Monday, February 25, 2008


Hi There,

This is the old home of PlanningQueen. Please come and see her at her new abode:

You can find all the previous posts in the Archives and can now subscribe to keep up to date with PlanningQueen's latest posts.
Thanks for dropping by and look forward to seeing you at PlanningWithKids.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Moving to

Thanks for visiting my blog! I have moved it across to my own domain and it can be found at:
You can click straight throught to Planning with Kids here. Once there you will find all my previous posts and some new ones.
You can also subscribe to my free newsletter, which will keep you updated with my latest posts.
Look forward to seeing you over there!
Cheers, PlanningQueen

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Planning the Term 1 Week

I have just started to put together a picture of what of the average Term 1 week is going to look like. I often spend time wondering about what is the right number of after school activities for the kids. Education Consultant Kathy Walker suggests one or two for children aged between 4 - 8 years.

This issue is not quite as simple as a number for one child, because the extra activities impact on all the other children in the family. We are a one car family and dad is usually not home in time to do the escorting to and from activities, so the younger children have to literally come along for the ride. This means in reality Babaganouski attends about 7 non school/preschool related activities. Two of these are specifically for him, as we attend a playgroup and Leaping Lizards session weekly.

When planning the week for the kids, I need to take this into account. Is there ways that I can share the drop off/pick up arrangements? Is this activity one where I can drop them safely and return later to pick them up? Can more that one of my children participate in the activity at the same time? All of these considerations help to juggle the scheduling and reduce the run around for the family as a whole.

Once the after school activites have been sscheduled, I then try to have an over arching approach as to how I plan the school hours for the non school children. I have found it incredibly valuable to have at least one day a week during these hours, which we have as a stay home quiet day. I find it valuable for a number of reasons:
  • The little ones can have a more restful day.
  • It gives me time to catch up on things around the house.
  • I can focus some time on what the children would like to do in an unstructured environnment.
  • The little ones can enjoy, not being put in and out of the car, and run to a freer time frame.

It looks like our stay home day will be Monday for Term 1. I will avoid in most instances from booking any appointments, play dates, shopping expeditions on this day. Knowing our home day is "Monday" in advance, helps me to prevent the overscheduling that can sometime arise when I accept invitations, plan activities etc, and then all of sudden realise that we have multiple weeks with no free days.

Do you plan a day at home?

Friday, February 1, 2008

When is a tantrum, not a tantrum?

I went back to a favourite parenting guide book this week Children are People too by Louise Porter. I wanted some reminders on how to deal with tantrums. My nearly two year old has been quite vocal lately in the tears and screaming department, and I wanted some age appropriate strategies to deal with this behaviour.

I looked up the relevant section and found the following:

"Having just described the protesting tantrum, it is worth emphasising that it is different from pre-verbal children's attempt to communicate that they are disappointed. That is not a tantrum: it is legitimate communication. A tantrum is where children who can usually say what they need, instead get so worked up that they cannot use words."
It is amazing that simply how we choose to view a problem can determine our success in managing it. I had been looking at Babaganouski's outbursts as tantrums, when as he only has a repotoire of about 10 words, the outbursts are his (very loud) way of communicating with me.

If I had thought about it more from this stance point at breakfast time this morning, I am sure his outburst would have been only short. Instead it continued on and off for about 15 minutes. During which time we tried to distract him, removed him from the situation and held him to try and calm him down.

It started when he sat himself on a different chair at the table. I moved him to his chair (it is covered with a towel to cope with mess). The squealing and crying began at this point, I automatically connected the two and assumed it was about the chair and held my ground on the issue. He had to sit in his own chair.

It was in fact nothing to do with the chair, and all to do with the type of bowl that was in front of the chair. He still has a small bowl, whilst the rest of the kids have a normal size bowl. After the aforementioned 15 minutes of pain for everyone, my eldest suggested that he wanted the white bowl. I tried this and Babaganouski gave me a very appreciative babble and set about choosing his cereal.

Through his only way of communicating he was trying to make his need known to me. Taking more consideration of this has already made some improvements in how I can successfully manage his behaviour. For example when it came to bed time and after I read Babaganouski his story, I went to sing his song and he started crying and wanting to hop down. I put him on the ground and asked him to show me what was the matter. He tottered off to his brothers room and came back with his favourite little car, placed it on his shelf and came back over to me. I finished the song and he went quietly into his cot and off to sleep.

Not all situations will be that easy to solve, because I am sure there will be a moment this week, when he will "tell" me that he wants to sit in the normal seat of the car and not his child safety seat and there can be no negotiation on that. By planning to go into these outbursts with a view that he is trying to tell me something, hopefully I can manage more of the negotiable outbursts with greater success. Then my head won't be pulsating quite so much, when he has the outburst about the non negotiatble car seat!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Children's Jobs and our Family Meetings

Last week I noted in the Letting children do it for themselves post, that I was going to work at banishing the "clean up fairy" in my house. I am pleased to say that I have made significant progress towards this goal.

At our Family Meeting (FM) last week, I raised the issue of children's jobs we allocated new tasks to all kids. We all had input on this issue and came up with a list of jobs for each child. They have been carrying out their new responsibilities ever since (albeit only a few days!). To give you a better idea of how we did this, I will give you some background on what our whole FM process is about.

  • To provide a communication strategy to deal with contentious issues.
  • To create a forum where all voices are equal.
  • A place to jointly plan activities and areas of home life.
  • To role mode and offer opportunities for the kids to practice decision making, negotiation and problem solving skills.
  • To create a sense of ownership of family decisions.

long tail keyword
Time: It has a regular time and day. We choose late Sunday afternoons, as this is a time when we are all most likely to be at home.

Place: For a while we used to have the meetings on the floor in the sitting room, however we have moved to having them at the dinner table. This location has worked much better as the children are sitting up straight and there are less distractions around them.

Attendees: All family members are expected to attend. If someone cannot come due to another activity, then the meeting can still go ahead and they can give their input prior to the meeting. There are times when a child may state that they do not want to come to the FM. I simply remind them that it is their decision as to whether they participate or not, but they will still have to abide by the outcomes of the FM. They usually change their mind then and decide to come.

Rotating Convenor: Everyone has the opportunity to convene the meeting as it is rotated amongst all family members. At this stage Babaganouski does not actively participate in the FM, so he does not have a go. Our 4 year old Possum has a turn and is assisted by mum or dad.

Minutes: Minutes are taken at each meeting and are always reviewed as first agenda item in FM. The minutes are very helpful if we have to clarify decisions and it also puts accountability back on mum and dad. If we agreed to certain things, then the children can hold us to account on it. For example when we decided on what we wanted to do over the school holidays (see Planned Holiday Activities for the Children), we reviewed those items a number of times to ensure that I had coordinated or organised the agreed upon events.

Time Frame: Due to the age of the children participating, we aim to have the meeting go for no more than 20 minutes. Their attention and enthusiasm wanes dramatically if we go past this point.

Raised Hand: Everyone must raise their hand and be acknowledged by the convenor before they can speak.

Consensus Decision Making: In brief this means that we must keep working on a resolution until we have one that all family members can agree to. This is critical to the success of our FM. No one should leave the FM feeling that they have not been listened to or their needs have not been taken into consideration. This does not mean kids get exactly what they want, it actually teaches them about compromise and that sometimes to get agreement they have to make some concessions. It also teaches them to work out what are the key points they must have and teaches them to use persuasive arguments.

Agenda Items: Although we use a formal structure for the FM, they are generally light hearted and fun. They are not allowed to degenerate to a complaining session. When raising an item, the family member is expected to state the problem (if there is one) and then put forward a solution proposal for discussion.
Quite often the meeting is just more of a sharing time, where kids or adults provide updates to the family on areas of their life or items of interest (eg Collingwood's great win on the weekend, dad will be in Sydney for two day next week etc.)However, when there are items that will require some negotiation and discussion, I will give the children advance notice that I will be bringing it up at the next FM.

