Friday, 24 October 2014

Wind Rain and Cold is Defining October. Get Under Cover.

We were BLESSED with sunny blue skies and good temperatures for the whole of September and even a chunk of October but the wind, rain, and cold have now firmly arrived.

Luckily, I was ready with water proofs, so the rain didn't see Aaron getting wet bless him.
In his Dickies Water Resistant Jacket and wellies
As you can see from MY feet above, I wasn't quite so lucky. WHY was I wearing sandals with a SUEDE wedged heel in such conditions? Well simply because the elevation of the heel helps my plantar fasciitis, and means I can actually walk instead of hobble. Thankfully Daddy has now bought me boots, as an Anniversary gift, so problem solved:
They are fabulous. They mean I can walk pain free for hours AND I can even cycle in them!

Doing the #SchoolPedal Without Getting Wet
When the first onset of rain came, I had Aaron wearing this jacket:
I thought he was the Bees Knees (LOOK at the jacket and you will see the pun is very much intended). I thought the YELLOW of it meant he was very visible on his bike, and that the plastic of it would mean he was water proof.

It takes BAD wind and rain, added with a bit of dim light and you really get the measure of whether something is weather appropriate!

Being YELLOW is NOT enough. In dark mornings and evenings, especially when cycling, HI VIS is required.

So here's what we now have in our new Dickies Store Vermont Water Resistant children's jacket:

  • A draw string hood.... this is SO necessary! The other day Aaron cycled home wearing the jacket you see above. The wind was in our faces, so the hood kept being blown off. Aaron dealt with this by cycling, one hand on the bike handlebars, and one hand on the hood. This began quite near home so alarming as it was, being a confident cyclist, I let him. I felt a bit stupid given that we already owned our new jacket at this point, but had out of habit gone out with the yellow one. Lesson learned though! By the way the hood DOES fully cover his head and curls, he was just being a very unwilling model in the photos below.
  • Elasticated cuffs! The first time Aaron tried it on, it was the VERY first thing he noticed. He said "this is like an apron" - you know the ones they paint in at school. They are so needed for wind and rain though, and you'll see that they are lacking in the jacket above (which incidentally satisfactorily got us through many a sunny rainy day - it's just not built for Autumn/Winter).
  • Hi Vis stripes, which you'll see "DickiesStore" refer to below as "reflective tape detailing". They ARE quite high vis though, as you'll see in the pic of Aaron with his best friend below.
  • A zip, with storm cover buttons on a flap ON TOP. The above jacket only has buttons.
  • All of the seams are sealed, as you see in one of the "inside out" pics below.
  • It's a suit so it comes WITH TROUSERS. So needed for cycling, when your legs are more exposed and your thighs are horizontal!
  • A good roomy hood, that folds into the collar, when not in use!
All of the water resistant details of a Dickies Jacket
What the brand's description says about it:

DickiesStore Children’s Vermont Water Resistant Suit benefits from all the features the adult suit has. With draw cord adjustments and elasticated cuffs providing all round weather protection.
  • Three colour options.
  • Manufactured from hardwearing PVC.
  • Two pockets.
  • Mesh buggy lining to keep warm.

With even more detail given in the specification:
  • Zip fastened front with studded stormflap.
  • Elasticated cuffs.
  • Tail hem with drawcord adjustment.
  • Two jet pockets.
  • Reflective tape detailing.
  • Raglan sleeves.
  • Fabric: 100% polyester PVC waterproof fabric with tape welded seams.
  • Full elasticated waist.
  • Side pocket access.

The ABSOLUTE best part of the Dickie's jacket is that it comes with trousers. The day above, where I said we cycled home with him in his yellow jacket, his legs got soaked. I said to him "Aaron that wouldn't have happened with your other jacket as it comes with water proof trousers" so we both agreed we'd be sticking with that from now on. 

The good thing is, I cycle with a rucksack, so it's easy to always have water proofs in there, for those times when rain catches you by surprise.

