Keeping Cool

Keeping Cool

Having just entered another spate of ridiculously hot weather, I thought I’d share my tried and tested, budget-friendly tips for keeping the children cool and entertained.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find that when it’s hot I become a heat raged gremlin. My patience is shorter, I get agitated and flustered. It is therefore unfortunate that during the heat is when parenting kicks up a notch. On top of all our regular weather parenting, we now need to be on top of hats, sun cream, and hydration. We also need to make sure that the activities our children are doing aren’t going to result in overheating or sunstroke. It’s a tough slog, especially if like me, you don’t fair well in the heat.

With the unpredictability of the weather, we’ve progressed from baking sun to thunderstorms, onto hailstones and back to clear skies in the space of one afternoon. It’s mad! Still, it’s always a good idea to have some handy tips and tricks on hand to make sure that your little ones are stimulated, entertained and occupied whatever the weather.

Here I share my top 5 things to do at home to keep cool when the sun has his hat on and the temperature is creeping up.

Ice Box Rescue

This is a great and cooling sensory activity. You need to prepare it the day before so it’s always a good thing to check the weather forecast. If high temperatures are looming, you can get this game ready for when your little ones need to cool down. It’s a simple yet highly effective idea. All you need is a plastic storage box, a small selection of plastic toys, water and a small child’s hammer (or any other device they can use to tap with). For my version, I used the Master of Mischief’s Scooby-Doo characters. I put the figurines into the box and filled it with water. I then popped it in the freezer overnight which allowed the water to set, trapping the mystery gang in a block of ice. The next day as it got hotter, the Master of Mischief was getting bored and irritable. I got this out of the freezer and told him that a snow monster had trapped Scoob and the gang in the ice and that they needed saving. The excitement that came over my son was fantastic. I set him up in the shade outside and we set about whacking the ice block in a bid to free the toys trapped inside. The cold water was cooling him down while the game was occupying him. As a bonus, it was a great learning moment, while we were playing, we were talking about the toys and the ice. We talked about how it looked and how it felt. He even noticed that the ice was melting and turning into water.

This kind of activity can be made from whatever toys you have at home so shouldn’t cost anything. Some other themes you might want to explore is to trap farm animals, cars, dinosaurs, coloured blocks or even Lego. If you wanted to incorporate additional learning, you could use animal figures of animals that live in cold and ice habitats. This could facilitate a conversation about animals and their homes, which is always a great way for children to learn.  

Paddling Pool Lake and Boat Making 

When the hot weather first started, it was a bit up and down. The forecast was constantly changing. Whenever I went shopping, I would overlook the ample paddling pool selection. I made the rookie mistake of thinking ‘I’ll just buy a paddling pool next week when it’s hot’. Fool! As the temperature has continued to rise, every shop I have been to has sold out of paddling pools. The only place I was able to get anything was Tesco, who was selling a £3.50 three-ring pool which ripped almost instantly (I guess you get what you pay for on occasion). Honestly, it was so small you’d struggle to fit a toe in, never mind sit and splash around. A few days ago, I had a surge of luck. Our local Aldi is selling themed pools at a reasonable price (£5.99). I was only 122cm diameter so wasn’t big enough for all three to sit in, it was, however, the perfect size for our small patio garden and big enough for all three to sit around and play in. It was to be our paddling pool lake, and what is a lake without boats!?

I had some boxes and odd pieces of plastic recycling which I managed to rescue from the grasps of my cleaning wizard husband. With this, some wooden sticks, a few pieces of A4 paper cut into sail shapes and some wooden chopsticks, I set the task for each of the children to build and decorate a boat. The boats were then to be tested on our paddling pool lake. Whoever made the boat that survived the longest would win a lollipop.

We had a great time creating and testing the boats. For those interested, Little Fairy won the competition.  

Toy Bath

This is an excellent way to keep children cool in the heat. It’s so simple; all I do is fill a large tub with cool water and throw some toys in. Dinosaurs are usually the go-to for the Master of Mischief, however, with a few recent activities to do with Shark Week, we are now shifting slightly more towards Jaws and his mates.

Between the imaginations of Little Fairy and the Master of Mischief, the games pretty much make themselves. We’ve had dinosaurs fighting sharks, sharks eating Frozen characters, and a very daring rescue carried out by Scooby-Doo involving a monster truck and some pretty dicey shark-infested waters.

If you wanted to add an educational twist to this activity you could create an underwater habitat for your water-themed animal toys.

Water Balloons

What child isn’t obsessed with water balloons? I recently purchased a fantastic pack that are self-sealing. Genius!

It took me no time to fill them and the small ball contraption within the balloon meant there was no fiddley twisting and tying involved.

Now, I don’t like ‘water fights’. My children (and husband) are extremely competitive. Anything involving ‘fight’ no matter how playful the intent, will undoubtedly end in tears. So, if you are lucky enough to have children that can have a ‘civilised’ water balloon fight, please know, I envy you.

For the mums like me who have a band of children who don’t know what friendly competition is, try playing toss the balloon.

Fill the water balloons as you like and then play a spread out game of catch. It’s always a laugh and removes all the risk of fallouts.

Fan Making

Fan making is an age-old tradition that children of any age can participate in.

All you need is some A4 paper. Have your children draw a picture or decorate one or both sides of the paper.

Accordion fold the paper, pinch at the bottom and bind together. Fan out the paper and it’s ready for use.

Alternatively, you could make a paddle fan. For this, you will need a lollipop stick, card, glue and scissors.

Cut out matching paddle shapes from your card and decorate them.

Glue the lollipop stick to the back of one paddle piece ensuring there is a large part of the stick extending out from the paper.

Cover the back of the second paddle piece and stick this to back of the fan. Make sure you spread glue onto the back of the handle and the edges of the fan so that they stick together. This will hide the stick and make the fan sturdier.

Once the glue is dried you are good to go.

I hope these ideas can help keep your children occupied and cool at the same time. Hot and bored is a terrible mix. For us, these activities have meant that keeping cool can be fun.

Let me know if you try any of them in the comments section and stay cool.

Until next time….

Hannah XO

Picnic Platter

Picnic Platter

A great sharing platter for children on sunny afternoons. I find that it is much easier to present all the food on one big board than serving up several individual plates of food (which usually means a tonne of washing up after). This is a stress free and easy to produce option for feeding the whole family on those sunny days in the garden.

You Will Need

One of the best things about sharing platters is that you can fill them with whatever you like. The platter in this image was created for three children and requires the following.

3 Turkey sandwiches on wholemeal bread (cut into triangles)

3 large rice cakes

3 cheese triangles

2 pork pies (cut into quarters)

6 cocktail sausages

1 salad pepper (cut into batons)

½ cucumber (cut into batons)

2 kiwi fruits (cut into quarters)

2 satsumas (peeled and segmented)

1 apple (chopped into slices)

3 kids tube yogurts

3 pepperoni snack sticks

Method

Make the sandwiches (removing the crusts if you prefer) and place them on the board in a line down one side.

Quarter the pies and position these next to the sandwiches, next to this add the sausages.

Chop the pepper and the cucumber half into batons and positions these on the board.

Slice the apple and kiwi and peel and segment the satsumas. Place all fruit together on the board near to the pepper and cucumber.

Place the cheese triangles next to the rice cakes on the opposite side to the sandwiches.

Finally add to the board the pepperoni sticks and tube yogurts.

Serve immediately.

Other Ideas

As I have said, the best part about these platters is that you can fill them with anything. If you have more adults than children, try substituting the cheese triangles for a selection of cheese slices, cured meats and crackers. You could even incorporate some chutneys and pickles to make it into more of a Ploughman’s platter.

If you prefer you could also add a larger selection of vegetable sticks, including celery and carrots and serve some dip alongside them.

Another easy ay to change it up is a wider selection of sandwiches. Try adding some egg and cress, tuna and sweetcorn, cucumber or even jam. This will give it more of a traditional afternoon tea feel. You could even throw on some scones and really make a show of it!

Superstar Eggy Bread

Superstar Eggy Bread

This makes for a great Saturday or Sunday morning breakfast. I love it mostly because it is something my dad used to make for me and that his mam made for him. It definitely takes me back to when I was a kid. An added bonus is that it is cheap and easy to make. Winner!

You Will Need

2 Large Eggs

2 Slices of bread (any flavour)

2 Tbsp Milk

1 tsp Cinnamon

Star and circle shaped biscuit cutter

Strawberries and Blueberries (as many as you want)

Icing sugar to serve

Method

Whisk the eggs, milk, and cinnamon together in a wide bowl.

