Messy Sensory Play for Beginners

My three year old goes through phases of being interested in messy sensory play. Sometimes I can set it up and he’ll play for hours, sometimes I’ll set it up and he’ll play for two minutes. Trouble is I never know which it’s going to be and far be it from me to stop him from doing something he might really enjoy just because it might be a two minute day.

However that does mean I am loathe to go to masses of effort to set it all up just in case. It also means I like things that are cheap to make (and if possible things that can be kept to play with another time).

My sister has a daughter who at 2.5 has never really shown much interest in sensory play. However just recently she has become obsessed with all the creams in the house, scooping them, squidging them and generally enjoying making a mess. This got me thinking that maybe it’s time to try her with some sensory activities, that might be cheaper than the body lotions and creams she’s suddenly taken an interest in.

So this is a round up of some really simple and where possible, cheap recipes for the parent’s first foray into messy play. And a couple of words of advice from a mum who found messy play difficult to get in to.

  1. Firstly I would suggest sourcing something to play on/in. We have a Tuff Tray and stand now, but we started with cheap under bed storage boxes and still find these incredibly useful. They are wide enough and shallow enough to provide space to play in, and can be easily moved to where they need to be. In this gorgeous weather, I’d totally be doing this outside, but in the winter an under bed storage box can go in the kitchen. Or wherever.
  2. When we first started messy play I would also put down a plastic dust sheet (we got ours from Homebase, but you can get them at any DIY store). It’s a option, but actually I found most things easy enough to clean off tiles, so I stopped using it. Carpet might be a different matter though!
  3. Sometimes I get Oscar involved in the actual making of whatever we’re doing (he loved making the Moon Sand), other times it’s better if I make it then call him over. You know your child, and your patience, best.
  4. Once they’re playing, be prepared for them to access the activity in surprising ways. Encourage them by all means, but if they run off and grab a train and start painting with that instead of the brushes you lovingly provided, so be it.
  5. But the best advice I think I can give is to be brave. There is little that wont clean up easily and quickly and what’s a bit of clean up to hours of focused play? And a bit of peace and quiet?

Click on the pictures for the recipes.

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We love Moon Sand and while I dyed it blue here, you don’t need to at all. Also I love this because it lasts for ever. Just scoop it into an airtight container when they finished and it’s good for weeks.

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Painting scared the bejaysus out of me, in our tiny house, but this Shaving Foam paint was one of our absolute winners. Oscar adored it and while it did take a bit of mixing the colours, it was totally worth it. He played for HOURS!

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I love this simple recipe from The Imagination Tree and we’re planing to do this one this afternoon. Simple hardly describes it and I think it would speak to my nieces love of creams!

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How gorgeous does this Slime from Powerful Mothering look. Goooooooooo! Chia Seeds are available in every supermarket now and I love how this makes a simple goopy mass. It takes a bit of planning but hardly any work!

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Another super simple recipe from Growing a Jeweled Rose. I buy my Bicarb in big boxes online now and have a load waiting to be used. I’m planning this for a summer activity and if it’s in the garden it’ll need no cleaning up!

Rainbow Slime (1)

Now I know this one is a bit more complicated (but even the amazing Allison over at Learn Play Imagine says you don’t have to colour it.) but look at it!!!! I want to play with this forget the boy! However, before you start, liquid starch is really difficult to get hold of in the UK. You can, it’s just difficult and can be expensive.

Soooooo I found this amazing post by Fun at Home with Kids on how to make Slime the UK way, using a kind of detergent from Aldi.

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As we have no Aldi near us I cant test this myself yet. However the detergent and white PVA is cheap as chips so as soon as I find some I’ll be testing it out.

I hope you see something in here you think, “yeah I could have a go at that”. Go on be brave.

Let me know how it goes!

xxx

 

 

#ToddlerApprovedTuesday
Advice From The Heart

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.

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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.

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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 😉 .

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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.

