10th March 2015Why not make and enjoy spring's first picnic?
The Met Office forecast suggests the weather is set to hot up in April and will stay warmer until at least May, so now may be a good time to start planning the first of many picnics.
EASTER-HOLIDAY THEMED PICNIC
If you’re not sure about venturing out while the temperatures are still relatively low, then why not organise an outing during the Easter holidays?
You don't have to go far; just a trip into the garden can provide little ones with a much needed change of scene, particularly if they're starting to get cabin fever from being holed up indoors.
Easter egg hunts are always a hit with children, so why not combine a scramble for chocolate goodies with a picnic?
SAVOURY SNACK IDEAS
Obviously, you don't want your little ones to only eat chocolate, so it pays to make up some savoury snacks too.
A Greek salad makes for a good, filling and relatively healthy dish. Just cook the pasta as usual, toss it in some oil and vinegar and leave to cool at room temperature. You can then add some feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and olives (if you think the kids like them) and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Chicken drumsticks are great if your kids are meat-eaters, as little ones love the freedom of eating with their hands.
For a little extra flavour you can squeeze lemon on the meat and squash some cloves of garlic over the drumsticks, then season with pepper and mixed herbs before cooking in an oven at 180 degrees centigrade or gas mark 4 for approximately 40 minutes.
Pizza pies are great hot or cold and you can get the little ones to help you out. All you need is a packet of shortcrust pastry, two eggs, 150 ml milk, 50g of grated cheese and some herbs.
Simply grease a muffin tray and let the children roll out the pastry - they'll love getting stuck in and giving you a helping hand.
Next, cut out ten centimetre circles of pastry and put them in the tray. Then whisk the eggs and milk together in a jug and add the herbs.
Once you've grated the cheese, you can get the kids to help you add it into each pastry case, then you can pour in the milk and egg mixture.
The pies will need to be baked at 180 degrees centigrade or gas mark 4 for between 15 to 25 minutes until they are lightly browned.
If you're a bit short on time, there are plenty of ready-made treats you can buy as well. Scotch eggs, hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, carrot and cucumber batons, hummous and breadsticks all make great, easy to put together picnic food.
SWEET AND HEALTHY SNACKS
If you want your child to eat more fruit, then why not get them to help you make up some fresh fruit kebabs. Just buy some wooden skewers and some bright, sweet favourites such as strawberries, melon, pineapple and grapes and let them help you put them together.
MAKING THE GARDEN MORE ENTERTAINING
If you have a garden and want to encourage your children to spend more time in it, then investing in something like the TP Kingswood2 tower, which acts as a lookout, sand pit, slide and outdoor play area, may be ideal.
The TP Explorer2 Den can be put up or taken down in minutes, making it the ideal garden accessory. If the weather's not great, this can provide ideal coverage for your little ones to enjoy a picnic without having to worry about soggy sandwiches.
Likewise, the TP Hide and Seek Tunnel gives shelter from the rain and is fun to use indoors and outside.
5th March 2015Enjoy the start of spring by spotting its early signs
As the calendar turns to March, meteorologists are starting to talk about the beginning of spring, which is the perfect time of year to get into the great outdoors with the children.
Despite the low temperatures, there are still plenty of signs that the seasons are turning, so why not venture into your garden, local park. woods or nearby open space to check out what's there? Just don't forget to wrap up warm.
What to look for - flowers?
One of the most obvious signs of spring are the flowers shooting up everywhere, in what will have been a rather barren landscape for the last four or five months.
The so-called 'nature detective' section of The Woodland Trust website has a series of useful 'spotter sheets' that help little ones identify the various plants, flowers, birds and wildlife about at this time of year.
Bluebells are just one of the many pretty blooms that will be out in force, as will snowdrops, elderflowers, primroses and mayflowers, to name but a few.
Why not make it into a competition and see who can identify the most, or if your child is on their own, offer them a small gift, such as some stickers, if they manage to spot, say five different varieties?
There are multiple ways of checking for the presence of animals, one of the most entertaining is to look out for their footprints, which are all unique and distinctive.
Whether it's a badger, deer, dog, duck, fox, heron, otter or squirrel's mark, they could all lead you to some interesting creatures.
Another way to spot animals is by looking out for their droppings, but obviously be careful your little ones look but don't touch.
Hearing birdsong in the morning is yet one more way to tell the seasons are changing, so why not get your child to look out for some of the most common varieties found in Britain such as blackbirds, blue tits, chaffinches, magpies, robins, starlings and wood pigeons?
Children seem to be endlessly fascinated by butterflies, so let your little one glance at a website or book with different varieties listed and then take a walk and see how many they can spot.
