Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Princess Power: 'Zog' by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

I love the Julia Donaldson/ Axel Scheffler books. Who doesn't? 'The Gruffalo' is probably Toddler's all-time favourite book, and the first story-length book she really paid attention to. So when I go to the library I'm often on the lookout for books by Donaldson and Scheffler, and a couple of months ago came up with this gem:


I say a couple of months ago, because we all love it so much it's been renewed twice! It's a lovely story of a young dragon trying so hard to be the best in his class at dragon school that he keeps getting into scrapes, only to be helped by a little girl who turns out to be a princess. As usual with Scheffler's work, the illustrations are really fun and lively, with lots to look at and notice anew at each reading.


And, as I'm not all that keen on the whole princess thing, I loved the plot twist at the end where Princess Pearl decides not to go back to her castle, but to become a doctor!


We'll have to take this book back to the library on Christmas Eve, and it will be with a very heavy heart that we do so. But I've dropped some very heavy hints to my mum so hopefully it may appear under the Christmas tree the next day!

(Apologies for the unclear pictures, it was a dull day yesterday!!)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas and Community

Every Sunday in Advent, I will be posting up a Christmas-themed post. Here's number 3, about how Christmas can bring communities together. Number 2 was about the gifts we buy our children, and number 1 was about why we aren't telling our daughter Santa is real. Do have a read of them too! After reading this one, of course.

Looking back at the Christmasses of my childhood, I'm hard-pushed to remember the gifts I got. What I do remember, with nostalgic sweetness, was the times when Christmas showed me I was part of something bigger.

I'm talking about the nativity services when I sang and acted with my school friends while our parents watched on. I'm talking about venturing out in the dark to stand around the village Christmas tree singing carols. I'm talking about carrying a Christingle in church surrounded by the rest of the congregation.

These moments warm my heart. Because Christmas isn't just about gifts and food. It isn't even just about family (although of course family is and important part of it). Christmas is an opportunity to see ourselves as part of a wider community - whether that community is based around a school, a church, or a locality.

Now Toddler is too young for the school part, but I don't think she's too young to begin to understand her place in various communities. This week she has had Christmas parties at a couple of her playgroups which has been a lot of fun. And this morning, at the tender age of not-quite-2, she made her stage debut as a sheep in our church's nativity:

Yeah, OK. She was a bit of a giddy sheep. And she was a bit bewildered by what was happening (especially as the part of Jesus was played by her doll wrapped in a tea towel) but it was so exciting to see her take her place alongside the other children and actively participate in the service. Even if she did keep shouting, "Mary have a bayy-by!" and, "My dolly! My dolly!"

Then this evening we joined our local community in another celebration of the season - a lantern parade followed by carol singing. Off we went, armed with the shoddiest, most hastily made lantern in the history of lanterns, to walk alongside our townspeople: 



It was the first time this event had taken place in our town and it was lovely to see so many people turn out, to parade through the streets, to sing together as a community, and to see people of all ages having fun. Some children had collected together their lanterns and were piling up twigs around them to, "make a bonfire," as the boy eagerly told me. It's great how events like these can really fire the imagination! (Don't worry, it was imaginary, they didn't make an actual bonfire!)

Toddler was perhaps a bit young to fully appreciate the event, but she enjoyed the drums which led the parade, she happily sang 'Away In a Manger' (regardless of whether that was what everyone else was singing) and she had a little dance to 'Jingle Bells'. She didn't seem to notice the crowd at the time but on the way home she chatted away as usual and started to talk about the, "people walking," so maybe she did start to feel the community spirit.

Christmas can make connections in a way that rarely happens any other time of year. There is a sense of togetherness in the air, and this is what lingers in the memory long after those 'must-have' presents have been forgotten!

What community events do you take your children to at Christmas? Leave a comment and spread the joy!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Ugly/Beautiful Salt Dough Christmas Decorations!

I must be getting braver with this messy play lark. Despite struggling with baking a few weeks ago, and hating painting, for some reason I decided to try an activity that combines both - salt dough Christmas decorations! This time I'd wised up and did in two instalments, both after mealtimes so I could keep Toddler safely enclosed in her highchair and so make clean up easier. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking here:


Rolling out the salt dough.


Er, that's not how you use a rolling pin!


A good attempt at solo cutter usage ...


... but sometimes Mummy's help is required!


Then it started to go a bit wrong!


The decorations pre-baking - please ignore the legless Santa!


