Tuesday 22 May 2012

Think Tank, Birmingham

We were staying up in the Midlands at the weekend, and so we took the little ones on an outing to Think Tank in Birmingham. We considered a few options for places to visit, and we chose Think Tank in the end because it had very good reviews for the under 5 crowd.

Well, it was just perfect! We arrived as it opened so it was pretty quiet. The first thing that caught Harry's eye was a digger that you could use to lift up coloured balls and a working pedestrian crossing which fascinated him. We went straight to the Kids' City on the ground floor, and we were completely taken aback by how much fun it was. It was a mini town for kids to run around and play in, complete with a health centre where you could weigh pretend babies, a dentist with chair and light, a car garage with all the equipment, a cafe where you could serve food and lots of other things. It is designed for families to explore together, and was almost overwhelming in the opportunities for role play!

To one side was a quiet area with books and cushions, and a section for learning about growing plants and insects which was perfect for Mia to sit in and play. There was also a huge water table with boats and rivers to float them along, jets of water and different ways of moving the water around. Mia didn't find out about this though, we kept her well out of the way.

Think Tank, Birmingham

We spent ages in this area, and Harry absolutely loved it. There were also things to keep Mia occupied, and she had a great time just crawling about. They both liked this car table in the "garage", poor Mia has no girly toys at all, she is so used to playing with cars!

Think Tank, Birmingham

We even braved a show at the Planetarium (included in the cost of the ticket). There were several different shows running through the day, and we chose one aimed at young children. It was led by a presenter and it didn't matter that some of the children were a bit noisy. I'm not sure how much Harry really took in, but he did sit quietly and seemed to be following what was going on. It lasted about 20 minutes and comprised of a brief look at some of the stars and planets, and then a telling of the story behind the Great Bear constellation.

We tried to sit Harry down for story time but he wasn't really up for it as it was aimed at children slightly older than him, but from what we saw it was very well presented. There were also crafts later on in the day as it was a weekend, although we didn't stay late enough to take part. We had a quick look round the exhibits upstairs but it was a bit over his head so went up to the top floor where there were some tables for us to eat our sandwiches.

Sitting up there we were looking down into the large gallery below with lots of full size planes, trains, cars and so on, so next we went down to have a look around. There was lots to see, with many noisy engines running and a real enormous steam train. We found a small display showing how robots are used to build cars fascinating, and I caught Harry recreating it back at home using his fingers! He was full of questions about what the engines were and what they were for.

I've saved Harry's absolute favourite part until last. Back on the ground floor was a display about recycling, which included a couple of mock-ups showing how cans and bottles are recycled. Nearby was a conveyer belt carrying various bits of rubbish which you had to identify and place into the correct slots for recycling. Well I think that Harry could have spent all day here, collecting the rubbish from the conveyor belt and running over to the slots. He was also pretty good at remembering what had to go where.

Think Tank, Birmingham

On the way in I spotted that free Parent Packs are available to borrow to take around the galleries, aimed at children aged 3-8. I took one to do with trains for Harry, and I thought it was a great idea although most of the activities involved sitting down quietly and playing games or doing puzzles, and we didn't really have the opportunity as we needed to keep moving to keep Mia happy. I know that Harry would have enjoyed the games if we'd had chance to use it properly.

We didn't time our visit as well as we could have, as there is a fantastic looking new outdoor area which opens in a couple of weeks in time. But I'm sure that we'll be back! All in all, if you have a toddler or pre-schooler then I think that Think Tank is brilliant. Perhaps most of the science will go over their heads, but it's a brilliant place for them to learn through play. We didn't spend a whole day there, but that was to do with the baby getting fed up, Harry could have stayed for a lot longer.

Think Tank costs £12.25 for an Adult and £8.40 for a Child (over 3) and Concessions. We used our good old Tesco Clubcard vouchers.

Monday 21 May 2012

How and when do you find the time to...?

Today I'm writing all about how I find the time to get things done!

