Girls just want to have screen time

A few weeks I emailed E’s nursery and asked if they knew why she appeared to be suddenly obsessed with princesses. “Nothing to do with us,” was the reply (though they did give her a book of Cinderella for Christmas) and they suggested she was learning princesses through the other children. This seems likely, as they’re all merchandise tie-inned up most of the time. It was only going to be a matter of time before E got more exposure to these things (we do have the films at home but we limit screen time and merchandise); it also seems likely as I’ve noticed when E plays with other children she does seem easily led by them. *makes note to find assertiveness parenting tricks*

I do like Disney films. I’ve blogged about this before. My problem with them is two-fold. The first is that they have such a monopoly on things. You can’t buy a tshirt, a scooter, a bag, a set of cutlery without seeing Elsa or someone else on them. They’re everywhere, inescapable. The other is because they reflect part of the problem we have with representing women on screen.

A recent study analysed the amount of speaking time women in Disney films have. The older films (Sleeping Beauty, even Cinderella who is the most passive heroine in the history of the world) give the women between 50-60% speaking screen time. This gets smaller and smaller as the films get more modern to the extent that, Frozen, a film with not one but two female protagonists, has female speaking screen time at 41%. I blame that stupid snowman.

Now while you may say that what they say isn’t important, their acts are, I say this does matter. Art doesn’t reflect culture, in many cases it can shape it. There are studies that say that seeing a range of female roles on screen (big and small) can ‘normalise’ those roles and make the transition for women in the workplace easier and less strewn with sexist comments. Seriously. In a word where the media adores Kate Middleton, a prominent female ‘role model’ who says nothing at all in public if they can help it, we really should be concerned about the amount of time women on screen speak.

E naturally gravitates towards female characters. Her favourite in Toy Story is Jessie, she often makes toys she plays with into women (Mickey Mouse is Mickey Sophie Mouse in our house, the dragon from Room on the Broom is now female in our house (though to be fair the book doesn’t specify)). I was watching snooker on TV yesterday when she walked in and asked where all the women were. It was this that made me think we never see female snooker on screen. Presumably there is a championship? So I imagine one of the reasons she likes the princesses in Disney is because they are prominent female roles where she doesn’t see many. We watch some regular programmes – mainly Octonauts and that one about the Natural History Museum. Both programmes have male main characters with female assistants. Thank goodness for Katie Morag.

There are some good things to be taken from Disney. My favourite, Beauty and the Beast, has a heroine who is bookish, voices her desire for adventure, happily knows her own mind enough to turn down the advances of the local creep and then goes off to rescue the beast – literally and figuratively (she not only saves him from being a beast but pulls him to safety from the top of the castle). What a gal.

E’s favourite is The Little Mermaid. Again, some good things to think about here – a heroine who doesn’t fit in is one we can all relate to. And when she voices her desires she is punished, first by her father who destroys her treasures but then by the sea witch who steals her most powerful weapon – her voice. It screams feminist injustice. (Obviously the original fairytale doesn’t but there was a reason reading it traumatised me as a child.)

Stopping by the supermarket this weekend I decided to buy some Lego Star Wars for us. There was lots of merchandise. None of it featured Rey. Or Leia. I bought it anyway and let E do what she wanted with it, which is why this morning a Tie fighter pilot and an X-wing pilot were sitting in our dolls house living room, enjoying the sofa. But why can’t we have Rey?

Why can’t we have females who aren’t princesses, who are girls and women just doing stuff? Why do I have to make a special effort to find females to show E when we watch things? Sort it out please.

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Crich tramway village – a review

This has been a blog post a long time coming. I started to write it after our first trip to Crich and then realised that it was about to close for the season. So I’ve waited winter out, returned to Crich already this year and am ready to tell you about it, in case you’ve not been.

2016-03-20 14.13.58Fancy a day out in Derbyshire? A day among old fashioned shops and transport? A day out that celebrates the days when functional everyday things were beautiful, not just functional? Nostalgia-central, that’s also great for kids? Well, Crich Tramway Village is for you.

