Category Archives: Kids and parenting

How Do You Feel About Tattoos?

Elephant tattoo

That’s a picture of my daughter’s back, she had the tattoo done a few days ago. Even though it’s pretty big, she’s had it done in a sensible place, half way down her back so it will really only show if she’s in swimwear. Not that I feel people should have to hide tattoos if they don’t want to, but unfortunately there are still some career choices where it can be a hindrance to have them visible – she is considering going into law, so that would be one such example.

The reason she had this tattoo done was in memory of her Dad. She loves elephants, she loves Disney, and one of her Dad’s all-time favourite films was The Jungle Book; with this being an image of an adult and child elephant from the film, it ticks all the boxes. It’s quite large as you can see; she initially wanted smaller but because of the detail on it, it needed to be a certain size.

In view of her reason for wanting it done, I chose not to say anything negative about the idea when she first mentioned it. What I did do though is make sure she took a long time to think about it before going ahead to be absolutely sure. She first came up with the idea around the end of October, soon after he died, and right away thought of The Jungle Book elephants. She then turned 18 in December, so could go ahead and have it done whether I agreed or not. And it’s now April. So she gave it over five months without changing her mind.

Tattooing

This is the elephant tattoo in mid-process

I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I don’t have anything against them. I’ve seen many that I find beautiful; high quality works of art by any standard, and others not so much – as I’m sure you all have. But it’s personal choice if people want to permanently ink their bodies; unless they’ve chosen a highly offensive image, then it’s really not anyone else’s business. Often people have very touching stories about why they’ve chosen to have certain tattoos. It doesn’t worry me in the least if someone I’m dealing with has tattoos, even in a professional context.

The only reason I wanted to make sure my daughter took a long time to decide is because the reality is that many people do regret tattoos. We all know people who regret tattoos. So even if my daughter does come to regret it years down the line, at least she won’t need to be cross with herself for rushing into it. This is part of her healing process from her Dad’s death – she thought of the tattoo, she chose the particular image, she paid for it with her own money – she owns it in every way. And if it helps her then I’m very pleased.

And do I like the tattoo itself? Yes I do, I think it’s rather lovely.

What do you think about tattoos? Do you have any?

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Photo credits:
Image of elephant tattoo taken by The Belly Bar, where she had it done
Image of the tattoo in mid-process taken by me

Join Me in More Parental Confessions

Sign that says "Confessions Booth"

While browsing through some of my past posts I came across one I had written in 2012 – Three Parental Confessions. In there I confessed to three times where I felt I had fallen a bit short of being the perfect mother. I now need to unburden myself of a couple more such incidents, and give you the opportunity to confess too.

French Lessons

When my son started secondary school three years ago, he was doing just fine in all of his lessons except French, where he really struggled. I spent a lot of time trying to help him with his French homework, but he just couldn’t grasp any of it. In the end I was just doing the homework for him and he would copy it into his book. I told him that at the parents’ evening, I would speak to his French teacher, and see if there was any extra help they could give him. He didn’t really want me to do that; he said that he had already decided he was going to drop French after Year 9 when he picked his options, so there was no point. I insisted that there was a point because he still had to do French for two and a half more years until he could drop it.

When the parents’ evening arrived, my son and I walked over to the French teacher’s table. As we approached, she had a huge smile. Before I had a chance to tell her about his struggles, she said “I’m SO pleased you’ve come to see me because I want to tell you how well your son is doing in French!”

Toy of teacher at desk

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, and went on to tell me how he was grasping concepts that the rest of the class weren’t, and how he was much more advanced that she would expect from a year 7 student. I sat there lapping it up, a little confused, but delighted.

Finally she pulled out a book. “I’ll show you what I mean,” she said. It was his homework book. She began leafing through it, showing me all the pieces of homework I had done, saying things like “Look at this! 10 out of 10! Nobody ever gets 10 out of 10 for this,” “And look at this, I didn’t expect anyone to understand this so quickly!”

After the discussion we had just had I felt far too awkward to say “Oh I see, no, I did all that.” So I just sat there smiling, saying things like, “Wow, that’s great! I’m so pleased!” and “Wait, why is that one only 9/10? Let me see that.”

