Indulgent no bake mini egg cheese cake

This weekend marked the Spring Equinox and so we decided to start with the Easter bakes. This indulgent mini egg cheesecake is a fun one for little ones to make because it involves lots of bashing with a rolling pin.

You will need:

For the base

  • Digestive biscuits – 300g
  • Ground almonds – 50g
  • Honey 2tbsp
  • Crushed hazelnuts 50g
  • Mini eggs – a handful
  • Butter 200g

For the filling

  • Nutella 3tbsp
  • Double cream 300ml
  • Icing sugar 120g
  • Full fat cream cheese 700g (two packs)
  • Vanilla essence 5 drops
  • White chocolate – 70g

For the topping

  • Sprinkles
  • Mini eggs
  • Chocolate shavings

When it comes to quantities it’s almost impossible to be accurate with a toddler – I try my best to stick to easy proportions so to begin we smashed up an entire pack of digestives give or take two and a pack of mini eggs too.

This amount was enough to fill the base of a large spring form tin and three ramekins – so in total 15 portions. You might want to scale this back if you’re not feeding the five thousand this Easter but for us “more is more.”

Add the mini eggs, biscuits, nuts and honey and mix well to distribute. Melt the butter in short bursts in the microwave and then mix this in – it quickly creates a nice ball which is cookie dough like in consistency. I cut a grease proofpaper circle in to size and add this to the base of my spring form tin before piling the mixture in and patting it down with a spoon.

We had lots left so used the extra in ramekins to make some individual portions. Then we popped this in the fridge whilst me mixed up the filling.

This is done in two stages. Melt the white chocolate in short bursts in the microwave and leave this to cool slightly. I whip the cream up with vanilla and icing sugar using an electric whisk until it forms nice peaks and then I leave that to the side whilst I mix up the cream cheese. It’s best to work with this at room temperature as it mixes in nicely. (If it’s cold then it goes lumpy). Pour the white chocolate in with the cream cheese and then a handful of crushed mini eggs too. I then combine the cream and the cream cheese together by folding them gently and taste testing at this stage. You want it to still form peaks and this is how you know it will set nicely.

For added indulgence we spread Nutella over our biscuit base before topping up with the filling. This is Arlo’s second favourite thing to do, and then it’s simply a case of leaving this all in the fridge to set overnight before decorating. This is where the little ramekins come in handy….. no one likes to wait for a taste and so if you’re impatient like us, you can dig in to these straight away.

We decorated our cheesecakes with more mini eggs, chocolate shavings and then some extra sprinkles for good measure. The result was a super rich and indulgent cake which has us all excited to dig in. I leave the spring form collar around until just before serving.

Here’s a slice profile for you too. I can’t even explain how delicious this is. Now that spring has arrived we are going to use the base of this recipe and adapt it with some different flavours – I’m thinking lemon and raspberry next!

Bodenham Arboretum

Bodenham has become another one of our most favourite outdoor places to explore, and is a hidden treasure of the Midlands. As you turn in to the main drive you’re greeted with a landscape of rolling hills and in spring time there’s plenty of lambs to see skipping in the fields.

The visitor centre is adjacent to the main pool, and it’s a sight to behold as you walk down from the car park you feel

As though you’ve totally escaped to the wild – I highly recommend purchasing duck food to scatter in to the water because you will meet swans, ducks, geese and also some giant fish at this first pool and there’s also a visitor centre / farm shop with takeaway food options and toilet facilities.

We usually choose to follow the five pool trail which takes you right around the edge of the grounds, through woodland and past (of course) five pools and the interconnected streams. There’s plenty to see along the route – which in its entirety is about 4km, but you can cut back to the main pool and visitor centre at any time.

Along the route there’s a huge variety of trees and plants to see, and some great open spaces with breathtaking views for miles over the open country side. As you head along the winding trail there’s something new to be found around every corner.

My favourite place is down in the valley alongside the stream where there’s a fabulous den and some logs across the water to balance on. It’s a great place to pause and when we have visited there has literally been no one around so it feels as though you’re totally alone. This is the spot where we usually end up reciting our favourite stories.

Bodenham is also home to a working farm which has a variety of animals, which during Spring time is a wonderful place to visit to see the lambs and calves. Of course this area is Arlo’s favourite place. You can cut short the woodland walks and head straight to the farmyard from the main pool, otherwise this area of the grounds is at the end of the five pool trail.

On the opposite side of the big pool there’s further extensive grounds to explore at your own pace. We found a hidden bridge to a small island which was a great picnic spot, a gazebo surrounded by daffodils and we also found the beginnings of another trail which we have earmarked to explore in our next visit. We can’t wait to see the beauty of spring emerge at the Arboretum.

To find out more, including visiting times and entrance fees head to their official website:

Entrance prices are £6.50 for adults and £3.50 for adults with free car parking. There’s no need to book. The toilets are open and basic food and drink is available for takeaway. The restaurant is however closed at the moment.

