What to watch in lockdown 3.0

Wasn’t it exciting in the first lockdown to scroll through Netflix and pick new things to watch? Fast-forward the best part of a year and watching TV almost feels like a chore. There have been some Tiger King worthy gems lately though. Here’s my top 5.

Bridgerton (Netflix)

It would be quite impossible to have completely escaped the hype surrounding this oh-so-steamy period drama narrated by Julie Andrews. Think Pride and Prejudice meets Fifty Shades of Grey in an entertainingly, whimsical way. When you find out Shonda Rhimes (writer of Grey’s Anatomy) produced it, that feeling of familiarity becomes clear. A period version of Meredith and Derek’s romantic love story only without the scrubs, well or death. As soon as the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) makes his entrance, you won’t actually care about the storyline. Trust me.

Netflix Original: Bridgerton

Grace and Frankie (Netflix)

Honest, hilarious and an unlikely friendship you are constantly rooting for. Whilst the storylines are painfully predictable at times, the chemistry between Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) is so beautiful you can’t help but envy their crazy life, despite their husbands leaving them to marry each other. Things to note: Firstly, Jane Fonda defies all aging and you will spend the first episode googling her skincare regime and or plastic surgeon. Secondly, beach-front houses in San Diego are mentally expensive so don’t bother giving it a Rightmove search. Thirdly, yes! Frankie’s son was in Empire Records the film.

Netflix Original: Grace and Frankie

The Sopranos (Sky)

An oldie but a goodie. David Chase wrote and produced this gritty, mafia drama that is set in New Jersey and based around the Soprano family. Amazingly it first aired in 1999 meaning that not only are the people born when it came out now fully-fledged adults, they can even legally drink in America. It holds up surprisingly well though and still makes me stay up too late to watch the next episode. It is violent and gory at times but balances this well with family-based plotlines and is written and acted so well, you are totally on the mafia’s side. If you have never seen it and enjoyed Peaky Blinders, I would definitely give it a try. Man was James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) a good actor.

HBO: The Sopranos

Sex Education (Netflix)

This was probably on your viewing list during the first lockdown but with rumours circling that the Season 3 drop might be imminent, maybe a re-watch is in order. Set in a fictitious town with an American High School vibe, it is actually mainly filmed in Wales against the stunning backdrops of the Wye Valley. The storylines delve into the lives of a group of teenagers, their sexual antics and, well, their parent’s sexual antics too. Toe curlingly cringe at times, the characters are all loveable, relatable and leave you wanting to know more. The stunningly beautiful Gillian Anderson plays the mother of the main character, Otis, (Asa Butterfield) and is quite possibly the coolest mother on TV.

Netflix Original: Sex Education

Virgin River (Netflix)

Created by Sue Tenney who wrote the 90s TV show Blossom, this really is easy watching at its best. The first episode makes you question if you can manage the puke-in-your-mouth lines, predictable plots and over the top small-town charm but I promise if you stick with it, it really does get better. The full will-they-won’t-they love twists of the two main characters Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) and Jack (Martin Henderson) have you screaming at the TV but there are enough shocking moments to keep you hooked. The scenery is insanely stunning too. Sadly I googled that also and it isn’t really in California but mainly filmed in Canada.

Netflix Original: Virgin River

What have you been watching this lockdown? Let me know what to add to my list next. The longer the pandemic goes on though, the weirder it is to watch people actually touch, meet in a pub or even meet up at all.

5 ways to entertain your baby during a pandemic

This piece formed part of my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It was written in August 2020 including the lockdown rules at the time which may now differ. It was published on acajournalist.com in January 2021 to allow it to be graded.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

Coronavirus has forced us to stay at home a lot more and think of inventive ways to keep our little people happy. A little organisation can go a long way, and though it can sometimes seem impossible to find a spare few moments alone, taking a little time each evening to roughly plan out the next day can really help. It doesn’t matter if most plans go out of the window after a rough night, the intention was there, and the list can roll on to another day.

1.Plan themed weeks with easy activities to set up based on each topic. For example, dinosaur week with toy dinosaurs and playdough made volcanoes. Once your baby gets fed up, you can get the paint out and let your baby make footprints with the dinosaur’s feet.

It is important to add structured activity as their normal routine has been up-skittled for many months. If your child is not at nursery because of the pandemic, it can be a great way to emulate their nursery environment at home, even getting in touch with their key worker for ideas on themes and setting up activities.

Lisa Clegg, author of The Blissful Baby Expert Book and a maternity night nurse, helps thousands of parents find their groove. “Take one day at a time and try to break the day into sections too. With my new mums who are overwhelmed this is the biggest thing I tell them to do.

