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Fun with Water Play

Pinterest is full of these – and ours is a humble effort.  But it only took an hour or so to put together, and gave us an afternoon of fun.  Plus it is a temporary fixture, so can be changed, adapted, and ultimately removed.

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We used a variety of empty plastic bottles and containers, which I had made holes in with a craft knife to produce a variety of watery effects – big splashes, tiny trickles, and shower-head type effects:

  • an empty juice bottle with lots of small holes made in the bottom for a “shower” effect.
  • a bottle cut in half to make a long channel, like a drainpipe (I’ve seen guttering used to great effect in water play.
  • The neck of a bottle sliced off to make a funnel.
  • empty hummus and cream cheese pots with holes – some bigger, some smaller
  • a milk carton with a tiny hole in the bottom, to fill quickly and empty slowly
  • the lid of an ice cream tub to make a water slide.

I gave L, N and F some containers for pouring, catching and carrying water, filled the water table with coloured water (with a drop of food colouring added), then set them free!  N’s cry of “Wow, this is fantastic Mummy!” made me feel this was going to be a success – and it was.

L and N fetched and carried water, as part of a game involving feeding N’s very thirsty horses, in which she enlisted L’s help.  Whilst doing so, they were working out which containers carried the most water, pouring water from one to another and comparing capacity.  They were both surprised when the tallest container didn’t hold the most water.

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They also experimented with how quickly the water would flow from different containers, and how to make it trickle from one to another, directing the flow of water in different directions, at different speeds – some very early physics was happening!  The great thing about using pipecleaners and trellis was that L and N could easily move things around the wall as they wished, allowing them to experiment more than would have been possible had the bottles been nailed to the wood.

We used coloured water in blue, red and yellow, which reinforced colour mixing and allowed them to experiment with making “magic potions”, which included some leaves and twigs from the garden too.

F enjoyed watching the water flowing, and also splashing in the coloured water in the water table (although I only managed to get a very grumpy looking picture!).

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We also ended up “painting” with the water, which was hugely popular, and all three children could join in with – in fact, F loved it most of all and it was lovely not to have to mind where she “drew”!

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Wildlife Fun in the Garden

We were inspired today by our weekend visit to the RSPB Headquarters at Sandy, Bedfordshire.  I came away full of plans to make our garden a little wildlife haven, and we made a start today by creating a simple bug hotel.

We had seen a very impressive one at Sandy – the Ritz of Bug Hotels.  Ours is more of a Travelodge but was great fun to make using things we already had at home, and got the children thinking about different habitats.

We used a large planter turned on its side as a basic framework, and added plant pots containing various materials – dried leaves, pinecones, stones, mud, grass, twigs.  We added a brick stuffed with vegetation and mud too.

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The great thing about using small plant pots was that L and N could carry them around the garden and be responsible for creating their own little habitats in each one.  This really got them thinking about the conditions bugs and insects would like (cool/warm, damp/dry, dark/light) and investigating the properties of materials as they tried to create those conditions.  L had the idea that butterflies and moths wouldn’t like getting wet and so we had some dry areas too – and this led to the idea of planting some wildflowers too, to attract bees and butterflies.

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ImageL filling his plant pot with leaves and sticks

F had a go at filling a pot too…and emptying it…and refilling it…Image

Another challenge for L and N was to fit the plant pots, stones and bricks into the larger planter – a bit like a jigsaw using natural materials :-).  Here are L and N showing off the finished product:

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Our plan is to keep a journal with pictures and a bit of writing about the insects that visit our “hotel”.

Seeing as we had already collected sticks and leaves, and made mud, I challenged L and N to play at being birds, and use these materials to make a nest.  It involved getting very messy indeed!

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We experimented with weaving sticks and leaves, shaping them, bending them, sculpting mud – alil great fun and involved some real planning and problem solving for the childiren, as well as a little science lesson in understanding how birds make nests.  We discovered that our most effective way to build a next was to use mud as a glue and leave it to dry.

I was pleased that F could join in.  I have been finding it harder to include her ithan I did when she was tiny. She is now at an age where she wants to be in on the action, but doesn’t quite have the skills or concentration to match her enthusiasm – it’s a difficult balance between letting her experiment, and not letting her destroy things carefully constructed by the older ones.  In the garden, she was free to roam with supervision, and seeing as the point was to get messy and experiment, it was right up her street.  Pilus it was novel enough to hold her interest that bit longer than usual.

