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?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The summer holidays have started!

Finally! It has felt like such a long time coming, especially when everyone else in the country seems to have started their summer holidays ages ago! I have really fond memories of last summer (I wrote about it here), it passed in a haze of Hama beads, barbecues, loom bands and sunny days out.

I made a big list of things that I wanted to do last summer, and we didn't even come close to finishing it, but it gave us a good starting point for activities that we wanted to do, and we came up with even more fun ways of spending time. This year I had a few more ideas of my own, and I invited the children to contribute to the list with their own suggestions. It's not as fancy as the many that I've seen on-line, but we'll add to it as we go along.

Summer family to do list

One thing that I do really want to do this summer is to get Harry riding his bike without stabilisers. Poor thing, his bike is a little too small for him but we are reluctant to get him another just yet because it feels as though he has hardly ridden it, we just don't seem to get the chance.

The idea is to get him riding confidently, then for Christmas or his birthday we will buy him a new bike and Mia can have his old one. He has such skinny little legs that he struggles to get it moving sometimes, so I'm hoping that if I can get him out on it most days it will build up his muscles a little bit, and then we can work on taking off the stabilisers. It's definitely a skill that he needs to have! I've also signed him up for a week of intensive swimming lessons, something else that he should really be doing by now. As you might guess, I spend more time with him concentrating on indoor, crafty activities rather than the outdoor, more physical ones!

Hopefully we'll get away camping again a couple of times, even if it's only in the back garden. Harry is well into learning about space at the moment, so I might even get him up for the Perseid meteor shower in August if the sky is clear. We bought some new garden furniture recently, perhaps I'll get the chance to relax in the garden for a little bit while the children play (that is probably just a fantasy) and I'm sure we'll have plenty of barbecues whenever the weather is nice.

What do you have planned for the summer, do you make a list or do you just take each day as it comes?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Lots of Lasts

We seem to be a little behind the rest of the country, in that today is our last day of term before the summer holidays. These last few days have really dragged, I can't wait for the summer to really start! But I've also been feeling a bit sad, because come September both children are going to be at school and everything will change once again.

Over the last couple of years since Harry started school, Mia and I have built up our little routines, and it will be sad to see them go. Of course it's not always been easy, Mia misses Harry when he's at school and it's a lot easier to entertain them when they are both at home. I've also not much enjoyed all the running around on the days that Mia goes to nursery in the morning.

But we've had our special times, like Tuesday afternoons when I picked her up from nursery and we walked home slowly so that we could wait for the buses from Harry's school to pass us, and wave to him on his way to swimming lessons. Or dawdling on the walk home so that she could add to her collection of pinecones and feathers. I'll miss our weekly Thursday morning play date with her friends, and I'll even miss taking her along to the supermarket with me for our weekly top up shop and buying her a gingerbread man.

Mia will continue her two mornings a week at the nursery over the summer, which will be nice as it will give me a little bit of time with just Harry. Although I'm expecting us to be quite flexible, and she may not make it in for every session if we have something else planned.

She's very excited about starting school, we have some of her uniform sorted already and she doesn't seem to have any worries or concerns. Harry is also looking forward to having Mia at school with him. In just a few short weeks it's going to feel like a very long day until I collect them both from school at 3pm. Or at least it will at first, I'm sure that I'll get used to it!

Children walking down a footpath

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Giveaway - A Tiggly smart learning product

I have a very exciting giveaway on the blog today - you could win one Tiggly product, chosen from Tiggly Math, Tiggly Words or Tiggly Shapes. To help you decide, you can read my review of Tiggly Math and Tiggly Words here and find out more about this fantastic learning system.

All you need to do is complete this Rafflecopter form (please click the link below if the box is not displayed). Please see Terms and Conditions below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and Conditions

The prize is one Tiggly product, chosen from Tiggly Math, Tiggly Words or Tiggly Shapes. As a mandatory entry into the giveaway you must leave a blog post comment telling me which product you'd like to win. Additional entries are available.

If you are leaving a comment as Anonymous or using a nickname, please leave your full name in the comment (and if possible a Twitter handle or e-mail address) so that I can moderate entries.

The giveaway is open to UK residents only. The giveaway closes at midnight on Monday 27th July 2015. All entries to the giveaway must be received via the Rafflecopter form above. The winner will be chosen at random through Rafflecopter and invalid entries will be removed. If the winner does not respond within 14 days I will redraw and reallocate the prize. One entry per person, no third party or automated entries. There is no cash alternative. The prize will be provided and dispatched by Tiggly.
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