Monday, 31 December 2012

I am a very good artist!

For Christmas Reuben received a mini easel and blackboard (he had indicated he wanted one some time ago!), overwhelmed by his other presents, especially his fairy doll, he didn't give it much attention till yesterday. Then he really went for it! I could hear him working while saying: "I'm a little artist, I'm a very good artist!!!". Hooray for self belief!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Art and play at Snibston

One thing I really like about the boys is how varied their interests and activities are. You might take them to the same place dozens of times and they'll always do something different!

Tired of being cooped up at home, due to rain, flooding and places being mobbed by people on holiday, today we were determined to go out so we drove the car through the nearby farm to get over the flooded brook and headed for Snibston discovery park.
There Reuben watched with much interest how I filled in our season ticket renewal form and as soon as we went in he wanted to write. So we headed for the art tables and there he spent a happy hour writing and drawing, his efforts also reinforce my idea that iPad drawing is just as valid as drawing with a pencil, he seems very capable with both mediums!!
The boys also explored the toy boxes, they had never really been interested before but today they had fun with the train tracks and other construction style toys.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Confidence in my beliefs

I made a comment the other day that made me think, I said that while a lot of parents follow the same philosophy as us and find a lot of opposition, I found that being calmly confident about my choices results in people leaving me alone!
Instead of comparing myself with others (whom I might know very little about) maybe it is more useful to compare myself with a younger, less confident Francesca and see what has changed. It is true that I find little opposition and no one has ever attacked me over my choices, my family might be surprised at some things but they seem to believe I know what I'm doing so live and let live. But in the past week or so I have found myself having to explain myself and the way we live to people very close to me indeed and I noticed something interesting: I do not get flustered, I listen to what they say, think about it and respond accordingly. I do not take for granted that they are automatically right or wrong and have no problem in saying that I don't agree with them or that they have a good point.
A younger me would not have done that, a younger me would have felt that maybe the other person was right and questioned my beliefs, I probably would have become confused and flustered and, even if my reasoning was sound, it might not have come across that way.

What has changed then? I think it's partly because I have done so much reading and observing and living with the children in an attached non-judgemental way, I see what works and what doesn't and I build my ideas and parenting around that. It has taken me a long time to get to this point and I am sure the road will lead me to different places still. I was having a conversation today about things like screen time and discipline, the other person had some valid points but was opposed to my ideas, I felt as we were speaking that I must not become angry and defensive, by alienating this person I would only cause bad feelings between us and who would benefit? Surely not the children. The feeling of wanting to keep the conversation open and friendly was overwhelming for a minute, I tried to listen respectfully although it was difficult but the relationship between us is important to me. I think that we were both able to say our piece and come to a good solution, not a compromise, hopefully a good solution for both of us. If I had become upset or angry, the validity of my ideas would have suffered, I feel. Had it been someone else and had the other person been negative and in strong opposition, I still feel that getting angry would not have helped, in the end I can only change what I believe in and others are fully entitled to their own opinions, I have lost a good friendship for this specific reason, she could not accept our way of life and sadly we had to say goodbye. But I wish her no ill and hope her children thrive as mine do.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The poc pocs

I had been quite upset again today and the weather didn't help, we had planned a morning out at a Xmas fair but it was pouring with rain and the brook flooded again making it difficult to cross with the car. So we spent the day at home and the boys came up with a great idea that cheered us all up immensely and provided hours of fun.
Isaac was playing simultaneously with his Lego and play clay when he asked me to make a poc poc (small creatures from the cartoon Abney and Teal that the boys adore), Reuben immediately lifted his head from the iPad and came to help as he knows where the eyes go... This was addictive, we made loads of poc pocs, made them cardboard houses and forgot all our upsets!! I heartily recommend it. Oh and excuse the dark evening photos.

The Poc Poc house

Evening Lego

Poc Poc with Xmas tree

Creative problem solving

Have to share this, my family thinks I'm mad doing all this problem solving with a 2 and 4 year old!
The problem: the boys have been going to sleep later and later and waking up later and later, I don't have a problem with them staying up late and going to bed with me but they are now not sleepy till 11 or midnight and I'm really tired by then. So last night, as Reuben was wriggling in bed not able to sleep, we had a little conversation where I suggested maybe him waking up a little earlier, he didn't seem convinced. This morning, as it was past 9.30 and they were blissfully asleep I decided to start drawing the curtains and mumbling about hot milk. They stirred but didn't want to get up, I felt I was being a little coercive here so when Reuben piped his head up to tell me I was sitting on his leg (unintentionally) I asked him how we could resolve this problem as I wanted them to get their sleep and feel comfy but I also needed to sleep at night. The resulting solution you can see in the photo below!!! We'll wake up early but can we have jam sandwiches and iPads in bed?

