Ten Charlie and the Chocolate Factory activities for younger children

This post was originally published in November 2015. It reappears here in collaboration with million eyez.

We’ve just finished a happy romp through the wonderfully bizarre world of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Having realised from page one that this chapter book was going to be a hit, I gathered a few ideas for activities we could try alongside it. For my four-year-old, it was delightful to dig deeper into the experience of the story. For my 21-month-old, it meant she didn’t keep trying to pull the book out of my hand or take me some place else.

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Make a family tree
The book opens by orderly naming the people in Charlie Bucket’s family. I’d been wanting to do a family tree for a while so we took the opportunity to print out photos, cut and stick them and draw lines to show relationships. I helped Talitha with ours but she went on later on to draw Charlie Bucket’s family tree on her own.

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Sweetie Swoop game
We’ve been having fun with the whole sweetie theme by playing a board game called Sweetie Swoop which Talitha got for her birthday this year. It nicely accompanies chapter 11 where he goes into the sweet shop. It’s such fun. In general board games and card games are a brilliantly easy way to develop maths skills while doing something together that we both enjoy.

Drink hot chocolate
When you finally make it inside the chocolate factory, meeting the chocolate river calls for a drink. Preferably one offered in a cup by Mr Willy Wonka and not risking falling in!

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Make playdough sweets
Most of the time we read, we got out the playdough. Talitha made playdough sweets and both girls generally had fun squishing and making while listening to the story.


The Inventing Room
This was an idea I came across on The Imagination Tree when looking for birthday party ideas. I put together an “inventing room” the night before which was the source of much excitement and creativity. I wish I’d taken more pictures because she got the stapler out and put together some 3D sweets later in the day.

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Make real sweets
Of course, who can read about all these amazing sweets and not want to munch something sweet. Better yet, make some! We tied this in with learning about Diwali by making coconut barfi. They were too sweet for the girls, though, so I wonder if we should have gone for biscuits in sweetie shapes instead.

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Play with fizz
All the experimentation you observe in the Mr Willy Wonka’s factory certainly tickles the imagination. The science fiction elements of this book are the bits that shine brightest. Talitha was quite taken with the fizzy lifting drinks that make you float upwards unless you burp to come down again. Inspired by this fizzy fun experiment, we got the muffin tin out and had a messy go (should have put a tray underneath as suggested in that post, mind!).

Here are few more ideas I came across but we didn’t get around to:

Make lickable wallpaper
Pipe cleaner lollipop craft
Chocolate play dough recipe

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I’d love if we could share our ideas on how to help kids get into books and this million eyez Photobox offers the perfect medium. With million eyez you can start a photo box in a topic to receive authentic photos you can’t find, just as I’m hoping to do here, curating, communicating and organising to cleverly crowd source what you need. Just upload your photo of your literary kids activity, whether it’s a dress up, craft, baking, creative writing prompt or invitation to play. Let’s inspire each other!

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If you’re a blogger, you can also enter million eyez’s amazing giveaway to win your own Olypus PEN camera here!

The Children’s Garden by Matthew Appleby

A while ago, I was sent The Children’s Garden a book filled with inspiration for things to make and do with children the garden. It’s written by Matthew Appleby, a former primary school teacher and author of The Allotment Planner. An aesthetically pleasing hardback, full of beautiful and helpfully instructive images, it’s a real pleasure to own and lovely book for the kids to flick through to see if anything appeals if they’re at a loose end.

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The book presents 52 family projects, themed and ordered by season, ranging from dead-easy, (nighttime snail watch with a torch, anyone?) to reasonably challenging (why not keep some chickens?). Everything is given careful step by steps, not assuming knowledge. There are even follow up ideas to take activities further and deepen your family’s outdoor experience. Some projects even take you beyond the confines of your own garden.

Looking ahead to Autumn, I’ve nabbed a few ideas from The Children’s Garden for our bucket list. We’ll hopefully be picking apples and blackberries and making crumble, crafting temporary collages with collected Autumn items, carving pumpkins and toasting marshmallows over a bonfire in our garden.

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We don’t need too much beckoning to get outdoors generally but I imagine once the weather gets colder, I’ll be glad of easy inspiration when my hands are full with the baby and my older two. I can particularly see this book helping those who don’t spend that much time in their gardens but would like to.

Mother’s Milk Books review and giveaway

I first came across indie publisher Mother’s Milk Books a few years ago, both through La Leche League (the breastfeeding charity that has been a source of strength, support and community to me since becoming a mother) and through chatting about breastfeeding and parenting online.

Their tagline “Celebrating femininity and empathy through images and words” pretty much encapsulates what drew me to them and the books they publish. I say “they” but the press is run solely by at-home mother and founder Dr Teika Bellamy.

