Whipsnade Zoo, Luton, Bedfordshire

Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire is really part zoo, part wildlife reserve. If you say ‘zoo’ you tend to think of a bunch of animals in cages. While this is partly true, there’s also part wildlife reserve like the ones you’ll find in Africa – where you get to drive or walk around with nothing between you and the animals. In a sentence, the Whipsnade Zoo is fantastic. We spent a bank holiday Monday there and we loved every minute of it. 
Whipsnade Zoo


The rest of this review has moved. Please click here to read it. 


{Nature Crafts} Pinecone Garlands

Thursdays are very busy days for us, as we have any one of three and sometimes four things going on on a Thursday. It means we don’t really do much at home, most days. Today, however, we had spent some time in the forest this morning picking up tiny pine cones, so after dinner and before bath time, Ameli and I made some pinecone garlands. 


We got into daddy’s toolbox and found a whole variety of eyelet screws*. 


We chose the small ones, and set about screwing them into the tops of the pine cones. The pine cones are still soft and moist, so Ameli was able to help screw them in.


Before threading them with a pretty ribbon – not quite festive, but seasonal, let’s say!


We made the garland in the top picture, and then Ameli wanted one for her room, so we used the last bit of ribbon and made a straight garland with a bell at the bottom for her curtain rail. She loved it so much, she couldn’t wait to hang it up herself.


It thrilled me that she was so excited about a nature craft, especially one that was as quick and easy as this one! 

{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!


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


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.


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!


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!

{PlayLearning} My Season Tree

As the seasons change, we’ve been talking a lot about Autumn. Our walks have involved a lot of looking at things and picking up things, and noticing the change of colours and so on. It really is a very beautiful time of year, and I do love it. I just wish it wasn’t followed by winter!

Season TreeI’ve been meaning for months to make a Season Tree for Ameli, but it just hasn’t happened, and when I tried to laminate some summer leaves, my laminator objected strongly.

I didn’t try it again with brittle autumn leaves, deciding to buy some fake leaves instead.

For the Season Tree we used:

Putting the tree together is an exercise in going with the flow really. I glued the paper to the corrugated board to give it strength but also to give it texture.

I then cut a tree trunk and branches out of foam and glued them to the paper.

Season Tree InstructionsNext step was to cut blocks from the Velcro, which Ameli separated to stick the hooks on to the leaves, while I stuck the loops onto the leaves – whichever way round you do this doesn’t really matter, but keep it consistent so that when you change the leaves in winter, spring and summer, you always have the one type there already and the other on the leaves.

I added the text ‘My’ and ‘Tree’ to the top of the page and then wrote ‘autumn’ (fall), ‘winter’, ‘spring’ and ‘summer’ on another piece of paper which I then laminated. You don’t have to do that, of course, but we did. We Velcroed those too, so Ameli can change that when we change the leaves on the tree. I added tabs to the back of the cardboard to stick the unused items on while they’re unseasonal. Season Tree Instructions

She loved arranging the leaves, in almost puzzle-like fashion, and pulling the Velcro apart provided some good fine motor skill practice too.

The season tree now hangs on our ‘school board’ ready for us to keep going as the seasons progress through the year, and hopefully it will last long enough for Aviya to get in on the action too.

{PlayLearning} Dinosaurs

I was curious to see how dinosaurweek would go down in our home, as my daughters are just over one, and not yet four – not the target age or gender for dinosaurs, normally. Turns out, however, that they absolutely loved it. We had two dinosaur books that we focused on this week:

Ameli chose a dinosaur she liked out of ‘Things You Never Knew About Dinosaursand she made her interpretation of the dinosaurs that ride around on bikes. Another day another dinosaur, so we made some quick and easy salt dough:

  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 cup of flour
mixed together and coloured accordingly – I mixed green, red and blue food colouring for the grey-ish colour.
We made a few dinosaurs, eggs and nests, and then left them out to dry. It provided a great opportunity to discus the difference between amphibians and reptiles.

Of course, no conversation about dinosaurs can be complete without excavation. I put some toys, pompoms and water beads into blocks of ice, and the girls had a lovely, cooling, time ‘excavating’. I would say keep the blocks small for younger children, as they lost interest half way through. Smaller blocks would give them the pleasure of completion in the small attention span time frame.

