Ice Tub

Ice in a tub.

Ice in a tub.

It was very hot today, and baby T was feeling it. He was getting around in just his nappy, but he still felt warm. We had just turned on the air conditioning inside, so I placed some plastic mats on the floor in the lounge room and placed a sensory tub on the mats with some ice cubes in it.

Baby T was carrying around one of the bath squirters and a Little People cow, so he tossed those straight into the ice, and then sat down and started picking it up. He liked how cool it was.

Eating ice.

Eating ice.

Playing with the ice.

Playing with the ice.

He ate quite a few pieces of ice, so I am glad that I used only the clean ice that we use in drinks! He also rubbed the ice cubes over his face, legs and body. He moved them around, and played with the water as the ice began to melt. Inevitably, he upended the tub of ice and water over his head and shrieked with laughter.

Rubbing ice on his chin.

Rubbing ice on his chin.

This was a cheap and easy activity to help him cool down and have fun. He spent a little while playing with this tub on his own before his sisters came to join him. He became very possessive of the melting ice and screamed at L and A when they took bits of ice to eat!

There wasn’t much of a clean up as the kids ate most of the solid pieces of ice, and the water on the mats was easily soaked up with a towel and the mats put outside to dry.

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Felt Christmas Tree Decorations

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IMG_2659I was browsing in Riot Art & Craft the other day and we came across these little felt decoration kits. They looked like fun, so I bought two.

Sorted and ready to go.

Sorted and ready to go.

The circles came pre-punched in felt rectangles, so the kids popped them all out then put the scraps in the bin. Once we’d sorted the circles into piles of different sizes, I noticed that we were short a few circles, and the kids had to go and get them from the bin (luckily they were in a new bin bag so there wasn’t anything yucky in there!). We sorted the piles from biggest to smallest to make it easier to pick up the right sized circles.

Threading the felt circles.

Threading the felt circles.

We tied knots in the end of the silver string and threaded the plastic needles. Then the kids got to work, first adding the cylindrical bead for the tree trunk, and then the felt circles in descending order and finally the star bead. This was where it got a little tricky however, because then the instructions suggested making a loop and taking the thread back through the beads and circles to tie it off at the base where we started. I had to help the kids do this, and the star bead mostly popped off when we tried to tie the thread at the opposite end. The star was easy to thread back on, and then I added a knot above it to stop it slipping off again.

I have added a drop of craft glue to the bottom of the trunk bead and the top of the star bead to prevent the thread pulling through in the future. And I trimmed the end of the thread ready to hang on the Christmas tree.

L (7 years) found this an easy and enjoyable activity that she could complete herself. On the other hand, A (5 years), had more difficulties and required more help with tying the knots and getting the thread back through everything. Putting on the beads and felt circles was easy enough, but she kept letting the thread go, and she had trouble re-threading the needle. A made several trees with help, and still enjoyed it, but L could have done this as a solo activity.

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Cat and Mouse Cake

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I have made this cat and mouse cake a few times for the kids’ birthdays. It is quite easy and has been a big hit at birthday parties. I normally make butter or vanilla cakes, but A begged for chocolate cake, so I used some White Wings mixes to make the cakes.

Prior to icing.

Prior to icing.

The cat’s head is make with a round cake base, with another cake cut up to make the nose and ears. The mice are decorated cupcakes. I just cut a rough circle section for the nose, and then I sliced the piece of cake so that it was about half the depth. I attached it to the round cake using some white buttercream (vienna cream or frosting). I also used some buttercream to attach the triangular ears to the top of the round cake. I don’t worry too much about how the cake looks at this point because I know I will make it look nice with the frosting!

There are lots of recipes around for buttercream, but I used one I found on taste.com.au, it was light and fluffy and very tasty.

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After applying white buttercream.

After applying grey buttercream.

After applying grey buttercream.

A asked for her cat to be grey and white, which is pretty easy. A little bit of black liquid food colouring added to the plain frosting gives a nice grey. As I was also icing the cupcakes in white and grey, I made up a triple batch of buttercream, and divided into two bowls, keeping one white and making the other grey. A double batch probably would have done it, but I’d rather have extra ready to go if needed, especially if I am using coloured buttercream, it’s so hard to get the colour to match if I have to make more.

