Posted tagged ‘homemade kids’

6 signs your kids can read

August 30, 2015

It seemed to take ages for my kids to learn to read – now at 17 and 14 they are recommending novels to me. This post is in celebration of summertime word play. There are more good ideas about parenting in my book Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird




love this sign! Found it outside a pizza restaurant just opposite Highgate tube station in north London. For more baby-friendly places to breastfeed (which by rights ought to be everywhere!) see this list of breastfeeding-friendly spots in London compiled by Time Out.


Kids: ever so scary? Possibly this sign in Newcastle upon Tyne was warning drivers not to run tots over...

Kids: ever so scary? Possibly this sign in Newcastle upon Tyne was warning drivers not to run tots over…

During the Olympics Londoners seemed especially helpful – so when we spotted this sign in the north of England we enjoyed the irony.


Absolutely no smacking.

A mastered.

Some signs just help the kids learn to read.


Seen in Chelmsford (I was born here, but lived in Herts!).

Seen in Chelmsford.

It’s meant to be a great place.


We enjoyed this Lake District farmer's irritation with tourists.

The kids enjoyed finding this Lake District farmer’s irritation with tourists.

Not everyone likes children, or visitors. This one made laugh.




Of course we want to see a kangaroo, and a beware kangaroos sign. But sometimes a sticker has to do.

Over to you
Are you and your kids sign spotters?


8 things I’ve learnt about raising children

March 9, 2015

Any ideas for 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 (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 readers can think of at least two more good tips! Thanks.


Ways to help boys enjoy craft

March 10, 2014

How do you encourage boys to do things like sewing, cooking, glueing and craft experimenting? A new book focuses on Boycraft in a bid to convince boys that craft is for anyone, even them. 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

Do boys like craft? It’s a nonsense question isn’t it – most primary school boys I know have a stick in their hand, and their eyes on the hunt for any treasures the ground will yield up allowing them to make whatever they need (fort, weapon, power strobe, beastly bug etc).

At least they did until they were given a phone.

Boycraft by Sara Duchars & Sarah Marks (Frances Lincoln, £12.99)

Boycraft by Sara Duchars & Sarah Marks (Frances Lincoln, £12.99)

But for those families who can’t quite think how to get boys making things the new book Boycraft should be a winner.

Boycraft by craft specialists Sara Duchars and Sarah Marks is full of fabulous ideas for kids to make – such as giant bean bags (with tail), fantastic Halloween dress up outfits and papier mache Egyptian mummies (my favourite). The instructions are easy to follow and put together in a way that just makes you want to have a go.

Is a book for boys necessary?
At the after-school club my daughters went to, all the kids, boys and girls, used to do supervised craft. A couple of years after the youngest left I was back visiting and stunned to see that the girls were still making chatterboxes and doing craft, but the boys were queuing up to use the playstation. There was no way they wanted to do craft any more… It was a real loss for those boys who by making spiders from pipe cleaners, foil axes and wooden stilts are learning the skills for DIY, as well as having fun. A background in craft gives you the confidence to adapt things that don’t fit, or fix things that break – essential life lessons.

Giant medals made with a jam jar lid, ribbon, sellotape and a splash of decorative imagination. One of the great ideas in Boycraft.

Giant medals made with a jam jar lid, ribbon, sellotape and a splash of decorative imagination. One of the great ideas, in new book Boycraft, that would make a brilliant addition for a party bag.

At a packed medal-making event at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green co-author Sarah Marks explained: “We don’t gender divide our craft at and a lot of people have said it’s bad to do the gender divide. But we felt we needed to give boys permission to do craft. It’s a shout out for them.”

Make craft easy to do by putting out the tools that are needed. Ideally only help when it's asked for... craft is all about learning from mistakes.

Make craft easy to do by putting out the tools that are needed. Ideally only help when it’s asked for… craft is all about learning from mistakes.

