Monday, 21 January 2019

In Defence Of Slow Readers

At the end of last month I saw a lot of posts, on blogs and on social media generally, about the number of books people had read that year. Many of those numbers were impressively big; some were even in three figures.

Last year I made a big effort to read more myself. And I feel I was successful in that. My magic number? 11.

That's right. I read 11 books, and I'm pleased with that.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The thing is, you see, I'm a slow reader. Always have been. I enjoy reading, actually I love it, but it's not always easy for me. Particularly if I'm tired or stressed, it can be hard to keep track of where I am on the page - words seem to jump around, lines merge together and I often have to reread entire paragraphs because I've managed to read the words without taking in any of the meaning. I don't know if I'm actually dyslexic or whether I'm just a bit slow, but speed reading will never be my forte.

For years I've felt embarrassed about this, as if being a slow reader means I'm less intelligent. It's the reason why, when I was feeling unhappy in my Theatre Studies degree in the first year, I persevered rather than switching to English Literature as I wanted to - I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up with the reading lists. Nowadays I still feel like I have to defend my inability to read huge piles of books - I feel impelled to explain that for me it's not just a case of prioritising different things, or being too busy, I will simply never be able to read fast. And of course the most embarrassing thing is that my unusually gifted reader daughter has been able to read faster than me for two years now!

But being a slow reader does have its good points. I'm able to inhabit the world of a book for longer, and I can often remember books in quite a lot of detail because I've taken my time over them. I never run out of books to read, because I acquire them far faster than I can read them. And there is, even now, a sense of achievement when finishing a long or challenging book that I don't think I'd get if I could just whizz through it in a week or less.

If you can get through a dozen books a month, then that's fantastic and boy do I envy you! But don't assume that people who read less just don't like reading as much as you. I love it. I love books. I just have to work a bit harder to get through them.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Monday, 14 January 2019

Review: 'Stay Strong' by Dr Sharie Coombes

Bullying. It's something every parent of schoolchildren dreads. Two and a half years in, I still haven't quite got used to the sense of powerlessness when I send Girl Child to school for six hours a day and can do nothing to help her in her interactions. She's yet to experience bullying thankfully, and her school are great at dealing with problems so I'm not overly worried, but she is a sensitive soul who takes even the slightest teasing or power play to heart.

When I saw the workbooks by Dr Sharie Coombes I felt sure these could help Girl Child deal with her feelings. So when 'Stay Strong' came up in a Toppsta giveaway I entered to give the book a try, and luckily I won a copy.

Although the book says it is 'for young people who are experiencing bullying', actually I think all children could benefit from this book. Many of the activities within the book aren't directly related to bullying - they focus on building confidence, celebrating differences and finding calming techniques to help children to control their instinctive fight/flight/freeze response. The book refers to this as 'Bob', the primitive part of our brain that is supposed to protect us from threats.

There are so many fantastic activities in this book. A lot of them are very creative and focussed around drawing, so this would work particularly well for an arty child, but there are also written activities, breathing exercises and encouragement to move around and be energetic.

The activities encourage a lot of self reflection, discovering the child's strengths and helping them to see themselves as strong and able to withstand teasing and bullying. I think these activities would be best worked through with a supportive adult, especially for sensitive or insecure children. Others are a bit more open-ended, allowing children to get creative while still getting them thinking about the key themes of celebrating difference and finding inner strength.

Girl Child has looked through the book a few times and done some of the activities but then the busyness of Christmas and New Year got in the way. But I'm really glad we have this resource now to help her find inner strength and deal with conflicts herself. It's something she is always likely to struggle with so I'm grateful for books like this, and am definitely going to buy the other books by Dr Coombes which all deal with various aspects of emotional intelligence.

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

Read With Me

Laura's Lovely Blog

Thursday, 10 January 2019

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

December is possibly the hardest month to be green. Christmas, a hugely significant festival to me, nowadays feels like a big consumerist binge and it's very hard to get away from that unless you live in a remote backwater away from all of society. But we did what we could to stay eco-friendly. How?

Reined in our buying

A popular motto for eco-living is 'reduce, reuse, recycle' and they're in that order for a reason. One of the best things we can do for the planet is buy less stuff. With that in mind, we did what we could to make sure the presents we bought weren't excessive and were things that would actually be appreciated and used. With Girl Child we only bought things from her list, and shared out the items on her list with family so that the number of 'surprise' presents was limited. This helps her too as she struggles a lot with surprises. Similarly with food, we were careful not to over cater. We had a traditional Christmas dinner at my mum's on Christmas Eve so to avoid waste we chose a meal that we would all eat for Christmas Day - and that was lasagne!! Not having to chuck away leftovers did make me very happy!

