Friday, 7 November 2014

Cruel or Kind ? You decide!

Hello fellow parents! I had a great chat with some friends over lunch yesterday. We always have a good laugh together and share parenting tips. But yesterday they told me a story that left me speechless...!

I'd love to hear your opinions about this little story. I was horrified...

Father: "Daisy, did you know that every 7 years your parents are allowed to choose a new name for you?"

Daughter (nearly 7 years old): "No, really?"

Father: "Yes, every 7 years your parents can change your name and then when you get to 21 you can change it yourself to whatever you want."

Daughter: "Ok."

Father: "So when you turn 7, we're going to change your name to Plop-plop."

Daughter: "What?"

Father: "Do you want ice-cream for desert?"

Daughter: "Yes please."

Father: "If you want ice-cream, you have to sign this contract, agreeing to the name change."

Daughter: "I don't want to."

Father: "Well, no ice-cream for you then."

Daughter: "Er, ok, I'll sign it."

Father: "Good, thank you for signing the contract, you know this is legally binding and from next Tuesday, your Mum and I, and everyone at school will call you Plop-plop."

Daughter: "But wait... that's not fair!"

The Father in this case made a strong argument to me that it was a good life lesson. Daisy got to learn about contracts, what her signature means, commitment, trade-offs and long-term vs. short-term.

They have a good solid and frequently jokey relationship, which reduces the sinister tone that I was afraid of in this exchange. But I'm certainly not going to be using this as an go-to lesson for my kids. Predominantly because I try to never lie to my kids, not even to wind them up. I think it's important that I mean everything I say, and that I always follow through on promises.

The above exchange seems to contravene that approach, but it does get the message across in a punchy and memorable way.  It also gives the whole family a good chance to use Daisy's alternative name 'Plop-plop' for comedic effect later on!

I'm not sure who's right on this one. What do you think?

Your kids are amazing... but, what are you doing about it ??

I only ask the question because sometimes I don't feel like I give my kids the credit they deserve for the things that they do.

In the course of a busy week, the kids certainly feel that they've achieved things, had successes and "won" at whatever they were doing. As adults it's easy to miss the importance of these small achievements, and let large achievements fade into distant memory.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs describes the different levels of human motivation. We all need to have
basic needs met before the next level becomes important. For example, if you don't have a roof over your head, you probably aren't worried about not having lots of good friends. The levels are as follows:

1. Physiological - food, shelter, warmth
2. Safety - personal, financial and health
3. Love/Belonging - friendship, intimacy, family
4. Esteem - self-respect, recognition
5. Self-Actualization - being the best you can be

Luckily in my kids' world, we have the top 3 levels nicely covered. We still have to work hard to fulfill those needs, but our children are priviledged to not need to worry about levels 1 and 2. Level 3 is also present, whatever kind of family structure you have, the focus for most of us as parents is to make the children feel loved.

So what else do they need? Well, level 4 seems to be our next goal. Building, in our children, self-respect, giving them recognition, and instilling self-confidence are the next most important needs.

NOTE: "Being the best" is level 5 - not level 4. It's important to remember this. To address level 4, we should purposefully avoid merging our actions to try to meet level 5.

Example:

Strict Level 4: "Well done Daisy, you were amazing! I was very proud of you. How did that feel?"

Mixed Level 4 & 5: "Well done Charlie! You won! You've got a great chance of winning at the national championships!"

The difference is simple. Recognise the children for what they have done, in that moment. Avoid projecting future success, or future potential into the picture.


Ways To Recognise Your Children : Good vs Bad

Adults sometimes have a difficulty in recognising different types of success. I was reminded of this when my youngest was struggling a little with his spelling tests. It was clear that he wasn't putting the work in, with enough attention to detail, and was going into the weekly test not 100% confident.

We worked out a plan, which involved daily short sessions, with tests in the 2nd half of the week - so that he could see how well he knew the spellings well before the formal test.

This was initially somewhat onerous to administer daily. But with suitable encouragement it became a daily habit that had (almost) perfect results. The encouragement that we gave him was not...

(BAD) "Well done for getting all the spellings right!" - which you could only say after a few days of hard work... but instead...

(GOOD) "Well done for sitting down and concentrating on your spellings!".

The difference here is in recognising effort and attitude, not success. Success should come at the end of a lot of effort, so why wait until the success happens before you recognise and reward. And what do you do if a child fails, or doesn't win?

Here are a few ideas to add to your daily list of positive encouragement:

"Well done for turning off your bedroom light this morning!" - in front of the other children who didn't.

"I'm very impressed that you always get ready in good time for the bus!" - rather than being annoyed on the odd occasion when they forget their PE kit.

"You're really getting into your maths today! You've been at it for 45 mins! Well done!"

"You looked like you were trying really hard at training today - you were flying along!"

"Thank you for being patient and not interupting. Now, what did you want to ask?"

BONUS TIP:

There is a song in the wonderful Theatre Show of 'Matilda', written by Tim Minchin, called 'My House'. A line in the song (and seeing the stage show) inspired this rather awesome tip.

"On these walls I hang wonderful pictures"

Miss Honey sings this in her small, run-down shack of a house. In the stage show the pictures were drawings that the children in her class had drawn for her. I stole this and applied a little extra oomph to the sentiment.

Most family houses have a pin board or a fridge with lovely kids drawings, newspaper cut-outs, and maybe a certificate or two. That's great, but I wanted to fill my house with motivation and memories. So we took it up a notch.

I set the children a challenge at the beginning of the year to produce something worthy of framing and putting on the wall.

We had a few empty picture hooks to fill up (a different story all together), and I wanted to put up something meaningful and beautiful. I could have gone over to IKEA and bought a random canvas picture of a pleasant photograph, like I did when we first moved in. But DaddyDaddyCool runs a different ship now!

First up on the wall: Aaron's Owl
It took a little while, but the first picture that went up was a painting by my middle son.

This was closely followed by a pen-drawing of Pudding Lane by my youngest.


My eldest was a little stuck, as at secondary school their art was being done in an art book that couldn't be sliced apart until the end of term.

But the next thing that I wanted to put on the wall wasn't art. My youngest got an unexpectedly good report from school and a special prize for science & technology. Guess what?... those went up on the wall, in a frame, too!

Not art, but still worthy of framing: Reggie's Report
Now everyday he walks past that picture frame with the glowing teacher comments in it. Knowing that I thought it deserved its place on the wall, and that I'd gone to the trouble of buying a frame, mounting it, and adding it to the collection. Extra bonus: frames are very cheap these days!

I can't think of a better way to recognise his effort and his improved attitude to school!

By the way, it makes me proud everytime I walk past it too!