While my 13-year-old, Nell, made a couple of medals I discovered we were sitting next to Sarah’s youngest, 10-year-old, Oliver, who was busily making a mini cityscape from 3D paper folds…. “We’re always doing craft at home,” he told me reaching for the sharper scissors. With some relief he also added: “I don’t have to make all my presents at Christmas…”

Take home message
Seems like Oliver’s mum Sarah has got it right:

1) Do lots of craft with your kids, because it’s normal and fun. It’s also often a way for a child to get something cheaply, within about half an hour (or less if you are making a medal).
2) But never force kids to do craft because it’s what they should be doing... especially in the high-pressured run-up to Christmas.

Making the occasional gift a child knows right from the start is destined for someone else is a real learning curve for all children. It’s lovely for them to be gift-givers – Nell even made me a medal at this event!

So families with boys, maybe have a flick through Boycraft if you see a copy – I’d be amazed if it doesn’t inspire you to either get creating, or get your hands on your own book.

Over to you
What ideas do you have for getting kids to do craft, or do you have any really good tips on where to find ideas for things kids can make?

Museum of Childhood in east London is open 10am-5.45pm daily.

You can buy Boycraft from Amazon, here’s the link.

In praise of walks with kids

January 20, 2014

 What ways do you use to get kids to talk about stuff – homework, fun, what’s bothering them? People often use the school run for this – my favourite way with primary school students was to take a steady walk. What about bigger kids or even the ones in buggies? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see my book Homemade Kids

I loved the way this decorated tree can be a perfect hiding spot.

I loved the way this decorated tree can be a perfect hiding spot.

“Do you know what animals eat spiders?” asked the little boy to his mum as they passed in the street. Agog I waited for the answer – assuming it would be something crazy. Turned out to be birds… but the child on the pavement was very little, not long out of a buggy on the walk to school. As the family walked away I could hear the conversation was getting interesting – lots of stuff about the food chain.

Walking is a great way to spark conversation because you cannot help but see things that get people asking why and how questions, whatever their hunger levels or mood. And small people often see the most interesting things, probably because they are closer to the ground.

Why do people leave chicken bones on the ground?

Could I eat this dropped sweet?

Would an extinct sabre toothed tiger have walked down this road? Etc, etc

Graffiti in Portugal Street, near the Royal Courts of Justice, London.

Graffiti in Portugal Street, near the Royal Courts of Justice, London.

At the weekend I try and walk around bits of London which are low on shops, just to get a better sense of this big city.

Both my daughters, now nearly 13 and 15, tolerate this. In a way walking with their mum is an old habit. We spent eight years with the oldest, and 11 with the youngest rushing to and from school.  We also have a dog, but he prefers parks and grass. So when we leave him at home it’s signs of the city we are looking out for. Like this crazy grafitti (left).

Nell looking in the Cabinet of Jurisprudence - one of the eccentric displays at the Seven Stars pub. can you see the one-spectacled skull?

Nell looking in the Cabinet of Jurisprudence – one of the eccentric displays at the Seven Stars pub. can you see the one-spectacled skull?

Pub time machine
Another good spot are pubs – buildings that used to be pubs, re-named pubs and walks taking in as many pubs as possible. You don’t have to go in to get a sense of the atmosphere – hopefully this means these pub crawls aren’t too habit forming. It is a good way to think about the generations of people who’ve lived where we live, but maybe years before us.

Rules of Pub Cricket
Or just brush up on maths with the game pub cricket. Divide the street into left/right (or north/south as appropriate). Then when you see a pub sign count the legs relevant to it’s name. For example the Coach & Horses will have a lot (look at the sign), The Cock has two, The Duke’s Head none.  For older children set a challenge for each pub – so think of two famous people and ask if they could ever have drunk in that pub (eg, Dickens and Hardy) at the same time? Be led by your children’s choices of celebrity to make it a bit less worthy.

Strange structures by Pentonville Prison - possibly an echo of cattle stalls or maybe disused gardens. Or are they seaside posts?

