One of the challenges I’ve faced with my boys recently is: there is always one who feels very strongly against an activity the other two have agreed on.
For many, this wouldn’t be a problem at all – just let them all do their chosen activity. Those of you with multiple under 5s will know that this isn’t always a wise choice. One might request painting (with ALL the colours) downstairs, while the eldest and youngest opt to play with toys upstairs. Watching these two interact is often incredibly proud for me as their parent, but then there are days when it is far from enjoyable. On these occasions, the toy in question is either the type that baby can destroy like a wrecking ball in a building site, whilst simultaneously being hit by a steamroller; or the type that contains several hundred tiny, hazard like pieces, that you can just about save from the grip of a little hand, only to discover another missing and remain paranoid about where it went until it mysteriously reappears a fortnight later amongst the ‘Megablocks’ or ‘Paw Patrol’.
It would also be fair to assume that, with the current lockdown, they’d be keen to get outside. At any given moment in daylight, I would say this statement is true for 2/3 of them. The refuser varies, but the outcome is the same: it’s very complicated getting out for a short walk or scoot. I’ve had all manner of interesting ‘small child’ reasoning in the past week.
“I can’t go out there’s no socks in my drawer.” (Solution: “Have the pair in my hand.”)
“The clouds are the wrong colour.” (I think he was trying to make the point that it might rain.)
“But he got to press the button!” (It would appear that the most exciting part of going out on your scooter is opening the garage door. If you can’t do that, then all the enjoyment of an outing is gone. Absolutely no point going.)
If they wouldn’t go to exercise, the exercise had to come to them. I decided to combine the classic instruction game ‘Simon Says’ with the action game ‘Port Starboard’, I added a modern twist and included some current affairs for good measure. Plus, the new hybrid game succeeded in its mission: to both entertain and exhaust the children. To play, all you need is four pieces of paper. I wrote a word on each (school, shop, hotel and home), then blu tacked each of them to the four walls of your play space. Introducing ‘Boris says’: you run as fast as you can to the location you’re told to go to, but don’t get caught out by running there if Boris doesn’t tell you to. Great fun. For the first time, we are enjoying the rules. By the time we’re done, my four year old may even have learnt to read a handful of new words as a bonus. I believe that’s P.E. Reading and Politics done in the space of 10 minutes. As someone who is finding juggling homeschooling with stopping the 1 year old destroying the house challenging, I’ll take that as a success.
Note: Locations can be added/changed as new restrictions come into play. My boys were very enthusiastic to be the ‘caller’. Their early suggestions included: ‘Boris says do a handstand’ and ‘Boris says go to the toilet.’ So glad my children are not running the country right now, or we’d have some very crowded portaloos.
Often when we plan a family cycle somewhere new, the time seems to dissolve, leaving the husband unable to fit roof bars to the car and load up the bikes and accessories before we are due to be somewhere else. Today we were in a race to get out before the rain arrived and having been up most of the night with a baby who woke up at least six times. As a result, our plans to revisit the Meon Valley were shelved in favour of a local cycle.
Having previously explored the Queens Enclosure and Havant Thicket on multiple occasions, the new found bike path led us to Hurst Wood – a place I’d been totally unaware even existed until today.
The area was very pretty and tranquil despite its close proximity to the A3(M). There was a map board to navigate through the pathways, the odd tree roots to hop over and an exciting subway under the road to echo our voices. We found a little bridge across a stream – perfect for pooh sticks. Perhaps the most exciting find was a tree balance branch acting as an access to a rope swing.
Overall an enjoyable little cycle during which two things occurred to me:
1) Eldest son’s dungaree trousers seem to get shorter on the leg every time he wears them. They fitted last week now they are barely past his knee. My first tip: Never go cycling in dungarees.
2) How was I unaware of this pleasant little track when I’ve lived in the area for 10 years? My second tip: Adventure locally, you might surprise yourself.
