Wednesday 27 February 2013

Tweens - a whistle-stop tour

I have a guest post today from Sarah about a stage which I'm sure will come around faster than I am expecting it - being a Mum to tweens!

My name is Sarah and I’m mum to three growing kids – aged 11, 9 and nearly 7. I blog over at Mum of Three World writing about family and everything that affects us. If you like what you read here, pop over and join us. If you don’t, apologies, normal service will be resumed here tomorrow.

Tweens - a whistle stop tour

I’m the proud owner of two tweens, although I didn’t even realise I was at first. So what are tweens? Tweens are 9-12 year olds. A bit too old to be proper children, who enjoy toys and the like, but not yet teenagers (thank goodness!).

This is a whistle-stop tour of some of the things I’ve learned about tweens. My tweens are of the male variety, so I can only reflect on how these years affect boys.

Tweens - a whistle stop tour

Tweens are more independent. They are perfectly capable of making their own breakfast and putting their clothes away. Although whether they choose to is very much down to the individual! The good news is, they sleep longer than younger children. The bad news is, they also go to bed later and you find them under your feet in the evenings when you’re really ready for a break from them for the day.

They can be affectionate, child-like and cuddly and suddenly they go cool and they don’t want to know you. Then they will be back again for a cuddle. My 9 year old won’t let me kiss him at school to say goodbye, but will happily come for a cuddle at rugby when he’s cold or hurt.

The tween years can be great or they can be hard work. It’s all too easy as your children get older and a bit more independent to take your eye off them and just let them be. And before you know it, you’re left with couch potatoes with no interests and no motivation. This is something which is likely to happen in their teens anyway, so now is the time to put the work in to delay it.

My boys are like dogs that need to be let off the lead and have a run round. They enjoy their Wii games and watching the television, but too much of it turns them grumpy and argumentative.

Tweens don’t need toys, but they do need to be kept busy and interested. It might be Cubs and Scouts, or rugby or dancing or music. Preferably it should be more than one of them if you have the time and if you can afford it.

At the age of 9 or 10 (year 4 and 5 at school), your tween will still be recognisable as your child. But that all changes when they hit year 6. In year 6, kids get an attitude – it’s like the law. You can spot their swagger a mile off. They have an air of superiority which comes from a school full of little kids looking up to them and thinking they’re great or being scared of them.

It changes again when they go to secondary school. For some of them, the attitude grows further as they are now (in their heads) ‘better’ then their younger siblings. If they weren’t before, they are now concerned with what’s cool. Or they turn in on themselves and go introverted and quiet.

Either way, they are heading for puberty and the teen years fast. Your baby is well and truly grown up and your relationship will have a rocky few years ahead.

Tweens - a whistle stop tour

Thank you so much to Sarah for sharing this great post!

Monday 25 February 2013

Crochet fail

Another challenge that I wanted to tick off my Day Zero Project list was to learn crochet. Pinterest has a lot to answer for. Despite showing no natural inclination for any craft involving yarn I have rather optimistically assembled a board entitled "Blankets", stuffed with gorgeous examples of colourful granny square blankets. I thought that it would be a lovely long term project.

So I enlisted my faithful Mum to take me shopping for some yarn and tasked her with teaching me to crochet. I hope I've mentioned here before how wonderful my Mum is. She found me some simple instructions to follow, she pointed me in the direction of some useful videos, and then she spent a good amount of time sitting down with me, wincing as I struggled my way through the basics. I forgot everything that she had taught me the minute she left the room, and even when she was sitting right beside me I would generally be crocheting along happily backwards or conjuring up extra stitches from nowhere.

It was quickly becoming clear that crochet was not my craft.

Thankfully once again my Mum stepped in. One thing that I can do is knit, as long as the instructions are very simple, repetitive, and use only basic knit and purl stitches. She purchased me a pattern for a knitted blanket on Ravelry, then she simplified and rewrote the pattern so that I could follow it. I've even managed to make a start on it when she hasn't been here, and I've not messed anything up yet.

