My Half Term Artist

Half term has been and gone, and much as I kind of dread school holidays and how we’re all going to cope, this half term was super. I think a week, with enough distraction, is just enough for him. And it’s just enough that I don’t resort to the iPad all day every day!

Dont get me wrong he was on the iPad a fair amount. Especially in the mornings when he’d been up since five and mama seriously couldn’t be doing with “building a bigger track” right now. Am I the only one whose child seems to wake up fully ‘on’? It’s like he’s got some internal flip switch, that I just don’t have!

Anywho once I had come around sufficiently, we had some really great days this half term. Lots of joint interactions, some of which lasted ages. I did my heart good to see him really collaborating with me and really showed me how far he’s come since starting school.

We did all sorts last week, from trips to the park, to train rides, to hair cuts to meeting up with friends. All of which was wonderful. But really the things I enjoyed the best were the days when we turned to the art cupboard.

When Oscar left Nursery back in July, he still wasn’t drawing anything, despite his well developed fine motor skills, and the artwork that came home was only ever daubs of colour. As the Educational Psychlogist noted, he still wasn’t engaging in any “meaningful mark making”.

That all started to change almost as soon as he started school and over the last term the paintings and drawings have been becoming more and more recognisable. And not only is he now drawing things both he and others can identify, he loves it. And I mean LOVES it. So last Tuesday we spent a couple of hours with pads of paper and markers and he went for it. Each image he drew, I cut it out and he’d blu-tac it to the wall.

And before long the walls were covered.

The aquatic wall, including fish, sharks, “shark whales” and even a squid! All named by Oscar

Sodor. Can you see the steam and the tenders? So detailed!

Alllll of the rockets. Blast Off!

I worked out that over the course of the week (as he added a few more here and there over the week) he drew 44 fish, 31 engines and 24 rockets. And 4 ambulances, randomly. He’s nothing if not prolific!

Yes he has his favourite subjects, but these marks ARE meaningful. I kind of wish the EP could see them. I think they’re ruddy glorious!

Obviously when he went back to school I needed a bit of my own space back and yes I did take them all down. But never fear, I painstakingly transferred them to his room. The fish are swimming up the stairs and the engines hiding in an alcove. And he loves them.

The aquarium is now swimming up the stairs to his room!

And for that I’d have all the blu-tac marks on my walls in the world 🙂

 

Oscar’s first trip to The National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth

On a recent trip to our childhood home town of Plymouth, we decided to try and have some family days out. We knew we wanted to spend some time on the Moors (and who wouldn’t) but we felt it was time for Oscar to try an ‘attraction’ again and so thought we’d give the National Marine Aquarium a go.

Oscar’s history with ‘attractions’ has been rather limited to be fair. We’ve stuck to large outdoor spaces, such as Zoos and parks and even then at potentially quiet times and with mixed results. His Autism means he doesn’t always access the attraction in the way other children might. And that’s fine, but it sometimes begs the question why pay out for him to just run around, when he can do that at the local park for free? Anyway, his speech and understanding are changing so much at the moment, that we thought it would be a good time to give him the opportunity to try an indoor attraction for a change. And as his current favourite book is ‘Barry the Fish with Fingers’, we thought the aquarium would be a good one to get him on board with.

The morning of the visit, we drew him a very basic visual timetable explaining that we were going in Daddy’s car, to see the fish at the ‘Aquarium’ and then we’d have some sweets and a juice box. Not sure why I added the bit on the end but a motivator felt like a good idea and I assumed the cafe in the aquarium would have something we could grab.

We knew the aquarium was likely to be busy; on a Saturday, the Saturday of Easter Weekend, a rainy Saturday of Easter Weekend!!! We planned to get there first thing, but getting ready took longer than anticipated and we arrived within 50 minutes of it opening. While Ben parked the car, I walked Oscar over the bridge to the entrance. We looked at the fish artwork and sculpture together and he was having great fun pointing things out. Then we got to the entrance. While I knew the place would be busy it didn’t even occur to me how big the queues would be. Why we hadn’t thought to book fast track tickets online (which you can do and which save you from queuing at all!) I don’t know, but I took one look at that queue and knew it wasn’t for my guy. We headed back to the car, having seen the ‘fish’ (artwork) and hoped that was enough.

Oscar insisted this sculptre outside the aquairum was a 'Dragon Fish' and that it was breathing fire! Photo by Patricia Richards-Skensved

Oscar insisted this sculpture outside the aquarium was a ‘Dragon Fish’ and that it was breathing fire! Photo by Patricia Richards-Skensved

He was fine with this change, and he had great fun playing with his cousin at my mum’s instead. Only then, over lunch, he started to ask: ‘Quarium?’ I was blown away to be honest. You never can tell how much is going in and yet it would seem the answer is ‘a whole lot’. We knew then we were going to have to go back. So we decided to head up there towards the end of the day. We got there around 3.45pm to find no queue to speak of and headed in. As Ben was paying they locked the entrance behind us. Phew, we timed that just right then!

And then we set off following the signs. Oscar held our hands, he walked, he waited when he needed to, he shocked us both! Then he came to the tanks and instead of running past, giving them a cursory glance he really stopped and looked. The tanks in the NMA are all so accessible to little ones and Oscar loved that he could get right up close and personal with the fish. He even commented on their colour and size and several times swore he saw ‘Barry’ (of the ‘fish with fingers’ fame 😉 ) . He went back and forth between a couple of his favourite areas, but for the most part he progressed between the zones when we asked without any fuss.

Walking with Daddy

Walking with Daddy

All the high tanks have steps up to them or are accessible from the floor.

All the high tanks have steps up to them or are accessible from the floor.

Look there's Barry!

Look there’s Barry!

image

He loved the overhead/undefoot tanks. He was entranced!

