Saturday, 29 December 2012

The greatest love of all

Happiness is: daughter-designed flip-flops 

I'm going to let you into a secret; I'm not very good at being good to myself. Never have been. I often read about mums who are - or at least try to be. They're on a constant quest to find that elusive thing often called me-time. These are the mums who prioritise making appointments for facials and manicures or aim, every so often, to get an hour away from the kids with a book, or go for a run or a yoga class, or to the cinema, or to cook themselves a really tasty meal, with vegetables and everything. All of the above appeal to me - but I just don't have the gene, or was never nurtured perhaps, to cultivate that drive to please myself, to do something for myself - to like myself, enough to be kind to myself. It doesn't come naturally to me.

Thank goodness then for my children who just happen to be the perfect excuse for not pursuing the me-time dream. If it weren't for them I might actually have that opportunity which, pre-children, I confess I unhappily experienced. When I had time to answer the 'what should I do to make myself feel happy' question, I was rarely able to do so. I was much better, and indeed happier, looking away from all that. Before becoming a mum, I made myself very busy with big things instead - my career, and studying for my Masters degree, for example. With hindsight, these things did ultimately bring me happiness - but this was not in any way the intention - that would've been being way too nice to myself.

Now that I have children, rather than feeling guilty for wanting yet not having me-time, I am discovering that the pursuit of happiness is actually much easier once removed - through them. I am amazed and delighted to witness how readily my children think of things to do to be happy. Of course, at six and seven years of age playing is their go-to activity. I have always loved how children just naturally play, and now thanks to them, I have an excuse to join in - either organising play-prompts for them, or playing along with them. And as they get older, their idea of what to play is beginning to have lots more in common with things that I consider to be - dare I say it -  potential me-time activities like reading, drawing, sewing, dancing, yoga, making, cooking, playing tennis and bike riding. I'm getting to do some lovely things that I would never be nice enough to do for myself. And I'm getting to do them with my children. It feels great.

I don't think I'll ever be a natural at being good to myself, but I desperately want my children to think I am. I want them to know that it's important for them always to be good to themselves; to like themselves, and to always find things to do - things that make them happy - especially as they become teenagers. I recently saw this great visual by Lupytha Hermin which I'm putting here to remind me that learning to love yourself really is the greatest love of all. It will, at the very least, give you a fighting chance in the lifelong pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

An alternative Advent adventure

Every day of December we have a little Advent adventure. My children take it in turns to find out what it's to be by opening one of the little drawers in our Advent tree (above). Last year I captured each activity with a photograph, and posted them all here. This was incredibly difficult, what with there being so little light in December; I haven't been nearly so ambitious this year. But yesterday's adventure is worth posting about because it was rather special. Born out of necessity, I simply tweaked it to become more of a treat, and we had a wonderful evening as a result.

I'd had a text the day before saying that my son's glasses were ready for collection. It's only been in the past month that we've come to realise that he needs them; when he excitedly told me that he'd spotted a horse across the Green and it was clear to me that it was actually two people carrying their Christmas tree home, I made him an optician's appointment. They confirmed that he is indeed short-sighted.

So I wrote in their Advent tree drawer:

Collect Buddy's glasses and test them out in the pub opposite the optician's.

On paper, I know this doesn't sound too festive - but the optician's was decked with decorations of the season, and they gave Bud a little Christmas present along with fitting him with his new specs. Bud had fun trying on some alternative eye-wear too:

 And here he is in his actual prescription glasses.

Then we hopped over to the wonderfully old-fashioned, open-fired, wood-panelled Rose and Crown for drinks, nuts and a hand of cards. We sat right next to their enormous Christmas tree and Bud, proudly wearing his new glasses, couldn't help but tell us about the things he could see, and to read out the text he could spot around the pub. And to top it all, he beat us at a highly competitive game of Knock-out Whist. Here he is shaking hands with me after the match; a most gracious winner. Now, not only does he behave like a gentlemen, he looks like one too. Advent adventures don't get much better than that.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A festive packed lunch

It's my children's school Christmas Dinner today, and while my son has been looking forward to it for weeks, my daughter is what you might call roast dinner averse; try as we might, we can never persuade her to sign up for it. As well as the traditional turkey and roast potatoes and so on, the children also get a Christmas cracker to accompany the meal. My challenge was to give my daughter her usual packed lunch with a festive feel, so she wouldn't feel too left out. 

