Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Finding Fairy Paper from Forest Trees - Nature Play

Have you ever found fairy paper on a nature walk? Chances are if you've gone on a woodland walk you've strolled straight past it. Here's a little clue to help you spot it when you're next out & about.

Beneath the ferns lying on the forest floor this magical fairy paper is just waiting to be found. But where does this fairy paper come from? 

From the magnificent silver birch! These trees can be easily identified by their tall thin tree trunks which are covered in a smooth, light coloured bark. The leaves provide a large delicate canopy, & during April-May you'll spot catkins hanging from the long thin branches.

Not only do these trees offer beautiful colours & amazing textures for children to explore, but the bark creates natural fairy paper as the tree sheds its many layers.

If you look carefully around the base of a silver birch tree the light coloured strips of 'fairy paper' can easily be found nearby. 

If you're lucky you might even find an old branch lying around & you can peel away the 'paper' for yourself.  We don't recommend peeling it away from a growing tree trunk as this could harm the tree.

This nature based activity is full of wonder & imagination & could be used in a number of ways.

* You could set out on a fairy paper hunt
* See how many strips of fairy paper you could find 
* When you find the paper you could look carefully to see if you can find any fairy writing 
* Take a look around for any fairy houses hidden near where you found the fairy paper 
* Explore the texture & properties of the fragile bark. Why does the tree shed its bark?
* Consider which insects or birds may use the tree bark & the rest of the tree
* Encourage the children to think about where our everyday paper comes from. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

How to make an Umbrella Greenhouse & create your own Biodome

This is a great little gardening project for children & a wonderful way to explore & observe growing plants.

We're currently growing a number of seedlings ready to plant out into our vegetable patch. Some of these we're growing indoors, other hardier seedlings we've planted out already, but there are few seeds that we're growing in our new 'biodome'. 

Creating our biodome was super quick & easy! To make it we used:
A transparent bubble umbrella (We bought ours from a charity shop, but they can be found fairly cheaply in stores & online.)
One large planting container
Planting compost

To make the biodome cover you need to remove the umbrella handle. To do this carefully bend the central pole (where the handle is) back & forth a couple of times until the metal pole snaps. Alternatively you could use metal cutters, but I found that the metal pole was so thin it snaps pretty easily with just a little pressure. If you wish you could secure the sharp end with duct tape but we left ours as it was.

Once the handle has been removed the umbrella can be placed in a container to create your biodome.

We had an empty wooden planter in our garden that made a perfect base & after filling it with compost, we added our seeds. The important thing to remember when planting is to avoid the centre of the container where the umbrella spike will go. After watering the compost we carefully placed the umbrella over the planter making sure the pole was central.

To give growing plants more protection & warmth, you can let the umbrella down slightly so the the edges of the plastic touch the sides of the container. This helps keep the heat in, & the bugs out. 

Our seedlings are growing very well in our new outdoor construction, & seem to be growing at a similar rate as the seeds we're growing indoors. This has offered my little gardener an opportunity to think about why these seeds are germinating faster than the outdoor varieties. She's been able to compare & contrast the benefits of the biodome with alternative environments, & think about which seeds would benefit from it's use in the future, i.e. those plants that grow best in a warmer climate.

This has been a wonderful outdoor experiment & sparked much investigation, & it won't be long before our seedlings are ready to transplant.

If you're looking for more gardening ideas you might like 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

7 Ways to Play with Spring Blossom

This simple invitation to play can be explored on any Spring day, whether sunny, windy, or wet, all you need is a beautiful blossom tree.

How can you play with a blossom tree? Here are 7 simple ways to explore & play.

1) Dance under the branches of the tree & decorate your feet/shoes with the fallen blossom on the ground. We found wet petals stick particularly well to little feet! 

2) Make blossom confetti by shaking a branch! We're talking gentle shaking & tapping of tree branches here. A gentle tap or two will produce a shower of delicate petals. Why not twirl around in the petals as they fall, or catch them in your hands or on your head! 

3) Go fishing for flowers! How many petals can you catch in a fishing net? You could estimate the number of flowers, weigh them, or count the handfuls collected!

4) Collect the petals & make your own blossom perfume or magic potion. All you need is a small bottle, petals, & some water. 

5) Make a blossom picture or collage. Arrange the flowers on paper or card & attach them with glue, or turn the petals into a suncatcher by laminating them.

6) Enjoy the wonder of the falling blossom again & again. Shower yourself with the petals, then scoop them up, & watch them fall once more! When an experience is this magical it's worth repeating! 

7) Capture the beauty of Spring blossom! Encourage your children to take a photo of the blossom around them. They may choose the tree, a carpet of blossom on the ground, or maybe the blossom on their heads/feet. Here's Minnie's favourite image of her bear on a bed of blossom! 

