17 Sep 2014

The Day Before the First Day of School

The autumn sun has been kind to us up in the North West. With temperatures soaring to 20 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, it would have been a shame to stay indoors. My 3 year old was getting rather restless in the heat. Although I had a list of chores that needed finishing, I was in no mood to contend with a pre-schooler who was in the mood for a picnic.

So we struck a deal. We first finish the supermarket shopping and then pack a picnic and head out to a lovely little place in the Cheshire countryside called Red House Farm. We had been there last summer, but it had slipped off the radar this year.

That is exactly what we did. Armed with sandwiches, crisps, apples and juice, we drove along winding country roads with the car windows rolled down and the breeze whooshing in our ears. So much, that after a few minutes, J wanted his window rolled back up again.

As I pulled into the gravelled parking lot outside Red House Farm, my son reprimanded me from his car seat for, "driving so fast and bumpy through mountains and holes!" And to think I followed the sat-nav to the T, well almost, and got us there without missing a single turning.

Sunscreen lathered, hat on, and J was off to explore all that the Red House Farm has to offer. I parked our picnic and my behind on one of the many picnic benches dotted around the children's play area. Near enough to keep an eye on my son. Far enough to afford him the freedom every three year old desires. At least till they need their mothers to help with something like pushing them on the swings.

As I sat there in the warm autumn sunshine watching my soon-to-be-schoolboy son, I couldn't help thinking, not without a tinge of regret, that this was, in reality, our last carefree day together. For tomorrow, my little big boy will be taking his first unsteady footsteps in the big world of formal education.

Gone will be these spur-of-the-moment picnics. And afternoons spent driving each other insane.

That is when I realised that all those difficult moments when I was exasperated and on the verge of losing my mind, those moments were precious in their own way. Those moments will have to wait for school holidays now. With school-runs and routines filling up the time in between.

Those moments were a privilege of being a stay-at-home mother, of having my son running circles around me almost every hour of every day. Goodness knows I have craved some me-time and a relaxing cup of hot tea. But that does not seem to matter any more, now that I know I will have it. Every day. Day after day. Till the weekend creeps up upon us, and my son and I can enjoy a taste of that carefree freedom once again.

I looked up from my musings to see my son blowing sand in the wind. It was sticking to his face, there was some in his mouth. He turned and ran to me, tongue sticking out like a panting dog. Before I could pull out a wet wipe, he had wiped it all on the fringe of my top. I could not help but smile.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

14 Sep 2014

Embrace Every Moment with #PowerOfSoft

I remember the moment when I held my son in my arms for the very first time. The memory is crystal-clear, as if it were only yesterday. I remember the first time he let out that lusty cry and how my heart melted at the sound of it. The sight of him. I remember as I held him in my arms, this tiny creature that was my son. A piece of me, my heart and soul. How tender, how vulnerable, how precious. The long wait had been so worth it. And more. 

Then began the journey of parenthood that we have all heard about, read about, thought we were prepared for. The sleepless nights, the endless crying, the constant cycle of feed and clean. And then that first smile. The first time he curled his little fingers around mine. The first time he focussed his eyes on my face in a moment of recognition. Each time he looked, his gaze was searching for me, his mother. What an honour and privilege to love unconditionally and be so loved back in return.

My little baby is growing up into a little boy in front of my eyes. All too soon. It is less than a week when I will be bundling him off to nursery school in his first ever uniform. A milestone of unforetold magnitude in all our lives. There will be some moist eyes, and I know they will be mine.

This is the time I need to cherish. Carpe diem! Make every moment count. Even when I am feeling the strain of parenthood, remember that the moment when he will be a young man is not too far away. I do not want to look back at years gone by with regret. I want him to remember the warmth of his mother's cuddles, the love they encompass, even when he has far outgrown the grasp of my hand. For he will never outgrow my heart. He will not be my baby forever, but he will always be my boy.

Fairy non-bio has launched a campaign to encourage Mums and Dads to make the most of those oh-so-soft cuddles with their little ones while they can. Time does pass so quickly when they’re little. So make sure you make the most of this time by giving them an extra soft cuddle today and embracing the #PowerofSoft!

