Monday, 29 October 2012

Half term lessons learned.

After a mammoth 8 week first term at school and Ellie’s imminent start at her new school, I’ve been reflecting about how it’s all gone and I realise that I’ve learned some important things about me, about Ellie and about school.

1.     Routine is still important to me (and Ellie)
Right from when Ellie was a baby I’ve sought to have a routine and one of the key things I found myself focussing on during these first few weeks of term has been establishing a new routine that fits with school, work and us…that is our daily pattern of getting ready, getting out, getting home and getting to bed. I know this sounds silly and I also know that the need for a regular pattern to our lives very much stems from my ‘control freak’ nature. But I also know that Ellie likes it. She likes the predictability of the routine so that she can take ownership of parts of it – like getting dressed, working out the times we need to leave and she enjoys telling me off when I do something in the wrong order! There are also no surprises and the predictability of each event means a lot less battles.

So quite simply, it doesn’t seem to matter what stage of Ellie’s life we’re at – a routine is something we both appreciate and benefit from.

2.     She is growing up fast….but not too fast
I remember people saying to me that once they start school you lose your little girl. I also, if I’m totally honest, remember kind of snorting at them…after all Ellie had been in full time childcare for some time so I didn’t think the school transition would be a big deal.

There’s no doubt that Ellie has taken to school really well and for that, I count my blessings. She definitely loves learning and is a little girl who likes to be told she’s doing well. (She’s not so keen on getting things wrong of course!)

Her independent streak is developing nicely - she seems to like taunting me with the fact that I don’t know what she does all day, she dresses herself every morning, does her hair herself most mornings and knows what needs to go in her school bags. She particularly enjoys telling me to stop reminding her of things like collecting her water bottle at the end of the week and takes great pleasure in showing me she’s remembered later.

She has also come home using phrases and words which she’d never used before. I should note that several phrases are ones she’s been clearly instructed NOT to ever use again, but others are quite funny or just wider vocabulary than she’d used before.

Having said all that – she still wants to cuddle her mummy, still kisses me when I drop her off (even at school) and still wants me to check she’s wiped her bum properly after a number 2, or better still actually wipe it!

She is also exhausted after her first half term – ending up having a day off poorly during which she slept pretty much the whole day, and of course we’ve had the joy of tantrums – caused by pretty much nothing but because she’s tired. Hmmm, some things don’t change.

3.     It’s a fine line between encouraging and pushing
When Ellie was first born I found myself rolling my eyes and running away whenever other new parents would start comparing what their little one’s were doing– or especially when they talked about their plans to encourage (aka push) their little one to their next stage of development. My philosophy of supporting development, not pushing has been one that’s pretty much stuck with me throughout.

Since starting school, Ellie has been keen to learn her key words and practice her reading so occasionally asking her if she wanted to do so has been about reminding her and finding time to do it with her…supporting her.

You can therefore imagine my shock as one day this term I found myself asking Ellie my usual question of whether she wanted to practice her key words and upon hearing her response of ‘no’ heard myself say ‘well you’ll never learn them if you don’t try’. In that moment I realised I was moving quite clearly from supportive to pushy.

I also found myself casting a critical eye over her new school classroom on our visit and asking questions of the teacher about how they learn the key words, how often they bring books home and so on. Now I’m not a mind reader but I am sure the teacher’s face betrayed her thoughts of ‘oh dear, pushy parent’. My simple question to myself was then and there – is she right?

So my lesson is simple…it’s a fine line between encouraging and pushy…so watch it lady!

4.     School terms actually makes sense!
So my confession is simple – I’m one of those adults who could not for the life of me work out why the schools had so many breaks. Now of course…I know differently. Ellie is quite simply exhausted and what’s interesting is that this exhaustion doesn’t appear to be limited to just children in reception classes. Children do need the break – they just do.

As always I really would love to know what you think, so please send me a message either on here or via twitter:

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Wanting, Wearing, Loving, Eating

Bit of an unusual post for me but after reading @3_under_3's blog post 'Wanting, Wearing, Loving, Eating' (WWLE) I couldn't resist doing to my own version, so here's my WWLE...

This gorgeous dress from Jaeger is just lush for winter. This is definitely yummy mummy wear and with an unusually large number of school gate mummy moments coming up for me this week (six in total), I really wish I'd got this dress.

My Ugg boots are back. Yipeeee!

The fact that my four year old still loves Organix rice cakes as a treat and she shared them so nicely with my boyfriend's son on the day we all moved in together.

Asda ready to roll pizza dough – the kids LOVED doing this and ate the lot! Oh and I loved it too!

I’d love to know what you think of my WWLE's and why not share yours. Thanks again to @3_under_3 for the inspiration.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Bribery and corruption – an ode to reward charts

As we currently undergo our house move and school move, it suddenly dawned on me again that I absolutely love Ellie’s reward chart and luckily for me, so does Ellie! Ellie loves it because she loves stickers and being told well done. I love it simply because it works. I can literally convince, otherwise known as bribe, my daughter to do things I ask her to and er…not do things I don’t want her too!

The reward chart is my loyal friend and life saver so this blog post is quite simply dedicated to our reward chart.

