Getting messy with it: have you seen my marbles? I think I left them on holiday… (and can I go back and get them?!)

I have been a bit unsure about how to start this blog - difficult to just start writing about your everyday life for people to read and understand without sounding like a bit of an arse. But this week has been a thought provoking one for me; we are seriously lucky in that my husband's business gives him a couple of extra weeks off every five years, so we took an extra-long holiday in France. We returned on Sunday night and I have really felt as though I have had to re-train myself into lone parenting. It is a strange concept, having done this stay-at-home-mum malarkey exclusively for almost five years, to think that bumbling through life with small children actually involves a skill set, but this week has really bought home to me that it does, and that, after a month off, I am rusty!

I don’t know about you, but certainly in our house, any significant excursion (holiday, weekend away staying with friends, a couple of days at the in-laws) always results in a couple of days of odd behaviour (from all of us, to be honest) once we get home, and a subsequent shifting of attitudes and routines to get over it. This week - after weeks spent with both parents, basically naked (them not us) either in the sea or by the pool, eating French bread, tomatoes and cheese almost exclusively, not caring about bedtimes and naps etc - has been no exception. On Monday evening, my husband came home at 8pm (UK bedtime has previously been 7) to find the house in complete chaos (I'm not just chucking those words out there - I mean all-encompassing bedlam), all three children in the middle of the kitchen floor, naked, fighting over Duplo.

Since then, I have gradually clawed it back. Sam has refused to wear shoes all week ("they make my toes feel funny"), Kit did a wee in the middle of the kitchen floor that went undiscovered for several hours until I slipped on it and nearly broke every bone in my body (surely one of the more depressing ways to do that), the piles of laundry have risen and depleted but possibly more the latter towards the end of the week. All of this is fairly standard, to be honest. The difference this week has been me. Four weeks of having my husband around has spoilt me into losing the patience and flexibility that I believe are required to parent three small children without slightly losing your marbles (both literally and metaphorically).

The constant "mummy"s, the vying for attention, the requirement to play a Queen sitting in a café run by a pirate and the Mayor of London (a current obsession) ordering jam sandwiches, whilst trying to build a Lego lighthouse and stop the baby eating a bag of croutons that was at the back of a cupboard in the kitchen (the contents of which are partly lying on the kitchen floor, partly on display in the 'café', partly being eaten by the dog), whilst also ploughing through the washing and unpacking has been hard! I have snapped, and counted to ten, and hidden in the loo a great deal more than I normally do, and gone to bed feeling frustrated and exhausted.

Then this morning, Sam asked me "Why have you been cross all day since the holiday house?" which is very unfair, as I really haven’t been THAT cross, but it made me feel sad. So I dropped any attempt to unpack and sort, and we headed to the woods where, as usual, everything fell into place. The kids took off, stopping only to examine odd wildlife, ask incredibly complex questions about the natural world that I don’t know the answer to and snaffle the one ripe blackberry in hedges filled with thousands of green ones. We paddled down a stream, built a pretty good fort and collected sticks and it was all very easy and made us all very happy. Back home, huge lunches were consumed, and good naps were had, and then my mate came over with her three girls and we enjoyed a cold beer and supervised the kids as they took 45 minutes to make a stir fry* that would usually take 10 mins to prepare, but which they enjoyed and made them quite proud.

So I think we have finally, five days later, arrived back at (our) normal. It is easy to get bogged down with the chores and the re-establishing of routines that are the inevitable part of returning home from time spent elsewhere but actually I think just slowing down and letting everyone do what makes them relaxed and happy (whether it be walking around with no shoes on for a couple of days, spending a few hours on the sofa reading forgotten-about books, catching up on cartoons, or getting covered in mud in the woods) gets you to the same place, if a little more slowly and chaotically! Plus, I will go into next week feeling more aware of the skill set that I, and all my fellow parents, have to build up to attempt to nail this random, messy, crazy job that is parenting.

*From the original Ella's Kitchen cookbook, if anyone is interested - the Sweet and Sour stir fry. It's really tasty and great for the kids as there is loads of chopping and an easy sauce for them to mix up.


Getting messy with it: blogger mummy Lucy invites us to share the good, the bad and the downright messy musings of everyday life as a mum of 3 kids under 5.

Right, hello! My name is Lucy and I am a mum of three kids (and a scruffy dog), living in West Sussex. I am obviously many more things than that (a bit of a loudmouth, a total show off, a complete, obsessive bookworm, an over-user of superlatives and a lover of everything booze and biscuit related - either together or separately - not fussed). I am also someone that used to have a really cool, all-consuming job in London which I loved completely and gave up after a year of maternity leave with my first baby, having totally expected, when I left it nine months pregnant, to return to it, all guns blazing.

My gang now are Nancy (4), Maggie (4, but 28 in her years and very hairy), Sam (2 - he would want me to point out that he is very nearly 3) and Kit (9 months). They are all completely gorgeous and well behaved and hilarious when they are not filthy, running around like savages and beating the crap out of each other, pretty much like all kids the world over, but I have to say I am particularly partial to them.

