Sunday 29 April 2012

Cardboard box bus using Rolobox wheels

I posted before about the Rolobox wheel set that Harry got for Christmas. I think that it's a brilliant idea, it's just a set of plastic wheels that you can fit onto a cardboard box to turn it into a car, a truck...whatever you like! Mia is getting a bit big to be dragged about in boxes now, so I thought it was time that we tried something new. One of the wheels was already in use making a steering wheel for the cardboard box spaceship which has been resident in our kitchen for the last few months (and is still played with daily so no sneaking it out to the recycle bin just yet), so we sacrificed that to make a bus!

Cardboard box bus with Rolobox wheels

It's just a box painted green, with windows from blue construction paper. Harry helped me to draw the faces on the windows. I love that he can help me make his toys now, rather than me making them for him! The wheels make the whole structure a lot more stable too. The top is open so that you can put toys inside it. The set also includes a pull cord to attach to the front, I'd really recommend this set to bring a bit more excitement to cardboard box creations. It was bought from Amazon but I'm sure there are other stockists.

Cardboard box bus using rolobox wheels

We've also used the fab Rolobox wheels to make a toy camper van from a shoebox, another popular craft. If your toddler is obsessed with buses, you can find more bus crafts, activities and resources here!

Friday 27 April 2012

Our vegetable garden

My Mum has been visiting for a few days, and as it has finally stopped raining, today she sorted out our vegetable garden for us! I've mentioned that we are lucky enough to have bought a house with a ready made vegetable garden at the bottom, complete with a huge raised bed and plenty of space for pots around the edge. I've also probably mentioned that we're not the most competent of gardeners and our track record when it comes to vegetables (well, all plants for that matter really) isn't the best. We've planted a few seeds into the bed but they aren't doing anything very impressive so far.

I am very proud of my courgettes though. I have four plants which have been lovingly nurtured from seed indoors, and today they have been moved outside. I am quite attached to them, so I hope that they don't die, they have been doing so well so far. I put a couple of bean plants out last week and they were eaten by slugs, so we've put lots of slug pellets in the pots.

Vegetable patch in the garden

We've also inherited lots of strawberry plants which my Mum has weeded for us, it would be lovely to have our own home grown strawberries!

Vegetable patch in the garden

I've got three sunflower plants still indoors on the windowsill. They should probably go outside too, but I'm keeping them inside for now, I don't want to kill them.

Also in the vegetable garden are some potatoes. I tried to grow potatoes last year, and despite some impressive leaves on the surface, underneath the actual potatoes were very disappointing, I think that the largest one measured about 2cm across. Let's see if we can produce better this year!

So all we have to do now is remember to water everything!

Thursday 26 April 2012

Very young babies and books

I love reading, and a love of reading is something that I've very keen to pass on to my children. In fact, when I found out I was pregnant, the very first thing that I bought was a copy of The Hungry Caterpillar! I collected books for the new baby as quickly as I collected vests and nappies, and I particularly loved buying the books that I enjoyed as a child and reading them again.

Of course it was a little while before Harry was old enough to appreciate Each Peach Pear Plum or Peepo, but luckily he was a very alert and interested baby, and he was looking at books when he was just a few days old.

My absolute favourite baby book was called Faces - see picture below. There are several in the series and they are often bundled together on Amazon, or else they cost about £3-4 each. They are soft books with just a few pages and a mirror on the front. Each page has a very simple picture and a few words. In the Faces book are Mummy, Daddy and Baby. On the opposite side of each is a simple black, white and coloured pattern. Night is also a lovely book with a really sweet rhyme.

We used to hang these books up over Harry's playmat or lie them next to him in his moses basket or pram, and he would lie there for a good while looking at the pictures. He would also sit on our knee and look at the pages.

Books for very young babies

As he got a bit older we moved onto the books in the "That's Not My..." series. A little pricier, but if you're not fussy about the theme then you can often find them in the sale and there are loads to choose from. The pictures are still very simple but the colours are brighter and each page has a textured section to touch. It wasn't long before Harry learned where to touch on the pages.

Books for very young babies

These books kept Harry happy until he was about a year old, then we moved onto books with more complicated pictures where we could point out the objects and begin to talk about them a bit. Now that he is three we read longer stories, and I love that he can follow a story and ask questions about what is happening.

What I find interesting though is that Mia has never been bothered about books. We looked at them with her in the same way as we did with Harry, but she wasn't engaged at all. She preferred to look at real faces talking to her rather than pictures. She also wasn't interested in looking at the patterns. I often sit her down with a book, or even better the two of them, but she just crawls off to find something else to play with.

