Sunday, 26 July 2015

The 52 Project: 30/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
This week began with a visit from Granny and Grandad. They took you to the zoo and showed them around as it was their first visit, and your hundredth visit. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but we have been to the zoo a lot this year. We have seen so many friends this week, and much to your delight, you have seen two of your favourite babies (Phoebe and Phoebe). You have so much love for these little ones, and every time you saw Phoebe at Auntie Hannah's house, you said, 'hi, hi, hi!' and cuddled her in a way that could be described as a gentle body slam. 
I feel like I have taken a lot of photos of you in various fields this year, and that is because we have taken lots of walks in Stoke Park and any other big green space we can find. You loved spotting butterflies in Stoke Park this week, and stopping to listen to the crickets chirping away. This week we have discovered that you have a particular penchant for eating creme fraiche, humous and chutney by the spoonful. No need for other accompaniments, these accompaniments serve you nicely as a straight up snack. Daddy showed you how to make falafel on Saturday - here's to many more cooking lessons together in the future.
All my love,

Monday, 20 July 2015

Raspberry and Lemon Friands

The first time I heard the word 'friand', I thought someone must have spelled 'Friend' wrongly. Then I realised it was the name of a kind of cake. A lot of people I have spoken to have never heard of friands, so I turned to trusty Wikipedia for a bit of history. They are French cakes, and friand means 'dainty'. I love that this cake is named after a description of what it is like.

I hadn't eaten a friand for many, many years, then a very good friend of mine baked some, and I knew that I had to make some for my almond loving husband. I don't tend to like the flavour of almonds much, but they absolutely work in this recipe. If you would like to watch a video demonstration of these being made, you can see a lovely lady called Kristy Lee making them over on her YouTube Channel. I'll write the recipe here too, to save you scrolling through the video.

Raspberry & Lemon Friands (makes 12 - 15)
225g icing sugar (confectioner's sugar)
200g unsalted butter
75g plain flour
150g ground almonds
6 egg whites
zest of one lemon
approx 30 raspberries (frozen is fine)
flaked almonds to sprinkle on top

1) Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan) / gas mark 4. Melt the butter and transfer to a bowl to cool.
2) Sift the icing sugar and flour into a large mixing bowl.
3) Add the ground almonds to the flour & icing sugar, along with the lemon zest.
4) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites into soft peaks.
5) Add the whisked egg whites to the bowl with the flour mixture, along with the cooled, melted butter. Gently fold together using a rubber spatula, ensuring that you scrape the bottom of the bowl so that no flour gets left behind!
6) Grease a muffin tray or two with butter then pour the batter into each hole, about three quarters full. These rise quite a lot when baking, so you don't want too much mixture in each hole, otherwise they are fairly tricky to get out of the muffin tray.
7) Gently push two raspberries into each friand, then scatter a few flaked almonds over the top.
8) Bake for 15 - 20 mins / until golden brown. (I removed mine after 18 mins but every oven bakes slightly differently.)
9) Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan for approximately 10 minutes. Run a palette knife or a very small rubber spatula around the rim of each friand and gently prise out of the muffin tin. Place on a cooling rack, or eat immediately!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The 52 Project: 29/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
This week you experienced your first trip to Ikea (you loved it, especially climbing on beds and chairs in the show room with your friend Immi who you call 'Eeeweee'), helped me build your table, grazed your knees multiple times, put your head in a tray of rice, spent a lot of time with friends, and visited Dyrham Park for the first time (pictured here). 
Here's to having weekly adventures with the friends we love, laughing a lot and eating cake crumbs wherever we might find them (you are a pro at spotting any crumbs from my baking and eating them). 
All my love,
Mama xx

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Children's physical and psychological needs

(Ruby at 19 months using a crinkle cutter to cut courgette)

A couple of years ago while I was still working as a teacher of three and four year olds, I went to an Early Years Conference. I remember the lingering feeling at the end of the day, where I felt so inspired by all that I had heard and seen, and couldn't wait to get back to my class and put what I had learned into practice. There were two keynote speakers, both of whom captivated me for completely different reasons. The second keynote speaker was a man called Martin who runs an incredible Nursery in Worthing, called Reflections. I was so inspired by Martin, that I persuaded my head teacher to let me go and visit his setting at one of their annual training days as part of my professional development. Sadly, I never made it to visit the Nursery - I was 36 weeks pregnant and went down with a sickness bug on the day of the visit. I still feel disappointed that I missed out on that wonderful opportunity.

