30 June 2020

How to have an amazing birthday party at home for kids

Here are ten tips for how to still make a fantastic birthday party even with the restrictions of social distancing and lockdowns.

I have always had big birthday parties for our girls, with often close to 15 kids and their parents in our house or garden. Lots of food and drink and party games galore. But this year my daughter's seventh birthday happened during the lockdown - so instead of a big birthday bash we had a socially distanced birthday party online. 

The restrictions were easing just a little bit and I did not feel comfortable with trying to organise a birthday party for her and her friends in a park or anything - and figured the other mums might feel the same. So I organised an online party but I also got her in the party mood by making her day home special.

I've written down some of my own experiences of what worked and what didn't and I've also asked fellow bloggers for their experiences. Now as lockdown eases, it is likely that social distancing will continue for a while and many parents will feel uneasy with their kids meeting other kids, so hopefully these tips will help in making the most of the big day in these unusual circumstances!

lego friends party bags

party bag goodies

1. Let them be the boss for the day! My daughter is going through an Egyptian phase so she wanted to be treated like a pharaoh for the day - so we did all the kinds of things she wanted on the day. This included letting her skip homeschool and letting her choose the evening meal, even if it did in the end involve a 1h wait in the McDonald's queue... 

2. Host a virtual birthday party! This is exactly what we did. I organised a Google Hangout session for my daughter and her five best friends, with party games and a party bag with snacks and a crafting activity. We also had her extended family members belting Happy Birthday and joining in on a present opening session in the morning of her birthday.

Yvette from Uplifting and Inspiring Content did something very similar and had a whole extended family joining the party via Zoom, dressed up and drinking and eating together, sharing jokes and singing. Rowena from My Balancing Act on the other hand got her son's pre-school friends and parents together to sing Happy Birthday and throw balloons via Zoom. 

3. Play a game during the virtual party. We did hide and seek, which worked surprisingly well but did need the assistance of a parent. Each child got a turn at hiding somewhere in their home. The children would then guess where in the house this was, and their parent would give hints and reveal where the child was when the right answer was shouted. The kids loved this activity!

Scavenger activity, where you ask everyone to find an item or a specific colour item from their home works well for a virtual party as suggested by Jennifer from Rice Cakes and Raisins. Quizzes could work for older kids or adults, or if you are sick and tired of quizzes, Emma from Emma and 3 has shared a scattergories games idea, often played in her family. Bingo could also work, and memory game, where you show a set of items to all, then cover the camera and remove one, and everyone has to remember what item that was was suggested by Katie from Mum of 2.5.

online birthday party

4. Have a joint crafting activity at the virtual party. I ordered my daughter and all her party friends matching bracelet sets from Cotton Twist, easy for kids to complete on their own. They were a great hit! Leyla from This Day I Love ordered pottery kits from a local company who delivered them and the children loved the activity. 

5. Have a socially distanced meeting or wave from the window. My daughter went out on a socially distanced bike ride with her best friend, and that was the highlight of her day. Carla-Marie from My Bump 2 Baby on the other hand had the grandparents pop by their window to see presents being opened and say congratulations - with Zoom cake later. 

6. Bake a cake together. We made a chocolate cake, and Michelle from The Willow Tree made a  special "lockdown birthday cake" with her daughter. Both our kids loved the activity even if the cakes didn't end up looking too great...

7. Enlist the neighbours in on it. We didn't do this, but a surefire way of making a birthday extra special is to get friendly neighbours joining in. Clare from MyTunbridge Wells neighbours hang Happy Birthday posters and pictures on their windows, and let the parent know their house number so they can walk past the display with the child. Amy from All About a Mummy had all her neighbours come out and sing Happy Birthday - and said this really helped lift the community spirits.

bracelet craft

8. Make a video message! I enlisted PrincessMessage.com to send my daughter a short Happy Birthday message, which she loved! Or you could get friends to help - Jenny from Peak District Kids asked the friends of her 5 year old to send a 30 second happy birthday message and a joke on Whatsapp, making the birthday very special indeed. 

9. Do something out of the ordinary. You could build dens, or have a foam party, or maybe a home disco, with blackout lights and Kids Bop!

For example, Erica from Incidental Parent organised lots of special activities for her child - with den building and playing with bubbles - which sounds like a great fun day in! Naomi from Not a Perfect Parent on the other hand planned a home cinema, and a hot dog and ice cream stand for the kids, and even allowed his kid to sleep downstairs, and Raimonda from Cosmo Mum decided to go camping in the garden! Sophie from Mama Mei organised a Zoom disco for her kids, and decorated the house just for them. For the littlest ones, a cake smash suggested by Nita from Mummys Wishes would be great fun...

10. Make a theme out of it! Kellie from My Little Babog on the other hand made quarantine the party theme for her one year old and had the funniest images of her little one in the play pen! On a more traditional note, Kerry from Blissful Domestication had a pirate-themed party (and here she shares lots of tips for that theme!), and  Jennifer from Mighty Mama Bear did a sports-themed party for her 11 year old with football, basketball, and egg and spoon races.

