Sunday, 16 November 2014

Operation Christmas Child

We spent some time this weekend packing up a couple of shoeboxes, for Operation Christmas Child. A mum at school had mentioned she and her son were going to do one and when I looked into it, I really liked the idea too. The charity, Samaritan's Purse, deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children around the world.

As we approach the festive season, I think this is a really nice way to involve children in the act of giving. My two had a lot of fun packing their shoeboxes and thinking about what a little boy or girl might like to receive or find useful. We began by packing one shoebox but when it came to deciding on whether it should be for a boy or girl (as Samaritan's Purse ask you to decide), we could not agree! My daughter wanted it to be for a girl, my son wanted it to be for a boy so daddy suggested we do two, one for each.

There are lots of useful suggestions of what to pack inside your box on the Samaritan's Purse website. We included a combination of some fun stuff and some practical items and my children also both drew a picture and my son wrote a little note on his to include inside. It was really nice to see my children excitedly running around finding things and coming up with ideas of what we could include in the boxes.

You are asked to send a minimum £3 donation per box to cover shipping costs for your box and if you donate online, you can follow your box and find out which country it gets delivered to. We are going to donate that way, as my son really wants to know where the boxes will go.

Once you have packed your box, you need to drop it off at one of the collection points near to you. The deadline is 18 November, so those of you in the UK reading this who are interested in making up a box should just about have time! If you miss the deadline however, you can still create a shoebox online, and have items purchased and packed for you.

For those of you in the US, you can do it too! Have a look at the details and deadlines on their website.

Have you done something like this with your children in the past or do you have other types of activities you involve your children in, to encourage the spirit of giving to those less fortunate?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

School dinners, snacks and sugary treats

One day during the recent school half-term holiday, my son said that he thought he would like to try school dinners when he went back (he has been taking a packed lunch since he started school). I asked him again the day before he returned to school and as he had not changed his mind, school dinners began for him this week.

For any non-UK readers, the government here decided to provide free school dinners for all children in Reception, year 1 and year 2 (4-7 year olds), as part of their policy to 'giving all children a healthy start in life'. I have always given my son the choice of whether he takes a packed lunch or has school dinners and until now, he always wanted packed lunches.

Part of me was secretly pleased my son had opted for packed lunches for so long, as I get particularly annoyed by the sweet puddings/desserts that are on offer every day! Part of the idea of the free school meals is to try to discourage those people taking unhealthy packed lunches (containing crisps, cakes, chocolate etc) and to bring healthier food to more children. I fail to see how the sugary desserts can be part of the 'healthy' school lunches.

No surprise to me at all that this first week of his school dinners, my son has had a chocolatey/sugary dessert three days out of four. The one day he had fruit instead was because he knew he had a friend coming over after school and that I would be making something yummy for them! I am hoping the novelty will wear off after a few weeks but we will see.....

Also this week, I came across this article, Why I became a Snacktavist, by Audrey D. Brashich and I felt it really describes the way I feel about children and sugar and treats. The opening lines are:
"Dear everyone who interacts with my children anywhere at all:
Please stop feeding my kids sugar."
She goes on to explain how sugar has become part of nearly every event for children, from after-school clubs, to holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween), to birthdays and play dates. Part of her wants to remove some of the treats they might enjoy at home as a family, just to get some nutritional balance in her children's diets and yet, " I don’t want to have to give up the treats we enjoy together as a family just so my kids can eat their fill when they are everywhere but our house".

The article discusses snacks and how once they were simply something to keep hunger at bay between meals but now have become more of a 'treat' in themselves, with parents trying to outdo each other.
"Kids today are getting about 500 calories daily from snacking, and most of their snacks contain primarily refined white flour, salt, sugar and artificial additives, which is a dangerous combination given how childhood has changed, too. “There’s more inactivity and kids are eating more calories and artificial food dyes than at any time in history,
Do have a read of the article in full and let me know what you think.

As a parent to young children, I would like to be the one who decides when and how they consume sugary foods. I am happy for sweet treats to be offered to my children when they go to a friend's house to play and usually do the same here when my son has a friend over. I like to bake and have something a bit special on a Friday at the end of the week and perhaps make a nice dessert at least one evening over the weekend for the whole family to enjoy together. Every day at school as well? I am not so keen on that.

I do think school dinners can be a positive thing overall. Several parents have told me the good effect they have had on their fussy eaters, who start eating foods they previously refused and who surprise them by being more adventurous with their eating. Even my son on day one, chose a meal which had broccoli with it (which he detests) and ate it all!

What are your thoughts on school dinners, snacks and sugar treats?! Do you try to provide healthy snacks for your children to balance out some of the less healthy food they might consume at other times during the day or week? Does your child's school do a good job of providing plenty of healthy options for school dinners?
photo credit

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Party planning for toddlers

I have done a few birthday parties over recent years, for my son who is approaching age six and my daughter who just had her third birthday. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that less is more!

For an enjoyable and successful birthday party for little ones, you often need less of everything than you would imagine; less food, less party guests and less activities.

Food - I learnt early on that it is easy to over-cater for birthday parties. Even though I have vastly reduced what I used to prepare, there is still always more than needed! Little ones really do not eat a lot and coupled with the excitement and the promise of cake, they are often too distracted to eat much at a party. Keep it simple too, prepare what you know your child and friends are likely to eat, rather than what looks fancy!

Party guests - for my daughter's third birthday party a couple of weeks ago, we invited just three other little girls. It was her choice. I suggested another couple of people but she said no, she really only wanted these particular three girls, so that is who we invited. I once read or heard somewhere that is is sensible to invite the same number of guests as the child's age. That is what unintentionally happened this time and it was very pleasant! The fewer guests there are, the less stress for the parents, the more time the guests spend with the birthday boy or girl and the more attention they receive.

Activities - whilst you definitely want to plan a few activities for the party, you also don't want to try to cram too much into the time. It can be good to allow some going with the flow too! For my daughter's recent party, we had a couple of small art and craft activities for the children to do on arrival (and something they could later take home with them), which is good for filling the time as you wait for people to get there. Then we played some traditional party games (pass the parcel, musical bumps etc), had lunch and the cake and then finished with a final party game and dance around! It was simple but worked really well.

I will leave you with some other children's birthday party posts you may be interested in reading:
A great party bag alternative
Children's birthday cakes
A winning winter birthday party for a 2-year old

What have you learnt from birthday parties you have had for your young children? What has worked and what hasn't? Any top tips to share?
photo credit