Valentine’s Biscuits

Now I’ll be the first to admit I’m no baker! My Mum, she’s got the gift, she can throw anything into a bowl and as if by magic a tall, delicious sponge cake appears, elegantly decorated with fruit and the lightest dusting of icing sugar. Turns out this is not a hereditary trait or if it is, it passed me by.

The first time I ever enjoyed baking (after many failed attempts) was working in school. My friend and colleague in Reception at the time, put me on the rota to bake. I protested explaining of my curse and inability to make even the simplest of cakes, she was having none of it. She put it in simple terms, it’s not about what comes out of the oven, it’s about the process, all the maths, following instructions, motor skills – the baked goods at the end are just an added bonus. Plus who is going to complain if the kids have made it?!

Well, she was right. When I stopped worrying about what it would turn out like I, along with the Reception children enjoyed the process. What we came out with also ended up being edible, win win!

With this in mind, Squidge and I bake fairly regularly at home. Not quite once a week, but pretty close. We stick to simple biscuits and fairy cakes mostly. Her favourite thing we’ve ever made has been gingerbread men, and one of her favourite things to eat is Strawberry jam. This sparked my Valentine’s Biscuit idea.

We adapted a simple recipe, I’ll add ours to the bottom of this post. As this was my own grand plan, there was some learning to be done about the best method along the way.

When we had cut out our biscuit people, we tried cutting the love heart out of the middle and then transferring them to the tray, but they were far too flimsy and ended up being a funny shape or getting broken. Instead we tried cutting out the biscuit people, transferring them to the tray then cutting out the heart shapes. This worked much better – though they still weren’t perfect. If you were doing this alone as an adult you could keep cooling your dough. However with children, once they’re stuck in, their warm little fingers aren’t going to want to wait.

We baked our Valentines people in batches and paired up the tops and bottoms that were closest in shape – the last couple were way off and sadly missed out on the photo opportunity – but were just as tasty.

Squidge spread the strawberry jam carefully on the bottom halves and sandwiched them together. Once we were finished both her and Boo couldn’t wait to dig in. Admittedly these biscuits were HUGE, with them paired up and stacked, they would equate to a meal on their own! But, just look how pretty they are. They would make a lovely gift for Grandparents (if you don’t eat them all yourselves!).

Our Valentine’s Buscuit recipe…

Ingredients

  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 350g caster sugar (plus some for decorating)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 400g plain flour (plus some for dusting and rolling)
  • Strawberry jam to fill

Method

  1. Cream butter and sugar together in a bowl.
  2. Add the two eggs and cinnamon and beat together.
  3. Add the flour in small doses, mixing thoroughly.
  4. Once mixed put the dough into the fridge to cool and stiffen for 15 minutes.
  5. Cut out biscuit person, add to baking sheet on the tray.
  6. Cut out a heart shape from the centre of half of your biscuits (the tops).
  7. Return to the fridge to cool and stiffen for another 10-15 minutes.
  8. Pre-heat oven 180*C (Ours is a fan).
  9. Cook the biscuits for around 12 minutes – sprinkling them with caster sugar about half way in (so it doesn’t brown, but still sticks).
  10. Once cooled, spread strawberry jam on bottom biscuit people and place tops on top.

This recipe made us 6 complete biscuits (6 tops and 6 bottoms with our largest gingerbread man cutter), plus some small heart shaped biscuits out of the leftovers.

Are you making any treats this Valentine’s or do you have any recipes we can try? Please share in the comments below.

Lots of love (and a bit extra as it’s Valentine’s),

Cat, Squidge and Boo xxx

Another Valentine’s themed activity you might like is our Sensory Tub.

Valentine’s Sensory Tub

Messy play is always lots of fun, though the thought of it may fill you with dread. I’d say the easiest place to start is dried foods as they’re really easy to clean up. For this ‘Valentines Messy Play’ we used plain rolled oats and some coloured rice, to create a contrast in colours and textures.