Just this morning, I framed up a special achievement certificate which my eldest received last year. There was a time delay because I was away when this event - the national maths challenge -  happened. When I suggested that I frame another achievement certificate that she received as "Best in year 9", she objected and pointed out her more impressive former achievement. I conceded and we framed a 1 year old certificate which shows her as "Best in the country". I added a little extra 'Wow!' to this framing, to make it even more special.
Mia's "Best in the UK!" Certificate deserved its place on the wall

I'm secretly hoping for some more artwork to put up, as there are still a few bare walls around here. The positivity and motivation, that framed certificates and school reports give, can't be denied!

So if you are looking for home decorating ideas, which are guaranteed to make you feel good, and will help tick off one of Maslow's higher-ranking needs for your children, then go ahead and start framing awesome stuff - DaddyDaddyCool style!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Fitness made simple for dads

I've just read a load of supposedly helpful posts about fitness, which don't half get confusing when you try to put all the advice together.

So I thought it might be useful to put into a simple blog post the simple rules by which I try to stay fit when looking for guidance or inspiration in the gym or elsewhere.

My simple fitness rules:

1. Set yourself a challenge - one that's hard but also fun - and recruit one or more pals to the same challenge

2. Train to meet the challenge over 3,4.. 6 minutes months.

3. Don't worry about what you normally do for fitness - if you're working towards a good challenge you'll have to change your regime anyway.

4. Eat to meet the challenge - with the right balance of carbs / fats / proteins, and at least one blowout day per week.

5. Moderate your caffeine, sugar, alcohol - except for special occasions.

This is the way to keep moving forward, not hate your fitness routine, have a life, and achieve some impressive goals - collecting stories along the way.

Examples of my recent challenges:

2011 - Complete a sprint Triathlon
2012 - Fight in local inter-club Muay Thai event
2013 - Man vs Mountain 23 mile race over Snowdon
2014 - Get stronger (at 40) than I was at 25 = 105kg bench press & power clean
2015 - Complete "Tough Guy" extreme obstacle race

In 2011 I could swim 2 miles in a session and run a 21 minute 5K.

In 2012 I hit 84kg and had fantastic cardio for fighting 3 rounds of 2 minutes, full contact.

In 2013 I was 85kg and running up to 40 miles per week at a comfortable 8 mins per mile.

In 2014 I hit the gym three times a week, religiously following a targeted strength program, and crept over 92kg.

In 2015 I will need to get used to ice-cold swimming, conquer my claustrophobia and overcome my fear of electrocution. Can't wait!

You'll find yourself in different shapes and sizes depending on the challenges you choose, and this is more empowering than the constant pressure that we're under to look like a "Men's Health" cover model. Doing what it takes to meet the challenges, overcoming your set backs and having a load of fun with friends along the way is just the best way to keep in good shape and stay healthy.

Muay Thai: round 3
Man vs Mountain: Man won!
Triathlon: Uh oh! I still have bike & run to do!

An added bonus is that motivating impact that it has on your children. They see you setting goals, training for them, and achieving them. If a little of that rubs off on them, then you'll have set them up for a rich and rewarding life!


So find a challenge, recruit some pals, and GO FOR IT!!!

Come dine with ... us!

One of our most memorable Staycation activities this summer was "Come dine with me!". We modelled the Channel 4 program to create a fun half-day activity - perfect for adding some interesting video segments to our Staycation video!

The format is simple: 1 course per child, with cooking, tasting and voting, all on camera.

As my three lovelies are 8, 11 & 13, the courses were allotted on a difficulty basis.

8 y.o. worked on melon and parma ham starter.

13 y.o. attempted a full roast chicken.

11 y.o. worked on chocolate coated strawberries for desert.

There was general agreeement over timings, so that the kitchen wouldn't become a war zone. And all the cooking was supervised to a greater or lesser extent by me (the responsible adult!).

Some ground rules were established upfront a few days before the competition.

- All ingredients had to be written down on the 'shopping list', according to the recipes
- All utensils, cookware and presentation plates had to be assigned to minimised double-usage

With these in place, and the shopping done, we were all ready. I was on hand to help and keep a photographic record.

All the 'cooks' did a great job and kept relatively calm under pressure. My three thrive on competition, so great care was taken to do their absolute best.

NOTE: Some children thrive on teamwork and cooperation rather than competition. So judge for yourself how the 'competition' should play out.


Just before the meal was ready we drew up scorecards to hold up on video, to give an extra visual impact to the footage. And with that, the first course was served.

Starter: Reggie's Melon & Parma Ham

A nice simple, family friendly, course - involving washing, cutting and arranging - perfect for an 8 y.o.

The judging was carefully considered after the first course, with most criticism coming down to an under-ripe melon - rather than the expertise involved in getting it to the plate.


Main Course: Mia's Roast Chicken with all the trimmings

An ambitious project, even for a 13 year old. Her speciality is normally baking cupcakes, but she threw herself into this one. With a bit of help from me on timings, she worked diligently to the plan, delegated a few tasks (to me!), and put on a really impressive spread.

Again the judging was fair and honest, and there were almost all positive comments, with everyone particularly enjoying the chicken and pigs in blankets.










Desert: Aaron's Chocolate Covered Strawberries with Strawberry Couli

Always a crowd pleaser, the chocolatey strawberries went down very well, and a well executed couli was an added delight. All the children enjoyed this course, but tactical voting had now set in, with very low scores from some judges.

Nevertheless, Aaron's desert was a big success.


The Final Verdict!

The final scores were:

Reggie - Starter : 17 Points
Mia - Main Course: 17 Points
Aaron - Desert: 19 Points

Aaron won by a very small margin - and was very proud of himself. The others, despite some tactical voting, did agree that he had done a very good job.

All in all, we had a great afternoon with this really fun and different activity. I'd recommend it to anyone with one or more kids. Even if the adults have to compete to make it interesting!


Monday, 20 October 2014

Teach your kids how to find out EVERYTHING! Seven Brothers Game

In the world of Sales and Consulting, the 'Open Question' is king!

Open Questions, as we know, elicit a non-digital (yes/no) response. Used effectively, they can open up a world of hidden information, opinions and feelings. They're also great to use with your kids!

Closed Questions are like this:

- Do you... ?
- Are you... ?
- Can you... ?
- Have you... ?
- Will you... ?

The seven Open Questions are like this:

- Who... ?
- What... ?
- Which... ?
- When... ?
- Where... ?
- How... ?
- Why... ?

We'll call these the 'Seven Brothers'.

The 'Seven Brothers' game, which you can play with your children is simply a challenge to ask seven questions, covering each of the seven brothers, in a conversation - without being found out!

To get them into the spirit, change up your normal after-school round table of "What did you do today?" discussion, with a Seven Brothers approach. For each child, who is telling you about his/her day (the interviewee), let each other member of the family (the interviewers) ask a different open question to uncover more detail about the questionee's day. You'll be surprised how much more you learn about their day!

Once all the children (and adults) are familiar with how to phrase open Seven Brothers questions, it's time to start the game...

