My infant became a Junior..

My second born, Daisy our first daughter has always seemed so much younger than her older brother. Partly because she’s so petite, a bit less confident than him, and partly because we haven’t rushed her through every milestone in the way we did with our first born. I was really quite sad to see her enter Year 3 and the realisation that she was going to be exposed to the next stage of primary school. 

As we are now nearing the end of term and her first year in juniors (year 3) I’m reflecting on the transition from infants, year 2 to year 3.

There is reportedly quite a dip in some year 3 pupils progress as some parents take it that their children can be more independent and they can offer less home support. At the age of 7-8 they start to develop more of an attitude and can also associate negativity towards learning, whilst also forming a relationship with learning and developing educational tools to succeed. Therefore this stage is a real crucial age to be involved via communication with your child and school. 

They’re certainly more aware of each other’s abilities and learning groups at this stage, and exposed to more grown up behaviour from older peers in the playground. Yes I know this is all part of a natural process of building their characters, however I would prefer to be aware of what’s going on or what they’re privy to in their day. 

It makes a difference if your child’s teachers make a year 2-3 transition smoother with more communication and connections between the year groups, and also if parents support the child through school work and keeping an eye on their social interaction with peers. It is also important to still support them at this time with gentle reminders of what they need to do daily: chores, packing bag etc.

There are many highlights and positives to moving up – mine have always enjoyed  more science lessons, experimenting with musical instruments and more independent art lessons.  They also get to go be more involved with extra curricular activities such as choir trips, art exhibitions etc. This is really lovely to see as you get an insight on where their talents lie and what excites them. Daisy loves to sing, and hearing her practice her songs she’s learnt from school makes me smile as she looks so happy belting a tune out! She’s really developing and changing at a fast rate at the moment and I feel if I stop asking how she is or don’t monitor her progress I could ease lose a sense of who she is. 

It’s emotional being a parent and seeing them grow bigger but I keep reminding myself to try and embrace the next stage as it could be just as fun. 

The Baby-Led Weaning recipes – Daddy attempts!

So we got the new Annabel Karmel book recently and I decided to have a go at a couple of things on a rainy Saturday afternoon. 
We’ve used her recipe books for as long as we’ve had children, and some of her recipes have become real go-to family favourites over the years.

First up was Chocolate Beetroot Brownies. I love dark chocolate brownies, and the addition of beetroot made this an easy sell. The recipe itself is a doddle to follow, even for an enthusiastic amateur like myself. I ended up giving them an extra 5 minutes in the oven as I wasn’t convinced they were ready, and that seemed to be just right.

Everyone enjoyed them, even Daisy (who has a natural aversion to fruit & vegetables!).

Next up was Chicken, Cherry Tomato & Sweetcorn Quesadillas, with a Cottage Cheese Dip.Again, dead easy to knock up as an easy Saturday night dinner, and quite healthy ingredients as you would expect from Annabel Karmel.This went down well with the kids too (a bit of a pizza feel to the meal as it was cut up like wedges), and Florence enjoyed tearing her wedge apart and eating it in the baby-led way. Look forward to Charlotte’s blog post of what she was doing in the kitchen alongside me, it was delicious!

The Pramshed

Father’s Day

For anyone looking for Father’s Day ideas. We searched Pinterest and quickly ordered some craft items off eBay. They arrived in a couple of days and then the kids enjoyed creating these masterpieces. There wasn’t too many arguments between them, leaving me free to supervise whilst having a relatively hot coffee! We are trying to have quite a frugal month here in preparation for summer holidays and 3 family birthdays, so homemade gifts under £10 are just the ticket for us right now!

I thought you’d like this board on Pinterest… 

Age Gap Parenting- slow parenting approach

With four children spanning an age range from baby to 11 years old we have faced different stages of challenges, levels of independence, ways of entertaining and parental joys.  With our eldest we have blindly entered each year of different childhood challenges, parental techniques and worked our way through. We are fortunate that our eldest has been for the most part a very contented child. This giving us a foot up the parent ladder in working out techniques for dealing with all of our children and aiding us in proactive ways to entertain them, discipline them and support them in their childhood years. Of course each of our children have different personality traits to keep us on our toes and not all are as easy as he has been so far. 

