Calm down: ideas for screen-free quiet time for toddlers

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

True Confession time (again): I have been relying WAY too much on screens recently.

First of all: I don't actually think there is anything wrong with children watching TV. I think they can be a great learning tool. CBeebies has some really good, educational, fun shows. I think they can aid language development if used properly. I don't think TV is evil, nor do I think it's something parents should use as a stick to beat themselves with.

Also, sometimes, I watch TV for fun - and I think it's fine that my daughter does the same. Also I quite like watching Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom in the mornings

It's just that we've been watching too much of it. Recently, Jellybean has been hit with some mystery virus that leaves her tired and not feeling up to much, so she's been watching films with me. I rely on TV to help me get certain things done - like cooking, or having a shower, or having a manic tidy up before friends come round ... and so on. I think maybe it's been a bit too much.

So in conclusion - I am not about to go screen-free. I'm just in search of quiet things for Jellybean to do when I am tired or I need to get on with my own stuff. Things that need minimal set up and pack down, preferably. Jellybean is struggling with sleep at the moment, too. She fights it in the day AND night and sometimes she gets teary and stressed because she's so tired. So she needs a bit of quiet time.

Here are a few things I have tried:

1. Lentils

Lentils are the easiest sensory play in terms of set up and pack down. Splash mat + container + things to scoop and pour them into. Jellybean loves the noise they make (especially when poured into something metal like an empty tin) and the feel of them in her hands and so do I plus they are easy to sweep up and my hoover deals with them okay.

2. Sensory Balloons

I've tried a few things from Pinterest to occupy Jellybean - things like sensory bottles (she really liked these as a baby), pipe cleaners in a colander, pom poms dropped through a tube - and she does like them, but she gets bored of them after a few minutes. Still, a few minutes are a few minutes and I think children respond to things differently, so I am trying sensory balloons (idea from Creative Playhouse)

They are literally balloons with stuff in them from my cupboards. Ours have flour, couscous, pasta, rice, salt, and dried beans in them. They took about five minutes to make.

She did quite like feeling them for a few minutes so it was worth a try I guess!

3. Music

We love music. Sometimes I like to blast it out and dance like a madwoman just to make me feel a bit  more energized ;) but Jellybean likes to listen to kids music too.

If you have Spotify (or money to buy CD's!) you should check out Sticky Kids. They have collections of nursery rhymes with different themes and some good action songs. Jellybean loves them.

She also loves the In the Night Garden soundtrack. I know some parents don't like ITNG because the characters talk gibberish, but I'm not worried about it. The narrator speaks very well, and Jellybean really likes it. The soundtrack is nice because it's not just music - it's a narrated journey through the garden. Jellybean tells me what's happening because she remembers it 'Iggle Piggle going on walk in garden, Mama. Iggle Piggle fell down. Oops! Get his blanket!'

It has the added bonus of being quite calming. We used to play it in the baby room I worked in to help the babies go to sleep sometimes. And, as I write this, Jellybean is laying on the sofa quietly listening to it and hopefully nodding off

4. Puzzles

The key to all of these things, I think, is rotating them so that they don't get bored. I had the puzzles put away for quite a while because she lost interest in them. Now we've got them out again and they keep her occupied for a while.

5. Audiobooks/story CDs

Jellybean has a couple of these now. They are quite a nice, snuggly-up thing to do together on mornings when I am exhausted/not very well.

The Book People have quite a nice selection. Also I found a website called Story Nory, which is fab! It has hundreds of free audio stories for kids. They are too old for Jellybean but I thought I'd mention it if you have older children.

6. Spoons + random objects + cupcake tray

This kept a very tired and grumpy toddler quite happy today. I used things I found round the house of different sizes (dried beans, pasta, and some bits and bobs from her toys), some plastic spoons and some little tiny metal spoons (I bought these because I was going to make hot chocolate spoons at Christmas and forgot to do it).

Jellybean really enjoyed sitting down to scoop the objects from the tray into a bowl. Took two minutes to set up and allowed me to write some of this blog post.

I don't trust her entirely with those dried beans though so I watched her quite closely at the same time. But she really enjoyed them. Maybe I will try making this for her. One day. When I have energy again ;)

7. A box of boxes

This is what it sounds like: a shoebox full of different boxes and lids.

Basically I keep everything I can in order to use it some future activity/craft thing, so any interesting shaped cardboard/plastic boxes have been kept 'just in case' for a while now. And I still keep on keeping things. Because why throw something away if you can use it again?

#frugal #ecofriendly

Anyway I decided to give Jellybean all these boxes and lids to see if she would enjoy pairing them up and she did. I know of other kids far more box-obsessed than my own though, so I could see this working more for them. So that's my tip: keep hold of boxes!


I would love to hear your ideas for screen-free wind down time ... preferably low effort ones! Comments appreciated :)


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

One of the complex reasons behind my feeling a bit bummed out at the moment is how overwhelmed I feel at life's problems. And not just my own. My family and friends are, obviously, very important to me, and when they are troubled my heart kind of sinks with them. But it's also the general state of the world. Another day, another news story, another war, another mass shooting, another case of women being treated as nothing but objects to sell, the gap between rich and poor growing wider and wider. I want to know that these things go on: in fact, I think one of the biggest reasons why there is so much inequality and injustice in the world is that we who are fortunate and powerful enough to protest against it simply aren't paying attention. We bury our heads in the sand. I don't want to be that person that doesn't care enough to give these things space in my head.

But when you are feeling a bit low it's hard to see these things and not to allow them to totally overtake your life and your mood.

Because here's the thing: I have a happy life.

I want to enjoy it.

I want to embrace it.

I want to be positive.

When you're feeling low, you can get drawn into negative things. It's kind of like a virus seeking to grow by finding something to feed on. And so I click on the news stories I know will make me angry and I get sucked into conversations that I shouldn't and then suddenly I feel like

And rather than try and fix it I just moan about it because it's easier.

But everything doesn't suck! A lot of things are amazing and beautiful and good and they deserve to be celebrated.

Sometimes we need to get angry in order to get motivated to make changes. We should be furious at inequality and the rich/poor divide and human trafficking and the growing number of children in poverty. But it is rarely my job to fix those things. It is my job to care about these things, and help out where I can, and to pray for people. But not to get angry and ruminate and get pointlessly stressed about things I can't change.

I want to be more positive. I want to create positive things, or at least, point people in the direction of them. I want to be one of those people that celebrates. 'Look how great all these things are!' Because it's so easy to forget, to let the small joys of life slip through your fingers, unseen, unheard.

I found this the other day:

Which is kind of true actually. The most radiant people I know are positive: they laugh a lot, they talk about positive things, they find joy in everyday life. It does seem to shine out of them, that positivity. It's not fake or forced: these people have problems and heart aches like everyone else. They don't shut themselves off from the wider world. They just have the ability to see the good things in life too.

It's a skill: trying to live in a world of joy and happiness mixed with sadness and heartbreak. Trying to find your way in it can feel uncomfortable sometimes. And I don't always get the balance right. I don't feel bad about that. Sometimes, it's just the way things are. And when you feel low, sometimes the hardest thing is to deliberately force your mind onto something good.

I will carry on enjoying things in my life. I will enjoy

Tickle fights

And unexpected gifts

And kitchen dancing

And important meetings over tea and cake with teddy bears

And laughing helplessly over a deliberately mispronounced word ('bray-voww.')

And that feeling of sinking into bed at the end of a long day

And being in the company of the two people in the world that I love so much that it almost hurts.

And an undeserved love from a wonderful God.

I am privileged to have those things and I don't want to waste them.

For every moment that sees me sinking into darkness, there are many more that bring light.

If you like my blog, I have some questions for you!

Friday, 9 October 2015

The last month or so has been kind of difficult in some ways and most of my mental energy has gone towards that. Just, you know, life stuff. Now I'm trying to regroup after a few weeks of rubbish and I'm determined to make changes to move forward.

Positivity. I might have it tattooed on me or something. Be positive, be positive, be positive!

So anyway I've been thinking seriously about this blog. I've been writing this for nearly three years now. It's funny looking back and seeing how much has changed. I would like to be a better blogger, really. I am massively inconsistent with my posting which I would like to change.

I suppose I've held back on the blog front because I know it can become all-consuming if you allow it to be. To be a successful blogger, I'd say, is nearly as much about how many connections you are willing to make as it is the content. I'm not very good at that. I'm not very good at gathering followers on Twitter. I'm not very good at making my blog more visible. I don't get stuff like SEO. I don't have a 'brand'. I'm unsure at this point whether or not I will push more towards that kind of stuff. I suppose you have to if you want more people to read it.

