Friday, 24 November 2017

Toy Ideas: Our Family Favourites

Writing a post like this feels a little ironic in the run up to Christmas... we are not huge money spenders when it comes to gifts... though we love the joy of watching our kids excitedly open their little parcels, we want them to be clear what Christmas is really all about... not about getting more stuff, but about receiving the gift of God's only Son.

As well as that, there is the fact that we don't want to be overrun by toys... I, and particularly David, are not fans of accumulating stuff, and so our Christmas Day is always preceded by what has come to be known as the "pre-Christmas purge" AKA - trip to the charity shop. Or rather, multiple trips to the charity shop...

For this reason, investing in toys that are going to stand in good stead for the long haul - for all of the children - is well worth both the time and the money.

And it seems a lot of you are in agreement.

So I thought I'd share some of our family favourites... some of the toys that all of our children have loved in turn, toys which have stood the test in terms of quality and quantity of time enjoyed, because lets be honest, thought my kids really think they want the latest fad, experience has shown that it will all to often be played with for five minutes before being laid aside forever more...

This list clearly isn't exhaustive... if there are toys which I don't mention which you think are great long-life all rounders, please do share in the comments!

As requested, I've separated into approximate ages... the ages and stages are a bit crude - some toys will be played with for years, so I have simply put down the earliest age our children have enjoyed them! I sped through this post for this morning, because if there are any Black Friday deals to be had out there, it'll be worth it!

Please fire any questions my way, and I'll seek to edit this as we go along!


Our babies have always loved this toy, and its been one of the first things they've managed to hold. The little elastics are easy to pass from hand to hand and the little balls are perfect for gnawing on if you've got sore gums. Plus its wooden. And we all know I love a wooden toy!

My lovely friend Holly makes these gorgeous, natural ring teethers, and its been Elias' favourite toy by a long shot. Easy to grasp, very cute to look at, that little bunny ring has spent plenty of time being chewed on! They come beautifully packaged too!

Our kids have all loved instruments from the smallest age - shakers, whistles and maracas... Ava had a beautiful natural set gifted to her from The Eden Project which the children have all fully enjoyed, from the youngest age! Be careful which instruments you choose though, if you don't want to have a persistent headache! I'd choose a maraca over a drum any day!

I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to toys - I love old school, classic, wooden play things that are educational and aesthetically pleasing, but sometimes, your kids just fall in love with a toy and you have to admit defeat... this little toy keyboard has been SO well played with... our eldest can sometimes still be found hidden in a corner with it! So yes, if you have to buy one of the smaller noisy singalong toys - make it this one!

I still maintain this is every Mama's best friend when it comes to babies, and it would be top of my list of things to invest in. Ironically, we never have - we've always borrowed! But had I know we'd have four children, and HOW much it would be used, I probably would've just gone out and bought one. Honestly, there is nothing like this toy for keeping grouchy babies happy, tired babies awake, and giving Mama a bit of hands free time to get on with things. And the best bit is, you don't even need to turn it on for them to enjoy it! There's enough to do without the crazy music if you don't think you can hack it! PS - these are often going second hand for great prices on eBay!

O N E -  Y E A R - O L D S

Building blocks have so much potential - tower building, small world play, development of motor skills! This little set of Brio blocks have been well played with by all four children (Yes! Even Elias!)

All of our big three have spent hours pushing toy buggies around our home... the buggies have been one of our best investments - the girls pushing their babies around and nurturing them in their sweet little ways, and Jonas storming round with a buggy full of assorted vehicles and balls! They have also been discovered to make great fun if your little brother or sister can fit in them! Interestingly, the most loved dolls in our home have not been the new fancy ones, but my own hand-me-downs from when I was a child... so if you're looking to save some money this Christmas, why not give one of your childhood dolls a little makeover!

Good old fashioned peg puzzles have SO many educational possibilities... early vocabulary practice, the motor skill of actually placing the pieces, peoblem solving and logic, object identification. And at the end of the day, they are just good fun. Having three or four nice peg puzzles have kept our littles amused one after the other!

Wooden Toy Joy
I think I mentioned it before, but I am a sucker for a wooden toy, and these have been some of our favourites... the hammer bench (on Black Friday offer now!) has been poked as much as it has hammered, but has had a huge amount of air time! The colour peg sorter has been a roaring success (so much so that we've slightly annoyingly lost one of the bricks!) and the abacus has been brilliant for helping our older ones with maths homework (number bonds to ten) as well as our one-year olds who just like playing with beads in a completely safe way.

This toolkit has been so well loved... Jonas is forever fixing or repairing something to the cry of "Bob! Bob!" and keeping us all amused with his antics... ironically, though he loves a good hammer, I think the screwdriver is his personal favourite and is whipped out at the slightest sign of anything being "broken"!

