Five Minutes Peace

I think I might need to preface this blog by saying that I really love my bears. You know I do. It’s just that I might well have reached the point in the holidays where I’m kind of ready for them to go back to school…

I started off, pre-holidays, super-keen and excited to have some quality time with them. The first two weeks were far easier than I could have asked for and we had fun doing all our craft projects, chilling at home, going out for ice cream etc. Grizzly was off for the second two weeks and we went away for one of them. We had some lovely family time and both boys have spent days with just me and just Grizzly. Mummy Days and Daddy Days. All good.

I wasn’t even too worried about weeks five and six because I still had some activities up my sleeve, some days out planned and we were feeling all loved up. How hard could it be?

Err…

I think it’s the noise more than anything.

Mum! Mum! Mum! MUM! MUUUUMMMM!!!

Mum!

Dad?

Thump, thump, thump from the foot against the floor/ the sofa/ the wall. Ting, ting, ting, ting, ting on the bell from the Pit game that we’ve become obsessed with. Bang, crash, wallop from the bowl falling out the cupboard and the thing being launched across the room.

Penis. Penis face. Willy. Boobs. Boooooobies! Because, err, boys?!

The sound of my voice for the gazillionth time saying, “I don’t want to hear any rude words. Please stop saying ‘penis’.”

A barking noise. A horse noise. A wolf noise. A zombie noise.

A really loud, indescribable, vowel hooty type of thing.

The very worst: Little Bear has found a whistle.

Mum!!!! Mum? MUUUUMMM!!!

Growling (so pleased that one has re-appeared) and screaming. Muttering (and sometimes yelling) ‘imbecile’, ‘idiot’ and ‘I hate you mum, you’re really annoying me!’

As one assumes that countering with, “For the love of God, put a sock in it” is not good parenting, I am finding that I’m spending more and more time hiding in the bathroom and thinking up trips out that allow me to engineer five minutes peace. It’s like the book of that name and I’m really feeling for Mrs Large right now. And just like in the book, when you hide in the toilet, they find you and sit directly outside, incessantly talking. That’s if you’re lucky. If not, the smallest one barges right in and hops on your knee. The noise is inescapable.

I think now, towards the end of week 6, my brain is starting to protest. Its saying, ‘this assault on your auditory sense is too much. It’s a bombardment. Move away. Seek shelter’. Yesterday and today I have taken them to park-type places where they have begged and nagged and attempted to bully me into playing with them. Part of me has felt bad (because at the start of the holidays I was so well-intentioned I said yes to everything) but now I’m getting a little claustrophobic and just need them to leave me alone for half an hour. Most other parents I see are sitting on benches while their children run around; why can’t I? There is a long answer to that question involving attachment-needing behaviour and yada-yada but I’m asking rhetorically. Nay, I’m begging, for just five minutes peace.

In my meanness over the past two days I have ushered them off to play, amidst a few protestations (Big Bear thinks he’s too cool for parks and Little Bear can’t possibly play without me) which I have ignored for my own sanity. I have noticed that when I’ve sat back, it has taken them maybe 10 minutes to settle into the play and then they’ve inevitably made a friend or agreed to play together and actually they are having a perfectly lovely time. Today I should have been enjoying my cup of tea while they tried to build a den out of those polystyrene sheets that are meant to fit together but they couldn’t figure it out and I kept getting the guilts that I wasn’t jumping up to help them. I had a stern word with myself that this was a good chance for them to do some problem-solving and if I didn’t just sit there quietly staring into space for a while, it would not be cheerful mummy who would be looking after them for the rest of the day. It would rageful mummy who cannot deal with all the noise and who has got quite overstimulated and just needs FIVE MINUTES PEACE!

So sit back I did and eventually Big Bear built a pyramid den encasing his brother inside which seemed to suit everybody.

Phew. The holidays are quite intense. I’ve said it before but I have no idea how people manage to home-school their children. It would be like this all the time. All. The. Time. I don’t think my brain could take it.

