Monday, 1 July 2019

LaQ - made for creative kids, made for making!

Have you heard of LaQ? We loooooove it!

We have been long term LaQ fans since discovering it by chance at a Japanese toy 'pop up shop' in a shopping centre, about six years ago! Lily sat down and was instantly entranced, connecting up all kinds of shapes with her teeny little fingers. I loved the fine motor aspect and how engaged she was, so we ended up buying a small kit. It's been a well loved open-ended toy in our home ever since!

Recently, a lovely little small business called Smarty Pants Toys reached out to me - I guess they heard that we were big LaQ fans :) They kindly offered to send us some new LaQ - what a treat! The more you have the more you can create, so we were very grateful. I am thrilled to partner with them as I think it is a top quality construction toy that I really think serves as a worthwhile ‘investment buy’ for families. 

So what is LaQ exactly?  It's a series of seven small plastic shapes (triangles, squares and joiner pieces) in 12 bright colours, that click together horizontally to create pretty much whatever you like, whether 2D or 3D or even spherical! The pieces join together in the most satisfying little 'click' and then are easily separated by bending till they 'snap' and come apart. I think this is part of the pleasure of building with LaQ - the sensory satisfaction! They are really fun to build and create with... and just engage children in a really beautiful way, unleashing all sorts of creativity with infinite design possibilities! My kids just love squirreling themselves away to make their LaQ creations as I have recorded many times on this little blog, such as here – this one was five years ago, and look how tiny the kids are!!

LaQ are sort of like Lego. Like Lego, you can build kits or just free build. With Lego you generally only build 3D tower/vertical shapes, but with LaQ you can get really creative by connecting the pieces horizontally to make 2D (flat) images or fully 3D curved and angular shapes - it's flat and flexible. LaQ are so fun to snap and click together and apart - unlike the agony of prising apart two Lego blocks with your fingernails, haha ;) We love and play with both, but I have to say that LaQ has that Japanese quirkiness and ingenuity that I just love!

LaQ has so many benefits apart from just the pure fun! 

As mentioned, LaQ has fantastic sensory input - the click and snap is sooooo satisfying and really helps even the youngest users understand when the pieces are securely attached. It makes it an enjoyable breeze to build and rebuild and I think the added sensory input really engages kids. For kids who struggle to focus (as mine do at times!), LaQ is a great way to settle them down and draw them in with a focused fine motor task.

Educationally, LaQ are excellent for developing planning skills when following the easy-to-use instruction guides, and encouraging creativity when free-building. I also love seeing the kids use their maths skills (unaware!), through counting and sorting the pieces and calculating what is required to build whatever they choose. Learning through play is so beneficial and with LaQ you really see that in action! It is like seeing mini-engineers at work - the perfect STEM toy 😊 The wheels and axels means the kids can play with what they build, not just make display pieces too! LaQ develops spatial ability, concentration, fine motor skills and more, all while engaging both left and right brain. It really is a clever but simple toy – seven parts and endless possibilities!

Other educational benefits come in when building flat (2D) shapes. My son had the idea to start creating numerals from one to ten, which is a great way to work on numeracy and literacy in a hands-on way (which we all know helps information sink in deeper!). My kids also like making patterns and mosaics out of the colours which is another rich learning activity.

I am very selective about the products I endorse on this little blog of mine, because I know you guys trust me to only recommend things I genuinely like. Well, we have had LaQ in our home for over 6 years and I still think it is a winner!

If you are looking for a toy with a difference for an upcoming gift, why not invest in something that is open-ended and allows for endless learning and creativity. I don't think you can go wrong with LaQ! It takes construction to a whole new level of fun! Find out more here

Ok, now here is a truck load of photos, taken over the last few weeks as my kids have returned to our new LaQ set again and again to make a range of creations 😊  

One box that can create all of this!!!
Reading the easy-to-follow instructions before starting to create!

Love seeing little hands reaching into a massive pile of LaQ!

Miles busy creating a little truck, all out of his own imagination!

Counting and sorting... when maths looks like (and feels like).. play!
Is there anything more precious than these moments? Father and son, building together!
On a mission to make a huge robot!

