Poppy at 18 months

P1040811Poppy is 18 months old tomorrow and it has been a while since my last Poppy update! Plus it gives me the opportunity to share some recent photo’s that the family might not have seen already.

Personal, Social and Emotional
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This is such a lovely age as their little personalities really start to show and Poppy is becoming a very sociable little girl. Everywhere we go she waves at people and announces that she is leaving with a big “Bye bye!” to anyone who is listening. When we see friends she loves holding their hands and giving big cuddles, although often she takes them by surprise and knocks them over. We are learning boundaries slowly when it comes to emotions and the dog in particular is not enjoying this lesson. She is figuring out what to do with those big emotions, whether it is anger, excitement or just exhaustion, and it usually involves grabbing Oscar or hitting Mummy and Daddy in the face. I lose track of the amount of times I play name the feeling during one day…”I see you are sad” or “I hear you are feeling angry”. But it is quite sweet that the only one she can actually say herself is “Happy” and she repeats it over and over again in a chirpy voice (might have something to do with family sing along’s to Pharell Williams).
IMG_0906Poppy loves caring for her teddies and dolly; getting them dressed, holding their hands and asking them “Walk?” or “Park?” She especially likes getting them into outdoor clothes (hats, gloves, shoes and wellies of course!) because she just loves being outside so much! It is a little bit heartbreaking when she stands at the door with her teddy all ready to go in the buggy, her own wellies and hat on and I have to tell her we are not going out right now. She doesn’t like that one little bit!

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It is lovely to see her own independence grow as she tries out the role of grown up when playing with her toys. She copies our tone of voice and expression as she ‘reads’ them stories, takes them to the potty and feeds them dinner. And at the same time she is getting to know herself and her capabilities and growing in confidence as she plays at being all grown up. In fact, since she has had her own toy buggy to play with she has actually refused to go in her own buggy at all.

We try to offer her as many opportunities as possible to practise this independence and the way her little face looks when she does something for herself, it is so worth the extra five minutes we have to wait patiently! She tries putting her knickers and trousers on and is slowly getting the hang of it, she blows her nose (not very effectively mind you!), wipes herself after going for a wee (!), she gives Oscar his breakfast and dinner, pours her own drinks, helps me with the washing, carries her little rucksack everywhere she goes and when I am cooking the tea she pushes a chair from the dining room and examines the veggies, naming them and washing them before adding them to the pan and doing lots of mixing. Afterwards she takes a wooden spoon and finds something she can use as a bowl and sits pretending to cook. I could watch her for hours!
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It is also so nice to finally feel that she doesn’t need my constant attention. Suddenly she is playing on her own, even if just for 5 minutes, it gives me a welcome break. The other day I told her I was tired and reading my book, and she happily stopped shouting at me and went off on her own for a while until she decided I had rested long enough.

Physical

This girl has no fear when it comes to physical challenges! We have been trying a few new parks out recently and she always heads for the big kids stuff! I always want to let her try but sometimes I have had to say no (I am laid back and child led but I really don’t want any broken bones just yet!) The other day she wanted to go down a pretty big slide but I was on my own and, probably irrationally, worried that if I helped her to the top and didn’t run around to the bottom in time she might just fall over the edge of the slide. So the next day we all went together, with a parent either end! She absolutely loved it and made me realise that she would have been fine in the first place. I took photo’s because I thought she looked so tiny next to that big slide! I can’t wait to take her to a theme park when she gets older! Maybe she will turn out to be a right adrenalin junkie.

I also love seeing how she works things out so quickly, and after a twenty minute trip to the park has found a new way of doing something that she couldn’t do before. In a soft play centre the other day I was helping her up these big inflatable steps that were too far apart for her to reach with her little legs. Then I was busy chatting when she wanted to go up and next thing she had done it without me. She figured out her own unique way of doing it and then perfected it until she was flying up! I just love their patience and determination! We could learn a thing or two from kids, that’s for sure!

Sometimes trusting their physical capabilities and respecting their need for independence leaves you open to criticism, or at least disapproving looks, from people who assume you are just irresponsible. It happens to us all the time at the park, but yesterday it was in Waitrose when Poppy was unstacking and restacking the shelves. At first it was just soup tins, but then she found the glass jam jars and I thought this woman was going to have an actual heart attack there and then. She grimaced as she told Poppy not to drop it and then waited for me to rush in and take it off of her. When I told her it was fine, she carries glass all the time at home, I was met with a very amusing expression. A part of me was worried that Poppy would in fact drop it and prove the lady right, but thankfully she carried it back to where it came from perfectly as if in a trance, before looking up and smiling at the lady who was still grimacing (I think maybe the wind changed).