Whenever you are having a 1:2:1 or group discussion, when one person is speaking, the others try to ask open questions, naturally and without arousing suspicion, until all Seven Brothers have been asked!

If the interviewee recognises that Seven Brothers is being attempted, they will say something like "Enough with the Seven Brothers!", and they win.

If the interviewers manage to get all Seven Brothers questions asked without suspicion - they win, and it's high-fives all round.

Playing the game is especially fun for older children with younger siblings, because they get to practise on an unsuspecting and less aware individual. Although the game creates winners, the losers don't feel so bad, because they just got to either try to ask good open questions, or they got to explain a subject to their siblings/parents in much more depth than is usual.

Of course, the game is a distraction from the serious learning message. Children and adults do well in life if they are curious, interested in the details, and don't spend all their time talking about themselves. This wonderful little game gives them the tools to be great conversationalists, great consultants, great managers, and simply great people to be around!

I don't know of any plastic game in a carboard box which teaches such an important life skill!

Answering Kid's Questions - DON'T DO IT!!!

In a previous post, we talked about how to reduce the persistent "Daddy?.. Daddy?.. Daddy?.." of a child with a question to ask. Let's take a look at how to answer their questions... or not!

We know that children are better than adults at certain tasks, and science has proven why they can figure out gadgets more quickly than adults. Have you ever played 'Concentration' or 'Pairs' with a 4 year old?  They are formidable opponents at this age.

But the sum total of their knowledge is not broad, and they ask questions to help them grow their knowledge.

This can be frustrating for a parent. A 4 year old girl might ask upwards of 300 questions per day.

So how do you answer these questions, to give your child the best start in life?

I'll define two approaches, and you can decide which approach to take at each opportunity. There is no one answer, but the more you can use 'Approach 2', the more you are teaching them a skill, rather than imparting a piece of knowledge.

Approach 1

The simple answer!  Example...

Q. "Dad... what's for dinner?"
A. "Lasagne and salad."

Informative, quick and easy answer. Learning value out of 10 ? 2 out of 10.

Approach 2

The challenge !

Q. "Dad... what's for dinner?"
A. "Can you guess, from the ingredients on the worktop?"
A. "What food has layers of pasta in it?"
A. "And what could we have on the side with our Lasagne?"

Teaches the skill of deduction, forward-thinking, and to work out answers for themselves. Learning value ? 5 out of 10.

So now we can apply the same approach to something more, erm ... meaty!

Try this on the list of top 'Difficult Questions' from a survey back in 2010.

Number 1: How is electricity made ?

Approach 1

Q. "Dad... how is electricity made?"
A. "There is a big windmill, and the wind blows the windmill round. The windmill blades are connected to a turbine, which is like a backwards electric motor, and that makes electricity which is sent down the power cables into our house."

Simplified and easy to understand. Learning value: 4 ?

Approach 2

Q. "Dad... how is electricity made?"
A. "Do you know anything that makes electricity?"
--  "The windmill at the business park?"
A. "How does it turn the wind into electricity?"
--  "With an electric motor?"
A. "That's right, but electric motors normally use-up electricity don't they? How is that one different?"
--  "It's backwards ?"
....

And so the conversation continues. With the child being encouraged to think about the problem, to uncover the knowledge. Learning Value: 8 ?

BONUS TIP: If you don't know the answer to a question, which approach is going to work best? Yep, Approach 2. Because if at any stage you find you can't guide the child towards the answer, you can both look up the information. The child not only uses his/her skills to find the answer, but also feels great by teaching their parent something they didn't know!

Now... a word of warning.... Approach 2 takes longer. Much longer! If you are trying to get your children out of the door to school, or trying to get them into bed on time, then either postpone the discussion, or skip to Approach 1.

And Approach 2 takes a bit of getting used to, for adults and children alike. Be prepared to encounter a bucket full of "I dunno"s and "Can't you just tell me the answer?"s. But stick with it. It takes time for them to build their skills, but it is very, very worth it - the first time they work something out on their own!



Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Awesome Father: TIP 5 - STORYTIME FOR BAD DAYS! teach your kids a lesson but show you care

TIP 5: STORYTIME FOR BAD DAYS!

Sometimes my kids do stupid things, behave badly or just annoy me. I'm sure I'm not alone. So here's a tip to get the message over to them that their behaviour isn't acceptable, affects others and has consequences.

You should, of course, tell the child at the time of the incident that a: the behaviour is not acceptable, b: it annoys you, and c: there will be consequences. So do that as usual, and be as specific as possible about what exactly they did wrong, how it makes you feel, what impact it has on other people, and what the consequences and punishments are.

But then, you might still be feeling annoyed by bedtime, and your child will normally have forgotten the incident or simply moved on. So here's the perfect time to remind them and reinforce the learning!

Story time comes around, and instead of reading a story book to your child, you tell them that today you will make up a story. The story goes something like this...

"Once upon a time there was a good boy called... ", now slightly change the name of your child. e.g. My middle child is called Aaron. So let's call the little boy Darren. So no one is in any doubt as to who we are talking about!

"Once upon a time there was a good boy called ... Darren. He was well behaved, and his father loved him very much. 

But one day, Darren decided that it would be fun to walk to the shops. He forgot to tell his dad where he was going, and didn't take a phone or wristwatch with him. So his dad got very worried when he didn't come back when he should have, and nearly called the police. 

The dad was very upset because he thought about all the bad things that could happen to a boy alone, out late. When Darren finally returned home, Dad was relieved and happy to see him, but had to make sure that Darren knew not to do that again, so he stopped him going out on his own for a week.

Darren still loved his Dad and Dad still loved Darren, and they both agreed to still be friends.

The End."

And so, Aaron goes to sleep with these thoughts fresh in his mind, knowing that his dad loves him very much, and having been reminded of what exactly he did wrong.

If this sounds like a better end to a bad day, then try it.

BONUS TIP: This works even better for good days - stories about amazing kids (who sound like your kids), who have well behaved adventures and win at sports competitions (or enjoy taking part). So don't hold back - be as excited and creative with your story-telling as possible!

The Awesome Father: TIP 4 - ELEVATOR GAME! the most fun you can have with a floor and a child!

TIP 4: ELEVATOR GAME!

How do you change up a game of competitive 'rough-and-tumble' with a toddler to be a laugh-out-loud mutually beneficial experience? Here's how...

Rough-and-tumble session have only one ending. Someone has to lose! Either dad squashes the small child, or dad lets the small child win. Neither of these make for positive outcomes - and usually the mother is looking on in horror as the ante is upped and tears are inevitable.

Finish a game of rough-and-tumble on a high note with this little game - and get a little chest work out while you're at it...

The 'Elevator Game' involves dad lying on his back holding the child across his chest as if he were about to bench-press the child. The child has to do a plank, and can face the floor (less scary) or the ceiling (more scary) and stay nice and flat. Be careful where you hold the child... on the chest below the neck, and at the top of the thighs are ideal, minimising discomfort and giving good purchase!

