‘Wiggly wiggly’ car racing track – #minicreations

I found out via twitter this morning that there’s a linky running on KidGLloves blog called Mini Creations.

By the end of most days in which we spend any time at home, there’s some sort of mini creation. It might be something arty or something edible, but more likely it’s a train track or a Duplo sculpture. Over the past few months, Andrew has got into building in a big way, even though Joel does his best to destroy (or ” ‘stroy” in Andrew’s words) his creation – bless him – though I do remind him that he used to destroy Daddy’s creations when he was Joel’s current age. I usually try and take Joel into another room or suggest Andrew continues the building process when Joel’s asleep.

So I really have no excuse not to join in when I get a spare moment.

Here’s today’s offering: a racing car track (the V-Tech Toot Toot Driver’s track). He built it all himself whilst I was dressing Joel this morning. I had to resort to putting Joel in the playpen temporarily as I filmed the video, took pictures, and Andrew explained it to me. So please excuse the squealing and random noises in the background (he’s playing with a toy cooker). The track was actually Joel’s Christmas present, but Andrew loves building with it at the moment, and he likes coming up with various designs – for example the ‘wiggly wiggly’.

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Mini Creations

Heroes of the City – review & giveaway

In stereotypical boy form, Andrew is very into vehicles of any sort (though he does like the colour pink). From passenger ones like cars and buses, to construction ones like diggers and cranes, to emergency ones like police cars and fire engines, to countryside ones like tractors and harvesters, and of course to airborne ones like planes and rockets, he can’t get enough of them. So when we were given the opportunity to review some goodies from the TV cartoon series Heroes of the City, I knew he’d love to put them to the test.

Heroes of the City is about rescue vehicles in a small town where everyone can be a hero. Each episode involves an exciting adventure, where characters such as Paulie Police Car and Fiona Fire Engine help the people of the town find thieves, put out fires, and solve the many mysteries that happen in the otherwise quiet town. The characters emphasise friendship, warmth, and what can be accomplished by helping each other. The cartoon is primarily targeted at children age 3-7, and is created by Swedish company Ruta Ett DVD AB. So Andrew well and truly fits in their target audience category.

Hotc eng copy

We were sent a goody bag that included 3 exciting items – toys, book and DVD – each of which I’ll review in turn below. Andrew’s first impression of these goodies was this:

“Wow I love these toys, they’re my favourite!” (though I don’t think he’s quite understood the concept of favourite, he says that about a lot of things, but still, this means it’s positive), “can I watch the DVD please?”

Toys

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We received two die cast toy vehicles – Paulie Police Car and Troy Tractor. These are very cute, and just the right size for Andrew to enjoy playing with now that he’s old enough to have something that bit smaller than the chunky vehicle toys that Joel still plays with. They look well made, and being metal (rather than plastic), they look like they will last for a long time of being well loved. I love how they are cartoon-y in shape – not like a standard Matchbox-style toy car – and reflect really well the characters that you see on screen. They have already been played with a lot, including the snippet of fun in this video in which they went to the car wash (or tractor wash)…

Book

We were sent the Hot Air Balloon story, and there are others too. It has hard front and back covers with glossy full colour pages inside. The pages are filled with full scenes from the episodes, with chunks of text in boxes overlaid to tell the story. I think there is just the right amount of text for Andrew, and he can easily follow the story. He loves the big, bright pictures that fill the pages, and he’s had fun pointing out what he can see as well as reading the story with me and recognising letters and a few words. I think the font is easy to read and about the right size for Andrew at this stage. On the front and back inside covers, there’s even a spot the Calamity Crow scene, which is a fun searching game.

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My one slight reservation is that it sounds slightly American to me – for example in this book, the word soccer is used instead of football, and I had to explain to him what this was, because he knows what football is but he hasn’t heard of soccer. I don’t have a problem with American culture, it’s nothing personal, I just like to stick with British English when reading to Andrew. In time he will no doubt get used to American English too. It won’t stop us reading this book, I just have to do more explaining on a couple of things.

DVD

We were sent Volume 1 which has 5 episodes on. Andrew likes watching it, and straight away picked up on the fact that it’s the same characters and city as the ‘games on Mummy’s phone’. I like the animation, and the faces on the vehicles cleverly show all sorts of emotions using lights for eyes, bumpers for mouths, grills for noses etc. I can see how the aim to ’emphasise friendship, warmth, and what can be accomplished by helping each other’ comes across through watching it myself with the boys, I think it achieves this well and in a way that appeals to preschoolers, particularly if they like vehicles.

The theme tune is catchy, and I found myself humming it to the boys randomly – this happens with various kids programs I find, and this too has made it into my subconscious playlist 😉

Again I should say that the English is American, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but just something to watch out with in terms of vocab differences that crop up. It doesn’t seem to stop Andrew understanding it, though he’s used to watching DVDs and youtube in various languages that he doesn’t understand much of!

App

We were also asked to review the Heroes of the City Movie app, which is free to download from the App Store and Google Play. It is aimed at 2-6 year olds, so again Andrew fits well into this target audience. Included in the app are films and games, based on the Heroes of the City TV series. You get one full episode, one music video and 3 games for free, and then extra ‘fun-packs’ cost £2.49 each, with more films and games.

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I downloaded the Apple version of the app on my iPhone (we were sent the full app for free). I first gave it to Andrew one morning whilst I got Joel ready and did some jobs around the house; I wanted to see how much he could figure out on his own. Before I knew it he had played most of the nine games, so I asked him to show me what to do so I could play too. He’s used to the finger actions needed to play games on his grandparents’ iPads, onto which we also downloaded the Heroes of the City app too.

He loves doing jigsaw puzzles, so the game on the app where you have to slot pieces into a puzzle to reveal a character was particularly popular, and he was very good at it. The pieces were trickier to move on the phone than on the tablet-sized screen, but he still managed it. He also liked the game where you have to touch a car that’s racing along to make him jump and catch stars with points attached. This was mainly because the car makes a ‘waps’ sound whenever he jumps, and Andrew thought this was hilarious – this game is now called the ‘waps’ game to him.

HotC_app_01As you play more games, you earn trophies depending on how well you perform, and then you can look at all your trophies in another section of the app. Andrew asked me what this was as he was flicking through, so I explained to him about the gold, silver and bronze trophies – I’m not sure he understood fully what the different colours mean, but he now knows he’s winning and collecting trophies as he goes along. I’ve also heard it on the grapevine that there is a special secret surprise in store which you unlock when you’ve collected enough trophies….!

As well as the games, there are some film clips – more than 6 hours in total (if you buy the extras). Andrew has watched a few of these, but so far it’s been mainly games that he’s played. I can imagine though, that the film clips would be a great way of entertaining him for 5-10 minutes or so if we are out and about and he’s bored waiting for something – it’s like watching a DVD but handily on the phone, already downloaded so no issues with internet connectivity when out and about. If you’re at home and have Apple devices, there is an Air Play function for your Apple TV.

