Our secret to road trip survival: David Walliams’ audio books!

car journeys
David Walliams audio books

We’ve been doing A LOT of driving over the past five months, something that might seem seriously unappealing to most parents, especially with a carload of restless children, but which we’ve found to be quite fun and exciting. The secret lies in David Walliams and his hilarious audio books. The kids actually look forward to long car drives, and Michael and I find it really relaxing to hop in the car, explore new territory, have a car full of quiet children (!!) and be entertained along the way.

David Walliams narrates all his books himself, using hilarious accents and comedic delivery. The stories, while often funny and sometimes even outrageous, are also endearing and warm. The children’s favourites so far have been Awful Auntie, Billionaire Boy, and Gangster Granny, but it was difficult for them to choose favourites as they have loved them all. Walliams has just come out with his newest book, Grandpa’s Great Escape, and we’re all looking forward to our next road trip to hear it.

We use the Audible app on our phone to download the audio books and it’s been super handy. We alternate David Walliams’ books with more serious stories, just so the kids don’t come to think that all books are hilarious and whacky. (Some of the more serious books we’ve heard this year have been ‘The Secret Garden’, ‘The Call of the Wild’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and the stories in the C.S. Lewis ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series.

Courtney x

Aether Cone, a Thinking Music Player

Cone Thinking Music PlayerI’m sure every family is the same, but we love a bit of a swing in ours. Very often, after breakfast or dinner, we turn up the volume and dance in our living room. It’s crazy! We all join in, and it’s just so much fun. And very often, we end up with a big fat group hug in the end.

Also, sometimes when I’ve had a busy and difficult day, and I feel stressed and tired and my patience is low, it helps to get up and move, to be crazy, and sing along. Music surely is medication for the soul.

casper dancing on cone music player dancing children

It has recently become much easier for our children to initiate their own dancing because the awesome Aether Cone entered our house. The Aether Cone is not only a striking music player (in fact the most beautiful looking one I’ve ever seen), it’s also incredibly easy to understand and to work. Not only easy for me (too many buttons and screens put me off completely), but really handy for the kids as well! The only thing they need to do, is press the center button and ask out loud for any artist, song, or radio. Within seconds, the Cone will be playing their choice and our family will be in full swing!

dance2 dance3

And last weekend, my dad was here, and he just had the best of times with the Cone as well. He kept thinking of song and artists from his childhood (the early sixties), and voila — the Cone followed his commands without fail. Just to indicate how simple and fun it is to work with!

I’ve also understood that the more we use the Cone, the better it will get at playing the songs we love. I’m currently writing this with some lovely random background music in the background — I just took the Cone into my office (it’s portable with an 8-hour rechargeable battery). On the associated app on my phone I read that right now I’m listening to Isobel Campbell, a Scottish singer-songwriter. Nice suggestion, I must say!

xxx Esther

PS This post is sponsored by Aether, a company we respect for making beautifully crafted products that use powerful technology and simple, natural controls to make everyday moments nicer.

My thoughts on TV and other electronics

Kids building towers

kids drawing in front of fire

I’ve had lots of questions recently about my parenting ideas, especially when it comes to electronics, so I thought I’d answer the most common questions in one post. I want to emphasise that this is what works in our family and for our children. I know it won’t work for every family… and it may not work forever for us. As our children grow, so will our parenting style. Below are some answers, and as always I welcome your thoughts and comments.

1.) Do your kids ever watch TV?

Almost never, except for the World Cup and the Olympics. But let me explain a bit… Both my husband and I grew up in big families and in homes without cable TV. Growing up, my family had a really old television that on good days, broadcast three channels. As a young child, I watched the occasional Sesame Street show, and sometimes, if the antenna had blown in the right direction, we could watch cartoons on Saturday morning with clear reception. Watching TV was not something we did as a family. Instead, we played a lot outside (I grew up on a farm), and we played a lot with each other (a benefit of having loads of siblings). Apart from the odd conversation where I couldn’t contribute my views on Doogie Howser or the Wonder Years, I don’t think I missed anything. I am really thankful for a childhood filled with imagination and adventure and I hope to create the same sort of upbringing for my own kids.

We don’t have some absolute no-television-whatsoever rule. We have a TV. We just aren’t really interested in TV. And we keep it in a cupboard—out of sight, out of mind. I also encourage my kids to play and find creative ways to entertain themselves without a screen. There was a short period when we allowed the boys to watch Scoobie Doo on Saturday mornings. After a few months I started noticing that, instead of crawling into our bed and enjoying a slow-paced morning, they would wake up and run straight downstairs to sit in front of the television. They stopped helping to make pancakes, couldn’t be bothered to set the table, and were cranky at breakfast time. It was then I decided that I prefer Saturday mornings without Scoobie! It really only took a couple weeks to break their interest and they went back to helping with the pancakes.

We DO let the kids watch the occasional movie, usually an old Disney classic (Robin Hood, The Rescuers, Peter Pan!) or one of the pretty films by Hayao Miyazaki, etc. In my dreams we would live in Australia or somewhere sunny and my kids would play outside and would never sit in front of a screen. But… a good family film on a cold, dark winter’s day is a nice treat every once in a while. Now that my kids are on school holidays I’m looking forward to the next rainy day so we can all sit down and watch ‘The Sound of Music’. My favourite!

2.) How do you keep your kids from the commercialisation of Disney? Do they ever ask you to buy them t-shirts with Disney princesses or super heroes on them?

I think I’m lucky with this one in that my kids never ask me for Disney t-shirts or Disney toys. Living in Europe I think we have less exposure to these things (and they don’t see them on TV). We also try to keep our kids out of shops. Most of our groceries are bought online, clothing is bought when the kids aren’t around and we avoid malls at all cost (which is easier to do when you live in a big city).

Even if they were to ask, I’d be unlikely to buy these things (mean mama, I know). Perhaps they don’t ask because they know they won’t get, but I like to think they are generally not interested. Here again, our policy is not absolute. I once bought Ivy some Hello Kitty underpants and this year I bought some miniature ‘Frozen’ figurines for the Advent Calendar. But… I rarely buy the kids anything pink or plastic, branded or battery operated, and I hate the idea of kids being sold to everywhere they look or feeling like they must have the latest branded toy.

It’s not always easy (given my business), but we try not to make a big deal about ‘new’ things—especially clothes or toys. We hardly ever give them a new toy unless it’s a special occasion, like a birthday or Christmas, and even then we only give them a few things, placing emphasis on quality over quantity.

My kids are young and so I’ve been able to influence their wants for now. I know that may change someday and so will my strategies, but I hope the values will stick with them.

3.)Do you let your kids play electronics? Do you bend the rules for educational games on the iPad?

Not really. We believe electronics are addictive. No matter if it’s a Nintendo game or an educational one on an iPad, once picked up they are hard to put down. And you rarely walk away from a long session on a device feeling wonderful—mostly the opposite. I notice this firsthand — I have to give myself breaks from my iPhone and remind myself to be more present. Like other addictive things in our lives, limiting our children’s exposure to electronics just makes sense to us.

We also believe they get only one childhood and the rest of their lives to be tethered to a device if they choose. Their education, their careers and their social lives may demand it some day, but for now we would love for them to find joy in the ‘real’ world. And most importantly — play together! Every once in a while, they will ask to play a game on the iPad or watch a movie because they are bored. When I tell them to go play, they might moan for five minutes, but then ten minutes later I’ll find them building towers or playing games together. If we gave our kids an iPad every time they told us they were bored, there would be far less imaginative play in this house!

As above, we know this all will change someday. Already Easton has math homework on the computer three times a week and I’ve noticed how it has changed the play in our house on those afternoons. As our kids grow our parenting style will grow with them, but we will always maintain our focus on family, friends, nature and activities.

4.) Do your kids fight? Do they moan? Do they throw fits? Do they nag, make messes, and sometimes torment each other?

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. Do I feel compelled to reach for my camera in these moments? No. Does anyone? My photos are about celebrating the joys of bringing up kids — the simple and the beautiful things in life. I would never pretend parenting isn’t hard work. It is. It is the most difficult and the most important work in our lives. I choose to focus on the positive side of family life and I hope it comes across as honest and loving (and hopefully inspiring too).

Courtney xx

p.s. I’ve written before about electronics here, a post which stirred up quite a healthy debate!

Are We There Yet?


Have you been following the Rosetta mission on the news lately?  I have been a bit obsessed in the last few days to see if the mission of landing an unmanned space craft on a comet that is about 6bn kilometres away from earth was going to work, so improbably and yet, somehow it landed! It took the space craft 10 years to reach its destination; insane, right?

As we were listening to an update on the radio in the morning, my kids were asking probing questions about the mission, which I have actually been at a loss to answer. Because, how do you explain comets, space crafts, 6bn kilometres and the universe to a 6-year-old over a bowl of cereal at 8 am in the morning? Not my strong point, and many of the questions, I have to admit, I actually could not answer.  So I discovered this little animated video  called “Are We There Yet” made by the European Space Agency. It is super cute and very informative, even for adults!