Mother’s Milk Books receives no funding and makes no profit but they are putting out such important books. I want to tell you about three of them, which Mother’s Milk Books are giving away to one of my readers.

Mother's Milk Books

Musings on Mothering

After meaning to for ages, I finally bought their Musings on Mothering – About Pregnancy, Birth, and Breastfeeding: An Anothology of Art, Poetry and Prose at an LLL event last year. The collection covers broodiness to the first feed to remembering our own mothers. It is page after page of voices speaking what is true about the human experience of being mothers, fathers and children, illustrated often with children’s artworks. Musings is a beautiful and powerful book. Describing and sharing our family experiences artistically (fathers’ voices feature too) can mysteriously connect us. This collection realises that mystery.

In strangers’ arms my mother’s touch,
My friends when all alone
In strangers’ eyes my father’s face,
In all my pathways, home.

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The Forgotten and the Fantastical

This is an entirely different sort of collection. The Forgotten and the Fantastical brings together modern fairy tales for adults, filtered through many different voices and experiences.  The writers take on Red Riding Hood to the Arthurian Legends, leaving only echoes of the familiar. Every tale is thrillingly unexpected. I found myself wanting to read some of them aloud – so strong was the sense of the oral tradition on the page. The authors’ notes at the end complete the experience. It’s definitely worth getting your hands on, especially if you’re looking for something to easily dip in and out of.

“Grief made no reply but the boy could see her clearly now. She had swelled from a voice in the wind to a grotesque face that enveloped the whole grey sky, her great mouth opening in a putrid mess of rotting teeth and stale blood.”

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Oy Yew

Oy Yew is a children’s novel, suitable from age eight, which equally targets adult readers. Gripping from the start, it is dark, tense and wickedly humorous. It follows the plight of Oy Yew, a parentless waif who adopts this name since it’s how he’s been addressed as long as he can remember. He’s enslaved in a great house, along with other waifs, all underfed to stunt their growth and they must creatively make their way to freedom. The fantasy world and characters that author Ana Salote has created in Oy Yew are rock solid. I echo another reviewer in affirming that this is a classic in the making. I’m looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

“He fed daily on the smell of bread, letting the vapours swirl around his brain and conjure themselves a high-risen floury loaf. He would sieze it with his two hands, break open the crust and inside it would be fluffy and white with a puff of steam, and he would scoop out the new bread and eat. That warm salt vapour would feed his mind for hours, but his body did not know bread.”

To win a copy of Musings on Mothering, The Forgotten and the Fantastical and Oy Yew, tell me what your favourite spot for reading is and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Jake and Tizzy – language support books for 3 and 4 year olds

My parents visited us from Trinidad over the summer holidays and the girls especially relished the time with their doting grandparents. My mother must have read Talitha hundreds of books. Among them was the Jake and Tizzy collection, a series of books aimed at equipping parents and professionals supporting preschoolers with language delay. To Talitha, they were just delightful stories but I figured my mother, as a special educational needs teacher would have good insight into what else might be going on here. Here’s her review.

‘“Let’s read this, Nana!” Talitha settled herself on my lap, book in hand, as she had been doing throughout the past several weeks of our summer visit. Reading with her has been a particular joy for me, and many a time I was drawn back to those precious years gone by when Adele and Liam would sit with me as we poured over some new adventure waiting to be explored, or a favourite that had to be relived.

“What are we reading today?” I asked. “Jake and Tizzy, Nana!” she beamed. I hadn’t realised she had all eight books in her library, nor that she intended that we read all eight in one go. As it turned out I found it easy to see why these books could be so captivating for littles ones, and to older ones like myself for that matter.

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As a teacher in special education I’m always on the lookout for material to use with my students. Finding culturally relevant story books is an on-going challenge but the ‘Jake and Tizzy’ series posed no barriers here. I was immediately taken by the vibrant colours and clear, simple, expressive illustrations. Literally every page provided opportunity for discussion, and as Talitha and I read and chatted our way through each book, my teacher brain mentally noted the many boxes in which these would score well for my students.

These are simple everyday scenarios that little ones can easily relate to. I think the appeal is in their simplicity and reminds me of young children’s innate wonder at the ordinary that we older ones miss or take for granted. To be sure the books live up to their claim as “a fun way to support language development”, but they are so much more. Embedded in the simple text I noted springboards to support lessons in math, social studies and science and I knew I had to get myself a set.

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I am confident that these stories will have a culturally diverse appeal in their own right, and I look forward to introducing them to my Caribbean students in the new school year. And I’ll also be thinking of my little darling Talitha who introduced me to the world of Jake and Tizzy.’