Our theme was Lego Friends -I decorated the party bags with Lego Friends stickers and stuck loads of Lego Friends figurines on the cake - easy!

birthday balloons for seven year old

So all in all - you can totally have a great birthday party even if you can't be present in person! My personal favourites include a virtual party and a shared party bag, with a craft activity or a virtual party game, and also gathering video messages from friends. Lots of idea to choose from, so I hope you have a great party!

You might also like: 10 simple and easy ideas for a toddler Paw Patrol party and 10 quick and easy ideas for a bunny party

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

28 June 2020

My first virtual bloggers evening with Moonpig!

Few weeks back I attended my first virtual bloggers evening with Moonpig - an online card and gifts delivery service. I've attended quite a few blogger events in the past - living in London it has been easy to arrange, and seeing blogger buddies and learning about new products and services has always been one of the highlights of blogging for me. 

Now I got to attend my very first virtual Zoom blogger party and we had loads of fun, learning first about the Moonpig app and all that Moonpig offers. We then had a masterclasses on making drinks and arranging flowers, using some of the products you can actually order from Moonpig as gifts which was pretty cool. 

Moonpig products for blogger party

Learning about the Moonpig app

We got testing the Moonpig app. Everyone probably knows Moonpig.com and has that annoying ad jingle ingrained in their brain - I know I do! I don't go on my desktop all that much anymore though, so using apps on my phone makes things so much easier when you have a busy life on the go. It is well worth downloading the Moonpig app for any of your card / gift needs and there are good money off deals currently too! 

There were a few features I really liked about the app - 

  • you can schedule and pay your cards for at least a few months ahead so if you are a seriously organised person (unlike me) you can tick this off your to-do-list!
  • you can set scheduled reminders - quite useful for us mere mortals!
  • you can send cards abroad as well, so this helps people like me with friends and family outside UK;
  • for the cards you can search by all kinds of categories, personalise them with names, special messages, your own photos and size, and can even see the final product in a VR setting to know exactly how big and beautiful it'll be;
  • and for kids cards, if you select "activity" cards, you can find those ones with colouring sheets inside;
  • you can add a message using your hand-writing - write a note on a blank piece of paper and take a photo of it and it scans inside the card! This was very cool, although available on iOS only at the moment;
  • and I didn't actually realise that in addition to the card, you can also order flowers and other gifts too!

gin and cocktail ingredients and shakers

zoom party with moonpig and bloggers

Making gin cocktails and learning bartender skills

After testing the Moonpig app we got on with the masterclasses, starting with a cocktail masterclass. In this class we were taught by James from Mix & Twist three different gin drinks, using a very nice bottle of Silent Pool gin (actually available on Moonpig gift selection too!). These were so tasty, and despite only making two of these on the night I was getting a bit tipsy by the end of the class. These can be made alcohol-free as well by the way - just replace the gin with equal amount of cranberry juice. The recipes below. 

  • Gin Garden:  45ml Gin, 25ml lime juice, 25ml sugar syrup, 1 inch piece of cucumber cut in pieces, crush in glass, add 6-7 leaves of mint and ice, and top with soda. 
  • Elderflower Collins: 45ml Gin, 25ml lemon, 25ml sugar syrup, shake with ice, and top with Elderflower soda.
  • Strawberry Gimlet: 3-4 strawberries, 45ml Gin, 25ml lime, 25ml sugar syrup, 25ml cranberry juice. Shake with ice and strain.

I've since made the Strawberry gimlet quite a few times... 

pink peonies

Arranging flowers with a florist

The final class we had was a flower arrangement class with Moonpig's own florist Roxanne - and we were sent the Luxury Peony and Rose bouquet from Moonpig selections. I've recently been a big fan of sending flowers as gifts, and indeed, been a big fan of receiving them as gifts too. It was useful to hear some tips on how to make them last longer, such as 

  • removing leaves that would be underwater when the bouquet is in a vase;
  • cutting an inch or so off the stems in a 45 degree angle;
  • using the flower feed and refreshening the water every two to three days;
  • when arranging your own bouquet, you start with the main items (in our case the peonies), then add the supporting flowers (roses in our bouquet), and as a final touch all the other flourishes, like little flowers and foliage;
  • if you arrange the stems in an interlocking fashion, so let them cross when arranging, the bouquet stays in place properly. 

woman with two gin drinks

All in all - a fun and quite the educational evening with Moonpig - thanks for inviting me!

17 June 2020

10 inspirational black women I want my daughter to know about

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about ten inspirational women I wanted to teach my daughter about. That was just ten, and there are so many more courageous and inspiring women I would like to talk about. 

This time I wanted to talk about black women specifically. As the Black Lives Matter movement is growing, it is more and more important to have those discussions with our kids where we acknowledge racism and introduce diversity. This post has been long in my drafts but as I have been learning more about systemic racism, it has become increasingly clear to me that I should ensure our homeschooling acknowledges heroes of a diverse nature, not just what my Eurocentric education has me automatically turn to.

