Why start a Mummy blog?

This morning, on the school run I had a moment, a moment of panic and vulnerability. My boys were behaving like the world was ending and I was paranoid about what all the other parents thought of me. It wasn’t the first time.

So why am I writing this? Purely because I feel like there is one or more aspects of parenting that I fail at – daily – and it’s taken me five years to establish that it’s normal. Talking about where/when/how I mess up helps me put it in perspective: it’s really not that bad. If I manage to make someone else smile along the way then that’s a bonus. I’m Natalie and I’m Mummy to three amazing boys – my lovable, little rogues (ages 5, 3 and 0). They are very active and love to be outdoors. Staying still is not an option! Some days I’ve attempted to survive 12 hours simply by entertaining them at home. Big mistake. We need to explore somewhere everyday. Even if it’s raining. Even if it’s somewhere mundane. Even if it’s not for long.

#mummyblog #firstpost #parentingboys

The Game

Some days I’m convinced that all three of my children are part of a highly tactical game. Not only have they not shared the rules with me, but I suspect that the aim of this game is to keep me moving and alert at all times. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve been playing this for pretty much their whole lives, I’d assume that they are simply supporting the government in encouraging me to follow the first part of their current three part slogan. Despite being completely unaware of the official rules, I have established the following:

  1. Points are awarded for converting a simple task into a chaotic one.
  2. There is no finish square. The game is ongoing.
  3. Children play as a team. Usually they tag in and tag out at select moments to lead Mummy into a false sense of security.
  4. Usually children take turns, but they regularly alter the order of play to provide maximum confusion.
  5. If at any point, Mummy appears calm and is danger of either completing a job or finishing a sentence, then immediate action must be taken by one of them.
  6. You win bonus points by throwing yourself on the floor.

This morning my children were definitely playing. I was feeling super positive when I woke up this morning. This feeling of optimism was maintained for at least the first six minutes of the day. Then youngest son played his first move: the cry and wriggle. This is where you cry and refuse to be comforted. The louder the better – this way you have more chance of waking your brothers. You don’t want milk, you don’t want to play with your toys and you don’t want cuddles. You do want to be held in a standing position, in the kitchen, with a plastic spoon. It only took an hour or so for Mummy to establish this and make her comeback.

Eldest son wasn’t hanging around though, and quickly made his move: the whine and stall. This involves taking a standard situation, such as putting your socks on then adding more drama to it than you’d expect from an Eastenders Christmas special. He played well, successfully delaying us just long enough to mean he got to take bike to school instead of walking, but not so long that he would miss any of his cherished school time. While my eldest was was having a tantrum about not wanting to wear his raincoat (on a rainy day), his siblings were being saintly. Youngest son smiled sweetly at me as if to say that he would never sulk like that (conveniently forgetting a moment earlier) and middle son was ridiculously obliging and polite, whilst simultaneously providing a running commentary about the good things he was doing in contrast to his naughty big brother.

After an extended school run, complete with mini adventure, I took middle son to his beloved playball session. Within minutes of starting, he decided to take his turn: the squawking magnet. This move is one of his personal favourites and involves getting as close to Mummy as possible (parents aren’t entitled to their own share of oxygen after all) and forgetting how to use any sort of independence. It starts simple, you simply run over to Mummy every 2 minutes or so at full speed – just to see if you can catch her off guard and knock her to the ground – a loving type of rugby tackle. Around this point, his voice goes all high pitched and instead of using standard sentences, he precedes everything he says with the term ‘Mama’, in a manner which only his baby brother would be proud of. It then progresses to Mummy needing to be within 30 cm of you at all times. This is particularly difficult when Mummy blends in amongst a group of preschoolers in much the same way as a shark would blend in amongst the goldfish in your fish bowl. It also makes running, jumping and striking a tennis ball rather tricky. Finally, he moved on to the third stage, refusal to comply with any instruction and expecting everything to be done for him – perfectly acceptable when you are 4 months old but a touch mortifying when you’re 4 years old.

Luckily for me, breaks in play are as essential in this game as they are in an extended version of monopoly. Therefore the boys are currently back to their lovely selves. One is playing beautifully on his own, one is exploring the room managing to insert only toys in his mouth and one is at school – possibly doing maths – his happy place.

The search for the underground house.

