Friday, 26 April 2013


I'm not sure how, in two short weeks, I've gone from posting about flowers to posting about fighting- such is motherhood I guess!
Actually I picked today's theme because it was St George's Day this week and the boys were allowed to dress up accordingly to celebrate. It occurred to me that it was an unusual break from what is considered appropriate, that they should suddenly be encouraged to bring weapons to school and to celebrate someone killing something (albeit foam swords and a dragon.) That's kind of how it is with violence. In principle I would love the boys never to have a violent thought, our house to be weapon-free and for the whole world to live in peace and harmony, but it aint like that. These things creep in and I'm not sure that you can fight it (pardon the pun.)
A case in point is guns.  Up until last year the only toy gun we had in the house was a tiny machine gun that had come in amongst a box of hand-me-down toys and probably once belonged to an action man. Zac in his innocence thought it was a drill and went around happily fixing things with it, and we did nothing to disillusion him.
Although we hadn't made a definite no-gun policy, I was very happy to avoid them. It's not a pleasant thing to see your little darling holding a violent weapon and shouting "bang, bang you're dead!" However, our kids are not isolated from the world. Inevitably, one day they went to a friend's house and discovered the joy of nerf guns. Danny in particular was completely enthralled. The little gang of them charged around the garden shooting each other, hiding to ambush their foe and leaping out with great battle cries. They had a ball. Danny announced the only thing he wanted for his fourth birthday was a nerf gun. Hmmmm. Reader, I caved in!
I did read quite a lot of opinions on the subject. Some, like this one, reassured me that it wasn't the end of the world: . Plus I have to confess, I could see the attraction. They are fun, exciting and they are an outside-and-active activity. In fact, although we initially got one for each of the boys, Daddy was so bad at waiting for his turn that we had to get a third for him to join in.
Nerf wars with Daddy.
There are some rules. We don't shoot people where it hurts. We don't shoot people who don't want to be shot. We don't talk about killing. The guns are brightly coloured TOYS, not replicas of a real thing, and the pellets are also soft and colourful. I'd rather they were running around the garden shooting toy guns than sitting infront of a screen simulating the real thing. OK, I'll stop justfying the decision now.
I wonder if I'd feel differently if we lived in the US. I feel thankful every time there's another tragedy in the news that we live somewhere where we'd never consider having a real gun in the house, and where the debate about arming people in schools seems utterly inconceivable.
Ouch! A plastic sword hurts!
So yes, the boys fight. Not just with guns. When they are knightly, they have sword fights. Initially this was with plastic swords but they soon discovered that if you get hit you get hurt, so we only do slow-motion fighting with those and use foam ones if we really want to whack each other.
Similarly, they fight with light sabres, but know that if they hit each other hard the light sabre breaks so it's better to do choreographed fighting with the "proper" ones and use lengths of foam pipe insulation instead for a full on battle between the Jedi and the Dark Side!

Snowball fight!
I don't think this kind of fighting is a problem. Role-playing different characters and being physically active in this way seems natural to young boys and I don't believe it is in any way preparing them to be violent or agressive in the future. However if it doesn't sit right, there are other "fights" that are also fun and active and perhaps have less violent connotations. The boys love a full-on pillow fight, they think having a water fight is absolute heaven, they regularly wrestle with each other and with Daddy, and if it snows...

Of course, they also FIGHT. They are siblings. It happens.
My new brother... friend or foe?
When I was expecting son 2 one of my greatest fears was that they might not get on. I read quite a lot about sibling rivalry and the optimum age gap between siblings (although it was a bit too late to do anything about that!) I'd taught siblings who were close enough in age to end up in the same class in our little village school, and knew that they could be really unkind to each other. I pictured years of being the referee in a war zone.
Zac was 19 months when Danny was born, and I followed the advice and made sure that I wasn't holding the baby when he arrived to visit us in the hospital ward and that the baby had a lovely present for him in his crib. I confess, I thought Zac was probably too young to appreciate any of this but there was no harm in the baby making a good first impression. I also let him "help" with the baby and hold him as much as I could bear in the early days.
These are your ears...
Danny was a very demanding baby. He cried A LOT. In fact it felt like he cried pretty much non-stop for the first 7 months. Zac was amazingly tolerant. He hardly seemed to notice that Danny was constantly screaming. He chatted to him about this and that in his own baby talk. He showed him stuff and demonstrated all his skills, and by the time Danny could sit up they already seemed to have formed some kind of brotherly alliance.
Of course, they do not get on all the time and there are periods when our home does feel like a battle ground. They each know exactly how to wind the other up and which buttons to press to get the biggest reaction. But on the whole they are pretty good brothers. I don't know if letting them play-fight helps but I think a bit of good-natured rough and tumble does help form bonds and get some of their natural aggression out in a way that makes them less likely to hit out when they are properly fed-up with each other.

