Parenting a tween

28 November 2018

Dear friend,

Life has been a bit hectic lately. I’ve started working more. We’ve had new routines to get to grips with, big lad started his new secondary school, little man’s been struggling to come to terms with Opa’s death. We’ve been stuck in the merry-go-round which is our life going through the day-to-day just getting on with things, you know, like you do, just keeping on going.

Occasionally things happen to bring you back down to earth with a big bump. I guess that’s what’s happened now because the last couple of weeks, when illness knocked me off my feet, it gave me time to think. Pressing the pause button has enabled me to recognise that I’m feeling stuck.

My safe and cosy family bubble has changed. It is like I went to bed one night with my family and woke up the next morning living with another. Okay maybe I’m being a tad dramatic. But living with a pre-teen is pushing me to the limit.


As I hear the words; Oh my God how embarrassing, I’m not singing to Sinterklaas, coming out of my son’s mouth I question my parenting skills. Now that his belief in Sinterklaas is over, have I built a lasting memory, have I given him the best childhood I could? Did I do enough, make it fun enough, was I enough?

Shopping trips are boring and going into the city can’t compete with a Fortnite tournament with friends.

Every day begins with the question; What are we doing today? And then; Do I have to come?

I dangle a carrot in front of his nose; Let’s go to the zoo, have dinner at your favourite restaurant, go and see that movie that you wanted to watch. I’m desperate to keep the connection alive. Only to be brought crashing back down to earth with one simple question; How long will we be?

When he deigns to come along, he is with us but at the same time not. Focusing more on the world held in his hand, tapping away expertly on his mobile phone.

I’m left mourning the days when, we jumped in the car and headed off on weekend adventures. It didn’t matter what we did as long as we did it together. Now we are stuck in arguments. I’ve heard myself yell; Put the bloody phone down, are you part of this family?

I’m hurting from the rejection. With every barked, angry retort my best by date is looming. I can feel my parental shelf life dwindling like a bargain item in the supermarket.

I am also confused by the conflict of interests I’m feeling. Whilst I am mourning the end of family time as we knew it, I am also delighted that it is happening. I wanted him to have friends, to have independence, to have a ‘normal’ life. In the early days of his autism diagnosis I could never have imagined this moment. I am proud of his rebellion.

Nobody tells you when you become a parent that it’s all consuming. When they are small you are their world. They need you, want you, can’t live without you. But equally no one prepares you for the time when you are not. Did you know that they grow up?

What will this new parenting phase mean for me? I want to be a good mum. I am prepared to put my feelings aside to give him more of the freedom that he craves. But that doesn't mean I won't miss what we had, won’t miss being needed.

I am an imperfect mum but I love unconditionally. I hope that is enough! 

20 signs that you are addicted to blogging...

17 November 2018

Dear friend,

In celebration of 4 years of blogging I wanted to reshare this tongue in cheek post about blogging. A huge thank you for all of your support over the last 4 years! 

20 Signs that you are addicted to blogging:

  1. You go into a panic when you don't have wifi
  2. Your iphone/ipad/macbook is always within reach
  3. You check your twitter feed last thing at night and first thing in the morning
  4. Every conversation is blog fodder
  5. Your house work routine is sporadic (related to the post your working on)
  6. You have a detailed linky list
  7. You take your camera everywhere and even have a mummy photo pose
  8. Your kids make comments like - Mummy take my photo on the seal, that will be good for your blog
  9. You have even got your kids involved in blogging
  10. You constantly have a blogging narrative in your head
  11. When not blogging you are reading other people's blogs
  12. You mentally blog and then kick yourself for forgetting the brilliant snippet you had created...
  13. You wake in the middle of the night and go downstairs to write because you've remembered the idea you mentally blogged earlier
  14. When talking about your friends you qualify with 'my blogging friend'...
  15. You know more about your online friends lives than your 'real' ones
  16. Your real life friends don't understand half the things you say (linkies, tribes, Klout, DA) it's like you are talking another language
  17. You check your page views/followers/klout/DA religiously
  18. You can't go on holiday before scheduling everything
  19. You have a laptop shaped indent on your thighs/Carpal tunnel syndrome from holding your phone. 
  20. Your blog is your home page

Are you an addict too?

Encouraging children to write

14 November 2018

Dear friend,

Want to help your child at home with their writing but not sure how.  There are many easy activities and things you can try to support your children without being too heavy going. The worse thing you can do is force your child to write if they really don't want to. It should be fun! Here are a few simple things you can do to promote a love of writing at home. 

Encouraging children to write

1. Read together!
Read read and read some more. The best activity to improve writing is reading. If your child reads good books, they will be a better writer.

2. Talk about their drawings. 
This is the beginning of story telling.
Label the drawings as they tell you about them (check first as some children don't like you to do this!)

3. Use lots of different materials.
Foam, chalk, paintbrushes (various thicknesses), aquadoodles, a variety of pens, pencils and paper, draw on the shower door etc 

4. Make writing or mark making a game or use games
There are numerous games and puzzles that help children with spelling while increasing their vocabulary including crossword puzzles, hangman, word games and anagrams.

5. Make Books. 
Turn your child's writing into books. Act as scribe for your child.

6. Be a good role model
Make sure your child sees you writing

7. Write for real purposes together
Shopping lists, letters, birthday cards, thank you notes, messages, have a chalk message board in your kitchen. Send e-mails to relatives or friends.

8. Encourage keeping a journal
Become a mini blogger or reporter write photo stories or recounts of days out.

9. Connect writing to your child's passion. 
Write a report about a favourite animal, game, character, Skylanders figures.

10. READ!!!

Yes I know I've already said read but it is so important that I am saying it twice. 

I'm bored of the working mum debate

31 October 2018

Dear friend,

It has been a time of huge change for us as a family. Big lad started his new secondary school and I took on an extra day at work. We have all been busy finding our new norm.

Working more wasn't a decision that I took lightly. I wanted to keep my caring responsibilities at home but I wanted to put more energy into a career I love and reap the financial benefits too. I struggled with the idea of working four days. In all honesty I worried that it signified a shift in my priorities. What effect would it have on our family? Would the boys cope? Would I?

Maybe because of this inner turmoil I noticed more press attention and read a number of blog posts championing the cause of stay at home mums. Most giving highly persuasive well-put arguments that were difficult to challenge. But many that left me with a sense of guilt or shame that I am still not quite getting it right!

Do you ever get the feeling that, you are damned if you do and damned if you don't? I'm bored of the working mum debate.

Let's not forget that women have fought to have more equality in the workplace. We proved that we are competent and capable of taking on the roles traditionally delegated to our fathers.  More women are working. Today, over 70% of women aged 16–64 are employed (53% in 1971) and the majority of mothers work (74.1%).

On the face of it we have made fantastic progress. But the UK has dropped from 9th to 26th place in terms of gender equality. It seems we haven't made a crack big enough in that glass ceiling yet and support for working women remains 'woefully inadequate' according to the King's College London.

I have friends who work full-time, part-time, work from home, are CEOs, stay at home mums, stay at home dads. I love and respect them all. Many women (and men) have made sacrifices for their families whether that was giving up careers, missing out on their child's first day at school, making financial sacrifices or not being home every night to tuck their kids into bed. Each and every one have made the choice that works best for them, their families, their unique set of circumstances.

The crux of the problem for me is, whilst I am able to slip into my dad's company brogues I haven't actually managed to give up my mum's responsibilities. As a teen of the 80's I was sold the idea that women could have it all (I could be the boss in the workplace and still smash it at home).  It has taken me 20 years to realise that to have it all I need help, whether that is flexible working hours, hiring an au pair, having a cleaner or relying on family.

Why are women still arguing amongst ourselves? Whilst we are debating who has made the right choice aren't we failing to get the point. It is a personal choice.

Let's stand together and talk about the issues that really matter and that will make a big difference to women; equality of pay, representation of women in top roles, affordability of child care, flexible working hourstax on sanitary products (tampon tax), higher cost of women's personal care products (the pink tax), zero hour contracts etc

Stop making working mums feel guilty. It is all about finding a balance that works for you. I don't know if this balance will work for us. But I know that I want the support of my sisters (not their judgement) whilst I work it out.

How to raise bilingual children

24 October 2018

Dear friend,

Raising your children to be bilingual seems to be quite the 'in' thing to do at the moment. I have read many articles championing the benefits of being bilingual and there has been research stating that being bilingual can help to ward off dementia but raising bilingual children wasn't a lifestyle choice for us it was a natural progression.

I am English, my husband is Dutch and we live in Holland. My son was born only one year after I moved to Holland and whilst I imagined I would be fluent in Dutch, the reality was I could order a sandwich and say thank you and that was it.

The choice was clear, I would speak English and my husband Dutch. But was it that simple? Yes & No!

I was lucky because working in an international school gave me a great bank of practical knowledge and experience and I badgered colleagues for help and advice and read books they recommended like Colin Baker's: A Parents' and Teachers' guide to Bilingualism and Steiner: 7 steps to raising a Bilingual child.

My Tips for Raising Bilingual Children:

1. Have a plan
Have you heard people say; "Kids are like sponges and they soak up language." It is a Myth. Yes given the right tools and when exposed to language from an early age children will grow up and acquire family languages but this can not be taken for granted. Our plan was One Parent One language but hubby and I have always spoken English together.  We have chosen to continue speaking English at home as it is the minority language for our boys so by speaking it together it increases their daily exposure.

2. Do your research
Family members and friends may want to give you their advice or opinion. We have had people tell us we are confusing our kids, they will mix up their languages and that we are making it harder for them or they'll have a speech delay.  Do your research, know the answers. Nod and smile.  Most of the time these people mean well but don't actually know what they are talking about. 

3. Be consistent
Don't make it easy for your children to switch from the minority language to the majority language. Our oldest son is autistic and he keeps us right! He will ask why are you talking dutch to me? He needs the consistency and has told me I don't sound like mummy when I speak Dutch.

4. Take Time
To learn a language you need time and how much exposure time is up for debate with some researchers saying you need 30% exposure time to become bilingual. For me it depends on your definition of bilingual. Pre school the boys were exposed to more English as they spent most of their time with me. Since beginning school we have had to think about exposure more, English has definitely become the minority. The boys have switched to speaking more Dutch together.

5. Think about Resources
Have lots of resources in the minority language. Our home is full of English books (probably more than Dutch) we have UK television , music and video games. We regularly Skype with UK family and friends. When the boys were younger I took them to an international play group and we spend time with English speaking friends. We go back to the UK for holidays. Language camps can also be a great idea.

6. Be tenacious
You may be given bad advice from 'experts' stick to your guns.
When my son was diagnosed as autistic we were told to bring him up as a monolingual. We ignored the advice. Special needs children can be bilingual, the language problems they have in one language will appear in the other but that won't stop them! I believe being bilingual has improved my sons understanding of the world as he has two frames of reference.

