Tuesday 31 March 2015

Living Arrows 13/52

Ebony has a cold at the moment, and a serious case of the bad moods. I've been frantically trying to do work in the hope of not being behind on my workload when I get back from Amsterdam (eek!), and Laurie is equally as busy. In short, it's been a long weekend.

One of the worst things about trying to work from home is that I am constantly interrupted. Ebony finds excuses to come and see me, and lovely as that is, it interrupts my flow and makes it difficult to get things done. It's not all bad though. One of the best things about working from home is that I can hear Ebony and Laurie playing together, and the wonderful and weird games they come up with.

On Saturday, I went down to get a cup of tea and stumbled across two pirates in the midst of an attack. Ebony was holding a box of stolen jewels (marbles) and waving a sword (chopstick) while standing on the ship (sofa). I think Laurie is much better at imaginative play than I am, and can't help but feel a little jealous about these games they have.

Ebony wasn't very pleased when the game had to finish so that Laurie could cook tea, so I distracted her with some (not very professional) pirate-themed face painting. I've been buying up fancy dress costumes from the local charity shops, and had a pirates one hidden away so we dug that out too.

On Sunday, as I buckled down for more work, I could hear the two of them shouting and running around downstairs. A few minutes later Ebony appeared holding a treasure map. It was rolled up like a scroll, and burnt at the edges like a year 7 history project. I love how much fun Ebony has with her daddy, and how much they love playing together.
Living Arrows

Monday 30 March 2015

Read All About It: Giving Up On Homework & Playing Instead

Thanks for stopping by the Read All About It linky. I’d love for you to link up your recent posts about news or current affairs. All you need to do is include the linky badge (below) on your post, and then share your link at the bottom of this post. This week, I decided to write about why I think we should ditch homework.

It was reported last week that a Manhattan school has stopped handing out homework to its students, and has told them to spend time reading and hanging out with families instead. The school sent a letter home detailing the change, which said they were responding to studies that found homework was linked with “children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities and family time, and, sadly for many, loss of interest in learning.”

I think it is so wonderful to see a school responding to research in this way. And it’s great to see a school doing something unusual and taking a risk in the hope it will benefit the children. I hope that this will prove to be a great success and that it will be adopted by other schools across the world.

No homework is already the norm in a number of countries including Finland (whose educational system our politicians reportedly salivate over without ever having the balls to copy) and the Netherlands. This frees up time for children in these countries to enjoy family time, socialising and play after school.

For many families, especially where parents work long hours, quality family time is already limited. And this is made worse by an abundance of homework sent home with children. If this practice is eating into quality family time, and serving little in the way of academic success, why are we still sending kids home with work?

My daughter isn’t yet at school, so I have no first hand experience of the parenting struggles that accompany homework. That said, I live in a house with very thin walls and know that this is an area of contention for my neighbours. Instead of spending those precious evening hours enjoying our children, we are forced to badger them about whether they’ve done their homework, no matter how exhausted they are after a long day of learning. Check out this great post by Slummy Single Mummy about why she hates homework.

The school in Manhattan suggested that parents limit screen time for their kids, and I think that is an important move. They also offered advice to parents on this issue. I think many of us are spending too much time staring at screens, I know that my daughter sees me and my husband both staring at our phones or laptops for an unhealthy chunk of the day.

Ditching homework should come hand in hand with embracing play. Not on-screen play, but actual real life play. It should be about climbing trees, building dens, messing around with friends, and chatting to your family over the dinner table. Families should be free to arrive home from work and school and simply have the time to chat. We shouldn’t be checking our emails at the dinner table, rushing to finish dinner so we can work on our maths homework, or sitting comatose in front of a screen.

Our children should be able to learn through play on their own terms. After all, they spend enough time strapped to their desks at school, can’t we at least give them control of their evenings and weekends?

What do you think about homework? Do you think it’s important for learning, or would you rather children were given more time to play?

And now for the linky… Read All About It is a place for bloggers who write about news and current affairs to link up and reach out to each other. If you’ve written a post responding to or related to a news story, whether it’s local, national or international, I would love for you to join up. All you need to do is include the linky badge (below) on your post, and fill in the form below with your post details. All linked up posts will be shared on social media. Don’t forget to have a read of the other link ups.

