Friday, 14 May 2021

Summer crazes past and present

The other day, my children mentioned that a number of their classmates were in possession of a new and exciting item. Apparently Pop It fidget toys are the latest school craze. My children know that I'm too soft, and so when they found me some on sale for only a couple of pounds I caved in and bought them one each. 

I must admit they are actually quite fun and satisfying to play with. They are made of soft silicon plastic and you push the blobs in and out from side to side. It's a bit like colourful bubble wrap, but it can be used over and over again, and it makes a satisfying popping sound which has become the new soundtrack to our school run.

Pop It fidget toy rainbow square

I've always been a sucker for summer crazes, and it always does seem to be around summer time that these things appear. I have fond memories from when I was at primary school and it was all about the yoyos, each branded with different soft drinks. I remember my Mum taking me to the corner shop to buy one, and I loved playing with them on the school field. I also remember the special red and yellow plastic skipping rope that I had to have, and the soft squishy balls with faces that we all collected.

So I know what it's like when everyone else has something and you want to be a part of things, and I think that it's a definitive part of the primary school experience. Over the last few years the children and I have enjoyed spinning fidget spinners, crafting with loom bands and taking to the streets to play Pokemon Go. There were also those Sainsbury's Lego cards that we collected for a couple of years running, leading to strangers from Facebook coming to the door to swap for those last elusive cards.

It's all inexpensive fun, and hopefully they'll remember their own indulgent Mum when they've grown up!  

Summer crazes past and present

What summer crazes do you remember from when you were little? Did you have a yoyo too?

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Four ways to help your kids to express themselves creatively

This is a collaborative post

For many kids, being creative is a breeze and comes naturally. For others, though, it is not always so easy. Children who tend to be shy or reserved may find it difficult to express themselves through creative works, but that doesn’t mean they should miss out on all the benefits of healthy self-expression. 

Creative self-expression is more than just a fun way to pass the time. It’s an important part of development, especially for young children. Little ones who have not yet experienced excessive peer pressure have not yet felt forced to shut themselves down in order to fit in. By teaching your child about the importance of self-expression—and showing them how to express themselves creatively—at a young age could prevent them from sacrificing their personal likes for the sake of conformity. And when kids maintain their likes and express themselves in their own ways, they are less likely to fall victim to low self-esteem and depression as they get older. 

From using diamond painting supplies to create beautiful works of art to participating in a dance class, there are several things you can do to help your kids learn to express themselves creatively. Keep reading to learn more! 

1. Encourage an Interest in Art

Diamond painting in progress

It is no secret art is a great way to express oneself. From drawings and paintings to theater and dance, the arts encompass many things, all of which are excellent for self-expression. Even if your child does not perceive themselves as “artistic,” there are types of art appropriate for anyone. 

Diamond painting is an excellent option for a child who would like to create beautiful images but has not yet mastered the art of painting or drawing. Diamond art kits come with everything needed to make captivating mosaic artwork regardless of age and artistic skill. Similar to both cross-stitch and painting by numbers, this project involves placing colored resin “diamonds” in specific locations on a printed adhesive canvas. The gems may look random when viewed up close, but from a distance, diamond paintings reveal landscapes, characters and other images and designs. 

If your child is bursting with energy and needs an outlet, the creative arts may be a better choice. Enrolling them in a dance or theater class is an excellent way to help them burn off excess energy while allowing them to express themselves on the stage. Who knows? Enrolling your son in a dance class today could lead to him being a broadway star a few years from now! 

2. Support Their Style

Child dressed for a party

Kids have very little control over many aspects of their lives. They have to go to school, eat the food you purchase and prepare, tag along when running errands, do their chores… The list goes on and on. While parents control many aspects of their children’s lives in order to keep them safe and ensure they are on the right path in life, the lack of control can take its toll. This is especially true as kids get older.

One thing you can let your kids control is their personal style. Clothing is a type of self-expression, and it is smart to let your kids wear what they want (within reason). Let your kids pick out their own clothes and wear what makes them feel good. If they look a bit silly, so what? Your child’s style will evolve as they age. Allowing them to experiment with different looks is an excellentand relatively harmlessway to encourage self-expression. In time, allowing your child to choose their own style can boost their confidence and self-esteem.

3. Offer Choices

Child in library choosing a book

It may seem insignificant, but something as simple as allowing your toddler to choose which book they’d like to have read to them at bedtime is an important step in encouraging them to express themself. Let them show and tell you which books, toys and other things are their favorites, and encourage them to enjoy the ones they love most. Even letting your child decide between two pairs of shoes in the morning rather than choosing them yourself allows them to express themself in a small way. 