Painting the decorations the next day. (Yes, that's a pastry brush, I couldn't find the paintbrush. And actually it was easier for Toddler to wield anyway!)


This looks like a Santa Claus massacre ...


The finished articles. Umm. Lovely??


The obligatory paint eating crept in at the end ...


... as did an effort to paint the entire tray. I'd been telling her to paint the decorations 'right up to the edge' - a phrase she repeated as she daubed her food tray in gore-like mess!

There's no two ways about it - the finished decorations are pretty ugly. I mean, c'mon people, a black heart on your Christmas tree?! But to me, and probably to Toddler, they're beautiful. Because we made them - or rather, she made them, I just helped, far less than I expected to as well. She had fun, I felt proud, everyone's happy. And despite their ugliness I can't wait to hang them up.

It's enough to warm your black heart, ain't it?!

 photo letkidsbekidslogobadge_zps424b7d61.jpg

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Too many toys? What's the alternative?

Every Sunday in Advent, I will be posting up a Christmas-themed post. Here's number 2, about the gifts we buy our children. To read the first post, click here.

As I mentioned in a recent post, we recently moved house. And this, dear reader, is what it taught me.

We have a lot of stuff.

And, more specifically, toddler has a lot of toys. Here's a picture of her with all her cuddly toys:


Note, those are just her cuddly toys (and actually, we missed out the giant white bear that is technically mine but which she has commandeered). She probably has as many, if not more, non-cuddly toys, ranging from a simple hammer-and-peg game to a toddlerised tablet. But the question is, does she play with them? And I mean really play, not just pick up and drop 10 seconds later?

BBC News recently featured an article saying that today's children have too many toys, and I'm inclined to agree. I've watched Toddler over the past week, and while she will play with a lot of her cuddly toys, when it comes to the other stuff, she might play with three or four in a day, sometimes not even that. She will, however, play with kitchen utensils, paper, a tube from a roll of clingfilm which she uses as a didgeridoo, and lots of other non-toys.

So do we really need this many toys? Probably not. In fact I do wonder if the sheer number of toys she has is actually impeding her ability to properly play - why get deeply involved in one toy for ten minutes when there are nine other toys nearby that she could spend one minute with each?

As Christmas looms, we are planning to put away a good number of her toys in the loft. We are bracing ourselves for the deluge of new toys, not least because her birthday comes hot on the heels of Boxing Day. But we have asked relatives to avoid buying toys for her, so hopefully that will stop her being overwhelmed with choice again.

But obviously at this time of year we want to get something for our children, so what are the alternatives? Here are five of my ideas/suggestions:

1. Clothes - this is particularly appropriate for Toddler because, with her birthday being just after Christmas, she will be going up an age bracket. But clothes are always a useful gift for kids; after all, you're not going to worry as much about your kid getting covered in mud or paint if there are plenty of clean clothes in the cupboard, are you?!

2. Books - Toddler LOVES books. In fact they are the main reason many of her toys are neglected; she'd much rather be read to. Give a child a book and you're giving them another world to explore - which they might then recreate with their toys!

3. Edibles - Chocolate is a staple gift for children (oh, the memories of all those selection boxes I got!) but if you'd rather not go for that there are other options. Maybe gingerbread or fruity cookies to give a sweet treat that will fill them up enough to stop them gorging? Anyone else got suggestions for this option?

4. Experiences - This doesn't need to be a huge thing like a trip to Disneyland or anything. It could be a term of classes in something your child would enjoy, or a promise of a day trip somewhere you've never been before. This is probably an idea for older children who are more likely to be able to deal with the delayed gratification that this entails - or the very young who don't really understand all this gift-giving malarkey anyway!

5. A Christmas tradition - this could be a really small and simple gift; a tree decoration, a snow globe, a candle holder. Something that the child can contribute to the decoration year on year and that serves a reminder of the person who gave it, and of their involvement in the creation of the Christmas magic. Toddler already has two tree decorations from last year and I'm looking forward to when she's old enough to hang them up herself with pride.

There are probably tonnes of other suggestions I've missed here, so if you can think of any, please comment below, I'd love to hear your ideas!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A beautiful Christmas story: 'A Letter For Bear' by David Lucas

I take Toddler to our local library every week to get a new pile of books, and the selection is incredible. This week, I spotted A Letter For Bear by David Lucas nestled among the board books. I flicked through and thought the illustrations were gorgeous so I thought we'd give it a whirl.


