Monday, 15 October 2018

A winter scene lantern in a jar

It's never to early to start thinking about crafting for Christmas! Here's how I turned an old jam jar into a pretty lantern with a wintery silhouette theme.

How to make a winter lantern craft

You need:

A jam jar
White acrylic paint and sponge
Thin white card
Scalpel and cutting mat
Yellow tissue paper
Blu Tack Blu Stick 
Blu Tack Foam Pads (small)
Silver ribbon
Bostik All Purpose glue
A tea light candle (I used battery powered)

A winter lantern using Bostik products


First make sure that your jam jar is clean and dry. Then pour some white acrylic paint into a flat container, for example a margarine tub lid. Dip a sponge into the paint, dab off the excess on a scrap piece of paper, then use the sponge to coat the jar lightly in paint, using a thicker layer of paint towards the base of the jar. If you accidentally apply too much paint, use a dry tissue to blot the excess and give the paintwork a smoother finish. Leave to dry.

Using acrylic paint to sponge paint a jam jar

Take a piece of scrap paper and measure around the base of the jar to work out how large your winter scene needs to be. Make a rough sketch of your silhouette. Take a piece of white card and use a pencil to copy your design onto the card. You are working on the back so that the pencil lines will be hidden, so remember that the design will be reversed when it is placed on the jar.

Make sure that your design has plenty of detail, but if you are new to paper cutting don't make it too complicated. I included two houses with windows and a few Christmas style trees. It might help to lightly shade the areas you want to remove.

Using a scalpel to cut out a winter scene

Then use a scalpel to cut out the design. I found it easiest to start with the smaller more fiddly areas first, like the doors and windows, before making the larger cuts around the outlines of the design. Use a metal ruler to keep the line along the bottom straight. When you have finished the cutting hold the card up to the light to make sure that the composition is even and adjust as necessary.

Bostik glue stick for tissue paper windows

Glue some scraps of yellow tissue paper behind the windows. I used the Blu Tack Blu Stick to glue the tissue paper in place, it's great because it doesn't make the paper wrinkle and because the application is blue you can see where you have spread the glue before it dries clear.

A winter scene silhouette

Then use Blu Tack foam pads to stick the silhouette to the outside of the jar. I used the small sticky pads which measure 5mm by 5mm. Because they are so small they can be used for more delicate crafts, and they are very sticky so will hold firmly in place.

Bostik small foam pads for crafting

Finally I finished the jar with some silver ribbon around the top. To glue the ribbon in place I used Bostik All Purpose glue which is great for adhering all different types of surfaces. It dries really quickly too which is always useful when crafting.

Bostik All Purpose glue for crafting

Finally place a tea light candle inside and watch your silhouette come to life!

A winter lantern craft lit up with candle

This is a collaborative post in association with Bostik.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

New educational books from Carlton Books

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Today I'm sharing with you some fantastic new books from Carlton Books. They would make some great stocking fillers this Christmas!

Discovering Titanic

Harry has been fascinated with the Titanic since he was in Reception, so I knew that he would love this new book - Discovering Titanic, and I wasn't wrong. As soon as he saw it he didn't want to put it down!

Discovering Titanic book review

The book tells the story the Titanic disaster, her discovery, and a look at the human stories behind the shipwreck through objects found at the site. I'm quite familiar with the story of the Titanic but there was plenty of information that was new to me, and many pictures that I've never seen before including photographs taken aboard Titanic before she sank which I found fascinating. There is also a great section on the legacy of the Titanic - both the lessons learned and the portrayal of the event in popular culture.

Discovering Titanic book review inside

It's a really fascinating book, and although aimed at children aged 8+ it's also a really interesting read for adults - a lovely book to look at together with your child.

STEM Activity Books

These four books each take a detailed look at a different STEM subject, and use write-in puzzles and activities to engage and entertain enquiring young minds.

