Using Technology: A Balancing Act

As parents, we are constantly bombarded by contradicting messages about the best way to raise our children. It makes it a little tricky to work out what you should actually be doing. Since I was pregnant, me and Husband have used a combination of research (by which I mean looking at scientific studies, rather than accepting whatever someone on the internet with no relevant qualifications reckons is correct) and common sense.

We’ve applied this thinking when deciding how often Pip can use the iPad or watch TV. I’ve read lots of blog posts and articles on this subject. It seems to be quite a worrisome subject for parents. On the one hand, children need to learn how to use a computer. Computer skills are simply a necessity in modern life. Also, television and computers provide a vast and brilliant learning resource. On the other hand, children need physical activity and to learn face to face social skills. There needs to be a balance between the two.

With television, I will admit that I avoid certain programmes. Pokemon, which Pip became a little obsessed with, has been banned for the time being because it gave her a really warped idea about what evolution is and also because we started getting little tantrums if she was told that, for example, dinner was ready so she’d need to stop watching. At that point, I thought it best to impose an outright ban. I’ve also said no to a Barbie cartoon where a character tried to use a shrink ray to slim down and fit into a pretty dress. I’m not going to digress into a rant about why this filled me with palpable rage but needless to say, it shan’t be watched in our house ever again. There are some programmes I, and Pip, really like. Nina and the Neurons, a CBeebies science-based show, has been a favourite for quite some time, as has I Can Cook and Time for School, which was great for showing Pip what school would be like before she started herself. Recently, we’ve both been watching the Horrible Histories series. I loved the books as a child and find the TV series both informative and really funny. At first I thought Pip was just amused by the talking rat and frequent mentions of bodily functions but she has occasionally come out with facts learnt from it. As a family, we all love Doctor Who. At the moment there’s a new series on so we watch that once a week, plus  she might watch another episode at some point during the week. I usually watch each episode before she does. We’ve never prevented her from watching any episode but it’s good to be forewarned about any issues that might raise questions from her.

We do have an iPad that is pretty much exclusively used by Pip. I know what you’re thinking – We must have more money than sense. Just to make things clear, it’s a couple of years old and used to be Husband’s until he replaced it with an iPad Mini. There are games on it that aren’t really educational but there are also plenty that are (might well do a blog post about these in the future). I do limit the amount of time she spends on it and, when possible, I try to sit with her and at least talk to her about what she’s up to, if not play with her. I really do believe that it can be a highly useful piece of technology that is helping with her reading and number skills, fine motor skills and her knowledge about the wider world, including different cultures and wildlife.

Now before people start worrying that poor little Pip is locked in the house, surrounded by technology and experiencing nothing of life in the real world, let me set your minds at rest. We regularly visit parks, museums and places of historical and cultural interest. We play tabletop games as a family very often, sometimes spending whole days of a weekend doing so.

I really believe that we balance our lives well between technology and real life experience. Of course it’s something I consider and definitely something any parent should be thinking about but I don’t think it needs to be such a point of concern. By simply setting a few basic rules and limitations and maybe making a family commitment to time spent together and time spent outdoors, it might be a balancing act but it’s a simple one.

How does your child use technology? Do you set any limitations on time spent using devices?

BrainBox: My First Maths Review

Pip loves numbers. She picks up Maths concepts pretty quickly and easily, something I always struggled with. I managed to get through maths at school actually quite well but it was always a challenge, I never enjoyed it. I don’t want Pip growing up with the same negativity about maths, especially as she seems to initially like it so much.

So I’m very happy that one of her birthday presents was the My First Maths BrainBox.

BrainBox

It contains a sand timer, a dice and lots of cards, all about different maths concepts – numbers, shapes, time and many others. The idea of the game is to spend ten seconds (using the sand timer) looking at a card, then roll a dice, which decides which question from the back of the card you’ll answer. Pip is shockingly good at this. She does get the questions wrong occasionally but when the game’s over, she’s always won overall.

Brainbox collage

I think one of my favourite things about this game is that it can take anything from 5 minutes to around half an hour. I think the idea is to spend ten minutes on it but I like having something that can fill a small gap in the day. For example, one morning last week we were ready for school very early (something very rare indeed!) and Pip was getting bored waiting to leave. So I got out the BrainBox and it entertained her right up until it was time to leave.

This game is not just lots of fun but its a brilliant method for helping your child with their maths skills and make it a positive experience.