This creative girl doesn't need a plan. She loves to build according to her own vision! Love to see her create.

Love the 'to scale' diagrams that make it so easy to follow!
Grubby fingernails and creative kids! Made his own little truck and was very pleased with himself :)

A salad sandwich!
He was very pleased with his bicycle!

This amazing robot!!! It took a lot of combined effort from the boys of the family but how cool is he? Worth it :) The arms and legs move and the head swivels! Such a cute little guy, we are in love and never want to dismantle him.
I feel like this is the kind of toy that would come to life in Toy Storey 4, huh???

Our Princess made a (quirky) tiara! 

This post was kindly sponsored by Smarty Pants Toys. All opinions are very much my own! 

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Sixty Days of Summer / Photography Challenge / Part One

I used my DSLR so little last year (2018, that is!) that I didn't even download the images between July and December - six whole months! (gasp). And I had only taken a few dozen in that time (barely anything compared to what I used to). So I decided to pick up my (BULKY!!) DSLR again for a self-imposed 'Sixty Days of Summer' Challenge - a photo a day through December and January. It is such a wonderful time of year (with plenty of light and plenty of activity and memory making) I knew it was a season worth capturing well.

And so I have! And the photos have often been dodgy and grainy but I continued anyway (I think my camera and lens are pretty old and need a service or upgrade. Well, I am half blaming my equipment when I am sure it is mostly my rusty skills!!!). I love using my iPhone these days and have faced the fact it is always going to be my primary mode of photography from here on in because let's face it - soooooo convenient! And I am too lazy to haul my big camera around anymore. But I just don't 'see' my children and take photographs in the same way with a phone as I do with my DSLR. Hence, my challenge to myself. Because this childhood is fleeting and precious and I have realised lately how much this documentation is for them as well as me - the kids look through our annual photo books almost every day! And now they say to me 'Can you take a photo for the phooto book!' haha. I realised belately I would have hardly any images to include this year. 

So, here is a daily photo (or two..or three)... starting in early December. I will post in batches as I get them edited. I knew that daily editing/posting at this time of year would just be an extra level of pressure I didn't need. So I committed to myself to take the photos, even if I wouldn't be editing until later!

It starts with Christmas Tree decorating...(I think this was actually late November but let's be flexible!)

Christmas carols....

Trampoline evenings...

(to be continued)....

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Teach kids to say more than just 'Sorry' // Five steps to a more meaningful apology

I don't know about your household, but around here, we are messing up on the regular. Hurt feelings, hurt toes, lost tempers and lost drink bottles. We try hard (sometimes more than others!?) but we also mess up...a lot. Grace and forgiveness is essential - and needed in abundance some days!

And you know what, that's ok! Tiring, but okay. Because home is the learning ground for life. It's where my children (and...ahem, the parents) fall and learn to get back up again. It's where the consequences are relatively small but the life lessons can be huge. Hopefully, it's a soft place to land before being jettisoned into that big, wide, sometimes scary, world.

And so. Where there are mistakes, there should also (hopefully) be apologies. Where there are intentional hurts, there should be apologies even more so! Because in our family, we believe in making things right. And we have found that there is so much more to apologising than just blurting out a blunt, perfunctory 'sorry'. Really apologising means saying sorry in a meaningful way. It means making things right (to the best of your ability) and restoring that precious relationship. It might mean talking things through or waiting some time before both parties are ready to make amends. But it's worth the wait and the work - because relationships matter. And in this family, we deal with problems, not just ignore them or sweep them under the rug.

When we make mistakes, the aim is to teach our kids how to really say sorry, how to really make amends with the other person, how to learn from the experience and restore the relationship. It may not happen all the time, because there is often a lot going on in family life, but generally we try to take this approach. And let's be honest, often multiple parties are in the wrong, so everyone needs to make amends!

Now, I feel like I have to stop here to insert something here. I know it's a movement in some parenting circles these days to never encourage a child to apologise. That just by modelling or osmosis, the child will naturally learn to apologise if they want to, and if they don't, then that's fine too and they can just carry on. Now, by all means, every parent can parent however they choose! I get the intention behind this philosophy (no forced and meaningless apologies). And I definitely agree in not using the totally 'old school' approach of forcing an obviously unapologetic child to resentfully blurt out the word 'sorry' (wringing it out like blood from a stone!!) with obviously no authenticity or remorse. That does nothing for anyone involved!

