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A plea for help!

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

How’s lockdown and home schooling going for you?

Sadly, too many of my friends are suffering – silently screaming for help – desperate to cope so they don’t let themselves, their children, their families and, for some, their employers down. For the first few weeks it was a novelty. We all moaned a bit and rolled our eyes but there was joy to be found in long walks, baking and listening to our children read and helping with their work. The time for jokes is over. Children and parents are frustrated, scared and bored to a frightening degree.

Teaching is a skilled profession but somehow parents have been expected to step up to the mark with no training, no notice and very little help. What other group of people would be expected to take on this responsibility and burden alongside their own careers/lives? Somehow it’s seen as fine to chuck another (very large) curved ball at parents – a group of already stressed people – and expect them to cope. Well guess what? We’re not coping! In the first few weeks we were told we weren’t expected to actually teach but as time has gone by the burden has increased as patience and enthusiasm has waned.

Everywhere I turn I am hearing stories of crying, frustrated children and parents silently weeping in the toilet as they face another groundhog day. It’s no longer funny – no amounts of memes or GIFs can help. This is turning into a crisis and that’s without considering those children who were living with serious challenges before this started.

Now shops are open to boost the economy I see no reason why a similar Herculean effort can’t be put in to getting the schools open safely for September for all children! Just because the silent majority are silent doesn’t mean we are coping – our mental health, our children’s mental health and all our futures depend on it.

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Just breathe! My view of lockdown

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

You are probably sick of reading advice and good words from everyone during this current crazy lockdown. As a working mum of two kids who is trying to hold it together here’s what I have concluded as we enter week three:

It’s OK to cry or shout – most of the time, like many people out there, I am being super strong for everyone. I’m juggling work, childcare, cleaning and the curved ball of homeschooling but then out of nowhere I will feel a bit sad. Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond on the radio was the latest thing to turn me into a mascara running mess. I know friends who are having a cry every morning, some twice a day, some every hour. The important thing is to embrace the release of emotion. Let it out – get a hug from someone/a pet/cuddly toy and then carry on. Don’t hide the fact you’re sad, sacred, frustrated, especially from the kids. We need our kids to grow up knowing that it’s OK to feel a whole range of emotions. They don’t need us to be superheroes – they need us to be human! The same goes for losing our tempers and shouting now and again. As long as everyone is friends by the end of the day it’s OK to have, and share, our emotions!

Homeschooling – I come from a family stuffed full of teachers but the gene has somehow passed  me by. I just don’t have the patience or skills to pass knowledge onto anyone else, especially one of my own children who delight in telling me “that’s not how we do it” every time I try to help them. So the prospect of weeks of homeschooling filled me with dread. Some parents seem to have taken to it like a duck to water with coloured timetables, organised break times and PE lessons with Joe Wicks (of course) kicking off the day. I admit I am jealous of these amazing teacher-parents but we have to accept that however little or much we are doing, everything we do will help develop their minds and bodies. Whether it’s a bit of colouring, kicking a football, helping in the kitchen, doing household chores, watching TV or playing an online game they are using their brains, their bodies and being engaged. Your job is to parent – which means keeping them safe, warm, fed and watered. No one would expect you to start a new job with 48 hours notice and no training so why are we putting the pressure on ourselves to be equal to a fully qualified teacher? Encourage and talk to your children. If they love the structure of schoolwork then let them crack on. If not, then just carry on being what you are – a parent!

Working from home – sat at the kitchen table, balancing your laptop on a pile of kids’ books and jigsaws, trying to do a conference call while splitting up a sibling row – working from home at the moment is challenging to say the least. I recently did a conference call while the kids did ‘silent’ baking infront of me! Needless to say I struggled to concentrate while they turned the kitchen/my workspace into a cloud of flour, butter and icing sugar! I have been asked to build Lego, do a treasure hunt, play PieFace and paint models all while I am logged onto my laptop – this is multi-tasking at its finest! Then there’s the call of the washing up, washing machine, kettle and a million other things when you are trying to get on! Again, for most of us this is totally new territory and even those of you who often work from home aren’t used to having such young (and disruptive) work colleagues wanting our attention every five minutes! I hope bosses out there are giving everyone a bit of slack (as long as the job gets done does anything else matter?) but I know that’s not always the case. It’s my hope that when this is all over we will have finally proved that as parents we can work flexibly and get the job done! If we can perform brilliantly in these challenging circumstances imagine what we could do normally? In the meantime my only advice is not to turn your camera on when in a conference call and to mute yourself unless you have something to say! That way no-one will ever know the chaos around you!

