Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Nature bracelet - made from grass & wild flowers

This simple threading activity is perfect for little hands to create whilst out & about. 


Made entirely from items found on a nature walk, all you need is a long strong piece of grass to thread your natural finds onto & you're all set to make some beautiful unique jewelry.


We found a few colourful flowers while on a walk last week & discovered we could use the sharp end of the grass to act as a needle to thread the flowers. You could thread the flower stems onto the grass in the same way you would thread a daisy-chain, but we found it was easier to thread the centre of the flower head onto the grass & slide it along before adding the next item.


Minnie continued to thread her finds until she was happy with her collection.


To secure the bracelet we simply tied the ends of the grass together in a knot.


This simple activity was a great way to explore nature & the various wild flowers that lined our route. It also inspired a little creativity, & encouraged some fine motor skills while manipulating the delicate materials. Obviously the bracelets won't last forever but there is something magical about creating your own nature jewelry & wearing it.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Homemade Honeysuckle Cordial

How do you bottle Summer? Well I think we may have just done it with this delicious homemade cordial! Made from fresh flowers its light refreshing taste echoes the scent of a summer garden, perfect to enjoy outdoors in the sun, or for those cold rainy days when you just need a little taste of sunshine. This year the honeysuckle flowers in our garden have been prolific & regularly enjoyed by bees & butterflies. With so many flowers & buds appearing we thought we'd use a few to create our own home grown cordial.
 
 
This honeysuckle cordial has been a great hit with friends & family over the Summer holidays.  I've been wanting to make some for ages but kept putting it off as I thought the process would be too time consuming, but actually it was much easier to make than I thought & was great to make with Minnie.
 
 
For our Honeysuckle Cordial Recipe we used:
2-3 cups of honeysuckle flowers
1 organic unwaxed lemon
2 cups of Fairtrade caster sugar
3 cups of water
1 teaspoon of citric acid (available from a pharmacy)
 
Minnie started by carefully picking the fresh flowers from our honeysuckle plant, making sure she left the discoloured & wilted blooms behind. She added the flowers to a bowl checking there were no leaves or extra stems accompanying them. Soon we had a dessert bowl full of golden blooms.
 

To make sure the flowers were clean & bug free we emptied the contents onto a clean tea towel & gently sorted through the flowers removing any leaves or other unwanted finds.

 
We peeled & sliced the lemon making sure there was no pith on the lemon skin, then added the strips of peel & lemon slices (but not the ends) to the flowers.
 
To make the syrup we added the sugar & water to a deep pan & slowly brought to the boil, stirring the mixture until the sugar had dissolved. Once the liquid was boiling we took the pan off the heat & added the lemon slices & peel, honeysuckle flowers, & citric acid to the pan. We stirred the mixture again with a wooden spoon, covered with a clean tea towel & left to steep for 24 hours.

It is very tempting to have a quick peek & stir the mixture, but by leaving the pan for the set amount of time the ingredients really have a chance to infuse.


After 24 hours the liquid was ready to be strained & to do this we placed a sieve which we lined with a clean sterilized tea towel over a large mixing bowl. (You could use a muslin or cheesecloth but we only had a tea towel available which we sterilized by placing in another bowl & pouring over boiling water.) Using a ladle I transferred the mixture into the lined sieve & quickly the clear liquid began to filter through & fill the bowl. Once all the mixture had been transferred we squeezed the tea towel over the bowl to remove the last of the cordial.
 
We sterilized a recycled glass bottle (by washing it in boiling water & then drying in a warm oven, alternatively you could sterilise it in a dishwasher) & poured in our cordial using a funnel.
 
This gorgeous Summer nectar should keep in the refrigerator for several months. Our first batch disappeared quite quickly, but we made another bottle to keep until the days get cooler & we need that taste of Summer again. Serve it with ice & water for a cool refreshing pick me up, or with sparkling water for a fizzy honeysuckle treat.  
 
 
Not only does this cordial taste good, but recently I discovered it may help your immune system too as honeysuckle is said to have antiseptic compounds that are active against sore throats, flu, pneumonia & other respiratory disorders. I'm thinking this is the prefect drink to share with my girl as she heads back to school, it should help to fight against all those post Summer colds etc.
 
From collecting the ingredients she had grown in the garden, to squeezing the mixture & decanting the cordial, my girl loved being involved in every part of this activity, but of course the best part had to be tasting the cordial she had made!
 
