Thursday, 21 December 2017

Do We Need To 'Make' Christmas Magical?

I'm feeling a bit guilty at the moment. I keep seeing families taking their children on all sorts of fancy Christmas experiences, that they've booked well in advance ... and what have I done with my kids? Taken them to the local lights switch on at the end of November and the local lantern parade last weekend. That's it. Apart from a quick trip to the German Market in Leeds we have no other plans.

We had talked about doing something more this year, but we just didn't get anything organised. And it's not just lack of organisation - finding something that fits around school and weekend clubs, that's suitable for both kids, and that won't be too busy and overwhelming for Girl Child (who can be quite sensitive to new experiences and busy environments) has been nigh-on impossible. And there's always the risk of forking out and travelling miles for an experience that one or all of us will hate.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

But then part of me thinks, how necessary are these experiences anyway? My best Christmas memories are of singing around the village Christmas tree, going to the school fair and so on. I don't know if these big Christmas events just didn't exist thirty years ago or whether it just wasn't practical for us to go, but I certainly don't feel like I missed out. I remember feeling that Christmas was magical without going on any day trips.

It's not just the events. Social media is awash with elves on shelves, recommendations for where to get a personalised letter from Santa and Christmas Eve box 'must-haves'. Again, if you want to do these things and you're happy to put in the effort and/or money then great! But it does feel like there is an element of pressure, especially as children hear their friends talking and come home wanting to do the same things. And again, none of these things existed when I was a child.

It feels like there is a pressure to 'make' Christmas magical for our children, and at a time of year when there is enough stress going on, do we really need it? When there are cards to write, presents to buy, endless school events to remember - do we need the added strain of a family day out, or positioning an elf in a funny scenario every night? If you enjoy it, great, but how many parents actually dread trying to find the energy to TP their living room and suspend the elf from the ceiling once the kids are in bed?

And I know I'm not immune to this. A comment on my Book Advent post got me thinking about whether this would be too much pressure for some families. I did collect the books over three years rather than having to get all 24 in one go, and the books just appear one at a time in a Christmas gift bag hung on a hook on the kitchen door. As we have bedtime stories anyway it's very little extra hassle for me, but perhaps for other families it would be too much?

Then there's the Advent Acts Of Kindness too, which were fun last year but this year have been more of a chore, for me and for Girl Child. It's made me question whether I'm buying into this sense that I have to do something to make the run-up to Christmas more exciting, when as a child a chocolate before breakfast every morning was excitement enough! (Actually I remember having picture advent calendars when I was very young, and I still felt excited by them!!)

I sometimes think social media has turned parenting into a performance. We see other people sharing photos of their kids doing exciting, magical stuff and feel that what we're doing isn't enough. Events pop into our Facebook feed, with a message about how many of our friends are going to them, and we feel we should go too. But is it about what our children want or need? Is it about what we as parents can handle on top of everything else? Or is it about being seen doing Christmas 'right'?

This post is not for the people who enjoy Christmas events, or Elf On The Shelf, or any of the other modern 'traditions' that have sprung up in recent years. This post is for the people who feel they have to do all this even though it adds to the stress of the season. This post is for the people who haven't done anything more than buying Advent calendars and putting up the tree.

Christmas is magical enough as it is. Just do what you can do, what you want to do. The kids will be happy with whatever it is.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Bear-y Christmas! Four Festive Picture Books Featuring Bears

We're coming towards the end of Book Advent now and as we've worked through the big pile of wintery, Christmassy books I'd amassed I've noticed a little sub-theme emerging - bears! There seem to be quite a few festive books featuring bears (teddy or actual) as their protagonists. I've written before about 'A Letter For Bear' (have I mentioned I love that book?) but as there are quite a few beary books in my collection, I thought I'd talk about four others we've read this month.

'Snow Bear' by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown

Not technically a Christmas book, but it has a strong seasonal feel to it. This is the story of a little bear who can't find shelter on a snowy night - until he finds a little house, where a girl lives alone. It's a really simple but beautiful story of friendship which will give you a warm glow inside. The illustrations are just lovely too - the snow bear is so endearing and the little house is so inviting. This is a perfect story for snuggling up together on a chilly evening.

'Teddy Bear Postman' by Phoebe and Selby Worthington

This book belonged to my husband when he was little. To be honest, there isn't much to it - it's a very basic story of a bear postman delivering gifts and cards on Christmas Eve. It also stops quite abruptly with him hanging up his stocking. It does have an old-fashioned charm to it, though, and the illustrations are detailed but child-friendly. It's an interesting book to compare against modern picture books, and actually my daughter used to really like it when she was around 3, so maybe I'm missing something!

