8 things I’ve learnt about raising children

Posted March 9, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , ,

Any ideas for two more useful tips about how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way? First eight from Homemade Kids author Nicola Baird who also blogs at http://islingtonfacesblog.com (about people who live or work in Islington, UK).

I learnt all this up my Granny's apple tree. Years later my own kids reminded me.

I learnt all this up my Granny’s apple tree. Years later my own kids reminded me.

1 All crusts are evil. No child will eat them. Tweens and teens with braces can’t. What’s more it doesn’t help if you say eating crusts will make your hair curl.
Save the crusts and either eat them yourself or stick in the freezer to breadcrumb another time.

2 Are we nearly there yet? Yes, because a good walk starts when it starts: that could be just outside the door or before you leave a car park.
A good walk is never rushed and doesn’t involve a route march A-B. Split the party so the walkers walk and the explorers track ants, lift up logs, find sticks, climb trees, play hide and seek. Get out your flask and have a cup of zen tea.

3 Snacks are essential (fed often, even just before tea). Most mums carry snacks because they literally cannot afford not to. All praise to rice cakes, bread sticks and toddlers’ nectar – the banana. Babycinnos are a gift to syntax, but a purse curse.

4 Really tired toddlers can fall asleep anywhere – even if their mouth is full of spaghetti. Get them tired and then there’s no need to paste notes to your doorbell/knocker saying “please don’t use as I’m trying to get baby to sleep”.

5 Even clean bagged up outgrown clothes will start to smell. Air them on an outdoor washing line before you resort to yet more laundry chores.

6 Nits love us all. They love nursery- and primary school-aged children the best. But they don’t mind joining teenagers for their lessons, or even Mum in the office. Plaits, hats and a super-fine comb help keep embarrassment at bay.
However right-on your office colleagues, never fess up to having nits because they won’t understand. However up-tight your childs’ friends’ parents always talk nits.

7  The minutes drag but the years fly. Take photos, keep drawings – or scan and save. Date what you can. In a few years time you will struggle to know which child is even in the picture. And your child is going to mind, a LOT.

8 Treat car boot sales like expensive department stores – if your child wants something tell them “yes, next time”. If you bend on this, your home will soon be a stockpile of stuff you can’t find when your little one grows into it. And you’ll have to step over boxes and suitcases to get into your bed. Or is that only me?

Over to you?
Bet homemadekids.wordpress.com readers can think of at least two more good tips! Thanks.


Do you love your child or partner more?

Posted February 6, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

If you’ve got to choose who you love the most, could you? Thinking about a recent terrible choice for a NZ dad who had to pick son or wife, here’s my own family tale about the time my Dad was parted from his mum. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

This beautiful box has a collection of my grandfather's letters from the time he was stationed in Hong Kong in 1937. Some of those letters are dynamite.

This beautiful box has a collection of my grandfather’s letters from the time he was stationed in Hong Kong in 1937. Some of those letters are dynamite.

As it’s close to Valentine’s day is it OK to ask ‘who do you love the most’?

This isn’t a fairy tale asking you to decide which child you favour.

No this is the big love question – do you love your partner more than the children or vice versa?  For most of us there doesn’t have to be a choice but just recently a New Zealand man was told by his Armenian wife that if he wanted to keep their newborn Downs syndrome baby she would divorce him. He chose the baby, Leo. And she filed for divorce.

The full story is (Daily Mailified) here.

You have to think good for the Dad, making the right choice – however hideous. And how terrible for a new mum to be under such family pressure that her only choice was to set up a contest between husband and baby. Whatever the result, it would be sad for her.

Rewind to 1937
I’ve just spent a sunny winter afternoon at my kitchen table reading the letters my grandfather received when he was based in Hong Kong in 1937. The experience is amazing – though I do wish everyone’s handwriting was easier to read.  Because Grandpa was a solider there are a lot of letters from soldier friends talking about their posts in Nigeria and Somalia. There’s gossip about bad weather and poor fishing in Newbury; the make over of London’s Leicester Square – “the Alhambara and Prince of Wales Theatre have gone” and a lot about illnesses – cholera, infant death, scarlet fever and the humble cold.

At first I thought my Grandmother – writing from her father’s home in Wiltshire – was expecting twins. Gradually I realised she was trying to organise a bargain priced twin-bed cabin for a sea passage to Japan, where she hoped he would meet her and then they could go on to Hong Kong.  She is desperately missing him.

