Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: 'I Want To Go First!' by Richard Byrne

In my relentless pursuit of books I've recently started entering pretty much every competition I come across to win children's books. Recently, this effort did pay off when I won a signed copy of Richard Byrne's latest picture book, 'I Want To Go First!'

I've been reading Byrne's books for a while now, picking them up at the library every time I spot a new one, so it's great to finally have one to call my own. Er, the kids' own, I mean. I really love the way he plays with the book format - many readers will be familiar with his brilliant use of the gutter in 'This Book Just Ate My Dog!' This new title is no exception - it is gleefully meta, drawing attention to the fact it is a book and encouraging the readers to join in the story.

On the first page we are welcomed to the 'Front-Of-The-Book Nature Reserve' and we are then introduced to a family of elephants on their way to the 'Back-Of-The-Book Watering Hole'. Elphie, the smallest elephant, wants to lead the way but the rules dictate that the biggest elephant goes first. So he cleverly enlists the help of the reader to get him to the front of the line.

This is a fantastic story for reading aloud, and for encouraging interaction. With every page, Elphie asks the readers to squeak, growl, wobble the book and so on to distract his brothers and sisters so that he can jump the queue. I was a little worried how Ezra, my 1 year old, would understand the concept of the story, but I enlisted the help of my 5-year-old Eleanor who enthusiastically joined in with the noises and actions and he couldn't stop laughing at it! Hopefully the more familiar he gets with the story the more he'll understand it and start joining in.

Eleanor, as usual, read the book in her head first, and when I said it was more for reading aloud, said, "but it's funny in my head too!" She loved the fact that there was an elephant with her name, and that all the names began with E - she's very big on alliteration (she chose her brother's name!!). I don't often get to read aloud to her now she's so confident at reading to herself, so this was a fantastic chance to have a family read-together!

Does Elphie make it to the front of the line? I'll leave you to find out for yourself!

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

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Self-Policing Of Gendered School Uniforms

"You got your cardigan dirty yesterday so you'll need to wear your jumper today."

"But I don't want to wear my jumper! People will say I look like a boy!"

This was the conversation I had with Eleanor yesterday morning as she got ready for school. Actually, it's pretty much verbatim the conversation we have every time her cardigan is dirty.

This week the Church of England issued guidance to schools saying children should be free to dress up however they wish, not just adhering to gender 'rules'. I am so happy that the Church has taken this stance - I know some have accused them of hypocrisy given the in-fighting they've had over female clergy and LGBT issues but as far as I'm concerned any progress is good progress. The guidance acknowledges childhood as a safe space to play around with gender roles and work out what they really mean and I think that's fantastic.

The thing is, I think school staff know this on the whole, but, because of the messages surrounding them in our society, children are pretty ruthless in policing gender norms. And not just in terms of play - it's something I've noticed in terms of school uniform.

Our school does not specify particular items of uniform as being for boys or for girls.There is no reference in the policy to boys or girls at all, even when discussing the summer options of shorts or dresses, or when talking about hairstyles. (Long hair must be tied back - I was annoyed at first but then realised it's a nit thing.) I'm aware that other schools do still specify different uniforms for boys and girls so I was relieved to see our school was more forward-thinking than that.

And yet Eleanor will often say that she's had comments from other children when wearing the 'wrong' uniform for her gender. Admittedly she does tend to embellish the truth, but I believe that comments do occur, even if not as regularly as she makes out. I was expecting it when she wore trousers instead of a skirt, but since when was a jumper just for boys? And, for that matter, why are cardigans seen as just for girls? I don't think I've ever seen a boy in a school cardigan.

Then there are shoes. When she first started school there were no options for practical, hard-wearing shoes that covered the whole foot in the girls' section so she wore boys' shoes. We have to walk nearly a mile to school and live in Yorkshire, Mary-Janes won't cut it for keeping her feet warm and dry. But then she got comments, and that bothered her, so I was relieved this year to find Clarks had introduced a token pair of trainer-style shoes with scuff bars in the girls' section. They even have patent straps to 'pretty' them up a bit which was important to Eleanor. But guess what? She still says she gets comments about them being boys' shoes.

I don't really know what the answer is here. If even at a school with a non-gendered uniform list the children still decide what's for girls and what's for boys, what can we do? I'm a bit tired of parroting the same old phrases - "I wear trousers and jumpers, so they're not just for boys. They're not boys' shoes, they're your shoes. There's no such thing as clothes for girls and clothes for boys. Etc etc etc." How many more times do I have to say them before my daughter is comfortable standing up for herself on this? And why the heck should she have to?

I'm really encouraged to see progress happening in what is on offer for boys and girls to wear. I love that shops are starting to see the benefits of not dividing clothes up along gender lines for kids, and I'm happy that the growing number of parents speaking up about this are being listened to. What I wasn't expecting, perhaps few of us were, is how long it'll take for this new 'gender-neutral' ethos to trickle down to the very children who are impacted.

I'm not blaming the kids at all. The urge to find rules in everyday life and enforce them is strong in children, it helps them make sense of the world at a time when it's hard to understand nuance. And where they see patterns (of behaviour, dress etc) they will jump to rules. It just makes me realise what I'm up against. Even if all schools stop gendering uniforms, even if all shops stop dividing their clothes between boys and girls, how long will it take for this culture to fade away amongst children?

Have you come against similar issues with school uniform?

Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans' by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos

This morning I woke up to news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called on schools and nurseries to allow children to dress up how they choose, regardless of gender stereotypes. I'm really happy about this, and may write more about it later in the week. But it also reminded me of a picture book I had waiting to review.

