Wednesday 4 April 2018

The Inquisitive Newt

We have MOVED!

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'The Inquisitive Newt' is my effort to share some of the inspiring, entertaining and beautiful books which brighten up both mine, and my children's day-to-day lives.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Adding Machine

A while ago, this appeared on my Pinterest feed - a wonderful, hands-on adding machine.

I'll be honest at this point and admit that I have a weird relationship to maths. I love the figuring out how to do a sum part, and hate the bit involving actual numbers. They just do not make sense to me - far too... ethereal? I think that's why I loved this idea so much - it turns random digits into real, tactile things. In any case, I've been meaning to make this for ages and since I came down from changing Son one day this week to find Daughter up to her elbows in PVA glue, this seemed like the time to do it.

To start with, I cut a box to the right shape and taped on some loo-roll tubes, complete with paper funnels. You can easily just get away with the tubes if you can't be bothered faffing with cones, but as usual I wanted this activity to occupy Daughter for as long as possible. This in mind, I employed her drawing around biscuit-tin lids to make the circles we needed.

Initially, I had grand ideas of papier-mache-ing the whole thing to look like an old-school pinball machine, but as it became evident that layering tissue isn't Daughter's forte, I figured we could just settle for securing the tubes to the wall of the box.

You will probably notice here how close the girl's arm is to that precarious pot of glue...
...and how the pot of glue is no longer present in this picture. We mopped up the inevitable spillage with kitchen roll and sort of dumped that on the box as our final attempt to cover it.

Yeah. It's super-attractive. Daughter declined to paint the thing, "What's the point?" she asked. I am inclined to agree. As a token effort, I drew on the kitchen roll with a Sharpie and we left it at that.

Finally, I got her to think of some numbers and we wrote out a few simple sums. 

Then out came the marbles. 

How do households without such a tin function?!

The idea is that you use the funnels for the 2 digits of the sum. i.e. with 5+2, you post five marbles down the first chute, and two down the second. Then you count them all up in the tray at the bottom and write the answer on the sheet.

Daughter really loved this - especially if I sat with her and we released the two lots of marbles at the same time. She started using the large marbles for one of the numbers, and regular sized ones for the other. I think it helped her visualise how the two digits 'merged' to make one new digit.

All in all, a stonking success, ugly as our adding machine may be. I'm trying to think of a similar way to tackle subtraction... any ideas? 

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Home-made board games

A while ago, my Mum picked up a carousel of scissors from a charity shop. They cut in all different lines - there's traditional pinking shears, some that do waves, some which do crazy Victorian-style wibbly bits (technical terminology, there). They're only strong enough to cut paper, though, which means that I haven't really known what to do with them until now.

A while ago, Daughter and I started getting into board games, but these are expensive and since I find them a little repetitive after a few playthroughs (at least the ones which are age-appropriate for Daughter) we haven't really played any for a while. Since having had Son, however, we've had to find activities that are a little more stationary than our usual countryside stompathons. Board games are ideal for this, though because the rules are fairly rigid, I've often worried about them not being 'creative' enough (I worry about a lot of pointless rubbish, to be fair).

In any case, there came a day when I just hadn't had enough sleep. I mean, one expects to be tired with a newborn but this was something else. I needed Daughter occupied so that I could dose myself with more caffeine than the human blood-stream should be able to handle. Obviously, on that day, Daughter was having none of it. I tried all of our usual distractions but nothing would work. In  a rather strained voice I asked her what she wanted to do.

"Use those," she said, pointing at the scissor-carousel. It had sat on the bookcase for the past year and I'd forgotten we even had it.

"Fine," I muttered, fetching it down and handing her some construction paper. She cut happily for hours and though I enjoyed the quiet, my inner-hippie was going mad at the waste of resources. When Daughter was finally fed up, I thrust some more paper at her, along with a tub of glue, and asked her to stick her funny shapes onto the large sheet of card. At least, I thought, making a collage might keep her occupied just a little longer.

