Toddler

Bear Hunt

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Well, you may well know by now that I (Ruth) am an English teacher and am passionate about reading and especially getting children engaged in books and reading from a young age. You may also know that both Loretta and I have really rather active little mites who, although they both enjoy books, are often in need of activities that burn off a little more energy than reading, so I gave some thought to the matter and when we met up with the kids, we went on a bear hunt…

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Saturday is Caption Day #hobbies

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Toddler Star Gazing
Getting involved in Daddy's hobbies.

Developing speech, language and communication in your child

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Yesterday a survey by OnePoll for I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and Openreach revealed that children in the UK are suffering as the recession forces parents to take extra work.

According to the findings the recession has forced 81% of parents in London (72% of British parents nationally) to take on extra work to make ends meet putting pressure on home life and time with children.  Worryingly, parents surveyed said this impacts on the time that they have to talk and interact with their child aged 0-5 years, which could potentially impact on their child’s communication development and their school readiness. Evidence shows that children’s understanding and use of vocabulary at 2 is very strongly associated with their performance on entering primary school. More than 50% of children start school without the communication skills they need to achieve particularly in some areas of social deprivation within the UK.

Key stats from survey in London:

•           Over a third are working longer hours, one-fifth have found themselves with no option but to take on a second job and a quarter of parents surveyed are now doing extra work from home.

•           More than half (57%) say they have less quality time with their children as a result of their work.

The survey shows that parents of children 0-5 years old, understand the importance of regular, quality conversation with their children. However:

•           44% say they rarely have time to talk these days and blame increased workloads.

•           20% are too tired to chat with their children by the time they get home from work.

•           Around a third state that either answering work calls or responding to emails often interrupts attempts to chat with their children.

•           Although parents in London recognise mealtimes as one of the key occasions to engage in conversation with young children, nearly 40% are regularly missing out on these meals due to work commitments.

The survey aims to encourage as many families, nurseries, child minders, children’s groups and others across London to register and take part in I CAN’s Chatterbox Challenge 2012 ‘Kids in Motion: Get Active and Make Chatter Matter’. the 11th annual Chatterbox Challenge, from 1-7th February 2012. The Chatterbox Challenge, developed by speech and language therapists, aims to develop children’s communication skills, through songs and rhymes, in homes, nurseries and childminding groups across the country.”

With support from Openreach, donations raised during the Chatterbox Challenge go directly to I CAN’s work with children with speech, language and communication difficulties. I CAN aims to ensure that no child is left out or left behind because of a difficulty speaking or understanding.

 Kate Freeman, I CAN Communication Lead Advisor says, ‘There are many quick and simple ways to help your child’s communication and we’ve put together 10 tips on building talking and singing into a busy day’:

10 TIPS FOR DEVELOPING SPEECH, LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION

GET YOUR CHILD’S FULL ATTENTION FIRST

Get down to the child’s level and engage their attention before speaking or asking a question – say their name to encourage them to stop and listen.  Talking about what your child is interested in will also help to gain their attention.

MAKE LEARNING LANGAUGE FUN

Funny voices, rhymes, noises and singing all help children to learn language.  Be silly – often the daftest things gain their attention

IMITATE CHILDREN’S LANGUAGE

With very young children, simply repeat back sounds, words and sentences. This demonstrates that you value all they say.  This can be anything from “ba” to “Oh, you liked the apple?”

USE A FULL RANGE OF EXPRESSION

Speak in a lively, animated voice and use lots of gestures and facial expressions to back up your words – you’ll give clues about what your words mean

USE SIMPLE, REPETITIVE LANGUAGE

Keep sentences short – as you talk about what is happening (“We’re driving in the car” or “Wow, you’re building a tower”)

MAKE IT EASY FOR YOUR CHILD TO LISTEN AND TALK

It is easier for your child to know what to listen to if your voice is not being masked by the television or music.  Give your child quiet times to help them focus on your words.  If your child uses a dummy, make sure that it is not in the way of their talking.  Keep dummies to sleeptimes

BUILD ON WHAT CHILDREN SAY

Talk very clearly and add one or two words to your child’s sentence – if your child says ‘look car’, you could say ‘look, red car’

GIVE CHILDREN TIME TO RESPOND

Children often need time to put their thoughts together before answering, so give them longer to respond than you would with an adult

BE CAREFUL WITH QUESTIONS

Try not to ask too many questions, especially ones that sound like you’re constantly testing the child, or where you already know the answer

DEMONSTRATE THE RIGHT WAY

Praise your child’s efforts, even if the results aren’t perfect – if the child says “we goed to the shops” the adult might say “Yes we went to the shops” of if child says “look tar” the adult could say “yes, car!” 

