Chinese New Year sensory box

Last year we got seriously into Chinese New Year. With it rolling around again, I thought I’d share the sensory box I put together for Talitha to enjoy when she was three-and-a-half. At going on one, this really wasn’t suitable for Ophelia at the time so I put it up on the table whenever Talitha wanted to play with it.

I had some rice I’d bought cheaply from an Asian grocers, which I coloured with red and yellow ready mix paint by mixing the colours in separate bowls and laying it thinly in baking trays to dry.

Sensory play for Chinese New Year

Then I added yellow beads, lots of pom poms, chopsticks, some envelopes we’d made with Chinese symbols on them, bowls, a cup, a spoon and a ladle. Hours of fun, let me tell you!

She practised picking things up with the chopsticks, threading beads onto a chopstick, pretending she’s making pancakes with the rice and ladle, burying things, tucking things into the envelopes, pouring things – it was endless.

Sensory Box for Chinese New Year

When we moved on from Chinese New Year, I stored the rice and brought it out again for their Autumn sensory box. Ophelia as a toddler was then old enough to safely enjoy it so I put the box on the floor.

Argos Christmas Toys – Chad Valley 3 Storey Summer Winter Dolls House

Argos has revealed their top toys for Christmas 2015 and we were one of their toy testing families. We chose to try out the Chad Valley 3 Storey Summer Winter Dolls House.

Talitha immediately made the connection with Frozen and said it reminded her of Queen Elsa’s ice castle. In fact, her Elsa plush doll and Sylvanian family rabbits moved right in. This house is actually sized for Barbie-sized dolls, though, I’d say. We were toying with the idea of giving her a Lottie doll, which would work well in this house.

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I think we were all a bit blown away by the size of this house. It’s taller than both of the kids and is two houses in one, a summer house and a winter house. I had my misgivings about how big it was but the girls loved that they could play their own games alongside each other, without getting in each other’s way. OK, my four-year-old may have been the one particularly appreciative of this.

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It was pretty straightforward to assemble, though be aware that it may not be an item you’re going to want to have to take apart once it’s up. Quite a decent bit of furniture comes with it, which requires no assembly. I like that it’s wooden. I’d really rather not have too much plastic fantastic in the house. The colours are pleasing, too, where many kids toys can be quite garish.

The house arrived at the beginning of a week stuck indoors with chicken pox and it couldn’t have been better timed. The girls have had so much fun with it, coming up with new games each time. Talitha has even made some more furniture for it, including a bath.

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When choosing toys, we try to find that happy medium between what the kids will go ga-ga for and what we’d be pleased to walk past each day. Toys need to have a longevity, rather than being a thrill-of-the-moment item which will be forgotten in a week’s time. Sometimes the “educational” factors in but all child’s play involves learning so it’s not something that worries me too much. A toy that works for both kids definitely gets extra points, especially if it’s a big item like this one.

Check out Argos’ top toys for Christmas 2015 here.

This post was in association with Argos

Pumpkin drilling and more pumpkin fun

Pumpkin day activities

Talitha is recovering from a pretty nasty cold (that’s not her ill face above; she just likes pulling faces!) so although she was in good spirits today, we opted for a quiet one at home. The fact that she neither protested nor even asked about going out tells me she really needed it.

We started off with a to-do list of things we needed to get done. She loves ticking things off a list. Just like her mama. “Bake bread, stew apples, carve pumpkin…” I realised this was starting to look like the most autumnal day ever. So, we fully embraced it.

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By the time the girls helped with the bread and the apples (I peeled, they cut – Ophelia uses a Pampered Chef safety knife while Talitha insists on using a properly sharp knife), I cleaned out the pumpkin and we all had lunch, it was time for Ophelia to have a nap. Where does the time go with children? I always overestimate how much we’re going to get done.

