Category Archives: parenting

Breathe Like a Bear: 30 mindful moments for kids to feel calm and focused – Book Review

I used to be a mindfulness sceptic. Being mindful, seemed like a short-term fad, soon to be replaced by another buzz word. My views changed last year, when one of my children had a teacher who promoted mindful activities. My daughter blossomed during that year, from struggling to cope with anxiety when things didn’t go her way, to recognising  her emotions were taking over and seeking ways to overcome them. It didn’t stop her rolling her eyes when we talked about being mindful but the strategies helped her to focus, make friends and practice self-control.

book about mindfulness for young children

Throwing my scepticism out of the window, I decided to review a new book promoting exercises for children to practice mindfulness, “Breathe Like a Bear”. I’m glad I did, because this really is a great book. It is beautifully presented, resplendent with Anni Betts’ vibrant illustrations and contains a variety of simple, fun exercises that won’t make you feel like you are leading a meditation session. The activities are developmentally appropriate for children young and old and might even be useful visualisations for parents and teachers.

“Breathe like a Bear” is written by Kira Willey, a children’s music artist and kids yoga expert. Kira provides enjoyable, engaging activities children will love. The book’s focus  on fun, rather than lots of explanations about the mindfulness message, makes it especially appropriate for young children.

The first section focuses on calming, for when children feel they can’t sit still. It is difficult for children of any age to sit still all day and many children become agitated after a period of time. These exercises are designed to encourage children to slow down. They would  be perfect for those days when children have boundless energy but can’t get outside to let off steam. The title “Breathe like a Bear” comes from one such activity. The children pretend they are a hibernating bear, breathing slowly in and out through their noses. Each section has a variety of exercises and encourages you to choose the one you feel most comfortable with. You may need to try a few to find what works best for your child or class.

mindfullness activity for children

Section two promotes concentration and focus. There are a mixture of activities in this section. Some are slow visualisations focused on breathing and others involve following actions, movement and sound. I particularly like how varied the activities are.

Section three comprises exercises that stretch the imagination. I think these are my favourites and can imagine using them during a rest time for young children, or to calm an older group when they get noisy or over excited.  They would also be useful for bedtime. They could be read to children before they sleep or recorded to play in  children’s bedrooms.

Section four is for energising children when they are feeling sleepy or lethargic. These would be great for the start of the day, to wake children up or during a lull later in the day. The exercises include moving your facial muscles, clapping hands, making twisting movements with your body and creating various sounds.

midfulness for children

The final section is relaxation for when we are feeling stressed. Stretching like a cat or scrunching and releasing sound deeply satisfying to me.

If mindfulness is your thing, I believe you will love this book. If it isn’t, why not try it anyway? You may become a convert, just like me. My next stop is to investigate Kira Wiley’s music, if it is as beautiful as her book, I’m in for a treat.

Amazon Affiliate link for Amazon US  Breathe like a Bear available from Dec 2017 priced $10.99

Amazon Affiliate link for Amazon UK Breathe like a Bear available from 13th January 2018 priced £11.99

Disclaimer: links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you order via this link I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price. No payment was received for writing this review. I received a complimentary review copy of the title.

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My Top 3 Picture Book New Releases

From my most recent Picture Book new release previews ,the titles below are my favourites.

  1. For under 5’s and early readers

I Am BatI Am Bat by Morag Hood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the simplicity of I Am Bat. I can easily hear it being read in my own child’s voice and see her acting out and reciting the text as she does with Elephant and Piggie books. Bat is over dramatic in a similar way to Elephant and this really appealed to my kids.  The illustrations evoke the bat’s emotions perfectly. A wonderful book for younger readers.

2. For parents and middle children

Middle Bear

Middle Bear by Susanna Isern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a parent of 3 children, I love Middle Bear. It is heartwarming and uplifting without being overly sentimental and conveys perfectly the mediocrity of being a middle child. I love the shell-shocked/glazed expression of the bear and the use of child like illustrations, as they convey perfectly his perception of himself as unremarkable. As the story unfolds, middle bear find out that there are some things he is just perfect for. I loved the way this unfolded and it made me smile.  A perfect book for middle children everywhere.

