Monthly Archives: August 2011

Reverse Lens Macro Photography

This post was written by the other half of Great Little Minds, as he wanted to share his discovery about reverse lens macro photography. 

Owning a DSLR camera is a wonderful experience, it opens up so many opportunities for creative photography. However, the hobby can get even more expensive once you realise the potential of buying dedicated lenses for different situations where your kit lens that came with the camera doesn’t quite cut it.

One area I have always been fascinated by is macro photography, seeing minute details in the tiniest of plants and insects. You can buy wonderful macro lenses dedicated to the task which produce amazing results, but they are expensive as always. There is a cheap alternative which can still produce amazing results.

All you need to do is take your kit lens or any other lens you own and mount it on the camera back to front. What this does is reverse the angle of light, so that the wider the angle of the original lens, the more the magnification when reversed. The only expense is a ring to fit on the filter side which has the mount mechanics for your camera on the other side. This is the one I used to fit my Canon 300D with a standard 58mm kit lens…

There are several points you need to remember when taking photos with your lens reversed…
Nothing is auto – You need to manually set your exposure and the only way to focus is by moving closer. With a zoom lens, you have some flexibility being able to zoom in and out. Check each image histogram after the first few shots to guage your settings are correct.
Shallow DOF – As your subject is so small, the depth of field is tiny, so getting those eyes on an insect only 5mm long in focus is very tricky. Take lots of photos and review on the computer later.
Use a flash – As the subjects are so small and you need high shutter speeds to avoid camera shake, the use of a flash helps a lot. You need to bounce and diffuse the light down in front of the lens, so try using shiny card or paper plates cut to size and stuck over your flash. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just enough to bounce the light.
Be careful – All the electrical bits for your lens are on the outside and the glass is exposed to dust and scratches which are magnified even more when reversed, so take extra care.
Worker and Queen Ant

I was inspired to try this out after watching this video by Thomas Shahan on YouTube

Our son has enjoyed getting involved, as he loves insects etc. and has enjoyed trying to take some photos himself, with a little guidance.

Whilst not interested in the actual taking of the photos, our daughter has been fascinated by the photos themselves. It’s a great opportunity to see things in great detail, that you normally wouldn’t see. Particularly when you see something in real life, like a bee, and then see it super detailed in a photo and can relate the two to each other practically because you’ve been there and seen it with your own eyes. The children have also loved hunting around the garden for insects, plants, flowers anything they thought would make good close up photos. So whilst this post is written in quite a detailed way, with specifics, that would be more suited to an adult or older child, don’t over look that a subject such as macro photography may also be interesting and fascinating to younger children too. It’s all about giving them the opportunities. 


Yellow Ladybird

As you might have gathered from previous posts we like wildlife, both the adults and the children in the family. The other day we discovered something new about ladybirds and we thought we would share it with you.  
We get quite a few ladybirds in our garden, lots of different colours, and various numbers of spots. They come to feed on the aphids in the garden, as we don’t spray, but let nature balance the food chain out.
Ladybird feeding on aphid

We love spotting which ladybirds we’ve got, and we also look for the ladybird larvae, which if you didn’t know, you may not realise are ladybird larva. They are little black creatures with orange markings, they kind of look like spiky beetles, (typically when I want to take a photo I can’t find any!) If you have a look at the life cycle picture at the end of this post you will see what they look like.

While in the garden the children found a ladybird pupa, and they very excitedly came to tell me that something was actually coming out of the casing.
New Ladybird Emerging
We watched with interest, and out came what looked like a ladybird, but it was bright yellow with no spots! Now this mystified us, we thought it might be a different type. However after some research we discovered that this is how ladybirds emerge, they emerge yellow. Then over about 24 hours they develop their spots and change colour.
Newly Emerged Yellow Ladybird

So we had all learnt something new, including me! I never knew, until then, that newly emerged ladybirds were yellow, did you? Have you seen one before? 

