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Introducing Team Mills!

I have been considering setting up a blog for a while now, and finally bitten the bullet, so here it is. While I don’t consider us as a family as particularly fascinating, we do have some interests and hobbies that some might consider unusual, and this is our opportunity to share them with you!

We are a family of four; well, four humans at least, plus a dog, cat (sometimes two) and a dalek (more about her in a later post) and our main interests are board games, Doctor Who, and I personally love reusable nappies and baking. An odd combination, I know! We like pretty much anything geeky, to be honest, and we have started the kids young in the ways of the force.

Mr Mills works in IT; I still don’t know exactly what he does after 9 years together, but he can fix my laptop if it goes wonky, so that’s all I need to know! I’m an ex-teacher, now childminder, and I genuinely love working with kids. Bear is a typical toddler who doesn’t stop talking… EVER and Hoglet is a diva with a temper and a smile that will melt your heart.

We will use this as a platform to share our love of sci-fi, reviews of board games, cloth nappies and toys, pictures of baked goods and ramblings about our life in general

Happy reading!

[Photo credit: Helter Skelter Photography]

 

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Toy Rotation: January 2019

Although this one is more about room rotation than toy rotation!

Over Christmas we FINALLY managed to move the piano out of the conservatory into the living room. This left us with a huge space in the conservatory, which doubles up as both playroom and dining room, which was crying out to be filled. So… Operation Playroom came into force, and this is the end result!

room all

All of the toys and resources I own for childminding are in the 5×5 Kallax, with the exception of crafty bits in a small chest of drawers, as they are hard to store in large boxes. Currently we only have 10 boxes, but we plan on adding more to make the place look less cluttered and more appealing visually. Within the Kallax, resources are organised into similar themes, for example puzzles, board games, motor skills, Lego, dressing up, construction, musical instruments and so on, so finding appropriate resources to suit the children’s interests and next steps is simple. Can you tell that we love Orchard Toys?!

room kallax

The toy kitchen and easel are permanent fixtures in the playroom and I rotate the items within the kitchen to maintain children’s interest. For example, one week we have the breakfast items in there to play with, another week we might have pizza making resources, on another we might have fruit and vegetables to discuss healthy eating. I find that rotating resources in this area engages children more effectively than having all of the kitchen resources out at once, and means that they play imaginatively with them. Once enthusiasm is waning, or a child asks for a particular kitchen item, I will swap resources over

room kitchen

The doll house bookcase is fantastic to display large toys that have been selected for the current rotation; the shelves are roomy and having different widths and heights of spaces means that pretty much any resource can be placed on here. All children can easily access the resources on the shelves, although I tend to put resources tailored to babies on the bottom shelf, simply for ease of access

room bookcase

The toy box unit is a very recent acquisition and its purchase stems from a recent problem I have encountered; while the bookcase is great for displaying larger single items, it is less useful for smaller items, or resources with lots of ‘bits’ (for example toy animals, building blocks and Duplo) I experimented for a few months with small baskets on the bookcase for these items, but these took up lots of space and limited the amount that could be put out. So when I spotted this unit on a local selling page I snapped it up! The boxes allow me to display and store smaller items so they can still be accessed easily by all the children, whilst freeing up the bookcase for larger items. The children love tidying toys up into the boxes before we sit down for meals, and have learnt how to remove them safely using both butterfly ‘handles’

room unit

So, what still needs to be improved?

Firstly, to sort out the other end of the playroom! Since I was concentrating on getting the main play area up and running ready for the children after Christmas, the other end has turned into a bit of a dumping ground. The children sit at the big table for mark making and craft activities, although I am considering a small table and chairs specifically for these activities in the playroom. My only concern would be babies being able to access the craft items like pencils and scissors, so this one needs a lot of thought…

Oh, and yes, that is a dalek! She’s called Delilah…

room other end

Another aim for 2019 is to incorporate a reading area into the playroom itself; books are currently available in the living room, but I would love to create a comfortable space with cushions and blankets in the playroom. All of the children love their books and I wasn’t to make reading an even more enjoyable experience for them!

room books

What would you change about my playroom? Share your ideas with me!

