Cheep and cheerful ideas to keep ’em entertained this Easter

It’s that time again when supermarkets crack, and pile every inch of their stores with enticing, mouthwatering eggs, made from the very thing that we spend all year along trying to encourage our kids not to eat.

But, it’s Easter, and all rules on rot-your-teeth chocolate go out of the window.

What eggs have to do with the brutal death of Christ is beyond me, but hey, chocolate!

Of course, the concept of Christ being crucified for our sins is hardly one that can be sold easily to kids, so chocolate eggs it is to celebrate this holy of all days.

Unfortunately it isn’t just chocolate that shops helpfully amplify/promote, but amazing deals on toys and books under the pretence that you need to spend a lot of moolah to keep ’em sweet at Easter.

But if you haven’t got a pretty penny to spend to celebrate a day that doesn’t really have anything to do with remote controlled cars and blinging Barbies, here are some ideas of things to buy, if of course your child does NEED to be entertained.

 

  1. Chocolate

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Are your children obsessed by Peppa, Pokemon or Blaze? Pick up a cheap themed egg from Morrison’s for as little as 85p. As they are just small, they won’t do too much lasting damage to their teeth and will buy into their commercial cravings too.

For bigger impact on the novelty scale, buy one of Lidl’s Lindt-like chocolate bunnies for less than a £1. Palm-sized, they aren’t too hefty and hopefully will get eaten rather than left to melt in a huge splodge across your sofa.

For a homely touch, make your own chocolate nests – which also doubles up as a fun activity too – using melted chocolate, crushed shredded wheat, topped with Mini Eggs.

Leave them to set, and then scoff to your heart’s content.

But what better way to teach kids about Easter by including a book for reference with their chocolate egg? The Real Easter Egg, which costs £3.99, tells the real Christian story, as well as filling them up with chocolately goodness. It is also completely Fairtrade, so you are doing your bit for charity too.

2. Egg hunts

If you fancy a chance to let them blow off steam at the same time, take your nippers to a local egg hunt or Easter event in your area. Cadbury is one confectioner hosting a range of events across the country – check out their website to see if one is near you.

If you can’t find one – or if they come with a hefty Easter tax – opt to do your own in your own home or garden.

Lidl and Poundland, as well as supermarket chains, sell reasonably priced wrapped eggs foe egg hunts, costing as little as £3 for a box, that you can hide around the house to find, while you put your feet up and take two.

Poundland, as well as The Works, sell cheap wicket baskets for roughly £1 which you can reuse to place them in.

3. Books/toys

It may be prime time for some shameless promoting of the latest toys and gadgets, there are deals to be had. Indeed, Disney fans can get their hands on 2 of their feature films for just £12 at most shops, including Morrison’s and HMV.

But if you don’t want to spend loads, traipse to your nearest Poundland or Poundworld and let your child have free reign to pick one toy.

In the same vein, charity shops often sell good-quality toys and books which can be picked up for little. Our local charity shop does a ‘fluffy dip’, where they wrap up nearly new cuddly toys and sell them 2 for £1. The joy on my daughter’s face is priceless and it is a good way to add a bit of excitement for a cheaper toy.

If your child is keen on books, buy them second-hand off Amazon. You can get used versions of the latest books often for as little as 1p, only having to pay £2.80 for delivery. I do it all the time, and I’m yet to get a book that is of poor quality.

Sometimes too, libraries sell off old books for pennies. A few years back, I bought some books, while slightly tattered, for 10p each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank God for St Nickelodeon 

Having a child usually means an end to your reign over the remote. Gone is The Wire and Breaking Bad, replaced by hideous saccaharin-sweet shows presented by kidlike adults with wide and gaping grins tattooed on their faces.

The pitch too changes to some unearthly high white noise, which somehow cocoons in your brain and transforms into an earworm – torturing you day to day as their too upbeat theme tune plays on repeat.

Thankfully, most of these terrifying new shows only last five minutes and sanity soon resumes as the end credits roll.

Unfortunately, fate would have it that these shows, including the likes of Peppa Pig and Bing, become a firm favourite with your tots and you are forced to watch nothing else for 12 hours straight until they collapse on the floor through sheer tiredness, while you cradle your knees and rock in the corner.

But it isn’t just the irritating factor that bothers me about the majority of kids TV offering, but the content itself.

Bing, for example, portrays a precocious man child, who spends the entire episode to no good until finally he gets told off, at around the point when your child has soaked up the bad behaviour and run off before Bing gets disciplined.

