A cat welcome home

Sometimes I forget we are cat people. Back when I was pregnant with Talitha I was absolutely desperate to get a kitten. I was living in a new city, working from home and struggling with my mobility due to SPD brought on by the pregnancy, and I think all my hormones were crying out for a pet. So I talked us into believing it wouldn’t add much work to the responsibility of the first baby we were about to have. So we walked out of that friend of a friend’s house with not only the tabby cat we’d agreed on but with the little black runt of the litter too. Just two months before Talitha was born, Bojangles and Hero joined our family.

Then we had Talitha. The night before she was born, Bojangles perched on my bump while I laboured. He was a lot more smaller back then, mind. He’s officially a big cat these days. In fact I remember thinking as I lay there that he was so little. When we eventually brought our baby home, both kittens seemed to have grown overnight. That was also the end of their having our undivided attention.

Yet as we’d hoped, the kids have grown pretty attached to our furry friends. So they’ve had more hands to cuddle them, even if those hands have sometimes needed to be taught how to cuddle gently. Unsurprisingly, the kids missed our cats terribly the month that we were away and kept asking me what I thought they might be doing. I hadn’t expected that I’d miss them quite as much as I did. I kept imagining them sitting in the corner of my eye.

We talked about all the ways we’d treat them when we got home. So when WHISKAS® asked me to imagine my ideal date night with my cat, I suggested to the kids that we think about what a welcome home party for the cats might look like. They came up with lots of extra stroking and brushing, playing with home made cat toys (they’re forever making pompoms for the cats) and a special treat to eat. So, we made it all happen this weekend with Whiskas cat casseroles, possibly the cats’ favourite part of the celebration.

And of course we needed to eat too to make it a real party. I’m expecting treating the cats for Christmas to be next on the children’s agenda.

This post is in conjunction with WHISKAS® but all thoughts are my own

Spirit Riding Free

This post is brought to you by Spirit Riding Free

I’ve generally seen kids television as an opportunity for me to get something else done. Lately, though, the girls have made sounds about wanting me to watch with them. I’ve taken this as a cue to introduce them to some of my childhood favourites but they’ve also enjoyed sharing what they love with me. Recently, this has included a show on Pop – on air now, Dreamworks’ Spirit Riding Free.

As big horse lovers, I’m not surprised my kids are drawn to the story of Spirit, an untameable stallion who befriends a young girl called Lucky. Lucky has recently moved from a city to a town in the American West and struggles to fit in but soon finds friendship in two of her horse riding classmates and in Spirit. The show is definitely a current favourite here.

For my kids, it’s all about the winning combination of horses and friendship. The story is cute and fun, and while this might not consciously register with them, the animation is pretty high quality too. I love that Lucky is a strong heroine, fully in touch with her sense of adventure and that the show carries positive messages about forgiveness and determination. I genuinely well up in at soft moments (I’m a bit prone to that) and there’s plenty in there to make us all laugh.

At the moment, Spirit has a competition running, offering kids to a chance to win entry to the Spirit Riding Free Stable Sleepover. Three winners will stay in a converted stable with a friend and enjoy a weekend full of all things Spirit, from horse riding to crafts to treasure hunts and lots more. Basically, it’s a dream for kids who love horses or, better yet, love Spirit.

Click here to check out the competition hosted on POP. The episodes are available to watch now – weekends at 12.30pm.

Ophelia’s dream pet

While lots of our friends are currently fielding questions about getting a pet someday and making that “someday” sooner, our kids are pretty settled that our cats are where it’s at with pets. They do bring up the idea of chickens every now and then but I think the smallness of our garden answers that for now. I also wonder if even they can see that we are at mental capacity with the two furry friends already in our care. For now, they’ll have to dream of anything extra.
Ophelia recently got the chance to do just that. Pet insurance provider Petplan invited her to draw her dream pet, promising to turn her design into a bespoke soft toy. So I asked her, “If you could have any pet in the world, what would it be?” And, of course, it only took her seconds to settle on a unicorn. While I loved her drawing (naturally, I would), I couldn’t imagine how someone would turn it into a cuddly 3D object. It defied my imagination, anyhow.
The end product arrived while we were away and Laurence laid it on her bed, ready to greet her when we got home. Her name is Twirly-leg and she proved the perfect welcome home. I love that even her patterns were included and that she arrived in a matching bag. I’m thinking that it might be a really good project for Talitha to try designing and making her own toy as she was intrigued with the process too.
Whenever we do talk about the prospect of new pets in the future, we talk about all that pet ownership involves, from food to grooming to pet insurance. Petplan’s Pet Insurance stands out amongst the options for the latter as one of the few insurance providers that offer genuine “lifetime” policies and by working with more animal rehoming charities than any other provider.

This post is brought to you by Petplan but all thoughts are my own

Our home education year – Looking back

We don’t follow the school terms here and now that we’re back from our month in Trinidad and Tobago and don’t have family staying with us, getting back to our usual routine makes sense. We’ve agreed that from next week we’ll be returning to the homeschooling rhythm that gently structures our lives. So I thought I’d do little catch up on the highlights of the last “homeschool year” before jumping into the new. Had Talitha been in school this would have been her Year 2 and it would have been Ophelia’s preschool year.

Talitha starting violin lessons last September was the biggest change to our homeschool routine. Unless we’re rushing out the door, we try to start the day with violin practice so that she’s fresh and we’re both motivated. This tends to flow straight into a pile of books or a planned activity so violin has become the main thing that structures our day. I hadn’t thought that she’d start an instrument at six but she asked and was super keen. A year later, she still loves it and is excited about working towards her grade one exam.

We also began a structured study of history with Story of the World this past year. This has been quite a hit. I loosely pull ideas from The Well Trained Mind, amongst other things, and this is one of the associated resources. However, we’re taking things very much at our own pace and spending lots of time on specific areas of interest. So we stayed for a long time with the ancient Egyptians and are still on the Romans with quite a long way to go before moving on to the next book.

I was surprised to find how into it Ophelia got. She was typically running in and out, playing with the toy kitchen or dressing up and generally seeming not to be at all paying attention to what we were doing but every now and then she’ll pull out something about the Greek gods or I’ll find a drawing of the Parthenon and I’ll wonder when she picked up on that.

Talitha’s also been doing history workshops once a month with the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and Ophelia will be joining her for the last couple this coming term.

I’ve just put together all the drawings, photographs of crafts and written bits from Talitha’s history study into a folder, which she’s loved looking through. This year we’ve decided to do books instead of loose pages in folders for different “subjects”, just putting everything in one book until it’s done. It feels simpler and less artificial to do it that way.

Read alouds continue to feature as the main way we learn together and while I’m still reading lots of picture books, mostly to the younger two, Ophelia began to enjoy longer form stories in the middle of the year. So I began reading them separate chapter books. I’m not sure how sustainable this is going to be long term, though. We may have to up our audiobook consumption. Certainly, I’m thinking we might get next book of Story of the World on CD.

In terms of reading to herself, Talitha started the year with me still checking whether a book might suit her reading ability and finished it reading Harry Potter. A lot of our “school day” involves her disappearing with somewhere with the book.

This is also the year, she took up cursive handwriting. I hadn’t thought of introducing it yet but she insisted she wanted to write like me and asked me to write all the letters out in a book, which she then used as a reference for writing letters, signs, invitations to imaginary parties, menus and so on. She asked me to show her how to join them as she went along. Basically, she just kept going until she could write them comfortably. I can honestly say her cursive is completely self taught.

We loved following Exploring Nature with Children a bit more this year, though I definitely wasn’t as dedicated to it as I could have been. Mainly, it got us into the habit of nature journalling – so much so that the girls often ask me to take photos of things to sketch later on. Our animal encyclopaedia and various British wildlife reference books have been well used this year. We are so, so lucky to have all of Cornwall to explore in.

We’ve done a lot of projects inspired by magazines, especially OKIDO, Wildlife Watch and Whizz Pop Bang. This is the first year we’ve done so much of that sort of thing, probably because both of the older two have been pretty into it. It’s still been a huge balance with a toddler and I’m not sure that’s getting any easier now that Delilah’s two, with naps growing less reliable.

Talitha and Ophelia also work through the lessons on Mystery Science together, which they can do pretty much independently – a great help when my attention is elsewhere.

The girls asked to learn French so we were using Muzzy off and on and had an occasional French class with a native speaker but it just wasn’t really working. We switched to Spanish as a more regular class opened up (and with A-level Spanish I hoped I could support them more) but the timing was difficult and I realised we needed something that I was involved in. So we’ve got a few at home resources and we’re just going to DIY it for now. They’re still really keen on French so I’m trying to wrap my head around how to keep bringing that in as well.

Maths is interwoven into everything else we do, from music theory to cooking to Sudoku to working out what time something is happening. However, we have also been using Life of Fred, Spielgaben and Mathseeds. And Talitha loves asking me to write down things for her to work out too.

