Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Book review - Factivity: Incredible Space Sticker Activity book from Parragon

This month as a Parragon Book Buddy I've received a fantastic new book to review in the Factivity series - Factivity: Incredible Space Sticker Activity.

Factivity sticker activity book from Parragon

The book comes complete with 300 colourful space stickers, some which are used for the games and activities in the book and some which you can use for your own space related crafts. Harry has always been interested in space (as evidenced by his space themed bedroom!), and so I knew that this book would have instant appeal.

Space sticker sheets

It's lovely that he is now at the age when he can occupy himself quietly with a book like this. It has kept him busy for ages over the school holidays and has been especially good at bedtime, when he needs to chill out for a little bit but his mind still wants to be active. 

Parragon space activity book

The book contains a variety of different space related activities, with information and facts interspersed with sticker activities, for example using stickers to complete the pictures, answer questions, and for simple matching activities.

Factivity space activity book

It's a great book with a good mixture of information and simple learning activities. We've reviewed a couple of other books in the Factivity series and I have to say that I think they are excellent. They are great for giving children information about a subject and the activities really help to enrich their learning. Here are my reviews of the other Factivity books:

Factivity: Travel Back Through Time to the Land of the Dinosaurs
Factivity: Journey Around and Inside Your Amazing Body

I received this book from the publisher for free. However, they have not paid me for this review, and they do not exercise any editorial control over my review or anything else on this site. This book is priced at £4.99, Amazon link is affiliate.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Ways that I've made our garden pretty

Pretty ideas for the garden


I've said it several times here lately, but I really feel as though this is the first year that I'm really enjoying our garden. For the first time I've been able to keep on top of the weeding and make sure that the beds and gravel areas are fairly clear. I've also tackled a few larger jobs, like clearing out the ivy and other rubbish from behind the summerhouse, pulling away the climbing plant that was engulfing our garage, and removing all of the large pots that had been left behind by a previous owner and were mainly full of dead plants.

This has been the year that after much deliberation we finally purchased some decent garden furniture - a small sofa, two arm chairs and a little table. We've been eating outside, and it's nice to have somewhere that I can sit quietly for a little while when the children are playing.

Along with this has come the inspiration to make the garden look a little prettier, and so I thought I'd share some of the things that I've done over time to add a bit of interest and fun.

I made my sunflower mosaic stepping stone a few years back, and I've finally found a place to display it permanently in the garden. It was bought as a kit and I was very pleased with it. I have a second one which I bought at the same time and have yet to complete, it's a poppy and I really do need to get on with it. If you are interested you can buy the kits from here - Tracey Cartledge stepping stone mosaic kits - and I'd really recommend them. The circular base tray is reusable and I'll have plenty of bits of tile left over, so I'd also like to make a couple more to my own designs. Eventually perhaps I'll have a path across the grass to our summerhouse so it's more accessible when the grass is wet.

Sunflower mosaic stepping stone

I've brightened up some of my pots with these mini Hama bead decorative plant markers. They've lasted well outside in a sheltered spot, and are easy enough to replace when the wooden sticks become damaged.

Mini Hama bead plant markers

Recently I wrote about getting to know my new sewing machine, and making some pretty bunting and curtains for our summerhouse. I'm really pleased with it, and every time I look out of the window and see our summerhouse it makes me smile. Bunting is very popular at the moment and it's so easy to make, you can easily make no sew bunting which is durable enough to last outdoors for at least the summer, and then you can replace it to keep things interesting. I'm definitely going to be making some more for elsewhere in the garden, we have a little trellis fence that separates off our vegetable patch and it needs something to cheer it up a bit!

Summerhouse outdoor bunting

Our garden is still very much a garden for the children, and so I like to have a few things in it that make it fun for them. We have a little sand table, and last year I dumped in a big handful of sequins and glitter that were left over from a craft project. It makes the sand a lot more fun to play in, and adds to their play - I've seen them making 'cakes' which they decorate with the shiny sequins. On a similar note I cut several 'dinosaur bones' out of some white plastic that we had lying around and hid them in our larger sandpit for them to play excavations with.