7. There is no wrong language
Sometimes my boys speak to me in Dutch. I never make a big deal of this. There is no wrong language in our house. But I am just consistent in my answer. I continue in english.

8. Don't mix language confusion with code switching.
My boys sometimes pinch a word from one language to use when speaking another as it just fits better.  The best example of this is the Dutch word "gezellig" a word that has no direct translation but encompasses Dutch culture (think Hygge). It is not because they are confused it is because the word fits better!

9. Think Long Term
Despite working in an international (English speaking) school, we sent our children to a Dutch language school. We did this because we thought long term.  We plan on staying in the Netherlands for the rest of their school life so wanted their educational language to be Dutch.

10. Be proud!
Tell your children how proud you are of them. Be enthusiastic!
Hubby and I are really proud of our boys. We love it when people comment or ask questions (polite ones of course). . The big lad wants to learn Spanish next.

Growing pains

10 October 2018

Dear friends,
do you ever look at your children and think, Oh my goodness, where is the time going? I do. I have a major conflict of interests. Stuck between wanting to freeze time to keep my boys 'little' and being excited about the things they are yet to achieve. This poem is my response to the unforgivable habit of growing up. 

Growing Pains

I need your help! 
I am experiencing terrible growing pains,
It only seems like two sleepless nights ago 
That you were tiny babies, 
Looking up at me with wonder in your eyes. 
I was your world...

I am sorry,
I did not always appreciate these days.
The multiple, minute, repetitive moments that filled them
Made it sometimes
Feel like forever.

I am sorry,
Sometimes I felt lonely,
I was afraid that I was getting it wrong,
I wasted time waiting for the next milestone to come
And I wasted energy comparing your path with others.

But most of all I am sorry that
I didn't realise how with each milestone
You were moving further
And further
Away from me...

I wish with ever fibre of my being 
That I could experience one more time how...

Your tiny, soft foot fit in the palm of my hand.
I could carry you in one arm (resting you on my hip)
Your first words were spat out with pride and determination.
You pulled funny faces as you experimented with new foods.
Your warm body curled into me in bed with your feet flat against my side. 
You only covered your excited face during games of Hide and seek.
You squealed go faster during bike rides to the duck pond.
Holding your tiny hand in mine made me feel safe.
I had to rush my shower because you needed me.
My pockets were always full of your special finds. 
Going to the toilet became a group outing.
Your little face appeared at the window as I left for work.

I failed...
In the business of our lives,
To spot the tell tale signs that
Things were changing.
In my blinkered
Rush to get life done,
I missed the signs that
You were outgrowing me.

But I can't fail to notice it now... 
It hits me right between the eyes, every time I look at your long legs.
It weighs me down, when I try to lift you up.
It cuts deep, every-time I offer my hand and you decline.
It makes my tummy flip, when you refuse face painting or dressing up.
It saddens my soul, when there's no-one at the window to wave goodbye.
It cripples my confidence when you utter the words; 'Oh Mum, embarrassing."
It fills me with sadness, when you have nothing to tell me.
It says I told you so, every-time you dash out of the door without a kiss!

Now it is me who is looking at you
With eyes filled with wonder,
Who wants to ask you all the questions,
Who wants to follow you
And snuggle at your side.

Please cut mummy some slack,
Give me that occasional squeeze,
Tell me about your day,
Let me call you my baby,
Hold my hand.

Know that you will always be my world
Even when I'm no longer yours!

Pockets reference - you must read the post by occupation mother. 

How to get your kids talking about School

26 September 2018

Dear Friend,

How many times have you asked you kids; How was school today? Only to hear; ok, fine, rubbish or receive a shrug? I think most parents share this struggle.

It is almost impossible for me to get any information about school from our autistic son. I loved this analogy I heard on a course for parents of autistic children. The psychologist described the autistic mind as like a filing cabinet, she said that there was a file for each topic, Home, school, grandma's etc She went on to explain that when school is over the file is shut and locked in a draw. 

Perhaps the key to learning about school lies in asking the right sort of question. 

20 questions to get kids talking about school

1. What is the best thing that has happened at school today?

2. What is the worst thing that has happened at school today?

3. What happened today to make you laugh out loud?

4. What frustrated you the most today? Why?

5. Did anything make you sad today? Why?
(Sad can be substituted with happy/cross/frustrated/bored/laugh/tired/excited/scared.)

6. If you could change anything about today, what would it be?

7. If you could choose, who would you like to sit next to in class?

8. Tell me one thing that you learned today.

9. If you could only do one thing all day what would it be?

10. If two of your class mates were leaving who would you want it to be?

11 What would you like to do more at school?

12. Which lesson do you wish you didn't have any more?

13. Did the teacher say anything funny/silly today?

14. Who is the funniest in your class?

15. What did anyone do to help you today?

16. What did you feel most proud of today?

17. What is your favourite playground game?

18. If you could choose 3 children to go out to play with who would you choose?

19. If you could set the timetable for the day at school what would you do?

20. What do you want you teacher to know?

I find that I get a better response at dinner time rather than straight after school as the boys have had some time to process their day. I also like to hang around a bit at bed time after stories because often my big lad likes to talk then and get things off his chest before he sleeps.

Why don't you try out a few of these questions and see what response you get?

Ten ways blogging is like having a child

12 September 2018

Dear friend,

Are you a blogger or are you thinking of writing a blog? Blogging is amazing and has opened up a whole new world to me but there's something you need to know...

I have had a revelation! After almost 4 years of blogging I have realised that actually, writing a blog is like having a child. 

Stay with me, I haven't drank too many cocktails at lunch. I can explain...