There are other reasons that all of this is required. Firstly the clocks go back this weekend (remember it is FALL BACK and SPRING FORWARD), and secondly, every Friday we cycle to and from football practice so even when it wasn't dark for our #SchoolPedal home from school, it WAS by the time we got back from football and will be even more so now with the Winter evenings :-( so all of the hi vis and weather protection is very much necessary.

Oh the absolute irony of me calling this post "Get Under Cover" after what happened THIS morning. We were about 12 minutes late for school, which meant the path up to school was full of nursery children, their buggies and their parents and we struggled to get passed them all. They start at 09:00 and we start at 08:45 so it was our fault for being late. Anyway when I was closing the gate from the path to the bike shed, I was moaning to myself, under my breath, about how none of the Mums had made it easy for Aaron to get passed, even though  their school doors weren't even open yet, and therefore it would have cost them nothing to let him passed, instead of driving their buggies like the footpath equivalent of a Land Rover that owns the road. Anyway a dad was looking over at me, and I thought he was genuinely intrigued or sympathetic. No, once I locked the bikes and walked down the other path to school, I finally got the chance to look down, and two of the buttons on my blouse had popped open, so ............. I guess the advice in this post, about wrapping up, should be swallowed whole by yours truly too. I might not be famous but I certainly experienced one of those wardrobe malfunction thingy thingies!!!!!!!! #Yikes

Today, it was very dry as we left, although the pavements and roads were wet so it clearly rained overnight. As it was a bit chilly I put on Aaron's new Winter Coat, and wanted to put his DickiesStore rain jacket on top but he wouldn't let me. It's okay though, as it is light enough to carry in a rucksack for when needed.

For times like that, when he needs a coat for warmth, but it is not raining (or snowing), he doesn't have anything hi vis in his new (Primark) winter coat, so what I will be doing is putting his new Hi Vis Children's Waistcoat on top of his Winter Coat. I haven't got pictures of him in that yet, but will add some within 24 hours.

So now he has the DickiesStore Children's Water Resistant Suit (only 13.50 GBP) AND a Primark Winter Jacket (only 12 GBP) so for wet days he only needs the former, for dry days he only needs the latter, and for those days where it is cold, windy AND wet, he can wear the two together. We've done this type of layering the last 2 Winters (with other jackets) and it really works, but as it's been about 8 months since Aaron's been layered up like that, when I put them both on together yesterday, he said he felt like a "hot air balloon" - he took them off so quick, I didn't even get a photo. I know my boy though, when the temperatures REALLY drop he'll be putting them both on VERY willingly and then I will be on the hunt for a hat, gloves and scarf, which is next on my never ending shopping list!
Winter Jackets for Boys

Even though Aaron only turned 4 in June, both jackets, the DickiesStore one and the Primark one, are both in sizes 7-8 and neither of them are too big, although they are roomy enough that they will definitely see him through the Winter months in all conditions :-)

I forgot to say, Aaron has a very large head. In fact the circumference of it was why I needed a C-section. I was very impressed that the hood on the Dickies Store jacket was deep enough to accommodate him:
Liska xx

Disclosure: We were sent the DickiesStore suit and the DickiesStore hi vis waistcoat for the purposes of this review. We bought the Primark jacket ourselves. We love all of them and every word here is my own.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Daddy's Perfect Gift A Personalised Photo Calendar from Us

A long time ago, I used to know that personalised photo gifts make the best presents. I was an early adopter of digital photography, proudly purchasing my first Sony Cybershot in Japan in 2004, before it was even released in the UK. I am now on my 3rd Sony Cybershot, as I love them so much. We actually went shopping to Akihabara in Japan (their Tottenham Court Road) so that I could snap up a bargain and I did. Obviously we were already in the country LOL. We also went to Disney Land whilst there - I am yet to meet a person who knows that there's a Disney Land anywhere other than America! I think that camera was the equivalent of 350 pounds, which incidentally I would not pay for a camera now! Back then memory cards were REALLY dear, and the amount of memory space was a 100th of what we expect now!

