The Night Before Christmas – 24 Days Of Christmas Crafts {Literature To Crafts}

‘Twas the night before Christmas…

Well, actually it wasn’t. It was one of the 24 Days of Christmas story books that we read together and turned into a craft.

We’re Parragon book buddies and every month they send us a book to review and tell you about. The November book was this one, although it only arrived a few days ago – just in time to go into the advent calendar.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement.C. Moore is a longer version, I think, of the traditional story (although it’s possible that the other version we have of it is just shorter, I’m not sure!) It makes for a nice bed time story length, however, if you’re not used to chapter books.

One of my favourite things about the book though, is the cover. See those white hills in the top left? That’s all sparkly glitter, adding a real sensory feeling to the book. It’s lovely. Sadly the sensory bit isn’t carried into the story, but the illustration – done by Henry Fisher – is just lovely.  It’s bold and colourful and rich. Really pretty. And we loved Santa in his drawings too – rotund, rosy cheeked and so very jovial looking.

The glossy pages are lovely to look at and touch, and it’s definite a favourite in our Christmas book pile.

One of the things I really like about this story is that the teller – the dad – ‘meets’ Santa. He sees him, and Santa winks at him and he ‘Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread’. I’ve heard of so many children that are scared of Santa, and I figure if daddy‘s not scared of him, that’s a good start – in a little person’s mind at least.

For our craft I photocopied one of the pages with St Nick on in black and white, and we used the story teller’s physical description to decorate Santa. He says:

“His  eyes – how they twinkled!

His dimples – how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow. “

We used silver and pink stamping ink for the ‘sparkly’ eyes and rosy cheeks, and red glitter for the nose. Finally, we tore up cotton wool for his white fluffy beard, and the girls had great fun glueing and decorating Father Christmas – so much so, I now have two copies of him hanging on the living room wall.

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The Snowman – 24 Days of Christmas Crafts {Literature to Food}

The advent calendar book for day three was The Snowman, a much loved classic I always hear people saying they remember from their own childhoods. The first time I ever heard of it was when I was sent the book for review earlier in the year. Apparently there are two versions – one with no text, just images, and this one, a written story. I don’t know the original, but this one was kind of sweet, although I’m not sure about the message that it’s a good thing to sneak out and go to a dance with a random snowman! But my paranoia aside, the children love the story. This particular version came with a CD so there’s a song we got to listen and dance to a few times over too.

Our craft of the day was to make meringue snowmen. You can find our recipes for making it the traditional meringues here, or for using the Thermomix here. I made three different styles of snowmen too – the first were piped as snowmen, the second as meringues and then stuck together in the icing phase and the third as flat figure of eight style snowmen. I preferred the ones we had to stick together in the end. They were the most manageable.

Not only did we have fun reading the story, but we also enjoyed baking and decorating together, and a lot of fun was had in the eating too. 

And it may just be me, but I think it would make a fun gift too! A copy of the book, with a jar of snowmen, right?

Rural Life Centre, Tilford, Farnham, Surrey {Mamaventurers}

During half term, our Mamaventurer group took the children to the Rural Life Centre in Tilford, Surrey. We had an amazing day out, and the 1 – 4 year old children with us were engaged the whole time.

I was really surprised, actually, that we were the only people there the whole morning, and it was only as we were leaving mid afternoon that we started really seeing other people turning up! I know that if we’d driven two miles down the road to the indoor soft play centre, it would have been heaving on such an overcast and rainy day, but this day out cost us less, and was so much more pleasant!

Let me tell you about it.

The Rural Life Centre is a country life museum run by a charitable trust. It is pleasantly distributed over ten acres of field, woodland and barns, and comprises a large number of implements and devices marking over 150 years of farming. Many aspects of village and rural life are also displayed in realistic individual settings.

Plunging Laundry, Milling ‘grain’, Family Friendly Activity Sign, Learning About Forging, Tiling A Roof, Colouring A Flag in Fancy Dress

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{Literature To Crafts} Wakey Wakey Big Brown Bear

Every few weeks a package arrives in the mail for that sends my girls squealing around in delight. It’s the Parragon Book Buddies mail, with the latest book for us to read. My girls know that means story time, curled up on the sofa, followed by crafts, art or play acting. Oh, how I wish we had animal fancy dress for this book. It was so lovely and Wakey Wakey Big Brown Bear is without doubt our favourite book so far.

Written by Tracey Corderoy, Wakey Wakey Big Brown Bear has two major themes, useful for learning: season changes (autumn to winter) and friendship.

