Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Walk the walk

With the spring weather arriving and longer lighter days upon us, one of the simplest but nicest things you can do with your child is to go out for a walk. For adults, walking is all about the destination and getting there quickly. As a child it's a mini adventure.

I've written before about the benefits of slowing down, taking a more gentle pace and appreciating what's around you more. This post is about fun things to do on a walk with your child, using their natural tendency to be observant of their surroundings and to encourage interaction with what's around them. Here are some things we talk about and look out for on our walks around the neighbourhood that you might like to try with your toddler:

Colours: look out for anything red, such as cars, post boxes, telephone boxes. We're currently pointing out the spring blossom on the trees and saying if it's pink or white. You could call out colours of front doors, flowers, shop fronts and all kinds of other things.

Counting: my son loves to tell me how many steps there are in front of the mansion blocks in our area and preferably to run up and down each one too! Of course there are endless options for counting games: cars in a driveway/along a road, post boxes, people riding bikes, dogs that you see out for a walk.....

People: builders at work, people sitting outside for lunch, someone sweeping outside their home, other children with their parents - all of these are of great interest to my son who will often stand still and just watch them for a while and probably tell me what they are doing too. People-watching is not just for adults!

Surroundings: maybe you live near a park where you can go and dig around in the dirt or pick up sticks, sometimes we go to feed the ducks or watch the canal boats. Whatever surroundings you have nearby to home you can make use of and enjoy. Even the simplest things like walking over drain covers is big news with my two-year old, especially if they are a bit wobbly and make a noise when he walks over them!

Vehicles: having a son, vehicles are pretty exciting for him. We look out for rubbish trucks, emergency vehicles, big trucks or lorries and noisy motorbikes. Anything that makes a noise or has a flashing light on it is especially engaging :-).

Animals & birds: we passed a robin on the pavement yesterday. There are often squirrels racing up trees and sometimes cats sitting on a wall. This time of year is especially good for seeing lots of different birds and animals out enjoying the milder weather.

What do you like to enjoy and observe when you go out for a walk close to home? Do you play any games or try to incorporate anything in particular when out for a walk?


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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Choosing a nursery

This isn't a post about how to choose a nursery / pre-school for your child but a sharing of my recent experience. I've been looking at nurseries over the past few weeks ready for my son to start in September this year, shortly before he turns three. Quite a few of my friends started their children at age two for 2-3 mornings a week and most of them were going to the same nursery, so that was the first on my list to visit. At the back of my head, I had decided that he would go to this nursery because it must be pretty nice if everyone else is sending their child there, it's a convenient location, not the most expensive and offers the flexibility of doing as few or as many mornings as you like. Going to look at it was more a formality.

Well, I hated it! I didn't like the lady who showed me around. She rushed me around, wasn't especially friendly, didn't answer my questions properly and didn't treat me with the sort of cordiality I expected from someone working at a place where they want parents to pay them money and leave their child in their trusted hands. They had a great outdoor space but the indoor space seemed dark, worn and in poor condition. I could go on but suffice it to say, I was surprised so many of my friends were sending their children there and knew I wouldn't be sending my son there. I should mention the nursery does have an 'outstanding' Ofsted report which is obviously a draw but it wasn't for me.

The next place I looked at was a very small nursery attached to a church. I really liked this one and it reminded me of the small simple scale of the nursery I went to when I was little. There were just three small rooms separated for different types of activities and then they use the attractive vicarage garden for playing outside. They only take a maximum of 14 children and can't guarantee a place, so it would have been a matter of calling and reminding them I was still interested throughout the summer. The lady who runs it wasn't especially genial but I was won over by the simple set-up and general feel of the place.

However, it was the third nursery I saw that was the very best of the lot. Everything about my visit was perfect and to my expectations. The headteacher was extremely amiable, very thorough in her explanation of all aspects of the nursery and the sort of approach and activities they encourage. The facilities are great, the staff all greeted my son and I with genuine smiles and the children there all seemed happily immersed in an activity of one kind or another. This nursery was at the very opposite end of the spectrum to the first one I had seen. There was only one remaining place left for September which I was able to take up, so it almost seemed like it was meant to be. It's a longer walk from our home, it's the most expensive of the three but most importantly, it felt like the right environment for my son.

The overiding point that I have learnt from the experience of finding a nursery is that, as with most things concerning parenting, you have to trust your instincts. I had no idea what sort of treatment is realistic for a parent to receive from someone showing me around a nursery but I had expectations that correlate to the sort of values I find important for myself and my family. To me, things like that are as important as the Ofsted reports, the quality of the facilities and all the other factors to consider when looking at a school.

I had already been feeling nervous about my son starting nursery and how he will take to it but now I feel really happy and excited for him. It might be tough at the beginning as he settles in, especially as he is not used to being left anywhere without me but I am confident the process will go as well as it can at this nursery and that once he does settle in, that he will get a lot of enjoyment from it. That's a reassuring feeling for a parent!

What were your experiences when looking at a nursery for your child and what sort of factors were most important to you?


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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Babies on the big screen

Film reviews aren't typical content on Mummy Zen but when I was offered the chance to watch the 'Babies' movie before it is released on DVD here in the UK, I couldn't turn it down. I saw a trailer for the film ages ago it seems and have been looking forward to seeing it ever since. Two French men, Thomas Balm├Ęs and Alain Chabat, both fathers of three children were behind the film and decided to follow four different babies in four different countries from birth to taking their first steps.

Ponijao, Bayarjargal, Mari and Hattie are from Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the United States, respectively. The film is not narrated and has no commentary or dialogue of any kind. We hear snippets of the mothers and babies interacting but otherwise, the film is a visual experience as we watch the similarities and contrasts between the babies. It's an hour and half of watching cute babies that is captivating because of the funny, moving moments that comes with the innocence of little babies. Watching as a parent it's interesting to observe how other parents act around their babies and makes you think about your own attitudes and approach to raising a child and that of your native country and culture too.

The Namibian and Mongolian babies spend a lot of time outside, playing in the dirt, up close with animals and finding fascination with their natural surroundings. In contrast, the Japanese and American babies have entire play rooms with loads of toys to amuse them. The Namibian and Mongolian babies are never transported in a pram. We see the Namibian mother carrying her daughter in a carrier on her back only once. The Japanese and American babies are taken on all kinds of outings in their prams. These are just a couple of the contrasts we see amongst the four different cultures.

When it comes to the similarities, we see all the mothers talking to their babies as they start babbling, and encouraging them to imitate sounds and words. All four babies demonstrate the eagerness to explore that comes with their increasing mobility and of course they all experience the same developmental milestones, such as the struggle and achievement of pulling themselves up to standing for the first time. We watch them laugh and cry, eat and sleep. It's just the basic simple lives that babies lead but it's a really enjoyable film.

The DVD includes some extra features that are fun to watch too. A year after the filming, each family is given their own private screening of the film and we see the reactions and thoughts of both parents and children. I found it particularly interesting to hear what the mothers picked out to say about the other mothers featured in the film, things that surprised them, that they found funny or strange. There is also an insight into the filming of the Namibian family.

Have a look at the trailer below (to watch on an iPhone click here). The DVD is released in the UK on 28 March 2011.

If you've seen the film I'd love to hear what you thought about it.

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