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1) I had The Talk with my 11 year old son last night. I think I did well and I got some great questions from him. We talked about lots of stuff: DNA, puberty, the menstrual cycle, conception, contraception, XY chromasomes, how twins come about and teenage pregnancy. It was wide ranging and after a few brief factoids, I let him direct the conversation, to ask any question he wished. The only confusion that happened was when he couldn’t understand how eating a condom each month would help prevent conception. I had to go over that one with him one more time.

2) I have been suffering from a large mouth ulcer that has been lodged in the back of my throat over the past week. It is near the opening to my inner ear, so I have had an earache as well as a bad sore throat. I went to the doctor and I was prescribed antibiotics, which in hindsight was a fairly poor diagnosis. What I had was viral, not bacterial. It’s as useful as throwing a life-belt onto a road to help in a car accident.

3) I went for a medical test yesterday. The results indicate that I need to make some big lifestyle changes regarding diet and exercise. This is no surprise to me, but given my current daily and weekly routines, not to mention my love-affair with high cholesterol food and lack of exercise opportunities during the week, I am not sure where I start. It’s a huge challenge for me. Huge. No, really.

4) On the plus side, I had a meeting with my dermatologist and the result is terrific. Over four years, no recurrence and nothing suspicious looking on my skin. It means I’m now out of the danger zone. Long may it last.

Forget about your big rugby and soccer internationals. If you really want to see sport at its rawest and most intense, you can’t beat an under 5’s hurling match.

The ball gets hit out, and immediately 20 pairs of legs are chasing it around like a swarm of bees attacking a mischevious teddy bear. There’s always one though, idling in the centre of the pitch, completely oblivious to the game, imagining that he is a dinosaur: arms outstretched, a big T Rex lollop as he strides through his jungle. Another group in the corner are pretending they are pop stars, holding their hurleys in a way that would have made Rory Gallagher proud. It’s a goal, and suddenly a budding David Beckham travels the entire length of the pitch, completing his victory run with an authentic knee slide on the timber surface.

The game continues. Rarely does the ball come to rest, as it is harried by a score of hurleys, hitting at it from all directions. It’s a kind of social Brownian Motion, as the red team hit the ball towards the blue team and the blue team counter by scoring a masterfully planned own goal. One player rushes over to me with an important message: “Can I have an ice cream afterwards?”.

It’s getting ugly out there. A kid is knocked down, not by one opponent, but by ten of them simultaneously. Now the ball is stuck in a corner of the hall. Light itself is finding it difficult to escape from the huddle. I pity the coaches as they attempt to disentangle players from the melée.

It’s all over and my boys line up against the wall. Inexplicably, they are unbloodied and unbruised. They have only one thing on their minds: the ice creams they believed I had promised them earlier.

Make no mistake, Ireland’s future hurlers are a formidable lot.

Now here is something I definitely didn’t have when I was a kid: YouTube Mobile. 

A couple of nights ago, I was reading a book on Space to the kids. Up came a pop-up Space Shuttle (which one of the twins attempted to rip before I quickly averted his hand). We then had a discussion on the Space Shuttle and then I took out my iPhone, logged on to YouTube and showed them a space shuttle launch for real.

Their jaws dropped.

In the last few nights we have discovered the ISS, Pyroclastic Flows, the Moon landings and Tyrannosaurus Rex and sun spots all from the safety of their bunk-beds. 

Then a few nights later I was reading my eldest son a book on Mexico. We came to a page where the voladores swing around a high pole on a rope tied to their legs. Out comes the iPhone, YouTube is called up and in seconds we are seeing it happening on video. 

He yawned and muttered something like “whatever” under his breath… 

Anyway, moody 9 year olds aside, I think it’s really cool.

It’s been some time since I’ve written about particularly good books for small kids, and I must apologise (especially to Kim) for being somewhat remiss in this area during the last few months.

For me, there is something very gratifying about sharing a compelling book with my kids. It quickly brings me back to my own childhood years by helping me relate to my children on their level. This book ticks all these boxes.

