children, days out, entertaining children,

I am relatively inexperienced in these matters, but I’ve already learned that entertaining children during a school holiday can feel like burning cash (see below for photo credit)

Well that was it, the Easter holidays have passed in a blur and we seem to have spent the majority of it entertaining children. This break was particularly significant for my family as we were testing just how thrifty we could be.

There is a reason for this austerity. Our oldest daughter, Helen, started school last September and so this was only the second school holiday we’d ever had to deal with as a family unit. When the Christmas holidays came up at the end of 2013, we were entirely unprepared and we spent stupid amounts of money keeping the children entertained.

This time around we made a serious effort to conserve cash and the results weren’t too bad. I was geeky enough to keep a diary of all the money we spent entertaining the kids over the past two weeks. Yes, we spent much more than I anticipated but it wasn’t the ludicrous money-fest it could have been.

The solution was preparation. There were no eleventh-hour visits to soft play centres or the cinema as there were at Christmas. Instead we spent time researching when the Kids AM showings were on at the movies. We also borrowed DVDs from the library and had fun choosing them. We also spent several days at granny’s house. Needless to say, granny spoiled the kids but, hey, that’s part of the deal, right?.

Interestingly, one of our most cost-effective days out was to London. Helen was fascinated by the Natural History Museum while her younger sister couldn’t get enough of a boat ride on the Thames Clipper.

I guess the next challenge is going to be the summer holidays. I’m looking forward to keeping both children entertained in the most economically attractive way possible. It’s only 12 weeks away. I think I may start planning for it now.

Photo credit: Images Money.

Image reproduced under Creative Commons license.

 

A day out in London

John Adams —  April 19, 2014 — 16 Comments

A day out in London with the family

#MySundayPhoto 20 April, 2014

The Easter holidays presented one of those rare occasions for my wife and I to take the kids into London for the day. We visited the Natural History Museum before going for lunch and then caught the Thames Clipper catamaran up to Greenwich.

I wasn’t sure how Elizabeth, out youngest, was going to react to the Thames Clipper. Thankfully she loved it. In fact I have a sneaky suspicion she may be a potential recruit for the Royal Navy when she’s older.

photo(33)

Pictured here is Helen, our eldest, getting to grips with one of the exhibits at the Natural History Museum. I’ve written before about a previous trip we did to the museums in London and she just loves them. I’m never sure how much information she takes in but she clearly finds the displays fascinating and it’s a joy to watch her going from exhibit to exhibit.

Wishing you all a very happy Easter. I hope you get to enjoy what is left of the Easter break and good luck returning the kids to school on Tuesday!

 

 

OneDad3Girls

As you may be aware, Mumsnet has just undertaken some research into working mothers. If you aren’t familiar with it, 900 working mothers were asked what they thought about being away from the kids and only 13% said they felt guilty about it.

The research also found that that 48% of respondents felt having a paid job made them happier. In comparison, 52% of stay at home mums (SAHMs) said being at home was tougher than going to work.  

I’d be fascinated to see what the figures would be like if the same questions were put to 900 working dads. I think you’d find huge amounts of guilt at being away from their children so much and, from the majority, a healthy desire to be more involved in family life.

While the survey was picked up by several national newspapers, I didn’t find the statistics particularly surprising. I can totally understand that having paid employment increases an individual’s self-worth and financial independence.

Getting out of the house and away from the children for a while must be a good thing. There’s no reason for a parent, be they a mum or dad, to feel guilty for spending time away from home.  

This, however, is the point where I am going to get myself in trouble. I think we’re all under huge pressure to try and have it all; the children, the career, the lovely family home etc.  

Tradition dictates that as a man I am the one that should have the career and provide financially for my family. I stuck two fingers up to that option when I left full time employment three years ago.

I’ve made no secret of my desire to retrain prior to re-entering the workforce full time and gettinga proper job. In the meantime I’d happily give up paid work altogether if that were a viable option (I work part time).

If I were asked the question, I’d have to say I was one of the 52% that wasn’t made any happier by having paid employment. As a dad, however, I just don’t get asked for my opinion on such matters.

What matters most?

John Adams —  April 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Just below is a picture recently drawn by our eldest daughter, Helen. It was something she drew around the time of our wedding anniversary because she wanted to mark the occasion.

John Lewis, John Lewis Insurance, What Matters Most, Compeition,

I love the picture because it is typical of the type of the way Helen draws. She takes great pride in drawing love hearts and I always think she has a very distinctive way of drawing women’s hair. Added to this, of course, I think it’s very touching she’d want to celebrate the time my wife and I got married.

