child development · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting · play

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

I’ve previously written about Little Man’s first discoveries of the great outdoors as a newly-walking toddler. I thought it would be fun to follow up with some ideas for fun ways to play and explore the great outdoors when you have a young toddler – in the one year old to eighteen months sort of timeframe. I’m focusing on cheap and easy activities that involve household items you probably already have, or at least that don’t require purchasing anything worth more than about £1… Because fun shouldn’t be mega expensive!

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

Pebbles in a Pot

This idea came from my own lovely mum! When I was a kid we had a gravel area outside our kitchen door, and mum said I used to spend ages sat on the step happily putting little pebbles from the gravel into empty milk bottles.

We have a small amount of gravel in our back garden, so I thought I would try the same with Little Man, showing him how to put pebbles into an empty plastic bottle… And he loves it! (To be fair, it could be genetic – so I guess there’s no guarantee your kids will like it, buuut let’s just skate past that). He needs reasonably close supervision to ensure he doesn’t try to eat any of the pebbles, but as time has gone by, the frequency of attempted pebble-munching has greatly diminished.

Pebbles in a pot!

The pebbles in a pot game is great for fine motor skills as well as concepts like big and small, empty and full. And honestly, it requires so little parental input that it’s perfect for those mornings when you find yourself in your back garden with an energetic toddler much, much earlier than planned…

Interactive Plants

Okay, bear with me, because I didn’t really have a title for this one! While on our way to nursery one morning a couple of months ago, I introduced Little Man to the concept of dandelion clocks. He loved watching me blow away the seeds and having a try himself (mainly just aggressively blowing raspberries in the complete wrong direction, but he had a go!). Now he loves dandelions and asks for them whenever we go out – he calls them “bubbles” which actually kind of makes sense when you think about it.

But dandelions aren’t the only interactive plant out there! We’ve played with snapdragons (antirrhinums), squeezing the sides of the flower to make them snap, and Little Man really likes picking daisies and singing the Upsy Daisy song from In The Night Garden – and watching mama make daisy chains. There’s such fun to be had in simply exploring new flowers and plant textures like tulips, daffodils, poppies and strands of grass.

When we go out, Little Man also enjoys looking for daisies, dandelions, leaves and sticks, and later on in the summer I can’t wait to go foraging for blackberries and other fruit, and playing with popping the seedpods of bizzy lizzies (impatiens). There’s really so many fun and interesting plants that little ones can explore, it’s probably worth a blog post on its own!

Upsy Daisy, here I come!

Treasure Hunt

I thought this would be a bit too complicated for Little Man at just 14 months old, but actually thanks to Easter I discovered that you really can do a fun treasure hunt in the garden, even for really young toddlers.

First, pick something they’ll be really interested in finding (like, say, shiny chocolate eggs… Or toys wrapped in silver foil). Let them watch you “hide” them (pretty much in plain sight), and then set them loose! With a fair bit of help and prompting, it’s a really fun way to spend some time together. Little Man though did not trust us to look after the eggs he had found while he looked for others, which created a slight issue when he ran out of hands…

Easter Egg Hunt Champion 2021

Fun with Water

You don’t need to buy a paddling pool to have fun in the sunshine (when the sunshine actually turns up, of course). We have now invested in a pool, but before we did, we had loads of fun with a washing up bowl and a bucket of water in the garden! Little Man actually still managed to fit in a normal kitchen bucket at almost 18 months old, and really enjoyed watching the water spilling over the rim as he sat down, and stood up… And sat down, and stood up… Safe to say, the lawn got a good watering.

Setting up a few buckets of water and some cups and things to play with is super easy and a great way to keep cool on a hot day. Just make sure you don’t forget the sun cream!

Making Marks With Chalk

This is my last suggestion and unless you live near some natural chalk hills and can collect a pocketful of rock chalk while out for a walk, you’ll need to buy some chalks – I got a big packet for £1 from our local cheap and cheerful store (it’s not technically a pound shop so I don’t know what else to call it…)

Chalk is great because of course it washes away in the rain, so you can make a huge mess of a driveway, path, fence, some rocks or a wheelie bin… And not worry too much about the cleanup (if you live in the UK, anyway). Little Man is loving playing with chalk at the moment and it’s great for starting to learn the alphabet and numbers as well.

Your top tips for free and cheap outdoor play ideas

What are your top tips and ideas for fun outdoors with a toddler? I’d love to get more ideas and tips for me and Little Man this summer!

baby · Just for fun · parenting · Seasonal

First Spring Into Nature: A Toddler’s First Steps In Springtime

Little Man is now 16 months old. Since last autumn he’s changed from being a baby into a toddler, and sometimes it feels like it’s difficult to keep up! Over the winter, he learned to walk, and one of the best things about the weather warming up for spring has been the opportunity for him to really explore the natural world on his own terms as a toddler, and take his first spring into nature.

Of course, last year we spent plenty of time outdoors – thanks to lockdown, there often wasn’t much to do other than to sit out in the garden together in the afternoons. But the ability to walk rather than crawl (or just lie there!) has completely changed how he interacts with nature, and also (let’s be honest) slightly reduced the frequency with which he tries to eat pebbles, dirt, and leaves. I wanted to write a post about Little Man’s first spring into nature, what he’s enjoyed most in the great outdoors, and some of the fun ways he’s engaged with springtime.

First Spring into Nature: A Toddler’s First Steps in Springtime

Meeting the birds

Little Man loves birds. When walking him to and from nursery in the pram, he would sometimes point up at the sky, or behind us. After a while, my husband realised he was pointing at birds, which of course were usually gone by the time mum or dad turned to look.

