Messy Play – spaghetti

I often use spaghetti for messy play. It’s great to add texture. I always felt safer using edible foodstuffs when Arlo was tiny because everything would always end up in his mouth.

You will need:

  • Spaghetti
  • Food colouring
  • Vinegar
  • Olive oil

I’ve tried various different methods and this is the one which works best for me. Boil and drain off the pasta as normal, before adding it to a big bowl.

Add in a splash of olive oil to prevent the pasta sticking.

Add in a splash of vinegar – I’m not 100% on the science but my colours always seem brighter when I use it.

Add in your food colouring and mix well. Start with a small amount as you can always add more…. it’s surprising how well it takes.

Then voila – it’s done and you can use this for all sorts of different things…. so for example the green makes amazing seaweed. Arlo recently discovered for himself that spaghetti is also fun to snip and so I left him to practice his fine motor skills with his safety scissors for a good twenty minutes.

Mum tip: if you plan ahead you can store this overnight in air tight containers.

Experimental Rainbows

I decided to try out a little science experiment with Arlo after seeing the idea float around Pinterest and this captured his attention for an hour – a parenting win!

You will need:

  • Food colouring
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • Vinegar
  • Baking tray
  • Pipettes

To prepare all you need to do is add a few drops of colouring to each section of the baking tray and then cover with powder. I provided three pipettes with vinegar in a little bowl and only had to demonstrate what to do once.

First of all Arlo was happy to see the bubbles begin to emerge as soon as the vinegar touched the baking soda. I wasn’t quite sure how much I would need so used rather a lot and the colours didn’t appear at first.

As soon as the colours began to emerge Arlo’s interest peaked and this offered a new aspect to the activity – Arlo was using two pipettes at a time to make bigger explosions and find more colours.

It didn’t take too long for Arlo to figure out that the colours could be mixed and this bought us even more time to play with this tray of magic!

I consider this activity as a success HOWEVER … next time we will be doing this outdoors because the smell was extremely overpowering but we need more vinegar to make bigger bubbles! I’ve also heard that adding washing up liquid might create a better effect so we’ll be trying this out too!

Bubble Socks

You will need:

  • An old bottle
  • Scissors
  • Sock
  • Hair tie or elastic band
  • Washing up bowl
  • Fairy liquid

I saw a viral video from The Dad Lab on Facebook and thought this was worth a go….. Arlo was getting under our feet very early one morning and so I set him up with this and to my surprise it actually worked really well.

All you do is cut the bottom from a bottle, place an old (clean) sock over the end and secure it with the band before dipping it in the bubble solution.

He only had to be shown once how to blow and he was off and away.

We are going to be trying this activity again, with different sized bottles and adding food colouring to the water too. He was just as surprised as me with how many bubbles appeared, and was marching up and down the garden as if he was leading a marching band.

Washing up

It seems crazy to add this in as an activity but trust me on this one….. add bubbles to a plastic bowl in the garden and children seem to suddenly want to complete chores.

You will need:

  • Washing up bowl
  • Washing up liquid
  • Sponge
  • Cloths
  • Brushes

After my messy dinosaur themed tuff tray Arlo was very disappointed that his dinosaurs were covered in slime and so I filled a plastic storage container with warm bubbly water and laid a towel out for them to be left to dry.

It’s as simple as that.

Add in a few accessories and a small world set up such as a Toy garage and cars and suddenly you have a car wash!

If you’re feeling up to it then you can let the kids loose on your actual car too – Arlo still sees this as a really cool activity and not a chore so we’re going to take advantage of this…. it’s just a shame we aren’t going anywhere in it!

Water Play

I’m trying to resist the urge to put up our swimming pool and have the novelty wear off or the sides burst before the really hot weather arrives.

Playing with water outside is a really simple concept. Use whatever you have lying around the house.

For example here Arlo is using a set of stacking cups which he has had since he was about six months old – originally from Poundland.

These cups have holes in the bottom and so he was busy trying to fill up all five, and then trying to figure out why he was never getting to the end of the task.

We were quite brave to let him handle the hosepipe but I figured it’s a good opportunity to give him a little bit of trust and see how he gets on.

We have used the tuff tray, washing up bowls and the mud kitchen as our base to play with water, sometimes adding bubbles, toys or even water based paints to make it a bit different every time.

Planting seeds

We have been spending a huge amount of time in the garden. Grandad is obsessed with his lawn and has lots of random bits and bobs lying around, and naturally Arlo likes to follow him as he potters around.

To include Arlo we bought a children’s gardening set from amazon but this isn’t essential.

You will need:

  • Seeds
  • Compost
  • Pots (recycled yoghurt pots are great)
  • labels

All of these things are available to order online from Wilko and also in most large supermarkets too.

Seed packets come with instructions as to how they need to be planted. And there’s a lot of preparation which goes into this which can keep toddlers very busy.

We like to add gravel / stones to the bottom of plant pots and then add compost as it helps with drainage.

Filling up the pots with compost is hard work for little ones and it’s great to get hands dirty and scoop/dig etc.

When it comes to planting, it’s simple enough to poke a finger or a lollipop stick into the soil, pop a seed in and then cover it back up again.

Of course at two years old Arlo can’t yet write, but he wanted to imitate us as we labelled all of the different seed trays and so he was content to sit in the garden on a Sunday afternoon and again dish out orders whilst we all did the dirty work.