Making it count

This is a collaborative blog post

Our year of home schooling is complete and whilst we’re all looking forward to a summer of fun with a roadmap out of lockdown it’s great to pause to reflect on what a year it’s been. There’s lots of things we have learnt over the last twelve months and some things we are going to change in our lifestyle forever.

I have shared lots of fun activities we tried over lockdown, including messy play inspiration, tuff tray set ups and weekly themes for longer projects. Having a pre-schooler at home 24/7 meant we had to come up with innovative ways to keep him occupied. I was one of those parents who was adamant my child wouldn’t use technology but I have changed my mind.

The are some really great resources out there when it comes to helping little ones learn through the use of technology, and calculators.org is one of them. A completely free online collection of educational games which is entirely ad free.

This website has a huge variety of interactive games, with a specific section for pre-schoolers which is great to support little ones on their learning journey. One thing we are currently working on is telling the time. We have a real clock, a wooden clock and a little watch, so we aren’t just relying on technology but it really is a useful aid.

The great thing about interactive games like this is that there’s audible feedback – so when you get the answer right. There’s three different levels of difficulty within this game. With whole hours, quarters and five minute intervals, and you can also switch languages within this game too, so if you’re multilingual then this is great.

The entire library of games has a really simple star rating to show how difficult games are and so you can really easily navigate to a game which is suitable for your child. There aren’t just maths related games either. This find the letter game has two modes – “fun” where there are no scores or timer and then “competitive mode” where there’s points for each answer and a 60 second timer.

This arcade style of game I think is a great way to introduce technology to little ones. Arlo is almost four and I have noticed how he can navigate through games with simple user interfaces independently with growing confidence – The positive effects of technology on early childhood education can be very beneficial. Educational and instructional practices, such as games and applications that improve cognitive skills, are among these benefits.

Life is better when you’re smiling

This is a sponsored blog post

We all know how important looking after your teeth is

You only get one shot once your adult teeth come through and so I’m determined to make sure Arlo has great habits when it comes to oral hygiene. Part of this is setting a good example myself. I’ve been brushing my teeth with Arlo ever since he was small enough to hold a brush. My top tip for parents is to introduce a baby safe toothbrush as a teething aid right at the beginning.

This week we took Arlo for his biannual check up at the dentist. I’ve been taking him since he was six months old, when his first baby tooth appeared. Not that they do much, it’s mainly about getting him used to the environment. Of course he takes it all in his stride. Strolling in as happy as larry – sitting back to do some “relaxing” in the chair and then waiting with his mouth open wide before the dentist has even prepared her mirror.

Arlo has twenty teeth now

– as per the dentists swift count and he was super impressed to receive a sticker and then hop out of the chair with the dentist promising to tell the tooth fairy that his teeth will be worth lots of coins. Mum on the other hand is in the bad books. I am a tooth grinder and this has become worse for me over the last twelve months – either that or I’m just more aware of it. I’ve had to have imprints taken to get a mouth guard to wear at night which I’ll pick up next week.

It’s made me think more about my oral hygiene and how important it is to make some changes. First things first adapting my diet. It might sound ridiculous but my consumption of fizzy pop has been way over the top ever since it was one of my pregnancy cravings. Arlo’s almost four now and I can’t use it as an excuse any longer – I ended up having a zoom session with a hypnotherapist recently to try to help me kick the habit.

The teeth grinding is down to stress I think – before lockdown I was also a pen lid chewer. When I am in the middle of a project I find chewing helps me to concentrate and focus. I’ve started to look at alternatives which will help me out. Sugar free gum is something I can turn to. For most health & wellbeing writers (and dental experts), the main benefit is in oral health – chewing Sugar free gum increases saliva flow, remineralises teeth and neutralises plaque acids, etc. All big pluses.

We have a good routine here when it comes to brushing our teeth in the morning and evening, but the challenge comes for me when I’m alone during the day, just after eating. This is when your teeth are more at risk from an acid attack, as the acid is produced by bacteria in our foods and drink.

Did you know that Chewing sugar free gum for up to twenty minutes increases the flow of saliva, speeding up the time that it takes for saliva to cancel out the acid?

During the time after lunch is when I find myself grinding my teeth absent mindedly, and this is where I find other benefits to chewing sugar free gum really come in to play – there’s an obvious stress busting element to chewing, and I’ve also managed to cut down gnawing on pen lids as chewing gum helps me to maintain focus just as well.

Sugar free gum is made from Xylitol, which helps to prevent plaque bacteria sticking to the teeth. Studies have shown that xylitol can help reduce tooth decay and even help reverse the decay itself by helping to replace the minerals in tooth enamel and I find this incredibly reassuring.

My only tooth concern right now is trying to convince Arlo not to pull his teeth out for the tooth fairy prematurely. He’s absolutely determined to meet her and get a coin, he asked me to tie a yo-yo around his tooth and the door handle recently so this crazy mum ended up rummaging around the arts and crafts cupboard close to midnight to conjure up a note from the tooth fairy…. leaving a trail of glitter and some coins behind in the hope that this convinces Arlo to hold on to his baby teeth a little while longer.