I generally don’t spend money on games apps because there are some good free ones out there, but I would consider paying for 1 or 2 extra Heroes of the City fun packs because they are great games and just right for Andrew’s skills and interests at the moment, plus there are levels that increase in difficulty as he grows and develops.

Overall

We have been impressed with the pack that we were sent: Andrew has enjoyed the games, TV episodes and book, and I have generally found them just right for his age and development, with room to ‘grow’. I also like the fact that this is a collection of various media all based around the same characters and stories. Many of our books, DVDs and games are like this, and I’ve noticed that these are ones which Andrew generally comes back to again and again – maybe he likes the fact that he recognises characters across the various activities he’s doing, whether that’s reading, watching a DVD or youtube, or playing a game on the phone/iPad.

If you’d like any more info on the series, you can find out all about it on the website, Facebook page or on Twitter.

Competition time!

If you like the look of all this fun we’ve had, here’s your chance to win your very own set of toys, book and DVD. All you need to do is fill in the Rafflecopter below to be in with a chance of winning, by 22nd March (please see full T&Cs below).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: we were sent the pack and full app to review free of charge, but all opinions expressed are honest and our own, based on our experience of using the items.

Audley End miniature railway – #CountryKids

Last weekend was action packed, especially considering we’re moving house soon! But as packing seems to be under control, it was great to be able to go to both the Mill Road Winter fair on Saturday (which I blogged about last week) and the Audley End miniature railway on Sunday. We’ve been meaning to go to Audley End for a couple of years now, since Andrew has been very into trains, but we’ve never quite got around to it, and there’s nothing like leaving a place to remind you to go and do all the stuff you always meant to do! Two of the boys’ Godparents had also offered to treat us to a trip out somewhere for Joel’s birthday present, so we thought this was just the place to meet up with them.

audley Collage 1

The railway is open for rides in the spring and summer months, plus some special events in the Autumn and Winter at weekends, such as the Christmas specials in December. We knew the trains started at 11am, so we got there pretty much bang on 11am, though had we have known that the car park would be open before that, we probably would have arrived earlier because already there were quite a few families parked, getting out of their cars, and queuing up at the station. We met our friends and joined the queue, after we’d waited at the pedestrian level crossing for a train to go past, which Andrew was most fascinated with! We had to wait about 45 minutes in the queue, but fortunately all three kids were fine during that time, and it was a good chance for us all to catch up. As we got nearer the station, there was an elf walking about talking to the children and being generally friendly.

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Finally we were near the front of the queue and just made it onto the next train. Each little compartment in the carriages was just right for 2 adults and 2 children, though we don’t get to sit right next to our friends because we were the last on. But once we got going, this didn’t matter anyway because there was so much to see that we were looking out of the train the whole time. Andrew was fascinated, and barely smiled the whole time because he was concentrating so much on taking it all in and pointing out what he could see. I wasn’t sure how much Joel would like sitting still, but he absolutely loved it too, and was happy to sit still and look out, smiling all the time.

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All the way round there were little shelters with (toy) animals in, which were decorated up with tinsel and other Christmas bits. We also saw some little wooden houses and signs naming the places we were riding through. The route is mainly through the woods, and it definitely had a magical Christmas feeling to it with all these things we could see between the trees. There were some tunnels too, which the boys enjoyed, though I wasn’t too keen on as you could really smell the smoke and steam of the train as we chugged through them.

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Then we started to slow down, though we weren’t near the station. As we came to a halt, to the side of the train was a large hut, again all decorated like the smaller ones we’d seen, but this time Father Christmas came out and greeted us! He walked along the length of the carriages with a couple of elves, talked to us all, and gave the children a present each and a sweet treat to anyone who wanted one. Andrew was keen to unwrap his right away, and was very happy to find a lovely soft toy penguin inside. Joel was interested in his too, and underneath the paper as he ripped it off was a lovely soft toy snow leopard. The boys were happy with their presents, and Father Christmas waved us off on our way back to the station. We even saw his sleigh and some reindeer just past the hut.

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Eventually we drew back up at the station and got off the train. It was a decent length ride for little people, and I was glad that we’d combined a trip to a railway with seeing Father Christmas, because at only £6.50 per adult and under 2s are free, I thought it was very reasonable compared to some of the local places where you pay £5 each just to go and visit Father Christmas in a grotto. And besides, the boys are too young to really appreciate Father Christmas yet, but combined with a train, it went down very well!

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We then headed over to the play ground where we attempted to have a bit of lunch, though the kids were more interested in playing on the climbing frames, slide and see saw, especially as there was a train made out of wooden logs – even complete with a bell to ding. Joel’s party trick was to try and climb up the slide, and Andrew ran around like a Duracell bunny before we persuaded him that it was probably a good idea to head home and all have a nap. We had a fantastic time at Audley End, and were so glad that we’d managed to go before leaving the area.

Linking up with the #CountryKids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog – why not pop over and see what other families are getting up to outdoors!

 
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
 

A day out in/with Brum – #CountryKids

Last week we went on a very exciting day trip to Birmingham. Daddy had an interview for a job at the university there, so the boys and I as well as Granny went with him, so that he could concentrate on the interview and not have to worry about travelling all the way from Cambridge on his own. Turns out he did rather well at the interview, because they gave him a job! So now we’re busy planning our move to Birmingham at Christmas. But that’s another story.

Andrew is a big fan of the little yellow car Brum, who had his own TV show back in the 1990s, set in Birmingham (or ‘The Big Town’) whose nickname is also Brum. See the clever play on words they did there! So when we told him we were going on a day out in the Big Town where Brum saves the day, he was very excited. We had to take Brum with us too of course (in toy form).

Brum Collage 1

We set off from Granny and Grandad’s house in the morning, and drove to the campus to check out exactly where Daddy needed to be later after lunch for the interview. Then we headed to a nearby pub for lunch, which Granny had booked a table at. We were a bit early still, and Joel was asleep in the car so Granny offered to stay with him whilst we had a stretch of the legs – we thought we might find a park because the pub was located in a residential area that looked just the kind of place that would have a park with swings and slides. We didn’t actually find one, but had a nice bit of a walk anyway – up a hill, which is something we don’t do very often living in a very flat city.

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After we’d eaten, we headed back to the campus just up the road, and dropped Daddy where he needed to be. Then we parked the car and got out to explore the place ourselves. We were on the look out for any of the sites that we see watching Brum. Soon we came to the clock tower in the middle of the campus. Some of the buildings around there are definitely on Brum! After a short ride in the buggy, Andrew was keen to walk/run and explore – I’m not sure he actually recognised much from Brum himself, but he seemed to understand what we were saying.