I’ve seen these dinosaur eggs floating around Pinterest for ages now, and thought we’d try it for the dinosaur week.

I boiled a few eggs – the Thermomix makes amazing boiled eggs! – and then Ameli cracked them gently. We then poured some food colouring over them and left them for a few hours.

Later, Ameli peeled the eggs, which is great fine motor skill practice, and equally great for learning how to work really gently.

The peeled eggs looked fantastic, really! The blue egg only had a couple of cracks in, so didn’t have the same pattern. It was a fun experiment, and a yummy lunch.

The finished dinosaur eggs:

As much as you can with a three year old, we discussed extinction, creation, evolution and everything that goes with dinosaurs.
It was a really fun week!

{Playlearn} Learning About Different Art Forms

This week’s Summer Camp at Home theme was to do with Arts and studying different art styles. I very quickly found Ameli just wasn’t interested in that kind of, or level of, learning, just yet, so I had to adjust what were were doing pretty much on the fly.

I was a little concerned initially about what we’d do for the week, but it all came together quite nicely in the end. I decided to take it right back to basics, and Ameli really did well, I thought.


Ameli has been drawing for a while now, and it’s been such fun watching her go from random squiggles and lines, to colouring in all over a page, to bringing it within the lines, and now, this week, her very first ever family picture. It’s remarkably lifelike and I’m pleased to say we all seem relatively normal in her mind’s eye.



Inspired by Summer Camp At Home’s plan for the week, we made window paint. I tried to get Ameli to make the circles, but she wasn’t interested and in the end, I just let her paint. She had fun, and that was the aim of it, after all.  Mix equal quantities of paint with dishwashing liquid, and it makes a really easy to apply, easy to wash off window paint. It looks quite light in the application, but dries in a darker, bolder colour.


Art instillations and sculptures:

There’s a big Rhino sculpture exhibit in Southampton at the moment, so a friend and I packed the kids into the car and went off in search of some Rhinos. It was a lovely day out, and we saw loads of Rhinos. The kids loved spotting them, and where appropriate, I had very basic discussions with Ameli about the art ‘techniques’ employed – like circles, shades, and so on.


(Reverse) Ice Sculpting

It’s been unbelievably hot around these parts this last week, so I thought the ice sculptures that have been floating around Pinterest for some time might be a great idea. I don’t know who first came up with this, but it’s been a hit on the web. My girls do seem a bit young, really, because they enjoyed it at first, looking at how fast the salt melted it, and whether being in the sun or shade made a difference, but they lost interest about halfway through. Never mind, we’ll try again another time.  They used butter knives, front and back, to see which ‘chiselled’ better too.


I enjoyed it though, and look forward to them trying it another day again. 20130722-085138.jpg

Card Making: 

We had a birthday party to go to on Saturday, so making the birthday card seemed like a great activity to go with a week about different art (and craft) forms. A while ago I bought a pack of A5 card stock on Amazon*, and that’s been really useful. Every time we have a birthday party coming up, I grab a card and get Ameli crafting. Another fabulous idea here is making cards using water beads



An art form that is oft’ used here, is photography, and Ameli has had her own camera* for a while now, but it’s fair to say she’s still learning and we’re certainly not pressuring her on any part of it. Here she was taking photos of anything and everything, including funny pictures of her own face. When I have a chance to link up to the printer, I’ll print a few out for her to hang up in her art box.


That’s been our week of exploring different art forms. I don’t know how much she’s ‘learned’ as such, but she’s had fun, she’s asked questions and she’s been involved. She’s happy, I’m happy.  We do love playlearning.

What arts do you practice with your children?

*affiliate link. if you buy through this link, I will receive a percentage as commission. You do not pay any more than going through a non-affiliate link. The only difference is how much Amazon keeps. Thank you in advance for supporting us and helping me pay to keep the blog going!

Learning: Frogs Are “Amphibianins”

I had an absolutely lovely morning with a friend of mine at Birdworld in Farnham. It’s a bit of a drive for us, but it was worth it. I’ve been before and had been underwhelmed, but today it was so much more fun. Aviya just loved it. It’s the first time I’d been to a city-farm style place with her, and she was so sweet.

We were walking around the animal farm section and she started singing ‘he-hi-he-hi-o’ and grunting like a piggy. I almost melted. So sweet. She can barely say any words, but she can sing. That’s my girl. Also, she has a thing about cups. That’s an empty coffee cup in the picture, but she carried it around for most of the morning. Watching her cross that bridge, she looks so grown up.

Birdworld and coffee

Back home I carried on with the Summer Camp at Home theme, and we made frogs. We chatted about the comparison between reptiles and amphibians – or amphibianins as Ameli calls them.

It made me realise I’m going to have to read up some of these topics before I lead discussions on them! We had so much fun though. I often DO things with  my girls, but I rarely PLAY with them. While we were waiting for the glue to dry on our frogs, we read a few books that happen to feature frogs – Quack! Quack! and Five Speckled Frogs* (the latter is great. It has a ‘croak’ button which Ameli likes pushing, and it leads nicely into the song, which we hopped around the living room to.)

Once the glue had dried we had frog races across the playmats, which was good for a giggle too. Who ever knew frogs could be so much fun?

Learning Points:

*though these are old books, not currently for sale, the links are still affiliate links. Should you purchase through these links, you will not pay any more, but Amazon will pay me a percentage of the sale price.

8 Activities For Improving Fine Motor Skills

For three years now, I’ve not posted on things that I assume everyone else would assume to be boring.

Then a few days ago I was speaking to a mother about fine motor skills and how her daughter’s were under developed. We spoke for a while about what fine motor skills were and what you can do to encourage their development.

We do loads of little activities specifically aimed at fine motor skill development, while having fun, so I thought I’d share a few from the last 12 or so months with you.

If you don’t know what fine motor skills are, they are the small movements that occur in the hands, wrists, fingers, feet, toes, lips and tongue. They are the smaller actions that occur such as picking up objects between the thumb and finger, using a pencil to write carefully, holding a fork and using it to eat, and other small muscle tasks that we all do every day.

Activities that use, promote and enhance them involve picking, up, putting in and pouring.

Here are a few:

Ice cream sticks in a narrow bottle neck. My 14 month old loves this one.

Picking up small objects, like stones. Arrange from large to small or dark to light. (Keep an eye on smaller children so they don’t swallow them. )

Pour pompoms from cup to cup.

Pick them up and sort them by colour or size.

Stickers are perfect for fine motor skills. Picking the sticky backing from the foam bit.

Coloured rice. It’s all fun, but the clean up is where the pincer grip really comes into its own.

Threading is great. It requires concentration, and has the reward of ‘jewelery’ at the end.

Stacking. That’s great fun, especially in the knocking over. But again, balance, concentration – excellent development. 

What do you for fine motor skill development? 

Learning Points:

Rainbow Rice For Sensory Boxes

We had a pretty rough day around these parts, but if you look at the photos, you wouldn’t know it. Ah, if my real life looked like my photo stream, that would be just great. Oh well.

Our jar of rainbow rice from last year has pretty much run out, so it was time to make some more rainbow rice. I bought a cheap 3kg bag of rice, and Ameli and I set out to colour them.

Rainbow Rice

We separated the rice into five bowls, and poured a table spoon of vinegar into each. We added red, blue, green and yellow food colouring to four bowl, and added blue and red to another, to make purple.

We then set about mix, mix, mixing, before leaving it overnight to dry.

This morning I poured the rice into our new rice tub, and popped in the playdoh toys.

I seem to be really struggling with mess at the moment, so rather than put the rice in the house, I put it outside on a plastic sheet so that any spillage could be poured back into the tub, but the girls were still free to pour, spill and mess.

In a couple of days I’ll put some cars and trains in, and I also have some stars and other stellar objects that will make for fun play.

One of the bonuses of sensory boxes is that children use all their senses to really get into it, so it’s fun and play, but also development. I love when my children learn through play and I love how a sensory box turns them into little explorers.


 Learning Points: