Category Archives: Parenting

standing up for what you believe in

So, tomorrow’s the big day! #KidsStrike3rdMay, and mine and Sophie’s parallel campaign, #THISislearning (which you don’t have to be striking to join in with!).

How am I feeling? Excited, nervous and frazzled. I have all of the feels at the moment. Sometimes I think my heart might burst out of my chest. I’m like some hopeless romantic or desperate optimist or frightened radical or, I don’t know… it’s exhausting. clouds

The last few weeks have been manic. Actually, ever since I published my ‘No Mr Cameron, No.’ blog post back in March (which ten thousand people read in a week – a number so hugely vast, in terms of this blog, that I still haven’t got my head round it!) things have been feeling slightly out of control. There’s nothing quite like writing a passionate, heartfelt post and having people respond to it in an equally passionate, heartfelt way. To be a bit navel-gazy and pretentious for a moment, I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a journey. I’ve been inspired and enthused, I’ve learned masses and I’ve ended up way out of my comfort zone launching a whole campaign of my own. When people responded the way they did, I couldn’t ignore it. I had to act.

So a month ago I decided to keep my boys off school for the Kids Strike. I wrote a personal letter to their school explaining how happy they have been at their school and that the action isn’t against the school or teachers (who are fab) but against educational policy which NEEDS to change for the sake of all our kids. Some headteachers across the country are marking absences for the strike as ‘educational’ in recognition of that – how wonderful, eh? Totally in the spirit of parents and teachers working together! Still, it’s officially against the law so little goody-two-shoes, rule-abiding me is having to take a deep breath over it all…

… A deep breath while also shouting “Upon St Cripsin’s day!” a la Kenneth Branagh in Henry V (quietly to myself, I’m not THAT weird) and marching onwards.#THISislearning badge final

As for #THISislearning – our parallel campaign to spread positive images, messages and stories about real learning across social media on May 3rd – well, there’s been so much good stuff come from that already. People sharing stories, doing fabulous drawings and really wanting to make it clear to our government that current educational policy is wrong, not just by striking (although hooray for that!) but also by sharing examples of what real learning looks like. That’s what tomorrow is all about for me –  real learning and positive action. Together, a friend and I have all sorts of activities planned, albeit with enough flexibility to follow our kids’ lead. We want the day to be fun, we want them to learn and we want them to see that when it’s important, you have to stand up for what you believe in.

I would love lots of people to join in with #THISislearning. I hope they do. It means so much to me.

Ooh and by the way, another reason April was full-on:

campnano 16 winner banner

Yep. I wrote enough words last month to win CampNanoWriMo.

Phew.

Today nerves, tomorrow the world, after that a nice long nap.

Writing Bubble
And then the fun began...
Writing Bubble

What to do on 3rd May Kids Strike – #THISislearning

I decided to join in with the 3rd May Kids Strike a month ago, set up our #THISislearning campaign two weeks ago and handed in the letter to school informing them of the above, last week. So we’re good to go, all set, know exactly what we’re doing on th… oh wait!

I still don’t know precisely what we’re doing on the day (tomorrow!!!). Not because I have no idea what to do, but because there are SO MANY possibilities and they’re all swimming frantically round my head not really able to find their way to the surface. So, in case any of you are similarly-minded, I thought I’d put together a post with some options. Hopefully by the time I’ve worked my way through it, I’ll have a clearer plan and it will help you too!

Learning ideas for #KidsStrike3rdMay

Arts and crafts:

paints and pencils

  • My boys and I all love creative activities and when I started an illustration course earlier this year I found inspiration on Twitter in the form of #ShapeChallenge. Author and Illustrator Sarah McIntyre posts a shape every day and you can interpret it in what ever way you want. People of all ages and abilities join in. It’s so much easier than staring at a blank sheet of paper and you can tweet the results to a lovely little community. You can read more about our experience of it in this post and also find out more on the Jabberworks Virtual Studio website.
  • We also like Kid Can Doodle who describe themselves as “a club that celebrates creativity through drawing. We believe everyone can draw, and we hope to inspire you to find your own voice.” What’s not to love? It has all sorts of ideas and challenges and masses of inspiration for young doodlers!
  • Red Ted Art is an awesome blog, packed full of creative ideas. Having been a fan of Andy Goldsworthy since seeing an exhibition of his as a child, I particularly love this post about using items from nature to create art.
  • This lovely activity from My Green and Rosie Life involves making rainbow pictures out of leaves, flowers and petals. It also has a story which you read to kids first which adds a little magic, I think!