I’ve tried a couple of ways to colour rice and by far the most successful way for us has been to put white rice into a tub with a squirt of hand sanitizer (alcohol based – making this non-edible) and a reasonable sized glug of food colouring. Give it a shake, then leave out on greaseproof paper to dry. In a warm room it’ll only take a couple of hours to dry out. If you’re just using the coloured rice you’ll be able to store and re-use it over and over.

Before starting the activity Squidge and I shared a story that links well to our Valentines theme, ‘Pig in Love’ by Vivian French and Tim Archbold. The story tells the tale of a Pig who falls in love with the lovely Piggie. In the beginning, he brings her lots and lots of roses, she is smitten, but Pig must prove his love to her Father before he’s allowed her hand in marriage. Will they end up together?

When setting up the messy play tray I added two pigs and some small bunches of paper craft roses so that Squidge could reenact the story if she wanted.

 

Once the tray was out, Boo was the first in swishing the red rice with a mini whisk. She spotted the buttons and kept pulling them out to show me “Look”. Squidge took a little longer considering which of the utensils she wanted to use. She chose to scoop and pour with the spoon. I initiated a conversation with the pigs, Squidge humored me and joined in playing Piggie. However she clearly wanted to explore the materials.

 After scooping and pouring for a while, Squidge began to fill the boat. She patted down the oats for her ‘boat cake’ each time. Boo joined her play, filling the chimney of the boat. They worked together happily until Boo upturned the boat to empty it again. Squidge didn’t protest too much and just begun filling and patting again.

It’s funny listening to Squidge trying to instruct Boo on how to play, her voice goes up an octave which makes me wonder if she’s picked that up from me. I’m glad that she’s encouraging rather than telling off. We’re currently working hard on ‘sharing’. Squidge can find it difficult if Boo wants to join her mid game, particularly in role play as Boo isn’t quite at the level to talk and follow her lead yet.

Boo, as ever, was first to climb into the tub. She grabbed handfuls of rice and oats and sprinkled them back into the tray. A few stray bits landed on the floor, making a kind of tinkly sound, cue Boo dropping handfuls straight to the floor instead of in the tray! Squidge was next in the tray, copying Boo and dropping handfuls, but letting them land on her outstretched foot and hand. Eventually both girls were in the tray

This play lasted for a good 25 minutes. It was everywhere when they’d finished, but Squidge was on hand for clean-up duty, helping me to sweep. The tray, though now mixed, is still full ready for another days’ play.

What activities have you got planned in the lead up to Valentines? Do you fancy giving messy play a try?

Lots of love Cat, Squidge and Boo

Halloween Trio of Treats

Halloween is here! I love the fun and games to be had whenever there’s a festival. I’m not really one for doing things weeks and months in advance, so the week leading up to Halloween is plenty of time for a few activities.

Today we had some fun with a sensory tub. I made coloured rice especially. I have tried to colour rice using poster paints before, but it went horribly wrong so I tried a different method this time. It was very simple and worked well. You add a few drops of food colouring, a decent squirt of hand sanitiser and long grain white rice together in a sandwich bag. Shake it all up, add more colour if needed then leave it to dry overnight on a couple of baking trays.

 

On the Halloween theme, I made some eyeballs using polystyrene balls coloured with felt tips. The gravestones were made from a cereal box, glued back to back for authenticity. The skulls, bones and pumpkins were made from felt, with felt tip used to add details. Then I glued the lolly sticks together to make fencing for the pumpkin patch.

I then had a dig through all our craft and scrap bits. I decided to stick to a colour theme and put in anything and everything. I didn’t really have a plan for how they’d use the different bits, I liked the idea of letting them explore the tub open ended. If I had no plan in mind, I was less likely to lead them in my pre determined direction.

Squidge’s eyes lit up when she saw the tub all arranged. She had seen me preparing the rice yesterday and was already eager to play with it, “Is it ready yet Mummy?”, “Will it be dry now?”. Both girls were straight in, both equally careful picking up different pieces, examining them closely before placing them back in the tray. You can see them both using their fingertips in the pictures above.

