Thursday, 27 September 2018

I Don't Know What I'm Doing

A while ago I was talking to a friend who reads this blog and she made a comment about how it made her feel bad because I seemed like such a good parent. She meant it as a joke, but it took me by surprise a little - I've always been wary of blogs that sugar coat parenting, but never had it occurred to me that I'm a culprit too. So I thought I'd add a dose of realism to my blog.

The truth is, whatever parenting guru persona I emulate, I don't know what I'm doing. I've read the books, I've even done a course, but I still don't have a clue.

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

I'm on slightly safer ground with Toddler. After all, I've done this stage before, and he's an 'easy' kid. He's not particularly loud or demanding, he entertains himself while I get on with what I need to do. I rarely have to discipline him because he's pretty easygoing, and my standards have lowered now I really understand what a toddler is and isn't capable of. The only thing that is less than ideal is his sleep, but I was prepared for a rubbish sleeper by his sister who didn't sleep through until she was three and a half. I know he will sleep through one day so I can live with it for now.

Trouble is, because he's so easy, and because I'm so shattered from both lack of sleep and from dealing with Girl Child, he's kind of left to raise himself. I don't do half the stimulating activities with him that I used to do with his sister, and our only regular groups are ones I volunteer at so he's mostly left to his own devices. I suspect this is why he's lagging in some skills - he still can't speak in sentences, he doesn't draw yet, and he can't jump. And while he is making some progress and seems mostly content, I can't shake the feeling that I'm neglecting him. But then I don't know where to start with helping him to develop, and there's that pile of laundry/washing up/paperwork to sort out. Always.

And then there's Girl Child. Six months on from her diagnosis of autism, I'm still no closer to knowing how to parent her. I find myself wondering whether any of the strategies I've read about over the years are even going to work with an autistic child. Positive discipline just feels very vague for a child who needs concretes and black and whites. She won't infer from my example what she should do - or at least, not when I'm setting a good example. Stating the boundary won't stop her from overstepping it if there's no clear consequence. I have tried logical consequences, but she doesn't always understand these or learn from them. Too often I resort to shouting - and I mean proper screaming. Which goes against everything I believe in, but I don't know how else to get through to her. And of course then she goes into panic mode so I achieve nothing anyway. It's still so unclear what of her behaviour is just six-year-old boundary testing and what is autism, so I don't know where to even start. And I'm in a constant state of stress from trying to figure it out.

So if anyone is under the illusion that I'm a wonderful parent, I'm not. I'm human, I'm learning, I'm making mistakes on a daily basis. I'm no better than you. I'm still trying, because my kids are worth it. But oh, how I wish I knew what I was doing.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Four Picture Books Which Celebrate Difference

We're all different in some way, but some of us stand out from the crowd more than others. And for children, that can be really hard. Girl Child has just started Year 2 and I have noticed that since starting school she has become more aware of her differences and more keen to fit in. So it's really important to me to show my children that their differences are what make them special and unique, they are to be celebrated rather than hidden. It's also important to me to show my children that if other people are different to us, then that's also a good thing and we should accept them.

Books are a great way of getting children thinking about differences, and I've been lucky enough to receive several picture books recently that deal with being different and celebrate that.

Not Yet A Yeti by Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal (Maverick Children's Books)

George's whole family are yetis. But he isn't, yet. He doesn't want to lure stray hikers to their doom like his grandad, or chase people until they scream with terror like his dad. But then he talks to his mum who makes him realise he doesn't have to be a yeti - and he transforms into another fantasy creature instead! I really like the narrative structure of this book, which has just enough repetition to keep little ones engaged but not so much that it becomes dull to read for the adult. The pictures are really bright and cheerful, making the 'terrifying' yetis not too scary for children. And the message is fantastic - when George realises he isn't a yeti, his family accepts him without question, and even change their ways to accommodate him.

Portia the Pear by Nicola Hulme and Elena Mascolo (Tiny Tree Children's Books)

Portia is a misshapen, discoloured pear who tries to hide behind the leaves of her tree. The other plump and rosy pears make fun of her and boast about their beauty, but Portia is befriended by a butterfly and a robin, and the wind in the tree reminds her that, "this will pass." This is a really quirky story which captures the feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy associated with not being conventionally beautiful. It's central message is that we all belong and have a place no matter what we look like. It deals with some difficult emotions in a really gentle way, and the illustrations are gorgeous and filled with warmth. This would be a great book for reading with someone who feels inferior to their peers.

