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Best-Ever Baby Shower Activity

Hi gentle reader,

Sorry for disappearing for a while.  Life got rather busy, and I’m glad to be out the other side of it!

In the midst of the chaos, I threw a really fun baby shower for my friend A-M, who was having her third child.

tea time tots in tahwero

The baby shower was the perfect excuse to bust out my tea set

I wanted to celebrate because A-M is someone who tends to keep in the background, and she is someone who gives, gives, gives to others.  She is a quiet hero who deserves a fuss made of her!  I also think that every child deserves to be celebrated.  You know how it is, the first baby gets a massive party, and by the time you’re on kid number three or four, no one cares as much.  A-M also had a valid reason for needing a shower: her other two children were born in the opposite season, so she had no warm stuff to pass down to this baby.

I’m going to share a secret.  Most baby showers make me cringe.  I find games like name-the-baby-food, guessing how big Mama’s belly is, and what-poop-is-that (I kid you not, someone invented a game where you smear different chocolate bars into a nappy!  Such fun!) quite demeaning.  I just feel like, I know it’s a bit of fun, but really?  That’s the best we can come up with?

However, showers that focus on supporting the Mama have such a different feel.  Some friends here have a tradition of gifting a bead that is then taken with others to make bracelet or necklace.  The beads can then be used as a focus tool (a bit like a rosary) during birth – a beautiful reminder of all the friends who have your back.

So it was with the second sort of shower in mind that I arranged A-M’s little party.  I invited A-M’s 4-year old daughter, and my own daughter, as I think there are so few female-celebrating spaces in my culture.  Sausage and J were so excited about the party, and they definitely had a ball.  I had an activity in mind that I knew even 4-year olds could do…

I had a few little things for everyone to do while they mingled and had something to eat.  I printed out a calendar for people to guess the due date (A-M’s mother won), and provided a pack of newborn nappies to write words of encouragement and put a smile on A-M’s face during those 2:00am feeds.  We also played ‘Name the Baby’, as A-M and her husband had been unable to agree upon a name.  I still can’t believe they didn’t go with my suggestion of Agamemnon

name the baby tots in tawhero

My piece de resistance, was sparked by an idea I saw on Pinterest, where people had used Sharpies to sign their names on a onesie for the baby.

I remembered seeing self-adhesive fabric squares for sale at one of our local dollar stores, and thinking at the time, ‘What on earth would you want that for?’

Now I know.

Here’s how to create a fun baby shower gift that is made with love, and very, very practical.

I downloaded cute images from the internet that I thought would be great shapes to decorate a onesie with.  I put them on card, used them as a stencil on the fabric, et voila!

my onesie tots in tawhero

Seriously, how cute it this???

I bought enough onesies for each guest, and got them in different sizes, just to be even more useful.  I got a wide selection of adhesive fabric, put out the onesies and stencils and told the guests to go for it.  I made a variety of stencils that had nothing to do with princesses or any other gendered stuff that gets shoved down our throats by clothing retailers.

stencils

Some of the stencils I made

Oma lends a hand

Oma lends a hand

hard at work tots in tawhero

creative juices flowing

We had a wonderful time crafting together, and everyone wanted to do something like it again (tote bags, next time?).  The results were beautiful, and now A-M’s baby girl has several one-of-a-kind onesies made with love.

Sausage with A-M

A-M, and Sausage with her creation

oneise tots in tawhero

Onesie love

Between the decorated onesies, and the other fabulous gifts the baby received at her shower, she is going to be the best-dressed baby in town.

So there you have folks, a cringe-free, practical and fun baby shower activity.  And for my Dollar Diet followers, it’s frugal too.  The packs of fabric cost $3 each, the cardboard for the stencils I had to hand anyway, and I got several of the onesies second-hand (in mint condition).

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Bye Bye Baby, Baby Goodbye…

Just like that, I am now the mother of two toddlers.

While we were in Auckland Chip started walking.  He is delighting in his new-found freedom and wobbles off as fast as his little legs will go.

Bipedal is definitely the way to go

Bipedal is definitely the way to go (excuse how blurry this is, he’s so fast!)

IMG_20150912_141730

While my children will always be my babies, even when they are old and grey, it is with only a teensy bit of sadness that I kiss babyhood goodbye.  Our play gyms, bouncers and slings are officially retired, and I just gave away the last of Chip’s baby clothes to be worn by the soon-to-be-born baby of a dear friend.

I have several friends who are either due to give birth soon, or who have recently had baby number two or three, and all I can think is ‘I am so glad I’m not in your shoes!’  That first year with a new baby is so intense, even if it’s your second, fourth or tenth.

I know many parents struggle to know when their family is ‘done’ and regret not having another child, or who suffer the pain of secondary infertility.  D and I have never hankered after a large family and both have a very solid sense of being done.  I have a new appreciation for just how breathtaking and clever and fun and mucky and miraculous babies are, but I do not hanker after any more.  Any such thoughts are deftly quashed by the thought of having another dreadful pregnancy like I had with Chip – only this time with two children in tow.  No, I could not go through that again.

I’m enjoying having children who (mostly) sleep through the night.  I love the utterly random conversations I have with my almost three year-old girl, and the ‘what the heck is that’ pointing from my 13 month-old boy who just wants to know what absolutely everything is called – and preferably put it in his mouth.

Life is still dictated somewhat by the midday nap, but at least there is only one nap to worry about.  While my brain has years of sleep to catch up on, it definitely seems to be more functional these days…unlike the baby sleep-deprived brain when I forgot how to spell my last name.  I like having more capacity for other things in my life, and being able to have conversations with D that don’t involve monitoring the bowel movements of our baby, or desperately trying to get the baby to stop crying.

So bye bye baby, hello toddlerhood.  I hear ‘threenagers’ are really, um, interesting.

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Dollar Diet: Week 46, road trip to Auckland

As Chip and I spent much of the past week staying with friends in Auckland, it’s been a rather odd week in terms of finances and saving money.

We saved money by staying for free with our friends, and enjoyed several meals and outings thanks to these great hosts.  Chip and I enjoyed an amazing catered birthday party (complete with toys and bouncy castle for the tots), and a trip to the local aquarium.  We ate at home as much as possible (I made myself useful by cooking as much as I was allowed to, and left my heavily pregnant friend with some freezer meals), and I took Chip on a couple of outings to the local playground.  When travelling I took my own food when possible, and stuck to free activities such as playgrounds.

totsintawhero

Chip making friends at the party

Chip making friends at the party

Having fun at the Taupo Domain playground

Having fun at the Taupo Domain playground

So there was plenty of free and frugal stuff in there.  I’m loving having Chip all to myself while his Dad and sister are in the Netherlands, and my baby has learned to walk in the short time they’ve been away.

On the more expensive side, I did spend money on a night’s accommodation on the way up to Auckland, petrol, a few meals on the road, and a trip to Auckland zoo which is not cheap.  My friend’s daughter and Chip had a ball at the zoo though, and Chip got to see so many animals in the flesh for the first time.  Another surprising expense was having to buy snacks.  I don’t normally need snacks during the day, but as I was staying with friends I ate what they ate at most meals.  After two days of eating bread, I was starving!  I ran out and bought jerky and cheese sticks which filled the gap nicely.

Investigating a rock pool at the zoo

Investigating a rock pool at the zoo

Chip with his 'Auntie' and 'cousin'

Chip with his ‘Auntie’ and ‘cousin’

Normally I would go mad at the zoo gift shop getting cool stuff for the kids, but I restrained myself and bought a $3 poster for Chip’s room.

If I were to do our trip over again, I would have taken more picnic food for the trip.  We ate at McDonald’s a couple of times just so we could use their indoor playground (it was raining), but honestly, Chip and I would both prefer a free local playground and some egg sandwiches over Maccas any day.

Chip was an absolute champ.  He travelled well – slept most of the way!  He charmed everyone with his antics, slept like a dream and was generally a world-class traveller who took it all in his stride.  Thanks buddy.

What am I doing Mum?  Oh, just making sure all the attention goes on me...

What am I doing Mum? Oh, just making sure all the attention goes on me…

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This is what parenting REALLY looks like

totsintawhero what parenting really looks like

This is what parenting really looks like.

This was us this morning.  Sick baby, sick toddler, unwashed Mummy still in my workout gear, a pile of washing to be put away.  Only Mummy cuddles would do.