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Thursday 26 March 2015

Underwater Street Children's Discovery Centre Review

We spent Friday in Liverpool so I could attend the UK premier of Breastmilk (you can read my review here). I didn’t think my three year old daughter would want to watch a 90 minute documentary about breastfeeding, so Laurie took the day off work so that he could keep her entertained. I’d heard about Underwater Street and was keen to try it out, so Laurie took Ebony there while I watched the film.

After the film was over, I headed across to meet them. It was long after lunchtime but despite being hungry Ebony wasn’t ready to leave just yet. I think Underwater Street had too much to offer in terms of entertainment.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect at Underwater Street, I know that school trips often go there but it didn’t sound much like a museum from what I’d heard. I thought it might be a bit like Eureka before we arrived, but it’s not really, it’s more focused on play than learning, or learning through play I guess I should say.

There is a row of shops to play in, with the dog parlour being Ebony’s absolute favourite. There were lots of soft toy dogs of various sizes, dog bowls, grooming toys and leads. When I arrived Ebony was happily dragging a dog round by a lead, and I gather she’d been doing this for quite some time. There was also a little play shop with toy food and baskets as well as a check out area. And there was a post office which Ebony loved, and there were letterboxes to post the letters through, so that was a big hit.

There was also a big craft table with regular craft activities running throughout the day for no extra cost. Ebony did some painting and made some slime which she was really impressed with. There was also a full size car in a messy area what you could go in and paint, which looked like a lot of fun. There was a big water play area, with lots of different toys for pouring as well as nets, sieves and pebbles.

There was an area where you could dig for fossils, and then materials out so you could do colourings of them. One of Ebony’s favourite bits was a huge bubble you could stand in. You stood in the middle of a circle, and then pulled on a rope which lifted the circle up, creating a cylindrical bubble around you. She very much enjoyed popping it.

It’s hard to remember all of the things they had there, there really was so much stuff. The ideas were fun and simple, and it was obviously put together by some very creative people. Far better than a typical play area, there was a focus on learning through play, and lots of different things to do. It wasn't huge, but you could happily spend a few hours there playing in all the different areas and exploring everything on offer. We had a really love time, and Ebony is already excited about going back one day.

My only criticism would be the food. There was a packed lunch area that was only available to schools, but we were planning on eating in the cafe anyway. This turned out to be a bad idea because the cafe menu was pretty uninspiring. Obviously, as vegans it’s not always easy to find good food in these sorts of places, but most menus will have at least a couple of options. The menu here was quite pricey and didn’t tickle our taste buds so in the end we left and found food elsewhere (at Jamie’s Italian which I was a bit surprised to discover did pretty decent vegan food).

Underwater Street Children’s Discovery Centre is on Underwater Street (of course) and is located down near the docks in Liverpool. It was £7.95 for Ebony to attend during term time, but you can find a full list of prices here. When I arrived it was pretty quiet and Ebony didn’t have to wait to play on things, but Laurie said there had been a school trip in earlier and the whole place had been pretty busy so if you have younger kids it might be worth trying to go on a quieter day if you can.

I would absolutely recommend this as a place to visit, there are so many different things to do, and little ones (and I'm sure bigger ones) will be happily entertained for hours. It was really hard work getting Ebony to leave even though I'm sure she must have been starving!

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Breastmilk The Movie & How We Talk About Breastfeeding

Last weekend was the Food For Real Film Festival in Liverpool. It was a grass roots organised event where films were being shown across the city over the weekend to raise awareness of health, sustainability and food. There were lots of different films being shown over the weekend, but the one I was interested in was called Breastmilk.

I haven’t yet seen The Business of Being Born, the documentary into childbirth practices in the US, but it looks really interesting and has been on my list (of things I want to watch one day somehow) for ages. Breastmilk is the second film by the same documentary makers. Remember Ricki Lake? She’s the producer on both films, and I’ve heard only good things about the first documentary so was looking forward to seeing the new one.

