Monday, 17 September 2018

Picture Books For Future Globetrotters

We're halfway through September and the summer holidays are well and truly fading into memory. Did you take your kids on any exciting trips? We had our first family trip abroad, flying to northern France to stay in a Eurocamp. Unfortunately it turns out Toddler gets travel sick on planes, and Girl Child was so overwhelmed by anxiety about being in another country we didn't leave the campsite until we literally had to! So I think our overseas adventures will have to be in book form for now. Which is fine, because there are some great books about exploring other countries! Here are three of our favourites in our home collection.

Around The World With Mouk by Marc Boutavant

This was bought for Girl Child by her uncle when she was just 2 or 3 years old and is so well-loved I've had to tape it back together - hence the strategic book placement in the photo above! Mouk the bear leaves his home in Paris to travel around the world, and sends postcards back from his destinations to his friends. His journey takes in Lapland, Madagascar, Australia, China, United States and more, and wherever he goes he makes new friends. The thing I love about this book is the cartoon-like illustration style, with speech bubbles strewn across the page. It means that you can gradually read the story in more detail as your child gets older, and there are lots of little side stories and jokes going on in the pictures. It also incorporates lots of interesting facts and details about the countries visited so is a great learning tool.

WatAdventure in Australia by Richard David Lawman and Katie Williams

This book was sent to us recently by Tiny Tree Children's Books from their parent company Matthew James Publishing. It's a really interesting concept - ideas and artwork were submitted by thousands of children via PopJam and incorporated into the story. The main character, Lola, is based on a competition winner on PopJam. Lola climbs into a den in her room with her toys, Jiblets the monkey and Sirius the dog, and emerges on the Watabus with her toys brought to life. They travel to Australia where Jiblets promptly disappears, and Lola and Sirius go in search of him, accidentally taking in all the sights in Oz. It's a really clever way of covering different destinations in the country, and the rhyming text makes it an entertaining read. I love the quirky illustrations, especially knowing that real children played a part in creating them!

Off We Go To Mexico! by Laurie Krebs and Christopher Corr

I first came across this book in our library over four years ago and I got my own copy when I briefly sold Barefoot Books at events and markets. (My main downfall as a children's bookseller is that I wanted to buy all the books for me!) It's a fun, vibrant book showing a family on holiday in Mexico, taking in all the sights from the bustle of Mexico City to the markets in ancient villages and exploring mountains and pyramids. It's another rhyming book, my favourite to read aloud, and each double page spread gives Spanish translations of key words so it's great for introducing the language. I also love that it shows babywearing, although I have to say the sling is a very strange one!

What picture books about other countries have you read to your children? Do you find reading about other countries and cultures makes them more interested in travelling?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of WatAdventure in Australia for the purposes of this review, however all words and opinions are my own.

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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Saturday, 15 September 2018

Two, Take Two

Toddler turned two and a half recently. It crept up on us and I'm still slightly in shock about it. He's now closer to his third birthday than his second, on the final stretch of toddlerhood before he officially becomes a preschooler. I'm stunned.

It got me thinking about how different having a two year old has been this time around. I remember finding Girl Child's third year exhausting - I was living on the edge, counting down the months until I could get her into preschool and get a break! Whereas this time I don't even know if I want him to go to preschool at all, I'm enjoying having him around so much.

This makes me feel a little guilty about my desperation to fob my daughter off on others for a few hours a week! But she was a much more challenging child, and at that stage I didn't know why. She needed almost constant entertainment, as if she couldn't work out how to play of her own accord. She was strong-willed, always wanting her way but not always knowing what her way was. She was very talkative and loud with it, she rarely sat still and she had frequent meltdowns. Of course, I thought at the time she was just a 'spirited child' but in retrospect I now see the signs of autism, and wish I'd gone easier on her and on myself.

And I think that has made my approach with Toddler different. He has always been an 'easier' child anyway - he rarely cried as a baby, he's generally happy to go with the flow and can entertain himself for brief, but increasing, periods. Don't get me wrong, we still get toddler tantrums, there are regular times when he is not at all impressed about having to fit round the school run schedule, and sometimes he is very determined in getting his own way. But on the whole he's a far less intense child. And part of me wonders whether this is because I'm a less intense parent now.

