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Outdoor fun for free: Under 2’s

There’s a heck of a lot of pressure on parents to entertain their kids, to be ‘creative’ and ‘fun’, and ‘make memories’.  While I don’t think there is anything wrong with thinking outside the box and giving your child some wonderful experiences in life, always bear in mind that with really little kids – LESS IS MORE.  You don’t have to set foot outside your front door in order for your under 2’s to have a great time.  In our case, we went out the back door!

We are blessed to own a home with a very big backyard.  All that space was one of the reasons that we bought our house.  Our house is on a sort of wedge-shaped section, so that the front yard is reasonably small, but expands the further back you go.  Most people turn up to our house and think it’s pretty modest until they see the view of the backyard from our kitchen and their jaws start to drop.

Sausage is now 16 months old and has recently started walking.  She’s gaining more confidence by the day, but is still rather wobbly on her pins.  As we’ve started to move into the colder months, her wibble-wobble-walking highlighted the fact that learning to walk over Autumn/Winter is a pain in the butt.  Cold, wet ground makes for a mucky child.  But I believe children should be given the chance to get outside as much as possible and have therefore invested in several pairs of waterproof pants (I sourced some great trousers with polar-fleece lining from T&T clothing, and also found some at my local riverside market) so Sausage can fall over and muck about in the dirt to her heart’s content.

Sausage goes to playgroup two times a week, and a music group one day a week so I like for her afternoons and non-activity days to be low-key whenever possible.  If you ever feel lots of parent guilt about staying at home remember these two things:

  1. Home is the most awesome place on earth for under 2’s.  It’s safe, familiar and not over-stimulating.
  2. Most people can’t remember a damn thing about their life before the age of three (and even then, a lot of our memories are dependent on the photos our doting parents took…).  Your under 2 will simply not remember (in the long term) staying at home to play in the backyard a lot.  Nor will they remember the many times you schlepped them all over the place to do cool stuff.
Walking uphill - wahoo!

Walking uphill – wahoo!

Sausage had a blast playing in our backyard this afternoon and was quite absorbed for an hour and a half.  That’s like, 15 years in toddler time.  The soft, uneven grass was challenging for her to walk on, but cushioned her multiple falls much better than the wooden floorboards in our house.  We picked and ate apples off one of our trees.

No prizes for guessing who's apple this is

No prizes for guessing who’s apple this is

She played with water dripping from a tap I’d turned on for her until her fingers started to get wrinkly.

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She squished a few rotting feijoas on the ground from our enormous tree that produced waaaay more fruit than we could harvest in time.

Next year we vow to be more organised and nom all the feijoas!

Next year we vow to be more organised and nom all the feijoas!

 

If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, it will be the scene of wonder, magic and fun for many years to come.  Rejoice that fancy toys are not required.  For under 2’s you have to do little more than turn on a tap and point them in the direction of a nice pile of squishy dirt to keep them happy.  If only us adults could be that easily amused!

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Things to do in Whanganui: Ashley Park

Technically Ashley Park isn’t in Wanganui.  In fact it isn’t in the Whanganui district.  It just squeaks into Taranaki.  Nonetheless, this wee gem of a place is a mere 20 minute drive from Whanganui so it makes my cut.

Ashley Park has something for all the family.  Lots of farm animals for the kids to feed, with some more exotic animals like alpacas and ostriches as well.  A bird aviary.  Mini golf.  A small playground.  Petanque.  An antique shop.  Tearooms.  A museum of curiosities and antiques.  Picnic areas. Wide open spaces to run around.  Tranquil walks around the park and lake.  There’s even a wide range of on-site accommodation for those who want to make the most of all the facilities (my family are already talking about staying there together over a long weekend…).

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Meeting a woolly friend

And hey, parents?  It’s cheap!

At the time of writing (May 2014) it costs $5 for adults and $1 for children for access to the Park, lake, birds and animals.  Entry to the museum is a little more.  My 15 month old got in for free, which was really kind of the park owner. A bag of food pellets for the animals is $1, and quite generously sized too – which is just as well as there are so many cute animals to feed.  Compared with similar animal/petting zoo places, I reckon Ashley Park is a bargain.  If you’re on a budget there’s plenty here to keep the kids happy for several hours, and with plenty of beauty spots to have a picnic your visit doesn’t have to cost you much more than the entry fee and a bag of animal food.