Strange structures by Pentonville Prison – possibly an echo of cattle stalls or maybe disused gardens. Or are they seaside posts? It turned a walk into a mini Stonehenge exploration…

Be inventive
Sometimes it’s hard to know what you are looking at. If that’s the case – a strange shaped rock, a huge excavation or odd wooden structures (see pic above) it’s a chance to get older kids to search their Mind Palace (borrowing a useful Sherlock Holmes tool) and come up with an answer. What is it supposed to be?

Nell's friend looking through the pix he took during our walk.

Nell’s friend looking through the pix he took during our walk.

Taking photos of what they see is another brilliant way to keep a child’s interest in a walk. But be prepared to take over their equipment if they are tempted to do something that might damage it, like climb a tree.

Over to you
Do you walk regularly with your children – whatever the weather? Do you find it a good way to keep them talking to you, whatever their age?

10 ways to have more fun raising your baby

July 20, 2013

When you’ve got a baby everyone starts telling you what to do.  A wonderful midwife – appropriately called Joy – told me to only take the good advice. So now my biggest is 15 here are the best tips to make raising a baby, simple. If you fancy adding any, please do… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see, or my book Homemade Kids,

Some of the families in our babysitting circle back at a 2009 get-together.

Some of the families in our babysitting circle, back at a 2009 get-together, are smiling
  1. Love socks – they can be used as gloves for warmth or to help stop eczema-kids scratching themselves raw. For about a year you baby won’t need shoes, but they might need double socks to keep their toes warm. No one minds if your baby is wearing odd socks. Sock removal is the best entertainment for a tot in a high chair or a buggy. And when they are outgrown, pass them on or turn them into sock puppet monsters.
  2. Aim to say yes far more than no (as in yes you can have an ice cream another day). It’s heartbreaking if your child’s first word is ‘NO’. Then it becomes really irritating. In the parenting manuals they say ‘reward good behavior, ignore bad’.
  3. Breast feeding gives you a desert thirst, so always carry a water bottle around so you can refill it. Keep up the habit and you’ll save a fortune!
  4. If you want people to come around, then just ask them – even if your home is a state. A tidy house is a luxury.

    Raising kids is all about great planning and being able to muddle along, just like they do in Alice in Wonderland.

    Raising kids is a piece of cake. Now, where’s the cake?

  5. Kids have more fun in super simple clothes so babies/toddlers can crawl anywhere without being stung by nettles or bruised. Make sure all kids’ clothing is easy to wash and doesn’t need ironing. For crawlers up give away all those baby-shower gifts of cute but impractical skirts, shorts and dungarees. But for babies at night the all-in-ones make nappy changing hard, so use a nightie (or T shirt) and tights (yes, even for boys).
  6. If you’ve got any type of paid work and small children, then you are going to have to find childcare. High five to anyone who managers without this.
  7. On those very rare nights you go out, it is not kind to expect a teenager to babysit too late. Babysitting circles or swaps with other parent friends may be a better option.
  8. When it comes to primary schools all you need to know is does the school have a breakfast and after school club that your child can go to?
  9. It is possible to do anything when you have a little children, except get a haircut, or laugh/trampoline (unless you keep up those pelvic floor exercises).
  10. Childcare is a long, long slog of a job, but you’ll miss it – the last time you pack away the Lego you’ll be in tears.

Over to you
What are your top tips for new parents?

So what do you feel about hitting?

January 11, 2013
Absolutely no smacking.

Absolutely no smacking.

This post looks at who hits kids and bans them from their beds – thanks to a Pulitzer prizewinner stepping into the debate. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children click here or follow this blog.

I’m not asking if you have ever hit your child, I’m asking what you feel about hitting.  I hate it – not least because the people who hit their children tend to be parents who claim to love their child best. They also tend to be bigger than the kid. So now that my most favourite environmental writer, the super Pulitzer prize-winning Jared Diamond has spelt out that modern children who are smacked are getting a raw deal. I feel families now have a very strong steer – charted through history – as to why smacking should not  be acceptable.

Even if your kids survived it, maybe you could lay off your grandchildren?