The film festival was hosting the UK’s premier of the documentary, and had secured a screen at the Odeon cinema for the occasion. One thing I learnt is that if you are partial to broodiness, going to a baby-friendly screening of a documentary about babies is not a good idea. Adorable tiny babies everywhere.

The documentary was really interesting, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested in the politics surrounding breastfeeding. Though there are a lot of shots of lactating nipples that, accompanied with the soundtrack, seemed sort of sexual which was a bit weird for a documentary that seemed to be about normalising conversations about breastfeeding.

Through the film we were introduced to a number of new parents who had made different decisions of how to feed their children, as well as hearing from experts and health workers. It’s a US documentary so obviously some bits simply don’t apply over here. I have to say, whenever I learn anything new about the US maternity services or maternity leave I am just so glad I live in the UK. Things are far from ideal here, of course, and there are so many things that could be done to improve things for families, but I can’t help but feel lucky I’m not in the US.

It was interesting listen to different people’s opinions on breastfeeding, and how they perceived the problems of low breastfeeding rates, and even what they thought could be done about it. There were lots of interesting things in the documentary, but I’m not going to list them all here and ruin the film for you.

One thing that stuck with me though was one woman who talked about how the way we talk about breastfeeding has a role to play in how breastfeeding is perceived. Specifically, she spoke about how we emphasise how hard breastfeeding is, and how not everyone can do it, and we refer to breastmilk as ‘liquid gold’. She felt that this language made it seem almost unattainable, and set women up to accept that they may not overcome breastfeeding barriers. The woman talked about how in other cultures breastfeeding is the norm, it’s not seen as anything special. In those cultures, women expect to be able to breastfeed because breastfeeding is so normal.

I thought that was really interesting, and it stuck with me long after I left the cinema. I have previously stressed the difficulty of breastfeeding to pregnant friends, not to put them off, but simply to prepare them for those first few days of struggle. I remember how hard those first few days are, and how much you want to give in and abandon breastfeeding, but I think I remembered what all my friends had said about how there is a learning curve, and how it gets easier, and I think that gave me the strength to persevere.

I would worry that without having that expectation of an initial struggle, that I would have assumed I ‘couldn’t breastfeed’ when it hadn’t come quite as naturally to me as I might have liked. But, how do you find the balance between preparing a woman to expect breastfeeding to be tough, and talking about it in a way that normalises breastfeeding and makes it seem like something everyone can do?

I think the problem lies in the fact that not everyone does do it, and for those of us who struggled and persevered, there is a pride that comes from that. I do think it was hard work to battle through those difficult early days, and I’m really glad I did because I feel it was so worth it and made life so much easier in the long run.

How do you talk to pregnant friends about breastfeeding? Do you think we unwittingly make breastfeeding out to be almost unattainable?

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Living Arrows 12/52

All of a sudden, my little girl is a little older. She seems to have shot up all of a sudden, and is speaking more like a little girl than the toddler who wants chattered in my ear. I am plagued by the feeling that time is disappearing, as September grows ever closer and I know she will be leaving me for education. Ordinary moments suddenly seem all the more special, as the clocks tick loudly with the passing of time, a constant reminder that our time is running out. That in September we will be rushing out of the door, desperately trying to get to school on time, and the days of leisurely breakfast chats will be behind us. 

As was bound to happen sooner or later, I didn't quite manage to get my Living Arrows post in on time last week, so I'm tacking it onto the end here. 
Living Arrows

Monday 23 March 2015

Read All About It: Why Toddler Groups Should Stop Serving Juice

Last week, it was reported last week that a third of all five year olds have tooth decay in their milk teeth. Just a week before that it was reported that over a thousand under-twos had to be hospitalised for rotten teeth in 2014. For many of these young children, sugary drinks were to blame.

Sugary drinks such as fruit juices, cordials and even fizzy drinks are given to young children on a regular basis. Whilst most parents are horrified at the thought of fizzy drinks like coke being given to toddlers, many wouldn’t think twice before offering their kids a drink of fruit cordial. A glass of orange juice, which many parents think of as healthy, can contain as many as seven teaspoons as sugar, making it as bad for your teeth as coke.

