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.

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?)

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.

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).

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

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