It is probably a good job that there are only 4 more days to go. No doubt they’ll go back to school and I’ll fill my poor brain with worry over how Little Bear is coping in the next class and also with the fact that I’m missing them and don’t quite know what to do with myself. I’ll probably think it’s too quiet and turn the radio on.

I have to admit that I’m looking forward to some alone time. Some walks and some writing. Some time when I can hear my thoughts. No cacophony. No obscenities being chanted. Five minutes peace.

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Five Minutes Peace

The Bears’ Summer Writing Challenge

Every summer, libraries do their Summer Reading Challenge to encourage children to read more books. I think it’s a really good idea but this year I had decided we wouldn’t participate*. We do alright on reading here, I really can’t complain. Big Bear will be getting some new books for his birthday and I know he will read them during the holidays, now that he has discovered the pleasure of reading for fun. Little Bear has a well-stocked book shelf, having inherited Big Bear’s picture books as well as acquiring a good collection of his own. He loves reading and we religiously read three books each night, as well as Little Bear reading to me (I have invested in a pack of Oxford Reading Tree books of the right level from The Book People to keep practise up over the hols).

I’m not complacent about reading and I definitely place a high value on it, it’s just that I have already given it a whole heap of my attention and I think we can afford to shift our focus elsewhere now, leaving reading ticking along nicely in the background.

I suppose I have always felt fairly confident in how to support and develop reading at home. Being a speech and language therapist, knowing about phonological awareness (the awareness of the sound structure of words) and how to teach it, is crucial. Phonological awareness underpins speech processing and development but it also underpins literacy. Therefore my career has armed me really, with the tools to help my children learn to read.

Irrespective of teaching the mechanics of reading, I have always believed that it is crucial for a child to feel successful at something and to truly believe they can do it in order for them to develop a confidence in their skills. When it comes to reading, that lightbulb moment often happens when children go out and about and realise they can read signs and labels and text they just happen upon in their environment. It is important to practise reading in a school book but I think children need more than that to truly develop a love and desire for reading. Where possible, at each stage, I have tried to pick books from Little Bear’s shelf that I knew he could read. He often didn’t believe he could because they weren’t colour-banded school books, but once I’d persuaded him to try, the fact that he really could was powerful for him. As was being able to read made up stories we hand wrote on a piece of paper or bits of a cereal packet or words on the TV.

Obviously Little Bear is not yet reading War and Peace but he has the foundation skills in place and is making good progress. As yet, the same cannot be said for writing.

I have to admit that I have been somewhat neglectful of Little Bear’s writing development. There are a few reasons why. Firstly, I do think reading is more important to start with and writing is a skill that can follow. That’s just my opinion: I’m not a teacher, so I may well be going against some sort of law of teaching or other. Secondly, I don’t have the same confidence to support Little Bear’s writing development. What on earth do I know about teaching writing?

As we have now got to the point where Little Bear is pretty happy and confident to read but frequently says he hates writing and that he’s rubbish at it and might sabotage his written work and is what school would term “a reluctant writer” I can no longer hide behind my excuses. The Eureka moment we have all been hoping for has not materialised.

I think what I mean to say is that the Eureka moment has not happened through school input alone. Now, I absolutely do not believe that my ability to teach Little Bear is better than schools. We have already established that I have zero knowledge of teaching writing and I love the Bears’ school and think they do an amazing job. The problem, and I think there is one, is with the curriculum and the pressure on our children to meet all sorts of crazy standards. I haven’t the energy for politics but all I know is that if I were a ‘reluctant writer’ and I found within me the effort to put pencil to paper and immediately as I did, were told my starting letter should have been a capital and that my ‘S’ was incorrectly formed, I probably couldn’t be arsed to try again either.

In considering a way to give Little Bear his Eureka moment, I had a little one of my own. I am no teacher but I am a writer. I don’t profess to ‘know my craft’ as I’m pretty new to it really and am certainly still developing my skills, but I do love it. I had a little think about what I love about it and the answer I came up with definitely wasn’t punctuation or grammar. Whilst I do understand punctuation and I think use it appropriately it really doesn’t excite me and despite studying Linguistic modules at degree level, the more I consider how to craft a piece of writing, the more I fear I know nothing about grammar. Grammar is starting to scare me, but that’s another story. I concluded that my love of writing comes from the fundamental concept that it allows me to take ideas from my brain and put them on a piece of paper. It allows me to express myself. I can say whatever I like. Anything, in the whole world.

