Playing at the science park

Hands-on science exploration, disguised as play!

Racing ducks

We were in Sussex over Easter, spending some time with my family. As usual, we had a jam-packed time, catching up with friends and enjoying family days out. I love taking Little Miss A to places I visited as a child but on Good Friday we discovered somewhere completely new to me, the Observatory Science Centre.

I didn’t know much about it beforehand but I’m so glad we ventured there as it is the sort of museum every area needs: a fully hands-on, interactive experience where kids (and grown ups!) can have a go at everything and not even realise that they are learning in the process.

The centre has indoor galleries, domes with huge telescopes (that you can visit on guided tours) plus a lovely outdoors space featuring a discovery park and a water zone.

Although it was a grey, drizzly day, we took advantage of a break in the rain to explore the outdoors areas first. Little Miss A couldn’t wait to get stuck in – and her Daddy was pretty excited too! In fact, there were times when I wasn’t sure who was having more fun…

We found a circuit powered by water, with wheels and pulleys and pumps and an Arcamedes screw transporting the water round. Little Miss A found this fascinating, watching our demonstrations carefully, before insisting on doing it all herself, heaving the wheels around to make the various parts work.

Water circuit

“I is having to work very hard to make this move, Daddy.”

Water circuit experiments

There was also a water table with several hands-on (or hands-in!) activities that Little Miss A loved exploring.

Water table

There were sections for building dams, constructing waterways to race ducks, turning taps to make fountains work…

Water fountain

… Or just for enjoying getting your hands wet!

The discovery park was equally as enticing. Little Miss A was possibly on the younger end of the suitable age range for this section but it didn’t stop her running around from exhibit to exhibit to try her hand at each one.

Sound tubes

There was all sorts of equipment, including a giant ‘marble’ run, various sound tubes, a huge wobbly balance board and a fab climbing frame shaped like a DNA helix!

DNA climbing frame

Once we pried ourselves away from the outdoor fun, we headed to the indoors exhibits, which covered topics such as light, the solar system, forces and magnetics. While Little Miss A is still a bit young to understand the explanations that went with every experiment, she had so much fun pushing buttons, pulling levers, building, knocking down, peering through microscopes… It was a great way to introduce science and I can imagine that she would get something different out of it with every passing year, as her understanding grows.

Indoors at the science centre

Baby E wasn’t left out of the fun, either! She was absolutely fascinated with many of the exhibits, loving watching various items moving and swinging and changing colour.

We’ll be back in Sussex in the summer and are already tempted to add this to our list of places to visit then, as we just had such a brilliant time and could have easily spent longer there. It’s also inspired me to start collecting ideas (on Pinterest, of course) for simple science experiments that we can do in the garden at home, now that Little Miss A has a taste for it!

Learning for Life

Chinese dragon dancing

We headed up to our local university this weekend to join the celebrations for Chinese New Year.

The university’s Chinese society did a great job, putting on a whole host of activities to welcome the Year of the Sheep (also somewhat confusingly known as the Year of the Goat!).

To start it all off, there was dragon and lion dancing. We only caught the tail end (literally!) of the dragon, which was a shame as it looked amazing. But the lion dance was really interesting.

Little Miss A was fascinated, getting up as close as she dared and even joining in, dancing along to the drums.

Dragon dance

The dancers swapped over a few times; we guessed that it must have been hard work crouching down inside the costume, especially as the routine was so physical with the lion rolling around and rearing onto its hind quarters.

Chinese dragon

Afterwards, we headed indoors to look around the Chinese market. We treated ourselves to a very untraditional hot chocolate to warm up, as, despite the gorgeous sunshine and blue sky, it was decidedly chilly outside. Then it was time to explore. Little Miss A loved dressing up in a traditional Chinese gown, examining the beautiful parasols and receiving her very own pink paper lantern. She also waited incredibly patiently in line to have her face painted (Hello Kitty!). Baby E liked bouncing along to the music and I enjoyed a sneaky spring roll, yum!

We had to leave to get home for tea and bed so didn’t get to see the fireworks display unfortunately – I am already plotting staying later next year so we can catch them next time!

Tripping the Christmas lights fantastic

There are many things I love about the festive season but seeing all the beautiful lights and decorations is a real favourite. Once the big switch on happens in town, you know that Christmas is coming soon!

