Tuesday, 4 June 2013

That's all folks!

Yep, this is the end of Let's...
50 posts and I'm out of ideas.
When I started blogging, back in October last year, it was mainly to fend off the feeling of total redundancy! I'd had 14 years of teaching, 4 years of being a full-time mummy and suddenly I was out of work. I wish I could have thrown myself into the perfect housewife role but I just don't have it in me. Going through old pics of the boys, before school had snatched them away, kept me occupied and happy. It was a nice way to record their lives so far, and if it gave people a few ideas of ways to entertain their little critters, so much the better. (Today's pics are an "On this day in our history!")
I have learned an awful lot. Here's a few thoughts on what I learned about blogging:
  •  Just like parenthood it's easy to worry about! I worried that my posts were not interesting/entertaining enough, I worried that I came across as being smug about my child-rearing techniques when in fact I know there are loads of things I've got wrong, I worried that I wasn't linking up my posts right or following the proper tweeting/retweeting etiquette, I worried that I should have been anonymous and someone might kidnap the kids!...
  • Once you get into the world of blogging there's a strange contradiction. On the one hand I felt a bit dismayed to find that pretty much anything I wrote about had already been written, often much more cleverly, by many other bloggers. It's very hard to be original. On the other hand it was nice to know there are like-minded people all over the world trying to give kids the same kind of experiences I was hoping for.
  • By reading other blogs I realised that it's good to be not too wordy, and to include plenty of pics if you want people to actually bother to read your post.
  • 2008
  • And if you want people to read your posts you need to link up with other bloggers. Not just putting your posts on their lovely linkies but also taking time to read what they have written and writing a meaningful comment (everyone loves a comment!)
I have massive respect for some of the other bloggers out there. Several are linked down the side of this page. Teacher Tom and some of the Australian pre-schools for being absolutely brilliant at giving kids a free-range opportunity to learn about the world and themselves, Coombe Mill for summing up everything that childhood should be about, Eeh Bah Mum and Den State for being utterly hilarious in their candid take on what it's really like to be a parent. I have shed many tears over the heartbreaking blogs from Jennie@Edspire and Emma@crazywithtwins. Wow, if I'm ever tested I hope I have a fraction of their strength and courage. And there are loads of other bloggers who have entertained me and made me look at things differently.

Writing my blog, and reading those of like-minded parents and child carers has made me come to some more conscious decisions about how I think young kids should be raised. I read this great article recently which included a list of the skills children need in order to be ready for school:

A child who understands everyday language is ready for school.
A child who dresses himself is ready for school.
A child with good manners is ready for school.
A child with stamina, coordination, and persistence is ready for school.
A child who understands there are rules she is expected to follow and consequences when she doesn't is ready for school.
It's all educational. It's just not academic. 

All of these skills can be learned through mucking about in the garden, playing games, exploring the natural world. Kids are going to get years and years of formal schooling. They do not need to be learning to read and write before they get to school. It slightly turns my stomach to see people proudly showing off the way they've taught their 3 year old to recognise their letters. WHY??
To me the most important thing is to encourage their curiosity. Kids are naturally curious and by joining in with this, even if it's a "what will happen if I throw this mud ball at the wall?" type investigation, you will set them up with a love of learning that is absolutely key when they hit the classroom.
And in an age where the screen is king, giving them a love of the great outdoors is more important than ever. Mine definitely watch too much tv, especially in winter, and Zac would spend a lot of time on his computer if he was allowed, BUT they do still want to play in the garden or go for a walk or a paddle in the river. They are pretty active outdoor kids, and I really hope they'll stay that way.

Hey ho. Our lives are moving on. I've got a job for September, three days a week back in the classroom which I'm really looking forward to. It'll be the beginning of another new chapter. 
I may well blog again in the future. But for now. That's all folks! x

Thursday, 30 May 2013


"Little Duck" tickling Danny under his chin.
I'm not sure pets really belong in my blog of cheap and simple ideas for entertaining kids, but our random and changing selection of pets have been a big source of entertainment for the boys so I'm going to take the liberty!
When I was a child we had cats, dogs, tropical fish, a couple of budgies, terrapins, gerbils and a succession of hamsters. Not all at the same time I hasten to add, but there were always at least 3 pets in the house. I loved them, especially the dogs-who at times really did feel like my best friend. I always thought that as an adult I'd want dogs, and that I'd let my children have caged pets like we did.

Nope! I would have a dog if it didn't pooh. I can't get to grips with the concept of picking up after your dog- although I am totally enraged when I see someone leaving the stuff on the pavement.
For now, I'm happy that the boys' grandparents on both sides have dogs so they do get plenty of canine company, albeit on a part-time basis. They love playing with them and taking them for walks, and at the end of the day, they go home!

