Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Bank Holidays in Birmingham on a Budget


In the last post I covered some Bank Holiday day out trips to enjoy with your kids in the Birmingham area, but by the time the whole family are paid for those options turn out pretty costly.
This bank holiday we are going to try some fun days out on a budget. There are lots of ways for us to have a lovely day as a family without spending a lot of money, here are some options I would recommend:


If the weather’s nice this is a great way for us to spend time as a family. The food needn't be expensive, but just buying a few treats that your children wouldn't ordinarily be allowed or wouldn't regularly eat makes it exciting for them.
We particularly enjoy Cannon Hill Park, but there are lots of nice places for a picnic around the Birmingham area. Try Arley and the area around for a picturesque setting if you live more towards Bewdley/Worcestershire.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

If your children take an interest in Art, visiting the gallery that Birmingham has to offer will be an educational and interesting trip for free. In the centre of the city, you can combine a visit to the gallery with a mooch around the shops – although that’s when your trip can start getting expensive!

The Black Country Living Museum, Dudley

Although not particularly cheap, once you have bought your family’s tickets you have free return to the museum for a whole 12 months. If you live fairly near I would recommend it. As there’s so much to do you can definitely get your money’s worth over the course of a year, and my kids love returning to the old fashioned sweet shop and fish and chip shop.

‘The Public’

The Public is an exciting creative, cultural and business space in West Bromwich. There are all sorts of exhibitions and events going on. It's a good place to take your family if you have younger children as well as teenagers, as it will cater to both. Current exhibitions include Tracey Emin, which is free.

Birmingham Nature Centre

This is a cheaper alternative to the Safari Park and Dudley Zoo, with entry just £2.50 for 5 – 16 year old, and free for under 5's. If you take a packed lunch with you your day will cost under £20. It’s a great place for kids that love animals like mine do - you can see meerkats, lemurs and otters, as well as a collection of endangered reptiles that Jack particularly likes to see.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Foster Care Fortnight 2013


Today is the first day of ‘Foster Care Fortnight’, which is a really big, yearly event in the UK for foster carer recruitment. As the event was such a turning point in mine and my family’s life, I feel like it’s important for me to share this with you all!

I was interested in the idea of fostering when the event took place a few years ago, and the information I received helped me and Tim  eventually make the decision to foster Lucy.

The ‘picture frame’ event running this year puts foster care services, care leavers, their children, as well as prospective carers in the spotlight. A bit of research shows that around 9,000 new carers are needed across the UK at the moment, leaving a huge amount of vulnerable children without the support they desperately need.

The time that my family have spent with Lucy has been invaluable to us, and hopefully provided her with the support she needed as well. It’s been wonderful to have this special little girl in our lives, and see the way her confidence and happiness has grown since she came to live with us.

I’m not saying that foster care is an easy or perfect experience for any parent, but I think there are many people out there that would make great foster parents, but don’t pursue the idea 
further because of their limited knowledge or misconceptions on the subject. Hopefully the ‘Get in the Frame’ event will help prospective foster parents get a clearer idea of whether foster care is right for them.

If you think you could be a foster carer I would urge you to look into what is happening in your area for Foster Care Fortnight.

Are you a foster carer, or considering becoming one? Let me know what you think, and what your experiences have been so far – good and bad.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Encouraging your Kids to Read

Boy reading illustration

There are so many options for children’s entertainment – countless TV programmes, games consoles, laptops, mobiles, that few actually turn to books to pass the time, seeing it as the boring option.

Encouraging Lucy to read is important to improve her ability to do so, but I encourage Jack to read more often to expand his knowledge and interests, rather than limiting his time to playing video games and watching TV. It’s lovely to see him engrossed in a book and learning from it, or being inspired by it.

Take an interest in reading yourself

It’s all well and good to say you want your children to read more often, but are you setting the example? If your children see that you often read as a way to relax, they will consider it to be a normal everyday activity, and one that they want to master themselves.

Buying books that you think they will enjoy and leaving them in accessible places around the house might encourage children to pick them up and take a look when they have a little time to spare.

Make reading your special time together

Reading with Lucy before she goes to bed is a special time for us to bond, when she gets my undivided attention.  It is a good opportunity for us to work on her reading in a relaxed setting, when the pressure she feels in the classroom is taken away.

It’s important as a foster child that Lucy gets some special time with me, and as Jack is obviously too old for bedtime stories it’s not time that he resents me spending with Lucy.

Choose books that have been adapted for cinema

A good way I have found to encourage Jack’s reading is to buy him the books that his favourite films are taken from. For example, he enjoyed the first ‘Hunger Games’ film when it was released, and went to see it with his friends.  I bought him the trilogy that the film was taken from, and he hardly put them down until he had finished all three books!

There are lots of other options depending on the age and interests of your child – Lord of the Rings, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Defiance are all books that I have encouraged Jack to read after he enjoyed the films based on them, whilst Lucy enjoyed ‘Alice in Wonderland’ after seeing Tim Burton’s adaptation.


If your kids love technology and are always on their laptops, a good way to encourage reading might be with a Kindle. I personally consider them to be a bit of a waste of money, but if it encourages older children and teenagers to read it’s probably worth it.

Last time we went on holiday we bought Jack a Kindle, and now find that he reads a lot more, as it seems to make the books more relevant when they’re in a format he enjoys.

Do you have any more tips for encouraging your children to read?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Lucy's Birthday

Birthday cake inspiration

Lucy’s 8th birthday is coming up in the next few weeks, and we want to make the day as special as possible for her.

Lucy’s background has meant that she hasn't experienced many special birthdays where she has been spoiled and treated, so we try to make them wonderful for her. This will be Lucy’s second birthday with us.

Last year we felt very nervous about how to approach her birthday – whether she would feel emotional about not having her birth parents present, and wondering what she might want or expect.

Luckily it was a wonderful day, and I thoroughly enjoyed throwing a party and buying presents for a little girl for the first time.

These are my top tips for spoiling a foster child on their birthday:

  • Let her choose what she wants your family to do for the day – where does she want to go, and what does she want to eat. Does she want a party? Perhaps she would find this overwhelming if she isn’t used to this kind of treatment.
  • Throw in some surprises that she wouldn’t expect, but would make her feel extra special. Try decorating the house with balloons and streamers, getting party poppers, or decorating a dining chair to look like a princess’s thrown for when she comes downstairs in the morning.
  • The issue of her birth parents may be a tricky one. Each situation is very individual, but if your child is keen on seeing them on her birthday talk to the agency about whether this is a possibility.
  • Create something fun and different that is especially for her. For instance, Lucy’s favourite treat foods are jelly, chocolate muffins and chocolate sauce. She was delighted last year when I created a sort of sundae, with jelly, broken up double chocolate chip muffins and ice cream, drizzled in chocolate sauce.
  • If you have other children, make sure you include them in the planning. Make them feel involved by asking  for suggestions, and explain why it is so important that your foster child is treated to a special day, so they don’t feel that there is any favouritism.
  • Obviously presents are central to any birthday. While you may feel like splashing out a lot of money on your foster child, try to put careful thought into what you buy, rather than buying a lot of expensive gifts for the sake of it.
  • If you have really taken the time to understand what your foster child enjoys they are sure to love their gifts. You could use the opportunity to encourage a hobby or interest, or buy something you could enjoy together – maybe materials for crafts or painting.

Whilst you may well feel that it is important to make this day special, try to relax and enjoy it, rather than worrying too much.

Tim and I were quite concerned on the run-up last year, but we needn’t have been. Everybody had a wonderful day, and it was terrific to see Lucy with such a big smile on her face.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Bank holiday days out in Birmingham

With the bank holiday weekend fast approaching it’s time to plan a fun day out with the kids. There are of course a huge range of days out in and around the Birmingham area, suitable for every family, budget and changing weather.

Sealife Centre Fish

Here is a pick of our family’s favourite day trips locally, perfect to enjoy some time together this May Bank Holiday:

Think Tank

The Think Tank is a brilliant option for the bank holiday weekend – educational whilst keeping kids occupied. There are art activities, drop in sessions and storytelling for under 8's going on all weekend. There are four floors of hands-on exhibits and historical science-based collections to see.

The Leisure Box

This will be my family’s pick if we are unfortunate enough to have bad weather this weekend. There is both ice skating and bowling, and children can go here for skating lessons or host a party – with a choice of ice skating, or a combination of skate and bowl.

Blakesley Hall

There is a fair offering vintage treats and hand-crafted items on Saturday 4th, between 12pm and 4pm - something for you and the kids, as well as beautiful gardens and grounds you could enjoy a picnic in.

Your kids are sure to love the exciting range of sea creatures available to see and learn about. Children can touch the crabs and starfish, visit the 4-d cinema and walk through the underwater tunnel. There are feeding demonstrations throughout the day, and even a play area. When Jack was younger he used to love going here to see the ray fish!

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

If the weather’s nice a visit to the Botanical Gardens can be a lovely family trip. There are glasshouses with everything from tropical rainforest to desert plants, as well as beautiful gardens to enjoy and a playground for the children. There is a nice tearoom as well to enjoy a bit of afternoon tea!

Toy Collector’s Fair, NEC

This will be paradise for children and serious toy collectors alike, with everything from traditional dolls and teddy bears to sci-fi Stars Wars and Doctor Who toys, to Scalextric, Lego and Disney memorabilia – panned across over 600 stalls.

This is just a list of our potential days out this weekend and is by no means exhaustive – has anybody else got good ideas for days out in Birmingham this bank holiday?