Bug Hotel

Welcome to Rainbow Towers! Our bug hotel was an amazon find, the basic wooden box arrived flat pack and had to be glued together which didn’t take too long at all. Then is was just a case of doing a little bit of interior design. I set up a nature tuff tray and we set to work.

The straw, pine cones and bamboo sticks all got the rainbow treatment before being wedges firmly in to the bug hotel and we nestled it in one of the borders of the garden amongst some leaves.

Arlo is absolutely obsessed with bugs and mini beasts after our mini beast scavenger hunt activities and has been delighted to check the hotel and find little creepy crawlies have already taken up residence behind the bamboo straws.

I’ll come back and update with pictures when I dare to get closer!

Toilet Roll Airplane Craft

Our little spitfires were made during our busy VE Day celebrations, using toilet rolls and a bit of scrap cardboard.

You will need:

  • One loo roll
  • Cardboard
  • Paper fastener
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors or scalpel
  • Paint

First things first you need to cut your wing, propellor and fail shapes out of some scrap card. I used a template to do this.

Then score some horizontal lines in to your roll to slot the wings and tail in. I checked everything fit together at this stage, the marked the spot for the tail piece to slot in vertically before making another small cut.

I used a paper fastener to secure the propellor to the circular piece of card and then used masking tape to attach this circle piece to the loo roll, making sure that everything rotated well.

I gave Arlo all the pieces and a selection of green and brown colour paints to go wild. He really nailed the camouflage print without me even helping!

We went off out for a walk leaving everything to dry before coming home to assemble all the bits.

It’s as simple as that! Here’s a little 15 second video tutorial:

Osmo: The little Genius Starter Kit – Review

Disclaimer: We received the product featured in this blog free of charge

Introducing kids to technology is a divisive parenting choice. Finding the right screen time for children is such a difficult challenge, and there are many parents out there who understandably want to avoid it as much as possible. I think Play Osmo have developed an innovative new product which addresses the need to introduce children to technology but also encourage imaginative play.

During this lockdown period we have all experienced the benefits of technology, from PE with Joe Wickes to family quizzes over zoom, and the safari park live stream of an animal birth. Trying to keep Arlo amused for any length of time is exhausting and I’ve been looking for activities which keep him occupied for long enough to effectively work from home.

So…. what is Osmo? In a nutshell it’s an interactive accessory for a tablet such as an iPad (a full list of compatible devices is available here).

In the little genius starter kit there is:

  • a base for a device
  • A clip on reflector
  • A play mat
  • A container of 19 costume pieces and a model.
  • A container of 38 silicone shapes

The containers of accessories are compatible with four different apps and you can also purchase add on’s so as your child grows this toy develops with them.

Prior to introducing this to Arlo I removed the contents from the box and installed the four apps compatible with this kit, plus the parent app too. This was a fairly intuitive process. The user interface is simple to navigate, it took about ten minutes to register with my email and become acquainted with the layout. I waited for Arlo before attempting a game walkthrough together.

The containers within the little genius start kit are compatible with two apps each. Arlo is at the younger end of the 3-5 age for this set and rarely gets to see my iPad so I wasn’t quite sure how well he would respond but as soon almost as soon as we opened the “stories” app a friendly bear like monster named Mo appeared on to our screen to introduce himself, and beckoned Arlo to tap the screen to choose from three stories.

We placed our character out on the map carefully in line with the reflector and the same character appeared in front of us on the screen and asked Arlo to choose him an outfit for his adventure. We had spread all the different costume pieces out on the table in front of us and Arlo spent quite a while making his first decision.

Each costume piece is extremely well designed, with what appears at first glance to be a crazy combination of accessories, for example there’s some legs in a boat, hands holding a guitar and a squirrel in pink hair!

Arlo chose an outfit from the puzzle pieces and we slotted them on to our character on the play mat. Almost instantly the character on screen was dressed in the same costume, and he happily bounced along until he met a penguin who was in a predicament and needed us to help him out.

Here’s where the educational bit comes in – instead of directing Arlo to look for the squirrel, guitar or the boat – every encounter on screen created a problem which required solving. We were asked to find a way to wake up a sleeping polar bear – Arlo wasn’t sure at first what to do and so we had a little chat about what would wake you up if you’re sleepy, and he eventually pointed out the costume with the parrot because they’re noisy – I directed him to change his characters costume on the mat which in turn changed his appearance on screen and then the accessories all flashed on the screen and so we could tap the parrot to select it.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the right solution, but the character politely suggested we perhaps try using one or two other objects, so we hunted around to find the costume which featured the suggested items – eventually our on screen bear was woken up with our character playing a gentle guitar tune. The bear revealed a reward and we carried on our way. The story consisted of four or five different problems to solve before coming to a natural conclusion.