Ten ways blogging is like having a child:

1. They need feeding good stuff

Great content is key and my most popular pieces are those I have written with passion and from the heart.

2. They change your social life

The best part of blogging is getting to know some amazingly supportive blogging chums. You find your blogging tribe like you find your mummy tribe. Blogging has encouraged me to get out and about and do more with my family too.

3. You celebrate every achievement

I love reading every single comment that I receive on Spectrum Mum. It feels amazing when a fellow blogger features or shares your post. Appearing front page/blog of the day on Mumsnet or being featured in an on-line publication (plus40 bloggers or The Mighty) is a huge cause for celebration. And lets not even mention the craziness around the Mads (Blogging Awards).

4. You want them to look good

I have had several changes of theme, header and colour scheme. I have spent many hours 'messing around' with things to make my blog look how I want. Your blog is a reflection of you.

5. Some days you're just knackered...

We all have those days where we feel we don't know what we are doing. Most bloggers have a crisis of confidence when their blog reaches the terrible twos.

6. There are sleepless nights...

Bloggers brain can be like baby brain. I find ideas pop into it when I'm drifting off to sleep and I have to jot them down before they disappear then end up writing into the small hours or I check my twitter feed as I get into bed and then I can't get to sleep.

7. You focus on their growth...

Those milestones are important and as a blogger it is easy to get caught up in the Stats, League tables, Klout scores, DA etc It is thrilling to see that people all around the world have read your words.

8.  They can make you crazy...

I admit that I had an addiction to blogging. Be careful or it can begin to take over your whole life.

9.  You worry about their moral upbringing...

What is your niche? Most Bloggers will have heard of the importance of having a niche. My blog has changed direction over the last 4 years but I am happiest and most confident writing about and raising awareness of autism. You have to pick a niche that you really love and feel passionately about and write about that honestly. Be true to yourself.

10. They need praise, rewards or special treats

I am really proud of the positive comments from people in the autism community. I am so thankful that people have responded well to my tales from the scenic route of parenting. Blogging is something that I stumbled into almost 4 years ago and I am still loving the journey and learning a lot.

Would you add anything else to my list?

Top Tips for going Back to school

20 August 2018

Dear friend,

The adverts have started on the television, it must be back to school time... Is it me or does it get earlier each year? I don't really want to worry about it now as I want to enjoy the last couple of weeks of my holiday BUT there are definite benefits to being prepared.... As a parent and a teacher I have experience of this busy time from both sides of the fence.

My Back to School Tips

Get your children into a school sleep schedule: The idea is that children return to school refreshed after a long holiday and ready to learn but that can't happen if your children are tired from going to bed late every evening. I relax the bedtime rules when the kids are on holiday but in the last couple of weeks before school I start to tighten them up again and make sure they are well rested before school begins.

Establish (or re-establish) routines: It is natural that we fall out of routine during the holidays but try and reestablish this before you go back. Especially useful for children about to start school for the first time - ask the teacher what their routine will be and try to replicate at home with similar snack times. 

Read books: there are plenty of books about starting school e.g. Do I have to go to school?

Lay out clothes, bags etc the night before: We have a visual timetable for the big lad (autistic) it is stuck in the cupboard door and he (and I) can check what he needs and lay it out the night before saving time and stress on the morning. 

Label everything: Teachers waste so much time handling lost property. I have spent many an evening looking for new cardigans with unhappy parents...

Start a new tradition: for example, a special breakfast for the first day or a termly photo. Keep it fun!

Organise Homework: Find a place in your home for homework things and to do homework. OK I must admit I am rubbish at this, hubby is much better. Establish a homework routine. 

Talk about nerves: Some nerves are normal! But if you feel your child is too nervous talk to the teacher. 

Talk to the teacher: Notify the teacher if any major life changes such as divorce or a death in the family have occurred during the holiday.

Plan lunches: Keep packed lunches simple and don't give too much food. Are there some banned foods at your child's school? Leave little notes in their lunch box or write on their banana for snack (my boys sadly are too cool for this now!)

Develop a central calendar: keep track of all school related activities, late starts, early closings and any change in events or school events.

Get Uniform ready: Try and buy in advance. Allow for growth!

Check the gym kit: Do the shoes still fit, is it clean?

Time: Tell your child where and when you will pick them up! This is so important, especially for children who are just starting school, many young children will ask; "When am I going home?" Until they are fully settled. I have had a couple of unconsolable children who thought mummy or daddy weren't coming back. Make it clear!

Be present: Walk, drive, cycle with your child to school on the first day. Arrange to go into work a bit later if you can. If you can't don't worry - maybe leave a little video message or note or small good luck present?

Talk to your child: Ask them, if you could tell your teacher one thing what would it be?

Summer Bucket List

25 July 2018

Dear friend,

The summer has arrived and I can't wait. It is fantastic to be free to relax and enjoy our time together but although I want to be able to lie in bed until lazy o'clock and chill out in front of the television there are so many things I want to do with my boys. I don't want to wake up half way through the holiday and think, what have we done? So here it is our Summer Bucket list...