The last point leads me back to moving to get rid of the "cleaning fairy" by allocating new jobs to the children. After writing the post on Friday, I informed all family members that I would be raising this issue at the upcoming FM. I suggested that they give some thought to the jobs that they are capable of doing and might like to do. I did this, because as I was going to be coming to the meeting with a defined proposal, they also needed time to mull over the idea.

The amazing thing was that at the FM, with the exception of one or two small things, the kids suggestions (we went through theirs first), matched up with my own! There was then some minor negotiation on a couple of jobs, but consensus was achieved quite quickly.

Below I have listed their existing jobs, along with their new ones which are in bold.

Thinker (aged 9)
Morning: Make bed, tidy bedroom, clear own breakfast dishes, stack every ones breakfast dishes into dishwasher, pack own school bag.
Afternoon: Lunchbox and notices out of bag, empty compost bucket (as required)
Dinner: Make drinks, clear own plate
After bath: dirty clothes in laundry basket, towel hung up in bathroom, share in the general tidy session before he can move to allocated TV/PC time.
Extra Weekend Job: Sort dirty washing and put on one load.

Little Rascal (aged 6)
Morning: Make bed, tidy bedroom, clear own breakfast dishes, return juice and milk to the fridge, pack own school bag.
Afternoon: Lunchbox and notices out of bag, empty kitchen bin and clean up dog poo (as required)
Dinner: Set place mats, clear own plate
After bath: dirty clothes in laundry basket, towel hung up in bathroom, share in the general tidy session before he can move to allocated TV/PC time.
Extra Weekend Job: Sort clean washing into piles (at least one load).
Possum (aged 4)
Morning: Make bed, tidy bedroom, clear own own breakfast dishes, return cereal boxes to the cupboard, pack own kinder bag
Afternoon: Lunchbox and drink bottle out of bag,
Dinner: Set cutlery, clear own plate
After bath: dirty clothes in laundry basket, towel back to bathroom, share in the general tidy session before she can move to allocated TV/PC time.
Extra Weekend Job: Assist mum with folding the washing (at least one load).

Babaganouski (21 months)
These tasks are directed and sometimes assisted, but he generally likes to help out like everyone else.
Dinner: put sauces and other condiments on the table (as required)
After bath: dirty washing in laundry basket, take towel back to the bathroom,

How have you gone? Made any changes to the way things are run in your house?

PS. Little Rascal actually volunteered for the job of picking up the dog poo!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

10 things to make Back to School mornings easier.

These are 10 things that I do that make my life easier in the morning when I want everyone organised. Doing these things helps at any time, but even more so when we are in "back to school" mode and adjusting to new routines.

(1). Set bedtime.
Having an age appropriate bed time for the kids, means they get the sleep they need to actually wake up of their on accord and are refreshed for school. They wake up happier and are easier to manage.

(2). Table set for breakfast.
We have the table set for breakfast, including the cereal boxes on the table before we go to bed at night. Dad is usually the first to have breakfast and will put the juice and milk on the table. As the children wake at different times, this enables them to easily serve themselves.

(3). Lunch box preparation.
I have the lunch boxes set out on the bench and will put in any items that are non perishable in the night before. For example, I will put crackers in resealable plastic bags in to the boxes, but fruit like watermelon that I cut up and salad sandwiches I will do in the morning.

(4). Clothes preparation.
I don't lay the clothes out for the children, but do ensure that they are in the right spots for the children to access them themselves.

(5). Key time markers.
We have key times across the morning at which certain activities need to occur. At (or before) 7.30am children need to brush their teeth, put on sunscreen and then get themselves dressed. We leave the house at 8.05am, so everyone has to be completely ready by then.
As only the eldest two can read the time, I will let the preschooler know what the time is and she can work out what she needs to do. I find that this prevents me from having to nag. They are all aware of what is required for us to leave the house on time, and the responsibility also sits with them to ensure we achieve this.

(6). Children take away their breakfast dishes from table.
Each child is responsible (except for the toddler just yet) for taking their dishes from the table tot he kitchen bench. The remaining items are then cleared dishwasher stacked by the older two children.
This is then one less thing that I have to do and therefore I am not as rushed. It also helps them understand that we all have to work together to keep the house tidy. This task and the next two require the children doing things for themselves. I find it is much easier for them to concentrate on these, if their are no distractions like TV or computer to deal with.

(7). Children make beds and tidy their room.
As per above. Also since we have been doing this, I have found that the room stays tidier in the first place, as they don't enjoy spending large amounts of time doing this task.

(8). Children pack their bags.
This goes for the oldest three. It is their responsibility to ensure they have their lunchbox, hat etc, all the things that they need for their day at school. I find this helpful in training them to keep their possessions organised. If they have left their hat at home because they left it in the bedroom, instead of putting it back in their bag, they will have to accept the consequences of this. (At our school, no hat means that they cannot play out in the sun during terms 1 and 4.)

(9). Walk to school.
This is not possible for everyone, but I find that this is less stressful than packing all the children in the car, finding a park, getting them out etc. It also provides a lovely opportunity to chat and play games as we walk along.

(10). Keep Calm.
This is probably the hardest one of these to do sometimes, but even when they are infuriating me, I find if I try to calmly deal with the situation, (as opposed to ranting and raving at them!) that it has much less chance of escalating or snowballing into more issues.

Any tips on what you do to make school mornings pleasant and a great start to your day?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Inspiration from other Menu Planners

This week I am trying a couple of new recipes that I found from checking out other folk's meal plans at I'm an Organizing Junkie. Each week Laura hosts Menu Plan Monday and people put a link to their meal plan on her website.

Last week 242 people shared their meal plans. Lots of the contributors are mums, so the recipes are very family friendly and looking at what others are cooking up provides great inspiration for what I might like to cook.

I have included a recipe of my own below, that I actually made last week - Mexibake. I had a number of people asked about this one.

Monday: Spinach and Pumpkin Dahl served with rice and poppadoms.
This is from Bonnie who is another Aussie menu planner.

Tuesday: Spaghetti Bolognaise
Easy Banana Cake (Recipe at the end)

Wednesday: Beef Stir Fry with Singapore Noodles

Thursday: Fried Rice (requested as always by Little Rascal)

Friday: Healthy Macaroni Cheese
This is from another queen - Organising Queen in South Africa.

Saturday: It is our 11th wedding anniversary, so the adults of the house will be going out for dinner and the children will have what ever their beautiful aunt cooks for them.

Sunday: Sausage sand Steamed Vegetables


500 grams beef mince (ground beef)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 red capsicum, finely chopped
1 green capsicum, finely chopped
2 carrots grated
olive oil
410 grams tinned tomatoes - chopped thoroughly
1 packet Taco Seasoning Mix
500 mls pasta sauce
600 mls sour cream
2 cups grated cheese
Approx 1.5 cups rice
1 -2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

(1). Preheat oven to a moderate heat (approx 180)
(2). I say approx 1.5 cups of rice, because I use a rice cooker, of which i use 4 of their measuring cups of rice for this recipe. Once I have added the water to the rice, I add the cayenne pepper and mix gently, so the rice is slightly spiced.
(3). Heat oil in large frying pan. Once at a medium heat fry onion for a few minutes until soft.
(4). Add meat to the pan and brown meat, ensuring that it is completely broken up.
(5). Once meat is cooked, stir in capsicums and carrot. Cook for few minutes until temperature has reached medium again.
(6). Add tomatoes and stir well.
(7). Add pasta sauce and stir well.
(8). Add taco seasoning and mix well.
(9). Let simmer for about 15 minutes.
(10). In a lasagna dish, spread rice on the bottom of the dish, until is a just under halfway. Don't press the rice firmly in, as it will then stick to the bottom.
(11). Spread the meat mixture on top of the rice.
(12). Spread sour cream on top of meat mixture. I have found it easier to spread the sour cream, if I place it in a bowl and stir it up with a fork.
(13). Sprinkle cheese over sour cream.
(14). Cover with aluminium foil and bake int he oven for 45 minutes.
(15). About 5- 10 minutes before cooking time ends, take foil off and allow the cheese to go golden on top.

