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How your get kids to tidy up (yes, really!)

We’ve all been there. You’ve been busy for what seems like minutes, the children quietly playing on their own. You open the living room door to see what the little cherubs have been doing – and it’s carnage. A toy factory explosion. You’re fairly sure there’s carpet under there somewhere but right now it’s obscured by a thousand Lego bricks, a multi-storey’s worth of small cars, enough loom bands to go several times around the world, offcuts of paper and all the bedding from upstairs. Rather than despair and yet again spend the hour after bedtime clearing it all away, here’s how to get the children to do the tidying-up themselves.

Race against the clock

Set a timer for five minutes (we use the oven timer) and if your children are anything like as competitive as mine, they will be clearing up like demons.

Womble bags

If you’re20150629_101901 old enough to remember those cuddly South London upcyclers then you will love this idea! You might want to read your children a Wombles story in advance, to familiarise them with the concept before introducing a couple of large paper shopping bags. I happened to have a pack of plain white bags left over from a school sale, and these were perfect. You could even choose Womble names (pick a town from a world map) and decorate the bags. When it’s time to tidy up, allocate the bags and watch your little Wombles go!

Hoovering is fun!

The hoover is a bit heavy and unwieldy for most children but with help it can be accomplished. The reward of a bit of hoovering can be a great incentive to get that carpet cleared. It also focuses the mind on the fact that every little piece needs to be cleared away or potentially be sucked into the dust bag.

Add some beats

It wouldn’t be a party without music, right? Apply the same principle to the toy mountain by putting on some favourite tunes. Perhaps choose a favourite song and make it your tidying up theme tune. Avoid anything too frantic but a busy-ish tone speed helps. Add a twist by unexpectedly turning off the music for a minute’s worth of ‘freeze’ time when you walk around and check for fluttering eyelids or giggly tummies.

Colour coded

You could let each child choose a colour to pick up and tidy. Or a shape.

A spoonful of sugar

As Mary Poppins says:

In ev’ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job’s a game

The key is fun. Yes it’s a chore but there’s no reason it should feel like playtime is over. When one idea goes stale try another. And then combine several ideas into one, so assign colours, turn on the music and do it all against the clock!

Do you have any other tried and tested fun ways to tidy up?

10 things to take on a family camping trip

Family campiTen things to take on a family campingng is the stuff memories are made of. However it’s always a precarious existence and the inclusion or not of a few essential items can make the difference either way. I forgot to pack a bottle opener once, and it was the ideal excuse to stroll over and introduce myself to the neighbours. However, realising you have left the nappies at home when it’s 9pm and you’re in the middle of a field in Somerset is harder to recover from neatly.

As well as the standard kit list for a holiday away, there are some camper packing-hacks that will help you get the most out of the experience. With several successful trips under my belt, here are a few of my must-pack’ items:

  1. Baby wipes

Too many potential uses to list, regardless of the age of your kiddies.

  1. Ear plugs

There’s no legislating for noisy neighbours, and without solid brick walls and double-glazed windows you might need a little extra help to ensure a good night’s sleep.

  1. Bucket

It might not seem very inviting but when the alternative, for you or for a child, is a late-night trek across an unlit field in the rain to the nearest toilet block…

  1. Woolly hats

It’s surprising how cold it can get at night in the UK, even in summer. With the rest of your body cosy in a sleeping bag, and your head being a major source of heat loss, conserve what you can with bobble hats or beanies.

  1. Croissants

The best back-up breakfast is pack of croissants or pain au chocolates from the supermarket. They don’t need to be kept cool, are fine eaten cold and tolerate a fair amount of accidental crushing at the bottom of the car boot. If you can muster up coffee or hot chocolate for dipping you have a quick breakfast with minimal washing up. Ideal for your first or last morning away.

  1. Head torch

Even if there is night time lighting on the site it can be surprisingly dark in a tent. Save yourself fumbling around with a light gripped between your teeth by investing in a head torch.

  1. Good coffee

All food and drink tastes better outdoors and coffee is no exception, especially after a night under canvas. Invest in a metal cafetière for a brew you can savour. It will also taste better black, should you wake and find the milk has gone off overnight.