  1. Go swimming in an outdoor pool
  2. Read at least 3 new books
  3. Go to the beach
  4. Go on at least 3 things at the park
  5. Slide down a really long slide
  6. Make homemade pizza
  7. Build a den
  8. Play at least 5 different board games
  9. Go to the cinema
  10. Watch the sunset
  11. Watch the sunrise
  12. Have a water balloon fight
  13. Play with bubbles

  14. Camp indoors
  15. Run through a sprinkler
  16. Roll down a hill
  17. Have a treasure hunt
  18. Climb a tree
  19. Go Bowling
  20. Have a sleepover
  21. Go for a lantern walk
  22. Build a sandcastle

  23. Go to the library
  24. Have a family Movie night
  25. Go Star Gazing
  26. Play hide and seek
  27. Pet a giraffe
  28. Picnic in the park or at the beach
  29. Make some handprint art
  30. Photograph a butterfly

One Moment in Time with Four Acorns

6 July 2018

Welcome to one moment in time, a guest posts series, where bloggers share the stories behind special or significant photographs. I was so happy when Annette contacted me to say she had a post for One Moment in Time. I love her bilingual blog Four Acorns / Quatre graines de chêne the photography is stunning and her adventurous family are inspirational.  Thank you so much for joining me!

“Honey, it’s another little boy!”

I will never forget the words Brian whispered in my ear as our fourth baby emerged from the water in the expert hands of midwife extraordinaire Philomena.

D was born at home in the middle of the night. After waiting 9 days past his due date, he came out in just 2.5 hours of labour. He was still wrapped in the caul (amniotic sack). This is apparently a sign of good luck – fishermen used to buy cauls off new mothers to protect their boats from sinking.

D’s arrival earthside was simply wonderful. Gentle, intimate, calm, full of laughter.

A family event, rather than a medical intervention.
A physical feat, of course, but also the most empowering experience ever. Fully trusting my body, I discovered within myself a powerful force that I didn’t know was there.

This is how I became a mother of four, and our family, complete.

With this homebirth, my childbirth journey came full circle, and the wounds of the first time were healed at last. (My first labour was a textbook cascade of interventions, which resulted in a traumatic emergency c-section.)

None of this would have been possible without the steadfast support of independent midwife Philomena Canning. From the day I contacted her, she enquired, asked and battled alongside me so I would be “allowed” a homebirth. In Ireland, having had a caesarean automatically precludes you from giving birth at home.

In the end, my two successful hospital VBACs (vaginal birth after caesarean), one in Denmark and the other in Dublin, were enough to convince an obstetrician to sign off on a homebirth with Philomena.

During this fourth pregnancy I came across the inspirational website Birth Without Fear, which often featured fabulous birth photography. A little bit of online searching for something similar in Ireland yielded no results. Until Philomena mentioned attending a birth which, for the first time in her decade-long career, was captured by a professional photographer.

On contacting Claire Wilson, of, it turned out she lived only 40 minutes away, and that she was available around my due date.

I cherish the photos Claire took that night, all 158 of them! To this day, watching the beautiful slideshow that she put together after D’s arrival brings tears of joy to my eyes.

D has just turned 5, and his gentle birth at home, in the quiet of a full moon night, will forever remain one of the most magical moments of my life.

Annette is French, married to an Irish man, and they live in Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland, with their four bilingual children. She blogs in English and French at Four Acorns / Quatre graines de chêne to inspire families to unplug, go outside and reconnect with nature and with each other. 

Join Four acorns on:

Adding luxury to your home

15 June 2018

Dear friend,

Hubby and I have been very busy painting our house and updating the interiors. It has been quite an undertaking and one that was badly needed. We all want our homes to be as comfortable as possible. But when you are working with a fairly tight budget you have to be pretty careful about what you buy for your home.

It is easy to dismiss the idea of buying items for our homes that are not absolutely essential. Often, that is the right call, but sometimes those little luxuries are worth it because they can greatly enhance the quality of your family´s life.

Ways to add a bit of luxury to your home...

A heated towel rail: Trying to dry your hands on a damp towel is never nice. My IBS means that some days I am a frequent visitor to the bathroom so my hand towels are constantly damp. A heated towel rail makes sure they do dry out completely. Plus, of course, getting out of the bath or shower and wrapping yourself in a big, soft, fluffy and warm towel feels like heaven. Fortunately, you can now buy a heated towel rail for about the same price you would need to pay for a newbathroom radiator. So, in reality, they are not actually an expensive luxury.

A coffee maker: I love my coffee and would even argue that this is an essential rather than a luxury. Being able to drink decent coffee, while at home is always nice. Surprisingly, your coffee maker can actually end up paying for itself. If you buy a coffee every morning on the way to work taking your own with you will save you a surprising amount of money. Over the course of a few years, you will have saved enough to pay for your coffee machine.

Luxurious towels: Speaking of towels, a great piece of advice from my nan was to always buy the nicest ones you can afford. Higher-quality towels will continue to look good for many years, provided you follow the care instructions.

Decent sheets: Good linen always feels nice. So buying good-quality bedding is always worth it. The only problem with this approach is that you can easily end up using the quilt cover for several years. So, it is best to choose classic designs that never really go out of fashion. Something that is relatively neutral should fit in regardless of what style of décor you choose for your bedroom.

Good mattresses for everyone: Getting a good night´s sleep is essential. The best way to ensure that you wake up in the morning well-rested and feeling refreshed is to invest in a good-quality mattress. They are not cheap. But buying a low-cost one can be false economy. You do need to know what you are doing when buying a matress. If you do not, it is all too easy to inadvertently end up paying a premium price for a mediocre mattress. This mattress buying guide should ensure that does not happen. Once your kids start sleeping in a full-sized bed, consider buying them a good quality mattress as well. It really will help them to sleep better.

What luxury item can't you live without? 

This is a collaborative post. 

9 simple steps to get children to look after their teeth

13 June 2018

Dear friend,

Did you know that record numbers of children are having tooth extractions?

