Monday, 14 July 2014

Gardening with preschoolers

I love growing vegetables. I think it's the part of me that grew up reading the likes of E J Taylor's Ivy Cottage and George and Matilda Mouse by Heather Buchanan ... In any case, gardening is something that I was always keen to get Daughter involved with. Aside from the obvious benefits of learning where their food comes from, I think that waiting for plants to grow can help to teach patience. A little watering can is also a very handy distraction for when you need five minutes of alone-time in the garden. Oh yes, that little metal container has let me finish many a cuppa. Fill it up, hand it over and ask them to go and water the plant furthest from where you are.

Happy days.

In any case, when choosing the plants to grow this year, I tried to learn from the errors of last season. I went really over the top, trying to have as many home-grown items as possible. Daughter didn't really notice - there was too much going on that she couldn't really take pride in any of the produce. This year we planted the somewhat reduced crop of radishes and peas - partially due to moving into the new house late in the growing season and partially because those were the first things which sprung to mind.

We bought a pack of multi-coloured radish seeds (for a bit of variety), and just used a pack of dried peas that I had in the store cupboard. I think they were from the Co-op in Norway, but any dried peas should work - Norwegian or not.

The peas, admittedly, are very slow growing once they're in the ground, but by soaking them in water before planting them, you can see them start to germinate. They're great for explaining the process of seed to plant.

The radishes have been the real stars this year though - quick growing and tolerant to my child's enthusiastic watering, they've survived the Scottish climate well and provided a great crop. My only issue with them is... well, other than sliced in a salad, they have limited usage. Whilst hours of trawling various cookery sites produced limited success in terms of recipes I could actually use, I did manage to stumble across the Japanese-style pickled radish - a quick and easy preserve with a fridge life of three to four weeks.

This is especially good for making with smalls as the liquid turns from clear to pink when it hits the radishes, giving the jar a lovely rose colour. To make these, you need:

100mls clear vinegar (cider, rice wine, white wine, distilled white... whatever really)
100mls water
10 pepper corns
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp honey.

Slice your radishes thinly and pop them in a jar. Add the pepper corns (and if you fancy something a bit different you could add some slices of garlic and/or a few chilli seeds) and set to one side. In a pan, heat the remaining ingredients until they've got a gentle boil going and then pour over your radishes in their jar. Pop a lid on, wait for it to cool and then stick it in the fridge overnight. They're ready to eat the next day and go very well with Asian food. 

Any ideas what I can do with the rest of our bumper crop?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Healthy Summer Snacks For Kids

Some of you might remember a post from Lily Helitzer about Making Food Fun. Well, Lily's back with some words of wisdom regarding healthy summer snacks.

Summer is a fruitful time of year. There are masses of fresh, healthy produce on the market and there really is no better time to encourage your kids not only to eat well, but learn about their food too. Not only will this keep them occupied while school is out but it will give them a good understanding of the foods they are eating and their respective health benefits which will stand them in good stead for a well balanced diet in later life. In the here and now they will need lots of energy to fuel their long, hot, hectic summer days so here are some sin free summer snacks that your kids should be enjoying this years and the ways that you can make them fun to learn about, as well as fun to eat.

Berry picking
Summer is prime time for berry picking – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and cranberries all come into season during the hotter months and whilst you can buy at most local farmers markets, there is something special about harvesting your own food. An afternoon spent in a strawberry field won't just leave you with lots of a delicious berries to take home but it will inspire your kids to learn about where their food comes from. Being outdoors and getting some gentle exercise is also great for their general health and will boost their vitamin D intake as they soak up the sunshine. From a dietary perspective there are a wealth of health benefits to be found in berries. Not only are they packed with antioxidants but they are thought to fight off free radical cells responsible for causing diseases as well as improving cognitive function and maintaining joint and muscle health. Berries (particularly blueberries) are so rich in nutrients that they are being hailed as the next 'superfood' and are being recommended to people with immune deficiency problems that may be caused by health issues or lifestyle problems (such as overcoming addiction). There are so many things you can do with them - pies, jams, smoothies and toppings for cereals and yogurts are just a few ways of incorporating berries into your kids' diet.
Grow salad
Studies show that kids who take an active role in growing their own food have healthier diets in later life and summer time is the perfect time to get them involved with growing their own produce. Planning, planting, maintaining and harvesting their own vegetable patch could be the perfect way to keep them occupied during the summer vacation and luckily many salad plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers tend to grow quite quickly so your greenfingered little ones won't have to wait long for their produce to arrive. Not only are salad plants generally low fat and high in water content (great for keeping them hydrated in the hot weather) but green leafy salad such as lettuce and spinach are packed full of fiber and iron whilst tomatoes are thought to contain powerful antioxidants and even components that can help protect their skin against the sun.