3. For Teachers

Chocolate CakeChocolate Cake by Michael Rosen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book by Michael Rosen about stealing chocolate cake. What isn’t there to like? The sumptuous use of onomatopoeia and descriptive language makes it a perfect book to use in the classroom. Chocolate Cake would provide lots of inspiration for children developing their descriptive writing and would be a great opening to language and vocabulary lessons. I love the way the typeface changes to enhance the descriptive words as they work seamlessly with the pictures. The illustrations are atmospheric and  the boy’s expressive eyes are skillfully drawn to show every emotion throughout the book. (currently only available in the UK).

 

 

Disclaimer – Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning I receive a small commission if you order via these links.

Great British Bake-off Themed Kids Party

 

My kids are huge Great British Bake Off fans so my daughter chose a bake-off themed party for her 9th birthday. The idea of ten children all baking together at the same time was a little daunting but I needn’t have worried. I think this was probably one of the most successful parties I have organised.

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Planning

I decided on a basic Mary Berry cupcake recipe to be in keeping with the show.

I bought mixing bowls from the thrift store/charity shop and a pack of wooden spoons so each child would have their own utensils.

I pre-measured the ingredients for making 4 cupcakes and placed the dried ingredients in a ziplock bag. In the bowl, I placed the pre- measured butter and an egg.

Recipe for 4 cupcakes

60g self-raising flour

60g caster (baking) sugar

half a teaspoon of baking powder

60g butter at room temperature

1 egg.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Spoon into cases and bake for 25 mins at 350 F/ gas mark 4.

The Competition

The competition was to add additional ingredients to their cupcake recipe to make a unique cupcake and to decorate it with their individual designs.

Additional ingredients to choose from

  • raisins
  • chocolate chips (milk and white)
  • dried cranberries
  • dried cranberry and orange
  • dried blueberries
  • caramel pieces
  • shredded coconut
  • cinnamon
  • cocoa powder
  • raspberries
  • blackberries
  • vanilla essence
  • peppermint flavouring
  • almond essence.

bake off party

The children’s names were written on the bottom of the paper case before they went in the oven.

While the cakes were baking, we played pass the parcel and had some British snacks like cheese and pineapple and chocolate digestives.

great british bake off party

For the decorating stage – they had ready-made frosting (soft icing) and a selection of items to decorate.

  • food colouring
  • piping bags
  • sprinkles/hundreds and thousands
  • fruit
  • chocolate chips
  • fondant icing

Each child chose their favourite cupcake for the judging stage. The cupcakes were given a number but the judges didn’t know who the cupcakes belonged to.

great british bake off party judging

The judges awarded 3 prizes.

  • Best Decorated

best decorated cupcake

  • Best Tasting
  • Best Overall Cupcake

great british bake off party 2

Judging was very interesting ( and amusing). Some were very sweet or had overpowering flavours. I loved the comment from one of the girls, when they were sampling their finished cupcakes.

“My cupcake definitely won’t win best tasting, it tastes like toothpaste!”

The winners were awarded a prize and all the children took their cupcakes home along with a recipe card and a teapot cookie cutter.

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The above party was hosted for 10 children. There were 3 adult helpers, 2 cake testers and the party lasted for 3 hours.

How to Make a Simple Bat Costume

 

 

This year my youngest daughter wants to be a bat for Hallowe’en.  Here is how we made her costume.

You will need:-

  • a black top
  • black leggings or trousers
  • black material (we used an old curtain)
  • safety pins
  • a black woolen hat
  • pipe cleaners

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How to make the wings

  1. Measure the black material from the centre of the back to the middle of the hand and cut 2 pieces
  2. Draw the wavy pattern with chalk and cut out.
  3. Our material frayed, so we singed the edges with a lighter to seal them, you could also hem them.
  4. Pin the wings to the back of the shirt and along the arms.  You could also sew them on but we opted for the temporary option so she could wear the shirt again.