'Sam's Snowflake' by Gillian Shields and Rosie Reeve

In this sweet story, Sam's father goes out to fetch a Christmas surprise while he helps his mother with all the preparations for the day. But Dad is out for longer than they expect and Sam begins to worry. He makes a snowflake to hang in his window in the hope it will bring his Dad home. It's quite an emotional little story, perhaps not best suited to some families, but it does have a happy ending thankfully! I half suspect Dad nipped off to the pub to avoid all the other Christmas jobs though ...

'Mr Grizzly's Christmas' by Maggie Kneen

This is a real charmer of a book. Mr Grizzly, the bookshop owner, hates Christmas - especially now a sweet shop has opened up next door and there are sticky cubs everywhere. But one day an encounter with a not-sticky cub starts to melt his heart and he learns to embrace the joy not only of Christmas, but of children too. As well as having a very sweet, Christmas-Carol-esque story, the illustrations in this book are just exquisite and so detailed. Also, every page has pop-up parts or flaps to peek under, making it a really good book to read with children of different ages. My 5 year old can appreciate the message of the story while Toddler enjoys lifting the flaps!

Do you know of any other bear-y Christmas books? I'd love to hear any recommendations!

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. If you love books, do check out these linkies to find more posts like this one!

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Review: 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher

Two years ago, I saw a few tweets about a new Christmas book that was something very special. Published on a very tight turnaround, it was a retelling of the Nativity with the focus on the vulnerability of Jesus and his family and how they effectively became refugees after his birth. It came at a time when the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe was becoming desperate, and was sold to raise money for War Child, a charity working with displaced children. That book was 'Refuge'.

I bought the book that year and I absolutely love it. It's such a simple retelling of a very familiar story but each word is so carefully chosen, so thought-provoking. Sam Usher's illustrations are similarly simple yet striking, really evoking both the joy of the new arrival and the fear of Herod's reaction to the news of a new King.

Interestingly the simplicity of the illustrations sparked a conversation with Girl Child about the origins of the book. Throughout, Usher mostly uses monochrome with golden tones, and Girl Child asked me why all the pictures were 'black and white'. I explained to her that the book was written very quickly to raise money for refugees, so using mainly black and white meant that it could be illustrated and printed more quickly. This led to us talking about how Jesus was a refugee like the people escaping war now. 

I really love this book and everything it stands for. The concise text means that it is a great book to read with children of different ages - it's short enough for toddlers not to get bored, but there is enough in it to talk to older children about. It's not clear whether proceeds still go to War Child two years on, but nonetheless this is a useful book for starting conversations about the (sadly ongoing) refugee crisis.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Thursday, 7 December 2017

Santa, Elves, and Accepting Beliefs

I've written before about our decision not to tell our children that Santa is real. I've also written about how the reality of that can be tricky once children are in childcare. Well, as Girl Child has started school it has stayed tricky - although actually, we have found a way of managing it.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Girl Child is at that stage where beliefs are fluid, where she can kind of believe and not believe all at once. A few months ago she emphatically told me that she doesn't believe in Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny, but she does believe in the Tooth Fairy. (We've been honest about all three.) "Well," she continued, "I know it's not real really, but I want to believe it."

A couple of years ago, when I was a bit more gung-ho about these things, I might have taken issue with this statement. But I've relaxed a lot about it since she started school, mostly out of necessity. She lives in her own imaginary world so much - she has imaginary friends, she 'sees' fairies, she even has a magic wardrobe - that I've accepted that figures like the Tooth Fairy inhabit that strange crossover world between fantasy and reality for her.

As the Christmas season approached this year, Girl Child told me she believed in Santa. My response? "OK." I won't do anything differently - the presents will be labelled with the actual gift-giver's name, there will be no Elf or Santa Cam spying on her and I will continue to approach the whole thing with a sense of playfulness. She knows I don't believe. She does. It's an opportunity to show her that two people with different beliefs can co-exist and respect each other.

It's interesting seeing her work out what she does and doesn't believe in. She claims that a red light on her classroom ceiling is Santa watching them, and she even says she's seen the bobble of his hat poking out - and that she's the only one who can see it. Their class also has an elf which she explains, "is just a toy but some children pretend it's real," and that they can't touch it not for magical reasons but the very practical reason that it might get damaged. She's happy to play along and relates the elf's exploits with glee, but at the same time she knows it's a game.

One thing I have been clear about, though, is the idea of nice and naughty lists. I hate the way Santa is used as a way of bribing children to 'be good' - sorry, but it just makes me deeply uncomfortable. So I have told her that in some versions of the story only good children get presents - but that we know that's not true because all children do their best.

This approach also calms my anxieties about what Girl Child will say to her friends. She's a very forthright girl and will speak her mind without a second thought, painfully so at times. And while I choose not to do the Santa thing, I have no wish to spoil things for families who do - I respect their choice to do things differently to us. Luckily I think Girl Child's desire to fit in with her peers is, in this case, stronger than her desire to speak her mind. Phew.