“Don’t think too far ahead or you will find it a never-ending task with no end in sight. Try to have a rough routine plan for meals and bedtimes at least to give you all some structure and then split the day into morning and afternoon activities to break the day up,” says Lisa.

Visit The Blissful Baby Expert for lots of tips, articles and mum meet ups at https://theblissfulbabyexpert.co.uk/

2.Enroll in a local baby massage or baby yoga group. Coronavirus unfortunately closed all face to face groups but slowly they are starting up again, so it is worth checking Facebook for a local group. They are operating in spaced out in big halls, remotely, or outdoors across summer months. The benefit of a weekly group is it adds structure to the week and forces you to both get dressed and out the house, or set up in front of the computer screen if it is an online class.

It also allows you time to lean on an expert and follow their lead rather than your own. Founder of the Village Midwives, Annette Ashford, explains the benefits: “It is as much for the mothers as it is for the babies really and at the end of a baby massage course it is lovely to see how friendships have blossomed. We all need a tribe to get through motherhood and it can be the start of a lifelong friendship. It has been very different virtually but worked really well and the babies have all enjoyed sensory objects and the massage itself.”

If you are in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Norfolk or South Yorkshire, you can find classes at https://www.thevillagemidwives.co.uk/

3.Get outside. Remember that though we are at home more, we can make the most of the great outdoors where generally it is easier to adhere to social distancing measures. To lift both your mood and the baby’s, sometimes a stroll can be just what to doctor ordered.

It can also be fun to turn the walk into light exercise and time your routes each week to see how much you have improved. Now shops have re-opened you can reward yourself with a skinny late for the way home, feeling good about supporting local businesses at the same who are down on profits because of coronavirus.

Keira Williamson from Zen Mama is organising local walks around her hometown of Spalding with other mums. “I think we all miss the contact with others and meeting outdoors for a walk can really lift your mood as you share your experiences of motherhood and take in a bit of  exercise within the rules of coronavirus,” says Keira.

Why not see if there are local walks with other mothers in your area and if not, start your own?

Log and share your walks on https://www.mapmywalk.com/ and find other walks in your area.

4. “Ready, set, bake,” as they say on the Great British Bake off. Baking with your little one can be lots of fun and a chance for them to engage in messy play, getting their hands, and sometimes feet, dirty. Don’t worry, you can make a separate batch to actually eat if things go awry. If your baby is too little to join in, they might enjoy watching you bake with the different visual culinary sensations in front of their very eyes. Don’t forget to talk to them about each step of the recipe as it is a great opportunity to explore language together.

Alternatively, setting time aside to prepare lunch or dinner earlier in the day can be a fun activity and a time your baby can explore self-led weaning as they chew on a piece of cucumber. It can help prevent the stressful time of day as dinner can just be cooked later instead of you trying to prep whilst juggling an unhappy baby.

Visit www.ellaskitchen.co.uk for some yummy toddler recipes.

5.Have a dance party to shake it off. I like to do this on a Friday afternoon to get us in the mood for the weekend with my children. The sillier your dance moves are, the funnier your baby will find it as they get in the groove with you. To make it more authentic, darken the room and set up a disco light to add to the sensory experience. It really is impossible not to smile as you put on your favourite tunes and sing out of key to fits of giggles from your baby.

Picking a song with a solid beat your baby can nod along to before progressing to a wiggle, helps keep them interested. Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars is always a winner in our house.

Browse Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon music for readymade playlists for babies and children. Linking to your Amazon Alexa can mean the children start to make requests themselves too!

As a plan fan, it is really satisfying to print out the daily schedule and tick each activity off as we go. It helps me feel like I have achieved something, even on tricky days.

Comment below your own experiences of entertaining during the pandemic and any activities you have tried and loved.

Sending your child back to school (June 2020)

This piece was written in June 2020 and formed part of my portfolio of work for the University of Lincoln. It remained unpublished until January 2021 on acajournalist.com, after my final grade had been awarded.

Sending your child back to school

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

With coronavirus still disrupting our lives in countless ways, there is a possibility you are now able to send your children back to school and their Early Years setting. We have spoken to some experts to try and gain an insight into the reasons why some year groups are back, what has changed, if it is safe to send your children and what teachers and parents are thinking.

Who is back in school?

Some children from Early Years, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 are heading back to school for their third week, though it is estimated by the National Foundation for Educational Research only 54-per-cent of eligible children are in school and as little as 52-per-cent of schools are re-open for pupils. To bombard you with further statistics, according to the Department for Education as of June 4 the number of children in school only represented 6.9-per-cent of the total number of children normally in education across all years. It is clear therefore that only a tiny proportion of children are back in education.

What changes are in place?

Classes have to be in bubbles of no more than 15 pupils who are taught by the same teaching staff and do not come into contact with other children or staff outside of their bubble. With young children it has been taken into account that social distancing will not always be possible so instead the focus is on hand washing very frequently and sneezing and coughing into a tissue and binning it to avoid spreading germs.

Soft furnishings have been removed from classrooms and children are sitting at their own desks spaced out across the classroom with their own stationary.

“At my child’s school the teacher has done the Reception children little packs of stationary, bricks and Lego which is disinfected regularly and stays on their desk all week.

“We also have to send them in clean clothes every day and only their lunch boxes and drinks can come from home,” says Isabella Hicks, mother to Rupert, aged five.

Children eat in their bubbles in their classrooms and have a specific toilet only their bubble can use. Outdoor learning is encouraged as much as possible as scientists believe the transmission rate outdoors is much lower, especially at a distance of two metres and there are staggered drop-offs and pickups to minimise adult contact.

Testing is available to all staff and children, and if a child becomes unwell, they are to be tested as soon as possible. The rest of the bubble are likely to be asked to self-isolate for 7 days or more or until the result of the test comes back.

Why those year groups?

The focus from the government is getting children back in the classroom from transition year groups as it is feared the longer they are out of the classroom, the further they will fall behind. The government produced a 50-page document and explained the reasoning behind the year groups.

“Children in Reception and Year 1 are at the very beginning of their school career and are mastering the essential basics, including counting and the fundamentals of reading and writing, and learning to socialise with their peers.

“Year 6 children are finishing Key Stage 2 and are preparing for the transition to secondary school and will benefit immensely from time with their friends and teachers to ensure they are ready,” says the report.

Helen Childerhouse, an educational expert from the University of Lincoln, isn’t convinced by the year groups chosen to return.

“It seems strange to send Year 6 pupils back into their primary schools.  I would have suggested that they attend transition sessions at the secondary school they will be attending in September.

“Early years children are unable to follow social distancing expectations due to their age and lack of understanding and they require much greater management. I would have expected Key Stage 2 and secondary pupils to return first,” she remarks.

When will other years return?

Plans for the rest of primary aged children to return before the summer break have been scrapped by the government in favour of schools having more flexibility to open if they feel they can safely do so. This has caused a lot of controversy since its announcement on June 10 as it will mean some children are out of education for six months assuming they can safely return by September. However, this isn’t a certainty.

Private schools with smaller class sizes have the room to open for more children but without clear guidance on how to do this from the government, insurance companies will not sanction more children attending.

Headteacher Claire Ogden of Ayscoughfee Hall School, a fee paying prep school in Spalding, said: “I would love to get more children back in school, we have worked out numerous scenarios to facilitate this from a rota of classes attending bi-weekly, to full attendance for all if the numbers are low enough. The issue we have though is our insurance company will only act on clear advice from the government on how to operate this safely and at the moment, this is not forthcoming. Having the flexibility to open if we have room isn’t enough and we need more information,” explains Claire.

Under current guidelines from the government, children in each bubble have their own toilet separate from other bubbles with a one in, one out system.  Most schools do not have the capacity to adhere to this rule with more children in school.

Is it safe to send my child back to nursery or school?

Ask two scientists and you will get two different answers as unfortunately so much is still unknown about the virus. Covid-19 has created a huge amount of debate on transmission amongst children, and it still isn’t clear if children infect adults at the same rate as adults transmit the disease. What is clear, though, is that the virus isn’t as deadly for children with just three children under the age of 15 sadly passing away since the start of the outbreak according to official government statistics, which demonstrates the risk to life for children under 15-years-old is extremely minimal.

Dr Walter Lucchesi, a lecturer in Biomedical Science at Royal Holloway, University of London, has a special interest in virology and explains this further. “In this particular case of SARS-cov 2 children might spread the virus at different rate, similar to being less prone to develop COVID19; a protection that so far is not fully explained but clearly observed. This is a question mark that will need to be resolved.

“We should always remember the original guidelines of physical distancing, minimising interactions and simple hygiene such as washing hands, not touching your face and not sharing glasses or food. Children have already missed out on education and essential social activities with social and psychological impact, so it is important to try and get them back safely.”

Without a vaccine, living with coronavirus will become a necessity, potentially for years to come. The choice to keep children at home for their safety might have to be a long-term decision which is hard for working parents.

“If SARScov2 has got a seasonal pattern, which personally I predict it will have, then it is likely that it could come back in late autumn or early winter. Therefore, scenarios and models that will help us to tackle this perspective are essential and the word is preparedness,” says Dr Lucchesi.

