Playing at the science park

Hands-on science exploration, disguised as play!

Racing ducks

We were in Sussex over Easter, spending some time with my family. As usual, we had a jam-packed time, catching up with friends and enjoying family days out. I love taking Little Miss A to places I visited as a child but on Good Friday we discovered somewhere completely new to me, the Observatory Science Centre.

I didn’t know much about it beforehand but I’m so glad we ventured there as it is the sort of museum every area needs: a fully hands-on, interactive experience where kids (and grown ups!) can have a go at everything and not even realise that they are learning in the process.

The centre has indoor galleries, domes with huge telescopes (that you can visit on guided tours) plus a lovely outdoors space featuring a discovery park and a water zone.

Although it was a grey, drizzly day, we took advantage of a break in the rain to explore the outdoors areas first. Little Miss A couldn’t wait to get stuck in – and her Daddy was pretty excited too! In fact, there were times when I wasn’t sure who was having more fun…

We found a circuit powered by water, with wheels and pulleys and pumps and an Arcamedes screw transporting the water round. Little Miss A found this fascinating, watching our demonstrations carefully, before insisting on doing it all herself, heaving the wheels around to make the various parts work.

Water circuit

“I is having to work very hard to make this move, Daddy.”

Water circuit experiments

There was also a water table with several hands-on (or hands-in!) activities that Little Miss A loved exploring.

Water table

There were sections for building dams, constructing waterways to race ducks, turning taps to make fountains work…

Water fountain

… Or just for enjoying getting your hands wet!

The discovery park was equally as enticing. Little Miss A was possibly on the younger end of the suitable age range for this section but it didn’t stop her running around from exhibit to exhibit to try her hand at each one.

Sound tubes

There was all sorts of equipment, including a giant ‘marble’ run, various sound tubes, a huge wobbly balance board and a fab climbing frame shaped like a DNA helix!

DNA climbing frame

Once we pried ourselves away from the outdoor fun, we headed to the indoors exhibits, which covered topics such as light, the solar system, forces and magnetics. While Little Miss A is still a bit young to understand the explanations that went with every experiment, she had so much fun pushing buttons, pulling levers, building, knocking down, peering through microscopes… It was a great way to introduce science and I can imagine that she would get something different out of it with every passing year, as her understanding grows.

Indoors at the science centre

Baby E wasn’t left out of the fun, either! She was absolutely fascinated with many of the exhibits, loving watching various items moving and swinging and changing colour.

We’ll be back in Sussex in the summer and are already tempted to add this to our list of places to visit then, as we just had such a brilliant time and could have easily spent longer there. It’s also inspired me to start collecting ideas (on Pinterest, of course) for simple science experiments that we can do in the garden at home, now that Little Miss A has a taste for it!

Learning for Life

A sunny week

We’ve had so much fun this week, playing outdoors and enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine.

It started while we were away on Easter Monday, meeting friends for a lovely, relaxed catch up at the park. The kids ran around and played (even together a little bit!) while we chatted and basked in the warmth after a chilly weekend. I was so totally unprepared that I even got a little burnt!

Back home, Tuesday saw us at our local park with some of my antenatal friends. Little Miss A has known this group since she was born, seeing them so often that they all now play together really nicely. After running around the play park, they settled into a game of collecting grass cuttings and making ‘birds nests’ to sit in! It was lovely to watch their imaginative play and listen to their conversations with each other. I stayed on a bit longer with my two and the nesting kept Little Miss A occupied for another 20 minutes or so while her sister slept. It’s always useful when it works out like that!

Making bird nests

Wednesday saw us venturing further afield for a proper day out… I’m slowly getting a bit braver, taking both girls out on my own to places other than the park and toddler groups and friends’ houses! It’s only taken six months or so to work up to it, haha.

We met a friend and her two children at a nearby animal and adventure park. I didn’t get any pictures as I was too busy watching Little Miss A like a hawk! She had so much fun running around, bouncing on trampolines, whizzing down giant slides, watching ducks racing (really – the ‘quacky races’ with comical looking Indian Runner ducks), feeding goats, spinning on roundabouts and more. It was exhausting but great to widen the scope of my days out with the girls.

On Thursday, we woke to yet more sunshine, hooray! We headed to our local park again to meet friends for a picnic. Their kiddies are a bit older so Little Miss A couldn’t quite keep up with their games – and had to stay closer to Mummy than they did! But she loved trying out their frisbees (I think we might need to get her one of her own) and she did some brilliant kicking and throwing of her little football, which she is starting to get really into now. Plus there was time for digging in the mud round the trees!

Under the tree

Back home, we spent the rest of the afternoon in our suntrap garden. Little Miss A made potions while Baby E cruised around our deck, peeping out at her sister every now and then. I’m looking forward to lot more chilled out afternoons like that over the coming months (well, as chilled as it gets with two littlies, anyway!).

Making potions

Today is Friday and amazingly there has been yet more sunshine. I decided to take the girls to a local farm shop that has a great outdoor play area, along with a few animals and a couple of short trails.

We picnicked first on some goodies bought at the shop (including delicious olive, pepper and feta foccacia – so bad for my diet but so good to eat!). Then I let Little Miss A loose on the play area, which has a ‘castle’ slide with small house underneath, a wiggly snake rope swing, some wooden climbing and balancing bits and pieces, and a tractor. It’s a really lovely space for outdoor play, especially now Little Miss A is older. Today, she spent most of her time on the tractor as the “farm girl who fixes it”. This involved taking handfuls of bark chippings and rubbing them on the wheels or stuffing them in the ‘engine’, and it occupied her for ages.

Tractor girl

Baby E was getting rather grumpy but it turned out she just wanted a go too, sitting happily on the wheels watching her sister playing.

Baby E on tractor

After I got fed up standing in the same spot for half an hour, we set off to explore one of the trails, which led to the small fishing lakes and bird hide. We haven’t done this before and, apart from me being slightly nervous that Little Miss A would dart off and fall in the lake, it was a good wind down activity as the spot was lovely and peaceful (until we arrived, anyway!).

Swan on lake

We peeped out of the bird hide and spotted some geese and a swan, with Little Miss A much more interested than I thought she would be. Next time, we’ll take some binoculars for a better look.

Peeping out of the bird hide

On our way back, we found some “alarmas” (or llamas…) and had just enough time for a few swings on the wiggly rope snake before heading home for teatime.

Llamas on the farm

Our week of sunshine has been fab and just what we needed to survive the Easter holidays, with no preschool to help with entertainment.

Fingers crossed there are many more sunny weeks to come now we’re in April!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


The great Easter treat off #fiveforfriday

Something quite shocking happened to me yesterday evening. I headed to our local Tesco on a special Easter chocolate run and – gasp – discovered that they had SOLD OUT of mini eggs.

What?!

I’m still not sure how such a thing can happen. Do the people in our area eat a ridiculously large amount of mini eggs? Was there some kind of mass panic buying of mini eggs before Good Friday arrived? Either way, I was obviously not happy. It reminds me of the Great Easter Disaster of two years ago when the husband and I left our egg shopping until the holiday weekend and couldn’t find anything apart from Kinder eggs. I should have learnt my lesson…

Not that I have been completely deprived of mini eggs this spring. Or any chocolatey eggs…

In fact, with such a huge variety of Easter confectionery around these days, I’ve been conducting an unofficial taste test of several of the treats on offer. Purely for research purposes, you understand, to decide what is my Easter chocolate of choice. A sort of Treat-Off, if you will. 

It’s been tough but I’ve come up with my top five…

1. Mini eggs
One little mini egg doesn’t feel too wicked. Except one egg leads to another and before you know it, the whole tube has gone…

2. Creme eggs
It’s always very egg-citing (sorry) when these appear on the shelves. If, like me, you’ve thought how amazing a giant creme egg would be, check out this one on Pimp That Snack.

3. Ferreo Roche mini eggs
For when you’re feeling a bit posh. 

4. Malteaster 
Yummy bunny.


5. Lindt chocolate carrots

They look more like chocolate umbrellas than carrots but are so cute either way.

As you can imagine, it took a lot of painstaking research to come up with my top five. What would win your Easter treat off? Just don’t ask me to choose between mini eggs and creme eggs…

Happy Easter :)

#fiveforfriday is my weekly round up of all sorts of bits and bobs – from blog posts I’ve been reading to themed crafts and activities to favourite products to the random things I’ve been pondering!

#fiveforfriday


Chocolatey Easter nests

These chocolate Easter nests are easy to make with young children and taste yummy too!

Chocolate Easter nests

I would love to be a real Baking Mum and do lots of exciting cooking projects with Little Miss A – but I have to admit to being far from a domestic goddess in the kitchen (er, or anywhere else round the house, actually). Even I can manage to do Easter nests, though! In fact, the nests are so simple that I have been able to let Little Miss A loose doing them herself with my supervision.