So on the whole I think I've developed a more pragmatic approach to Santa. We'll go to no lengths to continue her belief nor will we go to any lengths to extinguish it. If it brings another level of play and excitement for her then that's fine, and hopefully we can use it as a way of teaching acceptance of other people's beliefs.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Review: 'Oliver Elephant' by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens

We are now a few days into our Book Advent, and on Day 2 we read a new Christmas book for this year, 'Oliver Elephant'.

I won this book in a giveaway on Toppsta (if you love children's books I really recommend this website - nope, not a sponsored post, just love it!) and read it to myself straight away but decided to keep it for Advent. That was hard though, as it's such a lovely book!

Noah is on a shopping trip with his mum, little sister, and his favourite toy, Oliver Elephant. As mum buys Christmas presents in different shops, Noah plays with Oliver, but when it's time to go home he realises Oliver is missing! Did he leave him in one of the shops?

I adored this book. Something about it reminded me of the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes - it's such a gentle, human story, so easy to relate to and simple, and told with such warmth. It's told in rhyming text too, which Girl Child really enjoyed as she read it to Toddler.

As well as being a lovely story beautifully told, the illustrations are gorgeous and so very festive. Toddler is maybe a little young for the story but he loved pointing out the details in the illustrations, and making his elephant noise every time Oliver appeared!

I really think this book has the makings of a Christmas classic. It's rare to find a book about just the everyday preparations involved in the run-up to Christmas so this is perfect to read as part of Advent. The story is familiar and warm, the text is rhythmic and fun, and the illustrations really capture the excitement of walking into a beautifully decorated mall.

Although this book was our 'Day 2 of Advent' story I'm hoping to get plenty more reads in this month, and in years to come!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Thursday, 30 November 2017

Advent Acts Of Kindness

On Monday I wrote about a new 'tradition' I'm starting this year with my kids - the Book Advent. But last year I started another Advent tradition, which was Advent Acts Of Kindness.

A few years back I bought a wooden Advent calendar from a local charity shop - I think it cost around £5 but I thought it would be good to save us buying overpriced calendars every year. Plus it meant that, as Girl Child was just a toddler at the time, I could put healthier treats in it instead of giving her a daily dose of chocolate.

Last year I thought she was old enough to add another level to the preparations. I'd seen about the idea of giving children activities to do every day through Advent, and more specific ones about 'Random Acts Of Kindness', and I thought this was a great way to encourage children to see Advent as a time of preparation and participation, not just eating sweets!

You can find all kinds of printables online with pre-written prompts, but I wanted to be able to tailor the activities to our situation so I quickly designed my own little slips to print off and fill in myself. Not the prettiest solution admittedly, but it gave me a little more control over what we did.

As Girl Child was at school during the week this limited our time a little so, for the most part, the actions were small things we could either fit around school (such as litter picking on the way home or phoning relatives in the evening) or she could do at school (like talking to someone new or hugging a friend). We saved more complicated things for weekends (e.g. baking for her teachers) or the school holiday (anything requiring a visit). We also used it to encourage her to help around the house and get her Christmas cards written!

Why did we choose Advent Acts Of Kindness? For me as a Christian, Christmas is all about love. And so taking time to think of others, to do something kind for someone else, even if it's just a case of saying hello or feeding the birds, can be a great reminder of what the season is all about, and of how we can express love for others in lots of different ways.

I think incorporating a bit of kindness and selflessness into children's daily lives is an important lesson whatever the time of year, but I certainly found the structure of Advent very helpful. I can't say with all honestly it started a lasting trend of daily do-gooding - the excesses of Christmas and birthday celebrations kind of detracted from it a bit - but hopefully if we do it every year it will plant a seed that will help both my children grow into kind, selfless and compassionate people.

So tomorrow I start it all again! What Advent Acts Of Kindness will we do this year? Comment below with your suggestions, I'll try to keep you updated on our progress via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Monday, 27 November 2017

Our Book Advent

I first heard of the idea of a Book Advent about three years ago, during my brief spell as a children's bookseller. I loved the idea, but couldn't afford to get 24 Christmas themed books (I know you can use any books, but I thought that Christmassy ones would feel more special). But over the last three years I've slowly stockpiled a collection of Christmas and winter-themed books so at last I think we can try for a Book Advent!

I still had three books to get at the start of Advent which means that I couldn't do an arty pile of wrapped books (you should check out BookBairn's, it's stunning!) but then I'm not keen on wrapping anyway! I'm going to opt for a Christmassy bag hung somewhere with a book appearing in it every day.

