The choice is mine, apparently…


I went to look at a primary school yesterday. The first one I’ve been in, since I was a pupil of one! Oscar’s needs, moving forward are obviously going to be a bit different from your standard pupil (not that I actually believe there is such thing!). But either way, I need to look at school options and I need to start doing it now (or depending on who you speak to I should have been doing it ‘ages‘ ago). Anyway, in order to abate some of the panic that was rising, I made an appointment to go and see a school. Just to have a look. Just to start the process.

You see when I was a child you went to the nearest school. You didn’t have a choice. In fact I lived in a village and we really didn’t have a choice. You went to Balsall Primary or you went private, but that meant serious travelling. And no one really questioned that. The school was good. Hell I thought it was great, but the decision to go there was not really a decision at all. It just was. However today, even in a small town like Haslemere, there is a serious amount of choice, of both state and private schools. Add to that the possibility of specialist provision and I suddenly find myself on the end of what feels like an enormous decision. I know all parents today have more choice in primary schools than, for example, my parents did for me but the process of viewing and deliberating and worrying seems to come down to either what you can afford (if you plan to go private) or what you’re offered (if you’re not). Or am I over simplyfying? At the end of the day you can lust after a state school all you like, but if they don’t offer it to you, even after you appeal, you don’t get it. Your choice is taken into consideration, but really that’s all it is. A consideration.

When you have a child with Autism, the system is different. And I mean very different. We’ll park the weight of responsibility I feel to get this decision “right” for a minute and talk about the process. We have just started down the road towards possibly getting Oscar an EHCP or an Educational Health Care Plan, or what used to be called a Statement. This process in itself is mind boggling complicated and takes months and months of preparation, including assessments by Educational Psychologists and the involvement of many other agencies. The back and forth and back and forth again (and if the stories are to be believed, again and again…) should, if all goes well, result in a legally binding document that means as a parent I can send Oscar to ANY school I believe is best for him. It also means that school has to provide the support he is legally entitled to. I’ll have all sorts of advice, from various assessments and agencies, to listen to and the professionals tell you it’s important you heed the advice. But then experienced Autism parents tell you that, really no one knows your child like you do, so trust your instinct when it comes to choosing the school, mainstream or specialist. Panic rising again!

Anyway, back to the school I looked at. It was a mainstream school, out of my catchment area, but one that’s given me huge amounts of hope. Its also made me want to look at other mainstream schools to see if they are all this attuned to SEN needs or if this really is a stand out school. The head also gave me some really useful advice about dealing with the ‘county’ and what I should be doing right now in order to get his ducks in a row for next year. She didn’t sugar coat how difficult the next year might be in terms of bureaucracy, which I was actually incredibly grateful for.

So today, as per her encouragement, I made a raft of chasing calls and I kept a log of who I rang and what was said. I was dismayed to hear that he STILL hasn’t been assigned a speech and language therapist, despite being on the list for over a year and a promise six weeks ago that sessions would start in July, but not surprised. I had a good conversation with his Early Years Advisor and found out that his preschool notification has definitely been issued. That ball is well and truly rolling.

So I’m feeling slightly more focussed now. I need to make appointments to go a see other schools, including some specialist schools. At least we can’t afford private, so that narrows the field a tiny bit. Every cloud! Once I’ve looked around some more schools, I’m hoping it will mean I can listen to all the advice and trust my instinct. The panic has abated.

For now.

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

Our Favourite Five – June

This months I’m joining in fellow Surrey mummy Suburban Mum‘s link up Our Favourite Five. The idea is to look back over your family’s month and pick out five things all of you (or some of you, see #1!) have enjoyed. Here’s my five for June.

