Saturday, 1 November 2014

How to hold a themed day at home for children

My very first themed day for the children was Space Day. I'm not sure what gave me the idea to start organising themed days, but it may have been because it was the last summer before Harry started school, and I wanted to make the most of our time together at home. I also wanted to find things that both children could do together, not always easy with a stubborn toddler. I spent a bit of time beforehand browsing Pinterest for space themed crafts and activities. I also took a lot of inspiration from the Twinkl website, always my first port of call for themed resources.

How to hold a themed day

The children were so excited to see the breakfast table the next morning, covered in tin foil and their space themed toys. Space Day was such a success that we continued that summer and beyond with a whole series of themed days - you can find a link to them all at the bottom of this post!

A successful themed day is all about the planning, and it makes any day go much easier if you have a list of activities to keep everyone busy. I make sure that we have everything that we needed in advance, and everything was printed out ready.

Our first activity is often some kind of poster. This is a great activity because it involves painting a large sheet of paper, which children of all ages enjoy. Even better if the weather is nice so you can do it in the garden and it will dry quicker. While the paint is drying you can work on the other elements of the poster. For example, for Dinosaur Day we used these fab free dinosaur colouring pages. Younger children can help with the colouring and older children can cut them out and position them.

Dinosaur poster to make with children

Then I try to have some kind of play activity, a sensory activity if possible. For our Beach Day we made sandy play dough together and gathered together a selection of beach related small world play things. For Antarctic Day we made up some fake snow and played in it with the toy cars.

Sandy play dough for beach themed day

I also like to have at least one craft activity on hand, perhaps with several different elements that can be worked on separately and combined together. For example the paper plate aquarium from our Under the Sea Day has Hama bead fish and a painted paper plate frame.

Paper plate and Hama bead aquarium craft

I also always include a themed baking activity. On Dinosaur Day we made a dinosaur shaped cake, on Antarctic Day we made snowball cake pops. Even if you just make shaped biscuits and ice them in appropriate colours it's still fun.

Finally I make sure that we have a selection of printable activities to do when something quieter is needed. Twinkl is great for this, they have resources on just about any theme that you can think of. For younger children colouring sheets or pencil control worksheets work well, older children enjoy themed work searches or other puzzles. You can find colouring pages on almost any subject online. I also line up a selection of books from our bookshelves which fit in with the theme, however tenuously, and leave them around for the children to browse.

Our themed days have been a lot of fun. The children have really loved them, and they've been educational too!

Our themed days so far:

Space Day
Antarctic Day
Dinosaur Day
Under the Sea Day
Beach Day
Disney Frozen Day (a guest post from my sister)
Roman Day

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Don't be tempted by cheap imitation Hama beads

I have a confession to make. The first "Hama beads" that I ever purchased weren't real Hama beads. They were these ones:

Cheap imitation Hama beads

To be fair, in my naivety I didn't realise the difference. They were shelved with the Hama bead packs in the toy shop, they looked identical to me, and most importantly, they were temptingly cheap. When we got home I soon realised my mistake. The beads were slippery, the pegboard pegs too short and the beads were easy to knock over. It was frustrating for me, and even more so for Harry. When ironed, the finished design went all brittle and easily snapped.

Fortunately I didn't let the experience put me off, and we rectified the mistake with a big box of genuine Hama beads and some authentic pegboards, and we never looked back.

Until a couple of weeks ago that is, when I was in my local craft shop stocking up on real Hama beads and I was pointed towards some new stock - very cheap kits of beads.

Cheap versions of Hama beads

It was only £2.20 for the pack so I picked one up for Mia. It had a transparent board with a coloured template to go underneath that I thought might be good for her to have a go at. Unfortunately it was a disappointment. The template didn't  match the board, both in colours used and in the positioning of the beads. The beads were slippery and far too fiddly for Mia, (who has been coping fine with real Hama beads for months) and worst of all there weren't enough beads to even complete the design properly.

I will make one exception when it comes to imitation Hama beads. I've bought a few packets of the Picture Beads brand from Hobbycraft, and they work very well. Although at £2 a pack they are actually more expensive than the genuine standard coloured beads in my local shop, they do work out cheaper for the more specialised types of beads, for example the glittery and glow in the dark beads.

So let this post be a warning to avoid cheap Hama beads, and if you've been put of Hama beads with a bad experience of cheap imitations, please give the real ones a go, as they are so much better!

