Parenthood can be a pretty lonely gig at times. Whether you’re swamped with endless feeds and nappy changes in the early days or if you have a busy toddler who just WON’T sit still in a café so you can catch up with a friend, it can be all too easy to go weeks without having a proper ‘grown-up’ conversation.
When we moved from the UK to Australia for my husband’s job three years ago, I knew that making friends would be quite a challenge. The main reason being that I’m actually an introvert. I’m not a fan of huge social gatherings plus my eldest (and only child at the time) was going to be in school. Not that I really minded as that meant I wouldn’t need to go to playgroups!
Fast forward one year and I had a newborn in tow. After a flurry of visits from grandparents I found myself itching to get back to some level of normality. I’ve always been a creative type and I was also really missing my job as a classroom teacher so I needed something that would help me make friends and keep busy at the same time.
This isn’t to say that I am friendless, I have a great group of friends who have gone to great lengths to make me feel welcome here in Australia. However, when people are busy with work, their own children and other friendships, I can’t rely on them as my sole source of social connection.
Here’s exactly how Instagram has helped me navigate my way through parenthood – perhaps it will help you too!
Firstly It’s all about community rather than selfies…
When I first signed up as Teach Investigate Play on Instagram, I had no real idea whether there was a community that would suit me. There’s the common misconception that Instagram is all about selfies and arty shots of lunch dates (which I actually love!) but there’s also a deeper level of connection, especially when you find your community. My page has grown at a gradual pace but it’s just so much more than how many ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ I get, but the genuine connection with real people.
I managed to find my tribe
Ok that sounds kind of possessive but it’s a great way to describe the awesome accounts that I’ve found as a result of joining Instagram. Through trial, error and the correct hashtags, I’ve managed to find a group of educators, parents, foodies and creatives that I connect with. This has resulted in friendships with people from all over the world.
I’m able to get some really awesome advice from people who have been there and done that…
The fact is, as a family, we travel A LOT. I don’t have my parents on the same continent, let alone in the same city so when times get rough, I can’t automatically turn to them for help. When Zoey was literally waking every 30 minutes at night, I turned to my Instagram followers for advice. A Lulla sleep doll, Lush Sleepy Time cream and a night light later, we are finally getting somewhere! I love that there is always someone out there who has lived through a similar experience and is able to share how they dealt with it.
The accounts I follow help me to fill our days with education and fun experiences…
One of the main reasons I signed up was to share some of my teaching ideas. I didn’t know if this was a ‘thing’ on Instagram or not, but it turned out that thousands were doing similar. This in turn encouraged me to become more creative and try new ideas. Whether you’re a teacher or parent, a quick scroll will help you find an idea for an activity, pronto!
TIPS FOR FINDING YOUR OWN INSTAGRAM TRIBE
My guess is that most of you reading this already have an Instagram account but if you don’t or are just getting started, here’s a few tips for you!
Share what you feel comfortable with:
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? However, this can be a major reason why people don’t have public Instagram accounts. Plenty of the teacher/ parent instagrammers don’t share photos of their kids. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, you can opt to solely share your activity ideas or do overhead shots where your child’s face isn’t visible.
Avoid the Robots
One of the major downsides of Instagram is the fake accounts or perhaps even worse, the people who pay companies to do their likes/ comments/ follows for them. On the upside, you quickly learn to avoid those accounts like the plague! If you get a comment like ‘nice shot’ or ‘best of the day’ that is 100% coming from a bot, so just ignore them. Likewise, if you get followed and unfollowed by the same account several times over, just block them. Might sound kinda harsh, but it also means that you can get a more genuine Instagram experience.
Follow an account that you love, then check out who they follow
When you’re first getting started, this is a great way to make connections. This is exactly what I did: stumbled upon some big accounts that I loved and went from there. In time people will follow you and if you like their style, follow them back. Liking and commenting on posts that you genuinely love will also help you build connections too.
Use the hashtags…
…But definitely not #followforafollow etc if you genuinely want to engage with people! For my blend of education, creative, parenting and travel posts I go for ones that suit those themes. Check out what the bigger accounts that you love are using and try giving those a follow, it won’t be long before you find a page that gives you major heart eyes! Alternatively, send me a message and I will give you a list of some of my favourites.
Although I do take pride in my photographs and I have a certain style, I like to keep it real. We share photos of chaotic messy play sessions, craft fails and toddler mood swings because I would hate for anyone to think we lived a perfect life! (we definitely don’t!)
