Monday, 10 September 2018

Shop 'til you drop...

The Gallagher Shopping Park is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Cheltenham and we are lucky enough to live just a 5 minute drive away from it. It has over 500 free parking spaces, which includes both disabled and parent and child spaces. They have also been recognised with a Park Mark award under the Safer Parking Scheme, designed to reduce crime in car parks. Easily accessible by bus, the shopping park is situated less than 2 miles away from the town centre and is also on bus routes leaving from the train station.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon when the park was at its busiest, finding a parking space took a while, but eventually we spotted one. When we have Ace with us, it's really useful to park in one of the parent and child spaces so I can easily get down the side of the car to help him out, but he wasn't with us today so any space would do. Navigating the car park with a young child is made easier by the zebra crossings and there are also designated lanes for bikes, so everyone knows where they should be. 

With clothing and accessories from Next, Outfit and Sports Direct, food from Subway, Greggs and Patisserie Valerie and homeware from HomeSense, DFS and Oak Furniture land, there isn't much you won't find at the Gallagher Shopping Park.

 

The reason for this trip was because we had been invited to check out what's in the shops for Autumn/Winter 2018, which was exciting but a little daunting for me as I am a huge fan of 'summer brights' and often feel drab in darker, more wintery colours (apart from a LBD, who feels drab in a LBD?). I needn't have worried though, because what Honey and I found across the stores was actually a sea of colour! Sure there was some terracotta and mustard in the mix (both lovely, classic Autumn colours, they're just not normally what I look for), but overwhelmingly, the trends seemed to be all about colour. 

Boots is my favourite, child friendly place to shop on the park. There are parent and child spaces right out side the doors, tiny trollies to keep little ones occupied while you shop, plus a baby room for those emergency feeding or changing moments. There are also loads of fab offers in store if you're part of the Boots Parenting Club (which is free to join online and gives you benefits such as free gifts, extra points on kids items and money off vouchers). For the grown ups, there are some fab new nail and lip colours hitting the shelves and the current trend for face masks doesn't seem to be diminishing, which is great news for people like me who like to pamper themselves at home when the budget doesn't stretch to anything more professional!


I hear a lot about HomeSense on Instagram, but rarely visit as we have a relatively minimalist home (apart from the kids' toys) and I don't want to be tempted into buying all the pretty trinkets! Honey LOVED all the pretty trinkets and I was rather taken by the range of colourful cushions available, but it was upstairs that really surprised me. Honey was in awe of the toy section and I could see her point! It's a great place to pick up quirky yet inexpensive birthday presents and there are some fab gifts for new babies too. There's even a food emporium up there, which I had no idea about!


Now on to my favourite bit of shopping, clothes! Since becoming a Mum in 2013, then again in 2016, most of my clothes purchasing has been for my children, which is why they most definitely have way better wardrobes than I do! I wouldn't have it any other way, but sometimes a treat for me is needed and appreciated.

Outfit was our first stop and Honey and I were overjoyed to see so much red on the rails (she's obsessed with PJ Masks and Owlet is her favourite, I just think it's a fun colour)! I also loved the metallic trainers, fun, slogan t-shirts and bright hoodies. I love this shop because you can buy for yourself and your children and choose from a range of brands all under one roof.


In Sports Direct, the great choice of colourful, practical outerwear caught my eye. Proper outdoor clothing is a must for our family. Honey and Ace love to go out in most weather conditions (Ace isn't overly keen on snow) and the school run needs doing whether it's pouring with rain or not, so being able to buy great quality, outdoor brands at reasonable prices is ideal. I also loved their range of colourful footwear, I am definitely motivated by pretty things, so a cute pair of trainers I've found in there will be the perfect 'carrot' to dangle to encourage me to exercise more often!



Finally, in Next, we loved their fun twists on animal print, their rainbow themed kids range and their colourful adult styles too. Perennial favourites, dinosaurs and unicorns continue to play a big part in the children's and homeware departments, much to Honey's delight. We also loved that after a tiring couple of hours shopping, we could relax with a juice and a babychino at their in store cafe, Patisserie Valerie.




To summarise, The Gallagher Shopping Park is a great, family friendly shopping destination. From the parent and child spaces, walkways and zebra crossings in the car park, to the super useful baby rooms and toilets in Boots and Next, they have tried hard to make life just that little bit easier. On top of that if you need to get back home for the school run or only have half an hour to shop before a toddler meltdown ensues, Gallagher Shopping Park's Click and Collect service can help make sure you get what you came for. Oh, and one last thing, how useful is it to have a supermarket on site too? With Sainsbury's across the road from the main park and another supermarket due to open in the old Whole Foods building, you can even do the weekly shop while you're there!