My collection is a hotch-potch of bought, given and acquired books, and I'll note where each comes from in the list. There are a couple of days where I've doubled up books - I'm hoping that for the most part both my children will enjoy the same book, but as Toddler is not even 2 and Girl Child is nearly 6 with a very high reading age, I've paired short books for the former with more challenging books for the latter.

So here's my current plan. It may change depending on which other books I get. I'll be reviewing a few of these over Advent and will link in any reviews I do (and one I did many years ago).

1st December - 'Stick Man' by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (bought - actually pinched out of our regular bookshelf but hey, it has Santa!)

2nd December - 'Oliver Elephant' by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens (Toppsta giveaway)

3rd December - 'The First Christmas' (given at playgroup)

4th December - 'Dear Santa' by Rod Campbell (charity shop buy)/ 'The Princess and the White Bear King' by Tanya Robin Batt and Nicoletta Ceccoli (bought)

5th December - 'Snow Bear' by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown (gift)

6th December - 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher (bought)

7th December - 'Sam's Snowflake' by Gillian Shields and Rosie Reeve (gift)

8th December - 'A Letter For Bear' by David Lucas (bought, after years of longing)

9th December - 'The Christmas Poem' by Bob Hartman and Honor Ayres (given at playgroup)

10th December - 'Teddy Bear Postman' by Phoebe and Selby Worthington (hand-me-down from my husband!)

11th December - 'Christmas Around The World' by Lesley Sims and Angelo Ruta (bought)

12th December - 'The Fox's Tale' by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen (gift)

13th December - 'Mr Grizzly's Christmas' by Libby Hamilton and Maggie Kneen (gift)

14th December - 'Thomas's Christmas Party' (hand-me-down from my husband)

15th December - 'The Christmas Star' (given at playgroup)

16th December - 'Busy Christmas' (bought)

17th December - 'Snowflakes' by Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson (bought)

18th December - 'Babushka' by Sandra Ann Horn and Sophie Fatus (bought)

19th December - 'Last Stop On The Reindeer Express' by Maudie Powell and Karl James Mountford (giveaway by Along Came Poppy - received after the above photo was taken)

20th December - 'Coming Home' by Michael Morpurgo (bought)

21st December - 'The Miracle Of The First Poinsettia' by Joanne Oppenheim and Fabian Negrin (bought)

22nd December - 'Maisy's Christmas Eve' by Lucy Cousins (charity shop buy)

23rd December - 'The Wise Men' (hand-me-down from friends)/ 'Christmas With Princess Mirror-Belle' by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (bought)

24th December - 'The Night Before Christmas' by Clement C Moore and Eric Puybaret (bought)

As you can see, it really doesn't have to be expensive to put together a book advent - at present, less than half of the books were bought new and a few of those were part of a deal - you just need to be good at hoarding and keeping your eyes open for good buys!

Are you doing a Book Advent? What are your favourite Christmas books?

 Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Thursday, 23 November 2017

What To Buy From WAHMs This Christmas (And Why)

It's just over a month to the big day - how organised are you? Everything bought or still trying to work out what to buy? And do you go for the big stores or try to shop local?

I'm definitely disorganised, very little has been bought so far but I quite like the last minute rush! One thing I do try every year is to buy at least some of my presents from small businesses - it's so important to support them, and you can often pick up lovely unique items you just couldn't find anywhere else.

I especially like buying from work-at-home mums (WAHMs). I guess it's a solidarity thing from my WAHM days, but I know how hard it is to juggle childcare with a small business, and to make yourself heard above the clamour of big businesses. I also know the feeling you get when someone places an order - someone once said that when you buy from a WAHM you make someone somewhere do a little happy dance! For me, knowing I'm supporting another mama makes the gift-buying process even more meaningful for me.

Don't know any WAHMs? Don't worry - I've had a look for you and found some brilliant WAHM-made products on Etsy. All these sellers have a special place in my heart as they are either based in, or have lived in, my current home county of Yorkshire so it's great to support local mums too.

Christmas-themed gifts

I love getting festive-themed gifts, it's always nice to get something out of the decoration box in later years and remember the person who bought it. There are some really gorgeous Christmas decorations on Etsy - like this Candy Cane Wreath from JEMLeeatMagic. 

Or how about a card that doubles as a gift? These handmade Christmas cards from Dillymoo Designs are decorated with beautiful knitted items which make them great to use for decorations in future Christmasses. 

Also from Dillymoo Designs is this beautiful Framed Star with the quote 'Robins appear when loved ones are near'. This would make a really thoughtful gift for someone who may be missing a loved one at Christmastime. 

I also really love these felt heart-shaped baskets from Northern Handmade Collective - these would make lovely gifts filled with sweets, or placed on the tree for a little treat on Christmas morning!

