Sunday, 17 May 2015

Swimming tips for little ones



Recently we were lucky enough to be sent a "Swim Fin" to use and review. If you've never heard of them this is what one is:
A boy shark!

Developed by a swimming teacher, you wear it on your back instead of armbands/buoyancy suit and it keeps your body in a more horizontal (and much more 'natural' position) when swimming. And it makes you look like a shark - AMAZING!

Shark attack!!

So far we've had lots of fun wearing it around the house (yes, it will even fit an adult!) and the 8 year old insisted on wearing it all through lunch one day... Even Iz got in on the action :)

Baby shark :)

Next week we're taking it to our local swimming pool (I haven't felt brave enough to take both D and Iz on my own yet so we're having to wait til OH has a day off) and so will post a review of it "in action" then. In the meantime here are some of my top swimming tips that might be useful for anyone wondering how to start swimming with their little ones:

1. Start young
Both of mine started lessons at 6 weeks and we've never had any problems with being scared of water/not wanting to go etc. It was also a lovely sociable activity for me to go to, meet other mums and get out of the house even on my most knackered days. It's incredible when you look back and realise your tiny 2 month old who couldn't reach for an object or even acknowledge the ball during playtime is now a 6 month old who is happy to swim underwater, will make a valiant effort to hold on to the side without your help and laughs hysterically with glee whenever the ball comes out to play :)

2. Make it fun
Everyone develops at their own pace and the most important thing is to keep it fun. There's no point in pushing your baby if they're teething or have a stinking cold (and a screaming baby's screams are *even* louder when echoing round a pool!!) so keep it fun. Most swimming classes incorporate nursery rhymes into different activities (eg Humpty Dumpty when they fall in from the side) which is also easy to do when you're swimming on your own with them. And there are loads of fun things you can do in the water - D's favourite is "Jelly on a plate" when he sits on a mat and we wobble it until he falls in :)

3. Use bath time as an extension
There are lots of things you can do in the bath which help prepare babies for getting in the pool. From "showering" them with water over their head (getting them used to water over their face and letting them practice closing their eyes/holding their breath) to blowing bubbles (laying foundation for effective breathing techniques as they get older), the bath is a great place to cement any new skills they're working on.

4. Be confident
Even if you're not the most confident swimmer don't let your fear show. Obviously stay in the shallow end and work within your limits but let your kids see that swimming is fun and not scary.

5. Be organised
The first time I took D swimming he was 6 weeks old and I think it took me (no exaggeration!) 30 minutes to get us both ready for swimming! But now I can get us both undressed and dressed in under 5 minutes, whilst also wrestling a baby :) make sure you always take 2 swim nappies (in case of a just-before-you-get-in-the-pool poop) and don't forget a regular nappy for after. We like to use hooded towels for swimming as you can wrap them up super snug, including their wet hair, even if the changing rooms are drafty. Don't forget to also take a plastic bag to put your wet things in. And a snack and a drink for afterwards will usually buy you a few minutes peace to get changed yourself - swimming is be pretty energetic and tiring for little ones, even if it doesn't look like they've done much!

******

I also asked Laura Sevenus (an ex-competitive swimmer in South Africa, author of “Practically Swimming” and founder of the Sevenus Swimming School in London) how do you know when your baby is ready to start swimming lessons. Here are her top tips:
  • Each child will have his or her own individual personality and sensory thresh hold so don’t push too much or too soon. Babies require time, nurturing and gentleness in order to flourish and learn.
  • There is no rush.  Whether your baby starts swimming lessons at 3 or 6 months, it will make no difference to their ability to swim independently at 2-3 years old. 
  • Bonding is the result of true communication between parent and baby.  Your baby will let you know how he/she is feeling with body language. Learn to read your baby’s signs and then respond to what is being conveyed.
  • If the water feels cool to you, your baby will feel the same but just may not be able to tell you. Heat is lost through your baby’s head therefore it is not a good idea to submerge your baby’s head if the water temperature is on the cool side.
  • If parents have missed the opportunity to take their children swimming as babies, 4 years is a good age to begin lessons. A child will have more understanding then and will take instruction readily. They will have learnt to reason by this stage and are generally keen to attempt anything. If left longer than this age, he or she may start becoming self-conscious of the fact they are unable to swim and then more psychology will have to be employed.
  • Parents can do so much in building water confidence by allowing their children to play in the bath under supervision. Babies love to be floated in a deep bath of water. Toddlers love sitting and play water pouring with containers. Make bath time fun and without rushing – but of course always with adult supervision!