When we received a copy of 'Pirates in Classroom 3' from Maverick Books, they also sent a copy of 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans'. Written by Jessie Miller and illustrated by Barbara Bakos, it is the story of a fashion-conscious rooster with a penchant for online shopping. When his new pair of skinny jeans arrives early, he can't wait to show them off to the other animals on the farm.

The other animals, however, are unimpressed and make fun of poor rooster. He hides away until he decides that he doesn't need their approval, he's happy wearing his new jeans and being himself.

I really love the message of this story. It champions the individual and encourages children to dress for themselves and find happiness within rather than looking to other people's opinions for validation. It's also a good reminder not to judge others and to accept, and even applaud, other people's differences - as the other farm animals eventually do.

It's also fantastic to read a story featuring a male character who loves fashion. While skinny jeans aren't necessarily 'girly' they are framed as a clear style choice, and the way the rooster admires them is out of the ordinary for the depiction of boys and men in books. He admires the colours and sparkly stitching, and proclaims, "my bum looks fantastic!" And at the end of the book he purchases a much more flamboyant item - I won't spoil the ending for you though! It's great to have a book celebrating a male character who steps outside the box and loves all things sartorial.

In terms of readability, the text is great - it's written in rhyming couplets which always goes down well with children. I like how there are a few little jokes in there about online shopping that no doubt will go over the kids' heads but will make the adult reader smile!

The illustrations are very bright, bold and cheerful. I particularly liked the little chicks that popped up throughout the book, adding another level of detail to spot as the book becomes more familiar. The farmyard setting is always a winner with children - I've mentioned before that Ezra loves animal-themed books and this one is no exception. He really enjoyed pointing out all the different animals and making their noises - and was very excited by the 'cock-a-doodle-doo' which he loves to emulate!

I really recommend this book. It would be great for a little boy with a sense of style, to affirm that that's OK and it's good to enjoy the clothes you wear. But really it's a story for everyone - a lesson in acceptance and in daring to be different. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from that message!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Monday, 6 November 2017

Review: 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse

Ezra is rather fascinated with pirates at the moment. I think it's down to catching bits of 'Swashbuckle' on TV - if he so much as sees a picture or hears the word 'pirate' he'll swing his arm and say 'arrr!' It's rather cute!

The lovely people at Maverick Books sent me some lovely books recently and I was excited to see a pirate-themed one, 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse. I knew straight away Ezra would love it!

It's a really fun story - a class of young children are one day visited by a pirate searching for treasure and go off on a little adventure with him to find the loot he's after. I love how, although the main child character is a boy, the story shows both boys and girls enthusiastically joining in with the adventure.

Eleanor got to the book before me so was the first to test it out. She really enjoyed it, said it was very funny and that her favourite bit was, "the bad pirate who said really funny things!" Being set in a classroom, it's a really good story for older preschoolers and younger school-age children who could imagine themselves going on an adventure from their own classroom.

When I read it with Ezra there was a lot of enthusiastic arrr-ing going on! As he's still quite small the story went over his head, but he absolutely loved the pictures - once we had read it, he kept turning the pages over to look at the little details in each spread. I particularly liked how expressive the faces were - even though the illustration style is quite simple, you could still spot a range of different expressions. So as Ezra pointed at the different children I could talk about their emotions - "that girl looks excited! That boy looks a bit scared."

We really enjoyed 'Pirates in Classroom 3' and definitely think it's one we'll read over and over - so I'd better improve my dodgy pirate voice!!

DISCLAIMER: I was given one copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own. Well, apart from the ones that were my child's!

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

My 4 Favourite YouTube Channels For Kids

It's the last day of Blogtober, and the final prompt is YouTube. I have to admit, YouTube is the social network I use the least. I rarely watch videos for me because when I'm on my phone I'm usually keeping it quiet to avoid waking the toddler as her drifts off, or drawing enquiries from the 5 year old as she suddenly wants to know what that noise is. And my kids don't watch a lot of YouTube either. Eleanor used to as a toddler but it was all too easy for her to skip from bearable videos to ones that made me want to scream, so I weaned her off it.

That said, there are a few channels that I actually find not only manageable, but even enjoyable. Here they are, in no particular order:

Barefoot Books

I used to be a Barefoot Books ambassador before the European scheme closed down and I found this channel useful for learning about their singalong books. It wasn't long before Eleanor started watching them with me and really enjoying them. Singalong books are picturebooks containing lyrics with an accompanying CD of the song, and the Barefoot Book channel incudes videos of all the singalongs with animated book illustrations. We used to love joining in with the songs, and Eleanor would sing them to herself all the time!


This is one Eleanor stumbled across by virtue of watching the Barefoot Books ones. At first I rolled my eyes but actually, although the animations are quite basic (and at times a bit creepy) the songs are very fun. They're performed by A J Jenkins, whose voice is reminiscent of Jack Johnson which always made me chuckle. I was reminded of them when Eleanor was in Reception and I spotted her class watching some of the videos on the whiteboard at the end of the day. Which leads me to believe they're highly educational so absolutely FINE for kids to binge-watch.

Cosmic Kids Yoga

This is a recent discovery. Regular readers will know Eleanor is a spirited child and I've been trying out different ways of both getting her energy out and encouraging her to calm herself and focus her mind. Cosmic Kids does both - it's yoga, but not as you know it. Each routine is very lively and follows a fun story, but ends with a lie down and quiet contemplation. We don't often get to do the routines because they are a little long and Ezra climbs on me if we try to do it when he's around, but we love doing them whenever we get a chance.

