Thank Goodness For Lego!

Leon, who currently loves to cook, has been busy making ‘pepparkakor’ (gingerbread biscuits) for the last two days. Yes, two days.

Day 1 : Preparation of dough…

Then leave the dough in a cold place overnight….

Day 2 : Cutting and baking of gingerbread forms….

Plus of course, the decoration….

In the last year Leon has experimented with much cooking – and has had some wonderfully delicious successes – and some slightly dismal failures (don’t we all?!), but never once has he followed a recipe.

Last week he decided to make pancakes. All worked out well in the end, but he DID forget the butter, and added three times as much milk as was needed, plus was impatient to turn the pancakes before they were really cooked. Yes. a tad messy. But we sorted it out, and we ate pancakes for lunch.

But it was the last straw! “Next time”, I said, “you NEED to follow a recipe”. He refused. I explained about food waste and money waste. He said he wouldn’t make a mistake again. I explained that Pappa had been making pancakes for over 15 years and therefore didn’t need to follow a recipe. He said he could remember his recipes off by heart already. I pleaded that he should at least check out a recipe beforehand, and skim through which ingredients were needed and how it was made. He politely declined my offer.

And then I remembered lego! “Imagine”, I said, “if you got a new lego kit, and a friend came over and started to build the model WITHOUT using the instructions. One mistake would just lead to another and another, until everything just turned out wrong.”

“Ohhhh!” he said. And today he got a tray, took out and measured each ingredient carefully, and followed each instruction step by step – and the end result was delicious!

Thank goodness for Lego!

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‘Harry The Dirty Dog’ Fun

I love books, and I love the way that kids can learn from the stories within them, in so many different ways. Therefore I have decided to start doing some ‘book work’ with Alfie, and having a son who loves animals, and is completely obsessed with role play, Gene Zion’s ‘Harry the dirty dog’ seemed like an appropriate book to start with!

After reading the book, we collected as many small toy dogs as we could find, and decided to get them a little dirty from the mud in the garden…

Adding a little water ensured that the dogs got REALLY dirty!

And then it was time for a bath…

This is ‘our dog’ Harry having his bath ….

After this, we decided to make some bone shaped biscuits (yes, it’s true, I just happen to have a bone shaped cookie cutter…)…

The ingredients we used were:

2 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup honey

3/4 cup butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1) Mix all the dry ingredients (except sugar) in a bowl

2) Craem butter, sugar and hiney in seperate bowl.

3) Beat egg in to butter mixture.

4) Combine wet and dry ingredients and pound  in to a good dough.

5) Set oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F

6) Roll out dough and cut out bones shapes (or similar!)

7) Place biscuits on greased baking sheet and put in oven for 8 – 10 minutes

Alfie really enjoyed adding and mixing all the ingredients – but I ended up doing most of the cutting with the cookie cutter – by this time he just kept eating the dough!

And while we were waiting for the biscuits to bake, I printed out some dog colouring pictures from the internet, and Alfie enjoyed turning the white dogs in to very dirty dogs, by finger printing with a black ink pad!

I started to do similar book work with Leon and Maya when they were both around Alfie’s age, and they both thoroughly enjoyed it – and judging on today – Alfie did too!

Although (this time) I didn’t use it, a very inspiring website based on these types of book activities, is ‘Playing by the book‘. Check it out  – it’s fantastic!

Tractors, Trucks And Traffic Jams: Lådbilslandet

The best place to teach your kids to drive – in box cars driven by lawnmower engines. At Lådbilslandet ‘traffic school’…..

Children between the ages of 2 and 10 are encouraged to drive around tracks and on mini-roads, working out which way to turn the steering wheel, when to push down on the accelerator, and who to avoid crashing in to…. and adults are strictly barred!

Enjoy driving a van, a lorry, a fire engine or police truck…

That'll be Maya and Alfie in the red van...

And here comes Leon in the fire engine...

Another van, driven by Leon and Alfie...

And that'll be Maya driving that HUGE lorry!

Alternatively, try driving a tractor and trailer….

….. a box car…

… or a motor bike…

And whatever you do, don’t miss the truck slide!

When we arrived, it was raining and cold, and Alfie wasn’t at ALL sure about driving these things! But the weather cleared up, and it was soon warm and sunny, and not long before Alfie was keen to grip the steering wheel! Another great day out! 🙂

Alfie Makes Green!

And so we started off with a little marble painting, having both yellow and blue paint to dip the marbles in …

Which then led to a little hand printing…….

He started off with yellow hand prints, and then after dipping his hands in the blue paint, he rubbed them together……

……. and made GREEN!

Gosh was he happy! 🙂

Of course, when he discovered this, the mixing REALLY started!

Such wonderful fun with colour!

‘Playmobil’ Obstacle Course

An enthusiasm for obstacle courses has taken over the children in the family lately, and as the ‘playmobil water world’ was so popular, we decided to set up a ‘playmobil obstacle course’….

Supplies were collected (glue, scissors, tape, elastic bands, string, items from the recycle bin, and a collection of old lolly sticks), plus a few toys, such as the tree blocks, and some dismantled playmobil swings that might come in useful…

And a great array of different obstacles were invented….

' the scramble net' (using a dismantled playmobil swing and some netting from a tray of oranges)

' a balance walk way ' (tree blocks and lolly sticks)

' a flat ladder walkway' (kitchen rolls and lolly sticks)

' a balance beam - go through or over - it wobbles when you do!' (kitchen roll and tree blocks)

' monkey bars and swinging tyres' (a dismantled playmobil swing, some string and some plastic lids)

' a tunnel and stepping stones' (toilet roll and tree blocks)

As you can imagine – great fun to make , and great fun to play with!

Off we go………….!

Toddler Collage

Well, this may look a bit of a mess….

… but Alfie loved it!

Using a drop of food colouring in some glue, a clean plastic food tray from our recycled bin, and some lovely wooden beads that never seem to get used….

……  he made a toddler collage….

…which he proudly hung on the wall…!

Possibly The Best Playground In The World : Paltorps Hage

Paltorps Hage’ is amazing, fantastic, brilliant. What a find! And the website, I’m afraid, does it no justice…

Started by the owners of the farm, and open only during late Spring and throughout the Summer, ‘Paltorps Hage’ is a non-profit playground full of fun and adventure, for ALL ages. The equipment is homemade by  the farmers, largely from recycled bits and bobs.

We went with ‘uncle Nathan’ (my older brother who is now visiting from England for a week), and all had a fabulous time!

All kids enjoyed jumping down into the hay, building mountains of straw, and covering up Pappa to the eyeballs!

Alfie had a great time playing with all these chickens, and loading small baskets with eggs...

...while the pigs looked on, eagerly awaiting their turn...

Try a tractor..

... or a strange swing...

Maybe the obstacle course...

...for the little ones...

...or the treehouse...

...or the obstacle course up in the forest, over the rocks and through the moss...

...climb over the tyres...

...or under them...

Or if you’re really daring, go for the big obstacle course….

...which starts off fairly easy...

...but certainly seems....

... to get harder...

... and higher...

... and harder....

...and higher!

Alternatively, if you’re just a little bit too small, you can always settle for…

...tea in the woods...

And as if this wasn’t enough to keep you going, besides giant tyre swings, homemade wooden roundabouts, zip lines made from tractor seats, small wooden play houses under the eaves of the trees, sand pits with diggers, and a large go-cart track, there was also an inside part for when it rains, with table football, stilt walking, can knocking, egg throwing, mini mini-golf, and so on, and so on….

So if you just HAPPEN to be in the area – please go – support these wonderful people, and their wonderful wonderful playground!

Vegetable Design (The Healthy Option!)

Of course, with the unhealthy sweet design, had to come the obvious more healthy option – vegetable design!

We used frozen peas and sweetcorn, carrot sticks and slices, cucumber slices, yellow pepper sticks, halves of cherry tomatoes, round savoury crackers, and small bread sticks….

A footballer in the goal (by little Leon)

A racing car (by Maya)

Maya and (little) Leon just loved this – and Alfie enjoyed it too (though concentrated on eating the vegetables!) – Our Leon was at a friend’s house, but after hearing about this activity, I think we’ll be trying it agin today!

Sweet Design

…And with independence that brings the ability to cook alone, and go to the shop alone, comes in turn the ability to make and buy the most ‘unusual’ things….!

Apparently Leon got this idea from a cookery book – and he tells me that this is a car – I love the fact that he went to this project with such enthusiasm (yes, I know the shortbread is burnt…!), but I can’t help the feeling of angst when I imagine the kids stuffing themselves with those sweets….. perhaps i can keep it as a work of art?

Children As Independent Learners

I recently picked up a book ‘The Unschooling Handbook’ (Mary Griffith) , and started to thumb through it. I have had the book for many years, originally having bought it when we were in California and started to ‘homeschool’ our kids. At that point Leon was only about 5 years old, and Maya barely 3, so our ‘homeschooling’ was largely based on play, and learning through their interests. ‘Unschooling’, however, is based on this – picking up on the children’s own passions and interests, and learning through these as much as you can, through as many different areas as possible.

Many years ago I trained – almost by accident – as a teacher of 3 to 12 year olds (though later concentrating on the early years), and I remember to this day the excitement I felt when we were asked to write as essay about a learning experience in our childhood. I wrote about my time in Africa, where I was brought up for a few years, and home educated by my mother, incidentally learning more in that time than ever in my school life. In fact I still remember the names and description of copious snakes, insects, and sea creatures from the Indian Ocean; I remember also how I learnt to draw a scale key map, and how the fishermen used sticks as a trap to catch their fish, how to walk around a coconut tree and not under it, how to identify a baobab tree, and numerous kinds of shells. The list goes on. As I wrote this essay I remember thinking “Wow! How exciting! Life is about learning, and children are so curious and eager to learn, they can learn from anything, and it can always be fun, and anything, ANYTHING, can be turned into an exciting and valuable lesson”.

To this day I believe this. I believe that, given the right enthusiasm and encouragement, and a a certain amount of independence and trust, children can learn from anything, and learning can be so very exciting.

The ‘Unschooling Handbook’ itself is no miracle, and in fact many of the points are obvious, but it does make one think, and realise how much our children have the potential to learn, and inevitably to teach themselves, through their own passion.

This week I have watched my kids bake together every morning. Sometimes cakes, sometimes sweets, mostly Leon and Maya, but once Leon and Alfie. The recipes have been their own, they have cleaned up after themselves, everything has been done alone except for putting on the oven. They have written out recipes, and solved problems, worked together – even with a 2 year old. And I have been impressed.

It particularly makes me think of Leon. Through his own enthusiasm, he has taught himself to cook, to garden, to ‘cut and paste’ and write ‘keynote’ presentations on the computer, to use the internet as a resource, to play chess to a high standard, to swim, to ride a bike, to read and write in two languages, to calculate mathematical sums to a year above his school year, to play the piano from heart, to use woodwork tools safely, to take the bus alone, to go to the shop alone and get the right change, to set up a tent and pack a rucksack for a week away, to light a fire outside, to sew and to weave, to communicate in two languages, to solve problems, to take care of his younger siblings…. and I’m sure the list goes on.

And what amazes me is this – he has just turned 9. And he is more or less independent. And he has largely taught himself these things. With a little encouragement from his parents, and a little from school. But just a little.

It just makes you think – what children are capable of – given a little encouragement, and a little independence.