So, I'm off to do an online shop for some of the rainbow clothing we didn't purchase yesterday but if you fancy seeing some of the other bits we liked the look of while we were shopping, why not have a browse of our Pinterest board to give you some inspiration? Happy shopping everyone!

*Although this blog post is a paid collaboration with The Gallagher Shopping Park, all images, thoughts and opinions within are my own.

Honey wears... Leopard print dress by Next
Mummy and Honey wear... Autumn/Winter brights by Next and Sports Direct













Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Once upon a potty...

A few years ago, I wrote a potty training post and the whole experience feels like just yesterday! Recently, we have embarked on potty training for the second time and I was expecting it to be very different, both because we have a boy this time and because he's a second child, but you know what, it was remarkably similar.

With both my children, I had pinpointed the summer holidays after their second birthday as an ideal time to start but was obviously prepared to be flexible if they didn't seem ready. As if on cue, a few weeks before the holidays, Ace started to tell us every time he did a poo and ask to be changed immediately. We had placed a couple of potties in strategic places around the house a few months previously, just so he could get used to them and slowly buy surely, he asked to sit on them at bedtime and would put his dolls and toys on them so they would wee too.

Potty training will be a different experience for everyone, but here are some of the things we have tried and tested with two children and that may inspire you if you're just about to start!

Differences:

My biggest tip for potty training a second child would be to wait until the family is ready. I was reluctant to go full steam ahead at first, as we had a camping trip and numerous, exciting day trips planned for the start of the holidays. In the end, we waited until we came back from camping and one day when our plans were cancelled due to a friend's poorly child, we went for it. 

Unlike with Honey, when the two of us spent about 4 days sitting on the living room floor visiting the potty every 20 minutes, with Ace we were out and about from day one. Having time to be organised before leaving the house, as well as to deal with the inevitable extra loads of washing for the first few days is useful, but carrying on as normal means that number 1 doesn't miss out on their routine and any extra holiday fun. I found it reassuring to get him to sit on a hand towel for the first week or so if he was in the buggy or car seat and I think we will put him in a pull up when we go down to Cornwall, as it would be such a pain to have to wash the car seat covers while away!

Ace found doing a poo on the potty a bit strange at first. With Honey, it was the other way round and she was very aware of being dirty from the outset. The first two days, he went on the floor (all praise wipe clean, laminate flooring) and didn't even seem to register that he had been. The third day, he started to go on the fioor, realised what was going on and ran to the potty to finish off. Kids are so clever! We know now that if he tells us his bottom is a bit stinky, something is on its way!

With boys, there are certainly more 'external clues' when they need a wee. Even Honey knows to remind Ace to go and sit on his potty if his hands start straying to his pants and Ace comments on what's going on 'down there' every time he sits down for a wee.

Honey lived in dresses and long t-shirts while she was potty training, so she could quickly and easily pull her pants down when she needed to use the potty. While we were at home, Ace was mainly in tops and pants (or just tops) for the first week or so, but when out and about and now he's used to using a potty, we try to put him in bottoms that are easy to pull down. We've given him some pulling up and down lessons but he still needs help with some bottoms. 

Similarities:

Save muslins and reusable wipes to use for fast clean ups. We rinsed them and put them straight in the washing machine, no fuss, no waste, no drama. I used so much kitchen roll the first time round, why didn't I think of this sooner?  For wees in the potty, we use reusable wipes and throw them straight in the washing machine. I keep a pack of tissues in the bag for out and about. Obviously if you're going straight for the toilet, toilet roll is the way forwards! For poos, flushable toddler wipes are our go to product at home or away.

Have some Dettol wipes (or similar) to hand. Again, this ensures minimal fuss when it comes to clean ups and you also know that the surface will be properly clean. Our floors were super shiny for the first few days, as they were getting wiped with disinfectant wipes throughout the day and then steam mopped in the evening. I also use these to wipe the potty after a poo.

Invest in a travel potty (or an adventure potty as Ace calls his). We used a My Carry Potty with Honey and loved it, but had a couple of issues with it sliding across the floor on occasion and also with one of the hinges breaking in the end. Fast forward a few years and the newer model we bought for Ace still has all the great features from before, but with non slip pads underneath and a new, improved hinge system which is super sturdy! Oh and when I was getting the link for this post, I noticed that they now do a dinosaur one... You're welcome!