If you’re interested in the  ladybird life cycle we have this printable picture diagram over on the Great Little Minds main site.

ladybird lifecycle

Fishbourne Roman Palace – Gladiators

It all started a couple of weeks ago, when my son received a great poster with a picture of a gladiator on the front, I think it was distributed at school? Wherever we got it from, it was a good piece of advertising, as it had my son requesting to go. The poster has been stuck on the front of the fridge, and a count down to the day of the Gladiator event at Fishbourne Roman Palace has ensued!

Today was the day, although the event was actually on all weekend, but we went today. The children have never been before despite us living fairly locally, and I vaguely remember visiting on a school trip, which will have been back in the 80s!
As you approach you have to wonder whether you are in the right place as you drive in to a housing estate, and then past a school. All the while you’re wondering if you’re heading the right way, and then you see the sign. It was well organised with people organising the parking, and admission. We paid for a family ticket, and did the gift aid, which entitled us to a season ticket and therefore free admission for the whole year. A couple of dates are exempt, when the other special events are on, but for nothing extra we can go back and visit again, which actually seems a bargain.
There was lots extra going on today, as well as the regular palace things to see. We arrived just before 11am and left at about 4pm,after we had got enticed by a cup of tea and hill rolling at the end!
Our day included, gladiator cut outs, like you get by the seaside, or on piers, but with gladiator scenes. The children loved sticking their heads in these and being different characters, a grown up might have enjoyed it too!
There was a stall were you could have wounds applied, my two chose spear wounds, very realistic they looked too!  It didn’t take long to do either, the lady was very skilled. This was a first for my children, and they loved them.
About an hour after we arrived there was a gladiator display which was great, the guy on the PA was interesting and got the crowd booing, and cheering the two sides along. It was a very good show.

After this, very gender stereotypically my children went their separate ways! My daughter found the hair tent, and my son the gladiator school. Although this stereotyping was only imposed by themselves, either child could have done the other activity if they had chosen.
My daughter had her hair plaited in a roman style by a very skilled lady, and there always seemed to be a queue at this tent, she was in demand. My daughter loved it, and it really suited her.
There was also a gladiator school, which was a great idea, with lots of different stations for the children to work through. Running races, catching wild (cuddly) animals with nets. My son loved all this. The main thing he enjoyed was he got to wear a helmet, shield and sword and practise fighting! All be it against a filled hessian sack, twas fun nonetheless! 
We also enjoyed a look around the small garden area, and the tents where various Roman times were re enacted and son got to try on a helmet, and also had a  look at shields and swords.
There was still more to do, see I told you there was plenty! We had a look around the mosaics, the children liked looking through the glass floors in places to get a closer view. My daughter also had a favourite mosaic, which was actually the most complete, this is her looking at it. I’m not going to show you too much, you will have to come and see it for yourself.
In this building there were also lots of other activities for children, coin, and artefact rubbing, colouring in, building a Roman arch. All of which the children enjoyed.
Overall we had a great day. Fishbourne Roman Palace is definitely worth a visit whether you’re local, or visiting the area. As we have children we particularly liked the special event day, as it helped bring the history to life. There are further special event dates throughout the year, you can check here to see when they’re on. I recommend you get yourself along to the next one, there is lots to see and do. 

BBC Bitesize

Today my son chose to spend most of the afternoon on the BBC Bitesize WebsitePredominantly doing maths games.

He started off in the KS1 section, repeating games he’d done before. His favourite KS1 game is Number PyramidThen he moved onto the KS2 games, he found some of them ok, and some hard, but as KS2 covers 4 school years that’s to be expected, especially as he was picking his own games.

The majority of the games are based on different TV programmes, including Mission 2110, Dick and Dom and Bamzooki. The games he enjoyed the most, regardless of difficulty, were the Bamzooki ones, which is one of his favourite TV programmes. I was around to give a hand when he needed it, which was mainly to do with explanation of new concepts and then he could carry on.

 This is one of the games he enjoyed

The games themselves are good, interactive, and interesting, making them both fun, and conducive to learning.

