Another little evacuee.

One little evacuee heading off for a day of spam sandwiches and gas mask practice.

A couple of years ago Amelie managed to sneak in on an evacuee day only a couple of weeks after joining school. Today Josie, otherwise known as Ivy Wilson, visited Stibbington to do the same day. From spam sandwiches (she woosed out and went for jam) to an air raid and having to write with an ink pen to see whether she could win her spot in the big kids class, she had a day filled with 940’s drama and intrigue.

I love these types of learning. It is how it should be all through school. Josie’s school do “wow” days which immerse the kids in the new topic and let them really absorb it. All education should be that way.

And doesn’t my little evacuee look adorable?



Sponsored Video: making tattoo art from Toca Boca.

I know what you are thinking…. ‘Merry? really?’

And okay. Yes. I thought that too. When I was sent the offer to run this video, I thought, “I don’t know, I’m not so into the whole pretend tattoo thing on kids, so maybe not.”

But I watch the video – because I’m nosey – and I fell a little bit in love with the artist and the way it was shot and… and…

So I thought I would run it.

It’s a kooky little product designed and created by a young female tattoo artist from New York who has taken the Toca Boca app games (hair cuts, fashion, run your own kitchen type of apps for young children up to preteens) and found characters in them who she identified with and created artwork from them. These are now being sold as little temporary tattoos, in 6 different designs, that reflect both the games and contemporary trend and fashion. At just over £6, they are a fun little gift for any kid with a soft spot for either the games or the accessory.

“As a tattoo artist for over 10 years now, I regularly see how tattoos spark kids’ curiosity,” said Virginia Elwood. “Kids always want to touch a tattoo, ask questions about them and even have one drawn on them. Creating the Artist Play Series temporary tattoos was a fun way of making Toca Boca tangible for kids in the real world. I spent a lot of time playing the apps to understand the character’s personalities to transfer them to a temporary tattoo design.”

I’ve been working a lot lately in a group of young preteen and older junior school girls and that has exposed me to a fairly different demographic to the girls I know best, my own daughters. And I can’t help but notice how much these delight them, how much they love looking at them, touching them, comparing them. And having flirted hard with the idea of my own permanent tattoo (but I’m too chicken) I can sort of see the appeal; if anything, it surprises me that my own girls are never particularly keen to try wearing ones themselves.

What really touched my fancy with this video was the artist herself. She struck a chord with me. I have two girls who love to draw manga style, simplistic but artistic characters with sass and spice. And Maddy in particular is enthused beyond all apparent sense by writing FanFic – and she’s good too – that is inspired not by books but by games she plays on her DS and ipod. I find it incredible that such things have such power over children and that games are their icons and inspiration for creativity.

Over the last few years I’ve watch my girls – and girls I have known as they grow up – develop skills and talents and fascinations with topics that are going to lead them into their future. I know girls who will undoubtedly design for a living and girls who have begun to carve their niche thanks to a spark lit by a game. It’s that I see in this video, a girl with a talent who let it speak and has created a world for herself where she is secure and driven and aspirational.

And I liked that.

Sponsored Video content provided by Toca Boca.

Level 6. For the 800th time.

So proud of my girls :) Overall gold and 2 bronzes for Josie and bronze for Amelie on her first comp in 3 years. Both in huge groups of 15 & 12 girls and their club did amazingly.

This weekend was the return of the Level 6 gym competition; it was a big day for all three gym girls. Josie was determined to be top of the pile, having had to miss doing Level 5 for this year because a couple of moves just weren’t ready and Amelie, who hadn’t competed for 3 years, thanks to injuries, gym moves and crises, had a point to prove that she was back. Fran had a gymnast competing, who only did a fraction of the hours some of the girls in the group did and it was her first outing as a qualified Level 1 coach too.

And it went well. Josie brought home Bronze on vault and floor (missed gold on floor by 0.2!) and was 4th on beam and bars and Overall Gold too while Amelie brought home Bronze on bars and an accidental extra move sequence probably cost her Gold on floor as her routine was superb. She was very pleased with herself. Fran’s girl did great too.

For me, being part of running Phoenix Gymnastics has shifted my feelings as a gym mum a lot. In the past, there was always a piece of me secretly wishing a fall even on the gymnasts I liked a lot who were up against my girls. It isn’t pretty, but the truth is we all do it, we all want gold for our girl in those early days when we measure our own worth just a little bit too much by contortions they can happen to do with their body on one particular day. This year I have really changed. As a gym we have been on such a journey together, from shock and almost extinction in the face of a nightmare, through learning to work together and keeping up the spirits of the coaches and parents and gymnasts, to finding a way to understand how gymnastics works and learning to run a gym.

What has changed for me this year is I can now start to see the club, not just individuals or – -most particularly – my own girls. I sat in the comp on Sunday and what I wanted was for my whole club to do well, for all those girls to do well – and I didn’t care which Phoenix gymnast beat one of mine, I just wanted to see blue leotard on the podium. Easy to say when mine got to climb up there but I have also learned some truths over 8 years of plenty of comps that were disappointing for my girls as well as for me.

