#ShareAStory is an hour long creative writing workshop where children aged 7+ learn how to write their own stories

PizzaExpress have teamed up with Scribblers HQ to launch a series of wonderful creative writing workshops across the country aimed at children aged 7-12. We were invited along for Polly (8½) to give it a taste test and see what she thought. 

The workshop starts with explaining that all stories have the same key elements. Take a leading character, give them some basic information and a mission, and away you go. Once you have these things nailed you can’t really go wrong. The delicious pizza also went down a treat with the children after a hard hours’ writing! 

Polly was a little bit nervous when we were on our way to the workshop. “I’m no good at coming up with ideas for stories,” she told me with a worried look in her big blue eyes. I assured her that there would be experts on hand to help her throughout the workshop, which there were. The experience panned out to be a lot less intimidating in reality than it had been in her mind beforehand. 

#ShareAStory

Polly’s story 

The lovely ladies from Scribblers HQ did a marvellous job of putting the children at ease from the moment they arrived. They were taken on a whistlestop tour of book writing, and taught how to structure their own stories. By being given two examples of best selling books, the kids were shown how similar they both were once they were broken down to their key components. 

After about five minutes Polly wasn’t nervous at all, and went on to write a little story about a giant ice cream called Olaf. Poor Olaf is in a real state because all his friends keep getting eaten by the humans (and some monsters) so he needs a plan to stay alive. It’s a fun and quirky story, which Polly was super proud of writing and I was incredibly proud to watch her write. 

The best part is that since this workshop a fortnight ago, Polly has written two more stories. Not because I’ve been on her case about doing so, but because she’s wanted to. I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that writing is my job these days, and it’s bringing me such pleasure to see her enjoying the process of putting a story together.   

Book your free #ShareAStory workshop

#ShareAStoryPizzaExpress are running their free #ShareAStory workshops around the country this month, and I thoroughly recommend you booking your place. For full details check out the PizzaExpress website, or click on the links below. 

Birmingham – Sunday 4th March 

Manchester – Saturday 24th March

Leeds – Sunday 25th March

Cardiff – to be confirmed

World Book Day 2018 

PizzaExpress are also supporting World Book Day with a special edition of their Dough Ball Times activity pack. Children are invited to design a bookmark to be in with the chance of winning a years supply of books. Packs will be available in restaurants until the 25th March. 

The Dough Ball Times will also include a World Book Day token which you can exchange for an exclusive book in your local bookshop. For a home educating family like us, this was really useful.  

There are ten fabulous books to choose from this year, my three have ear marked these. 

Nadiya Hussain’s Bake Me A Story (Polly)
Paddington Turns Detective (Clara)
The Avengers Greatest Heroes (Freddy)

What will your kids choose? Tweet me @MummyTries

**Disclaimer: this is a collaborative piece, for my full disclosure policy click here.** 

Shrek's Adventure!My children adore everyone’s favourite ogre, so I was excited to tell them we’d be going to Shrek’s Adventure! on London’s Southbank. Better still, we’d be going with our dear friends, fellow blogger Mel and her four

The tour lasts for around an hour, and is very interactive with lots of different segments. It starts with a 4D bus tour, and although it doesn’t actually move, it wasn’t too dissimilar to feeling like we were on a roller coaster. Various characters from Dreamworks films are talking and flying all around you, and it’s a lot of fun.

I won’t ruin it by giving away too many spoilers, but during this early segment, a little disaster occurs, and the rest of the tour is based around getting home. You get to meet lots of characters from the Shrek films along the way, and join in to help bring certain items to the Muffin Man so he make a potion which will create a portal to return back.

The actors play their parts exceptionally well, and the children came out of the tour absolutely buzzing. It was such a joy to see them all this happy. Keeping seven kids aged three to nine entertained is no small thing, so hats off to Shrek’s Adventure! for doing so.

Things to know before your visit

Queues: if you visit at a busy time (we went in UK half term), be prepared to stand in line for a while. We had pre-booked tickets for the 3pm tour, but didn’t start our tour until a few minutes to 4pm. It was a teensy bit deceptive because there wasn’t much of a queue outside the venue, once inside however, there was quite a bit of waiting around.