Maddie Moate

Eleanor and I absolutely love Maddie's show 'Do You Know?' on CBeebies but Maddie started out as a YouTuber and has loads of great educational videos. Maddie is a fantastic children's presenter and role model - curious, adventurous and enthusiastic about learning more and showing what she's learnt. While we have 'Do You Know?' on series link it's great to have her YouTube channel to go to for fresh content to keep Eleanor interested.

So those are my tips, which kids' YouTube channels have you found that won't make me want to scream?!

Linking up with Day 31 of #Blogtober17 - YouTube.


Monday, 30 October 2017

The Four Types Of Pinterest Parent

Ahh, Pinterest. Where good intentions go to die. For me, anyway.

I first joined Pinterest just over four years ago while we were in the process of buying a new house. It's a 70's build so I'd had the great idea of decorating it in a retro style and created a board to store my ideas. Of course four-and-a-bit years on the only room we've redecorated is the bathroom, and it's definitely not-retro. That board hasn't been checked in a long time.

Nowadays I mostly use Pinterest as a way of clearing out all the links I've saved on Facebook or liked on Twitter. But I do hear whispers of other parents who use it properly. Mind-blowing.

As far as I can tell all Pinterest parents fall into at least one of four categories ...

The Perfect Pinner

Not only are their boards well-organised but they are full of relevant pins. And guess what? They've even ACTED ON those pins. They've read the articles, made the crafts, cooked the recipes. Heck, they might even have added their own pins. Wild.

The Optimistic Pinner

This parent will also have various boards, but not particularly clearly labelled ones and the pins inside have been mostly put in as 'ahh near enough'. This is the parent who sees a great idea on the internet, hurriedly pins it so as not to lose it, and then never looks at it again. (This parent is me.)

The Friday Night Pinner

Also known as the 'we've got to make WHAT for your homework?' pinner. Boards are named vague things like 'kids crafts' or 'science stuff' and contain several highly specific pins of animal crafts, rocket experiments and model planets. Updated every few weeks (or for really unfortunate parents, weekly) and always on a Friday after school. Pins are never looked at again after the project is over.

The False Start Pinner

One board containing a few very similar pins, last updated three years ago. This parent clearly realised early on that there's more to life than Pinterest. 

Which pinner are you?

Linking up with #Blogtober17 - Pinterest.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Why I'm Rubbish At Instagram

Today's Blogtober prompt is Instagram. It's quite a big deal these days, especially in blogging circles where you can even generate an income just from your Instagram feed. And while I do have an account, I'm just not very good at updating it or checking it regularly. Why? Well ...

It confuses me

Now I know I don't go on the app regularly, but how come when I do I have to wade through a load of week-old photos to get to anything remotely recent? Should I comment on a photo posted almost a fortnight ago or is it now totally irrelevant? I just get annoyed with it. And yes I know the 'Stories' are always current but I don't really understand what they are, and besides, if they need sound they won't make sense to me as I'm usually checking my phone whilst getting a toddler to sleep or sneaking a peek while the kids are watching CBeebies so need it to be silent.

I hate selfies

I look weird in selfies. Suddenly I have crazy eyes, a wonky smile and a huge double chin. And my phone's selfie camera accentuates my eyebags. Now I know Instagram isn't all about selfies, especially for my generation, but my aversion to them does cut down what I can post.

My kids aren't Insta-ready

Don't get me wrong, my kids are flipping CUTE. But turn a camera on them and one will wriggle away while the other will pull a weird 'cheese' face. They don't pose artily in fields of flowers or in front of vibrantly painted walls. They don't wear top-to-toe Boden and Frugi. And they Don't. Stay. Still.

My house is a mess

Then there's the fact I avoid posting photos of our home because it's a bombsite. I'm not talking 'few toys here and there that a quick tidy would fix' messy. I'm talking 'blu-tac trodden in the carpet, drink spill stains on the furniture and discarded clothes everywhere' messy. I do try to keep it tidy but five minutes after a good clean up it looks as bad as it did before. And yet parents on Instagram seem to have pristine homes so their fashionably-dressed youngsters can pose happily on cream sofas with cashmere throws and perfectly placed cushions. That just ain't my home.

Going out is stressful

Well if I don't like photos indoors, how about taking photos when we go out? I try, I really do. But let's all admit it - going out with kids is A Nightmare. You have to constantly make sure they're not only in sight but behaving appropriately and not wrecking anything or endangering themselves. If I do have time to snap a few photos they're generally blurry, or I've just missed the cute moment, or there's someone else's kid wandering in front. And by the time I've taken it, one of the kids has wandered off and I have to track them down again.

My phone is dying

It's a slow demise, been happening for months, but I haven't had time to replace it because, well, I'm a parent, I don't have time for anything. Heck, my trainers have been majorly leaking for three months and I only replaced them three days ago. But it does mean that it takes roughly five minutes just to load up my camera and take a photo, so what's the point in trying to capture that candid moment?

I'm verbal, not visual

I remember in sixth form my brilliant drama teacher asking the class to do a cartoon version of a play, but for me she asked me to write a poem version, because she recognised that I'm much better with words than pictures. Ultimately, although I like photos, I prefer to write (and read) little life updates. Yes you can add a comment to your photo on Instagram, but as the words mean more to me than the photo, the whole point of the social network is a bit lost on me.

I will keep persisting with Instagram though. Maybe one day I'll crack it - when I've changed my face, found a way of taming my kids, redecorated the house ...


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Six Things I Love About Twitter

Yesterday we were talking about Facebook - well today it's the turn of my other, possibly greater social media love - Twitter. I joined Twitter just over five years ago and it's been eating up my time ever since. Frankly, it's a bit of a problem. But I love it because ...