There’s No Such Thing as a Ghostie (Cressida Cowell and Holly Swain)

“But when they turned round… THERE WAS NOBODY THERE”

In this book, a young queen and her best friend do battle with the arrogant Sergeant Rock-Hard of Her Majesty’s Guard as he leads them through the castle in an effort to convince them that there’s no such thing as a ghostie. Little does he know… It’s full of delightfully poetic snippets: a Prime Minister that bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain 1980’s British PM; regular alliteration – “ghostly, ghastly feet”, “creepy, creaky staircase”, very accessible colourful drawings, and (of course) plenty of ghosties hanging around in the background. Near the end of the book, the reader is enjoined to open a trunk bearing an alarming secret. It’s one of those books in which you and your kids discover something new every time you re-read it for them.

If you know of other children’s books that really deserve a read, please let me know.

Hey!

During the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Cork yesterday the festive atmosphere was broken momentarily by the usual procession of dour, po faced holy-Joes and Josephines threatening us all with damnation and a bit of perdition on the side if we didn’t get back to saying our ten Hail Marys.

My six year old daughter, annoyed by the break in ceremonies, shouts up at me within earshot of everyone around us..

“Hey, this isn’t a parade for God, it’s for St Patrick”..

Ah, bless.

My twins were in great form this morning. I had to deal with the drama of not allowing one of them to bring in his blankie into the playschool. Later he broke down in tears and then tried to do a runner from me, complaining that he didn’t have a dinky toy that the other guy had. Upon arriving at the playschool, I had to wrestle one of them to the ground in order to put on his slippers, while the other lad jumped onto my back. They grabbed onto my legs when I tried to leave, and I got a lick in the face (instead of a kiss) from one of them as I tried desperately to extract myself from their grasp.

Upon leaving the playschool, I looked at their teacher and said “I didn’t bother to send them to sleep last night – I just fed them large doses of sugar all night instead”.

She understood.

This was the sight I found when I went into the twins’ room yesterday morning.

They had discovered the zip for the bean bag…

Twins Room 1

.

Some time ago, I wrote about five books for small children that my kids and I absolutely love. I now would like to add another book to this list.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury)

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Oh no! We forgot to shut the door!

The premise of the book is quite simple. A dad brings his three kids into the countryside with the aim of finding a bear. The group are totally unprepared for what lies ahead as they clamber past all sorts of obstacles during their quest. (I can relate very much to the dad in this book). Much to their surprise, they find a bear, and what follows is an exiting race back home with the grizzly on their tail. It’s got everything: repetition, actions, fear and humour. The drawings are superb, particularly as the kids reach the entrance to the cave. I was amazed by how quickly my toddler kids picked up the narrative and were able to recite the whole story verbatim.

Here’s an additional treat: in the following video, Michael Rosen himself plays out the tale. It’s interesting to watch as I use a very different style when reading the story to my kids.

If you know of other small children’s books that really deserve a read, please let me know.

One of the great things about being a parent is that every evening I get a chance to read night-time stories to young children. These books vary greatly in quality. Many children’s books (particularly the ones with toys and teddy-bears on the cover) are insipid, formulaic, manufactured and quite forgettable . Kids get bored by them just as much as we grown ups do. However there are some books that I still love reading to my younger ones whenever I get a chance.

So, in no particular order, here goes:

1) Hairy Mclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (Lynley Dodd)

Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy

“Out of the gate and off for a walk went Hairy Mclary from Donaldson’s Dairy”

This is a terrific little book about a gang of dogs who get more than they bargained for when they all head off for a walk down town. The drawings are superb, the rhythm in the lines is mesmerising and the “MEEEOOOWFFZZZZ” twist in the end has kids jumping with delight. Very soon, even small kids can recite the lines of the book along with you. Superb. (I am indebted to Teuchter for introducing me to this book..)

2) The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson)

The Gruffalo

“Silly old snake, doesn’t he know, there’s no such thing as a Gruffal…”

This extremely well-illustrated book recounts the adventures of a clever little mouse, beset on all sides by predators, and how he manages to outwit them all. The book is written in a gentle, rhythmic verse that is a pleasure to read out loud. Three quite similar stories are recounted before the plot twists and the mouse is confronted with the monster of his nightmares. What happens after this is an act of genius on the part of the mouse. I always shout out the Gruffalo’s lines in a very angry gruff voice – my kids love it.