I still have all the cheap beads, so I'm going to be investigating some crafts that use the beads in different ways. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Ladybird Tuesday - Lives of the Great Composers Book 2

A while back I looked at the Ladybird book Lives of the Great Composers - Book 1, and my OCD tendencies were satisfied when I discovered Book 2 in the big box of Ram's childhood Ladybird books. Both books are in Series 662 - History of the Arts. Book 1 covers Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, and Book 2 covers Handel, Haydn and Schubert. Both books were published in 1969. Another book in the series is The Story of Music, which I have also written about.

Ladybird vintage book Lives of the Great Composers

Because the book only covers three composers, it's a pretty comprehensive text and there is a lot of detail. The biographies are written like stories, beginning when they were young children, which makes them a bit more approachable. They are not just a dry history, but are filled with little anecdotes, many of which are beautifully illustrated and sometimes quite humorously. For example, a paragraph about Haydn's short marriage to his rather volatile wife is illustrated by a picture of him cowering against a door clutching a violin while she throws crockery at him, definitely making the story more memorable although I'm not sure that they'd use an illustration like that today!

Lives of the Great Composers by Ladybird

I really like the style of the book, although wordy it's actually very entertaining and definitely brings the stories of these men to life. 

Lives of the Great Composers

The book finishes with a quick summary of the well-known pieces by the composers in the book. I'm definitely going to be keeping these books around as a reference for school projects in the future!

I'm joining in with Ladybird Tuesday at Being Mrs C. You can see all my previous Ladybird Tuesday posts here.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hama beads aren't just for little ones!

I'm sure I must be right in thinking that most people would find it difficult to watch their children playing with Hama beads and not want to join in - as you can probably tell, I have just as much fun playing with them as my children! There is usually a box lying out somewhere in our house, and many times I have found myself ironing things for Mums to take home as well as their visiting children! I couldn't wait until Harry reached the age when I could justify buying some for us all to try out.

We've not had many actual Hama bead sets, instead I buy the boards and beads separately, coming up with my own designs and looking online for inspiration. In particular I really like the larger boards, they are so cleverly laid out so that you can use them in different ways and I love seeing how I can create different designs.

I like the look of finished Hama bead creations (perhaps because it's a similar look to cross stitch) and I do have quite a few projects displayed around the house. So I thought I'd share some of my Hama bead projects which are more suitable for adult crafters.

I was very proud of my Hama bead hair clip holder which is really useful for storage in Mia's bedroom. It was very easy to make, and you could customise it by using all sorts of designs for the top and bottom.

Hama bead hairclip holder

Hama beads can be used to make lovely, unique and cheerful picture frames. I've made Hama bead heart frames and Hama bead Roman mosaic inspired frames, and I've also made freestanding picture frames to frame little pictures that the children have drawn. You can make them in any different colour combination to suit the decor of your room.

Hama bead Roman mosaic frame

My Hama bead hanging heart decoration was designed and made for Valentine's Day, but it is still hanging up in our hallway! I really like it, it makes me smile when I see it! I keep meaning to make the children something similar as decorations for their bedrooms. I really like the idea of one with cars and trucks for a boy's bedroom, or as Harry has a space themed bedroom perhaps planets and rockets. It would also be a nice way to display creations that the child has made themselves.

Hama bead heart hanging decoration

Finally I really love my cheerful Hama bead covered jam jars, I was so pleased with how these turned out. They really brighten up my desk and my head has been filled with possibilities since I discovered how easy it was to make curved Hama bead designs!

Hama bead covered jam jars

All these projects were made using the midi sized Hama beads, which are the size that are most commonly available. I've also been having a lot of fun with the mini Hama beads, which are aimed at ages 10+. They really are tiny, about a quarter of the size of the midi beads, and it's easiest to use tweezers to position them carefully on the boards. You can see some of my first mini Hama bead projects here and there are more on my Hama beads page. I recently undertook a massive colour sorting operation and I have a few more crafts planned using them which I'll be sharing soon!

Mini Hama bead projects

I have a Pinterest board called Hama bead ideas for me which is filled with some lovely projects. It has reassured me that I'm definitely not the only grown up that plays with Hama beads, some of the designs are so intricate and creative and I can't wait to try them!

Follow Jennifer Jain's board Hama bead ideas for me on Pinterest.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Ladybird Tuesday - Snow White and Rose Red

The Ladybird book Snow White and Rose Red is part of the Well-Loved Tales, Series 606D, and I own several other books in this series. This particular copy is one of the more recent books, with a shinier cover and green spine. The look and format of the books changed in 1979, when this book was published. At Mrs Fox's you can see a review of the original version of the tale Snow White and Rose Red. The text in my copy seems to be the same, but the illustrations are very different and the text is also printed on both sides of the full page spread, not in the usual Ladybird style where text is found on the left and illustrations on the right.

