Wednesday, 30 June 2010

In-flight Entertainment for Toddlers

We just got back from a long weekend away which is why I haven't yet posted anything this week. I've called this post 'in-flight entertainment' but really it's for any journey, by plane, car, train.... Rather than general travel tips which I have covered previously, this is a list of activities or entertainment for keeping your little ones amused when you travel. I've asked other mums what worked best for them on their travels and combined their answers with things that have worked for our son too.

Being prepared for travel is the best way to ensure the journey goes as smoothly as possible. I keep a little child-size rucksack full of small toys, books etc for travel so it's all ready to go. That also means the toys are either new or rarely seen giving them an extra novelty value. My mother-in-law told me she used to pack a couple of favourite toys a week or so before they went on a trip so her children didn't get to play with them the week before they left. That way, they'd be really pleased to see them when she pulled them out of a bag on the plane or in the car.

Here are 10 ways to keep your toddler entertained on a journey:

Portable dvd player. Not for everyone but if you are happy to ration their viewing or don't care about rationing it, I hear this is the most long-lasting way to keep them happy on a journey. I read recently that dvds were taking over more tradtional travel games like 'I spy'.

iPhone apps & games. Again not every parent wants their child playing with a phone or may want to limit the time spent on it but there are certainly some good apps out there for toddlers, such as the toddler flashcards.

Etch A Sketch. On the suggestion of a friend I picked up one of these from a pound shop. Yes, it's a bit flimsy but it's perfect for travel and doesn't matter if it breaks. The same friend advised I attached the accompanying pen with a piece of string to avoid it being dropped or thrown. That was a great tip!

Stickers. One of my friends told me her daughter loves to stick them on her head! Otherwise there are sticker books you can pick up inexpensively, or you can stick them on all kinds of surfaces.

Colouring. Probably best if you are seated next to them to engage them in some colouring and catch any falling crayons but you can find small sized packs of crayons and colouring books that are ideal for travel.

Books. Lift-the-flap books are good to engage your toddler in the book. Travel or holiday themed books can be fun.

CDs. Best for the car, a nursery rhyme CD can be an alternative to you doing all the singing or something you can all sing along to! A friend of mine uses In the Night Garden story CDs which are a big hit with her daughter. For older toddlers, stories are good, especially those with funny noises or voices. Sometimes, just regular music on the radio can appease my son.

Small push-along toys. Especially good if you are on the plane or train where your child can use a table as a surface to push them along on. My son was very happily engrossed on our most recent trip, playing with little trucks, pushing them back and forth on the fold-down tray table on the plane.

Play dough. With supervision, play dough can wile away some time, rolling it into shapes and pulling apart again. You can get it in small tubs which facilitate transportation.

Other children. Seeing other children on a plane or train can be a great distraction. Sometimes they just like to watch one another or maybe they even share toys.

As parents, it's also nice to engage our children in the travel experience itself. Show and tell them what's around them or what they can see out of the window, explain what's going to happen on the journey and give out positive happy vibes about your family adventure! If you're on a plane or train, take them for a walk to show them other people, doors, windows, eating areas and point out passing trains, people, clouds and whatever else.

I'd love to have other suggestions from you. Let me know in the comments what keeps your toddlers happy when you travel.


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Thursday, 24 June 2010

7 tips for taking, organising and sharing family photos

I've been thinking a lot about photos recently. Maybe it's because my best friend is currently consumed with finishing her projects for the photography course she's been doing over the past year. Or maybe it's because my talented photographer father-in-law was just here with his impressive big new camera. In any case, parents tend to like taking photos of their children and so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on photo-taking and organising.

When I asked a friend of mine who recently had her second child if they'd been taking lots of photos of her, she told me that apart from the day she was born they hadn't taken any. I was shocked. This was her first daughter, (her older child is a boy) and she was around 2 months old when we were having this conversation. A cute baby girl - why wouldn't you want to take lots of photos of her? At the other end of the spectrum there's my mother-in-law who has a full record of photos of both her children, wonderfully organised so she can find a photo of them at a certain age in less then a minute. For many of us, somewhere in-between these two might be most realistic. After all, I recognise not everyone enjoys or has the interest in taking lots of photos.

