My Sunday Photo

Last week DD3 and I visited a very special animal sanctuary and got to meet a couple of her favourite animals.

I will write about this later, as it was a great day out and deserves a post of its own.

But while we were there we visited a small stand manned by Teaching Talons, an animal encounters company, who were lovely and patient with  everyone as we waited our turn to visit the main attraction.

One of the girls convinced DD to hold an owl, something she’s never dared do before. I took loads of photos but this is the closest I got to getting them both looking at the camera!

This is a young African Barn Owl. Isn’t she beautiful?

Holding an African Barn Owl

Sunday photo

 

Did You Watch ‘The A Word’ ?

Last night, like thousands of other people in the UK, I tuned in to watch the BBC’s new Drama ‘The A Word’. Actually, if I’m honest, I watched half of it last night. I fell asleep halfway through it and watched the rest this morning.

The falling asleep is no indication of the quality of the programme by the way, I’m just tired and not very well at the moment.

Before I watched the first episode I didn’t know much about it, just that one of the main characters is a young boy with autism. The A Word is the story of a family who have been working around their young child’s differences for so long that they find it difficult to admit that he might have a significant problem. When Joe’s parents are forced to entertain the possibility that there might be something ‘wrong’ with their son, their reaction, and those of their friends and family, make for an emotional drama that will feel familiar to many of us who have first had experience of neurodiversity.

Joe’s story is very different from that of the autists in our family but I recognised some of the emotions, behaviours and situations.

The boy who plays Joe is a very good actor; he’s not autistic himself but he is very convincing in his role. One thing to remember though is that if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person, They are all so different. Not many people would pick out my daughters as autistic but one has a diagnosis, one is in the process of getting one. In fact I have had many people express surprise if I mention it. ‘Are you sure?’ is an often asked question. There are less girls with autism than there are boys, and they are harder to spot, but they are out there.

Joe is shown as a musical genius, listening to music through headphones at all times and having an encyclopedic knowledge of songs and lyrics. Not every autistic person has a special skill. Some children with autism are savants and have these ‘special talents’ but many others don’t. Some have below average abilities, some are average, and some are above average.  Special skills make for good TV in this case and do allow the use of an excellent soundtrack for the series.

I  also thought the process of diagnosis was portrayed unrealistically as most families I know have had to wait for months, or even years, for a diagnosis. We were turned down for assessment twice for DD2 before we had to get CAHMS involved. From there we were granted a referral and then a diagnosis. And for us, it wasn’t actually a shock  at that point, it was more a relief that we could get some help.

Of course, what help is available depends on where you live..

It’s going to be a good series, I think and well worth a look even if you don’t think you know anyone with autism. Because actually, you might one day, and more importantly you might learn something. And with knowledge comes tolerance.

Did you watch The A word? What did you think? Did it remind you of your experiences?

The A word shows on BBC1 on Tuesdays at 9pm or is available on iPlayer.

The A word

Introducing My Instant Pot

Let’s just get one thing straight, I am NEVER going to be a food blogger. I have no desire to go down that route so this isn’t the start of a new blog direction.

But I have to tell people about this machine because it’s a life changer.

I don’t like cooking, I’m not good at it and I hate having to find something that the kids will eat every night. It seems that the more effort I put into it, the more fuss they make about the meal that’s in front of them. One doesn’t eat tomatoes, one doesn’t like sauce, one won’t touch eggs and the 14 year old has now decided to go vegetarian. Meal times can be complicated.

Our meal choices had been reduced to an endless round of chicken nuggets, fish fingers, pizza and pasta when I started using a slow cooker to make stews and cook meat. Obviously not everyone would eat the end product, I had to remember to put the meal on hours before and a slow cooker can reduce veggies to mush if you aren’t careful. But I found cooking with a slow cooker pretty easy, and was using it to make slightly more interesting meals. It was also very good for baked potatoes which are a useful standby in our house.