You are about to bench-press your child a few times, so get comfortable!

Follow the instructions and script - but feel free to replace 'department store departments' with anything funny or relevant to your day:

    "Ground floor: Valet parking and Coffee Shop"

Push the child off your chest a little way and stop.

    "First floor: Ladies wear, pyjamas and pants"

Push the child a little further up and stop.

    "Second floor: Mens wear, cardigans and slippers"

Push the child up a little more and stop.

    "Third floor: Children's wear, toyshop and pets"

Push the child right up.

    "Top floor: Rooftop restaurant and terrace"

    "OH NO! THE ELEVATOR IS BROKEN! ARGGGGHHHHH!"

Drop the child, in a controlled fashion, back to your chest - with a little bump!

Rinse, and repeat!

This was my kids absolute favorite, and always had us laughing away. And it worked great until about aged 11 - when they get too heavy!  Try it now, before it's too late.

BONUS TIP: For smaller (lighter) kids, there are variations including:

- "OH NO! THE BUILDING IS FALLING OVER!", with straight arms, lower child over your head (carefully) until they land on the floor gently.
- "OH NO! THERE'S AN EARTHQUAKE!", shake the child vigorously at the top floor!
- "OH NO! THE ELEVATOR IS ON A BUNGEE CORD!", bounce the child up and down (a lot)!

Just tried this again with my three. 8yr old and 11yr old were easy enough. 13yr old daughter was a struggle! But we all ended up in fits of laughter - as expected!

The Awesome Father: TIP 3 - HIGH FIVING - ALWAYS NAIL IT! what always? yep, always!

TIP 3: HIGH FIVING - ALWAYS NAIL IT!

Credit for this tip goes to Alex Jacobs, a good friend of mine - who is also an accomplished father!

Get the basic etiquette for high-fiving here. And once a high-five has been initiated, make sure it's a good one... with this simple tip.

Step 1: Look at the other person's elbow.

Yep, that's it. No other instructions necessary. Just look at the other person's elbow, not their hand - and you'll be guaranteed an impressive connection.

Strangely it works with adults and kids alike. There seems to be no limit to the power of this trick. Give it a go.

BONUS TIP: Nailing a 'windmill high five' like Mav and Goose (0:22), takes practise - so only attempt it with people (or kids) that you high-five frequently. The key here is to look at the elbow 'up-high', but keep walking past for the 'down-low'. 

The Awesome Father: TIP 2 - GET MY ATTENTION - THE RIGHT WAY! or how to respond to constant questioning

TIP 2: GET MY ATTENTION - THE RIGHT WAY!

"Daddy?... Daddy?... Daddy?... Daddy?... Daddy?... Daddy?... Daddy?... Daddy?... DADDY!"

What an infernal racket!  And multiply that by 2 or three children and it really becomes un-manageable. A study in 2014 showed that children can ask up to 390 questions per day - 4 year old girls are officially the worst offenders!

But is there another way?

In the world of DaddyDaddyCool ... you betcha there is!

Usually the above scenario happens either when a conversation with another child or an adult is under way. So you might not even notice the first few "Daddy?"'s. But as you ignore, the volume rises until it demands your attention. Here's what you do...

Step 1: Turn to your darling child, look them in the eye and say "Bobby, I'm talking - I'll answer your question when I'm finished."

Step 2: IMPORTANT! At the very next pause in conversation (make one happen if it doesn't happen within 2 minutes), go back to your child and say "Bobby, what did you want to ask me?". Give them your full attention, answer the question, help them out, or do whatever is needed.

NOTE:This gives them huge positive reinforcement, not just because you helped them, but that you deemed them important enough to remember their enquiry, stop your conversation and go back to them.

Step 3: Return to your other conversation.

Very straight-forward and simple to achieve isn't it?  Well yes, but sometimes you forget the enquiry and don't go back to your child. It's important that you NEVER FORGET! If you do forget, then the effect is reversed and your kid will not only think that you don't care, but now you just lied to them, by telling them that you would go back to them and not following through.

But how do you remember not to forget!?  Easily...

GOLDEN TIP: Move something to a strange position on the table, which will remind you to act! This could be: cross over your knife and fork, take your watch off and hold it or put it on the table, stand a book/pen/phone on its end. Just make it something you'll notice as unusual. The simple fact that you thought to do this will keep your brain aware, and will guarantee that you don't forget !

GOLDEN TIP 2 (HERE's WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS!!): Even well trained kids can struggle to get your attention when you are deeply engaged in a grown-up conversation. To avoid them needing to raise the volume to get your attention, teach them an invaluable lifeskill...

    If you want someone's attention... touch them on the arm!

My kids now know that to get someone's attention is very, very easy. It's not very 'British', but a little personal contact goes a long way!  Simple teach them that if someone doesn't respond to your first politely volumed request, just put your hand on their arm and look them in the eye.

They quickly learn the power of this 'gesture'. It will usually stop an adult in their tracks and get their attention immediately. BUT BEWARE!: Don't answer their question right away - once you've acknowledged their polite request for attention, you MUST go through Steps 1 to 3!

So there it is - simple, volume-reducing steps and tips for your household... who doesn't need some of that!

The Awesome Father: Tip 1 - Shotgun Rules!

Here is a series of a few simple changes you can make today to improve the relationship with your kids...

The first one comes from frustration over the hassle of getting 3 kids into a car with out fights breaking out. Most of us have somewhere between 2 and 6 car journeys with kids per day, so this is a godsend!


TIP 1:  SHOTGUN RULES! or how to reduce front-seat-ownership arguments

Who gets to sit in the front seat of the car when 3 kids are travelling, and one adult driving? Who's turn is it? But didn't little Johnny go in the front last time? But Billy said "Shotgun" OMG! What a pain that conversation became !!!

Try this... (btw, it's genius!)

Step 1 - Tell the children that the only question that is allowed before getting in the car is...

         "Daddy, who's in the front?"

Step 2 - Make an arbitrary choice - EVERY TIME

Step 3 - Penalise any resistance, complaints, or 'asking the wrong question' with elimination from the next round!

Bonus Tip: On the way to an event, I'll usually put that child whose event it is in the front. They get to choose their favorite music to psyche themselves up for it! BUT - they still have to ask the right question!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Speaking to kids - the right way!

Treat your kids as adults - they deserve it!
Are children mini-adults?   Should you treat them that way?

I imagine that most parents would say not. But science tells us otherwise.

In 1964, Eric Berne, of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic institute, published a seminal work on the science of 'Transactional Analysis - the games people play'. The text is still being used to introduce these concepts in psychology and management science degree courses today.

It describes three states of mind, or ego states, that people (and children) use when communicating:

- Parent: Instructional, frequently pre-recorded, sentences - expecting compliance

  e.g. "Go to bed now, and don't forget to clean your teeth!"