As they get older, give your kids choices when redecorating their bedrooms, choosing where the family goes out for dinner or planning outings and vacations. Encourage them to speak up and tell you what makes them happy. And remember not to put down their suggestions even if you don’t think they are as great as your child does. It’s important to make them feel like their thoughts and ideas are valid. 

4. Encourage Exploration

As a parent, it can be frustrating when your child wants to try dance class one week and join the soccer team the next. Before you force your child to stick with the first hobby they picked, though, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your child is still learning about their likes and dislikes. Allow them to try different activities and hobbies to find the ones they enjoy most instead of forcing them to stick with something they hate. 

Browse websites or brochures together instead of choosing things yourself. Again, offering choices is an excellent means of encouraging self-expression. Let your kids try new things, and don’t be upset when something doesn’t work out. Even adults don’t always enjoy the things they think they will. Why should we expect a five-year-old to? 

The Bottom Line

Learning self-expression is vital to a child’s development. Unfortunately, many kids never learn how to express themselves in ways they enjoy. Encouraging your kids to express themselves from a young age is an excellent means of helping them grow into happy, confident and well-adjusted teens and adults. The suggestions above are just a few of the many things you can start doing today to help your child express themselves creatively. You may need to get creative yourself, too, to determine the way that works best for your unique son or daughter. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

My problem with Twitter

One of my goals for May was to not go on Twitter. So far so good! But I thought I'd share a little bit more about why I wanted to make that my goal.

I've been using Twitter since 2011 when I opened up an account to use with my fledgling blog, as a way to share posts and connect with fellow bloggers. Over the years I've followed many people and gathered a reasonable number of followers myself, albeit mainly through hosting giveaways a few years back and making a follow one way of entering. 

But it turns out that, for me, Twitter is terrible for promoting my blog. I've spent hours scheduling several tweets per day in advance, I've been a part of groups that tweeted out each other's posts and I've sent extra tweets whenever I published a new post. Despite the fact that I do generally get some interaction if ask a question or tweet about something that I've been up to, it's very rare that someone actually clicks on these links, and it's definitely not worth the effort.

So I had been pretending that I was using Twitter 'for work' when the impact was negligible. I enjoy using Twitter to see what people are chatting about and to follow trends, but the truth is that my mindless scrolling had become a very negative influence on my mental health. I was experiencing guilt at not using my time more productively and I was unable to cope mentally with the huge amount of often contradictory information that I was absorbing. I could feel my anxiety increasing the longer that I scrolled, but I just wasn't able to turn away. 

Hands holding a phone and scrolling through Twitter
Photo credit Marten Bjork

There's always something new on Twitter and you never know what you might find. Even if you've read all the recent tweets from people you follow (of course you can never get to the actual end of your feed!) you can then go into the trends and find more tweets to read there. And if you get involved in a conversation you have to hang around and wait for replies, so you have more opportunity to scroll mindlessly.  

There is only lady in particular that I'd been following since my early blogging days. At the beginning of the pandemic she was retweeting informative tweets that put a positive spin on things. But gradually as the months have progressed her feed has spiralled into one filled with misinformation, not just about the pandemic but also covering vaccinations and the US elections, before moving on to debate over the various fringe QAnon conspiracy theories. 

It was like a car crash, and I just couldn't stop looking. I would go into her feed several times a day to see what the latest topic was, read the comments by her followers and the people she was following, while feeling my tension and anxiety rise by the minute. Even when I unfollowed her I could still find her feed by searching for her name and I just couldn't tear myself away.

So this was the final trigger that told me I needed to take a break from Twitter. I'm still allowing myself to follow a link to a tweet from a news source or if shared by a friend (I think that has happened once and I can't even remember what it was) as long as I don't click away from that tweet. 

And I know it's still early days, but I've not missed it at all. I just need to try my very best to make this new habit permanent, as I know how easy it would be to get sucked back in!

Monday, 10 May 2021

My current cross stitch project - Olde World Map by Janlynn

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

I thought I'd share a little bit about my current cross stitch project! I'm working on the Olde World Map by Janlynn (affiliate) which was purchased as a kit a year or two back. It's a full kit containing everything that you need, with a completed size of 18" by 15".

I started the kit in December 2020. Sometimes when I start a long term craft project like this I set myself a vague deadline, thinking about when I'd like to see it finished, but there's no rush with this one, I just want to enjoy the process. I can see it taking several years to complete.