Don’t worry though, there is plenty to look at while you’re waiting to keep you entertained. We also took a big bag loaded with snacks and activities with us. It wasn’t much of a problem for us, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind if you have mobility issues to consider. They keep the tour group sizes fairly small, which was impressive, because never once did I feel like we were being squashed in like sardines in a can.

Shrek's Adventure!Buggies/baggage: there’s no cloakroom until you’re just about to go on your tour, and they ask you to not take buggies in. If you’re planning to go with a baby either take a sling or be prepared to carry them.

Mobile phones/photography: you’ll be asked to switch your phone off, and not turn it back on until the very end. I really like this aspect of the tour, because it keeps everyone fully present and focused on what’s happening, rather than trying to capture the moment to put on social media. Not only are you asked to switch phones off, you won’t be allowed to take photos on a camera either. At the very end of the tour you’ll get to meet the big guy, and can snap away and share until your heart is content.

Frightening: until about six months ago, Polly (8½) would find something scary about even the most innocuous films or books. There are a few parts on the tour that involve witches and/or all the lights going out. Both Freddy (4) and Clara (6) stuck to me like glue in anticipation of something scary happening, but didn’t cry or get freaked properly out at all. Again worth bearing in mind if you have a highly sensitive child who is likely to scare really easy.

The verdict

Shrek’s Adventure! got the resounding thumbs up from all seven children. Yes really, I’m not just saying it. I think the best thing is that there are different segments every five minutes or so, which keep the kids completely enraptured.

There was a bonus section at the end too, where we got to meet the Kung Fu Panda. You’ll have to get down to the Southbank quickly though, because he’s only there to celebrate Chinese new year, and won’t be there forever.

Huge thanks to the PR team at Shrek’s Adventure! for inviting us to come for a tour. For what’s on and pricing, head over to the Shrek’s Adventure! website.

**Disclaimer: we were gifted our entrance fee in exchange for this honest blog, all words are my own, some photos were taken by myself, some by Mel. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

If your child does not sleep through the night, you are going to love this article! Until recently I was lucky to get four or five broken hours shut eye…

Anyone who follows this blog will already know that severe sleep deprivation has been a major part of mine and hubby’s lives the entire time we’ve been parents. I’m not just talking about a few months here and there when the kids were tiny, I’m talking not having an entire week of unbroken sleep in over eight years. I’m sure most will agree that is a very long time.

Prior to our eldest daughter Polly’s autism diagnosis in 2015, we honestly thought we were just clueless parents, convinced that we must be missing a trick. We had to be going wrong somewhere along the line. Why did everyone else’s kid sleep through the night but not ours?

There’s no way to dress it up, right from birth Polly was a terrible sleeper. We didn’t know any different though, and took it on the chin in those early days. Things got really bad for us when I was heavily pregnant with our second daughter, Clara. After a hideous night of almost no sleep at all, I went to work and cried my eyes out, begging my old boss to let me start maternity leave a few weeks before I was due to.

sleep through the nightBy the time our new baby came along we were dreading the sleep side of things, and totally expected the worst

Fortunately for us we were blessed with an incredible sleeper. With no intervention from us whatsoever, Clara was getting a solid twelve hours by the time she was three months old. Polly however was up every night, seriously distressed, having monumental meltdowns. Her behaviour during the day was beyond challenging, and I look back on this time with immense sadness.

Everyone was miserable and it was definitely a turning point for us as a family. I went into frantic mama bear mode. Having suffered with gastro problems myself as a child, I became convinced that Polly’s issues were linked to allergies. Turns out I wasn’t entirely wrong, because just before her third birthday she was diagnosed with a food intolerance list as long as your arm. Cue two years of strict exclusion diets, as well as our third child.

The clean eating certainly helped, but it didn’t solve Polly’s sleep problems. By the time Freddy came along we’d read every website and parenting self-help book we could get our hands on. No matter what we tried nothing seemed to help Polly sleep through the night.

That is until our first autism assessment, where we heard two words that would change our lives: sleep hygiene

This term had never come up in anything we had previously read, but it instantly felt like we were being handed a gift. Sleep hygiene is essentially a series of bedtime (and for us nighttime) habits that need to be set in place and stuck to rigidly. It sounds so simple, but let’s face it, especially in hindsight, it always does.

