Easy Dressing Up Ideas For World Book Day

Don’t panic.  It’s World Book Day on 5th March 2020 and the challenge is on to kit your child out as their favourite character from a book.

In case your imagination has run dry and you need inspiration, the following posts should give you plenty of budget-friendly ideas.

And don’t worry, if you’re a craft-duffer like I am, trust me you will be able to do one of these.

And if not, there’s always Smiffys, or Amazon (bad mum alert!).

Keep reading for plenty of useful suggestions and relevant links.

Worldbookday.com

2020 celebrates the 23rd World Book Day, the aim of which is to encourage children in the UK and Ireland to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.

Schools are being sent packs of Book Tokens and age-ranged World Book Day Resource Packs (age-ranged into Nursery/Pre-School, Primary and Secondary) full of ideas and activities, display material and more information about how to get involved in World Book Day.

World Book Day has its own really useful website with plenty of dressing up ideas which you can find here.

This year if you donate £1 to dress up and you can help change lives at the same time by helping Book Aid International.

You’ll find even more dressing up ideas on the Book Aid International website here.

Ieuan as Willy Wonka
Ieuan as Willy Wonka

30 last-minute World Book Day costume ideas that you can create at home without a needle and thread

Wales Online have put together some really useful ideas – and you could even re-use the costumes you doubtless had to cobble together for Roald Dahl Day.

World Book Day 2015: What To Wear – The Guardian

A useful collection of real-life costumes featuring photos parents have sent in to the Guardian’s photo gallery.

As you might expect, you’ll find some useful ideas on Netmums and Mumsnet.

If you live in the North East, ChronicleLive has 41 Inspiring World Book Day Costumes From Families in Newcastle and the North East.

More ideas from The Daily Post in North Wales in its piece “When is World Book Day 2017. Some Ideas And Find Out What Is Expected To Be This Year’s Best Seller”

Caitlin as Roald Dahl's Matilda
Caitlin as Matilda

More ideas from the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo and ChronicleLive’s “10 World Book Day Costume Ideas from Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys“.

This list may also help “15 Best Children’s Books Of All Time” from The Telegraph.

But are there any characters you shouldn’t dress your child up as?  I recently heard the story of a woman who sent her son to school dressed as serial killer Dexter and then there was the mum whose son’s favourite book was his Top Gear Annual – so she sent him in dressed as Jeremy Clarkson.

And on that bombshell……

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Get Ready For School With Nadiya’s Lunch Box Hacks

With back to school just around the corner, BBC Good Food Show star Nadiya Hussain has shared her favourite lunchbox hacks.

Nadiya says:

“In between waking and dressing my three, lively children, preparing breakfast for the family, finishing emails and doing laundry, making up pack lunches in the morning is often a rather rushed job. I’m not a fan of filling their boxes, or their stomachs with junk food. I will not lie, there have been times where I have just given the kids the easiest option, a packet of crisps, a small bar of chocolate, a biscuit (or two) and I still do every now and again but these treats are saved for the weekend.

The reason being, I noticed when at home that the kids were like yoyos. After school, they would slump, tired and exhausted from the day on the sofa. As I would rush around preparing the dinner they had a quick sweet treat and would instantly become high as kites and excitable. This excitement would last for 30 minutes or so, and be quickly followed by a huge sugar crash. It then dawned on me that the same would be happening to them whilst at school and of course, I didn’t want my food choices for them to affect their concentration and behaviour at school.

To save me time, I always have a few snacks ready in the fridge that I can to pop in, ensuring that they eat well whilst away from home. I also have some great suggestions for quick and easy bites that can be made in the morning.

Here is a list of a few of our favourites:

1. Hummus Celery Sticks – cut slices of celery sticks about 2 inches long. Fill the inside with hummus and wrap with cling film.

2. Summer fruit spring rolls – take a circle of rice paper and soak for a few seconds till soft. Squeeze off any excess water and place down. Add any fruit, the more colourful the better and warp like a spring roll. Wrap in tin foil for the perfect lunch box surprise.

3. It might sound obvious but I sometimes pop in a hardboiled egg – I like to keep boiled eggs in the fridge during the week. They are quick, simple and nutritious and very easy to eat. Wrap in kitchen roll to ensure the kids have something to peel the shell on to.

4. Turkey ham wrapped cheese sticks – take a small stick of cheese and wrap around a slice of turkey ham! Simple and delicious

5. Apple and Peanut Rings – core and horizontally slice a green apple, spread the tops with smooth peanut butter and pop into a mini Tupperware box.

 

6. Mini omelettes – whisk up some eggs and add onion, cheese, chives and chopped peppers. Grease and pour the mix into a 12 muffin cupcake tin and bake in the oven until cooked. Once cooled these be stored for a week and my kids love them!”

These are really simple and look much better alternatives than biscuits when the kids come home from school starving.  You can find more lunchbox tips here.

Nadiya’s latest book, Time To Eat: Delicious time-saving meals using simple store-cupboard ingredients, is available now.

The Back To School Guide For The Introvert Mum

Many of us will be facing the prospect of our little darlings going back to school with a mix of relief and sadness.