I'll keep perservering though and making sure that I don't just give up with her, because I love reading Harry his bedtime story (even if it is often the same one...over and over again...).

Did you read books to your newborn, or is it really too early to start with books?

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Olympic crafts - Collage Olympic rings

The London 2012 Olympics begin on the 27th July 2012. I'm not the most sporty of people, but we do have tickets to some of the events, and even though they will be child free occasions for us I still want to involve Harry in all the excitement.

He's still only little so I don't expect him to take in very much, but I thought that we could come up with some fun toddler crafts and activities which would teach him (and me!) a little bit more about the Olympic games, the different sports and the countries involved.

Collage Olympic rings craft for children

We started with a craft based around the symbol of the Olympic Games - the five interlocking rings. As well as working with the different colours, it can be an introduction to talking about the different countries involved in the games and their flags. The five rings are coloured blue, yellow, black, green and red and they sit on a white background. The colours were chosen because every national flag in the world includes at least one of these six colours. The five rings represent the five inhabited continents (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania), although each ring does not represent a specific continent.

Collage Olympic rings craft

I used thin cardboard for the rings and drew and cut out the templates in advance, using a bowl and a cup for the circles. They measure about 15cm in diameter. We painted them first, and then collaged them with whatever we could find in the appropriate colours. To display them in the correct formation, lay out the blue, black and red rings. Then make a cut across the green and yellow rings, and position them so that the cuts are hidden behind one of the other rings. You can find a picture of the Olympic rings here to use as a reference. They are then glued down on a white background to make a poster which we can hang in Harry's room.

This was a really good colour matching activity and craft for toddlers, and it was also really interesting to learn about the significance of the rings. I will be looking out for the symbol now, and pointing it out to him so that he learns to recognise it!

If you are celebrating the Olympics with your children you might also enjoy my other Olympic crafts - making an Olympic torch and some Hama bead medal bunting.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Needlework Days - April 2012

It's time for Needlework Days again at Feisty Tapas! I really enjoyed taking part last month, and I found some lovely new blogs to follow, so I'm back to share my work in progress.

My current work in progress was first blogged about here. It is the Three Things Sampler by Moira Blackburn and I've been working on it for several years now, in fits and starts. The pattern is made up across two sheets, so when I started it I made the decision to work on one sheet first before I moved onto the second. This was so that I didn't get bored, as it was like having two separate pieces to stitch. I can't remember why, but I started with the bottom half.

I must admit that joining in with Needlework Days last month did give me a bit of a push, and I actually harboured the secret thought that maybe, if I really put my needle to it, I might even get the bottom half of the sampler finished. I did work really hard at it, but unfortunately I didn't get there. As you can see from the picture below though, I am making good progress.

The main areas that are yet to finish are the rest of the house (all the same colour so it's a bit boring) and the tree on the right. The centre area between the lions and the strip across the bottom under the house will be left blank for now as they are where the inscriptions (as well as name and date) go and I'm too superstitious to do those until the end. Well obviously I won't do the date yet as it is likely to be many years in the future!

Above the tails of the peacocks there is nothing marked on the pattern, but on the sample photograph there are two initials there. Because my name will be written out underneath I don't need to put my own initials there, so I thought I might stitch an H and an M for Harry and Mia. But I'll need to find somewhere to put an R for the other half then too!

Moira Blackburn Three Things sampler

Let's see if by next month I can finally finish this section!

UPDATE - I finished the sampler in March 2014! You can see a photograph of the finished sampler here - Moira Blackburn Three Things sampler completed.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Is crafting with children about the process or the product?

When I started crafting with Harry I believed that the process of making something was much more important than the finished product. I have this book - Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos - which I fully recommend and which very much lays the emphasis on the process of creating. I would hand Harry a glue stick and some bits of paper, or a paintbrush and sponge and a dollop of paint, and let him get on with it. I also very much wanted to let him get on with it by himself. I didn't want to interfere in any way, or steer him towards something that was more my idea than his.

This was all very well when he was tiny, but now that he's bigger I've found out that it's not the best way for us to do crafts together. He gets bored quickly if he doesn't have any direction, and if I give him the pieces to put together something recognisable he is much more satisfied with the finished product. He also doesn't like working by himself, he likes it if I make something at the same time, or even better if we work on something together. This does mean that I'm having much more fun getting involved in something with him, rather than watching him to see what he does by himself (which, let's face it, wasn't usually anything that brilliant).