As we walked away my son said “Good job mum, telling her how much I’m struggling with it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I told him. “You’re dropping French after Year 9.”

Raffle Prize

On one occasion when my kids were at primary school, we went to a quiz evening at their school. My son was 8 and my daughter 11. They were also doing a raffle. The raffle tickets were sold at the start of the evening and the draw was at the end of the evening. Those who won were able to go and choose whatever prize they wanted from the prize table.

I bought three strips of tickets, one each for me, my son, and my daughter. When it came to the draw, one of my son’s numbers was drawn. “Ooh, what are you going to pick?” I asked him.

Used raffle tickets

“I’m going to pick the travel game!” he said, and began walking up to the prize table while people applauded him. I tried to let it go, I really did. But I had seen the travel game earlier and it was one of those rubbishy little sets that quite clearly came from the £1 shop. He almost made it to the table when I couldn’t take it any more, I leaped out of my seat, ran up, practically shoved him out of the way and grabbed the case of beer instead. I’m pretty sure there were a few shocked gasps from the other parents who had all witnessed my behaviour.

As we did the walk of shame back to our seats I muttered to my son “I’ll buy you a travel game, it’s just that this is worth much more.” I like to think I was teaching him something about value. In case you’re wondering, yes I did buy him a travel game, and no I didn’t enjoy the beer; it was too tainted with my guilt.

So come on, fess up, what parenting mistakes are you ashamed of? You’ll feel better if you share.

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Photo credits:
Confession booth sign
Toy teacher at desk
Raffle tickets

The Wrong Bowl

Four coloured bowls on a kitchen counter

Our four lovely cereal bowls on the kitchen counter (mine is the red bowl)

I’m rather prone to accidental crockery breakage. The consequence is that our kitchen cupboard is full of random mismatched half-sets. I pretend it’s a style choice. A year or so back, when we were down to two cereal bowls between four of us, I went to buy some replacement bowls. The rather lovely bowls you see above caught my eye in Matalan (for those of you in the US, Matalan is something like the clothing and homewares sections of Target).

I couldn’t decide which colour to go for, and then came up with the fabulous idea of getting four different colours, so that we could each have our own colour bowl. I was thrilled to bits. I arrived home and proudly showed them my purchase. Everyone agreed that they were indeed very lovely cereal bowls.

Right, I said, Who wants which colour? No fighting now!

They looked a little confused, and I’m pretty sure there were some sideways glances between them. Unperturbed, I turned to my son,Ok, well because your special plate when you were little was yellow, I thought you might like the yellow bowl? Yes?

Um, ok,” he said.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm, but carried on. I turned to Neil,I don’t know why, but I just thought of you for the green one, is that ok? I smiled broadly at him.

Fine with me! He said, clearly feigning some enthusiasm to please me.

Just two bowls left, who would end up with which one?Right, I said to my daughter, Do you want the purple one or the red one?

I really don’t mind mum. Ok, there were definitely some sideways glances now.

I ignored the glances. Well I really like the red one, I said, So if you don’t mind, I’ll have the red one, and you have the purple one?

Sure, whatever.”

I was a little perplexed by their reactions. I checked again that they all liked the bowls, and they assured me that they definitely did. Oh well.

The next day I caught Neil eating cereal in the red bowl. MY bowl.Oops! I said, You’ve accidentally got the wrong bowl! Yours is the green one, remember?

Oh, er, yes, sorry.”

Over the next several months, there were many more oopses from me, not just with Neil, with all three of them. Oops, you’ve taken the green bowl out, let me get you the yellow one…, Oops, the red bowl is in the washing-up, but I haven’t had any cereal, who was it?, Oops, yours is the purple one remember? I couldn’t understand it. How hard was it to remember a colour?!

And then one day, after a particularly harrowing morning of three bowl errors, it hit me…

Words saying NOBODY CARES

Nobody cares about the colour allocations! I sought my son out for confirmation, Tell me honestly, do any of you care about the bowl colour allocations?

He shook his head, No.”

Not at all?

Not the tiniest bit.” He hesitated, then took a deep breath, Why does it matter what colour one we use?