If you're out & about this week why not explore the beautiful Spring blossom near you. I wonder what you'll discover.   

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Simple Easter Bonnet

Looking for a creative & super easy Easter Bonnet for the children to make? 
How about this Spring themed hat inspired by beautiful daffodils, super simple to put together. 
Find out more here

Friday, 20 March 2015

Simple Quick & Easy Models of the Sun, Moon & Earth for Kids to Make

Here's a simple way to explore the solar eclipse with young children. These models of the sun, moon & earth are quick & easy to create & can be hung up & displayed anywhere.

To make them we used just three different items: 
plastic ball pit balls
a glue stick
coloured tissue paper. 

We started by making the sun & ripped up small sections of yellow tissue paper. Then we covered one of the ball pit balls with glue & added the tissue paper until the ball was completely covered. 

To create the earth we again covered a ball with glue & this time used small sections of blue tissue paper. To add the land we used green tissue which we stuck over the blue.

Finally to create the moon we chose a darker ball & added sections of cream coloured tissue paper. Alternatively you could use silver/white tissue, or paint over the top.

Our planet (earth), satellite (moon), & star (sun) were ready to be explored immediately. Obviously these are not to scale, but provided simple illustrations to explore the eclipse.

To suspend them we taped a length of thread to each ball & attached to a shelf with sticky-tack. 

To demonstrate the solar eclipse we moved the moon slowly in front of the sun, showing how it would block the sun's light from the earth & cast a shadow. Although the sun is 400 times larger then the moon, it's 400 times further away from the earth so the moon obscures the sunlight.

If you're looking for advice on how to view the solar eclipse safely check out BBC iwonder for more information. 

For more space themed activities you might like our:

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Simple Homemade Easter Soaps

Looking for fun Easter gifts to make with the kids? How about these cute & colourful little soaps. 

To make them you'll need: 
Easter silicone chocolate moulds (we used 4)
1kg clear soap base (melt & pour soap bases are available from Hobbycraft or Amazon)
Soap dyes (available online)
Old wooden spoon
2 (or more) old jugs for colouring the soaps
Glass bowl & saucepan
Optional: Essential oils for fragrance 

Start by cutting the block of soap into smaller chunks. If you're planning to make only a few soaps you won't need to melt all the soap, so any leftover soap can be wrapped in clingfilm & stored away for another day. To make our batch of soaps which filled 4 trays we only used half the block of soap.  

If you're planning on making soap with lots of different colours you can make the soaps in one of two ways, it just depends on how many jugs (or containers with spouts) you have free to use.

If you have enough old jugs for each soap colour you wish to use, then you can melt all your soap by adding it to the glass bowl & placing it over a pan of hot water on a medium heat. This takes a little time but gently stirring it occasionally helps the soap to melt. 

Once it has melted pour the hot liquid into the jugs & then add a couple of drops of your chosen dye to the jugs. We found less is more when adding the colour! Mix the dye by stirring slowly into the soap & then pour into your Easter moulds. If you're adding a fragrance, then add a couple of drops of the essential oil onto each soap. 

Alternatively, if you want to use lots of colours but only have 1 jug available, then just add 1 small block of the soap to the pan, melt following the same method as above (obviously this smaller block will melt faster) pour the melted soap into the jug & add the dye. Once you've finished pouring your coloured soap into the moulds, wash out the jug with warm water to remove any soap residue & dry thoroughly. Add another small block of soap to the glass bowl & heat as before, repeating the process for each colour you wish to use.

Leave the soaps to stand on a flat surface for a couple of hours to dry completely.
Then gently pop them out of the moulds. This is always the magic part! 
As the silicone is so flexible the soaps come away from the moulds with very little pressure.  

If you're making your soaps to share as gifts they can be added to clear plastic gift bags, or wrapped in greaseproof/wax paper & tied with ribbon. We made several of these last year for friends & the soaps looked so pretty, we even had requests for more! 

If you're keeping these for yourself (& I don't blame you, they're beautiful) the soaps will need to be kept in an airtight container, away from sunlight. They should last for months like this, we still have some heart shaped ones that we made before Christmas & they look perfect. 

Once you've made a batch of these you can share them with so many people. They make great gifts for classmates, neighbours, as well as prizes for Easter Egg hunts, & neat alternatives to Easter candy treats.

If you found this useful you might also like our Stars & Stripes Soaps, or

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Simple String Art - Weaving an Easter Cross

This simple activity encourages so many skills, & enables kids to create some beautiful three-dimensional art.  

