Activities with children

buntingCreate your own special family traditions as this builds a strong family identity and helps children to feel that they belong. It also makes rich family memories. Birthday traditions may include a birthday chair decorated with balloons and streams, choosing the evening menu and piling into bed together to open gifts. One of our traditions is ‘birthday bunting’ and I have a few different types depending on the time of year and the bunting goes above the window during the birthday week. Bunting is easy to make and using pinking shears you can cut triangles and stitch (or staple!) the triangles onto cord or ribbon.

We have also introduced a ‘Golden Ticket’. As each child turns seven, they receive a ‘Golden Ticket’ for a day out in London with one parent. We wanted to give each child glorious memories doing classic London activities. Our son chose to visit Hamleys and have a bus tour with lunch in Mayfair (at Pizza Express) and our daughter is debating the merits of the London Eye and Battersea Dogs’ Home as she plans her day. It was so special when the actor dressed in a frock coat greeted James at the door of Hamleys saying, “Welcome to the best toy store in the world.”

Birthdays are an opportunity to create memories that will last long past childhood. Enjoy them!hamleysThis post is the last in a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

treasureparty1The Concept: Set up a treasure hunt using photographic clues for a circular route of about 1-2kms. As the children reach the photographed item – a gate, an odd-shaped tree or a sign, you give them the next photo and have about 25 photos. The final clue is where the treasure is hidden or buried. This is brilliant way to use lots of energy and after the hunt you can return to base for party food.

The Invitation: I printed the invitation on the outside of the envelope and placed the first ‘clue’ a photo of our house inside the envelope.

Our Party: My son was very into camouflage so it had a  ‘camo’ theme as well as being a treasure hunt. They loved running the 2km course finding the clues and we ended in the play park where I had hidden the treasure – water pistols and ammonite fossils. We then returned to our house for a sausage BBQ and a very long dessert. The pudding was a ‘WOW’ factor as I had bought a length of guttering and then tasked the children to fill it with ice-cream, bananas, sweets and toppings. Once it was ready, they set to, each armed with a spoon to start eating!

Top Tips: The distance of the course depends on the age of the children and how used to walking they are. It works best in a rural area or where there is not too much traffic. Give each child a (homemade) bandanna to create a ‘team’. By only giving out the next photo on reaching the object photographed, you keep the group together. Keep the treasure simple – I sewed camouflage bags which contained a few items. Keep the food simple as most children like hot dogs with ketchup – don’t waste time with lettuce and onions! treasureparty2 treasureparty3 treasureparty4

den buildingIt is a bit of a challenge if you are ‘buying nothing new’ but we had a great time during half-term and seeing that it falls on different weeks in the UK, I thought I would share some ideas if you needed inspiration.

  • Baking is always a good activity even with three mini chefs. Have a go at chocolate brownies – we use the Usbourne children’s book recipe with delicious results.
  • Make family pizza. Keep it simple by buying the bases, whack on some passata and then everyone can add their own pre-chopped ingredients – salami, ham, cheese, red pepper, pineapple, egg and mushrooms.
  • Wrap up warm and go outside to tramp in the countryside or a park as fresh air revives everyone. Build a den in which to eat your chocolate brownies.
  • Have holiday projects for your children, you can read more about this on this link. This holiday I introduced origami for my 9-year-old and we made a new model each day. My 6-year-old was desperate to learn to knit so I am teaching her although she is on the young side. If you teach your child to knit, I can  recommend thick children’s needles of 5mm or 6mm and multi coloured wool. If the wool is changing colour it inspires children to keep knitting. Visit the site Hulu to buy these items. My son was so interested in knitting that I ended up teaching him too and he is really doing well.
  • Bike rides and picnics can happen even if February.
  • Hire a few DVDs and cheat and watch television in the afternoon.
  • Best of all can I suggest ‘The great family sleep over’! The entire family drags their mattresses into one room and all sleep together on the floor. I probably shouldn’t add that Ella (age 4) wet the airbed that she was sharing with me or that when we woke up we felt exhausted, as if we had been camping but least we could sit in a comfy sofa and drink coffee. Why would a family with perfectly decent beds do this? Because it is fun and it was so exciting for the children, creating magical memories.

Paper Snowflakes

These paper snowflakes (photo above) appear very complex and I was most impressed when the 7 and 8 year-olds at school had made them. But actually one creates eight simple petals using a square of paper per petal and then staples them together to create a very beautiful paper snowflake which can be the centrepiece of a window. I have also used these as a ‘party game’ with adults where each person makes one section and then we join them all together. Go to this link for step by step instructions and photos on how to make your own winter wonderland snowflakes.

