Wednesday, 29 January 2014

...find the fun and snap! the job's a game

A friend of mine shared a Montessori list of age-appropriate chores for children. I found it useful and thought-provoking. Many of the things suggested for pre-school children are things that my three-and-a-half year old daughter helps with around the house.

I don't want to comment on the 'should children do chores?' debate but I do think that my daughter should learn about how the household is run and how my husband and I share out the jobs between us. We both work and we all live together so it seems reasonable that we should all lend a hand to keep the house running smoothly. So, here are some of the things that I ask my daughter to help with:
  • Putting her dirty clothes in the laundry basket. At the end of the day, when she is getting ready for her bath, I expect my daughter to take her clothes off and put them in the laundry basket. I've been asking her to do this for so long now that it has become a habit.
  • Setting the table for dinner. My daughter can put knives and forks on the table and, if we're having pasta, the parmesan and cheese grater. It's not a big job but it's an easy task that she can do.
  • Sorting laundry. I tend to do the laundry on my two 'non-work' days in the week. These are days when my daughter is home with me, so I have a choice: put her in another room with an activity to do by herself, or get her to help me with the laundry and play together whilst it's in the machine. So, she helps me to sort similarly coloured items into piles. I put the laundry in the machine and add detergent, she turns the dial to the right programme and presses 'start'. When it's done, she helps me to sort out what can/can't be tumbled and load the tumble drier. She can help me put non-tumblable items onto the drying rack. When everything is dry, she can help me sort the laundry into piles - who does each item belong to? We do it together and it sort of feels like a game.
  • Cooking. Sometimes we bake for fun at the weekends and sometimes my daughter wants to help cook dinner. Obviously there are lots of things she can't do for safety reasons but there are some things she can help with. She can weigh out dried pasta into a bowl until the digital scales read the correct value. She can put chopped items into a baking tray or saucepan. She can mix things together. It's nice to spend time together in the kitchen and she is usually keen to eat the things that she has helped to make. Our favourite recipe to make together is minestrone (but I think this is because she gets to eat bits of chopped fresh veg before they are put in the pan!).
  • Tidying up toys and books. I think this one is really important. The children are encouraged to help with tidying up at nursery and I reinforce this at home. At the end of the day, before bath time, my daughter is expected to help us tidy up her toys. We have a playroom and all toys must end up back in there before she goes upstairs for bath and bed.
  • Sorting the recycling. My husband puts the bins out each week and puts the recycling out for collection at the same time. We keep a plastic bucket in the house to put recyclable items in as we go along and then transfer them to the Council bags/containers on a Sunday night. My daughter likes to help by putting items in the right containers. She needs help to differentiate between plastic and glass and, obviously we don't let her handle glass or tins without our careful supervision, but she can easily do the cardboard and paper.
Note: these 'chores' aren't mandatory. If my daughter is tired, for example, I don't force her to help but I always thank her for her contribution if she does.

I view helping around the house as a set of learning opportunities: helping with the laundry involves colour recognition and grouping (darks together, lights together, finding pairs of socks); setting the table is about routine (who sits where? where do the fork and knife go?); and tidying up toys is about taking responsibility for your own things. Helping mummy and daddy with these jobs reinforces sharing of responsibilities and equality within the home. I'm hoping it will set her up for adult life, so she knows how to manage household chores and how to ask for help from others.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A Day in the Life... (a 'non-work' day)

07:00 - 08:00
Lie in bed dozing, putting off waking-up-time for as long as possible. Husband silently gets up and tiptoes about the house, getting showered, dressed and having breakfast, then comes upstairs to kiss us goodbye.

08:00 - 09:00
Wake up. Sit in bed with Daughter, eating cereal and drinking tea/fruit juice. Daughter watches some YouTube videos of people making stuff out of Play-Doh. I read a chapter of "17 Equations that Changed the World" about imaginary numbers. (Decide I prefer real numbers.)

09:00 - 10:30
Get out of bed. Deposit Daughter in lounge with some toys. She puts a DVD on. I go back upstairs to strip the beds and sort the laundry into four loads: whites, darks, colours, woollens. Wonder why I bother as they will all be washed on the same programme anyway... Put first load of laundry in the washing machine.

Put fresh sheets and pillowcases on the beds. Put fresh duvet cover on Daughter's bed. Leave our duvet on our bed next to a clean cover for Husband to deal with when he gets home tonight.

Tidy playroom.

Go to empty dishwasher and realise that I forgot to put it on last night. Cram a few more dirty pots in. Put dishwasher on.

All the while ask/cajole/nag/remind Daughter to take pyjamas off and put on clothes that I have conveniently put in a pile next to her on the sofa.