STEM Activity books from Carlton

STEM Activity: Sensational Science is all about atoms, genes, gravity, acids, magnets and plenty more. There are lots of different activities, like completing an electric circuit or colouring in shapes to reveal an x-ray, to help children learn about the different aspects.

STEM Activity: Terrific Technology is full of fun activities and puzzles related to mechanisms, robotics, computers, gadgets, space exploration. The technological theories and the discoveries behind them are explained using bite-size fact boxes, and activities like matching the ancient tool to its modern equivalent and helping the plane land at the airport are a great way to help children relate them to their every day life.

STEM Activity: Extreme Engineering contains information and facts related to engineering, for example forces, machines, high-tech buildings, eco-energy, computer coding and so on. Activities range from designing a skyscraper and matching the inventor to the innovention, to bring the book to life.

STEM Activity: Amazing Maths teaches how to do calculations, shapes, trigonometry and lots more. The activities help children to understand how import maths is in the real world, by working out areas and using map co-ordinates among other things.

STEM Activity books review

Harry really loved these books. Some of the activities and puzzles reinforced things that he has been learning at school, as well as plenty of information that was new to him and captured his interest. There's at least one activity to complete on each page, and the activities are really well designed to help children understand concepts and remember what they have read. These books would be brilliant to encourage children to engage with these important subjects.

Minecraft Master Builder: Time Machine

This brilliant book lets you journey through history and create your own amazing Minecraft masterpieces. The builds are inspired by magnificent buildings and inventions from ancient times and through to the future, with easy to follow step-by-step guides to help with your construction.

Minecraft Master Builder Time Machine book

There are five different sections to the book - Past Power, Awesome Architecture, Marvellous Machines, Timeless Transport and Future Fantastic - and each features three different builds that are graded by difficulty from Easy, through Intermediate, to Master. Each build is plotted on a timeline from the Pyramid in the 24th Century BC to the 23rd Century Space Base. The very first build is your Time Machine, and there are plenty of hints and tips as you work your way through the book. Even though some of the finished builds are quite complex, the step-by-step instructions are easy to follow.

Minecraft Masterbuilder Time Machine book review

Something that we particularly liked about this book was the way that the builds matched up to the topics that the children have been studying at school. It's a great way to learn about important and famous historic buildings, for example a Roman Temple, Trojan Horse or Tudor Mansion, by taking a close up look at the architecture and building materials used. There's also plenty of scope for customising the designs and coming up with your own interpretations, as well as challenges to encourage children to solve problems and use their imagination. For example building their own eco-friendly home for the future.

I was sent these books in exchange for a review. Amazon links are affiliate.

Friday, 12 October 2018

How to prepare children for a job that doesn't exist yet

The other day I read an interesting statistic - two thirds of children in primary school today will work in a job that doesn't exist today. I can't find a source to reference, but even if this figure isn't exactly correct it still gave me lots to think about.

For example, the other day I was practising spellings with the children. I was always good at spelling, and I make the effort to help my children learn theirs. But when did I last look up how to spell a word? If I make a spelling mistake the spell check will find it and present me with the correct spelling. If I start typing a long word, often auto correct will finish the word before I do. Sometimes if I'm feeling really lazy I'll just type in an approximation of the word, and let my device finish it for me.

With the increasing use of voice recognition to control things around us, I don't think we'll need to write anything down anyway in a few years anway. You don't need to write out a shopping list if you can command Alexa to add items to an electronic list accessed by phone from the supermarket.

Photo credit Andres Urena via Unsplash

The way that I earn money at the moment isn't something that was even thought of when I was at school. We didn't have the internet at home until I was at sixth form, and it was very much a method for reading and researching, the idea of creating and monetising your own content was far off in the future.

I can't even begin to imagine what new jobs might open up in the future. While trying to find a source for the statistic I found a really interesting list - What will our children do? 20 jobs of the future - and there are some fascinating potential jobs in the list, for example Urban Foraging Educators to help people find healthy food when it becomes scarce, and Cryogenics Concierge to offer specialist advice on cryogenic preservation. Many of them are logical leaps based on the way things are going now, but there are bound to be un-imagined advances that will have an impact on the job market.

