Draughts/checkers board DIY

Strategy games have become a big thing in our household, over the past few months. My youngest child, in particular, is a real lover of all things strategic.

Though my mum managed to find the mancala board my brother and I played with as children*, I couldn’t find a draughts/checkers set amongst things we already had.

Because of the pledge to buy nothing new, we started out by drawing a grid on paper and using random items from around the house as counters. This worked for a while, but when it became clear that the interest in patterns and strategy wasn’t going away, I wanted to make something a little more permanent and portable.

I don’t have any woodworking skills worth noting, but I can sew and knit, so the obvious solution was to create something using fabric/yarn.

I settled on fabric in the end, because it was quicker to run these squares through my sewing machine than it was to knit alternative shapes. It was also a really good way to use up some of my fabric scraps, rather than beginning a new ball of yarn. Of course, if you already have a checked blanket, you can forego this whole ‘step’ and just go find some counters.

I didn’t really measure anything out for this little patchwork rug – I just sort of made it up as I went along.

I started by finding a scrap of paper that was the width I want for each square. I folded at a 45 degree angle by bringing the left edge in line with the top edge.

I then cut this into a square along the bottom/right edge to create a template so that all of my squares were the same size.

After that, it was simply a case of sewing all of the squares together. I did the top by hand because it meant that I could chat to my parents while I worked and, as a result, the job got done quicker than if I’d waited to use the machine!

After I’d done that, I backed the top with a piece of an old sheet. All in all, this took a few hours of work and cost nothing. I used old buttons for counters.

Making this was actually quite interesting in a lot of ways. For a start, it made me think about the time spend in acquisition of things. For example, if one buys something from a physical store, it takes time to go there, select the item in question, pay for it and come home. Ordering things online takes even longer. If we can make-do with things we have in our possession already, we not only save ourselves money and precious resources, we also save time. And really, who doesn’t want a few more hours in the day?

I keep coming back to this – the concept of convenience sells, but surely it’s more convenient to use objects already in our homes than it is to source, fund and house new things? That saying about the plastic spoon springs to mind…

This little blanket has also made me think really hard about the things I give as ‘new baby’ gifts. In future, I’ll be making little checked quilts – 8×8 squares – with a large border. These can then go from being a cot blanket, to a play mat, to a draughts board – a gift that grows with the recipient. If I were really thinking ahead, I could make 32 small, easy, square bean-bags in the two opposing colours – I could fill them with different textured/scented fillings as sensory baby toys, but also stitch ‘p’ for ‘pawn’ or ‘q’ for ‘queen’ on one side so that when they’re no longer useful as said sensory toys, they could be used as draught counters when the blank side is showing, and chess counters when the letters are visible. On the back of the quilt, one could also sew different coloured, larger squares down the centre for a throwing game – bean bags in the furthest square get 10 points, those in the middle get 5 and those in the closest get 1 point, for example.

Cot blanket, play mat, sensory toys, bag toss, draughts, and chess – six uses for one gift.

This is the way we need to think about all the things we give – not just the initial moment of receipt, but also of how objects can be useful as time progresses. It’s certainly a lesson I’ll be taking with me, following this quick little project.

Have you ever tried making toys for children? I would love to hear what you’ve made. Contact me here, or on Twitter.

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*If you fancy trying out mancala, you don’t need a board. Anything you have to hand is totally fine. There’s archaeological evidence of it having been played with dips in sand and rounded pebbles – you can absolutely use bowls and Lego blocks, circles on paper and some dried beans, or glass beads and jam jars. The important part is the rules.

Beanbag Revamp

My parents bought this beanbag for my eldest child, just before we moved in with them (in order to facilitate a house move) around 6 years ago. It didn’t always look like this, though – originally, the beanbag was an amazing, vibrant orange colour, and made of pleather.

Since the initial purchase, it’s definitely been a well-loved item of furniture and I’ve refilled it more than once (using beans I picked up on Freecycle, no less). It’s now 7 years old, though, and just as loved as ever. I get the impression that it was constructed for fun and aesthetic impact, rather than longevity. I especially feel like the pleather wasn’t made to last that long. In fact, let me show you…

Isn’t it an awesome colour? You can see the white specs on the seat, though, and here’s a close up of where the layers of plastic are peeling away.

Sad times. I expect that in years gone by, this is where I’d have thrown in the towel, saved the beans and the zip, and taken the rest to the tip.

But not today!

I decided to go stash-diving and select a new fabric to cover the beanbag with.

First, I drew up a pattern. Looking at how the original shape was constructed, I made three panels – one for the back and sides, one for the front and top, and one for the base. I cut draughts for these from some old lining paper that the kids had drawn all over…

I then used this to cut out the fabric, which I proceeded to stitch together into the top and sides of the cover.

At this point, I put the beanbag in, then stitched the bottom on by hand. If I’d taken all the beans out, put the original shell into the new cover and then returned the beans, I could have finished the entire thing using the sewing machine but honestly, knowing how those annoying little beans behave, it was actually just quicker to sew this myself.

I finished by adding velcro along the back seam. This isn’t so I could extract the original shell – which I can’t see myself doing – but so I could access the zip to refill the whole thing, should this become necessary. I used velcro that I found in amongst my mother-in-law’s sewing things, which is – coincidentally – where I found the blue, floral fabric.

It was a total pain to do, I’ve got to confess. The plastic of the velcro was really tough to sew through and I would say that if you decide to give this a go on your own beanbags, you either need to learn to sew with a thimble or do the whole thing on a machine. I could not have made this, were it not for the little thimble I learned to sew with last year. Having that tiny shard or armour on my middle finger made the whole thing possible.

And this is the end result. You might notice the handle at the top of the beanbag here – I achieved this by cutting two little sections of interfacing, and leaving part of the top seam open.

I can’t actually get over how neat the handle looks.

And that’s about it really – here’s to another 6 years, at least!

Have you ever tried making a beanbag, or recovering one? Have you attempted to make covers for any of your other furniture? Would you have chosen fabric that was a little more… subtle? I’d love to hear your opinions.

 

Low Waste Living with Children – the baby years and beyond!

Looking back over the last few months, some of my most popular posts have been those which look at how to reduce waste and expenditure with young children. Today, I thought I would try and bring together a lot of that information.

A point to note: my own children are just that little bit older now – past the nappy stage, past the days of pushchairs and slings – so some of the things I’m suggesting might not be current. I do try my best to keep up to date, but really, this isn’t where we’re at right now so keep that in mind as you read. I’m just a parent, trying my best – not an expert in child-rearing.

In the very early days, things like nappies, milk, clothes, and transport are key. I’ve spoken a little about them here. This is a fairly comprehensive post, but looking back, something I wish I’d had the money/car-space to do is to invest in an extended rear-facing childseat. Some of these will see your child from birth to 25kg which means you’re only buying one seat which spans this entire time. My own have had three seats each. This would have reduced our waste in this area by 2/3. This becomes especially relevant when we consider the fact that second-hand car seats are discouraged for safety reasons. This is definitely one of those cases where buy-well, buy-once applies.

Going back to clothes for a second – whilst charity shops, car-boot sales, repairs, online auctions and schemes like Lost Stock are all great, it’s worth remembering that there are rental schemes (like Bundlee) out there. It’s also worth remembering, that you don’t need to conform to societal norms. Clothes can be passed between genders. 

As children get older, they’re increasingly viewed as a potential ‘market’. Toys and books aimed at children are big business. You can reduce your spending here by using your local library and by embracing the loose parts toy movement. There are also toy subscription services like Whirli.

If you’re specifically looking for books which discuss the environment and the natural world, then there are many available for a whole range of ages. One of my favourites is Plants from Pips as this encourages easy, instant action.

If you’re looking at opening a dialogue with older children, a great starting point is this Need vs Want activity – it certainly got me thinking!

A bit of a controversial one, but if you’re looking to spend more time at home as a family, then remote working might be the solution you’re looking for. Not only will this cut out your commute, making it a more environmentally friendly option, but you also win back the time you would have spent in the car. The above link details some of the ways in which we’ve learned to work around children in the 8+ years Husband has been working from home.

When it comes to birthdays and other celebrations, don’t feel as if you need to go completely overboard. I’ve written about Christmas gifts and advent calendars before, but the same theories can be applied to other events. Whether you’re buying used gifts, books about sustainability, or creating gifts from things you already own, there are many, many ways to reject the common consumerism of celebration.

The wonderful thing about children is that if we take the time now to discuss things with them and teach them the reasons we’re making the choices we are, then we’re investing in a better world for the next generation. No time educating a child is wasted (even if it feels like it at times!).

