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

How To Make A Bird Mobile

bird mobile bird mobileMy girls and I have been talking about birds the last few days, inspired by the ‘how do birds fly?’ question. One of the things we’ve done is look at the difference in beaks, wings and tails on different birds, and in the course of our play-learning, we decided to make a bird mobile.

The girls then decided they wanted it to be a present for the new baby upstairs from us, so we took it to them. They didn’t look quite as impressed with it as the girls (and I!) were, but never mind – we enjoyed making and gifting it.

What you need to make a bird mobile:

You will need:

  • Bird template: Print the template for bird mobile here. I couldn’t fit our coloured paper into the printer, so printed onto white paper, laminated it and then traced onto coloured paper.
  • Glue: a glue gun works best for these sorts of projects! This is a great little glue gun* from Amazon
  • String: we used a beautiful decorative string with butterflies and beads. I can’t find it online, but there are similar here. You can add bells too.
  • Corrugated paper
  • Scissors
  • Black pen

How to make your bird mobile

To start with, I found bird templates online, and put them on a document – you can print that here if you want to use the same ones – before cutting them out and laminating them so we could use them again.

Next, trace the outline of each bird, then flip it over to trace the mirror image (for the ‘back’).  If you use double sided paper, it’s easier, but then your string will be visible in the final product.

Fill in the extra bits with a black pen – like the wings, the beak, feathers and so on.

Glue the two halves together, leaving a small gap at the top for the string to go in. (Or glue the string on one half, then glue the two halves of paper together.)

Use a sharp cutter to cut through the centre of the appropriate birds to slot the ‘wings’ through.

You may also need to ‘trim’ around each bird to make sure it’s identical back and front.

Cut the string to the appropriate length, and glue to a strip of corrugated paper. Cut an equal sized strip to cover it, so the string is sandwiched in between. Add another bit of string to the other side of the corrugated paper to act as a hanger.

Leave everything to dry, then hang out your lovely bird mobile!

Talking points while making your bird mobile:

How do birds differ?

Are all their wings the same?  How about tails and beaks? How do different birds use their different shapes?

What birds do you think these shapes represent? (My girls said Blue Tit, Dove and Swallow).

For more learning activites about birds, click here. For more nature activities, click here.

Skills - Creativity Skills - Explore Nature

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Create A Home For Nature With A Free Pack From The RSPB

I’ve just had a new campaign from the RSPB land in my inbox – if you’re a subscriber you will have too – and it’s really sweet. It’s the perfect timing too, as the girls and I are looking at ‘birds’ at the moment, how they fly, what makes them different and so on. Have a look at this video:


YouTube Direkt

I’ve just requested the pack for my girls too – we don’t have a garden at the moment, just a driveway, but that strikes me as even more reason to see what we can do to ‘create a home for nature’. The pack includes straightforward tips and hints to help the nature that shares your space, from frogs and newts, to butterflies, beetles and bumblebees. You can download it either in English or Welsh, and you can also choose to have the English version posted to your home address.

The RSPB website have also added 20 new activities to include nature-friendly activities in your home environment. You can filter the activities based on your available space: balcony, small garden, large garden or neighbourhood. You can add a filter for which animals you want to help, and how much time you have to spend on your project.RSPB

Once you’ve chosen your activity you can download an activity PDF to instruct you throughout, and there are also links to the RSPB shop if you want to buy any products from them to help you, though you aren’t required to.

You can make it interactive for yourself and the children, and ‘pledge’ to complete an activity – the birdbath activity currently has 15 pledges – and you can even share your pictures on social media with the hashtag #homesfornature.

I think it’s a fantastic way to keep the kids busy over the summer, prepare the garden for autumn and winter, and give the world that supports our lives a bit of support too.

Do your children like kids magazines? The RSPB do a fantastic wildlife magazine 6 times a year suitable for young children.  Starting at £4 a month you’ll receive a magazine, welcome gift and more. Find out more here. There are also tons of free teaching resources here.

A Good Day

I don’t really have a lot to say, at the moment, but I think as parents we’re often hard on ourselves. We judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else can, and when someone else compliments us, we normally down play it. And if someone else does ‘do’ parenting well, or achieve what we’ll call the ‘Pinterest Perfect’ parenting, well, we shun them for making us feel inadequate. Or at least that’s what the latest trend seems to be.

Well, I suck as a parent these days. I’m so busy trying to keep a roof over our heads, and food on the table, that my girls don’t get the mama I intended to be, and they don’t get the mama I dream of being. Oh, if I could pause time, go back in history, do a few things a bit differently so that I could have, and provide more security right now for these childhood years…. and so the thoughts go round and round in my head.

But, yesterday was a good day. Yesterday my children played in crystalline water and wore mud shoes. Yesterday they frolicked like lambs in a field and were carefree, and happy. I hope that yesterday will be a memory, one day, when they look back. That they’ll remember a childhood that looks like yesterday. And in the meantime I’ll celebrate and share the winning moments.

1

A bridge over troubled waters – except they’re not that troubled, fortunately ;)

2

Muddy shoes. Signs of a childhood well spent, methinks

3

Frolicking and frivolity, wild and free – and boy did they sleep well

4

There’s so much to learn in nature too…

Earth Day Books, Movies, Activities And Games For Children

Earth day happens every year in April, and it’s an opportunity for us to talk to our children about their world, to give them reasons to love it and understand how it works, and most importantly to protect it.

One of the simplest ways to teach without it being hard work, while also spending time together, is through books. There are loads of books with the theme of recycling and reusing. Pick up a couple that you can re-read year after year.

Earth Day books, movies, activities and games for childrenSome good examples are Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day* where Nancy helps her family be Earth-friendly every day, not just on Earth Day. In Little Critter: It’s Earth Day*, Little Critter learns about climate changes, and decides to do his part to slow down global warming. In this story children will learn about the importance of not wasting water or energy. Join Little Critter as he plants a tree, makes a climate control machine, and helps the polar bears.

In I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and RecycleMax is a little monster who likes to litter and never, ever recycles. Then the electricity goes out and he sees how exciting and beautiful the Earth is, and that it will need his help to stay that way. 

And if stories are good, activity books are even better. Earth Day Is Every Day!* is a fun activity book where four kids and a dog guide young readers through word searches, mazes, cryptograms, and other puzzles that provide fun facts about Earth Day and offer ideas for recycling, conserving energy, and making “green” practices part of everyday life.

I also love the idea of using Earth Day as an opportunity to connect with our friends and family, or our neighbours, or someone we haven’t caught up with in ages, and this Secret Garden* postcard set is beautifully thematic.

 If that’s a little ‘old’ for your small people, why not have a go at this Earth Day Colouring Book*. With 32-pages of colouring fun, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to talk about the Earth and our role in protecting it.

Sometimes it hard to know if the Smalls will be interested in something before you spend money on it, so why not print this Free Earth Day Activity Book and give them that for a start. If you’re not in the US you can just remove the page about your State. If you are – it’s perfect for you!

For when the kids want to watch something, Wild Kratts and Tumble Leaf are both great nature shows available for download on Amazon Instant Prime Video* (and you can enjoy a free 30-day trial, often even if you’ve had a trial before).

When book work and brain work gets a little too much, try out Earth Day Kids Yoga – yes, that’s really a thing! This book will walk you through a story of movement and exercise with the children. It’s a great way to get the active, introduce yoga and breathing and talk about Earth Day at the same time.

Earthgames: 50 Nature Games For Ages 3+ is another great avenue for rainy day or any day entertainment. The book is full of chanting, play-it-again action games that are easy to learn quickly, yet substantial enough to last through repeat performances. The book is broken into three nature-themed sections–Wildlife World, Playful Planet, Cosmos–each containing its own Warm Up & Cool Down exercises. Designed for indoor or outdoor group play, EarthGames are a perfect fit for  Earth Day or any day.

And of course, the best way to get the children to love the Earth is to make them part of it. Organisations like the Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust, National Trust and The RSPB all have membership schemes where your money goes to helping protect your environment. The Wildlife Trust and the RSPB both do a lot of work with children, including magazines that are pitched at their ages – and provide a gift that tops up their interest throughout the year. The National Trust operates in a number of different countries around the world and membership to one gives you access to all (they also have a fab home ed discount of £41 for the family for the year.) Most of these organisations also offer activities for the children throughout the summer. Have a look at our 50Things posts for an example of what you can do as part of that project.

* Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on them and then buy, I’ll receive a percentage from the merchant. You don’t pay more or less whether you use this link or go direct.

Growing Tomatoes Indoors

Indoor gardeningI’ve been trying for years to get a garden going, but either the universe is against me or I suck at it. I’m guessing it’s the latter. The first year in our home with a garden, the summer pretty much burned my garden up (due to that pregnancy, I didn’t get out to water much!) The next year, we did okay, and the third year, the slugs pretty much carried the garden away following heavy flooding. This year? Well, this year we don’t even have a garden, so we’re reduced to indoor gardening.

One of the things we did manage to actually eat from the garden last year was lots and lots of cherry tomatoes, so when Heinz invited us to join them in a growing project again this year, we thought it would be a good opportunity to try some indoor gardening, so we’ll be having a go at growing tomatoes indoors.

Indoor GrowingThe thought of not growing anything this year is a bit much for me, so here are some indoor growing options if you want to give it a try too.

For those starting small, you could try a specific Indoor Garden Kit for growing tomatoes. There are also these Peat Free Mini Grow Bags which are cute and a great size when you don’t want a huge sandbag indoors!

If you’re really serious about your indoor gardening, however, there’s a brilliant looking battery operated “Smartpot” that’s said to deliver fantastic results too!

I haven’t decided which way we’ll go yet, but I’d best hop to it and get our tomatoes growing!

If you’re in the UK,  shoppers who purchase a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup can pick up a free pack of Heinz tomato seeds (available in selected stores from 5th – 25th March).

 * This post contains affiliate links. Using them won’t cost you anything, but I’ll be paid a referral fee. Heinz have also provided a non-cash incentive for participating in their project.

 

Simple Resources For The Solar Eclipse

I am so excited to hear that we’re expecting a solar eclipse in the UK. We’ve missed things like meteor showers and lunar eclipses over the years usually due to cloud cover, but with the sun – well, dark is dark, so we’ll experience something no matter the weather. In my corner of the world we’re only expecting a 40% darkness, but as you head further up into the UK, there’ll be more to about 94% darkness in Scotland. The last time the UK saw an eclipse like this was in 1999, so this is pretty epic.

You can learn more about what to expect in your zone here:

Solar Eclipse Zones

I intend to take  full advantage of this eclipse and make it as engaging a learning experience as possible. I remember seeing a full solar eclipse with my mother as a child, and I intend to make the same memory for my girls. 

Here are a few of the Solar Eclipse resources I’ve pulled together so far:

I’ll add some more here if I find more resources to use – and if you have any you’re planning on using pop the link in the comments and we’ll add it here!