Having one, then having twins

Discovering you are expecting multiples is quite a shock whether you’re a first time parent or not.

If you already have a child, you certainly have the benefit of experience and have more confidence in your parenting abilities. However, the leap from one to three is pretty huge and juggling the demands of a toddler (who can have a tantrum at the drop of a hat and who probably wants entertaining most waking hours) with having not one, but two newborns can be quite challenging.

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When the twins came along my eldest daughter (Sofia) was two-and-a-half. It turned out that she dictated a very big part of our schedule, not the newborns. That’s not what I’d expected!

You have to be realistic and a lot more flexible with twins as opposed to a singleton, and with an older sibling on the scene as well, you’re not going to be able to please all of the children all of the time and you’re not always going to be able to do things perfectly. Having felt that for baby number one I did things to the best standard possible, I struggled a little when I was no longer able to do everything ‘perfectly’ with three. I had to get over that otherwise I’d have gone insane.

There were times when Sofia was a bit bored as I fed one or both twins for the umpteenth time that day or sat hooked up to the breast pump. I didn’t like letting Sofia watch too much TV, but sometimes needs must and I had to learn not to beat myself up about it. Sofia loved her TV time, but we’d always make sure we did something that was specifically for her multiple times a week.

We’d go out to Childrens’ Centres, parks, play dates etc even if the twins hadn’t had their feed or the sleep they needed. I’d feed them when we got there or they could have a sleep en route. I’d have never done this with Sofia; I danced to the beat of her drum. If it was time for her nap we’d leave somewhere a bit early, if she needed a feed we’d leave the house a bit late, if I thought she was a little under the weather we would cancel plans. We all had to be adaptable and the twins had to fit in, wherever possible, with the routine we already had. It would have been unfair to expect Sofia to have to cope with everything changing. Far from being detrimental, I think not pandering to the twins’ every whim was actually very good for them and keeping things as similar as possible for Sofia meant that we kept the dreaded green-eyed monster at bay.

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It is hard work, but it is fantastic having twins with an older sibling and I was far more relaxed and confident second time around.

Sofia absolutely loves having two little sisters, she knows it’s something special and she continues to receive a lot of attention and fuss because of it. So do I for that matter. If I’d had a pound for every time someone exclaimed: ‘you’ve got your hands full,’ I’d be very rich!

It is amazing to see them all interact. The twins obviously have a special bond, but they really look up to their older sister and as the age gap is relatively small between them and Sofia, they are all natural playmates, which is wonderful. I feel amazingly proud when we are all seen out together.

It’s also been very good for my self-esteem: I’ve survived having a toddler and newborn twins and everyone is always very quick to congratulate me  :-)

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I wrote this article for the Epsom and Leatherhead Multiples Club, which I’ve been attending for the last two years. 

Go to: www.tamba.org.uk for more information about having twins and multiples.

Delaying potty training: excuse #18

I procrastinated with my eldest’s potty training a little. I decided to wait until she was two-and-a-half and then cheated with Pull ups for longer than was necessary. She took to potty training well, but I could have accelerated the process had I been prepared to go cold turkey.

That was with one child. Now I have to potty train twins; twins that have an older sibling.

Potties: good for holding Lego.

Potties: good for holding Lego.

The twins turned two-and-a-half last week, so I thought we’d give it a whirl last weekend as it was the first weekend in as long as I can remember that we didn’t have plans as a family. My excuse for not doing it other weekends was:

1. We already had plans. I didn’t want to ruin my eldest’s weekend and make her miss out on activities so that we could stay in and do potty training bootcamp

My excuses for not doing it during the week are:

2. They are in childcare for three hours, twice a week so that I’m able to work, and I don’t want accidents on the journey there eating into my work time

3. I have the school run during the week and I don’t want to add to the stress of that

I bought cheap Boots.com potties over six months ago. They are fully aware of what they are and what they are supposed to be used for. They have indeed both used them (correctly) before. They have plenty of ‘big girl’ knickers. I also have my Sticky Hand Sanitiser from Green People at the ready – a potty training essential – and have made the all-important sticker charts to reward success.

