Why You Are Missing School Tomorrow

LETTER TO MY CHILDREN

“WHY YOU ARE MISSING SCHOOL TOMORROW”

Dear Kids,

Tomorrow, when all of your friends return to school after the Bank Holiday weekend, you will not be there.  As far as I know, you are the only children in your school who will be on “strike” tomorrow and I need you to understand why I have made this decision on your behalves.

All over the country, mummies and daddies are keeping their children off school tomorrow as a protest against the government’s insistence that you be tested, assessed, labelled and treated as a statistic instead of the wonderful, unique human beings all three of you are.  The 3rd May Strike has been organised by a group called “Let Our Kids Be Kids.”

A couple of years ago, the government decided that the best way to make you cleverer was to make the tests you sit when you’re six/seven and when you’re ten/eleven much harder than they should be.  All the experts in education, including headmasters and teachers, from schools all over the country agree that making things too difficult for children will not make them cleverer.  This is because the only way to teach you things you are not old enough to understand is to drill you with facts you have to remember.  This is what your teachers have to do in order that you pass the government’s SATS tests and because it takes up so much time, you are missing out on learning far more important things. We and your teachers know you deserve so much better.

Your teachers have to work very hard to make sure all the children in your school pass the government’s tests, but not all children learn in the same way.  All three of you are very different, so your mummy and daddy know it is wrong for the government to create a standard that every child in the country must reach at the same time.  One of you finds it easy to learn facts and memorise them.  One of you finds it impossible and frustrating to have to learn in this way.  One of you has been told that they are very clever because they’ve ticked all of the government’s boxes ahead of time.  One of you has already learned that because you do not fit the government’s standard, then you’re viewed a failure.

But kids, your mummy and daddy know that this is a terrible system and we are keeping you off school today to tell the government that all of the children in this country deserve much better.

Charlie, the curious

The Curious One

Your lovely teachers and headmasters have already said that this isn’t the best way to encourage a lifelong love of learning.  They have told the government that it is unfair to expect all children to fit into the same box.  They have said it is unfair to label children as ‘high-flyers’ or ‘failures’ when they are just six years old, based upon their ability to rote-learn.  The government has not listened to your teachers because the data they collect from your tests is too important to them.  They want your results so they can rank all the schools in the country, giving your teachers a pass or fail mark too.  They even pay your teachers more money if they pass, and less if they fail.  Every time your teachers have raised their voice to object to early, unfair testing they have done so because they love you and want the best for you too, but the government has ignored them.  The government tells the world that your teachers object because they don’t want to work harder or be held responsible for your test results, but this isn’t true.

 

This is why we need all the mummies and daddies in the country to raise their voices too and say, “Please listen to our teachers because we know this is wrong too and we don’t want this for our children.”

why you are missing school tomorrow

The Creative One

Some people don’t understand that passing tests is very different to understanding, but it is.  We don’t want your teachers to spend all of their time teaching you how to pass a test or teaching you things which you don’t need to know until you’re much older.

Instead we want your teachers to be given the freedom to teach you in the way they know is best.  We want them to give you an enthusiasm for learning, instead of a loathing for cramming facts.  We want them to value your creativity and your imagination, instead of having to group you in their classes by how quick and capable you are at retaining information.  We want them to appreciate how you grow in self-confidence as you solve problems and we want them to be able to help you to think critically about the world around you.  We want them to see who you are – a unique human being with an unlimited, unpredictable potential – instead of being forced to view you as a piece of data to be collected, tracked and analysed.

When you sit your tests remember that we know your results reflect a tiny, minuscule fraction of what you can do and that all the most important things about you: your creativity, your imagination, your reasoning, your curiosity, your self-worth and your kindness, are not being measured by SATs. 

why you are missing school tomorrow

The Imaginative One

So tomorrow, instead of going to school for the day, Mummy will be taking you to Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle, where you will learn all about writing and drawing and illustrating and creating and using your imaginations.  The government says the arts, “holds children back,” but we know learning how to write beautiful, interesting and original stories in a way that makes the world listen to you is far more useful than having to memorise a list of grammatical terms that no brilliant writer has ever needed to know.

Finally, in making this stand on your behalf we have been able to teach you about democracy and campaigning.  Every person in this country has been awarded the wonderful gift of living in a country which values freedom and it is important that we embrace our right to protest whenever we feel strongly about an issue.  Never be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, even if it means you’re standing alone.

All three of you have a voice and if you don’t speak up and use it, then why bother thinking at all?  Nobody can hear silence.

#kidstrike3rdmay #letourkidsbekids #sevenstories

North East Family Fun

Ability Grouping Destroys Children’s Potential

 

BASELINE TESTING

This September the UK government decided that my four year old school-starter should sit a standardised IT-based test which they promised would be an accurate and valid assessment of his academic ability.

Sounds plausible?  Nope, not really, Mr Cameron.  But cheers for the heartache!

There is so much that is wrong with baseline, but the most insidious is its purpose.  Baseline testing attempts to label four year old children via their assessed ‘abilities’ (the reason why I place ‘ability’ in inverted commas during this article will become apparent later on) and predict their attainment in seven years time.

Up and down the country, our schools are gathering results, inputting them into spreadsheets and tracking every child’s progress over seven years to an outcome in Year 6 SATs which is predicted from this baseline test.  This means that if your child is behind/ahead at age 4, it is expected that they remain behind/ahead at age 11.  If you have a three year old who is more interested in climbing than counting and playing than reading, then beware!  The label is fixed in the first two weeks of school and it stays with them until they leave, affecting everything they do and, most importantly, the way each teacher they have thinks about them.

Of course schools have been testing their four year olds on reception entry for a while.  I know my oldest child was (dare I say secretly?) tested when he started school three years ago and teachers will tell parents that assessment is vital in order to inform individual teaching strategies.

Before I continue with this article, I will make it clear that I am not against my children’s learning or understanding being assessed in order that their teaching is focused.  What I am against, and what every fibre of my being screams out loud in protest at, is the affixing of labels to them.  In the case of my children’s school (and, as I have learned, most primary schools across our borough), it is deemed acceptable to group young children by the government’s standardised notion of what ‘ability’ constitutes and then physically segregate them into in-class groups emphasising that label.

 

BUYING INTO THE BULLSH*T

or “Parents are impressed by ability streaming” (apparently)

Every study I have been able to find mentioning the effects of ability streaming/grouping/setting in primary school concludes that it is unequivocally detrimental to the emotional well-being and education of those children placed in middle and lower ability groups.  There are no studies concluding that ability grouping has a positive effect on average/lower grouped children.  Let me say that again – NONE.

It is proven that ability grouping also widens the gap in attainment between ‘high ability’ and ‘low ability’ children, whilst only marginally enhancing the performance of top achieving pupils.  Should we conclude therefore that our schools invest disproportionately in their ‘high flyers’?  It is hard to construe otherwise given it is a fact that our children’s potential (not to mention their self-belief) is at best limited and at worst damaged irreparably, when they are placed in anything other than the top group.

 

ioe.ac.uk – Streaming Pupils by Ability Widens the Attainment Gap – Article 25 September 2014, UCL Institute of Education
Nottingham.ac.uk – Students Experiences of Ability Grouping – Study Stanford University / King’s College London
word.co.uk – The Blue Table Means You Don’t Have a Clue – Article 2013 by Dr. Rachel Marks Ph.D.

 

So why are parents impressed by ability grouping despite the overwhelming evidence that it damages self-esteem and limits potential?

The short answer to this, I believe, is that most simply haven’t had cause to question the ‘party line’ towed by our, under pressure to perform, primary schools.  When I discovered my eldest son had been placed into an ability group in reception my gut instinct told me immediately that this was very, very wrong.  The argument that grouping children by ‘ability’ allows teachers to focus lessons and target teaching more effectively doesn’t hold up with me.  Do we need to physically segregate and label children within a class to differentiate teaching?   Is physically segregating and labeling children from ‘high-flyer’ to ‘virtual dunce’ (and everything in between) the only way to make sure those needing to be challenged are challenged and those needing extra help receive it?

I think not.  I think it would be nothing short of wonderful if our teachers believed in their own ‘ability’ to effectively differentiate whilst in a mixed-ability setting.

 

TES.com – Do setting and streaming work?  Article 22 March 2013 by William Stuart

 

SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY

Over recent years primary schools have been forced to act like businesses.  Under pressure by the government to bring in the big bucks (league table rankings) in order to please their shareholders (parents) and attract more customers (new pupil admissions) the focus is on churning out the absolute best products (SATs results).  The sales pitch from schools is pervasive and they speak of their own success and failure in terms of the volume of customers last year’s products brought in.

The problem with this is schools shouldn’t be anything like businesses and head teachers shouldn’t be forced into the role of sales rep.  Their purpose is to educate, not market themselves and compete with other schools.  The actual meaning of ‘intelligence’, ‘ability’ and ‘academic performance’ is so far removed from the current focus on test-sitting that I despair of those parents foolish enough to move house and home to get their children into the best school.  (Always the school with the most exemplary record of teaching to the test).

 

Fixed ability thinking, ability grouping

Henry, exploring

 

 

THE NATURE OF ‘ABILITY’

What is it that makes us successful adults?  Is it solely our ability to pass tests?  Under today’s education system you’d be forgiven for believing so.

If I use my middle child, Henry now aged 5, as an example.  I can see clearly that he embodies many virtues that will put him in good stead in later life.  He has a very confident, tenacious and outgoing personality.  He is a fantastic engineer, a creative thinker, he’s imaginative, he’s a problem-solver, he’s naturally gifted at applied maths, he’s as stubborn as hell, but he’s also driven.  He shares some of these virtues with Daddy, others with me, and he generally runs rings around all of us.

Yet, this is the child who was placed in the lowest ability group when he started school in September for the single reason that he wasn’t ready, at age four, to learn his letter sounds.  In truth, Henry point blank refused with folded arms to learn his letter sounds.  Did I mention already that he was stubborn?  Did I mention that he was only four years old?  He met and surpassed all of his EYFS targets and was nowhere near the bottom of his class in 6/7 key areas (I have a copy of he school’s own assessment records showing this), yet literacy alone was chosen to group and he was told (via his group) that he was bottom of the class.

A hundred years ago, Henry’s teacher would have sat him in the corner of his classroom with a pointy hat emblazoned with a ‘D’.  Cruel obviously, but don’t be deluded into thinking that things are all that different today.  In a school where everybody knows that in-class group colour names translate to ‘bright’, ‘upper-average’, ‘lower average’, ‘behind’ and ‘stupid’, the possible effects on Henry’s self-esteem were the same as if he was made to wear the dunce’s cap.

It is Henry’s inability to fit into any of his school’s government designed (for tracking purposes) boxes that shamefully seals his fate.  But Henry’s creativity, tenacity, critical thinking and resourcefulness – skills which truly sets us apart in adulthood and leads to success – carry little weight with our government which for some reason (nostalgia?) holds the stuffy and regimented education provided by post-war grammar schools in higher esteem than the acclaimed systems of countries like Finland, who always top the polls as the world’s best.

