Happy Fathers Day

This is the second year of doing the blog properly whilst “celebrating” Fathers Day and it feels somewhat appropriate to do a blog post in advance of this. (You can read my first Fathers Day post HERE)

Anyway, this blog post was inspired by Trips with a Tot asking what was a favourite trip out/activity. It got me thinking about what we had planned for Fathers Day this year and actually, it isn’t where we are going (although it is pretty cool!) but who we are going with.

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People say you lose your social life when you have a child – in fact, the opposite it true.  You make different friends – special friends. Friends who you talk to over a coffee (or soft drink in my case!) rather than a drink, whilst in a indoor play area rather than a bar. These friends know what you’re going through, why you have odd socks on and why you’re a bit late.

These friends are special, very special. Without going to regular Rhythm Time classes, I wouldn’t have these friends and if you’re a parent and feel as though you’re on an island, go to a regular class (there are some on a weekend, they are just harder to find) and the rest will take care of itself.

Socialising is a basic human need that we sometimes overlook but parents need it as much as children do. Without these friends, I wouldn’t be on a relatively even keel and Heidi wouldn’t have some of the best friends in the world. Saturday morning get-togethers are the best and looked forward to so much!

Anyway, have a good Fathers Day, regardless of if you’re Mum or Dad, together or separate – we all have to play the stereotypical role of dad in being a parent so feel free to have a small drink to celebrate after bedtime – I’ll be having some pop!!

PS – if you’re a fellow Leeds Dad and feel the need to socialise with others, can I recommend “Leeds Dads” – a really laid back social network who have monthly get-togethers on a Sunday.


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Choosing a Nursery

With the introduction of the additional free nursery hours coming shortly, more and more parents will be making the difficult choice as to which nursery is right for them and their child. There is no right choice, especially when you’re  not sure how you’ll feel when you leave your pride and joy for the first time. However, I hope that this quick little guide can help:

How does it fit in with work?

If you’re lucky enough not to worry about this, then great! However, opening and closing times are vital for most, and their location compared to work is key. It might be easier for the nursery to be located close to work as opposed to close to home

School or Private nursery?

Obviously for the smaller children, this isn’t an option, but it is something to give thought to. For some, the longer opening hours of the private nursery outweighs the benefits of a school nursery. A school nursery is likely to be better in getting a pre-schooler prepared for proper school, but a private nursery is likely to have better facilities and more freedoms.

Check out OFSTED

Whilst it is only a report about past performance, reading the OFSTED report can provide an excellent insight as to how good a nursery really is. This also applies to childminders, so it can be an invaluable tool.

Get Recommendations

In your circle of friends, ask around to see if anyone has any recommendations about which ones are good or not so good.

Look around

At the end of the day, you’re a customer (sad to think of it that way!) so feel free to ask to look around for an hour and see how your child fits in. You’ll know quite quickly if they feel at home or not!!

Cost

Sadly, life comes with a pricetag! However, ask about certain things such as the cost for lunch/snacks, as well as things like visits out of the nursery setting. Also ask how easy/costly it is to increase or reduce your hours, as well as flexibility.

Activities

Do the children get to play out on a regular basis? Do they get to go on trips out of the nursery setting? I know some go to the library on a regular basis and so this is something to ask when making enquiries.

At the end of the day, it is a difficult choice – however, it is harder when you say goodbye for the first time. This was my open letter when Heidi started nursery… Starting Nursery

Feel free to add your comments and thoughts into the comments section below, especially as I am sure that I have missed some!!


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Flying with a 3 year old

This is the first of a series of posts detailing our February 2017 holiday to Florida, hopefully giving a few hints and tips along the way if you’re planning on doing a similar trip in the future.

This time last year, I published “Flying with a Toddler” (https://leedsdad.com/2016/03/01/flying-with-a-toddler-2622016/) but the toddler is more of a three-nager now, so I thought that it would be good to refresh…

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This time, we flew with Virgin Atlantic from Manchester to Atlanta and then onwards to Tampa, all in all, about 10 hours in the air and total travelling time of 21 hours from door to door! Flying from Manchester is quite good with a young child as there is a toddler play area in Terminal 2, and a really decent play area for slightly older children in Terminal 2. As we found out, such facilities are not as available Stateside…

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Terminal 2 play area

On board the plane, the leg-room was decent in the standard seats, but the additional legroom seats felt very spacious and with the additional cost being only a few pounds, it is well worth it. There were seatback TV’s with a wide variety of programmes/films etc for all passengers – however, given the attention span of a 3 year old, this would never be enough… The Virgin Atlantic website suggests that children goody-bags are handed out, but we didn’t see them anywhere, but they would have been good to see.

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Remember to pack child sized earphones!!

Perhaps the most simple and cost effective method of entertainment was to pack small toys that you tend to get from a vending machine for £1 and allow the child to open one whenever they got bored. So long as you get different ones, it should keep them entertained for a while and clearly don’t cost much. If you have a larger budget, a tablet would be useful for all the games that they can entertain themselves with (check before travelling they don’t need internet access!) Also, letting them have their own bag (even if you have to carry it) is a great way of giving them a sense of responsibility and pride.