12 Caribbean picture books for young children

I remember asking on a Caribbean bloggers group a few years ago for Caribbean book suggestions for young children, especially the preschool bunch. Lots of mentions of Brer Rabbit and Anansi were thrown in but nothing came up that I felt really suited kids under five.

Still, between my mother and I (she always has an eye out for Caribbean books and music, keen for her grandchildren to keep their ties with Trinidad and Tobago) we’ve managed to furnish our playroom with a few.

So, in case you’re looking for something for your own island baby or just fancy something a little different to read to your kids, here we go.

Hatch [pictured above] follows the journey of a baby leatherback turtle called Hatch and his many brothers and sisters, starting off as eggs carried by their mother, then madly scurrying to the ocean and eventually migrating around the world.

It’s a really sweet book that was recommended to me by another Trini blogger living here in the UK, Maria of The Tiger Tales so I asked my brother and my sister-in-law to get it for Ophelia for her first birthday. Both girls have adored it ever since.

Hatch seems particularly aimed at children with Caribbean heritage who’ve ended up elsewhere but I reckon it would be enjoyable for any child. Leatherback turtles are fascinating creatures too.

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Belandra’s Day at the Market
Belandra travels from Canada to stay with her grandmother in a tropical island (looks like Trinidad to me). Filled with lovely sketches, it details her visit to the market, a special treat with her grandmother. Laurence finds it a bit long-winded to read (maybe you had to grow up going to a Caribbean market?) but Talitha enjoys it and I can see it being a lovely one for a grandparent to read with a grandchild.

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Yohance and the Dinosaurs
What I love about this book is that it’s not about the Caribbean. It’s just clearly set there. The plot isn’t that strong – it’s about a boy who sees dinosaurs in the clouds – but it’s such a pretty book and my own dinosaur-mad four-year-old is keen.

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Creepy Crawly Calypso
Oh my, was I excited to find this gem at Artrageous here in Bristol recently! Creepy Crawly Calypso is a Barefoot Books publication and it comes with a CD, with a genuine Caribbean voice singing a playful calypso counting bugs playing instruments you might find in a full steel band.

My mum was with me and she was equally excited to discover it so bought the girls a copy and one for her students back home. After the rhyme/song, there are a few pages giving some facts about the different bugs and instruments. We haven’t managed to learn the calypso yet but both girls love dancing to it.

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Shak Shak Tree
Following a British child from England to his mother’s homeland Barbados to visit family. He discovers lots that’s new and scary about this island, both familiar and strange, but it’s balance with much fun, excitement and beauty. I’ve been able to relate this to our visit to Trinidad and Tobago last year. Depending on her mood, Talitha will either remember the beaches or the mosquitoes!

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Lola Tortola
I found this in the suggested reading of an EYFS curriculum unit on Caribbean Carnival. Truth be told it is so silly (which is great for the kids even if it makes me roll my eyes a little!) and the illustrations are nothing fancy. BUT the limericks are super catchy and it’s an often requested read. This book is great for learning the names of some Caribbean countries and definitely packs a punch in terms of little kid humour.

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Jump Up Time
Jump Up Time tells the story of a preschool girl who feels envious that her big sister is “playing mas” for the first time this year. She feels left out with the family fully focused on making the hummingbird costume the older girl will wear for Carnival.

It gives a good feel for kiddies Carnival in Trinidad, where it’s set. So it’s particularly suited to introducing the festival. Talitha is mesmerised, asking for it again and again.

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Caribbean Animals

I’ve written about this one in this post:
“Ned dances us through twenty-six of the Caribbean’s animals, pausing every now and then to observe a mouse building his “house”. This sweet sub-story seemed ridiculous and out of place to me when I first read the book but it’s highly effective. Talitha is so interested in what the mouse is doing and when he’s ready for bed so is she.”

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Tantie’s Kitchen
I’m not that keen on the cartoon style of these illustrations, however, it’s a fun rhyming book that gives a mouth-watering introduction to Trinbagonian food and dialect. I really enjoy reading it to my kids and they love listening to it. Talitha asks lots of questions about each dish. I really need to cook more of them.

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Coconut Mon
This is such a silly but fun chant, counting down as the coconut man sells all his coconuts. I find it killing that Talitha always asks: “But why do they call the man ‘mon’?”

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Caribbean Dream

This is such a beautiful book. Featuring captivating paintings of Caribbean scenes, it’s gentle poem is a lovely wind down before bed. I get nostalgic reading it but it holds my children’s attentions equally.

Caribbean picture books for young children

My Caribbean
This is a baby touch and feel book, pulling out images of Caribbean life. I reckon this would be such a lovely gift for any baby but even more so if there’s a Caribbean connection. It’s particularly aimed at Caribbean babies overseas, since it ends with a mirror and reads, “So much to do, so much to see. All that’s missing is me.”