That freedom is what I want to gift to Little Bear. I want him to write. I don’t care what he writes, how he forms his letters, if it’s massive or tiny, if it’s in pencil or biro, if he adheres to the rules of grammar or not. I don’t think it is possible, for a child lacking in self-esteem, who struggles so much with rules, to learn to love writing when there are just so many constraints placed upon how he can do it. I know that he will need to go on to learn the rules, of course he will, but it feels like there should be a stage before that in which he can experiment and figure out the whole raison d’etre of writing.

On Friday, the day school ended for summer, I got a couple of little things for the boys to keep them entertained in the holidays. I got them each a notepad and pens and I set them a writing challenge. When I did this I wasn’t too sure whether it might be one of those things Mum comes up with which she thinks is a fabulous idea but actually the children can’t believe what I’m doing to them. I did make my purchases as appealing as possible because every writer needs good stationery and I needed as much help as possible with marketing my idea. Little Bear has a notebook with sequins on it that can be brushed backwards or forwards which he LOVES and Big Bear has a green furry one that smells of apples and who could need anything else? I also provided new pens, in a delectable range of colours.

I set the challenge: to write every day for the whole holiday. Effort and commitment will be rewarded at the end of the holiday. If you don’t write, your chances of reward dwindle. The rules? There are no rules. You can write anything; a story, a list, a diary entry, a song.

I didn’t say this part out loud but I made a deal with myself that anything that got written would not get corrected and would not have to be copied out again. At school they do this ‘purple polishing’ thing which is about checking your work and drafting and re-drafting to achieve the best version of the work you can. I get it, obviously in my writing life I draft and edit and tweak and tinker until the cows come home, but I’m a grown up and I’m trying to get published and if I were a child I would be BORED. Like Little Bear, I would also be disgruntled that I had already tried my best and I simply didn’t have the energy left to do it all again.

On Saturday, after tea, the boys dutifully sat down to write in their books. Big Bear wrote a diary entry in lumo-green. Little Bear began making up a story, every few lines changing colour so it looked like a rainbow. Little Bear wrote a whole paragraph without any sort of encouragement which was more than I’d ever observed him write. We made a big fuss of how well he had done and he was made up when the other three of us each trooped over to read his words aloud.

I feared that my hands-off approach would hamper progress and development but I was heartened to hear Little Bear sounding his words out as he went and applying some of his phonic knowledge. When he got to bigger words he asked for help and I either helped or encouraged as necessary.

On Sunday, when I got up, Little Bear, ever the early bird, was already up and seated at the kitchen table. Apparently he fancied carrying on his story and had covered another page and a half in rainbow writing. It doesn’t make total sense. Some words are missing and I can’t decipher some of it but I am absolutely over the moon at his enthusiasm.

Later on, Big Bear chose to play a computer game and Little Bear chose to write some more.

After tea, Big Bear sat down to do his writing and I told Little Bear he didn’t have to as he had already written plenty, yet down he sat and more story appeared.

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today, Little Bear picked up his sequined notebook at random points in the day and he wrote. I have not reminded him to do so on any occasion.

I don’t know whether this is his Eureka moment but he has never hitherto shown this level of interest, so I’m feeling optimistic. The curriculum feels quite restrictive to me at times. Why do we need to push our children into complex grammatical structures at such a young age? As if to prove my point, we have homework about extended noun phrases. The power of creativity feels massively undervalued in today’s schooling. Little Bear has a wild imagination. He could be a fabulous writer, but only if we can inspire him.

Having Developmental Language Disorder makes all aspects of literacy harder for Little Bear. He is already pushing a boulder up a hill before he picks up his pencil. I know he can achieve a good level of literacy despite this, but does he?

The whole point of the writing challenge is to ignite his self-belief because, unfortunately, his formal education doesn’t seem able to.

