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Gardening Therapy for Toddlers

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I'm struggling to believe that Spring is actually here.  It's felt like the longest, harshest winter.  We've had three rounds of snow, school closures and cancelled trains.  Every virus, cough and pox has swept through the town, taking us down as their victims.  Currently overcoming chicken pox, our children have felt pretty miserable, but have shown us moments of how to have fun in the midst of discomfort, "I'm doing the itch-dance", says our three year old while the younger dives off the sofa.  Now into our second week of quarantine, we've exhausted every jigsaw and colouring book; we've finished watching every Paw Patrol episode and strayed into the dark land of afternoon repeats of CBeebies; we've baked cakes, biscuits and bread.  But better than all of this, as the days gradually lengthen? We planted some seeds.
In an emotionally-intense chicken pox fog, my two tots and I gardened our way to recovery.  In a pre-pox bustle of activity, we'…

Attempting World Book Day like a pro (without effort nor money), 2018

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I love books.  I love the world.  I love special themed days: Birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas Day, Pancake Day. What in the Dickens is this World Book Day about?
I love any excitement over books.  There’s nothing better than a story storm: thousands of kids camping out to get a Harry Potter book, the banning of D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, 100 million+ copies sold of the Fifty Shades trilogy.  Or better still, a group of little kids enthralled by a story; genuine joy that today is library day; pin-drop silence in a room of thirty teenagers as they are all glued to a book.  Pure magic.
I’ve taught English in secondary schools since 2005.  Never before have I asked students to find fancy dress costumes.  Traditionally, we’d hand out £1 book tokens and have an extra twenty minutes of private reading.  There’d be a book-themed assembly and the school library would put a nice display up.  As the Literacy Coordinator, I spiced things up a bit one year by getting all the te…

8 of the Best Story Books To Read By Moonlight

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We were lucky enough to begin the new year with a glorious full moon, just high enough to shine above the clouds and to illuminate little one's room in time for bedtime stories.  Unusually, we pulled up the blind that night and relied solely on the bright moon beams to read our favourite books: a hopeful start to 2018.  Here's our list of the best story books to read by moonlight.  The next full moon, a blue moon, is on 31st January, 2018.
Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me, by Eric Carle (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1999).  If there was a prize for the most doting father, it would go to this earnest chap, who manages to climb the tallest ladder on top of the tallest mountain and bring down the mighty moon for his daughter to play with.  Beautiful, charming and heroic.  Final thought: how wonderful to dance with the moon.Giraffes Can't Dance, by Giles Andreae (Orchard, 1999). To be honest, we read this most nights, but it took on a new meaning whilst reading under the lunar…

New Year's Day: More Fuzz Than Fizz

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The first day of 2018- a happily fuzzy sociable sort of a day for us- has concluded with a bright full moon in clear cloudless skies.  Our littlest one and I read books by the light of the moon before settling for a dreamy sleep.  His big brown eyes finally closed as I stroked his head and whispered an echo of our final read: "I love you to the moon, and back" (Guess How Much I Love You, S. McBratney)*.  I then settled our older boy who just needed one more cuddle after the exhilaration of a busy few days.  We then collapsed in an exhausted pile on the sofa.

 I used to feel a particular blurry excitement on New Year's Day: a fresh start with new goals and dreams, after the fizz of the night before.  In 2011/12, my friend Jody and I partied on Mombasa Beach and watched the mighty African sun rise above the Eastern shoreline.  Somewhere amongst that five-thousand strong crowd was another traveller-teacher, on his own Kenyan adventure.  We didn't meet that night.  Inste…

Early Motherhood Clouded by Thick Fog, Just Like This Year's Supermoon.

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Our youngest has the box room at the back corner of the house, its window to the side.  Looking out, there's a disappointing view: a thousand bricks, rising high into the blue.  Yet, there is one slither of visible sky.  Every evening, after bath time, we snuggle on his low bed, reading stories and settling for a milk feed.  The curtains are closed and the lights are dimmed to a low warm light.

We must have been a bit rushed one evening, a later bedtime with an overtired baby.  We collapsed onto the mattress, comfortable and settled at last.  It was only then that I looked up and realised that the blinds were up and I'd forgotten to turn the night light on.  But the room had a glow more lovely and soft than usual; the moon was steadily rising up through the narrow visible triangle of sky.  We both stared up in awe at the bright crescent moon and our little 17month old pointed and muttered "moo".

We've now spent a few evenings pointing at the moon and have observe…

The young, the old and the lonely, part 2: 'Babble and Bubbles' at St. Joe's.

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After two years of trying and failing to set up a regular intergenerational social, I was delighted when Charley Allen, Activities Coordinator of St. Joseph's Care Home, Tring, commented on my post in the local Facebook group: a desperate last chance to team up stay at home parents, their little ones and isolated older adults.  The idea came from my often lonely and anxious experience of early motherhood. The major trial of leaving the house with a tiny baby was always rewarded by a natter in the shops or on a park bench, cooing into the pram, telling me "he's gorgeous".  His lovely little face brought so much joy.  Surely we could make this a regular thing?
Charley works with older adults in a local care home, specialising in dementia care.  She was excited by the possibility of opening the care home doors to babies, toddlers and their parents.  We chatted about what might appeal to both under 5s and over 75s, deciding on traditional nursery rhymes, a story, bubble…

The Young, The Old and The Lonely: Setting up a Playgroup in a Care Home, Part 1

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When I first became a mum, the biggest surprise was how lonely the day-to-day could be. Sanity was usually saved by elderly folk, who were also out getting fresh air in the middle of the day. They had time to chat and stories to share. The baby in my arms was proof enough that I was harmless.  His tiny presence made opening lines easy enough; conversation flowed freely between strangers, bridging generations, differences and histories. A park bench or check out queue became therapeutic moments in the day, cooing over little one's eyelashes, or sharing ad hoc games of peekaboo. They were brief chance encounters but spread so much joy.

It seemed obvious that these meetings need not be left to chance. For all the new lonely mums out there, there's double the number of lonely older adults.  If only I could adopt a granny, or visit someone housebound, or volunteer for a befriend the elderly coffee morning.  A hot cuppa: that'd be a dream. Adult conversation? Yes please.  Bringi…