Little Life Update

It's a while since I've blogged (again!) so I thought I'd let you know what we've all been up to over the last few months in a little life update! Which I've just finished writing and it's actually a massive update!

In July Eric turned 3

And the weekend before his birthday we had a Wild Things birthday party

We had pictures of trees on the walls, green streamers, jungle sounds on the iPod dock, jugs of twigs, a tarpaulin with a bag of compost and lots of spades for digging up the hidden 'pirate gold', a tent, a den made of chairs and blankets, a messy play table with gloop, paint, (vegan) jelly etc., a 'bugs on a pile of mud' birthday cake, inflatable monkeys, a chillout/reading corner with heaps of cushions, blankets and nature-related books, fabric leaves everywhere and found natural object centrepieces on the tables and the kiddos who wanted to wore 'wild' fancy dress, including a squirrel, a monkey and a fish! Very inventive! Eric dressed as Max from Where the Wild Things Are for some of the time, then turned up half way through the party half naked! We had a brilliant (if hectic) time.  

He loved his party but unfortunately, that night he got sick.  I was paranoid I had poisoned all of Eric's party guests with the food but it was only Eric that got ill, and it lasted for 14 days! He kept getting slightly better after a few days but then getting worse again, and in that time I also caught the stomach bug.  It was hideous! I wrote a blog post about it here.

On the day of his birthday we decorated the lounge with balloons, bunting and streamers and created a 'present fort', so he was super excited in the morning when we came downstairs.  We had pancakes for brekkie, then spent the day opening presents and playing with new things.  Unfortunately he was still poorly on the day so got a bit upset in the afternoon, but didn't want to nap or take any oral rehydration medicine so things got a bit fractious! We all cheered up for tea time though and he had his favourite dinner in the garden as a picnic.  He was a bit sad when his birthday was over, and kept asking when it would be his 'big party', so next time we're definitely having the party after his birthday day rather than before so he has something to look forward to! Even now he still keeps asking if it will be his birthday soon, he's very interested in numbers and age.

During the time Eric and I were sick I had to miss my first driving test.  I could not have left the bathroom (overshare alert)! Unfortunately the DVLA wouldn't accept a sick note so I had to pay again to reschedule my test, which I then failed! I've rebooked it for the 20th November so fingers crossed it'll be third time lucky.

In July I started back at work part time for the first time since Eric was born.  It wasn't the plan for me to work before Eric started school, it was important to me to be at home with him while he's young, but unfortunately Alex was made redundant and needs must. It has been a huge change working.  It was stressful trying to organise regular shifts to fit in with childcare and just to juggle and reorganise our life, and the hardest thing has been being away from Eric, both missing him and the guilt.  The whole process has made me feel a bit vulnerable, but it is starting to feel more normal now, and I really like my new colleagues!

Luckily, since being made redundant Alex has been able to get some consulting work, which meant he went to work in Africa for 8 weeks recently.  Prior to that trip he had been home with us for 10 months, so it was a shock to the system getting used to him being away.  It is hard adjusting to doing everything myself, and to missing Alex, and trying to do the best possible for Eric, and I was also getting used to working.  After a while we got into a routine but I really missed Alex this time.  But we got through it!

Whilst Alex was away, Eric and I went to the cinema for the first time

 to watched Monsters University and went bowling.  We went to Bristol to find lots of Gromits

and play in the fountains

and go out for dinner!

We also went to a family fun day in our village

and we've been going swimming on Thursdays at the local pool.  We haven't been since Eric was very little, and it's been so much fun! The first time we went together Eric was screaming and laughing in equal measure, and got so excited and overwhelmed that he was only communicating with squeals and sounds instead of words.  He has armbands and a woggle now, and likes jumping off the side into the water and he is just starting to do some basic swimming motions and move around the pool on his own.  He absolutely loves it. 

At the beginning of September Eric started preschool for 2 and a half days a week.  It was another huge adjustment! To start with I felt so guilty being away from him, and was worried it was wrong to take him.  When he started going, even though he was absolutely fine in the day, didn't cry at all when I dropped him off and was happy all day, he was waking up crying lots in the night and I was so worried the separation from me at a time when Alex was also away was making him feel insecure.  I let him co-sleep every night (we always let him come into bed in the night if he wants to!) and he developed a cold and cough and since then he's been sleeping better, so I'm not sure if he started feeling more secure or if it was just the oncoming virus upsetting him at night.  

