GUEST POST: 10 tips to negotiate a flexible return to work

0A9D254A-3031-4C07-9CD2-31D29C7A8D3AHolly and I have been social media friends for a while, and just as I’ve talked lot about the difficulties of returning to work, so has she on her blog, Pitter Patter Pither. She’s also in PR (which I didn’t know before but is nice to learn!) and is a new mum to little Amelia.

I’m happy to share a post from her on tips for negotiating a flexible return to work in the hope that it helps what can be a stressful and difficult time for parents.

10 tips to negotiate a flexible return to work

If you don’t know much about me then let me introduce myself. I’m a Holly Pither, I’m a mummy blogger, new mum to baby Amelia, wife to James and a fitness fanatic. I’m also perhaps what you might call ‘a career gal’ through and through (for all the negative and positive connotations that brings!)

I’m also not ashamed to admit that I simply love my job as a PR director… so much so, that as I neared the end of my pregnancy I dreaded going off on maternity leave. I was terrified of letting go and putting my career on pause, if only for a short while. Most of all I was terrified that it was my career that defined me. However that story, and everything I have learnt on that journey, will have to wait for another day (or feel free to read about it here) because today I’m talking about flexible working.

I’ve recently returned to work after 11 months of maternity leave and whilst it hasn’t been without its issues (for example I’ve struggled with leaving my baby and having to take time off work due to her being unwell), my discussions with my boss about returning to work were relatively smooth. However, like many parents, something had to give, and as such I needed to negotiate some degree of flexibility in my role. Without this I don’t think I would have been able to cope or reach any form of work/ life balance.

So if you’re in a similar position, and perhaps looking to return to work soon after maternity leave, then here are my top ten tips on how best to negotiate a flexible return to work.  

1.       Make a plan in advance: We will all want to enjoy every moment of our maternity leave, but I promise you getting a plan in place early will allow you to relax into motherhood. Going back to work is stressful enough without having a decision like this hanging over you. 

2.       Document everything: Whether you end up speaking to your boss in person or not, whatever you do make sure you write it all down and save your correspondence. This is a very important decision that will no doubt affect your future employment contract, so it’s best to get a written record of everything, even conversations over email that may seem irrelevant to the negotiations. This is especially important in case things go pear-shaped, let’s hope they don’t of course, but you can never be too careful.

3.       Think about what you offer: Begin by clearly identifying the key skills and experience that make you valuable to your employer. If you’ve been away from the workplace for some time, identify what new skills you may have acquired during your maternity leave. Pull out your recent appraisal forms and highlight your strengths, as well as what you have brought to the business during your time there. It’s time to showcase why you’re so great and how having you back on your terms is significantly better than not having you back at all. Do not let that dreaded imposter syndrome get the better of you.

4.       This isn’t just about you: I know you are negotiating ‘your’ flexible working hours, but spend some time considering the potential impact of your working arrangement on your work colleagues and your boss too. If you can show your boss you are doing what’s right for the business too, you will have a much easier conversation. Try to consider all parties in this arrangement as much as possible.

5.       Be open and honest: There is no point in saying what you think they want you to say and then later regretting it. Be honest and explain to your boss what you think you need for a good work/ life balance. Likewise if you feel your employer is being unfair tell them. This is no time to be a wall-flower. 

6.       Don’t just expect they will just give you what you ask for: They don’t call it negotiating for nothing! Make it clear that whilst you have a preferred option, you’re open to negotiation. Find a suitable middle ground and don’t be worried if there is a lot of back and forth, this is a big decision. 

7.       Speak to your colleagues: Find out what they agreed and what was declined when they returned to work. Chances are your workplace will want to be as balanced as possible, so you might find that if something wasn’t allowed for someone else, you may struggle to push it through. Likewise though, if something was agreed for a colleague, you should find that, in the interests of fairness, you can make a real case for it.

8.       Don’t take anything personally: This is certainly easier said than done, but try to remember that if your line manager declines your offer or sends you rather formal responses, it’s only because they are trying to do what’s right (most of the time) for the business. This can be especially tricky if you have a strong relationship with your boss or line manager or if you are used to a fairly informal conversation. Negotiations like this are likely to become quite formal and detailed, so if you feel yourself getting emotional, take a step back and remember it’s nothing personal. Don’t forget your emotions may be running extra high and you may need to step away and consider if you are looking at this objectively.

9.       Go back for a KIT Day/ Days: Keeping in Touch (KIT days) are so important in my opinion as they can really help you to feel what its’s like being a working parent in real-time. They can also reassure you that you will be able to get back into the swing of things easily when you return properly. I found them a great way to ease myself in and remind myself that I can still do my job just as well as before baby.

10.   If all fails, why not try something new: If I have learnt anything whilst being on maternity leave, it is that maternity leave is a time to think. It is also a time to reevaluateRemember you’re under no obligation to stick with the organisation you left (obviously be aware of the rules around leaving and having to pay back your maternity pay). If your current role doesn’t end up working, perhaps it’s time to take the plunge and move on

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Thumb sucking for dummies: how to stop the habit

Thumb suckingWe have two new additions to the house. Well, actually four. Scrip has finally stopped sucking her thumb at six and a half and her present was two fish – one for her, one for D. A week or so afterwards we spotted a baby fish in the tank (Mini) and this week another one (Mini two).

I’m slightly worried that we’ll soon be overrun with Minis and the tank will have to be upgraded, but at the same time it’s lovely seeing these tiny tadpole-like fry darting around and the last thing I want is either to be eaten by their parents, which apparently does happen…

Cannibal fish habits aside, we’ve learnt quite a bit about thumb sucking recently, and as I have a keen finger sucker in D, hopefully I can remember these things for next time:

  • Thumb sucking has been a godsend in the past and has helped so much with self-soothing, so try not to lose sight of how useful it can be in your hurry to stop it. We first spotted Scrip sucking her thumb in a scan picture, so it really was an in-built thing!
  • Start early by talking to your child about it so they’re aware. We talk to D now (age three) and did the same with Scrip. Don’t make them feel bad about it but do encourage them to understand when they’re doing it as it’s often a subconscious habit.
  • Start by confining the thumb sucking to sleep times – first naps and then night times. We now encourage D to keep his finger sucking to night time only, so he doesn’t do it too much during the day. He’s recently stopped doing it when we’re reading to him. By the time Scrip went to school she wasn’t sucking her thumb during the day, which helped her to stop eventually.
  • We also stopped her sucking it in the car as we knew she’d probably fall asleep anyway on long journeys. This was really good as she was worried she couldn’t fall asleep without sucking her thumb – this convinced her she actually could.
  • Get the dentist involved! With Scrip we looked at stories online about thumb sucking abd how it affects your teeth, and then we asked the dentist to talk to her about what would happen if she didn’t stop – she really listened to him!
  • Follow advice. The dentist also told us that she should ideally stop before her baby teeth came out but definitely when the new ones started growing through – around six or seven – which gave her something to aim for.
  • That nail paint helps. She was really determined she would stop but she needed a lot of support. We painted the bitter nail biting liquid Mavala on her thumb which I tasted too (and was pretty sour). But she was happy to try it and I knew it would help her not to keep putting her thumb in by mistake.
  • Have a reward they’d really like in mind. Scrip chose a present that she could get after a week without thumb sucking (the burgeoning fish population!)
  • Help occupy their hands. She chose a toy she could cuddle so she had something to do with her hands (a skinny one was good to wrap her hands around).
  • Be prepared to help with sleeping. We also said we’d stand with her and stroke her hair for a few minutes to reassure her that she could get to sleep without her thumb. Like sleep training when she was little, we tried to leave when she was about to drop off but not when she was soundly sleeping.
  • Give a lot of praise. It probably goes without saying but we really are proud of her determination and bravery with something that’s been a part of her life and routine for over six years.

So far, so good. And they both love the fish (all four of them). Good luck if you’re trying to help a little one stop.

 

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Let’s talk pelvic floors: vSculpt pelvic floor toner review

vSculpt ReviewSince having children, I’ve talked to total strangers about things I would only have shared with my closest friends before. It seems to become the norm.

With a six-week old Scrip in a sling I vividly remember sitting in my local park chatting to mums I’d met just an hour or so before swapping blow-by-blow details of our birth experiences over double shot lattes. I had a complete stranger come around to my house and squeeze my nipples within minutes of meeting me before I was diagnosed with thrush in my milk ducts (the pain was awful – she was a breastfeeding specialist), and I must hold the record for the most stretch and sweeps by the widest range of medical staff when I was overdue with D.

But I don’t remember going into detail about pelvic floor problems with anyone. Somehow, that’s been a bridge too far. And this despite the fact that I had weeks of women’s physio after both births including a range of exercises to perform afterwards which included using the interestingly named (and NHS approved) ‘Educator’ device.

I think it’s almost an accepted part of having children that you will lose muscle tone and you will experience problems afterwards. ‘Leave the trampolining to the little ones’, you’re told with a wink, certainly jogging and even sneezing can be a problem. There’s one thing I never read in Emma’s Diary.

And pelvic floor exercises – although we all know how important they are – can be tricky (do you know you’re really doing them properly every time?). They feel demoralising when nothing seems to change and are difficult to keep up regularly.

Even so, I was sceptical about trying out a so-called wonder pelvic floor toner (promising 90% less leakage, 95% more tightness) that worked with red and infrared light rays and demanded pretty much no effort from the user. Its ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ message sounded a bit too much like a classified ad claim.

But, after a lot of reading, a few questions and much research, the vSculpt seemed safe, very impressive and medically sound. So I gave it a go.

When it arrived and I unwrapped the beautiful white box to reveal the device, there was a certain amount of sharing photos and aubergine emojis to a sea of giggles and smutty comments. The vSculpt certainly doesn’t look like the chaste kegel balls you see advertised. It’s a lot more ‘adult’ and a lot less clinical in looks than my old friend the Educator.

But, it’s designed for a purpose. You use the special gel provided, insert it, start the lights and lie back and think of England. Or, read a gardening magazine as I did! There is a light vibration with various settings which is meant to help with the toning, but even so, the whole experience certainly felt more medical than erotic.

You use the toner every other day for a week on the first setting which takes 8 minutes, then the next one the next week, which adds a minute, and the one after, after that. The most difficult thing for me was remembering to do it every other day and not missing one out, which I did on occasion.

And the results? Amazingly, it has made a difference. I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in toning in everyday life. I haven’t braved the trampoline just yet, but I can see what the hype is about.

At £400, it’s an investment buy, but one that I could certainly understand women like me making.

Thank you vSculpt for sending me the product to trial. You can buy vSculpt from their website.

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Dino Fingerlings – uncovering Untamed Raptors

Untamed Raptor reviewIt’s funny to think that even now, years after Mr Frosty and A La Carte Kitchen made it on to my Christmas and birthday lists, there are still fads and must-have toys causing a ripple in the playground. I have to say that now as a parent, I’m not always the first to react to the latest craze, as I know it’s usually cards to collect one minute, spinning toys the next… But the Untamed Raptors from Fingerling were something I knew both 6 year old and 3 year old would enjoy.

Like the Fingerling monkeys before him (or her), this is a little toy with a lot of personality. Perched on your finger (or thumb if you have particularly little fingers), it quickly comes to life but rather than just being cheeky and cheery, you can actually control how the Raptor reacts to you.

You can choose to pet it, making it coo or hum, or, if you’re feeling more mischievous, shake it, making it angry, snarling and gnashing its tiny teeth. This reaction did actually scare and excite D in equal measure: to be fair these toys are not officially designed for three year olds!

But I couldn’t have denied D the joy and excitement of unwrapping the Raptor when we received it through the post. I put his reaction on my Instagram stories. He couldn’t believe he was allowed to play with it first! And Scrip loved it, too, when he let her have a try (much) later.

There are four Raptors to choose from with suitably carnivorous-sounding names: Fury, Blaze, Stealth, and Razor. These little interactive creatures react to touch, motion, and sound and make over 40 different sounds and animations. So there’s a lot of variety and the fun definitely lasts for a while. The only downside is that Scrip has now started asking for a Fingerling Monkey once more to make up the set…

Untamed Raptors are £16.99 from toy shops but we were treated to one for review – thank you. For more about the range visit the Untamed website.

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The new you: seven things that become the norm after kids

Norm after kidsAs I was devouring my sandwich at 12.01pm, it struck me that my standard lunchtime is now at least an hour earlier than it used to be. I didn’t even have my children with me at the time so had no excuse. They’ve just left an indelible imprint on my routine in so many ways. And it’s not only premature lunches, the new me is all about:

  1. The supermarket sweep – I’m not blessed with time (who is?) but even when it’s just me and my Morrison’s shopping basket, I still seem to find myself rushing around the aisles, grabbing packets like a big timer’s about to go off. I’m just not able to browse anymore.
  2. Same with clothes shopping. Once a procrastinator, now I enter, scan the shop floor and leave in 60 seconds flat. What happened to the days of leisurely trying on armfuls of clothes?
  3. The yawn and stretch at 9pm – you could set my FitBit by it. Somehow the bedtime of my childhood (remember the bongs of the 9 o’clock news?) has come back to haunt me and I definitely see 9pm as some kind of watershed. It’s a firm reminder that sleep is near.
  4. The tissue stuffing – I can’t leave the house without tucking a couple of tissues into my pockets, my handbag or my coat. Even if I’m going to a business meeting.
  5. Taking my own water everywhere – it’s not as if it’s not readily available, but I can’t cross the threshold here without clutching a Highland Spring bottle hastily refilled from the tap. It’s obviously much more eco-friendly to re-use and not buy a new one but I also think the kids’ obsession with their colourful water bottles has rubbed off on me.
  6. The National Trust car sticker – once the preserve of those at least a few decades older, suddenly it’s an indispensable accessory and I’m not alone. People my age seem to out number pensioners by 20 to 1 at any given property, come rain or shine.
  7. And how much more preferable is a day in a country park ticking off 50 things before you’re 11 3/4 than a simple night out? When did a drink down the pub start to feel like a military operation rather than an enjoyable way to pass the time?

It goes without saying that I wouldn’t change a thing (apart from maybe embracing the odd night out a bit more readily).

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Being three meets Being Brunel: a birthday day out

Being Brunel“We’re going to a pirate ship!” Not strictly true but the idea definitely captured D’s imagination on his third birthday, as we set off for a day out at the nearby SS Great Britain. He might have been looking forward to cutlasses and treasure chests; my husband and I were looking forward to seeing the new Being Brunel permanent display.

Our trip started with a stop at the M Shed, after a friend’s tip off that an open air steam train is running up and down the dock during certain weekends. We took the first return trip of the day and D thought it was magical, and didn’t even cry at the loud noises, even though the whistle was just near us. You can disembark outside the SS Great Britain directly but our journey was non-stop. We also decided to come back to the M Shed another time because the displays and cafe there were brilliant.

Despite it being a drizzly day, there was plenty of colour as we walked along the dockside, with the bright rainbow shades of the houses in the distance and then the multi-coloured flags blowing in the wind on board the SS Great Britain, which raised the excitement levels. The ship really is magnificent, even from a distance.

SS Great Britain

This was my husband’s first time on board so we took some time to look around the edge of the dock and the museum. The attention to detail is brilliant – from the old fashioned posters outside to the tour guide who prepares you to step back in time as you enter the area. Then we headed to Being Brunel, the permanent exhibition new this year.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his majestic designs were a regular feature of my up-bringing, as he designed the Tamar Bridge which took us from Cornwall into deepest, darkest Devon; the first London landmark we reached, Paddington Station, and the most famous structure in my university city of Bristol – Clifton Suspension Bridge.

I’m pleased to say that Scrip knows a lot about him as well, having studied Brunel at school, so she was equally interested to hear more about his life. Once again, the attention to detail is good: you can pause on entry to have a photo taken wearing one of a range of replica trademark top hats – which my father later told us was chosen by Brunel to add to his height.

The first stop is a copy of his dining room, beautifully embellished and with some digital portraits that come to life and tell his story. Through the second door the children liked the moving train carriage, which bumped along when they climbed aboard, and the gigantic 3D Brunel face on the wall, which rises two stories high. As always when looking around museums with children you only tend to get a glimpse of displays before being made to move on, but there was a lot in there to look at.