Language and communication

I wrote down all of the words that Poppy can say clearly and I was surprised that it was almost 70 words! I wish I had recorded them earlier because now her baby book has a section for first words, under which I put ‘Hiya’ and ‘Go’ and then words at 18 months with too many to fit in! I knew she was learning new words quickly but didn’t expect it to be that many. And she is gradually starting to put a couple of words together, like “Bye duckies!” and “Down Oscar!” and “Daddy work”.
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She is also loving her songs at the moment. I started singing Tiny Tim the Turtle and she did all the signs just before I had said the next line, so she knows what comes next. She now does this with a few songs, and says a couple of the simple lines herself, like “Bubble, bubble, bubble, pop!” and “Pull, pull, pull” in wind the bobbin up, and “Hop, hop, hop” in sleeping bunnies and, of course, “Happy, happy, happy, happy” in Pharell’s hit! If I ask her if she wants to sing she thinks, saying “Ummmmm” and then offers her suggestion through actions! Or else I suggest something and she definitively says “No!” and chooses something else. I can’t wait to get her dancing at the festivals this summer!

Sensitive periods

Some other things I have noticed lately have really interested me because they are things I learnt about during my Montessori training. Montessori believed children go through ‘sensitive periods’ where they are particularly focused upon certain areas, and during this time they develop certain skills better than any other time, learning easily and at an intense rate. For example during a child’s sensitive period to movement the child easily learns how to crawl or walk. At Poppy’s age children are going through the sensitive periods to language and movement, which are self-explanatory and obvious to see, but more mysterious are their sensitive periods to order and small things. Poppy has just entered the sensitive period to order and she has completely reaffirmed my faith in Montessori’s work! Before we get out something new Poppy often holds up what she is playing with and says, “Way!” as in, away, and proceeds to go and put it where it came from. The superior sensitivity is seen when we take whatever it is and put it where it doesn’t belong, only for Poppy to protest until it has been put back in the right place! So can children really be naturally inclined to put everything back in the right place, tidy up their toys, not leave your living room in a mess? Surely not! But it is true, children of this age have an urge for everything to put in it’s rightful place, to organise their mind and establish internal order from the external order. It is important to keep their environment tidy to enable them to do this, but we must also consider their routine, consistency and ground rules. The dreaded terrible two’s are often due to some sort of disorder or change in routine.
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The sensitive period to small things is just lovely to see, and I am sure every parent has experienced those baffling moments when their child comes up to them with the teeniest piece of fluff in their hand to give to them, or points something out in a book that you failed to ever notice. Children can become completely fixated on tiny objects as they figure out that all of these little things make up the world, before they can understand the bigger picture. It is like they are deconstructing the information before putting it back together. Of course they are also developing their fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. I often notice it when I put Poppy in her high chair for lunch and instead of eating the big bowl of yumminess in front of her she picks a microscopic crumb that has been left from breakfast and examines it before eating that instead! She also stops regularly on our walks to collect bits of dirt and dust or tiny piece of stone and gravel. It can be frustrating for grown up’s but when we appreciate the development that is taking place it is beautiful to just relax and enjoy the moment.

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We are looking forward to lots more family adventures now that our weekends are more free. This weekend we have seen some of Tim’s family and are seeing my sister, Mum and Nan tomorrow, followed by Mother’s Day lunch with my gorgeous girl and lovely man. Can’t get much better than that! I hope everyone has a lovely Mother’s Day!

Good night from Poppy!
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The Children’s and Teen Health Summit

I am so excited! My friend sent me a link to some free presentations around children and teen health and parenting issues, although many of the topics would be of interest to non-parents too! There are new presentations available every day for a week and we are currently on day 3. Each talk is available to watch for 24 hours but there is also the option to purchase all 30 presentations. I started listening to a couple yesterday and just had to share. I feel that parents can be so easily convinced to do things a certain way to make sure they are seen to be doing a good job and bringing up well-behaved children, or simply because they lack the confidence to follow their own judgement, but really, we need to look deeper within ourselves and question what is really best. We must be responsible for our own lives and health and be aware of the impact our choices have on our precious children which means questioning the brainwashing information that is all around us that we often blindly accept. Many of the talks discuss hot parenting topics such as unconditional love, our expectations of our children, learning and education, relating to our children, attachment, family life, diet, pregnancy and health and well-being. Yesterday I listened to Naomi Aldort, author of “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” and found very much in line with my existing attitudes. It talks about how to change our behaviour as parents in order to change our children’s behaviour. However, she points out that this is not about manipulation but about allowing the child’s natural unfolding of the mind through nurturing, which results in natural co-operation without the need to control. Parents who say their children are behaving “badly” are more likely to behaving in a way that is provoking this “bad” behaviour due to their own experiences as a child or their idea of what it means to be a parent. When we address this our children will show dramatic shifts in behaviour and life is more harmonious all round! She also touched upon the topic of household chores, which I found quite amusing being subject to a rota of chores myself as a child! Could you stop telling your child to do chores completely? This morning I listened to another discussion, “The Fearless Parent” with Louise Kuo Habakus. This particular talk touches on plenty of health issues including illness, homotoxicology and vaccinations, but the theme is that as parents we should be making informed choices and educating ourselves on ours and our children’s health. It is about putting you in the driving seat and making confident choices without fear. One topic which really interested me was wifi. I have known for a while now that EMF radiation can be damaging but it really hit home just how damaging it could be and how much more vigilant we need to be with reducing our exposure. Children absorb up to 10 x radiation than adults due to immature skulls that facilitate absorption. There have been links to leukemia, brain tumors, infertility and neurological problems. Other countries in Europe are starting to ban wifi in schools whilst we are ignoring the warnings and exposing our children to more and more of this radiation, through mobile phones, tablets, wifi and more. It baffles me why a toddler needs to play on a smartphone anyway but sadly I see it all the time. If I told you that EMF radiation from these devices has been classified as a group 2b possible carcinogen (cancer causing) and that this classification is the same level as exhaust fumes, lead and DDT pesticide, would you think about taking steps to reduce your child’s exposure? You can switch off the wifi in your house, turn off your mobile phone and set limits on their own time on these devices and you WILL be making a positive change and reducing their exposure levels. Yes it is all around us, but we can take measures to reduce their direct exposure. Just like you wouldn’t want them standing behind a car exhaust breathing in all the fumes 24/7 but you would probably be happy for them to walk around a busy town with lots of cars…the closer they are to to point of radiation the more effect it will have, so start in their home environment.

