Friday, 25 February 2011

How babies learn language

From the very first babbling and cooing noises a baby makes to their first word and sentences that grow and grow, language acquisition in babies and young children never ceases to amaze me. People have all sorts of  opinions on how babies learn sounds and children learn to talk. I have friends who think their child learns a lot from watching TV, others believe it's all the books they read and there are theories that music facilitates language learning amongst babies and children.

A fasciating 10-minute talk on TED, called The linguistic genius of babies reveals that the 6-8 month age of a baby is a crucial stage in their language learning and their understanding of sounds specific to particular languages. It also explains the importance of human contact interacting with the social brain, over audio and visual input. I found it really interesting and I'm sure you will too. Have a look over the weekend and let me know what you think.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Encouraging little sous-chefs

Most children enjoy cooking at home, whether that's pretend cooking or helping do the real thing with you in the kitchen. I was always looking forward to having my son 'help' with cooking. It was one of those activities that I wasn't sure when they are old enough to try but when I did try with him, probably when he was around 18 months, he immediately took to it. It continues to be one of his favourite things to do. With a mum who enjoys cooking, he's used to seeing me do it a lot so I'm sure that made him want to get stuck in!

Even when he is not helping out, my son likes to see what I'm doing in the kitchen. He names off the vegetables I'm chopping up and wants to see what's cooking in the saucepans. I talk to him about what I'm preparing and cooking and often pick him up so he can do a quick stir of something.

I came across a blog post called 10 ways to get small children involved in the kitchen that I thought had some good ideas to encourage your children to help out, learn and develop an interest in cooking. A couple of my favourites from the suggestions provided are to let them help tear or break food into pieces and let them rinse or wash fruits and vegetables. As with most of the ideas, these are simple, safe tasks  but will make your child feel like they are being genuinely useful in the kitchen.

One difficulty some people might have with letting their young children help in the kitchen is how to get them to reach the work surface. We have a couple of tall breakfast stools so we sit our son on one of those which brings him up to a suitable height. You could have them stand on a chair like the girl pictured above. Another option is to bring a small table into the kitchen and put the mixing bowl, vegetables  or whatever you are cooking with down on the small table in easy reach for them. I guess sitting them in their high-chair to do something like tear up food would also work well.

Expect some mess, some spillages and mishaps but accept these as part of the fun for your child and part of the learning process in the kitchen. Cooking is a wonderful way to do something together, for your child to do activities they enjoy like tipping, pouring, sorting, to experience different textures, develop their hand-eye coordination and more!

What are some of the favourite tasks your children like doing in the kitchen? Do you have any additional ideas to share for simple ways young children can help out?


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Thursday, 17 February 2011

A journey to raw food

This is a guest post by Aya Davis, founder of the London based raw vegan food company Pura Vida food.

My personal journey to raw food has been over a number of years. I come from a very strong meat eating environment and had eaten it for 17 years until I moved to the UK from my native Latvia. I found that meat didn’t taste as good as back home and was expensive for a student budget but at that time I hadn’t really become conscious of any of the reasons that drive me now.

I became a vegetarian about five years ago as I started to look more into healthy living and being vegan was my 2009 new year's resolution. Raw diet was introduced to me by a friend with whom I initially started my business in September 2009 and I have not looked back since. Saying that, I am not a 100% committed vegan or raw foodie, I live my life by the principle of doing my best and adapting to situations when it is necessary and occasionally I quite enjoy some cooked vegetarian food.

The main difference with increasing the amount of raw food in my diet was that I stopped having cravings and the amount of food I needed to eat became smaller. In the transition process I lost 8kg of weight, my eyesight improved and plaque stopped developing around my teeth. All three had been problems previously.

After working in different corporate environments for a number of years, it soon became clear that I would prefer to have my own business! At the same time, the notion of wanting to do something with my life that makes a difference to the environment, peoples lives and attitudes, increases well-being and vitality became stronger and stronger so I decided to take a break from working and London and give my inner voice a chance to be heard.

I spent three months in the wonderful, colorful, always sunny Costa Rica learning Spanish, opening my heart and meeting amazing people from around the world. More importantly, within two weeks I had decided that I would like to create a living vegan fast food chain! During my corporate experiences I had realised there is nothing on the high street that would cater for vegetarians, let alone vegans and raw foodies and that in general there are not enough healthy food places.

My business name Pura Vida also came from Costa Rica, where it is used very commonly and means greeting and wishing well. In translation from Spanish Pura Vida means Pure Life and the Costa Rican as well as the literal meaning just made sense immediately for what I had in mind for the business idea, as well as the message that it would send.

So far we have created a daily delivery service of lunch and dinner meals, breakfasts and juices  in central London and are also working on releasing our first products in the shops. My longer-term aim is for Pura Vida to become an international chain of healthy hot and living vegan foods  as well as  home delivery service and a range of everyday base products such as breads, cookies, burgers and nutballs sold in the shops world wide.

