Weekly Report: W/c 04.01.16

After the lovely long Christmas break, it was a bit of a come down to have to go back to work last week. Having said that, getting back to our normal routine was beginning to look attractive after having had so much going on.

We started on Monday with a much needed trip to the shop to stock up on some extra groceries. It then started raining as we ate lunch, but fortunately was clear by the time Tom woke up from his nap. Expecting more rain, I opted for water play in the garden, which was a huge success. I’ve resolved to do more with the space and am on the look out for inspiration.

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Tuesday was my first day back at work. I left Tom and Mr Techno to enjoy each others’ company, returning to find they hadn’t actually left the flat all day! Big fail on the outdoor front.

We had to wait in on Wednesday morning to have a new lock fitted. So I was keen to get out in the afternoon. Sadly, Tom and I had different agendas for our walk, making it a bit of a disastrous one. Isn’t parenting fun!

Thursday started rather wet, with a walk to nursery in the pouring rain. Tom was dry under his buggy’s rain cover, and I had my waterproofs, but it wasn’t the most pleasant walk we’ve ever had. Fortunately it had stopped by the time I picked him up again, though we skipped our normal stop off in the park, since I had to get us both packed and ready to go to Suffolk the following evening.

 

Friday morning was much nicer – dry and quite sunny, though cold. Tom was not in a great mood: it took us ages to get out of the house and he then grumbled all the way to nursery. I wasn’t in the best of moods either, which didn’t help. Bad time of the month! We didn’t have our usual walk back that evening, as Mr Techno came to pick us up so we could all drive to Suffolk to see my in-laws for the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday were spent in Suffolk, enjoying the beautiful countryside. Mr Techno went shooting on Saturday with his day, and Tom and I enjoyed lots of walks and exploring.

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It wasn’t the greatest of weeks – I was in a crappy mood and so was Tom, though I suspect his was at least a bit caused by my lack of patience and empathy. I’m fine at this parenting lark when everything is going well, but don’t seem to be able to cope with things going wrong. Must work on some techniques for maintaining standards even when I’m having a bad day (tips very welcome!)

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Inspiration for Outdoor Play Area

We are incredibly lucky to live in a London flat that actually has a garden. So I feel guilty that we rarely use it. Tom and I get out every day to the Marshes, or a park, or for a walk by the river, but I very rarely take him to play just in the garden.

One reason for this is access – we live on the first floor, which means we have to go down our very steep, narrow, dark back stairs to get out into the garden. If we want to take any toys out with us, it means taking two trips (one for toys and one for Tom) or being organised enough to pack up a bag. And if we are going to that kind of effort I would rather be getting further away from home.

The other reason is that I find the space, frankly, uninspiring. We are spoiled with so many great green places on our doorstep, so I tend to head for them when planning a trip outdoors. Our garden, on the other hand, is not exactly large. There are some plants, kindly provided by our downstairs neighbour, who is a keen gardener and has over-spilt her own patch into ours. And we have a table and chairs from our last flat. Otherwise, there’s not much to recommend it.

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Or so I thought. But after getting locked out of the flat last week (see tomorrow’s post), I realised I had been looking at the space through my eyes rather than the eyes of a toddler. What to me is a small, boring patch of paving, is to Tom a wonderland of things to explore and play with. He doesn’t think it’s boring – it’s small enough for him to feel safe, and big enough to offer plenty of opportunities for exploration.

We went down on Monday afternoon, taking some scoops and stacking cups and a small tub of water with us. I thought we might get half-an-hour before Tom got bored. Not a bit of it. We were still out over an hour later, when the light started to fade, and he was showing no signs of boredom. He’d played with the water and toys, explored the area, then spent ages putting snail shells into different stacking cups and ferrying them around the garden, into the water and out again. In the end it was me who took us back inside – it was getting dark and I needed to make his tea.

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So that is all the proof I need. It’s time to invest some effort into making the garden more of a play space for Tom, which I will then be inspired to use on a more regular basis. I’ve already spied out some spare bricks and bits of wood that should make the basis of a mud kitchen. And there must be something we can do with all the tin cans that I’ve been reluctant to throw away.

Anything we do will have to be low-effort, low-cost, and temporary, as we rent the flat rather than own it. So I’m starting a Pinterest board to give us ideas (you can find it here) and would love to hear any suggestions you might have.