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Finally, we fed the birds and put together a very basic makeshift bird bath using two planters:

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We plan to make the birds some food tomorrow, like we did here.

The afternoon “flew” by (ha ha) and even thought the weather wasn’t as lovely as expected, the fresh air certainly was – we came in tired, happy and muddy, which is always the sign of a good day!!

Easter Crafts and a Rhyming Egg Hunt

…Better late than never!!

Easter happened during our break from blogging – but rather than leave it out, I’ve decided to share the things we did so that we have a record for ourselves, and ready to share ideas next year!

Easter wouldn’t be Easter without an egg hunt – I also think that less chocolate, more fun  is a better balance.  Not that I’m opposed to chocolate but at Christmas and Easter the levels can get ridiculous if unchecked!  So our poor deprived children shared a bag of mini eggs which they found hidden around the house, by following clues.

L had been writing poetry that week, using a rhyming words bank, and so L’s clues involved finding the rhyming word.  N’s clues were simpler, and involved a very basic riddle.

Just for fun, here are our treasure hunt clues:

Once upon a time, there was an Easter bunny

Who thought hiding his eggs was funny!

On Easter morning, while we were out,

He left L** and N****’s eggs hidden all about!

 

 

 

And then he wrote a little rhyme

So they could find their eggs in time –

“I’ve hidden your eggs around in twos

To find them you must read the clues,

First L**’s turn, and N****’s then,

Then back to the beginning – L**’s again!

So off we go, let’s have some fun,

Your treasure hunt has just begun!”

 

 

The first clue is for L** to read,

I know he is a good reader indeed.

This clue is tricky, that’s for certain

Look behind the living room *******.

 

 

 

Aha – you found them!  Now N****’s turn

To look in the place where a fire might burn.

 

  

For L**’s clue, get down on your knee

To find out where those eggs might be.

Get down on the floor, if you are able,

And look under the kitchen ******.

 

 

N****, look inside your bed

-         You’ll find your eggs where you rest your head.

 

Quickly L**, zoom, zoom, zoom,

The next one’s still in your bedroom.

You’re doing well at this hunting race

-         Go and look in your book ****.

 

 

Hello N****!

Splish, splash, splosh!

You’ll find the eggs where you have a wash!

You’re so close, Leo, they’re near the floor,

Just look behind the bathroom ****.

 

 

Think hard, N****, and have a peep

In the place where a baby girl might sleep.

 

Look around, L**, look up and down,

You’ll find eggs in Mummy’s dressing ****.

 

 

N****, this is your last clue

They’re near the front door, where you keep your shoe!

 

You’ve found most of your eggs by now

Just one more clue to tell you how

You’ll need to look where your clothes get clean

The eggs are inside the washing *******!!

 

Well done, little girl and boy!

I hope these eggs have brought you joy.

They’re made of chocolate, delicious and sweet,

And now it’s time for you to eat –

Don’t let them melt

(They’ll go all runny)

 - With lots of love from the Easter Bunny!!

L and N arrived home from church to find that Daddy had got into the spirit of things – a rabbit greeted them on the doorstep, along with two baskets, and the eggs had been hidden around the house.

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The great thing about the egg hunt was that it required co-operation.  L needed to help N read the clues, and also practise the skill of restraining himself from giving the answer on her “turn” (and he really does need to practise this!).  It also required sharing, and a little bit of maths as they divided the eggs between them after each clue.

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At the end of the hunt, the children discovered for the first time the joy of Kinder Eggs – I’m sure there must be fine motor skills benefits to opening them and playing with the tiny toy!

The other great thing about the Easter Egg Hunt – a morning’s fun for the grand total of £3 between the two children – an egg hunt kit from poundland, plus the mini eggs!

Also at the end of the hunt, each child found a home made game.  That sounds slightly more impressive than it actually was, but they loved it anyway and we have used them quite a bit since.  They consisted of cut out Easter egg shapes, then cut in half, with a little bit of fun learning.

N’s game was designed to teach her to recognise capital letters, and it’s actually worked brilliantly – she can recognise them all after playing the game a handful of times.  We played this one as a game of “pairs”, matching upper and lower case letters.  Snap would work equally well.

