Thursday, 28 June 2012

Pods and beans of all sizes

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Beans and pods have been a bit of a focus this week. Broad beans from the Grandparents' garden and a walk through a field of oil-seed rape gleaned two types of pod and even provided a good opportunity to think about big and little (ever the teacher...). Actually, once you start thinking about seeds and beans you start to see them in everything. The broad beans were a source of particular interest - their feather bed pods an example of Nature's talents as a nurturer.

You will need:
  • Broad beans in their pods
  • Peas, runner beans, mange tout, oil-seed rape pods, poppy-seed heads - basically anything pod-like
  • Bowls

  • If possible, pick the pods in situ. The further back to nature you can go, the more meaningful the experience. Choose a selection of beans, seeds and peas .

  • Shell the beans together taking time to look at the pods, feel inside etc.
  • Broad beans can be shelled by ripping off the strip bisecting the sides, but it's also fun to snap off the top and pop each one out by putting pressure just underneath the bean.


If you can get hold of oil-seed rape, you can get the seeds out in the same way - it's just a bit more fiddly. Peas in their pods are obviously a great one to explore, as are runner beans with their pink beans.

A very quick, simple one...

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Elderflower Fizz

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The elderflower bushes are groaning with heavy-scented flowers, just ripe for the picking. You need just a few large heads for the 'champagne' below (more for the cordial) and the crop is so plentiful, new flowers will appear the next day. The perfect thing to make with kids - just like one of their potions but you can eventually drink this one!

With many thanks to Nicola for this family recipe...

You will need:
  • 3-4 large elderflower heads
  • 8 pints (4.8 litres) cold water
  • 675g sugar
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 large lemon


  • Gather elderflower heads on a sunny day - the pollen from the flowers is what gives the scent and will be at its strongest after some sun. It's a nice activity to do on a walk with your children - they can spot the flowers in the hedgerows (and you can attempt to pick them).
  • Your child can trim off the stalks and shake the flowers very gently to get rid of insects.
  • Put the flowers in a large bowl and add the water, sugar and wine vinegar.


  • Peel the rind from the lemon and add to the mixture along with the juice.
  • Cover with a clean cloth and leave to stand in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  • Strain through a muslin and pour into sterile screw-top bottles.
  • Leave for 2 weeks. It should be bubbly and ready to drink.
  • So that your children don't forget about it, take a look at the bottles every once in a while to see if anything has changed in the bottles.


Or you could:
We're rather addicted to picking elderflowers now so needed a few more recipes... Cordial is also very easy but requires slightly more flowers. You also need to get citric acid from the chemist:
(From Lotte's Country Kitchen, Lotte Duncan, Absolute Press 2010)

  • 450g granulated sugar
  • 3 pints boiling water
  • 20 elderflower heads
  • 25g citric acid
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced
  • 1/2 orange, sliced


  • Pour the sugar into a large bowl. Cover with the boiling water, stir and leave to cool.
  • Add the citric acid to the cool liquid.
  • Shake the flowers very gently and submerge in the liquid. Add the sliced fruit and stir gently.
  • Cover the bowl with cligfilm and leave in a cool place for 48 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Strain through muslin and then into sterile glass bottles. Keep in the fridge for up to a month or freeze 'portions' in freezer bags. Serve diluted with still or, even better, fizzy water.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Paint rolling

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A packet of polystyrene balls provided surprising outdoor activity for a sunny afternoon (before the weather broke). Ordering them in size, lining them up, blowing them with straws, counting etc. We then found an old tin, threw in the balls, mixed in some paint and rolled it down a hill. This is definitely an activity for its own sake (you end up with lots of similar looking pictures), but they are the best anyway. Great to take out to do in a park or some countryside...

You will need:
  • A packet of polystyrene different sized balls (available in stationery shops, kids suppliers, Amazon)
  • Cylindrical tin with a lid
  • Poster paint
  • Paper
  • Straws

  • Take some time to ook at the balls: explore their shape and size, order them in size height, count them.
  • Take a couple of straws and blow them around. See which is hardest to move and discuss why that might be. Practice picking them up by sucking and putting them down by blowing (much more difficult for a young child than you may think!).
For the painting:
  • Take a piece of paper and fit it inside the tin, folding it so that it fits snugly around the edge (you may want to tape it).
  • Put the balls into the tin and add your colour of choice.
  • Secure the lid and shake up the tin (you may need to do this quite vigorously depending on the thickness of your paint.). Open it up to check the paint has covered the balls and mix up if necessary.
  •  Go to the top of a hill and roll the tin down.

  • Run down and open the tin.
  • Extract your paper and marvel at the results...
  • Add other colors and repeat.

To extend the activity: Roll some big paper down the hill so you have a 'run' for the balls and roll or blow the paint covered balls down. Watch as they leave tracks on the paper.

Or you could:
  • This idea is based on marble painting where you lay a piece of paper in a tray with sides, put in some marbles and paint and move the tray around so you end up with marble-paint tracks on the paper. Also a good way of using Autumn conkers.
  • Try different things: pasta, rice, lentils, pebbles etc and see what differences you get in your pictures.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


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We made this house two summers ago and it has now outgrown my son but has come into its own again with my daughter who likes to play shops. The inside was looking a bit dull, so, inspired by the blossom that is frothing on every other tree and hedgerow at the moment, we made some stenciled blossom wallpaper to put up inside. A big roll of paper, sponges and lots of paint... It almost feels like summer. This idea is very effective for painting with the very young. They can splodge paint as much as they like and still have a 'picture' at the end. It also teaches them about shape and outline and it can be an exciting moment when you peel off the stencil.


You will need:
  • A large roll of paper (wallpaper would work really well)
  • Poster paint of various colours
  • Large sponges
  • Card
  • Blu-tac

  • To make the blossom: roughly, cut out lots of small flowers from the card.
  • Attach the flowers to the rolled out paper with blu-tac.

  • Decide upon a background color (remembering that your flowers will be the colour of the paper) and squeeze it onto a paper plate or tray.
  • Sponge the paint onto the paper, trying to make sure that the flowers stay firm on the paper and no paint gets underneath.
  • Leave to dry.
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  •  Remove the card flowers and you should have a pretty 'blossom' pattern underneath.
  • Attach flowers to the next bit of the 'wallpaper' and repeat.
  • Leave to dry and use as wallpaper if desired.
  • Use the flowers for decoration - we put them as a creeper on the outside of the house.

Or you could:
You can obviously use anything as a stencil (remember whatever it is will get covered in paint!): leaves, real flowers, different shapes, masking tape (see below).


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Hot Cross Buns

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It almost feels like a waste of time making hot cross buns as they are so widely available (from Boxing Day onwards), but there is nothing quite like a home-made batch fresh out of the oven. We did all of this at kid level which was a little bit hairy with two eager toddlers (I would usually only let them do selected tasks), so didn't manage many photos...
Recipe from Sarah Raven's amazing 'Food for Friends and Family'.

You will need:
  • 1 tbsp dried yeast and 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 300ml warm milk and water, mixed half and half
  • 225g strong plain flour, sifted
  • 225g wholemeal flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps mixed spice
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100g currants
  • Finely garetd zest of 2 lemons
  • 100g ready rolled shortcrust pastry
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1tbsp milk

  • Prepare all the ingredients so you are ready to mix them (I find that children are pretty unforgiving when it comes to waiting around during the baking process).
  • Stir the caster sugar with the milk and water mixture and sprinkle over the yeast. Leave for 10 mins.
  • Put the flour, salt, spices and sugar into a large bowl.
  • Make a well and add the yeast liquid, egg, melted butter, currants and lemon zest.
  • Mix well and make a dough (add more milk if necessary).


  • Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes. The bashing and hitting can be really fun for children (especially boys) but you need to keep them going - a song or a rhyme usually helps! Stop when the dough is elastic.
  • Together, roll the dough into a long sausage and then cut into 12 pieces (your child can do this with a blunt knife).
  • Roll into bun shapes and place them onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  • Cover and put in a warm place until they have doubled in size (an hour should be enough).
  • Preheat the oven to 200C, mark 6.
  • Spread out the pastry and cut strips for the crosses.
  • Put a cross on each bun, glueing it down with water or milk.

  • Bake the buns for 15-20 mins.
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Melt the glaze ingredients together over a high heat until boiling, then brush it over the buns to make them shiny.
  • Eat the same day with lots of butter.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Easter Nests

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A walk in a wood provided the inspiration for this giant nest. We discovered a house built with sticks that someone had lovingly constructed and left for others to play in and, further on, a nest that had fallen from a tree... We first made a little version with some twigs and then graduated to a big one. Of course, we had to have the obligatory play-house tea (chocolate easter bunnies a little bit early).

You will need:
Small nest
  • A bowl or pot
  • Twigs
  • Flowers for decoration
  • A toy bird

Large nest
  • Logs/large sticks
  • Twigs and branches
  • Moss, leaves and dried grass for the middle
  • Balloons
  • Toy birds
  • Easter eggs

  • To make the smaller nest, collect twigs and break some into small pieces so that you have a mixture of big and small.
  • Place the twigs in the bowl, layering them in a circular pattern around the outside of the bowl and moving inwards and upwards. Of course, it won't be as easy as that with small hands, but have a go...

  • Carefully turn the bowl upside down and remove. The twigs should stay in the same shape. Rearrange them so you have a hollow centre.
  • Put some moss or leaves in the middle and then sit a toy bird on top of the nest. Decorate with flowers and eggs.

  • For the large play-house nest, you work on the same principle as the smaller version.
  • Start with a circle of logs or big branches, just to get your shape sorted.
  • Gradually build up the branches and twigs on top so that you have a nest shape.
  • Choose some soft moss or dried grass/hay to put in the middle and decorate with ivy or similar leaves.

  • Decorate the nest structure with flowers and blossom.
  • For the eggs, we used blown-up yellow balloons and then put a selection of decorative/toy birds around the nest.
  • It was a lovely place to have tea (my kids always rise to the occasion, especially when there is chocolate involved) and then provided an afternoon of playtime.
  • It would be a great place to put Easter eggs on the day...
  • Enjoy!


Saturday, 31 March 2012

Painting on different textures



The good weather brings the opportunity to paint outside and to try different textures. This week it was a couple of paving slabs, some sacking and even a window, but you could really use anything...

You will need:
  • Poster paint of different colours in pots
  • Brushes
  • A sack/material
  • Paving slabs
  • Anything else you don't mind to be a canvas
  • Set up your paints in the garden or park so that they are easily accessible (a brush for each colour in the pots) and so your child can keep coming back to the painting throughout the day.
  • Hang up the sack cloth on a wall or stapled to a tree/between two trees.
  • Look together at how the paint goes onto the cloth and how you need quite a lot of paint to  make a vivid colour splash.


  • Lay out other things to paint on such as stones, an old paving slab, some textured wallpaper, a piece of bark etc.
  • Encourage your child to look at how the paint settles on the different textures - talk about the differences together.
  • Our sacking has been up for a few days and is a work in progress. The paving slab pictures came and went with a rain shower (although there was something quite satisfying about the transience of those particular paintings)...


Or you could:

  • Endless possibilities for textures: look out for interesting things to use as a background - corrugated cardboard, textured wallpaper, plastic (although you will probably need to use acrylics), wood, stones, shells etc etc.
  • Try out different paints, felt tips, chalks, pastels on your chosen textures. See which make the best combination. 
  • Add texture with glitter, sand, feathers, leaves, wool, felt. You could even try painting on top of these additions to make yet more interesting textured backgrounds.