Monday, 27 September 2010

10 Indoor activities for Toddlers

One of my first ever posts on Mummy Zen gave some tips for things to do on a rainy day. Back then, my son was still a baby, so the suggestions were for young babies and most of them don't apply to an active toddler. With the weather starting to get colder and more unpredictable as we move into autumn and winter, I thought a post on indoor activities could be useful.

Whilst spending time outside is a lot less appealing in the colder weather, it's still good to do, as long as you and your children are dressed appropriately. Children aren't as bothered by the cold and wet as adults, so they can still have a lot of fun. A couple of weeks ago, my son and I got caught in really heavy rain in the park. I had to literally drag him kicking and screaming back home! Despite getting totally drenched, he couldn't understand why I wanted to leave!

For those days when you are at home however and want to keep your toddler entertained, here are 10 suggestions:

1. Drawing / colouring / painting - If you're like me, you'll probably want an extra adult pair of hands around to help with clean-up after painting so that might be best for when you have a friend and their child over. Drawing or colouring is an easy one though. Let them 'colour' pictures on newspapers or in colouring books for a bit of variety.

2. Collages - these can be fun for something different. Your child could stick all kinds of things to a sheet of paper: dried lentils, spaghetti, screwed up tissue paper, cotton wool, leaves from your garden or local park, sequins or just whatever you happen to have at home.

3. Playdough - my son has recently really got into his playdough. You can help encourage their imagination by making animals, pretend food and shapes from the playdough. Let them roll it, squash it, pull it apart....You can also get various toolsfor cutting out shapes and modelling.

4. Water play - I know this sounds messy for an indoor activity but hear me out....Put some water in either a baby bath or into a sink, with a couple of cups / plastic bottles / bath toys and let them play. We have one of those baby baths that sits over the bath that our son can reach from standing but otherwise they may need to stand on a step to reach the sink. Keeping the water play contained this way should keep the mess quite minimal or at least easy to mop up quickly. Remember to NEVER leave your child unattended with water!

5. Pretend play - engage your child in pretend play such as having tea, cooking, eating, shopping and improvise with props around the house. The more you get involved, the more they are likely to enjoy it.

6. Building - most children like some sort of building play. It might be building a tower of plastic cups or boxes for them to knock down and re-build, making a tower of cushions/books/blocks, or building with Lego or other similar building bricks.

7. Hide and seek - if your toddler is a bit young to play hide and seek themselves you can introduce the game with one of their teddy bears for example. Show them how to play by explaining that you are going to hide the toy and then put it in an easy place to find when they are not looking (behind a cushion for example). Go around the room with them, looking in different places and let them find it quite quickly so they stay interested. You can gradually change the types of hiding places as they get to grips with the game. Make sure they have turns to hide it too!

8. Active play - being inside doesn't need to mean no physical activity. Chasing your toddler around your home, from room to room is a good way to get them moving, burning off some energy and probably squealing with delight! It's likely to be a relatively short activity as they might get over-excited and you want to avoid them taking a tumble and it all ending in tears! Creating an assault course with cushions, cardboard boxes, bean bags, big soft toys for climbing over can be another way to provide some active play.

9. Puzzles - for something a little quieter, puzzles can be good. Ask your child to find particular parts of the puzzle to get them looking at all the pieces and thinking about the overall picture. We have a London bus puzzle which my son loves. I get him to find the driver, the wheel, the woman on her mobile phone, the girl holding a guitar case, the boy holding a yellow balloon.....he really enjoys it.

10. Reading - most children enjoy being read to and it's a good way to encourage their speech and learning. Interactive books with flaps to lift, textures to touch and bits to move/turn on the pages are good for those who find it hard to sit still with books.

What else do you like doing with your toddler at home? What sort of activities hold their attention?

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Secret to Life Fulfilment

One wonderful thing about being a parent is watching how your child discovers and explores the world around them. Simple things are really exciting to them, like seeing a plane in the sky, different coloured leaves on the ground, a rubbish truck drive by..... Their curiosity and desire to explore new things is a really enjoyable part of childhood and can be fun for parents too.