But now that I've changed my opinion a bit I've found that my natural perfectionist tendencies have come to the fore. Before I was happy with a piece of paper covered with splodges, now if we make something together I want it to look nice. Previously I would let him paint a toilet roll however he liked, now I go back over it and fill in the gaps that he's missed so that it looks neater.

Toilet roll tube owls

Do you interfere with your child's crafts so that they look better? Or are you able to just sit back and let them do it their way?

Sunday 15 April 2012

Instagram and yet more social networking

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I have recently discovered Instagram. After admiring the beautiful pictures uploaded by fellow twitterers I was delighted to be able to download Instagram for Android last week. My phone camera isn't that great, and it is especially bad at pictures of moving objects, like small children. But upload to Instagram, apply a filter, and my pictures look great! It's also an easy way to share quick snaps with the friends and family that follow me on Twitter.

Before signing up, I thought that was all there was to it. I had no idea that there was a whole community hiding away. I found that many of the bloggers that I follow were busy uploading, favouriting and commenting away. I also discovered whole collections of beautiful photographs.

Child with a drawing of a tractor on Instagram

I'm jenniferjain on Instagram. If I haven't found you yet (I haven't found many people yet), follow me and I'll follow you back. I am woefully short of followers!

Saturday 14 April 2012

Homemade WALL-E and Eve toys

I think that Harry is not unusual in going through phases where he just wants to watch the same film or television programme over and over again. Among other things so far we've had Button Moon, Peppa Pig and Dumbo. At the moment it's WALL-E, which is a lovely film, with the important message that it is much better to be out and about enjoying the world than sitting in front of a screen (yes, I do appreciate the irony here).

After the excesses of Easter I was looking at a discarded plastic Easter egg and an idea formed in my mind...a quick coat of paint and we had an Eve! I sanded it first so that the paint would stick, and I used a couple of coats of acrylic paint. The arms are just made from fun foam.

Harry was thrilled, small children are easily pleased, but then of course a WALL-E was needed, and this presented a few more challenges. I googled for images and decided that it was best to simplify and focus on the key parts - the square body, triangular tracks, the eyes and the arms. I found an old tin of nuts and bolts left behind in the garage, and some black screw cover things that I thought made reasonable eyes. They are stuck onto a lollipop stick which is inserted into a cut down cardboard box. It isn't glued down so it can be moved up and down.

The tracks are made from a strip of fun foam with the nuts glued inside, and the arms are more lollipop sticks with fun foam hands. I drew on a few details with black pen. Luckily WALL-E is quite scruffy anyway, so it doesn't matter that the finish isn't great.

Wall-e and Eve small homemade toys

Harry loves them, and I've spotted him acting out scenes from the film with them. They aren't that sturdy, and they probably won't last very long, but I'm really pleased with them! If I was to make another one (which is a distinct possibility) then I would try and make the front open up, as this is the part of WALL-E's functioning which really fascinates Harry. He would also like the wheels to go round, but I'm not sure how I could manage that!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Pebble monsters

Pebble monsters are really sweet and easy to make, and they are a really fun craft both to make with little ones and to display around the house and garden.

How to make pebble monsters craft with children

All you need is a selection of pebbles in different shapes and sizes. To paint them, I found that acrylic paint works best (although you have to be careful with little ones as it can be difficult to wash out of clothing). Paint one side first, then when it is dry, flip over to paint the other side. You can use a single colour for each pebble, or go for a more marbled effect by using lots of different colours at once. You can choose whether to stick to natural stone type colours, or make them as bright and colourful as you like.

Then when the paint was dry we decorated them with googly eyes and tiny scraps of felt. You may notice a more than passing resemblance to these monster finger puppets! 

Pebble rock and stone monsters

So what do you do with them when you've made them? Here are some ideas:

  • Hide them in the garden. Choose a sheltered spot, as they won't be weatherproof (or just replace them from time to time!)
  • Take them back down the beach on a sunny day, place them amongst the stones and leave them for people to find. Or leave them anywhere outdoors, in the forest, on a bench, at the playground...
  • Pop them in a plant pot in the house.
  • Leave them in a geocache.
  • Present them to adoring friends and relatives to decorate their homes.

Pebble rock and stone monsters

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Help, I'm a blogger!

I've been tagged! The Crumby Mummy has tagged me in this meme for new bloggers, and I need to answer some questions about my blog.

What is your blog about?

My blog is a record of my life with my two little ones, and a way to share the crafts and activities that we get up to. I also use it to write about some of the things that are constantly running around in my head.