Our latest project has been painting some of the pine cones that Mia likes to collect on her way home from nursery. I'm not quite sure what we are going to do with them yet, and I'm not sure that they'll every look as good as these that I saw, but they should bring a little bit of colour to the garden!

Pink painted pinecones

I hope that you liked seeing some of my ideas, and I've been collecting even more inspiration in my Garden Style board on Pinterest, take a look!

Follow Jennifer Jain's board Garden style on Pinterest.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Book review - Draw with...Yasmeen Ismail and Draw with...Marta Altes

I recently received some lovely books from Macmillan to review, and amongst them were two which particularly caught my eye. They are both part of a new sticker activity book series where you can draw, write, colour and create with some favourite artists from the world of children's books. We received Let's Go Find a Tiger! with Yasmeen Ismail and You Are an Artist! with Marta Altes.

Draw With Yasmeen Ismail: Let's Go Find a Tiger! encourages young children to draw along with Yasmeen Ismail, a talented author, illustrator and animator. The book follows two adorable characters on an exciting jungle journey.

Yasmeen Ismail Let's Go Find a Tiger cover

The words of the story are all there, but the child needs to add to or complete the illustrations.

Yasmeen Ismail Let's Go Find a Tiger review

To help, the book includes several pages of bright, cheerful stickers which can be used wherever the child feels they will add to the story. The book is designed to encourage a child's creativity, and to show that anyone can tell a story.

Let's Go Find a Tiger sticker and activity book

Draw With Marta Alt├ęs: You Are an Artist! is based on the bestselling picture book I am an Artist! and is a chance to get creative and make art with the award-winning Marta Altes.

Marta Altes You are an artist book

This book doesn't follow the same story format as Let's Go Find a Tiger! Instead the child is encouraged to see themselves as an artist. They need to think about different types of art, for example a self-portrait or experimenting with different colours, and explore different concepts around that.

You are an artist sticker and activity book

The child can embellish existing illustrations, or give names to pieces of art before creating their own.

You are an artist book review

The book also contains a generous amount of stickers that can be used to create or add to art in the book and is designed to get the child making art and making a mess. It's a lovely book for an aspiring artist.

I really love both these books. I think that Let's Go Find a Tiger! is perhaps aimed at slightly younger children and You Are an Artist! would appeal more to slightly older children, which is perfect for us as I have a willing recipient for each! It's a lovely series and I look forward to seeing which other artists will be included.

I received these two books in exchange for a review, Amazon links are affiliate.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Day Zero Project Update

A few months back it became clear to me that I probably wasn't going to finish my Day Zero Project List, and now with less than a month to go I know it's not going to happen. I started the list on the 21st November 2012, which seems such a long time ago now. The first thing that I did was to write a letter to myself to be opened when the challenge was completed. I have the letter in my bedside drawer and I've not opened it yet, but I remember writing that when the date came round it wouldn't be long before Mia started school. At the time that event seemed impossibly far in the future, but of course it crept up slowly and now those final weeks are rushing by.

I was heavily influenced by Pinterest when I made the list, and it led to some fantastic first baking attempts - I made a rainbow cake, attempted my first gingerbread house which became a tradition that I intend to continue every year, baked a chocolate brownie cheesecake from my brother's recipe which I'd been meaning to try for ages, and had a reasonably successful first go at cake pops.

Day Zero Project - make a rainbow cake

I was also encouraged to get out and about with the children, spending a great day out with Harry, taking both children camping, and taking the two of them up to London.

Two children in a tent

One of my favourite challenges was to ask twenty friends to suggest a book and read them all, I discovered some fantastic new books and authors. Like many of the things on my list, it's something that I wouldn't have done otherwise and was really enjoyable.

