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Ooh, our first Guest Post :-)

Today we are guest posting at Rainy Day Mum on the subject of promoting a positive body image in our children.  Having suffered from Eating Disorders myself, and seen them have a huge impact on the lives of some of my best friends, this is a subject close to my heart.  It matters so much to me that L, N and F feel confident and secure about themselves and their relationship with food, because I know the misery that can result when this relationship is distorted.  .

Rainy Day Mum has a beautiful blog, full of inspiring play ideas, that I have followed and admired for months, so I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to guest post for her – have a good look at her blog as well as my post, because I know you’ll love it too!

Here is the link:

Or click here.  Enjoy!



A Banquet in a Castle

Long, long ago, in the kingdom of Dunbroch, a King and Queen hosted a banquet…


The preparations went on for days – decorating the castle, making silver “goblets”, writing the “mennyou” (menu), cooking the food, weighing ingredients, researching the decor, food and entertainment – this was a “worth the effort” activity rather than falling into the “quick and easy for busy mums” category, but was really, really worth it, and our banquet really was fit for a king (and queen!).



This was an extension of our playtimes based on Disney’s “Brave”, which L and N are showing no signs of getting tired of – they have heard the story every day for weeks on end now!  It was also a bit of a history lesson and hopefully preparation for visiting a real castle one day soon.

L did the research – we have several books about castles and knights, and he loves an excuse to look things up on the computer.  N joined in with researching this much more than i thought she would be able to without actually reading – the books are illustrated in lovely detail, so she was full of ideas, and if she wanted to read something she simply asked L to read it to her!

Then we wrote the menu

L's Menu, with "Thunderstorm Knight" crest design

L’s Menu, with “Thunderstorm Knight” crest design

N's sparkly Princess Menu, and first proper writing!

N’s sparkly Princess Menu, and first proper writing!

L could do this by himself – he is going through a stage of not wanting to write, and complaining that it is boring – so rather than push him and put him off we are taking a little and often approach, and trying to do something every day involving writing single words, hoping to develop his fluency so that he finds sentences less taxing.  I can understand why it is boring for him – he isn’t yet at a stage where he can express himself in writing.  Hopefully when he is, he will be enthusiastic again.  This is working well for him anyway because he seemed to enjoy writing “cheez” and “meet” etc, and I found it so so cute!

N managed to write “menu” all by herself, when I told her one at once which letters she needed to write, and she was so pleased with herself.  She then filled the menu with what seemed like random letters, but when she talked me through it, she definitely had a plan for the meal, and the letters were in fact featured in the words she wanted to use – “I’ve done an a and a p because we’re going to have apples”.

We made goblets to drink from.  We did this by covering plastic champagne flutes with foil, and decorating them with plastic gems. Half the fun of this was getting L and N to think about how we could make the goblets, and use some problem solving and creative thinking skills.  I think it also added to their pride in the activity, having designed and made things for themselves. We used silver foil platters to serve the food.  I thoroughly washed out a wine bottle and filled it with blackcurrant squash, and they found it very exciting to have “wine” – as well as learning that in Medieval times the water was often unsafe to drink.

"Silver" Goblet Encrusted With "Jewels"

“Silver” Goblet Encrusted With “Jewels”

Our feast started with “broth” (we made  root vegetable soup – recipe here in our Autumn themed meal) – the king and queen very kindly helped the servant in the kitchen!

Princess Merida peels carrots

Princess Merida peels carrots

We arranged rings of onion into size order!

We arranged rings of onion into size order!

It turned out to be challenging to prepare a vegetarian banquet, but we used quorn ham slices and glamorgan sausages for the roasted peacock, alongside slices of cheese, grapes, a platter of dried fruit, and a trencher of foccacia bread.  The children liked the idea of using the bread as a plate, but L in particular enjoyed being allowed to eat with his hands.  I was quite glad he had missed the bit about throwing the bones on the floor!


Eating With Hands - Business As Usual for F!

