Tag Archives: crafts

World Space Week Fun

I really wanted to find an antidote to the pink princess mania that has descended on our house.  The contrast between L’s and N’s birthday presents bothered me – not because pink princesses and fairies are intrinsically bad in themselves, but because L’s presents were so much more interesting, varied, educational, and had so much more scope for different kinds of play.  I want N to celebrate her femininity, but never be constrained by it.

World Space Week brought a great opportunity to learn some science.  It’s been a busy week, but we have found time for a few small activities.  Here they are:

N made a solar system picture:

This was a very easy, half hour activity that N could do very independently – she stuck star stickers onto a piece of black craft foam (some fine motor skills practising) and counted out her pom-pom planets.  She squeezed out eight dots of glue herself and stuck the planets in a line next to the sun.  I did tell her their names but didn’t expect her to remember.  My only goal is for her to have a concept of what is in the sky.  We discussed the picture and she did already know that space is in the sky and that the sun is a big fire.  We talked about the stars as being more fires in the sky, but far, far away, so we only see them twinkling.

We stuck the picture to a silver foil tray, which baby F had fun playing with first:

We also sang “twinkle, twinkle little star” in an effort to include F in the space theme, which seemed to please her.

Both L and N had a go at making play-dough aliens, which seemed the perfect use for that play-dough we made out of the flour and water gloop from a previous activity.  Because none of the quantities were measured it was quite sticky, but perfect for aliens 🙂

I decided to set this up as an “Invitation to Play”, taking inspiration from The Imagination Tree, whose blog I have been reading a lot recently and is full of ideas I love.   The alien is also from the blog.  I set out the yellow and green play-dough, alongside some googly eyes, some aparkly pasta, some miscellaneous shiny thread, some pipecleaners and straws of varying lengths, some craft foam offcuts and some wooden skewers.  You may recognise most of these from other activities (again, I love reusing materials in different ways, and putting together completely different activities without having to buy new things specially).  It looked like this:

There is no magic to this.  It is simply setting out materials in a way that inspires the children to use as they please.  L isn’t comfortable enough with  open-ended creative play yet for me not to introduce it in some way, so I did tell him we were going to make aliens.  This excited him (of course it did, he’s a five year old boy and this is a space theme) and he was full of enthusiasm and ideas.  He didn’t ask me what to do even once, he just got to work and created:

Three-eyed alien and its baby

The Daddy Alien

We ended up with an alien family, who have “lots and lots of eyes to see people coming so the other aliens can’t sneak up and eat them”.

I think L’s aliens were based on Mr Maker‘s “bugs in jars”. and he thought it would be great to make an alien in a jar, which we will do with salt dough very soon 🙂

N also had a go at the alien activity, despite being a bit hesitant about whether this was actually a boys’ activity, and a bit perturbed by the absence of any pink play dough.   When I firat mentioned aliens she asked me, “are they for L?” – the gender role issue is becoming very ingrained for both of them, and I can’t really prevent it, but hopefully I can at least teach them to question it and provide them with experiences that make them rounded people.  The promise of making a pink planet another day kept her happy, and she loves play-dough, so she got stuck in, and produced these:

Owl Alien

I love all the children’s creations but Owl Alien was a work of art.  N worked really hard to surround his eyes with the red play-dough, rolling a very thin sausage between her thumb and forefinger.  She was really enjoying making different shapes with the dough:

And quite by accident, we made a very simple sensory box with a moon landing theme.  N was a little bit sad not to have made the play dough herself, so I decided to make cloud dough with her, which I’ve had on my to-do list since a friend mentioned it a few weeks ago.  It is made with flour and baby oil in a ratio of 8:1 although I did end up adding a bit more oil to give a less cloudy and more mouldable texture.   We also added some glitter, and to keep our space theme going, I called it moon sand.  I put Buzz Lightyear and his Alien in for N to play with, and then before L got home from school I added some stones we had collected on a camping trip this summer and brought home to paint, and some star shaped beads.