Tripping the Christmas lights fantastic

Since having ToddlerGirl, I’ve started a new family tradition of heading into the city centre to look at the lights before going to dinner all together. Last year, this was mostly fun for me, with ToddlerGirl semi interested in it all. This year, though, is the year I have been waiting for. Now she’s three, she’s really enthusiastic about all things Christmas. In fact, we have one incredibly excited little girl on our hands – and it’s only the beginning of December! I admit I’m probably partially (er, mostly) to blame for that…

She absolutely loved our trip to look at all the lights, not least for the novelty of being out and about in the dark, which is usually equated with bedtime. She found it very strange to see so many people around, asking wonderingly: “Why is everyone out at night?!” It was only 5pm of course but it obviously felt very late to her!

Christmas lights

First, we wandered through the lovely Christmas market, which sits in the grounds of our cathedral (although ToddlerGirl doesn’t accept that and insists it’s a castle!) and has a warm, cosy glow after dark. With ToddlerGirl perched on her daddy’s shoulders, there were lots of interesting stalls to stop and look at. Mummy particularly enjoyed sampling some chocolate wine, with some not so subtle hints to the husband that it would make a great present!

Then we set about spotting as many lights as we could, finding them in all shapes and sizes: strung along the streets, twinkling in trees, hanging like icicles from shops… Some were brightly coloured, others wintery whites and blues. It was a festive dream! Our favourite find was a huge canopy of white lights over the main street, although a long line of Christmas trees, decorated by various charities and schools, and some giant baubles came a close second and third. It was a brilliant family outing, finished off by yummy burgers and thick shakes for tea.

Christmas fair

We had our second festive fix at a local Christmas fair this weekend, where the entire road was closed off and crammed with market stalls. The shops spilled out onto the pavement and there were delicious smells and tempting treats everywhere. The lights had a more traditional feel, with small Christmas trees sticking out over the shop fronts all the way along the street, although we also spotted a couple shaped like reindeer. We found a small fairground ride for ToddlerGirl and stopped to enjoy the brass band.

The street was heaving and it was lovely to see the local small businesses doing so well. I got the last of my Christmas shopping done, feeling smugly organised as the husband hasn’t started his – until I realised I’m the only person he needs to buy for!

Our two trips out have been the perfect way to begin the festive season. I’m not done hunting down Christmas lights, though. Now I’m looking forward to our annual drive by to find the best decorated houses in our area. Obviously by that I mean the ones crammed with the most novelty lights…! ToddlerGirl will love it.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Family day at the beach

Sun, sea and sand – ahhhhh, the recipe for a great day out. OK, it’s winter and the only paddling was with wellies on but that didn’t stop us having a lovely time at the beach!

Family day at the beach

I’m finding our weeks are whizzing by in a bit of a blur at the moment. Days are full on with a baby and a three year old, a busy round of naps and nappy changes, tears and tantrums, wiggles and giggles, and a whole lot more besides!

It doesn’t slow down much at the weekend but, with the husband on hand to help out, there is at least room for me to pause a little. Plus we get to go out and have fun together, which is really the best thing of all.

Last weekend, with the sun shining, we decided to head to the coast. I enjoy the beach in the winter almost as much as in the warmer months. And it’s pretty safe to say ToddlerGirl loves it whatever the weather.

We had lunch first at a great café nearby, which had a small corner with toys for children to play with. This entertained ToddlerGirl before and after our food, so the husband and I had time for a yummy shared pudding and some rare relaxation time together, chatting, cuddling BabyGirl and watching ToddlerGirl playing. I wish more cafés catered for kiddies (and parents) so well.

After lunch, we headed to the beach, which was buzzing with couples, families and an awful lot of energetic dogs! With our wellies on, we wasted no time in venturing right down to the waves. ToddlerGirl was so excited by this, we were treated to a little made up song: “I love the seeeeea” (splash, splash) “I love splashing in the seeeeea” (jump, splash).

Family day at the beach

We dug a small hole in the sand, which soon became a ‘rockpool’ as we lined it with shells and filled it with water using our bucket and watering can. Of course, the water drained away, much to ToddlerGirl’s disappointment. It became our mission to keep refilling it, which proved to be a fun enough game to keep ToddlerGirl happy for the duration of our stay. Run to the sea, fill the bucket, slosh the water into the ‘rockpool’, jump in it, repeat, repeat, repeat.

BabyGirl was tucked into her carrier with daddy, leaving me free to play with ToddlerGirl – and the one who had to keep wading into the shallows to replenish the water. The tide was going out, so I had a bit further to run each time! That’s the way to burn off the baby weight… It can feel like a real juggling act during the week, balancing the needs of a four month old and a three year old, so I loved having time to focus completely on my big girl.