So far I've almost finished the left hand circular part of the map and I've started working on the background in the lower left of the design going into the wide border. I always start my cross stitch in the middle to make sure that the design is centred on the cloth, then I like get the borders in place so that I can see how the design is going to take shape.

Olde World Map cross stitch kit by Janlynn in progress

I spent more time than I usually would sorting out this kit before I got started. I wound all the different coloured threads onto individual cardboard bobbins and then sorted them into small plastic bags based on their colour. I normally just leave the threads on the cardboard holed sorter that they come on and end up with a huge tangled mess, so this has made a big difference. 

Also for the first time I made myself a copy of the pattern to work from, in case I lose the original. It also means that I can mark the pattern if I need to. In some places it's not the easiest pattern to follow, and in particular some of the backstitch is quite difficult to work out. There are also lots of half stitches, and sometimes it's difficult to see which thread you should be using, so you have to guess a little bit.

It's an interesting design to stitch, with a variety of different types of stitching. There are full coverage areas, parts with lots of similar colours where need to pay close attention to the pattern while you stitch, and repetitive outlines and backstitching that you can work on while there are other distractions around you.  

Janlynn Olde World Map cross stitch kit review

I really love the design and I'm enjoying working on it. I think it's going to look really good when it's finished, and I've already lined up a spot for it on the wall of our dining room!

Friday, 7 May 2021

Tin can flower pots with Hama bead decorations

 This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Upcycled tin can flower pots with Hama beads tutorial

I've been collecting old tin cans for a while now as I have a plan to make a tin can planter for the garden this summer. Here's how I brightened up some of the cans with a simple Hama bead flower design!

Tin can flower pots upcycled with Hama bead flower decorations

For this design I used the Hama bead small flower template. It's expensive to buy individually but is available as part of this lovely set of boards - Flower, Pony and Princess pegboard set (affiliate link). I chose to make my Hama bead flowers using just the top flower part of the design but there would be plenty of space on the tin can to add in a design including the leaves. 

If you don't have this specific pegboard then that's not a problem at all. Just scroll to the bottom of this post where you can see similar flower designs using the small square and hexagonal pegboards. There is also a large flower pegboard which is commonly found in Hama bead sets. Although bigger, this pegboard would also work really well, especially if you want to decorate a larger tin or planter.

The petals of the flowers can of course be made in any colour or design that you choose. I made mine using pastel Hama beads. The best value way to purchase these is in a Pastel mix Hama Beads bucket (affiliate link) which contains a massive 10,000 beads, plenty to keep you going! You can also buy bags of Hama beads in individual colours if you are working on a specific colour scheme. 

Hama bead flower designs on pegboard

To create your Hama bead flower simply place the beads onto the board. When you are happy with your completed design you need to iron the beads so that they fuse together. If you are new to using Hama beads you might find this post helpful:

If you are looking for some different designs using this small flower pegboard you might like my Hama bead flower wreath where I tried out some different bead patterns.

Hama bead completed flower designs

When you've made as many Hama bead flowers as you will need then you can glue them to the tin cans. If you are using the plant pots indoors then a blob of Blu Tack or a large adhesive glue dot will be sufficient. If you want to use the plant pots outdoors then you will need some stronger glue. I'd recommend using a glue gun as you can make a large blob of glue to compensate for the curve of the tin.

Hama bead flowers

I made my flower designs in a range of different colours so that they will have a colourful impact when viewed together.

Upcycled tin cans decorated with Hama bead flowers

I really like how the bright colours contrast with the colour of the tin. I can't wait to see how they look in my tin can planter when it's finished! I've planted my pots with marigolds, I grew marigolds in tin cans last year and they worked really well. They will be kept indoors for now and placed outside when the weather has warmed up, probably mid to late May. If you wanted you could punch drainage holes at the bottom of the tin, although mine have been fine without them.

Plant pot with Hama bead flowers

Hama bead flower tin can decorations

If you don't have a small flower Hama bead pegboard then you can easily make some similar flowers using either the hexagonal pegboard or the square pegboard. Both of these pegboards are readily available and are often included as part of Hama bead starter kits. 

Small Hama bead flower design on hexagonal pegboard

Small Hama bead flower design on square pegboard

If you are looking for more ideas using the small Hama bead flower pegboard then you might also like these Hama bead craft ideas:

Upcycled tin can flower pots with Hama bead flowers tutorial

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

How Roblox changed my daughter's life (for the better!)