Gifts For Kids

It can be easy just to go for toy overload at Christmas but that's something I try to avoid - I think less is more when it comes to toys. So what else could you get your little ones?

I really love buying children's clothes from WAHMs - it's lovely knowing that your dressing you child in something unique and I often get great comments when my little ones wear WAHM-made clothes! At the moment I'm in love with these dinosaur dungarees from Spider & Fly - what child (or adult) doesn't love dinos?!

For children of babywearers, you could get an item of clothing made from wrap scraps from Mama Pixie UK, like this gorgeous pixie hood. Or if it's for a baby who's still being worn, how about protecting those little toes from the cold with these super-cute rainbow booties from IndigoSky2Knit?

For something a little different, you could go for a personalised rainbow picture from Dillymoo Designs to brighten up their room. Or if you have more money to spend, how about this amazing play kitchen from The Joiners Workshop? (This one's more like a work-at-home-dad, but hey, I'm not picky!)

Gifts For Grown-Ups

I don't know about you but I always find adults harder to buy for than children! It's so hard to know what they want, what they already have etc etc. But with buying from small businesses you can get something really individual - a gift for someone who has it all!

For family members, I think this family tree cushion cover from Delix Designs would be fantastic - what a lovely way of being reminded of your nearest and dearest! Or on the family tree theme, this Fingerprint tree from Pink Cottage Prints would make a lovely gift for grandparents, and something the whole family can help to personalise.

Speaking of families, if you have a friend 'in the family way' you could get her some birth affirmation cards from Mama Pixie UK to help her on the big day!

Jewellery is often a winner with female friends and relatives, and personalised items can feel all the more special. This floral bracelet from Delix Stamped Designs can be engraved with a message of your choice. And men don't have to be left out - the same shop also offers a personalised bottle opener!! (OK, women drink beer too - maybe you could get a matching set for a couple?!)

For all those people you know who are too busy to drink a hot cup of tea, how about getting them a beautiful crochet mug cosy from IndigoSky2Knit to buy them a little more time? Actually, I think I could do with one of these!! 

There is so much choice on Etsy, these are just a few of the many great gift options out there - and you're pretty much guaranteed to make someone happy-dance whatever you choose!

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links - this won't affect how you shop, but means if you buy through one of the links I'll get a few pence to spend on pretty things myself!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: 'I Want To Go First!' by Richard Byrne

In my relentless pursuit of books I've recently started entering pretty much every competition I come across to win children's books. Recently, this effort did pay off when I won a signed copy of Richard Byrne's latest picture book, 'I Want To Go First!'

I've been reading Byrne's books for a while now, picking them up at the library every time I spot a new one, so it's great to finally have one to call my own. Er, the kids' own, I mean. I really love the way he plays with the book format - many readers will be familiar with his brilliant use of the gutter in 'This Book Just Ate My Dog!' This new title is no exception - it is gleefully meta, drawing attention to the fact it is a book and encouraging the readers to join in the story.

On the first page we are welcomed to the 'Front-Of-The-Book Nature Reserve' and we are then introduced to a family of elephants on their way to the 'Back-Of-The-Book Watering Hole'. Elphie, the smallest elephant, wants to lead the way but the rules dictate that the biggest elephant goes first. So he cleverly enlists the help of the reader to get him to the front of the line.

This is a fantastic story for reading aloud, and for encouraging interaction. With every page, Elphie asks the readers to squeak, growl, wobble the book and so on to distract his brothers and sisters so that he can jump the queue. I was a little worried how Toddler would understand the concept of the story, but I enlisted the help of my 5-year-old who enthusiastically joined in with the noises and actions and he couldn't stop laughing at it! Hopefully the more familiar he gets with the story the more he'll understand it and start joining in.

Girl Child, as usual, read the book in her head first, and when I said it was more for reading aloud, said, "but it's funny in my head too!" She loved the fact that all the names began with E - she's very big on alliteration. I don't often get to read aloud to her now she's so confident at reading to herself, so this was a fantastic chance to have a family read-together!

Does Elphie make it to the front of the line? I'll leave you to find out for yourself!

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, 16 November 2017

The Self-Policing Of Gendered School Uniforms

"You got your cardigan dirty yesterday so you'll need to wear your jumper today."

"But I don't want to wear my jumper! People will say I look like a boy!"

This was the conversation I had with Girl Child yesterday morning as she got ready for school. Actually, it's pretty much verbatim the conversation we have every time her cardigan is dirty.

This week the Church of England issued guidance to schools saying children should be free to dress up however they wish, not just adhering to gender 'rules'. I am so happy that the Church has taken this stance - I know some have accused them of hypocrisy given the in-fighting they've had over female clergy and LGBT issues but as far as I'm concerned any progress is good progress. The guidance acknowledges childhood as a safe space to play around with gender roles and work out what they really mean and I think that's fantastic.

