BBC Three have asked us to help spread the word that they are looking for couples for a new series about parents-to-be who are expecting their first baby this summer.
Dads.... are you going to be a first time father?
Would you like to be more involved in the birth?
Mums.... does the sound of your partner helping midwives delivery your baby appeal to you?
If you (or anyone you know) is expecting their first baby this summer and would be interested in contributing to the new series, you can get in touch with the team at BBC3, leaving your name and phone number...
Many of us have been enjoying beautiful sunny days lately and with the school summer holidays now well underway, it really is the season for days out and picnics! If, like me though, you hate all the waste that comes with wrapping a whole family's sandwiches, snacks and goodies for a day out, there are some fantastic solutions available. They're safer, more environmentally-responsible and, in the long term, cheaper too than the throwaway materials we might typically use.
Public awareness is certainly growing regarding highly undesirable substances such as BPA, PVC and phthalates, to name a few, being commonly used in food coverings and food storage containers. These are capable of leaching toxic and harmful chemicals into our food and parents in particular are increasingly looking for non-toxic alternatives for their children's lunchboxes and picnics.
It's really quite a minefield though, trying to establish what does and what doesn't contain any of the wide range of nasties, but the founders of My Friendly Lunchbox and Ecoboodles, have eliminated all the guesswork for you. We love both of these companies, which only sell non-toxic products which are free of BPA, PVC, phthalates and lead. We found My Friendly Lunchbox first and have found many other uses for their non-toxic, easily washable and recycled sandwich wrappers which are also very handy for covering bowls of food or for wrapping leftovers before putting them in the fridge (we find that elastic bands work a treat in keeping the circular wraps in place over bowls of food). They have a good range of plastic and cloth sandwich wrappers and even some matching non-toxic ice packs, in addition to many other eco-friendly goodies, such as BPA-free food storage containers and shaped sandwich or biscuit cutters.
More recently, we were absolutely delighted to stumble upon the wonderful Ecoboodle organic cotton sandwich wrappers. These really are fabulous for wrapping your sandwiches and your children will probably feel as though they're opening a little present when they open your picnic sandwiches! These wraps are soft and pliable and are capable of holding several small rolls each, with a food-grade non-toxic lining to keep messy sandwich fillings from leaking or staining the outer certified organic cotton fabric. They're extremely easy to wash by hand but they can also go in the washing machine, up to 30°C - although they're not suitable for the tumble dryer because of the lining. We never seem to have enough of these in our house, so do think about buying several at a time to get the multi-buy discounts which represent amazing value for money. As far as we know, these are the only organic cotton sandwich wraps available in the UK and they're perfectly shaped to make the neatest, non-bulky, picnic parcels!
Our youngest children are usually really hungry when they come out of school/nursery and on the days that our eldest needs picking up from school too, there's at least a half hour wait for her school day to end. The little ones can't wait that long for something to eat if they're hungry, so the sandwich wrappers are great for quickly and conveniently transporting some healthy snacks in the car and they act as a mat too, saving the car's upholstery from at least some of the crumbs!
I've focused here mainly on these websites' sandwich wrappers because I'm such a huge fan of these, but My Friendly Lunchbox and Ecoboodles non-leaching ranges include stainless steel water bottles, attractive lunchbags, lunchbag sets and more! The earlier you switch to these non-toxic and waste-free lunchbox products, the sooner they'll pay for themselves and, more importantly, your family won't be paying the price of toxic chemicals silently contaminating their food.
I've always been a bit of a killjoy when it comes to any of our children wanting their faces painted at parties or other events. With all three of our children being particularly prone to eczema, I've always been concerned about the likely irritants in the paints, especially when used on the more delicate skin on the face. I've also always hated how close to their eyes the designs often tend to go, particularly as my eldest wears contact lenses. Equally though, I've always been conscious of the additional problem of how to effectively, yet gently, remove the often very stubborn face paint afterwards. So in order to avoid my kids feeling left out when others are having their faces painted, I've tried to steer them towards having their hands, rather than their faces painted, but in a child's eyes, this is a rather feeble compromise!