I thought these were pretty good tips but I’d add avoid baby talk.  I honestly have never understood the thinking behind teaching two versions of words when you can teach the correct one from the start! Why say ‘Choo-Choo’ when you can say ‘train’? Why teach ‘Ta’ when you can teach ‘thank you’.  Some baby talk words are more difficult to say than the real ones i.e. ‘Bow wow’ V ‘dog’!!!!  My son’s speech has always been fairly advanced (a real chatterbox) and although he loves using funny voices, making up words and silly rhymes (which I encourage) he has a great vocabulary and loves learning new words and their meanings.  I’m sure this has been largely down to us taking advantage of his inquisitive nature and explaining things properly when he asks about them rather than palming him off with kiddy answers – that are often not true.  Sometimes adults can assume a child will not understand and therefore over simplify an answer which can actually end up confusing a child – especially if they’re on to the fact that you’ve made it up!  I also found responding to a question with a little bit of additional information but not too much helps to add interest and fun into learning.  I also have talked a lot to my son from him being a tiny baby and I believe this helps them with their speech and understanding.

What tips would you add to encourage development in your child’s communication?

There is still time to register for a free Chatterbox Challenge pack, just go to www.chatterboxchallenge.co.uk

L

New Year’s resolutions for children?

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The New Year means new beginnings for many and an opportunity to start again, set some goals and make some changes.  These very often take the form of New Year’s resolutions for adults.  But what about children?  Is it a good idea or even healthy for children to have a set of New Year’s resolutions?

I must admit, personally I change my mind from year to year with regards to resolutions.  In some ways I think they can set you up for inevitable failure, in other ways I think it is good to have something to aim for.  I guess as long as you don’t beat yourself up about it if you don’t reach your goals than they can be helpful guidelines.

Anyway, I came across an interesting American article about New Year’s resolutions for children.  It quotes American pediatric psychologist, Stacy Flowers.  She says, “The New Year is a fresh start and it’s a great time for families to take a look at the past year and see where they can make improvement. For children and teens, making resolutions helps with self-discipline, goal setting and, when they are successful, improves self-esteem.”

I was skeptical at first but as I read on I felt Flowers had some interesting and helpful points.  According to Flowers, parents can play an important role in helping their children decide on goals and successfully meet those goals in the coming year:  “The first step is knowing your children. What areas can they work on? Where can they improve? Where will they see the biggest benefit?”

The key, according to Flowers, is to come up with manageable accomplishments that are personally meaningful to your child. These accomplishments will vary greatly with age.

However it’s all very well setting goals but how on earth do you get children to keep them?  Flowers suggests,

“Young children might benefit from charts and stickers to document their progress and accomplishments. Older children and teens can utilise calendars or electronic documentation of their achievements. Parents can also use age-appropriate rewards to recognise their children’s successes.  No matter how old you are, it feels so good to get something crossed off your list, and the absolutely best way to change behavior is to reward it instead of punish it.”

We, as parents, don’t get let off the hook in the article either.  Flowers says if children are making resolutions, their parents should be as well.  She says, “Those goals should be shared with the children so they are aware of what their parents are hoping to achieve. That actually makes it fun for the children. They get really excited when they can point out something their parent isn’t doing right.”

Flowers concludes that, “Everybody has something they need to work on, so resolutions can become a family tradition.”

After reading the article I felt that if nothing else it would give me a chance to approach and tackle some of the ‘difficult’ behaviour my son has made a habit of over the last year and I can set some goals that I know he’ll relish keeping me accountable to.  It could actually be fun! What do you think?

L

Harlington Locomotive Society

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If you’ve been trying since yesterday’s Silent Sunday (billed as a trailer for today’s post!) to work out what I’m posting about today, you need wait no longer! I know that we want to ensure that More Than A Mum doesn’t become too London-centric, but I have to tell you about an amazing local place today.

Today, munchkin, Daddy and I visited a hidden gem.  We went with friends to the Harlington Locomotive Society’s Mince Pie Run.

I’d not been to the Harlington Locomotive Society  before, but the website promised mincepies and Santa, and what more could you want on the last Sunday before Christmas?

Excitement riding high

It turned out that this visit was one of the best child friendly days out that we could have asked for.  For 40p a ride (toddlers are free but have to be accompanied), we tootled round a track pulled by minature steam and diesel trains, reaching a giddy 6mph.

6mph on a minature train, is quite fast!

Trains pulled between 1 and 3 carriages behind them and each carried three or four people.  Each train had a driver and a guard and it really was good fun powering round the track with your feet dangling a few feet from ground.

Daddy and munchkin on the train

The trains are  cared for by a team of chaps who obviously love their trains and love introducing them to the public. Judging by the number of people there, they are definitely doing a good job.

Train maintenance

And, what of Santa?  Well, he was there too.  He arrived, went on a quick journey round the track ringing a bell and then sat in the tearoom. Munchkin and her friend popped to see him and let him know what they would like for Christmas. He promised to see what he could do and gave them each a sweetie.

Santa

Altogether (including tea/coffee for the adults and biccies for all round  as well as 2 rides each and Santa) we spent less that a fiver and we spent two hours enjoying ourselves, in spite of the cold.  There were all ages there, from babes in buggies  to older primary aged children with Mums, Dads and Grandparents.

Crowd at track
The crowd viewed from the train

All in all, I’d highly recommend a day out at Harlington Locomotive Society.  Unfortunately, there are no more mince pie runs, but there will be open days through out 2012 and you can organise children’s parties there too.