Bluestone Resort Wales – A Review

If you’re a regular reader or follow me on any social media, you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to spend the week as a family in the beautiful countryside of Pembrokeshire, West Wales. I couldn’t believe it when Bluestone National Park Resort asked me if I’d like to bring the family to visit. Ben and I lived in Swansea from 2009-2011 and Wales (and the Welsh), hold a very special place in my heart. In fact I didn’t realise how special, until I blubbed going over the bridge. What am I like? I’ve wanted to take Oscar to Wales since he was born, and despite looking into it a couple of times, we’d just never found anywhere we thought could work for him and for us. I won’t lie to you when I say I was a little nervous. Oscar’s Autism means he can be unpredictable and Pembrokeshire was a long way to go for him to react badly (4.5 hours from our home in Surrey), but I can’t explain just how well everything went. It was as if Bluestone sprinkled a little bit of Welsh magic over all of us.

So we arrived on Monday after a straightforward journey, made all the easier by the iPad and a couple of Thomas and Friends films. Believe me when I say you get no badges for getting your children to their destination by singing and reading with them, when neither of these things work and a iPad strapped to the back of the headrest does. Check in starts at 4.30pm, which allowed Oscar to go to preschool in the morning and for us to arrive in time for check-in to be in full flow, which meant queuing in the car.

TOP TOP #1: If you can arrive earlier in the day, do. Although you can’t get in to your accommodation until 4.30, you can check in and use the park’s facilities, meaning you avoid the queues when everyone else arrives. This may be particularly useful if you have children who don’t deal well with queues.

Everyone arriving at the same time means some queing

Everyone arriving at the same time means some queuing to get into the park

Despite the short time queuing, the iPad did sterling work until we were able to get into our accommodation with no fuss and a warm welcome. And when we did we were so impressed. All accommodation at Bluestone is self catering lodges ranging from studios to those that sleep 14 people. As we had originally planned to go with friends, who then couldn’t join us, we had one of the gorgeous Grassholm Lodges, which sleep 8 people in three twin and one double room. This all came with three bathrooms, one of which was a wet room and one an ensuite. Having so much space was a luxury in itself, especially as we’re used to a two bedroom terrace cottage!

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Just one of the twin bedrooms. The boy already making his mark!

I was probably most excited about having a decent size kitchen for a change!

I was probably most excited about having a decent size kitchen for a change!

The kitchen really was incredibly thoughtfully equipped (I cooked dinner for Oscar every night and for Ben and I twice with no bother) and we both noted how all the electronics were such good makes. It’s the little things no? It’s worth mentioning that the lodges do not come with washing machines and there’s no laundry on site, so be sure to bring enough clothes for the duration.

TOP TIP #2 Kitchens have everything you’d expect in a modern luxury lodge, including a dishwasher. Bluestone kindly provide a welcome pack of kitchen essentials including dishcloths, tea towels and 3 dishwasher tablets. You can also buy packets of three tablets in the park shop for 1. I really wish I’d realised this before, so I wouldn’t have fretted about taking cloths and washing up liquid and would have packed a few of my own dishwasher tabs.

A helpful welcome in the kitchen

A helpful welcome in the kitchen

The lodge was so light and airy and the temptation was to just stay in, enjoying the space, but there was so much else to do on the park. On the first night (and subsequent evenings) Oscar was thrilled to make great use of the park’s pub garden and adventure playground. As I’m sure Ben was!

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So spacious and airy. Wonderful!

A quick evening tipple at the Knights Tafern

A quick evening tipple at the Knights Tafern

The Treehouse, withy all its bridge and tunnels was a great hit with Oscar. Not sure Ben enjoyed it quite as much!

The Treehouse, with all its bridges and tunnels was a great hit with Oscar. Not sure Ben enjoyed it quite as much!

The park is built around a central ‘village’, which has a grocery store, bakery/coffee shop, off license, gift shop, pub, various restaurants and a Spa. Ben and I are both big spa fans (hey, who isn’t?!) so we knew we wanted to try out Bluestone’s WellSpa, but we knew we wanted to go together. I’m sure the ability to share childcare was the reason we saw quite a few extended family groups around the park. Although we didn’t go in a group, Bluestone is totally set up for this kind of holiday, with large lodges and even interconnected ones! So because we were ‘sans grandma’, we booked Oscar into the Mini Adventure session. This was a three hour creche session for 0-3 year olds held in the Adventure Centre (they also run similar age appropriate activities for 4-7 year old and 8-12 year olds). I booked the session in advance and explained about Oscar’s Autism. The staff weren’t phased in the slightest, and assured me that they’d looked after autistic children before. I was also reassured to hear the creche was in a locked room, with a maximum of 6 children, with two members of staff. The worst that could happen is that he’d hate it and wouldn’t stay (or they’d have to call us to come get him, which they promised to do). Three hours and no call later, we picked up a very happy little boy, who’d done crafting, baking and played with trains. Best 24 I spent all holiday!

