EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MAKE CHOCOLATES FOR FRIENDS!

Each year we set up a small chocolate factory at someone’s house and make simple chocolates with friends – we then divide the creations and give the assortment of chocolates to each family.

This year was a rather impromptu, and on a school day, so the younger members of the families represented their clan in the chocolate making.

If you feel like adding some home made treats to your gifts, then here are our top 3 child friendly chocolate making endeavours:

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White chocolate (melted) mixed with shredded coconut and then simply heaped into blobs of sweet goodness on your foil/baking paper.

We then chose to add some sugar bling to these, just for fun.

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Similarly easy is dark chocolate (melted) mixed with nuts (we like slivered almonds, though any fruit and/nut will do). These then also become blobs of tasty treats on your baking paper.

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Each of these are delicious and very easy for even the youngest hands to master. If you want to get a little creative with an actual Easter egg then you may like to try the following. (Afraid we didn’t do this one this year so there are no pictures to go along with the instructions this time, but it is a simple activity even without pictures.)

  • Obtain a pre-made Easter egg and chocolate chips of the opposing colour. (Ie white chocolate egg with dark chocolate chips, or dark chocolate egg with white chocolate chips.) The colour of your base egg will be the primary taste, so choose as per your gift recipients tastes!
  • Open your Easter egg and sit in an egg cup.
  • Melt you chocolate chips in a separate bowl.
  • Using a paintbrush (suitably clean for edible artworks!) simply paint your own pattern onto the existing egg (using the melted chocolate chips of the opposing colour as the ‘paint’).

If you are ‘painting’ with white chocolate you can even add a little colour paste to your chocolate (just as you would normally when colouring chocolate) and this gave us a range of coloured ‘paints’ to work with. We did this last year and even added a few edible sparkles to our eggs.

Of course once you have finished your chocolates let them set while you make a card to accompany the chocolates, and lick the bowl clean!

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Enjoy your Easter creations.

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: KIDS FOLD AN ORIGAMI PENGUIN COLONY

Now, I’m no origami buff (I’ve never even made the classic bird!) but this little penguin was easy enough for all of us to make (the 5yo was rather capable of making her own, the 4yo needed some assistance!)

To make the photo instructions easier for you to read I made a penguin myself with 2 colours (so you can see the folds easier, and also see where the folds are intended to fall – my kids folds may were a little less accurate, but work just fine if they are close to the intended position!)

All you will need to make this little guy is a square of paper. Fold it into a triangle as below (to make a centre line) then open it out again.

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Fold the two top corners of your diamond into the centre, as below.

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Now turn the diamond over and fold in half (as below).

Fold the top point on an angle as shown. Then fold it to the other side, and back again, and again. (basically we just want the paper to fold at this point in the next step so you are reminding it where it should fold!)

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Open your diamond back up (with the point you were just folding pointing up) and then fold it in half again, this time ensuring that the point you had been folding bends over to form our beak. This sound a little complicated, but is easy to do once you have the paper in your hand. it should look like this:

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Now fold back your wings (on both sides)

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And fold up that long pointy tummy. Do the fold back and forth thing again (to remind it where to bend for the next step)

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Now open your penguin a little so you can tuck under that tummy you have just been folding backwards and forwards, this is even easier to do than the beak, and should look a little like this:

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Now those little points at the bottom of your penguin are not very good for balancing on, so fold then out for some little waddling feet.

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Add an eye, and any extra decoration you desire.

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Now you can add your little penguin to his colony for a play. Anica (5yo) loved following the instructions to make these, and only needed a little assistance (you can see her pink ones here turned out rather well, and fortunately with this design even if the folds are not accurate the penguin still functions very well!) Elka was less interested in the making, and more interested in the playing afterwards. These penguins were a lovely way to add a little Antarctica to our play, without having to expand our permanent toy collection!

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CONFESSIONS OF A CRAZY PARTY MUM (AND WHY WE CHOOSE TO CELEBRATE BIG).

When I first had my children I was among those who openly looked down on those talked about ‘party mums’, believing that the party was more about their own status as a mother rather than the child. I would joke about people who hired an entertainer and a pony for a first birthday etc!

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But as my children have grown I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that most people probably see me as one of ‘those party mums’ and to embrace the role without feeling shame. I have grown to love kids parties more than is normal.

Ridiculously, we start preparing for parties about a month in advance, my kids and I work on costumes, decorations, games, gifts, invites. It is a whole family affair and the sibling of the birthday girl is just as active in party-mania as their sister. We make most of it ourselves and our life just becomes a little world of whatever theme they have chosen. We’ve had Bugs, Dinosaurs, Monsters, Princesses, Fairies, Circus, Solar System, and Beatrice Potter Parties. This year Elka wanted Under the Sea, so we made jelly fish, and mermaids, and sea stars, and pirate ships, and transformed our lounge room into an ocean with shiny blue streamers and LOTS of sticky tape.

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We collected shells so our friends could make mobiles and necklaces, we gathered driftwood, we sewed (and glued) fish for print making kites. I honestly think that the preparations are probably enjoyed more than the actual party itself. But what is this doing to my children?

