The Book Activist reviews: What's Next Door?  by Nicola O’Byrne

There’s a cranky croc in this book and he needs you! Can you help Carter the crocodile find his way home?

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Carter can’t find his way home in this lovely story with a wonderful interactive narrative. He tries all sorts of doors with help from the reader, leading to the ocean, snow covered land and even the desert! He’s a little bit cranky so the little animals joining Carter on the way must watch out for his teeth! But it’s the reader who has to think very hard and use their imagination to help find Carter the right home.

What’s Next Door? is a sweet tale about finding home, featuring Carter the crocodile who we first met in Open Very Carefully. With die-cut pages and colourful illustrations and a totally engaging narrative, young readers will love being involved.  From creating the ‘doors’ with their fingers, tipping the book to help Carter on his way and even some clapping, What’s Next Door? is fully interactive and bound to have your little ones asking for it again and again.  

Find out more at http://nosycrow.com/product/whats-next-door/

Buy a copy here.

Victoria Dilly
The Book Activist

 

Getting messy with it: good day Mrs Sunshine!

THE LATEST INSTALMENT OF FUN FAMILY LIFE FROM OUR MESSY MUMMY LUCY...

THE LATEST INSTALMENT OF FUN FAMILY LIFE FROM OUR MESSY MUMMY LUCY...

So today my baby boy turned one.  In a strange biological anomaly, this anniversary appears to have come around in significantly less than a year (I'm not sure how long it feels since he was born… four months? Six? Whatever, certainly not a year).  First birthdays are always bittersweet I think, as they do mark the end of that year (supposedly) of complete baby-ness. Which this time round I have uncomplicatedly loved. It's been a year of three children under the age of five which could have been a nightmare but was actually bloody brilliant.

Kit has been a wonderful baby, and has made my life as easy as he possibly could. There was the dark period of six weeks of middle of the night pooing, and this incredibly loud roar that he whips out at teatime when he is not being fed quickly enough, or wants something off someone else's plate. There is his uncanny ability to change the settings on the washing machine and tumble dryer, whilst they are mid-spin. He has eaten a few tiny, vital pieces of lego, meaning several sets cannot be put together perfectly anymore, and buried nearly all the coins from our plastic till in the flowerbeds. But other than these small things, which have only added to the tapestry of our already chaotic lives, he has made everything better by his being here.

For me, and for most people I know, having my first baby was an incredible experience which I loved but also involved a lot of sitting on the sofa in my pajamas crying and wondering what on earth I had done to my life. My husband was still going up to London every day on the train (a commute we used to do together, reading our books and chatting about our days - so civilised!) and going out for drinks with friends after work sometimes and reading the paper, and talking to grown-ups etc etc and although I loved being at home, and being with Nancy, it could be lonely and confusing and exhausting. Fast forward four years to Kit and my life had changed so completely that he just slotted straight in and further justified the brilliant chaos that is our house. Nothing was scary or unknown - in fact all the bits that had been first (and second) times round were stages that passed so quickly and I found myself actually appreciating them, knowing how soon this little human would change and grow up before my eyes.  And now suddenly he is walking and clapping and deliberately doing things to make people laugh and trying to duff up his siblings and I have had to get a kitten in order to have another baby in the house!

Mrs Sunshine arrived last weekend and is unbelievably sweet, bolshy and brilliant. I am still very much mourning the loss of our old, lovely, free life before the shackles of the school run. Nancy is very happy at her gorgeous village school and it is HORRIBLE!! I miss her. The boys miss her. And then she comes home from school and is exhausted and the focus is all on quiet and calm and early dinners and getting her into bed as early as possible in a vain attempt to stave off the all-encompassing tiredness that is the inevitable side-effect of this huge life change. But the kitten has provided a much appreciated focal point for cuddles and games and interest and luckily she and Nancy are firm friends already. Thank goodness for Mrs Sunshine!

Sorry if this post is a bit introspective and glum sounding. We are excited about Autumn and all the loveliness that comes with it. We have been twice (once today for Kit's birthday) to the gorgeous little soft play Treehouse Café on Sussex Road in Haywards Heath, and would really recommend to anyone with pre-schoolers. It is clean and pitched perfectly at tots from crawling age to clambering (both Kit (supposedly one, as discussed) and Sam (3) absolutely loved it and spent a good hour playing very happily), which I think is the age that is quite often fobbed off at big soft plays. It does good coffee and yummy food and is actually quite a civilised place to meet a friend. Plus, lovely Discover and Be started again this week and is a treat that Sam and I look forward to at the end of the week. And Nancy, Sam and I are going to the Wigglebums/Discover and Be joint yoga/messy play event on Saturday, which we are excited about.  The chance to stretch and play and be silly and messy all together sounds awesome. I think there are a few spaces left if anyone fancies it, so do contact Sheila.

My book recommendation this week is easy peasy.  Months ago we got Plunge into the Pirate Pool by Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves from the library and all enjoyed it so much that we have had it out again several times since. In a recent Book People flash sale, I got all six in the series (Supermarket Zoo, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Welcome to Alien School, How to Save a Superhero (my favourite), How to Catch a Dragon and How to Win a Monster Race) and they are all BRILLIANT. All about the adventures that a little boy called Albie gets up to in his imagination, with gorgeous colourful illustrations. I love them, which is lucky, as the kids ask me to read them over and over again.


