Saturday, 31 August 2013

Tilgate Park, Crawley

We seem to have been very busy lately, out and about all sorts of places. On Bank Holiday Monday the weather was beautiful, warm and sunny, much nicer that I can ever remember on the August Bank Holiday, and so we took a trip up to Tilgate Park in Crawley. Tilgate Park is somewhere that I remember visiting when I was little and I have fond memories, so it was lovely to go back.

We parked in the large car park at the top of the hill. The car park currently (2016) costs £1 per hour or you can park all day for £5. You can park at the bottom of the hill for free and then walk up the hill, it's not too far but difficult with little ones. The park itself is free to enter.

Tilgate Park in Crawley

Harry was lucky enough to receive a digital camera this week so that we can join in a bloggers photo competition, and this was the first time that he has taken it out and about. He is absolutely thrilled with it and was snapping away, taking pictures of things which to us appeared mundane but all of which had caught his interest in some way.

There is a Nature Centre at the park, for which there is now a small entry charge (in 2016 £2.50 for adults, £1.50 for children). This is more than worth it, as there are plenty of animals to see and the children loved it. There are lots of farm animals, and various displays with plenty of information.

Tilgate Park in Crawley

After seeing the animals we ventured into the rest of the park, which is huge, with plenty to explore. We walked down the hill to the lake to feed the ducks, but they didn't seem very hungry. It was very busy, so I guess they had been fed enough already! Then we let Harry and Mia loose in the adventure playground. Mia was quite little for most of the equipment but that didn't stop her from climbing about as much as she could, she has no fear sometimes. Harry is a little more timid, and Ram had to go climbing through a huge netting tunnel to rescue him at one point!

Tilgate Park in Crawley

We spent the rest of the day at Grandma and Grandad's house just down the road, before coming home for a barbecue in the garden. I can't help feeling that this day marked the end of summer, the weather was almost too good to be true. We still have a couple more days out planned over the next week, but the final countdown to the start of school has definitely begun.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Book Review - The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

The Day The Crayons Quit is written by Drew Daywalt, and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. One day, Duncan opens his box of crayons to find that it is empty - all the crayons have left! In their place is a stack of letters, one from each crayon, laying out their disappointment with Duncan and his colouring methods. Red feels overworked, pink feels underused. Black wants to be used to colour in more interesting things, and orange and yellow are arguing about which one should be used for the colour of the sun. Poor Duncan just wants to do some colouring, but he also wants his crayons to be happy, and so in the end he comes up with a colourful solution.

I enjoyed reading this book. It is very obviously an American book, although the spelling has been changed - there's no "coloring" here. There is also quite a lot of text to get through, so it's definitely better suited to older children that have the patience to sit still through the rather wordy letters.

The day the crayons quit jeffers daywalt

The imaginative illustrations are beautiful and suit the text perfectly. Harry loved the picture of the poor white crayon - you can only see his face!

We enjoyed this book very much and I think that it would make a lovely gift.

We received a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Homemade Zopf Bread for the GBBO Week 2

It is week two of the Great Bloggers Bake Off, and this week the theme is bread. Since I received my fantastic Kenwood Chef for Christmas I've been challenging myself to work through some of the bread recipes in the recipe book that it came with, and so I've already tried basic loaves and rolls. For this week's challenge I decided to make Zopf bread, which I've not made before.

I used the Zopf recipe from my Kenwood Chef recipe book which you can find online here - Kenwood Chef Recipes. The recipe uses egg, which gives it an almost cakey taste. Using the mixer is a bit of a cheat, but it certainly makes me more inclined to bake my own bread! The most difficult part was dividing the mixture into three and plaiting, it was difficult to roll it out into even ropes.

Here it is fresh from the oven:

homemade zopf bread

 I'm so glad that I set the oven timer for 20 minutes rather than the recommended 30, as it was definitely cooked by then.

homemade zopf bread

I was very pleased with my attempt, it was delicious and it looked good too. Definitely a recipe that I'll be trying again!
homemade zopf bread

Next week is going to be a real challenge for me - Trifle, Floating Islands or Petit Fours. I've not made any of them before, so I need to do some research and planning!