Not this bullshit:

Having sick tots is never this glamourous (image credit)

Having a sick child is never this glamourous
(image credit)

See how fresh-faced she is, and she looks like she is enjoying herself immensely!

My kids have picked up some random vomiting bug.  Tending a projectile-vomiting baby is about as unglamorous as it gets.  Hearing your toddler cry ‘No more!’ as she vomits again and again is as un-fun as it gets.  In fact, usually when your kids are sick, you are too.  Mercifully D and I have been spared this time. 🙂

Stupid media.  Your ridiculous portrayals of life make me sick.

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Dollar Diet: Week 31 – A frugal first birthday

It's good to be 1

It’s good to be 1

My baby is one.

The first birthday feels like such a massive milestone.  D and I patted each other on the back, congratulating ourselves for surviving the sleep deprivation and reflux intact.  Our screaming baby soon morphed into a happy, cheeky and active wee boy who is an absolute delight.

We decided to have two parties to celebrate Chip’s birthday.

Now, I am not a big-birthday-blowout sort of person, especially when it’s a first birthday.  Some people go all out for first birthdays, with huge numbers of party guests, themed everything, and smash cakes.  I don’t like that sort of excess myself, especially when the guest of honour isn’t going to appreciate, let alone remember any of it.   However, the idea for two parties was sown after a young man D is mentoring had loads of fun making a rocket stove with D.  ‘We should have a winter party so we can use the rocket stove again!’ he enthused.

Yes.  Yes we should.

We invited some good friends with kids older than ours, so the party was more for these kids than Chip.  We played a couple of games, ate dinner and toasted marshmallows using the rocket stove.  The older kids had a blast playing Spotlight in the dark.

I'm a rocket maaaan...

I’m a rocket maaaan…

Despite spending most of the day preparing for the party, it was a low-key and frugal affair.  We saved roughly $40 by making Chip’s cake ourselves.  D and I had another fun cake-decorating-date-night creating this:

caketotsintawhero

I made two chilis (one meat and one vegetarian), although I accidentally burnt one (so annoyed, the element was not switched off properly by a milimetre) which sent D running off for a few pizzas, so no savings there.  My mum kindly donated quiche, I made salad, grilled a few sausages and voila – everyone was happy.  We bought a couple of bags of lollies to use in the games, and marshmallows for toasting.  I made punch with low-sugar juice and soda water, and the cake was our dessert.

Minimum fuss, maximum fun.

Our second party was an afternoon tea with grandparents, aunts and uncles who I wanted to spare from all the noisy children.  It was extremely low-key, and cost me no more than a couple of boxes of party savouries and some egg sandwiches.  Our family contributed food as well, including this amazing cake made by D’s Aunt:

Yum!

Yum!

Chip had a wonderful time with his doting relatives, and it was such an occasion of thanks-giving as we celebrated this wee boy being in our lives.

Will I do two parties again?  Nah, but we sure did have fun.  Having some sort of winter bonfire party definitely ticks all my boxes so I think we might make that an annual tradition – but probably in June instead.  As for Chip, his next birthday will be a much smaller affair, but with lots of space for him to run around and around and around and around.

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A week in the life of…

When you become a parent – particularly a stay-at-home parent – one of the things you become initiated into is the ‘playgroup’.  It’s a bewildering, hazing sort of initiation as you figure out which ones suit your baby and you (see here for my tips on how to choose one).  

I get asked a lot by new mums: ‘How often should I go to a play group? How much is too much?’  Again, the answer to that is whatever suits you and your baby.  Some people love to go to one everyday, while for others once a week is enough.

Currently we go to three to four playgroups a week (depending on how busy the rest of the week is) and that seems about right for now.  I like for my children to have a day or two pottering about at home or getting out into nature on sunny days.  Over-scheduling of children is a big problem, which is why I think lots of time at home is important.  They both get bored at times, but I find my two play together well when there is nothing else to distract them.  Having said this, both my kids are extroverts so they love being around other children.  Chip is a high energy baby, so I suspect in a few months time when he is running around, we will need to go to some kind of group every day just to keep him happy.