Why raw food? There are numerous issues with a cooked diet. Primarily, cooking kills enzymes. The body can create enzymes but its a process that takes a lot energy and it makes us feel tired and heavy. Furthermore, the enzymes that our bodies make are not as efficient and effective as those that were destroyed in the food. As a result, the food is not broken down properly and it starts a rotting process in the intestines and gives parasites more chance to survive. Cooking also changes the ph level of the food and makes food acidic. We should eat alkaline foods, as eating acidifying foods makes our bodies a welcome ground for disease. It also destroys most vitamins. Raw food is prepared under 45 Celsius and preserves the enzymes and vitamins.

The benefits when your diet consists of 75% or more raw foods are more energy, less sleep needed, weight loss, clearer and more beautiful skin, clarity of mind and better memory, improved immune system, prevention or even reversal diabetes.

Here's a tasty raw food recipe you can try at home:

Pura Vida Rich Delicious Nori Rolls (pictured above)
(Equipment needed – blender or food processor)

For the "rice"

  • Almonds 200g (you can cheat with almond flakes)

  • Fresh Basil 50g

  • Fresh Parsley 50g (can't cheat with parsley nor basil, has got to be fresh and screaming green)

  • 2 cloves of garlic

  • 1 Lemon Juice

  • A pinch of salt

  • a little water

For the filling:

  • 1 avocado

  • 1 cucumber

  • 50g Fresh peeled ginger

  • 50 Fresh Coriander

  • Any other vegetable that you like - Courgette, carrot, red or yellow pepper, anything that comes to your imagination

For the outer coat:

  • Preferably dried, not roasted nori sheets, but they taste the same really, its just a matter of whether you want to go completely raw or not.

If you are using whole almonds - soak overnight and then blend, with a little water and lemon juice, then add basil and parsley and garlic so you get slightly hummus like texture (the ticker, the better)

Separately, blend the coriander and sliced ginger (easier in the blender) together, then cut the avocado and cucumber and anything else you've chosen in long strips.

You're ready for rolling now.

Lay out the nori sheet, put two small tablespoons of the almond mixture on one end of the nori, spread it out, add the coriander and ginger mixture, avocado, cucumber, etc and roll it into a nori roll. Enjoy!


Have a look at the menus on the Pura Vida website, where you can also sign up to receive 'Fortnightly knowledge' and have recipes sent to your email. For any further details, contact Aya:


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Changing your caffeine habits

As part of my aim to get better sleep at night and drink more water during the day, I've naturally cut down on my intake of caffeinated hot drinks recently. I've never drunk loads of tea and coffee but I do enjoy a cup of English breakfast tea in the morning and a good strong cup of coffee mid-morning. Yesterday, I decided to go without both of these and as a result, I had a headache by the evening. It's common to get withdrawal headaches when you cut out caffeine completely, especially when you do it suddenly like I did. Of course there's no need for everyone to cut caffeine out of their diet but reducing the amount you consume on a daily basis can bring about some benefits such as reduced stress, helping you sleep better and ironically, make you feel more energetic.

If we consider the reasons why we drink caffeinated tea and coffee, it becomes easier to find a solution to cutting down that suits your lifestyle:

• REASON: It gives you an energy fix

SOLUTION: There are lots of other ways to get an energy boost. Getting out for a walk, drinking some water, eating an apple or banana are all healthier ways to make you feel more energetic.

• REASON: Habit. It's what you always drink at a particular time of the day.

SOLUTION: Substitute your usual caffeinated drink with a herbal tea, fresh juice or even just an extra glass of water. Over a period of time, you can change a habit.

• REASON: Social reasons. You often go out for coffee with friends and everyone else drinks coffee.

SOLUTION: Consider a decaffeinated version of your usual coffee. I used to hate decaffeinated coffee but if I have a milky coffee, I find it hard to taste the difference (as opposed to drinking it black, without milk). This reason is also essentially a habit so try an alternative to find something that suits your tastes.

• REASON: You like the taste!

SOLUTION: Choose a time of the day to drink a cup of your favourite tea or coffee. By limiting the amount you consume, you'll find you enjoy it even more than drinking it regularly throughout the day. If you have trouble initially reducing the number of cups you have, try just drinking half a cup rather than the full amount each time.

There are probably other reasons too but I think these are the main motives behind why many of us reach for a tea or coffee. Since cutting down my own intake, I find that I really savour the two (caffeinated) cups I have a day. If I do have more, it makes me feel a bit sluggish. Cutting down on caffeine can seem like an overwhelming task but by making a few little changes to your drinking routine, it's relatively easy and you'll find you soon settle into a new drinking pattern. Water is a big help too because often when we think we want a tea or a coffee it's because we are dehydrated. Drinking a big glass of water may mean you don't need the tea or coffee after all.

Cold drinks like coke contain caffeine too. I never drink anything like that but if you do, it's worth remembering that they are contributing to the amount of caffeine you consume. Healthier alternatives like water, juices, smoothies can be ways to enjoy something cold without the caffeine.