I'm linking up to the Great Bloggers Bake Off, hosted by Mummy Mishaps and The Crazy Kitchen.

mummy mishaps

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Under the Sea Day

We're getting near the end of our summer themed days now. They will definitely be resurrected during the holidays, but when Harry starts school we sadly won't have the time during the week. They have been a lot of fun, and it's been really good to have a list of activities planned for the day, although it does mean that Harry is now constantly asking what the next activity is going to be and isn't happy when I tell him it's time for him to amuse himself!

Under the Sea themed day

Under the Sea was a very versatile topic, covering not only marine life but also venturing into the realms of mermaids and pirates. I decorated the table with blue towels, my felt fish and various sea life related toys and jigsaws.

Our first activity was making a themed Under the Sea Cake. I've blogged about this one already - our Under the Sea sponge cake. We had lots of fun making this.

Under the sea themed sponge cake

Then I kept the mixer out and we made some salt dough to turn into Pirate or Mermaid Treasure. My simple salt dough recipe is 1 cup salt, 2 cups flour and 1 cup water then baked in the oven until firm. We just cut out small circles, then Harry used some coins to press into them to make patterns and indentations. We first painted them with poster paint, unfortunately we didn't have a lot of yellow left so we mixed in brown and orange. Then when they were dry we finished them off with a coat of golden glitter paint. I've not seen them since we made them, they've been spirited off and hidden somewhere. You can read more detailed instructions here to see how we made them.

pirate or mermaid salt dough treasure

We are really into Hama beads at the moment, so I made up some simple Hama Bead Fish templates for Harry to copy, plus a more complicated angel fish for myself. I've included the patterns below, they are all made on a small hexagonal base.

Hama bead fish pattern

Created using
I've seen paper plate aquariums all over Pinterest and so I don't know exactly where to credit the idea, but I thought that a Hama Bead Paper Plate Aquarium would be a great home for our Hama bead fish. You just need two paper plates, cut a hole in one, paint them and then staple them back to back with the fish hanging from cotton inside. Harry also cut out some weeds from green paper to stick at the back. I was really pleased with this craft, although the fish wouldn't play along for a nice photograph!

Hama bead fish paper plate aquarium

Then we made some Mermaid Gardens. I gave each child a large plant pot tray to fill with sand, then gave them some clear glass pebbles, star sequins and little shells, as well as encouraging them to look around the garden for things to decorate the garden with. Mia had fun hiding the pebbles in the sand, but Harry was really involved in putting together his garden. Then he developed it into some small world play, coming up with a really detailed story about a plant that the mermaids were trying to grow, but it died in winter and they had to plant more seeds (sequins). It was fascinating to see where his imagination took him. You can see pictures of our mermaid gardens over on the Twinkl blog.

Finally I turned to Twinkl for some quieter activities for Harry. He's really into cutting out at the moment so he enjoyed these fish size ordering worksheets (premium resource) and these fish colouring pages. I'm also a fan of these pencil control worksheets (premium resource) and complete the pattern worksheets (premium resource) which we didn't have time for today but we will get to soon!

Another successful themed day!

If you feel inspired, here you can find the posts about our other themed days:

Space Day
Antarctic Day
Dinosaur Day
Transport Day
Australia Day
Roman Day
Disney Frozen Day Beach Day

And some tips on how to hold a themed day at home for children.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Snowball cake pops

I'm not sure when cake pops started to become popular, although like many crafty trends I first discovered them on Pinterest. They are basically little balls of cake and icing stuck onto sticks and then decorated in all sorts of creative ways, usually dipped into melted chocolate and adorned with various edible embellishments. You can find some fabulous examples over on Bakerella.

I added "Make cake pops" to my Day Zero Project list along with lots of other new baking ideas that I wanted to try, and when we held our Antarctic themed day the other week I had the perfect opportunity to try out some snowball cake pops. They weren't the most successful baked items I have ever made, but it was a good start!

Making snowball cake pops

I kept it very simple for my first attempt. I found a great video which explained how to make cake pops very well, so I will share it with you below in case you want to have a go.