Both Squidge and Boo found their own way to exercise their fine motor skills in this activity. Squidge buried a sparkly pom pom and placed a straw in the top of the rice mound to mark it. She then threaded the plastic beads onto the straw.

Grammy was with us for the afternoon and she managed to spot Boo ever so quietly concentrating on getting the tiniest green pom pom delicately balanced on top of one of the black beads. She was proud of her efforts and walked it round to show me – a feat in itself! She also enjoyed sprinkling lots of the rice with her fingertips.
halloween-sensory-03Once Boo had had enough and Squidge was let loose on her own, she made up her own game of hide the pom pom. She buried it and dug it up several times herself before inviting me to find it. We took turns and she was delighted every time she uncovered it. As the tray wasn’t very big, I hid it in close proximity to the tray a couple of times. After a couple of sneaky ones, Squidge was adamant I should keep it in the tray.

I tried to make it more difficult by tying it inside the ribbon, hiding in the orange hoop with the help of some pumpkins and then inside the surprise egg. When Squidge found it difficult there was a good opportunity to use some positional directions to help her find the pom pom.

Both girls enjoyed this one, Boo played for a good 10-15 minutes and Squidge was there for over half an hour. They both revisited again towards the evening. I plan to set it up again tomorrow and see what interest there is. All the bits I’ve made can be saved for other activities and the tidy up was simple – a good hoover!

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The second activity we’ve tried this week is a playdough invitation to play – Pumpkin faces!

A really simple one to set up, orange playdough, googly eyes, circular shape cutters, pieces of ribbon and felt shapes for eyes, noses and mouths. Squidge also requested a rolling pin.

This one inspired Squidge and she made all kinds of different faces. She spent a long time rolling and squashing the playdough before cutting her circles. She added eyes and shapes and each one looked like a pumpkin. Boo on the other hand spent all her time very carefully placing every single remaining googly eye into her lump of playdough. She was meticulous. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of their wonderful creations, I guess we’ll have to do it again!

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However I did manage to catch a quick snap of Squidge the next day, using the playdough to create a face on our big pumpkin! I thought this was a fab idea! It’d look even better with black playdough so it’s on the ‘To do list’ for next years’ activities.

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The final one to share on this post is our window pumpkin, which I put up a short while ago. It’s made using electrical tape (I think – the plastic, stretchy type stuff which I pinched from hubby’s tool box) stuck on the window in short strips to make the outline. Then in the tub there are various pieces of orange cellophane and foam, plus a couple of paintbrushes and some water to stick them up with.

 

 

Both girls have had a go at this one. Squidge was quite precise with her water, putting just enough on to stick up each individual shape. Boo was much more liberal, spreading as much water as she could all over. To begin she needed a little help with sticking on the shapes but she soon got the hang of it.

Last year we did some potato prints which I turned into bunting, we may attempt to recreate those this year. I’d also like to do some Halloween themed hand and footprints, I have a few great ones already pinned on my Halloween Pinterest board. We’ve had pumpkin soup and depending on how brave I am we may have a go at pumpkin pie.

This morning I did attempt to make a tape spiderweb for the girls to throw paper balls at, but unfortunately me and the tape had a minor disagreement, some words were said and basically it ended up in the bin. I’m yet to decide whether I’m willing to give the tape a second chance.

What activities are you getting up to this Halloween? Please share, I’d love to have a nosey!

Lots of love Cat, Squidge and Boo xxx

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Just add water

Boo loves water! I’d love to think it was because she was born in the pool (second time around I got my dream birth plan – I must’ve earned extra birthing points after Squidge’s birth). However I think it is more likely linked to the trajectory schema she is displaying constantly in her play.

When it’s warm enough I like to let the girls loose in the water. I’ve had a few blow up paddling pools and they never last long. This box is a perfect size for water play and so many other things – it fits under beds, it fits over my sand tray to actually keep it dry (the lid is completely useless), I use it for sensory activities too. If you’d like one, this one is from a certain scandinavian furniture store you may or may not have heard of. Knowing full well she’ll end up in the water, I’d usually strip Boo off beforehand, but with a blogpost in mind I kept her covered up. She did end up totally nudey dude by the end!

As you can see I’d got a few of our water toys out, they’re some of the bits we’d normally have in the bath. Boo went straight for the cups. She selected the cup she wanted and pushed it into the water, letting it fill from the hole in the bottom. She tipped it out and filled it several times and also had a few sips! The water is coloured with food colouring so it’s perfectly safe to drink. She then gave the cup to me.

I knew she wanted me to lift the cups for the water to trickle out. This is her favourite thing to do in the bath, just look at her little face. When the water is falling her face will light up, she puts her fingers into the stream. When we first used to do this she would try and catch the stream with her fore finger and thumb, in a pincer. It took her a while to fathom that she couldn’t hold it like a piece of string.

Next Boo chose two different cups and filled them in the same way, then lifted them high to watch the water drip, drop. She repeated this several times over. She went on to pour from one cup to the other, over and over until there was none left and she had to fill up and start again.

After a good 20 minutes worth of scooping, pouring and transferring Boo carefully inspected the bottom of a couple of the cups. I’ve never seen her do this before. She could be making a link to how quickly the water trickles out, or why some only have one stream of water and others are more like rain – but I can only speculate. She went back to pouring for a short while, but as you can see, by now the water had seeped right up her top and she wanted to strip off.

Boo uses these methods of pouring in other forms of play. I can’t leave any drink, even her own, unattended as the minute she gets chance she’ll pour it out! I’ve tried different cups, even the ones with the twist up tops – she works them out faster than I can find a replacement. She was pouring left over tea from one cup to the other the other day. This idea obviously fascinates her at the minute.

To move her thinking forward I plan to build a small water wall for her to play with. There’s a few ideas on Pinterest which I like. I have bought a piece of trellis already. Next I need to source some tubes, pieces of guttering, connectors, funnels, buckets, watering cans – and anything else I spot! The plan is to attach the trellis to our existing fence panel at a good height for Boo. Then attach the pieces with cable ties. The tray or washing up bowls can be placed at the bottom to catch the water.

I’d also like to make another version to attach to the fence near the large shed where all our pebbles are so she can try the same process with the pebbles. We could try putting lots of different materials down if she finds it just as fascinating!

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I’ll be sure to write a blog post all about it!

Lots of love Cat & Boo xx

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Sticky blocks

I’m really getting into this whole blogging thing. My favourite part of it all so far is the sharing. Through Instagram and the various links, I’m getting to see so many different and wonderful ideas. This block activity is something I have done before, but in school we always used shaving foam. This works really well for older children as by the age of 4 and 5 the majority of those you tell not to eat it don’t. There is always that one child that just wasn’t listening and then that other one who didn’t quite believe you when you told them it really doesn’t taste as good as it smells. I’ll admit at this stage I once tasted a shower gel as it just smelt soooo delicious and I was curious – so I’m guessing I was once that kid. The squirty cream stroke of genius (one of those – Why didn’t I think of that?! moments) came from @play.hooray on Instagram. She’s got loads of lovely ideas, go give her a follow but read until the end first.

For this activity you will need:

  • Wooden blocks
  • Squirty cream (whipped will work just as well)
  • Something to spread it with
  • A tray
  • As ever, the trusty bucket of soapy water & towel

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First thing in the morning Squidge chose to play with the blocks and build towers, I decided this would be a good time to give it a go. The weather was beautiful so out we went. Once I opened the doors her interest in the blocks waned and she was off. It took me a while to coax her into building again with just the blocks, I had planned to wow her with the cream so she could compare with and without, but she didn’t stick around long enough! I left her to play where she wanted for a while, I wanted her to fully enjoy the task.

I’m glad I waited, once I showed her the cream (a little melty from hanging around on the windowsill) she couldn’t wait to give it a go. She scooped up and spread the cream like butter. She enjoyed pressing the blocks on top and watching the cream bulge out of the sides. She took her time over each block. The tower on the left belongs to Squidge, the one on the right is mine – I had to give it a go! As you can see Squidgey’s tower fell over – she was shocked and looked from the blocks to me and back again. I think as she’d been so careful building it, it was a little more upsetting than a regular tower falling. I showed her that I had put cream at the bottom of mine to help it stick. I was keen to see if she would alter her approach on her next attempt.