When it comes to reading, the younger you start the better. We’ve been reading to both children since they were babies and it’s paying off: our two little bookworms love nothing more than a story. Once you’re past the black and white fabric books, there’s plenty of choice. Here’s a rundown of our current favourites – see if you can spot the re-occurring theme throughout!
‘That’s not my…’ series from Usborne books.
Okay so I said top 5 and I guess it’s cheating to choose an entire series, but how could I possible single just one out?! They’re an obvious choice, but also a fail safe one, especially since over 20 million copies have been sold worldwide. ‘That’s not my puppy’ was published over twenty years ago and there’s a total of 51 different books in the series ranging from unicorns to planes! You could pick up any one of these books and your toddler will probably love it – Zoey’s personal favourite is ‘That’s not my baby’ because of the little mirror at the back! ‘
Why should you buy?
This series is popular for a reason: these ‘touchy feely’ books are a great early introduction to sensory play and the vibrant colours really appeal to older babies and toddlers. Zoey started sustaining an interest in these books when she was 6 months old and they’d be suitable up to the age of 3. Whilst the repetition tends to drive parents mad, it’s actually really beneficial for babies and young toddlers. The familiarity is not only comforting but also helps young children to master new skills too.
‘Where’s Mr/Mrs…’ series from Nosy Crow
Nosy Crow are fast becoming my favourite publishers of children’s books. One of the main reasons is to do with design: I’m a big sucker for illustrations and to be honest, when it comes to children’s books, illustrations are kind of a big deal! We’re all in love with the cute animals on each page and the mirror at the end of each book is a nice touch. We have three of the ‘Where’s Mr/Mrs’ books by Ingela P Arrhenius because Zoey is pretty obsessed with the ‘lift the flap’ format. The flaps are made from vibrant pieces of felt which adds to the whole sensory experience.
Why should you buy?
Whilst repetition is of course a good thing, variety is a necessity! Arrhenius still has the magic formula of repetition plus sensory element which as mentioned above, is so beneficial to toddlers. The colour palette is vibrant and the illustrations fun, which is bound to be a big hit with your little person!
Circle, Triangle, Elephant! by Kenji Oikawa & Mayuko Takeuchi
I am so in love with this book (and so is Zoey which I guess is what truly matters here!). Circle, Triangle, Elephant! is a fresh approach to the classic toddler shape book – I think Kenji Oikawa and Mayuko Takeuchi are total geniuses for coming up with a clever, funny and simple approach to learning shapes. The Phaidon publishing group are becoming my go-to for arty books that would also double as wonderful presents – I have my eye on several of their children’s books, so if anyone feels like gifting me a few, just comment below! 😉
Why should you buy?
Let’s be totally honest here, the usual toddler shape book is super dull. By mixing in total randomness like elephants, boats and hats, it becomes hilarious! Such a simple idea, but a brilliant one too. What I love the most about this book is that no words are needed, so Zoey drives the way we read the book: she points to the picture and I read. Of course, what makes it funny to young toddlers is the expression too, so prepare your best ‘straight out of drama school’ over exaggeration!
A B See by Elizabeth Doyle
There’s no other way to describe this book other than to say its completely gorgeous! We have our fair share of A B C books and this is by far the best i’ve seen (please do comment below if you can top it!). Doyle moves away from the traditional ‘A is for alligator’ approach and has instead created a visual masterpiece. This book is part hide and seek, part sensory wonder.
Why should you buy?
We’ve taken this book on holiday several times and it never gets old. In fact, it’s our number one choice when space is limited. There are so many ways in which you can use the book: from a literal ABC book to a spot and find adventure. We love the fact the pictures are raised, making for the perfect sensory experience for little hands. Even the big kid loves this book as some of the pictures are quite a challenge!
Listen to the Birds by Marion Billet
Another book out of the Nosy Crow publishing house (I told you they were fast becoming my favourite!) ‘Listen to the Birds’ is a sweet sound book that is just perfect for toddlers. Zoey absolutely loves interacting with this book – she can press the sound buttons easily and the birds actually sound like real birds too! As I’ve come to expect from Nosy Crow, the illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and the colours get another big thumbs up from us!
Why should you buy?
