13th May 2020
So today marks 50 days in Isolation for us and it looks like we have a few more weeks to go so I thought I would share some things we get up to at home and some ways that I stay sane with my 4 and 1 year old.
I’ll start by saying that I definitely don’t have this nailed in any way at all. We have some absolutely terrible days but also some lovely days. I also appreciate that I am in a extremely fortunate position compared to others, I don’t yet rely on my photography income for bills and being furloughed from my part time job means I don’t have to worry about juggling work and looking after the children (My hat off to those of you who do and also those who are homeschooling as well!) But as anyone with similar age children will know is that at this age they are full on and need constant attention and stimulation. My husband still goes out to work so I am at home on my own most the day. I hope sharing some of my wins will help others in a similar situation to me.
So I have a now 4 year old (turned 4 during lockdown) and 1 year old. They are both very demanding on me in very different ways. Here are just a few things that help keep them entertained and a little bit about what our day looks like:
My Activity Inspirations:
My most used item is the ‘Five Minute Mum’ book by Daisy Upton (https://fiveminutemum.com/) It has really simple and quick ideas (5 minutes to set up) for toddlers and preschoolers. I especially love it as it’s a little more suited to my little boy than other things I have found. He’s not too into messy play or typically creative things (i.e. drawing/painting etc) but this book is very varied and he loves the interactive and competitive games. It also includes a section devoted to introducing letters and numbers through games and also a section on helping them prepare for the start of school. These are things which Arthur would be doing at Preschool and as I really have no idea, this has been really helpful for me to keep up with a little bit. Another thing that I love is that the activities don’t take long at all to set up so if they are not interested then it really doesn’t matter and I am not annoyed that I have wasted loads of time. Take a look at her Instagram and blog, which gives you a feel for the sort of things that are included:
I also use Play Hooray Prompts by Claire Russell (https://playhooray.co.uk/) I have the original pack and the ABC/123 pack. These are great from about 6 months plus. The cards are really handy to flick through. I believe she has a book coming out soon too. Again check out her Instagram which is packed full of ideas and she also has a play along live every morning at 10am, which we have done a couple of times. Arthur really engages with her and she makes it really fun.
I also follow a lovely local mum blogger Amy Jane and Baby (https://www.instagram.com/amyjaneandbaby/?hl=en) who shares her play ideas every morning for her 3 year old and 6 months old. I find her ideas really suited to me as he little boy and mine seem to have similar interests and they are really simple to set up which suits me too!
And that’s really it for the main things I follow as those 3 offer plenty and I don’t want to overwhelm myself with ideas. Other things I see, I save onto my Instagram ‘saved’ section if I am ever stuck for ideas.
From the advice of Amy Jane and Baby I bought a ‘tuff tray’ from Amazon. The real tuff trays seem to be ridiculously expensive at the moment but I bought this one (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Garland-GP45B-60cm%C2%B2-Tray/dp/B00J4MKE8I/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=tuff+tray&qid=1589318250&sr=8-3) which is a very good size for our needs. This has been the best purchase when trying to entertain both children. I think sensory play has been perfect to entertain both ages and this tray contains all the mess (mostly) there are all sorts of ideas all over the internet for these trays but I tend to keep it simple. Just a few examples are stones and diggers, playdoh, soil and cooking utensils, oats and water to make ‘cakes’, oats and cocoa with farm animals, or simply just water and containers! Lily loves collecting small objects and sorting them into pots and Arthur comes up with all sorts of wonderful games we have to play no matter what I put in front of him.
Planning in the evening some of our activities for the next day has helped me massively. It doesn’t always happen as my son is a nightmare going to bed and sometimes I just go to bed straight after him as I’m so exhausted. But on the evenings that I can do it, having a few activities planned whether it’s just playdoh or something I have found from Instagram, definitely leads to a better day the next day because I feel more in control. Even if I let them do their own thing, when it starts to get a bit chaotic I can pull one of these activities out the bag and change the direction of the day. Writing it down helps as when I’m exhausted and in the midst of chaos my mind goes blank! I’ve seen some people have themed days which I think is a brilliant idea. I am planning on a ‘the very hungry Caterpillar’ themed day but it just needs a little bit more planning than I am usually capable of at the moment (ha!)