With the husband working shifts, I’ve found that adventures during lock down are like buses. You haven’t been on one for a while, then they all come together. Being able to use the car to visit to new places has really made a difference. We are exploring different locations again and it’s exciting. Driving somewhere pretty to avoid people is much more fun than simply ignoring the locals!

On this occasion we went to Catherington Downs – as a child this doubled up as my ‘extended’ back garden. It would appear to be a happy place for my children too. There was joy on their faces as they ran around in circles. Also, many possible directions to explore in: bumpy tracks, steep slopes, narrow twisty paths and overgrown walkways. I let the boys choose our route. After releasing an initial bout of energy, eldest son made reference to ‘going home’ so we opted for a tactic that my parents had deployed when I was young. I had a rainbow striped teddy bear when I was very small. Prior to my gorilla obsession, it was probably the stuffed animal that I’d loved the most. Therefore any talk of ‘Rainbow Ted’ was automatically of interest to me. Like my son, I also refused to walk anywhere ‘for fun’. The point of going for a walk was to get somewhere and on so many occasions we’d just end up back where we started. My parents introduced a neverending search for ‘Teddys Mummy’s house’. What had previously been a boring walk was now a vitally important quest! Being close by to where I grew up prompted this memory and like so many previously adopted parenting strategies, I stole this one too.

Eldest son has had two bunny rabbit plush toys since he was tiny (one blue and one white), imaginatively named ‘Blue Bunny’ and ‘White Bunny’. So our adventure became a search for Bunnies Mummy’s house. Luckily for us, rabbits are native to the English countryside, unlike Grizzly, Polar, American Black or even rainbow bears. This meant we were able to convert our adventure into a nature trail too, hunting for plants Bunny’s Mummy may have eaten, examining partially dug out areas of the hill and investigating the position of perfectly spherical rabbit droppings. I felt like I was trying to track something on the ‘Lost’ island – if you remember that television series. The excitement was back! Who’d have thought that a detailed examination of grass, dirt and excrement could be so much fun?

Our search led us to a wooded area where we encountered a strange looking tree that appeared to point across a lane and up another field. After establishing that it had a public footpath through the middle we set off in that direction, assuming that Bunny’s Mummy had left a clue for us. Every time we reached a gate we also had the added thrill of ‘getting into the airlock’ using only Mummy’s feet to open it. This made an excellent disguise from the standard response of avoiding touching due to the threat of Covid-19. Upon reaching the meadow, we quickly established that this was triggering the husband’s hayfever. (Interestingly, when we were out driving the day afterwards, middle son would ask “Daddy, are you going to sneeze?” every time we drove past a yellow field.) At the top, there was much to be discovered and a beautiful view but we still hadn’t found what we were searching for.

It was all a bit too much halfway through the return journey and between us, the husband and I ended up carrying all three small people back up the incline on the other side. Then Daddy made a momentous discovery! Below a lonely bush the ground had been disturbed. But this was was not like previous sightings. Here, the divot led to a burrow, which let to a potential warren and the home of Blue Bunny’s Mummy. We’d found it! A good job too given that this unexpected discovery led to the boys suddenly being empowered to motor up the final bank, renewing their energy levels just enough to forget they’d insisted on being carried only 5 minutes before. In fact, holding Mummy’s hand for that last section of the walk was all middle son needed to get him back to the car.

If you go down to the woods today…

The exercise of choice for my boys at the moment appears to be cycling around the block. Ours is not a very big block. As much as I love fresh air, it can get monotonous. The boys seem to like perfecting their route though. Add in the extra fun ‘social distancing’ element – when you see someone and call out ‘person coming’, then you all turn around and go around the block in the other direction – you can find yourself roaming the same four corners at least ten times in quick succession. The house on the corner has a flagpost. The excitement about which flag might be flying is surpassed only by the discussion on the subject every time we pass.

With Daddy not at work yesterday, we decided to go for an adventure at our local wooded area instead – a welcome change. We looked a bit odd. We’d all worn shorts but the sunshine had been deceptive, so grabbing the jumpers nearest the front door seemed sensible. Except eldest son had found a jacket that clashed impressively with his shorts and middle son and I had selected long woollen cardigans – not the best choice to complement the rest of our outfits. Perhaps what completed the image was our footwear. I’d just washed the boys shoes, so only their wellies were available. I elected to wear fluffy walking boots, after all we were walking. Husband was thoroughly embarrassed by us but luckily slightly reassured knowing that we wouldn’t be going close enough to anyone else for them to notice our bizarre mix of garments.

Within a few minutes of wandering we’d found a stream. Disgruntled that their game of pooh sticks had been unsuccessful (due to the water level being so shallow), they played at finding different ways to cross it instead. When they both ended up in the water, I silently commended myself on taking their normal shoes out of the equation. That was until husband pointed out that at least one of the Wellington boots leaked! I was fully expecting eldest son to want to leave immediately, as he can’t bear wearing damp clothing. Thankfully, he was distracted by a fairytale character that he’d found pinned to a tree. Onwards we ventured.

The area isn’t that large. Normally when we visit, we stick to the paths but on this occasion we ‘off-roaded’. As a result, it seemed a lot larger. We even lost track of where we were, before identifying the sound of the main road to reestablish our position. Each time a new person was in sight, we’d hide behind trees and trek through the undergrowth in order to make a secret pathway where no one else would be. Although at one point we were spotted – need to work on the camouflage.

Daily exercise complete. Fallen trees climbed on. Childhood unplugged.

Pure imagination

I’m sat nursing youngest son while the sunshine beams through my window. Upstairs I can hear the conversation between my big two as they play. Currently they are putting on different voices for assorted underwater characters, as they set off on a mission across the playroom. No additional entertainment required.

It’s no secret that my children have always preferred structure over imaginative play. For them, the more rules a game had, the better it was. Eldest son in particular, has always found creative games difficult. He regularly informs me that a grown up is required for maximum enjoyment. Lego is strictly for use with numbered instructions only. Train characters remake Thomas the tank engine plot lines. All games are better with a Mummy shaped audience.

Middle son does play happily using his own ideas but prefers company. Like so many children, he is always eager to share his ideas, so Mummy would be required to sit and watch the paw patrol assist the octonauts in getting through the spooky woods (for an hour or so). I appreciate this sounds like I’m making up some feeble excuse for not getting my housework done. It is, in fact, the reality. Well it was.

This lockdown seems to have changed all that. The big two children appear to enjoy playing together, using their imaginations and combining ideas and without an audience. The irony of it is that I’m so proud of them I almost want to watch.

Edit: I drafted most of this post in the early part of last week. We’ve had a minor regression in patience skills since then. Facepalm.

New found appreciation for our garden.

I’m not a gardener. Plants have a habit of dying on me. Whenever I’ve been given flowers or seeds as gifts in the past, I’ve had instant guilt. It’s like I’ve let them down, like they deserve a better life. Therefore my idea of gardening has primarily been removing weeds from our “picturesque” patio (think large slabs of uneven concrete). The larger, more destructive jobs in our garden, such as kicking down a wall or two, shearing the large bramble bushes back to nothing and taking a sledgehammer to the old rotten shed were completed, but general maintenance not so much!

It used to be my little gardening friend who inspired me to at least try, However, these efforts saw me getting no further than the garden centre, where eldest son was promptly distracted by the soft play. Then the boys got older and started taking an interest. Both eldest and middle son have previously come home excited from preschool, with their homemade bird feeders. We lovingly positioned them on the plum tree. They were quickly abandoned (really hoping we made at least one bird happy in the meantime). The boys’ grandparents live in a flat – with no garden – so last year they started an allotment in ours instead (growing raspberries, rhubarb and blueberries). Suddenly, we had two avid gardeners in our midst, as the boys insisted on going out to pick fruit daily. I would be presented with a bowl containing five and a half berries and I’d be expected to bake something instantly! Then reminded to buy ice cream. That was last summer.

Now we find ourselves in strange times. The weather has been beautiful, yet the only outdoor space we can go is our own garden. I told eldest boy about food shortages in shops, so he is dutifully watering the bare raspberry plants. Middle son also joined in – his input was to share his water with the plum tree by pouring half his cup on to its trunk. Further learning about how trees take in water is required; in the meantime the tree in our garden looked like a passing dog has had a wee up against it!

We’ve also got the boys a climbing frame as they are missing the park already. Their Nanny has been very generous. She knows how active they are. The frame itself is pretty much going to take up the entire garden (minus the allotment). First it requires assembling though. The guide time is 6 hours for construction so I’m aiming for completion in 6 days. That said, 6 weeks is probably a more accurate target for us! The husband likes to procrastinate and the children like to make frequent interruptions. First job: level the garden area it will be stood on.