However, clearly a 9 hour flight is a long time for anyone and so meal time is a bit of a treat! Make sure you book your special meal a few weeks before departure. This is what Heidi was served as a “child’s meal” for lunch and tea (I put it in quotes as the serving was ample for a 3 year old!)

While Virgin do fly directly to the House of the Mouse, flying indirectly does tend to cost less and while the travel time is longer, it does break up the day a bit. Yes, it is an inconvenience, but if it is the difference between having a holiday or not, the extra bit of adventure is well worth it! Also, you get to clear Customs and Immigration after your first flight which makes it quicker at your final destination. Even with a sleepy 3 year old, it was easy to manage the various passport and security checks.

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However, the easiest way to fly with a 3 year old, is to try and let them sleep and if they are happy with their own company, let them be and relax a bit yourself, after all, it is your holiday too!!


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Clangers Magazine

We were invited to review “The Clangers” magazine, (for those who don’t know, “The Clangers” is a children’s TV programme which runs on the BBC) and given the success of the programme, they have launched a spin-off magazine, aimed at 3-6 year olds.

As a bit of a change, the review is in a Question and Answer format:

Did your child enjoy the new Clangers magazine? Yes, seeing the smile on her face when she opened the parcel and started reading it. You can’t fake that kind of reaction!

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Which part did they enjoy the most? Definitely the stickers! I think that every child likes stickers, although Heidi particularly wanted to wear the stickers for some reason!

Would you buy it again? Absolutely

Did you find it educational? I particularly liked the alphabet pull out (we had been searching for one all weekend. Also, the page about the moon was very good, particularly as we are getting into planets/space etc

The font type particularly for the Singing Asteroid was nice and clear and large and while it sounds like a simple thing, it makes it easier to teach letters

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What did they think of their free gift? (The Clangers Whistle) The whistle didn’t have a blowhole in (presumably a manufacturing fault) and it took me a while to work it out – in fact, that should have been the most educational part…for me!

Once we did a bit of DIY we managed to get a decent sound out of it and played with it for almost as long as the magazine

Which Clanger do you love the most? Tiny Clanger!

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For the purposes of the review, we received a copy of the magazine for free.


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Christmas as a single parent

It sucks… let’s just get it out of the way. It really, really sucks.

This is the first year where bridges have been burned, the end of the road has been reached etc etc. Things are going to be awkward. There will be tears. There already has been. There are whilst writing this…

No-one will be happy all of the time. Not me, not mum, not even the most important person in all of this, Heidi. Unfortunately, with her being 3 years old, she probably won’t know what she wants until it is too late. Regardless of all the plans, unless they are perfect/lucky, they won’t please her. Maybe in a couple of years time, she will be able to say exactly what she wants, and mean it, but not at the moment sadly. That is the worse thing about all of this, the poor little thing is going to be really confused and upset and there is nothing I can do.

It sucks.

I am already dreading the time it will be to say goodbye on the big day. Mind you, I dread it every single time, be it summer, winter, weekday, weekend. It is an emotion that you can never escape as a single parent.

It sucks.

The last couple of years, we have managed to spend the day as a notional family so we all spent the day with her and made it as “normal” as possible. Sadly, despite best efforts, that doesn’t seem to be on the agenda so even 2 weeks before Christmas, I have no idea what is actually going to happen.

It sucks.

However, in the days leading up to and after Christmas, I am going to treat every day like it is Christmas Day. Ok, there won’t be any presents or crackers or big dinner, but there will be fun times, laughter, adventures and love.

That is the best that I can do for myself and Heidi. That is the only thing I can do.

Yes, it will suck on Christmas Day, regardless. But I’ll have the memories of the days before and the planning of the days after to think about.

At least that’s the plan…


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Applying for a Passport

Although my work life is all about putting numbers in boxes, the thought of filling in a passport application form filled me with dread and so I thought that it would be a good idea to post a few little hints and tips, especially if your little one is going on their first overseas adventure.

Photos

Whilst I am old enough to remember being on my mum’s passport without a photo (how did that ever happen?!) you need 2 photos for your application form.  If you have any fear that your child won’t be able to have a good photo in one of those rubbish photo booths, I would recommend going to a proper photography shop (Max Spielmann etc) and just paying a little more to have someone actually take the photo. It cost us £6 for 6 pictures, which is a little more than the booth, but you know that the photo will be right for the passport

You have to get someone to countersign (more on them later!) just one photo with the following:

“I certify that this is a true likeness of (INSERT CHILD’S FULL NAME)”

and then sign and date it. The child’s name must include the middle name, otherwise they will return it (been there done that!). As parent, you do not need to sign the back of the photo.

Forms

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Did you know that there were 2 different forms?! The old-school form from the Post Office is different to the one that you can fill in online and as a result, one might be easier to fill in than the other, especially if you have a slightly complicated family background. ONLY GO TO THE OFFICIAL .GOV WEBSITE – THERE ARE SOME DODGY SITES OUT THERE!! (sorry for shouting!)

