Monday, 20 August 2012

Blue hair and paper butterflies

We all took turns having a cold this week, so it ended up just a fairly quiet week doing bits and bobs.

Squidge rediscovered his Little People animals and Noah's Ark, which has become a racing car, a space shuttle, a pirate ship, and no end of other things...

He's also become interested in putting letters together and asking what it says, and also asking how to put letters together to make words, so we've had fun with the magnetic alphabet...

An absolute age ago (I'm thinking, maybe a year), Sprout and I had a  short conversation about hydroelectric power. In true unschooling style, he sat down to do a drawing this week, and when I asked what it was, he told me it was a dam to make electricity from water, and a diagram of the wires going under the ground to power his Minecraft house and Industrialcraft machines...

Squidge went for a change of hairstyle and colour with a blue mohawk...

While Sprout went to a Nerf mission day at his karate school a couple of days after his normal lesson, Moppet and I had a Squidge day while we waited. We went and got a new lego set and sat and had a drink and put it together, then made lots and lots of post-it note butterflies to cover the table...

...and then pretended to be superheroes!

We took Fly to her second puppy party, where she was much less timid than the first time...

We had a little trip to The Potteries Museum where we haven't been in a long time. The boys played with the old cooking and laundry things, and had another quick look at the Staffordshire Hoard, which they saw when it was first displayed after its discovery.

Sprout had what was possibly the world's rainiest riding lesson ever, but it was also the best ever! He was not only off the lead rein but for the first time there was noone walking with the horse either. He looked loads more actively in control and he grinned from ear to ear the whole time :)

For Moppet this week, Squidge pulled out Glo Turtle, originally belonging to my little bro way back in the 80s. And yes, I'm pretty sure I used to put the shell on his head as a hat back then too. Like mother like son!

And last of all, I had to include this pic of Squidge and Moppet yesterday, just because I love it!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Video games are baaad, m'kay?

This week the Telegraph published this not-at-all alarmist piece about how children who do the most studying, reading, sitting up trees, stargazing, portrait painting and sleeping, grow up unable to throw or catch a ball. For shame! These poor studious mites, slaving behind their desks perfecting their Shakespeare, and then getting in a good extra kip before school the next day, yet unable to perform such a basic game as catch. *sniff*

Okay, I lie. In true let's-put-today's-youth-down fashion, the headline actually screamed "THE COUCH POTATO CHILDREN WHO CANNOT THROW OR CATCH", apparently because they spend "too much time in front of a screen". Interesting. A kindle? A cinema screen? An iPad perhaps? They don't seem to specify, the reason for which becomes abundantly clear as soon as you look at the actual research, which, completely unsurprisingly, the shoddy first-rate Telegraph journalist clearly hasn't even read. Or has read, and decided to bleat out the popular, bandwagon-pleasing "Video games are baaad, m'kay?" anyway. For the research doesn't even measure or record time spent playing video games. Nor time watching TV. Nor time reading a kindle. Nor time playing on an iPhone. Nor actually any other time "in front of a screen", as they so blithely put it. 

What was actually measured was sedentary time, ie time that could incorporate time sitting behind a school desk, sleeping, chilling out, lying in the grass contemplating the stars, sitting up a tree, napping, and any number of 'papertime' activities, which are sister activities to the ridiculously grouped 'screentime' activities, and include writing letters and stories, jotting down to-do lists, devouring books, charcoal drawings, watercolours, reading music, and making paper aeroplanes (out of Telegraph pages that annoy you).

If you read the research in detail, you'll see that this lot of scientists have decided that because another scientist has previously grandly declared, "Sedentary time could include watching TV and playing video games!", then they must do. Scientific! The journalist has then extrapolated this to mean 100% of this time would have been "watching TV or playing video games". Even the time at school. Ooh I love a bit of robust journalism.

If you also have an afternoon with a grumpy baby with a cold who needs feeding every two minutes, and hence have the time and the inclination to sit here and do the maths, you'll find the minimum time covered per child in the research was ten hours per day over two weekdays and one weekend day. And of that 30 hours, likely 11.5 of them were spent at school. Oh yes, because these were, without exception, Portuguese school children. So, taking out time for PE and lunch breaks, after ironically having to sit at a desk for lessons, that would leave, say two hours on each of the school nights and about 7 on the weekend day to sit and chill out, read a book, watch a bit of TV, lie on a tree branch watching the leaves, play a couple of computer games, sit and sketch a landscape... sounds lovely to me, but on those timings, BAM! Suddenly these children are unable to throw a ball!