Many moons ago I made a calendar for Daddy and he adored it. Actually, speaking of Japan, a couple of the pics in there are from that trip, that's how long ago I made it. I've just managed to find THAT calendar on my account (despite not having the first clue where it is in the house) - I feel all nostalgic now. I created it for Valentine's Day 2005, so I have been using digital photography and personalised creations for quite some time. Thanks to finding it on my account I can even see what photos I put in it. Wow I looked young and slim back then!
It had pictures like this in it:
DSC00087 - Click to view full size photoDSC00067 - Click to view full size photo

I've recently rediscovered how well received personalised gifts are. My Mother in Law was 70 recently and I got "our" beloved Grandma "photo" gifts and a personalised photo birthday card (did you know Photobox now does cards). She adored those gifts, especially as there were lots of pics of the grandkids. I don't think I could have got quite that reaction with any other presents.

With that in mind, and how much Daddy raved about the calendar I once made him, I think another would make the perfect gift for his imminent birthday. Last time I got it so that he could turn the pages (with the changing of the month) to be enamoured with a delightful picture of me on each and every page, but this time I think he needs it to schedule some important dates on, so we all know where we are, with all our comings and goings:
Mens memories are worse at remembering names dates and plans

Last time it was unashamedly full of pictures of me, but I think this time, there'd be a lot of Aaron in there.

I best get cracking making it as his birthday is relatively soon. I've made a start on the cover:
Personalised Photo Calendar cover at Photobox
I am creating the personalised calendar using photobox - I became a loyal customer and fan back in 2005. Their photo calendars are really affordable and just like with real calendars in the shop, there's lots of choice. What I really love is that you can start it on any month. As November is going to be crazy busy for us, I am starting it from then. We seem to need more organisation now, with Aaron starting school, and us all having so many social engagements, so I think this will be a very functional gift that we will be sharing - sorry Daddy!

A personalised photo gift is great on so many levels. If you pick the photos wisely, it can be a stunning gift. As it takes work to put it together, to choose the photos, you are also in effect gifting your time, in such a loving way, similar to a handmade crafted gift. For me, Daddy doesn't often see the photos that are on my computer, so this is a way of getting them OUT of the computer to a place where he can see and enjoy them on a daily basis. After all they are not JUST photos. They are beautiful records of moments captured for posterity.

Also, there are only so many pictures you can frame and put up before you run out of walls ha ha! Although, clearly there is a place for that too, as shown by the canvas below which my Dad has had on the wall, pride of place, ever since Xmas Eve last year.

I am going to make 80% of it as pictures of Aaron and Daddy, but fling in 1 or 2 of me and Aaron as I know Daddy will love those, as I have a couple of really nice ones (including the cover above). You can see the pics I ended up finalising on below.

I am making the calendar whilst writing this post, and so far I have made the cover and November to March. The website has just asked me to "save" my creation. That's great as I wouldn't want to lose what I have done so far, as I am putting a lot of thought into which photo to choose for each month.

This time last year I was using a different computer, so I don't have access to many historical photos. So I am not doing that thing of using a November photo for November, etc... or a Christmas photo for December.

Although putting sufficient thought into it, to choose and upload the perfect photo for each month, can take a couple of hours, especially when there are as many photos to look through as I have, I'd much prefer that to hopping on a bus and trudging* round the shops, especially with my bad foot and today's wind and rain. I think online shopping is the way to go, for Christmas gifts too!

I am glad to see trudging means what I thought it did ha ha!

gerund or present participle: trudging
  1. walk slowly and with heavy steps, typically because of exhaustion or harsh conditions.

I love that photo box tells you if each photo is a "good quality image" as it is hard, with the size of photos you seen when designing, to know if they will transfer to an A3 calendar and still look good. I have deliberately chosen shots with good lighting etc...

While I was designing the calendar just now, an offer code kept popping up so I thought I would screenshot it for you, in case you dear reader are now inspired to make a personalised photo creation. 