Laura is currently based in London where she runs the Baby Spa (which we loved when D and Iz were younger - you can read why here). Babies as young as 2 days swim there and after a few months when they are ready they can move on to more formal swimming lessons at the Laura Sevenus Swimming school.

******

Do you swim with your little ones? Do you have any other top tips for parents? Add them below if you do - I'd love to share them :)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

What Iz loved - April 2015

Here is what Iz loved this month:




4. Crawling!
5. Having proper teeth :)
6. Her giant water bead waterbed
7. Getting messy
8. Giant bubbles!!!

******


Glue suncatchers

This is a super simple activity that takes no time to set up (and gives you the excuse to eat lots of Pringles!).


What you need:
 
- Glue that will dry clear (we used PVA)
- food colourings
- a cake pop stick (you can see here the reasons why I prefer them to other options but you could also use a cocktail stick)
- a plastic lid (the ones from Pringles cartons are perfect)

Instructions:
 
1. Pour a thick layer of glue into the lid
2. Add a few drops of food colouring to the glue
3. Using your cake pop stick, gently swirl the colours (some restraint is needed - see tips below!!)
4. Leave to set on a flat surface (can take 3-4 days to fully dry)
5. Once the edges start peeling away from the lid gently peel the circle out
6. Trim the sides if needed and use a hole punch to make a single hole if doing a hanging suncatcher, or two holes of making bunting
7. Add some ribbon and display :)




Tips:

Pour as thick a layer of glue as can be contained within the lid - this will make your suncatcher more sturdy.

Remember to shake your glue bottle first! I forgot the first time and so ended up with a few suncatchers that never properly dried because they only contained the thin clear portion of the separated glue :(

This is definitely one of the times when less is more... Only use a few drops of food colouring and don't go crazy with the stirring - otherwise you'll end up with a brown mess! The colours will contain to spread out after you stop mixing them so be prepared for your patterns to change. I bought some tiny 5ml dropper bottles on Amazon which are perfect for activities like this - I filled each with a different colour and then let D be in charge of the squeezing (great pincer grip practice) without any fear of food colouring going everywhere!!
 
This was the first batch we made - you can see already how dark 3 of them are - they got even darker when they dried
 
This was our second attempt - much less colouring and turned out way better :)

Make sure you put the wet lids well out of everyone's way when they're drying (I managed to drop a spoon into one of ours by mistake and smooshed all the colours) and don't be tempted to try removing them from the lids too early. It'll be obvious when they're ready and start separating themselves.

******

I loved how excited D was when he first spotted them hanging on the window. "I did that!" he shouted very proudly :)



Friday, 15 May 2015

Magic milk

Aka Doof's first science experiment


If you've never heard of magic milk then you definitely need to try this out. Super simple (you will already have all the ingredients needed) and it kept D engrossed for over half an hour (a long time in toddler-time!).

What you need:
-  Milk (not skimmed - we used full fat and Iz's discarded formula)
-  Food colouring
-  Liquid soap
-  Cake pop stick (could also use a cotton bud or cocktail stick but I like cake pop sticks because they aren't sharp but are thin enough to be good fine motor practice for D)

What to do:


Pour a thin layer of milk into a bowl (if the layer is too deep the colours will get lost) and add a few drops of food colouring

Watch as they initially spread a little - weird how some colours spread much more than others! Then the fun bit - dip your stick into the liquid soap and then hold it in the milk


The colours will initially "run" away from it.But if you keep holding it in the same place they will then dance back towards it

Pretty patterns


We also made some pictures by dipping watercolour paper on top of the colours as they were spiralling. It was quite tricky for D to get the timing right though!