Having a look at the schedule it looks like there are loads of interesting topics coming up that I am desperate to hear. Day 4 there will be a whole talk regarding the EMF radiation I have discussed. To access the presentations click here. If any of the talks resonate with you I would love to hear your thoughts!

Leftover Almond Pulp Lunch Box Crackers

crackersAgain, my photo’s are embarrassing compared to the food porn that is all over the blogging scene. But, alas, I don’t have time to set up a photo shoot in the kitchen and take a million shots, so you will just have to trust that these look and taste good!

I have been making my own almond milk recently and needed to find a use for all of the almond pulp that was leftover. I had saved a few recipes but not got round to trying them as they were too complicated or required special ingredients I didn’t have. I needed something quick and easy that was useful to have in stock instead of just making more food for the sake of it (which would be the case with almond cookies for example!)

I followed a recipe for almond crackers but the mixture was crumbly and too oily, so I added my own bits including a chia egg to hold it all together, hoped for the best, and came out with these more-ish, nutritious snacks. Not crunchy like crackers, more like oat cake texture, but great to spread with avocado, dip in humus or pack in your child’s snack box.

As I made the recipe up for the most part I have guesstimated quantities. The final mixture held together fairly well but it doesn’t need to be very dough-like. It had some moisture but didn’t stick to my hands. Just make sure you press it down firmly into the baking tray and it shouldn’t fall to pieces! You can try all sorts of flavours, just swap the herbs, add seeds, olives, sun dried tomatoes whatever you fancy!

Ingredients:

1 cup roughly almond pulp (as I use a juice my pulp is already quite dry, you might need less oil if your pulp is wetter)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup chickpea flour

1 tablespoon chia seeds + 3 tablespoons water

Pinch of salt

4 sprigs of thyme, leaves only

1/2 teaspoon garlic granules or fresh, minced garlic

Method:

Start by making a chia egg (you could also use flax seeds here) by combinging chia seeds and water and setting aside for a few minutes.

Mix all of the ingredients together, adding the flour and oats a bit at a time and using the chia egg last to combine and hold together. If the mixture is too wet then add a little more flour or oats or both.

Press mixture into a small oven proof dish or baking tray. You want the crackers to be about 1/4 cm thick.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 15-20 minutes or until the edges start to turn darker brown.

Cut into squares and leave to cool before moving to a different container.

Controlling our children with praise and rewards

It may be fairly easy to understand why some parents do not agree with punishment, in any form, because they believe it to be disrespectful to the child, damaging to a child’s self-worth, damaging to the parent-child relationship and ultimately, ineffective in the long run. Teachers will be familiar with the temporary compliance that punishment may bring but do the ‘troublemakers’ ever realise why their behaviour is wrong and start to make better choices? Or do they display anger and rebel further in the future? The child feels controlled and isn’t involved in their decision making, meaning they are less likely to make good ones in the future. In any act of defiance, any tantrum, any unacceptable social behaviour, there should be an opportunity for the child to learn. How can they do this when we work against them rather than with them? All they really learn is to do what they are told or suffer. These consequences only make the child interested in how their actions affect them and therefore do not learn to see other people’s point of view in order to become compassionate, moral decision makers. The research is clear as day; punishments don’t work. It seems obvious to me that we need to work with children, taking the time to understand them, and resist the urge to control these situations, if we want them to grow up to be ethical, confident, sociable adults with good thinking skills.

However, it might be harder to understand why anyone would think that offering their child praise, a form of reward, could be damaging in similar ways. After all, how can something that is intended as positive encouragement and often given with love, do anything other than boost self-confidence and motivation? I have been really interested in this topic since it was first brought to my attention during my Montessori studying and I have recently finished the book ‘Unconditional Parenting’ by Alfie Kohn, which puts a lot of emphasis on the negative impact of positive praise. I am sorry to say, particularly if you are someone who goes out of their way to avoid punishment but focuses instead on the ‘good’ behaviour, that verbal praise, along with tangible rewards, is actually just the other end of the same spectrum.

When we tell our children that they are ‘good’ for behaving in a certain way we are telling them that we approve of them for behaving in that way. Despite how we dress it up, we are making sure that we are still in control of their actions. Just like when we punish them for doing something we disapprove of, we are conditioning our children, in a similar way to how we would train a dog. We are giving them the message that we will only love them if they please us and do as they’re told. I know what you are thinking; of course I love my children regardless of how they behave! But it isn’t what you, the adult, knows. It is what the child hears. Being condemned when you do this and praised when you do that; you have to earn my approval, acknowledgement, attention…you have to earn my love.