 

 

*When we popped to the library the boys decided they did want to do the Reading Challenge after all so we have challenges come out of our ears!

The Bears’ Summer Writing Challenge

Summer Holiday Activities

 

Keeping two boisterous boys (see  Raising Boisterous Boys ) busy during the long holidays is not always easy, especially when they keep getting ill and we are stuck at home. This year I’ve got my organisation on and have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here are some of our favourite activities so far, fully road tested by both Bears.

Build a Mini Garden (AKA Fairy Garden, but don’t tell the boys)

This gets my full marks in terms of length of time it kept them busy and the fact that it is continuing to give entertainment days later.

You need a bit of forward planning to build a mini garden. Firstly decide what you want to plant in – I went for washing up bowls as they were 99p and seemed the perfect shape and size. I also found items we might need to fill the gardens with such as some mini houses (actually miniature alcohol bottles from a flight Grizzly went on a few years ago!) and small creatures/ people/ furniture. I got most things from a charity shop trawl and from rummaging amongst the little toys the boys have acquired over the years.

I took the boys with me to choose their plants. We went for succulents – some that are flat ground cover which make good grass and others that look like mini exotic trees. Big Bear got a Sage plant too which makes a good tree.

IMG_7778I set everything up outside for them and apart from helping them with planting, let them have free reign. Here is what they created:

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Little Bear’s is like the Amazon Jungle and Big Bear’s is very neat and orderly. I was really impressed with their creativity and how much they enjoyed it.

We planted some cress too so they have been able to check their garden each day and watch it grow and change. Little Bear loves giving his a squirt with the water spray. Cress is super easy to plant and grows quickly so they have been able to observe changes already.

A really lovely activity, everyone needs a mini garden in their life I reckon!

Marbling

This is up there as one of Little Bear’s favourite activities of all time. All you need is a bowl (we used the washing up bowls before we planted gardens in them), about an inch of water and some marbling inks. I got ours from Baker Ross but I think you would find them in any craft shop. The inks aren’t cheap (about £5.99 I think) but we’ve already had 2 big marbling sessions and we’ve got plenty left.

IMG_7768You just put a couple of drops of ink into the water and either let it disperse by itself or blow it or stir it to mix the colours. The boys loved this (we used wooden kebab sticks for mixing) and although they were probably a bit over liberal with the ink it did keep them entertained for ages. When you are happy with the mix in your bowl, float a piece of paper or card on the surface of the water. When you lift it out after a couple of seconds, it will be covered in amazing patterns like this:

 

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In the end we had to stop because the whole table was covered and we had run out of drying space. The boys were not bored and would have merrily carried on. We would highly recommend this for all ages.

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*Just be careful to cover surfaces and clothes as the inks do stain.

Decoupatch or Decoupage

 

This is Big Bear’s favourite activity. Little Bear doesn’t like this one – he seems to be hypersensitive to the feeling of glue on his hands.

Decoupage is basically just gluing paper so you can do it on any surface. So far we have stuck to the shaped cardboard models you can get from craft shops or Rymans. You can buy decopatch paper and glue from those shops too. We have tended to cut our paper up into squares before we start but I think you could use any shape or rip the paper as you went depending on the look you wanted. You just paint glue onto the surface you want to cover, place the paper on and glue over the top. You can overlap pieces so that the whole thing ends up covered. It is fairly quick to cover a small object and there is something very satisfying about it as long as you don’t mind sticky fingers. It doesn’t really matter how neat or messy you are it still ends up looking good. Here are our latest offerings:

Tissue Paper Transfer Art

I like this activity because it involves water and Little Bear especially loves getting stuff wet. However, I was a bit unimpressed with the results and definitely think this is more for people who like a pastel or subtle look.

You need a water spray, matt paper (shiny paper won’t absorb the colour in the way you need it to) and a range of colours of tissue paper. Cut the tissue paper into whatever shapes you want. We used squares for ease but I have seen it done with strips or hexagons on Pinterest (I don’t know about anyone else but I haven’t got the time or energy to cut out hundreds of hexagons!). 