Christmas Crackers

The beauty of homemade crackers is that you can personalise the gift but they are quite fiddly and best made by an older child from about the age of eight or nine.

You need:
Gift wrap cut into rectangles 35cm x 17cm
Tissue paper
Narrow gift ribbon
Double sided tape or glue
Scissors / craft knife
3 loo roll inners
Fillers: a small gift, a balloon, a chocolate, a quotation or forfeit, a streamer or sparkler. Top tip: Take a loo roll inner when shopping to ensure the gifts fit inside!

Put the cracker fillers into the loo roll inner and wrap it tightly with tissue paper.
Attach the firecracker to the outside of the roll with tape.
Position the two loo roll inners on either end of the filled one and thread the firecracker through the inners.
Decorate the gift wrap by gluing narrow ribbon on the short ends.
Position the gift wrap upside down and place glue or double-sided tape along the long edge of the gift wrap.
Place the three loo roll inners along the end of the gift wrap and roll them up in it towards the glued side of the gift wrap. Ensure you roll in a straight line and ensure the paper is firmly wrapped around the loo roll inners.
Gently ease out the two end loo roll inners a little and tie a ribbon between them as in the diagrams below. Give the cracker a little twist to make the edges between the loo roll inners crisp.
The two end roll inners can now be removed but are useful to keep in place to retain the cracker’s shape if it is to be stored for a period of time.
Label the cracker with the recipient’s name and decorate with sequins, tinsel or tulle as desired.

Father Christmas Napkins

Fold a red napkin as in the diagram below. Using the template below scale and trace the bearded shape onto white paper and cut it out. The long edge of the beard should be about 16.5cm long. Fold the paper around the napkin to make a festive Father Christmas!

Snow Globe

Find a jam jar and a little character to go inside your jar. Stick the character to the lid of the jar and allow it to dry completely. It is best to use a glue gun but you can also use a generous quantity of UHU glue. Place into the jam jar 2 teaspoons of glycerin, ½ teaspoon of washing up liquid and 3 teaspoons of glitter. Glycerin is not essential but helps the glitter not to form clumps. Fill the jar right up to the top with water over a basin or the sink. Screw the lid on very tightly and if you wish, seal around the top with a clear silicone sealant. Placing glue in the rim of the lid before screwing it on also helps to keep it secure.

Write a letter to Father Christmas

Father Christmas can be reached by care of the Royal Mail and below is his address. He even writes back!

Father Christmas
Santa’s Grotto

According to the Royal Mail website, Santa will respond to as many letters as possible, in between getting the sleigh ready for the long journey on Christmas Eve. To receive your card back from Santa, please make sure you write to him using the correct address on a stamped envelope. Don’t forget Santa needs to know your full name and address to reply. Santa is happy to receive your cards and letters but because of a very busy Xmas ahead could you please write to him by no later than Friday 14th December.

This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Whether it is a drinks party, a Christmas coffee morning or a gift for a school teacher, it is always special to give something handmade.

Fill a Kilner jar with the layered cookie mix ingredients then attach a festive-shaped biscuit cutter and a card with the recipe for gingerbread cookies written out in your best handwriting.

Makes 25-30 cookies
For the cookie mix in a 1 litre Kilner jar
500g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
185g soft light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground allspice

Combine two-thirds of the flour with the baking powder, then tip this mixture into the jar. Shake gently to level out. Spoon in the brown sugar and roughly level out. Blend together the remaining amount of flour with the spices and carefully pour this on top of the layer of sugar.
Seal the jar securely and attach the cutter and the recipe card with brightly coloured twine or ribbon.

Write out the recipe below on a card to attach to the jar
Gingerbread Cookies
100g butter
115g golden syrup
1 large egg, beaten
Cookie mix
Icing sugar
•    Melt the butter in a large pan with the syrup.
•    Add the egg, then stir in the cookie mix to form a stiff dough.
•    Divide into two, flatten into discs and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for 20 minutes.
•    Heat oven to 180°C.
•    Roll out dough to 3mm thick, stamp out shapes and put on greased baking sheets.
•    Make holes in the top to thread with cotton later.
•    Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until golden.
•    Cool on a wire rack; dust with icing sugar.

Recipe originally from Country Living Magazine December 2010.

This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Decorative biscuits

Nothing beats the evocative smell of ginger biscuits. The recipe below is Swedish and makes the best biscuits I have come across. After baking and allowing them to cool, we have a family decorating session with plenty of icing and silver balls while Christmas carols are belted out. Later I use a needle to thread a loop on them and we hang them on the Christmas tree as they keep for weeks – that is if the children (mice?) don’t nibble them!

Swedish Ginger Biscuits Recipe
300g butter
450 castor sugar
6 tbsps. golden syrup
2 tbsps. cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsps. cardamom
200ml water
900g plain flour

Cream the butter, sugar and syrup and beat in the flavouring – cinnamon, ground cloves, ginger, cardamom and bicarbonate of soda. Add the water and work in the flour, kneading well on a lightly floured surface. Place the dough into the fridge and allow it to rest for 24 hours. Roll out the dough and cut out shapes using biscuit cutters and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 200°C – 225°C for 4 – 5 minutes.
(I tend to halve the ingredients as it make a lot of dough. If too sticky, add extra flour.)

Christingle Oranges and Tealight Apples

Christingle oranges are rich in symbolism and also look very beautiful. You can refer to this link for more information about their symbolism. Push a small candle into an orange and tie a red bow around the middle. Place a few soft sweets onto four toothpicks and position them around the candle. In the photograph, we didn’t add sweets but decorated the orange with cloves. Tealight apples smell superb as the cloves warm up from the candle when lit. Press a tealight into the top of the fruit to measure the circumference then use a spoon to remove some of the flesh so that the tealight will fit into the apple. Press cloves into the space between the tealight and the apple and continue to decorate the apple with cloves until time or patience runs out. Top tips: It may be necessary to remove a thin slice off the apple and orange to form a flat base. If you struggle to push cloves into the fruit, use a toothpick to first pierce a hole.

Homemade Christmas cards

Two ideas that work well with young children are a robin Christmas card and an angel card. For the robin card, paint your child’s hand brown then add touches of gold and a bright red spot on the palm of his hand. Press his hand on to paper to make a print then add eyes and a beak. To create an angel, paint his hand in blues and purples and make one handprint with fingers closed. Then paint the hand in a bright yellow or gold and make two handprints with the fingers splayed to create wings. Add facial details and a halo. Both these ideas can be scanned and reduced in size and printed to create a number of cards. With an older child you can brainstorm about Christmas imagery and then give him a good quality black pen and let him design a card using the inspirations you discussed together.This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Homemade gifts made by children for parents or grandparents are very special items and here are some ideas and instructions of what we have made in the past.

Pebble Paper Weight

You will need:
Children’s paint
Indelible pen (optional)
Ronseal clear varnish (optional)
Googly eyes (optional)

Buy pebbles from a garden centre and give them a base coat of paint then release your child to create a pebble bug. Ladybirds are always popular. Write the date and name on the base with an indelible pen. Varnish the pebble with a clear varnish and add googly eyes if you wish. James’ pebble (above photo) has been sitting on my desk for seven years now.

Photo Frame

You will need:
A photo frame
Children’s paint

Give an unpainted, unvarnished photo frame a base coat in gold or silver paint and then let your child decorate it. It could be with stickers or with paint depending on the age of your child. I bought photo frames from Wilkinson a few years ago and you could also try Hobbycraft. I used children’s readymix paint – nothing special. The final touch is to insert a photo of your child into the frame for the proud granny. A variation would be to buy little boxes or candle holders and decorate them. Baker Ross hold a vast supply to keep you going.

Sloe Gin

You will need:
450g sloes
300g caster sugar
1 litre gin any brand – cheap gin works just as well
A 2 litre Kilner jar
A bottle for decanting

This ruby-red liqueur looks beautifully rich as you can see in the photo above but if you are too late in the season for collecting sloes, remember it for next year! Full instructions are on my earlier post called ‘A sloe autumn stroll’.

Marzipan Fruit

You will need:
Food dyes

You don’t need much marzipan to make these cute little fruits (see above photo). I used coloured dyes and each child kneaded the marzipan with a few drops of dye until it turned the colour of the dye and then divided it up so we all had a variety of colours. We had so much fun making fruit and then branched out into making sausages, mash and peas! We presented the meals on tiny dolls’ plates as gifts for grandparents. This website link gives you more detailed instructions and images of marzipan fruit.

