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.
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.
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.
I’ve decided that my children wriggle too much. Even when they are playing a favourite game or watching a favourite program they can’t sit still. I can glance over at something else for a second and when I turn back again they’ve moved. This can be particularly amusing when they are asleep and we go into their room to whisper goodnight. We’ve discovered them in all sorts of silly poses. One day they might be curled up in a little ball like a cat (foot end), while a teddy has occupied the prime position in the main part of the bed. Then the next day limbs might be everywhere, an arm draped across the face and a leg half hanging out the side of the bed.
So when their Grandma won a photoshoot and decided to take the boys along I wasn’t especially optimistic about getting them to stay still long enough for a good shot. For once we had adults outnumbering the children so we decided to make a day trip out of it anyway. The studio was a hit with the boys instantly. Clearly, in their minds it resembled a play room and they were quick to notice a selection of toys on a shelf. These proved to be quite a distraction. When you are a small person, why wouldn’t you prefer to look at the shelving unit then the camera?
Trying to get an image of the three boys together was interesting. Eldest one was having difficulty interpreting the photographer’s instructions, middle one was pulling peculiar faces to get a reaction and youngest one could only be positioned for a second or so before he realised he wasn’t being held and needed to cry accordingly. At one point I was singing him ‘The Grand old Duke of York’ – which makes him very smiley – then attempting to back away quickly after the lyric ‘down’. It was usually in this spilt second when one of his older brothers happened to have an itchy nose (or make a detailed exploration of the nostril). They weren’t particularly keen to interact with each other either – almost like they knew the whole thing was staged. There are occasions when my boys show genuine affection to each other – of course on these occasions I either don’t have a camera to hand or I’m not fast enough to capture the moment before it passes.
Trying to get an image of our whole family was even more of a challenge. When you’re supposed to be in the picture yourself its really hard to remember to smile and look at the camera yourself before checking what the children are up to. It meant relying on the Grandparents to tell the boys a joke. Unfortunately their Grandad’s idea of humour would be a bit beyond them and of course Grandma couldn’t think of anything quickly enough. We resorted to calling out random food items instead. Sometimes nothing beats a good old fashioned call of ‘cheese’.
Despite all of this on top of multiple clothing changes, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the results. Now we just need the boys to sit still long enough to see our chosen photos themselves.
There’s very little a warm bath can’t fix. When he’s got a brother to play with, marshmallow bubble bath, Noah’s Ark, the Octonauts and some new squirter toys, middle son is in his happy place. Five minutes earlier the story was rather different.
Taking every opportunity to use his new bike, middle son had cycled up the hill (without stopping) on the school run. He’d then attended his playball class and run around like a crazy thing, then I’d taken him swimming. He’d practically completed a triathlon and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! After allowing only a short period of time to enjoy calm and tranquil activities like stories, mazes and spot the difference, he was keen to be on the move again so it was get the bicycle back out again for a pit stop at Auntie’s house before the afternoon school run. As expected, the rain was getting heavier – especially to mark the occasion.
Despite everyone getting absolutely drenched (with the exception of youngest son – who was sensible enough to remain under his raincover for the duration), we all seemed in good spirits. Then middle son suddenly stopped. He’d worked out that he was cold and the amount of energy he’d used throughout the day was beginning to catch up with him. He wasn’t moving – no matter what. It was kind of like playing musical statues with a child when they’ve already won the game, but they still refuse to move in case you are trying to trick them.
After retrieving an item from his Auntie’s place, it should have been a short, simple return journey. Not to be. Middle son still hadn’t moved. I was starting to wonder if he has shares in a superglue company or something. He wanted me to push him home. Not an easy feat when A) You’re over six foot tall and the bicycle in question is significantly nearer the ground B) You’re also pushing a pushchair leaving only one hand free to support the bike C) The bicycle does not have stabilisers so is wobbling all over the place at the slow speed I was attempting to tug it along. Luckily for me, eldest son was in ‘giving citizen’ mode and obligingly surrounded his scooter to his younger brother and cycled the bike home for him. Now the dripping statue – that was my child – was safely on three wheels (with a high handle) and could easily be transported home with a single hand.
By the time we arrived home, we resembled a family who’d decided to go swimming fully clothed – with coats on. After the earlier swim and the more recent precipitation, the day seemed to be following an ‘aqua’ theme, so more water activities seemed the best course of action. Bath time it was – if only Mummy had time to relax in one of those!