How to make the hat

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  1. Make a triangle from a pipecleaner. (my daughter chose the size)
  2. Cover the triangle with material and sew, glue or staple the material together. (We stapled ours so my daughter could do it herself).
  3. Optional step – make a smaller pink triangle to go in the centre. This was at the request of my daughter who cut the shapes from an old t-shirt and glued them onto the ears.
  4. Sew the ears onto the side of the hat.

home made bat costume

Total cost: Under $10

Do Hallowe’en Celebrations Encourage Greed? Send a Different Message with Goodwill.

 

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There are many things I love about Hallowe’en, but it can easily be perceived as a festival that encourages children to be greedy. It certainly seemed that way to me when I first moved here.

  • How many goodies can they collect?
  • Who gives the biggest and best treats?
  • Who has the most elaborate costume?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Hallowe’en can be a perfect opportunity to encourage children to reuse, recycle and support their community. A number of initiatives persuade children to trade in  excess candy and if we help children make their own costumes, they can utilise objects that might otherwise be thrown away. One thing I hadn’t considered until now is that donating and shopping at Goodwill thrift stores could help my kids be more socially responsible this Hallowe’en.

Last week I was invited, with a group of fellow Seattle bloggers, to visit the Milgard Work Opportunity Centre in Tacoma,  a job training centre funded by Goodwill.  When I donate or buy from Goodwill, I am glad to be reducing landfill and helping a good cause but I’ve never really looked into where the money actually goes.

Goodwill thrift store profits and donations, fuel programs that help people with limited income, disabilities and disadvantages to overcome barriers to education and employment. There was a lot to take in at our visit, the facility was inspirational and the staff and young people were unreservedly passionate about the facility. The model reminded me of Children’s Centres in the UK – a one stop shop with multi-agencies under one roof but for young adults rather than families. A place to go for training, support and education.

Youth Build
Learning construction skills at the Youth Build Program

Some of the facilities available at the Milgard Work Opportunity Centre are:

  • A job resource room
  • Barista training
  • A culinary school (they served us a really delicious, high quality lunch)
  • Financial advice
  • Youth build (learning the construction trade whilst working towards the GED)
  • Drop in Math support
  • GED program
  • Warehouse and Logistics Training
  • Computer and Office Skills Training

The following graphic explains the centre’s  community impact.

The People served by Goodwill

The second part of our visit was to the Goodwill  Hallowe’en Thrift Store in Spanaway – the largest such store in the country.  It was a treasure trove of costumes and accessories.

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I rarely buy new costumes. Part of the thrill of dressing up for Hallowe’en is deciding on a costume and using materials from Goodwill, Buy Nothing Groups or things we have at home, to create something unique. Rushing to buy the an expensive, ready-made costume feels like cheating to me.

Some of my favourite costumes over the years, have been made from simple materials. This girl in my daughter’s class  was a vending machine-made from a cardboard box.

vending machine costume

Every year my daughter’s school dance in the Thrill the World Event in Redmond Town Centre. The zombie costumes are great fun to make and each year they decide on a theme. Last year we put together this Hamilton inspired zombie from a dress somebody donated.

hamilton zombie

My younger daughter is joining in this year and wants to be a zombie fairy.  I found some great items at the Goodwill Costume Store which I will share with you soon. We have a family trip to Goodwill scheduled this week. My youngest wants to make a bat costume and  I’m hoping the others will  find inspiration for their costumes. I’ll share the fruits of our labours soon.

I know it can be tempting to simply run out and buy a ready-made costume but consider these great reasons for creating your own.

  • Recycling old costumes and clothes helps reduce landfill
  • Your costume will be truly unique
  • Encourages creative thinking
  • Encourages working together and problem solving
  • Learn skills
  • Encourages sharing as you request materials from friends and community.
  • Reduces costs
  • Encourages forward planning and design
  • It is a great family activity
  • It raises money for worthy causes.

 

 

Why not donate last years costumes at a local thrift store/ charity shop or organise a costume swap to encourage your kids to recycle and help those less fortunate?

