As the summer holidays speed by, you might be running out of ideas of how to keep your children entertained during the break. Of course, that's without breaking the bank either, given that so many family attractions are exorbitantly expensive. This coming weekend (Saturday, 18th and Sunday, 19th August) heralds Kent Wildlife Trusts Festival of Wildlife at their Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. Admission is free (only a £2 charge to park your car or £2 per class entry to enter your pet in the Dog Show) and they have a host of activities to appeal to all the family. See the above poster for details and don't forget your sun cream - this weekend is due to be a scorcher!
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.
After my post earlier this week about Minieco's fantastic website for creative ideas, my four and five year olds were very excited about trying out the recipes for making their own homemade and naturally coloured (mainly organic) playdough!
Here's what's my youngest two made for today's menu after having lots of fun making several differently coloured batches of Minieco's playdough. We didn't have all the suggested ingredients for the dyes so we improvised on one or two...
Please note, we don't usually have sausages and fishfingers together for dinner, despite what what my kids have suggested here!
If you do use the recipes on Minieco's website for this homemade playdough (links to a whole range of these and lots of other fantastic ideas by Minieco on my earlier blog post), please do be aware that although made with kitchen cupboard ingredients, this is not edible playdough, mainly due to the high salt content!)
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.
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.
As we're approaching the half-way point in the school holidays, anyone who's more organised than me, is likely to be thinking about buying new school uniform, if they haven't already.
If you're browsing this website, the chances are that you're either concerned about environmental issues, or you may have a child with eczema, allergies or very sensitive skin - or perhaps both. You may not be aware though that amongst the growing choices of organic products now available, organic cotton school uniform is now an option.
At the beginning of the last school year, I was delighted to find I could buy organic school shirts, skirt and trousers for my eldest daughter (who has always suffered badly with eczema) from Lint Kids. I'd expected specialist organic cotton uniform to be really expensive but was pleasantly surprised to find the prices very reasonable (for example, a short-sleeved girl's shirt for a 3-4 year old will only set you back £6.99). Prices for organic cotton clothing are never going to be comparable with the supermarkets' cut-price, sweatshop-produced, mass-produced, polyester alternatives but, as is widely known nowadays, ethically the cost of cheap clothing goes far beyond the price we pay as consumers.
If you haven't considered organic school uniform before, I really do recommend it. Just don't be tempted to put any of it in the tumble dryer during the wetter winter months - it'll be considerably harder to iron. My daughters' organic school shirts just get softer and softer (rather than more bobbly and scratchy) and whiter, not greyer, the more they're washed. As she has a younger sister, going organic offers even better value for money. The quality of the uniform will certainly last until her little sister grows into it, doubling its use - and rather than it looking tatty with age as a synthetic version probably would, it'll all be lovely and soft.
The only tricky bit is going to be keeping it all free from food and paint stains!
For organic cotton school uniform, visit Lint Kids at www.lint-kids.com. Long and short-sleeved school shirts are available in white and school skirts and trousers are available in navy, dark grey, black and brown.