Friday, 21 December 2012

A little struggle but much hope

We're still struggling with some personal stuff, nothing to do with the boys, but we all certainly have been better! Today, on the winter solstice, I am trying to concentrate on the good things we have and how grateful I am for them. I am also wondering how to fix what is damaged and make some good plans for the future. I enjoyed going out to watch the sunset and lighting candles and the fire in our fireplace, it was very comforting.
I also spent a good two hours this morning finally booking our train adventure Leicester to Rome, we leave on the 3rd January and we are very excited. We will be catching three trains including the sleeper Paris to Rome which Reuben calls the sleepy train! And spending a couple of hours in Paris, hope there's a chic Parisian playground near the station!!!

I am a little ambivalent about Christmas as it all seems to be about the presents, in our current state of mind we've not been able to muster much seasonal cheer and not being in a Christian environment makes the celebration a little abstract for the boys. I have been talking to them about this time of the year being important for many reasons and they saw a small nativity play the other day so they might slowly be making sense of it. I hate lying about Santa but my partner has forbidden me to ruin the magic so we have come to a compromise where the boys know that relatives but them presents but Santa delivers them... A sort of glorified postman really...

So I remain ever optimistic and hope things will take a positive spin soon, I look forward to seeing my family in Italy and maybe the boys can finally start speaking some Italian... Bilingual unfortunately they are not!!

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Tiger Who Came to Tea live

The boys absolutely love the theatre, especially the Curve in Leicester so even though we have a bit less money to spend, I am happy to take them every other month or so.
Today we saw the adaptation of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Reuben had asked to go as he saw the posters for it a couple of months ago, so he was extra excited!

It is adapted from a short children's story, first published in 1968, written and illustrated by Judith Kerr. The book is about a girl called Sophie, her mother, and an anthropomorphised tiger who interrupts their afternoon tea. With interesting consequences.

The play was lovely, the boys were rapt and are still (6 hours later) singing the songs from the show, it might be a little less engaging if you are over the age of 7 or if you mind the actors looking rather deranged, but I don't and got carried away with the atmosphere!
You can find out more about the play here or watch a trailer here

And here is the complete narrated story:

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christmas at the Guildhall

We are very fond of the Leicester museums and enjoy attending most events aimed at children. For some reason we had never gotten round to visiting the Guildhall next to Leicester Cathedral, today my stepson Eddie joined us for some Christmas fun there.

The Guildhall is one of the best preserved timber framed halls in the country, dating back six hundred years. It has had many uses and lives. The Great Hall itself was built in about 1390 as a meeting place for the Guild of Corpus Christi (a small but powerful group of businessman and gentry). It was fascinating walking around the buildings and the boys had much fun running up and down the stairs and chasing each other round the halls, the buildings have had very many uses over the years and now it is a museum and performance venue. Our plan was to take part in the craft activities and the trail then see a puppet show there, by the time the show started Reuben and Isaac were very tired and we had to leave after only 10 minutes, Reuben shouting: "This is horrible, I want to go home!" was a good motivator to move!!! But they spent a couple of happy hours making puppets and searching for clues so I'm not complaining.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Art with Isaac

The boys have access to a wide range of arts materials, Reuben likes to work on projects where he knows what the outcome will be (generally decided by him but he also likes to look through books and websites for ideas) but Isaac is quite different. Any suggestion is met with cries of horror and hurt pride! He likes to have all the materials spread out on the table or the floor and he will go where inspiration takes him! He also likes to contribute to the large cooperative paintings we do. I put a large canvas or sheet of paper on the floor or wall and we all get stuck in, me and Reuben will have an idea of what we're doing (like an animal or space scene) but Isaac is more free wheeling. On a recent Xmas night scene he insisted we have dinosaurs! I hope he never changes!!

A mummy and Isaac production

I love the upside down canvas

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Money matters

We recently have had a change in circumstances, for the better I hope! My partner has sold the business he worked very hard to create and run for over 20 years, so we now find ourselves in the situation of having some funds in the bank but no more income, we are planning on investing these funds but in the meantime we are being very careful with what we spend.
This is a major reorganisation and rethink operation for me, up to now I have spent whatever I felt was needed and wanted, if the boys asked for something I would get it for them and I think this attitude has (against the common idea that it creates spoilt and greedy children) worked well for us as the boys always asked for things they would enjoy and play with/use for a long time, very rarely have they asked for something that was not used, in fact I can't really think of anything... Having the freedom to purchase things has led them to try new foods and games and has not turned them into greedy consumers at all, in fact they seem to be very discerning about what they buy!