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The game was also good for L in that it allowed him to practise turn-taking, sharing, concentration, observation and again that valuable skill of not correcting N and being kind to a younger child who is still learning what he already knows.

L’s game involved number bonds to ten:

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 Unfortunately, I haven’t got a good picture, but it involved egg halves which needed to be matched to make a total of ten – 0 and 10, 1 and 9, 2 and 8, etc, etc.01042013(006)

It was a good game, but one that needed to be played with L alone.  When N interrupted and became frustrated by not being able to understand it, L declared it “too boring” and wandered off, but when I brought it out again as a special quiet time activity, he loved it.

We ended Easter Sunday by decorating foam Easter Eggs in the bath!  These were made quickly and easily using craft foam.  L and N did some of the cutting, and we have also used them to explore repeating patterns and geometric shapes.

L and N also used the shapes in unexpected and creative ways – a lilypad for a duck, and to make aliens!

 

 

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We also did (guess what) a lot of crafts over the Easter holidays (any excuse!).  Grandma and Nana were kind enough to send craft supplies instead of chocolate, and the children’s big cousin wrote a lovely letter full of craft ideas!  So we got busy…

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The fun we had was as good as the finished products.  We were in our element, surrounded by goodies such as feathers in all colours, polystyrene eggs, different kinds of paints, googly eyes, papier mache eggshells, and more besides, plus some books of craft ideas!  Even F wasn’t left out – she loved making handprint chicks, finger painted easter eggs, and learning to make marks with felt tips, crayons, pencils… Meanwhile, LI and N practised cutting out, selecting materials, glueing, shape and space, and fine motor skills, all whilst having fun making Easter crafts.

We also made some very simple but effective cards for friends and family, using insulating tape to make a cross on the front of the card, which all three children could then paint over, and the tape was removed to leave a cross once the paint had dried.

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L and N then wrote in  their cards, bringing in some sneaky writing practice for the boy who only wants to email, and giving N practice at forming letters, and writing her name independently.

We also went wild in the kitchen, making our Easter cake, topped with a chocolate coated weetabix nest!

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L and N had great fun with the leftover fondant and some cutters, and were thrilled to be given access to my proper grown-up shaping tools!

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I usually find that when they are trusted, and they know it’s important, they live up to the responsibility.  The novelty of playing with something normally out of bounds made this really exciting, and they both felt very grown-up doing “proper” sugarcraft.  It is full of benefits in strengthening hand muscles needed for writing, fine motor skills (again) and developing creativity.  They also copied some of the animals I had made, so developing skills of observation.  Even F enjoyed playing with some pieces of fondant (and I didn’t have to worry too much if she ate some!)

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And last but not least, this was the year I decided to introduce the story of the Crucifixion.  As a Christian family, we have thought long and hard about this.  How to introduce something that is really beyond our own understanding?  How to convey the meaning of Easter without traumatising the children?  Until this year, we settled on “Easter is when God showed us how much he loves us”.

There could be no introducing it to L without N.  The chances of him not sharing this new information with her were slim to none – so together we watched a children’s DVD explaining the Easter Story, read passages from the Bible, drew pictures, arranged pictures from the story in  sequence, and encouraged any questions from the children.  There were many, and some we couldn’t answer.  But I needn’t have worried about L, who ended up telling me the story, having read it himself in the children’s Bible!  This made me all the more glad we had decided to explore the story together, to allow him to ask any questions he had.

L and N were also lucky enough to make these fantastic Gethsemene gardens at the village church, which I can take no credit for whatsoever, but am sharing because I think it is a brilliant idea.  Here is a blog about something similar.

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Next year, we also plan to try resurrection cookies as a way of exploring the Easter story.

There we have our Easter, we hope you had as much fun as we did!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning in the Great Outdoors

Quite a few people have asked me recently how I manage to Home Educate L (aged 5) with two younger children at home.  This post isn’t going to be a defence of our decision that for the moment, this is what suits L and our family, or an exploration of when or if that might change, nor is it going to provide a full explanation of the varied and interesting approaches to Home Education – but hopefully it might illustrate how not only possible but natural it is for the whole family to learn and explore together.  This isn’t limited to Home Educating families of course – it happens naturally, and it’s fun.

