Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The simplest toddler craft

I was browsing through old photos and found this one:

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
The simplest toddler craft ever.

All you need is:
- a bucket
- an old paintbrush
- some water
- lots of imagination

I've no idea how we first decided it could be fun to paint with water but we did; and still today, 3 years on, it retains it's charm.  It is it's simplicity and the joy of creating pictures where you'd never otherwise be allowed.

In this photo Rachel painted a face, that was her obsession through ages 2 and 3.  Age 4 brought animals, trees and flowers. And now at age 5, nearly 6, she 'paints' secret messages or plays hangman or makes repeating patterns.

She loves it, her friends love it, I love it.  The simple things really are the best.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Birthday party planning - food

We are at part seven of the birthday party planning series which started here . This time we look at kids party food.

This is the bit I detest, the only bit I find annoyingly complicated; what food to offer the kids.  You know you should have healthy options but let's face it you'll have to bring them home again.  You know parents won't appreciate kids going home high on sugar, but they love it.  It's a tightrope of nightmare.

And yes, I speak from experience because over the past five years I've tried all the options.

A buffet - messy, time consuming to set up and clear up and results in only the biscuits, cakes and crisps being eaten.  But at least parents graze it as well and no one complains about it.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Individual boxes - cute, the kids love them and tend to take them home afterwards.  But they're fiddly to make up and you can guarantee cheese haters get the cheese sandwiches.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Pizza and Ice Cream - fabulously easy, a real treat for many.  But of course there are those kids who don't like pizza or ice cream and that can be tricky.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

This year Rachel has asked for pizza and ice cream again and so we're doing that.  I'm debating whether to have some backup snacks just in case and will probably give in.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Boys can't be boys apparently

Have you seen this article about a Swedish preschool which has removed all reference to gender at their setting?  Go on, take five minutes and have a read.

Read it?
Kept your cool?
I didn't manage to, so here's my rant tuppence worth.

I don't understand the need to denounce the fantastic differences between boys and girls.  I believe in celebrating them.  

I am a woman, I am a mum, I was a girl, I will be an old lady and hopefully a granny.  It's a statement of fact and it can't be denied.  Being a woman is important to me in that it allows me to be a mum.

I was a tomboy, I preferred cars to dolls, I loved (and still love) Lego, I am a chartered engineer, I worked almost entirely with men, I built on my natural skills and never let my gender be an issue.  Yes I was a rarity as a female engineer but only as much of a rarity as a male nurse of primary teacher, and we all know at least one of them.

I am not a feminist.  I am sure I deserve to be grateful that I live in a post-feminist world but basically gender doesn't matter to me in the work place.  I hope that most of western world has the same experience of being able to achieve whatever they want in life.

I just don't get the need to remove gender from society.  How about we celebrate our gender as well as celebrating our individuality.  

Some of us are nurturing, others practical, others technological, others sporty; these are the things that matter.  We should celebrate the fact that men and women can both be chefs and nurses and engineers and weightlifters.

Let me share my own experience of Rachel briefly.  I wanted to provide her with both boys and girls toys, it seemed to me that it would allow her to choose what she preferred. 

Here she is at age 3 making a playground out of Lego for her soft toys to play in - that's truly gender non specific and perfect for her!
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

She loves racing cars and collecting sylvanian families; she jumps rope and tackles me if I get the football; she loves to build and demolish towers and read quietly about fairies.  She is her; she is individual.

But she also knows that she's a girl.  
She understands that she's genetically and physically different than boys. She hopes to be a wife and mother, as well as a zoo keeper/poet.  And that matters, it's worth celebrating especially in this world where our gender doesn't stand in our way.

Get bridge building

As a civil engineer I worked on a lot of major building and engineering projects including:
- fire station
- mental hospital
- factories
- airports
- tube stations
- rail and road tunnels
- motorways
- railways

For this reason much of the art and craft that I plan with Rachel is structured and symetrical; it just comes naturally. Even my more floaty projects end up very exacting. But today I get to celebrate that, today I can share with you the joy that is bridge building.

This is a project that can be done by anyone of any age; from pre-schoolers exploring the world around them, through to teens experimenting with physics. It's fabulous for all, especially if they're in competing teams. So come on, give it a go.