- Child: Reactive, emotional and sometimes objectionable

  e.g. "Please close the closet door, I'm scared of monsters!"

- Adult: Analytical, calculated, rational

  e.g. "Explain to me, why are you scared of monsters at night, but not in the day?"


The Transactional Analysis theories explain that human interactions between two people operate between these states, and that starting with a certain state illicits a response in the expected state of the other person.



http://www.ericberne.com/transactional-analysis/

In the above diagram, the child makes a request, "Dad can I have an ice-cream?". The father responds as a parent, to comply with the expected ego state, "No, you can't. It's nearly dinner time!". 

A similar request made by a child, but acting in the Adult ego state, could be "Dad, it's really hot - shall we have an ice-cream to cool down?", would illicit an Adult ego state response. "We could do, but it might spoil our dinner." 

Adult to Adult interactions typically reduce the potential for emotional responses, by maintaining an equal and analytical discussion. Child to Parent or Parent to Child interactions are typified by a reliance on status superiority to reach a conclusion. 

As children tend to default to the Child ego state until they are mature enought to realise that reasoned rational discussions are typically more lucrative, the child will continue to use that state as the default starting point for an interaction. The Child-Parent style interaction is re-inforced frequently in children's entertainment programs, the school-yard and by other parents. It makes for good drama, but poor quality familial relationships.

The good parent should always be aware of this transactional mechanism, and can always respond in the Adult ego state, creating a 'Crossed Transaction'.


http://www.ericberne.com/transactional-analysis/

This approach often nullifies the Child ego state, and can illicit a changed ego state in the child, to continue the discussion in the Adult state.  Thereby reducing the likelihood of emotional escalations, annoyance (if unsuccessful), or misplaced pride (if successful).

Compare these approaches:

Parent-Child

         Adult: "Do you know where my cufflinks are ?"
         Child: "You always blame me for everything !"
         Adult: "That's because you're the one who plays with my stuff and doesn't put it back!"
         Child: "No, I don't! I haven't seen your stupid cufflinks!"

Crossed Transaction - leading to Adult-Adult

         Adult: "Do you know where my cufflinks are ?"
         Child: "You always blame me for everything !"
         Adult: "I'm not accusing you, I'm asking if you have seen them lying around anywhere."
         Child: "No, I haven't. Have you looked by the washing machine?"

So, to answer the question of "Should we talk to kids as if they are adults?", then I'm very much for that approach - and science backs up this approach.  But BEWARE... kids are still kids, and they need much more encouragement, positive feedback, and a greater sense of belonging than us, more hardened, adults. So be sure to communicate Adult to Adult, but throw in as much positivity and empathy as you can.

And... give them more hugs than you need - because even when they converse in Adult state, they still need to know you love them.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Viking Day - Thor's Hammer

Every once in a while you've got to make something with your children. Whether it's an awesome sandcastle, a camp at home, or something more permanent, it's fundamental to their development.

At our house, we're cardboard experts. There isn't much that we couldn't build out of spare supermarket cardboard boxes, given a couple of weeks and suitable inspiration.

So, when Viking Day came around at the infant school, inspiration struck.

Thor and his Hammer
We had just watched Marvel's Thor: The Dark World. A mystical romp based (loosely) on the comic
book series.

For those who don't know, Thor has a magical hammer, that only he can pick up. He and his hammer then proceed to save the world from Malekith and his army of Dark Elves. The hammer is pretty special!

Viking day at the infant school involves dressing up as a Viking and coming into school for some Viking-themes activities. There is generally a rule about dressing up for school... NO WEAPONS!

But this is a Hammer right? It's a tool not a weapon.

We proceeded to make a Viking cloak out of an old pair of suedette curtain that were in the loft. The best design I'd seen for a Viking-ish cloak was from Game of Thrones. And a useful little instructable for that here.

Now, a word about cardboard... it's not very strong! So when making anything that requires structural integrity, you have to understand the forces likely to be imparted on the creation. Thor's hammer looks like a hammer, feels like a hammer, and in the hands of an 8 year old, becomes a hammer.

There were two considerations:

1. The hammer would have to have a strong stem/handle.
2. The head of the hammer couldn't be too solid, in case it connected (accidentally) with another child!

Over the course of one evening the hammer's structure was developed, using a cardboard box, a length of plastic plumbing pipe and two 15cm rulers.




As with most of our cardboard projects, the brown parcel tape allows us to secure everything immediately - much better than glueing. Slots were cut into the plastic pipe into which the 15cm rulers were slid. It was a tight fit, and when parcel taped to the box, provided excellent 'torsional' strength.

The basic rectangular cardboard box was built up on both end with 4 additional layers of cardboard in gradually smaller sizes. With the parcel tape stretched tight over the corners, the hammer head takes on the bevelled shape of Thor's hammer.  But it still takes some imagination to see the likeness!

The next stage was to add a cap to the end of the handle, to give that a feeling of substance. The top of a nearly-empty plastic Bovril jar was used. The remaining Bovril was put on toast as a mid-build snack :-).  And to give the handle more texture, a length of CAT5 (thick) cable was wrapped around the plastic tube. The last step in construction was to add the 'Leather Strap' which Thor uses to swing the Hammer and activate more powerful magic! I used off-cuts from the Viking cloak curtain fabric cut into long strips, and secured them through more slots cut into the plastic pipe.

I was particularly pleased with the size and feel of the handle with these additions. The hammer was ready for decoration.

Paper mache has been our go-to covering for most of our cardboard projects. It nicely covers the brown parcel tape, fits into all the nooks and crannies, and is great fun for the kids to help with.  Our mache recipe is warm water with a good slug of PVA glue. We've tried with flour, but the adhesive properties when dry mean PVA gets our approval.

When covered in paper mache, the final form begins to appear.

With the obligatory two layers of paper all over, the hammer took a full day to dry, so plan ahead!

When wet with paper mache, the cardboard tends to go a little soft, so its important to lean the model in a way that doesn't dent of deform the shape until it dries. It's also good to rotate it, for even drying, every few hours.

Once dry the hammer was ready for painting.

Our paint of choice here was a metallic spray paint in silver. We used Hammerite crinkle paint to try to achieve a 'hammered steel' look, but on the newspaper, which was rough anyway, it just provided a nice dull sheen, as the base for further decoration. The Hammerite paint is also quite durable and flexible (to cope with metal heat expansion), which makes it ideal for a hammer that would be knocked around!

The hammer was beginning to take shape, and we could start to see how the finished article would look. But now we needed to make it as realistic as possible.

The next steps were using brown electrical tape on the handle, in the gaps between the ridges made by the CAT5 cable under the paper mache. This left a really good visual effect on the handle - I was particularly proud of this part!

