A bee in your bonnet – A beehive hat DIY for the Easter bonnet parade

Easter bonnets are a tradition I remember participating in when I was a little girl. I was so excited when the nursery asked us to get craft as parents as they’re having a bonnet parade this week before the holiday break, but of course when I asked Arlo what he wanted to make he didn’t have any traditional ideas. In fact he was adamant he wanted to go as a dinosaur and so we were tempted to glue some feathers around a T. rex mask but I didn’t think that would go down too well with other parents.

So I began by reading for an Aldi brochure I’d picked up full of Easter food and the first thing he noticed was the giant beehive Easter egg and so that was his mind made up, and I’m not one to shy away from a challenge so I looked around for things I could use to make a beehive shape. Opting for a small plant pot and half of a plastic wine glass of all things.

The main thing to consider with things like for children is wearability – so you’ve got to consider the weight of everything and how to stick it all on securely. The plant pot we used had holes so I threaded wool through the base before sticking the two halves together so that I could tie it in place.

The beehive was wrapped in wool and I experimented with three different kinds of glue to make sure it stuck before we painted it a lovely golden yellow shade. It’s a little on the interpretive side but you get the gist of things. Then the next thing we needed was bees – and as it’s Easter it seemed logical to use some little egg decorations we had from Poundland.

So we added more yellow paint and cut out little cardboard shapes for wings – we left the little strings on the eggs and then it was easy to hang them up to dry, and then we dipped the bigger end in to white paint before using a chalk pen to draw stripes and smiles ….. and of course adding googly eyes to complete the look.

Meanwhile we set to work decorating the base of the hat – opting for a brim of fake grass and then some scrunched up tissue paper to make the base. I didn’t cover the top until we had secured the beehive in place as I wanted to make holes in the too and then hide these.

Whilst putting all of this together we had inevitable conversations about bees and Arlo confidently explained that bees make honey and so we had to add in a little honey jar too – a plastic shot glass with a roll of paper inside labelled “hunny” and then covered with a scrap of gingham paper tied in place with elastic .

Then once all of the little components were in place it was a case of securing it all to the hat, and then adding flowers and leaves to decorate.

There we have it – Arlo’s Easter bee in a bonnet! 🐝

The Easter trail at Trentham Gardens

We have been out and about again today and this time our travels took us to Trentham Gardens, which are amongst the finest in Britain. A week ahead of Easter there has been a Beatrix Potter themed trail added to the grounds.

You can book online to visit the gardens. Tickets are £12 for adults and under 3’s are free. The Easter trail pamphlet is an additional £2.50 and can be exchanged at the end of the trail for a treat. We took the pre booked line at the entrance and avoided all of the queues, you do have to select an arrival slot time but if you’re early the ice cream shop is open and there’s also toilet facilities to use at the entrance.

Trentham Gardens site has a wealth of activities to participate in, we were given the winter and spring spotters guides and a historical one too, and it was fascinating to see the remains of Trentham Hall too. The extended site also includes a garden centre and a shopping village which will hopefully bounce back to life as soon as restrictions lift and with free parking this in itself is a grand day out, that’s without mentioning the monkey Forest and Tree Top Adventures (must be booked separately) which are also set to re-open shortly. There really is something for everyone here.

The extensive grounds at Trentham circulate the beautiful lake which has a mile long walk you can amble along at your leisure and there’s plenty to see and do. Arlo took along his own camera today and was busy capturing the ducks as well as spotting the infamous Jeremy Fisher along the trail.

The upper flower garden is where the majority of the Peter Rabbit trail was located so all of the markers can be found along paths which are easy to navigate with pushchairs, and it’s not too challenging for little ones. With such a vast area to explore we found that we had plenty of space and didn’t at feel like our social distancing was compromised. It feels as though spring is about to burst in to life with daffodils and early bulbs blooming to bring the first wave of colour through in the gardens.

Arlo was delighted to explore the display’s created for every single character, we were looking for letters on wooden eggs to complete a puzzle. He’s just starting to recognise letters and so as soon as he recognised a character from the books he ran ahead to find the “abc” for us. Then once he finished examining the displays he looked up to see the surroundings he would pause to catch his breath. The placements have been very carefully chosen with lots of open space and to take you around to some of the best corners of the gardens with great vantage points.

We also decided ahead to purchase the fairy trail pamphlet for an additional £2.50 – these permanent sculptures by a local artist are dotted around the gardens and the lake and you will encounter many of them if you keep your eyes peeled whilst looking for Peter Rabbit and friends. There is a one way system now around the gardens so some of these are harder to spot if you’re determined to finish the trail but this change helps the social distancing. Wanda the mermaid is a new addition and can be found basking in one of the fountains.