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)

      • We love science experiments in this house. I wrote a post the other day about some we’d done using water, oil, baking powder and Alkaseltzer to pretty (and pretty-dramatic) effect.volcano experiment
      • This Rosie Revere activity looks like a great little task where kids make their own very simple helicopter (only paper and paperclips necessary) and then experiment to see what changes they can make to the blades so that it flies more slowly. Simple and fun!
      • This one from Red Ted Art about making chromatography flowers looks so awesome I want to try it now (and the kids are in bed!). Where science meets art!
      • I love this post from Handimania about building a child-sized fort out of rolled up newspapers. All you do is roll the paper and tape it into large triangles and you can make lots of different structures depending on how you attach the triangles together. Fling a blanket over the top and it’s a fort (or you could also decorate pieces of paper and attach them instead of a blanket – more time-consuming but, for arty-types, even more fun!)
      • There are some great ideas for construction activities on My Nearest and Dearest. I particularly like the look of building with dyed ice and grapes with cocktail sticks, and the glow in the dark loo roll challenge looks awesome!

Outdoor activities:

      • This post by Sophie is… shows how much fun and learning can be had with mud – painting, landscaping, and creating in so many different ways. And little Arthur is clearly having such a whale of a time I want to join in myself!
      • Luisa at Teaching Tiny Minds is full of good ideas for fun learning activities. I loved this post about having fun with water and puddles – it never would have occurred to me to add washing up liquid or food colouring to them!

        puddle fun #THISislearning

        Luisa’s post inspired me to draw this cartoon.

      • Coombe Mill has loads of great ideas for activities for kids. I really like this idea for ‘fairy cakes and wizards potion‘ which involves making wands, fairy cakes and potions using all manner of natural items. The idea for making sailing boats out of milk bottles also looks fab! Fiona also runs a linky where you can find further inspiration.
      • I read this article (written by a teacher) in The Guardian about geocaching and it sounds great! It’s basically a treasure hunt in the countryside. You can go to various geocache websites and find coordinates for geocaches near you and then go off in search of them. I think my boys would love it!

History/literature:

      • There are wonderful museums and galleries all over the UK, many of which have free entry. Visit Britain details loads of them and Tyne and Wear Museums is great for those living in the North East. If you live anywhere Newcastle Upon Tyne I’d urge you to visit Seven Stories – the National Centre for Children’s Books. We went there a few weeks ago to see their Harry Potter Exhibit – it was fab!touching hedwig's wing
      • The National Trust and English Heritage have wonderful gardens and historic buildings across the country that are well worth visiting. I loved this post by Nikki from A Free-from Life about visiting a Nostell Priory – it really highlighted all the different types of learning that can take place on a day out.
      • A couple of months ago, a friend and I did a murder mystery treasure trail around our village. The trail and clues were all in a booklet on this website which has trails for towns and villages all over the country. Our treasure trail took us round the village we thought we knew well, spotting all sorts of old signs, decorations and carvings, none of which we would have normally noticed. We learned loads about where we lived and the kids all loved it!
      • Read to/with your kids. It’s always so lovely to share stories!

Games:

      • Playtivities has loads of great games which are good to do together as a family or in a group. things like threading dry spaghetti through penne without using your hands, balancing chocolate on your face (‘oh dear, mine seems to have slipped into my mouth!’) bouncing balloons and building towers with fruit. Simple but with lots of opportunities for learning.
      • There are 101 great ideas in this post by Paging Fun Mums. Whether it’s spotting shapes in clouds, blowing bubbles, decorating shells, baking or building a marble run, there’s bound to be something that inspires you!
      • Cricket, football, tennis, volleyball… whatever sport your kids are into, tomorrow is a chance to play it with them. We had great fun setting up our own crazy-golf course last year!

Social activities:

      • Check out the Let our Kids be Kids interactive map which shows you where there are meet-ups all over the country. If you want to share the day of the Kids Strike with others it’s a great place to start. The meet ups I looked at seemed to involve crafty and sporting activities amongst others.

There are also some wonderful activity ideas on our #THISislearning linky. Please feel free to add posts with activities you have there too!

Whatever you do on the day (whether you’re striking or not, and if you homeschool or have pre-schoolers too) I’d love you to share on social media using the #THISislearning hashtag. Together we can all show our government what real learning looks like!

I’m going to publish this post now although I may well add more ideas later on!

With thanks to my fabulous friend Sus for helping me compile this list.

Writing Bubble

don’t doubt, just draw.

I started an illustration course in January and, with a ‘New Year – Raaaah’ sort of energy, immediately threw myself in to a daily drawing practice. I joined in with #ShapeChallenge on Twitter, drew picture after picture and between January and March I noticed a definite improvement in my ability. I really can’t speak highly enough of doing something creative every day. No matter how limited your abilities at the beginning (or, more to the point, how limited you THINK they are because we all seem to doubt ourselves massively!), you WILL improve and seeing that improvement spurs you on to do more and get better!

So there I was, feeling quite chuffed with myself (‘New Year Raaah’ with a tangible outcome has to be something to be proud of), when in Mid-March I was hit by a whole heap of stuff that totally derailed me from my drawing. I couldn’t find time and, because I was drawing so infrequently, everything I produced on the odd occasion I tried, was rubbish. Honestly, it made me cringe. I totally lost confidence and felt quite fed up about it all.

Then last week I gave myself a huge mental shove. I’d felt like I had no time for drawing because so much of my energy was going into blogging and running the #THISislearning campaign, so I decided to combine the two. I started doing tiny daily cartoons about the sort of activities kids love. The sort where they learn masses without even realising it. Where they experiment and persevere and imagine and create. I shared my first two in my last blog post. Here are my next three:

#THISislearning maths buns

I love maths with a positive outcome. Admittedly, “0+effort = lots” is maths only in a very general sense but still…

creative #THISislearning

I had no idea what this kid was making until I’d drawn it!

puddle fun #THISislearning

This was inspired by this post from Luisa at Teaching Tiny Minds: https://teachingtinyminds.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/making-a-river/

I did tiny pictures because somehow it helped my confidence. I’m not sure why… maybe because drawing big feels more risky (if it’s rubbish it’s a big pile of rubbish) and drawing small feels more safe (less of a potential mess)? Who knows, but I’ve enjoyed doing it.

And then a really fab thing happened – an awesome friend of mine –  Sus @MrsJTeaches – started drawing some #THISislearning pictures too. I LOVE them:

#THISislearning @MrsJTeaches
Since then, a couple of other people have expressed an interest in drawing something for the campaign too (thanks guys!) and it got me thinking that I’d love to put together a gallery of #THISislearning pictures on my blog (and share them on social media of course). And I would love you to join in!

It DEFINITELY isn’t a talent competition it’s really about having a go at something creative and having some fun. In fact, you don’t have to draw, you could paint or glue or photograph a tower of creatively poised bananas or something…

If you’d like to join in just tweet your image @writingbubble using the #THISislearning hashtag. Go on, don’t doubt yourself, create.

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explosive experiments

My boys love experimenting with different liquids – making potions and lotions and explosions of all colours and kinds. This is no surprise to me as I loved doing it as a child too! I seem to recall my brothers and me making our mum some rank smelling perfume out of rose petals which we’d squelched underfoot and then squished into a bottle which we topped up with water and glitter. She must have been… thrilled?

Anyway, over the past few years, whenever a rainy weekend hits, the likelihood is, one of my boys will say “Let’s do an experiment!”. Once, they even decreed it “Harry Potter Day” and spent most of the afternoon making potions. When we first started experimenting, we tried a few we got out of a book but along the way we’ve often gone more free-style and have made all sorts of weird and wonderful concoctions, some of which I thought I’d share with you now. Make sure these are done under adult supervision!

Experiment one – the lava lamp

You will need: Vegetable oil, water, Alka-seltzer, food colouring, drinking glass, plate.

Experiment: Put the glass on a plate (you’ll see why later) pour vegetable oil into it until it is just under a half full. Add a similar amount of  vegetable oil. Wait for the oil and water to separate. Add some (maybe ten) drops of food colouring and wait for it to fall to the bottom. Then add an Alka-seltzer and watch the results! The coloured water rises up through the oil in bubbles and the colours swirl.

oil and water

Ok, so I couldn’t find a photo with food colouring in…not at this stage anyway…

The Science:

Stage 1 – Water is denser than oil so it sinks to the bottom and the oil sits on the top. Food colouring is also denser so it falls through the oil and into the water.

Stage 2 – when you add the Alka-seltzer it fizzes when it meet the water. This releases carbon dioxide which reduces the density of the water causing it to rise up and through the oil. When it reaches the top of the oil the carbon dioxide is released and the water sinks again.

Added bit of fun:

Remember the plate? you’ll need it if you follow the next bit which is my boys’ favourite bit of all – they add more and more Alka-seltzer and food colouring and the whole things bubbles up and runs down the side of the glass. It’s pretty impressive!

I don't normally show my boys faces on my blog but this is well over two years old so, meh.

“WE WANT IT TO EXPLODE!” (I don’t normally show my boys faces on my blog but this is well over two years old and they all look different now!) I love the expression on my youngest’s face!

Experiment two – the volcano

You will need: Plastic volcano (we got one with a kit) or a glass, bicarb of soda, vinegar, food colouring, that trusty plate again.

Experiment: Put the volcano or glass onto your trusty plate. Put the food colouring and bicarb of soda into the volcano (or glass). Are you ready? Pour on the vinegar! It froths and foams up and over and down the sides in a very impressive display!volcano experiment

The science:

Vinegar is a weak solution of acetic acid. Bicarb of soda is a base or alkali. When the two are mixed, a neutralisation reaction occurs which releases carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide takes up more space than the bicarb of soda and vinegar hence the bubbling, fizzing, expanding potion!

Experiment three – fireworks

You will need: a large clear plastic (or glass) bowl, beaker, water, tablespoon of vegetable oil, food colouring, water, white paper.

Experiment: Put the plastic bowl on a table with the white paper behind it (a white backdrop makes it easier to see the ‘fireworks’ when they happen). Fill the bowl with water. Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a beaker and mix in a few drops of food colouring. Pour the mixture from the beaker into the bowl of water and watch the effects! The droplets of oil and food colouring float to the surface of the water. Once they reach the surface they explode and sink down like a firework display.

fireworks in a bowl

View from above – personally I liked this view best!

fireworks in a bowl 2

View from the side

The science:

Water is more dense than oil, so the oil and water floats to the surface. When it reaches the surface it bursts and the colouring floats back down, dissolving in the water and causing the colour effects.

Experiment four – floating egg FREESTYLE!

As I wrote at the start, my boys love to experiment, so this was one my six-year-old made up as he went along!

You will need: a drinking glass, an egg, lots of salt, vegetable oil, water, Alka-seltzer, possibly a grape, perhaps a chunk of apple, imagination

Experiment: Pour water and oil into a glass add 2 alkaseltzer, a bite of apple, a grape, washing up liquid and an enormous quantity of salt. Finally gently drop in a whole, unbroken egg. The egg floats and everything looks quite pretty!random potion
The science:

Because this was free-style I’m not entirely sure how the effect was achieved but, having done some research with my son, we think the Alka-seltzer and washing up liquid caused the pretty oil effect at the top. Most interesting though, was the floating egg. It turns out that when salt dissolves in water, it makes it denser. In our experiment, my son added enough salt for the water to become denser than the egg which is why the egg floated! You could actually experiment with this by adding different amounts of salt to water and testing to see what objects could float in different solutions.

If you try any of these experiments, I hope you have fun! There are many more to try and I suspect we’ll be experimenting further on 3rd May so watch out for the results on the #THISislearning hashtag!

If you have any experiments or fun learning activities for kids then I’d love you to share them on our #THISislearning linky – more information here!

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Little Hearts, Big Love

the things they say #8 – unnameable pouches

easter collageIt’s been a really full-on couple of weeks what with it being the easter holidays and the fact that I’ve still been trying to work (ok, only one day but still… ), and write and blog and do my illustration course… and then of course there was the post that went huge and got me into many an inspiring Twitter conversation about education.

But the boys are back to school tomorrow and my blog hits have settled down again so, back to business! This feels like a gear change from recent posts but I do love recording the random things my toddler says, so here’s this month’s edition of silliness from my (just turned) three year old:

  • He loves to draw and currently produces about ten pictures a day – on a slow day! He usually draws with great intensity, taking more and more pens out of the case as he goes. Lids fly everywhere, scribbles adorn the table and ink gets all over his hands. The other day I pointed out he had brown ink all the way up his arms. “Wow!” he said gleefully “It look like a crusty bum!” I blanched, I mean… I suppose.. but thankfully he continued “Yes, a hot crusty bum!” at which point *PING* I realised that some of the marks were in a kind of cross shape and the whole thing was reminiscent of a hot cross bun. Of course. What else could he possibly have meant?
    • He’s noticed that ‘time’ is a thing for us (mostly, it has to be admitted, in the context of “Argh, no, is that the…?!?” rather than, “Oh, no rush, there’s plenty of…”) and has come up with an answer to the inevitable question. If you ask “What’s the time?” in his presence he always pipes up with “Seven pasty nine.” No matter if it’s morning, noon or night, whether he’s racing around outside in the sunshine or being tucked up in bed in the dark, it’s always and only “Seven pasty nine.” Sounds quite a tasty time of day though so I have no complaints!
    • Child of the Eighties? Remember Thundercats?  A few months ago it was available on Amazon Prime (yes, the original version!), and all three boys loved watching it together. They still play Thundercats games together now where they race around acting out the characters. My three-year-old likes to play their huge-haired, muscly leader, “Lion-o”. Except he calls him “Lion-mauve”. I rather like it – makes me think of Lion-o in a hand-knitted cardi. And what’s not to like about that?!
    • I opened the blinds the other day to a sea of mist. “Yay!” said the toddler “It’s froggy outside!”
  • We have parking meters in our town that give you a ticket for a FREE half hour of parking. It’s lucky you can get them for free as the toddler thinks the parking metres are “Minions” and loves to go and say hello and ask them for a ticket. They’re very obliging! You’re probably imagining we have lovely yellow parking meters – that would make sense, right?
     
    minion 2parking meter

    Minion or parking meter? Spot the difference!

  • And finally – one from my eight-year-old. During an average lunchtime conversation recently he made reference to “the pouch that no one dares name…”. He looked at us as if we would know what he was talking about, but we didn’t. After a little encouragement it was revealed he was talking about a scrotum, or scrotums in general. I’ll never view them in the same light again.*snort*
    Little Hearts, Big Love

No, Mr Cameron, No.

No, Mr Cameron, no.
There’s been a post bubbling up inside me about education for a while now, only I’ve not been sure how to articulate what I feel. There’s so much to say.

I keep hearing how changing government standards and expectations are pushing more and more (wonderful) teachers out of the profession. I keep reading about the expectations, targets and tests that are making it harder and harder for teachers to teach in a way that instils a passion for learning into our kids. I’ve read and thought about the impact that these demands could have on the mental health of the next generation; how making school a stressful – or less enjoyable – place to be could damage children’s relationship with education forever. As a parent it worries me. As a member of society it worries me.

We had our school parents’ meetings a few weeks ago and our six-year-old son’s teachers gave us mock SATs papers to look at. I could hardly believe it: five thick test papers covering English and Maths. With a huge emphasis on grammar. With TEST emblazoned on the front and at the back ensuring that any teacher – in the knowledge that telling kids they’re doing ‘tests’ can cause stress – will fail in a mission to pass them off as just ‘some fun’. With one of the maths papers requiring an ability to read and reason before you even get to the actual mathematics. FIVE THICK TEST PAPERS. They’re only six and seven years old!

Then I went into school last week and noticed the handwriting of the kids in my son’s class. I looked and I remembered the papers they were going to be given and my heart sank. How are they all going to manage? These kids aren’t unintelligent or incapable, their handwriting is unrefined because they’re six and seven. They can’t all read perfectly and reason wonderfully yet because they’re six and seven. And the fact that the teachers are unlikely to be able to train them to pass the tests with flying colours isn’t because the teachers are bad – they’re great! But the kids are flippin’ six and seven years old.

The government can’t do this, I thought – they can’t assess all these children’s intelligence and aptitude and potential and possibilities based on these tests. These tests don’t look at how a child’s eyes light up when someone reads them a story or how they can draw a wonderful picture with only a handful of pencils or how they can invent an entire imaginary world with the contents of a recycling bin.

These tests don’t show that that child is awesome at football, that this one can captivate a room with her wicked sense of humour, or that this little boy is really empathetic and kind. Oh, or that this little girl here could one day be a novelist if we don’t teach her, right now aged six, that she can’t write much at all. She can’t write much YET because she’s SIX.

And yet they ARE trying to assess our kids, and these tests necessitate a style of teaching that’s counter to so much research about the best ways that kids learn. A way of teaching that means the rules of grammar take precedence over encouragement to write for the enjoyment of it, or means maths questions must be tackled in a way that no one would ever use in the real world. We have so many talented teachers in this country that are trying so hard to wrestle with the curriculum to make learning as engaging as possible, but the government is making it harder and harder. No wonder they’re resigning in droves. No wonder schools are struggling to recruit staff.

The government can’t do this, I thought.

They can’t do this to our kids.

And then I thought… what if… what if we just don’t let them?

What if on SATs day we parents all agree not to send our kids into school?

