What’s your child’s sleeping routine like?

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I was recently chatting to a girlfriend about our children’s sleeping routines, and I though it was interesting to hear how different they are. You see, my children have never had mid-day naps, but have always taken morning naps instead.

I think this originated from when I was a new mum, and Sara had just been born. Totally unexperienced and needing a guideline to follow, I briefly practised Gina Ford ‘s schedule. It didn’t take long (her book with super strict schedules made me a completely stressed out mum) but the accidental result was that Sara ended up having a longer morning nap instead of the more general mid-day nap.

I liked the practicality of the morning nap — while my baby was sleeping, I could shower, get dressed, do laundry and some cleaning, and then by the time she woke up we would be ready for lunch and to go out of the house. (When she was little she would have a second brief nap around 4PM, but she would be happy to have this nap in her pram or pushchair, so it wouldn’t restrict me from going out of the house.) When Pim was born not so long after, I naturally followed the same schedule, which worked great for him too. And I have been doing the same with my other children as well — they all have had longer morning naps instead of the midday nap!

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Casper still sleeps in the mornings. We usually put him to bed somewhere between 9 and 10, and he usually sleeps for an hour to an hour and a half. At the end of the day, around 7:30, 8PM, he’s ready to go to bed again —  we usually put him to bed before his bigger siblings, allowing us some quiet reading time with the older children (who are supposed to be in bed around 8:30, but if I’m honest, it’s often later, especially now that it’s summer and warm and light till late!).

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I thought it was interesting to bring up this subject, as I know that most people let their child sleep after lunch. I guess you just tweak your schedule to what works best for your family! I would love to know, what kind of sleeping schedule do (or did) you follow with your children? Are you very strict with your routines, or more flexible?

xxx Esther

Tuesday Tips: Meal planning

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Esther and I were talking the other day about dinnertime and how neither of us are very good at planning the week’s meals out in advance. Esther has always impressed me with her spur-of-the-moment, find-something-in-the-cupboards type of cooking, which she’s very good at doing. I thankfully have a husband who is good at that, which means that as a result I’ve become a bit lazy about planning and shopping for meals in advance. The problem in our house is that we end up returning to the same trusty meals we’ve made over and over again and we rarely try new recipes or get very creative in the kitchen. It can be so easy to get stuck in a cooking rut, and I’m definitely guilty of it.

Esther has already shared a Tuesday Tips post about encouraging kids to eat healthily and how important it is to introduce new foods so children grow to be adventurous eaters, so we thought it might be good to share some tips for how to cook adventurously and how to plan ahead so you avoid the cooking rut.

We decided to ask our ShopUp event manager, Bethie, to share some tips. Bethie is one of the most organised meal planners and mama cooks we know, and I’m excited to share her tips with you:

Bethie in the Kitchen

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I try to make meal planning as easy as possible. For me, this means using my smart phone to help me plan and organise. There are three apps I use to help me prepare our nightly meals: Pinterest, iPhone “notes” and my grocery app. I use Pinterest to inspire me to try new recipes (though flipping through favourite cookbooks also works!), my iPhone “notes” to make a list of dinners for the week (with links to online recipes), and my grocery app to make sure I have all the groceries I need for the week in advance (I prefer using my local green grocer for fresh produce).

When I browse Pinterest during the week I keep an eye out for easy, weeknight meals. Pictures can be deceiving, so I always read the recipe to make sure there isn’t anything too involved. If I find something that looks yummy, relatively healthy, and easy to make (or easy to adapt), I’ll pin it to my weeknight dinner board. Then, once I try and like a recipe, I pin it to my “Recipes I Love” board so I can find it again easily! I also follow some fun and inspirational Instagram accounts such as @smittenkitchen, @sproutedkitchen, @hostthetoast, and @biddiekitchen (a new favourite!). These also serve as great inspiration to help me add new recipes into the mix.

Once a week, usually on Saturday, my daughter (Charlotte) and I sit down to meal plan together. We start by looking at the calendar. What does our week look like? Are there any nights where we won’t be in for dinner? Will we have guests? Any nights where we need a really quick meal? From there I go to my “notes” app where I have an ongoing list of our weeknight meals. (I started this a few years ago and now have a big list to browse if I’m stuck for ideas!) Depending on what our week looks like, I choose a few meals to cook from scratch and a few quick meals. Charlotte likes to help me choose meals which is helpful to make her feel a part of the process. She is less likely to complain at mealtimes this way! I try to choose things she can help with, and any given week could look like this:

Monday: sweet potato and kale quinoa fritters
Tuesday: pre-made falafel with hummus, spinach and pita
Wednesday: one pot salmon pasta
Thursday: lentil soup (we like to add spinach to this so it is a one-pot meal)
Friday: homemade pizzas (we purchase the dough)

Tuesday’s pre-made falafel and Friday’s pizza are the quick meals for the week. They can be prepped and cooked in under 30 minutes. The other three meals are also prepped in under 20 minutes or so, but take additional time to cook.

On a side note, we aren’t vegetarians, but we eat primarily vegetarian meals during the week. Vegetarian meals often cost less and take less time to cook which is helpful. I also like that my kids can help with the meal prep more with vegetarian meals (mashing potatoes, adding ingredients, stirring, etc.) where I would worry about helping as much when raw meat is involved.

Once I have a plan for the week, I order everything from my grocery app to arrive Sunday evening. (We don’t have a car, so ordering online is much easier for us!) This way I have no excuses when dinnertime rolls around. We also receive a weekly seasonal box of veggies from Abel & Cole, and this inspires me to try to plan meals around what foods are in season (and be more creative with foods I might not buy otherwise).

There you have it! This is what works for me and my family, but I would love to hear what works for you! Please share your favourite weeknight meals or meal planning tips below or share them on Instagram with the hashtag #babyccinomeals.

(All photos above are from Bethie’s Instagram feed. Thank you, Bethie, for sharing with us!) 

See you next week!

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Esther's house in France

We’ve decided to take a little blogging break this week to enjoy some time away from our computers. We are each in our favourite summer spots enjoying slow, lazy days with our families, and we hope you won’t mind if we push the pause button this week and resume as normal next week? In the meantime, here are some of our favourite blog posts from the past year in case you missed them:

See you next week!

Courtney, Esther and Emilie xx

P.S. Photos above are from our Instagram feeds (Courtney, Emilie & Esther) where you can follow along this week if you miss us. ; )

Dinner – Ready and Served

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Last week we were on holiday in France with Esther and her family. It was such fun seeing the children interact, getting to know each other again and to see how they have all changed in what feels like a blink of an eye (it is also so nice to hang out with a great friend and have time to talk about anything and everything for hours ;)).

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For one night on our trip the kids were responsible for dinner, from deciding on the menu, to buying the groceries to cooking the whole meal. Apparently this was the best activity ever — there were secret meetings in which they decided what to make, shopping lists had to be put together and recipes had to be followed.

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And it all went off without a hitch! All kids still have all their 10 digits, nobody burnt themselves and we ended up with a genuinely good meal and some very proud children. Kids feel responsible, parents get time off to sip a glass of wine while watching the sun set — everyone is a winner.

-Emilie

PS Apologies for the bad quality photos, we were just quickly snapping on our phones.

Let it go!

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Last Saturday the girls and I went to a music festival; we listened to music, danced and had a generally great time. But we got home very late and the girls were tired, so after putting them to bed I decided to test something: the next day I was going to let it go! (Like in the freaking Disney song). I decided I was just going to let the girls chill out and allow them to dictate the rhythm of the day, and not take control! So I let them get up when they wanted, play as long as they wanted and move at their own pace throughout the day. And you know what? We had a fabulous day, but my gosh, it was hard!!!

Why? Because in my head I had activities planned: people to see, places to discover, things to do — things I personally thought are important and fun to do.  But obviously those decisions were taken without my daughters’ consent, and they weren’t a priority for them. We had planned to go to the swimming pool… and we got there 3 hours later than I had hoped because the Lego mini people were apparently having a music festival! I think part of the reason why it was so hard is because I project what I think is going to be fun on my kids, who, I sometimes forget, are now individuals with their own tastes and preferences.

But, I must say, we had a lovely day without any arguing or conflict.  The girls came to me when they were ready, they were happy to go out and ready to face the world, and for once I was not pleading and coercing everyone out of the door. Meanwhile, I tidied my desk and did things around the house that I usually don’t have the time to do. A win/win for everyone!

So I am going to make a conscious effort when I can (and when it is possible) to let go and let my little people be, even if we are not on holiday and even if I have in my mind projected many fun things that we could do.

Do you find it hard to let go and just let them be too?

– Emilie

P.S. Photo taking by the lovely Emily Ulmer a wee while ago.