Cut out two stars and two circles from the slices of bread.

Soak the stars on both sides in the egg mixture. Transfer the soaked bread from the bowl to a non-stick frying pan and fry on both sides until golden. Repeat this process again for the circles.  

Once cooked, stack a star on top of a circle and position on a plate with chopped strawberries and blueberries.

Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve.

Other Ideas

To prevent waste, try using the off-cuts from the bread and make eggy bread bites by chopping them into chunks, coating them in the egg mixture and frying.

If you don’t have a star or circle cutter you can soak a whole slice of bread into the mix and chop into fingers, squares or triangles once cooked.

You can also mix it up by trying different flavours, substitute the cinnamon for nutmeg or ginger to try something new. You could also serve the eggy bread with a dollop of Nutella to make it a bit naughtier.

You can also serve this dish with a selection of fruits. Try making it more tropical by serving pineapple, mango, and kiwi. You could even sprinkle the dish with desiccated coconut instead of icing sugar for a real tropical twist!  

Spaghetti Car Banana (Carbonara)

Spaghetti Car Banana (Carbonara)

This is always a hit with my children. Obviously, to many it is known as spaghetti carbonara, however, after a hilarious mis-pronunciation from the Master of Mischief it is only known as car banana in our house. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

You will need

350g Spaghetti

100g Bacon Lardons (or pancetta if preferred or you want to splurge and be fancy)

1 tsp Garlic Granules

1 Onion (diced)

3-4 Mushrooms (diced) – Optional

For the sauce

500ml Milk

4tbsp Plain Flour

50g Butter

100g Cheddar Cheese (grated)

Method

Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions.

While the spaghetti is cooking, pan fry the bacon lardons with the onion, mushroom (if using) and garlic granules until cooked.

To make the sauce, pour the milk into a saucepan and add the butter and flour. Place over a medium heat and whisk together. Continue with a fast whisk while the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. As you continue to whisk the flour should start to disappear and the sauce should begin to thicken. Whisk for a further 2 minutes until you have a smooth sauce. Add the cheese to the saucepan and stir until all the cheese is melted.

Once you have finished the sauce and the spaghetti is cooked, combine all the prepared ingredients mixing the spaghetti into the sauce and adding the bacon, onion, and mushroom mix.

Stir together and serve with salad or vegetables.

Other Ideas

If you don’t want to include meat in the recipe you can substitute the bacon for extra vegetables such as courgettes or peppers.

You could also mix it up by using chicken instead of (or as well as) bacon.

Sausage and Mash Volcano (with lava beans)

Sausage and Mash Volcano (with lava beans)

A fabulous novelty twist on the classic bangers and mash. This is sure to impress even the fussiest of children. You can substitute the sausages for a vegetarian alternative to fit with any or all dietary requirements.

Sausage and Mash Volcano

You will need

1 pack sausages (whichever flavour is preferred)

500g potato (peeled and chopped)

2oz butter

1-2 tbsp milk

420g tin baked beans

Method

Peel and chop potatoes and place in a large pan of water.

Over a medium heat bring to the boil and cook potatoes until soft.

Cook the sausages as per the packet instructions.

Once the potatoes are cooked, let them cool for 3-4 minutes (or until the steam has evaporated, wet potatoes make soggy mash – nobody likes soggy mash!)

Mash the potatoes with the butter and milk and continue mashing until you reach your preferred smoothness.

Spoon a mound of potato into the centre of your plate.

Slice the sausages down the middle and begin propping them against the side of the mash potato mound, leaving space at the top for your lava.

Heat the beans and spoon into the open space at the top of the ‘volcano’

Enjoy!

Other Ideas

If you don’t want to use beans or you find you have a bean-less cupboard you could use gravy for your lava or if you want to your lava a bit fancier you could use mixed beans in tomato sauce (Aldi do a fantastic mild mixed taco beans which my littlies love!)

If your littles ones are on the fussier side and beans (baked or otherwise) or gravy is a no-go, you could just squirt some red sauce in there and you’re laughing all the way to an empty plate. 

Also, you could go really wild and add some broccoli trees to the base of your volcano or cut out some dinosaur shapes using biscuit cutters and some red, green or yellow peppers.

Five Activities My 4 Year Old Loved That Cost Me Next To Nothing!