  1. Plastic bags

Great for wet clothes, muddy shoes, sitting on, a makeshift bin.

  1. Balls

Not necessarily a football, which can be anti-social on a busy site but a couple of tennis balls or a beach ball.

  1. Onesies

No points in the fashion-stakes but a onesie is essential packing for anyone young enough to carry it off. It makes cosy, warm nightwear and is substantial enough to be nipping to the shower block or walking around the site without feeling under-dressed.

Gardening with children: Ready, Steady, Grow!

The sun is out, the rain has held off (for now) and surely there must be something better to do than head for the nearest soft play centre?

I’m fortunate to have a garden, and like most children, my two love the chance to get down and dirty in soil. Whether or not we end up with a bountiful harvest is almost immaterial but definitely an added bonus. And after a stint outside I admit to reveling in a flush of satisfaction as I place big, fat ticks in the exercise, fresh air and educational activity boxes.

Getting started is easy. All you need is a small bag of compost, a trowel and some pots. If you don’t own any gardening equipment, use a large spoon instead of a trowel and old yogurt pots or egg boxes. Indoor gardeners might also want a rug, mat or old towel and a tray to protect the floor.

Runner or climbing beans

We love our beans! I’ve mainly grown runner beans but thinner, French-style beans are just as easy to grow. I use bamboo canes for the plants to climb, but you can use any long twigs you may have in the garden as long as they are about 7ft tall. I’ve also found that beans will also grow well up an existing structure such as a garden trellis or fence, with some nails or pegs and string to help keep the stems in place if necessary.

Plant the big, pink bean seeds in pots and transfer them outside when about 15cm tall, or push straight into the soil anytime from May to July. If you don’t have a vegetable patch or suitable flowerbed, you could grow them up a trellis or in a pot with poles pushed in for support.

Bedding plants

When we visited a farm shop last month, my youngest son asked to spend his pocket money on a tray of petunias and we spent an hour that afternoon deciding where they would grow best and then planting and watering them. Many retailers, including the major supermarkets, sell trays of cheap bedding plants from May onwards, and for a few pounds you will have an instant splash of colour which lasts all summer. Children love brightly coloured annuals (they won’t survive the winter) and you have the option of putting them in flowerbeds or in pots.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants are a great option if you don’t have any outdoor space. A sunny window sill is the perfect place for a few pots of herbs, such as parsley or basil. Supermarkets often sell selections of seeds, including herbs. Cress is better I’m after fast results: plant on Monday and put egg and cress sandwiches on the menu for the weekend.

My children are fascinated by cacti and as long as it is handled with care, a cactus is an easy indoor plant, especially as it doesn’t mind being forgotten for a few weeks.

Sunflowers

We’ve had a lot of mileage from sunflowers over the years, including inter-sibling contests for the tallest flower. We buy a pack of seeds for about £2 and either plant in pots or directly into the soil. I do this any time after the risk of frost has passed (this will vary depending on where you live). It’s important to check the seed packet before you buy, to make sure you are getting a tall-growing variety, rather than others which have different qualities, such as large flower heads. My children will be old enough this year to make a chart to measure their flowers’ growth week-by-week.

Strawberries

For his birthday this year I bought my 5yo six small plants from the garden centre, at a cost of £4 per plant. We repotted them with help from greenfingered Granny and have put them in a warm, sunny spot. They let us know quite quickly if they are too dry, so we’re making sure they have plenty of water. As the berries ripen we’ll need to raise the pots up off the ground or cover with netting to save tears and a difficult explanation if the crop is ravaged by naughty mice at night.

I’m not a great gardener. Our garden is damp and shady, and a lot of plants have perished as a result of this and probably also as a result of my ineptitude. But I am a huge fan and advocate of gardening with children. You don’t need to have green fingers, any previous experience of gardening or pots of cash to get started. There might be a little trial and error involved (after all every garden is different) and sometimes luck plays a hand. If you have had success with any similar projects or have ideas to share, I’d love to hear about it.