According to an article in Psychologies magazine, the natural curiosity that many of us develop as children and later lose as adults could be the key to life fulfillment. Dr Kashdan, who has written a book called, Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, conducted research that also revealed curiosity is linked to a child's IQ, "with highly curious children at the age of 12 performing better in IQ tests compared to less curious kids". Most people tend to lose their curious, exploratory side around the age of 30.

By curiosity, Dr Kashdan means not just enjoying new experiences but also looking for new challenges that will involve  doing something different (eg. making new friends, learning a new skill). It also means seeking the new in the familiar parts of lives, such us in our relationships and jobs. It's a way of being mindful. "Each of us experiences moments every day that we can explore or ignore", explains Dr Kashdan. Often those moments can be ones that make us feel uncomfortable because they are 'new' and not what we are used to. Stepping out of our comfort zone is the first step to developing our curiosity.

We all have our routines and ways of going about our day-to-day lives. I'm sure most of us could say that we feel stuck in a rut sometimes. Taking even a few small steps to move away from the familiar can help us in more ways than one. Below you will see some suggestions from Psychologies for developing your curiosity. Several of them involve acivities that could be said to keep the mind active, something that is often recommended to do into old age. Take an interest in something new, different and who knows where it might take you....

Here are the 10 Life Curious Tips

Start your day with a new experience
- Listen to a different radio station or make a smoothie

Find the unfamiliar in the familiar
- Take a new route to work, or chat to someone you see on the train/ at the station each day

Find out something you don't know
- Read a section of the newspaper you wouldn't normally

Schedule in regular doses of novelty and challenge
- Lunch with someone from work you don’t know, and find out something about them

Surround yourself with creativity and creative people
- Visit a new gallery or go to a seminar after work

Be mindful in daily life
- Listen to a new band you've never heard before or check download a new album

Be open and receptive
- Say 'yes' to an invite if you'd normally say 'no', and see where it takes you

Things change...
- Listen and delve into someone else's opinion on a topic you are passionate about

Bond with your party over shared curiosity
- Meet up with a new couple or friends together

Thrive on uncertainty
- Style yourself differently for the day depending on your mood

Life fulfillment sounds like a bold claim but I do think there's some sense in Dr Kashdan's findings and certainly incorporating some of these suggestions into our daily lives could be a good thing and the consequences may surprise us. What do you think about these tips? Do you already do some of the things suggested?


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Monday, 20 September 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

I cleared out my underwear drawer one night last week. I did it while the kettle was boiling to make my cup of tea. It's something I have been meaning to do for ages and now it's done. It was one of those quick jobs that I had no excuse to delay but then these things always seem more overwhelming than they really are.

People who write about dealing with clutter often suggest you tackle one small thing at a time. You get something achieved, a sense of fulfillment at having done so and I suppose slowly but surely you can go through your home that way.

There were things in the drawer that I never wear because they're the wrong size and I knew I'd be getting rid of a good handful of underwear. I had hoped it would mean I needed to treat myself to some new but I unearthed some things I had forgotten I had and it turns out I have plenty!

Recently, Marks and Spencer invited customers to take in unwanted clothes to their stores, which they planned to give away to Oxfam to resell. They gave an incentive too - people would be given a £5 Marks and Spencer voucher for any M&S branded clothing that they brought in. As well as helping to raise money for Oxfam, the store is helping to cut down on what gets taken to landfill. The initiative is part of the Prince of Wales's Start campaign, encouraging people to lead more sustainable lives. I think it's a great way to get people thinking about what they own and helping them to give things away rather then throw away.

Getting rid of something before or right after buying something new is a good way to help manage all the stuff we fill our homes with. Living in relatively small apartments in London that have limited storage options, my husband and I have generally followed that idea. Prior to my son being born, we moved every year to a new place (we were renting) and welcomed the inevitable opportunity for a good clear-out that moving house provides. Mostly, it's clothes we get rid of that we take to charity shops but sometimes, books and CDs.