The attraction is sited in an old quarry and has tram lines running up and down the hill. Trams from days of yore run throughout the day. There are also old fashioned shops – sweets, a printers, gift shop – a pub and a tea shop, as well as a warehouse style building that house more trams, an indoor museum and soft play centre, and a further education centre. There’s also a woodland walk, with sculpture trail and outdoor play area, and a small exhibit about the quarry including fossils. And there’s a tardis, I mean police box, as well as other old street furniture.2016-03-20 15.51.01

We’ve been three times since our first visit, all on the same ticket which lasts a year. E gets in free until she’s 4 and adults are priced at £16 each. It’s great value.

E loves it. She gets very excited about the double decker trams and the first time she rode one she had a hissy fit when we had to get off. Now she understands she can go back on them it’s ok. You get given old fashioned pennies when you enter and you use them to ‘buy’ an all day ticket from the tram conductor. I think all the staff driving and conducting are volunteers and the atmosphere is fun – they dress up in the old uniforms. But it’s not just the rides. She likes to look at the old trams, stroke their paintwork and where it’s allowed, climb on and sit down. She’s becoming a transport nerd.

2016-03-20 14.48.53The woodland trail is very good and I love the sculptures, which range from green men to wizards to books and a drum set. The outdoor play area opened this year and is excellent, providing E with all the climbing apparatus she likes. And this year we stopped off at the fossil display which has ancient shark’s teeth and a selection of sparkly rocks. It’s enough to please any three-year old, or at least mine.

The food in the tea rooms is fine, and the children’s choices come in boxes – royalty or safari (they ask which you’d prefer, not wanting to assign genders to them, thank god.) There are also plenty of toilets. So all in all, it’s really family friendly.

Look at this lovely tram stop. Why can't we make them like this any more?

Look at this lovely tram stop. Why can’t we make them like this any more?family friendly

They also have theme days. Some of these are nostalgia-based (1940s, horse drawn trams and so on) but to close the season last year they did a Halloween special and as it got dark lit up the trams and the ‘street’ with spooky costumes and lights. E loved the open air Blackpool boat tram with its lights glowing and we had such a good time dancing to Monster Mash on the pavement.

I’ve already been asked when we’ll go back to the double decker trams, and have made a list of the theme days so I reckon at least two, if not three, more trips before our tickets run out for the year. Give it a try, I really recommend it.

Crich Tramway Museum is open daily from Saturday 19 March until Sunday 30 October 2016, from 10am – 5.30pm (last admissions 4.00pm). More information can be found on their website, Facebook or Twitter pages

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Stammering

“M-m-m-m-m-mummy…” she starts. It’s obviously frustrating for her and quite painful to watch. My instinct has been to wait and let her finish rather than jumping in, but my goodness, it’s so hard to watch her trying to talk.

This started a few months back and it was a surprise to her. After trying to say something, she’d look up and say “I can’t talk!” with a puzzled expression. We tried to reassure her. The stammer went away.

But now it’s back. It’s been going on for a little while and I’ve not wanted to make a big deal of it. This time she doesn’t seem to have expressed any frustration – I don’t know if it’s all internalised, or just isn’t bothering her at all. But not wanting to watch her struggling with her speech in this way I looked up a few facts. Action for Stammering Children has a very good website with resources for children, teens, teachers, parents and therapists. Here’s what I learned:

  • Stammering is part of development for around 5% children and in most cases they grow out of it.
  • Girls grow out of it better than boys; boys are more vulnerable to stammering
  • Getting early help can make a difference

There’s no obvious cause. Researchers have been looking into heredity and stress reasons but there are a range of possibles and they may vary for each child.

The stammering framework

The stammering framework

E’s speech has not followed standard development. At her two-year check up the health visitor was concerned that she didn’t say anything and wanted to send her to a speech therapist which I refused. A few weeks later she started to talk and all was fine. These days she also makes gibberish noises instead of talking which drives both of us mad. Being followed around by someone groaning “yawp!” instead of answering questions is pretty frustrating and we have both admonished her, asking her to talk properly. But now I wonder if this is related to the stammering. She has no trouble when she talks nonsense.

I spoke to nursery about the stammer. They have not seen her doing this, so it may be something she only does at home. But they also report that she is quiet at nursery and doesn’t necessarily talk as much as the other children. In this, she takes after her parents.