He’s fascinated by birds, and now we make a point of stopping to look whenever there’s a fat pigeon on a fence that’s too lazy to fly away when we get close. There’s even a little blackbird who has been flying back and forth from a particular berry-covered tree on our way to nursery all winter, who sometimes will perch on a branch and watch us watching him for a little while before he flaps off.

Going to see the ducks on the river has also been a big hit this winter, although I’m not sure that Little Man has worked out the connection between swimming ducks and flying birdies…

Down by the riverside

First steps on grass

The first time after Little Man had learned to walk that it was mild enough to take him out to the garden and let him try walking on the grass was so lovely. He didn’t know what to make of the grass but once he discovered how soft it was to fall over on, he threw himself (often quite literally…) into the challenge of learning to walk on it.

I love the fact that when you have a young child, you almost rediscover the world from their perspective. As a grown up, I wouldn’t say that walking on a freshly-mown lawn is any more difficult than walking on a flat pavement – unlike, say, walking on sand, which is noticeably more difficult. But for Little Man, it’s a completely different experience. Plus, there are loads of little rocks everywhere to eat look at…

One of our first trips to the garden this spring

First snow

We didn’t get heavy snow here at any point this winter (unlike most of the rest of the country, it seems!). But we did get a decent dusting one day – enough for wee man to get out and discover snow for the first time. We bundled him up and set him loose on the driveway.

He was fascinated and really enjoyed it for a little bit, until he fell down onto his bum and I wasn’t quite quick enough to pick him up. A chilly rear end was apparently enough to put him off snow completely, and so we retreated back into the house. I think the fun of snow is perhaps more pronounced for slightly older children.

First snow for Little Man

Meeting the flowers

I love spring bulbs and flowers. My garden is filled with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths – you name it. I love the way that bright daffodils really make it feel like spring has finally arrived, even if the weather is still cold. And for Little Man, the daffodils are almost as big as he is, which is strange to imagine from an adult’s perspective.

He’s been loving discovering flowers, from the bulbs in our garden to the cut flowers we’ve had in the house over the past few weeks. But when he fell over in the local park and squashed a lovely bed of narcissus perfectly flat, we did run away pretty sharpish…

Meeting a daffodil

Your first spring into nature:

What fun discoveries have your little ones made this springtime? Let me know in the comments!

children's books · Just for fun · parenting · reviews

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Moon Dance by Christian Riese Lassen

Continuing my series of Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews, today I will be reviewing the board book Moon Dance. No, sadly Van Morrison has not branched out into the magical world of kids books (as far as I know) – this is written by Christian Riese Lassen, famous primarily for painting pictures of dolphins.

We inherited the book from some lovely friends once their daughter outgrew it (thanks guys!), and it has proved very popular with Little Man. Moon Dance refers to itself as ‘A Sparkle Book’, as if sparkle books were a thing we have all heard of. A quick search of Amazon Books identifies other children’s books by Riese Lassen which also include curious classifications: Sea Treasures (‘A Mystery Envelope Book’), and Sea Creatures (‘A Read And Play Carry Puzzle Book’). Sounds complicated. But anyway! On with the review…

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Moon Dance by Christian Riese Lassen

A Sparkle Book

In fairness to Moon Dance, it very much does what it says on the tin. The illustrations of underwater life are beautiful and engaging, and there can be no doubt that this is, indeed, a Sparkle Book. Every full-page illustration, including the front cover, features colourful sparkly cut-outs that will bewitch even the least magpie-like babies and toddlers.

No Time To Rhyme

Moon Dance is essentially a poem, all about dolphins having a lovely underwater dance. This is where the problems start to creep in. The book contains seven verses of four lines each, with an ABCB rhyme scheme, i.e. there are 7 opportunities to rhyme in this book. Of those verses, three rhyme on the same word: ‘light’. That’s nearly half the book turning on the same rhyme. I know it’s a kid’s book, but it’s hardly a rousing introduction to the magical world of poetry, and it sounds very clunky. Rhymezone.com reliably informs me that there are 589 possible rhymes for ‘light’ in the English language. We know you’re really a painter, Christian Riese Lassen, but next time maybe try a little harder with the words…

Sparkly but dumb

Unnatural History

Now we come to the next issue: one for all fans of David Attenborough documentaries (and if you’re not a fan of David Attenborough documentaries then, quite frankly, you need to sit down and take a long, hard look at yourself). The natural history depicted in this book is questionable at best. Am I being petty? Yes. Is it reasonable to expect 100% accuracy in the depictions of underwater life in a children’s book whose primary selling point is the fact that it has sparkly pages? Who knows. But is this series called Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews? You’re damn right it is. So let’s continue.

All is pretty much well for the first four pages, assuming you can get on board with the basic concept that dolphins like to spend the whole night dancing, instead of sleeping like everyone else (in fact dolphins are often active late at night, but do also sleep for a few hours here and there, so in a way everyone’s right).

Then we hit a problem: page 5 opens with the couplet “Down on the seabed / Where colours are bold”. This strikes me as off for two reasons:

  • Water absorbs light rapidly, with some wavelengths (i.e. colours) absorbed faster than others. The colour red completely disappears by the time you reach a depth of c. 20 feet, orange by c. 50 feet, and so on. Unless this is an incredibly shallow seabed, it’s not likely that the colours there would be especially bold.
  • More importantly, the entire premise of the book is that IT’S NIGHTTIME. Colours are not bold at night!

So, we take a deep breath and move on. Hey, it’s just one line, right?