Oh. Except they're not. Because this bit of the report is fictional too. No balls in the research. (But plenty in the paper apparently).

So the automatic recommendation from these completely fabricated conclusions is - quelle surprise! - less playing video games. Booo to system-based reasoning and discovery of the scientific method! Thumbs down to the gameplay that propelled these people to make unprecedented breakthroughs! Down with Wii-hab! Raise those pitchforks at the things that can be learnt just from a single game!!!

No. I don't agree. It's not what I see from my children every day. And not what other unschooling parents see either.

So I will take my own conclusions from the research. It shows that a significant number of schoolchildren can't balance well on a beam, and it is unknown whether they play video games, which have been shown by previous research to boost cognitive function. So moving forward, my children will unschool and play video games. Wow, look at that, when you're not a broadsheet hack toeing the popular line the research really is in favour of video games!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Put your own house in order

Picture yourself considering a childcare provider. A national one catches your eye: they seem popular, have outlets across the UK, and lots of your friends have used them. Fantastic! Sounds like a definite possibility. So you decide to give them a call and ask for some further information, wanting to make sure you'll be sending your child somewhere safe.

"Good morning, you're through to the childcare provider of choice, Bob Bobbleedob speaking, how can I help you today?"

"Ah, hi! I'm currently thinking of applying for a childcare place for my daughter, Charlie, with your company, I just wanted a bit more info from you."

"No problem, what information did you need?"

"Well, I obviously want to make sure that Charlie would be as safe as possible with you. What's your figure for children who are bullied at any of your outlets?"

"That would be 69% of them. So, er, not all. Ahem."

"Right. Erm, that sounds like quite alot. Do you have figures for any injuries sustained by children in attacks in your care? Probably sounds a bit overly cautious but I just want to be sure haha..."

"Ahem, well, actually yes, since you're asking, more than 150 children who attend our childcare outlets are  injured in attacks."

"Oh. Wow. Gosh. Like, every year?"

"Erm, well no, that's each week. And, well, while we're kind of on the subject, it's thought that at least twenty of them kill themselves each year due to bullying here. But, y'know, we're working on that."

"Errr, ok, well I think I might be looking elsewhere, but I might as well ask you the rest of my questions, just for comparison's sake if that's OK. How well do kids learn the basics with you? Reading, writing, that kind of thing."

"Well, we've previously announced that just under 60% of children who have spent eleven years of their childhood in our care, can read and write properly!"

"Soooo, more than four in every ten kids can't after that time?"

"Well, if you want to be pedantic and turn it round that way... no."

"OK, What about your staff? No incidences of any problems there I hope?"

"Oh dear, this is getting a bit awkward now. We obviously try and employ child carers who we think, based on them not having been caught abusing children, won't do that. But... welllll... let me email you over a nice little graphic that shows the situation more easily than I can probably explain."

"Oh thanks, it's come straight though here, it's a map. Oh. Gosh. I don't even know what to say, that's appalling. Thanks for your time and everything, I'm sure there are other good reasons that people do use your service, but we'll not be using you for Charlie's childcare. Bye!"

"Hold on please, before you hang up, can I just check whereabouts in the country you live?"

"Wales. Why?"

"Ok great. We'll need to take your details so we can register you."

"No, I said we wouldn't be using your service, thanks though."

"I don't think you understand. You'll still need to register with us."


"Because we say so. We've decided that in addition to those who use our service registering with us, we'll arrange for you legally to have to register too."

"To register with you?"


"Even though we don't require your services?"



"Ah, are you maybe thinking you don't want to register with us if you're not getting anything for it?"

"Well, kind of..."

"Then maybe this will help: We'll probably want to monitor you. So there's that. Help any?"

"Are you kidding? Monitor what? To see if in your eyes I'm succeeding with my own child where your company is failing with millions of other people's children???"

"Er, yes."

"How can you possibly think that that's ok???"

"Because we're the best. Oh, I know there's all those attacks, and bullying, and abuse, and suicides. And, yeah, yeah, figures show that children who don't use our service are much less at risk blah blah blah. And the research that shows how good educational outcomes are for those kids. Yadda yadda. But we've decided we're the best anyway, and so we'll be monitoring you. And if we don't like what we see, we'll make Charlie come to us after all. That'll be nice, won't it?"