– Emilie

Let’s talk about electronics and our children

This is not your average Babyccino post but I wanted to speak openly about a topic I feel really passionate about. I want to talk about electronics and the way they are affecting our children.

I recently went on a school field trip with my 9-year-old son’s class to see the Vikings Exhibition at the British Museum. What lucky children to live in a city where they can take a short subway journey to one of the world’s best museums (and I must say, the Vikings Exhibit was incredible)! While in the museum, I noticed that some of the children had brought a Nintendo DS. The more I looked around, the more children I noticed who were playing games on iPhones, Nintendos and various other devices. I think my jaw must have touched the floor; I was absolutely shocked! Here we were, on a once-in-a-life time school field trip, in one of the world’s most fascinating museums, and these children were completely unengaged and uninterested in their surroundings. Some were sitting down against a wall with their little thumbs pounding against their device, others played as they walked around, bumping into people because they were so focused on the little machine in the palm of their hands.

When I asked the teachers if this was allowed, I was told that they weren’t supposed to be playing games, but that they were allowed to bring cameras on the field trip. It seems that nowadays iPhones and Nintendos are considered cameras because they all have photo-taking capabilities. So, the line between cameras and video games has become blurred, and to my astonishment, we now have children going on field trips with their video games in tow.

And not only this, but I am increasingly aware of young children sitting in restaurants with an iPhone, playing video games on the bus, watching DVDs on every car journey no matter how long.  It seems children aren’t being given the chance to be bored, they aren’t being encouraged to create their own fun or to be present in the moment. What ever happened to good old-fashioned conversation? Talking to our children over dinner? Encouraging them to talk to each other? Or just waiting patiently to eat? What ever happened to observation? Taking in your surroundings on the bus? Experiencing exhibits in a museum? Asking questions, sharing observations, making memories?

In a few weeks my eldest will be going on a 4-day school camping trip. In a meeting this week to brief the parents, I asked if electronics would be allowed. And I opened a big can of worms! The teachers explained that the children would be allowed to bring electronics because it ‘keeps them quiet while on the journey.’ Another teacher explained that he thinks it’s good for children to embrace modern technology and to learn how to use electronics from an early age.

This is rubbish, and I feel compelled to say so.

We did not have iPhones or iPads when we were young, but miraculously we all know how to use them. Even my technologically impaired father uses a laptop and an iPhone with ease. Is there really any advantage to be gained by letting our children play games on our iphones? No. And with regards to ‘keeping the children quiet on the bus’… Really?! Shouldn’t they be singing songs, chatting to each other, looking out their windows, making silly faces to the people in the cars they’re passing? That’s what we did when we were kids and the bus ride was often one of the best parts of school trips. Why would we give them a sedative dose of Nintendo?

Our children are only little for such a short time. The window for imaginative adventures and play is so small. They have the rest of their lives to be attached to a device. Why start now?

x Courtney

p.s. I very rarely share my parenting views on this blog. I am generally quite open minded about the decisions other parents make, and I know that I am by no means an expert. But for some reason, this feels different to me. I hope you too will share your thoughts and comments, in favour or against my view. I would love for this to become an open dialogue between us all. xx

(Image above found here)

What do babies and rockets have in common?

Since Coco started to speak, ‘why’ has been one of the main words in her vocabulary. I thought it was a phase, but it has been going on for 7 years and counting! A lot of questions I can still answer, but some are now starting to get a bit too complex and we have started to resort to looking up facts together on the internet.

During one of these searches, we stumbled upon a video called “What do babies and rockets have in common?” which we loved (I personally had never even thought about the similarities between rockets and babies, apart from the fact that they are both pretty noisy).

It is based on a book by Marcus Chown called “What a Wonderful World “, which is actually for adults and full of interesting facts (so that we can pre-empt all the WHY questions).

– Emilie


My children are getting a bit older and with a bit of a heavy heart, I am slowly tiding away a lot of toys that just don’t get used anymore. I am even cleaning up virtually, as I also have been deleting children game apps off my iphone.

But there is actually one game that I have not deleted, just because it is so lovely: Drawnimal.

It is such a simple idea and it is designed in such a lovely fashion, I have been known to play it all by myself! I love the way it makes the phone the starting block for a picture and actually makes kids move away from the screen and go back to pen and paper. So clever!

– Emilie

Easy Studio Animation App

We’re still loving the educational Montessori Letter Sounds app from Les Trois Elles, and were thrilled to discover they have just released a new animation app (especially since my husband works in animation!). My boys were especially excited about this one.