I've not got much to show for it yet and there is a long way to go, so I'll save that for another post. I also can't bring myself to tick 'Learn to crochet' off the list yet. I've got some time left to give it another go, perhaps I'll attempt something a little less ambitious next time!

Crochet granny square fail

Friday 22 February 2013

Book review - Creative Creatures by Donna Wilson

Today, I am hosting the Creative Creatures blog book tour! Creative Creatures by Donna Wilson (affiliate link) is Donna's first children's book, containing lots of fun and inspiring crafts to make both for and with children. I was asked to choose a craft from the book to make, and I chose the Sock Monster - a fun way to use up one of the many odd socks that we have lying around our house! I also knew that I would be doing the making myself, so I wanted to choose something that Harry would have fun playing with.

Our socks unfortunately aren't as pretty as the ones in the book, but I do have plenty of colourful felt around. This version is the sock in his second incarnation - Harry decided that my first version was too scary. You will notice that he doesn't have arms like the one in the book, this is because Harry runs around chasing Mia with him and I thought that the arms might be a bit hazardous!

Book review - Creative Creatures by Donna Wilson

This is a lovely book, all the crafts can be made with things that most crafty types have around the home, and you only need very basic skills to complete them. The book contains all the patterns and instructions that you need, as well as being illustrated with some gorgeous photographs and some lovely little stories about all the creatures. I did all the sewing for the sock monster but I let Harry choose the colours to use - older children would perhaps be able to get more involved and do some of the making by themselves.

I received a copy of the book to review, but I made the sock monster all by myself. Links to book are affiliate.

Thursday 21 February 2013

The end of the daytime nap

I am writing this post a lot earlier than I would like. Mia is 21 months old, and she has decided to drop her nap. She will now only sleep if pushed to sleep in her buggy or in the car. On Harry's pre-school days she may fall asleep in the pushchair on the way back and I can transfer her into bed. When Harry is around, there is no chance.

I feel somewhat cheated - Harry continued to nap for a good couple of hours until he was 2 1/2. He rather inconveniently dropped his nap around the time that Mia was born, but even then he was still tired in the afternoon. Him being that bit older, I could lie him down on the sofa in front of the television after lunch and he would often doze off, or at the very least lie there quietly. I suppose it's swings and roundabouts though, he started his day at 5am for a very long time indeed, whereas Mia generaly manages at least an hour longer than that.

With hindsight putting Mia into a big bed hasn't helped. Since being in a bed it had been a nightmare to get her to sleep at bedtime, she jumped up and ran out the door or just sat on the other side wailing. Nap time was even worse, it was taking up to an hour to get her down. Then she would sleep, and bedtime became even more difficult. Finally I decided that enough was enough and didn't even try for a nap. She was exhausted at bedtime, but she went straight to sleep, almost before I'd even left the room, and slept until a reasonable hour in the morning! (Still up throughout the night of course, but that goes without saying in our household).

So this seems to be it. My cunning plan of moving Harry into pre-school sessions in the afternoon so that I could enjoy a couple of hours childfree time has backfired. Mia doesn't even appear to miss the nap, it's only the last hour or so before bedtime that she appears tired. It's another milestone, and those long afternoons are becoming even longer!

Child's first bed

Monday 18 February 2013

A Spring sensory tub

How to make a Spring sensory tub for toddlers

I woke up this morning to sunshine (actually that's not quite correct, I was woken by a wakeful toddler in darkness, but by the time I opened the curtains there was sunshine) and a slight warmth in the air. In the hope that Spring might finally be on the way, I put together this Spring sensory tub to keep the little ones occupied for a few minutes.

How to make a Spring sensory tub for toddlers

The base of the tub is dyed rice, left over from my previous beach sensory tub and my dyed rice rangoli. I added a few glass pebbles and some shredded green paper. Then I put in a couple of small flower pots and spoons, some baby animals from the farm set and some cut out flower shapes. I also added a few small pieces of green card and some flower foam stickers.

I have an old tablecloth that I keep for this sort of play, in the vain hope that it might not all end up on the carpet. Sensory tubs are good because they can both play with them together, as long as I make sure that I have two of everything. They hold Harry's attention for much longer.