The Mini Adventure session was Space themed. Oscar had an amazing time!

The Mini Adventure session was Space themed. Oscar had an amazing time making his Alien!

While the boy was aliening it up, Ben and I made full use of the time to check out the Spa. The treatment list was extensive, but we chose to just relax together in the Thermal Suite. I loved the Brick Sauna and Ben liked the Herbal Steam Room and we both loved the heated outdoor plunge pool. What a treat!

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I was rather taken with the changing rooms!

The chill out area had a very apt name. Pronounced cutch for those of you not down with the Welsh language.

The chill out area had a very apt name. Pronounced “kutch” for those not down with the Welsh language.

Time together as a couple can be rare, but we loved that Bluestone gave us the opportunity to make the most of it. We loved the creche and we also booked a babysitter for the Wednesday night, through the park’s very friendly and helpful customer service team. Oscar sleeps well anyway, but I’ve never seen him go down so easily as I did on holiday. This meant by the time the babysitter arrived, he was fast off and we could enjoy our meal out. We chose the recently updated Oak Tree Restaurant, which mixes Italian inspiration with Welsh produce. The sharing plate starter we had with baked Perl Wen Cheese was a revelation! So good in fact I forgot to get a picture of it!

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So good it’s gone!

The Oak Tree was one of several places to eat on the park. The choice was appreciated and we ate in many of them over the week with prices being reasonable across the board (not something you always find when you’re a captive audience. This was also the case in the Village Stores with a great range of groceries available at everyday prices). Although we bought a lot of food with us, having done a shop the day before we arrived, we also ate out several times. The food we had all over the park was good and I particularly enjoy my flame roast mackerel, down in the woodland restaurant Camp Smokey. Such a unique venue, it’s nestled deep in the middle of the woods and all food is cooked over open fires, just like a real All American cookout! Had Oscar not had the only melt down of the week as we sat down to eat, we so would have be finishing our meal by toasting our own marshmallows! It was such a shame it didn’t work for him as the food was delicious. But one melt down all week? I’ll take that!

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Camp Smokey, for the full outdoor camp fire eating experience

Our best eating experience of the week, had to be in the Wild Wood Cafe. We had been for a walk on the nature trail, after Oscar had woken that morning and still in his pyjamas declared he wanted to go for a walk by telling us ‘shoes’ and ‘buggy’. It was a beautiful day so we headed to the Nature Trail followed by a walk round the lake.

TOP TIP #3 The nature trail is beautiful and I highly recommend it. However be aware that it’s not a gentle stroll. Anyone with mobility issues would struggle and while we coped with our trusty 3 wheel Out n About 360, a lesser buggy (particularly the fold up umbrella style) would not make it. Slings or walking might be best.

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On the trail

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This was the easy bit!

After a super morning’s walk we headed over to the Adventure Centre, a building the size of a small leisure centre bursting at the seams with fun. We spent some time in the main room, playing on the bouncy castle, with the lego and in the soft play area but mainly having a good old explore. We also spent some time that afternoon in the Circus Room, an entire room devoted to the joy of Under 5s. They use the room for paid for Toddler Sensory sessions, but on the day we visited it was free to use all day. The boy found his new favourite toy in the ride on roller coaster – he’d have taken it home with him if he could!

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Jump!

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Lego Zone. Cool wall, but its missing something…

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Yeah that’s better

The AMAZING Circus Room. Soft Play and Sensory for the Under 5s. and we had the place to ourselves!

The AMAZING Circus Room. Soft Play and Sensory for the Under 5s. and we had the place to ourselves!

Oscar's favourite part of the week I think!

Oscar’s favourite part of the week I think!