- pile of newspapers or any old paper
- a large role of cellotape
- a pair of scissors
- ten dinky cars or small wooden trains
- a gap across which you need a bridge - anything from 5cms to 1metre.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

To build a bridge across a gap which will hold as many dinky cars as possible.

There is no right or wrong way to go about this; but with Rachel I tend to try and create something which looks like a road/railway. The most important things is that it is strong but not too heavy.

1. Make rolls of paper
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

2. Tape the rolls together into bricks
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

3. Make at least six of these bricks
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

4. Erect the bridge with at least two layers of these bricks to span the width
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

5. Colour it with pens, paint it with paint or just leave it au naturel
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

6. Test your bridge by driving car/trains into the middle of it
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I dare you not to want to build another and another and another to see how successful you can get. On the other hand that might just be us as a very engineering based family. Enjoy, I can't wait to see your bridges.

This post is happily hosted at Red Ted Art Get Crafty along with other fabulous transport crafts, please go and take a look.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Birthday Party Planning - theme

This is the sixth part of the series on Birthday Party Planning which started with the introduction. This post discusses party themes.

I'm all up for theming a birthday party, it's so much easier to make the majority of choices if you're constrained by a theme. Yes I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it's always worked for me.

If you've followed this series from the beginning you'll already know the themes of each of Rachel's birthday parties and then upcoming 6th:
1st Birthday - Teddy Bears Picnic
2nd Birthday - Fifi party
3rd Birthday - Painting party
4th Birthday - Tinkerbell disco party
5th Birthday - Pottery painting and crafty party
6th Birthday - High School Musical 3 party

I chose the first two, focussing on things in Rachel's life which she loved. She then selected each of the following party themes, that's where she always starts in April when she's thinking about what party she'd like. She comes up with a theme, this year High School Musical 3; we discuss how this might work as a party and what she'd like to do and from there it all takes off.

So this year we started off by re-watching, for the dozenth of so time, High School Musical 3. Rachel's first suggestion was that we could play the film at the party and start and stop it to have games. We ruled this out for it's technological complexity. I looked at whether anyone can be hired to run a HSM3 party but the only options were a straight disco or a cheerleading party, neither of which was quite meeting Rachel's exacting standards. Eventually we came to the actual plan which we will be hopefully achieving in 3 weeks time; to play the HSM3 music and have games associated with each one.

Where else does the theme take us? It forms the basis for:
- invitations
- food
- birthday cake
- party bags

Themes work for us, they are a focus and ensure that I don't get carried away. It is even easier now Rachel chooses the theme, that's one less concern off my shoulders.

Silent sunday

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Silent Sunday

Friday, 24 June 2011

Flashback Friday

As you'll see in my previous post I'm not in the greatest of moods today.  But hey, it'll just be a different flavour of flashback Friday.

I'm flashing back 18 years.
I'm flashing back to my last A-Level exam - business studies.
I'm flashing back to leaving the exam and heading straight to Glastonbury.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Now there's a memory to cheer me up.
My first festival.
My first "holiday" with friends.
My first 'experience' of all sorts.

We saw Jamiroquai in a tent for unknown bands.  Now I feel old.

We saw Pulp on the main stage.

We lay on the ground watching the OMD Lightshow at midnight.

I can't remember who else we saw, but we saw lots!

We couldn't find our tent one night so slept at the standing stones.

It was the sunniest weekend ever and we all got sunstroke, but who cares.

We travelled home via coach and train and all sorts in a daze; I vaguely remember feeling very lost at Reading train station.

We had a ball.
Now that's a flashback and a half.
Mood lifted, Glastonbury memories rock'

Today I'm one of THOSE mums

You know the mum I referring to!

That's me today.

I'm not proud of it.
I don't like myself like this.
But I'm tired.  I'm tiiiirreedddd.

Woken by a Furby at 2am - not funny!

Woken by Mike at 5am - "I'm stressing about work so I'm going in, I wanted you to know".  Hello! Note!

Woken by birds at 6am - annoying birds.  I should have known then I was going to be a moody mare; I love the sound of bird song normally, but not today.

Ok so maybe it's not all tiredness, maybe I'm just hormonal or something; but don't you dare suggest it!  Your best self preservation technique is to ply me with chocolate.

Or as Rachel knows, a hug, that always helps.  Unless we're in a rush in which case "not now Rachel".  Oh no, I really am not fit for motherhood today, where's the darkened room?

