Two Can Learn Better than One!

Category: Family

Start Your Christmas Shopping Now!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toys and Games, Family , Tags: amazon, cd, christmas, disney, dvd, gifts, parties, play, sales, shopping, toy shops, toys

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We're only just past the summer solstice, marking the middle of the year, but there's no better time to starting your Christmas shopping than right now!  Retailers in the high street and online are suffering poor sales - we don't have money to spend and we're not buying.  Shops are currently launching into their summer sales, many starting earlier than usual.  Now is the perfect time to bag yourself some bargains rather than waiting for Christmas.

Particularly good value at the moment are children's audio and video offerings.  Family DVD's and CD's are cheaper at the moment than they will be at Christmas.  Amazon and Play are selling many Disney DVD's for between £5 and £8 at the moment.  Come Christmas time, they will probably run the same Buy One Get One that they have for the past couple of years, but suddenly all their titles will be retailing at a much higher price - you'll feel like you're getting a bargain but in truth you'll probably end up paying more than you will for the same titles right now.

Many toy retailers are also offering discounted goods at the moment.  Grab yourself some bargains, pick up stocking fillers and stock pile gifts for friends' birthday parties now!  Every parent takes advantage of discounted toys to give at parties, shop efficiently and you can save yourself a small fortune!

Smile for the Camera

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Family, Kids Activities , Tags: camera, images, photos, tips

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It's so expensive to have professional photos taken of your baby, and with today's camera technology you can really create professional-looking and lovely photos with regular cameras.

Here are a few tips!

Keep it simple: try not to attempt catalogue style photos with a fussy background or certain tilt of the head required. Keep the shots easy and simple for you all.

Background: keep an eye on what's behind your baby and check there's no washing on the line, or dustbins in the background or a traffic sign coming out of their head! A leafy hedge, a grassy bank, a blank wall are all simple and effective backgrounds that will look good.

Lighting: light the picture naturally if possible so take pictures outside or in bright rooms. Flash is fine but can distort the colours in the picture or result in red eye or closed eyes!

Sunshine: it's lovely to take shots in the sun, but beware of sun shining in the children's eyes and causing them to squint or shut their eyes. Don't tell them to try and smile and look into the sun... it just won't happen!

Get up close: try to have the photo full of your baby so that about 3/4 of the photo will feature the baby and the rest is background or other things. You can always crop the image after if you don't want to hold the camers in your baby's face.

Practice: get to know what all the buttons on the camera actually do. You may find they enhace the shot with a bit of practice. Take plenty of shots too, don't spend ages lining up a shot and then just take one. You can delete any you don't like.

Tilting: try out some different angles and tilt the cemera, turn it portrait or landscape and play around with what you can do to get the right image.

Eyes right: don't always insist your child looks at the camera.  Looking down, or into the sky or eleswhere can make gorgeous shots.

Make it fun!: encourage your children to laugh and enjoy their photo session by making it a game and fun!

Take pictures often: by taking pictures often the children will be familiar with the idea of a camera being used and will not find it intimidating or embarassing.

Good luck!

Are Our Children Growing Up Too Quickly?

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Child Development, Family , Tags: adverts, childrens clothes, growing up, sexual culture, television, tv

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According to research published by the Department of Education, nine out of ten parents think their children are being forced to grow up too quickly! The researchers asked 1,000 parents various questions and found that over half thought the programmes and tv adverts shown before 9pm were unacceptable.

They also found that 60% of parents thought that some products advertised to children were inappropriate for their age.  Many parents felt they had to buy certain items for their children so to avoid them being "left out" but these products were not considered essential or appropriate, so peer pressure was an issue.

Areas of concern include:

  • Clothes to be age appropriate and not small versions of adult fashion
  • Sexualised content in music videos and early evening TV
  • Pressure to buy non-essential items for their children so they don’t feel left out.

Findings from the survey show that:

  • 40% of parents said they had seen things in public places (shop windows, advertising) that they felt were inappropriate for children because of sexual content
  • 41 % said they had seen programmes or adverts on TV before 9pm that they felt were unsuitable or inappropriate for children due to their sexual content.
  • Of those parents who had felt the need to complain about these issues but hadn’t, over 60% said that they had not done so either because they didn’t think anything would be done or they didn’t know who to complain to.
  • Around half of parents felt that celebrity culture, adult style clothes and music videos are encouraging children to act older than they are.

