Monday, 14 April 2014

BeltLock, car seat safety essential

 Ollie was a long bodied 2 year old when we had to move him out of his three-point securing car seat because his head was higher than the head restraint and he was too big to do up the seat belt.  He went into the next age up car seat, with the regular car seat belt over his shoulder and lap.  We then had several months of very stressful driving as he constantly undid the seat belt so we had to keep telling him off, pulling over, clicking him back in and carrying on. 

We tried distracting him with toys, wrapping a scarf around the buckle to hide it (I DO NOT recommend this or endorse it in any way as you may not be able to release it in an emergency, but we were getting desperate and trying things recommended by other parents we talked to).  The salesman at the well known baby store we went to said there was nothing on the market to help and recommended "tough love"! 

It was Ok if there were two adults in the car and one of us was able to ride in the back with him, but that wasn't possible all of the time.  Eventually his language skills developed enough that we managed to scare him with tales of how he would 'fly out of the car' if his seat belt was off.  This worked well enough that now he yells at any adult driver who is slow to put their own belt on that they will fly out of the car and must put their belt on straight away (one of his many helpful backseat driver orders).

Talking to other parents - interestingly, mostly the parents of boys - this seems to be a worryingly common problem.  The danger of an unsecured child in the car is added to by the distraction to the driver and the added risks from having to pull over and then re-join busy traffic.  Evidently, one parent going through this had the brainwave to actually design something to prevent the problem, and the BeltLock was born.

I wish this had been stocked in that baby store when we visited it, but thankfully there is now a solution that works.  It is a relatively inexpensive solution too, retailing for around £10 (it's an Irish company, so the online price is given as 12.50 in Euros). 

The device is a small orange plastic clip that sits over the seat belt receptacle.  It doesn't interfere or change the functioning of any part of the belt, it simply prevents small fingers pushing the button.  To release you poke a key, or any other narrow flat object, through the slot to depress the seat belt button. 

I was really cautious of any device that could make the belt less safe, but both Matt and I had a good play with it and can't foresee any problems - if, God forbid, there was an accident bad enough that the driver was incapacitated too badly to release the belt with their house key for example, I think that emergency services would be using belt cutters anyway.  I feel wary of recommending safety equipment because it is a minefield of responsibility and what ifs, but I can only say that we liked it, and if you are interested it's worth popping over to the website and using your own judgement.

The product is primarily designed with little ones in mind, but is also a useful addition for anyone driving a passenger with reduced responsibility such as a family member with reduced mental age who is known to play with their seat belt.

Toby at 2 years old is not such a huge fiddler as his big brother was, but every so often he does go through a day of trying to extract himself from his seat.  I can see this being especially useful for cars where an older sibling sits next to a younger one as Ollie has in the past unclicked the seat belt holding Toby's big Britax baby seat in place - thankfully by accident, before we drove off anywhere, and he owned up immediately so we could fix it.  Since we received this product I'm certainly enjoying one less thing to worry about when we're driving.

We received our BeltLock to try for free to review, but the opinions and photos are all my own (I'm hoping you can't see the marmite smeared next to the seat belt receptacle in the second picture).  Please refer to the product instructions on the website for safe and appropriate use of the item.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Pledge one hour campaign

The Weekend Box Club, who I recently did some reviews for, has commissioned a study to find out how much time parents are able to spend with their children.  The founder of the club has been so moved by the results that he has teamed up with the National Trust to launch a new campaign to encourage parents to pledge an extra hour a week to spending quality time with their child, with an associated website full of great ideas and free resources to try.  Hopefully this will be a useful starting point for all parents, but especially for the 40% who spend less than an hour a day engaging in quality time with their children and really want to make that time count.  No matter how much time we spend with our kids, it would benefit us all to Pledge One Hour extra.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Putting on a show

 In the last post Ollie wrote a story.  This is a brief note about what we did next - a puppet show.  Ollie and I drew characters from Ollie's story and Toby helped us by decorating the pirate ship and sticking on the lolly sticks (using double sided tape). 

We then set up a stage using a table cloth and two chairs and Ollie performed the story with help from Toby as I read it out.  Next the boys brought in their drums and keyboard and performed a musical interlude before returning with extra puppets made at play group  (lions, insects and a flamingo) and adding to the narrative.  Finally all the chairs were pulled out and covered in table cloths and blankets to form a tunnel between a pirate ship (a  table) and a desert island (another table).  The boys spent half and hour chasing each other around under the furniture before sharing a picnic in a secret cave (under the dining table).

The boys seem to really like it when we follow a theme in play.  Some days we might read a book together and then carry that into our play, making props and imagining the rooms of the house as different places in the story. By acting out favourite parts of a story and making drawings and toys based on it you are helping your child's comprehension of the book.  This helps children to connect enjoyable play experiences with reading and primes them to want to read for themselves because they already see that books can take them to imaginary worlds and exciting adventures.  The questions you ask and the comments you make can help to stretch their acquisition of everything from verbal descriptive skills to empathy 'In the book the pirate was eaten by the whale, where is he now?  How do you think he feels being stuck in the whale's tummy?  Blue whales normally eat little tiny sea creatures called krill?  Do you think the whale has a sore tummy after eating the pirate instead?'... This is a good opportunity to really listen to their thought processes too and validate their opinions and imagination.

Reading at bedtime is a lovely routine and it's a gift to able to spend that precious bit of time snuggled up reading to drowsy little ones, but it's also great for kids and parents to take reading out of the bedtime and into the light of day for a different experience of books.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Little authors

 Many children love to make up stories, but how can we capture these examples of their wonderful imaginations when they are too little to write them down for themselves.  One way is to encourage them to tell us the story slowly, one line at a time so we can write it down for them.  Writing the story down serves several purposes in addition to simply recording for posterity this part of their childhood.