You could be like me doing it for an imminent birthday


one of those annoyingly organised people who have already started shopping for Christmas. 

Oh and Christmas last year saw me using Photobox, as I bought my Dad a beautiful canvas photo from there. Thank God they fast tracked it for me; it arrived on Christmas Eve, I do cut things fine! I wouldn't recommend putting that level of stress on yourself though, as it is in the hands of Royal Mail as well as Photobox. But then I did the same for the pics for Grandma recently. Her birthday was Sunday and the pics arrived the day before on Saturday. Thankfully I remained in touch with the wonderful twitter account: @photobox_help when I was having kittens about my last minute order.

These are the photos I have chosen for Daddy's October Birthday personalised photo calendar:
But that really is the easiest way to do it. Make an ALBUM for the calendar and then simply drag, drog, each image into it. These are not staged posey pictures that I have chosen but rather captured moments that I know will jog Daddy's memory regarding special days out.

What's your perfect gift idea? I think I will be making a gift for ME soon, and it will be a personalised photo diary. One, I am desperate for a diary, and two, I would love something close to hand, that I am forced to look at every day, with pictures of me and Aaron, as in his 4 years on this planet this is the first year where we have managed to get some really gorgeous pictures of the 2 of us, and I would love to release them from the confines of my computer. I think I would opt for their Deluxe Photo Diary which is their best seller.

The reason I want a diary is because I keep experiencing the Frustration of Forgetting. Click on that "bootcamp for your brain link", as it is very interesting. The infographic it takes you to, shows that more MEN forget names, dates and plans than women, and is the source for the image earlier in this post. I know I have gone notoriously bad at remembering things since childbirth. Despite him being 4 years old, baby brain is still alive and kicking, but it seems men suffer too, perhaps with a different cause. I think they are just space cadets sometimes and just don't listen to the "date" or "plan" in the first place.

So I hope Daddy makes good use of the calendar - what a functional gift! As soon as I get chance I will design and then make use of the diary. Maybe we will both be where we are meant to when we are meant to from now on. Never miss an appointment again ha ha! To be fair, we never do, we just have to chase our tails a lot, which could be avoided with better planning.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Learning in the Forest and On The Go

We didn't have any school on Friday as it was a teacher training day so we were able to travel further afield and have a day out that involved a bit of a trek and a very early start, but it was so worth it.

Ironically given that it was a no school day, we went to Forest School. Aaron and I are very outdoorsie so it really appealed to us both.

He made friends quickly :-) (His new friend resembled Wilson in the Tom Hank's film Castaway ha ha)!
Ah I am jesting. He loved playing with the other kids:

Here, they were all in a Den and Aaron decided the teacher wasn't allowed in, and said she would have to blow the house down (like in the 3 little pigs) - although this wasn't the impenetrable brick house in the story, she tried but couldn't manage it ;-)
When we first arrived, we spent quite some time in the car park, and it was tough trying to stop Aaron from running straight into the forest. He wanted to explore immediately. Given that it was Forest School, some sit down time was required, in a circle. Once the fire was lit, adhering to some rules was crucial. I had to ask Aaron to sit down (and not run across the circle) a few times. What made me chuckle when I looked at the photos, was how far back his stick/marshmallow was. The boy who was so brave to run near the fire, was a bit more restrained in his toasting method LOL. As I knew it'd be me eating it, I do remember asking him to go nearer, which he did #Yummy.
So now you know, my Silent Sunday photo was definitely marshmallow not mushroom :-) I won't repeat the photo again, but it is worth clicking "older post" below, as it is a photo I am dead proud of.

The main "task" that the kids had to do, to earn their fireside marshmallow in biscuits, was to forage for things that were listed on a laminate. Here's the teacher talking us through what we had to find:

She gave them a cardboard cup each to pop their treasures into, and they all concentrated really well while they looked around. I helped for a while as I was looking forward to finding these (below) as the teacher had creatively called them "fairy wings" and that was me and my imagination motivated to find them. Alas, after hunting for 15 minutes, I found none on the forest floor, BUT this morning, 3 days later, there were millions of the things on the tarmac surrounding Aaron's classroom at school.
I'd said to someone that they are sycamore leaves, but it turns out, after a little bit of research I now discover they fall from maple trees. Do you remember spinning them in a helicopter way when you were little?