A little later, armed with a fresh bowl of cream, Squidge built another tower and she started with a blob of cream underneath. Once again she took her time. The best part of this activity for me was when Boo joined in, it was so lovely to watch Squidge encourage and show Boo what to do. She was using a higher pitch in her voice, possibly mimicking me… but I hope not. I’d like to think I speak normally to children. Tiny babies and animals I’ll happily do the gooey, cooey voice, but when children are learning to speak I really believe they should be immersed in excellent vocabulary. They are little sponges and there is no reason not to teach them the ‘long’ words.

Squidge encouraged Boo every step of the way and was so patient. She even cheered when Boo had done it. She helped by stacking the blocks on in between spreadings. Together they added a couple more until Boo had had enough. It’s such a treat watching these two play with one another.

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Now this activity definitely passed the taste test, several times! Be warned at least half of the cream will be eaten. Overall I’d say Squidge got a good 30 minutes out of this activity. It may have lasted longer in cooler weather. We shall certainly be doing it again. I’ll also be trying squirty cream in other activities. I still can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before.

Let me know what gems you’ve spotted when liking and pinning!

Lots of love, Cat, Squidge and Boo xxx

For a whole host of other activity ideas that anyone can try there’s my Top 10 post here 🙂

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Our fairy garden

If you’ve read some of my previous blogposts you’ll already know that this summer’s project has been our garden. It’s been a long, but rewarding task. We had a general plan in mind when starting, but as with many projects some things have evolved along the way. When relaying our patio we had planned to have the path curve and lay grass right up to our existing driveway. However, much as hubby tried with the cutter he had, he could not cut through the slabs straight, let alone on a curve. We had to re think the plan.

We put forward various solutions and asked family, that visited in the interim, what they thought. We agreed ending with a straight edge would look neater. That left us with a small, awkward triangle on a bit of a hill. The whole point of renovating the garden was to take out the trip hazards so we decided we’d turn it into a flower bed so the girls would need to walk around.

Here we were with this extra flower bed to fill and I’m no gardener, there’s not even a tinge of green in my fingers. However, I am pretty creative and I have seen so many gorgeous little fairy and sensory gardens on my late night Pinterest trawls. Plus Squidge loves all things small and she is role playing more and more.

First off we needed a trip to the garden centre. I wanted to choose plants that offered variety from a sensory point of view. I’d tell you the names of the plants I chose if I knew them all, but I’m afraid I don’t. I did warn you I’m not a gardener. The first in the series of photos is a rockery plant and a ground spreader. If it manages to flower they will be a gorgeous shade of blue. I chose this one as I think it has the best chance of living in a shallow bed plus the leaves have quite a rubbery texture. The next one is my ‘show stopper’ huge yellow blooms against dark green leaves- it attracted Boo instantly. She keeps attempting to pull all the petals off and you can see her below imitating Mummy ‘Noooo’. Perhaps I need to retire the pointy finger?!

There’s lavender and rosemary, both there to add scent. We may use some of the rosemary to cook with and I’m almost certain you can add either of these to play dough for extra sensory fun. The little conifer has spiky leaves and is meant to smell like lemon, though I’m yet to be convinced. I love that this is a miniature version of a larger tree. I will be tracking down tiny baubles at Christmas.

With all the plants in pots I did what I have seen real gardeners do (my parents included) and I placed them around the flower bed, I moved them a few times – trying to get a balance of colours and heights. When I was happy with the layout I planted them all, making sure to split up the roots so they could bed in well. I gave them a good watering when I’d finished too.

Whole levelling the garden we cand across an assortment of pebbles and I kept them to one side. I chose the largest, best shaped ones to use as little fairy houses. I painted them using poster paints. It took a few coats particularly for some of the lighter colours and for adding the details. Onice they were dry I coated them with a PVA/Water mix as a varnish. I’m not sure they will last in our delightful English weather, but it won’t be terribly upsetting if it washes off. We can try again with acrylics and I should probably let Squidge have a go!