Then just before Christmas, on Amazon’s Black Friday, I was scrolling through the offers and noticed that something called an Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 was half price. It was advertised as an electronic pressure cooker that can also be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, yoghurt maker, steamer and it also allowed you to saute and brown in the pot. I read the reviews and thought that it could be very handy, even if it just replaced my aging slow cooker. I added it to my Christmas wishlist, let my husband know about the reduction in price and waited to see if Santa would be kind to me.

He was!

When I first opened the box, I was a little worried because it does look slightly scary. Also I have memories of my mother using a pressure cooker and there was a lot of hissing and faffing involved.
When I took the  Instant Pot out, it had a European plug attached, but there was also a UK plug in the packaging.

This is the size of the pot; it’s a bit taller and a bit narrower than a 4 slice toaster. I use it so much that I don’t bother putting it away but it’s not so big that I couldn’t find cupboard space for it.

Instant pot size
It is not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen and there is a bit of a learning curve, but if you persist , you will find a use for it every day.

I have only used the saute and the high pressure setting so far, as it cooks things quickly and I’m always short on time. Everything has been very tasty and vegetables have held their shape and flavour well.

So far I have cooked porridge, a whole chicken ( and made bone broth with the carcass), a top roast ( took longer than I expected in the end but very nice), lots of vegetables ( really quick) and macaroni cheese ( will always do pasta like this from now on).

I haven’t used the rice function yet but it’s supposed to work well, a friend of mine uses it to boil loads of eggs and I plan to use it for stews, soups and meat sauces as well.  A lot of people make cheese cakes in theirs. This is something I plan to investigate!

The thing you must bear in mind is that if you want to use it as a pressure cooker, it needs some water in it to allow steam to form to cook the food inside. So there always needs to be at least a cup of steam in the bottom of the inner pot. The pot comes with a trivet that sits in the bottom and holds bowls or meat out of the water while your food cooks.

Trivet and water in bottom of instant pot

Forgetting to add water to the pot seems to be a common mistake made by beginner ‘potheads’.

The other common source of confusion when starting out is how to tell when your IP ( Instant Pot) is at the right pressure, and what to do with the vent at the back of the lid.

Instant pot valve

See the hole on left with a little white button at the bottom of it? As the pressure inside the pot builds up, this rises until it’s level with the top. When this button is up, there is lots of steam inside your pot. Sometimes, as the pot is heating up, you do see a little steam coming from this button. This is totally normal. Wait until the button has dropped before taking the lid off yours. I think there is actually a safety mechanism that stops you from opening a fully pressurised IP, but it’s always worth checking.

The thing that looks like a tap, to the right, is actually a valve you can use to control the pressure inside the IP. It has two settings; sealing and venting. Here it is set to sealing, and this closes the valve and allows the pressure inside to build up so that your food will cook. If you leave it switched to venting, then the pressure takes longer to build up and the cooking process takes longer. I have found this out myself, when I’ve forgotten to set it to sealing.

The main purpose of this vent is to be able to decide whether to vent naturally or use quick release after your food has been cooked. If you want to get into your IP quickly, then switch it to venting until the steam stops hissing out and the button drops down. Then open the IP with the lid facing away from you- just in case. In my experience, by the time button drops, there isn’t a lot of steam left in the pot at all.

Recipes will often tell you how to vent after cooking a particular recipe, but it’s worthwhile experimenting. Lots of people keep diaries of what has and hasn’t worked for them.

Other things you will need, if you are going to use a IP are recipes, accessories and a community.

The pot comes with a little book included, and there are plenty of Pressure Cooker cookery books out there, but to be honest, the internet is your best source of recipes. Just Google ‘Instant Pot whatever food you are cooking here’ and if someone else has tried it, you’ll find it. A lot of the recipes are quite Americanised, so it’s worth asking on the IP Facebook group if you don’t understand anything.

I have already bought a few different things to use in my IP. You will need some pyrex bowls if you are going to use the bowl in bowl method for things like porridge and lasagna. This is how I cook my breakfast. I have a glass slow cooker lid, but ironically I’m unsure how often I am going to use the slow cooker function and I also have a basket insert for steaming veggies.Then I bought a spare inner pot because they were half price, along with a silicon lid.

Finally if you are on Facebook, I’d urge you to join the group mentioned above. You can use it to tell people about what you have cooked, or ask questions or use the search function for inspiration.

So there you go. The Instant Pot is one of my current obsessions and I’m not a foodie kind of person at all. So far it’s had lots of use, and I don’t expect that to change. I’m so glad I spotted it on special, but I’d still buy it at the price it is now because it’s such a brilliant appliance.

If you have been thinking about getting an IP and do end up getting one or have one already, then please comment below and tell me what you use it for.  I love getting new ideas for this thing.

The IP hasn’t solved my cooking problems, but it’s certainly made meal times that little bit quicker and easier. You won’t have seen the last of it.

 

My Sunday Photo

My kids are always so exhausted after the first term of the school year that I’ve learnt not to book too much for the Christmas holidays.

I’d like to take them to all the lovely things that are on over the holidays, but bitter experience has taught me to stick to one biggish thing and a few little outings on the side. They do have to be got out of the house every day for the good of all concerned, but mainly they just want to sit in and chill.  If I drag them out and about to too many things, it does not end well for anyone.

Our ‘big’ outing this year was to go and see Christmas at Kew. I’m not sure what I expected but it was really beautiful and got us all into the holiday mood.

Kew peacock
We booked in for 7:30 and didn’t leave until almost 9, so it was really dark and entry was staggered so it wasn’t too crowded.

Kew Christmas Tree

There was a lot of walking, and some sort of map of where all the food could be found would have been helpful, but apart from a very small bit of complaining about puddles and sore feet every one really enjoyed it.

Kew Squid Soup
We loved the choreographed light show projected onto The Palmhouse.

Snowflakes on the Palmhouse, Kew
The kids were especially impressed with the hundreds of oil lamps set to burn around a fiery phoenix. We saw someone walking around refilling the lamps; it must have been a full time job.

Key firey phoenix

My favourite were these colourful stylised tree-shaped tents. I quite fancied some for our front garden but alas, they weren’t selling them in the gift shop.

Christmas tree tents kew

Christmas at Kew is all over for this season, but it seems to be different every year so we would definitely consider a return visit.

My Sunday Photo

KidZania London: A Short Review And Some Tips

I hate Westfield shopping centre. Seriously, who needs that many clothes shops? And  all the people. Arghhh!

That’s why we only go there as a family once a year or so, usually around Xmas, to check out the decorations and ice skating. During last year’s visit, I noticed a HUGE sign for something called ‘KidZania’. We googled it when we got home, and the kids were enchanted by the idea of a city run by children. They have been desperate to check it out since it opened. But it’s taken me until halfway through the summer holidays to feel recovered enough from the last Westfield outing to feel I was capable of returning only 8 months after our last visit.

So it was, that on Tuesday I drove us all into London. We are not completely insane but we are only 20-30 minutes away, and at least you can always find a parking space at Westfield. My youngest three, aged 7,9 and 12, were all keen to check out KidZania. The eldest is 13, and was not interested at all.  Despite the 4-14 year age range, she felt it was way beneath her so we planned a shopping trip instead. I had my doubts about how engaged the 12 year old would be, but she really wanted to give it a go so I coughed up for a ticket for her.

Our four-hour session at KidZania started at 11am. We had been told to book a slot for as early as possible, as it gets a lot busier after lunchtime. We arrived around half ten and the ‘check-in’ area was so quiet we were able to go straight up to the desk.

KidZania check in

After presenting our tickets, filling in some paperwork so I could be contacted and  all of us getting tagged so my children couldn’t leave with anyone but me, the kids were given 50 KidZos ( the currency of KidZania) each before they entered the especially built Kids’ city. They were very excited at the prospect of going off to explore on their own and I didn’t even get a backward glance as they entered the city.