Montessori disagreed with any form of reward or punishment and children were viewed as having the best intentions from birth; children are not born ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. When we suggest that a newborn baby is ‘good’ – something that so many people said to me when Poppy was younger – we are saying that there is a possibility that they can be ‘bad’, which for a child who has no understanding of the world or social interactions and is only behaving on their most basic human instincts, is a ridiculous thing to suggest. Labelling a child as good or bad we are merely gauging how much of an inconvenience their complex behaviour is to us without understanding the reasons behind it. I find this baffling that we are not interested in getting to know our children better but instead want to tell them how to be to fit in with us. Being eager to learn about my daughter as an individual and unique person I agree with Alfie Kohn who advocates ‘working WITH’ strategies in favour of the ‘doing TO’ approach to raising children.

We should be cautious of manipulating children in any way to comply with what we want. Encouraging a child to be obedient, either because of a fear of punishment or a desire for praise, may backfire when they become old enough to be influenced by people other than yourself. Everyone knows of a teenager who had been good as gold all their life, until one day they got in with the wrong crowd. They might appear to have changed their behaviour drastically, but in fact they are likely to be complying, as they always have, to somebody else’s rules. They are basing their actions on someone else’s judgement and lacking the confidence to follow their own minds, because they have never learnt how.

But there are more reasons to avoid rewards and verbal praise and you may find yourself more able to relate to this information as you read and reflect on your own life. Humans are intrinsically motivated to learn. Babies and children have an overwhelming urge to explore the world and find out how things work. They do not need anybody to tell them that they are doing a good job at splashing in puddles or that they are a good boy for putting the puzzle piece in the correct hole, the discovery they have made is satisfying enough. If we offer them rewards they get the message that what they are doing is something that they wouldn’t want to do, otherwise we wouldn’t have to bribe them. Instantly, their interest in the task declines. Thereafter the effort they put in is a means to an end, the end being praise, because unfortunately, the more a child gets the more they will want. That means that despite their innate desire to learn independently, if they are constantly being told that they are doing well – a quick, easy and satisfying assurance- they will become reliant on this reward and act in order to gain more approval rather than being driven by their intrinsic motivation. This is a key aspect of the Montessori approach, where concentration on their work is fundamental to their development and praise of any sort is seen as an unnecessary distraction. Both Montessori and Alfie Kohn suggest, and it has in fact been proven, that work motivated extrinsically is of far lower quality because the person becomes more focused on achieving recognition than they do on the task in hand. I notice this in Poppy already and when she is really focused on something I daren’t say a word for fear of breaking that vital concentration that is visible evidence that her brain is developing as I watch her. A quick ‘well done’ is enough to draw her out of her own learning and suppress her ability to think for herself. A child who is being conditioned to behave according to their parents or teachers standards, simply notices how the adult perceives their work or play and then alters it to suit the adult. True child-led play is an incredibly valuable, natural part of growing up that we cannot afford to interfere with.

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We can apply this degeneration in quality of work to the workplace as well. Alfie Kohn cites very interesting research that shows how incentives in the workplace do more harm than good whilst intrinsic motivation improves the quality of work being produced. And what happens when the rewards are no longer there? In a workplace you might see employers disengaging because they don’t see the point if they aren’t being acknowledged for their hard work and at school grades are a fine example of where rewards fail to encourage long-term commitment. I myself worked very hard short-term to get top marks at school, and yet didn’t internalise any of the information, nor did I feel genuine interest in anything I was studying. I took the easiest route to what I had been conditioned to think was success, which meant cramming in information, memorising it as if it were lines for a play, regurgitating it all under exam conditions and having nothing but a piece of paper with a meaningless A on it to show for it afterwards. Similarly, if a child becomes confident of how to gain rewards, even verbal ones, they are likely to take the easiest, most tried and tested route to do so. They won’t take risks or think outside of the box, because they see no point when they only have one end goal in mind – reward. This results in them missing out on a lot of learning opportunities considering exploration and discovery are key to learning. For example, imagine a child takes a drawing of a rainbow to their teacher who instantly says “Good girl! Clever girl! You drew a rainbow!” The teacher ends up with a picture of the same rainbow for a week. In the meantime the child could have been exploring how to draw different objects or use different materials. But moreover, is this the sort of adult we want our children to grow up to be? Taking the easiest route to self-gratification?

So it seems that there are many reasons that praise and rewards are detrimental to a child’s development, and on top of that they have been proven to be as ineffective as punishments in what they supposedly set out to achieve. Of course, there are times when you feel that you naturally want to give your child encouragement and the good news is that you can offer something constructive that will not only help the child to reflect and feel proud of themselves but also ensure that their intrinsic motivation remains as strong as ever. It might seem difficult to get your head around, and impossible to change a habit passed down through generations, but instead of focusing on the details and what not to say, try to focus on working with your child and avoiding all elements of control. If this is in the back of your mind at all times it might be easier to banish the praise forever because it starts to feel so wrong.