All Thriller, No Killer

At first glance, the verse on the next page is nice, about how the whales join in the dance alongside the dolphins. But wait. What’s that in the corresponding illustration? Those are killer whales. This is significant because (a) killer whales are not really whales, they’re just giant monochrome dolphins, but more importantly (b) killer whales notoriously eat dolphins, meaning they’re not especially likely to be caught prancing around in the moonlight together – unless the killer whales are trying to catch a dolphin dinner. I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit dark for a kids book for me. As my husband points out: “They’ve got the word ‘killer’ in their fucking name, guys”.

Not the best of buddies

Little Man’s Review

In all fairness, despite its flaws, Little Man loves Moon Dance, as it is very shiny and reflective. The pages are a bit large for tiny hands, so he struggles to look at the book on his own, but if mama or dada holds the book he enjoys turning the pages. And, for extra enjoyment, mama and dada gently shake the pages to make them sparkle to the absolute max, which proves very popular.

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews: The Verdict

And so, in conclusion we come at last to the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Drumroll please, it’s the Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review Star Rating System, and the results are in for Moon Dance by Christian Riese Lassen:

  • Plot: *** (3/5)
  • Illustrations: ***** (5/5)
  • Interactive features: *** (3/5)
  • Educational Value: ** (2/5)
  • Little Man: **** (4/5)

Aggregate Score: (17/25)

baby · fatigue · health · pain · parenting · top tips

How To: Looking After A Baby When You’re Sick/Fatigued

Looking after a baby is hard work at the best of times, but when you’re sick it can be overwhelming. Whether you’re parenting with chronic illness, a bad cold or tummy bug, or fatigue (either from illness or too many sleepless nights!), it helps to have a plan for how you’re going to manage. So, based on my experience as a mama with chronic illness, I’ve pulled together my top tips on looking after a baby when you’re sick or fatigued. Read on to find out more…

looking after a baby when you suffer from chronic illness or you're sick top tips the sickly mama

Looking After A Baby When You’re Sick

Ask For Help

Whether you’re suffering from a temporary issue – a cold, a tummy bug, a flare up of your condition – or ongoing consistent symptoms from a chronic illness, ask for help. It’s okay! Even the healthiest, heartiest parents need help sometimes. It won’t do you any good to try to do everything yourself. And people love babies, so chances are you’ll have more people willing to help you out than you may imagine… But you do have to ask.

When you do ask for help, try to be specific about what you need – for instance, help around the house, fetching groceries or popping to the pharmacy, or just holding the baby. Most people will want to help if you let them know how. If people have popped over to see the baby, get them to help you out – for instance, they could hold baby for an hour so you can nap!

Do The Absolute Minimum

Again, might sound obvious. But if you’re feeling really unwell, do the absolute minimum you need to do. Things like the washing up, hoovering, tidying, even having a shower… You don’t absolutely have to do them. You need to feed yourself and baby, change baby, and sleep. Everything else is optional! So don’t force yourself to do anything unnecessary, if you don’t have the energy for it.

This may include cancelling on some guests, especially in the early days with a new baby. If people are planning to visit and you don’t think they’ll be helpful – or perhaps you know they won’t – and you’ll end up running around after them trying to be a good host and look after baby and yourself… Cancel the visit. You need to prioritise the well-being of yourself and your baby, and that’s okay.

…Except When You’re Okay

On the days or times where you are feeling better, that’s the time to prepare for the bad days! This may seem more obvious if you have a chronic health condition where the symptoms come and go – but even if you don’t, there will be good days and bad days. You never know when you might catch a cold or flu, or have an upset stomach, and even babies who are normally good sleepers will go through bad patches. So make sure that you’re prepped for bad days.

What does being prepared look like? Here are some suggestions:

  • A stash of easy emergency meals in the freezer – things you can just pop in the oven/microwave and leave.
  • An upstairs and downstairs nappy change station with everything you need for changing, so you don’t have to carry baby too far for changes.
  • A small stockpile of key items for baby (nappies, wipes, formula etc.) that will last for at least a week, so you’re not going to run out and need to go to the shops urgently when you’re feeling sick and/or exhausted.
  • Similarly, try to ensure you have a good stock of spare clothes for your little one, so you’re not going to end up in a pickle if you can’t do laundry for a few days.
  • Talking to your partner, friends and family about how you will manage childcare on sick days, in advance. Have a back-up plan if you are just too poorly to look after the little one – and ideally have a back-up back-up plan just in case!

Practice self-care

Just scraping by will do for a few days here and there when you’re feeling especially dreadful, but it’s not sustainable for the long term. You need to take care of yourself and your mental and physical health.

So, once you’ve worked out what the absolute minimum is, have a think about the next step up – the minimum things you need in order to feel reasonably content. For instance, in my case, I absolutely hate not having a nice hot shower in the morning. Even if I feel rubbish, I know a shower always helps me feel better. So I really prioritised ensuring I got my morning shower every day, as far as reasonably possible. Little Man would be on the bathroom floor in his Moses basket when he was really small, or crawling around with a few toys and a baby sensory video once he was a bit bigger.

Work out your key self-care priorities – perhaps it’s having a shower, listening to music or watching a show, reading a book or getting outside for some fresh air once a day. And make sure you find time to do the things that help you feel okay, even if it’s at the expense of other day to day life admin.

Rest as much as possible

Before you have a baby, everyone tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” which in my experience is much easier said than done. If you can get some sleep when baby is napping or someone else comes to help out, then obviously that’s the best thing you can do. But even if you can’t sleep, you can try to rest up. Set up a comfortable spot in the house to have as your base for the day – an armchair, sofa, bed, whatever suits you – and collect as much stuff as possible that you’ll need for looking after baby to keep nearby. Not just obvious things like nappy change supplies, but also toys, books, whatever you’ve got to keep the little one entertained. Try to sit and chill as much as you can.