When you take time to write down your child's story, you are also taking time to really listen to it, which is something we can easily get too busy and distracted to do as often as we would like to.  Really listening and writing down their words gives children a real sense that you value their creativity and it teaches them to value it themselves.  It gives children an immediate grasp of why literacy is important and wonderful because they can see that the thoughts in their heads are turning into something that can be shared again and again.

On Saturday Ollie and Toby shared an early Easter egg and Ollie immediately was fired up by an idea for a beach picture using the wrapping.  He got his scissors from the drawer and asked for card and glue, then I sat down with him and joined in sticking on the wrapping where he wanted it.  He then started telling me about a snail who lived on a rock on the beach, so I got a pen and began to jot down what he told me.  As we went along I picked out certain words for Ollie to have a go at writing by copying what I wrote for him.  He wrote 'snail', 'cabin', 'ship' and 'sea'.  He wanted to write the whole story himself, but by giving him a few words to try it gave him a sense of involvement in recording the words.  When I ran out of space on the page I wrote it out again neatly on a piece of card, added the title Ollie came up with on the other side of the card and taped the story to the picture.  I use Scotch tape for things like this because it doesn't go brown and peel off like normal tape does when it gets old.  Ollie then added the drawing of the snail to the title page and wrote his name at the bottom of the story page.

He is immensely proud of his book.  We have to read it at least twice at bedtime.  He wants to add more pages to the story, so it will be interesting to see how it develops over time.  Most of the trick of getting children to read and write is helping them to value it so that they want to learn.  You can do this by showing them how much you value reading and writing by making sure they see you enjoying reading and writing, and by showing that you value their blossoming literacy by displaying their pictures and attempts at writing and just generally letting them know how proud of them you are.  I like activities like this though because you are making a direct link to what literacy is for - communicating thoughts - in a way that you will never achieve through flashcards or copying from worksheets.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Bodium Castle as an outdoor classroom

 We were National Trust and English Heritage members long before we had the kids because it was a way of supporting our historic buildings and landscapes, experiencing beautiful gardens and experiencing history and art on many many days out all over the country.

Once we had the boys though our memberships provided us with something extra - outdoor spaces where our children could roll in the grass without rolling in dog dirt.  One of Ollie's first words was 'poo' from the unfortunately necessity of my constant 'mind the poo' as we walked the paths, parks and woods locally.  It seems to be an epidemic at the moment and it makes me really sad and angry that I can't relax while the kids  use of the many great local playing fields and outdoor spaces because of the thoughtlessness of others.

Paying out annually for memberships to the National Trust and English Heritage has therefore provided countless 'clean dirt' experiences for the kids as they climb into hollow trees, balance on logs and crawl through meadows.  These physical play opportunities are the best way for children to develop their gross motor skills and learn balance and coordination, as well as all the other opportunities for learning that they present.

 On Sunday we visited Bodium Castle, and instead of charging straight up to the Castle itself, this time we took a stroll along the country lane running near by it.  As part of our seasonal 'farm to fork' series of experiences it fitted in really well, since we could show the boys the oil seed growing in the fields, smell the flowers, watch the bees and butterflies and watch the tiny black pollen beetles hiding in the crop.  We talked about how the pollen is blown by the wind and carried by insects between the flowers and this helps the flowers to make seeds which will be crushed to produce cooking oil.

Toby was fascinated with all the insect life living amongst the crop, spending a long time watching bumble bees looking for likely nest holes in the field margins.  His favourite game was picking up stones off the traffic-free lane and throwing them into the puddles in the pot holes, another good set of activities for improving hand eye coordination and gross motor skills.
 We were all very excited to see the lizard in the hedge that stayed still for ages so we got a really good look at it.  This triggered a discussion with Ollie about how some animals like lizards and snakes are 'cold blooded' and use the heat from the sun to warm themselves up so they can move quickly.  We also took photos of butterflies so Ollie could use his book later on to find out which types they were.

Every so often we would stop and listen to the birds, watch the buzzards circle overhead, try to spot the pheasants making a commotion somewhere out of sight and look at the movement of the strange looking hoverflies with long proboscis stretched out from their heads like funny looking bees sticking their tongues out.  Talking about what we could see, hear and smell as we walked along was an excellent way to build the boys vocabularies.
 A pile of leaves in a ditch provided a lot of entertainment, moving them around, throwing them up in the air and 'feeding' the fish sculpture.  We fed ducks and watched huge carp fish in the moat, then climbed all over the amazing castle, up winding stair cases testing our bravery and building muscles in little legs.
Finally, on the way back to the car park Ollie made groups of old ladies laugh as he crawled along with a strange jerky movement while shouting out that he was being a chameleon and was camouflaged against the grass so we couldn't see him.  Toby's legs had given out by this point so he was having a nice carry from Matt and pulling faces at us.

There is a great deal to be learned about the world around us, the history and the nature, from books and TV documentaries, but for any age there is no richer experience than getting out into historic sites and drinking it all in.  It's worth repeated visits to the same site too, because both the National Trust and English Heritage frequently add in new interpretation resources and provide special events and volunteers to describe or reenact elements of history.  One of the boys favourites experiences at Bodium was last summer when they made medieaval beer bread and saw the trebuchet launching projectiles into the moat.  Don't be put off from visiting with small children and even babies, there has been a real improvement in recent years in trying to make sites more family friendly.  All in all I highly recommend a visit to your nearest historic site, just stay away from the cream teas because they're all mine!