Eating With Hands – Business As Usual for F!

We turned out the lights and used real candles, and put on a CD of chamber music.   An extra bonus was getting L and N to arrange the dried fruit on a plate – sorting by colour, and arranging in patterns.


Between courses L and N acted as jesters (with juggling balls and jokes), conjurors (with the magic set L got for Christmas), and musicians (we got out our box of instruments and keyboard and arranged them all in the lounge).  F could join in with this part, with her own contribution to the music.


Our last course was poached pears and custard, giving us the chance to talk about the fact that fruit was usually cooked, or dried to preserve it.  We also served a butterfly-shaped jelly, and “Princess Merida’s Magic Cakes” – which would work equally well as Valentine’s Day cakes, as they have a secret heart hidden inside them!

We made these using a basic sponge mixture, taking a little bit out into a separate bowl, and adding red food colouring.

We baked the red mixture in a silicone heart-shaped ice cube tray we happened to have, but it would also work if you baked a shallow sheet cake and cut out the hearts with  a cutter or template.  We baked these first in the oven.


We used a castle shaped silicone cupcake mould (yes, I really did just happen to have these things!).  We filled the cases halfway, put our ready baked hearts inside, then covered the heart with more batter.  We baked the cupcakes, and L and N decorated them with grey buttercream icing.  I tried very hard not to be precious about my cakes and let L and N do the decorating, and they did a great job, choosing jellied shapes for windows and doors, and silver balls to decorate.


When we cut the cakes, we unleashed the “magic” – and pretended to turn into bears (as in the film) – the hearts worked really well, as long as we remembered to cut the cakes in the right direction.


After dinner we danced to the music, and had our own “highland games”, where we tried to throw plastic “rocks” (from a dinosaur collection originally) into a yoghurt pot.


The children got right into this and it was a game that lasted all day.

We really did have so much fun – and learnt so much too:

  • I learnt more history than I ever did at school.  I think this will have made some facts about castles really memorable for the children, and for me too!
  • Baking and cooking involved maths (weighing, measuring), creativity, practical skills
  • Our Highland Games involved Gross Motor skills, and there was plenty of fine motor skills practice throughout the day, with crafts and decorating cakes.
  • Creativity, thinking about how to decorate the house, how to improvise.
  • Research skills, in using books and the computer to find out what we needed to know
  • We practised reading and writing.
  • We worked out how many of each item we needed for the number of people.
  • Role play
  • Working together, sharing and co-operating
  • Even F (10 months) could benefit, by investigating and playing with different objects, dancing to music, playing with basic instruments, and experiencing new tastes.
  • I’m sure I could add to this list, but it was certainly a very happy day that we will all remember for a long time, and so much fun all round.

When the Snow Came…

Finally, we got the snow we have been waiting for!!  Not as much as the rest of the country, granted, but enough to have some proper snowy fun.  I was sad to learn that Daddy, having grown up in the Channel Islands where snow is rare, has never (yes, never ever) built a snowman.  So that is what we had to do!

The rolling a snowball though the snow technique didn’t really work.  This snow was quite powdery and dry, so our snowman, who the children imaginatively called Frosty, was more of a sculpted affair built by collecting buckets of snow from around the garden and moulding them with our hands.  L and N loved this, and I know it will stay in their memories.  It will certainly stay in mine as one of the best times we have had as a family – and although we didn’t analyse it at the time I think there has to be a lot of merit in a joint, co-operative effort that involved the whole family working together towards a common goal.  Mainly, it was great fun.  Childhood memories came back to me of building snowmen with my sister and grandfather, and it felt lovely to be passing those on to my children, and that one day they might do the same.

Daddy's first snowman

Daddy’s first snowman

Yes, this really is as cheerful as Daddy ever gets on a photo 😉 – I just love his expression of childlike joy!

Little F started out in her pushchair wrapped up cosy but soon made it clear that she preferred being in the thick of things, experiencing her first snow at ground level.