So here we go, how and when do I find the time to...

 ...Do the laundry?
We probably do about five loads of washing a week. I just stick it in the machine at some point during the day, then when it's finished I put most of it in the tumble dryer, the rest goes on the radiators. We've only recently purchased a tumble dryer, so before that it just went on the airer. When it's finished drying I fold it up and then put it away as soon as I can. I try my very best to have it all put away the same day, usually just before bed, so that it doesn't build up.

...Write a Blog Post?
Usually in the evenings when the little ones are asleep. I try to write several at once so that I've got a few to fall back on. I often publish them in the morning while I eat my breakfast and then do a quick tweet. I am on my phone at intervals throughout the day checking Twitter and Google Reader.

...Look after yourself  i.e wash your hair, paint your nails, have a bubble bath etc.
I have a shower every morning while my husband starts the breakfast routine. I don't have baths very often but if I want one I'll have it in the evening. I used to paint my nails all the time but haven't done for ages!

...Spend time with your other half 
We have our evenings to spend together without children and our weekends with children. We watch a couple of films a week and there are a few TV programmes that we're watching at the moment, we like Game of Thrones, The Apprentice and the US Office. When we go to visit his parents we sometimes get a meal out together, or at the very least a quick trip out into town or the supermarket without children! We are also very lucky in that my parents are also very good at (often short notice) babysitting from time to time if we want to get out.

...Do fun stuff with your LO?
I'm on maternity leave at the moment so at home full time, when I go back to work it will be part time so I'll have a couple of days a week with them. We do a lot of crafting things and go to some baby and toddler groups, to the playground, to the beach and so on. We have family time with my husband at the weekends, we often go on a day trip somewhere. We have Merlin passes so we can go to the theme parks which is always a good day out.

...Spend time with family?
My parents come down to visit for most of the day many weeks and we go up to my husband's parents about once a month for the weekend. I see the rest of my family every few months, usually when it's a child's birthday.

...Socialise with friends?
I don't see a lot of my friends without children in tow to be honest, but I'm hoping that will change as the little ones get older. When I do it's usually an evening. I do see friends with children though during the day.

...Prepare an evening meal juggling baby bedtime routine?
We all eat together at 6pm, this stems from the fact that my son is a bit of a fussy eater and I thought that if we all ate together then it might help. I start preparing dinner at about half five. It's quite difficult preparing dinner, I usually have a whinging baby. I put the television on and work quickly. If they are getting too whingy and in the way I sit them down early at the table with some cucumber or carrot sticks. I also try and prepare as much as I can earlier in the day when they are happier to be left to occupy themselves, e.g. chopping the veg. We finish eating at about half six, then I go upstairs and do the baths while my husband clears up downstairs. Then he comes up to help and we put one to bed each. The aim is to have both in bed by 7.30pm and everything tidy downstairs so that we can enjoy our evening. Usually a child will wake up at some point during the evening, but they are generally easily settled.

...Deep clean the house?
I don't really deep clean, I just do bits here and there. I try to keep things tidy and I put away as I go and make sure that the bathrooms and kitchen are cleaned properly once a week and the house is hoovered.

...Do the food shopping?
Lucky me, my husband usually does the weekly shop at the weekend with one or other of the children in tow. I usually end up in the supermarket at some point during the week to pick up extra milk and bread. I try to make a list as I go along throughout the week as we run out of things.

...Do bulk ironing?
Ha ha, I don't know what that is! I don't iron!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Olympic Crafts - the Olympic Torch and Relay

Following on from my collage Olympic Rings craft, we turned to the Olympic Torch. It was a very exciting moment when the Olympic flame passed through our town, and even though the children were very little, I'm hoping that Harry at least will have some memory of the time that the Olympics were held in London.

As well as making an Olympic Torch, I also wanted to learn and teach Harry a little bit about the significance of the Olympic Flame and its importance in the Olympic Games. Because of course the torch isn't the important bit, it's the actual flame.