What's your typical daily caffeine intake? Do you notice any differences in the way you feel when you consume more or less than your usual amount?


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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Inspiration for Valentine's Day

The first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer Chaucer wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

["For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."]. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

With Valentine's Day coming up next week, there have been lots of suggestions online for what to do with your children and partner to make the most of the day. I decided to pick a few of my favourites and share with you:

Whatever your thoughts on the merits of Valentine's Day, I think it's a good excuse to do some fun crafts and activities with your children. I'm planning on doing a few of those listed above with my son. Whether or not you're a romantic, there's nothing wrong with making an effort to do something a little special with your partner too :-).

Do you have any plans for Valentine's day or any family traditions for 14 February? Are there any ideas you've seen for Valentine-themed art and craft activities that you've liked or even tried out yourself?


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Friday, 4 February 2011

A funny parenting trick

Friends of ours were telling us how their 4-year old son got a splinter in his foot and wouldn't let them anywhere near it to take it out. In the end, they called A&E and asked whether they could bring him down to have his splinter removed if they weren't too busy. So he had his splinter removed at A&E! The story made my husband and I think about a funny thing we do with our son that seems to have good consequences in situations like this one....

For whatever reason, we started encouraging our son to say, 'I'm a fighter!', complete with hand gesture of punching the air with his fist. He finds it funny, both saying it and doing the gesture. Some examples of it in use are if he's a bit sniffly and miserable, I'll say to him that he surely isn't going to come down with a cold because he's a fighter! We'll say it and do the action together and it makes him laugh.  Or if he falls over and starts crying, we tell him it's ok and to remember he's a fighter! With tears streaming down his face, a little fist will emerge and he'll mumble through his tears, "fighter!" and then we laugh and he gets cheered up.

It's just our funny way of encouraging him to be brave and distracting him in moments of mild distress. Hopefully it'll still work when he's four and if he gets a splinter in his foot :-).

Do you have any funny little parenting tricks you do in your family?


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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The drama queen phase

Last summer I remember meeting up with another mum and her two-year old (my son would have been 1 1/2 at the time). We sat down for a chat and my friend had bought her daughter an ice lolly to eat. She peeled off the top and gave it to her. Her daughter started freaking out because she hadn't been able to peel the top off herself. Her mum positioned it back on so her daughter could then take it off herself but it was no use. There were tears, there was whining and general upset. Her mum dealt with the situation as best she could but her daughter was unconsolable. I remember thinking to myself, surely my son will never be like that when he's two.

Fast-forward seven or eight months and I can easily imagine the same scene unfolding with my son! The terrible twos or whatever you want to call it seems to have arrived. Suddenly we get big drama from the slightest, often unpredictable thing. Sometimes it obviously comes from frustration with a toy, an activity, or other children crowding his space or stealing his toy but sometimes, it's very random and unexpected. He'll be playing happily and seemingly enjoying himself and then there's an outburst!

My husband and I have been trying to encourage him to tell us what's wrong rather than simply making a loud noise about it. That works some of the time or at least makes him stop for a minute whilst he considers telling us. Other times, he couldn't care less about telling us and just wants to make a big scene. For a parent it's a challenging time. It's different to the general meltdown I've written about before. It's not tiredness/hunger related necessarily. Distraction doesn't always work. Sometimes you try all the usual tricks with no success and it can make you feel like you can't control your own child!

I'm no expert on dealing with this phase in a toddler's life but I've come up with a few techniques that I think can help when your child is acting like a drama queen and to minimise the times they act in that way:

Communication. Explain everything that's about to happen, plans for the morning / afternoon and instruct them if they are doing a new activity to try to make it go smoothly and avoid any frustrating difficulties they may have.

Give warnings. Warn them when something is about to end or you're about to leave rather than suddenly finishing a task abruptly or expecting them to happily leave a place where they are having fun. A couple of warnings is probably best, so if you need to head home for lunch from a friend's house or playgroup tell your child that it'll be time to go in five minutes and again when it's one minute away. Whilst they won't have any concept of the time, it's more about gentle reminders to prepare them for leaving.

Eye contact. If your child is in the middle of a meltdown, bend down to their level and encourage eye contact while you speak to them. It's a lot less intimidating that you speaking from up above.

Remain calm! This is perhaps the most challenging but speaking to your child calmly, rather than raising your voice or snapping at them is likely to be more effective in reasoning with them. Hopefully your calm demeanor will in turn encourage them to be calm.

Follow through. If you give your child an ultimatum as a consequence for their bad behaviour, don't be afraid to follow through with it. They need to understand that you have the upper hand and that there are certain types of behaviour that are not acceptable.

Be consistent. Allowing them to do something one day and not the next will be confusing and will cause upset. If you don't want your child to push buttons on the washing machine for example, then don't let them do it once and think it's ok. By being consistent in your responses and parenting methods, they learn what's allowed and what's not.

What else would you suggest? Did you find this stage challenging with your children? Dare I ask how long it lasted?!!


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