A letter to our friends and family: please no ‘stuff’ this Christmas

Firstly, I do want to say how grateful we are that people want to buy our kids (and us!) gifts at Christmas; we are lucky to have such generous friends and family! This post is not meant to sound ungrateful or like we’re preaching to you, but we would like to share with you some of the changes we have made this year, and how you, our friends and family, can help to support us with those changes

We have now reached a stage in our life where we have so much ‘stuff’ that we don’t actually need, and Christmas adds more to the pile. This year we have decluttered a LOT (even Paul has got involved with this one, and cleared the loft space a little!) got rid of excess furniture, knick-knacks, duplicate toys and household items which we used once years ago and then never again (who needs a salad spinner, really?!)

We are now reaching a stage where everything in our house falls into two categories; useful or sentimental. The rest is expendable

And this is where YOU come in, our friends and family. We don’t need more stuff to fill the gaps we have created in our home this year and will NOT be offended if you don’t get us anything at all! What we do want is time together as a family, so if you want to get us anything, could you consider popping a fiver in an envelope which we can put towards family days out throughout the year. For example, last July we took the kids on the train to London to see Uncle David, and would love to do the same again this year

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Due to the nature of my job, we have loads of toys already, so there are very few things we actually need; but if you REALLY feel that you want to buy the kids something to open, we have a list of a few select toys at Wise Owl Toys (ask behind the counter for the list) Some of these won’t be used immediately for our kids, but I plan ahead for the whole year. For instance, we have just cracked open the See & Spell that was bought for Thomas’s third birthday as he is just learning to read at preschool; so even if the items seem too advanced for our kids currently, they will get full use when the time comes!

We are also trying to reduce our waste this year, particularly plastic waste; we have introduced reusable straws, reusable cups and beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm into our household. We also utilise the new zero waste shop that has opened in Worcester, buying plastic-free deodorant, refilling containers instead of buying new and continuing to use reusable nappies, wipes and (me personally) CSP

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Christmas adds a lot of unnecessary waste to our house including foil wrapping paper that can’t be recycled. So, would you consider using brown paper to wrap? It is cheap to buy, and we will reuse it is possible, recycle if necessary. You can even get the kids to decorate it for a personal touch! Or could you reuse those gift bags from last year, make labels from old cards and consider homemade gifts for other people where they would be appreciated?

I understand that our lifestyle changes aren’t to everyone’s taste, but we would love it if you could join us in making our Christmas a sustainable one

Merry Christmas everyone!

Toy Rotation: December 2018

All change again this month! The new pretend play toys went down really well, and I gradually swapped them out for other items over the course of November

A lot of my children have recently achieved their Next Steps and now have new ones, so this is a good time to rethink the options available to play with

This month’s range comes from Melissa & Doug, Hape and Magformers, and were all purchased from Wise Owl Toys (an independent toy shop in Worcester)

Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads
These chunky beads are useful for a variety of reasons. One of my older children is struggling with holding his pencil in a tripod grip, and threading toys like this will help him to practise that motor skill before moving onto holding an actual pencil properly. Another of my children loves to organise them into the different shapes and colours, and we also use them for counting activities. The beads have even been used in the toy kitchen in place of toy food! These are safe for smaller children as they are very chunky, but obviously the laces need to be used under strict supervision

Melissa & Doug Primary Lace & Trace Wild Animals
Again, a great activity to refine motor skills; these offer a greater challenge compared to the Primary Lacing Beads as more concentration and finesse is required to thread through the smaller holes. I encourage the older children to use these while the younger play with the larger beads

Hape Creative Peg Puzzle
I love this puzzle! Colours, shapes, counting, dexterity, this puzzle covers a lot of bases. I encourage younger children to count and identify colours (we also discuss lighter and darker shades) whilst older children can attempt to put the pieces on the correct pegs; this is more challenging than it sounds as the pieces need to be rotated in order to reach the bottom…

Magformers
These are out on request from my own children. Younger children can experiment with the basics of magnets, and I encourage all the children to use the words ‘attract’ and ‘repel’ even at this age (I blame my seven years of teaching Science for that!) whilst older children can follow the cards to make simple shapes