Here are some photos of last week:
Play group 1

Playgroup 1

We go to a low-key playgroup once, twice or even three times a week depending on how the mood takes us.  It is a pay-as-you-go group so it doesn’t matter if we skip a session or two.  This playgroup has loads of great toys which keep my tots occupied nicely.  It is a very low-involvement-from-parents sort of group (which is great when you just need a break) but we typically help put toys out/away, prepare morning tea, and lead craft activities.

This toy we christened the ‘Wibble-Wobble’ although I am reliably informed it is called a Spring Bug.  I think Wibble-Wobble is much better.

Chip enjoying the Wibble-Wobble

Chip enjoying the Wibble-Wobble

Sausage in action

Sausage in action

We go to Playcentre once a week, and the kids and I really enjoy it.  The toys and selection of activities there are tremendous.  Playcentre is parent-run so it requires a high level of care-giver involvement, but it’s not onerous.  Playcentre has a very holistic philosophy, letting children lead and direct their play.  It is unique to New Zealand and provides training to all caregivers to help them get the most out of their child’s time at Playcentre.

Making cheese puff at Playcentre

Making cheese puffs at Playcentre

Climbing toys are very popular at Playcentre

Climbing toys are very popular at Playcentre

We go to a music and dance group once a week, although I forgot to take pictures of this.  Sausage loves, loves, loves music and dancing but isn’t into this group so much.  Chip, on the other hand, thinks it is the bees-knees.

During the week we also went swimming, went to a botanic garden and hung out with family.

Sausage at Bason Botanic Gardens

Sausage at Bason Botanic Gardens

Chip getting Uncle Cuddles

Chip getting Uncle Cuddles

How often do you take you kids to playgroups?  What’s your happy medium?

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Having one of THOSE days? How to keep calm and carry on, and keep your kids happy

Tots in Tawhero has been rather quiet of late.

Not for lack of inspiration, but due to sickness.  After blogging about each one of us getting a virus, mine came back with a vengeance and turned into pneumonia.  Oh, and D was away for work.  Fun times.

I made it through several bad days thanks to family, play dates and the electronic babysitter.  It’s so hard to entertain your kids when they are getting over an illness (even when you’re well) because you can’t go to all your normal playgroups lest they infect others.  And when YOU are the one who is sick, keeping your tots occupied feels like a Herculean task.

It got me thinking that there must be a way I can help myself the next time I am in this position – because let’s face it, toddlers are some of the most diseased creatures on the planet, so there will be a next time.

I am a very organised person by nature, so I like the idea of Present Me helping out Future Me by doing a little graft now.

Busy bags have been on my radar for a while, but I’d never gotten off my chuff to actually make one.  If you haven’t come across them before, basically they are bags with things in them to keep your tot occupied when you need them to play independently for a bit, like while you are waiting at the doctor’s.  With the struggle of the past few weeks fresh in my mind, I decided to make some for Sausage (2 1/2) and Chip (11 months).

There are loads and loads of busy bag ideas on Pinterest (what on earth did we do before Pinterest?), but many of them are aimed at 3-5 year olds, with things like matching games, puzzles and threading crafts that are too difficult for my tots.  They usually have one activity in them and can be reused over and over.

I was able to make up some suitable bags after putting in a bit of thought.  Being sick, I had zero energy to make anything.  These bags do contain store-bought stuff (quite inexpensive), but there are plenty of ideas out there in Pinterest land that could be made with materials to hand, or bought for next-to-nothing at a thrift store.  As these bags were intended to be used at home in times of illness or sheer desperation for something to do, I was not constrained by needing to keep things portable.

Instead of ‘busy’ bags, I am calling them ‘Save Our Sanity’ (or SOS) bags, as they really can make tough times a little better.
SOS bags for 2 year olds and under

SOS bags for 2 year olds and under

D is back home and ‘on’ the kids while I rest and recover, but he needed to go out for a couple of hours sans kids.  Out popped a couple of SOS bags, and the time passed pretty quickly as a result.

Some of the things in Sausage’s bag included a new colouring book, a ‘paint with water’ book, and a new-to-her story book.  I’d like to shake the hand of kiss whomever invented paint-with-water books, they are a genius.  I remember using them when I was little so they’ve been around a while, but they are perfect for toddlers, who love seeing the water transform the pictures.