I used my usual Victoria Sandwich recipe, passed down from my Mum hence the imperial measurements - 6oz margarine, 6oz sugar, 3 eggs and 6oz self-raising flour - and made the two sandwich cakes. Then I put them into my Kenwood mixer and bashed them up until they were in crumbs. Then I made up the same amount of butter icing that I would usually make to fill and cover the sponge cake - 75g butter and 175g icing sugar - and mixed it all up together.

I used the resulting mixture to make lots of balls. This is where I went slightly wrong, and I made the cake balls far too big. My sticks (available from Hobbycraft or most large supermarkets) were very long and so I felt as though the balls needed to be large to balance them, but because they were so heavy they slipped off. I put all the cake balls into the fridge to cool for a little while before dipping them in chocolate.

I melted the white chocolate in a mug so that it would be nice and deep for dipping. Then I dipped the cake pops in the chocolate and put them in the fridge to set. Another mistake of mine was that I hadn't set up a proper area for them once dipped. Lots of instructions suggest a piece of polystyrene covered in cling film, and having this ready would have been a very good idea.

I found the whole process a bit fiddly, and so I only actually made a few proper cake pops, the rest were just left as cake balls on a plate with the melted chocolate spooned over! Then I sprinkled some desiccated coconut over them to make them look snowy.

Here are my finished efforts:

Making snowball cake pops

Not bad, but could do better. It's not something that I'm going to rush to make again - to be completely honest I prefer the taste of a cake made the normal way - but I'm glad that I tried!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Under the Sea Victoria Sponge

I'm afraid that I have a confession to make. I haven't yet watched an episode of the Great British Bake Off. But I do like baking, and I do like a challenge, which is why this new linky caught my eye. Jenny from Mummy Mishaps and Helen from The Crazy Kitchen have set a baking challenge to bloggers. The theme for each week is set by that week's Great British Bake Off episode, and this week it's Victoria Sponge and Angel Food Cake. To take part, we have to bake and blog a recipe inspired by the show.

Making an under the sea cake with children

I'm pretty good at a basic sponge cake, if I do say so myself, and I use it as the basis of lots of different cakes. This week our summer theme day was Under The Sea, and so the children and I made an Under The Sea cake. The Victoria Sponge itself wasn't much of a challenge, but to make it a bit different I bought some ready made fondant icing, which I've never used before, and we used it to make some fish themed decorations for the cake.

Under the sea themed sponge cake

My Victoria Sponge recipe has been passed down from my Mum and it's very simple - 6oz margarine (I use Stork), 6oz caster sugar, 3 eggs and 6oz self-raising flour. To make enough butter icing to cover the top, middle and sides of the cake you need 75g butter, 175g icing sugar, food colouring and a small amount of milk. For this icing I also mixed in some glittery blue sprinkle things.

The decorations are made from the ready to roll icing, mixed with food colouring and cut out and decorated in the manner of playdough. I'm rather pleased with the result, it's not a traditionally pretty Victoria Sponge but it's fun, and I love the fact that the children helped to make it. It tasted great too!

Under the sea themed sponge cake

Review - "Miffy at School" and "Write to Read" iPad apps

I can't believe that there is so little time left before Harry starts school. I've been trying to find a balance between making sure we have lots of fun this summer, and also preparing him for school. To help with the school preparation side, I was gifted two iPad apps to review with a Back to School theme, and we've had a lot of fun using them together.

Miffy at School (£2.99) is an interactive storybook app based around the popular Miffy books. Children can follow along with the story as it is read aloud, and most of the pages have a little activity for them to complete. For example, they can trace out shapes with their fingers, match blocks to shapes or draw a picture. You can also re-record the words to the story yourself, create an e-card and play a couple of simple games.

This app is aimed at toddlers and pre-schoolers, and although it is very simple, Harry still enjoyed it. Mia, at 2, also enjoyed scrolling through the story even though she is too little to follow the instructions for the interactive elements.

Write to Read (£4.99) is aimed at slightly older children, those who are just starting to read and write. Even though Harry seemed a little young for it, I can see that we'll be able to use it a lot more in the future. You use the app to create simple e-books, using either photographs from your library or ones that you take as you go along. You can add as many pages as you like, choosing a photograph and then adding text. There are two boxes to add text - one for the child and one for the adult. The idea is that you allow your child to write the text as well as they can, then write a 'translation' underneath to help them see how the words should be spelled. As you type in the letters they are spoken out loud for you.