Easy Studio is a really fun ipad app which allows you to animate with coloured geometric shapes. You can create moving animals, trains, space ships, monsters, or whatever your heart desires. You can even create whole scenarios where monsters drive space ships and eat other animals (yes, my boys have done this!). In fact, the bottom image is one of my son’s most recent monsters, and you should see the way he moves and dances.

It is such a fun app which encourages imagination and teaches the magic of animation. My 7-year-old is completely hooked, and I’m so fond of his videos. I have to try to find a way to download them to share with you!

x Courtney

Enchanted Wonders iBooks for kids

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for tea in my kitchen with the lovely Ayala Homossany, the author/creator of the Enchanted Wonders interactive iBooks for kids.  I loved sitting with her and looking over the book,  seeing all the little details and features on each page. Ayala’s passion as an author, educator and mum is really inspiring. It made me think about my own parenting and how I should slow down a bit more and really sit with my kids to engage them in enquiry and exploration. So often I read a book to my kids (admittedly, often in a hurry to get through it so I can put them to bed or move on to the next thing), and I should try to be better at sitting and reading with them, encouraging questions and discussion.

Enchanted Wonders—Butterfly is designed exactly for this purpose — it is meant for children and parents to explore together.
The activities in the book are aimed to encourage children to question the world around them, explore it and give it their own interpretation. Each of the six activities in the book (draw, role-play, story-telling, sculpturing, drawing, movement and exploring the sense of touch) brings up a series of questions, and each question opens a door in the child’s mind, to another and then another, and all is done through the use of, video, audio, pop-up galleries, and heart capturing illustrations.

Unlike other eBooks and apps where the user interacts mostly with the screen, the Enchanted Wonder book series uses the screen as a springboard to engage the children with the real and physical world around them.  Don’t you love that? So it’s not just like you’re handing an iPad to your kids to ‘babysit’ them. It’s really like an activity book, encouraging children to put the book down and observe their surroundings.

x Courtney

Little Seed

I am always on the look out for new music for my little girl. We try and listen to everything at home, from reggae to classical. I recently discovered that Elizabeth Mitchell released Little Seed , a new album of Woody Guthrie covers. It is such a sweet, calm collection of songs that we love listening to while making breakfast. “Little Sack of Sugar” has been known to diffuse a tantrum or two in my house. It’s hard to fuss and carry on when your mama is bouncing you on her knee and pretending to eat you up!


Marie visits France

I got this book for 6-year-old Coco in anticipation of the long car ride we are going to have, driving through France this summer. My mother always gave my brother and me a new book to read for our summer holiday car ride (they often where 2 days long) and I loved getting a crisp, new book at the start of a new journey. I wanted to continue this tradition now that Coco actually knows how to read.

Marie was first introduced to us with the book Marie de Paris, a beautifully illustrated story that describes the day of a modern French school girl. The reason my girls love it is because it totally describes they day! In this book Marie visits the France countryside and it is a great book to discover the whole country and the culture, especially if you are going to be driving through said countryside, as we will. The book exists both in French and English.

– Emilie

Singing Alphabet app from Ministry of Letters

Remember this book? And how much we LOVE it? Well, the Ministry of Letters has just come out with a new (and equally great!) ipad app. It is literally… a SINGING alphabet! So much fun, and so perfect for my daughter who is now learning the sounds of the letters. The two of us are dancing in our chairs as I type this with the sounds of letters singing their letter sounds loud and clear. It’s catchy, it’s cute and it’s educational in such a marvellous way. (Available from itunes here, and they are soon to release an iphone version too.)

x Courtney

Looney Tunes Love

Remember these guys?! We had friends over for dinner the other night — a friend from Korea and a friend from France, and we were all remembering fondly how we watched (and loved) Looney Tunes when we were young! Isn’t that crazy how people all over the world are united by a cartoon character?! Anyway… I’ve already mentioned how I don’t let my kids watch real TV (the commercials!), but I’m okay with the occasional DVD.

We recently discovered the Looney Tunes Box Set which includes ten DVDs each starring a Looney Tunes character. My kids think it’s absolutely hysterical! Their favourite is Tweety Bird — my kids are all giggles over the silly cat-and-bird chases. I just love how simple and charming the cartoons are. Just good old-fashioned fun!

x Courtney

(Image found here)

Puff, The Magic Dragon

For accommodation on our recent trip to Australia, we managed to arrange a house swap with a lovely family in Melbourne (have you ever done a house swap before? it was our first time and we LOVED it!). One of the best things about doing a house swap is you get to stay in a family home with toys and books for the kids! So nice! (They even had a trampoline in their backyard. Constant entertainment for the kids!)