Here's what I assembled:

  • favourite-filling sandwiches - cut into Christmas tree shapes with a cookie cutter
  • bundles of carrot and bread-sticks - tied with golden ribbon
  • a home-made mince pie - with a sprinkling of snowy icing sugar on top
  • a chocolate coin
  • a mixture of white chocolate chunks and dried cranberries
  • a satsuma

I hope she enjoys her alternative festive fare.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Christmas play-box for festive imaginative play

When she discovered the Christmas play-box I'd put together, my daughter literally squealed with delight. She promised she would wait till tomorrow morning - she has even set her alarm-clock so she has time before school - but as you can see, she couldn't resist trying out a few of the goodies before bedtime.

Both my children love imaginative play, and while we have the props and costumes, toys and equipment for most scenarios (or approximations - enough to fire the imagination anyway), I thought they might enjoy their play a little more festive during the next few weeks.

Both my husband and I have acquired various props and Christmassy-stuff through our comedy and storytelling work; things that would otherwise simply languish in storage between shows, so it was easy-peasy to pull this little lot together. Of course you can make up a Christmas play-box with whatever you have to hand that's safe and suitable for the age of your children. In our box we have:

  • ready-wrapped prop presents
  • a selection of knitted stockings
  • two sets of reindeer antlers
  • a Santa hat, wig and glasses
  • a few plastic baubles
  • salt dough decorations (made by the children last Christmas)
  • tinsel
  • a few (very cheap) crackers
  • extra cracker jokes
  • a small artificial Christmas tree (slightly too big for the box)

My children love to rehearse and put on shows of favourite stories (especially when friends are round to play) - so I'm sure we'll have a dramatic reading or two, from our Christmas and winter books below, using the box's bounty of all things festive .

Or they may well just play Christmas. I'm not going to be able to resist being a fly-on-the-wall if they do; finding out what they really think goes on during this time of year might be quite amusing. I just hope it won't include any stressful shouting or tipsy tantrums.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Celebrating - with food and a flight

Before embracing all things Christmas, we first needed to celebrate another very special occasion - Daddy's birthday. This year we wanted to do something really fun and memorable, so straight after school we jumped on a 341 bus and were down at the South Bank by half past four, ready with our tickets, to board the fabulously blue and twinkly London Eye.

The views from our sedately moving pod were spectacular, and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride. And gazing down at London, a sparkling toy-town stretched out beneath us, we munched these rather rugged-looking cheese oatcakes, baked for the occasion, the night before. They were so delicious that I'm putting the recipe here, mainly to remind myself to bake them again before the year is out. Perfect with a glass of fizz, they take less than thirty minutes to make; perfect for any celebratory occasion - not just flights on the London Eye.


100g oats
135g plain flour
75g hard cheese of choice, grated
2 tsp baking powder
40g melted butter
200ml milk
A pinch of salt

  1. Mix the sifted flour with the other dry ingredients then add the milk and melted butter
  2. Place dessert spoonfuls of the rough-textured dough onto a greaseproof-paper covered baking tray
  3. Squish the dough dollops into plumpish discs
  4. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 220c, or until golden brown
  5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A browse around the baubles

On Saturday afternoon we joined the crowds and headed to the West End; we thought it might be a good opportunity to show our children the Christmas lights and seasonal window displays of the posh shops before the December crush. With darkness descending around four o'clock, our timing couldn't have been better - Regent Street was positively twinkling as we emerged from Piccadilly Circus tube station, and all the shop windows were satisfyingly sparkly with festive decoration. 

We paused outside Fortnum and Mason for quite a while because its displays told a tale that was familiar to my children - the story of Dick Whittington. They loved reading us the little text boards at the bottom of each display and they gazed in at the store's theatrical interpretation of each part of the story. Meanwhile my husband and I facetiously exchanged quiet quips about poor Dick having to survive on port and cheese, and perfume and silk ties, or whatever luxury good was also displayed within the scene. Hilarious, we thought. Our comedy was largely ignored by the children though, whose little noses were, by now, pressed up against the windows-of-wonder like two Victorian urchins. They asked if we might go inside and, with some trepidation, we agreed.

Now, we certainly didn't need to buy anything; we were there purely to browse. But as soon as we entered through its highly polished wooden and brass-fitted doors, I think gawp might be a more accurate way of putting what we did. It was like being inside Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Did you know they have golden shopping baskets in Fortnum and Mason? As we moved to the first floor we grabbed a couple of them - not to put potential purchases in you understand, but to store our now redundant and very bulky coats. This was one of our better ideas, because we would need to be as streamlined as possible. We had entered *gulps* - the Christmas decoration department. This, like the confectionery on display downstairs, had the feel of a fairytale factory - not of Willa Wonka, but rather that of Benjamin Bauble perhaps, inventor of the most decadent decorations ever.

It was quiet in here though - and I noticed the lack of children almost immediately. Our initial delight at being in amongst the jewels and crystals of a classy Christmas started to diminish, as above the festive tunes tinkling optimistically in the background, we began to notice an altogether different sort of tinkling sound. More frequently than you'd hope, we could hear the unmistakable shatter and crash of a bauble, of preposterous delicacy, being dropped. Of course every time I heard this, I spun round - carefully, so as not to knock anything off a table or shelf - to see if it was one of us who'd been the latest culprit of bauble-breakage. My throat was beginning to tighten - and I felt myself beginning to sweat. This was a terrible mistake - why were we here? This couldn't end well. My children are good and careful, but if grown-ups were breaking these fragile fancies left, right and centre - what chance of avoiding this cruel fate did my two kids have?

Well, there is a happy ending to this story, you'll be pleased to hear. And it came down to the fortuitous finding of Dick Whittington. And the fact that my children are bookworms. For the briefest moment I lost sight of Bud and Daisy so, only in a mild panic, did I begin looking for them -  hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. I eventually found them, safe and well, settled under one of the display tables. And they were fully occupied; totally oblivious to the luxury items around them, and the posh perfumed ladies swishing past.

They had each found the only book available in the department - Dick Whittington, of course - and had, rather wonderfully, decided that reading a story to themselves was far more appealing than bauble-gazing or indeed, grabbing. And there they stayed for a good fifteen minutes - in quiet, literary bliss - while us grown-ups, very nearly, enjoyed a more relaxed browse around the baubles. And we didn't break a thing. Phew.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The price of convenience

Ready-made craft kits, like the examples above, are convenient. They're convenient because they're available in local supermarkets, craft and toy shops and online. And they're convenient because if you're looking to buy a gift for a child who likes to make, the box always tempts with the promise of 'having fun' and 'creating lovely home-made things' without any preparation. But how many of these kits actually deliver enjoyable, let alone creative, experiences for our children? How many of them actually make good on their promise that a child can accomplish the craft activity easily. They never say how an adult will need to help them follow every complicated instruction, or take over completely for the fiddly bits. And how exactly does this 'following of instructions' foster creativity anyway?

We've accumulated quite a collection of these kits over the years. My children are given them as presents and on paper, they seem like such a great idea. We keep them in our rainy-day box, and if we are stuck indoors, or if I or one of my children are feeling poorly we occasionally choose something from this stash to do together. We picked out a couple of kits to try today, and yet again, they did not live up to their creative promise.

We tried an old-fashioned knitting doll and a make-your-own friendship bracelet kit. We very quickly abandoned the knitting doll as neither myself nor my six-year-old could master the weird wool manoeuvres. Then the friendship bracelet instructions told us we needed the ability to plait, and to thread frayed wool through tiny pre-cut slits in neoprene - way beyond my daughter's skills. I eventually persuaded her to abandon the instructions and just do her own thing. This she eventually did, but unlike when she was little, she felt she had failed by doing so, and very quickly lost interest in the project. 