I roughly added the white buttercream over the nose and to make the inside of the ears. Then I did the rest of the head in grey neatly, butting it up to where the white should end, and covering any excess white frosting along the way. To give the buttercream a bit more texture, I used the flat side of a butter knife’s blade to slap against the buttercream, causing little peaks to form. I did this all over the grey areas, while keeping the white fairly smooth. The kids thought it looked more like fur that way.

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IMG_2377In the end, I decided that I wanted the white to extend a bit further down to encompass the mouth more, so I added some more white buttercream from the nose down. This gave me more room to apply the mouth and nose. The nose and tongue are half a pink marshmallow each, while the eyes are smarties. A chose the pink ones, though I suggested blue or green! The rest of the facial features are drawn on with writing icing. These little tubes are very handy and easy to use.

IMG_2411IMG_2421To make the cute little mice cupcakes, I iced half the batch with grey buttercream and half with white buttercream. The ears are made from pink or white marshmallows cut in half. Each half is placed on top of the cupcake so that the sticky cut edge is facing forwards. The eyes are shiny cachous and the whiskers, nose and tails are added using the writing icing. I had thought about using liquorice strips for the tails, but I am the only one in my family that likes liquorice, so it seemed like a bit of a waste.

Shiny cachou lollies.

Shiny cachou lollies.

The cat’s head was placed in the centre of the pre-prepared board (a piece of plywood covered in foil), and the mice cupcakes were arranged on either side. I only used eight of the mice on the board. The extras did not go to waste though, the kids finished them off quite quickly.

Unfortunately, before the cake could be unveiled at the party, Baby T leant across it and smooshed a couple of the mice and the cat’s nose. The kids didn’t care, they still gobbled it up!

 

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There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star! by P. Crumble and Louis Shea

IMG_2545There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star! by P. Crumble and Louis Shea, paperback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2012.

Yet again, P. Crumble and Louis Shea has made us laugh with a wonderful twist on the tale of the Old Lady who swallowed some things that really couldn’t be good for her. In this wonderful Christmas themed story the Old Lady is up to her old trick of swallowing larger and larger items, including an elf and a whole tree!

Hilarious illustrations complement the funny text, and make this an excellent book for sharing. My kids like to spot things in the pictures, like the little mice that are hoarding lollies and having a ride on the reindeer. My favourite illustration was of the bookshelf when she swallows the elf, the names on the spines of the books are parodies of real books. The kids didn’t appreciate this as much as me, and preferred the scene with all the Christmas lights.

This edition has a very cool lenticular cover. When you tilt the book, the Old Lady goes from the bottom of the tree, up the tree into a position of eating the star. My preschooler loves to do this over and over.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star! is a fun Christmas read for children in preschool and primary school.

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Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band by Emma Grey

IMG_2538Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band by Emma Grey, paperback novel, 233 pages, published in 2014.

Kat is a seventeen year old in Sydney with a passion for music, just not that produced by the biggest boy band in the world, Unrequited. When her mother gets delayed on a work trip, Kat has to escort her younger sisters, who are huge fans, to an Unrequited concert. Kat can think of a million different things she would prefer to be doing, like studying for her final exams or listening to her favourite band, 5 Seconds of Summer. A chance encounter with a cute boy on the train might just make up for the backstage passes to Unrequited, but will she see him again? The lead singer of Unrequited, Angus, seems to be staring at her during the concert. Could he really have noticed her out of the thousands of fans at the concert, and is she interested anyway?

A modern day Cinderella story, Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band read like a romantic comedy for teenagers. The hope of love and success and doing what you love, teenage desires finding reality. This was an uplifting read that I will probably indulge in again! If I didn’t have small children, I would have stayed up late to finish Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band. I really got into the story and wanted to keep reading without interruption, I wanted to know who Kat would choose and what would happen with her music.