There are record numbers of under-fives having rotten teeth removed in hospitals and even babies and toddlers are having their milk teeth removed according to a report released by the Royal College of Surgeons in March 2017. Milk, fruit snacks, and sweetened baby food is partly to blame. Dentists say that this Health Crisis is wholly preventable and parents should ensure that they monitor children's brushing habits until the age of eight. 

We were recently shocked when our dentist found my boys teeth were stained and recommended that they have a tooth brushing lesson with the dental nurse so I did some research and came up with the following 9 simple steps to get your children to look after their teeth.

1. Start them early
Take your little ones along to the dentist with you so they get used to the room and meet the dentist. Our dentist let the boys ride in the chair.

2. Make it fun
You can get some great tooth brushes now that play tunes or light up. Brush to music or make brushing a game. Read stories about teeth or there are apps which you can use.

3. Have teeth friendly snacks
Most parents know that chocolate bars, sweets and biscuits are filled with tooth-damaging sugar but seemingly innocent, natural foods such as raisins, oranges and dates are also packed with decay-causing acid that can damage your child’s teeth.

4. Get them involved
Let them choose their own brush and try a range of toothpastes until they find one they prefer.

5. Be a good role model
Brush your teeth together.

6. Choose a good dentist
Our son has ASD we had to find a dentist who would understand his sensitivity to smell, touch and taste.

7. Make it part of their routine
Routine is really important to children. Try to stick to the routine. One good tip is not to leave teeth cleaning until too late when children are over tired.

8. Bribery
OK, I am not suggesting bribery (I believe in intrinsic rewards) but now and then a little reward, letting them wear their favourite pyjamas or reading them their favourite story can't hurt.

9. Be patient
Don't rush tooth brushing to get them into bed. Allow plenty of time.

Autism and IQ tests: Why I am saying no!

6 June 2018

Dear friend,

In the past, nonverbal children with autism were considered mentally retarded, and those who had difficulties in communication were considered intellectually slow. Now it has become more widely recognized that autism spectrum disorder has nothing to do with intelligence, it is a developmental disorder. In fact more recently studies have been carried out to identify the links between autism and higher intelligence. It is fair to say that Autistic people like Neuro-typical people run the gamut of intelligence. 

French psychologist Alfred Binet developed the first modern IQ test in the early 1900s. Its purpose was to find children who needed special education. Common tests now include the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale, and the Wechsler Scales. They measure skills that are, 'Generally important for success in school.' 

But IQ tests measure only a part of what we often think of as intelligence, which includes a person's ability to solve problems, reason, plan, think abstractly, and learn from the world around him.
IQ scores of children on the autism spectrum may not be accurate reflections of their intellectual potential. 

We recently had an intake meeting with a psychologist. We wanted to find some therapy for our son to help him with the death of his grandpa and we hoped he would be able to join a group for pubescent boys with autism. We left the meeting deeply disappointed as the only help we were offered was medication and an intelligence test.

We turned down both..

Studies have shown that often autistic children who are performing at grade level or above in school, have IQ scores that show them to have below average or even mentally deficient intelligence levels. 
There is...too much reliance on IQ tests that frequently underestimate the intelligence of autistic people... - Simon Baron-Cohen
This was certainly true for us. 

Our big lad was given an IQ test as part of the battery of testing he had on diagnosis (aged 5). We were shocked by the results and dumbfounded when we were advised to enrol him in special education. The results did not reflect the picture of our son that we had at home or school. We decided to ignore the advice.

We were offered another test when our son was seven. The psychologists acknowledged that the original test could have been flawed as our son was tested in his second language. I think they found it hard to believe that he was coping so well in a 'regular' school environment. 

The results showed he had a disharmonic profile. With high peaks in some areas and significant lows in others. But despite improvements, he still presented as 'below average'. School concluded that this wasn't a true reflection of his abilities. And we agreed wholeheartedly. 

When American psychiatrists updated their diagnostic manual in 2013, they acknowledged a difficulty with IQ tests and autism. They cautioned that measuring a child's intellectual ability may be complicated by the symptoms of autism and that a child's score may vary widely over time.

For a child to perform to their ability on a standard IQ test, they must be able to quickly respond to verbal questions and have well developed motor skills. These are areas that are difficult for our son and for many others on the spectrum.

People with autism spectrum disorders are impacted by sensory processing challenges and this can effect test results. The big lad will find it hard to respond in a room with bright fluorescent lights or in new environment or to someone he doesn't know or in a room with a ticking clock.

Many people with autism also have anxiety disorders. My son has significant anxiety around testing and a fear of failure. Why would I choose to put him under stress to get a number that means little to school or to us?

We know that it is extremely difficult to measure the IQ of a person with autism. Their social interaction problems, communication delay, and behavioral issues all work against an accurate measure of their intellectual abilities.

I asked our psychologist why we were being offered a method of testing that is ill-suited to autistic children. According to her the people who administer the test are trained to take into account the needs of autistic people during the testing by for example; giving them more time, taking breaks or adapting the test. 

It is worth noting that the IQ test was never intended to be used as a measure of intelligence. Some scientists have even gone so far as describing IQ as a myth. Dr Roger Highfield and his team concluded that, IQ tests are misleading because they do not accurately reflect intelligence. They found that a minimum of three different exams were needed to measure someone's brainpower.

I am not advising that everyone turns down IQ testing for their children but that you consider it as one set of data and that you take into account the 'bigger' picture when looking at test results. Trust your instincts, you know your child best and communicate with school.

