National Stationery Week 2016 is Coming!

National Stationery Week 2016 will soon be upon us and I’ve been reviewing a bundle of great goodies from NSWs official sponsors lately.

NSW is all about promoting writing this year, with opportunities to get involved, and promotions and events to get us all thinking about why writing matters.

This is quite a personal theme for me, as a researcher I spend much of my time coding data, making sense of complex themes and theories and trying to manage large swathes of qualitative data. Coding for me means colour coding and mind mapping, so I prefer to work with paper and pen and put the laptop to one side; working with coloured pens, highlighters and pencils to help me map out ideas.

NSW is a great opportunity to get back into writing, whether at work or play, or in encouraging your children to get writing too. Perhaps you’ll spot something you like in this review post, there’s something for everyone!

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I am mad on grown up colouring books, they fit so well with my mindfulness practice that I always have a book on the go.  These Staedtler Noris colouring pencils are superb, I have to say I was very happy to receive two packs of these because I had my suspicions that little miss might have her eye on them and lo and behold I lost a pack to her pencil case!  Great for young and old they’re lovely quality, vibrant and very soft, I’m really pleased by how rich the colours come out.

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BIC pens are the ultimate convenience pen for me, quality ink, they dry fast and I see them as a ‘scribbler’ – great for when I’m writing up an interview or minuting meetings. At the moment I both chair and take notes for some quite long meetings so I like to colour code actions and my own actions particularly. Speed and convenience is key so the new BIC 4 colour pens are perfect for quickly switching colours. I think colour switchers still feel very 80s, so I like the retro colours too!

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A Sheaffer Sentinel is always gratefully received by me, I was given one when I left a job a few years ago, weighty but still great value at less than a tenner this is a brilliant everyday pen for in my work bag, that bit more special than a workhorse biro it’s a great value rollerball and would make a lovely gift especially with the colour choices now available; there’s something for everyone.

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Next up the Maped twin tip, source of much fun this week, I could not get the hang of this at all, but it was good fun and writes beautifully! Essentially the colour switches are at each end of the pen so it writes from both ends, I’m giving this the thumbs up because it does write really nicely, a lovely flow and great grip, I think I’ll grow to love it for coding research papers but it might take another week or two to understand which colour is connected to which end of the pen, it just didnt come intuitively to me!

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NuCo Notebooks are a staple of mine now, I like the tactile covers and perforated sheets, a great workhorse notebook, compact but chunky for lots of use and the elastic close handily keeps everything together. I have these in different colours for different projects, the paper is great quality 120gsm and at roughly a fiver these are great value too.

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Finally the Maped Kidy Board, truly one to help get kids writing, J absolutely loves this and I do too, it’s really innovative and fits so well with her current learning phase. At preschool she’s learning to write numbers and letters, the Kidy Board has a great grid for helping to keep writing straight and there are printables available for download to slip under the frame to practice writing and drawing. The soft non slip frame helps encourage a steady hand and it’s also come in handy for me to write up the odd shopping list too! Creative, fun, and educational, this is a brilliant addition to the home of any young budding writer!

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I’d love it if you’d consider voting for this blog in the NSW Blogger of the Year awards!

What are your plans for National Stationery Week? There are some great ideas to help you get involved here!
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Sensory play at Christmas – feat Hexbug

I think Christmas can be a brilliant time of year for sensory play. Earlier this week Joss and I spent an afternoon with a bowl of water, some ice-cubes and blue food colouring and had an amazing time playing with her plastic sea animals in the water and watching the ice cube ‘icebergs’ melt!

This year these are some of the gifts that Joss will be receiving, bath crayons, foam shapes to stick on the walls of the shower, and foam silly soap all intended to encourage more sensory play.

Image from Magic Toy Shop

Image from Magic Toy Shop

I’ve also bought a set of these sensory tubes for scientific explorations; I’ll be filling them with water, glitter and glue to make sparkly sensory tubes; Joss loves putting things in and out of containers so I know these will be a big hit.