I would recommend going down the online route if possible, as you are able to save a final version before signatures and so if that bit goes wrong, you can always print off another copy. However, you do have to pay up front, so you need to be sure that you’re going to go through with the process before you go down this route. Also, you do need a printer as clearly HM Passport Office aren’t fully into the 21st Century.

I do have a copy of the online form if anyone is interested in seeing the questions. Please email info@leedsdad.com and I’ll send it over to you.

If you go down the paper form route, I would highly recommend the Check and Send facility offered by the Post Office. This takes away some of the stress of worrying once you send off the form.

However, before you fill in the form, you may need to ask your extended family for their passport numbers and place of birth as these are the more random questions which are on the form (don’t ask me why!!)

If you are applying for a first passport, you also need to send the original of the birth certificate which you get it back a couple of days before you receive the passport.

Countersignatory

There are various rules about who can countersign the forms, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/countersigning-passport-applications/accepted-occupations-for-countersignatories

Generally they need to know you for 2 years, and be a “person of good standing”. If they are signing for a child’s passport, they need to know the parent signing the passport for 2 years and not the child. If you are struggling to get the passport signed off, the one occupation which is a bit of a catch all is a “manager of a VAT registered company” which is a very wide term as you can manage one person in a small firm and be classed as that.

Success?!

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As of the summer 2016, it took 3 weeks to get the passport back so the turnaround times are quite quick. You can make an appointment to go to the Passport Office itself if you need a passport urgently, but that sounds far too stressful!!!

Once you get the passport, you can concentrate on the import part – the holiday!!!!

PS If you want further advice, go to the Kiddie Holidays website here


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Christmas Present Ideas – Smiggle

So we were invited, along with a number of other bloggers early Sunday morning to the #smigglexmasparty launch in the Smiggle store in the Trinity Shopping Centre in Leeds City Centre. Having never been to Smiggle before, I deliberately didn’t do any research (other than making sure it was a legitimate shop!) so that first impressions counted.

And wow, what a first impression it leaves. If I was to explain it in simple terms, it is like a well known stationers mixed in with a well know beauty shop. However, a work colleague probably described it better when saying that it looked like a rainbow from the outside! The colours when you enter are so vibrant and striking – and that is exactly the type of persona the products inside have and exactly the type of products children want to have and be seen to have.

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Reaction upon entering the store!!

We were left to our own for about an hour to basically play with all the products in store, see what we liked, what we didn’t like and generally be nosy (and pick up Christmas present ideas!!) At the moment, Heidi is being taught how to use a pencil properly, although she is not too interested in it and so a shop like this is a perfect opportunity to get her interested and enthusiastic about writing – because they make it “cool”!!

A simple stocking filler that we found was the Scented Pencil Pack (4 pencils for £4.50) where the pencils smell and also, if you rub them, they change colour. So simple, but it would be something that Heidi would use and be excited about using, and would help her development.

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Not just normal pencils!

A favourite of most of the children was the Pop Out Scented Party Pencil Case (£15) as it looked like the Swiss Army knife of pencil cases! It had drawers and buttons for everything from scissors to rubbers and sellotape – it even had space for pens and pencils!! Not quite sure how the teachers would react to the pencil case if your child was playing with it in class, but not a bad problem to have.

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Mesmerised!!

However, we liked the smelly soft pencil cases, which come in all sorts of shapes, but we loved the ones which looked  like drinks containers. Perhaps it fitted in well with the humour of a 3 year old, but out of everything of the store, that is the one thing she wanted, so we bought it for £11. She was hysterical upon the idea of drinking out of a pencil case!!

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Trying to keep a straight face!!

While it all sounds a bit “girly”, there are products for boys as well, including Yo-Yo’s with an LED light (£7) as well as a “pumping” toy, which extremely popular with a number of children, but was probably not popular with the parents, so that might be one to give to a niece or nephew!!  There was also a slinky with animals painted on the side, which we couldn’t really see in store because there were no stairs (£8.50) but looked really cool.

Although the products are aimed towards children and teenagers, a good little present would be the “Puzzle Python”  (£10) which is made up of 60 small magnetic tiles and you can arrange them however you like, to make whatever you like. Due to the small nature of the pieces, younger children would probably not have the dexterity to play with it, but it would look good on an office desk!

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Completed Puzzle Pythons

As this was a preview event, the staff were obviously really keen to help, but they did seem genuinely enthusiastic about their products and were really good with the children. Now, I am one of these people who do all their shopping online for Christmas, but I think that if you’re going to buy from Smiggle, you really need to go in the store to see the actual product. By all means, do the research online, but because the products are so unique, you really need to see them, and smell them. In fact, you might look a bit weird, but smell the products, because virtually everything in store has a scent, usually after rubbing it!!

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Making friends at the #smigglexmasparty

Also, if you have seen a product online, or you are looking for something specific, ask the staff to point it out to you. As it is a small store and so colourful, it can be difficult to pick a specific item out, so make sure you ask for help, especially if you have no idea what you’re looking for (like me!!)

For complete and open transparency, for attending the event, we were given a small number of stocking fillers, oh and a mini muffin, which seemed to go down very well!!

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Good muffin!!


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