Wednesday, 18 October 2017

After school clubs and downtime

As a young teenager I was very busy. Most days I would have some kind of club or activity at lunch time, after school, and then often in the evening too. I'm very glad that I had so many opportunities for activities that broadened my horizons and introduced me to new opportunities. In particular at school I was involved in musical activities - instrument lessons, orchestra, choir and so on, and I have fond memories of the shows that I performed in and the trips that I went on.

However I did always feel that my days were very full, and I remember the feeling of relief if an activity was cancelled, and the joy of some unexpected free time. My children are still young, and since they were babies I've always been reluctant to sign them up for too many clubs and classes as I know that they need time to themselves as well.

So at the moment sometimes I feel that they are woefully under scheduled compared to their playmates. They both have a swimming lesson after school once a week, and Harry has a weekly after school piano lesson. This year Harry has joined the school choir and Mia has begun a Speech and Drama club, luckily both of these clubs take place at lunchtimes and need little involvement from me.

This term Harry has also signed up for a Creative Writing club after school. I'm really glad that he's interested, and he certainly has a talent for writing, but it does mean a long day for him. Mia started an after school sports club last term and we had to stop because she was just too tired, she would come home in tears.

I really treasure the two afternoons a week when we have no activities after school and can just come home, get the children changed (often straight into their pyjamas!) and they can play together for a little while before dinner. It's one of the reasons that I'm terrible at organising playdates - I'm very protective of our free, unscheduled time after school.

Child with a piano exam certificate

As they get older they will have even more opportunities offered to them, and along with peer pressure I'm sure they are going to want to do more and more. I want to encourage them of course but I'll just try and be mindful that they aren't ending up too busy and still have plenty of time to relax!

How do you balance offering your child enriching activities, and letting them have time to just chill out at home?

Monday, 16 October 2017

How I use Trello to organise my life

I like to think I'm an organised person. I am generally on top of what needs to be done and when, and I like to work ahead of myself by writing lists and making plans to help keep things under control. I wrote a blog post recently about how I use Trello as a blogger, and I thought I'd expand on that with how I also use Trello to organise some of the other aspects of my life.

How I organise my life using Trello

Trello is an online organisational tool that uses cards, lists and boards to keep track of individual tasks and projects. I have lots of boards, some which are in regular use and some that I open less frequently. I'm always creating new boards for things that I'm working on, and I have shortcuts on my bookmarks bar for those that use most often.

The board that I open first every day is my To Do board. I use this board every evening to create my to do list for the next day. Each task is represented by a card. I have a number of tasks relating to my blog and social media that I carry out daily, and these are coded with an orange label. Daily housework tasks have a yellow label, and blog related tasks have a blue label. Anything with no label is a one off task, and I delete it when I've done it.

I have daily and weekly lists. At any one time I usually have a daily list for the current day and the following day, and a weekly list for the current week and the following week. When I've completed a recurring task I drag it across to either the next day or the next week. On a Sunday evening I'll set up the next weekly list.

I create additional lists as I need them, for example I currently have a list for things that I need to do before we go away in a few weeks, and a list of things that I'll need to schedule in for when we get back. I also have some general monthly lists for tasks that aren't urgent. Obviously my lists are personal and represent what works for me, but here's a sample!

Using Trello to organise my life - sample screen shot

You may notice that I have a counter next to the list title showing how many cards are in this list. This is a Google Chrome extension called CardCounter that I have installed, I find it really helpful. You may also notice that next to the name of the board it says 'Jain Team' rather than my name. This is because it is a shared board with my husband so that in theory I can allocate tasks to him, although in reality he doesn't pay much attention!

I also have lists elsewhere on my board for short term and long term projects, as well as crafty ideas that I want to try sometime, and lists for other things as they come up, for example ideas for the school holidays or books that I want to read.

I find it really helpful to work through my lists, and really satisfying to delete and drag away cards as I finish a task. I hope that this post has inspired you to give Trello a go, I really do find that it helps me!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Celebrating Halloween with young children

Celebrating Halloween has definitely changed from when I was little! We had no build up to Halloween, no shops full of themed food, decorations and costumes. All that happened was on Halloween evening we shut all the curtains, and ignored the door bell if it rang. I don't ever remember dressing up myself or taking part in any kind of Halloween themed activity.

