Books. What are they good for? Absolutey everything,

Reading is more than the words on a page, more than an exercise in linguistics. Grasping at the page corners waiting to turn to the next adventure; silly voices and watching your child really believe in something. Contact, interaction – reading is, without question, one of the most important things to do with your child.

This week my sister in law gave Arthur a fantastic signed copy of ’We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen. How wonderful. We sat down, snuggled up and read it twice, pointing out the pictures, making funny voices and enjoying the moment. The connotations of being a bookworm are of someone quiet, withdrawn and nerdy, yet books are full of adventure, moments of amazing enlightenment and the chance to use imagination in ways few other activities allow.

Levels and rates of reading among children are falling , I suspect, mainly because parents don’t read to them. A whole generation of children not knowing how amazing it can be…. – it’s sad. But more than that, it’s a dying art. Reading a book aloud requires imagination and  with children’s books, often abandoning your inhibitions and putting a little bit of you into making something real.

I’m not naïve, computers are not the devil, PSDs haven’t stolen a childhood. But they’ve given parents a lazy alternative, one that doesn’t require them to be involved but gives hours of child-free time. Oh god, I hope they realise they will have so much of that when their children have grown and gone.

Books influenced my life, Wuthering Heights made me cry, To Kill A Mocking Bird showed me the brilliance of the human condition and The Great Gatsby the utter wastefulness of an unfulfilled life.  As I said, it’s more than words.

I want Arthur to have confidence in his ability to read; quietly to himself, immersed in a story, and loudly and proudly to his children and grandchildren. It’s a confidence that permeates beyond the pages to offices, meetings, report writing, soulful evenings spent debating world issues with friends and family. It is a skill we need to save and cherish and hold in the same esteem as getting to level whatever on a Gameboy. How we actually do this is a whole other problem!

Maybe this is a little indulgent middle-class rhetoric but then again, my working-class dad told the best stories in the world and I think he’s partly responsible for my love of language. What a bloody marvellous gift to give me.  It’s as if books have become uncool, defunct and pointless  they are also a casualty of an ever-increasingly throw away world where no one has time and living in the immediate is more important. They need a makeover and quick.

But more basic than this, we are words; big ones, small ones and all the ones in the middle. They make up our days and if our children were to struggle to read them and make sense of them – what a sad loss for us all.

If you appreciate a book, you will never be alone.

Stats from The Reading Agency UK

  • Children and young people who do not achieve expected levels of literacy are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • 14% of children in lower income homes rarely or never read books for pleasure.
  • Parents are the most important reading role models for children and young people.
  • Only 1 in 5 parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children.

There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people’s life chances. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote.

Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage. It is vital that children enjoy reading – motivation is essential for acquiring literacy skills.  Reading for pleasure is more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school

  • Yet only 40% of England’s ten year olds have a positive attitude to reading. The figure for Italy is 64% and 58% for Germany.

”books”

U, me and the kids

All About Me? MEME

Last week I was tagged by another lovely blogger, mamamummymum  in a new ‘All about Me’ bloggy idea. It’s a chance to find out a bit more about each other and share some online love. It originally came from Gina at Cold Tea and Smelly Nappies  after her daughter came home from school with a book entitled; ‘ All about Me’. As she said, why should the toddlers have all the fun!

So, here’s a bit about little ole me and my life beyond the keyboard.

First off tell us your name (nice easy one there)…

Hello, I’m Tory. I’m an ex-newspaper journalist and now work part time in corporate comms. The rest of the time I’m mummy, cook and chief events organiser.

I live at home with…

My son Arthur, partner Jonathan and two cats Jemima and Puddles. Incidently, Jonathan and I have been together ten years and still not married. The only thing that really bothers me is that I still have to call him my ‘partner’ – anyone got any better ideas?!

US1

My favourite thing to do is…

It’s cheesy but spending time with my boy. As we all know it can be tough to feel you’re getting it right with your children, throw in a sometimes stressful job, a few rogue family members and a partner that likes to work away and time spent kicking leaves, making cakes and laughing is simply precious.

I also love to read, I was the nerd at school who looked after her books and read them all – twice.

