Category Archives: Children’s activities

Our spooktacular half-term with BEAR

BEAR Claws Halloween

My boys were very excited when a very special letter landed on our doorstep. It was an invitation to the BEAR Claws Halloween party. This invite gave them the opportunity to combine two of their favourite things: going to London and eating BEAR Claws. Oh, and the most exciting thing of all? BEAR himself would be there to enjoy the fun too!

So, in the middle of half-term, we boarded a train to London armed with a map to the Deep Dark Woods (aka the Whole Foods Market on Kensington High Street). There followed three hours of magical mayhem with BEAR and his team – plus a little help from the children’s entertainers Sharky and George.

BEAR Claws Halloween

My youngest was truly enchanted by his BEAR hug and hasn’t stopped talking about it since. My eldest relished the chance to dance and craft non-stop for several hours.

BEAR claws Halloween party

And I enjoyed meeting the talented illustrator Katie Abey – who was there to help us all capture a bit of Halloween magic on paper. My little monsters also couldn’t resist the amazing face (and hand) painting on offer.

BEAR Halloween party

Back home, we were surprised by another delivery from BEAR. This time it was a box of super-glittery craft supplies, and enough yummy BEAR claws to keep my boys quiet for some time.

Sparkly pumpkins with BEAR

I’m always delighted when kind people send easy crafts for my children to do while I drink coffee. Our parcels contained everything we needed to make some awesome glittery pumpkins.

Glittery pumpkins

Take a miniature munchkin and drizzle with PVA glue – then sprinkle with glitter. Make your creations extra scary by adding some of the glow in the dark trick or treat stickers currently free in limited edition Halloween packs of BEAR Claws.

Glittery pumpkins

BEAR Claws are fruity little monster body parts made from 100% pure fruit and vegetables. They’re super yummy and the perfect healthier alternative to sweets this Halloween. Limited edition packs of BEAR Claws are in supermarkets now, ready for trick or treating fun!

BEAR claws

Getting creative with your spooky BEAR stickers? Share your creations on social media with #ClawsHalloween… 

This is sponsored post written as part of our ongoing partnership with BEAR. 

What’s your dream pet?

Tabby cat

What makes a dream pet? Ask different people and you get a different answer. For some, it’s the comfort and companionship. Others like the fresh air and exercise of a daily dog walk. Or maybe, it’s the thrill of the exotic.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you’ll know that I’ve always been a dog person. I grew up with them and I always saw a dog in my future. It was the dream.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you planned though, does it? At the age of 33, I realised that I’ve been a closet cat lady all along. Which has been something of a surprise for me, but makes sense for a lot of reasons.

It’s taught me that it’s possible to find your dream pet in the unlikeliest of places.

When Pet Plan got in touch recently and asked my eldest son to design his dream pet I fully expected him to come up with a fun feline creation. But, no, he designed a whale!

Dream Pets Campaign by Pet Plan

I shouldn’t have been surprised really. He’s always had a fascination for aquatic creatures. Sadly, fish tanks and lively cats aren’t the best combination. And I think we’d struggle to fit a whale in the house anyway. But luckily, Pet Plan were able to wave their magic wand and bring his creation to life on a more manageable scale!

Pet Plan Dream Pets

Whaley, is a super-cuddly creature who is enjoying life in the top bunk. He’s very easy to look after, and manages to get away with living on dry land most of the time. His favourite food is pizza.

Pet Plan Dream Pets

Gabriel says, “Whales are cool and you can ride on them. When I sleep at night I cuddle him and dream about going on adventures together.”

Which is what all of us want from a pet, isn’t it? Comfort and fun.

What I’ve realised it that it doesn’t really matter what kind of pet you have – it’s how it makes you feel that counts. Whether it’s a stick insect or a cuddly whale, if it makes you happy then it’s a winner.

This post was commissioned by Pet Insurance from Pet Plan. 

Get reading this autumn with BEAR and Puffin’s Big Book Club

BEAR and Puffin's Big Book Club

There are lots of milestones in a child’s life. For me, watching my children learn to read has been one of the most joyful. 

I always knew that a big part of my role as a mother was to pass my love of reading on to my two boys, and they’re now both well on their way down that magical path. The things they see along that journey will feed their imagination, broaden their horizons and encourage their self-discovery.