Sometimes activities don’t go to plan, but I have found it’s good to follow the lead and turn something they are interested in, into an activity rather than take the pens away and cause a tantrum which is no fun for anyone when there’s nowhere to escape!

After planting the seeds a couple of weeks ago, Arlo now knows it’s his job to take care of them all. It’s become part of his routine to water the plants and check up on them all. Which takes him quite a while every day.

Mum Tip – if you have never done this before then start with cress, you get quick results which helps develop interest.

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!

Organised Chaos at Kidtropolis

I don’t know what I was thinking yesterday but I decided to take Arlo and two of his cousins to “Kidtropolis” on my own – and what in theory should have been a fabulous day out almost turned into a disaster.

Before we even entered the event they were all playing chase in the queue, Literally a minute after I took this picture Arlo knocked Logan’s glasses from his face, Logan dropped Arlo. The glasses broke and Arlo then projectile vomited over all of us, whilst surrounded by thousands of people eagerly counting down 10…9…8 until the gates opened.

No big deal, I swiftly got everyone changed into clean clothes (I always carry lots of spares because these things happen)….. a member of staff quickly came over to help clean up the mess and as soon as the kids saw the soft play section all was forgotten.

The under 4’s section was the first we visited, and all the kids ran off in different directions – it was at this point I realised I probably shouldn’t have gone alone with three wildlings….. but it was too late to back out. There was a huge variety of attractions but it was quite difficult to manage the kids expectations, as there were different age restrictions for everything and it wasn’t immediately obvious and the map in the guide book didn’t have clear labels.

There was a huge inflatable assault course, I think this is one of the best I’ve ever seen and the older two went on this one several times. Each of these attractions was managed by an independent company with their own staff, and it seemed as though some were more professional and child friendly than others.

Logan was happy to join Arlo on a mini version in the under 4’s area and he quickly tired out so had his afternoon nap in his stroller whilst we explored some other areas for the older two.

The fair ground ride was a big hit – the boys were so excited and nervous at the same time! The roller blading arena was a fabulous idea – a really slick set up with skates and protective gear available in abundance. They had ten minute sessions and didn’t over fill the space so the kids had a really good time trying this activity out and have asked if we can go to a roller disco again.

I also have to take a minute to praise the bumper cars – I’ve never seen this style of car – the kids picked up the controls quickly and were delighted to discover the big red button with inbuilt water pistols.

Lots of high octane activities, most of which we had to queue 10-15 mins for and only lasted 3 minutes – as a side note I think allocating fewer tickets for each session would have helped to manage the queues and deliver a better experience for all guests – it was a nightmare trying to contain the excitement of the kids on my own, and the queues were a little bit on the stressful side for me.

There were some fabulous promotional areas, the big brands really pulled out all the stops with kinetic sand, messy play, wooden trains and tablets all providing lots of entertainment and this was something we could all participate in – the floss challenge with Phillips was fun and we all received a goodie bag full of surprises which I won’t spoil.

I would love to give the NEC a shining review as it is on my doorstep, and I love to support local attractions but there a few things which really do let the venue down. As this was an event specifically geared towards an audience of children and families it was disappointing to see a lack of catering options inside the event space and also to have to eat our snacks on the floor because there was no seating – next time inviting a kids brand and setting up a pop up cafe (like Ella’s kitchen at the baby event) would solve these problems.

I would also add a child/baby friendly feeding and changing area – one baby change toilet inside the event space was not adequate.

In a timed event session, wandering around the huge NEC concourse to find a subway sandwich or another toilet would have meant missing out on play time so I just made do with what was available.

We didn’t manage to get around the whole event in our four hours, and chose to leave queuing up to “meet and greet” characters, the kids preferred to play on the activities instead – I’m grateful that they made that decision for themselves (phew).

I think this event on paper is literally the stuff kids dream of, but for adults it’s the stuff of nightmares. I think I would probably brave it again, but would have to travel with back up adults and pack more food/drink supplies to avoid paying over inflated prices.

Magic mess free painting

I can’t remember where I first saw this idea – probably a Pinterest board or another mum blog but it’s certainly one worth sharing!

We love mark making – I used to be happy with paint when we had laminate flooring and Arlo didn’t move quite so fast but with cream carpets and my little Usain Bolt on the loose this is the next best thing!

It’s a sheet of magic paper used to practice Chinese calligraphy. You use water instead of paint and it turns black on contact.

I gave Arlo and cousin Paloma sponge brushes and little pots of water and let them play – and it occupied them both for about 20 mins.

The paper clears once dry and you can re use it over and over again. It probably takes about 15 mins to dry completely so it’s something you can keep coming back to.

Paloma was quite delicate and happy making more intricate lines immediately whereas Arlo too a while but as soon as he figured out the water made the marks he started pouring it and splashing and patting with his hands

This magic paper is from eBay and cost me £5.50.

We have also tried the aqua doodle which is £15-20 from most high street retailers and creates colourful patterns but is often out of stock and also the Melissa and Doug “wow” books which are about £5 on Amazon which are great options for “on the go” (we’ve used them for travel and also at restaurants). They all share the same principle and I’ve noticed a definite improvement in the way Arlo does make marks and handle brushes and his utensils.