“Is your husband a sports fan?” my phone provider’s rep asks nonchalantly. Distracted, I reply, “Yes he is but he doesn’t need his phone to…” The penny drops. “Hang on,” I flounder, “Isn’t that kind of sexist? Shouldn’t you ask if I’m a sports fan?” They sound amused, “Well, are you?” I’m flustered. That kind of isn’t the point and I tell them so. I tell them they should not be asking that question, that it reflects badly on their company.
Then I move the conversation along quickly because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, even though I feel uncomfortable. I want to challenge, not shame. In any case, my discomfort isn’t really with them but with a culture that isn’t evolving fast enough. They casually make this gendered assumption and speak it out loud because it’s not only deemed acceptable but it’s profitable. Get me talking about my husband and sports and maybe I’ll sign up to the deal. But we move on and I forget. I’ve mentioned it. Perhaps that’s enough.
It’s more than I would have done in times past. It’s more than I did on Monday when the theme park employee smiled at my four year old and told her that the next show was “the girls’ show”. Should I fill in the blank and assume that the pirate show was “the boys’ show”? But I don’t react. I return their smile and thank them because they’re just being friendly, even though they’re reinforcing a message I consider harmful to my child. My four year old chimes, “I’m a girl!” Then I really don’t feel like I can say anything. Except I do once the worker is gone. “We know boys and girls can like the same things,” I say. We smile and shrug at each other. And we do go to the show. Because my children love to dance and they recognise the Lego Friends from Heart Lake City.
But as I put my seven year old daughter’s World Cup chart to one side, I wonder if the captions I give the things they hear and see are enough. I wonder if asking questions is enough to prompt them to think critically and ask their own. I explain my concern about the gender stereotyping in an Asterix comic book and worry that I’ve appeared to judge my child for liking Asterix. I am frustrated with myself for not kindly but firmly challenging everyday stereotyping. Even if talking about it in the privacy of our home goes some way to helping my kids ask the big questions about gender and identity, we have to have these conversations with people outside of our echo chamber if we want things to change.
I hope my exchange on the phone gives the rep that called me pause. They’re calling me again tomorrow. I wonder whether I raise it again either with them or in a letter of complaint and gently articulate what’s on my heart with this, that though I may not follow sports myself, I’m raising three girls who may well do. The world around them does not get to decide their interests for them.
Debenhams recently sent us new bedding to give our bedroom a mini makeover.
We’ve been through lots of configurations when it comes to sleep. Having bought a cot and a Moses basket with our first baby, we surprised ourselves by being three in a bed instead. Bedsharing proved a natural fit for our family so, though we got a moses basket again second and third time around for daytime naps (and it went unused!), we didn’t bother with a cot. Instead, we’ve sometimes been four in a bed, four in a bed and one on the floor, two in a bed, two in another and one on their own. Different set ups for different seasons. Currently, we only have twenty-two month old Delilah in with us. Ophelia, who’s four, occasionally joins us too but mostly prefers her own space. If Laurence is away, all the children join me.
It’s not perfect; I do love my space at night. I probably wouldn’t be adverse to twin beds instead of our king, though that might be the touched-out-ness of these early years talking. We even have separate duvets, partly so we don’t steal it off each other, partly because I run hot while Laurence runs cold. But for all the crowding, it’s also plenty lush, cuddling little ones to sleep, knowing even those who have outgrown the cuddling still find security in being near to me. And, of course, it won’t be forever. I came to bed to find Laurence holding sleeping Delilah and five years later, the memory of Talitha at that age is already blurry.
We’ve mused that Delilah might stay in with us longer than the other two did. We moved them out of necessity because I couldn’t bear to breastfeed at night while pregnant and they found it difficult to sleep next to me if this wasn’t an option. With Talitha, it was a simple transition. She was two, we’d just moved house, we decorated her room with her and she loved the idea of her own bed. Laurence was sometimes in with her if she woke but she mostly slept through.
Ophelia found this a lot more difficult. I fell pregnant with Delilah when she was 21 months old and, in retrospect, she just wasn’t ready for all the sudden change, whether because of age or temperament. We moved her out, I night weaned but she was up and unsettled every night for months. It’s easy to look back and say what I’d do things differently but, in reality, all I can say about it is that we did what we thought was best for us all at the time, we muddled through, and thankfully things are settled now.
But neither of us are ready for a repeat and we’ve both got so much more go with the flow with each child added to our family. As Delilah’s our last baby, she’ll likely stay in until she wants to join her sisters. So this is our family bed set up for the foreseeable.