If I was more of a radical I would throw away the instructions and packaging of these kits, and add their materials to our existing collection of art and craft resources. Then I would respond how I usually do when my children want to make something - which is to gather a few materials from our collection, the recycling stash or the kitchen, and let them experience making something in their own time, in their own way - with their own outcome. This would be a much better use of the materials, and a more creative experience. 

We have a lot of success with these kinds of impromptu creative sessions. For example, on Sunday when I set out some simple craft materials in the hour before dinner, my two children happily joined me in some cosy and creative pomander-making. And the contents of this experience? Just an orange each, some cocktail sticks, a felt tip pen and lots of gorgeous smelling cloves. We had a fabulously chilled-out time making patterns for our pomanders by poking holes into our oranges with a cocktail stick. There was no set of instructions to follow, we inspired each other by sharing our ideas, they honed their hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills, and they both decided when their making-time was finished. The pomanders are now looking and smelling marvellous on our display shelf.

I suppose because of the time of year, I'm thinking how lovely it would be to put together some home-made creative kits using the components of some our favourite invitations-to-create - to give away as Christmas gifts.  Whether I manage this or not, at the very least I'm definitely going to try not to use these creativity-free ready-made kits with my children any more; for me, the price of their convenience is too high.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Adventures at Home at the theatre: The Snow Spider

Anne-Marie Piazza, Philip Benjamin (centre) and Joey Hickman in THE SNOW SPIDER.  
Presented by Io Theatre Company and Ovalhouse Theatre.  Photo by Stefan Lacandler.

My children are experienced theatre-goers, and love a good show. Last week we were invited to a performance of a new children's play presented by Io Theatre Company and the Ovalhouse Theatre - The Snow Spider. Despite us not being familiar with the story, adapted from the children's novel by Jenny Nimmo, I felt confident my two children would like it. What I hadn't expected was its sad and complex themes  - would my children enjoy or even understand such a serious play?

Although the auditorium's heating was on full blast, causing a rather stifling atmosphere, we were most effectively transported to the cold and snowy Welsh mountains - where the story of Gwyn, a nine year old boy, and his sad, fractured family begins. The atmosphere is created by a stark, minimal set, and the talented cast who play violins, a harp, drums and other percussive instruments to evoke the wind, rain and snow of the winter weather, and the anger, sadness and occasional but diminishing flashes of joy of Gwyn's family. The use of musical motif, by James Lark the production's composer, is particularly effective in introducing a most important ingredient - magic; the glimmer of hope, the dangerously powerful driving force of the story. 

Magic begins to enter the lives of Gwyn's family through his eccentric grandmother played brilliantly by Anne-Marie Piazza. Even though the actor is notably pretty and clearly youthful, she plays the elderly, naughty, child-cum-matriarch with aplomb and humour, and all without the mask of a grey wig or ageing make-up. In fact the playing of numerous characters, differing wildly in age, required of all the actors didn't phase this young cast at all. When I asked my daughter how she knew someone had become a different person in the story she told me, 'It was easy, mummy. They just put on something like a hat or a pair of shoes, and changed their attitude.' 

The clever, multiple use of props and objects to create scenery was thoroughly enjoyed by my children too - the plank of wood that became a door, a seat, and a table, for example - and they liked the cheeky physicality of the acting too - Gwyn, played by Joey Hickman, climbing the craggy mountain peak made of people was particularly admired. But it was the Snow Spider herself which they thought had been most cleverly realised, and they found her appearance spell-binding.

This production of the The Snow Spider is truly spun with magic, but it addresses really complex and sad issues like death, grief, and families falling apart. This is pretty serious stuff for my two children (aged six and seven), and I wonder just how much they understood. However, the actors' lilting Welsh accents, the haunting music and confident storytelling kept them immersed in the tale, and even if my children didn't get the full meaning of the arrival and subsequent departure of the mysterious new friend, for example - there was no doubt in their minds that a good story had been told, and a magical afternoon had been had by all.