We have loved our time with them (mostly), but now that our house looks like it has been the scene of a 6 week long rave and there is nothing left to eat in the cupboards, apart, of course, from the chickpeas you bought circa 2014, it is time to give them back to the ministrations of the local authority (the kids not the chickpeas).

Sighs of relief all round.  There are even some marriages which are still intact.

But for some of us, it’s not taking junior back to school that’s the worry, it’s having to run the gauntlet of the school run mums.

I’ve written before about how isolating it can be if you are shy and don’t mix well with people. Bizarrely this can happen to those who have had jobs in professions which you might think are really sociable.  And social shyness can strike at any time and at any age.  A slight loss of confidence and then blam!  You have all the social skills of Donald Trump. Sadly, some of us have the hair to go with it.

Why we get ourselves in such a state about two brief stints outside a school gate I’m not sure.  It may be because it brings back memories of when we were in school.   There is no doubt, however, that adult bullying goes on and, no matter, how many times you tell yourself that it is these sad individuals who have the problem, it does not take away the sting.

Sometimes though, we are our own worst enemy.  The Law of Attraction (I know, I know, weirdy, beardy shite, as the Husband calls it), says that what you give out, you get back and I’d say that is certainly true of social interaction. Someone has to make the first move and the sad thing is, very often nobody does.

Every played “hello” chess?  It goes like this.

Day 1

You see a mum.  You say hello.  She says hello back.

Day 2

You see the same mum.  You say hello.  She nods.

Day 3

You see the same mum.  You nod, she ignores you.

Day 4

You both ignore each other.

This tends to progress to being totally blanked when they drive by or ignored if they spot you in a supermarket.

We tend to assume, don’t we, that if we are not acknowledged, it is all about us but we should remember that others have their own problems and, if you’re anything like me, it’s quite easy to become completely absorbed in a world of your own.

We also assume that others have Grade A social skills and have no trouble making friends themselves but that is quite likely to be untrue in many cases.

All you can do, I think, is decide on your own standard of behaviour and stick to that.  That way you can be sure that it’s not you.

If you are being picked on or ostracized for whatever reason your choices are stark but simple.

Either confront the bullies or ignore them.  A confronted bully, as we know from childhood experience, will often back down and then pick on someone else.  They crave power and attention and if they don’t get it, they get bored.

Sometimes you just need to accept that, rather than being a rich pool of potential friendships, the school run cliques are often anything but and actually, when you think about it, in many cases the only thing you have in common is a child at the same school.

In any other walk of life this would not be enough to create a long-lasting supportive friendship so isn’t it a bit irrational to pin such high hopes on other parents?

If you are dreading tomorrow, remember that you are a nice person. Be pleasant. Say hello. Show an interest in what your fellow parents have done over the holiday.

But if you are blanked or ignored, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

Better to concentrate your efforts on finding friends with whom you have something in common. Join groups, take up a hobby, take an evening class if you can get the childcare.

If you still don’t want to give up, then you have to be prepared to take a risk.  Ask one of the other mums for a coffee. There’s bound to be someone just like you standing alone staring into space.

They probably feel just as lost as you do.

And there’s a very good reason why socialising with other parents is important. Isn’t it gutting when you realise that all the children of the parents in the popular cliques get to play together and yours are never invited?

You owe it to your kids to brush up on your own social skills so that they can learn to make friends, to be the ones brave enough to take the first step and never to be the ones who make others feel unwelcome, or alone.

Ironic isn’t it, because it’s really the unpleasant and unfriendly who need to go back to school.

Pin for later:

Mum walking her son and daughter to school

The Bad Mother’s 21 Point Guide To Knowing When To Send The Kids Back To School

As the kids prepare to return to school, some mums don’t want them to go.  We only have 18 summers with them, they exclaim – and now there’s one less.

But let’s just say that some of us are more ready for their return to school than others.  Here’s my 21 point primer just in case you are in any doubt.

1.  It says term starts on a day in September somewhere on a piece of paper that has been in the bottom of your bag since July.  You will obviously have to check this rumour with all the other mums via Facebook.

return to school - Caitlin and Ieuan in their new school uniform

2. Vast swathes of Valencia filtered holiday photos featuring happy children in water parks have started to appear in your Instagram feed.  Each photo is accompanied by a minimum of 30 hastags #OhPants.  The return to school heralds endless shots of pens, pencil cases and anything that smells of antiseptic fruit.

3. You have watched every single episode of Horrid Henry and Mr Bean and now wince when you hear the opening music.

4. You cannot face another kids’ meal containing battered cod or chicken.

5.  You have resorted to making rude faces with the sweets that come with the kids’ ice cream – in the kids’ ice cream.

6.  The kids have actually just read a book voluntarily

7.  You’ve put on 10 pounds from snacking with the kids – elevenses, three’ses and that strange half hour before tea where you know you shouldn’t feed them but CAN’T TAKE THE MOANING ANY MORE.

8.  Having failed to deliver on 90% of the promises you made before the holiday started (yes we will canter through white-capped waves at dawn before frying our own breakfast on a camping stove), you cave in and agree to take them to the local cinema for the latest kiddy flick and a £15 bag of pick ‘n’ mix.