Melissa & Doug Spin & Swipe Cash Register
This reinforces the basic colours that the younger children are learning, but also the numbers 1, 2, 3. One of my childminded children counts down from five to one every time we do any counting activity, so I will use this to encourage her to slow down and count UP rather than down. Number recognition is also a Next Step of a three-year-old, so this toy also promotes that skill. The coins are also different sizes, which helps to introduce the concept of comparison, such as big and bigger, small and smaller, wider and narrower, etc

Melissa & Doug See & Spell
This one is mainly for my eldest; he is learning to read cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) words at preschool, so this is to consolidate his learning there. We use these to firstly find the correct letters, then sound out the word. I have also made extra cards with other cvc words on to extend his learning further

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REVIEW: Nimble Laundry Lover

When Nimble contacted me and said that they had a liquid detergent that was suitable for use on reusable nappies, I’ll admit I was sceptical. The general rule is to use powdered detergent as that doesn’t leave residue on your nappies or washing machine. But I’ll give most things a go, so they sent me some to trial…

Firstly, I was impressed with the packaging; although the cardboard box was larger than it needed to be, I can reuse that (or it is suitable for recycling) and the packaging inside is also recyclable, although I will reuse that too

Packaging

The liquid is brown in colour, which could be a little off-putting to some users, but I prefer that to having extra colours added just to make it look more appealing

Colour

The packaging of the product itself is simple and clear, and the instructions are easy to follow. I would prefer some guidance on whether to add extra liquid if washing reusable nappies, or at the very least what constitutes a ‘normal’ load, as I struggled to work out how much to use initially; several washes down the line though, and I use one full capful plus an extra half a cap for my usual nappy load

Product

Nimble Laundry Liquid produces plenty of bubbles, and my nappies are clean and fresh out of the wash. It does take a little getting used to the scent of the nappies, as I am so used to my nappies not having any scent at all out of the wash; the perfume is intense, but NOT overwhelming and unpleasant

Washing

My nappies are clean, and the absorbency has not been affected by using this liquid rather than powder. I measured the absorbency of the same nappies before and after using Nimble Laundry Liquid five times, and there is no measurable difference in absorbency. The PUL is also unaffected by the product so far

If you would like to try this product, you can get a 10% discount on Nimble Laundry Lover over at Nimble Babies using the code WHNAS10

Yes, I babywear my toddler: What’s your superpower?!

This is Katherine. She’s two and a half. And she LOVES being in the sling. But I do get a lot of negative comments, so I will address the main ones here:

KATHERINE Group

Yes, she can walk
And she does, when she wants to and when she isn’t too tired. But when she does get tired, the sling allows me to carry her safely, so we are both happy. And anyone who knows us will tell you, an unhappy Katherine is not a good thing to be around!

BABYWEARING Games Expo

Yes, we have a buggy, several in fact!
And yes, she goes in it. But there are also times where a buggy isn’t practical, or when I already have two other children in the double buggy, so Katherine would need to walk without a break. We have used the sling at the seaside (have you ever tried dragging a buggy across wet sand… We have, and we don’t care to repeat it!), walks in the wood, and trips to town on the bus. I even carried Katherine at the Games Expo at four days old; a buggy doesn’t fit through the gaps in a crowded hall, believe me! The London Underground is also not designed with buggies in mind either… A buggy can actually be very limiting with where you can go, and a sling allows for hands free flexibility

BABYWEARING London

No, this is not hurting Katherine
A well fitted ergonomic carrier will support your child and hold them in a comfortable position. The wide base supports Katherine from knee to knee and keeps her knees higher than her bum. If this was hurting her, believe me, she’d let me know!

BABYWEARING Zoo

No, this is not hurting my back
In fact, if you invest in a good ergonomic sling, then you shouldn’t feel the strain in your back at all. Our Lillebaby has a back panel for support when wearing front-facing, plus wide padded straps which distribute the weight evenly. I can carry Katherine for hours in the sling, could you carry your child on your hip or shoulders for hours?

BABYWEARING 1st Birthday

Yes, she does have a secure attachment
Slings can actually help children to develop secure attachments. A secure attachment develops when caregivers respond appropriately to a child’s needs, promoting security, regulating their emotions and offering a secure base from which to explore. Young children need cuddles and reassurance, and a sling can enable parents to do that whilst remaining hands free (important when you have other children to look after too!) Even as adults, we need comfort and reassurance when upset, angry or frustrated, so why should we expect toddlers to be any different?

