Sunday, 16 November 2014

Operation Christmas Child

We spent some time this weekend packing up a couple of shoeboxes, for Operation Christmas Child. A mum at school had mentioned she and her son were going to do one and when I looked into it, I really liked the idea too. The charity, Samaritan's Purse, deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children around the world.

As we approach the festive season, I think this is a really nice way to involve children in the act of giving. My two had a lot of fun packing their shoeboxes and thinking about what a little boy or girl might like to receive or find useful. We began by packing one shoebox but when it came to deciding on whether it should be for a boy or girl (as Samaritan's Purse ask you to decide), we could not agree! My daughter wanted it to be for a girl, my son wanted it to be for a boy so daddy suggested we do two, one for each.

There are lots of useful suggestions of what to pack inside your box on the Samaritan's Purse website. We included a combination of some fun stuff and some practical items and my children also both drew a picture and my son wrote a little note on his to include inside. It was really nice to see my children excitedly running around finding things and coming up with ideas of what we could include in the boxes.

You are asked to send a minimum £3 donation per box to cover shipping costs for your box and if you donate online, you can follow your box and find out which country it gets delivered to. We are going to donate that way, as my son really wants to know where the boxes will go.

Once you have packed your box, you need to drop it off at one of the collection points near to you. The deadline is 18 November, so those of you in the UK reading this who are interested in making up a box should just about have time! If you miss the deadline however, you can still create a shoebox online, and have items purchased and packed for you.

For those of you in the US, you can do it too! Have a look at the details and deadlines on their website.

Have you done something like this with your children in the past or do you have other types of activities you involve your children in, to encourage the spirit of giving to those less fortunate?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

School dinners, snacks and sugary treats

One day during the recent school half-term holiday, my son said that he thought he would like to try school dinners when he went back (he has been taking a packed lunch since he started school). I asked him again the day before he returned to school and as he had not changed his mind, school dinners began for him this week.

For any non-UK readers, the government here decided to provide free school dinners for all children in Reception, year 1 and year 2 (4-7 year olds), as part of their policy to 'giving all children a healthy start in life'. I have always given my son the choice of whether he takes a packed lunch or has school dinners and until now, he always wanted packed lunches.

Part of me was secretly pleased my son had opted for packed lunches for so long, as I get particularly annoyed by the sweet puddings/desserts that are on offer every day! Part of the idea of the free school meals is to try to discourage those people taking unhealthy packed lunches (containing crisps, cakes, chocolate etc) and to bring healthier food to more children. I fail to see how the sugary desserts can be part of the 'healthy' school lunches.

No surprise to me at all that this first week of his school dinners, my son has had a chocolatey/sugary dessert three days out of four. The one day he had fruit instead was because he knew he had a friend coming over after school and that I would be making something yummy for them! I am hoping the novelty will wear off after a few weeks but we will see.....

Also this week, I came across this article, Why I became a Snacktavist, by Audrey D. Brashich and I felt it really describes the way I feel about children and sugar and treats. The opening lines are:
"Dear everyone who interacts with my children anywhere at all:
Please stop feeding my kids sugar."
She goes on to explain how sugar has become part of nearly every event for children, from after-school clubs, to holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween), to birthdays and play dates. Part of her wants to remove some of the treats they might enjoy at home as a family, just to get some nutritional balance in her children's diets and yet, " I don’t want to have to give up the treats we enjoy together as a family just so my kids can eat their fill when they are everywhere but our house".

The article discusses snacks and how once they were simply something to keep hunger at bay between meals but now have become more of a 'treat' in themselves, with parents trying to outdo each other.
"Kids today are getting about 500 calories daily from snacking, and most of their snacks contain primarily refined white flour, salt, sugar and artificial additives, which is a dangerous combination given how childhood has changed, too. “There’s more inactivity and kids are eating more calories and artificial food dyes than at any time in history,
Do have a read of the article in full and let me know what you think.

As a parent to young children, I would like to be the one who decides when and how they consume sugary foods. I am happy for sweet treats to be offered to my children when they go to a friend's house to play and usually do the same here when my son has a friend over. I like to bake and have something a bit special on a Friday at the end of the week and perhaps make a nice dessert at least one evening over the weekend for the whole family to enjoy together. Every day at school as well? I am not so keen on that.

I do think school dinners can be a positive thing overall. Several parents have told me the good effect they have had on their fussy eaters, who start eating foods they previously refused and who surprise them by being more adventurous with their eating. Even my son on day one, chose a meal which had broccoli with it (which he detests) and ate it all!

What are your thoughts on school dinners, snacks and sugar treats?! Do you try to provide healthy snacks for your children to balance out some of the less healthy food they might consume at other times during the day or week? Does your child's school do a good job of providing plenty of healthy options for school dinners?
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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Party planning for toddlers

I have done a few birthday parties over recent years, for my son who is approaching age six and my daughter who just had her third birthday. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that less is more!

For an enjoyable and successful birthday party for little ones, you often need less of everything than you would imagine; less food, less party guests and less activities.