The Mole and The Flower by Helen Marshall and Christopher A Martin (Tiny Tree Children's Books)

Flower was beautiful fifty years ago, but now he is wilted and bitter. Until one day when a young mole appears in his garden searching for the most beautiful flower of all. Flower realises she is blind, and she decides he must be the most beautiful flower. They become great friends and Mole brings happiness back into Flower's life. This is a lovely story of intergenerational friendship, and of seeing past age and disability to reveal people's true beauty. It is told in rhyme, which is a bit awkward rhythmically at points but carries the story along really well. The illustrations have a timeless feel to them, reminiscent of classics like the Brambly Hedge series.With beautiful depictions of autumn and winter it's a really good book for this time of year too!

Binx the Jinx by Michelle Hird (Tiny Tree Children's Books)

When Binx the black cat moves to a new home he is excited to go exploring - until he runs into the neighbourhood cats who shun him, saying he's bad luck. He feels overwhelmed by the nasty things the cats say to him, until another cat comes to stand up for him. I really love how this book tackles the issue of bullying really clearly but still sensitively. In one illustration, it shows the feelings and thoughts in Binx's mind, including anxiety and sadness. I think it's really important to reveal the impact words can have on others, even if it is hard to see and read. The story is written in rhyme, which will appeal to younger readers, and the illustrations have a very modern, vibrant feel to them. I love how Binx's new-found friend is unafraid to stand up to the bullies, and the final page strikes a happy and hopeful tone.

What books have you read that celebrate difference?

DISCLAIMER: I was sent all books in this post for the purposes of review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 17 September 2018

Picture Books For Future Globetrotters

We're halfway through September and the summer holidays are well and truly fading into memory. Did you take your kids on any exciting trips? We had our first family trip abroad, flying to northern France to stay in a Eurocamp. Unfortunately it turns out Toddler gets travel sick on planes, and Girl Child was so overwhelmed by anxiety about being in another country we didn't leave the campsite until we literally had to! So I think our overseas adventures will have to be in book form for now. Which is fine, because there are some great books about exploring other countries! Here are three of our favourites in our home collection.

Around The World With Mouk by Marc Boutavant

This was bought for Girl Child by her uncle when she was just 2 or 3 years old and is so well-loved I've had to tape it back together - hence the strategic book placement in the photo above! Mouk the bear leaves his home in Paris to travel around the world, and sends postcards back from his destinations to his friends. His journey takes in Lapland, Madagascar, Australia, China, United States and more, and wherever he goes he makes new friends. The thing I love about this book is the cartoon-like illustration style, with speech bubbles strewn across the page. It means that you can gradually read the story in more detail as your child gets older, and there are lots of little side stories and jokes going on in the pictures. It also incorporates lots of interesting facts and details about the countries visited so is a great learning tool.

WatAdventure in Australia by Richard David Lawman and Katie Williams

This book was sent to us recently by Tiny Tree Children's Books from their parent company Matthew James Publishing. It's a really interesting concept - ideas and artwork were submitted by thousands of children via PopJam and incorporated into the story. The main character, Lola, is based on a competition winner on PopJam. Lola climbs into a den in her room with her toys, Jiblets the monkey and Sirius the dog, and emerges on the Watabus with her toys brought to life. They travel to Australia where Jiblets promptly disappears, and Lola and Sirius go in search of him, accidentally taking in all the sights in Oz. It's a really clever way of covering different destinations in the country, and the rhyming text makes it an entertaining read. I love the quirky illustrations, especially knowing that real children played a part in creating them!

Off We Go To Mexico! by Laurie Krebs and Christopher Corr

I first came across this book in our library over four years ago and I got my own copy when I briefly sold Barefoot Books at events and markets. (My main downfall as a children's bookseller is that I wanted to buy all the books for me!) It's a fun, vibrant book showing a family on holiday in Mexico, taking in all the sights from the bustle of Mexico City to the markets in ancient villages and exploring mountains and pyramids. It's another rhyming book, my favourite to read aloud, and each double page spread gives Spanish translations of key words so it's great for introducing the language. I also love that it shows babywearing, although I have to say the sling is a very strange one!

What picture books about other countries have you read to your children? Do you find reading about other countries and cultures makes them more interested in travelling?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of WatAdventure in Australia for the purposes of this review, however all words and opinions are my own.