We walked through a little market place with fresh fruit and veg on sale, and then through a square with big blocks that were perfect for Andrew to walk along the top of, with Granny’s help. We were on the look out for the race track, because Andrew had seen an episode of Brum that morning which was set at the university race track. As we walked around, we saw a sign for it, and it was just around the corner. We found the entrance and saw a few people using it for running practice. There was plenty of space for Andrew and Brum to have a run too though! Unfortunately I’ve just realised that all the videos I took here (and in previous months) are lost because of some glitch in backing up from my phone to the computer, and I hadn’t got round to uploading them to youtube yet 🙁 But I can assure you that they had a good run.

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Once the sprinting was done, we headed out and continued our circular walk around the campus. We saw all sorts of different shapes, sizes and colours of buildings. The weather had generally been good if a little chilly, but fine if we kept moving. It did, however, start to rain at one point, and as there was still sun the other side of the rain clouds, we knew a rainbow would appear. And sure enough, there it was, over the buildings behind us.

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Eventually we came to the football pitches, where there were three 5-aside games being played by footballers who looked like they were students (i.e. they looked much younger than me!) Andrew was absolutely fascinated by this, and wandered up and down the sideline (behind the wire fence) watching them play. We could hardly tear him away when the phone rang to say it was time for us to meet Daddy who’d finished his interview.

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Although we were in the middle of a large city, it was lovely to have a walk around an interesting place that Andrew recognises parts of, a mini town in itself, and explore somewhere that  we will grow to know better as we live near it in the new year.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

 

Our shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

For a few years now we’ve been joining in with Operation Christmas Child – the world’s largest children’s Christmas project, run by the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse. The mission of the project is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Since having children of our own, we have really appreciated how blessed we are to have enough money to feed and clothe them, as well as buy them other nice things, and to have family and friends who give us so many gifts for them that they are never in want of anything. For many children around the world, this is not what life is like.

The idea behind OCC is for people in the UK to send shoeboxes packed with gifts that children in less well-off countries would like to receive. These gifts can include various items from toys and stationary to toiletries and woolies. The shoe boxes should be wrapped up in bright and cheerful wrapping paper, and a sticker stuck on indicating if the gifts inside are for a boy or a girl and which age range they are suitable for.

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In previous years we’ve always done one for a boy, just because I happen to have seen gifts that are more suitable for boys, and since having boys myself, I guess my eye is drawn towards these items in shops anyway. This year, however, when we popped into a few shops, I mainly saw things suitable for girls (or gender neutral) so we went for that. Andrew helped me choose what to buy, and I explained that we were getting these things as presents for a little girl who lives far away from us but who would love to have some nice presents this Christmas, just like he will. I’m not sure he gets the concept of someone living far away from us, but he seemed to understand that we were buying the gifts and putting them in the box for another child.

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OCC like the gifts in the box to include items from all four categories: toys, stationary and school supplies, toiletries and other (sweets/hat/gloves/jewellery etc.) Our gifts included a bumper pack of wax crayons, a ‘Hello Kitty’ notepad/pencil/rubber/sharpener set, a beany teddy, a slinky spring, toothbrushes, soap, flannel, necklace, hair clips. All together these cost us around £10. In order to help with shipping costs, OCC also suggest a £3 donation, which can be done online by credit card.

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We decorated our shoebox with red wrapping paper on the bottom, silver wrapping paper on the lid, and a ribbon stuck on the lid (you’re not supposed to wrap the whole box up or seal it by tying ribbon around the box, because sometimes they need to look in it for customs or other reasons), and finished off with a reindeer tag on the lid. We hope that the little girl who receives it will enjoy opening it and finding out what’s inside.

If you’d like to find out more about Operation Christmas Child, and even get involved yourself by packing a shoebox (or two, or three), visit the OCC website.

Family day out to find Brum (and some penguins!) – #CountryKids

Hands up – who’s heard of Brum? The little yellow car that is, not the nickname for Birmingham, though that is the point – the play on words that this car is called Brum and he has big adventures in the Big Town which is actually Birmingham. You may not have heard of him, or watched the programme when you were little. I just about remember it, but I think we had more interest in it than most families in the country as we lived near Birmingham and recognised the places it was filmed; it was on CBBC back in the 90s.

We found Brum!
We found Brum!

Thanks to Grandad, who was born and bred in Brum, Andrew has become a big fan of Brum the car. It’s his favourite DVD and he could sit for hours and watch it if I let him. For Christmas, Granny gave Andrew and Grandad the present of a day out to find the real Brum in person! We decided to wait until the weather was better and Joel was older before we did this, so we took advantage of the bank holiday three-day weekend last week and went on our family day out.

At the beginning of each episode we see Brum leaving his home in a garage full of old cars in a quiet Cotswold village and driving all the way to Birmingham to have an adventure and save the day in some big farcical mishap (often involving ‘naughty men’ or ‘baddies’ in Andrew’s words). It is at this Cotswold home that he now resides full time since he no longer films TV programmes. It is actually the Cotswold Motoring Musuem and Toy Collection run by the CSMA club in Bourton on the Water. As well as housing Brum, there is an amazing collection of old cars and other memorabilia from various decades of the last century. Now I’m not in any way a car enthusiast (as long as mine gets me from A to B I couldn’t care less what it looks like!) but I have to say I found the museum fascinating, I think precisely because it wasn’t just old cars, but old cars placed in context with other items of everyday living from their era.

Lots for toddlers to do around the museum
Lots for toddlers to do around the museum

When we spotted Brum hiding between two bigger cars, just as he does in the opening scene, Andrew was surprised to see him, but after the initial shock he seemed happy enough to have his photo taken (a few times!) next to him, of course with Grandad too! Once we’d hung around and talked to him for a bit, we made our way through the rest of the museum, which I would highly recommend for children of any age from toddlers to teenagers. There were toys to play with along the way that related to the era of each room, for example a toy work bench with tools in the old car workshop and bright coloured star block things in the swinging sixties room with multi-coloured windows! Andrew loved it, and so did we 🙂

Perhaps the best bit for a Brum-obsessed toddler (and his grandad) was the play room at the end – not only were there real old toys including cars to look at but also some new toys to play with and a ride-on Brum! What more could he ask for?! The paintings on the wall of famous portraits, such as the Mona Lisa and The Scream, repainted with Brum characters were particularly entertaining.

After the excitement of finding Brum, we took a wander through the village and then found a lovely cafe for lunch. We weren’t sure if the weather was going to be good enough for a picnic, so didn’t risk it, and even if we had have taken one, we would have been fighting the world and his wife for a spot by the river in this idyllic Cotswold village that gets rather busy (read: rammed) on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

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As it had turned out so nice and sunny after a cloudy start, we decided to make the most of being out and go to Birdland in the village. I remember going there a few times as a child, so it was lovely to go back with my own kids and se how it has changed and also how it’s still the same place. As we arrived we were just in time to see the penguin feeding session. There’s a bit of a penguin theme in our family, as Tom has been into collecting all things penguin since he was little, and the boys seem to have been given quite a lot of stuff to carry on the tradition. So we were all impressed with seeing some real live penguins enjoying their fishy snack!