There are so many to look out for including the orange tip, peacock, red admiral and speckled wood, you'll be spoilt for choice.
The great thing about bugs such as woodlouse, millipedes, ants, caterpillars, beetles, worms and snails is that they can be quite hard to spot, so you can have plenty of fun searching for the little critters in the undergrowth. Lift up big logs and peer to see what's underneath. Alternatively, you could venture into the garden and get your little one to dig into the ground to see what snails and worms they can unearth.
You could then explain how they help to nourish the soil and keep gardens healthy.
If you're lucky enough to have access to a pond, maybe in your own garden or at a local park, you can take your little one to come and see the frogs that will be emerging at this time of year to lay their frogspawn.
You can explain the lifecycle of frogs to your child and you could offer them repeat visits to see them hatch, become tadpoles and eventually frogs.
Benefits of these trips
Multiple studies have shown that when people have exposure to nature they are calmer, happier and more likely to engage with one another in a positive way, so your child will benefit mentally as well as physically from regular trips outdoors.
Not only that, they are also learning about nature, the cycle of life (think about the frogspawn to frog development), and how to concentrate and identify different species, which will help them in their studies as they grow up.
A trip outdoors is also an important way to spend quality, fun time with your children, without screens to distract either you or them.
26th February 2015The best books to enjoy with your children
When it comes to reading, some children will take to it like a duck to water, while others will avoid it at all costs. However, as a parent, it's important that you are a constant source of support, encouragement and engagement in this area.
If your child is having trouble reading or simply doesn't enjoy it, there's no big issue, but helping your younger family members in this area can help them in many areas of life and development. Being able to read well will help them learn better and easier at school, while it will also help them build confidence in their own abilities.
For many parents, the struggle comes when their child has learnt to read but doesn't seem enthused about challenging themselves further and taking their reading to the next level. Some of the books in this list may seem too advanced for your child, but you can start by reading it to them before they go to bed, and slowly encourage them to read more and more of it themselves.
There are many books that are ideal for helping bridge this gap in reading, and continue to encourage your child.
ROALD DAHL - THE TWITS
Roald Dahl is a fantastic author when it comes to persuading children that reading is not dull. His stories are exciting, gruesome and funny, which immediately inspires most young people to continue reading his books. The story of The Twits focuses on Mr and Mrs Twits, who are nasty people who do horrible things to those around them and each other. This story is full of funny anecdotes, which children will instantly love, but also has a sentimental and important message that parents will love too.
The best thing about Roald Dahl is that, if your child gravitates towards his books, there are plenty more for you to choose from.
BEATRIX POTTER COLLECTION
If your child isn't quite up to reading Roald Dahl, start them off with some of Beatrix Potter's work. Starting off as an illustrator herself, Beatrix Potter's books are full of beautiful and detailed pictures to accompany her heartwarming stories. These alone should be enough to encourage children to delve a little deeper, but the tales are amusing and innocent stories about animals.
JK ROWLING - THE HARRY POTTER SERIES
As the most popular children's series of all time, Harry Potter is an obvious place to start for people that are looking to develop their reading ability. Although fans of the films may worry about the dark undertones, the shorter, earlier books are ideal for young children. There is enough action and excitement to keep them entertained and there are fantastic lessons to be learnt from reading them. Not only does good conquer all in the Harry Potter books, but it also deals with many other issues like the power of friendship, loyalty, bullying and judging others. One of the best things about this series is that, as your child matures, they can carry on reading the series.
Reading with your child is a fantastic way to build a close relationship between yourself and them. Of course, you don't want to be too pushy but make sure to praise and encourage them even when they are struggling.
For lots more help with and information on getting children reading, it's well worth taking a look at the Book Trust website all year round, as well as getting involved with Children's Book Week each summer.
26th February 2015Get kids involved with games that encourage moving and shaking
If you think about playing games with your kids, the chances are that board games immediately spring to mind - fun toys that while away a winter's afternoon and provide some good quiet time to interact with one another.
While these are undoubtedly extremely useful for building cognitive skills and winding down at the end of the day, it's also important to play games that encourage movement too.
In fact, these can have just as big an impact on children's development, plus they fit in plenty of the all-important exercise necessary each day.
We were reminded of the importance of moving and shaking by reports of a new study, which tested a toy that aims to combine learning with movement - and fun, of course.
The study was carried out by media scientist Dr Martina Lucht from the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, Germany. She had spotted a hopscotch grid drawn on a footpath one day and realised this old game could be put to good use in a more modern setting.
"It suddenly occurred to me that learning has to be combined with movement to make it fun," she commented.
Dr Lucht designed a toy a little like a dance mat, with sensor pads divided up into nine fields featuring letters and numbers, just like the keys of a mobile phone.