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Is this my best side?

I went with my daughter, husband, my parents and mother-in-law, and each one of us thoroughly enjoyed visiting Ashley Park.  Sausage was soooo excited to see the animals (chickens and sheep roaming free = toddler’s mind blown).  All of us loved feeding the animals and looking at the birds in the aviary.  My Dad kept going on about how much he was loving just being out in the fresh country air.  I enjoyed the beautiful walk down to the lake and my mother-in-law was impressed with the homestead and the gardens.

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Who can resist this face?

 

 

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lake walk

We tucked into a Devonshire tea at the tea shop after our walk, which proved to be so delicious another round of scones was ordered.  Thanks Ashley Park – we’ll be back!

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I could get used to devonshire teas Mum

 

 

* I have no affiliation with Ashley Park.  All opinions expressed are my own.  Go visit!  You won’t be disappointed.

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Sugar Free Banana Pikelets

As Sausage is sort of walking (she still demands you hold her hand a lot) I reckon she may now be officially classed as a toddler.  Since turning 1, the past few months have seen an explosion of development, particularly with her language skills.  She’s a very early talker (so was her Dad) to the point where I can have conversations with her, where she will give me a one or two word reply, or nodding/shaking of her head.  Her comprehension scares me, even when I think she’s not listening – trust me, those little ears are listening and they definitely get the gist of whatever is being talked about.

Since hitting 15 months the dreaded food pickiness has started to appear.  Up until now Sausage was a good eater.  She didn’t eat much, but like most babies she would take pretty much whatever was on offer.  But now she has matured, thank you very much Mummy, she definitely lets us know what she wants to eat.  It’s often not what is in front of her.  In fact, I suspect if she could prepare her own meals, she would live on peas and yoghurt.  Possibly even mixed up together.

I try not to make a big deal about her refusal of food, nor do I run about making something else she prefers instead.  That way lies madness.  Sausage still eats a reasonable variety of foods – particularly fruit and vegetables.  She’s also in the 91st percentile for weight (also for height, we hope we are raising a future basketballer) so she’s definitely not starving herself!  With sugary foods D and I have adopted an ‘okay in moderation approach’.  I simply just don’t fancy being one of those Mums who comes along to every party with a baggie of food for her kids, as they aren’t allowed to eat the party food.  Sausage doesn’t get sweet stuff very often, but she isn’t on the party circuit…yet.  That bridge will be crossed soon enough I suspect.

Like all kids, Sausage prefers sweet things.  Fortunately most of her playgroups are pretty good about encouraging healthy snacking, so her morning teas tend to involve crackers and fruit, and maybe a wafer biscuit (cookie for my American readers) on the old occasion.  Water is given instead of juice.  It’s really great to not have to worry about this as we go to playgroups 3 or 4 times a week.  The PARENTS on the hand are always offered chocolate biscuits.  I can only recall once being offered anything savoury for morning tea at a playgroup, so I dodge chocolate biscuits, muffins and cake on an almost daily basis.  I get weird looks if I nick a piece of fruit that has been left untouched by the kids.

Sausage is all kinds of crazy about banana (‘Na-Na!’) and these pikelets go down a treat with her.  (Pikelets are also known as drop scones, by the way.)  This is not an earth shattering recipe, but these pikelets are easy and quick to make, and most kids gobble them up pretty quick – especially if smeared with butter.

I’ve adapted a traditional pikelet recipe and subbed out 1/4 C Sugar for mashed banana.  Simple.

Sugar Free Banana Pikelets

Sugar Free Banana Pikelets (makes 8-10)

Ingredients:

  • 1 C plain flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 C mashed banana
  • 3/4 C milk

Method:

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  In another bowl beat egg and banana until well mixed.  Add this, along with the milk to the sifted ingredients.  Mix until just combined (they can go rubbery if you overmix).  Drop a tablespoon full of mixture onto a hot, non-stick pan.  Turn pikelet over when bubbles start to burst on the top surface. Cook the second side until golden.

