Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Happy Birthday, Eric Carle!

Yesterday was Eric Carle's 84th birthday.  

When planning our school holiday activities I used Hana's Magical Days Activity Calendar to help choose a few themed days and I really wanted to celebrate this amazing author and artists special day.

For my boys it was a great excuse to have another Very Hungry Caterpillar lunch, and I thought it would be fun to try a few craft activities inspired by Eric Carle's work.

Unfortunately the stomach bug seems to be making it's way through family members, so our original plans of having friends join us for today's fun had to be cancelled.

I was of two minds about having the lunch at all, but in the end we had a scaled-down version for dinner seeing as I had all that food just sitting in the house.

The activities, however, were a fun way to perk us all up.

Firstly, we made a Very Hungry Caterpillar Sensory Tub.  
This was inspired by The Imagination Tree's amazing box which you can see here.

I was so reluctant to give the kids coloured rice to play with, especially Rohan (who's nearly 18 months).  He ended up only trying to eat it twice and I think it was more the unappetizing taste and texture that put him off more than me saying "Not food.  Just playing!"

We put lots of fun hungry caterpillar food items - some plastic and some of our gorgeous Ikea felt ones - as well as a few toys that fit the theme and some tools and utensils for scooping.
Rohan loved the sound and feel of pouring the rice.  Even the big boys had fun scooping, pouring, mixing and measuring.  We ended up getting a bigger box to try to contain the rice.  It didn't work!
While baby entertained himself making a mess, my next older two and I did some Eric Carle inspired collage.
We ripped, snipped and glued.

Liam (7) combined his caterpillar collage with some text and finer details.
Hamish (4) went for a more abstract approach.  Actually, I think he was ridiculously excited that I was actually letting him play with the scissors and glue!
I tried to copy a picture I'd seen online.
It was a nice fun distraction from the stomach cramps and vomiting!

Did you celebrate Eric Carle's birthday?  Which of his books is your favourite?

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

How's the serenity?

We went camping on the weekend.  It was supposed to be the perfect way to start the school holidays- quality family time, see some more of this amazing part of the world that we live in and to simply relax.

Well... two out of three ain’t bad!

Now, I know family holidays aren’t generally relaxing.  In the words of Claire Dunphy (Modern Family), “I'm a mom traveling with her kids.  It's not a vacation, it's a business trip.”  

Also, I'm not a huge fan of camping.  I don't cope well with bugs, dirt and toilets of questionable hygiene.  But I had hoped that there would be maybe ten minutes when the kids were asleep in the tent and I could sit with my feet up next to a roaring fire, sip a wine/hot chocolate, hold hands with my husband and be all “How’s the serenity?” (By the way, if you have not seen the Aussie film The Castle, do so now!)

Instead, we had a sick baby who barely slept, cried most of the night and woke us all up again before 6am vomiting everywhere.  So, we cut our trip short,  but there was a bit of good stuff first...

There is always a fun sense of anticipation at the start of a big road trip.

Stops for fuel and ice cream on the way.
The kids were great, even on a four hour trip!  Thank goodness for PSPs and Peppa Pig on portable DVD players!  They even read books and did colouring in too. (You can even see a giant Termite Mound out of the window next to Hamish)
Some of the trip was dirt road.  This is the smooth bit... (the photos I took of the rough bit are a bit blurry from all the bumping.  Boy, was it rough!)
We borrowed (and broke on all the bumping) Bappa's camper-trailer.  It was nice and easy to set up and had heaps of storage space.
Our camp site had a nice view of the top of the falls.
We had some great family time.  The little ones did not have to share their Dad with anyone or anything.
 This cheeky guy seemed fine at dinner time.
 We had a yummy Chicken Cassoulet- perfect camping food.
Travel builds up an appetite!  We cleared our plates then had chocolate pudding jars (slipped into cut up socks to protect our hands from the heat) for dessert.
After our rough night we decided to do all the things we came here for before we headed home.  This meant re-stoking the fire...
 Learning to be safe around flames...
and toasting marshmallows after breakfast...
 Hmmm, S'mores.
 Okay, so I got a good five minutes with my feet up in front of the fire...
 Rohan was feeling a bit fragile...
 ...but cheered up with some cuddles.
We decided it was silly to come all this way and not see the falls, so we took an adventurous climb up to the top of a waterfall. (Rohan fell asleep in the backpack)
 The rock pools at the top were stunning.
 We enjoyed an amazing view from "nature's infinity pools".
Had fun exploring.

 Splashing on our private beach.
 Pretending to climb the Cliffs of Insanity...
...and digging up a "dinosaur skull".
Then we struggled down the mountains, packed everything up and drove all the way home!

Do you like camping?

We stayed at Gunlom which is in the southern part of Kakadu National Park. 
After a record breakingly dry wet season, the falls weren't flowing much, but I'll bet this place usually gushes.  Still stunning, though and a croc-free place to swim!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Train Day

In my last post I mentioned some of the themed days we've had and I thought I'd share some of these with you.  First up is one that has been a favourite and it's a really easy themed day with very little prep... Train Day.