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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Monday, 10 September 2018

Three Picture Books For Raising Eco-Conscious Kids

As you may have gathered, the environment and green living are big concerns of mine. I can still remember learning about the effects of pollution and the use of fossil fuels back when I was in primary schools and it seems bizarre that we're still having the same problems today. I often worry about the problems we're leaving for future generations to fix, and whether our efforts are too late. Nonetheless, I still believe it is important to teach children about the importance of caring for our planet. And I think children's books can play a major part in this.

We have recently been reading these three books about the environment, two kindly sent for review by the lovely folk at Tiny Tree Children's Books and one borrowed from our local library (because, as I may have mentioned before, libraries are great).

Poppy's Planet by Russ Brown and Jamie Cosley

This is a really lovely picture book with bright, clear illustrations and fun rhyming text, perfect for reading with little ones. Poppy the Penguin has a special power - unlike other penguins, she can fly. She flies around the Earth and as she goes she sees all the different problems being caused by pollution and climate change - crop failures, deforestation, smog and more - and becomes sad that her planet is being treated so badly. Bravely, there is no happy ending to the story, instead it ends with a call to the readers to take action to protect our planet for Poppy's sake. I think this is really effective as it shows children that even they can do their bit to help, and can prompt conversations about what they can do.

Hello, Mr World by Michael Foreman

This picture book deals with a similar idea - this time, though, it is two children rather than a penguin who see the effects of climate change on the Earth. The children (a boy and a girl, hooray for equality) are playing doctors when they are visited by Mr World, who is feeling too hot and struggling to breathe. They examine their patient, discovering that his ice is melting and he is full of smoke and fumes. They tell Mr World he must look after himself - but Mr World wants our help. This is a really clever book which uses very simple text that even young readers can understand and stay engaged with, and the illustrations are really charming. I love that there is a section at the end for older children which explains climate change in more detail and gives suggestions for ways to help 'Mr World' to get better.

The Weatherbies: Colin Cloud is Making Shapes by Yvonne Fleming and James Salenga

This is the second book in a series explaining how our planet works. Colin Cloud is playing a game with his Weatherbie friends, making different shapes for them to guess, when their rivals The Pollutants arrive to break up their fun. However, Colin and his friends, who each represent a form of weather, use this is as an opportunity to teach The Pollutants about the water cycle and the importance of water to our planet. While this book doesn't directly deal with the environmental challenges we face, it's still a great way of explaining the science behind water and showing why we mustn't waste it. The illustrations are really fun and cartoon-like - my daughter particularly liked Rosie Rainbow who has rainbow stripes in her hair - and the rhyming text makes it easy to read and appealing for younger children.

Hopefully these books will have a good influence on my children and help them to understand why I'm always going on about being more green! What books do you use to teach your children about the environment?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of Poppy's Planet and The Weatherbies: Colin Cloud is Making Shapes 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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Sunday, 9 September 2018

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

Wow, it's hard to stay green over the summer, isn't it? We had our first trip abroad as a family this summer and although it was lovely I did feel a bit guilty about the flight, and the amount of rubbish we generated as a result of not having space to take our own food and such. And then there's all the driving places to keep the kids entertained. But amongst all this, we've managed to make some eco-friendly choices.

Taken a long EV road trip

This is actually courtesy of Toddler, who has recently developed travel sickness. We had an inkling this was the case, but his spectacular digestive pyrotechnics on the flight to France confirmed our suspicions. (In case you happen to read this, sorry to the man sat next to us!!) We had planned a road trip down South over the August bank holiday weekend to visit old friends and family and intended to take our diesel car just for ease, but knowing that Toddler wouldn't be up to long stints in the car made us reconsider. If we could only drive for about an hour at a time anyway to reduce the risk of upchuck, why not stop to charge the car? So we braved a road trip from Leeds to Oxfordshire in our electric car! It was actually surprisingly easy as most service stations and a lot of chain hotels now have charging points, and while it did take longer it was nice to get a break from being stuck in the car.

The only downside was that, because we were pretty disorganised about eating arrangements, we ended up buying food on some of our stops, which meant packaging to throw away. Not only did this feel wasteful, it also offset some of the savings we made by using the EV. So next time we attempt such a long journey (which won't be for a long time) we'll try to be more prepared and take our own food with us.

Switched to Soapnuts

Again, credit goes to Toddler, who for most of June and July kept getting allergic rashes which we couldn't explain. We wondered if it was the heatwave but he got it even on cooler days. I wondered if our laundry detergent had changed its ingredients. At the same time I'd got a sample pack of soapnuts to use as a shampoo alternative (I know, I'm weird, I will eventually write a post about my green haircare adventures) which didn't really work out, so I thought I'd try them in the laundry instead.