In our last place, we had quite a high bed so used a bed guard with a towel rolled and tucked into the gap for added peace of mind. It worked but it felt like a function-over-style choice. When we moved we bought a low futon-style bed, complete with matching side tables. Initially we chose it so we could sit comfortably in bed with our cottage’s sloping ceiling but it’s also offered the benefit of causing less worry about little ones rolling out of bed or crawling off.
And it’s got us thinking a bit more about how we style this space so it’s actually somewhere we enjoy being, not the dumping ground our bedroom always used to be. Updating our bedding has definitely been a part of that. The Bedeck 1951 “Juma” duvet covers pictured here are a departure from my usual penchant for grey and white sheets. The South American-inspired geometric designs are eye-catching without being too busy and the combination of the ink blue pattern and deep green edging is cosy without dominating our airy bedroom. A child (or two or three!) may sleep here but it still feels like a grown up’s bedroom.
What’s your family bed set up like? Do you all sleep together or in some other configuration? Have you a massive bed? We used to love our extra king! It was definitely needed for a season. Let’s share some inspiration for others making it work with bedsharing.
Sunny warm days not quite here just yet in Cornwall (I was wearing my winter jacket yesterday!) but we’ve had the odd summer-like day and that’s been enough to lure my children back into the garden. They’ve pretty much decided to live there now.
So I’ve been thinking of ways to improve the space so they can get the most out of it. We love lazy days at home and if we can make those days spent outside, all the better. Here are a few things we’ve done and a few on my list to get going over the coming weeks.
1. Take nature walks in your garden
When I was home educating with a newborn a couple of years ago, I relied on being able to head into the garden for a bit to give us all our hit of the outdoors without having to actually leave home. Taking it easy was definitely the season we were in.
Since moving to Cornwall, I’ve felt we always need to be going somewhere exciting to really get into nature, even if that means taking to the woods across from our house. But that can put a lot of pressure on our time in busy weeks so actually, being able to treat a potter around our little garden as a nature walk can be quite freeing.
So last week, we did just that, observing the wildflowers in our garden. It may be that you take the time to check out some snails and read about them or keep some bird books by the door so the kids can identify what they see or even just note the questions the kids ask while playing outdoors to suggest finding answers later.
Invite nature into your garden
On that note, could you invite more critters into your garden? A friend made a pond with an old tub and this year, a frog laid it’s eggs in it – amazing to watch! We’re looking forward to getting a pond going ourselves. If we attract frogs, hopefully they’ll also help combat our slug problem.
Even with less space, you could hang a bird feeder or build a bug hotel. Great for observation and much needed, especially during the winter.
Take your read alouds and projects outside
If you have more sedentary activities you’re working on, you could suggest taking them outside, whether it’s painting or writing, a maths workbook or a science experiment. I often take a stack of books out and read them aloud on our garden bench while the kids play or make daisy chains.
A couple of years ago, Talitha had a morning routine for a while of checking the tomato plants and sitting at the table on the patio to write down what she noticed about them. It could be investing in some new garden furniture or even keeping a picnic blanket to hand to encourage everyone to take projects out there.
Make it a play space
Forget learning through play – play is learning. A really simple way to get young children to spend more time in the garden is to set it up as a play space. There are so many options from putting up a trampoline to building a play house to getting a rocker or a water table.
We actually have a very tiny garden so we’ve opted for a mud kitchen, which at the moment is just a table Laurence made from an old pallet, some kitchen bits we were getting rid of anyway and a corner of the garden that the kids are allowed to dig. I’d love to set up something more organised and visually appealing but they love it even as it is.
Of course an obvious way to spend time learning outdoors is to grow things. We currently have salad in our front garden and we’re planting sunflowers and a wildflower “meadow” this week. Even if you just plant a couple of pots, there is so much to learn from that process, especially if the kids can eat what they grow.
Observe the weather
Get a rain gauge and an outdoor thermometer up and the weather patterns suddenly become very interesting! We need to get a chart going so the girls can note their findings.
Have a picnic
Finally, take a break outside. Eat lunch or dinner there. Move poetry tea time on to the grass. It pretty much makes our day whenever we do this and meals in the garden can lead to interesting conversations about all sorts of things around us.
Are you working on any garden projects with your kids this year? Do you have a garden bucket list for the Spring/Summer months, maybe?
Thanks to Groupon for working with me on this post
We’ve been following Story of the World since September. It’s our first year consistently checking out history. I very loosely look to The Well Trained Mind for ideas of what to offer when so we’ve been hanging out in the ancient world.