Books were a huge part of Honey's potty training journey and Ace has definitely followed in her footsteps with his love of reading and listening to stories, so we made sure we stocked up on themed books (from selling sites and the library), as well as keeping a few old favourites nearby for when he needed to sit there for a while.

 

We stuck a huge sheet of coloured paper to the back of the door near Ace's potty and used stickers as a reward each time he did a wee there. At first, we used a random selection of stickers we already had, but when he got through most of those, we took him to Pound Land to choose his own (tractors, diggers and fire engines obviously). This renewed his excitement to earn them! We also purchased a little pack of Thomas the Tank Engine Minis in the Argos sale to use as rewards for a poo in the potty or toilet and he was so proud every time he got to add another train or carriage to his line up! The staff at Ace's nursery have been really supportive and even made him his own sticker chart for when he's there. 

Plenty of pants is a must! I purchased two packs of super cheap pants from Pound Land (what would we do without that place), which means that there's no pressure to try and save them if it all goes a bit wrong! We have a stash of pull ups for night time at the moment too, after trying a range, we have found Huggies to be the best fitting for Ace. A great side effect of potty training is that you can often bring back clothes that were too small, Ace is currently getting some wear out of his old 18-24 month trousers which fit again now there's no bulky nappy taking up room!

I keep the dry bag that came with our old reusable nappies in my bag just incase of any accidents. It folds up really small and saves scrabbling around looking for a carrier bag to put wet or dirty clothes in.

It may sound odd, but try to ensure that your hand soap is easy to press down. Our current dispenser is really tricky to push, it was a panic buy when our usual Child's Farm soap ran out. The Child's Farm soap is ideal for helping little ones wash their hands independently as it has a larger area to press down on. I wind a small hair bobble round the pump to stop over zealous little hands pumping out too much (thanks to Honey's lovely childminder for that life hack)!

The biggest tip I can give you is to keep calm and carry on. However odd it may feel to pull out a potty in the middle of a street, surely it's better than the alternative and if they're shy or it feels too public, you can always shield them with the buggy, your body or pop the potty down behind a wall or similar. However inconvenient an accident may be, what's done is done. If you're prepared for it with spare clothes, wipes and somewhere to put the wet or soiled clothing, there's nothing more you can do. Finally, however many spills you wipe or pairs of pants you end up throwing away, the look on that little person's face when they get it right, makes it all worthwhile!

Ace wears... Multicolour Zebra shorts by Bonnie Pop Makes






Monday, 13 August 2018

Life through a lense...

Back in April, I was lucky enough to win the Feelgood category at The Cotswold Blogger Awards. You can read my post about the awards here, but suffice to say that the win was a huge surprise and I am truly thankful to everyone who took the time to vote and help me win!

As well as a fabulous trophy, I was also awarded the generous prize of a photo shoot with Cheltenham based photographer Chui King Li. I was familiar with Chui's work as she has previously done shoots for some friends of ours and the results were beautiful, candid portraits of family life.

I chose the Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve as the destination for our shoot, as I felt that we would all feel more comfortable having our photo taken by a someone new, if we were outdoors, doing what normally we do on a family adventure.

Ace and I had done a recce the weekend before the shoot, Ace always enjoys things more if he knows what to expect and has an idea of where he can go and what he can do there, so he lead the way when we arrived on the day of the shoot. Walking through the reserve, we naturally stopped to watch butterflies and pick up sticks, just as we would at any other time. Honey and Ace found steps and paths they wanted to explore and we spent some time making a den of sticks more homely (adding a camp fire, cooker and a set of 'stairs'). All in all, we tried our best to 'act normal'.

We chatted to Chui as if she were an old friend and quickly forgot that this was someone Honey and Ace had never met before and that my husband and I had only met once, on the evening of The Cotswold Blogger Awards (I was ever so slightly tipsy after a few 'Blogger' cocktails at Babel). Before the shoot, Chui emailed me a questionnaire so she could find out more about us as individuals and as a family and on the day, we spent time singing the 'Waffle the Wonder Dog' theme tune (Ace's current favourite song) and chatting about Scouts (where my husband and I met each other for the first time as kids). This helped us to feel relaxed and meant that we weren't under pressure to pose unnaturally as we were just hanging out and having a chat! 