In this beautiful story, Big Brown Bear decides he wants to stay awake in the winter as he misses out on all the fun: rolling around in the leaves, jumping in puddles, and building snow bears. He tries to stay awake, but his friends convince him to sleep and they’ll wake him for the fun.

Try as they might, once Big Brown Bear is sleeping, they can’t wake him, so they decide to save a bit of each season for him. They save leaves, rain and, in stead of snow, empty out the contents of a cushion for him. Big Brown Bear wakes disappointed to find that he missed all the fun again, until he sees the efforts his friends have gone to for him, and has lots of fun with them.

I tried to draw a few pictures of Big Brown Bear, but he ended up looking more fish-like, so I photocopied two pages from the book (I’m not sure if that’s actually legal, but hey ho. I’m not profiting from it!) in black and white, and Ameli and Aviya coloured him in the different seasonal activities.

Then I took an A4 page and drew a line two thirds of the way down, and marked the two columns Autumn and Winter. Ameli then glued the appropriate activities under the seasons.

Big Brown Bear

Later in the day we went for a walk and the girls jumped in puddles and rolled in leaves, just like Big Brown Bear, and of course, we don’t have snow yet, and I wasn’t about to start tearing apart a pillow. Instead I blew touchable bubbles all over the room and the girls ran and jumped and grabbed them like snow flakes.

A beautiful story, fun activities, and a definite favourite in our bookshelf.

Making Chocolate With Disney Cakes And Sweets

I love a good recipe book. Actually I love going through a recipe book and gleaning great ideas to adjust and adapt to our family’s way of cooking and eating.

People often comment about how much I do with my girls, and how busy we always are, but the truth is, a lot of it comes from outside inspirations – like this morning: we made Fruity Chocolate Chunks from Issue 1 of the Disney Cakes And Sweets Collection. It was a fun activity I probably wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

The girls had a lot of fun with it. We didn’t have a single one of the ingredients in the original recipe, but they recommend substitutions too, so we made milk chocolate with hazelnuts and candied orange peel.

I used my Thermomix to temper the chocolate to a perfect 37 degrees Celsius, which was also ideal because it means the chocolate never got too hot for the girls to handle. 

While the chocolate was doing it’s thing, I gave Ameli the job of crushing the hazelnuts. I could have done it in seconds in the Thermie (or a food processor), but I decided to stretch the activity as long as I could. I put the hazelnuts into a cake pan and gave her a mallet, covering it with a napkin and let her hammer it. An easier option would be put it all in a ziploc bag and hammer it that way, but the girl had fun anyway.

Next up, we sprinkled orange peel over the hazelnuts and mixed them together in a silicone tray before pouring the perfectly tempered chocolate over it.

While the kids licked the chocolate off the spoons and bowl, I popped it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

A little while later, we had perfect chocolate snacks, easy, simple and fun. And they’d make lovely gifts too!

There are a few more recipes from issue 1 that Ameli’s asked if we can try, as well as Winnie the Pooh icing guides and a Mickey Mouse cookie cutter, both of which Ameli can’t wait to use! I’m sure you’ll see more of our adventures in baking and sugar craft soon!

Greenwich Planetarium For Under 5’s {Mamaventurers}

Greenwich Planetarium, actually called Peter Harrison Planetarium, is a 120-seat digital laser planetarium, situated in Greenwich Park, London and is part of the National Maritime Museum. Every Tuesday during term time, (and school holidays and weekends) they have a special showing for children, in what is actually a very affordable and fabulously enjoyable day out.First a couple of negative points:

Since we had to travel to London and plan ahead for it, we set a date in our calendars well in advance, but didn’t actually book tickets because with little children, you never know what comes up on the day.

We chose the day we did, however, because the website said that it was a show for under 7’s – Space Cowboys.  On arrival at the reception to book our tickets, I asked for tickets for that and the man at the desk was really unhelpful and really miserable and uninformative.

He said the show for the day was “Meet the Neighbours” and offered no further info. I pressed for more asking if it was appropriate for under 7’s and he just looked at me and eventually said “It’s a family show”. It was like pulling teeth to get information! The woman sitting next to him just stared at me through the whole exchange! When we decided we’d go for it anyway, he  asked if we wanted tickets for the Observatory too. I asked if he could tell me more about it and he just gave me the prices, I looked at the children – who admittedly were lying on the floor giggling at the ceiling at this stage – and asked my friend Y if she wanted to get the combined tickets, when the man said it wasn’t really appropriate for children! (So why ask me in the first place!)

Our initial exchange was frustrating, but once we were in, we decided to start at the cafe and have an early lunch. There’s a lovely outdoor area where we could drink our bought coffees while the children had their lunch box snacks and have a bit of a run around after a long drive.