The reason I feel qualified to share our experience now, is because we’ve been doing these things for more than two years and have ruled out any happy coincidences. I can put my hand on my heart and say that they definitely work.

Create good sleep hygiene, to help your child sleep through the night, using these steps

“Figure out a bedtime routine that suits everyone, and stick to it like glue.”

Our paediatrician Dr. K’s words now sound like a complete no-brainer. Trust me though, having sat on both sides of the fence, I know how hard it can be to devise, implement and adhere to a routine. With the best will in the world, life gets in the way doesn’t it? The thing about a sleep problem, is that it really needs to be given top priority within the family. When your child is sleep deprived, so are you, and we all know that it’s a form of torture.

Give yourself at least three months to put these steps into place, without expectation or changes to the schedule. We started seeing improvements in Polly after the first week, but once we’d been at it for three months real progress was evident.

 

Calling all parents: How affected by sleep deprivation are you right now? If the answer is very, and you’re at your wits end because you feel you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked long term, you are going to love my latest blog. ♥️ When her sleep was at its worst, Polly was waking up, on average, ten times a night. This went on for years, with all the usual tricks either not working or only being effective in the very short term. The article is almost 2000 words long, but I’m certain there is something in it for every desperate parent trying to figure out sleep solutions for their exhausted children. ♥️ Disclaimer: we were gifted our gorgeous bunk beds which are being built here by the lovely people at @warrenevansbeds but the blog post is entirely about our personal story…

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on

Things to consider before anything else

Creating a good sleeping environment is just as important as the routine itself. A dark cosy room, which isn’t full of distractions is a must, especially for children on the spectrum whose minds can be more difficult to quiet at the end of a busy day. Polly had her own room for years, and our younger two shared, but we moved her in with Clara about a year ago and it improved Polly’s sleep even further.

Something we hadn’t banked on was that sometimes Polly was waking in the night because she felt lonely, and now that she has the presence of her sister in the room that isn’t the case.

The girls adore their bunk beds from Warren Evans*, and devised a rota among themselves for who sleeps at the top so there are no arguments. They agreed that Polly could go first as she’s the eldest, then after one week it was Clara’s turn, then Polly, etc. During the first week they actually decided they liked the Polly up top/Clara at the bottom set up and have not been arguing about swapping.

For those considering bunk beds for children who have a fairly small age gap, and will find any excuse to argue, I can highly recommend thinking about a rota.

Things to do before bedtime

sleep through the nightIt’s easy to say keep stress to a minimum, but it does massively impact the witching hour. In my experience stress has always been the number one trigger for meltdowns during bedtime. The trouble is, once stress hormones have been stirred up, it can be very difficult to get your child to go to sleep.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that calm is the most important factor in getting a decent nights rest. Even once a child is asleep, the quality of that sleep will likely be poor if they’ve stressed themselves out beforehand.

My children usually watch a film in the early evening, and we don’t allow small screens past 5pm. We have at least half an hour, if not longer, downtime between the TV going off and the kids going to bed. This allows them sufficient transition time from one task to the next.

Things to do during bedtime

I take my hat off to those who have multiple children of varying ages, and manage to stick to a routine at the exact same time every single night. For us we aim for certain things to happen within a time frame, but with the best will in the world it isn’t always possible.

We also find with our kids that a routine will work for a few months, then things will start sliding and need to be changed. We have structured our evening quiet time around playing LEGO, colouring, doing jigsaw puzzles and reading stories. At the moment they are enjoying meditation sleep stories in bed, which help them relax before dropping off.

It’s also vital that Polly gets to tick everything off her mental check list before going to sleep, otherwise she feels like something is missing. She needs to have fresh water in her bottle, she needs to know the details of what will be happening the next day, her hair has to be tied up in a certain way, and she absolutely must get goodnight kisses from the entire family. It took us a long while to realise that not ticking everything off her list was causing her serious anguish.

Things to do for night time wake ups

The million pound question for us c.2015 was what to do in the middle of night when Polly woke up distressed for whatever reason. The answer was getting to the bottom of what she needed and finding a solution as quickly as possible.

