Monday, 20 January 2014

Our Screen Free Day - a link-up with #LetKidsBeKids

I fret a lot about screen time, whether that's TV or computer-type devices. We do pretty well at avoiding screens since on the whole - Toddler doesn't play on my phone and very rarely looks at the laptop either. But she watches at least a couple of TV shows a day (albeit 10-minute ones) and she will slouch on the sofa with her toddler-tablet like the world's smallest teenager.

So when I heard that Karen over at Let Kids Be Kids was organising a screen-free day for Sunday 19th January, I decided I'd test myself and take the plunge.

We planned some activities in for the day to keep Toddler busy, but we knew that the big challenge would be first thing in the morning. Often when we walk downstairs she will say to me, "Watch Raa Raa!" or, "Watch Abadas!" (Those are pretty much the only TV programmes she watches. She can pretty much recite whole episodes of 'Raa Raa the Noisy Lion', she's watched them so many times) Usually we relent and let her watch a couple of episodes before breakfast, and maybe one or two afterwards, so I was quite anxious about how to distract her from these demands. In the end, it wasn't that bad - she just wanted to look at books at first, and it wasn't until about 8.30am that she realised that she hadn't watched any TV and had the long-expected meltdown about it. I offered her a few alternatives and she decided to play with her train set, which she did very happily. Crisis averted.

We then went to the farmer's market in our town. After the success of our walk a few days before I decided to walk there with Toddler, and my husband met us there with the car. In the end we probably spent three times as long getting to the market as we did actually there! It had been dry when we set out but started to drizzle and then properly rain, so we didn't hang around for long, but it was good to see how far Toddler could walk without the incentive of puddles!

Then came nap time and an unexpected challenge - what do I do now??! I'm terrible for faffing about on the internet and most days I waste nap time playing online. If I don't do that, I'll often catch up on TV instead. Deprived of these options, I ended up cleaning our kitchen more thoroughly than I have done in ages, and then I settled down to do some knitting.

(That's knitting. I'm not quite sure why I feel the need to illustrate this. It's actually a cardigan for a newborn that I started before Toddler was born then abandoned when I realised that babies STEAL ALL YOUR TIME. Oh well, I'll save it for the next friend to have a baby.)

Once Toddler was up and fed, we played with trains and read books until it was time to go to our next activity - Messy Church. If you're of a churchy persuasion and have small children, I thoroughly recommend Messy Church. The format varies from place to place, but at our local church it consists of about an hour of doing different craft activities (you can pick and choose which activities you do and in what order) followed by a short 'service' (basically a bit of singing and dancing followed by a story or a child-friendly talk) then topped off with a shared meal. It's a fantastic chance to try different crafts out with your kids and there's something for all ages - yesterday Toddler played with playdough, did some colouring in, decorated a little jewellery box and sabotaged what could have been a very nice little picture frame.

(You can see in the background of that picture that the card should have had a border of lolly sticks. Toddler decided that it looked better without them and pulled them off. My daughter, the wrecking ball.)

We only did about half of the activities because Toddler preferred to just wander around, and was keen to get into the church sanctuary for the singing and dancing - and in her case, climbing under the communion rail repeatedly. Fortunately the minister didn't seem fazed by this!

We went home, played and read some more, then Toddler went off to bed, falling asleep much more quickly than normal. Again bereft of TV and laptop, I did some more knitting before having the one thing all parents need the most after a busy day - an early night!

It surprised me how easy it had been to keep Toddler away from screens all day. It helped that it was a weekend so I had my husband to help; often I use TV as a distraction while I go and get dressed or get the laundry on, so having someone else to entertain her was useful. But other than that, it really wasn't hard. The harder thing was keeping myself away from the laptop! But it meant that I achieved more and had some proper downtime instead of staring at a screen.

In the end, we didn't need to do anything particularly exciting or elaborate to get through a day without screens, which just proves that anyone can do it! You don't have to travel anywhere, or spend lots of money - long walks, local events and favourite toys are really all you need!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Puddle Hunting

Today is a beautiful day in our little corner of the world - sunny, cool but not chilly, and still a little wet underfoot from the recent rain. Perfect conditions for a puddle hunt, I thought, so that's what Toddler and I did this morning. (I'm not sure where the phrase 'puddle hunting' came from, it was just something that I said once to Toddler and she liked it, so it stuck.)