We also used this as an opportunity to work on a Space sticker book, which was perfectly aimed at the under 5’s. (Amazon has a few similar Space Sticker Books from DK) This was a great introduction to space, astronauts, things you can find in space and so on.

Greenwich Planetarium

On the entry to the Planetarium there was a beautiful photo exhibition, The Astro Photographer of the Year exhibit, which gave us the opportunity to chat about the stars and other solar events – like the Aurora Borealis – before heading into the theatre.

Greenwich PlanetariumThe staff on the actual Planetarium were fantastic. Ameli and her friend A were both dressed as astronauts, and the staff here were the first to give them any acknowledgement of that fact, something they were thrilled about.

They let the (most well behaved ever) schoolgroup in first, and then told our little astronauts that it was time to launch!

When we walked into the ‘theatre’, we lay back in the reclining chairs – Ameli and A both proclaiming how awesome this is – and waited.

Meet the Neighbours is a show about the planets next-door and the search for extra-terrestrial life. The show was presented by a lovely Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer who allowed the children to ask questions after – although the show itself was pretty informative, and the school kids had more questions about the presenter (Rupert Grint, AKA Ron Weasley, although there was no Harry Potter connection in the show itself).

Inside the planetarium – for those who’ve never been to one – to roof is a curved dome, and the roof itself is the screen. This provides an almost 3D appearance, but also places the viewer in the centre of the action. It’s pretty phenomenal, and even the under 2’s in our party were enthralled.

The show lasted about 30 or so minutes, which was just the right length for the children, and while Meet The Neighbours wasn’t aimed at our children, it was animated enough and in the right ways that it engaged them and the school children equally. While many of the finer details of extraterrestrial life forms will have passed over their heads, the fact that they did in fact learn and gain from it was obvious afterwards, when we went through the interactive exhibits and looked at the different activities and experimental exhibits. Y and I were even able to launch (and crash!) a mission to the moon, I think it was. (There’s a reason NASA engineers don’t take their children to work, I’ll have you know!) Greenwich Planetarium

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, and I’m sad that even when we lived in Greenwich we just assumed the Planetarium would be too expensive, and never went!

The children loved it, and have already asked when we can go again!

Greenwich Planetarium

The practicalities:

It’s in London, so you have to work out your travel and then add an hour or two to get from the outskirts of London into Greenwich, which isn’t in the congestion charge zone. (But you might travel through one to get to it).

Greenwich mainline station and Greenwich DLR station are about a 20 minute walk up a steep hill to the Planetarium. Blackheath Station is probably about the same, but approaches the planetarium from the back.

If you’re driving, there’s (largely unadvertised) parking via Blackheath Avenue. At the time of publishing, there is a four hour maximum parking time, at £1.20 per hour.

There’s a cafe on site, and gorgeous park land for picnics.

Show times: 12:45 and 13:45*

Prices: Adults £6.50 | Concessions £5.50 | Children £4.50 (Under-3s free) | Family £20 (2 adults + 2 children); £14.50 (1 adult + 2 children) | Members FREE*

*PLEASE check before departure

Find out more at: http://www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/

Find it on the Mamaventurers map

 

The Living Rainforest, Berkshire {PlayLearning Themes}

Our playlearning – slash – pre homeschooling theme this fortnight is rainforests. I was very excited, therefore, to discover that there’s a living rainforest an hour and a bit’s drive from where we live. The Living Rain Forest is in the village of Hampstead Norreys in Berkshire.

In preparation for our visit, and because Ameli, who is almost four, has not had any previous exposure to rainforests, we did some pre-work with the books In the Rainforest* and Make your Own Rainforest*, colouring rain forest pictures, reading about the animals, and creating a pop up rainforest, complete with a discussion on the different layers of the rainforest, and acting out being all the different animals represented in the books. (Amazon has loads of books and DVDs on rainforests – no relation, I’m sure – so look to see what takes your fancy.)The Living Rainforest

On arrival at the Living Rain Forest, my first impressions left me a little disappointed. I had expected glass houses, but somehow I still had hoped for the height of the rainforest, which was obviously impractical of me!

After parking – there’s plenty free parking – we found the entrance and made our way in. We were meeting friends there, so made a beeline for the play park. It was a lovely park and while it has similarities to normal play parks – swings, a slide, a climb frame – it also has some other spinny and twirly things I’ve not seen before and the children loved. The park is set among large leafed trees, and is well themed, down to the large dinosaur peeking through the bushes.