When Nancy started going to nursery a couple of mornings a week, I was inevitably bereft. But Sam and I started going to a new messy play session in Cuckfield called Discover and Be, and we loved it! The first session we attended was dinosaur based and Sam just couldn’t believe the messy, interesting, fun stuff in front of him (just him! no Nancy!) PLUS there was a book he loved read out loud and singing at the end. We do quite a lot of crafty-type things at home, but every week there were always things that we had never done/he had never seen. Immediately it was his favourite thing and he (we) looked forward to it every week. We went regularly until he started nursery on Friday mornings himself, and during that time got to know Rhiannon and Sheila - both still two of Sam's heroes! I admire and believe in everything Discover and Be is about, so I was really pleased (and surprised!) when Rhiannon got in touch to ask if I would write a regular blog about the messy shenanigans I get up to with my little wolf-pack.

The purpose of this blog, I guess, is to share with you some of things we get up to, out and about and at home. We usually end up covered in mud, or dirt, or paint, or glitter, or all of the above and don’t generally achieve very much, but after four years of solid messing around, I have found quite a few cool things to do in our local area that new (and not so new) mums might enjoy reading about - and I am always keen to find out about new ones, too! Due to the geeky bookwormishness (not a word?!) mentioned earlier, I thought I might let you know what books (both library and our own - I am almost a shareholder at The Book People, who do amazing deals on kids books) we have been loving each week as I go along, too, and any recommendations from other readers will always be very welcome!

Discover & Be at home: pirates

Ahoy matey! Avast ye!

If you’re keen to recreate some sea-faring adventures at home - similar to those we enjoy at our messy play sessions - we’ve got some fun and creative ideas for you to try.

First up we have these super fun wooden party spoon pirates - don’t they look great?

Not only are they fun to make but they’re perfect for using as puppets, for a spot of role playing. Obviously you’ll need some wooden spoons - in this case, I Heart Crafty Things have suggested wooden party spoons as opposed to a regular more heavy-weight wooden spoon - but the other materials you’ll probably have at home. We’ve picked this idea because it ties in with our pirates theme but you could adapt it to make fairies, animals or whatever takes your fancy!

How about trying your hand (get it?!) at this hand print pirate. Great isn’t it?

You’ll need some paint and brushes to create these little masterpieces, and some paper of course. There’s the opportunity to personalise your pirate with stickers or a different expression. Here’s Fun Hand Print Art Blog’s instructions.

We always like a paper plate suggestion and here’s a great pirate inspired one from Life as a Mama.

There’s no instructions with this one but you can hopefully see how to go about making one with a spot of paint, some coloured paper and a little bit of creativity!

Toilet roll tubes play a great part in our crafting activities too - don’t ever throw them away! This double act of a rather friendly-looking pirate and cute parrot is great fun to make.

It can be a little fiddly for younger hands but older children get some (supervised) scissor practice in. What do you think? This one comes from MollyMooCrafts.

And why not extend the fun to include bath time?

These cork pirate boats, made from three corks and elastic bands, float beautifully and you can personalise the sails so if you wanted to make a fleet of rainbow coloured boats, the choice is yours! Red Ted Art have come up with this fab idea.

A hat is always popular, and this pirate hat idea would be perfect for a pirate-themed party or just a spot of role playing at home.

You’ll only need a few materials, all of which you might have already. Take a look at Sand In My Toes instructions and get making!

If you’d like to focus on a sensory activity, we like this pirate sensory bin.

It’s got lots of great textures and colours included, and is easy to recreate using things you’re likely to have at home. Don’t feel you need to replicate this exactly! If you’ve not got black beans to hand, or can’t get hold of any, you can use any dried beans, or lentils you have. This example from Counting Coconuts has pirate figurines but these aren’t necessary if you don’t have any. The booty and treasure are what makes this so attractive so dig out any old costume jewellery or left over foreign currency and see what you can come up with!

Of course, all this creating will make landlubbers hungry! This clever little snack using circular cheeses, is great fun.

It comes from Party Ideas UK but we don’t think it needs to be restricted to parties!

For the end of the day or other quiet times, how about some pirate-themed reads?

Ten Little Pirates by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty is a super book for helping to learn numbers and has lovely illustrations.

It also comes in princessesmonstersdinosaurs and a festive elves version.

For those still in nappies, you can plan ahead with Pirate Pete’s Potty by Andrea Pinnington.

aa pirate pete cover.jpg

It’s a great tale with, of course, the idea that it will introduce the idea of potty training in a fun way. If you’d rather have a girl version, it comes as Princess Polly Potty too.

If a good story is what you’re after, The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle, should hit the spot.

aa pirates next door cover.png

It’s all about a pirate family who have quite an effect on the town they move to. The book has some beautiful pictures including an impressive gatefold.


Discover & Be at home: Supertato

We've read Supertato as part of our sessions before, and we thought we'd share some Supertato-related activities with you.

How about starting with using veggies for printing? This is a great way to use potatoes and carrots for mark-making.

This idea comes from MeriCherry and should be easy to try at home if you’ve got some potatoes lying around. You can be as creative as you like (or can manage!) when making the stamps so why not try different shapes which can help with learning to recognise triangles, squares, circles, etc. Plus you end up with some great artwork!