And when baby goes to bed for the night – go to bed too! It’s tempting to stay up and take some time for yourself, but you’re better off going to bed and getting as much sleep as you can before your next wake up call.

Let go of the mum/dad guilt

When you’re ill, you will not be winning any parenting awards, and that is fine. You need to keep baby safe, clean and fed. If they miss out on a few sensory play sessions, or they spend a bit more time watching YouTube videos to give you a break – it really will not matter in the long run. They need a parent who takes care of him/herself, and if you don’t do that then sooner or later you will crash and end up much worse than before.

No parent is perfect, whether they suffer from chronic illness or not, so just do your best to let go of the guilt about what you can’t do because of your illness, and focus instead on all the positive things you can do, however small, to help your baby feel loved and cared for.

Your tips for looking after baby when you’re sick

Do you have any experience of looking after a baby while ill? What are your tips for others? Let me know in the comments!

looking after baby when sick parenting with chronic illness the sickly mama blog newborn
baby · health · parenting · teething · top tips

How To Brush Baby’s Teeth (Without Losing A Finger)

It seemed like Little Man was teething for forever before his first tooth appeared! He started teething around three months, and he didn’t get his first tooth until he was gone six months old. It wasn’t until a little while after his first tooth arrived, though, that I realised… Hang on, we need to brush it! But how exactly do you brush a baby’s teeth without losing a finger? Wee Man’s first teeth are like tiny razors, and he once notoriously bit his dad so hard on the toe that he drew blood. We were not looking forward to trying to brush his teeth…

how to brush baby's teeth without losing a finger toothbrush baby the sickly mama blog parenting top tips

How To Brush Baby’s Teeth (Without Losing A Finger)

When should you start brushing?

As soon as that first baby tooth appears, it’s time to start brushing (oops! Took us a few weeks to realise). The NHS recommends brushing twice a day, including before bed in the evening, with a smear of baby toothpaste.

What makes baby toothpaste different and do I need it?

Baby toothpaste has less fluoride in than adult toothpaste. Swallowing a lot of fluoride may upset baby’s stomach in the short term, which is why it’s recommended to use only a smear of toothpaste on the brush.

Over the longer term, swallowing large amounts of fluoride toothpaste in early childhood could cause something called dental fluorosis, which can affect the appearance and strength of teeth. However, it is rare in the UK for dental fluorosis to be anything other than very mild, appearing as some white patches on the teeth which may or may not be visible to the naked eye. It is still recommended that children and babies do brush their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, because it’s the best way to prevent tooth decay. Just don’t let them eat toothpaste straight out of the tube!

Baby toothpaste also often has a milder flavour which children may find easier to get used to, compared to the strong mint flavours of adult toothpaste.

How do you brush baby’s teeth?

And so, to the practicalities… How do you actually brush baby’s teeth?

Firstly, sit baby on your knee, with their head back against your chest (I got this tip from the NHS website!). We use a bamboo baby toothbrush, to try to reduce our plastic waste.

Brush baby’s teeth using circular motions, just like you would an adult’s teeth. Don’t restrict yourself to brushing the teeth they actually have, but brush their whole mouth and gums gently, to get them used to the idea.

Making tooth brushing fun for baby

Obviously tooth brushing is a bit strange for baby when you introduce it, so I think the best approach is to really try to make tooth brushing fun. We sing a little song to our baby while we brush his teeth and that seems to be a really good way to distract him! In fact, he enjoys it so much that he now looks forward to having his teeth brush and co-operates with opening his mouth, handing over his dummy etc.

Ideally if both me and my husband are free, one of us brushes his teeth, and the other one dances Little Man’s hands around to the song, as otherwise he tries to grab the brush. We sing the following song, to the tune of ‘Row Your Boat’:

Brush, brush, brush your teeth
Brush them nice and clean
Scrubbly-bubbly, bubbly-scrubbly
Brush them nice and clean

We actually got the idea from the Peppa Pig handwashing advert from the World Health Organisation, if you’ve seen it! We sing through the song three times and the last time we slow it right down so he knows we’re nearly done. After a couple of months of this routine, brushing Little Man’s teeth is not just easy, it’s actually quite a fun thing we do as a family.

I let Little Man take over the toothbrush after I’m done brushing, and he enjoys chewing on it. Then when it’s time to finish, I distract him with a dummy while I take the brush away, and we both watch as I clean the brush under the taps.

So for us, this approach seems to work pretty well. Little Man likes to feel involved and he seems to enjoy the flavour of the toothpaste and chewing on the brush is nice when he’s teething. He does often bite down on the toothbrush while I’m trying to move it, and he also often tries to grab the brush from me, which can be tricky! But in general, starting to brush his teeth has not been as horrendously difficult as I expected!

Your Top Tips For Brushing Baby’s Teeth

Do you have any great tips for persuading a reluctant baby to let you brush their teeth? Let me know in the comments!

how to brush baby's teeth without losing a finger toothbrush baby the sickly mama blog parenting top tips
children's books · Just for fun · parenting · reviews

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Zoo Sounds (Usborne Sound Books)

Since having a baby, my husband and I have often discussed some of the vagaries of the children’s books that we read to Little Man. No matter how much he loves them, to the adult eye, a number of these books have some pretty major issues. And so I thought I’d start a new series on this blog, called Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews. I’m going to review Little Man’s favourite books. And I’m going to be brutally honest about it! Read on for the first instalment: a review of Zoo Sounds by Sam Taplin, and illustrated by Federica Iossa, from the Usbourne Sound Books range…

brutally honest children's book review zoo sounds usbourne sound books sam taplin the sickly mama

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Zoo Sounds

Judging A Book By Its Cover:

With a title that sounds more like the name of a disk in the BBC’s famous Sound Effects Library, on first sight Zoo Sounds did not inspire me with confidence that a roaringly good yarn was in store.