Aaron I think would quite happily spend the whole day in the forest. He was very happy to be there:
The event was billed to be 10:30 11:30 but I think we over- ran which was good, as we were all rather chilled out in there, especially as there was tea/coffee and cookies. The teacher's friendly assistant then showed us the way to Ashton Court so that we could all continue on our day. Us free range Mums and free range kids weren't ready to be tucked up back at home just yet, so we made a day of it!

The kids barely knew we were there they played so so much, we couldn't even get them to join us for lunch. If Aaron had been better behaved it would have been complete bliss, as we were actually able to talk whilst they all played.

We found ourselves in a cafe, that had a complimentary soft play area. At first glance it looked so small (2 metres by 3 metres) you'd think it would entertain them for 5 minutes but it was more like 4 hours.
The main thing they seemed to love doing was climbing up onto that worktop, followed by jumping off it. If they were city kids, who spent all day indoors, there would no doubt have been an accident at some point. The law of averages were against us, with there being so many of them, their ages, and the long amount of time we were there. Thankfully given that, not only are they free range kids, but they are also #CountryKids, they hopped up and down there with ease. I don't think the designers of said play area intended it to be a climbing frame, but us Mums were happy for them to use it in that way #yikes. Actually city kids could probably cope with it too, as long as they are kids who are allowed to climb. I remember my city cousin climbing a book case when she was only 2 or 3. She could literally climb to the top and then perch up there like a bird. She's now, 20 years later, at the gym 5 times a week. I think being active stays with you. The biggest set back to an active kid, is an over protective parent. Play, and climbing, are like physio to growing children as it is what builds their frame, their physique and their stamina. I strongly believe that. Aaron cycles to school nearly every day, and attends football practice every Friday. I do intend on getting him into a martial arts class too. I used to be a Yoga Teacher. His being active and healthy is very important to me. As important as his emotional and academic development. It all goes hand in hand.

It was comforting to be able to actually start and finish lunch whilst it was still warm. A rather delicious Venison Burger, which I didn't spot on the menu but I copied Adele. It was also wonderful to talk with such inspiring intelligent ladies over lunch, whilst Aaron enjoyed the company of their children. Thank you Adele, Carolin, and Laura. I shouldn't complete this post without mentioning Jane - she didn't join us for lunch, but it was lovely to see her in the forest. She took a GORGEOUS photo on her DLSR of Aaron which I can't wait to see again.
Funny, but after years of him not being interested in drawing or writing, he has spent the last fortnight writing every spare moment he gets. He's leapfrogged to where he would be, had he started sooner. Proof that you don't need to cram things into them before they are ready. I can't wait to see where his accelerated academic learning takes him.

We recently went on a really long car journey and he spent the whole car journey writing. He asked me to write each name of a child in his class and he copied every single one. He kept asking me how I knew how to spell their names bless him. I wasn't prepared for this "school" session in the car, so he had to do all of his spontaneous writing on my newspaper:
You just have to love his ringlets - love Aaron's hair!!!

So yes, school, learning, can be wherever it takes you. Climbing the walls, learning in the forest, writing in the car, or within the walls of a regular classroom. Given my many years of teaching yoga, you would think I would be into Home Ed, but I don't think I have enough of a sense of routine or self discipline for it. Anyway, Aaron adores school.

Wild Foresters who hosted our morning in the forest, run Wild Forester birthday parties and are also running Halloween half-term Activities in the Woods:
A bit of background:
Forest Schools originated in Sweden in the 1950s and spread to other countries, particularly Denmark where they have become an important part of the Danish early years programme.