Sure, they are learning during the preparation process (I don’t mean about how to host a party, but about their chosen theme and a range of practical hands on maker skills). But what is it doing to their sense of celebration, and indeed their expectations of what birthdays are about?

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When I first had children and criticised those vain party mums for spoiling their children and making the party into an event rather than a celebration of the child’s birthday – I used to think that it was better for the child to have a quitter birthday that was more focused on them.

Now I see my children planning a party for their friends. Their birthday is, in many ways, about their friends more than it is about them. They think about what games their friends will like to play, they make things for their friends to take home. They actually think very little about what they will receive for their birthday, because they are so excited about the party we are throwing together. I have come to think that this is healthy for my children. I wish I could install the same philosophy about christmas (but this involves a larger cultural shift that I have less power over!)

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I might be growing children who are disappointed later in life that celebrations are not as overt as they were in their childhood, but instead I hope that they continue this playful giving nature around their own life celebrations. That they are able to share their future milestones with their friends, with out feeling self-conscious about celebrating their own life.

PADDOCK TO PLATE WITH KIDS.

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We are lucky enough to know a lovely couple who invited us to their small home farm for a day of fruit picking and pie making. If you don’t happen to know such a lovely couple with a farm, then there is apple and pear picking at Sorrel Fruit Farm (as we did earlier this year for strawberries) or another PYO farm will do just fine!

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We pilled in the car and headed 40min South. It has been a year since we last visited and but during our drive the girls recalled so much of our last visit (explaining it to us as though we hadn’t been there!) and looked forward to re-living each moment of it this year.
When we arrived we were greeted by smiles and fury friends who’s happy tail wags could brighten any day. My young ladies instantly wanted to start the harvest so we headed first for the blackberries, then the pears and apples, then the tomatoes.

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It is wonderful for the kids to see how much this productive garden progresses each year, and indeed how much food it yields. (With our own vegetable garden still being constructed, it is the perfect opportunity to see how much we can grow and eat ourselves – indeed it wasn’t that long ago in our big history that home grown was the norm!)
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With old varieties of apples, and tomatoes fresh of the vine the taste is so different to the supermarket varieties, and for every spare patch of soil the kids want to know what will be planted there next.
Next it was off to the kitchen to make some pies (and indeed, we even tried our hand at ice-cream making to accompany our pies, though we have not quite mastered this one yet!) Each made (and then ate!) their own special pie (and of course the adults had a good share too!)


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On our way home we stopped by to feed the fallen apples to the calves that the girls had chosen names for last year; Haha, Hoho and Alice are all growing into beautiful bovine. The girls asked after the calf they fed on their first visit (pictured below) and we explained that he had been sold on to make way for the new calves, and that the land could only sustain a certain number of cows healthily. Introducing farming practices in this gentle environment is the ideal way for children to grasp the early concepts needed to understand some of the larger environment issues that face our growing population who loves so much farm intensely so we can have steak for dinner every night!
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After a busy weekend, this was the perfect way for the entire family to re-set for the week ahead. Thank you Jane and David for your wonderful hospitality!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: PAPER PLATE POLAR BEAR.

This simple paper plate polar bear only takes a moment to make (in our case before school one morning) and is a fun way to add a little Arctic into your play space.

Send your little hunters to gather your supplies:

  • Paper plate
  • Pencil
  • Cotton balls
  • Scissors
  • Eyes (optional)

First fold your plate in half and draw on your polar bear – ensuring that the back is along the fold. (Anica drew her own bear but this ‘back along the fold was a tad tricky for Elka to grasp with her current stage of drawing – so while I usually avoid ‘tracing’ type activities, Elka had a template to work form so her bear would stand up at the end!)

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Cut your bear out.

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Dismantle a few cotton balls (this is always a fun thing to do, regardless of your age!)

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Glue your fur to your bear (as you might have read when we were talking about Polar Bears, their skin is actually black, and their fur is acutlay clear, so feel free to substitute or paint for a more accurate representation, in our case we were happy to just use what we happened to have on hand!)

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Add some eyes (or draw them on).

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TA DA! You have polar bear playmate for the rest of the morning… he can even go to tea at the dolls house and terrorise everyone inside… Have fun!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: TURN A STORY INTO ART.

Peter Pan is a delightfully whimsical tale (and for those adults who want a little whimsy in their life “Finding Neverland” is a movie worth watching). My children somehow do not scare when they fall asleep listening to tales of pirates and man eating crocodiles, and I hope that the portrayal of female characters is not effecting their subconscious. For a bonus activity here is a little pirate adventure.

FullSizeRenderSimply read your favourite pirate story (or in our case we have an audio book of petter pan that the children love) and give them a large piece of paper with the instructions to create a pirate ship. Our pirate ship contained some dialogue from the story, and a second ship was needed in order to continue the narrative.

The activity did not take any adult preparation (other than setting up a story and getting the pens out) and yet was enjoyed immensely as a perfect quite time activity. Imaginations fired, little hands worked hard to craft their vision and at the end we had a beautifully imagined pirate vessel to hang on our wall as part of our ocean themed lounge room!

