Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Night and day

We love Phyllis Root's Lucia and the Light. It's a great choice for a bedtime story as the nights draw in. It's got it all; snowy Norwegian mountains, dark versus light, warmth versus cold, good versus evil. And trolls. Brilliant.

At the Geffrye Museum today, I told my own version of this folk tale during two very busy Nursery Rhyme Time sessions. To help bring it to life I used candles, lamps, a warm white cat (a furry hot water bottle), a winter hat, mittens, boots, a tinderbox and a glittering ball as the sun. The children - all five years old or under - played their part too, with enthusiastic participation; hugging the cat, joining in with the story's actions and songs, getting properly scared by the trolls, and cheering on Lucia in her quest to find the long-lost sun.

Then we explored light, transparency and translucency further - and got well and truly gluey - making these sweet carry-home tea-light lamps from empty water bottle bases. We offered pieces of colourful cellophane, punchinella, Halloween sequins, LED tea-lights and plenty of PVA, and then let the children do the rest.

The water bottles were prepared before the sessions; their bases were trimmed and hole-punched, ribbons tied and then put inside out of the way so as not to get too gluey.

As ever, Buddy and Daisy helped me test out the activity beforehand. Here, Daisy is exploring the semi-transparency of cellophane. Buddy is not convinced.

Daisy quite liked getting gluey and got stuck in straight away but Buddy played around with a car for a long time before actually sticking anything on his bottle. However, both were motivated to finish their lamps when I showed them the twinkling LED tea-lights that would sit inside them.

In the museum sessions we gave each child a drawing of a mountain scene to colour, to reflect both their favourite part of Lucia's story and Mary Grandpre's beautiful illustrations. Buddy and Daisy tried this too; though Buddy needed lots of help getting started. I gave them chalk pastels and showed them how they could blur and mix them on the paper to create different effects. When Buddy realised it could be messy and smudgy - he had a go, enjoying the sensation of spreading colour with this fingers.

Daisy's gorgeous pink and golden dawn contrasts superbly with Buddy's darkly purple and blue night time - and it didn't surprise me at all that they chose to illustrate opposing parts of the story. Nor that Buddy needed lots of encouragement to put pastel to paper. They are themselves as different as night and day.

And of course I wouldn't have them any other way.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Feed the birds

A few days ago my children made these marvellous bird-feeders at our local Apple Day fete. The feeders are now hanging in our garden ready for action - there have been no takers yet, but it's very sweet how Buddy and Daisy have started creeping up to the window in the mornings, hoping to spot a breakfasting bird or two.

Here's how to make one:

1. Take a windfall apple and roughly core it with a sturdy screwdriver or apple corer.

2. Use a bamboo skewer or cocktail stick to make small holes all over the apple, randomly or in a pattern.

3. Push sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds halfway into the prepared holes.

4. Fasten a smallish stick - the perch for a bird - to a metre of thin string or garden twine; wrap it round a few times and secure with a knot.

5. Thread the other end of the string through the apple; it may need a little encouragement with the bamboo skewer.

6. Hang the bird-feeder as high as possible on a branch of a tree.

We attached ours to the handlebars of our bikes to get them home from Apple Day, and they looked fabulous.

I tried to find out who came up with the design of these brilliant bird-feeders, but no one seemed to know. However, I thought the idea was definitely worth sharing; after all there's an abundance of apples at the moment. And they were certainly fun to make. Now all we need are some hungry birds....

Sunday, 17 October 2010

How much is that doggy in the window?

We're having a quiet weekend at home; I've got a cold, and am feeling quite ropey to be honest. Thank goodness Buddy and Daisy are being so lovely and understanding (most of the time) - they're warming my heart, and even bringing a smile to my face with their fabulous and funny playing.

A superb, epic game of Pet Shop is in full flight as I write. I'm really not needed at all, just fortunate to be within earshot of the story:

Buddy: If you buy the ring-tailed lemur, you get a rat for free!