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Now that she’s getting older I thought about other toys to support her learning. When HEXBUG contacted me about their range of robots for children I was really intrigued! By leveraging their robotics expertise HEXBUG toys launched a Micro Robotic Creatures product line designed to give children a positive experience with robotics at a young age – these are some of the coolest toys I have EVER seen!  Look at this Battle Bridge, a brilliant arena for HEXBUG toys robots to interact in.

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Our childminder has a selection of HEXBUG toys and Joss loved playing with them, so I was only too happy to add a HEXBUG toys review to this sensory play post.  The Aquabot range starts at a super reasonable £7.99 for a single Aquabot; a robotic fish that really swims, these totally delight children, and why not, they move with such realistic actions that it’s hard to believe they’re robotic!

We reviewed the Aquabot 2.0; this interactive environment provides the fun experience of having a pet fish, without all the messy clean-up or need to remember to feed the fish, perfect for us and even better Joss can get her hands in and get wet too!  The comes pre-set with batteries and spares, and with a small tank and stickers to decorate the environment for the fish! At £14.99 for the Aquabot 2.0 and bowl this makes a great all round gift.

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The Aquabot encourages kids to let their imaginations run wild as they care for their new pet. After five minutes without activity, the fish goes into sleep mode to conserve battery life, Joss found this utterly fascinating and even more fun as the fish can be awakened by tapping on the tank, and off it goes swimming again!

Other robots in the HEXBUG toys ranges react to light and sound or movement, these are brilliant little toys to introduce children to science and foster a love of engineering too; oh and they’re pretty fun for grown ups too!

Why not think about giving a fun sensory or scientific gift this Christmas?
Disclaimer: We were sent an Aquabot 2.0 for review purposes, all views are our own

5 ways to overcome common toddler fears

Common Toddler Fears

I recently did a straw poll of over 50 mums and dads with toddlers to identify a list of common toddler fears; the following were identified as common:

Hand driers

Dogs

Mannequins or people in fancy dress

Bugs and creepy crawlies

Public toilets

Lawnmower

Vacuum cleaner or hoover

common toddler fears

Not so common toddler fears

As this was an unscientific poll it did throw up some really interesting fears, some very specific and as a precursor to saying that we shouldn’t belittle our little one’s fears later in this article there are some that were too funny not to mention.  These included:

“My daughter 2 year old is scared of the toilet because it has eyes on the inside of the lid…And she is scared of mannequins, especially the ones that don’t have any facial features… in a nutshell- if it has a face she probably won’t like it and if it doesn’t have a face she’s not happy either..”

“Fat men he doesn’t know. Not even joking. It’s embarrassing when he starts getting upset and hiding because of the big fat man”

“Oh and the wheat bag thing you stick in the microwave. He’s 2″

“The wobbly shed! PS it doesn’t wobble”

“Big mega poos until they come out”

5 ways to overcome common toddler fears

We had a spell recently where Joss started asking ‘what’s that noise’ and asking to be carried or hugged if we heard a hoover, lawnmower, loud roadworks, car alarm etc.

More concerning for us as parents though was a really tough time where she was scared of M.O.N.S.T.E.R.S (yep monsters, we had to spell it out to avoid using the word for a good month and a half).

From the scary – “there’s a monster in my bed Mammy, it’s purple and I don’t like it” –  to the ridiculous – hearing “what’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster, is it a monster” by The Automatic in a charity shop and Joss needing to leave the store NOW to get away from it! – it wasn’t an easy time as it really disrupted her sleep and disturbed her.