I have to admit, I did ponder for a while if I should be writing this post. Who am I to be choosing black heroes? But I decided it doesn't really matter. They are inspirational women who should be shouted about from the rooftops, regardless who is the one sharing the message.

So here are ten fantastic historically impactful black women, some of whom you might not have heard of, but ought to.  These women made their mark in history, against the odds. It was not just their gender that was holding them back at the time, but also the colour of their skin. Despite the difficulties they stood their ground and persisted, tenacious, graceful, just and courageous. And it is a shame that all too often their contribution is forgotten, in preference to their better-known white contemporaries.

1. Rosa Parks. OK, I know, I know, everyone knows about Rosa Parks. She was the woman who was too tired to get up and refused to give her seat to a white man, getting her arrested, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott which led to nation-wide protests against racial segregation in public facilities in the United States. 

She was tired, and didn't want to get up for a white man. That's the way we are often taught the story but this downplays the significance of her moment. For Rosa Parks was not tired. She was a fit, 40 year old woman. She herself says in her autobiography that "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically ... No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in".

Here is a good video on Rosa Parks suitable for primary school students. 

2. The person you probably don't know about however is Claudette Colvin. Claudette was the teenager who inspired Rosa Parks to stay seated. 

Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat, there was Claudette Colvin. She was 15. Her dream was to be the president of the United States. When the bus driver told her to get up for a white woman, she refused. She was thinking of a school paper she wrote about blacks not being allowed to use dressing rooms in the department stores, being unable to try clothes before buying them, and she decided to stay seated.

She said later: "History kept me stuck to my seat. I felt the hand of Harriet Tubman pushing down on one shoulder and Sojouner Truth pushing down on the other". As she was dragged from the bus by police she shouted her constitutional rights were being violated. She never became the poster child for the civil rights movement however, as she was a teenager, unmarried and got pregnant a few months after her arrest, and was not considered to be of the right image.

For kids a good learning point might be that Rosa Parks did not exist in a vacuum - lots of people were standing up for their rights and Rosa Parks was just one part of a wider movement. For older children an interesting learning point might also be that history we know is never the full picture and history is a collection of stories, sometimes curated to tell a certain viewpoint. 

3. Harriet Tubman was born a slave in the 1820s. She was often beaten and when she was thirteen a slave owner threw a metal weight at one of his slaves, and the weight hit Harriet. It fractured her skull and caused her life-long headache and dizzy spells. She escaped in 1849, and after a long and dangerous journey using the Underground Railway (a route of safe houses escaped slaves used to hide when on the run), she reached Pennsylvania.

After a law was passed in the US that made it legal to capture escaped slaves from other states and return them to their owners, Harriet wanted to help slaves reach Canada, and started helping them along the Underground Railway. She led 19 escapes from the south and helped around 300 slaves to escape. She never lost a slave and was never caught. She became famous in the underground movement and was called Moses, as she led her people to safety just like Moses in the Bible.

Here is a good video on Harriet Tubman, suitable for primary school kids. 

4. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "the Godmother of Rock'n'Roll", was an American singer, guitarist and a songwriter who was particularly popular from her gospel recordings in the 1930s and 1940s. She pioneered electric guitar techniques, and influenced Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, and later also Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Meat Loaf, Katherine Carpenter and many other diverse artists have also cited her as an influence.

At this time female guitarists were very rare, and playing guitar was often linked with masculinity and she was often told she "played like a man". At the time segregation was also rife, so she had to sleep on the tour bus and come in to venues through the backdoor as black people were not admitted. She has also been referred to as a lesbian artist. After her second marriage ended, she toured with Marie Knight, who many speculated to be her partner, although they dismissed this as rumours.

5. Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to become a pilot. She was born in the 1890s and she was one of 13 kids. The family was very poor and she had to work from an early age. When she was older she became interested in flying and applied to flying school, but was rejected because she was black. Determined to learn to fly, she moved to France and attended flying school in Paris, and got her pilots licence in 1921 - becoming the first black woman in the world to qualify as a pilot. She returned to US and performed in air shows doing many daring and dangerous stunts - including jumping out of her cockpit and walking on the wing, while the aeroplane was in the air. She tragically died when she was 34 year old of a flight accident. 

6. Josephine Parker - a world-renowned performer, a World War II spy and a civil rights activist. Some referred to her as the Beyonce of her time. She hailed from a poor family. Her grandparents were former slaves, and she never knew her biological father. For a while she lived on the streets as a child and performed on the streets. She was tenacious and got parts in vaudeville theatre but was mostly a background dancer. Eventually she moved to France in 1920s, where she became a huge success in dancing and entertaining.

During the second World War Josephine became a French Resistance agent. As a successful entertainer she got access to parties at embassies and ministries, charmed officials and reported back what she heard from high-ranking Japanese and Italian officials. After the war she was awarded metals of honour for her contributions.

She was an outspoken campaigner against the racial segregation in the US, and refused to perform to segregated audiences. In fact, after Martin Luther King was assassinated, she was approached to take on the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement but she declined it saying her children "were too young to lose their mother". She had twelve adopted kids, from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds, and she referred to her family as "The Rainbow Tribe" and used them as an example of an anti-racist community. 

7. Katherine Johnson was a mathematician whose work was critical to the success of NASA's first space missions. She loved maths from an early age, and wanted to count everything. She began to work at a data entry person, a usual lower-skilled position for women in the 1950s, but she soon proved herself in the aeronautics and space program.

She was assertive, and started to attend meetings and to insist being heard, and as she was so good at mathematics, she started to work on different space programs and over time became very influential and well-known scientist. When NASA first moved on to using computers only for calculating spaceship trajectories, some astronauts refused to fly before she had verified the computer calculations herself. Her story is also covered in the acclaimed film Hidden Figures - very much recommended!

8. Mary Seacole was a nurse in the Crimean War. She was from Jamaica, and her father was a Scottish soldier and mother a Jamaican nurse and a healer. Mary had an interest in medicine and nursing from an early age, and she loved traveling too and was business minded.

After traveling and working in many countries in the world she had heard of the bloody battles and wanted to help - so she went to the War Office in London and requested to join Florence Nightingale and her team of nurses in the Crimea. She was turned down, but determined Mary would not be swayed, and with her friend she set sail to Crimea in 1886 with a boat stocked with medical supplies. She set up the "British Hotel" near the front-line, where soldiers could rest and buy food and drinks. With that money, she treated sick and wounded soldiers. She was also incredibly brave and used to ride horseback to the frontline, even under fire, to treat wounded soldiers of both sides.

Here is a good video series on Mary Seacole, suitable for primary school students. 

9. Maya Angelou was a world-renowned poet. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, many poetry books and contributed to many television shows, plays and movies. She had also worked as a journalist, and actor and a lecturer.

When she was eight years old she was sexually abused and raped by her mother's boyfriend. After she told her family about it, the man was murdered - probably by her uncles - and Maya stopped speaking for five years. She believed that it was her voice that killed him, and that her voice could kill someone else too, so she stopped speaking completely.

For kids a good learning point in my opinion would be that even if something bad happens to you, you can overcome it with time. Over time Maya Angelou was able to have a voice again and her voice became very influential and heard by many.

10. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She was a political and environmental activist and lived in Kenya, and she fought for democracy, human rights and conservation of the environment. She set up the Green Belt Movement in 1970s, an environmental organisation, that encouraged and funded planting trees across Kenya to combat deforestation and to improve women's lives. Even after the former repressive government  of Kenya started to harass and ultimately arrested and beat her, she continued her work.  

Some fantastic and interesting women from history, who have contributed so much to the betterment of humankind - and they are fantastic for any child to learn about. 

Who would you include in this list in addition to the above? 

24 May 2020

What free online exercise classes are there for kids?

If you've been wanting to find out what free online exercise and physical education classes there are for kids you've come to the right place. The answer is - there are loads. During the lockdown and quarantine stages lots of newcomers have provided fresh new content to complement the older and established favourites. In this post I want to share my and my kids favourite free online resources for kids physical exercise - there are lots of ideas for a variety of ages, from nursery age to early teens. 

During lockdown I've insisted on two topics - P.E. and maths. We have done other topics too of course, but less regularly and led by my daughter's interests, as I've explained in my unschooling homeschooling post.  If we stay indoors, then for P.E. we often go for one of these videos below.

girl doing ballet in front of tv


P.E with Joe - Joe Wicks started doing daily 30 min P.E. sessions for the kids on his YouTube channel. Monday to Friday, 9 AM (BST). All the sessions are available to watch on his channel so you don't have to join in on time. They are best for older kids, such as later primary years and secondary schools, and of course parents often enjoy joining in too. 

He's also got a selection of five minute workouts for kids if you want something quick! These hold the attention of the smaller ones better. 

Andy's Wild Workouts - This is done by the children's TV CBeebies presenter Andy and better suited for the younger ones, six and under, than Joe Wicks. Lots of fun and magical videos, with dinosaurs, sea creatures and like. 10 videos, available on YouTube and BBC iPlayer. 

Les Mills on Demand - Les Mills on Demand has a Born to Move section for kids, which includes a limited selection of free videos for a range of ages, 4-5 years, 6-7 years, 8-12 years and 13-16 years old kids. They are around 20 minutes long with music and fun exercises. Limited to two free videos per age group. 

Get Kids Moving - these videos are computerised workouts and seem to be popular with P.E. teachers who are setting lockdown workout. Work well for some primary school kids, particularly those that love Marvel and other comic book heroes! I personally prefer ones with a human instructor, but I can see these videos suiting well some kids.

two kids doing home exercise


Lots of great dance resources out there! 

Go Noodle - short and active dance videos and exercise challenges on YouTube - perfect for the little ones in primary.  

