Tag Archives: family activities

The Gruffalo supports #YorkshireTree

Tea and Trees for the Gruffalo

Yorkshire Tree tea box poem by Julia Donaldson
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler supporting Yorkshire Tree – will you help the Gruffalo?

In my deep dark wood I love to roam
among the trees around my home.
It’s so refreshing, mind restoring.
There’s much to see – it’s never boring.
Please raise a toast to Yorkshire Tea’s
campaign to plant a million trees!
Let’s drink more tea, then we can grow
a lot more trees for the Gruffalo!
“Who is this Gruffalo?” you say.
I’ll introduce him, if I may.

We first met the Gruffalo when our boys were very young. First, we found him lurking in the library picture book boxes. Then, as we grew to love him, the Gruffalo came to stay on our own bookshelves and was soon joined by an audio recording of the book, read by actress, Imelda Staunton, and then subsequently along came The Gruffalo’s Child too. Our boys loved these picture books. They’re wonderfully written by Julia Donaldson, with the text in rhyming couplets that just begs to be read aloud. Axel Scheffler’s fabulous illustrations truly bring the books to life.

Yorkshire Tea and teapot - Gruffalo supports tree planting campaign
Take a cup of #Yorkshire Tree

Now, the Gruffalo has joined the Woodland Trust and teamed up with Yorkshire Tea to support his beleaguered woodland habitat. Schoolchildren are helping with tree-planting not only here in the UK but also in Kenya, where some of Yorkshire Tea’s tea is grown. One million more trees are to be planted by 2020.

I like a nice cup of Yorkshire Tea myself and I couldn’t resist boxes of teabags incorporating Axel Scheffler’s Gruffalo illustrations. And then I found the Gruffalo was supporting my beloved trees! (I am a bit of a tree-nut, as some of you know πŸ˜‰ .) If you can, make an excuse to visit woods with children this Spring or Summer – your own, your grandchildren, schoolchildren, any children … and you can find some wonderful activity resources on the Yorkshire Tree website, including how to attract a Gruffalo to your woods.

Bluebell time in the woods
Bluebell time in the woods

I hope you’ll join me in drinking #YorkshireTree tea and help the Gruffalo to “stop the wood from disappearing”!

J Peggy Taylor

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kite surfing at South Shields

Kite flying for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Lets Go Fly A Kite is our theme for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week. We have had lots of family fun with kite flying over the years. I remember when our younger children were still quite small, we made a homemade kite from upcycled plastic sheeting – it was almost as big as the youngest child. This kite lasted several years but then our youngest decided he wanted to make the really old fashioned kind of kite – from broadsheet newspapers, sticky tape, garden canes and string. When it was completed, this one flew well and provided hours of fun on windy days.

kite surfer at South Shields

We generally go kite flying in our local park, close by to where we live, but on our Summer visits to the seaside at South Shields, we often see a different type of kite flying – kite surfers enjoying their energetic sport. Our seaside sport tends to be a little less exerting as we stroll off along the cliff-top path, enjoying the views of the rocky coastline and nature-watching as we go.

seagull flying over the sea

One of the pleasures of the coastal path walk is watching the sea birds as they ride high on the air currents or swoop low over the sea to seek out a tasty snack.

Marsden Rock, South Shields

As we walk a little further along the path above Marsden Bay, we can see Marsden Rock. The remaining piece of this Magnesian Limestone sea stack stands 50 metres high and is alive with seabirds. Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls and Cormorants tend to be the most numerous when we have visited. Many of these birds nest on the cliff edges of the stack. My photo was taken in late July so the youngsters would all have fledged by now. You can just make out the white dots of the birds flying around above the rock.

kite flying in the park

Here we are kite flying in our local park, our nearby kite flying area that I mentioned earlier. Our eldest son had found some Star Wars themed kites whilst away on his Summer travels and this windy day provided the ideal opportunity to try them out.

kite flying in the park

Sometimes big brothers are handy when you are having a spot of kite trouble. But a little readjusting of the string and up we go … just mind the trees and the electricity wires over there!