Experts recommend giving your children only fruit juice and milk until they are three years old, and yet, many of the toddler and baby groups in my local area continue to offer squash as standard. I think they’d be hard stuck to claim ignorance, surely we’re all aware that fruit juices and cordials are bad for teeth now?

So why do these groups continue to offer fruit juices and cordials? I’ve given it a lot of thought, and the only reason I can think of is simply because they always have. And why bother changing in light of new information or discovery? Except of course, that is how we progress. Many groups have already moved away from offering these sugar packed drinks at snack time, and I think it’s time that the remaining dinosaurs did the same.

It is, of course, up to parents how they feed their kids. But information is important, and by offering juices and cordials, these groups interfere with the information provided by health workers, dentists and Sure Start Centres telling parents about the dangers of these sugary drinks. And, just because some kids have cordials at home, doesn’t mean they need to have them all the time. Surely these groups should be aiming for the gold standard as a way of setting a good example, and kids should be offered water and fruit rather than the sadly typical juice and biscuit. The kids are going to enjoy themselves anyway, they don’t go for the juice, they go for the toys.

What do you think, does your local toddler group serve juice as standard? Or is water a given at your local haunts?


This is the Read All About It linky and I would absolutely love for you to join in. If you have any posts related to news or current affairs that have gone live within the last week (or the upcoming week - this will run until Sunday), then please link up below. They can relate to local news stories, national news scandals and everything in between. As long as it’s your take on a news story, it fits the criteria for the linky. Don’t forget to have a browse of the other links too, and have a read of what other bloggers make of this week’s top stories.

Don't forget to include the linky badge in you post. 
I can’t wait to read your submissions!

Read All About It

Friday 20 March 2015

21 Problems Only Vegan Parents Will Understand

  1. Dedicating a whole freezer drawer to vegan cupcakes
    Because you never know when there will be an impromptu party, birthday or tea party to attend, and the thought of your kid having to sit, empty handed, and watch everyone else eat cake is too heartbreaking.

  1. The horror on elderly faces when you explain that your child can’t eat pork sausages
    And knowing that they’re going to be telling people about it for the rest of the day, that poor child! It’s basically child abuse. Sure.

  1. Confiscating birthday and Christmas presents that aren’t particularly vegan friendly
    I have hidden so many books featuring stories about animal circuses, farms, zoos and fishing.

  1. The weird assumption people have that you will raise your child as vegetarian
You raise your kids eating the foods you eat, why should be vegans be any different. If I think it’s unethical to eat something, I’m not going to peddle it to my kids.

  1. Having to have an endless number of awkward conversations about why you don’t visit petting farms
    … or zoos … or slaughterhouses.

  1. Actually having to tell people that you will still love your kids even if they decide to eat meat when they’re older
I’m always going to love my kid, isn’t that the whole point of being a parent? I won’t even stop loving her if she starts eating babies.

  1. Turning up on the first day of preschool with a bag for life filled to the brim with substitute ingredients
Vegan butter, egg replacer, soya milk, coconut milk, dairy free chocolate. You know, just in case.

  1. Not being able to buy an ice-cream from the ice-cream van on a sunny day
    I still get depressed about this and I’m nearly 30. It’s just not the same when you have to scoop the ice-cream yourself.

  1. The silence that follows your toddler announcing at a table of chicken nugget eaters that she doesn’t eat chicken nuggets because it’s made from dead chickens and that’s not very nice

  1. Having pockets filled with every kind of vegan sweets, bars and snacks imaginable, just so your child can have what everyone else is having
    Whatever that might be.

  1. Choosing your babysitters very carefully
Are they good with kids? Does your kid like them? Might they try and feed your kid cheese?

  1. Going to Clarks to get her feet measured
    Then exiting the store at full speed before she sets her heart on any of the leather shoes on display.

  1. Finally feeling like preschool understand what vegan means, only for them to ‘double check’ with you whether your kid can eat cheese
    No Cheese! Simple, no?

  1. Your kid eating a diet consisting of mostly chips every time you eat out in a normal eatery
    I guess it serves me right for choosing to live in a village and not in a cosmopolitan city centre, but I’m mostly met with blank faces when I enquire about the vegan options on the menu.