Since the start he has loved going to his preschool, which is called Fledglings.  He asks to go every day, and he runs straight in without waiting to say goodbye and gets straight on with playing or goes outside.  I've been so impressed with the fun things they do with him, the way they link them together in themes and how the children learn through play and exploration.  Some things they've done lately include going outside and playing in the rain, coming back in and reading a story about thunder and telling the story back to their teacher then using shakers to make rain sounds while singing songs about the rain.  Or going on a walk to find acorns, having a certain number to find each and counting them, then coming back and doing leaf rubbings and glittery spider web pictures. 

They have a lot of free play and outside play which was important to us in our choice of preschool.  We've had one issue with preschool where their way of doing something with Eric contradicted our more gentle parenting style, which was really upsetting and awoke my inner roaring mama tiger! But we talked to them about it and talked it through with Eric, and worked out how we could get through the problem.  They have also been very open to finding out more about Eric's vegan diet and lifestyle, and are inclusive.  

We walk to preschool at 8:45am every day along the cycle track through our village, and Eric rides on his scooter.  He swaps his book in his book bag every time and we read it in the park on the way home.  Sometimes we play rugby or climb the big tree.  I make him a packed lunch to eat for his 2 full days there.  He has a uniform.  The parents all wait at the gate for pick up and drop off.  All those things make it feel really 'school-like' and like he is growing up so much, and I was in tears during his first week of preschool! Especially as we also received his primary school application letter.  But seeing how much he likes going to Fledglings, talking to him about his new experiences and friends, and really enjoying and appreciating our days off together has made it feel better!

Has your little one recently started preschool? How are they (and you) finding it? Please share your experience in the comments!

Best and Worst of CBeebies 2013

My most popular blog post of all time (by a very long shot!) has been List: The Best and Worst of CBeebies, a post that at the time I was worried about writing in case it made me look like a terrible mother who just plonks her kiddo in front of the telly all day whilst I run a crack den.  I can promise that this still isn't the case!

At the moment we have a '2 or 3 programmes per day' rule, and these lusciously tempting morsels of evil TV are dished out when I'm cooking dinner or washing up.  Fortunately it seems you other parents understand, and you too are interested in what other families rate and hate on the telly.  

I've only covered CBeebies as it's the only channel we watch - it seemed to have the most educational programmes and no adverts so we were sold.  If there are any programmes on other channels you and your small people like though, let me know in the comments!

Obviously viewing schedules change, new programmes are commissioned and Eric's taste has changed as he's got older, so there are a whole host of new programmes that we love and hate, as well as some old favourites.  So without further ado, my best and worst of CBeebies for 2013 is...

The Amazing:

Peter Rabbit
This is Eric's favourite programme at the moment (and mine!) It's based on the Beatrix Potter stories but with a modern twist.  The animations aren't completely true to the original illustrations but the stories are very familiar.  I love that it's outdoorsy, features animals, is based on classic literature and shows lots of adventuring and the young animal characters getting themselves out of scrapes.  I also like that there is a strong, intelligent, female character, Lily Bobtail, who often helps save the day (even if she does only wear pink). 

Charlie and Lola
I still absolutely, completely love Charlie and Lola.  We have all the episodes taped on our Sky+ so we always have the one we want to watch available.  How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.  I love the sibling dynamic, it almost makes me want a brother or sister for Eric.  Ooh imagine if we had a girl, Eric could be like Charlie and she might be like Lola.  This is the first time I've had this thought.... I also love the mid-century modern decor of their flat.  I love that they have a flat rather than a house.  I love the animations.  I love the flights of fancy of their imagination. I love that the episodes are based around real life, every day things, like having a birthday party (watching that episode made Eric so excited about his party), growing a plant, getting a hair cut, being ill or your mouse dying.  I love that Lola is a hilarious, creative, feisty heroine that hasn't been 'pinkified'.  Ahh I just love it.  Unfortunately Eric chooses to watch more new programmes these days, but I know he'll be back.  It's a classic.