1. Team Umizoomi

Milly, Geo, Bot and YOU! Yes, I’m singing the theme tune in my sleep. Sigh. The pattern making, number counting cartoon is the boy’s new favourite and we’ve been watching it most days this month. In some respects it’s incredibly sweet to watch him running down the garden (or across our bedroom!) shouting ROLL, JUMP, RUN with all the actions included. But on the other hand if I have to listen to Milly singing badly, one more time, I just may cry. I shouldn’t complain I suppose, it’s got him counting everything (he still has a blind spot for 7, but he made it up to 13 this morning!) and at least it’s not Thomas again. But I have to say, I’m kinda happy he’s just discovered Dangermouse. Hopefully Team Umizoomi will be a brief phase. Everybody craaaaazy shake?18-00016

2. Dylan’s Ice Cream

You probably already know how much I love this place. I’ve been going to Dylan’s Milk Barn every week to sit peacefully, use their fab wifi, drink their great coffee and write, since Oscar started preschool in January. However recently Oscar has discovered that he loves and I mean LOVES ice cream. The unbribeable child, is still unbribeable, but can suddenly be ‘encouraged’ out of a situation by the promise of an ice cream cone. He can also ask for it. ‘Eye chick a Mom’ anyone? I think I’ll be heartbroken when he starts pronouncing that properly. Anyway we’ve been finding ourselves in Dylan’s at least once a week throughout June for a chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. We even took grandma on her recent visit. She was most impressed. It’s simply the kind of independent business I love to support, with a great team behind them. The owner, Ben, is always friendly and when I promised the boy an ice cream the other day then realised I’d left my purse at home, he was kind enough to let me pay later. What a great guy and what a great asset to the community.



3. Netflix

We’ve had a Netflix subscription since Oscar was born. It was a god send then and over the years we’ve become more and more reliant on it. I’m not a big fan of any of the biggies. Ben loves OITNB and House of Cards and Breaking Bad, you know, all the series with the hype. Me, I’m more of a comedy girl and I love a good documentary. However this month I’ve noticed we hardly ever put the real telly on any more. If it wasn’t for Masterchef I don’t know if we ever would! Ben’s been enthralled by the new series of House of Cards and I binge watched Grace and Frankie. Oscar’s favourite on Netflix (for what feels like years) has been Thomas and Friends. However this month Netflix removed all it’s Thomas content. When I realised, I was panicked. How would I explain it to the boy? How would he, or I for that matter, cope? But do you know. He’s been fine and easily distracted with new favourites of Team Umizoomi (see #1), the beautiful animation of Eric Carle’s stories (narrated by Roger McGough and Juliet Stevenson, set to the most relaxing music. He can now say ‘caterpillar’. Only he pronounces it Bagaladar. Biiiig Fat Bagaladar.), and the 80’s kids favourite Dangermouse. Phew! It’s worth every penny of the subscription just to be able to sit down and say ‘what do you fancy?’. Yeah we love Netflix.


4. Gin Bunny Prints

Nothing to do with the liquor (I’m not a gin drinker myself) but rather the fabulous online greetings card and print store. I’ve had call to buy several cards this month. We’ve had our Anniversary and it was Father’s Day (I know those of you with older children can probably rely on a card made grudgingly lovingly by your children, but I couldn’t be sure if Oscar would perform on the day, so needed an alternative!). I’ve spoken before about how much I’m trying to support independent traders more and when I discovered Katie’s Blog Hurrah for Gin and her online print store Gin Bunny Prints, I just knew she had me covered this month. Her cards are so simple and so funny and just so much more relevant to today than anything you’d find in the shops. In fact I loved them so much, that while buying the anniversary and father’s day offerings I couldn’t resist one for my awesome friend Bethany, just because it was hilarious and I knew she’d also find it hilarious! I promise you I’m not on any kind of commission, but if you’re looking for beautifully made, relevant cards I urge you to check out Gin Bunny Prints. Surely the name alone tells you how awesome this store is 😉 .


5. The Royal Oak, Haslemere

Hahaha, I know what you’re thinking and no I haven’t been sneaking off for a crafty gin in the day (see above, I’m not a gin drinker 😉 ) but The Royal Oak has become my new favourite hang out with the boy this month. Last week, I decided I needed to stop being so scared of taking Oscar out on my own, beyond the places we are already familiar with (park, Children’s Centre etc). Because he can be somewhat unpredictable, and because I don’t have a car to bundle him into should things go awry, I’ve been somewhat reticent to try new places, without the back up of daddy. But last Thursday, it was a beautiful day and I decided to just go for it. As it happens the Oak is only four doors down from us, but has a large garden with lots of toys. I figured a) it was likely to be quiet and b) if it all went wrong I could probably carry Oscar home. Baby steps as they say. But seriously it couldn’t have been a better place to start. He walked there holding my hand and once in the garden just played and played and played. He occasionally came back to the table to eat a chip and get a drink of water, but other than that he was in his element. I was right, it was quiet, but he didn’t bother the few people who were there. As long as I made sure the gate to the car park stayed closed and bolted (it did) and that he didn’t head towards the pub itself (he didn’t) I realised the Oak’s garden was a fantastic place to take him. The food is OK, it’s no gastro pub for sure and I’m not sure I’d want to take him on a weekend when it’s likely to be much busier, but a lunch date in the week? Yeah, I think we’ll be frequenting the Oak this summer 🙂

