Add to the Magic this Hallowe’en with a Talking Pumpkin

When I worked in a nursery we displayed a Hallowe’en Pumpkin in our entrance hall.  It was placed on a table covered with a table-cloth.  Under the table-cloth we put a tape recording of the pumpkin’s voice that we would play when it was lit.  The children would be mesmerised.

I taught a wonderfully imaginative little boy who particularly loved the pumpkin.  He went on to school and told his teacher all about the talking pumpkin, his belief that it really talked was genuine.  Rather than stimulating his natural imagination she told him, ‘ Of course it doesn’t talk , it was just the teachers making the voice’.  I was so sad when I heard this story, talk about shattering a child’s illusions .


Children’s Book Display and Storage from Big Book Little Book

My children have a huge amount of books that are always spilling from their bookcases.  With conventional bookcases it is difficult for the children to see the books in order to make an independent choice and even more difficult for them to put them away neatly.

When I came across Big Book Little Book  boxes offering a storage solution for baby and toddler books I thought I would give them a try. The boxes are designed by Frances, a mum to a book obsessed child like my own.  Dismayed by her son’s constant dismantling of the household bookcase and failing to find a solution for storing forward facing books she designed and manufactured her own.

The boxes arrive fully assembled, delivery is free and my box arrived within 48 hours of ordering.

The cardboard boxes are designed to fit both large and small books in the different sized compartments so that all books can be viewed.  The books are displayed forward facing so that children can easily browse  and select books independently.

Most of my children’s books are stored in their bedrooms but I like to keep a small selection downstairs so that they can choose books when they are playing there.  The Big Book Little Book box has replaced a small plastic one with resounding success.  The books are now far more accessible and my 3 year old can now put the books away easily by herself.

The box is made from recyclable cardboard and seems very durable.  The boxes have proved very popular with childminders as a way of promoting independent choice.  At £10 a box they are a low-cost alternative to many expensive book storage equipment available from Education Suppliers.  I think that the boxes would be a great resource for pre-schools, toddler groups and nurseries looking for a stylish, practical and economical way of displaying picture books. They are particularly good for encouraging very young children to choose books over other activities as they are low to the ground so that even babies can see inside.

The company can  offer 10% discount to not-for-profit organisations. Buy 2 or more boxes and get a free book worth £6 .

‘I’m Not Going Cross Eyed Now’ – Children Wearing Glasses.

My 3 year old has just been given glasses.

Firstly how would you know that a 3 year old is struggling to see properly? The simple answer is I didn’t.

A while ago I noticed that my daughter could go cross-eyed. I’ve never been able to do this so just thought that she had discovered a new skill. However this became more and more frequent and it became clear that it wasn’t intentional. I decided to take her for an eye test.

How do you test a 3 year olds eyes?  Firstly the optician projected pictures onto the wall. The pictures were butterflies, rabbits, planes and fish. The optician asked her what she could see. The only one that she mentioned with any conviction was the butterfly but I couldn’t be sure whether she couldn’t see what they were or was simply being shy. For checking how well she could see close up, the optician had cards with hidden pictures on and she asked my daughter what she could see. She gave her glasses with inter-changeable lenses and shone a light into her eyes. It was quite a long and thorough process and it turns out that she is long-sighted and that wearing glasses should correct the turn in her eye.

We had fun trying on lots of different glasses and eventually chose a Little Miss Sunshine pair.  We picked up the glasses last week and so far I have been surprised at how well she has adjusted.  She is happy to wear them and rarely takes them off.  I have given her a special place on her dressing table to keep the case and when she takes them off she is always careful to put them back in the right place.  We have talked about the importance of not touching the glass as it makes them dirty and she won’t be able to see properly.  She enjoys using the cloth to help me clean them.

We have made a big fuss about how lovely she looks in them and I think her big sister is a little envious as she keeps asking if she can have her eyes tested.  It’s certainly a far cry from the stigma of wearing glasses when I was a child.

We read the Charlie and Lola book about getting glasses, although I was a little disappointed to find that Lola doesn’t end up having glasses in the book. I’m still on the lookout for others.  If anyone has any suggestions for good children’s books about wearing glasses please add a comment. Or perhaps I should write one….

Grooving Mums – Shopping and the Little Black Dress

I have recently been joining Kate on Thin Ice in her Grooving Mums feature.  This is a way of sharing stories of how mums are doing things for themselves.  I’m trying to see myself as more than just a mum and stop seeing  doing things for myself as self-indulgence.  This week I focused on shopping.

