Half Term Plans

I cannot believe how quickly Pip’s first half term at school has gone by. She’s spent the past weeks having loads of fun, learning lots of new and exciting things and meeting lots of new people and making friends. This is great and all but it has put a bit of extra pressure on this half term holiday. I really, really don’t want being at home to be a boring alternative to being at school. It would make the week pretty miserable for us both. So I need to make up for the fact that I simply don’t have the same resources at home, nor can I provide 30 children for her to play with all day, every day. To achieve this, planning is essential. So here are my plans for next week.

Photography:

I’m really hoping that for at least a few hours on one day next week, it won’t rain so that we can go outdoors with our cameras. Pip is still really enjoying this hobby and I like encouraging her to do something creative, with the added bonus that there’s no mess or clearing up involved afterwards.

Craft activities:

Of course, I can’t avoid mess altogether and I do really like craft. Rather handily, Pip has two craft kits from her birthday that we can busy ourselves with for probably a few hours. One is a dinosaur moulding and painting kit and the other is a plain photograph frame to be painted and decorated. I’m hoping that we manage the previous activity on my list so that she’s got something good to go in the frame when it’s finished.

Library:

Our local library is, if I’m honest, a bit rubbish. It’s rarely open, it’s about the size of a small corner shop and, when I’ve briefly looked through the windows, it looks a bit miserable in there. Luckily, there’s another library within walking distance that’s much better. It has a lovely big children’s area with a huge variety of titles, everything from picture books to young adult novels. I’d really like to start reading the first Harry Potter book to Pip soon but last time they didn’t have it and I lost my own collection years ago. Fingers crossed it’s there next week….although, that seems really unlikely, given that it’s half term.

Skating:

For her birthday, Pip was given a rather lovely pair of Hello Kitty in line roller skates. She’s been desperate to try them out but the weather has just not been good enough – I know a bit of slipping over is bound to happen but I’d rather prevent it as much as possible. As with the photography, this activity happening really depends on whether or not it rains for the entire week.

Museums:

All of the local museums put on fun activities during half term. This means time spent with other children doing something educational and enjoying it. It kind of ticks all of the half term activity boxes, doesn’t it?

Board Games:

Obviously. If ever there’s an hour to spare or we’re generally stuck for something to do, we always turn to the huge collection of games we own. They’re fun and they’re something we can do together whatever the weather is like. We’ve also got quite a few smaller, shorter games to fill little spaces in the day, like when we’re waiting for food to cook or paint to dry.

Halloween:

Pip is ridiculously excited about Halloween. Of course, when she gets excited about something, it tends to be contagious and now I’m rather excited about it myself. I’ve been busily coming up with all kinds of Halloween activities we can do, spooky food we can eat and scary yet child friendly films we can watch. I’ve got some Halloween themed colouring in pages printed and ready and I’ve been looking up homemade decoration tutorials and recipes. I think it’s going to be a really fun and the highlight of the week.

What have you got planned for half term?

Lunchbox Ideas: Autumn Snacks

Pip has really taken well to having packed lunches. She actually seems to get quite excited at the prospect of finding out what’s going to be in there each day. Since Autumn is now in full swing (Hurray!), I thought I’d share recipes for two of Pip’s favourite snacks that have something of an Autumnal feel: Apple Crisps and Fruity Spiced Muffins.

Apple crisps

These are delicious, super healthy and pretty simple to make, plus they make the house smell gorgeous!

1. Preheat the oven to 100 degrees celsius.

2. Take two fairly big apples. Core them and slice them into thin slices. Try and get them all similar widths, then they’ll cook at the same rate.

2. Lay the apple slices on a baking tray. Dust on some cinnamon.

3. Pop in the oven for about 1 hour, then carefully turn them all over then put them back in for another hour.

4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, although these never last more than a couple of days in my house!

 

Fruity spiced muffins

These are really tasty and, as muffins go, pretty healthy too!

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

2. Mix together 150g flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon mixed spice and 50g caster sugar.

3. In a separate jug, beat together 100ml milk, 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 40g melted low fat spread.

4. Mash 1 banana and peel & chop 1 medium sized apple into small pieces.

5. Add the wet ingredients and the fruit to the dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined together.

6. Spoon the mixture into 12 paper cases either in a bun tray or silicone muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are risen and light golden brown.

7. Carefully remove from the bun tray or silicone cases and allow to cool on a wire rack.

8. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

 

I hope you enjoy these tasty treats as much as we do! What snacks do you put in lunch boxes?