The results are hit and miss so far. You're supposed to be able to reuse soapnuts 3 or 4 times but I don't find them particularly effective after the second wash, and I'm still working out the best temperature and setting to use. They're not great at lifting heavy stains (which with a toddler and a messy 6 year old is an issue) and I can only use them with nappies if the soapnuts are unused. So not a total win, but I'm persisting. If anyone has any hot tips on using soapnuts please comment below!

And the rash? Suddenly cleared up around the time we tried soapnuts, but hasn't returned when I've resorted to detergent, so who knows?!

Tried growing from scraps

I've often seen articles about how you can regrow vegetables from scraps, but I'm always either too zealous in my composting efforts or think it'll be too much faff. But a while ago I impulse bought pak choi (as you do) and saved the stumps after I'd chopped the leaves off because I thought they'd be good for paint printing. I showed them to my husband and was about to explain my plan when he said, "oh are you going to regrow them?" Umm, can I? Google said yes, so I sat them in a tub of water. We changed the water every couple of days and before we knew it new leaves were growing in the centre. We planted them out and now have two very healthy pak choi plants which we can take leaves off as needed. Hooray for free food! Have you grown from scraps? What have you tried?

So that was August. Now we're back to reality I'm hoping we can get back to a greener lifestyle with less waste - and definitely less travelling!

Monday, 3 September 2018

Riveting Robots! Two Picture Books Featuring Robots

Remember when we were kids and robots seemed so removed from reality? It's weird to think how far AI has come in the last few decades - and to wonder what role robots will play when our kids are our age. Fortunately, in the world of picture books, robots are still recognisable from the images we saw growing up - boxy metal creations with quirky personalities. We've been reading two such picture books recently. I like both of these books as they use robots to share life lessons in a way our little ones can understand and relate to.

'Unplugged' by Steve Antony

I picked 'Unplugged' up at the library recently after seeing lots of reviews from fellow picture book bloggers. It's a really charming story about Blip, a robot who spends all day plugged into her computer until one day a power cut forces her into the great outdoors, where she discovers a whole new world of fun to enjoy.

I love how Blip is a female robot with no qualifying reasons or gender signifiers in the way she's depicted. No reason is given for her being a girl and there are no bows or long eyelashes - she just is. This is so rare in picture books, especially ones about stereotypically 'boyish' topics such as robots, and it's so refreshing to see. 

I also like how the book doesn't rubbish screen activities - while it does use colour to suggest that being outdoors is preferable, it still shows the variety of things you can do on a computer. Having been very anti-screens in the past, I've seen how much online games and apps have helped my daughter in various ways, so I like that the book recognises the value in computers, while still hinting that getting out and making friends is perhaps better!

It's a very simply written book and the adorable illustrations convey a lot of the emotion, so it's a really good book for sharing with little ones who don't have a long attention span, but there's still enough to talk about with a slightly older child too.

'Robots Don't Say Please' by Lucy Keeling and Kris Smith

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this book from Tiny Tree Children's Books. It's a funny story about a robot who lives with Barney and his parents, and who doesn't understand humans' social rules about saying 'please' and 'thank you' - until a fondue disaster strikes and he shows that he has learnt human manners after all.

I have to admit, parts of the story didn't sit very well with me - for instance, the robot is expected to say please for something he requires (and is denied it when he doesn't), but when Dad later needs something he doesn't say please. The way Robot is expected to understand manners, and his inability to comprehend, unsettled me a little as I saw a lot of my autistic daughter in him. Struggling to understand social rules can be uncomfortable to watch for parents and so it really struck a chord. But aside from that it is a fun way of teaching children about manners with a humorous story, and could prompt conversations about why manners are expected and how to know what social rules apply in different circumstances.

The story is told in rhyming text which is always a big winner in our house - Toddler is always more engaged with a rhyming book and Girl Child enjoys rhymes and word play too. The rhythm is sometimes a bit clunky but overall it is fun to read aloud, giving lots of scope for funny robot voices! I love the cartoon-like illustrations and the quirky details to spot, the pictures are really fun for little ones to study.

I really enjoyed these robot stories and so do the children - perhaps they'll prepare them for life with AI when they're older! Do you have any favourite stories featuring robots?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of 'Robots Don't Say Please' by the publisher for the purposes of this review. 'Unplugged' was borrowed from our local library because libraries are awesome. 

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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