The thing is, I think school staff know this on the whole, but, because of the messages surrounding them in our society, children are pretty ruthless in policing gender norms. And not just in terms of play - it's something I've noticed in terms of school uniform.

Our school does not specify particular items of uniform as being for boys or for girls.There is no reference in the policy to boys or girls at all, even when discussing the summer options of shorts or dresses, or when talking about hairstyles. (Long hair must be tied back - I was annoyed at first but then realised it's a nit thing.) I'm aware that other schools do still specify different uniforms for boys and girls so I was relieved to see our school was more forward-thinking than that.

And yet Girl Child will often say that she's had comments from other children when wearing the 'wrong' uniform for her gender. Admittedly she does tend to embellish the truth, but I believe that comments do occur, even if not as regularly as she makes out. I was expecting it when she wore trousers instead of a skirt, but since when was a jumper just for boys? And, for that matter, why are cardigans seen as just for girls? I don't think I've ever seen a boy in a school cardigan.

Then there are shoes. When she first started school there were no options for practical, hard-wearing shoes that covered the whole foot in the girls' section so she wore boys' shoes. We have to walk nearly a mile to school and live in Yorkshire, Mary-Janes won't cut it for keeping her feet warm and dry. But then she got comments, and that bothered her, so I was relieved this year to find Clarks had introduced a token pair of trainer-style shoes with scuff bars in the girls' section. They even have patent straps to 'pretty' them up a bit which was important to Girl Child. But guess what? She still says she gets comments about them being boys' shoes.

I don't really know what the answer is here. If even at a school with a non-gendered uniform list the children still decide what's for girls and what's for boys, what can we do? I'm a bit tired of parroting the same old phrases - "I wear trousers and jumpers, so they're not just for boys. They're not boys' shoes, they're your shoes. There's no such thing as clothes for girls and clothes for boys. Etc etc etc." How many more times do I have to say them before my daughter is comfortable standing up for herself on this? And why the heck should she have to?

I'm really encouraged to see progress happening in what is on offer for boys and girls to wear. I love that shops are starting to see the benefits of not dividing clothes up along gender lines for kids, and I'm happy that the growing number of parents speaking up about this are being listened to. What I wasn't expecting, perhaps few of us were, is how long it'll take for this new 'gender-neutral' ethos to trickle down to the very children who are impacted.

I'm not blaming the kids at all. The urge to find rules in everyday life and enforce them is strong in children, it helps them make sense of the world at a time when it's hard to understand nuance. And where they see patterns (of behaviour, dress etc) they will jump to rules. It just makes me realise what I'm up against. Even if all schools stop gendering uniforms, even if all shops stop dividing their clothes between boys and girls, how long will it take for this culture to fade away amongst children?

Have you come against similar issues with school uniform?

Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans' by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos

This morning I woke up to news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called on schools and nurseries to allow children to dress up how they choose, regardless of gender stereotypes. I'm really happy about this, and may write more about it later in the week. But it also reminded me of a picture book I had waiting to review.

When we received a copy of 'Pirates in Classroom 3' from Maverick Books, they also sent a copy of 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans'. Written by Jessie Miller and illustrated by Barbara Bakos, it is the story of a fashion-conscious rooster with a penchant for online shopping. When his new pair of skinny jeans arrives early, he can't wait to show them off to the other animals on the farm.

The other animals, however, are unimpressed and make fun of poor rooster. He hides away until he decides that he doesn't need their approval, he's happy wearing his new jeans and being himself.

I really love the message of this story. It champions the individual and encourages children to dress for themselves and find happiness within rather than looking to other people's opinions for validation. It's also a good reminder not to judge others and to accept, and even applaud, other people's differences - as the other farm animals eventually do.

It's also fantastic to read a story featuring a male character who loves fashion. While skinny jeans aren't necessarily 'girly' they are framed as a clear style choice, and the way the rooster admires them is out of the ordinary for the depiction of boys and men in books. He admires the colours and sparkly stitching, and proclaims, "my bum looks fantastic!" And at the end of the book he purchases a much more flamboyant item - I won't spoil the ending for you though! It's great to have a book celebrating a male character who steps outside the box and loves all things sartorial.

In terms of readability, the text is great - it's written in rhyming couplets which always goes down well with children. I like how there are a few little jokes in there about online shopping that no doubt will go over the kids' heads but will make the adult reader smile!

The illustrations are very bright, bold and cheerful. I particularly liked the little chicks that popped up throughout the book, adding another level of detail to spot as the book becomes more familiar. The farmyard setting is always a winner with children - I've mentioned before that Toddler loves animal-themed books and this one is no exception. He really enjoyed pointing out all the different animals and making their noises - and was very excited by the 'cock-a-doodle-doo' which he loves to emulate!

