Thursday, 8 October 2015

Review: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

We have a Christmas Eve tradition that everyone gets a new book and new pyjamas. For Ebony's first Christmas, she received Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss. Last year, she was given I Want My Hat Back. A friend who used to read the children's books in Waterstones (as a job, not just a weird pastime) had recommended it , saying it was one of her favourites. 

It quickly became one of Ebony's favourites too. It was a simple story that she could join in with and had bright, pretty illustrations to keep her attention. Within just a few weeks, she was helping us to tell the story. The book was written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, and we've since built up a little collection of his books. The illustrations are just beautiful, and the stories are always fun. 

When we were offered a copy of one of Jon Klassen's latest masterpieces to review, I (of course) accepted. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole was written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen in his distinct style. The book didn't disappoint,it is a sweet story about two friends who decide to dig a hole in the garden and not stop until they find something spectacular. 

The book was awarded the Irma S and James H Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature, and it's not hard to see why. It is simple, delightful and sweet, what more could you want from a bedtime story? It has taken pride of place on the bookshelf reserved for only our very favourite books, alongside all our other Jon Klassen stories. 

You can order a copy of the book from Amazon for just £5.99, or purchase a copy from your local book shop. And be sure to let me know what you think! 

Just to prove what huge Jon Klassen fans we are, here's a video of Ebony helping to read her own bedtime story back when she was just two:

I Want My Hat Back from Fiona Peacock on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Not Little for Long

One thing I’ve noticed since Ebony started attending nursery each morning, time is flying. The routine of getting up at the same time each day, dressing in the same clothes and rushing out of the house five minutes late is somehow making time pass quicker.

By the time I get home and sit in front of my laptop, I’ve already lost half an hour of my working day. I spend my mornings writing, the rush out of the door just in time to be late to pick her up. By the time we’re home, changed and fed, it feels like most of the day is gone. We spend our afternoons with friends, family or having adventures just the two of us. Before I know it, it’s bedtime and another day is over.

As I lie in her bed, her head snuggled against my arm, listening to the steady flow of her breathing, I often end up wondering whether the rest of her life will be like this. Will we get used to the time divide of nursery, and adjust to having just our afternoons? Or will the entire year speed by whilst we rush around trying to catch up with everything that needs to be done? And after this year, when she starts school, will the weeks be even more blurry?

Will I catch just a glimpse of her each day, before and after school, as I rush around making sure she is fed and clothed and happy? Will I always long for the days of old, when we had no distractions but each other? When we could read, play and lie together just as long as we wanted. When the world was our oyster, and all of the time in it was ours and ours alone. When we could get up in the morning and do whatever we liked. Before life really began.

Will her whole life fly by? Or will it slow down again, allowing me to enjoy my little girl before she grows? Because that little girl is so lovely, and spending time with her is my favourite thing to do. I love to hear her stories, play her games and breathe her in. I don’t want these days to end. I want to enjoy each day for as long as I can, because since she started nursery one thing has become very clear, my little girl won’t be little for long.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Lusting After the Finnish School System

When Ebony was still a baby, I started feeling worried about school. Our school system is pretty standardised and there are so many things I don’t like about it. The pressure, the exams, the uniforms, the long hours, the homework… the list goes on. I started researching alternative schools. I found out about Montessori schools and fell in love. I spent six months happily thinking we would send her there, and then found out it had closed down. When I first emailed to enquire about applying, I received a reply asking whether I’d like to pass some qualifications and become the teacher because she had just retired. Erm. If only I was that sort of woman. In reality, changing nappies, breastfeeding and trying to find clothes without puke on was keeping me busy enough.

We went to look round a Steiner school at one point, but it didn’t feel like a good fit. I really loved the kindergarten and the focus on free and outdoor play, but the school itself seemed to be a bit religious. There were lots of pictures of Mary and Jesus up on all the walls, and we had the following conversation with at least three different staff members:

Laurie: So, is this a religious school?
Staff member: No. Not at all.
Laurie (pointing at the religious art work): What’s that?
Staff member: That’s just a picture of a mother and a baby.
Laurie: Sort of looks like Jesus.
Staff member: Definitely not Jesus. (shifty eyes)

When we looked through the workbooks of some of the children, they seemed to be mostly filled with biblical stories. There were also a few things about the Steiner philosophy that put me off, and I know a lot of schools no longer teach the bigoted aspects of Steiner’s philosophy, but the staff were really cagey when we asked about it. We also had a weird conversation with one teacher where she implied she used to be a teacher for about ten minutes, but when we asked what age she used to teach at she admitted she’d never worked as a teacher before. Simply put, it was not the school for us, even though I loved the idea of Ebony learning to knit and make soup.

