she was adamant she wanted us all to stay together. We called the day 'Eleanor Day' and in the run-up made plans for what she wanted to do.

So what did we do? What happens when you put a 5 year old in charge for the day?

We started the day with croissants and jam for breakfast, then headed to a climbing centre. She got ready surprisingly efficiently but I think knowing she was going climbing motivated her. We went on the train (her choice) and she had a great time, although she soon realised her choice of outfit wasn't ideal as a climbing harness and shorts don't go well together! She was also over-excited which made her clumsy. She got upset a few times when she had accidents or the harness was rubbing but overall she had a good time.


After climbing we went home. I took Ezra upstairs for his nap and Eleanor ate some Easter chocolates she'd been given the day before. A few minutes later I heard Eleanor crying and screaming. She'd wanted to save enough chocolates for us to have one each after lunch but she'd eaten too many. We eventually worked out a plan to carve another piece of chocolate into the same shape (yes, really) and I went back up to try and settle Ezra. But she kept coming up to tell me about the chocolates so I gave up on the nap and came back down to make lunch - sandwiches and crisps, with Easter nests and chocolate for pudding. Then while Ezra finally napped, Eleanor played Minecraft - except that went wrong too and she got upset again.


Next we went to a park about half an hours' drive away. Eleanor spotted an ice cream van and, of course, wanted one. She had a bit of it before realising how cold she was so I ended up carrying it around most of the time. She had a good play at the park, but then she got stuck up a climbing frame and had a massive meltdown. At this point I decided to step in and announce it was time to go. Maybe not in the spirit of love bombing, but we were all cold, she was in a state, and it was getting very stressful.

On the way home we got fish and chips for tea (and Eleanor had a tantrum because we didn't have enough money for a Slushy by this point) then we went home, ate our tea with lemonade and even more chocolate afterwards. Then came bedtime, and Eleanor wouldn't get ready for bed. She read and read and read. Even when she openly admitted she was tired she wouldn't make any moves towards getting ready. We eventually got her up to her room at around 9, and she read until 10 when we gave up and went to bed, telling her 'Eleanor Day' was over so she needed to go to sleep.

So what did we learn from Love Bombing?

Firstly, it's easy to over-hype it - both for the child and the parent. Eleanor was so excited about 'her day' that if anything went wrong she couldn't handle it. And I got over-anxious about how we would get all the practical stuff done like Ezra's nap, bedtime etc. If it had been more spur-of-the-moment then perhaps we'd have all been calmer and it would have gone more smoothly.

Secondly, it's very challenging to suspend all normal rules. I particularly felt uncomfortable letting her eat what she wanted (which was almost entirely junk food) and stay up so late - even for just one day it seemed counter-productive. Although actually it had little impact on her the next day, and we got back to a more normal eating and sleeping routine quickly.

Thirdly, it is inherently unfair on any siblings. As I said, we probably should have sent Ezra off, but that would have neglecting his need for attachment at a time when separation anxiety is a major issue. As it was he ended up getting passed between us like a parcel, his routine went awry and he got cold and grumpy at the park.

Fourthly, trying to do Love Bombing without limits is nigh-on impossible. We literally ran out of money because she kept wanting treats so we should have set a spending limit. We should have agreed how long we were staying at the park. And we also should have said that 'Eleanor Day' finished at 7pm, when she normally goes to bed. That would have stopped us getting so frustrated with the process.

And did it have an impact on her behaviour? Well, yes. A bit. It's tricky to gauge as we'd chosen Maundy Thursday to do it so Easter madness kicked in shortly after, but we had a day of her behaving really quite well before things began to slide again. Similarly, back at school she had a couple of good days before going back to struggling. So it's not the magic cure-all I'd hoped for. But it was a good opportunity to reconnect and make her feel that she's special to us.

Would I do it again? Yes, but not in the same form. There would have to be time restraints in place, and it wouldn't be quite as 'anything goes' as this first attempt. I also wouldn't build it up in my head quite as much, now I know that it doesn't have the huge effect it's purported to have. But I do think she enjoyed being able to make all the choices, so I am making more of a conscious effort to allow her to make day-to-day decisions where possible.

All in all, it wasn't a total waste of time, but Love Bombing hasn't been a wholly positive experience for us, and it definitely isn't a panacea for all parenting challenges. Kids will be kids, and spirited kids will be spirited kids whatever you do. But it did show me that I can allow Eleanor more control in her life without everything falling to pieces - I just need to think carefully about how far that control extends!!

Have you ever tried Love Bombing? Would you consider it?