Harry asked me what he was supposed to do with it, so I told him that it was up to him what he did. It was fascinating to see where he went with it. First he filled up one of the flower pots with rice, then he planted the 'seeds' (the glass pebbles) before sticking the card flowers in the top of the pot.  Then he buried the flowers in the rice and talked about how it was Winter, then dug them up for the Spring.

His imagination then took a different turn as the flowers became dinosaur bones, and he dug them up, naming each dinosaur and type of bone as he did so (I see potential for another game here). Finally he sprinkled the rice through his fingers as rain and made a flood.

I always thought that sensory tubs were aimed at younger children, but having watched my two, Harry (4) played with this for a lot longer, and I could really see his imagination at work. I'll definitely be getting it out again over the next few weeks!

At this time of year, young children might also enjoy an Easter sensory tub.

Some of my other sensory play ideas:

Easter sensory tub
Firework sensory tub
Halloween sensory tub
Beach sensory tub
Dinosaur Island

Friday 15 February 2013

Altered book pages

In those long, empty days before children I used to enjoy having a go at altered books. You can combine all sorts of crafts, and in particular two that I enjoy - collage and painting. I completed one small board book, lots of pages in a larger hardback book, and bought a third hardback book to make a new, themed one.

Altered book pages

Then the children came along, and it has taken me until now to pick the craft up again. The book that I am using is called "Three" (purchased from the "Withdrawn for sale" shelf at the library) and I quite like the idea of theming some pages around the number three and things that come in threes. I'd been putting off working on the book for a long time as I was a bit stuck for inspiration, so I did a bit of searching on Pinterest, and found loads of ideas to get me started. I chose two altered book page designs that I really liked, and had a go at them myself.

I couldn't find anywhere to credit the original images so I haven't linked them here, but you can see them on my growing Altered Books pinboard. The first is an outline tree and the second is a cartoon sketch of a little girl, outlined in white. They are both very different to anything that I've painted or drawn before.

Altered book pages

I might add something to the tree as I think it's a bit bare, perhaps add some writing in and turn it into a family tree or story.

Altered book pages

I wanted the little girl to resemble Mia, but she came out looking a bit older than I intended. She is also a bit more bright and cheerful than the original, she also appears to have been unintentionally inspired by illustrator Nick Sharratt! I used watercolour to paint her and then outlined with slightly diluted white acrylic paint. I quite like the fact that the name Angelique has ended up above her head, it wasn't intentional, but it's nice that she has a name!

I loved working with the watercolours, and even better I actually managed to complete some of the painting while I had small children about, either occupied elsewhere or doing some painting of their own. Both pages were very quick and satisfying to finish.

Now I'm going to carry on with the book, but start to incorporate some of my own ideas. I really like the idea of drawing another girl, so I might try her out again on a different page, and maybe put a little boy in there somewhere too. I'd like to have a go with some collage too.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

The Day Zero Project - Do a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle

I love doing jigsaws. When I was little we always had one on the go somewhere in the house, and in particular I remember long Christmas holidays hunched over the table sorting pieces. I once read an Enid Blyton book in which the young heroine spent the night staying awake keeping watch over some mysterious building which she could conveniently see from her bedroom window. She passed the time doing a jigsaw. I was always making up adventure stories in my head, and doing a jigsaw let me live inside my head for a bit and imagine.

As part of my degree I spent a year in Germany. I didn't always have a lot to do in my little room with no electrical entertainment, but I did have a nice big desk and a jigsaw on the go. That is probably the last time that I completed a real jigsaw with more than 12 pieces - they aren't the best hobby when you have young children and need to leave piles of tempting tiny bits of cardboard lying about precariously for days on end.

When I was putting together my Day Zero Project list I browsed other lists for inspiration and this one caught my eye - "Do a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle" - so I added it eagerly. We now have a dining table that can be appropriated for periods of time, children that can understand (to a certain extent) things that they are not allowed to touch, and I have a Mum with a vast jigsaw collection. I borrowed one - Cadbury's chocolate adverts - got on with it, and to my immense surprise finished it in two days! (Admittedly that did co-incide with my technology free day, which certainly speeded the process up).

