Review: Spielgaben

Despite the children being a little more interested in worksheets recently, I know they learn best through what they perceive to be fun: nature walks, playing on apps (on the rare occasion they are allowed screen time), magazines, story time… and playing. So after hearing about the Spielgaben I was quite excited. Then I found out the price. At around £400 once posted, it’s not a cheap investment. So, I had to be certain I wanted it, that it’d get used. That it would help. I researched all I could about it and couldn’t find any reasons not to. So we made the purchase.

I didn’t hear anything for a few days except my initial order confirmation, but then I received shipping and tracking information and the shipment was here within 2 days after that – well the first part was, the curriculum pack. The second package was damaged by the time it reached the sorting depot. However, it arrived after a few days – the box had been repaired enough to stop further damage and this prevented damage to the actual Spielgaben itself, which arrived unscathed.

The packages contained an extensive paper curriculum (including a Kindergarten pack, play guide, inspiration pack, math guide and planar figures pack), the chest of drawers (with removable top squares board,, and a peg board that can be used both upright for pegs, and upside down for dots) and all of the bits and bobs that make up each Spielgaben set – I could list, but there are pictures above and further info on their website here.

It is surprisingly small, yet shockingly extensive and quite heavy, very well packed and nicely finished. The quality can be seen and felt. It will last for sure. The website says it is suitable for ages 3-12. There’s no question that younger children will be drawn to it “things… lots of things… yay!” But so far we have tested it on age ranges 5-10 (3 children). The 10 (almost 11) year old was the one who spent the longest with it, so actually, yes it does appeal to the 10-12 bracket too.  He sat for over an hour making picture after picture using the inspiration cards, and they weren’t all just easy for him – there were some that posed a challenge.

 

So far we have only used inspiration cards, being summer holidays we are not into a full standard routine it’s just too busy everywhere so things are at a much slower pace (and therefore less activities) than in term time. Plus, this humidity and heat we have been having have slowed things immeasurably. However, I have look through all of the curriculum. It is printed on quality paper or card depending on which booklet it is.

I can see that we will be able to get a lot out of this set. Especially for improving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, which actually is where we have some issues developmentally. Academics will be possible too – being able to discuss the things we are creating, in terms of math or science, building stories and developing language skills. The beauty of the kit is that it will be limited only by the imagination of the user. So I have no doubt, that now that the children have begun to use it, it will get a lot of use, and that it won’t be used the same way every day. These two have quite the imagination, and it’s only likely to grow with stimulus such as this. If I knew what I know now, we would have purchased this a year ago.

I would also add, for those with siblings, we have used this kit with 3 children simultaneously – you have to think a bit about what you are going to have them doing if you are doing separate tasks, but it’s feasible. Otherwise working together “engineer (picture reader), supplier (fetching materials) and builder (performing task of actually constructing picture)” and switching helps the teamwork and communication between the children too.

 

NB I have not been paid for this review, this review is based on my personal experience and observations of the kit I have paid for in full.

 

 

 

Review: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (and Dippy the Dinosaur)

Knowing that Dippy the Dinosaur (the diplodocus skeleton normally resident in London’s Natural History Museum) is on tour around the UK (currently at Birmingham), how much my children love dinosaurs and how easy Birmingham is by train I decided that this was a must this summer… so a day trip was planned with my little brother (Max, only 10 months older than Logan).

We were surprised to find out it’s all free. Not just the exhibition to see Dippy, but also the entry to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. So that was a bonus. But I must say, having never been there before, and knowing it’s a free museum, we were pleasantly surprised not only of the quality of the exhibitions on offer, but also the interactivity layout and presentation of the place. It was fantastic. The regret we have is not having planned more time there. But knowing it’s free and easy to get to, I expect there shall be a return visit at some point.

There were various different permanent exhibitions, from Ancient History through to the history of Birmingham There were many artifacts on display, quizzes, electronic interactivity, models, example clothing and fashion as well as sections for the children to play on something related, for example the 1930’s kitchen in the above picture gallery.

Then it was time for Dippy, although it is free entry, you have to book in for your time slot to enter online here. It was a big hall with Dippy being the central focus. Some dinosaur related information and displays around the outer sections of the hall. And then towards the back the children were given the opportunity to write on a brown label, with a message for Dippy to take on tour with him.