This situation brought to you by:

Friday, 17 August 2012

Update - Important Installation Instructions

I am deliriously happy right now. I have just found the best instructions, possibly in the history of the world. Certainly in my lifetime.

Following my post earlier today on the insanity perfect sense of treating parents as though they must be told, in minute and insane detail, what is and is not safe for their own children, I was looking for a link when I came across this: Installation instructions for the completely redundant  mind bogglingly patronising new, improved, warning sticker that comes in the ridiculous essential Bumbo repair pack.

Let me run that by you again. Installation instructions for a sticker. I think this gives a fair picture of the level that's been sunk to. Squidge (4) put several stickers on his toy drawers today. They were Octonauts. Some were even stuck on straight. But they were all stuck on, which I think we can all agree means the inventor of stickers can sleep soundly in their bed tonight. But do you know what? Nowhere on the packet of stickers could be found any instructions. Nope. How did he possibly work out what to do???

Anyway, back to the Bumbo warning sticker. Number one on the list of installation instructions (yes, there's a list) is as follows:

Take the sticker and peel the paper backing off. Then carefully position the warning sticker on the back of the Bumbo Baby Seat over the existing warning.

Good grief, lucky they broke that down into two parts! Complicated stuff, this.

Number two:

Firmly press the sticker down evenly and do NOT attempt to remove the sticker after it is stuck to the surface of the seat.

Now, being the sort of person I am, to me this is just a blatant dare to get me to attempt to remove the sticker after it is stuck to the surface of the seat. You know, just to see what happens. Maybe it has a sensor that signals the Unsafe Baby Police to come and storm my living room. Exciting times! But wait... I can't start compulsively peeling the sticker off yet, because I haven't completed the installation of the sticker in full! I forgot number three:

Carefully read the warning sticker once it is adhered to the seat.

I just...c'mon...just...for the love of...oh I give up...

I'm a parent, please give me pointless safety advice

Apparently, when I gave birth to my children, not only did I lose, each time, my huge baby bump, the ability to drink coffee while it's hot, and the capacity to arrive anywhere on time, but I also lost any shred of common sense I'd ever had. Or so Bumbo (or whoever has pressured for this recall) would have me believe.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

In a February letter to the federal safety commission, consumer groups said efforts by the company and the government to warn parents not to use Bumbo seats on countertops and tables were ineffective.

Now, as a parent who as a matter of course pops my baby on the bookshelf while I wander down to the pub for an hour or two, you can imagine my relief that my parenting skills are up to scratch, as neither Ikea, the pub landlady, nor our esteemed government has warned me against this, but I digress.

Moppet is coming up to the age where we'll be starting baby led weaning, and no doubt the Bumbo will make an appearance at some point if she's anything like her brothers, who both liked to sit in their Bumbo, on the floor, in the middle of all the action while they had a snack. So I'm delighted to learn that I can send off for a repair kit for our Bumbo. It will include a restraint belt, to hold her down while she dangles precariously six inches from the carpet sits happily beside me on the floor eating a banana. It will also, and I can barely contain my excitement at this, contain a new warning sticker! To be placed over the old warning sticker! By me! To remind myself to re-emphasise to myself not to balance my baby on the dinner table/on top of the fridge/atop the roof of our house. Phew.

Now obviously I've seen, over the past few years, consumer groups calling for bans on baby slings, cot bumpers, baby sleep positioners, and baby walkers. And, like a good, passive citizen, I've waited patiently and eagerly to hear from the experts what I need to stop using next. But I have today decided to become proactive, and rid my house of anything that they could in the future consider a danger to my children. The list is as follows:

  1. Bedsheets (Could be used as baby slings)
  2. Toys (May trip me over while carrying the baby)
  3. Draught excluders (Could be repurposed as a sleep positioner)
  4. Books (Possibility of them dropping off the shelf and knocking out the children. Especially when the baby's balanced on there too.)
  5. DVDs (Potential to be sharpened and used as ninja frisbees)
  6. Pans (Could get stuck on child's head)
  7. Furniture (Risk of falling off it)
  8. Food (Choking hazard. All of it.)
  9. Cutlery (It's just legalised weaponry, no?)
  10. Soap ( Might block the plughole, before someone leaves the tap on, filling the house rapidly with a swirling maelstrom of water, and leaving us in danger of drowning in our own hallway)
  11. Coolboxes (Have been known to be used as Bumbos, without warning stickers!!!)