The awkward situation of a love triangle (or quadrilateral) happens often, just not normally with the added complication of a very famous singer. So while this story has a slightly exaggerated fantasy feel to it, it was easy to see parallels to real life situations and people. I especially liked Kat as a character, she was different. A teenager without the conformity of a teenager, unconscious of her own abilities and magnetism, it made her enigmatic and interesting.  Angus, with his fame and money, as well as the ability to choose any of the girls that were throwing themselves at him, finds the one girl that doesn’t seem remotely interested and pursues her relentlessly. At first, I found this to be a bit arrogant, as it felt a bit like Kat would be just a conquest for him. However, I warmed to Angus after a while, though Joel seemed much more like your average Knight in Shining Armour that should win the girl’s heart.

Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band is a young adult novel, but I think kids from upper primary would find this a suitable read. I really enjoyed it, though I wasn’t much into pop culture as a teen, and am even less so now. After a few references to 5 Seconds of Summer and Douglas Booth, I realised that they might be real people. I used Google to confirm my suspicions, and then had a few moments of feeling rather old! Still, this book made me feel happy and optimistic.

I picked up a signed copy of Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band from Canty’s Bookshop in Fyshwick, Canberra, but it is also available online at Unrequited.com,au. You can read the first few chapters online too.

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Optical Illusions by Dr Gareth Moore

IMG_2514Optical Illusions by Dr Gareth Moore, hardback non-fiction, 96 pages, published by Parragon Books Ltd in 2013.

Optical Illusions presents more than 150 different images with explanations of these truly amazing illusions. The book was broken up into sections containing different types of illusions, such as perspective illusions, movement illusions, and colour illusions.

Both my daughter and myself pored over this book for hours allowing our minds to be tricked by the images. Some of them we had to move closer or further away to experience the illusion, and a few I couldn’t see at all, but most of them were very obvious. Even knowing that it was an illusion, it was incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the trick and see the image for what it really was. I loved trying though!

There was a handy little visual interpreter card inside the front cover that could be used to remove the illusion. Throughout the book, if an image could be decoded using the visual interpreter, there was a coloured circle besides the illusion indicating which part of the visual interpreter to use. This made checking whether lines were really straight or areas were the same colour much easier. My second grader liked using this visual interpreter to help her to see the reality of the image.

Optical Illusions is a very entertaining book that really has to be seen to be believed!

 

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

IMG_2509The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, paperback novel, 313 pages, published by the Penguin Group in 2012.

Since Hazel was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she has withdrawn from school, her friends and from the world in general. Her parents fuss over her and encourage her along to the Cancer Kids Support Group at a nearby church hall. The group is constantly changing as some of the kids have treatment or pass on. Regular support group goer, Isaac, brings along his friend Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor, for support one evening, and Hazel’s life changes dramatically.

The Fault is Our Stars is a poignant tale of love, death and life. Hazel and Augustus are living with death just over the horizon, and they try to live well, for themselves, each other and their families, though they face many more challenges than the average teenager.

Augustus and Hazel are not average teenagers, and I found them to be more sophisticated in their life views and speech. The obstacles that they have encountered have matured and changed them despite their youth. I liked them. I enjoyed their banter, and the way they were together. I liked Augustus’ terrible driving and his sense of humour, I liked Hazel’s intelligence and composure, her tenacity and her laughter. And I completely understand Hazel’s obsession with the book she has re-read dozens of times, and her intense desire to know what happened after the story ended so abruptly. The characters had taken on life for her, as so many characters do for me. Hazel and Augustus came out of the book as I read, making their journey part of my life too.

Beautifully written, insightful and real, this emotional story will stay will me forever. I laughed and I cried and cried, and had to put the book down for a couple of days before I felt like I could finish it. And all the while I was thinking about Augustus and Hazel, and how I wanted them to grow old together, to laugh and love and be together into a future where I know they can not venture. They did not waste the time they did have together, and this is a reminder to live our days to the full and not to let opportunity slip by.

I think the themes in The Fault in Our Stars may be too overwhelming for most primary school students, so this is a book best left to read in high school or beyond. It is a book that will touch you, that will remind you that life is precious, and that will make you want to hug your kids tight and never let go. Read it and let Hazel and Augustus into your heart.