Tea Set
This little tea set feels like its been around forever... it has been used on hundreds of picnics, fed baby dolls countless muddy drinks and even made it into the bath on occasion! It's one of the best toys for the early days of role-play and even the babies love it!

Mega Bloks
These are so fabulous for small children who are not quite ready for the wonders of Duplo yet. Our kids have had hours of fun with them building towers, little towns and even thrones to sit on!

T W O - Y E A R - O L D S

Schleich Animals
These little animals are a little on the pricier side at £2-8 each, but they are wonderful things to suggest to anyone asking for ideas if you are trying to build up a collection. They are tactile, beautiful and our kids have spent hours setting up little zoos, safaris, farmyards... you name it. We discovered them when staying with a friend in Austria when Ava was two, and every morning she'd line those little animals up like they were heading into to ark! Great for small world play, vocabulary development, ordering and organising!

Oh my.... countless hours have been spent working away at their playdoh creations, and its a great one if you need to get on with some jobs in the background. Once they hit two, they're generally pretty good at not putting it in the mouth, and if you want to save on money, there are fabulous recipes for making your own playdough! A few cookie cutters and you're off, though I have attached a link to this particular ice-cream machine which is a great hit in our house!

Our kids have LOVED puzzles... there was one point where I felt they were taking over our home (the probably were) and we had a little purge. Before they started school, our girls would often spend the entirety of their quiet time hour doing puzzle after puzzle after puzzle! You can find great puzzles at amazing prices in local charity shops - we've sourced most of ours there... just remember to check all the pieces are present before you go! Around the age of 2 and a half, I found the puzzle making really takes off. Its worthwhile taking the time to teach your kids how to approach them, because once they catch the bug... HOURS of fun!

This Megasketcher has been loved, and is STILL loved by all our children. So many creative possibilities and NO MESS! The kids have loved making their own pictures, they loved it when I draw and they have to guess, and they've practiced writing and numbers and endless pictures! This one has been an all round success with all of them from about 2-5 years old!

Fancy Dress
Our kids have all loved a bit of fancy dress; they love jumping roles - from dragon, to Princess, to Scottie Dog to Gingerbread man... building up a fun fancy dress collection is well worth doing! And I've found that at two, they are always up for it!

Play Kitchen
This play kitchen is so well loved - it flits between the house and the play house, but at 2, they just adore it. This particular IKEA one is lovely, and very reasonable. The hobs light up, the taps turn, and it has kept our little people amused for many happy hours. It's also a decent enough size that two children can play happily together without arguments!

T H R E E - Y E A R - O L D S

Train Set
We have a mixture of the original Brio and the IKEA one I've linked to above. The IKEA one is just as good if you're after a basic set and much more reasonably priced!

Craft Supplies
Oh! It's so much fun when you get to this stage and can actually start doing fun little projects together! Poster paint, stickers, stampers and Hama beads are must haves and make regular appearances in our home. There's always good old fashioned potato printing too!

First Board Games
  As our kids have headed towards three, we've loved introducing some first board games! Some of our favourites being Shopping List, The Fishing Game and good old fashioned Snap! Those three will ease you gently (or perhaps competitively) into the world of board games with your babies. Our game repertoire has broadened now, but these three are still our old faithful favourites!

Playmobil, Sylvanians, Happyland... our eldest wasn't really into Small World Play, but our younger ones really have taken to it! Setting up little popcorn carts, packing up a playmobil campervan... so much fun to be had... again, eBay will be your friend and save you a tonne of money if you're happy to go for second hand options!

Busy books are little board books that come with a play mat and little figurines. I'll be honest and say the books have been barely touched, but those little figurines have been so well loved! There are loads of different ones - we have a Frozen one, Disney Princess one and a Princess Sofia busy book! 

F O U R - Y E A R - O L D S

Colouring Books
Hours and hours and hours of colouring in... a nice set of colouring pens or pencils and a good book and you're off. I genuinely would love to know how many hours our girls have invested in colouring books! I've found the character books, or the ones that give a bit more creative freedom, have been the most popular ones. For some reason, the books with random collections of pictures don't quite seem to have the same appeal

Alphabet Set
We invested in this beautiful Montessori moveable alphabet set a couple of years ago, and its been well loved! The girls have loved sorting the letters, creating words and sound patterns, practicing spellings and key words - you name it! Even Jonas is starting to get interested in it now! It is an investment, but sometimes quality means it lasts the long haul, and that certainly rings true of this beautiful resource!

Reusable Sticker Books
The genius of these books its that you can literally use them over and over and over again! There are endless hours of fun to be had! Melissa and Doug do a whole range of fabulous ones that you can pick out to suit the individual child. Our girls love them!