I placed the houses and remaining pebbles around the garden. This looked ok, but there was definitely something missing. We had some left over pebbles from filling in the side of the patio, I decided these would make a perfect little path between the houses. I also raided one of my vases for the glass beads in the bottom, knowing they would male a perfect fairy pool.

Boo was straight in! She loves the glass beads and has been transporting them all over the garden ever since they went in. She also likes to remove all the pebbles around the edge. I don’t mind as the whole idea of this little patch is that the girls are allowed to play with it. Nothing in it is irreplaceable.

As the days have passed we’ve added a couple of other bits, mini solar lights, which I have placed along the paths. A little wooden flower windmill which also fascinates Boo, the spinner and the little beads underneath. I certainly think we’ll keep adding to our fairy garden, whether it’s bits we buy or things we make – I’ve already started hoarding lolly sticks with grand plans of mini fences and benches.

I’m really pleased with the result and the girls have definitely been making the most of it, both in their individual ways. Boo mostly moving pieces and touching and feeling the plants. Squidge with little role play sessions using small world characters and the spare pebbles. She has also been helping to water the flowers and noticed that one of them has flowered.

Please do me know what you think, or feel free to send me a picture or links to your own fairy gardens!

Lots of love Cat, Squidge and Boo xxx

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Farmyard fun

Squidge was off on a trip to the farm today. So not wanting to miss out on the fun, myself and Boo had our own little farmyard fun this morning.

This activity was really quick to set up, not so easy to snap in it’s ‘before’ state when the little one is desperate to play!

You will need:

  • Farmyard animals
  • Blocks or similar to partition
  • Junk such as tubes, reels, boxes
  • Dry foods (We had corn flakes, chick peas, quinoa and porridge oats)

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Time to dig in! Boo went straight for the chick pea pig sty. She had a good feel then took the opportunity to show off her pincer grip skills, picking up individual chick peas and dropping them through the cone over and over. For a few months now Boo has been interested in posting items and she is displaying many of the behaviours associated with the trajectory schema. Whenever she gets a chance she’s climbing, as high as she can go. She loves tipping water out of her sippy cup and is fascinated by the cups with holes we have in the bath.

As she moved round the box she discovered the quinoa hiding in the short tube. We’ve never had this in any of our sensory boxes before (I’ve only just discovered it myself in a culinary sense!). As you can imagine, her first instinct to explore this new found texture was to put it in her mouth. She wasn’t impressed and was quite happy to spit it out when asked. Scraping it off her tongue got her fingers all wet, making the quinoa stick. She decided to sprinkle some into the little mud pit on the farm, it made a lovely, quiet tinkling sound as it dropped. She repeated this several times and kept revisiting it throughout her play.

Her next stop was around the box to the porridge oat chicken coop. She continued sprinkling with the oats on top of the bricks, in turn picking these up and tipping it all off, back into the coop and into the quad bike. After around 20 minutes of play she finally climbed in (my money was on 2 minutes) and continued to pick up, post, drop and sprinkle the various bits around the tub.

The activity kept Boo busy for a good 30 minutes. I’m fairly certain she would have revisited it throughout the day given the chance and maybe I’d have been picking chickpeas up for the next week, but I cleared it away as we were out for the afternoon. As you can see, there wasn’t too much mess. When she’d finished she was ready to share the farm stories I’d got out just in time for nap.

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In this activity Boo practiced and developed her fine motor skills, particularly her pincer grip. Rehearsing fine motor skills in a variety of tasks helps children strengthen muscles that are needed to work other tools as they grow such as pencils, scissors and cutlery. She explored different textures (and tastes) and cause and effect ‘What happens if I drop the oats in here?’.

Next time we come to this type of activity I think I would take away the animals and add more containers, scoops and sieves so Boo can further explore cause and effect and trajectory processes.

If you’ve had a go at a sensory farm I’d love to see your pictures and hear what your little people made of them.

Lots of love Cat and Boo xx

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