To me my son is uniquely and remarkably intelligent. And as a teacher with over 20 years experience I will always struggle to limit intelligence to one test or one number.

Intelligence is, too complex to capture with a single number - Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man

I am saying no. What about you?

One Moment in Time with Mummy Thomas' Blog

25 May 2018

Dear Friend,

Welcome to one moment in time, a guest posts series, where bloggers share the stories behind special or significant photographs. I am very happy to play host to the lovely Kerry from Mummy Thomas' Blog. Kerry writes passionately and honestly about all things mental health and parenting. Thank you so much for joining me!

I'm going a little off topic here. I usually write about my birth experience and my mental illness. However I strongly believe my depression started the day I found out my pap was dying. He was my closest family member, a best friend and I loved him dearly.

One of my fondest memories of him is when we went off on our adventures to his hometown in Ireland when I was younger to visit his family. When I went round to his house he would have a bag of toffee's on his table beside his chair. I always had one and lost many teeth because of it. Until my adult teeth came through of course.

I used to go to a cafe in town and bring him back a cake. We would have a cuppa and a catch up. Sometimes we went to the bingo. It was a laugh.

As a little girl I would go and sit on his lap and watch crazy western films. I would help him decorate his tree most years and spend Christmas day at his house. He would have a glass of sherry and put an old record on to have a boogie. I miss those days.

It's hard to say but I watched him deteriorate over the years and become more ill over time. It was heart breaking. He slowly became a stranger to me. He wasn't my bright funny outgoing pap that I always knew. He became quite fragile and restless.

He was still my pap in my mind.

When my mum told me that he had cancer I was distraught. I was in denial. I said 'he will be fine they will treat him.'

'Won't they?'

Once I realised it was only a matter of time I watched him slowly get worse and become bed bound. He was forgetting things and sometimes thought I was my mum. She cared for him everyday until his last. She was up there morning and night and I thank her for having the courage to be there for him everyday. She truly is an inspirational women and a wonderful mother. She's the sort of women who always puts everyone else first.

I had a phone call at work to come home quickly because the doctor didn't think he would make it to the end of the day. I have never rushed home so quick in my life. I arrived at his house and there was this strange man laying in my pap’s bed. It really didn't look like him. He was pale and fragile. He was hardly breathing, lying there helplessly.

I will always remember my pap the way he was.

A strong-willed, proud man, who was the most caring loving person I knew.

He passed away that day. I read a poem at his funeral, it was very hard and one of the worst days of my life.

I became very low.

Before my pap became ill we were trying for a baby. We had some news during his illness that we couldn't conceive naturally and that we would have to have IVF. Months after my pap passed away I was due to go and start the procedure. It didn't feel right going ahead after everything that had happened. We had failed fertility attempts and my mum said I should stop being silly and try. So we did and we fell with our little girl.

I still believe to this day that he went up to heaven, had a word and we were blessed with our little girl. Now some of you may think I'm crazy for saying that but we had our scan date through the post and it was booked on my pap's birthday. I have never cried so much. I felt almost like it was a message from him saying everything will be ok.

When I sort counselling after my birth experience I spoke about my pap and said to her that I had this huge guilt feeling because of trying so soon after he passed. I think that stayed with me. I told her I struggled to come to terms with his loss. She felt my depression started there and carried on through my pregnancy. It really was one thing after another. I will say that the past three years have been hell. But I am remaining positive, well trying to.

His favourite bird was a robin. I have had this little robin visit my back door ever since he passed. It comes and sits at the back door and just stares at me. I always wave and it just sits there. I have a bird food table in the garden with food in so it can't be after food.

Maybe I'm being an idiot and you will all think I'm being silly.

But I generally think its him checking on me.

Even if I am being silly it's a great thought to have.

I love you Pap

Say no to SATs

18 May 2018

Dear friend,

I am a teacher... Cut me in half and you'd find teacher written through me (like a stick of rock). It isn't a job to me, it's a profession, a calling. It is something I love doing. I love working with kids...

I consider myself privileged to have taught in the region of 1000 amazing children. I feel the buzz when my pupils learn something new, when they crack something they have been struggling to learn...  Yes teaching is my job but also my passion!

I had freedom in teaching for the first couple of years and worked with an absolutely brilliant teacher. We worked hard to put together interesting topics for our kids and taught a broad curriculum. We knew our pupils really well!

Teaching frameworks were introduced - the literacy and numeracy hours. We became a group of Stepford wives following the routine, sticking rigidly to the timings marked by a kitchen clock on our desk. (Oh wait - we weren't allowed to have a desk anymore!)

It wasn't enough to impose what we were to teach and how. We were then told how to evaluate this learning.

What better way to judge than a test?

Teachers could no longer be trusted to give an accurate assessment of their pupil's learning. We had to be open and transparent and not only would kids be tested but the results would be put out there for all parents to see.

The teaching world shifted with the introduction of SATs and league tables. We were forced to look at our kids in a different way. They were given a mark, graded and highlighted in a list and branded a success or a failure...

I admire those parents who chose to keep their children away from school in protest over the SATs.

Why do I object to the SATs?

  • The results don’t tell good teachers anything new!

I know my kids, I know which ones find 2 step problems in maths hard, who struggles with time and spelling. I don't need a test to tell me that and neither do the kids.

  • Not all exams are well written or organised

The only surprises I've had are the ones where brilliant kids have underachieved because of badly written questions or where a child has got lucky with multiple choice questions (oh yes this did happen - I watched them blindly ticking anything!)

There have been incidents of exams appearing on line and leaked to press and children in tears because of papers that are way too difficult!