Daily exercise – while we can, we all need to get out for some fresh air but it’s not without its issues. My kids are anything but outdoorsy so being locked down suits them perfectly. They’re not lazy but they would rather dance, swim or play sport than walk or cycle in the great outdoors. They are letting off steam on the trampoline, playing netball and football but I am still dragging them out for a walk every day. If nothing else it fills some time! If you have kids who love the great outdoors it must be tough to restrict their movements – I do sympathise. Watching Ray Mears recounting his greatest adventures must be torture if all you want to do is go camping in the wild (especially if you don’t have a back garden)! As adults we also have a vast array of online exercise options to navigate. It seems that every gym, dance school and celebrity has their own suggestions about how to keep us fit (and away from the biscuit tin)! My advice – do what you want, do what you can or do nothing! It really doesn’t matter. All we can do is follow the government’s rules in the hope that this will be over quickly and we can return to usual our outdoor/indoor exercise schedules as soon as possible!

Social media – my kids have been on screens a lot in the last two weeks and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. But now is not the time to feel guilty. They are having online playdates, playing board games and hide and seek with their mates via WhatsApp, choreographing dance routines and just chatting as friends should. Yes, in between they are playing online games but it makes them happy and gives them some escapism from this crazy world we are in! I am more concerned about the impact of screen times on us parents in a world of 24 hour news. We all need to know what is going on and as a former journalist I am passionate about the news, but there is such a thing as too much information, especially when it’s all doom and gloom. Then there’s the ever present curse of social media –  we have to remember that for every perfect parent with their colour coded timetable and organised craft activities there is another wine swigging mum hanging on to her sanity by her fingernails. People don’t share the bad stuff (unless it’s really bad and bordering on hilarious). The mundane is just that – really boring – so let’s not beat ourselves up for not having Instagram perfect lives! If your kids don’t want to paint a rainbow then that’s fine. If you can’t be bothered to host a virtual dinner party (and are barely making a pot noddle for tea) that’s fine. If the idea of a virtual pub quiz turns you cold don’t do it! If you can’t shrug it off then turn off the apps – at least for a few hours each day and enjoy the imperfect perfection of your own life.

So there is it is – my thoughts on this crazy time we are living in. I don’t have the answers but all I would say is stay home, stay safe and if everyone is breathing at the end of the day (even if they are unwashed, still in yesterday’s PJs and full of sweets) then you are doing a great job! #wewillgetthroughthis

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A Marvel-lous family show!

Captain America with Thor and Black WidowSpider Man and The Lizard

There’s something magical about looking forward to a special event, crossing off the days on your calendar and counting the sleeps. In our house this has been going on since Henry, 7, found out he was going to see Marvel Universe LIVE at Newcastle’s Utilita Arena.

Henry’s obsession with Hulk has recently been matched by a love of Grut from Guardians of the Galaxy and he has barely slept waiting for the day when he would see his heroes in the flesh.

I’m delighted to say the show didn’t disappoint – everyone was wide eyed, staring open mouthed as the amazing spectacle unfolded before us. Even the mums (and dads) like me who only discovered comic heroes through their kids couldn’t fail to be impressed.

The show was everything a child could want – motorbikes, fireworks, 3D effects, flips, kicks, aerial stunts and appearances by more than 20 larger than life heroes and villains.
This was family fun at its very best – action and comedy in equal measure.

The biggest cheer of the night was saved for Spiderman who flew across our heads to join The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, master of the mystic arts, in a race against time to recover the Wand of Watoomb from falling into Loki’s hands.

Of course, after a lot of amazing battles (including unbelievable amazing scenes with fire and some nifty motorbike tricks), the heroes saved the universe and won the day and the cheers from the audience couldn’t have been louder.