Easy Banana Cake
I love this recipe because it is one of those that you just throw all the ingredients into a bowl and mix. It also makes a very large cake, which still stays moist a number of days after its cooked.

250ml vegetable oil
1.5 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons self raising flour, sifted with 1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda (baking powder)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
5 medium bananas peeled and mashed

(1). Preheat oven to a moderate temp. (about 170 or so)
(2). throw all the ingredients into a bowl and mix with electric beater for 4- 5 minutes. Ensure the mixture is well combined.
(3). Bake it the oven for 1 - 1.25 hours or until a skewer comes out clean.
(4) Let the cake sit in the tin for 5- 10 minutes before cooling on a rack.

Have a great week and for those of you with children heading back to school, I hope you have a smooth transition into the school year.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Planning time for Mum.

"Back to school" is almost here and it has started me thinking about how the pace of our leisurely "school holiday" days will change very soon. Once the school term starts there are many activities to fit in across the week for the kids, meetings to attend and general household up keep. It does become quite a juggling act and where does time for mum come in this equation?

Back in my early corporate days I attended a Springboard workshop for women. This would be at least 12 years ago now, and there is only vague memories of the workshop, with the exception of an analogy that the trainer made. She said that mothers tended to always give themselves the "burnt chop'. That is , the mother would put everyone elses needs above hers and have what was left. Although the thought of having children was nowhere in my head at this stage, the statement resonated with me, because this was exactly what my lovely mother did and the majority of my friends' mothers as well.

I have to admit that there have been (too many) instances where I have forgone things that I would have liked to have done, in order that we fitted everything else in for the family. But since I have implemented my simple planning approach across most of our family life, I have found that this happens much less often.

This may come across as if I am being a little bit self centred, but in reality looking after myself is beneficial to the family. I find that the mood of the house tends to revolve around my mood. If I am tired, snitchy or lacking in energy, the kids will often feed off this and there is more bickering amongst them; if I ask them to do something there is more resistance; and they can find it difficult to amuse themselves. Making the time to look after myself can prevent these scenarios.

It is to the benefit of my family that I have time for me. For example, my 3 sessions at the gym a week. I don't have set days that I go to, but the family all works towards me getting to the gym 3 times a week.

There are direct benefits for me in this being achieved and an indirect benefits to the family in the following ways:

It makes me less cranky.
I can be very grumpy when I leave the house, but after the endorphins kick in on the treadmill, I begin to feel much happier and bring this mood home with me.
I sleep better.
Very similar to above, the better I sleep, the less tired and cranky I am.
Gives me more energy
Running around with the 4 kids can get pretty tiring, I find regular exercise gives me stamina.
I have some time to just have my own thoughts.
I put on my MP3 player and I don't have to answer any questions or worry about the needs of others for that hour!

Basically when I go to the gym, I come back refreshed and happier to spend time with everyone. Going to the gym is not the only way I can do this. Socialising and adult activities have a similar effect on my mood. I make sure that I schedule time for these activities and although it may only be once a quarter, when combined they give my life the variety I need to stay healthy, happy and sane. These are the most important ones that I make sure I plan for:

For dearest and I to go out together.
It is lovely to just have some time for us where we can connect together outside the home.
See my friends without the children around.
Two of dearest friends in Melbourne also have children and we catch up regularly during the day and the 9 kids love to play together. But we don't have many uninterrupted conversations, so we make sure that every few months, we have a night together where we can talk uninterrupted. (This is also the case with my lovely 3 sisters and other groups of friends.)
Non child related activity.
I love my children dearly, but I do not want to be one dimensional, having a non child related activity (in my case politics) makes my brain to think in different ways and I can become exposed to new thoughts and ideas.

Like most things in life, this is a work in progress and sometimes I plan well and get the balance right. Sometimes the unplanned rears its head and things get out of kilter. But by valuing these activities enough to schedule them, I have a much greater chance of looking after me and therefore taking better care of my family.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Our own Animation

NB. I have tried numerous times through out the day to upload the photos and video of our outing and have not been successful, I think blogger/my PC is having an issue. I will try again tomorrow.

Yesterday I took the kids into the city, to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) which is located at Federation Square. We went to take part in an animation workshop which we had short listed as one of the school holiday activities that we wanted to do.

It was a fantastic experience. The children were each given a bag with coloured modelling clay and a place at table, which had photo instructions of how to model a penguin. The kids didn't have to make a penguin, so little Rascal decided to make a spider and a fly. Babaganouski was more interested in just squishing the clay, but we managed to make a small penguin with what remained of his clay.

Once we had made our characters, we then were assisted by the lovely and patient Kate, who helped the children organise their characters on the set. The kids then developed a short story line, from which Kate then directed the children on how to slightly move each character between shots. Every one except Babagansouki had a turn at this and the kids followed Kate's instructions intently. Kate used a video cam and laptop to take the photos.

Once the scene was finished, Kate did a few steps on the laptop and then looped the sequence and showed the kids animation on the big screen. The kids looked so proud of themselves and thought their animation was very amusing. I was able to video the laptop screen, so I can show you what they made.

On the way home the kids all agreed that the workshop had been their favourite activity of the holidays. (I need also to mention that this was completely free!!!)It was also great to see the kids get an understanding of the process behind this type of animation. It took us 10 - 15 minutes to come up with 4 seconds of screen time.

PS. Whilst we were in at Federation Square we also went to the National gallery of Victoria and saw the Yvonne Audette exhibition, which I had planned to see last Sunday. After enjoying the exhibition the children then had the chance to make their own Yvonne Audette inspired collage at the ArtCart in the foyer of the gallery.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Letting children do it for themselves

"This is one of those parenting tasks that are difficult for most of us. But the benefits are great. Perhaps the most wonderful payoff in allowing your child to master life through age-appropriate tasks and skills comes from the boost to his self-esteem. The more capable a child is, the more confident the child will become. With confidence, and a full repertoire of important life skills, comes a stronger, more positive self-mage that will enable your child to take on whatever life imposes."

The above quote comes from an article called Hamburger: The Importance of Teaching Children to Do for Themselves. It was a great refresher for me on why even though it can take a lot longer sometimes, if one of the kids can do a task for themselves, I should let them do it. In the long run the benefit to me and the child are immense.

The article is an excerpt from a book by Elizabeth Pantley, titled Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Children. The excerpt looks at what the hidden message is, that we send to our kids when we do things for them, when they are actually capable of doing them for themselves.

"Every single time you pick up a dirty sock, a used tissue, a crusty cereal bowl or a misplaced toy-every time you do this- you teach your child to believe in the "cleanup fairy." "

Personally I don't want my children to believe in the "cleanup fairy". There are certain tasks my children already do, but there are many more that they are capable of doing. It may require some adjustment to my processes and some investment in time, but I am going to teach the kids some new tasks and completely debunk the myth of the "cleanup fairy" in our house.

I have included some additional links on the issue of encouraging independence in children, that I am going to use to help me do the debunking and hopefully you might find them find useful as well:

The Language of Learned Helplessness Quiz
Makes you look at the type of language you use when you are talking to your children.

Raising an Independent Child
Tips on how to do this with your child.

Kids and Chores
Includes suggestions of appropriate tasks for each age group.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why Planning Meals Works and the Importance of Shared Meal Time.

Since I have started this blog, I have had some great conversations with friends about the concept of planning with kids, in particular meal planning. As I noted in my fist post on menu planning, I used to keep quiet about my love of planning, the blog however has put an end to that!

One of the most common questions I get asked is does it work? And my answer is yes it does. There are many benefits that result from taking the time to meal plan. The benefits that our family receives from having a weekly menu plan are as follows:

  • Consistent time for our evening meals.

  • Variety in what we eat.

  • A healthy and balanced diet.

