The Nursery Conundrum – what makes a good nursery after #dadtime?

One of the things that has struck me since moving to Surrey is that Relatively unusually Junior has been in two different nursery settings, which has given us a breadth of comparison that most people don’t have – you pick a nursery at the starting stick with it, almost certainly for all your children. So herein some learning points from me. 

First thing to say is that both nursery school we’ve used have been good, and we have been happy helped Junior prosper and develop. But there are definite differences, and our current, Surrey nursery is definitely better. And I think it is that comparison which is interesting. 

I should declare a conflict/bias at this point – as I didn’t go to nursery, and my parents were rightly proud iof having been able to raise me and my siblings at home, I’ve been reluctant about nursery, although knowing that in the current economic cl mate, even for two pretty well paid parents we can’t afford to do anything else (despite the costs). 

The similarities: both are private, go from 9 months to 5, and have at least 3 “rooms” (age groupings). Both relatively large, but not massive – Wimbledon was about 40 places, and Merstham about 55, as it also has a term time-only room for 2+. 

What Should You Look For?

  1. Leadership. Wimbledon had a really good manager when we started, but she was overworked as she was expected to both education and admin. She left, and the vacuum was huge. They had difficulty filling the post, not their fault, but despite the owners’ best endeavours the nursery lost focus and drive. Merstham clearly had this from the very first time we viewed it, and they have strengthened with another leader since.
  2. Find out about staff turnover. Neither setting was bad, but again Wimbledon comes second. Mostly because of the greater choice of employers. Mind you I wouldn’t do their job, and they earn peanuts. Change is unsettling for kids and if you lose a key worker it is even harder. 
  3. Outside space is great. Merstham has the space outside as well as great equipment (slide, house, sandpit etc) that you can’t afford in Wimbledon. Junior is a ball of energy and this is great for him, and most boys. 
  4. Mixing of classes. Difficult to compare as Junior went from baby room to toddler room, and the babies don’t mix with the older kids in either, but again Merstham has the space to allow this in a way I don’t think Wimbledon could. And it’s important as it allows a wider range of interaction and friendships. As well as know Junior is nearly out of the toddler room for him not to have to nap.
  5. Look at the walls. These will give you an idea of how much activity is carried out in the classes, as opposed to less directed play. Wimbledon had an edge here initially but the additional leadership has moved things on in Merstham. You can also get other extracurricular activities. Junior did French in Wimbledon. Unsurprisingly doesn’t remember it now…
  6. Don’t ignore the admin. Neither is amazing at admin (except taking money), but this was a bit of a sign of the troubles at Wimbledon. You can quickly spot this from early engagement – take a long time to reply to queries? Ask some questions.  

As I said, neither was a bad choice, but with hindsight these are the questions and things I’d wish I’d known. And awake….


A momentary peace, a minute’s blog. Bugs and bad behaviour on #dadtime

I was hoping to follow up my last rather frustrated post with stories about the walk and cycle I took with No.2 in e lovely sunshine last week. However circumstances intervened again. As noted on Twitter Mummy and then I were cruelly struck down with some winter vomiting/diahorrea virus, making Sunday and Monday thoroughly unpleasant experiences for pretty much everyone. Miraculously neither child got it. Junior had something similar but less severe a couple of weeks ago, but No.2 appears to have the immune system of Superman, having avoided chickenpox despite bathing with an infectious brother and breastfeeding from a very ill Mummy!

We are also facing a very challenging time with Junior on the behavioural front. Mostly this is just reckless physical exuberance, and being a Terrible Two, but it is having an impact on what we do together when he’s not at nursery. Today I was planning on going to an animal park with them, but he knocked his sister deliberately, which meant she needed a cuddle, which meant she wanted to nap before I was ready to bundle everyone in the car, which meant we didn’t go. And we can go next week, but it is again frustrating that I simply am not getting to do as much as I did last time, at least in part due to his behaviour. 

Instead they got dragged round some shops in Redhill and taken for lunch in West Central again. Not the end of the world as they both enjoyed themselves and then both fell asleep in the car one the way home. Cue some comedy ferrying of various purchases and children in a way I thought least likely to wake either, giving me the 15 minutes to write this…before No.2 woke up. The stare coming up form the car seat of “don’t just sit there looking at me bloody get me out of here” is hilarious!

Bad day follows bad night – double #dadtime at its hardest.

A short account of yesterday, which was the counterpoint to the mostly successful and enjoyable days I’ve had so far on my own. But building on the sleep post I made yesterday, it was almost entirely caused by a bad period of sleeping. 

Junior has got a new routine, as he’s back in nursery 3 days a week, Mon-Weds, which he’s finding tiring. Coupled to this the general disruption of Mummy going to work, and a new intake of younger children into his class, and his sleep has for disrupted. Again. He’s been going to sleep earlier to bath with his sister (very cute),which means he’s waking up about 5am. And he doesn’t understand why everyone else isn’t up… Last night he then also woke up about 3am for a bit, before going back to sleep and waking up properly at 5.30am. Which resulted in a very grumpy family, No.2, Mummy and I all got woken up.

It being Thursday, we couldn’t hand the problem to nursery, so I was staring down the barrel of a very long day with two tired babies. And long it proved to be. 

By the time they both crashed out at about 10:30 No.2 had already fallen down the steps into the kitchen – no damage, but not nice for anyone and left me feeling really guilty as it happened when I was literally 2 feet away but too quickly to stop. Then I had to wake Junior up as it was time for the weekly Joe Jingles class, which meant he didn’t get enough sleep – and this was an exceptional time for him to sleep anyway. He’s mostly stopped napping, but when he does need one (every 4-5 days typically) it’s in the afternoon. So he was still grumpy. See if you can spot him in the below picture, this was how I found him after getting No.2 off to sleep!

We made it to Joe Jingles, but late as Junior wanted to do a poo after waking – which was 2 days after the last one, as although potty training is going well, he does wait a while between poos, so it takes a while to get it all out (grim, as know, but the internet doesn’t transmit the smells so you are spared that at least). 

While we had a pleasant lunch at the Pilots Hub at Redhill Aerodrome, when we got back Junior started talking about doing a poo again, and I foolishly ignored him, thinking there couldn’t be anything in there as we’ve never had more than one in 24 hours. No.2 and I sat in the garden while he went upstairs to get something – shortly after he runs off his head appears in his bedroom window, I thought waving and saying hello – he even started to read one of the books on his windowsill. But in fact what he was trying to communicate that he’d done a huge poo in his pants. Cue emergency shower with complete clothes change, and a crying No.2 while I ignored her to achieve this. 

The knock-on delay to dinner then that meant they were both so tired that they didn’t really want to eat, particularly Junior who is fussy at the best of times (although in fairness he did eat nearly 4 chipolatas, he refused everything else without tasting it). Safe to say I could not wait for Mummy to get home. Fortunately Southern Fail actually haven’t been too bad since she went back, so she was on time.

But we all survived with no harm done, and I have to remember I had a few rough days last time round too. But I was mostly left feeling guilty as it was all things I could/should have avoided. Oh well, Must Try Harder!

Babies and #sleep, what a nightmare (with added science)!

The one post I made last time that has kept receiving hits even while this blog was “resting” was the one about the 9 month sleep regression (based on this article). So I will focus a bit more on the topic of sleep, in an attempt to put some more information and experience out there. As well as because it is probably the single biggest topic of conversation between Mummy and me. 

First, the science part. There are two natural drivers for humans going to sleep: circadian pressure and homeostatic pressure. Big words, but actually quite simple:

  • Circadian is about the time of day – we are hard wired to sleep at night, i.e. when there is no sunlight. Obvious, as before fire and particularly man made lights we wouldn’t have been able to do anything at night. Babies also need to sleep more often, again at fairly regular or repetitive intervals – what we call naps. 
  • Homeostatic is more complex, but is to do with how “tired” we are – so doing more increases the homeostatic pressure. It’s why we get more tired after a hard day’s work than a sofa day.

However sleep is a learned activity – you have to learn how to fall asleep (I know! This amazes me every time I hear it). Once actually asleep you don’t have one monolithic block of sleep, even though that’s how it can feel, you go in cycles, typically 90 minutes for an adult, but less for babies. One recent fact I like is that humans evolved to sleep in two halves, with a period of waking in the middle – probably protective, with added reproductive benefits, when living in trees/caves. 

In our babies, the operation of these two pressures has been quite evident, but very different. Below table (sorry, analyst) summarises their behaviour on these various traits at about this point (9 1/2 months). 

I can really only stress that I am not exaggerating. Mummy has it very marginally easier during the day in possessing weapons of last resort (breast feeding), but much much harder in them being the only effective option at night. The scores are probably relative, but our children are among the worst I’ve heard about, comparable with other parenting nightmares we’ve heard of. I still laugh in disbelief when people say they’re going to put their child down in their room for a nap. While they are ironically currently both asleep, No.2 is in the push chair and Junior remains where he collapsed on the sofa!

So, given this awful experience, what conclusions and tips would I give?

  1. Breastfeeding affects sleep. A lot. This is just a fact. It means significantly less for Mummy, but also as you will end up cosleeping, less for Daddy too. The benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the inconvenience, but be under no illusion that this will have a long-term impact on how and for how long they sleep. See this recent article on “breastsleeping” for an insight. It also doesn’t mean all bottle-fed babies will sleep.  I didn’t, see #5. 
  2. Put the child down asleep as often as possible. They get used to sleeping on someone, and this is a killer. While mobile phones can alleviate some of the boredom, it is frequently uncomfortable and very dull. Also, it’s a bit dangerous if you really are knackered. As above, at night this is pretty unavoidable for mums, but dads can reduce babies’ dependency on this during their shifts. When I’ve been on parental leave, sleeping has improved as both have realised they can sleep not using a bosom for a pillow (no Brimful of Asha played in our house…). 
  3. Look out for Mummy. She will be more tired than you, and has less opportunity to recover than a daddy does. Mummy to mine has basically not had more than 3 hours consecutive sleep in nearly 3 years. When it gets really bad (teething, development leaps, growth spurts), do something. Anything. Long drive, late night, whatever it takes. When someone is that sleep deprived even 30 minute can make the difference. 
  4. It does get better. Slowly, oh so slowly, but it does. The challenge with Junior was that his sleep would get better quite quickly then regress hugely. But by age 2 and 2 months he was sleeping through the night. And then No.2’s sleep, which for the first few weeks had been excellent, literally fell off a cliff. Her challenge has been that change has been painfully and imperceptibly gradual, but ompense she hasn’t really regressed.
  5. It might be genetic…. It turns out that both Mummy and I were awful sleepers, as was my father before me. I appear to hold the record, being 3yo before I slept through the night. I literally can’t imagine, although consecutively our two are approaching that marker now! Although I have always been a bit of a slow learner…

Some will ask “why didn’t you try sleep training”. Well, seeing as all these are some variety of letting them cry, Mummy didn’t want to do this. I will happily admit I would have, but I haven’t been worst affected or done most of the work, and I want all the family to be happy. And it is incredibly hard letting a small child you love, who knows they want something but doesn’t know what it is or how to get it, scream. So we didn’t. 

We did try a book called “The No Cry Sleep Solution“, which cured a few habits, but I don’t think really did much good in the long run. Mummy bought it at about 8 months, so it took over twice as long again for Junior to get the hang of it…. I’m slightly in awe of those who do (props to a magistrate colleague who got all 4 of hers sleeping through the night by 9 weeks), but not for us. 

So I admit sleep deprivation is part choice. 

However I reserve the right to whinge with other parents!

Dusting off the pack-pack: trial #walking with No.2 – phew, she likes it! 

Avid readers will recall my excitement at about this stage last time when my LittleLife child carrying backpack turned up, allowing me to head out across Wimbledon Common with Junior. Well, now we’re in the lovely North Downs I decided it was high time to dust it off and prepare to do some more serious walking. 

Our village, Merstham, is one of the stops on the North Downs Way, in fact one relatively few urbanish areas it goes through on this bit of the route. However I decided that heading straight out on the NDW would perhaps be a bit adventurous, given my lack of fitness and No.2’s lack of time in the backpack (endearingly called the “pack-pack” by Junior). 

So last week I did a little warm up on a more familiar path South out of the village and round Mercers Lake, which also doubles as my ~5k running route. However, the ground was definitely not suitable for running as it had rained for a couple of days beforehand (someone did jog past me, I don’t know how they made it round the corners!). This route follows the lake, past the sailing club, doubles back to the pub, then in this case I went round Spynes Mere Nature Reserve for the first time, and back into the village. About 6-6.5km all round (I forgot to put my measuring app on). 

Which all went pretty well, with two notable exceptions: No.2 fell asleep 10 minutes short of the pub, and was not amused by the stop, and the path round Spynes Mere was a complete mud bath in places and it was lucky I had good walking boots on, or we’d both have got very muddy. However there were some nice viewpoints – a mix of seagulls and cormorants on the jetty. I have to say, the way round I went left the best of the Mere to last, to start with its mostly trees. Later on some rabbits dashed across our path. 

The pub was a shame, as the Inn on the Pond is a nice place, albeit possibly just slightly over-modernised, as although it has lots of original country pub features (low beams, high bar, fire nooks) somehow they’ve almost been made to look not real with all the burnished wood. Or maybe they aren’t real and I’m a romantic. However the Whitstable Bay is always good, and it’s passingly pleasant in there.

Fortunately she/I/the pack-pack passed the test, and she slept all the way home from the pub, so seems to enjoy the pack-pack enough that I’ll take her out in it again. I may even break the bike out and test her out in the bike seat with her new and tiny helmet!

Note to self: get out more…although little choice from tomorrow! #dadtime times 2!

I think my main reflection on the couple of days I’ve done so far is that No.2 needs more external stimulation than I’ve been giving her so far. 

Looking back at posts from my time with Junior, I came across my amateur effort at trying to define some of his personality traits. I haven’t spent enough time with No.2 yet to comment on all of the same aspects, but there has always been one very clear difference between the two long those lines. While Junior does get his energy from outside, it very much comes from doing things and going places. Whereas No.2 has basically from birth been an entirely social animal. 

When I took her yesterday to the very nice West Central coffee shop in Redhill, she clearly was trying to join in the conversations of some of the ladies that lunch who were sat around us! Whenever anyone started talking,she’d immediately reorient to them and start babbling. It was very cute, but has underlined the fact that in a typical week Mummy was taking her to a class of some sort up almost every day. We do have Joe Jingles (another Gymboree-a-like) tomorrow, so that will help, but next week I must get organised and keep up the baby-signing, as well as some more local things such as rhyme-time at the library.

In addition to Joe Jingles, we will be driven out of the house anyway as Junior is at home tomorrow for the first time with me. He is in fine form at the moment…meaning his energy levels are very high, and we will need to find ways to burn at least some of it off! Given how keen he is to go back to “Grandad’s House” after the weekend (it’s very sweet, he keeps asking if we can drive there), I suppose we could walk the ~100 miles there!

Day 1 survived, and Dad didn’t do too badly either…!

Our household has raised the Plague Flag in recent weeks, meaning poor No.2 hasn’t had a great finish to her time with Mummy being at home. She’s on chickenpox alert, as big bro picked up chickenpox from nursery about a fortnight ago. He got off unbelievably lightly, as you could count his spots on your fingers, and with only one actually breaking the skin. While she has been really ill, it’s only been a terrible case of manful that nearly killed me (but had minimal effect on Mummy…), meaning we’re in partial quarantine while we wait for the spots or a serious sense of disappointment if she doesn’t get it… This has of course destroyed her and Mummy’s sleep, just in time for Mummy to go back to work. 

And then we got an email from the nursery saying there’s a confirmed case of Scarlet Fever – it’s part Hornblower and part Dickens at the moment.

This had unfortunate knock-ons to our social lives, with grandparents being waved off, and No.2 (and Mummy) having to stay behind while Junior (who is now all-clear) and I went to party at a wedding, and for him to spend some quality time with said grandparents. He had a whale of a time, with limited numbers of children meaning he was able to spend some quality time running round like a lunatic with the equally game 2 yo flower girl – I think the wedding photographer took as many shots of them as he did the bride and groom.

In terms of the first day, it went better than last time, mostly because I knew to expect the lack of napping and the crying. An unfortunate effect of the illness appears to be a loss of appetite (I had this too), which means she found it pretty tough going, especially as we hadn’t been able to practice with milk from a bottle/beaker. Bizarrely the most successful method of ingesting formula (we’re going straight to it this time, no faffing with expressing in work for Mummy) was to drink straight out of the beaker with no lid. However as she only had about 30 ml across the day, that’s still not exactly a great flow rate! However Mummy reminded me that Junior was very slow to start, until he turned into the industrial vacuum pump he remains.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be a bit more adventurous, although that will depend on Daddy correctly reading the nap signs, and No.2 following through on those threats and actually having one before 3pm.

I should note that I do have a whole load of blogs in my head about the last few weeks, but between doing things, illness and the time that just somehow disappears when looking after 2 kids haven’t quite go round to writing. I promise to write them before I finish my leave…