Write to Read app on the iPad

Harry really did love the idea of making up his own books and stories. It would be a great activity to do after a holiday or fun day out, to record your memories of the day in the child's words. It is possible to share the finished book with family and friends on social media, e-mail it and print it out. With a bit of planning you could use a drawing app so that you child could draw their own pictures to illustrate a story, or take photographs in advance on a particular theme. Even though it is aimed at children from 3 years old, I think that we will get a lot more use out of this app over the next few years.

We were gifted these two apps for the purpose of this review.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Creating Hama bead Rangoli patterns for Diwali

How to make small Hama bead rangoli

In 2013, Diwali will be celebrated from Sunday, November 3rd until Thursday, November 7th. Last year I started doing some Diwali crafts with the children as an introduction to the festival, and I'll be continuing that this year. Last year we made some Rangoli using dyed rice, which were very successful, and this year we tried out some Hama Bead Rangoli for Diwali.

Rangoli are decorative floor patterns which are created during Hindu festivals such as Diwali. They can be geometric, or shaped to represent flowers and petals, and are traditionally created using coloured rice, sand or petals. They are created to welcome the goddess Lakshmi into the home.

These Hama bead designs are small, and would be perfect to use as decorations during your Diwali celebration. You could hang them up, use them to create colourful bunting, or use them as coasters underneath drinks and bowls of food.

Small Hama bead rangoli

If you want to create these for yourself I have reproduced the patterns below. They are all made on the small Hama bead circle base (222) using red, yellow, orange and purple Hama beads. I kept to the same palette of colours for all four, but they would look lovely in any bright colours. I found that the patterns were simple enough for my son to copy with a little bit of help, and we had fun making them together.

Hama bead rangoli designs for Diwali

If you are looking for ideas for Diwali crafts to do with your children you might also like my other Diwali craft posts:

Large Hama bead Rangoli
Diwali salt dough divas
Diwali dyed rice Rangoli
Simple Diwali cards
Simple Burfi sweets for Diwali
Diwali craft and activity round-up

I've also collected together lots of fun Diwali crafts and activities on my Diwali Pinterest board:

Follow Jennifer Jain's board Diwali Crafts and Activities on Pinterest.

I created these patterns created using this fantastic Hama bead pattern designer.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Review - Walkers Mighty Lights

We've been eating Walkers crisps in this household for years, in fact my husband is so devoted to the brand that they are usually the only crisps to be found in the cupboard. We do try to look for healthier options when it comes to snacks, so I was keen to try out the new Walkers Mighty Lights, 'Tasty ridged crisps with 30% less fat'.

Walkers Mighty Lights are available in three flavours and we were sent a multi-pack of each to try - Lightly Salted, Roast Chicken and Cheese & Onion. Although my veggie husband avoids meat flavoured products, all three flavours are suitable for vegetarians. The crisps are made from real potatoes with no artificial colours or preservatives, and they are a source of fibre.

My husband and I do eat quite a lot of crisps. I will often have a pack with my lunch, and although I don't give the children a packet to themselves they will usually share mine with me. But even though I don't tend to offer the children crisps as snacks during the day at home, we do go on a lot of long day trips, and we always need to have plenty of snacks on hand to keep them going. Crisps are ideal because the children can eat them themselves, even in a pushchair or car seat.

We were pleasantly surprised by the taste of the Walkers Mighty Lights. We've had lower fat crisps before, but I think what makes these crisps stand out is the ridged texture, which really holds the flavour. All three flavours were very tasty, and we all enjoyed them. We also found that there were plenty in the packet which was nice, as crisp packets seem to contain fewer and fewer crisps lately!

The children also really liked the crisps. Although they don't have the appetite for a full pack, they eagerly joined in while we were eating them. I'm not sure if I'd include a pack in Harry's lunchbox only for the reason that his appetite is tiny and he probably wouldn't eat a whole pack. Mia on the other hand probably could eat a whole packet, she was certainly asking for more and more!

