Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Living Arrows 17/52

Nice weather has meant a lot of time outdoors. Whole days have disappeared under the warming glare of the spring sun. Even this week, with the drop in temperature, we've still be busy out in the garden. This photograph was taken after a day in Manchester. I needed to buy some last minute things for a wedding on Friday, and Ebony is always in need of things, so we made a day out it. I had the nicest day walking around with her, trying on clothes and looking at make up. Finally, we are the Gilmore Girls I always dreamed we would be. I don't have the words to describe how much I love the sight of Ebony in these dungarees, but I was a BIG My Girl fan growing up (and still now, obviously) if that helps at all. 

Once again, I am running a little behind on these photo posts so I'm making up for lost time here. During the Easter holidays we went into Manchester for the day with some friends. It was a really lovely day, and this photo was taken at The Clore Studio in Manchester Art Gallery. I will write a bit more about this place soon, it's the perfect place to take kids in the city centre. 

And finally, a photo of Ebony with her new favourite toy. I can't explain how much she loves this water hose, it's yet another way for her to get lost in the rich games of her imagination. It's so lovely to see the games she comes up with, and see all her different likes and dislikes shining through now that she is getting older
Living Arrows

Monday, 27 April 2015

Read All About It: Traditional Outdoor Childhood Activities In Decline

Firstly, look how tiny Ebony used to be! For this week’s Read All About It post, I thought I’d write about the importance of grazed knees, muddy fingernails and rosy cheeks. A friend shared this Parentdish post about the decline in traditional childhood activities. According to a recent survey commissioned by Eco Attractions Group, kids are spending less time outdoors than previous generations.

This doesn’t really come as much of a surprise, especially when you discover that children aged five to 16 spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen. It’s no wonder kids are missing out on the activities that made up the bulk of their grandparents’ childhoods. What with school, television and computer games there’s not really much time left to enjoy the outside world.

A child in the north west spends on average five hours a week outdoors, this is less than half of the time their parents would have spent playing outdoors as kids. As a result:
  • 35% have never splashed in puddles
  • 44% have never stomped through mud
  • most children have never been on a family bike ride
  • around half of all children haven’t made sandcastles on the beach
  • around half of all children haven’t eaten a picnic anywhere but their own back gardens
  • around 70% haven’t picked blackberries
  • and about two thirds of children haven’t ever gone searching for insects

These figures are a bit scary. How can we expect children to learn about, love and respect nature if they never spend any time in it? How can they be expected to want to protect native wildlife if they never see it? How can they be mindful of the food they eat when they have no idea where it comes from?

Outdoor play is so important for developing children. Without walls in their way kids are able to let off steam by tearing across an open field. Climbing trees builds confidence as well as balance, strength and bravery. Splashing in puddles is one of simplest and most fun way to get your children excited about heading outside in bad weather. And mud is always going to be a hit with toddlers.

As parents, we worry about muddy clothes, ruined shoes, grazed knees and bumps. But our kids shouldn’t worry about that stuff. What will the laundry powder adverts of the future look like if there are no muddy clothes to be washed?! Children should be fearless adventurers soaking up the world around them. They should learn through play, push boundaries and seek out new experiences.

Three quarters of parents would like their children to spend more time playing outside, and around the same number admit to being part of the problem. If, as parents, we do not embrace the great outdoors then how can we expect our children to? I often hear UK parents talking about how much better kids have it in Australia, how children over there spend their free time outdoors instead of cooped up in front of screens. I have no idea if this is true, I would guess that there are plenty of kids in Australia glued to their x-boxes right now. And yet, you only have to have visited a local playground in the past couple of weeks to see what a difference a bit of sunshine can make to the visitor numbers.

I must be honest, I’m not really all that keen on trudging around in bad weather. And for that reason, when Ebony had just mastered walking, I made it my mission to spend time exploring nature with her. I blogged about it all here. We went to National Trust gardens, foraged for blackberries, collected conkers, paddled in streams and picked wild flowers. We went out in every kind of weather possible. We splashed in puddles, slid through mud, built snowmen and rolled down grass hills.

I’m so glad that Ebony has experienced so many of the outdoor activities I loved as a child. We are failing her in a couple of areas though. She hasn’t yet flown a kite, though I did get one recently from a charity shop so we should be able to tick that off soon. And she’s never been camping, mostly because we don’t have a tent. She has been motorhoming though, does that count? And we’ll be staying in a katas for a couple of nights over the summer.

Ebony is growing up and it won’t be long before she is starting nursery five days a week. The thought of losing that time with her makes me feel a little sick, so I’m going to make sure we make the most out of the weekdays we have left together. This article has inspired me to seek out some new outdoor adventures with my little adventurer, and see what fun we can have outside our front door.

