Tuesday tips: Surviving long car journeys with children

Tuesday Tips car journeys with kidsOK, the title of this Tuesday Tips might be slightly exaggerated, but really — I’m not the biggest fan of long car journeys. And especially not with children! I feel like a snack service, entertainment centre and traffic control centre all in one, and that for a very. long. time.

Pretty soon we’ll have another lengthy car journey ahead of us — we’ll be driving to the Loire Valley in France for a fun week of camping with Emilie and her girls, and afterwards we’ll continue our trip to the Cantal as usual. So not a bad time to pen down some tips to make long car journeys with children as pleasurable as possible! (And of course, I’m hoping for your added tips and tricks to make our journey easier…) Here goes!

  • With smaller children, it’s a good idea to plan (part of) your journey during their nap time.
  • Bring baby wipes for sticky hands and faces etc (preferably non-scented ones if yore sensitive to smells with regards to car sickness)
  • Bring some plastic bags for trash.
  • Bring plenty of water in refillable bottles. I like to give each of my kids there own bottle.
  • Bring enough snacks (nuts, clean fruits like grapes, and a few little sandwiches).
  • Bring audio books on Ipods with head phones. My kids are happily entertained for hours with these. You can also think about making a playlist for the whole family to enjoy — we love sing-alongs to kill the time in our car!
  • Bring (chapter) books for who reads, but only if they don’t get car sick (my kids are ok to read on straight highways)
  • Bring notebooks with pens, or a travel journal to work in on the road. These  are great too.
  • Bring neck pillows and thin sheets that are great as blankets or to use as a sun shade.
  • For the last few hours, you can maybe play a fun film on an Ipad or car video set (with headphones).
  • For my own entertainment during the hours I’m not driving myself, I like to bring some crochet or knitting.

That’s it!! Wish me luck for in a few weeks… ; ) And as always, all tips and tricks are very, very welcome!

xxx Esther

Some news to share

Adamo family 2

For the past few months, despite lots of big changes and careful planning, I’ve kept uncharacteristically quiet about some things. When we sold our house back in February, I managed to skirt all the why and where questions, and to be honest, it’s been a bit of an uncomfortable secret to keep (it turns out I’m not very good at keeping my own secrets. haha!). But… I knew that we first had to tell some important people (family, jobs, schools, etc.) and get everything lined up first before I could spill the beans.

And now finally, I get to share!

Michael and I have decided to make a really big dream a reality. We’ve decided to push pause on our busy lives here in London and take a year out to spend time with our children. We’ve managed to sell our house and lots of our belongings, we’ve dropped lots of stuff at charity shops and have pawned off our beloved house plants and treasures to friends. We’ll be storing some of the remaining stuff in a storage unit, and in two weeks we’ll be heading off on a big adventure around the world.

We’ll be spending the summer with friends and family in the US, and then come September we’ll head down to South America to explore countries like Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Peru. Our journey will then take us to Australia, New Zealand and a couple countries in Asia before returning to explore more of Europe next summer. A family trip around the world: a dream I’ve had since I was a young child.

We look forward to immersing ourselves in the culture and language of each place we visit. We hope to experience how the locals live, what they eat, how they cook it, how they work, how they learn, how they play, and how they love as families. I want to discover and teach our children the history, theology, and geography of each place, but more than that, I want to discover a deeper part of myself and gain an understanding of the values that matter most to us. For as much as we want to experience the amazing things this world has to offer, we are more interested in slowing down our days, enjoying time as a family, being more present, listening, really listening, to each other, and emerging with a happiness and fulfillment that will hopefully influence the rest of our lives. Because life is so short, and our kids grow up too quickly. Because Easton is ten years old, and it won’t be long before he won’t be excited about an adventure like this. Because now is the time.

I’ve written about our upcoming trip and the reasons behind our decision in a piece for The Telegraph which has gone online today and which will come out in the Telegraph’s weekend supplement this Saturday (my first ever published piece in a national newspaper! eeek!). Please pop over and have a read, or pick up the paper this weekend.

Thank you for all of your support (and patience) with me.

Courtney x

p.s. I will, of course, still be blogging here over the coming year.

The photo above was taken by Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph. You can see more of his photos in the article here

Tuesday tips — bike safety

bikes

We live in bike country here in the Netherlands — because it’s so incredibly flat (we have virtually no mountains whatsoever!) a bike is just the ideal method of transportation. Traffic layout has been optimised for bikes, there are dedicated bike lanes everywhere and we even have special bike-lane traffic lights. With biking in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little post about bike safety… Here goes!

Tips for taking your children on your own bike:

  • Young children can be taken on your bike but have to sit in a proper bike seat. From when the baby is about 12 months old (or when the neck and the back of the baby are strong enough), you can take your baby on the bike with you, on a special seat hanging from the steer. When your child outgrows this seat (around 2 years old), you can transfer him to a special bike seat on the back of your bike. The seat on the back is more comfortable to cycle with and more comfortable for the child as well (wind, rain, sun, etc) — so as soon as you can, transferring your child to the back is a good idea. Ask you local bike store for a recommended bike seat that meets safety standards.
  • Make sure your bike is safe, strong, and stable. Make sure that the seat is low enough so you can touch the ground with both feet when standing still.
  • I personally like to have a special double leg bike stand under my bike so when I lift children onto my bike, the bike won’t fall over.
  • Spike guards are mandatory when you child has outgrown the special seat on the back of your bike. It’s ok to take your child on the back of your bike when she has outgrown the toddler bike seat (around the age of 5), but do make sure that the spikes of your rear wheel are covered with plastic guards so the foot of your child can not get caught in the spikes. These kind of guards are not expensive and can be easily attached, so if you don’t have them — get them! (Both my son, Pim, and Emilie’s daughter Vivi have broken their legs because their feet got caught in the spikes, so we speak from experience here!!) Foldable foot rests that attach to the frame are needed too.
  • Helmets should be worn. Even though here in the Netherlands it seems that nobody wears a helmet, I try to make a point of encouraging my children to wear one whenever they ride their own bike. Make sure the helmet fits well, and meets safety standards.
  • A little side note — even though some of my friends are comfortable doing it, I would personally recommend against taking a little baby on your bike. Not even (or especially not!) in a baby-carrier. I think a baby, until their back and neck is strong enough, shouldn’t be taken on a bike altogether.

Sara on her bike

And of course, our children love to ride their own bikes when they’re ready for it. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you have the right size bike for your child. Your child should be able to touch the ground with both feet when standing still. A bike that is too big is not safe.
  • I prefer bikes with coaster breaks instead of hand breaks (or both).
  • A bike should always have proper lights front and back, and reflectors on the wheels, so the bike is well visible. (Here in Amsterdam, the police often checks cyclists and we do get fined if our lights don’t work properly!)
  • Again, your children should wear proper helmets that fit well and meet safety standards.
  • Practise with your children. Experience is key — children need to learn about road rules, different traffic situations and how to handle different situations. The more experienced they are, the more safe they will be.

On a side note — after trying with Sara to teach her to cycle with side wheels, with Pim we learned that it’s better not to bother with these. It’s best to immediately work on balance and control over the bike (yes! running next to them!). If you can, a peddle-less balance bike like a like-a-bike is a great introduction to cycling — the child will learn balancing perfectly and the transition to a proper bike will be a piece of cake.

