Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Tough Conversations

One of the things I love doing on this blog is writing guides on various topics, from the best places to eat to how to pick out a good school. One of the things I have no guide or magic recipe for is how to have the really tough conversations with children. There are all sorts of topics that are slowly creeping up- ranging from body awareness, sexuality, death, current affairs, race and so many others. I definitely don't have it all figured out yet and would love other parent's input on these topics.


Noodle is five and is discovering more and more about the big, crazy, sometimes scary world around her. She knows that she can talk to us about anything that is bothering her and that we will answer her questions. However, the answers are getting harder and harder. While I want to wrap her in cotton wool and retain her innocence forever, there are some conversations about the big scary world around her that are inevitable and we are busy trying to find a balance between just letting her be a child and equipping her with knowledge to survive out there.

The 'don't talk to strangers' conversation is one of the tough ones that I don't have completely figured out. You don't want to stop children from talking to strangers entirely as there are of course situations that warrant talking to strangers and you also don't want to create a scenario where your child is petrified that every stranger out there is a child snatcher. 

What I have taught my daughter is not to give out personal information with strangers, not to get into a car or go off with anyone and to let us know if any adult says anything to her that makes her feel uncomfortable. Is this enough? I am not sure.

The 'body' talk is also one that slowly needs to happen. I have made a point of teaching my children the correct names for their private parts and which areas are private. I may have taken it a bit far with Noodle because now even dad is not allowed to see her even partially undressed, even in emergency situations. The talks about sexuality have not quite started but I am nervously preparing myself for. My children both know that girls and boys have different bodies but not the reasons for this. When Squish was born (she was still three), Noodle learnt that you need a mommy and daddy who love each other very much before the Almighty puts a baby in the mommy's tummy. (How he got out was also easy to explain with a c-section). The thought that in just a few years time, my little baby will start growing little boobies and menstruating freaks me out just a little bit so I know the conversations surrounding that need to happen in due course.

Noodle is also becoming more and more aware of current affairs- she hears things on the news headlines as we are driving and asks me about them. I want to provide her with the facts but I also don't want her to be scared of every aweful thing happening out there. Usually I end up giving her a slightly sanitised version of the actual occurrence. How does one strike a balance? She has to live in this world and be aware of her surroundings but I also don't want her living in constant fears of murderers and rapists.

Then race is an interesting one. We have tried to raise our children in a way where race is not seen as an issue and to some extent we have succeeded but I was of course deluded into thinking this would always be the case. Squish is still oblivious to race, being the little Indian toddler with a white child and a black child as his two best friends. Noodle has now started becoming aware that there are differences in the appearances of people but thankfully has not picked up on the discrimination part of it. 

Hubby and I found it highly amusing when Noodle came to us last year excitedly, telling dad how she had met an Indian person for the first time (we had ended up having a conversation with a lady from India in a queue somewhere). On this topic, we eventually let her know that South Africans all look different because their ancestors came from different parts of the world, that we have different hair and skin types but that all are to be celebrated. We let her know that her great great grandparents were from India and that while we are South African, we are also classified as 'Indian' because of where our ancestors came from. Subsequent to that conversation, in the last month or two she has picked up on some things that I did not expect, like saying that only brown skinned people are domestic workers and that I can't send her to her school's aftercare because only the brown children go there (this one surprised me).

Sadly, the reality is that even many years into democracy, racism does still exist in South Africa (recent news headlines make that much apparent). Adult South Africans are acutely aware of race and so are some of the children I know (Noodle has discovered race only on a very superficial level but I have heard older children refer to race in no uncertain terms). I know racists of all colours and while I want to protect my little girl from this reality for as long as possible, I am not sure this is possible. How have you broached this topic?

How much do you tell your children about all these issues? How much do you protect them from reality? I would really appreciate feedback from readers on this one.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

What to Look for in a Pre-School

At some point, you are likely to send your child to a daycare, nursery school, creche or play school. This is a scary step for both parents and little ones but, for most, a necessary one. When you do take this big step, you obviously want to make sure that you are sending your child somewhere where they will be safe, happy and appropriately stimulated. 

Sadly, while there are some great schools out there, you also hear lots of terrifying horror stories, so it is important to check that the place that you are considering is up to scratch. To a large extent, your requirements will depend on your personal circumstances, eg. whether you work full time your child's personality, whether you are looking for a school that is more play focused or more academic etc.

Of course a visit (preferably during school time when you can observe) is mandatory before making a decision. Besides this, here are some of the things that you should consider:

First things first- is the school registered? How long has the school been running? Do they have a proven track record? Have all staff members completed first aid courses?