The Royal Oak, Haslemere

The Royal Oak, Haslemere

I promise there is only coke and water in this picture!

I promise there is only coke and water in this picture!

Lunch with my guy

Lunch with my guy

The playhouse is pretty shabby chic, but makes for awesome photos ;)

The playhouse is pretty shabby chic, but makes for awesome photos 😉

Playing nicely with the one other child there

Playing nicely with the one other child there

Have you enjoyed anything new this month? Any revelations? Let me know – I love discovering new ideas of things to try.

Time for (Pre)School

When the girls in my NCT group started to go back to work at the end of their maternity leave, our meet ups were suddenly aflame with the talk of daycare. Who was going where? The benefits of one over another? It got, dare I say, a tad competitive and it was the topic of conversation for weeks. God, it was boring. For me. For no other reason that I couldn’t join in. I wasn’t going back to work. I was one of the “lucky ones” apparently. Not that it felt like it at the time. It wasn’t my first plan to give up work after having my son and it left me feeling thoroughly isolated. For a couple of weeks, then I got over myself!

However, the experience left it’s mark. Despite shocked mothers telling me I needed to get Oscar’s name down for preschool immediately (but what I felt was years in advance) I point blank refused. I’d been given the opportunity not to have to worry about ‘all that’ and I resented now being told I had to. I was such a fool. I had no idea how much he’d need preschool when the time came. Or how much I would.

Eventually I capitulated and began to think about where he might go. There are so many nurseries/preschools in and around Haslemere, we really are spoilt for choice. As he was about 20 months old at the time and wouldn’t be able to start until at least the term after he turned 2 and a half (January 2015) I thought we had bags of time. I was wrong. The wide eyed mothers who’d looked at me in shock had been right. Others did put their children down for preschool during (or even before!) their earliest days. Meaning I was somewhat late to the party with my near two year old and it was something of a kick in the teeth to discover that the school we’d chosen didn’t have any places available until September 2015! So my first tip for finding a preschool, is not to be complacent about getting your child’s name down, particularly if you have somewhere in mind.

Despite the long wait, we went ahead and put his name down. It was suggested we could have him go elsewhere until his place became available. It was a valid suggestion, just not one we felt would work for us. As it happened, several families ‘ahead’ of us on the list, declined their places meaning he was able to start in January 2015. So my second tip is don’t be put off by long waiting lists.

So how do you chose the preschool thats right for you and your child? Everyone’s criteria is different, and that’s good. What was important for us might not be for you and vice versa. Thats why I loved having such a large choice locally. For me, the most important criteria was location. Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of being a driver. I could fall in love with a nursery, but if I simply couldn’t get there, what would be the point? That narrowed the field fairly dramatically.

After location, the school’s ethos really had to be one we agreed with. Everyone assumed Oscar would go to our geographically closest nursery, which happened to be a church run one. We were adamant that as atheists this would be unfair to both Oscar (to be taught one thing at school and another at home) and to another child who might miss out on a place we’d only half heartedly taken. So, close as it was, and lovely as it is, that one was off the list.

So once the short list was drawn up, the best thing I did was visit them. I personally feel there is little of value to be learnt from online research where preschools are concerned. I would highly recommend leaving the ofsted reports and reviews at home and getting yourself into the place you’re interested in. Don’t get me wrong, having a gander online is useful. I wouldn’t have found ours without it, but in my opinion nothing can replace the experience of visiting the school itself. I wanted to be able to see where and how my son would spend his time and (let’s not beat about the bush) our money. I tried looking at preschools with children in and without and would highly recommend visiting when other students are present, if at all possible. It’s hard to see the dynamic of an empty classroom and for me this was really important.

As it turned out the preschool I fell in love with and knew I wanted him to go to as soon as I walked through the door, was the one I felt most calm in. It wasn’t the newest or the most snazzy but I just knew it was ‘the one’. Kind of like your wedding dress, I guess. You may want to make your judgement based on more than just a gut instinct and that’s no bad thing. But for me, I just knew.

He’s been going there for five months now and I’ve yet to question that gut instinct. The staff have been as proactive and supportive as I could have hoped for and Oscar has already shown huge improvement in language, communication and socialisation. But mostly he’s happy to go. And Dylan’s Ice Cream are happy for the business they get out of me every Monday morning when I drop Oscar off and head there to drink coffee and use the excellent free WiFi to write my posts.

Yes, when the time came, I really did need preschool, as much as he did.



A truncated version of this article first appeared in the January 2015 Haslemere and Midhurst NCT Magazine.

A Cornish Mum

Birthday Party at The Hen House, Haslemere

What a couple of weeks it’s been. We’ve had an awesome Easter, with fabulous weather, amazing days out, lots of fun and lots of love. The best thing by far about the Easter Holidays though has to be Oscar’s 3rd Birthday party. We chose The Hen House in Haslemere as the venue for his party months ago, and you can read about why here. I have to say in the run up to his birthday, I was much more excited than he was. I just knew how much fun he was going to have and that made me really happy.

On the day, I had my hair cut in the morning, leaving Oscar at home with Ben. Seriously you’d have thought it was me having the party, I was so excited (although that could have been the giddiness I always get when I spend time alone!) As we’d chosen exclusive use of The Hen House, we arrived at 2.30pm, just as they were closing to the public. We were immediately made to feel welcome as the staff busied around cleaning up, tidying the soft play and rearranging the tables. I was asked how I wanted the tables laid out and as I wanted as much floor space as possible, the tables were laid out in two long lines. This gave plenty of seating, but also tonnes of milling/running around (depending on your age I guess) space. We didn’t have to arrange any extra decoration, but as I’d decided on a loose Farmyard theme, I had ordered 20 cow print helium balloons, from a local party shop who delivered them to The Hen House for us. The most I had to do in terms of preparation of the venue on the day, was tie weights to the balloons, place them artfully strategically round the floor and fill some bowls with the M&Ms and Haribo I’d bought with me. Job done!

A very tidy Hen House, ready to party!

A very tidy Hen House, ready to party!

Oscar found the M&Ms

Oscar found the M&Ms

Guests started to arrive bang on 3pm. We’d decided to take full advantage of the Hen House’s licence and bought prosecco and larger for our adult guests. To be honest I wasn’t sure how this would go down. Would people be driving? Would people think it was weird to drink at a children’s party? Well, I can categorically tell you it went down a storm! I had people tell me this was definitely the way ahead in children’s parties and the prosecco went down so well, one of the staff had to run out and grab us some more bottles. All before anyone realised we were running low though! Smooth!

It was a prosecco and Haribo kinda party

It was a prosecco and Haribo kinda party

The kids had an absolute BLAST! I have never seen Oscar play for so long and so hard and sooooooo well with everyone there. He could run, he could throw himself down the slide, he laughed. Some of the dad’s got well and truly roped into playing with the children and Ben got adopted by our friend’s daughter, Charlotte, for the day. She wouldn’t let him leave her side. It was the sweetest thing.

Come with me Ben!

Come with me Ben!


Note the Daddy at the top of the slide. To be fair I did find a group of them hiding up there later on!


Oscar and his buddy Cecily playing and laughing

Oscar taking a rare moment of rest on the light up disco floor. I chose the "light up when you step on it" setting and the kids loved it!

Oscar taking a rare moment of rest on the light up disco floor. I chose the “light up when you step on it” setting and the kids loved it!

Because the number of children was a very manageable ten (plus two babies), there was plenty of space and fun to be had without a single altercation happening. Don’t get me wrong, we could have had more (up to 30 at an exclusive party), but I felt for Oscar (and for me to be fair) ten was plenty and I think I was right. It meant the adults (or at least those who weren’t being held prisoner at the top of the slide 😉 ) got to well and truly relax. It’s also a venue that really understands little people, meaning we were able to feel relaxed about their safety. This allowed us to have a good old catch up and it really did feel as much as a party for us as it was for them. The music was a playlist I’d put together myself and played through The Hen House computer (they did offer to make one for me, but I have a very specific taste in cheesy music and it was best for me to do it myself 😉 ). I got to talk to friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and introduce friends from different areas of my life to one another. This was fab and some great conversations were had. All while the children played happily and safely.

There were children at the party - honest!

There were children at the party – honest!

The children played until they were red in the face (or was that just my son?). The food was bought out around 4ish and the children all sat to a set table. I was a bit concerned whether Oscar would want to join in with this (who’d want to eat where there’s soft play to be throwing your little body down?) But sit he did! The party package comes with food included and we had all the usual suspects of freshly made sandwiches (for which I was able to chose three different fillings), sausage rolls, crisps and vegetable sticks. When we booked the party I’d explained to Henri, the owner, that Oscar is eating a gluten free diet at the moment. She wasn’t fazed in the slightest and couldn’t have been more accommodating. Some of the sandwiches were made using (good) gluten free bread and despite my suggestion that we swap sausage rolls for plain GF sausages, Henri insisted on making her own delicious GF sausage rolls for everyone! The crisps and snacks were all corn or potato based (as opposed to wheat based Cheddars or similar). The children took a break from wearing themselves out and tucked in happily. And there was plenty enough for the toddlers to eat their fill and for the parents to grab a bite too.

All the children sat and tucked in happily

All the children sat and tucked in happily

Yup thats my boy sitting with the other children and eating. Happy Mummy Moment!

Yup that’s my boy sitting with the other children and eating. Happy Mummy Moment!

Myred faced boy. I swear the wine is not his!

My red faced boy. I swear the wine is not his!

The absolute icing on the proverbial cake was in fact the cake. Or more to the point the cake/candle blowing moment. Instead of one large birthday cake, Hen had made Oscar a pile of his favourite GF Brownies (the ones he badgers me for every time we visit The Hen House). The staff asked if I would like to hold the cake, while every one sang Happy Birthday, which was a lovely touch. He’s not really done the whole blowing candles thing before and despite practising at home for days before (so he knew what to do), I was a little nervous as to how he’d react. So Ben held Oscar and I held the cake(s). Everyone sang to him and he took it all his stride, looking to me for assurance when the time came to blow. It was a perfect, perfect moment! We then handed round the gorgeous Brownies and every one was taken or devoured!


Look at those happy chops! Perfect.


The children started to leave around 5, happy and tired, with a cow print balloon in one hand and a farm themed party bag in the other. I had real fun putting the party bags together and although The Hen House did offer to do them for me, I’m glad I did my own. They had a Milky Bar Cow, a farm animal toy, a farmer’s neckerchief/bandana and a packet of seeds for them to plant and grow. This all came in a brown paper bag, with a farm animal mask to decorate. Putting the fun back into functional, that’s me!



Farm themed party bags

Farm themed party bags

We had so many compliments on the way out. The children all told us how much fun they’d had and the parents did the same. It was such an amazing feeling. We got to take the credit for the most amazing party, when really, we did so little towards it. The staff at The Hen House, did everything and made the whole day go without a single hitch. We didn’t even have to tidy up! We just packed up his pressies, grabbed the remaining balloons and left! Bliss.

We have had such a bumpy few months recently, what with Oscar’s ASD diagnosis and the stress that has put us under as a family. But we were able to give our special little guy the most amazing birthday party, exactly as he needed it, to have as much fun as is humanly possible for any three year old to have.

And for that, I can’t thank The Hen House enough.




We’d like to thank Henri and everyone at The Hen House for their amazing hospitality and generosity in hosting Oscar’s birthday for us. You can find out more about hiring the venue, either exclusively or non exclusively, on their website

I was not paid to write this review and as always all opinions are my own.

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Party Time!

For Oscar’s birthday last year, you may remember, we eschewed a party in favour of a quiet meal out, inviting only one little friend along. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to throw him a party but after organising such a massive one for his first birthday, it felt like a lot of effort, that would have been wasted on a two year old (who may or may not have fallen asleep or had a melt down in the middle of it!). Whereas his first birthday party was for the adults as much as it was for the children, he now has friends he sees regularly. Little people he enjoys hanging out with. And as there was a time last year where I feared that this would never be the case, I want to encourage this as much as I can.

First Birthday Party

First Birthday Party

That’s why this year, I’m totally eating last year’s words and throwing a party for him. Despite his birthday seeming a long way off (it’s in the first week of April), I knew we’d have to get a wriggle on if we were going to book a venue. Because a venue, we are definitely going to need. I love the thought of having a party at home, with games of pass the parcel and jelly and ice cream however:

  1. my house is tiny. I stopped being able to have more than a couple of children in the house at a time once they started walking! If his birthday was in the summer we could throw them out in the garden, but it’s not so we can’t
  2. my boy isn’t the kind of child who likes to sit in a circle, even if prizes are offered. He’s not a game player (yet) and trying to force him to be one is only setting us all up for a fall
  3. while he does like jelly, he’s not that fussed about ice cream

Seems the party in my head will have to wait (and possibly forever!). My boy needs space to run, lots of things to do and cake (gluten free of course). Simple really 😉

It may sounds restrictive, but having a clear idea of what he needs to have a good time was a great starting point for us when it came to choosing the kind of party he’d most enjoy. We looked at the local provision and while there were several interesting options, we needed one that could tick all his boxes effortlessly. And when it came down to it, choosing his beloved Hen House in Haslemere was a no brainer really.

I’ve written before about his love of the soft play cafe, The Hen House. We haven’t been going as often as we used to recently, for various reasons, one of which being that he’s now busy at preschool, but also we’re more aware of the kind of environment he does best in. A room full to the brim with strangers, particularly younger children, pushes all his buttons and while he still enjoys The Hen House on it’s quieter days, a busy day at the soft play just isn’t for us. So the thought of being able to let him run lose, somewhere he knows and loves, with only his very best friends, makes me supremely happy. And call me selfish, but knowing that I really don’t have to do a thing about the organisation, unless I want to, makes me all the happier!

We’ve decided on an ‘exclusive’ party, for which they close the doors to all but party guests. While you can book for non exclusive use, we chose to restrict it as it allows me to control just how many little bodies there will be flying round at any one time and also gives Oscar the most room to play. They say they can cater for up to 30 children per exclusive party (15 for non exclusive), but I know this would be too many for Oscar. And me to be fair. At this age the parents will be staying with their invited children, which will be great (they’re all friends anyway) but it only adds bodies to the room. All things considered, in that case, we’ll be keeping it to around 10-15 guests. I think that sounds like plenty!

The party package is awesome! For one it’s all bookable on the website meaning a few clicks and it was all done. Every party comes with all party food and a birthday cake included. We could have added extras such as pizzas and burgers, but as Oscar eats neither of these things we decided against it. A quick email to the owner, allowed us to swap some of the standard items for gluten free alternatives and instead of a traditional birthday cake, we’re having a mountain of Hen’s gluten free brownies (the boy would bite your hand off for a brownie any day of the week!). And because they have the facilities we can also provide hot drinks for our adult guests. Or perhaps something colder and fizzier – they do have a licence after all. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this 😉

Any day of the week!

Any day of the week!

The food will all be prepared fresh on the day and catering, music and fun will be organised by The Hen House, meaning all I need to worry about now is the guest list, the invites and the party bags (although if I’d wanted, The Hen House would have done these too!). I did think about having a Thomas the Tank Engine theme, but I’m now thinking more of a Farm theme, for two reasons. Firstly its being held in The Hen House (geddit!) but also Oscar can happily say the names of all the farm animals, so it’s a nod to how far his speech is coming along. I’ve started a birthday theme Pinterest board and I tell you it’s probably a good thing I’m not having a hand in the food or decor. I could go nuts with this stuff!

How gorgeous is this Farm Themed party - gorgeous, but bonkers!

How gorgeous is this Farm Themed party – gorgeous, but bonkers!

I’m so excited. I know I was kind of a downer on parties last year, but seriously. A girl can change her mind can’t she? Actually, I find, that with a child it’s imperative to keep changing your mind. To constantly see things from a new perspective. After all, children do. Every day.

I’ll let you know how it goes!!!