In-flight entertainment for young children

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I have already written a philosophical post about our recent holiday and how the children grew up in that one week and all the stuff we learned.

This one is where I give you some Extremely Useful Tips about travelling on a plane with small people. Brace yourselves.

On the plane on the way over, we were sitting opposite a mum travelling solo with four children, ranging in age from 18 months to 7 or 8. Having some experience of taking my two children on an aeroplane by myself, first of all I need to say: my hat off to you, you are one brave lady. Her kids behaved atrociously during the whole flight: bickering, arguing, screaming, crying, kicking against seats, making outrageous demands, not staying in their seat at safety-critical moments etc. Their rather stressed and worn out mother, trapped with the youngest on her lap, made empty threats from across the aisle at her three older kids who were seated together by themselves.

I felt great. My daughter was sitting on my lap munching on some raisins, my son was calmly studying a book about multiplication tables. Suddenly, by comparison, we were doing great and our kids were a credit to us.

I had plenty of time, while my kids were so well-behaved, to study what was going on with the “neighbours from hell” as one cranky old man sitting in front of the unruly threenager called them, and to think of some Points for Improvement to put on their feedback sheet. Combined with some exciting craft ideas, I present to you my:

Tips for travelling with under 5s

1. Do not under any circumstances let them sit by themselves

Keep your small people within easy reach. You need to be able to grab them if they work out how to undo their seatbelts and stage a break out. Also, you want to be able to hiss dire threats into their ear without the whole plane listening in and judging your parenting techniques. Disciplining your child in a foreign language is definitely a bonus here, but beware: people on aeroplanes are 56.7% more likely to speak your language than the average stranger in a soft play place. The best place for parents to sit is so that the children have to get through you to get to each other. Another good option is to flank them, one parent on each side.

 

2. Pack snacks. Healthy snacks. Without E-numbers.

The rowdy kids on the plane devoured their body weight in Haribo, chomping through their entire supply within the first ten minutes. We hadn’t even taken off yet. The rest of the journey they were high as kites. Whereas food is an excellent way to entertain your small people in flight, make sure the food helps rather than hinders. Good snacks take a long time for your 3 year old to unwrap and an even longer time to eat. They are exciting enough to act as a bribe for sitting quietly during take off, but not so exciting that they prompt tantrums when they are all gone. If you have a child that still naps, good snacks also have plenty of sleepy making carbohydrates in them so that they will nod off for the latter half of the journey. I’d packed brioche (sweet, filling, takes a while to eat, not too crumbly), raisins (take ages, fun to get out of the box), bread sticks (appealingly crunchy) and flavoured rice cakes. Fruit is great but often doesn’t survive long enough.

 

3. Bring entertainment that doesn’t annoy other passengers and if possible, can’t get lost too easily

The latter is almost impossible, but mostly I bring sticker books and magazines with activities. Also colouring pencils (not felt tips, or they will decorate you and the plane as well), sticker sheets and little books to read/look at. On our last trip I brought pencils but no paper, so we invented a lovely activity that I named “Decorate your own Sick Bag”:

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4. Use what is available

If you run out of snacks or your carefully chosen activities are spurned, look in the seat pocket in front of you or the arm rest beside you for inspiration. Besides sick bag decorating, we have played “pull the safety card from where Daddy wedged it under the catch that holds the tray table up while giggling insanely”, we have studied the in-flight magazine with interested and named everything in it, we have looked out of the window and, as my son is completely obsessed with numbers, he spent a happy fifteen minutes changing channels on the armrest radio.

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5. Stay calm and engage with your children

Nothing makes a potentially explosive child more likely to explode than you losing your cool. You are stuck in a seat together for a while, so it is best to keep the tone light, the mood up-beat and the snack and hugs coming. If your child finds something that amuses them and wants to do it again and again and again, for goodness sake keep doing it. If you have to read Topsy and Tim have a Birthday Party eight times in a row, do it with feeling. It might even see you through until the plane lands. This is not a time to strike up deep and meaningful conversations with the person next to you (yes, I’m looking at you, solo-travelling-mum-of-four), you are needed to be entertainer, referee, play facilitator, snack provider and conversation partner. This is a time to give your child all the attention s/he asks for.