Six-year-old Talitha has been drinking it all in and was especially enthralled with ancient Egypt. I suggested we pick up the pace quite a bit more this past term because I imagined she would love arriving in ancient Greece (we have and she is) but we found lots to capture the imagination along the way, especially in ancient China and Persia.
In all this, I’m amazed at how interested Ophelia is. She often wanders in and out doing her own thing, not appearing to be listening at all and then will ask a poignant question or later muse about something we’d been reading or talking about. I don’t think she’s even aware that we’re reading these things primarily for Talitha’s benefit. To her there’s no demarcation. She may only have just turned four but she regards herself as home educated. All the things we do are, to her, just another part of how we live together.
And so she expects to participate. She’s been asking me to write words for her, which she copies, and she now knows most of the letter sounds and can sound out very simple words. She recognises a lot of numbers and works out simple sums without realising that’s what she’s doing.
I’m so laid back with her, partly because in the end Talitha became a fluent reader on her own. Apart from occasionally offering her Reading Eggs or, more recently, Teach your monster to read so she can play alongside Talitha, I just let Ophelia be. As she fills pages with random numbers and letters, three-letter words and her own name, as she sits and recites books to herself and her baby sister telling me she’s reading, it’s such a pleasure seeing her develop in her own way, a constant surprise.
This last term saw her suddenly shift to longer books so although we have a steady stream of picture books, she devoured James Herriot and was suddenly all about Beatrix Potter – we need to get some more of the latter. She also listened to her first chapter book, My Father’s Dragon, which is also the first chapter book I read to Talitha when she was four.
Talitha has read it a few times since so I read her The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We’d been putting it off for ages because I tried reading it to her about a year ago and she was too worried about what would happen when they got to the witch so we shelved it. With a lot of discussion and the promise that we’d stop if it became too much, we approached it again. This time, the book was a delight from start to finish. This was absolutely the right time for her to encounter it. I’m glad I didn’t try to push through with it when she was five.
At the moment we’re halfway through Charlotte’s Web. Talitha’s already read it but she’s finding that listening to it is quite a different experience. We found the same with Little House on the Prairie. She flew through it on her own, enjoyed it and clearly understood it because she kept accidentally giving us spoilers when I read it aloud but she was still super keen for me to read it.
I’m finding that she’s begun to prefer to read fiction to herself than to be read to. Recently I’ve been wondering how to navigate this and I found the transcript of The Read Aloud Revival’s recent podcast on reading aloud to 8-12 year olds helpful on this point. Sarah McKenzie explains why we stop reading to children when they become proficient readers and value of continuing to read to them. For one thing, their listening comprehension is generally a lot higher than their reading comprehension so it exposes them to richer language and prompts discussion. Reading aloud also keeps a relationship around books open, which I’m keen to sustain. Anyway, do check that out if it’s something you’re interested in. It’s given me lots to consider.
We started using Mystery Science this last term which both of the girls are loving. The lessons are videos with open and go activities, set by grade. If there’s any writing required, Ophelia just draws instead. Again, there’s no expectation that she’ll join in but she expects to join in! We spent the term mostly on the human body, driven mostly by Ophelia’s many questions. So we looked for “mysteries” on body systems, dug out a Whizz Pop Bang magazine on bones and an OKIDO magazine on lungs and read the human body books we have here at home.
We once again moved a lot of our home ed stuff to the dining room. We have a playroom but I think I need to stop insisting that all this stuff has to live there when the kitchen/dining room is the natural hub of our home. This included putting rehoming the Spielgaben (a collection of open ended wooden toys we managed to get second hand a few years ago) in our diningroom shelf which has been brilliant for encouraging me to use it.
They’re always creating with it but it was a bit out of sight out of mind for me in the playroom so moving it here got me looking at the resources that came with it and I asked Talitha whether she’d like to try out the maths games. So that’s been fun to do alongside Life of Fred and Mathseeds and I’ve had a new appreciation for the precision the collection is made with in terms of how the sets all fit together. I’ve also started offering Delilah sets to play with. She loves hiding the knitted balls, posting pieces or threading beads on a stick.
The older two are also heavily into boardgames now that Ophelia can (with support) hold her own. That’s even led to them inventing games of their own. Talitha’s also started using Scratch, which is one of her favourite things right now, a fun free programme which teaches kids to code by allowing them to create games and animations.
As always it was a term of special days with Candlemas Day, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, Chinese New Year and, of course, Easter. And Talitha and Laurence went to see a touring First Experiences version of Julius Caesar by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Newquay. I’m still gutted I was too ill too go but it was a good experience for them to share. AND it snowed and settled! TWICE! Thrice?! I actually can’t remember. In Cornwall where it NEVER snows! I know that’s more a life thing than a home ed thing but actually, it all flows into each other, doesn’t it?