Today we visited Winchester Science centre. We’re annual pass holders and were excited to take part in their special space activities. Of course, I asked my children to go to the toilet before we left, as all parents do prior to significant car journeys. Yet as soon as we arrived in the car park, middle son announced that he needed a wee. Luckily we happen to have a resident potty in the boot of the car, so I thought we were off to a pretty good start. I was feeling pretty brave. Brave enough to be in an occupied, public building with three boys (aged 5 and under) and without my other half. My logic was that, being eldest son’s INSET day meant that the school holidays hadn’t started for most people yet. As a result, it would be relatively quiet inside. How wrong I was. The queue went out the door and my eldest has the attention span of an ant. Apologies to the local ant colonies if I’ve made an unfair assumption about their species being impatient. Fortuitously, we were not completely alone, as we were meeting a friend and her children. She’d already made it past the entrance desk, so was able to intercept eldest son and divert him to the parachute exhibit, where I could see him from my position at the back of the train of people. He was already doing his jumpy, happy, dance (where the arms flail in all directions and the eyes light up). He loves this place – it’s so hands on.
If you discount my boys constantly running in opposite directions to investigate the next exciting science display, the trip was relatively uneventful. Until at one crucial point, while nursing youngest son, I became aware of middle boy doing a peculiar jig – involving a bit of wiggle and bit of a bottom shuffle. Recognising this as a sign of what was to come, I called him over and informed him that we were going to the toilet. Now. As I began detaching the baby from his latch, the middle boy disappeared – straight into the men’s loo. My boys do seem to prefer the male toilet. It possible that on this occasion it was selected on account of the door being painted orange. You may already have established from previous blog entries that middle child has an attraction to this particular colour. However it is more likely connected to the statement I have been told many times by my eldest, “Boys toilets are for boys and we are boys.” This is never an issue on family days out, when husband can go with them. But today husband wasn’t here. I quickly came up with a plan: send in eldest boy to check the coast was clear, so I could go in and assist. Getting his attention was the first hurdle – he gets easily distracted by buttons to push and levers to pull. I enlisted the assistance of my friend and her daughter to get his attention without losing sight of the bathroom door. Then I began explaining his ‘toilet mission’ to him, “This is important, you need to…”
I didn’t get any further because middle son had returned, pants and trousers still round his ankles, a huge smile on his face. “Mummy come and see my wee.” he announced proudly. Except he has no interest in showing me his ‘wees’. When you couple that with the fact that he hadn’t bothered to pull up his clothing, it became immediately clear that he was looking so pleased with himself because he had just deposited a turd. I took his hand and headed speedily for the ladies (despite his protests). I was told that there was nothing to see in there. I replied that yes, there was! Toilet paper was available. I also had no desire to view his excrement. Luckily we weren’t far from the toilets and so I didn’t have to escort him the entire distance of the centre.
Once inside, I became aware very quickly that I was still holding the baby. A quick thinking person might have left him with their friend, but in my haste and eagerness to remove my son’s bottom from the view of the unsuspecting general public; I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to bring youngest son’s pram to put him down in. I am therefore, very grateful to the amiable, old lady who held youngest son for me at such an angle that he was able to see Mummy (thereby avoiding a spontaneous bout of tears), while I assisted with the bottom wiping. I felt like we were doing the ‘walk of shame’ when we exited the toilets again, my face burning with embarrassment. I was reassured by my friend that very few people had actually noticed. In fairness, the man leaving the men’s toilets (shortly after my son had finished his poo) probably witnessed more than he’d bargained for, but he smiled in jest over in our direction – suggesting that he wasn’t offended and could probably see the funny side.
I’d love to write that the remainder of the trip was incident free. However, the suggestion of home time was accompanied by a tantrum from eldest boy who had no intention of leaving. That was until I used that ‘Mummy line’, suggesting he walks home instead (a line that you really hope they don’t agree to – because walking home was never realistically an option). He made it to the coat pegs, still crying his eyes out. A hug from his friend and all was well again. Temporarily. As we walked across the carpark, I requested the boys either held my hand or held onto the pushchair. Neither child normally appreciates holding Mummy’s hand. On this occasion they were both squabbling over it. I contemplated trying to wrap one of my arms through the bar at the top of the pushchair, so I could hold both the bigger two by the hand, while simultaneously trying to manoeuvre the pushchair with my knee. This kind of planning was completely unnecessary, when it became apparent that both boys wanted to hold my left hand. We compromised and eventually reached the serenity of the car. Overall an exhausting but very enjoyable day.