In a typical Danish Forest School, young children from 3 years are taken into the forest for 4 hours each day of the week. They take no toys with them, but instead use only what the forest provides (and their imaginations) to develop their games. Activities are child led and fun, such as finding small animals or stomping in puddles (Mummy fail I forgot to put Aaron's wellies on on Friday but thankfully it remained dry until the evening). Because of high adult to child ratios, children can safely try out activities which are often considered too dangerous such as climbing trees or lighting fires, and by dressing the children in good protective clothing they are able to play freely, sitting and rummaging in mud and undergrowth. By setting children small manageable tasks at which they are unlikely to fail, and giving genuine praise, children's independence and confidence grows (yes, although the big kid I am, I am sure my not finding the fairy wings will not dent my confidence ;-) ).

Being that this post is very much a #CountryKids kind of post I will also tell you:

There's lots of inspiration for outdoor fun and learning over at Coombe Mill's Country Kids.

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Day I Lost It

He's been on school dinners since he started school a few weeks ago. They're free now for everyone (for younger age groups) and thanks to school food standards, the quality is really good. At football on Friday I even sat next to Aaron's "dinner lady" as her son also attends football practice. I have been VERY satisfied with school dinners on all counts. My favourite conversation on the way home, is hearing him delight in telling me what he ate that day. My purse has also been happy with the fact that I am not filling my fridge with scotch eggs, babybels etc...

Then last night he remembers that we bought a "Planes" lunch bag in the Summer (the only reason we bought it was for #CapriSunSchool). He asked for the bag before bed last night and even insisted on having toast with chocolate spread out of it (the lunch box we bought to go inside it) as a supper.

So I let him and thought that was the end of it. BUT, I should have realised there was more passion behind this desire, as he insisted on bringing the lunch bag to bed (I am sure he did this in case it would go missing over night and to be fair it may well have done).

This morning, he remembered it JUST as we were going out the door. I gave him all the many reasons he wasn't going to have packed lunch and headed for the shed to get the bikes out. Normally he'd get out his while I get out mine, but he just stood there going on and on about it. At this point we were ten minutes early, so I tried rationalising with him, tried silently ignoring him. Tried all of the techniques that normally work.

By this time it was time to leave or we'd be LATE. I wish I could put LATE in font size 3,000 as I don't like to be late!!!!

He wasn't backing down, and by this point was being so loud about it, I was worried the neighbours would get upset, so I backed down, went inside to make sandwiches, but first shouted "get inside" at the top of my voice. OH THE IRONY given that what made me give in, was my worry over him, and the noise, and the neighbours.

While making the sandwiches I was shaking as I was so cross. Cross that this could become a daily thing, cross that he wouldn't back down and listen to me, cross that packed lunches would add to our food bill, cross that he was making the decisions, cross that all of this was making us late, cross that I LOVE him having school dinners, and this might all end, with no choice of mine involved.

It got worse not better....

Packed lunch made (with what I had in the fridge, which was luckily, enough, to rustle something not completely embarrassing), we then went outside but he refused to get on his bike. When he saw how cross that made me, he started walking to school. I called him back and he wouldn't listen, so I had to wheel the bikes towards him. It is nearly impossible to wheel two bikes along, and it was bin day so I was having to negotiate wheelie bins AND recycling. I finally caught up with him at the end of the road, ONLY because he is too sensible to cross the road by himself.

He then insisted on balancing the lunch bag on the handlebars and began to ride like that. Luckily as an experienced cyclist he managed it, and we rode the 8 minutes to school in complete silence.

Oh, actually, that's not strictly true. There was one brief conversation. He said "if you don't want me to have packed lunch why did you buy me a lunch bag?". Yep, my articulate boy used those exact words. I said "because it was work". Now he KNOWS about toys being delivered and he knows they are "work" so my quick witted boy said right back "but when we get a "delivery" (our code word for blogging review items)  I play with them right?" - he wanted me to say "yes" so that I would be implying that he is therefore allowed to "play" with his lunch bag. Well to be fair I DID. The first 2 weeks of school, when they were still on half days (which did not include lunch) I let him have sandwiches out of it every day in front of the TV... since starting school, on full days, he'd forgotten about it. The problem is, every day the teacher asks them during registration, "school dinners or packed lunch". They are allowed to decide each and every day. I would prefer if you opted in or out once a week, month or term, but no! They are allowed to decide every day. So he hears that every day, and finally he's decided "I'll have some of that".