Tuesday Tips: breathe first!

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I’m not sure if I can state this generally, but I have the gut feeling I can speak for all mothers here: mamas, we do not take enough time for ourselves. (Speaking for myself, I definitely don’t.)

Isn’t it so easy for us mothers to forget about ourselves, to always put our children and family before ourselves? Aren’t we reprogrammed, the moment we give birth, to dedicate every second of the rest of our lives to the wellbeing of our babies?

It’s of course a very logical natural phenomenon, and it all perfectly makes sense out of an evolutionary point of view: we’re just another mammal mother fighting for the survival of our offspring.

However, never taking time for ourselves doesn’t, in the end, make us a better mum. It makes us stressed, unhappy, and tired. We need time to unwind, to feel good about ourselves, to be happy and loving and patient.

I recently thought about the safety procedures in an airplane. I always specifically notice (probably because it is so counter-intuitive) the phrase ‘please put on your own oxygen mask before helping your child’. I would always think of my babies first! But it makes sense, doesn’t it — we need to be able to breathe first, before we can help our children to breathe. It’s so perfectly simple: we need to look after ourselves in order to be able to look after our children. We need to breathe first. We need to clear out our busy minds. Because there’s no way we can look after them well if we don’t look after ourselves!

xxx Esther

PS dresses from Smokks

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.

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 you’re 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 their own bottle.
  • Bring enough snacks (nuts, easy-to-eat fruits like grapes, and a few little sandwiches).
  • Bring audio books on Ipods with headphones. 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 — great to use as blankets or 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

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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

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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.

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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

Bikinis. Yes or no?

Little Creative Factory swimsuits
Marlow and Ivy in Little Creative Factory swimsuits
I think I might be raising a bit of a controversial topic, one that could possibly split many of us down the middle, but I would love to know where you stand on little girls wearing bikinis? Is it completely normal and fun and innocent, or do you think it sexualises innocent little girls?

One of my earliest childhood memories is from my 4th birthday, receiving my first bikini. I remember how excited I was to wear it to the beach for the first time. I felt so grown up! I absolutely loved that thing. Yet even with this happy memory of mine, I still can not bring myself to let my own girls wear a bikini.

Why? I’m not entirely sure (even my own mother thinks I’m being unreasonable!). I just feel like a bikini top sexualises and highlights something that doesn’t exist. There is nothing sexual about a little girl’s chest, so when you put a bikini top on it, it draws unnecessary attention. In a way, I feel like a simple French-style bloomer (without a top) is more appropriate than a 2-piece suit. Not to mention, a separate top is so impractical and difficult to keep in place when swimming, etc. (But then again, I suppose it’s trickier to use the toilet in a one-piece!)

So where do you stand? Am I overthinking things?

Courtney x

p.s. The pretty vintage-style swimsuits the girls are wearing in the photos above are from Little Creative Factory who have a stunning collection of swimwear for both boys and girls (including bikinis as well!).

Tuesday Tips: the art of distraction

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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

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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

When the sea calls…

Birling Gap
flying kites
Ivy at Beachy Head
walking to the lighthouse
Ivy and Quin

playing cards
Marlow on the beach
This past Saturday, despite the weather being quite cold and windy, we felt the urge to drive out of London and get ourselves to the seaside. Friends laughed at us when we told them we were going to drive two hours only to spend a cold day at the beach, but it turned out to be the medicine we all needed. Even though the English coastline doesn’t really resemble the one where I grew up, I still always feel at home when I’m standing on those rocky beaches with the smell of saltwater in the air.

We bundled ourselves in woollen hats and scarves, we packed a big picnic and brought kites and board games (and blankets!), and we spent the entire day outside in the prettiest setting, tucked away from the wind. Birling Gap in Beachy Head is one of my very favourite spots, and I thought I would mention it in case you’re also in need of a beach day to blow away the cobwebs or planning a trip to the UK and want to see these stunning white cliffs.

After a day at the beach, we always stop at the Tiger Inn for dinner on our way back home. They have several outdoor tables that often catch the evening sun (if it’s out) and a big grassy field where the kids can play while you wait for your food.  We always drive back home feeling re-charged and inspired by a day out of the city. (We’ve also stayed overnight in the nearby Blue Door Barns B&B and it’s really lovely!)

I feel like I’ve just shared a secret with you. It’s such a special spot!

Courtney x

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:

SAMSUNG CSC

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.

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