This one kept Sausage busy for two 20 minute sessions:

Paint with water books are your friend

Paint with water books are your friend

She also coloured for about 15 minutes and I read the story book to her three times. 🙂

We’ve all been wearing tiaras wrong for years…

saus reading

Chip’s bag was much trickier as I didn’t have the energy to make anything, but I did have a few things stashed away that were appropriate, like stacking cubes and finger paint.

dan stacking

We didn’t get around to finger painting, as he needed a sleep, but the stacking cubes kept him occupied for quite a while.  Building them into a tower is naturally far beyond his capabilities, but Chip had a great time knocking them down and trying to eat them, because that’s his thing.

So there you go.  Simple but effective.  You don’t need to be a crafty person to cobble bags like this together.  You don’t even need new stuff – you could use ‘forgotten’ toys and books, make your own colouring books by printing out a few pages from your computer, throw in some string and some beads for threading, snacks, and even a new-to-them DVD if you are really sick.  Anything new to your kid is going to buy you a little ‘me’ time and it just might save your sanity on a really bad day.  Or save theirs, after four straight days of rain.

While I will be making SOS bags like this or this,  I will also be looking for books, puzzles and games at second hand stores to stash away to help out future Angela.  For the SOS bags I want to use when I am at a loose end for things to do, I plan to put in materials so we can make a craft together; and when my kids are much bigger, maybe even some tickets to a movie or skating rink.

A little work now will save your sanity later, so go ahead.  Help out future you.

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Six things you really need when you have a baby

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A funny thing happens when you find out you are expecting your first child – you become obsessed with making sure you have everything you need for the new arrival.  Because, the shops shut when you have a baby, or something like that.  Also, you just know that if you fail to prepare and amass every.single.thing. you will fail utterly as a parent.  Because Harvard graduates all had electric bottle warmers when they were little.

Becoming a parent for the first time is like joining a secret club, full of bewildering paraphernalia and  jargon.  What is a onesie, and do I need it in 0000 or 000?  Argh!  What sort of wrap or front pack is best and what one may damage my child’s delicate spine?  How can I possibly choose from the vast range of strollers that look like a cross between a tank and Optimus Prime?

There are loads of definitive must-have-for-baby lists out there, but forget about baby slings, white noise machines and baby wipe warmers.  Here’s the real list of what will be indispensable.

6 things that you really need when you have a baby:

1. A very good washing machine.  If your current machine is on its last legs, think about upgrading it before your baby arrives, because trust me, you don’t want it to conk out when you are knee deep in baby-spit.  The amount of washing that one tiny person can produce really should be the subject of in-depth scientific investigation along with the Bermuda Triangle and the Loch Ness Monster.  You will do ridiculous amounts of laundry during the years your child is with you, so get a machine that can go the distance.

2. A slow cooker.  Your slow cooker is your new BFF.  Dinner time isn’t known as the ‘witching hour’ for nothing.  Soothing a whining or cluster-feeding baby whilst overseeing bubbling, boiling things on the oven is a recipe for frazzled nerves. When my daughter was tiny I would throw ingredients into the slow cooker when she went down for her morning nap.  When my son came along I would make up the meal the night before so I could simply take it out of the fridge and flick the on switch in the morning.  Slow cooked meals are wonderful for when you have company over but still have wee ones running amok.  Slow cookers are more economical than ovens to run, and you can buy cheap cuts of meat which will melt in your mouth by dinner time.

3. Lots of little face cloths.  Like, a million of them.  Those little squares of fabric will see endless tours of duty.  I must go through at least 10 of the darn things a day.  Wiping mucky faces and sticky hands, cleaning up globs of weetbix that didn’t quite make it into a mouth (some days it’s mine), umpteen sponge baths, sippy cup spills and more.  I love these things so much that if they weren’t in such revolting condition by now I’d turn them into a patchwork quilt for posterity’s sake.

4. To be part of a clothing chain.  Buying cutesy, ikkle clothes is loads of fun, but crikey these tiny outfits can be expensive.  If you’re not blessed with a projectile vomiter, rest assured that your 0-6 month old will not require too many outfits. Once they are moving…well, that’s a game changer.  Kids need to play like tired parents need to sleep.  All the time.  They need clothes that fit well, don’t impede their movement, and that they can get mucky in.  It can be tricky to find decent second hand clothing for toddlers – for good reason.  They trash their clothes.  This is why clothing chains are worth their weight in gold.  Friends have given me loads of clothes for both my children – so much that I will only need to buy a few items each season for the next few years.  And I have gladly passed on clothing to friend’s babies in return.