Chewing is now a recommended part of an effective dental care regime, alongside brushing and flossing, endorsed by all the major dental federations around the world. 

Being mixed race in the middle of a race debate

In 2020 the Black Lives Matter went viral. It’s always been present but this year, amplified by the lockdown and sociopolitical goings on racism was at the forefront of social media feeds and hashtags were trending. Now we see the royal family latest scandal centres around issues of racism too.

Today however I saw one comment on Twitter which stopped me in my tracks and I needed to pause to reflect.

Now this is just one of many comments I’ve seen over the last year which offend me personally. I find it divisive because I’m “mixed race” – or whatever the politically correct term for having two parents with different ethnic origins these days is. I’m also “white presenting” – which means that I don’t look black. I’m sick of having to define my percentage of blackness to people as if this is a factor in how entitled I am to have an opinion on any racism related conversation topics.

I am not trying to take away from the struggles that any person of colour, and more specifically black people may endure, but I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to say someone isn’t black enough to have experienced racism – there’s no requirement for anyone to prove their heritage via ancestry DNA testing to express they are hurt.

In fact, I think people who are mixed race have a unique set of life experiences which means they are more likely to encounter problematic conversations, as is Meghan and Harry’s experience with the revelation in the Oprah interview that a family member asked how dark their sons skin might be.

Mixed race people have two parents – now this could be any two races but for arguments sake we will put things in black and white. My parents dated in the eighties. My paternal grandparents were a black and white couple in Britain in the fifties. Their experiences of racism are passed down through the family anecdotally.

I’ve grown up in a different world. Racism undeniably still exists in this new century but it’s not as apparent as segregating people or physical violence. Micro-aggressions are a “thing” these days.

Like Meghan I am 25% black – when I was younger, people used to say “quarter caste” and that made it clear to anyone asking that one of my grandparents was “fully black” – and people did ask.

Often.

Where do you come from?

That’s one of the things mixed race people constantly have to encounter which is different. It’s not just “where do you come from?” but a full disclosure of your family tree. When the real answer all along is that you’re from Birmingham (in my case) and you’re British – that should be enough.

In mixed race families everyone is a different colour.

Is she your full sister?

Siblings can and do look different. My sister is a lot darker skinned than me. We’re close in age and so when we were younger other kids used to ask us if we had the same mum and dad. Then they would compare our different facial features and skin tones to our parents. Of course siblings are often compared if one has different eye colour but when one sibling has a different skin tone it makes a world of difference.

My sister had racist comments directed at her and I as the “white presenting” one didn’t experience the same things. Even when we were older and in the queue for a nightclub I waltzed in with no trouble whilst my sister was stopped for her ID and then directed to be patted down by security.

Racial Profiling

She experienced racial profiling and I didn’t. I was the one who made a big fuss about it whilst my sister told me to shut up and just get on with it otherwise we would end up being kicked out of the club. I was angry on her behalf, she was just used to it. We were siblings but didn’t share the same life experiences.

Interracial relationships

I’m single now but I’ve had boyfriends from different walks of life and experienced differences with the (what could have been) in-laws in the past. When two families are unified through one couple there’s always some differences and challenges – otherwise there wouldn’t be so many mother in law jokes in existence. You learn through being in a relationship and integrating in to someone else’s family that everyone has different traditions and values…. what time you open the presents on Christmas Day. How you celebrate birthdays. Who sits in which chair in the lounge etc.

Mixed race children have to encounter racism from conception.

When you bring in two different skin colours then more often than not you’re having to merge two different cultures and sometimes religions too. This brings its own unique set of challenges and compromises, which are made tougher if you have family members who aren’t willing to integrate and adapt so readily.

Your family is supposed to be your support network, the people you turn to when you need help. Mixed race people have a unique experience in that they will have two sets of grandparents and aunts and cousins extended family members who many not be as supportive of their parents interracial relationship. Family members who may perpetuate casual racism.

Admittedly not every family has the queen of England as their matriarch and has to worry about wether their child gets a royal title and security like their cousins but for mixed race children who don’t see anyone who represents them on either side of the family there’s a missing sense of identity. Representation is so important. We have had this conversation so many times this year because of the BLM movement but mixed race people often grow up as the first one of their kind.

I believe Meghan and Harry when they said that family members asked about how dark the skin tone of their child would be. I can imagine the conversation and it’s NOT the same as saying “I wonder what colour eyes they will have” – Not when it matters what skin colour the baby will be, and there’s any suggestion that a lighter skin tone would be preferred.

Charlene White made sure to point out on Loose Women that there is also an issue with the kind of rhetoric which excuses old people from making casually racist comments because “they don’t mean it” which was a point raised by Jane Moore to excuse or explain the rationale behind the question and defend it.

The point is Harry was upset by the question posed by members of his own family and wondered about the implications this has for his unborn son. He relayed this information to Meghan who was also upset. Therefore it’s not okay. Is she only supposed to experience 25% of the hurt from this?