Penguins

Once feeding time was over we headed off around the park to see lots of other birds. There was everything from small canaries to owls to storks to large ostriches. Andrew was very good but was clearly starting to get tired, so after a wander we sat outside at the cafe and had a nice cool drink, until he spotted a play park nearby and insisted on having a go, the Duracell bunny that he is! So Grandad (was) volunteered to go with him. Meanwhile, Joel was very contented to spend most of the day being worn in the sling, either asleep or having a good old look around at all the new sights, and also getting out and feeding/eating with us when we sat down.

Flamingoes and an ostrich
Flamingoes and an ostrich

A quick dash back to the cars when we remembered that the time on the ticket was running out and we were on our way home again. A thoroughly enjoyed day to remember for years to come and some worn out boys were what we were left with.

Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill blog again today 🙂

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The essential baby kit list

A friend of mine who is expecting her first baby in April recently suggested that I could write a blog post about what I think you really need (as opposed to what the shops and media tell you that you need) when you have a baby. I agree that this sounds like a great idea for a post, and I’m happy to help her and others out in their quest to sift through the vast array of possibilities, which is quite honestly a mind boggling task as I recall.

So here is my take on which bits of kit really are essential, and whether I think each one is best bought new or whether secondhand is fine. I should stress though that this is my personal take on things, based on my own experience of having 2 babies. The suggestion for this post came after I commented on Facebook about an article in a newspaper (one I like to disagree with!) which talked about the top 10 most unused or useless pieces of baby equipment according to a recent survey of new parents. I disagreed with almost all 10, and actually would find life a lot harder without half of them; but some of my mummy friends agreed with most of the list, so it goes to show that not everyone has the same experience – we have different locations, lifestyles, personalities and, most importantly, babies! It depends to some extent on when your baby is born in the year – I’ve had two winter babies, so I’ve not had experience of clothing a newborn when it’s a heatwave (well, a heatwave for this country at least!) Also, as part of my Editor role for my local NCT branch magazine, I recently edited a baby kit list article by another mum of two children, and although I agreed with most of it, there were some things that weren’t the same in my experience.

Clothing

  • Totally fine to get secondhand, and you’ll probably be given lots when baby is born.
  • A note on sizing: There are three ‘newborn’ sizes – tiny baby, newborn and 0-3 months. Both my boys were pretty much the national average for birth weight and were long and thin. We only had one actual ‘newborn’ size babygro that was given to Andrew as a present, and both of them grew out of it within a month (we made sure they wore it lots in that time!) So if you have an average-large baby, there’s no need to get the newborn size, just go straight to 0-3m. If you have a smaller than average baby, then the newborn size would be handy so they’re not swamped, and if you have a very small, maybe premature baby, then you may even need the tiny baby size. But too big is better than too small – they can always grow into it.
  • Babygros (also known as sleep-suits and, from across the pond, onesies) – about 12. We bought a pack of 3 in size 0-3 months, but were then given many more. If you have a very sicky baby you’ll get through more than you think! They sleep in these, and wear them in the day too until you can be bothered to dress them in anything more fiddly to get on.
  • Vests – about 12. These can be sleeveless or with short sleeves (like t-shirts), but useful if they have poppers at the bottom to secure under the bum so that it doesn’t ride up baby’s tummy, which is particularly important in winter, and for a summer baby you might find they live in vests rather than babygros.
  • Outfits e.g. dungarees for a boy or dresses for a girl: These are not essential, as most of the time you’ll probably prefer the ease of babygros in the early days, but it’s the kind of thing you’ll be given and can look very cute 🙂
  • Wooly cardigans – about 5-6. We were very kindly knitted a lot of these. Cardigans are so much more practical than jumpers. Obviously if it’s the height of summer you’ll need fewer, but even in spring and autumn you’ll need them, and definitely in winter.

    A selection of our hand-knitted cardigans - in loving memory of the member of Tom's family who knitted most of them.
  • Hat: It’s the kind of thing you’ll be given probably. We have quite a few, but they are easily lost. Both cotton jersey ones and wooly knitted ones are handy.
  • Coat: Unless it’s really warm (July or August), I’d get a snow-suit style all-in-one coat, either in a ‘puffa’ style or a fleecy one. Look for a good hood and one with feet (and gloves if in winter).
  • Socks/bootees: These are not so important if you use mainly babygros that have feet, but necessary for outfits without built-in feet. I find socks stay on better than bootees, which aren’t really much use until they’re a bit older. We’ve not had too many problems with socks coming off, but I’ve heard other mums who have – you can buy things called ‘sock-ons’ which help keep them on, apparently.

Changing

  • Changing mat: We bought (with vouchers we were given) one that sits across the top of the cot, but soon found it easier to do nappy changes on the floor when Andrew started to roll, and it’s stayed on the floor ever since! The same thing would have happened with one of those changing stations where baby lies on top. You could buy secondhand if you gave it a thorough anti-bacterial clean, but they’re pretty cheap new for just the plastic mat, and you don’t need anything fancy.

    Cot-top changing mat now on the living room floor
  • Changing bag: I’ve recently blogged a bit about this here. There are some quite cheap, and even free (if you join Boots parenting club and buy some nappies) bags out there, but I think it’s a case of you get what you pay for, and if you want something that’s going to last, you’ll inevitably pay more for it. Think about whether you’d prefer a satchel style or a rucksack, something plain or something fancy? I can recommend one with lots of pockets to keep stuff organised so things are easily accessible when you desperately need them! I guess there are secondhand ones out there, but I haven’t looked into it, as I knew we’d use it loads and so I wanted one with lots of life left in it.
  • Nappies: Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while will know that I’m a big cloth nappy fan. I blogged about it here and here, and I must do an update on how we’re doing with two bums to cover at the moment. I’d definitely recommend thinking about it, even if you decide it’s not for you – the main attraction for us was the money we’re saving. Recently I’ve heard of cloth nappy libraries that allow you to try before you commit to buying – why not Google for one near you? (I wish there was on in Cambridge; I’m very tempted to look at setting one up – anyone interested?!) Whether you decide on cloth or disposables, I’d get stocked up on a few weeks worth (reckon on about 7 a day) of newborn disposable nappies – size 1 should be fine unless you have a teeny baby or a very chunky one. We didn’t use cloth with Andrew until he was about 6 weeks old because it took us a while to get used to the big shock that having a new baby brings to your previous lifestyle!