Last weekend, my husband Matt was busy jet-washing the patio (!) so essentially I was on my own and outnumbered. We had six accidents within 20 minutes. I had no idea they peed that much! I carried on and we had two successes each (luck more than skill I think) and another 10 accidents. My hands were red raw from cleaning up all the mess and we’d only been at it a couple of hours. M&G went up for their post-lunch nap so I put a Pull up on them, Sofia had a party to go to in the afternoon and I had a week’s laundry to iron. I concluded the potty training for that weekend.

So excuses not to try again this weekend:

4. They both have colds and are not receptive to anything

5. Saturday morning we are going to Clarks to take advantage of the TAMBA 20% off special (details here). I don’t want toilet accidents getting in the way of discounted shoes

6. Saturday afternoon we are going over to visit friends we haven’t seen in ages. I don’t want toilet accidents getting in the way of a long overdue catchup

7. Sunday is Mother’s day. It would be nice to have one stress-free day. Potty training does not constitute stress free

Excuses not to try after this weekend:

8. It’s cold still, perhaps we’ll wait until they won’t freeze when wandering around the house in just vest and pants

9. Wait until it’s warmer and they can go nappiless in the garden

10 . The following weekend my husband Matt is working and I’m driving a three/four hour round trip to my friend’s birthday/reveal party

11. Sofia starts her Easter break from school in a week’s time. She will expect a full itinerary of fun and that doesn’t include hovering around potties and wiping up spillages

12. It’s then Easter. It would be nice to have a stress-free long weekend. Potty training does not constitute stress free

13. They have their Christening at the end of April. I don’t want toilet accidents ruining their beautiful silk dresses

14. They have their Christening at the end of April. I don’t want toilet accidents ruining our enjoyment of the day

15. We’re going on holiday. I don’t want to risk accidents on the plane

16. We’re going on holiday. I don’t want toilet accidents getting in the way of a relaxing holiday

17. They still don’t seem ‘ready’

18. I still don’t seem ‘ready’ to potty train twins



It would have been mum’s 60th birthday

It would have been my mum’s 60th birthday tomorrow (18th of March). That seems quite odd.

She died over 14 years ago aged 45. I can’t really imagine what she’d have been like at 60; probably much the same as I remember her. It’s just 60 isn’t on my radar, whilst 45 is just 10 years older than I am now and rather too close for comfort. It all seems very weird.

I do still fantasise about all of the lunches and chats over a bottle of wine we’d have had. I was in my final year of university when she died and we’d already started having those kind of lunches when I was back home on holiday and our relationship was becoming increasingly that of close friends not just mother and daughter.  She’d have been a fantastic granny (I kind of assume she’d have gone for that title as that’s what I called her mum) and as my dad has said – many times – she would probably have tried to move in with Matt and I so that she could have helped 24/7 with the kids.

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That’s a rather large vodka I have there

She absolutely hated having her photo taken, but I do have this one of her with my brother and I at my 21st birthday party a couple of weeks before she died unexpectedly. Even she felt compelled to have her pic taken at the occasion she’d spent so much time organising. She would absolutely freak if she knew I’d used it.

My mum always made my dad promise that if anything ever happened to her, he’d do everything he could for my brother and I. He’s stayed true to his word and has done a fantastic job. Just one example is that, despite still working part-time, he helps me out with the morning school run every day. My mum would have been proud of all of us.

I’m not going to go on about what a fantastic mother she was (and she really was the most amazing one), as anyone who knew her already knows this, but I’ll be raising a glass for this milestone birthday and will no doubt be thinking about what might have been in our relationship at this stage of my life and what might have been for the grandchildren she didn’t meet.

 

Fuss-free food for children

I love to give the kids good home cooked food, but also like meals that don’t require a Cordon Bleu diploma and five hours of my time. Also, last year, I got into meal planning to help me save on time, money and waste.

Oven-baked salmon is a dish that is very well received, ludicrously easy to prepare – I don’t ever remember following a recipe – and healthy (aside from me adding more butter than is necessary – mmm butter). Hence this meal occurs several times a month on my plan.

