Saturday, 30 January 2016

Mini Weekend Boxes

 Regular readers who have been with me for a while may remember that over the last couple of years I have had the pleasure of reviewing Weekend Boxes.  The idea behind the company is one close to my heart - helping families spend quality time together in the increasingly limited time they have together.  The concept is that families receive a fortnightly mailed box containing four themed activities, including all the resources required (except the odd basic supply such as scissors).

This week we were very happy to review the Mini Weekend Box, inspired by families who weren't finding time to complete all four activities. Same great mailing but this time with two activities instead of four, and for a reduced cost compared to the original box.  I have always been impressed by how the company listens to it's customers and reviewers - for example I mentioned after my last box that the glue stick provided didn't work well, and I see that in the current box the glue has been replaced by a much better one.

 The boys were jumping with excitement when they realised that they had a new Weekend Box to try.  Impressively they still remember the activities they did for the last one we reviewed with a Chinese New Year theme last year.  The theme of this box is Rainforests, and both the activities supplied were well thought out with this theme in mind.

The first activity was a green-fingered challenge to grow our own rain forest.  We received everything we needed except scissors and a plastic drinks bottle, but these were easily found in our craft supplies box (although our bottle may have been a bit big compared to the one on the instruction card).

Toby was in charge of opening the envelope containing the supplies and passing them to Ollie as needed.  Ollie did the trickier bits such as cutting the bottle in half.
 I was really pleased to see soil provided in the form of compressed dehydrated soil pellets (as I didn't fancy braving the rain outside with a trowel to dig some out of a flower pot).  We could have done with a suggested quantity of water to add to the soil pellets as we were a bit overenthusiastic with it and ended up with a swamp.  This was easily fixed however.
 Watching the pellets of soil re-hydrate was a source of great interest to the boys as they magically swelled to fill the container.
 A little help from Matt to make a hole in the bottle top using a corkscrew, and to thread through the string provided to make a self-watering wick, and the boys were ready to spoon the rehydrated soil out of the bottom of the bottle and into the top.  We lost the seeds for a few minutes - the two little tomato seeds in a small plastic bag were overlooked at first inside the paper envelope the supplies came in.  Once located the boys carefully planted one each and placed their Rainforest-in-the-making on the kitchen window sill to grow.

I loved the idea of using recycled materials to create something new and I have to say we immediately decided that if this works we are going to try to grow seedlings for our allotment in this way - no worries about seedlings running out of water or becoming too damp.  I also liked that apart from a tiny plastic bag, all the materials for this activity were recycled or recyclable, which is part of the company ethos for Weekend Box.
 The next Rainforest themed activity was to make a parrot mask.  In theory the materials are provided to make one mask, but we found that by tracing around the card outline provided onto another piece of card in the kit, we had ample supplies to make masks with both our boys.

 The only thing I added was an extra piece of elastic from my sewing box to double up our mask making fun.  We've found in the past that it is the case that an activity designed for one use can easily be extended for either more than one use or for more than one child.
 These activities were perfect for a wet Saturday morning when we had an hour spare (I had to wait in because I had an OU tutorial mid-morning).  The boys really enjoyed sitting down to activities as a whole family - often it will be one parent doing activities with the kids while the other gets on with something else.  The boys were both feeling a bit tired and under the weather after a busy week too, so this was an ideal way to play together while still having a rest.
We all liked the way that this activity was laid out with suggestions to follow and an example of a completed mask, but really could follow any flight of fancy the boys wanted.

Cream, pink and yellow card were provided, as well as some white foam, crayons, a length of elastic and a glue stick, but we also found the paper envelopes that the activities came in were a good additional resource when Ollie wanted some blue feathers for his parrot.

The activities provided were both engaging and fun, and would suit a range of pre-school and primary ages with differentiated levels of adult assistance. They have been designed to be educational, and from past reviews of their products I have found that they stimulated further discussion and activities for a long period after the activities were completed.

The box came with a selection of stickers, a fun facts card with jokes and information about the Rainforest theme, plus tokens to give to friends to try out a box for free.  If you would like to try a box you can use the promo code MARIANNE59 when you sign up to receive your first box free. 

The new Mini Weekend Box is £4.95 including free delivery, and all boxes are delivered fortnightly with no contract and no obligation to continue - you can cancel at any time.  For this reason I can see it being something that could be ordered during holiday periods when parents often need a little help thinking of new activities to share, even if they feel weekends are too squeezed during the rest of the year to find an extra hour together.

I think the mini box was very suited to our uses because we already spend a lot of time making and doing, but being provided with a ready made kit which is often themed to match key celebrations such as Mothers Day is a good way to take the brain work out of planning activities on the weekend when we're in need of a rest.  I think it would also be very useful for families who lack space for make and do box clutter (we're currently over running a double cupboard and a set of draws with paint, paper, boxes, bits of string...) - pretty much everything you need is provided in the box.  This would also make it useful for children visiting extended family such as Grandparents  and parents with shared access who are looking for a new tradition to start of doing projects on 'their' weekend together.



Note: I received a free Mini Weekend Box to try out with the kids in return for an honest review, and have reviewed two other boxes in the past, all of which have arrived on the expected day, all have fitted through the letterbox, and all been in good condition and with good contents.  The opinions and images are all my own.  If you have tried Weekend Boxes in the past, or have any questions or comments do let me know below, or on The Maz Shack's Facebook Page.


Sunday, 24 January 2016

Simple pleasures

We can spend huge amounts of time and money in pursuit of the perfect day out, but it's trumped every time by the simple things because kids see right through to the joy to be had from walking in the woods with Grandparents who love them and being part of a family who encourage them to go and enjoy the biggest puddles, because there's nothing better than a good big puddle in the afternoon sunshine after sitting still on a long rainy car journey.