As a stay-at-home mum, there are things I have realised I can part ways with too. A change in  lifestyle means my clothing needs have changed. I'm not planning on returning to work for a while longer so I'm going to give away most of my work suits to Dress for Success, an international organisation who help disadvantaged women enter or return to the workforce. I have several dressy pairs of shoes that sit in boxes, never worn and never likely to be worn that I can also give away.

My clothing gets moved around at home with the seasons, due to space issues. I keep winter clothes packed away in suitcases or storage boxes during the summer and then switch around once I need warmer clothes for the winter months. It can be a helpful way to regularly moderate what clothing I have and to notice what I don't bother to move because I know I won't wear it. Once something's not been out of the case for a year or more, I recognise that it's probably something I can do without, so I clear out that way too.

 As we enter the autumn/winter fashion period and cooler temperatures, many of us will be thinking about getting a new winter coat, a new cosy jumper or just something we see in a shop that catches our eye. It's also a good time to look at our existing wardrobes and dig out things we haven't worn in a couple of years or those hurried purchases that we never really liked enough to wear. It's a nice feeling to get your wardrobe and drawers all organised for the seasons to come. What will you be giving away?

 Are you good about sorting through your clothes and other items and giving things away? How do you usually get rid of things?
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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A year of Mummy Zen

Last weekend was the one year anniversary of Mummy Zen and coincidentally I had hit the nice round number of 100 total posts to date. I've had my days when I've thought about giving it up but for the most part, I really enjoy writing this blog.

At the beginning I really wanted to get loads of readers and loads of comments from people but my focus soon changed.  I started out taking it quite seriously, deliberating over each post I wrote and checking my web stats daily. Then I realised that it didn't matter to me, even if nobody was reading because it was the writing I enjoyed, the thought that went into it and the process of putting words together. Once I concentrated more on that process, I no longer felt any pressure and could enjoy writing what I wanted and when I wanted. I can't remember the last time I looked at my web stats.

I'm lucky that I do have readers though! Some of you are regulars, some of you come and go and then there are always some new people who come across Mummy Zen. I'm grateful to you all! It means a lot to know people like to read what I have to say and it's always wonderful to read comments from readers.

In case you were wondering, these are five of the most popular posts from the first year of Mummy Zen:

6 Suggestions for Helping out a New Mum

Natural Toilet Training

Trying Toddlers

Finding More Hours in the Day

Baby-Proofing for Budding Explorers

I'm always open to any suggestions of content you'd like to see covered so feel free to contact me.  If you're not already subscribed to Mummy Zen, you can do so either by RSS or by email to ensure you keep updated on new posts as they appear. I hope you continue to keep reading!


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Monday, 13 September 2010

Mummy Zen on Meal Planning

National Zero Waste Week drew to a close yesterday so I wanted to let you know how I got on with my meal planning, in an attempt to further reduce our food waste at home. The kinds of foods I tend to leave languishing at the back of the fridge are salad leaves or greens but this week, those all got used up without any trouble so I consider that a good result.

I still had some potatoes and carrots left over but they are still fine for being used up this week.  Potatoes can get used as a basis for a soup, to top a casserole/shepherds pie or sometimes I make potato pizza. Carrots are great made into a soup too. I’ve recently started making these yummy carrot flapjacks that are great as a savoury snack, picnic item or to have with some salad for lunch (my 1 1/2 year old loves them too). Leftover carrots can also be a good excuse to make some carrot cake :-)

Meal planning definitely has some advantages and I enjoyed some of those last week:

  • No time wasted trying to think of what to cook in the evening (especially nice after a tiring day).

  • More thought goes into your meals when you plan in advance so you’re likely to choose healthier options than you would if you were deciding on the spot.

  • Saves you money, as you cook with what you have rather than going out to buy more ingredients.

  • Cuts down on your trips to the supermarket.

  • Generally makes you feel more organised and gives you one less thing to think about.