The common running thread among all the books I’ve mentioned is the interactivity. Again Zoey is able to take ownership of her reading experience by pressing the sound buttons herself. Engagement is so important from an early age and having a sensory element will always do the trick perfectly. When I shared this book over on Instagram, a follower mentioned that her older children now enjoy trying to identify birds by their calls, all because of this book. Don’t you just love it when you can extend the life of a board book?
Have you got any other recommendations for board books? I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments section!
When you tell people you travel often with your children, it tends to provoke strong reactions. From the journey itself to fighting siblings and just the general amount of STUFF you have to pack, it can be a pretty daunting experience.
I can’t say that I’m a travel expert by any means, but as a family, we take a lot of flights. Through trial and error we have figured out what works best for us. So along with the help of some lovely Instagram friends, here is the Teach Investigate Play guide to travelling with kids. From the initial planning stages to the holiday itself, here’s everything you need to know:
Do your research:
For now, unfortunately, your days of lounging poolside are well and truly over! Use Trip Advisor and pick locations based on how kid friendly they are. Trust me when I say, a luxury resort in the middle of nowhere just doesn’t work (for now!)
Our recent trip to Uluru and Alice Springs was the perfect family mix of adventure, discovery, learning and relaxation – we even got to ride Milo the camel, which was a memorable experience for sure!
Air BnB it:
Now it’s fair to say that some Air BnB properties are better than others, but 95% of the time, we’ve had a great experience. One of the major benefits of course is having a home away from home. Washing machines mean less packing and having a kitchen means avoiding stressful restaurant experiences.
On our latest trip to Alice Springs, we chose a property with a pool so we could cool off after hot mornings doing touristy things.
Time your flights:
OK so on long haul flights, this goes out of the window, but where you can, try and coordinate flights with naps or sleeps. In theory, this will make your life on board the plane a million times easier. This is very much an ‘IN THEORY’ piece of advice – a Qantas air hostess once told us that babies often fall asleep during landing!
Soon we will embark on Zoey’s first long haul flight. We have booked the first flight for 11pm, so we are hoping for a peaceful journey. I will report back with how that goes!
Prep first time travellers:
Flying for the first time is a huge deal, especially for little ones. There are plenty of ways that you can prepare for air travel, from reading books to creating an airport role play.
Whether you have a mini or junior traveller, one of the best things I think you can do is prepare them for journeys by reading. Now the type of book will depend on the age of the child in question: for Zoey who is 18 months, we have used one of the Usborne classics ‘That’s Not my Plane.’
For pre-schoolers or those just learning to read, you can’t really go wrong with ‘Going on a Plane’ which is part of the Biff, Chip and Kipper Oxford Reading Tree series. In fact, we read this with Harrison when he was 5, ahead of our big trip over to Australia (and incidentally, the first time he’d ever been on a plane!)
The airport small world shown below helps mini travellers understand the airport processes. I’ve seen some great examples of role play online too. Both of these types of play will make the whole travel situation less daunting, especially if they already know what to expect at check in, security and even take off and landing (aeroplane seat belts are one of Zoey’s least favourite things!)
Turn travel into a learning point:
Now that Harrison is 8 and a complete pro at flying, we have moved onto atlases and maps to study where we are going. We will look at the destination city or country to find out facts. We also like to calculate how long the journey will be so that he is prepared.
‘Lots’ is fast becoming one of our favourite travel books, so many interesting facts and the illustrations are just gorgeous! Others to look out for are: The Atlas of Animal Adventures, Wonder Garden, The Map Colouring Book and Mini Adventures. In fact, I feel inspired to write a whole new blog post!
Prepare Activities in advance:
Whether you create handmade resources, or take a range of activity books, the key is variety at an age-appropriate level. In the past, we have bought travel activity pads only to find that they are far too difficult. The result, complete disengagement!
Jacinth from Our Little Playnest makes fantastic resources for her kids. Here’s a sample from her travel bag:
The family that packs together, stays together… or something like that! I would never pack Harrison’s carry- on bag myself, nor would I allow him to pack entirely on his own (I tried that once and he came out with the entire contents of his room!)
Pictured is what we have packed for our latest trip. Note we’ve succumbed to the fidget cube trend. We have a good mix of games, toys, books and activities. Not pictured is his Nintendo 3DS which is a complete lifesaver on long haul flights or the spare clothes – ALWAYS pack spare clothes!