BEAR and Puffin's Big Book Club

This autumn, BEAR Alphabites and Puffin books have teamed up to create BEAR and Puffin’s Big Book Club – and it’s ready to start inspiring little readers from all over the land.

Each pack of Alphabites cereal now includes exciting new story book magnets, which are guaranteed to get everyone giggling round the breakfast table. Plus, there’s a new online Big Book Club hub featuring a ‘Book of the Month’, printable activity sheets, games and free extracts from children’s classics.

This autumn, BEAR Alphabites and Puffin books have teamed up to create BEAR and Puffin’s Big Book Club – and it’s ready to start inspiring little readers from all over the land. Each pack of Alphabites cereal now includes exciting new story book magnets, which are guaranteed to get everyone giggling round the breakfast table. Plus, there’s a new online Big Book Club hub featuring a ‘Book of the Month’, printable activity sheets, games and free extracts from children’s classics.

My eldest son and his cat, Tabby, are the inaugural members of our very own book club – his brother and our other cat are honorary members too. The bottom bunk is now officially the reading cave – a place to enjoy all our favourite books, old and new.

Feeling hungry? Alphabites are a great snack to eat while enjoying a good story. They’re made from five natural whole grains and a touch of coconut blossom nectar, as well as containing no refined sugar, salt, artificial colours or flavours,

BEAR and Puffin's Big Book Club

One of our absolute favourite Puffin books is Dogger, by Shirley Hughes. I read it as a child, and I’ve shared it with the boys ever since they were babies. There’s just something about favourite books that makes me feel like everything is right with the world. It’s escapism, but they also inspire us and can teach us to be better people.

BEAR and Puffin's Big Book Club

Encouraging your child to read isn’t just about teaching them to recognise letters, it’s about giving them the freedom to relax and blossom within a magical world, safely nestled within the pages of their book. It offers them time-out after a hectic day, but also reminds them that there’s so much more still be explored.

Limited-edition story magnets are inside special packs of Alphabites cereal now – you can find them in  Tesco, Sainsbury’s , Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, Co-op and Ocado. To become a member of BEAR and Puffin’s Big Book Club, head over here to get started!

Join in on social media with #BigBookClub

This is sponsored post written as part of our on-going role in the BEAR Nibbles Tasting Team.

Keeping your little cubs occupied over the holidays – with BEAR Alphabites

Easter holidays with BEAR

The school holidays…do you love them or loathe them?

For me the holidays are all about finding balance. It can be a bit intense – laughter one minute and tears the next (and that’s just me!). I like to say yes to things as much as I can, but I also want to encourage the boys to amuse themselves.

The great thing about Easter is the longer days and warmer weather. It’s the first holiday of the year where spending time outdoors doesn’t feel like a punishment. The lovely people at BEAR read our minds and sent us a wonderful package of goodies encouraging us to get outdoors and embrace our inner bear, including their brand new Alphabites packaging, which brings bear to life on the box!!

Easter holidays with BEAR

Here’s my simple formula for entertaining your little cubs over the holidays! 

Start the day well

I’m trying to get out of bed at my normal time, while they get a bit of a lie-in. This gives me a little  bit of time to drink a cup of tea in peace before the madness begins. Once they’re up we always start the day with a decent breakfast. Alphabites from BEAR are a great favourite. They taste great, but crucially aren’t filled with rubbish – just five whole grains and a sprinkling of natural coconut blossom nectar. BEAR Alphabites have been recognised by industry leading charity Action on Sugar as a leading example in the kid’s cereal category of how brands can help to reduce sugar intake – which is great news to me!

Alphabites by BEAR

Exercise for the body and mind

Take your small people out for a big part of each day and you’ll all feel happier and healthier. Even if it’s only in the garden. One of our favourite things is to pack up a rucksack with a notebook and pencils and go out nature spotting. It moves their little legs and keeps the cogs turning in their brains. Go somewhere out of town, or just wander round your local park. The change of the seasons means they’ll be plenty to spot whether it’s birds, blossoms or just an interesting stick. Write about what you see and draw some pictures while you’re out.

Holiday fun with BEAR

Freedom

Don’t go too mad with the planning. Remember to always allow your children the freedom to do what they want (within reason!). Children have to endure the regimented routines of school from a very early age and the holiday is their time to relax and be free. Sometimes even the best laid plans are worth ditching in favour of dressing like a bear or having a rainbow painted on your face.