Sibling Rivalry is a Good Thing!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Child Development, Family , Tags: allies, bickering, pretend play, sibling rivalry, siblings, toddlers

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According to a new study, rivalry between brothers and sisters can be a good thing when they are toddlers and it can have a positive effect on their development. Cambridge University carried out the study over a five year time span and found that of the 140 children studied, their cognitive and social development was enhanced if they were a sibling.

The research looked at the younger of 2 siblings in various environments: alone, with the family, with friends and at school.  Their language, memory, planning skills and inhibitory control were studied and found that the younger sibling had a better social understanding thanks to the teasing of older brothers and sisters.  80% of children have siblings.

Pretend play was very interesting to the study authors, as it found that the younger siblings who entered into pretend play, games that often lasted in different sessions over a few days, were able to articulate, discuss their thoughts and feelings much better than those who didn't.

They also found that sibling bickering was a "useful" tool and that its the start of a skill to resolve disagreements in later life although they did say that sustained sibling rivalry into school years could be detrimental. Relationships change over time, that is natural, but the way that siblings are natural allies is a beneficial thing.

Sit Down and Write a Letter

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Family , Tags: letter, play park, queen, sandringham, write

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A six year old boy took the time and effort last year to write to the Queen complaining about the lack of play facilities at the park in her Sandringham Estate.  He eventually received a letter from the Queen's Senoir  Correspondance Officer thanking him for taking the time to write and for his suggestions.

He suggested better play equipment for young visitors be installed, perhaps goalposts, a slide and a roundabout for children.  He received a reply from the Queen's office  thanking him for his comments and saying she had passed the suggestions to Sandringham's land agent for consideration.

The little boy, Charlie, was pleased with his letter and that it may result in some better park equipment.  He and his parents had forgotten they had sent the letter, as the reply came some seven weeks later, but when they saw the envelope with the royal stamp on it, they knew exactly what it was.

Well done to the Mum who encouraged her son to write a letter and well done,'s easy to complain about things, but it takes more effort to sit down and do something about it!

Smile Please!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Family, Kids Activities , Tags: digital cameras, family pictures, images, photos

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Taking good photos of children can seem impossible, but with the advent of the digital camera it should be easier than ever.  Gone are the days when you take a few snaps, send the films away and six months later see your photos and realise you'd cut off heads and not had the sun behind you!

Here are a few tips to ensure you have a good selection to choose from.

  1. Take plenty!  Don't spend ages lining up a photo and take hours setting it all up while the children get bored and run away.  Just keep snapping... you never know what you'll get!
  2. Don't shout at the children if they wriggle and move.  Digital cameras should get the shot in focus and try to keep the children happy!
  3. Make sure there's good light - the one thing that will improve your photos is immeasurably is that there is enough light in the shot.
  4. Be spontaneous.  Try to take casual shots when the children are unaware.  Get them looking at flowers, strolling along a path, singing to themselves or just sitting under a tree.
  5. Try and take the pictures without the children knowing.  Position the camera where they can't see it or use a timer or wire to take shots without them knowing.  These will be more natural photos.
  6. Be realistic.  Don't expect too much or photos that are too perfect.  If they are off centre, that's fine and can make it all look even more natural.
  7. Be flexible.  If you were looking for a solo photo of your pre-schooler and your toddler wanders in, don't worry!  You may end up with a great double act photo!

CRB Checks Changed!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Family, Childminders and Childminding

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It has been reported that since the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks were introduced, more than 1,500 people have been wrongly given criminal records - the Government checks are designed to protect vulnerable people, but countless errors have been logged.

Questions have always been asked about whether the CRB system was really effective. Parents were being banned from car sharing with friends, and attending school plays and sports days if they weren’t checked, people were losing their jobs if they refused to be investigated and clubs were being forced to close because the cost of registering all their helpers was too much to afford.  CRB checks also did little to prevent child abuse scandals such as that which took place at the Little Ted's Nursery in Plymouth.

The CRB, a Home Office agency, was set up in March 2002 to check for criminal convictions, cautions and reprimands with regards people working with children or vulnerable adults. It processes some 3.9 million CRB certificates each year.

However, a new bill has been announced which will mean changes to this scheme and some of the nine million people who work or volunteer with children will no longer need to have a criminal records check under the new proposed Protection of Freedoms Bill.

Part of the bill also dictates that thousands of innocent people will have their DNA records removed from the national DNA database. There will also be regulations of CCTV cameras and regulations regarding Councils being able to examine people’s rubbish bins in order to investigate claims.