Toddler absolutely loves it. In one day, I estimate that she made me read it around 20 times. No, I'm not kidding. And I don't blame her; it's a really simple but lovely tale of a postman bear who dreams of getting a letter one day, until he meets his neighbours and invites them to a Christmas party. After an anxious wait, they all arrive and the next day Bear is flooded with thank you cards. Such a simple yet effective story, I still get a lump in my throat reading the last page!

The illustrations are just beautiful too; a mixture of rich jewel colours and icy whites and blues, the pictures just scream 'Christmas' at you, and the detail means there is always something new to see.


What I love most about this book is the fact that it is a Christmas story with exactly the right values for the season - community, generosity, friendship and thankfulness for even the smallest of gifts.

This book was only published last month so I'm impressed my library has already got a copy, but I think we'll definitely buy our own for next year. It's such a lovely book that I hope it becomes a festive tradition for our family.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Slowing down

This Thursday, we woke up to glorious sunshine after a rainstorm overnight. The perfect conditions for a puddle hunt! I wrapped Toddler up in a fleece, puddle suit and wellies and myself in a big coat and wellies and we went for a little walk to a very country-like road not far from our house. "Pudda huntin!" Toddler repeated over and over. We haven't been for many walks without the pushchair recently, and it made me realise something.

I'm too impatient.

Or rather, I'm still too impatient. I knew I used to be – for all of those years I commuted to work, I would dodge around my fellow pedestrians who were just going too darn slow for me. I would get wound up at work about the time it took to get responses to e-mails, sitting on hold on the phone, waiting for other colleagues to do something so I could get on with what I needed to do. Because working life is so frantic, so busy, I felt like there was not a moment to lose. I rushed through my days, weeks, months and they disappeared without me even noticing.

And then I became a mum. Five months into my maternity leave the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy came up, and I decided that a little bit more time off with my daughter would be nice so I took it. She's nearly two now and I'm still a stay at home mum, having decided that that is the best place for me right now. So I thought that I'd slowed down, wound down from the pace of working life. But as I walked along the street with my daughter, I realised I'm still like a coiled spring. I was impatient to get to the puddles, whereas Toddler just wanted to look at what else she could see on the way. As we walked I made myself calm down and notice things I'd normally rush past, because she was noticing them too.

"Butterfly!" she cried, going past the spot where, six weeks ago, we saw a butterfly lying flat on the ground. She remembers it every time we go past.

"Listen, what can you hear?" I said as I heard the clip-clop of horses' hooves coming up a path nearby. She froze and stared as the horses trotted past us.

"Number 1!" she shouted, as she spotted a tile on somebody's wall. "Somebody else's number 1!"

"Triangle," she said, pointing at a manhole cover. (Actually, she said, "tida," but I understood her!) "Rectangle," again pointing at another cover. Who knew a puddle hunt could turn into a Maths lesson?

And, for a bit of balance, some literacy. "Sssss!" she hissed pointing at the letter S on a street sign. She tried some other letters, but struggled as they were capitals and she's used to lower case. Still, that street sign kept her entertained for about 3 minutes!


It's a cliche, but sometimes children teach us as much as we teach them. In a busy, rushed, impatient world, I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience the world at a toddler's pace again. Now is the time to slow down.

(We did make it to the puddles, by the way! And she rushed around trying to splash in every one. OK, maybe a toddler's pace isn't always that slow!)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Why I hate painting

Thursday is a quiet day for us, so it's often the day I choose for messy play. This morning, after a run of bad nights, I was feeling pretty tired so decided to go for the 'easy' option of painting - 'easy' because all the prep required is getting out the paint and paper.

Except it's not the easy option is it?

It seems a natural choice, kids love painting and all that. Except Toddler doesn't really get painting and thinks the whole point of it is to keep dipping the painting implements into different pots without actually transferring any paint onto paper - so I continually have to coax her to ACTUALLY paint, and end up doing half the painting myself. She gets upset if any paint goes on her hands and will attempt to wipe it on me. And, around 10 minutes in, she will start licking the paint off her fingers, so I quite quickly have to abandon the whole scheme to avoid major paint ingestion. (Don't worry, I buy the non-toxic stuff, but I'm guessing even that isn't ideal food.)

So after, at most, 15 minutes of entertainment (under duress) I'm left with a painting that looks like this:


A pile of cotton buds (I lost the brush) that look like this:
A bib that looks like this:
And a toddler that looks like this:

That last photo doesn't really do justice to the sheer amount of paint coverage there was on her legs, and it was after washing her hands to avoid any further finger licking fun. 