R

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Toddler Snack

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Here’s a healthy fun toddler snack that we’ve been making and taking places for the last couple of weeks.  There are just enough ‘naughty’ things for Munchkin to think that this is a treat and enough healthy things for me to feel happy that she’s getting something that’s doing her some good.  It also seems to be something that for some reason Munchkin loves to share with her friends, which is unusual, and the fact that she can help to prepare means it’s an activity too!

Toddler Trail-Mix

Firstly we pop some pop corn – I do this in a glass topped pan on the hob as we don’t have a microwave.  So, we put a tablespoon of oil in the pan (for a lightly salted version, use butter and oil) and add popping corn.  Stick the lid on a watch the fun!  Mucnhkin and try to shout “NOW” when the first corn pops.

Popcorn in pan

Next we wait for the popcorn to cool. (…and sneak the odd yummy warm piece…mmm)

Pocorn popped

We put most of an amount like this into an airtight box to store and use as we need to.  Then put a handful or two into a suitable bag or box for taking out and add munchkin’s favourite extras.  In the one pictured below, we have added raisins, dried apple, dried mango and pinapple and then the extra treats were a few rice puff M and Ms and some Fruit Factory hearts.

Toddler trail mix

Toddler trail-mix: it’s yummy enough that even I share it sometimes!

R

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Soft Play Reviews: A Tour of Britain

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OK so it’s a bit of an ambitious title, but it’s a work in progress!  Over the last few months I have discovered that it is important to meet with old friends in very different locations to those we used to.  Having lived in various locations across the country and having friends spread far and wide, I have often met friends ‘half way’.  We used to meet for spa days and meals, now with so many of us having kids in tow, the usual location is a park or during these winter months, a soft play.  So now that I have met people in a range of locations I thought I would share my experiences with you.

Starting close to home, friends and I have the choice of 3 local soft-play centres.  My favourite is the Osterly garden centre.  It has a small, very clean, soft play at one end of its excellent cafe, so you can sip an Earl Grey and munch a yummy cake whilst little monsters run riot.  It also does excellent kids meals and all day picnics, and because it’s a garden centre, not a dedicated soft-play, the entry is free.  The next choice we have nearby is Snakes and Ladders in Brentford.  This is a paying soft play, but it is much bigger and suits both older and younger children with a specific 2-5’s section and ride-ons. There is no upper age limit, but a height limit of 4’ 8’’.  It is a bit frayed at the edges and the food is uninspiring, but hot and reasonably priced. Munchkin, Bearcub and their little friends with birthday’s around the same time had a joint 2nd birthday there this year and it was a good venue for this. The third option is Heathrow Gym, which is I am told is very good, but haven’t visited yet… TBC!

Around the rest of the country

Rugrats and Halfpints in Banbury: We went here to meet with friends from Birmingham. It was about an hour from West London and about an hour from Birmingham, so perfect distance.  It was also really close to a lovely park so in the afternoon the kids had an outdoor run around too.  It is large and clean and had a very good cafe.  It cost £7.50 for a child including a hot meal and drink and adults were free, but there are loads of other options and deals and if you’re local there’s a membership scheme. The kids played happily for hours and it had excellent baby sensory sections and ride-on toys. It had both large and small soft-play sections and was not averse to grownups going in with the kids to show them the ropes first time round (as long as you take your shoes off). It is aimed at children from birth to 8 and I think it definitely has something for all.

Creepy Crawlies in York: We were staying in York with friends (you may have read the post about the York Railway Museum a few weeks ago) and needed something to keep munchkin entertained.  They had taken so other friends with a 9 and 6 year old a few weeks previously, and themselves had a month old, so again this is suited to a wide age range.  The most noticeable thing about this one was it’s size.  It’s  HUGE! It is in a factory unit and has a massive soft play area, with toddlers’ and bigger kids’ sections. The Adveture centre (as it call itself) it caters for up to 16yrs old and the outdoor section has things suitable for adults too.  There is a sand pit, adventure playground and animals.  They also have highwires and an eco skate rink.  Oh and a kids hairdressers – this really is an everything under one roof kind of place. The cafe was really nice too – if you need another reason to visit this one!

Cheeky Monkeys in Cheshunt: This was another half way house meeting point and provided a place about an hour from us in West London and a friend in Ipswich.  It was good value and really friendly.  When we first arrived I was a little confused as the building looks like an old scout hut or village hall, but inside it is small, but clean and well looked after. There is a sliding scale of prices from £5.50 to £2 dependant on age for 90minutes, though when we arrived, we were told the time limit is only enforced if it is really busy and they also had a £1 off deal. There is a small under 3’s section with a wendy house and some baby gym equipment as well as the usual small soft-play things.  There is then a larger play-frame suitable for older kids. There is a cafe with food and drink. It has a children’s hot menu with the usual sausage beans and chips, style meals and then there are sandwich options, jacket potatoes and paninis.  All at very good prices.

These reviews are all unsponsored.

So there is my work so far – are there any near you that you would recommend? Either write about them in a comment below, or send us your brief reviews to morethanamum@gmail.com with the title SOFT PLAY and we’ll pop them up on the blog.  The only requirement is that you state if you work for the centre or have been incentivised to write the review.

R