9.  You are happily referring to red wine as “mummy’s special squash”.

10.  The bottom of your handbag is a sticky morass of spilt brown sugar from coffee shop packets which have combined to create a caramel so strong you could stick yourself to the ceiling with it.

This makes finding the bit of paper with the term dates on even more tricky [see point 1]

11.  Rather than Mary Poppins, you now resemble a woman on the edge after 6 weeks of terrible PMS and the only thing that is cheering you up is the fact that you’ll soon be able to spend more time with adults somewhere that doesn’t have a ball pit or carry the risk of deafness simply by entering the building.

12.  Reading weepy posts from mothers missing their children before 9 am on the first day back is making you question whether you accidentally took someone else’s children home from the hospital.

13.  Your book “30 minutes to a cleaner home” is now buried under a pile of school shoe boxes, crisp packets and guarded by Shopkins.

14.  Shopkins are everywhere.

15.  They are starting to look at you with their little evil eyes, particularly Linda Layercake which was apparently named after you.

16.  You develop an unholy terror of Claire’s Accessories.

17.  Along with your terrible case of “Lego Foot”.

18. You start to feel uncharacteristically wistful and even tearful at the thought of sending the kids back to school.

19.  Combined with an unearthly sense of jubilation that you have survived!

20.  You unearth your Uggs just to see the horror on our husband’s face and you practise the ‘mum bun’ for the right degree of dishevelment.

21.  Weirdly,  you feel compelled to work out how many days until half term because, if you’re honest, you don’t mind the kids really, plus having them home is an excuse to eat crisps.

Celebrate your maternal feelings I say!  Have a great new term and enjoy the kids’ return to school!

Classic Children’s Stories For World Book Day

World Book Day is an annual awareness day which celebrates authors, illustrators, books and, a subject close to my heart, reading. In fact, it has been designated a worldwide celebration of reading by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasure of reading by giving them the chance to have a book of their own. And to help with this, participating schools have been sent packs of book tokens and age-ranged World Book Day Resource Packs with lots of ideas, activities and display material.

When I learned to read, we had the old Janet & John books (“Look, Janet, the dog has the ball” – it’s ingrained now!) and fairy tales came in the form of the classic Ladybird books.

World Book Day has got me thinking about those books dear to my heart and that I’d want to talk about in school.

These are just some of them – and I’ve specifically listed the paperback versions because, much as I love my Kindle, it is never quite the same reading experience.

And I believe our kids have far too much ‘screen time’ as it is. On the other hand, of course, if you wanted to read these to your kids as a bedtime story, many fabulous children’s books are downloadable free of charge.

7 Children’s Classics For World Book Day

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Young Heidi goes to live with her grandfather in his lonely hut high in the Swiss Alps and she quickly learns to love her life there. Her strict aunt decides to send her away, back to the town. Heidi can’t bear being away from the mountains and is determined to return to her happy life with her grandfather.

Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley

These are stories of a little country girl, Milly-Molly-Mandy who lives in a tiny village in the heart of the countryside. She is a busy little bee, whether earning money to give a party, minding the village shop, having a picnic or going sledging. Despite the stories being nearly 80 years old, they are still enjoyed today.

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

Katy Carr is a tomboy who dreams of being “beautiful and beloved, and amiable as an angel”. Unfortunately, Katy is untidy and always getting into mischief. When a terrible accident threatens her grand plans for the future, she needs all her courage and humour to see her through.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Mary Lennox is sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle and everybody says she is the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. Pale, spoilt and quite contrary, Mary is also horribly lonely. One day she hears about a garden in the grounds of the Manor that has been kept locked and hidden for years. And when a friendly robin helps Mary find the key, she discovers the most magical Secret Garden.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

This is one of the best selling books of all time, selling over 50 million copies. Although ostensibly about animal welfare, it is really an allegory about how to treat people with kindness, sympathy and respect. Narrated by the horse, Black Beauty, each chapter tells of an incident in Black Beauty’s life and contains a lesson or moral.

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

Actually the second in The Faraway Tree series, this is about Joe, Beth and Frannie who find an enchanted wood on the doorstep of their new home. This is the start of many magical adventures with characters such as Moonface, Saucepan Man and Silky the fairy. Blyton is arguably the most famous children’s author of all time and her stories still sell thousands of copies every year.

The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows is a children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. It is the story of kind, sleepy badger, brave and lively ratty and irresponsible Toad, together with the sinister weasels and stoats who capture Toad Hall when Mr Toad is in jail.  It is up to his friends to, as Ieuan (and Captain Adorable) would put it, save the day and save Toad Hall.

Incidentally, my mother used to say I drove my car like Mr Toad.  Hmmm.

Which children’s classics would you add to this list?

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At What Age Is It Safe For Your Child To Walk To School On Their Own?

These days I often see sad stories about children who go missing on their walk to school and you can practically hear a collective sigh of relief from parents across the land if the youngster is found safe and sound.

Girl walking - when is it safe for your child to walk to school alone? - motherdistracted.co.uk
When is the right age to let your child walk to school on their own?

