Monday, 21 August 2017

Having fun with stashed craft and activity kits

I've mentioned before when it comes to planning activities for the summer holidays that I store up craft and activity kits that the children have received for Christmas and birthday presents, and bring them out when I need to entertain them for a little while. We've had a lot of fun this summer working through some of them and so I thought that I'd share just a few of our favourites in case you are looking for activity or gift ideas!

Amazon links are affiliate.

Mia received the Galt Toys Sparkle Jewellery Box for her birthday and she was really pleased with her finished jewellery box. The box comes with lots of numbered gaps on the outside for you to place corresponding jewel stickers, and it kept her occupied for ages sticking them into place. The one problem was that as soon as she had finished the stickers started falling off, causing some frustration. So I watered down some PVA glue and gave the entire box a couple of coats. This stuck the jewels down really well and we've not lost any since. It's a nice big case with a felt lining, perfect for all her little bits and pieces.

Activity and craft kits for children

Another birthday gift was a Make Your Own Lip Balm kit, which Harry also showed a lot of interest in. Making the lip balms was very simple, you just have to mix together a couple of spoonfuls of the lip balm base in a pot with some scent/flavouring. You place the pot into some hot water to melt it slightly so you can easily mix it together. The kit comes with four little tubs for your finished lip balm along with stickers to decorate. It's also a nice little gift to make for friends.

Activity and craft kits for children

Mia also really loved this My Fairy Garden Fairy Garden. She received two very similar ones for her birthday so we chose one to start with and one to save for later in the year. It's a really simple concept, and of course you can make your own, but it was so much more fun to have all the tiny fairy bits and pieces. You need to put your own compost in, then you sprinkle in grass seed and add other bits like a path of coloured stones, a little house, a pond and a washing line, and there are fairy and mouse figures too. We made it a couple of months ago and the grass is still growing well as long as it's regularly watered, I'm always having to give it a trim!

Activity kits for children

Harry had a lot of fun with this Galt Toys Horrible Science Creepy Crystals set which he bought for himself at a friend's garage sale. He loves science kits, and I have to say this was one of the better ones that we've tried.

The crystal making kit contains three different crystal making experiments. The first is a crystal tree, with a cardboard tree that you colour in and then leave in a solution. After a few days it is covered in little coloured crystals. The second one that we tried was the one in the picture, where a small crystal is left in a solution that you've dissolved powder into (as you can tell I'm not that scientific, I don't really know what we were doing!) and then the small crystal grew into a larger and more impressive crystal. The third experiment involved putting a crystal into vinegar for a week or so, to be honest it didn't do much so I'm not sure if we did it right, but it was fun setting it up!

Activity and craft kits for children

Harry also enjoyed this Science Tricks set from the Science Museum. There are some bits and pieces in the box and most of the other things that you need are easily found around the house (cocktail sticks and so on). He was able to work out some of the tricks by himself and put on a little show for us, and he also enjoyed adding to it with some of his other science kits and playing with syringes and funnels and so on.

Finally, there's one activity kit that the children have loved but I've been less impressed with. We've had a few different versions of the Gem Excavation kit over the last few years. It's a brilliant idea, but all the ones that we've had have turned into 'parents extracting the gems' kits after the children have tapped away ineffectually for a few minutes and then got bored.

They are a great idea in practice - some kind of plaster of Paris block with gems embedded in for children to excavate with the tools provided. However they aren't easy to get into, and the last one I got so cross with that I encouraged the children to throw lumps at the patio to try and shatter it and release the gems. This caused the gems to go flying in all directions and get lost in the grass. Far too annoying, just buy a pack of gemstones! If you want any kind of excavation kit, we did get on quite well with this Dinosaur excavation kit which produced a really nice dinosaur model that could be putt together and was a bit more exciting to excavate.



Amazon links are affiliate. These are all kits that we've been given as gifts or purchased and that I particularly wanted to recommend as I was so pleased with them, I know that I'm always looking for gift ideas when it comes to birthday parties!

Friday, 18 August 2017

Coping with a lack of me time over the summer holidays

I'm very lucky that I'm able to spend all school holidays at home with the children. But I'm an introvert and I need time by myself to recharge, something that I learned from the fab book Quiet by Susan Cain. During term time I very much enjoy my quiet days at home by myself, catching up with my blog and social media work as well as housework and other chores, leaving my evenings free to spend with the husband once the children are in bed.