  1. Your toddler mimicking your supermarket habits by pretending to read the ingredients on everything before announcing that it is vegan
    Especially when it usually isn’t.

  1. Having to refuse a constant stream of biscuits being offered to your toddler
Seriously, can’t groups just serve fruit now? We all know sugar is bad for teeth, right?

  1. Your grandma asking if your two year old is still bald because of her vegan diet
No? Just me then…

  1. The weird amount of love you feel for people who make the extra effort to include your vegan kid at birthday parties
    I’m looking at you guys, procurers of dairy free ice-cream, vegan cheese spread, dairy-free chocolate buttons, apple pies, soya yoghurts and vegan sweets.

  1. Telling people that no, you didn’t crave meat during pregnancy
Because you’re not actually Phoebe from Friends.

  1. Tense games of pass the parcel
    As you sit behind your kid with a bag of vegan sweets, waiting to do a quick swap should any sweets fall out when she unwraps her layer.

  1. Having to tell Grandma that the Mother’s Day gift she ate was actually a bird feeder, not a weird vegan health snack
    Yep, that actually happened.

What have I missed off the list?

Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Disappointment That Is Post-Preschool Chats

Ever since my daughter was born, I’ve been able to imagine picking her up from school, and walking home together chatting about her day. That leisurely walk home at the end of the day, laiden with book bags and PE kits, as you listen to all the things your child has been doing since you said goodbye at that gates that morning. I always thought it would be one of my favourite bits of parenting, hearing about all the things your child did without you, and hearing their enthusiasm for the world.

I feel lucky that I get to be the person who picks her up, and the one who hears all about her day. I know Laurie would love to be the one who shares in that part of her life, and so know how lucky I am that it is me. And that I really should be grateful for the opportunity.

But, it’s actually been a massive disappointment so far.

Ebony started preschool in January, this was a big deal. For me, she was fine. For the first time ever, I left her With Strangers. And, for the first time, she carved out a little bit of time that was hers and hers alone. For those three hours every week, she is on her own. I’m not there to help her out or calm her down, I’m not there to make her feel better if she’s sad.

And she loves it. I think, though I’m not entirely sure, because she keeps the whole thing pretty much under wraps.

What my daughter does at preschool might actually be the world’s best kept secret, because I haven’t a clue and I gave birth to her.

Every week, I wait patiently outside preschool for the doors to open. When she sees me, she runs towards me and gives me a big cuddle, this is probably the best part of my week. After that I am informed that she IS VERY HUNGRY, and after providing her with some kind of acceptable snack, we head home.

As we walk down the street, her little hand in mine, I ask her about her day, and hope that this will be the day when our life-changing and heartwarming after school chats will begin. Perhaps today she will tell me about her day, and the things she’s learnt, and will ask me questions so that she can learn more. It will be beautiful, like in a movie, and passersby will stop to admire our amazing mother-daughter bond.

It never happens.

“Did you have a nice time at preschool today?”
“....What did you do?”
“Who with?”

This is it. This is all I get. Every Single Week. And I already know she’s been painting with Daisy because I’m carrying an A3 piece of paper featuring an insane looking abstract impression of a monster that has Ebony/Daisy scrawled across the top in permanent marker.

She never talks about any children other than Daisy, who I have known since she was six weeks old. If I try to talk about the other kids, it confuses her.

“Daisy is poorly so she won’t be at preschool today.”
“Do you have any other friends at preschool?”
“There’s a little boy called Monty, do you know him?”

When I picked her up that day, and asked her what she did, she told me she had played with Monty. They’d had a snowball fight. About ten minutes later a girl I didn’t recognise walked past, and Ebony pointed at her, “That’s Monty from preschool.”

I don’t know who she sits with at snack time, or whether they read stories. I don’t know what games they play, or whether she has friend other than Daisy. I don't know whether all the other kids hate her because she keeps calling them all Monty. I am completely and utterly in the dark, does anyone suffer this silence at the hands of their preschooler? Will it get better, or will she always make us walk home in stony silence?

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