And then it hit me... through my caffeine induced haze, I realised that we could make something akin to snakes and ladders out of her artwork. I'd long been hankering after the classic - if a little passée -game but as no sets had yet come up at our local charity shops, I'd pushed the idea aside and moved onto other things.

After the glue had dried, I attacked the thing with a Sharpie, and told Daughter to grab her stickers. We ended up having a great time, making up stories about the setting. It's outerspace, you see, and the players are both in crashing spaceships. When a player lands on a square with an asteroid, they move back two spaces (because... well, you would, wouldn't you). When you land on an alien, they help you to fix your spaceship and you move two spaces forwards, bringing you closer to the end... which is a glittery star where the Pirate Princess lives. Obviously.

This is a brilliant activity for school/nursery holidays as you can drag it out to take a whole day. And once you've finished making the game, you can play it. Also, the fact that it's essentially disposable means that you can make as many different games as you like and recycle when they're no longer interesting. This one worked well for us at the moment because we could phrase the moves like sums, i.e. "You're on square 15 and need to move back two spaces. What is 15-2?"

We're off to visit the inlaws soon so I'm thinking of buying an A3 pad and just taking lots of pre-cut squares with PritStik to entertain Daughter on the trip over.

In any case, you'll no doubt see a homemade board game on here again in the not too distant future.

Monday 15 December 2014

Christmas Craft #4 - "Pebernødder", or Danish Christmas cookies

As promised, here is the translated recipe for Husband's incredible Danish Christmas cookies. Literally meaning, "pepper nuts", these beauties are teeny-tiny, so can be squeezed into even the fullest stomach post festive feast. They're also incredibly cheap, easy to make and look gorgeous in a Kilner jar, tied up with a ribbon so if you manage not to scoff the lot, they make fantastic gifts.

And as ever, they're great for little hands to join in with.

You need:

125 g salted butter

125 g sugger
1 egg
1 teaspoon bicarb
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
275 g white flour

Blend the sugar and butter, slowly adding the egg.
Add the flour and spices
Roll the dough into a sausage and cut off sections
Roll the sausage sections into balls
Put on a baking sheet on grease-proof paper
Bake at 200 degrees for 10 - 12 min or until they reach a 'good colour'

Friday 12 December 2014

Christmas Craft #3 - Cornflour-dough decorations

Last year, we made some pretty cool cornflour-dough Christmas tree decorations. I didn't blog about them at the time because a. I was too busy eating insane quantities of Danish Christmas cookies which Husband made, and b. I wanted to see how long the unbaked decorations would last in storage.

...But mostly I was just eating the cookies.

Anyhow... (and don't worry, I will post the 'pebernødder' recipe in due course) it transpires that these lovely little decorations last really well, and are actually far more sturdy than I gave them any credit for being. They not only survived a house move and the three year old attacking the Christmas tree with them, but one or two have also made it past the cat. And that's no mean feat.

Pinterest is full of recipes for this dough - it's cheap, gluten-free and if left to air dry rather than being baked, has a lovely, almost-porcelain quality. This is the recipe that we used, and I can highly recommend it.

My only note would be for UK readers: cornstarch=cornflour & baking soda=bicarb. US references to cornflour are actually talking about something akin to oatmeal in texture as far as I've discovered.

We used some Christmas ribbon that I found at the market last year to add a bit of colour, and a rolling-pin intended for play-dough to get the swirls. Good ol' cookie-cutters dictated which shapes we could have and then Daughter set to it.

The mixture - when rolled out - actually makes thousands of these little decorations. Having swathed the tree in the things, I dug out some card blanks (which I think were originally wedding invites?) and used a little glue dot to attach a decoration to each. They made really nice cards, but that still wasn't enough to work through them. Cue the Sharpie - we ended up getting rid of most as gift tags. I have to say, they did make a fairly nice addition to my stingy brown paper and shiny gold ribbon.