Not far from our house is an unadopted road leading onto a bridleway, and it has some epic potholes so is a great place to take Toddler for a good splash. It never ceases to amuse and amaze me how she will happily plough into an enormous puddle, while I'm cautiously stepping around it, trying my best not to put a foot in it despite wearing wellies! When we've gone puddle hunting before we've not ventured too far up the road, but this time she was insistent on hunting out more puddles and we walked further than ever before, and went back and forth along the road and bridleway twice to get maximum enjoyment from the puddles!

(Apologies for the rubbish pictures, it was a bit hard to take them one-handed wearing gloves!!)

We're lucky enough to live in a small, former industrial town on the outskirts of Leeds and it often feels like the meeting of two worlds. This morning, walking along the bridleway halfway up a hill, it struck me how I could look one way and see nothing but fields and trees, but if I turned my head the other way I could look down the hill and see a shiny new housing estate, with houses packed close together. In one ear was the sound of birds, in the other I could hear sounds from the nearby mill and factories. It's amazing how you can feel like you're in the countryside so close to the bustle of the town. I really need to take more advantage of this, so that Toddler will keep her love of the great outdoors.

It's a while since I'd taken Toddler for a proper walk, due to illness, injury, wet weather and the simple fact that I'm not keen on being cold. But I was surprised at how far she could walk, how sensible she was about crossing roads, and how much energy she had. Last time we did this walk we didn't go as far and I had to carry her the last few yards. This time she could happily have walked for much longer had I not been so conscious of the need to get back for her nap! I guess it's just my brain adjusting, as it will have to do continually, to the fact that my daughter is becoming ever more capable, more energetic and stronger. She will surprise me more and more as she grows.

It seems bizarre to think that this is the same girl who, this time last year, couldn't walk. I wonder how far we'll be walking on our puddle hunts next year?!

   photo letkidsbekidslogobadge_zps424b7d61.jpg

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Books for boys, books for girls: how innate is this?

When Toddler was born, I was halfway through an Open University course on Children's Literature. As part of this course, I studied the rise of gender segregation in children's books from the eighteenth century onwards, and an interesting point kept popping up: while girls would (and still will) read books intended for both girls and boys, boys would only read books intended for boys. Put bluntly, girls see boys' books as providing action and adventure that girls' books tend not to contain, but boys see girls' books as a load of sentimental, pink mush. But how innate is this divide?

Over the past two years, I have read A LOT of books aimed at babies and toddlers (largely thanks to our wonderful local library) and I've noticed a worrying trend. Even in books aimed at very tiny people, gender divisions creep in. For instance, Toddler has a book called That's Not My Fairy in which all the fairies are female - because boys aren't supposed to identify with fairies, right? Ladybird's similar offering, This Little Angel fares better with one angel out of five being male, but conversely another book from the series, This Little Footballer has four boys and only one girl. Considering the rise of popularity of football with girls, this is surprising to say the least. Here, the inclusion of a token girl seems to say, "well, some girls play football, but it's not really normal, now is it?"

So even with the most basic of books, gender divisions are being taught. And they creep into some books aimed at toddlers too: one of Toddlrr's favourite library books is Get Dressed, Max and Millie which shows two friends, um, getting dressed. It's a lovely little book, but what riles me is the start where Max and Millie are playing dress up. Millie dresses as a princess and a fairy, Max as a builder and a superhero. Humph. (Another book about dressing up that Toddler likes is Zoe and Beans: Look At Me which is much more gender neutral and even shows the boy and girl dressing up as each other at the end!)

Have a think about some of the picturebooks you've read and you'll notice a creeping inequality. Much as I adore The Gruffalo, where are the female characters? (Thank goodness for The Gruffalo's Child which ever so slightly redresses the balance!) How often do you see a book where the main character is female, or where the gender balance is equal, let alone girl-heavy? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why girls read boys' books but not vice versa - girls are so under-represented in books aimed at the very young that girls just get used to reading about boys, but boys don't get used to reading about girls.

So what to do? I'm certainly not going to refuse to read  Toddler anythingawith any less than 50% female representation, because the pool would be so small I wouldn't be able to satisfy her seemingly limitless appetite for reading! Instead I try to slip in comments to even up the scales, or subvert the text a bit - for instance, I might have changed the gender of one of the footballers in the aforementioned book. But the day will come when she can read and will notice things like that, and what to do then? Well, hopefully by then I'll have found a decent collection of books which show girls as more than fairies and princesses.

And here's where you come in - what books for little ones have you found that give a good representation of girls, or simply that have equal male and female characters? The more we share our knowledge, the more we can raise the profile of these books and give a message that we want more of the same!