Laziness is no excuse… #dadtime must go on! Wheelchair rugby awesome, Science Museum meh.

Well, the fun of being off full time finished a few months ago now (late Jun 2015), and despite being badgered to conclude this blog, I never did. But now I think that was the right decision – as I am going to start it up again. Although I should let you know my thoughts on Parental Leave.


In order to balance work, childcare costs and making the most of the fun years ahead with a rapidly developing and growing up little boy (Junior is not a baby anymore!) Mum and I are alternating Friday's off work. This means Junior gets 4 days a week at nursery, which he loves, and we get a day a fortnight on our own with him.


This started a couple of months ago as Mum used her leave to spend a last few weeks off with him before returning to work properly. I think we learnt quite a lot about how we didn't quite get the leave right, which I'll cover in another post. And we've been out and about on our days so far, as well as keeping in touch with NCT friends and Dads and Littluns in Wimbledon Park.


The two highlights so far have been the Science Museum, which I tweeted about, and last Friday the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge, as we both enjoyed our day at the #murderball so much.


I have mixed feelings about the Science Museum. Personally, as someone with an astrophysics degree, and who is passionate about science, I just don't feel it does the subject justice. Many of the exhibits are a bit fusty, and definitely quite dusty – and even the more modern sections just don't really seem to bring science to life, they're just a bit gadgety. However, taking Junior gave me a bit more of an appreciation of what it does well, as the exploratory areas (there are 3) were brilliant for him, especially the water tank downstairs in the Sensorium, where I literally had to drag him away or he'd have ben there for the rest of his life! But still, how they can make an exhibit of planes so not interesting to a small boy whose first words were “car” and “tractor” slightly depresses me. He did love the very random tractor dioramas though, and the dimly lit space section sent him to sleep allowing me to go round the small but interesting exhibit about Churchill's wartime scientists.


The World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge is a new competition, I think the first in the world, to give wheelchair rugby a platform outside of the Paralympics. And it was brilliant. Hosting it in the Copper Box in the former Olympic Park was a great idea – having experienced “the box that rocks” for the handball in the Olympics, even with the 2-300 people there for the session of the wheelchair rugby we went to it had atmosphere. First of all we watched NZ vs RSA, the highlight being the wheelchair Haka – awesome mostly because of the way they integrated banging on their wheels into it. Then GB vs France, always a classic – and GB didn't disappoint with a close-fought but deserved win.


During the action, Junior was initially enjoying watching so he could clap when someone scored (lots of goals so he got to do this plenty) but then he discovered all the grannies and the steps there were, and he was off. He barely stopped – in this photo I think he's just getting his breath back before climbing up the steps again. And again! Thanks to the lady with the Help for Heroes teddy bear who kept him amused for a bit.

The day just reinforced my view that wheelchair rugby is a whole load of fun, that the guys (and gals) who play this properly are incrdible athletes (special shout to the South African with one arm (no other limbs) but had a hand like a crane grab), playing a sport that is an spectacle. Can't wait for next year!



Learning Styles in action – watching a child prove psychologists (sometimes) know what they’re talking about!

One of the real pleasures of getting to spend so much time with Junior is really getting to see him develop, and learn things. I’m lucky that this period appears to be one where he does develop an awful lot – his mobility alone has increased beyond recognition, he’s almost certainly going to start walking on my watch, and then there’s all the vocal and intellectual development that is going on as well, from making new sounds to being able to sort shapes to associating actions with words.

One of the advantages of working in the civil service is the encouragement it gives staff to develop and particularly be self aware. I’ve been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do lots of this, and have developed an interest in it, as well as finding it really useful personally and to work with others better. There’s probably three observations based on this I’d make about Junior, two about learning style and one about personality.