Entering KidZania
Some parents do go into KidZania with their children but mine didn’t want me to shadow them and to be honest, I was quite happy to not pay the £16.50 for an online adult’s ticket.

DS is 7, and on the website FAQ  it says ‘Children from the age of 7 years can be left on their own at KidZania. The reasoning behind this is that 7 years is the start of Key Stage 2 and therefore seen by many as the next stage of a child’s development. This is provided on the basis that the accompanying adult/s are confident that their child will conduct her/himself in a responsible, courteous and pleasant manner. If your child is under 7 years they must be accompanied by a full paying adult.’ So I was reasonably confident he would have no problems going in without me. But then I printed out the tickets and found a line that said ‘ Children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult’.

KidZania ticket

I tweeted KidZania about this discrepancy in a bit of a panic and their reply was ‘ Hi, we are in the process of changing our e-ticket. The age is 7 years where you can leave your child unaccompanied in KidZania.’ Phew!

And even if you don’t pay for an adult ticket, you can go and collect your child about 15 minutes before their time is up. There is a machine where you can scan your wrist band to see where in the city your children are, and find out what they have been up to that way.

DD1 and I had 90 minutes of looking at phones as she’s due an upgrade, and were just starting to think about lunch when I noticed that DD2 had texted me. She was tired and hungry apparently, aka ‘bored’. After a few more texts it transpired that the KidZos could only be used to by certain things in KidZania and one of those things wasn’t food.

If your children go into KidZania on their own, they will need to take some real money as well so they can buy something to eat. Apparently the check-in staff should have told us this, but nobody could recall being given this information.

DD1 and I went back past the check in to ‘customs’ where we found DD2 ready to call it a day. The younger two were keen to stay, so I gave them some ‘real’ money to buy food and took the older two to lunch. DD2 had enjoyed some parts of KidZania, but as I suspected a lot of it was too young for her. She didn’t like the queuing to get into activities and felt the questions the staff asked too easy. She’s going into Y8 at school but is summer born and has ASD, so I can see why she thought she might like it, but it wasn’t involved enough to keep her interested. She’s glad she tried it but doesn’t want to go back again.

On the other hand, the two younger ones loved it. When we went to collect them we found them scoffing pancakes outside a cafe, chatting happily and counting the KidZos they had earned. They were surprised their four hours was up and while they could only remember having done about five activities, they had spent their time exploring in a safe environment without close parental supervision.

One of my friends asked me if I didn’t feel it was a waste of money that my children hadn’t taken part in more activities and I can see their point, but I do think one of the best things about KidZania is that it offers children the chance to make independent decisions about how they will spend their time and money while they are there. You can go into the city with your children if you want ( and if they are under 7, you are required to), but you can’t do the activities with them; you just have to wait outside for them to finish.

All in all, I would recommend KidZania if you have the budget for it. It’s pricey, full of advertising and the activities seem quite superficial, but kids between the ages of 7-10 will probably get the most out of it. I wouldn’t bankrupt myself to take my child though, there are more cost effect childcare options out there.

If my two have their way, we’ll be back. But next time, I will make sure I take a good book.

KidZos at KidZania

 

Review: Flair Plasticine

When you have kids of a certain age, there are a number of arts and crafts materials that you learn to keep in the cupboard for a rainy day.

Pens and paper, sticker books, coloured card, googly eyes, foam shapes and plasticine live in ours. These items have been incorporated into many a school project and craft session, but to be honest our plasticine had seen better days.

We no longer had blocks of different coloured modelling clay, instead we had a rather hairy lump of grey green stuff that lived in a plastic container at the back of our craft cupboard. I didn’t blame the kids for not wanting to play with it and when we were offered a selection of bright and colourful plasticine sets from Flair I  accepted gratefully on their behalf.

Plasticine by Flair
DD3 and DS were pretty happy to see these packs; I think they’d forgotten that plasticine actually came in different colours!

My two youngest had a day off school on Election Day, and spent a happy hour at our kitchen table making different models. DS has hypermobility in his hands so playing with modelling clay is especially good for the muscles around his fingers.

This was his creation. It’s a Minecraft inspired farm block- or something. DS is 7, so I’m just happy to see him away from a screen. But maybe someone needs to bring out a Minecraft themed plasticine pack to inspire him further?

Plasticine Minecraft
DD3 is 9 and she loves animals. She made these two little creatures by herself. I especially like the Penguin.

Penguin and tiger plasticine

Since these packs were opened, they have been played with pretty much every day. The two older girls have had a go too, although they wouldn’t let me photograph them or their creations, and even I have sat down and had a quick creative moment.

Flair’s packs of plasticine range in price from RRP £1.46-£6.99 and are suitable for children ( and adults) from age 3+

Flair sent us some Plasticine pack s in return for this post, but all thoughts above are my own. The models are my children’s.

Royal Parks Treasure Trail Review

We discovered Treasure Trails last November and I’ve been hanging out for the weather to improve enough to do another one. It’s been such a long, gloomy winter that I’d forgotten all about them.

But on Easter Monday, I was thoroughly sick of chocolate and sitting around indoors and was racking my brain for something to do with four kids aged 7-13 when I remembered how much fun we’d had doing a Treasure Trail last year. The beauty of them is that they are engaging for a wide variety of ages.

I spent 10 minutes perusing the list of trails in Greater London and the Royal Parks of London Trail caught my eye. We all love Hyde and Kensington Parks but tend to always go to the same places; this trail looked a great way of showing us some different parts of these parks.

Planning in front of the Albert Memorial

Standard Treasure Trails are all £6.99 to download and you can print out multiple copies of instructions so everyone can have their own. I suggest you print out one extra as someone always loses or defaces theirs.

Our kids are going through a bit of a sluggish stage and they weren’t that thrilled with the idea of going into London and walking around the Parks, so I made sure I blanked out the bit at the front that stated the length of the trail ( 5 miles) and expected duration ( 3 hours). When they asked, I lied and halved the time but I’d failed to black out this information further inside the booklet and there was a small revolution from my offspring on the Metropolitan Line. In the end I promised them ice cream if they completed the trail. I know it’s not a great way to parent but I needed to get these kids out of the house.

Anyhow, my children’s lack of enthusiasm wasn’t the Treasure Trail’s teams fault. The Royal Parks Trail  is presented as a murder mystery with a number of different suspects and murder weapons. Each location you find gives you clues which help you eliminate someone or something and at the end of the trail you are left with one suspect and one murder weapon.

The kids may have been slow to warm up but thanks to the sometimes tricky, often amusing clues that drew us from one part of the park to the next, they were soon running ahead and scouting the horizon for the next clue.

It did take us 7 hours in the end but that was because  every location had to be run around, climbed over and explored. We spent almost an hour by the Diana memorial and the two little kids sat down in it.

wet clothes after Diana memorial

I had to strip off their soaking trousers and they spent a couple of hours running around Kensington Park with bare legs which earned us some very odd looks.

We also stopped for lunch, then ice creams half way around and then I had to thwart a sit down protest with 8 clues to go. We had to text for one clue as we overshot the location and the kids refused to go back. And we found the last clue before the second to last one but it didn’t matter in the end.

What mattered was that we pulled it together and finished the trail. This is the moment that we found the last clue and DD1 solved the mystery.

Australian memorial hyde park

She had to be reminded it was Not A Competition.

Despite it taking us the entire day, we’d recommend  this Treasure Trail. It’s good value for money and you’ll get to discover some interesting bits of  London’s Royal Parks. It’s a good opportunity to take the kids for a long walk while having toilets and food stalls to hand and will pretty much guarantee they will sleep well that night.