The Living Rainforest Playpark

There are also picnic tables outside so that you can take your own food if you wish.

The cafe inside served real coffee, which was a bonus for me – I hate paying for bad coffee – so we topped up our reserves before attempting the rain forest green houses, which as it turns out, really surprised me.

As you walk through the first set of doors you are hit immediately by the tropical weather of the rain forest.

Ameli knows about the equator and the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, and she was able to tell us that it was hot in the rainforest because most rainforests are between the two tropics and close to the equator, but England is further from the equator, so it’s cooler.

As we ambled our way along the first circular route we saw orchards and a large and beautiful Turaco, a red crested Turaco, which the children watched for a while with glee. It sure is a beautiful bird. The first green house also housed a cacao tree on which we were pleased to find a bright yellow pod, leading to an explanation of how cocoa and chocolate are made. (Did you know it takes one tree’s entire production of beans for an entire year to make 450g of Cadbury’s chocolate? That’s insane!)

The Living Rainforest PlantsAcross the walkway from this, there are flytrap plants, where we happened to see a roach of some discription pop in for – and to become – lunch. Again, a great time for learning!

There’s a second greenhouse which was even warmer than the first. Immediately upon entering, we saw scorpion boxes, fortunately secure. There was also a beautiful set of Toucans with their brightly coloured beaks, and other unidentified free-flying birds. There’s also a large pond with hundreds of tiny little brightly coloured tropical fish, and larger species too, including sting rays. There’s a turtle breeding area and even a dwarf crocodile.

The Living Rainforest Animals

The children were probably most taken by the variety of monkeys in the Living Rainforest. They loved watching them and when the marmoset stuck it’s tongue out at them, they squealed with glee and did the same back.

The Living Rainforest Monkeys

We did also catch glimpses of a python (in a cage) and a sloth, curled up in a corner of the room. The children are a far cry from quiet, and there were a few school groups, so we did miss a few animals, like the free range frogs.

Possibly the most horrible critter in the Living Rain Forest, however is the bird eating spider, which fortunately was not eating a bird but was safely behind glass. It was larger than a child’s outstretched hand though, and not a pretty guy.

Overall, we had a fabulous time at the Living Rain Forest, and since our tickets give us annual free entry, I’m pretty sure we’ll go back (Your entry ticket is an annual pass, basically, and entry is currently £9.95 for adults and £8.45 for children 2-14 years. Please check the site for up to date prices and opening dates and times.)

The children had a great time in the rain forest, and it definitely was a learning, exploratory experience. As far as I can tell, they all took something away from it, and they certainly all enjoyed it.

Websitehttp://www.livingrainforest.org
Location: Hampstead Norreys, Berkshire, RG18 0TN
Educational Benefit/Topics: Rainforest, Tropical Plants, Equator and Tropics, Tropical Animals

See the Living Rainforest on the Mamaventurers map

{PlayLearning} Autumn Sensory Boxes

I do love Autumn in England. It is incredibly beautiful. We seem to have skipped Autumn, as far as temperatures are concerned, which is unfortunate, as Autumn sunshine mixed with reds, browns, yellows and the remaining greens are one of nature’s treasures, in my view. I’ve started doing Autumn appreciation activities with the girls, and our Season Tree now hangs on our ‘school board’ where all our current arts and crafts go every week.20130918-163934.jpg

Today I had an unexpected  home day due to a bad night with little Aviya and the case of the persistent molars so I thought I’d share our Autumn themed sensory play boxes with you.

A few weeks ago a friend and I joined forces and made a whole lot of Autumnal play rice – we use vinegar instead of alcohol – in a range of colours. I think it turned out beautifully!

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With the help of Amazon and glitter, our Autumn Rice Box turned out like this:

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We bought leaves from Amazon (48 Autumn Leavesand artificial flowers from a local shop. You can find similar ones on Amazon  ( RosesArtificial Flowerstoo, and turned a pot of gold glitter out over the whole lot – this turned out to be Ameli’s favourite part. I had thought to use red glitter, but decided that would be more Christmassy and I’d save that for the Christmas box.

Children are interesting creatures, to say the least. With Ameli around, Aviya will get knee deep into the play rice and love it. When she’s on her own though, she cant spend a good 25 minutes with her Autumn nature box. It looks sparsely populated, but she does really well playing with the pine cones, acorns and leaves.

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I decided to add a new dimension to the nature box – smell – and added some whole nutmeg and cinnamon sticks to the mix. I’d say they’ve gone down well too!

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Do you have an Autumn Sensory box? Pop them on my Facebook wall. I’d love to see what you’re doing to celebrate Autumn or Fall!