Monday, 14 May 2018

Review: '101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children' by Fiona Bird

What glorious weather we're having at the moment! After a few false starts Spring has finally sprung and it feels like Summer is just waiting in the wings now. One lovely side effect of this is that the kids have been playing in the garden much more. Ezra, a typical toddler, is more than happy to potter around and get messy even in cold weather, but Eleanor is quite sensitive to the cold so needs coaxing out most of the time. It's been a joy to see her enjoying being outdoors in the past couple of weeks. She even played football in the rain this weekend!!

I used to be a really outdoorsy kid but sadly I grew out of it and I do find outdoor play hard. So I was really happy when we recently won 101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children by Fiona Bird in a Toppsta giveaway. As the title suggests, it's got bags of inspiration!


What I love about this book is that the activities have a wide range of challenge level - some of the ideas, like mud pies and Pooh Sticks, are easily achieveable with smaller children and can give them a sense of accomplishment that they can 'tick off' some of the activities very quickly, or even before they look through the book.


But then there are also more complex activities to challenge older children, or to use up more time - craft activities using both natural and recycled materials. Eleanor is very interested in the idea of making natural dyes. I suspect that may be a bit messy but might have to swallow my hatred of mess and give it a try!


The activities also cover a range of seasons and locations, so wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, chances are you'll find a suitable activity. I'm gutted that we forgot to take it to the beach with us when we went over the May Day weekend, but that just gives us an excuse to have another day trip to the beach in the summer!!


I was dubious about some of the activities. Some crafts suggested using plastic bottles or carrier bags, and while reusing is great, I worry about leaving plastic objects outside, possibly to get blown away or cause problems for wildlife. I have to admit the plastic bottle slug catcher was tempting though! Eleanor was a bit bothered by a suggestion of making itching powder and tricking friends with it, we both agreed that didn't seem like a nice thing to do. But with so many other ideas, it's easy enough to skip over the ones we're not keen on.

If you're looking for outdoor inspiration now that the weather is picking up I thoroughly recommend this book. I'm looking forward to working our way through as many activities as possible this summer!

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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Thursday, 10 May 2018

We Were Lucky

So, let's get caught up. Regular readers will now know that Eleanor has had her assessment. Just over a year after the first referral was made, it has been confirmed that she is autistic.

We were lucky.

We were lucky that Eleanor's reception teacher had enough knowledge to recognise that autism was a possibility, rather than deciding her problems were just behavioural.

We were lucky that school dealt with the referral, putting forward enough evidence for our referral to go straight to CAMHS rather than being passed to family services, which could have led to us having to go on a parenting course before any further progress could be made.

We were lucky that, eight months later, CAMHS decided that they had enough evidence to put her forward for an autism assessment after two sessions. We took them up on the offer of a third session to get some advice, but by then the referral was written and ready to go. It was at that point we were told it would be another year before the assessment took place.

We were lucky that by that point our local CAMHS service was so far behind it had started outsourcing the assessments, shortening our wait to four months.

We were lucky that throughout this time we had the full support of the school, who have been incredible in proactively finding ways to support Eleanor and in providing evidence for us.

We were lucky that the assessors were skilled enough to see through Eleanor's sociable nature and developing masking skills, and instead see the symptoms she's trying to hide.

We were lucky - others aren't. Others don't get the right support, are not believed, or not even aware autism is a possibility until much further down the line. Others have a much longer wait for assessment, have to jump through more hoops to even get on the waiting list. Others get as far as assessment only for their child to have learnt to mask so well in that time that they go undiagnosed.

We were lucky and it still took over a year. A year of further brain development, of Eleanor finding new challenges to overcome, of us struggling to know how best to support her.

We were lucky, and we still don't really know what to do next.

I can't help but think this isn't what 'lucky' should look like. Parents should be supported and believed, schools should be equipped to support all pupils, CAMHS should be properly funded to be able to deal with referrals promptly. Our 'luck' should be the baseline.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

What Do You Tell Your Child Before Their Autism Assessment?

I wrote this post nearly two months ago, but didn't feel ready to publish it at the time. I still don't now to be honest, but as it's been a while I'd better get it out there!

So since writing this post, things sped up somewhat. By somewhat I mean a lot - having been told we'd be waiting a year for Eleanor's ASC assessment, we then got a phonecall at the end of January to say our appointment was in March. Actually, as I write this post, we had it this morning.

One thing I struggled with in the run up to the assessment was knowing what to tell Eleanor. At 6 years old I wasn't sure I was ready to tell her she might be autistic, partly because, well, what if they said she wasn't? She sees things so black and white that telling her one thing only to have to backtrack would really upset her. But at the same time, how was I going to explain to her that we were taking her out of school for a few hours to play in a room with a stranger while we were in the next room answering questions?