This is one of the best family shows we have ever seen – it was seamless, with slick set changes, awe inspiring costumes and breath-taking action. The producers and designers had obviously let their imaginations run riot, refusing to be limited by the fact they were transporting a comic book world to a very cold, winery North-East of England!

Their vision was brought to life thanks to the amazing performers who really became their characters much to the delight of their young fans. Henry’s face was a picture when the giant Hulk came on stage (an entrance which was brilliantly teased throughout the show) – he simply couldn’t believe his hero had come to life. It’s these magical moments that Feld Entertainment do so well. To be honest everything about the show was so big and bright it was as if a comic had come to life infront of us.

This is a fantastic show for all the family – Marvel fans unite and get your tickets while you can! Tickets at https://www.marveluniverselive.com/en-gb/tickets

(I was gifted tickets for the show for review purposes)

 

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First day at school advice!

 

Your little darling is off to school for the first day – a magical time. But as my two enter Year 6 and 3 here’s a few things I’ve picked up for those parents who are heading to the schoolgate for the first time.

Keeping neat and tidy is impossible – your little one will look like an angel when you take the obligatory first day photo. But don’t be fooled! By the time they get to the school gate their (very expensive) new shoes will be scuffed, there will be holes in tights, trouser knees will be dusty and jumpers may well have a hole in. You might continue the fight to turn out a clean and tidy child for a few weeks but, take it from me, you are fighting a losing battle. Embrace the mess, see it as a sign they are enjoying themselves and maybe keep a spare uniform for photo day!

Don’t expect your whites to stay white – on a similar note, I don’t care what washing powder you use, after a few washes, you will never get the shirts whiter than white. If your child doesn’t suit the off-grey, tomato sauce stained look you will have to invest in a batch of new shirts every half term at least.

Your house isn’t a gallery – you simply can’t keep all the artwork and writing they bring home. The first few pieces will be cute and might be displayed on the fridge but remember you have 7 years of this (and that’s just primary) and there is limit to how many toilet roll models and finger paintings you can store.

Smile at the teachers – they have the future of your little darling in their hands so keep them on side. They also have to put up with, not just your child, but 30+ of the horrors from 9am-3.30pm five days a week – at the very least they deserve a sympathetic grin. A smile costs nothing, unlike the end of term and Christmas presents you may be hoodwinked into buying for the teachers, teaching assistants, dinner ladies, lollipop lady etc. I refused to get involved in this in my daughter’s first year at school until she revealed she was the only one not bringing a gift and was mortified by the shame. My advice – start saving now!

Try to make conversation at the gate – over the duration of your child’s time at school you will spend a lot of time at the school gate. It can be a lonely place, so try to find a friendly face and strike up a conversation. These school gate friendships not only pass the time but can be invaluable if you ever need someone to do the school run for you or you’ve missed an important letter about a school trip (they can also be a great source of gossip!)

Get used to small chairs – for some reason primary schools expect grown adults to sit on kids’ chairs a lot of the time so if you have long legs you might want to practice folding them up so your chin can rest on your knees!

Relearn your ABCs – you may know your times tables and a have a great grasp of the English language, but be warned – they do things differently these days! The way your child is taught will have little in common with the way you were taught. Despite this you will still be expected to help with your child’s homework so get ready for cries of ‘we don’t do it like that’ as you try to fathom out how it all got so complicated!

You will never know what they’re up to – at nursery you probably got a weekly (or even daily) diary telling you what your child ate and did all day. Sadly, those days are gone! It’s now up to you to get out of your child what happened during the day. I’ll save you the trouble of asking – the answer will be one of two things “I can’t remember” or “nothing”. Simply have faith that they have learnt something and had a square meal during the day and don’t turn into a member of the Spanish inquisition trying to find out whether it was meat or fish for lunch!

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Rapunzel – let down your hair!

 

I’m not one for revelling in other mum’s misery but I couldn’t help but smile when Princess Kate revealed on her recent trip to Canada that she had trouble plaiting her daughter’s hair. Admiring the hair of someone in the crowd she reportedly said she had tried to plait Princess Charlotte’s hair but ‘it didn’t really work very well.” Even Prince Willian has admitted struggling to get his daughter’s tresses into the most basic of ponytails.