There are plenty of ways to show children that you are interested in their actions or efforts without showing judgement. Asking them questions is one of the best ways to do this whilst allowing them to reflect on the situation and learn about themselves. For example, “How did you paint those animals? They are really detailed!” or “I noticed that little boy appreciated your help just then, how did that make you feel?” You are simply observing but inviting your child to think. It might not feel natural at first but soon it becomes a part of everyday conversation and brings you closer to your children. For the big achievements there are phrases that can be used to share your child’s happiness and boost their confidence. For example, a simple, “You did it!” allows the child to reflect on their achievement, keeping their own goals as the motivation for their efforts. It says, “You did what you were trying so hard to do for so long. You must be really proud right now” in one little phrase. When your child has behaved in a way that is convenient to you and you would usually shower them with “Well done!” and “Great job!” try commenting on the effect their choices have had. For example, they are ready to leave the house on time; “You are ready to leave, which means we will be on time to collect your brother. He will be so happy!” Again, the child is able to reflect and learn how their actions have consequences on others. There are many alternatives to praise and rewards, and I have included some links below to help you get started. But one thing to also consider, is do you need to say anything at all? What are your reasons for saying it, and will it benefit the child?

If this topic has made you re-evaluate your approach to parenting then I urge you to read Alfie Kohn’s ‘Unconditional Parenting’ which highlights many aspects of what it means to show your child unconditional love and why you should relinquish control. One thing is for sure, verbal praise is not something to be used to enhance a parent’s unconditional support and love for their child, because in reality it equates to completely the opposite.

Read more here:

Montessori rewards and punishment

Alfie Kohn – Punished by Rewards?

Alfie Kohn on praise

Alfie Kohn – Five reasons to stop saying “Good job”

Alternatives to praise:

What to say instead of praise

Alternatives to “Good Job”

 

 

Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

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Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
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Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

Vegan Coleslaw

20141030_162557Poppy is currently eating this for her dinner. She does have it on top of sweet potato but all she is interested in is the coleslaw! I don’t blame her, it is tasty stuff. Like most of my recipes you can adapt it according to your personal preferences. I usually add shredded kale but we had run out today. You can add more cashew nuts to the dressing if you want it to be thicker, the more you add the thicker it will be, but you don’t need them at all if you prefer, you could try adding tahini for a bit of thickness or nothing if you prefer a very runny dressing, the flavour will still be there. We eat this with salads, in wraps, sandwiches, on top of a burger, in a buffet, alongside a chilli…a delicious way to add some veggies to your meal.

Veggie Ingredients:

2 grated carrots

1/2 grated cabbage

4 spring onions, chopped

Large handful kale, processed in blender to shred (optional)

For the dressing:

1/2 cup cold pressed olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup water (you can add more if it is too thick)

1/2 cup cashews, ideally soaked for 4 hours (or more)

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Squeeze of lemon juice

Pinch of salt

Simply blend all of the dressing ingredients and add the the carrot and cabbage mixture. Taste and add more vinegar, maple syrup, garlic or salt according to your personal taste. This recipe will serve about 4. 

Breastfeeding to sleep: creating bad habits?

P1040506I am feeling really proud of Poppy right now. For the third night in a row she has just fallen asleep all by herself, after her milk, rather than during, and with me just lying next to her. I know people whose babies did this at 12 weeks old, but at 13 months this is a big achievement and significant milestone for us.

Up until now I have breastfed Poppy to sleep every single night, and never considered doing it any other way. At times I might have wondered if I was really doing the best thing, but these thoughts were very fleeting and I didn’t take any notice of them. Breastmilk is designed to make a baby sleepy, in fact it changes during the day so that the night time milk contains a much higher concentration of the sleepy stuff, and our bedtime feed is a lovely, peaceful time where me and Poppy get to reconnect after even the most manic of days. Luckily for me no one has really questioned this decision and told me I was making a rod for my own back, but I know that many mum’s are told exactly that, and perhaps pressured into teaching a baby to ‘self-soothe’. Although I wasn’t worried about our bedtime feed, I did once try to reduce her middle of the night feeds, which I wrote about here and here, so I understand this idea about self-soothing and worrying that your baby will take forever to do so if you don’t actively encourage it. But although Poppy did start going back to sleep on her own, the whole process was far too emotional (despite us taking a ‘gentle’ approach) and more exhausting for us so we gave up after 3 weeks and welcomed our old ‘habits’ with open arms.

I let go of all of any doubts and just went with it. I find that we have ups and downs and sometimes, yes, I wish she slept through the night, but that is usually when we have other stresses in our life and I am emotionally tired rather than physically. The majority of the time, the night time wakings are more than bearable, sometimes I even enjoy them. Sometimes. At 13 months I would say she is waking on average 5 times a night (between 6pm and 6am roughly), a few weeks ago she only woke twice, a few days later she woke every half an hour.