The Ballet Coach - great selection of ballet classes for a variety of ages. Classes available for guide ages of 2-5 years, 5-7 years, 8-12 years, and 13+ years - although total beginners would probably want to start from the earlier years. 

The videos are cleverly colour-coded so you can find the relevant class quickly from the stream of them and are streamed live Mon to Fri, 9.30AM to 5PM if you want to join in. There are adult and grandparents videos too, so even us oldies can try our plie ha ha. 

Oti Mabuse - the Strictly Come Dancing judge does live streamed dance lessons for kids from her living room. Lots of great dance videos for kids, based on popular pop songs or kids films like Moana or Tangled, or Frozen. These are very energetic and great exercise, very fun to do. Better for kids 6+ as some moves can be a bit challenging and tiring. 

Kidz Bop - Aimed at primary school age kids and tweens, these are fun pop songs performed by kids. There are two main exercise related playlists, Dance Along videos and Kidz Bop Fitness. Great ideas to spice up a dance routine with current pop songs. 

Bounce Patrol - for the youngest of kids, in nursery and early years. Short educational songs and little dances, about washing hands, vegetables, colours and so on. Very colourful and children's TV style videos, very fun for the little little ones. 


Cosmic Kids Yoga - the favourite YouTube channel for lots of nursery and early years teachers! These are so fantastic, gentle but do get the kids moving and also calming down and practicing mindfulness, particularly great for these trying times. 

They are founded on play and incorporate story-telling and imagination, and there are many all-time favourites such as Frozen yoga, or Moana yoga for Disney fans. Great for young kids, probably 8 and under. My daughter is a great fan of Cosmic Kids and often chooses this as her first choice of P.E. 

Yoga for Kids - more of basic yoga moves, rather than story telling, but suitable for kids. This will appeal to kids that have outgrown Cosmic Kids but still enjoy yoga and could do with calming activities.  

Have you got any other tips for physical exercise online resources for kids? Would love to hear new ideas!

11 free and fun online video collections to get kids moving! Fitness, dance and yoga, and suggestions for all ages from nursery to teens.

11 free and fun online video collections to get kids moving! Fitness, dance and yoga, and suggestions for all ages from nursery to teens.

11 free and fun online video collections to get kids moving! Fitness, dance and yoga, and suggestions for all ages from nursery to teens.

11 May 2020

How we do it: 11 easy tips for the unschooling way of homeschool

So - if you have been thrust into the world of homeschooling... How is it going for you?

After trying to get a 6 year old complete her school homework, while trying to tend to a toddler and a newly invigorated cleaning routine, I found it just too much. Too damn much. 

It was not working for us. Due to the corona-crisis the situation we found ourselves in was so very different from a normal homeschool set-up, where you supplement your home-schooling with trips to museums or other places of interest, playgroups and leisure centres for socialising and so on. A further worry of mine was that by stressing about homeschooling I would become even more of a shouty mum and cause even more stress on my child, in a situation that is already stressful enough.

girl reading a book on sofa

In the end - I decided that we would be unschooling instead of homeschooling. And if you are struggling with homeschooling, you are not alone. Here, have my permission to give yourself a break. 

Unschooling is, in a nutshell, allowing your child to follow their own interests. It is NOT leaving your child to do it on their own - rather, it is facilitating their learning based on the topics they choose. 

The foundational idea of unschooling is that everything is learning and children learn the best if they learn things that interest them. And as children are interested in so many vast different things, they will learn all they need - although it may not be in the same timeframe or the same structure as you would do in a normal school. For example, a true unschooler would be relaxed about their kids learning to read - and believe that eventually their children will choose to learn to read because they will need to to learn more about their chosen areas of interest. 

In practice, the approach I've taken could be characterised as a mix of school homework and unschooling. The way I have done it is:
  • I prioritise reading, writing and maths. Reading and writing because it is essential to all other learning, and are my daughter's favourite things to do anyway. Maths because it is the foundation to so many other areas of learning and if you don't practice it, you lose it, and it is difficult to build back up. 
  • I ask my child what she would like to learn about. For example, she has chosen Ancient Egypt, Tudor fashion, marble runs, and creative writing amongst other topics. So we have covered lots of ground using these topics to guide learning. 
  • I check the school homework sheet weekly and pick topics I think my child would be interested in. For example, last week I did a lesson on Ramadan using the school resources. She has many muslim friends and enjoys learning about different cultures and customs - an easy win for me. 
  • I check the school homework tasks to get ideas. Sometimes the tasks and resources seem interesting and like they will support the topics we are already doing, so I use them. Sometimes I know my kid would find it too boring, too difficult or uninteresting, and I skip these.
  • Leave time for free creative and learning activities. So during "break time" (which we have a lot of) my daughter gets to do her own things - which often end up being educational in arts or writing or reading anyway. 
  • For "boring" subjects a roundabout way of doing it might work. Like I mentioned, unlike a true unschooler, I do choose to "force" my kid to do some topics she'd rather not. For her the dreaded topic is maths. I've used a variety of resources - open-flap books, maths games, The Maths Factor website and so on to make it more fun and enjoyable. We are getting there... 

homemade marble run from recycling

Here are a couple of examples for topic-based learning using the topics my kid chose:

1) Ancient Egypt: history by learning about Ancient Egypt in general; women's history by learning about Cleopatra; engineering by learning about pyramids and how they were built; arts by learning about hieroglyphs and writing them yourself; creative writing by writing a story of yourself sent to Ancient Egypt in a time machine...