I really recommend this book. It would be great for a little boy with a sense of style, to affirm that that's OK and it's good to enjoy the clothes you wear. But really it's a story for everyone - a lesson in acceptance and in daring to be different. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from that message!

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.

Read With Me

Monday, 6 November 2017

Review: 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse

Toddler is rather fascinated with pirates at the moment. I think it's down to catching bits of 'Swashbuckle' on TV - if he so much as sees a picture or hears the word 'pirate' he'll swing his arm and say 'arrr!' It's rather cute!

The lovely people at Maverick Books sent me some lovely books recently and I was excited to see a pirate-themed one, 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse. I knew straight away Toddler would love it!

It's a really fun story - a class of young children are one day visited by a pirate searching for treasure and go off on a little adventure with him to find the loot he's after. I love how, although the main child character is a boy, the story shows both boys and girls enthusiastically joining in with the adventure.

Girl Child got to the book before me so was the first to test it out. She really enjoyed it, said it was very funny and that her favourite bit was, "the bad pirate who said really funny things!" Being set in a classroom, it's a really good story for older preschoolers and younger school-age children who could imagine themselves going on an adventure from their own classroom.

When I read it with Toddler there was a lot of enthusiastic arrr-ing going on! As he's still quite small the story went over his head, but he absolutely loved the pictures - once we had read it, he kept turning the pages over to look at the little details in each spread. I particularly liked how expressive the faces were - even though the illustration style is quite simple, you could still spot a range of different expressions. So as Toddler pointed at the different children I could talk about their emotions - "that girl looks excited! That boy looks a bit scared."

We really enjoyed 'Pirates in Classroom 3' and definitely think it's one we'll read over and over - so I'd better improve my dodgy pirate voice!!

DISCLAIMER: I was given one copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own. Well, apart from the ones that were my child's!

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Four Types Of Pinterest Parent

Ahh, Pinterest. Where good intentions go to die. For me, anyway.

I first joined Pinterest just over four years ago while we were in the process of buying a new house. It's a 70's build so I'd had the great idea of decorating it in a retro style and created a board to store my ideas. Of course four-and-a-bit years on the only room we've redecorated is the bathroom, and it's definitely not-retro. That board hasn't been checked in a long time.

Nowadays I mostly use Pinterest as a way of clearing out all the links I've saved on Facebook or liked on Twitter. But I do hear whispers of other parents who use it properly. Mind-blowing.

As far as I can tell all Pinterest parents fall into at least one of four categories ...

The Perfect Pinner

Not only are their boards well-organised but they are full of relevant pins. And guess what? They've even ACTED ON those pins. They've read the articles, made the crafts, cooked the recipes. Heck, they might even have added their own pins. Wild.

The Optimistic Pinner

This parent will also have various boards, but not particularly clearly labelled ones and the pins inside have been mostly put in as 'ahh near enough'. This is the parent who sees a great idea on the internet, hurriedly pins it so as not to lose it, and then never looks at it again. (This parent is me.)

The Friday Night Pinner

Also known as the 'we've got to make WHAT for your homework?' pinner. Boards are named vague things like 'kids crafts' or 'science stuff' and contain several highly specific pins of animal crafts, rocket experiments and model planets. Updated every few weeks (or for really unfortunate parents, weekly) and always on a Friday after school. Pins are never looked at again after the project is over.

The False Start Pinner

One board containing a few very similar pins, last updated three years ago. This parent clearly realised early on that there's more to life than Pinterest. 

Which pinner are you?

Linking up with #Blogtober17 - Pinterest.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Why I'm Rubbish At Instagram

Today's Blogtober prompt is Instagram. It's quite a big deal these days, especially in blogging circles where you can even generate an income just from your Instagram feed. And while I do have an account, I'm just not very good at updating it or checking it regularly. Why? Well ...

It confuses me

Now I know I don't go on the app regularly, but how come when I do I have to wade through a load of week-old photos to get to anything remotely recent? Should I comment on a photo posted almost a fortnight ago or is it now totally irrelevant? I just get annoyed with it. And yes I know the 'Stories' are always current but I don't really understand what they are, and besides, if they need sound they won't make sense to me as I'm usually checking my phone whilst getting a toddler to sleep or sneaking a peek while the kids are watching CBeebies so need it to be silent.

I hate selfies

I look weird in selfies. Suddenly I have crazy eyes, a wonky smile and a huge double chin. And my phone's selfie camera accentuates my eyebags. Now I know Instagram isn't all about selfies, especially for my generation, but my aversion to them does cut down what I can post.