Hope these tips will come in handy — as always, please share your tips and tricks if you have any!

xxx Esther

Tuesday Tips: Traveling in Paris with kids

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Summer here and I thought it was high time to write down some random tips of what to do in my lovely city with kids. Paris is such a great place to visit and so easy to get around that it is a great destination with children, even young ones. But there are a couple of things that might be good to know:

  • Hilariously my very first tip actually has very little to do with kids and has everything to do with coffee and bars! Basically if you want to save a cent or two always order and drink a coffee at the bar in a Parisian café, not on the terrace. The price on a terrace can be more that double than the one if you sit by the bar. The same goes for most drinks. (By the way: a café is an espresso, a noisette is a macchiato and a crème is a cappuccino roughly speaking).
  • All neighbourhoods in Paris have little squares with play equipment (like place des Vosges on the photo above). They are simple, easy going and a nice way to get away from the crowds. If you are looking for a real park, go a bit further afield and head over to the Buttes de Chaumont, which is super French and has grassy areas, so a good place to go and kick a ball around.
  • My favourite Parisian street food is good old-fashioned crepes, and you can still find a lot of little hole-in-the-wall crepes stands that will throw together a “jambon-fromage-champions” (my personal favourite). My kids absolutely love them.
  • In restaurants do ask for a kids menu, even if it is not advertised. Especially less touristy places will often happily make a smaller plate for kids.
  • If you have the time to teach your kids just a few words in French, it is totally worth it. I have seen the sternest French waiter melt when he had been addressed in French by a little foreign tourist. Even “Bonjour”, “Merci” and “S’il vous plait” is enough.
  • When you ask for anything, be it a baguette in a boulangerie or directions on the street, start with “Bonjour” not “Excuse me”. It just the way we start a conversation over here. If not you might finish with your questions just to have a pointed “Bonjour” thrown back at you.
  • For me the best way to get around Paris, if you have a bit of time, is by bus. They use the same tickets as the metro, but are so much more pleasant and such a great way to see the city. The free public transport app is unfortunately only in French at the moment, but it is so easy to use that I think you could use it with even the smallest knowledge of French.
  • If you have even more time then the very, very best way of getting around Paris is to walk! Paris is much smaller than London and New York so it is actually easy to walk from one attraction to the next. On the left bank of the Seine a lot of the quays are closed to cars and are a lovely way to discover Paris. On Sundays the right bank of the Seine is also closed to cars.
  • As we now all know, French Kids don’t throw food 😉 which is actually only partly correct of course. But it is true that people expect children to behave in restaurants and will ask the waiter to ask you to be a bit quieter. Do not take it personally as it happens to French parents as much as it does to foreigners. I try to smile and apologise and that normally does the trick.

As I mentioned, this is a bit of a random list, but these are some of my top tips to visiting Paris. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them!

– Emilie

Tuesday Tips: the art of distraction

silly marlow wearing my hat

silly Marlow

Marlow is at a stage (at least I hope it’s a stage) where she wants to challenge everything I do/say and try to do everything herself. She wants to pick out her own clothes, wants to brush her own teeth, wants to buckle her own carseat, strap on her own shoes, even wipe her own bum!!! She doesn’t want strawberries today, she wants raspberries. She doesn’t want braids in her hair, she wants pigtails, etc.  The thing is, I wouldn’t mind if she did it all on her own, but she just doesn’t do any of these things very well, so at some point I have to step in and help her, despite the fight she puts up.

I’ve discovered that the easiest way to deal with these challenges or to quell a tantrum before it arrives is to throw her off guard with some sort of distraction. I’ll ask her a random question like ‘what’s your favourite animal/colour/book/food/song?’ or ‘who’s your best friend’ or ‘how do you say thank you in Portuguese?’, or I’ll ask her if she had any interesting dreams last night or what she would like to eat for dinner. Anything to direct her mind elsewhere. Nine times out of ten she will forget what we were arguing about, and in the meantime I’ve buckled her shoes or strapped her in her carseat.

Another funny thing I’ll do with her is to sing a song and insert funny words. I’ll sing the ABCs and mix up the letters, or I’ll sing ‘twinkle, twinkle little… pickle‘ or ‘baa baa black… bird‘.  She thinks it’s hilarious! I can usually brush her teeth for the longest time just by singing crazy songs.

These distraction methods also work for the older kids. For example, if we’re in the car and the boys are arguing in the back, I’ll ask a question in a tone of voice that makes them feel like I really need to know the answer, so they take me seriously and try to give me an answer. Or I’ll point out something we’re passing in the car, or tell them a story I know they’ll want to hear.

One of my very favourite tricks when things get chaotic/cranky/loud is to start a sentence with ‘when I was little…’ and then tell a random story of something that happened when I was a child. I swear my kids ALWAYS go immediately quiet to hear my stories. It’s so sweet. If you haven’t tried this trick, it’s definitely a fun one!

Any other distraction tips you have? Please share. It’s always fun to have a trick up your sleeve for the next time you’re losing the mum vs. child battle.

Courtney x

Tuesday Tips: about Middle Childhood, and discovering and nurturing passions

tuesday tips middle childhoodA few weeks ago I was talking to one of my friends, a psychologist, and she was mentioning that her oldest, who just turned 11, is nearing the end of her middle childhood. Intrigued by the term middle childhood, which was new to me, she explained that it is the timespan roughly between the age of 6 and 12. It is the period when children start to develop their independence and are discovering the context of the society outside the family home, but in which we, parents, still have an opportunity to connect and influence them. When puberty kicks in around the age of 12, our children will start to become physically mature and they will naturally distance themselves from our parental influence, seeking more independence and autonomy.

Intrigued about the concept of middle childhood, I started to think about this period, especially since I apparently have two children in this phase (Pim is now 8 and Sara 10). My friend told me that it is important to offer children in their middle childhood some handles to make their puberty easier and to positively develop their sense of self esteem.

Apparently it is super important to give children enough chances to develop interests and abilities in different fields inside, but especially also outside the house and the school. Organised after-school activities (like art, sports, or music) can help them to discover what they love and/or are good at, and compare it to other skills they are maybe less competent in. This will help them grow their self esteem and feel stronger towards areas in which they possibly not excel (perhaps they have disappointing school results). They will learn to understand that they can grow to get better in things, that if they fail at doing something at first they can actually train and develop to get better and eventually be successful — a valuable lesson for later in life. Also, they can find a positive place-to-be outside the family home, develop relationships with other children and teachers/trainers  — it is nice for them to have a safe place to go when they feel the need to escape the house later in puberty.

All in all, it is healthy and important for our middle childhood kiddos to start to expedite their surroundings, to discover what their passions are and to start nurturing those. I feel it is a super interesting phase, and although one part of me feels a bit sad that my kids will be flying out of our nest in just a few years time, I also feel excited for them to start exploring life, to learn and to fail, and to be happy and successful.

Just wondering, what are your thoughts on this subject? Do you have tips or experiences you can share? As always, I would love to hear!

xxx Esther

 

Tuesday Tips: Girls and Math & Science

schoolrun

Since my last post about multiplication tables I have been thinking about how similar one of my daughters is to me when it comes to learning maths and science. She lately has had a defeatist attitude pop up using the famous phrase: “je suis nulle en math”, (I am just terrible at maths). I think it is a ridiculous thing for a 9-year-old to say, as who knows how her talents are still going to develop. But, if I remember rightly, I said exactly the same thing. Turns out it was a self fulfilling prophecy: as a kid I was terrible at maths and only started to enjoy it when I began working.

I have been reading up on why girls are still under-performing versus boys in maths and came across this interesting article. Girls still seem to lack confidence when it comes to maths (and science), even in the year 2015, and I wanted to write down a couple of tips I am trying to use on how to counteract that!

  • I think, as a mother, being a role model is key. I don’t tell my girls that I was terrible at maths at school, but I tell them that I now love it and use it every day.
  • I also want to make sure that they know that a woman is as capable at using maths in an everyday situation as a man. Maybe this is a silly example, but say we are in a restaurant and the bill arrives, I don’t ask a man at the table to break it down or check it, I do it myself.
  • Make math fun, as solving a math exercise is like solving a riddle or figuring out the facts like a spy. When kids start understanding the logical patterns of math and how similar they are to a game, they seem to enjoy it more.
  • Buy science books for girls as much as you would for boys. Some of my favourites are Older than the Stars and Big Questions from Little People (though these are more science book than purely math books). For older children, a friend of mine recommended Feynman, a comic book about the life of the Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. (I have not found any fun maths books).
  • Whatever job you have, you very likely use maths on a daily basis: a carpenter uses it to measure, a bookkeeper to balance his books, a scientist to figure out the beginnings of the universe, a ballet dancer to calculate the amount of steps it takes her to dance across the scene (I think ;)) so I try to see the numbers in everyday life and to play around with those numbers with the kids.
  • This is just for New Yorkers, but apparently the Museum of Mathematics is brilliant and every child walking out of it is convinced they want to become a mathematician.

This is all I can come up with, but I do think it is an interesting subject, so I would love to hear your views and tips!

– Emilie

PS. After re-reading this post, I do want to point out that though I am focusing on girls, but of course the majority of these tips are applicable to boys too. 

 

Tuesday Tips: how to deal with toddler tantrums?

How to deal with toddler tantrums

Last week we got an email from one of our readers, asking for a post on the topic of toddler tantrums. Her two-year-old is just starting to have some bouts and tantrums and she said she’s desperate for advice from fellow mums.

I think this is a bit of a tricky topic, because it is so dependent on one’s personal parenting style and, ahum, patience. For me, the most important advice regarding tantrums, is that it is crucial not to indulge the child’s demands… (not easy!) — because if you do, throwing a tantrum will become a means of getting his way!

I also believe that often, if not always, a tantrum is just some kind of act of desperation. When Casper has a tantrum, which does happen every now and then, I often feel he is just hungry, tired, or hurt. He has difficulties recognising these feelings of unease, and even if he could, he would have difficulties expressing himself because he is still so little. He still needs help to communicate his feelings.

So he doesn’t feel well — and doesn’t know/recognise it — so he gets really, really angry because I don’t let him watch Miffy on the tv ; ). But in reality, he might just need a banana! Truth is, I get cranky too when I forget to eat, or when I don’t sleep well, and I am not the nicest person to have around. And even for me, it is sometimes difficult to recognise that I’m in such a bad mood because I’m simply hungry! (My husband knows me better than I do, and gives me something to eat! Haha!)

So here’s what I do when Casper is having a fit. First, I ask if he’s hungry/tired/hurt. (Do you want a banana? Some water? Does your tummy hurt? Are you very tired? Do you need a hug?) If that doesn’t help, and he keeps on going, and a distraction doesn’t work, and he won’t stop after I’ve asked him a few times, I will actually put him in the hallway. Sometimes I feel you just have to be strict, break through the tantrum. Do something sudden. Raise your voice. Show them you don’t approve of this behaviour. In my case this always helps, but I can be a little strict sometimes… This really depends on your personal parenting style!

So my personal strategy is: first, ask if there is a problem. If there is, give food/ put to bed / give hugs etc. If that doesn’t help, ask him to stop. Then, the hallway (or in any case, I show that I’m displeased about this behaviour). I also like to remember that this is just a phase, and once the child will grow to be able to express feelings better, things will get easier.

Now please share — what are your thought on tantrums, and techniques to deal with them? I would love to hear!

xxx Esther

PS Photo taken last year, when Courtney visited us in Amsterdam and Casper threw tantrums all the time!

Tuesday Tips: Encouraging good table manners

Table manners

When I was little, my mom would occasionally organise at-home tea parties around the kitchen table for me and my four siblings. We brought out the fancy tea set with tea cups and saucers, we often got dressed up in our fanciest clothes and came to the table looking very proper, and my mom would joke that the Queen might very well show up to our tea party so we had to be on our very best behaviour. She taught us to sit still in our chairs, put our napkins on our laps, use our utensils properly, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, to offer treats to others before taking one for yourself, to sit at the table until everyone is finished, etc. Because it was such a fun and special thing to do, we all (even my rambunctious brothers!) got really into the idea of using our best ‘tea party manners’ at the table. Little did we know that my mom was teaching us table manners (and that the Queen of England was never going to show up to our house in small-town America).

Then, whenever my parents would take us all out to dinner at a restaurant or at a friend’s house, she would brief us beforehand, asking us to use our best ‘tea party manners’. We knew exactly what she meant when she said this because we had practiced it.

Isn’t that smart?! We may not have always been perfectly behaved at the dinner table and she didn’t always enforce perfect manners at every meal, but when she really needed us to behave, we knew what to do.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a stickler about table manners now that I’m a mother. I think it’s important for kids to learn how to sit properly through a meal — to know that they can’t get out of their seats, they’re not allowed toys or other distractions, and that they have to behave and be respectful at the table. I find that establishing these rules at home makes it easier to go out to restaurants with your kids and means that mealtimes are generally more enjoyable for everyone.

Do you have any tips or tricks for encouraging good table manners? I’m thinking I might copy my mom’s technique and start hosting the occasional tea party for my kids…

Courtney xx

Tuesday Tips: photographing your children

say naughty words
Over the 10 years (!!) that we’ve been blogging, the quality of our photography has improved quite a bit. Cameras have gotten cheaper and better (can you believe there were no iPhones when we started blogging?), easy-to-use editing programs are readily available, and we may or may not have instinctively picked up a thing or two about photography.

Taking photos of our children is always a bit of a challenge though. There’s always someone who doesn’t want to sit still, who is not interested in smiling nicely (or not willing to look into the camera all together). Our friend Maud, a wonderful children’s photographer, has an amazing talent to set everyone at ease quickly and professionally, and take the most beautiful children’s portraits just like that! (Or so it seems.) So we thought we’d ask Maud to share her tips and tricks today. I really love these tips — fun and so easy to use:

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When capturing my own children in everyday life, I always ask myself: 1. Would I like to frame this scene just the way it is? Think about them playing together (without fighting!) and you actually don’t want to interrupt the scene. OR 2: Is this a beautiful setting and light and would I like to use this opportunity to get some nice portraits of my children in this nice scenery? Think about the beach, on vacation etc.

Scenario 1: uninterrupted scene.