    Some of my favourite cloth nappies - they look so gorgeous 🙂
  • Nappy sacks: The value ones are OK, or you can get eco-friendly biodegradable ones. We don’t use many as we mainly use cloth, but they are handy for getting rid of disposables.
  • Wipes: At home I mainly use cotton wool and water in a little plastic bowl, especially for big poo explosions! Wipes for sensitive skin (suitable from birth) are essential when we go out. I’ve heard quite a lot recently about reusable wipes, or even making your own from face cloths, but I’ve not gone down that route yet as we stocked up on enough wipes to last us months when I had a voucher that gave us a cheap deal on bulk buying.
  • Muslins – lots, maybe 12 for one child (I don’t think you can really have too many).They can be used for pretty much any mess wiping from babyhood to toddlerhood and beyond! Ours have seen sick, wee, poo, snot, dribble, drinks, food, paint etc. (not all at the same time obviously!!), and they wash easily to be used again and again. I think there’s not much difference between the different brands that we have (Boots, Asda and Mothercare) in terms of their performance – wash them first as they aren’t very absorbent before you do, like new towels. The price can vary quite a bit though – recently I bought some more and Mothercare were almost twice the price of Boots and Asda.

Sleeping

  • Moses basket: This is a good idea for the early weeks, but they only last for around 3 months (probably a bit longer if your baby is shorter than my long boys), so definitely borrow one or buy a secondhand one. We were kindly given one to borrow from a friend of my parents. Neither of the boys have slept in it for a long time each night – Joel seems to settle off there at the start of the night but then we co-sleeep (baby next to me in our bed, and Tom on sofa bed) after the first waking for feeding, and Andrew did the same.

    Moses basket next to my bed, plus sleeping bag for when he decides to sleep in there rather than in my bed!
  • Cot or cot-bed: We got a bargain secondhand cot and cot-bed, both from eBay, thanks to my mum’s bargain hunter’s eye! It’s fine to get the frame secondhand, but you need a new mattress for each child that sleeps on it. A cot lasts up to about age 2, and a cot-bed until about age 5 as it’s bigger and you take the sides off to turn it into a toddler bed. We got a cot-bed for Andrew and have just taken the sides off, which went very well – he’s low to the ground so no damage done if he falls out, and we think it’s helped that he’s familiar with the mattress and sheets, so the transition to a big boy’s bed has been quite uneventful for him. Joel is still in with me, but when he’s ready to go in the bedroom with Andrew, we have a cot, because there isn’t room for two cot-beds. The plan is that by the time he’s ready for a bed, Andrew will be old enough to go in an adult-sized single bed and Joel can have the toddler bed (and we’ll have moved to a bigger house!)

    Cot-bed with sides taken off - fitted sheet and sleeping bag the same as he had before sides came off (plus red pyjamas, teddy and green slippers!)
  • Mattress: There are so many choices to make on this! I must admit that my mum did most of the research on this, as she bought the cot/cot-bed frames for us so bought us the mattresses too. I’d say that a sprung one will last longer than foam, which soon gets indented to your baby’s shape. If you’re concerned about allergies then some are made of more natural materials than others.
  • Baby sleeping bags – 2-3. These are absolutely amazing, I don’t know what we’d do without them. Andrew was and still is such a wriggly sleeper, so if he’d had the traditional blankets, he’d have kicked them off and got cold, or worse still there’s a suffocation risk if they come up over his head. Sleeping bags allow him to move around as he likes and he stays covered in the right places! Fine to get secondhand, just wash them once at a high temperature to kill any bugs – I saw loads of bargain ones at a nearly new sale in the autumn.
  • Fitted sheets – 2-3 for each type of bed (Moses basket, cot etc.). These are easier to put on, and stay in place better in, a cot/moses basket than flat sheets do. Fine to get secondhand, just wash them once at a high temperature to kill any bugs.
  • Swaddling sheets: You can buy cotton sheets that are shaped specifically for swaddling your baby for the first few months, instead of using a sleeping bag or blankets. We bought a couple, but I haven’t been too impressed by them, as both my boys seem to kick them loose or almost off over the night, and when in with me (though not under the duvet of course) I find it’s warm enough for them just being next to me.
  • Blankets: If you prefer these to sleeping bags, make sure you get the ones designed for sleeping in, which will be obvious where they are sold (e.g. John Lewis, Mothercare)We were kindly knitted quite a few by various family members. We’ve not used them for sleeping, but I find them useful for around the house when we’re doing skin-to-skin feeding during the day (which involves taking most of his clothes off), and other places like the car (as bulky snow suits are hard to fit in a car seat) and in the pram (at least for Andrew we had a pram – Joel just goes in the sling). Fine to get secondhand, just wash them once at a high temperature to kill any bugs.
  • NO other bedding needed! Especially no pillows or cot bumpers – not recommended these days for babies, and even at nearly age 2, Andrew has only ever had a sheet and sleeping bag.
  • Night light: We didn’t have one of these for a while, but there was a light on the mobile which Andrew had in his cot for a while until he was old enough to pull up and therefore potentially pull it down on himself (see next bullet point). But then Tom’s mum gave us the night light that Tom had had as a child, and recently this has been essential – if Andrew rolls out of bed, which only happens occasionally, he can get back in on his own and he’s happy to do that, rather than when there was no light and he got very disorientated in the room and cried for help.
  • Mobile: Not exactly essential, but we found that it helped at one stage when Andrew was going through a phase when nothing seemed to settle him to sleep, not even feeding. The mobile didn’t solve it, but it did help at least keep him calm and give him something to focus on other than me or Tom. I wouldn’t buy one new myself, but it’s a nice present idea.
  • Monitor: As we live in a small flat, we don’t need a monitor – we can hear everything from everywhere and our room is right next to the boys’ room. But my parents bought one for their house and we found it very handy when we stayed. They got a secondhand bargain, though it is a simple one, and I’ve seen others that have fancy functions like talk back or video. I imagine these would be handy in some situations.