Do you like the staff members? Do they seem trustworthy? What did your instincts tell you when you visited the school? Did the children LOOK happy? Your gut feel is crucially important here. 

Do you know any other parents who have their kids at the school? If not, ask around and get their views on the school.
Do their hours suit your requirements? For example, if you are at home and have younger children, you may want a place that you can send your child a couple of times a week for a few hours. If you work, you will need somewhere that opens early enough and closes late enough to enable you to do pick ups and drop offs. (Remember that with younger children, drop off's can sometimes kill a good fifteen minutes).

Are the facilities clean, well looked after and appealing to little ones? Are there any safety hazards? Look at things from a child level when considering this one. Are small toys kept where younger children can access them?

How many children are there?  With very large classes your child might receive less attention and be more prone to catch bugs. Are smaller children kept separate from the older ones?

Who will be looking after your little one? What is the ratio of caregivers to children.
What is their daily schedule like? Do the teachers have the necessary qualifications? Look into the different methodologies out there, eg. Montessorri, Waldorf etc and consider what would best suit your child.

What are the fees like? Can you afford them? While good child care does come at a cost, pricier does not always equate to better. Consider whether there are extra costs, for example stationary, meals, excursions, extra-murals, inhouse health checks, special clothes for certain activities etc (these can all add up). Also, bear in mind that some schools expect you to send basics such as toilet paper, tissues, soap or plasters. Work out what all of these items will cost you before labelling one school as being cheaper than the other.

What is their philosophy with regards to raising a child? What is their approach to discipline and does this align to your own moral code?

What are their processes in a scenario that your child falls ill or gets injured? 

Are meals provided? Are any dietary restrictions catered for? Besides meals catered by the school, what is the approach when food is brought in by other learners for bakers days, birthdays etc? 

Is the area safe? Is security adequate? Are there cameras? What policies are in place in terms of who is allowed to fetch the child? Ironically, too much security is also a possibility in Johannesburg- the first school we sent Noodle to had boom gates and three fingerprint checkpoints before you could get near the children. While we were certain the children were safe, it did feel a bit like the little ones were in prison and they also didn't allow anyone but the parents to pick children up under any circumstances, which was a problem if we were in a fix for whatever reason. 

Is the school in a convenient area for you? If you have to drive there, how long will it take you to get there in traffic? Consider doing a test run before enrolling your child if getting to work on time is on your priority list. Is there  sufficient parking for parents?

What is the daily routine like? How much of time is spent indoors versus outdoors? What activities are there for the little ones? How much of parental involvement is required? For example, I love the school my son is at right now but I honestly do not know if I could keep up with all the extras parents need to do and send if I were working full time.

How does the school keep you updated with regards to your child's progress and daily events?

What is the nap time regime?

What is their approach with regards to nappies/ potty training/ toilet routines? Are the toilets clean? Do the children get enough assistance in the toilet? (This was another gripe that I had at a previous school- two year old's were expected to go to toilet alone unsupervised). What are the nappy change facilities like?

At the end of the day, you will know best what is best for your little one, but hopefully this list will help you to make an informed decision. 

Friday, 12 February 2016

Just Another Random Conversation Between My Kids

Most conversations between my children are odd to put it mildly. This is the kind of ordinary conversation you would be subjected to if you were a fly on my walls listening to a five year old Noodle engaging with a two year old Squish. 

Noodle: Let's play I Spy.

Squish: Okay. I spy with my witter eye something beginning with a .... SNAKE.  

Noodle: You have to say the letter that is starts with.

Squish: Okay... the letter... SNAKE.

Is it a snake?

Squish: No.

Noodle: Is it a horse?

Squish: Yes!

(Sometimes they are on the same bizarre wavelength.)

Squish:  I spy something beginning with a .... CAR.

Noodle: That's not how the game works.

(Big argument follows). 

Noodle: Let's play doctor instead. 

(Gets out doctor kit.)

Noodle: You need to be the patient and I will give the diagnosis.

Squish: No, I want to be the dia-noser. (Grabs toy reflex hammer thingie.)

Noodle: No!
(She traps him under a blanket and forces him into a lying down position.)  

Noodle: Now patient, what seems to be the problem.

Squish: I a ghost. Whooooohoooohooo.

Noodle: Ghost, which part of you is hurting?

Squish: My elbow (while pointing to his knee).

Noodle: Aaaahaaaa! I see the problem. You have a bad case of Hurt-a-knee-osis. You need to stay in this hospital bed for a lot of, lot of days until you are used to it. 

Squish: I want my mommy.

Noodle: No, you need to stay here for very, very long my patient.

Squish: Okay (sweet voice).