Five Activities My 4 Year Old Loved That Cost Me Next To Nothing!

One of my main passions as a mum is to make sure that my children are learning and developing but having fun while doing it. My other main passion is to spend as little as possible in the process. Running a five person household (or any household) on a low income is difficult. Entertaining any child, let alone three is also tricky, especially when it’s three days before you get paid, you’ve covered the bills, done the weekly shop and you’re left with exactly £9.78p to your name.

Fear not my fellow penny pinching parents. Here I share five activities that I have done with my children that have ticked all the boxes. They are fun, they are educational and most importantly, they cost next to nothing to do.

WATER PAINTING

This is a great activity for a sunny day when you hear the dreaded words of ‘I’m bored’. It is fun for all and all you need is a cup of water and a paint brush. You can improvise a bit if you don’t have a paintbrush, just chop up a kitchen sponge and use a peg for a handle (you don’t need the peg). Either way, a sponge is effective. All you need to do is give the kids a cup of water and off they go. You could get them to paint a patio surface, fence, or pathway.

SHADOW DRAWING

This is a fun activity which can be done outdoors or in. If you want to use the sun to create the shadows, you’ll need a nice clear day. If you use a torch (or a lamp) you can do this activity anytime. Find a toy that you want to use as your silhouette, for the master of mischief, this was dinosaurs. Position the toys on the paper and shine the light on them to create the shadows. Ask your little ones to draw around the shadow. We also swapped roles, so Teddy held the torch and I drew around the shadow. The activity led to all kinds of conversations about which toy made the biggest shadow and how the shadows changed when the torch was moved. Lots of learning, lots of social interactions and lots of fun.

DINOSAUR DIG

This is so enjoyable that even my older two got involved. You do need some ingredients, but you will likely have them in the cupboard and even if you don’t, you’ll be able to pick them up from Poundland or any cheap and cheerful shop. All you need is baby oil and plain flour. Honest – that’s all!! The measurements I used were 1kg plain flour mixed with 240ml of baby oil. Pop it into a big bowl or plastic box and mix both together. It makes a really soft sand. Once I’d made the sand, I buried the Master of Mischief’s dinosaur toys in its and gave him a paintbrush to ‘excavate’ the toys. The sand can be used to shape and mould however your children wish. It’s a great sensory activity that is cheap to create, smells nice and best of all makes very little mess.

ALPHABET PEGS

This is a relatively new activity that I have recently tried with my little boy. I was a bit sceptical that it would hold his attention however, I was delightedly surprised. It is a great way to encourage letter recognition. Again, you need a couple of things for this. Pegs, a marker pen and come card. As always, it’s nothing that can’t be found in a local Poundland or Home Bargains type store. I managed to pick up a pack of pegs for 99p at Aldi. I had some coloured card left over from an art pack Little Fairy got for her birthday, but if you don’t have coloured card and don’t want to buy it, just cut up a cereal box and use that. Write a letter of the alphabet onto each peg and then across the card, write out the alphabet. You can create a few different activities within this activity. You could remove all the pegs and get your child to match up each letter to it’s correct place in the card. Another way to play is to write out simple words and have your child find the correct letters to make the word. We sat and made the sounds of the letters. We also looked at the order the letters went in (yes, we sang the song, yes, I sounded like a bag of cats!) We also went through and thought about a different word that starts with each letter of the alphabet. It was an activity that lasted much longer and was better received than I had anticipated. It felt like a win!

MASKING TAPE TIGHTROPE

Masking tape is my absolute favourite resource for the kids. The amount of fun we have had from one roll of masking tape is insane! For this activity I wanted to develop the Master of Mischief’s movement skills, so I marked out some different patterns on the floor with the tape and he had to move along them in a ‘tightrope’ style. I encouraged him to move fast and slow using tiny mouse steps and big elephant (or T-Rex) stomps. Once he had enough of the movement game, he started lining his toys up across the tape, which brought us into a whole new game, developing new and different skills.

“Play is the highest form of research”

Albert Einstein

I feel like I could sit and type all day about the different things you could do within each of these different activities. I love playing!! (mainly because it is more fun than putting washing away), I also love that not every game or activity has to cost a fortune or require batteries. The interactions between you and your child during play are so important to their development, so put down the phones, accept that the dishes can wait and just play knowing that each time you do you are giving your child exactly what they need.

XO Hannah