Friday, 3 August 2012

Free Museums: Way More Choice Than You'd Think And How To Really Watch Seeds Grow

Local Museum

Local museums are often free to enter and ask for only a donation, just pay as much as you feel able too. If there isn't one in your area you could try a trip to a larger town or city. Money Saving Expert has a great interactive list here of all the free museum’s and galleries in the UK (scroll down past the map of the UK for drop down area menus). There's a huge variety on offer from pumping stations and Victorian police cells, to modern art and dinosaurs.

Watch Seeds Grow

You will need:

  • A clear glass or plastic cup
  • A seed (sunflower or beans work really well)
  • Thick absorbent paper or blotting paper
  • Scissors
  • Cotton wool
  • Water

How to do it:

  • Roll a tube with your paper, cutting it to shape so that it will fit inside the cup from the base to the rim all the way around, put it in place.
  • Stuff the inside of the paper tube with loosely packed cotton wool.
  • Place your seed in between the paper and the inside of the cup about 2/3rds of the way up, so that you can see it from the outside.
  • Pour water into the cotton wool, so that the water level inside the cup is about 1/3rd of the cup (don’t cover the seed), and all the paper and cotton wool stays damp.
  • Put the cup somewhere dark and leave the seed to grow.
  • You can check on the seed every few days to see how well it is growing as well as topping up the water. As the buds at the top develop into a small plant with leaves the plant will start to need light and it’s time to move the plant into a flowerpot.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Change4life - Mini Olympics

A little bit of extra summer fun arrived on our doorstep this morning - we filled in the form at Change4Life for our family with details of the kind of activities we do on a regular basis, and have been sent a pack with ideas, tips, an activity chart and stickers - the age appropriate packs have great ideas on how to keep fit without spending money.

We tried out our first one today, just a simple ball game, but my 3yo loved it.

I find it hugely tempting to let kids crash in front of the television when the weather is bad, but getting up and joining in with the kids makes it more fun and gives us all some healthy exercise bonus points. Lots of childrens shows are interactive now. If your kids enjoy Lazy Town they've teamed up with Change4Life too, with a site full of videos for kids to copy - Tree Fu Tom and Waybaloo are also great to get little bottoms to move along too to.

Give it a go!

If You Go Down To The Woods Today, Your Child Can Eat Jelly And Become An Arborist

Teddy Bear’s Picnic

Gather a few favourite teddies in your child’s back pack, a picnic blanket, plastic cups and saucers, a few cucumber sandwiches and some juice then head to the park for a teddy bear’s picnic... or the living room floor if it won’t stop raining!

Tearing up jelly - easier than it looks!
Combine it with a bit of baking by making individual fruity jellies for a picnic pudding:

  • Small jelly moulds can be found cheaply in supermarkets and poundshops but if you haven't got any kids plastic cups work really well. 
  • Simply make up the jelly - kids can help cutting it into cubes or stirring the hot water until the cubes dissolve. 
  • Chop up a few pieves of fruit (not kiwi, papaya or pineapple or the jelly won't set) pop them in the bottom of each jelly mould/cup and then pour the jelly on top. 
  • The jelly will take a few hours to set, so best to make it first thing or the night before.
Our super-cheap jelly moulds
How Old Are the Trees In Your Park?

You will need:                                                                                                           
  • A fabric tape measure (or a paper one from Ikea)
  • Some trees
  • A notebook and pen
How to work it out:
  • Take the tape measure and wrap it around the tree trunk of your chosen tree to measure the circumference.
  • Because of the average rate of growth of your average British tree, the tree will be roughly as many years old as it is inches around the middle, or the number of centimetres divided by 2.5.
  • Try measuring other trees to compare, put the tape measure at roughly the same height you measured the first tree at.
  • Are all the trees in the park a similar age? Were the trees all planted at the same time, or were groups planted at different times?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

We're Going On A Bug Hunt, Finding Fuel For The Sport Of Kings: Snail Racing

Bug Hunt

Get your wellies on and take your camera out with you to look for insects high and low. Extra points for spotting anything you can’t name straight away. Take a picture, and look it up in a library book on bugs or on UK Safari. Remember we'd love to see any photos you have! 

Is it a Grey Dagger Moth or a Brown-tail? We can't decide.
Email them to Great places to look are the underside of leaves and under fallen wood.

Take it further:

  • What types of insects have you found? Are any of them rare or only found in your area?
  • Collect the pictures or drawings you have made in a book and record the place and time of day you saw them.

How To Put On A Snail Race
Number 4 races to victory.

You will need:

  • A plant pot
  • Paintbrush
  • Bright coloured non-toxic paint (Our DK kids science guide recommends enamel paint, but we're using washable poster paint)
  • Flowerpot

How to set it up:

  • Carefully collect snails from around the garden or local area – they can easily be found in damp places after rain and first thing in the morning. Pick them up gently by the shell.
  • Paint numbers or names on the shells, be careful not to get any paint on the body of the snail and to hold the snail carefully.
  • Stand the flowerpot up and put the snails in the bottom.
  • Wait to see which snail makes it first over the edge of the flowerpot!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

How to Geocache and What To Do With All The Twigs and Pebbles The Kids Came Home With


Geocaching is a great way to liven up a healthy walk, just go to and enter your postcode to find the location of hidden treasures world-wide. The idea is simple, small boxes of kid sized treats are hidden in hedgerows and trees all over the country, find one and you can write your name in the log-book inside, and log it on the geocache website. You won't need a phone and app to do it, just sign up to the website (for free) and you will be able to see the location of the cache as a co-ordinate.

Copy this co-ordinate into google maps (or your map provider of choice), who will find it for you. You can then ask google for directions to the cache from your house, or a local car park or bus stop. Using your local knowledge and the closest zoom on the area will give you a better idea if there are footpaths you can take instead of following the road. Write the instructions down or draw a map for your kids to follow.

Do watch the introductory videos on the website, they'll give you an idea of how large a box of treasures you are looking for and the best way to find them.

At the cache you'll usually find a small log book to write down your visit in, a pen and possibly some small pieces of treasure (along the sparkly hairband or shaped eraser lines), take something similar with you so if your kids want to take something that's in there you can replace in for the next person.

You will need:
  • Wellies and waterproofs or sunhats and cream
  • A map
  • A pen
  • Some treasure.
 Take it further:
  • If you do have a swish phone the app is useful and can find caches nearby via GPS.
  • Send older kids out to find a cache on their own.
  • Drive or take the bus to a cache further away.
  • Make and hide your own cache
  • Take a picnic and take yourselves on a detour to a picnic area or park on the way.

And what to do with the delightful collection of gravel and dandelions the kids have come home with afterwards? Try nature printing.

You will need:
  • Leaves, pebbles, pine cones, flowers, feathers or anything else interesting you've found on walks out and about.
  • Paint on a large plate
  • Paper
How to do it:
  • Give each child a piece of paper and put the paint and their natural finds in reach
  • Let them at it. Plants and pebbles can be used as paintbrushes or to print, a small amount of paint of the underside of a leaf pressed against the paper will leave a copy of the veins/skeleton of the leaf behind.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Why You Should Go To The Library and How To Make Rain A Bit More Exciting


Last week saw the opening of Story Lab this year's Summer Reading challenge! Encourage your kids to read 6 new books over the summer and they could win prizes! Younger children can earn certificates too with the Bookstart Bear Club.

Libraries are brilliant - they're free, warm, dry and keep rotating their stock regularly. The staff are keen to help and if you're utterly forgetful like me ask about fines - many authorities don't charge for overdue returns on children's books anymore.

Have a look at the noticeboards too, library story time sessions often still run over summer and sometimes they have extra weekday activities too, ours offers a range of afternoon craft sessions either for free or a small £1 charge.

Libraries have internet access, sometimes free, particularly for children. As well as: computer skills courses for adults; puzzle, magazine and book swapping stations; daily newspapers; child friendly reference books for when you want something a little more succinct than wikipedia; access to information about local services and plans; dvd rental; large print and audiobooks; board books for babies; colouring to keeping small children entertained while you browse and automated machines so your child can check books in and out themselves.

Plus hundreds of new stories for both the kids and you to get stuck into.

Make a Rain Catcher

You will need:
  • A plastic bottle
  • A stick or wooden spoon
  • Scissors
  • Sticky tape
  • Pens and a permanent marker
  • String, wool or fabric strips
  • A small spade
  • Ruler 
  • Notebook and Pen
How to make it:
  • Cut the bottom off your plastic bottle and throw it away, you want the top section with the lid screwed on tightly.Where you have cut through the plastic the edge may be jaggered and sharp - try covering it over with sticky tape.
  • Decorate the bottle with the pens and the top of your stick with knots of colourful wool or fabric.
  • Use the ruler to make marks every 1cm along the length of the stick.
  • Dig a small hole in the garden and put your plastic bottle inside, lid down.
  • Wait for it to rain. Once water has collected inside you can put your stick inside and count how many marks the water has covered to see how much it has rained.
Take it further:
  • Can you collect more rain in different parts of the garden, or in different shaped containers?
  • Where do you see animals in your garden (slugs, snails, frogs, foxes, cats) and is more rain collected where they like to be or less?  
  • Use the internet to compare rainfall in your garden with average amounts for the area or country.
  • Decorate the wooden spoon water-measurer as a person.