1. It's great for 'meeting' people

I'm a bit of an introvert, and not always very good at striking up conversations in real life. Online though, I find it much easier - I suppose I'm better at writing than I am at talking! It took me a while to find new people on Twitter but once I did I made some really good online friendships with people I would never have come across. It's broadened my perspective a lot as I get to know people from outside my little Northern-suburbia bubble.

2. It's full of people who live in my phone

Now, I know the people I talk to do actually exist outside Twitter. But, for the most part, I've never met them and am unlikely to run into them. There's something quite freeing about that. I'm not very good at admitting to people face-to-face when I'm having a bad day because I worry about how they'll react. But I can admit it to people who I know I won't bump into tomorrow, who won't ask me awkward questions which I'll gloss over with a breezy, "oh I'm fine." I know that if I say I'm having a tough time on Twitter I'll most likely get a few supportive hug gifs and nothing more. (Whether this is a healthy approach to life or not is another question ...)

3. It makes me laugh

They say brevity is the soul of wit. That's certainly true of Twitter. Those 140 characters have at times made me cry with laughter. There are so many brilliant jokes, one-liners and funny stories floating around on Twitter, it brings a smile to my face at least once a day. Yes, Facebook has it's memes but personally I find a well-crafted tweet much funnier.

4. It makes me think

It's not all laughs. Often Twitter is used to discuss issues in a way that doesn't happen in the mainstream media, or even in real life. It's a mouthpiece for people who wouldn't otherwise be heard. Now obviously this is a double-edged sword - there are plenty of people on Twitter whose opinion I not only disagree with, but actively object to. And there is a big troll problem too. But look past that and you can find out about lots of issues, views and events that you might not hear about in the news. I've thought a lot more deeply about a lot of subjects since joining Twitter.

5. It's great for TV viewing

This is not often something I indulge in because often the big shows clash with bedtime so I watch them on delay or after they've aired. But a good tweet-along is a lot of fun. Following people's tweets about Bake Off, Strictly or Eurovision adds another level, a bit like watching with your mates except they're people you've never met (bit weird) and they're not talking over the good bits.

6. It's good for nosying at celebs

Now obviously I know celebrities probably heavily vet what they put on Twitter. And I actually don't follow many celebs. But occasionally you get a glimpse of what they're like as normal people and it's quite refreshing. It's a peek behind the artifice of TV/film etc to see a bit of personality. And seeing them chat between themselves is surreal but very amusing!


Friday, 27 October 2017

Parents' Facebook Statuses Translated

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Facebook. I love being able to keep in touch with friends and family no matter what the distance, it's great for sharing articles and ideas, and it's a good way of finding out about local events, items for sale etc etc.

But, on the days when things aren't going so well, or when I'm just having a down day. On those days it seems like my feed is full of people having a wonderful time with their lives going oh so smoothly. And it just adds to my bad mood.

Of course, I know that people generally only show their best side on Facebook. I know that because, most of the time, I do it too. We all do, don't we? But it's still grating when you've had a terrible night's sleep and see another parent posting about their younger kid sleeping through, isn't it?

So, for those times when you're in a Facebook-hating mood, here are some handy translations of common Facebook statuses by parents. (No judgement intended. I've almost definitely written similar ones to these.)

Status: My little angel has slept through! After two long months! At last!!
Translation: Yes I really do think two months is long. Just don't tell me about the four month sleep regression, yeah?

Status: Wow, Tommy just rolled over! He's such a clever boy!
Translation: I'm so bored of dealing with an immobile baby all day that I'm ascribing intelligence to a normal developmental milestone.

Status: Check out Janey enjoying her first meal! (Including photo of baby smeared in porridge/apple puree/baby rice.)
Translation: She ate precisely none of it. And I'm posting this an hour later because I've only just got her clean.

Status: We have a walker! So proud!!
Translation: We're suspending all precious/breakable/hazardous objects from the ceiling right now.

Status: Potty training is going so well, two wees in the potty already!
Translation: I'm not going to mention the ten on the floor. Or the fact I caught those wees mid-stream by diving across the floor with the potty in hand.

Status: First day at nursery/pre-school. My baby's growing up so fast! I'm going to miss him sooo much!
Translation: Well, yeah, I am, but I'll mainly be drinking hot tea, eating things I normally have to hide in the cupboard and going to the loo by myself, so I'll be fine.

Status: So annoying when you child learns to read and has to read every sign you walk past!!
Translation: Yes, this is a massive humblebrag.

Status: First day of school! (Including photo of child standing in front of the door in their uniform.)
Translation: There is no subtext here. This tradition is so commonplace your child is actually not allowed to enrol at school until you've taken that photo.

Status: So proud of Susie! Just got back from parent's evening and she's doing so well!
Translation: Which was a massive surprise because she always claims she's done 'nothing' at school and says her reading books are 'boring'.

So next time you read a status like this on a bad day, just remember all the stuff the parent is leaving out!

Linking up with Day 27 of #Blogtober17 - Facebook.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Previously in 2017

We're up to Day 25 of #Blogtober17! Today's prompt is Year In Review. Frankly, I'm so sleep deprived I can't really remember what's happened this year, so instead of writing about it, here are my favourite photos from each month of the year so far.


Visit to Bolton Abbey


Trip to Abbey House Museum


My birthday lunch


Chilly visit to Scarborough


Bedtime stories


30 Days Wild!


My bookworms


Off for a walk


Cuddles after the first day back at school


Sunny walk home after the school run

I wonder what the last two months of the year will bring?

Linking up with Day 25 of #Blogtober17 - Year In Review


Monday, 23 October 2017

Weather and Children: Expectations vs Reality

I wish I was one of those outdoorsy mums who can somehow persuade their children out, whatever the weather, and come up with lots of wonderful wholesome activities on the way. I'm not. Despite my best efforts I'm just not that good at the great outdoors, and while Ezra loves any opportunity to get out and about on his little legs, Eleanor is becoming ever more reluctant.

I'd blame the British weather for this, but in truth, is there ever a perfect weather for getting outdoors with the kids? I've been thinking about what we expect playing outside to be like, compared to what it actually is like.

I bet this kid cried after this photo because the leaves were 'too crunchy'


Expectation: Spending all day out in the garden, kids splashing happily in the paddling pool while I sip cool drinks and enjoy the rays.

Reality: It takes half an hour to get sun cream on everyone, and another half hour to inflate and fill the paddling pool. By which time the kids are getting hot and bothered. They paddle for about five minutes before the toddler slips over and the five year old gets freaked out by a fly that's drowned in the water. You try to persuade them to play outside a bit longer but they're getting whiny, the toddler keeps trying to get into the pool headfirst, and you start to get a sun headache. You all head back inside to cool off, where inexplicably both kids just want to hug you, making you all even more hot and bothered.


Expectation: You'll pull out a range of stimulating and educational rainy day activities, then after a satisfying hour or two of crafts don the waterproofs and gleefully splash in puddles together.

Reality: There are no rainy day activities because you're never organised enough to prepare them. You try a few crafts on the hop, all of which are abandoned within seconds whilst strangely still causing the room to be covered in tiny bits of paper, glitter and glue. After coaxing the kids into their waterproofs, they whimper their way through a very brief walk outside, and everyone's wellies leak after the first puddle.


Expectation: Wrap up warm and head for the hills, it's kite flying weather!

Reality: You don't have a kite. Of course you don't, who remembers to get a kite in normal weather? You hide from the wind and chain-watch CBeebies. If you do have to venture out, the kids complain about it being cold and noisy whilst refusing to wear hats, scarves or gloves.


Expectation: Everyone dons their warmest clothes and the family join in happily with snowball fights, snow angels and building snowmen, before snuggling up together with hot chocolate and a good book.

Reality: You don your warmest clothes, the kids insist that a raincoat over their t-shirts is enough. After a few minutes of handling snow everyone's gloves are soaked through and the kids are crying because their fingers hurt. The snowman only makes it to a foot tall and falls apart before you can even get a photo. Hot chocolate is spilt, causing more tears. Within five minutes the kids have forgotten their frostbite and want to go out again. Repeat ad nauseum.

Anyone else recognise these scenarios?!

Linking up with Day 23 of #Blogtober17 - Weather.


Sunday, 22 October 2017

How To Help A Challenging Child

Long-time readers of my blog will know that my 5 year old, Eleanor, has difficulties with regulating her emotions and behaviour. In other words, she's quite a handful!

As a gentle parent, I try my best to remember the mantra, "she's not giving me a hard time, she's having a hard time." I'm a firm believer that children do their best but that some struggle with certain areas of development more than others.

So it doesn't really make sense to me to punish Eleanor for the things she gets wrong, because developmentally she's just not there yet. Just like you wouldn't tell a child off for finding it hard to learn to read, I try not to tell her off for not achieving a standard of behaviour she's struggling to reach. Please note the word 'try' there - I'm only human, and at times I do get cross and tell her off. But guess what? That doesn't really work. Because she just can't do - or not do - what I'm asking of her yet.

So what can you do if you've got a challenging child and you can't somehow 'hurry up' their emotional and behavioural development? Well, I'm not an expert on this - I've only dealt with one challenging child and we're not yet through the woods with her! But here are a few things I've tried that have helped.

Using their interests to encourage the good

While in Reception Eleanor was having a particularly hard time following the rules. She likes superheroes, so one thing we did which helped a bit was reframing the rules as things a superhero would do. We made her a little card to keep in her pocket and remind her how to be a superhero:

OK, some of those things really aren't to do with superheroes, but it did get her into a better frame of mind. I know nothing about the psychology behind this, but I'm guessing having a role to play as 'Super Eleanor' somehow made it easier to follow the rules, as if it was all part of a game. I don't know. But it helped!

Noticing positives - and saying why they're positive!

Our children live in quite a reward-heavy culture these days. Stickers, behaviour charts, points etc - they're all intended to reward the good. Trouble is, sometimes children won't really understand why what they've done is good. With Eleanor, she sometimes doesn't even remember why she got the reward at all! I remember her getting a sticker at preschool for 'being good' but could she tell me what she'd actually done or why it was good? No.

I think it's easy for us to assume that the reason why good behaviour is good is obvious when actually it might not be. So I not only point out when Eleanor has done something positive, but say why. So that might be something like, "Thank you for putting your toys away, that really helps me tidy the rest of the room so it's safe and nice." (LOL, just kidding. She rarely puts her toys away. But that's what I say if ever she did.)

Spending quality time together

How much of your time with your child is spent arguing, nagging, ordering, persuading etc etc? I spend so much time just telling Eleanor what she needs to do next, from getting dressed in the morning, to doing her school reading, to going upstairs to brush her teeth in the evening. It can be really hard to factor in some pleasant time in amongst all the busyness, and that's without the petty battles over silly things.

Lots of experts advocate having a daily special time, of around 10 minutes, where you are entirely focussed on one child and do something they want to do. I really want to implement this but I've no idea when - in the mornings I've got both kids to deal with and Ezra still needs close supervision, and by the time my other half is home in the evening we're into the routine of tea and bedtimes, and Eleanor is so tired it's hard to get any sense out of her. 

But I try to find moments to enjoy Eleanor every day, whether that's reading her bedtime story or just having a cuddle. We used to have what we called 'magical Mummy Eleanor time' for an hour or so at the weekend but that's been too hard to fit in since she started football and swimming classes on Saturdays. It did make a difference though, she seemed more settled when we did it. I need to try again with that.

Look after yourself

I'm terrible at this. But it's exhausting dealing with a child who's struggling with anything, not just behaviour. It's exhausting being a parent at all! And it's really, really hard to stay calm and positive when you're exhausted. So whenever possible, try to find ways to look after yourself. I know, it's hard - I've written a whole post about how hard it is. But if I don't want my daughter shouting and snapping, I need to not do that too! I'm her role model, so I need to stay calm enough to show her how to handle big feelings.

And aside from my position as role model, I matter too. So do you. There's no point pushing yourself to the brink, because then you can't look after anyone else. It's a tough balancing acts meeting your children's needs and your own, one I haven't even begun to master. But we need to try.

So those are my tips. As I've said, I'm no expert and I've certainly not transformed my child's behaviour, but these little things do make a difference over time.

Linking up with Day 22 of #Blogtober17 - Villains and Superheroes.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Why All The Fuss About Tom Hardy On Bedtime Stories?

Today's Blogtober prompt is Unusual Crushes. What's unusual about me is ... I don't really have any. Crushes, I mean. In general.

I used to of course, in my teens and early twenties, and there are celebrities I find attractive. But I wouldn't say I have a crush on them. I wouldn't actively seek out a film or TV show just so I could watch them.

Which is why I'm slightly baffled by all the hooha earlier in the year about Tom Hardy appearing on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. Before his much-publicised appearance I hadn't actually heard of him, and he isn't really my cup of tea (although I'm sure he's a good actor). I'm told that he read the stories very well, with a really gentle touch, which is great.

Because surely that's the point of Bedtime Stories? It's for the kids. So why was there so much publicity aimed at the mums? Why the timing of one of his episodes to coincide with Valentines Day? Why all the jokes about watching it after the kids are asleep, or about him talking about being 'tucked up in bed'?

I just don't get it. If you fancy Tom Hardy, watch one of his programmes or films. Why get all over-excited about a ten minute reading of a picture book? I'm not saying he shouldn't have been on it, if he can read a story well (which as an actor, presumably he can) then that's qualification enough. We don't need it to be sold on a 'something for the mums' ticket, surely?

Am I the only one bemused by this? Is there something I'm missing here?

Linking up with Day 21 of #Blogtober17 - Unusual Crushes.


Friday, 20 October 2017

Tales of Terrific Teenagers

It's Day 20 of #Blogtober17 and the prompt for today is 'Teenagers'. Now this is tricky for me as I'm at that in-between age when I'm a long way off having teenagers of my own, and memories of my own teenage years are getting hazy (and mostly embarrassing).

I've always had a lot of time for teenagers though. I think they get a bad rap because of a few, when actually most of them are lovely, funny, considerate and hard-working people. It's such a difficult age, walking that line between childhood and adulthood, dealing with hormonal havoc whilst having to keep on top of an ever more challenging education. I think we should recognise the many teenagers who are getting it right, or at least trying to.

So I've collected up a few stories of teenagers doing wonderful things.

Like Amineh Abou Kerech, a 13 year old Syrian refugee who won a poetry prize with an English-language poem despite only speaking English for the last year.

And these three boys aged 12, 13 and 14 who stopped a man from taking his own life.

Lilly Lyons, an American 14 year old, has set up a radio show to support fellow survivors of sexual assault.

14 year old Liam Woolford waded into a river to rescue a drowning puppy.

Ines Alves, 16, took her Chemistry GCSE exam just after losing her home in the Grenfell Tower fire - and got an A.

Similarly, Nikita Hett finished her GCSE exams after her brother Martyn was killed in the Manchester bombing - and got eleven A*s.

Bethan Workman, aged 16, has produced a booklet to help other teenagers handle stress.

And Greg Francis, 18, is cycling 500 miles to raise money for a charity that supported him growing up.

Undoubtedly there are countless other teenagers doing amazing things that you may not hear about. I was amazed at how hard it was to find examples for this post. So many stories are buried away in local newspapers while stories of teenagers getting into trouble grab the headlines. I hope this post goes just a little way toward redressing the balance. We have amazing young people in our world, and they need recognition.

Do you have any inspiring teenager stories to share? I'd love to hear more!

Linking up with Day 20 of #Blogtober17 - Teenagers.


Thursday, 19 October 2017

We Don't Keep Secrets

Many years ago, long before I had kids, I went to some child safeguarding training for my voluntary work as a youth leader. I remember very little of what was said now, but one thing stuck with me - a snippet of a conversation about secrets. The woman running the session said, "We don't keep secrets in our house. We have surprises, but not secrets."

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
Now I have children, I try to live by that rule. Whenever the subject comes up, I remind Eleanor that we don't keep secrets from each other in this family. Surprises, yes - like a present - but no secrets.

Why? For two reasons.

Firstly, for safeguarding. By telling my children we don't keep secrets from each other, they will hopefully know to be suspicious of anyone who asks them not to tell us about something. And should anything happen that they are uncomfortable with, hopefully they will come to us before it gets out of hand. I'm not particularly paranoid about this issue, I know that child abuse is thankfully rare, but I also know that nobody is immune to it. By establishing from the start that we have no secrets in our family, I hope that should the unthinkable happen my children would be confident in telling us.