However, I personally feel like there is a middle ground.

When there is a wrong done, and particularly when there is a broken relationship, I think kids need to know - and learn - how to own that, and how to try to make things right. It might take some time, some talk, some reflection or cooling off time in a separate quiet space. But I think when kids understand what happened, and why it was wrong, they can be encouraged to make amends when they are ready to own it. And when a child is ready to apologise, as a parent you can help them make that apology more meaningful - both for them and for the other (wronged) party. So often, conflict ends with one child tossing out 'Sorry' and that's the end of it. There isn't time or process for reflection, thinking through or considering what went wrong, why it went wrong and what a better approach would be for next time. If we are going to fail (and we will!), why not at least try to learn something from it?!

I first learned about a detailed apology process in a parenting course my husband and I did many moons ago through Growing Families International. I was also drew from this fantastic article on 'A better way to say Sorry' a few years later that has similar steps too!

Over time, we have developed our own take on it with a five step process, a reminder of how to say sorry in a meaningful way. So many friends have seen my scrappy list blue-tacked on the kitchen cabinet and copied it down, so after many requests I am fiiiiinally putting it into a blog post!! And am even stretching myself to work out how to create a printable so you can put it up in your own homes if you like! :)

Now, this five step process doesn't need to followed literally every single time there is wrong done! Use your discretion. But it's a helpful way to slow down everyone involved in a conflict, and to consider what happened in a more meaningful way. And once it is ingrained, the intention can be there behind every apology, even if each literal five steps aren't followed.

My kids have now pretty much memorised these steps and often naturally go through them when they apologise - when I first put up my scrappy hand written poster, my youngest would lead me to the poster after an 'incident' and wait expectantly, haha! I guess they kinda like it ;) And just a couple nights ago, I had spoken to one of the kids about the disrespectful way they had said something to me. Then at bedtime, they peered up at me and said 'Mum, I'm sorry for being rude and I have just one question - do you forgive me?'. Totally unprompted!!! Melted my heart, I gotta admit!

And... needless to say.... these steps are useful for adults too! How many adults do we know who don't know how to say sorry in a meaningful way? And how many relationships are harmed as a result of a lack of humility and the ability to truly own a fault, apologise, restore and move forward? It's hard work but it is worth it. A lifetime's worth of worth it.

And so - here are the 5 steps to a more meaningful apology.

Download the FREE Printable here (my first time making a printable, so I hope this works!)

And here are the 5 steps again, broken down a little more and with a practical example. Often with younger kids, I will prompt them with the lead in phrase for each step, and let them finish the sentence.

How to really say 'Sorry'

Step 1: I am sorry for.... hitting you because you had a toy I wanted.

Prompts them to own what they did that was wrong.

Step 2: That was wrong because.... you got hurt and you cried. It's wrong to hit people because it hurts them.

Encourages them to think through WHY it was wrong. Often this will highlight they have no idea!!! 'I don't know why'. A chance to talk things through. This step is really about empathy building. They have to look at it from the other person's perspective. Honestly, it's fascinating to see kids work through this step, it is a huge learning process! Also a reminder that we need to be teaching our kids, not just expecting them to already know why right is right and wrong is wrong (we often assume they just know the 'why'!).

Step 3: Next time I will....ask nicely for a turn of the toy and wait.

Use positive language. Not what you won't do - what WILL you do? Often the initial response will be something like 'Next time I won't hit'. Um, ok, that's the easy answer. But the challenge is to think through what you will do instead next time - that's more meaningful and more likely to lead to change. You can really see blank stares and brains ticking over with this one, haha! It's a great process to go through - to think about what change they can own and plan for. Eg next time I will use my words and not my hands. Next time I will wait my turn patiently. 

Step 4: Will you forgive me?