Family beach day

My daughter, being the little mess monster that she is, was soon stretched out on the wet sand and covered head to toe. She was also pretty wet from all the splashing; despite waterproof trousers and wellies, the water had found it’s way in. And me being the disorganised mum that I am, I’d failed to bring a change of clothes or even a towel – you’d think I was new to this or didn’t know that my ToddlerGirl was bound to end up soaked and sandy!

That was our cue to leave, so we waved goodbye to the sea and headed back to the car to strip ToddlerGirl off, wipe her down with a muslin and wrap her in one of her sister’s blankets.

There are some hard bits to being a parent. There are definitely some exhausting bits. And, of course, there are many, many fun, heartwarming and wonderful bits. But I think these family days out are my absolute favourite, the ones we’ll remember in years to come when the sleepless nights are distant memories.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Mud Mud Marvellous Mud - Outdoor Play Party

Autumn forest fun

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a wonderful time!

Autumn forest fun

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately as I get to grips with motherhood to two littlies. It’s fun, it’s hard work and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging at the moment!

There’s a huge adjustment curve, particularly getting used to going out and about with two. Although she’s getting a lot better at not legging it at any given opportunity – and, importantly, listening to me when I tell her to stop! – our daily activities revolve around going to contained spaces, where I don’t need to worry that ToddlerGirl can stray too far from me.

The weekends, though, are family days, time we are cherishing all the more since our hospital experience with BabyGirl.

One of our favourites for the autumn has been to head to our lovely local forest park. It’s great all year round but there is something extra special about the woods at this time of year. Beautiful colours, crunching and rustling leaves underfoot, a slight tingle of cold in the air, mellow sunlight filtering through the trees.

ToddlerGirl adores the freedom of the forest park, as it’s one place where we can let her roam ahead without having to constantly tell her to stop! There are fallen logs to climb and balance on, puddles to splash in, sticks to find, dens to explore, and paths to adventure down.

Autumn forest fun

One of her top activities is to collect items on our walks. We’ve had quite a few autumn nature finds that have been transported home, although our last trip to the forest saw her obsessed with scooping up handfuls of dried, flaking leaves and pine needles for her ‘foraging bag’, which was soon full to bursting! We are getting good at surreptitiously ‘loosing’ many of these items when she is distracted… You can always find a few sticks and leaves knocking around our car, though!

Perhaps her absolute favourite find, however, has been a huge pile of sawdust chippings, a perfect mountain to clamber up. The slightly springy texture was interesting to explore and poke sticks into, it was great fun to run around on and roll down(!) but the very best bit was scooping up the chips of wood and letting them run through her fingers, making piles on her legs. Sensory exploration in it’s best, most natural form!

Autumn forest fun

We’re very lucky with our forest park. While there the last time, we discovered a new themed trail celebrating The Gruffalo’s Child, which we’ll be going back to investigate further.

It’s definitely one of my favourites at the moment: feeling BabyGirl snuggled against me in her carrier; watching ToddlerGirl giggling and running ahead; breathing in the beautiful fresh air; time even to snatch a quick hand hold with the husband… These happy happy family days out are ones that I want to lock into my memory forever.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Mud Mud Marvellous Mud - Outdoor Play Party

Special summer moments

As August comes to a close, it feels like summer is well and truly over. ToddlerGirl asked me if it was autumn today as we headed to our local park – with grey skies, a faint hint of rain in the air and leaves swirling around us, I had to admit it felt like it!

But what a summer it’s been… We had a wonderful family holiday to Majorca at the beginning (which seems a lifetime ago now) and have enjoyed a few day trips out here and there. Perhaps not our most active time – we’ve been doing a lot close to home and in our garden, thanks to me being heavily pregnant – but 2014 will always be a stand out summer. It’s the summer our little girl turned three. And it’s the summer we welcomed her sister into our world.

Special summer moments

One of my favourite memories will be a simple family afternoon out to the beach. Our ‘new’ family of four, adjusting to life with a little baby and a toddler. The act of getting out the house together has been a pretty major achievement in these first three weeks. Our beach trip was no different; we congratulated ourselves on making it out by lunchtime and then managed to spend an hour driving around one of our nearby coastal towns trying to find a parking space! ToddlerGirl was woken from napping by her grizzly sister and, hungry, hot and tired, began a fairly epic tantrum when she realised she could see the sea but couldn’t actually get to it! Not the most fun start and definitely not what we’d had in mind.

If at first you don’t succeed… carry on driving up the coast! Bribing ToddlerGirl with some crunchy carrot sticks (crisp snacks, not the healthy kind) we made it to a different, more staid but altogether calmer, seaside resort. Of course, by the time we arrived BabyGirl needed feeding, as did we, so we ended up having a ‘car picnic’ facing a brick wall in the car park – although, funnily enough, ToddlerGirl quite enjoyed this, amusing herself by turning the hazard lights on and off and pressing other, random buttons on the dashboard.