Later down the line, it's great to have photos to look back on. There are the memories, the comparisons with younger generations and the record of another time that's interesting to see at a later period. With digital cameras and camera phones, it's easier than ever to snap away. One thing I love about my iPhone is that I can take a quick photo of my son anywhere and email it straight to the grandparents.

Here are 7 suggestions on taking, sharing and organising photos:

If you don't often take photos of your child, aim for at least a couple of photos of them once a month. That's a very manageable amount of photo-taking and means you have a regular record of them as they grow up.

Don't feel constrained by a posed photo with them smiling. It can be a struggle to get them to look at the camera and smile at the right moment. Some of the best photos can be of them engrossed in a fun activity or looking/playing/talking with others.

Get up close or zoom in. Children can be so wonderfully expressive that it's good to fill the frame with their face or top part of their body so you can really see them well, as opposed to a shot of them off in the distance.

Set up a blog or Flickr account to share your photos. Send the link to your family and friends so they can bookmark the page and keep updated with how your little one is growing up and changing. It's such a nice way for those far away to keep up-to-date if they don't see you very often. You don't have to be especially tech savvy, sites like Blogger and Flickr are very user-friendly, free and straightforward to maintain.

File your photos on your computer in folders by year and by month. That way, it's easy to locate a particular image from a particular time or event.

If you plan to have hard copies of your photos in an album, do it regularly so it does not become an overwhelming job. Each month print out the selected photos and put them in an album with any accompanying text or dates as you see fit. It's a lot harder to do the same job with a backlog of a year of photos.

Consider photobooks as an alternative to printing photos for albums. Most photo printing sites make them very easy to create with ready-made templates, colour/size/paper options so you simply upload your images and drag the photos onto the page where you want them to appear. They also make a lovely gift for family.

Do you have other suggestions to add to my list? What are your photo-taking habits? Do you print them out? Is it something you feel you'd like to dedicate more time to? How do you share photos with relatives?


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Monday, 21 June 2010

5 ways to work out without a work-out

Exercising with your child isn't for everyone. For those of us who don't have family nearby to help out with childcare, it can be expensive to take time off to go and exercise. Thankfully there are other ways to burn calories that can be easily incorporated into a regular day.

Here are 5 activities that involve exercise without you even realising it and that are easy to do with children around:

Cleaning. Vigorous scrubbing, hoovering and other household cleaning chores are a great way to get some physical exercise whilst making your home nice and clean at the same time. Give your child a clean sponge and let them 'help' you clean.

Gardening. This can be an enjoyable way to burn some calories for those of you who have a garden. Digging, hoeing, weeding....and give your little ones a bucket and spade and an assigned area for them to dig around in while you're working. They'll have fun imitating you.

Walking. A long walk can be a lovely family activity. Keep to a brisk pace and go for hills and steps to make it more of a work-out. Use the nature around you to keep your child interested. They could collect sticks, daisies and leaves to press or to use for a collage for example.

Playing. Head to your local park and run around with your children. Chase them, play football, throw a frisbee or other games that involve running around. An easy way to get your body moving!

Shopping. Brisk walking to the shops or around a shopping mall, combined with carrying back bags of groceries or other items is another way to burn calories. This is easy with young babies but more challenging with older children who get bored easily. Try to do something for them on the shopping trip to make it more fun, go to a toy store or stop off at a play area.

What have I missed? Can you think of other activities that provide a bit of a work-out and that can be easily incorporated into a day at home looking after children?


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Friday, 18 June 2010

Dear Dad

As Father's Day is this Sunday, I thought I would write a little about some special memories with my  father.

I have two strong memories of my dad from when I was young. One is of him telling me stories, both reading me books but also making up 'Janet' stories. The 'Janet' stories were of course about a little girl named Janet and the adventures she went on. These stories were strictly father and daughter only so my mother was never allowed to listen in. It was usually on a weekend, when I'd wake up early and go into my parents' room that we'd have this storytime. It was a really special father-daughter time that I'll always treasure and think fondly upon.

The second childhood memory of my father is one time when he and I were Christmas shopping and he knocked over a Christmas tree on display in a store! It's a funny memory that we often refer back to and laugh about. I was still young enough not to be embarrassed and to just find it funny and I think my mother was glad she wasn't with us when it happened!