Before I had children clothes shopping used to be something I loved.  Being slim I was lucky to be able to wear most things and I knew exactly what suited me.  This began to change when I fell pregnant with my eldest daughter.  After the initial excitement of buying maternity clothes for the first time, I soon came to the conclusion that everything I tried on made me look like the ballet dancing hippos from Fantasia.

After  she was born I hadn’t considered that my shape would stay changed for such a long time.  I had to go out and buy new tops because my chest had expanded from an A cup to a DD.  Having always been flat chested I had no idea what suited a full breasted figure, and of course anything I wore had to be easily accessible for breastfeeding.  Gone were my days of wearing pretty summer dresses and I would wander around the shops looking with envy at all the pretty feminine clothes that I used to wear.

Over time shopping became a chore.  I could never find clothes that I thought would suit me, I would try things on and come out deflated and disappointed.  I hated looking at my shape in the changing room mirror and would come home frustrated and empty-handed.  It wasn’t that I was overweight but my shape had changed and I had no idea what to wear to flatter that shape.

Those of you who have been following my story so far will know that since the birth of my 3rd child I have taken up running.  As a result I am now happier with my figure than I have been in a very long time.  I noticed that many of the clothes I have been wearing over the past few years are looking baggy and old.  I decided to do a wardrobe purge and throw out anything that was too big or had lost its shape and start afresh.

A large proportion of my clothes I’d had for a very long time, some were bought on my honeymoon 9 years ago and a few things were even older.  A lot of the other things came from charity shops or cheap shops, a sign of my belief that spending money on myself is self indulgent. On the plus side there were many things in my wardrobe that I had given up hope of ever fitting into again and they all went on with ease.

I made a decision to go out and buy a few things that were modern, fitted properly and made me feel good.  I had my 3 girls in tow and almost abandoned the attempt but instead plumped for sticking to one shop, finding some things I liked and trying them on.  My 7 year old helped me pick things and I explained the styles that just don’t work on me.  I was pleased to find a number of things I like ( a good start) and took them to try on.  As I was going in I spotted a girl with a little black dress, I loved it and it reminded me of exactly the style of clothes I used to wear, so I vowed to find it when I came out. I chose a few things that I was happy with and went to find the dress.  On my way I spotted a lady carrying a pair of shoes that I also loved, I added them to my collection.  When I eventually found the dress they didn’t have my size but I checked the changing rooms to see whether the other girl had bought the dress.  Fortunately she hadn’t and it was in my size.  By this point I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to the changing rooms with my 3 year old rolling around the floor so I bought it without trying it on.

Later that evening I put on the dress with the new shoes and stood back to look in the mirror.  It was like looking at the old me, the young single me who always wore dresses, dressed up and felt good. I looked at myself and it almost brought tears to my eyes ‘hello you, I haven’t seen you in a long time’.

I haven’t had occasion to wear the dress yet but I think a big girls night out might be in order – it would be a shame to just let it sit in the wardrobe.

Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster on Kinect – A Review

I have been so excited about the forthcoming release of this game for a number of reasons.

  1. I am a huge Sesame Street fan and think it is the best in pre-school entertainment
  2. I have been waiting for a game that my 3 year old can play easily on Kinect.
  3. It is billed as a co-operative game and I would love to find  a game that my children won’t argue over.
  4. I am interested in evaluating its educational merit and whether or not it could be used in a pre-school classroom.

So when I was offered a copy to review I jumped at the chance.

The game centres around a story book ‘ Once Upon a Monster’ that Elmo and Cookie Monster jump into to embark on adventures.  As each chapter unfolds they encounter monster friends both new and familiar (Grover and Oscar) and help them to solve problems through a number of fun tasks.  The graphics and the story behind the game are captivating and we were all excited to see what would happen next.

The game is designed with drop in/ out co-operative play.  It can be played solo or with the help of an adult or sibling, if you decide to join in half way through a small monster appears in the corner of the screen and directs you to wave. This is great for young children as they often decide to wander off in the middle of a game but it doesn’t spoil the game for the other child. The game is only suitable for 2 children which means that it probably wouldn’t be suitable for use in pre-school unless you wanted to use it as an exercise in turn taking. I would like to see it adapted for 3 children, partly because I have 3 children and it would avoid one being left out and partly so that siblings could play with a parent to help if necessary.

With Kinect games I have found that my 3 year old has struggled to keep within the sensor.  There is a helpful built in feature with this game in that if the child  steps outside of the sensors limits a monster pops up and points in the direction that they need to move.

I had high hopes for this game as a controllorless game that my 3 year old would be able to use easily.  However I encountered a few problems which meant that she couldn’t play it independently.  To get inside the page of a book the monsters ask you to bring both arms together.  This worked really well when my 7 year old or myself did it but it didn’t seem to work for my 3 year old or her friend, even though they were making the correct movements. The other problem is that if you go too close to the sensor (or my one year old runs in the way) a menu pops up .  You need to wave on the back button to go back to the game.  My girls became frustrated because the sensor found it difficult to pick up which player was trying to direct it.

So far we have played the first of 6 chapters.  This centres on cheering up Marco the monster and helping him get to a birthday party.  The tasks along the way include running through the woods collecting objects and avoiding obstacles, flying to the tree tops to collect fruit with Grover, choosing outfits for Seamus the monster, drumming and my personal favourite disco dancing with Grover.

The usual response from my 7 year old when playing Kinect is to moan at her younger sister for getting in the way.  When she tried to join in yesterday my 7 year old complained and I told her that it was meant to be for 2 players.  The mood soon changed  to a lovely picture as my 3 year old watched her sister intently and copied her every move.  It is certainly fulfilling some of the games aim to foster a social and emotional curriculum in our household.

There could be a few tweaks to make it easier for young children to play but the game is engaging and  fun and my high expectations were not disappointed. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the other chapters have in store.

Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster is released on 14th October

Why Use Technology in Education? Professor Tanya Byron

In the above video from Tanya Byron’s keynote speech at the 2011 FOSI conference, she explains her response to the government when faced with this question.  She speaks with such passion and conviction and I found myself nodding with excitement all the way through.

I think there are 2 key points to this argument.  Firstly that education needs to be made more relevant to children’s everyday experience. Children live in a multimedia world and are excited by it.  Bringing this multimedia world into their education will make learning more exciting and when learning is exciting we achieve better results.

My 7 year old often says school is boring and she hates writing.  She is one of the brightest children in her class, if she finds it boring imagine how the least able children feel. Which brings me to the second point.  Education in this country is about whether or not you are academic, if you are academic you are clever , otherwise you are not and pushed down a seemingly less important vocational route. This notion of what ‘clever’ is forms from the very beginning of school and unfortunately it is often boys who are not academic and would prefer to do something more active. Unsurprisingly the gap between boys and girls widens.

When children lack motivation they misbehave and eventually give up on school altogether ( as happened with my younger brother). Technology has so much promise as a way of engaging children and raising standards.  It is relevant to their lives and gives them skills for their future.  My own daughter’s teacher recognised that children of this generation will be unlikely to use pen and paper as a main source of writing in the future.  Yet there is still fear about doing something different and worries that they have insufficient equipment .

This is why we need inspirational leaders, with ideas, energy and enthusiasm to show teachers what can be done. If enough influential people share this message, perhaps one day we will be heard.

Improve Miscarriage Care – Why I’m Supporting Mumsnet’s Campaign

Friday 15th October is Baby Loss Awareness Day.  1 in 4 women suffer miscarriage, so there is no doubt that the majority of you know someone who has been through this painful experience.  I am one of those women.  This is my experience.

In 2004 I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl, I had conceived easily and had an uncomplicated pregnancy.  Naturally when we decided to try for our 2nd child we expected the same pattern to follow. At first it all seemed to be going to plan, I conceived quickly and easily as before and we began to get excited about a new addition to the family.  At 13 weeks I had a small bleed.  I was worried, so called the midwife who assured me that it was fairly common but that she would book me in for a scan at the early pregnancy unit.  This was on a Saturday and as they didn’t perform scans at the weekend she booked me in for Monday morning.

Monday morning at the early pregnancy unit is not a very reassuring place.  It was full to the rafters with all the weekend referrals and we had to wait hours before we could be seen.  When we were ushered to the waiting area for the scan, I was shocked and upset to see most of the women coming out in tears, some sobbing uncontrollably. We thought we were only there for a routine scan.

When we were finally seen, the radiographer announced that she could see nothing there.  This was very confusing – was I still pregnant or not? The radiographer said that there was something showing on the scan but that it wasn’t a foetus and they were unsure what it was.   We were then taken into a room to see a nurse who was very sympathetic and took some details.  We were then taken into another room to wait for the consultant to talk to us.  We were in there for some time without really knowing what was going on.  I had gone in as a pregnant woman and now I was being told that I wasn’t pregnant anymore.

Eventually someone came and got us.  It appeared that they had forgotten that we were there and everyone else had gone.  We were ushered apologetically into another room to see a junior doctor.  She took blood and measured my hormone levels and said that they would need to test again in a few days to see whether the hormones were dropping. She explained that it might be a molar pregnancy but I wasn’t given any further information on this.