My kids aren't Insta-ready

Don't get me wrong, my kids are flipping CUTE. But turn a camera on them and one will wriggle away while the other will pull a weird 'cheese' face. They don't pose artily in fields of flowers or in front of vibrantly painted walls. They don't wear top-to-toe Boden and Frugi. And they Don't. Stay. Still.

My house is a mess

Then there's the fact I avoid posting photos of our home because it's a bombsite. I'm not talking 'few toys here and there that a quick tidy would fix' messy. I'm talking 'blu-tac trodden in the carpet, drink spill stains on the furniture and discarded clothes everywhere' messy. I do try to keep it tidy but five minutes after a good clean up it looks as bad as it did before. And yet parents on Instagram seem to have pristine homes so their fashionably-dressed youngsters can pose happily on cream sofas with cashmere throws and perfectly placed cushions. That just ain't my home.

Going out is stressful

Well if I don't like photos indoors, how about taking photos when we go out? I try, I really do. But let's all admit it - going out with kids is A Nightmare. You have to constantly make sure they're not only in sight but behaving appropriately and not wrecking anything or endangering themselves. If I do have time to snap a few photos they're generally blurry, or I've just missed the cute moment, or there's someone else's kid wandering in front. And by the time I've taken it, one of the kids has wandered off and I have to track them down again.

My phone is dying

It's a slow demise, been happening for months, but I haven't had time to replace it because, well, I'm a parent, I don't have time for anything. Heck, my trainers have been majorly leaking for three months and I only replaced them three days ago. But it does mean that it takes roughly five minutes just to load up my camera and take a photo, so what's the point in trying to capture that candid moment?

I'm verbal, not visual

I remember in sixth form my brilliant drama teacher asking the class to do a cartoon version of a play, but for me she asked me to write a poem version, because she recognised that I'm much better with words than pictures. Ultimately, although I like photos, I prefer to write (and read) little life updates. Yes you can add a comment to your photo on Instagram, but as the words mean more to me than the photo, the whole point of the social network is a bit lost on me.

I will keep persisting with Instagram though. Maybe one day I'll crack it - when I've changed my face, found a way of taming my kids, redecorated the house ...


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Six Things I Love About Twitter

Yesterday we were talking about Facebook - well today it's the turn of my other, possibly greater social media love - Twitter. I joined Twitter just over five years ago and it's been eating up my time ever since. Frankly, it's a bit of a problem. But I love it because ...

1. It's great for 'meeting' people

I'm a bit of an introvert, and not always very good at striking up conversations in real life. Online though, I find it much easier - I suppose I'm better at writing than I am at talking! It took me a while to find new people on Twitter but once I did I made some really good online friendships with people I would never have come across. It's broadened my perspective a lot as I get to know people from outside my little Northern-suburbia bubble.

2. It's full of people who live in my phone

Now, I know the people I talk to do actually exist outside Twitter. But, for the most part, I've never met them and am unlikely to run into them. There's something quite freeing about that. I'm not very good at admitting to people face-to-face when I'm having a bad day because I worry about how they'll react. But I can admit it to people who I know I won't bump into tomorrow, who won't ask me awkward questions which I'll gloss over with a breezy, "oh I'm fine." I know that if I say I'm having a tough time on Twitter I'll most likely get a few supportive hug gifs and nothing more. (Whether this is a healthy approach to life or not is another question ...)

3. It makes me laugh

They say brevity is the soul of wit. That's certainly true of Twitter. Those 140 characters have at times made me cry with laughter. There are so many brilliant jokes, one-liners and funny stories floating around on Twitter, it brings a smile to my face at least once a day. Yes, Facebook has it's memes but personally I find a well-crafted tweet much funnier.

4. It makes me think

It's not all laughs. Often Twitter is used to discuss issues in a way that doesn't happen in the mainstream media, or even in real life. It's a mouthpiece for people who wouldn't otherwise be heard. Now obviously this is a double-edged sword - there are plenty of people on Twitter whose opinion I not only disagree with, but actively object to. And there is a big troll problem too. But look past that and you can find out about lots of issues, views and events that you might not hear about in the news. I've thought a lot more deeply about a lot of subjects since joining Twitter.

5. It's great for TV viewing

This is not often something I indulge in because often the big shows clash with bedtime so I watch them on delay or after they've aired. But a good tweet-along is a lot of fun. Following people's tweets about Bake Off, Strictly or Eurovision adds another level, a bit like watching with your mates except they're people you've never met (bit weird) and they're not talking over the good bits.

6. It's good for nosying at celebs

Now obviously I know celebrities probably heavily vet what they put on Twitter. And I actually don't follow many celebs. But occasionally you get a glimpse of what they're like as normal people and it's quite refreshing. It's a peek behind the artifice of TV/film etc to see a bit of personality. And seeing them chat between themselves is surreal but very amusing!