Shopped local

I love online shopping. It's so hard to find time to go to actual shops when you have two young children. And while there might be some argument that centralised warehouses and grouped deliveries might be greener than we think, the amount of packaging required for online purchases is a concern (as are the conditions and rights for the workers). I can't say with all honesty that I did no online shopping this year, but we made more of an effort to buy from actual shops. The reduction in packaging we had to throw away before we could even wrap presents was very noticeable!

Tried to be wrapping-savvy

I have a confession. This is the first Christmas I've known that not all wrapping paper is recyclable. Before now I've shoved everything in the green bin, without even removing sellotape. Oops! But this year I learnt the rules and even double checked with my local council. Anything that isn't foil or glittery and passed the scrunch test (stayed in a ball after scrunching) can be recycled here as long as you remove tape and tags. So we used compliant wrapping paper ourselves and properly sorted the paper we got to make sure it was in a state fit for recycling. Some people recommend using scarves to wrap presents but I could see that getting expensive, especially when it's not yet widespread so you wouldn't be getting many scarves back in return. And I'm too clumsy to manage tying with ribbon instead of using tape. But it doesn't have to be hard work to wrap in a green way - just check local guidelines and buy accordingly.

What did you do to have a green Christmas?

Monday, 10 December 2018

Three Christian-themed Christmas Books ... With A Twist!

This year we are doing our Book Advent again, as you'll know if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. To mix things up I'm attempting separate books for my kids which is proving a challenge! But sorting through books to decide whose pile they should go in has reminded me of how lovely these books are.

As a Christian I like to share books with my children that highlight the religious meaning of Christmas, but there are only so many retellings of the Nativity I can read! However, the three books featured in this post bring something new to the Christmas story. Even if you're not a religious family I think these books are a good way of reminding children that Christmas is about more than presents.

Babushka by Sandra Ann Horn and Sophie Fatus

This is a telling of a Russian folk tale. Babushka is so busy keeping her little house tidy that she almost completely misses the wonders around her - a bright star travelling through the sky, kings arriving from afar and so on. But when she hears about the birth of a special baby, she sets out with gifts for him. On her way she encounters people who need those gifts, until she is left without anything to offer the baby - or is she? This is a lovely story about not being too busy focussing on the details to see the bigger picture, and about the importance of giving to others in need. The retelling is lively and fun for little ones, and Fatus's illustrations are so quirky and colourful, they really capture a festive feel.

The Fox's Tale by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen

Last year I wrote about the gorgeous 'Refuge', which tells the Nativity story through the eyes of the donkey. This book, a collaboration between two giants from the world of picture books, takes the perspective of a fox. The fox has his eye on a lonely lamb in the fields outside Bethlehem when suddenly a bright light fills the sky. He sees the shepherds being told to go to Bethlehem to meet a baby king, and follows them to see what it's all about. And the lamb? Well, it turns out to have a special role in the situation. This is a really interesting retelling, especially good for animal-loving children, and encourages the reader to consider different perspectives.

The Miracle of The First Poinsettia by Joanne Oppenheim and Fabian Negrin

Departing from the Nativity, this book is based on a Mexican legend. Juanita's family have fallen on hard times meaning she has no money to buy gifts, either for her family or to place at the altar at Christmas Eve Mass as her friends and neighbours will. But her mother and an angelic encounter help her realise that the best gift to give is a kind, loving heart. This book never fails to get me choked up, the words are so beautiful and the stunning illustrations complement them perfectly. It's a really good way of learning about Christmas as celebrated by another culture, and includes Spanish words in the text, with a glossary at the end.

Do you read books about the religious meaning of Christmas with your children? Which ones do you enjoy?

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Monday, 3 December 2018

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

Is it just me or did November disappear in a flash? I'm totally not ready for December, especially trying to find ways to be greener at Christmastime! If you have any tips let me know!

Last month passed in a blur for us which means I didn't really get to think hard about eco-friendly choices, but here's what we have done.

Become snack aware

I mentioned last month that I'd started making an Ecobrick. Well I'm still plodding along with that whenever I find time, but one thing it did was make me aware of just how many sugary snacks we get through as a family, and to be honest I account for about 75% of it! So this month I've worked hard to reduce my chocolate, cake and biscuit intake, not only for my health but to reduce the amount of packaging we generate. I've tried to opt for fruit or toast when feeling hungry, and not having a biscuit with every cuppa!! I've also started baking with Toddler once a week so some of our sweet treats can be packaging-free. It's something I used to do regularly with Girl Child but got out of the habit after Toddler came along, I really missed it so it would to get back into it again.

Switched to greener cleaning products

I'd already become a whizz with bicarb and white vinegar, but some cleaning products are too tricky to dispense with. But there are options on the market that avoid the nastier chemicals that are ending up in our water supply. Our trusty local zero waste shop has really helped with this, and we now use Ecoleaf laundry liquid and washing up liquid - and can reuse our old bottles and fill them up at the shop, thus reducing packaging again! The big sticking point we have at the moment is dishwasher tablets. Our options seem to be either tablets in individual disposable plastic packets, or coated with some kind of soluble plastic which obviously will end up as microplastics in our water supply. I know I could get the individual powders but with no instructions for our dishwasher I'm worried about doing the wrong thing. So if anyone can help me out here that would be great, just leave a comment below!