Chui encouraged the children to do more of what they were enjoying, which meant that the expressions she captured were those of pure job and she even followed Honey and Ace into a muddy clearing (they were wearing wellies, she wasn't) and captured their excited faces and they got themselves (and her) covered in mud.

Without further ado, I'll share some of the amazing photos from the day, we are so pleased with them and can't wait to make our final image choices and get them up on the wall alongside our cherished family bump and newborn pictures!








Sunday, 29 July 2018

Tiny Campers...

We love camping. At the moment it's our preferred way to holiday as a family and we expect it to stay that way for the next few years at least. We usually set off straight after work on a Friday afternoon and arrive at our site just as the sun is starting to go down, so it's really important that we get the tent up fast and get the electric hook up sorted so we have light to unpack the rest of our stuff. With this in mind, when we bought a new tent earlier this year, we made sure we practised pitching it before our holiday. This also served as an opportunity to sweep the sand and grass out of the tent left there by the previous owners!


























Arriving well into the evening, it's also important to have a plan for the children while we pitch the tent. Honey takes her camera when we go camping, so she tends to potter round the pitch taking photos or playing the built in games, while Ace stays in the car and watches a film on an iPad or sits in the carrier on my back while we get things sorted.


























We find it helpful to pack the car in reverse, making sure that the things we will need first are the easiest to access. Once the tent is up, we get the electric hook up plugged in so we can shed some light on the situation then set to work setting up the kids bedrooms just incase they start to flake and need to go to bed!

We got them both a blow up bed in an Aldi camping event and they are brilliant, they have bumpers so little ones don't roll out and pillows don't end up on the floor. We use Ace's old cot bed sheets over the mattresses and have also bought 3 season sleeping bags for them both. We now have a fancy new tent with semi-blackout bedrooms but previously, we used a Gro Anywhere blind to darken their bedrooms. We also take a familiar, favourite toy to help with bedtime, Ace brings Ewan the Dream Sheep which is also brilliant if he stirs in the night as he can press it to help himself drift off again.




In terms of clothing, when you're camping you can really feel the evening temperature drop, even if the day has been beautiful, so layers are essential. I pack seasonally appropriate daytime outfits for the kids, then add a few hoodies and extra leggings, plus some fleecy pyjamas and bed socks. Wet weather gear is a must, whatever the weather forecast or season, wellies and waterproofs don't take up much room if they're packed properly and may well save you from being stuck indoors if the British weather does it's thing!





















When we're camping, bedtimes don't exist. The first night tends to be a really late one by the time we've finished pitching the tent and setting up home and while they do tend to be ready for bed earlier as the days go on, there's no point in trying for their usual 6:30pm bedtime, otherwise everyone will be awake at first light! I often find myself getting more sleep than I do at home because I'm so tired from all the fresh air that I'm in bed pretty soon after the kids!

As with all new things, it's a good idea to talk to your children in the run up to going camping, for example, you could read stories such as 'Maisy Goes Camping' or 'Camping Out' to help them understand some of the things that will be the same and different while they're away. You can also get fab, camping themed sticker and activity books which are fab for taking away with you, as well as for introducing the idea while you're at home. If you don't know where to start with finding good quality, camping or holiday themed books and activities, I highly recommend a look at Mimi's Bookshelf, Annabelle puts together gorgeous packs.

Whenever we have enough space in the car, we take a drying rack which saves having to find trees to hang a washing line between. If your tent is big enough, you can also bring it in of an evening to stop the dew making it all wet again in the morning!

Consider taking a mini fridge or electric cool box so you can take the essentials for everyone to have breakfast in the morning without having to find a shop. We also cook a bolognaise or chilli con carne at home, freeze it then take it down with us for our first evening meal away.

A camping stove is a must for heating up our frozen meal and also for my husband to make as many cups of tea as he fancies. We also use it to make hot chocolate for our flasks if we're heading out for a walk and the weather is a bit chilly!

We also take a small toaster and collapsable kitchen unit so we have shelves to store snacks and meal ingredients, in the long run, this saves us money as we don't have to eat out for every meal. It also means that everything can have a place, which helps to keep the tent tidy and stops things from getting lost.

Don't forget the little things:
- Sun cream. We ended up with a really expensive bottle from a gift shop last year as I left ours in the tent, it does the job but it takes forever to rub in which isn't great.