And typical of all typicals; it's sports day.  Go Rachel go Rachel.  I CAN do it, I CAN! 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Handmade Thursday Amazement

I haven't been here before.
I've not been brave enough to share my crafting.
Truth be known I've only started making anything creative in the last few months.

It started with broaches
Then moved to scarves which I sell to friends and friends of friends
I've knitted animals if asked by Rachel

And today I took a leap into the unknown.
Thanks to Red Ted Art and her guest post by Mary I have attempted a whole new level of creation. The shabby chic heart.

I can't believe I managed it. With some help from Rachel - yes, really this is great for children who can do knots.

Here is the first, made out of an old scarf I had donated to Rachel's play box.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

And this is the second, made with satin rainbow material I had left over from Rachels party last year.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
I am thrilled with the results and will definitely be making more.

One hour later:
and here's the next one, an R for Rachel.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Birthday Party Planning - guests

This is the fifth part of the series on Birthday Party Planning which started with the introduction. This post discusses the guest list.

Before you crease over with laughter please do not think that guests lists for kids are less fraught with dangers and social faux pas than those for a wedding. It's very important that all the right kids are invited; and that's not only defined by the children themselves, but also by their parents.

These are the rules of thumb we have always worked with:
- no more than 20 children can come to a party at home
- 35 is the drop dead limit for guests when room is no constraint, after that the party bags become too much
- always write down who you want to invite, it easily gets out of control otherwise

And as for who...
- any children that have invited Rachel to their party automatically get an invitation
- Rachel picks her 5 must have guests, and they are checked regularly in case her "social situation alters"
- nephews and godchildren are invited as well, luckily Rachel wouldn't exclude them for the world
- we have a reserve list, Rachel can never have too many people at her parties and so her guest lists go on forever. this is the perfect way of coping, there are always those who can't come for one reason or another

London 2012 we have tickets!


Yes we are one of the lucky families.
We were successful in the London 2012 lottery.
We have been allocated tickets.
What have we got?

Some clues:
- it's in the ExCeL centre
- there are 15 categories
- both men and women compete
- the current record holder is Iranian
- competitors apply chalk on their hands

This is one of the Team2012 athletes

I won't spoil the suspense, just yet, I'll leave you to comment with some guesses first. what sport do you think we will be seeing at London 2012?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Fathers Day: make or buy?

It's the age old debate.  Do you help your kids make something lovely for dad, or do you buy him something?

I know my preference for Mothers Day, it's homemade all the way; but Mike is less impressed by Rachel's artistic creations.

So this year we've gone for a mix and match, best of both worlds approach.  Rachel has made a card, a picture, a star and a heart for him.  
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

As you can see he liked them and Rachel was very proud of her creations.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

We've also bought him a "daddy cool" pint glass and a pair of "top daddy" socks.  We're also taking him out to lunch.  So for us it's make AND buy.

How about you?

The gallery: dad

It's Fathers day, what further excuse do I need to talk about Mike.  Add into the mix a special The Gallery as well and..... bingo heres the post.

This is the most recent photo of Rachel and Mike, taken at lunch today.  Cuddles and chats and good times.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

But this is the photo from the last few years that I most adore.  It just captures their relationship of fun and climbing.  

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Mike has a very different relationship with Rachel than me; but I'm slowly learning that that's just perfect, that's why there are 2 parents in most families.  

Their bond is more rough and tumble and they fall out a lot more often; in fact they're more like siblings than anything and that'd make sense seeing as how they're both only children.  They can wind each other into hysteria, and just as quickly into meltdown.  But they love each other and I love seeing that.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Silent Sunday

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Silent Sunday

Making an Origami Boat

Rachel's topic for the last half term
of year 1 is "Castaway" with a focus on islands and boats.  So today she wanted to make a boat.  

Mike came to the rescue by remembering how to make an origami one.  He taught her how how to turn a simple piece of paper:
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Into a hat:
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

And finally into a boat:
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

In fact he taught her so well that here she is with her video instructions:

We now have an Armada of boats to take to school on Monday.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

"I want to go to bed" by Rachel

Here is a story Rachel wrote; it's about how she thinks she first met her friend/boyfriend Adam.  

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

In fact they met when they were a few months old.  But the story is still adorable and worth sharing.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Swimming lesson lessons

Some kids take to swimming straight away; like ducks to water.  Rachel was like that before she was 6 months old, then something went wrong.  I don't know what; but she started to hate the water.