She’d already been in Hong Kong – just her and her soldier husband – but and had come home because their children, a little girl and her younger brother, my father, were being raised in Wiltshire.

I cried when I saw her write that their three-year-old son had asked the nanny where is “That lady from China we call Mummy?”

“We did laugh,” writes my Grandmother (I think bravely) “it’s good enough for Punch“.

How attitudes have changed in the UK. Few women admit to being willing to park their children for six months in another country, just so they can be with their husband. When Ayelet Waldman confessed “I love my husband more than my children” in a national newspaper back in 2009, she was pilloried.

And in 2015 Armenia it’s clear disability is shameful to some: in NZ it’s not.

Perhaps in the 21st century UK we do let our children take centre stage too much. But it feels like that’s the right way to err. My poor dad. My poor, brave Grandmother – “that lady from China we call Mummy”.

In the end the little boy did know his mother very well. It was his father he barely knew – first busy as a solider in Hong Kong and then once World War Two kicked off incarcerated in a prison camp until 1945.

What do you think?
Would you swan off to Hong Kong leaving the kids in the UK for the next six months? And how much do you think it would affect you and those motherless/fatherless babes?



How to hold a fun birthday party for a five year old

Posted January 19, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , ,

When it comes to organising kids’ birthday parties keep it simple, and short. And have confidence that you and your child can be the host either at home or the nearest park. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Blue icing on the cake.

Here the birthday girl is nine…with a homemade cake.  A wise friend suggested having one more (or one less) guest than the new age of your child, This is good advice until they get to be teens.

Have you heard about the Cornish mum who sent a £16 invoice to the parents of a reception aged child (ie, five years old) who she thought was going to her child’s birthday party (on a ski slope) and then failed to turn up – without bothering to let the host family know? Here’s the link on BBC News.

Everyone has an opinion about what the mum’s done (rude) and what the recipient child’s family have said they plan to do to her (ruder).

Imagine how awkward it would be to be at their school. And that’s the point: children’s birthday parties are not to fall out over.

With two daughters now aged 16 and 13 I’ve helped organise a lot of birthday parties (although the girls have had to do plenty too). At first it stunned me at primary school how people simply don’t respond to RSVP. This would be fine if you were just giving a little tea party for a few friends with some cake. But it becomes a nightmare of organisation if you are having to pay for a venue or plan to offer party bags. So cut this stress by not organising something too grand or expensive…

One party I painted wooden name tags for kids to put on their door or bed and ended up with a few to hand out at school the next week for the unexpected no-shows. I think the kids who’d missed the party quite liked having a little memory – and if they didn’t does it matter?

I was stunned by how generous some families are – handing over £10 gifts, or more even, just to a little child. Even recently a mum asked if her daughter and friends could club together to give my soon to be 14yo a camera (I said no, that’s just way over budget, but what a lovely, generous, thoughtful offer).

Many people who have very little money are willing to pool it to make the best possible party they can for their birthday child. This is a generous thing to do, but it just adds to the birthday party stress. If you are willing to rethink birthdays then here’s the way to do it in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way.


Get the kids outside, whatever the weather. Or just invite less if your home can’t fit a classroom of children – and not many people have that amount of space.

1 Ideally hold the party in an outside space – make sure the kids are dressed so they stay warm and dry. You can then hold a picnic, do activities, try a treasure hunt or just let them run around making as much noise as they want.

Make your own quills! Is this a suitable gift?

Make your own quills! Is this a suitable gift as a party bag offering?

2 Avoid the party bag full of breakable rubbish. You can always give a small going home gift – but just make it one, practical object (felt tip? drinking mug? homemade tote bag?) or something whimsical that you’ve made without too much sweat (eg, a fairy basket made from hazel nut shells glued together).

3 Or get the kids at the party to make their own going home gift. Bath bombs are fun and not as messy as you might imagine. Or they could hunt for an amazing pebble and then pop some eyes and a mouth on it (or just hand out a stick/log). Or decorate a horse shoe (that’s going to take some organisation finding!). A bit easier might be to plant up a bulb or robust flower, depending on the season.

Trampoline party over, next excitement is half-term...

If you’re organising a party activity – like a trampoline party – can you share the cost (and birthday) with other families?

4 If you decide to book a treat like rock climbing, theatre or some other expensive activity remind yourself that this is something you want the birthday child and the others to enjoy. It’ll be an experience for whoever turns up. If someone doesn’t turn up, just remember that life is complicated and invitations with the host child’s family contact numbers get mislaid. Move on with a smile, not a bill.