Do you have any other Caribbean picture books to add to this collection? Please do share them if you do!

100 Family Adventures – book review and giveaway

I first heard about the Meek family from Laurence. He’s a fan of their adventuring blog.

Then, they kept popping up all over the place talking about their year of roadschooling or their “EdVenture”.

Since we’ve decided to home educate and since wanting our children to be outdoors as much as possible plays a significant part in that, my interest in their journey was peaked.

So, when I heard that Frances Lincoln was publishing the Meek’s book, 100 Family Adventures, I was excited about reviewing it.

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Tim, Kerry, Amy and Ella Meek’s book is beautifully printed and perfectly at home on a coffee table – the coffee table of someone desperate to get their kids outdoors.

It’s packed with ideas that range in difficulty, from cleaning up a local park to going on a night hike to sub zero camping to puffin spotting. There are intriguing ideas here – 100 of them in one place to keep you busy for years to come.

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Having had a look, through, I think many of the challenges will suit our family better when our children get a bit older. At three and one, ours aren’t read for stand-up paddleboarding just yet! But there’s lots to get started on even now.

Talitha loves browsing 100 Family Adventures. I think she’s getting inspired.

100 Family Adventures

To win a copy of 100 Family Adventures, tell me why you think getting outdoors is important and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Beyond the Sling – book review and giveaway

I’m a big fan of reading parenting books. I know some people think they distract you listening to your instinct. I believe a good book, with solid footing in science, common sense and compassion can help you separate what you do because it’s left over from your own childhood and how you are naturally wired to parent.

Mayim Bialik’s Beyond the Sling is very much that kind of book. Best known these days for her role as Dr Amy Farah Fowler on insanely popular American sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience in real life. She also has a breastfeeding counselling qualification and is mother to two boys. This book serves as a simple, joyful introduction to attachment parenting, the lifestyle she and her sons’ father have chosen for their family.

I read Beyond the Sling as an attachment parent. I nodded along to her description of attachment parenting: “It is for people from all walks of life who seek to parent gently and who believe that an independent adult is one who was allowed to form a healthy dependence and attachment to her caregiver in her formative years.” There was little that was new for me. However, it was so refreshing to read how another family does things on a practical level.

The book is organised around things babies need: a smooth entrance, milk, holding, nighttime parenting, potty. And things they don’t need: stuff, unnecessary medical intervention, pressure and punishment.

There are even a couple of sections on what mothers need, which is great to see since this style arenting is often equated with maternal martyrdom, which it certainly isn’t. You can’t parent well if your own resources are running dangerously low.

What stood out to you in the list around what babies do and don’t need? After reading the intro, I went straight to the potty section! Not that much is written about elimination communication (helping your baby to the potty rather than leaving her to wee and poo in a nappy) and it’s really interesting reading about how it works in a real family context.

Bialik demystifies the practice. I felt pretty reinspired to keep going with it but I’m still only managing to do it on a very part-time basis. The principles that underpin it make a lot of sense to me, though.

Bialik writes: “The investment and effort we put in when our children – no matter how we parent – affects them and us for the rest of their lives. EC is one investment we stand behind (no pun intended) all the way, but I think that the outcomes of EC can be used by parents even if they potty-train the conventional way.”

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Then I flipped to the gentle discipline chapter. This truly was a breath of fresh air. We’ve been finding the world of parenting a three-and-a-half-year-old a tricky one. As Talitha develops her opinions and ideas and explores life and its limits, it’s sometimes hard to know how to relate to her in a way that is neither harsh nor permissive.

Bialik defines gentle discipline as: “parenting without violence, relying instead on respectful communication and seeking to see your child not as someone lesser or weaker than you who you can and should control, but rather as a partner in your life and a source of potential joy and loving interaction.”

Her examples of what this looks like for her family are extremely helpful.

I think this book is an especially inspiring read for a new parent who wants to feel able to trust her (or his) intuition. For me, it was both encouraging and entertaining.

I love Mayim Bialik’s writing. I actually read her blog on Kveller for a while before I realised that she was in The Big Bang Theory! I was excited to hear that she was writing Beyond the Sling, though it’s taken me a while to finally read it.

Pinter and Martin have recently republished it for a British audience, which I was delighted to see because I’m a big fan of theirs too. Do check out their other titles.

In fact Pinter and Martin are offering one of my readers the chance to win a copy of Beyond the Sling. Just tell me what stood out to you in the list of things babies do and don’t need and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Beyond the Sling is available on the Pinter and Martin website for £7.99 at the time of writing.

Giveaway ends 12.00am on December 24th 2014. Open to UK residents only. Entrants’ email addresses will be passed on to the Circus Queen newsletter – you can opt out at any time.