When you’d just like to snap the scene, here are some tips to get some more exciting pictures than just you standing up with your camera/phone and clicking the scene from your point of view:
Get down on your knees. Get at the same level as where your kids are playing. This gives a much more interesting point of view. You can even lie down on your belly; get some floor/ grass in the foreground to create depth.
• Take a chair and take the picture from above. Sometimes the Babyccino ladies post pictures where it looks like they were floating above the scene – I love those photos.
• Snap just some details of their play. It’s very easy to just stay where you are and take a photo, but it’s much more interesting if you focus on a little hand trying to build a tower of blocks, or the hand writing their first words.

get to their level

details of play

So it’s all about YOU moving around and not kids! You change the point of view by moving around, making the photo more interesting AND move to get no disturbing elements in the picture.
• Always check your frame before clicking. Just a super quick check along the edges of the frame to see what will be in the photo. So you won’t regret the pile of laundry in the corner of the room later. Or when the kids are playing at the beach and the is a nice bright coloured litterbin behind them, YOU move to get the shot from another angle, without the bin. NEVER ask the kids to move, because than you disturb their play and they probable start acting weird around the camera!
• Also check the light. Where does it come from? Move around to get the best light. Close to a window, sun from behind (yes! Because otherwise they’ll squeeze their eyes and get big shadows under their eyes and noses, chin etc.).

Scenario 2: portraits

When you’re at a nice location and like to snap some photo’s of your kids, you preferably want them to act nice, listen to you and smile happily (dream on). Well, that almost never happens when a camera is around and a parent is the photographer. So here are some tips to let them have a good time while you click away.

light from behind
look mini mouse is my lens
• Try to look for something they can sit on. This way you won’t get weird height differences or the little ones start wondering off. To NOT let them pose you can try different fun things.
Play peek-a-boo: let them all cover their eyes with their hands and you’ll count 1-2-3. When you get to 3 they can remove their hands a scream peek-a-boo! You’ll have a cute photo of them covering their eyes + after peek-a-boo screaming, they all look happy cause it’s fun.
• Let them whisper a naughty word in the other ones ear. Giggles guaranteed! This also works really well when snapping a photo of the other parent with the child. Ask them to whisper ‘*naughty English word*’ in the parent’s ear and real smiles will follow!
• That’s also where the third person comes in: it’s super easy to get real smiles if someone stands next to the photographer doing silly dances, shaking their buts etc. Laughs for sure.
• If a child is fussy, propose to sing their favourite song. They almost all like that. But when singing you change a key word. So for example: marry had a little ELEPHANT. The kid will be surprised and starts laughing and say ‘nooooo not an elephant!’ and you say ‘oh I’m sorry! I know, mary had a little dog, right?’. And so on! The same you can apply by asking what animals live at a farm. After cow, chicken, sheep, you’ll say ‘and I know one: a giraffe!’. They love it!
• I love photos with bubbles in it. BUT be aware: little kids will always want to hold the blow thing themselves… so better not bring it or have them well instructed they can blow after daddy or someone else did.
• If you’d like to get a nice close-up of your child; get really close to them and keep the camera at your level and get them looking up a bit. Tell them peppa pig / spiderman / their fav character lives in your camera and they will stare straight in to your lens to look for it! To make sure they don’t look to serious or surprised tell them to look closely and listen good, because the character might let a fart (or something like that) and you do ‘pfffrrttff’. Haha I start laughing all ready writing this down!

 

The tips above are more general tips. We’ll share more technical camera tips in a follow-up post later. 

Tuesday Tips: Teaching Multiplication Tables

teaching multiplication tables

After having finished with nappies, buggies, naps and mushy food, I have been confronted with a new challenge: homework, specifically multiplication tables!

Now, some children don’t seem to have to learn these by heart as they just know them (as someone helpfully pointed out to me), whilst other take a little bit longer, which is the case in my household. So I have become an expect of multiplication tables, though even I need to think a second when someone asks me 7×8 and 8×8 (they are the most annoying ones, aren’t they). Interestingly, I started trying to teach the logic around the multiplication table to my daughter until her teacher just told me that they need to be learned by heart, like a poem.

Here are some handy tips we’ve picked up along the way which have been helpful for us:

  • Tape the classic multiplication table up on the wall in front of the toilet and/or on the fridge (or other high frequency places in the home). I think everyone has one of these if they have a child around 8 years old. (Totally did not work for us, though it worked for some of our friends.)
  • Chanting and shouting the tables on the way to school. It’s fun and works really well, wether you are in the car or walking in the street.  The key is the rhythm, almost like singing a song!
  • That leads me to the most effective method I found: multiplication rap: We have been rapping ourselves through all the tables and with great success! I downloaded Multiplication Facts and Raps from iTunes but there are a ton of other options out there. The rhythm of rap and just the sheer fun of rapping, makes multiplication tables much more digestible. Again the rhythm is key.
  • Writing the table down, again and again and again. So painful, but if your child has a visual memory, it does help.
  • I also made a gird of 100 squares (10×10) and photocopied it a bunch of times. I then made my daughter fill in the squares (for the 3x table every third square and so on). With a child who has a visual memory it helps detect a pattern between all the numbers.
  • I explained that knowing and learning multiplication tables (and math in general) is just like solving puzzles or mysteries, just like a spy and an explorer. Somehow that helped 😉

That is all I came up with, but if you have any other tips on memorising, I would love to hear!

Emilie

Tuesday Tips: Transitioning from one to two…

two boys

We’ve had lots of requests from readers to share tips on dealing with the transition from one child to two (or from two to three, etc.). It’s a tricky one for me to answer because it was 8 years ago that my second was born and my memory is foggy, but I wanted to raise the topic as a discusion and to try to gather tips from readers for readers.

I’ve said it before, but for me the most difficult period in the past ten years was the three months after my second was born. I found it so, so overwhelming to go from one baby to two — to have two small children with completely different needs, both of them needing me at the same time!  I just wasn’t prepared to be tugged in two directions like that and I think I cried nearly every single evening, both from pure exhaustion and from a sense of relief that I had survived another difficult day. I also remember wondering how anyone could possibly have more than two children! : )

My first two are only 22 months apart and my second was a colicky baby, so I think it was an especially tricky time. But I also think that there is something about this transition that is different from others, and that once you learn your way and master the multi-tasking, it’s actually not that much more difficult to go on to have a third or fourth baby. It’s a bit like juggling – once you learn how to juggle, it’s not that much more difficult to add another ball to the mix. (At least I found this to be the case — I would be interested to hear how others have found it.)

Here are some simple tips I can remember, but again I would really love to hear from mums who have done this more recently:

  • Cut yourself some slack. Don’t worry about how tidy your house is, don’t feel guilty if you cook scrambled eggs for dinner two nights in a row, don’t worry if your kids aren’t bathed every day — everything will be perfectly fine despite not being ‘perfect’.
  • Try not to feel guilty about the lack of time you give to your eldest child. Focus instead on how important it is to teach your child how to share the attention, and even more importantly on how wonderful it will be for him/her to have a sibling to play with as soon as the baby gets a bit older. (My second child started walking at 8 months and my boys were playing together from a really early stage. I remember seeing them playing together, or watching my eldest push the youngest one on the swings, and thinking that it was definitely ALL worth it!)
  • Use the baby feeding down-time to your advantage. Make good use of all that time on the sofa by reading books to your older child or just simply sitting still and talking to them, asking questions, or playing simple games while you feed the baby. (We had a stack of flash cards sitting next to our sofa and I taught Easton his letters while nursing Quin. It was something he really enjoyed, and it meant that nursing Quin didn’t have to mean time away from Easton.)
  • Allow your eldest to be as independent as possible. Velcro shoes and elastic trousers that your child can do and un-do himself are so smart. Also, keep toys in baskets on the floor, so they learn to access their toys on their own and tidy them up too. Buy step stools for the bathroom sinks so he can wash his own hands, etc.
  • Get out of the house, even though it’s difficult. I have always found that a simple walk around the block can do wonders for your mind, and that running small errands can make you feel like wonder woman! It might be tricky to get two small children out of the house and it might take twice as long as it did before, but once you do it, it feels so good and you feel so proud of yourself for putting in the effort.
  • Make friends with other mums who are in a similar boat. Esther lived just down the road from me when our second babies were born, and it was SO nice to be able to have someone to talk to and share tips and tricks.  Sometimes it’s just nice to admit to someone else that your day was really hard or that you’re feeling especially exhausted or that you haven’t been romantic with your husband in months, or whatever it might be. Most often, she’ll be feeling the same way and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
  • Depending on the age of your older child, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a good double buggy, preferably one that isn’t too wide to fit into shop doors and one that folds easily to fit into your car/train/plane, etc. (We loved the Phil & Teds double buggy, but I’m sure there are loads of other great ones on the market now.)
  • Remind yourself how quickly time passes and try to enjoy those precious first months of babyhood. It took me until my third baby to really understand what my parents were saying all those years when they told me to stop willing away the time and to enjoy even the sleepless nights and busy days. It really is so true — you blink and they are big!