I turned to Google as any 21st century parent would, but found little guidance. A lot is written about what to tell your child after diagnosis but I couldn't find anything about what to say prior to the assessment. So I asked a couple of bloggers with autistic children what they'd said or done, and here's what they had to say:

"I think it depends on the age of your daughter and level of understanding to be honest. With older children that understand I think its important to be honest with them about what it going on. My 13 year old is currently being assessed and doesn't like the idea of it but needs the help and I have told her and so has the person assessing her, that she might get a diagnosis. My son however was assessed when he was 7/8 and didn't have a clue what was going on at the time so I just told him he had an appointment. After he received a diagnosis I explained it to him at his level of understanding." - Autism Kids On Tour

"I told my son that we were going to see a lady who just wanted to chat with him for a little bit. I said there would be toys and things to play with so it wouldn't be too boring. To be honest, he doesn't really understand anything complex so this was enough for him. I told him the morning we were going as he can't cope with transitions and when he knows something is coming up soon then his anxiety goes through the roof." - Living With A Jude

I got advice from other parents privately too, and in the end decided to keep it simple. We considered waiting until the day to tell her but, as it was an early appointment which meant her morning routine would have to change to allow us to leave sooner, we decided to tell her the night before. At first I just told her that she had an appointment in the morning so wouldn't be going straight to school but we'd get her to school as soon as possible afterwards so she didn't miss too much. When she asked what the appointment was for I told her it would be a bit like when we went to see the lady with lots of toys who talked to her a bit about school last summer. (That was one of our CAMHS appointments prior to being referred for assessment.) She was a bit worried when I told her it would be different people because she doesn't like new people but didn't ask any more questions, which surprised me. Normally she won't stop asking questions! On the way to the appointment we told her we'd be in a different room answering some 'boring questions' and this didn't seem to bother her too much.

So if you're reading this wondering what to tell your child, my advice would be not to overthink it. You know your child best and you know how much information they need or would find helpful right now. If they're older it might be appropriate to explain what the assessment is for, but for younger ones sticking to the what rather than the why might be best. They may surprise you by not actually asking that many questions - if you've got this far they're probably used to going to random appointments by now!

Oh, and if you are reading this in preparation for your child's ASC assessment, I send you love and strength. It's scary, I know. But you've got this far, you can do this next step. Deep breaths, it's going to be OK.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Things I've Done To Be Greener In ... April

One of the bits of this blog I've neglected a bit is the 'green-ish' part. In the busyness of parenting (and reading) I find it hard to remember to write about my efforts to be more eco-friendly. And also, often my efforts feel so small that I'm not sure they're worth writing about.

But then I struck on an idea. Instead of writing about one specific area of eco-living, I could write a monthly post about the things, big and small, that I've done recently in an effort to be greener.

Just to fill you in, I'm already at what would probably be termed 'non-commital hippy' stage - I use cloth nappies and wipes most of the time, I rarely drive (although more on that in a minute), I'm vegetarian, we recycle and compost etc etc. But I still have the nagging feeling that I can do more.

So here's what we've done this month. Some of them are whole-family things, some are individual. Many are quite small, one in particular is very big! But they're all steps towards reducing our impact on the planet.



Bought an electric car

OK, so this is the biggy, and a family one too. While I rarely drive, my husband does need a car for work. So switching to an electric car, although expensive up front, will reduce fuel costs and be better for the environment. We have, however, kept our old diesel car (yes I know, we were told it was eco-friendly back in the days when the car companies were all lying) for longer journeys and as a run-around for me. I'm conscious this means we could potentially use cars more thus increasing our carbon footprint, but my utter hatred of driving means I've only used the diesel once since we got the electric! I will continue to walk or use public transport as much as is practical, but once I've got my confidence up it'll be nice to have the option to drive somewhere in the week.

Used a Zero Waste Shop

We're lucky that in a local-ish town a zero-waste shop is due to open this Summer, and in the run-up to that they are having monthly pop-up shops. I have to confess I didn't go to this myself, I dispatched the husband while I got Ezra to nap, and we only got a few things but I love the concept. You can go with your own containers to fill up to reduce packaging, and buy things like cleaning supplies, soaps and shampoos, some whole foods and reusable accessories like cups and sandwich wrappers. We bought bicarbonate of soda, a shampoo bar and metal washable straws.