When we started out, Polly was waking on average ten times a night, often having bedtime-like meltdowns in the small hours. We were advised by Dr. K to silently guide her back to bed, without interacting with her, even if it took all night. My husband and I were absolutely dreading this, and the first few nights were indeed horrendous, but by the end of the first week we saw a massive improvement. By the end of the month we were astonished at how far we’d come, and by the time we had hit the three month mark she was consistently sleeping through the night for the first time ever.

Nowadays Polly only wakes in the middle of the night if she needs the toilet, or has had a scary dream and wants some comfort. I honestly cannot remember the last time she was up for more than fifteen minutes in the middle of the night.

sleep through the nightAn overview 

Bottom line is, if your child is a poor sleeper, you are going to be sleep deprived which adds an extra layer of difficulty to your days as a parent. Here are my biggest tips to help your kids get some Zzzzz’s: 

  • eat a healthy balanced diet of real food 
  • rule out any medical problems 
  • limit small screens, especially in the hour or two before bed 
  • ensure their sleeping environment is comfortable, a good quality bed is an absolute must 
  • keep stress to a minimum 
  • structure your bedtime routine around doing quiet activities to wind down 
  • read or listen to stories while your child is in bed 
  • make sure their mental checklist has been completed 
  • meet their needs in the night quickly with minimal interaction

*About Warren Evans

You cannot underestimate the importance of a good quality bed, and comfortable mattress. You honestly cannot go wrong with Warren Evans, who have 38 years of award winning experience handcrafting beds. Their superior service and quality products, at a fantastic price, means you get great value. For more info please read my article about how I fell in love with my Warren Evans bed and TEMPUR mattress.

Warren Evans was rated by Which? Members as the ‘Best Mattress Retailer’ in 2017. For great sleep tips see Warren Evans’ blog.

**Disclaimer: we were gifted our bunk beds by Warren Evans in exchange for this honest blog. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

 

What is the EDF Energy Pretty Curious campaign, and why is it important?

When EDF Energy got in touch about their Pretty Curious campaign, which encourages girls to go into STEM related careers, I was naturally eager to learn more. As a home educating mama, I’m always on the lookout for ways to get the children interested in new and exciting things. It doesn’t get much more exciting than STEM – which stands for science, technology, engineering and maths. 

The hard core truth is that STEM related careers have been traditionally dominated by men. Which is why EDF Energy launched the Pretty Curious campaign in 2015, to try and bring some balance into the field. They set themselves a target for 30% of their STEM graduate and apprenticeship intake to be women by 2018, and in 2017 it was already at 35%.

As a large energy company EDF Energy are reliant on STEM skills, and put the utmost importance on recruiting from a diverse talent pool. Pretty Curious will be continuing its mission to encourage girls to pursue STEM based subjects at school, and hopefully go into STEM related careers. They even joined forces in 2017 with Star Wars: The Last Jedi to spread the word to even more girls and women. Take a look at the video below for more details.

Polly, 8 and Clara, 6 were Pretty Curious when they were told they’d get to build a robot which they could then control with an app  

To whet our appetite for STEM, EDF Energy sent us a droid inventor kit to create. Being the main home educator, I like to give my husband the fun jobs. Plus he’s a huge Star Wars fan, and was probably as excited as the girls were about building an actual R2D2. 

I loved watching the looks of deep concentration on their faces when they were working on this task. To be honest, we don’t have a huge amount of situations where we have to follow instructions to the letter, but it’s great for us to all do from time to time. Myself included. I find it therapeutic to tune out absolutely everything else, and focus my attention fully on one thing.

They all had a great time putting the droid together, and controlling his movements through the app. We’ve done a few of the challenges now, and the kit has been a brilliant addition to our learning schedule.

Activities you can do with your own girls

The campaign has given girls a real sense of what it might be like to work in STEM careers by providing realistic experiences and digital content. You can take part in a number of activities on the Pretty Curious section of the EDF Energy website.

You’ll be asked a series of questions when taking the Future Me Quiz and get to create a shareable, personalised avatar who has a STEM-related career.  The idea is for your kids to picture themselves in potential future roles, ranging from a biologist to an electrical engineer. Taking the personality quiz could help them see what careers they might be suited to later on down the road.