So despite looking like something the Groundforce team could make a week’s worth of episodes out of, we’ve spent a lot of time in the garden this week. I get out a few garden toys, some chalk and their old bikes and the big ones seem to amuse themselves far better than they ever do playing indoors! Even youngest son seems content enough to sit on a picnic blanket and play. A combination of helping level the soil in the corner and a rock hunt led to an idea for this morning’s project: an Easter garden. Middle son found some sticks, which I tied together using an old daffodil leaf to make the crosses. Youngest son kindly lent us the large toy lorry that he’d been eating, to transport stones and mud across the garden to our masterpiece. Middle son had already began selecting flowers by the handful. (In this respect it’s probably a good thing that the only ones growing in our backyard are wild flowers.) Eldest son took the construction process seriously, he even went to the trouble of running inside to get his children’s bible. He considered it essential that we pay attention to detail when selecting a suitable stone for the front of the empty tomb.

Garden now complete. It would appear I am capable of gardening after all – when the garden in question is no more than 12 inches square.

When the harsh realities of life catch up with you.

If anyone ever needed evidence to justify why we have maternity leave, I’ve probably gathered a significant amount in the last fortnight. Home schooling – whilst enjoyable at times – resembles a baptism of fire once you add the baby into the equation. Youngest son has a habit of crying when middle son and eldest son are thoroughly engaged in an activity. Of course, Mummy is not allowed to go and comfort him; that would result in them doing everything in their power to disengage themselves in aforementioned activity.

The boys were excited about about learning at home. There were two reasons for this. 1) They chose their own class name. We are lobsters class for those of you who may be interested. 2) Middle son finally gets to achieve his lifelong dream of being in his big brother’s class at school. Some of the most successful activities we’ve done so far include our senses game and scavenger hunt, our giant mixed media food table, our minibeast hunt (with obstacles), and our making our sequences.

Middle son is still preschool age, so we’ve had to find the balance between basic pencil control and letter sounds and his brother’s investigations that he’s so keen to be a part of. Eldest son constantly insists on ‘harder’ work. Then there’s my youngest one, who grizzles when he wants a bit of a cuddle. Pleasing all three is certainly more of a differentiation challenge than I’m used to. On one occasion, I did attempt to sit baby on my lap at the table so I could interact with all three. Then there was the blue crayon incident. It started when I became aware of a wet patch on my arm. A quick inspection confirmed baby dribble; except this had a significant blue tinge to it. Youngest son has very stealthily selected a crayon and is munching on it. He looks like a smurf with a slush puppy. The hand is blue. The mouth is blue. The tongue is blue. And all this in a time period less than 30 seconds.

Perspective

Does anyone else feel like their head can’t absorb much more information at the moment, yet have a constant urge to check BBC news anyway? Like the rest of the world, we are facing new territory. People are scared. People are out of their comfort zone. I’ve never experienced anything like this is my lifetime. It’s been likened by some to wartime. But unlike any major nationwide fight in the past, this time we have technology to stay connected.

It should all be really positive. I’ve been invited to a whole host of facebook support groups. It is a beautiful thing that everybody wants to work together to help people in need. Yet, the more time I spend reading them, the more ‘down’ I feel. Aside from the minor debates breaking out from differing views, I feel swamped by hints, tips and suggestions. The latest big news is regarding schools being closed. Being a teacher, I was feeling relatively prepared and had a basic idea in my head of what my children would respond well to and what was a reasonable expectation for myself -when constantly being accompanied by a demanding baby who doesn’t like to be put down. Even so, as I worked through these lists of never ending suggestions, I began to feel totally overwhelmed. What if I missed something really important? Should I be categorising and bookmarking these ideas? Subscribing to free channels and online resources is all very well, but how should I weigh up the best option? Sometimes even the greatest of intentions can be damaging. I have therefore made the decision not to publish my remaining challenges until all this dies down a little bit and people feel less pressure to keep up.