Of course, hearing that she only does it at home piles the guilt on; though research suggests stammering isn’t related to stress in younger children, you still associate it with something people do when they’re unhappy. Having said that, nursery also said when she does talk, she has a complex vocabulary and they have no concerns. So this could all be part of normal development for someone who is learning to communicate big thoughts. The Action for Children website backs this up as one of the possible causes.

It’s all a little confusing. The website says that even if your child displays some speech difficulties they may not have a full blown stammer. They also say early help can be best to clear it up quickly. Despite this, I’m torn as to whether I should take her for professional help in case this upsets her or make her think she’s not right. She tends to dwell on things and remember them for a while afterwards (again, a bad trait I’ve passed onto her) so I don’t want to worry her, but on the other hand I want to help.

What can you do if you’re a parent of a stammering child? Help is available. You can see your GP though the NHS speech services will take self referrals too. Action for Stammering Children have a centre in London. Otherwise, they recommend:

  • Focus on what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it
  • Keep to good food and sleep routines
  • Don’t interrupt or try to finish their sentences
  • Don’t tell them to slow down, instead try and lead by example by reading to them and speaking to them slowly
  • Try not to look for signs that they are getting worse as it will make you and them anxious. Instead focus on things they do well. (E has started making up fabulous stories, for example, and is more independent in tasks. Also good at sharing.)
  • Try to slow down altogether – the fast pace of modern life can have an effect
  • Have a short calm, relaxed one on one session to chat with no pressure.

For now, I’m trying to monitor when it occurs so I feel more knowledgeable about it, I’m trying to be more patient with her nonsense talk and I’m slowing down. We now have more leisurely breakfasts than rushy ones (see previous blog post) and I may instigate a day where we don’t do much (maybe Saturday). It’s also good practice for my reading, which can be quite rushed, as part of my natural reading style. And reading through the website again, I think I will also contact the speech and language service.

Action for Stammering Children can be found at their website, Facebook or Twitter sites.

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New year revelations

I never do resolutions in January. It’s the time of year you should be holing up somewhere warm and conserving energy, eating all the Christmas chocolate, not trying to improve yourself. No wonder so many people fail. I like to start in spring. There’s a sense of hope as the evenings get longer, it’s not dark when you get up and you don’t need quite so many jumpers. So this month I’m cracking on with exercise (especially now I think my cough is on its way out), and other good habits.

One of these is to revive my habit of working from home on Wednesday mornings. I put this in my diary last year in an attempt to stave off exhaustion but I’ve let it slide in recent months. This morning I started again.

E has been in a foul mood the last couple of mornings and so I decided what I would do was let her sleep and have breakfast at home before shipping her off to nursery. So I got up a whole 10 minutes later, pulled on jeans and a hoodie, opened up my ipad and started working at 7am. She slept till 7.30, about half an hour later than usual, but was in a better mood having woken naturally instead of being shaken awake. We sat at the table, she ate breakfast, I drafted an email. Then we walked to nursery and I came back home to do some more work before tramming to the office at lunchtime.

It was later when I was doing my timesheet that I realised that this arrangement had not only given me two half hour breaks during the day (unheard of) and a pleasant stress free start to the day, but I could leave before 6pm and still have done my hours for the day. I was home before bathtime with a day’s work behind me, and a load of clean washing had been done as well.

This may not sound much to you but for me, rushing about cramming my hours in, it was a revelation. It also offers hope for when E starts school in September so we can do this, I don’t have to bung her in breakfast club and still get to write and do housework on Fridays to prepare for the weekend.

If asked, I’d have said I worked flexibly because of the option for compressed hours but this is actually what people mean they talk about flexibility, and work-life balance. What a relief it all is.

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Rave on – Big Fish Little Fish review

We took E to her first rave on Saturday. Ha, I say that like some seasoned clubber. We all went to our first rave on Saturday. Anyone who knows me or S knows perfectly well this is a world that previously passed us by.

The rave in question was a family friendly event, put on by Big Fish Little Fish events who have been holding them across the country. Recognising that the rave generation (& their indie friends) are having children, they put on two and a half hour events where everyone can let their hair down and bounce up and down. When you think about it logically, if you leave aside the copious drug use, raves are perfect for young children. It’s basically chaos and they can handle that.

One glowstick...

One glowstick…

There was a massive queue outside the venue for the sold out event, and we attracted quite a lot of interest, one passer by asking “who are you going to see?” Once indoors, with a glow stick E was handed on the door, there were two floors, slightly quieter ambient soft play and chill out area, with face painters downstairs, and the dancefloor, bar and craft area upstairs.