I should add that Helen copied the drawing from a photograph. In the picture we were stood in the doorway of a church, hence the brown arch and the black lines on top of the bride’s head (which are actually part of a metal gate!).

I like to think the image also shows that family is very important to Helen. What, however, is important to you? This is the question that has been posed by John Lewis Insurance.

The company has just launched a wonderful competition. Going by the name of What Matters Most, entrants can win a piece of artwork inspired by their children.

Here’s how it works. Choose a picture drawn by one of your children that shows something that matters to them and;

·        upload the image to the John Lewis competition site

·        include your contact email address plus your child’s name and age

·        finally, keep in mind the deadline for entries is 10am on 24 April.

A total of four winners will have their picture worked up by professional illustrator Emily Woodard into a really cool piece of art. The original and Emily’s impression will be framed alongside each other as the prize.

If you’d like to see Emily at work, then follow this link to see a time-lapsed film as she turns a painting by four year-old Georgie Whitworth into a masterpiece. You can keep an eye on the competition by following the hash tag #whatmattersmost and good luck to all those who enter!

Disclosure: This blog post is a collaboration between myself and John Lewis Insurance.

  

An Easter treasure chest

John Adams —  April 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

This Mini Creation is a treasure chest made by Helen, aged five. What you can’t see on the top is a key hole where the chest can be locked tightly shut.

Despite it being the school holidays, we decided we needed to do some writing practice and the text we wrote is the treasure currently hidden inside. We’re not too sure about the pizza sticker, although apparently it makes the chest look “pretty” and who are the grown ups to disagree?

arts and crafts, crfts, arts. kidglloves, mini creations,

The key was made by daddy. It’s made of cardboard and replaces the original key which was made of paper. Unfortunately the first key was involved in a terminal incident with the belt in Helen’s car seat, hence why it had to be replaced.

Having made the treasure chest, we’re now making a Super Hero Control Panel. Who knows, maybe this will be next week’s Mini Creation?

 

Mini Creations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

parenting, fathers, dads, mums, relationships, raising children, equality

Men are from Mars…

I’ve just read a fascinating post by the author Kate Figes on the spangly new mumsanddadsnet.com blog. In the post, Figes argues that mums should back off a little and let dads take on more parenting responsibility.

Figes states that she felt under huge pressure to be the perfect mother when she had her first child. Over time, however, she followed her own advice and let Mr Figes take on more of the responsibility for parenting. The result was a happier family unit and well raised children with exceptionally good teeth (I’m not going to explain why, you’ll need to read Figes blog post!).

The most telling comment Figes made, however, was this:

“I remember the resentment I felt when my daughter’s father didn’t look after her in exactly the way I wanted him to when she was a baby. It was easier to do everything myself than try and explain how.”

This got me thinking about my own relationship. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I just wouldn’t feel resentment towards my wife if she did something with the kids differently to the way I do it (For the benefit of first time readers, I should explain that I am the main carer for our two daughters. My wife is the one that works full time and so childcare is largely down to me).

parenting, equality, relationships,

…and women are from Venus but both planets are in the same solar system.

As far as I’m concerned, when my wife is looking after the little ones, she does it as she sees fit. I don’t expect her to replicate what I do and while I may offer some guidance and pointers about what I find works best, there’s no way I would tell her she was doing something “wrong”. There is after all, more than one way to travel from London to Glasgow and the same applies to raising children.

Okay, so when my wife looks after the girls she tends to be a bit more liberal with the sweets and comics. She’s a full-time working mother and wants to spoil them a bit when she is with them. I totally understand where she’s coming from. I may find it slightly irritating sometimes but I consider myself extremely lucky that’s my biggest worry!

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the expectations placed on mothers. It is both a blessing and a curse that dads are not scrutinised as heavily as mothers. It’s a blessing in that society is more accepting of men’s mistakes. It is, however, a curse in that society has lower expectations of fathers in the first place.

I’m not happy with the idea of people having low expectations of fathers. Not that I want to see men put under the same pressure as women. I’d simply like to see both mums and dads supporting and helping each other and less pressure and guilt all round.

What do you think? Can mums be a bit too hands on because they feel under pressure to be the perfect parent? Does this happen at the expense of happy, functioning family units?

Photo credits: NASA. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

 

Making daisy chains with daddy

#MySundayPhoto, my sSunday Photo, #SilentSunday, daisy chains, daisies, flowers, dads, fathers, dad, parenting, relationships

One of several daisy chains I made for my daughter. #MySundayPhoto

Every now and again I come across a situation where I feel self-conscious as a parent. Although I like to think of myself as reasonably confident, it comes with the territory when you’re male and the main carer for your kids.

A lot of dads claim they are made to feel uncomfortable when seeing the health visitor or in the school playground. I’ve never had too many problems in these environments. The other day, however, I discovered my Achilles Heel.

I had just picked up my eldest from school and we went to the local park. It was very busy with loads of kids and mums who had all had the same idea. I was the only dad there.

My eldest wanted to make daisy chains. It’s not the first time I’ve done this for her, but being the only dad just made me feel a bit awkward! It didn’t seem like a very “dad” thing to do.

Despite this, I got over my issues and made a few different pieces of jewellery out of daisies. What you see here is a bracelet that Helen was adamant she wanted to wear into town where we had to go shopping immediately afterwards. I’ll also let you into a little secret; I actually felt quite proud of what I had created for her!

OneDad3Girls

I reacted with horror when I read the details of Ofsted’s first ever Early Years Annual report. You may very have seen it reported in the news because the author, Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw proposed that two year olds should receive some form of formal schooling.

It is only fair that I put Sir Michael’s proposal into context. He wishes to “break the cycle of disadvantage” and help ensure children from less fortunate backgrounds are prepared for school and improve their levels of attainment. I couldn’t and wouldn’t criticise what is a very laudable aim.

Ofsted, early years, early years foundation stage, development, education,

Sending children to school at two years age? The idea is so insane it reminds me of the Shining; “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

What frightens me is that Sir Michael thinks the way to achieve this is by introducing structured learning in schools at the age of two. I have some major issues with this and as I looked into the details of what Sir Michael was proposing I grew even more nervous.

From a purely practical level, I just can’t see this working. Anyone who has seen a class of reception-aged children (ie four year olds) in the midst of a lesson will understand the challenges of trying to teach a group half that age.

My head is also left spinning at what the ratios between teacher and child would have to be for any meaningful learning to take place. They would have to be staggeringly high and this doesn’t fit with the Government’s agenda of reducing childcare costs. Costs would surely have to rise sharply, probably putting it well out of reach of the disadvantaged family groups this proposal is seemingly designed to help.

This is even before the impact of learning at such a tender age is considered. Personally, I want my youngest daughter to spend time crawling, laughing, jumping, pointing, rolling and mess making. I don’t want her in any form of structured learning, I want her to have fun and if she learns along the way then I’m happy. As a parent, I would of course support her in that learning.

Although she has flourished, I questioned whether my oldest was ready to enter the school system when she started in reception. The thought of my toddler being expected to conjugate verbs and do Algebra is just wrong, very wrong indeed (okay, so I exaggerate, but you get my point).

Then there’s the other issue of parental responsibility. As parents, we have a responsibility to prepare our children for school, regardless of whether we come from a disadvantaged background. This proposal seems to shift that responsibility from the family on to early years care providers. I’m all for breaking the cycle of disadvantage and helping disadvantaged families, but does such a proposal help such family units? I am inclined to say it doesn’t help at all and that it would turn out to be a case of unwarranted and poorly planned state intervention.

We must also look into the detail of Sir Michael’s report. I noted two very telling comments.

The first is this one: The government should introduce a nationally comparable and standardised baseline assessment at the start of Reception, with external marking for both the baseline and Key Stage 1 assessments.

I will summarise in layman’s terms: Children should have their academic achievement assessed at the age of four. I totally get the need for assessment but please, let the kids learn something before assessing them.

The second point is even more telling: Schools should be given greater flexibility to support children in their early years and be incentivised to do so – including by removing the requirement for separate registration, regulation and inspection for this younger age group and more recognition of school leaders who voluntarily make themselves accountable for raising attainment on entry through engagement with the local early years sector.

The interesting part of this incredibly long sentence is “removing the requirement for separate registration, regulation and inspection.” If you have any knowledge of Ofsted, you’ll know its inspection regime can be very complex and bloated. Streamlining the process is probably no bad thing.

There is, however, another way to interpret that these words; regulation could be made less rigorous and cheaper. Such a sentiment doesn’t fill me with confidence.

As you may have gathered, I think Sir Micahael’s approach is misguided. I suggest finding other ways to “break the cycle of disadvantage.”

family day, days out, Ascot, entertainment

Enjoying the racing with the kids at Ascot

Having a day at the races is always appealing, but it’s not something I would ever have considered doing with the children. I was therefore delighted to hear that Ascot racecourse runs several “family days” each year.

Not only are these days out great entertainment for the family, but they can represent surprisingly good value for money. I thought a family day might be prohibitively expensive but it turns out under 18s go for free and entry to the grandstand for adults can cost as little as £15 per person (you will pay more if you want a private box).

We were invited along on Mother’s Day, when Ascot was holding its annual Country Fair Raceday. As a family we were all really excited at the prospect and we weren’t disappointed.

In addition to the racing, which I’ll come on to in a minute, there were a number of attractions that

you’d expect at an agricultural show. There was a falconry display, pony rides, climbing wall, soft play area, lamb racing (yes, you did read that correctly) and an air rifle target range. As it was Mother’s Day, a Mother’s Chill Out Zone offering massages and other delights was also available.

Ever the equestrian, Mrs Adams was more interested in the racing than massages so after checking out the country fair we returned to our private box to watch the racing. These are very spacious and an ideal place to base yourself if you are going to spend an entire day at the race track.

With your own private balcony, you get a fantastic view over the track.Rather foolishly I’d handed over my wallet to Mrs Adams to make all the bets as I was busy looking after our youngest. I returned to find a massive wad of betting slips all paid for with my cash. There were seven races in total and we didn’t win a single penny!

Ascot, days out, family days

Horses in the parade ring prior to a race.

I can imagine some people being concerned by the formality of the occasion. On family days the usual dress code is relaxed so smart casual dress is acceptable with no dress code for young children.

Would we do it again? Without a doubt. The grown-ups enjoyed themselves and all the older kids (three years and up) seemed to have a superb time. I’ll be honest, at 17 months our youngest was possibly a little too young to appreciate the day but when she’s older we would happily return.

Ascot has family entertainments planned on several other racedays. These include:

  • King George Family Sunday on 27 July
  • British Champions Day on 18 October
  • November Racing Weekend on 21-22 November
  • Christmas Racing Weekend on 19-20 December.
Family days, days out, family entertainment

Sheep running on the Lamb National!

In addition to the above dates, the Red Bull Air Race World Championships will take place on 16-17 August. This will involve three rounds of racing with aircraft taking off directly in front of Ascot’s grandstand so it will be a race day with a huge difference.

I may very well see you at one of these events. Just don’t take my advice on what to bet on.

Have you ever made a Easter egg? No? Until yesterday I hadn’t either. Having done it I can tell you it is remarkably easy, if a little fiddly in places.

The challenge to make some eggs was set by those lovely people at specialist Devon holiday website stayindevon.co.uk. The team kindly sent us a Choc on Choc Easter Egg making kit with moulds and instructions for creating two small eggs. The kit had to be hidden away from small, prying hands for a week or so until we had the time to make them but when we got to work, we had great fun.

Here is a photographic record of our attempt to create these eggs.

photo(25) I took one excited child who happened to be wearing sunglasses and gave her an Easter egg making kit. The excitement levels were quite high at this point.

photo(26)The first step was to wipe the eggs’ moulds with vegetable oil. This stops the chocolate sticking to the mould and gives the final product a nice shine.

photo(27)Having melted the chocolate, it was poured into the moulds (I did this bit because the chocolate was very hot). The should have been straightfoward, but I messed it up. You’re supposed to swill the chocolate around in the mould and add new layers after 10 or so minutes.

I was still swilling chocolate around an hour later. I eventually figured out that I’d allowed the chocolate to get too hot and so it was far too runny. After much trial and error, I let the chocolate cool down a bit before pouring into the moulds. I found this worked much better.

photo(29)Once the moulds had been filled with melted chocolate, they were left to cool. After they had hardened, the rather brutal job of sticking the two halves together could then get underway. This was another job for dad because it involved heating up a baking sheet, placing the two halves on it so the edges melted and then sticking them together.

You’ll note the marble effect on the chocolate. We managed to get rid of this at the very end by wiping the eggs down with a drop of vegetable oil.

photo(30)Here are the two eggs having been joined together, You’ll see the edges look a little untidy. The finished product looked quite a bit smarter as we ran the blunt edge of a knife over the edges.

photo(31)Here we are with the finished products. I have to say they are far superior to anything you can buy in a shop. The chocolate is of a higher quality and the eggs are really thick.

It was straightforward, fun and not particularly messy. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed making the eggs while I learned how the two halves are stuck together, something I’d been wondering about since I was a boy!