Experimented with plastic-free hair washing

Here's where I veer into the world of hardcore hippy a little. This has been going on for a few months and I may write about it separately some day, but basically I'm trying to avoid buying shampoo in plastic bottles. I've dabbled with the world of 'no poo' by using bicarb of soda and cider vinegar (yes really, and actually it gives good results but must be used sparingly) and I'm now trying to get the hang of using a shampoo bar. Results are still mixed at the moment, and I have a bottle of SLS-free shampoo as back-up still, but I'm hoping I'll crack it this month!

Used more rags

I've written about this before but I have to admit when we have a pack of cleaning wipes in I'll always be tempted by the easier option. So we've just stopped buying them, and instead I've made a pile of rags to use for washing and wiping. They're mostly the kids' old clothes that are too stained to pass on. I've even started to use white vinegar for cleaning more often too although I have to do that sparingly because Eleanor hates the smell!!

Used the washing line

Ahh Spring! It may not be reliably warm and dry yet but it's such a relief to be able to hang washing out instead of relying on the dryer setting so much! It also means I'm getting more washing done which is a bonus. During the mini heatwave two weeks ago I almost got to the bottom of all three laundry baskets!!


So that's what I've done. Some things may be a bit too big (or bonkers) for you to try, but hopefully if you've got this far you'll have thought of something you could do to be a bit greener. Or if you're already super-green please tell me your secrets!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Why I'm In Love With Terry (Nappies!)

It's Real Nappy Week this week. Last year I wrote a post all about my love of cloth nappies, but since then I've been converted to a particular type of cloth that a few years ago I completely dismissed.

I'm talking about terry squares. Yep, that's right, those little towels that your Nan used to use back in the day.

I first tried terry squares when Ezra was a little baby but couldn't find a fold that would cover his bum enough to contain his explosive poos, have enough absorbency at the front for his massive wees and that I could actually do without taking an advanced course in origami. So I gave up. But when Ezra was about 18 months some of the nappies that he had inherited from his sister started to give up the ghost. I needed more nappies but didn't want to spend loads more money when he might have only needed them for another year. I saw an offer on terry squares and thought I'd give them a whirl. They're now the nappies I reach for first when choosing what to put him in.

So here's why I have fallen for terry nappies:

1. They're cheap!

The cost of cloth nappies, while less than disposables over the full course of the pre-potty-training stage, can be prohibitive for some families who simply don't have a couple of hundred quid to spend all at once. Terries, however, can be picked up for less than £2 each. Yes, you need to buy wraps as well, but you don't need to change them every time so you don't need many. You can secure them either with old-fashioned nappy pins, or with the more modern (and safer) Nappy Nippas, both of which are cheap as chips.

2. They're versatile

There is a seriously dizzying number of folds you can do with a terry square. Given enough digging you'll likely find one that suits your child. (Yes, I didn't at first but to be honest I didn't try that hard!) Don't worry about having to learn loads of different folds, once you've found one that works you can just stick to it until it stops working for you. And then try another. I use the croissant fold, which kind of looks like a sumo outfit once on! But it's great for a toddler boy and I haven't needed to learn any others. I'm not a neat folder at all, but that doesn't seem to cause too much trouble!

A terry square laid flat, and one in a very cack-handed croissant fold


3. They last ages

Both in terms of absorbency and general longevity. With a bamboo booster, I find that a terry can last up to 4 hours. I haven't tried them overnight but there may well be a way to make that work. You do need a decent wrap though - personally I find that Motherease are the most reliable but others may disagree! And the great thing about terries is that there's no elastic, poppers or PUL that might degrade or break. You might need to replace wraps from time to time, but terries themselves don't change.

4. They're quick-drying

Another advantage of the simplicity of terry squares is that they dry super-fast. You can also put them on radiators which isn't always advisable with other nappies, or bung them in the tumble dryer which you can't do with most all-in-ones. So if you've only got a small stash you can get them dry and ready for wearing again very quickly.

5. They're great padding

One thing that people sometimes don't like about terry nappies is that they can be quite bulky. You can rectify that with different folds but chances are your baby will still have a big ol' bum. But that's great for when they're unsteady on their pins - imagine how much more comfortable it must be to fall on your bottom if it's padded out with layers of towelling!

6. They can be repurposed

With most nappies, if they've worn out there's not much you can do with them. But with terry squares you could reuse them as cleaning cloths, hand towels, makeshift bibs etc etc. Or of course you can pass them onto a friend and you know that they'll still be in good condition despite months or years of use!


So that's why I love terry squares. How about you? Have you tried them? What did you think?