What are your favourite ways to reduce waste with children? I’m always on the look out for new ideas! You can contact me here, or on Twitter and Pinterest.

Playtime

I hear it time and time again when the topic of children arises – how can they have so much stuff?

And at the risk of sounding brutal, the answer is: because we buy it for them.

But do we really need to?

It’s easy to feel judged as a parent – to feel as if by not doing what others around us are doing that we’re somehow failing. But that simply isn’t the case – all our children are different and they all have different interests and passions.

But we don’t need to buy whole new sets of playthings for each of these interests if we invest in good quality, versatile items to begin with. And these might not necessarily be toys. 

The loose parts play movement aims to foster a sense of creativity and inventiveness in children by providing them with tools from which to create the things they want to play with. There is a wealth of information online with ideas all over Pinterest , but there’s also a really comprehensive guide available here, on Play Scotland’s website.

Loose parts might include things like shells, buttons, sticks, empty picture frames, feathers, building blocks, small bean bags, dried peas, cups, and old baking equiptment.

In the picture above we’ve got some corks, stone eggs, chopsticks, wooden fruit, feathers and wooden cutlery.

We also have some beautiful old Danish and German coins we found, whilst clearing out my inlaws’ house.

The dried peas have long been a favourite to play with – they form the basis of many a pretend meal, as well as rubble for diggers and landslides for trains.

Blankets are another wonderful item to add to the mix too – old cot-blankets are ideal as they’re a managable size for small people. These serve as dressing up, dance floors, doll beds, landscapes, i-spy scapes (in the case of one particularly colourful patchwork example) and den-building fodder.

With the above selection of seeminly random objects, we’ve played supermarkets and cafes, built bridges and birdnests, and done no end of collages.

This is the bird my eldest made, following a trip to the local falconry centre.

Over the lockdown period, we used the loose parts to supplement learning – shown here when we modelled parts of the butterfly/caterpillar lifecycle.

The above wooden tray is actually a bread-board I found in a charity shop – the dip where the letters are is intended for butter, whilst the chamber holding the rice originally held a grid for slicing the bread over to stop the escape of bread crumbs.

I used the grid part for threading when the children were younger…
Nowadays, it tends to be used as a musical instrument ‘scraper’. Running a chopstick along the ridges makes an excellent sound.

In the past, it’s also been used for Hama beads – the beads themselves occupying the butter cavity, whilst the plate sit in the bit where the rice currently is. In fact, this single, unobtrusive item has possibly one of the most-used play things in our house. And I can use it for its intended purpose when the kids have finished with it!

There are lots of possible games and activities you can make from loose parts – we’ve enjoyed DIY draughts/checkers, a ring-toss game, mancala, and a whole variety of transient versions of snakes and ladders. You can make counting games, where children place the correct number of buttons or pine cones or blocks onto the relevant digit (i.e. 7 coins on the number 7), or bingo grids where they roll a dice and cover the number they roll using – for example – a shell.

We’ve made matching games, which are great for early literacy – matching shapes is an essential skill for early reading. All I did here was lay keys out on the scanner bed, then press scan.

One of our recent favourites has been float vs sink. You ask the child which items they think will float, and which they think will sink and then you experiment…

The only limits, really, are your imagination… and the size of item you include for younger children.

You can make use of loose parts anywhere – they’re great fun for playing with in the garden and on walks.

Most of the things we use either came from charity shops, the kitchen drawers, or the countryside around us. Conkers and acorns were gathered on woodland walks, wooden spoons and chopsticks were purloined from the kitchen, whilst corks, bobbins and buttons have been diligently saved over the years. Keys were purchased on eBay and things like the wooden fruit and stone eggs were picked up along the way in charity shops.

Obviously we do have purpose-made toys too, but I tend to focus on truly versatile things – Lego, wooden blocks, vehicles, animal figures, dolls, stuffed toys, musical instruments, and STEM sets like Georello gears and Magformer shapes. All of these are readily available second hand (though branded things like Lego can be slightly more costly, even when used).

Loose parts are cheap, easily-accessible and versatile. A few small drawers of them can replace cupboards-worth of conventional toys. The ones I’ve showcased here tend to be made from natural materials, but that’s only because I’ve been trying to reduce the plastics in my house for many years now. Plastic bottle tops, plastic bobbins, single-use neon shot glasses, plastic straws, plastic pipes… these are all useful, valuable resources too. The point is not to elimiate synthetic materials, but to have fewer, more versatile items. This, in turn, will reduce the need for new toys, the storage to keep them, and the production of them – most of the items listed have either been used before (i.e. corks and bobbins), or can be used after they’re grown out of (i.e. the bread board).