The same is true for other social media updates. Would I be aware of the ‘Shopmageddon’ situation if I hadn’t seen the pictures of empty shelves? Probably not. Neither would I have read a range of hurtful comments aimed at people who were just trying to be supportive. It really makes us aware how different we all are and that other people’s opinions (which differ to our own) are not wrong, just from a different perspective. Everyone’s situation is different – we need to respect that. My step grandfather sums this up perfectly with his poem ‘Perspective’ so I decided to publish it here as food for thought.

PERSPECTIVE

The darkness is much darker when the light has just gone out,

the thought of thirst more frightening in the middle of a drought,

a sudden noise more startling in the silence of the night,

a rough sea much more threatening when land is out of sight.

But too bright lights may hurt the eyes and blindness even come,

while floods and torrents harm the land and may bring death to some,

vicious noise may numb the mind so man no more may think,

a boat that hits the shore too hard may very quickly sink.

The darkness then is softer when the stars are seen to shine,

no fears of thirst remain when rain refreshes every vine,

night noises are not noticed in the chorus of the dawn,

a seaman’s fear is ended when back to port he’s borne.

JOHN SMART (written 1999)

So just for now, I’m going to trust my instincts, not feel obliged to read every single post and attempt to return to my optimistic state.

How to use your excess toilet roll.

While I was mulling over the ‘chaotic moments’ from the day at school pick up time, another mummy made a very good point, “Today you can get away with anything. No one is going to notice that your child’s cycle helmet is still hanging on the pushchair or that your kids are screaming at you across the street because everyone is too busy enlarging their stash of loo rolls.”

An excellent piece of advice. It led me to contemplate what everybody is going to do with their toilet paper collection in due course. There’s only so much you can use for traditional bottom wiping. I’m thinking, with the schools set to close imminently, people are planning lists of Charmin Ultra themed activities. Maybe these include the following:

1) Building a fort (or possibly full sized palace) using toilet rolls.

2) Making an extra wide pair of toilet roll binoculars to see if there’s anyone queuing outside the local ASDA.

3) Using the stuff as modern wallpaper and get the kids to decorate the entire house.

4) Reliving their youth by screwing up lumps of wet toilet paper and throwing it onto the ceiling to see if it will stick.

5) Using the rolls as valuable currency to gamble with while playing poker.

6) Filming their own Andrex style advert with the assistance of the family puppy.

In the meantime I’m preparing to return to teaching sooner than expected. I’m only going to have a class of 2 (plus a baby), but I’ve drawn up the timetable already. I’m aware this is completely unnecessary for homeschooling but I like planning and my children thrive on routine, so I’m keeping to what they know as much as possible. Eldest son has already told me he’s looking forward to Mummy maths lessons.

In other news: I ‘ve been interviewed about my blogging journey so far. The interview will appear on sophiejoan.co.uk on Monday 6th April at 6p.m. You can follow Sophie on Instagram: @_sophiejoan_ or Twitter: @SophChennell

My toddler’s 100 day breakfast challenge (Part 2/5)

Day 21: Stickers. This was a challenge eldest son completed with Daddy. I don’t really know what it involved nor do I have any pictures – largely because I have pittakionophobia. However, it seemed only fair that he was able to experience playing with these.

Day 22: Washing up. He explored forces with the sponge – twisting and squeezing. He played with the bubbles in the water. He had lots of fun splashing about. But most importantly, he did Mummy’s job for her 😉

Day 23: Sensible meals. Using the tummy ache games, I asked eldest son to select food that he thought would go well together. We did some early learning about healthy eating too. When I repeat this with youngest son I’m planning on getting the play food out too.

Day 24: Aluminium foil. We investigated. We used the foil as a mirror, tore it, folded it and rolled it into little balls. We looked at which piece was the largest and which one was the shiniest.

Day 25: Letters of his name. I can’t take any credit for this idea. A friend of mine – who was following my challenges – sent me the link and I couldn’t resist. Preparation took much longer for this one but eldest son spent significantly longer using it too. Hopefully the pictures are fairly self explanatory.

Day 26: Shreddie sculptures. This was basically Jenga but without the bricks. It was inspired by the Cheerios challenge that had gone viral on Facebook that year.

Day 27: Matching letter shapes and sounds. We played snap with the letter cards then we saw if there were any of our magnetic letters that also matched.

Day 28: Tower building/Turn taking. It was eldest son versus Daddy for this challenge. We had the excitement of who could build the highest tower but it was all about learning to wait for the other person before you could have your go. Lots of repetition required for this one.