 

Date for your diary: messy yoga for parents and children

Messy Mums and Active Young Ones: we would like to warmly invite you all to our first messy yoga event!

Come and join us for some fun movement and mindfulness through yoga storytelling and some messy play. 

Pull up a mat - parent and child together - and join in with our Discover & Be / WiggleBums collaboration. (You are welcome to bring your own mat and blanket if you wish, but we have some too).

We will be sharing a fun interactive story with yoga poses so you can enjoy connecting with your little ones through practising together.

Pause for some refreshments and then get stuck into some messy play, including sensory activities, a craft to make and take home and a small world to play in. While the children are busy playing there will also be a chance for the grown ups to do some yoga flow if they want to. We will then play some parachute games and finish off with music, singing and sign language. There may even be a little surprise at the end! 

Please note this is an interactive, sensory session. Children are not expected to sit still and be quiet! They are welcome to move around and be actively involved in the story session and, of course, during the messy play too.

Who: This is suitable for children from approximately 18 months - 5 years old and grown ups of any age. 
Where: Wesley Hall, Haywards Heath
When: Saturday 7th October
Time: 2.45pm - 4.15pm
Prices: £25 per mat (for 1 parent and 1 child together; sibling discount: £8 per extra child ) 

Places are limited so please email us to book a mat, call Sheila on 07980 565 632 or use the PayPal button below (please note there is a £1 surcharge for PayPal payments to cover the cost of the transaction). If booking by PayPal, please also drop us an email to confirm the name of the parent and child(ren). Thank you!

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Getting messy with it: hanging out with Daddy Pig and a monumental home visit

The latest instalment of fun family life from our messy mummy Lucy...

The latest instalment of fun family life from our messy mummy Lucy...

So life at the moment is dominated (for everyone with children over the age of four) by the beginning of the school year.  One by one, over the last week, most of our best friends (the ones that didn’t start last year) have made the big jump into the world of formal education and done brilliantly.  Nancy starts on Tuesday.  Much has been written and shared on social media about the emotional uproar connected with this move so I won't bang on about it here but I am heartbroken about it.  My life without her with me 24 hours a day seems incomprehensible. Driving places without her little face chatting away at me in my rear view mirror!  Lunchtimes not spent colouring in and eating exactly the same formulation of ham wraps every day! I can't bear it.  She has been doing two days at nursery since February but the beginning of school heralds the beginning of the next phase of her life - her own thoughts and experiences and friendships and decisions separate to our little bubble and, although she is more than ready for it, I am most definitely not.  But, like all heartbreak, I know this too shall pass.  A new normal is coming for all of us and I am sure that it will be lovely.  

Having said that, it all got off to a rather inauspicious start.  It was 9 am, a time of the day that usually finds us all lounging on the sofa watching cartoons in our pyjamas. But not today. The house was tidy (positively gleaming), we were all dressed, Nancy had been on the lookout at the window for 15 minutes… it could only be the much anticipated home visit by the lovely reception teacher.  At the exact minute she was due to arrive, Sam vomited over EVERYTHING… me, sofa, carpet, cushions, himself.  It is literally the first time in his whole life he has ever been sick.  With this unexpected eruption, I felt he was expressing quite succinctly how we all feel (except Nancy, who can't wait) about the forthcoming changes. To be fair, he was laid low by a horrible bug for the ensuing 48 hours but, nevertheless, the timing did not go un-noted.

On a cheerier note, once Sam was feeling better, we headed down to Southampton for the day. We visited Peppa Pig World to make the most of the few days we have left of freedom with our pre-schooler during term time.  It was BRILLIANT.  I have only ever heard good things about it (clean, well run, very sweet, etc.) and it did not disappoint.  All five of us (obviously husband took a day off for this excursion… no better reason, surely?!) loved it.  It poured with rain all morning, but the weather could not dampen our spirits.  It is expensive, and far away, but for any Peppa fan (or anyone with a heart, really), I really do recommend it.  On advice, we took our own picnic and were glad we did, as the food looked very expensive and pretty bog standard, but everything else was great (baby changing in both men and women's loos, bottles of formula sold in all the cafes, actual ducks in all the picnic areas as a nod to the perpetual visitors in the cartoon, classic Peppa related banter between parents in queues for rides).  A day ticket includes the rest of the park, too, which looked to have some cool rides for bigger kids (although I would defy kids of any age not to love the Mr Dinosaur ride in PP World itself - my husband and I would still be going round now if the kids hadn’t moved on to something else).  

I must also recommend a book we had out from the library this week that we all loved - A Patch of Black by Rachel Rooney.  It is such a sweet, magical book, about a mum telling her little girl about all the things that the dark might have in it, including a chocolate money tree, a hammock swung by jungle animals... just lovely things that really sparked the kids' imaginations and would be perfect for any kid that is scared of the dark.  Mine aren’t, but we read it every night anyway. Another recommendation for anyone with a Lego fan in their house is Lego Masters, a great programme on Channel 4 where incredible Lego geeks build the most amazing things!!  We have all watched this programme quite enraptured (did you know there are 80 Lego bricks for every person on the earth?! Most of them are stuck between the tiles in our kitchen) and turned it off inspired to build!  It's finished now, but you can still get it on catch up.  Do it!

Discover & Be pop-up party of the summer - especially for Heart FM Sussex and Global's Make Some Noise charity

As if by magic, we popped up (with our millions of bags) at Q Leisure in Albourne last Friday to do our messy bit to raise money for *Global's Make Some Noise charity. We were honoured and excited to be part of Heart FM Sussex's Family Festival in a Day, organised and hosted by Heart's dynamic breakfast show trio: Jack the lad, Nicola and Tom.  

The event (the first of its kind in Sussex), was a huge success from start to finish - big applause to the show's producer for ordering in stunning weather! 

There were inflatables galore, a tea cup ride, an assault course (with bling medals - very significant so said my boys!), entertainers, magicians and a host of amazing activities for intrepid over 8s, from axe throwing to go-karting to inflatables for big kids and of course US - it was a fabulous day for everyone! (Entry for under 8s, by the way, was FREE.) 

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We were entertained by Jack and Tom's fabulous band 'jukebox live' which made packing up a WHOLE lot easier and we met some lovely families who embraced our mini beast foam, sweet smelling gloop and cereal small world whole-heartedly! As you can see from the images, everyone wanted a piece of the face paint action. The glitter came out full throttle - we had tigers, zombies, flower fairies, pirates and a good few Batmen to boot. And all for a wonderful cause! 

*Please do check out Global's 'Make Some Noise' - they act as an umbrella charity for lots of local charities - many of whom hold special significance for the people of Sussex. 

Getting messy with it: National Lust - why everyone needs a bit of National Trust in their life

The latest instalment of fun family life from our messy mummy Lucy...

The latest instalment of fun family life from our messy mummy Lucy...

I should put it out there straight away that I am a really big fan of the National Trust. I genuinely struggle to imagine how I would have made it through the last five years without it. Partly it's because I am both a history geek and a fan of the outdoors, but also for the opportunity it provides to be a very lazy parent, whilst feeling really quite smug because your kids are getting fresh air/learning about things. Picnics on the lawns of houses significantly nicer than yours, roaming estates with endless stuff to climb on/build/run on/fight with, fascinating houses/ruins to explore... and it all feels like it's for free. I know it's not*, but once you've joined you can just waltz up to all these amazing places and take advantage of it endlessly, so it FEELS like it's free, which is part of the beauty.

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Wakehurst, Nymans and Sheffield Park are old and extremely good friends of ours and we spend a great deal of time at all three. Bodiam Castle is an occasional, and much loved, treat (I still possess a blue visor cap from my youth that says 'I heart Bodiam' on it, just so you can get the picture of what you're dealing with here). But in the last few weeks we have branched out and done day trips to Batemans and Knowle (both about an hour away… I know! I'm basically Ernest Shackleton) and both have been absolutely brilliant days.

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Batemans, home to Rudyard Kipling, is a gorgeous, interesting (and incredibly moving, I think) house and the kids loved it - especially his amazing study (with a rug made out of a real life wolverine! Sam was terrified/obsessed) and the original, quite scary pictures of The Jungle Book animals. The kids asked the Nat Trust volunteers loads of challenging questions ("Excuse me, why was he not scared of that rug? Was he very brave?") and enjoyed exploring the beautiful gardens and it was very good, fun day. Knowle provided a gorgeous day of running and climbing and camp building and deer spotting (the kids, obvs… the mums drank coffee and ate brownies and sat on logs… EASY PARENTING!) and was definitely worth the drive. I highly recommend both.

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Other than these excursions, we have really just been pottering around. I am reluctant to be more than ten foot from Nancy at any point as we are on a literal countdown until she deserts my nest and goes off to build her own life in reception (I CAN'T BEAR IT), so I have basically just been following her around and telling her how much I love her, whilst she ignores me and goes about her business.

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In terms of books, we have been all about the Mr Men recently. We have had the box set of Little Miss for ages (a great deal from The Book People) and the children are endlessly fascinated by them, so I treated us to a box of 20 of the Mr Men when they, too, came up on offer. I remember enjoying them when I was little but the kids never tire of them! They are funny and silly and also pretty cool for increasing understanding of good words (i.e. stubborn, fickle, topsy-turvy etc). Plus they have kept me amused by the chat they inspire (For example, Nancy: "Mummy, is it fair that even though Mr Mean has learnt his lesson and isn’t being mean anymore, that everyone still calls him Mr Mean? " Me: "You're right, Nance, what do you think he should be called?" Nancy: (Long pause) "Bob".)

* Just had to look up the price because I joined when I was TWENTY FOUR because I am a massive loser. It's just under a tenner a month for family membership.

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

The latest instalment of fun family life from our messy mummy Lucy...

The latest instalment of fun family life from our messy mummy Lucy...

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.
 

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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.
 

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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 http://nosycrow.com

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!

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

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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...