Talitha’s continuing with the violin and Beavers and both she and Ophelia took up capoeira last term and have just started with a Spanish class. We’ve also continued with our community art group. I’m conscious that we’re probably too busy (and it all adds up!) and Talitha has been asking about swimming lessons so we’ll have to make some changes this term.
The takeaway for me, as always, is that a lot happens without me noticing or needing to cause it happen. We don’t have any plans for the term ahead but I’m going to try to chat about what we’re up to a bit more regularly here on the blog. I tend to share a lot on my Instagram stories if that’s more your jam. We’re likely going to continue using the resources I mentioned here but the changes I expect we’ll slow down a lot, spend more time up at the allotment and once the boat gets in the water, that’ll become a focus too.
I started writing this when Delilah was upstairs having a nap and the older two are watching Netflix. The morning’s excitement included Delilah refusing to wear a nappy and using the potty instead – mostly. She’s been doing this off and on for a couple of weeks. At some point I will get it together and give the situation enough focus to help her close the deal.
She’s twenty-one months old and I’m so aware that life won’t long be punctuated by naps and nappy changes. She saying lots of words now and is determined to keep up with her older sisters, often refusing to be carried, insisting that her little legs will take her wherever Talitha and Ophelia go. She soon won’t be a baby anymore. Some would say she’s not a baby now. She probably would if she could.
When Ophelia was her age, I was one month pregnant. When Talitha was her age, I was trying to get pregnant. Yet it doesn’t seem strange that she’ll soon be two and no other babies are potentially or actually on the way. In fact, we’ve closed that chapter as firmly as we can with a doctor’s appointment for Laurence.
Life is oh so full with three children and yet the idea of trying for a fourth baby did come up from time to time. But neither of us ever suggested it with any seriousness and neither experienced the deep longing for another child that I did before conceiving Delilah. Despite exclaiming as I got out of the birth pool with Ophelia that I was never doing that again, I got teary parting with most of the baby things and I ached for another baby in a way that I can’t explain. It didn’t feel like we were done. We fortunately welcomed Delilah. And I haven’t known that ache since.
I expected to be really emotional about the vasectomy (there’s time for that yet, of course) but mostly I’ve felt relief. I’m ready to move out of the baby phase. As much as I’ve loved it and, oh, I have loved it, I’m happy to leave the physical demands of pregnancy and small babies behind. I can’t imagine facing the exhaustion of the first trimester again. And I’m as busy as I want to be.
I’ve felt space incrementally opening up for other things as we move out of the intense baby stage. There is room in my mind for people and projects beyond the ones under my roof. I’m looking forward to writing more and creating more content. And yes, Delilah is not yet two and I am still home educating so I won’t go too crazy running down ideas but I’m not expecting to be hitting the reset button with a newborn so I feel able to dream harder and plan more concretely. It’s all vague right now but I’m still allowing myself to get excited about the possibilities.
You hear people say that you just know when you’re done, when your family is complete. I’m not convinced that that’s the case for even most of us. There is part of me that can’t quite believe we won’t have another baby but I’ve realised the melancholy attached to that has more to do with feeling nostalgic for my three babies than with wanting to do it all again.
Talitha will soon be seven and I am haunted from time to time with the thought that I somehow didn’t soak it up enough, that short phase when she was really little. Logically, I know that worry is misplaced. Even if it weren’t and I hadn’t enjoyed her earliest years as much as I could, there’s just so much to delight in right now. Taking pleasure in the present is ultimately what makes it easier to move on.
So we are going to Trinidad and Tobago this summer…for a MONTH! Well, Laurence is going for two weeks because of work but the kids and I are making the most of getting over there for the first time in four years by staying that bit longer. Send me all your positive thoughts, prayers and vibrations for the transatlantic flight back on my own with three kids. I’m well intimidated but we’re a tiny team and it’ll be worth it.
When people find out I’m from Trinidad and Tobago they usually ask how often we get to go back. We mainly live on one income and with five tickets to buy, it’s easier for my parents to come visit us, even if we have made that more challenging by moving to remote Cornwall. With their help we’re finally making it out there and it feels like such a big deal, not least because we have no idea when we’d manage it again.
That’s why we’re planning ahead and thinking carefully about what we want to achieve with this trip. Seeing family and friends is a given as it’s my home country but it’s a holiday too so we’re thinking about how best to slow it down somewhere hot, sunny and beautiful. We also hope this will be a chance for the girls to start making longer term connections with a place and culture that’s an important part of their own identity. Certainly, at seven and four, Talitha and Ophelia are likely to remember their time there.