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THINGS TO SEE AND DO: MAKE A GIANT SAND OCTOPUS.

IMG_4963 We have built large sand sculptures before, and they are a great hit for the young construction workers. This time however we had a change in focus beyond a simple sculpture, we want to talk a bit about camouflage.

We chose an appropriate spot and drew a large circle in the sand (for the body). Each child took control of one tentacle (mapping it out and digging around their shape to pile it up as a long 3d sand arm).

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We didn’t have 8 children building tentacles at once so this allowed for some great maths questions during construction; how many have we made now? How many do octopuses have? How many more do we need to make?

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As the tentacles shaped up the kids moved on and created the body and eyes in the centre, decorating with shells. The small group used great negotiation techniques throughout the process to organise themselves to finish the octopus, helping each other when they needed it, and collectively deciding on plans.

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Now, that’s a great physical project, but it was not our focus as we built. We wanted to talk as much as we could while building – What do the kids know about octopuses? (They take a long time to have their babies, they live in the water, they shoot ink at predators, they have no bones – these were the things the kids collectively knew about octopuses and it was a delight watching them inform each other and add to the knowledge that the other children were sharing.)

When we came to the idea of camouflage we stayed on the topic for a little longer. We talked about what would be good camouflage for an octopus, and how it can manipulate the shape of it’s skin to form different textures. It can change the shape of it’s body to mimic other creatures, and can even change the colour of it’s skin to form different patterns to blend into it’s surroundings! No other creature has all these camouflage skills.

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In our case we talked about our octopus being ‘camouflaged’ in the sand around it, but over the next couple of days we will revisit the concept as the opportunities present themselves. (See how that bird blends into it’s background? Why do you think that tiger in the book has stripes? What makes good camouflage? Why is it important for each of these animals to be able to hide?) Camouflage is a topic that is of great interest when learning about animals and it will come up time and time again as we work our way through the year, and a physically active project of building a sand sculpture is a fun way to introduce it!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: OCTOPUS OUT OF A GUM NUT.

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At a recent beach trip we had some craft supplies and these delightfully simple Gumnut Octopus proved to be a very easy and fun activity.

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Firstly gather some gumnuts (there is a large gumtree in the middle of Kingston Beach if you are keen to combine gumnut hunting with a beach octopus adventure.)

Choose your favourite gumnut and cut 4 lengths of string. (at this point your intelligent little marine biologist is almost certainly going to correct you – everyone knows octopuses have 8 tentacles, not 4!)

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Tie a knot in the middle of your 4 lengths of string (so all 4 are joined, leaving 8 ends hanging from your knot)IMG_0129

Insert the knot into the hole of the gumnut (depending on the size of your gumnut and the thickness of your string you may need to tie a double knot to make it the right size to stay, we found 1 knot suited some gumnuts, 2 knots worked better for others.)

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Simply attach some eyes and you have your little critter ready for his ocean adventure.

This activity was a winner for Anica (5yo with arthritis) as her knees were not on their best behaviour on this particular day and it gave her the chance to do something special while her friends ran and played in the sand. Later the other children came to investigate what we were doing and created their own creatures, but Anica is developing a real sense of ownership and accomplishment for these type of activities that let her quietly distract herself from more challenging things in her world at this time. She has even written her own blog on how to make a wombat, which I’ll post with her help shortly.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: PLAY OCTOPUS WITH TOILET TUBES

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Octopuses are wonderful creatures, and the slimy things have managed to work their way into every childhood. Maybe it’s because they start with O (and that’s handy for the alphabet), or because their distinctive body shape is so easy to recognise, or maybe it’s that they conveniently have 8 legs (and that’s nice when we’re looking at numbers!)… Whatever the reason, we’re in love with the concept of an octopus.

Yet their truly fascinating qualities are often overlooked, this little hands on project is a fun thing to make with little hands, but it is also a good chance to talk about a few of the things you know about the lovely Octopus.

You might talk about how Octopuses are considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates. That the ink they shoot out even contains a substance that dulls a predator’s sense of smell, making the fleeing octopus harder to track… and if they are really under threat they can loose an arm and grow it back latter! Here is a good site for a brief refresher on your Octopus knowledge.

Make a couple of these little Octopuses and get playing with your knew found knowledge!

You will need:

  • Cardboard tube
  • Scissors
  • Paints/drawing or decorating implements
  • Googly eyes and string (optional)

Let’s make an octopus.

Cut the base into 4 equal sections (you may like to refer to this as quarters to help with fractions)

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Ask what would happen if you made each of these into 2 parts, how many would you have all together? (In our house we talk about it as 4 “lots of” 2, or 2 “lots of” 4)

Once you have worked out your sum, check by cutting each in half… count 8 parts… how many legs does an octopus have? You just made an octopus!

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We then decorated our octopus and added googly eyes.

To create a more ‘swim like motion’ we hung our octopus from string, and like our tube kites we watched it fly with much joy.

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