There, he had said it. Wow. They weren’t a bunch of numpties who couldn’t remember their colour. I was the numpty for thinking it mattered. I guess they didn’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me outright, so they left it for me to figure out. It just took me a really long time. I was so set on the idea that we each needed to have our own colour bowl that I hadn’t even considered there might be another way of doing it. A random way, where it doesn’t matter which one we use. I had to laugh at myself for being so slow to cotton on. And I’m now laughing at myself for suddenly realising that there is a life lesson in this post; I thought I was just writing about bowls.

I wonder why it might be that allocating colours mattered to me, but not to anyone else. I’ve always felt like my life is fairly chaotic, and I think I try to bring in little bits of order where I can to compensate, so maybe it’s that. Or maybe my head is still in the zone of thinking my kids are little, because I’m pretty sure you’d have a colour allocation with small children. Or maybe something else. Since that moment of revelation I’ve stopped trying to enforce the colour allocations with them, but I can’t get past it for myself. I still always feel a little disappointed when I see them eating out of the wrong bowl, especially if it’s the red bowl, because the red bowl is MY bowl damn it!

Next time I’m buying four bowls of the same colour.

I’m not convinced however that I’m alone here, so please help me by voting in the bowl poll below…

“Once I’m done with kindergarten, I’m going to find me a wife.” — Tom, age 5

Kids kiss on nose

This is another of those sharing-something-funny-I-found-on-the-internet-rather-than-writing-my-own-stuff posts, and also, stringing-the-words-of-a-sentence-together-with-hyphens-to-make-it-seem-like-a-thing. Sourced from here, we have thoughts on love from kids. Take note, we could learn a lot from these kids…

  • “Spend most of your time loving instead of going to work.” — Dick, age 7
  • “Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.” — Lynnette, age 8
  • “Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck!” — Ricky, age 7
  • “Don’t forget your wife’s name. That will mess up the love.” — Erin, age 8
  • “Sensitivity don’t hurt.” — Robbie, age 8
  • “Be a good kisser. It might make your wife forget that you never take out the trash.” — Erin, age 8
  • “Don’t say you love somebody and then change your mind. Love isn’t like picking what movie you want to watch.” — Natalie, age 9
  • “If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” — Glenn, age 7
  • “Love is like an avalanche where you have to run for your life.” — John, age 9
  • “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.” — Manuel, age 8
  • “No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant are so popular.” — Mae, age 9
  • “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.” — Greg, age 8

Kitten hugging dog

  • “Once I’m done with kindergarten, I’m going to find me a wife.” — Tom, age 5
  • “On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” — Mike, 10
  • “I’m in favor of love as long as it doesn’t happen when Dinosaurs is on television.” — Jill, age 6
  • “One of the people has freckles, and so he finds somebody else who has freckles too.” — Andrew, age 6
  • “My mother says to look for a man who is kind. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll find somebody who’s kinda tall and handsome.” — Carolyn, age 8
  • “It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I’m just a kid. I don’t need that kind of trouble.” — Kenny, age 7
  • “One of you should know how to write a check. Because, even if you have tons of love, there is still going to be a lot of bills.” — Ava, age 8
  • “When somebody’s been dating for a while, the boy might propose to the girl. He says to her, ‘I’ll take you for a whole life, or at least until we have kids and get divorced.’” — Anita, 9
  • “I’m not rushing into being in love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.” — Regina, age 10
  • “Most men are brainless, so you might have to try more than once to find a live one.” — Angie, age 10
  • “A man and a woman promise to go through sickness and illness and diseases together.” — Marlon, age 10
  • “[Being] single is better . . . for the simple reason that I wouldn’t want to change no diapers. Of course, if I did get married, I’d figure something out. I’d just phone my mother and have her come over for some coffee and diaper-changing.” — Kirsten, age 10
  • “Love is foolish…but I still might try it sometime.” — Floyd, age 9
  • “Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” — Dave, age 8

Can you remember what you thought about love when you were a kid?

Flies eaten: 1

When you’re a parent, you regularly come across surprising, sometimes alarming things. A couple of weeks ago I was looking through a cupboard, and I came across a notebook. I opened it and saw this:

Paper that says 'Flies eaten: 1'

After I had recovered from the initial shock, I felt a certain sense of relief that it was only one. I knew my daughter had been the last to use this notebook and so I asked her about it. She casually brushed aside my concern and said in a matter-of-fact way “Oh yes, that was when we were doing the Duke of Edinburgh award.” A number of questions came to my mind – Was this one of the requirements in order to pass the award? Does the Duke know? If she’d tried a bit harder, could she have managed more than one? I kept my questions to myself though because if I ask her more than one question at a time these days, I am accused of ALWAYS questioning her about EVERYTHING. That is our job though right?