Simply Olympic torch craft

For the 2012 Olympics the flame was lit on the 10th May in Olympia Greece, by an actress playing a high priestess, who caught the sun's rays in a parabolic mirror. You can read about the ceremony and see a short video on the BBC News website. On the 18th May the flame will fly to Britain for a 70-day relay around the UK. The flame will actually pass very close by to our house, but unfortunately at this point it will be in a convoy, so we won't be able to see it. We'll have to travel down the road to actually see it being carried.

The final torch bearer will use the torch to ignite the flame in the cauldron at the Olympic Stadium on the 27th July 2012, where it will burn for the 17 day duration of the games before being extinguished in the closing ceremony.

The design of the Olympic Torch changes for each games. The torch for the 2012 games was designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. I have stuck to a very basic design for my torch so it would be suitable for any Olympic role play.

To make this really simple torch, you need two toilet rolls. Pinch the end of one together and hold in place at the bottom with sellotape, then sellotape the other one onto the end to extend the tube. Cover entirely in tin foil.

Simply Olympic torch craft

Cut flames from appropriately coloured tissue paper. You can either glue the flames in permanently, or you can make it so that they are removable. If you want to make them removable, stuff most of the body of the torch with crumpled up paper, and sellotape the ends of the tissue paper to make a bundle.

Simply Olympic torch craft

Why would you want to remove the flames? Well, after watching some of the video that I've linked above for context, we took a small bowl to represent the cauldron, and placed it at the top of the stairs. Then we ran around the house with the torch for a bit, before climbing up the stairs and transferring the tissue paper bundle to the bowl to 'light' the cauldron!

If you are looking for more Olympic themed crafts you might like my collage Olympic rings or my Hama bead medal bunting.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Something pretty and shopping locally

I am very lucky that our new house is only a few minutes walk from our village shops. It's a lovely village, not large but very friendly. Unfortunately the centre of the village is not that easy to negotiate with a pushchair and a young walking child, as the roads can be a bit narrow and busy, and it means pushing one-handed while gripping Harry's hand tightly. This means that I don't usually get time to stop and browse as we walk through on our way to toddler group or the library.

When Harry is at nursery and I only have Mia in the pushchair then I can take the time to go a bit more slowly, and in particular try and visit my favourite shop - the haberdashery shop. Considering the size of the village, it's a wonderful shop. It really does sell everything that you could need for all types of craft and more. It also has more the old-fashioned and obscure bits and pieces that you wouldn't normally know where to go to buy.

Last week Mia was in a good mood so I took her in for a browse and I treated myself to some embroidery scissors. I've been doing cross stitch for years but I've never had proper scissors for it. I love the pattern, and they make it so much easier to snip the threads!

embroidery scissors for cross stitch

Sunday 13 May 2012

First barbecue of the summer!

After the beautiful weather earlier in the year, we decided that with a new house, this was the year that we would purchase a decent barbecue. Of course as soon as the box was delivered the weather turned, and it's been so miserable that it hasn't been until today that we were able to put it to use!

Man with his new barbecue

The sandpit is recovering nicely having received a bit of a battering in the wet weather. I seem to have been running out every day to bail the water off the cover and try to stop it flooding. Hopefully the sun will dry out the sand a bit. Mia was very interested in the sand, stuffing handfuls into her mouth, which doesn't bode well for our beach holiday in a few weeks!

Child playing in sandpit

Mia loves crawing about the garden, snacking on compost.

Toddler in the garden

I bought some easy to grow wildflower seeds for Harry to plant and we sprinkled them everywhere. These are his own little pots which are growing nicely.

Seedlings growing

In the vegetable patch the strawberries are flowering and the other vegetables seem to have survived the deluge. Below is the entrance to our vegetable garden behind the garage, guarded by Beowulf. I found him in the garden of our previous house, hidden and forgotten about in the shrubs at the back, and we moved him with us. I maintain that he watches over the garden and makes sure that everything grows well. It certainly worked in the old house, where the garden had a tendency to go wild very quickly. Harry is inspecting the potatoes, and Mia is never far behind.