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As soon as she went down, I got the drill out and Talitha decided what her design was going to look like. I was surprised at how well the manual drill worked for her. I helped her to steady the pumpkin but I reckon if she were to do this again, she wouldn’t even need me to do that for her. This is definitely the way forward for little hands – much easier than wielding a knife. I only did a couple of holes. She did the rest. Then she cleared them out with a chopstick.

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We’d looked online for inspiration and she wanted to paint the pumpkin and add glitter. I think she would have been better off using acrylic paint as the tempera paint is already starting to flake off but we may just put some varnish over it tomorrow.

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No sooner had we finished than Ophelia had woken up and come down to admire the pumpkin. It was perfectly timed for the three of us to make pumpkin muffins. We used this recipe but swapped the flours for maize flour (Laurence is wheat intolerant) and used our stewed apple instead of honey. A little dry, I’d say, but everyone else seems to enjoy them.

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Some more of the pumpkin flesh went into our vegetable and bean curry for supper. I can’t believe how much pumpkin we still have left. I can’t even remember what we did with the insides last year. I may well have just thrown them away.

While waiting for supper time, we read “a story about a pumpkin” as I’d promised. I reached for the fairytale collection and Talitha put two and two together and guessed that I meant Cinderella. I don’t know if it’s my hormones or Usborne’s version but I actually started welling up while reading it!

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We also made a paper pumpkin while waiting for supper. I gave them both the same materials and it was quite funny seeing Ophelia so diligently crafting next to her big sister.

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I love that she insisted on also showing hers to the camera!

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We decided that a candlelit supper was in order so of course the pumpkins joined us at the table for supper.

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It’s not been great being ill – all of us have been to some degree – but this one has slowed us down just enough to make a day at home actually a pretty sweet one.

Fun early night ideas for families

The clocks go back tomorrow (I actually had to look that up because I keep getting confused which way it is) so, we’re headed back into the darker portion of the year. I used to really struggle with this.

Growing up in the tropics, I mentally prepared myself for cold seasons when I moved here but nothing could have prepared me for the dark.

After ten years of living here, though, I’ve realised that even the early nights have their own charm, especially when living with a four-year-old who’s intrigued by the changing seasons.

Here are a few really simple ideas for making the most of the early nights.

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Candle time
This time of year is all about the candles. The candle holder makes it’s way back on the table and the lantern is re-filled. Storytimes and supper time become candlelit.

And of course, there are pumpkins and Advent candles to look forward to. Halloween isn’t really a thing here so we keep our pumpkin lanterns going for quite some time. These stars were last years creation. Can’t wait to get this year’s pumpkins this week. I’m toying with the idea of drilling holes in them.

Another great way to have fun with candles is to make tea light holders out of jars. Kids can paint them, decorate them with paper, leaves or cloth or melt crayon wax on them. This year we’ll also be making our own Advent calendar candle.

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Backyard Bonfire
Build a bonfire in your backyard. You could wrap cheese sandwiches in foil and toast them, stick some sausages on there or, if you’re looking to do something a little bit different, make some s’mores.

Certainly Wood sent us a gourmet s’more making kit as part of their Get Outdoors with Smores Campaign. The kit included artisan handmade chocolate and marshmallows and a British equivalent of the Graham Cracker by chef Felice Tocchina, along with a campfire kit.

A little disclosure, I never got to taste the chocolate because one of my kids (identity semi-hidden to protect the not-so-guilty) ate it all before I got to it. I gather it was yummy!

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And another bit of honesty, we actually had to search the Internet for instructions on how to make s’mores! Any American readers are welcome to laugh at our expense at this point.

Friends were coming over so we had an Autumn barbecue followed by getting the fire going and toasting marshmallows for our “biscuit sandwiches” (that’s how we explained it to the kids).

Early night ideas for families


It was good fun as an activity and getting all the bits together in a kit would be a great gift idea if you were looking for something different, I reckon. Laurence mentioned that flamers were the best he’s used and that, in his limited experience, they’re far better than the horrible ones you get from the supermarket.

Early night ideas for families in the darker months

Shadow puppets
I loved playing with shadow puppets as a child. I have fond memories of making them with my brother and I’m guessing he must remember because when Talitha went to stay there a couple of weekends ago, he made some with her. In fact, he and my sister-in-law did so many things with Talitha in the short time she was with them, she probably wonders why all weekends aren’t like that.

Anyway, she brought these home and was sort of merrily shining a torch at them and having fun enough but when I showed her how to actually project them onto the wall, it was a total lightbulb moment. She and Ophelia have been playing with them ever since, roaring at each other.

My mum gave them these cool little torches which don’t use batteries. You recharge them by squeezing them lots. Ophelia’s is a pig and Talitha’s is a cow.

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If you have kids who go to bed early, now is the perfect time of year to get the glow-in-the-dark stuff out. You never really get the full effect of these things if it’s even a little bit light so now that it’s getting properly dark early, the fun begins.

I’m waiting for some glow-in-the-dark googly eyes to arrive for some crafting fun but in the mean time we’ve been testing these glow-in-the-dark wall stickers we were sent by JR Decal Wall Stickers. It’s a 45-piece set with stars and a moon. They’re really good quality and surprisingly bright. Apparently you could put them outside.

I put them on the cupboard for this photograph as I didn’t want to risk waking the girls by taking pictures while they’re sleeping but they’re about to make their way to their bedroom for even more glow-in-the-dark fun. The great thing is, you can’t really see them at all if there’s any light so when it goes dark, it’s a real surprise!

Fun ideas for early nights

Nocturnal animals and star gazing
A huge advantage of the nights drawing in is that little ones with early bedtimes can get out at tea time to look for nocturnal animals or at least signs of them. This is something we wanted to do last year but never got around to it. I really hope we do this year.

I’ve even saved the print out The Woodland Trust sent Talitha last Autumn so we can go listen and maybe look with our red torches and have an idea of what we’re trying to spot.

Even if we don’t spot a thing, getting out properly looking at the stars is always a good idea.

Wooden pirate ship

You can’t deny the aesthetic and sensory appeal of wooden toys. I’m no toy snob but I doubt we’ll be holding on to plastic toys for our potential future grandkids other than some Lego.

Wooden pirate ship

So I was delighted when The Wooden Toy Shack, based in Brighton where we used to live, asked me to review one of their toys. Taltiha’s big on pirates at the moment so I chose this glorious Barbarosa pirate ship.

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Pros: It is absolutely beautiful, capturing the lost-at-sea imagination. We’ve been taken in by all it’s little details, like a door to below deck, a wind up anchor, a plank with a bit of bounce, a turning wheel and a functioning canon.

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Cons: It’s a bit more delicate than we realised so we’ve already broken one of the flags. Also, the toddler got a hold of it and has hidden one of the rods for a sail (still functions fine but I can’t help but notice and the canons (so we’ve used replacements below!). To be fair, though, it’s for age 3+ and you do have to handle toys like this with a bit of care.

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All in all, we’re still delighted and it’s continued to inspire lots of Sylvanian family and dinosaur fun.

Then she was four – Octonauts party

Two revelations surprise me every time one of my children has a birthday. One, I actually do not care about my birthday anymore. Much. Two, every year the prospect of their birthdays gets more exciting.

Then she was four

Talitha turned four on Thursday and I did the usual getting teary-eyed while wrapping her presents the night before. How could she be turning four already? I still so clearly remember giving birth to her.

And now we’re having full-on conversations. My days are full of her chatter. She’s busy dancing, making up stories, singing to herself, balancing on things, zipping off on her scooter, drawing, experimenting, trying to read and write. She would even have started school this September if we’d applied.

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Laurence came back for the birthday and we made use of our National Trust membership by visiting Dyrham Park near Bath. I’d just been complaining about how Summer just wasn’t kicking in when the sun finally came out. In fact, we should probably have taken hats and sunblock!

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We walked down to the house to have lunch in their tea room. Along the way, while we stopped to talk about something, we suddenly noticed a group of fauns just a little way from us. It was so unexpected. They didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence or attention. Talitha decided that one of them would be Bambi.

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Then we went up to the play area where the girls mostly entertained themselves, driving tractors (toy and real), sweeping wood chips, climbing and pushing wheelbarrows. We pretty much hung back and chatted for an hour while they played together with the run of the place to themselves.

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Sufficiently sunned out we wandered up through the trees to the car and ended a happy day with a polenta lemon birthday cake when we got home.

On Saturday we had a birthday party as she’d requested. I kept it small because I’m finding even little things a bit overwhelming at the moment. I still managed to get stressed anyway. Talitha put things firmly in perspective for me by randomly repeating, “I loved my party!” for the rest of the weekend.

She wanted an Octonauts/Under the Sea/Pirate party so we vaguely colour-themed it with a blue table cloth and blue balloons. I put together an ocean-themed water beads sensory box inspired by The Imagination Tree, which was a real hit with all ages.

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I tried to make a foil and tissue paper fish-shaped piñata but it turned out to be a bit of a soft, floppy fail! Never mind, the kids loved taking turns picking it up and throwing it on the floor til it cracked open and the felt tipped pens the bags of popcorn were revealed.

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My brother and his wife made a double-layered lemon polenta cake, covered in blue dairy-free “buttercream” icing and we decorated it with a couple of Octonauts gup figurines from a magazine and some sea life toys from a Bristol Aquarium visit.

My brother also made these amazing watermelon fruit salad sharks! Talitha spotted them some time when I was browsing Pinterest and asked me to make one for her party and I said, “No way!” She’s lucky her uncle is nicer (and more patient) than I am.

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Ophelia fell asleep on my brother while the party was still going

Thank you to everyone who helped us celebrate – those both present and far away. We feel truly held by you and nourished by your care for us. Some of you, we feel like we’re still only just getting to know and look forward to going deeper in our friendship with you.

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These four years. It all went by before I was ready. Where did this powerful, imaginative, happy girl come from?

Our dressing up box

I’ve recently been spending a lot of time trying to organise our playroom. Talitha gets so much more out of it when she can see where things are, it’s easier for us to tidy when everything has it’s place and I don’t lose my mind looking for things.

Since she’s heavily into dressing up, I dearly wanted to sort a dressing up box for her. We’ve repurposed a blue vintage suitcase, laying it on its side. It’s perfect as she can open it herself and fit quite a lot in it. She also loves giving me a fright by hiding in it!

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It was a bit dull-looking, though, so I’d been thinking through the options of what we could do with it, perhaps with paint. In the end, the answer came from Koko Kids when they sent me these patterned stars wall stickers to review.

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Decorating the dressing up box proved to be a fun activity in itself. Talitha was able to do it mostly herself, with a few moved around by me. The fabric adhesive makes them able to be repositioned over and over again.

Our dressing up box

They’re made of 100% biodegradable cotton, polyester and paper so have a lovely fabric feel and the patterns are so pretty. I’d love skirts in some of them. They seem to have stuck really well, even the ones that were moved around.

They’re a set of small and medium stars that retails at £45. I love that they’re free from vinyl, PVC, BPA and phthalates, so perfect for decorating an item my kids will be playing with lots. I’ve even wiped the box down with the stickers on it and all has been fine.

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So far in our dressing up box, we have:

  • Three fairy dresses and one pair of wings
  • A Doug and Melissa doctor’s outfit
  • An elephant mask and a rabbit mask
  • A Tigger suit
  • A ship captain’s hat
  • Various fabric scraps that get used as all sorts of things
  • A handbag
  • A slip

What I’d like to add:

  • A superhero cape
  • A nurse’s bag
  • Big jewellery
  • Evening gloves
  • Leg warmers
  • A few hats – cowboy, police officer, construction worker

Do your kids have a dressing up box? What’s in it?