This is a key step. Asking for forgiveness puts the power where it belongs - back with the victim, to bestow that forgiveness (or not!). Just saying 'sorry' keeps the power with the wrongdoer. They say 'sorry' but nothing is required from them (except for the wronged to say 'That's ok'?? Hmmm, think about that messaging!). To ask for forgiveness is definitely a lot more humbling than just saying 'Sorry' (trust me... or try it sometime, lol). But that's the whole point, right? When we do wrong against someone, it is so much more powerful to acknowledge that and give them the opportunity to grant forgiveness, rather than just tossing out a 'sorry' and moving on. The vulnerability of asking for forgiveness is often the key to restoration and reconciliation, it shows true remorse.

Step 5: What can I do to make things right or better? (Sibling asks for a hug)

Restitution is so important. It may not always be a necessary step for every situation. And the wronged party might not always want or be able to think of something, or there may not be an easy fix. If so, perhaps the wrong-doer can make a suggestion of what they can do to restore the relationship - but again, the wronged party gets to choose if that is what they want! Eg want a hug? I can draw you a picture, get you a drink, help you build the tower again, get your toy back. etc. This step doesn't always need to be included but it goes a long way towards restoring broken relationships. And if things have been broken or messed up etc, again, the responsibility is back on that child to make a real effort to put things back on track. When we make mistakes, we make an effort to make things right. This is a hugely important lesson for me to teach my kids!

Here is another example, this time from child to parent.

I am sorry for... lying to you about who ripped the book
That was wrong because.... telling lies is wrong and hurts people and means you can't trust me.
Next time I will... tell the truth, no matter what.
Will you forgive me? (yes!)
What can I do to make things right? (You can help fix the book with sticky tape).

I could go on but hopefully it makes sense! I hope this post is helpful and I have explained things somewhat clearly!?

I honestly feel like the skill (yes, it is a skill!) of being able to own your wrongs, and apologise in a meaningful, genuine way is of life long benefit. A gift I hope to give to my kids.

And let's be real. In our family we make a lot of mistakes. Life is messy and raw but if we can do our best to make things right when we mess up... that grace goes a long way.

Relationships matter. Let's do what we can to stay connected xx

Monday, 6 August 2018

Father's Day Giveaway!!!

Hey guys!!

Just wanted to let you know I have a couple of awesome giveaways running in the lead up to Father's Day thanks to Bright Star Kids!

To win these super cute matching 'Copy & Paste' t-shirts for an awesome Dad and his Mini-Me on my Instagram here....

And to win this handy torch and pocket knife kit (with a personalised message on the tin of your choosing) click over to my Facebook page.

Some cool gifts for a great Dad in your life.... be quick cos Father's Day is not too far away!

All the best! xx

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Are SAHM's all Brain Dead?

Now I don't get riled up or offended by much in the motherhood discussion, but one comment that has always rubbed me wrong is the idea that SAHMs don't use their brain.
I couldn't believe, when I went back to part time work after 8 years at home, the number of people who said to me 'Isn't it great to be using your brain again??'.
Sorry, what now?
As if I had actually been brain-dead for the 8 years that I poured my heart, soul and (yes!) mind into the very worthy work of being at home with my three kids. To me it felt like my brain worked harder during that season than it ever had!! Trust me, I had never cared so much about a project outcomes! ;)
In this excellent article the author talks about working being an 'intellectual change of pace' (refreshing!) after being at home, rather than needing to call it 'intellectual stimulation'. I like that!! It's not about using your brain or not in either scenario, it's just about using it in a different way. That's certainly how I felt when I returned to work. I was using my brain differently (and being paid for it!) but that didn't mean I hadn't been using my brain before.

Now, I am just speaking for myself. If you are a mum who felt brain-dead at home and that was your reason for returning to work, that's legit and fine of course. We all feel differently about our own experiences! But I don't think we should presume to paint every SAHM with the same brush.

To the SAHM's out there, using their amazing brains, work and life experience, and education towards raising their kids and running their homes.... to you who are pouring heart and soul every day into the incredibly worthy investment of raising your children (yes, even in the mundane and relentless bits) - I want you to know I think what you are doing every day is BRILLIANT!! No price can be put on the time you are giving.

You are investing in the hearts of your children, and in my book that is pretty darn clever!