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!

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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?

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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…!

Cloth Nappies & Childcare

One of the most common reasons I hear for people not trying reusable nappies is that nurseries and childminders won’t use them. In fact, there is no reason why childcare providers CANNOT use reusable nappies, and it actually is a good way for them to demonstrate that they are working in partnership with parents, something that Ofsted is hot on

I’m an Ofsted registered childminder whose own children were (eldest) and are (youngest) in reusable nappies; in fact, the youngest has never worn a disposable nappy. The nursery my youngest attends is more than happy for her to stay in reusables, despite this being their first experience of them

I have cared for children in both disposable and reusable nappies, and MUCH prefer reusable, as there is no risk of poo leaks up the back of the nappy! However, I understand that it is parent choice, and I would never expect my parents who use disposable nappies to switch to reusable, so why should the reverse be acceptable?

There are many misconceptions floating around about reusable nappies, and most of them stem from ignorance of what modern reusable nappies are actually like, so I’d like to share a few tips to help get your childcare provider on board with reusable nappies

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1. Education

Using reusable nappies is still a relatively rare practice in our modern throw-away society, so a lot of childcare providers won’t have come across reusable nappies in their setting before. Ask your childcare provider if they have seen or used modern reusable nappies previously and be prepared to show them what they are like

If you ask the majority of people in the UK what reusable nappies are, they will usually describe terry squares, plastic pants, soaking in a bucket until wash day… The reality of modern reusable nappies is very different, and by showing providers that no nappy pins or soaking is involved, then they will usually be more open to the suggestion
Find out if your childcare provider has any preconceptions about reusable nappies, for example, that they leak, and be prepared to address those

2. Communication

Have a conversation with your childcare provider about how both you and they could manage reusable nappies in the setting
Things to consider might include:

  • Preparation of nappies: could you send nappies already prepared, with all inserts, boosters and liners in place, ready to put straight onto the child?
  • Storage of dirty nappies: if the childcare provider has a double bagging policy could you provide small wet bags for individual nappies then another, larger, wet bag for these to go into afterwards?
  • Dealing with solids: I always suggest asking the childcare provider to leave any solids for parents to dispose of at homeThis communication shouldn’t happen just when your child starts childcare either; make sure you communicate regularly with your childcare provider, encouraging them to share any issues they may have

3. Stick to what you know

Don’t send in nappies you don’t normally use. Stick to nappies you know suit your child; nappies that you can demonstrate how to fit correctly because you use them every day, where you know how long those nappies should last between changes
There’s absolutely no point in buying loads of nappies especially for nursery because they’re ‘easier’ when actually your child wees through them in half an hour and they aren’t a good fit on your child
If it ain’t broke…

4. Expect leaks

Remember when you first started using reusable nappies on your little one and didn’t fit them properly into the knickerline? And that time you left the fleece liner sticking out and liquid wicked onto trousers? Oh, and when you did the poppers up too tight and got compression leaks?

Your childcare provider will need to go through that learning process, and you will need to be patient…
Pack several pairs of bottoms. Be prepared to demonstrate how to fit a reusable nappy several times to several different people. Send in a picture to show how tight the Velcro at the waist should be. Write a brief set of instructions to leave in the change bag to remind the key worker. Send them a link to a fit video (fab one here!) Use Sharpie to mark the poppers that need to be done up… Do whatever needs to be done to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved

You learnt to do this once, and you didn’t have 20 other children to look after at the same time! I suppose the main lesson to take away from this consists of two words…

Be patient!

Anyone else got any more top tips to share when it comes to cloth nappies and childcare?

Christmas Traditions: Making Mincemeat

Don’t shoot me, but I can’t stand mincemeat. Yet every year I make jars and jars of the stuff! Why?! Sometimes I do ask myself that question, but other people seem to like mince pies, and it also makes for a fab gift for friends and family, so every year, during October half term, I find myself making the stuff. And it’s really simple!

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I’ve tried a LOT of recipes for mincemeat over the years, and experimented with them all; my current favourite (mainly because it doesn’t require ridiculous ingredients or any cooking) is derived from the Traditional Mincemeat recipe found on BBC Good Food, linked here. However, I have tweaked it slightly, so that it produces less waste and uses whole packets of ingredients rather than part packets, the rest of which would not be touched until next Christmas.

The following recipe makes approximately six jars. I say ‘approximate’ as I reuse jars collected over the year(s), so they are various sizes and shapes, and all lacking labels from multiple uses!

Ingredients

  • 500g raisins
  • 700g currants
    I also substitute in sultanas if I don’t have enough raisins or currants; I’ve never really worked out the difference between the three things!
  • 400ml brandy
    You can never have enough alcohol in there, right?!
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 200g suet
    I always use veggie suet as I’m veggie, but no reason why you can’t use the meaty stuff
    This stuff generally comes in 200g boxes, so none is left over from this recipe
  • 500g dark brown sugar
    I have also used light brown sugar, if that’s what I have, with no difference in taste
  • 200g chopped mixed peel
    Again, this ingredient tends to come in 200g containers, which I then reuse for the small amount of leftover mincemeat that won’t fit into the jars at the very end
  • ½ grated nutmeg
    You can use the powdered stuff, but nothing beats the smell and taste of freshly grated nutmeg to get you in the mood for Christmas. I pick my whole nutmeg up for pennies from my local Zero Waste shop, which also means I can buy single

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Method

  1. Soak the raisins and currants (and/or sultanas!) in the brandy, lemon juice and lemon zest for a minimum of one hour, overnight preferably. The fruit soaks up most of the juice and plumps up nicely. I find giving the mixture a stir periodically helps to rotate the topmost fruit to the bottom, meaning everything gets a chance to absorb that brandy
  2. While the fruit is soaking, sterilise the jars in the dishwasher on a hot setting. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you can sterilise in the oven or microwave. Full instructions here
    The main thing to note is to let the jars cool before adding the mincemeat as adding cold mincemeat to hot jars may cause the jars to shatter. No-one wants to waste good mincemeat (or jars, for that matter)
  3. Add the other ingredients and stir well
    I add them a little at a time, as they can be hard to distribute evenly throughout if added all at once, especially the suet and the sugar
  4. Spoon the finished mincemeat into the sterilised jars and press in firmly to exclude any air; you will be surprised at how much you can pack into those jars if you squeeze the air out as you go
  5. Store for at least a month before use, the longer the better
    The original recipe says use within six months, but I’ve used up jars from previous Christmases in mince pies without poisoning anyone yet…

Enjoy, people!

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