15 minutes of 'fun' and then a heck of a lot of cleaning up afterwards. Ahh yes, that's why I hate painting.

Costume dramas

Raising a toddler often feels like a tug of war. On one hand, Toddler is striving for independence and control; on the other, she can get overwhelmed by too much choice or freedom. She wants to be an adult and a baby all at once. It's my job to respect both of these urges, no matter how stressful I find it.

Now we all know how important clothes are in expressing who we are. So one area where I'm trying to hand over control to Toddler is in her outfits. Over the past few months I've experimented with how much control she really wants at this stage. It started out fairly tentative – I'd maybe let her choose from two tops then pick the trousers myself, for instance. But that little scrap of power made her hungry for more, and so I had to give her more autonomy, in varying degrees. This requires a lot of patience – I'm not sure I'll ever forget the morning she took 20 minutes to choose a pair of tights. She'd pulled them all out of her drawer so I lined them all up on the side of her cot and encouraged her; "Go on, you choose a pair of tights and give them to Mummy."

"Choose pair," she muttered to herself uncertainly, "choose pair." She pulled them all off the cot and started trying to put them back up again. "Choose pair." I took deep breaths while inwardly screaming, "YES, CHOOSE A PAIR, IT'S NOT LIFE OR DEATH!!"

After that incident I decided maybe it'd be best to just give her a couple of options for each item of clothing. I started asking her if she wanted to wear a dress or top first of all, which she has got the hang of pretty well. I then give her a choice of two tops or dresses, then two of the appropriate accompaniments (trousers/leggings for the former, tights for the latter.) However, after the aforementioned 20-minutes-choosing-tights incident, Toddler is wise to the fact that she has far more than two pairs of tights, and will pull them out of the drawer and attempt to line them all up on the cot. So I quite like the days when she says, "top," straight away.

Of course, sometimes, she changes her mind partway through the process. Here's a sample conversation:

ME: Dress or top?
T: Dress, top.
ME: Which would you like to wear, dress or top?
T: Top.
ME: OK. (picks out two tops, one of which is a bit long and has frills at the bottom) Which of these tops would you like?
T: (grabs longer, frilly top) Dress!
ME: Well, that's a top, but yes, you can wear that. OK, let me find some trousers.
T: Tights!
ME: No we wear trousers with tops, tights go with ... (notices T has already pulled out all of the tights) ... OK, would you rather wear a dress? (picks out two dresses) Which dress would you like?
T: (picking up frilly top again) No! Dress!
ME: OK, you can wear that, but you'll need trou-
T: Tights!! (goes back to pile of tights)
ME: OK, you can wear tights with the top, now choose a pair and give it to Mummy.
T: Choose pair ...

I think you can see where this is heading. She did eventually pick some very bright, stripy tights to go with the delicate, pale pink, frilly top, and I insisted she wear some shorts too to preserve her dignity. She chose some tweedy grey ones. I thought she looked bizarre. Off we went to playgroup, me ready with the phrase, "She chose it herself," as a retort to any comments, but do you know what? Everyone said she looked really nice! I seem to remember the word 'stylish' came up at one point! As I related the battle I had getting her to choose her outfit, one mum said, "ahh you gave her choice, that was your first mistake!" She was only kidding of course, and I took it that way, but do you know what? It wasn't a mistake. I was giving my little girl a chance to express herself, to control that part of her life, and she looked gorgeous. Because toddlers look gorgeous whatever they wear. It's the one time in your life where mismatching genuinely works. Yes, it takes much longer than just picking out an outfit I like, but I've found she's much more cooperative in getting dressed when she's had a say in the outfit so I'm happy to avoid the tantrums and play the waiting game.

There are still times when too much choice overwhelms her, or she's just in an awkward mood. Sometimes she will say no to every top I pick out and eventually get bored and wander off to her toy box, at which point I generally ask her, "Shall Toddler choose or shall Mummy choose?" To which she invariably replies, "Mummy choose," having tired of the whole process, and I breathe a sigh of relief and pick out one that I like. But actually, I quite like being able to say, "She chose it herself." I like the mad combinations she goes for, and sometimes the words, "Mummy choose," are a bit disappointing because then I don't get to see what clothes she would put together. I'm sure that as she gets older, she will become even more assertive about what she wears, and the, "Mummy choose," moments will become few and far between. And I can't wait for that.


Even if it means having the most uncoordinated toddler at playgroup.