Ovalhouse and Io Theatre Company present The Snow Spider
Adapted by Io Theatre Company from the award-winning novel by Jenny Nimmo
31 October - 17 November, Ovalhouse, Theatre downstairs
Box office 020 7582 7680

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bonfire party in Quainton

Quality night-time photography doesn't come easy - there's a lot of faffing and fiddling required to achieve anything near the atmospheric and often dramatic effects of a little light in darkness. Here's my best shot of my Daisy, taken in Quainton on Saturday, at the brilliant bonfire party on the village green. This is the first year my two children haven't run for the hills - or under their duvets, to be more accurate - at the mere mention of fireworks - so I was delighted to be able to introduce them to the very English tradition of celebrating Guy Fawkes' thwarted attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament hundreds of years ago - in a very English village with family, in a genteel and family-friendly way.

Here you can see what Daisy was gazing at - a huge and lovingly assembled bonfire complete with burning effigy of Guy Fawkes atop (we didn't draw too much attention to him, naturally). As the fireworks started, in front of the village's windmill - did I mention just how quaint Quainton is? - both children responded with the prerequisite ooohs and ahhhs - and absolutely no screams of terror, thank goodness.

Hearing the patter and pops, fizzes and bangs of London's numerous firework displays tonight, we sang a Fireworks song of my own devising (to the tune of Frere Jacques, should you wish to partake) during bath-time. My children still need a song or game to help them tip their heads back while I rinse their hair - and this one was perfect for tonight. I've used it - and variations of it - at play sessions at the Geffrye Museum and the British Museum, so my children know it quite well. It's a great call-and-response song, and of course it can be sung in a round should that tempt.

I see fireworks, I see fireworks
Sparkling bright, sparkling bright
Multicoloured starbursts, multicoloured starbursts
In the night, in the night

I hear fireworks, I hear fireworks
Whoosh, whoosh, fizz. Whoosh, whoosh, fizz
Crackle-crackle, bang-bang. Crackle-crackle, bang-bang
Wheee, pop, whizz. Wheee, pop, whizz.

Happy Bonfire Night!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Gifts for a new baby

We are all in love with the latest addition to our family; my sister's gorgeous baby boy was born a week ago. My children, keen to give their new cousin a present, suggested they each design him a baby-grow. And in case I wasn't sure what they meant, Daisy explained, 'You know, mummy - those things with the poppers going all the way round.'

I only managed to find some plain long-sleeved vests in size 0 - 3 months, but as they had at least three poppers going a little bit round, they were considered acceptable. I set out an invitation to create - with paper and felt-tips in the colours I knew we had in fabric pens, and then stepped away to give creative juices a chance to flow.

Both children were wonderfully motivated and very soon had their designs all mapped out and ready to go. I inserted a piece of card inside each vest to stop any colour seepage and to make for a more solid canvas and, along with our fabric pens, I handed them over to the designers. Twenty minutes later the vests were finished. They have since been proudly given to the scrumptious one - most definitely gifts made with love.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The case of the disappearing Dalek

We're always raiding our recycling box for art, craft and play materials. A few weeks ago my son asked, just as we were leaving for school, to plunder its wonders for his CDT lesson that day. He chose about five items including what he considered to be the Coolest Container Ever, and told me he was going to use it to make a Dalek*.

Fast forward to the end of school, and my seven-year-old appeared in the playground absolutely distraught. It transpired that someone else thought that his container was the Coolest Thing Ever too, and had had the gall to swipe it from Buddy's tray. We went back to the classroom and searched high and low, hoping that he had just misplaced it, but it had completely disappeared. So we reported the incident to his teacher; to my child, this theft was the height of injustice. We had to make sure Bud knew we were doing all we could to find the culprit, and retrieve the Dalek.