The chart we use does not state the reasons you get stickers – the advantage of which is that, so far, I’ve been able to keep the reasons for achievement of the stickers fairly flexible. Sneaky I know! I don’t have to decide up front what she’s going to get stickers for and we have just one constant: ‘getting ready for bed without any fuss, going to sleep without any fuss and not getting up too early’. (Yes that’s one!) Ellie is generally a good sleeper but as with any child she has phases of well…trying it on. Personally I’m a touch obsessed with the sleeping thing so I keep this one constant sticker to ward off any silly ideas she might get!

Other than that one thing, the flexibility of our chart means we can focus on certain things on certain days or weeks as the need arises such as eating your lunch at school, being a brave little girl at her new school, sharing nicely when friends are coming around etc. I can also get over excited about things sometimes and award her extras, such as learning her second set of key words for school which earned her an instant sticker!

I do think I made life a little harder for myself than was strictly necessary when I started the chart, as I enthusiastically said ‘when you get to the end of the row you’ll get a special prize’. That said, it’s only ever something from the kind of shop where things are 99p such as some new pens or crayons, stickers, hair bobbles etc. Literally anything I see in passing, within the right price range of up to £1 which I think she’ll like, I snaffle away in the cupboard. In hindsight I think I could have got away with just the achievement of stickers but…it’s too late now and an excited Ellie is worth a pound.

Ellie is just about perfect at walking the fine line between pushing her luck too much and getting away with it, at least where the reward chart is concerned. Ellie frequently now suggests things she might get stickers for, sometimes she does this in a very innocent way but occasionally, though not so often as to make it a problem which I have to address, it’s very clearly a ‘I’ll do that if…’ kind of a way. The latest development is that Ellie recently decided I should have a reward chart too and I’m currently waiting to see what she is hoping to bribe me to do…oh I mean, reward me for. I will of course, let you know.

And so to finish this blog post I simply have my mini ode to our reward chart:

Oh sticker chart, oh sticker chart, you’re my favourite mummy tool.
Ellie loves you too and thinks you’re really cool.

Sharing well, sleeping well and remembering to flush the loo
These are the things that earn those stickers, and tidying her room does too!

Oh sticker chart, oh sticker chart, without you I would be lost
All the things you can get Ellie to do, you’re really worth the cost.

As always please do get in touch either via comments below or via twitter. If you want to follow my more regular updates (although limited to 140 characters!) then please  do follow me on twitter.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A lesson from Ellie

This week’s news is that Ellie is moving school – more specifically, we are moving house and moving area which obviously means a new school and a new child minder. This is clearly big news and a big change.

My boyfriend and I decided it was the right time to move in together and join our two families into one, so we’d been gradually working through the practicalities of how we could make it happen.

I’ve been periodically talking to Ellie about moving house, about the possibility of us not living on our own anymore and about maybe changing schools – all in the hope that she knows what’s coming, feels prepared and has time to adjust to the change. Not huge conversations, but just little comments and discussions to get her used to the idea.

Then in the last 7 days we got the unexpected news that the school I wanted Ellie to go to, has a place for her. It’s unexpected because we’d been told that there was a long waiting list and I hadn’t even had confirmation from the council that we were on the list yet! We’ve also had an offer on our house. Suffices to say that by the end of October (2 weeks!) we’ll have moved house and Ellie will have started at a new school.

I went into a slight panic if I’m honest – how was I going to sort everything, how can I help Ellie to adjust and to settle. I’m not embarrassed to admit that despite the excitement I feel, I have also in fact had several weepy moments.

What’s really interesting is that everyone, literally everyone, from Ellie’s current head teacher, to my friends and even Ellie’s new school has given me the same line: ‘Ellie will be fine, children are resilient’.

I have to admit that I thought this sentence would be yet another piece of advice to go into the pot of totally annoying and unhelpful. But I have realised that they are right and more than that Ellie is considerably more resilient than I. This weekend my daughter taught me a lesson.

On our way back home from Ellie’s weekend with Daddy we had our usual chat about what she’d been doing, then I told her that the people who had seen our house were going to buy it. I went on to remind her that we were visiting her new school this week and that by the next time she saw Daddy she would have started there. She didn’t make any comment and the conversation moved on, so later I repeated the same information. At this point Ellie turned towards me, gave me a big grin and simply said ‘I know mummy, you told me that! I do listen to you!’ Ellie then chatted away about what was happening and demonstrated an amazing ability to a) listen and remember what I tell her (shocking I know!) and b) to focus on what she knows and not worry about the bits she doesn’t yet.

This was a watershed moment - I realised that actually Ellie does understand what this all means, knows that it’s happening and is, in the main, calm about it. Now we’ve a way to go and it remains to be seen if Ellie continues to take it all in her stride but, whilst I’m sure there will be some tense moments to come, I am beginning to think that she just might.

What has also dawned on me is that actually it’s me that’s finding the level and pace of change challenging and I need to accept the lesson that Ellie is teaching me and stop worrying quite so much. So here’s to the future – our new home, our new family and our new life.

 Sometimes our children really do teach us.

I can’t promise that I’m not a little stressed of course – I’ve still to sort out of school care!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Pants, patience and the low down from school!

At just over one month into Ellie’s first year at school I thought it was about time for an update on how we were getting on and what’s happened over the month. So here are our headlines from the first month.

Ellie went to school without pants - Ooops
Ellie is at that age where she wants to do everything for herself. Mornings are busy getting us both ready and out, so her growing independence is a blessing and I lay her clothes out so that she can get dressed ‘like a big girl’ every morning. I’ve become so confident with it that I’d stopped checking and there was my mistake.

On Friday last week Ellie apparently realised as she sat on the carpet for group time that she didn’t have any pants on. Of course being just 4 and a half she just took a practical approach and quickly told Mr M, the teaching assistant who told her to go and get her book bag (which holds her spare clothes). A quick look in the bag revealed spare pants and Ellie was duly sent to the toilet to put them on. Ellie was entirely nonplussed about the whole event, I on the other hand did pale slightly when she finally remembered to tell me.

I was debating if the headline should be mother embarrassed as… but actually I’ve decided to be amused by the whole thing instead. After all, I’m sure that worse things have happened and so far, there’s been no mention of it from the school so I haven’t had to blush in public.

Mum finally gets the low down on school
Those of you who’ve read my previous posts will know that one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with is not having any idea what Ellie is getting up to at school. I am aware that this sounds a little like a control freak and well….I definitely have those tendencies…but I don’t think it’s too much to ask to want to know what Ellie has been up to. The hot news is then that one month on its fair to say there have been a number of successes in this area –whoop whoop to that!

·        Following several people’s friendly advice as a result of my original post (thank you all), I’ve started asking Ellie more specific questions about school to prompt her, rather than general ‘what did you do today’ or ‘how was school’. It’s such a simple thing but has made a mountain of difference.

·        We now have a home/school communication book and I love it! I used it to ask Ellie’s teacher about parents evening, explaining that I need as much notice as possible to sort my work so I can attend. Hey presto – Ellie’s teacher provided the dates and allowed me to book my slot with her. That I think deserves another whoop whoop!

·        Ellie has started to bring work home including a library book, a reading book and some key words to learn. All of these things have provided a great opportunity to talk to Ellie about what she’s done in the day.

·        Finally, I’ve developed an uncanny ability to glean information from all over the place – other parents (including people I’ve never spoken to before), my nephew (who attends the same school but is older), my nephew’s friends (who couldn’t wait to tell me what they’d seen Ellie doing) and so on. So, I hear you ask, what has she been doing? Well I now know that:
  • ·        they’ve learnt several letter sounds and their associated rhymes
  • ·        done PE (physical education) lessons a couple of times at least
  • ·        been to the library and;
  • ·        that she has even sat with boys at lunchtime! (Oh and pack lunches are generally going down well and being eaten.)

Crisis caused by pigtails
Last week was Ellie’s first week of full days at school so inevitably she’s been exhausted. On Monday night she was in bed at 6.40pm and asleep almost instantly. I know when Ellie is tired she is grumpy and little things become a big problem, it’s a trait I sadly share. She manages to hide this from everyone except me of course, but that’s because I’m her mum and because I get, by default of working full time, the best parts of the day; getting up and bedtime.

Unfortunately, more often than not, when she’s tired so am I, so I really do battle with myself and work to remain calm. I manage it a lot of the time, but sometimes...for example this Friday morning… I just don’t.

We were running late (my fault not Ellie’s) so I did not have time to do pigtails and therefore sensibly opted for a single plait. On discovering this (it took her a minute to realise) Ellie went into full meltdown - screaming, shouting and messing up her hair with both hands. I’m sure you can picture it. Well, the phrase ‘red rag to a bull’ springs to mind and I instantly lost any ability to remain calm. I found myself yelling at Ellie to stop and saying that she’d have to go to school like that, because I wasn’t doing it again now. Eventually I told Ellie to go to her room and when she refused, I found myself going to mine!

This isn’t the most grown up thing I’ve ever done and as I write this I am blushing just slightly. But I am only human and after quietly closing my door I took a few deep breaths and quickly established a little composure. Within 30 seconds I was back out and behaving much more mum like!

By the time we parked up outside the child minders the moment had passed and we’d had several conversations about our weekend plans. I took the return to calmness as the opportunity to talk to Ellie about what had happened. I told her that I was sorry I had lost my temper but that sometimes Ellie needed to listen. Rather proud of my grown up moment I looked over at Ellie to see her response. Ellie’s answer was given in a suddenly very shaky and upset voice: ‘all my friends have their hair in pigtails so I wanted the same’. Oh. I of course promised to do pigtails on Monday and spent the journey to work berating myself for not being patient and for shouting at her over pigtails which probably would have been quicker to do than the time it took to argue (and a lot less stressful).

I know I’m not the only mum out there who has these moments so let’s all be reassured together that it’s normal! It is normal isn’t it?! 

And so – the end of another post! As always, I’d love to hear from you and I’d be delighted if anyone wanted to share their experience of the first month at school.
Please use the comments below or contact me via twitter @sharonmsmyth