- Medication. We always take Calpol, Snuffle Babe, Sterimar nasal spray and Nelson's teetha granules with us, even if there's no hint of teething or illness. You never know when something may strike and there's nothing worse that trying to calm a poorly child with nothing to offer them!

- Spare batteries. Ewan the Dream Sheep doesn't run on fresh air!

Most of all, don't forget to have fun! Once you're all set up, head out into the world and have plenty of adventures, safe in the knowledge that your home from home is waiting to welcome you back at the end of the day.

Honey and Ace sit on... Fold up chairs by Asda








Sunday, 1 July 2018

Summer Learnin', Had Me a Blast...

I really can't believe how fast this school year has whizzed by. I'm a primary school teacher so I'm used to my life being arranged in 6-8 week blocks, but the terms seem to be flying by even more quickly now that one of my own children is in school too. Honey has absolutely loved being in reception and we couldn't be happier with the school and staff who have helped her learn and play this year. She's really excited about becoming 'a big year old' and can't wait to 'be a year', but she's equally excited about the thought of having 6 weeks of home days! As am I!

I know that some parents find the summer holidays difficult. If your job isn't term time only, then childcare can be a huge issue or if you're struggling for things to do with the kids and counting down until the weekend when there will be support from partners or other family members, the days may feel never ending. While I can't help with your childcare arrangements, I can suggest some ways you can help your 5 year old to retain at least some of what they've learnt this year at school. The idea of this post is for me to suggest a few incidental activities that you can slot into your days. I am not suggesting that you turn your home into a classroom and deliver structured lessons in any way, these are just some ways you can turn their play into fun, free learning activities to wile away the (hopefully) long, hot days.

Writing
If you have a blackboard or whiteboard at home, why not leave some new chalk or pen colours out for your child to discover and explore? Set silly challenges, like who can draw the most circles in 30 seconds, who can draw the longest line without taking their writing implement off the surface or who can write their name the most times by the time the second hand on the clock or watch gets back to 12. If you model games like these, you'll soon find them picking up the chalk and challenging their siblings or friends independently.

While out and about in the park, pick up sticks and stones and use them to spell out words. The children will love writing their name and practising their tricky words by scratching them into the dirt or laying down their treasure so that they form words.

Play writing games on 'special paper', we love coloured, lined paper here but sugar paper or in fact any paper will work! Honey loves making things and will sit for hours designing fabulous cards, books and posters. Why not play pass the story (write a line, fold it over, swap and repeat), use prompts like 'name of your favourite CBeebies character' or 'Go Jetters location you'd most like to go to' then have a giggle at the results (Grand Master Glitch and Cinderella visiting the Taj Mahal together could totally happen...)

Need to go shopping? Write a list together. Encourage your little one to have go at words they're unsure of by using their sounds or other, similar words they know as a reference (e.g. If they can spell could, can they work out should and would too?)

Reading
There are words everywhere and now that your child has a good grounding with phonics, they can decode many of them for themselves. Road signs, menus, timetables, labels, they're all great, real life applications of the fantastic skills they are mastering. Perhaps your little one could choose and order their own lunch in a cafe or let you know when they spot a sign saying 'beach'.

When you're reading together, encourage your child to pick put words they recognise and to join in with parts of the story they know. If they're in the mood, try taking it in turns to read pages of simpler books. 

Don't forget about the library, not only can you spend time there reading, colouring and having fun with your children, if they have a library card, you can also take books home (including levelled 'reading books' if your child is missing the structure of school). If they haven't got their own cards, make it your mission to sign up for free this summer.
















Maths
Counting is a skill that can be practised anywhere. We are always asking Honey and Ace how many cows in a field, birds on a path, swings in a park... Honey is also keen on sharing and will divide boxes of raisins between herself and Ace, commenting on whether or not the piles are fair.

What time is it? Time is a really difficult concept to teach children but simply including it in your daily routine can really help them start to understand. Keep it simple, start with o'clock times and relate them to regular activities (lunch time, bed time etc). We bought Honey a cheap watch and regularly ask her what time it is when she's wearing it. Whatever the time is, she usually says an o'clock time based on where the hour hand is pointing, but at least she's starting to become aware that the hands tell us different things.

Challenge your child to find numbers when you're out shopping. How much is that top? Which pair of shoes is the most expensive? If they're a bit older, give them an imaginary amount of money to 'spend' it's never too early to start learning about budgeting! Show your children what money looks like and talk to them about equivalents e.g. A 20 p piece is worth the same as four 5p coins. Money is also gives counting in 2's, 5's and 10's real purpose, Honey loves laying out the coins from her money box and counting them in different ways.