 

 

 

Max and Bird:Book Review

Disclaimer: The links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links meaning if you purchase any of the products through these links I will receive a small commission.

max and bird

When Max and Bird arrived on our doorstep, the illustrations were immediately familiar, but I couldn’t quite place them.  They were familiar because Ed Vere is the author of one of our favourite books, the story of a jazz playing gorilla called Mr Big.  Mr Big was chosen by the Book Trust as the official booktime book for 2009 and distributed to 750,000 British schoolchildren.

I had high hopes for Max and Bird and it didn’t disappoint.  Max and Bird is charming from start to finish. Ed Vere is wonderfully skilled at portraying emotion through his characters’ eyes and even before reading the text, you can’t help but fall in love with Max and Bird. The opening

This is Max.

Max is a kitten.

Kittens chase birds.

This is Bird.

Bird is a bird.

Birds get chased by kittens.

is a perfect introduction to the humour and tenderness present in every page.

Max and Bird is a book about friendship. Max wants to be friends with bird but also would quite like to eat him. That isn’t what friendship is about, so when bird needs help learning to fly, the two discover a way to celebrate their friendship in a way that is much more fun.

max and bird pigeon

The tension in the relationship and playful humour was a hit with my youngest daughter, an ‘Elephant and Piggie’ fan.  The girls particularly loved the British phrase “Not a sausage” and the manic, show off pigeon who tries to show Bird how to fly.

It isn’t often I receive a book to review that I instantly fall in love with. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, an absolute must for all teachers, librarians and parents. I have no doubt it will become a classic, favourite in our household. Now I’ve been introduced to Max, I can’t wait to read the other Max titles, Max the Brave and Max at Night.

 

 

Books to Teach Social and Emotional Skills.

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase any of these products by following these links, I will receive a small commisssion.

If you haven’t heard of Boys Town Press before, as I hadn’t, Boys Town Press produce resources for educators, parents, and other youth-serving professionals, that give practical, real-world skills you can use to manage behavior, build strong relationships, and teach social skills to children.

I received 4 titles to review


The PROcrastinator by Julia Cook

Noodle finds it so hard to feed his cat, take out the trash, and (especially) get his homework done when there are a lot better things to do instead.  Noodle puts them off until he is hopelessly behind on homework and has a very hungry, angry cat. Noodle’s mum says he has become so good at procrastinating that now she considers him a pro at it. A PROcrastinator.
Noodle’s mum teaches him strategies to manage all of his responsibilities and have plenty of time to play new video games with his friends.

The book is written with child friendly phrases and includes many scenarios that children will identify with. There is plenty of humour and the strategies for managing tasks are simple and clear. The book is perhaps a little wordy but you could easily paraphrase it for classroom use.

Mindset Matters by Bryan Smith – teaches children how to see problems and dilemmas as opportunities to learn and grow, and reveals why failing doesn’t make them failures. Written for readers in grades K-5, this storybook also includes tips to help parents and teachers foster a healthy “ get it done” mindset in every child.

My middle child has been learning all about growth mindset this year at school, she thought her teacher would love this one. The illustrations are bright and cheery with lovely expressions on the characters’ faces. Though I liked the message, this one wasn’t my favourite, I found the story a little dry and it felt a little too worthy for my taste.

Hey Goose! What’s Your Excuse? By Lisa Griffin.  A heartwarming tale about spreading your wings and finding yourself, teaching readers that stepping out of your comfort zone can lead you to exciting and unexpected places.

This book for younger readers has beautiful illustrations and a simple text and is perfect for children who hesitate to try new experiences. It would be a lovely read aloud book in a classroom or a sweet bedtime story.

Freddie the Fly: Motormouth by Kimberly Delude.  A humorous take on the problem of never opening your ears while always flapping your yap. Appropriate for readers in pre-k to third-grade, this colorful storybook teaches kids how to control their conversations and be excited about listening to, and learning from others.

The illustrations are bright and comical and I think young children would love them. There are great characters in this book. I like the way the author describes how it feels to have an unstoppable urge to talk, but some of the descriptions are a little wordy for younger children. The message of the story is really clear and the strategies simple. Freddie learns the pleasure of listening as the story unfolds.  I particularly like the tips for parents and educators at the back of the book.

I’ll definitley be looking to Boys Town for books about social and emotional learning in the future.