The school holidays are a different story however. I'm very grateful to have affectionate children, but it can be overwhelming at times. They don't like to be far from me, and while reasonably content to be in the room next door they are very reluctant to be on a different floor to me for very long. Ideally they like to be sitting as close to me as they can, which often leads me to bemoan the fact that we pay so much on a mortgage for a good sized house when most of the time we are only occupying a tiny percentage of it! Even when they are playing quietly away together I'm constantly on edge, anticipating imminent chaos.

My husband is very good about taking the children when he's at home, and most evenings he will take them away after dinner to watch a film together, leaving me time to get on with the things that I need to do in my study. They still like to come and visit me from time to time, to request a drink or a cuddle, but generally they understand that I'm busy. Sometimes he will even take them both out for an hour or so. They like to go down to the nearest beach playing Pokemon Go, although while Harry is always keen to go lately Mia usually prefers to stay at home with me.

Another time that I truly get to myself is if I go out for a run, something which I don't fit in as often as I should. The children have been staying up later so they've been sleeping in later in the mornings, a luxury that I've been dreaming of for many years, so I don't like to ruin it by setting my alarm early!

Tired Mum squashed by children

I've also found that a good way to get some space from the children during the day is to get on with some housework. Mia in particular is often keen to help, but I can distract her with a spray bottle and a duster and find her something to clean and she'll get on happily before she gets bored and wanders off to find something else to do. Also popping them in the bath is a good idea, obviously I have to be in there too to supervise them, but I can be cleaning the bathroom, or just sat on the floor faffing on my phone!

My big winner though for having some time to myself has been Minecraft. It's not always peaceful, they play in the same game together and there are often arguments. It also means that both our PCs are occupied, so it's not an opportunity for me to catch up with work unless it's something that I can do on my own. Unfortunately I can't let them play Minecraft all day!

How do you manage to get time to yourself when you are at home with children?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Finding blogging inspiration over the summer holidays

When I'm used to having time to myself while the children are at school, it's quite a big adjustment having them around for the whole time during the school holidays. We often go away during other breaks, but tend to avoid travel over the summer. I can't justify sending the children to any kind of holiday club, but it definitely has an impact on my blogging and social media work. I either need to get on with things while they are around (near impossible) or cram everything into a few hours after they have gone to bed (leaving me without much time to relax!)

I do my best to keep up with social media bits and pieces from my phone during the day while they are playing or distracted by Minecraft. The trouble is that I'm constantly on alert for an argument leading to a meltdown which requires me to intervene at short notice, so it's difficult to get on with longer tasks like writing blog posts. So when I do get a few hours of uninterrupted time to myself I need to have a plan, in particular a list of blog posts that I want to write to work through.

So I thought I'd share some of the ways that I find blog post inspiration over the summer holidays!

How to find blogging inspiration

* Even though we don't always do a huge amount, we still do more as a family, and with the nicer weather we enjoy more day trips. So that usually gives me something to write about, whether it's a day out locally with friends or some activities that I've organised for the children at home.

* I really enjoy reading other blogs, and I subscribe to a lot through Feedly. I catch up daily, as well as finding interesting blog posts on Facebook or other social media. Reading blog posts is something that you can make fit the time available, and it's great to see what other people are writing about and whether it sparks an idea (fully credited of course!)

* Similarly, you can see what other people are talking about on Facebook or other parenting sites, in particular reactions to things in the news, and think about your own opinions or reactions. I generally have a continuous inner monologue going on anyway, and so I like to get things written down if I'm stewing on them, whether or not it ends up as a blog post.

* I try to write down ideas as I think of them, and I have a Trello board where I store ideas for future posts. Some of them never see the light of day, but I go through them again from time to time and sometimes I see a way that I can take a different angle to an old idea, or I can combine several ideas into one.

* It's also helpful to go through my old blog posts (this was enforced upon me recently thanks to Photobucket!) and I can see where I've written about the same sort of thing several times, which can be combined into a round up. This is particularly true when it comes to some of my crafty posts, for example my recent round up of Summer Hama bead ideas.

* I spend a lot of time browsing Pinterest, both under my own account and also for the BritMums account. It's particularly good for crafting inspiration, as well as seeing what is popular and trending at the minute. Again it's important to credit any ideas that you reproduce, but I often find that it leads me on to my own ideas for crafts or things to try.

* If I'm really stuck I'll search for lists of blog post ideas. There are loads of them out there, including a few that I've written myself - Blog post ideas for Travel Bloggers, Blog post ideas for Crafty Bloggers and Blog post ideas for Summer. This list from You Baby Me Mummy - 87 Awesome Post Ideas - also has plenty of ideas to get you going. I very rarely take a blog post idea and use it exactly as the author intended, but they are great for coming up with ideas that you can adapt to your own blog and niche.

I hope that this was a helpful post, and enjoy your summer!

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

Monday, 14 August 2017

Sharing my favourite childhood books with the children

I loved reading as a child. I always had a book on the go, and I read my favourites over and over again. Harry is 8, and at his age, and younger, I devoured Enid Blyton books in particular. I think my favourite series was the Adventure Series - The Island of Adventure, The Castle of Adventure and so on. I also really loved The Secret Island, about a group of children that run away from their unkind aunt and uncle and set themselves up living self-sufficiently on a remote island, complete with chickens and a cow. I read the Famous Five books over and over, and I also have fond memories of the books about Mr Galliano's Circus. I didn't mind that many of the stories had similar elements, and that although the names were different the children didn't change much. Perhaps it made them a comforting and easy read before I moved on to more challenging books.

To my dismay, Harry hasn't shown the same interest in Enid Blyton. I read the The Magic Faraway Tree series to him a couple of years ago and he's since read them to himself, as well as The Wishing-Chair Collection, so they were a hit. He recently enjoyed a few of the Secret Seven books but he didn't get on with the Famous Five. I'm hoping that I can either rekindle his interest, or that perhaps Mia will want to read them when she's able to read more confidently!

I recently interested Harry in Five Children and It by E. Nesbit and I'm hoping that he'll go on to enjoy some of her other books. I've also got a long list of other books that I remember enjoying as a child, and although some of them might appeal more to Mia in a few years I'm looking forward to seeing what they think. Fortunately these days, even though many are now out of print, they are often available digitally, sometimes very cheaply or even for free.

I kept lots of my own old books specifically for my children to read (from well before children were on the way!) and I have a collection of old hardbacks that were my Dad's. I've also kept an eye out for them in charity shops over the years. I don't keep that many books on my own fiction bookshelf, but the childhood books are harder to part with.

Vintage children's books on the shelf

I also have quite a collection of old Ladybird books, some of my own originals but mainly ones that I've collected over the last few years. Harry will be learning about the Stone Age next term at school so I pulled out my Ladybird Stone Age Man in Britain and he lapped it up. I find that the non-fiction Ladybird books are brilliantly written for young children, explaining all the facts in a really easy to access way. The books in the Easy to Read series were also excellent when the children were still learning to read, they made a good alternative to the school books that they were bringing home when they wanted something a bit different.

Of course there are also lots of fab new books for children that weren't around when I was younger. The Harry Potter books and the His Dark Materials Trilogy are both sets of books that I bought and read when I was in my twenties, and that Harry has enjoyed reading recently. I've also seen some re-imagined versions of childhood classics for sale. For example the other day I spotted Katy by Jacqueline Wilson in the shops which seems to be a modern version of What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I loved that series of books when I was little, and although I'm not sure I like the idea of rewriting a beloved story, I am very tempted to check it out!

Child reading in bed

I'd love to know which books you enjoyed when you were younger that you've shared with your own children!

Amazon links are affiliate.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Start of term keepsake craft for children

We are over halfway through our summer holidays already, and I'm starting to think about and plan for the new term ahead. This month the theme for our Bostik Bloggers craft was 'Back to School', so I came up with a keepsake craft that could be replicated each year to show how much the children have changed when they go back in September.