Brotherly love.
I'm reading the description at the top of my blog and wondering how this post meets my own mandate!!
Well, I guess that wrestling, pillow-fighting, throwing snowballs etc are free and active activities. The role-playing element develops their imaginations, and I reckon that through fighting for fun they do learn a bit about self-control and about empathising with the other participants, otherwise the fun very rapidly ceases. Will that do?

Friday, 19 April 2013


Can I flip it?
Yes I can!
Yesterday, Danny got home from school and found that the strong wind had finished off the demolition job he'd begun on his den and the bits of timber were lying scattered about. After a bit of discussion about whether a big bad wolf had come to "huff and puff it" while he was out, he moved on to some very entertaining rubber-duck-flipping. He put a short plank across another piece of wood like a seesaw, carefully placed a little blue duck on one end, and stamped hard on the other. It was surprisingly effective! The rubber duck soared high into the air in a very satisfactory way and he kept up with this game for quite some time. He also tried with a ball, but found that the ball rolled off the plank before he could get to the other end to jettison it. Eventually he stamped so hard the plank came up and hit him on the head- lesson learned!
It reminded me of that tv program "Whose Line is it Anyway?" where the contestants were given a prop and had to think of as many uses for it as they could. Planks have been used for a lot of stuff in our garden, some of which I know I've mentioned already in this blog and others a bit more random, so here's a run down of a few!
  • Dens:
Making the plank roof.
This will be the chimney!
Inside the plank tent.
Danny's most recent, and not very wolf-proof den, was made out of bits of board with planks to make the roof. He even filled it with leaves to make it cosy. But an easier and more effective one they made involved creating a tent out of a bedspread hung over a plank and weighted down with stones along the edges. As you can see, there was not quite room to stand up, but again they filled it with random bedding and toys and made it all homely.

  • See-saws 
When's it going to tip?
A like-a-bike challenge
See-saws in parks are generally too big for little kids- their legs don't touch the ground and they're not heavy enough to make their end go down, which means poor mummy has to put in most of the effort. But a plank across a log gives the same effect, although it is a bit less stable! Walking over a low seesaw can feel quite risky because they're never quite sure where the tipping point will be, and biking over it is fun too because you suddenly tip and roll.

Martin made this temporary see-saw for the boys and it worked really well, tho looking at the picture now I can't believe they didn't keep tumbling off! They definitely had lots of fun with it:

  • Balancing on and jumping off
I talked about using planks for balancing in my post on gross motor skills. We've used fixed ones and movable ones at various different heights and the boys have gained a lot of confidence physically from learning to walk along them. They also love jumping off of course!
It's a long way down!
That's more like it.

  • Ramps 

We've had lots of plank ramps for endless wheeled toys to drive up and down, for bikes to do jumps over, and even for the kids to climb up.

  • Tool practice
For small boys, there is nothing better than to be allowed to use real tools. The boys were allowed to play with bits of timber while Martin was constructing part of the climbing frame, and really enjoyed banging in nails and screwing in screws. It was great for their fine motor skills and they managed not to injure themselves or each other because they took the task so seriously, having been given a health and safety briefing about the responsibility of handling real tools correctly by Daddy!

  • Other randoms
Zac, being a very keen draw-er has used the balance planks as an outdoor desk.

Modelling the soggy-trousers look
Art in the long grass.