I just like writing. That's the thing. I like sharing my life with people. I suppose that is a bit narcissistic. But I can brush that opinion off (the way I see it, if you don't like it: don't read it. The end). I mean, I started this blog to share with a few close friends because I wanted a visible record of the fact that I was striving to be closer to God and to be more positive and to celebrate the little things.

Then I realised when I was pregnant with Jellybean that I get kind of riled up when I write sometimes and actually, sometimes my words can resonate with people, which is an awesome and kind of overwhelming thing. When I read a sentence and something in it clicks with me, and I think 'oh, I get that' then I feel that, in some small way, I have a connection with the person that wrote it. And to be able to write coherently enough to have that effect on someone else is quite something to me ;) 

The other element of my blog, which has been more recent, is about activity ideas and things like that. Practical stuff. I really enjoy writing that kind of thing too because those are the kind of blogs I spend hours cycling through. I like ideas that require little money (because we have none) and so I quite like putting those things up. I also like writing recipes. And book reviews! It's so nice to have a space to write down how I feel about a book, as well as instead of talking Chris's ear off about it.

But in the spirit of new starts (and I really need some new starts right now) I would like to ask your opinion. Because I'm trying to figure out what I want this blog to be. And I can't decide. The sensible thing to do would be to streamline, I think. To pick one thing and focus on it. But I love writing about all sorts of different things. I can't decide whether to just embrace the fact that my blog is always going to be about everything and just focus on being more consistent with posting (i.e practical posts on a Friday, waffly posts on a Monday, that sort of thing) or whether to, I don't know, ditch the activity ideas or something.

So I'd like to ask you a massive favour if you read this: would you mind answering some questions for me? You can just answer some of them or give me a general opinion (or none of those things, obviously!). You could comment here, or email me, or send me a PM on Facebook, or tweet me, or something.

  • What are your favourite kind of posts on this blog? 
  • Do you read blogs in general? What are the things you admire about your favourite blogs?
  • Would you prefer it if I only had my semi-emotional waffly kind of posts about life and motherhood and things on here, and get rid of my other stuff, or
  • Would you like to see more posts about raising children on a budget i.e. recipes, activity ideas, etc?
  • Is it clear when you look at my blog what it's about? Would you prefer a clearer layout with more obviously signposted categories?
Sorry, that's quite a few questions. Don't feel you have to answer. I just want to push forward and make more of an effort for you. For me that means focusing mostly on creating interesting posts to read. But also that involves fiddling with the layout if necessary/making more of an effort to learn technical things.

I do love blogging, all of it, and I don't feel in any way obliged to keep going with it. But I do enjoy sharing life with others. That's what I love about blogging - whether I'm reading a post about, I don't know, 101 things to do with gloop and thinking wow! I never knew you could do so much with gloop! or I'm reading an emotional post about motherhood and sitting there crying my eyes out, I think there's something inspiring about people sharing their (sometimes hard-earned) knowledge with others.

It beats reading celebrity gossip, anyway ;)

Anyway, if you have time, I'd appreciate feedback before I start making crazy changes! You can Tweet me @whispertoroar or email me at Or send me an FB message/comment.

Now to raise the money to chop all my hair off ... #newhairnewstart

Love to you all!

Three easy autumn crafts for lazy people

Thursday, 8 October 2015

So it's at this time of the year that I go into a Pinterest daydream. I imagine my house to be decorated with homemade wreathes and everything to be softly lit by sparkly candles. I imagine curling up on the sofa in the evening under a blanket after a long day of crunchy leaf walks and fun (but beautiful) pumpkin or leaf-based crafts with my toddler. I imagine making loads of pies. (Not to eat all at once, although I do have a large capacity for pie-eating).

I also start to feel the pressure of making beautiful blog posts at this time of year. Like 101 things to do with the insides of pumpkins or how to make something pretty with your toddler to pin up on your fridge. That is the problem with being kind of artsy. You feel this enormous pressure to not be too late for seasonal things. All the cool kids were making their autumn crafts in, like, July. (They really weren't. The cool kids were probably sneaking into clubs and getting tattoos or something.)

