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Guest Blog: Sophie Pickles

I can’t remember the precise moment that I decided I didn’t want to go back to work. Wouldn’t, couldn’t go back – but I do remember that it was written somewhere deep inside me that I couldn’t bring myself to leave this life I had created, this tiny human, to go and pour my time and energy into other people’s children, only to return home depleted and exhausted.

And so it was, that somewhere in those sleep deprived early days, I decided I wasn’t returning to work. Instead stepping into this new role as ‘mummy’ and completely unsure of what the future would hold.

As it turned out, those next months – 18 of them in fact, would be beyond difficult.

I had decided that after leaving my rewarding career as a Head of Early Years at a successful and thriving private school and nursery, that I would instead use my expertise and start to run my own baby and toddler classes in the community.

I had thought it would be perfect (and many parts of it were). I could take Finley, then 6 months old, with me to some of the classes and fit the rest around the wonderful nanny we had found to care for him in the few hours a week when I was shaking my tambourine and blowing bubbles.

I loved the teaching. I loved meeting new mums and their newer little ones. I loved the flexibility of the job.

I didn’t love having no money.

I have to admit, I was incredibly naïve. I had no idea about what running a startup would entail and I had absolutely no idea how completely extortionate hall hire fees would be. For every pound I made from class attendees, most of it would go straight back into the pockets of the community halls.

It was stressful to say the least. I became an expert at shopping the sales for new clothes for my growing son, and each time I stood at the supermarket till, I would hold my breath, heart hammering, waiting to see if my card would get declined this time.

In the midst of all this, when Finley turned 9 months old, we decided we wanted to try again for another baby. Crazy. Illogical in light of our situation, but sometimes life just isn’t logical is it?

We fell pregnant straight away, just as we had with Finley. How lucky we were. Three months later though, we were plunged into darkness as we sat in a hospital room while a sonographer painfully stabbed at my empty womb, confirming that our baby was no longer alive.

The loss was all-consuming. Heartbreaking.

We were determined though, and tried again as soon as we could, but it didn’t work. We just couldn’t keep our babies. We lost another. And another. And another.

It was around the time of the 3rd miscarriage that I decided to stop teaching the baby classes. I was lifting heavy equipment, loading and unloading all on my own and although I knew that wasn’t truly the reason we couldn’t hold onto our babies, my heart just couldn’t take it anymore.

I stopped working altogether and instead focused on being a stay at home mum to Finley. We were still struggling financially but I finally felt happy and peaceful. It was at this time that I decided to start sharing our play journey on Instagram. I had never used the platform before but the sense of community it offered appealed to me. Soon after, I launched my YouTube channel and started sharing simple play ideas for other parents of young children.

It was a decision that has thus far changed my life in a way I could never have imagined. I started getting noticed by educational companies interested in the content I was posting and before I knew it, I was hired by one, then two, then three companies to produce educational content for their websites and copyright for their catalogues.

Fast forward just over 18 months and I am now privileged to have over 18,000 parents in my online space. My first parenting course will be launching within the next month and my first book is being published in May of this year. Never would I have believed, back in those dark days, that this would be possible.

At the start of the first lockdown I decided to start running baby classes online for free. It felt like a way I could give back to parents, many of whom were experiencing that same financial difficulty we had faced. I am proud to say that those classes have been taken almost 100,000 times and, with the launch of free toddler classes last week, it doesn’t look like I will be stopping any time soon!

It may seem like it was an easy road to those who look in from the outside but the path to get to this point has been far from straightforward. That community though – those women who write to me every day to share their struggles, fears and joyful moments – they are the ones that are driving me forwards.

Those women and of course, my husband – ever the supporter – and my boys: Finley and finally…our Rupert.

There is no one that understands the struggle of being stuck inside with lively children more that I, so I hope that these tips and ideas for time spent at home, whether homeschooling or caring for younger children, will bring you some fresh inspiration and a little relief:

  1. A wet welly walk – don wellies and waterproofs and go on a muddy puddle hunting mission! This activity will encourage even older kids to find their inner child again. The muddier you get, the better! Why not take a thermos of hot chocolate to enjoy together after you are finished?
  2. Hill sliding – after wet weather, head to the park or nearby public green space and slip and slide down the hills. Warm, waterproof clothes required!
  3. Try an online class, from baking to yoga, there is something to suit every child. For younger children, free baby and toddler sensory classes are available on my YouTube channel and for school-aged kids, free PE lessons from Joe Wicks are back!
  4. Baking cakes and biscuits. While it may seem like pure fun, baking also helps to improve maths skills, critical thinking, motor development and independent life skills.
  5. Rainbow puddles. Add some grated chalk or powder paint to puddles and watch the colours blend and merge. Great for understanding colour mixing and splashing fun!
  6. Create an indoor soft-play obstacle course. Put the sofa cushions onto the floor to clamber across, create a tunnel by throwing a blanket over two chairs or use a footstool as a springboard – the opportunities are endless and this creates hours of fun. Older children can have a go at creating their own courses, while parents of babies and toddlers can also get in on the fun and make their own sensory soft-play areas using what they already have at home.
  7. Visit far flung places using Google Maps and Google Street View. Why not show your child where you grew up? Or visit famous world landmarks like the Taj Mahal or Great Wall of China.
  8. Build an indoor blanket den. Remember these from your childhood? They are just as much fun now as they were then! What’s more, creating quiet and comfy corners will provide homeschooling children with an exciting new workspace. Research has proven that working in environments like this can encourage even the most reluctant of readers and writers to have a go.
  9. Break out the board games and have a family game day! From Buckaroo to Monopoly, there are games to suit all ages and abilities. Board games are excellent for building strategic thinking skills, encouraging turn-taking and communication skills. If you don’t have any to hand, why not challenge your child to create their own board game and then play it together?
  10. Dance party! These work particularly well in that witching hour before dinner or at any time when energy is flagging. Turn off the lights, turn up the music, grab any light-up toys or torches you have to hand and dance the stresses of the days away. This one works particularly well for stressed-out parents too!

Planning a schedule will not only help your child to know what to expect from each day, but will help you to feel less stressed too, particularly if you have your own work to do. The most important advice I can give is to try not to pack too much into your day or create a schedule so rigid that you feel guilty for breaking it. Remember that children are not actively working every hour or minute that they are in school and they don’t need to at home either. Don’t feel guilty for planning for some relaxation or down time in the afternoon when you all need it the most.

A sample timetable could be:

7 – 9 am Get dressed (independently), have breakfast and get ready to start the day

9 – 10 am Work hour using your school’s recommended resources

10 – 11 am Active hour – go for a walk, play in the garden or do an online fitness class

11 – 12pm Make lunch together and then eat

12 – 1pm Down time. Read a story, watch some television, listen to music.

1 – 2pm Work hour using your school’s recommended resources

2 – 4pm Creative craft hour. Allow your child to work on a topic of their choice. This could be sewing, painting, crafting, model building, role-playing and more.

4 – 5pm Free choice time.

 

Weekend timetable:

7 – 9 am Get dressed (independently), have a family breakfast and get ready to start the day

10 – 12pm Go for a walk as a family. Dress appropriately so you are ready for any weather! Why not explore a new spot each weekend? Depending on the weather, you could even take a simple outdoor picnic or some warming hot chocolate in a thermos.

12 – 2pm  Lunch followed by down time/nap time/free play time.

2 – 3pm Baking, crafts, playdough, drawing…whatever your child is most interested in. Try to join them in this play!

3 – 4pm Optional screen time or play time

4 – 5pm Free choice time.

 

You can follow Sophie on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

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