Others like Peppa Pig seem to teach kids that is fine to coat yourself in layers of mud provided you are wearing your wellies, as well as allowing young Peppa to mock and berate her dad for being fat with no consequence.

Finding something that keeps your child quiet while teaching the right kind of things is hard to come by.

In fact, there are just two that I can name off the top of my head that are an asset to my daughter’s education whilst not completely driving me up the wall.

Firstly, Blaze and The Monster machines. While at first glance it may look like a cheap knock off of Disney’s cars, it actually stands up as a good educational resource.

Since being forced to watch the Nickelodeon show after my husband helpfully bought a DVD from Home Bargains for £2.99, my daughter has taught me about the inner workings of her hair dryer, showed me how ‘acceleration’ works, and taught me about mass. Now, I don’t know about you but if a show manages to give my daughter knowledge and interest in science at a young age while giving me five minutes’ peace, it gets the seal of approval from me.

Likewise, BBC’s Let’s Get Squiggling: Letters is another go-to show which teaches while you grab a lukewarm cuppa.

Not only does it teach about phonics and letters, but it shows children how to write them in an easy and entertaining way.  It holds their attention while at the same time showing how to print them properly. It would definitely be a benefit to school age kids as well as preschoolers.

While there are dozens of apps that help kids trace their letters, I really do think this show has been more useful for us in tackling cursive writing, plus there’s been no screentime meltdowns as a result.

Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t let her watch those God awful shows from time to time but usually when I’m hiding doing laundry so I can’t be exposed to its unrealistic, sickly sweet Outlook on life. 

World Book Day: Take the cost out of costumes with these top tips

Even if you have covered your ears in anticipation of Book Week, you’ll be hard pressed to be able to ignore the bulging lines of ready-made wizard and Disney character outfits, ready to be picked up and paid for in your local supermarket.

It may seem like some big corporate commerical cow, milked for profits, but Book Week is so important for our kids.

With tablets and phones fast replacing books – and their attention spans – books are too often left on the shelf, unread and unused.

But there’s nothing like a good book to spark a child’s imagination.

So that is why, however much of a pain it is to source, find and buy a costume, it is such a worthwhile cause.

My daughter is only little so making something from scratch or wrapping her in reams of ribbon or paper mache isn’t entirely plausible.

Instead, I’ve picked Julia Donaldson’s wonderful Room On The Broom – a firm favourite of my daughter’s – as inspiration, because a) I had most of the things at home and b) I can buy some bog-standard witch accessories for future use.

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I’m a firm believer in doing things on the cheap, and doing it mainly handmade – I draw the line at complicated crafts though because I can barely sew on a button, and it usually ends in disaster.

Julia’s witch has graciously been designed by illustrator Axel Scheffler in nice primary colours, so no complicated patterns to attempt to squiggle.

Instead, a simple red crew collar top will suffice – £1.50 from the charity shop – while a purple ruffly skirt and bluey-grey tights we already have look the part. Plus, our black cowboy boots are a fair match for our friendly witch.

Don’t forget a wand – if you have a daughter, you will probably have one of these lying at home anyway, like we did – and a ginger cat too.

To ape her long ginger plait, I got a ginger wig I’d previously used to dress as Shrek’s beloved Princess Fiona and bought some cheap yellow ribbon for 80p to tie a bow.

 

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Our heroine has a long black cape, and while a black bin bag could work as a cheap alternative, I spied a kids’ witch costume, complete with plain black witch hat, cape and gown for just £5.96 on Amazon. Ditch the gown, and just use the accessories. Strangely, buying the items separately cost more – and the black gown could be used for other costume ideas, or future fancy dress days.

Add a £2.50 broomstick from Amazon also, and plastic cauldron for £4 and you’re set.

It’s toilet-friendly – an essential with little ones – as it comes off easily, and it is a ready-made costume for All Hallow’s Eve too. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

But costumes can cost very little at all, if you’re arty and can be bothered.

Plenty of websites have templates to make your own Giant ears a la The BFG or to make a Giant Peach out of paper mache.

One easy way if you have a beard wig lying around from fancy dress would be to fill it with crumbs and wrappers, paired with a dirty, unkempt face – shouldn’t be difficult for any child to muster in five minutes flat in any case.

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Running out of time? See what costumes you already have and adjust them accordingly.

I.e have a monkey costume? Be a Muggle Wump from The Twits. Mouse costume? Be the little brown mouse from The Gruffalo. PJ onesies too can often be passed off as a costume. So if you have a Batman or Peppa Pig one at home, save your pennies and use that instead.