It’s enough to make you think twice about letting your children go anywhere unaccompanied and raises the obvious question – at what age is it safe to let your child walk to school alone?

Caitlin is 10 and Ieuan is 9 and although their school is a brief 15 minute walk away from our home, I still haven’t let them walk the whole way or back there without meeting them.

And, frankly, after the recent horror stories of April Jones and Milly Dowler, I think it may be a while before I feel confident enough to let them go.

For a start, there is the danger from main road traffic, although there is a wonderful lollipop man who is on patrol close to their school.

Previously, although Caitlin and Ieuan were in the same school, they were on different campuses with a 10-minute walk between them.  Now they are in years 5 and 6 they are back together in the same location but the daily start and finish times between the school buildings are staggered to allow time for parents and children to walk between the two sites.

Some parents already let their Year 3 children (who finish earlier) walk the 10-minute walk between the two sites to meet their parents and siblings, relying on the nous of the child and the supervision of the lollipop man.

There is no denying that, for the working parent, the school run is a hellish dash.  Parking around both school sites is restricted, although you get the usual crew who seem oblivious to the meaning of a double yellow line (the bigger the vehicle, the more colour blind they seem to be, I find).

You also get those who happily do a three-point turn in the face of on-coming traffic, forcing everyone to slow down or take evasive action.

Even if it’s pouring with rain, there is little point taking a car because parking is incredibly difficult.

Despite the fact that we are lucky enough to have a lollipop man, there have been at least 2 road traffic accidents involving injury to kids in the past year.

So whilst I understand the pressure, personally, I won’t take the risk.

And then there is the risk of violent crime.  Now I know that statistically the likelihood of abduction or worse occurring is slim.  But how could you live with yourself if something did happen?  Even knowing it wasn’t my fault, I would forever wish I had been there to protect my kids.

But we have to be pragmatic.  We are going to have to let them go at some point, aren’t we? We cannot keep them under house arrest in the event that something terrible may happen.

Already, kids spend too much time inside on iPads because many parents are too terrified to let them play outside unsupervised.

When I was my daughter’s age, my sister and I spent most of our time cycling up and down the cul-de-sac we lived in.  The Husband used to play in a nearby quarry with his mates.

So what can we do?

– Teach your kids about “Stranger Danger”

– Consider enrolling your kids in a self-defence class like Tae Kwon-Do

– Buddy up with a fellow parent and keep a look out for each other’s kids in the event that you’re late picking them up

– Talk to the school about ways to get personal safety on the agenda

– Talk to the Council if street lighting is poor or inadequate

–  Talk to the school bus companies to check that drop off points are as safe as possible.

I am sure that there are many other things that could be done to improve safety for those kids who do walk on their own to school.

Whilst I am against giving young kids mobile phones due to the possible damage to their developing brains from handset radiation, this is one situation where a cheap pay-as-you-go handset may well be worth the risk.

I walked to school on my own when I was about 10 or 11 and that is quite early enough in my book. You may well feel differently or simply be unable to do the school run and get to work on time.

Employers need to step up to the plate here and examine how family-friendly they are.  I find that many firms will happily claim to be “family friendly” but it’s a different matter if you have to be late a couple of mornings or have to leave because your child is sick.

Let’s be honest.  There is absolutely no reason why many job roles need to be carried out between 9 am and 5 pm.  If you are in a sales role, then that is different but many administrative functions can be carried out on a more flexible schedule.

It might be worth talking to your Human Resources Department to see if there is anything that could be done to improve the flexibility of your working hours.

When to let your children walk to school on their own is a very personal (and tricky!) decision but if we talk to the schools, the council and the police (e.g. a local community police officer), much can be done to make things a little safer.

As parents, we should also be working together to look out for one another’s children.

And we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and report anything we see that is even vaguely suspicious.




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Top Tips To Get Your Kids To Do Their Homework

Now that Caitlin is in Year 6 and Ieuan in Year 5, I’m anticipating that the volume of homework will definitely be increasing.  And, if last year is anything to go by, the homework battles will be too – begging the question asked by thousands of frustrated parents – how do you get your child to do their homework?

how to get your child to do their homework - little girl practising her handwriting

Even the concept of homework is under fire at the moment. There are those who say that it is an unnecessary burden on our kids who are already tested far more than previous generations of school children.

On the other hand, research says that 30% of a child’s learning comes from their teachers with a whopping 70% coming from us, their parents and carers.

To me, that indicates clearly that home learning is pretty important, whether in the form of formal homework or not.

So what can you do to help your child with their homework?

How to get your child to do their homework – tips that may help

Revamp their homework workstation

Action Storage, makers of school cloakroom lockers for over 30 years, suggest a workstation makeover may help considerably. It’s important to create a space for your child to work in relative peace so that they can concentrate.

how to get your child to do their homework - Caitlin working at her desk
All accessories from Flying Tiger.

Having all their books and stationery to hand will make it easier to get the work done.  It’s also a great opportunity to work with your child to design their space together – which will hopefully add more encouragement to open their school bags and actually get the books out!