Celebrating Halloween with young children

These days you can't avoid Halloween, and it's become a really fun celebration. There are so many things that you can do with little ones, and so I thought I'd share some ideas.

Staying at home

When my children were younger we always had Halloween fun at home. I would do a few crafts with them, like toilet roll tube Halloween creatures, and we had some hand-me-down costumes that I put them in. There are lots of different ways that you can teach children how to make a monster, and they don't have to be at all scary. There are also lots of alternative Halloween ideas which don't involve leaving the house.

When the children were a bit bigger I organised a small Halloween party at home. If you want to really impress them you can find lots of Halloween decorating tips here, and the shops are full of creepy accessories. I kept the food simple with some Halloween themed cakes and biscuits but you can really go to town and there are some fab ideas for Halloween food, like these awesome witch fingers.

Food ready for a Halloween party

Going out Trick or Treating

I was always totally against the idea of taking the children out trick or treating until we moved to a new estate and saw what a big deal it was. Hundreds of children around here go out, supervised by their parents, and lots of houses make a real effort to join in. People really welcome the children with some amazing and creative decorations, and people are quite happy to ignore the houses that don't want to take part. It's always fun to dress up as much as you can, and as well as finding a great costume you can find some brilliant Halloween face painting ideas here.

Of course you do need to be careful as Halloween does have its dangers, and you can find some useful Halloween safety tips here.

Children dressed up for Halloween

Celebrating further afield

Many local attractions will have some kind of special activities going on for Halloween. The big theme parks run events that last for weeks, like Legoland Halloween, and are very popular. A few years ago we were lucky enough to be able to go to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World Resort in Florida and it was fantastic. But if you can't get that far there's bound to be a local farm or school which have something going on - even our gym is hosting a Halloween party!

Disneyworld decorated for Halloween

I hope that I've whetted your appetite for some Halloween fun this year! If you are still looking for some more inspiration, you might enjoy this A-Z of Halloween with even more craft and recipe ideas.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

A menagerie of stuffed animals

A couple of years ago for Christmas we bought Mia a doll. It was a fancy one with batteries, she sucked from a bottle and cried with real tears. We thought that she'd love it, as she's always shown motherly tendencies, but after the initial excitement she didn't show much interest.

It turned out that she would rather demonstrate her maternal instincts towards her ever increasing collection of stuffed animals. We have them stored in a drawer in her wardrobe, in a cardboard zoo themed box on her bookshelf, and alongside her in her bed. She has so many there that when I go to tuck her in at night she has often half fallen out, evicted from her own bed by a huge pile of cuddlies.

Stuffed toys in a zoo themed box

She has a stuffed toy to represent animals from across the animal kingdom, which comes in very handy on school dress up days when a particular creature is needed to supplement a costume. She has also adopted my own remaining stuffed toys, including some Beanie Babies that I collected at a time when we all thought they'd be worth something someday. I hope they won't be, because they are certainly no longer in mint condition!

Occasionally when I'm having a sort out I skim a few off that I've not seen her play with for a while and hide them in my wardrobe. Generally she's asked for them back within days. She maintains an encyclopedic knowledge of her collection, she can remember where they came from or who gave them to her, their names, and also their likes and dislikes.

It wasn't until this summer that we introduced her to Build a Bear, and I'm not quite sure how we managed to keep her away for so long. She spent some of her own pocket money on her first bear, and then she acquired a second on a more recent trip with Ram (who having seen her devotion towards the first, spoiled her with a second).

Child reading a book to her teddy bear

This new bear ('Fluffy') has become her constant companion, and in lieu of receiving the class bear to bring home she has been taking photographs of Fluffy around the house, printing them out, and writing about him in a notebook.

She has also encouraged Harry to appreciate and grow his own collection. Previously he was content with just Giraffe, now he also has his own small band of furry friends that accompany him to bed at night. Counted among their number are two large fluffy slippers, that he would rather cuddle at night than wear on his feet.

I love seeing Mia's devotion to her little animal friends, and the imaginative games that she plays with them. I'll be very sad indeed when this stage of her childhood is over, although I'm sure she'll continue to treasure them all for some time yet!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Firework crafts for Bonfire Night

Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot....

Firework crafts for children for Bonfire Night

Looking for some firework crafts to entertain the children while you wait until the evening fireworks, or want a warmer and quieter alternative than hanging around to watch a display? You are in the right place! Here's a selection of simple firework crafts and activities that you can do with young children.

First up, why not make your very own Fireworks display in a box. The fireworks will last a lot longer than when they are in the sky, and you can get really creative with different sparkly materials to make your own display.

Firework display in a box craft

Very young children might be too little to take out to watch fireworks, but you can still have fun at home with a Firework themed sensory tub. All you need is a base material - I used dyed black rice - and some sparkly and fun accessories. Add a couple of spoons and some divided containers and the children will be kept busy for ages. Just remember to pop down an old table cloth or similar to try and contain the mess!

Firework themed sensory tub for toddlers

A slightly messier craft, but a lot of fun, are these Paper plate glitter fireworks paper plate glitter fireworks. Paint the paper plates black to make a background and add some coloured sparkly glue. Then drip white glue onto the plate to form a firework shape, and sprinkle liberally with glitter to make your fireworks. They look great hung up on a wall or window!

Paper plate glitter fireworks craft

Finally, you could make some cardboard tube fireworks. Cover some old cardboard tubes with black paper and fill with some pipe cleaner fireworks for a brilliant table centrepiece or decoration. It's really easy to make, and children can have lots of fun customising their fireworks.

Cardboard tube firework craft

I hope I've inspired you to get crafting this Bonfire Night!

Monday, 9 October 2017

Cardboard tube firework craft

This month my Bostik Bloggers craft box was full of crafty bits and pieces that could be used for a variety of different seasonal celebrations. I decided that with Bonfire Night not too far away I'd use the glittery cardboard, foam stars and sequins to make a simple firework craft.

Cardboard tube firework craft main

You need:

Cardboard tubes
Black paper, even better if it has sparkly bits in it!
Coloured pipe cleaners
Star foam stickers, or you can make your own cutouts from coloured cardboard
Sequins
Black tissue paper
Bostik White Glu
Bostik Glu Dots

Materials to make cardboard tube fireworks

Instructions:

First cover your cardboard tubes in black paper. Cut a piece of the paper to size then glue firmly in place with the Bostik White Glu. As the paper that I used to cover the tubes was quite thick, I also secured the ends in place with a couple of staples to make sure that it was held in place. You might want to use paper clips around the top and bottom while the glue dries to keep it all in place.

Glittery cardboard tubes and pipe cleaner fireworks

Then prepare your fireworks. I found that a length of pipe cleaner about 15cm long worked well for each firework. I used pipe cleaners in red, orange and yellow but any colours would do, and sparkly ones would look fantastic! Use a Bostik Glu Dot to firmly stick the foam stars to the ends of the pipe cleaners. I find that the Glu Dots work really well on the pipe cleaners as they stick firmly to the textured surface.

Bostik Glu Dots for crafting

Then use some tape to secure your pipe cleaner fireworks inside the cardboard tube. Try and position them at different intervals and heights to add a bit of interest. Then scrumple up some black tissue paper and stuff it into the top of the tube to hide the ends of the pipe cleaners. Finally finish off your firework craft with some sequins glued to the outside of the tube with some White Glu.

Cardboard tube firework craft tutorial

These cardboard tube fireworks make a great Bonfire Night decoration, and you could use them as a fantastic table centerpiece for your Bonfire Night party!

If you are looking for firework crafts, you might enjoy some of my other crafts:

Fireworks display in a box
Paper plate firework craft
Firework themed sensory tub

The box of craft materials was provided to me free of charge by Bostik as part of the Tots100/Bostik Craft Bloggers Club.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

BritMums Live 2017 #BML17

At the weekend I attended the BritMums Live blogging conference, marking the fifth time that I've attended. I've always enjoyed myself and found the conference really helpful and inspiring, so I was very excited to be able to come along again. This year there were some significant changes to the event, with a new date and a new venue on the Southbank and with a much smaller and more intimate feel. It was also the first time that I didn't stay overnight - with Ram's birthday the next day I didn't really feel able to, so I just travelled up for the day - made much easier by the fact that Waterloo station is a much more straightforward train journey for me!