Also he found this game, called Questionaut, for some reason I can’t link to it directly. So go to the KS2 page and then you will find it in the box labelled Games, it will bring up the game in a new pop up window,  It took quite a while to complete as it has various levels, and very little explanation! Despite this he really enjoyed it, although he needed a bit of help again, as it covered a wide range of topics, in maths, science and literacy, some of which were new to him.

If you are looking for a way to support your child’s learning over the holidays, and they like computer games, have a try of the BBC Bitesize games, plus it’s free too. You just pick whichever Key Stage (KS) they’re in, or level they’re working at, and what subject they fancy trying. If you’re not sure about what the the Key Stages mean,  KS1 is Year 1, and Year 2, KS2 is Years 3 to 6. KS3 is Years 7 to 9, and then its GCSE (Years 10, and 11). We highly recommend giving the games a try.



So we have pet ants, well that’s what I call them, husband would probably look at it all bit more scientifically! Here is a video of our ants drinking honey.

It all started a while ago now, when I bought my son one of these, it got us started, and we found this great for closely watching a few ants, ideal for children. You put in a few fully grown ants which you can watch living, and eating.
However after the interest was sparked using the set above, we wanted to be able to see more of the ants, and the best way is to keep a colony with a queen in. So you can see all the stages of development. The above equipment unfortunately isn’t suitable to have a more established colony in, mainly due to the size of it.
So husband, with some help from the children has put a lot of time and effort into researching and then building the ants a special home, called a formicarium Then he started a colony with a queen and about 10 workers. These are available to buy so you can start such colonies off.
We now have a queen and at least approx. 100 workers (approx. because it’s very difficult to count them all when they keep moving!), and various other stages of ant development including eggs, larvae and pupae stages.
We hope to bring you a step by step of how the formicarium was made, and how the ants are kept at some point in the future. You might like to make one yourself, it’s fantastic for children too, they love watching them, and can watch all the stages developing.
Recently we purchased this usb microscope, specifically so we could have a closer look at the ants, which it has been fantastic for. It’s also been useful for looking at lots of other objects too. I would highly recommend it. 

One thing you can also do with it is capture video and pictures on your pc, which are great. Below is a video we captured of our ants. The ants are Lasius niger, which are common black garden ants, and the ants are feeding their larvae. This is the stage after eggs but before pupae. The two long orange/brown bits you can see, are the legs of a spider, this is what they are feeding to the larvae. These larvae will take a few weeks to grow until they spin a cocoon and turn into pupae. After that, they will emerge as new workers.

Six Flowers for Bees

Our garden is quite small, but we fit in flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit, all mixed in together, we don’t have separate areas for each. I didn’t originally plan the garden to attract wildlife it just seems to have evolved that way! Probably because myself and the children love watching and listening to the wildlife, we have a variety, including hedgehogs, birds, insects and of course lovely bees. Growing flowers that attract bees, both helps the bees that are in decline, and helps with the pollination of our produce. So I thought I would share six flowers in our garden that the bees seem to love.

Borage is a beautiful plant, an annual, with delicate blue flowers, easy to grow, and a prolific self seeder. It’s considered to be a herb, and has a cucumber smell and taste. If you are planning on drinking Pimms this summer, you need your own borage garnish, and the bees will thank you for growing it too. I’ve grown it from seed once, and now I just let it self seed. If the self seeded plants don’t grow quite where I want them, I transplant to other areas of the garden once they have about four leaves.  Borage is beautiful, easy to grow, and the bees absolutely love it.
Bee on Borage Flower


Now this plant I love, but it is a bit controversial as some people think of it as a weed, it  grows naturally on waste lands, and self seeds prolifically. I personally don’t find this a problem, I just pull up what I don’t want, or transplant elsewhere, or you could make sure you dead head before it seeds. The positives out way the negatives for me. It’s a perennial and can grow quite big once established, up to 1metre tall and it has lovely silvery foliage. Mine is a pink toadflax, which has delicate light pink flowers, and you can also get purple toadflax. I’ve recently noticed some deep purple toadflax growing nearby, which I would really like to have growing in the garden too. Again the bees love this plant, mine is always covered in bees, it’s the most popular plant in my garden with the bees at the minute, and often there are a variety of different bees on the plant at any one time.
Toadflax with Bee