Vintage Ladybird Snow White and Rose Red

I wasn't familiar with the story of Snow White and Rose Red. It's a bit confusing, because the character of Snow White in this book is different to the more well known Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This story is about two sisters who are very close to each other, and yet also different in both character and appearance.

Snow White and Rose Red fairytale

There is still a dwarf in the story, although this is a rude and ungrateful dwarf that doesn't appreciate it when the girls save his life on several occasions. They also help out a large bear that spends the winter with them, and when he kills the dwarf an enchantment is broken which reveals him to be a prince. He then marries Snow White, leaving Rose Red to marry his brother, and they all live happily ever after with their mother in a castle filled with treasure.

Snow White and Rose Red

It's a pretty typical fairytale, written in a simple way for children to understand and with plenty of illustrations. I did feel a bit sorry for Rose Red though, who has to marry the unknown prince, but it's still a lovely addition to my collection!

I'm joining in with Ladybird Tuesday at Being Mrs C. You can see all my previous Ladybird Tuesday posts here.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Review - Hot Wheels Total Turbo Takeover track set

The Hot Wheels Turbo Takeover track set is part of the Hot Wheels Track Builder System which includes a variety of sets and individual pieces of track. The pieces can all be combined together, allowing children to design, create and customise their very own track challenges. The Turbo Takeover set includes two loops, a pull back button to start the car off and a battery powered booster to speed the car around the second loop. It also has a plastic piece that flips up into the air when a car hits it and a slope with 'rocks' that fall down one at a time when the car passes underneath.

Hot Wheels Turbo Takeover track set review

The set was pretty easy to put together, and Harry (5) can easily manage to build and customise it. The set includes instructions for a couple of different layouts, and it can also be combined with other sets from the same range. We don't have any of the other sets but I've seen some of them at friend's houses and I can imagine that you could build some pretty spectacular layouts with all the pieces that are available!

Hot Wheels track set review

The Turbo Takeover system is pretty good as a standalone set though. The battery powered booster takes 2 D batteries (not included) and it really does fire the cars along. The pull back initial launcher has three different settings and the booster has two speeds, so you can try out different combinations to see what works best. The pieces of track are smooth and flexible and feel sturdy.

We did find that the set didn't work with many of Harry's cars, and even Hot Wheels branded ones wouldn't always stay on the track. As the set only comes with one car, it would be nice if there were a couple more included. He didn't seem to be bothered though, especially as you only need one car at a time to use it. I liked that the set was easy to dismantle and doesn't take up too much space to store.

Hot Wheels turbo set review

The fun with this set for Harry was more in the designing and building of the track rather than the actual running of cars around it. He also liked playing with it just pushing his cars around it, not using the booster pieces.

He enjoys watching Hot Wheels videos on YouTube, and he had fun making his own video of the set. In this short video Harry demonstrates the set and shows a car being fired around the basic track layout:


We received this set to review. The RRP for the set is £39.99 and it's suitable for ages 3+. The set includes one die-cast car and 10 feet of track. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Book review - Personalised children's books from Wonderous Ink

This week, Harry and Mia each received a lovely parcel in the post, addressed to them individually. Inside was a book each from Wonderous Ink, a very special book which not only mentions them by name but also uses the letters from their names to remind them how wonderful and unique they are.

Wonderous books review

The books are designed for children aged 2 - 8, but a book also makes a nice gift to buy for a newborn. The story follows a boy or a girl who is curious to know what makes them different from all the other children in the world. They go out for a walk to ponder the question, and find that they are lost in an enchanted forest. But on their way they meet a variety of different characters, each with a problem that the child is able to solve by using a letter from his or her name. In return the character gives them an attribute beginning with that letter of the name, giving them the courage to find the way home.

Book review - Wonderous Books

The book is really cleverly designed and printed on high quality, thick paper. Although there is a page designed for each letter, for example both Harry and Mia have the same page for 'a' (although still tailored differently for a boy and a girl), where there are two letters the same in a name the pages are different - Harry has both an r for remarkable and one for refreshing.

Wonderous books personalised book inside

The story is written in simple verse making it easy and fun to read aloud, and the illustrations really are lovely. Harry was thrilled to see his name repeated all through the book and Mia was delighted too - she's now just about able to recognise her name written down. It's a lovely book to share with your child and remind them just how wonderous and individual they are.

Each book also has a personal keycode which the child can use to create an online Wonderous World. You can read a continuation of the story in the book, and there is a quiz where children can answer questions based on the book.

On the Wonderous Ink website you can preview the entire book using your child's name, and then if you like it you can order it there and then for £19.99, including postage and packing.

Harry and Mia received a book each in exchange for this review.
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