The museum itself was about a 5 minute walk from the Snow Hill rail station, but surrounded by a lot of building works. It wasn’t that hard to find as it’s quite centrally located. However, using google maps on my phone for directions we ended up facing the task of getting a wheelchair up a enormous amount of steps. Luckily, Caitlin can walk, so she could get out and be supported up the steps whilst her wheelchair was carried. However, on exit we found that if you enter the museum from Edmund Street this is much more accessible. The Museum itself does have lifts, though the one at the beginning of the museum was the only one in use whilst we were there, so you had to walk back through the exhibition to get back to the lift to go down… or find a way down the stairs. Toilet facilities were good and clean, though had run out of toilet paper by the time we used.

30 Days Wild – Day 14

Today we had to walk into town to go back to the opticians and pick up my contact lenses and Logan’s new glasses. On the way back we took a walk along the river. The children wanted to stop and take a look at the patterns that were being created on the water. They stood for about 5 minutes in awe.

Then they noticed two ducks trying to swim upstream against a very fast current and so we had to stand and watch that a while.

As we walked away and towards home, we talked about what we could hear from nature:

  • the running water
  • water crashing against the rocks
  • ducks quacking
  • pigeons cooing
  • wind rustling leaves
  • wind blowing in our ears
  • the flapping of wings

This is what we have noticed today.

A new baby – not ours

We get very excited about babies. Very.

And news came to us, just before we were moving house, that a new baby was coming. Well, the news came the day we exchanged contracts in fact. So it was a memorable day for sure.

Anyhow, we like to make stuff, so the kids set to work on what they wanted to do for the new bundle. They made a felt picture each, in a photo frame, for the baby’s room.

I, being me… home education, children, uni degree, house move, blog, health issues, therapy commitments. Clearly not satisfied I have enough on my plate, commit to constructing a quilted blanket. The children were heavily involved in the quilt in its process, from choosing and pairing the fabric, to being my fabric/thread assistant, or even to just getting me a drink (we have a Tassimo machine, they are happy to make hot drinks roughly every 3 seconds of the day).

Well, eventually we ended up with a quilt, many blisters, very dry hands, sore fingers and a sore bitten lip… but a quilt nonetheless. It may have some wonky stitches, but it was a labour of love and excitement, and I am hoping valued more than something shop bought. It was definitely not a cheap option either, I could definitely buy something for a third of the price, but it’d have less thought and effort put in. And, at cot bed size, will be perfect as a play mat for now, and if it lasts, could be utilised as a quilt on a toddler bed.

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What do you mean you don’t do formal learning?

I don’t understand why, as adults, it is so hard for people to get their heads around us not sitting down to scheduled formal learning. Our children are not at school for a reason. Well, many actually. But the pressure of expectations is definitely one of them. Formal learning scenarios imply an expectation. An expectation where the response could be of failure, or approval. Both of which can be difficult for someone with attachment issues. I can write a couple of posts at another time about why both can be so bad for children with attachment issues; I write extensively on this topic and can easily amount to 2000 or more words. Whilst it is related, it’s definitely not the focus so I’ll just say: the consequences of both can be devastating. Actually in ways that parents of children who aren’t adopted, don’t have regulations issues or something similar, or haven’t experienced trauma may not be able to always comprehend.

Now, back to topic.

No, we don’t schedule, and sit down to, formal learning, worksheets most definitely happen, they have access to them year round (even if we are on holiday, even if it is Christmas Day). We don’t need to. We aren’t (yet) bound by law to follow a set curriculum. However, I most definitely do teach my children things daily. They have specific, age and ability appropriate chores. They have access to a curriculum program on an app (which just feels like a game to them). They have a Mum who’s a bit of a book hoarder and lover, so access to so many books (moving house is hard work with our collection I tell you) and reading solo, with someone and read to every day. The have a whole cupboard dedicated to craft supplies which is replenished and topped up regularly. They have pen pals. They make presents at Christmas and each card, for each celebration, is made by hand. They have their own bank accounts and now bank cards, so from the very beginning of living with us they have been learning about saving, budgeting and spending. They have hamsters so they are learning the values based around responsibility, compassion and commitment. They learn math and storytelling along our daily adventures.The list goes on and on.