The first time we made these she was around 18 months and she absolutely loved the whole process. The photos are from that time – she was so teeny! She needed a little more help at that age but was able to participate in the mixing of all the ingredients. I was impressed with how carefully she spooned the mixture into the paper cases and decorated with the mini eggs.

Making Easter nests

Of course, there was some sneaky tasting involved! It’s too tempting not to sample as you go along…

Tasting Easter nests

To make the Easter nests, I follow the recipe on Rainy Day Mum. All you need are some Shredded Wheats, chocolate for melting and mini eggs to decorate.

  • In a bowl, break up the Shredded Wheat into strands
  • Melt the chocolate and then pour over the broken Shredded Wheat
  • Mix together thoroughly (Little Miss A always enjoys this part in particular!)
  • Spoon into paper cases
  • Add a mini egg or two on the top to decorate
  • Leave to set
  • Enjoy!

So, technically, this probably doesn’t count as ‘cooking with your toddler’ but it’s a great introduction the idea of baking. Now Little Miss A is older, I made a pictoral recipe card to follow, so we could talk about following the instructions and measuring ingredients. It’s also a lovely sensory activity, with the crunchy Shredded Wheats, smooth chocolate, gorgeous smells and tastes!


The joy of running

Finding great outdoor spaces for racing and chasing in the spring sunshine…

The joy of running

There are a number of things that Little Miss A does that seem to be an ingrained part of her personality. One is her love of running. It started pretty much as soon as she was walking and she’s been a speedy little thing ever since.

We’ve had lots of running around the living room, more often than not kitted out in a special ‘costpume’ consisting of running shoes (could be her slippers, could be her jelly shoes), a pink winter hat with flaps over the ears and sometimes goggles.

There’s only so much sprinting you can do in the house, of course. Better still is when we can find a big wide space outdoors and let her run free. The look of pure happiness on her face never fails to make me smile. It’s running for the sheer joy of running and the exhilaration and sense of freedom she feels is infectious.

We found two brilliant places for running this month.

The first was at a nearby National Trust property. As we wandered around, we came across a huge circular croquet lawn enclosed by tall hedges which made a perfect running track. This proved irresistible for Little Miss A, who ran all the way round a couple of times before challenging Mummy to a race. We both giggled madly as I chased after her. Puffed out after a few laps, I realised a) how unfit I am! and b) how much fun running can be, understanding some of the appeal to Little Miss A.

The second location is in our local park, at her current favourite play area there, the mud mounds. I’ve written about these before: small hills of compacted mud, that make an ‘offroad’ track for older kids to scoot or ride bikes around. We love them simply as an interesting place to explore. They were great when Little Miss A was mastering walking, challenging her balance as she navigated up and down the inclines. Now she has discovered that they are brilliant for running on!

The space is large enough to have a good sprint around and contained enough to be able to do laps…

Running track

There are gentle slopes alongside slightly steeper ‘hills’ to be scrambled up…

Running up hills

And enough mud and dirt to please my little messy monster girl, perfect for poking a stick in when in need of a break from racing…

Digging in mud

We had so much fun here on a beautiful spring day this week. Little Miss A incorporated some pretend play into her running, telling me that the mounds were her houses and I was the big bad wolf chasing her and blowing them down. She’s been doing the story of the Three Little Pigs at preschool and is fascinated by it. She loved turning this into a game of chase, hiding behind a slope until I had huffed and puffed and blown the house down, at which point she ran to find a new abode. She enjoyed it so much that some details from the original story were amended slightly: “This house is made of brick, Mummy, but the bricks aren’t stuck together so you can blow them really hardly…”

I’m sure Baby E wondered what on earth we were up to, as I pushed her up and down the mounds in her pushchair, running after her sister doing my best wolf growls. (Not to mention the other park users passing by!)

Chase

After a good play, we headed home for a snack, eyes shining and cheeks flushed from all the running around. I’m sure we’ll be making our way back there again soon…

Mud Mud Marvellous Mud - Outdoor Play Party

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


Dreaming of holidays… #fiveforfriday

Following our recent weekend away, I’ve been reminiscing about some of the holidays I took BC (Before Children).

As I was writing about our weekend, it got me thinking about how different it is to go away with a baby/toddler in tow! I’ve been lucky enough to visit some amazing places, destinations that I can’t imagine doing right now with our young family. (That’s not to say you can’t travel with little ones; there are lots of people who do. But we’re not quite at the point of wanting to attempt long haul or anything too adventurous at the moment!)