One technique we rely on is a term I suppose that comes under ‘slow parenting’. We feel it’s not necessary even with our first to rush their childhood as it only lasts for such a short time as it is. This parenting approach we use all the time in our minds for planning our family time together. We don’t feel that we’re holding our children back as they have the opportunity to have one to one time at home when we split our parenting (tag team parenting) so I will help Daisy bake a cake whilst Dougie parents the others or he will do fitness sessions with the older ones whilst I have the baby or some much needed quiet time! 

Our older ones also have time out away from home to gain much needed independence and have age appropriate activities. Our children attend a variety of after school clubs where they can be with their peers and gain lifelong skills for example at Scouts, cubs, swimming, judo, gymnastics, piano lessons etc. Along side this they have weekends away throughout the year with and without Daddy at scout/cub/beaver camp. 

So when we are together as a family we pitch our activities and daily routines to try and encompass all four and lean towards including the younger ones. We just need to plan and think about ways to age gap parent to please all. 

Here are some of our tips that work for us:

Out and about – When we’re in parks, having walks or picnics the little ones are entertained by playground equipment, woodland trails and playing catch and blowing bubbles. To keep our older ones happy we set them challenges such as climbing trees, geocaching, and running a game of hide and seek / what’s the time Mr Wolf! Failing this we allow them a little independence such as exploring an area by themselves with a time limit set. We also invested in battery operated 2-way walkie-talkies, which the big ones love and means they can roam a little further without us having to shout to call them back for lunch! Ours love 10 minutes to visit tourist souvenir shops independently in a museum or visitors centre for example. This also means our toddler is not becoming impatient with everyone whilst they’re looking around. 

Shopping – In shops (not that we shop often all together!) we give them age appropriate jobs to keep them on task and to save our sanity such as writing lists, collecting the trolley, fetching items. 

Age appropriate Movies – At home we stick to a few rules regarding age and that is we only allow our children to watch films rated appropriately to their age (few exceptions the first 3 Harry Potter films and Star Wars films) this makes it easier as when our eldest reaches 12 he will have lots of films to look forward to watching and will do so in his staying up time. We can then pick films that mostly entertain all 3 of the film watchers in the house. 

Morning routine – During the week in the morning we have the Milkshake Children’s channel on the tv to keep the toddler in one place whilst I’m getting organised, and allowing the big two to get organised for school without being distracted. They get a chance to view older programs in cbbc etc at the little one’s bathtime.

Homework time – Strategies we use are advance warning (children do not like to be ambushed by homework!), picking your time so they’re not too tired, trying to be encouraging/not overly critical, and downright bribery!

Reflection – Having just a few minutes a day to ask them all one by one about a good fact of the day and anything that wasn’t so good? You’ll get a useful insight into how your children think!

Playing outside – we have a tree swing for the older ones, den area and trampoline for them all, and a little house, slide and water play/sand pit area etc for the toddler. Our older two are also allowed some independence playing outside our house with friends as we are lucky to live in a relatively secure environment. 

Bedtime Routine – We stagger bedtimes and have done so since Finlay hit about 5. Even if it’s 15 minutes difference it gives them a brief window of one to one bedtime, or allows them peace to read without tired siblings annoying them! 

Chores & Pocket Money – Our  eldest is often doing his normal tween groaning on how unfair it is that he gets more to do. He is swiftly reminded that he has weekly pocket money hence a few more chores that others. We started £1 per week pocket money around aged 8, as before this we have found that they just aren’t that motivated nor old enough to grasp it. We also keep our money levels low as we have 4 and we don’t want them to have money thrown at them from a young age. It’s also good to encourage them to save up for bigger toys. Our 11 year old is now on £2 a week. There are plenty of weeks in the year that he will slack off and not be paid for but then he will also boost it by cleaning the car/ shed etc for more coins when he’s motivated! He has an Osper Card which is loaded by us, and this has made him more aware and hopefully more mature when it comes to thinking about money. Now even our toddler is encouraged to take his plate to the sink, clothes to the wash basket etc to then justify the odd packet of chocolate buttons at the end of the week. At this age they really are happy to do such basic chores as they find it a good challenge!  