Having had a little look on the BrainBox, I really like the whole range and I think at least one will be featuring on Pip’s Christmas list.

A few thoughts on Writing

I write a lot. From blogging to university assignments to working on my novel, I seem to spend much of time at my keyboard.

While blogging is lots of fun and academic essays do provide a good intellectual challenge, fiction writing is what I really love most. Creating characters and places straight out of my imagination can be really exciting. I can spend hours and hours on character development. I like to know a character completely, inside and out. I remember finding it strange when writers talked about their characters as if they were living beings, who had some kind of control over their own actions, seemed a bit strange. Okay, so if I’m honest, it sounded like utter crazy nonsense. But now I completely understand. If I write something a character says, I might correct it with the thought, ‘She wouldn’t say that!’

I do have a little confession to make. I am terrible at coming up with names. I spend ages going through baby names websites trying to come up with the perfect name for my characters. And because by the time I do this I’ve already got a pretty clear vision of what this character is like, the name has to suit them. Which is completely ridiculous because, of course, when you name a newborn baby you have no idea what kind of person they’re going to be. I have no explanation for why my characters must have a name that feels right, like it should be what they’re called. Just like I can’t really explain how I come up with any of the fiction I write, beyond saying that it sort of just comes to me. It pops, like magic, into my head and I put it on paper. Or screen, really. I don’t generally handwrite. Especially not now, since I recently acquired a rather gorgeous MacBook Air (13 model, if you’re interested). Yes, I’m a bit of an Apple fan but seriously, this computer is just a joy to type on. I foresee many hours spent in lovely cafes typing away on this little beauty.

But anyway, enough of my geeky love for fruity technology. The big problem with this whole ‘popping into my head’ writing technique is that sometimes, there is no popping. Sometimes there’s a big empty void and I stare at the screen with no idea whatsoever of what to write. Conversely, sometimes I get an urge for writing and the words will come pouring out and suddenly I’ll look at the screen and realise that thousands of words have just appeared there. This would be fine if I was happy to plod along, having occasional bursts of creative outpourings. But I actually want to get something finished. My little dream is to be a published author. This might actually never happen but I’ve got to put my best effort into it or it will actually never happen. So I’m going to attempt to write on a weekly basis. 3000 words a week. If I do more, great. But that will be my minimum. Even if my mind goes totally blank, I will get something written down.

I’ll let you know how I get on…

Update: I’ve decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) in the hope that it will motivate me to get my novel at least completely drafted this year. Wish me luck!

Review: Race to the Treasure

Recently Pip turned five. Amongst her gifts from us (which I will certainly review more of in the coming weeks), was obviously a new board game. It’s another cooperative game from Peaceable Kingdom called Race to the Treasure.

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The basic premise of this game is to build a path across the map, collecting keys on your way, while hoping to avoid the dreaded ogre (which in our house is usually called Ogden). You take it in turns to take a tile from the pile and either lay a piece of path or if it’s an ogre tile, lay it on the ogre track. If you collect enough keys and reach the treasure before the ogre track is full, you’ve won!

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Sounds simple, right? Well, perhaps not as simple as you’d think. The key tiles are laid at the beginning of the game using dice to make random map coordinates (I love this feature). If the keys are very scattered, it can be quite tricky, even for a grown up, to get to them and then to the treasure in time. We’ve played as a family a few times and I think we’ve only narrowly won more games than we’ve lost! I actually like this though. It’s a challenge and teaches Pip that playing a game is fun, regardless of winning or losing. Plus, I think it helps develop some really key skills – problem solving and communication. As we played through a few rounds, Pip began communicating pretty well, suggesting where the paths should go on our turns and calmly asking for help when stuck on her turn rather than going into a meltdown!

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The look of this game is great too, which I’ve really come to expect from Peaceable Kingdom games. I love the whole map concept, it really appeals to my little adventurer – very handy when the weather becomes a bit too miserable for proper outdoor exploring! The game instructions are rather handily on the inside of the box lid, which means you can’t lose them!

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I highly recommend this game as something to do as a family or when friends come to play!

Family Fun in Autumn

I have already blogged about why, in my humble opinion, Autumn is better than Summer here. Now that Autumn is here, officially beginning tomorrow here in the UK, it’s time to start enjoying it! Tomorrow is also an INSET day at Pip’s school so we are going to spend the day doing fun, autumnal activities. Here’s my plan for the day:

Early morning trip to the park. I haven’t yet decided if this will be the small park close to home, or a long walk to a park slightly further away or a train into the centre of Cardiff for a walk in Bute Park. Small park has the advantage of being able to take Pip’s scooter and an easy journey home if she gets bored. Big park and Bute Park have the advantage of having much more opportunity for finding pine cones, leaves and conkers to take home. In any case, I think a walk in the park is really the perfect way to enjoy this season. All of the beautiful coloured leaves in the trees, falling to be crunched and kicked by an eager little girl (Autumn is Pip’s favourite season too). I also really want to get some good Autumn pictures so that I can update the blog header to be in line with this new season.

Welly

Learning. Last year we focused on just observing the changes that happen in Autumn – the weather turning colder, the leaves changing colour, the days getting shorter. This year I’m planning to look at hibernating animals and migrating birds, how the changing season affects wildlife. I think she’ll be interested in this, animals are very much a favourite subject for Pip. I think I’ll prepare some Autumn themed writing practice for her too. She’s already busily colouring in some Autumn pages from Twinkl as I type this.

Baking. We’re going to make fruity flapjacks from a good and healthy recipe a friend showed me the other day. This will be something nice to have as an afternoon snack but also will be great for packed lunches for the rest of the week.

Craft. When I told her that we’d have a day together next week and asked what she’d like to do, the very first thing she thought of was getting the paints out. I’m hoping that we’ll have some things from the park to use for this but it will at least be Autumn-themed.

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Last year we made this lovely macaroni Autumn themed painting.

As you can probably tell from my plan, I want tomorrow to be a busy day. Pip is becoming used to very full days at school and always being tired at the end of them. Even more than ever, I have a feeling that she’s going to quickly become bored and frustrated if I don’t provide something for her to do. Also, I don’t want to stop our learning at home just because she’s in school now. I’ve always been of the opinion that a parent has the responsibility to teach their child as much as possible. She’s always enjoyed learning new things and I want to keep encouraging that thirst for knowledge – it’ll make her entire school life so much more enjoyable and productive.

What are your favourite Autumn activities?

On the Job Hunt

I’ve been a stay at home parent for five years. We, that is myself and my Husband, made the decision that I would be at home with our daughter for those early years of her life. I’ve mostly enjoyed them and been glad to so closely watch her grown and learn so much. I know I’m lucky that I’ve been able to do this. Now that she’s in school full time, it’s time for me to get back into working full time. I’m actually pretty excited about this. I might have enjoyed being a stay at home parent but the prospect of returning to a more grown up world and having a stable income is very appealing now. My first step was to update my CV. I’ve not exactly been idle for these years at home. I’ve been studying towards my degree, I’ve done voluntary work and been self employed, which involved a mixture of freelance work and running my own little home business. Thats all valuable stuff on a CV. It means that there’s not some huge gap that I have to explain with ‘Family Commitments’. I really thought that would count for something. One week into my job hunt and it’s not going too badly on the face of it. I’ve been applying for every kind of work on offer. My experience might be mostly office based but I’m not going to limit my search there. I’ve applied in shops, supermarkets and cafés as well. I am not fussy or see myself as too good for any kind of work. I have had one interview so far. The feedback, aside from the ultimate rejection, was fairly positive. I did really well in the group tasks and on the numeracy and accuracy tests. Essentially the issue was that someone else had better experience. While I am so grateful for the feedback (this is one of those times when I’d love to break my anonymity rules and name the company because I’ve genuinely never been through a more pleasant recruitment process) and pleased that the interview wasn’t a disaster, that has to be the most annoying reason for not getting the job I could have been given. I cannot do anything about a lack of experience, except get a job. That’s the vicious circle I now find myself in. But I’ve decided not to let that get me down. As I said, I can’t do much about it that I’m not doing already. So I’ll keep at it. I’ll send CVs off to every company that I might have a chance with, I’ll apply for every job I think I’ve got the skills for and I will try my absolute best to look at the failure from a positive perspective. I guess what I’ve learnt is that I was perhaps a little naive to think that bits and pieces of freelance and voluntary work were going to mean that looking for work would take less than a week. It’s going to take more time and effort. I best get on with it then! Have you returned to work after years at home being a parent? How did you overcome these problems? I’d love any tips you have to offer!