We’ve revamped Caitlin’s bedroom and have fitted new wardrobes but we have also created a desk area where she can work in peace and escape her noisy younger brother. Once our DIY is finished we plan to add more shelving for books and some task lighting.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot.  We found all our accessories for under £20 at Flying Tiger.

Create a homework timetable

When your kids are younger, this really has to be a ‘team effort’. I’m sure you have experienced that sinking Sunday night feeling when you find a piece of urgent homework that has to be handed in on Monday which has been languishing at the bottom of your child’s backpack.

I’ve learned now to empty out all the scraps of paper on Friday to check we know what is needed over the weekend.

That way, we can create a simple homework timetable and split library books up into a set number of chapters per night, for example.

No TV, Gaming, or iPad until they’ve done their homework

There are times when your child comes home exhausted and it’s obvious that they need a break before starting any homework.

But when the work has to be done, we found it’s best to hide the remotes and tablets until it’s done.  If you wanted to be extra tough, you could change the WiFi password until it is!

Sit down and do it with them

Not all the time and I’m not suggesting you do the work for them but taking an active interest in what they’re doing and letting them show you their workings out or designs will show them that you’re there to help and may even encourage a bit of inspired collaboration.

Take the homework away from home

Sometimes it makes a refreshing change to do their homework somewhere else.  You could sit with them in your local library or take their spelling books when you’re sat waiting in a car for ballet / Taekwondo/swimming to end.

Ieuan is particularly fond of spelling practice in a restaurant down the road from Caitlin’s ballet class where we bribe him with a large blackcurrant squash and a packet of crisps.

Take learning into the real world

If, for example, they’re studying money then take them to the supermarket and show them how much things cost.  Get them to work out the value of what you’re putting in your basket.  Let them hand over the money and check the change.

If they’re studying weights and measurements, do some baking and let them weigh out the ingredients or help with some DIY and take the measurements.

Teaching children how to actually apply what they’re learning will help the subject matter to stick much easier.

There are many ways to help your child with their homework but the most important thing is to encourage them and help them to understand that learning is a continuous process that needs daily application.

Recognise when your child is struggling

If you think your child is not coping with their homework, then you could consider hiring a private tutor.  You should also talk to your child’s teacher to see if there are extra resources to help them in school.

You might also want to check that there is nothing else interfering with your child’s learning such as health or friendship issues.

It’s perfectly normal to hate doing your homework but as I tell my two, it’s a competitive world and a good standard of academic achievement can only stand them in good stead for supporting the Husband and me in our old age!

How to get your child to do their homework?  A lot of it is down to good old fashioned discipline and consistent parenting.  Homework indeed in some cases!

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Back To School Hacks For Busy Mothers

It isn’t just the kids that dread going back to school; it can send parents into a frenzy too. The school run, packed lunches, school uniforms, remembering to sign every consent form the teachers send home (if your child remembers to give it you in the first place). Don’t worry, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last parent to feel like this.

Luckily, those wise parents who have gone before us have come with some stress relieving back to school hacks. Here are some of the best.

Caitlin & Ieuan at St. Fagans, Cardiff. Back to school hacks

Make the Class Schedule Your Screen Saver

If, like many parents, you’re given a class list and your child’s timetable at the beginning of the year, take a picture of it and save it as your computer or smartphone screensaver. That way, you don’t have to worry about misplacing it when you need it and you’ll always have easy access to the details you need when they spring into your mind. So, if you’re desperate to find out if your child needs a P.E kit for tomorrow but your child can’t remember, you have the answer right in front of you.

Bag Checking Routine

You’ve probably already found that your child’s teacher put’s permission slips in your child’s bag to take home. If your child doesn’t tell you about them, they’re likely to stay in there and never get signed. So, the best way to deal with this is to check the bag on a daily basis. Once you get into the routine of coming home and checking the bag immediately, you’re unlikely to forget anything. Even if your child has a see-through book bag, it’s still possible to miss things, so make sure you are checking.

Footwear Preparation

The start of the school year brings month’s’ worth of unpredictable weather. Many parents have been caught out doing the school run and having to deal with a sudden down pouring of rain. For kids, it’s best to have school shoes, trainers and wellies at the ready, so you’re prepared for any eventuality. When it’s likely to rain, take a spare pair of wellies and raincoat with on the school run. For parents, it’s best to have some simple footwear you can change into. If you’re picking your child up at school and you need to make a mad dash to the car, running in heels could cause an injury.

Child's alphabet and colouring pencils - back to school hacks

Organising Homework

If your dining table starts to look more like an arts and crafts project while your kids are trying to do their homework, they may need some help organising things. Try colour coding their exercise books so they don’t have to empty everything out of their bags before finding what they need. If pages of their exercise books become stuck together, try using some dental floss to separate the pages.

Fruit Hack

Did you know that young children are more likely to eat fruit while at school if the fruit has been cut into segments? If you’ve noticed that your child isn’t eating the fruit you provide, try cutting it up before putting it in the lunch box. You can find lots of lunchbox ideas in this post.

Going back to school doesn’t have to be a nightmare with a bit of pre-planning and organisation.  You’ll find more great ideas to get you organised in this post and feel free to share any back to school hacks of your own.




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Sistema Bento Boxes – Lunch All Organised For Back To School

Ah.  The packed lunch.  The daily wrestle with cling film (never sticks) or tin foil (risk of a severed finger). Happily, gone are the days when Ieuan’s diet consisted of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  Last week he ate some broccoli.  And actually swallowed it.

My two have school dinners (to compensate for my somewhat lacklustre ability in the kitchen) but from time to time they do have packed lunches and these usually consist of a plain sandwich, a packet of crisps, a piece of fruit and something chocolatey, flapjacky or liable to receive a Paddington Stare from Jamie Oliver.

The one item that I can never fit in is their favourite yoghurt or chopped fruit.

So we were mightily impressed by these lovely Sistema Bento Lunch Boxes that we were sent to try, along with two substantial sized and sturdy Davina Water Bottles, which hold 745ml.

The Sistema Bento Lunch Box includes a yoghurt pot, a moveable divider to keep wraps and sandwiches intact without any additional packaging and two smaller compartments for smaller pieces of fruit and snacks. The boxes come in pink, blue, green and purple.

The Davina Water Bottles feature a unique Twist n Sip Spout, are leak proof and come in pink, blue, melon, purple and green.

Both products are BPA and Phthalate free, plus they are dishwasher safe (top shelf only).

The boxes hold a surprisingly large amount of food and the bottles are equally generous. Now the kids are bigger some of the usual fruit squash brands in disposable bottles are just too small for a lengthy school trip. The yoghurt/snack pots hold a decent amount of yoghurt although you have to chop the fruit quite small if you want to include a fruit salad.

Cleaning is easy too, although I know that some plastic products do tend to fade quite substantially even if you are careful to place them in the top rack of the dishwasher.  So I’ve hand washed these to preserve their lovely bright colour for a bit longer.

All of the lids, flaps and dividers can be removed for a thorough clean. (The instructions for how to safely and effectively clean the Twist n Sip Spout can be found here).

We really liked these Sistema products.  They are bright, cheerful, sturdy and well made and the Bento Box really adds a much-needed novelty element to a packed lunch.

Ieuan announced that “that was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a long time”.  And I think he even ate some carrot.

You can view the full range at www.sistemaplastics.com and you’ll find Sistema products at Amazon.co.uk.

You can find some great ideas on what to actually put in your lunchbox in these posts:-

Tips for the perfect kids’ lunchbox

Get ready for school with Nadiya’s lunchbox hacks

Take the Flora lunchbox challenge and pack a healthier lunch for your child

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What do you say when your child hates sports day?

What do you say when your child hates sports day?  Actually, to be more precise, what do you say when YOU hated sports day but you want to enthuse your child?

when your child hates sports day - lad with bat and ball on the field

I was a complete sports duffer.  I used to play Left Back at Hockey because the bib had my initials on.  I tried tennis, but our teacher couldn’t be faffed teaching a left-hander.  I tried cross country running.  Well,  a brisk jog down the lanes surrounding the school anyway.

Our school had a swimming pool (complete with, we later discovered, its own asbestos tiles), the water of which was always freezing.  I remember lessons in winter were particularly onerous because you could never dry your hair and would spend afternoon lessons with water dripping from your ponytail down your back.

And don’t mention gym – we had wall bars and ropes and those ‘horse’ thingummies. I once managed a forward roll.  That’s it.

On the other hand,  I studied ballet and completed all the Royal School of Dance exams up to Pre-Elementary so I did do some exercise during my teenage years.

And Dad did take my sister Sarah and I out on our bikes quite a lot.

In those days Dinas Powys really was a village and the surrounding country lanes were quiet. Nobody worried about wearing a safety helmet then.

It seems like another world now, doesn’t it!

My most hated event on the school calendar was sports day. There were always the cool girls who could sprint without breaking into a sweat. There were the strong and solid girls who could chuck a shot or a javelin for what seemed like miles.

And then there was the small group of us sporting renegades for whom hiding out in the changing room toilets or, better still, remembering some extremely urgent piano practice in the music room seemed a better bet.

Caitlin seems to have inherited my loathing of forced sporting activity, gung-ho banner waving and irritating whistleblowing. I am, however, determined that she should give sports more of a go than I did.

She is not very confident and is not one of the fastest runners – largely because she does not have the competitive edge that some of her peers do – inherited, I suspect from their far more sporty parents.

“Does it matter if I come last?”  she’s asked me on a couple of occasions.

It’s a more sensitive subject because her brother Ieuan lollops everywhere, making running looks as easy as breathing.

So what do you say to a child who hates their school sports day?

How about some of these.

* Everybody is built differently.  Some can run fast, some can jump high and some are born to dance.

* Even if you don’t win, by trying your hardest you are helping your school team (or house) to succeed.

* Even if you are not good at sports now, one day you may be (Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, anybody?)

* If you want to succeed at anything you’ve got to practise (train).  Athletes train for hours every day.

* If you don’t do well, nobody will think badly of you.

* See yourself winning.  Imagine you are running down the track as fast as a superhero. Nothing can stop you.

* Believe you can and you will

* We will love you and be proud of you no matter what happens.

I’d be tempted to add “your mother had all the speed and grace of a sleepy Heffalump and she’s turned out OK” but that’s possibly not up there with the best coaching strategies.

What would you say if your child hates sports day?

Parents – Stress Free Revision Tips For Your Child

It’s that time of year again when exams loom and schools start to circulate exam timetables and remind parents about the importance of getting our kids revising as early as possible. The whole time can be very stressful so here are some stress free revision tips for your kids you may find useful to implement now.

girl revising from a book - stress free revision tips

Should you take your child out of school?

You may recall from recent years, there has been a great deal of press coverage about parents protesting about the stress some of their children were feeling when faced with Year 6 SATS.  In fact, some parents were so incensed they pulled their children out of school on the day of the test.

Here in Wales we have the National Reading and Numeracy Tests which Caitlin (now 10 and in Year 5) and Ieuan, (aged 8 and in Year 3) will be sitting in the second week of May.  These tests enable recording of a child’s academic performance on a database so that this can be compared to the national average.

I can see no point in pulling your child out of school in protest.  It will not change the system and nor will it help the child to cope with the stresses Academia places on all of us for as long as we are students. The most sensible approach, I think, is to view these examinations as a ‘learning curve’.

What early testing can do

These tests offer a chance for our children to begin to learn how to deal with examination stress and to make the vital psychological link between effort and results. These tests are also a chance to learn other skills, such as revision, planning and even self-care in the face of times of worry and pressure.

If our children learn these skills early on then, arguably, GCSEs, and A Levels may be slightly easier to cope with.

What is important, I think, is how we as parents explain all this and how we help our children to understand what the results mean.

Whilst an exam result is an indication of intelligence and effort, it is a marker in the sand.  Because the results are calculated taking into account the performance of your child’s peers.

There are other variables such as how the child felt on the day. For example, are we really saying hay fever sufferers who gave a poor performance on the day of the test due to summertime sniffles are less intelligent? And what about those children whose teachers have been absent and replaced with a totally disinterested supply teacher?

We need to explain to our kids that the result of their test will be an indication of their current ability and no more. With the proviso, of course, that they need to give their best effort. Once that is done they can do no more.

We must also be careful not to communicate our own stress about their performance to our youngsters. After all, exams can be retaken.

We need to instill the importance of competition

As a nation we are not the economic powerhouse we once were, largely because we are not as competitive as, say China.

I am not saying we should hot-house our children as is the way in some parts of Asia but we do need to teach our kids that competing is a vital skill if you want to move up the career ladder.

Our children will need to compete for university and college places.  They will need to compete for jobs.  We do them no favours if we don’t at least begin to explain how the world works in this regard.

In classes of mixed ability which we now have, the pace seems to move to accommodate the slowest child and, although this makes sense from the point of view of developing a strong social community where each individual is valued, the trade off is an environment where those who could benefit from extra attention don’t get it and teaching staff have to struggle to cope with behaviour that is often driven by far more than just occasional naughtiness.

Some parents think that if a child is not particularly academic it is not fair to subject them to tests which may dent their self-confidence.

But surely with the right attention and tuition, overcoming learning challenges may actually boost the confidence of these children.

There are, after all, enough hugely successful entrepreneurs whose own academic performance was dismal.  Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs to name but two.

My stress free revision tips

So how can parents help their kids?

I wrote a practical guide to revision which you and your children may find helpful.  “Revision Tips To Show Those GCSEs Who’s Boss”. You can read it here.

But here are some stress free revision tips that will help children and their parents.

Don’t over-react

If you make these exams / tests the be-all and end-all you will add undue pressure on your child. Hence, Ieuan’s school is very wisely calling the Year 3 testing a ‘Quiz’.

Make sure you familiarise yourself with your child’s curriculum and study topics

Our school sends out regular term updates so we know what our kids are studying and what their learning outcomes are.  If you have been working with your child throughout the academic year, you will be better placed to help them with their revision.

You will also feel a bit calmer because you will know what needs to be covered.

Invest in some study guides

There is a lot of age-appropriate / Key Stage learning material you can buy or download.  In Wales, past tests can be downloaded free of charge from the Learning Wales website.

There are also websites such as Twinkl which, for a nominal monthly subscription offer a great range of educational resources.

Set a regular study timetable

Design a timetable which has study ‘periods’ of about 45 minutes and help your child work through his topic book or a past paper.

All gadgets stay off until the homework is done (even if it means changing the WiFi password!).

Add an incentive

Whether this is extra family time – such as a trip to the cinema or to a favourite local attraction, make sure you prioritise down time too.

Ban Late Nights

For you and your children.  You’ll need your sleep to cope with an emotional, antsy child and to keep your patience in the face of the inevitable “I don’t want / need to revise” rebellion.

Improve your diet

Mainlining on take-aways and high sugar foods will make you all feel low and under par.  Now is the time for some proper home cooked meals.

Buddy up

Why not form a little study group with your child’s best buddies and their parents.  You may find it more effective to get the kids studying in a more relaxed atmosphere.  They can then do a fun activity once the work has been done, football, swimming or some other form of stress relieving exercise.

