A year that small businesses need us to support them more than ever …
Well what a year it has been for the human race! I am not going to discuss that too much but if you, like me, feel that you would like to support small businesses this Christmas, rather than doing all of your shopping on Amazon – then I have some tips for you for some unique gift ideas from business that I have tried, tested and genuinely love.
These are all genuine recommendations. I was not approached to include any of them in this article and I am not an affiliate – or in any way receiving commission from any of these businesses for including them.
These are adorable, fun, bright and cheery, totally gorgeous and fabulously personalised prints for all the family. I had one done of my daughter and her best friends when she finished Year 6 last summer and I was delighted with the owner Rachel’s service. No detail was too fussy or small, nothing was too much trouble. The prints arrived stunningly wrapped and were done in a very high quality print. Featured in Tatler magazine – so if it’s good enough for them you know it’s a top quality product on service. That’s not to say the prints are outrageously priced though – far from it. They are excellent value, for the highly personalised care that goes into them.
Don’t just take my word for it – go check out the products here and prepare to gush over the cuteness and beauty of Rachel’s range: Personalised prints and gifts for all by PersonalityPrintsLtd (etsy.com)
Orange Chat Hair & Beauty
My daughter and I were treated to a fabulous pampering afternoon at the Orange Chat salon in Northfields, Ealing, a few weekends before lockdown began (so please note the images included are pre-restrictions and hence no masks etc). Run by the mega talented Amber, Orange Chat offers an expansive range of hair and beauty services including hair cutting & styling, colouring, extensions, hair loss treatments, beauty treatments (waxing, threading, manicures, tinting, spray tan and ear piercing. Aside from this if you are taking your child along they provide children’s hair cuts from £13, children’s wash and cut from £15 or a children’s wash and blowdry for £25. If you are taking your child for his/ her first hair cut then you can get that with a certificate to remember it by for just £15.
It’s a fantastic, luxurious and professional service so why not treat someone special to some Orange Chat Gift Vouchers for Christmas. To purchase Orange Chat gift vouchers, enquire via their website (I think I will treat myself very soon!) Orange Chat Hair Salon – Cutting, styling, colouring & more (orangechatsalon.com)
A gift of performing arts classes for your little stars
I keep hearing that experiences are going to be IN this year for Christmas over material gifts for both children and adults and let’s face it we parents want to do all we can next year to help make up for the strange turn that our children’s lives took in 2020. Various children’s activity providers are offering gift voucher. Two that come to mind that I love are my daughter’s fabulous drama school Masquerade Theatre arts which runs in both Hanwell, Ealing and in Kingston – and then also the Acton based street dance company Elevate arts. Could be a great present idea from aunties and grandparents who have no idea what to buy and if your family finances are a bit stretched this year like so many people’s are, then this could be a great way of ensuring your child is still able to carry on doing what they love.
Masquerade Theatre Arts (masqueradearts.com)
amber orange chat – Bing (elevateartsuk.co.uk)
Not forgetting your fur babies …Well as you might know if you follow @westlondonkids on Instagram, we got a puppy during lockdown. An adorable ball of Cavapoo fluff called Oreo. I’m not going to deny it – he will be spoilt this week. Having been gifted with a hamper back in the summer full of dog goodies from All Things Dogs by Andrea – blankets, balls, treats and other toys – I’ve indulged in some Christmas hamper to spoil the little fella who has brought so many more smiles and laughter to our family in 2020 than we would have had without him. Treat your dog to a gift hamper from All Things Dogs – it will delight! They are yet to get a website but if you visit their Facebook page or @allthingsdogsuk on Instagram, you will see the goodies on offer and you can get in touch with Andrea by DM. It’s a quick and efficient service and I think it’s excellent value for money.
