Tuesday, 28 May 2013

"Wing it" Activity No. 4

iPad apps

Goodness me, what a horrible day it's been! None stop rain and a garden that is impassable as its ready for the builders to work their patio magic tomorrow.

Now I imagine that iPad apps for toddlers are a pretty controversial topics. We're quite anti television and screen time for E but she has a natural curiosity for IT, phones and the like and that's only to be expected when she sees her favourite people using them every day. I don't feel it's something I can say no to. And actually, everything in moderation, right? As long as she's done a lot of physical stuff, read real books, experienced some real life, then a little bit of something educational and developmental is ok with me.

So, having been inside all day, we've had some time on the iPad today. Here are my favourite three.

1. Peekaboo Barn

69p, and E seems to like it. We're been learning about farm animals a lot this week,so this app has consolidated some of the names and noises. She likes waiting to see who is in the barn by tapping on it. My only disappointment is that the voice is a bit coochie coo for my liking and not the clearest for learning. It's ok so long as you're nearby to reinforce it!

Available from

2. Balls

Free! Brightly coloured moving lines, hand eye coordination and some gross motor, looks nice and sounds cool and occupies E well. Unlike other apps, the sound won't work on this app if your iPad is on silent... Took mama a while to work that out!

Available from

3. Sound Box

The lite version is free and you can upgrade. This was recommended to me by a friend and is a whole family favourite. Really interactive without it being too complicated, tap for more balls of different pitches and timbres, hold them down and watch them pop into animals, shake and watch them roll around... I find myself playing too. The dog settling drives out two loopy, and my favourite it's the xylophone sound. A great app to have handy!

Available from

Other apps we've explored include a selection of keyboards for iPad, several of the Fisherprice free apps,my favourite being the Animal Sounds one, and Maily which allows your child to draw a picture and then email it to parent predefined addresses. Perfect for cheering daddy up at work and allows older ones some independence too!

Hoping for better weather tomorrow!

Monday, 27 May 2013

"Wing it" Activity No. 3

A homemade blackboard for the garden

Huge apologies. I was already turning myself into a blackboard when I realised my camera was upstairs, and when I went to get it to take pictures of E enjoying the fruits of my labour, the battery was flat after a hard day of snapping yesterday. So here's "Wing it" Acvivity No. 3 with the help of iPhone/iPad, Instagram and a fabulous little app I've just discovered from A Beautiful Mess

Quite simple really. Make a blackboard. Have someone who is handy with tools hang it in the garden, get out the chalk and off you go! 

So many things to develop including:
  • Gross motor skills & mark making
  • Fine motor skills and grips
  • Hand eye coordination
  • Vocabulary about colours
...and the board could be used as part of other larger activities with older children... Shapes, blending, spelling... I'm going to use it as a photography prop, and no doubt it'll make some good grown up entertainment too! 

The paint cost £6.99, the board which is just shy of 3' x 3' was £7.70. Such a fun project in the sunshine and a product with longevity, I hope! 

And obviously I couldn't help but have a go too! 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

"Wing it" Activity No. 2

Bean bags

When I popped into ELC yesterday, I spotted these for £4 and thought I'd see what we could do with them. They say suitable from 2+ but I think there is fun to be had with them at 14 months too... 

This is definitely more of a long term learning activity than the water beads, but even just some playing today has been fun and has developed some new skills, including:

  • New vocabulary - "Can you put the bean bag in the bucket? Can you take the bean bag out of the bucket?"
  • Throwing - we've had some experience of throwing - mostly dinner on the floor- but also in the garden throwing a ball for the dog but this is throwing we can do inside and requires a little more precision.
  • Catching - well, she made a good attempt at catching, and really enjoyed watching us throwing the bean bags back and forward to one another. This will come! 
  • Counting - one, two, three, four. 
In time there's more to do, to name but a few:
  • Colours
  • Hoopla type throwing into chalk circles/buckets/containers
  • Juggling (!)
... all of which are good for developing hand-eye coordination, gross motor skills, language, strength and numeracy.

I'm looking forward to more beanbag action! 

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 25 May 2013

"Wing it" Activity No. 1

Fun with Florists Water Beads

So, I decided that as it's half term and we're home for the whole week and E is only in nursery for one morning, I would try and do something new with her every day. In addition, I will blog about it every day, hopefully I'll inspire some others along the way!

Today we explored the possibilities of florists water beads. I bought these just because I liked the colours, they were described as non-toxic and delivery was free, but there are loads of others available. I got 5 sachets for £2.50 and used two of them for playing today. They need to be soaked in advanced and rinsed before use.