I'm gonna get right on it today, then later next week I'll be able to sit happily in my empty (but safe) house, with Moppet in her Bumbo (complete with new warning sticker), secure in the knowledge that I've listened to the experts on this one and completely absolved myself of any requirement to think for myself when it comes to the safety of the most important people in my life. Win!

And the farce continues here...

Monday, 13 August 2012

Fun with photos!

We had a quiet day at home today, and Squidge asked to make photos of himself as an alien. I remembered a couple of apps I had on my iPhone (CamWow and Camera Art FX) that I thought might do the job, and we had a play around... 

Alien Squidge

Two-headed alien Squidge

Light being alien Squidge

In Squidge's words, "Ohhhh....mine.....gaaaaad!!!"

Radioactive alien Squidge

Splat alien Squidge

And Neon alien Squidge.
Then he wanted to try some pictures of Moppet...

And then Sprout was tempted away from Roblox...

And finally Sprout took this one of me and Moppet, which is kinda weird but I also kinda love :)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Raspberry bowers and meteor showers

It's been a pretty summery week here, lots of which has been spent in and around the burgeoning raspberry bower, picking fruit, hiding, and stopping the (pigeons learn quicker) puppy from chewing the spiky stems. We're really trying to make the most of them this year as we have every intention of moving house next year so they're going to have to go to new home to make room for something a little less rowdy and a little more easy on the eye!

Also in the garden, their Socker Boppers punchbag was a fun addition this week, and has doubled up as a 'horse' too.

In their Grandpa's garden they had the idea of searching for leaf hats, and found these water lilies...

...and this enormous Gunnera bog plant leaf!

We still have the cardboard boxes out (in fact even more than last week as we had a parcel with about twelve new ones in it!), and although the building projects haven't been quite as ambitious as last week they've had loads of fun making shops, cars, and their favourite, the jack-in-the-box...


Tuesday saw the Olympic Men's Football semi-finals which Squidge had been due to go to with Gruff, but on the day he decided he really didn't want to go, and Sprout, who hadn't wanted to go, decided that he really did, so that worked out well! This is one excited Sprout arriving at Old Trafford...

...waiting in his seat for the game to start...

...the packed stadium despite reports of Olympic football games having poor turnouts...

...and Sprout being generally patriotic despite the game being South Korea v Brazil :D
He reported later that his favourite part of the day was doing Mexican waves with the crowd.

While Sprout was at the Olympics, Squidge had a football-and-pizza-night-in with me and Moppet, and watched the game in the hope that he could catch a glimpse of Sprout and their Daddy in the crowd.

Squidge's favourite things to do this week have been watching Mr Bean, Young Justice, and original Spiderman, playing this velcro darts game...

...making a potato clock (which we're timing to see how long the potato batteries last before trying out different foods)...

...and finding different ways to make Moppet smile. She's suddenly got much more interested in the world around her this week, which is exciting!

Sprout, meanwhile, has discovered a new game, Omegalodon, and has been enjoying trying out the different roles, from police to raging monster! He's hoping it takes off well as he'd love to be playing it multiplayer more often.

We took Fly to her first puppy party, where she spent the first half hour hiding under a chair from the other puppies, and the next half hour whizzing round so quickly I couldn't get a decent photo. The other puppies were all either too intimidating for her or engrossed in their own chair-hiding antics, so hopefully next week she might get a better match and have a good play. We've made a start training her this weekend too, which I'm hoping is going to help Squidge feel more in control and less worried around her.

Gruff and Sprout had a touch of man flu towards the end of the week, so they stayed snuggled in the house with a big box of tissues and some vitamin C while I took Squidge and Moppet out for some 'Squidge Time'. We went to a free showing of the Olympic women's cross country mountain biking at Vue... 

...and then had a wander round town to pick up some little presents for Sprout, Gruff and Fly, and stopped to have a drink in a cafe and do a spot of pigeon-watching.

Once home, we did Squidge's hair blue again, which he's very pleased with, and doesn't want it to wash out so we might have to look at other solutions.

While we were out Squidge had the idea of having a party, so we picked up a couple of things and did a mini end-of-the-Olympics party, complete with masquerade masks, pass the parcel, and of course...

...homemade chocolate cake! (which was gorgeous, using this recipe here with chocolate buttercream mmmmmmmmm)

Last night we headed out to Park Hall in the hopes of seeing some of the Perseid meteor shower...

... but sadly it was just a little bit too cloudy so we headed home after a while and found some videos like this one today instead, and Squidge made his own Geomag shooting star. Better luck next year!