Back to school keepsake craft

To make this craft you need:

Coloured paper or card
Patterned paper
A photograph of your children, ideally in their school uniforms on the first day of school
Stickers and embellishments
Bostik White Glu
Bostik Foam Pads

Back to school keepsake craft

Instructions:

First come up with some questions to ask your children. I put in the name of their teacher and then asked them about their favourite subject, likes and dislikes, what they wanted to be when they grow up and so on. Print this out along with a title.

Then use the Bostik White Glu to stick everything down.

Back to school keepsake craft

To add a bit of interest I used some plastic numbers to illustrate the years that the children will be going into, Year 2 and Year 4. To stick them down I used a couple of Bostik Foam Pads. These are really sticky so they will hold the larger decoration firmly in place, and they really make the numbers pop out from the page.

Back to school keepsake craft

The box of craft materials was provided to me free of charge by Bostik as part of the Tots100/Bostik Craft Bloggers Club.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

August - Lately I've been...

We are over halfway through our summer holidays now, and although it's hard work being surrounded by small children constantly I'm really enjoying the lack of routine, even if I seem to find myself constantly making food then tidying it up and walking about putting things away. So here's what I've been up to lately:

Thinking about

Any spare time over the last few weeks has been dominated by sorting out the photos on my blog after Photobucket changed their services. I don't want to think about how long I've spent re-uploading photos and editing old posts, suffice to say I spent at least four hours ever evening working on it and as much time as I could during the day as well for several weeks. Fingers crossed I've got it pretty much sorted now, although I'm sure that I've missed some somewhere.

Crafting

I've not had much spare time for crafting lately thanks to Photobucket. I worked with Posca pens to decorate some flower pots, and I also managed to find the time to plan a Minecraft Day for the children, we've also been doing some of the craft kits that they have saved up from birthdays and Christmas.

Plant pots decorated with Posca pens

Watching

At the weekend I went along to a Hen do and we went to the Battle Proms at Highclere Castle. It was really good, there was a Spitfire doing a display to music, a Napoleonic Cavalry Display, cannons, classical music and fireworks at the end. I must admit that I did quite a lot more talking than watching though!

We are also very much enjoying the latest series of Game of Thrones, can't believe that we halfway through already! At least the story is moving along nice and quickly now, each episode is jam packed!

Eating

I seem to spend most of the day preparing food, eating food and then cleaning up after food. The children are always hungry! I'm snacking more than I should, especially because I've been buying biscuits and cake on the pretence that they are for the children but they are actually for me...diet time in September!

Travelling to

We had a lovely week at Center Parcs Elveden at the beginning of July, our first visit during the summer. The weather was nice enough for a couple of barbecues and we hired a pedalo out on the lake, it was a really lovely holiday.

Pedalo on the lake at Center Parcs

Reading

My reading of books has fallen by the wayside a little bit lately, but I've been managing to keep up with my blog reading which I'm pleased with. I have a long list of blogs that I'm subscribed to and I've been making an effort to work through it and keep up with them all, leaving comments if I have time.

Planning

Along with the photo sort out on my blog it has given me a few ideas of other jobs that I can do to keep everything in order. I deleted quite a lot of posts and it's definitely been making me think about quality over quantity when it comes to posting. I need to sort out my pages as they are getting quite large now, and think about concentrating on highlighting the best posts rather than trying to list everything out. I need to go back in and add pin buttons to my images, as I deleted them all when sorting out the photos otherwise I never would have got it done in time. I also want to go back and try and fit some more Amazon affiliate links into my older posts. These are all jobs that will have to wait until September though!

Looking forward to

We have almost four weeks left of the summer holidays and I'm still enjoying them. It's so nice not having to do the school run, packed lunches and so on, and I love the relaxed mornings. We have some nice things planned over the next few weeks, in particular a wedding over the Bank Holiday weekend which I'm looking forward to, it should be a fun day and also the chance to catch up with friends and their families. I'm not looking forward to the start of term at all, but ask me again in a couple of weeks and that might have changed!

What have you been up to lately?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Minecraft Day

If you've been reading my blog for a while you might remember that one of the things I like to do with the children in the holidays is to hold a Themed Day. This is a day where we choose a theme, and I come up with some crafts and activities related to that theme to entertain the children. It's been a while since our last one but the children are always asking for another, so we have a couple planned for the summer. Now the children are old enough to choose their own themes, and so Mia chose Minecraft Day and Harry chose Egyptian Day, which will be taking place in a couple of weeks. You can find links to our previous themed days at the bottom of this post.