My children will also face new challenges when it comes to studying for their chosen careers. How am I going to persuade them to keep them away from social media when they should be revising? How can I stop them getting addicted to screens and missing out on the real world around them? I know that I need to plan my strategies now while they are still young and malleable, but without any comparable experience from my own teenage years it's difficult to know how to guide them.

I suppose the main thing to remember is that we won't find ourselves in 'the future' instantaneously, new jobs will appear gradually and the skills needed for them will evolve rather than being required instantly. And the world is always changing, many many jobs of the past no longer exist and people have adapted accordingly. I still find it a scary thought though!

Monday, 8 October 2018

GraviTrax review

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

GraviTrax from Ravensburger is a new interactive track system which you can use to design and build your own race tracks, sending the balls racing to the finish line. The small marbles, known as gravity spheres, can be propelled through the track using the power of gravity, magnetism and kinetics, and you can create unique tracks that are different every time. We were sent the GraviTrax Starter Set to try out in exchange for a review, along with three expansion sets - the Catapult, Hammer and Magnetic Cannon.

GraviTrax set review

The GraviTrax Starter Set

The GraviTrax Starter Set comes with over 100 components, including pieces of track in three different lengths, a number of height tiles, and hexagonal shaped pieces with grooves that can be used to guide the balls in different directions. There's a launch pad which can send up to three balls on their journeys at the same time, as well as various special pieces to join and divert paths. The layout is built upon four cardboard base plates which are slotted together to form the foundation, with hexagonal holes to keep the pieces in place. The cardboard base is stable, even on a soft surface like carpet. Height can be added to the track using the two transparent level plates by building pillars of height tiles.

The set comes with a large book of construction plans, graded by difficulty level. When you are familiar with the different pieces and how they fit together you can move onto the tasks. These ask you to complete layouts by solving a variety of challenges which are graded by difficulty, for example working out how many height tiles you need to add or which elements are missing.

As soon as he saw the set, Harry (aged 9) couldn't wait to get stuck in. He began by following some of the basic designs, and it didn't take him long to work out how the different pieces fitted together and understand what he could do to create his own layouts. He quickly moved on to advanced projects, and he much preferred coming up with his own designs to attempting the puzzles in the book.

Building a GraviTrax layout

The individual pieces are really easy to fit together and take apart, and remain yet sturdy while the track is in use. In the Starter Set there are plenty of different pieces, so you have a huge variety of options. There is the opportunity to get creative and build some really complex layouts, and plenty to keep the brain busy while you work out the best way to build what you have in mind.

GraviTrax layout example

The children have always have fun playing with marble runs, and the GraviTrax system is definitely the best one yet. I think it's the way that the pieces themselves are individually quite simple, yet fit together really well in so many different ways that you really can customise your layouts and be really inventive with it. It's worth noting that the gravity spheres are smaller than standard marbles, so you need to use the balls that are included, as standard marbles will not fit the tracks.

And to my delight, all the pieces can be easily fitted back into the original sturdy box, a big plus for me when it comes to tidying up!

GraviTrax Expansion Packs

There are several different expansion packs available, including extra track, building pieces and special components. We were sent the GraviTrax Catapult, GravitTrax Hammer and GraviTrax Magnetic Cannon (affiliate links). The Magnetic Cannon is the same as the one included in the starter set, and these expansion pieces are not standalone, they need to be used in conjunction with the full set.

GraviTrax expansion pieces

The Catapult will fire your ball into the air onto an adjacent piece of track, and the Hammer uses a larger ball to knock your ball along the track. The Magnetic Cannon allows you to place two or three balls on the side of the magnet facing down the track. When another ball hits the magnet on the other side, the first ball will shoot off.

These extra items are great for adding more interest to your layouts and would be a fun extra purchase if you've already had the Starter Set for a while and are looking to jazz it up a bit.