A perennial herb, so a plant that’s useful, and attractive to bees. Great for those that cook, you can use the leaves fresh, or cut and dry ready for winter use, when the plant naturally dies back. There are some lovely variegated varieties too, we have a couple of different types, and I love their slightly furry leaves that add texture to garden beds. Plus they have spikes of blue flowers that are attractive to the bees. For some reason I have one plant that seems to flower earlier than the others, and it’s always one of the first plants available for the bees in the spring, which I’m sure they’re thankful for.
Bee on a Sage Flower

Antirrhinum (Snapdragon)

These annual flowers were chosen by the children for their section of garden. I’ve said annual, as that’s how they tend to be grown, although in my wildlife (lazy!) gardening techniques some of my snapdragon plants actually survived from last year. They have also self sown round the garden. The children picked them initially because they liked the bright colours, plus they like squeezing the sides and making them snap, as I did in my childhood! However an added bonus is some of the bees seem to like them, they squeeze themselves inside, and practically disappear inside, and re appear a while later! The snapdragons aren’t as popular as some of the other plants and I’m thinking it may be a certain bee that has the ability to fully utilise this plant? However I’m pleased, as it means some of the plants I never realised were obviously attractive to bees are. In the photo below you can see the pollen sac on the bees back leg, as it heads into the snapdragon. 
Bee Entering Snapdragon with Pollen Sac

I wanted an edging to our raised beds, and was thinking of low hedge ideas, as you might be realising by now, I like flowers, colour, fragrance and so couldn’t contemplate having just a green leaved hedge. Although the birds might have preferred this. So eventually I opted for lavender, which is in it’s second year of planting this year, the plants have now merged together. I initially planted them 30cm apart, and they are now starting to look like a low hedge. When they are in  flower, they’re a beautiful blue, and are covered in bees.

Another perennial herb, and one that I use a lot in my cooking, so definitely a useful culinary plant for the garden. The added bonus is when it flowers, it gets absolutely covered in flowers, and then it also gets covered in bees. The bees love it.
Bee Enjoying Thyme Flowers

An added bonus with some of these plants, is if you let them self seed, you get a natural planting scheme, and can just tinker with it. Transplanting or pulling out plants you don’t want. It also works out cheaper, as you are not buying new plants all the time, and also the swathes of flowers that you get often look good together. This is my gardening style, very changeable and natural, plus I don’t have a lot of time so I let nature help me.

I’ve found this bumble bee identification website, that looks great for trying to identifying which bees are visiting the garden. However I’m still having trouble identifying mine! I thought that most of the above were white tailed, as that’s what they seem to have, but looking at the chart they could also be a buff tailed bumblebee, and the one heading into the snapdragon could be a garden bumble bee? We also get quite a few in the garden that have orange tipped tails too, like the bee in the Borage photo above. Does anybody have any more tips on differentiating them, or other useful websites? Maybe I just need more experience, or to spend more time watching them. 

Sharing Happiness

As I was decluttering the other day, I realised that I had items stored away for sentimental reasons, that I’d forgotten about! These things were shut away in a cupboard, and were not bringing anybody any happiness shut away, out of sight. Having recently read the The Happiness Project I decided to address this and got the items out to have a look at.

My daughter particularly was keen to see it all too. One collection of items were the bits and pieces from my wedding, including my dress, that believe it or not she had never seen! So we got my wedding dress out, and she had such a lovely time looking at the details and feeling the fabrics. Then she tried it on, you could just see from her face the happiness this bought her. She said she felt like a princess.