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However, that’s not the stuff that’s important to us. First and foremost, they are being taught they are cared for, loved, worthy. They are being taught how to regulate emotions; how to ask for help; how to seek comfort; how to recognise that they are tired, need the toilet, are hungry, hot, thirsty; how to trust adults; how to attach and separate from someone healthily; how to socialise. Things that other children their age are likely to take for granted. Things that they weren’t given the opportunity to learn. They can’t be ‘like’ other children, until they have experienced and learned what other children have had.

So no. I won’t sit them down and demand they do work. I will build them up until they are at a point where they are open to that challenge. And in the interim, I will nurture them, encourage their creativity, provide an outlet for their emotions over the events of their life, provide a safe space for them to push boundaries and learn what is acceptable or not. And most of all I will be their parent, and will not bend because I am told by onlookers that, from the small window of our life they have seen through, I am not doing right by the children. Our curriculum is tailor made, by an amazing woman who sacrifices and fights more than you know to make their life a better one. Me. And I am the only person who sees everything. I am the only person with them 24/7. I know them. I love them. And I will do what is right by them. Not what is right by the majority.

 

Making Babies: not what you think

There have been many discussions about how babies are made, but this was not one of those situations.

This was a situation where the children were feeling a bit upset by the fact they don’t really know anything about them as babies – which is completely understandable. We have got some information about the date and time they were born, and the length and weight at birth, but that’s almost as far as it goes in all honesty. Their “red books” have barely any info in them.

Well, talks about babies due and babies already born, life changes and development and thinking about their life led to lots of frustration directed at me because I didn’t know. I felt something had to be done. Something they could relate to. Something they could experience. You experience photos with your eyes – but I couldn’t give them something visual in that way.

So I thought… I know the length they were. I know the weight they were. I cut some string to show how long they are now, and then some string to show how little they were. This was quite exciting for them. But the most exciting part came next. Weighing out flour to see how heavy they were when they were born, sticking in it an bag, wrapping it up, and wearing it like a baby in a sling. This felt real. This was experienced. This gave satisfaction. They may not have been able to see what they were like, but they experienced a bit of how they felt. And that was magic.IMG_20180301_164019.jpg

St Patricks Day

We try to mark each occasion that comes along, talk about what it is meant to represent and then do some fun activity to celebrate it in some way.

So for St Patricks day after our talk, we made some rainbowed cakes… this was a very messy, long and fun(ny) activity. With a very tasty end point. And no one came to visit so we ate lots of cakes… I think they call that “winning”.

 

Bruce was very pleased when he came home to find all the cakes… and of course, we had to wash it down with something – so Guinness for the adults, and hot chocolate topped with cream to look like “Guinness” for the children.

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That doesn’t feel right…

A very unusual thing happened this week… and I felt I needed to write about it. To have it documented in history.

I got to actually relax, not for 5 minutes. Not with a child attached to me. Not trying to do my own thing whilst a child is getting hugged for over an hour… but actually chill out WHILST still parenting.

I ran myself a bath, put in a couple of bath bombs, and told the children they were to play together in each other’s rooms. And they did… for 90 mins. No fighting, no rivalry, none of that whiny crap that you often hear when siblings are doing something remotely competetive; at one point they were definitely playing Frustration, but still all I heard were giggles and “sillys” (it’s what I call the giggly, non-sensical ramblings of children when they are having fun).

And then, when I got out of the bath, I ran them a bath, and got a load of their bath stuff: fizzers, bombs, foam, shower gel, flannels and got them to put swimming kits on and said “do what you want with that but use nothing else”. After 50 minutes of nice, giggly, happy, non-destructive play, it was me that had to end their bath time. Not them, not their behaviour. I was across the landing, again still listening to them, but gave them the space to feel independent. And I just lay on the bed, staring into nothingness.

So although I was still parenting, as in actually listening in, to supervise and intervene where I needed, I was actually relaxing too. I had no idea this could happen, to remain in parenting mode and actually just “chill” for quite an extended period.