When it came time to think about lunch we decided to try the Adventure Centre’s own restaurant, the Wild Wood Cafe. Oscar’s historically been good at eating out, but since he’s been too big for a high chair he struggles to sit and not want to get down for long enough. Add to the fact that this was all new to him, I had no high hopes for this lunch. However, I didn’t bargain on the wonderful atmosphere of the Wild Wood Cafe. As the name may suggest it’s made up to look like an enchanted wood. The lights are dimmed and the seating design really imaginative. Lunch in a bird’s nest anyone? We took Oscar in and let him have a run round exploring everything. As everyone else in there was also a parent of a small child no one batted an eyelid! The room was presided over by an enormous tree and Oscar was very taken with the throne. Yes they have a throne, which is used in the regular interactive dinner shows! They sound like awesome fun, just not for Oscar yet. Anyway after a look around he came and sat down, waited for his dinner and ate it whilst sitting the whole time! I make a big deal of this as it’s the first time he’s ever done this since outgrowing the highchair. The food was delicious (Ben was so impressed at how good his Steak Baguette was) and if you’re visiting with small children I urge you to take them at least once. It’s one of my favourite memories from the week 🙂

Have dinner in an Enchanted Forest

Have dinner in an Enchanted Forest

It sure enchanted my boy. Here he is, sitting and eating!

It sure enchanted my boy. Here he is, sitting and eating! Notice the throne in the background!

When I asked Ben what his favourite memory of the trip was, he said without a doubt the peace. Bluestone is set in 500 acres of beautiful Welsh National Park and the fact that cars are parked away from the lodges once they’re unloaded meant the pace of life on the park was a relaxed one. You can hire golf buggies to use during your stay. We decided not to this time, however if we’d been with a bigger group or anyone with mobility issues these would have been a life saver, as the park itself is rather hilly. The wildlife was everywhere and tame as you like, which thrilled Oscar as his new words that week were ‘bird’ and ‘animal’!

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View from our bedroom window the day we arrived

Ducks on the lake

Ducks on the lake

Our love of the Welsh countryside meant that we couldn’t go all that way and not explore the surrounding area, just a little. There were so many things to see and do close to Bluestone, but living in a landlocked county meant I desperately wanted to go to the beach. On recommendation from a friend back home, we broke with tradition and eschewed the popular Tenby, heading instead for Barafundle Bay, 30 minutes drive away. Now I wouldn’t recommend this beach for everyone. It’s sheltered and quiet, yes, but that’s partly because it’s only accessible via a half mile walk across the cliff tops and then down a long steep stone stair case.

TOP TIP #4 The guides say this beach is not accessible by buggies and to some extent they are right. However, if you really, really wanted to you could take your buggy most of the way and stash it in the bushes at the top of the steps, as we saw one couple do that day.

Oscar’s never really been to the beach and choosing Barafundle Bay was something of a risk. Not being able to take the buggy, being half a mile of difficult terrain away from the car, we could absolutely have chosen another location. But we would absolutely have missed out on the most amazing experience. Oscar walked/ran excitedly just ahead of us almost the whole way there. I think he appreciated the freedom, but not once did he make a dash for it (to be fair we were on high alert and had he shown any signs of bolting we would have scooped him up and high tailed it back to the car.) We thoroughly enjoyed the walk there and when we arrived? Well! No wonder it’s been voted Best Picnic Spot in the UK and in the Top 12 Beaches in the World before now.

With the wind at his heels! And in his hair!

With the wind at his heels! And in his hair!

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Me and my guy

Woah.

The BEAUTIFUL Barafundle Bay

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The steps down to the bay

No trip to the beach would be complete without a castle!

No trip to the beach would be complete without a castle!

What a day! And we totally chose the best day of the week for the weather too. The day we came to leave was dreary and reflected completely the way we were feeling. So sad to say goodbye to such a wonderful place. Although we had to check out at 10am, we were able to use the facilities until 3pm. This being the case we packed up the car with everything but our swim things and headed over to the Blue Lagoon. It’s everything you’d expect of a pleasure pool and had a great toddler/baby area. At least I thought it was great. Oscar enjoyed it but was tempted by the big pool soon enough. He’s quite confident in the water, but can’t swim and would not wear any kind of flotation device, which meant it was a very tiring experience for me. He LOVED the wave machine and the fountains and even went down the lazy river with me, but in the end I had to call time on the swimming. I just couldn’t keep up with him! I think if he’d been older he would have been in there every day. As it was I’m glad we tried it, but I’m not sorry we only went the once.

The Blue Lagoon Pool

The Blue Lagoon Pool

To be honest though there’s little we did more than once. The playground maybe, or getting ice creams from the Bakery. We were there Monday to Friday and we only got to sniff what Bluestone is about. But what we saw made us all happier than I could have imagined. The facilities were exactly what we needed as a family and the staff unremittingly helpful, friendly and good humoured (even the guy cutting the lawn on the ride on mower gave Oscar a big smile and a thumbs up when he saw him watching!) We couldn’t have asked for anything more. Would we go back. Yes. Definitely. Wales will always have a special place in my heart and Bluestone is a great place to visit what was once our adopted home.

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Heaven

We would like to say a massive thank you to Bluestone National Park Resort for generously providing us with accommodation in return for this review.

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

Please check out www.bluestonewales.com for more information.

You can also find Bluestone on Twitter and Facebook

 

 

 

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.

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

A Cornish Mum

6 weeks on – our ASD journey

So, it’s been 6 weeks since we had the meeting where it was agreed my gorgeous, floppy haired baby was just a little different from the other children. 6 weeks since I wept on my husband in a hospital corridor. 6 weeks since we felt one weight lifted and another replace it. 6 weeks since Oscar was diagnosed as “autistic”.

We’re getting on pretty well I think. Oscar’s speech gets better every week. Every day brings new words, new phrases, something else to amaze and baffle me. Three weeks ago, out of the blue, he started to say “Thank You” whenever you give him something or do something for him. Sometimes it’s even “Thank you mom mom”. He’ll even point it out if you don’t say ‘thank you’ when someone gives something to you! He can’t speak but suddenly he’s the politeness police? What the heck? And I say ‘heck’ because that’s another things he’s started doing, repeating the words you really don’t want him too! Like “Oh My God!”. And “Balls!” And the “f” word you never want them to say in front of their preschool teacher! It’s not that I swear all the time, but the fact that I didn’t have to worry about him repeating back what I said, meant I didn’t think to moderate my language ages ago. Like my friends did. Ahh well! At least it means he’s taking it in I guess? Sigh!

His behaviour is getting better and better too. His eye contact has gone from shaky to amazing in just four small months. He approaches other children now, be it friends in the garden, those at nursery or strangers in the park. He’s learnt a simple “Hello” opens all sorts of doors, particularly games of chase. There’s still nothing Oscar loves more than running around, but he’s now allowing other children to get in on the act. Even more amazingly he’s started to play games initiated by other children. Slowly slowly catchy monkey as they say, but last week he was approached at preschool, by a little girl, asked to play a game and he did. I think his TA was as shocked as I was when she told me.

Don’t get me wrong he still gets upset about things. Frustration is clear on his beautiful little face when he can’t get what he wants or do what he wants. But now he looks at me while he cries. And his bottom lip wobbles. He rarely hits himself and the anger goes as quickly as it came. These are tantrums of a toddler. We rarely see the blind panic of a melt down that can take over a hour to calm any more. But when we do, we’re coping with them better. Staying calmer, giving him that safe place he needs. We’re also a lot better at avoiding situations that could push him to that place beyond. We try not to make a big deal about it and that’s helping I think. For example, some birthday parties work for us, others (the sit down and watch kind) don’t. Yet. Give him time.

Yeah all in all, he’s progressing brilliantly. And yet as he gets easier, the stress of him is replaced by the stress of what his diagnosis brings with it. A hundred forms to fill in, a thousand things to read, new people every week, a new language (mainly made up of acronyms), advice, process, meetings. Getting everything set up to support my little guy, comes at a human cost. Me. I tell you what, it’s lucky I was an Account Manager for five years. Little else could have prepared me so well to deal with so many agencies all at once. Plate spinner extrodinaire that’s me. Only this time I’m not getting paid for it. But on the plus side neither do I have to work in Hoxton Square with all the hipsters, so you know, swings and roundabouts 😉 .

I’m not trying to brag here, but I feel like I need to keep some kind of record of the journey, of his milestones that would mean so little to anyone else. Heck ( 😉 ) who am I kidding, yes I am bragging. I’m so ridiculously proud of my baby and how he’s coming on that it’s worth all the forms and all the meetings and all the stress.

Last week someone told me what a polite little boy I had, after he said Hello, Please, Thank You and Goodbye, all perfectly and all in the right place. I didn’t cry, because seeing me sad upsets him, but I was crying inside.

Crying with happiness.

My playful...

My playful…

...curious...

…curious…

...happy...

…happy…

...handsome boy.

…handsome little boy.

 

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