Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Why We Don't Do Santa....

This post has been a year in a making. I first came across not having to do Santa last year, and I was so grateful that I had found it before Baobao was at an age where I had made her believe. So last year, she had no presents from Santa, he didn't leave the stockings and there most certainly wasn't any coal. Of course there were still presents for Baobao, and a stocking, and a tree and all the beautiful magic of Christmas Day - it just didn't involve an old man in a red suit.

I've had a year of solidifying my thinking on this. When I first admitted that we weren't doing Santa, I hadn't fully formed my reasons why and found it difficult to explain. This meant that there was a bit of miscommunication with friends and family that I told of our decision. This post is mostly about clarifying my thinking. It's not a criticism of parents choosing to do Santa. Just our reasons.

So here are our reasons for not doing Santa:
  1. I don't feel comfortable lying to my child
    We make an effort to be truthful with Baobao, in an age appropriate manner. It feels respectful towards her for us to be truthful. Deliberately lying to her about where her presents come from, seems absolutely alien to me. I then see people having to make the lie bigger and bigger to keep children believing. I don't understand working that hard to deceive someone you love.
  2. It feels fundamentally unfair
    Some parents only give one present from Santa, some give stockings from Santa, some give all of the presents from Santa - if that's not enough disparity - some children get a £300 tablet, some get gifts from the Pound Shop. How do you explain that to a child? Does Santa like rich children more?
  3. We prefer to find magic in the world
    Our world is so full of magic. As I'm writing this, the leaves are falling from the tree outside my window. This morning, Baobao stood under a huge tree, trying to catch those falling leaves. There is so much at that age that children are still learning about. There is so much in the world that we don't know. The world is so full of magic and wonder. Do we really have to pretend that someone flies on a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer to inspire that magic? I don't think so.
  4. It's not in keeping with our thoughts on behaviour management
    "You better not shout. You better not cry. You better not pout......... He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice"
    We follow gentle parenting. We believe in letting Baobao express her emotions (within safe boundaries) and that children aren't naughty. So, someone judging her on this criteria and deciding whether she deserves presents is something we do not agree with. I've seen a few people saying that they don't do that part. It is such a part of the season that it's difficult to avoid. Songs involving Santa tend to allude to it and there's a whole industry dedicated to items related to the naughty list. Just the other week a random stranger told Baobao that Santa would check if she is wearing her jumper! I see so many people controlling their children's behaviour with calls to Santa and threats that he won't come. What happens on December 26th?
  5. Some parts are just creepy
    Getting a child to sit on a stranger's knee, especially when they don't want to, is creepy and totally goes against everything I believe about bodily autonomy. Someone entering your house at night, while everyone sleeps - even if it is to deliver presents - isn't something many children are comfortable with. Plus the watching all the time. Just don't get me started on Santa Cams and Elf on the Shelf. 
So this year we're not doing Santa and I'm pretty sure we're going to be happy with our decision.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Christmas Gifts Your Toddler Can Make

This year, we are trying to make as many of our gifts as possible. We really want to add that personal touch. It's really important to me that Baobao joins in and learns the joy of giving, so I have been on the lookout for gifts she can help to make. Here are some of our favourite ideas:

Seasonal Watercolour Art
We made these seasonal watercolour pictures for a craft swap back in August. Baobao really enjoyed making them and luckily for me, they are super simple to make. Just stick some shapes (we did leaves, twigs and flowers that we had collected on a nature walk) to a small canvas and then paint over the top with water colours. Wait for it to dry and then remove the shapes. Voila, a toddler created piece of art that is totally giftable.

Painted Camera Strap
For family members who are into photography, this DIY painted camera strap is a lovely gift and totally doable by a toddler (with supervision).

Handprint Tea Towel
Many grandparents love receiving personalised gifts with handprints on them. This tea towel is a lovely way of creating a handprint gift that is both cute and useful.

Fruit Printed Tote Bag
How about a toddler who doesn't like getting their hands dirty (like Baobao)? Printing with fruit and potatoes is a great way to create a personalised gift. With the recent introduction of the 5p bag charge, these printed tote bags is a useful bag that most will appreciate.

Cat Treats
If your cat is anything like ours, they will appreciate food over any other gift. These cat treats look easy to make and gets your toddler into the kitchen

Rainbow Crayons
Children love drawing and these DIY rainbow crayons using the scraps of old broken crayons, make colouring exciting. We plan to give one to each of Baobao's friends

What DIY Christmas gifts will you be making this year? Will you be getting your toddler involved?

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Low Waste Stocking Fillers For Under 5s

In the run up to Christmas, I have been thinking about stocking fillers. We might be aspiring minimalists (nowhere near there yet), but there's something lovely about doing stockings. We don't want to do lots of packaging or single use items in our stockings either, as the impact from them on the environment is huge.

So here are our ideas for low waste stocking fillers for children under 5:

  1. Consumables - fruit/yoyos (in paper)/cookie kit(home made in jar)
  2. bamboo toothbrush
  3. home made handkerchief
  4. toys - wooden animals/threading games/art materials/sensory bottles/diy playdough
  5. clothing - underwear/socks

Consumables are the ultimate low waste/minimalist cross over stocking filler. You can get things that are low waste and once they're used up they're no longer in your home! Plus they're usually cheap.