Of course, that never happened. His teacher said she asked everyone in the class and, surprise-surprise, no one came forward. After a few days I told Bud that it looked like that Dalek had gone for good. But I tried to find something positive to add, so I said that we might eventually find another container just the same, and then he could make the Dalek again - this time at home. He seemed OK with this, so we let the whole thing rest. Then, last week we happened to find a shop that stocked Calippo Shots (fruity ice pieces) - in the exact container required for the Dalek-make. When the icy treats were finished, I washed up the pot and left it on our help-yourself-shelf to see if Bud would take the bait. Days passed, and I really had started to think that a new Dalek would never materialise.

But then, after school a few days ago, I heard him call through to the kitchen, 'Oh look! I can make my Dalek. I'm going to do it now!' He'd discovered the empty Calippo Shots box. And because he'd made it before he knew exactly what he needed, and busied himself collecting sticky tape, scissors, card, a milk bottle top and of course the Coolest Container Ever. He set up his very own little 'invitation to create' as you can see below. And I was so pleased.

And I was proud of him too, a reluctant crafter to say the least, getting over the disappointment of the initial Dalek disappearance (the thief is still at large) - and to find the enthusiasm and motivation to do it all again. He really enjoyed making it too; he tried out new ways to get the Dalek 'bits' to stick on, and he used about a roll of sticky tape in the process. We're keeping the Dalek safe at home, because we now know how desirable Daleks can be to light-fingered Dr Who and Container fans. Bud even agreed to pose with his finished Dalek - Fred 9, as it's called. I do love a happy ending.

* We don't watch Dr Who; far too scary and grown-up for my children. But my son has a T shirt with Daleks on its front - a great hand-me-down from his cousin. He wears this with pride, and loves the idea of people thinking he watches Dr Who.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Palaces and parks: a refreshing and royal Sunday stroll

Last weekend, in an attempt to chase away some gloomy thoughts (of mine), and some cobwebs (of the children), we got out of the house, and dipped into one of our favourite books London: Adventure Walks for families by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis. With family-friendly walks packed with points of interest, and just the facts and background information to pique everyone's interest, Becky and Clare's walks are always right up our street. 

This time we chose a regal-sounding walk called Kings and Queens: London's great palaces. We began at Somerset House - a little east of where the walk officially starts - but this is where our bus stopped. We always enjoy popping into the central courtyard, and are especially excited when we find the fountains turned on. It's then essential to run between the sprinkling jets of water in inappropriate footwear and non-waterproof clothing.

After a short stroll along the Embankment we arrived at the walk's official starting place, the Houses of Parliament, in time to hear Big Ben chime four o'clock; a great start to the walk.

Although crowded with tourists, it was pretty exciting to be amongst the buildings of parliament, and the statues of the great and the good. Daddy read out from our book the fascinating and historical facts including the whereabouts of the exclusive politician's taxi light. It was very satisfying to photograph this whilst everyone else walked straight past it.

One of the highlights of the walk was visiting the tiny, but perfectly formed medieval Jewel Tower, just opposite the site of the Houses of Parliament - pictured at the top. We were just one of a handful of people there - and it felt all the more special for being a bit of a hidden gem. Our walk continued through the amazing St James's Park, full of classic autumn colour. Then as we crossed a particularly picturesque bridge we saw, tantalisingly framed in the distance, Buckingham Palace looking grandly serene and elegantly pale. 

As we continued our walk, we came across something not mentioned in our book; clearly a new feature of the park. It was a giant floral crown made to celebrate this year's Diamond Jubilee. A feat of gardening expertise, it was a lovely incentive to help us press on with our progress towards the Queen's official home.

Fuelled by some rather delicious ice-cream we eventually made it to the gates of Buckingham Palace. We sang They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace as we marched up to them, although we arrived far too late in the day to witness that. We did pause at the gates for quite a while though, trying to spot the guards moving - they did, and waiting for the Queen to invite us in for tea - she didn't.

My children's energy was fading fast by the time we reached Green Park Tube station - and so we finished our regal walk here. It was a shame not to see the posh shops of Piccadilly but we didn't want to push our luck and end up with over-tired and irritable children at Fortnum and Mason. That final part of the walk would have to wait for another time.