After moving from a big city with a transport system that included a train network, seeing a train has become a bit of a novelty here in Darwin.  We do get to stop for the occasional freight train- those things are lo-ong! - but there is only one passenger train.  

Twice a week The Ghan arrives and then, the next morning, leaves Darwin on its way down through the middle of Australia and on to Adelaide.

I'm determined that one day I'll take the kids on it, even if it's only a bit down the track to Katherine.  (It's a very expensive train trip!)

Seeing the engine with Grandma this time last year
(This may be one of the only times we've needed a jumper in Darwin.  It was a very cool, windy dry season morning.)

We also like to make sushi for lunch- and serve it on a train, of course!  We use pieces from our Thomas the Tank Engine sets.  The plates balance very precariously on the back of Henry's coal car and Annie and Clarabel but it's so much fun. 

Then, with sated bellies, we set ourselves a building challenge with our tracks, like constructing the longest train track we can, or making a track that uses every single one of our pieces, or circumnavigating the center of our house in one big loop.

The only photos I could find of our train tracks were these...

That's Hamish (now 4) only a couple of months old looking on in the bouncy chair and little Liam aged three (now 7) doing the construction.  These were taken just after we moved- judging by the boxes outside!  Time really does go so very fast, doesn't it?

Anyway, afternoons can be filled with reading train stories, watching a few episodes of Thomas, or making our own train out of old nappy boxes (while Mummy vacuums!)... 
Here, they are nearly 4 and 1. 

Do you have train fans in your house?  How often do you get to take a train ride?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

School Holiday Planning

There's only a week and a half left at school before holidays begin, so for the last couple of weeks I've been doing some serious planning. 
No, we aren't taking a big trip.  There aren't any major family celebrations either. So why am I approaching school holidays with the strategic planning of seriously major events?

A few reasons:
1) We get four weeks of mid-semester holidays. This is twice as long as any other state or territory in Australia. (I'm not sure why.  If you know, please let me know!)

2) It's a great opportunity to supplement my kids education with fun, hands-on activities that either enhance what they're learning at school or introduce something new that they're unlikely to cover in their curriculum.

3) One of my kids struggles without structure. I'm talking hideous behaviour that stems from unstructured days with expectations of self-entertainment and limited screen time.  So, it is much, much better for every one to have a plan which allows him to relax and enjoy his day.

4) It's fun to have fun with your kids!

So what do I do?
In the past I've had a couple of approaches. Firstly, themed days.  These are days when all of the activities we do and meals we have relate to a particular theme and they are a lot of fun.  

Some of the themes we've had include train day, tropical island day, superhero day, rainbow day and dinosaur day. I'll go into more detail with these in future posts.
Dinosaur Day

Themed days do require a fair amount of preparation and I often end up with more activities than we have time to do.  Doing a themed day every day can be quite exhausting too so, because of our four weeks these holidays, I'm going to limit it to two a week.

My second approach to holiday fun was inspired, of course, by Pinterest.  We set up Activity jars which allow us to randomly select the activities that we will do that day.

I made ours with four different categories- Let's Do, Let's Bake, Let's Create and Let's Go.

Our Activity Jars
Let's Do is for all the fun activities I find on Pinterest that make me think "I have to do that with the kids!"

Let's Bake covers baking sweet or savoury treats for morning or afternoon tea but also whipping up new, fun, creative and tasty things for lunch as well.  The challenge here is to make sure you have all the ingredients on hand which can be difficult with fresh produce.

Let's Create is for an artistic project. Painting, craft, collage or model construction. One a day keeps things manageable.

Let's Go is, obviously, for somewhere to visit. This can be as simple as a visit to the park or library, an adventure to the museum, beach or botanic gardens or, if your budget allows a zoo, theme park or the cinema. 
I found that a Let's Go every day proved to be way too much for us, especially with a small baby in tow last year. So, in the next set of holidays we changed it to "Field Trip Friday" and we'd select an activity from that jar once a week only.

Let's Bake - Avocado Boats & Let's Create - Bicarb & Vinegar Art

For this coming set of school holidays I'm planning on a combination on the two approaches. Most days will be random activities from the jars, but with a few special themed days thrown in.

I started planning by sorting through the things I'd pinned on Pinterest and drawing up a table divided into Go, Do, Bake & Create. I added the activities I really want to try making sure I had enough in each list. While compiling these I looked for themes and grouped them together across the table. Then, if i was lacking a themed task for a particular day, I did a quick Pinterest search to find something suitable. For example, I needed a Bake activity for Territory Day and found this cute crocodile lunch.

Some of my favourite blogs have provided great inspiration too. Nuria has some cool art projects here at The Adventure Archive.  Hana at A Happy Adventure has been making the coolest magical days activity calendars. You can see June here.

We have a couple of themed days that will occur on specific dates- Eric Carle's birthday is June 25th and Territory Day is July 1st.

I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate these days into the jars. Coloured pieces of paper perhaps? A calendar to write or pin our chosen activities onto each day that shows which themed days require the coloured papers? Too confusing?

Do you have school holidays looming?  How long do you get and do you have any sanity survival tips I could use?