No, I am not a helicopter parent
This comment REALLY made me chuckle! Not much more to say to this, apart from all of our friends know that this is the complete opposite to my parenting style!

BABYWEARING Walking

No, she does not have a disability
And why would she?! Although ergonomic slings which support fully to the knee joint can actually be used to help correct hip dysplasia in young babies by holding their hips in the correct ‘m’ position…
Read more about that here

BABYWEARING Beach

No, she is not obese
Again, why would she be?! She is a perfectly average toddler in every way (50th centile for every measurement at her 2-year HV check). Katherine walks, runs, jumps, climbs exactly the same as her peers. Also, as we use the sling in place of a buggy, even if we didn’t use the sling, she still wouldn’t be walking anyway, so pretty much an invalid comment…

BABYWEARING Costume

So why do I sling Katherine…?
The main reason is that we both want to! She loves it, and even asks for it. I enjoy the cuddles (I don’t get them very often now from Little Miss Independent), and it’s convenient, practical and allows me to get on with my day whilst still providing for my child’s needs

So… for all the nay-sayers out there, here’s what Katherine says to you! Seriously though, please don’t knock what you haven’t tried! Find your local sling library and try some out…

BABYWEARING Dalek

Toy Rotation: November 2018

All change this month… We have new toys! Brand new as well, which is very unusual for us, as I try and buy preloved whenever I can. But these wooden pretend play items were reasonably priced in Aldi and Lidl, so it seemed rude not to…

The toy kitchen is a permanent fixture in the playroom, but I do rotate the items that I put with it, and as all of my children currently love playing with the kitchen, it seemed like a good idea to go with their interests…

ROTATION

Smoothie Set (Aldi)
The whole set is wooden, and it also includes fruit and vegetables which Velcro together, plus a knife to ‘cut’ them into smaller pieces which fit into the smoothie maker. The fruit and vegetables are brightly coloured, and I am using them with younger children to reinforce the names of colours. Cutting the fruit into segments involves motor skills, and we are also counting the number of pieces. This toy also promotes healthy eating, and has led to discussions about our favourite, and least favourite, foods!

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Coffee Machine Set (Lidl)
Mainly wooden, except the cups and the head of the spoon (a little disappointing, if I’m honest, as could easily have been completely wooden). The lid of the coffee maker lifts for the children to put in the coffee beans; we have been using the coffee beans to count the numbers 1, 2 and 3, and the older children have realised that the colours get darker as the numbers get higher

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Pop-Up Toaster Set (Lidl)
Again, mainly wooden, except for the plate and the blade of the knife which are plastic. When the button on the side of the toaster is pressed down, the toast flies up! The slab of butter is a little unusual, but the children have been pretending it is cheese instead. The toast is a darker colour compared to the bread slices in the Breakfast Play Set, which is a nice touch. The only real issue is that quite a lot of items get posted into the toaster which I then need to rescue at the end of the day!

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Breakfast Play Set (Lidl)
As above, mainly wooden, except for the blade of the knife which is plastic. The knife can be used to cut the croissant into three, and the boiled egg can also be cut into two as well. Slightly unusual choices for breakfast (I don’t usually have lettuce, tomato and cucumber with my breakfast, do you?!) but this actually means it has been used to make lunches as well as breakfasts
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There are also a couple of items out which we have had for a while, but are still really popular!

Tea Set (Green Toys)
I don’t usually choose plastics toys, but I make an exception for Green Toys, as they are made with recycled plastics which are non-toxic and contain no BPA, PVC, phthalates or external coatings. This also means we can use it with actual liquids in too!

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Pot & Pan Set (Melissa & Doug)
This sturdy set is made of wood, and has taken a real battering from all the children. The children love cooking up dinner in the oven safely, using the oven mitt. My children particularly like that the spatula is very similar to the ones we use when actually cooking

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Cutting Fruit & Vegetables (BigJigs)
Fab for motor skills, but also encouraging healthy diets, colours, numbers, sorting, the list goes on! A particular favourite of my own children, we have used these in the kitchen while preparing dinner, so the children can feel like they are participating in the preparation

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What accessories do you put with your toy kitchen that your children love?