I love how simple this is to do but yet how much it held D's attention. Once we'd "used up" all the fat in the milk I just poured it away and poured out some more and D could start again. 

Sometimes it's nice to recognise just how many learning opportunities there are for toddlers in even simple activities. In this one D:
    - talked about colours
    - used new words like "swirl/whirl"
    - practised fine motor skills when squeezing the food colour bottles
    - followed new commands (eg "hold the stick still") 
    - learnt about cause and effect (after a few seconds he realised if he put the soapy stick end into an area of colour it would quickly swirl away and change its patten).

I'm not sure you could ask for much more from an activity with such a simple set-up?! If you're interested in the science behind it then you can read a great explanation here.
ilk is mostly water but it also contains vitamins, minerals, proteins, and tiny droplets of fat suspended in solution. Fats and proteins are sensitive to changes in the surrounding solution (the milk).
The secret of the bursting colors is the chemistry of that tiny drop of soap. Dish soap, because of its bipolar characteristics (nonpolar on one end and polar on the other), weakens the chemical bonds that hold the proteins and fats in solution. The soap's polar, or hydrophilic (water-loving), end dissolves in water, and its hydrophobic (water-fearing) end attaches to a fat globule in the milk. This is when the fun begins.
The molecules of fat bend, roll, twist, and contort in all directions as the soap molecules race around to join up with the fat molecules. During all of this fat molecule gymnastics, the food coloring molecules are bumped and shoved everywhere, providing an easy way to observe all the invisible activity. As the soap becomes evenly mixed with the milk, the action slows down and eventually stops.
Try adding another drop of soap to see if there's any more movement. If so, you discovered there are still more fat molecules that haven't found a partner at the big color dance. Add another drop of soap to start the process again
- See more at: http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/milk-color-explosion#how-does-it-work

How Does It Work?

Milk is mostly water but it also contains vitamins, minerals, proteins, and tiny droplets of fat suspended in solution. Fats and proteins are sensitive to changes in the surrounding solution (the milk).
The secret of the bursting colors is the chemistry of that tiny drop of soap. Dish soap, because of its bipolar characteristics (nonpolar on one end and polar on the other), weakens the chemical bonds that hold the proteins and fats in solution. The soap's polar, or hydrophilic (water-loving), end dissolves in water, and its hydrophobic (water-fearing) end attaches to a fat globule in the milk. This is when the fun begins.
The molecules of fat bend, roll, twist, and contort in all directions as the soap molecules race around to join up with the fat molecules. During all of this fat molecule gymnastics, the food coloring molecules are bumped and shoved everywhere, providing an easy way to observe all the invisible activity. As the soap becomes evenly mixed with the milk, the action slows down and eventually stops.
Try adding another drop of soap to see if there's any more movement. If so, you discovered there are still more fat molecules that haven't found a partner at the big color dance. Add another drop of soap to start the process again.
- See more at: http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/milk-color-explosion#how-does-it-work

How Does It Work?