Before I go to bed I also lay out or set up a few toys for them. Choosing some that they haven’t pulled out themselves in a while or setting up a specific area for books/duplo/stickers etc. I find laying the toys out encourages them to play with something different. This usually gives me a few minutes in the morning for me to wake up and have a cup of tea while they explore them (I make it sound lovely but it doesn’t always happen, a lot of the time I am met with demands instantly!) This sort of set up is what Arthur had at Playgroup so I think it’s nice to try and bring a little playgroup into home.
Luckily my 1 year old naps for an hour or so after lunch. I have to stay with her while she falls asleep and whereas this was really hard to begin with to keep Arthur away while I do this he now is at an age where he understands and is happy to stay away. This may not be for everyone but I give Lily her lunch first then when she’s eating hers I’ll make up Arthur’s. I’ll then pop Arthur in front of the TV with his favourite show and his lunch in a lunchbox and then take Lily upstairs for a nap. This buys me about 10-20 minutes to get lily to sleep. Once she’s asleep I make sure I have lunch and try and sit down with Arthur to rest. If he wants to play, I’ll encourage him to stay in the lounge or we’ll go out on the garden but keep things quiet. This doesn’t always work and it especially didn’t when he was younger. For those with 2-3 year olds and a young baby I feel you. Keep going, you are doing amazing. It’s sooo hard now but it will get easier I promise!
Being kind to myself
I believe taking time to yourself is so important for our sanity. When my husband is home, I’ll try to have an hour or so to myself even if it’s just to sit on my bed and listen to a podcast or I’ll go for a walk on my own if the kids won’t leave me alone. When he is at work, it’s obviously a little more difficult. But I find when I have set up their toys and activities for them and spent a little time playing with them, I don’t feel guilty about saying mummy just needs a few minutes or mummy just needs to put the washing away now. Sometimes this isn’t acceptable to my 4 year old but I’ll try and persist with it by saying I will play with him after I have done what I need to do.. we have found sand timers are great for visualising how long it will be until we can play again. If I was to play with him when I was feeling frustrated and angry, it won’t be a fun experience for either of us so it’s really important to be able to regroup if I can. My 1 year old doesn’t understand this concept obviously so throughout the day when they seem content together I’ll sneak off quickly to get a few jobs done or I will put her in a sling (doesn’t happen very often anymore). When I can feel things spiralling, I’ll change us to a different room, suggest a mid day bath, go in the garden, to ring a loved one – anything that completely changes our environment. Unfortunately, my son isn’t too keen on going for walks as he’s just sad that he can’t go to the parks but I really try to encourage it once every few days but it takes a lot of effort and as the weather has been so nice, we mainly keep to the garden which has been a godsend. I have never appreciated more how lucky we are to have an outdoor space!
I feel like I also have to cover a little bit about social media as I feel like its a big part of our lives at the moment (especially for us photographers where its the only thing we can really do jobwise at the moment) When it comes to social media, I definitely see the value in it. I get all my play ideas from there, I love following what other people are up to, I’m inspired constantly photography wise and it’s a great platform to feel connected. I don’t usually compare myself to others and if I do, it just spurs me on to be better or to change something. Things that I see that are completely out of my reach I don’t even give a second thought as they are not my life. However since lockdown, I admit that I have fallen into the comparison trap about what I should be doing with the kids. And also thinking ridiculous things like why can’t my son sit down and draw nicely or play nice board games or go to sleep at a decent hour etc. At this point I have found it has helped putting my phone down and not looking at it until the evening. I have needed to remind myself a lot that we are in unusual times and I need to stop putting so much pressure on myself during a pandemic! This goes for my business/ for work and for my kids. At first I felt like I should be doing it all and doing it all really well but it is just not realistic! We are all doing the best we can. And as for Instagram I needed to remind myself that we are only seeing one brief moment from their day. It does not give us an indication of their full day which i’m sure is full of ups and downs like all of us. It’s ok to watch lots of TV (we do), it’s ok to shut yourself in the toilet for a few minutes just for a ‘break’ (I definitely do this too!), it’s ok to feel sad/frustrated/angry/bored. These are uncertain and scary times. We just need to recognise and acknowledge the way we are feeling and then do something that calms you. For me that’s picking up the camera but it could be going for a run/having a shower/blasting some music or sticking a film on!
I hope that was useful/reassuring for some and please get in comment or contact me if this has resonated with anyone, I would love to know that I am not alone or if I have helped anyone in any way with some ideas 🙂 Stay safe
By Leanne Elizabeth Photography – natural and relaxed Family Photographer based in Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds