Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Letter A: A is for Apple

B is not feeling too good today (24 h tummy bug that's working its way through the kids) so we wanted something quick but appealing.
I settled for using the apple magnet pages from making learning fun and a dot painter. We will probably revisit this with round objects to put on the dots later in the week.

Letter A: A is for Armour

Here is the knight in shining armour that we made.

First we drew a figure on corrugated cardboard and cut it out. We tried to do this by drawing round B but he was so wriggly we settled for one the same height!
Cover with aluminium foil.
Glue on paper feathers, face (not a scary knight this one!), shield.

We also added a link to this at mama jenns blog for her kiddos create carnival. She sure is one creative lady!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Letter A: A is for Ambulance

"B needs to learn his letters" I said to OH the other day. At 2 he is a little young but if he were in the UK he would be spending a couple of afternoons a week at our local nursery just like his brother and sister did. Where to start with learning letters? Some advocate doing it ABC order, some linking it with reading/phonics and so doing those letters that have the same sound whatever word they are in which roughly translated means vowels last. Jolly Phonics (which was taught to the Reception Class at my kids UK school) starts with the letter "S". I decided that reading can wait and stuck with alphabetical order so "A" it is.
For the first "A" activity I took a picture of an ambulance (I used the one from http://www.first-school.ws/) and dropped it into MSPaint. Then I painted out the wheels. Next I dropped the same picture in and painted out the bodywork instead. This left me with two sheets.

I then cut out the wheels and gave them to B along with the other sheet and (fanfare please!) a glue stick. You have never seen such a happy toddler because whenever we do gluing normally his sister interfers; I mean helps; and takes the glue stick away from him. Not only that but he could pull the wheels off and stick them down again several times - Wow! As you can see he got them pretty much spot on too. With an older preschool child they could cut the wheels out themselves.
He didn't feel like colouring today so it will get displayed au naturelle later in the week.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Sensory Bottles: Slow Motion Bottle

The idea behind this bottle is to have a thick liquid through which your chosen objects of interest fall slowly. The other examples I have found of this use corn syrup but the thought of the mess if the bottle broke put me off! Instead I used a cheap shampoo and some star spangles. Unfortunately the shampoo was not very transparent so whilst it worked OK it was not ideal. Next trial was with the clear shower gel and silver glitter as well as star spangles - perfect!
Of course I could recycle the bottle with the shampoo to make another bottle but first I have to get it off my 6 year old who keeps having races to see which is faster. Kept him occupied for ages. Result! Another thing to try is rolling them, weird things happen due to inertia (sorry my secondary school science teacher roots are showing!).

Sensory Bottles: Wave Bottle

As a third child my youngest son tends to get the short end of the stick. With an older brother and sister he tends to get toys that are second or third hand and it is a struggle to get him things that are just his and not immediately stolen by his older siblings. Of course money too plays its part. Although I may have the will to get him a new toy just for him I usually have something similar already and of course no matter how babyish the toy is as soon as I liberate it from the back of the cupboard for my 2 year old it is immediately grabbed by older sister (8) or brother (6) with cries of "I remember this!" and cue the 2 year olds temper tantrum.
This is the start of resources that are produced for B first to redress this balance. It is the kind of thing used by daycare for their "sensory table" and since we are in Germany and don't have access to an English-speaking parent and toddler group at the moment (I am ashamed to say my German is woeful) he hasn't had much opportunity to experience this kind of thing outside the home either. This is not to say that he doesn't get to play with sensory toys like sand and water but anything else tends to be a bit ad hoc. Bottles like these can be made cheaply and stored away and got out to play with like any other toy.
This first one is the easiest - water coloured with food colouring and baby oil with the top hot-glued on. If you want to give it a fancy name you can call it your "wave bottle" or "ocean bottle".

Others will follow as an when they become available (I'm planning to use the bottles from the little bottles of juice that go in the older kids lunches for school and the "table clearers" tend to be a little over enthusiastic about collecting recyclables!).
Of course the best laid plans can go wrong. When I came to take the photo where did I have to liberate it from? DD's bedroom of course!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

cooking for kids:Cream Cheesy Chicken Pasta

So far as I know this is my own invention. It is one of those dishes that is quick (under half an hour), only needs the occasional stir and ,as an added bonus, the creamy sauce won’t separate if left on the heat for a little while unlike those made from cream. Perfect for having to stop and deal with life with kids happening at the same as cooking dinner.

2 leeks,
a little oil
2-3 chicken breasts, skin removed, chopped
4 oz (100 g) mushrooms, sliced
2-3 tbsp (45 ml) water
200 g tub cream cheese, plain or garlic with herbs (no difference with low-fat or full-fat)
8 oz (225 g) dried pasta
a little milk

Remove the ends of the leeks and the outer leaves. Cut in half lengthways and fan the leeks under running water to remove any mud or grit. Slice into half rings.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the leeks. Stir around until coated in the oil, cover the pan, lower the heat and allow the leeks to soften.
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
Add the chicken breasts and mushrooms turn up the heat. Stir around until the meat has lost its pink colour but is not browned. Add water to the pan, lower the heat and allow the chicken to poach whilst the pasta is cooking. Check chicken is cooked by cutting a large chunk in half.
Add the cream cheese to the pan a few minutes before the pasta is done. Stir until the cheese is melted. If mixture is too thick then add a little milk to give desired consistency. Serve.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Jeans Bag

These were R's favourite jeans. Even though they were too small she still wore them round the house. Eventually however they had holes in the knees too so we decided that we would use the patterned bit (which was R's favourite bit) as a panel on a bag.

First we cut the lower leg off a pair of my old jeans opened it out and squared it off to give a rectangle.
Then we cut the patterned bit off R's jeans and sewed it onto the rectangle with a zigzag stitch.

Then we folded the rectangle right sides together and sewed down the long side (opposite the fold) and across the bottom to make the main body of the bag. We then turned the bag right sides out and folded the raw edge to the inside to make a top hem.

Then I took the leg of my jeans and cut a strip 4 inches wide and as long as possible. Fold the raw edges to the middle and then fold in half again to make a strip 1 inch wide with the raw edges enclosed. Sew down the length of the strip. Sew the strip to the top of the bag to make a shoulder strap.


kids costumes: elephant and giraffe

Words to bring dread to every parents heart - "we need costumes". Usually this is around Christmas when mums and dads across the UK are busy turning their offspring into kings, shepherds, sheep,angels etc etc etc. When we were in England this would be me too. The envelope would arrive stating which part your child had in the Christmas play and what costume they would be. The mums (and some dads) would start to gather in little groups as they discussed where little Lucy's angel costume came from last year and could anyone borrow it. Old curtains turned into capes, teatowels into headdresses, E-Bay scoured for any castoffs. This Christmas just gone we were at an International School and so there was none of this; it was quite surreal sitting in the hall hearing all the carols for the Christmas show, they have just started to play the ocarina in music lessons and so I watched my daughter play exactly the same songs as the previous year in the UK (where she started learning last year with exactly the same book!) but without all usual costumes and plays that have been part of every Christmas since they were in Nursery (so about 6 years since R was 2).
What they have here in Germany instead in the run-up to Easter is Fasching. This is a kind of carnival season. Each town has a different day for the childrens carnival the shops fill with costumes, wigs and face paints. There is even a womens night when women go out armed with scissors and are allowed to cut the tie off any man they meet. The school had a Fasching day when everyone had to come in costume and the theme was "jungle". Not particularly helpful when you have a wardrobe full of princess costumes and such. However the good news was that we were told about a month in advance so we had plenty of time to make something spectacular.
R and A chose what they wanted to be; a giraffe and elephant respectively. Having had a similar "the only thing I want to be is a triceratops" experience last year at World Book Day I decided to make animal hats for them to wear out of papier mache.
The first thing I did was collect together lots of cardboard and lots of tape.
Out of some corrugated cardboard I made a kind of "arch" to fit over their head from jaw to jaw. The end of the "arch" was then closed off with tape so that the measurement from front to back is the same as their head front to back. (the corrugations in the cardboard run front to back to allow it to curve in the arch shape)

Then I constructed a cardboard head for each animal that went on the top.