Then he runs away at full speed. Wise move.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

36 Smart Show and Tell Ideas

With a grade R daughter who has to do show and tell weekly (yes... every single week) and a two year old who has to do it occasionally, I have been trying to think very hard about ideas for show and tell (because lets face it, while the little ones do the actual presentation, it is usually mommy who has to come up with the bright ideas). 


What constitutes show and tell differs a little for the two kids- Squish can pretty much take any object and tell his class about it. For Noodle, it has to be a demonstration of some sort (they have an entirely different day of the week when they have to take an object and talk about it).

So here are some ideas, in no particular order. These should be suitable for little ones between around two and seven. This may depend on their capabilities and specific school requirements, eg. they may require that is has to be a demonstration or it has to be something from nature. I have not included instructions for any of these as they should be simple enough to figure out but I will be happy to give instructions for any of these if needed.


1. For younger children, taking a favourite toy and talking about it or showing how it works is an easy option.

2. Also popular with the little ones is to take a pet to school. I would recommend checking with the teacher before doing this one and taking care of any logistical issues surrounding it (I would never be brave enough to let my kids opt for this one- there were some horror stories last year). 

3. Younger children can talk about their bodies and what the different parts of their bodies do. Demonstrate with a doll or teddy bear.
4. Do a demonstration of how to ice and decorate a cupcake or plain biscuit, make a sandwich,  milkshake or fruit salad.

5. Talk about the different seasons and take items of clothes for each season.

6. Younger children can take objects such as leaves, shells, pine cones or feathers and talk about it.

7. Make a kite. 

8. Make a bracelet or necklace.

9. Make a paper fan, paper flower or paper aeroplane.

10. Make a snowflake cut out. 

11. Put on a puppet show. 

12. Demonstrate how to plant a seedling. 

13. Do a song and dance. 

14. If the child has a hobby or sport that they take part in, they can talk about that and take the equipment that they use (eg. a ballet tutu and slippers or a tennis racket and tennis ball). 

15. Demonstrate something arty- a handprint picture or leaf animals on paper. 

16. Make a diorama (an ocean, a forest or a beach are easy ones). You may want to prepare individual components of this at home.

17. You can do the old school volcano with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar (I think we all did this one when we were younger).

18. Take objects that smell different and explain about your sense of smell.

19. Let the kids talk about a holiday or special trip they have been on (take pictures with).

20. Decorate an egg (boil it first or you are likely to have a mess on your hands). 

21. Take a toothbrush and toothpaste and demonstrate how to brush your teeth.

22. Make something out of Lego blocks. 

23. Take a toy car, truck, train etc and talk about different modes of transport. 

24. Take paints in primary colours and demonstrate how they change colour if you mix them.

25. Make a chain out of paper clips. 

26. Do a flower arrangement.

27. Talk about exercising and let the class join in with some simple exercises.

28. Write or draw on a banana with a toothpick and show how the writing shows up a few minutes later.

29. Take a favourite book and talk about it.

30. Take some 'trash' and talk about recycling.   

31. Take different food objects and talk about healthy and unhealthy food. 

32.  Take magnets and demonstrate picking up metallic objects.

33. Make a bookmark.

34. Make something out of play dough

35. Take various animal figurines and talk about those animals. 

36. Prepare a chart with various textures (eg. sandpaper, cottonwool etc) and talk about how each one feels.    

Please share your best show and tell ideas. Also, let me know about the ones that went horribly wrong.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

How I Completed My Master's Degree as A Full-Time Working Mom

I have seen a lot of posts on social media by moms (or other full-time employed adults) who are considering further studies but not sure if it can be done. I thought I would share what worked and what did not work for me for anyone considering going down this path. Obviously, this will be variable depending on your personal commitments and how demanding the particular course you have chosen is but hopefully this will be helpful to someone out there.


I was lucky enough to do my initial four-year honors degree the traditional way- as a single, full-time university student straight out of high school with no real commitments other than to complete my studies (and with kind parents graciously footing the bill). My Master's degree was a little bit different- I was in my late twenties, married and already had an extremely demanding corporate job. The above already took up most of my time, however, doing my Master's was something I dreamed about so I took the plunge. As I was working long hours full time, I opted for a distance learning option as I was not sure that my schedule would allow for physically attending weekly lectures. 

Just a month or so into my degree, I got the joyous news that I was pregnant with Noodle. While elated at the prospect of motherhood, I was a bit apprehensive about working full time and completing a degree with a baby. However, since I had already gone to the effort of registering, buying the textbooks and forked out the fees for the year, I decided to give it a go, without putting too much pressure on myself. 