2) Tudor fashion: history by learning about Tudor times; arts by making a paper doll and Tudor clothes for the paper doll; history by learning about clothes worn by royals and by paupers; creative writing by writing a story about a royal and a pauper changing places; arts by designing and creating a Tudor hat...

The opportunities are endless if you use your imagination a bit. 

I asked some of my fellow bloggers for hints and tips from their own unschooling journeys and some ideas were to:

  • Follow their loves and develop "work" around it. This gives them the independence to make decisions. For example, when her daughter became interested in orangutans, Kelly from The Rebel Tribe developed work around it with a big focus on play and discovery - they used books to learn more about them, drew them, looked for information how they live in the wild. She described it to be an amazing way to learn. 
  • Everything can be an education. As Sophie from Mama Mei discovered, everything from running a home to buying food, or playing shop / cafe, doing crafts, cleaning or even creating content can be a learning activity. 
  • It is OK to encourage learning through play. Children constantly learn through play, and while Jennifer from Rice Cakes and Raisins encourages the kids to try activities sent from school, she doesn't make it into a battle. Instead, she allows her kids to play to learn - and for example, one morning her boys, totally unprompted, made a museum featuring all their favourite books and later sought different bugs in the garden.
  • Let kids choose from activities provided by you. Jenny from Monkey and Mouse shows books and activities for her kids, but doesn't expect them to do them. She lets them choose - and often they like the look of them anyway!
  • For kids with special needs a relaxed approach may work well. As her son has autism, Eva from Captain Bobcat discovered he finds homeschooling a difficult concept as it is illogical to him. So while homeschooling they concentrate on life skills and educational games and programs like using money, or animal documentaries and educational apps. 

sisters playing with play doh

I hope some of these tips helped in making homeschooling or unschooling - which ever approach you prefer - an easier thing to do. And I would love to find out if you have any experiences of your own that have worked well! Let me know in the comments if you have tried or are planning to do any unschooling or homeschooling using these tips!

You might also like: How to talk to your child about coronavirus and What I've been thinking about the lockdown

How we made homeschool more fun by moving to unschooling - and 11 easy tips and ideas for unschooling.

2 May 2020

What I've been thinking about the lockdown

I was quite shocked to realise that we have been in lockdown for five weeks, now entering the sixth week. Seems like an eternity, and yet at the same time, not that long. I've been meaning to write down some lockdown thoughts of mine, but finding the headspace to do this with all the other stuff going on has been difficult. 

rainbow blocks

What it has been like in London

We live in the suburbia of London and I used to commute to work to my Central London office a few times a week, depending on the meetings. During February it was all pretty normal. The whole corona-business seemed like it would be blown out soon. 

Then March happened, and reports from Italy started to become increasingly worrisome. Shops started to run out of some key items. By the second week of March the reduction in normal rush hour Tube traffic was noticeable. There was such a strange, sullen mood in the capital, everyone cautiously continuing. "Stay safe" became the common greeting. There was a gradual easing into lockdown, from first encouraging home working, then closing down pubs and bars, and then the full lockdown on 23rd March. We are now able to go out for work, essential shopping, health and safety needs, exercise and to help others, and to me that feels like a balanced approach. 

London has always been a leading city in UK. And now it has led on corona-cases and corona-deaths too. To be honest, I am not surprised by that. Socially distancing, I mean truly and totally socially distancing, just is not possible in London. Too many people everywhere and difficult to source food deliveries mean at some point, you will have to go out, and you will brush past people. 

It has been annoying to see headlines in newspapers lamenting the failures of Londoners to social distance in the parks, when you full well know that it is not possible unless you want to confine people to their flats a la Spain. Funny that those who shout the loudest for the strictest lockdown seem to have comfortable houses and nice gardens to boot. 

Few thoughts I've had about people in this lockdown

During this lockdown few things have become quite evident. We are not in this together. Those living in small flats, no gardens, poor quality housing, low security jobs, unsafe families and relationships... They are in this a hell of a lot more than others in more fortunate positions.  We may be in the same storm but in very different boats - some in yachts, others in rickety rafts. 

I'm also not at all surprised by why so many normal people in Nazi Germany collaborated with the Gestapo. I've seen some real vitriol and hatred on social media when people talk about having seen someone else doing something "forbidden"... Like sitting on the grass. Playing football with friends. Walking too close to each other on the road. My my. Fear of an unknown enemy materialises into something tangible when you see people you can project blame on. While I do my inner eye-roll and silently call these rule-flouters morons in my head, they talk about calling the police on these rule-breakers or photographing them and posting it on social media for everyone to judge. It is not like police aren't busy enough with all the increased domestic violence cases to break up a footie match between a few guys, who may very well be flatmates anyway...