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All three children loved jumping on the snowy trampoline.  L and N drew in the snow with their fingers, made footprints, and enjoyed a fantastic snowball fight with Mummy once Daddy and F had gone inside!

Then it was time to paint the snow.  I’ve heard such mixed reports as to what works best.  Spray bottles seem to produce a good effect and probably allow for better mixing of colours.  Some people seem to use food colouring, but watered down paint gives a stronger colour.  We used very watered down paint in water bottles with a sports lid, to drip-paint the snow.  Ideally we would have used the three primary colours for mixing fun, but we had run out of yellow, so our colours were blue, red and green, with a hint of glitter!

L and N with their snowy canvas

L and N with their snowy canvas

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This was a great activity.  As well as producing a completely different effect with paint, it was a lovely way to do some large-scale painting, and there was a freedom to it that the children really enjoyed.

No more snow this morning sadly, but we are hopeful for tonight!




Frosty Fun

We woke up this morning to a magical frosty wonderland!


L and N immediately wanted to go out and investigate but being a school morning, there wasn’t time.  Fortunately, the frost lasted all day and made for a super after school playtime, which was a welcome break from the whirlwind run-up to Christmas, as we all lost ourselves in play :-).

First, we went for a walk and explored the frost with all our senses.

We took a close look at the frost on the grass and leaves:12122012(003)12122012(019)12122012(002)12122012(018)

N thought it looked like sugar.  L already knew it was “ice crystals”.  Both decided it was made from water.

We investigated how it felt (we found that it was cold, wet and crunchy.  We found that it melted on our fingers (L could predict that this would happen, and both knew it was because we had warm fingers).

F also had a close up look and feel of some frosty leaves and grass:


All three children enjoyed playing in the frosty leaves for quite a while and it was just lovely to watch how they all enjoyed the same sense of wonder and enjoyment of nature, and how this spanned the difference in their ages.  They really were more similar than different in the way they enjoyed this, and it made me very glad to have decided to go outside when it would have been so easy to put the telly on.  It also struck me that this was more of a break than the telly would have been – it took us outside the daily routine and gave us what felt like a peaceful interlude in a week of frenetic activity.


We had an even closer look at the frost crystals with a magnifying glass:


through a magnifying glass

through a magnifying glass

Then carried the magnifying glass around the garden looking at the frost in different locations, and the ice in the bird bath – L and N were both really interested.


We found that the frost had stuck leaves together:


We discovered how the leaves and grass felt crunchy to walk on, and that if we were really quiet we could hear the ground crunching as we walked.  We noticed that we left footprints in the grass.


We drew in the frost on the car window:


And seeing as I had said we were going to use all our senses, and L is a bit of a pedant, we also smelt and tasted the ice!

N then decided to take some frosty leaves into the house to watch the frost melt next to the warm radiator:


Once inside, we decided to have a go at making frost in a jar, and finding out how frost is formed.  We used this experiment from Weather Wiz Kids as a guide.

We used some of the Christmas ice still in our freezer from our ice play.


First we crushed the ice.  L was very keen to take on this job, and with the ice in a freezer bag, he used a rolling pin to bash it, with plenty of boy-noise to accompany the action.  We put the crushed ice in a jar, and added some salt.


We left the jar to stand for five to ten minutes, and frost duly formed on the jar.


For those of you wondering why this happens, the answer is this:

1. The salt lowers the melting point of ice, accelerating the melting.

2. Melting the ice lowers the temperature inside the jar, so the temperature of the salt/ice/water solution falls below freezing.

3. Water droplets in the air outside the jar freeze on contact with the outside of the jar, forming a frost.

So the frost outside forms when the temperature of the ground outside falls below freezing, causing water particles to freeze on contact.  This fascinated L, who was interested in the difference between frost and snow, and he was amazed that the frost had formed “its own self” and not fallen from the sky.

We also talked about using salt to melt the ice on the roads – and to finish off, all three children had an exploratory play with the rest of the ice and a tray of salt!