Holding a Minecraft themed day

Now when it comes to Minecraft Day, the obvious activity for the day is to play Minecraft. If I let them I think that the children would quite happily play Minecraft all day, so I was keen to come up with some other things to do that would keep them away from the screen! In the past I've always set up the table in the kitchen with some themed bits and pieces. I've been working quite a lot in the evenings lately and so I wasn't going to bother this time, but Harry asked me specifically whether I was going to as I was putting him to bed, so how could I refuse! I just piled up a few papercrafted blocks (more on those later) and some toys and books that were lying about, and put these cool Minecraft sunglasses that he got free with a magazine onto one of Mia's teddies.

Holding a Minecraft themed day

We did start off by loading up the game. I found a brilliant Minecraft scavenger hunt that I could print out, unfortunately I can't find the original source but you can see a pin here - Minecraft printable scavenger hunt. The children can play Minecraft together from their different computers so they worked together to try and find all the items on the list and place them into a treasure chest. This actually took them a lot longer than I expected and they didn't manage to complete it during the day so it will keep them busy for ages, and they absolutely loved it! It was a completely new idea to them and I was really pleased with how much they enjoyed it, I need to do some research and come up with some more hunts for them to do together!

Holding a Minecraft themed day

Then we turned off the computer and set to making some Minecraft biscuits. I have a very basic recipe for shortbread that I've been making for the children for years, all the way back to those very first iced biscuits. The difference was that this time Harry was able to measure out all the ingredients himself, much easier for me! We don't have a square cookie cutter so he used a knife to cut out some squares. When they had cooled we iced them with bright green icing (gel colours work best for this) and topped with green sprinkles.

Holding a Minecraft themed day

After lunch we moved onto some quiet activities. I already mentioned the papercrafting - Harry has been given some fab Minecraft paper crafting activity sets like this Minecraft Paper Craft Overworld Deluxe Pack (affiliate link). The sets come with lots of pre-cut printed shapes that you can pop out and assemble. Some, like the blocks, are very easy, and others are a bit more challenging. He's built some of them but has plenty left to go. He spent ages making some up, and then Mia played with them. We also found some printable Minecraft paper crafting on the Twinkl website which are available for Platinum Plus members. This Simple Adventurer Paper Model really was very simple and Mia could put him together easily. The Block Pig Paper Model is also very sweet, and Twinkl also has a range of other Minecraft based paper crafting projects, including lots of different types of blocks.

Holding a Minecraft themed day

Also from Twinkl the children enjoyed the Block Adventurer Addition Mosaic Activity Sheets, and there are subtraction sheets too. Also a Platinum Plus subscription resource, they are a grid of sums, and when you colour in the squares according to the answers a picture is revealed. There are also lots of free Minecraft colouring pages readily available online as well as these fab free Minecraft colour by number pages.

Then we had a long session of play with some of our Minecraft Lego sets. Harry has a few of these that are kept in a separate box to the rest of the Lego (I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to organising the Lego!) so they were able to spread the pieces out all over the floor and Harry concentrated on building the sets while Mia took the little figures out and played with those.

Finally I let them back onto the computers. I wanted to give their play a little structure so I downloaded this free Minecraft Challenge printable. It's January themed so the ideas are all winter and snowy related, but that didn't matter to the children! They had fun coming up with some new builds, and then they had another go at their Minecraft scavenger hunt.

Holding a Minecraft themed day

When I was researching Minecraft build ideas I didn't find as many as I was expecting, so I'm going to ask the children to help me to come up with some different ideas that we can share on the blog to inspire other Minecrafters!

We really enjoyed our Minecraft day, it reminded me how much the children do love our themed days, I definitely need to plan a few more before they get too old!

For some more Minecraft themed ideas you might like my post with some Ideas for a Minecraft Themed Party. I also have a post with some tips on How to hold a themed day for children. And if you have a Minecraft player in the family you might enjoy my list of gift ideas for a Minecraft fan.

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
Transport Day
Australia Day

I have been provided with a Platinum Plus subscription to Twinkl in exchange for sharing their resources on my blog from time to time.
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