Eloise enjoying her pikelet

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Playgroups Part Two: How to choose a playgroup

In my daughter’s short time on the planet, we have attended several playgroups.  Some have been simply wonderful, and others only so-so.  Here are my tips for choosing a playgroup that will keep BOTH child and parent happy.

  1. Don’t believe the hype.  When my daughter was born we were living in a much bigger city than Whanganui, and there were a dazzling array of ‘baby sensory’ classes or ‘swim classes’ that I could have taken her along to (at around $100 per term), to give my precious wee bundle the best possible start in life.  I have lots of friends who – along with their babies – LOVED this sort of thing.  It got them out of the house, meeting other parents, and gave them ideas for things to do at home.  But don’t go in the belief that this class will make your kid the next Einstein.  Sausage was about four months old before I took her along to any sort of playgroup.  I didn’t bother before this because  I had lots of mummy friends at home with their kids so I didn’t feel socially isolated, and I felt confident in my own abilities to entertain my baby.  I simply waited for her to start showing that wonderful curiosity in the big wide world that babies eventually do.  Your kid will not be disadvantaged if they aren’t bedazzled by a playgroup from birth.
  2. Consider the interests of your child.  Sausage and I go along to a Mainly Music playgroup which she and I both enjoy.  My tot is just crazy about music, y’all.  Most kids are – but after speaking to lots of the mums there, many reported that once their son hit around three years of age they lost interest in going along as they just wanted to run around and play, not sit and sing songs.  It’s a (mostly) boy thing.  If you have a kid who can’t sit still, you’re probably better off opting for an unstructured playgroup that has plenty of outdoor space.  Or going to kindy gym to burn off some of that energy.  If your child loses interest in a group that they previously enjoyed, tune into them to find out why.  It might be that there’s a kid in the group who is mean to them, or maybe it’s simply because the activities on offer no longer float their boat.  They’ve moved on and have grown up.  Dancing was sooooo last month, Mum.
  3. Consider the age of your child.  If they haven’t reached toddler status yet, think about taking them to a group that specifically caters to babies.  I did take Sausage along to Playcentre – which is amazing – but I recently pulled her out of it as she was just too young to really participate in most of the activities on offer there.  There were a handful of younger kids there, but the majority of the kids were aged 2+ and as such, most group activities were well beyond Sausage’s abilities.  We will definitely be back once she is walking/running with confidence and is dexterous enough to get really messy in true Playcentre style.  For now, an unstructured playgroup with lots of Sausage age-appropriate toys are really rocking her world.
  4. Consider the personality of your child.  An extroverted kid like mine isn’t terribly phased by large groups, but if your child is an introvert, they would probably be better off with a smaller playgroup, or even just playdates with one or two other kids.  Some groups can be really large and therefore really LOUD, which can overwhelm a sensitive child.  Bear in mind that kids can go through ‘clingy’ phases – don’t fight it if your little one is suddenly glued to your side at a group that they previously loved.  Give it a rest for a couple of weeks and then go back and see how they are.
  5. Consider your own interests.  Does the thought of going to a particular playgroup make you cringe for whatever reason?  If you’re just not feeling it, hunt around for a group that is more your style.  It’s okay.  Lots of parents quit going to groups because they find it too damn loud or stressful, and lots more quit because they aren’t able to connect with the other parents.  It’s okay.  I stopped going to a baby playgroup that came out of our antenatal classes because although the people in it were lovely, I just didn’t ‘click’ with them.  I soon found another playgroup where I made friends.
  6. Consider your own capacity.  I found Playcentre a struggle as it requires a decent amount of parent participation.  This is not because I didn’t want to participate, but because I have had terrible pregnancy fatigue.  I switched it out for a low-key group where I’m not needed to help set up or clean up. They couldn’t care less what time we turn up or leave.  Once baby number 2 arrives and Sausage is ready, I’m hoping to have the capacity to return to Playcentre.
  7. Consider the cost!  Some groups are really expensive to attend, and many require payment up front and as a bulk sum (for instance, a playgroup we attended in our last city was $50 a term.  It was worth it, that group was awesome).  If money is tight (and let’s face it, for most of us it is), you may be better off joining groups where you pay-as-you-go.  That way if little Johnny is sick or you go on holiday, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted money.  You can often attend one or two sessions at most playgroups for free, to see if you like it, so shop around to find one that suits both your tot and you.  And honestly, many of the groups that just charge $1 or $2 a session are just as good as the more expensive playgroups.

