Cardboard box fun in the sun

We’ve had a delivery of a computer component, to mend the broken pc. We’re having one of those years so far in terms of things breaking, needing replacing, and repairing! Anyone else having one of those times too?

Anyway, I’ve digressed already! So this component came in a decent sized cardboard box, and  it was quickly claimed by the children. Even at the age of 7 and 8, great games and ideas can be had with a simple cardboard box.

It became a car, complete with drawn on detail which can’t really be seen here.

It also became a den with a duvet over it, and a box for randomly sitting in to do other things in, such as eating. Somehow the simple cardboard box made everything else more exciting!

We are loving this gorgeous weather, enjoying our freedom, and the children are choosing to spend a lot of time outside. 

Unfortunately about a month ago we had some strong winds and our ‘temporary’ plastic cover and metal tubing greenhouse got picked up and dumped upside down! This is the second time this has happened and it’s not repairable. We lost half the plants in there and seedlings that were just emerging. 

Anyway, us being us, let’s just say we’re not always the quickest to de-clutter stuff! So we hadn’t put the parts away and they were piled up in the garden. The children decided the poles and corner pieces were perfect for building structures, like a larger version of construction toys you’d have inside and they’ve had hours of fun with it. Today it was an ‘ice-cream shop’ 

The ice creams were made from a mixture of herbs/flowers/ soil and water! 

Last week before this lovely weather arrived, they made it into a den in the garden, and sat in the reading and writing various stuff. 

Today a lot of our thoughts and time has been taken up with other circumstances, but I will post about that in a few days when I can access my old photos that are on the broken, but now being mended pc! 

Freaky Photo Splicing – comparing siblings

Just because, for no particular reason we decided to play around with photo splicing. We took photos of both our children’s faces, and using photoshop we spliced them together.

The result was very interesting. I’ve actually always thought both my children were very similar in appearance, but looking at the spliced photo they actually have a lot of differences. Their main similarities seem to be hair colour, and type, and face shape. Apart from that, their lips, eyes, eyebrows, and nose, all the main features are quite different! We were all surprised by the results, including the children. 

Activities to Help Improve Children’s Writing

If a child is having difficulties with writing, such as pen control, writing stamina, size and neatness of writing. The automatic thing that people often do is practise more writing, while this does have a place, practising more writing doesn’t always resolve the problem.

It can also become boring for the child, which can result in tension between the parent and child. Thinking laterally, it’s useful to break the skill of writing down and make sure the physical elements required for writing are present. Being able to write involves lots of different components, including fine and gross motor control. So rather than do more writing practise, try some other fun activities instead. Set up some play based activities, knowing that while being fun they may also help your child’s writing. 

To be able to write you need to have body stability, the shoulder girdle needs to be stable so that the hand is controlled enough to write. Activities that involve some weight bearing through the arms develop this, have fun doing any of these activities….

  •  Wheelbarrow walking 
  •  Crab walking on all 4s 
  •  Using monkey bars.
  •  Crawling around on all fours! My children used to play lots of animal games, pretending to be dogs, cats, or even giraffes! Be warned that this activity also helps wear out knees on trousers too!

Once body stability is developed then it’s time to work on fine motor control and there are lots of activities that can be done to help this. Activities that require using fingers to do small, detailed things, or activities that strengthen the fingers and thumb are both useful to help with writing. Below are some suggestions of different activities to try.

Threading sets – if you don’t have a specific set you can make your own with string and pasta, start with bigger pasta tubes and then you can progress onto smaller macaroni. If you want a purpose to the activity making pasta necklaces is great, you can paint the pasta once you’ve made them too, metallic paint looks particularly good. However if you do want to buy something ready made this Galt Button Threading works well.

Air dry clay Christmas decorations

Playdough – kneading, rolling, shaping all involve using the hands, which will develop strength and manipulation. You can obviously use shop bought play dough if you have it, but it’s also simple to make at home. On our main site we have a recipe for microwave play dough. If your children are a bit old for playdough try making things from Air Dry Modelling Clay instead.  

Tweezers – using tweezers like those in a stamp collectors kit, or just picking up different items with tweezers, transferring them from one place to another. The game operation is also very good for this, if you have a Toy Story fan this is great.

Toys – such as Lego, Playmobil, Polly Pocket, Sylvanian Family. Where playing involves small pieces to use, and manipulate.

Playing with playmobil space station

Head Lice – up close and personal

Todays subject, head lice. Have you started scratching yet? 

But I’m going to approach this from a slightly different perspective. We had managed to escape ever having them until last weekend, when a hair wash and conditioner with a nitty gritty comb produced ‘things’ from my daughters hair. 