We do have one particularly well-remembered family kite incident – not on this visit but another time – when our youngest’s kite became stuck in a small tree. He was determined to retrieve it and so set off to climb the tree. This was not as easy as he’d anticipated, but he persevered. Just as he finally swung himself up into the branches, the wind blew the kite free from the tree! Oh the joys of kite flying πŸ˜€

Do take a look at what others have found for ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ in Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Our Christmas wreath

Our Christmas wreath 2014
Our Christmas wreath 2014

Most of our Christmas decorations have shared many festive seasons with us. Several of them have their own tales that are retold each year as we retrieve them from their packing boxes for their next seasonal display. Some are items that have been hand crafted by our children over the years.

One such item is the willow base on which each year I craft our Christmas wreath of evergreens with holly, ivy, pine and two ‘ears’ of yew. Collecting the greenery is something of a family ritual, but also a welcome excuse for a woodland wander. I love the woods at all times of year and mid-Winter has its own magic.

When complete, we hang our Christmas wreath outdoors on a wall-hook. We used to hang it on the door but modern uPVC doors don’t seem to lend themselves well to ancient earthy rituals like wreath hanging!

J Peggy Taylor

Run, run, as fast as you can …

… you can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!

Cooking Gingerbread Men for Christmas

A few years ago our youngest son became keenly interested in helping with Christmas cooking. He scoured recipe books deciding on new things we should add to our Christmas feast. When his eyes alighted on pictures of iced gingerbread men he realised this was a Christmas treat he had so far missed out on – a situation he must immediately remedy!

Part 1: Mixing the gingerbread dough,
Part 2: carefully cutting out the gingerbread men shapes and adding the currants for eyes and buttons,
Part 3: baking them
– and then – the ultimate fun part,
Part 4: decorating them with coloured icing
… all have now become part of our Christmas countdown schedule.

Making gingerbread

We’ve tried out a couple of different recipes for our gingerbread dough, but we find this one works out just right.

Ingredients:
350g (12 oz) plain flour
5ml (1 level teaspoon) baking powder
10ml (2 level teaspoons) ground ginger
100g (4 oz) butter or margarine
175g (6oz) sugar (brown sugar is best)
60ml (4 level tablespoons) golden syrup
1 egg beaten
Currants to decorate

To make:
Sift the flour, baking powder and ground ginger into a bowl.
Rub in the butter or margarine and stir in the sugar.
Beat in the syrup and egg.
Knead the dough until smooth.
(TIP: We usually freeze the dough at this point and do the rolling out and cooking part separately. If you do freeze the dough, defrost it in the fridge overnight and then leave it out for about an hour to come to room temperature before rolling.)
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 5mm (1/4 inch) thickness.
Cut out your gingerbread people or shapes and place well apart on a greased baking sheet (we normally use and reuse baking paper).
Decorate with currants for eyes and buttons.
Bake at 190C (375F) Gas mark 5 for about 10-12 minutes.
Cool slightly then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Further decoration with coloured icing is then essential in our house (guess what we are doing today!), but the gingerbread is equally tasty just as it is after cooling πŸ˜‰
The gingerbread keeps well enough in air-tight containers … plenty long enough before it’s all been snapped up by your hungry little foxes! πŸ™‚

J Peggy Taylor

OS map and Silva compass

Enjoy map-reading with Ordnance Survey maps

As a great fan of the traditional fold-out paper version of OS maps, I was surprised to receive an email today from Ordnance Survey confirming that their paper maps are here to stay. “What?!” I thought. “I didn’t know they’d been threatened with extinction too!” … but then I read on …

Apparently, in some of the UK newspapers that I don’t read, there has been a story circulating recently that Ordnance Survey will no longer be routinely producing maps that cover the whole of the UK.