As someone not used to meal planning for a whole week ahead, it was not without its small challenges. My meals didn’t always use as much of a particular vegetable as I had anticipated. Whilst the vegetables still didn’t get wasted, I could have done a better job at judging quantities for meals. One evening, I just didn’t feel like making the dish I had chosen for that night, too much preparation or something. It was ok, as I just swapped with another night’s meal but I guess you can avoid this by focusing more on quick, easy recipes for weekday evenings. I’m sure meal planning gets easier with practice.

Whilst I’m not sure that I would meal plan every week, I am keen to try it out for another week or so.  I can see how it could be helpful if you know you have a particularly busy week coming up. My reason for doing it was to minimise food waste and it achieved that aim and made me more aware of creating meals based around the fresh ingredients we have at home, rather than picking a meal and then cooking with only some of those ingredients.

Do you meal plan? If so, how do you think it helps you? What are you best tricks for using up leftover foods?

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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Healthy, Happy Living

There was a very interesting article in the Atlantic magazine last summer. It was about a study conducted by researchers at Harvard who followed 268 men over 72 years, to see what they could learn about what makes us happy. It's a long article but well worth the read when you have some time to spare. I thought I would share some of the points that I found especially interesting and that are also relevant to parents.

The team identified some factors that demonstrated a strong likelihood for people aging healthily and happily. These included education, stable marriage, some exercise and a healthy weight. They also discovered factors that did not affect a healthy, happy aging process and these were particularly interesting to me. Apparently, cholesterol levels at age 50 do not impact your health in old age. Regular exercise during your university years tends to result in better late-life mental health, than physical health. I'm pretty sure I didn't do any regular exercise during university!

These two points made me think how important it is as parents to instil good habits amongst chidren when it comes to healthy eating and exercise. The research described in this article suggests that what's done earlier on in their lives could have a significant impact on their quality of life in old age. It also made me think that my husband and I should work more on incorporating regular exercise into our daily lives!

Another prevailing point to emerge from the study was the importance of social relationships. Having good connections with family and friends can signifcantly help with "successful aging". The article highlighted the notable strength that good sibling relations can provide, "93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger".

One final point that I thought I would share from the article, was the mention of industriousness in childhood seeming to predict better adult mental health. Whether it be household chores, joining a school club or sports team, or having part-time jobs, this kind of activity influences us emotionally and mentally. I think we'd all probably agree that encouraging our children to help out at home, as well as to get involved in group activities has lots of benefits but this is one more to add to the list!

Presented like this, the results from this extensive research sound somewhat basic but it's fascinating that studying these men throughout major stages of their lives (university, World War II, career, marriage, divorce, having children and grandchildren and moving into old age) has shown that things we know to be important in our lives, really are. Healthy eating, regular exercise, having good relationships with family and friends and keeping active are not just better for the day-to-day but also for long term. As parents, we should think about this for ourselves and also for our children, helping them to do what they can for a healthy, happy life.


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Monday, 6 September 2010

Brighter Days

Some of you in the UK might have heard about the Lighter Later campaign, as part of the 10:10 project that I've mentioned briefly on here before. The idea behind Lighter Later is to change the clocks forward by one hour for the whole year, to enable us all to benefit from extra daylight hours. We would still change the clocks twice a year as we do currently, but an hour of daylight from the morning would have been moved to the evening.

The benefits of this initiative are numerous. Here are just a few:

  • We'll reduce our electricity consumption whilst enjoying extra daylight.

  • People will have more opportunity to exercise outside in the evenings after work before it gets dark.

  • It'll help those people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

  • Lighter evenings make for happier people and a better quality of life for those who are fearful of venturing out on a dark evening.

Other benefits are listed on the Lighter Later site and include employment benefits, a reduction in crime, and of course, reducing a significant amount of CO2 pollution.

I personally think it's a good idea and have done what I can to demonstrate my support. I've signed up to the campaign online and joined the Facebook group. I've written to my local MP asking for her support and her vote for the forthcoming Private Members Bill on 3 December when the government will review the evidence for the campaign and decide whether to change the clocks for a three-year trial period.