As part of the BritMums team I helped out with registration, which was fun as I was able to see people arriving and match some faces to names. There was a full breakfast spread on offer, and plenty of mingling.

BritMum's Live 2017 badge

For the last few years I've spent most of my BritMums Live time chatting, and then ending up forgetting to attend any of the sessions. With a smaller event and a smaller brand hub there was less to distract me, and so I made much better use of my time.

After arrival it was straight into the sessions. I started with the 'YouTube Deep Dive'. The session was in two parts, with a more general first half and then the second more specifically aimed at parent YouTubers. There were lots of really good examples with different ways of using YouTube, and I picked up some useful tips. Mainly that I need to get more consistent! Jules Fournier said that if you have a schedule then your viewers will always know that there is new content, and although they may not look for it as soon as it is published they'll remember it when they are next on YouTube, and that made a lot of sense to me. My YouTube use has been a bit sporadic of late and I don't plan my content at all, so I need to come up with a more consistent schedule.

After the break I attended 'Smash your goals with focussed blogging' with Aby Moore from You Baby Me Mummy. Aby definitely knows her stuff, and she covered a great deal. She talked about the importance of first setting goals and then drilling down on the individual tasks which will help you to accomplish them. I don't have any blogging goals set, apart from vague ones like 'get more people to read it' so I could definitely do with sitting down for a good thinking and planning session. Aby also talked about how much time we waste when we hop about from task to task, something that I'm definitely very guilty of!

Next I went to 'Instagram & Instagram Stories: How to maximise, what to avoid & top-notch storytelling'. The session was a chat with Alice Judge-Talbot and Harriet Shearsmith about how they use Instagram and what they've found works for them. I do love Instagram but I'm sometimes a bit hesitant to post as I feel that I want my images to be perfect and I'm not the best photographer. I've never dived into Instagram Stories and this session has given me the push to give it a go, I just need to make the leap to getting started!

Lunch was very nice with a good selection of hot and cold food which you could help yourself to. There were also some delicious cakes and other snacks throughout the day!

I mentioned that the brand hub was much smaller, and I must admit that none of the brands that were present really interested me. There were travel brands, and of course I do write about travel, but I don't have enough of a travel niche that I felt they would be interested in me. There was quite a long time set aside for brand presentations, and I didn't go to any of them as I didn't really want to be sold to. But I did discover the fantastic Jennie Maizels and her Sketchbook Club table, and I spent a happy hour or so sitting here working on a water colour bird picture.

BritMums Live 2017 #bml17 blogging conference

Jennie uses a technique with pencil to transfer pre-printed images into your sketchbook, which you can then colour with watercolour or pencil and embellish with ink or gel pen. I loved using the watercolours, I've not done proper painting for years and it was really relaxing. 

BritMums Live 2017 #bml17 blogging conference

I was very proud of my finished bird! I took him home to show Mia and she was impressed too, she was inspired to add a few decorations of her own to my page so I have designated it a shared sketchbook with pages that we can work on together.

BritMums Live 2017 #bml17 blogging conference

In the afternoon I attended 'Understanding and using Google Analytics'. This was quite a basic session, but as I'm pretty hopeless at using Google Analytics I found it really helpful. I came home with a few things to try. For example I've found out how to find my most popular posts, not just overall but also from past seasons, so I can see which types of seasonal posts have done well in the past and use that to influence future content.

BritMums Live 2017 #bml17 blogging conference

Finally I stayed for 'Do's and Don'ts of Working with Brands' with BritMums co-founders Susanna Scott and Jennifer Howze. There was some really useful information about the things that they are looking for when they choose bloggers for campaigns, for example engagement, original content and the overall look and feel of your blog.

BritMums Live 2017 #bml17 blogging conference

Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay for the BiBs Awards party with City Cruises as I needed to get back home, but to be honest I was exhausted at this point anyway as I always find blogging conferences very draining! So I grabbed my goody bag and headed home before it got too late, with my head spinning and full of new ideas!
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