CF Family: 5 tips for surviving the first year of school

This mothering lark is hard. Who knew? Obviously the newborn stage is tough, I grant you. However, even when you’re getting 10-hours sleep a night and your offspring can wipe their own arses, I wasn’t quite prepared for how hard the ‘starting school’ stage would be, for both of us.

me and Dante June 2017This might be a timely post for readers waving their littlies off to school in September. Gird your loins, people. The eldest, Dante, had been at nursery for 3 years, so I presumed moving next door into the big school with all his friends wouldn’t be too much of a biggie. Wrong. It has been a MASSIVE learning curve, both for his little brain (he can read! he can write!), but more than that, he is now learning about the big. wide. world, he is part of the school community and working out his place in the pecking order of playground politics (don’t get me started on Pokemon cards…). It’s hard.

Don’t get me wrong, he is at an AMAZING school where he is truely thriving and he adores both his class mates and his teacher – I just think they are learning SO much amazing stuff and they are constantly being stimulated and inspired that their brains are constantly firing and it’s hard to switch off. We had a bit of burn-out in the first term where he got sick a lot and in hindsight I don’t think he was getting enough down-time to let his brain switch off. So, we are now trying these little tweaks to our home life to help him navigate his school life better:

1/ We have a few mantras, mini pep-talks in the car on the way to school to set a positive tone for his day. Some my mum used to say to me and some are our own. ‘Be honest and kind’. These are the only two things we ask Dante to be. I think for a 5 year old, simplicity is best. He knows that as long as he tells the truth he will never get into trouble and being kind is fundamental to everything else he will learn to be at school. Kind to his classmates, friends, teachers and to himself. ‘If something is hard, try harder’ – this is a BIG one for him, maybe it’s his nature, or maybe it’s his age, but if he feels he’s not very good at something, or is finding something a challenge, he tends to get frustrated and give up quickly. Trying to instil in him the fact that we all have to do things in life we find a challenge I think is important, but also showing him that succeeding in something we find hard is actually all the more rewarding.

2/ Making our home a sanctuary. This is something I read about on Cup of Jo aaaaages ago and it stuck with me. The idea of when they walk through the front door and kick off their shoes they can unwind and feel revived is so simple but so key to balancing out the pace of school life. Whether it’s hot chocolates, onesies and a bit of trash telly in the winter, or ice lollies and the paddling pool with his brother for an hour in the summer. Before we get into the dinner, bath, bed routine I always make sure he has some down-time to unwind.

3/ Make the most of the weekends. Before he started school I feel like we had all the time in the world, now in those 48-hours we have at the end of the week, I try to make sure we are focused on being together as a family. It’s so easy as working parents to spend the weekends catching up with jobs at home, getting the chores done ready for the week ahead, but we are trying to carve out time to actually just BE. Whether it’s just a leisurely pancake breakfast (Dante’s favourite), a bike ride, beach trip or even hopping over to Italy for the weekend to see his beloved Zia Maria, I want him to feel like life isn’t just about school, he has a ‘home life’, too.

4/ Do a bedtime brain dump. When you’ve spent the whole day learning about how rubbish and plastics are killing the ocean’s wildlife, that can kind of stick with you if you’re a sensitive 5 year old. Bathtime seems to be the key time, once he’s unravelled from his day, where he wants to process the stuff he’s learnt or has stuck with him through the day (how do snail’s shells stick on? Why do whales have noses on their heads? Why didn’t X want to play with me at lunchtime today? I’m worried I’m going to come last on Sports Day…). Just like I try and write down any ‘to-do lists’ or worries from the day before I sleep, it’s a bit of time for him to off-load and I think he’s sleeping all the more soundly for it.

5/ The great mystery of what they had for lunch. So, I’ve polled approx. 30 parents and not ONE of their offspring can answer the question: ‘So, what did you have for lunch at school today?’. Similarly, if I ask Dante what he’s been doing at school he will usually reply: ‘I can’t remember’. Which at the start of the year INFURIATED ME. I’d look at his timetable and he’d have had a day packed with science, PE, art, Spanish…. and NADA had sunk in. It wasn’t even so much that I was worrying that he wasn’t learning anything but more that I had missed him for the previous 8 hours and wanted to know what he’d been up to! Over dinner, we now try and ask him more leading questions to spark his memory:

‘Tell me something amazing you did today’
‘Who did you play with at break time today’
‘Did anything funny happen in class today?’
‘What book is Miss H reading to you at the moment?’
‘What was your least favourite part of your day?’
‘Tell me something that you bet I don’t know?’ (this is always a winner, he is such a fact-lover!)
‘What are you looking forward to about tomorrow?’

Obviously we don’t bombard him with questions! Usually it only takes one or two to get the ball rolling and he’s off on a tangent.

Trust me, we do NOT have this parenting thing sussed, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen all of these things really help Dante settle and grow in his first year at school… let me know how you get on!

CF Review: Quinny Zapp travel buggy

I put a little shout out on Instagram last month for this buggy as my first impressions were pretty good. I picked it up on a pre-loved site because while our day-to-day buggy, the Britax B-Motion 3, is completely brilliant, sturdy and a total workhorse (I honestly can’t recommend this buggy enough) – it is a behemoth, super heavy and not great for travelling.

Quinny Zapp
Quinny Zapp

We nipped over the Naples last weekend (read my guide to ‘Naples with kids’ from last year here) and I knew from taking the Britax last year I wanted something that would cope with the cobbled, uneven city streets, be easy to hop on and off public transport and super lightweight. The Quinny didn’t miss a beat.

Okay, in short:

Pros: It’s a simple 3-step umbrella style closure and it closes up REALLY small (27″ x 10″ x 11″) and weighs a featherweight 7.5kg (the Britax weighs a hefty 11kg). Great for small car boots, overhead lockers – or grandparents who don’t want a massive, whielding bit of kit to hump around.

Although the wheels are solid moulded ones, rather than proper air-filled tyres like the Britax, they took the nightmare Naples streets in their stride.

The 3-wheel formation was a breeze to steer.

Cons: We found it tipped back alarmingly easily. If the 2-year old (who only weighs 11kg) threw himself back hard in a strop it flung the buggy backwards. Not ideal. Obviously if your toddler is better behaved than mine (not hard), you can over-look this first point.

It’s quite short. I’m 5’10 and I found myself hunching a bit. I definitely wouldn’t recommend for over 6fters.

The shopping basket is tiny. And the sun visor too short to offer any real protection.

The back doesn’t have the option to lie-flat. So no chance of a quick nap. That said, in the middle of Naples, naps aren’t really likely, and the nosey 2-year old loved his upright vantage point. EDIT: The new generation Zapp Xtra 2 *does* have lie-back options, and you can switch the seat around from forward to rear facing.

Verdict: It’s not the perfect buggy and if I had to use it everyday it wouldn’t be practical (not sturdy enough, not enough storage, not good off-road), but if you’re looking for a super light-weight holiday/travel buggy, it’s a winner.

Quinny Zapp range from £195

Read my review of ‘Top 5 travel kit for kids’ here

A summer in France… writing, renovation and relaxing

Reliving my childhood summers in France – renovating a manoir, writing and wrangling two under 5s

As a child, the day school broke up we would load up our 80s Volvo and head for the ferry ports. Hopping across ‘La Manche’ and down through France for summer in the Dordogne region – spending two months swimming in rivers, drinking watered down wine, gorging on soft fruits from the street markets and falling asleep to the sound of crickets… We would return on the eve of the autumn term, brown as berries with sun-bleached hair, freckly noses and a serious injection of vitamin D to see us through the winter. All my favourite childhood memories are wrapped up in those hazy, sun-drenched summer days and guess what?

photo 3Fast forward 30 years and yup, I’m in France. For a whole 8 weeks, by myself with the two boys (4 and 10 months). Gulp.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

As a family, we bought this beauty last year as a place for the whole clan to convene for summers, en masse. The OH has had to stay in the UK for work so I am here principly to oversee the builders (as the only French speaker) and to forward plan the next phase of internal major works for winter.

Since buying the house we have been flitting back and forward, frantically slapping paint on the walls and trying to get the main rooms we use most frequently habitable and furnished. The house was far from derelict when we moved in – the double glazing had been done, central heating, wood burners, kitchen, bathroom etc – but there is still a mind-boggling ‘to do list’ to make this 3,000sqm behemoth the dream family home we know it can be.

Pool in progress! - Easter 2016
Pool in progress! – Easter 2016

With two under 5s in tow I’m not denting the ‘to do list’ at the rate I’d like, but as I finish projects I will post some before/afters and do a bit of a house and garden tour – everyone loves a nose round other people’s houses don’t they?!

The boys are astonishingly good at cracking on and entertaining themselves. The 4yo is train mad and has brought his whole set with him, so can be left engrossed for hours in fantasy worlds of landslides, derailments and cargo deliveries. The 10 month old just wants to be near me. Preferably clinging to my leg at all times, which makes painting and decorating a tad tricky, but it’s amazing how distracting a set of Tupperware and a noisy, flashing toy can be.