I wouldn't advise leaving kids unattended with these! Potential choking hazard - that said, E didn't seem too bothered about eating them, which is unusual for her. 

I let E roll a few beads around the table while she and daddy waited for breakfast. To start with she struggled to pick them up because they're quite slimy, but with practice she was able to grab them and squeeze them. Good for the fine motor skills; fist grip, the four finger grip and pincer grip! They bounce ever so well, so she enjoyed bouncing them off the table screaming something that resembled "bouncy" while she did. They ended up on the floor, but we just collected those up and rinsed them before putting them in the water table to play with later. Popping some in a silicone ice cube tray was fun, briefly until she tipped them ALL on the floor! 

This week I bought a sand and water table from Tesco as it was on offer for £10. It's quite dinky but absolutely fine for some outdoor messy play and our moderately sized garden. It comes with a scoop and a rake and was just what I was looking for.

When it warmed up, we went out to play in the garden and I just poured all the beads into the tray. E enjoyed scooping and raking the beads, pouring them back out of the scoop and watching them fall, moving them between the two sections, and giggling when they fell onto the gravel or bounced away. Scooping develops muscles and hand eye coordination. She picked up beads that she'd dropped on the ground, and after a good 20 minutes of exploring, just stuck her hands in and enjoyed the feel of the beads. They really do feel lovely. Silky, slimy, wet, squidgey and cool! When she finished playing, I put a little extra water in with the beads and put the lid on the table. When I checked them this evening they were still as slimy and plump as they were before lunch. The benefits of mixed colours for older children would allow them to sort too. I'll edit this post to let you know when they come to their end! 

And when she came in for lunch, she wasn't grubby or damp, but we did wash her hands before she ate. 

Fair to say, this was great success for my 14 month old! It's sensory and messy, without really making too much mess and easy to prepare and pack away for. Obviously the downside is that it has to be planned for, to some extent, as the beads take time to soak (although I didn't leave them the 24 hours it advised...). However, it made this toddler smile and giggle, got her outside for that Vitamin A fix and kept her entertained for two good amounts of time this morning. That's a hit in my book! 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Good to Outstanding - Pressure on parenting

When I was pregnant I had a brief spell on my birth board for the month E was due on parenting website BabyCentre. Many soon moved over to Facebook, and in my humble opinion the majority of girls over there were loopy or trolls. Thankfully along the way I found some not quite so loopy ones, some who live locally and others who are further away but we make the time to hang out when we can fit it in. One of my closest and most wonderful friends that I found amongst the highly opinionated, my-way-or-no-way, know-it-all mums to be was Leah. Thank goodness for her. She was a voice of sanity and normality and as well as sharing my love for IKEA meatballs, she seemed to share my feelings and ethos about what parenting was going to be like and subsequently has been like. She's down to earth, and she's realistic. She is the flag flyer for what she describes as "wing it" parenting, with a little big of "Captain Routine" for good measure. 

And a lot of the time, I did wing it, with Captain Routine and a little of the Baby Whisperer to thank. Throughout for the first year, I was bombarded with emails from parenting websites and manufactures of baby "stuff" telling me about what my baby should be doing and what I could do to encourage that stuff. Cool. Baby was doing stuff she needed to do, on time or early, whatever I was winging that week was working and I felt in control. Ish. But the emails have slowed right down over the last eight weeks since she turned one and I suddenly feel like I have no idea what I'm meant to be doing. I mean, I know I still have to give her meals and that she probably can't make me a cup of tea just yet, but what are the milestones now? What is normal, what are they expected to arrive at school knowing, do people think I'm utterly loony-a-la-birth-board for taking my 14 month old out and teaching her to ride that scooter? When DO kids start using a knife as well as the fork? Is it ok that she's useless at jigsaws and can't seem to grasp some of the shapes on her shape sorter? Are her teeth going to rot because she's too independent to let me brush her teeth, yet her idea of teeth brushing is normally to suck the toothpaste off and wobble the brush around her mouth for a moment before throwing it in the bath? Should I be reading an online manual? I have no idea. She seems to be at the same stage as her peers but occasionally someone will tell me their kid can do something and panic hits me... MY child can't do that, how does their child even know that? Am I missing something integral to this parenting lark because I taught my child to pretend to much on leaves at the sight of a giraffe but haven't left her alone with a doidy cup to discover what happens if she tips it upside down? Or am I being ridiculous?  I assume that were she missing some fundamental skills, nursery would have highlighted it... 

I guess there are two things that got me thinking about this.