Now Zoey is a lot harder to pack with, mainly because she can’t talk properly yet, but we give it a good go. Everything goes in, then gets flung out again but eventually we come to an understanding. In most cases, no matter how much I actually pack for Zoey, she is invariably more interested in the flight safety manual so let’s hope i’ve got this all right for our long haul!
If you’re able, pack some food for the journey. My nutritionist friend Liz from Well Nourished Club, swears by organic pouches for pure ease. Also top of her list are homemade flapjacks and the humble banana – see it doesn’t need to be complicated! You can find more information on her recipes here.
If you’re looking for lunch box ideas for the journey, please follow Nourish and Move over on Instagram. If you’re a parent just follow her anyway as I’m in complete awe of her kids lunches on a daily basis!
At the Airport:
Many airports have tuned into the fact that waiting around for hours can be a little dull. Changi airport has a butterfly garden and Sydney has a Qantas museum – I’m sure there’s more that we haven’t discovered yet!
It’s worth finding out what the airports offer beforehand (along with the opening times) so you can occupy the kids during longer waits. We’ll be heading straight to the Butterfly Garden in Changi airport when we reach Singapore!
Now, I swore I would never buy what is essentially a dog lead for my child but here we are! Zoey is at that rather difficult stage where she wants to walk most of the time, but absolutely does not want to hold hands. I relented and bought one of the Little Life backpacks which has been a real game changer at airports.
I’m pretty sure that older kids would not appreciate being on a lead rein, so here’s a nifty idea from @hmklambert over on Instagram. These genuis duct tape safety wristbands contain key contact information. Even better was the fact the kids helped to make them so we’re completely aware of what they were for.
Invest in a baby carrier:
Whilst most airports do provide complimentary strollers, we just find carriers heaps easier. Our sporty ergo baby carrier has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion, especially if Zoey ends up fast asleep as we’re due to leave the plane (which is most of the time!) What’s more, they’re also fabulous for exploring new places – we couldn’t have done most of our Uluru trip with a stroller.
If you don’t have one already and are now thinking of buying a carrier, it pays to do your research first. I’ve got a fair few slings, wraps and carriers, but we only tend to get on well with the Ergo Baby. A good place to start is at your local ‘Sling Library’ where you can loan out different types of carriers to try.
Pack homework for school aged learners:
Whilst I am a huge believer in learning through experiences, when we’re missing a lot of school, Harrison will complete daily homework tasks.
Every evening, we get Harrison to write in his journal – this is literally just a sentence or two along with a picture! This task is really so he can look back in years to come at his own experiences.
Intermsofclassworkmissed, we have a discussion with the class teacher and then i’ll plan out what to take with us. If you aren’t a teacher and don’t feel confident, most class teachers would be happy to photocopy worksheets for you, providing you give them enough notice!
We usually work on a skill whilst we’re away – this is normally something that doesn’t require many resources. For example, learning to tell the time. Whilst I much prefer to use a ‘hands on’ approach to learning, these workbooks are just so much easier when we’re on the go.
On the plane:
This is where all the preparation and packing comes into its own. Rotate the games, books and activities you have packed – whilst Harrison has his 3DS, he’s not allowed to play it for an entire flight.
What to do with a cranky toddler? I find that distraction techniques work best. Again, constantly rotate the toys/ games you have and even go for a walk. Get out a few key items before take-off so you’re not constantly reaching for the overhead locker!
What I have found from experience though, is to try and stay calm even during meltdowns. Toddlers are like predators: they sense your fear and meltdown even further if you get anxious. On Pinterest I’ve seen parents make little party favours for fellow passengers, but it’s not something we’ve personally tried.
On the holiday:
We tend to find that you need to balance tourist attractions and down time. Don’t go expecting to pack everything in as you will all invariably end up cranky and miserable. This is where the research comes in again: what is on your must see list? How much time do people typically spend at a particular museum, place or attraction?
We split up our days so that we’re busy in the morning visiting museums, parks or going on long walks, then we’ll chill at the pool after lunch. It’s a formula that works well for our family, but you need to go with whatever is best for yours.
Finally, have fun!
Travel is an amazing experience and personally, I think it’s even better with kids. The journeys we’ve been on create memories to last a lifetime. So don’t worry about your toddler melting down on the plane or your 8 year old having car sickness, because in the end, they won’t be the defining moments of your trip!
Please comment below if you have any other words of wisdom for fellow parents. If you want to share to Pinterest, please link back to this website 🙂