Vegetable patch in garden with children

Book review - Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb

Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb is a newly published book from Macmillan, and we were recently sent a copy to review.

Book review - Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb

The story itself is very simple and tells of a little girl who is too busy and just not hungry for her lunch, but luckily a visiting crocodile, bear and a wolf are happy to help her eat it up. The theme struck a chord with Harry, who quite often appears uninterested in food at lunchtime. He loved reading about how the animals ate the little girl's lunch, and how because she didn't eat her tummy was rumbling all afternoon. His favourite part of the book was actually the back cover, where the little girl brings milk and biscuits to the poor animals after leaving them none of her dinner.

What I really loved about the book were the illustrations. The girl is drawn beautifully and her posture and gestures are so lifelike. One of the pictures that I particularly liked showed the little girl spending the afternoon drawing and painting, and sticking her pictures into a scrapbook. After seeing both this and the image of the crocodile with his spotty skin I got out the paints and we sat down to create some artwork inspired by the book. I love books that can act as a jumping off point for further activities!

Book review - Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb

This is a lovely book which I would fully recommend.

I received the book to review.

Friday 11 May 2012

Multicoloured spotty biscuits

I've posted in the past about how when I get the playdough out I can't bear to mix up the colours, and so one colour must be put away before another comes out. This suits me just fine, but it must be quite boring for Harry. So I've found a way to let him have the colour mixing experience without making me start to twitch!

How to make spotty shortbread biscuits

Simply take a plain shortbread biscuit dough (here is my simple shortbread recipe), divide into sections and use food colouring to dye each section a different colour. You might find that the dye makes the mixture a little sticky, so you will need to add a bit more flour. Alternatively if you can get hold of some gel food colouring you will have much more vibrant colours from just a very small amount of colouring.

Then present the dough to the toddler and let him happily squish the different colours together. I made base biscuit circles out of one colour and showed Harry how to make spots in different colours, but I think that now he is old enough that he would have been quite happy without any guidance. You can make all sorts of designs - flowers, smiley faces, stripes, spots and so on. If your child has a particular interest, for example television characters, you could even have an attempt at recreating them. 

How to make spotty coloured biscuits

Just a word of warning, this is an activity which is best prepared by an adult in advance, unless you want to complement your multicoloured biscuits with a multicoloured child and multicoloured kitchen.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Five Little Ducks felt puppets

This blog post was written as part of the PinAddicts challenge, where a group of bloggers actually made crafts inspired by some of the things that they had pinned! These felt ducks were inspired by a pin from ohsofelty, although they are sadly no longer available.

Five little ducks finger puppets for children

I've posted before about how Harry loves acting out stories and rhymes using props. I've seen some great ideas online, and one that caught my eye was some felt ducks to use when singing the children's song "Five little ducks went swimming one day".

I didn't have much yellow felt left, but I was pleased to make use of some which was rather poor quality (I think it may have come in a reduced children's craft kit). I didn't have enough yellow to make the backs, so I used felt in a pale coral colour.

Five little ducks finger puppets for children

They were very easy to make, I just drew out a basic template for the body shape and cut out the two pieces and sewed them together. The wings and the beak are sewing on separately, with tiny stitches for their eyes. My finished puppets came out quite big, which makes them a little uncomfortable to hold, but you don't need them all in place for very long as you sing the song!

Five little ducks finger puppets for children

However it does mean that they are too big for a small child to hold, so next time I would make them a bit smaller. I had assumed that he would be quite happy to sit and watch, but of course he wanted to join in too!

In case you are unfamiliar with the song, this is how it goes:

Five little ducks went swimming one day
Over the fields and far away
Mummy Duck said 'quack quack quack quack'
But only four little ducks came back

and so on until there are no ducks left...

No little ducks went swimming one day
Over the fields and far away
Mummy Duck said 'quack quack quack quack'
And all five ducks came swimming back!