Giving your children freedom also means allowing them to be bored. Don’t be afraid to embrace it. Sometimes the best childhood games are born from having the time and freedom to be bored. Hold your nerve and let them whinge for a bit. You never know when inspiration will strike!

Rainbow face paint

Have a few activities up your sleeve for a rainy afternoon

You don’t have to be a crafting superstar everyday, but it’s worth having a few easy things in reserve.. My hope is that this will buy me some time later in the day to get something done on my own (or feel less guilty when they watch an hour of telly).

Our favourite craft of the moment is painting terracotta plant pots with acrylic paint. It’s easy and not too messy.

Painting plant pots

That’s my simple formula. The next two weeks will be a mix of giggles, tears, tantrums and chocolate eggs. But that’s ok. The most important rule of parenting is not to be too hard on yourself! 

A big thank you to BEAR for sending us the most awesome box of goodies for the Easter holidays! They have lots of great ideas for outdoor activities on their site. 

This is a sponsored post, however all ideas and photographs are my own. 

How to save money this summer

How to save money this summer

In the school holidays it’s hard to keep track of money. It’s not so much the big days out and holidays away – you can plan for them – it’s all the little things that quickly add up: trips to the cafe, ice creams, little treats here and there… and that’s before we’ve even thought about new school uniforms and two new pairs of shiny black shoes. It’s easy to end up completely penniless by the end of the holiday.

This year, I’m determined to keep a lid on the spending. If I’m careful, we can still have treats. Here are some easy ideas for how to save money this summer

Set a weekly budget for the little extras. This can be as much or as little as you like. Put it in a jar and plan things out with your children – it’ll help them learn and give them an idea how quickly money runs out! I wouldn’t expect the money in this jar to pay for big days out – it’s more of a fund for ice creams, comics etc. You do have to be quite disciplined to do this – make sure you have a plan for when the money runs out on a Monday afternoon!

Find as many inexpensive drop-in activities as you can. Where we live there are free drop-ins at the Cathedral twice a week with crafts and activities. We’re also heading to our local museum’s weekly craft sessions which cost £2 per child. Go and check out the noticeboards in your library or children’s centre, or follow local museums on Facebook.

Go to the park. A lot. Buy a flask or a insulted mug and take your coffee with you from home! Or make use of that useful free coffee from Waitrose if you happen to live near one.

Join in with the Big Friendly Read at your local library. Every summer libraries host a summer reading challenge – this year it’s got a bit of a Roald Dahl theme. The idea is to read a book every week for six weeks. Each time your child returns their book they get a special postcard to add to a special collector’s album. Some of them are even scented (don’t sniff the George’s Marvellous Medicine one too hard, it’s poisonous!).  It’s all completely free.

Crafting at home doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t need to buy lots of new craft supplies to make things fun. I’m saving as many junk modelling things as I can and keeping them in a box for the boys to help themselves. All they really ever want for their creations is sellotape, scissors and a box of crayons.

What are you favourite ways to save money this summer?

Subscribe today!

If you're not already a subscriber to Marmalade Pie, please sign up. You'll get all my new posts by e-mail as soon as they appear.

Things to do in the summer holidays: make a boredom jar

Making a boredom jar

The summer holidays are upon us! I’m trying to be organised this year and plan lots of activities and get-togethers. But there’s always going to be some slack time when everyone gets a little bored.

For these moments, make a boredom jar. All you need to do is write down lots of activities on bits of paper and fill a jar with them!

Paint a picture….go on a scooter ride…write someone a letter…bake biscuits…read a book…post a postcard…make a dinosaur world…

Get your children to write down some ideas too (although maybe tell them not to write down go to Legoland).

I’m keeping mine really simple and cheap. Oh, and if you suggest a craft activity, remember to have all the things ready in the cupboard.

If you need any other inspiration how about checking out my posts on making a miniature garden and magic potions?

Subscribe today!

If you're not already a subscriber to Marmalade Pie, please sign up. You'll get all my new posts by e-mail as soon as they appear.