All Things Dogs | Facebook
Instead of making Amazon EVEN richer, buy your books from a local indie store or Usborne bookseller
One things I do definitely spoil my children with is books. I just can’t resist them. Particularly Usborne books. The topics, the titles, the illustrations, the covers – just everything about them. Think we have nearly the whole range! Anyway – I know a few mums trying to make some extra money alongside caring for their children who have set up as Usborne sellers and it’s a wonderful service. For those of in Ealing , you might know Bea who is an Usborne seller and packages the book bundles beautifully. Check out her sellers’ page here: Mamma Bea London (usborne.com)
Anyway – that’s just some of the tips I have but I’d love to hear yours when I do a post about this article on the West London Kids Facebook and Instagram pages.
The teenage artist with heaps of talent
A few months ago, 19 year old Jade sent me some of her amazing prints to decorate my daughter’s revamped bedroom in return for promoting via he West London Kids stories. I was so impressed by the talent of this young that I asked to interview her for the blog. I have a daughter who loves art and I think Jade is an inspiration for child artists everywhere!
1. What are your earliest memories of doing art and when did you decide you wanted to become artist?
I’ve always loved art and I can always remember loving to draw, I vividly remember my nanny drawing elephants with me as a young child.
I studied art at GCSE level and realised that this could be a career option after not really thinking I that it could be, I did some research and realised that there were so many jobs in the art industry and decided to just go for it.
2. What are your favourite things to draw? What is
Animals 100 percent, they are so beautiful, I’ve always had an affinity with animals and would probably be doing something to do with animals if I wasn’t doing what I was doing, dogs in particular are amazing to paint and draw because I love creating there expressions they are all so different and have there own character, it is so special to create pet portraits for people to cherish and have forever.
3. What inspired you to start your art print business?
I created a painting when I was around 16 and My mum told me that it was really good she shared it on her social media and there was a really good response, I decided to paint a few more and so I did some research and found a few different artists on social media and how they advertised them self’s and their portfolios I just started a Facebook page for my work and went from there
4. What are your favourite art galleries to visit?
There are many amazing galleries to visit in Norwich where I live I remember visiting the Sainsbury’s centre many times over the years, on school trips etc and really enjoying that but more recently I love castle fine art, which is in the city centre, they have massive windows full of new work.
5. Where do you prefer to work on new art pieces for your prints?
I live at home with my parents and I’m very lucky that I have a studio space in my loft where I work from, it is small but it has plenty of room for me to have a desk and storage for all of my supplies
6. What were the most difficult obstacles you faced starting up?
I would still say that I am in the very early stages however, the hardest thing was and still is getting your name out there and being recognised. You could be the most talented person in the world but if no one ever saw your work you wouldn’t be able to make it your job.
I have tried Facebook and Instagram ads and gifting to influencers however the best way is word of mouth and getting people to spread the word, I have a joke with my friends and family that we say we just say like and share, social media is the best tool and I am very grateful to live in an age where social media is such a big thing because that is where 95 % of my business comes from
7. What activities do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I am so lucky to call this my job and that why I do try to work as much as I can, it doesn’t feel like work and feels like more of a hobby but I have two dogs so I love spending time with them
8. How do you find your inspiration to work on new things?
Many things can spark my imagination it could be something I see on tv or whilst walking down the street when I am really stuck the best place to go Is Pinterest and creating huge mood boards of anything, I also like to create mind maps and ideas come from there.
I’m lucky that I have a balance of personal work that I create from my own ideas and commissions that people request so I tend to always have ideas forming in my head.
9. Who are your favourite artists?
I have many artists that I admire and however some of my favourites are Sophie tea who I found recently on Instagram she is amazing, she is so modern and constantly creating new and interesting things
Holly Exley creates such detailed work and is a massive inspiration, I found her YouTube channel about two years ago and she is just amazing
10. As a young child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I have had lots of wishes I have always loved animals so at points I thought of being a vet. However art has always been at the top of my list and I always have seemed to just gravitate towards the creative things in life
It also suited my personality and lifestyle the best, as I really enjoy working from home and at my own pace.
11. Do you have any advice for children/ teenagers who want to develop an art career?
Just keep practicing and go for it, I think nobody knows what they are doing to start with and it’s all trial and error with different mediums and subjects; even if you don’t like what you create, keep it!