Reading with Pip: Five Favourites

Pip, like most five year olds, loves books. She’s got a big wooden box in her bedroom packed with them, plus we take regular trips to the library and before long, she should be getting books coming home from school (at the moment she just gets weekly homework). I thought I’d share just five of her favourites with you.

  1. Calm down Boris! by Sam Lloyd

This book takes pop up to a whole new level. The lovely fluffy Boris hand puppet poking through the book really brings the story to life and allows the reader to really interact with it. Pip really loves this. She can pretend to feed, brush, hug and kiss Boris, plus shout out the repetitive phrase of the book – ‘Calm down Boris!’

Calm down Boris

2. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

This is the first full novel that I’ve read to Pip. I absolutely loved Roald Dahl as a child and was very keen to introduce his work to Pip. When I borrowed this book from our local library, I didn’t actually expect us to get through the whole thing, especially not as quickly as we did. Pip isn’t really the kind of child to sit patiently for extended periods of time but she was really engrossed by this story and always begged for ‘just one more page, please!’

James & giant peach

3. An Amazing Snowman by Barbara Jean Hicks

This book is about Olaf, the snowman from Frozen. From watching the film, Pip became very fond of this loveable character and I knew she’d love the book so it was one of her birthday presents. It doesn’t exactly have a narrative, it simply tell you all about Olaf. There are lots of two and three letter words so Pip can join in with reading this one herself. I think my favourite part of this book are the illustrations, they really are beautiful.

An Amazing snowman

4. The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker

This is a very funny story about a bear with a cold whose perhaps making a bit more of his illness than is really necessary! Pip giggles through this one every time we read it, though that could be in part because I do make an attempt at putting on voices for this one!

sniffles for bear

5. Snow Bears by Martin Waddell

A really sweet little story about three cheeky little bears playing in the snow. This one will be particularly nice to read when winter comes. Again, it contains some really gorgeous pictures.

Snow bears

What are your child’s favourite books?

Using Technology: A Balancing Act

As parents, we are constantly bombarded by contradicting messages about the best way to raise our children. It makes it a little tricky to work out what you should actually be doing. Since I was pregnant, me and Husband have used a combination of research (by which I mean looking at scientific studies, rather than accepting whatever someone on the internet with no relevant qualifications reckons is correct) and common sense.

We’ve applied this thinking when deciding how often Pip can use the iPad or watch TV. I’ve read lots of blog posts and articles on this subject. It seems to be quite a worrisome subject for parents. On the one hand, children need to learn how to use a computer. Computer skills are simply a necessity in modern life. Also, television and computers provide a vast and brilliant learning resource. On the other hand, children need physical activity and to learn face to face social skills. There needs to be a balance between the two.

With television, I will admit that I avoid certain programmes. Pokemon, which Pip became a little obsessed with, has been banned for the time being because it gave her a really warped idea about what evolution is and also because we started getting little tantrums if she was told that, for example, dinner was ready so she’d need to stop watching. At that point, I thought it best to impose an outright ban. I’ve also said no to a Barbie cartoon where a character tried to use a shrink ray to slim down and fit into a pretty dress. I’m not going to digress into a rant about why this filled me with palpable rage but needless to say, it shan’t be watched in our house ever again. There are some programmes I, and Pip, really like. Nina and the Neurons, a CBeebies science-based show, has been a favourite for quite some time, as has I Can Cook and Time for School, which was great for showing Pip what school would be like before she started herself. Recently, we’ve both been watching the Horrible Histories series. I loved the books as a child and find the TV series both informative and really funny. At first I thought Pip was just amused by the talking rat and frequent mentions of bodily functions but she has occasionally come out with facts learnt from it. As a family, we all love Doctor Who. At the moment there’s a new series on so we watch that once a week, plus  she might watch another episode at some point during the week. I usually watch each episode before she does. We’ve never prevented her from watching any episode but it’s good to be forewarned about any issues that might raise questions from her.

We do have an iPad that is pretty much exclusively used by Pip. I know what you’re thinking – We must have more money than sense. Just to make things clear, it’s a couple of years old and used to be Husband’s until he replaced it with an iPad Mini. There are games on it that aren’t really educational but there are also plenty that are (might well do a blog post about these in the future). I do limit the amount of time she spends on it and, when possible, I try to sit with her and at least talk to her about what she’s up to, if not play with her. I really do believe that it can be a highly useful piece of technology that is helping with her reading and number skills, fine motor skills and her knowledge about the wider world, including different cultures and wildlife.