Before parcelling up

Before parcelling up

I have been sent a sample of Bacofoil Non-Stick Foil to try out along with some tips. However, this is the brand that I use anyway as I find it is far more durable than supermarket brands and is really good on the non-stick front.

The recipe (if you can call it that) and method:

For one five-year-old and two, two-year-olds, and to make two meals (I’ll explain later), I use four boneless salmon steaks. I put two steaks onto two pieces of foil.

I score the steaks, squeeze some lemon juice over, stick knobs of butter in the scored bits and add chopped shallots over the top (one shallot is enough for a good flavour). If I’m doing this for my husband and I, I add plenty of black pepper and some white wine.

My freestyle parcels

My freestyle parcel

I then parcel it up and whack in the oven (pre-heated) at 180c for 25-30 mins (just check to see if it’s cooked through). The BacoFoil website shows how to make really neat double-folded foil packets. Mine are far more rough and ready, but they’ve always worked just fine.

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I usually serve with peas and sweetcorn or broccoli that I cook separately. However, a BacoFoil kids’ cooking suggestion is to make it colourful (and more simple) by letting them choose bright red and orange peppers, pieces of broccoli and baby corn for a fish or chicken parcel. My three all loathe peppers and aren’t huge fans of baby corn, but I’ve tried adding broccoli into the parcel this time. They also suggest letting the children open their own parcel at the table. The children liked doing this. However, I opened up the parcels a little first to let the steam out to avoid scolds. I don’t think broccoli was the best suited veg for the parcels as it was still a bit crunchy after 25 minutes. Although this was perhaps because my inferior parcels resulted in poor steam circulation!

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I always make too much, so the next day I flake the cold leftovers and mix into couscous along with broccoli or peas (whichever I haven’t used the day before). This makes a great hassle-free lunch.

After being sent the sample I took a look at the BacoFoil website and found some great recipe ideas. I’m definitely going to try out these: Tuscan Halibut Packets (the girls love beans), Cajun Sausage and Beans and Lemon Chicken Primavera, which includes another of the girls’ favourites: pasta. As soon as the weather’s warmer we’ll also be giving Steamed Herbed Salmon En Papillote on the BBQ a whirl.



The school photograph dilemma

The dilemma: do you purchase your child’s first school photograph when the photo in question is not very good? 

Sofia had her first school photo taken a few weeks ago. It felt like quite a milestone. I have strong memories of my school pictures being displayed with pride, and copies being sent to relatives home and abroad.

Then yesterday, the single proof arrived along with the order form for various different packs including the all singing, all dancing MEGA Pack boasting two 10″x8 colour photos, one 10″x8 black and white photo, three 8″x6″ versions and two 6″x4″s. Wow!

However, shock horror, the photo is not very good.

Not a great photo

Not a great photo

It’s not awful, it’s just the usually photogenic Sofia is really grimacing as opposed to smiling and looks a little psychotic. She’s obviously going really overboard with the ‘cheese’ (or ‘smelly socks’ I think it might have been) and it’s the most unnatural pose ever. Obviously I’m blaming the photographer.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m all for recording milestones and preserving memories and I think first school photo is a major one. However, with so many lovely photos of her in my possession, I really don’t want one where she looks – I hate to say it – a bit weird. The problem is I’d just feel terrible not buying one at all and consigning my daughter’s photo to the cutting room floor.

Here's one I prepared earlier

Here’s one I prepared earlier

I mentioned my quandary on Facebook and got quite a response. I’m not alone it seems; there were quite a few other bloopers out there with mums experiencing the same dilemma. Most said – like me – that they felt they needed to buy one even if it remained hidden away. It’s a memory all the same, and as some mums pointed out, it can be used for bribery and blackmail purposes in later life.

I won’t be getting the MEGA Pack, but will be opting for the entry level order that can be tucked safely away in the draw: a recorded, but not displayed milestone.

 

How do single parents do it?

I don’t know how single parents do it. I know they just have to, but seriously: how?

My husband Matt is flying out to the States tomorrow for a week for work. Any time he goes away I hate it. Obviously I miss him but the reason I really hate it is that I’m pretty reliant on his help with the kids and around the house when he gets home from work.