I hope these simple tips are helpful. Please, please share any tips you can add.

Courtney x

The photo above is of my boys when Quin was around six months old and  — the first time that Easton could push him on the swings. This was a turning point for me when things started to feel easier and when I could finally see the benefit of having two kids so close in age.

Tuesday Tips: Bringing up children Bi-lingually

IMG_8495Having bi-lingual children is great — it is so impressive to see them jump from one language to the other seamlessly. For our Tuesday Tips series I wanted to jot down a few things I have learned about bringing up children with two languages (though I am by no means an expert). I hope they help and I would love to hear your tips and your experiences!

I was born in Germany to a French mother and an Irish Father who had met in San Diego. So we were tri-lingual: I went to a German school, my brother and I spoke German together (and still do), but my father spoke English to us and my mother spoke French. It was a great experience and something I am so grateful my parents insisted on, because, my gosh, I really rebelled as a kid. We were living in this teeny village in Germany and I did not want to be different from all the other kids. But every time I answered back in German to my mother, she did not answer me until I repeated myself in French… so I did not have the choice!
Interestingly, I have always gravitated towards English. I moved to England to study right after finishing high school, so English is now my most dominant language and the language I naturally felt the most comfortable speaking to my children.

My two daughters are now also totally bi-lingual, but the circumstances are very different to my German childhood. We live in a huge cosmopolitan city and, though the kids go to the local primary school (and speak French, of course), they have always had at least two other Anglo-speakers in their class and numerous bilinguals from all across the world. It is so normal for them to speak two languages, they don’t even think about it.

So here are a couple of tips:

  • Stick to the one language you have decided to speak to your child – Of course there will be moments when you will have to switch (homework for example), but it is important to stick to one language and build up a relationship with your child in that language. I read somewhere that a child needs to be exposed at least 30% of their waking time to an environment where the foreign language is spoken to be able to learn the language properly.
  • Build a network – one of the things that has been really helpful for us here in Paris is to have an English speaking network of friends. Joining the local Anglo parenting Network helped a lot. The children have grown up together and still speak in English to each other, though, when they are with French friends, they will swap back to French. It means that it feels normal for them to speak to other children, not only adults, in English even when in their home city.
  • Don’t listen to and don’t worry about myths – I have been told that bringing up my children with two languages may delay their development or might even give them a speech impediment. Total nonsense if you ask me. As long as your children are thriving and happy, I don’t see a single reason why speaking two languages should harm them. And in all cases, the benefits outweigh any potential downside.
  • Books and Films – I mostly read books in English to the girls to counteract a whole day of French in the classroom. Again it is also interesting to expose them to a different culture via books. When we watch films, we watch them in the original language they were filmed in. We also have the international BBC Iplayer to watch nature documentaries etc. in English and Netflix if we want to have a movie night and watch a film.
  • Travel – We are lucky, as we are only a short plane ride away from my family in Ireland and a train ride away from all our friends in London. Traveling to English speaking countries is really helpful as there is nothing better than emersion once in a while to develop language skills. It also helps for my children to put their second language within a context. They read books about children wearing uniforms to school, riding double decker buses and eating fish and chips, but there is nothing like being able to see and understand the culture of the language you are learning with your own eyes.
  • Reading and Writing and Music – For Coco, who is nine now, learning how to read and write in English has opened a new world to her. Again so much of learning a language is also getting to know a different culture. Listening to the lyrics of songs, reading books and also writing has been a massive step. Interestingly she has never had a formal class in English but, because of learning how to read phonetically in her French school, she managed to teach herself how to read in English.
  • Ideally I would love to send my kids to live in a host family abroad when they are 16 or 17 for 6 months. I did this when I was 17 and lived in the USA for 6 months. It not only improved my English a lot, but also it was an amazing experience to get to know a different culture.

The photo above is of my kids on yet another little trip away to Ireland. The moment they get onto the plane, they start speaking English to everyone around them.

Tuesday Tips: The Dummy Fairy

Marlow sleeping with dummy

The ‘Dummy Fairy’ came to our house last week and flew off with all of Marlow’s dummies! And just like that our baby became a ‘big girl’ (no more bottles, no more nappies, no more dummies!). Marlow went to bed that evening telling all of us that she’s a big girl now — she hopped into bed, fell asleep quickly and hasn’t asked about her dummies ever since! Indeed, a very big girl (sob!).

All four of our babies used dummies, so this is the fourth time the Dummy Fairy has visited our house, and in all four cases I was surprised by how easy a transition it was. I think it’s one of those things that we build up in our minds to be worse than it really is: we worry how they’ll ever fall asleep, that it will mess up their good sleep habits, we worry they will cry for hours and become very unsettled or that they’ll find another emotional attachment to replace the dummies, etc. As with any big transition, whether it’s sleep training, potty-training, weaning, or taking bottles away, I think it must be very natural for mothers to overthink and dread it, but in my experience I’ve found that it’s almost always easier than we anticipate it will be. Perhaps it’s actually us mothers who aren’t really ready? (Although in our case it’s definitely Michael who is the bigger softie. I think he would have let Marlow keep her dummies well into her teenage years! Ha!)

Because it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I would share some simple tips for taking away dummies (or bottles, even) and making it a smooth and easy transition. NB: we’ve always gone down the Dummy Fairy route, but there are other ways too that don’t involve a fictional fairy (like the concept of the ‘dummy tree‘ in Denmark and Sweden, or the idea of ‘giving’ dummies to another baby who needs them more, or Esther’s idea of leaving the dummies in the Christmas tree and asking Santa to replace them with gifts!). Here are my tips:

  • I think the most important thing is to get your child excited about the idea and to be really honest and direct with them. Start casually talking about the dummy fairy (or dummy tree, etc.) and mention that they’re getting so big and don’t really need a dummy anymore. Be really positive about it — make them feel like it’s a really cool thing to be too big for dummies! You can even discuss the benefits of being so big — like eating with the ‘grown up’ cutlery, choosing their own outfits, sitting in big chairs, eating without a bib… whatever it is!
  • If you have bigger kids, start talking to them about it too. Get their support in encouraging the little one.
  • Think about timing: don’t do it during any other transitional period, or if they’re sick, or if you’re traveling or if you have visitors in town, etc. (I always like to do these sorts of things on weekends when I know I have my husband home and we can do it together and when our sleep schedules are more relaxed.)
  • Talk to your child about the dummy fairy. Discuss that you’ll be giving away ALL of the dummies and won’t get them back. Write a card/draw a picture for the dummy fairy together (we usually write something like ‘Dear Dummy Fairy, please come and collect my dummies. I’m so big now – I don’t need them anymore!’).
  • Collect all the dummies in the house (don’t forget any strays!) and stick them in a paper bag with the card. Stick it somewhere special for the fairy to find (we hung ours on our front door) and hope the dummy fair comes to collect them (this is where the husband comes in handy).
  • In our case, the dummy fairy collects the dummies and leaves behind a small gift and a note saying how proud she is. I’ve found that giving a cuddly toy or something they can take to bed with them is a good idea because it gets them excited to go to bed and distracts them from the missing dummies — it also offers them something to grab for in the night if they wake and would normally reach for their dummy. (Although the boys got Schleich animals from the dummy fairy, and it really didn’t matter that it wasn’t so cuddly. : ))
  • Don’t make too big of a fuss about it — try to be very straightforward. Put them to bed as usual without mentioning the dummies, kiss them goodnight and walk out of the room. If they ask for their dummy, just remind them that the dummy fairy took them away because they’re a big girl/boy now. I think the key is to be firm on your decision, don’t wobble or doubt yourself. Ivy was the only one of my kids who asked for her dummy as I walked out of the door. She had a bit of a restless first night, but was fine by the second night.

That’s it! I really have found this transition to be a pretty seamless one, but perhaps we’ve just been lucky. I’d love to hear your experience with this and any tips you have to share.

Courtney x

p.s. We usually took away the dummies when the kids were between two and three. We also had a rule that dummies were for sleeping only, so they weren’t allowed out of their beds.

Tuesday Tips: (trying to) raise good and healthy eaters

kids healthy eatingHow come some children are good, healthy eaters, and some are super picky and have a difficult relationship with food? Is it a matter of nature, or of nurture? I was recently chatting with my girls’ ballet teacher, a lovely lady of sixty-something, and she was telling me about her baby granddaughter, who basically refused to eat anything from the day she was born. She’s been in and out of hospitals, being fed with drips, feeding tubes in her nose, and all sorts of astronaut kinds of food. There doesn’t seem to be a physical reason that the baby is refusing to eat — the little girl simply has no interest, probably even an aversion, to food. (I can only imagine how difficult this must be for the baby’s parents.)

So we can’t say that difficult or picky eaters are always a product of their upbringing. I do however think that very often, our own attitude to and relationship with food is of an enormous influence on our children.

My own four children happen to be very good eaters. They are interested in food, they try new things, and are not overly picky or fussy. Probably my husband and I have partly been lucky, and we’ve partly been doing some things right.

Eating is a much debated and quite sensitive topic amongst parents. This weekend I was talking with some girlfriends after we just had lunch with our families. We were discussing how we raise our children, and what parenting choices we have made to help our children become the good eaters they are today. I thought this would be an interesting (but difficult) topic for our Tuesday Tips series, so I have made a list of tips that in my experience can help make eating a positive and fun part of the day. Here goes:

Involve the children in the dinner preparation. They can start helping at quite an early age. Tell them what you are doing, let them try the ingredients. Trust them with a knife — Ava has been making a really good Caprese Salad from the age of 4. Even Casper (2) chips in with cutting the mozzarella! Also: grow your own veggies if possible (even on the windowsill). Take your children shopping (f.e. to the (farmers) market), let them choose some food and prepare that food that evening. When your children have been actively involved in the dinner preparation, they will be more open to try and enjoy the food.

Eat with the children as often as you can. Sit at the table, and have a proper family dinner experience. Don’t turn the tv on (you could even argue to turn the music off). Dinner is a social experience, it’s about connecting with each other and sharing the pleasure of each other’s company and good food. Set the scene, make a nice table, use little bowls, napkins, light candles, etc

Don’t allow negativity about food, instead be positive and adventurous about food. Set the right example; don’t ‘dislike’ food yourself. If you love food, your children will love food. I’ve had children at my table who started to be negative as soon as I served the food on the table. ‘Oh, tomatoes! I hate those! Eeeks, I don’t eat brussels sprouts, they are disgusting!’ I personally don’t allow my children to use those kind of strong associations in connection with food. In general, I want my children to understand that the food that I buy, prepare and serve on our table, is good, healthy and delicious food. I don’t allow my children to be disrespectful to this food, or to the cook (me!) who has done her best to prepare a yummy meal.

Be relaxed about food. When introducing a new food — don’t overhype or over-react, be casual about it, make it a part of the regular eating experience. I also have experienced that some foods, which I expected my children not to like (sauerkraut, for instance, or olives), have been received with great enthusiasm. So instead of being doubtful (‘you can try, but you probably won’t like it’), be casual. You might be surprised!

Always encourage your child to try everything on the table. Don’t let them get away with ‘not liking’ something too easily. If my children, after positively trying the food, don’t like it, I ask them why they have difficulty with it — for instance, the food can be too spicy, too bitter, too salty, etc. I then try to get where they are coming from, and most often understand, but maybe we talk about how ‘too salty’ can also be good in combination with other things. Overall, this has made eating and trying food a more positive experience and a fun interaction.

If a certain food is disliked, just let it pass, but don’t ban it from your kitchen. Positively offer it to them again at other times. Encourage them to keep trying; their taste might change and chances are that at some point, they will (learn to) like it. Especially if they see other people enjoying that food!

When your kids don’t want to eat their dinner, that’s ok, but don’t offer a substitute.

Expose your children to different varieties of food from a young age. Don’t generally cook ‘child-friendly’ dishes for your children, serve them regular adult dishes with regular herbs and spices. (I personally believe that even during pregnancy it’s important to eat a variety of dishes!) Take your children to restaurants, and choose from the main menu (most restaurants will be happy to serve half of a main dish to a child, or split one main dish on two plates). Emilie told me that she encourages her children to be flexible in their eating so she can take them to friends places and she can travel with them and experience different cultures. She told me that she refuses to be a guest in someone’s house and have her child turn their nose up at a meal, so if her girls want to come, they will have to eat without making a fuss!

That’s it! I realise this is a tricky subject, so please remember that these are tips that stem from my own experience. I’m curious to find out what your family’s relationship with food is. What’s your attitude? What are your tips and routines?

xxx Esther

How to care for your tulips

adrem tulips

I grew up in a small farming town about half way between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. The area is known for the wonderful produce that is grown there, including all the delicious berries in the summer, but is probably best known for the hundreds of acres of tulip fields that bloom each spring (I have previously shared photos of the tulip fields here and here. Isn’t it so pretty?!)

My father and his brothers are tulip farmers and run what is now one of the biggest (bulb) flower farms in the world, shipping flowers to people and businesses all over America (you can read a little bit about the family business here). I grew up on the tulip farm and remember how exciting it was every spring to watch the surrounding fields fill with colour. Our spring break from school always fell in the middle of tulip season and my dad always put me straight to work in the flower stalls selling tulips. I think, by the time I was eight, I knew all the different names for every tulip variety and I could answer any tulip question, no matter how random. (Of course I have since forgotten all those different varieties! My dad would be so disappointed.)