I’m already planning our next Treasure Trail but may look for something a little shorter next time.

Review: Little Live Butterfly

little live butterfly packaging

DD3 is 9 and  loves all animals, except spiders. She is the most likely of all my offspring to become a vet, although I often tell her it’ll be over my dead body.

Right now, she wants to be a Zoo Keeper and in keeping with this ambition, she shows an inclination to collect animals. I’m up for a reasonable number of pets, but we are close to our saturation level and for now I’ve said ‘no more’. No more real ones, that is.

For DD has discovered the Little Live series of  toys. She already had a Little Live budgie that lives in a cage in her bedroom, doesn’t need feeding or cleaning out and chats away only when turned on. The perfect pet really!

But she then wanted a Little Live Butterfly, and was saving for it when we were offered one to review.

We were sent ‘Cherry Blossom’ which she wasn’t too happy about as she hates pink, but she soon got over it in the excitment of opening the packet.

The Little Live Butterfly is a cute toy that come with a flower shaped charger. This needs a couple of  AA batteries, but after two weeks of pretty much daily use we still haven’t had to replace them.

The butterfly  sits on the charger for a little while to ‘feed’ ( we found around 30 seconds was best), then you remove it and it flaps its wings randomly, but quite realistically. It does not fly.

DD likes it to sit with her while she’s doing her homework.

L butterfly

The Little Live Butterfly also comes with a suction cup that you can fix to a window or mirror to display your butterfly and keep it safe when your child isn’t playing with it. Unfortunately, DD’s butterfly proved a little too lifelike for our cats, who leapt up and snatched it from the holder a couple of times, so we’ve had to stop using the holder.

The Little Live Butterflies RRP for £12.99 and are suitable for children over the age of 5. They are quite delicate and you wouldn’t want to throw them around the room on a regular basis, but ours has survived being dropped a couple of times as well as being ‘captured’ by our cats.

We were sent a Little Live Butterfly for the purposes of this review but the opinions expressed above are all my own.

 

Book Review: Screen-Smart Parenting

smart screen parenting

I consider myself to be quite tech savvy.

I use and enjoy social media, understand the etiquette of posting on internet forums and can decipher most text-speak acronyms. I think the internet is a good thing, even for children, but I was born in 1970 and so am a ‘digital immigrant’.

My children, on the other hand, are digital natives and have never known a world without the web. They take apps, tablets and smartphones for granted in the same way that people born in the 70’s and 80’s did tape recorders, television and digital watches. We can only imagine what their children will consider normal.

There is no doubt in my mind that technology has a lot to offer today’s youngsters, but I’m also aware that the internet contains things unsuitable for children’s eyes and minds. Like most parents, I want my children to be able to experience the web appropriately, have fun and be educated while staying safe.

I’ve run the gauntlet of opinions when it comes to children’s access to technology. I’ve flipped from thinking that a child under the age of 13 simply doesn’t need internet access on their phone, to wondering if it’s all too much hard work and maybe we should just let them free range online and trust them to come to us if they encounter a problem, then back the other way again. I worry that my kids are spending too much time staring at screens but don’t know where and how to draw the line. It seems that everyone has an opinion on the best way to  approach this issue and  Jodi Gold is no exception.

Except that Jodi Gold, MD is not just anyone. She is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice and Clinical Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York City. And she’s written a book that will help you work out the best way to manage your child’s access to technology.

This is a book for the parents of all ages, from newborns to teens to almost grown ups. It’s full of sensible, practical advice and explains how to supervise your child’s digital footprint without stifling their online experiences. It is non judgmental, but explains the digital world our children live in, in a way that will leave you feeling relatively calm and in control of the situation.

I do wish I had read this book a few years ago, as my eldest two are now at secondary school and are well into their digital journeys. It’s more difficult to set down new rules for tweens and teens who have already had an element of internet freedom, than talk about boundaries and expectations to younger children who have yet to be unleashed on the world wide web.

Still it’s good to see that a lot of our house rules around technology are reflected in the pages of  Screen-Smart Parenting. This is a book I will keep close and dip into often, and I would urge all parents to read it at least before their children start school. The earlier the better, really.

But even if your children are older and already set in their digital ways, this is a book that still has much to offer and will give you a frame work to help you guide your children develop the tech savvy they need to become good digital citizens.

I was sent a copy of  ‘Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices‘ to review but the opinions given above are wholly my own.

Soundscool Grade Five Theory Course Review

One of the much-lamented sticking points of sitting music exams is the Grade Five Theory rule. If you follow the ABRSM syllabus, then you have to pass a formal Grade Five theory exam before you can sit a Grade Six practical, no matter what instrument you play.

The reasons behind this rule are sound; in order to play and understand music in the higher grades, you really need to have a sound knowledge of how music is put together. It’s not just random, after all!

Theory  is not the most exciting subject in the music world, especially for children. And unless they have extra theory lessons, progress can seem very slow. My eldest sat and passed her Piano Grade 5 Practical in December 2013, and has just finished working through the Grade 4 Theory syllabus last month. This year she is sitting her Grade 5 practical for the Double Bass and after she can’t go any further with exams until she gets the theory equivalent under her belt.

DD1 disliked learning theory from her current piano teacher and was reluctant to devote any more of her lesson time to it. So I decided to take drastic measures.

I went online and Googled ‘Grade Five Theory Course’. I think I was looking for an online course of some sort; something that was a little bit more lively than the books she was working through with her piano teacher.

The second result down lead me to the Soundscool Website. And it sounded like it was just what I wanted.

Soundscool is a small music school not far from Reading in Berkshire. Daniel and Sandra welcome students into their lovely home and teach them piano, singing and cooking.

Soundscool Kitchen

They are a bit far away from us to use them for regular lessons, although if we lived in the vicinity I definitely would. But they also offer a two-day, Grade Five Theory course.

The course has been running for three years and during that time hundreds of people have attended. All of them have passed the Grade Five theory exam after doing the course and following up with 10 past papers afterwards, many with merits and distinctions.

We had half term coming up, and they were running a couple of course during this time. Unfortunately, both were already booked up. I send Daniel an email anyhow, and after some discussion about DD ( what instruments she played, and to what standard) he said they could fit her in to one of the half term courses. I said yes please!

Next I had to convince my 13 year old daughter that giving up two days of her half term would be a reasonable use of her precious holiday. She was not convinced, but I managed to persuade her with the promise of a night away with some one to one time with me. Luckily enough she is still fond enough of me to consider ‘mum time’ a positive thing and she eventually agreed to attend the course.

After reading the information about the course and finding it involved cooking and food, as well as theory, I was sure that DD was going to enjoy herself. But she was anxious about not knowing anyone, not being able to understand the course material and of the dreadful possibility that she might be bored.

She needn’t have worried. She thoroughly enjoyed herself over the two days and was almost in tears on the first night when I told her the next day finished an hour earlier. She made new friends, got to try out dough and pasta making, had plenty to eat and came away confident and enthusiastic about Grade Five Theory. She said that she now understands a lot of things that had confused her before and she is looking forward to sitting the exam.

Soundscool class

I honestly didn’t expect her to be so fired up about it and was thrilled to have such a positive response from her about it.

The Soundscool Grade Five Theory Course cost £200 for the two days, which included all materials, food, drink and cooking ingredients. This may sound expensive, but in London we pay £22 for a half-hour piano lesson so £200 wouldn’t even cover 5 hours worth of theory instruction. Doing this course DD got 9 hours worth of theory tuition and two hours of cooking, craft and food.

She won’t sit her exam until June, so we have plenty of time to go through the practice papers, but we are both confident that she now has the skills and knowledge to do well.

Both of us would recommend this course as a fast and fun way to prepare for a Grade 5 Music Theory exam.