With Girl Child, her speech was far better in her toddler years, which tricked me into thinking she could cope with more than she really could. I now realise that a lot of her speech was akin to echolalia (where children, or sometimes adults, repeat back phrases they've heard) - I was reading through old blog posts recently and was reminded of her tendency to sit and recite huge chunks of children's books from memory. I heard a child talking in full, complex sentences, and expected her to have a reasoning well beyond her years. Toddler, by contrast, is actually a little behind in his speech, and so I find myself making far more allowances for him because it's hard to tell how much he understands. My lower expectations of his behaviour make me more relaxed about it, and less likely to lose my temper with him.

I was talking to a friend yesterday about how we treat our children differently without intending to, or possibly even realising. And it made me realise how much, as a first time mum, I chased that next milestone. I was keen to know that Girl Child was keeping up with her peers and it meant that every perceived lag made me fraught with anxiety. By this stage I was unsuccessfully trying to potty train her, partly because all her peers were doing it. I haven't even tried with Toddler because he doesn't seem ready yet, and he has so few friends of a similar age that I just don't feel that pressure. And while his speech does cause me angst, I'm far more laid back about his development generally. He's my last baby, I'm in no rush to get him to grow up.

And of course, I know now that 'this too shall pass' is, most often, true. He will start to talk more clearly and with that will come the ability to express himself better and tantrum less. He will sleep through eventually. Everything that needs to happen will happen, I just need to keep gently guiding him.

There are similarities between my children at this age though. Toddler also struggles to sit still for long. He likes to work his little muscles, walking or climbing or generally playing outside, just like his sister did as a toddler. He shares her love of books. And, like Girl Child, Toddler is still nowhere near sleeping through. Can't win them all, eh?!

Monday, 10 September 2018

Three Picture Books For Raising Eco-Conscious Kids

As you may have gathered, the environment and green living are big concerns of mine. I can still remember learning about the effects of pollution and the use of fossil fuels back when I was in primary schools and it seems bizarre that we're still having the same problems today. I often worry about the problems we're leaving for future generations to fix, and whether our efforts are too late. Nonetheless, I still believe it is important to teach children about the importance of caring for our planet. And I think children's books can play a major part in this.

We have recently been reading these three books about the environment, two kindly sent for review by the lovely folk at Tiny Tree Children's Books and one borrowed from our local library (because, as I may have mentioned before, libraries are great).

Poppy's Planet by Russ Brown and Jamie Cosley

This is a really lovely picture book with bright, clear illustrations and fun rhyming text, perfect for reading with little ones. Poppy the Penguin has a special power - unlike other penguins, she can fly. She flies around the Earth and as she goes she sees all the different problems being caused by pollution and climate change - crop failures, deforestation, smog and more - and becomes sad that her planet is being treated so badly. Bravely, there is no happy ending to the story, instead it ends with a call to the readers to take action to protect our planet for Poppy's sake. I think this is really effective as it shows children that even they can do their bit to help, and can prompt conversations about what they can do.

Hello, Mr World by Michael Foreman

This picture book deals with a similar idea - this time, though, it is two children rather than a penguin who see the effects of climate change on the Earth. The children (a boy and a girl, hooray for equality) are playing doctors when they are visited by Mr World, who is feeling too hot and struggling to breathe. They examine their patient, discovering that his ice is melting and he is full of smoke and fumes. They tell Mr World he must look after himself - but Mr World wants our help. This is a really clever book which uses very simple text that even young readers can understand and stay engaged with, and the illustrations are really charming. I love that there is a section at the end for older children which explains climate change in more detail and gives suggestions for ways to help 'Mr World' to get better.

The Weatherbies: Colin Cloud is Making Shapes by Yvonne Fleming and James Salenga

This is the second book in a series explaining how our planet works. Colin Cloud is playing a game with his Weatherbie friends, making different shapes for them to guess, when their rivals The Pollutants arrive to break up their fun. However, Colin and his friends, who each represent a form of weather, use this is as an opportunity to teach The Pollutants about the water cycle and the importance of water to our planet. While this book doesn't directly deal with the environmental challenges we face, it's still a great way of explaining the science behind water and showing why we mustn't waste it. The illustrations are really fun and cartoon-like - my daughter particularly liked Rosie Rainbow who has rainbow stripes in her hair - and the rhyming text makes it easy to read and appealing for younger children.