I'm used to eating Cheese & Onion crisps so it was nice to have a selection to choose from. I don't eat a lot of meat so I'd probably avoid the Roast Chicken, but the Lightly Salted were also very tasty.

One thing that I did find when eating the crisps was that they tasted quite salty, and I do think it's important to remember that you do need to keep an eye on the amount of salt that young children are eating, especially if they are having lots of salty snacks in a day. So although Walkers Mighty Lights are in some ways a healthier option because they contain less fat, it's important to remember that they are not a healthy snack for children, just healthier than some other brands. Having said that, I'd still be happy for my children to snack on them from time to time, as long as they are balanced with plenty of other healthy snacks like fruit.

This is a paid review.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Ladybird Tuesday - The Railway Children

I really love the Ladybird books in the Ladybird Children's Classics series. Although the classic stories are vastly simplified, they still keep the essence of the original book while being retold in a way that makes them suitable for younger readers. The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit has been retold by Joan Collins for Ladybird and illustrated beautifully by Kathie Layfield. It's part of Series 740 and I'm hoping to be able to collect more of the titles in this series.

Ladybird The Railway Children book

The story starts with the three children, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis, who live happily with their parents in London until one day their Father is mysteriously taken away (he is falsely imprisoned for spying) and the children have to move away with their Mother to a cottage in the country. They aren't happy there until they discover the railway, and among other adventures they befriend a man who takes the same train every day and eventually helps with their Father's release.

Ladybird The Railway Children book

The most exciting part of the story is when the children prevent a train crash after a landslide by stopping the train, running on to the track and waving red petticoats.

Ladybird The Railway Children book

I enjoyed reading the story through again, albeit in abridged format. Harry had a brief interest in the film a little while ago after seeing a model of the landslide scene at a local museum, so I'll definitely be reading this one with him when he's a little older.

I'm joining in again with Ladybird Tuesday over at Being Mrs C.

My other Ladybird Tuesday posts are:

Teaching Reading
A Little Princess
A First Book of Aesop's Fables

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Our day at Lollibop 2013 in the Olympic Park

My husband is constantly keeping an eye out for a bargain, and a couple of weeks ago he came across tickets for Lollibop 2013 from Little Bird at 50% off. I'd heard good things about Lollibop in the past, and as a bonus it was being held at the Olympic Park in Stratford. We spent a lot of time there last summer, knew that we could get there fairly easily, and were keen to see how the site is looking now, so we snapped up the tickets. We paid £11.75 each, £47 for the four of us.

Lollibop this year ran from Friday 16th August 2013 - Sunday 18th August 2013 and we had tickets for the Saturday. On the Friday night while we were planning our day I spent a bit of time online looking through reviews of the Friday. I became a little worried while looking at the Lollibop Facebook page, because there were a lot of negative reviews up there. It did make us a little apprehensive as to what to expect.

Day at Lollibop 2013

Well I'm pleased to report that we had a really enjoyable day! The children had a fantastic time, and of course that's the main thing. It was very busy naturally, but we are quite used to busy places, and we just avoided the attractions that you had to queue for. This did mean that we didn't really see much of what was going on at the main stage or the smaller stages, but we still found plenty to do to keep the children busy for almost the whole day.

It was a bit of a drive up to London for us, but we found it very easy to park at Westfield Shopping Centre, and it cost us just £5 to park for the day. We arrived early, and after a short walk to the site, which we were expecting, we entered the festival without a queue through the Little Bird lane. It was pretty empty when we arrived, although it did fill up quickly. We headed straight for the middle and started with the Barny Bear tent. They were very generous with the handing out of free cakes, and we passed by quite a lot during the day! There was some colouring for the children, and an interactive wall which Harry could explore using an iPad and headphones, he was fascinated.

Day at Lollibop 2013

We also spent quite a bit of time in the National Geographic tent. Harry coloured in a mask and they both played digging for bones in a big sandpit. There were also some nice activities in the Science Museum tent. We found that there were plenty of crafty activities around the site to keep the children entertained. Many of them were based around colouring in, but that's something that our children love doing and it can keep them busy for a little while. There were no queues at the craft activities, and we just walked straight up. They also decorated a festival scarf by stamping, made pin wheels, decorated rubber ducks and coloured in bunting.