No sooner had the story finished, Mo the monster appeared congratulating us on the adventure and offering up three more different story themes – I’ve seen penguins, pirate treasure and space rockets appear amongst other things already. Arlo happily went through seven stories the very first time we used this app.

He wasn’t quite ready to use it independently immediately but his confidence is growing rapidly with every interaction. Each of the four apps utilises the interactive technology in a different way – the use of the silicone shapes within the ABC’s app is fascinating and we have only just scratched the surface.

The parent app allows you to see how much play time you have experienced and within the storied app lets you know how many obstacles have been solved. This ability to track progress and really understand how your child is utilising play time is extremely valuable to me to ensure I am able to stay in control of screen time and make sure we are maximising the opportunity to learn.

I shared a little video walk through of the stories app on my IGTV if you would like to take a look:

Gifted product post “You can either run from it, or learn from it” – Rafiki Toddlers and tech – up until recently I’ve been avoiding too much screen time but I have decided to embrace toddler technology after our experience with this little genius starter kit gifted from @playosmo. Working from home and trying to entertain Arlo non-stop has been exhausting. I’m constantly looking for activities which keep him occupied for longer periods of time and was intrigued to learn about this new award winning concept. I’m in the middle of writing a full blog post about our experience but in a nut shell the accessories provided in this set work alongside a series of educational apps. Quite unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered, the physical aspect of play is the key focus here – in the stories app for example Arlo has to solve problems his character encounters by selecting the right costume pieces and placing them on the play mat and as if by magic…. the character on the screen suddenly changes in to the same costume and uses the accessories within the story. We still have so much to explore within the four apps compatible with this “little genius kit” and this gives me confidence that despite missing out on all this nursery time, he’s going to be ahead of the game with his phonics and letter recognition without even realising he’s learning. The real beauty is that Arlo very quickly picked up the user interface and will play independently exploring the Osmo world with Mo the monster. #osmoathome #osmosocialclub

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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!

John Adams Play Stuff Review

I was given products free of charge to review on Instagram.

It’s been a challenge trying to get hold of flour to make my own dough during this lockdown – and to be honest once I’ve added in food colouring and other ingredients it all adds up, which is why I was delighted when I was asked to review some “play stuff” which is currently available to order from Amazon.

I love using this kind of toy with Arlo, I think it’s really great to develop manual dexterity and enhance those all important fine motor skills.

We received two sets in the post, each of which comes in really unusual packaging. The box has a small yellow clip which once released drops down the two sides to make a little play surface.

Both kits were designed in the same way, with hidden images within the bright illustrations. The Pizza and pasta set had lots of little peas to find and the picnic set had lots of creepy crawlies.

This helped inspire play – we opened up the picnic set first. The dough and tools are neatly stored away in the middle section. I was pleasantly surprised with how bright each colour was and also with the scent of the dough as it wasn’t over-powering at all.

Both kits contained the same five colours but had their own unique tools and moulds relevant to the theme of the play mat – having the illustrations and themes helped us be more exciting than usual – I’ve never made cheese and salad from dough before!

We spent a while playing with both sets and the texture of the dough itself was firm but extremely malleable. We found that if small pieces touched it was easy to separate the colours, but also when working together some blue and red we were able to make a lovely purple.

Arlo got stuck in and was sitting on a handmade crochet blanket but there was no residue left behind or any colour transfer of the products to his clothing. We played for over an hour and the dough didn’t dry out or change in texture. We really enjoyed these sets.

Arlo was also very happy to help put all the stuff back – choosing the right coloured lids for the dough and then popping them all back in the centre storage space before closing up the sides. I helped him snap the clip back on and he made sure to pick up the set and run to put it away too.

Sugar Cookie Solar System

After commencing our salt dough solar system project Arlo seemed disappointed that the planets were not edible and so whilst waiting for our paint to dry we set about making a batch of sugar cookies. This is an extremely simple recipe and one which can be adapted with all sorts.

You will need:

150g plain flour

100g butter

50g caster sugar

A few drops of vanilla essence to taste

(You can add chocolate chips, nuts, berries, fudge pieces – pretty much anything you want to this basic dough!)

This is a baking project which Arlo also very much likes to participate and I created a short tiktok video as we went along.

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and then bake at a medium heat for approx 12 mins – this can vary based on the size and thickness of shapes you cut out.

If you do not have cookie cutters then use things you have in the kitchen – a tumbler makes perfect circles and a pizza cutter is always great fun.

Whilst these are in the oven get your decorations prepped. Follow the instructions on the icing sugar box to mix it up, use squeezey tubes – melted chocolate is always nice too.