How wrong I was. In fact, if you press the small button in the middle of the book’s cover, you will quite literally hear the (slightly tinny) sound of a lion’s roar.

The cover includes pictures of some of the animals whose sounds feature in the book, along with the word denoting their accompanying nose: a lion (“roar”), a monkey (“ooh-haa”), an alligator (“splash” – hmm, okay), a bird (“squawk”), and a couple of meerkats. What sounds do meerkats make? Other than “simples!” – as my mother rightly pointed out – I have no clue. I’m looking forward to finally hearing the cry of the meerkat, courtesy of Zoo Sounds

False Promises Of The Meerkat Kind

But brace yourself, my friends. For Zoo Sounds – despite prominently featuring not one, but TWO meerkats on its front cover – not only does not feature any meerkat sound effects, but actually doesn’t feature any bloody meerkats at all, in any capacity. Pretty sure they could be done for false marketing… Or at least, false meerkat-ing! (Dad joke alert!)

The Plot Thickens (Or Not)

Speaking of false promises, I have to admit that I didn’t have high expectations of Zoo Sounds in terms of plot. I wasn’t anticipating a Game Of Thrones-esque struggle for power between the lions and the monkeys, mediated from the sidelines by their semi-mythical meerkat overlords (although if anyone wants to write that children’s book, I will gladly review the heck out of it).

But I did expect some plot, even a simple one. Like perhaps a family on a walk through the zoo, or a zookeeper doing their job and seeing the animals along the way. But no. Zoo Sounds has dispensed with the frankly conventional notion that a story book should have, you know… a story. It’s literally just several pages of random animals making noise, and then it ends, abruptly, after an alligator hops into a pond (spoiler alert).

I’m not the only person to have this criticism of the book either. One Amazon reviewer closed their (3 star) review with this zinger: “This one reminds me of the scene in Elf when Buddy’s Dad demands to ship the book even though it hasn’t been finished.” Ouch.

What Does The Penguin Say

One of the things that I try to do when evaluating a kids book is to consider its educational value. And, to be fair, there’s a fair amount of educational value in Zoo Sounds. Lots of animals to discuss, including their accompanying sound effects, and most of them are doing something you might reasonably expect said animal to do (the monkeys are eating fruit, the seals are eating fish, you get the idea).

However I’ve had to downgrade the educational value score for this one because I just straight-up do not believe that any penguin on earth sounds like the corresponding ‘penguin’ sound effect in this book. I freely admit, I’m not a penguin expert, and perhaps someone who is will prove me wrong. Maybe there is a sad, demented species of penguin, somewhere in remote Antarctica, that sounds like the man from the Go Compare advert being subjected to cruel and unusual torture. But until I get some cold hard proof of that, I will continue to describe the penguin sound effect as ‘wildly unrealistic’.

Little Man’s Book Review

Obviously this wouldn’t be a very good children’s book review if I didn’t take into account the views of an actual child. And Little Man absolutely loves this book. I asked him to write a review, but sadly it was so full of expletives and foul language that I felt unable to publish it. So instead, we’ll have to infer the review from his behaviour: a huge smile whenever we sit down to read together, and regularly selecting the book to be his chew toy du jour.

If I had to suggest what Little Man’s favourite features about Zoo Sounds are, I would say that: a) he loves sticking his finger through the cut-out hole on the front cover (but not, for some reason, the cut-out holes on any of the other pages), particularly if I grab his finger and pretend something is nibbling on it; and b) he likes turning the book over when he hears the sound effects, and trying to work out where the noise is coming from. It’s good stuff.

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: The Verdict…

And so, in conclusion we come at last to the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Drumroll please, it’s the Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review Star Rating System:

  • Plot: * (1/5)
  • Illustrations: *** (3/5)
  • Interactive features: ***** (5/5)
  • Educational Value: *** (3/5)
  • Little Man: ***** (5/5)

Aggregate Score: (3.5/5)

brutally honest children's book review zoo sounds usbourne sound books sam taplin the sickly mama
baby · parenting · top tips

Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Little Man has lots of lovely toys, but in the interests of trying to avoid our house becoming little more than extended toy storage for the wee fellow, we also try to ensure we supply him with common household objects to play with. Some household items make great free toys for baby, and not only do they save on storage space, but buying fewer toys is better for the planet too! So here’s my list of the top household items that will keep your baby entranced for hours…

common household objects that make great free toys for baby the sickly mama blog

Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

A Wooden Spoon

“Oh, that’s where it was,” said my husband in an accusatory voice, as I picked up a wooden spoon from the playmat in the kitchen and handed it to Little Man. “I was searching for that for ages while I was cooking.”

Reader, we own a grand total of five wooden spoons (I counted for this article), but as it turns out, I had inadvertently selected my husband’s favourite spoon to give to baby as a fun new toy. Little Man loved it, and now the spoon has visible little gnaw marks on it from his two front teeth. Oops. So, although a wooden spoon is a great idea for an easy toy for baby, in the interests of marital harmony you should probably check with your partner before handing one over…

Egg Boxes

Every once in a while, our Sainsbury’s delivery will randomly substitute our chosen cardboard box of eggs for a plastic box instead. But not only are they less good for the environment, they’re also 100% less useful for their secondary purpose: entertainment for Little Man.