It wouldn’t be a family outing without one of my boys doing something a bit silly. Middle son obliged. He decided to dramatically tip himself sideways off his bike halfway up a hill to ensure that we had realised he found the incline exhausting. Now to find a way to remove the blackberry stains from his clothing…
My audacious offspring and I fancied exploring a new part of the Meon Valley trail so picked one of Hampshire’s beautiful little villages that appeared to be located nearby. I made several attempts to find a friend to join the boys. We found someone, who apparently likes to partake in traditional, but wacky outdoor activities as much as my children do.
Upon arrival I realised that my phone battery had only 4% charge left. The phone can be very unpredictable at times, it has been known to last an entire evening on 1% but is just as likely to randomly turn itself off when opening an app to meet up with the husband. Navigation would need to be completed the old fashioned way. Conveniently, we discovered a map at the village church. As a result, we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, until our friends arrived – equipped with a professional looking Ordinance Survey map.
One dead end and two downpours later, we found a route onto the disused railway line and began our adventure. Middle son reached new levels of speed on his bicycle with a new face to compete against; while eldest son tried to cover up the fact he couldn’t keep up, by attempting to cycle up a ridiculous steep bank – a challenge I’m sure even superman would struggle with. This was the first of many pit stops before the discovery of some stairs leading down to the river and its crystal clear waters.
The boys gradually shed clothing as assorted items were splashed or walked on by pesky siblings. I attempted to tidy them under the pushchair to salvage them from from future unfortunate events. What I achieved, was a a forehead full of stinging nettle as I bent down to retrieve them.
Having enjoyed our lunch sat in a muddy puddle (where the water was churned up against the bank then splashed onto the walkway), a lady passing by enquired why we weren’t sat at the picnic area. As it turns out, this was only a stones throw away. It was our next destination. Middle son managed to slip on the way. His only remaining item of clothing was now both wet and muddy! Tip of the day: always carry a towel.
On too many occasions husband and I have said to each other, “How is it they have a playroom full of toys, yet the only things that take their interest are Daddy’s watch, a roll of toilet paper and the kitchen cutlery?”
I’ve narrowed it down to the following possibilities:
1) Things are more interesting if they are in front of you.
2) Things are more interesting if you haven’t seen them for a while.
3) Things are more interesting if you see someone else using them.
4) Things are more interesting if they don’t require any effort to start a game with them.
5) Things are more interesting if you know you aren’t allowed them.
A friend of mine set up all her duplo for her children and watched them play for hours. I decided this was an excellent idea and combined it with the idea of toy rotation. Every evening, after the boys are in bed I set up a different arrangement of toys for them. When they wake up in the morning they have a game ready to go, giving mummy some quality ‘lie in’ time. Well in theory that is. In reality, she is usually removing youngest son from the many peculiar predicaments he finds himself in.
This method gives them the chance to play with toys that they haven’t used for a little while. It also gives them new ideas for ways to use objects e.g. wooden blocks as garages (instead of car tracks or stacking towers). The best bit though is designated time to watch them play – something I find fascinating.
I’ve now set myself a challenge to try a different set up every weekday this summer (excluding the week we’re on holiday). It’s a great way of addressing points 1 to 4 (of the list above) at the same time. If anybody has any tips for how to get round point 5 then I’d love to hear them.
My children love to explore. As I’ve mentioned before, they’re just not keen on walking any distance in order begin an exploration. Yesterday, we were only going to the nearby woodland, but ended up having to begin a scavenger hunt outside the front door to motivate them enough for the ‘long’ 400 yard trek.
Walking on its own is “just boring.” All walks must be converted to an adventure. Perhaps the simplest type of conversion is by adding an object hunt. I’m often feeling lazy and choose a nature one from online (but equally you can make your own seasonal one themed to the area you are visiting).