In all of our plans to keep every age happy we find that our eldest love to share and show their younger siblings things that they know how to do, have seen before or can help them tackle. This can be even sitting and playing with duplo, blocks, happyland, pushing the baby swing or even watching Peppa Pig. Let’s face it we all love to act younger than we have to sometimes! A perfect example of sibling games occurred tonight when Finlay made up a game for Teddy with Star Wars figures and a soft ball- called Star Wars skittles!  This then makes for a happy team and good team work skills for life. So then everyone is entertained and gives us grown up children a chance for a much needed coffee, breather and chat! 

I have started a series of videos on ideas of age gap activities on our YouTube channel for anyone needing a bit of inspiration.

Cuddle Fairy

Being a Dad – It’s a work in progress.

I’ve heard people say “oh there’s no manual for being a parent”, but there are many, many books out there on the subject, and in our digital age answers to questions are only a click away. However, despite the abundance of information and advice out there (blogs included!), it remains a fact that there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ manual for being a parent. It comes down to one simple fact. Individuality. You are an individual, and so is your child. My kids are currently 11, 8, 3 and 9 months, and I have changed in my parenting style as the years have gone on. I was tougher on the first and had high expectations, but have softened (slightly) over the years and have learned to accept that things will happen when the child is ready. 

As a 35 year old first time father I certainly wasn’t young, but it was daunting nevertheless, and I had definite ideas of how I was going to be as a daddy. Turns out you can’t really plan like that, as the little rascals keep you on your toes so much sometimes you don’t know if you’re coming or going! 
Top Tip (and you’ll be pleased to know it’s only this one, I’m not about to turn into a ‘been there done that’ dispenser of wisdom) – Do not be too hard on yourself, you’re doing better than you think. That’s it.

There are times when you raise your voice, times when you make them cry, and yes (don’t hang me), times when you may say unkind things to them you wish you could take back. After you’ve finished beating yourself up about it, move on, because it’s guaranteed that your kids will forgive you and move on quicker than you. Their capacity for forgiveness is humbling. And let’s face it, anyone who’s watched Supernanny realises it’s not all bad! 

Confession time – I’ve dropped my kids, lost my kids (found one in the service lift in a department store after a frantic 2 minutes once!), forgot to feed them, left nappies on too long, forgot to sunscreen them and generally done a few things that, on face value, probably put me in the bad daddy category. At that time. And that’s the important thing to remember; it’s transient, so relax. Who knew you could still grow up in your forties? Don’t answer that! 

Joking aside, that part is true. You never stop learning, and because each child is different means that you have to test and adjust your style to find what works. Sometimes I feel I’m totally on top of it with my 11 years’ experience, and other times I feel as if I’ve been at it just 11 minutes.

I’m kept on the straight and narrow by my wife (obviously!), who will readily offer an alternative method of delivery for my grumpy dad-rants; she has a gentler parenting style than me and remains calmer for longer, so I try to listen when I can, as I’m a hot-headed/short-fuse type by personality.

By and large we learn from both good and bad experiences with adults as children. As a 6 year old I vividly remember being smacked hard by the father of a friend for some small 6 year old misdeed, but equally vividly I remember as a 9 year old a different friend’s father showing me how to draw a Dalek from Dr Who (I’ve long since forgotten your name but thank you!).

Based on that thought, I try to do enough of the memorably good things and as little as possible of the memorably negative ones.

So what’s solution to getting it wrong sometimes? Getting it right more. Sounds simple, but it’s about balance. Like Dr Seuss says, ‘Life is a balancing act’. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Just keep going as best as you can, because being a dad is, always, a work in progress.

Cuddle Fairy

Bunkhouse Break in the Lakes – Airbnb family adventure 

As Dougie’s Birthday approached and lots of requests from him and Finlay to escape and climb a mountain, I started to plot a plan to celebrate as a family and combine a walking break for him! I decided to look at budget family breaks in the Lakes.

I started scouring different available  accommodation that would sleep a family of 6 as we needed a little more protection than a tent, as the weather was still a bit unpredictable for camping. There was no glamping options for our party size available last minute so I checked out the airbnb website. With plenty to choose from I noticed the Bunkhouse accommodation, something I have fancied trying out before. So I downloaded the airbnb app and contacted the owners and booked a 7 bed room in a beautiful quiet national trust area in the Lakes. 

The Bunkhouse was sandwiched between a hotel and a national trust public house so we could celebrate and have 2 nights off from cooking -perfect! 