Hunka Munka the mouse was holding the last clue to find, and once we had all the letters we had to unscramble them to find a word to complete the trail. (I won’t post the answer spoiler.) The walk took us about an hour as we paused to feed the ducks in the stream and ambled slowly along and we then got the chance to play in the adventure park – the slide, maze and the barefoot walk remains closed but all of the other apparatus including the sandpit were available for Arlo and others to enjoy. We also went up behind the maze in to the open field where sheep were grazing just to say a quick hello.

We retraced our steps back to the lake and noticed that the Italian tea rooms were open to provide takeaway food and that there are also “pods” are being set up for family bookings which will provide fabulous views across the lake for afternoon tea. The toilet facilities here are also open. We sat and enjoyed our picnic and trail treats watching the nesting moorhens before continuing our casual stroll – I hardly noticed I’d achieved my 10,000 steps for the day.

We can’t wait to come back and visit as the seasons change, we want to finish the trail and visit monkey forest next time. I highly recommend Trentham Gardens as a Midlands based family friendly attraction. Click below to book.

Indulgent no bake mini egg cheese cake

This weekend marked the Spring Equinox and so we decided to start with the Easter bakes. This indulgent mini egg cheesecake is a fun one for little ones to make because it involves lots of bashing with a rolling pin.

You will need:

For the base

  • Digestive biscuits – 300g
  • Ground almonds – 50g
  • Honey 2tbsp
  • Crushed hazelnuts 50g
  • Mini eggs – a handful
  • Butter 200g

For the filling

  • Nutella 3tbsp
  • Double cream 300ml
  • Icing sugar 120g
  • Full fat cream cheese 700g (two packs)
  • Vanilla essence 5 drops
  • White chocolate – 70g

For the topping

  • Sprinkles
  • Mini eggs
  • Chocolate shavings

When it comes to quantities it’s almost impossible to be accurate with a toddler – I try my best to stick to easy proportions so to begin we smashed up an entire pack of digestives give or take two and a pack of mini eggs too.

This amount was enough to fill the base of a large spring form tin and three ramekins – so in total 15 portions. You might want to scale this back if you’re not feeding the five thousand this Easter but for us “more is more.”

Add the mini eggs, biscuits, nuts and honey and mix well to distribute. Melt the butter in short bursts in the microwave and then mix this in – it quickly creates a nice ball which is cookie dough like in consistency. I cut a grease proofpaper circle in to size and add this to the base of my spring form tin before piling the mixture in and patting it down with a spoon.

We had lots left so used the extra in ramekins to make some individual portions. Then we popped this in the fridge whilst me mixed up the filling.

This is done in two stages. Melt the white chocolate in short bursts in the microwave and leave this to cool slightly. I whip the cream up with vanilla and icing sugar using an electric whisk until it forms nice peaks and then I leave that to the side whilst I mix up the cream cheese. It’s best to work with this at room temperature as it mixes in nicely. (If it’s cold then it goes lumpy). Pour the white chocolate in with the cream cheese and then a handful of crushed mini eggs too. I then combine the cream and the cream cheese together by folding them gently and taste testing at this stage. You want it to still form peaks and this is how you know it will set nicely.

For added indulgence we spread Nutella over our biscuit base before topping up with the filling. This is Arlo’s second favourite thing to do, and then it’s simply a case of leaving this all in the fridge to set overnight before decorating. This is where the little ramekins come in handy….. no one likes to wait for a taste and so if you’re impatient like us, you can dig in to these straight away.

We decorated our cheesecakes with more mini eggs, chocolate shavings and then some extra sprinkles for good measure. The result was a super rich and indulgent cake which has us all excited to dig in. I leave the spring form collar around until just before serving.

Here’s a slice profile for you too. I can’t even explain how delicious this is. Now that spring has arrived we are going to use the base of this recipe and adapt it with some different flavours – I’m thinking lemon and raspberry next!

Love bug cookies

These love bug cookies are a twist on our super simple sugar cookie recipe which is the basis for all of our fun themed biscuit bases.

You will need:

  • 200g butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 300g flour
  • Vanilla essence
  • Red food colouring
  • Choc chips
  • Chocolate
  • Edible eyes
  • Heart cookie cutter

You begin by combining the sugar, flour and butter in a bowl with the red food colouring. At this stage you can add vanilla essence or another flavouring of choice. Then roll out the red dough and sprinkle your chocolate chips on randomly before cutting out heart shaped pieces.