Then I also found my shoes and tiara, I didn’t even realise I still had my shoes! I really didn’t wear them much on the day, I remember as soon as we got to the reception I took them off and went barefoot for the rest of the day. I’m much more comfortable with bare feet. I’m never going to wear the wedding shoes again, so they are now living in my daughters dressing up box, where they will bring her a lot more pleasure than sat in a cardboard box in a random cupboard somewhere! 
My daughter loved trying it all on, as you can see from the photos below.

She wore the tiara and a beaming smile all day! 

Do you have anything stored away that would bring happiness to your children? My recommendation is to get it out and use it, or at least have a look at it together and build some new great memories. I’m so glad I did. 

Mint Moth

While out in the garden yesterday, the children spotted something small fluttering around the marjoram. On closer look there were several of them, at least 6 we counted and they looked like small butterflies. When they stopped to rest on the marjoram they rested with their wings open, showing off their beautiful colouring, a purple brown colour with gold markings. I had a vague recollection that if they rested for a longer period with their wings open they could be moths rather than butterflies. Although it was daytime, and I tend to think of moths as being generally nocturnal, so I wasn’t sure!
So after some searching I discovered that they were  micro moths, called Mint moths, also known as Pyrausta aurata. Apparently they get their name from the caterpillars, that like to feed on mint plants. We do have a pineapple mint plant in the garden, so maybe they have been feasting on that. Also the moth itself likes marjoram, so that makes sense why my marjoram had lots on it, and they fly day and night. So it’s a myth that all moths come out at night, some fly during the day too.
Mint Moth
If you have some marjoram in the garden, have a look on the leaves or flowers and see if you have this little moth in your garden. It’s really pretty. Have you spotted them before in your garden?

Cardboard, cardboard everywhere!

We have a shelf with arts and craft stuff, and as part of that I keep a bag of old cardboard,mainly boxes of various shapes and sizes. A mixture is better, as there is more scope for imagination. So any old boxes, tissue, cereal, egg, shoe, toothpaste etc…., plus rolls, toilet and kitchen, and any other interesting cardboard packaging. I keep it all in one big mesh bag, any extra goes to recycling and I top it up as necessary. Best of all this is free and easy to do, and can provide hours of entertainment for children.
Our Bag of Boxes
In the past we have used the boxes to do junk modelling, I basically let the children design and make whatever they want. Let them loose with the bag of boxes and a roll of sellotape. I can highly recommend getting a sellotape dispenser, and then they can be more independent and do the sticky taping themselves. You just have to be prepared that loads will get used! We have found that sticky tape works much better than trying to stick it all together with glue, where you have to wait for it to dry and pieces often don’t stay where they put either. Below is a dog that my son made with boxes and a couple of extra bits, pompoms, and shapes he cut out of coloured paper, for ears, nose and tail.
Junk Model Dog
Recently they have been getting things out of the bag to make set ups for games, so using the boxes as various buildings/homes, including tubes as spaceships etc for characters in their games. It’s amazing the imagination a cardboard box can spark off. They set it all out, making great games up, that can keep them occupied for ages. 

So why not give it a try, even if you are short of space, even a few pieces will do, and it’s great for developing a child’s imagination. There is no prescribed way to play with it, it has no on and off switch unless they draw one on!, and it makes no noise unless they turn the boxes into drums or guitars!. Yes mine have done all these things! It’s a lot of fun for the children and great to see what they will create next. The photos below show what mine did recently with their boxes, with a few additional bits of their toys and other bits from the craft cupboard, such as paper plates,and fabrics. It may not look much to us as adults but I can assure you my children got immense fun from their game. They chose to get the bag out, and what they wanted to use, set it up and got on with playing. Simples.

Fairy Home
So if you don’t already do this, I can recommend trying it, it’s a useful free activity to do at home, particularly as it’s the summer holidays. Maybe keep a few boxes, and if your children complain they’re bored, give them a load of boxes and some sticky tape and see what happens!? Maybe you already do this with your children, what creations have they come up with? I’d love to hear about them.