  • The tests hold little weight at secondary school

Pupils sit new assessments in Year 7. SATs data from primary school is absorbed into other data at secondary level and teachers generate their own predictions based on their testing.

  • Stress!
Primary school children in England are some of the most tested in the world.

Good teachers go out of their way to make the whole testing experience as stress free and painless as possible but most kids still get very stressed...then underperform... I strongly believe that Primary school children are too young to be tested.

The report, on mental health and wellbeing by the cross-party Education and Health Select Committees pointed to evidence to suggest that academic pressure and the narrowing of the curriculum were having a negative impact on youth mental health.

  • Narrowing of the curriculum

In a report on primary assessment (may 2017) a cross party committee of MPs found that pupils are being taught a narrower curriculum. Schools are neglecting arts and humanities subjects by focusing too heavily on maths and English to ensure pupils pass the SATs.
    ...using Sats results as part of a school’s accountability measures is creating a “high-stakes” system of testing which is damaging teaching and learning in primary schools. - Commons education committee.

  • Love of learning and creativity

I have heard and read several accounts from parents concerned that their child/children are feeling unhappy at school, feeling under pressure, not wanting to go to school. I have heard accounts of parents driving past the school during the weekend and kids announcing, I hate that place or thank god I don't have to go there today! How sad!

Any successful learner has a growth mindset. They have not been taught that learning is about failure and success, but know instead that learning is about progression on a personal journey.

Teach with your heart not to a test or you risk having disengaged pupils and demoralised teachers...

  • You can not apply business principles to people!

It doesn't follow that if we pump the same information in the same way into each child they will all turn out the same results. If you are a parent that will be apparent with your own kids - just look at them. You brought them up in the same house, in the same way, with the same values - are they the same?

You can not treat children like products, or schools like businesses...

People are unique. That is the brilliance of being human, we are unique. We should be celebrating uniqueness and individuality. Encouraging creative thinking. The different thinkers are the ones who change the world, the inventors the scientists the explorers.

  •  SATs do not improve pupils’ learning or raise standards
There is no evidence that the end of Key Stage tests have led to individual pupils reaching higher levels of attainment than they would have done if the tests had not been introduced (Cambridge Primary Review).


The Sunshine Blogger Award

11 May 2018

Dear Friends,

I am buzzing here as blogging has lead me to get to know some truly amazing people and one of the most inspiring and funny bloggers I know nominated little old me for The Sunshine Blogger award.  Lisa Pomerantzster you are a complete star! To receive the equivalent of a blogging Oscar makes me feel like I should be wearing a ball gown instead of my dressing gown. My lovely friend, I am honoured and I thank you!

Now, the point of this lovely award is to get to know a little bit more about bloggers. So here we go... 

My questions posed by the lovely Lisa:

Q1. Do you have a favorite thing, person, dare I say, ‘muse,’ to inspire your writing?
Oh that's easy. My son. This blog is a testament to him, he inspires me every single day to be a better person.

Q2. Why did you start your blog?
I started my blog because my head felt so full of words, sentences and stories that it felt like it was going to burst. I needed a space to breathe out.

Q3. Who is your hero (alive or dead, or even animated) and why?
My grandad was my hero. He was incredibly strong and was a man of very few words but when he did speak people listened. With him I always felt safe and loved. 
I am always drawn to quotes by the amazing Maya Angelou. I really admire the work she did for human rights.

Q4. What drives you meshuggeneh (nuts)?
I really can't stand judgemental people. I get mad when I feel like anyone is judging my choices as a parent or when anyone is being unkind to others. I can not stand injustice of any kind.

Q5. What were you like as a kid?
Fiercely independent and creative!

Q6. Where is your happy place?
The beach, I absolutely love walking barefoot in the sand. I call it my therapy.

Q7. When it comes to gifts, would you prefer to give or receive?
Give, especially when it comes to my family. 
I prefer the gifts made by my children than expensive treats. Although a spa day is always appreciated!

Q8. What’s your very favorite song?
Oh now this is really really difficult as I love music and there are many many songs I could choose. But if forced I would have to choose Stevie Wonder, For Once in My Life. It was the song hubby and I walked down the aisle to after we were married.

Q9. How would you describe that song to someone who cannot hear?
The best day of your live packed into 3 1/2 minutes of pure joy.

Q10. What would your pet say about you, assuming of course, that you have a pet, and it can talk?
Nova, would say, I am my mummy's baby and that means I can get away with almost anything naughty that I do. She is good at sharing food and giving cuddles but gets cross when I bark and jump in the window.

Q11. Any regrets?
I wish I had realised earlier that the best thing you can be in life is yourself. When I was younger I didn't always have the confidence to just be me and followed the crowd too much.

The rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you for the Sunshine Award and link back to their blog while
  • Answer the questions the person who nominated you provided
  • Nominate other bloggers and give them 11 questions
  • Notify your nominees via social media and/or blogger love, the comment section of their blog
  • List the ‘rules’ and proudly display the Sunshine Award logo in your post

My nominees are: 

My Questions are:

Q1: What piece of advice would you give to a new blogger?
Q2: What is the best mistake you have ever made?
Q3: What is your motivation?
Q4: If you could change anything about yourself would you? And if yes, what would you change?
Q5: Tell me one fact about yourself that not many people know.
Q6: What do you do when you have free time?
Q7: If you could live anywhere, where would you live?
Q8: Who is your celebrity crush? 
Q9: What does your perfect day look like?
Q10: What is your comfort food?
Q11: What was your favourite childhood toy?

Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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