A good old-fashioned Easter egg hunt

Easter egg hunt

Easter wouldn’t be Easter without a egg hunt. Ever since our boys were tiny, we’ve enjoyed doing one every year. Each time, they’re slightly different – from their first wobbly steps to elaborate treasure hunts. Last year we even did one in the garden of a beautiful Welsh holiday cottage – with the salty tang of sea air.

I know you’ve probably read quite a few Easter themed posts by now, but I can’t resist putting in my two-penneth as well. Here’s everything I know about a good old-fashioned egg hunt…

Easter egg hunt

If your children are really little you can make it as easy as you like. We started off with a few eggs in easy to reach places – flower pots, on chairs, on the lawn – and guided them around the garden. It’s all over in a few minutes, but that’s just about perfect for toddlers. Remember, you don’t actually have to use real chocolate eggs – a few plastic ones are just as exciting when you’re two. Perhaps include just one or two chocolate ones at the end.

Once your children are a little older you can make things a bit more challenging. You can follow two approaches – a general free-for-all, or a hunt based around clues.

If you’re going for the free-for-all, you can make the hiding places quite tricky to make it last a bit longer – under flower pots, in a bush, on a windowsill… One tip is to make sure you hide an egg for each child in every spot. Explain to the children beforehand that they can only collect one egg from each hiding place. This – in theory, anyway – should avoid too many cries of ‘that’s not fair!’.

Easter egg hunt

The egg hunt I really prefer though is one based around clues. This makes it last longer, and it keeps them interested. Children are also much more likely to work as a team this way. Basically, it’s like a treasure hunt. You start with one clue which leads you to a spot with the first eggs – plus another clue to lead you to the next hiding place.

Easter egg treasure hunt

You can make the clues as tricky as you like. I tend to keep mine quite descriptive – something like, I’m round and you plant things in me. But you could think up some really complicated riddles for older children (and adults!). We always finish with the children finding their large Easter egg at the final clue.

Easter egg hunt

Clearly, all these option require an adult to get up rather early (preferably before the children are up) to get things ready. Sorry about that.

What happens if it rains?

A toddler friendly egg hunt can easily be transferred indoors. If you can’t face the mess you can always do what my mum did one year: cut out lots of paper bunny paw prints and lead them to a hiding place. I still remember the excitement of that one!

It’s harder to move a treasure hunt indoors at the last minute if all the clues are for outdoor things. Try and get out even if it’s wet – older children’s desire for chocolate usually outweighs their dislike for rain.

If the forecast looks terrible in advance though, simply plan an indoors treasure hunt instead. There’s actually a lot more scope for hiding things indoors and the clues could be really clever. Plus, you could get it ready the night before without the fear of wild animals or pets eating all your prizes!

Easter egg hunt

One last bit of advice: don’t buy too much chocolate. I know it’s tempting to let them fill their little baskets, but do you really want them to eat it all? Especially when other people will come calling with yet more. Better to stick to a small amount and just let them eat it straight away. You can always give a little present instead – last year we had little cuddly lambs and Lego bunnies.

I hope you all have a lovely Easter! 

Subscribe today!

If you're not already a subscriber to Marmalade Pie, please sign up. You'll get all my new posts by e-mail as soon as they appear.

 

Things to do in January: a magical picnic at dusk

A picnic at dusk

Seeking out new experiences doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated or expensive. It can be surprisingly easy to transform an activity from mundane to magical.

Take picnics. I love them at any time of the year, but they can be a bit dismal in January – shivering while you eat your lunch on picnic rug in the biting wind. But why do we always have them in the daytime? Push things back by a few hours, and you create a completely different experience. A picnic at dusk is a rare and exciting thing.

As the light begins to fade at 3 o’ clock, pack up your picnic, fill a thermos flask and grab a blanket. The best picnics are often the simplest – our favourite thing is soft white rolls, filled with hot sausages straight from the oven (and a drizzle of chilli jam). This, plus a flask of tea and something sweet, is all you need.

Hot sausage baps

Then head to your chosen spot before darkness falls. We went to the riverside – normally a very familiar environment, but now curiously exciting in the fading light. Grey water became sparkly, narrowboats twinkled and the smell of wood smoke filled the air. The boys ran around like loons, fascinated by the blanket of darkness that was quickly covering us.

A picnic at dusk

We chose a bench by the river, wrapped ourselves up and sat and ate our sausages. We watched the early evening dog walkers go by, and soaked up the sounds and sights of the familiar, yet unfamiliar.