Understanding Schemas

Sometimes I think how hard each day of parenting is depends not on our children’s behaviour, but what is happening in our own heads. If I am calm, well rested, and in a good mood, I can handle any amount of tantrums, whining, or limit-testing that Tom decides to throw at me. But if I’m stressed, or have slept badly, or am distracted by other things, the smallest thing can have me at breaking point.

Sometimes, how I see a certain behaviour can have a big effect too. If I see Tom’s constant desire to press the buttons on the washing machine as a threat to my authority, then I lose my temper. If I see it as a schema – a necessary, uncontrollable urge that is a natural part of his development – then I can calmly redirect the urge to something more appropriate, such as the keys on his little keyboard or the buttons on the remote (which hasn’t had batteries in for about 6 months now!)

I’m very thankful that I found out about schemas early on in Tom’s life. In fact, I can’t remember where I first encountered the idea. But if you are looking for further information, the Nature Play website has a great section on it.

In psychology, a schema is defined as ‘a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning‘ (source). More simply, this means a set of actions, such as putting things into a container, or dropping bits of food off a high chair, that crop up repeatedly in a child’s play for a time, whilst he or she works out the connecting principles (that small things fit inside big things in the first example, or gravity in the second). A list of the common schemas and how to give your child opportunities to explore them can be found on that Nature Play site and in this article from Cathy Nutbrown at Sheffield University (NB: opens a PDF).

Tom, at the moment, is very involved with working out an enclosure/container schema. This means that he spends a lot of time putting things into containers and taking them out again. He especially wants to investigate putting water into containers and pouring it out again – and this can be a bit irritating, as his favourite way of testing the principle is to pour his cup of water out all over his food. And his lap. And the floor.

If I didn’t know about schemas, I would be very cross about repeatedly having to clean up puddles of water after every meal. But because I know he can’t really fight this urge to experiment, I simply take the cup away before he can pour it out, saying firmly ‘No. Water in your cup is for drinking’. And then I find other ways for him to meet the urge, by providing lots of cups and scoops at bath time and letting him do plenty of water play during the day.

There’s a quote from Norman Vincent Peale: ‘Change your thoughts and you change your world’. I think it must be true. At the very least, it has changed my parenting.

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Screen-Free Indoor Play

It is probably not a huge surprise that we don’t let Tom watch TV. I’ve been mentally composing a post on our attitude to screen time since before I started this blog, but it is still a work in progress. You’ll just have to come back!

What may be more of a surprise is that we do, actually, occasionally play inside. While my general attitude is that if it is daylight and Tom is awake and not eating, we should be outdoors, in practice even we are sometimes put off by cold, windy, wet days. Especially in the afternoons if we have already been out once that day.

On a day-to-day basis, I like to let Tom pretty much potter around freely, doing his toddler thing, which mostly involves running up and down the corridor shouting or pulling everything out of the cupboards and putting it back into a different cupboard. Upside down. However, on the occasional day we are indoors for longer, it helps to offer some other activities to pass the time (and save me from having to rearrange the tupperware draw for the hundredth time).

Monday afternoon was one of those rare ones that we decided to stay in – we had been out for a long walk around the Marshes with a friend that morning and the weather was pretty pants. So I decided to give Tom the opportunity for some messy/creative play.

I am absolutely not a Pinterest mum. My criteria for play activities is that they have to be easy to set up, use stuff we already have in the house, and be safe to eat (since Tom still likes to sample every new substance that crosses his path).

We started with some painting. I didn’t have any non-toxic paint in the house, so I mixed up small amounts of water soluble food dye and let Tom paint with them instead.

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Having got bored of painting on paper, Tom and I decided to paint his face as well.

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By now, everything was pretty covered, so we retired to the bathroom for some water play. I put our washing up tub on the floor, filled it with warm water and some orange food dye, and added some cups, scoops, rubber ducks and spoons.

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Tom got soaked. And loved every moment. He drank more of the water than I would have liked, but since he was very cutely scooping it up with the measuring spoon, and there was nothing in it that could hurt him, I just left him to it. In fact, I managed to read most of my newest National Geographic before he got bored and tried to give me a cuddle. Which meant it was time to get dried off and a change of clothes before dinner.

Two hours passed by like a flash and it didn’t even cost us a penny.