The prospect of another long winter and days drawing in early is a bit depressing. Having enjoyed long afternoons outside with my son during the summer, it'll be hard to give that up when it starts getting dark around 3pm. The Lighter Later campaign gives us all the opportunity to benefit from an extra hour of daylight in the evening whilst helping save energy and cut carbon.

Have any of your signed up to support the campaign? Do you think it's a good idea?


A brief note on another is the start of National Zero Waste Week and as per my pledge, I have planned my meals for the week ahead with the aim of reducing food waste in our household. I'll let you know how I got on at the end of the week but so you all know that I really have planned our meals ahead, here's what we'll be eating this week:

  • Monday: Noodles and stir fry (using spring onion, swiss chard, cabbage, carrot and a few runner beans)

  • Tuesday: Broccoli quiche with salad

  • Wednesday: Potatoes, carrots and garlic runner beans

  • Thursday: Lentil and cabbage bake

  • Friday: minestrone soup using any leftover veg (on Friday's I get our organic veg box delivery for the next week so I will have used everything up by then)

  • Saturday: Spiced broccoli & halloumi couscous

  • Sunday: Leek pie with carrots, potatoes and French beans


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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Sustainability in the City

I'm keeping with the family city living theme for this post. An old article from last year on The Simple Green Frugal Coop blog gave ten steps to living sustainably in the city.  You can read them in more detail over on the site but here are their ten suggestions:

  1. Walk

  2. Stop watching television

  3. Eat fresh, local foods

  4. When not in use, turn it off

  5. Take advantage of thrift stores

  6. De-complicate

  7. De-stuff

  8. Become a part of your community

  9. Compost and recycle

  10. Plan ahead

I think you'll agree that these are very do-able steps that we can all incorporate into our lives. I'm happy to say I do most of these but there's definitely room for improvement! Considering them in relation to family life, they are also helpful to encourage quality time and learning together:

Walking with your family gives time for conversation and noticing what's around you, whether it be city sites or autumn leaves falling. It can be exercise without you realising it and an enjoyable time to observe your surroundings, maybe jump in puddles or run into friends.

Not watching television means more time for play and activities. Children are more active if they're not sat in front of a TV screen and parents are more likely to chat to their children or engage them in something fun or interesting.

Eating fresh local foods hopefully means you eat more seasonally and healthily. It's good for children to learn what grows when and to enjoy trying new things as they become available throughout the year. Fruit picking at farms can be a fun family outing.

Turning off electrical items when they are not being used is a good habit to get into and an example to set to older children. It's something I've made a big effort to do this year as one of my new year's resolutions.

Thrift stores, or charity shops as we call them in the UK, can be a great way to get some new things without spending much money and as a way to help reduce the amount of items that go to landfill. Online sites like Freecycle operate along similar lines. There's no reason why everything you buy for your family needs to be brand new, so it can be worth looking at these places first for things like clothing and books.

De-complicate is very sensible advice. Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op mentioned cleaning products for this point, suggesting you try homemade cleaners rather than filling your cupboard with all kinds of bottles and sprays that can be harmful to children and the environment. It applies to anything though - toiletries in the bathroom, pantry staples in the kitchen....keep it simple!

De-stuff is something we should all do on a regular basis. Take stock of the things you have in your home and if they are not used, give them away to people who will use them. Think before you buy anything and try to make purchases that will be long-lasting in terms of durability and enjoyment (toys, clothing).

Becoming a part of your community is a nice way to involve your family with similarly-minded people nearby. It enables both parents and children to meet new people, make friends and to have a certain satisfaction from being part of a group. Look for local groups or those associated with your child's school or a hobby they regularly practise.

Composting and recycling can be explained to older children and they can help you sort things for the recycling and compost bins.

Planning ahead is very practical advice for families. Everything from day-to-day tasks like making school packed lunches to events like a family holiday benefits from thinking through in advance, making lists, preparing what's needed earlier rather than later and results in less wasted time and money.

Can you think of other things we can do to live more sustainably in the city? Do you do most of the suggestions listed already?


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