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!