These are they:-

  • They are kids, doing the best they can, after working hard towards a day that matters to them far more than it needs to.
  • It is just a day, not a measure of talent necessarily, or effort or ability. It can be affected by sleep, nerves, illness and luck.
  • There are huge joys from winning. There are huge positives from learning from a bad day too, possibly even more. We humans become who we are by our attitude to disappointment and frustration; it is that which grows us.
  • They can only do their best. How good the people are they are up against is outside their control. Measurement against self is the only true guide.
  • Gymnastics is just a game, made up of bending body parts. What happens on comp day is no measure of their worth or my parenting. Both those things are better gauged from a training session and how polite they are to their coach each week.
  • Neither shiny leotard nor perfect hair make up for lack of commitment or hard work or attention to detail ;)
  •  I am the parent. It is my job to hug, be proud and love them for the ordeal they just put their mind and body through. It does not make me a better person if they climbed up to get gold. It took me quite a while not to make that mistake.

Josie with possibly the best coach in the world  Was that a second overall gold Josie I think it was!

I’m not one for extravagant moments of gifting but here is my thank you to Verity, who has coached Josie for most of the last year. She has been truly an amazing person for Josie to be alongside this year – I have never seen someone so able to draw something out of my quiet little girl. She has turned a shy child with some talent into a child who lives for gym, has courage and determination and feels confident and valued. Verity never fails to have a good word to say to Josie, is honest, encouraging and dedicated and has been a huge part of making sure Phoenix grows and develops the reputation for great young gymnasts that it is starting to have. This year has been one of my most contented gym coach years ever and I’m deeply grateful to Verity for the start she has given my little girl and the pride she takes in each of them.

Here are some videos for posterity (to be added later when they upload to YouTube!)

The Gallery: Yellow

And just like that, he drew 'yellow'.

We went to the library, to see the lady read the books – and she read some books about Spot.

Oh Spot… you and I have been friends a long, long time now.

And afterwards, they do drawing.


And he picked up the yellow pen and, with great deliberation, drew a yellow circle. And told me so.,

He doesn’t say ‘lellow'; he may lisp ‘yeth’ for yes, but he has yellow all sorted.

And then he added eyes and a mouth and said,

Bene drew this very carefully and said 'Smile... Face!'

“Face… Smile!”

And then some fur.

A cat.

He’s growing up so quickly now.

He's nearly 3. I don't get how that is even a thing that can be true.

Entered, due to the serendipity, into The Gallery this week.

Sponsored Video: Choosing wisely for a bright future.

What's not to love

We flowed from the high of GCSE results day to the final decision on what Sixth Form Fran would attend, to last minute tweaks and changes to A Level choices and the scheduling in of enrichment activities around personal commitments. And all of it, for the first time, was judged up against the future. Lists were consulted, pathways considered and options – in the sense of the word far bigger than choosing school subjects – looked at and assessed.

I’m an enormous believer in it being possible to change your stars at any time. I’m not one for panicking about making the perfect choice at one moment and never wavering, as I wrote about here. I played safe and took no risks for fear of failing when I was at school and not following my heart meant nothing more than I look back not knowing if I would have been good enough but knowing for certain that I never really tried. And our home ed life certainly taught us to think differently about the paths our children might take – to try the unconventional, to follow your (and their) instincts and be prepared to carve out a way personal to the child, not carve the child to the accepted norm.

Fran has plenty of aspirations; like me, she has a tendency to think whatever is laid at her door is a great idea. having passed her Level 1 British Gymnastics coaching last week she already knows she can work as a gym coach. She;s likely to be a decently qualified coach well before she leaves school. And she is aspirational about her academic future and her career too, with physiotherapy and sport science at a good uni both high on her list of hopes. That means she has had to consider her A Level choices far more carefully than I did because some careers do become closed off once you turn your back on science subjects. She’s settled on Sport, Biology and Psychology for her AS Levels, knowing that they not only excite her but also support those careers that call to her. Carrying on working and training as a gym coach give her the tantalising possibility of having back up, skilled earning power through uni and gap years or even while she hunts for the perfect job afterwards. And if things don’t go to plan, if the high A level grades she needs don’t happen, she has a cast iron fall back plan.

It’s a set of subjects I find myself surprised by, my bookish, humanity subject loving, history conscious daughter choosing so far away from anything I would have imagined. I catch myself wondering what she would have done if she had continued with home education.

But in all that, there is another thread.

The stage calls her. Alongside those subjects is a BTEC in Performing Arts which, judging by her all round good parents evening last night, filled with all the normal praise, is where she excels. And sitting next to her in her exam success West End show treat a few weeks ago, it is  clear that the desire to perform at a high level tugs her bones even harder than it did mine.

When I was at school, the message was clear; get your education first, no matter what and then, if there is room left, follow your dream along the side.

I’m not sure if I agree with that. There are some things – gym and dance to name but two – which have a shelf life. It’s not only gathering qualifications that matters, though once you are in the system, doing well is clearly a good way forward. But passion and desire and total commitment will get you a very long way. There is little worse than regretful wishing – whether it is wishing you worked harder back then or wishing you had tested the footing on a different path..

For Fran, this looks like taking a few different forms. She’ll gather these A levels at school and give it her all but she plans a gap year before uni, if one of the courses she wants will take her. And in that gap year she plans to finish her basic gym qualifications and do a course that will give her some skills that link dance and performance and gym all together. And alongside that she plans to do some West End auditions (because why the hell not? The worst that can happen is a no) and apply to some performance colleges too.

And that’s as many doors to universes kept open as possible. Which is the subject of this rather lovely video, all about helping teenagers see the possibilities that science can bring them and all the ways their lives can pan out depending on whether they make one choice or another. Your Life is about the benefits of studying maths and physics at A level. It’s a 3 year project aimed at inspiring young people to see the career pathways they open up, the employers who value them as subjects and how being informed at up to date about technology and the sciences at drive them leave you able to step into any ‘universe’ you want to.