My favourite thing to eat is…

Food. I would say I have a slight food addiction and think about it all the time. I get a flutter of excitement when planning weekend food and love baking cakes. If pushed I’d say a perfectly cooked steak would be top of my list, with triple cooked chips and green beans cooked in garlic. Or maybe potato dauphinoise…oh god it’s like choosing my favourite child (if I had more than one).

When I get cross I…

Approach the situation with stone cold silence, bringing a sense of doom with me. If this fails I shout very loudly and then laugh. I’m not good at keeping it up for long.

Sometimes I worry because…

Sometimes I worry because I can. I’m a born worrier and can spend many an hour conjuring up worrying scenarios. Mostly I worry about dying and leaving Arthur – little things like that.

My favourite book is…

‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, it shows the brilliance of human nature and the dangers of a closed mind. It’s beautiful, sad and uplifting at the same time and I can read it over and over again.

My favourite toy is (easy now)…

My iPad, I fear I may have to have it surgically removed one day.

 I dislike…

Rude people and people who talk about themselves in the third person. I also hate mushroomS – they are the food of the devil.

 When I grow up I want to be…

Fuelled with steak, stuck to an iPad and wandering through leaves with my boy!Alternatively, a secret shopper specialising in 5 star spa hotels and long haul holidays.

So who’s up next…

RocknRollerBaby

Using the internet – keeping our children safe.

Arthur's favourite CBeebies app

Arthur’s favourite CBeebies app

When I think back to school I can remember weekly computer lessons in a big room filled with monstrous great machines that whirred and whined; now Arthur is using a touch screen at nursery. My parents never thought about what I was looking and could never imagine what the birth of the internet meant for their grandchildren.

With the freedom of a digital age comes a new kind of parenting – how do we keep our children safe when using the internet and how do we make sure our wallets and identities stay safe when one touch can access so much?

Arthur is only two-and-a-half but already an expert on the iPad using it to watch his favourite programmes, play a few games and do puzzles. I’m really aware of how much time he spends on there and because he’s so young it’s very limited. I make sure I’m in the room with him, interacting with the game as well. I also have an age setting on iTunes. I’ve already seen how easy it is for him to find himself on a screen asking whether he wants to buy a new app. Luckily I caught it in time and got rid of the app too – but it’s so easy to see how parents end up with bills for hundreds of pounds in a matter of moments.

I also have a password so he can’t just grab the iPad and start playing – I have to know about it. As he gets older I’ll also be thinking about how to keep him safe from online pornography, predators and the sadly all too common online bullying.

I want Arthur to enjoy social media, to make the most of what’s on offer and to be confident as a user so for me it’s important to talk to him. To make sure he understands the perils and, as far as is possible, that he comes to me when there’s a problem. There’s loads of information on how to keep your children safe on PC Adviser with some great practical tips if your children are older and ways to block websites and set-up passwords too.

For most people internet software to protect you and your pc is a necessity and it’s something I make sure we have and update regularly. It’s quite frightening how often it pops up and says a bug has been found and dealt with – without it who knows what would have happened. Take a look at this article in the Daily Mail, it makes quite worrying reading. I know Arthur is still so young but I’d hate to think he saw something pornographic or frightening.

From reading the article you’ll see that Norton Family was actually voted as the best filter blocking most of the indecent content thrown at it and is recommended for families with young children. The basic version from Norton is free to download and has some great features. You can check how long your child is spending on the internet, stop them sharing personal information and monitor what sites they’re visiting.

If you’ve got older children you might want to check out the premier version which allows you to monitor the videos your children watch on sites like YouTube, you can also see what apps they’re uploading on their android phones. I wish the basic version allowed me to see snippets of video Arthur had clicked on, he’s so young and a clumsy or over-enthusiastic click could take him somewhere unsavoury.

As he grows and I become more aware of what he’s looking at I’ll make sure we’re protected and that he knows the internet is a fantastic tool to be embraced with cautious optimism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poo, fire engines and toddler logic…

A simple post inspired by the exasperating logic of a two year old…

So last week Arthur decided to change his morning routine. He used to patter through to our bedroom at about half six; now he yells at full pelt ‘mummy, I can’t walk,come and get me’.
When asked why he can’t walk: ‘You made my feet too small in your tummy.”

And so the week continued…

“ I is going to France and you is paying for me and my truck.”

Playing his mini guitar while singing:’ up mummy’s bum, up mummy’s bum, stick my fire engine up mummy’s bum.’ There are several versions of this including sticking soldiers and carrots up my bum.

Last night, after a lovely dinner of roast chicken, mash potato and veg, he said: “Can I have poo tomorrow for tea, poo is nicer.”

When trying to explain what the word, thin, meant, he said: “is it like not your legs”. Well yes it is but that’s not the point!

Thanks for making me laugh Arthur- always.

Christmas competition – win £50 of festive loveliness!

 I love everything about Christmas, the anticipation, the magical moment you realised your child really does think Santa’s coming – nearly everything. What I hate are the crowds, the jostling for position for that last Christmas tree and the never-ending trips into town for yet more festive stuff!

What better way to spend an evening than trawling through Christmas online, complete with pjs, winter telly and who knows, maybe even an early Christmas cd. The new Love Christmas site has everything to make Christmas special, from trees to lights, toys and even a rather fab wooden advent calendar.I’m getting this for Arthur so I can put my own little gifts in each day and it can become aprt of our family tradition.

Shopping online means you can start getting organised quickly and take the hassle out of preparing for the festive season. I love the range of lighting, both indoor, each year I battle the urge to create a whole nativity scene in my front garden complete with Santa and reigndeer (yes, I’m aware they are opposite ends of the Christmas spectrum!). This year I’m just going for some of their snowflakes lights – so pretty!

SNOWFLAKES

If you want to win a little sprinkling of magic then there’s a £50 voucher for their site up for grabs. Just email me at torylk99@gmail.com with your name and CHRISTMAS in the subject line by midnight Oct 25. I’ll let the winner know by Monday 28 Oct and the voucher will wing its way to you shortly afterwards. The winner will be chosen at random.

You can follow them on Twitter @lovechristmas1 or head over to their Facebook page: Love Christmas Ltd

‘What To Expect’ goes online

When I was pregnant I spent a huge amount of time thumbing through books on pregnancy and one of the best known was ‘What to Expect’. Everyone had read it, whether eagerly buying brand new or borrowing a well-loved version from a friend.

I found it a great read, well-informed, easy to understand but full of common sense and expert opinion. I’m starting to think about baby number 2 I was so pleased to see this wonderful title is now a UK website – still full of fantastic advice and common sense to help you get through the most wonderful and sometimes toughest nine months.

But more than this when I clicked on the site I realised it covers toddlers too! It’s probably because I never bought books beyond the first few months but I never realised ‘What to Expect’ covers toddlers – result!

Such a find and I loved the coloured meal planner buttons at the top – I’m always looking for new ways to entice Arthur to eat veg.  With tips on playing, behaviour and potty training I found myself hooked. I literally sat down with an hour to spend looking at this site and got up to make a cup of tea two hours later! There are also some great interactive tools like recipe swaps and blogs – gotta love a blog!

I’d jotted down some new meals, managed to put my mind at rest about how potty training was going and learned some fantastic tips to deal with toddler tantrums.

Heidi Murkoff, author of the original bestseller, has created something that gives great advice and invaluable support. It’s recognisable worldwide but still manages to feel small, personal and a bit like a warm hug when you’re looking for reassurance. I also found the site very easy to use, no inane clicking with little idea where you’re going.  Clearly signposted so it’s ideal when you’re snatching a quick ten minutes between naps and feeds etc.

Over the coming months I’ll be using it to help me chart the choppy waters of toddlerdom while keeping an eye on the ovulation calculator and other great tips around getting pregnant – for when I’m ready to do it all over again!

 

Dark mornings and dark moments.

I think I like Autumn. A soft tumble into winter, not too harsh but enough to involve scarves and bonfires and fruit crumbles. I think I like it because in my head it works when it’s bright and the sun is sliced through with cool mornings and breath-filled evenings.

But in reality I battle with a heavy feeling of loss. It’s like the dark mornings and short days smother me. Getting ready in the mornings feels so hard, the thought of going out after 6pm is never a happy thing. I know it’s really common, that people react to the seasons but for me it’s really quite emotional.