Food - I learnt early on that it is easy to over-cater for birthday parties. Even though I have vastly reduced what I used to prepare, there is still always more than needed! Little ones really do not eat a lot and coupled with the excitement and the promise of cake, they are often too distracted to eat much at a party. Keep it simple too, prepare what you know your child and friends are likely to eat, rather than what looks fancy!

Party guests - for my daughter's third birthday party a couple of weeks ago, we invited just three other little girls. It was her choice. I suggested another couple of people but she said no, she really only wanted these particular three girls, so that is who we invited. I once read or heard somewhere that is is sensible to invite the same number of guests as the child's age. That is what unintentionally happened this time and it was very pleasant! The fewer guests there are, the less stress for the parents, the more time the guests spend with the birthday boy or girl and the more attention they receive.

Activities - whilst you definitely want to plan a few activities for the party, you also don't want to try to cram too much into the time. It can be good to allow some going with the flow too! For my daughter's recent party, we had a couple of small art and craft activities for the children to do on arrival (and something they could later take home with them), which is good for filling the time as you wait for people to get there. Then we played some traditional party games (pass the parcel, musical bumps etc), had lunch and the cake and then finished with a final party game and dance around! It was simple but worked really well.

I will leave you with some other children's birthday party posts you may be interested in reading:
A great party bag alternative
Children's birthday cakes
A winning winter birthday party for a 2-year old

What have you learnt from birthday parties you have had for your young children? What has worked and what hasn't? Any top tips to share?
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Monday, 27 October 2014

Time marches on

It has nearly been a month since my last post. I find life increasingly gets in the way of blogging but at least there is no hiding my priorities! We have had family visiting, followed by my eldest daughter's third birthday so there has been plenty going on and few spare moments for blogging.
Autumn arrived, the leaves have been turning and falling from the trees, the clocks have changed here in the UK but if I am honest, it is a little too warm for my liking! I am ready for a chill in the air and cosy wool jumpers... However, we are making the most of the nice weather and getting outside as much as we can, while it remains so pleasant.

This week is a half-term holiday. Both my eldest children were ready for a break after busy weeks at school and nursery and I am looking forward to extra time spent all together. We will be out to some parks collecting sticks, acorns, conkers and leaves, seeing some friends and Halloween at the end of the week will be fun as always. No doubt we will be doing some Halloween crafts and enjoying getting costumes ready to wear.

There may even be a blog post or two to come during the week, but I won't make any promises!

What do you look forward to doing at this time of year? Are your children also on holiday for the week and if so, what do you have planned?
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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

My no-sugar challenge

A couple of months ago I went to a nutrition workshop focusing on giving up sugar for a month. Sugar has been getting a lot of bad press recently and is thought to be linked to growing obesity rates and much worse. It is proven to be addictive and I felt I was very much addicted to it!

I had given up refined sugar for Lent, earlier in the year but instead of chocolate after dinner, my husband and I had gorged on dried apricots instead, which are still sugar and I had baked with agave syrup, honey etc. This time I wanted to do it properly and avoid any and all forms of sugar. The workshop I attended did not tell me much that I did not know but it did help remind me what I needed to be avoiding and gave suggestions for filling the sugar void.

I chose the month of September for my no-sugar challenge. I roped in my husband because as strong-willed as I know I can be, it is no fun watching someone else munch on biscuits/cookies when you can't touch them. We ate nothing containing sugar, no potatoes (very high in starch which turns to sugar in your body very quickly)  and no refined carbs (wholegrains were fine). We ate fresh fruit but only seasonal produce (those sun-soaked tropical fruits are much higher in sugar than fruit grown here in the UK) and only up to two pieces a day.

We quickly discovered our snacking tendencies! We munch on things before dinner and after dinner we do like a couple of squares of chocolate or a couple of biscuits with a tea. My husband who buys lunch during his work day found it very restricting and ate a lot of salads during the month!

As we do not eat a huge amount of sugar generally, it was not the horrendous upheaval in our diet as it could be for some but we did have to make changes to some of our snacks and our big weekend breakfasts. I made wholemeal flour tortillas one day because the shop-bought tortillas contain sugar. They are pretty easy to make but of course it was not as convenient as getting some out of a packet! Snacks largely consisted of nuts, seeds, oatcakes, rice/corn cakes.

Did it make any noticeable difference to us over the course of the month? Well I remarked to my husband that I felt my overall mood had been better, I had snapped and shouted less and generally felt more balanced. My husband thought he had been sleeping better. We also both lost a little weight, not intentional, not needed but not surprising.

Now the month is over and the no-sugar challenge complete, I am craving some roast potatoes and a rhubarb crumble! I will aim for moderation, avoiding sugar more days than not but allowing some maybe over the weekends. Will I be able to have just one biscuit (not several) and only one or two squares of chocolate or will I be quickly drawn back into my bad ways? We shall see....!