Most children love fruit (I know Baobao does) and traditionally a tangerine is left in the toe of your stocking. Tangerines are perfect really - they're in their own skin (meaning no excess packaging) and are gone out of your house once eaten, ticking all the boxes.

Some children's snacks, although not completely healthy, are better than others. We like to go for fruit based snacks in paper packaging, so that we can keep it as low waste as possible. If you have time, you could even make some fruit yo-yos yourself.

Bamboo Toothbrushes
We all need a toothbrush, but plastic toothbrushes either end up in landfill or worse, floating in the oceans, damaging ecosystems. This is why we are in the middle of switching to bamboo toothbrushes. A new bamboo toothbrush in your stocking, is a wonderful tradition to start. 

Home made gifts are agreat way to make low waste, useful gifts. Using items you already have, makes them almost zero waste

Baking Kits
Have you seen those baking kits in a jar - all of the dry ingredients, ready for you to mix with wet ingredients and bake. They look incredibly cute and make for a great holiday experience. Plus they're super cheap and the jar used can be used for other things once you've made the kit.

Playdough Kit
Baobao loves playdough. It's so easy to make. Place it in a glass jar, with some cutters and a rolling pin attached and you have a great gift.

Handkerchiefs are a really simple sewing project and a really useful gift for toddlers. If your toddler is anything like Baobao, then she's ill regularly. The piles of tissues we go through is ridiculous. Instead, have a collection of handkerchiefs that you can wash at the end of the day and will be dry by morning. I am planning on upcycling some of Xiaobao's old muslins to make some for the two children.

Sensory Bottles
Both of my children love sensory bottles. Just filling them with interesting things is enough for Xiaobao, but for Baobao I prefer to do eye-spy bottles, where she can find interesting things hidden inside bottles of rice. You can buy special bottles, but we prefer to use plastic water bottles that we buy on the rare occasion when we forget our own water bottles.

Children don't need many toys, but high quality wooden toys are excellent for improving all sorts of early skills and can be passed on to multiple children. Choosing brands with minimal packaging make for a low-waste option.

Wooden Animals
Wooden animals are great for encouraging language and storytelling, as well as learning about the world. Brands such as Ostheimer and Holztiger come with only a small label, making them very low waste. They're also non-toxic and handmade. 

Threading Games
Threading is a really important skill. While visually its the forerunner for sewing (which in the long run is an important life skill) the workout it gives hand muscles, prepares them for writing. You could use plain wooden beads and thread, or use a painted set, such as those made by Grimms. 

Art Materials
Baobao, like many toddlers, loves art. She could draw, paint and cut all day. Choosing high quality art materials, such as Stockmar and Lyra, makes for materials that do not need to be replaced too often, but are non-toxic and work amazingly well.

Clothing is a great category to add to stockings. It's a category that is actually something you need, especially for children. 

Socks are truly always in demand. From the smallest baby to the oldest child, they will always need socks. This is especially important to us right now, as Xiaobao seems to lose a sock daily - never two! Choose socks with minimal packaging, preferably in cardboard, to make them as low waste as possible.

Cloth Nappy
As a cloth nappy using mum, it can be difficult to resist a new nappy. They're always useful, so one way to add a little variety to your stash is to add them to your little one's stocking,

For those children who are out of nappies, underwear is the thing that you can never have enough of. We buy ours handmade from a work at home mum. It helps us to save on unrecyclable packaging and avoids ill fitting girls' underwear with that pesky lace around the edge. Win win if you ask me.

What are your tips for a low-waste, minimalist Christmas?

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Interesting Subscriptions for Pre-schoolers

Recently I have been thinking about subscriptions for Baobao. We try not to bring too much into our home, so a subscription seems like a great way to do various activities with Baobao, without having excess materials. Here are some of the subscriptions I am most interested in starting at the moment.