We were given a big starter box of lego a couple of years ago and the girls love it! The basic kit gives you endless creative possibilities! Little houses, gardens, towers, factories, hotels and all sorts of things have come out of a happy little hour with the lego box! Great for fine motor skills, creativity and imagination!

F I V E -  TO S I X - Y E A R - O L D S

We bought this weaving loom for Ava's birthday this year, and after weaving non stop for about three days, she announced "This is the best birthday present I've ever got!"... She goes through phases with it - it will sit on the side for a while, and then she'll have another little frenzy, creating little bags for her friends and family and carpets for her dolls house! It's lovely to see her enjoying something creative, and having the joy of a really nice little product at the end!

Lego Kits
There are some really cute little kits out there, with clear, well written instructions to follow. The kits are a step up from the classic lego I mentioned earlier. There's a real sense of achievement to be had when you've created a little masterpiece from beginning to end!

I'm planning a whole post on our favourite books, but I couldn't leave this one out of our all time favourites... its beautiful and accessible, and there's so much to see on every page. Our girls have literally poured over it, and its ignited a real love for and interest in geography!

A Personal Paint Box
If you have a little artist on your hands, why not get them their own little paint box? Ava has had so much fun experimenting with watercolour - this picture was painted when she was in Reception! Now Heidi has joined the club, and the two of them love painting away in their nature journals!

Craft Kits
Once they hit five, there are so many possibilities with craft options - sewing, knitting, whittling, pottery! Just browse Amazon and get some ideas and foster a love of all things creative in your little people!

I'm sure this post will be a work in process... I'll probably be adapting and editing it for the next few years, but I hope this is helpful for someone somewhere! And if anything catches your eye, take a look this weekend and make the most of all the Black Friday sales!

Of course, the one thing missing from this post is all the wonderful, wonderful books!

But that's another post!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Homemade Linen Spray // Creating a Toxin Free Space

It was probably two years ago that I started label reading. Once you start, there's no going back. An article in the telegraph last week stated that "Our homes are reservoirs of a toxic 'chemical soup' that can cause asthma, eczema, allergies and other autoimmune disorders" - from our cleaning products, to our quick dry paint, we are filling our homes with chemicals that with new insulation advances, are now not being aired properly... its a well stated fact that inside our homes is up to 50% more toxic than the outside air. Its a chilling statistic.

For the past two years or so, we have been gradually phasing out toxic products in our home, and replacing them with more natural substitutes. Often the natural substitutes are actually easier to get hold of and cheaper, but modern advertising and the attraction of a super-strong fragrance have won us over.

We've gradually waved goodbye to cleaners, aerosol sprays, perfumes and washing powder... I now buy all our meat from a grass-fed and free-range farming company, our vegetables are all organic and I threw out the majority of the contents in our bathroom cabinet. It sounds drastic, and it is, but its been a very slow process. Baby steps. And so its never felt overwhelming.

But saying goodbye to all the expensive, highly frangranced products does not mean saying goodbye to a pleasant smelling home, and my nose has become accustomed to the gentler, milder scents of essential oils, which have enabled me to go all natural without losing that lovely aroma!

I've recently started working with Young Living Essential Oils, and would love to share a little with you if its something you're interested in! Just drop me a line!

And in the meantime, I thought I'd share how simply you can chuck some of those toxic products and create some sprays for around your home that will help you make the transition... sprays are actually a really good way to make your oils last a whole lot longer too... its a win-win!

For each spray you need...
> An amber glass spray bottle  (100ml)
> Distilled water - lasts a whole lot longer than tap and gives your sprays a much longer shelf life
> Witch Hazel - helps the oils to distribute evenly throughout the water
> Twenty drops of the appropriate essential oils (see below) - I buy ours from Young Living... you can read about that here.

To make your sprays, you simply fill your bottle 1/3 full with witch hazel, drop in your essential oils, and then, after swirling them around a bit, fill up the rest of the bottle with water...

All Natural Pillow Spray (for helping create a calm, sleepy aroma!)
> 20 drops Lavender

All Natural Toilet Spray (for making your bathroom smell fresh as a daisy!)
> 10 drops Purification
> 10 drops Lemon

All Natural Linen Spray (for spraying on bedding, and just around the room for a freshen up)
> 10 drops Purification
> 10 drops Lavender
> 10 drops Pine

All Natural Ouch Spray (for cut knees and bumps and bruises)
> 10 drops Frankincense
> 10 drops Lavender

All Natural Nit Spray (to keep those dreaded visitors at bay!)
> 10 drops Tea tree
> 10 drops Pine

Have fun!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Baby Tales // Seven Months

We are now officially in the second half of his first year of life... and it is mind-boggling to me. How did that teeny-tiny, fragile little thing turn into this chubby, roly poly little man?! Ever sturdier, ever bubblier, he is quickly becoming the little ray of sunshine in our home. He really is the jolliest little soul, and I'm so grateful that in the crazy day-to-day of life with four, this last baby of ours has just such an easy-going, sunny nature. He is a joy to have around, and views the world, with three older siblings, as a constant display of entertainment. There is always someone around to jabber away to, or be smothered in love by, or bundled by (name which sibling is responsible for which type of entertainment?!) and he takes it all in his stride.

I was realising the other day, that four children in, this is really the first time I feel I have been able to really completely enjoy this baby season... with Ava there was the constant uncertainty of approaching every milestone for the first time, with Heidi there was the anxiety over her recovery from Kawasaki Disease, Jonas himself faced some health issues when he began weaning and was consequently quite unsettled at this age and stage, and so I'm not taking any of this little period of pure enjoyment for granted. There will be bumps along the road, I am sure of it... but while there aren't I'm enjoying every second.

Elias is thoroughly enjoying solids... I stalled, due to the fact he was premature, and didn't even think about bringing food into the diet until he was over six months... and he has taken to it like a duck to water. Three meals a day, and he devours whatever you put in front of him... from porridge, to toast, to cheese sticks, to vegetable purees. He can't get enough. We had a good old giggle the other night at his first taste of yoghurt - as he gulped down every spoonful eagerly, he gave a little shiver (just out of the fridge! Oops) that made his whole body wiggle. The older children thought it was hilarious, and after a while, he cottoned on, and giggled his way through that shivery yoghurt too.

At seven months, he's not showing any sign of wanting to sit up any time soon. Content with lying on his tummy, and playing with whatever he can get his hands on, I'm not too worried... I'm expecting everything to be a little delayed, and Jonas (who was well over full term!) wasn't sitting til 7 and a half months anyway. I'm learning these boys just aren't in such a rush to do everything as my girls were. On the other hand, once they're up and about, there's no stopping them (Jonas is a whirlwind at the moment!) I think as well, with a big brother around who loves nothing more than to bundle him and clamber over him, sitting isn't such an easy option at the moment. Honestly, I need eyes in the back of my head!

The other day his first little tooth made an appearance. His bottom gum is well and truly swollen, and I can see a dash of white and feel a little point ready to poke through on the other side too, but we're still waiting for the second tooth to make an appearance - cue rosy cheeks, random temperatures and middle of the night wake ups. Teething is something I won't pretend is dreamy and lovely. I won't be sorry to see the back of it!

And then there are the nights, as I wrote the other day, they are still eventful, but they are manageable, and compared to a lot of babies, he's a dream sleeper... he's just been the trickiest of mine, so its all new territory! We have just moved him out of our room and into his own, so we're hoping that will make the nights run a little more smoothly.

So that's our little bundle of seven-month-old joy! I thank the Lord every day for keeping this little soul safe through those scary months. I honestly can't imagine life without him. He is a daily reminder of God's common grace and undeserved mercy to me. How differently everything could have turned out... And as his name reminds me every day...

"The Lord is God"

See you at 8 months!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Preparing our Hearts for Christmas // An Advent Devotional

Advent has become such a precious time for us as a family over the past few years... somehow savouring Advent has put the breaks on the Christmas rush and allowed us a slow descent into the festive season. Taking time to meditate on the arrival of Christ has helped us to refocus our priorities and remember what Christmas is really all about. It was a journey we began back when Ava was a baby - an attempt to teach our firstborn the true meaning of Christmas in an age-appropriate and tactile way, and they are traditions I have come to cherish.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

My Little Evacuees...

I think there will always be something I find very precious and emotive about my children dressing up as evacuees. I remember the same sense of heartache when Ava celebrated VE day in costume three years ago... the idea of packing up my little tribe and sending them off to the great unknown is almost unfathomable. And yet in 1939, over the course of a three day period, 800,000 children over the age of 5 were shipped off to the country to escape London, away from their parents for an indefinite amount of time.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Siblings in November // Dance clubs, discipline and dressing up...


Life with four underfoot is super busy... My days rush by in a haze of washing, housework and repeating myself. Training toddlers is exhausting and relentless, but I look at the girls and remember it's worth it, however hard and neverending it seems at the time. Yesterday felt particularly relentless... Copious trips to the bottom step, hundreds of repetitions of the same instructions, repeated lessons in discipline... But that little face, that looks up at me with those two favourite words "mine!" and "no!" is the same little face that can melt me in a second, and I remember "this too shall pass"...

Monday, 13 November 2017

On Interruptions // Thoughts for a Monday Morning

"All the interruptions - they aren't interruptions after all. They are sovereign deliveries. The unpleasant things are God's perfect plan for our day"
- Carolyn Mahaney -