Moon Landing Sensory Box

The cloud dough was very smooth and silky to touch, and moulded easily despite looking like dry sand.  It was good to have a completely new material to play with, and when L arrived home he really brought the play scene to life – he clearly speaks the language of space-play, as he immedictely declared that they were on a “secret mission” and an elaborate game of exploring the moon ensued.   L and I had used Google Earth to look at the moon the day before, which is a brilliant tool and he really enjoyed it. N caught his enthusiasm and they played happily together.  I think she misses having him around during the day.

Now, all week I had racked my brains, trying to think of a simple yet original craft project to illustrate the planets travelling around the sun.  The best I had come up with was a hanging mobile, which seemed very complicated to put together in the way I wanted.  I also considered making a wall display, of which N’s picture above is a simplified version, but I actually wanted a visual tool to show the planets’ paths.

It came to me while I was boiling the kettle (our kitchen being dotted with craft stuff) that some of these beads would make perfect planets, especially the round, ridged ones:

But I was stuck for a medium.  I considered threading them onto wire, or making a solar system necklace, but it still didn’t do what I wanted. Then it occured to me that this black sparkly play-dough (again from The Imagination Tree) might work – and then better still, I decided to use the black sparkly idea to make salt dough which could be oven-dried to harden.  So L and I made the salt dough:

L, kneading the dough

Black Sparkly Salt Dough – I love the way this looks and am definitely going to make this again.

We covered a foil tray with the dough, and this is what we made:

The Solar System

Before oven baking the tray of dough, we rolled each bead around the “sun” (a wooden circle from another toy) then I deepened the grooves with my fingers.  We used L’s planet encyclopedia to select beads to represent each planet.  Halfway  through oven drying I removed the tray from the oven and rolled the beads around their circles again to deepen and smooth them.  Although they don’t roll around the sun independently which I wish they did, we can roll them around the sun and trace their paths, we can count them, we can use the toy as a starting point for looking up more planet facts… we like it!


Birthday Bonanza (and lessons learned)…

Last week we celebrated two birthdays at once (L’s fifth and a slightly early celebration for N’s third, with a big joint birthday party).  This year I felt strangely emotional about L’s birthday, five being a bit of a milestone and coinciding with his starting full time school.  And somehow managed to convince myself that this birthday needed to be the biggest, best birthday that ever was.

I was full of plans… he would be woken on his birthday to a room full of balloons and a tower of home made pancakes topped with a candle, and dinosaur-shaped toast.  He would take to school home made goodies for all his classmates, and come home to a mimi-version of the weekend’s birthday party after school, with a treasure hunt, lucky dip with home made prizes… the effort I put into this would be directly proportional to my love for my boy, indeed, my efforts would prove how much I love him, he is my best boy and deserves the best birthday, no?

Well, no.  Or yes and no, because he does deserve the best birthday ever, but not  in the way I thought.  I was seeing his birthday through adult eyes, and making that classic mistake of thinking that the hard way is always the best way.  I didn’t enjoy the days preceding his birthday at all, so stressed and busy was I.  And L watched a lot of telly while I busied myself preparing this perfect occasion.  The day before his birthday, the rainbow lollies for his class looked amazing but tasted like play-dough, I had not had time to make the space rocket N wanted to make him, I had not even brushed my hair…I realised this was not what I wanted, to dread  the birthday celebration and breathe a sigh of relief when it was all over.  I wanted some happy memories for me and all the children..

So on his birthday morning, L was indeed woken to a sea of balloons, but a candle in a pain au chocolat replaced the pancakes (he doesn’t even like pancakes, he thinks they’re Yorkshire puddings).  But he was very pleased with his birthday breakfast, just as much as if I had got up at six to make pancakes..

Here are the things he enjoyed most on his birthday:

  • Waking up to a room full of balloons (this was easy, and he thought they had arrived by magic)

  • Being allowed to choose the food completely himself for a tea party with his two partners in crime from school.  The food snob in me was almost embarrassed to buy this but he chose frozen pizza, fish fingers, crisps, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and blackcurrant squash.
  • Taking biscuits to school (I  binned the rainbow lollies and made shortbread).
  • A bandge from the pound shop that announced to the world that it was his birthday.
  • A very easy round cake covered in sweets, and a rendition of Happy Biiorthday from his family and friends

Happy Birthday L!