One of the single, easiest things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to consume less. Loose parts are a great way to do this whilst fostering a love of imaginative and educational play.

I would love to hear any ideas for how to use loose parts – I’m always on the lookout for new ideas on how we can use them! You can contact me either here or on Twitter.

Need vs Want

At the start of lockdown, my eldest’s favourite club issued the following challenge.

We were given a list of ‘things’ and had to divide them into categories – things we want and things we need.

In a group setting, this was meant to encourage the children to think about and discuss the idea of actual need – so, things like food, water, clothing etc. over cinema trips, technology, and vehicles (for example). But naturally, we didn’t have a group, so we did the best that we could on our own.

It was interesting to see which items my child though were essential.

The picture above is terrible (because I still can’t find my camera charger and I don’t want to buy a new one), but the ‘needs’ included things I’d never thought about. Education, friends, sewage, clean water, clean food, shelter, medicine,trees and plants… at nine, my child understands so much more than many of the adults I know – myself included.

– What about the car? I agrued.
– What about the car?
– How would you get to school without it? 
I said.
– I wouldn’t. Or I would, but we’d have to get up really early and walk, or bike.
– And books? Education? You don’t 
technically need them.
– But without them, I can’t learn and get better. And if we’re not getting better, what’s the point?

What indeed?

I’m not posting this to brag – to say, ‘look at how wonderful my child is.’** I’m posting this because I’ve never actually sat down, with intention, to look at the things I need. For example, I’ve always thought that living where we do, we need a car. But my child is right – that simply isn’t the case. It would take over an hour to walk to the village, and then a further 20 minutes to get the train to town, and then a further 30 minutes to walk from the station to the supermarket*. But I could do it.

This is the case with so many things – do I need the lovely skein of yarn that will sit in a box until I can think what to do with it? No. Do I need another book to rest on a shelf indefinitely, as I continue to gather more that I’ll read at some point? No.

Do I need the pretty, ‘sustainable’ version of the item I already have? No.

I will definitely try and keep this question in mind far more as I move forward.

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*Interestingly, it would only take ten minutes to walk from the station to the butcher and refillery which is where I do most of my shopping.
** Though I do have very wonderful children.

Think Pink

This is a bit of a controvertial one, so I ask that you’re gentle with me. Views are my own and are only opinion, You do You etc.

But…

Before my youngest child was born, I was faced with something of a dilema – or at least, what passed for a dilema in the pre-Covid world. My older child was one sex, whilst my impending bump would be another.

At the time, there was a lot of talk about ‘gender neutral’ parenting, but the more I read, the more frustrated I became. The whole thing seemed to hinge on one entirely illogical element – the absense of pink.

If colours truly are – as every article I read regarding the subject insisted – “for everyone”, then why was it that pink seemed to be an absolute no-go, and what message was this sending?

There seemed to me to be a hypocricy in this, as though what was actually being said was, “any child can wear any colour, as long as it’s not pink because that’s for girls.” It simultaneously undermined the ‘colours are for everyone’ rhetoric, and devalued femininity.

So I made a choice – I was going to dress my boy in pink, and pass the clothes between children when they were outgrown as I would have if I’d had babies of the same sex.

The first time I dressed my boy in pink, I felt strange. The first time it was commented on, I felt ashamed – I won’t lie. My husband had a wonderful line, though, which he toted out regularly, “I’m not daft enough that I need my kids colour-coding, thanks.”

After a while, the comments stopped – the final one being, “Aren’t you afraid he’ll get into ballet or something?” I replied that I hoped so – it seemed to have been good for Jean Claude Van Damme’s action movie career.

So why am I writing about this on a blog which deals primarily with environmental issues?

The whole concept of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ garments was devised in the early 1900s as a way to sell more clothes*. The division of colour based on the sexes renders many parents ‘in need’ of new items with the arrival of a baby, and this can as much as double the environmental impact a child has.