5. The ability to sleep at will, anywhere, anytime.  Just like your new baby.  I struggle with night feeds because I have serious trouble getting back to sleep.  Usually I can’t get back to sleep until 6am.  Right when my kids wake up…Having spoken to many mothers about this, I know that I am not alone.  Blessed are those who can nod off back to sleep in a jiffy.  It also helps in those early days to be able to sleep in strange positions, like sitting upright.  This is because your crying baby has finally fallen asleep.  On you.  And you don’t want to move a single muscle in case they wake up and start bawling again.

6. Non-judgmental friends and family on speed dial.  Have one or two friends who you can call to vent, or even better, to come over at once without question.  The early weeks are rough.  Unless you’ve spent significant time with a newborn, you will be unprepared for how much they can cry.  Their crying is hardwired to upset you, and if you can’t make them stop it’s incredibly difficult to bear.  When you are having a day when you’d quite like to throw your baby out the window, some one you can call on for help is a gift from God.

What would be on your list?

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6-8 Month Milestones (that you won’t find in parenting manuals)

My post about Sausage’s two-year old milestones proved popular, so I thought it was high time I wrote about what Chip has been up to lately.  A lot goes on during 6-8 months of age as your tot continues to wake up to the world around them.

Chip on the move

Chip on the move

Can't this thing go any faster?

Can’t this thing go any faster?

My super-active boy started crawling dolphin-style at 5 months – backwards much to his chagrin, but managed to discover his forward gear a wee while ago.  Nothing is safe from his chubby little hands as he zooms around the house on voyages of discovery.  I keep meaning to dust off my running shoes because I’m sure I will need them very, very soon.

You won’t find these milestones in any parenting manual, but they are pretty universal nevertheless.

What life is like when you are 6-8 months old:

  • Flingstar!  Once your tot is able to sit comfortably in a high chair a whole new world of entertainment opens up to them – flinging things off it.  Chip loves nothing more than do experiments in gravity and sound waves.  ‘Oooh, you just handed me my bells!  Thanks Mum, listen to the lovely crashing sound they make…tinkle, smash!’  ‘Mum, did you see how far I managed to throw my board book?  I reckon I just set a new personal best…hurl, boom!’

    Your baby's science lab (image credit)

    Your baby’s science lab
    (image credit)

  • Dino-ROAR!  At 6.5 – 7 months old your babbling baby will discover a new super-power – the ability to perforate eardrums with pterodactyl-like shrieking.  Well, at least it’s what I think a pterodactyl might have sounded like…On more than one occasion I have had to leave the room as Chip gleefully reaches a new decibel level.  And when he gets together with his friend J who is 2 weeks older than him, ear muffs should probably be handed out.  Shrieeeeeeeeeeek, shrieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek shrieeeeeeek!  Ouch!

  • Surely you can’t be sirius?  From about 6 months your baby will pant like a dog whenever they get really excited about something.  ‘Woah, what is that?  A light fixture!  Awesome! Let me at it! Huff, huff, huff, huff.’  If only we were all so transparent, and easily pleased.
  • A gaggle of gigglers.  Chip’s favourite person on the planet is his big sister.  His eyes follow her around where ever she flits, recording all of her antics – no doubt for future reference.  At about 5 months old Chip became much more interactive with Sausage (and the world); therefore he became a far more interesting play mate to her.  Now we get fits of giggles as they crack each other up all the time.  Sometimes they go on for 20 minutes!  You can view them in action on YouTube here.

    Partners in crime

    Partners in crime

Can you add any more?  

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How to read to your kids (without feeling like a total idiot)

My tots are currently two years old, and six months old.  I love how completely different in character they are already.  Sausage is a total bookworm and always has been.  Even at a few months old she loved being read to, and was able to focus for the entire length of a board book.   Now, if the house goes suddenly quiet you can expect to find her sitting on the couch with her nose in a book.  Chip, not so much.  He will look at a page or two, but that’s it.  He’s far more interested in trying to turn the page, rather than at looking at the page.  He is an active kid who I’m pretty sure will need to be channeled into lots and lots of sport one day.