The changes aim to hand back some civil liberties taken away by the previous Labour government and operate a more “common sense” approach.

Technology Replacing Physical Activities

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Child Development, Family , Tags: computer games, computers, craft, drawing, lifestyle, puzzles, television, traditional activities, tv

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Child experts are increasingly concerned that technology is replacing physical activities in the lives of young children - children spend more time tapping away on computer keyboards, playing with pretend mobile phones and watching television than they do playing outdoors or doing craft and other traditional learning activities.  Parents are becoming more lazy, preferring to sit children in front of a TV or a computer rather than interacting with them and undertaking physical games and activities.

Interacting with others is a vital component for children to develop properly.  Traditional activities such as craft, drawing and doing puzzles, with an adult nearby, encourages fine motor skills and physical development, and language skills are learned by conversing with grown-ups.  This is all bypassed by children sat passively in front of a TV or left to their own devices being entertained by computer games or pretend technology devices.

Even though parents today have less time to spend with their children than for previous generations, it seems that we are all too happy to spend that little time we do have separated from them while the children are expected to entertain themselves.

Spend a moment to reflect on your own lifestyle, and ask yourself whether you are dedicating enough time to your children?

Happy Twitching!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Family, Days out, Kids Activities , Tags: bird watching, birds, counting, garden, park, rspb, survey

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This weekend is dedicated to our garden birds - the country’s biggest survey takes place with families all over the country grabbing pens and paper to record what birds come to their gardens.  Teach your children about the different birds to be seen in your garden, talk about the different colours and how to identify each type of bird.

To participate in the bird survey, simply go out into your garden or to a local park and sit for an hour (quietly!) and watch for birds. Note down what species you see and count them as you spot them. They must land in the garden or park rather than fly over.

When you have observed for an hour, and have your results, simply log your findings on the RSPB website ( There is a handy print out sheet on the site too to help identify the birds and, you can get a copy of last year’s results too.  Why not have your little ones draw a picture of your garden or the park with the different birds they have seen too?  Try making a map to show where you spotted each bird.

This event has been taking place for some thirty years. There have been results from nearly 280,000 gardens which gives experts an idea of how bird numbers are diminishing.

It is also great fun, good number practice and you'll feel part of a great effort to keep our local birds.  Happy Twitching!

Finding a Nanny

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Babies, Parenting, Preschool Children, Family, Childminders and Childminding , Tags: childcare, childminder, crb check, nanny, totallychildcare

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What overall considerations should I have to find the perfect Nanny for my family?

Looking for a Nanny for your family does not have to be a struggle. Below are 6 points to hopefully help you make the process easier.

1: Think about your ideal nanny. Write a list of your expectations. What personality and experience you would like your Nanny to have? What duties you would like her to do, for example Nursery duties only or light household duties. Write your requirements down - including "required" and "Would like", use this when you are interviewing as a guideline. Work out what you can afford for a nanny so when you discuses salary with the Nanny you have an idea what you can afford.

2: Look at what avenues you are going to go down to look for a nanny. Are you going to use a Nanny Agency, advertising in a local Newspaper, ask friends and family if they know of any good Nannies or search on the internet? More and more families are using the Internet to find Childcare as they are finding it is a much cheaper alternative. All the above have advantages and disadvantages, but all have the same objective: to help you compile a list of potential Nannies.

3: Make contact with potential candidates. Once you have got your list of potential candidates, you will need to find out weather they are interested and suitability for the position. First contact might be by phone or email not face to face. Once you have made contact and asked some question and are satisfied by the answers, you will need to arrange an interview date.

4: Interview date. Don’t forget your list of "required" and "would like". You will need to make a list of questions you would like to ask a Nanny, (Totally Childcare has got a list of question to ask when interviewing a nanny). Most families prefer to do the first interview in the evening when the child/children are in bed and if they like the Nanny then call her back for a second interview, this is normally done over the weekend to meet the children and spend some time together to see how they interact with each other.

5: Checking Reference and CRB (Police Checks). It is highly recommend that you check at least two references, one from the current employment if they are working as a nanny at present and one from a past employment. If they have not got two employment references for you to contact then a character reference will do. A CRB (police check) needs to be done, this can take up to 4/6 weeks to complete. Most nannies have got this already but if this is out of date a new one will need to be done.