Good luck with your parties.

Book review: Stuffocation is a must read for families with kids

Posted January 12, 2015 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Stuffocation: living more with less’ by trend forecaster James Wallman (Viking Penguin, £9.99) is a book you should read. Expect to hear the phrase ‘stuffocation’ a lot more during 2015, as it exactly conjures up how stuff can overwhelm a home. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com


My 2015 resolution is to get creative (or give away) the things I am not using. This bit of cycle pimping is inspiring and I do have plenty of unloved vinyl to deal with when I start to sort my stuff out – as Stuffocation author James Wallman advises.

The review
If you like to judge a book by its cover then Stuffocation offers plenty of clues: a white-walled room empty of everything except a high backed chair. Even the book shelves are empty. It’s a miserable scene, devoid of personality! But it’s the perfect cover too for an author attacking materialism as he sells the idea that we enjoy living more when we purposefully have less.

The difficulty, and it’s a proper 21st century problem – is having less. I was sent this book during the hectic run up to Christmas. Every corridor in my home was crowded with xmas gifts waiting to be wrapped and bags of wrapping paper saved from the previous year. With so much seasonal clutter around I was tempted to pass this book along faster than it deserves.

And so I read it, and re-read it, fascinated by the idea that an increasing number of people already realise that too much makes them dissatisfied (especially middle class families it seems). This is not a prettily photographed coffee table book – there are 345 pages of dense print to work through. Once Wallman has made his point about stuff being a blood-pressure raiser his main concept is that experiencing things (being in the moment if you prefer) is a good way of enjoying what life has to offer and far better than buying yourself a new anything. Sometimes these experiences can be bought – a balloon ride at dawn, wildlife safari or front row seats at the theatre – but many more experiences are free including walking barefoot on grass, enjoying soup at an impromptu picnic or singing along with a friend or congregation.

Readers of my book Homemade Kids (or this blog) are likely to be familiar with the idea of making your own fun – even creating your own family traditions. These can be as simple as having pizza on a Friday night or hanging out the homemade bunting in anticipation of Granny’s arrival.


Stuffocation, £9.99 or have a look at the Stuffocation website.

But I find that the best experiences tend to need kit – especially if an experience is also offering you the chance to learn a new skill (ski waterproofs, jodphurs for riding horses, reflective gear and lights for cycling). As a consequence the people I know who are most on top of experientalism, as Wallman calls it, also tend to be hoarders (though maybe not so extreme that they have 16 grand pianos, just in case). And if they have growing kids they might also have far more than is needed for the family right now, much of it in the next size up. It may be bagged up and out of sight after a fortuitous sighting of something that will be useful one day -a wet suit or skating boots – at a car boot sale. Or it may be half-squeezed under the bed or in an already bulging wardrobe.

Like many families I accept that this cluttered stage until the kids grow up and I’ll either pass the final sets of outgrown walking boots, cello and waterproofs on or I’ll save them for my kids’ children. To be fair to Wallman visitors to my house with grown up children, no children or bigger homes (I was recently told it was odd to keep an axe in our downstairs bathroom) invariably comment that we need to do a bit of sorting.

Instead of tackling this problematic area of stuffocation – for instance by pointing out what a business opportunity there could be for renting rather than buying or easy ways to share not often needed kit – Wallman picks an interesting fight with Facebook. He points out that those who use it are bludgeoned by other people’s photo updates of sunset drinks, good time parties and significant life moments. It’s a way for Facebook users to show off that they are having experiences, but apparently it’s led to the rest of us who only logged on to catch up feeling that we’re missing out. FOMO – fear of missing out – is not an attractive condition. It increases people’s anxiety levels to the extent that they either spend their time glued to their mobiler to catch up with what everyone else is doing or worry themselves into such a stressy mess that they need anti-depressants, yes, even before going to a comedy gig.

Les MIserables is the world's longest running musical. If your child gets into it they may learn to sing, develop an interest in politics and even read Victor Hugo's massive classic. Or not!

Les Miserables is the world’s longest running musical. If your child gets into it they may learn to sing, develop an interest in politics and even read Victor Hugo’s massive classic. Or not!

Reading Stuffocation I felt it would be easy to fall out with the rest of the human race (the richer ones that is) yet applying the book’s fundamental message – do more, buy less – is a great plan.