A few years ago, our eldest daughter wanted a birthday sleepover party with face painting and I thought I'd found the answer with Snazaroo face paints, which are water based, unperfumed and are described as non-toxic, hypoallergenic and "friendly to the most delicate skin" so I bought her a set. This week, with Red Nose Day nearly here and all my children wanting to head off to school or nursery with painted red noses, I didn't think twice about buying an individual red Snazaroo paint for the children's red noses. However, I left my local stockist empty-handed, because when I had a quick curious look at the ingredients, I was really disappointed to discover that they contain parabens.
After searching on-line for paraben-free face paints, I was delighted to discover Grimas Pure face paints which are made in top quality cosmetic-grade colours. The colours are rub-resistant, yet are easy to remove with tepid water and a skin wash. To help keep them safe to use, their containers are marked with a use-by date and have a shelf-life of three years after opening. They're unperfumed, paraben-free, gluten-free, non-toxic, water-based and are not tested on animals. (Please note that these face paints do contain lanolin.)
Grimas's original range of face paints has now almost entirely been converted to Grimas Pure, but do just specify that you'd like only Grimas Pure kids' face paints when placing an order at UK-based www.grimasfacepaints.com, where you can also find some handy face painting tips.
You can either buy individual paint colours from a wide range of colours, or there are choices of different paint palettes and paint kits, the latter of which contains application tools such as sponges and brushes and a face painting booklet with colour chart.
My only disappointment is that I didn't discover Grimas Pure face paints quite in time for my order to reach me in time for this year's Red Nose Day!
For anyone who's visiting this website, it's not going to be any surprise that we're passionate about the benefits of organic cotton, whether it's as the best choice of fabric for baby toys or whether it's for other organic cotton products which are outside of our particular speciality.
So many more people are now recognising organic cotton's attributes and in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of stockists of organic baby clothes, especially online. Increasingly too, there are stockist of organic clothing for adults, with influential fashion designers like Katherine Hamnett and Stella McCartney being well-known for their support and inclusion of organic fabrics in their collections. There is, however, an age group which has been generally and sadly overlooked in terms of organic cotton clothing and that's over 5s to teenagers. In the very few places online which offer organic clothing for older children and teens, the prices may well be prohibitively high or the limited choices might be emblazoned with an environmental message which, although a commendable cause, may exclude them from teenage appeal.
I was delighted a couple of years ago though to discover that high-street fashion retailer H&M had started to introduce organic cotton clothing (sometimes in a 50% mix with non-organic cotton) to their children's range. I managed to buy a couple of lovely summery dresses for my eldest (then aged 10) and as her eczema is always especially bad in the summer, this really was a very welcome discovery. H&M has gradually widened their range of organic cotton clothing within their adult and children's ranges, in many cases now with 100% organic cotton, rather than the 50/50 mix. Although our local branch is quite small with rather limited choice, there now always seem to be organic cotton options for our 4 year old son and our 5 and 12 year old daughters.
In their children's range, H&M have wisely allocated organic cotton to staple wardrobe basics, such as boys' and girls' T-shirts and polo-necks in a range of colours, boys' shirts and now also girls' leggings. If it wasn't enough good news that H&M have taken the environmental bull by the horns by introducing organic cotton within their adults' and children's ranges, the prices are fantastic too! I recently bought some leggings and long-length T-shirts for my eldest daughter for just £2.99 each, which is just amazing value! With prices this good on widely appealing items, I'm sure many of these have been snapped up by H&M's customers who wouldn't have actively chosen organic cotton. (Incidentally, H&M explains on its Environment pages of its website that its suppliers' factories are regularly audited to ensure ethical and fair working conditions and pay are in place for the workers who make their clothing.)
With the convenience of H&M stores being so accessible, their prices being so affordable and the right type of clothing being targeted for their organic cotton ranges, it's my view that H&M are doing a superlative job in making it really easy for us, as consumers, to choose organic. Just look for their clothing with the green label attached which identifies their organic cotton items.