Nativity Sensory Box

This is something I’ve been meaning to do all week, but couldn’t quite decide what to put in.  In the end, we went for simplicity and used some Nativity figures we already had.  In an ideal world, I would have made peg dolls with multi-textures outfits, but this year it hasn’t quite happened.  I am also in love with this idea for Nativity Blocks from Kindred Spirit Mommy and it is definitely on my to-do list.

As for our box – we used a wicker basket for a stable, and filled it with real sawdust.  With hindsight, there are much less messy ways to recreate a stable.  Sawdust was trodden all over our house from this box, and whilst the children had great fun playing with it I’m not sure the sawdust is to be recommended.  A friend has since suggested that shredded paper (the kind used for wrapping presents) is a good alternative.  We could also have reused the cornflakes from our Autumn sensory box

The best part of putting this box together was involving L and N in the process, as they got really involved in acting out the Nativity Story.  L remembered the detail and gave the three wise men each a pot of glitter to represent gold, frankincense and myrrh.



N added some cotton wool balls to represent the sheep being looked after by the shepherds, and we made a star to shine over the stable out of a gold pipecleaner.


L and N did play with this for a long time, whilst F loved investigating the sawdust (she loved it but I can’t pretend I did – there was a lot of sprinkling and tossing about of sawdust from all three (I did get carried away and made the sawdust ridiculously deep!).

Here is our completed box:


Messy it was, but they did enjoy it, and it did serve its purpose in getting L and N engaged in some play around a nativity theme.  We were able to talk at length about the story whilst playing and it did bring it to life for them.  It also introduced F to the story in a way that was accessible to her, as she could handle the figures with supervision, alongside her touch and feel Nativity book. So whilst this wasn’t my dream sensory Nativity, it definitely did the job, and also showed that these things are achievable even at the busiest time of year.



Twinkl, Twinkl…A Review


This week, I have been having fun reviewing the Twinkl Educational Resources website, along with my two discerning testers L (5) and N(3).  A Premium Subscription to the Twinkl site costs £29.99 for a year’s subscription, and gives teachers, parents, childminders, grandparents, or anyone involved with children, their learning and playing, a wealth of creative and hand-drawn resopurces at the click of a button.

Now, I wasn’t sure how much I would like downloading ready to use resources – I do tend to think that half the fun of an activity is making the props with my little helpers – but time is precious to busy mums, I am sure to teachers too.  Twinkl themselves say they are

“…designed to save you time so you can concentrate on the important stuff – nurturing the children in your care”

– who can argue with that?

Twinkl’s buzz-word is “lovely” – you are invited to “search our lovely resources” “share your lovely displays” – and lovely they are – hand drawn rather than computer-generated, I think they strike the right balance of cute without being too cartoon-ish, and homespun without being amateur-ish.  And they don’t look like you’ve printed the first thing you found off clip-art.  I think they would captivate a child’s attention, and there is scope for imagination, which we love :-).  Their logo is this chirpy little birdy:


The Parents’ section of the website is accessible, and is helpful in translating school-speak for parents who want to stay involved with their children’s education.  There are also some handy resources for use in the home environment, including an exciting range of printable reward charts with a theme to suit any child’s interests.  I like the fact that the range is so encompassing, since the difference between bugs versus dinosaurs could be instrumental in engaging a child in a reward scheme.

There are also activity ideas, divided into curriculum subject areas, so that you can see exactly where this is helping your child – and I think this would be very helpful in spotting a child’s natural strengths, or areas they might need more support with.  L enjoyed the Space adding and subtracting puzzle the best.  There were also printable maths games which would be great to have around as a ten minute “in between activity” and I think we will definitely use a lot.  N liked the cutting worksheets, as she is completely into practising cutting at the moment.