Hopefully these books will have a good influence on my children and help them to understand why I'm always going on about being more green! What books do you use to teach your children about the environment?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of Poppy's Planet and The Weatherbies: Colin Cloud is Making Shapes 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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Sunday, 9 September 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener In ... August

Wow, it's hard to stay green over the summer, isn't it? We had our first trip abroad as a family this summer and although it was lovely I did feel a bit guilty about the flight, and the amount of rubbish we generated as a result of not having space to take our own food and such. And then there's all the driving places to keep the kids entertained. But amongst all this, we've managed to make some eco-friendly choices.

Taken a long EV road trip

This is actually courtesy of Toddler, who has recently developed travel sickness. We had an inkling this was the case, but his spectacular digestive pyrotechnics on the flight to France confirmed our suspicions. (In case you happen to read this, sorry to the man sat next to us!!) We had planned a road trip down South over the August bank holiday weekend to visit old friends and family and intended to take our diesel car just for ease, but knowing that Toddler wouldn't be up to long stints in the car made us reconsider. If we could only drive for about an hour at a time anyway to reduce the risk of upchuck, why not stop to charge the car? So we braved a road trip from Leeds to Oxfordshire in our electric car! It was actually surprisingly easy as most service stations and a lot of chain hotels now have charging points, and while it did take longer it was nice to get a break from being stuck in the car.

The only downside was that, because we were pretty disorganised about eating arrangements, we ended up buying food on some of our stops, which meant packaging to throw away. Not only did this feel wasteful, it also offset some of the savings we made by using the EV. So next time we attempt such a long journey (which won't be for a long time) we'll try to be more prepared and take our own food with us.

Switched to Soapnuts

Again, credit goes to Toddler, who for most of June and July kept getting allergic rashes which we couldn't explain. We wondered if it was the heatwave but he got it even on cooler days. I wondered if our laundry detergent had changed its ingredients. At the same time I'd got a sample pack of soapnuts to use as a shampoo alternative (I know, I'm weird, I will eventually write a post about my green haircare adventures) which didn't really work out, so I thought I'd try them in the laundry instead.

The results are hit and miss so far. You're supposed to be able to reuse soapnuts 3 or 4 times but I don't find them particularly effective after the second wash, and I'm still working out the best temperature and setting to use. They're not great at lifting heavy stains (which with a toddler and a messy 6 year old is an issue) and I can only use them with nappies if the soapnuts are unused. So not a total win, but I'm persisting. If anyone has any hot tips on using soapnuts please comment below!

And the rash? Suddenly cleared up around the time we tried soapnuts, but hasn't returned when I've resorted to detergent, so who knows?!

Tried growing from scraps

I've often seen articles about how you can regrow vegetables from scraps, but I'm always either too zealous in my composting efforts or think it'll be too much faff. But a while ago I impulse bought pak choi (as you do) and saved the stumps after I'd chopped the leaves off because I thought they'd be good for paint printing. I showed them to my husband and was about to explain my plan when he said, "oh are you going to regrow them?" Umm, can I? Google said yes, so I sat them in a tub of water. We changed the water every couple of days and before we knew it new leaves were growing in the centre. We planted them out and now have two very healthy pak choi plants which we can take leaves off as needed. Hooray for free food! Have you grown from scraps? What have you tried?

So that was August. Now we're back to reality I'm hoping we can get back to a greener lifestyle with less waste - and definitely less travelling!

Monday, 3 September 2018

Riveting Robots! Two Picture Books Featuring Robots

Remember when we were kids and robots seemed so removed from reality? It's weird to think how far AI has come in the last few decades - and to wonder what role robots will play when our kids are our age. Fortunately, in the world of picture books, robots are still recognisable from the images we saw growing up - boxy metal creations with quirky personalities. We've been reading two such picture books recently. I like both of these books as they use robots to share life lessons in a way our little ones can understand and relate to.

'Unplugged' by Steve Antony

I picked 'Unplugged' up at the library recently after seeing lots of reviews from fellow picture book bloggers. It's a really charming story about Blip, a robot who spends all day plugged into her computer until one day a power cut forces her into the great outdoors, where she discovers a whole new world of fun to enjoy.

I love how Blip is a female robot with no qualifying reasons or gender signifiers in the way she's depicted. No reason is given for her being a girl and there are no bows or long eyelashes - she just is. This is so rare in picture books, especially ones about stereotypically 'boyish' topics such as robots, and it's so refreshing to see. 

I also like how the book doesn't rubbish screen activities - while it does use colour to suggest that being outdoors is preferable, it still shows the variety of things you can do on a computer. Having been very anti-screens in the past, I've seen how much online games and apps have helped my daughter in various ways, so I like that the book recognises the value in computers, while still hinting that getting out and making friends is perhaps better!

It's a very simply written book and the adorable illustrations convey a lot of the emotion, so it's a really good book for sharing with little ones who don't have a long attention span, but there's still enough to talk about with a slightly older child too.

'Robots Don't Say Please' by Lucy Keeling and Kris Smith

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this book from Tiny Tree Children's Books. It's a funny story about a robot who lives with Barney and his parents, and who doesn't understand humans' social rules about saying 'please' and 'thank you' - until a fondue disaster strikes and he shows that he has learnt human manners after all.

I have to admit, parts of the story didn't sit very well with me - for instance, the robot is expected to say please for something he requires (and is denied it when he doesn't), but when Dad later needs something he doesn't say please. The way Robot is expected to understand manners, and his inability to comprehend, unsettled me a little as I saw a lot of my autistic daughter in him. Struggling to understand social rules can be uncomfortable to watch for parents and so it really struck a chord. But aside from that it is a fun way of teaching children about manners with a humorous story, and could prompt conversations about why manners are expected and how to know what social rules apply in different circumstances.

The story is told in rhyming text which is always a big winner in our house - Toddler is always more engaged with a rhyming book and Girl Child enjoys rhymes and word play too. The rhythm is sometimes a bit clunky but overall it is fun to read aloud, giving lots of scope for funny robot voices! I love the cartoon-like illustrations and the quirky details to spot, the pictures are really fun for little ones to study.

I really enjoyed these robot stories and so do the children - perhaps they'll prepare them for life with AI when they're older! Do you have any favourite stories featuring robots?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of 'Robots Don't Say Please' by the publisher for the purposes of this review. 'Unplugged' was borrowed from our local library because libraries are awesome. 

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

When Is A Spirited Child Not Just A Spirited Child?

I've just finished reading a book which is well known among gentle parenting circles - 'Raising Your Spirited Child' by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It bills itself as 'a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic'.

Sound familiar?

Photo by Froken Fokus on Pexels

It's been on my wish list for years as until about a year and half ago, I thought I had a spirited child. Well, she probably is - but it turns out that the reason for her 'spirited' nature is that she's autistic. You see, as I read Kurcinka's description of spirited children I found myself getting frustrated because she was very accurately describing my daughter. She struggles to adapt to new situations, she has sensory issues, she has intense responses and she has what seems like boundless energy (but which is actually a need to feel her muscles working which can even outstrip her energy levels). If I'd read this book years ago it would have validated my view that my daughter was simply spirited, and nobody else understood this. But I was wrong.

It's hard to admit that. It's hard to say that I'd convinced myself of a version of my daughter that masked who she really is. The spirited/strong willed/high needs child is a common topic in gentle and attachment parenting - they're the ones, we're told, who will go on to excel in life, do great academically, have a fantastic social life and get top jobs. But as children, they're exhausting. They're harder work than other children so as parents we have to rise to the challenge.

Paired with this is the idea that gentle parenting/positive discipline/whatever label you want to give it takes a long time to 'look like' it's working. Naughty steps and reward charts are easy wins, you can see change very quickly, but that change may be short lived and create further problems down the line. Positive discipline, we are told, can take months or years but reaps long term benefits. Often when parents following these techniques come across issues with their child, especially relating to childcare/school, the answer from other gentle parents is that they're just not developmentally ready and will learn in time, and/or that the childcare provider/school just don't understand spirited children who have been allowed to develop in their own way. Major behavioural issues are often put down to a problem with the attachment between parent and child - something must have happened to make the child feel disconnected from the parent because well-connected children are cooperative and happy.

And I'm not denying that most of this is true. I'm sure there are children who are simply spirited with no further signs of neurodiversity, and I'm sure gentle parenting, while it takes longer, will create lasting benefits for our children. But we need to be mindful that sometimes there really is something else going on.