Depending on which game is programmed into it, children complete tasks by spelling out words or 'typing' out numbers after the computer has asked them questions - such as dancing out spellings.
It's suitable for all ages and Dr Lucht pointed out that subjects from maths to history can all be incorporated. Initial tests showed children to be enthusiastic participants, so the inventor hopes to roll the toy out more widely in the future.
We thought it was interesting how the Hopscotch toy capitalised on kids' apparently built-in ability to use mobile phone keypads, but also on keeping their minds active and their bodies moving at the same time.
MOVING AND SHAKING GAMES YOU CAN DO AT HOME
However, since you might not have access to this type of toy, you can achieve similar effects by designing your own 'get moving' games in the house or garden. There's something about the effect of exertion that seems to get the mind more focused and allows for the easier recollection of new information later.
You could even bring back chalked-out hopscotch grids with letters for children's spellings within, which is a low-tech version of the new toy above.
Anything that involves running, jumping, skipping and other simple physical activities is great, but the learning aspect can come in if you introduce tasks during the exercise.
For example, set up an assault course using your climbing frames and get your youngsters to grab letters that you've placed at strategic points along the way. The first to spell out a word or answer a question using clues on the cards is the winner (Anyone who remembers kids' TV programme Fun House will appreciate this game!).
For younger children who might not be able to spell out complex words yet, getting them to jump to paper in different colours on a mat will build their skills without making them feel overwhelmed.
There are lots more ideas and the only limit is your imagination, so have a think and see what else you can come up with as winter ends and spring rolls in.
If you want more information about exercise for children and developmental games, check out this really useful guide from the British Heart Foundation, which covers kids from newborn onwards.
26th February 2015How to help your kids get a good night's rest
Any parent will know that bedtime is one of the most important parts of a child's development. In order for little ones to grow properly both physically mentally, it is essential that they are getting the right amount of rest each evening.
On the face of it, some may be forgiven for thinking the more shut-eye they get the better, but looking at it in this way is really a bit over-simplistic. If a child is spending an excessive number of hours in bed each night, this could actually be doing more harm than good.
In addition, although experts have been conducting research into the field for decades, there is still no ultimate theory on how much sleep the average person should get.
This has just been demonstrated by the fact that the University of Loyola in Chicago has unveiled some interesting new findings, which suggest the eight-hour estimate most people seem to take as a given might actually be a bit off the mark.
The research provides a detailed breakdown of the hourly range that people of different ages should aim for in order to be at the peak of their health.
HOW MUCH SLEEP SHOULD CHILDREN REALLY BE GETTING?
As you might imagine, children often have a very different idea of how much sleep they should be getting to their parents. One of the biggest causes of unrest for little ones is having to go to bed before adults, possibly because this gives them a sense that they are being left out of something - and feeling excluded is unsurprisingly one of the main sources of upset for kids.
However, it is a simple fact that children should be getting at least a few more hours in each night than their parents, meaning you might have to come up with a few tactics to persuade your loved ones to head upstairs on time.
The sliding scale - according to Loyola - starts with newborns, who are recommended to spend 14-17 hours a day in bed. This then goes down on a gradual gradient, with toddlers and children, who should be getting between 11 and 13 hours and teenagers (14-17 years old), who are advised to spend eight to ten hours sleep each night.
With that in mind, here are a few ways that you can make sure your children get the right amount of sleep.
START THE PROCESS EARLY
Just because it's mealtime doesn't mean that it is too early to start thinking about putting your child to bed. The size and nutritional value of their evening food intake could well have a profound effect on how well they sleep a couple of hours later.
Always make sure the kids have their tea at least two hours before they will be heading up to bed, as otherwise indigestion and excess energy stored up from carbohydrate-rich meals could leave them unable to nod off. Desserts are also a great treat for children on an occasional basis, but too much sugar and saturated fat before bed is a recipe for disaster.
It can be tempting to match kids' mealtimes with your own, to get them used to the etiquette and social side of eating with a group, but this can be more negative than positive in the case of really young ones.
There are few better ways to get children settled down and ready for sleep than the age-old method of the bedtime story.
It is naive to think that little ones will be tired enough to drop off straight after they have headed upstairs, but the bedtime story acts as a kind of halfway house, easing them into the idea of slumberland calmly and comfortably.
Fun toys like night lights and hanging mobiles are two of the classic ways that kids can be given help with sleep. However, in the modern day there are hundreds of similar products that could well prove the difference between being sleep-rich or sleep-deprived.
Take Pillow Pets from TP Toys for example, which are a fantastic combination between soft toys and comfy pillows, making an association between sleep and something that the child holds dear to them. Check out TP's fantastic range to learn more.