Of course I have almost eaten a fly myself too; but then who hasn’t? I say ‘almost’ because I had only got as far as chewing it, I hadn’t swallowed it yet. I was about five, out on a picnic. I saw something black on the edge of my sandwich, just inside. I thought it was Marmite. It wasn’t Marmite. Marmite isn’t chewy and gritty like that. Next thing I was spitting out little black bits and pieces of wing. That was a substantial sized beast of a fly I can tell you, and when bits of fly get stuck in your teeth, they don’t come out so easily. Oh I’m sorry, am I going into too much detail now? Let’s move on…

Caterpillar

…to another bug-in-food story. A while ago, eight of us from work had lunch out. There was a salad bar and we helped ourselves from it. Within a couple of minutes of each other, three of us found little caterpillars in our salad, one of my little fellas was actually making his way around the edge of the plate, with that ‘hump and straighten’ action which is kind of cute if it’s anywhere other than on your plate. We called the waitress over, and being British, we were all very apologetic about having found caterpillars in our food. She took our plates away, and we refused the kind offer she made to “Get the chef to wash the lettuce again for us”, instead opting to move on to dessert. At the end of the meal, she came and asked us, “Was everything alright?” We all laughed, assuming she was joking, but she remained straight-faced and asked again, more forcefully, “Was it? Was everything alright?” We realised that she seriously wanted an answer and so again, being British, we nodded and mumbled that it had all been very nice thank you.

So, do you have any ‘bugs in food’ stories to share?
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caterpillar photo credit: AMagill via photopin cc

When Kids Go Out Alone

Child with dog

I usually keep my posts fairy light and amusing (they are fairly light and amusing, right?!), but today I want to tackle a more serious issue. The issue of kids traveling around without adults.

Recently, my 10 year old son took his first bus trip without an adult. It was just a 20 minute trip, he was with a friend, and they were put on the bus at one end, and met off the bus at the other end, so it was all very controlled, but I still felt a bit anxious. What if the bus broke down on route? What if a stranger tried to lure them off at an earlier stop? Over the last few months, he has been going out and about in our village with friends and no adults, and I still feel a bit anxious about that, but I allow it because I do believe it’s necessary for kids to be allowed some freedom in order to develop independence and general survival skills. When I was his age I was already confidently zipping around London on buses and underground trains on my own. People say that it was safer back then, but I’m not sure whether it actually was, or if it’s just that we are more aware of the risks these days. One thing is for sure, kids were much more streetwise back in the 70s and 80s when I was growing up. They were out there without adults and they learned to be resourceful and figure things out if something went wrong.

When I was five, my Mum moved to France and my Dad stayed in England. From the age of five, I started regularly traveling between England and France on my own. Of course I wasn’t just left to my own devices, I was put in the care of the airline staff and handed over from parent to parent. Most of the time it went smoothly, but sometimes it didn’t. There was one occasion when I was six, I had to take two flights, changing at a Paris airport. Something went wrong at the changeover airport and I was left wandering around the airport on my own. I remember feeling quite scared and alone, trying to figure out where I should go for my connecting flight. Eventually I approached a member of staff at one of the desks and they sorted me out.

There was another occasion when I was seven. Rather than fly, I was to travel from England to France by ferry. I was put in the care of the coach driver who would look after me on and off the ferry and get me back on the coach in France, to travel across country some way. All was fine on the ferry and getting on to the coach, but then the coach broke down. We were apparently told we would have to find our own way of making the rest of the journey, as the coach driver had to stay with the coach. A couple of adults took it upon themselves to take me the rest of the way, and so they took me to a train station and we caught a train. This was mid 70s, so it was pre-mobile phones. Waiting at the coach station, my Mum was told that the coach had broken down and that passengers were having to make their own arrangements for the rest of the journey, but nobody was able to tell her anything about me. All she could do was wait at the coach station, and hope that I eventually turned up, which I did. As a parent, that just makes me feel sick imagining what she must have gone through waiting there!