Awright Ray!

Awright Ray!

Shark!

Shark!

He even interacted with other children visitors and when we came to the main tank viewing room, Ben and I sat down and Oscar quickly found another little boy to chase, and be chased by. It was quiet enough that nobody minded and it left him red faced, but happy.

Photo From Expedia

The National Marine Aquarium’s 2 million litre water tank. And a space to run around! Photo from Expedia

Would we go back? Absolutely, and I would absolutely go at the end of the day again, something I’d never considered before. It was quieter sure, but it was also just enough to time for him to enjoy it and not get bored. It also gave him a natural cut off point, i.e. we had to leave at 5 because they were closing. That worked really well and he was able to have a quick look round the gift shop at the end (he got a book by a local author) and head back to the car, happy as a sand boy. The only issue we had was parking. The aquarium doesn’t have its own car park and the nearest ones are a short walk away. This might be fine for some children, but Oscar often struggles to walk safely along busy roads and this was a deep concern. As it was Ben dropped us off by the Mayflower steps and was then able to (luckily) park on the seafront a minute away. But had this not been the case this could have derailed the visit before we’d started!

If you’re in the area we would highly recommend it. And if you have a child with Autism, I learnt that the aquarium will be holding a ‘quiet session‘ on 2nd April to mark World Autism Day. This might be a great way to introduce your child to the attraction. The aquarium have produced a great visual support document for those attending (available on the website), something that might be useful for any visit to be honest! My only advice would be to check out the parking situation prior to attending.

At the end of the day thought, we couldn’t get over how good the experience had been. I was so proud of my little guy and so pleased that the prep we did paid off. It can take quite a lot of gumption to throw yourself headlong into a situation that could be incredibly stressful. As it was the National Marine Aquarium made it easy for us and we’d like to thank them.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, we stopped in at Tesco on the way home and bought him sweets and a juice box.

 

 

Thank you to the National Marine Aquarium for a great day out. This was not a paid review, rather it’s just an account of our day out as a family and we paid for our tickets ourselves. Although had I remembered Oscar’s DLA letter, I could have got in for free as his carer. Next time!

 

 

 

 

 

Easy fish for a child who wont eat fish fingers

I eat a lot of fish. Partly cos it’s healthy and free on Extra Easy and partly cos it’s delicious and so damn versatile. With stirfrys, with chips (my lazy girl syn free chips of course 😉 ) or in stews, me and fish go back a long way. Probably one of the reasons Oscar likes it so much too. However, although Oscar loves all the fish I’ve ever given him, he just doesn’t like the childhood staple of fish fingers. I think it’s more to do with the breadcrumbs (not a favourite coating of anything for the boy) which means the fish he eats is, well, just fish. Until recently though I’ve always been a bit intimidated by fish. Preparing it, cooking it, I was never sure I was doing it right. It also struck me as a time consuming ingredient, one that need loads of time to prepare. But I’m here to tell you I can prep fish and cook it, from frozen, with the same effort it takes to remove fish fingers from the box and in the same time it takes potato waffles to cook (yeah he has grown up tastes in some respects but he’ll bite your arm off for a potato waffle).

This method could just as easily be used for adults, using bigger portions and more exciting ingredients, but this is how I make fish for a child who wont eat fish fingers.

Start by buying fillets of fresh fish. I choose whatever’s on offer. Favourites so far have included cod, haddock, pollack & salmon. Each portion only needs to be small, so buying big pieces and chopping them up always works out better value. Skin on or skin off it doesn’t matter (after cooking you’ll probably wants to remove the skin for a toddler, although this is hardly time consuming). The only thing is it needs to be bone free. You also need foil.

10424257_10153283607635616_8215247965042340881_n

Start with a rectangle of foil, folded in half, so the shiny side is front and back

Spray one side with FryLight. I use FryLight cos that's what I have in the house but you could also use oil

Spray one side with FryLight. I use FryLight cos that’s what I have in the house but you could also use oil

Add the pieces of fish and season. I use a tiny amount of salt, pepper and a sprtiz of lemon (bottle lemon juice works just as well).Other favourites have included soy sauce and lime juice, particularly with salmon

Add the pieces of fish and season. I use a tiny amount of salt, pepper and a sprtiz of lemon (bottle lemon juice works just as well). Other favourites have included soy sauce and lime juice, particularly with salmon

Fold the foil in two and seal the top by folding it over twice

Fold the foil in two, over the fish, and seal the top by folding it over twice

Fold in the sides twice. This will give you a watertight parcel for the fish to steam in

Fold in the sides twice. This will give you a watertight parcel for the fish to steam in

Do this as many times as you have portions of fresh fish and place in the freezer. Yes these beauties can be cooked from frozen!

Do this as many times as you have portions of fresh fish and place in the freezer. Yep that’s right these beauties can be cooked from frozen!

I usually cook mine on a baking tray at gas mark 6/200c for about  25 mins, but your oven may vary. While it's cooking it puffs up to look like a pillow - pretty!

When you need it take it out of the freezer and chuck it on a baking sheet. I usually cook mine at gas mark 6/200c for about 25 mins, but your oven may vary. While it’s cooking it puffs up to look like a pillow – pretty!

To check if it's done you can open one end and see. If not just fold it back up and return to the oven. Careful though - the steam is hot!

To check if it’s done you can open one end and see. If not just fold it back up and return to the oven. Careful though – the steam is hot!

And serve with whatever your child loves best. This evening's offering was flaked up and served with rostis and peas. Last week the salmon was mixed with pasta. Winner!

And serve with whatever your child loves best. This evening’s offering was flaked up and served with rostis and peas. Last week it was salmon mixed with pasta. Winner!

There you go. An easy way to cook and serve ‘real’ fish any day of the week.

Give it a go and enjoy

xx