Milk is mostly water but it also contains vitamins, minerals, proteins, and tiny droplets of fat suspended in solution. Fats and proteins are sensitive to changes in the surrounding solution (the milk).
The secret of the bursting colors is the chemistry of that tiny drop of soap. Dish soap, because of its bipolar characteristics (nonpolar on one end and polar on the other), weakens the chemical bonds that hold the proteins and fats in solution. The soap's polar, or hydrophilic (water-loving), end dissolves in water, and its hydrophobic (water-fearing) end attaches to a fat globule in the milk. This is when the fun begins.
The molecules of fat bend, roll, twist, and contort in all directions as the soap molecules race around to join up with the fat molecules. During all of this fat molecule gymnastics, the food coloring molecules are bumped and shoved everywhere, providing an easy way to observe all the invisible activity. As the soap becomes evenly mixed with the milk, the action slows down and eventually stops.
Try adding another drop of soap to see if there's any more movement. If so, you discovered there are still more fat molecules that haven't found a partner at the big color dance. Add another drop of soap to start the process again.
- See more at: http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/milk-color-explosion#how-does-it-work

******

Have you tried this with your kids? If you've ever tried any variations or twists on it I'd love to hear :)


Taste-safe cloud dough - with a fizz

If you've never made cloud dough I highly recommend it - takes about 2 minutes to make and lasts (theoretically) forever. And best of all it's made of things you will have in your kitchen already :)


As Iz still eats everything we have to make our sensory plays edible or she can't join in. So the recipe we used was:
                        4 cups of wholemeal flour
                        1/2 cup of vegetable oil
Yep that's it. Mix them together in a bowl and then you have this awesome mixture that runs through your fingers but you can mould into shapes just like wet sand. I actually prefer the texture to sand - much less gritty - and if Iz takes a mouthful then it may not be the most nutritious thing but it's not going to harm her!




Usually I leave the cloud dough uncoloured (that's why I like using wholemeal flour as then it looks like sand - white flour looks more like snow) but sometimes I'll colour it for a change. It's not that great using food colouring (they're water-based) but it's plenty good enough to keep my children happy :) the other alternative is using powdered paint which gives much more vibrant colours but then it would stop being as taste-safe for Iz.


D's favourite thing at the moment is making volcanoes in everything (see also when we played with our taste-safe slime) so with one of our batches we distracted Iz with a sensory tub of Rice Krispies and toy animals and then got to work...


First D sprinkled baking soda where he wanted the volcanoes to be. Next he squirted a few pipettes of food colouring on top (it was uncoloured cloud dough). Then he got busy with the vinegar.


I love watching how excited he gets with all the fizzing and bubbles. Science at its most fun and simple can be enjoyed by everyone - you're never too young to start! 


(this batch of cloud dough obviously went in the bin after this!)

******

Have you ever made cloud dough? Or fizzy cloud dough? If you've done other edible sensory/messy play then I'd love to hear :)

******

Disclaimer: as with any activity involving your baby, use your own judgement and common sense. I always closely supervise any sensory play and always inspect items for wear/tear carefully before each playing session. Always make sure you are confident with the safety of whatever your baby is playing with.


Friday, 8 May 2015

Nuby bath toys - review

I've said before - we love bath toys! D and Iz have a bath every night and I think it's a really important step in the day-to-night wind down process for Iz especially. Saying that, bath times are definitely not always quiet and relaxing...

We were offered the chance to road test some of Nuby's products and given the choice of anything on their website (it was great - felt a bit like supermarket sweep. But from the comfort of my sofa. With no time pressure!) I naturally plumped for some bath toys as well as some sucky bowls and ice lolly moulds (review coming soon).

I love Nuby stuff - D's favourite weaning cup was from Nuby (you can read about how we managed to avoid bottles completely here). This is what we thought of the bath toys:

Octopus Floating Bath Toy (currently on sale at £3.74)


My first thought was 'cute'. My OH's was 'why does an octopus only have 6 legs?!'. Fair point. And now having seen the Penguins of Madagascar movie I can't stop thinking he looks just like the evil villain! Anyway I digress slightly...

He floats well in the bath and comes with 3 different shapes you can hook onto his legs (D also had fun putting them on his toes!). It's a shame they aren't slightly larger as then you could play proper ring toss with them and it would also be nice if there were more of them (maybe 6 - one for each leg?) but Iz says they make great teething rings ;) It is still a nice toy that's easily big enough for siblings to charge in the bath (definite bonus!) though.