  • DOT 
    Costing £20 for the year (4 issues), DOT seems like the perfect introduction to the world of magazines for children. No tacky, plastic freebies. No television tie ins. No adverts. Just lovely, educational material, perfectly pitched for children aged 5 and under. We already have a couple of issues of DOT, which we bought from the lovely the everyspace and is a subscription we are considering in the new year.
  • RSPB Wildlife Explorers
    The RSPB's youth membership, for £22 per year, gives you a magazine 4-6 times a year, an initial free gift (a pocket bird guide, wildlife explorers handbook or minibeast viewer) and membership pack and most importantly unlimited entry to over 100 nature reserves in the UK.
  • Storytime
    Storytime magazine is a monthly magazine, featuring stories, poems, art, puzzles and games. Each month you can also download activities to go with the stories in the magazine. The standard subscription is £37.99 for the year.
  • Wonderkid Junior
    One of my favourite things about children this age is their sense of wonder, something we totally want to encourage for Baobao. Wonderkid Junior seems like the perfect way to encourage that wonder in a quarterly subscription. Costing £34.93 per quarter, you receive 3-4 books, activities and other fun surprises, all based around a theme, making it the perfect subscription for topic based learning at home.
  • Nature Detectives
    Nature Detectives is a subscription run by the Woodland Trust. For £1.50 a month, you receive a welcome pack, with an activity booklet, stickers, a nature explorers passport and a bookmark. Then every season, you receive a pack designed to help you make the most of each season. (For £5 a month you become a Woodland Trust family member and receive all of the above, plus quarterly copies of Broadleaf magazine and a tree ID book.)
  • Foodini Club
    Foodini club aims to encourage children to learn new skills, overcome eating difficulties and explore new tastes and textures, by encouraging children to prepare their own food. There are two options for those of us living outside of Brighton. For £12.75 per month, you receive all the dry and store cupboard ingredients required to make 2 recipes, plus a food related activity pack. If you prefer to use your own ingredients, you can just get the recipe cards and activity pack for £3.75 per month.
  • Edutopix
    For £19.99 per month, you receive everything you need to cover each monthly topic. The theme for November 2017 is 'light and colour burst' and includes activity sheets and resources, translucent cubes, wooden rainbow blocks, wooden mirror blocks, textured colour paddles, a face shaped mirror, a double sided mirror, a mini torch and rainbow glasses - all worth £25.
  • Ostheimer 
    For £24.95 a month, receive a selection of Ostheimer wooden figures, tailored around the figures you already have. This is a great way to build up your wooden animal collection over time. 
  • Lanka Kade
    If you are looking for a more affordable collection of wooden animals, at only £9.95 per month Yes Bebe's Lanka Kade subsciption is a great way to build a collection month on month. 

These are just some of the subscriptions we have come across recently that I am really interested in for Baobao. Are there any subscriptions you love the look of?

Friday, 20 October 2017

When will she go to nursery?

Lately, one topic has been dominating the conversations at the toddler groups that we go to and I guess that means for us it's time to write this post. The conversation usually goes a little like this:

"How old is Baobao?"
"2 years 8 months"
"Oh, so she'll be going to nursery soon then."

I have been thinking of writing this post for a while. It is part of a discussion that my husband and I have been having about how we want to raise our children, and so, it's not a decision we have come to lightly. You see, we've decided not to send her at all. Not to nursery or school. We have decided to home educate.

This post is mostly to get my thoughts down about why we have made that decision, so that when people ask, I can explain more clearly. For now we have decided to home educate until the September after Baobao turns 11 and then she can decide whether to go to secondary school or not. For that reason, our opinions focus on the early years and primary school.

Our decision isn't a slight on anyone else who does decide to send their child to school, or the wonderful staff who work in schools. I worked as a teacher myself, so I know just how much work staff put in. Please don't read our reasons that way.

So here they are:

  1. Learning through play - Children learn best through play until the age of 7 (years 2-3) and yet most schools drop this part way through year 1 and some don't even do it is reception? We want our children to learn through play for as long as they need to, not as long as a school dictates it.
  2. A narrowed curriculum - We want Baobao to pursue any passions that she has, be that music, art, sport - all things that she enjoys at this point in time. Many primary schools narrow their curriculum in the run up to SATs. 
  3. Emotional support - I am all to aware of how pushed for time teachers are. It is often difficult for children to get the emotional support they need when settling into school. We don't want that for Baobao.
  4. Stress - So many children struggle with school related stress. Quite often they hold it together all day, only to meltdown at home. Many children also cope just fine. We don't know which of these Baobao will be, but given that we have the opportunity to home educate, why would we risk it?
  5. The freedom of time - You can cover basic Maths and English lessons in less than an hour, leaving the day for interests and getting outside into nature. You can cover topics in as much depth as your child wants, without being constrained by a timetable dictated from up above. There is just so much more freedom and that is something we crave.
  6. SATs - No one needs these
  7. Learning in a real context - Children learn better when taught in context. Trips, when used effectively, improve literacy results in schools. Yet budget cuts are causing schools to cut trips left right and centre. I have already heard from local parents about the lack of trips at their children's schools. If Baobao is learning about toys I want to take her to a museum, if shes learning about planes I want to take her to an airport. I want to take her to a farm, the park, the forest, wherever it is that links in most closely to what she is learning at any one time, not be constrained by budget cuts and risk assessments.
  8. Behaviour policies - I understand why schools use the mainstream techniques that they do. Traffic light systems, stickers and time outs for the basis of the rewards and punishment based behaviour management policies used by most schools. When I was a teacher I used them too. Since becoming a parent and learning more about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, I understand how damaging these methods can be. It's part of the reason I won't be returning to teaching in a mainstream school and another reason why we want to keep Baobao at home.
  9. Montessori - One of the biggest reasons is that since having Xiaobao we have been making the shift towards becoming a Montessori family. We can't afford the Montessori school fees, however, so will be implementing it as part of our home education instead.

So I guess, our reasons are ideological. Mainstream schooling just doesn't fit in with where we are in our life at this point. And that's ok. It works for us. Just as mainstream schooling works for others.