Throw into the mix a few writing projects I’ve taken on and it all feels a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time!

That said, I am ensuring that it’s not all work, work, work (or is that werk, werk, werk?) and the 4yo and I sneak off to the newly finished pool every lunchtime while the baby sleeps to splosh about for a couple of hours.

2016-07-15 14.50.57-1As all our initial budget has evaporated, with only a quarter of the rooms furnished, I am having to get pretty creative to make any progress with the remaining portion of the house. I’ve been trawling local junk shops, antiques markets and charity shops and found some incredible pieces – again, expect various posts over the summer charting my French interiors finds.

photo
Copyright Countryfille 2016

It’s been 35 degrees and rising this week, which has been amazing – if not a little soporific! Mowing the 2 acres of lawns and orchards was a serious task with my little petrol push along mower!

2016-07-15 14.30.43We are heading to the beach at the weekend (we are approx. 90 mins from the Atlantic coast around Royan/La Rochelle) with friends and our steady stream of visitors (aka free labour) start arriving next week.

photo 1Until then, I hope you’re enjoying your summer! If you want more snaps from our French vacances you can follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@countryfille).

CF x

 

 

CF Travel Guide: Naples with kids

2016-07-04 08.19.09Sometimes the simplest laid plans turn out to be the most stressful don’t they? In the midst of end of term mayhem, organising our 2-month trip to France for the next phase of Chateau renovations and a teething 10 month old, we decided to just nip to Naples for a brief weekend to eat pizza, look at volcanoes and hang out with the OH’s family. No biggie.

Only Easyjet had other plans.

Our first attempt ended in an 8-hour stand-off at Bristol airport, an overtired baby and a gutted 4yo. So back home we came, disappointed but not defeated. Some diary-wrangling and a week later we were soaring through the skies, Napoli bound. This time minus the OH (god love self-employment), but with pizza firmly in our sights…

2016-07-03 15.40.27We were staying with family in a gorgeous converted Palazzo in the centre of Naples and arrived (late again) at the stroke of midnight, to 30 degree heat and a baptism of fire for the 4yo. I forget what a total country bumpkin he is and how mind-blowing a city like Naples is for the uninitiated. It was hot, noisy and beguiling. His little nose was pressed against the taxi window drinking in the cobbled alleys, moped horns and asking in a tiny voice ‘why are all these people not asleep?’

2016-07-04 20.18.49
Copyright Countryfille 2016

We awoke next morning a little travel-weary but determined to explore. With no set plans and the mercury hovering around 32 degrees by mid-morning we aimed low and settled for a day down by the water at the castello, eating fennel sausage pizza, looking for the fabled crocodiles in the moat and taking the train-obsessed 4yo on his first tube ride… to a station named after him. Mind. Blown.

2016-07-03 11.54.09 HDR-1
Copyright Countryfille 2016

2016-07-04 09.16.52Toledo station routinely tops the list of ‘world’s most impressive metro stations’ – it’s like an underwater cave/gallactic mash-up, crammed full of artwork.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

In the decade I’ve been with my Italian OH I’ve been to Naples and the Amalfi Coast countless times (you can read my pre-children full city guide to Naples here), but this was my first with kids and I hadn’t appreciated what a child-friendly city it is. The underground was a breeze with the buggy, clean and with lift access at every station. The 10mo was not such a great fan of the noisy, jolting journeys but we found our fellow commuters more than willing to play, sing and cajol him into a smile. It’s a clich√© but Italians really do adore babies. We saw photos of beloved grandchildren proudly whipped out of wallets and a great deal of doe-y eyed smiles and cooing in shops, queues and restaurants – our sons have particularly Neapolitan names, which went down a storm with their new found fans.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

Eating out is a breeze; pizza and pasta are the staple diet of most under 5s (ours more than most) and the waiters entertained our two without the blink of an eye, even medicating the grouchy teething 10mo with some lemon granita for his gums.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

Day 2 was spent shopping on Via Roma for a/ sfogliatelli for moi (my all-time favourite Neapolitan pastry) and b/ the 4yo’s first Swatch watch. Such a Euro kid tradition that the OH and I remember well. We finished the day travelling up to the hills overlooking Naples on the finicular railway to the Vomero. Quieter, wider pavements and cooler. A good shout when Naples reaches boiling point.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

If we’d had longer I’d have loved to take them for a boat ride to Ischia, or perhaps when they’re older out to Pompeii, or for a peer into the crate of Vesuvio… next time, we’ll be back – my love affair with Naples has just begun a new chapter.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

Tomorrow: My Top 5 bits of travel kit for travelling with under 5s.

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