Just think about it. They’re made of cardboard, eminently chewable, not too heavy, an interesting shape and with a hinge that opens and closes. The perfect toy for a baby who’s interested in everything!

baby playing with a cardboard egg box the sickly mama blog household items toys
A twelve-egger in action

Packaging

One of Little Man’s favourite toys is known in our house as The Gold Floofer. It has been a favourite since he was a couple of months old. It’s actually made out of a shiny gold plastic envelope lined with bubble wrap, that contained a delivery for me. We’ve long since forgotten what was actually contained in the envelope, but I cut out a large strip from the envelope for Little Man, because I thought he’d like the bright shiny colour and texture. I was not wrong, and he’s been playing with it ever since.

Fruit and vegetables

Over the autumn/Halloween season, Little Man had great fun playing with a miniature pumpkin I used to create a seasonal display in the lounge. He’s enjoyed chewing on it and bowling it across the floor so much that we actually just started calling it his pumpkin!

Now he’s a bit bigger and stronger, I only let him play with tougher fruit and veg like pumpkin, that has a thick rind that he can’t do much damage to! But when he was younger, most fruits and vegetables made great play things, and he loved exploring the textures of different grocery items. The perfect eco-friendly, 100% biodegradable (and delicious) playthings.

baby on a mat surrounded by yummy fruit toys the sickly mama blog
Fun with fruit and vegetables!

Shakeable items

I’ve also had great success in making various shakers for Little Man (fancier parents than I will call them ‘sensory bottles‘). One favourite was a bottle part-filled with coloured water and dried lentils, which he loved shaking and rolling across the floor. My husband went to empty it out though when it was getting a bit old, and he reported that it smelled “like mouldy farts” by that point, so maybe don’t leave it too long before cleaning and changing the water!

Another great success has been the Shake Shake Box, an empty ice cream tub with some dried seeds and pasta in it so that it makes a satisfying rattling sound when you shake it, and the sides of the tub are clear so you can see it all shaking around in there. It’s been going for about six months now and still remains a favourite.

Cardboard Boxes

Okay, this one was so obvious that I almost forgot it! What child doesn’t love a cardboard box?

Your Ideas For Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Do you have any suggestions for other household items that make great free toys for little ones? Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, why not check out my blog post with top-tips for keeping the weaning process eco-friendly?

baby eating a banana common household objects that make great toys the sickly mama blog
baby · child development · parenting

Why Doesn’t My Baby Blink?

This morning was my turn to get up with Little Man and, in a rare and excellent turn of events, he didn’t wake up until 7am. We were both in a good mood when my husband came downstairs to join us an hour later, and we all started playing together on the floor. At one point my husband jokingly said to Little Man “Blink if mummy’s being difficult!” and I cracked up – I knew I was safe because Little Man just. doesn’t. blink. And he’s not alone – hardly blinking is one of those weird developmental things that’s actually normal for babies. But why don’t babies blink much, compared to adults?

why don't babies blink once or twice a minute slow compared to adults the sickly mama blog parenting

Why doesn’t my baby blink?

How often do babies blink?

If you’ve spent much time around babies, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t blink much. This actually freaked me out slightly when I was still in hospital just after Little Man was born and I realised he wouldn’t blink for what felt like incredibly long amounts of time. Fortunately, a quick Google told me that it was totally normal. In fact, babies often only blink around once or twice a minute. When you consider that adults blink around fifteen times a minute, that’s a pretty huge difference.

Why do we need to blink in the first place?

Apparently, blinking is still a bit of a mystery to science, which is a mad thought given that there are billions of humans walking around on the surface of the planet blinking 21,600 times a day each. In fact, we blink so often that adults actually spend around 10% of our waking hours with our eyes shut.

Blinking serves a variety of purposes:

  • Lubricating the eyeball by renewing your tear film, which not only nourishes the cornea, but also helps ensure a smooth optical surface to let your eyes see clearly.
  • Clearing away dust particles and any other debris from the eye.
  • Scientists now think that blinking may have a role in allowing your brain to get brief mental respites that help you to concentrate more effectively.

So… why don’t babies need to blink much?

Babies’ eyes presumably need to stay moist just like adult eyes. So why don’t babies need to blink as much as adults?

It’s been suggested that because babies sleep so much, they don’t need to blink as much, as they spend so much time with their eyes shut. Babies’ eyes actually don’t even make tears for the first month of life. Babies also have smaller eye openings than adults, proportionate to the overall size of their eyes. As a result, they might just not need as much eye lubrication as adults.

Alternatively, it’s also been suggested that babies may blink less because they need to focus more in order to take in all the visual information they’re receiving, so they can’t afford to take the short mental breaks that blinking affords to adults. Or that it may be related to babies’ underdeveloped dopamine systems.

So… What does all that mean?

As is so often the case when I’m writing about baby and child development on this blog, the answer seems to be: we don’t really know why babies don’t blink as much as adults. But the take-home message is: it’s totally normal for your baby not to blink much, so don’t worry.

But not blinking isn’t the only mysterious baby behaviour that I’ve come across. Have you ever wondered why your baby stares at lights, why your baby is crawling backwards or even why your baby shakes with excitement? Click on the links to find out more! Or why not head to my page on child and baby development, to explore all the weird and wonderful baby behaviours that I’ve blogged about so far…

why don't babies blink the sickly mama blog why doesn't my baby blink adults eyes
baby · food · parenting

Weaning: Foods I Didn’t Expect My Baby To Love

So we’ve been weaning Little Man since he was six months old, and I’ve written a bit about it previously including my top tips for starting weaning. But I thought maybe it was time to write a follow-up post, expanding on one of the tips from my original article: that you shouldn’t make assumptions about what your baby will like.

As time has gone by, it’s come home to me time and time again how true this is! Little Man now basically eats whatever we have for dinner, with the occasional tweak – and it’s incredibly rare for him to not like something. He does have his favourite foods (anything Japanese, cottage pie, cherry tomatoes, banana) but the list of foods he doesn’t like is so short it’s not even a list, because there’s only one thing on it: feta cheese.