  • Having his friends to play with his presents (no structured activity, lots of hide and seek and present-opening).
  • A birthday poem the night before, which delighted him and he asked for again and again…

“When I’ve said my evening prayer,

And my clothes are folded on the chair,

And Mummy switches out the light,

I’ll still be FOUR years old tonight.

But from the very break of day,

Before the sun comes out to play,

Before the darkness turns to gold,

Tomorrow I’ll be FIVE years old.

FIVE candles on my cake

And FIVE kisses when I wake!”

This is in fact a poem I remember from my own childhood, proving its worth in the making of happy birthday memories, and how lovely to pass it on.

  • A surprise note in his lunch box:

  • And the time he had to read his new set of children’s encyclopedias (my little geek almost trembling with excitement as he cried “look, Mummy, these books teach you about the World!” (allaying nana’s fears about giving him a borning present, and confirming for me that children love learning unless they are taught to find it boring, or forced to learn in a way that focuses on performance rather than learning itself)

And playing on his new scooter (£10 from Tesco, N’s donated by a lovely friend whose daughter has outgrown it), proving that there’s no need to buy expensive presents to make a child happy:

And the things I enjoyed:

  • The excitement and joy that simply being five brought to L.  His beautiful conviction that his feet were bigger because he was now five, and his insistence that I measure him (and me stretching the truth to let him think he had grown in the night).  Telling him throughout the day “look how tall you are, you can reach the cupboard now” etc etc.
  • Seeing how much he loved having his school friends and what good friends he has made at school.  seeing him socially confident.
  • N’s joy at celebrating his birthday, with no jealousy.  This after I’d anticipated sadness on her part when he opened all the presents, but in reality she couldn’t wait to come home for his birthday tea.
  • A chapter of The Faraway Tree and reminiscing about the day at bedtime.

My lesson learned: the simple things make the best memories. 

The weekend brought the party.  My one concession to making life easy had been to hold the party in a leisure centre and not try to decorate a village hall as I have in previous years.  yet I wantded to make the food myself plus a few handmade touches that would make the party personal top my children.  the one thing they wanted was a bouncy castle, so we settled on a theme of “Bouncing Birthdays”.

Here are L and N, kangaroo and ballerina respectively:

And again:

The ballerina’scostume was straight from the shelves at Matalan.

The Kangaroo costume designed by moi.  I sewed a piece of brown felt to a brown T-shirt to form a pouch, and inserted a stuffed kangaroo.  I cut out two simple ears from craft foam and sewed them to the hood of a brown hoodie.  The tail was created by cutting two bits of felt, filling with upholstery wadding and sewing together.  I attached this to a belt so that it could be removed for playing.  Brown trousers added, and voila!  I was pleased with the result, after having worried when L decided to go to the party as a kangaroo.

Aunty J sent face paints as a birthday present, which really added to the fun:

And we created a very cute baby rabbit costume for F by sewing a white pom-pom tail to a pair of tights, and adding a hat with ears (again by Chateau Matalan)

The dressing up, which some people consider a faff, is something i would definitely keep in the plan – the effort is rewarded in making the party feel special and memorable to the children, and it really didn’t take very long.  This is worth the effort in my book – that, and the cake…

Buzz Lightyear’s space rocket, for L.

L has been excited about a space rocket birthday cake pretty much since last year’s pirate ship.  I really wanmted to make a 3D standing-up rocket rather than a cake cut into the shape of a rocket, and the only way I could think of doing it was to stack round cakes on top of one another and dowel them, creating an enormous cake like a wedding cake, difficult to transport, leaving us with a lot of cake to eat (not necessarily a bad thing!) and potentially dwarfing N’s cake.  Until I found a tutorial online that suggested using a transparent plastic cup on top of a cake baked in a pudding basin, topped with an ice cream cone.