  • Only have to go to the supermarket/market once a week.

  • Waste very little food, as it is used within its use by date.

  • Less stress as there is no last minute rush to think about what we will eat.
Most importantly, all of these factors work together to ensure that we can then sit down and enjoy our evening meal together in a harmonious way. The evening family meal is a very important time in our house. We use this opportunity as a time to share stories about our day, talk about things that might be worrying us, talk about what is making news in the world and for the adults, a time for us to role model dinner table etiquette.

It is expected that all children sit at the dinner table and that there are no other distractions; that is the TV/stereo is turned off, no toys at the table and if the phone rings it goes to message bank. Conversation is natural and informal, but if things are a little quiet, I will generally start about giving an update on my day and some things that happened that I think the kids will find interesting.

We have been doing this since our oldest son started to eat proper meals. Our daughter Possum quite often takes the lead role now in instigating the conversation (if it is lacking), by saying "Who wants to talk about their day?" When Possum first started to contribute to the conversations, it was literally a babble, with one or two words that we might be able to understand. However she understood what every one else was doing and wanted to participate to. We made sure she had her turn and that she knew we had listened to her, by repeating back the words that we understood. For example "Thank you for telling us about the dog."

It is at meal times that I find out some of the more interesting stuff that is going on in their school lives. I think this happens because the atmosphere is warm, attentive and light hearted. If there are issues that I think need to be addressed from what has been shared, I prefer to take it up later with the child in an individual setting. The aim of this is to keep family meal time enjoyable.

It is hard to produce this type of setting, if I have just come back from a rushed trip to the supermarket and the toddler and preschooler are crying/whining because they are hungry and tired, whilst I am trying to put the meal together. I then tend to go to the dinner table with increased stress levels, which the children seem to feed off.

By planning my meals it eliminates most of the above. Life with children is never perfect so there are times when we are running late etc and some of us are irritable at the table, but the majority of our evening meals are a pleasant shared experience with the children that I enjoy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

10 things to do before the school holidays end

With only a little over a week left for those of us on Victorian school holidays, I wrote myself a list of things that I need to do before the kids start back at school. This is not a list about all the exciting activities I must do with the kids before the holidays are over, but some pretty mundane tasks that should hopefully allow for a smoother start to the school term:

(1). Check all uniforms for sizing and do some stain removal.
By the end of term 4 last year, we were so busy that the uniforms were just washed, ironed and put away. I know that there are stains on some of the shirts that will come out with a good soaking or scrub.

(2). Check shoes for sizing and polish them.
It is amazing how much feet can grow in six weeks! This goes for socks as well - also checking that they are all paired up correctly and that there are enough.

(3). Check that we have all the required stationery.
We order most things through the school supplier, but we had to get a couple of extra items (see shopping expedition last week). The All for Women website has compiled a great list of stores back to school specials and references for lunch box ideas.

(4). Check all lunch boxes and drink bottles are accounted for and in working order.

(5). Ease our way back into our standard bed times and morning routines.
I love the freedom and flexibility that school holidays allows with later nights and then later mornings. However these are not particular helpful in getting us all out the door happily and on time for school.

(6).Label all books, pencils etc.
This is something I like the school boys to do themselves. I can have them with me in the study while I am on the laptop, and they can work away at this task and I can assist were necessary.

(7). Make play dough.
Our school requires each child to take a container of play dough to school which is used for rainy days. I prefer to make it myself for two reasons, firstly it is cheaper and secondly the kids like to help and we make a new batch for home. I use the recipe on the packet from McKenzies cream of tartar which can be found on their website in the cooking tips section.

(8). Paper work.
I have personal detail forms for Possum’s kinder; comments sheet to complete from the boys’ end of year reports and some registration papers for a toddler program for Babaganouski.

(9). Restock the grocery and baking cupboards.
We tend to have different morning and afternoon tea snacks, than what the children would necessarily take as snacks in their lunch boxes. I also tend to bake more during school terms, so I need to make sure I have all the essential ingredients on hand.

(10). Spend a day just hanging with the kids.
I like to have a whole day where I follow the lead of the kids, don’t look at the clock, don’t go on the computer and don’t answer the phone (until they are in bed!). It is a nice way to end the holidays.

Any other suggestions for preparing for the return to school?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Menu Plan Monday – The ingredients.

When I put together for the plan for the family, I try to think about the ingredients that I am using and how to use it in another meal if I won’t be using the entire amount of that perishable ingredient. For example yesterday we had Chicken Schnitzel and salad, from which I still half a cucumber, half a stick of celery etc., so I have planned to have a salad again with our meal on Monday night.

When we have these types of meals which come with salad, we do them as a self serve style meal which the children love. They receive a plate with their meat on it and then the salad is individually placed in portions on a platter on the table. The children can choose what else they would like to put on their plate. They know they should select a variety of food from the platters and they all do this pretty successfully, with the exception of Babaganouski who can’t seem to expand past grated carrot and slices of beetroot at the moment.

With all that said, here is our plan for this week:

Monday: Sausage and Salad

Tuesday: Spicy Chutney Chicken with Rice

Wednesday: Fish and Steamed Vegetables
Baking - Chocolate Balls (See recipe below)

Thursday: Mexibake

Friday: Leftovers

Saturday: Lamb chops with ratatouille (See recipe below)

Sunday: Roast Vegetable Lasagna

Lamb chops with ratatouille and rice (Serves 2 adults and 4 children)
The original recipe for this dish actually puts the cooked chops in with the ratatouille and simmers for a while. However this did not go down well with either the partner or the children, who prefer their chops less “soggy”. So I now serve the ratatouille on the side with rice, so their chops can stay nice and dry.

1 tablespoon olive oil
14 lamb chops
1 large brown onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large zucchini, chopped
1 large capsicum red, chopped
large capsicum green, chopped
1 large capsicum yellow, chopped
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons oregano leaves
1.5 cups rice

(1). Put rice on to cook by your desired method.
(2). Heat oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat.
(3). Cook onion and garlic for a few minutes until the onion is soft.
(4). Add capsicums to the pan, stirring for minute and then pour in tomatoes.
(5). Cover and simmer gently for about 10 – 15 minutes.
(6). Cook lamb chops by desired method. I tend to do ours outeise on the BBQ as I like the flavour and also find cooking outside with the kids is much more pleasant.
(7). Stir oregano through ratatouille and season with salt and pepper.
(8). Place rice in a circle on plate and spoon ratatouille over rice. Add chops to plate and serve.

Chocolate Balls
This is a very old school favourite in this house. I am sure that there are many variations on this treat, but this a very simply recipe that even the kids can do.

1 packet Marie biscuits1 tin condensed milk
1 – 2 tablespoons cocoaApprox 2 cups of desiccated coconut (never actually measured how much we use, maybe just start with 1, and then pour more as you need it.)

(1). Place Marie biscuits into a plastic bag (out of the packet) and then crush with a rolling pin.(2). Once to a consistent texture pour into a medium size bowl.
(3). Add cocoa and stir.
(4). Pour in condensed milk and combine thoroughly.
(5). Pour coconut into a shallow bowl.
(6). Using a tablespoon of mixture, roll into ball then drop into coconut and cover completely. (7). Place chocolate bowl into a container and continue making balls until you have used all the mixture.
(8). Place in an airtight container in the fridge until set.
(9). They are kept best in the fridge even once set.

I would love to hear of any variations that you might have to the chocolate ball recipe I use.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

According to my plan.........

Right about now, according to my plan I should be at the NGV checking out an exhibition with the kids. To make this excursion as much fun as possible, I placed both little ones down for a sleep before we were due to go. Possum woke first, so we all had lunch, then waited for Babaganouski to wake up. The kids then went out into the front yard to play, whilst dad worked in the garden.

When the littlest one did wake up , I got him ready and went outside to find the others. They were playing in the street with the neighbours children and some of their friends. We live at the bottom of a hill and the kids love it as they get on their scooters, trikes, bikes and come down the hill at a "horrifying for mum to watch" pace. They were having such a good time and this was the first time they had seen the neighbours as they had been away most of the holidays.