Danny once spent a lot of time being a surfer by lying on a plank and shouting "paddle... paddle... pop-up!" before falling off onto the grass and pretending to be eaten by a shark! Plus they both used the plank as a cat walk when their big sister became a model and they thought they'd rather like to do some modelling too!
And if, like us, you're likely to leave a plank lying around on the grass for days after you've finished playing with it you can investigate what happens to the grass it covers and which creatures set up home underneath it.
So there you go. It's even possible to be creative with  something as basic as a plank of wood. What else could we try?

Toy coconut shy.
Plank riding?!

Here's a clip of the professional prop-guys to make you chuckle:

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Take time to smell the roses.
One thing I love about my boys is that they can be really enthusiastic about ANYTHING.
I'm dreading the day when they decide that enthusiasm is not cool and that only the few things which their peers dictate are "sick" (or whatever the word may be by then) are allowed to be discussed with any overt interest.
A case in point is flowers! The boys really appreciate them and will happily point out how beautiful they are, or that they smell delicious. It's really endearing... and I can't see it lasting!

We were lucky enough to have a week in France just before Easter, and the French countryside had done a much better job than ours of noticing that it is Spring.
One evening the boys played outside in an adjoining field until after sundown, and then came to get us to show what they'd been up to. They'd made a "beautiful hedge" by threading it with dandelions they'd picked in the field. It had kept them occupied for ages and they were really pleased with their handiwork, which was indeed surprisingly effective!

I have mentioned before that I am not an avid gardener. When we moved in to our house the garden had lots of rose bushes. My husband is not a fan of roses, he objects to being grabbed by the thorns, and he promptly dug up most of them. As a compromise we didn't put them straight in the compost, but replanted them around our gravel drive. I'm glad we did because they have flourished out there and the boys have enjoyed the multi-sensory experience of burying their nose in the soft petals and inhaling the amazing scent.
Rose petal confetti.
Plus when each flower goes over, they love to do the dead heading and throw the petals up into the air to make a colourful shower like confetti. The local pre-school once took all the children to the church to enact a wedding, and as they walked back up the lane past our house Zac and I showered them with rose petals, which swirled about in the wind like a snowstorm. The kids loved it!
I'm getting married!
 I remember my cousin and I trying to make perfume as children by mashing roses in water. I seem to remember it smelt ok when it was fresh but went a sinister colour fairly rapidly.

Much taller than me!
Of the flowers we have grown ourselves, the most successful from the boys' point of view have definitely been the sunflowers, because they mostly get MASSIVE. It still seems magic to me that from the tiny seed you plant you get a monsterous flower with a million seed of its own. And the pattern of the seeds themselves is a work of art if you let the flowers dry out.
We made a flower out of sunflower heads.

I loved our wildflower patch too. It was a big splash of colour in our mostly green garden and gave loads of opportunities to watch the insects at work. (see more in my posts on minibeasts and growing things!)

Watching the creatures in the wildflowers.
Busy buzzy bumble bee.
Appreciating the "butterfly bush"
 And the boys thought it was a novel thing to do to eat the nasturtium flowers we grew in it:

The other lovely thing about flowers is that they're another way to mark the passing seasons. From the first snowdrops suggesting winter might be nearly over, to the vibrant daffodils trumpeting in the spring, bluebells hinting summer is on its way, and poppies celebrating the sunshine it's another way for children to notice how things change but repeat across the years.
I'm watering the "daffadeals!"
The scent of spring.

Poppies painting the countryside
A walk through the bluebell woods.
Summer Meadow wanderings.

Ok, so I think you might have gathered that some of the boys' enthusiasm for flowers comes from me. I am called Daisy after all. They've made me enthusiastic about combine harvesters, I've made them exclaim over flowers. I think being enthusiastic and appreciative of the little things in life is probably one of the greatest gifts we can give each other.
My little flower fairy!
Flowery hats!

 Just a little update! Although this post was written over a year ago, the boys are still enthralled when they see a beautiful flowery scene! We've spent lots of time visiting the local bluebell woods this spring, and last weekend went to the Rhododendron gardens at Bowood. The whole place echoed to the sound of the two of them racing around exclaiming over all the different colours and proclaiming which ones smelled lovely too.

Hunting for orchids in a local meadow...

...because they're GORGEOUS!