NOTE: You'll see an old towel protecting the kitchen work surface. This towel now has a good amount of Hammerite paint on it - as a permanent reminder of the project. And it was donated to Bentley, our Spaniel as a dog towel. Try not to leave permanent spots of paint or glue around your kitchen, those are not the kind of iritating memories we're trying to create! Old towels are perfect underneath paper mache projects, as they absorb the inevitable drips.

The Head of the Hammer was decorated in a Viking pattern with a Sharpie permanent marker. And with the metallic paint looking great already, there wasn't much more finishing required.

Thor's Finished Hammer
8 Year old was delighted with the outcome, and wore his costume with more pride and sense of achievement than had we gone to a toy shop and bought something similar. Being involved in every stage of the project, he and the other kids really got to learn about how to produce something from basic materials, how to construct, decorate and finish with detail.

Because we did this during the week long mid-term break, we were in a very Vikingy mood all week. So at the end of the week we had a Viking Feast at home with some friends.

Keeping it as authentic as possible, we ate by candle-light, using only knives and hands. The menu included a whole roast chicken, roast rack of lamb, roast pork rib, fried mushrooms, boiled eggs, ham, chunky bread, root vegetables and ginger beer.

This topped off a great week of syllabus enriching Viking learning. We're going to struggle to improve on that when the topic changes next term. But with a little ingenuity, inspriation and effort, we'll have a great time - whether it's Egyptians, Victorians or any other period of history!!!





Get a Theme Park all to yourself!

Theme Parks... love them! But also... hate them! 

There is so much fun to be had, with thrilling rides, excited children and people watching. But boy are they hard work. Put in a seven hour shift, hit 3 big rides, pay £££'s for fast food, and then pay more £££'s to win an enormous polystyrene-filled donut/spongebob/angry-bird, and have to carry it around all day.

Is there a better way ?

Sure as "eggs is eggs"... there is!

There are only three ways to improve the theme park experience. And one of those doesn't count for anyone on a budget. Let's use Thorpe Park in Surrey, England as our example.

Option 1: Fast-Track / VIP Fast-Track / Platinum Fast-Track

Not cheap
Adult ticket price: £29.99 online. Ultimate fast-track ticket £75.00.  Yes, you can get cheaper Fast-Track tickets, but even 3 rides for £25.00 will leave you queuing most of the day for the other rides that you're only killing time with until your next Fast Track timeslot comes up. To recap. A day out for a family of 4 at Thorpe Park would cost around £120. To be able to skip the queues you'll need to find another £300! 


That's some Merlin Entertainment magic for you! 

Option 2: Early Doors

The DaddyDaddyCool crew can 'do' Legoland in 90 mins, be back in the car and heading off for fun elsewhere. 

If you have an annual pass, this is a good stop-gap option, but beware the pit-falls. 

Most theme parks open quite early in the summer. Not many people plan to get to the gate just before the opening time. And even fewer are happy to run from the gate to the rides flat out. 

If you do have time-management and kids who can get a lick-on, then this one's for you. I promise you the first ride will not have a queue. The second ride will have a 10 minute queue, and the third will be sub 20 mins.  

If you plan your route carefully, you might get 4 or even 5 big rides done within 90 minutes. You'll be tired and thirsty, but it's well worth it. Just remember, no picnic, no toilet stops, no untied shoelaces, just get there, get round, and take no prisoners.

You might then decide to relax and enjoy the rest of the theme park at a more leisurely pace. But if my experience is anything to go by, the kiddie rides don't hold much attraction if you've just been upside-down 10 times. We usually just head off to our next activity, happy to have snuck in some special 'coaster' time.

WARNING 1: Theme Parks with Hotels attached often allow hotel guests to enter the park 1 hour earlier. Check you theme park's rules on this. If they do, then just don't try 'Early Doors'. 

WARNING 2: Some Theme Parks open early, but don't open the rides early. Alton Towers don't open Oblivion until 30 minutes after the gates, and at Legoland you can shop and eat at the entrance courtyard from 10am, but you'll have to wait until 10:15 to be allowed down the hill to the rides. Ugh!

Option 3: Do this and you won't ever bother with Options 1 or 2, NOT EVER!

Many theme parks have a limited number of 'Nights', where the park is open from just after normal closing time to around 10:00pm. To use Thorpe Park as an example, it is open on 3 weekends per year on Friday and Saturday nights from 7pm until 10pm. It is also open on the weekend of Halloween, but that's one to avoid.

Better at night!
Not many people know about or realise that these 'Nights' even happen. Which means, that the parks are practically empty on these nights. And by "empty", I mean practically no queues, at all!

If your kids are..

  A) Big enough for the big rides
  B) Able to stay up late, 

     ........then this is the ONLY TIME TO GO!

At Thorpe Park, the tickets are £15 each - that's 50% off the normal day ticket. Only the big rides are open, and there is usually extra entertainment laid on - disco, beach games, etc.. to foster a party atmosphere. Because the DaddyDaddyCool crew have season passes, it cost just £5 per person to enter. 

I did this twice this summer. Once with adult friends, to scope it out. And then again with my 3 kids. The adult visit was mostly to check that the theme park at night wasn't over-run with gangs of unruly teenagers, that might be a bit much for my 8/11/13 year olds.

As adults we had a fabulous time. All the big rides, some of them twice, and back to Ascot for civilised dinner after. A fun night out. But the visit with the kids was really very special.

My 8 year old just crept over the 140cm mark for the first time this summer. For 2 years he has had to wait by the exit door of all the big rides while I took the older kids on the big, awesome rides. That can't have been much fun for him. But he never complained, his time would come.

We arrived at Thorpe Park just before 7pm to secure our tickets and queue for the opening. As hoards of 'day' visitors streamed out of the park, we were headed back into the park as the sun was getting low in the sky. That was a great feeling in itself. With the excitement that we all had for our littlest growing all the time, we headed straight for SWARM, the newest coaster in the park. It is fast and smooth, involving barrel-rolls, twists, near-misses, smoke and impressive speed. 

Now... I said that the Park was practically empty. There were plenty of people around, but the capacity of these rides is such that every time we got to a new roller coaster, we simply decided whether we wanted to wait 1-3 minutes to be in the front row seats, or whether to get straight on any other seat. That's a pretty good choice to have.

It was this busy!
So SWARM was in front of us, and we waited for one (half-full) ride to set off, and we were next in line. We had all four front seats on one the best coasters in Europe. Our 8 year old held it together - he was clearly nervous, but committed to enter into the 'Big Ride' fraternity!

After some screaming, some teeth clenching and a lot of laughing, we were off and heading to the next ride. Time now 7:07! 

Our non-optimised route!
After that we took our time and rode Nemesis Inferno, Collosus, Saw and... my favourite... Stealth - twice! We had a few drinks breaks to sit and chat about how incredible the park is when it's nearly empty, and when it's dark. There was a lot of positive excitement and everyone was so pleased to have our littlest finally be able to join in the fun. 