Travelling

  • Pram/buggy/travel system: Well, where do I start?! I’ve already blogged about our experience with our old iCandy Cherry travel system here. It was an awful product and I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to walk anywhere further than 5 minutes away. But in general we liked the idea of a travel system – a chassis onto which you can fit a carrycot (in other words it makes a pram), a seat unit (to make a parent-facing and outwards-facing buggy) and a car seat (handy if baby falls asleep when you’re in the car and you want to transfer to something you can push without waking). Our secondhand Bugaboo Cameleon does all of the above, and we’re very pleased with its performance, although we haven’t used the pram with Joel as I’m carrying him in the sling all the time and pushing Andrew in the Bugaboo with seat unit attached. The things you need to think about when deciding on a pram/buggy are: How far and how often will I walk with it? Will it be mainly on pavements or across grass/mud too? Do I need it to fit in the car boot? Do I need to lift it often into the car, so does it need to be lightweight? Do I like four wheels or three? Do I want a pram as well as buggy option? Where will I store it in the house, so does it need to be compact or easily foldable? You need to look out for whether they are suitable from birth, or from 6 months, as a newborn needs to lie completely flat. Also a note on double buggies – I know some people who bought a buggy with their first  child which could convert to a double when their second would come along later (the Phil and Teds is a popular choice for this). We decided against this when buying for Andrew, because I didn’t like the style of either an inline double where one child is close to the ground or a side-by-side double which is so wide and wouldn’t fit in our flat. Instead we have gone for keeping our single travel system and I carry Joel in a sling. Which leads nicely onto….
  • Sling/wrap: There are several different styles of sling or ‘wrap’ (the ones which you wrap around you and tie in place instead of one with buckles). But if you just look on the high street, you’ll probably only come across one or two brands, like the Baby Bjorn. We didn’t get on very well with the two we were given when Andrew was a baby, but since then I’ve  come across much more info on ‘babywearing’, and learned that babies and parents are much more comfortable in slings and wraps that are designed more ergonomically than the most popular brands – you have to look online to find them though. I could write loads about babywearing, so I should probably write a whole post on it some time. But for now I can say that a comfortable sling/wrap is making my life much easier with Joel, because I can do quite a few things with him attached to me like that, and he loves being walked in it and falls asleep almost instantly most of the time. I’d definitely recommend one, even for your first baby, and if you have any more, it’ll come in even more handy! I currently have a Moby stretchy wrap, and hope to move onto a structured sling like the Ergo when he’s too heavy for the stretchy wrap. Some slings are fine to buy secondhand, though it is often advised not to buy a stretchy one secondhand as it could well have lost some of its stretchiness depending on how much use it has already had.

    Our lace-patterned Moby stretchy wrap
  • Car seat: Only buy this new or from people who you know and trust, because it could be dangerous if it has been in an accident before. Even if you don’t have a car, I’ve heard from friends who don’t (plenty in Cambridge and London) that it’s still worth getting a car seat, so you can accept lifts from people or get a taxi if you need to. If you go for a travel system, you’ll need to get the car seat that attaches to the chassis that you choose. We found it handy to put the car seat on the chassis quite a bit with Andrew if he fell asleep in car and we wanted to get out and walk without waking him up, but so far we’ve not needed to do that with Joel, probably because we’ve hardly done any car journeys with him yet.

Playing

  • It’s fine to get most of this secondhand, though always check that things are safe and in good working order before giving them to your child, especially anything electrical or mechanical.
  • Toys: You’ll probably be given loads so I wouldn’t buy any to begin with, especially as baby won’t play with them properly for a while. Rattles and soft toys suitable from birth are good to start with. For older babies and toddlers, you can even have a go at making your own! Some of Andrew’s favourite toys have been things made from household items, like a shaker made from a plastic drinks bottle with dried lentils in.
  • Books: It’s never too early to start reading with a baby – they love it, listening to your voice and looking at pictures. Simple books with black and white designs are good to start with, and any ‘board books’ that baby can start to turn the pages of when they’re a bit older – chunky pages for little hands.
  • Play gym, mat: We’ve found this to be very useful, even though it takes up quite a lot of floor space in our small flat. Although I use the sling a lot, it’s also good that I can lie Joel down on the mat for 10 minutes and he can gaze at and kick the pretty things hanging above him – there are some things it’s not easy to do with a baby strapped to you. It’s also useful for doing ‘tummy time’ with him, though any soft mat or towel would be fine for this too.
  • Play pen: This is useful when baby starts to become mobile, so you can put them in there for a short period and know they can’t escape, for example if you need to nip to another room to fetch something. Our flat is very open plan, so the other option of using a stair gate to block a door to a child-proofed playroom wasn’t an option for us. With Andrew, it also became the place where we would scoop up all the toys into at the end of the day when he went to bed. With a second child, it’s very handy to be able to pop Joel in there under his play gym arches and know that he is safe from Andrew getting to him whilst I nip to another room – not that Andrew has shown signs of intentional harm, but his well-meant affectionate ‘hugs’ are rather crushing for a little baby!

    Play gym in play pen, which keeps toddler and baby separate - essential for a second baby.
  • Bouncy chair: Generally useful, again if you want to put baby down for a short while, and many babies love a bouncy chair, so I’ve heard, but Andrew didn’t – the concept of sitting still has never really appealed to him! We haven’t felt the need to use it for Joel yet, so we gave ours to my niece who loves it. Lots of them come with a bar of toys hanging over where baby sits, to keep them fascinated.
  • Door bouncer: When baby is strong enough to stand up supported, this is a great way to keep them entertained if you need to get on with a few jobs in the same room. We don’t have room for one of the free-standing baby walker style bouncers that go on the floor, so the doorway one was a better option and Andrew loved it, especially when he was at the cruising around furniture stage and basically wanted to be upright all the time. I wouldn’t get his secondhand unless from someone I knew and trusted, because you never know what condition it’s in and there’s a potentially serious accident in it being faulty.

Bathing

  • Baby bath: This is a good way to save water rather than filling the normal bath with the same depth of water. You can get different styles, for example some with inserts to help you hold a young baby more confidently, some that even fold up for easy storage (though we just stood ours at the end of the bath). Ours is just a plain tub, nothing fancy, which Andrew was still in until Joel was born, when he outgrew it, and now we put them both in the big bath, obviously with one of us holding Joel whilst Andrew splashes around him! This is totally fine to get secondhand – we got ours off Freecycle and just gave it a good scrub down before we first used it.

    Baby bath in the big bath
  • Top and tail bowl: I wouldn’t pay money for one of these as we haven’t used it much and tupperware bowls that you already have in your kitchen would be fine. We got ours off Freecycle with the bath.
  • Towels –2-3 just for baby. We like the little ones with a hooded corner so you can wrap them up nice and warm from head to toe when drying them after a bath. Secondhand is fine, as long as they’re still nice and soft, and give them a hot wash to kill any bugs.
  • Nail clippers: We’ve found these much easier than nail scissors for cutting little nails on wriggly hands. With a small baby I just peel the nail tips off as they are still so soft.
  • Toiletries: To start with you really don’t need much at all. We just use water to bath Joel in, and haven’t needed baby oil or lotion or anything like that – his skin is still silky smooth. We used to massage Andrew’s tummy quite a bit when he was a baby as he was prone to constipation now and then, so baby oil was good for that. As he got older and his hair was already a mop very early on, we used baby shampoo and still do. We’ve only used nappy rash cream a handful of times, usually when teething as he’s had a sore bottom then too, but you might find you need it more. I would wait until baby is born before you get any of this, and just see what you need as you go along – it’s not like you can’t pick it up easily from the supermarket with your groceries.
  • Hairbrush:  It depends how much hair your baby has and what its texture is as to which type, if any, you’ll need. Andrew had so much thick hair that we hardly needed to use the soft bristled brush that we were given and went straight to a small adult brush when it started to get long enough to be messy if not brushed. Some babies hardly have any hair for ages, so you may not need to brush it at all for a while.
  • Thermometer: You can get thermometers for the bath, but we’ve never felt the need and just trusted our judgement on how hot the water should be – neither boy has complained so far! If you’re not confident at doing this, a thermometer may help, but I think it’s the kind of thing you soon learn once baby is here and you do it all the time. The other type of thermometer worth getting is one for taking baby’s temperature if they are ill. We haven’t had many temperatures between them yet, but it’s always better to be cautious and take it just in case if they feel warm and are grumpy. We have an accurate digital one that goes in the armpit – this is easy to do on a baby, but I have to admit it gets harder as they get older and want to move away whilst you wait for it to take the final reading, which can be up to a few minutes. A quicker one would be the type you put in the ear and it takes a pretty much instant temperature – these look good for mobile babies but I’ve always been put off  by the much more expensive price and the fact that we’ve hardly needed one. You can also get the strip across the forehead thermometers – these are cheap but not that accurate, I guess good if you just want a rough measurement.