When going for a coastal walk, I find myself appreciating the scenery far more when I’m half looking out for random boats, benches, seagulls and ferries sailing towards the horizon. Eldest son is quite inquisitive so we often end up discussing some items from the list at length – such as the black lighthouse (that isn’t actually a lighthouse but an old mill). There have been other conversations such as the one about sea barriers and flooding; it only occurs to you later that your child is likely to announce something along the lines of, “I know what a dyke is.” It’s then you cross your fingers and hope that this happens when looking at a picture of sea defences and not as a random announcement.
Another favourite of ours is a number hunt. For this, you need nothing but a sheet of paper with numbers on, although a pre prepared hundred square is even more convenient. This is suitable for any walk around town or simply when you are trying to get from A to B in a suburban area. In the words of the CBeebies show, ‘Numberblocks’, numbers really are everywhere: telegraph poles, road signs, houses and bus stops are all excellent places to start searching.
If you have a bit more time, or walk the same route often, you can generate clues for the children on the way. This is quickly becoming a hobby of mine and now I can’t help but spot different shapes or coloured mini landmarks to become part of a treasure trail.
I often think how great it is that my boys are close in age, as they share many interests. However this often means many disputes too. Today they elected to bake a cake but completely disagreed about which cake to make.
My solution was as follows:
1) Let child 1 choose the picture/recipe they fancy. Let child 2 choose the colour and edit recipe to include closest matching food colouring.
2) Take it in turns to press the ‘reset’ button on the weighing scales.
3) They get a wooden spoon each. If you only own one wooden spoon in your kitchen, I suggest entering a quiz or competition (and losing).
4) Divide the top of the cake using Kit Kat fingers so they can decorate their own section.
Child 1 chose blueberries (because it matched the picture). Child 2 chose banana and sweets. I went for strawberry and chocolate chips. That left us with one quarter left. Baby is too little for cake so we let Grandma decide on the last topping. She was most unoriginal with her idea, copying my strawberries but leaving off the chocolate element.
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.
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.
My children dislike walking. Or so they tell me. It’s not that they’d rather be sitting. Far from it. In fact my eldest struggles to maintain a seated position whilst eating his dinner. With each mouthful, he’ll slowly raise himself higher in the chair, subtlety passing through the hovering stage, until you suddenly become aware that he is now standing – chair neglected and abandoned beside him. Neither can you say that they don’t like to walk because it requires too much physical exertion. Maybe this might apply to myself or their Grandmother – but for them, running is preferable to walking. I’m fairly sure when they were tiny they went straight from crawling to running (maybe taking the odd step or two somewhere in the middle).
Trying to walk even a short distance with them can be catastrophic if I refer to it as ‘walking’. They start by dragging their feet, then begin sitting down on the pavement every two metres or so (because they’ve run out of breath apparently). Sometimes they even deem it necessary to cling to the back of my coat and stop moving their feet, in the hope that mummy will use her ‘levitation’ superpower to get the big ones up the hill without actually lifting them, whilst simultaneously pushing youngest son in his pram. By the end of the walk, their method of moving forwards can only be described as resembling something out of Monty Python’s ministry of silly walks. Therefore, if we need to go for a short walk to actually get somewhere (especially if we have a certain time at which we need to arrive) we can usually be found complete with transport. Their reliance on the scooters has decreased slightly now they can ride their bikes. If wheels are not a viable option, there are a number of tactics I use to get them on the move. Here are my top five:
1) Walking along a wall or painted line on the pavement.
2) Collecting something along the way – usually daisies or some other form of interesting looking weed.
3) Turning it into a race against Mummy. Somehow Mummy always seems to lose.
4) Counting lampposts or orange things between the start point and the destination.
5) Who can be first to spot the….? Choose an object that isn’t actually there to maximise distance covered.
This is why if we’re going for a longer walk I usually use the term ‘adventure’ or ‘exploration’. I remember a time before the arrival (or invention) of youngest son when they walked over three kilometres (at the ages of 2 and 4), armed only with a selection of croissants to refuel. We were going all morning, past sheep, over stiles, along hilly paths, and through woods. They loved it. Not sure what exactly they thought they were doing – maybe the term ‘walking’ only applies if you’re on a pavement.