Find out more about Jade and her artwork on her website: www.jademarshart.com or follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/jademarshart
Excited to feature an interview this week with Anita Cleare, author of The Work/Parent Switch (how to parent smarter not harder) which is published by Vermilion. She also writes the award-nominated Thinking Parenting blog which can be found at www.anitacleare.co.uk.
- Where about in West London do you live and how long have you been there?
I was born in Northolt and spent my early years in Ruislip. I now live with my husband and two teenage sons in Windsor. We are lucky to be very near the river and to Windsor Great Park but still only a train ride away from central London. And not too far from my favourite haunts in Teddington and Richmond.
- What inspired you to write your book?
Being a working parent isn’t easy. We have limited time, limited energy, limited patience and too much to do. Most of us feel like we are failing one way or another. I think it’s time we moved the goalposts. Stopped trying to cram more work and more parenting into our lives (while undermining our own wellbeing at the same time). My book is about helping working parents to focus on what really makes a difference for children. Parenting smarter rather than harder by understanding how your children think and what they really need from you.
- How did you come up with the ideas in your book?
The aim is to help working parents build a harmonious, guilt-free family life. But the focus is on small changes that can be fitted into those bits of time around the edges of work. I look at the big pinch points in a working parent’s day, like getting the kids dressed and out of the house on time in the mornings. And I draw on my academic background in developmental psychology to explain why children do the things they do and what makes them tick. And I use my years of experience working with families to offer proven parenting solutions for crunch issues like managing tech time and sibling fighting.
- What advice would you give to parents heading back to work?
One of the big challenges of being a working parent is that you need to be two different people on the same day. When we’re in work-mode, it’s all about getting things done quickly and efficiently. But if you use that mode with children, you will quickly get frustrated, Because children are chaotic and distractible and not focused on goals. Children require a different set of strengths from us. They need us to be playful and curious and empathetic. Learning to switch easily between those two modes is the key to being a happy working parent. Don’t try to be superhuman, be smart. Stand in your children’s shoes and understand their priorities and family life will be much smoother.
- Where do you prefer to work/ write?
I have a home office. You’ll often find me at my desk in my pyjamas at 7.30am! Sometimes, if I am a bit stuck on a piece of writing, I’ll head to a café for a change of scene. And if a thought strikes me when I am out and about, I dictate a note into my phone. So, if you see a strange woman pacing up and down an underground platform shouting slowly and clearly at the wrong end of her phone, that could well be me!
- When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was a teenager and full of angst, I wanted to be a poet. I also loved kids and dreamed of running a children’s home. And I have always been fascinated by people and what makes them tick. So studying child psychology and writing a book about it brought together everything I had ever wanted to do in one neat package!
- What activities do you enjoy doing as a family?
My children are teenagers so the real challenge is getting them to do anything with me at all! They are in that breaking away mode and are hugely embarrassed by their mum. I am hoping this phase won’t last long because I really miss their company. I was a single parent when they were little so the three of us have a very close bond. We’ve always liked doing adventurous things like climbing and canoeing and travelling to off-the-beaten-track places like Nepal and Mongolia.
- Did you go on a family holiday last year? If so, where?
Our last family holiday was to Cuba. We spent a few days exploring Havana and then a week by the beach. I am not good at just stopping. It takes me a few days to stop bouncing off the walls and nagging everyone to come kayaking or play tennis. But I got there in the end!
- What is your favourite parenting podcast?
I am a huge fan of the Motherkind podcast with Zoe Blaskey. She always interviews such inspirational thinkers. Listening to Motherkind is like have a warm nurturing cuddle while being made to think differently and deeply about something at the same time. That’s a lovely combination!
Thank you Anita, I’m off to check out the book now!
Keeping children dancing through lockdown
Since the start of this strangest time in my parenting life, I have been deeply impressed by the way children’s activity providers pivoted so quickly to bring their classes to children’s home via Zoom and similar technology.