Kissy Fishy Bath Toy (currently on sale at £5.62)

I think this is a cute but simple idea but oh how much both D and Iz loved this! There are two fish on a string, facing each other. If you pull them apart they then "swim" back towards each other to end with a lip-locking smooch.


D LOVED these. He'd pull them apart, watch them kiss, pull them apart again, watch them kiss again... etc until it was time to get out of the bath. He even had a mini language explosion forming new sentences like:
"Iz hold on"
"Hold on tight"
"Look, kissing now"
To be honest I was surprised at just how much he's enjoyed playing with them - but he really has!


The only downside is the "moving" mechanism sometimes stops (especially if the fish are being held vertically - which obviously happens quite often if being played with by a toddler!). If you give them a shake it then starts again but it just makes me wonder what the shelf life of the toy will be... which is a shame as it has been such a source of amusement and fun so far. Anyway time will tell and hopefully I'm wrong :)

******

If you like the sound of either of these then check out their website. At the moment there is 25% off all their bath toys (see here) - bargaintastic!

They also kindly sent me their "Garden Fresh Fruitsicles" and "Stackable suction bowls with lids" - review coming soon...
 
 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

DIY sensory board

I think this is actually the make I'm proudest of even though it is incredibly simple and I can't believe I didn't think of it before. It is entirely made of things I had lying around the house and took less than 45 minutes to make from start to finish (I know because I managed to do it during one of Iz's "shorter" lunchtime naps...).  

I first got the idea from this blog and the end result is brilliant - Iz loves it, D loves it and I love how quiet they are when they play with it!! If you have anyone be vaguely "baby age" in your house I thoroughly recommend making one of these!


So what do you need?

A "base" - I was initially going to use a flat piece of cardboard but then I got my next "My Little Box" and realised it was the perfect size and shape - and the fact it folds up on itself without squashing the contents makes it perfect for storing too :)

Sensory "bits and pieces" - this is what I used:
- felt
- bubble wrap
- fabric scraps
- large straws
- big pompom
- corrugated cardboard
- loops of thick ribbon
- ties of thin ribbon
- coloured paper
- piece of emergency blanket (left over from Iz's sensory basket)
- the ziploc portion of some plastic bags

 
My aim was a variety of colours, textures and materials. Some of them also had the added element of sound. So it was a proper sensory experience - sight, touch, hearing :)

Four quick steps to make your own:

1. Assemble all the bits you want to include and lay them out on the base to get an idea of positioning
2. Glue in place with a hot glue gun
3. Leave to dry for at least 24 hours
4. Then remove any "wispy" glue bits (I clearly need to work on my glue gun technique!) and give everything a good tug to make sure it's stuck on firmly

And then play!

First exploring
  
Even D wanted to join in

Must reeeeeeeach it!

Ooooo straws


Loved the fluffy pompom

Iz loved it and probably played with it every day and before she could sit up it was great tummy time practice. We also used it to tempt her into crawling when she was first starting to move :) it was a great "go to" toy when I was trying to get lunch ready or tidy up afterwards as it would always keep her busy for at least 5 minutes.

Just checking there's nothing on the underside...

Note - before each time I gave it to her I always pulled at the various bits and pieces and checked they were all still securely in place. I would definitely advise doing that as things will invariably come loose over time.

Close up inspection

So how did it stand up to baby battering?

Amazingly well actually. The red dotted paper cup was an early casualty on day 1 (I should've realised it was just asking to be ripped off!) but everything else lasted nearly 2 months until the pompom came loose and by this point I felt it was probably past its prime. But 2 months of entertainment for the price of the glue in my glue gun - brilliant!

******

Disclaimer: as with any activity involving your baby, use your own judgement and common sense. I always closely supervise any sensory play and always inspect items for wear/tear carefully before each playing session. Always make sure you are confident with the safety of whatever your baby is playing with.