Sausage as a baby being read to by Oma

Sausage as a baby being read to by Oma

I myself, am a book nerd.  I come from a long line of book nerds.  My idea of the best way to pass time is to curl up somewhere comfy and read (sadly this doesn’t happen often at the moment!).  I remember being shocked to discover at school that some kids DIDN’T LIKE TO READ!  This just blew my mind.  I couldn’t understand how anyone could dislike reading, when for me books were transportation to new worlds where good friends were just waiting to be found.  In books I could live someone else’s life, dream someone else’s dream, go back in time or explore an alien planet.

I believe that most kids who don’t like reading are either in two camps: they come from a home where they aren’t read to very often (some not at all 😦 ), or they haven’t met the right book yet.

For me, reading to my kids comes naturally.  I do it multiple times a day.  Often the same books over and over and over and over, and did I mention over again?  But I realise that some parents struggle with it.  They themselves don’t like reading, or they feel self-conscious about reading aloud to their kids.  Other parents struggle to get their kid to sit still for 1 minute so they can actually read a book in its entirety.

Here are my tips to make reading aloud an enjoyable experience for everyone:

  • Choose your tot’s books.  I cannot stress this enough.  If you don’t enjoy their books, I guarantee you that your tot will pick up on it.  Your tone of voice or facial expressions will betray you.  If you like the books you read to your children, you will enjoy it as much as they do, and read to them more often.  Choosing good books is akin to preparing for battle.  There is a minefield of spectacularly rubbish children’s books out there.  And I mean so rubbish I cannot understand how it got published.  (Steer clear of pretty much anything that is merchandising for a kids ‘character’, they are generally terrible.)  Fortunately there are also many, many fabulous children’s books that won’t make you wince in pain every time your tot asks you to read it to them.  Once your child is old enough to express an opinion, by all means let them choose some books, but make sure you are still bringing plenty of great books into your home.  Even teenagers should be regularly given good books that will stretch, challenge, inspire and entertain them, lest they should think that Twilight is the epitome of great literature.
  • Have a quick read of a new story FIRST so you can unleash your inner actor/actress.  Use silly voices or accents.  Go on.  You can do it.  I often randomly decide that a particular character happens to be Irish or American, or another one is particularly gruff and gravely-voiced, while another speaks in a high-pitched squeak.  Sausage loves it when I do different voices for different characters and will often tell me off if I forget that the fox in ‘The Gruffalo’ has a French accent.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t do other accents well – your kid won’t know!  Your kids will think you are the cleverest, funniest storyteller ever.  No one reads ‘My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes’ better than my Dad who is the master at silly voices and gets special requests to read it all the time.  One reason it’s great to channel Meryl Streep is that if your kid is a one-page-and-I’m-done sort of kid, it may increase their attention span.  If I do a different voice, it holds Chip’s attention much longer – although he will often give me a funny look as if he can’t quite figure out what’s peculiar about Mummy.
  • Read with the appropriate emotion in your voice. No one likes being read to in a monotone or bored (see above point) voice.   If the character in the book is excited, use an excited tone.  If they are scared, use a scared tone.  Sausage loves it when I pretend to cry or yell or whisper, and is thrilled beyond measure every time D or I get to the scary end of ‘I am the Big Bad Wolf and here I come’.

  • Know your child.  The better you know your child, the easier it will be to get books that they love.  Your fidgety kid might sit still for a book about knights or hedgehogs if that’s what they’re into.  And keep paying attention.  Your once dinosaur-loving kid may quickly shift interests from Stegosaurus to Ancient Rome.  Or Richard Scarry.
  • Create reading rituals.  It’s easy to get into the habit of reading to your kids daily if you make it part of your routine.  Many kids need a bit of quiet time in the afternoons so this is a perfect opportunity, and of course a few stories before bed make bedtime much more fun for both of you (kid snuggles, yay!)  You can even schedule a regular trip to the library for more reading time.
  • Read aloud like no one else is listening.  Because 9 times out of 10 it’s just you and your kids in the room.  Our books from childhood stay with us.  They help shape us into who we are, how we see the world.  I’m sure we have all seen a favourite book from childhood and greeted it like an old friend.  Be part of that memory for your kids.