Dig out the rulers and tape measures, they'll have a great time measuring sticks and stones and putting them in order. They could also measure their friends, toys or plants in the garden and tell you which is tallest, smallest and if any are the same height as each other.

Playing in the paddling pool? Grab some cups, bowls and jugs and let the children explore which containers hold the most/least water. They don't need to be able to read scales, they may choose to measure based on how many cups or jugs something can hold. In my experience, one of the things children find most baffling about capacity is that containers of different shapes and sizes can hold the same amount of liquid. You could challenge them to find the pots which both hold 6 cups of water (for example).

















General
Arrange your child's toys so that they're inviting and accessible. When they're at school, everything has a place and continuing this at home encourages children to continue making choices about what to play with and how to play with it. You're also more likely to be allowed some time to yourself if they can reach everything and find what they're looking for, plus they can easily tidy things away independently so you don't feel like you're spending all your time picking things up after them!

Honey is quite interested in the World Cup and brings her globe and atlas down so she can find the countries and have a chat about them. Don't forget that the library is a fantastic resource for non fiction books as well as stories, if your child has a particular interest, why not borrow some books so they can find out more. This in turn might lead to art, craft or other related opportunities presenting themselves to you.

Last but not least, go outside and be active, family bike rides, scoot/skate/jog round the park. Go for a walk. Go camping, it's a cheap (if you already have all the kit) but fun way to get away together. Whatever you choose, try to take time to look at the world through the eyes of your child, ask questions, answer questions, but most of all, have fun!

Honey wears... Sun Suit by Frugi
Ace wears... Sun Suit by Matalan



























div align="center">Pink Pear Bear

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Keeping it Cosy...

Without a doubt, my favourite room in the house is Honey and Ace's bedroom. We went 
with yellow and white colour scheme, which is light, bright and makes their small space 
feel just a little bit bigger. We planned the layout of the room around their bespoke bunk 
bed, which naturally created the perfect little nook under their window. We filled it with 
bookshelves and a large beanbag and we all love it in there! If you like the sound of 
creating a nook for your child, why not have a read of this fab guest post by Leanne
Thompson. 


Leanne has recently become a freelance writer after discovering a passion for
it last year. Her favourite topic to write about is home and lifestyle and in her spare time, 
she loves reading blogs and magazines, as well as researching for and writing new 
content. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys baking, interior design and travelling.
5 Ideas for a Cosy Corner in your Child's Room
- A guest post by Leanne Thompson -
There is perhaps no more revered place for a child in their early years than their bedroom. It's an area where they will be spending the majority of their time and therefore a safe, warm and cosy space is of paramount importance. A perfect area to establish in a child’s room is a cosy corner. Not only can this prevent children from getting up to mischief in undisclosed locations, it can also help more reserved children find a quiet place to truly relax. The beauty of decorating a child’s bedroom is that imaginations can run wild. However, if you are looking for some tips, here are 5 ideas, which should enable you to create a truly cosy corner for your little one.
1. The Den
For some children, the holy grail of play areas is the den. Whether made from cardboard boxes, cushions or something more substantial, a place to explore, hide and play in can be heavenly for a child. Ideally, the den will be sturdy enough to take some hits from the inevitable escapades but conversely not be hard enough to pose a risk to your child’s wellbeing. Dedicate a corner of a room to a den and slowly start to build something that your child will feel safe in.  Unlike other cosy corner alternatives, a den will tend to have a roof, meaning that your child feels totally secure and calm in their own little space.
2. The Tent
Perhaps the simplest and yet most effective cosy corner idea would be to create a tent or tepee. Inexpensive to construct, sturdy, safe and extremely cosy, a linen tent offers children a small area that bursts with light in the day and retains a warmth during the evening. Much like a den, a tent cosy corner has a roof, adding to the effect. This can also be used to great effect with the addition of hanging decorations (in your little girl’s room fairy lights or stars would work perfectly) which will soon see your child fall in love with their new space. You may even find yourself retreating to their tent occasionally for a little R and R! 
3.The Desk
If your child is enjoying reading, drawing and writing or has a creative mind, a cosy corner with a desk is a perfectly suitable way of meeting their needs and transforming their space. Bundle plenty of blankets and cushions in the corner and perhaps consider a low desk, which your child can use even when sitting on the floor. You can even use the wall space in the corner area to put up some shelves to store stationary and the like. Pretty soon, your child’s cosy corner will become a creative corner too!
4. The Bed
If comfort is number one on your child’s list of demands for their cosy corner, then a makeshift bed is the way to go, especially if you have the budget and space to indulge. The key here is to make sure the cosy corner bed has a different feel to the bed that they sleep in. This is a space for relaxing and not necessarily sleeping only. It gives you a chance to offer your child all of the things that they may want with them in bed but shouldn’t really have. Fill the area with comfortable pillows, blankets and stuffed animals. Have plenty of books in reaching distance so that your child can curl up and lose themselves amongst the pages in comfort. Much like a tent, utilise fairy lights in the design and, if feasible, drape some blankets over the top to create a truly safe, cosy space. Just make sure that your child doesn’t get into the habit of crawling into the cosy corner during the night!
5. The Play Zone
While cosy corners should ideally be a place for your child to find some solace, it doesn’t mean that it should not also be an area for plenty of fun. Creating a cosy corner that acts as a play zone can be difficult in that you may require floor space that would usually be occupied by blankets or pillows. However, there are plenty of ways around this. Create ‘seating’ areas next to the two walls in the corner and utilise the space in front of this as an area of play. There are a myriad of play mats available, some of which are designed for specific interests (e.g. Road or town themed mats). Use these mats as part of the cosy corner – not only will your child have an area for quiet play, it will also prevent inevitable clutter from building up around the room as it contains the play to a specific area.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Let's Go Swimming...