The Good:

The Ugly Duckling
At Easter CBeebies broadcast a ballet version of The Ugly Duckling, with the Northern Ballet, and it was absolutely brilliant.  The story was so easy to follow, really fun, and it was wonderful to be able to show Eric an introduction to something cultural like ballet (which I love).  Mr Bloom and some 'tiddlers' (AKA children) kept popping up to analyse the action, which I think was a bit patronising and unnecessary as it really was easy to understand what was going on, and this interrupted the flow a bit, but it could have been worse!  The ballet introduced lots of different animals so there was learning to be had! "What animal do you think that might be? Where does it live? What does it eat? Can you hop like a frog?"etc.  The sets were good and the  costumes were amazing too.  I'd love to see more productions like this on CBeebies.

3rd and Bird
We still love 3rd and Bird.  It's outdoorsy, there are great songs and dances, it teaches social responsibility within your community and it is soooooo cute!

Eric LOVES Swashbuckle.  It's quite a new programme, at the time of writing I think it's only been on for two weeks.  Swashbuckle is a bit like Fun House, Crystal Maze and Get Your Own Back, with a pirate theme.  Teams of children compete in physical, piratical tasks to win jewels.  I'm not going to say it's educational, I think I only like it for the nostalgic element and I'd prefer to be doing it than watching it.  I don't think Eric learns anything from it, but it's entertaining and he finds it funny too.  I do like that there is diversity in race and age of the adult characters, and that the two main characters are strong women. 

The Adventures of Abney and Teal
We don't watch this often anymore but I like the folk-y feel of this programme.  The characters are sweet, it's outdoors (notice a theme here?!) and the music is good.  I also like that their favourite food is porridge (teaching healthy habits!) It's quite surreal but I see that as a sketch on children's imagination while playing in a park.  It always reminds me of my friend Kate!

I Can Cook
We still love I Can Cook! Eric is old enough to actually understand the programme now, and enjoys cooking with me (as long as it's baking cakes).  We get ideas from I Can Cook now, whereas before we used to watch it to learn about food and cooking.  We 'vegan-ise' the recipes, but often they make them vegetarian or talk about substituting ingredients anyway which is brilliant.  I like that they often cook with vegetables on the show, and I love Eric getting to see that, I live in hope that one day he will eat a vegetable that's not a pea or baked bean.  I love Katie, the presenter, she's so cheerful, friendly and fun.

Green Balloon Club
This programme is great as it's got a strong environmental and educational element.  It focusses on learning about nature, wildlife and the environment, and it really does encourage children to get outside.  It encourages nature-spotting too (viewers can earn a green star if they find the 'spot of the week' which the parent can print out from the CBeebies website.)  Children are also introduced to scrapbooking, researching and making reports.  The only thing I don't like is 'Jelly', the really annoying puppet!

Tinga Tinga Tales
We're enjoying Tinga Tinga Tales at the moment as they are set in Africa, which is where Alex is working.  Eric likes to see the animals, and I think it's helping him picture what it might be like where Alex is, and to feel closer to him.  The stories are really involving.  I love that the episodes are based on African creation stories, and that the animation was made in Kenya, based on Tingatinga art from Tanzania, with East african music, so it's great for introducing a different culture to children. 

Little Human Planet
I love this programme as it introduces what life is like for children in different places all around the globe.  Even as an adult I find it fascinating and interesting.  

The Ok:

Postman Pat / Postman Pat SDS
Postman Pat's a bit of a classic isn't it! I like the rural village setting and it's nostalgic watching it.  Some of the child characters are REALLY annoying (Sarah Gilbertson, anyone?!).  It's a bit up and down in its portrayal of gender roles which is a shame.  Overall it's quite gentle and I don't mind Eric watching it, and you can use it to lead onto post office role play!

Timmy Time
Animals! Aardman! I like it! It helps introduce little ones to the idea of pre-school (if they'll be going) too.

Really cute and I love the noises they make but I don't always like the way the adults treat the children - poor Pingu!

If you have a childish, silly sense of humour you'll love it! It always makes me chuckle.

Show Me Show Me
We don't watch this one anymore but I do think it's quite good.  Each episode has a couple of subjects, e.g. frogs and clouds, then the presenters centre lots of activities around the topic, like watch a video of frogs, make a pond out of things in the playroom, do some frog songs, pretend to be frogs etc. so when we used to watch it I found it did inspire play ideas for us to try at home.