Day 29: Subtraction rhymes. As eldest son was unable to join in with the singing we built a visual picture of some of the number rhymes for him and he was involved by physically removing bottles from the wall. We also playing using a tree and apples. “On the farmer’s apple tree, five red apples I can see, some for you and some for me, take one apple from the tree…”

Day 30: Dancing sultanas. I gave eldest son a glass of lemonade and asked him to add some sultanas. I just loved watching his face when he saw them move about on their own. He was so amazed. Little things

Day 31: Sock sorting. Another sneaky way of getting my toddler to do my housework here! I gave him all the dry socks from the line and asked him to find the matching ones to sort into pairs.

Day 32: Playdough worms and snakes 🐍. This involved lots of rolling. I helped him make the tails and put on little eyes, he made them slither about.

Day 33: Animal rescue. Eldest son expressed genuine concern when he realised that lion and hippopotamus were stuck in the jelly quicksand. Luckily he saved them both using only two spoons and a tea tool.
P.S. Jelly quicksand is tasty.

Day 34: Treasure hunt. In contrast to our previous sensory activities, eldest son loved letting the rice run between his fingers (much better than using the spoon). Not quite sure if he understood the concept of finding money but the coins he uncovered were fun to put in a bowl, fun to clink together and fun to line up.

Day 35: Saucepan music. Eldest son loved today’s challenge (the neighbours probably didn’t). He found lots of ways to make music 🎶 I forgot to photograph the colander flute. The baby (middle son) joined in today. He mostly preferred to eat the drumsticks. Clearly he felt they were chicken drumsticks 🍗!

Day 36: Fastenings. Eldest son made firm friends the the caterpillar 🐛. His favourite fastening to open was the zip and his favourite one to match up with a real world object was the shoelace.

Day 37: Acting out a story. Eldest son liked matching the animals and people to the pictures in the book. He was a little more fussy than Noah as to who he allowed on the ark though. One of the poor giraffes had to lie down to fit and an elephant fell of the back. My boy also used his signing to show the weather on the page when the rain came pouring down.
Middle son didn’t think there should be two of each animal so tried to eat one of the bears.

Day 38: This challenge involved taking it in turns with Nanny and Daddy to pick an object out of a covered box. Eldest son then had to sort them into their groups. Animals, trains, cars and shapes. He really enjoyed it.

Day 39. Eldest son’s challenge was to find out what Daddy and Nanny had hidden in the duplo box and how to get it out. 😌He was very quick at the challenge this morning but he liked looking through the windows to see what he could see inside.

Day 40: Memory. I broke all the rules for this challenge. Eldest son had an early breakfast, before I was home, so we completed the challenge a little later 🙁
The challenge involved hiding objects behind a screen then adding a new one at a time. Eldest son had to identify which the new object was – basically Kim’s game in reverse.

My toddler’s 100 day breakfast challenge (Part 1/5)

When eldest son was a toddler and middle son was a baby, I used to find days could be overwhelming. When I stimulated my toddler’s little brain early on in the morning, it some how ended up being less chaotic. He also wanted to be ‘moving around’ all the time so it was a good opportunity to try sit down activities. That’s when breakfast challenges were born. I knew my child had a shorter attention span than other children his age. Therefore, the aim was to try and create/find engaging activities that would require less time to prepare than they entertained him for. He was also non verbal at the time but had excellent receptive language so we also looked for opportunities for him to communicate his thoughts. The challenges we used were a combination of my own ideas, friends’ recommendations and some internet research.

Day 1: Car shaped ice cubes. At age 2, eldest boy loved anything with wheels so it seemed fitting to have a go at making these. He liked to push them across the table and loved it when they started moving faster (as the ice melted). He was not as keen on how cold they were.

Day 2: Magazine destruction. A really simple one – I gave him a selection of old magazine and he practised turning the pages, pointing out objects I asked him about. We also had a go at tearing. As my child refused to mark make, I needed to find other ways to improve his fine motor skills.

Day 3: Animal tracks. We used different coloured Play-doh (to make the ground) and a selection of plastic animals. Eldest son enjoyed making footprints with the animals. I made some trails for him and he had to guess which animal made them.