Two hours after setting off, we made it out of the car and onto the beach. Hooray! The sun was shining, it felt glorious to breathe in the fresh sea air, I was carrying BabyGirl in the sling and revelling in being hands free, and best of all, the four of us were out together.

Beach art

The sunshine sparkled on the sea and ToddlerGirl was happily engaged in finding stones to throw into the water, cheering when they sunk with a satisfying ‘plop’. We found a jellyfish and some clever beach art. We ate ice cream. We soaked up the normality of Getting Out Of The House. It didn’t matter that we had spent so long getting there, or that it wasn’t the bucket and spade, picnic on the beach outing we had originally envisaged. It was one of those summer trips I will always remember, a moment of complete contentment amidst the sleep deprivation and the learning how to juggle two children’s needs.

At the beach

There is something about getting to the coast that I find so good for the soul. We headed home, batteries recharged. Then ToddlerGirl and the husband sat at the table to make a brilliant beach collage picture, inspired by the tips from Steph Tilley over on the Centre Parcs blog for preserving summer memories. The finished artwork has pride of place on our noticeboard and makes me smile every time I look at it, remembering our lovely afternoon.

It was BabyGirl’s first trip to the beach (although she slept through the entire stay!) and it was time for us to be a family and have fun with ToddlerGirl. A truly special summer moment :)

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 August challenge. If I’m chosen, I would like to visit Longleat Village.

Exploring with the National Trust

There are certain milestones in life that make you feel that you really are a ‘proper grown up’. Becoming a home owner. Getting married. Having a baby. Realising that 40 is your next big birthday. (Just a few short years ago, I would have said 30. How time flies.)

I have reached another of those milestones this year. Not pregnancy with a second child, although that does strike me as being very responsible adult, having felt a bit like I was just pretending with ToddlerGirl. No, I’m talking about joining the National Trust.

Exploring with the National Trust

In fact, given that ten years ago I would have probably laughed at the idea and dismissed the National Trust as something for the, ahem, more mature person, my new membership may just feel like the most adult thing I have done.

To be fair, the National Trust has actually been doing a very good job of marketing itself more widely in recent times, including targeting families. (The 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 and Three Quarters challenge being a good example.) This impression has been borne out by my visits to National Trust properties over the last couple of years with ToddlerGirl, where we have found amazing spaces to explore, crafts and other activities aimed at children, trails suitable for the whole family to enjoy, and, in general, a very welcoming attitude towards those with little ones.

Exploring with the National Trust

My previous attitude, stereotyping membership as being the preserve of the retired with plenty of time on their hands to stroll around admiring pristine gardens, has been well and truly revised since I became a mum and actually spent some time visiting these places. There are, of course, some properties that I would consider to be less suitable for us at the moment. There is a (fascinating) place nearby, for example, which I would never take ToddlerGirl to: there is very little in the way of outside space and the inside is crammed with all sorts of interesting curios, just crying out for toddlers to pick up, lick, drop on the floor, attempt to pocket. Well, my toddler, at least. I can imagine a trip there would be hugely stressful right now with my little girl whose little fingers are always into everything!

Exploring with the National Trust

When she has the freedom of the outdoors, however, it is a different matter. The National Trust places we have enjoyed visiting have been firmly focused on outdoor adventure. We’ve found trees to hide behind, huge rhododendron bushes to ‘make camp’ in and logs to climb on. We’ve discovered secret houses, hidden nooks and crannies, and even fairy dwellings. There have been ducks to feed, puddles to splash in, sticks to pick up, space to run around in and imaginative play areas inspired by the natural landscape.

Of course, many of these elements can be found in plenty of non National Trust places – and probably for free! But I have to admit to finding something special about the properties we have been to so far. The sense of history wrapped around many of the locations; the splendour of the gardens, whether ornamental or wild; the beauty of the surrounding landscape. I love the fact that one of the properties is somewhere I used to visit with my family when I was a child and I am now taking my own child there.

Exploring with the National Trust

We’re lucky that these locations are being preserved for future generations – and opened up for all to access, rather than being kept hidden away for only the most privileged landowning families.

I must confess I often have a moment of imagining myself in Jane Austen-style dress, roaming the grounds with notebook in hand to find a quiet spot with a glorious view to sit and scribble a while… Hmm, I guess being a ‘proper grown up’ is still a little while off, milestones notwithstanding. Or perhaps the idea that I will ever feel like a responsible adult is just an illusion and I’ll be 70 and still wondering when it will happen!