I really wanted to check out the exhibition, but they looked so happy trying new tricks and making up their own games. So adhering to a Montessori influenced philosophy of "follow the child" which I like to use with the kids, I asked the the 3 older children what they would prefer to do. Thankfully it was unanimous and they all wanted to stay home and play outside.

So now with this change of plan, I am sitting outside with my laptop and watching (and shuddering) as the kids fly down the hill and enjoying their antics. On top of this, now I as have finished this post I will also get to talk to my other half who is completing his project for the front garden and enjoy some uninterrupted conversation. It is the simple things that makes one happy!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fighting the materialism battle with self esteem.

One of the things that I like to do, which I find helps me anticipate and therefore better plan for the ongoing developmental changes in my children, is to stay I touch with current information and research on issues of child development. Whilst cruising the net this week, I came across an article titled Curbing the "gimme" syndrome. The article reinforced to me the importance of ensuring that my kids have a strong sense of self. It discussed a study which looked at how materialism develops in children.

Lan Nguyen Chaplin (assistant marketing professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) co-authored a study which was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research . The study identified a critical phase in children’s self esteem which modern jargon now defines as “tweens” (8 to 13). Due in part to changes of a physical nature that are occurring with the children, there is a significant drop in self esteem across these years. The tendency for children to turn to material goods during this time is quite high. But if a

“child has a stronger sense of self during these down-swings, the researchers believe, they're less likely to see material goods as the key to happiness and popularity.”

As I look around me and I see more and more materialism creeping in to the precious domain of childhood, it is great to know that as a parent there is something that I can do to try and prevent my kids from finding their sense of worth through what they own. This does not mean heaping them with empty praise, as this has been found to actually have a detrimental effect on self esteem. But by supporting them, valuing their input and avoiding labeling them, I can help them understand their worth in this world.
Other references for self esteem in children:

How Not to Talk to Your Kids - The inverse power of praise

Parenting and Child Health (South Australian Government) Defines Self esteem and tips for parents.

Early Childhood Australia – Links page on Self esteem and Confidence, guides for parents etc.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mother on a mission.

When I woke up this yesterday morning I was a mother with a mission. I needed new bras and I was going to get them that very day! This however meant that I would have to take all four children with me. My kids are actually pretty ok to take shopping, but getting fitted for bras was probably going to push their patience to their limits.

With this in mind I strategically moved through the following plan with the kids:

(1). Set up the expectations.
When we sat down and ate breakfast, I explained to the kids that we were going to go shopping today. We needed to go bra shopping for me and we would purchase the extra items (like pencil cases) that the older boys needed for school, once my purchases had been made. I also explained that once this was completed, we would go home via the bread shop to get some bread and that they could choose a roll each for lunch.

(2). Go in the morning.
I have taken the kids shopping in the afternoon before but find that this is usually less successful than the morning for two reasons; firstly we are all a little tireder at that time of day and secondly, the shops tend to be busier.

(3). Fed, Watered and Toileted .
We have early risers in our house, so for the younger children breakfast was at 6.45am. I made sure all four had morning tea and a drink before we left. Then as a last task before leaving, I made sure that we all (including mum) went to the toilet.

(4). Stick to the task.
After a longer than expected session in the fitting room, we moved through the women’s fashion department and a pair of bathers caught my eye. I started to walk over to have a look (because I also need a new pair of these as well), but stopped myself pretty quickly. I had already asked quite a bit of the kids. I achieved my goal for the day, and I needed to stick to the stated expectations and move on. There have been times when I have not done this and it has generally not worked out well!

(5). Don’t rush their purchases.
For the 6 year old choosing the right pencil case is probably as important to him as my bras were to me. The fact that I think it is doesn’t matter whether he gets the one with the green background or the yellow background is irrelevant. I need to be interested and let him have his time, so he can be happy with his purchase. We all regret those purchases made in haste!

The expedition actually went really well. There was one moment at about 11.00am though when I found myself in a fitting room with four children and a pram waiting and waiting and waiting, for someone to help properly fit me, that I did ask “Why did I do this to myself?” But that was short lived and we all came home from the experience unharmed and still in good spirits. I just need to squeeze in some time to go back and check out those bathers!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Planning time to stop and play.

In an earlier post on planning school holiday activities, I spoke about how I like to plan time with the kids so we are just at home and doing our own thing. This is not exclusive to the school holidays, but is something that I try to do throughout the school week and the weekends. Sometimes getting the balance is difficult, but I feel that is essential that I have this time to nourish and continually develop my relationships with the kids.

A number of years ago I read a fantastic book by Stanley Greenspan called The Challenging Child. I had sought this book out to try and help me manage the behaviour of my Little Rascal. He was our second son and his personality was completely different to our eldest son. What had worked with our Thinker, was simply not working for Little Rascal. In the book he goes through the different child-types and gives an insight as to how they see the world that they are in. He then offers guidance on how to parent this child taking into account their strengths and talents.

Reading this book was great on two levels, firstly it made my issues seem insignificant compared to some of the case studies; and the second was that it taught me about the concept of “Floor time”. The books spends considerable amount of time going through this process, but in brief it is a “special unstructured time that you set aside for yourself and each child”. It a 30 minute block of time, that in its entirety you have that child leading whatever activity he has chosen and he has your full attention.

Now at first I thought that I was giving each of them plenty of time like this (I had 2 boys and a newborn baby girl at this point), so I observed my own behaviour for a couple of days and what I found was that:
· Often I would choose the activity and instigate or lead the play
· Sometimes I would go to and fro to the activity, as I completed chores as well (I am very fond of multi-tasking!)
· Would answer the phone if it rang
· Would get distracted by the needs of another child.

So I made a concerted effort to have a dedicated 30 minute play session that was of his choice and led by him. How did this help me manage his behaviour you may ask? Well I got to understand him a little better. Through some imaginary play, I worked out that he found the noise levels of large groups agitating, “too loud” he would say. I also worked out that he wanted to do more for himself. “I can do this” was a common phrase to hear from him.

We (my husband also spent time doing the same thing as well) stuck at this for some months and then once I felt we had a better handle on things pulled back a bit. We used this format for our eldest when he was 7 and were trying to work through some stuff with him. He was very keen on chess at the time and we would generally spend the 30 minutes playing this. This planed time provided him with an open environment in which he talked easily and I got to find out some things that helped me manage his behaviour better. And he taught me how to play chess, which was a bonus!

30 minutes a day across four children is something that I cannot achieve in the normal run of everyday life. During school terms, a couple of times per week at 20 minutes each the best that I can manage. This is why when it comes around to school holiday time; I plan time at home, so I can spend more time with each child. We still do lots of ad hoc play and running around, but the children know that they have their allocated time and look forward to it.

At the moment, there is no issue (out of the ordinary that is!) that I am working on with any of the children, so we modify the practice a little. The modification means that the other children can participate in the time if they want to, but whose ever turn it is gets to choose the game and it is to be done their way.

For example backyard cricket is the most popular choice by the boys these holidays, but they have different preferences in the rules. Little Rascal will generally state that there you can’t go out first ball, there is “auto-wickie” (automatic wicket keeper for any edges behind the stumps) , you can run on overthrows and byes and that it is “running wicket” (you can be run out at either end). The Thinker is generally the opposite of this, but they both are happy to play in each other’s turn because they know that they get a chance to do this too. Possum prefers playing “mums and dads” at the moment and the boys then go and play cricket by themselves! Babaganouski is obsessed with cars and balls, so that is about all we do together. If we have had consecutive days were we have been out or had visitors and been unable to have the allocated time, one or all of the children will ask “when is it my time next?”

Planning time with each child sounds so simple that it needn’t be mentioned, but in a hurried world I enjoy the time that I take out from everything else to stop and play.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

10 books we are enjoying on the holidays.