There was a superhero theme so E was dressed in her Supergirl tshirt and a red satin cape I’d made her the night before. We queued for face paint first and she got decked out in a lovely sparkly mask with glitter which made her very happy. Then we explored upstairs. Alex Paterson from The Orb was DJing, and apparently playing a range of tunes I know nothing about so I tried not to sound like my dad by commenting that they all sounded the same (but they did.)

There was a licensed bar for the grown ups and goodies available from Nottingham Doughnuts and the Nice Lolly company. True to form, we didn’t drink but had a lolly and a doughnut and can state they were both delicious. Then E wanted to try out the dance floor. She dances a bit at home when she gets the mood but this was different. The atmosphere and noise helps (sound levels are checked and kept lower than usual for small ears) and she got well in, bouncing about and waving her hands around like a veteran. The only difficulty was trying not to step on small people, made more difficult by the glitter cannons which had left fascinating sparkly bits all over the floor.

Parachute

Parachute

There was also a craft table,with temporary tattoos and make your own superhero wrist cuffs from sparkly card and stickers so we tried these out and then scribbled on the wall mural. Back downstairs,she met a friend from nursery who gave her a big hug and they leapt in and out of the ball pit and tent palaces together before I read them, and two more little girls, a story about jungle animals. There’s room for all sorts at this rave.

We finished off bopping up and down beneath a parachute on the dance floor, definitely E’s favourite part. I’ve not seen her so excited and happy at a noisy event before but she loved all of it.

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Photobombing dead kings – our day in Leicester part 2

Welcome...

Welcome…

Our day out in Leicester continued after pasta, pizza and a spillage incident at the nearby Pizza Express. We walked down to the Richard III visitor centre with tickets to go in at 1.20. (You have timed tickets to ease the crowding, you can book in advance online.)

I’ve been dying to see this since they found him, and watched the reinterment with fascination on TV, as well as the documentaries. (I know, I’m a republican but this is different. I’ve always had a soft spot for Richard III. Those were the days when royals knew how to be royals.)

We were greeted well and picked up a children’s trail on our way in (the ticket is valid for a year should you wish to return.) The ground floor is devoted to Richard’s short reign and reenacts his work as King, before getting to the Battle of Bosworth and the treacherous Stanleys. It’s quite evocative and well done, considering they have absolutely nothing to display. Very little survives from the time, he became well known (wrongly) as a tyrant and anything that does survive has not been shared from the places they are stored.

King Dick, just before we photobombed him.

King Dick, just before we photobombed him.

E was well behaved, and I’m not sure how much she took in, though some parts she found interesting enough (the spears). It was upstairs where she was more engaged. Upstairs is all about the dig to find his body and there is more to display, including Philippa thingy’s wellies. We looked at the layout of the old buildings he had been buried before they were razed, then a digger bucket and watched some footage of the dig. Then we moved on to an old suit of armour, painted white to avoid rusting from exposure to fingers. E stood in front of it and asked “is it a Storm Trooper?” She climbed up to touch it and we were approached by a volunteer. Cue my immediate panic that he was about to reprimand us, but he just came to say hello and to talk about the chain mail, welcoming her to explore and touch all she liked.

They had a reproduction of the bones so you could see the spine curvature and the holes in the skull and then there was a brilliant computer display where you could try to reconstruct the face from the skull which we both enjoyed. Finally, they had the models of the face so we said hello and then photobombed the final face. In the photo Richard looks like he’s smiling, I like to think he knows I’m a loyal subject.

The grave site

The grave site

Downstairs again we finished off over the dig site where you can see the hole they found him in, covered with a thick glass floor. A volunteer was giving a talk as we entered but stopped talking when E, having taken several tentative steps on the glass to find out if it was safe, wandered out into the middle of his display. It’s an incredible story really, especially when you think of the time and the amount of development on the site. At one point someone made off with (or probably crushed) his feet when they were digging.

2016-03-09 14.41.22Finishing off in the gift shop (bought: postcards, a magnet for Daddy, a badge for E and a bookmark for me, tried on: a medieval headdress) we then went across the road to the cathedral to see the tomb. It’s a lovely stone thing, with a cross carved on it and his name on the side.