This year, I’m not sure what we’re going to carry on with. I have to really watch costs so we may give Fred a rest and I’m thinking that we won’t renew Mathseeds and Reading Eggs. Talitha has finished the main Reading Eggs game but uses all the other language arts resources in there and Ophelia has been using it as well. It’s a bit pricey for two kids, even with discounts and I don’t really want to get it just for one of them. So, I don’t know. I also find that the Spielgaben learning resources require more parent input than I can give right now. At the same time, Talitha is hungry for more in this area so I’m thinking to suggest she try Khan Academy again and see how she likes it.

Our approach to “preschool” has been to let Ophelia play and dip in what we’re doing as she likes, attempting an experiment or craft if she asks to and showing her how to write something if she asks. She’s picked up loads of writing this way and she’s started recognising sounds but her reading is emerging in a very different way than it did for Talitha. She constantly surprises us with addition or subtraction that she’s simply worked out in her head. None of this has been taught. In many ways, I think she benefits from me being more hands off because I’m busier and more laid back than I was when Talitha was four.

My big takeaways from this year have been to make time for my own learning and creating, schedule lots of time at home where we’re not doing anything in particular and make the most of what we already have. And as I look forward into the coming year, my big words are simplicity, patience and trust.

What about you? Have you taken a break over the summer holidays or have continued as they usually do?

What I learned while travelling home with my kids

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen that we’ve just got back from a month in Trinidad and Tobago, where I’m from. It was our first time back in four years. We’re grateful to have been given the opportunity to have an overseas holiday as a family and to help our kids grow their connection with a country that is a part of who they are. I’ve no idea when next we’ll make it over, five tickets to the Caribbean is a hefty goal but as I readjust being back in Cornwall, here are a few reflections.

Home is where I’m raising them

This is the first time I’ve been back and known that Trinidad and Tobago is no longer my home. The deep ache I felt when we landed  there on a visit four years ago has dulled considerably. It’s a beautiful country. I am grateful for the childhood I spent there and for its ongoing place in my life but I’m also relieved to no longer feel so torn between places. I miss the people I love who live there but home is where I’m raising my children. So much life has happened in the thirteen years I’ve lived in the UK. I have little concept of what life as a parent or even simply as an adult would look like if I lived there. It’s bizarre that simple chance can change the course of your life this way.

Jet lag is worse going West to East

We experienced this two years ago when travelling East for my brother-in-law’s wedding in Thailand and we get hit with it every time we’ve come back from Trinidad. Now that we have three kids who are finding their way through it, it’s quite something in this direction, not least because they are ALL on different schedules right now!

They want to know about my past

I was really surprised by how many questions my seven and four year olds had about my childhood: what I did, where I went, what it was like. My four year old, especially, was in a constant stream of this. I don’t know, I never thought about this trip meaning learning more about me. And actually, I also realised that I don’t talk much about Trinidad and Tobago at all and about my memories. When I was little, I loved hearing about the “old time days” from my parents, peppered with anecdotes from when they were children but I’ve supplied so few of my own. Could this be because I’m not surrounded by cultural and physical markers that would jog old memories for me?

It’s hard meeting people and sightseeing

Gosh, I should know this as I find it exhausting as an adult. Yet, I had such big expectations of the kids and then had to pull back and to give them a break when it was all too much.

I am done travelling with preschoolers

Man oh man, I know from a fair bit of experience that you can do long hauls with little ones but I’m sure glad I’m unlikely to ever have to again. Between the multiple outfit changes for everyone and the overnight journeys where working out sleeping positions is a game of Twister, I think we’ll give it a rest until my youngest is at least four, should we get the chance again.

Every child is different

That said, all our travels have convinced me that how one child travels at a certain age does not dictate how another will. My first two struggled terribly with long haul flights as babies. My youngest was perfectly content to and from Thailand at 5 months old. Travelling with my eldest at any other age has been a dream. She in no way prepared us for things that came up with the younger two.

Mosquitoes are utterly relentless

At this stage I have tried everything that does not contain DEET. I am convinced that the only two things that work in rainy season are covering up and DEET. Please feel free to share magic secrets if you have any.

Kids can connect across cultures pretty easily

It’s been so brilliant seeing my kids play with other children while we were out there and connect with adults who made the effort with them as well. At some points, meeting new people was just too overwhelming but a lot of great memories were made, friendships sparked and even more reasons to keep in touch.

I revisit my own childhood

There is a sense in which I revert to being a child myself when I go back which is such a complex experience  to navigate now that I’m also in parent mode when I visit. It’s little things like this being the first visit on which I’ve driven a car. But it’s also the much bigger things, like having to shelf confronting some painful personal issues because the priority while out there was keeping it together for my kids. And there’s the stuff that come up with straddling cultural expectations. For instance, my children call adults whatever we call them and it no longer comes naturally to me to refer to everyone as “auntie” or “uncle” and that’s certainly not on Laurence’s radar.