Day at Lollibop 2013

We managed to find some balloon modellers that were just setting up and got Harry in the queue. He had to wait a short while, so I kept Mia entertained in the dance tent next door which she loved, with loud music and energetic dancers showing us the moves. Harry requested a large hat and that's what he got, but I can't say that we were too disappointed to find that it had disappeared when we left the pushchair to go into a tent (I would imagine it was blown away by the wind rather than taken!). In this area Harry also enjoyed throwing wellies around with Shaun the Sheep.

Day at Lollibop 2013

We saw Katy from I Can Cook doing a little show and Andy and Sid from CBeebies doing their thing in the smaller tent. But for some reason Harry was completely freaked out seeing them in real life, so we didn't stop long although plenty of other children were enjoying the shows!

It was a real delight to stop at the sweet Magic Belles tent and have a chat with Maxine, one of the creators of the Magic Belles and a lady that I enjoy chatting to on Twitter. Harry loved colouring in a magical postcard to send to the Magic Belles and posting it in the fairy postbox.

Day at Lollibop 2013

The main queues that we saw were to meet characters. Fortunately ours aren't bothered by that and were quite happy to watch them from a distance rather than needing to go up and meet them. There were also very large queues at the food vans, but luckily we always take our own food, and there was no problem with taking a picnic along.

We did find that most of the entertainment on the main stage was geared around shows that were unfamiliar to us, so we didn't see a lot there. We were keen to see Justin Fletcher but it was very busy, and there was no way that we could get close to the stage at the last minute. We stood at the back and watched for five minutes before the children lost interest. It did look like a fantastic show though for those closer by, Justin certainly knows how to entertain a young audience. We took advantage of many people being in that area to return to the attractions nearer the entrance that we had missed on the way in.

The Lalaloopsy tent was also worth a visit, with more colouring for Harry, a plastic house for Mia to monopolise, and a goody bag with real actual toys in which were a big hit when we got home. They also absolutely loved the Happy Hopperz out for them to bounce around on.

We spent a good amount of time in the Lego Duplo tent, where my children are very happy to spend ages playing with a big box of Duplo, despite having plenty at home! We also queued for five minutes for the Little Tikes area, which they loved. There was a selection of cars, play houses and so on for small groups to play in at a time in a very well organised system. With hindsight, we should have gone here first, as it was one of their favourite areas. They also loved the WOW toys tent opposite, with lots of smaller toys out for them to play with.

Day at Lollibop 2013

We were in the Baby Annabelle enclosure nearby playing with dolls just as the rain started, and by a lucky chance there was a show just starting in the Toddler Sense tent next door. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the day, an interactive, singing and dancing experience for little ones which they both loved, even though Harry is really at the top end of the age range.

By this time it was around 4.30pm, the wind had picked up and although the rain had passed it was getting quite chilly. Both children were tired and it was still quite busy, so we decided to call it a day. I couldn't drag my husband away from Westfield though without a stop at Franco Manca for some of the delicious pizza which we discovered last year.

A lot of what made our day so enjoyable was that both children were impeccably behaved, excited to be there and not bothered about the things that they missed out on. It was a real delight to take them out, and I was almost sad to put them to bed when we got home (and that's not something I say very often!). I find it a lot easier taking toddlers out than babies, and it's a good sign for the future that these days out are becoming a bit less of a mission.

We didn't spent any money at Lollibop apart from the cost of our ticket, and I think that our tickets represented good value. Full price is expensive, and it does add up especially as only babies under 1 year are free. I'd love to go again, and we'll certainly look out for the reduced tickets next year.

Here's what some other bloggers thought of Lollibop 2013:

New Mum Online
Family Four Fun

Have you written about Lollibop 2013? Put your link in the comments and I'll add you here!

Friday, 16 August 2013

'Baby' signing

When Harry was 9 months old I signed him up for a term of Sing and Sign classes. Once a week we sat in a circle in the church hall, us Mums singing little songs while frantically signing away at our babies. I couldn't fault the classes, I thought it was a great idea, and I even purchased the DVDs to watch at home. Harry wasn't quite so impressed, he refused to sit still and spent most of the actual classes crawling about playing with the toys I had to bring along to keep him happy. After all that work he picked up three signs - 'duck', 'where' and 'all gone' - and was chattering away with real words before long anyway.