Many schools have decided to remain closed to all children other than those of keyworkers beyond June 1 as they did not feel they could safely re-open yet. Some of those schools did re-open this week for more children, suggesting that, by the summer holidays, more children from the transition year groups may return to school as parent’s views soften.

“I would always suggest that health and safety have priority over curricular delivery. Schools provide so much more than just education and this is not always acknowledged.  Schools have the privilege of supporting, teaching and caring for parents most precious treasure and it is their duty to ensure that children and their families are safe in the first instance,” says Helen Childerhouse.

What are teachers saying?

A Year 1 teacher who regularly posts on Netmums under the name WoWsers16 spoke to us about her experience so far: “I have loved my first few weeks back. I have a class of 28 and 16 have returned so we have put them into two bubbles of 8 as we believe more will be back in the coming weeks.

“Our headteacher has done an amazing risk assessment which focusses on the wellbeing of staff and children. Whilst we are doing the core lessons to catch children back up, we have shifted our focus to wellbeing and mindfulness.”

Emily Patman, a Reception teacher, also confirmed the focus has been on mental health. “It is important to make the children feel comfortable in their surroundings as it is quite different. We regularly do a feelings circle and we have done lots of songs and activities about coronavirus and why we are socially distancing. The children have taken to it so well and I am comfortable to teach under the current guidelines from our headteacher,” she says.

What are parents saying?

The debate on school social WhatsApp groups has been extensive and at times personal and negative. Laura Andrew, a mother to two boys, decided to send her four-year-old back to school.

“It felt heated in the group chat for our year. Those that had chosen to return our children were being judged by certain people who were not. Especially when you are being sent article links and information informing you that your children are being used as guinea pigs,” remarks Laura.

Kate Reed, a mother to two from Boston, decided to keep both her children at home. “Knowing my son, I don’t know how he would get on with social distancing and I felt it might have been a bit stressful for the teachers to have to patrol them all the time. Having said that he would love to go back to school, he loves learning at school, but not so much at home.”

Roxanne Wallis, a mother of two boys from Yaxley, has also decided to keep her children at home. “I do not wish to send either back to their settings. I think my primary concern at the moment is the ability for teachers to keep high enough levels of hygiene up with many students in an age group not particularly known for their exceptional hygiene. Added to that concern is the fact that I am pregnant and it’s making me more risk averse to the situation. My fear is that we are being lifted out of a severe lockdown too early and this is raising the probability of a second wave.

“If the government had decided to charge parents, I would have made the decision to home-school long-term as I am not sending them back in September if the situation remains the same as it is now,” adds Roxanne.

Sandie Hutchinson decided to keep her six-year-old boy at home. “He was a very poorly baby so looking at the reports in the media, I felt I couldn’t bring myself to send him, fearing the worst.

“The first week only five children returned to his Year 1 class but he was so upset to be missing out, I decided to send him the second week and he is so much happier back at school. A further five parents also decided to send. I guess we just wanted to wait and see how the first week went for other parents,” explains Sandie.

What if I keep my children off, will they be disadvantaged?

A huge catch-up plan is currently being devised by Educational Secretary Gavin Williamson in an attempt to bring children back to an even level when they can return. The initial part of the plan is to make internet free and accessible for all children to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to learning.

Teacher Sharon Clarke, a supply teacher with a teaching career spanning more than 30 years, explains what she thinks will need to happen when children return. “Children having more than six months out of education and varying levels of parental input from lots of home-learning to none will need to have a focused entry back into education. The government will have to drop the levels of expected learning to make this effective, and instead I think teaching will have to return to much more traditional, grassroot methods for core subjects. There is so much pressure on teachers to meet targets but in order to ensure children do not fall behind there will have to be time to focus on reading, writing, maths and English initially, going over and over until they are back to the level of understanding expected,” she says.

Helen, the educational expert, expands on this further. “Circumstances will play a huge part in the level of support and pastoral and academic input children need.  Teachers are incredibly skilled at shaping their provision to meet the needs of individual children.  I feel that the focus should be on pastoral and social support in the first instance.  Children are not able to learn academically if they are unhappy, insecure, frightened or unsettled.”

With so much uncertainty around coronavirus and a clear message of “stay home” from the government for so long, it is unsurprising parents are divided and nervous about their children returning to education. The government have a long way to go to get schools ready for more children by September and it is likely that education will be disrupted for a long time to come as rates of infection rise and fall in certain areas across the winter months. It is important to make the right decision for your own family and take advantage of the educational resources available if you are home-schooling to keep your children learning, though their mental health is equally as important at such a troubling time. Tag us on Facebook or Instagram to let us know your own story about school and if you have sent your children back or are continuing to home-school.