Fear also brings out the helper and maker in many people. It is heart-warming to see so many local volunteers, stocking up food for vulnerable neighbours, crafty people making all kinds of gowns for hospital and care home staff members, and fundraisers from small to big. There are so many good people who try to make a difference, and you can count on that in every emergency they will emerge. 

Now we are apparently past the peak. Or anyway, the first peak of possible new ones to come. What I'm sensing from reading stuff online is that people are still very scared. Very scared to leave their homes, very scared to send their kids to school, and many, possibly avoiding this as long as possible. I've even heard of some people who haven't left their house for weeks. I mean, weeks? Reportedly, people are also avoiding burdening doctors and hospitals, trying to manage their symptoms home, and at times inadvertently making it a whole lot of worse by not attending to serious illnesses early enough.

little girl working on a computer

What our lives have been like

We have been home a lot, but I try to take the girls to the park occasionally to run around, and as supermarket food deliveries are like gold dust, we go out to the shops once or twice a week - mostly to stock up on milk and bread. And it is nice, going out, and popping by the supermarket feels like a sliver of normal life. It just isn't sustainable to live your life in fear forever, anxious of needing to buy food. Of course, socially distance and wash your hands, but it is no life to isolate forever, and we are in this for a long-haul.    

Back home we have been doing home-schooling and un-schooling, choosing topics of interest for learning. So far we have done Egyptian history, bacteria and diseases, creating a country and all its trimmings in creative writing, dance lessons with Oti Mabuse, a Strictly Come Dancing judge, and lots and lots of drawings and junk modelling. And it has been fun at times, and frustrating at many times, especially when I've insisted times tables and maths homework needs to be done, everyday. 

It is difficult though, trying to combine working and home-schooling, and toddler-rearing, with the never-ending cooking and cleaning and other responsibilities. Oh yes, and our fence fell, garage wall had structural damage, and dishwasher broke. And no-one can fix them for the foreseeable future. It's not all sunshines and #blessed-lifestyles - but it hasn't been bad either. The girls have become great little buddies, entertaining each other so well. We have just got on with things, and little by little trying to make it a better new normal for all of us. 

How have you been faring with the lockdown?

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10 April 2020

Easy Easter cupcakes - great for kids!

This Easter I made fun Easter cupcakes with the kids. While it was super stressful baking with a toddler and a six year old, and there were a small amount of tears (mostly mine ha ha), we made it in the end and I am quite pleased with the results. Even better was that they were easy enough for my six year old to make, and she came up with a great idea for chicks in eggs, which I adapted for these cupcakes.

Scroll down for the recipe, and for the instructions and ingredients for decorations - although it is probably easy enough to make out from the pictures how to do these yourself. The lamb is especially easy for kids, and moulding little shapes from icing is sort of like playing with playdough, so fun for the kids to do. 

Three easy Easter cupcake decorations for kids

The recipe I used was simple as well - makes for about 18 moist and delicious muffins you can then decorate when cooled down. 

220g self-raising flour (1 and 3/4 cups)
1/2 salt
1/2 ground cinnamon
1/2 cup or 115g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup or 150g of sugar
2 large eggs (if no eggs, you could try a mashed banana, of ground flax seed or ground chia seeds)
1/2 cup (120ml) sour cream or plain yoghurt
1/4 cup (60ml) milk
1 and 1/2 ts vanilla extract

Mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then mix together, spoon batter evenly to cupcake cups on a muffin pan, and bake in 180 C for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Let cool before decorating!

cake decorations

easter cupcake ideas

chick cupcake, egg cupcake, lamb cupcake

easter cupcakes made by a child

Ingredients for decoration:
White ready to roll icing, 
Food colouring (yellow and green - gel gives the strongest colour but normal food colouring is fine), 
Edible eyes, 
Cake decorating pens, 
White mini marshmallows,
and for the butter-cream, cream icing sugar, butter, and a splash of milk or lemon juice together. 

For the lamb, smother the muffin with butter-cream. Cover with white mini marshmallows to make the wool, and use the icing and edible eyes to make a head. This was very easy for kids to do and makes for very cute cupcakes. 

For the eggs, I rolled white icing into little eggs, and after letting them dry for a bit, decorated them with the cake pens. If the icing feels too wet, use a bit of icing sugar when rolling them. I then mixed a bit of yellow food colouring with icing and flattened it on top of the cupcake, before placing the decorated icing eggs on top.

For the chick, I mixed a bit of green food colouring on butter cream, piped it on top of the muffin. Then used white icing to make an egg cup, and yellow icing to make a mini chick - edible eyes top it off. You can mix a bit of yellow food colouring with the white icing to make yellow icing, just leave to dry for a bit before molding.  

making easter cupcakes

And I am sure if you've got all the ingredients out, you and/or the kids will come up with loads of other ideas for decoration. 

Have fun!

What Easter baking have you done?

13 March 2020

How to talk to your child about the coronavirus

I was standing in front of empty shelves in a shop, looking at the last few remaining bars of soap, when I heard two kids start talking. “Why are they buying all the soap?” asked the younger boy, around seven years old. His older, perhaps about nine years old, sister replied “Because they think we are all going to die”. “But WE aren’t going to die, right?” worried him, and the sister tried to comfort him saying “No, WE aren’t going to die.”

Whether you like it or not, and whether you try to shelter them from the news, kids know full well that something is going on. They aren't stupid. And it is best to make sure that the information they do get is correct and they are not scared or anxious of what they are hearing. 

After my six year old came back from school this week I asked her if she had heard about coronavirus, and she told yes she had and that the kids had been talking about it on the playground. So I decided it was time to have that chat, dissuade any fears and explain what she can do.

I’ve had a look online for some instructions on how best to talk to kids about coronavirus, and there are some good summaries. The guidance in a nutshell is to keep things age-appropriate and simple, check your own anxieties before you speak to them, and focus on the impact of the virus on them and what they can do in this situation. BBC News shared a good summary of how to speak with your child about corona, Child Mind gave some good tips on the matter too, and Save the Children provides seven quick tips.

My personal observations after having the talk with my child was that it helped to:
  1. Keep it brief, simple and age-appropriate;
  2. Be guided by what they wanted to know;
  3. Be truthful, not panicking nor minimising;
  4. Explain that kids usually get only a little bit sick with corona virus, and;
  5. Explain what they can do to avoid the virus, so instructions on washing hands and how to sneeze safely. 

According to the experts these actions help because kids can be more anxious if they feel like they are being kept in the dark, they are mostly worried about the impact on themselves and immediate family, and giving them simple actions to take can help them feel in control and empowered. 

To start the conversation, I asked these questions to my six year old, and provided these answers. I hope they can be of help to you too when you will talk to your kids about coronavirus:

Ask "Have you heard about coronavirus?"

She said yes, that they had spoken at the playground about it, but had not heard teachers speak about it. She said that some of her friends said it was just a sniffle and sneeze, nothing to worry about. I explained that while for most people it was like a cold, it could make some people very ill, old people and people with difficult health, so we need to be careful to try stop corona. 

Your child would by now probably have heard something about the virus, and may have some concerns. It is worth asking what they have heard so you can correct any misinformation. The next question then to follow would be:

Ask "What would you like to know about coronavirus?"

She wanted to know two very specific things: how does it spread and how did it travel here all the way from China. 

We went through the droplets, cross-contamination and touching face issues. I found the easiest way to explain this was to demonstrate with actions to ensure she understood me correctly and could follow what I meant. I explained it usually infects people because they touch a surface someone else with the sickness has touched. To demonstrate this, I pretend-sneezed in my hand, then leaned on the table. I then pretended to be another person who comes in and touches the table, and then rubs her eyes. 

We then discussed how the disease came all the way from China to UK. I explained that there may have been a person, or more likely, several people, who had the virus but didn't know they had it. They came to Europe, or UK to travel, or to work or to see family, and then infected people here, who again infected more people.  

Explain what to do to avoid getting the virus

I explained that most important things to do are to sneeze correctly and wash your hands thoroughly. 'Catch it, bin it, kill it' was a good catch phrase to use - so sneezing or blowing your nose in a tissue, putting it straight to the bin and then washing your hands. Or if you don't have a tissue and you need to sneeze or cough, then sneezing in your elbow is OK too. 

Hands need to be washed for 20 seconds with warm water and soap, so we practiced washing every finger thoroughly while singing Happy Birthday to You twice. I also explained she needs to wash her hands every time she comes in from outside, before food (especially important) and after the bathroom or blowing her nose. I also mentioned no sharing drinks or snacks with friends. 

And remind them they can always come and ask you more questions  

They might like to know more later, or hear something, so keeping that communication open is the key! Further, expert-led tips on how to speak to your kids about corona are available on BBC NewsChild Mind, and Save to Children

If their interest in all things disease are now peaked I can recommend The Bacteria Book (on amazon.co.uk or amazon.com) - fantastic and child-friendly educational resource on bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Helpful tips and ideas on how to talk about the coronavirus with children, what they might ask about Covid-19 and how to explain things simply.

Helpful tips and ideas on how to talk about the coronavirus with children, what they might ask about Covid-19 and how to explain things simply.

Helpful tips and ideas on how to talk about the coronavirus with children, what they might ask about Covid-19 and how to explain things simply.

Helpful tips and ideas on how to talk about the coronavirus with children, what they might ask about Covid-19 and how to explain things simply.

Helpful tips and ideas on how to talk about the coronavirus with children, what they might ask about Covid-19 and how to explain things simply.

Have you spoken with your kids about this virus already? 

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