Maybe the design that I picked was too easy. Anyway the bug is back and I've already tentatively chosen the next one which is one of my own - a much more difficult photomosaic of the Mona Lisa. Soon to be a permanent feature in our dining room!

Cadbury's chocolate jigsaw

Saturday 9 February 2013

Lunch inspired by the book 'Lunchtime' by Rebecca Cobb

You may remember that a few months back I reviewed Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb. We loved the book, and so I was delighted to be asked to take part in a blog tour to celebrate the release of Lunchtime in paperback. The book tells the story of a little girl who doesn't want to eat her lunch and is helped out by a friendly crocodile, bear and wolf.

The crocodile is covered in a gorgeous pattern of circles which is repeated on the end papers of the book. When we first read the book, Harry and I did some circle painting based on this, and so I decided to make Harry and Mia a special circle lunch also inspired by the book.

I collected together circular plates and bowls (raiding the toy kitchen) and prepared some circular food - round sandwiches, cucumber, crackers and a few treats. To make it more special I took out the 'party cloth' (a patchwork duvet cover made for me by my Mum) and laid it all out on the floor so that they could reach easily.

Lunch inspired by the book 'Lunchtime' by Rebecca Cobb

I even found them a muffin tin each with circular holes to act as a plate. They loved it, and ate more than they usually do (of course I kept the treats back until they'd had a good go at the sandwiches!)

Lunch inspired by the book 'Lunchtime' by Rebecca Cobb

I'd really recommend this book, it really is a lovely story to read and enjoy with your children.

I've not received anything in return for this post, I just love the book.

Friday 8 February 2013

Valentine's Day toilet roll tube gift boxes

Valentine's Day crafts are always fun for toddlers - not only do you get to enjoy the process of creating something, you can also make gifts for others which can be given with love!

These Valentine's Day gift boxes are made using a simple cardboard tube, an idea which I've also used to make toilet roll Easter Bunnies and toilet roll Easter Chicks. These little Valentine's Day bugs are perfect for holding small sweets and treats.

Valentine's Day cardboard tube gift boxes craft

The gift boxes are so easy to make, and even very young children can help. Simply paint a toilet roll red (I used one whole roll and one cut in half). Then stick on some collage bits - scraps of tissue paper, coloured paper, lace and ribbon. The heart cut outs were left over from making our wedding invitations - six years ago!

Valentine's Day cardboard tube gift boxes craft

Glue a heart shaped piece of red card to the bottom to make feet and a base. Then fill with sweets - chocolate hearts, or anything in red or pink paper or foil. Don't forget the googly eyes, and top with some shredded red paper to be the hair. This would be a great little gift if you were making them in large numbers for a whole class, and when the sweets have been eaten they can be used to store small treasures or pens.

Valentine's Day cardboard tube gift boxes craft

You can find more Valentine's Day crafts for toddlers here - Valentine's Crafts for toddlers

Thursday 7 February 2013

Easy Valentine's Day collage bunting

Decorating for different celebrations is a really good way to get children involved, and this bunting is so easy that as long as a child can hold a glue spreader they can join in.

Simple toddler heart bunting for Valentine's Day

First you need to cut some heart shapes from red and pink cardboard. I drew a heart free hand, but an easy way to make a heart is to use the shapes from Microsoft Word or similar and print them out. Then collect together an assortment of appropriate collage materials in red and pink - scraps of tissue paper, paper napkins, bits of lace or ribbon, coloured paper, sequins and so on.

Let the children decorate the hearts with plenty of glue. Then when they are dry string them together with some coloured ribbon or string, hang up and enjoy!