When this surreal idea of self-isolation and lockdown started looking like becoming a reality, I never imagined that my daughter’s dance classes would continue. She has been doing classes with SA Dance for several years, starting with tap dancing, at age 6, she then moved on to contemporary dance. This style of dance really suits her personality and she loves the freedom of expression it gives. This is the great thing about SA Dance – so many different types of dance classes, all ‘under one roof’. Thanks to this quick thinking Ealing dance company, children and adults have been able to continue their dance training during lockdown thanks to the quick thinking and reaction of the SA Dance Founder and Artistic Director, Aretha Marques.
Brazilian born, Aretha is a passionate dance teacher, who graduated in 1999 from Rose Ballet School’s Dance College in Brazil. In 2003 she moved to America where she worked at Walt Disney World and at American Hospitality Academy, during this time she also studied at Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Centre and at Alvin Ailey in New York. In 2004, she moved to the UK to pursue her dream to choreograph and direct dance shows. I did some marketing and social media consultancy work with Aretha last year and can 100% say from personal experience that she’s ambitious and professional, but warm, caring and business savvy – a wonderful combination to head up a leading West London dance school.
SA Dance is a superb dance school with talented and dedicated professionally trained dance teachers. In non-lockdown times the classes take place in the outstanding School of Dance facilities of the University of West London. Each summer the children of all ages – and adults from all of the SA Dance classes and disciplines, usually perform an incredible show.
The West London dance school covers a wide range of opportunities of dance genres; and caters to all sorts of dancers from little ones trying it out for the first time, those who have ambitions of dancing professionally to adults returning to dance after a long break. Dancers can start from as young as age 2 years and the philosophy of SA Dance is very much that dance is a joy to be experienced by people of all ages. Based in Ealing, SA Dance offers classes in Ballet, Contemporary, Modern Jazz and Tap. The aim of each class is to learn the perfect balance between correct technique and communication.
What has particularly impressed me about the SA Dance virtual dance classes, is the way the teachers have managed to motivate the children and keep their passion for dancing alive during such strange circumstances. They are paid classes (and worth every penny that I paid!) but Aretha always gives that bit extra and we’ve had special workshops added in as surprises here and there. My daughter loved the 80s Dance Party. There has also been a gift of Pilates on Mothers Day, plus bonus Mobility and Flexibility classes for dancers, Easter Ballet Workshop, The Coppelia repertoire workshop, Yoga to de-stress (2 weeks for free!), today there were several extra special classes to celebrate International Dance Day.
Dancers are learning about dance history, some classes have been completely adapted to enhance their artistic learning. A contemporary group is learning the different techniques from the pioneers of contemporary dance, jazz dancers were impressed to learn the moves from Bob Fosse and ballet dancers learnt that only men could dance ballet when it was created. I did not know that either!
You don’t have to wait for things to ‘return’ to normal to let you child continue or even start dance lessons. Having witnessed my daughter’s classes since late March now, I’ve been amazed at the quality of the Zoom classes. The children get to see each other a bit on screen and can watch their teacher and it’s a wonderful, interactive experience for them during this child. I for one am really pleased that my daughter has this outlet during these strange isolated days. I feel that her love of dancing is one thing at least that this virus hasn’t managed to curtail. I think it can be hard to visual how a class like this can work if you haven’t tried an interactive Zoom class until you’ve tried one so it’s definitely worth trialing one so you can see the difference between a (well-run) virtual live class and the passive nature of watching similar classes as a pre-recorded video which children are much less likely to engage with fully.
I am very grateful and impressed with Aretha and her team of dance teachers for providing these slick dance classes online; to help children retain some sort of normality and keep mobile during this time. Not to be confused with the overwhelming amount of Facebook Live and pre-recorded dance classes suddenly available, SA Dance online classes are facilitated via an interactive platform so that dancers can interact with their teachers and peers. Teachers have adapted the studio class brilliantly for the online environment. With the live and interactive platform, the teachers are able to see the dancers go through their movements and make individual corrections to help their progression. So yes it is on a screen, but very different to passively watching a video on YouTube.
These classes are not only keeping children more active at a time when it can be tricky to do so, but I have seen with my own daughter what an immense benefit they bring to maintaining a positive mental health too. It also helps her retain a sense of community during isolation and it has been great for her confidence in front of a camera. Dance is a fantastic emotional outlet and could be perfect for a child who is feeling anxious or stressed about things.