Does your daughter or son love dressing up as princesses or super heroes? Give their Belle or Superman costumes a second airing by wearing them to book day.

Firstly, they’ll love wearing them, amd secondly they are based on books and comics, and will have their own subsequent book versions too.

Another tip would be to ask friends, families or ask on local Facebook groups if any parents have any costumes going spare. You never know, they could be hoarding the Book Week costumes of years past in the attic.

Alternatively, scour charity shops and stock up on costumes during seasonal sales. Just after Halloween and Christmas are good times to buy these. Just buy a size bigger and put away until needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson: The Hidden Figures who need to be in every little girl’s consciousness

Recognise these names? Chances are that Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson aren’t familar.

These three remarkable women achieved great things, both at Nasa – in the space programme no less – and in society, yet it has taken over half a century later, in 2017, to tell their incredible story.

Their efforts ensured John Glenn was catapulted through the atmosphere and back safely, a huge leap for Americans in the space race, but their names are just a footnote in the history books. Indeed, little had been heard of their feats until President Obama awarded Katherine G. Johnson the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2015.

But now, thanks to 20th Century Fox’s film adaptation of book Hidden Figures, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, these incredible minds finally get the recognition they deserve, in the heartwarming – and often stark – film that received a nod for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.

Octavia Spencer,  Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae all put in stellar performances as three downtrodden women of colour, whose talents shine through the restraints of racism and chauvinism.

The film – and book – centre on the firsts these women achieved – from becoming the first female black supervisor to the first black female engineer at Nasa.

Despite Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson’s daring and drive paving the way for other well-booted women to follow in their footsteps, half a century later, there are still too few women taking up pride of place in STEM industries.

The glass ceiling may appear to be broken but in the mindset of many women and young girls, this barrier may well still be in tact.

A new study by Science in January revealed that the rot of self-doubt started to creep in aged just six.

At such a tender age, girls, who are just in their infant years at school, fail to see that their own gender can be ‘brilliant; or ‘smart’.

With this debilitating mindset already started to cement into place, is it really any surprise why girls turn away in their droves from traditionally academic subjects such as maths, science and technology?

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For girls to start school on this wrong foot, to inherently believe that their reproductive organs are enough to dictate their career, is a travesty and a reality check.

The problem, I believe does not necessarily stem in archaic attitudes but a failure to give young girls something to aspire to, to give them real confidence that they can achieve as much as they want – however far, whatever resistance they may face.

In the UK, I believe we are failing generations of girls, by not first giving them the belief that the impossible dream is possible – a notion achieved by this humble trio of articulate women, who had to battle against segregated toilets, segregated offices and segregated schools, in addition to sexism in 1960s America.

Later Neil Armstrong would utter the phrase ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’, but the reality is that we really haven’t, when it comes to equality between the sexes at least.

There are still too few female CEOs and still few women in high profile roles in STEM industries.

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Children learn from example, and if they can’t see someone like themselves represented in their dream vocation, would they still believe they could be whatever they want to be?

Indeed, a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2015 told how boys routinely did better than girls at maths, and mostly because British girls felt they ‘just weren’t good enough’ at the subject.

Interestingly, the study also found that in all-girls schools, they were more likely to take subjects such as physics and maths.

I guess this could be in part down to not being exposed to a divide of subjects of the sexes. Since the whole make-up of the class is female, there can be no such thing as male-appropriate or female-appropriate classes. Seeing other girls choose STEM classes might give confidence to other girls to take them too.

But what about girls who are in a mixed-sex school setting? How can we encourage them into the sciences?

Firstly,we need to break the stigma that science, technology and maths is for men only, spreading this message from as soon as they can comprehend.

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It is both a parent’s and a teacher’s responsibility to ensure that girls, as well as boys, are given the freedom of choice to the path they ultimately decide to walk down, free from prejudice, or social taboo.

At an private IBM screening of Hidden Figures, a panel of some of the brightest and most articulate female minds, including the likes of Saritha Arunkumar (IBM) and Ana-Rosa Broster (o2) , told of their own efforts to inspire the next generation with internships and workshops aimed at inspiring teenage girls. This is most definitely the right direction, but I believe, as a parent, that this needs to start earlier, before girls choose their GCSEs, A-Levels and degrees, to captivate them into STEM long before they sign off solely down an arts-only career lane.

Secondly, don’t celebrate inanity but make intelligence attractive. The media unfortunately plays a massive part in the direction girls choose to follow. Academic achievements escape the main headlines, in place of yet another selfie-obsessed scantily-clad Zelebrity on the front page.