As the mum of a daughter with long, thick hair I can only sympathise. I have spent ten years trying to tame my daughter’s hair. She was born with a thick mop of dark brown hair and since that first day the struggle has been too real. The first time I had to do a bun for ballet was traumatic and five years later I am still a disgrace in the dance mom fraternity.

Through the years Megan has come home from school with tales of the amazing dos her friends have worn – “so-and-sos mum can do a French plait/mermaid tail/bun” has been a regularly cry in our house.

The problem is I am not creative, have no patience and have neither the time or inclination to sit in front of YouTube videos to learn what to do. Megan has learnt over the years not to ask and instead she relies on other people to create styles for dance shows, exams and other special occasions (I’ve even taken her to the hairdresser to make sure she had the right milkmaid style for an exam!) I have spent years trying to persuade her to have it cut just to prevent the upset but as long as Little Mix (and all her friends) are wearing their hair long I knew I am fighting a losing battle.

This hairdressing thing is just another pressure put on us poor parents? Why is there an assumption that once you give birth you will automatically turn into Vidal Sassoon? Surely basic hairdressing should be part of the baby classes we endure as new and prospective parents? It would solve a lot of arguing and upset in later years!

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for Kate and Wills – having hit 10 and decided I am sooo uncool, Megan has taken control of her own hair destiny. She is currently rocking a high ponytail (having followed an online tutorial) and I am pretty sure she will progress to other styles soon. Thankfully it looks like the hairdressing gene may have just skipped one generation so at least my grandchildren will have more choices than a ponytail or nothing!

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Happy Mother’s Day to the survivors!

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Happy Mother’s Day to all those women out there who are making a huge difference to their children’s lives. We are all different, facing unique challenges from the bundles of joy we brought into the world. Despite all the blogs and books you’ll read, no one has got it 100% right and I’m convinced that no one really knows what they’re doing. But as long as you get to the end of the day with everyone breathing, fed and relatively happy I think you can say you are winning! We may not understand or agree with other mothers’ choices but the one thing we all know is how difficult it can be. This puts us in a unique position to offer support to each other. So on this special day for us mums, let’s put our differences aside and celebrate the fact we’ve made it through another year.

So whether:

  • You teach at home, send them to school or find boarding works for you
  • Your children are carnivores, vegetarian or vegan
  • You breastfed, went straight to bottle or did both
  • You work full time, part time or stay at home (and work at being a mum)
  • You find yourself shouting all the time or have mastered the reasoning technique
  • The list of rules in your house is a mile long or you all make it up as you go along
  • Your children are addicted to screens, you closely monitor their screen time or have refused to let tech into your home
  • You spend all your free time taxiing your kids to activities or you spend every minute of free time together as family
  • Your baby sucked a dummy, its thumb or comforted in some other way
  • Disposable nappies and wipes filled your changing back or you went retro with cloth ones and a flannel
  • You co-sleep or your children have their own room
  • You are married, living with your partner or single
  • You are experiencing the terrible twos, the school age sulks or the moody teens

let me take this opportunity to reassure you that you’re doing a great job and wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day!

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Not all superheroes wear capes

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I am the mother of a headstrong, independent, anxious, mixed up nearly-10 year old daughter. She finds showing her emotions tough and shies away from affection. She hates the limelight and struggles with praise. She’s a fiercely loyal friend and a caring and protective big sister. She’s a bookworm like her mum, loves tech like her dad and has a vivid and awe-inspiring imagination. She can inspire such love and wonder in me alongside utter annoyance and frustration. She is a bundle of insecurities, amazing ideas, dreams and ambitions.

Like most (if not all) mums out there I don’t have a bloody clue what I am doing most of the time and so when things get tough (as they seem to be a lot at the moment as we have put pre-teenage hormones in the mix) I need help! I have the most amazing friends who offer me the support and release I need but there’s another army of unsung heroes doing an equally important job.

These women inspire and lift my daughter up at the most important times – these are the women, apart from me, whom she chooses to go to, to confide in and to show her true vulnerable side. I am talking about:

• The lady who runs the local nursery, breakfast and after-school club. The first person to shorten my daughter’s name into a cute nickname and who is passionately interested in every aspect of her life

• The singing teacher who has seen a spark in this frustratingly shy girl and is teasing her confidence out of her

• The swimming teacher who personifies tough love and refused to give in when the going got tougher than we ever thought it would

• The school teacher who is always on hand to listen, to chat and to lend a discreet helping hand

• The dance instructor who lets her bend the rules and wear sparkly nail varnish to class if it gives her the confidence she needs to walk through the door.

These women have no idea of the invaluable safety net they provide for both me and my daughter. The fact they do this out of love and compassion and go way beyond any job description fills my heart with hope. As long as there are women like this in the world, ready and more than willing to hold the hands of girls and women who stumble along the way, I think we will all be ok. On this International Women’s Day I salute them.

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It’s just a smile!

breakfast cafe caffeine cake

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today as I dropped my kids off at breakfast club I saw a mum I haven’t seen for a while. She looked pretty glamorous for a Tuesday morning with her hair curled and shiny so without thinking I said “I love your hair!” She looked at me with total surprise and then her face beamed. “How lovely” she said “You’ve made my day!” She went off with a grin on her face and I felt the warm glow you get when you’ve done something nice.

It got me thinking about all the other little things we could do to make a hassled parent’s day. That mum juggling with a screaming baby or dad trying to reason with a tantruming toddler could probably just do with a friendly smile. It seems to be human nature to judge others and the world of parenting is full of people who’ve been there and done that and want to tell you what to do – but surely the last thing someone struggling needs is a stranger’s disapproval to add to their burden?

I’m not suggesting we all rush over with open arms and attempt to ease every parenting nightmare situation – for some parents the public nature of a tantrum is the worst bit and the last thing they want is attention drawn to the situation. But maybe just a kindly smile or even catching someone’s eye will give them the knowledge they are not alone and you’ve been there. At the very worst they’ll ignore you, at the very best it might just give them a glimmer of light in a bleak situation.

As parents all we want to know is that we are doing a good enough job and at the end of the day everyone is fed, clothed and still breathing! So I think we have a duty to each other to provide any reassurance we can – even if it’s to total strangers. A parent doing their best, especially in the face of adversity, is doing great and we should acknowledge that.

While thinking about all this I stumbled across a fab crowdfunding initiative called Tired Mums’ Cake Club which aims to give mums (and dads) a free cup of tea and a cake if they seem to be struggling with their day (https://www.gofundme.com/tired-mums-cake-club). As someone who tucks herself away in the loo at work to have a good cry when things get too much this sounds like a lovely (and much more comfy) idea! Parenting can be the loneliest place in the world. I have so many amazing friends but we all have busy lives and sometimes when you need a hug there is literally no-one there. The simple act of presenting someone with an all healing cuppa and comforting sugar fix is just perfect. It’s not about solving the problem, just making someone’s parenting journey a little bit easier and who can argue with that?

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Here’s to 2019

Well that’s 2018 over – what a year! Not great for a lot of my nearest and dearest and I’ve faced some massive challenges and disappointments, but there have also been some amazingly funny, touching and lovely highs. So what about 2019? Here’s my 19 hopes, resolutions and thoughts as we enter 2019.