Would I make them again? Yes, next year. I think it'll be a biannual thing, simply because of the ornaments' unexpected longevity.

And I promise that next time we do give them a go, I'll take some better photos!

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Christmas Craft #2 - Bird feeders

It's cold outside - no denying that. And though I like to think of myself as the rugged, outdoorsy type, I'm definitely more of a snuggle-by-the-fire-with-hot-tea-and-knitting sort when winter rolls around. Which isn't especially conducive when you're trying to instil a love of nature in small people.

Cue bird watching. Something that can be done from the comfort of your own windowsill with a pair of binoculars and a Dorling Kindersley birds sticker book. Hooray!

But how do you get the birds into the garden, I hear you ask? I mean, we've got three cats, so they'd have to be fairly daft birds...

Food! Food is the answer!*

Last year we made this colossal-sized bird feeder from a 500g yoghurt pot as it was the only disposable container we had. As you can see from the picture, it took the birds longer to eat it than it did for the seeds contained within to begin sprouting...

This year, I decided to try something a little different. Instead of cutting the mould away as countless Blue Peter kids have done before me, I used foldable, silicone moulds (the kind usually reserved for cupcakes). The results were pretty good and the birds haven't seemed to notice the difference.

If you've not made bird-feeders before, they're really easy. You need a mould, some bird-seed and some fat. We use lard because it's cheap and you can pour it at low temperatures - ideal for small people - but any solid fat is fine if you're a vegetarian/vegan household.

Basically, all you need to do is fill your moulds with seeds, then pour the fat over the top and leave to set. Place these on old tree stumps, stab a hole through the 'cake' and attach a string to hang on a brand or pop on a bird table and wait... inside. Where it's warm.

Mmmm... tea.


*For the record, two of the cats are too fat and old to catch anything and the one which does hunt broke her tail so she can't actually get any sort of height/balance thing going on in her little catty life (the highest she's ever jumped is the sofa - about 30cm from the ground). I'd also like to make it clear that I'm totally not advocating luring unsuspecting wildlife into a garden full of predators...

Monday 8 December 2014

Christmas Craft #1 - Book Advent Calender and morning board

You might have guessed it already, but we're big on books.

I forget where I first saw the idea of the 'book a day' advent calendar, but it's been niggling away at me for an entire year and finally, I get to do it!

It's exactly as it sounds - I went round the house in the summer (when the books wouldn't be missed) and collected all the Christmas/Winter titles that I came across. I think I managed 20 in total, then bought the rest from the local charity shop for 50p a tome, making the total cost of the calendar £2. Since I'm going to do this for a good few years, I think that's an acceptable price - especially as I plan to put the books away again after the festivities are over and reuse those which are still age-appropriate next year. I think - all being well - I should only have to replace one this time around.

In any case, last year when we tried the chocolatey variety of advent calendar, Daughter really took umbrage to the fact that advent ended on the 24th. She wanted to go on getting a present a day... as you would. So, forewarned is forearmed and this time, I decided to introduce a morning-board as well. It made a funny sort of sense to me that since we were starting to count days anyway, we might as well introduce other calendar elements too. This way, come the 25th, she'll still have at least part of her little morning ritual.

I started off by crocheting some simple weather symbols, using a free online pattern and some yarn oddments. Then I got the very talented Blissful Baby Gifts to machine embroider the words and numbers for the board on some felt. These are absolutely gorgeous - the colours are so pretty and the stitching is perfect. Daughter's face - as you can see above - when she opened the little package was a picture. All I did then was attack the pieces with some super-glue and some cheap, ebay magnets... the rest is just a case of arranging things on any metallic surface.

So far, the novelty of coming downstairs to change the date in a morning hasn't worn off and Daughter's beginning to learn the days of the week. Good job all round, then.

And from a purely selfish point of view, I'm having a lot of fun reliving my favourite childhood books from this festive time of year.

Anyone else remember the Summer Snowman? No? Just me then...