Five little ducks finger puppets for children

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Minibeasts and bugs models from rubbish

We're having a bit of a minibeasts craze at the moment after we borrowed a bug viewer and a large selection of plastic bugs from the toy library. Harry also recently received this fab book First Facts Bugs (affiliate link) which I'd absolutely recommend for any little ones with an interest in bugs, it's kept him busy for ages! I sorted through my craft materials, and thought that we'd have a go at making some of our own simple minibeasts.

Making bugs and mini beasts from rubbish

This is what we came up with:

Bumble bee

You need - Yellow Kinder egg toy container, large yellow pom pom, black acrylic paint, netting or thin fabric, cotton, googly eyes

Remove the lid section from the Kinder egg container. Paint a black stripe around the middle and a circle on the bottom (you will find that the container itself has markings that you can use). Glue a large yellow pom pom into the opening, using plenty of glue. Cut a rectangle with rounded edges from the netting and tie tightly across the middle with the cotton to form the wings. Glue to the top of the body and add on the googly eyes.


You need - Different sizes of green pom poms (or any colour will do really), lollipop stick or thin strip of cardboard, googly eyes

Glue the pom poms along the stick firmly and add the googly eyes.

Bee and caterpillar junk modelling


You need - Toilet roll tube, brown or black paint (optional), cardboard, pieces of scrap coloured paper, lace, tin foil etc., pipecleaners

If you can persuade your child (I couldn't!), paint the toilet roll tube brown. Cut out two wings from cardboard and cover them in the scraps of coloured paper. You can also add sequins, glitter, stickers and so on. Sellotape them to the sides of the toilet roll tube so that they can flap a bit and add pipe cleaners for the antennae.

Butterfly made from toilet roll tube


You need - Toilet roll tube, black paint, googly eyes, string for hanging (optional)

Cut eight strips into the toilet roll to form the legs of the spider, leaving about 4cm for the head. Trim the legs a little and fold them out. Paint the whole thing black and add googly eyes. If you like you can tie a length of string to the head so that you can hang him up.

Spider made from toilet roll tube

An interesting minibeasts fact for you - it's only an insect if it's got six legs. Also, sometimes I think that you can make any kid's craft look great if you add on some googly eyes!

Tuesday 1 May 2012

End of an era

It's a rather dramatic title to choose, when all I'm referring to is the fact that our gym membership has now ended. But that's what it feels like.

We've been members at our local big chain gym since it first opened, shortly after we moved down to Worthing. We signed up in a portacabin in the car park with only the plans and drawings to justify the expenditure. I was so excited that I went for my first visit on the very day that it opened, even though my husband was away for work and I had to go on my own. For the first few years we were regular gym bunnies. We were there three or four times a week, using the gym, the swimming pool and trying out some of the classes. 9.15am on a Saturday morning would find me poised, weights in hand, ready to start my BodyPump class which I loved.

Then a baby came along, and the visits reduced somewhat in frequency. They recovered slightly as he got older and began to sleep a little bit more, but the second baby pretty much put a stop to our impeccable, regular attendance. Add to that the fact that even though Harry had been free until he was 2 they suddenly wanted money for Mia to join from when she was just 3 months old. Finally we were honest with ourselves and came to the realisation that we weren't visiting nearly enough to justify the large amount of cash that we were sending over to them each month.

I feel quite sad about the fact that our membership has ended. We've not been regular visitors over the past few months by any means, but it's always been there. We've also started taking Harry swimming, which he loves, and it's a shame that we won't be able to take him there any more.

On the plus side we are making an effort to stay fit for much less money. We both have a new pair of running shoes and we've been managing to get out for reasonably regular runs around our estate. Hopefully with summer on its way, and with lighter evenings and mornings, we'll be able to continue and we'll see how we get on. There is always the option to join up again in the winter, or perhaps we can put the money that we will have saved towards a treadmill for home exercising. I just hope that we can keep going without the financial motivation!

Pile of gym accessories