As a school we're always trying to move forward, get better, improve. Better results, bigger numbers, more value added, more levels of progress, better take up. As a teacher, I am always aiming to be outstanding. And as parents, we expect that the places our children go to learn, be it nursery or school, are keen to improve too. When I chose a nursery for E, I looked for transparency, love and a good or better OFSTED report. But as parents, I don't think we talk about ways in which we can improve our parenting, like the way us teachers do. We don't like to admit to the stuff that we got wrong or didn't work. Most of the time, we're just winging it. Or I certainly am. I am not an attachment parent, I am not a baby led parent, I'm not a Gina Ford parent. I am just a "whatever works and seems to make sense when I rationalise it" parent.

I cannot wing it in the classroom. 

In the news this week there was a lot of talk about the number of 7-11 year olds who are unable to swim. Whose responsibility is that? Have their parents let them down? Does it matter if kids can't swim? Do all schools have access to swimming pools? I have no idea. My friends take their babies to swimming lessons and I am considering it if I can find a course where the location and time suit me but I'm not worried that at this stage about when she'll be able to swim. She loves being in the pool and splashing and water play and that's enough for me for now. I recall that aged 5, I wasn't a confident swimmer at all, but by the time I was in Year 4 I had my 1500m badge and adore swimming now. Any harm done? I guess being a confident swimmer means you're more likely to survive if you fall in a river or off a boat.... 

So over half term I am going to try and do something new and exciting everyday for E in a bid to carry on winging it with a little help from Pinterest. Tomorrow? Water beads from a florist are already soaking in anticipation.

And if anyone can enlighten me on the million dollar question about when toddlers use knives, I'd be over the moon.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Dear daughter

When you read this, please don't think that the way I am feeling today is all that different to the way that I normally feel about you. It isn't. But the last few days just seem to have been particularly incredible, and no matter how much praise I give you now, I don't think you'll understand exactly how wonderful I think you are.

I guess the things you have done this week seem particularly significant because yesterday was a massive reminder of where we started and how far we have come in the last fourteen months. A blink of an eye ago, you were a scrunched up little bundle who knew nothing else but to cry and make involuntary movements. You have learned everything you know in such a short amount of time and I wish that I could be as determined and as quick to learn as you.

Yesterday, we went to meet Baby Dorothy, and your lovely, caring nature brought a tear to my eye. I understand that you needed to share my lap with her, that's fine. But as soon as you saw past the little bit of jealousy that you had, you could see what I could see too. A tiny, darling little life that deserved your affection as much as she deserved mine. You reached out and put your hands around her head and gently pulled her towards you, before kissing her, resting your head on hers and saying "aaaaaaaaah." My heart melted away and I couldn't hold back the little tear. When did you learn to be lovely? Who taught you that's what you do to tiny people? Goodness, I love you.

Today, I can see you starting to compute information in a more sophisticated way. You know that Hairy Maclary is about dogs, and that we can watch it on the iPad. You can say dog. So you pass me the iPad and insist "dogs". You know what you want and you're starting to find the way to express it. And to think that just weeks ago, I sometimes couldn't understand you at all. 

And those movements which you've learned bit by bit, that gradually brought you upright, to your knees, to your feet, with no support, can now do things first time. It's not so much about trial and error any more. You watched us on your scooter and then you just did it. Almost without thinking. Tonight you pointed at the washing hanging in the bathroom and you could tell me that those flappy things we "sssssks". I know you mean socks. How did you get to be so clever?

Just when I think I couldn't love your company more, I find I really do love it even more. We're not just people in the same room anymore; we hang out, we laugh together, we understand and we enjoy it. It makes me excited for tomorrow. 

It's important I write this down. There will be times ahead when we struggle, I am quite sure of it. There will be times when you tell me you hate me and there will be times when I do struggle to understand your choices and dislike what you have done. There will be times when I feel disappointed and there will be times when you feel that I've not got it right. We wouldn't be the team we are if we always agreed. 

You are amazing. I never knew that parenthood could be this good. Thank you for showing me what it's all about.

I love you.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Somewhere to sit

I had a great moment of clarity in the haze of this week.

It was about how wonderful my little family is and how, despite the ups and downs, I really love life.

Don't get me wrong, we aren't perfect. Things aren't perfect. But we are lucky. The job situation for D might be about to change. Stuff I've wanted to happen has started to happen. E's first week settling into her new room at nursery has been better than perfect. She is so much fun, she never stops amazing us and we are so proud of her. My husband is amazing, and I am truly blessed. I have ordered new sofas.

And if I have my husband and my daughter and somewhere to sit, what else do I really have to worry about?

Friday, 10 May 2013

A Rush of Love

Thrilled that I am being hosted by Harriet over at A Rush of Love today as her guest blogger.

Why not pop over and have a read?

Thanks for having me, Harriet!

What I took for granted

I have felt poorly for well over a month. A niggling sore throat and some pain in my ear, reminiscent of the joyful infection I got for Christmas. Run down. Grotty. Naturally with a long weekend off work, it got worse.

The out of hours doctor was as useful as a chocolate fire guard; viral infection, get some rest. Super. A teacher in exam season has no time to rest. A mother never has time to rest. I had no time to rest. Needless to say, when I woke on Tuesday morning ready for work, I felt like death. Like the heroine that I am (chortle) I soldiered into work, that coursework won't send itself. That sapped all I had, I came home in bright sunshine shivering, went to bed early and woke in a sweat at 11pm. More painkillers got me through to Wednesday morning but nothing had shifted. Reluctantly, having noticed that there were no exam classes on my timetable, I called in sick.

I cannot abide taking days off. Setting work from home is a nightmare and finding activities that are worthwhile and beneficial is hard when you're feeling fuzzy headed. My classroom is always a tip when I return. I can't bring myself to switch off my emails and inevitably still do some work. I feel massively guilty. Massively. Made worse, as I've had time off already for me, and for a poorly E this year. 

I got up, set work, waved E off to nursery and then slept on the sofa all morning. I ate crumpets and slept some more. D collected E so I could stay in my pjs. I got an early night. I felt a bit queasy from the painkillers and limited food intake, but I felt clearer as I went up to bed.

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling like a new woman. For the first time in weeks, my eyelids didn't feel like they had been closed with heavy duty magnets. Getting out of bed was easy. My throat was still sore but paracetamol alone solved it. I was able to enjoy half an hour with E and read with her before leaving. I was still awake at 11pm last night!

Before I had children, I don't think I'd ever have given a rest day this much credit. I don't think I'd have felt that a day of recharging could be enough. I took lazy days and weekends for granted, I was spoiled. Wednesday was a luxury, really, in a way. I realise that my stay at home pals will grumble that they never get these days, I guess that this, for me, is the silver lining of being a working mum. I can have a silent sick day, at home alone. For a fee. It felt weird, being home alone. But I was struggling with this poorliness. Now I am back all over it.

So today, I am mostly taking nothing for granted. It's my favourite day of the week, which means it's nearly time for my favourite lunch date. And this week I can enjoy her without quietly wishing I could climb into her cot with her for a nap. I will relish every second.

How lucky am I? I don't think I need to answer that.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Bank Holiday Weekend Round up

Such a fun weekend of visiting, exploring, playing and relaxing in the sunshine. Perfect! 

Helping mummy hang out the washing
Exploring local history
Beautiful blue skies
The hat which stayed on the about 3 seconds.
Wet play
Messy play

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Splish splash

I've "been for a swim" quite a few times since E was born.

By that, I mean that I've sat in the shallow end of the kids pool next to the lifesize plastic alligator/crocodile while E runs around splashing.

I've not actually done any swimming.

Come to think of it, I've not really participated in formal exercise since I found out I was expecting. In 2011. I've walked a hell of a long way - we are massive lovers of the countryside and walking, with a boarder collie to match - but I've not been to a class or the like since Mrs Zumba banned me from going to her class upon mentioning the "p" word.

Last week, I was writing about how to address my work life balance, how to find more time, make more time, bury some work or whatever I needed to do to make me feel like I was a little more on top of things. Well, this is step one, I have decided. It's going to happen every week from now on.

It was impromptu. I was unpacking the shopping and the delivery driver had commented on what a nice evening it was. She was right. Perfect for a walk up to the pool and perfect for some me time. And me time it was. 1 hour and 20 minutes with my own thoughts... Not thinking about work, planning, marking, coursework. Not worrying about E, who is safely tucked up in bed, dosed up on painkillers for these molars, carefree and warm. Not looking at the washing, the hoover, the pile of stuff on the stairs that doesn't have a home and could really do with having one. Bliss.

But my GOODNESS am I sore. My caesarian scar and lower abdominal muscles feel battered. My arms feel a bit wobbly. I had to give up after 25 minutes and then hop around in the shallow end as I got awful cramp in my calf. And then I tried again, and the cramp came back, so that put an end to that one... But it felt good to be exercising, it felt good to be doing something different and it felt liberating to be out on a school night.

For my next trick, how to make coursework mark itself...

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