6: Employing your chosen Nanny! Once you have found the right Nanny and offered the position and she has accepted the finer details will need to be put down in a Contract of Employment (Totally Childcare has got a standard Employment Contract which you can download and use). This will need to be signed by both parties and each have a copy to keep. Most families have a hand over period before they go back to work; this is so the Nanny can get to know the child/children while mum or dad is still around. It also helps the nanny to see what routine the children have and if they got to school they can be shown where this is and be introduced to their teacher. Contact numbers will need to be given to the new nanny in case of an emergency. A diary for the nanny is a good idea, here she can write down what the child/children have done during the day, what they have eaten and if they have had or not had a dirty nappy etc. This can be helpful for the parents to read when the Nanny has gone home and answer any questions if the child/children is not too happy in the evening. A purse with some money in it for use during the day for the children’s activities is also a good idea, receipts should be provided so there is no confusion as to what they have spent the money on.

If you can remember all of the above steps than hopefully finding a Nanny will be an easy process.

Family Friendly Dogs

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Family , Tags: animals, dog breeds, dogs, hound, pets, retriever, spaniel

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Choosing a family dog is a tricky job, you need first to establish what kind of dog you want and whether you really do have the time, space, patience and ability to look after it.

Here are some of the breeds best associated with families and children.

Labrador Retriever

Renowned for their patience and good nature this is a breed that is rarely aggressive or too excitable.  Labradors tend to be easy-going and intelligent.  They love long walks and love being active but are also relatively calm and accommodating. They also live for around 12 years so a good long time.

Golden Retriever

These are similar to the Lab in their disposition.  Again, they are mild mannered, and gentle.  They also enjoy being near people and are easily trained. They love going out and running and fetching so are ideal for pr-school age children as they will never tire of a child chasing with them and running about. They do need care as they have long hair though.

Basset Hound

A docile, calm dog although often stubborn, they are gentle and good for children because of their kind nature and love any attention from children!


A very small breed of dog: excellent with children and good indoor dogs. They tend to be very loving.  They don't shed hair and are easy to take care of, even for kids.

Miniature Dachshund

A small dog who will play with anything and put up with lots of kiddie affection and cuddles.  They don't shed much hair and they are fairly easy-going.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

An excellent breed around kids. It is a well-mannered and usually gentle and patient. They are also quiet dogs and patient about being poked and prodded by toddlers.  They don't bite and like to play around children.

Good luck!

English As A Second Language

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Learning Play, Child Development, Family, Childminders and Childminding , Tags: billingual, communicating, english, language, speaking

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There are so many children and toddlers for whom English is not their first language; when it comes to observing these children in a childcare setting, whether it be a nursery or childminders, it is very easy for the carer to suggest that when it comes to communication, that the child has"no language".  In fact, they do have a language, its just they are not using it or English in the setting, so carers need to be careful in these circumstances.  Children need to be encouraged in both languages when they are little to avoid problems of alienation and isolation.

Why should parents, carers and teachers encourage bilingual children?

  • It means the child usually knows about 2 cultures, 2 sets of traditions and 2 sets of rules for speaking
  • It means they may be confused about different words or phrases which are used in different situations
  • They can be scared to take chances when it comes to speaking or answering questions
  • Making friends may be harder or even impossible if the other children can communicate more easily
  • It may make the children more inclined to listen carefully and think about things or answers to questions even if they do not actually speak or contribute; they may still know the answer

How to help:

  • Be calm and patient.  Don't expect them to speak with the same confidence as children where English is the first language
  • Allow them to listen and observe  before addressing them with a question
  • Speak to them just the same as you would other children; look into their eyes and address them with warmth and clarity; move your mouth to create the words and don't speak until you make eye contact
  • Point and gesticulate too and use sign language to help communicate
  • Sing lots of songs and rhymes together
  • Keep any setting quiet and calm so everyone can hear well and communicate without shouting

Children learning more than one language at a time do generally start speaking a little later, but in the long term, but this does not mean that they will never learn to talk.  In the medium term they will rapidly grasp both languages and they will have a beneficial skill that will put them in a strong position throughout their lives!

Put on a Christmas Show

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Make Believe, Family , Tags: acting, christmas, nativity, performing, play, show, singing

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There's nothing more heartwarming than watching your children perform Christmas songs to the rest of your family at Christmas!  If they are old enough to talk and in a playgroup then it's likely that they've already learned at least one or two festive songs that youcan encourage them to perform to grandparents over Christmas.  If they aren't yet singing, then put on some festive music and encourage them to wiggle in time with the music!

Ask older children to act out the nativity story, playing the different parts.  Acting forms a fundamental part of pretend play that is so important in developmental terms.