So how is this all relevant to tonight’s events? Because as Poppy lay in the dark chatting to herself and kicking her legs I got a little impatient that she wasn’t falling asleep quick enough. I picked her back up and tried to offer her more milk, in the hope it would relax her some more and speed things up. She arched her back and made such a fuss; she refused milkies! She got herself back onto the bed, snuggled up beside me and was asleep within 10 minutes. It was as if she was saying “I can do this on my own!” And she did just that. I feel hugely proud of this step towards independence, as well as a little emotional (everyone always tells you how you will miss the little things when they are gone!) It honestly feels as significant to me as her first steps, because I know that she has got there on her own, without any expectation from us, and this is her natural progression towards independence so should be celebrated just like all the other big firsts. As well as that it has proved that letting your baby fall asleep on the boob every night does not mean they will never self-soothe. It may have taken 13 months but this feeling is amazing. It has given me hope that her night time feeds might reduce as she learns that she can get herself back to sleep when she wakes, she doesn’t need me, but I am there if she wants me. That light at the end of the tunnel is enough for me to keep feeding her during the night for as long as she wants, as much as she wants. And I know when the day finally comes that I close my eyes at 11pm and open them at 7am (yeah right, more like 5.30am!) I will feel so much pride for my precious girl, it will all be worth it.

So keep feeding mama’s! All the way to dreamland!

VegFest London 2014

P1040599At the end of September a friend and I went to VegFest in London (with the babies!) It was busier than I expected, which was difficult with the babies, but I am not suprised because the event had a lot to offer. Whether you are interested in vegetarianism, veganism, you are dairy-free or just interested in healthier eating or greener living, it was a great place for information, tasters and discussions. In fact the less you know about veganism the more you will gain from the event! I will definitely go again next year, when I can hopefully leave Poppy behind! Because there were so many talks, demonstrations and workshops we would have loved to stay for, but the babies were getting restless. We managed to pick up loads of leaflets though, all reaffirming my reasons for going (mostly) vegan and motivating me to try harder! As for the dairy debate, all I can say is that I am so glad we no longer consume that junk, and I can’t believe how brain washed people are into believing it is good for them! I will put some links at the end of this post if you want to educate yourself further on this matter.
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For those of you who haven’t got a clue what vegan’s eat then take a look at the photo’s below and know that it is not just slop or lettuce leaves! Granted, the doughnuts are not going to be the healthiest choice, but my point is that you don’t HAVE to be health obsessed to make positive changes to your diet, and you can still have a treat when the mood strikes. On the other hand, healthy choices can be delicious too! We had a wrap filled with all sorts of healthy goodies for lunch. I was completely stuffed and yet could probably have devoured another it was beyond delicious. The choice of food was amazing, from chocolate to cheesecake, burgers to burritos. If you think veganism is restrictive, think again!
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There were also stalls with beauty products, clothing, petitions and more. The children’s area looked like good fun with cooking classes and other activities, and there was a cinema area that was showing informative films. And it wasn’t limited to vegetables! There were also discussions on raw food diets, lots of information about healthy and not so healthy fats, sugar, juicing and even green products such as cloth maternity pads! Overall it was well organised, despite the queue to get in and the broken lift fiasco, and I would have loved to have spent more time there. However, I don’t think I would want to take kids again as it was too busy to focus on everything and them! For the price of the tickets it was well worth a trip, although be warned, you could easily spend a fortune on all the tempting stalls.
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Some of the posters and flyers were eye-opening. I initially chose to cut down on meat for health reasons but I can’t deny that the facts on farming make me feel pretty sick and they do make me think twice if I ever get a meaty craving. It is too easy for us to detach ourselves from the reality, when we buy our meat all neatly packaged up in the supermarket with pictures of happy animals on the front. We are allowing outrageous torture to animals and damaging our environment at the same time. If you do eat meat, at least know exactly where it comes from and how the animals are treated. But even organic doesn’t always mean cruelty free due to the very fact that farming is a business and therefore certain procedures have to take place in order to meet demand, and don’t be fooled by the words ‘free-range’ either.
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There is loads of information out there on the health benefits of vegetarianism, veganism and going dairy-free AND it is better for the environment. It makes me laugh when people think that vegan’s don’t get enough nutrients. Sure, there will be unhealthy vegan’s out there, but if you are following a plant based diet with plenty of variety, some raw foods, good fats and natural sources of protein…you are bound to be getting exactly what you need. People often wonder if Poppy will be bought up as a vegan, as if they are worried that she won’t grow properly or have lifelong problems because I am so irresponsible I am depriving her of protein! But I am not worried in the slightest because I know that everything she needs is available in the fresh, wholesome foods we eat. Most of the information we are given about dietary requirements are inaccurate and even worrying. The popular eat well plate for example has a small section suggesting that we need some foods high in sugar and fats (with photo’s of fizzy drinks and biscuits). No one in the world NEEDS these sorts of processed foods, ESPECIALLY not a baby! Of course you can enjoy them in moderation if you choose, but this information is given out in schools which I find irresponsible and misleading for parents who don’t know any better. I have taken Poppy’s health into my own hands so that I can be absolutely sure she only gets the best.
P1040537 They weren’t as energetic on the journey home!