These days, this divide in colours based on sex extrends far beyond clothes. I remember seeing requests in Facebook groups saying things like; ‘WANTED – paddling pool, suitable for a girl. As if somehow, the paddling pool would be less fun for the child were it not purple, or pink. Other discussions included; ‘I really want to use the pink sling I had for my daughter with my new baby – do you think it’s too girly for my son?’ Invariably, comments would ping back suggesting the same weave in different colours, or saying that of course she could use a pink sling because she was the one using it, not her boy.

We need to reject this idea that pink is a gendered colour. We also need to reject the notion that in order to raise children of different sexes equally, we should delete the colour pink. As soon as we do, we can return to a world where we naturally reuse the baby clothes from our first child for our second, where we see a toy for its play value, rather than its implied affliation with one sex or the other.

I won’t lie – it’s far easier to dress a girl in ‘boy’ clothes than it is to dress a boy in pink, but that’s only because people have worked hard to normalise women in trousers over the last century or so. If we’re brave now, we can ensure that our children don’t think twice about reusing the same items between siblings and cut down on huge amounts of waste.

When I first began thinking about my environmental impact (after reading Lucy Siegel’s ‘To Die For’, some ten years ago) I didn’t honestly expect it to touch so many aspects of my life. I hadn’t realised – to my shame – how huge an influence consumerism has on what we do. In order to truly reduce the harm I cause by over-consuming, I need to look increasingly at other areas of inequality in the world – in this case, feminism and gender issues.

As ever, I can only speak for myself, but I do passionately believe that if we’re dilligent and face these inequalities head-on, we can tackle climate change in the decade we’ve been given to do so. And if we look at all the causes of social inequality as we go, we’ll build a wonderful world.

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*Cordelia Fine’s work goes into great detail on this subject, as does Peggy Orenstein’s – the later being a lighter read.

‘Project Wild Thing’, the film

Project Wild Thing, by David Bond, is a really interesting little film. Released back in 2013, this one has slipped under my radar until now and I’m not entirely sure why… It appeared on my Twitter feed as something free to watch during lockdown and so, excited to see something new, I thought I would give it a go.

Project Wild Thing Screening - Upper Hutt - Eventfinda

I spoke before about how, in order to get children to care about the natural world, we needed to get them out in it, and invested in what was happening there. This film is about doing exactly that.

In the beginning, David appoints himself ‘marketing director for nature’ and from that point on, the narrative just sort of writes itself. He looks at the amount of time his own children spend outside and comes up with a pretty sad pie chart – only 4% of his daughter’s time is spent outside. This is the same proportion of time that she spends in the bathroom.

Speaking to marketing advisors and various creative people, David discovers that whilst parents want their children to go outside and enjoy the natural world, many are too conscious of risk. He touches on our societal fears of abduction and injury and I feel like these points are really important to acknowledge.

The scene in which David interviews a classroom of teenage girls really resonated with my own secondary school experience. In short, the pressure to look a certain way dictated their actions – in this case, they avoided the natural world. They didn’t want to go outside in bad weather because of the clothes they’d be made to wear by parents. It was a stark reminder of the culture amongst secondary children – peer approval really is everything, and unless we normalise the use of appropriate clothing amongst older children/young adults, this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away.

After watching the film, I had a better look at the website for The Wild Network. There are all sorts of things on there which I want to explore more of – specifically the various activity ideas.

At the time of writing, the film was available to watch for free, but even if that’s no longer the case, I would still recommend seeking it out. It’s a properly interesting little documentary.

Have you watched Project Wild Thing? What did you think? Do you have any ideas for other films I should see? As ever, contact me here or on Twitter to let me know.

Working from home – with children – in relation to Covid 19 (and the climate crisis).

Husband has been working from home as a translator since our eldest was a year old. That was 8 years ago, and last year, I joined him as a proof-reader. We originally made the rather terrifying decision for him to go self-employed because – primarily – of the commute. When working in an office, Husband would get up before the baby woke, drive to work, do a day in the office, and arrive back after I finished the bedtime routine. Weekends were spent trying to form a connection with our child which would then feel undone in the following week of absence.

Changing the way we worked to avoid the commute gave us more time as a family, allowed us to cut back to one car, saved us a small fortune on fuel, and reduced our food spending too – an unexpected bonus of not having to worry about lunch away from home. One might also argue that our eating the previous night’s leftovers for lunch also helped reduce food waste, but I feel that would be reaching.

Of course, our decision to begin working this way is very different to those people being forced into remote working due to Covid 19, and it is important to acknowledge that.