I used cereal box thickness cardboard for most of the head with corrugated cardboard wherever I thought it might be used to carry the thing (like the trunk or the jaw). Lots of tape is the key to holding these together. The trunk was made from rings of cardboard that I overlapped and stuck together to make the trunk curl upwards away from A's face so that 1. he could see and 2. he was less likely to hit anyone with it when he moved around.
What followed was a family craft activity with everyone helping stick about 3 layers of torn up newspaper over the heads. We used PVA adhesive that was watered down to the thickness of milk to do the actual sticking. There are many recipes for home-made papier mache paste involving flour and water that are cheap to make and easy to use but you have to take the time to "cook" the stuff in the first place and then it starts to stink if you keep it for more than a few days so you have to make several fresh batches if you want to do just a little everyday for a few weeks. Just watering down glue from a bottle is an awful lot more spontaneous. Then followed a final layer of torn kitchen roll. This helps "kill" the newsprint ready for decoration.

Painting came next and was again done by us all.

Finishing touches. For the giraffe we added a fabric neck with spots made from brown fleece and a mane made from fleece too. For the elephant we added big floppy ears made from grey fleece (attached to struts that I stuck on a part of the papier mache). Both hats then had ribbons glued in place so that they could be tied under the kids chins to make them secure enough for them to move about with them on.
They were a huge success and the drama teacher even wants to borrow them to use as inspiration for the Lion King production in the Upper school as the kids could move around so easily in them. The digital gremlins have apparently eaten some of the step by step photos I took of the process so I hope the above makes sense if you are inspired to make your own.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Bubbles bubbles everywhere

In honour of the sphere project over at unplug your kids we got out the bubble mixture today. Since it is inches deep in snow in the garden the bubble machine was replaced by good old lung power whilst the boys shared their evening bath.
B loves bubbles - in fact I think one of his very first words was "bubble" and being only just over 2 gets very excited when we use them. He also wants to blow them himself so the bubble fest was punctuated by "me try, me try!" he even managed to blow a few; he has got the blow air bit right but does it through clenched teeth rather then making the right shape with his lips, it was nice to see that even when he only blew one bubble rather than a stream like everyone else he didn't give up and sulk (he is so not his brother and sister!).
For the older ones I asked them "why is a bubble spherical?" "Can you blow bubbles that are other shapes?" This is what we plan to do today. We will use some plastic coated wire to make bubble blowers that are other shapes instead of just a circle and see what shape the bubbles are. R with her usual initial enthusiasm has bet me thousands of millions of pounds that she can blow a square bubble. That's me off to buy a retirement villa somewhere warm then!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Cooking for kids: Broccoli and Stilton Soup

This is my daughters favourite homemade soup and goes by the name of "Green Gloop" in honour of the drink invented by Great Aunt Loretta in the BBC's childrens series "Grandpa In My Pocket". Unlike Aunt Loretta Green Gloop however this soup is really good.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
a little oil
1 large head broccoli (about 500g)
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 pint milk
75 g cheddar cheese, grated (Mature cheese preferably)
75 g Stilton, crumbled

Separate the broccoli into florets, cut the dry end off the stem but chop the remainder.
Sauté the onion in the oil until transparent. Add the potatoes and broccoli and stir until coated with the oil. Allow to cook for a few minutes.
Add enough water or fresh stock to come three quarters of the way up the vegetables. Put on the lid and leave to cook until the broccoli and potatoes are just soft when tested with a knife (about 10 minutes).
If possible, allow to cool a little then push through a sieve or liquidise until smooth.
Add enough milk give the consistency desired.
Put back on the heat and gently bring to the boil, add the cheeses and turn off the heat immediately. Allow the heat of the pan to melt the cheese whilst you stir. Do not allow to boil as this will cause it to separate.
Serve with crusty bread.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Bean Bags

This was a project we made during half term holiday. My daughter wanted to help with some sewing, my son wanted to do throwing things so we combined the two and made these easy peasy bean bags.