It’s possible that they may choose to live somewhere else someday

I always, always leave wishing we didn’t live so far away from my family. This time was no different in that respect. But this time it fully came home to me that my kids might also choose to migrate some day, that I might have to hold the future loosely, with simple trust.

The Holiday Makers – a closer look at engineering for kids

This post is brought to you by government campaign the Year of Engineering

With an aunt who’s an engineer and other friends and family in STEM careers, my kids have no trouble imagining themselves in those fields. “Engineer” and “scientist” regularly feature alongside “ballet teacher” and “pop star”.

Unfortunately, according to government initiative the Year of Engineering, not enough young people – especially young girls – are considering careers in engineering.

To tackle this big shortage, they’re committed to “inspiring the next generation of innovators, inventors and problem solvers by showing them what engineers actually do.”

The Holidays Makers challenges are an important part of that. This is where your kids can get involved.

Every week the Holiday Makers issues a fun new challenge to get your kids (ages 7-16) thinking about engineering in fresh ways.

This week you can take part in the Ring Wing Glider challenge and be in with a chance to win a STEM workshop for your school or home education group.

Talitha’s really enjoyed making and testing out hers while on holiday in Trinidad. Get everything you need for the challenge here.

There’s even a downloadable journal to help you keep track of what you get up to this summer. I reckon it’s a fun addition to the holiday bucket list.

The Ring Wing Glider Challenge

The Holiday Makers challenged us to use their ring wing glider template to explore a design used by modern aircraft and NASA’s futuristic concepts for individual air travel.

They’ve even supplied questions to help you think about potential variations – what happens if you change different things.

To enter to win a STEM workshop for their school or home education group, children and young people can take a picture or video of their ring wing glider in action and ask an adult to share it on social media by August 10th, 2018 including the details below:

  • Twitter – Include #TheHolidayMakers, @YoEgovuk and @RoyalAirForce in the post
  • Instagram – Include #TheHolidayMakers, @yearofengineering and @royalairforceuk in the post
  • Facebook – Respond to the challenge post on the Year of Engineering page including #TheHolidayMakers, @yearofengineering and @RoyalAirForce

See the Holiday Makers website for full terms and conditions.

For our children, for us all – making more noise on gendering

“Is your husband a sports fan?” my phone provider’s rep asks nonchalantly. Distracted, I reply, “Yes he is but he doesn’t need his phone to…” The penny drops. “Hang on,” I flounder, “Isn’t that kind of sexist? Shouldn’t you ask if I’m a sports fan?” They sound amused, “Well, are you?” I’m flustered. That kind of isn’t the point and I tell them so. I tell them they should not be asking that question, that it reflects badly on their company.

Then I move the conversation along quickly because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, even though I feel uncomfortable. I want to challenge, not shame. In any case, my discomfort isn’t really with them but with a culture that isn’t evolving fast enough. They casually make this gendered assumption and speak it out loud because it’s not only deemed acceptable but it’s profitable. Get me talking about my husband and sports and maybe I’ll sign up to the deal. But we move on and I forget. I’ve mentioned it. Perhaps that’s enough.

It’s more than I would have done in times past. It’s more than I did on Monday when the theme park employee smiled at my four year old and told her that the next show was “the girls’ show”. Should I fill in the blank and assume that the pirate show was “the boys’ show”? But I don’t react. I return their smile and thank them because they’re just being friendly, even though they’re reinforcing a message I consider harmful to my child. My four year old chimes, “I’m a girl!” Then I really don’t feel like I can say anything. Except I do once the worker is gone. “We know boys and girls can like the same things,” I say. We smile and shrug at each other. And we do go to the show. Because my children love to dance and they recognise the Lego Friends from Heart Lake City.

But as I put my seven year old daughter’s World Cup chart to one side, I wonder if the captions I give the things they hear and see are enough. I wonder if asking questions is enough to prompt them to think critically and ask their own. I explain my concern about the gender stereotyping in an Asterix comic book and worry that I’ve appeared to judge my child for liking Asterix. I am frustrated with myself for not kindly but firmly challenging everyday stereotyping. Even if talking about it in the privacy of our home goes some way to helping my kids ask the big questions about gender and identity, we have to have these conversations with people outside of our echo chamber if we want things to change.

I hope my exchange on the phone gives the rep that called me pause. They’re calling me again tomorrow. I wonder whether I raise it again either with them or in a letter of complaint and gently articulate what’s on my heart with this, that though I may not follow sports myself, I’m raising three girls who may well do. The world around them does not get to decide their interests for them.