Secondly, and less scarily, because one day they will have big stuff going on in their lives. Friendships, fallouts, relationships, break-ups, peer pressure, school stress - as much as it worries me to think of, they're going to have to deal with it all one day. And I want them to feel they can come to me with any problems they have. I also hope that, knowing we don't keep secrets, they might think twice about getting into any dodgy behaviour, although perhaps that's wishful thinking on my part!! I know that my job isn't to be their friend, but I hope they will see me as a confidant and a support.

It is surprisingly tricky to avoid talk of secrets though. From fleeting mentions in books and TV, to whispers between friends, the idea catches on that we need to keep some things secret. There have even been times when adults have reinforced this idea. So we keep having to patiently repeat the message that we don't do secrets. Nobody should ever ask you to keep a secret from your mummy and daddy.

Eleanor has actually caught onto it quite well. She has a little pocket in her book bag that she calls her 'secret pocket' and nobody is allowed to look there except for her, me and daddy. When she got up to a bit of harmless mischief with her friends and they'd said it was a secret she queried this until they said she could tell me - and she did. There are times when something's gone wrong at school and she hasn't wanted to talk about it, but I will just say, "OK, well when you're ready to tell me I'm here, because we don't keep secrets." And she will eventually tell me.

I'm sure as she grows up this will become trickier to navigate. I know there will be things she (and Ezra) wants to keep private and I haven't quite worked out how to handle that sensitively yet. But hopefully when it comes to that point they'll be so used to being open that the things they want to keep private won't be anything to worry about.

So that's why we don't keep secrets. What's your approach to secrets? Have you found this issue challenging as your children have grown up?

Linking up with Day 19 of #Blogtober17 - Secrets.


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Five Parenting Quotes From Children's Books

I'm not really an inspirational quotes kind of person. I think as I get older I'm becoming more of a cynic - motivational posters and feel-good memes give my ocular muscles a good workout from all the eye-rolling.

But one thing I'm still not cynical about - and perhaps never will be - is children's literature. There's a lot of wisdom in there that can be discounted by people thinking it's just for kids. In fact, there are some lines from children's books that have encouraged and challenged me in my parenting. Here are five quotes that speak to me, and I hope to other mums and dads too.

"A person's a person, no matter how small." - Dr Seuss, 'Horton Hears A Who'

This is the stand-out children's book quote for me. When I'm feeling frustrated by my own small people, I find myself going back to this line. It reminds me that they are people in their own right - they're not here to do my bidding, or follow a set pattern. They are individuals, with their own minds, own strengths and own weaknesses and I need to respect that rather than just try to control them.

"You've got to be strong to be different." - Giles Andreae, 'The Lion Who Wanted To Love'

Often, the way I parent sets me apart a little. That's not a conscious choice - I don't actually like feeling different, but doing what feels right for me and my family tends to put me on a slightly different track. Equally, Eleanor is growing up to be a true individual in many senses of the word and it can be discomfiting seeing her stand out from her peers. But this little line reminds me that not only is it OK to be different, it takes strength and courage.

"And that's what they did - because that's what you do when your kid has a passion and heart that is true. They remade their world - now they're all in the act of helping young Ada sort fiction from fact." - Andrea Beaty, 'Ada Twist, Scientist'

I love this story (in fact I really should review it sometime!) - at the start, Ada's parents try to control and contain her curiosity, but by the end they accept it as a strength and change their own response. It helps me to remember that sometimes, if my child is doing the same 'bad behaviour' over and over, it's not them that need to change - it's me and my response to the behaviour. Is it really bad, or is it just inconvenient or annoying to me? I love the phrase, "they remade their world," because parenting is all about adjusting to the fact you've got a whole other human being in your life now.

"You must never feel badly about making mistakes ... as long as you take the trouble to learn from them." - Norton Juster, 'The Phantom Tollbooth'

OK, I confess - I've never read this book, I just came across this quote while researching for this post! But it sums up an important part of parenting for me. I make mistakes all the time - we all do, right? Right? But luckily children don't need perfect parents who never put a foot wrong, they need parents who try their best, get it wrong sometimes but are big enough to put it right and do better next time. Or maybe the time after that. I think I need to read this book.

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day." - A A Milne, 'Winnie The Pooh'

Parenting, like life, is full of pressure isn't it? From 'are they sleeping through' to 'are they walking/talking/jumping/making marks/reading etc etc' there is always a new milestone to chase. 'Winnie The Pooh' is a lovely, gentle book containing this lovely, gentle quote reminding me that everything comes in time and there's no point in trying to rush things. It's also a useful reminder for me as I wait to get a bit of 'me' back, socially and professionally. It will happen, I just need to trust that the river will take me where I need to.

What quotes give you reassurance or inspiration, either as a parent or generally?

Linking up with Day 17 of #Blogtober17 - Quotes.


Monday, 16 October 2017

Fighting Fears And Building Bravery

So, funny story. A couple of years ago, a lovely relative bought Eleanor some clothes from Joules. She gave us them in the bag which was so nice I let Eleanor keep it to play with. A few weeks later, she was in her room and I heard her say, "Mummy, there's a spider in the flowery bag!" I went in, and she was right - it was a whopper too.

 Now, I'm arachnophobic. Very, very arachnophobic. Up until that day, I'd hidden this fact from Eleanor. But faced with a massive spider in a bag, I froze. And I had to say to her, "I'm actually quite scared of spiders." But still I managed to bring myself to pick up the bag, get to an open window and lob Sid the Spider out. (As far as I'm concerned, this is humane. I'm not killing the spider. Whether or not it lands safely is it's problem, not mine.)