We’ll mainly be based in Trinidad, the bigger, faster paced, more urban sister isle where I grew up and where most of my family lives but we definitely want to make some time to chill out in Tobago which offers more of the classic Caribbean holiday vibe. We may also look at spending some time in the capital city, Port of Spain, just because it’s not something we’ve done in the past as my parents are based in South Trinidad.
I’m thinking of options for combining seeing people with the holiday thing and I think getting a villa could be an ideal solution so I’ve been taking a look through the properties on Clickstay. It allows you to stay somewhere self-catered with a swimming pool, generally in great locations, while splitting the cost of food and accommodation with whomever you’re staying with.
Image from Clickstay website
I really like the look of this Clickstay villa in Mount Irvine in Tobago, for instance. The location would particularly suit Laurence as it’s near the surf. Villa prices compare with hotels and Air BnB’s we’ve researched and we’ve found in the past that set ups like this allow us to enjoy quality vacation time with grandparents, for instance, without getting too much in each other’s space.
I’m keen to really document our time out in Trinidad and Tobago since it’s a big deal for us and it’s a bit of a “different” destination for a lot of people but one I think is worth considering. Perhaps I’ll pop a little bucket list on here before we go and I hope to put together a small guide for families once we’ve been. Let me know what you’d like to see and if you’re living out there, I’d love your suggestions. I haven’t lived there since I was nineteen and haven’t visited since Talitha and Ophelia were three years old and six months old so the proposition’s changed quite a bit this time around. We’re getting properly excited now!
Thanks to Clickstay for working with me on this post.
Talitha’s been trying out and thoroughly enjoying a levelled book subscription service called Reading Chest. The idea is that your child receives books in the post and when they finished reading them, they put them in supplied envelopes and pop them in a post box to receive more.
She’s actually a proficient reader now so she doesn’t need levelled readers. She’s just finished reading The Railway Children, borrowed from the library, for instance. However, she’s enjoying the Reading Chest’s “Extended Readers Book Band”. They’re fun, quick reads and I like that they often raise interesting points for conversation, especially if she’s reading aloud, as she likes to do with non-fiction books, generally.
I know a lot of home educators aren’t keen on levelled readers, feeling that they can often be quite dry and that children should practise reading on “real” books. However, when Talitha was learning to read, she really liked having books that she had a good chance of being able to read independently. We struggled to find books that suited her ability at the library so I wound up buying Oxford Reading Tree’s Biff, Chip and Kipper, the levelled reading series that people love to hate. I actually found them pretty dull but she loved them and quickly worked her way through them.
With Reading Chest, you can choose books across many different reading schemes or opt for a random mix, which we’ve been doing. You also have to option of choosing fiction, non-fiction or a mix. Talitha changes this almost every time she returns a set of books then looks forward to the next delivery, which has been consistently prompt, meaning we have a regular flow of new books coming through. I can see that being particularly helpful for those who find it difficult to get to a library or find that their local library has a limited selection. Their schemes span Collins Big Cat, Oxford Reading Tree, Treetops, Bug Club, Project X and more and they stock an up-to-date, extensive collection.
From our point of view, it’s great having lots of new, quality reading material which doesn’t then become more clutter in our home. It’s an opportunity to borrow lots of levelled readers without having to buy them, trying out varied styles and trying books that you or your kids might not normally choose. There are also no return dates or late fees and you can cancel at any time.
There are few different options in terms of how many books you borrow and it’s really easy to swap levels if you need to. For our first delivery, we had a look at the books for one of the younger reading bands online, reading excerpts on the website. When they came, Talitha found the books to easy so we moved her up to the final stage for the next delivery and we’ve stayed there. We also took the option of requesting “no scary books” – pretty important in this house!
Multiple children can be added to the subscription so I have thought that if Ophelia were reading, we might get quite a lot of use out of that option but she’s not there yet. I think we’d probably get the most use out of a subscription like this with a four or five year old who was learning to read, which might be Ophelia later this year as she’s very interested in letters and is starting to pick out the sounds in words, of her own accord.
There are some fun options thrown in like sticker reward charts which we don’t use unless decides she wants to track her reading that way for fun. The books initially came with a bag which is useful for keeping them in one place between delivery and return. She’s also been enjoying reviewing the odd book for the Reading Chest website, which is another fun feature.
———- Reading Chest gave us a subscription in exchange for an honest review.