A picnic at dusk

As we finished eating the rain started, and we hastily made our way home – which only added to the sense of adventure.

A picnic at dusk

We spent nothing, we were barely a mile from home, but we experienced such a simple sense of adventure.  Try it this weekend!

Subscribe today!

If you're not already a subscriber to Marmalade Pie, please sign up. You'll get all my new posts by e-mail as soon as they appear.

How to get outdoors more this winter

5253826415_503896d60a_z

As the days grow ever colder and shorter, it gets harder and harder to persuade everyone to go outside. By the time we get back from school it’s nearly dark and we all just want to keep cosy and warm. Keeping indoors is all part of the fun of winter, but here are some tips for tempting little ones (and not so little ones) to go outside…

Feeding the birds

8710120827_3b5a9dd6c8_z

Such a simple, rewarding activity. Ever since they were really little, my boys have enjoyed putting things out for the birds. We buy bags of mixed seed and fat balls. It’s amazing how quickly the birds empty our bird feeders and it’s so satisfying to watch them through our kitchen window. Going outside and topping up the bird feeders is a great thing to do after school. It only takes a few minutes and really re-connects us to our garden, and what’s happening in it. We have lots of sparrows, blackbirds, doves and the occasional robin in our town garden.

Go on a scavenger hunt

Autumn nature table

This is a really fun way to get everyone outside – you can make it as long, or as complicated as you like. Simply ask your children to look for (and possibly collect) things outside: feathers, a twig, something round, a seed pod… the list is endless. You can do this in your own back garden, on the way to school or somewhere more exciting like a forest. I find a little bit of gentle competitiveness always helps to keep children warm! I think a grown-up version would be pretty fun too.

Going out to do a small, but specific, task

Post box

Turn ‘urgh I don’t want to go for a walk’ into something more enthusiastic by giving your outing a small, but important, purpose. Posting a letter, delivering Christmas cards by hand, going to the sweet shop, meeting friends in the park, buying a new battery for a toy… This usually works and gives us an excuse to get out and blow the cobwebs away.

Make the most of the weather

IMG_0646

Make the weather, good or bad, into a reason for venturing outside. If it’s raining, make the most of those puddles. Get your wellies on and go splashing. If the puddles are frozen, then go and jump on them and watch the ice break. And keep your fingers crossed for some snow – no one ever needs persuading to go out in snow!

Take some warming rewards

11895125596_7b53810c31_z

Once you’ve tempted everyone outside for a bit, reward them with something warm and comforting. Hot chocolate and a biscuit go a long way. Buy a flask, you’ll never regret it and you’ll feel terribly smug every time you use it.

What are your top tips for persuading children (and adults!) to go outside as the weather gets colder?

Subscribe today!

If you're not already a subscriber to Marmalade Pie, please sign up. You'll get all my new posts by e-mail as soon as they appear.

 

Ideas for a simple Halloween

Candle light

Halloween doesn’t have to be tacky or frightening. For us, it’s all part of the darkening evenings and cosiness of autumn. We like to have lots of candles and switch on the fairy lights.

Orange pumpkins and glowing lights appeal to me in the same way as autumn leaves. I used to be a bit huffy about Halloween, and I’ll never approve of ‘trick or treating’. We do, however, enjoy indulging in a few little family traditions – some handmade decorations, iced biscuits and – most importantly – pumpkin carving.

15505887080_ff79ed6a9b_z

Here are a few simple ideas for a cosy evening of fun:

Enjoy some Spooky biscuits. Make a batch of Nigella’s butter biscuits and have fun with the icing!

Halloween pumpkin biscuits

Try some Mummies in bandages! I got this idea from an American friend. Wrap frankfurters in puff pastry and cook for about 20 minutes in the oven. You can add some little eyes with mustard or ketchup if you like.

Mummies in blankets

Decorate your table with some LED candles, glittery stickers and miniature pumpkins…

DSCF4581

Light lots and lots of candles… making sure they’re out of reach of little hands. We have a tradition of always eating our Halloween tea by candlelight.

DSCF4593

Last of all: put some silly music on (Ghostbusters is particularly popular in this house…) and do some monster dancing in the kitchen!

What do you like to do for Halloween?