To find out more about SA Dance, check out their website and socials and get in touch with them if you have any questions.
The interactive children’s book club, Uh-Oh Books is launching the first book in their environmental, educational and interactive kids series on May 6th! To celebrate the launch of the “Uh-Oh!” Said Flo Crowdfunder, Uh-Oh Books have organised a virtual funday launch event.
A whole day of educational, fun, creative and active sessions to keep kids entertained, learning and occupied, hosted by Uh-Oh Books and a range of fantastic activity providers.
The Uh-Oh Books & Friends virtual funday will be free to join all day with back to back sessions you can join live or on replay. Join the event here:
To celebrate the launch and Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary, Uh-Oh Books have also created more than 60 free printable activities, colouring and educational resources you can download until May 6th! To get your free downloads simply sign up to the mailing list at www.uhohbooks.com
Lifeskills coaching for children during lockdown
We were recently lucky enough to be invited to a free 90 minute taster class of the new online Role Models course in Online Leadership (for 8 to 11 years). It gave me the idea to start a review series of West London Kids Tried and Tested online classes for children to keep them educated, happy, entertained and healthy during this Coronavirus pandemic isolation experience.
I was excited to get this invitation for my children to try out a very interesting and beneficial life-skills course. I had heard of Role Models, but only through the networking group I run for activity providers and we didn’t know much about the company, nor their workshops. I loved the sound of it straight away and the West London Kids – who are always pretty game for trying out new things. They didn’t really understand how it would work, but they were keen to give it a go! Personally I couldn’t think of a more appropriate time for children to be learning new life skills than during this time with schools closed and more time to think.
Role Models was established in 2014 and grew its offering rapidly to provide a range of in-person course (normally taking place at Chelsea Academy School in Kensington), parent workshops, boarding course and more. The popularity of the courses quickly soared and they now offering online courses to children around the world, in countries as diverse as China, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Italy and Mexico. So it was a relatively easy
Role Models courses usually take pace teach the essential skills that children need to thrive in the world today. They coach children to communicate well, think creatively, contribute brilliantly to teams and bounce back from disappointment. Employers and educational institutions are increasingly demanding these skills today and they have been proven to increase children’s well-being, as well as improving their academic results.
The lesson was conducted via Zoom with clear instructions emailed beforehand. I set my children up on the dining table with the laptop and pens and notepads at the ready. The teacher, Louise, was wonderful at putting the children at ease and keeping their attention. She used a great ice-breaker to get things going where the children introduced themselves and had to say two truths about themselves and one lie for the others to guess. My son made it very easy for the rest of the class by adding ‘I have a sister’ (which he was sat right next to!) as one of his, much to his sister’s amusement but they all had a few laughs and any initial shyness in the group of around eight children
I stayed nearby to be on hand for any technical issues (although these days my children are more likely to be able to sort out I.T. problems than me!) or other reasons but I was able to get on with some work for at least an hour of the 90 minute class and that was a bonus! The children played several games, discussed some leadership and confidence related topics, watched short video clips to talk about afterwards and thought about things together as a group.
I thought it was a wonderful class and would consider enrolling my children for a full course, but it is quite expensive if you have more than one child as the sibling discount isn’t that much. Would love to though and will have a think about it as I think both my children could gain a lot from either completing the full leadership course or one of the other children’s lifeskills courses. There are a range of different courses to choose from on the Role Models website for children aged between 5 and 14 years old. The courses aren’t the cheapest you’ll find for sure but they are very high quality and there is 25% off at the moment with the code ONLINE25. Highly recommended – makes a great addition to your family’s COVID-19 homeschooling timetable. Find out more on their website: www.rolemodels.me
Full transparency: I was offered a free taster class on this course for both my children. The only agreement in place was that I would share some information about it on the West London Kids instagram page. I decided to write this review to tell West London parents (well parents anywhere really, it’s online and doesn’t matter where you are located) about the course and was under no obligation to do so. I hope you have found it helpful. There will be an instagram grid post to promote this blog so please feel free to add any questions on there.