I don't regret at all that I didn't manage to complete the list, instead I'm really proud of the things that I did do! I completed 66 of the 101 things. It's perhaps not as many as I had hoped, but I'm still pleased with how I got on. You can see my full list, with links to the challenges that I blogged about, on my Day Zero Project page.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Tips for getting children interested in DIY and gardening

Topps Tiles recently launched a search to find the UK's best DIY little helper, and to support this they asked me to share some of my tips for getting children to help around the garden and home to help them learn some key life skills. To start us off they sent us  a lovely bundle of DIY goodies.

DIY goodies from Topps Tiles

So here are my top tips:

In the garden....


* Start by growing something simple that will give quick results. We've made cress heads in the past and I loved the little grass head been kit that we were sent - the children love coming down each morning to see how he is getting on. You don't need a kit, you can easily make your own cress heads or you can simply grow cress on a paper towel. The seeds start to germinate within a day or two, and in a couple of weeks you'll have a lovely crop.

* If you are planting vegetables outdoors in the vegetable patch, choose something that your children will eat. We've had a lot of success with tomatoes and carrots, and strawberries are brilliant because they will give you a continuous crop over the space of a few weeks. You don't need to grow from seed, garden centres sell plants which you can re-pot or plant in your garden.

* Use the process of growing something as a learning opportunity for children. A classic example is the bean in a jam jar where children can watch as the seed germinates and sends out roots, and you can help children to keep a bean diary as it grows.

Growing things on the windowsill

* Provide children with child sized accessories like gardening gloves, trowel and a trug or wheelbarrow. I have a post on my other blog suggesting some essential supplies for gardening with toddlers. Mia loves the gorgeous gardening gloves we were sent and they make her feel really grown up!

* Bird feeders are a brilliant way to encourage birds to your garden and for children to learn about the different types of bird that they can see. We built this awesome bird feeder that attaches to the outside of your window. I've put it at the front of our house because the back garden is frequented by cats, hopefully we'll get some feathered visitors!

Birdfeeder on the windowsill

Around the house...


* Children can be a great help when you are assembling flat pack furniture. They can count out the fixtures and fittings and match them to the inventory to make sure that you're not missing anything, then they can hand them to you as you need them. They'll love playing with all those big cardboard boxes too!

* Give children their own set of little toy tools so that they can play along, the more realistic the better. You can make a toy workbench from a sturdy box like a shoe box and let children hammer pretend nails into it. If you don't have any pretend nails you can even use golf tees - like in this fab DIY toddler workbench.

* If you are working on something that is too dangerous for children to help with, for example putting up a curtain rail or bookshelf, allow children to watch (supervised and from a safe distance!) so that they become familiar with the process and see how everything fits together.

* Children love helping out if you are painting. It's probably best to have them help with the undercoat rather than the final coat, but they will love being allowed to paint with real paint on the actual walls. Make sure that they are wearing old clothes and that all the surfaces are well covered!

Child helping to paint a room

Do you involve your children in DIY? What tips would you add?

I was sent a bundle of goodies from Topps Tiles in exchange for this post, with some lovely projects for us to get stuck into as a family.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Cheerful garden crafts for the summer

Cheerful garden crafts for the summer


Over the years we've shared many crafts on the blog, and lots of them have had an outdoors or garden theme, intended to both add a bit of fun to the garden and also ways to bring the garden inside. Here are some of my favourites to inspire you this summer.

The lollipop stick bird feeder is really easy to put together and it looks so bright and colourful when it's hanging up in the garden. Unfortunately we have a lot of cats in our garden which does rather limit the birds that come to it, but it's so pretty to look at I think it's still worth having!

Lollipop stick bird feeder

Both children love making fairy gardens, and the slightly different yet very similar mermaid gardens. You just need a shallow saucer or similar container, a bit of soil, and then any little bits and pieces that you can find around the garden to decorate. If you want you can add coloured glass pebbles, artificial flowers, fairy figures and so on. They don't last for very long, but if you can keep them in a sheltered spot you can continue adding to them over time.