No matter what reason I gave him this morning, why I did not want him to have packed lunch, he would not back down, and I gave him MANY reasons.

This morning I became a fish wife shouty Mum and I thought it would take HOURS for me to calm down. Luckily I spoke to a Mum outside school, and just that little chat, got the tears right out of my eyes, and saw my hands immediately stop from trembling.

Oh I have missed a bit.... so all of this drama... (1) the negotiating during the 10 minutes early that we had (when I was getting the bikes out) (2) us both shouting and me then making sandwiches and (3) his starting the journey on foot, all led to us being FIFTEEN MINUTES late for school. My anger and embarrassment compounded ten fold when I arrived at school because firstly, for the first time ever, Reception was joining ASSEMBLY and they were under time pressure to finish registration so us arriving at 9 instead of 08:45 was not ideal. I then had to FIND where the lunch box/bag goes and had to change his shoes as he cannot cycle in school shoes. As I was leaving, I heard them say "it's school photo day" and that was THE icing on the cake. I always do his hair beautifully and today, the drama meant I had not....

Anyway, back to the school mum talking to me outside school. She shared this with me, and it's actually really really helpful:
The post is part of an online book tour (for YELL LESS LOVE MORE), and I think I may actually buy the book. I haven't used my Kindle in over a year, and will have to "find" my charger etc... as it is cheaper on there. But that's my plan.

What are your trigger moments?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Playing It All Out. Why Computer Games Aren't All Bad

Some parents think that computer games are a bad influence. They're a waste of time, the kids aren't learning, they ruin kids' attention spans, they're violent... the list of grumbles is endless. I recognise the sentiment as I used to feel the same.
But are computer games deserving of this bad reputation? There are actually lots of terrific Nintendo Wii games and PlayStation games out there; many of these console games are available at Tesco with various benefits for kids.

Here are just a few reasons why computer games aren't all bad:

Attention span
Far from giving kids shorter attention spans, some studies have actually suggested that playing computer games may help kids who have attention or concentration issues, up to and including ADHD. The suggestion that computer games may help ADHD is centred around a relatively new concept called neurofeedback. Although some of the evidence is anecdotal, I have personally seen Aaron's concentration improve from playing computer games.

Motor skills and coordination
The need for quick reaction times with computer games can train kids to react quicker to stimuli, and perhaps even make them better at sports, coordinated tasks, and activities which require hand eye coordination. This I have very much witnessed with Aaron. His ability with a mouse, and his accuracy has developed in leaps and bounds this Summer from the motor skills the use of the mouse on my computer requires. Wanting to complete a game, that includes his favourite TV characters, seems to give him the resilience to keep trying till he gets it right. Literally his abilities transformed, just from pure dedication to wanting to be able to do it and like any 4 year old "by himself". They don't like help with anything do they?

Social skills and team attitude
Multiplayer and online games can teach children how to work as a team, along with demonstrating social skills and allowing them to hone these new found attitudes. Being that Aaron is only 4, he hasn't experienced this side of computer games yet. I do understand the importance of social and team skills though due to seeing him develop at football. We attend football practice every Friday. The first week there were 30 children and for 45 minutes they had a ball each, with the coach talking them through various techniques. Then for the last 15 minutes they had to put bibs on top of their clothes, and Aaron was in the orange team. All of a sudden two teams - about 12 boys - were chasing ONE ball, up and down the hall. He didn't understand that they were all chasing one ball and he certainly didn't "get" that he was part of a team. We then missed the following week as he was too tired that Friday evening after his first week of full days as school (after 2 weeks of half days). When we returned, the penny had dropped. He adopted a team identity, and ran after the ball, as part of a team. He'd mentally processed what was required in the fortnight between Fridays. I'd taken being in a team for granted, but when it is new to you, it takes a small while for the penny to drop.