The GraviTrax App

The free GraviTrax App is a great complimentary feature to the physical product. You can digitally design and test your track ideas with an unlimited range of components, either before building them in real life or just to see where your imagination can take you. It would be especially fun for younger children that don't have the dexterity or the patience to build their own physical layout, but still want to have fun designing their own tracks.

GraviTrax free app

In summary, both my children had a huge amount of fun playing with the GraviTrax system, and I know that they will continue to play with it for a long while yet. I loved seeing how they overcame challenges by working out the best pieces to use, and I could see that there was plenty of learning going on.

There are so many different possibilities for advanced layouts, even if you just have the Starter Set. The Starter Set has an RRP of £49.99, but it's worth keeping an eye out as at time of writing it is £39.99 on Amazon and I think that is good value. The expansion sets we received each have an RRP of £9.99 which I do think is a little pricey. I'd recommend beginning with the Starter Set and seeing how you get on, because we found that there was plenty of play value in that alone without needing the expansion pieces.

You can see a couple of my son's layouts in action in the video below:

I received the GraviTrax Starter Set and three add on pieces in exchange for this review. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Friday, 5 October 2018

The port of Stavanger - things to do on a cruise stop

What to do in Stavanger on a cruise

Of all the places that we have visited while on cruises, Stavanger in Norway is one of my favourite cruise stops. Stavanger is the sixth largest city in Norway, but it's compact enough that you can easily explore on foot. The cruise ships dock in the harbour in the very centre of town, and there are a multitude of different things to see and do within easy walking distance. It's quite easy to find your way around, you will probably be given a map at the port but if not you can download one here - Stavanger tourist map.

We've stopped here twice and enjoyed our visit each time, so here are some of our favourite things to do if you have a day or longer to spend in Stavanger.

Disney Magic docked in Stavanger

The Norwegian Canning Museum

The Norwegian Canning Museum is housed in the premises of a former canning factory just a few minutes walk from the harbour, and it aims to document the part of the canning industry which based its production on fish as the raw material. You can follow the production process step by step, and there are plenty of opportunities to get involved yourself as you learn about the different stages.

Norwegian Canning Museum, Stavanger

The Norwegian Petroleum Museum

This modern museum explores how oil and gas were created millions of years ago, how petroleum is found and used, and its importance to the country of Norway. There are lots of models to see, along with plenty of interactive exhibits and a play area for children - it's a really interesting museum.

Norwegian Petroleum Museum, Stavanger

Old Stavanger (Gamle Stavanger)

Old Stavanger is formed of a collection of small, white, wooden houses built around 200 years ago. Amongst them you can find craft shops and museums, including the Norwegian Canning Museum. This area is just a few steps away from where cruise ships dock, and it's a lovely place to wander and admire the pretty houses and cobbled streets.

Old Stavanger also known as Gamle Stavanger

The Geopark

Stavanger Geopark is a fantastic playground, put together using recycled materials from the oil industry. Located just outside the Petroleum Museum, children can spend hours here, and it's great to see the waste materials being re-purposed and made beautiful with colourful graffiti.

Geopark playground, Stavanger

Stavanger Cathedral

Stavanger Cathedral was built in AD 1125 and it's the best preserved medieval church in the Nordics. It's a beautiful structure located right in the centre of town.

Stavanger City Park

The city park is next to the cathedral, and is a pleasant place to spend a few minutes as you walk around the city. There's a lake, a pavilion, and plenty of trees, it's a really peaceful space.

Bandstand in Stavanger Park

Pulpit Rock

If you want to travel a little further afield, Pulpit Rock is not too far away, and it's one of the world's most spectacular viewpoints. It's a sheer rock face with a 600 metre drop into the Lysefjord below, and is a popular destination for walkers. It's a relatively easy hike, but you'll need to allow about eight hours to hike up and down including time to get there and back, so if you want to hike up it's probably best to take part in an organised excursion to make sure you are back at the ship in time.

Top of Pulpit Rock, Stavanger
Photo credit Samuel Killworth via Unsplash

Boat trip to the Lysefjord

Another way to see Pulpit Rock, albeit from down below, is by boat on a trip to the Lysefjord. There are various companies offering tours, and they will likely depart from the harbour right next to your cruise ship. An excursion will generally take around three hours, and it's a great way to see some beautiful Norwegian scenery.

I hope that you will love Stavanger as much as I do!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Cake Shed jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

Last month I took part in Scroll Free September, and discovered that when I made the effort to put my phone to one side I had plenty of time to devote to my hobbies. One of these is completing jigsaw puzzles - and with perfect timing I received this lovely jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger to review - The Cake Shed.

Ravensburger jigsaws for adults - The Cake Shed

This 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle features a colourful and cosy shed, set up for decorating many different types of cakes. As well as large celebration cakes ready for collection there are all the supplies that one might need - ribbons, tools, jars of sweets and sprinkles, all beautifully stored and out on display. When it's time for a break, there's even a cosy armchair complete with crossword book and a cup of tea.

The Cake Shed jigsaw from Ravensburger

I think that lots of people dream of having their own little hideaway where they can escape from the world and spend time crafting or creating - I know that I do! So this is a lovely puzzle to complete while you daydream about your own little space. The jigsaw pieces are high quality and fit together beautifully, and there is plenty of variation in the design as you complete different sections.

I really enjoyed completing this puzzle and I love the finished picture!

I was sent this jigsaw puzzle in exchange for a review.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Scroll Free September - How did I get on?

And so Scroll Free September is over! How did I get on?

I challenged myself to stop scrolling on my phone in bed, both morning and evening, and after 3pm. I conceded that I did need to check some notifications during these times for my social media work, but the idea was to avoid mindless scrolling and time wasting.

I'm really pleased with how well I managed the challenge! I must admit that it didn't happen overnight, and it has taken almost the whole month to get to a point where I'm happy with the changes that I've made. Although I still find myself picking up the phone when I have a few minutes to waste, I've become so much better at resisting the urge, and that urge has definitely diminished.

In the last week or two I've even started a "putting the phone to bed" routine at around 7pm, just before I start putting the children to bed. I sync my FitBit, check for and install any app updates, then I close my browsing windows, delete my history, shut down all my apps, and switch the phone to silent. Just as I come up to bed I do a quick check for missed calls and messages without turning it on, then I put it in my bedside drawer. It might sound odd, but it has really helped to draw a line under my phone use for the day. If I need to check anything online, I can use my desktop PC, although I've started trying to turn that off too in the evenings if I don't have any work to do.

What have I been doing with all that spare time? Well I've completed two jigsaws - the one pictured called The Cake Shed which I'll be reviewing on the blog shortly, as well as a very challenging double sided one that I hadn't done since I was a teenager!

The Cake Shed jigsaw from Ravensburger

I have also really ramped up my reading. I've not kept track, but I must have read at least ten books this month. At the start of this term I decided to make the effort to take the children to the library once a week after school which has been great for all of us. I've been reading every night before I go to sleep, and dipping in and out during the day when once I would have reached for my phone. I've also been sitting with the children during their reading time before they go to sleep, trying to model some good habits.

I also bought a book of Logic Puzzles which I used to love when I was younger, with Sudoku and similar puzzles. I love how you can almost feel your brain working as you try out different possibilities in your head.

I've not missed out on anything, and I've discovered that you can catch up social media quickly by logging on a couple of times during the day, you don't need to be scrolling constantly. My problem now is that I still get too easily distracted when I'm sitting at my desktop PC and trying to do some work. My main problems are Facebook, BBC News and Twitter. I still need the social media for work so I can't block the sites completely, but I might look at a blocking app for Chrome to try and limit when I can access the sites, or the amount of time that I spend on them. Maybe that will be my challenge for next month!

Scroll Free September logo
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