Lay all your hearts out on a baking sheet covered with grease proof paper and bake in the oven for about 12 mins at gas mark 6. This varies from oven to oven. Whilst the cookies are baking melt down some chocolate in a bowl and leave it to one side to cool down slightly and then fetch the cookies from the oven to cool down too.

Once the cookies are cool enough to handle dip the top half in to your melted chocolate before carefully placing them down on fresh grease proof paper. Add your edible eyes to the chocolate whilst still wet. If you have any chocolate left then you can carefully use the back of a spoon to draw a line down the centre.

This mixture makes about twenty heart shaped cookies. We popped a couple each in to bags for nanny and grandad and delivered these with a hand made clay ornament as their surprise valentines gift and the rest have gone down a great here.

Plant printing in clay with toddlers

There’s somewhat of a debate when it comes to making beautiful “keepsakes” with toddlers versus letting them experiment and play with mark making. For once I’m firmly on the fence with this. Of course if you have been following us for a while you will know I’m happy to let Arlo run wild and participate in mess making activities with no end game in sight, probably more so than most parents. I also love having a finished “make” and seeing Arlo so proud of his creations and being able to gift them to others has been one of our favourite things to do during lockdown. I wrote all about how different arts and crafts, amongst other things kept us sane here. Valentine’s Day gave us another excuse to get our craft on.

You will need:

  • A selection of natural materials
  • Air dry clay
  • A rolling pin
  • A wooden skewer
  • Heart shaped cookie cutter
  • Tinker bits
  • Grease proof paper
  • Ribbon
  • Card stock

All of the best activities we have done begin with a walk outdoors – it’s nigh on impossible for Arlo to sit down and concentrate on an activity without burning off some energy. We always take out a tote bag and end up bringing home an array of leaves and twigs from every adventure and nature inspires a lot of our craft projects, this air dry clay activity was a simple low prep and last minute plan for a rainy afternoon.

I always provide Arlo with a tinker tray when it comes to playing with dough. As we were approaching Valentine’s Day I had a rummage through the craft stash and found some heart shaped wooden pieces, some sequins and a few buttons for good measure.

This is as simple as it sounds – we rolled out our clay with a rolling pin and then cut our heart shapes. Arlo also decided he wanted to make giant cobra snakes entirely off topic but which we embraced as we had plenty of clay to play with. Some of our snakes did get coiled up in to hearts.

We placed the leaves we wanted to use in to the clay and rolled them in to the hearts with a firm pressure. I had to show Arlo a couple of times exactly how to do this and make a print but he picked it up quickly and began to use some of the tinker items to make his own impressions.

I poked holes in to our hearts and we left them to dry on a layer of grease proof paper. This air dry clay gets whiter as it hardens and makes for a beautiful rustic looking piece all on its own, but we have set some of our pieces aside to paint on another day.

Arlo was happy to thread a piece of ribbon through the hole and I helped him tie a bow and attach it to a piece of red card – which he then “wrote” inside to send to his Valentine (his nanny of course). The clay decoration can be removed form the card and kept as a treasured keepsake and I don’t think this takes away anything from the play experience which Arlo thoroughly enjoyed. We delivered the card alongside some of Arlo’s freshly baked love bug cookies to put a smile on nanny’s face.

Melted snowman cookies

Here’s a really simple way to incorporate winter in to your baking….. melted snowman cookies.

You will need:

  • Cookies
  • Icing sugar
  • Marshmallows
  • Food colouring pens

I made a batch of cookies using our three ingredient sugar butter and flour recipe but you could just as easily use a digestive or similar biscuit as a base if you’re short of time.

Simply decorate your marshmallows with your icing pens – orange for noses, black for coal mouths we used blue for eyes – unfortuanlty some of our snowmen didn’t make it last this stage and were consumed as they were!

Stick the marshmallows to your cookies with some icing made up as per the pack instructions and gently spooned over the cookies – the messier the better to create the dripping snow effect.

Winter themed eyfs messy play ideas craft projects for kids

All aboard the Severn Valley Railway Santa Special

We had the most magical day aboard the Santa Special at the Severn Valley Railway, there’s simply no better way to meet Santa in the Midlands!

We booked our tickets months ago because these are usually a sell out and opted to book a table for four of us. Myself, Arlo, Nanny and Grandad. There are also compartments available for families for up to six people – babies can sit on laps but they don’t receive a gift from Santa. Steam trains alone are magical – but at Christmas it’s like being on The Hogwarts Express in a Harry Potter movie!