To make these Easter Crosses we used:
A small block of wood (we picked up some offcuts up from a local DIY store)
5 Nails (40mm) for each cross
Coloured yarn/string
Ruler, scissors & pen

Using the ruler we marked out a cross shape in the centre of the wooden block so we could clearly see where to add the nails. Minnie then independently hammered the nails into the four points of the cross, & one into the centre. It was great to see her confidence & control of the hammer develop as she went along, & by the time she'd tapped in the last nail her sense of achievement was clear to see. 

More nails could be added if wish to create a more detailed weaving frame, but we kept this one pretty simple. (Obviously Minnie is at an age & stage where she can use a hammer independently under close supervision. If you have a younger child you may like them to hold the hammer with you as you tap in the nails, or undertake this part of the activity yourself.)

With all the nails added the simple framework was ready for us to use. 

Minnie chose her yarn & tied one end to a nail. She decided to start from the centre but you could begin from any nail on the frame. To create the cross shape she had to manipulate & loop the wool around the nails carefully, thinking about where to move it next. At first this was a little tricky & she started to create a diamond shape, so she went back & tried moving the wool in a different pattern around the nails. Soon she discovered that the wool had to be moved back & forth along each line & the centre nail would enable her to change the direction of the wool, while keeping the cross shape. It was great to observe how she solved this, & the patience she displayed in doing so. 

Once she had finished adding her first layer she tied the end of the yarn to the nearest nail. She then chose another colour to weave over the top & continued following the same pattern as before, gently pushing down the yarn to free up space on the nails.  

Finally she added a third colour to complete her Easter Cross. You could add more or less yarn, or use one or more colours, the joy of this activity is that children can create their own design. 

This Easter activity not only encourages creativity, problem solving, motor skills, & coordination, the end result is a beautiful & colourful three-dimensional work of art that can be displayed year after year.

We used this activity to help us explore the Easter Story & the transforming power of the cross.

If you're looking for more activities exploring the Easter Story you might like our:
Mini Easter Gardens, Easter Canvases, Bread Crosses for Maundy Thursday, Rocky Road through Holy Week, Easter Egg Planters

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Paper Bag Princess Puppet - made from a paper bag!

If you're looking for a modern fairy tale with a Princess who is smart, strong & wise, then The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is an ideal picture book to start with.  Inspired by the story we made a princess puppet from a recycled paper bag to use in our storytelling & small world play.

The Paper Bag Princess tells the tale of a beautiful princess who is always dressed immaculately & soon to marry her prince, that is until a dragon comes by & burns down her castle, along with everything she owns (including her clothes) & carries off her Prince. Undeterred Princess Elizabeth finds a paper bad which she uses as a dress & decides to chase the dragon & get her Prince back! When she eventually finds the dragon she uses her wisdom to outsmart him & eventually rescues her Prince! I won't spoil the story for you by telling you the ending, but it might not be what you'd expect! 

This is a great book with a fabulous spin on the classic fairy tale ending, & presents the Princess as the hero who is brave, strong, independent & smart! The text is bold & clear, & the colourful illustrations perfectly depict the narrative. 

Inspired by this strong female book character we wanted to create our own paper bag Princess.
To make her we used:
Wooden dolly peg
Small paper bag 
Embroidery thread/string/yarn
Small square of Kitchen foil
Scissors & glue stick

To create the paper bag dress we folded over one corner of the bag so it was level with the side & formed a point. Then we folded the bag in the same way again (as in the picture below moving side 1 to side 2) & repeated a couple of times.

To turn this into a dress we cut the tip off the point to create a hole that was large enough to go over the top of the peg.

When unfolded it made a rough dress shape. To attach this to the peg we covered the middle section of the peg with glue & pushed this through the hole in the bag, carefully wrapping the paper around the middle 'body' section. The bottom of the dress can be trimmed if needed. 

To help the paper stay in place & to create a waistband for our dress we tied a small length of string around the middle.

Our puppet needed some beautiful Princess hair so to create this we cut off several lengths of embroidery floss, wool/string/felt would work too. We covered the top of the peg with glue & attached the threads. I was a little unsure whether the glue from the glue-stick would be strong enough to hold all the threads in place, but amazingly it did. To complete our Princess we added facial features using a ballpoint pen.

Last but not least our hero needed a crown & to make this we folded a small section of kitchen foil & cut a zig-zag edge across the top, we then opened it out & glued the ends together, trimming of any excess. 

We decided our Princess needed a necklace, so we added a thin strip of tin foil to create her silver jewellery. And she was ready to go & rescue anyone in need!

This peg puppet is just the right size to use alongside the book when sharing the story, & would make a great addition to any fairy tale play scene, or castle! I wonder what imaginative play or storytelling she'll inspire, I can't wait to find out! 

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