When confidence is lacking, playing computer games can really help. Aaron sees himself improving and gaining new skills while getting better at a chosen game. He then talks about this with friends and cousins, and it helps with social confidence too. The main leap in confidence is with his staying power. Before he started playing games on my computer he was developing a tendency to want to give up if he did not do something perfect first time. The BIGGEST thing that playing computer games has taught him is the principle of "practice makes perfect" and until his time on my computer, I'll be honest I was struggling to drive this home to him. The games he tends to play the most are the ones on Nick Junior. He adores Ben and Holly and Peppa Pig so it's perfect. He started with a much simpler game on the Thomas and Friends Facebook page (which isn't there anymore as it was part of a competition that came to an end). He then moved onto the games on (as you see in the collage - pics that were taken back in July). Now he's mostly on Nick Junior and he's BRILLIANT at Diego Puzzle Pyramid, and didn't ask me for any help AT ALL. He also knows how to navigate round the site. We spend a lot of one-to-one time, so computer game time tends to be when he wants to chill and Mummy's busy. I don't over use it, or use it as an electronic childminder.

There are so many educational games on the market now: history based games, maths games, science games and even city building games can help your children with their school work! This I know will come with time more and more. Aaron's not at the stage yet where he has homework that requires going online but I know the time will come, sooner rather than later. He's already learned so much from the games he does play.

Concentration skills
Say what you like about computer games, they do require concentration! In this fast-paced internet driven world, attention is often flicking from one new thing to another, but playing a computer game requires and develops focus. This can be an excellent skill for children to master, as it helps them in school and maybe even in their future career. If you watch TV, have a look, and you will notice that the camera shot changes every 3 to 4 seconds, such is the TV's wish to keep us watching. As a society we've lost the ability to stay hooked. I sometimes think we've become a nation of flickers (channel flickers). We have so many children's channels that Aaron turns over if the adverts come on, but yes, computer games really see him concentrate. I love though that if I ask him to get off, the minute he finishes his game he will. So given that we do get up early enough in the morning, I have even been known to let him play a game while I am in the shower, and he is a good boy and gets off the computer then when I tell him to.

The computer game world is a remarkably multi-faceted business: it's not all car racing and war games. Not all games are violent or bad for kids, and there are age ratings to help you pick the most appropriate game levels for your kids. Many consoles even allow you to set parental controls so you can ensure your children are only playing age-appropriate games. That way, you’re in control at all times. I have felt good the last few months as ALL of the games Aaron plays are age appropriate BUT I had an experience at the weekend, where he played 2 games on his cousin's phones and then later expected me to have them on my phone. I downloaded them, and they each were free BUT you could buy things (at the push of a button) in the game that were anything from 69 pence to 69 pounds. The minute I saw this, I took both games right off my phone. It made me thankful that we are still at the stage of games for 4 year olds. So yes, dear reader, beware of downloadable games, especially on your phone. I will be remaining with just our much loved Thomas on the phone for now.

Aaron has once or twice asked if he can play games on our TV, and I do have a Nintendo Wii that I haven't had out since his arrival. When we decluttered when pregnant my Mum helped me pack it away. I think I will have to dig it out and hook it up as I remember having some games I know Aaron would adore (in particular a penguin one). We live in such a technologically advanced world now, I think it is tough to keep them away from computers. Even in Reception (he just started school this September) they have a large screen on the wall. Aaron always calls it a "scream" bless him. His vocabulary is so advanced for his 4 years and his pronunciation so so good, that the odd word he says wrong like that, I don't always correct him, as my little man is just growing up way too fast.

You may recognise the original collage, below, I did back in July (the same day the pics above were taken) when he actually discovered computer games. Wow he has come on leaps and bounds since then in terms of what he can do. Back then it was just drag and drop, whereas now he can navigate a whole website (Nick Junior) and exhibits so many computer and problem solving skills.