Not because we don’t believe in school. Not because we don’t believe in education. But because we DO. We believe, no, dammit, we KNOW it is incredibly important. That it is fundamental to society and that we, as a society, have to get it RIGHT (or heck, right now I’d settle for just ‘not so completely wrong that it makes my eyes bleed’).

What if instead of school that day we have a National ‘Learning Is Fun’ day, where we all teach our kids by giving them exciting, meaningful and memorable experiences?

Where we teach them love of words and stories and literature by reading them great books?

Where we ignite their imaginations with drama and stories and art?

Where we teach them history by visiting interactive museums and talking to people who had real-life experiences?

Where we instil a love of maths or science through practical experiences and experiments?

Where we teach them about the things we love, be they gardening or building or hiking or snorkelling or painting or writing or morris dancing… whatever… in the best way we can?

We do it together, with friends, family or wider communities or we do it on our own, just us and our kids, but everyone does their bit, even if it’s only a tiny bit, to show their children the fun parts of learning and the ways in which it can affect our lives.

And then we share, share, share what we’ve learnt. We share it on social media, on TV, on the radio, in the local paper. We share by drawing pictures and putting up posters… doing pieces of performance art in the street (I don’t know, whatever, just think of something!). We share as much as we can, as widely as we can.

And together we show the government what teachers have been trying to tell them all along if they’d only listen: what really makes children tick, what really ignites their passions, what sets their imaginations free and lets their potential soar.

On that day, we’d do our best to support our country’s wonderful teaching profession. It would be a day when we as parents would say: we will not put our children through this. Our kids deserve better. Teachers and schools deserve better. Society deserves better.

No, Mr Cameron, no.

What if..?

***

UPDATE: I was so overwhelmed by the response to this post that, along with a fellow blogger, I’ve launched a #THISislearning campaign. Please click here to find out more!

*** Since I wrote this post a new petition has been launched at 38 degrees, calling for a SATs boycott on 3rd May. Click here to find out more***

mumturnedmom

This post was inspired by The Prompt which, this week, is ‘Mighty’. I often feel helpless in the face of this government and I got to thinking that although I feel tiny, together we have the potential to be mighty.

You might like to sign these petitions calling for the extension of the Early Years Foundation Stage from “birth to 5″ to “birth to 7″:

This one is on UK Government and Parliament Petitions. If it gets 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in parliament.

This one is on Change.org.

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Stopping at two

the ups and downs of the week that was

It’s been a busy week this week – I’ve barely blogged at all. It’s been one of those periods where I’ve done lots and gained plenty of inspiration for posts, but for one reason or another the posts don’t get written. But as it’s a Sunday night and I still have (just) enough energy to wave my fingers in the direction of computer keys in a way that may result in words, I thought I’d do a quick roundup of the most memorable parts of the week:

My boys - a moment of brotherly love on a walk.

My boys – a moment of brotherly love on a walk.

  • Along with lots of other parents and carers, I went in to school to do some cooking with my six-year-old and his class. We made a variety of different things, the kids loved having us there and it’s such a positive thing to get parents/carers engaged with school and learning I think. I do wonder how often the school will be able to hold sessions like this in the future though, given the government’s focus on children being able to give the proper description to grammatical utterances and deduce complicated mathematics from lengthy stories. There’s a ranty blog post about ridiculous educational standards and the potential impact on children’s self-esteem building up in me…
  • I was witness to a horrible bullying incident and ended up – along with another parent – comforting a young boy and talking to all his friends about how the bully had been treating him. So I saw both a horrible display of lack of empathy (from the bully) and a touching display of empathetic concern from a group of boys. It’s stayed with me (the poor kid was so upset) and I’ll be taking further action to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  • I went to my Grandma’s eighty-seventh birthday party. She’s increasingly frail these days so we were all thrilled that she was able to come to what was quite a large family meal in a lovely hotel. There was much talking and laughing over delicious food and wine but the moment that affected me most during the whole evening was a little look I caught between my Grandma and my ninety-two-year-old Grandpa. It was just after my Grandma had said a little ‘thank you’ speech about how happy she was to see us all there, and the look… it was a look of such love. Of long lasting ‘I’ve loved you through the decades and look what we’ve created together’ love. I was quite bowled over. They’ve been married for sixty-six years. Being with the same person for years and years isn’t always easy – I think we all go through our highs and lows – but that look said it all. That’s love, that.
  • I got to spend some time with my brothers. I love my brothers. There is definitely a post I need to write about how having brothers helps me be a mum to boys.

Lots more happened but I’ll leave it at that as I want to watch some telly (from one screen to another, yes I know, it’ll rot my brain!)