I have, however, had multiple requests for advice regarding how we work – with children at home. And going forward, doing away with unnecessary travel is a great way to keep emissions low. If this works for you, and your employer is on board, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t continue working remotely in the aftermath of the pandemic – even if just for a few days a week.

What follows are strategies which have been successful in our family. They may not work in yours. As they’re based on experience, I can’t speak for single-parents, or homes in which earning is shared equally between partners, but if that is your situation, I hope there are at least parts of the following which you find useful. I’m also coming from a household in which there are various additional needs present – these require certain concessions such as extreme continuity, routine, black and white boundaries etc. – so you might find a more fluid, flexible approach easier than the one I detail here.

Again, our choices were made in a different time, for different reasons. Please take whatever good you can from what follows. 

  • It might be helpful, if you’re able, to sit down as a family before remote working is due to begin in order to discuss with the children what’s going to happen. In my experience, it helps to be as clear and concrete as possible. i.e. “Adult A will endeavour to work between X o’clock and Y o’clock with lunch breaks at Z. Adult B will be your immediate responder until after Y o’clock, when Adult A becomes your go-to human and Adult B starts work.”
    If your children are too young for specified times, buzzers can help. i.e. ‘Adult A is only contactable after the buzzer has gone.”
  • It might be useful to explain why you’re working, or if your children are older, to reiterate why it’s important. It seems like an obvious thing to us, but for the longest time, my children thought we just preferred working to other activities! Talk about the things you need in order to live (a home, food, heating etc.) and explain that money is required to buy these things, and that jobs pay money. If applicable, you might want to frame working as an act of love – in my experience, it changes prioritising your job from possibly invoking feelings of mild rejection to being an active act of affection.
  • It is hard, but it will help if the person working can be consistent regarding boundaries. If your children come to you while you’re busy, it can be so difficult to say, ‘No, not right now, go find Adult B’ – every single time. You love your babies, you want to meet their needs, but in our case, doing so fostered the expectation that Husband would drop everything to respond and this isn’t always possible. If you’re working, you’re working. If you’re not, then you’re not. Having these really clear blocks of time and sticking to them can mean the difference between getting interrupted every five minutes and being left to really buckle down for two hours, undisturbed and thus, potentially, finishing work early.
  • Consistency in space might be useful. We never had a dedicated room for an office, but we’ve found it incredibly helpful to carve out a corner of the dining room from which Husband can work. It’s a physical representation of what he’s doing – a very concrete boundary. If he’s in the chair by his desk, leave him be. In contrast, I sit by the fire with the dog and use my laptop on my knee. This is exactly how I sit when I’m playing video games. It’s not fair to expect the children to be able to instantly tell if I’m working or not, whereas it’s really easy for them to see if Husband is. Result: he’s left alone to get on with things and I get interrupted.
  • When you’re present, be present. I spoke above about having unambiguous blocks of time i.e. if you’re working, you’re working. But this goes both ways. You can’t expect children to just leave you alone entirely throughout the day. They still need us.
    Some might need your help with their remote schooling, or they might be frightened and looking for connection. They might be bored without their classmates. Setting aside time specifically for them, in which they get to select an activity to do with you can make all the difference. Obviously, this might not be possible – your job might not be one which allows it, or you might not be used to managing your workload yet (a real issue for freelancers – the temptation is to take whatever work there is when you can get it and worry later about how you’re going to manage to get it done in time). Just do your best. Again, I wrote about consistent workspaces above, but if all you can commit to at the moment is putting a film on and sitting beside your child as they watch it while you work, then that’s all you can manage. Don’t feel bad about it. We’re all just doing the best we can.
  • I find it helps to keep an ace or two up my sleeve when I’m the one not working… By this I mean things my children only generally get to do as a treat. In my house, this includes-but-is-not-limited-to watching the TV, playing a video game, having some sweeties, (at the moment) going for a walk, getting out a huge roll of paper and paints. When my youngest is really struggling with the fact that my eldest child is doing school work and can’t play, the hierarchy of distraction goes;
    1. Use favourite toys – build a track, or draw a picture… something I can fade out of if my child’s invested enough in the activity.
    2. Provide lunch/snack food. Sometimes the pestering is a manifestation of hunger and not boredom.
    3. Pull out one of the special activities.
  • Be kind to yourself in every free minute you have. None of us know what we’re doing. We’re just trying to keep things as usual as we can. Stick to a routine you know works as much as possible, and make sure to include lots of self-care – you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Covid specific advice.
You’re not a teacher (unless you are!), and no one expects you to be. You’re not meant to home-educate your children unless you were doing that already – you’re not duty bound to be setting a curriculum, or introducing new concepts. If your school is sending work home, it’s work they believe your child can do. Teachers are amazing, incredible humans who have managed to reinvent the education system with 48 hours’ notice whilst still working within the confines of the national curriculum. They’re setting tasks designed with your community in mind, and around resources they can either provide digitally, or which they’re relatively certain most families will have. If you are struggling, talk to your child’s teacher and explain the confines of your situation. There is every chance that they’ll be able to either alter the task, provide an alternative, or reassure you that when schools return to normal, they can support any catching up that’s necessary. The main aim of every teacher I’ve spoken to at this time is that the children they work with are as happy as the situation allows.