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A family selfie

I’d consider myself a pretty capable person. Every day I look after my three children well; they are well fed, loved and stimulated, I get Sofia to school on time, keep the house vaguely tidy and fit in some paid work as well. However, after a hectic day with the trio I really am waiting for that moment that I hear Matt’s key in the door. I’ve survived on my own during the day, but by 7.05pm I am in need of a bit of support and really relish the help with the bedtime routine and someone to share the load of re-settling the children during the night (it’s a very rare night that not one of them wakes up).

Matt’s going to be away over the whole of half-term and this is making me extra down. I think I’ve probably moaned about it to anyone who will listen. Sofia will miss having her school friends on tap and will get bored quickly, but I know this horrendous rainy weather is not going to let up, so my usual ploy of jumping in the car and heading to a National Trust site to meet up with her friends is probably not going to happen.

I’m busy planning playdates, the multiples club that I go to is still on during half-term (and singleton siblings are very welcome) and we’re going up to Derbyshire to see my grandad for a few days. I think the time will pass quite quickly, but I’m still dreading it and know I’ll be exhausted by the time he gets back.

I really don’t know how I’d cope doing it full-time.



Moving to a new town with a baby

My very good friend Eleanor shares her top tips for settling into a new neighbourhood when you have young children. She blogs over at TalkMum.

Along with my husband, our new baby and old dog, I moved to Bristol from the outskirts of London in September 2013. The city is no stranger to me, I lived here until I was about four and have made regular trips back since, including my hen do, organized in part by Francesca herself. However, I was a stranger to the city of Bristol. And stranger still, I wasn’t just me anymore. I was me, plus one little baby.

Happy in our new 'hood

Happy in our new ‘hood

This isn’t a post about how to move house with a baby. My one tip for that would be do whatever you can to get removers who pack and unpack. This is a post about moving at an awkward time.

We decided to take the chance to move here, to the South West, where we’d always hoped to make our family home. With a laid back vibe and a blend of urban and country activities, which I was personally craving, Bristol seemed like the sort of place I might be able to meet more friends. The question, however, was how?

I was a bit nervous. When you have a new baby, it’s easy. You just roll up at any old ‘bumps and babies’ session and there’ll always be somebody to anxiously compare breastfeeding and night time stresses with. Let’s be honest, you’ll pretty much do that with anybody who’s in the same boat in those first weeks, regardless of whether you actually like them or not. But like work colleagues who become friends after months of bonding over early shared moments (hello again Francesca!) motherhood spawns a few friendship gems once you go deeper than what nipple cream worked for you. In fact, that’s another amusing side effect of motherhood – you’d rather talk about your knockers with a stranger than what’s going on in Eastenders. With the move, I wanted to put down some deeper friendship tracks. Yes, I was looking for people who wanted to talk about Danny Dyer’s impact on Albert Square, not just people wanting to ask me what first weaning food I recommend.

At HorseWorld in Bristol

At HorseWorld in Bristol

Parks: great wherever you are!

Parks: great wherever you are!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are my top few tips for settling into a new place for anybody thinking of making a move with pre-school kids:

Try the obvious first - My area of Bristol is blessed with an excellent duo of Baby Cafes (Bubbahub and The Hungry Caterpillar), so this was the first place I headed. I was really glad I did. Not only are these sort of places intimate enough to talk to strangers easily, they also both run classes which appeal to parents as well as children. Consequently, I joined a ‘bring your own baby’ choir, and we sing every week while the kids play on the floor. And we talk about actual stuff!

But, don’t just go for the sake of it - I tried a local ‘church hall style’ playgroup several times, but had less success. All the kids were slightly older than mine, the parents much less friendly and if I’m honest, I came away more lonely than when I went in because I felt a bit excluded as it seemed so well established. But I shrugged it off. After all, you don’t keep going back to a crap restaurant, so why persevere with a drab playgroup?

Take what you liked and re-create it your way - I had been set quite a high standard when it comes to paid for classes by the brilliant Gymboree in Surbiton which really inspired me to keep singing and creative play top of my list when it came to activities when we moved. But, for a cheaper alternative, I’ve been all over the local library rhymetime sessions, as in case you didn’t know, they are almost always free.