Hope you’ve had good weeks!

the things they say #7 (the facial hair edition)

Do you ever look at your kids and think, ‘how did you get so big? Surely I only gave birth to you last Tuesday?!’ I do, often. It makes me want to make the most of spending time with my boys now (which admittedly can sometimes conflict wildly with the difficulties of just getting through some days!) and also to capture these memories somehow.

running baking

my 3yo taking a jogging break during a baking session!

That’s one of the brilliant things about blogging I think. These posts we write about the cute things our kids say or do and the times we spend together, might only be of limited interest to much of the rest of the world, but for our future selves, what a treasure trove! I can imagine reading this blog when my kids have grown up and loving re-living all the moments it captures. It’s probably inevitable that I’ll wince at some of my more naval-gazing posts, (rather like discovering your teenage diary that waxed rhapsodic about the boy who sat next to you in Geography) but I think I can bear that for the memories it holds.

… which brings me to my newly three year old son‘s language. It’s  developing so fast at the moment, I can hardly keep up! I keep noting down the cute words he uses or the way he phrases things, only to find out he’s moved on from them five minutes later. So the following list of things he’s said recently is already out of date, but I wanted to capture it here anyway for posterity (you’re welcome, future me).

  • On hearing his Dad’s footsteps on the stairs: “Here comes Daddy! He’s the Gruffalo!” My husband insists I misheard and that he in fact said “He’s Mark Ruffalo” (which admittedly would be a more flattering comparison), but no. It’s those terrible tusks that give him away.
  • While he was giving my husband a cuddle on the sofa and stroking his eyebrows (I don’t know why… because eyebrows are strokeable I guess), “I’m stroking Daddy’s libraries!” Ok, they’re considerably thicker than mine, but I’ve yet to find a book in them!
  • To me, when I handed him a sandwich: “Thank you, my love.” I tend to call him poppet or sweetie so I’m not sure where he got ‘my love’ from, but it was very sweet!
  • To him, where timing is concerned most things either happen now or “after later” which appears to be a vague or possibly non-existent time in the future. ‘After later’ is an annoying length of time when applied to the question “When will you clear up your toys?” but very useful when I use it as a response to a request for another biscuit when he’s already had too many. “You can have one after later poppet” “Ok”. Win.
  • He’s small for his age and also the youngest family member so he does get referred to as ‘tiny’ or ‘little’ a lot. Mostly he enjoys this (sometimes he insists he’s still a baby) but the other day he decided to attempt to refute the label with “I’m not little, I’m bigger than Daddy’s eyelashes!” I’m not sure it helped his case…

What have your little ones been saying recently? Is anyone else married to a Gruffalo?

Little Hearts, Big Love

 

a letter to my youngest son on his third birthday

My gorgeous boy,

You are my third child, my youngest son and most definitely my last baby.

You have two big brothers and, when I was pregnant with you, many people speculated about your gender. Some couldn’t seem to help but make assumptions about what we’d want and about what would be ‘ideal’. There seems to be a notion out there that it is best for families to have children of both genders, you see, so this time round a girl would be perfect, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong. You see, YOU, my lovely boy, have always been the perfect third child for this family. Before you were born I used to hope for a ‘laid back’ baby – one of those ones that sits around smiling and isn’t bothered by anything much. I didn’t seriously think I’d get a baby like that though… not really, I mean, how could I be that lucky?!

joanne mcneil photography maddy bennett 2013-6338

The five of us on a rainy walk. Photo by Joanne McNeil Photography

But from the moment you made you entrance into the world (after nine days of stop/start labour – see, you’d already decided to take things slow!) you were so chilled-out I could hardly believe it. The moment of your birth was by far the calmest of the three I’ve experienced (let’s just say I don’t give birth easily!) You didn’t even cry. You were immediately placed in my arms and just gazed up at me with a rather serious, inscrutable expression. I cried. You pooed copiously. We laughed. All was well.

When you came home, your brothers fell in love with you immediately, and as soon as you were capable of anything other than gazing inscrutably, it was clear you loved them too. To this day your big brother claims “you gave me your first smile” and I think he might be right. You fitted in to our family like a jigsaw piece – once missing, now found. Absolutely that calm, happy baby I’d hoped for. Ok, sleep was an issue (for two and a half years… ) but during daylight hours you were Mr Laid-back, takes-it-in-his-stride, ‘I’ll just lie here and watch everyone, and bestow smiles and gurgles’.

brotherly love change

Your big brother wrote this for you when you were a baby. Translation “X’s cute, best of all he always smiles, he’s the best baby brother in the world. Specially he loves all of us.”

Your middle brother started school when you were six months old so you and I have spent a lot of quality time together these past three years. You’ve been such a good companion – happy to just be with me at home, ‘helping’ (?!) with the housework and always perfectly content to come along when I meet friends for coffee. In fact, once you got old enough, you even started requesting “We go for coffee?” as soon as we’d dropped your brothers off at school! “You wouldn’t even know he’s there!” is a comment I’ve heard about you in many a cafe as you sat calmly chewing some toast or playing with your toys.

Of course once you hit the terrible twos you got… an opinion on things. I don’t want to pretend you’ve been perfectly reasonable at all times. But then you’re a little person with big emotions, so stroppiness is bound to appear at some points. You’ve always impressed me with your ability to get over tantrums quickly and your insistence that “I’m not naughty, I’m happy!” has been enough to win me over in your difficult moments numerous times.

You’re such an imaginative boy and are able to entertain yourself for ages. Listening to you playing with your toys always brings a smile to my face. Toy cars for you aren’t just vehicles they’re little people with personalities who talk to each other. Last week I overheard a taxi and a london bus having a chat about “going to the shoppings” (one of your favourite pastimes) to buy “bread, crisps and chocolate mousse” – your cars clearly have good taste!

boys doing shape challenge

Your other favourite activities (aside from casting magic spells by yelling “I got a zebra!”) are doing jigsaws and drawing. It’s lovely to watch you and your brothers sitting side by side, concentrating on your art work. You mostly just scribble but have now begun to proudly put your pictures on the fridge yourself. You even managed to draw a picture of me the other day where I had a recognisable form. When I say ‘recognisable form’ I do of course mean I looked like a hammer with a moustache… but you’re getting there!

You are so loving, so sweet and so funny that your Dad and I can’t help ourselves but say “He’s so cute!” far too often. I know it’s ‘far too often’ because this morning you put some teddy-bear slippers on, admired your feet and said, beaming “Oh, I’m so cute!”. I should probably stop calling you that so obviously but, well, you just are!

Now you are three and I’m certain that three boys was exactly right for me and for all of us. I wouldn’t change a thing. I couldn’t be luckier than to have my three little guys and I’m so very glad you’re you.

Lots of love from your doting (and very sentimental but it is your birthday) mummy.

xxx

Little Hearts, Big LoveProse for Thought

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when Twitter is awesome

I’ve mentioned #ShapeChallenge in a few recent posts – it’s a creative challenge on Twitter that my boys and I have all been taking part in. Author Sarah McIntyre posts a shape (a black outline with a red dot in it) every week day and lots of people (adults, kids, professional artists, people ‘just giving it a whirl’… ) draw something based on it and then tweet their work. Sarah doesn’t post a shape at the weekends though, instead she asks someone else to draw and post a shape for everyone to use. Very excitingly, this weekend my older two boys (8 and 6) were invited to do it!

alexander's shape

Shape designed by my 6yo

JB shape

Shape designed by my 8yo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was fantastic! I let them both have (supervised) access to my Twitter account and when people began to post pictures based on their shapes my boys replied to them. It was so lovely to see them engaging with a creative community in this way, and people were so responsive and kind. Some even drew pictures with the boys in mind, like Dark Derek who turned my eight-year-old’s shape into a Star Wars B1 battle droid!

The boys did tweet some responses that made me giggle a bit, like ‘you have pro skills!’ from my eight-year-old to a professional illustrator, or ‘keep up the good work!’ from my six-year-old to an artist six times his age, but everyone took them in the way they were intended. People were so warm and thanked my sons for the shapes and complimented them on their own drawings.

bowtie mandoodlesaurgoblin man

It’s been such a positive experience for them – my eight-year-old in particular has been bouncing off the walls most of the weekend saying “It’s amazing what people are doing with our shapes!” He says he feels really proud of himself and that he thought he wasn’t any good at art but now he thinks he must be because ‘proper artists’ have said nice things about his work. It’s given him a real confidence boost. My six-year-old’s class at school is also going to be using his shape in their next art class too! I’m so thrilled that both boys have been able to have an experience like this – I feel like it’s benefitted them in all sorts of ways.

Hooray for creativity – may it weave its magic through your lives too. :)

racing cars

By my eight-year-old. The original shape was that of the green car.

Writing Bubble

Little Hearts, Big Love