It certainly helped make up for some of the sleep deprivation, but it also had the added benefit of increasing my tolerance, patience and self-awareness. I’m not all topped up by any means, but it’s a toe in the water as to what life could become; my children having independence and following some kind of boundaries without intervention, without negative consequences and with purpose, laughter and social skills.

Feeling proud. Feeling accomplished. Feeling hopeful.

Hoop Jumping: Endurance and pitfalls

Things have been intense here, hence silence… but it’s because of an appointment that was sprung on us. One we have been waiting for, but was arranged quite last minute.

 

So we left our house at 7:30 in the morning to go to a private clinic (90 minutes away from our house) for a Theraplay based assessment as a family. The week that led up to the appointment I had to fill out 19 documents to print and fill in, in order to attend the appointment. The appointment I have been thoroughly fighting for, for over a year. But, actually, I’ve been saying was needed for the best part of 18-24 months. It was intensive and lasted for over 5 hours.
The therapists witnessed stuff I have been screaming for two years. Although, we haven’t had an in-depth feedback because, as I have been saying, BOTH CHILDREN have extensive and complex issues. And, it would be too exhausting for us (as parents) to go through it on top of the day’s assessments (which are inherently designed to create stress for both child and parent, to be able to try and get to the most natural stress response from you and child). Plus, there are added sensory issues which need to be screened for and discussed before the feedback can fully take place. And the children were already far too stressed out, tired and about to break (visibly) to stay longer than absolutely essential.

 

They saw that the issues for Caitlin are based in fear and she’s coming out of “withdraw” stage (not to be confused with withdrawal) so she’s learning to go into fight mode rather than freezing and shutting down. She’s not the happy child everyone sees. She’s inherently sad and needs so much attention, support, guidance and love.
Logan – complex, and as close a quote as I can muster “the outward boy people see, the responses and reactions he gives are not reflective to how he feels”. Yes, that means, that when I have said that the compliance, polite manner, hugs, kisses, compliments, agreement/requests to take part in activity, etc. are fake and I was right. And each time people have fed into this and complimented him for it, or talked me down in front of him for it they have fed him the idea that this is somewhat fine to do. It’s fine to be fake and comply even when you don’t want to. Even when you are denying your true self. Even when you are making yourself feel insecure. Because it pacifies other people’s needs. And when you make them happy, they are less likely to hurt you. To shout at you. To intimidate you.

 

Although I don’t have full feedback, I have professionals who have said the major points to me

  • That they both have complex needs
  • That for Logan, this is having a negative impact on the way our relationship is building (which is why I started screaming for the help in the first place, I could see where it was headed)
  • That Logan’s emotions are fake, and almost all of his given actions and reactions are fake too
  • That Caitlin is just as emotionally worn down as he is, and it is just displayed in a different way
  • That both have sensory issues

So just to make it clear, everyone who shut me down and said “it’s normal kid stuff”, “all kids are like this”, “nope, this is how all mum’s feel”… they don’t – this again was talked about briefly today. Most mums aren’t battling sleeping, eating, toiletting, learning, anxiety, attachment, separation and self harming issues, teenage-level-identity-crisis (in children under 8 years old), adult issues (in child friendly format). And to top it all off, having to co sleep, without actually getting sleep, having to home educate as the school system is ill-equipped to deal with the issues, and getting very little respite.
Our life is hard. Our support is very thin on the ground. And yes I am angry. I am angry I had to fight so hard. I am angry that they’ve had to stay “in trauma mode” for longer than necessary. I am angry that I have been put down by so many people that are supposed to be there for us. I am angry that we have reached this point. Angry that I have been made to feel lonely. But most importantly, that we aren’t the only family that are in this situation. I know of at least 3 others primary caregivers (of adopted children) who in a similar emotional state to me. And that’s without prying too hard. And if you don’t believe what I am saying about it being akin to a crisis (and not normality) a national adoption organisation (Adoption UK) are saying the same… see here, over a quarter of adoptive families are in severe difficulty, or bordering on disruption (basically, placement breakdown).

