WhotChilli is a collection of family card games designed to promote numeracy to children in fun and engaging ways. It consists of six sets of six numbered cards, a 12-sided dice, and instructions in numerous languages. The whole box is the size of a deck of playing cards, so it’s pleasingly portable for travelling or keeping in a bag as an emergency distraction!

WhotChilli card game

I tested out three games with help from Joanna (age 9) and Charlotte (age 7). I was interested to see what level of numeracy was required of them. Joanna is about average for her age in her maths abilities, and has a good memory for her tables. Charlotte, who we think has FASD, really struggles with maths. She is easily overwhelmed and frightened by the idea of having to work out answers. I was going to have to sell this one to her with diplomatic skills of the highest order. I showed her the funny pictures on the cards and hoped for the best. It worked.

Salsa

We started with the game Salsa, in which you each make your own ‘recipe’ using the cards. The object of the game is to work out another player’s choice of cards and what order they have placed them in. You score 5 points for the right card in the right place, and 1 point for the right card in the wrong place. Every round you have to use the score from the previous round to deduce what might be right. You agree before the game how many cards (between 3 and 6) you’ll use.

WhotChilli

This game proved a bit too tricky for us, so we tweaked the rules a bit, pointing out which cards were right. It still worked well as a game of reasoning, but removed the scoring element. Maybe we can add that back in once we’ve got used to the concepts.

Lookin’ Hot

Next we played Lookin’ Hot. Everyone starts with a set of cards up to one number less than the number of players, so for our group of three players we each used cards 1 and 2. The first player rolls the dice, then chooses which card to put face-down in the middle, then the others put their chosen cards down too. If the first player is the only one to choose that number, they can multiply it by the number on the dice. If someone else has picked the same card, they multiply the card number by the dice number, but subtract the result from their score instead.

WhotChilli

Joanna coped OK with the multiplying (she loves her tables), and Charlotte, as predicted, needed help. But the constant adding and subtracting two-digit numbers using mental arithmetic was too much for both of them, so we decided only to add on positive scores and skip the subtraction. We also decided to add in the number three card, because we found playing with two choices was a bit limiting. This made it more likely that we would choose different cards. Once we’d made those adjustments, we were away. We could also have whipped out pens and paper to carry on adding and subtracting according to the instructions, but our version felt more inclusive for Charlotte.

Chilly Chilli

Finally we played Chilly Chilli. In this game all the players get a set of the six different cards, lay them out face down in front of them in the order of their choice, and memorise which is which. You then take it in turns to swap two of your cards for two of anyone else’s. The object is to get rid of your hot chillies and gaining lots of cool ones. This was much more of an even playing field, as Charlotte has a great memory for these sorts of games. We all enjoyed this game the most of the three.

WhotChilli

WhotChilli card games

WhotChilli: the verdict

WhotChilli would make a good gift for a more able young mathematician (or one with slightly more patience as they improve). It says it’s suitable for ages 6+, but that doesn’t apply equally to all the games. I’d recommend it for children 8 and up.

The cards themselves are fun, and if left to their own devices my girls would happily invent a few other games to supplement the ‘official’ ones. The pack costs £9.99 and is available from Amazon.

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In our house, the start of November brings a strange mix of excitement and concern. Will they or won’t they cope with fireworks this year? Will the children put on their own ‘fireworks display’ as a response to all then bangs and flashes outside?

fireworks

Feeling the love for fireworks

I am a big fan of fireworks. So much so that we ended our wedding reception at 6pm so that me and Pete could slope off to a fireworks display 10 miles away for the rest of the evening. It’s something I hoped to share with our children – wrapping up warm to stand in a cold field, eating hotdogs with fried onions, and hoping that each squealing rocket shooting skyward would burst into one of those huge rosettes that changes colour twice before it fizzles out with a crackle. I have great memories of standing on the village rec, cold feet in two pairs of socks inside my wellies, the waiting all worthwhile for those few minutes of pyrotechnics. I loved it. I’ve never celebrated Halloween, so bonfire night is the autumn celebration as far as I’m concerned. I love a firework.

My children, though, have been known to see it a bit differently.

fireworks

Inauspicious beginnings

For their first three Novembers with us, the sound of our neighbours’ fireworks was enough to frighten the life out of them. Coming from a birth family where sudden loud noises meant parents fighting, the bangs made them scream and hide under their duvets at best, and completely freak out and rage when it was really bad. We didn’t even try to go to a display, though we did occasionally manage to coax them into watching through closed windows – we live on a hill with great firework viewing potential for others’ home displays.

Last year

Last year was our first proper outing to a proper display, back in the village where I grew up. With hot dogs. It was just like the old days, with the addition of a couple of fairground rides to keep the children amused until the display started. I had wrapped the children up in plenty of layers, with scarves and gloves and hats and, importantly, earplugs.

It worked.

Yes, Charlotte got a bit cold and tired towards the end, but she mainly coped really well. Joanna, who had been the most scared of fireworks previously, loved it all. She was awestruck in exactly same way I’d hoped for. It was one of those rare parenting moments where you think ‘This is what it is supposed to be like’.

This year

We made sure that they were (a) filled with hot chocolate and biscuits and (b) wearing lots of layers before we headed out. When we arrived, we went straight to the hotdog stall to make sure that box was ticked. I also made sure I had a couple of cups of mulled wine early on to help me cope with proceedings.

Our fireworks display involved half an hour of standing watching a ‘fire dancer’ and some people with glow in the dark hula hoops before proceedings started. Pete and I muttered about the appropriateness of wearing a leotard and fishnets and dancing in a cold field at night, but the girls loved it. It helped that Pete procured some toasted marshmallows at this point. Nice work, husband.

marshmallows

Finally the fireworks started. They were excellent. They were also loud. I wasn’t sure how the girls would cope – last year there was a lot of holding hands over ears – but this year they took it in their stride. Boom.

Shh. I think we’ve cracked it. We’ve done fireworks… without the fireworks. And they loved it. Long may it continue.

The girls’ fireworks pictures from their activity club today:

 

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Today marks the halfway point of the summer holidays for us: it’s day 20 of 40. It feels like much longer. The words I’m seeing from other adopters are ‘relentless’ and ‘incessant’. These words are used all year round, of course, but the summer seems to amplify those feelings because culturally it is supposed to be a holiday. It isn’t. It’s six weeks of dysregulated children being given nice things and days out and not appreciating any of it and telling you what a horrible person you are. All. Day. Long.

halfway-day

There are those parents who look forward to the summer holidays as a time to frolic in the sun with their little cherubs, picnicking on home-grown houmous and organic mini-quiches, unfettered by the constraints of the school run. Good for them.

I am not one of these parents.

As I have mentioned ad infinitum, I have a schedule. This is what keeps us all on the right side of sanity. (Just.) Anything remotely unfettered causes meltdowns for them and more stress for me.

Screaming: a day in the life

This weekend we tried the frolicsome picnic thing – well, as near to frolicsome as we get. We took our picnic to a National Trust place with huge grounds, headed straight for a picnic bench and got started on lunch. Barely two bites into her artisanal organic roll pizza bread, Joanna started a strop, saying she wanted to live on her own in the woods (a favourite idea of hers when she is overwhelmed by the idea of family). We had no idea what had triggered it, so I put down my quinoa salad pork pie and took her aside for a chat.

She continued. Suicide threats. Wanting to see what children’s homes are like so she could think about living there instead. Hating her sister. Being extremely jealous of Charlotte’s new second-hand-from-eBay bed. (Joanna was given a brand new desk at the same time, something she has wanted for ages. This was not enough, obviously we love Charlotte more, etc.) I listened and let her get it all out of her system. I didn’t have anything much to say apart from a bit of PACE-esque wondering about why she thought she’d be better off without us and what she thought that would be like.

Once she’d finished, we rejoined the others, and the meal continued, with regular ‘sensory breaks’ – ie sending them to run around a tree, push against a tree, do press-ups, etc. That worked really well for Charlotte, who is unable to sit still for long. But not Joanna. She was determined to stay angry.

Stopping and listening

After the picnic – which was curtailed after another dose of insults from Joanna – we carried on. The plan had been to do a ‘Gruffalo trail’ which was set up all around the grounds. But following someone else’s route and activities was not to madam’s liking, so we abandoned that for a while to let them run off and make dens in the hedges while we had a sneaky cream tea. Hurrah.

Eventually we finished the trail and got them into the car, where Stephen Fry’s reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone worked its magic on them again. This has been one of the successes of this holiday. I thoroughly recommend trying Audible if you haven’t given it a go yet.

The Harry Potter books are particularly good value via Audible because they’re so long – on a monthly subscription each credit is £7.99, so it works out much cheaper than buying them without a subscription (and you still get to keep your books even if you cancel). The first one is nearly nine hours. The second one, which I bought today, is more than ten hours. HELLO, calmer journeys and mealtimes. I am sold.

(Yes, this is an affiliate link. To – if you choose Harry Potter – at least NINE FREE HOURS of audiobook. You’re welcome.)

The schedule: does it help?

There are a few places where we’ve deviated from the schedule – mainly because of the weather, which has meant swapping some of the days around – but otherwise it is working well. My definition of ‘working well’ means that the activities are happening and at least one member of the family is deriving a modicum of pleasure from them. (See how my standards have fallen!) The girls are used to consulting it to see what’s happening, and if that saves just a handful of meldowns and ‘Muuuuuummmm’s then it’s worth the effort. So yes, it helps.

What’s next?

This week we have five days of childcare, one day scheduled for shoe and uniform-shopping, and one initial visit to Joanna’s new psychotherapist (more of that anon).

Next week is a hodgepodge of days out with grandparents, bribing incentivising the children to help clean the house, a sprinkling of sanity-saving activities, and packing. On the Friday we are Yorkshire-bound for our ‘holiday’.

For the last week of the holidays we will be based in the Dales, where I will be spending a couple of days at self-care camp (exciting!) and the rest of the time with Pete and the girls. They usually find being away from home hard, so I anticipate plenty of dysregulation and stress all round. There should just about be time on the Sunday to squeeze in a transition visit to school before they go back on the Monday. Aaaaand breathe.

How is your summer going? Can anyone report back from the new school year and tell us it’s going to be OK? 😉 Let me know in the comments.

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Now the summer holidays are well underway, are you running out of ideas to keep the children busy? Don’t panic! Here are 50 of my favourite sanity-saving holiday activities.

50-sanity-saving-summer-holiday-activities

  1. Visit the library.
  2. Build Lego models.
  3. Go hunting for new games in the charity shops.
  4. Make a den under the table/behind the sofa.
  5. Decorate the path/patio with chalk.
  6. Have scooter races.
  7. Write postcards to your family and friends.
  8. Make junk models from the contents of the recycling bin.
  9. Make pizza.
  10. Write Christmas wish-lists.
  11. Make a scrapbook of your summer with photos, tickets, and drawings.
  12. Design your own board game.
  13. Make Christmas cards.
  14. Make things out of holey socks.
  15. Design your own T-shirt.
  16. Go swimming.
  17. Do a garden treasure hunt.
  18. Blow bubbles.
  19. Make your own ice cream (whisked double cream + tin of condensed milk + extras).
  20. Fly a kite.
  21. Play musical statues.
  22. Have a board games tournament (play all the games you have and see who is Winner of Winners).
  23. Get brochures from the travel agent and plan a perfect holiday (cut out pictures of the nicest hotel, swimming pool, food, etc)
  24. Rearrange their bedroom furniture (if they will cope with the change).
  25. Home spa – nail varnishing, massage, give each other hairdos…
  26. Plant flowers.
  27. Use printable activity sheets (these Twinkl outdoor activity sheets are free to download).
  28. Make ice lollies.
  29. Play with Fuzzy Felt.
  30. Make people out of lolly sticks and washi tape.
  31. Go to the beach.
  32. Find a playground you haven’t visited before.
  33. Visit a pick-your-own farm.
  34. Make fairy cakes.
  35. Make models out of Plasticine or Fimo.
  36. Go blackberrying.
  37. Make your own animation (a friend gave this to Joanna and it is very fun).
  38. Visit a pet shop.
  39. Make a scene with gel art window decorations.
  40. Go litter-picking with grabbers.
  41. Earn a Blue Peter badge.
  42. Make an alarm to keep your annoying sister out of your bedroom.
  43. Make wax rubbings of coins, leaves, Lego bricks…
  44. Design a new pencil case for going back to school.
  45. Go birdwatching/tree-spotting/vehicle-spotting with an I-spy book.
  46. Create a mini-book about something you love.
  47. Put on an audiobook.
  48. Fill an in-car entertainment station.
  49. Create an animal footprint tray for your garden.
  50. Do a science experiment.

And if none of those will work today, my vote is for putting a new film on their Kindles and having a small doze on the sofa. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

Before you go…

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  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

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The end-of-term transition anxiety has kicked in here this week. The dysregulation has moved up several notches. Both the girls are tired. There have been lots of tears and slammed doors and shouting about how terrible we are followed by apologies and more tears and cuddles and a bit more wailing and then calm (more-or-less). Time to break out a few more of my tried and tested sensory activities to see us through to the end of term and into the holidays.

6-sensory-activities-for-summer

Note: this is an update of a post I wrote last summer. This stuff works really well for us, so I’m sharing it again.

Around here, as in many adoptive families, holidays are hard work, especially the first few days of adjustment to the different routines. Joanna (8) and Charlotte (7) both have sensory issues caused by their early experiences: Joanna’s are primarily aural (oversensitivity to sound and a fear of loud noises), while Charlotte’s are mainly oral (she likes to chew things – toys, clothes, books – and is very fussy about food and will not countenance the idea of a raw tomato within five feet of her plate). Both are also quite fidgety and love to fiddle with things – to self-soothe because of attachment-related anxiety.

Enter the list of sensory activities to help them stay regulated, happy little sausages during the holidays. You’ll note that all of these are of the uncomplicated ‘buy it and get on with it’ variety, rather than Pinterest-worthy creations that require you to spend a week crocheting the shoelaces of elves first. The only one that requires any advance preparation is number 4, but that’s just putting some stuff in the freezer overnight. Job done.

1: Beads

The beads are a great calming activity – the sorting and threading and concentrating works beautifully to help them stay regulated. Seriously – it’s amazing. I have rarely seen them so calm! As long as there are enough of each type to go around and sibling rivalry doesn’t kick in, all is well. This particular set was £6.00 from Tesco and has kit for four necklaces with lots of beads left over. I haven’t been able to find it there this year but there are similar kits on Amazon (try the WINOMO Alphabet beads or Melissa and Doug Deluxe Wooden Bead Set).

2: Playdough/Plasticine/FIMO

An oldie but a goodie – give them a supply of dough, cutters and rolling pins and let them do their thing. (All you have to do is watch it get trodden into the carpet.) Nice and tactile for those who enjoy that sensation and/or the creative possibilities. Alternatively, our OT recommends the gloop made by mixing cornflour and water. It’s great for making fingers work harder and giving that feedback their muscles need.

3: Baking

Basically an edible version of the previous idea – adding an extra sensory experience into the mix. Use a simple biscuit recipe and let them go mad with the cutters, or for a treat try my chocolate cake recipe. (This cake is EPIC and also completely foolproof.)

chocolate-cake-small.jpg

4: Frozen archeology

A great idea for hot weather. Take some of their plastic toys and freeze them in a big container of water (with food colouring or a bit of orange squash in to hide the toys if you want), then give them a spoon to perform their archaeological dig! This activity provides new tactile experiences to keep sensory-seekers interested and can be combined with playing in a paddling pool for extra entertainment! Joanna and Charlotte love this.

sensory-activities-for-summer

5: Water

Charlotte completely lights up with joy when she’s in a swimming pool, and it’s a full-on immersive sensory experience, so our girls have a fortnight of swimming lessons every summer. But if that’s not an option, then a middle-of-the-day bath can work, especially if you colour the water with food colouring. In hot weather, the classic run-through-the-sprinkler game reliably produces a lot of shrieking and giggling in our garden. In hot weather we sometimes peg out a tarpaulin on the grass and squirt washing-up liquid or bubble bath on it. We then put the hose at the top end (our garden is on a slight slope). The girls love to slide down the slope and get covered in bubbles, then rinse off in the paddling pool. (Don’t have a tarpaulin? Grab one from camping shops or from Amazon here for under £6.50.)

Our garden bubble-slide.

6: Masking tape racetrack

This one needs a roll of masking tape (washi tape works well too) and some Matchbox-type cars. The first time we did it I designed a course for them myself, but Joanna added her own modifications. I like to include plenty of obstacles to make it more of a sensory experience. We have cushions to drive over, maybe a beanbag mountain, a cardboard tube tunnel, whatever we happen to have in the recycling box at the time. I find that the girls’ attention span increases when they can use the tape themselves after I’ve done the basic layout. They also enjoy using lots of props (e.g. people, trees and buildings from their train set and toy farm).

Racetrack

An early prototype

I hope you find these helpful during the holidays. If you you have other sensory play ideas I’d love to hear about them. Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.
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