  • Surviving is sometimes as much of an achievement as succeeding. It’s ok to celebrate getting through another day with everyone still breathing!
  • There’s no manual for this crazy parenting thing – when the kids hit school age all the safety nets (health visitors, baby books, support classes) are taken away and you’re left to your own devices. Do your best – it’s all you can do
  • Be kind to everyone – you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Everyone is parenting the best way they can – the one thing they don’t need is a stranger’s judgement
  • Drink good gin and wine
  • Read brilliant books – and pass them on. My favourite present of 2018 and was a book recommended by a friend that turned into one of my all times favourite reads (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne if you’re interested!)
  • Cuddle your kids at every opportunity – they don’t care if you are wearing washing up gloves and dripping suds down their back or balancing the washing basket on your hip – just cuddle them before they decide it’s not cool
  • Let your children grow – letting my 9 year old walk to school on her own (even though I was following with her little brother) was a massive step for us both but it’s all about trust, confidence and growing up
  • Nurture brilliant friends who are there through the laughter and the tears. Share everything – you’ll be surprised who’s trod the exact same crazy path as you
  • Unsubscribe from all those emails you never open – you may have entered a competition in 1993 and handed out your address but how much time do you waste deleting unread emails?
  • Don’t feel guilty for looking at your phone in front of your kids – but show them that rather than mindlessly scrolling, you are reading the news; searching for an answer to a brilliant question; looking at book reviews; catching up with friends – tech is good if it’s used in the right way and we shouldn’t demonise it or those who use it
  • Try not to capture ever moment as a photo or a video – watch the school play in real time (rather than through a lens), feel the thrills of taking your kids to their first cinema/theatre/theme park visit rather than taking a photo. The best memories are in your mind not a memory card. For that reason this was my favourite photo of 2018 (taken at the Royal Wedding) – be this old lady!
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  • Stick to your guns. Don’t make promises or threats you can’t keep!
  • Take time for you – not your kids, your partner or your friends – however short. I often sneak out of the bath five minutes early and quietly slip into bed to read my book for five more blissful minutes of peace
  • Say no to things you don’t want to do – don’t feel obliged to please everyone else. Your mental and physical health are worth more than a few hours spent doing something you just don’t fancy. Friends and family will understand
  • Read – a book, a newspaper (remember those!), a magazine and don’t feel guilty! One of the best things my kids’ teacher said to me was how important it is for children to see you read. How will they develop a love for the written word if they don’t see you enjoying it?
  • Don’t be scared to shout and have arguments – just remember to make up and say sorry – a very valuable life lesson for everyone
  • Drink more good gin and wine
  • Own your parenting choices and respect others’ – working mums have it tough – so do stay at home mums. Breast is best but so is the bottle for some. Home schooling opens the mind as does going into the traditional educational system. Be happy with your choices and leave everyone else to theirs
  • Enjoy social media but take it with a pinch of salt – nobody posts a really bad or boring day. If only we could have a filter for real life!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! LET’S MAKE IT THE BEST WE CAN! 

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A big dream from Disney On Ice!

A visit to Disney On Ice is a must each year in our house – as embedded in family tradition as new PJs on Christmas Eve or hunting for chocolate eggs at Easter – we all love it and count the sleeps down in anticipation of the magical show. This year felt extra special as for the first time there was the promise of seeing Moana and the one and only Maui live on stage.

The show opened with Mickey and his Minnie Mouse, celebrating 90 years in the limelight. They led a special warm up for the crowd that encouraged everyone to get up and get moving. The Disney magic was already at work with audience members of all ages standing up, discarding their inhibitions and busting some moves! Once we were all warmed up it was time for the main show – the theme was Dream Big and Tinkerbell was on hand throughout to ensure, with a sprinkle of pixie dust, all the characters’ dreams came true. A procession of characters took to the ice, singing and skating their way through some well-loved scenes and the greatest hits from movies including Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and, The Little Mermaid.

The biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Moana’s demi-god, Maui, who had everyone singing along to “You’re Welcome”, and Elsa and Anna from modern-classic Frozen. Fans of all ages were in fine voice as ‘Let it Go!’ and ‘Love is an open door’ rang out through the arena. The effects were amazing with snow flurries, bubbles blown from the ceiling, fireworks and even flames on the ice!

The most magical thing about Disney is how the stories stay with the generations so, as well as Moana, the newest girl on the block, we were also treated to the prince fighting a giant fire breathing dragon in Sleeping Beauty and the glass carriage from Cinderella – which drew real gasps of wonder from the crowd.

As ever the dancing was amazing – far from taking the easy route, the dancers pushed themselves to the limits performing breath-taking stunts and lifts despite some very limiting costumes! All the dancers gave 100% and stayed in character throughout – taking their young audience with them on their adventures.

From perfect princesses and wannabe warriors to daring princes and comic heroes this magical family show ensured the whole audience left with a song in their heads, a smile on their faces and a dream in their Disney-fueled hearts. Proof, if it was ever needed, that dreams do come true!

For tickets and the rest of the tour dates click here.

  • We were invited to attend Disney On Ice Dream Big to review the show.
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