My husband and I were both qualified lifeguards for many years in our teens and twenties and after a few years in the job, I also qualified as a swimming instructor and picked up extra hours teaching little ones to be confident in the water. My choice of words is deliberate, as while I did have a hand in teaching many children to swim, making sure they were happy and confident in the water was always my main goal. Seeing children who cried about coming or clung to their parents legs, blossom and gain confidence was so rewarding and if they managed to jump in, join in with a game or even learn to pull themselves through the water a little bit, then that was the icing on the cake!

Our children love the water. Ace can be a bit reluctant at first, but once he's in, he thinks he can swim and is super keen to throw himself around and mess about with toys and floats. What he loves to do most of all, is explore the poolside but we try to keep him in the water as much as possible so that he doesn't slip or get too cold.

I'm writing this post in response to a few messages I had over on Instagram, after mentioning my old job in a post a few weeks ago. I've put together a list of top tips that have worked for us (so far) with our children. All the products are linked but they are not affiliate links, these are things that we bought ourselves or recommend as parents and I have not been asked to include any of the products mentioned:

Swimming Lessons
We began taking both children swimming for fun when they were just a few weeks old. Due to our backgrounds with the water, we decided against any baby swimming lessons and agreed to wait until we had taught them the basics before considering handing them over. This strategy has paid off so far, as Honey recently had her first taste of swimming lessons and ended up jumping two classes by the end of the week (it was an intensive course at the local leisure centre).  Even though we are less regular swimmers these days, due to my husband's shift pattern, it's something we all love to do together and a life skill that we will continue to encourage as the children get older.

Showers with Mummy or Daddy 
From an early age, either my husband or I would take our babies into the shower occasionally to prepare them for showering after swimming, but also to get them used to having water on their faces. We started off with just a few seconds (then the other parent would take the baby off the person in the shower) and built it up from there. Singing and (careful) dancing can help if your little one finds it a bit frightening at first, Ace's favourite shower song is "I hear thunder..."

Blow Bubbles in the Bath 
Encourage your little one to put their mouth in the water and blow bubbles. Just for a second at first, then work up to longer stretches and taking breaths then returning their mouth to the water. You can also buy toys that flip over in the water when blown, these can help if your child is reluctant to have a go at blowing bubbles, as can sinking toys.

Choose a No Tears Shower Gel
We use Child's Farm 3 in 1 Swim in the shower after swimming. Even I use it, then just add a blob of leave in conditioner to my wet hair once i'm changed. The all in one formula makes showering super quick and it also smells delicious! One bottle is so much easier to hold and keep track of than 3!


Choose your Swimming Aids Carefully
Traditional, blow up arm bands can be tricky for littles ones. They're bulky and put their arms into a bit of an unnatural position. With Honey, we used a little seat for a few weeks, but actually found that just holding her or tying a swimming woggle round her waist was more fun and allowed her to kick her legs and move her arms freely. As she got older, this method also allowed her to become more independent in the water and choose where she wanted to go (with us close by). 