I have to give myself a talking to to make sure Arthur and I get out and about when I’m not at work. I have to curb the urge to pop him in front of a film and just stay inside our cocoon. I feel bereft, not all the time, but I can feel it creeping up as August slips into September. SAD is a recognised disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder affects thousands of people each year from mild to extreme symptoms. I’m not sure it’s what I have but I’ve just been thinking about how reality is played out so differently to the life I live in my head.

I think I look different too, it’s subtle but I can see my skin taking a turn for the worse, I get dermatitis, my hair loses lustre and my body feels as though it’s going into hibernation mode – not figuratively, literally.

The walks through winter leaves followed by hot chocolate do happen. But they happen with a sense of sadness. I do go out in the evenings but only because if I didn’t things wouldn’t get done – not because I want to. It’s not all the time and for me, it eases off as we hit November – bit like my body has finally got used to the lack of light. But I feel it approach, I can sense the shadow being cast as the count down to the clocks changing begins.

I’m not depressed, I’m pretty happy really. But for two months or so I struggle to remember that and it’s very real. I know it will pass and reflecting on it feels like self-indulgent drivel but hey, I guess that’s what dark nights and laptops are for. I embrace Halloween, bonfire night and days spent kicking leaves. I love winter clothes and digging my boots out of the cupboard. I hate feeling like this – roll on November.

Little Adventures Challenge

When you’re two almost everything is an adventure.

Catching leaves, searching out stones and digging in treasure troves of muddy gardens all lend themselves to new experiences. With this in mind we used a sunny afternoon to take on our Little Adventures Challenge.

We went on the search for Winnie the Pooh – one of Arthur’s favourite friends, at a beautiful local spot called Whittlingham Broad. We collected pooh sticks to see if Winnie would find them, we scrambled through blackberry bushes and searched oak trees for telltale signs of door ways and honey. We even found leaves Arthur was convinced were Winnie’s washing falling off the line!

“Winnie lives there mummy”, Arthur shouted and on several occasions he found Winnie’s house so we decided Winnie had several that he shared with Piglett, Eyore and Tiger.

Little Adventure Challenge

Across the lake we heard Tigger bouncing through the reeds and somewhere Eyore and Piglett dancing in a den made of the twigs Arthur had thrown into the water.

Finally we sat down and enjoyed our Barny snacks - they had a big thumbs up from Arthur. A soft spongy cake with a yummy chocolate or milk filling. All in the shape of a cute little bear. Arthur loved biting the feet off first – luckily he didn’t associate it too closely with Winnie! They come individually wrapped in foil so they are easy to bung in your bag and they have no artificial colours or preservatives.

We had an adventure, a simple but great one, and we loved it!

*This post is an entry for BritMums ‘Little Adventures Challenge’ in partnership with Barny, the bear-shaped snack providing a little adventure in every bite. Find out more about Barny here. 

When death takes a tumble into life

This week was my birthday – I had a great day, lovely presents and fab friends and family. The kind of day you’ll look back on and smile.

I’ve never seen birthdays as getting older, more about celebrating my life and the very fact I’m here! Until this year when I had some news that took a mirror to my face and there, before my eyes, was my own mortality, sneering back all smug like.

A friend from my past, a man who was woven into the fabric of my formative years died frighteningly quickly of cancer. One moment he was going to the GP about a mole on his back, a matter of weeks later he was taking his last breath in a hospice surrounded by shocked, dumbfounded and grief stricken family.

It’s rare, of course it is but it was a comma, or maybe a semi-colon on my perfectly crafted life prose. He was only a couple of years older than me, he had children, we’d been drunk together, crazy, mad, stupid. We’d not seen each other for years, I never gave him a second thought but then the Grim Reeper tripped him up.

It’s a strange thing when one of your peers dies, it unbalances the norm and inflicts a violent moment of ‘ it could be me, perhaps I won’t die in my bed at 95, surrounded by those I love.” I’m not grieving for him, I won’t lie. He was a good man and it is hugely sad but after 15 years he was a stranger to me, a stranger that shared a past.  But I’m grieving for the sense of freedom that utter ignorance gives.

Goodbye Mark, I hope your family find peace and a joy in your memory. I hope your life was full, exciting  and brimming with chaotic love. I intend to go back to blissful ignorance – I won’t live forever but I might try to act like it.

“If one was to think constantly of death, the business of life would stand still”

Samuel Johnson