Ebony has now started at the nursery at our local school. It’s not a huge school, but isn’t the tiny village school many parents dream about. The headteacher seems nice and caring, and the parents seem to be really involved in what’s going on at the school. So far, Ebony really loves it. She hasn’t shed a single tear, not even on the first day, and is always excited about going there. She likes the teachers, she’s made friends and she enjoys the activities on offer. So far so good.

A couple of months ago, when I was researching this article about concentration in school, I found out a bit about the Finnish school system. It’s so different to our own, but is clearly working better. Their teachers are better qualified and better paid, in fact teaching is one of the most valued professions over there. You just have to look at the press coverage of the teachers strikes in the UK to know ours aren’t as appreciated as their Finnish counterparts.

Children in Finland spend more time outdoors, even though it’s colder (like, so cold it would definitely put me off living there). They have more time for free play, and lessons are only 45 minutes long. They don’t have curriculums, teachers decide what they teach. They don’t have any standardised testing except one optional exam at the end of secondary school for those who want to attend university. And yet, Finland ranks higher than the UK globally for education. Their school children are happier and their teachers are more satisfied in their roles.

The UK boasts the least happy teenagers in the world. Around half of all UK teachers are thinking of leaving the profession because of the stress, hours and working conditions. Maybe it’s time our politicians looked to Finland as an example of how to get school right.

Brantano have produced an infographic looking at the education systems in various countries, I decided to share Finland and the UK with you, so you could see the differences for yourselves.  

Thursday, 24 September 2015

My Nursery Standards: Week 1 vs Week 2

Ebony has been attending the local school nursery for two whole weeks now. In that time, she hasn’t shed a single tear over nursery, she has exhausted me with nursery related chatter and has stained her uniform each and every day. What can I say, the girl loves to paint. Simply put, she loves it. And I love that she loves it, though is it too much to ask for her to at least feign a sadness at our reduction in quality mother-daughter time? I mean, every morning she literally runs the whole way to nursery. Of course, I know this is because she’s excited for her morning, but to the average bystander, it undoubtedly looks very much like she’s running as fast as she can away from me.

Aside from feeling hurt about her unashamed love of being away from me, the mother who gave up everything to stay home and raise her, I’ve been busy letting my standards slip. I knew I wasn’t going to be one of those organised, wide awake mums at the school gates, but I’m actually a little surprised at just how terrible I am at this whole 8:45am thing. Just two weeks in and already I’ve given up on most of my big plans for the academic year, such as:

#1. The dress code
Week 1: Oh my goodness, is that a crumb on the cardigan? This entire uniform must be washed, dried and ironed before I go to bed tonight. Then I will place it neatly on clothes hangers, knickers and all, to await the morning.

Week 2: FFS, is that bright pink paint all down her back? Oh well, at least no-one will see it until she takes her coat off when she gets in there. I’ll just pretend I didn’t see the paint. Or that jam.

#2. The wake up call
Week 1: Christ, this is early. Did I set my alarm wrong? Is this really the time I have to get up FOREVER? Oh well, time to get up and get ready.

Week 2: No, alarm, just no.

#3. Getting ready
Week 1: Oh my, look how adorable she is in that uniform. Even the vest alone makes my heart explode. I must take all the photos. Every single day. And instagram the shit out of them.

Week 2: Oh my god, look how slow she is getting ready! Now we will be even more late. FFS.

#4. Punctuality
Week 1: Only 10 minutes till they open the doors! Oh god, we’re going to be late for our very first day. We must hurry!

Week 2: Great, we’re going to be late again. FML.

#5. The lollipop lady
Week 1: What sort of lollipop lady tells parents off?! Anus. How am I to know I can’t walk behind her?! Busybody. I will never cross with her assistance again!

Week 2: Oh, look, it’s Ebony’s new best friend, the lollipop lady. I shall give her my biggest and bestest smile in the hope she forgets about that time I walked behind her so she won't take her hatred of me out on Ebony.

#6. My day job
Week 1: Look at me! I have three whole hours to work, I’m going to get so much done. I shall fire up my laptop and get started right away. Such a luxury to have all of this time to myself.

Week 2: I am too tired to work. 7:45am is not my friend. I shall make another cup of tea, then I shall continue to check Facebook until pick up time.

#7. Pick up time
Week 1: I need to be there in half an hour, I’d better start preparing now. What sort of snack might she like on the way home? Hmmm, maybe I should take a selection. And her umbrella in case it rains. And my purse so we can stop at the shop on the way home.

Week 2: Oh crap, I’m late. Again.

#8. Friendships
Week 1: I hope she makes lots of friends. I hope people like her. I hope the other kids are nice to her. I hope no-one is mean.

Week 2: I wish she had fewer friends so that we could actually leave at hometime. Why am I stood here waiting for her to finish applying lipstick with her friends? She’s three.

#9. The book bag
Week 1: Oooh, I wonder if there is anything in the book bag today! This is what being a parent is all about. They send me a secret note which I must decrypt and act on quickly so as to present the treasures (signed slips, whatever) the next morning. I am faster than lighting. I hope I beat all the other parents. Maybe then I’ll get a ‘well done’ sticker.

Week 2: Why does that stupid bag look lumpy? Oh god, how long have these things been in here? Why are they always setting me homework?!

#10. The questions
Week 1: How was your day? Wow, how exciting! What else did you do? Who did you play with?

Week 2: Right, sure, yeah, then the teacher tied all the naughty kids up. Of course. And sent them to prison. Yep. And there were no toys. And the slide had been dismantled. And they wouldn’t let you eat a snack. Sure.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

7 Things I Need for the Perfect Movie Night

Evenings in our house usually take one of three forms. The first is that Laurie has work to do, so we both sit on the sofas with our laptops and I repeatedly huff angrily and ask how long he’s going to be. That’s probably the most common. The second possibility is that we are caught up in a television show and watch it obsessively until we can no longer stay awake. This happened most recently with Sherlock, I know, years behind, but it’s so good. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch. Totally get it now. The third and most enjoyable evening is movie nights. A movie night means we are free of work and aren’t currently knee deep in binge-watching a television series. With that in mind, here are seven things you need for the perfect movie night:

#1: A good movie
This one is non-negotiable. If the film is crap, we just turn it off and try a different one. Quitters and proud. The only way we can ever agree on a film is if one of us puts one on sneakily while the other person is out of the room. Otherwise we end up arguing over whether we should watch a gory, violent drama (Laurie) or something a little cheerier (me).

#2: Technology
Technology-wise, we’re not all that up to date, but we have enough to string together a movie night. Ebony chewed through the remote for our tv when she was a baby (excellent parenting skills, I think you’ll agree) so we have to get up to turn the volume down. We do that a lot because I live in constant fear of waking Ebony up even though she sleeps like a log, I think it’s a throwback to the baby days when everything woke her up. If it was the perfect movie night, I’d want a fancy new tv like this Panasonic 4k tv. We have an Apple TV box with a linked Netflix account so that’s where most of our movies come from.

#3: No distractions
If there’s one thing that ruins movie nights, it’s me texting. I need to leave my phone in another room to stop myself (on a side note, what does self control feel like?). Now that Ebony is pretty reliable (ish) with her sleep, we don’t have to worry about being disrupted by her waking up. I don’t think we watched many films when she was a baby, there was just no point. I think I spent most of my evenings walking up and down the stairs or commando crawling out of the bedroom in the hope of not waking her, which never worked.

#4: A blanket
I really love going to the cinema. This is a recent love. It’s so nice to be totally away from every possible distraction, and to just be absorbed into the movie. But, you can’t take a blanket. Well, you probably could, but, erm, I wouldn’t. We bought a blanket when we visited the Ideal Home Show last year and it is one of my favourite things. It’s a brightly coloured patchwork quilt and is really warm to snuggle up under. This blanket is a regular fixture at movie night.

#5: Pyjamas
Nobody should be forced to endure movie night in jeans. There should be no buttons or zips where comfort is involved. Pyjamas all the way. I consider it a strict dress code.

#6: Popcorn
I’ve never been a huge fan of popcorn, I’ve always liked it and had it on occasion but I’ve just never really been that bothered about it. But then I discovered salt AND sweet. This is now my new favourite thing ever. I know it’s really not good for me, at all, regardless of how few calories it claims to concern, but I don’t care because it tastes so good. I think it’s actually addictive.

#7: Hot Chocolate
No movie night is complete without a hot chocolate. There should be vegan marshmallows and, ideally, amaretto. This combined with the popcorn is probably the reason I should limit our family movie nights. But I won’t.

What are your movie night essentials?


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