But this has had to change as I am now on a budget, so what has changed? And has it been that bad?

  • The weekly shopping. We used to pop into Tesco or the farm shop whenever we needed something but I was spending a lot this way. Now I do my weekly shopping online and visit the farm shop just once a week. The boys can still ask to get things but now it all goes on the shopping list. This has cut my spending by half, I feel more organised, we don't have to trawl through the nightmare supermarket and the boys can still pick things our for themselves in the farm shop.
  • Outings, as with the shopping we would go out whenever we felt like it. Now we tend to organise a big day out every couple of weeks (we had the Birmingham science museum this week), we have a long list on the wall of places we like or would like to visit, we decide in advance but we also see how everyone feels on the day. This also means packing a picnic instead of having lunch in cafes but it hasn't changed our enjoyment of the day!
  • Regular activities. Nothing has really changed here as I know how much everything will cost (things like the home ed group and gymnastics) and have budgeted for it.
  • Materials. The boys go through A LOT of arts and crafts materials. Changes I have had to make is save our purchases for a once a month trip to the children's craft shop in nearby Melton Mowbray, it is inexpensive, the materials are good and the boys can pick their own supplies. And for more specialised materials (the boys like to use "proper" arts materials, like acrylics, inks and oil pastels) I also save the purchase for once a month (often every two months) at the Great Art website.

  • Making the most of local free facilities. We have always done this but now more so, we very much enjoy all our local museums, parks and playgrounds.
  • Making the most of staying at home. I always used to fret that we had to be "doing something" but the autonomous way of life has shown me that creativity, insights and imagination cannot be rushed, they need space to develop. Over the years we have build up a lovely children's collection of books, resources and software for the computer and ipads as well as an extensive list of websites the boys use. They have model railways and toys like lego to play with as well as a large garden and a stream at the bottom of the lane.
  • Travel. This is probably the most expensive thing we do, changes have included using the caravan more,staying with relatives and planning in more detail.
Ultimately we all feel that we would rather spend money on doing things opposed to having things, we are certainly time rich so can be more resourceful and not always go for the instant gratification option. We will have more money in the future but this is a valuable lesson for me and I feel that I won't go back to just spending without thought again

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The age of steam, and Santa too...

Every December I take the boys on the Santa Train, a ride on the Great Central Railway's steam train leaving from Loughborough, with a visit from Santa too! And today was the day.

The Great Central Railway is the UK’s only double track, main line heritage railway. It’s the only place in the world where full size steam engines can be seen passing each other, just as it was when steam ruled the rails. We love the way the stations have been preserved, history truly comes alive. And this year the boys were not too scared to have a look at the engine and the furnace.
"Santa" made his way along the train chatting to the children, Isaac didn't like him at all but Reuben was very happy to engage, he was just a bit perplexed with all the "have you been good?", but Santa, I'm always good!!

Our steam engine

The boys enjoyed trying to disappear in the steam

We're moving!

The train has a wonderful authentic feel

Photographer Daddy

Think Tank science museum

Think Tank is the science discovery museum in Birmingham, about an hour away from us by car. We have been here before but it was impossible to take it all in in one day so came back for a second visit, and this one was a whole day job too!!

It's very hands on and excellent for the boys who are now nearly 3 and 5. Our favourite bits were Kid City, a miniature city where children can interact with everything and role play being in the adult world, I was nearly in tears when I saw Reuben filling up one the cars with fuel, just like I do!!

The next best bit was the planetarium and the show we saw called Earth, Moon and Sun, here is a trailer:

Other things we enjoyed were programming the robots, especially Thespian Robot, a humanoid actor robot, looking through the galleries and finding out more about our bodies, and the lovely science garden outside where you can explore these areas:
  • Energise - Harness renewable energy to power a mechanical theatre - which turbine or solar panel will you choose?
  • Mechanise - Use a host of intriguing machines to feed the 8m high 'Terminus' machine - can you get enough for an explosion of dancing balls and whistles?
  • Mobilise - How does it feel riding on a wagon with square wheels on a bumpy road? Find out

  • It was very cold on this visit so we gave the garden a miss (although last time the boys spent a long time on the terminus machine, and there is more water play) but here are some pictures of the other things we enjoyed:

    Isaac weighs his vegetables

    Space commander Reuben on a mission

    The boys operate the mechanical arm

    Water play

    Isaac tries to copy the design

    Brick laying

    This pipe needs mending, must put hard hat on!

    Picnic lunch


    Reuben programmes the robot drummer

    Isaac check out his tools in the garage

    Reuben operates Thespian robot

    The phones in Kid City are all connected

    Thespian robot

    The favourite bit, water play!

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