We do love our themed-play dough and no vegetables would be possible without mud, so here’s a recipe for mud dough from the appropriately named blog Sow Sprout Play.

Yes this is a messy one, so be prepared with old clothes! The sensory aspect is also most enticing!

This is another great sensory activity and an antidote to the muddy mess: veggie scrubbing.

Prekinders use a special sensory table but a washing-up bowl or accessible sink/bath would be just as good. It gives children the chance to explore the different shapes of vegetables and also understand where vegetables come from. Nowadays it can be tricky to find mud-covered vegetables so that may be your only challenge with this activity!

This activity is another one that can help children to understand the growing process behind vegetables:

Laughing Kids Learn show how us how to grow a carrot top, an activity which requires some short-term patience whilst the carrot sprouts. However, it’s great to see the changes each day and may even encourage vegetable-consumption in fussy eaters!

If you’ve got Lego/Duplo, or any other brick-building set, at home have a go at building your own fruit and veg.

These instructions come from Lego themselves and show what you can you create although it might be fun to try out some ideas of your own (especially if you’re limited by what bricks you have!).

If you enjoyed the story of Supertato, you may well be interested to know that there’s a sequel! Supertato Veggies Assemble is Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet's follow-up and is just as fun as the original. Check it out!

To contrast with the new story of Supertato we thought it would be nice to include a couple of classics: Jack and the Beanstalk and The Enormous Turnip - both stories you’ll probably remember from your childhood.

These versions are from Ladybird and feature bold, colourful illustrations, ideal for younger readers. They’re part of a series so if you have a particular favourite classic story, chances are you’ll find it here.

Have fun!

Win a fantastic prize from Tiny Land

(NB: the prize draw has now closed, but keep your eyes peeled for future competitions!)

We've three great prizes on offer as part of our competition: just book a place at a Discover & Be session for the September half term and be in with a chance of winning!

We recently featured another prize donator, The Beauty Box in Haywards Heath, and here we'd like to introduce you to Tiny Land who sell organic, plant-based mud kitchen materials, and arts and crafts.

Tiny Land is owned by Alison White who is a mum of two fun-loving boys ages 4 and 2. It's based near Ashdown Forest where much of the inspiration for the products come from. They sell natural, organic and 100% gluten free messy play and art products including plant-based crayons and play baking sets which are fantastic for mud kitchens! They include play mix, play cream and play sprinkles and all are plant derived.

The prize on offer as part of our competition is the Rainbow organic, gluten free scented dough pack. It's 100% naturally coloured and scented with plant extracts and essential oils. Red is strawberry, orange is mandarin, yellow is lemon, green is lime, blue is chamomile and lavender is... lavender! It retails at £19.70 and has a bonus free shimmer white dough scented in vanilla. All ingredients are food grade and completely safe for little ones. The recommended age is from 12 months up. Check out the website for the other beautiful and fun products on offer.

Discover & Be at home: rainforest

We’ve got some great rainforest activity ideas for you to try at home with your baby, toddler or pre-schooler, as well as a few book recommendations. Read on…

Who doesn’t love a bit of icky slime to play with? Check out this jungle version…


Buggy and Buddy blog do warn that you’ll need to be prepared for the mess but with the better weather now here (sometimes!), why not head outside? This is fun to make and even more fun to play with. Add in some jungle animals and the role playing and sensory aspects come into their own. Enjoy!

Those children old enough to be thinking about numbers will enjoy this frog counting idea.


There’s a little bit of adult prep before you can get going but, as you can see in these instructions from Early Learning Ideas, it’s all pretty simple. If you want to be totally on-theme you’ll need to get yourself some plastic frogs, but you could change this depending on what plastic animals you have at home (if dinosaurs are your thing, you could change the lily pads to boulders, for example). The water beads suggested in the blog add a sensory element to the activity but aren’t essential for the number-learning aspect. Like with all these activities, you can take the core idea and adapt it to your own favourite topics or what equipment you’ve got at home.

This banana leaf sewing activity from Mamacita Spins the Globe is good for hand-eye coordination and, given the inclusion of a needle, might be better for slightly older children.

It can introduce the idea of sewing and also gives more practice with scissors. Try different shaped leaves or stitches to mix it up a bit.  

Our final activity relates to one of our book suggestions: it’s a chameleon painting idea as in Eric Carle’s The Mixed Up Chameleon.

This is super simple but very effective. All you’ll need is a zip-lock plastic bag, a permanent marker and some paint. There’s no limit to the colours you can use and you can use specific ones to illustrate how mixing some colours come up with others (and not just a uniform brown!). Thanks to Munchkins and Moms for this idea.

And so on to our books. This week we thought we’d focus on one author as he’s prolific, iconic and has, rather conveniently, produced several books featuring rainforest animals: Eric Carle.

Many of you will know his The Very Hungry Caterpillar but he has a whole host of attractive and fun books to his name.

We’ve already mentioned The Mixed Up Chameleon but we’d also recommend checking out The Very Busy Spider and The Very Lonely Firefly. All Eric Carle’s books are illustrated with this unique bold and colourful style, and all have a positive message underlying the story. We’ve suggested these three but - can you believe? - there are over 80 titles of his to choose from!  

Win a great prize from The Beauty Box in Haywards Heath!

(NB: the prize draw has now closed, but keep your eyes peeled for future competitions!)

Hopefully you will have seen details of our competition to win one of three great prizes, if you book a place at our sessions for September. First prize comes courtesy of a fab local business, The Beauty Box in Haywards Heath and its owner Sinead.

Well-known to the local area with over 10 years experience in the beauty industry, Sinead uses her expertise to provide luxury treatments at affordable prices. The Beauty Box offers a range of treatments, welcoming both male and female clientele. Using award winning Neal's Yard organic Remedies (which will features in the great prize we have on offer!). 

Treatments include facials, massage as well CND manicure / pedicures. There are also tailored packages for the expectant mother. Men's therapies are also available, from back and chest waxing to massage and skin care.

Sinead takes enormous pride in her dedication towards the running of The Beauty Box, and thrives to ensure a high quality experience for every client. The Beauty Box is located within Marc Pearl (recently renamed from Easicuts) ladies' hair salon in Haywards Heath.

Gift vouchers are available to purchase within the salon and a loyalty scheme has recently been launched.

So just book a place at a Discover & Be session for the September half term before the 31st July 2017 and you'll be in with a chance of winning either a 60 minute Neal's Yard facial or massage, a half term of Discover & Be sessions or a goodie bag courtesy of Tiny Land.

Meet a mum: Amy King

Our community of parents, carers and, of course, children is what makes Discover & Be thrive. To celebrate our Discover & Be friends, we're starting a series of blog posts where you'll find out a little more about one of our parents or carers. First up, we meet Amy King from Haywards Heath.

"I moved into the area last year with a new baby and was excited to start meeting other new mums and join local groups.  When I heard about Discover & Be I couldn’t wait to join.  We both thoroughly enjoy the sessions and it’s so rewarding seeing my son's confidence grow as he learns to explore the miniature worlds, themed activities and especially the music and story time.  I’ve been working at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the past 15 years and love being in creative environments, so Discover and Be is just perfect for us."

When Amy is not on mum-duty, she is an Assistant Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  She works in the Theatre and Performance department looking after the permanent galleries and the photographic archives.  Having moved into the area just last year she’s been bringing her son to Discover & Be since the autumn.

Amy moved to Haywards Heath two weeks after her first baby was born.  Moving so soon after a baby's arrival is not something she would recommend, but she tells us she is so glad she made the move to this family-friendly town.  Amy has been at the Victoria and Albert Museum for over 15 years, in that time she has worked in the British Galleries, National Art Library and most recently has pursued her passion for drama in the Theatre and Performance department.  She now works with collections as diverse as Victorian marionettes, designs and costumes by Picasso and Mick Jagger's jumpsuit! 

Nice to meet you Amy!

Are you a Discover & Be mum/dad/carer/granny/grandad? If you'd like to feature in our interview slot, just drop us an email.

The Book Activist reviews: Early Learning at the British Museum – ABC and 123.

British Museum Early Learning books 1

These two fantastic board books have just been published by Nosy Crow in collaboration with the British Museum as part of their new range for children aged 0-12. A whole lot more than your average counting or alphabet book, each one celebrates the wonderful artefacts that can be found at the museum.  

British Museum Early Learning books image 2

As well as teaching children number sequences, letters and words, they show some of the amazing objects that make up the museum’s collections. The lovely colourful photographs celebrate many cultures introducing little ones to the idea of the similarities and differences we share. 

British Museum Early Learning alphabet book

A helpful index at the back of the book shows where and when each item is from.  Children and adults alike can marvel at the wonders of the world and learn even more by using the QR code at the back of the book to visit the website – or perhaps even plan a visit to the museum itself!

A great opportunity for early learning and encouraging curiosity, these are well worth adding to your little ones bookshelf. Find out more at

Victoria Dilly
The Book Activist
May 2017

Why do we like small worlds so much?

You might be wondering why we always include a small world in our messy play sessions?

Here's a few reasons why...

Small worlds can be based on any theme. They inspire storytelling and allow children to use their imaginations. Importantly, they develop communication skills through role-play as well as informing and teaching children about different environments.

Want to have a go at making a small world with your little one? Use puppets, play toys, cardboard boxes, leaves, cereal, soil, twigs and other sensory materials such as rice, pasta, hay, dry lentils etc to re-create your very own small world!



In picture 1 (above) we have used animals, ice, rice and glitter, cotton wool and shaving foam to create a mini frozen kingdom.



In picture 2, we have created a small world construction site using cornflakes, stones, weetabix bridges, jenga bricks, egg boxes, oats, kitchen roll insides and diggers.


These are just two ideas, and there are plenty more suggestions out there if you're in need of inspiration. Or just see what you have around the house, and what small toys your children enjoy playing with.

The Book Activist reviews: Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma by Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer

It’s a Fairytale emergency! Granny’s gone missing... Has the Big Bad Wolf kidnapped her or even gobbled her up? Quick, call Sky Private Eye! Cupcakes, clues and rescues are this fairytale detective’s speciality, but can Sky and Little Red Riding Hood uncover the clues fast enough to save Granny.