Nowadays my dad is still the storyteller and one to have a good laugh with.  His life has changed dramatically since he moved from freelance IT consulting in London to a small village in France eight years ago. Now he spends his days working on their house and has taught himself a host of new skills based around building, plumbing and electrics! He's a handy person to have in the family for questions on anything from IT to household DIY! I'm proud to have a dad with such a varied range of skills and interests. He's always been one to encourage an open mind and a view that we can do anything we put our minds to.

This Father' Day, I'll be thinking fondly of my dad and we'll make do with a father-daughter chat on the phone. We're lucky to have my husband's father here with us in London, as he and my mother-in-law arrive from the States on Saturday. It'll be fun for my husband to enjoy his second father's day and to have his own dad here too.

Are you getting to spend Father's Day with your dad? Do you have any special childhood memories of your dad to share?


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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Wonder of the World Cup

My American husband and I went with a couple of friends to a local pub to watch the England v USA World Cup match on Saturday evening. Whilst the match itself was not especially impressive, we had a great time and the atmosphere was fun. Incidentally, when my husband and I first met in France, we spent many early mornings watching the 2002 World Cup games in South Korea and Japan with our friends at various bars in Nice. The World Cup has always been associated with good times in our relationship.

I'm not usually much of a sports fan at all, whether it's watching football or something else but when it comes to the World Cup, it seems different somehow and I love it! I think it plays a great part in uniting a country for the month it lasts. People get a sense of patriotism they never normally have and share a common desire with all kinds of people around them who they might not normally have anything in common with.

When we were watching the match in the pub last weekend, people standing around us were friendly, light-hearted and chatting to us. That would rarely happen on just a regular trip to the pub. I think the World Cup brings a real optimisim and happy atmosphere to communities large and small. It's helped by the fact that the World Cup happens during summer time when people generally tend to be cheerier than they are in the winter (at least in London that's the case). It brings together friends, happy crowds and gives people something to be excited about. It encourages camaraderie, warmth and unity amongst nations.

In my mind, the World Cup is not just about the football, it's not just about the winning but it's also about bringing people together and sharing the elation of great goals, the sadness when your team gets knocked out and all the rest along the way. It's about team spirit and sharing emotions.

Is it just me or do you also think the World Cup has a certain sense of wonder about it?!


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Friday, 11 June 2010

Getting out the right side of bed

I enjoyed reading a post over at The Simple Dollar recently, called Nine Things I Do to Make Each Day Great. I thought I'd do my own similar version. Mine is more about getting the day off to a good start, which doesn't guarantee a great day but at least means I start off as I mean to go on.

Here are 5 things that are important to me for beginning my day:

Shower before my husband leaves for work. Gone are the days when I could shower during my son's morning nap so I jump in the shower after my husband and whilst my son is still sleeping. It wakes me up more than anything!

Breakfast. I'm one of these people who believes breakfast is an important meal of the day and I get grumpy if I don't eat something by a certain point in the morning. I either eat just with my son or all three of us eat together if my husband hasn't had to leave for work already.

Exercise. Generally 3 mornings a week, I go out to exercise and it makes me feel great and invigorated for the rest of the day. Two of those mornings, I go to BuggyFit (yes really, I still do that!). The third morning is usually a Saturday and we go as a family to the park. My husband and I take it turns to go for a run whilst the other one plays with our son.

Go for a walk. Especially if I'm not exercising, I still like to get out for a walk and enjoy some fresh air. I love to go out early while it's still quiet and before lots of other people are out and about. My son enjoys it too!

Quick tidy-up. I always do a tidy-up before bed but usually in the morning there are few extra bits to do. Things like breakfast pots to wash or put in the dishwasher, maybe some washing that's dried overnight and needs folding and putting away or a new load needs to go on. I like to get these little jobs done out of the way and before going out anywhere.

What are the kinds of things you like to do as part of your morning routine for a good start to your day?


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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Making Efficiency Easier

Sherri Kruger, who's been a guest post author previously on Mummy Zen and is behind two of my favourite blogs, Serene Journey and Zen Family Habits has just launched a fantastic new site that I wanted to share with you. Called 'Listbean', it's a site of checklists covering everything you could possibly imagine. From major projects like buying a home, various business and finance checklists, to child-related things like child-proofing your home and suggested activities to keep the little ones amused, it's all there! I am astounded by the thorough range of lists on the site and it's obvious that a lot of thought and hard work has gone into it.