Additional: I hope this has been useful to you. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like to know, please feel free to comment either below or on Twitter, then if it’s helpful I can do a follow-up post addressing any queries. If you know me in the real world, I’d ask that you make any question that relates to my children as anonymous as possible – I go to great lengths to keep my language around their descriptions as neutral as I can, and I would appreciate your doing the same. They didn’t ask to be included in this, and I endeavour to only mention them in passing if at all possible.

 

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips By Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell is a great little book which everyone in this house has greatly enjoyed.

Not technically an ‘eco’ book, but definitely worthy of mention for so many reasons, this little tome is a wealth of information regarding regrowing plants from the seeds in our foods.

My mum originally gifted it to my children with a view to helping them learn where their food comes from, but it’s also a great way to produce food from what is largely considered waste -imagine  homemade compost, growing seeds we would otherwise throw out, planted in recycled containers, all producing delicious things to eat with zero food miles? It doesn’t get much better than that, really. And don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions that my growing army of house plants are going to somehow tip the carbon scales back in our favour, but they’re definitely not hurting! Imagine if everyone who ate an apple planted the pips – the world would be a vastly different place…

The instructions in here are clear, concise and accurate. So far, 4/5 of avocado pips we’ve planted have resulted in fledgling trees and we’re all delighted. My youngest is so taken with the idea that he’s even started coming home from nursery with carefully gathered kiwi seeds from his afternoon snack…

There’s not a huge amount more to say about the book – in short, if you can get hold of a copy then do. It’s pretty, it’s accurate, the instructions yield results even when undertaken by two under-tens and an adult with a genetic pre-disposition to destroy plants by looking at them… you can’t really ask for more, can you?

Have you tried planting any seeds from your supermarket vegetables? Did you have any success? I’d love to hear about your results – avocado or otherwise!

 

Your local library.

In 2019, I borrowed and returned 146 books from my local library.

Some of these were reference books, some audio books, some travel guides, and most were fiction.

Normally I buy books used, but even if the average second hand book only cost £1, that’s still £146 saved in 12 months.

If I factor my children into the equation, the financial saving roughly triples.

That’s a saving of £438, give or take a few pounds.

Definitely not a saving to be sniffed at. Admittedly, we are a family of avid readers anyway,  but the amount I read definitely took a sharp incline when I deleted my Facebook account, and when I signed up for the Do Nation ‘feed your noodle’ pledge.

Reading is an amazing, low impact hobby, and one of my great joys in life so it’s easy for me to prioritise it. That said, I understand that this isn’t the case for everyone – libraries everywhere are increasingly under pressure to cut costs, so opening times might be erratic. Ours, for example,  only opens for three days a week and the hours aren’t exactly ideal for shift work. I’m lucky in that I can pop in on my way to school pick up,  but this isn’t the case for everyone.

So, how can we utilise this resource if we’re short on time? Most libraries offer an e-book service which can be accessed at home at any time.  If you don’t have a dedicated e-reader, there are loads of apps out there which allow you to use your phone or computer. This is great for cook books,  or other reference books,  but it’s not necessarily great for reading novels just before bed. This is where Freecycle, Gumtree and eBay come in – both my brother and I have sourced free e-readers from these sites and in our area,  they seem to come up relatively frequently.

There are so many amazing environmental books available at this time – to me,  it just seems right to borrow them from the library so that we can better share resources.

Do you know of any other easily accessible resource sharing schemes out there?  I already rent my video games,  but I’m keen to see what else is out there!