She got better in water when she could walk, but screamed at lessons so we gave it up as a bad job.  That may not have been the best idea but I didn't think it would be good to keep taking her into water when she was so distressed.

Through all this she loved going to the pool recreationally; so that's what we did.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

We tried lessons again when she was 3, but she was unable to get her arms and legs to do what they wanted.  She wasn't coordinated and that was ok, except she got cross with herself and didn't want to go anymore.  We stopped again.

At age 4 we did a course of one on one lessons which got her safe in the water and made her realise she could swim.  A breakthrough.  Now when we went swimming together she swam, properly, fantastic.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

When she started at school there were no slots for her to continue these lessons, so she stopped again.  I thought that might be it.  But she kept saying she wanted to swim better and do lessons like her friends.

So I jumped at the chance of getting into some new lessons that a friend recommended.  It had to be worth a try.  The company running these lessons is Prime Sports and they run swimming lessons at a number of pools in the Reading area.  

I wasn't sure Rachel would take to it, but she has excelled in just three lessons.  She likes the smaller classes, the more focussed style and the fact that there's always a coach in the water.  She feels safe.  

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

In the first week she swam 5metres for the first time ever.  

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Since then she has swum it on her back (her preferred option) and also her front and even jumped into the pool, I never thought I'd see that.  She is confident and excited to swim.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Why am I sharing this?
So that anyone else who has problems with finding the right swimming lesson for their child knows to keep persevering.  There's a swimming lesson out there somewhere that will fit.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Meet Wenlock and Mandeville Book Review

Today Amazon delivered to our door the new book "Meet Wenlock and Mandeville".  

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

The book is a children's story telling how the Olympic and Paralympic mascots were created.  It is an official book of the London 2012 games.

The story is adapted from a Michael Morpurgo story; it has a pedigree and it shows.  The story works, combining reality with story telling; and the illustrations jump off the page, making it appealing.

I read it to Rachel and then she read it to us; now that's the sign of a good book.  Here's the first page read by her:


The best thing about the book is that it's got Rachel excited about going to the Olympics; now to find out what tickets we've got!

We won't be precious with our copy, it'll be just one of our many books; but I bet this becomes a 'must have' item in years to come. So maybe it's worth another £3.99.

Well done London2012; great book.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Birthday Party Planning - Games

This is the fourth part of the series on Birthday Party Planning which started with the introduction. This post discusses party games.

Obviously party games need to be age appropriate, so I will divide them up into brackets. But please know that the categorisation is a generalisation; Rachel would always concentrate at least a year before many her age would and I know some who still at 6 would rather not sit and wait for pass the parcel.

Under 3 year olds
This age can really only cope with an hour including some food and cake, therefore you'll only need one or two games such as:
Pass the Parcel with something in every layer
Pin the tail on the donkey - or blu tack the nose on the clown
Musical bumps
Burst the bubbles - who can burst the most bubbles

They have more stamina now, and get bored more easily, so there are sll the above plus...
Musical Statues
Balloon over and under race - two teams
Follow the leader
Sleeping Lions

5 year olds and over
All the above, yes Rachel still demands Pass the Parcel, plus...
Treasure Hunt
Duck, Duck, Goose
Memory Game - who can remember all the party items on the tray
Guess the object - blind fold them and get them to feel weird objects
And just dancing competitions, especially for girls

And if all else fails then give them a load of balloons and they'll be happy for hours trying to catch them and throw them.

Birthday Party Planning - Invitations

This is the third part of the series on Birthday Party Planning which started with the introduction. This post discusses party invitations.

I adore hand designed and hand made and personalised party invitations. I just like the way they stand out from the crowd and bring me a promise of a special party. So you won't be surprised that apart from one year I have had personalised invitations for Rachel's birthday parties.

Teddy Bears Picnic

Fifi Party

Painting Party

Tinkerbell Disco

Crafty Party

And here is this years' invite, to the High School Musical Party.

If I have inspired you to create your own invitations here are some lessons I've learned:
1 - have all important information on one side
2 - make sure the date, time and venue are very obvious
3 - make it look fun so the kids get excited to receive them
4 - include the RSVP system; it's hard enough to get people to reply even if you've told them how to do so.