toddlers

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…

To read the rest of this post, head over to our newly launched website: www.more-than-a-mum.com

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

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

‘That New John Lewis Ad’ Or ‘Better to give than receive? Try telling a Toddler that!’

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Is it too early to have a Christmas themed blog post? I hope not. I usually gage it by the Christmas lights being switched on in shopping centres so it seems to have officially started in some parts. I have an axe to grind, a bug to bear, a rant to rave…. Now when in my pre-parent days I heard people harp on about the over indulgence and materialism of Christmas I used to nod in agreement but secretly felt they were probably a bit of a scrooge or at least ‘tight’. Now, having become a mum and this year being the first that 2-year old BearCub seems to understand, I am outraged that the nets of marketing aimed at my seemingly innocent child have worked and fully ensnared him! Suddenly my son not only wants, but also expects, ‘everything’. Any shop we pass he is asking to buy a plane or car and any vague acquaintance that visits the house is questioned as to what they have bought him. I like to think I am not a materialistic person and we do try to avoid Milkshake in favour of Cbeebies in part due to the onslaught of child aimed mass marketing – in part due to the annoying presenters. Where has my ungrateful and greedy child come from? We have tried having the chat about not expecting presents every day and that gifts are deserving of special occasions only and I even put a ban on all gifts between a couple of weeks back and Christmas. However this all proved futile when BearCub’s Grandma returned from Australia and presented ‘just a few little gifts’ which turned out to be a massive remote controlled car and a mini motorbike – both gifts I’d deem as a main Christmas present – and with Christmas just 5 weeks away!!!! Grrr!

I really want my son to grow up with the literal awe my sister and I had when we would open our second-hand (and clearly used) presents with delight then go upstairs when it was over and find one last extra present – a Commodore 64 our mum had worked extra hours to get for us. We literally cried with joy and complete amazement! Instead my 2-year old already expects to receive whatever he wishes for!

I had a wealthy friend who would allow her children to select one toy to keep and then go with her children after Christmas to give their other gifts to less fortunate children. Maybe a step too far but I love the idea of teaching that giving is better than receiving from a young age.

You’ve probably seen the new John Lewis ad by now – you know the one everyone is raving about. Since being pregnant I have gone from a gal who had never cried at a film in her life to someone who gets choked at episodes of Holby City. The striking point of the J.L ad is the fact that we are so familiar with children impatiently counting down until Christmas in anticipation of the gifts they will receive that we are wholly touched when we realise this boy’s excitement is at that thought of giving a gift to his parents. This would obviously never happen in real life but, I do think it serves as a great reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. As to how we teach our little darlings that it’s better to give than receive when they are currently going through the stage of not at all understanding why they should share anything in the world…well if you have the answer please do let me know!!!

L

Saturday Caption!

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BearCub on Guitar

Daylight Saving Time: Torture for parents!

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I am too tired to write a deep and meaningful blog post this morning and I’ll tell you why:  Whose stupid idea was it to change the clocks twice a year?  Obviously they were not thinking of the impact on Mother’s across the nation whose little darlings get up at 5.30am like mine does!  What on earth were they thinking and just who does this benefit?

Well apparently it’s all to do with saving the hours of daylight, and was started by a chap called William Willett, a London builder, who lived in Petts Wood in Kent.

Basically, he reckoned that you could improve the population’s health and happiness by putting forward the clocks by twenty minutes every Sunday in April and do the opposite in September (quite obviously not a parent!). His idea was not taken up, even though a ‘Daylight Saving Bill’ was introduced some five years before the outbreak of World War One. But once the war started, it was considered prudent to economise, to promote greater efficiency in using daylight hours, and in the use of artificial lighting. And so in 1916, ‘Daylight Saving Time’ was introduced.

Hello?  This was therefore about three reasons: improving health and happiness and economising due to the war.  Not a very extensive study admittedly, but I’m yet to meet a person let alone a parent whose happiness, health or utility bill has been helped by this out-dated notion.

Let me tell you the affect it has on me:  BearCub has never needed much sleep.  He sleeps through the night pretty much without fail (apart from when he’s ill) but he has always been an early riser.  I have done everything to try to change this including pain-stakingly moving his bed time 10 mins a time to an hour later.  As is the pattern I will finally get him into a routine of sleeping until a grand 6.30am when the clocks will change and we’re back to 5.30am wake ups!  I can handle anything past 6am but just that half hour earlier tips me over the edge.  I’m particularly dreading this weekend’s change as BearCub has taken to waking at 5.30am for the last week which means I’m in for a 4.30am little alarm clock on Sunday morning – joy!  It will take me a good few months to get this back to anywhere near 6am and then the clocks will go forward and bedtime will be mucked up with a knock on effect on wake ups!!!  Bloody daylight saving!!

L

 

Are you scared of spiders Mummy?

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Not scared in the slightest!!!!!!

One of the constant dilemmas I face as a single-mum to my 2 year-old bear-cub is how much negative emotion to try to ‘hide’ from him.  The other day we found a huge spider in his bedroom and I tried to calmly explain that we needed to take him outside so he could ‘be with his spider friends’.  When bear cub questioned why I was putting the spider in a glass and not picking it up with my hands I answered, through gritted teeth and with shaky hands, that I simply didn’t want to accidently squash him!  From the look on his face I don’t think bear cub was convinced for a minute.  I however, was actually quite proud of myself for managing to get that close to a big spider even if there was a glass between it and me.  Dealing with spiders is yet another new territory for me since becoming a single parent.

But there are so many questions here regarding fears.  We, as mums, instinctively want to do what is best and right for our little ones.  We cannot fight the overwhelming force which leads us to want to protect them from all harm at all costs.  On the other hand, most of us recognize how in the long term it does not benefit our children to grow up completely ignorant to some of the harsh realities in life that they inevitably will face.  The fact is, bad things do happen in life and it is not always a world of Cbeebies-happiness.  But how much should we educate them in the darker side of life and at what age? I constantly change my mind on this one.  As a child, I was exposed to the troubles of the adult world too much and too soon, the result being my sister and I were in somewhat of a role-reversal situation with our mum particularly in our teens and we were forced to grow up too quickly.  The positives are my sister and I are very strong, independent and calm in a crisis but we do some times wish we’d had a few more years of the care-free existence of a child who only has to worry about what they might not get for Christmas.  This experience has made me adamant that my son will not feel burdened with the responsibility of ‘making sure mum is ok’ or feeling guilty at having his own life and certainly that he will not feel that he has to be ‘the man of the house’.  Having said that, despite my best efforts, if I’m having a ‘difficult’ day which I feel I am handling internally I’ll often catch my little boy making an extra effort to make me laugh or smile.  It saddens me that he can so easily pick up my mood and want to or even feel responsible for turning it around.

My reality is that my little boy does not have his daddy living with him and although we’re trying to make that situation as smooth for him as possible he is beginning to become aware that this is not the case for many of his friends.  I’d be doing him a disservice as a parent to not sensitively communicate with him about this in terms he can understand.   I think we’d all agree it is not healthy to wrap our children in cotton-wool but I also believe it is good practice to let them know it is ‘ok’ for mummy to not be happy all the time and that sometimes people get sad.  More often than not, if it’s explained in an appropriate way they can handle it and move on.  After all, as I have discovered, kids are not stupid and know when you’re faking something anyway!

What’s your views/experience on this topic?

L