Toucan, you can

I don’t do too many Christmas gift ideas blogs. But today I’m going to talk to you about Toucan boxes.

We’ve been getting one of these little fellas delivered every fortnight for the last few months and E has come to really enjoy them. The smallest in the range fits through your postbox, has your child’s name on the outside and a crafty activity inside. (They do two larger boxes which come once a month and contain lots more to do, plus a book. I’m only reviewing the petite boxes here.)

Each activity is linked to early years/ KS1 targets and can be tailored to include or exclude subjects you aren’t interested in (we have most of them but I excluded anything about royalty). This includes activities to do with science, nature, art, dinosaurs, pirates, among many more. The boxes are for children, not boys or girls, so not split by gender and assumes your child will be interested in whatever is inside.

Here are some of the things we have made:

Toucan box projects

From top left: a jack-o-lantern, a Toucan box and instructions, a papier mache calabash, a jellyfish, a Mondrian style painting, a printed bag for collecting nature projects.

Spider project

The spider was made by gluing black paper & then eyes onto a polystyrene ball (E did this) and the web from pipe cleaners (I did this). The paper is a marble rolled in white paint onto black paper to make web patterns. (E LOVED this)

They all use different materials, and tell you about the thing you are making, as well as highlighting what skills you’ve learned. Some of the really fiddly bits E has to let me do but in general she’s always really keen to see what is in the box, and how it works. From being a novelty thing, it’s now something she actively looks forward to – so much that I have to place the box somewhere high until we’re ready to spend time on it.

Each box comes with a sticker and collect enough of them, you can claim a prize. (We’re saving for the ‘paint a rocket playhouse’.) This part is often E’s favourite – this isn’t to diminish any of the activities but she enjoys looking at the numbers and the chart, and she knows how to do this without any help from me.

I’m a fairly craft-y person, and I have ideas or know where to go to find more ideas. But this is much easier. Sooooo much easier. It’s fun, educational and takes the hard work out of finding the materials and instructions you need. For just under a fiver, that gets my vote.

Toucan boxes can be found at their website but you can also catch up with them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest) and have a look at other projects available at the moment. A petite box costs £3.95 + .98 postage, and is delivered fortnightly.

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Picture this…

I’ve just got some prints back from the photo shop and will spend this week sticking them in an album. I know what you’re thinking. It’s not 1984! I know. But here’s the thing. I like taking photos. I like showing them to people. I like making albums and scrapbooks. E likes looking at pictures.

I have backups of all our pictures on an external hard drive and anything on my phone immediately backs up to Dropbox. I’m not a philistine. But it’s not the same. And in 20 years, when I’m approaching my dotage, that technology might not be compatible. What if I lose all of E’s childhood pics?

Opinion is divided about putting pictures of your children on the internet. Some people are fine with doing this and I’m not here to lecture them – it’s a personal decision. Yes, it’s true pictures of children can be used by others for odd and sometimes horrible purposes, but this is less of a concern to me than perhaps it should be. My concern is this: We don’t yet know what it’s like to grow up in an age of social media, where your every move is documented on the internet. In theory a future employer can Google a name and see their potential employee’s entire life, from babyhood onwards.

I have once in a while succumbed to posting a picture of E up on Facebook – I’ve just checked, there are 4 pics that show her face and anything else has her face obscured. It’s hard when you live far away from friends and family and have a sweet baby that you want to boast about.

For all I know this will be fine for future generations. But her face isn’t my image to post up for others to see. And while I can protect her privacy, then I will.

The problem of course, as with all the other things I’m old fashioned about (books, CDs) is space. I’m about to start a fourth photo album for E’s pictures. I have a feeling this will be the final year where there are so many pictures of her, once she starts school and grows up more there will be fewer. But for now, I will fill pages with her smiling face and paste in tickets, leaflets, stickers and pressed flowers as a keepsake.


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It’s that time of year where I feel like I ought to be more festive but am restricted by the fact that it’s still only November. Bloody commercialism. And relatives who have been asking for ages what we all want as gifts. What we actually need is a November festival to tide us over. Perhaps I’ll start one. Something that involves chunky jumpers, lights, warming stews and cake. And dancing.

Anyway, today the weather obliged by being vaguely festive (ie ruddy freezing) and S decided we should all go out. None of the usual National Trust places or local attractions had their Christmas events on yet – because it’s only November – but then S found the Rufford Christmas trail was on.

2015-11-22 13.43.44Rufford is owned by Notts County Council so it’s important to remember their attractions won’t have enormous amounts of cash thrown at them. A few years back they had a harrowing tableau where Santa appeared to be hanging in a tree so the Christmas trail is at least an improvement. In short, they put some wooden decorations in the trees and write clues for you to find each set as you wander round their park.

