Thursday, 28 January 2016

Why gymnastics is the perfect step up from soft play for pre-schoolers

Little W is three years old now. Like other children of his age, he loves running and jumping and learning new skills like rolling, spinning and hopping. But soft play is becoming a bit old hat and it was time to find something new.

His older siblings are involved in lots of after school activities like dance, football and swimming. So after Christmas I decided to look around for something that he could do.

I thought about signing him up for football, like his big brother because he loves kicking a ball around. But I wanted to start him on something different. Something that he could do at his own pace and in his own time without running the risk of comparing him with his bigger brother and sister.

We opted for gymnastics because he's always been quite a climber. He loves to take risks, but he's also very calculating and will only do something daring once he's figured out that he's likely to succeed.

Soft play is one of his favourite activities and I figured that gymnastics in a dedicated facility with lots of soft, bouncy surfaces and more sophisticated equipment would be an ideal step up from the two local soft play centres we usually frequent.

I did a quick internet search and was impressed by the Newton Abbot Somersaults Gymnastics Club, particularly as they were pretty successful in the recent local sports awards.

So why is gymnastics an ideal next step from soft play?

Well, in soft play, our children are developing skills like balance and co-ordination, while letting off steam in a safe environment (even when it's raining outside). Gymnastics takes this a step further by encouraging youngsters to flex their motor skills further by using apparatus such as beams and trampolines. The sessions also help children with other skills like identifying colours and responding to verbal instructions.

We have started with the parent and toddler sessions at Newton Abbot. Each class starts with either an activity where children are asked to run or walk backwards or hop to a specific coloured hoop or to collect a certain coloured bean bag. Next everyone gathers around to warm up through a dance to music. Afterwards, is W's favourite bit where the children follow a circuit around set apparatus, balancing along beams, bouncing on a bouncy castle track and sliding down a slide. After a few goes round, the children are free to choose any apparatus they like in the whole gymnasium. Many love to bounce on the trampolines or try the miniature exercise bike or step machine. At the end, everyone gathers around to warm down to the hokey kokey. This morning's session also involved a parachute game.
Newton Abbot Somersaults parent and toddler session

W absolutely loves it. Although he is quite reserved by nature, and tends to hold back in the group activities, he talks about it all week and he has a big grin from the moment he wakes up on a gymnastics morning. And in the individual circuit and choosing activities, he really blossoms and you can see his confidence growing by the minute.

It's not just that he adores the activity. But I also think he's proud to have something he does that's individual to him, which I think is important in a larger family. It's part of developing his own sense of identity and place in the family.

Of course, we still enjoy trips to the soft play - especially now that baby O is now on the move! But gymnastics is definitely the next step in developing W's motor skills and confidence.

What activities do you do with your pre-school children?

Monday, 18 January 2016

New fitness challenge for 2016 - Exeter Rock Solid 15K

One of my new year's resolutions is to get fitter.

Unfortunately, I find it all too easy to let fitness slip unless I have a goal or challenge to work towards. So when a friend suggested I join her team taking part in the Exeter Rock Solid 15K challenge in March to raise funds for the Exeter Leukaemia Fund (ELF), I jumped at the chance.

Towards the end of last year, I took part in a couple of organised trail runs – the Drogo 10 and the Cockington Christmas Caper – and I really enjoyed the challenging terrain.

Running the Drogo 10
Running the Drogo 10

The Rock Solid is a step up from that because as well as mud and hills, it also involves a few obstacles. However, I'm really excited by the challenge. And, unlike a lot of running events, because I'll be part of a team there's an added incentive to get fit. I'm really looking forward to the camaraderie that you might not get in solo efforts.

I started my training on Friday and set out on what was supposed to be a gentle three miles. It was the first time I'd been out running since injuring my ankle in the middle of December so I thought I'd take it slowly and see how it went.

My body had other ideas and I ended up running my fastest three miles in a long time. I managed to rack up an average pace of 8 minutes 47 seconds per mile. It felt good. I hadn't realised how much I had missed getting out running.

I'll be posting regular training updates on this blog. If you've got any training tips, I'd love to hear them.

You can sponsor my efforts via my JustGiving page. The funds raised will go to support the work ELF does to support families affected by blood cancers and blood disorders.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Five things I love about home-made soup

January - the winter has finally arrived and the children are nursing post Christmas hangovers and instead of exchanging presents, it's now the season for sharing coughs and colds.

But there's a cure for all of the above: warm, hearty and filling vegetable soup.

I made a big pot yesterday lunchtime, expecting it to last a few days. But in less than 24 hours it's all gone! Even the vegetable-averse pre-schooler hoovered up his bowl; and then asked for seconds.

  1. It's the best food for warming you up: body and soul. If you've been out in the cold weather and need something easy to eat to thaw you out, a hot bowl of soup always hits the spot. Plus, the smell of soup cooking seems fills the house with warmth and happiness.
  2. It's budget friendly. January is often a month of frugal living. One of the best things about making soup is that it can be really cheap. You can pop whatever leftovers you have in your fridge or whatever vegetables are on offer in a big pot and serve up a hearty meal.
  3. It's environmentally friendly. Rather than chucking out vegetables that might be wilting or a little past their best, you can give them a new lease of life in soup. In fact, the very act of simmering and stewing the soup seems to bring out the best flavours in older veg.
  4. It's healthy. The vegetable soup I made yesterday was chock-full of goodness and definitely included our full five-a-day portion in just one meal. It's easy to digest, which is why it's such a great food for anyone feeling under the weather, and full of vitamins to promote good health.
  5. It's such an easy way to get the children (and your husband) to eat their vegetables. My kids will often turn their nose up at whole vegetables, but when their chopped and pureed into soup, they don't think twice about eating stuff they wouldn't normally touch with a barge pole.
Bowl of vegetable soup with crusty bread

If you're not sure where to start in making your own soup, here's what I made yesterday.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 sticks of celery, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1 sweet potato, cubed
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1.2 litres vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley / or 1 tablespoon of dry parsley
1 tablespoon of natural yoghurt
Parmesan cheese
Ground pepper for seasoning


  1. Fry the onion or celery until it softens
  2. Add the carrots, sweet potato and red pepper or add whatever vegetables you have languishing in your fridge/cupboards/vegetable rack and soften for 2 minutes
  3. Add the stock and the tomatoes and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Puree the soup using a stick blender
  5. Stir in the natural yoghurt and parsley
  6. Season with the pepper and parmesan cheese
  7. Serve with love and lashings of fresh, crusty bread and butter

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Playing together: the joy of four

One of the reasons I always wanted four children was so that there would always be someone to play with.

And now that W is three, his role playing and imagination are now at a level so he can actively participate in games with his 5 year old big sister, B, and 8 year old biggest brother, E.

It makes me so happy to hear them all contributing their ideas with phrases like: "Let's pretend...", "You be the mum and I'll be the dad...", or "We're at the shop now..."

Although we have quite a few (too many) toys, often when they play they just use their imagination and everyday objects like blankets and cushions. 

Often the two boys play rough and tumble. E is incredibly gentle and tolerant as W clambers all over him. 

Here they are playing horse-riding with a mixture of acrobatics. 

I'm really looking forward to when baby O is able to join in too. 

What everyday moments bring you joy?

Friday, 8 January 2016

I won my first prize of 2016: Journey of a Comper

We're only a week into the new year and I've already won my first prize of the year.
OK. Technically, I won it last year, but it arrived yesterday so I'm counting it as the first of my 2016 haul.

The prize was a wonderful box from Latest In Beauty. The luxurious black box was decorated with a pink ribbon and contained:

  • A pot of Toni&Guy glamour volume plumping whip
  • Two Christmas themed nail files
  • A NailsInc gel effect nail varnish in a beautiful aqua colour called Soho Place
  • A bottle of Nuxe multi-purpose dry oil for face, body and hair
  • A pot of Vita Liberta luxury tan with an application brush
  • A small bottle of L'Occitane essential oils shampoo
  • A small bottle of L'Occitane essential oils conditioner
  • A can of Elnett Satin hairspray
  • A tube of Carmex moisture plus ultra hydrating lip balm
  • Bourgeois Aqua blush
  • An Amphora Aromatics Orange & Clove scented candle
  • A packet of reindeer themed tissues
Latest In Beauty box

So there's no excuse for me not to be beautiful this month.

One of my new year's resolutions this year is to enter at least ten competitions per week. So hopefully, this will be the first prize of many.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Contemplating the meaning of advent

My 5 year old daughter, B, was up and fully dressed in her school uniform at 4.30AM on Tuesday morning! The reason for her excitement? It was December 1st and she just couldn't wait to open the first door on her advent calendar.

This year, we asked if she wanted a Lego Friends calendar, but refreshingly (for my bank balance), she said no. She had her eye on a Frozen calendar that had chocolate behind each door and nothing else compared.

Big brother, 8 year old E, has a Lego Star Wars calendar, middle brother, 3 year old W, has a chocolate Star Wars calendar and I bought hubby a Meaningful Chocolate Company advent calendar.

But none of these, for me, reflect the true meaning of advent: preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus. As a Roman Catholic, I do this by going to confession and saying sorry. But even if you don't believe in God, surely there's some room to use Advent as a time to reflect on how we can make peace and cleanse our soul ready for the new year.

To make time in the day for all the family to take a quiet moment, this year I bought an advent candle.

We light the candle every day before dinner and we pray. I use a Walk With Me booklet I was given at church to help guide our thought and E and B contribute their own prayers.

I can honestly say I've been pleasantly surprised at how they are just as excited about lighting the advent candle as they are about opening a new door on their calendars. 

I had been feeling a bit guilty that we don't fo Elf on a shelf. But I think I prefer our candle as our latest advent tradition. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

A trip to The Monkey House soft play centre in Dawlish

When a trip to a local soft play centre is discounted to £1, you'd be crazy not to go. Especially when the weather is miserable and your pre-schooler is climbing up the walls.

So thank-you to The Monkey House in Dawlish for running a Facebook promotion and letting me treat my two smallest boys with a trip to the soft play and for giving me some sanity by getting us all out for the afternoon.

The Monkey House is one of Little W's favourite places. It's where he celebrated his third birthday in the summer and it's where most of his friends have their parties too. This is probably because the party packages are good value for money and you get exclusive hire after 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

One of the best things about The Monkey House is that, unlike most soft play venues, it's really light and airy. It's not a huge venue, but there's more than enough equipment to keep small children entertained for a good couple of hours. And no matter where you try to hide sit, you can see what they're up to; unless they disappear into the non-softplay room, which has a play kitchen and den.

W on the 'really fast slide'
We arrived in time for lunch and W ordered pasta with grated cheese and I snacked on a sausage roll and a small portion of chips. Baby O had bits of what we were having. Sometimes, it's the thoughtful little touches that make the biggest difference to a day out. The Monkey House has plenty of booster seats for babies as well as a range of plastic and metal children's cutlery, and most importantly, bibs (something I always forget to pack).

I was very tempted by a home-made millionaire's shortcake, but managed to resist temptation.

Baby O was happy to sit and play with some toys designed for much younger children and even had a turn sitting next to the baby ball pit where he spent quite a long time studying one of the balls.

Baby O had fun with the toys

Before we knew it, it was time to go and collect the bigger two from school. The next challenge was to prevent an exhausted W from falling asleep in the car. Luckily, I won!

Do you have a favourite soft play centre?