So I thought I’d pull together a list of some of the quite random foodstuffs that Little Man has tried and loved…

weaning foods i didn't expect my baby to love random unusual food baby enjoyed the sickly mama blog

Weaning: Foods I Didn’t Expect My Baby To Love

Kimchi

If you’re not familiar with kimchi, it’s a Korean foodstuff made of fermented cabbage and other vegetables in a tangy, sometimes spicy sauce. When my husband made kimchi fried rice for us, although I dished some up for Little Man, I also made him a separate supper as we didn’t expect him to like the strong flavours of kimchi.

Boy, were we wrong! He wolfed it down and demanded more. This baby normally enjoys fried rice, but he seemed to enjoy it more than ever with the addition of the strongly-flavoured kimchi. Who knew?

Curry

I know so many grown adults who are quite fussy about curries, so I never expected Little Man to be quite so keen on them. He’s already tried a wide range of different types of curry, from more classic Indian aubergine curry with a bit of spice, to Japanese dry curry. And he’s seemed to enjoy them all! I was surprised to discover that he really doesn’t seem bothered about a bit of chilli spiciness in his food, and he has happily eaten a number of foods with a bit of a chilli kick to them.

Weird weaning food combinations

Early on in the weaning process, I discovered that Little Man would very much enjoy eating the strangest combinations of foods. This was super useful as we started our weaning journey and he was eating a lot of mashed and softer foods, because I could put pretty much anything on a plate for him. I remember once I sent my mum a picture of Little Man enjoying his lunch, and she asked what he was eating. The answer? Sweet potato, porridge, and broccoli. Yum. Not sure why I haven’t been awarded my first Michelin star yet… Presumably they have a backlog due to Covid.

baby unusual weaning food deconstructed prawn tacos the sickly mama blog high chair
Deconstructed shrimp tacos

Dashi

Dashi is a broth or stock flavoured with seaweed and flakes of dried fish. It’s a key ingredient in many Japanese dishes.(and is the reason why some westerners complain that so much Japanese food tastes vaguely fishy!). We’ve discovered though that Little Man love love loves dashi! He has absolutely wolfed down any meal which contains it.

I think a lot of small children enjoy fish for its soft texture and yummy flavour, so if your child is one of these kids, why not try cooking them something with dashi – for instance this Japanese oyakodon recipe is easy to cook and even easier to eat!

Watermelon

Okay, I didn’t expect that Little Man wouldn’t like watermelon (who doesn’t like watermelon???) – I just didn’t expect him to like it quite as much as he does. We discovered that giving him a big piece of rind with a little melon attached was amazing at soothing his gums while he was teething in the summer. Obviously you need to be careful that he doesn’t bite bits off the rind and end up choking, but at around 6 months Little Man’s bite wasn’t strong enough to actually cut through the rind, so he just really really enjoyed chewing on it!

baby eating pasta all'amatriciana unusual weaning foods the sickly mama blog tomato sauce on face
Pasta all’amatriciana

Coffee

Okay, bear with me – NO I’m not advocating giving your tiny baby coffee! Little Man has the habit of climbing up on us and begging to try a bit whenever we are sat down with food or drink and he doesn’t have any. He was doing this once with me when I was drinking coffee, and I thought actually it’s so bitter that if he tried a bit, he wouldn’t like it and would leave me be to enjoy my coffee in peace. So I dipped my finger in my coffee and let him lick it, just to get the taste. And of course, you guessed it… He loved it. Oops.

Weaning foods: the verdict

So I guess in summary, I’ve found on so many occasions that my expectations of what Little Man will or won’t like are totally wrong. I’m sure at some point he will go through a much fussier phase, but right now we’re trying to get him eating as many different foods as possible (within the realms of NHS guidance on safe foods for weaning), and he’s loving it!

What unexpected weaning foods does your baby love?

Have you discovered any unexpected foods that your baby has loved during the weaning process? Let me know in the comments!

weaning foods I didn't expect my baby to love the sickly mama blog baby in high chair
baby · coronavirus · health · parenting

Getting A Covid 19 Coronavirus Test For Your Baby

So the other day, when Little Man came home from nursery, he had a bit of a runny nose. He was unsettled overnight, and in the morning was very snotty – like a fountain with a bad algae infestation – but seemed happy enough, so he went off to nursery in the morning as usual. Then, just after 10am, the nursery called to say that as he’d been coughing, they needed to send him home. And we needed to get a coronavirus test for our baby.

Nursery weren’t really worried that he had coronavirus; his main symptom was a runny nose, which isn’t usually a symptom of Covid – but as he’d been coughing of course they had to play it safe. My husband booked Little Man in for a Covid-19 test, and I took him off to the testing site in the afternoon. I thought it might be helpful to share our experience, because I really didn’t know what to expect with getting a baby tested for coronavirus, and to be honest some aspects of the process were a little baffling! It would have been helpful to read about someone else’s experience before we went. So here goes…

SPOILER ALERT: As we suspected, when the results came back they showed that Little Man did not have coronavirus, just a nasty cold.

getting a covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby in the UK my experience the sickly mama blog parenting

Getting A Covid 19 Coronavirus Test For Your Baby

Booking the test

You can’t just turn up to a Covid testing site and expect to be seen. Instead, you have to book a testing slot in advance, which you do via the .gov.uk website. Testing is free on the NHS if you have one or more of the main symptoms of Covid-19.