“Mixed race people are the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK and numbered 1.25 million in the 2011 census

Please don’t exclude mixed race people from the conversation.

Cannock Chase and the Gruffalo Trail

Spring has sprung and the days are now mild enough to enjoy a walk in the great outdoors. Cannock Chase is one of my favourite places to visit for a wander and is great value – as all you really need to pay for is the car parking.

We usually park up near the visitor centre and there’s ample car parking as well as a small cafe and toilet facilities, plus a bike hire and the go ape course too. There’s several maps here on clear signs which showcase all of the different routes you can take. The gruffalo trail is a fairly short wander around the forest, no more than a mile and it starts and ends right near the car park. There’s plenty of grassy space along the route to pause for a picnic and there’s two play parks in this area too.

The familiar characters from the book are to be found along the route. It took us around an hour to walk around slowly through this area looking for them all, even without the official map, which can be purchased from the visitor centre when it’s open, along with a certificate and a worksheet with learning prompts.

We were delighted to have found all of the characters and Arlo wanted to continue to explore the woods and so we decided to head off along one of the woodland trails. Cannock Chase is ideal for cycling and walking – with different routes clearly signposted to suit casual wanderers like ourselves or those more serious about their exercise. In fact part of the chase is being updated to create trails for the 2022 Commonwealth games so it’s going to get even better.

Cannock chase walking trail route maps

Cannock chase walking trail route maps

We opted to take the Fair Oak trail which is signposted with green arrows. The valley and the pools are a haven for local wildlife and we took our time following the trail this afternoon, pausing to inspect animal burrows and to feed the ducks. This route also takes you along to the famed stepping stones, where you can cross the stream safely or opt for a little splash around.

The trails are surfaced and suitable for prams up to this point, so you can turn back here, or you can cross between the pools a little bit further on if you want to continue. There’s a couple of small inclines but the main thing to remember is that these trails are used by cyclists too, it’s a great place for little ones to gain confidence on two wheels.

Forestry England has gruffalo trails and woodland to explore up and down the country so it’s worth checking out to find out if there’s one nearby.

How to incorporate the senses in to sensory play.

This is a sponsored blog post

I am extremely passionate about learning through play. I share all sorts of activities we do at home and most of the time it looks like complete chaos, but there’s method behind the madness. I try to incorporate opportunities to learn in to everything we do, in such a subtle way that Arlo doesn’t realise he’s learning new life lessons.

I often get asked about how I manage to engage him for long periods of time with one activity but the truth is that he has a maximum ten minute attention span, and so my trick is to not throw everything in all at once. I try to build up an activity I’m creating. I use aspects of play from the senses to guide me in setting up something which will last for longer than it takes to clean up.

I often share colourful pictures and craft projects we have completed together and one common theme is colour. So we’ve usually got the visual aspect of “invitations to play” covered. I save all sorts of bits and bobs and try to stick to seasonal and festival themes through the year and having a craft stash is the first step to creating engaging play set ups. Never throw anything away – plastic toys seem to have a bit of a bad reputation in the play communities but we look after ours and constantly wash and re-use them. I also provide “real” tools for Arlo to use in play – usually kitchen utensils.

1. Sight

Babies see in black and white – did you know that it’s not until about five months when babies can see the full colour spectrum? Somewhere around 4-6 months old babies begin to develop hand – eye co-ordination. The first time a baby reaches out to touch something they can see is a huge milestone and a precursor to weaning.

Toys such as stacking blocks, cups and rings are fabulous to play with at this stage and I purchased bright sets with rainbow colours and we still use these now. We used to have daily themes and literally wear and eat and play with one colour or texture all day. I use food colouring and paint to brighten everything up however It’s not just about being colourful. Sometimes you can go for a shiny or a natural theme which is just as inviting.

By combining efforts to incorporate the other senses in to play I add new experiences and an additional dimension to play. A tuff tray covered in brown paper to apply paint to a huge canvas was fun – the plan was to learn about how to make secondary colours from primary colours with this one. Adding in pine cones and bamboo sticks as well as paint brushes gave Arlo the chance to experiment with mark making and paint mixing in new ways. Appealing to his touch sense as well as just being visual.

Our drinks mixing station activity began life like this. As we have been doing lots of mixing activities recently Arlo enjoyed approaching the bottles of colourful water and trying to make the yellow turn green by adding blue. He didn’t know at first glance that I’d also been considering the other senses and that his drinks were “real” and this led us on to a careful drinks sampling exploration.

2. Taste

Arlo is almost four and so we play with all sorts now that he has gone past the “putting everything in to his mouth” stage. This is entirely normal for babies and so all of the different activities we share will need to be adapted for younger ones to avoid any choking risks with younger ones and I always supervise play and keep a count of small objects too.

When Arlo was little “food safe” resources were often used. Adding jelly to his high chair tray as a play resource just before we began weaning was a great way for him to be introduced to food items and his high chair. I’d give him a spoon to hold too. Cereals and spaghetti were fun to use and adding food colouring to yoghurt to use as paint worked wonders for us.