For more info take a look at the following links:

http://www.viva.org.uk
http://www.milkmyths.org.uk
http://www.vegansociety.com/try-vegan/why-go-vegan
http://www.grownathomewithlove.wordpress.com/tag/food-intolerances/
http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/cows/dairy-industry/
http://www.vegsoc.org/
http://www.govegan.org.uk/
http://www.london.vegfest.co.uk/

Gluten-free, sugar free, vegan breakfast muffins

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Sometimes I just fancy something new for breakfast, and sometimes that ends in disaster. Especially when it comes to baking as I’m no good at guessing quantities and figuring out how to bind ingredients together or make sure it rises. But much to my surprise my recent experiments with breakfast muffins have turned out very well. I looked at a few recipes online, realised we had none of the ingredients in the cupboard, and made something up myself. I used flax eggs and banana to bind the mixture, although you could also use a vegan egg replacer instead of the flaxseed mix (the banana may even be enough but I felt safer using something I knew would definitely work!) You can add anything you like, such as dried apricots, cacao nibs or nuts, and adjust the sweetness with your choice of natural vegan sweetener. I like the fact that it feels like you are eating a cake but there is nothing naughty in there at all! They are also great for when you need breakfast on the go or something to grab when you first wake up, which is why I have just made a fresh batch for our holiday. I try to be prepared so that we are not tempted to eat out too often which will no doubt be unhealthy and expensive (I have been baking bread and making soup today too!) These muffins are easy, tasty, great for little hands and full of goodness; perfect for baby led weaning as well as lunch boxes!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup chickpea flour

3/4 gluten-free self raising flour (I used doves farm)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons milled flaxseed with 6 tablespoons non-dairy milk

3 bananas, the riper the better!

1/3 cup olive oil or coconut oil (melted)

1 tablespoon molasses

1/2 cup sweetener (agave, maple syrup, honey if non-vegan)

1 apple, grated

Small piece of ginger, grated

Mixed seeds of your choice (I used, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, golden flaxseed)

Handful desiccated coconut

Handful chopped dates

Method:

Mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.

Prepare your flax eggs by combining the milled flaxseed and non-dairy milk and setting aside for a couple of minutes for the seeds to absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, mash the bananas and add them to the flour mixture.

Add the flax eggs and combine well.

Stir in the oil, sweetener and molasses, followed by the rest of the ingredients.

Spoon into cupcake cases and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for around 20 minutes, or until they start to turn golden brown.

Leave to cool before serving with a cup of tea!

Enjoy!

Clutter-Free Birthdays

photo 1ghAs you may know, Poppy has recently had her 1st birthday. But instead of buying more toys and ‘things’ for her, I decided to have a clear out. You see, ever since learning about the Montessori approach I have been dreaming up her perfect minimalist bedroom layout that will inspire her to learn through exploration, instead of overwhelm her with colourful, noisy stuff. It is quite a challenge as Poppy’s bedroom is so tiny (more reason to avoid clutter), and thankfully her birthday has come and gone and her minimalistic bedroom has remained in order.

Children, especially babies, don’t need hundreds of gifts when it comes to birthdays and Christmas. The more they get, the more they expect, but the endless toys then have no value to the child as they are so easily replaceable. Spoiling a child does not encourage gratitude or foster a respect for their belongings. Instead they feel entitled to objects and become possessive, and any parent knows how ugly that can be. With so many toys to choose from they don’t need to be imaginative in the way they use them, they simply discard them when they become bored and move on to the next one. When a child has few toys they are far more likely to spend longer concentrating on all of the different things they can do with them, becoming resourceful and developing flexibility of thought which will help them in all areas of life. They also look after their things better and when things do inevitably get broken they experience true disappointment and learn valuable lessons from it. If a child grows up with the view that material things are to be desired in great quantities, with no sense of responsibility or value for those objects, surely we are just breeding more selfish and greedy human beings. We are doing our children a disservice by allowing this snowball effect to happen, and why? Because as parents we crave validity from our children? Their faces light up and you get endless hugs and kisses! Of course any parent would love that! But I bet it doesn’t last, as the gifts get bigger and your wallets get lighter your children’s reactions get less satisfying as they become harder to please!

So what are the benefits to a more minimalist approach? As well as avoiding all of the above you will be creating an accessible environment that will help them to flourish. A tidy, organised bedroom is helpful for a child to organise their minds and make selections based on what is in front of them, which is difficult when there are flashing, bright pieces of plastic hanging out of every crevice and toy boxes crammed full. This mess will send their minds into overdrive, and that is a very damaging state for a child to be in as it does not allow for natural learning to occur. I know I can’t focus when the house is a mess! A calm, organised environment is at the heart of a child’s learning, and this fosters a deep concentration that will unlock never ending learning opportunities. A child raised in this environment will be contented, as learning is what they are designed to do and their energy is not being wasted on pointless activity or darting from one thing to the next without purpose. When you have just a few educational toys available the child will be able to get the most out of them they possibly can and return them to where they belong by themselves, because every toy has its own place. That last sentence has got to be enough to keep Mum and Dad happy too, right?!

Of course there is room for a few toys that don’t have a specific educational purpose. But choose wisely and be frugal. For example, I am thinking of buying Poppy a rag doll for Christmas, as she loves her teddies and as her play develops she can use a doll to learn about responsibility and different roles (hopefully wearing her in a sling and pretending to breastfeed if I have set a good enough example!) I have written about play before, and it is so important that children develop a good imagination, but a big part of this is using one thing to represent another. Limiting the number of toys they have available to them encourages them to think outside of the box, and turn wooden blocks into a campfire or a bedsheet into a tent. Of course, if they already have a pop up tent then it has already been done for them, so they don’t need to think and ultimately they will learn less during their play.