The problem was, Joss was unable to say what a monster was or where she’d heard the word or got the idea to be scared so it was hard for us to tackle.  Here’s what we found worked after some research, these form our 5 ways to overcome common toddler fears

1) Recognise the fear

Don’t belittle their fear, it’s very real for them however imagined or surreal it might seem to us big people.  We acknowledged that Joss was scared of monsters and talked about them in a way she could understand, I said that I could understand how it felt to be afraid – “it’s hard when something is scary, I understand you don’t want to go into the living room, let’s hold hands and go in together”

2) Talk about the fear truthfully, use books or other tools

Rather than saying that there’s no reason to be afraid or that monsters are not real we talked about them instead.  She had some books about monsters, we talked about how they looked silly, what colours they were, that they made us laugh.  She still had this dialogue of ‘monsters are scary’ but that slowly started to be replaced by ‘monsters are silly…’  We had some tough decisions about whether to start with monster spray or clear the room rituals that Id read about, I am glad we avoided these as I think they may have sustained or reinforced the fears instead, I think it helped more to be consistent and offer lots of repetition and praise.  For slightly older children asking them to draw a monster or another fear might be a useful tool

3) Use lots of praise

I praised Joss’ efforts to overcome her fears, we had a spell where she insisted there was a scary monster under her chair, I encouraged her to point to the scary monster and say you’re not scary, you’re silly, and when she did I used lots of praise and encouragement, when she started to get scared of loud noises we did the same.

4) Use humour but don’t laugh about it if they’re upset

Children can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary so don’t laugh at them when they’re afraid, help them talk their way through the fear with you instead.

5) Make nighttime less scary

At the height of our time exploring monster fears Joss started to show signs of becoming afraid during bedtime, we did a lot of work to reassure her that Mammy and Daddy are here for her and we kept the hall light on for a few evenings.  Over time her fears started to subside.  Then we noticed that at times of change, my working away for a few days or her grandparents going on holiday and not seeing them for a little while seemed to unsettle her and bring back the fears again.  With lots of praise and reassurance we have been helping her to understand change and prepare her for change by talking to her about where she is going for the day, what we are doing and building a strong sense of attachment.

As her fears decrease she has become bolder, sometimes shouting monster, run! She has also started to draw monsters and give them names so we’re moving away from something she’s too scared to speak about to her being able to be much more vocal about the fear and work it out for herself.

Do your little ones have any fears?  How do you help them through?

Mums' Days

- See more at: http://mumsdays.com/#sthash.RFuw1FtF.dpuf

Toddler Printable Library in a Box!

If like me you have a child that absolutely adores libraries, stickers, stamps and books then I have the perfect Toddler Printable Library in a box for you!

Joss loves our local library and asks to help stamp the books when we pop in on a Saturday, I wanted to recreate this as a play activity we could do during her quiet time at home.  She’s really into role play so this will make a nice change from playing  ‘shops’ for a while!

I made Joss a little Library Box with bookplates, a date stamp, library cards and stickers and other stamps so that she can play ‘librarian’ at home, and now you can too!

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These Toddler Printable Library cards and labels are free for you to download and print as many times as you like!  Just paste the label onto a shoebox, cut out the cards and bookplates and fill your box with stamps, ink, pens, stickers and hey presto, your little one is a Librarian!

Library label

library cards Printable cards

I’d love to see what you add to your own library boxes, if you print them pop back and let me know how your library play goes!

 

Magic, storytelling and play at The Hancock’s Magic Worlds exhibition

The Great North (or Hancock) Museum is hands down Joss’ favourite day out.  In Newcastle’s city centre its a haven from the shops, “goin a see a dinosaurs” is a frequently used phrase in this house and we’re there most weeks, sometimes multiple times a week!

When I heard about the Magic Worlds exhibition we had to go on the first day!

It didn’t disappoint, a V&A Museum of Childhood visiting exhibition with the Hancock until the summer there is bags to see and do, today we focused on fairy tales and must go back to see more of the magic and play! 

As a lover of fairy tales I’m keen to share this interest with Joss, I found the displays really sparked my crafty imagination and the Alice in Wonderland play area is amazing and we couldn’t drag her away from the Mad Hatters Tea Party!

The staging is amazing, woodland, elven, witch, fairytale and magic with a sweet little reading area, some great examples of patchwork cushioning and intricate wood cut trees, dark spaces and magic mirrors and loads of puppets, including Sooty himself and a scary Hansel and Gretel witch!

I can’t wait to go back and explore some more with Joss, an awe inspiring day out!

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Eat, Sleep, Play: Unfounded Worries in Motherhood

Yesterday was World Sleep Day, as a mother your usual concern is that you and your family are not getting enough, and the idea that other folks are getting ALL THE SLEEP kills you!

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In a previous life I was probably a sloth…

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Truth be told, when I was planning my return to work I couldn’t see a way to go back, how could I put a decent day at my desk in after a run of bad nights?  Knowing that sleep has a huge impact on my productivity and mental health and my job involves more than just saying ‘pass the damn coffee’ all day I couldn’t see how it would work.  But it does,  and I do.

This got me thinking about some of my unfounded worries and anxieties as a new mother.  Now that I have a rapidly-approaching-two-year- old (RATYO?) my anxieties about “what if…x,y,z” have calmed a lot.

They usually focused around three key issues, Eat, Sleep, Play (see what I did here?)

Eat

Weight gain and weaning… I drove myself to despair over Joss’ slow weight gain, when she started to fall off her line in the red book of wisdom I was told to bring her back to be weighed in two weeks.  I started to believe that I was somehow supposed to get her to eat more in those two weeks and meal times became awful for both of us, I’d obsess over her food intake.  I knew people said “food before one is just for fun” – ITS TRUE PEOPLE!! I didn’t believe this at the time, but eighteen months on Joss has a healthy and sensible appetite, still loves her fruit and veg and once I started to become much more patient we all started to enjoy mealtimes.  Most of my fears about weaning were unfounded too, hey look, she’s eating a meal of food like any regular human child, to me it was a revelation that baby led weaning existed, surely it was all about purees and spoon feeding?  See this muffin?  She didn’t really eat it, but she did mouth it and enjoy sharing a meal time with us, and that was more important than volume at that stage, lesson learned right there!

Sleep

You don’t need as much as you think you do.  Well I do, no really, I do.  In the early days once a routine was established about five months into our parenting journey I started to get a bit desperate about sleep, those what ifs? again, what if she wakes really frequently?  What is causing the disturbance?  Am I getting this routine thing wrong?  I started a sleep diary, we learned that Joss has a unique cycle every eight weeks moving from sleeping 10 hours straight to reducing that by an hour a night til we hit on a 4am wake up then increasing back to sleeping ten hours again.  Erm, how fascinating, but what would we do with this amazing data we had gathered?  Put it into a computer and make her sleep again?  It’s her cycle, we learned to live with it, it’s easier when you accept it and know that good days will follow bad again.

Play

The old will she won’t she walk soon?  Will she won’t she talk soon?  Is she getting the right kind of play?  Is it bad that she asks for Tombiliboos first thing in the morning and knows the names of most of the Cbeebies presenters like they’re our friends and family?  Again all unfounded worries.  All normal worries I hasten to add!

I guess this post is just a gentle reminder to me that phases are just that, they ebb and flow, and to anyone having a wobble, this too shall pass!

Toddler schemas – the one where I get heckled

“They’re all different…” “every child is unique….”

Apparently there are ‘toddler personality types;’ the wallflower, zen baby, the extrovert explorer and the whirlwind, I have all four, no, not quadruplets, but Joss is a whimsical “flibertigibbert, a wilo-the-wisp, a clown” and regularly displays all of these traits and more.

She’s more wallflower probably, cautious,careful and thoughtful with the occasional flash of courage!

What really amuses me now that I am used to dealing with it is her tenacity, I have stopped seeing her as “stubborn” and “headstrong” there’s a humour under her steely determination that makes it much easier to work with, than against, I’m not saying there aren’t nights when I’ve been at work all day and could handle her whinging better but sometimes you just have to laugh at how they start to find their feet and understand their own emotions and whims. Like tonight, when I walked home with the buggy after the childminders, she leaned right out the pram asking me for more crisps and heckling ‘silly mammy’ asking me to run up the bank with all 10 kilos of her, a buggy, workbag and shopping ! – If I can catch her at the right moment she’s easy to distract, but I sometimes miss the cues!

crisps

A schema is a psychological term, it denotes a set of play behaviours when referring to children, and the BBC has a nice guide to toddler schemas you might be interested in here and there are more ideas for games depending on your child’s schema here

Joss’ schema is ‘transporting’ this means she likes to fetch and carry, to put items into bags and boxes to carry, to push items along, like her trolley and so her toy preferences are for bags, prams, cars and trailers.

It is fascinating how accurate this schema is for Joss, as these photos show, this is a really focussed enjoyable form of play for her!

What I also find amusing is how she does the same thing over and over if she’s really into her schema play, tonight she put all her animals in a little red bag and carried them about, this started with her looking at the bag, then thinking for ages, she suddenly and seemingly randomly to me said ‘sheep!’ hopped up and started filling the bag with plastic farm animals, but once she got bored she wanted bricks in there too, the bag then wouldn’t close and she got really angry, shouting for me to ‘fixit, fixit, fixit’ and when she calmed down we looked closely at the bag and talked about why it wouldn’t close, she was tired and couldn’t accept it so we moved on to distraction with a colouring book. Understanding her schema helps me understand her play and understand how I can develop her play with her too.

Have a read, what schema is your little one on? I’d love to hear more!

Toys of the past!

I’m 30 next month and true to my 80s kid roots I’ve been reminiscing over some childhood photos, I always come back to the toys that feature in the pics, retro chic! Once I get thinking about Hamble and Jemima, Alf, Harry and the Hendersons, Thundercats…that’s it, you’ve lost me!

About ten years ago Mr B bought me a repro Carebear after my toys came to a sad end (loft insulation man took them by mistake, bye bye lovely memories) it’s now Joss’ prized possession:

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So this post is a rundown a ‘toys I’ve loved and lost but remember fondly’ if you will!

My top five rundown in TOTP style (do the presenter’s voice, you know you want to!) starts with Polly Pocket, frustrating though it was that Polly’s only movement was to bend in half in the middle I used to love these little cases, I’ve always been a sucker for compacts!

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Then in at four there were Keypers, we had a snail and a swan given in a bumper pack of hand-mi-downs, I vividly remember my excitement at these, so good!

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In at three, Cupcake Dolls and Strawberry Shortcake, these were scented and every now and again at a really unexpected time if I get a whiff of a really artificial synthetic strawberry smell I’m suddenly six years old again!

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A controversial entry at two, around since the 60s with a heyday in the 90s I don’t care, (I love it) my Skip-it brings all the kids to the yard:
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And finally this week’s new entry straight into number one, it won’t be everyone’s favourite but it’s mine, My Little Pony, can’t wait for Joss to get into these!

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Disclaimer: I am now raising a child who I don’t believe should only play with the classically ‘girls’ oriented toys that I did and am a fervent supporter of the Let Toys be Toys campaign!

Post Comment Love

What’s the story?

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What’s going on here then? Well I think I’ll call this photo “Clonkers Bonkers” sadly for poor Jossy this week brought in both a new year and her first accident, a bang to the head following some crazy running around on a very wet and windy day. Stuck in the house she ran in circles shouting ‘spinny thing’ (just something we made up…) and slid headfirst into the kitchen step, up came a goose egg and a now yellowing bruise to follow.

Now I think we did pretty well to get to 20 months with a lot of “slow down, be carefuls!” and no accidents, but it was only a matter of time.

This photo shows a safer mode of play, literally well cushioned, sat on her upside down potty with all her toy people and animals piled in, now if only she’d stay still in there…

Toddler play, simple fun on a rainy day

When Joss napped this morning I got my stash of washi tape out (I love this stuff!) and used it to decorate some different lengths of tube cut from toilet roll inners.  I bought a huge bag of 250 straws and popped her down on this rainy afternoon with the colander, 10 colourful straws and the tubes.  First we talked about the colours of the straws, then she tried brushing them through her hair, and blowing through them, an hour later she was still playing, wearing the tubes as bangles and putting the straws through the colander tubes, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pinterest is an amazing source of play ideas, at 11am I wasn’t sure how we’d entertain each other for the day, but at very little cost we enjoyed a really fun afternoon indoors!

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The fun continued whilst I cracked on with a spot of washing up too!

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