Monday, 23 April 2018

Review: 'The Wondrous Dinosaurium' by John Condon and Steve Brown

At the grand old age of six, Eleanor seems to have outgrown peak dino-fever. I feel quite sad about it - gone is the little girl who, at age 3, picked up a toy dinosaur and informed me it was a parasaurolophus. And she really did inform me, I had no clue. Luckily, just as she starts to grow out of the dinosaur phase, two year old Ezra is ready to take the baton. His categorisation isn't quite there yet - all dinosaurs are known as 'raa' to him - but what he lacks in detail he makes up for in enthusiasm.

So when Maverick Children's Books sent me an advance copy of their May release, The Wondrous Dinosaurium, I was really glad to have another book to fuel Ezra's interest - and even happier to see Eleanor having a sneaky read of it! Too old for dinosaurs (and picture books) indeed ...


In The Wondrous Dinosaurium, Danny is looking for a pet. But he doesn't choose any ordinary pet shop - Danny wants to find a pet at Mr Ree's Wondrous Dinosaurium, where he can take his pick from any number of prehistoric creatures!


The trouble is, Danny struggles to find the right pet for him at the Dinosaurium. They're all too big, too drooly, or too flappy. Will he find the perfect dinosaur?


This is a really fun book for dino-lovers. It combines a funny and fantastical story with facts about dinosaurs, in very readable prose. I loved how Mr Ree's speech uses rhyme and rhythm to lift the text and raise a chuckle: "I have chewy ones, slurpy ones, licky ones and burpy ones." The illustrations are full of colour and detail, managing to create very accurate depictions of all the different dinosaurs while still making them fun and friendly-looking. Danny does find his pet in the end but it may not be one you've heard of - in fact I had to Google it to check it was real!

If you've got a little one in the peak dinosaur madness phase then they will love this book. And it may even tempt back an older child who thinks they're too old for dinosaurs now!

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.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Books To Get Kids Into Science

I was never much of a fan of science as a child. I don't know where the idea came from, but I was fairly convinced it was boring - I may even have thought of it as a 'boys' subject. But following my daughter's natural interest in science has made me realise what I was missing out on as a child (and kick myself for not following my GCSE Science teacher's advice to continue studying it!)

Now, as a novice to the world of exciting science, I've turned for guidance to something far more familiar to me - books! Here are a few books we have that helped me to feed Eleanor's interest in science, and get interested myself!


Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts - This is a great book for preschoolers or younger school-age kids who are just getting into science. Featuring the inquisitive Ada, it gets to the heart of what science is all about: asking questions and trying to find the answer. I love how it also gently encourages parents to support their children's natural curiosity too!

The Usborne Look Inside series - Eleanor absolutely loved the three books pictured when she got them for her 4th birthday. She would pore over them for ages! Packed full of facts delivered in a child-friendly way, the illustrations are colourful and interesting and each book has dozens of flaps to lift. And what small child doesn't love flaps?!

LEGO Women of NASA: Space Heroes by Hannah Dolan - This book is part of the DK Books early readers selection, and it's at Level 1 (Learning to Read). We only got it recently so it's a little basic for Eleanor but would be great for a child just starting to read. I love how it shows all the different sciences involved in space exploration, and how it champions the role of women too. And it has Lego! What more could you want?

Al's Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! by Jane Clarke and James Brown - We won this in a Toppsta giveaway at around the same time as the Lego book, and Eleanor found it so much fun that she read it in an evening! This book is a good way into science for a child who loves stories, as it's a regular chapter book but with science as the main plot driver and with suggestions for experiments throughout the book. This led us to some rather messy egg-speriments of our own! Eleanor also enjoyed the jokes about eggy puke and stinky feet ... kids are gross.

Explore, Experiment and Discover The World Of Science by Anna Claybourne - Another one that Eleanor pores over regularly, this book is full of scientific ideas and principles explained in a child-friendly way with suggestions for experiments linked to each topic. If, like me, the idea of messy or complicated experiments terrifies you, then fear not - many of the experiments are really simple and take very little prep or hunting for odd equipment. 

12 Awesome Women Of Science You've Never Heard Of by Samantha Gouldson - Eleanor recently received this as a gift and while it's a little advanced for her yet, I'm looking forward to her discovering it properly in a year or two. I read it myself and, while I had heard of a couple of the scientists (don't be too impressed, it's only because I follow the 'A Mighty Girl' Facebook page) I still learnt an awful lot and it was a very easy read too. It talks about a really good mix of scientists from different eras, backgrounds and disciplines too. Great for older children who are ready to start exploring science in a more in-depth way.

So those are my tips - have you come across any great science books for children? If so do let me know, I'll probably end up buying them for my little geek!

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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