Our heritage steam train was specially decorated with beautiful bunting throughout and each carriage was named for one of Santa’s Reindeers, and was ready and waiting at the platform for a prompt departure. The station was just as spectacular too.

We chose to arrive almost an hour early to ensure that we could get a parking space – it’s £4 for the day to park at the station. A brass band was playing, a miniature railway was running around a glorious tree and there so many wonderful original features around the station to look all beautifully decorated for Christmas.

We browsed the gift shop, bought some traditional sweets for the journey and soaked up the buzzing atmosphere, and to make sure boarding was efficient, an MC announced four families names at a time to call them to board the train. We had just enough time to test out Santa’s sleigh to make sure the cushions are comfy enough for the big man himself.

There was no rushing and everyone got a chance to enjoy the platform and board the train comfortably. The trains themselves are beautiful and well preserved. Grandad was delighted because they were just like he remembered trains as a child, with little details such as the door handles and window slides, and all of the original fixtures and fittings were “just like they used to be when I was a child ” It was lovely for grandad to be able to share these memories with Arlo.

It was easy to find our reserved table and lovely to see a decorated biscuit and mince pies left out for us as well as a kids activity book and drink, we stashed our belongings in the overhead space, which was decorated with bunting and baubles along the entire length of the carriage and so we settled in for the journey.

Once everyone was on board we all heard bells ringing and got a glimpse of the big man himself walking along the platform to board the train accompanied by his elves and huge sacks full of toys! This little glimpse meant that all the children were reminded to be on their best behaviour.

The Railway takes you along the Severn Valley and there are some glorious views to be seen, especially on a crisp winter Morning, however the most delightful exclaims for the children came when we went past the elephant paddock at West Midlands Safari Park.

We visited the Safari Park yesterday and for some reason the stars aligned and we happened to be in the elephant paddock as the train went past which I captured on film, but today we were far to busy waving from the windows…. but you get the idea from the clip!

The Santa Special doesn’t stop on the outward journey like it does for the usual timetable however there is an opportunity to leave the train at Bewdley on specific return trains to explore the village.

We went through all of the stations slowly enough to see all of the beautiful decorations and to be greeted by people just like in “the railway children” – we were content to watch the world go by and I packed a bag of toys to keep Arlo occupied on the journey. He was extremely well behaved and I think he has earnt his place on Santa’s “nice” list.

This is the first year Arlo has been truly aware of Santa and Christmas and so this experience was magical for him, and just fabulous for me to see it all come to life as a parent.

Throughout the journey a lovely elf popped in and out of the carriage to remind us to listen out for Santa’s bells and raise a chorus of jingle bells from all of the passengers every now and again, and we also encountered the drinks cart and enjoyed our complimentary hot chocolate (with an optional baileys tot for the adults).

A magician appeared almost out of nowhere and had us all intrigued as he managed to trick all the children by making coins appear and disappear, pencils appearing from behind ears and then turning tuppence into a pot of jam! No idea how he did that and all the grown ups were just as intrigued as the children.

Suddenly we heard a knock at the end of the carriage and the sound of bells grew louder…. Santa’s arrival was announced – he visited every group, taking the time to have a good conversation and Arlo waited patiently for his turn, leaning around the seats and waving his beloved sleigh bell for attention – and then amusing our carriage companions with his own rendition of jingle bells whilst everyone else waited patiently for their turn.

As soon as Santa arrived to greet us Arlo became overwhelmed and was a little bit shy however Santa was extremely patient and had a lovely manner, eventually finding common ground comparing their bell noises, and giving high fives before posing for pictures and then reaching into his sack to gift Arlo a beautiful leopard toy.

Santa’s assistant also gifted us some unique tree decorations as a memento of our day, and the elves who were taking the responsibility for the toy sacks were friendly and chatty as they worked their way through the carriage too – Arlo was beyond excited and overwhelmed by the whole experience.

Before we knew it we arrived back at Kidderminster – Santa was happy to pose for a selfie in front of the steam engine with all of the children waiting and the driver blew steam and the whistle much to everyone’s delight.

The smell of roasted chestnuts inside the station greeted us and we got the chance to soak up more of the festive atmosphere, check out the gift shop and meet the deputy Station Manager to give our positive feedback from our trip.

We had a wonderful morning and most certainly recommend this Santa Special to families across the West Midlands, we will be back to explore the railway and more stations in the summer!