Explore on foot – get out there with your buggy and find the parks, the swings, the little cafes that are friendly. Go at nap time and school run time, and stop other mums who will be out at that hour and ask them a question – you never know, you might make a new friend.  We have a toy shop near us that has been ace for chatting to people, for example.

Get a babysitter – if you’re cool with leaving your kids for an evening, that is.  With no family in the area we have turned to an excellent agency, which has provided us with access to a monthly slice of Bristol nightlife or an evening with new friends. It’s not just about making ‘mum mates’. I’ve managed to sneak a couple of cinema trips in with the women I’ve met, where our kids didn’t really get a mention!

Don’t fill all your weekends with visitors – I learned this when I lived in New York, way before kids. If you have people to stay every weekend, you never have a chance to live your real life. Find a balance, experience things for yourselves as a family first, and then invite the world to see it with you.

Give it time – in the short time we’ve been here, we’ve already been introduced to friends of friends, who have become our friends too. And be brave, and honest, saying ‘I’m new here, can you help?’ is really not so hard. When you compare it to negotiating an epidural from a midwife, for example…

Thanks to Francesca for asking me to write this post. She’s living proof, over several years, that close friends remain close, however many miles, and kids, get in your way.



Planning a Christening

We are getting the twins Christened in late April; they’ll be two-and-a-half by then, so not the most conventional way to do it. Sofia was 18 months when she was dunked, so we’re obviously a little tardy on these matters.

Silver spoon, Champagne cork and a 'bigliettino' from the bomboniere.

Silver spoon, Champagne cork and a ‘bigliettino’ from the bomboniere.

As I’m not a regular church goer by any stretch of the imagination, it does seem a bit odd that I would want them to be Baptised. I want them to have a special day, but obviously could opt for a baby naming ceremony. I’d say my desire for a Christening is mainly to do with tradition (we’re all Christened in my family) and being half Italian, Baptisms are usually a given. Perhaps it’s because, if I’m being honest, I feel a Christening carries more gravitas than a baby naming ceremony. It could also have to do with the fact that the church we are having it at is where my mum and dad got married, where my mum is buried and where my husband Matt and I got married. Whatever the reasons we’re planning…

When organising Sofia’s Christening, Matt told me that this wasn’t planning a second wedding. Although I wasn’t treating it like that; well maybe just a bit. Whatever, I’m using Sofia’s as the blueprint for the twins’.

So first things first, we’ve picked a date and confirmed it with the Reverend.  We’ve made the decisions about Godparents, opting for a mix of family members (Matt’s brothers and my brother) and good friends. All were really happy and honoured to be asked, and that epitomises what I think is important about Christenings.

Our invitations from CocoCards

Our invitations from CocoCards

With the church and key people organised, it was time to think about the reception. I really don’t fancy the stress of catering for lots of people, so we’ve opted for a restaurant and sit down meal; just like last time. Happily, my dad has worked for an Italian wine and food importers for years so he knows a lot of Italian restaurants. He’s organised all of that along with the wine. Ideal!

With the church and reception confirmed, it was on to the invitations. A Google search last time heralded the wonderful result of CocoCards. They create beautiful, elegant, personalised stationery. Thankfully, I’ve been able to order from there this time around too and am delighted with the results. Readers can get a 10% discount off any products on the site by using the code Loyal at checkout.

Then my inner girly girl came out and I started getting excited about the twins’ dresses. For Sofia’s Christening, we found a lovely childrens’ boutique called Membery’s (run by Sally Membery) . We went there again and chose two lovely dresses of the same design. However, as we don’t dress the twins identically, Sally suggested sewing a small embroidery detail on each. Maria’s first babygro in the hospital was pink and Gabby’s was green and those colours have kind of stuck, so decision made.

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Not to be left out, Sofia’s got a new dress too. She is very excited. However, she wants to invite loads of her friends along and seems to have a problem understanding that this isn’t ‘her party.’ Next there’s the Christening cake.

Butterfly Christening cakeMy mother-in-law is organising this as a gift. We’re having the below cake from The Fairy Cakery, but without the booties, seeing as the girls are long passed that stage.