Incidentally, ability grouping is practically outlawed in Finland.  A no-brainer isn’t it?

What does it say about a system which awards a high ‘ability’ label to a four year old child because they have rote-learned their phonic sounds, whilst simultaneously awarding a low ability label to her classmate who knows no sounds, but has amazing creative and problem solving skills?

 

FIXED-ABILITY THINKING

If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve.” – Debbie Millman, American Educator.

What I find most disappointing when I listen to the rhetoric spouted by government ministers is the prevailing notion that ‘ability’ is fixed.  A fixed-ability mindset assumes that intelligence and aptitude is static and that it can’t be changed in any significant way.  Baseline testing informs and strengthens this ethos, as does the government’s requirements to track and predict potential.  Children are measured with fixed-ability thinking against a fixed standard of excellence (test results) which is woefully flawed.  With fixed-ability thinking teachers at the helm, those children who sit nicely, write neatly and have learned early rote literacy and numeracy skills are privileged by their labels throughout their primary schooling.  This is not the case for those children, like my unfortunate middle child, where we find very little is expected.  Henry’s designated potential has been documented to reach the dizzying heights of ‘low-achiever’ in seven years’ time.  I wish I had the confidence that a few teachers he meets along the way will see beyond his label and invest in him to be the best he can be, but I don’t.  Fixed-ability thinking is far too entrenched and pressure to perform is too great in schools where teachers are stressed and overworked.

My children will hopefully come out of primary school unscathed for the simple reason that their parents wholeheartedly refute and object to the labels they have been given, demanding instead that they believe in themselves and believe the truth – that their potential is limitless.  I’m begging you all to follow our lead.  As parents we should raise our voices in protest every time we hear the words, ‘high ability’, ‘average ability’ or ‘low ability’ assigned to our children.  Nobody knows what our children’s ability will be.

 

GROWTH ETHOS

Ability grouping is in greatest danger of affecting the single most important thing about our children which denotes their future success:  Self-belief.

Instead of cultivating an idea that ‘ability’ and success is only validated by test results, all educators should be embracing the healthy fact that children’s talents, interests and aptitudes can change massively.  No teacher has the faintest idea what a child’s true ‘potential’ is because it isn’t written in stone.  Every child’s potential is there to be discovered, it is unknowable, unhindered by charts and spreadsheets, and free from expectations.  Telling a child they’re not good enough, placing them in the bottom group, failing to recognise their successes in light of their failures against fixed standards will create damage that may take a lifetime to overcome.  It is a sad fact that many people never overcome the limits placed upon them in childhood.  Don’t let your child’s self-worth be a casualty of a government obsessed with testing their schools, under the guise of testing your child.

  • Do we want our children labelled, insecure and constantly judged by fixed-ability thinking?  Or do we want an environment which leads them to acquire an insatiable hunger for learning and growth that will last a lifetime?

 

 

 

Wooden Toys UK

Did you play with Wooden Toys when you were young?  I did and have some fab memories of my blocks! Sitting endlessly piling one on top of the other and laughing when they fell down, that was unless it was my sister who kicked it down.

Why Wooden Toys UK?

Wooden toys are thankfully gaining popularity again here in the UK. We are moving away from that nasty, un-recyclable plastic and heading back to natural products.

Wooden Toys UK - Djeco Emile And Olive Sandwich DeliThe style of wooden toy in the UK has progressed from the simple blocks and pull along trains to quite amazing toys now.

This is one of my favourite products, Mathilde absolutely loves it – and has learned not to take a bite anymore!

I think this is a super toy for children interested in shops and food (what child isn’t?).

The Emile and Olive Sandwich Deli includes two bread rolls and several wooden pieces of play food for children to create their lovely sandwiches.

 

Also included is a menu and recipe for children to follow a less messy way to get your kids interested in cooking.

Your favourite Wooden Toys in the UK

We are always looking to source new fantastic toys here in the UK for you.  Have you come across a toy you particularly loved – if so, we’d love to hear about it.  You can email us at hello@tildaandtom.co.uk or feel free to come and chat with us on our Facebook Page  You can find other fab Wooden Toys on our website, particularly in the PLAY section.

CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE Part 2 – Little Pirate Fans!

As a mum of two sons, I know pirate toys always go down very well at all times of year and we certainly have many pirate toys, puzzles and games in our house.  Of course, little girls can also be pirate fans so Tilda and Tom’s large collection of pirate-themed toys can come in handy as presents for a lot of children.

The following toys are all “in stock” and available for immediate posting!

Barbarossa's Pirate Ship Silhouette Jigsaw Puzzle

Barbarossa’s Pirate Ship Silhouette Jigsaw Puzzle

 

1   The Barbarossa’s Pirate Ship Silhouette Jigsaw Puzzle by French designer brand, Djeco, is a beautiful jigsaw aimed at children age 5+.  My younger son loves jigsaw puzzles and at almost 5 years old, he can complete a 54 piece puzzle on his own.  He has some of these puzzles and their beautiful, shaped, cardboard boxes look beautiful on bedroom shelves.  The Barbarossa Jigsaw costs £10.00 and you can find it HERE.

 

Marcus and Ze Harpoon Arty Toy

Marcus and Ze Harpoon Arty Toy

 

2   The Marcus and Ze Harpoon Arty Toy is one of a range of fabulously unique action figures designed by the real-life artists of French company, Djeco.  Both of my sons (7 and 5) have asked for Arty Toys this Christmas and I’m sure they’ll be able to make up lots of wonderful adventures with them.  Marcus and his “working” harpoon costs £15.00 and can be found HERE.

 

Pirate Dress-up Stickers

Pirate Dress-up Stickers

 

3   The Pirate Dress-up Stickers set includes four card paper dolls (one of them is a skeleton!) and three sheets of super-cool pirate costumes and accessories.  These stickers are reusable and due to small pieces are aimed at children aged 6 to 11.  The Dress-up stickers cost £6.00 and can be viewed HERE.

 

Sam Parrot Arty Toy

Sam Parrot Arty Toy

 

4   Another of Djeco’s fabulous “Arty Toy” action figures, Sam Parrot is the archetypal parrot with wooden leg, parrot and skull/crossbones headscarf!  This is one of our large range of lower-priced “basic” figures and costs just £6.00.  There are three other characters to collect.  You can view Sam Parrot HERE

 

Pop-to-Play Pirate Ship

Pop-to-Play Pirate Ship

 

5   The “Arty Figure” sized Pop-to-Play range are a great, inexpensive alternative to large wooden or plastic toys.  Made from interlocking cardboard pieces they are great for small bedrooms as they can be disassembled and stored with ease.  The Pirate Ship Pop-to-Play toy costs just £12.00 and is unfortunately out of stock at the moment, but we are expecting more in soon!

 

Pirate Silhouette Puzzle

Pirate Silhouette Puzzle

 

6   Another fabulous Silhouette Jigsaw Puzzle by Djeco!  This puzzle is for ages 4+ and includes 36 pieces.  The complete picture shows a scene featuring the pirate character featured on the box.  The Pirate Silhouette Puzzle costs £10.00 and can be viewed HERE

 

Piratatak Card Game

Piratatak Card Game

 

7   The Piratatack Card Game could be a fabulous stocking filler gift!  Aimed at ages 5 to adult, these games are VERY popular in Europe and are just finding popularity here.  The game is one of adventure and strategy whereby players take turns to collect the right cards to build their ship.  My 5 year old little boy will be getting this in his Christmas stocking!  The Piratatak Card Game costs £7.00 and is available HERE.

 

My Pirate Puzzle

My Pirate Puzzle

 

8   The My Pirate Puzzle by Spanish company, Londji, is a beautiful “reversible” jigsaw made entirely from high-quality recycled cardboard.  For ages 3+ and containing 10 pieces, each piece of the puzzle is put together to form two different pictures.  The My Pirate Puzzle costs £12.00 and can be viewed HERE.

 

Jolly Roger Pirate Ship Playset

Jolly Roger Pirate Ship Playset

 

9   This beautiful soft fabric playset by Swedish brand Oskar & Ellen is tonnes of fun for little ones.  For ages 3+ the set includes three gorgeous pirate dolls, a shark, a cannon, a treasure chest and an embroidered treasure map.  The Jolly Roger Pirate Ship is handmade and entirely unbreakable, therefore solving the problem (which we’ve had in the past!) of hard, plastic toys which have easily broken-off pieces.  The toy costs £32.00 and can be viewed HERE.

 

Treasure Hunt Hatbox Jigsaw Puzzle

Treasure Hunt Hatbox Jigsaw Puzzle

 

10   The last toy on the list is this beautiful jigsaw puzzle by French wooden toy maker, Janod.  The Treasure Hunt jigsaw puzzle is stored in a gorgeous “hatbox” which is a piece of art in itself!  The puzzle is aimed at children aged 4+, is priced at £15.00 and can be found HERE.

CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE – Baby girl

This is going to be the first of many gift guides I’m going to create in the run up to Christmas.  I think I’m going to enjoy compiling them! 🙂

First up is a guide for a baby girl of around 6 months, although these toys are all suitable from newborn.

Les Zazous Hippo boxed soft toy

Les Zazous Hippo boxed soft toy

 

1   I LOVE the Les Zazous range of soft toys by French designer brand, Moulin Roty.  This beautiful hippo is called “Papam” and she is made of gorgeous, fluffy plush material.  Her box (I love a nice box 🙂 ) makes her a perfect gift.  Also available is a Hippo comforter and a lovely soft ball.

Les Zazous Hippo is priced at £25.00 and can be found at HERE.

Andrea organic elephant sensory toy

Andrea organic elephant sensory toy

 

2   Danish brand Franck & Fischer make very stylish baby toys for the very discerning yummy mummy!  Andrea is a lovely squeaky, rustle-y and rattle-y sensory toy made from 100% certified organic cotton.  Franck & Fischer’s baby toys are all ultra kind to baby’s skin and very, very soft and cuddly!  We also stock an organic elephant cuddle cloth and rattle in the same design.

Andrea is priced at £18.50 and you can find our organic toys at www.tildaandtom.co.uk/product-category/by-brand/franck-and-fisher/

Mademoiselle Ribambelle Owl Squeaker

Mademoiselle Ribambelle owl squeaker

 

3   Madame Chouette is the gorgeous fluffy pink owl of French designer brand Moulin Roty’s beautiful baby girl range: Mademoiselle Ribambelle.  This squeaker is lovely and soft and the perfect size to be clutched (and probably sucked!) by a 6 month old baby 🙂

The squeaker is priced at £12.00 and can be found at www.tildaandtom.co.uk/product-category/baby-and-toddler/squeaker-and-clutch/

Mademoiselle Ribambelle owl teether

Mademoiselle Ribambelle owl teether

 

4   Another lovely toy from Moulin Roty’s Mademoiselle Ribambelle range which features Madame Chouette!  This lovely toy is made of plush with lots of lovely sensory bits including the rubber teether feet, the crinkly spotty yellow ribbon and the net ears.

The teether costs £14.00 and can be found here: http://www.tildaandtom.co.uk/product-category/baby-and-toddler/rattles-and-teethers/

Mademoiselle Ribambelle mouse ring rattle

Mademoiselle Ribambelle mouse ring rattle

 

5   This absolutely stunning baby toy features “miss mouse” or “mademoiselle souris” from Moulin Roty’s Mademoiselle Ribambelle range of baby girl nursery items.  Miss mouse is a ballerina made of plush with a lovely long tail.  She has a lovely spotty net skirt with net under.  Her ring rattle is detachable adding to the toy’s shelf life as a lovable cuddly soft toy too.  Also available is a rattle-y Miss Mouse soft toy and a comforter.

Miss mouse rattle costs £16.00 and can be found here:  http://www.tildaandtom.co.uk/product-category/baby-and-toddler/rattles-and-teethers/

Richie Rabbit pink bunny

Richie Rabbit pink bunny

 

6   One of our most popular soft toys is the gorgeous, super-huggy range from Dutch company Happy Horse.  Richie Rabbit comes in 3 colours: pink, blue or ivory and without a doubt these lovely toys are the softest I have ever seen.  My kids love them!

This lovely pink bunny is priced at a reasonable £12.00 and the whole range of Happy Horse baby toys can be found at:  http://www.tildaandtom.co.uk/product-category/by-brand/happy-horse/

Farmyard Fun

I took a bit of a gamble when I decided to buy in a small range of hand-carved German wooden animals by Holztiger this month.  To date, I have seen most of my toys firsthand in French toy shops which is always better than a photograph as I’m able to feel the quality of the toy.  Only the absolute BEST toys from Europe make it into Tilda and Tom’s collection, after all!

I hadn’t seen Holztiger in any of the French shops I had visited but the measurements of the toys sealed the deal as – on paper – they seemed so much larger and chunkier than their plastic or vinyl counterparts.

There was demand for toy animals among customers so I searched the globe and eventually opted for Holztiger.  Of course, German wooden toys have great global esteem and these toy animals, I’m very pleased to say, certainly back-up the excellent reputation.

My 2 year old, Mathilde, had great fun playing with a set of Holztiger farm animals.  She instantly took to the horse and lines up the figures from largest to smallest.  She’s at an age where she is fascinated by animal noises, so she made the sound of all the animals in a row, asking the name and the noise of ones she wasn’t sure of – i.e. the poor goat.  “What’s this one mammy?”

Holztiger Animals

Holztiger Animals

We have twelve animals in stock at the moment ranging in price from £5.00 for a rabbit and £8.00 for a horse.  There are dozens more in Holztiger’s range: farm, wild, forest, marine, dinosaurs and even a lovely set of knights for a wooden castle.

The quality of these toys is phenomenal.  Hand-carved in beech wood, they are very solid, chunky and … I would argue … entirely unbreakable.  These animals will lost for many years and are bound to pass the “attic test” to be handed down through the generations.  They are also quite large with the horse model standing at over 16 cm tall.

In Germany, children build collections of wooden animals from the day they are born, receiving them as gifts from friends and relatives.  It is expected that a child’s collection will grow as they age and, as we know, the collecting is part of the fun.  I think it would be lovely if children in this country built up a collection of animals too.

Mathilde's favourite!

Mathilde’s favourite!

The 50/50 Christmas Challenge

Since starting Tilda and Tom back in February, I have accumulated dozens and dozens of toy catalogues from all over the world.  I have a lovely little set of suppliers at the moment, but I also have dozens more who I would eventually like to stock in my online store.

These toy suppliers meet all the requirements of what constitutes a “Tilda and Tom” toy.  My wooden toys must be of high quality, but also have great design.  There are lots of wooden toy makers out there and not all of them hit the mark for originality and style.  Likewise, we look for something a little different with our soft toys, games, puzzles and creative sets.

After stumbling upon a great movement called the Slow Toy Movement (read my previous blog HERE), I set up the Real Toy Network (read about it HERE) last month.  The Real Toy Network shares product news, competitions and general educational news from all over the Europe.  If you want to read about the latest thoughts on “learning through play” or find out which are this year’s best educational toys, or just see the latest Moulin Roty range of toys, then the Real Toy Network deserves a good browse.  It is my aim to include news from “slow toy” or “real toy” makers from all over the world, not just those stocked by Tilda and Tom.

It is entirely because I have immersed myself in beautiful things since the beginning of the year that I know I will have a hard time buying the usual plastic tat my kids often want this Christmas.  Pink Peppa Pig tea sets, armies of plastic action men who will have broken arms and legs by Boxing Day, plastic guns and swords (middle child thinks he’s a real pirate) which bend and break, plastic houses with missing doors.  That’s before we touch on the electronic games.

So this year I’ve come up with the 50/50 Challenge – 50% MINIMUM (I think I’ll go higher!) good quality last forever toys and 50% the unavoidable plastic tat.  I’ll admit I’m a coward.  I should do 100% quality, but I don’t think I can leave Disney Princess and Peppa Pig off the list.

So how am I doing so far?  Here’s a quick run through:

CHARLIE (7 1/2)

Charlie has never been big on toys.  Through the years he’s tended to like TV and film tie-ins so we did Toy Story, Star Wars, Superheroes and this year he’s really into Inside Out, the new Pixar movie, so I’m sure that will make and appearance.  Charlie is also a big x-box fan and is already very excited about Disney Infinity 3.0.  His one saving grace is he loves his books and I always pick up a couple of nice box-sets from the Book People and a nice selection of Usbourne Books from friends who are home sellers.  

Recently Charlie has decided magic is cool and due to his having glasses he’s positive he’s destined to be a wizard.  Djeco, my newest brand, has a FABULOUS range of magic sets available and I’m stocking six of these.  A couple of my magic sets are age 10+, but the ones which are 6+ and 8+ I think will be perfect.  Charlie also likes arty things so I’ll be choosing a couple of the wonderful Djeco sets too.

Image 052

Magus Perfectum Magic Set – £25.00


Oculus Magic Set - £8.00

Oculus Magic Set – £8.00


Scared Stiff Felt Brushes Set - £15.00

Scared Stiff Felt Brushes Set – £15.00


HENRY (turning 5)

Henry has never met a toy he didn’t like.  If he doesn’t particularly want to play with it, then he’ll take it apart to see how he works.  As I write he’s dressing his little sister’s Polly Pockets 😀

So Henry, my little Mr Fix-it and engineer in the making, will be getting lots of things which will encourage his love of building.  He’ll also want a bit of Playmobil and Lego, but I’ll be getting much less of these toys than I have in previous years.

So far on Henry’s list are the Zooblock range of toys by Djeco, some tools I plan to stock from Janod, jigsaw puzzles (he loves puzzles!) and one of my fantastic “tap tap” toys which requires children to build a picture with … wait for it … real hammer and nails!!  This toy was designed with Henry in mind! 🙂

Dino Rex Zooblock Construction Kit

Dino Rex Zooblock Construction Kit – £22.00


Knight Silhouette Jigsaw Puzzle - £10.00

Knight Silhouette Jigsaw Puzzle – £10.00


Tap Tap Monster Game

Tap Tap Monster Game – £22.00


MATHILDE (2 1/2)

Mathilde is like Henry and can occupy herself for hours playing with her toys.  Despite having two big brothers and a mammy not keen on pink, Mathilde makes a bee-line for anything pink, princess-y and sparkle-y so Disney Princesses, Polly Pocket and Peppa Pig will make it on our list this year.

Mathilde likes puzzle and games too and I have a a lovely “mummy and baby” matching game by Vilac which comes in a gorgeous wooden box which I’m sure she’ll like.  Also on the list is my wooden play food ranges and the Djeco “arty” princesses which are so much more interesting and imaginative than the Disney offerings.

Mammy & Baby Matching Game - £10.00

Mammy & Baby Matching Game – £10.00


Box of Macaroons - £8.50

Box of Macaroons – £8.50


Princess Fedora Arty Toy - £6.00

Princess Fedora Arty Toy – £6.00


I think I’ve made a good start! 🙂

Anybody care to join me in the 50/50 challenge this year? 😀

The Real Toy Network

Following on from my most recent blog, The Slow Toy Movement, (read at www.tildaandtom.co.uk/the-slow-toy-movement ), I have great pleasure in introducing the campaign arm of Tilda and Tom – The Real Toy Network.

The Real Toy Network was born out of my observation that the toys marketed to parents as “educational” (think the plastic, beeping, button flashing, talking at children in an American accent type) don’t have anywhere near as much play value or learning possibilities as classic, “made to last” toys. In the technologically dependent world of today, there is a huge place for technology, but hopefully not at the expense of “real toys”, whose value is at least as great.

In a nutshell, real toys teach children to do things for themselves.  Mass-market toys talk at them and do things for them.

Real Toy
Also at the heart of the Real Toy Network is the unhappy fact that children in the UK are being formally educated too soon and the value of play-based learning is being eradicated.  Of course, this is in defiance of what we see in our neighbouring countries in Europe who postpone formal education to age seven and, as research suggests, have a higher standard of education at age 16.  From the age of five, British children embark on a regime of being “taught to the test” and there is less emphasis on “learning through doing”.

We advocate that it is becoming increasingly more and more important that parents invest in toys, books, puzzles and games that inspire children’s imaginations.  We also advocated that in today’s world it is vital that parents set aside huge chunks of time where children can play and just be “children”.

We also advocate no upper age limit for a good quality toy.  Real toys are for newborn babies all the way through to teens and beyond.  Similarly, although tradition may indicate certain types of toys are more likely to be favoured by either boys or girls, we feel it is important that toys aren’t labelled with a gender so that little boys are free to play with dolls and little girls are free to play with cars and trains.

What is a “real toy”

  • 1)  Real toys are “made to last”. They radiate high-quality and durability.

  • DJE Pastel Cooker

                                                     “Made to Last” Wooden Desk-top Cooker by Djeco

  • 2)  Real toys are timeless classics. They can be described as traditional, vintage, retro or even modern, but they will still have their foundations firmly rooted in classic toy-making.

  • VIL Farm Dominoes

                                             Timeless classic – Farm Animal Dominoes by Vilac

  • 3)  Real toys are eco-friendly. Think wood from sustainable forests, organically harvested cotton, recycled cardboard and paper.  They are usually not plastic, unless plastic provides the best or only solution (e.g. a bath toy).

My LittlePigs                           Three Little Pigs Puppet Theatre by Londji – made from recycled cardboard

  • 4)  Real toys have great design! They are beautiful to look at and can become ornamental once stored away on a nursery, bedroom or playroom shelf.

Owl Rocker                                                              Rocking Owl Stacker by Janod

  • 5)  Real toys know no age or gender boundary.  We never say, “you’re too old to play with that,” or “that’s a girls’ toy” as real toys are fun for all ages and all genders.  These are toys which parents and grandparents will be eager to get down on their knees and play with alongside their children and grandchildren.

  • VIL Farm Animal Stacking Game

                      Farm Animal Stacking Game by Vilac (a firm favourite with everyone in our house!)

  • 6)  Real toys are heirlooms. They will pass the “attic test” and families will want to keep them to pass down to future generations.

Crazy R                                                       Much-loved Crazy Rock Dog by Janod

Finally …

  • 7)  Real toys NEVER require batteries.

Our Mission

We exist to provide information. 

Firstly, we want to bring you news stories, articles, features and even essays which support our core belief that the educational value of “real toys” surpasses those of the mass-market, plastic or electronic equivalent.  We want to promote the merits of learning through good, imaginative play.

Secondly, we want to introduce you to some of the finest toys in the world via the social media pages of leading toy-makers, as well as industry and print media features.

You can find the Real Toy Network at www.facebook.com/realtoynetwork

The Wonderful World of Slow Toys

 

There’s a new train of thought chugging along in the toy industry at the moment and it’s one we at Tilda and Tom are very excited about!  It was started by a Frenchman called Thierry Bourret and it’s called the “Slow Toy Movement”.

What is a slow toy?

Basically, a slow toy is a toy that is “made to last” and which encourages quiet, imaginative play.  Slow toys tend not to be plastic, and definitely don’t require batteries.  They do not beep, or talk or do things for you.  Instead they make a child think and learn by themselves.

One of Tilda and Tom’s main missions is to seek out toys of high quality which will last years and years of active play.  We require that all of our toys be of a standard capable of being passed on to siblings, cousins and friends.  We want them to be ebay-able and we want them to pass the “attic” test of being handed down to the next generation (or two!). 

Some of our favourite “slow” toys available at Tilda and Tom:

Slow Toys

1 = Story Express Farm Train Set by Janod, £65.00.  2 = Farm Animal Stacking Game by Vilac, £15.00.  3 = Picnic Hamper Playset by Oskar & Ellen, £30.00.  4 = Boxed Set of Macaroons by Djeco, £8.00.  5 = King Drak Action Figure by Djeco, £6.00.  6 = Crocodile Funny Kit by Janod, £8.50.  7 = Butterfly Shape Sorter by Janod = £20.00.  8 = British Sports Car by Vilac, £30.00.  9 = Chunky Marine Puzzle by Janod, £13.50.  10 = Vanity Case by Djeco, £22.00

The Christmas Conundrum

We don’t see the benefit in amassing mountains of plastic and electronics on birthdays and Christmases.  There’s a false economy with many parents’ consumer habits when it comes to spending on their children.  Is it good sense to buy lots of cheap plastic toys which may not see in the New Year or should we invest in fewer, high-quality toys which will last instead? 

Of course there’s a place for plastic and some modern big-brand toys promote imaginative play (think Playmobil) and are very well made.  We aren’t about to compete with the likes of Lego or Barbie any time soon, but there’s still a huge place for traditional slow toys which goes beyond nostalgia.  We hope parents will consider these wonderful made to last toys and see that their children might be missing out on something very special without them.

Which Toys are Educational?

I’ve always said since becoming a parent that all toys are educational.  When you’re a toddler, a wooden spoon and a paper cup is educational.  But in recent times we parents have been hoodwinked by the toy industry into thinking educational toys must teach us the National Curriculum and they must talk loudly, beep at us and require us to push buttons.  

At Tilda and Tom we have a menu on our website clearly marked “learning toys” where parents can find puzzles and games which specifically aid literacy, numeracy and other subjects, but really all of our toys are educational.  Our dolls are educational, our trains are educational and even our teddies are educational.  All of these wonderful “slow” toys engage children into using their imagination, explore their creativity, develop emotionally and physically and learn in ways which go far and away beyond our ABCs and 123s.

Electronic toys, tablets and computer games have a place in our rapidly advancing technological world, but they speak at our children and do things for them.  With a “slow” toy, children have to do all the work themselves, whether it be planning the circuit of a train track, putting on a puppet show or hosting a tea party for Teddy.  

We live In a country where our schools are teaching our children to pass tests when they’re far too young and its easy to become obsessed with toys that seem to teach the important stuff.  In my opinion we have lost track of what is important and we’ve lost track of the value of play.  

Aesthetically Speaking

Who has walked down the aisles of our major toy superstores and felt a bit depressed at the garish colours and the rows and rows of plastic?  Who has sighed in desperation at the obstacle course of plastic tags, metal screws, elastic bands and knotted ties you have to navigate before you can even get one of these toys out of their boxes?  If you have a daughter have you ever found a toy in a mass market toy shop which isn’t a shade of garish pink?

Tilda and Tom’s toys are hand-picked from around the globe and we place great importance on design.  Some of our French toys in particular are created by artists and there’s a strong artistic emphasis in the production of our selected puzzles, games and toys.  In a nutshell, in the box or out of the box, our toys are beautiful.  I’m a sucker for gorgeous packaging and when put away after playing, most of our toys become ornamental.  I guarantee you’ll smile when you walk into your children’s room or playroom and see them sitting on a shelf.

Hatbox Firefighters                                     Firefighter observation jigsaw puzzle by Janod, £15.00 (age 6+)

VIL Basile                                     Basile the dog pull-along by Vilac, £22.00 (age 12 months +)

The Grey Family Experiment

This Christmas there will be a little experiment in the Grey household.  I’m going to ensure that at least 50% of my three children’s presents are “slow” toys and there will be fewer presents than Christmases past, which I admit were heavy contributors to our home’s carbon footprint in plastic tat alone. 

Now there will still be technology for the seven year old, Playmobil for the four year old and princesses for the two year old (I’m not that brave), but amongst it all will be beautiful, made to last “slow” toys which I know will entertain them for longer and teach them more than the latest gadget.

Who would like to join us?

 

For more details on the Slow Toy Movement visit www.slowtoymovement.com

Provence Holiday

This year, we decided to repeat one of our favourite family summer holidays and booked a lovely stay with Eurocamp in the Provence/Alpes Maritime/Cote d’Azur region of France.

As you may have guessed already, France is my favourite country in the world to visit.  Everything you could possibly want in a holiday can be found in France, whether that be great food, tonnes of culture, mountains, beaches or vibrant cities.  The Cote d’Azur, for us, has it all.  Within an hour or two’s drive of Nice’s airport (the second busiest airport in France after Paris CDG) you can:

a) Visit the fabulous and very beautiful resorts of Cannes, Antibes and Saint-Tropez
b) Drive up into the Alpes Maritime mountains to visit the famous “Villages Perches”
c) See vineyards, lavender fields and perfumeries for a true taste of “Provence”
d) Visit Monaco, the second smallest sovereign nation in the world, and its famous casinos, marina and grand prix roads.
e) Drive over the border to Italy and spend a day in the charming resort town of Sanremo.

Oh … and much more!

This was our third family trip to the region following a short stay when our eldest was a baby in 2008 and a family holiday to Frejus (a popular resort on the coast between Saint-Tropez and Cannes) in 2012.  This time we elected to stay in a holiday park with Eurocamp and we chose the town of Puget-sur-Argens which is just 5 minutes drive north of Frejus.

DAY ONE – Thursday

We arrived in Nice from Newcastle around midday, picked up our car and headed straight for Puget.  Unfortunately … epic fail no.1 … we had forgotten to download the directions to the park sent by Eurocamp so although we found Puget easily enough we had no idea how to find the park once there so had to stop off at a bakers, then a different campsite, for directions.

Once there we were a bit surprised that we had to make our own beds (I’m sure we didn’t last time we stayed) and the mobile home we hired was a lot smaller than I remembered from our last trip three years ago.  Maybe this is because we have added one more small, but very loud, child to the family! 🙂

The mobile home had two bedrooms – a double and a twin with bunks and an extra bed.  There was a separate loo and shower room, a corner sofa with table, a fully-fitted kitchen with all we needed (the gas oven took a bit of getting used to) and a good sized decking area with loungers and patio table/chairs.  The best thing about staying in a holiday park are the facilities and although our kids were too young to use most, the pools were fabulous!  There was a large splash pool with fountains, a large spa pool, a main pool with inflatable slides, a further pool with a lazy river to float around and a wave pool.  Perfect for kids of all ages!  

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Downside: the park enforced the wearing of Speedos which meant a trip to the supermarket for three pairs for husband and boys.  Well, I’m saying downside, but oh how I laughed as husband had to resign himself to a week of very brief swimmy-knicker wearing!

P1010638                                                         Henry – still cool despite pants!

DAY TWO – Friday

On our first proper day we took a trip to the very large Carrefour in Puget-sur-Argens.  We were very familiar with the supermarket as we used it during our last trip.  All three kids had a ride on a little merry-go-round in the mall attached to the supermarket which our eldest had fun on three years ago.

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French supermarkets are pretty awesome.  Chris and I could have spent hours and hours trawling the seafood section and I think Chris did spend close to an hour at the enormous cheese counter!  There was also an attached beer tent/greenhouse stocked with all the best stuff (according to the husband).  Asda and Tesco could certainly learn a few things!

The rest of the day was spent in the pool.  Charlie, our eldest, is a competent swimmer so had a great time.  Henry, the middle one, is less sure, but enjoyed splashing about in the shallow end while Mathilde, our toddler, loved “jumping” in.

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DAY THREE – Saturday

Today we travelled to a place I hadn’t been before – Aix-en-Provence!  I had always wanted to visit Aix since studying art at university and learning about Post-Impressionism which remains one of my favourite artistic movements.  On the way I bored the non-arty husband about Paul Cezanne whilst pointing out Mont-Saint-Victoire.  Hey, at least I was happy! 🙂

As we had visited most of the towns and resorts along the coast from Saint-Tropez to Sanremo on previous trips I was so pleased to get the chance to go somewhere new.

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Aix-en-Provence wasn’t as “rural” as I’d imagined, but it was definitely more glamorous!  We walked the tree-lined boulevards, had an ice-cream in a lovely shop and I took the chance to do some research by popping into a couple of toy boutiques.  I was so pleased to find “La Farandole des Jouets” toy shop and have a chat with the owner, comparing notes on what we both found were our best sellers.  The owner had just introduced some English toy brands to his line and I was pleased to see he stocked a large collection of Moulin Roty, Vilac and in particular, Djeco, which is the newest company I am just about to introduce to Tilda and Tom.  I had a good look at a few of their Djeco toys and the quality is outstanding!  Really can’t wait to get my shipment in 🙂

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DAY FOUR – Sunday

Today we visited Frejus and the adjoining coastal resort town of St-Raphael, which is our favourite small resort on the Cote d’Azur.  Frejus and St-Raphael have lovely sandy beaches and a very lengthy street of good shops and restaurants – all of which we remembered fondly from our last visit.  

We treated the kids to new buckets and spades after lunch and spent the afternoon on the beach. Unfortunately I was a bit poorly today.  After battling the unset of a cold for the past couple of days it finally got the better of me, so I sat in the shade trying not to feel too sorry for myself while the kids built sandcastles with Daddy.

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DAY FIVE – Monday

Today we chose to go into Nice which, for me, rivals Paris as my favourite city in the world!  This was our third trip to Nice and we had unfortunately picked the hottest day to go as the temperature rose to a sweltering 41 degrees!  I have visited many different regions of France many times and this was the warmest weather I have ever experienced in the country.  All the children wanted to do was drink water and sleep and we probably headed off back to our “holiday house” (as the kids call it) quicker than I would have liked.

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An addition from our last visit to the city centre of Nice was some lovely “misty” fountains.  Mathilde had a great time getting sprayed by the welcome cool water!

After lunch we ventured to one of my favourite places – the Old Town of Nice.  If you’ve read my story about why I started up my lovely little toy-boutique you’ll know that a little shop in Nice gave me the idea!  I was very pleased to find that very same shop “Atelier des Jouets” again and spent a little time talking to the owner and telling her about Tilda and Tom.

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DAY SIX – Tuesday

Our penultimate day became a rest day as it was still very hot and we didn’t relish another excursion to a town.  We spent the morning by the pool, had a walk around the park, then the kids got a trip to pick a toy from the giant supermarket in Puget, followed by lunch in ….. McDonalds, lol.  What can I say?  It was the kids’ choice today and they were happy, so we were.

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Guess what?  In France you get a pudding with your Happymeal!  Lucky, lucky French kids!  I had a prawn wrap which was a bit strange, not least because it was in curry sauce.  How exotic are we? The McDonalds in Puget has a little soft play area which, although a bit grotty (as soft play often is), certainly entertained the kids for a while!

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DAY SEVEN – Wednesday

Our last day was spent in Antibes on another very hot day.  Today we ventured to a resort park called Marineland which we visited on our last trip, but found very expensive.  Not being fans of Seaworld-type theme parks anyway, we avoided the very large and popular main park in favour of a small children’s farm we visited last time called “Kid’s Island”.  

P1010785                                              Henry enjoying a pony ride!

The main reason we visited – and I shouldn’t admit this as I’m an advocate for non-plastic toys – is that all three of my kids LOVE Playmobil!  Actually, I’ll be truthful, I love playmobil too!  It’s a fabulous toy which has provided all three of my kids with endless hours of imaginative play – particularly my middle child who owns several large sets including knights, pirates, cowboys, firemen, police … in fact we’ve probably got a bit of everything.  Playmobil is very cool and I’ve always preferred it to Lego which seems to be the “big chain” toy shop rival.  Kid’s Island has a lovely little Playmobil room where children can explore all the big playsets.  Sadly, Mathilde was banned from playing in the big room with the Age 4+ toys and had to be restricted to the pre-school range outside.  She didn’t understand why as she plays with at home, but after a minor blip she played happily with the baby-Playmobil. 

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P1010774                                         Playmobil heaven … dragon castle proved the most fun!

DAY EIGHT – Thursday

Our flight was at lunch time which means we headed off for the airport straight after breakfast.  The car rental drop-off went smoothly (yay, we found it first time!) and the satnav was essential for all our to-ing and fro-ing!  The flight home was unfortunately one of the low marks of the holiday as my littlest, Mathilde, decided to have an epic tantrum just as we were about to land.  

Now, as mum of three children who has had lots of family holidays, I’m no stranger to a) toddler tantrums and b) air travel shenanigans, but today Mathilde surpassed her brothers by screaming the plane into land whilst refusing to sit down and wear a seat belt.  Chris and I spent the 20 minutes descent into Newcastle pinning her down and frantically re-doing the belt she was adamant wasn’t going around her.  If this wasn’t bad enough there was a particularly snotty, big nosed woman staring, tutting and shaking her head at us as we battled to deal with the tantrum.  This made me very cross and upset. 🙁

Plea to all non-parents and those who have forgotten what it’s like to have a toddler … give us parents a break!!!  We are doing everything possible to calm our child down.  Absolutely everything possible AND you can see us doing so.  Know that nobody wants the screaming toddler to be quiet and jolly more than we do.

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So our lovely holiday ended on a bit of a sour note, but it was just one blip in a very fun week.  The kids had a blast and Chris and I are already planning our next trip or two to France next year.  

Any suggestions you have would be most welcome!

Get my child out of your box!

I have a confession and it’s something I’m not particularly proud of.

Last week I have allowed the government and their flawed education system to get the better of me and it has sent me a little bit mad.  How mad?  Well there’s been tears, a lot of tears.  There’s also been anger.  Anger at school, anger at teachers, but mostly anger at the state education system we have to live with in this country.  My anger is mostly misplaced as, deep down, I know it is not the fault of teachers or schools, but I can’t help thinking they could make things just that little bit better.

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My issue, of course, is the never ending demand that our children be tested and tested … and tested.  I have only my eldest child in school at the moment and although he is thankfully unaware of all the testing that has taken place this year (he is in Year Two), I’m angry that his performance at age seven (yes, age SEVEN) has given him a label, put him in a box, ranked him, judged him and set him up with an expected potential for the rest of his school life.

My frustration is doubled because yet again I find myself alone at the school gates in feeling passionately critical about something to do with school and/or our education system.  This gives me a label too.  I’m a problem parent.  I’m to be avoided and hushed and fobbed off.  Why can’t I be like everybody else who just accepts what they’re told and are agreeable?  Why must I ask so many questions?  Seriously, I’m even sick of listening to my own frustrated thoughts in my own head, so I can only imagine how my son’s school feels.

My eldest son, Charlie, attends an Ofsted Outstanding school and that rating means the world to our school.  I’m not sure it does to me.  I struggle to find anything meaningful about Ofsted and I find their highly sought after ticks in boxes rewards a school’s management technique.  I have said many times that the difference between an “Outstanding” school and a “Good” one is a Head Teacher (often inspectors themselves) who has worked out how to get the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed.  I’m sure there are many things about Ofsted Outstanding schools which are excellent.  I’m sure Outstanding schools are managed well, perfect lessons are planned and classrooms are displayed superbly on inspection day, but does this mean that outstanding schools will be better than good ones for every child enrolled?  Does it mean an outstanding school’s teachers are all better than a good school’s teachers?  Does that mean every child attending an outstanding school will do better than their counterpart?  Of course it doesn’t.

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So at the start of Year Two – a year where all six and seven year olds in the country are tested so that the government can rank their schools and proclaim their progress – Charlie was popped in a box marked “where he should be” and he was left there to coast.  Unfortunately for Charlie, he’s an easy-going, kind-hearted little guy who lives to please everybody.  His attitude to learning is pretty laidback; he’s a bit of a dreamer (did I mention he was SEVEN?), but he can always be expected to do his best.  Also VERY unfortunately for Charlie, he was a late bloomer who wasn’t “where he should be” when he was baseline tested in reception, but soon after he caught up, overtook others and started to find his way.  Charlie started Year 2 where his baseline test predicted he should be at the END of Year 2.  So, with all of those children he overtook in reception/Year 1 needing to get up a “level” or two, Charlie was left to coast.  Teacher’s efforts were fully concentrated elsewhere.

Last week my son’s school report came home and, although positive, there was nothing in it that told me my son’s teacher knew who he was.  I cried.  In comparison, my second son who is leaving his lovely privately-run preschool, came home with his report and it was filled with love, appreciation and anecdotes that captured the essence of who he is.  My word, did his teachers know him!  I cried again, but for an entirely different reason.

We were told last week that our book-loving, geography obsessed seven-year-old who sings his heart out in his drama classes, helps his little brother to learn his alphabet and teaches his little sister to count is average across the board.  He was well above average going into Year Two, but now he’s average.  This is where he should be (as his test when he was 4 predicted) so nobody minds that he was overlooked and disregarded for an entire year.  Unfortunately for Charlie, this is the year the government decided to issue him an even stronger label and pop him in a box.

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What a shame it is that the government’s pointless and self-satisfying tests can’t give Charlie a massive tick in a box for his kindness or his compassion for others.  The tests haven’t born witness to the love he has for his siblings or his level of fair play.  The government isn’t interested in the puppet shows he puts together or his enthusiasm for singing and dancing at his drama class.  They don’t care about the astounding progress he’s made in swimming this year or that he has a cracking sense of humour.  They don’t care that, at home at least, he reads and reads and reads.  This is who Charlie is, this is what is important in life, this indicates whether he has potential to grow up to be happy and successful and this is what schools and governments should recognise and celebrate.  These are the things I wanted to hear about in his school report.

Our children are the same age as those in France and Scandinavia who are yet to begin formal learning and French children are deemed to be better educated at 16, so what should we make of this? It indicates to me that Charlie should have been making more mud pies this year instead of being trained to pass tests.  Once put in a box with the lid firmly shut, it is very hard to get out and I’m positive that the scores awarded our seven year olds (or eleven year olds for that matter) can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Please, don’t fall for the government’s sales pitch.  Don’t let them tell your seven year old child they’re a high-flyer as when they inevitably level out, this means they’ve failed.  Don’t let them tell your child they’re average as no child is average.  Seriously, that’s probably the crappiest label of all.  Finally, don’t let them tell your child they’re a low achiever as the world is enormous and there are millions of things for them to excel at.  Shame on your child’s school for not uncovering that special something!

Don’t let anybody put your child in a box with a label stuck to it.  Make sure you help them fight their way out!

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Finally an apology.  I apologise to my friends for being so morose this past week.  Hopefully this article will help you understand better than I’ve been able to verbalise.  I also apologise to Charlie, as follows:

“Back in January we bought all the books (mostly Maths – which you love – but which makes your little head hurt!) and you sat down every night with Daddy “revising”.  This was because the government wanted to rank your school and demanded your teachers train you to pass tests so they could.  You enjoyed doing your maths, but I’m cross with myself for getting you to do it when you could have been having fun with your sticker books or playing the Xbox.  I promise I won’t ever do this again.  Instead, I’m going to ensure I build you up so you have the confidence to rejects labels and fight your way out of boxes.”

The Vilac Road Test

We had a very happy delivery yesterday at Tilda and Tom HQ!  Our very first Vilac order arrived from France.

We like to “road-test” our new toys when they arrive as we wouldn’t want to sell anything we weren’t happy with.  As our customers know, we are committed to selling nothing but the best and all of our toys must receive our seal of approval before they are shipped out!

So with so many new toys to choose from I left it up to Henry (4) and Mathilde (2) to choose something they wanted to play with … and here’s what they picked!

Magnetic Farm Animals!

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This is such a fun toy!  Included in the game is 12 wooden shaped blocks which are painted in bright, fun primary colours, which is common to all Vilac toy designs.  There are four animals in total, each made up of three blocks: Donkey (yellow); Cow (blue); Pig (green) and Goat (red).  Mathilde was very keen to make up the correct animals whereas Henry was much more interested in making up his own creations!  We had everything from a two-headed cow/pig creature to a very very very long sausage-donkey! 🙂

Henry went off to nursery this morning and Mathilde was eager to get the toy out to play with again.  It was even more fun than yesterday because she didn’t have to share.

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So we’re very happy to say that Vilac absolutely lives up to the high standards expected from a Tilda and Tom toy.  The Magnetic Farm Animals toy is very robust, made from solid wood and painted beautifully.  The design is very appealing to young children.  Not only is Magnetic Farm Animals fun, but it’s also educational as children learn about magnets (the positive/negative sides of the blocks won’t fit together forcing the child to think and turn the piece around) and also promotes hand/eye co-ordination and colour knowledge.

Magnetic Animals can be found here:  www.tildaandtom.co.uk/products/magnetic-farm-animals/   It is recommended for age 24 months + and it costs £18.00 plus P&P.  Also available at Tilda and Tom is the Magnetic Cars game also by Vilac.  

6173 - A1 - HDWe hope you find the time to check out all of our lovely new toys.  We’re really loving Vilac at the moment and hope to invest in lots of new lines.  I’m sure you’ll all agree that our Vilac toys tick all the right Tilda and Tom boxes, most notably; high-quality “made to last” durability and unique, stylish design!

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Introducing Vilac

Towards the end of this week we should be welcoming our SIXTH brand – Vilac – to Tilda and Tom’s collection of high quality toys.

Why Vilac?

Vilac was one of the brands I remember seeing in all the beautiful toy boutiques of France, as well as in their finest department stores.  Here is a photo of a Vilac display in the Galleries Lafayette department store in Amiens, which I visited in May.  You can tell that Vilac products are instantly recognisable by their use of bright, primary colours in both their toys and packaging.

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Always on our list of brands to introduce to our mostly British customers, we decided to bump Vilac up the list because our wooden toys are selling so well and proving very popular.  As you know, we have stocked the equally high quality Janod brand of wooden toys since our launch in February, having to re-stock a subsequent 5 times and introducing over 70 lines of beautiful toys. Janod’s toys are clean, polished and modern, but they have that underlying history of expert craftsmanship.  We have found that Vilac adds a little something different to our existing wooden toy supplier and we particularly like the classic, vintage “look” of their products.

Vilac have been creating beautiful toys in the Jura mountains of France since 1911 and are by far the oldest brand in our collection.  What we love about Vilac’s toys is they exude quality and collectability, which can be seen primarily in their range of beautifully painted and polished sports cars, bi-planes and boats.  We are stocking the British Sports Car seen here:

VIL British Sports Car
We also love the very vintage “feel” of Vilac’s toys which can best be seen in their baby and toddler pull-along toys, for example Basile the very friendly-looking sausage dog and Marcel the cat.

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What I am most excited about are Vilac’s retro collection of character toys.  Aside from our line of Sophie la Giraffe toys, this is our first venture into stocking characters and Vilac have some lovely ones to choose from.  First of all there’s a personal favourite of mine: Babar the Elephant!  For those not familiar with Babar, he is the character from a series of French storybooks by Jean de Brunhoff which were first published in the 1930s.  I love the Babar story about an orphaned little elephant who runs away to Paris and befriends a kind old lady who teaches him how to be a proper gentleman.  Babar buys a smart green suit, learns to drive a car and lives a happy life, but decides to return to his home in the jungle.  He later becomes the king of the elephants, marries his cousin Celeste and has three little baby elephants.  I bought all the Babar books for my children and my younger son’s nursery has two lovely Babar painting which I’m currently STRONGLY resisting replacing for Captain America and Batman!

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Vilac also manufacture lovely ranges of toys (puzzles, games, toddler toys) in Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, Hello Kitty, Noddy (Oui-Oui in France) and Barbapapa.  We particularly love all of the Barbapapa toys which was a 1970s cartoon for those of us who are old enough to remember!  Barbapapa is the French term for “candy-floss” and it’s literal meaning is old man’s beard.  Think of that next time you are at the funfair!

VIL Barbapapa PuzzleFinally, we’ve bought in quite a substantial collection of Vilac’s lovely, traditional wooden boxed games such as dominoes, memory games, threading beads, stitching cards and lots of fun educational games to assist learning numbers, alphabet and even languages.

Games!

20 Life Lessons I’m Teaching My Kids


Dear Kids

I already teach you these “lessons” every time you get upset with each other, or with us, or with your friends at school.  I also teach you them when you’re upset with yourselves.  You’re all still little at the moment, but I hope one day all three of you will reach the stage in your lives when you’ll think, “ah, right that’s what Mammy’s been telling me all my life.  Now I understand what she means!”

10441227_10152657632348209_5104692107237263973_nMy Three Amigos

  1. 1.     WE LOVE YOU AND WE ALWAYS WILL

As obvious as this one may be, it is the most important lesson of all and it has to sit right up here in number one spot just so you know how important it is!

There are going to be times when you are angry with us.  There are going to be times when we will be angry with you.  Remember that no matter how angry and upset we are with you, we love you, we will always love you and our love for you will never ever go away.  There is nothing you can ever do that will come even a teeny-tiny bit close to breaking our love for you.  Don’t test this out on us though!  Just accept it’s the truth!

  1. 2.     TRY HARD TO BE A GOOD FRIEND

All three of you will meet lots of people and make lots of friends during your lifetime, but it is the way of the world that friends come and go and only a few very special people will be with you for the long haul.  Always try to be the best friend you can be.  Being a good friend means making time for people, caring about them, helping them out when they need you and standing by their side through difficult times.  Take pleasure in building your friends up, champion their victories, encourage them when they need a boost, support them, fight for them, defend them and find lots of things to laugh about together.

Understand that although some friendships don’t work out and that this will be sad, you will never lose a real friend.  You only lose people who, through their own limitations, can’t be a friend to you.  Let them go and never make their behaviour about you.  When you’re older, don’t base your popularity on the number of people you have in your Facebook friends list or the number of people you can call up for a night out.  Instead, base your popularity on the number of people who’ll stand by you when you need them.

 

  1. 3.     NEVER CHANGE YOURSELF TO ‘FIT IN’

We already know that all three of you have such different little personalities and, whether you’re our determined one, our sensitive one or our inquisitive one, know that you are perfect to us just the way you are.  No personality type is “better” than another, so you must never feel you have to change who you are to please anybody else.  Don’t try to be somebody you aren’t in order to “fit in” with the crowd.  If the popular kids don’t accept you, know that it is because they don’t believe in themselves enough to appreciate anybody who is different to them.  If you end up being a “popular kid”, be kind to those who are different as different is always good.  Any friendship offered by someone who doesn’t approve of the wonderful person you are is no friendship at all, so don’t chase it.

11075187_10153179322193209_8290105349036292600_nHenry and his Nina

  1. 4.     VALUE CHARACTER OVER PERSONALITY

Appreciate the difference between character and personality.  Sometimes the most engaging, vibrant, funny and enigmatic people have bad character, whilst shy, awkward and quirky people can be the nicest, most generous and kindest people you will ever meet.  Don’t automatically associate positive character with positive personality traits.  Life rarely works this way.  Don’t short change yourself by valuing fun people over good people.

 

  1. 5.     YOU CAN’T CHANGE PEOPLE

Never expect people to behave the way you would and never make it “about you” if they don’t.  Make sure your expectations about other people are realistic and try not to hold them to the rules of behaviour which you abide by.  Sometimes you can be an excellent friend to somebody, but they won’t ever be able to be a good friend to you (or probably to anybody else) in return.  This isn’t your problem so don’t dwell on it and don’t waste time trying to change things.  Instead, be assured that as long as you’ve done your best for them it’s fine to let them go and move on.

 

  1. 6.     BE YOUR BROTHER AND SISTER’S BEST FRIEND

Love your brother/s and/or your sister as they share your life with you and believe us when we tell you how lucky you are to have them.  They will be walking alongside you for the rest of your lives so try and be a best friend to them even though you’ll definitely spend a lot of your life teasing and irritating each other!  All three of you are different and all three of you are special in your own way, so don’t ever try to compete with each other.  We’re not interested in who’s the smartest, who’s the most successful or who’s the most talented.  Know that whatever you achieve in life, we will be most proud if you are kind to each other.

10629874_10153334740858209_5130382967216802167_nH & M – Best Friends (some of the time!)

  1. 7.     LEARN TO LAUGH AT YOURSELF

Learning to laugh at yourself is one of the greatest skills you can ever learn and you’ll go far in life if you can master it.  Learn how to take a joke and don’t take offence at silly things.  You don’t have any right in life not to be offended by people or what they say and it’s far worse to take offence than to give it (especially IF no offence was intended in the first place).  Poke fun at yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Plus, if you can accept and laugh at your shortcomings, nobody can ever hurt you for having them.

 

  1. 8.     LEARN WHAT REAL BEAUTY IS

You don’t have to be slim, curvy, muscly or athletic to be beautiful.  We all come in lots of different shapes and sizes and beauty can be found in all of us.  If you grow up to be what the world considers “beautiful”, then you’re lucky and you should be happy and confident about your appearance, but always remember that your worth comes from who you are and not what you look like.  Remember we never ever use the word “fat” in our house.  It is the worst of words to use about yourself, but especially about other people.

 

  1. 9.     FIGHT FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE

There are lots and lots of things in the world for you to form opinions on.  Some of these things may become very important to you and, even if nobody around you shares your opinion, never be afraid to fight for what you believe in and fight passionately.  Different opinions aren’t ever a threat, they’re a challenge.  Debating is fun and discussing different thoughts and ideas is how we learn and grow as Human beings.  Words are powerful so learn how to use them and, very importantly, learn how to spell them.  Nobody will listen to you if you don’t know how to write well.  Be somebody worth listening to!

 

  1. 10.     QUESTION EVERYTHING AND THINK CRITICALLY

Don’t believe something just because your parents, family or friends tell you it is true.  Don’t believe something because a teacher or other person in authority tells you it is true.  Although clever people like teachers are more likely to be right about something, they can still sometimes be wrong.  Ask yourself why you should believe in monsters, ghosts, gods, horoscopes, angels, fairies and all manner of wild and wonderful things.  If you can’t think of a good reason why you should believe something, then don’t.  Feelings, instincts, revelations, wishful thinking, anecdotes and what people say “they just know is true” is not evidence.  Evidence is facts and information collected by people who are qualified through study and experience.  Always have the courage to correct misinformation when you hear it, but correct it only with evidence.

 

  1. 11.     BE POLITE, EVEN TO RUDE PEOPLE

Always be polite to people, even if they’re rude or mean to you.  We have taught you all good manners, so always use them.  There’s never any need to raise your voice, name-call, hurl accusations or be aggressive towards anybody.  There is no virtue in being confrontational and having a big mouth won’t get you half as far in life as having a big brain.  In times of conflict, smart people know how to reason and always behave reasonably.  Don’t try to reason with someone who is unreasonable as it isn’t much fun and it’s a battle you’ll never win.

 

  1. 12.     DEAL WITH REJECTION

At numerous times in your life you will hear “no”.  It may be that you aren’t picked for a team at school or you aren’t considered gifted at a particular subject.  Later on you may be told you aren’t suitable for a job or something you’ve created or worked hard at isn’t “good enough”.  If you want to be good at something and you’re told “no”, take it as a challenge.  Don’t ever be deterred by rejection as more often than not you will be able to do whatever you want to do well in time and with help, experience or knowledge.

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  1. 13.    MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR WEAKNESSES

We can’t all be the best at sports.  We can’t all be the best at dancing.  We can’t all be the best at science or French or history.  Whatever you excel at, there will be somebody who does it better than you, but never let this put you off.  Competition is good as it teaches us to grow and be better than we currently are.  Believe in yourself and believe you can do amazing things that are special for you. 

By the same token, there will be some things in life you are absolutely rubbish at.  If these are important things like maths and spelling, then unfortunately you still have to try very hard to learn how to do them well, but it really doesn’t matter if you can’t kick a ball, ride a bike or sing in tune.  Be proud of the things you do well, do them as often as you can and enjoy yourself.

 

  1. 14.     LEARNING IS LIFELONG

Always try your hardest in school, but don’t worry about tests and grades and assessments and numbers and rankings.  These things really don’t matter and don’t make you who you are.  You have your entire life to learn interesting things and achieve success.  You’re only as good as your last job and learning is far more than school and lessons and exams.  You will learn throughout your life.  Whatever it is you choose to do when you’re bigger, the trick is to believe in yourself, have confidence in your abilities, accept your weaknesses and have fun discovering the things you are good at.  Whatever you are told, there is no set timescale for learning and you are never too old to try something new.

 

  1. 15.     YOUR FREE TIME BELONGS TO YOU!

We want you to be happy.  We want you to enjoy yourself and we particularly want you to enjoy your childhood as it is brief and it is the only time in your life when you should have no worries or pressures.  If you don’t want to learn how to ride a bike, go to drama classes, take-up rugby or practice the flute then you don’t have to.  If you want to play Xbox, watch TV or read comics, then you can.  Mammy and Daddy have lots of achievements of their own to be proud of so we do not need to relive our lives through you and your siblings.  Your kindness is a reflection on us, your ability to kick a ball is not.

11108868_10153234863264439_7153498127531007551_nHenry and Nina enjoying drama

  1. 16.     DON’T COMPARE YOUR LIFE WITH OTHERS

There is little you can do if people are envious of who you are or what you have achieved.  Unfortunately this sometimes means they can’t be happy for you or be your friend, which is sad, but there’s nothing you can do to change this.  There will always be somebody who appears to have a better lot in life than the next person, but you can’t ever really know other people’s lives.  Don’t try to “keep up with the Jones” and, when you’re bigger, never ever use loans or credit cards as a means to get the life you want.  If you can’t afford it (with cash) then you can’t have it!  Focus on what you have, not on what others appear to have that is better.  (There’ll be more on this topic when you all have jobs!)  

 

  1. 17.     DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM NEGATIVE PEOPLE

People who are easily offended, quick to judge and unable to forgive are draining and you have to distance yourself from them.  Negative people will always exist in the world and you’re unfortunately going to encounter dozens of them in your lifetime.  Don’t have “friends” in your life who belittle you and don’t have “friends” who don’t appreciate you.  One of the hardest things in life is having to come to terms with the realisation that a friend you invested in isn’t a true friend at all, but know that their negativity is a telling of their own life’s story, not yours.

 

  1. 18.     SURROUND YOURSELF WITH UPLIFTING PEOPLE

It has been said that you’re only as good as the people you choose to surround yourself with, so choose your friends very wisely.  Try to surround yourself with people who lift you up and enrich your life.  Seek out clever people, inspirational people, happy people, compassionate people and, most of all, seek out kind people.  Everyone needs people in their lives who build them up and make them feel good about themselves.  You’ll find it very hard to succeed unless you can find one or two of them (at least!).

11260715_10153302636063209_1911615883166933898_nThe Friends

  1. 19.     DON’T LET OTHERS BRING YOU DOWN

Most of the things I’ve written in this letter are meant as advice, but this is an outright ORDER!  Never let anybody bring you down!  You won’t be able to avoid being judged and it is a fact that you will be judged negatively at some point in your lives.  Take the criticism of others only if it will better you in the process, however, love yourself enough not to be hurt by opinions which are unjust.  You can’t control what people think of you and not everyone will like you all of the time.  Force yourself not to care about the opinions of people who don’t matter.

Instead, embrace your true friends who see past your flaws and accept the wonderful, fabulous people you are.  You are all good people – good people with normal human failings – but, I repeat very loudly and forcefully … GOOD people!  Your true friends will see you for who you are.  Embrace them, invest in them, love them and stay loyal to them.

 

  1. 20.     WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES

Realise that there will be times in your life when even though all three of you are gorgeous and scrumptious and lovely, you will say or do bad things.  You are not perfect, but neither is anybody else.  Don’t fret over it.  Make your apologies, know you’re a good person, forgive yourself and move on.

Now comes the hardest bit to write … here goes … “sometimes Mammy and Daddy make mistakes”.  We are not perfect either and we are learning continuously throughout our lives just as you are.  Tell us when you are upset and tell us if you think it is our fault.  We will never make you feel guilty for reproaching us and we will always apologise if we’re in the wrong.  We are a work in progress too and there’s so much that we have already learned from you.  We’re already amazed by your kindness, your gentleness and your love for us and for each other.  We have already become better people through what we have learned from you.

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France Road Trip

THE GREY FAMILY ROAD TRIP


DAY ONE

We started our journey first thing on Saturday morning and, as is customary for the Grey family when we set off on holiday, we hunted down an all you can eat breakfast!  Experience has taught us that a Beefeater is the way to go where breakfasts are concerned, so we travelled for a little over an hour and stopped at Wetherby.  True to form, Charlie (7) demolished a plate of five sausages and baked beans, Henry (4) had three bowls of cereal and Mathilde (2) enjoyed her hash browns and croissants.

Chris and I shared the driving and as it was a Bank Holiday weekend we weren’t surprised to stumble upon quite a few traffic problems on our way down to Dover.  However the biggest jam was only just under an hour courtesy of an overturned caravan!  I’m sure things could have been worse so I wasn’t complaining!

11268999_1010698575622057_5130644818107176713_nOur view of Cambridgeshire!

We finally reached Dover at teatime after around nine hours in the car.  Good practice for our flight to Florida in October!  Obviously I’m an advocate of lovely, well-made classic toys, but our electronic tablets are a lifesaver on long journeys and loading them up with films, TV and games made travelling with the boys an absolute dream.  Mathilde had a few whingey moments, but she was mostly very good too! 

The town of Dover chiefly consists of the ferry port which is practically on the beach, a nice strip where our hotel was situated and then the town centre itself behind which was much smaller than I expected and surprisingly rundown.  We managed to find a McDonalds restaurant to keep the kids happy for tea and then settled in for the night.

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P1010322Our hotel and view of Dover

The hotel itself was a Best Western with a lovely view out to sea.  As a family of five, we usually take a blow up bed for one of the boys to sleep on as we very rarely find hotels which sleep five and with the children being young, we don’t want separate rooms.  Unfortunately I remembered to pack everything but the blowy-up Spider-man bed, so Chris and the boys all slept in our room’s king-size bed and I bunked up with Mathilde on the sofa-bed.  It wasn’t too bad a night considering the squishiness!

DAY TWO

We woke and packed early and made our way to the ferry terminal.  The kids were very excited to be driving their car onto a boat!  Hey, I was really excited!  I hadn’t crossed the channel by car for 20 years.  The physical getting on (and off) the P&O ferry was really easy and we were lucky to have a nice, calm crossing.  I took my kwells just in case as I don’t travel well by boat, but I probably wouldn’t have needed them!

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We had breakfast (very expensive!) aboard the ferry, checked out the views from the deck and played a while in the family lounge.  It was a lovely trip with no problems at all.

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Although we shared driving from Tyneside to Dover, I’m not confident enough to drive on foreign soil as I’d never remember to drive on the other side of the road!  Chris says I would be fine.  I know I’d kill us all in ten minutes, so unfortunately he had to do all the French driving.  Luckily French roads are great and much less congested than our roads.  French drivers also seem very sensible so there were no problems at all on the roads.

We travelled from Calais to our holiday gite at Conchy-sur-Canche, which is a small village close to the town of Arras in the Nord-Pas region of France, only just over an hour’s drive from the ferry.  The Nord-Pas (North Country) is a flat region of mostly farmland which borders Belgium to the north, Picardy to the west and Normandy in the south.  We travelled past Montreuil-sur-Mer which I recognised as one of the famous settings in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.  Chris looked a bit worried in case I wanted to visit.  Musicals are his most hated thing in the world and the one time I dragged him to Les Mis (before we were married when he wanted to impress me) he fell asleep for an hour during the performance.

The Satnav served us well as we arrived in Conchy-sur-Canche easily.  I’m not sure what I expected of our gite as I haven’t stayed in one before, but I was initially surprised by how old it was (built in the mid-1800s) and it reminded me a lot of the farmhouse in Beamish museum (if you’re not from the North East, Beamish is a fab “working” museum dedicated to life in Victorian/Edwardian times).  It took a few days for us to warm up the “holiday house” (as Mathilde named it) and it took Chris even longer to get the hang of the wood-burner, but when he did it was lovely and cosy! 

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Barnaby the school bear came along for the holiday too!

The kids absolutely loved investigating the house and had a great adventure.  Charlie found some torches and he and Henry were the first to find the “monster’s cellar” below the house.  Chris later introduced more excitement with the find of the “witch’s attic”.  There was a great games cupboard where we found a big box of Lego, but this wasn’t half as much fun as hide and seek.  Oh, and running away from the monster!

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The gite had everything we needed.  Two large double bedrooms with very comfy beds.  Two further rooms each with a set of bunkbeds.  Two bathrooms with showers and baths, a kitchen stocked with everything we needed (plus lots we didn’t) and a living room and dining room.  It was really great for all of us and we would definitely stay again.

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After exploring the house we visited Hesdin for some shopping, but as it was a Sunday and as we were in France, all the supermarkets and shops were closed and the only thing we could manage to find open was a “friterie” (chip shop!) in the town square.  We weren’t unhappy as the fries were lovely!  We were more concerned about the fact we had no shopping and needed loo roll!  Thank goodness we brought plenty of baby wipes! 😀

P1010340Henry loves chips! 🙂

DAY THREE

First task of the day was a) buying food and b) finding loo roll, so we drove to the nearest small town, Frevent, which was two villages along our road and stocked up at the local Carrefour.  Shopping in foreign supermarkets is one of our favourite things to do when we’re away and we loaded the trolley with lots of lovely French food including pate, cheese, pastries, fresh bread and sausages.  We even treated ourselves to nice smelling perfume-y loo roll!

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After getting back and having lunch outdoors in the garden we travelled into Amiens which was just over an hour’s drive from our village.  Amiens is a beautiful town with a famous cathedral and lively town centre.  I was semi-familiar with the town through reading Sebastian Faulk’s novel, Birdsong, and as I walked the cobbled streets of the town I could imagine the troops of soldiers marching through on their way to the trenches in World War 1.  As a side note, this is the region of France dotted with dozens of cemeteries from the Great War and we passed signs for several as we travelled the area, but we didn’t think the children were at an age to fully understand that period of history so we didn’t visit.

P1010361Amiens Cathedral

The town centre of Amiens was lovely and had a good selection of shops.  I was pleased to stumble upon a small “Galerie Lafayette” department store, so I popped in to take a few photos of their toy department and was happy to see they had a good selection from one of the new brands I’ve recently arranged to stock.  It was lovely to also see which Moulin Roty ranges Galerie Lafayette had chosen too.

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P1010383Amiens Centre-Ville

DAY FOUR

This was the day we chose to go to Paris!

Charlie, our eldest, is really keen on travel and he enjoys reading about cities and flags and all the great landmarks that can be found in all the different countries of the world.  The Eiffel Tower, along with Big Ben and the Statue of Libety, is one of his favourite things and taking him to see it was one of the main reasons we planned this holiday.

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Unfortunately, Paris is very, very far away from Conchy-sur-Canche!  You can get the TGV (high-speed train) from Amiens, but I was put off by having to pre-book a time PLUS it was very expensive.  Instead we mapped out a route to a “close enough” RER (national rail) station we could find to Paris which was in a lovely town called Creil.  After getting up very early, it took two hours to drive to Creil followed by another hour on the RER to the Gare du Nord.  The kids were beyond excited as … wait for it … the train was a double-decker!

P1010403Henry – always the most excited boy on a train!

At Gare du Nord we struggled on the Metro to Champs-de-Mar station which is near the Eiffel Tower.  Now, here’s the first gigantic struggle of the holiday.  If you can help it, NEVER take a pushchair on the Paris Metro.  It’s a fight you won’t win!  Also, the ticket machines are very temperamental and decidedly fickle.  They will let you through if they feel like it, but often you will have to crawl under the turnstiles on your hands and knees (after folding the buggy and passing it over the top).  The London Tube is so much better equipped for people on wheels and I’ve no idea how disabled people manage on the Paris Metro.  I assume they don’t bother as I didn’t see any trying!

P1010435Henry – different train, but still excited!! 

I’ve visited the Eiffel Tower several times, last visit being when Charlie was a baby, but it was lovely hearing the chorus of “wow” from all three kids as we turned a street corner to see the fabulous landmark standing before us.  Charlie couldn’t wait to get to the top but sadly the summit was closed today so we could only go to the second floor.  The wait to visit was over an hour and as Chris and Charlie sought out a few sandwiches, I had a terrifying moment when I took my eye off Mathilde for two seconds and she disappeared.  After probably less than a minute (but it seemed like hours) of frantic calling for her (along with other worried people in our queue) I finally found her a few metres away climbing some barriers.  Needless to say I didn’t take my eye off her again, which didn’t make her very happy as she wanted to play.  Thank goodness for the enormous ham baguette which kept her quiet for the rest of the wait!

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After the Eiffel tower we played for a bit in the playground we’d taken Charlie to when he was a baby (happy memories!) then we walked to a Metro (more drama!) and went to St-Michel which is a station in the lovely Latin Quarter of Paris.  There we had a look around the shops (all three kids bought a mini Eiffel Tower for their shelves) and had a lovely meal in a Greek restaurant before starting the long journey home.  We got back around 9pm which was a 12 hour day!  City visits with small children are tough!

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DAY FIVE

All of us had a nice lie in before starting our last day in France.  Today we decided to visit the town of Arras which Chris was familiar with after having a golf-trip to this area a couple of years ago.  Arras was another nice town with two lovely big squares and another impressive cathedral.

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Chris was pleased to find a shop stocking some great beers – most of which were Belgian due to Arras’s proximity to the Belgian border, and I resisted the urge to stock up on some rather impressively priced but spectacular looking chocolates in the knowledge I still had a box of Hotel Chocolat’s finest in the fridge back home from my birthday last week.

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Our last night in the gite was quite sombre.  Henry, our 4 year old, started to sob uncontrollably saying he didn’t want to leave France.  Sad as it was for the little guy, this is music to your ears as parents as you know you’ve given your kids a great holiday if they want to stay forever!  Charlie, engrossed in his Beast Quest books, agreed he wanted to stay too and would quite like to go to the little school in the village as it was painted in bright colours and looked fun!

DAY SIX

The Thursday morning and time to go home!  Henry had recovered from his crying incident from the night before and now it was Mathilde’s turn as much of the journey she kept asking us if we were going “holiday house”, followed by a few sobs when we said that we were going back to our house now.

We left in plenty of time for the tunnel as getting to places on time is one of my stress-button-issues.  I’m terrible at airports in particular!  Because we were so early, the tunnel people let us go on an earlier train and we reached Folkestone by 11am.  The excitement of car-on-a-train wasn’t as great as car-on-a-boat and even though the tunnel journey was much quicker the kids unanimously agreed that the ferry trip was the most fun.  Probably as they could have breakfast and a bit of a run around!

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Seven and a half hours later we got back home after having a really easy journey.  Again, the boys tablets proved invaluable and Henry even managed a snooze.  Mathilde had a snooze too, but being two, was far more whingey and had to be entertained a lot more.  I think we must have listened to the Frozen sound track about 20 times over in the car.  Chris never wants to hear “Let it go” ever again!  Good luck with that! 😀

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So that was the Grey Family’s first big road trip adventure and we all had a fantastic time.  Even to the point of having a little dose of the post-holiday blues since returning.  We always love being in France and I hadn’t been to the Nord-Pas region before so it was lovely to visit a new area.  I also thoroughly enjoyed staying in our gite (which is owned by a friend of Chris’s). 

The best thing about the trip was realising the kids are getting to a great age where we can thoroughly enjoy more and more aspects of family holidays.  The boys were very good the whole time we were away and we were encouraged to see them becoming great friends as they took off exploring and playing together.  Even Mathilde, aside from the odd whingey tantrum-y episode common to two year olds, was no real bother and she had a great time. 

This is what life is about for us!  Building great memories that will last for all our lifetimes! 🙂

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Why I have thrown the milestone charts in the bin!

This is an update of a blog I wrote back in October of last year.

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The journey to age four with Henry has been much more difficult than it was with our eldest child.  Right from the start it seemed like my beautiful, golden-haired littlest boy knew precisely what he wanted and he wasn’t going to do things any other way.  My eldest, Charlie, is laid back and lives to please.  He does whatever he’s asked the first time and he’s as easy-going as they come.  With Henry, if you ask him to do something once then you’ll have to ask him another twenty times.

Henry was due to arrive at Halloween 2010, but he surprised us by arriving 5 hours early.  The night he was born, he screamed every time I put him in the little cot that was attached to my hospital bed.  I managed a few hours sleep with him snuggled in my arms.  Over the next few months, I soon got used to him wanting that closeness, which was a good thing as that’s the way Henry and I were to sleep every night for the next two and a half years!  It was a habit we were told we had to break (of course I was making a rod for my own back!), but we got used to it and there was no better thing in the world than waking up to my gorgeous, happy baby.

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Henry settled in well and he was always smiling and content.  Back then, everyone commented on what a well behaved little baby he was.  Big brother Charlie adored him and Henry fed well and hit all those rolling over, sitting up, crawling, standing and walking milestones that we parents pointlessly obsess about.

By eighteen months we realised Henry’s speech was non-existent.  We tried not to be too concerned about it as Charlie, who had a gluey ear, was a late talker too (plus, I knew it was common with boys).  It had been a hard slog with Charlie and I didn’t particularly relish the thought of going through it all again, but even at eighteen months Charlie had a few recognisable sounds, whereas Henry wasn’t saying anything at all. 

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What you find if your child has a noticeable developmental delay is that everybody will have an opinion on why it has happened and what will put it right and that these often unhelpful and occasionally hurtful opinions, fly in the face of what medical professionals will tell you and what a few hours internet research will bring to light.  So, with Henry passing all the hearing tests, I then had to deal with not just a child who was getting more and more frustrated that he couldn’t communicate, but with the ‘world’ telling me what I had to do to solve my “problem.”  Why was my happy, gorgeous little boy deemed a “problem”?

It was hard seeing Henry struggle.  He’s my strong-willed one as it is and his behaviour was affected by his inability to make himself understood.  What I found even more difficult was the assumptions that were made.  We hear all the time that bright children have lots of language early, whilst a child who doesn’t communicate is behind – and will probably stay behind.  I remember crying after reading a newspaper opinion article written by some woman (with no professional credentials) who blamed late speech on lazy, uneducated parents with poor vocabularies who never read to their child and who sat them in front of iPads instead of talking to them.  It hit me like a brick.  People who don’t know any better, will assume my child isn’t talked to, that he isn’t read to or that his parents are stupid.   Our reality was so far removed from these hurtful assumptions.  Henry was read to every day, we have hundreds of books and my vocabulary is larger than anybody else I knew, so why was my child not talking?  What was I doing wrong? 

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Then there was the ubiquitous competitive mummy “friends” who saw Henry as a benchmark to compare their parenting.  Henry couldn’t talk, so this made their child brilliant.  The message came loud and clear from many directions and it came to my face, as well as behind my back.  “Oh, we’re going to softplay with Elizabeth and Henry this afternoon, but it’s no fun for Amelia.  She get’s nothing at all out of playing with Henry as he’s so far behind her.  It’s so hard for her to have to play with him.”  I even had one “friend” suggest (behind my back) that Henry’s lack of speech was due to me loving him less than his brother and sister.

You may think that dealing with such negative comments has knocked my confidence and in some ways it has, but I never once lost confidence in Henry.  My little boy is bright, funny, thoughtful, loving and he has the concentration level of a criminal genius.  He gets up to antics that Charlie would never have dreamt of.  He dissasembles anything which will dissasemble to see how it works and he can usually put it back together again.  Henry is a physical, active learner.  He’s a thinker and a do-er and a problem solver. 

Henry flew past every single one of those early development milestones – except one.  Just one.  The one that seems to be deemed most important, but still just one out of hundreds.  He was running, jumping and skipping when the milestone charts said he should be learning to cruise around the furniture, he was eating with a knife and a fork when the charts said he should be starting finger foods and he was dressing himself and putting on his own shoes when others his age were still crawling in babygros.  Did it really mean so much that he couldn’t talk?

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Henry’s pre-school have been fantastic with him and I am thankful that they appreciated all the wonderful things about him and all the amazing things he can do without ever signalling to me that they thought he has a problem or that his speech was an “issue”.  Instead, I was told he would talk when he was ready and it would be like flicking on a switch.  They were absolutely right.  The Christmas following his third birthday, Henry started talking and now at four and a half years old he never shuts up.  He sings, he tells jokes and he does impressions.  He has almost caught up, precisely as I hoped he would.

So, the milestone charts have been binned in our house – forever – because far more important than a tick in a box are all the things about Henry that can’t be measured on a scale: the kindness he shows to his friends; his eagerness to be helpful to Mummy and Daddy; his never-ending love of “Dakkin Dakkida” (Captain America) and Mary Poppins; his excitement at going on an adventure (whether it is on holiday or just to the shops) and his smile which lights up the room when he gets a hug from his brother or sister.

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With my third child I have vowed never to look once at the milestone charts.  Mathilde was two in February and I have no idea whether she’s “on track” or not and I don’t care whether her boxes get ticked early or late, I don’t mind if she’s deemed ‘advanced’ or ‘behind’ as she’s absolutely perfect to me just the way she is.