Some years ago I was switched on to this idea by an American friend who suggested that sticking to a rigid gift budget didn’t always make sense, instead it might be better to buy theatre tickets for birthday and Christmas presents so that the gift giver and recipient got a shared moment of time they’d, hopefully, remember. And of course it doesn’t have to be a pricey show, a pub walk or picnic can be fun too. I don’t always go for experience gifts – as my family and godchildren know – but it helped me feel I had permission to sometimes spend cash on what might otherwise be seen as frivolities cutting into the weekly essentials. Curiously this friend has the same problem as me: a great deal of clutter around her home, although she does try and shift it on ebay from time to time.

Wallman concludes Stuffocation by claiming we need experiences more than ever. “By having less and doing more, we will be happier, healthier, richer in every sense: less clutter, less regret, less anxiety, more conversations, more connections, a healthier take on status, and a stronger sense of belonging.”

Rating the book 6/10. It’s a tough decision going to a six, as though I totally agree with the idea of rethinking what it is we value, I struggle to find clutter the problem when it can so often also be a fantastic insurance towards enabling opportunity. Then again I’m not buying an expensive new pair of high heels or queueing for xmas’s fashionable electronic toy. And I do think I’ll try and give some of Wallman’s ideas a go…

Have a look at the stuffocation website here.

Here’s the amazon.co.uk link here.

Over to you
I’m so looking forward to hearing what you think about this idea. Do leave a comment now, or go read the book and join the debate.

You can buy from amazon at this link Stuffocation: living more with less by James Wallman (paperback rrp £9.99). There’s also a kindle version.





5 tips for anyone who has to be a school Santa

Posted December 5, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Schools often insist on having Father Christmas in his Grotto – but if Father Christmas himself can’t make it, what do you do?  Here are some tips on how to be a brilliant school Santa, from a former PTA Santa organiser and a couple of Santas… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Giant xmas cards cost so much - here's a fiver saved by making it yourself.

Giant xmas cards cost so much – here’s a fiver saved by making it yourself.

1 Check on location
School PTAs (parent teacher associations) love to have a Santa’s grotto. A quick way to make this fab is to ask the teaching assistants – maybe get them to decorate a pop up gazebo in the corner of a classroom. Or even use a big cupboard (though that may involve a painful clearing up job too). Santa’s job will be to cope with the crying children, deal with the unbelievers and do a theatrically fab job of passing over a present (glow sticks are great, but let’s hope that’s not the toy Santa gave out last year, or the year before).

2 Do your research (especially if you don’t have children)
OK, the reindeer are parked on the school roof, but what are their names? (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder & Blitzen.)  Perhaps Rudolf with his nose so red is your favourite, but he’s not as good a sledge puller…

Facts for the super clever: at this time of the year it’s only the female reindeer that have antlers, like Vixen… (perhaps find out if the local shopping centre has arranged a reindeer visit for passing on to a wannabe David Attenborough).

“I was Santa at a friend’s kids’ school. Fantastic experience as it’s the closest you’ll ever get to being a real life super hero. One terrified little kid even gave me (Santa) a Christmas card afterwards. Make sure you are up on the latest children’s toys though. I was baffled when one girl said she wanted rats for Christmas. After asking her to repeat the request several times, it turned out she wanted Bratz. Could have been tricky if it had been within my gift to actually fulfil her request on the spot.” Christian

3 Wear the right gear – be suited and booted
The pound shop and Tesco have the whole Father Christmas kit (probably) but you also need a large pair of big black wellies. Something to borrow maybe? Don’t spoil the look with trainers. DM shoes are a give away.

Can you tell it's a reusable xmas tree?

Can you tell it’s a reusable xmas tree?

4 You have to con your own children
Firstly you have to, otherwise the rumour is going to spread around the school that it’s Amal or Emily’s dad who is doing Father Christmas. Still at least it’s not the school caretaker again.

“Don’t let them pull your beard (ideally a fake long white one) or prod your stomach (stuffed with a cushion). Just stay in your chair if they cry.” Dad who has been Santa twice (honestly, one go is enough – it’s a job the dads can share).

If you decide to go all modern and have a Mrs Santa check with the teaching assistants. If they don’t like the idea stop right there – after all you need the helpful TAs to decorate that grotto…

5 Dealing with unbelievers
There are two places where this needs to be dealt with – in the queue and in the grotto.  Queue managers need distraction: maybe arm yourself with cracker jokes, or try free face painting of a holly leaf or a Rudolf red nose. Believe that Father Christmas is in that grotto, and that will help the kids believe it too.

“There are always stroppy ones who try and catch you out. when you ask what they want for Christmas they say ‘can I have a nintendo DS271?’ You say yes. They laugh and go (evilly) ‘Ha ha I’ve caught you out, there isn’t one. You’re not Santa… ‘  My tip is to just keep saying ‘if you are good I’m sure Father Christmas will bring you the presents you want’ – jovially. And if a child comes in and shouts out (accurately) ‘Molly, Molly it’s your dad,’ you have to deny it.” Dad of a year 2 and year 5

Happy Christmas: may your fundraising be tear-free.

Christmas present ideas for teens

Posted November 30, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What great ideas are you using this Christmas to help your teens shop creatively for gifts? This one is perfect for scrabble fans.  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Alphabet necklace: find old scrabble letters; fit a 2.5mm or 3mm drill bit into a hand drill and get to work. Then thread the letters on to ribbon or bevelled edge leather.

Alphabet necklace: find old scrabble letters; fit a 2.5mm or 3mm drill bit into a hand drill and get to work. Then thread the letters on to ribbon or bevelled edge leather.

My teenagers long for Christmas. They want big presents to give and to get. They want to be able to treat their friends and their family. So far, so sweet.. but they’re not that keen to use their own savings. And the one who does babysit uses this money mostly to travel to college and buy 80p cups of coffee when she’s there.

So how do I find a way for them to get their friends a present everyone will be satisfied with – ideally without spending much money? It seems that even spending a lot of money you might not get the sort of gift you want – just seen a box of super long matches on sale for £9.99!

A few months back I saw a jar of scrabble letters for sale in a charity shop and thought they might make a clever gift if I had the right drill bit. And so it turns out: drill a letter into a scrabble square and then use a specially bought bit of leather cord, or a pretty ribbon and you’ve got a perfect teen gift. What’s more the kids are doing the making.

If you’ve got any ideas what teens can give to teens in a creative, thrifty and eco-friendly fashion then please share them here! Thanks.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy https://homemadekids.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/worrying-what-to-get-kids-for-christmas/


How much science do you do with your kids?

Posted November 15, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

How different do you think the world will be when the kids grow up? And what sort of skills are you offering your kids to cope with these changes – from technology to climate? Maybe time for a bit of extra science?  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Pumpkin and lentil soup for an outdoor picnic during half term.

Pumpkin and lentil soup for an outdoor picnic during half term. Nell only liked it because she was a bit cold and definitely hungry!

I’m really good at offering any kids I’m entertaining the chance to go outside – because that’s what I like doing.  I’m not so good at exploring science (despite having an MSc!). So it seemed a great opportunity to take Nell, 13, to see a proper 3D printer at the Maker Fair run at the London College of Communication building in Elephant and Castle this weekend.

Using the electric current Nell worked out how to light the LED and then how to make a tune - just by moving playdough.

Using the electric current Nell worked out how to light the LED and then how to make a tune – just by moving playdough.

Every school should have a 3D printer, or organise for someone to come in and talk through the potential of this amazing device. I love the way they can be industrial or suitable for a home office, and I love the way they make you think differently about creativity. But once we’d understood the principle and seen some not very interesting outcomes in frankly horrible material – a vase, some plastic toys – we moved on to the kids’ activities.

Nell did some exploring with currents and playdough (this only works if you put salt in your playdough).

Broken saucepan lids get customised (aka mended) using Sugru.

Broken saucepan lids get customised (aka mended) using Sugru.

I was sidetracked by the Sugru stall. This is an expensive mouldable glue that makes fixing things, or customising them, incredibly simple. Of course the fair had bargain prices so I bought a few packets thinking this is the sort of item that makes an amazing stocking present, and an even better gift for me. I think if I was only ever given Sugru for the rest of my life I’d be happy and at £10 for three small portions (in panther pink) that’s a useful tip for anyone out there who might ever be inclined to buy me a present. Or have a hard to buy for friend…

The fair was brilliant: it was full of families with keen teenage boys looking at the new devices on show. It doesn’t seem fair that boys so often get more time exposed to science  – but after 20 mins at the show Nell’s phone went into buzz overdrive and she soon was lost to text plans about how to meet her friends to go to the cinema. I guess you win some, and lose some. The point is to try. Good luck.

Over to you
What have you done this weekend that has really felt like science?


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