Something as simple as providing the fruit garnishes in our potion station was a great way to discuss the differences between sweet and sour. Comparing oranges and berries to lemons and limes was a great discussion point but it began with the colour differentiation and the sight before we eventually used touch to explore too.

3. Scent

The way things smell is very closely linked to taste – it was when Arlo noticed that the coloured drinks in the potions had a smell and were slightly sticky. With encouragement from me that these were real and okay to drink he figured out each colour was a different drinks flavour. He went around each cup sniffing and trying to guess which flavour was which – I’d used food colouring to try and disguise the flavours – so the orange flavour drink was blue. He found this hilarious because it was a trick and a totally new experience.

We have been experimenting with scent from the early stages too. Letting him wave around a bunch of fresh lavender or mint as a six month old in the high chair was fun enough for him. More recently I’ve adding essential oils and fragrances to play dough. When I made a cinnamon dough he said it “smells like Christmas” and he compares the smell of mint to toothpaste. It’s great when the scent isn’t immediately obvious but then through play the aromas emerge and create a new sensation.

I often find adding a new layer or dimension to a Play activity based on the senses helps to prolong the interaction. I often get asked how I manage to keep Arlo interested for longer than five minutes and this is how. As soon as he mentioned the minty toothpaste smell he linked teeth to dinosaurs and so out came some Dino cookie cutters to use and this added an extra ten mins or so to the activity.

4. Touch

I love creating play activities which are touch safe. There’s so many situations where you have to tell a child “no” that it’s hard to help them build up enough confidence to explore and problem solve. Of course we need boundaries and have to know not to touch hot water or ovens or to leave a tap running but sometimes children need to know why rules are in place and also have a change to use their problem solving skills to try and create solutions.

Lots of household objects are often “off limits” but if you create a safe environment to explore and supervise play then anything is possible with items you already have around the house. Arlo was obsessed with clothes pegs and so one afternoon I gave him a bunch attached to a mug tree and it was his job to try and pinch them off – really challenging those fine motor skills and then trying to also peg them back on. He also liked the sounds of my bracelets as they clinked on the metal and so we added in a ring toss type game with the mug tree too.

I use tuff trays, the mud kitchen outdoors, trays for dough and big tubs when we are using really slimey stuff indoors now. Learning things like the difference between hot and cold is a great life lesson and so we often use ice and warm water to melt things and demonstrate the difference and meaning of the two words.

Placing smaller bowls and cups inside a bigger environment works well for us. Arlo knows he can pour and mix and do all sorts within the boundaries of the tray. A great place to begin exploring paints and messy play is the bath tub for a quick clean up if you aren’t quite ready for the chaos of a tuff tray – then you can literally shower everything away and wash off in the same place.

Being able to touch things is a great way to help babies to explore food when weaning – smushing up fruits and covering faces with porridge is great fun and also a way to acquaint ourselves with new textures. Touch is also important as a pre-Curser to writing – learning to grasp tools and exercise all the muscles in their hands is great preparation for holding a pencil and so play for us is always very hands on. I always provide “tools” to interact with our play trays in different ways. Our drinks station had squeezey bottles, pipettes and cups to pour things. I keep our equipment in storage boxes and so often Arlo will approach a play activity and then run to fetch the tools he thinks he might need.

Whenever we use dough, I begin with one colour which is usually scented and one or two tools. Arlo will sit nicely and want to touch it and squish it, make marks with the rolling pin I have provided but his interest would wain within about ten minutes when he was younger. This is normal and a great time to introduce another layer – another colour dough or a new tool. Depending on his moods and interests on that day I might add a toy animal for him to make them stomp through the Dough and leave footprints behind. This example was a snowman building set and I added glitter and peppermint scent to the dough along with a tinker tray.

Tinker trays are a selection of bits and bobs which require a lot of extra investigation. It’s a little more of a grown up version of a sensory basket, and I like to save all sorts of bits and bobs to use. I will try to provide resources which fit a theme – little wooden trinkets, beads and buttons, Pipe cleaners etc. These tinker trays are great to explore on their own – you can play by sorting things by shape, size and colour. I also use these a lot with play dough, at almost four he will methodically explore the bits and add features like eyes, wings and legs to shapes to bring them to life.

A small selection of our art materials live in our accessible craft area at all times along with the usual PVA glue, and a big box of our recycled loo rolls and cardboard – so whenever Arlo says he wants to make something totally random like a peacock or a snowflake we can rummage through together and find the bits we need. I tend to rotate this around with the seasons so I’m about to swap in a lot of pastel colours for Spring.

5. Sound

It seems obvious to say “talk to your babies” and in some respects this has backfired on me because Arlo really is a chatter box. When he was tiny and I was at home on maternity leave I would literally narrate my entire day to him and I noticed pretty early on that he recognised my voice and would react to noisy toys with delight. We read books together and so a lot of our inspiration comes from rhythms and rhymes in stories. You can usually hear us before you see us.