Simple toddler heart bunting for Valentine's Day

You can find more heart themed ideas for young children here - Heart Crafts and Activities

Wednesday 6 February 2013

My day without technology

Joanne Mallon was challenged by her daughter to attempt a day without technology. I really enjoyed reading her daughter's blog post (link no longer available) and her own blog post about the day, and so I gladly accepted the challenge to have a go myself. I'm afraid that I didn't completely pass, but considering that for most of the day I was at home alone with two young children unable to help me I don't think that I did too badly! I needed to keep my phone on in case my husband or the pre-school needed to contact me. Here's how I got on:

7am - I normally reach straight for my phone, today I got straight up and went in the shower. Hubby left for the gym and work.
7.30am - No toast for breakfast today. The children watched Mickey Mouse while I ate. Normally I would sit at the PC, today I finished and got on with the washing up.
8.55am - Hubby rang to tell me how he got on at the gym.
9.30am - I checked my text messages as we had a playdate and I wanted to make sure that we were still on. No messages but I couldn't help noticing 5 e-mails sat there...
10am - At our playdate, much too busy running after children to miss the phone.
11.45am - Back home. Normally a quick chance to check Facebook, but got on with lunch instead.
12pm - Lunch. Again a PC opportunity but instead I ate in peace and quiet (well as much as possible with two little ones). Fortunately the cooker is allowed so I could eat soup.
1pm - Having dropped Harry off at pre-school I normally push Mia home as quickly as possible so that I can try and get her down for a nap and have some computer time. No point today so I got her out to walk for a bit and she surprised me by walking all the way home (about a mile).
1.35pm - Time to try for a nap. Normally I sit outside the door on my phone, returning Mia to bed every couple of minutes. Instead I tidied our bedroom and packed my gym bag for tomorrow.
1.50pm - Asleep! And much quicker than normal, must be the extra exercise. I treated myself to a slice of cake in front of my jigsaw. It is so quiet, really noticable that the PC is not switched on.
2.25pm - Time for a bit of cross stitch. So peaceful.
3.35pm - Mia woke up. We made flapjacks by hand. Mia ate raisins and played with the scales. Whoops, I've just realised that the scales are electric.
4pm - I needed to make pizza dough for dinner. I'm afraid I cheated and used the mixer, Mia didn't have the patience for me to do it by hand. I did toy briefly with the idea of asking her to turn it on for me though.
4.10pm - Phone made a noise I've not heard before so thought I'd better check it. Something to do with eBay that hubby has set up.
4.15pm - Hubby rings to say when he'll be home (late).
4.30pm - Mia was happily occupied with toys in Harry's room. Normally I would be using the phone, today I started to clean the bathroom and then we played ambulances.
5.15pm - Out to collect Harry. I had to use the car as it was dark.
5.50pm - Both children were sitting on the sofa with books and looking adorable. I ran to get my phone to take a picture, then remembered that I couldn't so watched and enjoyed the moment instead.
6pm - I popped CBeebies on for a bit so that I could get on with dinner.
6.20pm - Children eating again, no PC though instead I tidied up the toys.
7.10pm - Husband home. Tried to talk to him but he was busy sending text messages.
7.30pm - Children in bed, time for us to eat. We ate in silence as he was busy on his phone.
8.15pm - Hubby put the dishwasher on. Suggestion that he could also put some washing in or run the hoover round met with a withering look.
8.20pm - Spent the evening doing my jigsaw with no TV. I did have to look at the computer briefly to help compare broadband deals.
10.30pm - Bedtime with a real, paper book.

Things that I have learned

My phone stays close by me during the day mainly so that I can keep in touch with my husband. Once he was home for the evening I didn't miss it at all.

It's really annoying when other people are playing on their phones all the time and you aren't.

When I don't enter my daily calories into my phone I eat more.

I missed taking photographs to share with my husband or on Facebook.

It's much easier to get on with housework when you are not distracted by the phone.

I get irritable when I am halfway through reading something and get disturbed, if I don't start reading it in the first place then I can't be disturbed and therefore won't be irritable.

I didn't miss out on anything online.

I use my phone for much more than I realised - it's my shopping list, to do list, housework routine manager, calorie counter and weight tracker, recipe book (via Pinterest or e-mails), camera, clock and child entertainer.

Are you up for the challenge? How would you manage? If you'd like to give it a go, let me know how you get on!

Easter craft - Easter chick egg holders from toilet roll tubes

Last Easter I shared some easy to make Easter bunny egg holders from toilet roll tubes. They were based on something that I used to make for my family when I was little as a little Easter gift, sized perfectly for a Cadbury's Creme Egg or similar. Another craft which is just as easy is these cute little Easter chicks.

Cardboard tube Easter chicks to hold an egg gift

They are made from a toilet roll tube simply cut in half and painted yellow. The feet are made from some shaped cardboard painted orange, and some wings can be glued on with yellow tissue paper. Then just add some details for the face, I used googly eyes and a triangle of orange felt.

These are so easy for young children to make, and if you let them stick on the accessories they can give each chick its own personality. They would make great Easter gifts for friends or classmates.

Easter Chick egg holders from toilet roll tubes

Easter Chick egg holders from toilet roll tubes

Tuesday 5 February 2013

A digital postcard from Ghana

I was very excited to find a postcard from Ghana in my mailbox this morning. It has been sent by Annie, Penny and Tanya, who are currently out in Ghana learning about some of the #goodwork that has been done by Comic Relief, thanks to some of the £600 million which has been raised since Comic Relief started in 1988.

These happy children are from a school based on the edge of a slum in Accra, Ghana. There was much excitement when we arrived and my camera flash was the source of much shouting and cheering!

This is a digital postcard sent from TeamHonk (;; ) during their travels with Comic Relief in Ghana celebrating #goodwork.

For the past 25 years the money raised through Red Nose Day has been changing the lives of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the UK and Africa. Let’s Keep Up the Good Work. 

Digital postcard from Ghana

You can follow the team on #goodwork and #teamhonk

Saturday 2 February 2013

Center Parcs Longleat

We've had some fantastic holidays at Center Parcs since Harry was born. We find that it suits us really well, with nice accommodation and enough to keep us busy for a few days. We've always visited Elveden Forest before, which for some reason is always cheaper. However this time the price at Longleat was comparable, and as this is likely to be our last visit we decided it was time for a change. Why our last visit? Well, Harry starts school in September, and whilst a mid-week break in January doesn't break the bank for us, the amount that prices rise during the school holidays is truly shocking.

The biggest difference I noticed between Elveden and Longleat is that Elveden is completely flat whereas Longleat is very hilly. We also managed to end up in the only villa that I saw with steps down to the front door. I feel that I've had a good workout this week marching up and down a huge hill several times a day!

Baby in pushchair at Center Parcs

On this visit we also broke our rule of not paying for any activities (which are also shockingly priced). On the recommendation of a friend we did the Mini Bowling (half price before 10am) which Harry really enjoyed, and even Mia played along for a bit before wandering off.

Mini bowling at Center Parcs Longleat

For the first time we were able to visit the swimming pool (aka the Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise) without having to worry too much about timing it carefully between snacks, naps and attention spans. We visited every day and spent almost two hours there, with everyone having a great time. Despite never having had a swimming lesson, Harry is becoming really confident in the water and can paddle about easily with arm bands. Mia has hardly ever even been swimming, but she was happily going down the slides.

We did struggle slightly with bedtime. For the first time, Harry and Mia were sharing a room with twin beds. As I blogged recently, Mia has just gone into a proper bed, and so it's all still a bit of a novelty. The first hour after 'bedtime' every night was spent returning her to bed after she had climbed out to play with the Groclock, play with the baby monitor, tickle Harry, try to climb into bed with Harry, run and hide in the corner of the room or open the bedroom door and run out. Fortunately after the first night Harry was so exhausted from the swimming and scooter-ing up hills that he fell asleep almost immediately, despite the havoc that was being created around him.

We had a lovely break. It certainly felt a lot more relaxing than some holidays that we have been on with the little ones, and that is definitely down to the fact that it is becoming easier as the children get older. I even had several long stretches to sit down quietly and do a bit of my cross stitch!

I've written about Center Parcs a few times before - here you can find my review of a stay at Elveden and here are some things that you can do for free at Center Parcs Elveden Forest.