Homemade Chocolates

You will need:
Chocolate moulds (bought at many kitchen stores)
Double boiler (or two different sized pots)
Caramel filling (optional)

It can be little fraught doing the activity with a young child or a few children at the same time because you are dealing with hot chocolate and boiling water so I would recommend this as a one to one activity. Fill the larger pot with water and allow it to boil on the stove at a low heat. Place the second pot into the water and add a few blocks of chocolate at a time, stirring continuously. Using a double boiler, keeping the heat low and stirring continuously should mean the chocolate won’t burn. Once it is melted, remove from the heat and use a teaspoon to fill the chocolate moulds. Once they are filled, give them a gentle tap and place in the fridge to harden. Try experimenting with marbled chocolate of white and dark swirls or filled chocolates. To make filled chocolate create shells in the chocolate mould, harden them, place the filling into the shell then cover with more melted chocolate and return to the fridge. The chocolates can be packaged in cellophane bags or in homemade origami boxes.

Coconut Ice

You will need:
250g condensed milk
250g icing sugar
200g dessicated coconut
Pink edible food colouring

This is a great recipe for younger children as no heat is required and makes lovely gifts when placed in cellophane bags or tins. It is from the BBC GoodFood website.

  1. Using a wooden spoon, mix together the condensed milk and icing sugar in a large bowl. It will get very stiff. Work the coconut into the mix until it’s well combined – use your hands, if you like.
  2. Split the mix into two and knead a very small amount of food colouring into one half. Dust a board with icing sugar, then shape each half into a smooth rectangle and place one on top of the other. Roll with a rolling-pin, re-shaping with your hands every couple of rolls, until you have a rectangle of two-tone coconut ice about 3cm thick.
  3. Transfer to a plate or board and leave uncovered for at least 3 hours or ideally overnight to set. Cut into squares with a sharp knife and pack into bags or boxes. These will keep for up to a month at least, if stored in an airtight container.

This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Just like puppies, children need to be taken outside whatever the weather to run off extra energy, have a change of scenery and  fresh air. When it is autumn, we find many treasures on our walks, in fact Sophie is such a hoarder that she has a fabric bag called an ‘Item Bag’ to collect the leaves, conkers and creepy-crawlies that we find. Another way of collecting leaves which is aesthetically pleasing is to make a leaf kebab. Find a thin, firm stick which is about 20cm in length or grab a kebab stick from the kitchen then as you wander along collect beautiful leaves and impale them on the stick. When you return home, place the best of your autumn haul on a platter and light a few tealights to create an ‘autumn focus’ for the table.

Creating a bug hotel has been one of our most enjoyable autumn activities. You need a small wooden box about 22cm x 15cm x 7cm which can be bought from (6 boxes for £24.99). Fill it with autumn finds such as teasel and poppy heads, pine cones, bamboo stalks tied into bundles and rolled cardboard. You can also drill holes in a small log to make beetle homes. Pack all the items into the box and then tightly fill the gaps with moss and dead leaves. Using a staple gun, staple a mesh over the box so that the items don’t fall out and then position it in a warm, sheltered place. Try and ensure it is out of the rain as bugs don’t like getting wet. Then wait for the following bugs to move in!
Lacewings: Lacewings are bright green with transparent wings. They mostly come out at night and eat aphids on plants. As they don’t survive the winter easily, they will enjoy a nice cosy bug hotel.
Ladybirds: Ladybirds also eat aphids and tend to spend the winter hidden in nooks and crannies of dead wood.
Red Mason Bees and Tawny Mining Bees: These both help to control insects in the garden. They are solitary bees so don’t live in hives with other bees. They like to spend the winter in hollow stems or holes in wood.

I love walking with my children and even better when it includes a little foraging. This is the time of year to collect sloes which are blue-black bitter fruit growing on blackthorn bushes. Sloes need to be collected in October after the first frost, but if autumn is mild or you want to beat the birds, collect them early and put them in a freezer. Sloes are too tart to eat but are perfect in gin, making a tasty, sweet and glorious ruby sloe gin. If you get your skates on, you can make this as Christmas gifts. Below is the recipe I am using courtesy of National Trust.

For 1 litre of Sloe Gin you will need:
– 450g sloes
– 300g caster sugar
– 1 litre gin any brand – cheap gin works just as well
– A 2 litre Kilner jar
– A bottle for decanting

Step 1
Wash your sloes and remove any leaves or stems. Prick as many as you can with a needle or sharp fork. This helps to release the juices. If you have frozen them make sure you de-frost them first.

Step 2
Sterilise your jar with boiling water. Put your sloes, sugar and gin in the jar. Seal and shake the jar every day until sugar has dissolved, then once a week.

Step 3
After 10-12 weeks decant your sloe gin into a bottle and enjoy at your leisure.

Top tip:
Sloe gin gets even better with age, you could make two lots and hide one away for next year. If you do this every year you will always have a vintage supply of this delicious tipple.