It was difficult to see what exactly I had got out my daughters hair, although I couldn’t think of what else they could be?! Although I wasn’t expecting it, as there was no scratching, no signs. I tried having a look with my son’s hand held microscope but this didn’t give a clear view. 

So yes we took photos! My husband has taken some great reverse lens macro photos before in a previous post. So he worked his magic, and we could then definitely confirm they were head lice. 

WARNING – The information and photo below may make a few of you go ewww. 

At this detail the head louse looked amazing, what turned out initially to be an annoyance, turned into a positive experience. 

Head Louse – reverse lens macro photo

We were all fascinated by the little creature that had been living in my daughters hair, even down to her blood it had been drinking that we could still see inside it. It sparked off great discussion and information finding about head lice.

After studying the head louse, attached to it as we had become, it was time to clear my daughter of the head lice. A combination of a nitty gritty comband Hedrinworked well. The whole family got treated just in case they were inhabiting anyone else’s head too! 

A surprising factor was how long they stay alive for! About an hour after removing it from my daughters head,  and after being submerged in water, they were still alive. So although it’s often not cited as being necessary, I did hot wash all bedding, hats etc… items that had been in contact with the hair just to try and prevent any re infestation from those items. 

French Numbers

Spontaneously this morning one of the child started counting in French. This then resulted in both children counting in French, as they sparked each others interest. 

Unable to remember some of the numbers, the children went to find this book from their bookshelf. We have it from when they have shown a previous interest in French. It has a page with the numbers 1 to 20 on it. It also contains a lot of other French words with colourful pictures, the children like the format of it and they can easily dip in and out of it to find what they want. 

Once they got to twenty they wanted to count on further, and while we as parents are more than capable of counting with them, they wanted other resources.

We found this on Youtube,  which the children found useful and enjoyed watching. However I must admit as an adult I found it a little dry, but it wasn’t for me so that didn’t matter. It served its purpose and answered their question of what are the numbers after 20 in French.

After French numbers they moved onto playing something else, probably moshi monster related! That was it, a small bite sized amount of self directed French learning. 

Great South Run

On Saturday 29th October 2011, I’m running the Great South Run 5k and my two children are running the Mini Great South Run which is 1.5k, and we’re running in aid of charity.

We’re really looking forward to doing the run, and we’ve set up fundraising pages. The children are running for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and I’m running for the Alzheimer’s Society. If you would like to support our charities and us, here are the details.

Just Giving Page for the Children – Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research

A long time ago I used to run, I used to sprint in my teens, and I ran the Nottingham half marathon in my 20s, and in between these times I’ve had periods of not doing much at all! Since having my last child I’ve started and stopped running several times, due to illness, injury and time factors. Every time I’ve started again, I’ve used the C25K plan, and this is what I’ve been doing again this time, training following the couch to 5k plan, I started off using the podcasts by Robert Ullrey. Then I fancied a change of music so found these podcasts by OhSuzannah.

 I originally entered the run as I wanted something to aim for, an achievement. I thought if I was running for something it would help keep me motivated. Now it’s nearly upon me, and it has helped, but I’ve also not trained quite as much as I would have liked, and in truth I’m a little bit nervous! However I’m quite a driven person, and I’ve entered now, and showed support to the charity, so there is no question I will be there on Saturday to start and finish the run!

About  a week ago for the first time I did a 30 minute run, and it was ok, maybe not as quick as I would like, but I managed it. Then a few days ago I thought I’d better try the actual 5k distance, and I managed it in 33 minutes. I know it could be faster, and I’m still quite unfit but I’ve run out of time considering the run is in 3 days….. 

The children naturally run around lots, are very active, and have good stamina, the only thing they could do with practising is running the actual distance at least once so they know not to go off too fast! I have very different children in their approach to the run, one said “I’m going to try my best to win”  and the other said “mum there’s a medal for everyone who finishes so it doesn’t matter how fast I go”. They’re both in the same wave of runners which is nice that they’re together, but I wonder how they will decide to run, will they both run the whole way together, or will one get competitive and decide to run their own race? It will be interesting to see what they do on the day, they’ve never been in a running event before. 

We’re all really looking forward to it, roll on Saturday. Anyone else or their children running this weekend? 

Shield Bug

Today we found a lovely shield bug. We’d never seen one quite like it before, others we have seen have been all green, or all brown. This one however was both green and brown, in a very distinct pattern. Apologies for the poor photo quality, it was taken with my phone. I was out without my camera, I will remember next time, as you never know what you might see!

Hawthorn Shield Bug

It was in fact a Hawthorn shield bug, which are apparently quite common here in the UK. My son was very excited, he loves discovering new bugs he’s not seen before. He gently carried it around showing his friends in the playground. 

The shield bug hibernates over winter as an adult, and then emerges and mates in the Spring. The female lays eggs and then between May and October they have a nymph stage and can be found feeding on a range of trees, and shrubs, but mainly on hawthorn, where they get their name from. By Autumn time they have become adults and can darken in colour as they get ready for hibernation. They hibernate in sheltered areas near the plants they eat, until they emerge in early spring when the cycle begins again. 

They are such amazing bugs to look at. Have you seen any around recently? At some point soon it will be time to hibernate. I wonder if the glorious sunshine and warmth we had last weekend will confuse them and delay the hibernation, or is their hibernation based on daylight hours? Anyone know? 

5 Ways To Learn Key and High Frequency Words – Literacy Recources

Whether your child has just started, or gone back to school, or you are home educating/schooling, we have a variety of literacy resources that you might find useful.

Some schools are still sending out word lists to be learnt, either 45 reception keywords, Dfes high frequency words, or some schools simply have their own lists. Don’t panic if the school hasn’t given you any either, as some schools aren’t using this method at all. We thought we would provide some resources and ideas to help those that wanted them.

So here are our 5 ways to help your child learn these words.

1) Play games with the words – like snap, pairs, and ask a question. We have printable sets of flashcards so you can play these games.

2) Finding the words in a book – this helps to not see the words in isolation, but as a part of reading. Read a book together, and the child has one or more keywords to spot and read in the text. 

3) Put words around the house – Now some people won’t want words all around the house, but it’s ideal to have a few, opposite the toilet is a good place! We have printable individual words for this purpose for reception keywords and high frequency words. Just scroll a little down the page and you will see them.

4) Combine with physical activities – For those who learn more actively, try using the words as part of a modified hopscotch, or involved with play, driving cars to the word, or scooter to words and back as a race. 

5) Sentences and pictures – Once you have a few keywords, you can start to join them together to start simple sentences, ideal so the words aren’t seen in isolation. If you want to, combine with drawing a picture to match the sentence and play a guessing game.

If you want more details, here is the original article which also contains the printable resources, including the flash cards to play the games. 

Not based on keywords but based on different topics, including dinosaurs, and fairies, we also have printable word games, which includes word searches and word matches. 
Also if you’re child’s reading is progressing, they’re heading towards reading chapter books, and you’re not sure where to start, we have suggestions and reviews about a variety of different books, including  First chapter books for boys, and Fairy chapter books.

We hope these ideas and resources are useful to you. If there are any other resources you would like to see on the website please get in touch. Leave us a comment below, or contact us.

Movies For Kids – Summer 2011

So this summer we have been to the cinema a few times, and have seen Cars 2, Mr. Poppers Penguins and most recently The Smurfs.

The children enjoyed all of them, but the overall favourite was ………. The Smurfs!

Cars 2, the children were a little disappointed with it, I’m not exactly sure why? Maybe because it’s been so long since the first and they’ve outgrown it? My son loved the first one, and collected a few of the cars, but we are going back a few years now! This one failed to engage them fully, and dare I say it, they got a little bored!

Mr. Poppers Penguins was quite light entertainment, a reasonable watch, not at either end of the scale of good or bad! Although Jim Carrey was a lot better than I’ve found him in other films, thankfully!

The Smurfs, now I might be biased, I’ve always loved the Smurfs, and this film didn’t disappoint. We all loved it, including the male that came to watch it too. It’s funny, bordering on cheese, but I like cheese, so beware if you don’t. It’s happy, light, entertaining, with a slightly sinister character, faintly resembling in physical appearance to the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Although not quite as scary because the character in the smurfs was quite funny too, so there was a good balance.

If you’re not sure whether a particular film is appropriate for your child, says it’s a PG or 12A and you want to know a bit more. There is a great website to check out a film before you take your child to the cinema, or watch it on DVD –  Kids in Mind,  it reviews the films on things us parents are interested in! Each film gets a nudity, violence, and profanity rating, and a review of the film.

So the summer holidays are coming to an end, and the films I’ve mentioned above seem to be on limited showings or have finished now. However if you still want to see them at the cinema look out for a cheap weekend showing.

Most cinemas do a Sat, or Sun showing of films a second time, at a much cheaper price, aimed at attracting kids. So Cineworld for instance has Movies for Juniors, Saturday mornings, normally around 10am. When it’s £1 a ticket for each person, so a lot more reasonable than normal cinema prices. The Odeon do similar too – Odeon Kids. It’s definitely a good way to see films at the cinema, at a more reasonable price, as long as you don’t mind seeing the films a bit longer after release, and giving up your Saturday mornings!

What films have you been to see this summer? Anyone else agree that The Smurfs was the bestest? 

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.