The first key note speaker talked about children's needs, and what she said about the differences between children's physical and psychological needs really stuck with me, and I have found myself thinking on her reflections many times since, which is what I am going to write about today. In short, she said this:

Our physical needs are ones that will never go away. When we are hungry, the only way for the hunger to go, is by eating. Tiredness will only dissipate by sleeping. You simply have to respond to physical needs.
However, our psychological needs are quite different. Children need to take risks in order to learn. You never see a child who is learning to walk, give up when they fall over a couple of times. They simply keep on going until they have mastered this new skill. But, when we take the element of risk and challenge away from children by doing things for them, they learn that by not trying, someone will do it for them. If children stop experiencing the internal gratification that comes from overcoming a challenge, they will learn to stop taking risks and trying.

It is probably worth me saying that the term 'risk' is being used in a fairly general sense here. In other words, a psychological risk is one where failure, or an undesired outcome is possible. To expand, here are a few examples of the kind of 'risks' I am talking about in relation to the age of children I was working with at the time (3-4 year olds):
+ putting on shoes
+ attempting to do up a zip
+ turning on taps, operating soap dispenser and washing hands independently

These principles also apply to more specific 'risks' when there is an element of danger involved and the potential for physical harm to be caused.
+ using knives, vegetable peelers, scissors
+ using climbing equipment that presents a physical challenge

Drinking from a glass - trusting little hands with items that could break.

After I graduated from studying Early Childhood Studies, the first job I had was working as a teaching assistant in a Nursery Class of a Primary School. I had the privilege of working with a teacher who had three decades of experience in Early Years teaching, and I learnt so many invaluable lessons under her tutelage. One of the first lessons was to always encourage children to have a go at doing something, rather than just doing it for them. So often, I was faced with the temptation to just do things for them, for the sake of speed and to save my own frustration. Just simple every day tasks like:
+ doing up a zip
+ putting on an apron
+ opening the plastic cover on a straw
+ pouring a drink
+ turning the tap on
+ taking off / putting on items of clothing and footwear
+ tidying up
+ preparing a snack
+ climbing & balancing (this is a big one, where adult's help can actually be more detrimental than helpful - lifting children higher than they could climb by themselves presents them with a greater challenge and danger of them not being able to dismount safely without help.)

This is still a temptation now, with my own daughter, but in the classroom, I quickly learnt that when I held back and encouraged children to try something themselves, it was so rewarding to see their sense of satisfaction and achievement. In essence this teacher taught me to do what the keynote speaker articulated: allow children the time and opportunity to take risks - to try and do new things which are challenging to them - in order that they might learn and be willing to have a go without always seeking help. This is not to say that children should not ask for help - from a very young age with my daughter I would ask her if she would like some help., then when she was able to communicate her frustration, I encouraged her to sign and say 'help please' to give her the tools to communicate more effectively. I think there is a crucial difference here, too, with the way that we provide help. It is very easy to assume that children need help, and just do it for them without asking their permission first. Whereas when we take the time to ask children if they would like help, they are able to communicate from a young age whether or not our help is what they require.

In my teaching experience, I saw the effects of how we respond to children's psychological needs go both ways: I worked with children whose parents had done almost everything for their children for the first three years of life. As a result, these children had developed the 'learned helplessness' that the keynote speaker had talked about. They needed enormous amounts of encouragement to persevere when met with difficulty, and expected adults to do everything for them. I also saw children thrive when given the opportunity and encouragement to have a go at something that challenged them. Seeing their delight and excitement when they achieved something they thought they couldn't do, made it so worth exercising patience to allow them the space to just have a go.

From the perspective of being a parent, I am aware of how great the inclination can be to hold onto babyhood. I loved those months of Ruby being a young baby. I loved that she needed me to meet her needs. Now that she has become physically independent of me, my role in the way that I provide for her has shifted. I don't mourn the fact that she is no longer a baby - as much as I loved that stage I would never have wanted her to remain a baby forever - but so often I notice how I still refer to her as a baby. I have spoken with parents of children who I have taught, who have said that their four year old is still 'their baby', and that they love to do things for them. I am very conscious of this tension that exists as a parent between wanting your children to grow up, but to still need you to help them. I want to hold on tight to my daughter and let her go and grow in the same breath. If you are a parent of young children, or someone who works with children, I would love to encourage you to let children take risks (without being negligent or unwise!!), to step back and watch just how amazing your child is in what they can do before assuming that they need help, and even when they ask for help, do so in a way that still enables them to have a feeling of accomplishment. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

The 52 Project: 28/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
This might look like just another field that you are running in, but there is a bit more history to it than meets the eye. Daddy used to come here a lot in his childhood when he was visiting his grandparents. They lived in a beautiful home by the River Thames called Cariad Cottage. On Saturday, we came to visit your Great Grandad (Daddy’s Grandad). He no longer lives in Cariad Cottage, but he hasn’t moved far away, so before we visited him, we came for a walk here at Lardon Chase. We ate a picnic of pizza under a giant tree, while sitting on some very dry, very prickly grass, then you ran down the hill and stuck your finger in some cow pat. Just delightful. I can officially say that this is something I have never done, so good work on doing something  in your twenty months on earth that your Mama never has in thirty years of life.
All my love,
Mama xx

P.S In other news, you learnt to say, ‘Hannah’ this week after Auntie Hannah popped round. You didn’t even see her, you just heard her voice, and when she had left, you pointed at the door and said, ‘Hannah’, perfectly pronounced and clear as day. It was a lovely moment. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

#lifecapturedproject: what do you usually eat for breakfast?

I am very much a creature of habit when it comes to breakfast. For as long as I can remember, I have eaten homemade granola for this first meal of the day. My Mum used to make enormous batches of granola for the whole family, and I think my sister was the only one of the four children who didn't like it. Growing up, we always sprinkled our bowl of granola with grape nuts and doused it in milk. I have only ever met one other person who eats grape nuts. Obviously there must be plenty of people who do, otherwise shops wouldn't sell it, but in my experience, it seems a fairly unusual choice of breakfast cereal. When I think about what breakfast time was like as a child, I remember reading the information on the back of the box of grape nuts over and over again. The makers of grape nuts proudly stated that they 'stayed deliciously crunchy in milk', and this is exactly what I loved about them. I cannot stand soggy cereal, and I am yet to find another cereal that does not turn soggy within a few minutes of sitting in milk.

When I moved away from home to start university, one of the few recipes that I saw as essential for my survival was my Mum's granola. It was so simple. Two mugs of oats, two mugs of flour, a fifth of a mug of honey & the same of sunflower oil. Mix and bake then sprinkle the batch with sunflower seeds. Simple and cheap. As an undergraduate student with very little money, there were some days where all of my meals consisted of the good granola. These days, I make bigger batches and use more oats than flour. I also use pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and flaxseed, and top it all off with sultanas and greek yoghurt. It's simple and my father in law describes it as horse food, but I love it. Always have and always will.

The other essential part of my breakfast is coffee. Before I had Ruby, I would always drink my coffee at the same time as my cereal, but now that rarely happens. I am also rather particular about how I have my coffee. We drink Monmouth coffee, which I have to buy from London, as nowhere in Bristol sells it, and I always have it with frothy milk. Our friends who live in London are entirely to blame for my addiction  love of Monmouth coffee, as they gifted it to me for a birthday a couple of years ago. Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. It might be simple, but I love it this way.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The 52 Project: 27/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
I have said it before, but it can never be said enough, that you bring me so much joy. This photo is one of my favourites of you. To me, this photo captures so much of your character. I took it on Monday evening while we were staying with Granny and Grandad. You had just had a shower with Daddy to wash off the sand and sun cream from time spent at the beach. (You have completely gone off bath time, but love showers instead, so long as you are in Daddy's arms at all time.) I was sat in the garden reading, and you had come to find me to say goodnight. You ran through the house, giggling with glee, and your head popped through the blinds. The light was just perfect - a beautiful balance of brightness and shadows so I picked up my camera to capture the moment. I took this photo after I had just been tickling you under your chin. I love the way you've thrown your head back and lifted your arms in happy surrender, but tucked your arms into your body in that slightly protective way that people do when they're being ticked, the dimple in your right cheek just about visible, and the light just highlighting your beautiful blonde eyelashes. This photo is how I see you, and you are beautiful.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Saturday, 4 July 2015

#lifecapturedproject // if you could grow anything you wanted to, what would you grow?

I would love to be able to grow food for us to eat. I know very little about gardening, despite having a Mother who knows an enormous amount about plants. It is yet another of the skills that I wish I had been more interested when I lived at home. When we bought our first house two years ago, I was thrilled to have a garden of our own, but it was a long way off being a place where plants could thrive. The ground had been levelled with tonnes and tonnes of rubble. My husband spent our first Summer here digging it all up so that we could lay turf, and a flower bed for my roses and peonies. We have pretty much filled up all of the available space for planting in our little garden, so it is not very feasible to try and plant crops. In my dream garden, there would be a couple of apple trees, potatoes, courgettes, peas, runner beans, corn, salad leaves, tomatoes and squash. Currently, our edible plants consist of strawberries and a few tomato plants that look really rather sickly.
While my dream of having a plentiful harvest of crops for us to eat is a very long way off, I still feel a little giddy when I spot a ripe strawberry, ready for us to pick and eat. One of my residing memories of this Summer will be looking out into the garden on a number of occasions to see Ruby looking for new strawberries, and merrily munching on them as soon as she finds them. I planted these strawberries about five years ago with the class I was teaching at the time. Even though I know little about gardening, I was always very keen to give the children I taught the opportunity to have a go at growing their own food. I think it is invaluable for them to see the process of growth, and experience the joy of eating the fruits of their labour. Here's to attempting to grow new things each year and not being held back by what I don't know.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

#lifecapturedproject // what do you love the most about little children?

I remember knowing from quite a young age that I wanted to work with young children. The journey to me training to be an Early Years Teacher was fairly long, and for many years, I said that I would never be a teacher. The turning point came in 2008 when I worked with an incredible early Years teacher as her teaching assistant. This was my first job after graudating from a degree in Early Childhood Studies, and I learnt a huge amount about both children and myself in that academic year. Prior to this year, I had not spent much time working with three and four year olds, but after one year of working in a classroom with these young children I knew that I loved this age, and I knew that I wanted to train to be a teacher.

There are two memories I have of the last day working with this class in 2008 that sprung to mind when thinking about what I love about young children, and in particular, why I love this age. The class teacher was going to be leaving this school for another job after eighteen years working there. During the end of year assembly, the teacher was invited to sit at the front of the room. Our class had never been to a school assembly before, because it is not realistic or reasonable to expect children this age to be able to sit still and be quiet for twenty minutes. So this was a new experience for them, which inevitably meant that they had questions, and it is the most natural thing for children to ask questions as soon as they come to mind. One boy in particular had a lot of questions about what was going on, and I loved that his questions weren't stifled by the fact that no one else was talking, or because he was aware of the expectations from adults that he should be quiet. He was oblivious to the glare of the head teacher, indicating her disapproval that he was talking when he should have been listening. I couldn't help but smile at his understandable curiosity. I loved that he questioned what was taking place, and didn't yet understand about authority and expectations. To me, this moment signalled something of the beauty of freedom that should characterise childhood. 

The other memory I have of this end of year assembly was of the reaction of one of the girls in the class to what was happening. We had talked a lot with the children about all of the changes that would be taking place as their first year in school came to an end, and they knew that their teacher would be leaving to go and teach children in another school. This one girl in particular was incredibly sensitive and emotionally aware, and the anticipation of all of the changes that lay ahead for her meant that her tears were never far away in that last week of term. I had deliberately sat next to this girl during the assembly, knowing that she was feeling fairly delicate and might need some support. She never took her eyes off our teacher as other children in the school presented her with gifts, cards, poems and flowers from the school community. As the teacher started to silently cry, this girl did the same. Through tears, she whispered to me, 'I'm just so sad because Sophie is feeling sad.' To watch a three year old empathise so powerfully with an adult was just amazing to see. Earlier in the year, I had watched this same girl gather up a bouquet of artificial flowers from the home corner take them to a child who was sitting on my bench crying, and sit with her arm round them, silently giving them flowers and sitting with them until the tears passed. Developmentally, it is quite normal for children at this age to still be fairly egocentric in a lot of their behaviours, so to see her be so overtly aware of other people's emotions was all the more powerful to me. 

In that first year of working with three year old's, and all of the years since, I have loved the opportunity to see children's characters form; to see them explore and try and make sense of the world around them, and to have the privileged position of being an educator, leading them in their learning and explorations. I love their exuberance and inquiring minds. I love marveling at how much they have learned in just a few years of life, and wondering at what kind of adventures they might embrace in the years that lie ahead. I could share so many stories of my time teaching in Early Years that has shaped my love of this age, but for now, these words will do.