Every year at this time, as the flower stalls around London fill with tulips, I’m reminded of my childhood and the tulip farm back home. I spoke to my dad over the weekend and he told me that the tulips are blooming really early this year due to a really mild winter. So, now that it’s tulip season I thought I would share some tulip tips I’ve learned from my dad over the years. (Please forgive me if you’re a long-time reader. I posted a similar post back in 2008, but thought it was worth re-posting since it’s been so long!) Here are some handy tips for buying tulips and keeping them alive as long as possible:
tulip tips
cutting tulip stems

  • Try to buy the freshest tulips. Don’t buy tulips that are limp; make sure the stems are thick, plump and strong. (In general, the bigger the stem–the bigger the bulb– the healthier the flower).
  • Make sure the leaves are tight and curled inward toward the stem. If they are already bending outward, they are not very fresh.
  • The bud should be closed and on the tighter side, but you should still be able to see the color of the flower.
  • Cut ½ an inch from the bottom of the stem and place immediately in cold water. (Remember that the stems will continue to grow in the vase, so you can cut them down to be a bit on the shorter side).
  • If the tulips came in plastic wrap, you can leave the plastic on for the first couple hours. This will encourage the stems to stay straight instead of bending over. (As soon as you cut the bottom of the stem, the tulip ‘comes back to life’ and will begin to respond).
  • Leave the vase in a cool spot (not in direct sunlight or near a radiator). You can even place the vase outside during the night (unless it is freezing) for even longer ‘vase life’.

*Don’t ever mix daffodils and tulips in the same vase. The daffodil juice taints the water and will ‘poison’ the tulips!

And apparently all those silly things we’ve all been told about putting a penny in the water or adding sugar really don’t work!

 

Tuesday Tips: Raising sensitive boys

Raising sensitve boys

sensitive boys

My father, one of ten children, was raised on a farm in rural America. His parents were Dutch immigrants who had lived through World War II and they were strict, no-nonsense types. They believed in hard work, discipline and obedience.  As a result, my father’s sensitive side was mostly ironed out of him at a young age and he only rediscovered it later in life.

I remember sitting in the back of the car with my little brother who, by nature, was a really sensitive boy. I remember him fighting back tears and wiping his cheeks with his sleeve as my father shouted from the front seat to stop crying. I don’t think my dad meant to cause any distress, but I do think he discouraged my brothers from being sensitive or emotional.  He parented the only way he knew how: the way he had been taught, which was to hide your emotions, dry your tears, be a man – not a mouse, shake it off, toughen up…

Thankfully, nowadays most of us can see the folly of this approach, but still… I’ll admit that I will occasionally say things like ‘there’s no need to cry’ or ‘come on, it’s not worth crying about’. I don’t say it in a ‘be a man’ type of way, but more in a ‘let’s move on so I can go back to cooking dinner’ type of way. This is especially true if they come to me crying about something that doesn’t seem very important (a missing Lego, a skipped turn in a board game, the smaller half of a shared biscuit, etc.).

I recently met up with Lydia Gard, editor of Mr Fox: the new online magazine for parents with boys (and mother of two boys), and she reminded me that even these innocuous types of comments are probably not healthy for our children, especially for our boys who already face societal pressure to ‘man up’. It led to an interesting discussion about raising boys and how important it is not to stifle their sensitive side. I asked Lydia to share some tips for raising boys in a way that doesn’t repress their sensitivity and she’s agreed. Here are her suggestions:

1. I firmly believe that telling a boy that he shouldn’t cry or shaming him when he does, won’t teach him to manage his emotions, only to suppress and ignore them. I want my boys to grow up confident that they can speak their minds or show their feelings openly, without being mocked or humiliated, and so I offer a safe space in which they can express themselves, without fear of judgment. I’m also careful not to let other family members use derogatory terms like ‘babyish’ or ‘man-up’ in response to my sons’ tears.

2. Habitual responses, like ‘It’s nothing to cry about’ are really commonplace among busy mothers and, frankly, they sound pretty rational to other grown-ups. But if someone were to say that to me when I’m weeping over a sad song or because I’m knackered after a week of sleepless nights, I would feel invalidated! I often think, would I say that to another grown-up? If it comes off as cruel or lacking empathy, then I shouldn’t say it to a child either.

3. When my children cry I always try to choose between empathy and action: they need to know that I’m either in their corner (a reassuring hug is often enough) or that I’m willing to fight for them if the tears are over some injustice – a sibling fracas or a school bully.

4. My boys are both prone to drama, so I take a few seconds to let them just cry, and then ask them to tell me the problem, in their words. Sometimes I have to wait patiently for the answer. Parenting guru Noel Janis-Norton believes that we need to teach and train boys to express their feelings and thoughts, their worries and their dreams. “It is important that boys become comfortable with describing their inner life. When feelings come out in words, they are much less likely to come out in misbehaviour.” It’s not always easy when the dinner is burning or the phone is ringing, but I always think it’s worth the investment of a few extra minutes to make sure they feel heard.

5. Why something triggers a tearful response is often unfathomable. Have they fallen over? No. Were they arguing? Don’t think so… Is it always a reasonable and rational reaction? The answer is probably no. And while I may not agree that his LEGO Chima Fire Temple is sacred and that missing one tiny little, grey speck of plastic warrants ten minutes of rib-wracking sobs, he does, and it’s my job to comfort him (and then crawl around for 2o minutes with a head torch trying to locate it). 

Photos above are of Lydia’s two boys. Thank you Lydia for your tips!

As always, please leave comments below if you have additional tips, thoughts or questions! xx

How often do you bathe your kids?

four kids in bath

Last night at dinner my husband and I started talking about how relaxed we’ve become about bathing our kids. We’ve become so relaxed, we sometimes can’t keep track of how long it’s been since we bathed them last! And the thing is, we’ve decided it’s perhaps not such a bad thing…

As a new mother, I remember reading somewhere that babies like routine — they like the predictability of an evening routine consisting of dinner, bath, bedtime and that this routine helps to create good going-to-bed habits.  So of course, like so many new mothers I knew, I bathed Easton every single day. When Quin was born, I still put Easton in the bath every evening. I even remember nursing Quin with one arm and washing Easton’s hair in with the other and feeling like superwoman at the end of every evening because I survived yet another gruelling day of essentially being torn in two directions and doing the whole dinner/bath/bedtime routine with two needy kids. My kids were bathed but I was absolutely shattered. (I’m pretty sure those days were the toughest in my parenting life! It definitely took me a while to learn how to juggle more than one child.)

how often do you bathe your kids

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve relaxed over time or if I’ve just become too busy to give the kids a bath every evening, but these days our kids are lucky if they get two baths a week!! And yet… they are completely fine. They’re all still healthy, happy, and relatively sweet-smelling. They still go to sleep when it’s bedtime despite the lack of routine… and just think how much water we’re saving by not filling our bathtub every evening!

More than anything, it’s made my life that much easier not to stress about bath time every day. I really wish I could go back to those days when I had two small boys and tell myself that it’s okay to skip a bath, it’s okay if they eat scrambled eggs for dinner, and that the kids will be okay if they don’t have the same routine every night. The beauty of hindsight, I guess!

So tell me, how often do you bathe your kids? Do you think it’s gross that my kids only get bathed twice a week? (When I was little, I think my siblings and I were only bathed once a week!!) Have you also become more relaxed over time? Thoughts?