I am pleased to report these stories are entirely false! In the words of Ordnance Survey themselves –

This is simply not true!

We are pleased to confirm that we have no plans to stop producing our iconic range of OS Explorer Maps and OS Landranger Maps for the whole
of Great Britain.

Ordnance Survey go on to emphasise the importance of their paper maps and recommend that people carry a paper map as well as digital versions. You can find free map-reading guides on the OS website including a map-reading guide for children. I found the children’s guide a useful tool when I was introducing my own children to map-reading.

Map-reading is one of those skills I am always keen to encourage. When we meet ‘lost’ people I find it much easier using a map to explain to them where they are … relative to where they want to be! I know map-reading was part of the school curriculum (at least in the recent past! – though things change so quickly in the field of education here in the UK these days!). But a skill like map-reading can only really be honed with practice. With the Easter holidays around the corner, there’s a great family fun activity for everyone to get lost in!

I jest … slightly! If you are all just beginning map-reading and practising your skills together, I would recommend starting out by exploring your own neighbourhood or somewhere you know reasonably well. This will give you a chance to get to grips with exactly what all those lines and map symbols look like ‘on the ground’.

Map-reading the landscape
Our feature-rich landscape including an earthwork (under the small copse of trees) and a TV mast (across the valley on the horizon towards the right). Roads, field boundaries and height contours can all be more easily understood when they are there in front of us.

We are fortunate to live in a rural valley with lots of visible features such as patches of woodland, a river and streams, a television mast, hills. When teaching my children about contour lines, I found climbing a hill between two known points helped them really understand the relationship between those wavy brown lines on the map and the actual gradient of the hill.

After we’d been learning about public footpaths and bridleways, it was fun to plan a route before going out and discovering the ‘real version’ of the features we’d noted in our plan as we went along. We ‘discovered’ lambs and horses in some fields we were crossing, so this prompted a discussion on the importance of closing gates behind us. We also ‘discovered’ missing stiles and marshy footpaths that had to be carefully negotiated, but this was all part of the fun of exploring.

Moorland in the North Pennines
Exploring the moors in the North Pennines

I am pleased to say my map-reading teaching seems to have stuck with our boys, so now when we’re out walking in unfamiliar territory I am no longer the only one who can read the map and compass.

J Peggy Taylor

Catching up on Nature’s Calendar

Today I was catching up on my Spring nature records – I had my Elder bud-burst to record from Sunday and then today (as I’d anticipated in my last blog post) at lunchtime I spotted our snowdrops had opened their flowers to this morning’s warm sun. Unfortunately, it started to rain at that point so no photos yet … perhaps tomorrow.

Recording  Snowdrops on Nature's Calendar
Recording my Snowdrops on Nature’s Calendar

Phenology sounds like a phenomenally important kind of science I always think – and it certainly is. But the great thing about phenology is that many of us ‘just do it’ in our own small way without even thinking about it. As we go about our daily lives we notice nature’s own events – we spot snowdrops or bluebells coming into bloom, buds bursting on hedges, trees sprouting new leaves, frogspawn in a garden pond, a butterfly … and so on. We comment too on whether it is earlier or later than we saw them last year.

I tend to record my ‘sightings’ in a small notebook and take photos if possible. I’m usually fine with photos as long as the subject can stand still for long enough! So, flowers and frogspawn, yes; birds or deer, no!

As well as keeping my own notes and photographs I also try to share my nature records. Nature’s Calendar is one of the places where I submit my seasonal sightings. Nature’s Calendar is the Woodland Trust’s web-based phenology project and is also a really good source of information for anyone wanting to learn more about nature and the timing of seasonal events in their local area. This ongoing wildlife survey covers the whole of the UK and it’s easy to use and free to register.

As you would guess, currently Nature’s Calendar is recording Spring sightings as they occur in different parts of the country. Here is a quick peek at the key Spring events Nature’s Calendar would like us to record.