He's 4 and a half now with a very good vocabulary, so I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when all of a sudden he started signing everything. It started with 'please', 'thank you' and 'sorry', then moved on to other signs which I didn't know - 'coat', 'glue', 'paint'. Of course, investigation revealed that they are teaching all the children signing at his nursery. It was a scenario reminiscent of something I blogged about ages ago. They've told them that they need to practice at home, which he has taken completely to heart - perhaps he's worried that he'll be in trouble if he doesn't!

I think it's great in many ways, he is obviously interested in learning the signs and I'm very impressed (although to be fair it's in his genes, I studied languages!). He's even started making up his own signs and teaching them to me. But it's also becoming rather annoying, with his chatter constantly accompanied by his hands automatically flailing about all over the place. Also it's a bit embarrassing when we're out in public or with friends and it makes me look a bit like a pushy Mum.

So, if you are desperately trying to teach your baby or young toddler signing and they aren't catching on, don't worry, there's plenty of time for them to pick it up!

Did you do baby signing? Did it work for you?

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Antarctic Day

Our themed days are going well. After Space Day and Dinosaur Day it was time for Antarctic Day. I'm not entirely sure how we came up with the theme Antarctic Day, it was certainly a little more challenging for me to prepare!

Antarctic themed day for children

I began by decorating the kitchen table with a white sheet, some tin foil for a lake and a few stuffed penguins, with cotton wool balls heaped all around.

Antarctic day themed table

The biggest problem that I had when looking for resources was the confusion between Antarctica and the Artic. Just for the record, polar bears live in the Artic and penguins live in the Antarctic, they only meet in zoos. I finally did manage to track down some purely Antarctic colouring pages which are very good, and formed the basis of our Antarctic poster.

Antarctica themed poster

For our Antarctic poster we just used a large sheet of white paper, then decorated it with the coloured Antarctic animals, some tin foil for icy lakes and lots of cotton wool balls.

I also found a printable map of Antarctica. There wasn't anything to colour in, but Harry enjoyed cutting it out. It is a bit difficult for little ones to grasp the shape of Antarctica, because normally when you see Antarctica on a map it is in a straight line across the bottom. I used an iPad atlas app that we have to show how Antarctica appears when you look at Earth as a globe (obviously a traditional globe would also work, but we don't have one!). We also did a map jigsaw that we have which shows animals of the world, and talked about where Antarctica is in relation to the other countries.

After asking Twitter for help in coming up with some Antarctic themed treats to bake, Caroline suggested snowball cakes with coconut, and that reminded me that I've been wanting to try some cake pops. So I decided snowball cake pops were the way to go. They weren't quite as successful as I'd been hoping so most of them ended up as snowball cake balls. You can read about how I made them here!

Antarctica themed snowball cake balls

I found a few extra resources that were more wintery than specifically Antarctica themed, but they still worked well. I downloaded a free winter counting sheet, free design your own winter clothes and winter pencil control worksheets (premium resource) from the Twinkl website. Harry is really interested in cutting out at the moment, so he enjoyed cutting out the pictures once he'd finished the worksheets. Another activity that I didn't get to was going to be making paper snowflakes by cutting up folded paper.

Another successful themed day! I'm hoping to try another next week although we have a bit more on so it might be spread over several days. We're having a lot of fun!

If you feel inspired, here you can find the posts about our other themed days:

Space Day
Under the Sea Day
Dinosaur Day
Transport Day
Australia Day
Roman Day
Disney Frozen Day Beach Day

And some tips on how to hold a themed day at home for children.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Review - Craft supplies from Minerva Crafts

I was recently contacted by Minerva Crafts and asked if I would like to review some products from their website. I eagerly accepted, what a luxury to be able to choose something just for myself!

It's been niggling away at me that I really wanted to learn how to crochet, and yet I just couldn't get the hang of it. So I thought I'd have a go at this DMC Amigurumis crochet kit, clearly labelled 'Easy'. The box contains everything that you need to crochet a selection of fruits and vegetables, with clear written instructions and some photographs. The children love play food, so I thought that the finished products would be great for them to add to their toy kitchen. I've used lots of DMC cross stitch products before so I know that they are a good brand, and the quality of the yarn provided, Natura Just Cotton, seems excellent. I'll admit that I'm not brave enough to actually make a start on the kit yet without my Mum next to me making sure I know what I'm doing, so I will update when (thinking positively here) I actually complete something.

DMC amigurumis crochet kit easy

I also ordered some craft felt. I get through a lot of felt as I'm always using it to make things, and I have a new project in mind which is going to need lots of different colours. I prefer more muted shades so I went for a pastel selection. It's good quality, and a nice selection of shades.

pastel felt selection from minerva crafts

I was very impressed by the range on the website, and would certainly recommend Minerva Crafts if you are looking to make some crafty purchases.

Disclosure - I was sent these products in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Ladybird Tuesday - Nelson

I was really pleased to pick this Ladybird book up a few weeks ago, coming as it did straight after our visit to Portsmouth to visit the Victory, Nelson's flagship. The Story of Nelson is number 4 in the Ladybird History Series 561, which includes many other notable historic figures such as Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Charles Dickens as well as plenty of Kings and Queens. It was published in 1957.

This book goes into a lot of detail. I learned a little bit about Nelson at school, including taking part in a musical performance of Hip Hip Horatio (with thanks to the Mumsnet forums for helping me track that one down!) but this book contains a huge amount about Nelson, and how he rose up through the ranks. 

When reading this with my son I skipped up to the Battle of Trafalgar, and we both learned a great deal about the battle. Although written in simple language that children can easily follow, there is a lot to take in. It comes to an abrupt end with Nelson's death, with nothing about his continuing legacy. This is definitely a series of books for those serious about learning their historical figures!

I'm joining in again with Ladybird Tuesday over at Being Mrs C.

My previous Ladybird Tuesday posts:
Teaching Reading
A Little Princess
A First Book of Aesop's Fables

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield

I've been wanting to visit Bekonscot Model Village for a long time. Longer even than since my first trip up to the Midlands to visit my husband's parents, when I first saw the Model Village sign from the M40. In fact I first encountered Bekonscot Model Village on a couple of old postcards which I picked up in a charity shop years ago. Old postcards aren't something that I normally buy, but for some reason these two caught my eye and they've been in my collection ever since. Every time we've been up to the in-laws I've remarked that we really must visit sometime, and after spending this weekend up north with nothing in particular to get back home to, we decided that today was the day!

We paid £9.50 per adult and £5.50 per child (under 2s are free). Tesco Clubcard vouchers are accepted, which we would have used if we'd been more organised. This includes admission to the model village, with a ride on the railway costing an additional £1 per person.

Bekonscot Model Village is the oldest original model village in the world, and opened for the first time in 1929. Although the attraction was updated with modern buildings over the years, in 1992 it was returned to a village stuck in the 1930s. An extensive miniature railway network criss-crosses the village, and many of the models also have moving parts, like the funfair and children's playground.

Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield

The model village is set over a large area, connected by little paths. It's wide enough to walk with a pushchair, although Mia walks well enough now that we only really use one for carrying the sandwiches. Harry and Mia were so excited when they arrived, and when they realised that there were miniature trains running in between the buildings they couldn't be kept still, and were quite literally jumping up and down with excitement.

Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield

We walked around the model village twice because there is so much to see, and there was plenty that we had missed the first time around. It's worth knowing that everything at Bekonscot is outdoors, so if you can try and visit on a dry day!

Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield

There is also an excellent adventure playground for little ones which kept both amused for quite a while. We always take our own sandwiches on days out, and there were plenty of picnic benches. We finished with a ride on the railway. As official documenter and photographer I watched from the side, but it seemed to be enjoyed by all.

Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield

We had a really lovely day out at Bekonscot, and I'm so glad that we managed to visit in the end. Finally, here's one of the old postcards which inspired me all those years ago. Doesn't it look magical?

Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield
Image from a Cotman Color Series Postcard, printed and published in Great Britain 
by Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich, England
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