And finally…… Feeding

  • I’ve decided to write a separate post on this at some point. In theory there is no special kit that you need to start breastfeeding, though there are some things that you might want to get as time goes on depending on your experience of how it goes. Of course there is the option to bottle feed formula right from the start, and although personally it never crossed my mind to not even try breastfeeding, every mum has the right to make her own decision on this, hopefully based on the correct information, in which case you’d need to get the kit for that.

Phew, that took longer than I thought! And I still get the impression there’s more I could go on about if I was asked specific questions. Two areas I haven’t covered are baby-proofing devices for when they get mobile, and eating equipment for when they’re on solid food; of course these things aren’t essential straight after birth.

I think my take home message from all of this is that of course it’s good to be prepared and get the basics sorted before baby arrives, but there are several things that are pretty easy to pick up once you’re actually doing the parenting and figuring out what your baby needs and what you think are useful things to help you with this. We were amazed at how generous family and friends were, so we’ve still hardly needed to buy much ourselves at all, and what we have bought has often been secondhand or something I know we can sell secondhand later (like nappies). It was worth waiting until after the births before buying some things, because it allowed us to spend vouchers and not have multiple items!

I hope this has been useful to any pregnant mums and their partners out there! Let me know if there’s anything else I haven’t covered and I’ll share my experience with you 🙂

Learning to swim, and learning how best to learn how to swim

I don’t write anything about swimming for a while, and then two posts come along at once! For a few weeks now, I’ve been reflecting on how Andrew’s and my swimming sessions are going. He loves the water, that is clear to see, and he has great fun splashing about, chasing toys and other children. I’ve been trying to do some specific exercises with him that I found on a great website called uSwim. In theory these look great, gradually building up to letting your child swim unaided in the water. But I’ve been finding with Andrew that he’s simply too distracted by being interested in everything else going on in and around the pool. He rarely looks directly at me for more than a few seconds, even when I try and keep his attention with singing or talking. This means it’s incredibly difficult to set up a situation in which I can count to three with him looking at me, and then let go. He’s pretty good at holding his breath, and doesn’t mind being let go of for a few seconds, but I don’t feel like we’re making much progress, because he would rather just go off on his own to chase the toy that he’s got his eye on, than do things on my terms when I say it’s time to go under. He tries to wriggle away from me, and he’s confident to do so, but he doesn’t have the strength or skill yet to swim completely on his own – he just flounders for a few seconds before I scoop him up out of the water again.

My glamourous assistant modelling his arm bands - I know it looks a bit odd with his nappy on and not trunks, but I don't have enough hands to take a picture at the pool whilst carrying all our kit, so home photos will have to do for now until I can enlist the help of a willing grandparent photographer!

So…. I had a scout about online, and got Mum to ask a friend who has kids and is a keen swimmer, for advice on buoyancy aids for toddlers. I had thought, and again came across this advice, that it was best to not use buoyancy aids at all. But as I’ve just explained, I don’t think in Andrew’s case that this is working. Some suggested a woggle/noodle float – a long thin tube-shaped float that you can wrap around them, or get them to hold onto. I’ve tried that as they have them in our local pool to use for free, but again Andrew is interested for a short while, before he exchanges his interest for another exciting toy/float/person across the pool. In the end, all things seemed to be pointing towards the Delphin System arm floats.

The Delphin System: 1 red, 1 yellow and 1 green disc on each arm, clipped together to make the arm bands

These are like traditional inflatable arm bands, in that they fit onto the upper arm and give buoyancy in the same place. However, they don’t need any blowing up and deflating each trip to the pool (I’m not very good at generating enough puff for those kind of things at the best of times, let alone when I’m having to keep an eye on an active toddler!), and they can’t be punctured by sharp objects. Instead they are made of a lightweight material similar to what kickboards or those big floats you see during splash sessions in pools are made of. They are shaped like thin discs, with a hole just below centre for the arm to go through, and a blue foamy bit in the hole which adjusts to the size of arm – they are apparently suitable for ages 1-12 years. The discs clip together so that you can have more than one on each arm; the idea is you start with 3 discs on each arm, and gradually take them away one at a time over the course of your child learning to swim. It’s supposed to build confidence and allow you to easily adjust the buoyancy as they get stronger and more skilled at swimming.

Being cheeky and trying to hide from the camera around the back of the table, giggling about it to himself at the same time!

So that’s the theory, but how do they work in practice? I decided to take the plunge (financially) and buy a set with some money that Andrew had been given as a present. From my Googling around, the cheapest I found was £26.39 (including postage and packing) for a set of 6 discs from SOS Swim Shop. On Tuesday we had our first trip to the pool with them, and I was very impressed! For the first time in a while, Andrew was much less frustrated and we had no whinging about the fact that he wanted to go his own way – this time he could do as he pleased. It took a little while for him to get used to the buoyancy effect and how he should move to go with it and not resist it, and I think that will take a bit longer to get completely right, but overall he reacted very well. He figured out that his head needs to stay above the water, or he needs to hold his breath if it goes under slightly. He was best when swimming on his front towards me or a target object, and I encouraged him to kick his legs to keep the forward motion. Again, this will take some practice to get right, but for a first attempt it went well. Of course I didn’t just let him go completely unsupervised, but I found my hands were much more free to encourage him and help direct his body in the best way, like using a finger to push his tummy upwards to get him onto his front rather than upright in the water so he could move forwards.

Mummy, this isn't the right time to have arm bands on - are you mad? We're not at the swimming pool! By the way, the blue circles you see on the left-hand arm band are how the discs clip together - they slot into indents in the adjacent disc, like you can see on the right-hand arm band.

As the weeks go by, I’ll try to put some updates on here as to how we’re doing. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has the problems that I’ve mentioned with their young toddler getting distracted in the swimming pool. All the discussion I found online whilst researching buoyancy aids seemed to be from parents with older pre-school-age-ish kids, and distraction didn’t seem to be the main issue, but rather gaining confidence in the water – we don’t have that problem, probably because he’s been swimming since just 6 weeks old. Please let me know if you found this post useful and/or interesting. I’d love to hear from anyone who shares my love of taking a toddler swimming!