3) Some Dogs Do (Jez Alborough)

Some Dogs Do

“His paws just lifted off the ground”

This is a rhyming story about a small dog named Sid who discovers one day that he can fly. When he tries to tell his friends in school, nobody will believe him. The miserable pup is comforted by his parents, who let him into a secret. I particularly like the drawings of Sid’s face – the faraway stare – when he is confronted by opposition on all sides. It’s a captivating, delightful tale that the kids want me to read again and again.

4) Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Green Eggs and Ham

“That Sam-I-Am, That Sam-I-Am! I do not like that Sam-I-Am”!

No list of good children’s books would be complete without a title from Dr. Seuss. This story tells the tale of a grown-up creature who is pestered by the much smaller and younger Sam into eating a seemingly disgusting meal of green eggs and ham. Despite his protestations, Sam never gives in and finally the adult takes a bite. The whole tale is a reversal of the usual story where an adult is forcing a child to eat something that the kid doesn’t like the look of. Like many of the tales here, the story is recursive, repetitive, rhythmic and rhyming. Soon the child will be reciting the tale along with you.

5) How to Catch a Star (Oliver Jeffers)

How to catch a star

“Once there was a boy and the boy loved stars very much”

This story concerns a small boy who wants to catch a star from the sky so that they can be friends and have fun together. He tries reaching for it and climbing trees to get it, but to no avail. Eventually he is drawn to the sea-shore where he finds what he is looking for. This is a wonderfully creative tale that talks volumes about the ways small children see the world. The simple cartoons that complement the story genuinely add to the tale. As an adult you can’t but help feeling for the little boy as he tries to understand a mystery of life.

What makes these books special?

All of these stories are quite similar in that they blend poetry, colour, artistic detail and repetition into a coherent whole. All of the storys take about 3 to 5 minutes to recite. Neither are they “fluffy”: They grapple with quite deep topics concerning relations with adults, friendship, fear, disappointment and making sense of the world. If you are a parent of young kids or are wondering what to give your young niece or nephew for their next birthday, I would wholeheartedly recommend all five titles.

Do you know of any other children’s books that you would add to this list?

This weekend was an eventful and pleasent one.

I met a friend of mine from years back in O’Hare, and it so happened that he was sitting right in front of me on the flight. Other than that it was a typical flight – about 90 minutes of sleep and the usual clammy, drained feeling when I finally arrived into Shannon.

I was exhausted (as usual) when I arrived home after driving back from Shannon. I really, really should stop doing this: I’m flying to direct to Dublin from now on. After a 3 hour nap, I headed out to Roches Point, the lighthouse at the eastern entrance to Cork Harbour. It was wonderful. There were some fantastic rock structures out there and the seas were raging. The “harbour effect” was quite dramatic – I could virtually draw a line across the harbour mouth where the waters suddenly became calm. Further on in my travels, I came across a pristine beach that has a stunning cave and cliff backdrop. No photos unfortunately. I’ll definitely be back, though.

Today I took all four kids on a trip up to the Nire Valley in Co. Waterford (once again, no photos 😦 ) . We ambled a short distance to a place where a small river cuts deeply into the valley. Nobody there but ourselves. Flocks of ravens could be seen fighting the air currents. My eldest was thrilled when we came across a megalithic standing stone on our return journey. After looking carefully at the stone, I noticed that the symbol of the cross was incribed in the rock.

I then took a meandering trip to Ardmore, Co. Waterford, the site of one of Ireland’s best preserved round towers (a defensive structure used by monks during Viking times). We found a terrific playground there quite close to the beach, and I pretended to be a big bad monster while the kids tried to defend their playground castle from me. We spent the time there shrieking with joy. It was great fun.

They were exhausted when we got home. One thing though – my eldest son tried to put on a DVD movie (thinking I wouldn’t notice) and when the Universal Pictures intro started – the one with the world turning – my two youngest boys (age 2) started shouting “Earth!!!” and one of them pointed to a small country on the globe and said “Ireland!!!”

He was quite right.

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