Being Brunel

His life story is told through time lines, documents and images and the journey continues upstairs with more displays. We didn’t make it into the Brunel video experience as it promised flashing lights and loud noises, which one of our children wasn’t keen on, but that also sounded interesting. I should imagine this would be a big draw for older children, as there’s probably less that’s hands-on in here than in the main museum.

Then we carried on to the SS Great Britain herself and enjoyed another brilliant tour of the ship, complete with sounds, smells and scuttling rats in the kitchens. I didn’t manage to make it to Go Aloft, the climbing experience, as it was raining harder by then. So I’d love to come back and do it one day. But it was certainly a great day out and one little boy had to be carried back to the car, and no doubt dreamed of pirate adventures as he slept the whole way home.

Being Brunel

I’ve also written about 12 things to spot on the SS Great Britain.

Thanks to the SS Great Britain for letting us experience the SS Great Britain for the day. A family ticket costs £45.

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How to get back on track when it all becomes a struggle

Toddler on wallOn Friday D and I had a leisurely walk back from dropping off Scrip at school. We stopped to notice frogspawn in the pond on the way. He sat on the wall and looked at the black and white pigs as they snored gently in their trailer home and we talked about the daffodils emerging which are his favourite colour, ‘lellow’.

It was a nice moment. I’ve talked about the little moments with children before and the importance of enjoying them. That’s what having a family often boils down to for me – having lovely moments in the day or the week.

It was really important because I’ve been finding things a struggle recently. Having flu set me back by days – particularly with my work. I had to stay in bed and I could hardly do anything. And I seem to be running my life at capacity at the moment – trying to fit everything in, rushing from one thing to another. I know I’m not alone in that. So when something sets you back it feels like everything starts to dissolve.

I love my work and I find it really rewarding. I’m ambitious and I’m pleased with the fact I’ve started to grow with my first hire. But I’m also trying to protect the two days off a week I have with D and ringfence them so that work doesn’t intrude. But I know that’s not always possible. All I can do is try my best with it and if I have to do bits and pieces in the evenings and weekends, so be it.

For me getting back on track was about tipping the balance in favour of work for a while and then setting aside some specific time to spend with the children. So we went into town to buy some clothes for the Scarecrow we’re doing for the PTA and then had a pizza together. I barely checked my phone and I really enjoyed the time we took.

Likewise, on Friday I tried to do very little work. D watched some TV because that’s actually OK. But he also helped me with some things around the house, we played together and we read together. And then we got his sister and they did some playing, too.

And work will adapt. I’m only human and the main pressure I’m feeling is coming from me, myself. The nature of what I do in PR means I can work from home – brilliant – and do much of it myself. But it also means there are lots of things that are actually out of my control and even if I work flat out, things still might not come off. I work hard and I’m experienced and get results. I need to remind myself of that a bit more.

It’s OK to have low points and it’s OK to change your daily routine to adapt. Sometimes the scales tip one way and sometimes they tip another, but I know the best thing for my family is that I’m OK and I can cope with what comes along. And if I have to make some adjustments to do that, I know I will.

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Our current craze for fairies and win a My Fairy Garden

There’s a real craze for fairies in our house. It started with Scrip looking after the fairy house at school (I’m still not sure what form this house takes but it seems to provide hours of fun at break time), continued with night time notes to the Tooth Fairy, even though she still has a full set still intact, and then carried on with Tinkerbell and her friends who flew in at Christmas.

My Fairy Garden

Then there’s the fairy dust, tiny fairy door and now, the final piece in the puzzle, her My Fairy Garden. She was delighted to try one out for herself as we’d bought a few variations such as the flowerpot for friends’ sixth birthdays recently. I like the way there’s a bit of nature mixed in – with our version you get some grass seeds to sprinkle in the soil and grow around the miniature house and accessories.

There’s a generous-sized tray that you fill with soil and then add the other parts of the scene to. Everything is quite straightforward to slot together. There’s a house with a door that opens and top that comes off, a tiny washing line complete with pegs, a shell water feature, a toadstool and a little plastic mouse (which is not my favourite bit!) There’s also a leaflet with some other ideas for playing inside.

My Fairy Garden

Fairy-sized flowers to stick into the soil that the grass will grow up around come with the set, as does a colourful path to lay and, of course, the fairy herself who’s kneeling down enjoying the scene. Ours is called Belle.

Anything that encourages children to interact with nature and rewards some patience as they watch the seeds grow is a good toy in my books. I wonder if I can encourage her into the garden to water my veggies this summer?

If you’d like to win a My Fairy Garden for a fairy adorer in your household, just use the Rafflecopter link below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The rules

    • Entrants must be 18 or over and UK residents.
    • The prize consists of a My Fairy Garden, RRP of £14.99.
    • Competition closes at 12.00am on Monday 12th March 2018. Any entries submitted after this date will not be included.
    • The winner will be selected randomly through a prize draw and announced on newmumblings.com and through email.
    • There is no cash prize alternative.

Our My Fairy Garden is £14.99 and is easily available in the shops or online. Thanks for gifting the My Fairy Garden to us to review and making a newly six year old very happy.

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If I behaved like my children when I went to friends’ houses

If I behaved like my childrenMy husband and I have a giggle sometimes about ways not to behave in certain situations (especially good to do at stressful times when we need a bit of light relief). So, what we should never do when staying with the in-laws, at a work meeting or at a dinner party. I only hope I won’t have a moment of madness and behave like that one day.

Something we were amusing ourselves with the other day is the thought of us behaving like our children when they go for playdates when we went to see our friends. If we did, we’d be:

  • Hiding behind each other when we went in, avoiding eye contact and giving monosyllabic answers to questions.
  • Shyly following my friends into the kitchen, asking for a drink in a small voice and drinking it quietly in the corner.
  • Within ten minutes, bouncing around jumping on their sofas, pulling out everything I could play with.
  • Going to the toilet with the door wide open and forgetting to flush.
  • Raiding their wardrobe, dressing up in their clothes, putting strange, mis-matched outfits together using old swimming costumes and summer sandals.
  • Pulling all their pens out and drawing lots of family portraits, leaving pens lidless.
  • And sobbing and being generally inconsolable when it was time to go – even if they promise to invite me again soon.

😉

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How to get the kids outside in winter with Really Big Bubbles

Really Big Bubbles I aspire to be an outdoor parent. I love the garden, country walks, parks, sandy beaches. And we’ve had some lovely times exploring a range of beautiful, child-friendly places near Bath. But recently I’ve found that with the grey weather and windy days it takes much more to persuade everyone to muffle up and go outside. With all the new games, books and treats Christmas probably hasn’t helped.

Last weekend I tried a different tack and pursuaded everyone to play in the garden with the promise of some giant bubbles – the biggest they’d ever seen. They could chase them, pop them and even have a go at blowing enormous ones themselves. And it worked!

Even on a cold afternoon we had some brilliant fun with a kit from Really Big Bubbles. In our pack there were two bubble blowers which had sturdy wooden handles with rubber, and rope to make the bubbles, one smaller than the other, and a big bucket of handmade bubble potion which was aqua in colour and smelt floral, and not at all like detergent.

Blowing Really Big Bubbles

The mixture had arrived the week before, fully wrapped in plastic bubbles of it own so there was no danger of it spilling, and the box which held everything was big and suitably exciting, which is always a bonus.

We found that the wands were easy for D to handle at two and three quarters, and foolproof enough that he quickly managed to blow some big bubbles. So, no toddler frustration. Their favourite bit, though, was me manning the wands and them chasing bubbles all over the garden as they swirled and whirled and dispersed into many more.

Toddler Really Big BubblesD even got his water pistol out to shoot them, to much delight. Although the bubbles are pretty robust and don’t pop easily! And they really are big! It’s not hard to blow some enormous, sausage shaped ones which look majestic as they loop through the air.

Kids and Really Big BubblesWe were outside for a good thirty or forty minutes which meant a lot of fresh air, lots of smiles and, because they were running around, no one was cold. We even saved some for Scrip’s friend when he came for a sleepover. They’d make a good party activity and the company even do wedding kits.

Even better, they come from Cornwall so I’m sure they’re handmade with love. We’ll be ordering some more.

Thanks to Really Big Bubbles for sending us a large bubble set (with two wands) to review. Bubbles start at £6.50 and the standard set starts at £20.

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