 


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

"Hooray for Fish!" - Exploring the Story with Clay

"Hooray for Fish" by Lucy Cousins has been one of Minnie's favourite books since she was a toddler. The bright, bold, & colourful illustrations have had her captivated, & the creative creatures have sparked oddles of giggles. Now she can read the book herself & she's still fascinated by the magical creations that fill every page. In fact they've inspired her to create her own selection of creatures on paper & with clay. 


With the storybook as a reference, & some clay, cookie cutters, beads, sequins & googly eyes she was all set to design & create her underwater creatures.


As she rolled out the clay to soften it she talked about the various creatures & their features & which ones she liked best. After this her imagination was well & truly fired up & her ideas were flowing fast as she began to sculpt with the clay.


The cookie cutters she used created a neat fish shape when pushed into the clay & by adding sequins she was able to create some colourful fish scales. These not only created a beautiful effect as they reflected the light, but also enabled Minnie to explore patterns & her fine motor skills as she carefully placed each sequin alongside the previous one. 


For extra detail & to sculpt the facial features Minnie carefully used a pencil & a blunt knife. Then googly eyes were added & the creatures were left to dry overnight.


Here are just a few of her creations. First up is her "Cat Fish"


Here's "Shiny Shrimp"


Introducing "Spiky Sharp Fish"


"Twirly Curly Fish". This is my favourite, I just love how she molded the fins & tail, & the expression on its face.


"Flat Sat on Fish"


And finally "Rainbow Fish." With its shiny scales this of course would be perfect to make alongside the wonderful "Rainbow Fish" picture book by Marcus Pfister. 


Once her underwater creatures were dry Minnie wanted to display them & was keen to make a "picture". I suggested she might like to use some materiel & here's what she put together. A colourful beach scene slowly evolved with her clay creations being placed along with some shells & driftwood she collected from her beach tub. She spent some time arranging & rearranging the items until she was happy with the design.


And then once she was happy she went for a paddle in the sea, turning this unique work of art into an interactive one too! 


It was wonderful to see so much creativity evolving from one storybook, & Minnie's eagerness to display her work tells me she was pretty pleased with the results too. What a great way to explore self-expression, design, & imagination, & a neat way to encourage self-esteem too. 
Thank you "Hooray for Fish!" for the fun & creativity you've given my girl since she was a toddler, I wonder what & who you'll inspire next?




Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Giant Butterfly Weaving - Outdoor Weaving Frame for Kids

Transform yourself into a beautiful butterfly & create some striking outdoor art at the same time. This large fun weaving project is ideal for a range of ages to create, & can be made by an individual, school class or large group. Being made from entirely recycled materials it costs nothing to make too.


I've created several of these butterflies now with different groups of children & the excitement & creativity that emerges from this activity is just wonderful to observe.

To make the basic frame for our butterfly we used ten large garden canes. If you don't have any in your backyard these can be picked up cheaply from a local garden centre. You could of course use more or less than ten, but we've found that this number creates the best shape for the butterfly wings. To secure them in place we pushed each cane into the ground at a slight angle to create the structure below. The ground needs to be fairly soft to insert the canes, & they need to be pushed in firmly to keep them secure when the ribbons are added later. If you find the ground is too hard or dry for the canes try adding a jug of water to the soil to help the process.

We tend to use long lengths of material to weave these structures so I leave a generous gap between the canes, but if you have shorter strips of material you could move the canes closer together to make the weaving easier for the children.


Once you are happy with your butterfly frame you're ready to start weaving.

Before each project we ask local people if they have any unwanted scraps of material or ribbon & it doesn't take long before we have a collection of colourful recycled materials. These are cut into long lengths & added to a large washing basket which sits near the butterfly frame. This basket allows children of all ages to access the materials easily & independently. Once they have chosen their ribbon they can independently choose where & how they weave it through the structure. This is a great activity for exploring spatial awareness & motor skills, as well as creative thought & design.

When groups of children have worked together creating these I've observed how they've been able to independently explore their own creativity, as well as work effectively together as a team. I've loved standing back & watching how they've negotiated, & how they've been able to work out & resolve conflicting ideas.