So this is what I did, adding a lego Buzz Lightyear and using Buzz Lightyear’s colours.  The pudding basin is coated in green fondant, the ice cream cones coated with buttercream, then white fondant, then sugar dyed blue for added glitter (and a nod to L’s favourite colour being blue).  The board is coated in purple buttercream with white chocolate stars, and lego alien added for effect.  The purple buttercream was then used to embellish the cale and hide the join between cake and cup / cones.

I can’t take any crredit for N’s cake, since she designed it herself.  But I will say that her idea came from my wedding cake book, when i was making this wedding cake for my sister:

Shameless showing-off!

So, N decided that she wanted a chocolate cake in the shapwe of a number three, iced in pinky-purple (her current favourite colour obsession) with daisies (her current favourite flower) and multicoloured flowers.  Here is my husband’s  creative interpretation of her instructions:

And very happy it made her too!

Not many photos of the party due to not wantiong to post pictures of other people’s children, but therte was lots of bouncing and playing.  However, I have to say that next year it’s the village hall again for us – I never want to feel rushed, and the staff did keep trying to deflate the bouncy castle before the end of the party to allow them to tidy up and go home (since we were the last party of the day)…and I had to be a little bit “assertive”… and when we brought out the pinata, they did keep asking me how long it was going to take.  Also, the hour and a half slot did feel rushed, which only made me stressed, and meant I didn’t get the chance to talk to anyone during the party.

We managed to make our own party bags though.  Brown paper lunch bags served us very well with a printed label.   I had planned to let the children decorate the bags but we ran out of time – I don’t think it mattered.

We made a colouring / activity book using free online printables (colouring, join the dots) plus a simple wordsearch containing bounce-related words.

L and N enjoyed making recycled rainbow crayons with old broken crayons by breaking them up, melting them down in silicone cupcake cases and letting them cool and harden.

Breaking up crayons

Arranging them in cases before heating in the oven…

With added glitter, rainbow crayons all round!

These actually looked even better out of the cases, so I wish I had a picture.

We added a fun sized chocolate bar and a slice of birthday cake.

All in all, a successful party, but we won’t repeat the leisure centre experience.  Party in the hall next year, but with one key difference.  The things I spend time on will be the things that matter to my children, things they will notice and remember.  And on the birthday itself the only prop I will need is a paper crown, since my plan is that I will make the child King / Queen for the day and let them choose everything we do.  I have already started by asking N what she would like to do on her real birthday, next week.  She would like to eat chocolate and make a donkey!  I think we’ll have a lot of fun…

First Day at School

..Well, not really, seeing as L has been in the Nursery class at school for a year already.  But starting reception year still feels like a milestone, and everyone else seems to think this is his first day at school, so I wondered how we could make it special.

It occurred to me to make a special breakfast, but seeing as it takes us all our time to get everyone ready and out of the door in time for school, I decided we would celebrate when he came home.

N and I made a dinosaur cake, loosely related to our zoo activities in that leo has been dinosaur crazy since he saw the dinosaur exhibition at the zoo.  here it is:

Not professional looking at all, but we had fun making it, N enjoyed mixing and rolling out fondant, and adding the spots.  F played with a bit of squishy fondant icing and looked on from her bouncy chair.

A quick google search of “Back to School Traditions” the previous week had introduced me to the German Schultute, which caught my imagination as a memorable idea – traditionally filled with sweets and school supplies, we filled ours with toy dinosaurs, an audio book, a Roald Dahl magic set plus some pens and notebooks for Big Boys’ writing.  He was thrilled, and here it is:

I toyed with the idea of making N a “geschwistertute” – a smaller cone for siblings, but decided against it since this was L’s day and I wanted to accentuate the positives of going to school all day, and N will be getting a lot of my time and attention during the day.  I am also trying to introduce the concept that everyone gets treats but they aren’t necessarily identical.  I think it will do their self esteem good to understand that gifts are tailored to them as a person, and for the older two children to be treated and valued as individuals and not as a unit (I hope!).  There wasn’t much Schultute-envy and being involved in the process was all N needed to get excited about giving her brother his present – she could hardly wait for him to get home from school!