With all of this in mind I have started as I mean to go on, and for Poppy’s 1st birthday I got creative, making two out of three gifts myself. The third was the little wicker chair; something we knew she would love at this age and that would promote further independence. I also made some 1st birthday gifts for Poppy’s friends recently and it was great to hear how much the babies loved them and I am sure they went down even better with the parents because they were hand made. This is something I will be continuing and hope to involve Poppy as she gets older. This way I hope that she will start to appreciate the effort and love that goes into gifts and understand that it isn’t all about how big, expensive or new something is. Even Tim said that his birthday present of 365 reasons why I love him in a jar, one for each day of the year, was the best gift he had ever received.

For people who did want to buy Poppy gifts, I requested that they looked in charity shops first, and I was really pleased that a few people did. Again, this will be something I continue, because when Poppy notices a pencil mark on one of the books, at least I can explain to her that another child has loved that book before her and it is now being reused instead of thrown away, an important lesson in todays economy.

So here is my small list of DIY 1st birthday presents. They were mostly Montessori inspired, cost little and were easy to make:

Nature frame:
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Montessori promotes a love of nature, and classrooms will often contain real plants and pictures of real wildlife. Children are fascinated by the world around them, and I find it such a shame that we spend so much time inside, away from that. So in an attempt to bring some natural beauty indoors I created this photo frame filled with stunning photographs of animals and scenery. The frame was from Ikea, and I was so happy when I found it as it was perfect for the job. I have hung the picture just above Poppy’s floor bed so that it is at her height. She loves pointing at all of the animals, although at the moment each one makes the noise of either an elephant or a lion.
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Photo album:
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Poppy loves looking at our big picture frame full of photo’s of the family. It is a great way to help a child establish a sense of identity, familiarising themselves with faces they see regularly, their immediate community. So I put together a mini album of friends and family that can live with her books for her to choose anytime. The album was £4, so I am not worried if the pages get a little bent.
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Montessori latch board:
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This idea came from the internet and I made it for Poppy’s friend. We are going to make one for Poppy too but just haven’t got round to it yet! It is great for fine motor skills and fosters that deep concentration that is key to learning. I guess it is also a sort of practical life activity as it includes thing that children are likely to find around their homes. You can add all sorts of things, such as light switches, door knobs and any type of latch or bolt you can think of! I secured them onto an Ikea chopping board, which worked perfectly. (Note: you might want to wash the items thoroughly first as some hardware stores items may have some chemical residue)

Treasure basket:
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You all know how much I love these! I made a mini one for a friend of Poppy’s a couple of month ago and have recently made Poppy a nature treasure basket as well as one full of purses, pouches and containers all made of different materials and with different openings for her to practise opening and closing. This is a great idea for this age as they also love carrying things around in bags and boxes and transferring objects. This is probably the easiest gift to make and there are so many variations, it never gets boring!

Matching colour board:
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I am cheating here because this one wasn’t made by me. In fact it was made for Poppy from the friend we gave the latch board to! But I love it and love that it was hand made so had to include it on the list. I was told the idea was from pinterest, and I am sure there are loads more ideas on there and on the blogging scene too.

A poem:

I am not going to share it on here, but I wrote Poppy a poem for her birthday, which is now in her ‘Bump to Birthday’ book. I hope it is something that she will treasure when she grows up as it came straight from the heart and is rather special to me. I think this is a lovely keep sake for a 1st birthday, that doesn’t cost a penny!

More no-clutter gift ideas for all ages:

  • Personalised book – I am definitely making one of these for Poppy’s 2nd birthday! A hand made book all about her. You can also use these to help explain different events, such as the arrival of a new baby, or moving house.
  • Craft activities – always a winner!A day out – I would rather spend money on enjoying the birthday and making memories than lots of presents
  • Tickets – to a show, concert, event
  • Promises – write vouchers to your child for a night in PJ’s with a movie and popcorn or an afternoon baking with Mummy
  • Cookies in a jar – layer up all of the dry ingredients in a jar, decorate it and attach a label with instructions
  • Magazine subscription – if you child has a particular interest this is a great idea
  • Membership – national trust, local farm, zoo, soft play centre, swimming pool…
  • Lessons – swimming lessons or music lessons
  • Home made bath things – you can find loads of recipes online for bath melts or bath bombs
  • Home made play dough – so easy, and also makes a great party bag filler
  • Home made tasty treats – wrap them in a nice bag or a pretty chocolate box for the perfect gift
  • Experiences – an afternoon at a ceramic workshop, cooking class or dance academy. The possibilities are endless!
  • Seeds, pots and a pair of gardening gloves – another brilliant way to help your child get in touch with nature
  • A child’s cookery book – you might be grateful when it comes to Mother’s day!
  • An atlas or globe
  • A magnifying glass and insect book
  • Audiotape – I can’t wait until we can use these on long journeys!

There are loads of ideas on the following website too: http://lulastic.co.uk/parenting/sixty-great-gift-alternatives-to-toys/#

I hope you have been inspired!