I mean, I love autumn. I love the colours, I love the cool weather, I love the feeling of being cosy inside when the nights start drawing in. I love being outside in it. Frankly, I plan to be outside as often as I can over the next couple of months. I expect we will play in the leaves. We might go out firework-spotting in November. I will do a bit of baking because we have an enormous bag of cooking apples to use up.

I like having an excuse to wear big shirts and leggings all day long. It's seasonal!

But I'm letting go of sparkly-pumpkin-cinnamon-spiced perfection. Maybe one day. I do admire those women that can make their home look lovely whilst looking after small children and creating beautiful masterpieces ... but for now, it's good for her, not for me.

I like doing easy stuff to celebrate the season. My activities have all the heart of all those lovely Pinterest things, but none of the finesse. My crafts say 'I really love this time of year but I don't have the skills of patience to make anything particularly pretty or photogenic!'

If you are like me, and your crafts are made with love but are a bit wonkaloid, then read on, my friend. I will make you a non-cinnamon-spiced instant coffee and maybe a choccie digestive while you read because that's how we roll in this house.

Autumn fruit printing

Q) What is easy to cut in half?


I dunno what these tiny pumpkins are made for but it's obviously not eating because good Lord they're hard to chop up. I mean, it doesn't help that our knives went blunt about three years ago and we no longer use them for cutting so much as sawing, but still.

So anyway. I remember doing this kind of thing as a kid. I thought it would be cute to include mini pumpkins. CLEARLY WRONG.

Pears and apples work pretty well, though. Cut in half, squidge in paint, stamp. Done.

Pictured: the inevitable. Yummy, painty pears.

Leaf window

One cute thing that was kind of perfect though was walking through the park with my excitable toddler collecting leaves. She kept saying things like 'a BEAUTIFUL tree, Mama!' which is obviously the cutest thing ever.

Anyway, I decided to stick these up in Jellybean's window as a kind of low-effort Autumn display. They look quite nice in the evening when the sun starts to set.

Autumn collages

I actually made this in preschool as a kid. I think my Mum still has it somewhere. Essentially you draw something that looks like this:

I'll give you a moment to enjoy my drawing skills.

Then your child can colour it in and smother it in glue and stick sunflower seeds on it. We also made a pumpkin:

And then a crazy free-for-all picture with all sorts of stuff on it:

So there we have it. Three autumn crafts for idealistic but slightly lazy people. Enjoy! :)

The Pyramid

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A while back I read this post by Jennifer Fulwiler and it has transformed my decision-making process. (Mostly). She suggests that, in order not to lose sight of our priorities, we should put them in order. Starting with the most important at the bottom. Here is mine:

This is not a black-and-white thing. Sometimes you need to be fluid with it. 'God' is, obviously, huge. I wouldn't expect Him to just sit in one box, even if it's just the biggest one, so I use that to kind of mean prayer and things like that. Chris and Jellybean come next. And so on.

It doesn't necessarily mean that I am going to ignore a friend having a crisis because I have scheduled to have a twenty minute workout and need to tick off my 'health' box. It's more fluid than that ... it's more of a grounding thing. More about what I spend my spare time doing, and what I allow the most room in my head.

I mean, our lives are made of making decisions. Big ones, like where to send your kids to school, and little ones, like what to have for dinner. Being good at making decisions is a vital kind of wisdom, but you can't always expect to get it right. Still, all those decisions make up the rhythm of our lives. They set the tone. And my gosh, I need to be more strict about what things I allow myself to dwell on. Some things need thought time and prayer. Some things just need to be ... let go.

(Some phrases are totally ruined by songs. 'Let it go' being an obvious one. Also the other day I accidentally said 'I've gotta get through this' to my husband. THANK YOU BRAIN for torturing me with that song for three days afterwards).

So anyway. I keep thinking about my pyramid when I get up in the mornings. Hoping to make the right choices and to prioritise the right things. Hoping to look after myself a bit more, too.

A little more organisation. A little less stress. That's the way forward.

I have always loved September for new starts. I love that back-to-school, new-beginnings feeling that it brings. But September has honestly passed by in a blur of sickness and a little bit of stress, so I'm making our new beginning month October instead.

October is the new September is the new January ;) pyramids are the new, er, something. I dunno. I think I need to have a lie down now ...

Happy Wednesday everyone!
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