This is one of a lovely series featuring Sky Private Eye and various fairytale characters. In this book Sky (along with her dog Snuffles) is called to investigate when Little Red Riding Hood’s Granny disappears. With the help of Sky’s special cupcakes and some clever detective work, they discover Granny hasn’t gone missing but she IS in danger of being gobbled up!  Sky and Little Red Riding Hood use all their ingenuity to help rescue Granny and make sure the Wolf never bothers them again.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read, bringing to life classic fairytale characters in a new and brilliant way. A very accessible font and clear narrative makes this a great book for fledgling readers to try themselves, as well as being a good story to read aloud.  The illustrations are lively, colourful and perfectly capture the tone of the story – fun with just enough thrills but not too scary! I loved the use of magic baking to help save the day and readers can try their hand at baking these brilliant cakes using the recipe at the back of the book.  All in all, it’s a great story to have on your bookshelf and sure to be a hit with aspiring bakers and fairytale fans.

I’m looking forward to reading Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit featuring the Gingerbread Boy!

Victoria Dilly
The Book Activist

Feb 2017

If you'd like to order a copy of this book, you can do so here.

Discover & Be at home: African adventure

It's cold outside this week, so why don't we take ourselves off to enjoy the African sun? 

First up we have these impressive African-style necklaces, made from paper plates.

All you’ll need are some large paper plates, some scissors and either paints, crayons, pencils or felt tips. Of course, there’s no limits to your customisation, so why not add pasta, sequins, pipe cleaners or anything else you have at home! This creative idea is from GreenKidCrafts.

Sticking with the paper-plate idea, here’s a cute giraffe made with the help of a few materials including paint, googly eyes, paper and glue.

Of course, you could change the animal to an elephant, zebra (as we made in our session this week) or rhino depending on how creative you’re feeling! Thanks for IHeartCraftyThings for this crafty fun.

So you’re on your African safari, and what do you need to see all those animals? Binoculars! Remember to keep your toilet roll tubes so you can make this one.

We think you could use any tape you have if you don’t have the washi tape as ArtsCrackers suggest, so don’t let that put you off! ArtsCrackers have suggested a whole host of safari-related ideas so check out their site.

This idea is fab as it combines both a small world with some play dough. What more could you want?!

africa playdo jungle.jpg

NurtureStore have even used broccoli in this suggestion, which might even make it more attractive at meal-times!

This African mask activity is probably better for slightly older children but it can be adapted depending on your child’s age and abilities.

You’ll also need some items that you may not readily have such as raffia or a hole punch but the rest of the materials you’re likely to have at home. Thanks Art.Paper.Scissors.Glue!

Did you like hearing the story of Handa’s Surprise? It’s a great way to discuss different fruits as well as introduce children to a different culture. You can buy a copy for yourselves here

Of course, fruits play an important part in diet and ensuring young children are introduced to a good variety is beneficial. Emily Wysock-Wright, of Nourish2Nurture, would encourage you to make sure you follow her '7-a-day' rule which is made up of three fruits and four vegetables. Find out why this is important and which fruits have lower sugar levels and are, therefore, the best to sustain energy on her blog post.

How about one or two other ideas for Africa-related kids’ books? Recently published as a board book is How to Hide a Lion which you may know as the paperback version. Whilst not strictly African, it does feature the iconic African lion and is all about something we love very much at Discover & Be: friendships.

And moving to another iconic African animal: the zebra. This is a Greedy Zebra, and one who lives in Africa. This story tells of how the zebra came to be covered in black and white stripes and is part of a charming series about African animals including the Lazy LionHot HippoCrafty ChameleonLaughing Giraffe and others!

We hope you enjoyed your time on safari. More activity ideas on a different theme coming soon! Why not sign up to our emails to hear when the next Discover & Be at home ideas are posted? 

Discover & Be at home: ice, ice baby

With the temperatures dropping several degrees these last couple of weeks, chances are you're keeping warm indoors!

In which case, here’s some wintery activity ideas to try…

This fun bit of hand-printing gets great results plus it has a sensory aspect with the feeling of the paint on your hands:

In the Playroom give some instructions as to how you can get some lovely pictures like theirs. You could always add some extra elements.

Here’s another art activity featuring pretty snowflakes, this time from Kids Craft Room:

Trying to keep the snowflakes symmetrical and looking like snowflakes (!) is great for developing little ones’ coordination.

If that’s a little too sophisticated for you, this winter textures collage idea may suit you better, and it’s great sensory activity for younger children.

Chances are you’ve got some foil and kitchen roll around, so you’ll be off to a good start! You could add in bubblewrap, tissue paper or anything else that takes your fancy. See what In the Playroom suggest.

This is also a fab sensory activity and either a good activity for older children, or one a parent can make for a younger child to enjoy:

No Time for Flashcards' idea is lovely to look at and has quite a festive feel too!

Last up we have some sparkly, squidgy play dough that, according to The Imagination Tree, is edible and gluten free! There are probably tastier snacks but if it does get nibbled, at least you know what’s in it!

You could add elements to make snowmen or use biscuit cutters as in the photo.

Talking of snowmen, one of our book recommendations this week is the all-time classic by Raymond Briggs: The Snowman. No doubt you caught the film when it was on over Christmas; it’s always watchable and readable.

The illustrations are beautiful and it’s a great (if a little sad) story. It’s definitely a favourite in this family!

Another oldie-but-goodie is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

You may recognise this book from your childhood. Its simple descriptive text combined with the striking graphics make this a classic that all children will enjoy.

If you’ve got a younger reader, why not try one of the ‘That’s not my’ series, in this case a penguin.

that's not my penguin.jpg

The different textures on each page are great for touching, and the descriptive words will add to vocabularies. Of course, there’s a whole load of other titles to choose from including That’s Not My Snowman and That’s Not My Polar Bear.

The Book Activist reviews A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

Join two birds on an epic adventure as they become parents for the first time...

The story begins with two birds who are ecstatic to discover they are going to be parents.  Their fellow feathered friends are overjoyed for them, but are soon sharing their wisdom, causing the mother bird to become frightened about all the potential perils of parenting. Are they ready to have a child? Such is her fear, the wisest and oldest bird of all sends her on a journey of discovery to see if she can find some peace about what lies ahead.  The journey takes her across the land and sea and she meets many other birds of all different kinds, each reassuring her through kindness that whilst the world might be big and full of danger, there are many people in it who can help when you most need it.

This is a stunning book by the incredible artist and illustrator, Rob Ryan.  The artwork alone is a sight to behold; each word and image beautifully paper cut down to the finest detail.  The story itself is lyrical and flows beautifully; a tale depicting the journey towards parenthood with all its highs and lows and everything in between. Poetry and prose combine, with each word literally illustrating the magic of the childlike but utterly insightful narrative.  The mother bird is determined to find out how she can allay her fears, travelling over the widest oceans and unknown lands looking for answers.  The other birds she meets are strange and exotic, each with their own wisdom to share, each showing her kindness.  The mother bird repays the kindnesses she is shown along the way and she finally realises that through being kind, brave and finding hope, she can face her fears.  A Sky Full of Kindness is a heart warming tale about unconditional love, the hopes and fears we have for our children and ultimately shows how kindness can change the world we live in.

This is a must-have book for everyone’s bookshelf!

Victoria Dilly
The Book Activist

January 2017

Want to buy yourself a copy? Click here to buy from Amazon...

The Book Activist reviews Christmas books!

Christmas is the ideal time to give the gift of a book.  With so many to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start! Sitting by the fireside or curled up at bedtime, sharing stories or reading independently; here are some suggestions to get you in the festive spirit!

Festive Favourites

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore

As St. Nick and eight tiny reindeer descend through a brilliant night sky onto the roof of a Victorian house in a snowy New England village, the famous Christmas poem begins. First published in 1823,  this classic poem brings to life Father Christmas and all the excitement of Christmas Eve.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss

"The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!  Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason." Dr. Seuss's small-hearted Grinch ranks right up there with Scrooge when it comes to the crankiest, scowling holiday grumps of all time!

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

One winter's night, a snowman comes to life and an unforgettable adventure begins. Raymond Briggs' favourite classic is a true piece of Christmas magic - narrated entirely through pictures, it captures the wonder and innocence of childhood and is now recognised throughout the world.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

The story begins with a young boy, who hears a train whistle roar. To his astonishment, he finds the train is waiting for him. He sees a conductor who then proceeds to look up at his window. He runs downstairs and goes outside. The conductor explains the train is called the Polar Express, and is journeying to the North Pole….

Festive Picture Books

The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis

It's Christmas Eve. And there's one very important question on everyone's lips...have you been good this year? For twins Sam and Charlie this is a big worry because Charlie is really quite bad. And sometimes, just sometimes, Santa has to get tough...

Father Christmas Needs a Wee by Nicholas Allan

At each different house that he visits Father Christmas drinks and eats all the goodies left out for him. Before long he really, really, really needs to go to the loo, so much so that he even forgets to leave the presents behind. But he dashes back, delivers all the gifts, and flies home at high speed to avoid an embarrassing accident—but there's just one tiny problem—he's lost his house key! Find out what happens in this fabulously funny counting book!

The Snow Womble by Elisabeth Beresford

Snow has arrived on Wimbledon Common! The young Wombles, including Bungo, Orinoco and Tomsk, can't wait to start sledging, making snow Wombles and generally having fun in the snow. Then one particular Womble decides to play a snowy trick on the small Wombles . . .A funny, warm picture book, perfect to curl up with on a cold Christmas night.

The Christmas Show by Rebecca Patterson

The Christmas pageant doesn’t go QUITE as planned in this fantastically funny holiday tale for the forgetful kid in all of us. It’s almost time for the nativity play, and everyone has been practicing hard. The narrators know their lines, the Important Angel has brushed her hair, and the audience is in their seats, eagerly awaiting a special Christmas performance. But there’s one cast member whose listening skills haven’t exactly been the best, and no one’s expecting a spare shepherd to steal the show…

Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer by Nicola Killen

This is a gorgeous new picture book featuring a magical adventure.  When a jingling sound wakes her from her sleep, a little girl's dreams come true when she meets a lost reindeer in the forest. Setting off together it soon becomes a Christmas never to forget. 

Sproutzilla vs Christmas by Tom Jamieson and Mike Byrne

Readers young and old may well be able to identify with this story!! Jack loves everything about Christmas.  Except for one thing: he does not like Brussels sprouts.  When Jack's parents bring home the largest sprout he has ever seen, things are about to get out of control. Sproutzilla is the meanest, greenest Christmas ruining vegetable ever and now he's heading straight towards Santa! It's up to Jack to save Christmas, and there's only one way to do it ...He'll have to eat the sprouts!

Stories for sharing

Christmas Stories by Michael Morpurgo

A collection of beautiful stories by one of our best loved storytellers.  Including: "The Best Christmas Present in the World," a mysterious letter in a secret drawer brings one night in the Great War vividly to life. Writing home from the front, a soldier has an incredible story to tell. The second tale is "On Angel Wings." A singing of wings, a glorious light, and a sudden beacon of brightness? It can only mean—can it really?—a visit from the Angel Gabriel himself. When the Prince and Princess marry in "The Best of Times," joy rings out across the land. But all too soon it fades away and a shadow hangs over the royal palace. As Christmas approaches, Prince Frederico must find a way to warm his new bride's aching heart. In the new story, "The Goose is Getting Fat," Gertrude the goose is getting bigger by the day, and Charlie is proud to look after her. But as Christmas approaches, the thought of the grizzly fate awaiting her fills him with sadness. Can he save Gertrude from the Christmas dinner table?

Winter Magic by Abi Elphinstone and others

A beautiful anthology of frosty, magical short stories from acclaimed children’s writers such as Michelle Magorian, Berlie Doherty, Lauren St John and Katherine Woodfine, and edited by author Abi Elphinstone.  Featuring snow queens, frost fairs, snow dragons and pied pipers this is an enchanting treat of a collection that will be enjoyed for years to come.

Something for independent readers

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

Following up his bestselling book A Boy called Christmas, Matt Haig brings another magical tale of hope at Christmas time.  If magic has a beginning, can it also have an end? When Amelia wants a wish to come true she knows just the man to ask - Father Christmas. But the magic she wants to believe in is starting to fade, and Father Christmas has more than impossible wishes to worry about. Upset elves, reindeers dropping out of the sky, angry trolls and the chance that Christmas might be cancelled. But Amelia isn't just any ordinary girl. And - as Father Christmas is going to find out - if Christmas is going to be saved, he might not be able to do it alone . . .

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms - but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College. Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident - until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course).  The fabulously festive fifth mystery from the bestselling, award-winning author of Murder Most Unladylike.

Letters from Father Christmas by J R R Tolkein

Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful colored drawing or some sketches.  The letters were from Father Christmas. They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how the reindeer got loose and scattered presents everywhere; how the accident-prone North Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house.
No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by the inventiveness of J.R.R. Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas.

I’ll be home for Christmas by various (for ages 13+)

The UK's top Young Adult authors join together in this collection of new stories and poems on the theme of home. Contributors include: Tom Becker, Holly Bourne, Sita Brahmachari, Kevin Brooks, Melvin Burgess, Katy Cannon, Cat Clarke, Juno Dawson, Julie Mayhew, Non Pratt, Marcus Sedgwick, Lisa Williamson and Benjamin Zephaniah.  At a time when many are homeless at Christmas, this book celebrates home and reminds us that not everyone is as fortunate as we may be.  Supported by Amnesty International, funds raised from sales of this book benefit the charity Crisis.


Victoria Dilly
The Book Activist

December 2016




The Book Activist reviews Oi Dog! by Kes & Claire Gray and Jim Field

Age 2+

Frog is changing the rules... Dogs no longer sit on Frogs. Phew! Dogs now sit on logs – and everyone else is going to have to sit somewhere different too. Will cats want to sit on gnats? Will dragons like sitting on wagons? Will whales be happy to sit on nails? And, most importantly, where is frog going to sit?


Frog is fed up of being sat on by Dog. So he decides to change the rules. Not just for Dog, but for EVERYONE! So all the animals get someone or something new to sit on; from slugs to leopards, from crickets to whales, there’s a new rule for all. But what or who will Frog end up sitting on?!

‘Oi Dog!’ is the brilliant sequel to the equally brilliant ‘Oi Frog!’. Colourful and entertaining, it is a great story to read aloud, showing the wonder of rhyming words. You’ve got to love a tale that features ‘cheetahs on fajitas’ and ‘gnus on canoes’! The fantastically expressive illustrations capture the animals varying reactions to their new ‘seats’ perfectly; some surprised, some distinctly unimpressed and some very uncomfortable. Will pigs like sitting on wigs?! Will flies enjoy sitting on pies?! All the animals find themselves with new places to sit, amounting to a hilarious story that will have children in stitches.

Shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards, ‘Oi Dog’ is deal for children learning to read, as well as those who are just discovering the magic of books. And grown-ups will enjoy it too!

Victoria Dilly
The Book Activist
November 2016

Want to buy a copy for yourself? You can purchase it through Amazon here.

Making music fun for young children!

Music lessons aren't just about learning scales and passing exams. 

Improvising (making music up on the spot) plays a very important part in my music lessons. For example, children love creating story boards for animals. We might make up music for the weather, for the life cycle of a frog or for a haunted house! Inspiration comes from all sorts of places.

This is Alice's 'dolphin' improvisation, inspired by a cuddly dolphin toy that I brought along one week. Alice is 5 and a half! Through music making and creating musical sound effects, she has developed the confidence to explore the piano in a relaxed and playful manner.

Rhiannon Harman, Founder and Music Co-ordinator, Discover & Be

Discover & Be offer music tuition for children and adults in the Haywards Heath, Uckfield and Lewes areas. Take a look at our page dedicated to music tuition to find out more.

Discover & Be at home: Indian Summer

Those of you who came along to a session recently will have taken part in our Indian Summer themed activities, which we paired with reading The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr.

Here we’ve gathered a selection of activities for you to try at home. Some are super easy and others might need a bit of preparation but all are fun, creative and inspired by the amazing country of India.

Something for the very little ones to start with… making tiger stripes.

IS tiger stripes.jpg

This comes from the LibrarianMade blog and can be done with a minimal amount of resources: principally the coloured paper and some glue. You could develop this activity by cutting out a tiger shape and using it to make a collage or as part of a drawing.

We’ll stick with the tiger theme, and here’s an idea for making a tiger picture with the aid of some hand prints:

The instructions (if you can’t tell how to do it from the lovely picture!) are on the Mommy Maleta website along with some other India-inspired craft ideas.

At our sessions we had some messy fun with tiger shaving foam. This one can also be adapted if you want to make different coloured fun foam. To start you off, here are the instructions from the PlayCreateExplore blog.

Like the tiger stripes activity, this can be developed so you can print using the foam and make a cut out tiger for use in a collage or similar.

With the BBQ season not quite over, you may well have some paper or foam cups lying about. How about making this cute foam/paper cup tiger, courtesy of Kids Activities blog?

They’ve got additional ideas for other safari animals that you could have a go at making too.

Another animal iconic of India is the majestic elephant. Here’s a few ideas of how to use a paper plate to make a selection of elephants:

This is Crafty Morning’s version:

Another version with a more Indian look to it from Whirls and Twirls

And another bejewelled version - this time from Activity Village - which doubles as a mask - great for some imaginative role play! 

These images show the adaptability of this type of activity: you can use what you have at home to decorate whether it’s some sequins, paint, a bit of wrapping paper, googly eyes, etc. You can make your elephant your own!

I love this puppet idea from I Heart Crafty Things. You might have to look around for a larger paper plate than you might normally find (or make it out of stiff card) but it’ll be worth it! This could also make a good fancy dress idea.

Finally, a non-animal related idea: painting with tea-bags! In this case, the author of the article suggests a selection pack of fruit tea bags to give variety of colour and some lovely scents. This a super way to explore the senses as well as be creative at the same time!

We hope you’ve found an activity here that inspires you and your children. Come back soon for more activities on a different theme. Perhaps you’d like to suggest a theme? Email with any ideas you might have!

The Book Activist reviews A Great Big Cuddle - poems for the very young by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell

All ages!

Cuddles and puddles, mangos that tango and a terrible berrible... button bops lunchtime chants and rhymes about rattling radiators...

This brilliant collection of poems will have children jumping for joy and begging for more! Simple, joyful rhymes featuring wonderful characters throughout these poems draw on the best things about being young. Running, jumping, dancing, leaping, playing, eating are just some of the themes. And then some of the other things that happen when we’re young, like getting lost, being cross, being hungry and not getting what you want are featured too – in a very simple, easy to understand way. Everything that makes children the magical beings they are is celebrated in this collection!

Children can learn about the seasons, the animal world, and even looking after themselves. They will be able to identify with, and enjoy, many of the situations depicted in the poems – ‘Boing! Boing! ‘Let me do it’ ‘We can’ – as will their mummies and daddies!! This a perfect early introduction to the wonder of words through poetry. Every single poem is beautifully brought to life through gorgeous illustrations by the current Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell. Bright colours and perfectly caricatured figures, whether they are human, animal or fantastical, positively leap from the pages.

Careful thought has gone into the use of font to help aid expression and enjoyment. It is no surprise Michael Rosen was joint winner of the CLPE Poetry Award 2016 for ‘A Great Big Cuddle’.

This is a must-have for every child’s bookshelf – and for every parent to enjoy reading aloud with their little ones!

Victoria Dilly
The Book Activist

To buy this book from Amazon, click here.

The Big Friendly Read - can you meet the challenge?!

Get down to your local library this summer for The Big Friendly Read Summer Reading Challenge 2016! It launched in all libraries this week and there are plenty of events taking place this summer at local libraries across East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove.

This year, the Big Friendly Read celebrates 100 years of Roald Dahl and for each book read, children can collect special limited edition cards showing characters from Roald Dahl's books as illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake.

It's free to join the scheme, and you just need to read six books by Saturday 17th September 2016.

In conjunction with the Big Friendly Read you can also have fun trying out the online Book Sorter which will suggest books to you based on your preferences.  

Get down to your local library to join the scheme and get reading!