But thanks to Adventure Walks for families we had a fantastic, fun and frugal family afternoon out in central London - and as a result, we all felt refreshed, revitalised and ready for the week ahead.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Spooky spiders

We had great fun making these spiders and webs this evening. Here's what we used:

 For the webs:-

  • black card squares
  • white wool
  • blunt plastic needle
  • sticky tape

... and for the spiders:-

  • pompoms
  • pipe-cleaners
  • googly eyes

Here's what we did: 

First I punched holes into the black card. To get to the middle of the squares, using a regular hole-punch, I just folded them wherever I needed, making temporary edges, so that the hole-punch would reach. Once the pieces of card were full of holes and flattened back out, the children started weaving their webs. 

I would recommend Eric Carle's The Very Busy Spider for ideas for web shapes, but tonight I just let the children use their imaginations to create their own designs. We secured the wool-ends with a little sticky-tape.

The spiders were made by sticking on as many googly eyes as desired to pompoms of choice. I secured the pipe-cleaner legs to the spiders using our warm glue-gun.

After photographing the finished spiders and webs, we decided to spookify them a little more by inverting the colours on the image. Now they look extremely Halloween-ish.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Watch this space

This art-making game is an old favourite of mine. I've used it very successfully with adults, teenagers, and nine-to-eleven year olds, and soon I'm going to use it with younger children in a museum setting. Before unleashing it on classes of thirty five-and-six year olds later this term, I thought I'd dust it down, and test it out on my little ones first. All you need for this version of the game is:

  • Paint-pens or chunky felt-tips or chalks - in a variety of colours
  • A long piece of paper; I used a roll of brown paper as I had it to hand
  • A die, each face covered with a sticker showing a particular shape or pattern - like circles, loops, triangles, stripes and zigzags (at the museum we have large foam dice with transparent pockets on each face to hold the pattern/shape descriptions)

  1. All players choose a pen or paint colour, and sit wherever they like near the edge of the paper. 
  2. The die is rolled, and whichever pattern/shape lands face up is drawn on the area of paper in front of each player. They can draw as many as they like, and just as they like.
  3. Players move round one place to their left (keeping their colour), and the die is rolled again.
  4. With the new pattern or shape in mind, players now add to the existing marks on the section of paper where they've just moved. They can draw the new shape or pattern in, around and/or next to these marks - just as they like, to add to the art.
  5. The game continues like this, until the paper is full.

The more people you have, the better it works - but with just four of us playing, we made a rather lovely piece of communal art, which we've since used as wrapping paper. They all agreed it was lots of fun - and said they really enjoyed seeing the art grow.

My daughter has already suggested we play a Christmas version of the game to make festive wrapping paper - with a die showing fir-tree shapes, baubles and stars and so on, using metallic colours. This reminded that once I used black paper and neon-colours for a fireworks version. It really is an adaptable game - and one we'll be playing again, in some shape or form, in the not so distant future. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Rainy day cakes

Sunday was a washout weather-wise, so we retreated to our cosy kitchen and made something yummy and sunny-looking. We based our baking, rather loosely, on a recipe for gluten-free and dairy-free cupcakes that I'd previously found on the internet. We began by hauling out all the necessary ingredients, and then my children's challenge was to sort them into two groups - wet and dry -  while I set the oven to heat up to 180c.


125g gluten-free flour
60g ground almonds
1 tsp baking  powder
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g unrefined sugar
half tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
zest of 1 clementine

3 eggs
100ml olive oil
juice of 2 clementines

1 medium carrot, finely grated (add just before baking)

I let my children measure out the ingredients into two bowls by themselves; one for the wet, and another for the dry. Of course, this all got very messy - but that's half the fun, right?

They combined the wet ingredients with the dry, and then stirred in the grated carrot. Having counted out twelve paper cases, they spooned some of the mixture into each (about 1 tablespoon per cake). We found we had enough to make fourteen cupcakes in the end.

After baking them in the oven for about 12 minutes, we let the cakes cool on a rack for an hour before smothering them in icing and adding a final and delicious flourish - fresh raspberries and blueberries. Suddenly, our Sunday was looking a lot more cheery.