Easter Eggstravaganza

Spring time flowers and bunnies on my windowsill
Daffodils are a must have at home to make if feel like spring. Love that you can pick up a bunch for less than a pound to brighten up a windowsill

We love to celebrate in our family… any excuse for a gathering and we will all get together and start planning the food. Easter is quickly becoming as commercial as Christmas, and I don’t see this as a bad thing. We aren’t religious as a family but having been bought up in a multi cultural city I think it’s important to acknowledge all cultures, (we have also enjoyed celebrating Chinese New Year, Diwali and Pride recently) – an easy way to learn about others is to join in with festivities and it’s also an opportunity to spend quality time together as a family.

This bank holiday weekend we have done so much I’m going to have to split this up in to several blog posts – we kicked things off with a trip to a local children’s farm “Hatton Country World” on Good Friday – a glorious day spent meeting lots of baby animals, and running around in the sunshine.

On Saturday we went to a not so festively themed “Ice Age” walk at the Botanical Gardens for some quality time with Nanny. This is another beautiful local attraction we have been visiting as a family since I was a child and it was lovely to see Arlo running around outdoors and marvelling at all the new sights.

On Sunday I hosted the egg hunt to end all egg hunts, with four children aged 1-6 years I knew we had to try and make it fun (and fair) for them all. I also wanted to make them earn their treats, and focus more on fun and festivities than the sweets and chocolate.

A welcome to my Easter egg hunt - the first clue card attached to my floral wreath
This beautiful wreath was from Hobbycraft, and with a little bit of home made bunting, and some garden signs the kids knew they were in for a treat walking up the pathway! Welcome to my Easter egg hunt!

I purchased a fabulous little set of clue cards from an Instagram store A little bit vintage and the simple rhyming clues led the kids to locations all around the house.

The first card was a welcome and I attached this to my front door wreath, and with personalised egg hunt bags left in the front garden, and the clue led them to “the place you leave your shoes” and here they each had a little parcel to open (bunny ears, tails and bow ties). I made these bags for the kids - a simple little personalised design featuring their names and bunnies in Easter colours

I made these little bags for the kids to take along on their journey to gather up all of their treats. A simple little design with their names and a bunny in Easter colours

The clues then them to “the place you cook” – of course Logan the eldest ran straight to the kitchen….. however we predicted this would happen and so actually the treats were hidden inside the play kitchen, and Logan quickly realised he had to pay attention, taking on the role of “clue reader” like a pro!

The first challenge to complete for the Easter bunny was to decorate some real chocolate Easter Eggs. Surprisingly the kids all completed this task with their chocolate eggs intact, keen to earn the next clue card.

 “Head to where you brush your teeth” – the kids all rushed upstairs to the bathroom, and of course I had to include one messy play activity so I had pre filled the kitchen sink with shaving foam…. they had to dig in, fetch all of the eggs and count them correctly for their next clue, which led them downstairs to the dining room table.

Here they all had to paint a wooden bird box, and again they all rolled their sleeves up to get stuck in, really focusing on the activity before proudly placing their finished items in the garden to dry and getting the next clue, which led them to “where you fetch the mail” We thought it was time to get some treats out now and so the kids all got a jellybean filled carrot shape along with a brand new nature trail clipboard and the next clue which sent them to under the sofa to find some bubble wands (a firm family favourite) and a clue card which told them to head outside. We stopped for a refreshment break before getting back to work for the Easter Bunny….. and the next challenge was to plant some sunflower seeds.

They did this task really well together, all getting stuck in and helping share the tools and fill each other’s plant pots with soil and so they earn their next clue pretty quickly – which led them to my bookshelf with a basket filled with strange items…They went back outside and here it was revealed that they were to use the items in the basket to make cress hair for potato heads. This one delighted Lincoln because I bought curly cress to match his hair.

With our bird boxes, plant pots and potato heads all proudly on display after a couple hours of activity we felt like they really had earned their rewards… and so the final clue led them all charging upstairs to find the “good stuff”

They all received a personalised “champion egg hunter” top and more chocolate than they could carry – you’d think that this would spoilt their appetites, but not this family – with the hot weather we decided to break with tradition, cancel the formal roast and set up a buffet style array of food.

We then went back to the garden to enjoy the sunshine with some ice excavation, the older boys enjoyed a good old fashioned water balloon fight, Arlo splashed around in his tuff tray and Paloma bought her play doh outside to make the most of the sunshine.

The egg hunt champions 2019!