The learning styles stuff is actually more academically disputed, particularly the first one I’ll mention, which is about “how” people learn. According to the theory there are three types of learners: aural, visual and kinaesthetic. Aural and visual are pretty self explanatory – people with these preferences will both respond better to input in their preferred format, and will store their memories in this way too. So for instance an visual learner will prefer to see things, and will store information in a visual form. Kinaesthetic is the same, but basically means through their body – so it’s about physical sensation. I recently discovered that this was in fact my preferred style, having thought for years it was visual. It was the memory part that made me realise – my best memories, while having visual and aural elements, are mostly about the physical feeling I had at the time. I’m still to fully come too terms with this knowledge, and how to use it. But watching Junior, it’s clear already that he has a major kinaesthetic element – I wouldn’t want to say his preferences are set already, but he really only gets things when he feels it – he doesn’t really learn through watching (although it helps), it isn’t until he’s done it and felt it that it sticks. Looking back to my childhood, I should have realised from the endless hours I put into repeating sports practice, mostly to the detriment of my father’s lovingly tended lawn…

Secondly, there is a reasonably well-founded theory by one David Kolb, adapted by Honey and Mumford to describes four basic styles, set out simply in this article. While you can be a combination of these, and may use all of them in your life/career, you generally have a preference, and you can normally figure it out quite quickly. They are:

  • Activist – Learn by doing something
  • Reflector – Learn by observing and thinking about things
  • Theorist – Learn by understanding the theory
  • Pragmatist – Need to see how to put any learning into practice

Junior is without a shadow of a doubt predominantly an Activist. While I think elements of the others show through, he already clearly prefers just trying something – he might then not like it (sand, for instance), but he’ll go full bore until he’s tried it. Which is what makes him so much fun, whilst also being quite a danger to himself – not for him the life of quiet observation…or us for that matter!

Lastly, in terms of personality. The theory here is much better grounded, and goes back to Carl Jung. My preferred model is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, which I pride myself on being pretty accurate at guessing. I won’t describe all of it, but the two traits I’d pick out already are to do with where he gets energy, and his attitude to achieving things, the first and fourth letters of the MBTI descriptor. I think the other two will require more time to determine.

He is clearly an Extravert (note, not extrOvert, this is about where people get energy from – within is intraversion, externally is extraversion – obviously there are similarities with the more usual terms, but it isn’t quite the same). Junior is never happier than when he is receiving lots of stimulation from outside, ideally around lots of people. He isn’t necessarily always demanding attention, but he really comes alive when in a high energy environment. This should help with settling into things like nursery, although it depends on quite a lot of other factors. Mostly I think it means he’ll be wired at the end of the day when we pick him up!

I also have a feeling he is more of a Percieving that Judging type. He doesn’t really seem to be that focussed on the end goal, he’s more interested in doing stuff to see where it might go, and enjoying the ride to get there. He doesn’t get particularly frustrated when things don’t work or get interrupted, instead moving on to the next thing quite happily. This isn’t to say he doesn’t get annoyed when his walking truck gets stuck in a corner, but I don’t think that he’s aiming to end up somewhere specific, he’s more interested in just keeping moving. So by my reckoning he’ll be an ExxP by MBTI type. Which is actually the same as my ENTP.

However, all of this may just be projection on my part, wanting him to be like me – and as Mum has pointed out, his current preferences are also likely to mostly be driven by his developmental ability, and the fact that for instance touch is one of his more developed senses. So check back in 17 years time and we might have a clearer answer!

A busy little bee – Auntie then Granny then Grandad Time!

I'm basically making excuses now for not blogging enough – but we've had a pretty busy couple of weeks, with lots of visits and visitors.

After Uncle came Auntie, with my sister making a flying visit to check in on the little man. We had a fairly quiet time, although we did make it to the British Museum (cue lots of “Mummy Issue” jokes in the Egyptian exhibition), which was ok for a pushchair, but not great. The biggest disappointment was that the children's area, including the bottle feeding facilities, was actually inaccessible by pushchair as the lift to the way in was broken. Junior then had fun crawling around on the lawn in front of the museum, chasing some more pigeons. I'm still not sure how he'd react if he actually caught one…

My favourite moment of the whole trip however was going into the disabled/baby change toilet (when we eventually found an open one) and finding this wonderful contraption! How life changes – very different to the types of vending machines I used to find amusing – “Herbal Viagra” anyone?

Then last week saw Granny (my Mum) come down – this was both pleasure for her and help for me, as I was in court (as a magistrate, I hasten to add), and we needed some childcare – which this being the first time my Granny has looked after Junior all day on her own, and the first time I was the one doing the leaving behind, as Mummy went to work as normal, was slightly nervous for all involved. But it all went swimmingly!

The day before we had been to visit the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. This is a small but pretty oasis in the middle of the parkland that is turned over to the types of tropical plants that you get in ornamental gardens and at Augusta golf course in the Masters. And this is the right time of year to go, with some very pretty blossoms out, with the whole plantation obviously fairly recently having had some development, as there was a lot of relatively new paths and signage. Junior wasn't the only small child there by any stretch (at least one nursery class was on a visit!), but he did get to look at some more ducks and geese. I'm not quite sure what he makes of them, but they do seem to hold some interest.

Then this weekend we made a flying visit to my parents house, which allowed Grandad to catch up with Junior, and for him to visit another National Trust garden, this time belonging to Croome Court. Grandad is a National Trust volunteer at the nearby Snowshill Manor, which Junior will love in a few years time, as it is full of interesting things, including plenty of toys, and hopefully in a couple of years time will have a model village and railway (if Grandad gets his way – he's trying to replace the train set we had in the loft as children…).

However Croome is quite a new NT property, apparently having been bought by a developer who wanted to turn it into palatial apartments, but rightly had his plans blocked by the local community with the NT getting involved to take over management. The house is open but apparently has nothing in it, as it is very structurally unsound – so in an innovative way what they've done is turn the huge amount of scaffolding around the house into a visitor attraction of its own, by putting a cafe on top with views out across the grounds and Malverns. As you can see, there is a LOT of scaffolding!

But the gardens are an early example of “Capability” Brown's work, and are quite pretty even now, and have the potential to be really quite something. However, as Grandad observed, it also has the potential to be a complete moneypit…but worth a visit if you're passing!



Swimming with the Fishes – one of the gifts I hope to give Junior

As I've previously written about, we are keen to give Junior the opportunity to learn to swim. So we've started taking him to swimming lessons on a Saturday, and we've also taken him a couple of times outside that.

While neither Mum or I are particularly confident in the water, Mum is at least a competent swimmer, while I'm definitely in the “get me on a life raft or I die” category – it is clearly a myth that humans naturally float!

The swimming lessons, at Dolphin Swim School in Mitcham, are fairly typical child fare to a certain extent – lots of singing of nursery rhymes and remaining very close to Dad/Mum (although the majority of those in my class at least are Dads – I guess because it's the weekend). However the thing that surprised me most was the emphasis on submersions – literally completely dunking Junior in the water. There are a number of varieties of this, the most basic being facing each other. The idea is to get them used to firstly holding their breath – they do this automatically when younger, but lose the instinct over time, and secondly to rise to the surface. The remainder of the lessons are more about then being able to swim to the nearest solid thing and hold on, although this will take longer.

Junior appears to take more after me when it comes to water, unfortunately. Not a natural. He doesn't really like his ears being underwater, which combined with his general aversion to lying on his back is making backstroke seem like a distant prospect! However the tactic is clearly to keep exposing him to the water, so I'm now going to try taking him during the week at least semi-regularly. And to my surprise, lying him back during his bath seems to be making quite an improvement.

We'll also try a number of pools, as SW London is well served by council leisure centres (mostly provided by the Better not-for-profitish organisation). Thus far we've only been to Putney Leisure Centre, which is quite good with a splash pool for small people – kept slightly warmer than the main pool, with a family oriented “Changing Village” that allows you to stay together as a family. And doesn't require you to have correct change for the lockers, but you do have to remember a padlock!


The Week That Went – but no Yogurt Test pass

Another week flies by, and one without a blog – my literally dozen of readers are protesting – and Junior is passing developmental milestones like crazy. This week alone he has started stacking cups, clapping and identifying different shapes (did that this morning!).

He still hasn’t passed the yogurt test however. This is one of Mum and mine’s devising to test when his problem solving and motor control skills have reached the real milestone of serious tool use.


The Yogurt Test


  • 1 small pot of yogurt or fromage frais
  • 1 baby spoon
  • 1 baby
  • Optional (but advised) – All-over neoprene bib

Present baby with opened pot and spoon. Observe results.

PASS = Baby uses spoon to extract yogurt, demonstrating ability to solve simple problem using tool.

FAIL = Junior sucking determinedly but vainly on bottom of yogurt pot, having dipped fingers in but failed to realise the increasingly damp sensation on his stomach is the yogurt he so desperately wants falling out of the top, and covering him, the all-over bib Mum wisely bought, the high chair and the kitchen floor. And if he’s really lucky Daddy too.


#uncletime with the walrus and llamas @HornimanMuseum and Gardens

We also had a visit (the first in a line of my relatives, they clearly know me well enough to know I’m likely to need encouragement/support by now…) from my brother, which coincided with some of the nicer weather. Apart from getting some quality playtime in, we also went to the Horniman Museum and Gardens in East Dulwich. Passing through SE London a fair amount, I’ve seen it advertised quite a lot. The setup is reasonably familiar – a Victorian gentleman collector, who was interested in other cultures (in the “how many beads do you want for that priceless treasure” way), who philanthropically opened his collection up for the edification of the masses. It then became too big and having knocked his house down to replace it with a purpose-built home then graciously donated it to the London County Council in 1901.

I think it’s safe to say that the collection then entered a slightly awkward phase, that is still having an impact on it today. It was organised by the prevailing ethnographic theory, which was, and it is incredible now to write this, that all non-Western cultures were human but simply not as evolved as us, and so you could map the stage of their evolution based on their technological and social advancement. It’s safe to say that Africa didn’t do well, although it wasn’t clear where this would leave the Welsh. Obviously, and as was pointed out on every information notice that mentioned this theory, we now know that this is wrong!

There were a lot of stuffed animals including the infamous walrus (@HornimanWalrus if you’re interested) demonstrating more conventional evolutionary theory, some real odds and ends such as a torture chair (probably mostly fake apart from the head screws – nice), and an entire gallery devoted to showing off the African artifacts the museum still holds, but in a much more culturally sensitive way. Clear existential guilt, although it was very interesting how masks play such a crucial cultural role in so many African societies, in the same way clothes and adornment do in the West.

The gardens were also nice – with a surprise city zoo – quite small but with 2 llamas, unlike Deen City farm which although much bigger overall has only 1. Perhaps this is how they measure themselves.

An Easter of Kings, Curry, Cousins and Less Sleep!

Another Easter passes, Junior’s first ritual consumption of chocolate passing in what could have been a diabetic haze, but instead was quite a good weekend of eating. Although his obsession for all forms of bread-related product continues – this weekend we added muffins to his approved list, along with pancakes (possibly pikelets) which frankly are a bread substitute. We’re already trying to hide other food-groups in the bread in the hope he’ll pick up their taste!

It opened with an evening of curry and beer – Junior and Mum departing early once Junior had won the prize for cutest customer in the curry house for the evening. Some of the waiters really took a shine to him! This was followed on Saturday by the start of a visit by his two little cousins (and attendant adults), aged 6 (Boy) and 4 (Girl).

Boy Cousin and Junior were endearingly fascinated by each other – playing very happily, which unfortunately left Girl Cousin somewhat out of the loop. This was ameliorated during the visit to Hampton Court by the fact that Junior spent a lot of his time in the back pack, thereby being out of reach and conversation for both of them.

Hampton Court was in fine form – as it should have been for its 500th birthday! We obviously weren’t going to the HCP500 evening bashes (with children?! Absurd…). There were a range of playlets going on throughout the day to keep everyone occupied and give those who didn’t have their ears glued to an audio guide an idea of what the main historical events at the palace were. Mum and I actually visited last year, when the plays were probably less well done and slick, but had more of a storyline to them – this weekend they were mostly significant but unrelated events dotted through the palace’s history. Obviously Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn got centre stage, but also a range of other monarchs. However the dancing and singing was very good – at one point I definitely felt like an extra on Shakespeare in Love!

On Monday we went to Dad’s Playgroup, which was attended by a fairly select band – but this allowed Junior more opportunity at the toys – which he failed to take advantage of by sleeping and then clinging to me most of the time! This was followed by a junior hosting one of his NCT girlfriends and parents – he was on good form for her, of course. Demonstrated his spectacular eating skills by demolishing some more bread. And in fairness a bit of meringue. Little bit.

In amongst all this jollity, Junior did absolutely sideswipe us with a complete sleep relapse. According to the Wonder Weeks theory he has just entered his next developmental leap, so this has probably contributed, but he may simply have mistaken his mother for a chocolate Easter egg, and been enjoying the opportunity to stay as close as possible. As the scratches from a couple of nights’ close attention prove….