It’s hard to choose an absolute favourite holiday but having given it some serious thought during a couple of nightfeeds, the ones below are probably my top five.

1. Canada – Toronto, Niagra Falls, Montreal, Quebec, Prince Edward Island
Oh, how I loved this whole holiday but most especially visiting Prince Edward Island. Where I’d wanted to visit since reading Anne of Green Gables as a child. Where the husband proposed. Definitely top of my ‘special holidays’ list.

Beautiful Prince Edward Island

2. New Zealand
I’ve got relatives in NZ and have made it over there three times. It’s beautiful. Best bits: colourful volcanic weirdness at Roturua; stunning scenery at Queenstown; amazing, pouring with rain boat trip on Milford Sound; beautiful Bay of Islands. When can I go again?

Milford Sound rain

3. Boston, Cape Cod and Maine
This was a brilliant, healing holiday following a tough time. I’d love to return one day. When I remember it I think of brownstones, boat trips, whales, wooden houses, white Aidorondack chairs, beautiful beaches, lots of fresh sea air. Oh, and Hurricane Earl, which we were more than a little worried about, being from the UK with no experience of what to do if caught in a hurricane (the Great Storm of 1987 doesn’t really count!).

Cape Cod amazing beaches

4. Croatia
Sailing around the islands off Croatia on a beautiful (crewed!) wooden sailing boat – just bliss. Best bits: sitting for hours on deck, occasionally managing to tear my eyes from the beautiful water and coastline to read a page of my book; atmospheric Dubrovenik; diving off the boat for ice cold swimming; great company in fellow passengers, amazing food.

Shadow wave

5. Skopolos/Skiathos
The words ‘Greek islands’ do something to me. These are my absolute favourites so far, especially Skopolos, reached by boat. Cobbled streets, whitewashed buildings, breathtaking views, boat trips, cool bars with cushions on the floor for seats, delicious seafood… I could go on. This holiday came when I was very stressed at work and feeling low about my love life. And about a month or two before I met my husband!

Greece beautiful house

OK, I’m feeling all travel tingly thinking about these amazing holidays. I want to jump on a plane and go back to each one RIGHT NOW!

What trips would be on your favourites list?

#fiveforfriday

#fiveforfriday is my weekly round up of all sorts of bits and bobs – from blog posts I’ve been reading to themed crafts and activities to favourite products to the random things I’ve been pondering!

The List

A weekend away with kids

So, we’re back from our first weekend away as a family of four and it’s safe to say that the husband and I are pretty knackered!

Daffodils

Baby E has been teething (we think) and spent two out of the three nights not sleeping, including one long period of inconsolable screaming.

We carted there and back what felt like enough supplies and luggage to survive an apocalypse, even though we were only away Friday to Monday.

There were a couple of stressful navigational moments, plus a dinner disaster when we couldn’t figure out how to work the oven in our cottage, resulting in tea being an hour late.

Both kids ended up falling over, with Little Miss A sporting a bruised cheek almost from the point of arrival. Baby E wanted to use her newly acquired crawling and pulling up to standing skills at every available moment, generally in the most unsuitable and unsafe locations she could find, meaning that opportunities to sit still in the cottage were few and far between.

With all that, you have to wonder why on earth we would leave our perfectly nice house, which is perfectly geared up for our family’s needs and situated in a perfectly lovely part of the country, for a weekend away that most definitely could not be described as a relaxing break.

Well, relaxing it may not have been but it was fun despite the hard bits. From Little Miss A’s excitement to cosying up all together in front of the fire to animal feeding to playing in the on-site soft play to exploring new places together, we packed in a whole weekend of family experiences and memory making.

These are memories that the husband and I will always treasure, such as Baby E’s very first swim. We had the on-site swimming pool all to ourselves, which was wonderful. While Baby E bobbed up and down in my arms, her sister treated us to twirls in her rubber ring and squeals of delight as her daddy dived under the water or pulled her along on a giant float. It was a highlight of our weekend and all four of us had huge grins on our faces as we splashed around together.

Or Little Miss A looking like such a big girl on a pony ride around the courtyard, holding on and balancing all by herself. She risked a wave as she trotted past her daddy, shouting out proudly: “Look at me!”, a perfect mixture of concentration and happiness on her face.

When we came to drive home, she didn’t want to leave, declaring holiday to be ‘so much fun’. We had to agree. I’m looking forward to doing it all again in the summer – although next time we take our secret weapon, the grandparents, along too so hopefully we get to squeeze in a smidgen of relaxation as well!


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