In fact, we currently don't have any pets in the house. We have lots of fish in our pond and two cats who live outdoors- a tortoiseshell called Ripley, after the character in Alien, who last year had three kittens, one of which, Ash, we still have. It was a great experience for the boys watching the kittens grow from little blind bundles of fur to fully fiesty creatures who ran up the curtains and generally caused even more mayhem than the kids. The boys learned to handle them really gently, although Zac took longer to learn this lesson than Danny and was more inclined to tease them. I was surprised and a bit sad that he didn't automatically treat them carefully, but the kittens were pretty robust and in the end I was glad that Zac had had the message about looking after living things thoroughly drummed into him!
Just too cute!

Our other pet of choice has been ducks. They are pretty easy to look after, have bucketloads of character, and duck eggs are delicious! We'd kept ducks before the kids were born and when I was a week overdue with Zac we got a "White Duck" as a temporary baby substitute! As he ended up being born three weeks after my official due date she had this role longer than we expected! Zac and White Duck developed a special relationship! He really loved her and she was extremely tolerant of him and let him carry her around the garden.
Playing peek-a-boo

She splashed me!

Do you really want to drink that?

The Christmas before last we hatched out two chocolate runner ducklings in a very basic homemade incubator. The process was trickier than we thought and quite a few eggs came to nothing, but the boys learned loads from watching the embryos develop inside the eggs (you could put a torch to them in the dark and see what was going on inside) and the two that successfully hatched bonded really well with the kids and were again a source of great entertainment.
We had rather rushed into what seemed like a great idea and hadn't realised that hatching them in midwinter would mean they'd have to live indoors for quite some time before it was warm enough to put them out. Our spare room was taken over by a large cage, the bath became their pond, and the ducks grew to believe they were part of the family and were more than a little disgruntled to be eventually moved outside! Once out though, they obligingly lived up to their name and were happy to run races with the boys, as well as getting up to other duck-related mischief!
Somewhat frustratingly they were both drakes- no eggs, so after a while we added to our flock by buying three lovely ladies. It was hilarious! The drakes were still under the illusion they were humans like us and were extremely nervous of the three feathered creatures we'd introduced, whilst the ducks, being naturally drawn to flock, desperately pursued them around the garden. Eventually they reached an uneasy truce, but it literally took several months!
The boys were happy to help feed and water the ducks, they could shut them up at night and let them out in the morning, and they loved to collect the eggs once the girls were laying, so they also learned a bit about the responsiblity of looking after animals, tho we were all less keen on the mucking out aspect!
Run boys- here come the girls!
Sadly, a couple of months ago we woke up to discover the remains of one duck on the lawn and the other four completely vanished, despite having been secured in their run the evening before. We initially suspected a fox, but the lack of any sign or sound of struggle made us wonder if the four missing ducks had been stolen. Either way we felt pretty bereft as they were part of the family. I think we adults miss them more, tho the boys do talk about them quite a bit. I guess pets are a pretty obvious way to explore the stages of life and the reality of death.

I can see you!
We've never owned a caged pet- I'm afraid my memory of hamsters has changed from one of lovely pet to one of a somewhat sad and smelly creature who racketed around a lot in the night. We did temporarily look after a little mouse that Ripley brought in for the kittens to play with! It lived quite happily in a tub in the kitchen being fed on tasty but probably inappropriate treats until we decided it was time to release it into the sack of straw for the ducks that lived in our end shed.

Despite the cost and the hassle of pets there's no doubt they bring benefits for kids- seeing the cycle of life and death; learning to care for something living and understanding that it is a permanent responsibility- you can't just forget to feed them; having a friend who doesn't judge you or fall out with you; getting outside and active with them; I definitely think it's worth it. If you can't face having pets of your own you can always spend time with friends or relatives who do, or if you only want something free and temporary, you can always have tadpoles or a very furry caterpillar!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Before the boys were born I had various good intentions about how we would bring them up. They were never going to eat biscuits or drink squash, never going to watch tv, definitely no computers etc etc. I also believed that I could bring them up fairly gender neutral. I wasn't going to deny the gender they were. I don't think that giving a child a totally neutral name and refusing to say "good boy!" is right- it seems to me it might make them think there's something wrong with being a boy, or that you are disappointed with their gender. However I wanted them to be free to develop however they were going to, and to enjoy playing with toys/games that were traditionally designed for either sex. Hoho. I suppose if I'd filled the house with dolls they would have made the best of it but there was absolutely no question that the things they both enjoyed most were tools and technical stuff.
As soon as they were mobile, anything with buttons or an on/off switch was fair game. Anything that could be tinkered with was given a thorough work out. Ok they did both push dolls in pushchairs at the toddler group, but I think it was the wheels and speed they were really drawn to- I didn't notice an awful lot of nuturing for the poor "baby" that was being rocketed around the hall; and they played with the toy cooker- buttons to press and turn.
They had various toy tools to play with when they were little, which they did enjoy (it is suprisingly satisfying to whack a wooden peg through a little hole!) and they still use little tools like spanners and allen keys for meccano-type construction toys;  but with a DIY daddy in the house there was no doubt that they quickly knew they'd rather play with the real thing.

Helping build the tree house.
Oooh, a real hammer!
Martin has been really good at explaining how tools should be used correctly, and the possible consequences if they're not. He's quick to take tools away again if they look like they're putting themselves or each other at risk, so the kids know not to mess around. There have been times I've felt he's trusted them too far, but so far there haven't been any injuries and they've learned and practised lots of new motor skills as well as useful DIY techniques that will stand them in good stead in the future.

Zac "helped" him construct the tree house aged 18 months, and they both got involved in making the climbing frame. Hitting a nail with a hammer requires pretty good hand-eye coordination, and getting a screwdriver into the end of a screw and then keeping it there while you turn it is also a tough challenge for your fine motor skills!

Investigating my new tools.
Off to the shed.

For Danny's third birthday Martin gave him a real tool box with some real tools in, and an electric screwdriver! I wasn't sure, but of course Danny was thrilled. He had a plank of wood with a few screws knocked in, and spent ages screwing and unscrewing them with his brilliant new tool.

Martin also let the boys get involved when he was building our utility room- ultimate joy!

It's not only DIY tools they love, gardening tools are also very appealing. The boys both love being given a proper trowel or spade to dig with and they're now allowed to use the secateurs and even the fly-mo under supervision.
You can dig much deeper with a real spade.

Two men went to mow.

So I guess in our house, tools have been a great way to practise a range of motor skills by tapping into something they're genuinely interested in. Tools have also allowed us to give the boys a sense of responsibility- we've trusted them to do something quite grown-up and they've responded by being especially sensible whilst using them. And at the same time, the kids have learned some genuinely useful skills for the future so hopefully they'll be able to look after us, and their own families when the time comes!

I love this blog-post about children using real tools at their pre-school to make a water wall. What a fantastic opportunity:
Or how about Teacher Tom's arty take on power tools with young kids:

Friday, 24 May 2013


I was looking back over recent posts and wondered if there were other props, like our plank, that have been used for multiple things. One that sprung to mind was buckets because we've currently got a big orange one which seems to be permanently lying about on the grass looking untidy- every time I put it away one of the boys needs it for something and it reappears.

So here's a run down of some of the ways they've used a variety of buckets (sorry, I do realise this is a bit random, but I'm running short on ideas and I want to get to 50 posts before I quit!!)
Water play:

In the garden the boys have often used a bucket to make streams down our bits of drainpipe and gutter or through the sandpit.
At the beach a bucket is essential equipment for collecting water to keep the various creatures you might find in happily, or to fill up the moat of your sandcastle. And we were very glad we'd brought the buckets camping when the boys spent a lot of time mucking about in the little stream.

A couple of years ago I agreed to organise some apple-bobbing at the pre-school's halloween disco, and the boys still associate our enormous toy bucket with this. Somehow the kids managed not to get too soaking wet, and with apples with the longest stalks I could find, they were even able to successfully hoik some out with their teeth.

Buckets of water can be useful too. Both boys enjoy being given the job of washing the car, or washing garden toys, and they will happily mop the kitchen floor- though I only give them a little bit of water else they turn it into an indoor swimming pool! A bucket full of soapy water is an easy place to get yourself clean too if you've been playing muddy games in the garden! 

Sand play:

Although we also use yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and all sorts of other things, there's no doubt that the best sandcastles are made with a bucket!


Collecting things:

Various of the boys' small buckets have been acquired at Easter time with chocolate in, and have then been used for their Easter hunt, collecting little eggs around the garden. I've also had them, buckets in hand, collecting the heads of all the dandelions on the lawn before they go to seed. Zac's recently been using the orange bucket to collect sand, gravel and water to make "cement" for his latest building project in the bushes!

"Haul away Danz!"
We have a bucket on the end of a pulley attached to our "tree house" which the boys use to winch things up. Sometimes they ask me to put a surprise snack in there and then haul it up to see if it's anything exciting. They also used to haul small balls up to post down the drain pipe.


We've used a bucket to shoot a variety of balls into, as an easy version of basketball, or sometimes the boys have rolled balls down the slide, over a jump and into a bucket.
Wish it tasted like hot chocolate too!

Brewing beer:

Oh, no, that's just Daddy!

I'm sure there are many other uses for a bucket. The boys have definitely used upturned buckets as seats, for jumping off and as a makeshift drum kit.
What might your kids do?

Update! Danny's class at school were given a homework project of making a musical instrument from recycled materials and emailing a clip of them playing it to school. Surprise, surprise he made the most of a whole selection of random buckets to make a drum kit. Not the most polished performance but he arrived home yesterday dead chuffed because, "I watched me on the massive whiteboard!"