We had done the big 5 coasters and it was only 9:00pm. So we went back and did SWARM one more time.

The short drive home had all three kids giving their verdicts on each of the rides, and their differing viewpoints from being first timers, to being (at aged 11) seasoned coaster-riders.

I think we'll remember that night for a very long time to come. And frankly, I don't want to go back to long boring days at a theme park, ever again. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Staycation Planner

If you're lucky enough to live somewhere that has plenty to offer children and adults for entertainment, then you'll struggle to not come up with ideas to fill a two week 'Staycation'.

We started a few months before the holidays by thinking of fun things to do, to add to the 'Staycation List'. I kept a running list on my iPhone on Evernote, which we rapidly expanded over the course of a few weeks.

Simply driving around your local area, you're likely to come across potential activities that are usually too expensive, take too long, or that simply don't make the hard priority for activities on a weekend.

Activity list being prioritised
A few weeks before the holidays started, we took the list and attempted to decide which would make the cut, and which would be left over for either later in the year or odd days in the future. This proved difficult to achieve around the kitchen table, so we all together devised a process for prioritization. A simple grid was drawn up in MS Excel with all the activities listed and a column for each child to place their priority from 1 to 10.  In fact we ranked all activities, so it was 1 to 26!

The scores were totalled and the list re-ordered into lowest scores first and highest scores last. But this did create some malcontent, which was resolved by ordering the activities by 'number of top 10 scores'.  This created a well prioritized list, and allowed us to draw a provisional line under the top 12 activities. We figured that we would need 12 activities to fill the days, with a few rest days thrown in too.

Then came the 'Scheduling'.

A number of activities required optimal weather conditions, e.g. flying lessons, beach day, lake day, etc... whilst some were best reserved for rainy days (we have plenty of those in an English summer!). So some care and attention was taken to book weather critical days earlier in the period than later, to allow for weather-driven re-arrangements.

Our final Staycation planner

Because of our working schedules, we ended up needing to fill 3 weeks of Staycation not 2 - which allowed us to go deeper into the prioritized list, and fit in some more great activities. In the end we completed 21 activites in 3 weeks!

Now... I hear you thinking... "3 weeks of daily activities with my kids? Ugh!". But, believe me, these were the best 3 weeks of my summer by far. Having activities to focus on, and avoiding the "What are we doing today Dad?" questions was priceless.

Our schedule chopped and changed throughout the whole process, but we treated the schedule like a moving target, and it really helped us stay on track to get everything done.

On the list were a couple of major, pre-booked events.  The Red Bull Air Race tickets had been bought months before for the first Sunday of the Staycation. Thinking about that event inspired me to look into flying lessons for the kids. Those had then been booked for the begining of the second week, giving a nice 'Aviation Theme' to the holiday. We could have added other themed events, such as paper aeroplane competition and a flight simulator day, but frankly... we had too much on the list already.

Some of the activities were only good for a few hours, and we could fit two into a day. We tried to keep the joint activities linked in some way. For example, we wanted to go indoor climbing and also visit the indoor trampoline zone. So we called that 'Superhero Day'. I wanted to spend the day dressed as Spiderman with the kids as other superheroes. But that idea was vitoed on grounds of high embarrassment factor. But we did climb like Spiderman, and somersault like Jedis!

The decision to not book the flying lessons right at the end of the holiday paid off, as the weather closed in on the Tuesday, and it had to be moved back a few days.

It was important to keep a few days clear as 'rest days', for us to stay around the house, get chores done and generally relax. I still shudder to remember a 14 day Florida Theme Park holiday involving theme parks on 13 of those days. We came back exhausted! So 'rest days' were necessary and actually very enjoyable.

Although we planned all the activities as a family, we did invite various friends and families to join us when appropriate. That really helped to alter the family dynamic of 3 children, and gave both children and adults a break to have fun with their peers.

One other point to mention is that the holiday finished as school started. So we left a couple of empty of 'light' days to allow for school preparations. Buying shoes/sneakers/cleats/uniform/books, etc... Especially as middle child was starting a new school. We got to the first school day well rested, well organised, and ready to learn!

Follow some of the above advice, and you'll have no difficulty planning a thoroughly entertaining, enriching and rewarding Staycation. And don't forget to plan some time afterwards to create the 'Staycation Video' !!! - The introduction to ours is here...

A couple of final notes, that I'm sure are worth mentioning...

1. We slept in our own comfy beds, every night. Bliss!
2. We spent far less than we would have spent on just airplane flights to somewhere hot!

What's not to love about a UK Staycation!!!

Top Gear Race

The BBC's excellent Top Gear show is highly entertaining. It is also built on a tried and tested formula, the presenters frequently make fun of this fact on the show. As good story tellers, they attempt to build suspense and intrigue with every one of their 'Top Gear Races'. Sometimes it will be Rally Car vs Snowboarder, sometimes, Car vs Speedboat vs Plane, but for this we're focussed on the classic - Train vs Car.

The format is simple.  The older kids race by train to a destination, whilst DaddyDaddyCool and younger child race by car (observing speed limits) to the same destination.

The winner of the race is the team sitting comfortably with a cool drink at an iconic or picturesque location. Great hilarity ensues from bragging rights to the winner and the stories of the experiences along the way.

When we had completed our the Top Gear Race this summer, it had the most profound effect on my eldest two children, as they visibly grew stronger and more self reliant. Not bad for a fun day out.

The scores...

Fun and Memorable : 10/10

- Produced plenty of funny moments, challenges, bonding time, excitement & stories to tell.

Risk Level : Low/Moderate

- Carefully planned to minimise risks, but children must be confident, trustworthy and emotionally strong under pressure.

Ideal Group Size incl. Adults : 4+ (minimum 3)

- One adult can race 2 children, but ideally 1 adult + 1 younger child can race 2 or more older children. 

Cost : £60+petrol

- Train tickets (First Class advisable), car parking and entry to the destination attraction.


HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL AND FULFILLING RACE!

Decide whether your eldest children are able and willing to travel alone to an unfamiliar place

- Are your children trust worthy? Can you leave them alone at home for 2+ hours without incident?
- Can your children orient themselves? Have they managed to meet you somewhere other than home?
- Are your children confident in asking for directions or help?
- Are your children emotionally stable under pressure?
- Can your children use a mobile phone and location-aware apps

Notes: 

If your answer to any of these questions is "I think so". Then it's a black flag for the race (i.e. DON'T DO IT!). You must be confident that your children can handle unexpected circumstances, and they must have proven that to you in the past. 

For example, my middle son (11) is an orienteering champion - he knows how to read a map. My daughter has managed school bus cancellations, deep snow and changes of schedule adeptly, using her mobile phone where necessary to get out of trouble. Both these kids are either head boy or top of their school academically. My risk assessment got the green flag!

Plan a suitable route and iconic destination

Train journey should be direct, point-to-point, with no changes, and preferably to a terminal stop.