Make burgers
Nothing tastes better than a juicy burger cooked al fresco on a warm summer evening. Although we hear a lot of bad press about the high saturated fat content of burgers, they do have health benefits and can be adapted to be lower in fat. Lean meats such as turkey mince automatically reduce fat content whilst more traditional hamburgers do contain iron and protein (essential for boosting energy levels and red blood cell production) so aren't all bad. Enlist your little ones in the mixing, molding and shaping of the burgers – they will love getting their hands messy. Substituting binding agents such as egg and breadcrumbs for apple sauce and other healthy alternatives can be another way to increase the goodness within them.

Create colorful popsicles
Keeping cool and hydrated in the summer is important and sometimes your kids can be so busy playing that they forget to come indoors for a drink. Becoming dehydrated won't just make them grouchy and tired, but it can be dangerous too so it is important to get fluids into them even if you have to be sneaky about it. Making popsicles is fun and there are literally hundreds of simple recipes and flavors that you can make with just about anything in your cupboards. Some summer staples for your freezer may include watermelon popsicles, frozen lemonade popsicles and even frozen yogurts for a refreshing calcium hit. These are all great ways of keeping your kids cool and hydrated that may seem a lot more appealing than a glass of tap water.  

'Superfoods Everyone Needs' - WebMD - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'Medical Detox Centres' - - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'Health Benefits of Wild Blueberries - Study' - Eurekalert - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'A Kids' Garden Grows Healthier Eating Habits' - Rodale News - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'How my diet can protect me from sunburn' - Worlds Healthiest Foods - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'Any Benefits in Eating Hamburger?' - LiveStrong - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'Dehyrdration Symptoms' - MayoClinic - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'Strawberry Hills USA' - Accessed 17 June 2014.
'The American Heart Association Teaching Starter Garden Kit' - Burpee - Accessed 17 June 2014.

Lily Helitzer is a health and nutrition writer who works on behalf of Kwikmed, an FDA-approved pharmacy which offers an accessible and safe outlet to buy Cialis and other prescription medication.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Beach Combing Collage

Children – in my albeit limited – experience, like to come home from walks with pockets full of treasure. I’ve covered things to do withpine-cones in the past, and how great shells can be for water play, but there’s always more than that… driftwood, heather roots, sea glass, leaves and flowers.

And rocks. Oh heavens, the rocks. I mean, I’ve got boxes full of the things – seriously. I reckon 90% of what we took with us when we moved house was boxes of rocks. To make matters worse Daughter remembers them all, so you can’t just subtly drop them into the drive way or rockery as you go – hole-in-the-pocket-Shawshank-style.

Anyway, I’m still working on a solution for the whole rock dilemma, but I thought I’d share one of the collages we made when we were staying in Denmark. This one is possibly my favourite because honestly? It’s pretty and frame-able and done entirely by Daughter – it’s something truly special and unique from our time on Fanoe, rather than one of a gabillion crayon squiggles on printer paper that I’m frequently gifted at home. My only regret is that I didn’t have some nice backing card with me, but then, the whole thing rather took me by surprise. I didn’t know that the girl was going to come up with something so nice.

I literally just sat her at the table with a box full of items, some PVA and a sheet of paper. I guess she remembered the button treethat we made a while back and drew her inspiration from there… though I like to think she was prompted by the landscape. In any case, I suppose my point here is that sometimes it’s nice just to let children create, because when they’re given free-reign, they rarely fail to amaze.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Chocolate box shape matching

This is a cheap, easy activity – presuming you’ve got the tray from a box of chocolates lying around. If you’ve not been as big of a piggie as me – stuffing a whole box in one sitting - a sheet of paper with a variety of shapes drawn on would work just as well. If you’re drawing a tray, it might be nice to do different sizes of the same shape – this could add an element of big vs. small to the game.

Essentially, you just need to give the tray to the child and point to the various shapes.
“What is this shape called?”
“A circle.”
“Can you find any circles in this room/the garden/the car/the magazine that we can put here?”