Mia had been desperate to play Roblox for ages, but for a long while I was very reluctant about letting her play. I'm not against videogames for children, but I'd read a lot of negative articles about Roblox in particular, concerned with the safety of this game for young children.

It was last September, when she went back to school and saw her friends for the first time since March, that she really started pestering to play. Lots of children in her class were playing it, and she felt like she was missing out. So I did a bit of research, found out more about the game, learned how to use the parental controls, and reluctantly set her up with an account.

But I'm so glad that I did, and it wasn't what I expected at all. She plays several different games, but they aren't at all what I was imagining. One of her favourite games is Club Roblox, and she uses this virtual world to do role play with her friends. They each have their own character, families and homes, and they play in the same way that I used to play Barbies with my friends.

They spend time beforehand planning and setting up different scenarios which they then play out in the different game locations - the school, the restaurant and so on. She doesn't play with people that she doesn't know, instead she meets her friends there so that they can play together, usually while talking to each other at the same time over Facetime. I love hearing them all chatter away while they are playing.

Roblox characters crafted from shrink plastic

Playing Roblox has also set her off on a number of different creative pursuits. She has set up a YouTube channel with her friends, publishing a steady stream of new content which they have planned out based on video ideas that they have researched and think will be popular. She makes cover screens for her videos using graphics software, and she's learning about using different keywords and descriptive text to help her videos stand out.

Her creativity has even taken her beyond the screen. This week she's been writing some amazing stories based around her characters in the game. She's made sweet little booklets filled with drawings and information about her virtual family and over the weekend she rediscovered my stash of shrink plastic, turning her drawings into little plastic figures complete with accessories.

Roblox video game characters

In particular, Roblox was a lifesaver for her during the long period of lockdown earlier this year. She was in daily contact with her friends, playing and chatting. They've been learning about sharing and being fair to each other as they set up trades for items. She's been spending time 'working' in the game to earn points so that she can buy gifts for her friends. It's definitely given her opportunities for interaction with her friends that she wouldn't have had otherwise. 

I'm really pleased that despite my reservations playing Roblox has become a really positive experience for her, and if you are wavering about your child playing Roblox then I hope that this post might help you to make a decision!

It's really important to take internet safety seriously, and when I was researching Roblox I found this website very helpful - Parents Guide to Roblox. It will help you to make sure that you've set it all up correctly and safely. In particular I think it's important to make sure that you limit the games that your child is playing to those curated by Roblox staff (information on how to do this is in the link above). We also don't allow her to add people as friends that she doesn't know in real life and we talk often about how to play videogames safely online. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

My goals for May

A new month means a new list of things that I want to focus on! May is one of my favourite months, it's when the weather finally starts to warm up properly, the garden starts looking nice, and there's a half term holiday as well as a couple of bank holidays to enjoy. 

So here are my goals for this month:

Publish a YouTube video. My YouTube channel doesn't do too badly, considering that I rarely promote it and I have very low production values. It even brings in a small amount of money from advertising, and so I want to make sure that I keep publishing regularly. I don't have any thing specific in mind for a video yet, although I do have a few ideas.

Don't go on Twitter. I'm very bad at mindlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed and as well as being a waste of time it also causes me anxiety so it's best for me to just avoid it entirely. Only exception - following a direct link to a specific tweet from a friend or news article, then leaving immediately before I get sucked in.

On a related note, avoid constant refreshing of the BBC news website. I'll aim to check first thing in the morning and then late afternoon. Ram is constantly on his phone, I won't miss anything.

Read at least two of the books stacked up on my Kindle and ideally more. I love searching for free books on Amazon, I use the Prime Reading library selection and also browse through the top free Kindle books to download. But then I go to the library and come home with a pile of physical books that call to me first because they are more visible. It's time to make a dent in the digital pile.

Get even closer to my flexibility goal. I'm hoping that my new yoga blocks will help me to deepen my stretches.

Publish at least two crafty blog posts. I like to think that I write a craft blog, but it's been ages since I posted a real craft tutorial. 

Make a start on the border of my cross stitch project. I've spent the last month working on a more fiddly area of the piece, so this month I'm going to take it easy with some mindless repetitive stitching.

Make Mia's birthday special. It's at the end of the month, and last year we promised her a sleepover with her best friends which of course had to be cancelled. Fingers crossed it will be able to go ahead this year!

Writing a list of goals in a journal
Photo credit Glenn Carstens-Peters

I'll update with my progress at the end of the month!
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