What is your typical sugar intake like? Are you careful with how much you eat or do you recognise that you probably consume more than you should? If you too have given up sugar at some stage, what was your experience?
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Friday, 19 September 2014

Settling into nursery

This week has been all about my middle child, as she started nursery (preschool). We have been talking about it for so long (always seeing her older brother go to school, she has been desperate to join in!) and now it is happening. The nursery she is attending is a different one to those my son went to, due to the fact we are living in a different area and she can not go to the nursery at my son's school until next September when she is already three.

Unfortunately I was a little disappointed in the nursery's handling of the settling in process this first week. I had arranged for my aunt to come and stay this week to look after the baby while I help my daughter settle in at nursery but I did not anticipate having to spend as much time there as I did! The first day I had to stay the whole session. That seems a little extreme to me, not even trying out leaving her for a few minutes. Whilst I understand she needs to feel comfortable in her new surroundings, I do think we need to be realistic from the beginning and help her understand this is a place for her to stay and mummy to leave!

I did get to leave on her second day but only after I suggested it, having been there over an hour. They allowed me out for an hour and then called me just as I was returning to say she was fine but had been asking about me and they thought I needed to be there again.

On day three (her last day for the week), I took matters into my own hands somewhat. I approached the staff  member my daughter had warmed to most and spoken about at home. I told her that I thought she would be a reassuring presence if my daughter got upset. I said I wanted to leave sooner rather than later to start getting her used to being dropped off and this lady told me that was all fine and she would come and sit with my daughter.

To cut a long story short, a couple of other members of staff had suggested I should not leave but I ignored them and left. My daughter did great, there were no phonecalls for me to return and I left her the whole time, returning just before the session finished. I was so proud of her and also glad I trusted my own instincts!

When I think back to my son starting nursery, he went to a lovely, very caring setting when he was the same age as my daughter is now. They naturally did not want any of the children to be upset during the settling in of the first week or so but nobody ever had to stay the whole session! If I remember correctly, we all sat in the classroom for a little while then if our child seemed happily engaged in an activity, we left and went for a coffee nearby in case they needed to call us to come back. I liked the way they handled things.

When he went to the nursery at his current primary school, aged three, we were told we could stay for the first ten minutes until they called them all over to sit on the carpet and then we had to leave. That was settling in! They dealt with any upset as they saw fit and whilst some children were clearly happier than others at first, it all went smoothly and there was never any child who was inconsolable.

Obviously, I recognise the nursery staff have every best intention and want to avoid any child being overly-distressed. However, part of their job is helping children feel at ease in the new environment and figuring out how best to do that, according to the individual child's personality.After this week, I also think listening to the parent is pretty important too! My daughter is different to my son who was always very comfortable at being left from day one at nursery. My daughter is more likely to get upset when I leave her but I know too that some attention and some distraction work wonders and she is soon happily engaged in various activities.

Leaving a child to stay at a nursery/preschool is a big deal and can be an overwhelming time for some children. They need lots of reassurance. They need to develop their own confidence in being left without mummy, knowing that she will be back. I have friends whose children have taken weeks, months even, to be comfortable being left at nursery. There have been hysterical tears as their parents say goodbye and leave but then they return to happy faces and to be told that their child soon settled down after they left. It is not easy for the parents either!

What has your experience been with settling your own children into nursery/preschool? What kind of approach do you like best?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Here we go again!

After a few weeks of an unannounced break on the blog, I am back! We had a lovely family holiday before school started up again and I was very much of the feeling that I wished the holidays were not over! I enjoyed spending extra time with my son who is usually at school and having a break from the daily routine. However, time marches on and here we go again with a new school year stretching ahead.

The summer holidays seem a distant memory already as we embark on week two of school for my son. Now in year one, there is less playing and more learning! As a parent it can be hard to balance the encouragement you want to give them to do well at things like their writing and maths, whilst also respecting the fact that they are only little five and six year olds, who should still be getting plenty of fun and playing in their lives too.

My eldest daughter will start nursery next week, which will add a new dimension to our daily routine. My son settled into nursery like a dream, there were never any tears or upset. I suspect things will be a little different with my daughter but we shall see... I was comforted last week when we went to her nursery for an open day, that after a few minutes she immersed herself into the various activities they had out and by the time we needed to leave, it was a struggle to get her to do so!

Not wanting to exclude the baby, she is approaching six months and so weaning is on the close horizon. I remember with my other two children, that I loved the stage around seven months when they are interacting and their personality is starting to emerge more. They are usually being rather smiley to people, sitting up but still not on the move, eating proper food and generally being quite cute all round!

There is something about the start of a new school year that feels a bit like a new calendar year. The shift from holidays back into more structured days, the season beginning to move from summer into autumn, the 'clean slate' that comes with a first day of school.... I like it! I feel ready for the changes and challenges to come, perhaps reinvigorated from the long summer days and happy family time. As much as I love summer, there is a comforting sense that autumn brings with the cosy nights as it gets darker earlier and as the leaves begin to change colour and fall from the trees. We still have the sunshine, I can see butterflies in the garden as I write this, and there is a feeling of energy and enthusiasm after the summer break.

How are you and your family feeling at this time of year? If you have school age children, are they enjoying being back or is there still a period of adjustment going on, as they get back into the swing of things after the holidays?
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