Thursday, 21 January 2016

Plate monsters

 I haven't been posting recently as I've had my head down at night studying subduction zone geology, but we've still been doing plenty of fun activities during the day.

I intersperse the kids writing and maths work with craft activities, so the crafts we do at these times need to be quick, easy to set up and easy to clear away.

Here's one from a couple of weeks ago.  All you need are paper plates and a selection of bits from your junk box.  If you haven't got a junk box, it's definitely worth starting one.  I save interesting cartons, small boxes, old birthday cards, shiny wrappers, fruit nets and the like.  Even the paper plates aren't really essential as you could use card cut from a cereal packet.
The boys used PVA (white) glue and clear tape to attach the bits and pieces, and added stickers and googly eyes to finish their monsters off.

When finished the boys had great fun stomping around chasing each other with the monsters, which are now blue tacked to the kitchen wall to peer down and make sure everyone eats their dinner.

If you have a go at this with your little monsters, I'd love to see the results, so why not come and join us over at The Maz Shack on Facebook and add your pic.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Geeky New Year - woodworking and chemistry

 We got the boys a Chemistry set for Christmas.  The instructions said to put heated test tubes in a glass as they could melt the plastic rack supplied, so we decided a better option would be to make a test tube rack out of wood.  Scientists of old would make all their own equipment apparently, especially items such as glassware, although I think that's beyond my skills to help with.

Ollie designed the rack based on looking at the shape of the plastic rack and measuring the test tubes he was going to be storing in his rack.
 Once the diagram was complete with measurements, the boys headed out to the shed with Matt to construct the rack using wood I had picked up from a discount items bin (I wasn't sure what we'd use it for when I bought it, but it's good to have a small supply ready for projects).



Ollie did all of the measuring, marking, cutting, drilling, sanding and waxing himself with a little help.  He also wrote his and Toby's names and the date on the base of the rack which Matt then carved in using a Dremmel-type tool.

Later on we got to try out the new rack for the first two sets of experiments in the chemistry set.  The first was a series of dissolving experiments to find out if certain chemicals were soluble or insoluble (new vocab for the boys).  The second experiments were to find out if substances dissolved faster in cold or hot water, which were a good chance to try out the spirit lamp supplied.

The boys were really excited to use the 'lab' set up they had asked for a couple of months ago to do 'proper' science since we mainly used the kitchen table up until now.  They both got a notebook to use to record their findings, and Toby especially liked ticking off the correct predictions he made on the results table I drew for him.

We try to provide a really wide range of opportunities from different subject areas for the kids, but I have to admit I'm enjoying their interest in Science.





Safety bit:  As usual, use common sense when doing potentially hazardous activities with kids - proper safety equipment and supervision is required whether wood working or dissolving salt in test  (personally, we do the hot bits e.g. heating the test tube for the kids, they do measuring and pouring).  Read and follow all the safety notes that come with activities and keep activities within your own comfortable knowledge and experience levels.  It's often helpful to try new things out on your own without the kids 'helping' if you haven't done something before, so you can work out your own risk assessment of the activity ahead of time.  Not mentioned on the safety leaflet for our kit, but I think really important to think about is that a spirit lamp is obviously a naked flame, so kids should be in cotton or real wool clothing/ cotton lab coat, not synthetic fibers or a plastic painting overall as these can melt onto skin if they catch fire. Tools, chemicals etc are stored out of reach when not in use, and never used unsupervised.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Highlight of the year


 My lovely friend over at Plutoniumsox asked a question this week about what has been the highlight of this year for everyone.

We've had so many wonderful memories from this year, it's hard to choose just one.  I think though that the faces of the kids at their birthday parties that have to be in the running.

It's four years since Toby arrived and we couldn't wish for the two boys to be better friends and companions for each other, so many of their smiles and so much of their laughter is when they're playing together (albeit the greater the laughter, the bigger the trouble they're getting into).

We're also really lucky in our friends and family who are always ready to share celebrations with us, some travelling from two hours away to join us, and this is really what put those smiles on the boys faces at their parties.

So thank you to everyone who is a part of the kids lives and who contributes so much to their happiness.  Happy kids equals happy parents.  So that's what I pick for our highlight of the year - our friends and family.  You guys are the best.








Monday, 21 December 2015

Decorating celebration biscuits

Looking for a ten minute filler activity today while we waited for guests to arrive for Toby's birthday tea party, I thought this would be a fun way for the boys to get involved in party preparation. It was very simple and satisfying to do.

We used digestive biscuits, but any plain bought or home made biscuits/cookies will do.  I initially thought we would make Christmas themed biscuits, but the boys had other plans so we went with what they wanted to do.

Toby chose the colour he wanted, so I helped him make up some pink icing using icing powder, water and red food colouring.  I made it fairly runny so it would drizzle easily from a teaspoon.  If you want to flavour the icing you could add lemon juice instead of water, or a few drop of flavour essence.

The boys spooned icing on to the biscuits, then decorated them with sprinkles, mini marshmallows and some rice paper flowers I had left over from a cake we made earlier in the year.

They really liked this activity because they could complete almost everything completely unaided and produce something really pretty and tasty to share with their friends.  Great activity for developing fine motor skills, creativity and self esteem.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Alternative pomander

Ollie was struggling to push cloves into an orange yesterday, so we tried out making a pomander with an apple instead.

I have no idea how well it will keep, but it smells divine today and is filling the house with a lovely festive smell.

I got the idea from seed feeder apples we made last year at an open day at RSPCA Mallydams Wood.  Very simple to make, with sunflower seeds pushed into an apple in the same way we have done here with cloves.

Perhaps a double gift could be made - a smelly one for your house, and a seedy one for your garden.