I, for one, now make a point of shopping in H&M before looking in any other clothing retailer. Even if an item I need isn't available in an organic option (yet), I'll still put H&M at the very top of my preferred retailer list, simply to support them as a company for their forward-thinking and to encourage their continually growing choices of organic cotton clothing!
Although we're best known for our organic baby toys here at The Organic Toy Company, we are delighted to now also be offering this fabulous Baby Signing Basics book by Lizzie Betts. The teachings in this books are ideal for babies of between 5-18 months, although this is a guideline age and isn't rigid.
We're huge fans and supporters of Little Signers Club (who provide expert classes in teaching baby communication techniques) and this easy-to-follow and beautifully illustrated guide is used in conjunction with all their baby signing courses.
Baby signing is becoming hugely popular as more and more parents recognise the benefits in being able to communicate with their babies long before their little ones are able to talk. It's a common misconception that baby signing delays speech development, but in fact, evidence clearly shows that when signing is done correctly, the exact opposite is true. Studies have also shown signing children to be significantly ahead of non-signing children at the age of 8 years old.
Click on our Baby Signing Book's page, for more information and to discover just some of the many benefits of showing your baby or child how to sign, made easy by this well-written and clearly illustrated beginners' guide.
With half term nearly here the hunt is on for ideas on how to keep our kids happy and occupied during the time off school. These days, there's the added challenge of finding activities which won't break the bank or mean resorting to games or entertainment which involve your children spending large amounts of time in a zombie state in front of some form of computerised game or television screen!
Prepare to be amazed and captivated though at http://www.minieco.co.uk! I challenge anyone to find a more beautiful website, bursting with inexpensive and innovatively creative things for your children to make and then play with, all explained and displayed with truly stunning pictures. There is an abundance of choice of easy things to make and do for boys and girls, appealing to little ones and older children alike. I honestly doubt you'll ever need to look elsewhere for creative and eco-friendly ideas. I would happily be at the front of the voting queue, to label this as the UK's very best website of its type!
I regularly recommend Minieco's website to many of our customers and friends and I'm sure that as soon as you have a look, you'll be hooked! You can subscribe to Minieco’s blog so that you don't miss any of the great ideas regularly shared by the hugely talented creator of the Minieco blog.
Envisage Minieco as a metaphorical vaccination against the "I'm bored" complaint from your kids over this half term! Help to make it a happy, creative holiday for friends and family too, by spreading the word though the Facebook and Twitter buttons below!
My concerns about the various unnecesssary hazards at the school gates has been silently bubbling away for a while now and I've reached the point where I now feel compelled to indulge in a bit of therapeutic moaning! I'm certain that these issues must reflect the feelings of many other parents who have children in infant or primary schools, so I hope I'm not alone in my views here!
A Facebook friend recently posted a remark about her loathing of the habit of smoking during pregnancy, after seeing two expectant mothers smoking at the school gates - and I do wholeheartedly agree with her. Unsurprisingly, the post prompted a flood of passionate responses, mostly from other mothers who also felt the same way.
Not only did most people feel very strongly that smoking whilst pregnant was completely unacceptable, but there was also much anger felt specifically towards parents who smoked whilst at the school gates, thereby forcing children to have to walk through a cloud of smoke to enter the school grounds. Of course, there's also the immediate hazard of children being burnt by a lit cigarette, especially during the inevitable hustle and bustle at the beginning and end of the school day. I am very fortunate that the children's entry point to our daughter's school, (where all the children gather whilst waiting for the gates to be opened) is within a spacious additional gated school boundary which is a designated No Smoking area. This has proven to be an effective means of largely eliminating this problem but we realise that most schools aren't able to enforce a No Smoking policy on their perimeters in this way. Sadly, this also doesn't help children who live in homes where one or more occupants smoke.
Another significant problem around the school gates is the number of parents who bring their dogs when taking or collecting their children from school. Not only are many children (and also adults) very frightened of dogs, but there is real concern for the safety of children entering and leaving school with dogs in such close proximity. I've often seen breeds at the school gates which have a reputation for aggressive tendencies and I've yet to see any of them muzzled. At a child's height any dog can seem very intimidating and even the soppiest and gentlest of loyal family dogs can turn and snap as a normal self-defensive reflex, if they're accidentally stepped on or hurt in the busy school crowds.