If you're a keen list-maker yourself, fear not - the site doesn't take away that pleasure from you! You can sign up to Listbean which allows you to create your own lists or to customise those already there, to make them better suited to your own personal needs. For those of you less-inclined to make checklists, then the site is a goldmine for helping prompt you to think of lots of relevant, helpful things to consider for all kinds of tasks and aspects of your life.

I have not by any means gone through all lists on the site but have looked at quite a few and picked out some to mention here that I especially like:

Indoor Activities for Kids

Babysitter Info Sheet

Decorate your Home with things you already have

Whole Home Quick-Clean

Over Night Guests

Take a look at Listbean and let me know what you think. Are there any lists that stand out as seeming particularly helpful to you?


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Monday, 7 June 2010

A Natural Pick-you-up

As someone who's mentioned in several blog posts the benefits of getting outside for a walk,  I was pleased to read in the Telegraph that researchers have concluded 20 minutes each day in the park can boost your energy levels. As the lead professor in the study put it, "Nature is fuel for the soul". He explains that people tend to have a cup of coffee when they feel lacking in energy but being around nature is in fact a much better and more effective solution.

I know I always feel more invigorated after a walk outdoors and being in a park or out in the countryside is something I really enjoy. I've also noticed the positive effect it has on our son. If he's at all fractious or bored, taking him outside really perks him up. With the nice summer weather we've been having recently, we spend almost every afternoon in our local park. Our son even made a mad dash for it himself yesterday when my husband took him out of our building to calm down after a spate of tantrum-like crying.

Of course it's easy when the weather's nice. Most of us spend a lot more time amongst nature when the sun's shining and it's warm outside. Getting your daily fix of nature becomes more of a challenge in a cold winter or on rainy days and those are the times you probably need it more. As I've suggested in previous posts, get dressed for the weather and go out anyway! It really does make you feel better.

Have you noticed that your energy levels increase after being outside? How about the effect of nature on your children?


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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Discovering 'Ecomodo'

In an email newsletter from the 10:10 campaign I got recently, there was a mention and a link to Ecomodo, an online marketplace for lending and borrowing in local communities. I'd never heard of Ecomodo but when I looked at their site, I really liked the ideas behind it. Their aim is to help the individual by encouraging borrowing over buying, to save money, time and space.  If you lend items or services, you can make a bit of money for yourself, or for a good cause and you get the nice feeling of having helped out a friend or neighbour. In a broader spectrum, Ecomodo can help the environment:
Ecomodo wants everyone to maximise the utility of their assets, to reduce the need for wasteful purchases and to get more out of what we already collectively own. It is a reality that we live in a consumer driven society. Our aim is to create a society of socially responsible consumers whilst preserving your quality of life.

As well as using the site on an individual basis and lending and borrowing with anyone, you can also set up or join a 'trusted circle'. This might be a group of people in your street, at the company you work for, parents from the same school or any group of people with a common connection of some sort. Borrowers and lenders then operate just within the circle. I'm thinking of setting up one for the mums group I belong to in my local area. I think it could be really helpful for parents to lend and borrow baby equipment, as well as other household items or whatever.

With the launch of the greatly anticipated Ipad last week, someone from Ecomodo went and bought one for lending to its members. Now, anyone in London can borrow the Ipad from Ecomodo for £18 (1 day) and the money goes to help the Prince's Trust. The Ecomodo blog explains the two points they aimed to illustrate in buying and lending the Ipad:
1. People don’t need to run a marathon to raise money for charity they can simply lend out their assets and help people around them.

2. To inspire people to borrow instead of buying or if they have to buy: Try it first and make sure it’s really what you want to spend your money on.

There's an issue of trust with lending an item and you hope it comes back to you in the same condition as it left. Ecomodo aims to keep the process smooth and reliable for both lenders and borrowers. I think this kind of marketplace provides a positive way to encourage trust among communities, something that is so often missing nowadays.

Had you heard of Ecomodo? What do you think about the system of lending and borrowing - is it something that appeals to you?


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