Despite describing my autistic daughter (and probably lots of other autistic children/people) very closely, guess how many times Kurcinka's book mentions autism? OK, I'll help you out: never. Not once. There is a cursory mention of ADD and sensory processing issues, but autism isn't discussed at all. For me, it was a glaring omission. Had I read this book two years ago, it would have added to my conviction that my daughter was spirited and I just wasn't parenting her well enough. Because that's what it boiled down to. I tried so many different techniques, read so many books, but nothing was working. I worked on my connection with my daughter, wondering how it was even possible that, despite giving up work to care for her and spending almost all my time with her, our attachment wasn't strong enough. I even tried love bombing, but nothing would fix the challenges we were having.

Because they weren't regular parenting challenges. They were the result of my daughter's wonderful brain giving her a totally different view of the world. And while some 'regular' parenting techniques do help with her, ultimately all I was doing was trying to force her into a hole she didn't fit in and making myself miserable in the process. I was trying to fix what didn't need fixing, it needed understanding.

So I'm not saying I'm done with gentle parenting. I do still strongly believe in it. But we need to be honest that sometimes, we need to look at alternative explanations for a child's struggles. 'She's just spirited', 'it'll take time' or 'the connection needs repair' are not always going to be the right answers and can lead to parents feeling like they're just not good enough to deal with their child. We need to be honest enough to say that there may be more to their child's issues than a spirited temperament, and signpost them to where they can get further information and support.

I still hope that my daughter will excel at school, have a great social life and get a good job, like all those articles promised me. But at least now I know that, to achieve all that, she will need support individualised to her and her particular form of autism. And I can start to see that the challenges we face don't mean I'm a bad parent. I'm not perfect, and I still have a heck of a lot to learn about how to face those challenges, but they're not my fault.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener in ... July

So Plastic Free July is over, did any of you take part? I have to admit I didn't - end of term overwhelm meant I didn't want to add any stress to my life! But my mission to live a more eco-friendly life continues.

So what have we been up to this month? As well as continuing to use paper bags and tupperwares to reduce the plastic packaging we were bringing home from the supermarket, and making about a hundred lollies to cope with the heatwave, here are a few more things we've tried ...

Working on portions

With a toddler and a six year old with sensory issues, we tend to throw away a lot of food that's been offered but not eaten. It really bugs me, but equally I know that forcing my kids to eat will only set them up for more issues down the line. So what's the solution? 

After coming to a point of despair with Girl Child's eating, I decided that actually, if she doesn't want a full meal at the end of the day, it's not the end of the world, especially when she's had a school dinner. So I started checking before I started cooking if she'd want the meal we were all eating, and if not she got sandwiches. And it did cut down on the amount of food we threw away very quickly. Actually, her passion for sandwiches was short lived and she mostly eats the same as us now, but I'm more conscious of how much I give her, making sure she doesn't get too much for her appetite. And I'm doing the same with Toddler, offering smaller portions. We're not totally food waste free, but it's made a huge difference just cooperating with Girl Child about what she eats and being more aware of what my kids can manage in a sitting.

Cooking from scratch

On a related note, in an effort to reduce the amount of packaging I throw away, I'm taking small steps towards cooking from scratch. And I mean small - I'm not a great cook and the kids just don't stay entertained while I'm cooking for long enough to do anything fancy. But even one meal a week where I don't use anything out of a packet can make a difference. For instance, we decided to have stir fry one weekend - usually I'd buy a pre-chopped stir fry mix, and maybe ready-made egg fried rice too. But this time I did it all from scratch (OK, bar the sauce - I need to find a good recipe). My egg fried rice may not have been as good as the shop bought stuff but at least it didn't come in a non-recyclable tub!

Zero waste shopping

Remember I mentioned going to a zero waste pop up shop a while back? Well they now have their own premises so we went for a visit. We didn't buy much - bicarb (hippy staple), dried fruit and nuts and a bamboo toothbrush (more on that in a minute) - but it gave us chance to scope out the other stock and think about what we can switch to next time.

Brushing with bamboo

And yes, I've now got a bamboo toothbrush! At £4 it was a bit more expensive than my usual brushes but as long as it lasts three months that won't be a huge outlay per year. It brushes really well and leaves my teeth feeling very clean, but I think it'll take a long time to get used to the feeling of a wooden toothbrush in my mouth! I'm not sure the kids would be keen so I'll stick to just the adult ones for now.

So that was July. August is going to be an interesting month in terms of trying to live green, as we're doing lots of travelling and I'll need to find ways to keep the kids busy without too much waste. Do you have any tips on staying eco-friendly during the school holidays?