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Explorers: Big Cats by Claire Llewellyn

IMG_2522Explorers: Big Cats by Claire Llewellyn, hardback non-fiction, 32 pages, published by Kingfisher (Macmillan Children’s Books) in 2013.

This junior non-fiction title is part of the Explorers range of reference books for young learners produced by Kingfisher. It is packed with facts about big cats from around the world, and is the perfect introduction to exploring these amazing animals.

Explorers: Big Cats is suitable for preschool, lower and middle primary school students. It is an interesting look at big cats, and would make an excellent reference for school assignments. Children will learn a little about different types of big cats, habitats, diets and big cat interactions. This is an introductory text, so the depth of information is not extensive, but suits the target audience well. The information is presented in an engaging and logical way, and is not overwhelming for younger readers. The realistic illustrations and clear photography enhance the text, and assist in engaging the reader. This book will satisfy younger readers, and will also inspire children to discover more about these incredible creatures.

Both my second grader and preschooler enjoyed Explorers: Big Cats a lot. They are both highly interested in animals and nature, and this non-fiction title was an anticipated read. My preschooler now wants to have a trip to the zoo to see some big cats (something that we do regularly anyway!) and my second grader has asked me to locate some more books on big cats for her to read. I love watching my children learning about the world, and books like Explorers: Big Cats make that journey fun. I learnt a few things about big cats that I didn’t know too! Now I’m interested to find some more titles in the Explorers series to read.

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Freaky Phobias by Joel Levy

IMG_2519Freaky Phobias by Joel Levy, paperback non-fiction, 80 pages, published by Scholastic Australia in 2011.

This book is a fascinating insight into a range of phobias. It covers the most common ones, such as arachnophobia and claustrophobia, alongside some extremely unusual phobias. I never knew there was a word for the fear of otters or knees or kissing, but there is! And there are many other phobias that I had never considered, but discovered in Freaky Phobias.

Freaky Phobias is an informative and interesting book for primary aged children. I learnt quite a lot whilst reading Freaky Phobias, as did my second grader. It had a good depth of information for children, and plenty of fun facts to engage the reader. The photography depicted all of the terrors contained within the book with such clarity that my second grader wanted to skip some of the pages because she felt anxious.

Freaky Phobias contains an A-Z of Phobias, providing the names and descriptions of quite a few phobias. I think this glossary could have been enhanced by including the phonetic spelling of the names, as some of them are quite long and complicated words, which I had difficulty pronouncing.

This is quite a good non-fiction title for young learners (and big ones too!)

 

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Filed under Animals, Book Review, Creepy Crawlies, Nature, People/The Body, Under the Sea

Tortoise and the Hair by P. Crumble and Louis Shea

IMG_2517Tortoise and the Hair by P. Crumble and illustrated by Louis Shea, paperback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2014.

Tortoise is getting ready for his big singing performance, but he can’t find his favourite wig! He needs that wig to perform, but where has it got to? He starts searching all over the house. Meanwhile, the wig is having its own interesting journey, after Bear picks it up on the bus, and eventually Hare acquires it. Can Tortoise get the wig in time or will he perform without it?

We have laughed plenty through many readings of Tortoise and the Hair. It is an unusual twist to the old tale of the tortoise and the hare, playing with the words hare/hair. When we read this book the first time, I told my preschooler that Tortoise’s wig made me think of Elvis, and she said “who’s Elvis?”…. I really must try to educate my kids on such important things! Despite this shocking lack of knowledge, both my kids liked Tortoise, with and without the wig. I liked the message of the story that Tortoise can accomplish his dreams without the external reassurance of his wig. He is talented and special just being himself. It is an important thing for our children to remember, that everyone is special and being ourselves is the best we can be.

Amusing rhyming text and fantastic illustrations make Tortoise and the Hair a great book to share with preschoolers and lower primary school children. My kids like picking out funny things in the pictures, like the kangaroo paperboy and Monkey in his hammock. I was pleased to see Hare make an appearance too, racing to the venue!

 

 

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