This week the sun has been out, and we have made the most of it after being cooped up for too long (I’m all for getting children outside whatever the weather but there are only so many welly walks we can take before the novelty wears off).  So we have been outside this week as much as we can, doing a bit more playground maths , planting potatoes with our pack from the Potato Council

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as well as hunting for bugs and exploring the countryside.  great fun, and so full of learning opportunities that it would be almost impossible to learn nothing!

We have collected and counted sticks and stones, ordered them from biggest to smallest, played “how many more shall we find to make 10?”

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We have looked in puddles, rivers and streams, played “what sinks and what floats?”, predicted what might happen (both L and N thought that if they could find a big enough stick, it would not float because it would be heavy and so we have experimented with different sizes of sticks and stones)…

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We have written in the soil with sticks, practising letter formation (N), sentences and joined-up writing (L) and simple mark-making (F).

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We predicted which leaves / sticks / twigs would fly the furthest in the wind,  what variables might change how far they travelled (how strong the wind was, how high in the air we held them, where we stood, etc), and how to make the test fair.  We did the same racing sticks down a river.

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We indulged in a bit (ok, a lot) of role play with natural materials aka playing with sticks, which is one of the children’s favourite pastimes at the moment (they will look around for a stick literally as soon as we leave the front door).  Sticks, with a bit of imagination, have been mice, babies, rockets, tools, guns (of course, and no matter how much I discourage it), keys, a policeman’s truncheon, a knight’s sword, a magic wand…and probably more that I’ve forgotten.  Whilst playing, we have explored concepts of justice, morality, punishment, sharing, giving, gender roles, the difference between looking after oneself and being selfish…all initiated by the children, and conversations we wouldn’t have had without our stick-play prompts.

And not forgetting F, who wasn’t doing much science or role play, but was nevertheless very busy exploring the properties of the things she found outdoors, trying to repeat words, clearly getting excited and pointing to things she saw, engaging with us, interacting, observing, investigating…and practising her new found skills of mark-making, standing, stepping (with support), clapping…

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We also did a bit of birdwatching and identified some of the birds we saw.

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The bonus “lesson” was all the positive interaction the children had, practising turn-taking and co-operation as well as building all our relationships :-)

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We also took our bug collection kit out and about on a fabulous afternoon-long Bug Hunt.

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We looked at bugs, along with leaves, flowers, bark, and anything else we found, under a magnifying glass – N in particular was captivated by the detail she saw, and even had a good look at the bugs, which are not her usual favourite!

L’s favourite part was “meadow sweeping” – running through the long grass dragging a net, and examining the contents.  We also considered where we might look for different kinds of bugs and worms – under stones (cool and damp) vs. the long grass (warm and dry) – introducing the idea of different habitats and adaptations.

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We also took a close-up look at the sticky sap of a tree, identified different kinds of tree, and talked about what is inside a tree trunk.

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And then we had an unexpected lesson about reproduction, comparing and contrasting mammals and birds, courtesy of two pheasants we met on the way home (no photo I’m afraid!),

F was tired out from all the fresh air and activity, just ready for a nap which did allow us a little bit of reading and writing based around the things we had seen.

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That, my friends, is how we are currently home educating with two pre-schoolers!

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A Rainbow Birthday

After what seems like a long break from blogging while we settled into our new home, we are back, with the news that little baby F is one!  And what better way to start than sharing her birthday celebrations.

The theme was decided by L and N.  We have been learning about the weather, and they have been captivated by rainbows.  We have made our own tiny rainbows with a glass of water and a torch like this, and by lucky coincidence seen this brilliant rainbow in the sky.

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L and N requested a rainbow tea party, and so F’s birthday theme was decided.  L and N painted their own rainbow t-shirts to wear on the day, using fabric markers:

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And Mummy had fun making a special one for F!

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It worked brilliantly – bright, bold colours were perfect for a one year old, and it was such a fun theme to carry out.  This is what our playroom looked like:

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The decorations were:

  • A crepe paper curtain – literally just strips of rainbow coloured paper sellotaped to the door frame.
  • A rainbow banner – the letters of F’s name cut out of craft foam and threaded along a string.
  • Paper bunting – easy peasy triangles of coloured paper fixed to a stripy ribbon using double sided tape
  • A rainbow mobile – made of craft foam, PVA glue, and threaded onto yarn using a needle, and attached to two bamboo skewers tied together in a cross shape.

