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!
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
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.
Dina Maktabi is the founder of Kensington Mums, a parent network established in 2011 with the aim of sharing knowledge and experiences to help fellow Kensington mums learn from one another. Today the network command an audience of London based mothers, many of whom live outside of the Kensington area but tap into the community for its blend of events, advice and connectivity
What inspired you to start your business?
I set up Kensington Mums over 8 years ago as a way to connect with other like minded mothers with the aim of sharing knowledge and experiences to help fellow mums learn from one another. What inspired me I would say would be my experience, I went through periods of loneliness and isolation not being around my family for the support that I needed. I was also the first one from my group of friends to have children. Kensington Mums was created as a way to meet and mingle with other mothers but also while working flexibly around my children and by providing solid information on our platform to help empower and inspire other mothers.
What is your favourite West London park? Hands down this would be Holland Park as I grew up there playing with my friends after school and on weekends. There was a huge adventure playground that we used to play in for many hours. Hidden inside Holland Park is a gem, known as Kyoto Gardens, that’s one of my favourite hang-outs. I then enjoyed going there with my kids so it brings lots of great memories, as a little girl and now as a mother.
When did you first realize you wanted to run your own business? It’s not something I envisaged doing, it’s something that developed naturally when my second child was born. I felt there was a need at the time to create a platform for mothers.
What were the most difficult obstacles you faced starting up?
I had no clue or skill set in place to run a website or online magazine. It took a lot of training and workshops and meeting different people with various backgrounds with whom I worked on the identity of the brand and what I wanted it to represent: a platform run for mothers by mothers, providing them with solid information by experts and keeping them in the loop with the local scoop.
What activities do you enjoy doing as a family? (Update: this was written in non Coronavirus times!) We love to go to the park and discover our local museums. They have lots to offer including free workshops, tours and hands on activities. But most of all, we all enjoy eating, be at home or outside and watching Netflix!
What motivates you to run your business, what is your ‘why’? I love to connect mothers. We have lots of international and expat mothers and many of them have met via our online platform, events and meets up. This brings joy to my heart and something I am truly passionate about, because its important for mothers to find their tribe no matter where they are in the world. Motherhood is a wonderful and life-changing experience that comes with abundant joy but also many different challenges, and finding someone you can rely to is something very important.
What are your main business/ self-development goals for the next few years? To grow organically and find the balance from within whilst juggling work, life, kids, house, husband and still keep my sanity.
Do you have any advice for a parent thinking of starting their own business? My 3 top tips on anyone wanting to start their business would be: do it with passion or not at all, do your research and outsource when you can. Its not easy, and it all requires loads of multitasking and time management skills.
What is your proudest achievement in your business? My proudest achievement in my business is growing organically and reaching out and connecting with local mums, international mothers, celebrities and royal family members too. This gives me great joy and also to all the friends I have made along the way, who have pushed me and inspired me along the way.
Where can people find you? We have a website which you can subscribe to our newsletter here. Connect with Kensington Mums on Instagram, and download our app for free on itunes and Google Play. Check out their upcoming events and meet ups going on in February at Sweaty Betty and in March in time for Mothers day.
Hello Natalie I’m delighted to be featuring you as I love the illustrations and message of your books and we featured your books in the Christmas Gift Ideas special for West London Kids. I would love you to answer a few questions about your book(s)/ business and your background.
So to start with … Where about in West London do you live and how long have you been there? I live in Barnes – also known as the village on the river – I’ve lived here 8 years now.
How do you find being a parent in West London? What are the main advantages and disadvantages? Barnes particularly is full of families – the majority of which I’d say (if I’m not wrong) have young children. Its great to walk out and always know people and there always be children for the children to play with. We are lucky to have a lovely green around Barnes pond and the river along side so there is always a good opportunity to explore nature. We are also not far at all from central London with its host of things to do! Parenting in SW London is definitely helped by the number of other parents that there are, which means lots of groups, support and simply people in similar positions to share with.
What inspired you to start your first business/ write your first book? Why did you choose to write for children? I have always written since I was a child – and in fact my first book was not actually for children, more young adult/millennial. It was when my children went to school though and I saw how hard it can be for all these children taking such a big step and not necessarily knowing how to deal or manage all of it, that I began to write for young children. I wanted to do what I could to show young children the importance and benefits of being kind to each other and how easy it is to do.
Where do you prefer to work/ write? At home at them moment – though I am going to start going out to do it – I am a member at the Olympic members club in Barnes which is a vibrant inspiring place to be either socially or workwise and I plan to start spending a bit more time getting creative in there.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer? When I look through my many years of diaries, which I have written since I was just 13, it shows me intending to write a book of my life from my early twenties. So, I guess a general focus on writing as a career has been a long time coming.
How did you come up with the main characters in your books? I wanted to create simple but appealing characters that personified the message they were giving – so hearts seemed the natural answer – it all happened quite organically to be honest – they just came to me.
What activities do you enjoy doing as a family? We love eating out together and holidaying in different countries. The kids love swimming which is always fun too. We try to spend a lot of time with family that are dotted around London at weekends, whenever possible and at home we enjoy spending time playing in the garden, cooking, doing puzzles, playing family games and whatever else the children come up with. We try to let them lead the decision for free time usually. Our aim is to start involving more sports together and getting more active as a family.
What’s your favourite West London restaurant to eat out as a family?Gosh that’s a difficult one – it would have to be Benihana in Kings road for special occasions, OKA in Barnes for sushi (the kids love it) or Riva our local family Italian, which is also incredibly good.
What was your favourite book as a child? The Secret Garden. I’ve always loved a little (a lot) of escapism.
What are your main writing goals for the next few years? To publish the entire series of Henry & Henrietta Heartbeat and begin building the brand in a more encompassing way, branching out beyond books alone.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? I actually wanted to be a TV Presenter – but my parents were a little hostile in my narrowing down my opportunities so precisely, plus I’m not actually sure how well I would have had handled all the behind the scenes issues there as I do believe it’s a bit cut throat…. Other than that I wanted to be a buyer, basically because I love shopping and travelling. I ended up doing neither!
Do you have any advice for would-be new authors? Follow your dream. If you can dream it – you can do it! Don’t give up at the tricky hurdles – today more than ever there are an infinite number of ways to get your story written and out there in the hands of the public.
Do you think living in West London hinders or helps your writing? Is there a particular London spot that inspires you to write?
Barnes itself can be a bit of a bubble, I have to say – a strength and weakness – but it works with kids and the vicinity of everything allows more time to work as most things are close. As I mentioned though, I do feel the need to get out now and take my work elsewhere for a while. I am not so familiar with the rest of south west London as I actually grew up in North London, however having lived in central London for a period I would say the diversity, multi-culture and inspiration of the bustling centre provides great stimulus for any creative!
Natalie’s books are wonderfully positive and help to teach young children about important things such as empathy and kindness. Highly recommended! You can find out more about Henry and Henrietta Heartbeat and buy the books on the website: www.henryandhenriettaheartbeat.com The books can also be purchased on Amazon in paperback, hardback and Kindle versions.