It’s not the only aspect of childcare that is a disaster for children, as Diamond says in his new book The World Until Yesterday “probably no infant in human history was ever left to cry itself to sleep in its own crib or bedroom before 10,000 years ago.”  Take note Gina Ford followers.

Jared Diamond has spent many years in Oceania, in particular in remote parts of Papua New Guinea, and he’s seen traditional societies at very close quarters. There children are part of so much, carried around, present – never banished from rooms/weddings/funerals/celebrations.

Writing in the Guardian on 11 January 2013 Diamond says: “The small societies that don’t smack their children differ on average from modern westernised societies in at least seven other features of child-rearing.

  • They carry babies upright and facing forwards, so that babies see where they are being carried.
  • They respond almost instantly to an infant’s crying; they don’t let an infant cry for 10 minutes “to learn self-control”.
  • Responsibility for a group’s children is shared not just by the parents but also among other adults.
  • Children are given far more freedom of choice than western micromanaging parents permit.
  • Infants are held almost constantly
  • … [they aren’t left to cry].
  • And mothers breastfeed children for several years.

I was lucky to live in the next door country to PNG, Solomon Islands from 1990-92 before I had children and was stunned to see children be so much a part of everyone’s life. until then I thought everywhere did “seen but not heard”. I hope the influence has rubbed off to the good on my own parenting styles – it certainly is a mindset that helped underpin this blog with its thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. And the kids are alright (at the mo!).

I’ve even interviewed Jared Diamond after he’d written a previous book, see page 9 in this PDF from Friends of the Earth’s Earthmatters magazine (summer 2005). What a shame I didn’t catch up with him in this book promotional tour. I’d like to ask him a lot about how he hopes to see his ideas of a smack-free society (and plenty more besides, like sustainability, etc) come about.

Over to you?
What are your parenting lode stones? A book, film, feeling or your own familial experience?

Are you ever boastful? You should be…

December 20, 2012
What do you mean my child's been turned into a polar bear?

What do you mean my child’s been turned into a polar bear?

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is all about keeping life in perspective. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting click here.

I think we’ve all been guilty of being proud of our children. And to those of you at a different stage, say teenage rebellion, you might even have been guilty of boasting how unbelievably awful your child can be.

Over past month alone I’ve heard people tell me their child is terrific at maths, got a boyfriend at last (she’s 13, agh), able to pack away their lego, found a job, got a place at university, can throw proper two year old tantrums… These children are all different ages of course, and I’m so glad people do share stuff about their kids over the phone, in conversation, on Facebook, in Christmas Round Robin letters, any way they like. Not only do I want to know, it’s wonderful to see and hear about children as they grow up.

What’s not to like about a little boastfulness? It’s far better than…

Lost front teeth, cute as a newt!

Lost front teeth, cute as a newt!

“They’re too old now”
Rather more poignantly, I find that listening to how other kids are growing up helps us all remember our own children at the same age/stage of development. Indeed a friend with an independent older teen told me recently that she may have the photos but she finds she really misses her sweet two year old, or the little girl who wore a woolly hat, or the child who hugged up close for a bedtime story. “I’m mourning those children,” she said eyes welling up.

With two girls at secondary school it can’t be long before I’m mourning the little children household we had – forgetting how exhausting it was constantly looking after a tot.


Loving the lego stage, in retrospect. Perhaps you’ve forgotten the pain of standing on lost bits of lego, or the nightmare of clearing it all away?

So to all of you with little ones, here’s to a happy and safe holidays and the hope of a few treats where you get some time off.  My tip is share the tasks, and live in the moment, just like the kids do. Oh yes, and eat more snacks.

And to all of those of you with bigger kids, here’s to a happy reflection of those good old days, without sinking into deep regret.  My tip is collect those lovely drawings, school reports and outgrown shoes/clothes and think of clever ways to preserve them – not just photos. This could be a very satisfying 2013 project for the cold winter months.

Well, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Over to you?
What do you think – boastfulness is never acceptable, or it’s a lovely part of sharing the things you and your child have enjoyed doing together and will make the hard times easier.

Get Fit With Azmain

“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.”



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