When they’ve found something, put it in the relevant shaped hole and ask about the next one.

Rinse. Repeat.

N.B. You will note that the tray in our picture contains Silica gel. I would not advise using this in a game with children, obviously. Apparently though, I am not as good at this as Daughter is so…yeah… my shapes included toxic substances. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Salt Dough

As one of the oldest, best-tested methods of occupying a toddler, salt dough remains one of those things which I bring out in times of desperation. You know… those times like today when you’re stuck in waiting for an engineer to bring dial-up speed internet to your hut in the Scottish wilderness. 

The recipe is fairly simple, and at a push can be made without salt (because let’s be honest – how many people keep kilos of salt beneath the kitchen sink?) if you hold back on the water and accept that you’re going to have to chuck the lot out at the end of the play session. The recipe I find works best is as follows, but there are hundreds out there and a quick search should reveal one which suits your store cupboard/any gluten-free requirements.

2 cups plain white flour
1 cup salt
1 cup (ish) of water

Mix the dry ingredients together and add the water a little at a time. It’ll start to clump and look as if it needs more water, but that’s the time to get your hands in and knead it all up. It’ll need about ten minutes of working before it’s ready to use, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t manage this – little hands playing will do the job of the kneading.

Some ideas on what to do with it:

Use kitchen equipment – rolling pins, cookie cutters, a garlic press or fork… anything that can be used to manipulate the dough. A set of cutlery might help to make the dough accessible for children who don’t like the feel (like me! – I really can’t stand it under my nails!).

Use props from outside – we had great success when we added shells from our beach combing trips. The best result was when we make snails by rolling out a sausage and sticking a conch on top. You could also just mash the dough onto the tray/table and use it to stand dry twigs up in, making a forest for any toy dinosaurs/animals.

Make keepsakes – how about printing hands and feet on the dough and then leaving it to dry/baking it. There’s a wonderful example of this on Phoebe’s blog which is well worth a look.

Use toy cars – roll the dough out as flat as possible and make tyre tracks in it. If you’ve got a particularly obliging hamster/guinea pig, you could see if they’re willing to stroll across to add their footprints to the mix.

If that’s not a compelling enough reason to give salt dough a go, how about the fact that I’ve been able to organise all my photographs from the last year and write this post in the time Daughter has been occupied. And she’s still going.  

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Hiatus. Again.

Another break in proceedings, though this one will likely yield more posts rather than fewer now that I can make the announcement.

Daughter will have a sibling as of early December.

After swearing 'never again' ... I guess, here we are again.

Wish me luck, dear interwebs... wish me luck. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

An update

Apologies for the recent lack of content. Between dropped nap-times, a house move and many other things in the pipeline, this blog has been dreadfully neglected.

As of March, we are no longer residents of Suffolk. In fact, we're no longer residents of England entirely. I finally made good on my promise to 'go home' and as a result, we're currently living in the north-east of Scotland.

This is where I grew up. The hills, the forests and the standing stones are all the same, but so much else has changed. In the ten years since I last stepped foot in Aberdeen city centre, the town has grown to something unrecognisable - something cosmopolitan, new and... dare I say it? Cool?

But what does all of this mean in real terms? Well... it means that until the purchase of our new house goes through, we are living with my parents. I'm hoping that this means more chances to post as my Mum can watch Daughter while I do so (Hi, Mum, if you're reading). The move also means that there is a whole new library district at our fingertips. And though I can't shower anything but praise upon the Bury St Edmunds children's library, new is always fun... if only for a little while.

And speaking of fun, and books, we've found a brilliant one to share.

There are Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwarz is absolutely fantastic. The narration of the book is essentially three cats, talking to the child. Daughter turned the pages according to the cats' instructions - forwards, back, blowing on the cats to dry them out after a swim and tucking them in with a flap disguised as a blanket. It reminded me a lot of the books by Herve Tullet - specifically Press Here. This is another book in which the child is asked to perform certain tasks which have an impact on the next page. I love how interactive they are without being noisy (battery powered books are a pet hate of mine - you can seldom replace the batteries and so they end up on landfill because the story rarely works without the noises).And Daughter loves them, which I suppose is the main thing. There are Cats in this Book is one of the few that we've borrowed in recent months which I plan on buying a copy of.

Aaah.... it's good to be back.