Rattles and squeaky toys were fun back in the baby days. Almost every toy makes a noise but it’s fun trying to invent your own too. A saucepan and a wooden spoon can provide hours of entertainment, as can adding rice to a sealed bottle to make a shaker. If you use a transparent bottle then you can add in colours or if you use a shaker with a fabric lid you could use scented rice (layering the senses remember!) – I created a rainbow of sensory bottles for Arlo when he was tiny using coloured rice and feathers in sealed bottles so he could compare the weight and sounds when shaking the bottles. Notice that the bottle contents are also different colours too. Arlo’s favourite toys as a one year old were those which made the biggest bangs.

Now he’s older I like to try and interact with Arlo to discuss things as he plays – I will add things like a cardboard tube from a kitchen roll to a tray of rice or chick peas – he will pour the hard pieces down and listen to the rattling, cover each end and shake to make a noise. He loves the raspberry sound a squeezey bottle makes when it’s running out of air, or holding a cup under water to listen to the bubbles pop to the surface and just being as loud as he possibly can be. As he brings his toy animals in to play I will ask “why’s that” or “where’s he going” “what’s he doing”

The challenge now is to try and think of ways to incorporate all of the senses in to your play activities, they’re probably already present, but if you think about this before you set something up then you’re going to provide an enriched learning experience.

It’s just as important for adults to talk care if their senses – for advice and information check out Auris Ear Care

The books I used to read as a child and why they are problematic.

I am a self confessed book worm.

I always have been and always will be. Now that I am a parent there is nothing more delightful than sharing some of my most favourite stories with Arlo. For me it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and for Arlo he’s discovering new worlds for the very first time. Tomorrow is World book day, it’s not just a chance for parents to play top trumps with costumes, but an opportunity to invoke a love of literature in our children.

When our favourite stories create problems

This year there’s some discussion around problematic language and representation in books by Dr Seuss on social media. This has led to some stories now being removed from sale. I think it’s very important to make sure that we strive for equality and not hold on to stories based on a nostalgic view of things we remember from childhood. Last year I wrote about some of our favourite children’s books for an online publication and whilst I was researching I discovered that some of my favourite stories had also been edited and/or withdrawn from circulation. This was a learning curve for me, the action that publishers have been taking in some instances is somewhat refreshing and reassuring.

We read together every evening before bed, and the stories we reach for most often are those which I still treasure from my childhood. I have so many books with little inscriptions from my mother written in the top corner of the covers – “happy 3rd Birthday Lavania – July 1990” – I can delve in to a world created by Shirley Hughes, which are full of relatable stories and poems. “Things I like” is probably the one I would recommend to anyone as an introduction, as it’s a collection full of things which a toddler will experience. Not all books from our childhood have been “cancelled” – if you still have old copies, and you can check the date of printing in most books, you can then compare newer versions and see if you can spot any changes.

At the end of a day

We can sit together and read a poem about splashing in puddles or about leaves on trees which then helps us discuss things we have experienced ourselves that day. It reinforces learning experiences and we sit and pore over the pages together looking at all the little details. I read the words and Arlo explores the pictures. We point out things from the illustrations and we discuss them – from the colour of wellies matching our real life boots, to spotting little birds and insects dotted around the pages. We can count flowers and work on colour recognition and have an immersive and interactive story time. There’s not a single detail which goes unnoticed by my three year old.

This is why it’s so important that the illustrations are representative.

Continuing down the nostalgic childhood path, I must mention Janet and Allan Ahlberg. There are so many books of theirs which I could mention, Peepo, Each Peach Pear Plum and Funnybones – but the most popular on our shelf has to be “the Jolly Christmas Postman” This is probably one of the most innovative children’s books of all time and the work gone in to designing this is incredible.

In a world before iPads were invented this book captured my imagination and kept me busy for hours – a simple story following a postman’s journey delivering letters, with every other page featuring a real envelope containing surprise gifts for the reader to open and explore. The attention to detail is second to none and even now as an adult reading this book with Arlo I find things which I’ve never noticed before. It’s truly magical and one to put in the Christmas Eve box to treasure forever.

Books aid discussions

Another of my favourite books is by Nick Butterworth, and for a similar reason. His Percy the Park Keeper book has beautiful illustrations of animals and a series of fold out pages which open to reveal important story elements. This book is a firm favourite of Arlo’s right now because we spend so much time in parks and it’s so familiar to him. This book is a good one to aid discussions about changing of seasons and weather, not to mention all of the different woodland creatures.

We love books which have rhythm and rhyme, you’re probably all familiar with Michael Rosen and “We’re going on a bear Hunt” this is like a rite of passage for all children and it’s super easy to get kids motivated on the last stretch of an outdoor walk when their little legs are tired by chanting the rhyme – a great first introduction to this wonderfully eccentric poet is “freckly feet and itchy knees” – it’s a lovely little book and another one to help inspire interaction between parents and babies. I pulled this one out of the shelf recently and noticed that different skin colours were represented. The only problem with this book is it might be a bit too energetic before bedtime, at least it is when we read it out loud together and act it all out – It’s interesting that as I was researching for this blog I found a tweet by Michael Rosen:

The Anti-Semitic Works of Dickens and Shakespeare

A very interesting point for discussion, Charles Dickens is celebrated as an author, and a genius – but it is well documented that he expressed attitudes which were problematic – anti Semitic and racist – the most obvious example to reference is his portrayal of Fagin in Oliver Twist. “The novel refers to Fagin 257 times in the first 38 chapters as “the Jew”, while the ethnicity or religion of the other characters is rarely mentioned.” In revised editions Charles Dickens toned down his portrayal but the debate rages on long after his death as the character has often been been portrayed as a caricature / stereotype in film. Just like the character Shylock created by Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice.

We can’t possibly “cancel” Dickens and Shakespeare (although some publishers have removed this play from anthologies for younger children). These books and stories exist as a social commentary of the time in which they were written. These writers are considered to be literary geniuses. To pretend they never existed in an attempt to erase the past rather than confront the reality, however uncomfortable that may be would be ridding us all of the opportunity to grow and learn through discussion. We don’t know much about Shakespeare and his mysterious life but we do know that Dickens was strongly opposed to slavery but does this absolve his problematic works? We need to talk about this.

This isn’t just about words – illustrations alongside text in children’s books are designed to help encourage independent reading. It takes a special skill to create a book for children, who without knowing it can sit and listen to a story being read out loud by their parents and follow the story by pouring over the pictures and when they get a little older, by following text with their fingers. Good children’s books for toddlers have simple sentences and repetitive sounds, as a grown up now I have a repertoire of voices and sounds which I didn’t know I was capable of creating – it’s so much fun for Arlo he doesn’t even realise he’s learning. This is why it’s so important for the books we read to be representative. Children absorb so much, so it’s important that we analyse the images and content of stories to see if there’s anything problematic. This isn’t about cancel culture or jumping on a social media bandwagon, but about discussion.

A picture speaks a thousand words

I must mention Rupert Bear, which was originally a comic strip – my mum had the annuals every year as a Christmas gift when she was a child and we have kept up the tradition here. I’ve noticed with these books how they offer something to children of different ages. Each comic strip is accompanied by a rhyming couplet which perfectly represents the story, and so I can read these with Arlo and flick through the pictures to tell the story, but on the same page there’s also a full descriptive paragraph for each scene – these books provide different experiences to readers of different ages. A great example of how to engage children and teach them to love stories. However there are problems.

Rupert however was originally a brown bear. Created by Mary Tourtel in 1920 to be published in the Daily Express. It was however apparently cheaper to print a white bear, so this much loved character has also been a victim of whitewashing. There have been two Rupert Annuals from 1946/47 which are considered too racially insensitive to be republished. The language in several stories has since been edited – for example words like “coon” have had to be removed. The portrayal of the character Koko in the above example is just not acceptable.

I think Hamish McColl’s Paddington is probably the more popular bear about town these days, (perhaps because he’s been bought to life by Hollywood?) Rupert Bear stories have that “quintessentially British” feel about them and are just as delightful to read. There’s something wonderful about following a protagonist which is an animal, and children often find comfort in having soft toys which they recognise from their most loved books but have you ever paused to consider that Paddington is an illegal immigrant? Arriving from “darkest Peru” without an identity or a recognisable past. Michael Bond’s books (written in the fifties at a time when Britain was beginning to become more diverse) teach us to “please look after this bear” – it’s interesting to think about what things were like back when these stories were originally published in the fifties and what the subliminal messaging behind the apparently simple story is when we put this in to context.

It’s not just about racism

I have to pause here and give mention to Richard Scarry here, “Mr Frumble’s worst day ever” was given to me when my little sister was born so that I didn’t feel left out and the story follows Mr Frumble (another anthropomorphic animal – this time a pig) and a day of misfortunate escapades. It’s a really funny book and again there is a lot going on in all of the illustrations to create talking points for discussion. I have older editions of these books, which aren’t quite so politically correct these days but it’s reassuring to know that many of these books have been edited to reflect social changes so that the stories and illustrations are still relevant for children today. Alan Taylor put together this image which shows some progressive changes which have been made so that outdated gender stereotypes are not perpetuated through the books we use to educate our children. Women don’t exist just to cook breakfast and push babies in prams.”

Let’s talk about Enid

As I got older I delved in to the world of Enid Blyton and began reading independently, the Famous Five and Mallory Towers captured my imagination, in fact I was determined to follow in the steps of Darrell Rivers – I always wanted to go to an all girls school and be a prefect. My favourite was always “the Magic Far Away Tree” – a group of children discover an array of different worlds which appear as they climb a tall tree. It’s actually quite odd trying to explain it in words, the land of Topsy Turvy is a place the children discover where everyone walks on their hands, and then there’s the land of “do as you please” – each story has some sort of moral lesson, the children get in to trouble and have to help each other to make everything right.