So, another month down. Next month you'll get to hear how we coped with the consumer-fest that is Christmas. Eek!

Friday, 23 November 2018

A Unicorn Ate My Daughter

Well, not literally, obviously. But it sometimes feels like it.

A little while ago, Facebook memories reminded me of a post I wrote three years ago. It was about the John Lewis 'Man On The Moon' advert, and I was excited about it featuring a girl who loved space, dinosaurs, the colour blue and scooting. I commented that she was Girl Child in three years' time.

Well, three years on and she still loves blue. She scoots occasionally but not enthusiastically any more. Her interest in dinosaurs waned sometime in Reception, and she seems to have abandoned her interest in space too. We were looking at new books a few days ago and I pointed out a book about space that she'd have loved a couple of years ago. She wasn't interested.

What's replaced these interests? Unicorns, Barbie and My Little Pony, mostly. And fairies, but she's always been into them.

Photo by InĂªs Pimentel on Unsplash

I know I'll get criticism for this, but this change makes me sad. Not because her current interests are more stereotypically 'girly' (although the Barbie thing really makes me cringe) but because I worry that this isn't really her.

You see, while some autistic children are happiest doing their own thing and don't much care about what their peers are into, others desperately want to conform. Girl Child is very much in the latter camp. One of the things she's struggled with about her diagnosis is that it means she's different, and she doesn't want to be different. She wants to be like her friends - and I mean almost exactly like her friends. So when she starts watching shows because her friends do, when she suddenly becomes obsessed with the unicorn craze, I worry that she's buying into what she thinks girls of her age should be like and losing who she really is. She's very conscious of how the media divides things into 'for boys' and 'for girls' and even though she knows logically that it's all nonsense, she doesn't want to rock the boat.

It's all a bit of a conundrum to me. I've always encouraged her to be her own person, to not be afraid of being different and to stand up for who she is. But at the same time, I can see how desperately she wants to belong, to be like other people. She's very aware that her brain is different, that she behaves differently and is treated differently. She still hasn't come to terms with this and will often bewail the fact she's autistic. So do I keep encouraging her to stand out from the crowd, or do I accept that she wants to follow it at the moment? If she feels she has to conform now, how will she fare when peer pressure becomes a stronger and potentially more dangerous force?

What I would really love is for all children to feel free to follow their own interests without the media and retail companies telling them what girls and boys 'should' like. But in the absence of that, I suppose all I can do is keep encouraging her to see her differences as assets, in the hope that someday soon she'll believe me.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Review: 'Cardboard Box Creations' from Lonely Planet Kids

I've mentioned a few times before that I suck at kids activities. Coming up with ideas for crafts, projects, outings etc just isn't my strong point. (Actually I've yet to find my parenting strong point but that's another story ...)

One particular thing I really suck at is junk modelling. Partly because I'm eager to get rid of stuff, so boxes, foil trays, bottles and such go in the recycling bin as soon as possible in my futile efforts to make the house tidier. Then I'm not very imaginative about reusing junk, I hate the faff of cutting things out and painting, and when it's done what do you do with your creation? As I just mentioned, I'm fighting a losing battle trying to keep the house tidy without contending with giant cardboard robots, bottle rockets and the like!

So I have to admit, when Girl Child spotted a giveaway for 'Cardboard Box Creations' on Toppsta and insisted I enter it, my heart sank a little. When we won, my heart sank some more. But when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised.

One thing I wasn't expecting was that the box comes with cardboard sheets with some of the items needed for the projects already printed on and ready to press out. Brilliant, that's a lot of the faff done away with right there! And not all of the projects required loads of extras - in fact, one project, the camera, mostly consists of press-out pieces already provided so your little one can get modelling straight away.

The other thing I really like about this book is that all of the projects are themed around travel - so you can create a London bus, a Japanese tea house, a didgeridoo and even a space rocket! I love that the book brings in a geographical aspect so children can learn about other countries and cultures while they create their models.

The only criticism I have of the book is that some of the projects are very ambitious and require a lot of boxes - one needs four very large boxes. Unless you've just moved house or had a mass upgrade of white goods, it seems unlikely that any average family would have this much cardboard at their disposal. And you'd need plenty of space to store some of the creations afterwards too. But there are several projects requiring smaller boxes so it balances out nicely. I imagine this would be a good resource for a classroom or early years setting, where they might be able to appeal for big boxes to be brought in and may have more space to set the finished models up as play spaces.

Overall, I'm very glad Girl Child persuaded me to enter this giveaway and that we won. She's already made a couple of the smaller projects and is keen to make more so it will be a great way to keep her entertained and help her learn about other parts of the world too.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me