Let's Play
We occasionally watch Let's Play, and I think it's good for inspiring different role plays, however I think watching others role play means Eric copies rather than uses his imagination to create the scenario himself.  I like that the female presenter will often dress up as a man though!

Nina and the Neurons
I want to like Nina and the Neurons, as I think it's great that there's a science and engineering programme for little ones, and even more so as it has a female presenter and women are under-represented in science/engineering jobs.  However, in reality I find it really annoying (especially the animations!)

Magic Hands
Magic hands is quite a new programme, and each episode features a different popular poem brought to life through animation and British Sign Language.  The presenters are all deaf which is great as I like programmes that show a wide range of people to help Eric understand and celebrate diversity.  I like the idea but I think Eric's a bit too old for it and it doesn't keep his attention.  

Mister Maker
Kind of like a modern Art Attack.  It's good but I'd prefer just do crafts with Eric, rather than watch other people do crafts! It's good if you want to 'make along' with Mister Maker though, which would make watching the programme more interactive and social too.

The Bad:

I like the idea of a phonics programme but it is just SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO annoying! I can't stand it! Eric doesn't seem to understand what's going on either.

Mike The Knight
Really sexist.  No learning happening.  Just a rubbish cartoon.

The Downright Ugly:

WHY IS THIS STILL ON TV? Ugh I just hate it.  It's awful.  And there's no learning to be had either these days as the footage in the bit where the Teletubby's tummy turns into a TV screen to teach children about something like a cornflakes factory is now SO OLD that it's outdated.  It's just rubbish!

Everything's Rosie
Horrible, sexist, rubbish animation.  I really hate it.

The Rhyme Rocket
The idea of a programme to teach rhyme is, I guess, ok, but this particular programme is horrible.  So patronising and annoying and the characters are the worst! I'd rather just read Eric a Julia Donaldson or Dr Seuss book to teach him about rhyme!

In The Night Garden
I still hate In The Night Garden.  It's just character-driven rubbish with no story or educational value, teaches children silly, nonsense words and it's not even relaxing or enjoyable to watch! I apologise if you do like this one, I know it's very popular, but I really hate it!

Get Squiggling
Horrible, annoying character.  Bad drawings.  Sexist stories.  I'd rather just do drawing with Eric.

Bits and Bobs
Annoying characters

Big and Small
Annoying characters!

I like the music element but REALLY ANNOYING CHARACTERS!

Why is this still on? WHY?! I do like PC Plum's song though, that bit is awesome.

The Ones That Eric Likes But I Hate So I Try To Stop Him Watching Them By Pretending They're Not On Today:

Tree Fu Tom
Character-driven, no educational value, I'd rather get Eric moving actively through other means than putting him in front of the telly to do it...

Uuuuugggggghhhhhh! And sexist too.

Q Pootle 5
A new one.  Character-driven.  No learning to be had here.

Tommy Zoom
I hate Tommy Zoom, I hate the animations, the environmental element is stupid (they're silly environmental problems not real ones) and the moral of the story is always something like "you should wash your hands before eating."  The only good thing about it is that Eric saw the dog during the live action part of the show and said "I used to be that dog", which I thought was brilliant.

Has a slight environmental bent and some teaching about underwater animals, but generally is just character-driven, and I don't think I've ever heard the female characters even speak.

So that's my list for this year! I hope I haven't insulted your favourites, obviously this is just based on my opinion and no offense is intended, everyone likes different things and I respect difference! What are your favourite CBeebies programmes? Do you like any that we like? Are there any good or awful ones I haven't mentioned? Let me know in the comments!

I did write in the last List: The Best and Worst of CBeebies, which was posted in 2011, that "I think a small amount of television is ok for babies".  Having read lots of research since then I don't actually feel the same any more, and I believe the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation of 'no TV before they're 2' is a really sound one.  I'd definitely recommend reading this BBC article, I wish I had read more studies and articles when Eric was younger and held off TV time until he was a bit older.  We used to let him watch an hour a day and have it on in the background (why?!) and having read the research I do worry about the long term effects.  But parenting is a learning process and we do our best!