The hard core truth is that STEM related careers have been traditionally dominated by men. Which is why EDF Energy launched the Pretty Curious campaign in 2015, to try and bring some balance into the field. They set themselves a target for 30% of their STEM graduate and apprenticeship intake to be women by 2018, and in 2017 it was already at 35%. Read this blog to learn more. You can watch 360º virtual reality videos like Clara is doing here. In the videos you get to experience what life would really be like as the architect of the Shard. Or what it would be like to work on a wind farm. Or you can explore the offices of a software developer. There are plenty to choose from starring everyday amazing women.

Be the first to take the new parents quiz to see what STEM related career would best suit your child(ren). Identify their strengths to discover information and guidance on pursuing roles based on their results.

To learn more head over to the EDF Energy website, or follow #PrettyCurious on social media

**Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post, please click here for my full disclosure policy.**

We’re just over halfway through winter and it’s feeling pretty chilly here in Blighty. As we head into the coldest part of the year, I’ve been thinking about ways to sneak vitamins and minerals into my children to ensure they have a head start to stay healthy.

To help fend off the dreaded bugs and to support their immune systems, they’ll be taking their Haliborange supplements every day, as well as eating a varied and nutritious diet. Here are a few extra creative ways I’ll be boosting their immune systems even further.

Why is calcium important and how can we eat more of it?

vitamins and mineralsCalcium is vital for teeth and bone health, especially for growing children whose bodies are achieving peak bone mass. As a family we don’t eat a huge amount of dairy, so I’m always on the hunt for extra ways to get calcium into us all. Did you know that a cup of cooked kale, or a tin of sardines (with bones) contains more calcium than a cup of pasteurised milk? It’s quite fascinating once you start looking into it, check out this article for more info.

Although most of us throw them away, egg shells are an excellent source of calcium. They are mainly calcium carbonate, made up similarly to our bones and teeth. A simple way of preparing the shells is to boil them (to remove bacteria) then roast them in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes, allow to cool and grind to a powder in a blender. When the powder is added to soups and smoothies it’s undetectable. I call that a win!

Why is vitamin D important and how can we eat more of it?

We need vitamin D to be able to absorb calcium, and deficiency in children could lead to bone disorders such as rickets. Unlike many other vitamins and minerals, vitamin D is largely made by our own bodies by converting chemicals it receives from exposure to sunshine. Unfortunately, when you live in a country like the UK, you can’t rely on the sun making an appearance every day, so it’s vital to boost vitamin D where possible. Check out this article for signs of deficiency.     

Red meat, oily fish and eggs are all great sources of vitamin D, as well as certain mushrooms (especially maitake). As long as they’ve been exposed to UV light, these mushrooms are exceptionally high in vitamin D because their skin absorbs it from the light the way human skin does. Even my ridiculously fussy eater Freddy can be persuaded to eat mushrooms that have been sauteed in coconut oil and sea salt from time to time. 

Why is iron important and how can we eat more of it?

vitamins and mineralsIf you don’t have enough iron in your system, your body won’t be able to make enough healthy oxygen carrying red blood cells. This could lead to iron deficiency, also known as anemia, which is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. Thankfully we can avoid it by eating lots of iron rich food. Red meat and liver are high in iron, as is spirulina, a type of algae. Check out this article for the top ten best foods to eat for boosting iron.

Other great iron sources are raisins, pistachio nuts and dark chocolate. The children love making bark in our house, and it never lasts longer than five minutes. Simply melt dark chocolate (I use 85% cocoa solids, the higher the better as it will be lower in sugar), then stir in a handful each of raisins and pistachios, then allow to set in the fridge. It’s absolutely delicious, and also makes a fab gift. 

What are your favourite ways of sneaking vitamins and minerals into your children? Tweet me @mummytries

**Disclaimer: this post has been sponsored by Haliborange. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

Vitamin A: helps support normal vision | Vitamin C: helps support the immune system | Vitamin D: essential for the normal growth and development of bones in children | Vitamin B12: contributes to normal energy release.

Food supplements do not replace a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.