Fairy garden in saucer

These easy cress heads are simple to make to display on a windowsill, and because cress grows so quickly they are a very satisfying crop to grow with young children. All you need is an old pair of tights, some soil and some cress seeds, and you can see how we made ours here - simple cress heads.

How to make cress heads

The bean bag comet is a really simple first sewing project, and it's really quick to sew one up from an odd bit of fabric. It's just a beanbag with a long tail of ribbons, and it's great fun for children to throw around the garden. They can use the ribbons to catch it, to twirl it around so that it will fly further, and to admire them streaming through the air as it flies.

Simple bean bag comet toy

My children had a lot of fun collecting pebbles at the beach and then bringing them home to paint and turn into pebble monsters. They are displayed in pots all over the house and garden, and despite being a few years old now they've lasted really well!

Pebble monsters in flower pot

The children also helped me to make these salt dough fairy wands, and even though they are just as much fun inside the house they've been particularly popular for fairy role play in the garden, because they are great fun to run around with and watch the ric rac streamers chasing around in the breeze.

Beaded salt dough fairy wands

Finally, if the weather just isn't good enough to get outside, why not do a bit of gardening themed sensory play! This gardening Tuff spot inspired activity was a lot of fun, and kept both children entertained for several days. You just need some coloured rice or similar sensory base and a few little gardening themed bits and pieces to inspire all sorts of role play.

Indoor gardening sensory play

I hope that you enjoyed these ideas, I've also collected lots of other ideas for outdoor and garden crafts, and you can take a look at my Outdoor Activities Pinterest board below:

Follow Jennifer Jain's board Outdoor activities for young children on Pinterest.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Our "temporary" cardboard box space rocket

We moved into our new house back in January 2012, and shortly after that we bought ourselves some dining room furniture which came in lovely large boxes. "Brilliant!" I thought "Big cardboard boxes are so much fun, let's make something cool!".

Harry and I spent a really fun afternoon making a space rocket. I even took a few photos with the vague idea that I'd blog about it someday, certainly not expecting it to take this long!

Cardboard box space ship

I made a pointed roof and cut a large circle in the side for the window, then we painted the whole thing blue. It had a door that opened and shut, and for the inside we made a control panel with raised stickers and moving steering wheel. I found him a hat that he could use for a space helmet, and he loved it.

Space rocket from a cardboard box

It was pretty awesome if I say so myself. Mia was crawling at this stage, and so she would get inside it too and they played in it beautifully. We found a temporary spot for it in the corner of our new dining room, and there it stayed.

And so we fast forward three and a half years and yes, the space rocket is still there. It is as much a part of our dining room as the new table and chairs. Over the years it has been modified somewhat, various play dates have involved decorating it with stickers, the roof and sides have been reinforced with patterned Duck tape and after the door fell off I replaced it with a piece of cheap fabric to make a curtain. The control panel, steering wheel and original stickers are long gone.

Battered cardboard box space rocket

It has become so much a part of the room that we barely notice it any more, and it wasn't until I took this photo (for which I had to move the table and chairs out the way) that I really realised just how scruffy it looks, especially in our dining room where in theory we entertain our guests! But the thing is, this space rocket is probably the most played with toy in the entire house, and I'm not lying to say that it is in play daily. Many of the other toys we had at that time are long gone. Even the Duplo isn't played with as much as the space rocket. It's not used as much for blasting into space now, it has become a den, a hidey hole, a place to store little toys and a hiding place for teddies. If something is missing, it's the first place that I look. Several times the rocket has come very close to the recycling bin, and yet when it comes to it I just can't do it. 

It takes up so much space, and yet I can't imagine the dining room without it. I really think it'll be here until they leave home! Would you have put up with it for this long?
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