 

That’s not to say we don’t love our children. Hell, if we didn’t I think we’d have chucked in the towel as soon as we got them. Adoption is hard from day 1. It doesn’t need to stay hard with the right support. But with everyone shirking responsibility and chucking you from department to department “nope this child is adopted, placing authority have to pay for this intervention”, “nope, it’s not covered by the adoption support plan AND it’s not something the adoption support fund will pay out for, try your GP”, “Nope, only the community Pediatrician can approve that”, “Nope, Pediatrics can not authorise such things, only CAMHS can do that”, “Nope CAMHS wouldn’t take on this case, it’s for Pediatrics to look at and decide what to do”, “Nope, Pediatrics definitely cannot even talk to you about this, talk to your placing adoption authority, it’s their responsibility”. And so around it goes.

 

People moaning (and saying) that children who aren’t adopted are in the same situation aren’t understanding that an adopted child is in trauma mode – until such time as they are being supported in all essential areas. Until their parents have sufficient respite to keep themselves functioning at a level where they can effectively deliver therapeutic parenting techniques. Until they are in a position where their identity is not just tolerated, but embraced and an open topic. This means that it’s not just an issue of “not getting the appointment” it’s an issue of keeping a child in a prolonged state of vulnerability, prolonging the emotional state and reaffirming their already strong brain patterns of distrust of adults, low self-worth and their inability to belong and be loved.

 

This appointment has brought about positive results. But I am angry. And I am sad. Why should they have waited until now? Why should we, as adoptive parents, have to watch them suffer for so long? Why should we have to fight so hard to get the help? This appointment doesn’t even mean we WILL get help, it just means we’ve jumped through yet another hoop on the way to getting there.

 

Exhausted. Angry. Tired. Lonely.

Settling Developments part 2

Continuation of part 1

For Logan, things have been slightly more complicated, he was 6 by the time he came to live with us. By this time, he had been through so much with birth family, foster family, school and various professionals that he had learned that adults aren’t trustworthy. That’s how his brain has developed, these patterns are ingrained, it’s all he’s ever known and it’s all he knows to keep him safe.

For the longest time, there has been this rejection, flat out hatred at times, towards me. For Bruce, things have been slightly easier; Logan has an underlying need to please men and get a positive response from them. So, at the beginning of being placed with us, he targeted Bruce and got the reactions he needed meaning their relationship has been fairly positive. But because Bruce works midweek and was only, really, around at bed times then, it hasn’t formed into a proper secure attachment, so that can’t be transferred. And It means that Bruce hasn’t been there for the “no” conversations.

I think I have been the first woman to ever offer constant, and consistent, firm but fair boundaries. This has been a hard pill where someone is used to manipulating every situation (to his desire) is concerned. It’s like untangling a matted ball of twine where you accidentally end up with a big loop that in its own turn gets tangled as you are untangling the rest; you need the twine whole, you can’t just cut the knots out, you must unravel each one and tease it to the place it should lay. But, he is the one that needs to untangle it, and he needs to trust the guidance of adults to take him to this place of vulnerability – which is such a catch 22.

School made everything worse, things were far too complicated. His history with schooling (and him learning that school is a place where he can literally do what the hell he wants) added to the things quite major he was processing & the lack of sleep meant that the complications of separation, mixed with his confused rejection of us as parents and the pressures of the classroom was all too much to cope with. There was violence at home, trying to run away from school, meltdowns the works.

The move to home education helped, because I was in control of most of the variables he encountered. But really until we moved out of the stagnant dead water our old house had become, we couldn’t move forward. Moving into our new house, things started changing quickly. First it was just saying about how this felt like “our” home, and that in our old house Logan didn’t feel that it was his and Caitlin’s, like it was mine and Bruce’s and they just lived there.

But 8 weeks after having moved, and we’re having conversations about how he loves living in this family. How he feels like we aren’t the bad guys anymore, how in his head he can see that this is where he belongs, that he’s loved here and he’s safe. Which is amazing, I can’t even begin to say how big this is. His letting the barriers slip, the walls are crumbling, We have moments where we can actually see his vulnerability, albeit brief and fleeting. But they are there. They were not before.

Sometimes in life you must take risks. Even if the choice you make doesn’t work out for the best you have to try; if you are stuck in a rutt that isn’t improving, and there’s a risk you can take that could improve things, it’s better to try and fail, than to just stay stuck, treading water and not moving forward. For us, this time, it has paid off. It won’t always. But today, I am just thankful.