10:30 - 12:00
Take first load of laundry out of washing machine and transfer to tumble drier. Put second load of laundry in washing machine. Give Daughter a quick pre-gym snack. Spend 10 minutes trying to get her to put shoes on. Take her to pre-school gymnastics.

12:00 - 12:30
Lunchtime, back at home. Tesco delivery won't arrive until this evening. Scrape around in fridge to find wholesome lunch. Opt for poached eggs on toast. Daughter wants sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes and cucumber with hers. Agree this is OK and more nutritious. Decide I will have some fried cherry tomatoes with mine. Deposit tired Daughter, thumb-in-mouth, on sofa to watch 'Balamory' while I make lunch.

While cooking, empty first load from tumble drier and fold clothes. Transfer second load of laundry from washing machine to tumble drier. Decide third load 'dark' is actually two loads. Create a new load: 'towels'. Put third load in washing machine. Congratulate self on multi-tasking ability. Hang non-tumblable laundry to dry in spare bedroom. Wonder why we own clothes that can't be tumbled.

12:30 - 12:45
Drink a well-earned mug of tea. Whilst it's still hot!

12:45 - 14:00
Empty dishwasher. Find teabag in cutlery tray. Realise pots have been washed in redbush. Put them away as if 'properly' clean.

Swab down the kitchen table.

Empty second load of laundry from tumble drier. Fold dry items. Marvel at how the duvet cover can supercoil itself around so many items of clothing. Spend 15 minutes unravelling duvet cover and putting the damp clothes it had 'eaten' back into tumble drier.  Wait for washing machine to finish.

Set up a Play-Doh station in the playroom to entertain Daughter.

Open post. Boring bank stuff. File in in-tray.

Empty third load of laundry from washing machine. Transfer tumblable items to tumble drier; take non-tumblable items to spare room and hang out to dry. Put fourth load into washing machine.

Have 15 minutes spare before need to drive to friend's house. Join Daughter in playroom and make things out of Play-Doh.

14:00 - 16:45
Playdate/tea and biscuits at a friend's house.

16:45 - 18:00
Back home. Empty washing machine. Fill tumble drier.

Make carrot muffins with Daughter. Set up awesome marble run whilst they are in the oven.

18:00 - 18:30
Leave Daughter playing with marble run and  go to cook dinner: pasta with sausage meatballs in tomato sauce, with peas.

While cooking, empty tumble drier. Decide not to wash woollens today. Put last load of drying on to tumble. Fold dry clothes.

18:30 - 19:00
Husband home from work. Husband and Daughter quickly take two muffins round to next-door neighbour. Sit down to eat dinner as a family.

19:00 - 20:00
Leave Husband and Daughter to tidy up the marble run and play together for 10 minutes before bath and bedtime. Leave Husband to manage the bath and bedtime routine.

Do some admin on the laptop. Put freshly laundered clothes away.

20:00 - 21:00
Tesco delivery arrives. Put groceries away.

Spend 10 minutes consoling Daughter who has got out of bed because she is too frightened of 'ghost-monsters' to go to sleep. Persuade her back to bed. Leave lights on upstairs.

Do some knitting on the sofa.

Put electric blanket on.

21:00 - 22:00
Veg out on the sofa watching TV.

22:00
Bedtime. Look forward to a quiet day in the office tomorrow.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Highway Code

My daughter is a bit of a backseat driver and often shouts out observations and questions as I drive along. Recently, road signs have caught her eye.

"Mummy, what does a red circle with an 'O' and a '3' mean?"

I have divided road signs into three groups: red triangles, red circles, and blue circles.

Red triangle signs mean 'be careful' because of whatever is depicted in the middle of the sign. Examples we saw today on our way to nursery included a school crossing sign and a roadworks sign. (Or 'be careful of people trying to cross the road' and 'be careful of people digging up the road', as my daughter put it!)

Red circle signs mean 'don't do' whatever is depicted in the middle of the sign. There are loads of these near where we live, including speed restriction signs and some roads that are unsuitable for HGVs.

Blue circle signs mean 'only do' what is depicted on the sign - for example, a cycle path sign means 'you can only use this road if you're riding a bike'.

It certainly makes car journeys a bit more interesting!

In response to "Mummy, what does that sign mean?", I can now ask her the shape and colour of the sign and what is the picture or number in the middle. She can then work out, for herself, what signs and symbols are in the world around her. At this rate, she can't fail her driving theory test!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Let's pretend

My daughter enjoys role-play. Of course, she does - it is the most open-ended game ever invented! With a few props and plenty of imagination, she can be anywhere, doing anything, with anyone. (Potentially, at any time but she hasn't yet discovered the fourth dimension...)