Courtney xx

Tuesday Tips: visiting museums with children

Museum visit with kids

My husband and I love culture and history, and one of our favourite (weekend) activities is to go to museums. When traveling to new places, but also when we’re at home here in Amsterdam, we love to discover the information and inspiration that museums can offer us. Our love for museums has certainly rubbed off on our children — when on a Saturday morning we sit at the breakfast table and we’re making plans for the weekend, the first thing that all of our children will want to do is to visit a museum!

I think the reason that they have grown to love going to museums as much (or maybe even more) than we do, is that during a museum visit both my husband and I really engage 100% with our kids. We take the time to explain the artefacts, art and content. We read the titles and descriptions of the artwork together, talk about it, look at colours, shapes and subjects, discover the meaning, find the connection between one piece and another, or link them with travels we’ve made, books we’ve read, things we’ve seen, etcetera. I think that our own enthusiasm, passion and eagerness to learn makes our children as enthusiastic, passionate and eager to learn as we are!

kids at the museum

Sometimes, I hear from other parents that they are unsure to visit museums with their children, that they’re afraid they will misbehave, will be bored or uninterested. And yes, sometimes it is definitely not a good museum day. But in my experience, most of the time they love it! Be it a museum of history, art, nature, objects or culture — there is always something to discover in a museum.

I have tried to write down some tips that I think are relevant when taking your children to a museum. Of course these tips stem from my own experience, and some museums are certainly easier to visit with kids than others…

  •  We like to visit museums early in the day if possible. When you have children, chances are big that you’re up before other people, and you can make it to the museums when it’s still reasonably quiet.
  • Don’t overstay — make the visit long enough to enjoy it, but not too long as to bore your children. We have a yearly national museum membership, so we don’t have to pay the entrance fee for individual visits. This way, we can visit a part of a museum, without having the urge to see everything as to make worth for our money. I’d rather only visit one room of a museum and really take the time to discover a few pieces well, than to end up tired and annoyed, with tired and annoyed children.
  • Make sure the children are well fed before your museum visit! Unless, of course, you would like to start your visit in the museum restaurant.
  • Make use of the toilet when entering the museum. I also prefer to hang our coats and put bags away in the cloakroom, so I don’t have to schlep them around, making it easier to bend or kneel down next to my children.
  • I think no props, books or tools are specifically needed for a museum visit — we love the time we spend with our children and the interaction we have with them. Also, when you discover the museum together, you know what the other one has seen and learned, and can refer to the experience at other times and locations. I’m not always crazy about specific children’s museum tours — we recently went to a museum where the kids were given a ‘find the artwork’ children’s tour, which had our children running through the museum, looking for a few specific pieces to cross of their list, and not even properly looking at those paintings, let alone the rest of the art! Having said that, some museum books or tours are great, and can also be a good tool to prepare your visit at home. (I find that audio tours can be fun and informative for older children, but I don’t think they work well for younger ones. Plus — you will miss out on the special interaction you will have with your children when discovering the museum together.)
  • Although it’s definitely easier to visit the more child-friendly sort of museums, we try to to visit the more ‘serious’ museums as well. Museums are for everyone! Also, I feel that it’s fine to repeat the museum visit. Museums are like books — our children don’t mind reading them over and over again. : )
  • Adjust your visit to your children’s speed and needs. If you would like to see a specific exhibition and for instance have the time to spend 20 minutes in front of a Rothko, then it’s best to come back another time without kids. Having said that, I did take all four of my kids to a Rothko exhibition a few weeks ago, and found that they all had an interest in the pieces (well, except Casper, who preferred to run around, despairing the guards and his mama! Hurray to my Iphone apps to keep him entertained for long enough!). Pim especially reacted remarkably to Rothko: he felt the paintings were really embracing him, and drawing him in. I’m sure he understood the art better than me.
  • Let the children be your guide — you will find they will indicate what pieces they find specifically interesting and start to direct your tour. For instance, my mother-in-law told me that she visited the Rijksmuseum here in Amsterdam recently with Casper and Ava, and that Ava was enthralled by a 17th century painting depicting cows on a ship. She thought that was amazing — cows on a ship! The rest of the visit they spent searching for paintings with cows. : )

museums with kids

What do you think about visiting museums? Do your kids love it? Do you have any tips to share? And, what are your children’s favourite museums? I asked my children, and Sara’s favourite is the Open Air Museum (one of my favourite too!), Pim likes the National Maritime Museum here in Amsterdam, and Ava said she simply loves all the museums in the world.

xxx Esther

PS First two photos were taken in the Egyptian gallery in the British Museum in London, the third foto shows my children in front of Rembrandt’s famous painting the Nachtwacht, here in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, together with Claire of Thinkingmuseum.com.

Pelle’s new suit, and some thoughts on clothing production

Pelle's New Suit children's book by Elsa Beskow Pelle's New Suit Courtney and I just came back from a little trip to New York, where we scouted venues for a NY ShopUp event (more later!), where we had lots of meetings with friends in the business (we’re so lucky to call so many of the brands and boutiques we work with our friends!) and where we visited the US edition of the Playtime fair, where we met even more wonderful friends. It’s always so fun to spend time in this bustling, busy city — I came back feeling full of great memories and inspiration! One of the friends we met in New York was Kirsten Rickert, an amazingly talented lady originally from Australia, who now lives in the US with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Kirsten is such a beautiful, pure lady; just have a look at her blog and her Instagram account. It was Kirsten who recommended the darling book ‘Pelle’s New Suit’  to us.

Pelle's New Suit‘Pelle’s New Suit’ is written by Elsa Beskow and was first published in Sweden in 1912. It’s a simple and sweet story with beautiful illustrations, taking place in a time before ready-to-wear clothing existed. Pelle is a little boy who owns a little lamb, and one day shears off all its wool. He then visits different relatives and neighbours in his small community village, asking them to help him with the different steps that are needed to transfer the lamb’s wool into a new suit (carding, spinning, dying etc.). In return, he will help his friends with different chores. For example, when his grandmother cards the wool for Pelle, he pulls the weeds from her carrot patch. When his mother weaves the cloth, he takes care of his baby sister. And when the tailor finally makes his suit, Pelle rakes the hay, brings in the firewood and feeds the tailor’s pigs. At the end of the story, when wearing his new suit, Pelle visits his lamb to show it his new suit and to thank it.

Pelle's New SuitIn our modern, consumer society, a piece of clothing is often mass-produced and simply picked up from a store. Sometimes the amount of money that is paid for clothing is so impossibly little, or so incredibly high… and many times it is discarding after a season, after a certain fashion is over. Or it is just valued for the brand it displays on its front. Clothing is often taken for granted, and there’s no ‘respect‘ for it — no real knowledge of the effort it took and the actions that were needed to create that piece of clothing. I love how this book describes the various steps of making a wool garment, the understanding of where the clothing actually comes from. I also love how it shows that when you don’t have the specific skills that are needed to do something yourself, you can ask others in your community to help you, and offer your help or skills in return.

Pelle's New SuitI hope that with the help of this little book (and trying to sew and knit as much as possible with my kids, passing on the skills that my mother and grandmother taught me), one day my children will be able to make a sensible and conscious decision when they will buy their own clothing… and that they will respect it and use it for what it entails. Anyway — so many words about fashion, reflection and values, all because of this sweet, beautiful little book. Thanks Kirsten, for the tip!

xxx Esther

PS Available through Amazon UK or US . I couldn’t find a large edition of the book, but if you can get your hands on that, Kirsten told me it’s so much better!

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