Now before people start worrying that poor little Pip is locked in the house, surrounded by technology and experiencing nothing of life in the real world, let me set your minds at rest. We regularly visit parks, museums and places of historical and cultural interest. We play tabletop games as a family very often, sometimes spending whole days of a weekend doing so.

I really believe that we balance our lives well between technology and real life experience. Of course it’s something I consider and definitely something any parent should be thinking about but I don’t think it needs to be such a point of concern. By simply setting a few basic rules and limitations and maybe making a family commitment to time spent together and time spent outdoors, it might be a balancing act but it’s a simple one.

How does your child use technology? Do you set any limitations on time spent using devices?

BrainBox: My First Maths Review

Pip loves numbers. She picks up Maths concepts pretty quickly and easily, something I always struggled with. I managed to get through maths at school actually quite well but it was always a challenge, I never enjoyed it. I don’t want Pip growing up with the same negativity about maths, especially as she seems to initially like it so much.

So I’m very happy that one of her birthday presents was the My First Maths BrainBox.

BrainBox

It contains a sand timer, a dice and lots of cards, all about different maths concepts – numbers, shapes, time and many others. The idea of the game is to spend ten seconds (using the sand timer) looking at a card, then roll a dice, which decides which question from the back of the card you’ll answer. Pip is shockingly good at this. She does get the questions wrong occasionally but when the game’s over, she’s always won overall.

Brainbox collage

I think one of my favourite things about this game is that it can take anything from 5 minutes to around half an hour. I think the idea is to spend ten minutes on it but I like having something that can fill a small gap in the day. For example, one morning last week we were ready for school very early (something very rare indeed!) and Pip was getting bored waiting to leave. So I got out the BrainBox and it entertained her right up until it was time to leave.

This game is not just lots of fun but its a brilliant method for helping your child with their maths skills and make it a positive experience.

Having had a little look on the BrainBox, I really like the whole range and I think at least one will be featuring on Pip’s Christmas list.

A few thoughts on Writing

I write a lot. From blogging to university assignments to working on my novel, I seem to spend much of time at my keyboard.

While blogging is lots of fun and academic essays do provide a good intellectual challenge, fiction writing is what I really love most. Creating characters and places straight out of my imagination can be really exciting. I can spend hours and hours on character development. I like to know a character completely, inside and out. I remember finding it strange when writers talked about their characters as if they were living beings, who had some kind of control over their own actions, seemed a bit strange. Okay, so if I’m honest, it sounded like utter crazy nonsense. But now I completely understand. If I write something a character says, I might correct it with the thought, ‘She wouldn’t say that!’

I do have a little confession to make. I am terrible at coming up with names. I spend ages going through baby names websites trying to come up with the perfect name for my characters. And because by the time I do this I’ve already got a pretty clear vision of what this character is like, the name has to suit them. Which is completely ridiculous because, of course, when you name a newborn baby you have no idea what kind of person they’re going to be. I have no explanation for why my characters must have a name that feels right, like it should be what they’re called. Just like I can’t really explain how I come up with any of the fiction I write, beyond saying that it sort of just comes to me. It pops, like magic, into my head and I put it on paper. Or screen, really. I don’t generally handwrite. Especially not now, since I recently acquired a rather gorgeous MacBook Air (13 model, if you’re interested). Yes, I’m a bit of an Apple fan but seriously, this computer is just a joy to type on. I foresee many hours spent in lovely cafes typing away on this little beauty.

But anyway, enough of my geeky love for fruity technology. The big problem with this whole ‘popping into my head’ writing technique is that sometimes, there is no popping. Sometimes there’s a big empty void and I stare at the screen with no idea whatsoever of what to write. Conversely, sometimes I get an urge for writing and the words will come pouring out and suddenly I’ll look at the screen and realise that thousands of words have just appeared there. This would be fine if I was happy to plod along, having occasional bursts of creative outpourings. But I actually want to get something finished. My little dream is to be a published author. This might actually never happen but I’ve got to put my best effort into it or it will actually never happen. So I’m going to attempt to write on a weekly basis. 3000 words a week. If I do more, great. But that will be my minimum. Even if my mind goes totally blank, I will get something written down.

I’ll let you know how I get on…

Update: I’ve decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) in the hope that it will motivate me to get my novel at least completely drafted this year. Wish me luck!