Most of her playtime is spent in one imaginary world or another, although a few scenarios crop up regularly. She particularly enjoys nurturing games with her favourite toys (a monkey, a horse, a doll and a bear): pretending to be doctors and nurses; teachers and pupils; mummies and babies. We hear her reading to her toys and telling them off when they don't listen nicely. We see her looking after her 'babies' when they feel poorly. She wanted a doll's cot for Christmas to complement the blankets I'd made and the 'magic' bottles from which milk 'disappears'.

She can build many things out of cushions and blankets. The sofa has been a snowy mountain, a cosy den, a car, a boat and a house. Often, she plays under the computer desk and, at Christmas time, she built a hideaway behind the Christmas tree! This week, she spent almost a whole day sitting inside a cardboard box we had fashioned into a sailing boat, navigating across the sea (a blue duvet cover spread out on the floor) using a cling-film inner tube as a telescope.

The dressing-up box doesn't get as much use as I would expect - she only tends to play with it when her friends come round. Maybe dressing up isn't much fun on one's own?

Occasionally, my husband and I are required to join in but the rules can be difficult to understand and we often get it wrong! In a new game of 'Post Officers', my husband had to address tiny letters to all our daughter's toys and then carry her around the house so she could deliver them!

My daughter often uses role-play to reinforce her understanding of the world and to try out new situations. I love watching what she gets up to and observing how her mind works! The child's-eye view of world is fascinating...

Saturday, 4 January 2014

New Year Revolution

I don't normally make New Year's resolutions but, I feel as if I need something of a fresh outlook. So, I've settled upon a few things that I'd like to achieve or put in place during 2014:

1) Read for pleasure:

I haven't read much since Monty died. I haven't had the energy for it, or the desire to lose myself in a novel. The last fiction book I read was "Fifty Shades of Grey", which I read when I was pregnant (and only because all the other mummies were reading it). I also started "Sense and Sensibility" but got bored and didn't finish it. Over the past year, I have read a couple of non-fiction books but they were related to baby loss. "How I Came To Hold You" helped me to think optimistically about the future of my family. "Trying Again" gave me moral support and gave me a new perspective on my son's stillbirth.

This year, as I help my daughter to learn to read, I want to set a good example by reading myself for pleasure. My husband reads all the time and my daughter loves her three bedtime stories. I read at work (technical documents and policy papers) and I read knitting patterns and blogs at home but I have decided to read more books. I'm starting with "Knitting Rules", which my mother bought for me last year. It's a light-hearted look at what it's like to be an avid knitter, which has already had me laughing out loud and nodding along in agreement.

I'm not going to set myself a hard target but I think reading one book a month would be a good start.

2) Lose weight and get fit:

I haven't lost any of the baby weight I carried when pregnant with Monty. In the first few weeks postpartum, I lost a stone but I'm still about 12lbs away from my pre-baby weight. I'm also carrying the flabby mum-tum (which I sort of wear like a badge of pride or a vestige of the baby I lost...) but the time has come to tone it up and flatten it down. So, my goal is to lose 1lb per month and to get to the gym twice a week. No crash-dieting or insane fitness plans for me, just a (hopefully) sensible approach to eating a moderated, balanced diet and implementing a regular exercise schedule.

3) Make the most of term-time:

With my daughter due to start school in September, we have only a few months to take advantage of being able to go on holiday and take day trips when older children are at school. Not only will this save us some money (for example, the holiday I've booked for the third week in May would cost three times more if we went the following week!) but it will allow us to visit more places and enjoy them without the hustle and bustle of lots of other families. Once September comes, and we are confined to the academic timetable, this luxury will no longer be ours.

4) Love my hobbies:

I lost my mojo in 2013.

It took me almost the whole year to find the strength and commitment to get back to my singing group. I love singing and have been singing in barbershop choruses for 10 years but it takes a lot of time and energy and I just couldn't give it what it needed. This year, things will be different. I will learn the new songs and do the sing-outs and attend the coaching weekends and I plan to compete at the LABBS Convention in Harrogate.

I'm going to knit again, too. Once a prolific knitter, I've started three or four projects over the past year and completed none of them. Half-finished cardigans and toys languish on needles around the house. Some of them are littered with mistakes for which I berate myself and feel annoyed. I've not been able to concentrate on it properly and, knowing that I can knit better than that, I've felt very frustrated. I'm going to overcome this blip in 2014 and get back on form. I'm also going to pick up my pencil and design at least one new pattern to upload to Ravelry.

5) Give more to charity:

I donated quite a lot to various charities in 2013 and raised funds from others for SANDS and Mum's the Word. My barbershop chorus has chosen Mum's the Word as its charity for 2014, so fundraising in Monty's name will continue. I have found the pattern for the SANDS baby blanket and, with another mum from the Bristol bereavement support group, I plan to organise a knit-a-thon to make blankets for SANDS and simultaneously raise funds for Bristol SANDS through sponsorship. I also want to take steps towards helping others and to raise awareness of stillbirth and baby loss and associated charities.