There are some lovely (yes, lovely!) craft ideas, and my favourite has to be the play-dough mats with letters of the alphabet, which we used to help us make these salt dough ornaments this week:


This leads me on to the Christmas section of the site, which I love.  Again, it is divided into sections, by curriculum subject area.  The role play section is wonderful, as is the games and activities section – we had fun with ordering Christmassy objects by size, and also choosing some recipes.  There are several advent calendar designs to choose from and make, plus Christmas themed games which we will use a lot over the holidays.

Time is never shorter than in the run-up to Christmas, and I know I will find these resources invaluable.  The other time-saving feature is that you can download a whole resource pack in one click, which saves a lot of messing about cutting and pasting.

I think the Twinkl subscription is excellent value for money.  The site also adds new resources frequently, and there is the facility to suggest new resources or changes to existing ones.  I think there is plenty here to meet the needs of most people who play and work with children!

Fun and (Sensory) Games with Ice

Today we have been getting in the mood for staring our Christmas crafts with a bit of winter-themed play, continuing from last week when we started exploring the weather by making clouds in a jar.  L and I had a look at the water cycle today, making good use of our jar again to demonstrate evaporation and condensation.

Condensation – the “rain” we made

Here is how to make it rain inside a jar:

  1. Place the lid of a jam jar in the freezer and leave it there to get really, really cold.
  2. Pour boiling water into the jar (warm it first to avoid cracking the jar)
  3. Screw the freezing cold lid onto the jar
  4. Place some ice on top of the lid to keep it cold
  5. Watch as the steam from the water cools on contact with the cold lid, and it “rains” inside the jar.
  6. Use this to illustrate the water cycle.

L enjoyed this so we did it again.  And we were able to link it to the book his class are reading at school, Rala Rwdins, which is a Welsh children’s book about a witch who looks after the weather.  We have just ordered this book and it arrived today, so we had a read as part of our weather-focused play.

L was very interested in the ice we used to make the rain jar, and asked if he could play with it, so we set up some sensory play with a tray of ice.  I wouldn’t have thought they would like having their hands immersed in freezing cold ice which is why we have never tried this before, but they loved it (well, L and N did, F was not so keen).  I’m not sure what L and N did but they played with the ice for quite a while.  Instead of the ice we gave F some winter hats and gloves of various different textures (fleecy, woolly, bobbly) to play with, which she liked much better.

L enjoyed putting his hand inside a freezer bag filled with margarine, and discovering that it insulated his hand against the cold ice – we talked about how animals that live in the ice and snow are insulated against the cold by blubber under their skin.  Although N wouldn’t put her hand in the margarine and was even too suspicious to touch the outside of the bag, she enjoyed naming some animals – whale, dolphin, polar bear, seal.

We also explored the ice with salt and food colouring – the salt sprinkled on the ice makes little channels through the ice, which the food colouring flows through, making some very pretty patterns actually inside the ice.  I personally think this is very cool, and you could make some amazing ice sculptures in this way.

Both of them remember that last winter we “discovered” how to make ice by freezing water, after L asked me where the icy puddles outside had come from.  This is over a year ago, and N was only just two at the time, but they still talk about it a lot – which just shows how much all children delight in learning new things.

Today we froze some Christmas ice, ready for more sensory play – we coloured it red and green, and added christmassy treasure to be frozen inside the ice.  the “treasure” was mainly card toppers – father christmases, stockings, and gold stars, and a bit of glitter.

We also froze two cups of ice containing a fairy and a unicorn (playmobil figures) – because I plan to repeat with N something I did with L last year, which is to ask how the toy can escape from the ice (let’s see if N can work out that she has to warm the ice to melt it).  The problem I had with this last year is that L managed to melt the ice under the tap using water, and so he thought he could dissolve the ice – so this year he is going to try this out with water of varying temperatures, and at varying temperatures without water to make sure he realises that temperature is the important factor.

Here is all our water sitting in the freezer ready to be frozen:

Christmas Ice

L did want to sit and watch the ice freeze, so I let him for about five minutes before he realised it would take a very long time, and agreed that we could check on it at intervals.  The ice was the last thing N mentioned before falling asleep at night, and we will check its progress in the monring!