I went home thoroughly confused and devastated.  I looked up molar pregnancy on the internet and was shocked to find that if this were the case I wouldn’t be able to try for another baby for a year. I had to return to hospital again and go through the whole waiting process to have my 2nd blood sample taken.  The consultant rang me the following evening to say that the hormone levels were dropping but that they would need to book me in for an evacuation of retained products.  From this they would be able to determine whether or not it was a molar pregnancy.  He was the first person I had spoken to who I felt spoke with  any authority on the subject.

I was booked in for the operation, I can’t remember how long I waited but I think it was about a week.  I was in a ward with lots of other people and had the feeling that some of these were having terminations.  It felt a bit like a factory conveyor belt.  I stayed in hospital for a few hours and then was allowed to go home.  They told me that if I didn’t receive any results then it wasn’t a molar pregnancy.  I wasn’t  offered  follow-up care , support or counselling.

My memory of those first few days post miscarriage is of lying in bed feeling like I couldn’t bring myself to face the world. Hugging my little girl and husband, crying a lot and struggling to move. 2 days post operation, I started to experience an intense shooting pain like someone was stabbing me with a piece of glass.  I went to my GP who said that I had an infection and gave me antibiotics and painkillers. That night I went to the theatre with my husband.  I could barely walk from the car park to the theatre and had to lean on my husband’s shoulder and shuffle like an old woman.  After a few days the pain eased but still hadn’t gone, I saw a different GP who gave me a different set of antibiotics. It took weeks for the pain and bleeding to go and subsequent trips back to the GP.

The molar pregnancy went unconfirmed and when I  finally healed we started to try again for a baby.  It didn’t happen as quickly this time and as each month went by the hurt deepened. After 7 months I finally had a positive pregnancy test. However, at 10 weeks I started to bleed.  This time the sheer volume of blood and the cramping reminiscent of labour pain meant I was certain I was miscarrying. I rang the midwife who said to get to my GP.  The GP I saw was fantastic.  She was worried because my pain was more concentrated on one side so sent me straight to hospital with a possible ectopic.  We weren’t really prepared and I had nothing with me so my husband went out and bought me pyjamas and slippers.  I was given a private room and the staff were really helpful and friendly.  I had to stay overnight as the radiographers had gone home for the day so I had to wait until the following morning for my scan.  I remember being quite relaxed, this time there was no confusion, I knew what was happening and I had my own space to gather my thoughts and emotions.

My husband returned the following morning and we had our scan which confirmed what we already knew. It wasn’t an ectopic but I had miscarried. This time it was a private scan with no wailing people in the corridors, it felt very different to the first time.  A week after coming home I answered the door to find the community midwife on the doorstep.  ‘I’ve come to do your home visit ‘ she said.  Nobody had passed on the information about the miscarriage.  Thankfully I knew the midwife quite well by this point and I knew the remorse that she showed was genuine.

For the next 10 months the urge to have a healthy pregnancy consumed me.  I would watch pregnant women when I was at the park with my daughter and be overcome with jealousy. Each month was like a torture until eventually I resigned myself to the likelihood of us only ever having one child.  Soon after I fell pregnant.  I was so desperately worried for the first trimester and couldn’t relax until I had passed the 13 week stage.  Every little pain sent me into a frenzy and when my husband went abroad for a week I was so worried that I would lose the baby while he was away. My midwives understood my concerns and gave me early scans which were reassuring.  I was lucky, this was a healthy pregnancy and I went on to have another.  I  am now blessed with 3 beautiful girls.

Mumsnet are currently running a Better Miscarriage Care Campaign.  This calls for a 5 point code of care.

  1. Supportive Staff – my experience would have been far more positive if staff had been trained in communication and listening skills and if I had been given a routine follow-up and offered counselling. Counselling should be for both parents as men are often forgotten in this whole process, if the care for women is shoddy then I would say that the men are given very little consideration.
  2. Access to Scanning – 7 days a week avoiding my experience of Monday morning mayhem.
  3. A Safe and Appropriate Place for Treatment – separate from women having routine antenatal care and termination of pregnancies.
  4. Good Information and Effective Treatment
  5. Joined Up Care – Community midwives are kept informed and concerns are acknowledged in later pregnancies.

I am sure that I am one of thousands of women with a story to tell about inadequate miscarriage care. Miscarriage is difficult enough without these added worries.  Please support the Mumsnet campaign so that in the future women will feel supported  and informed when going through such a difficult experience.