I thought the whole experience was excellent and very much enjoyed it, while being unsure of E’s reaction. But some things must have sunk in. As we looked at the dig, she asked if the bones were made of dinosaur bones and I said no, they were the man. Later that evening she asked if we all have bones – this is a concept she’s not considered before, despite having seen skeletons. And then the following day, playing with her new space Lego, she made one of the figures pick up the spanner and told Daddy that the lady was digging to find Richard. How old does she have to be to join the Richard III Society?

In short: I award this 9 1/2 out of 10 (I never do full marks) – the displays were informative and interesting even for a three year old, the staff were lovely and friendly, really welcoming all the way through and tolerant of a small girl and the story is really fabulous and unlikely.

The King Richard III visitor centre is open seven days a week and costs £7.95 adults, £4.75 for children 5-15, younger are free.

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Dinosaurs, bears and expressionism – our day in Leicester part 1

I’d been planning to take E to the Natural History Museum for a while, and decided last week may be a good time to do it until I realised I’d not left enough time to book train tickets. (I only thought about this three weeks ago – I’m not remortgaging the house to get to London for a day, we’ll just go later this year. I’ll try and book now.) She’s been into dinosaurs for a while and I thought she’d like to see them. But then I remembered Leicester.

In the Den for under fives

In the Den for under fives

S and I have a soft spot for New Walk Museum as it’s where I was able to get him a ticket to meet his hero Sir David Attenborough a few years’ back when I worked for Waterstone’s and Sir Dave was giving a talk for his new book. We’ve not been back since but I knew they had dinosaurs there. Further investigation revealed dinosaurs, a wildlife section, a play area for under 5s, German expressionism and an art and craft display about the chap who built Stoneywell house (see previous blog). We decided to go.

E loves taking the train so was already excited when we got to the station and sat and coloured in the children’s worksheets from the museum’s website while we travelled. It was pouring with rain but we were ready for it with umbrella, boots and rain coats. It’s a short walk from the station to the museum and they have a rail for hanging your dripping coats.

The interactive aquatic dinosaur display

The interactive aquatic dinosaur display

Funnily enough, once we walked into the gallery E wasn’t that interested in the dinosaurs on display (this is typical.) I don’t know if she expected them to be real or if she was just blase about the whole thing. She enjoyed the interactive display about aquatic pre-historic animals and we did talk about fossils for a while but then we moved on. The wildlife section did interest her a lot more, and was also well laid out for children, despite being quite a small gallery. She liked the woodland crawling area (you come face to face with a fox and badger, as well as small tunnels and worms) and the polar bear in the Arctic bit.

We had a cup of tea (the coffee shop is adequate though Costa so all the drinks are made with water that is nuclear hot, and it’s not great for lunch. Sandwiches, I think, sausage rolls and other wise lots of cakes) and then went upstairs to the world art section which held her interest a little, and the Picasso gallery which had a selection of ceramics donated by the Attenboroughs (Richard) in memory of his daughter and granddaughter who died in the Boxing Day tsunami.

Picasso

Picasso

These were decorated with animals and faces and she did like them, though she did also like running about in this gallery. The German expressionists I thought were fascinating but didn’t have time to look properly, though we did say hello to their David Bowie tribute wall. Again, E was interested but only in a superficial way – she liked the film playing on the floor. I don’t really expect her to pay a lot of attention but once in a while she would point something out and I (who usually spends very little time in galleries) would have to make do with trying to take in what I could.

There were some other galleries with temporary exhibitions which we didn’t go in, and the gift shop (I love a good museum gift shop – we bought a pack of small plastic dinosaurs, a hatch your own dinosaur egg, a dinosaur sticker book and a plastic cup with a dinosaur on it. In short, complete tat. V enjoyable.)

We made our way out into the rain in order to find some lunch before our second museum of the day – more on that in the next blog. But how do I rate the New Walk Museum and gallery for children? 7 1/2 10 – free entry, easy to access, good exhibitions, friendly staff, rubbish coffee shop. Also there weren’t any postcards of the building or the dinosaurs, a small thing but we send postcards when we go anywhere to my mum, niece and nephew and they don’t want art reproductions.

New Walk Museum is open seven days a week and is free to enter.

 

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