The “party” itself was quite low key – just ourselves and Nana, who was visiting.  I wanted to be able to focus on F, and give her attention rather than entertaining people – also, we thought she would probably be overwhelmed by lots of people.

So we had a trip to the farm, and a tea party with lots of colourful and sensory things to explore.

The toy tray was very easy, and brilliant in that it gave a new lease of life to toys that haven’t been played with for ages.  L, N and I sorted toys that were safe for F to explore, into the colours of the rainbow, and arranged them in an empty drawer.

I tried to give her a range of textures, noisy toys and shapes to investigate.  Some of the things we included were:

duplo blocks

large wooden numbers

pieces of fabric

an unused toothbrush

Rattles

toy cars

a bottle of coloured water

coloured paper

a hair scrunchie

wooden blocks

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We also put together some rainbow discovery bottles.  The beauty of this was allowing F to investigate some of the forbidden objects that fascinate her, in a safe way – hairbands, pipecleaners, pens, paperclips, beads, coloured rice… At first I found it hard to decide whether to group things by type (ie. a bottle of rainbow rice, a bottle of multicoloured pipecleaners etc) or to group them by colour.  I decided on the latter when a friend pointed out that we could then use them for single colour learning.  Another friend suggested a final bottle with an object of each colour, which I plan to do once we’ve emptied another plastic bottle!

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I was concerned that including a variety of objects in each bottle would be overwhelming and prevent F from focusing and investigating them fully, so I limited the number of things in each one, and tried to make the bottles different in terms of the sounds they made and the kinds of objects they contained.  There really are infinite ways of doing this and all of them good!

We ended up with:

  • Red pipecleaners cut to different lengths
  • Orange dyed pasta shapes
  • Yellow pom poms and pieces of drinking straw
  • Green bay leaves and dyed rice
  • Blue tissue paper and microbeads
  • Indigo pens, pencils, crayons and shiny fake gems
  • Violet beads and hairbands, plus a purple necklace of mine.

F has had great fun rolling these along the floor, shaking them, banging them…I wondered if shie might be frustrated by not being able to empty the bottles but so far she hasn’t tried (the lids are stuck down with strong glue).

We also had rainbow handprinting (I picked up the rainbow handprint sponge from The Works).

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…and F received some fantastic rainbow presents, including Melissa and Doug Rainbow Sound Blocks, a large colourful activity cube, and musical instruments including a rainbow xylophone.

Our present to F was a sand and water table, which will never be limited to sand and water – for the birthday, we filled it with strips of coloured paper, rainbow dyed rice krispies (an alternative to rainbow rice that’s safe if eaten), and shaving foam which we later added food colouring to for marble painting.

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We finished up with a rainbow layer cake.  This was actually easy if time consuming, although no more so than other birthday cakes we’ve had.  It just involved making a huge quantity of sponge mix, dividing it into separate bowls, and dyeing each a different colour using gel food colouring.  The gel gives a beautiful vivid colour with only a few drops, whereas liquid would be likely to ruin the cake batter as you’d need so much colouring.  The layers are then sandwiched together with buttercream.  We covered ours in fondant too, as no matter how much buttercream you make, it will never be enough for this cake!

The bonus of using gel colour is that  the gel can be used to dye fondant really smoothly.  Here is our take on the rainbow layer cake:

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We served the cake with a rainbow fruit platter (easier and more toddler-friendly than skewers):

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And here is the birthday girl, enjoying her day:

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Helping Children Deal with A Parent Going Away

We have been quiet on the blog this week, and that is for a good reason…

At the moment, there are only four of us at home, because Daddy has gone away to work.  This is part of an even bigger upheaval for us, as we will be moving house across the country, where everything is new to us.  It is a huge time of change and uncertainty for us as a family, and potentially unsettling for the children.