How much time do your little ones spend playing outdoors each day?

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To link up, all you need to do is pop the linky badge on your post, and then link up your post below. I look forward to reading them!

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

A Letter To My Daughter

Dear Ebony,

It finally feels like summer has arrived. We’ve spent the past few weeks knee deep in mud in the garden. I’ve been doing a lot of gardening, and you’ve been helping me. You have a gardening set, and can often be found, squatting over a pile of mud, exclaiming “A worm, mummy! Be careful of him, he’s very precious!” Together we have gently relocated hundreds of worms over the past few weeks. You love finding new creatures in the garden. Every ladybird, centipede and bee gets your full attention.

We’ve been spending full days out there, and the hours have flown by. You have the most wonderful imagination and I love hearing the stories you come up with as you play beside me. Most of your toys have to go to hospital, and some of them even end up ‘deaded’.

You have recently developed a love of playing Pirates, and I stumble out of my office on a weekend to find you and Laurie huddled over a treasure map. You do the best pirate voice I have ever heard, and say things like, “Ahoy mateys, yeah mate, yeah” like some kind of mancunian/pirate hybrid. You love digging for treasure, especially in the bit of garden that is definitely finished and absolutely not a random digging site.

You don’t let anybody tell you what to do, which I love but also secretly wish you would let me tell you what to do. You get very cross and shout at anybody who tries to boss you about, which the woman from the charity found out very recently. The next time we went in, totally unprompted, you apologised to her for shouting and my heart melted. She also told you she deserved it which you smugly nodded along to.

You love your daddy so much and always ask whether it’s the weekend so you can play with him. Your weekends together are filled with adventure, make believe and laughter. You often tell me you miss him during the week, and always hope he’ll get home before bedtime so that you can tell him about your day.

You wake up early and, much to our annoyance, demand breakfast right away. After that, you’re happy to read to yourself in your bedroom, quietly looking at the pictures in your books. Every morning I find a carpet of story books sprawled across your bedroom floor. This morning I found you in your teepee having a picnic with all of your toys.

You have recently developed a love of dressing up, and often walk into the room dressed as ‘Elsa’. In actual fact, you are dressed as Cinderella but because the dress is blue you think it is Elsa’s dress. I haven’t told you otherwise but dread the day when an older child breaks the news to you. Hopefully you won’t believe them and will simply think them a fool.

You have lots of dolls and refer to them all as your babies. You also spend a lot of time talking about your eggs, and telling me that one day you will have babies of your own. Girls, of course, two of them. Both called Ebony. You think it’s very unfair that you have to wait until you’re older to have babies of your own, and would really much prefer to have them right now so you could make them sleep in your wellies and throw them up trees.

You seem so old and wise now at three. You are still calm and observant, though can kick up a fuss when you think it’s necessary. You love your friends, and are always excited to see your grandparents. You can often be heard randomly saying life-completing sentences like, “Mummy, I just love you so much.”

You are going to be a bridesmaid next week, something I am secretly very terrified about, but which you are hugely excited for. You play weddings most days, and tell me about how you can’t wait to marry Emma. You are excited for dancing at the reception, but a little bit worried about what who will hold your flowers whilst you do that.

You are kind and caring and compassionate. You are fierce and strong and brave. You are independent, funny and sassy. You are everything.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Wicked Uncle Toy Shop Review

There is absolutely no way in the world Ebony could claim to be short on toys. She has a playroom full of stuff, but when Wicked Uncle offered me the chance to try out their service, I decided I couldn’t refuse. I was offered a £40 voucher to buy some products from their site.

Wicked Uncle differs from other toy sites because it is a dedicated gift giving service. Far from being aimed at parents, the site is used by aunts, uncles and grandparents looking to buy presents for birthdays, Christmases and other occasions. I remember from my own pre-motherhood days that buying gifts for children can be stressful. If you have no idea about child development (and why would you when you don’t have kids?) then it can be hard getting presents that are just right (I definitely always used to buy things way too advanced for the age of child).

If you don’t fancy spending your lunch break surrounded by screaming children in an overwhelming toy shop, then Wicked Uncle is definitely the site for you. Wicked Uncle have a great selection, and have pretty much every type of toy you could wish for. It took me a really long time to decide what to get. The toys are ranked by popularity allowing you to get a good idea of the sorts of gifts  being given to children of different ages - helpful if you’re not really a children person yourself.

Wicked Uncle have a good selection of gift wrap, and will hand write the cards with a personalised message. They even include a pre-written thank you postcard for the child to send to you! If you order a birthday present from them, they will automatically remind you of the birthday again next year. I think this is pretty clever, I’m terrible for forgetting birthdays and really only ever remember because Facebooks tells me on the day.