Please take a moment to check out the Softest They Will Ever Be video. It brought a lump to my throat. Don't be astonished if it does the same to you.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.

13 Sep 2014

Trunki PaddlePak Review

J started swimming with me when he was less than a year old. We used to go for baby splash sessions at our local swimming baths. J took to it like a duck to water (no puns intended). He was soon confident enough to get into the pool with arm bands or a floatation ring round his tummy.

So when J started structured swimming lessons a few months back, we thought it would be a smooth transition. We were obviously labouring under a false misapprehension. For J loves to swim. The only caveat being at least one of his parents is in the water with him. An impossible task when you have a swimming instructor in charge of a bunch of pre-schoolers.

It has taken much coaxing and cajoling to cart J off to his weekly lessons. There have been a few tantrums and lots of tears. Every week poses a new challenge as the child finds a new excuse not to go. Or insists that a parent accompany him into the water.

We have tried everything. Rewards have provided brief respite. I was on the look-out for a more permanent fix to our dilemma, when I was approached by Trunki to try out one of their trendy PaddlePaks.

As it turns out, it was the perfect answer to our problem. I roped in J to choose his PaddlePak. He picked Sheldon, the bright green turtle. "Turtle is going swimming too!" was enough incentive to stem the flow of tears and put a smile on my son's face.

With its spacious waterproof interior, we were able to pack all of J's swimming things in easily. You can see how we got on in the little video clip below.

Being waterproof meant that we can stuff wet clothes back in at the end of the swim without the need to carry a separate bag. The little dry pouch behind Sheldon's head is perfect to stowaway some money or keys. The adjustable shoulder straps lets the paddlepak sit nicely on J's back. And that's where the PaddlePak sits as we go to and from swimming lessons. J will not have it any other way.

The reflective straps are a nice touch too, especially if we happen to be out and about in the dark. Which we will, given that winter is round the corner. There is even a lovely little Trunki-grip for hanging goggles. Something to look forward to as J progresses through the subsequent stages and masters his swimming strokes.

The best part is that J has been so taken by his PaddlePak, the excuses seem to have dried up. He is now happy to sling Sheldon on his back and head off to his lessons without the slightest hint of a protest. Result!

Trunki PaddlePak
From my perspective, I quite like the that the paddlepak is light-weight yet sturdy, and spacious enough to house all J's things. The material is a lovely quality and the roll-top fastening means there are no zips or dangling strings to worry about.

The Trunki PaddlePak is a perfect accessory when you want to take your child for a swim. We have trialled it around the local baths. Next stop, a sun-kissed ocean abroad. Fingers crossed!

Disclaimer: We were sent a Trunki PaddlePak for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.

10 Sep 2014

Thomas Land and Tale of the Brave

J has been a huge fan of Thomas the Tank Engine for as far back as I can remember. And he is not alone. I have been a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine for as far back as I can remember too! You cannot help but like the cheeky little blue engine, working ever so hard on the island of Sodor.

Imagine then, our absolute delight when we heard we had been invited for a special screening of a full length film featuring Thomas and all his friends.

So it was with much excitement, that J and I made our way to the 4D cinema in the heart of Drayton Manor theme park on the appointed morning, where there was some juice and popcorn waiting for us. J got stuck in straight away and remained preoccupied with his favourite popcorn even when the Fat Controller walked in to see us all. Once he had finished munching, I was able to coax J to go and say hello. J even found time to play with some of the Thomas train sets on display at the cinema before we were led in to watch Tale of the Brave.

Thomas Land and Tale of the Brave
The Fat Controller stood on the stage in a sea of artificial smoke and bubbles to introduce the film. And then the lights dimmed and we were transported to Sodor for Tale of the Brave. J watched transfixed as the story unfolded on the big screen in front of him. I had expected it to open with the usual Thomas theme song, but they cut straight to the chase. The first few scenes set the tone for what was to follow.

Tale of the Brave

Without giving too much away, it will suffice to say that Tale of the Brave is a thrilling tale of bravery, of friendship and of being really useful. The cast includes Thomas and other favourites from the television series. We are introduced to some new faces as well. The rather talkative Marion, the wise and sensible Gator, the hard-working cobalt blue Timothy and Reg the scrapyard crane make their screen debuts in Tale of the Brave.

The story unfolds at a reasonable pace and there is enough drama for the little ones. It has twists and turns to keep the adults entertained as well. There are a couple of hummable songs on the soundtrack, which are a nice touch and well placed to go with the storyline.

And with fantastic lines like "There is no such thing as monsters" and "You might be braver than you think" the film sends out a strong and relevant message to its young audience, most of whom probably are scared of monsters under their beds.

My favourite quote is by Gator, "Being brave is about what you do even when you do feel scared." Something to remember, no matter what your age.

J sat riveted through the screening, only occasionally asking for more popcorn or a drink. He was pleased with the generous goody bag he got as well. Even more so because the Fat Controller autographed it for him.

Tale of the Brave

Then it was time to have a picnic and head out to explore the delights that Thomas Land has to offer. We loved sitting in the coaches as first Thomas and then Rosie, puffed and pulled us from and to Knapford station. J was very intrigued to see the engines rotate and shunt. His favourite ride was Jeremy Jet, where he could push buttons and make the plane fly. I quite enjoyed riding along in Winston for a track inspection. J wan't too pleased about Bertie the Bus and the Troublesome Trucks, but only because they gave him butterflies in his tummy!

Thomas Land

The whole day was a big surprise for J, who was not told of his impending outing before-hand. It was a  lovely day out for both of us, a real mother and son bonding experience. This was, after all, the first time ever that M had not accompanied us on a day-long outing traversing a motorway.

Image courtesy Thomas Land and Drayton Manor Theme Park

J was bursting with stories of his adventures in Thomas Land by the time we got home. He has made up his mind to take M over for a visit. And looking at the fantastic Halloween, Fireworks and Christmas events being planned at Thomas Land, I will be very surprised if we don't return sooner rather than later.

Disclaimer: We were invited for a special viewing of Tale of the Brave and received complimentary one-day passes to Drayton Manor and Thomas Land in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

1 Sep 2014

Twinkl Primary Resources - Review and Giveaway

As a mother to a pre-schooler about to embark on the greatest learning adventure of his little life, I was delighted to come across Twinkl Primary Resources.

For not only is Twinkl the trusted home and one stop shop for thousands of lovely, unique, printable teaching resources for teachers and home educators, it also offers a lot for parents who are on the look-out for ideas and inspiration to help their child's learning journey.

Twinkl Resources have a range of materials to cater to the needs of Early Years, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 educators. There is a section on SEN as well. There are three subscription levels to choose from: Platimum, Gold and Free.

The best part I found about Twinkl is the dynamic nature of the website. You have the option to leave feedback for every resource you try. You can also offer suggestions to improve existing resources. Even better, you can use the new Twinkl tool to create your own resources! Whatever you choose, all it takes is a quick, easy download and a printer to get you the materials you need.

If that wasn't enough, you can voice your opinion or get advice from other users on the Twinkl Forum. Whether you are looking for some inspiration or information, the Forum is the place for it. 

We have put Twinkl through its paces this summer. Learning, reward charts and timetables are all very well. But it was the ‘Activities’ section for parents which proved a huge help when I was stuck for ideas. From fun recipe cards to paper craft  to colouring-in pages, we found lots to keep us happy. 

J was particularly taken by the dot to dot work-sheets. Between pirates and dinosaurs, he had fun learning his numbers without even realising it.

Here are a few other things we found and enjoyed on the Twinkl website.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Story Sack

Turtle Paper Craft

2-D Shapes to Cut-out

I am sure we will have a lot more to do with Twinkl as J starts nursery in a few days. I am looking forward to my new journey through literacy and numeracy as J takes his first steps in the world of formal education.

You too could win yourself an annual platinum subscription to Twinkl Primary Resources. All you need to do is enter via the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I have been given an annual platinum membership to Twinkl in return for a review. All opinions expressed are my own.
All images are copyright of http://www.twinkl.co.uk/

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