In order for young girls to believe there is more to life than perfecting their lipliner and pose, we need to show them how invaluable bright and bold women are. Put the likes of Dorothy, Mary and Katherine in their consciousness. Make a Barbie of them if you have to, write board books featuring their name, tell your daughters all about them. But most importantly, make Hidden Figures a must-watch for any young girl, whatever her privilege or lack of.

Thirdly, while corporations like IBM offer esteemed staff flexible hours to carry out their important work in the office and at home, the majority are still playing catch up. Even now in 2017, part-time positions are scarce, and being a parent is often seen as an inconvenience than an asset.

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Even the women who follow through into the world of science can soon fall through the cracks as they plan families. Some may never return to their working life, struggling to keep a lid on the balancing act that is being a working mother. It isn’t just stubborn bosses that help kill a career of a mother, but inflexible and extortionate childcare options that just don’t make working a viable choice.

Thankfully, baby steps are being taken to remedy this, with the Government introducing 30 hours free childcare for working parents in September.

But more still needs to be done.

I hope, as a mother of a daughter, that my girl will grow up safe in the knowledge that she can experience the joy of motherhood, as well as the personal and professional fulfilment that a career entails.

I do not wish her to grow up believing that women can only choose one.

And it’s worth mentioning that Katherine G Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were all mothers, who managed to juggle their career aspirations, as well as caring for their children.

If these three women can have it all, even in the face of adversity, racism and prejudice, then any girl can.

Clean up their act with these family-friendly toiletries

Muddy knees, jam-stained fingers and honey-combed hair … sometimes parenting can really stink.

After a few labour-intensive hours scrubbing, our angels with dirty faces are transformed (after a copious amount of bribery) into a pristine and clean specimen once more.

Sadly, as any parent will know, this does not last, and what seems a few seconds later, they are back caked in mud, dog mess and congealed worms.

Thankfully, there are a few products that really do what they say on the tin and make this traumatic reoccurance a distant dream, if at least for a minute or two.

Now, as a slummy mummy, I take short cuts to this parenting lark with relish.

 

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L’Oreal may claim that its ‘no tears’ formula has been especially forumlated for toddler hair, but in my experience, it does little to tame the straw-like tendancies of my girl’s unruly hair.

In fact, washing her hair is a challenge in itself because the keen-amphibian doesn’t, er, like water on her face, despite enjoying a dunking in the pool and sea on a regular basis – toddler logic, for you.

So, yes, there are plenty of tears, and not just from my daughter. Drying and brushing is just the second part of the self-inflicted misery me and my husband have to endure while ensuring our toddler isn’t mistaken for a scare-crow.

There has to be a special routine with a special chair and special comb before we finally set to work on tackling those tricky tangles, caused by lathering up with L’Oreal’s ‘family-friendly’ shampoo.

I’d almost given up hope of a shampoo that could cut through the mangled mess that is often my daughter’s hair, until that is, I stepped into Savers and found this gem for a £1.

Created by Schwarzkopf, Supersoft kids shampoo and conditioner, may look super girly with its pretty pink fairy on the bottle, but it is tougher than it looks.

It is the only baby hair product I will shout from the rooftops and rave about happily because it actually did what it said on the tin.

It did soften her hair, and it definitely cleaned it, if her newly bright blonde mop is anything to go by. No more dull, tangled up hair, and no more tears at bedtime.

It even has a very pleasant raspberry fragrance – and of course, it is a whole lot cheaper than most of its competitors. No more tangle teaser spray for us!

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If you thought washing their hair ’til it shines, free from the crumbs of yesterday’s grub, was bad then getting them to wash their mitts is another ball game altogether.

I have lost count of the times I have desperately led her to the sink to clean her mucky paws, leaning over the faucet, drenching myself in the process as she screams in fury.

Thankfully, my sister-in-law shared a beacon of hope – in the form of a sugary-incentive.

Carex have cottoned on to parents’ hell of keeping nippers clean with their literally sweet-smelling new range.

Labelled the fun edition, Carex have brought to market the likes of cola bottles, strawberry laces and love hearts in soap form.

But warning, despite smelling EXACTLY like their counterparts, they most definitely aren’t meant for eating.

Our favourite is strawberry laces, though the love heart version is very much-love din our household, thanks to keeping her clean and interested in her own personal hygience.

It also, like its other soaps, kills 99.9999 per cent of germs, so you can be sure no nasty biugs or bacteria will be left on their palms … well, at least for a second or two.