I'm also always very conscious of the fact that with their keen sense of smell, dogs at the school gates probably have a tempting banquet of post-breakfast scents wafting past them, thanks to hurriedly washed or wiped little fingers and faces, which are all at a vulnerable, within-reach, height for most dogs (including younger children in pushchairs). Another bone of contention (excuse the pun) is the revolting trail of dogs' mess dotted around the school route's pavements, which can be virtually impossible to avoid sometimes. It's bad enough trying to navigate around this at the best of times, but it's an especially unsavoury challenge for mothers who are hurrying to school with pushchairs or prams, whilst simultaneously trying to ensure that their other children, who are walking or on scooters, manage to stay safe and clean.
I love animals - and dogs must of course have adequate exercise - but the school just isn't an appropriate place to bring a dog and the school run shouldn't be used as an opportunity to get dogs' daily walks out of the way.
Finally, I can't refer to hazards at the school gates without also mentioning how astounded I am at the scale of the national problem of illegal parking around schools. I accept that many schools, particularly in urban areas, don't have enough parking in the surrounding roads, but if walking to school is out of the question, a shortage of parking spaces means having to be more resourceful! Some realistic solutions would be to get to the school a little earlier and/or perhaps having to park a bit further away or maybe sharing the school runs with other parents. I know all this can be an inconvenience, especially for parents who also have babies or pre-school age children with them, or when the weather's miserable, but surely the safety issues must be a priority in any parent's mind? I don't understand how some parents don't recognise that children can be so seriously hurt when illegally parked cars obstruct their view or when cars are parked right on the corners of junctions, hindering the flow of traffic and obscuring lines of vision. In turn, this can also cause further mayhem and danger, leading to frayed tempers when unnecessary gridlock is the result of unlawful and inconsiderate parking.
A few years ago, I heard the impact of a schoolgirl being hit by a car whilst crossing the road outside my eldest's school, where illegal parking is commonplace (periodically, police now attend and issue parking penalties). I managed to find the girl's mother who was on her way to meet her daughter and told her what had just happened. She was of course absolutely distraught and desperately worried, although thankfully her daughter wasn't badly injured as the car had been travelling well below the speed limit. I'll never forget though the intense sense of dread and horror of how badly she might have been hurt and the vexing thought of "what if it was my child?". There just isn't any justification for thoughtless or dangerous parking near schools.
To end on a more positive note, I'm looking forward to the coming half-term week! With that in mind, there'll be another blog post on here in the next few days about a fantastic and really beautifully presented website with the most amazing creative ideas to help keep your children occupied whilst they're off school.
It's a familiar scenario in many households – it's time to brush your children's teeth but after a day of enthusiastically exercising their vocal chords, they suddenly become stubbornly tight-lipped! For many parents, they find that no amount of coaxing or distraction tactics will unzip those firmly sealed lips, in their child's determined defiance of the loathed toothbrush.
If brushing your children's teeth is a regular challenge for you, as it has been for us with our youngest who is now 3, you might feel encouraged that we've finally found a magic solution!
We were really worried about the damage to our son's teeth when he simply refused to co-operate with this routine. Other than pinning him down and waiting for him to open his mouth to wail his protests (hardly a positive toothbrushing experience) we simply couldn't clean his teeth. Our family dentist wasn't overly concerned and suggested just letting him play with the toothbrush himself. We were already doing that but his teeth really weren't getting even close to being cleaned properly and were becoming increasingly laden with a worrying and unsightly build-up of scale.
We tried numerous ways to make the concept of brushing fun for him, including involving his sisters and ourselves in a fun-packed routine, but he quickly saw through our ploy and we made no progress. His love of dinosaurs helped to an extent when we made up songs about mummy, daddy and baby dinosaurs brushing their teeth, to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus", but even then our success was limited and we could only get the toothbrush in very briefly!