Daisy: One of the rabbits, Mopsy, is not for sale; she does the cleaning round the shop - with a mop, of course - that is why she is so dirty.

Buddy's rabbit is allergic to lettuce, and needs medical attention.

They've made a bug house for the butterflies and creepy-crawlies.

Daisy: Everyone loves our pet shop 'cause it is so so famous.

Buddy: This guy's* nocturnal. (*the ring-tailed lemur)

Buddy: This is where the rats sleep. They are very good at balancing.

And now it's Christmas Eve in the Pet Shop. Letters to Father Christmas have been written and everyone's asleep.

This has been great medicine. But I'm just off to the kitchen; time for some actual medication. A cup of spiced mulled wine would do the trick but I know, I know - it's not actually Christmas time yet. Too bad; lemsip it is then.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Make it snappy

Last Saturday morning over breakfast, a rather raucous family game evolved; we took turns being wild animals while everyone else guessed what we were. Daisy's angry monkey, Buddy's vicious shark and daddy's sleepy sloth made us laugh so much that cereal nearly came out of our noses. When my turn came, I stretched my arms out like snappy jaws and everyone guessed straight away; a crocodile, of course - too easy.

Crocodiles featured again this week; Bud and Daisy watched Disney's Peter Pan - they love the crocodile-chasing-Hook-at-ludicrous-speed-across-the-sea sequence, and we've been enjoying our favourite crocodile books; Melrose and Croc and The Star-faced Crocodile, pictured below.

The crocodiles in both stories are so soft nurture it's easy to forget the nature of the real deal - until you meet SNAPPY-CROC (top picture) made by Buddy and Daisy with a little help from mummy.

Here's how we made him:

To make his eyes, nostrils and teeth, we glued pieces from two egg boxes onto thick, folded cardboard (ours was packaging from a new bed sheet).

Each tooth-triangle was folded about 5mm from its base and stuck to the perimeter of the card with a glue-stick. Later, I added a strip of masking tape to his whole dental region, just to secure the odd wobbly tooth.

We trimmed his back teeth to make them extra 'sharp' and to enable that long jaw to close.

Once dry, we painted him to the children's specification; red inside, green outside and he had to have yellow eyes. I mixed in a fair bit of PVA glue in the hope of preventing the paint peeling off (too reptilian).

Et voila!

SNAPPY-CROC has been a huge success. He's certainly seen a lot of action; he lost a tooth in a particularly violent tussle with Nan, and he's been the reason for much of the recent laughter, shrieking and running around in our house. Not bad going for a bit of old cardboard rescued from the recycling box.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Down to earth

Buddy and Daisy's school celebrated Harvest Festival yesterday; we sent in tins and packets of food for the The Salvation Army to distribute to the elderly, homeless and those in need in our local area. I couldn't attend the assembly myself but apparently Buddy's class sang a harvest song:

Push the trolley with the basket
Down between the rows of shelves.
See the tins and jars and packets
This is how we serve ourselves.

Not quite Keats then.

I asked whether the song went on explain the source of the tins and packets but he said he didn't think there were any other words. While I'm sure it must have gone on to cover the growing and harvesting of crops it got me thinking about how children living in an urban environment are often far removed from that aspect of Autumn. So in an attempt to get Buddy and Daisy thinking, I dug out these photos taken just over a month ago when they helped 'bring in the harvest' from my aunt's huge and bountiful allotment.

We discovered giant runner beans hiding in the beanstalks.

We searched the soft soil to reveal treasure of the potato kind.

And after picking sunshine yellow courgettes and crimson red tomatoes, we pulled onions out of the earth by their straggly stalks (as the top picture shows). These were tumbled into a bowl destined for the kitchen where all the vegetables were transformed into a rather delicious vegetable soup.

Tomorrow, I will try sharing Keats' poem To Autumn with Buddy and Daisy. After all, it is the quintessential description of those halcyon days of a rural harvest. You never know, it might even remind them of some other verses to that school song.

From John Keats' To Autumn:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.