I think it’s a really tricky balance for us parents, protecting our kids, but not over-protecting them so much that they never learn how to manage on their own. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to what age children should be allowed out on their own, each child is different, and parents have to make decisions based on their own children’s maturity, and other factors such the area in which they live.

I’m interested in any thoughts, from parents or non-parents? Or if you don’t like me tackling serious subjects on my blog, then lighten it up yourself and tell me a joke, and make it a good’un.

Why High School Musical was like the Pied Piper

High School Musical book

I’ve been meaning to write this post for several weeks now, but other post ideas kept muscling their way in and pushing their way to the front. Anyway, while the other ideas aren’t looking, I shall quickly write this…

A while ago, Kate (4amWriter), wrote a post about her concerns surrounding her daughter growing up and losing her innocence – http://4amwriter.com/2012/08/19/sunday-spin-growing-up/ This set me thinking about my own daughter, and her transition from childlike interests of fairies and magic, on to teenage interests of boys and the type of music that makes me feel old. As most parents of teenage girls will probably testify, the change can seem quite dramatic and sudden. One day the walls of their bedroom are adorned with pictures of fluffy kittens and Disney Princesses, and the next day the pictures have been ripped down and replaced by ones of young male TV stars and boy band members, who quite frankly should be wearing a bit more than they are if they don’t want to catch a chill.

Whilst I was pondering all of this, it suddenly struck me, it was all High School Musical’s fault! It seemed so innocent with its pretty songs and its pretty cast members; a place where wholesomeness and goodness win out over bad. Where was the harm? What I failed to realise at the time was that High School Musical was giving my daughter a glimpse into that mysterious, but oh-so-exciting teenage world. It was all sugar-coated of course to appeal to her girly kitten-loving self, but it gave her that stepping stone, that leg-up away from her childish innocent interests onto those teenage interests that all parents fear.

I remember one particular Christmas where her whole gift wish list was High School Musical – the DVDs, the soundtrack, the books, the watch, the bedding, the lip gloss, oh yes, anything her heart could desire was available under the HSM brand. And I, fool that I was, went along with it and bought her the merchandise. By the following Christmas, just one short year later, she had decided that High School Musical itself was now completely uncool and babyish. It was a pretend teenage world that no longer held any interest for her. But its job was done, it had catapulted her from one world to another, and there was no going back.

Yes, High School Musical was the Pied Piper in disguise. We didn’t stand a chance.

Three tips to stop the kids from eating your chocolate

Chocolate bar

After all the scary spider and alien talk in my last post I thought I’d talk about something a little more pleasant today, chocolate. If you don’t have kids, then you probably don’t realise how tricky it can be for parents to indulge in their favourite naughty snacks when they don’t want the kids to have any. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about. The frantic shoveling of goodies into your mouth while the kids are distracted by something, the secret stash you keep in the car. We have to get sneaky right? Here are my three tips for stopping the kids from eating your chocolate:

1. Find a really good hiding place for it

I’m going to save you the trouble of trying to find your own really good hiding place. After years of failed experimentation, you can take it from me that I have found THE best hiding place for your chocolate. Are you ready for it? It’s inside an empty cereal box, of a variety of cereal that the kids don’t like. You can then safely leave the box in the cupboard next to the rest of the cereal, and they won’t touch it. The added advantage with this is that if you’re bored you can amuse yourself by waving the box at the kids and saying “Are you sure you don’t want any of this?”. It’s such fun, try it.

All Bran

2. Lie to them about what you’re eating

Of course you can only get away with this while they are still young enough to believe every word you say, and you should take advantage of that whenever you can. Try one of these phrases, or come up with one of your own:

“This? No, this isn’t chocolate, this is a brown vegetable bar”.

“Oh no, you wouldn’t like this type of chocolate, it’s very spicy”.

“This is a special chocolate bar that only adults are allowed to eat, you can have some if you want, but if the police find out you could be in trouble”.

3. Teach them about alternatives

Teach your kids that healthy snacks such as nuts, seeds, and apples can be every bit as delicious as chocolate…oh who am I kidding? I don’t even believe that myself. Ok, so it turns out I only had two tips then, but they’re pretty good ones right?