Mum tip: use an ice cube tray to put a small selection of sprinkles out. I give Arlo a few cookies on a baking tray with a bowl of icing and then leave him to it…. if I gave him the whole lot there would be none left!

By the time out cookies were finished, the paint on our salt dough solar system was set too and we had two versions of our solar system.

Salt Dough Solar System

Go big or go home is how the saying goes…. so when I decided to whip up some salt dough for Arlo we had to make the entire solar system.

It’s not quite as challenging or daunting as you might imagine – all the pieces are circular shaped! We love salt dough and to make sure our pieces get to have a decent display time the easiest thing to do is poke holes in them to turn them in to mobiles – choose a theme which suits the cutters you already have!

For the dough you will need:

2 cups plain flour

1 cup salt

1/2 cup of room temp water

A straw

Tissue paper or grease proof paper

Then to decorate :

Paints

Glitter

Plus various bits of string and ribbon to hang.

So all you do is combine the ingredients in a bowl – this bit is half the fun so you can let the kids join in and get as messy and involved as you like. I made a tik tok video which explains the entire process

Mum tip: once your dough is ready leave it to rest for at least half an hour in the fridge. I don’t know why this works but it does.

I chose to microwave our pieces because I’m impatient. If you do this use kitchen roll and switch it out every so often. For a smoother finish if you’re making ornaments etc then you will need to bake low and slow, on grease proof paper – for our planets I didn’t mind the odd lump and bump. Make sure you poke holes before baking!!

Once they’re thoroughly dry they are ready to paint and decorate. I left ours overnight and set Arlo up with all his materials first thing in the morning. He was convinced that we were baking biscuits so was slightly disappointed he couldn’t eat them, and this led to us also baking the entire solar system.

We used poster paints, and then PVA glue with glitter, and left everything to dry for quite a while.

You can’t be too ambitious with salt dough – it can be quite fickle and delicate as it dries heavy – we made our sun – the biggest thing in our solar system from painted paper plates.

We went out for a walk on our daily exercise and made sure to find a big branch to hang our planets from. I strung the whole thing up using fishing wire which is transparent whilst Arlo napped. My mom pulled out a solar system poster and some fairy lights and we took down all of our Easter crafts from the notice board to start fresh with our new space theme.

I used some garden twine to create a loop which meant the whole thing could be hung from the underneath of our shelving…. the fairy lights were added after this for Arlo’s big switch on.

Floral Sun Catchers

We are still playing with collected flowers from our daily exercise (and also from the garden). Arlo loves the colours and the smell and is starting to recognise specific flowers and learn their names.

For this activity you will need:

  • Laminator
  • Laminated flowers
  • Scissors
  • Collected flowers
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Circular template

We collected flowers for this in our own garden one evening – grandad has a huge variety of pansies in full bloom.

Arlo chose the colours carefully using his scavenger hunt egg box and I let him hold the scissors to get a clean cut on the stems.

We sat down to look at all the flowers we had collected and I demonstrated to Arlo the activity with one run through and he immediately understood and began to place flowers on the laminating sheet.

Then it’s simple enough to load a laminating sheet – take care to not overload the machine thickness wise and to leave plenty of space to trim.

We used a tin lid as a circular template. Next time we try this out I will have more variety of shapes to hand to add in another aspect of learning.

I trimmed the shapes carefully – Arlo is a bit too little to follow the exact shape carefully but he did have fun trying. Older children can take responsibility for this aspect of the craft.

Then it came to hole punching and for some reason this is Arlo’s favourite thing to do – I think he thinks it’s some sort of big robot.

We raided the ribbon jar together to find some scraps of thread and coloured ribbon for a bow before gifting these to nanny and grandad for immediate display in the garden.

I love the way these are perfectly imperfect – the colours catch the light beautifully and brighten up a little corner of our garden – but they would look beautiful in any space.

Frozen flowers

During our flower themed scavenger hunt we collected some beautiful flowers, and so we have been putting them to good use.

For this activity you will need:

  • Small collection of flowers
  • Ice cube tray
  • Tupperware container
  • Calpol syringe
  • Paint brush
  • Tooth brush
  • Cup of warm water

All you need to do is place a flower or two in each compartment with water and freeze overnight. Carefully wash all of your flowers first to make sure you don’t have any hidden creepy crawlies.

I set this up at the breakfast table so that I could get five minutes peace but it kept Arlo occupied for quite a while. He enjoyed dipping the calpol syringe in the warm water and squirting it all over the place.

He also had some other tools to hand which he tried to used to tease the flowers out of the ice, great for problem solving and dexterity.

Such a simple little idea and very minimal effort to prep. We will definitely be doing this one again on a bigger scale when I have more freezer space.

Mum tip: use a variety of different coloured flowers to also reinforce learning about colours and talk about the differences between the flowers – big/little opposites etc.