When and how did you start blogging?

I've had blogs in the past but they never lasted long. The difference this time was that I discovered the huge community of bloggers and it really inspired me to keep going. It also meant that I had readers outside of my immediate family, which was fantastic. I started my blog when my daughter was 6 weeks old, and my husband took the toddler away to visit his family for the weekend. I thought it would be nice to share some pictures of what we were getting up to with the rest of the family and I also wanted to share some of my crafty things.

What was your first post?

I agonised over my first post for ages. At the time, I knew that only my family would be reading, so it felt a bit pointless to start with an about me post. So I jumped straight in with a post about some felt biscuits that I had just finished. Here it is - Felt Biscuits.

Does blogging affect your life, and if so how?

Yes it does. I must admit that I start to feel anxious if I've been away for a few days. I like to respond to all my comments, so if they start to stack up I worry that they are being left unanswered. I've also become a lot more attached to my phone to keep up with my blog reading list and Twitter. To be fair though, I did always spend a lot of time on the computer, it's just that now I have a bit more focus.

It has had a huge positive effect too. I'm very proud of my little blog and that I've managed to keep it going for so long (coming up 9 months). I'm slowly becoming a part of the community, and I'm really enjoying being a part of it. I've found some wonderful blogs to read and new ideas to inspire me.

Sunday 8 April 2012

First trip of the year to Legoland Windsor

On the way back home from our Easter trip to the Midlands we stopped by at Legoland for a few hours. It's over a year since I've been, and it was Mia's first trip. It was probably not the best day to choose as it was pretty packed, but luckily we intend to visit again so we didn't need to see everything.

Since his last visit, Harry has turned three which opens up some fab new rides to him. In particular, he has been waiting to go on the Driving School for about two years. They make a huge thing of it, lining up all the little drivers before their turn so that they could be instructed how to drive the car, and when they had finished they stood them all together, cheered them and gave them a little pretend driving licence!

Driving school at Legoland Windsor

It goes without saying that Harry loved it. Unfortunately although he worked out the controls fairly quickly his road sense requires a little more practice, he caused more than one traffic jam.

Child driving car at Legoland

Another new ride that he could go on was the diggers, with a bit of help from Dad. I think that these diggers are harder to operate than they look. Again, he loved it.

Diggers at Legoland Windsor

A new attraction for this year is the Star Wars Miniland Experience. Even when we arrived just as the park opened there was a large queue, although it had diminished when we went at around lunchtime. It is a walkthrough of scenes from the films created out of Lego, and it was pretty amazing, although quite dark and intense in places. Luckily Mia slept through it in the pushchair, and Harry was fascinated.

The great thing that we've found about Legoland is that there are rides there suitable for even very young babies, although it's best if they can sit independently. Mia's first ride was the Orient Expedition (basically a train ride) and we also took her on Fairy Tale Brook and into the 4D theatre. Last year I wrote a guide to Legoland with tips for taking babies and toddlers, which you can find here.

No affiliation with Legoland whatsoever, just happy visitors!

Friday 6 April 2012

Warwick Castle

You can read my updated blog post about Warwick Castle in 2016 here - Warwick Castle with the Family.

We've bought our new Merlin passes and so we're all set for a year of days out. I missed out last year, being either pregnant or with a baby, so I'm looking forward to joining in again with some of our places to visit, albeit with the added challenges of a new addition and Harry going through the stage where he can walk for a bit, but not enough for a full day out.

Ram has actually already taken Harry on the London Eye and to the London Aquarium with his, but this was the first time that we've used them for a family day out.

Tents outside Warwick Castle

As we are spending a few days visiting family in Warwick, we started with Warwick Castle. We arrived as the castle opened as we expected it to be a busy day. It was - the car park was already half full. We buy our Merlin passes with Tesco Clubcard deals. This means that visiting the attractions, which individually are very expensive, works out to be very reasonable. Most of the attractions do also now charge for parking though, which can be rather pricey. Warwick Castle charges £6! So we have paid a bit extra to upgrade Ram's pass to a Premium one, which includes the parking. He is the one most likely to take a child on a solo visit, and we expect to make enough trips to places to make it worth it.

We started off with Mia in the carrier and tackled the climb up to the top of the tower. Harry did do very well, but his little legs couldn't manage the whole trip so I had fun carrying him up and down inside spiral staircases. Then we went round some of the other attractions inside the castle. The rooms inside aren't just decorated, they are themed with very realistic waxwork figures and are very well put together to tell a story as you walk through. We've visited several times now so we didn't spend too long here, but there's easily enough to entertain a family for a full day.