 

Finally, if your kids do end up crying inconsolably and all you can do is grin and bear it, just keep in mind that it is in no way my fault and you probably did something wrong by not following my advice to the letter.

Note: if anyone reading this was on a flight to Spain last autumn and thinks they saw me walk up and down the aisle with a screaming baby for an hour, that absolutely categorically was not me.

Note 2: Got any great tips of your own that you’d like to share? Put them in the comments! 

Live Poetry: Jelly Fish

Jelly fish

See:
This is not me.

please don’t admire
this alabaster shell, worn smooth
by wind and rain
and other people’s words

please don’t envy me
these spikes I’ve grown
to ward off critics
and keep the truth at bay

please don’t be fooled
by who I wish I were
and who I’d like to be;
my aspirations are not me.

please peel away this shell
and see
the jelly fish inside:

My fears and guilt and doubt
The tears that won’t come out
The things unsaid and jobs not done
All the arguments never begun

See:
this is me.
love this blob
and get me for free
in all my beautiful uncertainty.

 

(c) Judith Kingston

 

You can hear this poem read aloud along with poems by Sarah Miles, Stephanie Arsoska, Helen Braid and Ellie Danak on Youtube.

Linked up to Prose for Thought.

Growing in the sunshine

IMG_2763Perhaps you noticed that the sandpit was a little quiet over the Easter holidays

We were away – catching some unseasonal summery weather in a lovely holiday home with a pool. We’d booked very last minute and had been hesitating between several options, studying pictures and descriptions. In the end we chose a villa that had a long list of rave reviews from previous visitors, and we weren’t disappointed.

When we arrived, we discovered that the pictures had really not done the villa justice. It had a vast garden, an orchard, a bird house, a separate pool house with a little fridge and a bar and – there was a children’s play house. With a fence around it. And toys inside. And a tricycle. It was absolutely perfect and we all fell in love as soon as we set foot in the grounds.

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Every morning as soon as she woke up, the Girl ran to the back door, pressed her nose against the glass and said hopefully: “Housh?” The Boy christened it “the tree house”, and found some peculiar but apparently very absorbing Boy-activities there that he loved (they involved making a mole hill out of gravel…) There was so much to do: the Girl force-fed the dolls orange juice, the Boy rode the tricycle, he wanted me to read the sign next to the little dog house every day, I was commissioned to Do Writing on the blackboard, we read Richard Scarry books in Spanish, we (I) did puzzles and played with the toy microwave oven.

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The Boy and the Girl also had heart-meltingly lovely times when they played together. The cutest was when they sat together on the gravelly ground, the Girl scooping up handfuls of “stones” and handing them to her brother, who piled them high into one of his mole hills while singing a jolly song. They did this for about ten minutes, and all that time the Girl had a little hand resting on The Boy’s leg. When she lost interest and toddled off, the Boy lay down sadly on the ground and muttered disconsolately: “I want to play with you, A.” She just ignored him and tried to make the dollies IMG_2748sit on little stools.

The last time we went on holiday it was in an apartment and the Girl had only just learned to walk. This time, things were very different and she toddled about with great glee, enjoying a bit of freedom to run around. It wasn’t easy, though. Everything was at an angle, or had steps. There was gravel instead of grass, and there were tiles instead of carpets. I was a little worried about whether she’d cope, but in actual fact, the Girl took to the challenge with infectious enthusiasm. As the days went by, she learned how to navigate the unfamiliar terrain. She remembered where all the steps were and would find something to hold on to as she went down them, saying “step, step, step” as she came down. She scrambled and slid up the steep gravelly slopes on all fours at first, but by day four she was walking up them upright, compensating for the angle by leaning forwards and taking smaller steps.

Maybe, I thought, this was just what she needed. Challenges, and opportunities to learn. She certainly got more steady on her feet.

We went to the beach, where she exclaimed in delight over the sand, but expressed some distress at it getting in her favourite strawberry shoes. The Boy took his bucket and spade and continued his mole hill project, getting very annoyed if the Girl tried to get involved or knocked his hill over. The sea, for him, was a source of water to improve the texture of the sand for mole hill building. The Girl, on the other hand, was enchanted by the water itself. As soon as she saw the sea, her tiny face lit up. She ran towards the waves, pulling me along behind her, her little feet sinking into the soft sand. She walked right in, and laughed and cheered and stomped her little feet in the waves, not caring if they soaked her, shouting “plash! plash!”

Our villa was a calm, sunny space where time moved slowly, and we had the time to watch our children play and realise how much they had grown up. There was the Girl, climbing onto  chairs and sitting up at the table next to her brother. Her vocabulary exploded in those seven days, with all the new things to see and talk about, and she chattered away saying “S sit here” and “Daddy have juice” and “oh no! ball ‘way!”

"Allo birds"

“Allo birds”

The Boy was so independent, inventing his own games, busy with little projects, but also connecting with us on a much more grown up level. He appointed himself Daddy’s swimming coach as he attempted a dip in the ice cold pool. The week was lovely and sunny, but the pool was not heated and I was definitely not going to be doing any swimming. The Husband, however, braved the cold, cheered on by The Boy who counted the steps down into the pool. In the afternoons when the Girl napped, The Boy would come and lie on the sun lounger next to mine and do drawings, stickers or his Peter Rabbit magazine while I read a book. This was a new and pleasant development.

We watched the two of them, playing and laughing and discovering, and felt very lucky. It was lovely to have this pause, this refuge, these frozen moments in time to look and think and sit back and be.

Now, we are back home , trying to cling on to the good things  from our week away. We squeezed in another barbecue last weekend and mowed the lawn to make the garden more inviting for the kids to play in. I found that I was a lot less stressed about taking the kids to play outside, having spent an entire week outdoors, and made sure that we were out for a while every day while the sun was shining.

I am also trying to give the Boy more independence and responsibility, trying to trust him more, not doing everything for him because I think it will be quicker.

And the same goes for the Girl, who I often carry out to the car or up and down the stairs, for speed. I have started putting her little feet down on the ground, taking a deep breath and accepting that things will need to take a bit longer, but that in the long run, it will lead to more independent children. So I let her walk up and down the stairs at her own pace.

“Step, step, step,” she says, placing her feet with precision, holding on to the rail with one hand and my finger with the other, her tiny bunches bobbing with every step.

Like spring flowers, we have spent time in the sun and slowly, we are starting to blossom.

 

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Linking up to Loud ‘n Proud over at Mother of Three World. Next week I’ll be hosting so come back then to share more of your proud moments!

Explaining Easter: where do you begin?

20140420-085420.jpgIt is the early hours of Easter morning. I have been up late with friends and should really go to sleep now, but instead I find myself holding a little Easter vigil. More than a day would have gone by since they buried Jesus, and now, after the initial shock, the bleak reality of life without him must have started to set in for his friends and family. Maybe they were lying awake, like me, wondering what the whole thing had been about if it was all going to end in a bloody, painful and humiliating death.

It isn’t easy to explain what Easter is about. In fact, Jesus had to supernaturally appear to his friends, undercover, to explain it in person because they hadn’t twigged. It took him the entire length of the road from Jerusalem to Emmaeus. That’s seven miles. On foot.

Good Friday, 11.30am, found me in a crowd of people walking from one end of the high street to another, to the beat of a solitary drum, carrying the limp body of the actor playing Jesus in the dramatisation. I was crying my eyes out, like I do every year. Every year it gets to me. He is dead he is dead he is dead.

And I know why. And I know that he rises on Sunday morning. But in that moment I feel the desolation of a world without Jesus.

“Are those people religious?” I hear a teenager coming out of Top Shop ask her friend as we process past.

“Oh my god, are they carrying someone?”

They look shocked. Outraged even.

I remember that look from the faces of the shoppers during the first Good Friday walk of witness I ever experienced. The looks of disgust. How dare you bring some morbid funeral procession to our high street? What is wrong with you people?

It is hard to explain. As I watched them lift half naked Jesus, covered in wounds, onto their shoulders I wondered what my children were thinking sitting in the buggy. Christmas is accessible. It’s easy to get excited about the birth of a new baby; there are fun dressing up opportunities (angel, donkey, three kings); they can identify with having birthdays, being the son of a wonderful Daddy and being special. You can even talk about saving the world a bit, and maybe they imagine the baby will grow up to be a superhero and that they – small now – can do the same when they grow up. But how do you explain Easter morning without Good Friday? And how do you explain why Jesus had to die to a three year old? He has no concept of death yet, let alone sacrificing yourself to pay the price for the sins of humanity.

As we walked back to the car, The Boy asked if we were going to the party now. I was still crying.

“Yes, we’re going to the party.”

“Is it my birthday?”

“No, it’s an Easter party.” I paused, feeling that I should now try to summarise and define for him why we were celebrating the gruesome death on the cross of this Jesus that we sing about, in whose name we pray, who we thank every day for making life beautiful.

“At Easter we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. Because of Jesus we can all be God’s best friends.”

I am someone who likes to start at the beginning and explain everything in great detail. This did not seem enough. But as we went on to the party – loud, busy, children running about laughing and collecting chocolate and sweets in their party bags – I thought that it was enough for now. At 34, I still discover more about the meaning of Easter every year. We start here, with best friends and chocolate eggs and sitting in a buggy while people walk down the shopping street carrying a very tired man with red make up on his body on their shoulders, and we add the rest as we go along.

They have just started their road to Emmaeus and I am only a few steps ahead.

If you have any ideas on how to explain Easter to children that involve Duplo or dressing up please help me out in the comments!

I am linking up to Loud ‘n Proud, as I very rarely blog about my faith. This is my virtual walk of witness.

Loud ‘n Proud Week 3: Leaving Mummy’s Comfort Zone

Welcome to week 3 of Loud ‘n Proud! If you are new to this linky, you can read more details here. I look forward to reading about all the amazing things your wonderful children have done recently – and perhaps some of your own achievements as well. Feel free to be proud of yourself! You can link up your posts below, and don’t forget to grab our badge.

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Personally, I find it easy to brag about my children’s academic achievements (erm, I do realise they are only 3 and 1 1/2 years old), and to wax lyrical about their linguistic prowess, but something you will rarely hear me mention is their physical abilities. I’ll level with you: I am not into sports and I hate playing outside. Well – I like playing outside, but not if it involves too much supervision, mess, potential for injuries or physical exertion on my part.

So, I guess, I hate playing outside.

As a mum, I am great at encouraging music, art, reading books, imaginative play, but ask me to go and teach my son to ride a bike and I’ll suddenly be very busy with Important Jobs in the house, or you’ll find me asleep on the sofa with Team Umizoomi on repeat.

It took me 6 months of being nagged, prodded and reminded to sign my son up to Tots Tennis at our local tennis club. It was cheap, it was short, it was run by someone we know and trust, yet every week there was something. He didn’t have the right shoes. Or I had work. Or I didn’t know what I’d do with the Girl while we were there. Or I’d just forget.

Then just before half term, we went to the grand opening of a local community centre, and the Tots Tennis stand was there, complete with tiny rackets and soft balls. The entire time we were there, both the Boy and the Girl were running after the balls, waving rackets around and generally having a marvellous time. Before I could stop myself, I found myself saying to the Boy: “Would you like to have tennis lessons?”

“Yes!” he said breathlessly. “I have tennis lessons!” His voice went up to a squeak at the end, that’s how excited he was.

So I signed him up.

We bought him Special Tennis Shoes in Primark. He carried them home as gently as if they were made of porcelain, and kept showing them to everyone, telling anyone who would listen that he was going to have tennis lessons.

He has had three lessons so far and he loves it. In fact, he is quite good at it. He follows instructions quite well and does an impressive job of hitting the ball. I keep bracing myself for failure, or at least mediocrity, as this is all I have ever known in sports myself. But why should The Boy fail or be mediocre? Why should I set the bar so low for him? Why shouldn’t he have a talent for sports? Not just The Boy, but The Girl too. The first lesson I brought books for her to read along the side line, but it soon became clear that that was not going to happen. Within seconds she had appointed herself ball girl, and now every week, she invents her own little tennis lesson while the bigger children have theirs.

I am starting to entertain the idea that my kids actually really love being active and being outdoors. And as I watch the two of them running around on the tennis court, rosy cheeked and laughing, I think that maybe I could get used to it myself…

Tiny ball girl

Tiny ball girl

 

Link up your Loud n Proud posts below and we will read, comment and retweet! Next week’s host will be Tas at Not My Year Off.

Secrets of the Sandpit
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