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.

Confusion: Logan and birthdays

ARGH… we thought we had it, we really did…

But despite being involved in the planning and prep, despite having it said to him over and over… because the Birthday Treasure Hunt was held on Caitlin’s birthday weekend, Logan has gotten it into his head that it was her party and he’s not allowed one.

Now that we know and we’ve talked it through with him “what did you ask to do? Who did you invite? Who did we sing Happy Birthday to? When are you getting your cake?” He is feeling happier and understands, but he’d been thinking about it for days. He holds these thoughts in and keeps himself awake lingering over them at bed time, working himself up about how everyone hates him and everyone loves Caitlin. How he’s rubbish and evil and unworthy and to blame for all the rubbish that has happened to him ever.

But we are getting our two pennies worth in, slowly working our thoughts and weaving doubt into his solid logic that he’s so unvalued and worthless. Opening up the idea that maybe he’s not, or at least not all the time. Perhaps he could be liked as himself, and appreciated and valued. And that these things we do aren’t empty “we have to do them” gestures, but instead active, willed and conscious choices.

It’s only a slither of door that’s opened, but that slither shows that there is hope, that perhaps if we keep trying, one day we could open up that world of possibilities to him. Perhaps he could feel comfortable in his own skin. If he achieves nothing else, this is the thing I most want for him. I’m exhausted watching him trying to be what he thinks everyone else wants him to be (often he’s incorrect and ends up geting it totally wrong). And more importantly, watching people respond in a way that further reinforces his incorrect idea of this being the way to behave. It increases his thoughts of not being worthy and says that he should be someone else to please others.

Where’s that magic wand???

 

Triggers: small and misread

Caitlin was at craft club at our Gym. She fell over, and bumped her head. They checked her over and saw she was ok, physcially, but they aren’t aware of the mental implications. Caitlin withdraws in times of anxious-ness, so instead of crying and showing she’s hurt or worried, instead of saying she needed to go to Mumma or Daddy, instead of saying she feels she needs comfort, she holds it in.

This is what happened at craft club. She held it in. She didn’t get the comfort she needed, Mumma always gives her arnica for a bumped head – this is a sign she’s being looked after and being kept safe. This is not a “normal” response for places like the gym, so naturally she didn’t get it. To her this felt like neglect. She’s only recently learned how to protect herself when falling (arms out). So when she falls, she gets super worked up inside (like someone is trying to hurt her), she needs to be comforted and talked back around from this.

Now, I am not writing this to bash the gym in the slightest; without producing a binder of “Caitlin psychology” I am not possibly going to be able to cover every action/reaction/consequence with them. Instead to highlight how easy it easy to not see what’s really going on, and what the consequence of that is.

So onward to the consequences…

By the time she got home, she was frantic. It was actually Daddy Bruce who’d taken her to the gym – Mumma had stayed at home to do some work. Daddy Bruce and Caitlin still have some patches in their relationship (due to some of the issues of Caitlin’s past) so when she’s at her most anxious it’s only Mumma that can console her and bring that anxiety back down. They had been due to stay for a play in the soft play afterwards, but that couldn’t happen, Bruce could see there was no point so he’d headed straight home.

Some arnica and some rescue remedy later and she was calm enough to have cuddles, but at this point needed to feel the nurture, care and safety she required right down to the core. I asked her what would help and threw some suggestions out there. The response was effectively to become a baby; a bottle of warm milk, some cuddles with Mumma, a blanky, a nappy and some time. She was extremely clingy for a few hours, but once she could settle her mind back into feeling safe and cared for, all was good.