A year in the swimming pool

Supporting him under the chest but letting his legs and arms move freely

It’s almost a year since I took Andrew swimming for the first time. He was just 6 weeks old, and loved it! I think at one point there was some advice floating around that you shouldn’t take a baby swimming before he/she had had their first three lots of vaccinations. But the latest NHS guidelines are that you can take them whenever you like. In fact, in my opinion, the earlier the better, because they haven’t lost their newborn natural instinct for water when they’re still just a few weeks old. As I wasn’t blogging back then, I didn’t write about our swimming trips together. Now they’ve become so part of our weekly routine that I almost don’t think about them as something interesting to write about, even though we both have so much fun and really enjoy them. So here’s a round up of Andrew’s first year in the pool, with particular emphasis on his first ever swim. All the photos were kindly taken by Grandma when he was 9 months old (until then I’d only been on my own with him so couldn’t take pictures). In a follow-up post (when I get round to writing it) I’ll share some tips on how to have a fun trip to the pool, some ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s, what not to forget etc.

He loves the watering can at the pool - he tries to 'catch' the stream of water as it comes out

I remember our first swim like it was yesterday. It was quite an effort to get everything together and go at just the right time between feeds (naps weren’t his strong point so we weren’t too restricted by that), but it was all worth it when we got there. Back in those days I could lay him down on the fold-down changing table in the cubicle, knowing that he wouldn’t go anywhere. I got changed first, so he wouldn’t get cold waiting for me, and then got him into his little trunks. He was just about big enough by then to fit in the smallest size of Boots brand swim nappies which were on offer at the time so worked out the cheapest, and I’d bought a cool little pair of swimming shorts for him that were a bit big for his non-existent bottom (now he’s walking that has definitely muscled up!) Then I wrapped him in a towel, and, after I quickly got into my swim costume myself, took on the actually very difficult task of carrying a tiny baby, a rucksack, a nappy change bag, my handbag and a towel to the locker. That was nothing compared to juggling them all whilst trying to put the coin in the locker. We survived it though, and then headed through to the pool.

About to chase the toy octopus, just after I'd thrown it away from us

It was fairly busy in the small pool, but there was still plenty of room to get in gently down the shallow steps at the side. I introduced him to the water slowly, by sitting down on a step, holding him in one arm and using the other arm to pour water gently onto his skin with a cupped hand. After a few minutes of that, I eased us down into the water a bit more, so that he was completely immersed except for his head. He wasn’t at all phased by it, and was very happy for me to walk around and pull him through the water with me. Of course I was supporting him a lot, especially his head which was still floppy then. He was fascinated by everything that was going on – all the other boys and girls, the lifeguards walking round in bright yellow t-shirts, and the brightly-coloured bath toys like ducks and octopuses that were floating around. Incidentally, the staff at the pool have written a different name on each toy – so there’s Vinny the duck, Alice the octopus and Olly the bear etc. Not that he was really old enough to do much with these himself, but his little eyes and ears were clearly soaking it all up like a sponge. As he was so at ease in the water, I even tried splashing some water around him, and he loved that. It was just about the time when he was starting to smile, and I got lots of smiles and splashing that day. We only stayed in for about 15 minutes, because I didn’t want to risk him getting too cold, though the pool always feels lovely and warm to me, but you can’t tell what a baby’s perception of it is. As we got out, I wrapped him up in the towel again, and then we headed back to the changing cubicles to get dry and dressed. This time I sorted him first, as I can cope with the temperature and still being in a wet costume for a while. He fell asleep on the way home and napped well that afternoon. I soon discovered that swimming was a way to wear him out and guarantee a good nap.

Is it the float or the octopus I'm going for, Mummy?

After that first week, we’ve been swimming more or less every week until now, and I have no intention of stopping this. It’s interesting to look back and see how he’s slowly developed his swimming over time, just like he’s developed in other areas (like moving on land, eating, babbling etc.). At first it was just a case of me holding him and walking around the pool, just like I would on land, supporting him quite a lot. I would use one hand to splash him gently, or play with a toy for him to watch, but generally it was a gentle introduction to the concept of swimming in the water himself.

Heading over to the wall to have a go at jumping in and mummy catching him

As he gained strength from all those growing muscles, he became more able to support himself, so I was able to give him less support, little by little. I went from full arms holding him to just holding him with two hands (or sometimes just one) underneath his chest as he is front down in he water (he much prefers ‘front-crawl’ to ‘backstroke’!) When he was about 5 or 6 months old, I started doing brief dunkings, where I would count to three, and on three I would lift him out of the water and then down again so that his head went under for a second, and then lift him up again. He has clearly learned what this means, because now when I start counting, he’s already jigging up and down in my hands, smiling and laughing ready for the dunk; when he comes out he has a lovely look on his face too, clearly enjoyment. I should say that I’m not a swimming teacher myself, though I’ve done a lot of swimming (competitive and leisure), so I feel confident that I know my and his limits at each stage, and we’ve worked up to this over several months, little by little. Every parent and baby pair is different, so I can’t say that what’s right for us is right for everyone. If you don’t feel confident letting your baby go under or only holding them loosely, DON’T DO IT!!

Chasing the toy octopus! Lots of splashing, but getting the idea that he can move forward by kicking his legs and moving his arms

I came across a great website called uSwim. It gives lots of info and advice on how to teach your baby to swim. Of course it’s Australian – they are so into their swimming over there, and also getting kids into swimming from a very early age. With the help of the videos and ‘lesson plans’ on the website, I’ve been trying particular techniques with Andrew. I haven’t bothered being as strict as sticking precisely to a lesson plan, mainly because he is still so interested in everything else going on that keeping his attention for specific things at specific times is nearly impossible. Instead we ‘go with the flow’ and see what happens.

Nearly got the octopus, just in time before the wall got in the way!

So far from uSwim we’ve been doing quite a few ‘front floats‘, some ‘back floats‘ (though as I said before he’s less keen on backstroke swimming), hanging onto the wall whilst mummy lets go and lets him feel the buoyancy of the water (he’s got amazingly strong arms), jumping from the side in a sitting position into the water, sitting on a float and jumping off it into the water, and a fair amount of singing and general splashing. Oh and I can’t forget his favourite, the toy chase, which does what it says on the tin: I throw a toy like a rubber duck a little way away from us, and he loves to swim and get it, admittedly with me giving some support underneath his chest, but he has got a good idea that moving his arms and kicking his legs in a ‘baby-stroke’ kind of fashion does get him somewhere slowly.

About to go for a dunk!

As he gets even stronger, I’m looking forward to seeing his swimming ability develop even more. The main thing for us is that we both find it so fun, and that’s what I’d always hope is the case for him. I don’t want to force him to do something just because I like it, but so far he has convinced me that he loves being in the water just like his mummy. Watch this space for more updates on what we’re doing in our weekly swims.

All worn out after a fun swim. Off to the shower!