Mars BarGreen and Blacks chocolateCurly Wurly

I know this all might seem very cruel, but remember it is for their own good – you don’t want them eating all that fat and sugar, not when you want it all for yourself anyway.

Happy chocolate eating!

Three parental confessions

Vanessa's kids standing on a bridge

I’m sure most parents would agree, there are times where you look at your kids and think, hey, I’m doing a pretty good job here. Perhaps you handled a difficult situation with them well, perhaps they did something that greatly impressed you which you felt could be attributed in part to your parenting. Whatever the cause, there are definite moments where you nod and feel confident that overall you’re a pretty good parent. Then there are those other times. The times that you are not so proud of. The times where you short-changed them a little when it came to being a great parent. I am feeling the need to confess three of those times, in the hope of a little forgiveness, or at least in the hope of a little reassurance from others that they may have done similar things…

1) Bedtime stories – I used to read stories to my children regularly. I recently wrote about our favourite children’s books over at Limebird Writers – Oh to Write Children’s Books Like These. Sometimes however, my children would choose a particularly long book, and sometimes this happened when I was very tired and didn’t particularly feel like reading a long book. Sometimes therefore, instead of turning over one page at a time, I would turn over two or three pages at a time, with a swift sleight of hand that an accomplished magician would be proud of. At the same time, I would briefly summarise in my own words what probably happened in those two or three pages. And if I wasn’t skipping over pages, then I would be condensing big full pages of text into short succinct sentences. I couldn’t get away with this with books that they were very familiar with of course, and there were occasions where they would helpfully point out that I had missed a bit, to which I would reply “Ooh yes, good job you spotted that!”. Before you judge me too harshly on this one, please acknowledge that at least I was reading to them.

2) Clocks – I have already previously confessed to this one on my blog, but in case anyone missed it…one day when I was particularly tired and frazzled, I set all the clocks in the house forward by an hour in order to trick my kids into going to bed an hour earlier than usual. People seemed quite impressed by this one when I mentioned it previously, and not at all critical, so I don’t mind mentioning it again.

3) Childcare provision – When my son was seven and daughter 10, I needed to find some childcare provision for them during the school summer break. I found that our local sports centre ran a club. It was perfect:

– It ran daily from 8.30am-5.30pm which meant I could still go to my 9-5 job.

– As it was run by the sports centre, every day was packed full of sport and physical activities, which I love for my kids.

– It was literally half the price of most other childcare provision around.

The only problem was, it was for ages eight and up, and my son was four months short of turning eight. What’s four months right? You know what’s coming here. It’s not so much the fact that I lied to the sports centre about his age which makes this a bad parenting moment, it’s the fact that I had to tell him to lie about his age if he was asked. You may judge me harshly on this one. I don’t think I deserve forgiveness here; teaching your children to lie is pretty bad, and I still feel guilty about this one.

So there you have it. Feel free to join me by sharing your own confessions below, parental or otherwise, but please nothing so bad that it will put me in the awkward position of thinking “Should I report this or not?”.

Guest Post: Author, Nicola Baird

Nicola Baird with dogHomemade Kids front cover

This week I am delighted to welcome my first guest poster: Author, Nicola Baird, who is going to share with us some ideas for getting the most out of the school summer holidays. Nicola is a writer with two daughters (11 and 14 years), three hens and a dog. She lives in London where she blogs about low-carbon family UK travel http://aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com and thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children, http://homemadekids.wordpress.com. Nicola has written seven books, see her Amazon page here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B001K7R1UY and her website here: http://www.nicolabaird.com/

Over to you Nicola…

5 ideas for getting the most out of the summer holidays

When the school term ends everyone in my house takes a turn suggesting about 10 things they’d like to do during the holiday. Lists may include big wishes like going to see a show, eating ice cream every day or getting a new-to-you outfit (i.e, in a secondhand shop or from Ebay). By the time there are 40+ ideas it offers loads of choice about what might be fun to plan, or do “spontaneously” on a free day when the sun’s out (or rain’s coming down!).  We pin this list on to the fridge, knowing our youngest will keep reminding us if something still needs tackling.