Then there’s the hunt for bomboniere. It’s Italian tradition to give guests a ‘favour’, which contains five sugared almonds representing health, wealth, happiness, long life and fertility. I really have struggled to find anything like we had for Sofia’s. After hunting high and low, I’ve gone for something completely different in the shape of these lovely ‘sacchettini’ from Le Tue Bomboniere, which is run by a mum who hand makes them in Italy.

The sacchettini bomboniere

The sacchettini bomboniere

Butterfly bomboniere from Sofia's Christening

Butterfly bomboniere from Sofia’s Christening

 

I think that’s about it really – and not a table plan in sight. Of course I do have to sort my own outfit out, but that’d be a whole other blog. The main thing is, I’m really looking forward to having a celebration with friends, family and our daughters.



The benefits of sand play for toddlers

A great guest post from Simon Staton about how sand play can aid your child’s development in lots of different ways.

Christmas is over and it’s time to look ahead to warmer, drier times (yes, really!) … Now is the best season to prepare your summer schedule and come up with new ideas to keep the little ones occupied. Sand play is fantastic in aiding a toddler’s development and it’s such a fun activity to boot.

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Outdoor play is a natural and fun way to keep busy, and it helps in all aspects of a child’s growth and education. It is something that comes naturally to all children and they love it… so we need to keep encouraging it in as many ways as possible. A great way to do this is through sand play: it’s a fun and unique activity that can be enjoyed by everyone… parents included! Amongst its many therapeutic benefits, sand play has a very beneficial influence on the coordinative, interactional and creative aspects of your child’s brain.

Sand play benefits coordination

Playing with sand develops and teaches bilateral and hand-eye coordination. These are the two critical coordination skills that you use every day and it’s something we learn in the first few years of our life. When your little one is first learning the ropes you will notice how clumsy they can be and how over time they learn, improving with every step.

So how can sand play help? When playing with sand, the basic activities usually revolve around creating: this can either be filling buckets and making castles or drawing and writing in the sand with sticks. Doing these activities will train and encourage the use of hand-eye coordination otherwise known as visual-motor integration. In the long run this helps your child to read and write, to play sport and even to tie their shoelaces.

Through grasping, moving, holding and lifting, and many other movements developed through sand play, you will begin to introduce hand-eye coordination at an early and vital age. But it doesn’t stop there! These activities also teach bilateral coordination. This is the ability to use both sides of your body symmetrically. When your child rolls a rolling pin over dough or lifts themselves up with both hands, they are using bilateral coordination; it is the skill of applying equal pressure and moving both arms and legs together. It is something that we take for granted but without it we would all be incredibly clumsy.

Why not introduce tools to your sand play sessions to help the development of these areas? By digging and lifting you will not only help aid coordination but help muscle growth and motor skills…and it’s also a lot of fun!

Encourage interaction through sand play

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Interaction is another important aspect of our life. It not only helps us to communicate but also changes how we look at the world. For a child interaction is completely new, and as soon as they start to talk they start to learn rapidly.

There are different stages to a child’s interactional development: seeing, questioning, reflecting, doing and learning. It’s actually a process that we use in all areas of learning. I am sure you have all been bombarded with questions as your children start to look at the world around them, and it is because they are so analytical. They use this same process when learning to communicate and make judgements with and towards others.

Sand play is often not a solo activity; it can be enjoyed with parents, siblings and friends. Whether at the local playground or a play date at the beach, it is a great way to socialise and it teaches more than just interaction.

Sand play with other children teaches both cooperation and teamwork, usually when children play it is imaginative and based around role-playing. Sand offers a world of imagination for a child and through the use of jobs and goals they will learn basic skills that will prepare them for the future.

Artistic creation is everywhere!

Art is all around us, and children can see it. From the trees to the plants, there is a never-ending supply of artistic influence and opportunity for creation. It’s vital to encourage your child’s artistic skills and allow them to express themselves as much as possible.

There are many ways to do this, not just through play but in everything you do with your little ones. Sand is a great material to use with your art projects, you can add glue, food colouring or water and make structures and portraits. Why not add shells and other materials found at the beach to liven up your creations?

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So is play important?

