Do too many computer games make children averse to reading books?

I’m writing this post after a massive stand-off with our middle child. It was literally a three-hour battle of wills. And it was about…a reading homework.

Homeworks in our house are lengthy affairs. The kids come home, their returns staggered by about an hour in general. The two youngest are first home, and they get stuck into homework right away. How quickly they finish depends on how focused they are, how tired after school and how hungry.

Today, Jake had to do a reading homework in addition to his usual tasks. You could tell right away he was going to be a reluctant participant. He was impatient to race off and play Playstation with his brother. Since the Playstation made a surprise return to our household earlier this week, it’s been virtually all they want to do.

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Climbing Knocklayde with the kids

I have a thing about heights. I love them. There’s something so thrilling about being high up on a mountain, looking down on the scenery below.

Until now though, I’ve never dared to drag the kids along…until last weekend. There’s a mountain down near where I grew up called Knocklayde. It looms about 1600 feet high above the town of Ballycastle.

It’s been maybe more than a decade since I climbed to the summit with some good friends from the town. It was a disappointing day, because by the time we’d reached the top, the clouds had closed in and we lost what promised to be a breathtaking view. Dammit.

So, last Sunday, I bundled our three tween-sized mountain climbers and their 13 year old uncle (codename: Heid) into the car. We packed an exotic selection of ham and cheese sandwiches and a multi-pack of MyCoy’s crisps, parked the car beside a barn and embarked through the fields. For those of you familiar with Knocklayde, we approached from the glen-side, because you can drive a fair bit of the way up. However, that approach has its limitations, as you’ll find out.

The weather was beautiful – blue skies, but very windy on the side of the mountain. If I had silent reservations about how far the young ones would make it, they were unfounded. Rachel and Jake’s healthy little bodies bounded up the hill ahead of us without breaking a sweat. Daniel protested slightly more, but gained confidence when the other two waited for him – once he thought he was ahead of me, he blasted up the hillside a lot quicker.

Most disappointing was Uncle Heid. Frequent gasping, melodramatic collapses on the heather and requests for countless rest stops slowed us down considerably. I was stunned – I know he doesn’t get much outdoor time, but I had no idea the kid was so unfit. I think it was a combination of unfitness, lack of self-confidence and a touch of fear at the crosswinds buffeting us.

For a moment, I considered leaving him puffing on the side of the hill, but my inner Drill Sergeant overruled me. For a start, you don’t go climbing because it’s easy, you go to challenge yourself, to push your body. On top of that, why go halfway up the mountain and not finish the job? Why deny yourself the thrill of the view from the top?

Anyway, I estimate we got about 75% up the mountain when we ran into trouble – the terrain changed dramatically near the top – it became thick with heather and difficult for the kids to walk on. To make matters worse, the ground became boggy and welly boots started sinking into the ground. Rachel’s left boot filled completely with water, which upset her immensely. Jake became a bit distraught by all this drama. In order to escape the boggy ground, we headed toward a fence, where we expected the ground to be higher and drier. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. As Heid tried to help Daniel down from a bank, he stepped into a boggy bit…and his entire leg disappeared into it!

I looked at him. He looked at me. It took a minute for it to sink in that his entire leg was stuck in mud. I was in stitches laughing before he even had the presence of mind to remove himself from the bog. Bear in mind, we used to cut turf (a fairly popular rural way of collecting your winter fuel in Ireland, I guess) when I was a child, so I’m used to legs disappearing into muddy bogs. Heid, on the other hand, was not amused, and effectively our walk up Knocklayde was over. Well, I hadn’t completely given up hope. We found ourselves a dry spot to sit down, and I broke out the picnic stuff.

After we’d had a couple of sandwiches, I reckoned that we were about 10-15 minutes from the top of the mountain. However,  my mutinous chums refused to go a step further. For a minute, I entertained the notion that I could leave them there, go to the top, savour the view for a minute and come back down – after all, they were in full view of the top anyway. But no, that idea wasn’t popular, so we edged out way down the mountainside. It was a tired, wet and grateful posse who kicked off their boots back at the car and slumped into their seats for the ride home.

So, ultimately I was defeated. Denied my view from the top of the mountain. However, taking a positive view of things, I’m considering this as a reconnaissance mission. Driving back, I discovered a forest car park which looks like an ideal starting point for the next attempt. I will be back! (Imagine much shaking of fists at mountaintops) The big question is: will I be taking the children?

Do your kids play too many video games?

It seems we have at least one of every popular video game console in our house. Well, with the exception of the X Box. But we have accumulated a Nintendo Wii, an older PlayStation 2, two Nintendo DS-Lites. This in addition to abundant internet access and a weird kiddie-console thing that hooks up to the TV.

Before your mind explodes at the phenomenal cost that all this tech surely represents, bear in mind that Lisa is an eBay master and has either picked up games and consoles at a massively reduced price. As well as that, some stuff has been handed down from other family members and picked up as birthday presents, etc.

The fact remains though: too many computer games.

I worry sometimes that they get addicted. Certainly we had to severely restrict Daniel’s access to console games because he refused to do anything else for a while. Playing with toys, reading, drawing, he refused to do anything that didn’t have a screen in front of it. He even started getting up at the crack of dawn to sneak downstairs and get a fix of PlayStation.

The big question I want to ask the readers here is: what’s your opinion of kids playing computer games, and do you have a plan to manage how long and what games they play?

Bicycle season has begun

As the weather here improves, plans are afoot get a little more exercise into our routines. And possibly a slighty better diet, but more on that later.

It started as an effort to get the kids to school quicker – letting them take their scooters and bikes in the morning. Then last week, we gave the shed a clear out, dusted off the adult bikes, reinflated the tyres and headed back out on the road again.

Cycling is such a low-impact form of exercise. For me, after I’ve been running for a while, my leg starts to hurt terribly from the thudding about. Cycling avoids that.

Also, since Dan is still too small to keep up with the pack, he gets to ride along with me. We’ve been using the old mounted seat, but his weight means that it regularly bumps off the back tyre. So…today we’re fitting a crazy gizmo that connects my bike to Daniel’s little bike and makes a tandem. It’s called a trailgator, and sounds like a bit of fun.

The best bit is not having to use the car to go for little errands around town. Want to go up to the park? Jump on the bike. Need to pick up a DVD, bread and milk, some essentials? Jump on the bike. After dropping the kids off to school this morning, Lisa and I did a round trip to the town, picked up some packages and got a few goodies for breakfast. It was a blue sky morning, nice temperature, and we were back home roughly ten minutes after we normally would have been.

I reckon by doing a bit more cycling and making use of the bike part of our routine, it should help in dealing with this premature middle-age spread I’m suffering from! I also want to get the kids out for a few cycles on the country roads, and I might even get to try a few of the cycle routes around Lough Neagh one of these days.

On a related note…a webfriend of mine, Ben Ayers, is involved a couple of social networking sites for cyclists: Cycle Social and meandmybicycle which may be worth a look if you want to get a bit deeper into cycling!

Jostein Gaarder – The Christmas Mystery

Last year I had an idea that I’d like to read Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery to the children. At the time, I read it myself, but decided to hold off reading it to the kids.

The Christmas Mystery is a charming little story, told through an advent calendar, of a girl (Elisabet) who chases a lamb through a department store and across country. On her travels, she meets various figures from the nativity scene and discovers that they are all travelling across time to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ.

The story is told via a little boy, who is given the Advent calendar by an old shopkeeper and told that it is a magic calendar. When Joachim opens the first door on the calendar, a piece of paper falls out and he discovers the story of Elisabet, and each day her journey unfolds and her meetings with new members of the Nativity.

Anyway, I’ve been reading The Christmas Mystery with Rachel for a couple of days now. Granted, we’re a bit behind and need to catch up by a few days if we’re to finish on the 24th December!

I think she’s liking the story so far, as she’s repeating the tale to Lisa and her aunts. In fact, when she was given an advent calendar as a gift, she was a bit disappointed that a piece of paper didn’t fall out!

I’ve since found out that reading The Christmas Mystery has become a family tradition for some people – one review on Amazon.co.uk said:

Our family started reading The Christmas Mystery about 5 years ago and it is now a very special Advent activity and a way to come together as a family in a busy season. While it is a bit confusing at first- the story moves backward through time and geography-it is so rich and has so many layers that it’s absolutely worth reading.

There are bits that obviously confuse Rachel, but I try and skip these or simplify them as best I can. However, after we read the night’s chapter, I ask her to tell me what happened in the story that night, and then we look at the picture on the next chapter to see what the next tale will be about.

If I remember correctly, the end of the tale moved me the last time I read it, so I’m looking forward to Rachel’s reactions! Anyway, I’ll maybe post a few updates here before Christmas!

How To Find The Time To Give Children Individual Attention

I’m a great believer in the school of thought that all children need regular, one to one, individual attention. I notice that if one of the kids is going through a spell of bad behaviour and we make sure they receive more individual time with us, it makes a big difference to their outlook and mood.

Therefore both Gerard and I do try whenever possible, to do activities and spend time alone with one of the children. For example, yesterday my sister bought gifts for the kids from a local toystore. Rachel’s gift was a make your own jewellry set. It involved quite intricate painting and gluing, before actually threading the beads, and I knew that this wasn’t something we could tackle with the boys around. Gerard therefore offered to take the boys or a walk and Rachel and I spent a fun hour making necklaces.

She revelled in the attention she received, and for once she was able to complete a task without it being pulled apart by her brothers, or without me being called away to someone else.

Today though it was a different story. Gerard was at work, and I was at home with the three wee ones. Rachel wanted to read a new book she had recently got, Jake wanted to build train tracks, and Daniel just wanted lifted. I tried reading to Rachel first, but Daniel was screaming to be lifted, and when I obliged , he attempted to eat Rachels book. I then told Rachel I would read with her this evening when the boys went to bed, she wasn’t amused and started grumping and whining.

Jake then began to cry because he couldn’t get his train track to fit together properly, so I bent down to help him, once again Daniel wanted to be involved and pulled up the track as quickly as I was laying it. Jake panicked and then in temper swept all the trains and pieces of track away, declaring that he didn’t want to play anymore.

I was at my wits end. The three kids were crying and I could feel my temper starting to bubble. I was trying my very best to be attentive and interact with them all, but in the process managed to dissapoint each of them.

In the end I did what all bad mums do, I put on a dvd to keep them occupied, and rocked Daniel to sleep. I don’t want the kids watching TV all day, but sometimes I just can’t manage anything else.

If anyone knows a way that one person can split in three, or even better four, please let me know. Whoever patented that invention would be worth a fortune!

A Visit To Brookhall Historical Farm, Lisburn

Today I had a real taste of what summer will be like this year, in a town where I actually know and socialise with other parents.

A friend and I decided that as the children were off from school, we would take them all on a mini day trip. Since the weather forecast was favourable for once, we decided on a trip to the farm, and a picnic lunch.

We chose Brookhall Historical Farm as it is only about 7 miles from home, it is really cheap, and it has loads of room for the children to play.

The kids all had a ball, and for once there were no arguments and no fighting. My two were thrilled when a kid goat began chasing them around a field, and they were hysterical when the donkey began to ‘Hee Haw’ at a deafening volume.

Daniel was fascinated by the mini lake and tried to jump out of my arms and into the water many times. And when the kids were amused and playing in a safe environment, my pal and I were able to have a great gossip and chat, uninterrupted for once.

It was a lovely day, I am looking forward to repeating it many times during the summer holidays!

The Great Outdoors!

Where have my children gone….I haven’t seen them in days!

That is a bit of an exaggeration, but since the sun started shining earlier this week, I haven’t been able to keep Rachel and Jake indoors for more than 15 minutes at a time.

A month ago jake couldn’t ride a 3 wheeled scooter, now he is like a speed demon on the two wheel version. A month ago Jake was just learning to ride a small two wheel bicycle with stabilisers, now he zooms up and down the street on Rachels much bigger model. Rachel can cycle with no hands and rollerskate without falling over at every step. Daniel loves the baby swing and eating sand!
The time outdoors has been great for me too. Since the kids are too young to play outdoors alone, I have been spending most of my time on our garden bench watching over them. This has resulted in my usual blue/white skin obtaining a much healthier glow. My skin normally burns and then goes white again, but this year due to my vigilance with the low spf lotion and the lengthier periods outdoors I have a very very slight tan.

Long may this fine weather continue! If only I could convince Gerard to clean out the barbecue then it really would feel like summer time!

Pie Pie Make A Pie……. How To Build A Sandcastle!

When we were younger, my mum always sang a silly tune each time we were building sandcastles. When we got to the stage of tipping our buckets over and tapping the top, my mum always sang “pie pie make a pie, if you don’t I’ll beat your bum”.

I know that in this day and age thats not very politically correct, but can I just say that my mum never in fact ‘beat my bum’!

Since we have had fantastic weather this week and have spent more time in the garden, than in the house I took a quick trip to the toy store last night and bought Rachel and Jake a sandpit. Jake has hardly moved from it since I set it up. He just loves to get his hands dirty.

As I helped him build and then destroy the castles one by one, I found myself singing my mums rhyme “pie pie make a pie…….”. Jake of course picked it up very quickly.
Gerard and I almost collapsed with laughter as we watched Jake from the garden bench tonight. Now every time he builds a castle, one hand is patting the bucket and the other is patting his wee bum as he sings his castle making ditty. Its definately one of those Kodak moments. I really must charge the battery one my video camera!

24 Hour TV For Babies….What Do You Think?

Babyfirst TV has announced its first 24 hour TV channel aimed at children aged 6 months to three years old.

When I first read this I couldn’t believe my eyes. I have just about gotten used to 24 hour shopping, and 24 hours music channels, I can’t imagine there would be a need, or even a want for 24 hour television for children. Apparently the American Academy of Pediatrics agree with me!

I’m not in any way saying that children should never be allowed to watch TV. My children love to watch their programmes and I am guilty of setting my eight month old boy in front of the screen every now and then, in the hope of buying myself enough time to use the toilet, without him realising I am gone.

However, my children are also stimulated in other ways, and get plenty of outdoors play. They mainly watch TV in the mornings before school and I specifically don’t allow them to watch cartoons all day long.
At night children should be sleeping, or winding down for the day. Why would you want your baby to watch TV at 3am? I ask you!