Loving lists is an integral part of my love of planning. Every Tuesday I plan to share with you a top 10 of things that I hope you might find relevant or interesting.

One of the things I love most about school holidays is that there is more time for the simple things, like reading books together. I love reading to the kids for the pure joy of the story and also for the learning opportunities that they provide. Below I have added some notes to some of our holiday favourites, about things we talk about and focus on when reading these books.

1 - 5 are picture books that are really for those below school age, but I do find even my older children still enjoy these stories:

1. Possum Magic by Mem Fox. A beautiful story that provides an opportunity to familiarise the kids with the capital cities of Australia.
2. Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan. A funny story with a lovely chant for the children to join in with. Also introduces the reader to the names of native Australian animals.
3. Where is the Green Sheep? By Mem Fox. A simple rhyming story that allows the children to anticipate the words through the picture and rhyme. Also provides opportunity for talking about colour, size and shape.
4. Refugees by David Miler. A sad tale of two ducks displaced by urban sprawl. After a hard journey it has a happy ending, through which I can talk to the children about both caring for their environment and for other people in society.
5. Olivia by Ian Falconer. This is a well worn favourite of our Possum. However, if you check out one of the canvases that which painted by the Thinker, he did try to imitate a Jackson Pollock, which he learnt about from this book. Thankfully he didn’t follow in Olivia’s footsteps and paint it on the wall!

The books from 6 – 10 are for my older boys aged 6 and 9:
6. The Cat on the Mat is Flat by Andy Griffiths. Very child oriented humour for the early reader. Can explore lots of rhyming words, as text is all written in rhyme.
7. Are we there yet? By Alison Lester. Details a family’s journey around Australia, providing a wonderful opportunity to explore the country through text. There is such a great mix of illustrations with the text, which even after many reading the kids can still pick out new things they want to talk about.
8. The Twits by Roald Dahl. I personally prefer Matilda, but the boys think this book is hysterical, so it comes out very often. As with all Roald Dahl books, drawing the children’s attention to how he uses words and puts the story together shows them some techniques they can use in their writing.
9. The Adventures of TinTin by Herge. These are very old school and some of book in the series do require explanations to the children about moments in history and perceptions of other cultures at the time. But this is in itself is learning opportunity s well as the exploration of countries around the world through adventure and humour they get from the stories.
10. Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary. These books are a humorous and “horrible” (that is full of gory bits) look at the history of the world through the ages. These are really only appropriate for my eldest. I have to admit that I have learnt quite a lot from reading them to him!

I am always looking for new books to interest the children, so if you have some favourites that you would like to share, I would love to hear about them.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Menu Plan Monday – The children’s input.

I have been doing meal planning now for over 4 years and it is something that almost everyone in the house is aware of. The exception is our 20 month old, also known as “baba ganoushki” (I know that this is the name of popular Middle Eastern dish, but has somehow the name has stuck to him), who is oblivious to most things unless it is a car or a ball.

There are many benefits to meal planning, but one of my favourites is that as the kids know that I do this and that they will tell me what they would like to see on the menu. Between the oldest 3 children they generally come up with 4 – 5 meals for the week that they would like. Given that we generally have one night a week that consists of what is left over from other meals, I often only have to come up with 1 -2 meals myself.

This does mean however, that you will see certain meals being repeated with a high level of frequency, for example sausages and vegetables/salad will pretty much make it every week because it is a favourite meal of all 3.

It is also an opportunity to help children understand the concept of seasonal foods. After cooking a beef casserole at the defiant request of our “Little Rascal”, on a 35 degree day, he could then understand how having the oven on for that long made the house hot and you often don’t feel like eating something that warm and filling on a hot day.

Monday: Home made pizzas

Tuesday: Salad Rolls - We are going to see a children’s play, so will pack these into our picnic basket.
Rice Bubble Treat – See the recipe below.

Wednesday: Sausage and vegetables

Thursday: Chicken Korma with poppadoms. Our “Thinker” came up with this one, via asking what is the meal that we have that we get to have poppadoms with?

Friday: Fresh pasta with Chicken and Baby Spinach - See the recipe below

Saturday: Left overs

Sunday: Chicken Schnitzel and Salad

Here are the two recipes mentioned above:

Fresh pasta with Chicken and Baby Spinach

500 grams fresh pasta (I buy this from the supermarket, either Latina if it is on special or San Remo. The kids like the spinach and ricotta filled types best.)
690 mls Pasta Tomato Sauce (Coles does a great organic basic one)
2 chicken breast fillets, diced
150 grams baby spinach leaves
Olive Oil
Cracked black pepper
Parmesan Cheese

I like to cook the sauce first and then boil the pasta up just before we eat. I will often make the sauce in the morning and reheat it at dinner time. However as it is a pretty quick sauce, the pasta can be cooked about half way through the sauce cooking process.
1. Dice the chicken into small pieces.
2. Add oil to a saucepan/frying pan and when at a medium heat add chicken and brown.
3. Once chicken is cooked, add the pasta sauce to the pan and reduce heat to simmering.
4. Cook pasta as per packet instructions and drain well.
5. Place pasta into bowls and then add a handful of baby spinach leaves to each.
6. Spoon sauce on top of the baby spinach, then top with shaved Parmesan and cracked pepper as desired.

Rice Bubble Treat

3 tablespoons butter
250 grams white marshmallows (I often by the home brand pink and white ones and they work fine too.)
6 cups of Rice Bubbles (again the home brand version is fine)

1. Line a slice tray with baking paper.
2. Place the rice bubbles into a large bowl
3. On a low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan.
4. Add marshmallow to the butter and stir until they are completely melted.
5. Pour marshmallow mix into the bowl with rice bubbles and combine well.
6. Press mixture into the tray. (If it is sticking to your hands, try wetting them slightly with cold water.)
7. Put in the fridge to cool and set.
8. Once set, cut into desired shape. I tend to go for rectangles about 5cm x 3cm.

Have fun cooking and enjoy your week.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Packing them off!

I hesitated before I actually put this photo with the post, because although it gives a great image of what we do to help the children learn to pack for themselves, it also outs me as having no artistic ability at all.

I am lucky enough to have a sister (known to her other sisters as the general) who offered to take all 4 of our gorgeous children and have them stay overnight at her house on Saturday. The kids were very excited about this and were eager to get packing when Saturday morning arrived. Before the children get started, I like to get them to sit down with me and do a bit of planning first. I get them to tell me what they should take and I write these down on a list. As we have 2 who can read and 2 who can't, I add some of my own artwork as an attempt to symbolise these items. (At least the children can interpret them!)

The older 3 children then grab a backpack and start to choose what they want to take. It takes me a great level of self control, from not interrupting their packing by saying “don’t take those old shorts; take the new ones that I like much better”. But I have set them this task and I need to empower them to complete it on their own.

I used to then ruffle through the back packs and make sure they have packed everything that is on the list. I have stopped doing this though as I found it defeated the purpose of having them being responsible for packing their own bags. Why do they need to check themselves if they have everything, if mum just comes and does that at the end anyway?

This does carry with it and element of risk, and this time as I wandered past the bathroom this morning, I saw that the oldest two still had their toothbrushes sitting in the holder. But I am pretty sure that these are all that they have forgotten. By giving them the responsibility for packing their own bags, if something is forgotten they learn by consequence and will be reminded to be a bit more careful next time. They cannot simply say “why didn’t you pack toothbrush?” to mum or dad.

Of course I do not expect our youngest to pack his bag yet, but I do get him to help me do his. This often means that when, he is not looking I have to take out two thirds of what he has brought to me and it is way too much stuff for an overnight stay!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sleeping - anyway you can get it.

In our house sleep is a precious commodity. It was my turn to sleep in this morning. During the holidays we can get a day each on the weekend, as there is no week end sport that we have to be on time for. When my husband entered the room at 9.00am I thought he looked quite sleepy. He joined me in bed, and very quickly we had all 4 children crawling all over us. After a few minutes our eldest son, explained that "I thought dad was just pretending to be a sleep again, but when I accidentally trampled on his legs and he didn't move, I realised he was really asleep."