Anyway, my favourite find from their shelves of children’s books was this beautiful copy of Puff, the Magic Dragon . When I was a little girl Puff, The Magic Dragon (by Peter, Paul and Mary) was one of my most favourite songs. I can still remember putting the song on repeat in my bedroom and listening to it over and over again. I had almost completely forgotten about it until I discovered this book. And it was such fun to read/sing it to my kids (who know also LOVE the song!), and the book’s magical illustrations bring the song to life so beautifully. Such a gorgeous book (and it comes with a CD of the song, so you can listen while you read).

x Courtney

PrestoBingo shapes App

Sweet, this Shapes app by PrestoBingo! We’re loving the beautiful graphics and the educational content. Currently only available in English, but thanks to the easy lay-out kids will quickly figure out how to play this mathematical app, no matter what language they speak. A great way to practise shapes, math and basic geometry!

xxx Esther

Alphabeast Flash Card App

I recently downloaded the Alphabeast flash card app onto my iphone for my kids and it was an instant hit. The app features 26 alphabet flash cards, and when you tap each ‘card’ something cute and clever happens (like playable musical instruments, dancing robots, spinning bow ties and laughing monkeys). So it keeps the kids engaged and teaches them at the same time! I also like that the flash cards feature both the capital and the lower case letter (I always get confused which one to teach my kids, and having them both is a win/win). The app features charming hand-drawn illustrations based on the picture book, The Lonely Beast, and is available for the iphone and ipad.


Appracadabra: Count the Animals

We’ve been writing about some really cool and educational apps recently, and I didn’t want to leave out the equally cool and educational Count the Animals app from Dutch company Appracadabra. Count the Animals is wonderfully well designed with beautiful graphics and fun sounds, and it’s also full of cute little jokes like frogs starting to jump, dogs starting to poo, a lady catching butterflies and lice jumping from one head to the other. How can you resist? Count the Animals is perfect for children in the process of learning to count, as it is designed to help children develop the pre-math skill of connecting numbers to quantities. And if you’re unsure about your kids learning to count in Dutch (although it can be very useful) then there’s no need to worry: this app also contains Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovakian, Spanish, Swedish, and Swiss German languages. So there.

xxx Esther

Montessori Letter Sounds App

My 4-year-old son’s reading skills are really taking off, and I’m pretty sure it has much to do with the educational apps we have on our iphones/ipad. It’s really cool how interactive these games are and how much the kids really pick up from them. I’ve never been a fan of video games for kids, and I know that ipad apps are not a far cry from video games… but when they’re educational and when you see how much your kids are learning, it’s pretty hard to resist them.

Our newest discovery is the Montessori Letter Sounds App from Les Trois Elles Interactive, a French company creating educational (and beautiful) apps for kids. This might be our favourite app so far. It’s extremely educational but also really, really fun. The app is based on the Montessori method of teaching kids to read and includes letter tracing activities, pronunciation exercises, and loads of fun learning games. It’s also tastefully done (I did say it was made by a French company!).

The app is available in English and French, and they also have an App for learning numbers. View their website for more details, and click here to see a demo video.


Bizzy Bear on the Farm

My husband got an ipad for Christmas (woohoo!) and we are very quickly catching ourselves up to speed with the rest of the ipad loving world.  I’m not sure who loves the ipad more — my husband (he reads the news) or the kids (they play the games)!  We have discovered the world Nosy Crow, which Mo has written about before (here and here). Nosy Crow offers clever and innovative storybook apps which not only tell a story, but also engage children the entire way through. Their newest app, Bizzy Bear on the Farm, lets toddlers (aged 2 to 4) help Bizzy Bear with all his chores on the farm. It’s amazing how many clever things the kids can do — each page is filled with different activities (pick apples, feed the piglets, run the horse, round the sheep up, drive the tractor, etc.). The Nosy Crow apps are available from the itunes store.

*And if you visit our Facebook page today, you can enter to win one of five promo codes for a free Nosy Crow app!

x Courtney

Fantastic Mr Fox

Last weekend, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the girls and I made popcorn, wrapped up in blankets and settled down to watch Fantastic Mr Fox . Have you seen it? It is turning into one of our  all-time favourite movies. So many things are great: the script, the action and George Clooney’s voice! Plus, it works for kids and for adults — there are not that many movies around that my kids and I all equally enjoy, but this film works on many different levels. I read the book when I was a kid and the film captures the essence of the book perfectly.  The clever fox outwitting the nasty farmer is a story  that works well, especially when animated with fabulous puppets.

Coming into winter does have advantages — I would feel too guilty in the summer spending a Sunday afternoon watching a movie, but when it’s cold outside, I reckon it is completely justified!

– Emilie

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