Happy hunting!

 

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Playgroups Part One: How to find a playgroup

You might think that finding a playgroup for your toddler  is a no-brainer.  But if you are new in town, or simply new to parenting, it can be trickier than you’d expect.

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Photo credit

Since moving to Tawhero in Whanganui, I had to quickly find out what playgroups were available for my (then) 11 month old to go to, otherwise we would have both suffered from a serious case of cabin fever.

I don’t know if it’s just Whanganui, but it was NOT easy to find out what groups were out there.  Most playgroups don’t have websites or even a Facebook page, which I find bewildering in this modern age where setting up some sort of social media page takes all of five minutes to do.  Often it’s because a lot of playgroups are run by volunteers who may not have the time or skills to set one up.  Or maybe it’s just because word of mouth has kept them in business for years so they don’t think they need to.  But this is of no help to parents new to a neighbourhood.  People, if you run or help with a playgroup that does not have any social media presence, for the love of God, please do something about it if you can.  Do it for the new mamas out there who can’t wait to find you.

If the internet isn’t all that forthcoming here’s how to find a playgroup in your area.

  1. Get thee to a playground.  Hell, just get out of the house and go for a walk.  You are bound to run into other parents that you can pump for information.
  2.  Get thee to your local visitors/information centre.  The one here in Whanganui rocks.  Most info centres should have playgroup information at their fingertips – although bear in mind that there is a chance that it might be out of date (as they rely on groups keeping them in the loop with regards to any changes of time, contact details etc).
  3. Read your local freebie newspaper.  In Whanganui we have two excellent free community newspapers:  The Whanganui Midweek and the Rivercity Press.  Free papers tend to have higher readerships and lower advertising rates than mainstream newspapers, so many community groups will post advertisements in there instead.
  4. Subscribe to your local mainstream newspaper.  Other than dressing my daughter for the day (I am so making the most of choosing cute outfits for her while she still lets me), my morning pleasure is reading the Whanganui Chronicle over breakfast, when I am not being interrupted by my toddler.  Sometimes groups may advertise in there or may be a feature story.
  5. Join local Facebook groups.  Prior to moving I joined a Facebook Group called Whanganui Mummies which has been a mine of information.  I would never have found the newest playgroup that Sausage and I have started going to if someone hadn’t mentioned it on Facebook (again, this wonderful playgroup has no social media presence, like a Facebook page).  I was looking to switch playgroups to something a little more low-key than our previous one (more on that in Part Two: How to choose a playgroup) and this one fit the bill nicely.  And it’s within walking distance of our house.  Brilliant.  You don’t necessarily need to join a parent Facebook page.  I’m also a member of several other local pages that keep me up to date with what’s happening around our city and most members wouldn’t mind answering a playgroup related question.  Most people LOVE to be of help.
  6. Go to your local library.  Mine even has a playgroup!  Many libraries like ours have a reading/singing time (usually free) once or twice a week.  Reading = fun times for your kid.  What could be better?  Libraries invariably have a community noticeboard and you might find playgroup fliers there too.
  7. Ask at your local Church/Community Hall/cultural group.  The first playgroup I took Sausage to here was Mainly Music at St James Presbyterian Church in Whanganui East.  I found out about it because we started attending the church (D is in the process of becoming a Minister).  Most churches in New Zealand run some kind of playgroup, as do many ethnic community groups (e.g. Chinese language group).
  8. In New Zealand, ask your Plunket Nurse.  They will be able to recommend groups in your area, and can put you into a PIN group too.