Holiday activity list

We try to adapt the ideas to fit into the thrifty and eco-friendly way we try to live our life (mostly one long staycation), so no mini-breaks which need an aeroplane get added. With imagination these travel restrictions are no problem at all, see my family travel blog at http://aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com

Generally this family wish list can be bundled into categories –
•    Have fun
•    Learn/practice a skill
•    Stuff with animals
•    Trips
•    Time with friends/granny

Chores (eg, gardening, jam/chutney making, mending/sewing and cooking) don’t make it on to the list but I try to work improved life skills into daily acitivites without us really noticing.

Here are some ideas about how this summer you too could turn a family wish list into inexpensive, memorable treats or a full-day extravaganza – which don’t break the bank or damage the planet.

FUN
My guess is that climate change is going to have a big impact on my children’s adult lives. That’s why I’d love them to have a heap of survival skills, and ideally the ability to be generous too. To build up these skills, see if during the summer you can use the garden/balcony for a night sleeping under the stars. Try it in a hammock (can you borrow from a neighbour/friend?).
£-saving tip: Start or join a neighbourhood e-newsletter so you can get to know your neighbours and local area even better. This also makes it much easier to lend/borrow equipment that you might only want to use occasionally.
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Weather nouse, plus cooking and sleeping outside.

LEARN
See more Shakespeare – this was on my list (as a nod to the 2012 http://www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk/). Lots of Edwardian and old-fashioned children’s stories include shows at home (e.g, Christmas with the Savages). If you can act out some of the best scenes or start using dramatic phrases around the house before you go it makes the play much more memorable. Here’s a full list of your nearest Shakespeare this summer: http://www.touchstone.bham.ac.uk/performance/shakespeare%20productions.html
£-saving tip: Joining The Globe, in London, being a family member lets you book tickets early (important if the talented Mark Rylance is in the cast) and also allows you to go free around the Shakespeare Exhibition – a wonderful exhibition and a great way to be a histronaut (explorer of past times).
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Worst case scenario, it’s time away from Facebook and gives a GCSE leg-up. DIY entertainment is a big part of green-living – could this fire up your kids’ imaginative play? Theatre is also something to look forward to, important in an age of instant gratification.

DR DOLITTLE
Animal training seems to be a new craze – from dancing dogs (Pudsey on Britain’s Got Talent) to rehoming hens. It’s also a great way for children to learn bravery and responsibility. Improve your child’s animal know-how by visiting friends with pets, talking to dog walkers, playing “spot the dog” with toddlers in the park, offering to pet sit when a neighbour goes on holiday, visiting or volunteering at a city farm (or equivalent country set-up), going to a county show or maybe adding a sheepdog training day or llama trek into the experiences you have during the school holidays.
£-saving tip: Learning to ride (or even to keep a dog in food, vaccinations, worm and flea treatments for a year) is more expensive than you might think. Is there a granny who’d be willing to subsidise lessons/pet-care expenses? This might make a great Christmas present, but would need some explaining now.
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Low-carbon ways to get around (riding) and planning (caring for a pet).

TRIPS
My kids love ice-cream, so where better to eat a cone than by the sea? Our dog loves it too (though many beaches ban dogs from Easter – September). Before you go, find an i-spy seashore guide (in a charity shop), check when it’s high tide and have a go making your own ice-cream (perhaps by borrowing a machine or getting a friend with the equipment to demonstrate).
£-saving tip: Go by train using a Family & Friends railcard. Or set yourself a challenge: could you bike to the beach?
Eco-friendly skills learnt: How far you live from the sea, tides, DIY cooking and learning how to cook a recipe with a friend and possibly bike maintenance.

VISITS
Could your child make a trip to Granny on their own? Or could they invite Granny to their home and be responsible for all the catering from the first cup of tea to the last spoonful of pudding? Or could they devise a treat grandparents or a favourite relative/godparent might enjoy?
£-saving tip: Not sure there is one, instead spend time making sure your children know all the travel methods they can reach their grandparents/relations (not just in the back of a car). Study maps, look up train times and even cycle routes and see if they can turn it into an adventure?
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Empathy, local knowledge, travel skills.

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Thank you very much to Nicola for guest posting today, and sharing her great ideas. Do you have any ideas for low lost, eco-friendly ways to entertain the kids over the summer?