You will be proud, the grandparents will be moved and your little ones will be delighted!  Practice a few songs or stories now so that they're ready for the big day, and have them bring the house down for their Christmas debut!

Clearing the Clutter

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Family , Tags: clean, mess, sorting, tidy-up time

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When you have a child or two that you look after or live with, your home will undoubtedly be affected - things may not be where you left them, a room can be turned into a den or a shop or a library in quick succession.  For most of us, it's great to see the children feel at home and that they feel comfortable to make the rooms their own, however, with children comes a lot of clutter and if you need a bit of guidance on how to cope with the clutter (whether it be books, toys, clothes or general unidentifiable clutter!) here are some tips.

Routine and division of labour! At the end of each day or session have a routine tidy-up.  Make it part of the jobs that you all have to do and leave plenty of time to do it so you do a good job.  Ask the children to do easy putting away, sorting puzzles into the right boxes and low book shelf filling etc.  Then you are free to do tricky or high jobs.

Storage Boxes: These are brilliant for keeping a room tidy.  They come in all sorts of sizes, they can stack safely or slip onto a shelf and they are hard-wearing.  The best thing to do is label the boxes with a photo of what goes inside so the little ones can match the type of  toys with the picture and put things away.  Write the word too so they become more and more familiar with the letters too.

Bits 'n' pieces: It can be very frustrating if things get lost. Incomplete puzzles or blocks game pieces missing.  The best thing is to store the puzzles pieces in little re-sealable plastic bags (with air holes punched in!) so the pieces are in a bag as well as the box.  Then you can store them without worrying that pieces will slip out.  Or you can use the pull-string laundry bags that come with some washing powders.  These can be easy for the children to open and shut too. Children's shoe boxes are great for storing accessories and bits of games or toys that can easily get lost.  They also stack nicely and are easy for the children to use as they are kiddie size. Biscuit tins are ideal to use to store treasures or jewellery.  Washing powder boxes are just the right size to store magazines or folders.  Egg boxes are great to store tiny bits and pieces like paper clips or the ends of chalks and crayons for craft.

Don't Get Everything Out Every Day: Only get a few boxes of toys out each day to keep things new and fresh; rotate the toys on display.  Offer a choice of 6 books from the bookshelf rather than allowing the children to choose from the whole 30 books and run the risk of getting them all over the floor... another things to clear up!

Hooks: These are super for hanging all sorts of things and can be a great space saver as well as an easy option when it comes to tidying up.  Have aprons etc on hooks so the children can access them and use them rather than hiding them away where they may be forgotten to be used!  Keep them low so all can use them.

Making a mess is not really a problem when you have a good, simple and effective way to tidying up afterwards!

Fostering Children may be a Real Option

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Family , Tags: caring, children, foster care, fostering, home, local authority

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There has been so much press over the years about children who are let down by adults, 'Baby P' and little Shannon Matthews for example - both these children were so sadly ignored by those who should have been protecting them.

Many local authorities do so much good work with children, especially those who are the most vulnerable and in need.  However, we never hear about these good, kind people who make such a difference to so many children's lives.  In the most part, those in authority aim to keep children together with their families, siblings and parents.  However, sometimes this is not possible and those caught up in neglect or in danger are removed from the threat of harm.

All sorts of people get involved in these cases.  The police, social workers, health visitors, doctors and eventually the courts do what they have to do to support the children and do the best for them.  Some go into care.  Some live with foster families who provide them with the safety and security they need and cherish.  The foster carers go some way to repairing the damage that has been done and try to provide the children with a normal, happy environment in which to live.

There is always a great need to families to offer foster care.  It's not like providing a hotel room or just meals and a fresh bed to sleep in.  Carers need to try and maintain any routine the children have: school clubs, visits to friends, school run, and contact with the original families.  They also need to be able to do the school run to get the children to their original school and maintain links with health professionals, doctor's appointments etc.  Foster children become an integral part of your own family.

You don't need a huge house and rambling ground to offer foster care.  You don't need to be a fine chef or a pre-school teacher.  You simply need to offer a shelter, a home and a loving, caring environment for the most vulnerable little people in our communities. You will get all the training you need and plenty of advise and support.

If you think you can manage this, then it's worth contacting your local authority.  They will be delighted to hear from you and you may find it becomes the best and most rewarding job you have ever done!

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Hi! I'm Tikal the Toucan, the mascot for ToucanLearn. Follow my blog to find out interesting things relating to babies, toddlers and preschool children!

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