My husband then volunteered that he had been lying on the mattresses on the floor (left over mess from the sleepover our eldest son had recently) reading books to the kids, when he started to get drowsy and thought he would just close his eyes for a bit. The "bit" ended up lasting about 20 minutes! What was the little one (20 months) doing I asked? "He just wandered around with us and played." The bigger boys told me. "I feel good now though." their dad added.

Friday, January 11, 2008

To TV or not to TV?

I can only imagine the number of puns that have come from this line in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet! But with the forecast for the weather to be over 40 degrees Celsius today, I started to do a bit of mental planning last night as to how our day would go. Some of the feedback I received on the “10 things to do with the kids when it is hot” post involved crafty things to do, role play ideas and some of them involved activities like going to the movies and watching DVDs/videos. It was great to get the feedback and I am going to work on improving the list from this.

I probably need to put it out there now that I am not a huge fan of TV in general and in particular of TV for children. As many of you have probably experienced, TV became a bit of an issue in our house some years ago. My eldest son was a preschooler and I originally tried tightly restricting his viewing to special occasions only. But as a consequence, I was finding that he would ask often if it was time to watch some TV, as he didn’t know when he would get to watch some. It also began to pose a problem when we would visit friend’s houses who had a more liberal policy on television. He would sit glued in front of it, getting his “fix” because he wasn’t sure when he would get it next.

So after some review with my dear husband, we decided to set a specific time and amount of TV for the day. This took the constant asking about “can I watch TV now?” out of the equation. He knew when he was going to watch TV and he knew how much he could watch. In our case we set the limit at 30 minutes. This was a time that I felt comfortable with and I still wonder if I have got the balance right. Kathy Walker is a Melbourne based education consultant whom I have an enormous level of respect for. On her websites FAQs she suggests “Children aged 3-6 years may watch about 1 hour per day maximum, and for primary aged children, not more than about 1.5 hours per day maximum.”

This planned television time has served us very well, as we have had more children they have accepted that this is just the way it goes with TV. After the completion of their show, the children will get up and turn the television off. They never just come into the lounge room and turn the television on and they get very excited when we hire a new movie, as they get to watch a lot more TV than their standard allocation of 30 minutes.

But as we have varying ages and interests in the house, we have had to come up with a roster for whose turn it is to choose what the show is that they watch. At a family meeting some years ago, when we only had 3 children, we agreed that each child would have 2 choices per week (they have specific allocated days) and we would have one “TV free” day. I also set pretty firm guidelines on what it is that is available for choice. This plan is still in operation and we find it really helps to manage the issue of television in the house. Our youngest is 20 months and is still too young to come into the debate on this, so I am not sure how we will then divide this up by 4 yet!

The PC however is now more of a prominent “want” than TV in our house as our oldest is 9. Long ago we put playing games on the PC in the same category as the television. It is an either or choice for the children. We all agreed that who’s ever turn it is to choose the TV program, can then choose if they want to have their time on the TV or the PC. If they choose PC, then the other two children need to agree on a TV show to watch. As most mums do, I often worry about the decisions I am making and in this case as a consequence of them, if I am harming the children’s chances of being able to fit in on the playground at school. It comes mainly from our oldest, as he tells me how much TV his friends watch, what they watch and how much time they spend on PC games etc, and I worry that he might be left out of the these conversations. But as with most conversations with boys this age, the topics change at a hectic pace and there is always a decent chunk of exaggeration added into the mix, so I think he will be able to handle his own.

I know that by having a planned and limited TV regime, that my children will be in the minority, and I do also worry about this. However I was heartened recently when I went and heard a talk by Kathy Walker on child behaviour management. She talked about a phenomenon called “bunkering”. Many children now have their own TV and PC in their room, so if they don’t like what is being watched in the family or lounge room, they just go off to their room and watch or play what they want. Kathy commented that as a consequence children are not getting enough time to practice social skills like sharing, negotiation and concession. So as I hear two of my children negotiating (fighting) over what to watch, I now try to think of it as improving their social skills! Do you think in years to come that my children will be sitting in a psychiatrist’s office telling them how their life was ruined because their mum didn’t let them watch The Simpsons?

I hope this is not the case, I think that those moments where they disagree with my decisions, although incredibly strong and emotional at the time that the complaint is made, subside very quickly. I hope that they will later realise that by not being glued to the TV or computer that the actually spent more time socializing, playing outside, playing games and reading. Only time will tell.

So what are we doing today in the 40 degrees heat? We will head to the local pool early enjoy some time with friends in the water, have a picnic lunch, then come home and it will be an afternoon sleep for the little ones and quiet activities like reading and board games for the older two. Have fun whatever you do.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

10 things to do with the kids when it is hot!

We went into Federation Square (Melbourne) yesterday to see the Animated kids' classics at ACMI . The cartoons were very different change of pace for the kids. Felix the cat was a silent cartoon, but seemed to be the favourite amongst the kids. One of the things that I love about Federation Square (Melbourne) is that whenever I go during the school holidays for kids activities, I always end up getting more than what I expected.

We had planned to just see the cartoons and have lunch in the park, but after we had lunch in the park, we went back into a drop-in workshop where the kids made their own animation. They had a choice of making a flip book or zoetrope with little penguins. My little ones all chose to make the flip books which then kept them amused on the train trip home. As we were leaving Federation Square we also came across a street performer who was juggling fire, much to the awe of my eldest son who received juggling balls from Aunty J for Christmas and knows how tricky it is to juggle. Watching this guy kept us enthralled for some time.

The one thing I dislike about Federation Square is how difficult it is to get around with a pram. Thankfully I had my sister with me and we just lifted the pram down some of the stairs to prevent us from having to go so far out of way from where we wanting to go , just to get to a ramp or elevator. Although, I really don't think I have anything to complain about as it makes me think just how difficult it must be for someone if they are in a wheel chair or have restricted mobility.

Being the massive planning nerd that I am, I frequently check out the Bureau of Meteorology for their 7 day forecast. When I did this morning I was glad that we had gone to Federation Square yesterday as it is going to be extremely hot for the next few days. It started me thinking about what are the best sort of school holiday activities to do when it is hot? I also dearly love a list and came up with 10 things to do on the school holidays when it is hot. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor even the best 10 things to do when it is hot, so I would love to hear what you get up to when it is hot and then I can make this list a bit more definitive.

(1). Probably the most obvious is to head to the water of some desrciption. We don't have a beach house or close relatives that do, so we don't tend to do this one as much as I would probably like, but we did go to Point Leo the other week end and had a great time. When the Surf Life Saving Club run their Nippers program (see the Calendar link on the Point Leo SLSC site for dates) they have a BBQ going where for a few dollars you can get a sausage in bread and a drink, the beach is patrolled, and their are shower and toilet facilities close by.

(2). Make a big cubby house inside and have a picnic lunch in it.

(3). Visit the library. The air conditioning is generally good and it works in a couple of ways for us. It gives the children something to do before we go - I hand the children the library borrowing receipt and a pen and they have to go and find all the books we have to return. We generally have out 20 or so at a time so it can take some time to do this! Then the kids have a great time choosing some new ones when we are there. Often there is school holiday sessions as well, but you do have to book so check out the library's website ( Boroondara, Yarra Plenty, Yarra, Melbourne, Mildura) and once we get home they can chill out and read the new stuff.

(4). Cook together, something which of course does not require heat. My kids love chocolate balls and they can actually make them by themselves now. I just have to be prepared to clean up a large mess though. Slices, jelly, squeeze oranges and make fruit juice ice blocks for later.

(5). Make Lego stuff (or like product) together. It is amazing how long the kids will make stuff for. We generally end up with a bit of a theme going amongst us, like space craft, cars, or houses. We then put them up on display for a while on a shelf .