I would like to stress the importance of play in a child’s routine. Not sitting in front of the TV or playing games on a console but getting outside and being active. It means fresh air, nature and fun! There are many ways to do this and sand play is just one of the possibilities. If you would like more tips and ideas or have any questions about the benefits of sand play then feel free to leave a comment or email me on simon@gardengames.co.uk

Visit my sandpit website for more advice relating to sandpit safety and for help buying a sandpit for your garden.



National Trust membership: not just for pensioners

We were all in need of a walk to blow off the cobwebs and force us to move away from the chocolates, cake, meat, cheese and other Christmas excesses. Yesterday was nice, bright and sunny and a welcome respite from the howling gales and torrential rain we’ve been experiencing, so an ideal time to head out.

I’ve written for Wriggly Rascals about ways I entertain the kids without formal activities such as ballet classes, swimming lessons and football practices and I mentioned that, amongst other things, National Trust gardens and properties featured heavily in our yearly itinerary. We’ve been to a lot of National Trust places in Surrey and London and yesterday wanted to visit somewhere new, so on the advice of fellow National Trust member @DanFaulksITN, we headed off for Wakehurst Place (the country estate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) in West Sussex.

Belton House in Lincolnshire

Belton House in Lincolnshire

We were not disappointed. It was a really varied landscape with lots of nice walks (easily accessible with a buggy) and, amongst other things, a water garden, a walled garden and house to explore. There were plenty of opportunities for nature spotting, pooh stick playing and hide and seek. It was all good wholesome fun and kept the children (and adults) well entertained. We then went for a spot of lunch at the on site restaurant and also sampled some of the delights at the artisan bakers there. We did feel like we’d only scratched the surface at Wakehurst Place, but nap times beckoned and we’d had a lovely time.

My husband Matt and I became members of the National Trust when Sofia (now five) was a few months old. At the time I thought the £97 joint membership (children under five are free) was quite a large initial outlay, but it very quickly became apparent what a great investment it was. Our membership gave us free access to over 300 historic houses, gardens and countryside and coastline spaces and meant that we had the all-important free parking every time. Over a very short period – and during the Winter months I hasten to add – it quickly paid for itself.

Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey

Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey

In comparison, for the five of us to all go on a one-off visit to our local farm/soft play venue it costs just over £40 in Winter and £60 in Summer.  I’d never thought of myself as an NT-type person, but I absolutely love it and more importantly so do the children. This year alone, we must have visited in excess of 20 times, and just as frequently in the Autumn and Winter as in the Spring and Summer.

I can only speak for the places that we’ve visited, but they all have good facilities and are really geared up for children, with plenty of activities. My younger ones are happy to have big spaces to run around in, but are already taking an interest in the things that they see outside. They can also take part in many of the arts and craft activities that are set up at many venues.

Picnicing at Claremont in Surrey.

Picnicing at Claremont in Surrey.

Sofia, being older, is far more engaged. She loves looking around the houses and doing some of the activities such as dressing up and eye spy. She has also been doing their  50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4.

When we stay with friends and family in different parts of the country we often go and visit NT properties and gardens in the area. It’s a really good option for a family of five as local attractions can be expensive.

I’ve also found that an increasing number of my friends with children are also members, so even midweek I can throw us into the car and head out for a meet up with a friend and have a coffee and a walk.

Wakehurst Place by night

Wakehurst Place by night

If you are trying to keep costs down, I would advise you to take a picnic whenever the weather permits as the cafes and restaurants are pretty pricy. Matt and I had a modest hot meal and the girls had a standard lunchbox each and it came to £41. Granted, I did have a crafty miniature bottle of Merlot (it is still Christmas), but even so, I thought that this was very expensive. Wakehurst Place isn’t an exception; I find all NT eateries are pricey.

Doing the eye spy sheet at Ham House in Surrey.

Doing the eye spy sheet at Ham House in Surrey.

At the Hinemihi Marae (Maori meeting house) at Clandon Park in Surrey. We'd just watched a display of Maori dancing.

At the Hinemihi Marae (Maori meeting house) at Clandon Park in Surrey. We’d just watched a display of Maori dancing.