As it turns out, I had a rather tough pregnancy, with severe all day and all night morning sickness for seven out of nine months. Things had gotten busier than they were previously at work, which meant working longer hours. I also discovered that distance learning was in some ways harder than face-to-face learning. While I was provided with extensive learning materials and explanatory notes, with almost unlimited online resources, there was no lecturer explaining the more difficult to grasp concepts and no friends to bounce ideas off. You could email lecturers with questions but this was tedious and not instantaneous. Mind you, this was a few years back and this has changed a bit in the last few years with online learning now a lot more interactive- classes now tend to have live online tutorials and digital student support groups. 

I trudged on, handed in my assignments on time and working through the course material during the year. The timing of my final exams were a bit trickier- I wrote my exams about four weeks after Noodle was born and the university would not allow me a deferment. Anyone who has had a baby before will know that the first few weeks are a bit of a blur and that as a parent, you find yourself in an incoherent sleep-deprived zombie state in this time. You are told to 'sleep when the baby sleeps'. For me, this became 'study while the baby sleeps'. There were the usual challenges of adapting to life as a mother and I was still recovering from a c-section). In the week before exams, I was a crazy person, home alone with baby and reading the textbooks out loud to her. My lullabies had textbook quotes that I was trying to remember in them (I am sorry Noodle!). 

By the time exams came, I had a further challenge- someone needed to look after my bundle of joy while I was writing my five hour exams. My mom and husband had both taken leave when Noodle was born and had to go back to work by this time. My sister was living in a different city at the time and my inlaws are some distance away. This meant leaving Noodle with my father while I wrote exams. Now, he was a great, hands-on dad when we were growing up but quite old-school and I am fairly certain that he had no experience in changing nappies or burping babies. You can understand why I was a little bit nervous when I left her with him  for that few hours. My focus was divided between writing my exams and the horror scenario's running through my head. Anyway, she survived and I survived my exams (I was not in the run for Valedictorian or anything but I did okay). 

Enter year two of my degree. This entailed doing the last couple of course work subjects but the major focus for this year was doing my dissertation. I was on maternity leave for five months and did most of my dissertation during this period. (P.S. Anyone who thinks maternity leave is a big fat paid holiday is very mistaken- looking after an infant really is a full-time job). I had a strict rule that looking after Noodle and spending quality time with her was my number one priority so I continued to study mainly while Noodle slept

When I really had to get more done (bearing in mind that she never slept well, even as a baby) I had her in a rocker at my feet, rocking it with one foot while sitting at the dining room table typing up my dissertation.  Other times I had her in a carry pouch. I even naively ventured to the library with her once, running out frantically with her when she cried (after that failed attempt I delegated my mom as my library book collector)

When I returned to work after maternity leave, things got really hectic. I only had a few hours with  Noodle in the evening, so I tried to sneak in studies when I could during my work day- during my lunch break, the occasional quiet time or when waiting in between meetings etc. I studied a bit once Noodle was in bed and the rest of the time I tried my best not to let my crawling explorer eat, tear or slobber all over my notes (mostly in vain). Closer to exam time, I let daddy do some baby-sitting over weekends or let her play at my mother's house for a few hours. I took a couple of days of study leave for my final exams. I passed and a few months later got to attend my graduation!


1. Know what you are getting into. Consider what support systems you have in place and what resources you have available. Do your research before you even start with regards to what is expected of you. If classes are online, do you have regular internet access and access to printers, etc? Will you need to physically attend lectures? Are there assignments, seminars, tutorials or labs? Look at when these are scheduled, how time consuming they are and then consider whether or not it its viable for you to commit in the first place.

2. Organise, organise, organise. Make sure that you have your day planned and clearly delineate what needs to be done by when. Have a list of your study deadlines and place this somewhere where it will be visible to you. Also have a timetable with your family obligations, eg. kids activities, any days you need to send things to school or daycare, etc. Set reminders for yourself or you will forget something.

3. Try to break your work up into smaller, more manageable chunks. Create summaries of core principles so that when exam time comes, you mainly need to study the summaries. Allocate a set number of hours that you are going to commit each week. If you do not succeed in committing this amount of time, try again the following week or re-assess your study plan, there will be some trial and error involved. Set deadlines for yourself insofar as when you will be covering what work.

4. Do not leave things to the last minute, especially assignments or exam preparations. You never know what personal crisis might come up at the last minute. This will also give you time to discover if there are any problem areas. 

5. You will probably have to accept that you will need help from those around you. If others offer help, accept it graciously. Delegate any tasks that can be completed by others when you have to. Get babysitters when you need to. Approach your lecturers for help when needed- they desperately want you to pass and will help where they can. Keep an open line of communication with your work superiors.

6. Look after yourself. Eat healthy and exercise. Take a good multivitamin. After all, you will not be able to study, work and take care of your family unless you are in good health.