My husband actually booked our test slot while I was off picking up Little Man from nursery. You can book up to three household members in together for testing, and the process is pretty straightforward. After giving your postcode, you’re informed of your nearest coronavirus testing site – we were lucky to have one very close by. You could select a drive-through test or a walk-in test, and I went for the latter as it seemed more practical with a baby. You can pick a half hour long time slot for your test, and they tell you that it shouldn’t take longer than an hour. Fortunately for us, there were lots of free timeslots, so we could select a time that suited us right after Little Man has his lunch.

The website tells you that at some sites, you have to do the Covid swab yourself, while at other sites people do it for you – but it doesn’t tell you which one it’s going to be, based on the location you pick. We were also told to bring photo ID, although in the end no one actually asked to see it.

covid test site sign coronavirus UK testing site qr code drive through walk in the sickly mama blog

Finding the coronavirus testing site

I didn’t have a problem finding the test site itself – the problem came after we arrived. The testing site was set up in a car park. Not especially surprising for a drive-through testing centre. However there was no signage to indicate where to go for a walk-in test. I wandered around a bit, looking for a sign, being completely ignored by the staff there, and eventually gave up and just walked into the drive-through test entrance.

This attracted enough attention that someone finally came over to help. They seemed surprised to see someone coming for a walk through test, but took me to a table to one side of the car park, and told me to wait…

The Covid-19 Self Test Pack

I was given a sealed pack that contained various items – a swab (basically a cotton bud or Q-tip), tissue, plastic tube, two sealable plastic bags, and a set of instructions for how to conduct a Covid-19 Self Test.

The instructions were fine, but they’re not designed for getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby. In fact, all the instructions said on the matter was: “Children aged 11 and under – Adult to test child. Use the supplemental instructions to help you do this“. Fine… Except that I wasn’t given any supplemental instructions. Hmm.

I asked a member of staff, who said that he thought that you just needed to swab one nostril for young children – grown-ups have to swab their tonsils and nose (in that order, fortunately). I’m not sure whether the “supplemental instructions” on swabbing young children would have gone into more detail, but I do think it seems daft to have a separate set of instructions instead of just printing them all in one place.

I also think it would have been helpful not only to have actually had a copy of specific instructions of how to administer a Covid-19 coronavirus test to a baby, but to have had them in advance of going to the test site. If you knew what you were going to be asked to do, you could plan better how best to bribe/trick/otherwise deceive your baby into complying with the test. As it was, when we went to the site I didn’t even know that I would be asked to swab Little Man myself, let alone the details of what that would involve.

covid-19 self-test step by step guide UK government instructions coronavirus leaflet the sickly mama blog

Conducting A Covid 19 Coronavirus Test For Your Baby

What I had to do:

So, I had to sanitise my hands carefully, swab my baby’s nostril – according to the adult instructions, ideally for 15 seconds and quite deep into the nostril until you feel resistance… It didn’t sound super achievable, when you consider that Little Man screamed, cried, grabbed my hands, and sometimes tried to bite me most times I just attempted to wipe his runny nose with a tissue.

Then I had to break off the long end of the swab, put it into the plastic tube without spilling any of the liquid in the tube, put that and an “absorbent pad” into a Ziploc bag, put that bag into a sealable biohazard bag, and put that bag into a box. Yay.

The Complications:

Did I mention the fact that it was a windy day? And that I was sat at a trestle table in the middle of an exposed car park, with nothing to provide a wind break, and handfuls of plastic bags, loose pieces of paper, and other objects that seemed designed to fly away at any moment. Oh, and nothing to weight them down with.

The inevitable did of course happen, and half my Self Test Pack ended up scattered across the car park by the wind while I was trying to unpackage the swab. So then I had to scurry around trying to collect them all up in one hand without contaminating the swab in the other, which was super fun.

How it worked in practice:

I distracted Little Man with a toy he hadn’t seen for a while, which got his attention enough that I actually managed to wiggle the swab around fairly deep in his nostril for about seven or eight seconds before he started protesting.

When the swab came out it was very snotty (eurgh, sorry). I wasn’t sure if this would be an issue, as the instructions for adults tell you to blow your nose beforehand so that the test won’t be ruined by too much mucus. The guy at the test centre said it wouldn’t be a problem though, and we got the test results fine so I guess it wasn’t!

Getting your Covid-19 test results:

The results took just under 24 hours to arrive. My husband was sent the Covid test results by text message and email, which was handy as we had to send the nursery a copy of them. Happily, as we had suspected, Little Man’s test came back negative – he’s just had a nasty cold, not the ‘rona.

UK coronavirus covid-19 test site drive through walk in tests car park centre the sickly mama blog

My tips for other parents getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby

I think that the drive-through test option is probably easiest if there’s two parents on hand, but the walk-in test was much easier for me to manage with Little Man on my own. You’re not supposed to leave the car during a drive through Covid-19 test, and I wouldn’t fancy clambering into the back of the car to try to swab a baby in a car seat that’s facing the wrong way.

BUT. The wind did make the walk in test way more challenging than it needed to be, and it would have been even less fun in the rain, so check the weather forecast before you decide! If you do go for a walk in, expect to be outside the whole time, and take enough warm clothes for you and the baby.

If you’re getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby, I would take along some form of guaranteed distraction for the actual swabbing process – either a favourite toy they’ve not seen in a while or a favourite item of food. If you go for food though, make sure it’s something that will take them a little while to eat, like a breadstick, because the process is fiddly and takes a little while. If you’re in a car I guess you could even try to distract baby further with a baby sensory video on YouTube or similar.

getting a covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby in the UK my experience the sickly mama blog parenting

Your experiences of getting a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby or young child

Have you had to get a Covid-19 coronavirus test for your baby or young child in the UK or abroad? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments!