Pizza Express School Visits & Home Educators

Some time during last summer, we booked a home ed visit for one of the Pizza Express School Visit sessions, and though we had to wait several months for our session, we arrived on the agreed date and had a fantastic and informative visit.

Pizza Express School Visits offer groups the opportunity to not only see how pizza is made but also to get hands on and involved. For some children this is a brand new experience, of course, and for our group there was a mix of abilities too, considering our participants ranged from about 3 – 14 years.

Obviously the details may differ from visit to visit, but for ours on the Isle of Wight, the children were decked out in chefs hats and aprons, and given loads of flour to flour their work surface – a set of tables in the restaurant. Each child was given a ball of dough. The chef – whose name I sadly can’t remember – was amazing. He had such great rapport with the children, and was engaging and informative and did a fantastic job of managing such a range of ages.Pizza Express Visit

They spoke about the different steps they went through, the chef demonstrated, and the children were able to take their own dough ball, and knead it, twist it and shape it into circles – they even got to toss it up into the air. Read more: Pizza Express School Visits & Home Educators

60+ Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

This year we are making a big deal out of Advent. I am totally overcompensating for the fact that there are no cousins, no nieces and nephews, no aunts, no uncles and no grandparents around, and on as tight a budget as possible, I’m trying to make every day of Advent special in one way or another.

In order to do this we are starting each day with a toy advent calendar, a book advent calendar and an activity advent calendar. We try to marry up the book advent with the activity advent, so if the characters in the book make biscuits, we make biscuits. If they decorate their tree, we decorate ours, and so on. Sometimes the link is only a tenuous one, but a link none the less. It’s more about the togetherness than the actual activity really.

To make our activity calendar as fun as possible, I start by making a list of everything that’s happening around us. Friends are having a Christmas party? There’s a community candlelight walk? There’s a community carols by candlelight? The cathedral in town has a Christingle ceremony? Christmas market? Santa cruises? All these things go on my list and in the calendar. That way I can pre-buy tickets to make December a little less costly. I can also look through the Christmas books and see which stories would marry up with what’s happening in the area, then I number those books with the date of the activity – A ‘Jack Frost’ matinee show at the theatre on 10 December would mean I label the Jack Frost book Number 10.

It’s a fair bit of work and planning and it’s a good idea to have backups like craft activities in case weather, sickness or just not feeling like it change the plans.

Advent Calendar

  • Act out the nativity story with a nativity scene
  • Attend “Carols by Candlelight”
  • Attend a Christmas concert
  • Attend a Christmas parade (or watch on TV/YouTube)
  • Attend a Christmas market

Book Advent Calendar

  • Attend Christmas Eve Mass at a beautiful cathedral
  • Build a snowman together
  • Bundle up and go on a sleigh ride
  • Buy bargain events and activities on websites like Wowcher, Groupon, Living Social, and Little Bird
  • Buy easy and ready made craft kits – for example Lidl and various Pound shops have small Christmas craft kits, and Baker Ross too
  • Clean out your toy boxes and donate good quality items to a charity shop
  • Colour a Christmas picture or make a Christmas craft
  • Create Christmas messages and videos using Portable North Pole – one for the day you post a letter to Santa, one for a few days before Christmas, one for Christmas eve… loads to choose from
  • Cut or pick up a Christmas tree
  • Deck the halls with boughs of holly
  • Decorate a gingerbread house
  • Decorate a wreath together
  • Decorate the tree
  • Donate tinned food to a food bank
  • Dress up for dinner one night
  • Drive around to look at the Christmas lights
  • Fill a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child or similar shoe box appeal
  • Go ice skating

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  • Go sledding
  • Go to a Christingle church service
  • Go to a tree-lighting ceremony
  • Hang some mistletoe and give out kisses
  • Have a candle lit bubble bath and pretend it’s snow!
  • Have a Christmas party
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Have hot chocolate with candy canes
  • Invite a few friends over for a cookie decorating party
  • Make (or draw inside) thank you cards that are ready to be filled out after Christmas
  • Make a magic elf door
  • Make a snow scene with fake snow and ice crystals
  • Make a family bed by the Christmas tree
  • Make a handmade Christmas ornament for someone else in the family
  • Make a paper garland to hang on the tree, over a door, or in the kids bedroom
  • Make a photo album of your year and look through it together
  • Make a silly Christmas message to send out on Christmas day
  • Make Christmas cookies
  • Make Christmas trees out of ice cream cones, green frosting, and sprinkles
  • Make eggnog
  • Make gingerbread cookies

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  • Make glitter snow globes out of baby food jars
  • Make hot apple cider
  • Make paper crowns and talk about the wise men and the gifts they brought Jesus
  • Make paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling
  • Make play dough snowmen
  • Make sand angels
  • Make snow angel biscuits
  • Make sugar crystals on a stick
  • Make thumbprint snowmen
  • Make reindeer food
  • Participate in a local toy drive
  • Read the Christmas story in the Bible
  • Roast chestnuts
  • Roast marshmallows inside over a flame
  • Subscribe to Weekend Box (Code for free box: Luschka690) or Toucan Box (Code for free box: A1014) for the winter months. First box is free if you use those links and codes
  • Visit a local farm or donkey sanctuary and talk about Mary and Joseph in the stable
  • Visit Santa for photos
  • Visit NORAD to track Santa
  • Visit a Santa Grotto
  • Watch the Nutcracker Ballet
  • Write (or colour on) Christmas cards
  • Write letters to Santa

 

Make A Winter Mobile

We’re participating in the Bostik Bloggers campaign for a few months, which means every month a box of crafty goodies arrives in the post and my children’s faces light up because they know what’s coming! This month the theme was ‘snow’, and in our box of tricks we received something that among the other Bostik Bloggers we didn’t know what to do with! It turns out that it’s actually a Hama Bead Mobile Ring but since we don’t have Hama Beads, we decided to make a different mobile out of it, featuring all sorts of wintery bits.

Make a winter mobile

For this mobile we used:

To start with, prepare all the parts – paint the stars and snowflake with the glitter paint and thread the ribbon through the holes on the mobile ring. You can determine your own pattern, but ideally stick with the one you start with. (So e.g. through the hole, to the left, across, or through the hole, across and through the hole on the opposite left etc)  This creates a nice woven look, but also gives an area for things to hang from the centre of the mobile from.

Snowflake Mobile

Around the outside of the mobile ring, attach the sticky squares and attach Christmas- themed embellishments to each sticky pad. The pads work well here with a flat surface to attach to on each side. They peel easily too, so though a little tedious going all the way round, it works without hassle.

Select bias binding in different shades and tie to the woven ribbon on the ring, spreading it out so that they appear to hang randomly. I used three lengths, but feel free to add more.

Finally attach a giant snowflake to the centre, quite high up, and do the same for the stars.

Snowflake Mobile

I didn’t find the glue foam pads to work too well on the stars. Either my glitter paint was still a bit wet or there just was’t enough flat surface space, but the Bostik glue dabbed on then left till it was properly dry did the job.

Attach a string or more of the ribbon to the centre and sides of the ring to give the mobile something to hang off  and hang the mobile somewhere that the light can catch the glitter – if it refracts the kids can pretend to catch falling snow! ;)

 

 

Marble Art Christmas Wrapping Paper

Marble art is a lot of fun, and if you use large enough sheets, you can use them for gift wrapping your Christmas presents. If you’re a little concerned about marbles with small children, then you can use non-toxic water beads instead. They do the job the same way, but if they are softer so they are a little more small-child-safe.

You will need:

  • Marbles/water beads
  • paints
  • paper
  • a large box, dish or roasting pan

Dip the marbles or water beads into paint and lay them down on paper. marbles

Lift the sides of the tray or box and tilt it so that the marbles run around the page. Replace the beads as they require new paint, and fill the page with fun, bright colours. marble art

Set aside to dry and soon you’ll have lovely coloured paper that you can use to wrap your Christmas presents.

You can also do this with glitter glue. It takes a while to dry, but it’s really pretty!

glitterglue

Autumn Leaf Crafts #Bostikbloggers

I’ll admit up front that I cheated with this craft and didn’t use real leaves. All the leaves, buttons and embellishments were provided in the craft kit from Bostik as part of the #BostikBloggers challenge, and we did a few Halloween crafts, but we also did two Autumn crafts (you can buy similar leaves here on Amazon*:

Autumn Carry BagAutumn Crafts

For this craft you will need:

  • A cotton bag
  • Leaves
  • Buttons
  • Owl decal or other designs

There’s no real trick to creating a bag like this, except sitting down and doing it. Here are a few tips to help you though.

Depending on the glue you’re going to use, it could be useful to put a page of paper inside so that the glue doesn’t seep through sticking the two sides of the bag together.

Lay all your embellishments out without glue so that you can decide on the pattern, then glue everything in place.

Set aside for a few hours, to allow the glue to dry

Leafy Candle Holder

Capture

For this craft you will need:

  • Leaves
  • Glue Dots
  • Glass Jar
  • Tealight candle

This really couldn’t be simpler. Lay the leaves onto the glue dots, then stick them onto the glass jar. If you’re not using glue dots you’ll need to be sure to use a glue that is adhesive to glass.

Add a candle, then bask in the beauty of backlit autumn leaves.

We were sent a box of goodies for crafting with, including Bostik Micro Dots and Craft Glue.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Activities – DIY Jazzies

I don’t know why, but as long as I can remember I’ve loved Jazzies. I really don’t know why – they are made from cheap chocolate, and full of Hundreds and Thousands (Nonpareils, to my American readers) that taste of nothing. When we decided to do Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for our home-ed Play & Learn theme, I knew we had to make our own Jazzies.

Initially I was going to pour the melted chocolate into muffin pans to make them perfectly round, but in the end I decided to just free-hand it and let the kids have fun. They don’t care so much for perfectionism!

The main thing here was to provide a selection of toppings for our DIY Jazzies, and as it happens I didn’t have any Hundreds and Thousands, so we went for chocolate sprinkles and chocolate twirls, Frozen snowflakes, shredded coconut, wafer flowers and popping candy. If I had any, we’d have added some chopped nuts and dried fruit too.

DIY Jazzies

I melted the chocolate at 50C for 3 minutes in my Thermomix, but you can do it in a microwave or on the stove (put the chocolate in a glass bowl that fits inside a pot. Put water in the pot, but the bowl in the pot and boil the water till the chocolate has melted. Be careful, the glass will be hot.)

While the chocolate is melting, lay out strips of plastic wrap. (I taped these down onto the table so the kids couldn’t lift them. On trays would be better as you can then move them out of the way.)

Once melted, spoon the chocolate out and place a tablespoon full at a time on the plastic. Let the children do the toppings – you don’t have to act too fast, it does take a few minutes for the chocolate to set.

Leave for 2 – 3 hours till the chocolate is firmly set, then peel off, and enjoy.

DIY Jazzies Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

Keep in an airtight container for up to a week, depending on the toppings you’ve used.

The better the chocolate, the better they’ll be. Doesn’t this just leave the small people feeling like chocolate inventors though? It’s a fun activity!

Study Unit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Find more Charlie & The Chocolate Factory activities here.

Alfie Outdoors By Shirley Hughes {Book Review}

I didn’t grow up in the UK, or in fact in any kind of regular family – sorry guys – and despite earning a BA in English Language and Literature at university, there are many authors that I never heard of till I became a parent myself, names like Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and a few others, including Shirley Hughes. (Don’t feel too bad for me though. I had a love affair with The Famous Five, could tell you anything you wanted to know about Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys, and spent hours and days adventuring with Trompie en die Boksom Bende and Liewe Heksie.)

Recently I was sent a press release about Shirley Hughes new book Alfie Outdoors and it wasn’t the name that I recognised in it, but the illustration style, and I realised that it was the same author as a Lucy and Tom Christmas story that my children love.

Alfie Outdoors

This new Alfie story doesn’t disappoint. Filled with beautiful pencil sketch-style (I have no idea about actual names for art styles!) images, and children with chubby cheeks, it’s a delight to read. My three and five year old daughters are engrossed in it with every reading, and they love living through the sowing of seeds, the watering, the waiting, until carrots grow. Their eyes widen every time Gertrude the Goat disappears, and they sigh with relief every time she returns.

The fact that the main protagonist is a little boy makes no difference to them – they seem to share in the common experience of being children, impatience, fear, loss, joy, despite the difference in gender. Alfie Outdoors

Alfie is an all-round wholesome book. From tilling the land for your food, to washing drying on a line, to dad holding hands with his son, this story is a throwback to what in retrospect seems like a simpler time – or in fact was for us as children! It is thoroughly beautiful.

It also ties in perfectly with loads of themes, like patience, caring for animals, growing your own food, summer and friendship. There are plenty themes to tie this story with whatever lesson you may be trying to teach your child. We even managed to use it as a catalyst for talking about all the bugs you find when you turn over stones in the garden – and it ties in really well in preparing for the autumn by creating a home for natureAlfie Outdoors bugs

Capitalise on the learning in this book with the bug hunt worksheet from Twinkl, or one of the ‘plant life cycle’ worksheets for sunflowers or beans.

Shirley Hughes’ Alfie Outdoors is a beautiful book, a lovely story, and well worth having on your shelves to return to often. It’s available from Amazon UK here with an International Edition available at Amazon US on 25 August 2015*.

Wildlife Jack Book Review

A few weeks ago we were sent a Wildlife Jack book for review, and it’s such a lovely book. Actually I think it’s quite unusual in the way it’s done.

The book is called “I can fly” and is about birds and bird flight, and Jack who wants to fly with them. I love the fact that they’ve used real images of birds in nature, and then added a cartoon-ised Jack into the picture. It’s really cute.

The story is about Jack who reads his explorer grandad’s magical book,  goes on an adventure that starts up a tree, and follows a variety of birds as Jack tries to learn to fly. The blue tits help him jump out the tree to fly, buntings teach him to flap his wings, the Brent Geese tell him he needs bigger wings, and eventually he gets to flying with the wild geese.Wildlife Jack BookIncluded in the front and back pages of the book, and throughout the story, there’s trivia and ‘did-you-know’ type quotes with titbits like “A sooty tern can fly for 3-4 years without stopping” and “Snowy Owls can turn their head almost all the way around”.

wildlife jack

Like all good stories these days, Wildlife Jack has a website that goes with it complete with video clips, tips and animal-related blogs providing a complete learning experience.

Wildlife Jack is based on a show from Disney Junior, which we don’t get, but you can watch the first 7-minute episode here:

In the TV adaptation a similar format is followed, where cartoon Jack is superimposed into real-(talking)-animal world. You can buy the 1st series on Amazon, which consists of 5 seven-minute episodes.

Wildlife Jack is a lovely book, great for introducing the topics of flight, birds, wildlife, aerodynamics and quite a few more!

Gelatin Bird Feeders For The Garden (With Recipe)

I love the idea of helping out nature, though living on a lush green Island with rolling hills and meadows, it can be hard to imagine that we need to. But, because here and now we might not need to, doesn’t mean I don’t need to instil a wish to protect our wildlife in my children. At five and three they are perfectly capable of learning how, and now is the time that they are still so full of enthusiasm, so it’s the perfect time to do it.

Recently we’ve been talking about birds and how birds fly, and the different types of birds and all that, so it seemed fitting to make gelatin bird feeders for the garden, though this is something we’d normally do in Autumn. We don’t actually have a garden either, so we’ve just hung them in trees around us.
bird feeders

These bird feeders are made with gelatin, as they last a little longer than for example peanut butter, and gelatin isn’t harmful to the birds – and probably helps their beaks grow stronger too!

We’ve made them in cookie cutters so that we can play with the shapes, and have fun with them. Since we live by the sea, we’ve even had a few ships to hang in the trees.

Birdfeeders

Tip: Don’t hang them in direct sunlight. If it gets too hot the gelatin begins to melt. Also, press as much together as you can in one shape to hold them tightly together. Gelatin Bird Feeders

How to make gelatin bird feeders:

  1. To make the birdfeeders, plan on a packet of gelatin (powder) to a cup of bird seed. So if you’re making two cups (500ml) bird seed, add two packets of gelatin and so on.
  2. Prepare the gelatin to the manufacturers directions, but only add 1 cup of water to one packet of gelatin (250ml water). (Or double if you’re making double) It needs to be thicker than jelly to hold it all together. Once the gelatin has melted, leave it to cool for a couple of minutes, then add in the bird seed. It mustn’t be runny and since your seed may differ to mine, just add more if it’s too wet and liquid.
  3. Stir in well till all the seed is coated, then scoop in to your waiting shapes.
  4. We scoop half the amount needed to fill the shape, then add a length of string, before adding in the rest of the seed, so that the string is in the centre when you pull the shape out of the cutter. Press down firmly to compact everything as much as possible, before setting aside overnight to dry.
  5. Don’t leave in the sun or it may melt again.
  6. Carefully remove from the cutter, and hang somewhere to enjoy.

Google ‘garden birds’ in your local area and see if you can find a checklist of what you should be able to find in your country. Keep an eye on your bird feeder and see how many local birds you can spot in your garden.

We love the RSPB’s ‘First’ Series of books. They are perfect for small people.  And why not turn it into a full experience by using a bird watching kit to really feel like a nature explorer.

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Skills - Sensory Skills - Explore Nature Skills - Creativity