After a long and intensive search, I decided upon the firefighter’s water sprayer (£17.95), the vegetable grow mat (£10.95) and the space torch and projector (£6.95). The website was easy to use, and the stuff arrived really quickly. The postman knocked at the door just a couple of days after I placed my order. I hid the package away for a while because I didn’t really fancy standing in the rain with the firefighter toy (terrible mother, I know), but luckily the weather has picked up so we’ve been able to test out the toys.

The fireman’s water sprayer is hands down the best toy ever. It has a plastic backpack bit that you fill with water, and then a hose (essentially a super soaker style thing) that you can shoot water with. We have already had hours (and hours) of fun with this in the garden. It’s well made and brightly coloured. This is absolutely definitely the perfect toy for a three year old. Ebony loves running around the garden ‘putting out fires’, and even answers the fire station phone with an “Oh goody!” (let’s hope she is never actually a firefighter). As an added bonus, I haven’t had to water any of my flowers for quite a while now because of the conveniently placed imaginary fires.

The space torch was also a hit, though I let Laurie do that one with her. It projects images of space onto the wall, and there are a number of different slides to choose from. My own space knowledge is rather limited and after realising I didn’t know what any of the planets were called, I handed it over to Laurie. I also ordered the vegetable grow mat which looks amazing. The mat is pre-planted with vegetable seeds, so all you need to do is bury the mat and take care of it until it’s time to harvest the vegetables. We’re in the middle of a big garden project so at the moment don’t have the space to plant it just yet. There are piles of rubble and mud pretty much everywhere you look, so I’m keeping the mat until we have a little more space.

I thought Wicked Uncle was a great site, and really love the products I chose. The only negative thing I have to say about the experience is how toys are categorised on the site. Everything is split by gender, and that’s something I really don’t like. Ebony might be a girl, but she loves dinosaurs and firefighters as much as the next kid. She likes fairies and princesses too, but it’s not all she likes. I had a look through both the girls and boys sections on the site, and noticed that a lot of the products I love simply weren’t included in the girls section.

I’d hate to think that Ebony would miss out on a gift she’d love simply because of her genitals. I understand why many sites choose to offer a gender division for clueless gift buyers who simply want to choose something quickly, but it certainly shouldn’t be the only way the site is organised. I much prefer to look at things by age or by toy category. I think it would be great if Wicked Uncle considered rearranging their site so that more little girls can enjoy awesome presents like the firefighter hose.

Perhaps not all boys lust after Elsa dolls, and maybe not all girls are crazy about cars, but let’s let them make these decisions for themselves rather than restricting what options they have to choose from simply because of their sex. I would absolutely recommend this website to anyone looking to buy a present for a child, but I’d encourage them to check out both the boys and girls sections.

Wicked Uncle very kindly offered me a £40 voucher in exchange for this review, but all words and opinions are my own. You can find out more about Wicked Uncle on their website.
Family Fever

Monday, 20 April 2015

Read All About It: Talking About Abortion

Jemima Kirke (Jessa from Girls) spoke publicly about abortion this week. It was reported by a number of gossip magazines, broadsheets and television press, that Jemima had filmed a video for the Draw the Line campaign. The campaign is run by The Center for Reproductive Rights. This US organisation campaigns for women to have access to safe, legal reproductive health care. The Draw the Line campaign encourages women to share their personal stories to remove the stigma associated with abortion.

Jemima Kirke has joined a number of other celebrities in supporting this campaign. Other celebrity supporters include Meryl Streep, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman. Jemima filmed a short video of her talking openly and honestly, without shame and embarrassment, about her abortion. You can watch her video here:

I chose to write about this news story this week thanks to a political hustings I attended at the weekend. One of the candidates, when asked about euthanasia, happened to mention that his religious beliefs prevented him from supporting this and (I’ve forgotten the exact wording he used) any changes to abortion law. There were no opportunities for a follow up question, so I didn’t get to find out his exact views on abortion. Would he support further restrictions on abortions, like those suggested by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries in the current parliament?

The idea of an MP who values the word of God above any science is more than a little bit terrifying to me. We know that women need safe access to abortion, and that without this many women suffer infection, illness and even death. Ignoring this fact, and all of the science out there about fetal development and survival rates, could potentially put women at risk.

Jemima shared her story to fight stigma, raise awareness and show how important access to legal, safe abortion is. And I wanted to help her do that.

This is a post for the Read All About It linky. You can link up any recent post that relates to a news story - it could be local, national or international news. Feel free to share your thoughts on Katie Hopkins, the election debates or the emotional problems facing young girls. Whatever you write about, link it up below. All you need to do is feature the Read All About It badge on your post, and then fill in the linky form below. I look forward to reading your posts!

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