The car journey should be of equivalent duration given normal traffic - at the time of the race.

The destination should be either elevated, or with glorious views - to make the finish a special place

The car and train journeys should follow a similar accessible direction, so as nor to be too far apart

Notes: 

We planned a route from Woking Station to Portsmouth Harbour. The train terminates at Portsmouth, removing the risk of 'missing the stop'. The train line followed the A3/M27 quite closely, so that in the event of illness, or other problem, the car would be able to pick the older kids up from the train at any stop. The car journey should have been 6 mins faster than the train. 

The destination was the cafe at the top of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth. This left a 5-10 minute walk after the train journey, and a slightly shorter walk from the Gunwharf Quays car park.

Choose a sensible start time

- Choose a non-peak travel time. A quiet train and quiet roads make for a safer, more enjoyable trip
- Plan to arrive mid-morning or mid-afternoon, when your destination will be quieter
- Give plenty of time to get to the start point, and have a drink/snack together beforehand
- Allow plenty of time for activities after the event, or in case the plan changes or there are problems

Notes: We planned for the 10:30 train out of Woking, and arrived 45 mins before this, allowing us to purchase train tickets (first class - with WiFi) and orient ourselves to the right platform. We then checked the older kids had what they needed in a backpack: train map, destination map, fully charged phones, snacks, water bottles & money. 

Then we sat down with Starbucks' frappucinos and talked about the challenge. This gave them a chance for last minute questions, of which there were many, and a chance to relax. A hurried approach to the start of the race would have been unpleasant and risked raising their level of anxiety.

Stay in touch, record the event and add educational elements

Firstly... VERY IMPORTANT... Tell someone else what you are doing that day. If there are any problems along the way (e.g. a road traffic incident or severe adult illness) then other adults that aren't involved should be on hand to help out, knowing what you're doing and where you'll be.

Now.... download a location tracking app for each of the smartphones being used. Test these before you go.

Keep the apps updated throughout the race, so that both 'teams' know each others whereabouts.

Use messaging and phone calls for as many updates, and as much 
friendly banter as you can.

Video as much of the experience as you can, safely.

Use a variety of viewpoints, from different devices: i.e. mobile phones, videocameras & go-pro cameras.

Record locations, conversations, thoughts, fun, and experiences along the way.

Give the 'Train Team' something to do on the train - e.g. research the destination for interesting facts. Have the 'Train Team' present those facts on video using Top Gear's  conversational style.

Notes: We used Life360 because of a mix of Apple and Android smartphones. It was laggy when not in 3G coverage, but this added uncertainty and excitement to the race. Apple's 'Find my friends' app is another good option.

RACE!

Seeing them off
With all the preparation in place, the children happy and confident, and a sense of competition in the air. It's race day!

Stay calm and positive at all times in order to engender the same attitude in your children.

Get the 'Train Team' off to a good start by seeing them on to the train and waving them off.

Don't 'Race' in the car - drive at speed limits, take extra care, and drive as safely as possible.

Talk like it's a race with your younger child in the car.

Keep track of your respective locations and likely destination time throughout.

Throw in some adventure to the car journey: e.g. 'Accidental' wrong turns, un-scheduled toilet stops, etc..

Have the children give updates on location on the phone.

When on foot, RUN!

Notes:

The 'Train Team' quickly took the lead, as the 'Car Team' negotiatied the Woking streets. But then the car journey was aided by a new tunnel around Hindhead on the A3, which quickened our journey, but also allowed for a Top Gear-esque video segment - open-windows and listen the engine roar. Shame I was in my 2.0TDI not one of the V8 supercars that Clarkson et. al get to drive in! 

We were on track to arrive ahead of the 'Train Team', and when the train was held up without a platform at Havant, I insisted on a toilet stop for the 'Car Team', and made it as slow and complicated a diversion as possible. The key here, is to keep the arrival times as close together as possible. 

I actually wanted the 'Train Team' to win, because it would build their confidence even more, and would make for a great video segment as the 'Car Team' arrived. 

After a long sprint through Gunwharf Quays Shopping Centre, the 'Car Team' arrived at the tower. The plan to be sitting in the restaturant 150ft up in the air didn't materialise because there was a long queue for tickets. The 'Train Team' arrived just 20 secs after us, and despite remonstrations from the youngest son, we called it a draw, and headed up to the restaurant en masse.

Because we were in Portsmouth just before lunch time, we had plenty of time to visit the seafront, the small theme park, and have some fish and chips for tea before heading home. Making it a really fun day out and one that we'll talk about for years to come.

Wrapping up the day with a Video and keeping the memories alive

If you have remembered to record the experience with your smartphones and videocameras, you'll be able to produce a Top Gear-style video short to show the family and friends. Once you have collated all the different photos and vide clips onto one computer, you can use simple video editing software such as iMovie (Mac) or Movie Editor (PC). 

If it is for your own use you can overlay your favorite songs or themes such as the chase theme from the Benny Hill Show, to sped up footage of the chase. Have fun with it, and remember to jump between footage from the 'Train Team' and the 'Car Team', to create the feeling of a race. Note: If you plan to upload the video to Youtube, make sure that you don't use commercial music. Youtube tend to ban videos where they suspect copyright is being infringed.

Of course, the video is a great tool to help remember the experience and look back on in years to come. But the main purpose of the activity was to have fun, build confidence, and make memories. This can all be done without videos, but by talking about the activity with friends and family after the event. This is exciting for the children and helps them develop an ability to put experiences into words, tell compelling stories, and speak to adults - all very useful life skills!

Possible Improvements on the Activity...

Ensure that the end destination is quickly accessible without queueing. For a close race, there may only be less than 10 mins difference between the teams. Even a short queue can put a spanner in the works. Ideally we would have purchased the tower tickets beforehand, but even then the queue to go up in the lift would have made for no clear winner.

Make the challenge harder for older children. If children are familiar with travelling by train on their own, then adding a train change for them would add complexity and challenge. Only do this if your children are very familiary with the train system!

Involve other types of transport. If you are in a large city, then there are typically many options for getting from A to B. We discussed running a similar race in London using tube, riverboat, bus and bike. For this we'll need to join up with more people (and responsible adults). But it does sound like fun!


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Welcome to DaddyDaddyCool

Welcome to the blog that promises to help you give your children a more fulfilling and memorable childhood. Your opinions and comments are important to me. Please feel free to share.

IMPORTANT! Some of the activities described herein have questionable levels of exposure, safety, and risk. You should decide whether your children are at a suitable level of intellectual and emotional development, with enough common sense and worldliness to make the risks acceptable BEFORE planning any activity.

My children are my main source of joy and inspiration for the activities depicted in this blog. I love them dearly, and want only the best for them. Sometimes you have to tuck your balls away and let them do the things they need to do to grow up, even if it takes you and them out of your respective comfort zones.  The first activity is one of those....