Recording Spring events for Nature's Calendar
Spring events for Nature’s Calendar

Together all of these records help to map changes in natural events over the years so every record submitted really does count. We have taken part in numerous ‘citizen science’ projects as a family and as well as being educational we find they are also lots of fun. … and of course grown-ups too can enjoy recording and learning about nature! So if you’ve never tried your hand at something like this before, why not take a look at Nature’s Calendar … beware though, it can become addictive!!

J Peggy Taylor

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

We always try to get along to the Chinese New Year celebrations in town and so off we went on Sunday morning. As usual, hundreds of other families turned out too. There is such a wonderful atmosphere at this event.

We normally start by taking a wander around the mini-fairground including some tastebud-tempting Chinese food stalls. Then we make our way up onto Stowell Street and join the crowds thronging the pavements to await the arrival of the traditional Dragon, Lion and Unicorn. Stowell Street is at the heart of Newcastle’s ‘Chinatown’ and is lined with Chinese restaurants and food shops, so the air is full of delicious aromas.

Chinese Dragon and Lion dance
The Dragon and the Lion arrive

Soon the dragon’s arrival is announced by the loud rhythmical beat of the huge drum that accompanies the parade. The Dragon appears and is closely followed by the Lion.

Chinese Lion dances by
The Lion dances by

As they dance their way along Stowell Street the crowd follows behind. Small children are hoisted onto adult shoulders as we all crane our necks and wave our cameras and phones in the air trying to snatch another glimpse of the dancing parade.

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance
Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

In the centre of the street, outside of the North East Chinese Association, the parade stops briefly and the Unicorn joins the Dragon and the Lion in their ongoing dance. The parade sets off again, the crowd follows and the dancing continues to the end of the street then finally round to the Chinese Arch. The following crowd doesn’t quite make it that far as the event stewards must carefully ensure everyone’s safety … and there’s another crowd already waiting by the Arch!

Chinese New Year parade
Dancing off to the Chinese Arch

The sights, the smells and the sounds all combine to create a truly memorable occasion. Having returned home with only photos, I wished I’d thought to record the fabulous drumming that accompanies the traditional dances. Also adding to the ‘official’ drumming are many children and families in the crowd joining in with their small Chinese drums too. The noise is amazing.

Kung Hey Fat Choi!

J Peggy Taylor

The Big Garden Bird Watch

Birdwatching toddler
Birdwatching toddler

If you’re a UK-based nature watcher like me you’re probably also getting organised for the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend, 25/26 January 2014. This is the world’s largest wildlife survey!

We’ve taken part in this national annual spot check on the health (or otherwise) of our garden bird populations for a quite a few years now. I found it was a great way to introduce our boys to birdwatching when they were still very young.

In those days everything still came by post. So there would always be a build-up to this event when the Big Garden Bird Watch information arrived, which included a handy A4 bird ID poster. For years for our younger children we had an ‘original’ 2003 bird ID poster stuck at child height on the kitchen wall.

Nowadays everything is online and taking part is really easy whether you’re ‘just’ an adult or if you’re making it a family activity. Anyone can take part. As the RSPB explains:

“Watch the birds in your garden or local green space for one hour during the Birdwatch weekend. Record the highest number of species you see at any one time, rather than totalling them up over the hour, as you may record the same bird twice.”

… yes, if you don’t have a garden, you can do your bird watch in any nearby green space.

This year you can even record your sightings on your laptop, tablet or smartphone using the new timer facility. We will probably stick with pencil and paper as usual and then submit our results online afterwards. The results need to be submitted by 16 February 2014.

Because this survey is so big … an amazing 590,000 people took part and counted over 8 million birds last year … the data from it really is useful. Bird populations are a good indicator of wider wildlife health in our countryside.

All the information about the Big Garden Birdwatch is on the RSPB website so if you’re in the UK why not try and spare an hour over this weekend to take part?

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

J Peggy Taylor