Work with the school

If your child is really struggling, don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s teacher to see if there is the possibility of any extra tuition or support.

It may be there is a gap in your child’s knowledge (perhaps something that was covered when your child was off sick) that can be easily filled by a fact sheet or online resource.

Exams, tests, whatever blood-pressure-inducing terminology we apply to them, are designed to put us under pressure to see how we perform.

Watch for signs of extreme anxiety / depression

If you feel that your child is really suffering physically or mentally through exam stress, you need to get your child to open up and talk about their fears.  It may be worth taking them to see your GP if their anxiety symptoms are becoming unmanageable.

If they won’t talk to you, perhaps they will talk to another trusted adult or perhaps an older sibling who has gone through the pressures they are facing.

As parents there is a lot we can do to help our child and, in doing so, help ourselves to feel a little more confident too.

We just need to remember that exam results do not define who we are and certainly don’t dictate who we will become.

Do you have any stress free revision tips to add?

Review: Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit

When I was in school, science was taught in a lab complete with bunsen burners and the heady pong of phosphorus. The Periodic Table was tacked to the wall and we were frequently tested on formulae which I can confidently state I have never used since, with the possible exception of some unfortunate experimental cooking. Caitlin was recently sent the Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit to test so I was obviously the natural choice of assistant.

Caitlin with the Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit

If you caught our recent review of the Project Mc2 Pixel Purse, you’ll know that we are new to the Netflix series Project Mc2 and particularly enjoying the growth in interest in STEM-based projects for kids and the recognition that science is for everyone, not just boys.

Caitlin holding the red Project mc2 ultimate lab kit bag

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) is all about building a love for learning and a solid base for understanding key concepts later on as your children work through the Key Stages in school.

The Project Mc2 series is set in the fictional city of Maywood Glen in California and is about STEAM activities (STEM plus Art!).

Heroine McKeyla McAlister and her friends work for a secret government organisation called NOV8 (“innovate”) and they protect the world using their science and technology skills.

What’s in the Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit?

The Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit is a great asset for any new NOV8 recruit.  The kit comes in a sturdy red case designed like a bag which, when opened reveals a great selection of toy science equipment and a mini booklet which contains over 30 experiments you can try using ingredients you are likely to already have at home, or which you can easily find in your local supermarket.

The Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit contains a real working microscope with 4x power (batteries required). Inside you’ll also find 30+ additional pieces including 3 glass slides, 2 test tubes with a stand, a funnel, a beaker jar, 3 lab flasks, 15 pH strips, a pipette dropper, a petri dish, safety goggles, a Project Mc² ring, and 2 sticker sheets to examine and decorate.

Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit - test tubes and bottles

The microscope does work but don’t expect miracles.  It does allow you to demonstrate how one works and the principle of examining things on slides.

Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit microscope

There is enough contained within to keep even the most curious budding scientist occupied for hours, particularly if mum and dad join in the experimentation.

Loads of experiments to try

We tried 3 of the experiments with, it has to be said, varying success.

Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit experiment booklet

Make a cloud in a jar

You need:

  • an aerosol can such as hairspray
  • a jar with a lid
  • boiling water
  • ice cubes
  • an adult

Fill the jar with a little boiling water and then spritz some hairspray into the jar. Flip the lid over and put some ice cubes on top of the lid. After a few moments lift the lid.

This shows you that the cloud forms because the boiling water creates a lot of warm water vapour which is cooled by the ice forming loads of tiny water droplets – in other words, a cloud.

You are supposed to remove the lid to let the cloud escape but we found keeping the cloud jar-bound gave a better result.

We then tried to make giant gummy bears.  You place two gummy bears in the test-tubes, add a little water and wait for them to grow.  This demonstrates the process of osmosis where the water is completely absorbed by the sweet.  In our case, however, the gummy bears dissolved completely!

Our best success was at making foam dough.  This is a mixture of cornflour, shaving cream and food colouring which, when mixed together, creates a very oddly textured type of dough.  Just be aware that coloured dough can equal a bit of mess and the smell of the shaving cream does tend to linger so don’t use your best mixing bowl!

Despite the fact that our results were patchy, this is a great kit which offers endless opportunities for experimentation.  Other experiments include things like “make Fake Boogers”, “make a red cabbage PH indicator” and “make a rainbow in a jar”.

The experiments are a great starting point for explaining the basic scientific theory and, of course, time spent with your kids away from tablets and PCs has a particularly special value these days.

Caitlin wearing the safety goggles from the Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit

There is no reason why you couldn’t then go on to devise your own experiments, whether you use the kit or not.

We thought the Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit was, like the Pixel Purse, a well made, well thought out toy which offers a gentle introduction to science.  The experiments break down various scientific topics in a way which is easy to grasp and fun to explore.

The Project Mc2 Ultimate Lab Kit is suitable for ages 6+ and is available from Amazon, Argos and Tesco.

You can find out more at the website at www.projectmc2.com for new experiments, videos and updates.

Read our other Project Mc2 Reviews

Project Mc2 A.D.I.S.N. Electronic (Spy) Journal

Project Mc2 Pixel Purse

Project Mc2 McKeyla McAlister Doll with Cocoa Bronzer

 

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