I do believe that children are resilient, and that learning to deal with change in a way that is supported by us now will help them learn to deal with change throughout their lives.  Here are some of the ways we have tried to help L and N deal with Daddy being away…

1. Prepare

Before Daddy left, we talked a lot about where he would be going.  We tried to make this concrete by saying at certain times of day – “when Daddy’s away, Mummy will read your story”, and “this time after dinner is when Daddy will ring to talk to you”.  We found that there was a lot of repetition involved, as the children got to grips with the situation.  N repeated often “he’s coming back for us when he finds a new house” – I don’t think she doubted he would, but she was reassured by checking.

2. Use Stories to Communicate

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There are some excellent children’s books out there for almost every eventuality.  This is a great thing, because sometimes I find that children can discuss a story and process it in a way that they can’t do with their own situation.  Many of the books about Daddy working away are aimed at military families, but we have found them useful for us at the moment.

One we have used a lot is:

My Daddy’s Going Away by Christopher MacGregor

Written for children of military families, this book works really well for any children facing a time of separation from Daddy, however long or short – I like the tone of this one, neither depressing nor artificially jolly – and that it celebrates the things Daddies do with their children, and ends with Daddy returning, reinforcing the message that the separation is temporary.

 

3. Develop a ritual

For us, giving the children an extra kiss at night, telling them Daddy has given me a store of kisses to give them at night, has been a way of connecting with Daddy before they go to sleep, and letting them know that he is thinking about them at bedtime even though he isn’t here to read their story as he usually does.

4. Use Technology

Sending photos to Daddy by text is a tangible way of letting the children know that Daddy is still involved in what they are doing.  Quite often they will ask me to send him a text.

Speaking on the phone is perhaps obvious, but L and N will tell me throughout the day, “I’m going to tell Daddy when he rings”, and talking to Daddy on the phone has been part of our teatime and bedtime routines for these few weeks.  It’s worth anticipating that children might not want to talk on the phone – we made a conscious decision not to force them to, or make them feel guilty for not wanting to.  Allowing them to have this on their terms gives them control in a situation they have little control over.  Also, we want them to enjoy chatting to Daddy rather than making it a chore.  There were a couple of days when L didn’t want to – neither did he want to talk to me when I went away for two nights leaving him with grandparents.  It is normal for children to reject a parent that has been away – we have both experienced it.  Given time, they do welcome you back on their own terms.

Email is fantastic for L – practising sounding out and writing words, and thinking through sentences – part of the process of writing at least – whilst keeping in touch with Daddy. There is a real novelty in using the computer too. He has written some brilliant, sweet and affectionate emails that I have had nothing to do with.  Both children love receiving emails, and Daddy has delighted them with some animated graphics and coloured writing!

The computer has also been brilliant in allowing L and N to have a look at our new house via google streetview, which also helps them to understand where Daddy has gone, and why.

5. Talk About the Future

We talk nearly every day about what will happen when Daddy comes back for us – that we will have a new house, that we will be taken there in Daddy’s car, and all our things will be coming with us in a van.  This reminds L and N that this situation is not forever.  Now that we have a definite date, we have a countdown going on – they know exactly how many sleeps it is until we move.

6. Use Pretend Play

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Another way to help the children get to grips with the situation has been through imaginary games.  Children do this quite naturally – we have had Princess Merida moving to a new castle, rabbits moving to new burrows, dogs having new kennels – all involving waving goodbye to the Daddy, then seeing him come back and collect the others.  This is a natural way for them to process and understand the situation, and it is easy to join in and use games to consolidate the points we want them to understand.  Children will often ask questions through play that they can’t otherwise articulate, so it is important to stay tuned in to their play.

7. Send Cards or Notes

We made Valentines Day cards for Daddy using toilet roll tubes as paint stampers, and sent our messages to him

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Ooh, our first Guest Post :-)

Today we are guest posting at Rainy Day Mum on the subject of promoting a positive body image in our children.  Having suffered from Eating Disorders myself, and seen them have a huge impact on the lives of some of my best friends, this is a subject close to my heart.  It matters so much to me that L, N and F feel confident and secure about themselves and their relationship with food, because I know the misery that can result when this relationship is distorted.  .

Rainy Day Mum has a beautiful blog, full of inspiring play ideas, that I have followed and admired for months, so I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to guest post for her – have a good look at her blog as well as my post, because I know you’ll love it too!

Here is the link:

http://rainydaymum.co.uk/helping-children-develop-a-positive-body-image

Or click here.  Enjoy!