My Favourite Hallowe’en Board Games

Favourite Hallowe’en Board Games

Hallowe’en is a great time to sit down with friends and family and play a few board games (perhaps dressing up in the process!) Here I will run you through my personal top three games to play at Hallowe’en, none of which I actually own, but have played thanks to WoBoGgers bringing them along on Wednesday evenings!

  1. Mysterium

In this game, one person takes on the role of the ‘Ghost’ while all the other players are mediums trying to establish who murdered him

The Ghost cannot talk, and can only communicate using vision cards, which have very abstract pictures on them (if you have played Dixit, think along those lines…) The mediums can discuss amongst themselves and work co-operatively in order to identify their allocated suspect/location/weapon combination, which only the Ghost can see, behind their screen

Mediums have seven hours (turns) to each correctly identify their personal suspect, location and weapon otherwise the game is lost, and the mystery remains unsolved. If all mediums DO correctly identify their personal suspect, location and weapon, then the Ghost has one final challenge… To lead the mediums to their murderer. The Ghost selects one vision card to represent the murderer, another to represent the room they were killed in and a third to represent the murder weapon used; the mediums have to interpret these final clues and work out who the murderer was, so the Ghost can rest in peace knowing justice will be done!

This game is a favourite for several reasons:
Firstly I LOVE co-operative games, and this game allows for all players to participate equally in the discussions. Other players may spot details on the vision cards which you may have missed, or interpret the clues in a different way, and all players must correctly identify their allocated suspect/location/weapon in order for the game to be won. And the more players the better! 7 can play the base game

Secondly, I enjoy the challenge of being the Ghost. Don’t get me wrong, it’s blooming stressful not being able to talk for a whole hour (or however long it takes for the players to win or lose!); the pictures on the vision cards are really abstract and it can be difficult to send appropriate clues to your mediums without confusing them (a timer for the Ghost can be useful to speed the game along) Hearing the mediums go off on completely the wrong tangent is both frustrating and amusing at the same time, but the satisfaction when they are on your wavelength is totally worth it…

Thirdly, and this is a personal one… I am named in the rule book! Well, not specifically me, but ‘Stephanie’ is one of the players in the example game in the rule book, so that’s an extra reason for me to like the game!

Mysterium

  1. Gloom

This aim of this game involves players competing to make their four characters as UNhappy as possible before killing them off; the most miserable family at the end of the game wins

In an unusual twist on traditional card games, the transparent cards in Gloom allow you to see through to the cards played previously, so modifications can either be obscured or allowed to show through. Players must attempt to make their characters miserable, whilst making their opponent’s families happy… Only characters which have been killed count towards your final score!

This game is a favourite for several reasons:

Transparent cards! Who doesn’t love an unusual component in a game? And they have a purpose, they are not just for aesthetics; if the cards weren’t transparent, then the mechanics of the game would be lost

The chance to tell a story… Each card has a small amount of text on it, which you can use to weave a story about your family of misfits. Perhaps Mister Giggles fell down the hill whilst chasing his bride before being married magnificently! Although the box says from age 13+, younger children can have fun making up stories to go with their characters. As can the adults, let’s be honest!

Gloom

3. Betrayal at House on the Hill
This game starts out as a co-operative game, where all players draw tiles to create a haunted mansion. Partway through the game, the tables turn once the Haunt is triggered, and one player betrays the rest of their party. Both the betrayer and the rest of the players have their own sets of conditions needed to win the game, which vary depending on which room and Omen triggered the Haunt

This game is a favourite for several reasons:

No-one knows who is going to be the betrayer at the start of the game. It may be the person who triggered the Omen, or it may be another player. Due to the random shuffling of the cards, you simply don’t know when the betrayer will be revealed, or who will actually be the betrayer… Until it’s too late!

The variety of scenarios once the Haunt has been revealed, and the end game conditions. These vary from half the heroes escaping to banishing demons, from killing all of the heroes to summoning a ghost. How you set up the mansion during the Exploration phase can have a massive impact on how well the Haunt phase goes; what you think might be helpful initially can turn out to be your downfall… I love the unpredictability of it!

But my absolute favourite memory of BaHotH involves shouting out random Shakespeare quotes across a crowded pub… To be or not to be, that IS the question!

BaHotH

Happy Hallowe’en…!