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Your child can cover the paper in the tissue shapes by squirting it/them to make them stick. You need to let the whole thing dry then you can peel off the tissue paper. Underneath you should have an abstract picture made from the transferred colour of the tissue paper. We were a bit underwhelmed when we peeled ours back. This is how they looked:

As you can see the greens and blues seemed to work best. Black didn’t appear to work much at all. As I said I think this is great if you like pastel shades and the task is quite fun and will fill 20 minutes or so.

 

We prefer a more vibrant look though and liked how our pictures looked before we peeled the tissue paper off. That led us to another idea: why not create a hybrid of this activity and decoupage? You get your very own stained glass window:

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Mostly free local activities

I have been paying much more attention this year to what is happening locally during the holidays and have discovered that the library, local museums, our local craft shop and our country park all offer a variety of sessions during the holidays. Many are free or have a nominal fee. We haven’t tried any of the craft sessions as we like to get crafty at home but they look good and would be a good compromise if you don’t fancy a messy house.

Instead we booked on to pond-dipping which I thought would be a bit different for the boys. We passed a lovely hour and half dipping our nets and swirling about in the water. The most exciting thing we found was a large newt. We also found baby newts who still had their gills and lots of water boatmen – it turns out they swim one way up and walk the opposite way up when on land. Who knew?

The Ranger was really laid back and full of information, so much so that we’ve booked onto bug-hunting for later in the holidays. It’s brilliant that you can do it all for free.

Wet Wipe Tie Dye

Anyone else who hit their teenage years during the 90’s might also remember staining their parent’s kitchen sink trying to perfect the ultimate tie-dye on their t-shirt. As much as I loved it at the time I am a bit too precious about my lovely grey sink to let the children loose with dye in it now. I was excited then when I discovered on Pinterest that you can tie dye with a lowly wet wipe. Honestly. You really can and it actually works:

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All you do is pinch your wet-wipe in the centre and squash it into a sausage shape. Twist your sausage a few times then secure it in two or three places with elastic bands. Using any chubby felt pens, colour each section a different colour. Remove the bands and voila.

I have to admit I haven’t tried this with Little Bear but Big Bear was suitably impressed with it.

Science Experiments

When Big Bear was smaller he used to love doing ‘experiments’ which involved various containers, water, food-colouring, sugar and salt and him just mixing and pouring things. That won’t quite cut it now so we have branched out into those science sets you can buy.

We had a lot of fun one holiday doing a volcano one. This time we have had a go at growing our own crystals (I think I got the set from The Works). I’m not going to include a photo as I’m pretty sure the results are pitiful, however, I honestly don’t think that the results always need to be amazing for the children to enjoy it. My two get very excited as soon as they don their goggles (wearing the gear is part of the fun) and take their part in measuring or adding or stirring very seriously.

Chemistry was never my strong point but something has definitely happened in our dishes. The boys are enjoying looking into them each day and noticing any changes so I’ll take that as a success. Plus I’m sure the massive crystals on the front of the box were falsely advertised. Ahem.

Hama Beads

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Hama beads before but they are still up there as a favourite with both Bears. Big Bears works with the standard sized ones and Little Bear with the maxi ones. Big Bear has this book:

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We decided to get adventurous and try to build something 3D this time. I think perhaps we aimed a bit high and maybe this would be better for someone a little older (Big Bear is 8 now) or with a better concentration span as I ended up building 3 of the sides. However, we did manage it in the end and Big Bear was very pleased with our creation:

The book has lots of easier ideas like keyrings and coasters too so we might try something simpler next time.

Little Bear has completed lots of the kits that are available in the maxi size (dog, car, dinosaur, owl) and has moved on to freestyling and making pieces such as these:

It always amazes me that the boys will sit still long enough but they do and they really enjoy it. Hama beads are great for fine motor control and Little Bear has been experimenting with patterns too: a fun activity that ticks lots of other boxes.

 

That is our top 8 so far. Feel free to comment or suggest other things, there are still a lot of days to fill!

 

Summer Holiday Activities