You will need a rectangle of fabric about twice as high as it is wide - ours measured 10 cm x 20 cm. We chose split peas to fill the bags with but rice, barley or lentils would have worked as well.

Fold the fabric in half right sides together so you have a square. Sew down the edge opposite the fold using a quarter inch seam. You should have a tube.

Turn the tube inside out. Along one of the raw edges turn a quarter of an inch "hem" to the inside of the tube. Sew a line of topstitching along this edge so you now have a pocket.

Fill the bag with your chosen "beans", do not fill it too full or you won't be able to fit it under your presser foot!

Turn a hem to the wrong side on the remaining raw edge and topstitch shut. This seam should be 90 degrees to the other end seam as you can see in the photo - not matching the direction of the other end seam like making a pillow; this gives a chunkier bean bag which is easier for little people to catch.

The whole thing takes less than 10 minutes to put together. The pile you can see here took about half an hour. All you need to do now is invent some bean bag games to play!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Unplug your kids project: sphere

This months project on Unplug your kids is "Sphere". In the past the projects have been weekly and despite our best intentions by the time I managed to think of or fit in an activity to match the project the week was well and truly over. One of these days I will be a super-organised mega-tidy model of efficiency; round about the time that I celebrate my one thousandth birthday and win the Nobel Prize! Now however they are appearing monthly instead so we stand at least a chance of getting organised before the party is over.
This weekend we had yet more snow (like the 10+ weeks -yes weeks!- that we had snow on the ground weren't long enough) so we took this as a sign and went outside in the garden to have (probably) the last snowball fight of the year. Snowballs are spheres right! We played "who can throw the snowballs the farthest", "who can throw the snowballs the highest", "who can throw the snowball into the goal"(a basket) and "who can get the snowball through the basketball hoop". Sadly I have no pictures as bitter experience last year taught me that my over-enthusiastic son, snow and cameras don't mix. I hope if you are taking part in the project you have as much fun as we did.

Tim's Variable Chocolate Refridgerator Cake

I have a son who loves making cupcakes and a husband who loves eating them but this was requested instead of a birthday cake this year. It went so well we have made it several times with slightly different ingredients depending which supermarket we were shopping in. Here in Germany the supermarkets are much smaller than the UK and so the range of choice can be a bit limited. Come back Tescos Extra all is forgiven!
Luckily this recipe is very forgiving and it is easy enough for the older kids to make themselves as the only "cooking" is melting chocolate and butter in a microwave.

175g butter

150g plain chocolate (supermarkets own cheapo one is fine but don't use cooking chocolate or cake covering as it can be vile)

2 tbsp golden syrup or treacle or honey depending on what you have to hand

250g plain biscuits (digestives or rich tea if I am in the UK, graham crackers in the US or butterkekse in Germany)

100g nuts - any kind you can get (except roasted peanuts obviously!)

200g dried fruit such as sultanas, glace cherries,cranberries, apricots, blueberries, whatever you can get/like best

2 tbsp orange juice (or rum/brandy if for grown-ups only!)

Grease a swiss roll cake tin (or line with clingfilm). Alternatively re-use the aluminium tin that comes with supermarket croissants:)

Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a large microwaveable bowl along with the butter and syrup. Set to one side whilst you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Chop the nuts.

Chop any large pieces of dried fruit and soak in the liquid. Warm in the microwave for 20 seconds.

Crush the biscuits. The most effective way to do this is to place the biscuits in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin but it is much more fun for the kids to put in a high sided bowl (we use a big measuring jug) and crush with the end of the rolling pin or with a plastic drinks bottle - don't however be tempted to use a normal bowl as over enthusiastic helpers can end up firing biscuit shrapnel all over!

Now everything else is prepared heat the chocolate butter and syrup mixture in the microwave until melted. We do this in 30 second blasts (takes about 2 mins but this depends on the individual microwave), DO NOT allow to boil or the chocolate will go gritty.

Stir in all the remaining ingredients and press into the prepared tin. Press down well. Place in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Cut into pieces and serve.