The walking from the Bunkhouse was very simple. The Bunkhouse itself sits at the start of the Wainwright classic ‘Langdale Pikes’.  Dougie and Finlay completed this route on day one while I took the little ones to Beatrix Pitter museum and had a ferry boat ride on Windermere. The next day we went up the route of the Langdale Pikes as a family to the lake below the first summit and picnicked there, with sausages & eggs appearing from Dougies rucksack along with a gas cooker & frying pan – there were several envious glances as the smell drifted around! The following day we went walking to see the famous Wildcat Island from Swallows & Amazons, and stumbled across a lovely quiet spot on the shore just across from it to spend some time.

We had to take our own duvet/sleeping bag, towels (sheets and pillows/pillowcases were provided) for the bunk beds and single bed in the room. The accommodation was very basic but clean. Toilet block, with a shower, kettle in the room and nothing else provided. There was space for drying kit out and boots etc.  I have never stayed in a youth hostel before but Dougie has lots and assured me that this is of a similar set up. There was no kitchen at this Bunkhouse so we just used the space in our room to store breakfast, snacks and lunch. 

This was a great adventure for the kids who loved sleeping in the sane room – as annoying as they were at 9pm after a busy day of fresh air – but we still had a giggle. The area was breathtakingly beautiful with waterfalls, etc etc to explore and of course to picnic! The public house was a real gem and great for much needed comfort food and drink at the end of a busy day. 

We were very lucky to get good weather which makes such a difference to explore the Lakes, and with the fact that the whole booking process was so simple the break was a breath of fresh air (apart from the occasional fall out from the monkeys!).

We would highly recommend making time to visit this area in this manner, as we all had a great time and there was something for everyone.

Our little Summerborn continued…

If you follow our blog then you will be aware that we applied to defer our 3 year old son Teddy a Reception start until the term after he turns 5 (compulsory school age), which for him is September 2018. Lots of local authorities are rightly open and agreeing to allow the parents the choice of when to start their summer term born 4  year olds in Reception, so these children would have just turned 5 the September of their entering school.

We are for now living in Lancashire and we have a fully supportive head teacher at our local school and a supportive nursery.  As parents with older siblings at school we have always had a good relationship with the school, as has my husband in his role as a volunteer parent governor, and we couldn’t have asked for more with their support towards this request. Nursery also have been brilliant; after several chats and a letter of support they were very happy to continue caring for Teddy up until July 2018 when he turns 5 at the end of the school term. 

We sent our own heartfelt reasonings as parents to Lancashire County Council as to why he should be given more time to be at home with myself, his sister and my childminding setting whilst also in a nursery provision for 15 hours a week. This is discussed more in our previous post, see the link below. 

We heard from Lancashire CC just before primary places were announced. Their decision was as we expected from this stubborn local authority. Like others in this area it was a ‘no’. We feel that they are just in a corner of ‘them and us’, and they are backed into their corner of stubbornness in wanting to keep denying parental choice and are keeping this stance. Our correspondence gave us the choice of accepting a place for Teddy for the intake of September 2017 or re-applying next year for a Reception start, which will be decided by the school and their attendance levels for that year, thus running the risk of Teddy missing Reception  and being placed into Year One. 

We spoke with our headteacher who was surprised by their decision, and feeling more determined than ever we have opted to reapply for September 2018 for a Reception place. 

We have high hopes that the government can move towards a consultation and stop the postcode lottery of summerborns by making it a nationwide parental choice. However now with another general election added to brexit these such parliamentary issues are put on a back burner it seems. 

With relocation of our family in the near future we have no firm idea whether we will be applying to our local school in LCC or indeed another school and LA somewhere else, therefore not having a definitive answer until spring/summer 2018.

In our eyes having to miss Reception and being placed into Year One is not in the interests of any child. Who knows what we will be up against next year with our current local authority, or maybe another one with a similar viewpoint who fail to comply with requests of change from MPs, education professionals and parents. We feel that we have only just started our small battle. 

For now we prefer to be positive in the fact that we have a supportive school on board for next year, and that if we have moved by September that we will by chance be in a forward thinking, open LA who believe it’s the parents’ right to choose. For now, our summerborn journey continues……

Mudpie Fridays