I put the bag back in Eleanor's room and tried to stop myself imagining spiders crawling on me. A few days later, I was tidying her room and saw the bag. My blood ran cold. I got that fluttery feeling. And every time I've seen that bag since, I've had the same feeling.

Tl;dr - I'm now afraid of a Joules clothes bag.

But this incident actually taught me something. I'd always thought that not showing fear was important, that if I hid my fear then my children wouldn't develop that phobia themselves. The trouble is, fear is human. Yes, Eleanor isn't scared of spiders. But she did go through a phase of being scared of slugs and snails - something I've never had an issue with - and she's currently quite nervous around dogs after a bad encounter with one. You can't avoid your children developing any fears just by pretending you don't have any yourself.

What you can do, though, is show them fear is surmountable. That it's OK to be scared, but you don't have to let it stop you getting on with life. That true bravery is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Hopefully, telling Eleanor I was scared before plucking up the courage to get rid of Sid showed her that fear doesn't have to stop you, that you can face your fears.

And I see Eleanor trying to deal with her fears. She has now started approaching dogs again, albeit gingerly and always with the owner's agreement. She's still not keen on slugs but will happily pick up snails by their shell. And for many little occasions when she feels nervous, I remind her that she's a brave mighty girl and she can do it even if she's scared. Most of the time, this works.

So maybe I shouldn't worry too much about hiding my fears. Maybe instead I should take the opportunity to model bravery.

Linking up with Day 16 of #Blogtober17 - Phobias.


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sibling Resemblances

A few days ago I bumped into a friend at Ezra's baby signing group. "He really looks like Eleanor, doesn't he?" she said. Now, personally, I don't see it. As newborns they were practically identical despite Ezra being almost a pound heavier, but now I think they look very different.

But then I saw an old photo of Eleanor when she was a little younger than Ezra is now. This photo, to be precise.

And suddenly I saw the resemblance. Not because Ezra would also nick my ice cream given half a chance (although he totally would) but there's something about that little sideways glance that reminds me of him.

In lots of ways, they are very different. Ezra has brown eyes whereas Eleanor's have always been a piercing blue. Ezra was a super chilled baby whereas Eleanor spent most of her early months crying. At 19 months, Ezra only has about 15 words and most of those are animal noises, whereas Eleanor had almost 200 words by this age (yes, I counted - she was the Precious First Born!!) and was starting to talk in sentences. Ezra's first word was 'mama' whereas Eleanor didn't get to that until she had around 20 other words - including 'dada'. Thanks for that, Eleanor.

But then in other ways they are very alike. Despite Ezra crawling much earlier, they both walked at 13 months. They are both clamberers, Ezra more so but I think that's mainly because he has a 5 year old to try and emulate. Both love cuddles. Both love books - Ezra will carry books over and demand a reading much like Eleanor used to. Interestingly, Ezra recently acquired a word for dog - a whispered "ferfer" like the quietest woofing in the world - which is exactly the sound Eleanor used for dog too.

Ezra adores Eleanor and wants to be just like her. If we're at a playground he will try to do what she's doing, much to my distress at times. He loves to dress up like she does, with fairy wings and wands. He flicks through her books, even the ones with hardly any pictures. When I used to take him along to her football classes he would gaze at her through the door, and now will kick a ball around like her. It's lovely to see him trying to keep up with her!

I think it's natural to compare siblings - not only looking at old photos, but thinking about when they hit milestones, how they behave and so on. I try to remind myself not to compare them, but actually, I think it's fairly normal to use your older child as a kind of reference point. Yes, sometimes it causes anxiety, but a lot of the time I'm reassured that actually Ezra is doing pretty well. I'm sure as they get older they will become more individual, but for now, I'm enjoying the resemblances and trying not to worry about the differences.

Linking up with Day 15 of #Blogtober17 - Old Photos.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Five Novels I Can't Wait For My Kids To Read

I love books. Specifically, I love children's books. And while picture books and early chapter books are fab, I'm really looking forward to when my children are old enough to discover some longer novels. Here are five that I adore, and really look forward to seeing how my children enjoy them:

'The Borrowers' by Mary Norton

I think all children are intrigued by the idea of tiny people. Eleanor has a huge fascination with fairies, as did I. I also loved reading Norton's novel about tiny people living in our houses, 'borrowing' items for their own little homes. Well, it explains why so much stuff goes missing, doesn't it?!

The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis

OK, this isn't just one book, it's a whole set. But, like most children born in the 80's, I grew up on Narnia and loved the novels. The magical world Lewis created is so powerful and fascinating, and I love that it's Lucy who leads the way to Narnia.

'Swallows and Amazons' by Arthur Ransome

I didn't actually read this as a child, but discovered it when I studied Children's Literature with the Open University a few years ago. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it but really did. It's such an evocation of a more innocent time when children were free to roam - although hopefully my two won't get any ideas about being allowed to camp on an island alone!

'Tom's Midnight Garden' by Philippa Pearce

Another one I discovered through my Children's Literature course, I found this story of a time travelling boy - or is it the girl who's travelling? - so fascinating and poignant. It really evokes that other-worldly feeling of being awake late at night as a child.

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

No, this isn't a children's novel. But eventually (though I don't like to admit it) my children will be reading 'grown up' books, and as this one is one of my very favourites I hope they read it too! I can't wait to find out what they make of it, and see them form their own opinions of this and so many other novels.

What books are you looking forward to your children discovering? Or if you have older children, which ones have they loved the most?

Linking up with Day 14 of #Blogtober17 - Novels and #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.


Read With Me