Sometimes children's main issue about cleaning their teeth can be something as simple as the fact that they simply doesn't like the taste of their toothpaste but for us, this wasn't the case – he was quite happy to eat his, given half a chance, which we were of course very keen to avoid! We bought numerous toothbrushes which featured favourite characters but nothing worked.
To our amazement though, we have now found the simplest answer which allows us to brush his teeth, with full co-operation for as long as we like!!!! This can be adapted to any child – hopefully with the same miraculous results we've had! Like so many children, our little boy is an avid fan of the Toy Story films. By involving him in a memory game, listing the names of all the characters we can think of across the three Toy Story films, he will let us brush each row of teeth for every character's name! What's great about this is that it can be kept novel and interesting by changing the theme or film/TV or book characters for any other favourites - and if you run out of names before you've finished brushing, just start again! Siblings will also love joining in with helping to remember the characters!
Bizarrely, our 4 year old (influenced by her 11 year old sister) insists on playing this game using all the characters from the Twighlight books and films, even though she of course doesn't know who any of them are!
Fingers crossed, this might help you to effortlessly win the battle at toothbrushing time – or inspire other similar ideas that work a treat for you! Good luck and please do feel free to share any ideas, suggestions or success stories that you may have, by adding a comment!
Generally speaking, I really don't approve of computer-based games for children and I do my very best to discourage my own kids from discovering the apparent allure of this pastime. However, there are a few rare exceptions! If the Internet and The Times's Spelling Bee website had been around when I was at school, my parents would have battled to prise me away.
For all children of school age, The Times newspaper's Spelling Bee website is a fantastic resource and learning tool, helping to transform the attitudes of children who've previously thought that learning to spell is a dull and tedious chore. Equally though, it offers addictive and productive appeal to children who do really enjoy spelling! Its numerous and fun spelling games can be played either individually, thereby allowing your child to learn at their own pace or, to really stretch their ability, the head-to-head games can be played competitively against friends. The former helps to build children's confidence in their spelling and language skills and the latter has the benefit of maximising children's natural desire to learn and to constantly improve their spelling range and vocabulary.
It's not only individuals who are discovering the educational entertainment value of the Spelling Bee's website. As many as one thousand schools entered the 2009-2010 Spelling Bee Championship and the players who participated are now able to privately view their personal national ranking. So if your child's school isn't already competing, do encourage it to get involved! A new Championship year started just two days ago (on 6th September), so now is the ideal time to get on board!
The Spelling Bee's appeal was recently extended to cater for younger children too. There's now a dedicated Mini Bees area aimed at 5-11 year olds, which allows primary school children to select their game level, according to their reading age and there's also the option to choose subject-themed games, such as Nature or Science.
If all that's not enough fun at your kids' fingertips, you can also indulge yourself, by downloading The Spelling Bee's mobile app if you have an iPhone or Windows mobile - and testing your own spelling prowess! It's a great way to numb the drudgery of a daily commute – assuming, of course, that you don't drive yourself to work! Just don't get too engrossed, only to discover that you've missed your station!
Is spelling really important nowadays though, with modern technology to help us out? Despite reports of record achievements in A' Level results, we continue to hear repeatedly about the abysmally low standard of English amongst school leavers. This must, undoubtedly, be compounded by the widespread trend amongst school children (and many adults) to habitually write in the abbreviated and brutally phonetic "TextSpeak". Whilst spell checks on computer software can help to pick up mistakes, they're not foolproof and aren't always available or suitable. Such heavy reliance on these tools is, arguably, contributing to the general apathy about learning to spell well, unaided.
Sadly, grammar, punctuation and spelling are becoming dying skills, yet everyone knows the importance of creating a good first impression. When the time comes for school leavers to face the highly competitive challenges of job hunting, it's an applicant's written command of the English language which can really make them shine amongst a galaxy of other less luminous hopefuls. Employers frequently hear candidates confidently declaring their aptitude for "… paying attention to detail…", yet it's staggeringly common for the accompanying job applications and CVs to be littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical or punctuation errors.
The Spelling Bee deserves a hearty pat on the back, for offering a fighting chance to reignite a real pride in spelling accurately, amongst future generations of school leavers and employees.