Then we walked up to the gardens to see the peacocks. I suspect that it may be peacock mating season, as we saw lots of beautiful tail displays, and they were very noisy. Harry was fascinated by them. 

Gardens at Warwick Castle

He was also fascinated by the camera, so we let him have a go with it and he actually took some very nice photos! Possibly in most cases more by luck than judgement, but it's very rare to have both Ram and me in a photo at once!

We finished in the playground. It was only lunchtime so it hadn't had chance to get too busy so it was perfect. Then we braved a restaurant for lunch, before heading back with a very tired little family!

Wednesday 4 April 2012

How to make your own cress heads

I've really been getting in to planting things lately with Harry. We've planted lots of vegetables and flowers, but they take a long time to grow so I thought that it was time to try some cress.

I found these lovely cress heads on Pinterest so I thought we'd give them a go for this month's Pinterest Challenge, which this month is being hosted by Sew Scrumptious. You can find the pin here on my Pinterest board, and here is the original picture and instructions.

You just need to take the feet from an old pair of tights, put a teaspoon or so of cress seeds in first and then fill with compost. Tie at the bottom, use an elastic band to pull out lumps and make a nose, and then decorate. I used some foam stickers that we had lying around. Although the original instructions actually say to use two teaspoons of seeds, I found that this was too many really so you can use fewer. I sat mine in plastic cups for stability. Here they are after just a few days:

Cress heads craft

They start growing almost straightaway, so are great for pretty much instant gratification. I'm not too keen on actually eating the cress though, but the seeds were cheap!

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Craft - Easter bunny egg holders from toilet roll tubes

These simple Easter bunnies made from toilet roll tubes are just the right size to fit a chocolate egg like a Cadbury's Creme Egg into as a little Easter gift. You could also fill them with smaller eggs or sweets, and they are really easy to make. They are a really easy craft to do with a toddler as an Easter gift for friends or relatives.

Cardboard tube Easter bunny craft to hold an Easter egg gift

Use one toilet roll tube cut in half to make two bunnies. Paint it completely brown, and use cut out brown paper shapes for ears. I used a scrap of pink felt for the noses, but you could paint or draw a nose on, or perhaps use a pink pom pom.

The base of the bunny is made from a small square of cardboard painted green with green shredded paper glued on the top for grass. They also have a small ball of cotton wool on the back for a tail, again you could use a pom pom.

Easter bunny toilet roll tube craft

If you want to make some Easter egg holders on a different theme try these Easter chick egg holders made from toilet roll tubes, just paint the toilet paper tubes yellow and glue a beak and wings on to make a chick, with a base of feet cut from orange card.

Easter bunny toilet roll tube craft

Sunday 1 April 2012

Cissbury Ring and Harry's first geocache

Geocaching is a hobby which involves large and small boxes of 'treasure' hidden in all sorts of places, both in the town and the countryside. You navigate your way to them using GPS co-ordinates, open them up, and swap something in them with something of your own for someone else to find. You can also record your visits online and track all the visitors to them. They are a good way of giving your walk a focus, making it a bit more exciting, and finding new places to explore.

Before children, hubby and I spent a summer searching out some of our local geocaches, using a now ancient PDA that happened to have a GPS facility. We used the website, and we were able to download the co-ordinates that we needed. Now that at least one of the children is capable of walking a short distance, we logged into the site with the intention of giving it another go. As we now have an iPhone with a much better spec we downloaded the geocaching app. We were a little hesitant as it cost £5.99, which is more than we would normally spend on an app (i.e. it wasn't free), and the reviews weren't great. It worked fine for us this time though, and we intend to get a lot of use out of it so hopefully it will be worth it in the long run.

Geocaching at Cissbury Ring

We chose to find the geocache "Florida comes to Findon" which is up on Cissbury Ring. It is also one of the original ones that we found previously, and so we had a vague idea where it was and knew that it was easy to find. It was quite exposed, and so Harry spotted it pretty quickly after a bit of prompting.

Luckily Harry is at an age where he is very easily pleased, and he was absolutely thrilled with a plastic pencil sharpener in the shape of a hammer. This was quite lucky really as there wasn't much else in there, so I topped it up with a few bits of my own. Mostly the things that you find in geocaches are about as exciting as something that you might get in a Christmas cracker, but because you've gone to such an effort to find it, it makes it that much more special!

Harry loved it, and he surprised us with how far his little legs were able to carry him. We are looking forward to doing a few more of these this summer!