(6). Write a joint story. You might remember this one from school. Someone starts of the story and then you take turns at adding a sentence until you have put together a funny little story. We generally start this by handwriting first, then I let the kids publish the work on the computer, where they can then add pictures.

(7). Have a water bomb fight. You can pick up water bomb balloons at the supermarket these days that come with a little squirter bottle to fill the balloons up with. Just save some bath water from the night before and use that to fill them up. You can also use a funnel and jug as that can be easier for the little ones. It is fun to build up a stash of 10-15 each and then declare "war" and run around the backyard and get wet!

(8). Indoor hide and seek - I always tire of this game well before the kids do.

(9). Musical statues - as above.

(10). Go through the family photo albums. My kids love looking at themselves and hearing the stories behind the photos.

As you can probably tell, I try to keep to a budget, so I like school holiday activities that are free or are cheap! Love to hear what ideas you have to stay sane in the heat.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Christmas presents and organising the children's bedrooms.

I do so love the festivity of Christmas, but after the whole Christmas/New Year period I tend to look around the house wonder what tornado has been through the place? This year Santa brought the children a trampoline and then just a few small gifts, but combining this with the other gifts that they receive from our generous and loving families, it adds up to quite a stock pile.

I was tempted to just get the kids to go and put the things away somewhere on their own, but decided against it after I took one look at the toy and game cupboard! I decided to make use of having my delightful partner home and the second pair of adult hands to re-organise it with the children. We emptied the entire cupboards and considered each item whether it was played with, had all it pieces or was age appropriate for this room and then put it in its pile. It is amazing how happy the children to put things in the "for other children who don't have as much as us pile". The children then put everything back in the cupboards with the most precious items up high away from little rough hands and the most used at easy access.

The little ones room required a lot more work as I still had lots of baby blankets and baby toys stuffed in spare shelves of their cupboards. We followed the same process with the toys as with the older boys room, but with the toys and games that were no longer age appropriate I put into boxes and placed in the attic. Hopefully hand down to my younger sisters one day soon. I also made up a box of gorgeous teddies that I want to keep for sentimental purposes and put them in the attic as well. I definitely wanted to keep them ,but as the children don't actually play with them (they all have a couple of favourites in their room still) they were just taking up space in the bedroom.

The Christmas de-clutter was then finalised by taking down the Christmas tree, decorations and cards that we had around the house. I think even the children felt a great sense of satisfaction from out work and enjoyed the new sense of order. The question is though how long will it last????

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

This is my second shot at sharing my meal plan for the week. I have included one recipe for a main meal and a recipe for a quick and very tasty morning tea treat that I will be making to take to our friends place this week and they can be found at the end of this post.

Menu Plan for week beginning 7th Jan 2008:

Monday – Fried Rice

Tuesday – Chicken Stir Fry with Rice
Baking White Choc Chip Muffins

– Spaghetti Bolognaise

Thursday – Sausages and Salad

Friday – Left overs – clean out the fridge!

Saturday - Chicken wings, corn on the cob and baked potatoes.

Sunday – Oven Baked Fish and Vegetables

Look forward to seeing what everyone else has planned!

Recipe for Fried Rice

Although we call this dish fried rice, the rice is not actually fried so it quite healthy and the kids love it.

2 cups Rice White (yes I know I should use brown, but I just can’t!)
1 Large Capsicum Red chopped finely
3 Large Carrots grated
8 Rash Bacon (I use Shortcut Rindless) chopped
6 Large Eggs
6 sticks of Spring Onions
3 tbsp olive oil

1. Put rice on to cook by your preferred method. We have a rice cooker and I use that.
2. While rice is cooking I tend to get each ingredient ready. Firstly I crack all eggs into a bowl and beat lightly.
3. Chop bacon into even pieces, about 1.5cm x 1.5cm.
4. Peel and grate carrots.
5. Finely chop capsicum
6. Slice finely the spring onions
7. Heat a large non stick frying pan to a medium temperature and then pour egg mixture into pan. Cook this like an omelet, pulling away the sides to enable all of the mixture to cook. Once the mixture has firmed and looks like it has browned slightly on the bottom, then using an egg lifter, divide the egg into four parts. This makes it easier to turn each section over to cook the other side. Once the second side has browned, remove from the pan and allow to cool.
8. Add oil to the pan and turn up heat slightly. Once oil is hot, add the bacon and cook to desired taste. I like it to be crispy.
9. Leaving the bacon in the pan, add spring onions and cook, stirring constantly for about a minute.
10. Add the capsicum and carrot, cooking and stirring frequently for about 2-3 minutes.
11. Chop egg into pieces of about 2cm x 2 cm.
12. Turn heat down on pan to low and add rice, mixing the ingredients through.
13. Finally add egg to the pan and mix through evenly.
14. Season with salt and pepper if required.

My children love to have this with some sweet chilli sauce or soy sauce drizzled on top.

Recipe for White Choc Chip Muffins

2 cups self raising flour
½ - ¾ cup caster sugar (I think it was actually ¾ but I always reduce it to about ½ cup)
¾ cup milk
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 cup white choc chips (if large chips chop roughly first)

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees
2. Sift flour and sugar into a bowl. Mix and make a well in the middle.
3. In a separate bowl mix the remaining ingredients (except choc chips).
4. Pour the liquid ingredients into well and mix with a wooden spoon. Muffins are best when made quickly and not over mixed.
5. Add choc chips and mix lightly through.
6. Spoon into well greased muffin pans or patty pans in muffin tray
7. Cooking time depends on the size and oven, but 12 -15 minutes is about average for the standard patty pan size.

Painting a pretty picture.

Thought I would share with you some of the beautiful art work my children created today. We had a lovely day, with time in the garden (dad has a major project underway) and then took some time out to do some painting on some canvases that I picked up cheaply. They were only $3 from Riot Art and Craft and I think they have come up beautifully!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Planned Holiday Activites for the Children

Here are the planned activities that we have for the remaining weeks of the holidays:

Week starting 7th January:
  • Day trip to visit friends.
  • Animated kids' classics at ACMI - Animated story time filled with cats and dogs, including the Disney classic Pluto and a Felix the Cat cartoon from the 1920s (free).
  • Catching the ferry to Williamstown for a picnic lunch.
  • Sleep over number 1. We will have our eldest son's friend come to stay and play and take him along with us to the free movies. We tend to make a day of it by catching the train, taking a packed lunch to eat after the movie, at the playground behind ArtPlay.

Week Starting 14th January:

  • A dear friend bought our family tickets to The Wind in the Willows production by the Australian Shakespeare Company. We will be going to this with her family and that of another dear friend. It is on at the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne and we will pack a picnic basket and rug and have a fabulous time.
  • Yvonne Audette exhibition at NGV Australia. Yvonne is one of Australia’s most accomplished abstract artists. After checking out her work we will then have a go (for free) at creating our own abstract art at the NGV ArtCart .
  • Sleep over number 2. As this will be for the younger of our two sons, we will keep this more simple, when we have a day at home and fill it up with loads of backyard cricket, soccer and time on the trampoline.

Week starting 21st January (eek it's the last week!)

  • Day trip to the beach - probably somewhere like Point Leo. We went with friends a week or so ago and had a wonderful time, so will probably head back there.
  • Arranged play at the park with our buddy family for next year. As we are an established family at our school we have been allocated a new buddy family to assist them in settling in to the school. We will meet up, so their son can meet my two sons and have some familiar faces on the playground who are older and can look at for him. It is also so the new mum can have a familiar face as well and find out any more info that she may need about starting at the school.
  • animalmationKids at ACMI - the older children will be able to participate (for free) in a workshop to create their own animal figure in clay and make it come to life.

It may seem a bit much to go to this level of planning for the school holidays, but my aim is to get a balance of days at home which are "unplanned" in what the kids do and days that have planned activities. Of course given that life with kids is often unpredictable these are not set in stone and if the weather is too hot/wet or if we get a better offer then we change.