The problem is that in some stories the “baddies” perpetuate racial stereotypes, Noddy being the most prolific example and for all of the female empowerment in the Mallory Towers series, there’s a constant gender issues when it comes to the Famous Five series where our favourite tomboy character George is often “mansplained” by her male cousins and Anne is constantly being treated as a doormat by them too. When I read these books I thought George was an inspiration. Girls can do anything and be just as good as boys.

Many of Blyton’s book’s were written over eighty years ago and have attracted critical backlash for various reasons over the years. As an adult I can read back some of these books and see why, but as a child I was blissfully unaware of the controversy, and I think I took more positives than negatives away from the stories – thankfully there have been many updates to Enid Blytons work to make the stories more appropriate for a modern audience. I feel really strongly about utilising books as resources to introduce discussions about racism, classism and gender stereotypes.

I grew up

As I grew older and went to secondary school I actually volunteered to help in the library and used to take home new books every evening. I used to have a torch to continue reading after lights were turned off to get to the end of a story, I slept with so many books under my pillow I had a crick in my neck. I would take the books from the reading list and read them over and over again.

My thirst for new texts meant that my teachers would recommend their own childhood favourites to me, Mr Jones lent me his copy of Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery which were challenging for me at the time, but are two books I always remember being fascinated by, and then along came Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I would have so many questions and found it fascinating that people could have different interpretations to the same story.

Our English teachers (by the time we got to our GCSE’s) would help explain the context stories were written in, both historically and politically and suddenly things would have eye opening different meanings when you’re learning to navigate the world as a teenager. We spent a term pouring over To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I think this is one of the most important books for anyone to read, and more relevant than ever even now.

Books are important.

Whenever I read a new book I write my name in the cover and then when I’m finished I leave them for someone new to find. Arlo and I have also done the same and have hidden his books in the park and participated in book exchanges to share our love of literature.

I could talk about the time I went to a book store at midnight when I was a student to buy the last ever Harry Potter book as soon as it was released, and how disappointed I was to see JK Rowling apparently support a transphobic tweet, but that would require another thousand words, and I haven’t got time for that because I do still need to make a costume for tomorrow.

I’ll finish with a quote from one favourite book of mine which I think explains exactly how I feel about reading – there’s nothing more important than inspiring a love of book’s with your children. Being able to read means that children can then open their minds, enhance language skills and express thoughts and ideas better. I’m pleased to see Dr. Seuss are committed to action when it comes to representation. None of us ever stop learning and growing.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

Our road map out of lockdown

This is a sponsored blog post

Boris has announced that there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel and a new roadmap to get us out of lockdown and hopefully by June it means that “staying home” will be no longer be a requirement . I’m pretty sure that everyone right now is planning to make this summer incredible to make up for lost time and getting super excited……. “Oh the places we’ll go!”

I do like to be beside the seaside

It’s been such a long time since we have seen the seaside so as soon as we’re allowed it’s going to be time for a road trip. We are hoping to head down to Padstow in Cornwall where we can charter a boat to zip along the coast line with the wind in our hair and head out to see if we can spot any puffins and seals. We’re going to embrace “staycations” and explore some of the best places in the U.K. and support small businesses on our travels too.

They think it’s all over

I can’t believe it’s been a year since Arlo has attended his football and swimming clubs. Looking forward to taking him to these activities and getting to meet up with old friends and make new ones is going to be so much fun. Getting back in to these is going to do wonders for tiring him out and having a decent bedtime routine. Over lockdown he’s become very interested in ninjas so I’ll be looking for a little martial arts club for him to try out too.

Were going to the zoo

Arlo absolutely adores animals and we can’t wait to greet our old friends. We’ll be heading out to the West Midlands Safari Park for an action packed day trip and then some we’ll also be back exploring Umberslade and Attwell farms on family days out in the Midlands. I can’t wait to pack up a lunch and surprise him with an outing – I wonder if he’ll remember the route and guess when we’re on our way.

We like to party

One thing we have both really missed is dancing bare foot in muddy festival fields. There’s nothing quite like listening to live music and abandoning all cares to have a little boogie. Arlo’s been a festival baby since well…. birth – I took him with me to see a Queen tribute when he was only a week old. I doubt he remembers any of the things we did as far back as 2019 but it’s going to be so much fun creating new memories together.

Food glorious food

I don’t know about anyone else but one thing I am really looking forward to is enjoying the food someone else has prepared. Whatever we end up doing, there’s something so fabulous about spotting a pub or restaurant in a totally new place and popping in for a cosy family meal. There’s some great inspiration for private dining rooms here so wherever you end up you can find the perfect bite to eat in the best surroundings.

Family celebrations

One things for sure, we have a whole year of birthdays and celebrations to make up for so there’s going to be so many days we spend with family and friends making memories together and just enjoying life post lockdown. After a year of being at home I’m exhausted just thinking about it – but I can’t wait to share our adventures with you. What’s the first thing to do on your list?