2015-11-22 13.30.43We went on this last year and I remember being colder than I’ve ever been. It was marginally better this year, plus E was more involved than last year. Once she got past the excitement of picking up sticks from the ground, and climbing on boulders, she got into the task of looking out for the decorations and counting them. At the end she was rewarded with a chocolate Santa.

They also had a Santa’s grotto but I’m wary of those things because I don’t want her to be scared of Santa and the toys all looked horribly gendered (boys were holding helicopters, girls had pink notebooky things.) And because, of course, it’s only November.

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How do you feel?

I’ve been intrigued in the last few weeks about how E has been dealing with things. About how she has communicated those things. When we spend time together we chat away but our topics of conversation are very much reactive to what we’re doing or what we can see and not so much about other, wider things.

A couple of weeks back E had her booster jabs. One in each arm. She was very good, didn’t cry, didn’t wriggle and instead just tensed up a little but let us do them both. Her face while she was deciding if she should cry or not was heartbreaking but she did very well and I gave her a finger of fudge as as treat on the way home (at 8am – I got some dirty looks from passers by.)

She didn’t talk about this but she has recently started re-enacting the jabs with me, rolling my sleeves up and pressing into my arm, asking “Does it hurt? Are you brave? Well done Mummy.” So clearly she’s thinking about it still. The same with an incident at nursery last week where a boy scratched her. Again, she was brave and didn’t cry but she has asked about the boy and if he will be there again. She has examined her scratch again and again, touching it to see what’s going on. She is like me in that respect, a quick outburst and then lots of stewing.

You may remember a few weeks back I blogged about a change in our bedtime habits – how she likes to sit in the dark holding hands for a while before we leave her. This is still going on and I’ve found it’s a tie where we’ve started to have little chats. So far these have been about innocuous things – “Shay had a little minion and I had a big minion and Shay said…” and so on. But these are details I haven’t heard before and they’re things from her world, the world of nursery. Sharing with me lets me know what she’s done but also gives me the chance to listen to her worries if she wants to talk about those. Everything she details to me I make a comment on, to show her I’m listening, and so if she does want to talk about concerns, hopefully she will be able to come to me.

Perhaps this is early. But if I establish these things now, if things become more serious for her – stress, school, homework, friends – she won’t think twice about bringing them to me. And these few moments are precious.

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Body confidence

“Look at my boobs,” said E, the other day, lying naked on her bed, rubbing her nipples with both hands like some old pervert. “They’re tiny, not like yours.”

Thanks love.

I’ve noticed E watching me as I get dressed in the morning, and seeing how my body is different to hers. She’s especially picked up that my boobs are big. She has learnt the word ‘boobs’ from me – that I know. She asked me the other day as I dressed, “Is that your braf?” “Bra. Yes.” “For your boobs.” “Yes. You can call them breasts.” “Boobs?” “Or boobs.” Sigh.

It’s funny, and I’m glad she finds delight in her body. She’s recently been down with chickenpox and was distressed at the itching, but I think is now pleased as she’s realised her body is dealing with the spots and making them go away. It leaves us with another issue though – I still haven’t decided how to describe her genitals to her.

She mentioned this to me when I was in the shower – there’s no privacy with a three year old – and was talking about my hairy tummy for a while before I realised she wasn’t referring to my tummy. “That’s not my tummy,” I said. And then couldn’t decide what to call the hairy bit so pointed instead at my actual tummy and distracted with talk of tummy buttons. Distracted her for now. I hate any silly words – fou fou, lady garden, the dreadful ‘down there’ – but feel that she’s just too little to bandy the word vagina around. And it’s not strictly accurate either – if we talk about weeing from the front, well that’s not her vag is it? Suggestions please.*

But the best episode came the other day when S was walking with her back from nursery. She had been messing around, and had stopped, bent over and placed her hands on the floor. She started to move her bum back and forth. S, in exasperation, asks, “What are you doing?”

“Daddy, I’m twerking,” she says.

Now that’s body confidence.

*So far my favourite suggestion has been to make up a name, after a girl’s name – “it’s your Betty.”

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No thanks Bunty

Did you get magazines when you were a child? I don’t remember any I had when I was really little but for a while there was a rival to ‘Bunty’ and ‘Jackie’ called ‘Suzy’ and, despite hating being called Susie I used to like this. It had all your teenage photostories and suchlike inside but then was cancelled and Bunty just wasn’t the same. I switched to a football magazine and Smash Hits.

The children’s magazine market has moved on. There are LOADS more titles, many of them aimed at toddlers, all of them on low shelves in the supermarket and all with brightly coloured covers and plastic toys to give away. Predictable. I’m happy for E to have a magazine once in a while but I have some rules. There are some mags with clear gender divides – pink and princessy and passive. We don’t get those. I prefer not to get many with too many crappy plastic toys, though it’s hard to avoid.

So this leaves us with:

Charlie and lolaCharlie and Lola magazine – once a month from CBBC. There’s a story and theme to each month, and lots of stickers and things to make. This is E’s favourite magazine – she loves all the stickers and pictures to make, as well as the things to make. These range from masks to booklets to maracas to models. I actively look out for this one each month, even the month where they gave away a free plastic recorder.

CBeebies Art magazine – once a month and vaguely themed. There are 12 pages of things to make from paper – these are the kinds of things that can save you on a rainy day indoors or on a long car journey (see my post last week). This
does come with lots of creatures/ critters/ monsters to make from foam pieces and the kind of material that is probably clogging up landfill sites all over the place but E loves the two lots of monsters we’ve made so much that they adorn our bookshelves.

Thomas the Tank Engine – as it sounds. The magazine seems to be slightly less preachy than the original stories and even has women engines once in a while (woop-de-do). I’m less keen on this but S and E like Thomas and it does have about six stories in each issue which helps to keep her happy and us less bored by reading the same things over again…

The first two mags are pretty good and creative – Thomas less so but you get more stories. I’m really looking forward to her being old enough to get the Jacqueline Wilson mag (hopefully they will still make it then). I can’t seem to find any on the main market that aren’t based around a TV programme or other. There is a magazine for children 3-8 that’s available by mail order called Okido. It aims to offer a perspective on science, nature and the world. I tried a few copies of this and there were a few things that were fun to try but there were also several issues that were mainly just a lot of hand drawn cartoons featuring weird blobby characters. The good thing was that it was aimed at children rather than boys or girls – I have a feeling although it’s aimed at 3-8s, it might be better for E when she’s a bit older.

I’d really like to hear what you like – recommendations please!


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Goodnight sweetheart

Since we went on holiday the week before last, E’s bedtime routine has been shot to pieces. This was partly caused by the holiday itself. The first and last nights of it were spent in a caravan that belongs to friends of ours who conveniently live halfway between home and the holiday. E had been sitting in the car for a long time so we kept her awake for a while to let her blow off steam. She then refused to go to sleep in the caravan bunk bed so slept beside me. She likes this. I don’t.

The cottage was fine and she had her own twin room but she did find it strange – the smells, sounds and feel of it were all different and she did wake not knowing where she was which is pretty disconcerting. (I know, I did it myself.) So she was reluctant to go to bed unless one of us was with her each night.

For those of you with children with good bedtime routines who may not know what this is like, let me describe:

You lie next to your child on the outside of their bed, they are curled up next to you and their arm is perhaps around your neck. Their breath blows into your face. They chatter for a little bit but you try and encourage them to sleep.

You get a bit chilly and tuck yourself under the duvet too. They hold you a bit tighter.

You lie there and inhale their yeasty smell, enjoying the peace and quiet and how nice it feels to lie down after exploring woodland/ beaches etc all day.

You feel them start to sleep – their breathing slows and they start to snore a little. You begin the process of extraction.

Sliding one foot from the bed, you find the floor and then slide the second leg out. You are still lying on the pillow but are kneeling on the floor. Their hand slips away but yours is still resting on their body. You begin to lift your head from the pillow, then lift your hand very gently up. They don’t stir. You lift yourself off and start to make your way in pitch black to the door. Just as you open it (it squeaks) they wake, see you’ve gone, cry like their world depends on it and you close the door and resume your position.

They go back to sleep. You slide yourself out of bed but they’re still slightly awake enough to hold on tighter this time so now you have the corner of the bedside table lodged in your back while you’re twisted onto the floor, and you’ve been there so long your right foot is now really cold. You wiggle the toes, alone, on the carpet, in the dark.

The grip loosens just as you can’t bear the back pain any more and you can move but you still leave your arm across their body. Finally you lift it s-l-o-o-w-w-l-y until you realise they are definitely asleep and you can emerge blinking into the front room.

Now we’re home, E is less insecure but still not the happy to go to sleep child we took away with us so I have to sit with her a little while and hold her hand until she will let me go. Most of the time I don’t mind. It gives her comfort, I think it’s just a phase and once you’ve explained that she has to go to sleep to be strong for tomorrow and list all the fun things she will be doing, she’s normally fine about saying good night.

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