The best product we have used with Honey is the Swim Fin. We were lucky enough to be given one by Honey's childminder when she was about 2 and a half and it instantly revolutionised her swimming. The fin allows children to adopt a proper swimming position in the water and explore the pool as if they were swimming unaided. It velcros securely round your child's torso and although it is lightweight, it is really sturdy so won't bend or snap when stored.

Most recently, I have invested in a Mini Manta for Ace. I don't usually buy things that have the potential to be a bit of a gimmick, but after seeing this on Instagram and doing a lot of my own research around it, I was sold. We have used it for 3 swimming sessions so far and I am really impressed. Ace calls it his boat and enjoyed lying on his tummy kicking his legs while I gently pulled him through the water. It is also suitable as your child gets older and more skilled in the water, Honey used it to lie her head back on and kick her legs and even I did a few drills using it as a kick board and leg float.

Goggles can be controversial. For some children, it's the only way they will put their faces in the water and in that case, I say go for it! Honey has only recently earned her first pair of goggles as we have always maintained that we'd like her to be able to swim at least 10 metres without them, for safety purposes. We live near a lake and have explained to her that if she should fall in there (or any other expanse of water) unexpectedly, she almost certainly wouldn't be wearing goggles! I think it's the lifeguard in me and one of the reasons we have started to introduce the idea of swimming lessons now, is so that as well as learning the different strokes, she will get to have a go at swimming in her pyjamas and pick up other skills that may one day save her life, leaving our family swim times free for fun and playing!


Swimwear
Consider swimwear carefully, yours and theirs. When mine were little, all they wanted when we got out of the pool (and sometimes even before) was milk. This meant that I had to wear a costume I could easily feed in, which for me was my maternity halter-neck tankini, tied at the side to get rid of the excess fabric! For the children, we went with wraps and wetsuits for the first year or so, as we found that without them, our time in the water was limited to about 15 minutes before they started to shiver and go a bit blue. Once they got older, they were fine in a traditional costume or shorts. We have also always chosen to use a disposable and neoprene nappy in tandem, to reduce the risk of leaks! Also consider the location of your swim, if you're outdoors, think about investing in a sunsuit made from fabric with a high SPF, as well as a water resistant sun screen. Be sure to follow the washing instructions on your sunsuit in order to preserve the life of the SPF.


















Towels
When ours were little, we used to take two towels for them. One to take on to the poolside and pop on as soon as we left the water and another one to use for drying off after a shower. The poolside towel meant that we could remove the wetsuit and neoprene nappy in the water which is SO much easier than trying to wrestle it off as it starts to dry! It also means that you can rinse off their swimsuits under the shower and wrap them in the poolside towel, saving a job when you get home. My top tip is to ditch the hooded towels as soon as they show signs of being too small and use bath sheets or towels so that your little ones don't get their heads stuck and become stressed or agitated.















Snacks 
Once our children started weaning, we would take snack bags or pouches to the pool with us (we use these fab ones made by Nom Nom Kids) so that we could keep the children occupied while we changed. I always get myself dried and dressed first incase there's a fire alarm (again with the ex-lifeguard brain) or one of them needs to go to the toilet. As long as they're wrapped in a snuggly towel and have snacks, they have always been fine about this! Taking your own snacks also helps to avoid the lure of the vending machines so will save you money too!
















Locker Organisation
Firstly, make sure you have the correct change for a locker (if needed), the lockers in our local pool take 50p's which you get it back afterwards so I just pop it back into the swimming bag for next time. Next, when you're all changed and ready to get it the water, think about how you load your locker. I put our sling and shoes at the bottom because I know we won't need them until last, then I put the bag with all the clothes in, then the snack bags, followed by our towels and finally a small sponge bag with the 3 in 1 swim bottle and a Tangle Teezer to comb it through with.

My overriding mission when we go swimming is to make the experience as fun and fuss free as possible. These are thing things we do to make that happen and if you've read this far, I hope you might have picked up a tip or two along the way! Whether you decide to swim just for fun or enrol your children in swimming lessons, I would say that having a child who is happy and confident in the water is half the battle. Once they're at that point, the rest will follow. As with everything in life, it will come to some more easily than others and, as with everything they learn, some children will grasp swimming quickly and some will take a bit longer and that's ok. Have fun and stay safe everyone, thanks for reading! 

Honey wears... Watermelon swimsuit by Primark