Day 4: Shaving foam. This was a sensory activities that only required a tray and some foam. We learnt that our child will probably have a beard when he’s older. He really didn’t like touching the stuff.

Day 5: Story stones. We had a selection of rocks that were painted for him by his Auntie. (If you have older siblings then they could paint the rocks in advance instead.) I asked eldest son questions e.g. Which one might you find in the sea? He would choose the stones accordingly. He then pointed out five favourites and ordered them, allowing Mummy to make each one feature in a home made story.

Day 6: Balls, sausages and arches. Out came the Play-doh again for this challenge. We worked on rolling out sausages and the more advanced skill of using two hands to roll out the balls. The activity became child led and he opted to aim the balls at the sausages, so I took this idea further and bent them into arches for him.

Day 7: Wheels or no wheels? We presented eldest son with a selection of his own toys and a hoop. I asked him to find the toys which had wheels and put them in the hoops. It was interesting to watch him checking for wheels by spinning them.

Day 8: Pasta and play dough. I gave my boy different types of pasta. He made the very quick discovery that dry pasta does not taste as nice as its cooked counterpart. I showed him how different parts of the pasta leave different imprints. He then had a go at making his own sculpture.

Day 9: Fuzzy felts. I loved watching him dress the people. He was good with positioning shoes, but put hats on first and was then unsure where to put the hair. Next, he placed trousers on upside down. The skirt was a tricky item. He had no idea what to do with it!

Day 10: Faces in the mirror. We used a portable bathroom mirror. I asked him to show me a happy face or an angry face. He found this very tricky. We then used the opportunity to practise action songs and pointing out facial body parts.

Day 11: Colour sort twister. Another selection of items and a twister board. He organised. I watched. Interestingly (over 3 years later), my boys had the twister set out in their playroom and recreated this activity independently – except they were just sorting trains. They have a lot of trains!

Day 12: Finger Puppets. We lay out a range of finger puppets. I put a silly voice on to talk to eldest son when he wiggled his finger. This activity very quickly descended into the puppets being on my fingers and tickling him behind the ears and chin.

Day 13: Cake cases. This was another one designed to practise developing his fine motor skills. Eldest son needed to separate the cake cases and place one over each ‘hump’. The tray was then turned over and this time he was trying to put the cases in each ‘hole’ the right way round. We also had a look at making repeating patterns with the blue and pink cases, although I’m sure most people would use it as a good excuse to start baking.

At this point we went on a family holiday to Spain but decided to continue with the challenge. We were now eating breakfast outside so that’s why the next activities are outdoor ones. It was particularly useful for the following flour challenge, as mess was avoided.

Day 14: Flour. Like with the shaving foam, eldest son was not keen to get his fingers dirty by making lines and patterns with his fingers in the flour. However, once we introduced the ‘trains in the snow game’ he loved it. He was happy to play with this for a while, content to manipulate the flour as long as he was using a spoon or other object.

Day 15: Sticking with glue. We used a few prepared pictures from the old magazines (used on day 2) and let him arrange them as he wished. The hardest point of this one was developing an understanding that the glue goes on the back of the picture. In the end, we encouraged him to put the glue on the background and then hunt for where he’d made it sticky in order to attach his picture.

Day 16: Bottle tops. Being in Spain, we were drinking a lot of liquids, including bottled water. This produced a lot of lids. You can do all manner of things with these, such as sorting or stacking or even decorating a caterpillar.

Day 17: Circles, triangles and oblongs. A little bit more preparation was required for this one. Luckily for me, my boys have a Grandma who is amused by cutting out circle, triangle and oblong shapes. We asked our boy to match up each shape in the correct place.

Day 18: Foam tray. We equipped eldest son with a golf tee and he used it to make dents in a food tray. It was an excellent excuse to eat the food on it. To make the activity more interesting, we drew a letter on the tray and he tried to make his marks somewhere on that letter.

Day 19: Coloured pegs. This was just a round piece of card with different coloured sections. While hanging out the towels on the washing line, we gave an assortment of clothes pegs to eldest son and asked him to peg them onto the matching colour. He found it quite challenging manipulating the right part of the peg but we were hopeful it would be useful in the future for his handwriting.

Day 20: Counting. The bottle tops came out again. Our son has had a love of numbers from well before he could say their names, so he grouped them together: one lid, two lids, three lids, four lids and five lids.

To be continued…