To make sure the material & ribbons stay in place they are usually wrapped around each cane twice before being woven onto the next cane, but as you can see from the photo above it doesn't really matter how the materials are woven through, as long as the end is tied onto a cane to secure.
A butterfly's wings are of course symmetrical & this structure allows for this to be explored if desired. Most of the woven butterflies we've created have displayed vibrant, colourful materials which have just been blended & woven together, with little symmetry displayed in the colours used.

The neat thing about this large weaving is that it doesn't really matter where you start or where you end, or even how long the project takes to complete. If the canes are firmly pushed into the ground they will hold the weaving in place for months (even in the rain) although the colours of the materials may fade if placed in a sunny spot for a length of time.


I love watching the sense of achievement children have when they've woven their material through the structure & it stays in place alongside everyone else's. I've loved too watching older children help younger ones to tie knots or weave certain materials through. Creating a large piece of art like this with a group of children offers us as adults an opportunity to also observe their interpersonal skills, various methods of communicating, & their empathy towards each other.


Any number of ribbons/materials can be woven through this frame, the more that are added the greater the impact of the finished sculpture. Below is a simple butterfly we created at home, but other butterfly sculptures have had wings full of woven ribbons which have looked stunning.


To create the frame for the butterfly in the following picture we used eight canes to create the wings & left two in the centre as the children were eager the butterfly should have antenna. 


The best part of the finished woven sculpture is that you can stand in the middle of it & transform yourself into a beautiful butterfly with your wings spread on either side.


These woven butterfly sculptures are bound to cheer someones day & create a smile. I just love how those unwanted scraps of material have been upcycled into something beautiful & fun, & how a simple weaving frame made from garden canes can spark children's creativity in such a big way.


If you're looking for more butterfly activities you might also like our Butterfly Garden,  5 Story Books about Butterflies, 15 Outdoor Minibeast Activities & Crafts.


Thursday, 31 July 2014

How to Turn a Feather into a Quill Pen - Nature crafts for Kids

I don't know about you but when we set off on a nature walk I can guarantee we'll find a few treasures that will inevitably find their way home with us. In the past these treasures have included pebbles, sticks, leaves, & shells, but recently we've been collecting feathers we've found on the ground. On a recent walk by a local river we were lucky enough to find some beautiful duck feathers scattered by the pathway, so Minnie carefully collected them & took them home with her.
 
(I should add that we checked for any obvious dirt, & those that were mucky we left by the river. We also washed our hands thoroughly when we got back home.)
 
 
These fabulous feathers were the perfect shape & size to make quill pens, so with a quick hunt around for some scissors, ink & paper we were set to make our own pens from nature.
 
 
Minnie started by cutting the end off the base of the feather to create the nib. We used an old pair of baby nail scissors to do this job as they're nice & sharp, & an ideal size for little hands to manipulate.
 
If you're not using feathers from a duck, you may find you need to remove small feathers or fluff from the base before cutting the nib. These can easily be removed by gently scraping the scissors along the base of the feather.
 
 
To help the ink flow we made a small cut up one side of the feather which created a simple ink channel. As the nib moves across the paper this is where the ink will gradually flow from.
 
 
When Minnie was ready to try out her quill pen she dipped it into a pot of washable ink a couple of times, & then she was ready to write. The art of writing with a feather takes some getting used to, & learning which way the nib works best took some practice, but soon Minnie was writing & drawing confidently with her new quill pen.
 
 
The simple flat nib Minnie made produced a nice thick line when writing, but for more fine lines you might like to try the technique below. This would be a great project for older children, but younger ones might need help when it comes to using the craft knife.
 
To make a round nib we made a diagonal cut at the base of the feather & then cut a slit in the centre to make the ink channel. Using the craft knife I shaped the pointed ends into a rounded shape & one which looked more like a fountain pen nib.
 
 
We dipped the nib twice in the ink again & the results were amazing. Minnie wrote numerous messages on the paper, & skillfully dipped the nib in the pot of ink when the channel in the feather became dry.
 
 
She had soon got the hang of manipulating the feather to create smooth & controlled marks. As you can see she made quite a selection of quill pens each producing a different mark, & had much fun creating with them.
 
 
Writing with these gave us a neat opportunity to discuss which people in history would've used writing implements like this & why. It enabled us to think about how skillful people must have been to use them & produce the magnificent manuscripts they did, & how long it must have taken them to complete them. We also talked about the value of nature, & how amazing it was to turn a discarded feather into a useful object.
 
 
Such a simple & fun nature craft for a variety of ages. I'm sure we'll be using these again very soon.



Monday, 21 July 2014

DIY Art Gallery - A Simple Way to Display Children's Art

Do you have a creative kiddo who enjoys drawing & painting? We have a very eager artist who offers countless masterpieces every week. Our fridge was constantly covered in a vast array of artwork created both at home & school & I never seemed to have enough room to display all the important pieces of paper. I've framed some & have them hanging in various rooms, but the flow of paintings & sketches kept coming & they were just being pinned over the top of one another & soon became lost in a wodge of papers.
 
I'm also reluctant to stick the pictures on the wall as the sticky tack always seems to leave a mark, so we came up with an alternative way to display those precious offerings. We created our own art gallery! This was so quick & simple to put together, & it allows numerous pictures to be hung at the same time.


As the fixings holding each picture are easy to add/remove it means little hands can help put the artwork up too, & they can design the layout of their work.

To make the basic backdrop for the gallery we hung lengths of string from the ceiling using pushpins.


Obviously the length of string will depend on the ages of your children, but we hung ours so they were just above the top of the radiator. To hold each picture in place we simply used a paperclip which we first added to the string & then slipped onto the centre of each piece of paper. We've added several works of art to each string & they've held really well with no slipping or movement.


The great thing about this gallery is that it doesn't remain the same for long, as soon as a new piece of art is created it replaces an older one, & the artwork that comes down either goes into an art folder or is sent to a relative to brighten their day!

To add a little sparkle & light to the gallery we strung a set of fairy lights across the top so that even at night the masterpieces are illuminated.


The pride on my girl's face when she sees her art hanging up is a picture, & when a visitor passes a comment on her work she beams from ear to ear! Such a simple but really effective way to display a number of pictures in one space & a wonderful way to boost a child's self-esteem & confidence. And no longer do you need to worry about a mountain of papers hanging from the fridge, or the  sticky tack dot-to-dots on the walls, you now have a unique art gallery for all to admire.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Grow Your Own Football (Soccer) Pitch for Lego Figures

Have you been following the highs & lows of the World Cup over the past few weeks? We've loved watching the games, & the sporting skills of the players taking part. Inspired by the many matches we thought we'd grow our own mini football pitch ready to recreate some of the football highlights.


To grow our own pitch we filled a container with compost & sprinkled over a handful of lawn grass seed. We then added a little water & left it on a sunny windowsill to grow. I was pretty surprised at how fast it grew, & within seven days we had a tub of lush green grass. This looked beautiful but was rather long to play football on, so armed with a pair of scissors we cut the grass to a more practical length. 


To make each goalpost we threaded a pipe cleaner through a drinking straw & bent into a goal shape before cutting each one to size.


We pushed the goals into the grass at opposite ends of the pitch, & added our football. To make this we used a small ball from a marble run & added a little detail with a sharpie marker. Then we were ready to play, all we needed now were the teams! 


Our football field proved a popular place to be, & first to try out the pitch were Minnie's Lego Friends. They had a quick kick about, scored a couple of goals, but were soon turfed off the pitch by the five-a-side teams!


The teams were lined up to greet each other before the match kicked off, & then placed around the pitch for the start of the game. 


Minnie loved manipulating the Lego figures into different positions on the pitch & gave a running commentary as they kicked the ball across the field to each other. 


Most of the players were given a chance to 'kick' the ball, & the opposing teams showed some skillful tackling moves!


Of course the best part of the game was when a goal was scored! Minnie recorded these on a sheet of paper before the players continued their game! 


This small world play set up has been played with again & again, indoors & outside. It's been great for encouraging Minnie's interest in football, & for her to recall the many teams that have played in the World Cup. We've been discovering which countries the teams are from on a world map, just as we did with the various countries that took part in the Olympic Games. Such a neat way to learn about our global neighbours. 

As a family we've also had great fun playing with this Lego set up, whether we've been playing on opposing teams, or moving the Lego figures around the field together. We've shared many giggles, & had the opportunity to explore a few different languages as we've practiced counting up to ten in the various languages of teams taking part! 


Oh, & if you think any grass clippings went to waste... they were all put to good use. 


I love that this homegrown pitch along with the Lego figures has sparked so much imaginative play, language, maths, & interest in other countries. Such a simple, but fun way to explore the beautiful game! 


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