Roald Dahl adventures at Tatton Park

There hasn’t been a great deal of sunshine around so far in 2016.  When we are lucky enough to get a warm, lovely, bright day I think of getting our children outdoors to appreciate it before it disappears again!

Tatton Park is a great place to visit with beautiful scenery and so much to explore.  We paid Tatton a visit around a week ago during one of the rare sunny days. We had an amazing day – one of our best days out yet this year!

Tatton currently have a year-long programme of events based around the children’s literary legend Roald Dahl, as part of a host of activities throughout 2016 across the country for the Roald Dahl 1oo.  This is perfect for our 51/2 and 3 1/2 year olds who are just starting to discover the world of Roald Dahl through both film and literature.  We’ve read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together recently and they love the film of Matilda.

Roald Dahl Tatton Park
As soon as we began our descent down the long driveway of Tatton, the girls were thrilled to see a giant ‘golden ticket’ chocolate bar adjacent to us and a range of other large sculptures based on Roald Dahl’s books.  I enjoy this drive into Tatton so much; you get a sense of perspective of just how huge and beautiful Tatton is.

We had a choice of activities through our family ticketwhich encompasses the Farm, Gardens and Mansion.  Each activity currently includes one or more Roald Dahl activities.  What’s great is that if you don’t use one element of your ticket, you can use this another day.  As we chose to explore the gardens, we can return and see the Farm and Mansion.

I cannot believe we haven’t visited the gardens before. They are so extensive, well-kept and beautiful, with so many different areas, hidey holes and things to explore.  We spent practically a whole day in the gardens and had such a good time.

As you can see from the photo above, the girls were thrilled to find The Twits living inside a tower…a very clever representation of some of Dahl’s most well-known characters and the mischievous antics they get up to.  Mr Twit was hanging upside down from inside the tower and all their household goods were also upside down!  The girls got the chance to try out their silly, different sized chairs, too and see their unkempt washing on the line.

Roald Dahl Tatton Park
Further along, we completed the Danny Champion of the World trail which was really well planned, with Danny and his Father’s house, shed, the fire station and other items, finishing with an activity trail made out of wood and tyres in different shapes and sizes.  This was really popular and I could see lots of children completing it and having fun.

We also say giant snakes and many other characters from books such as The BFG dotted around!

There are many other events planned for the year which we’ll definitely be attending, such as the Illyria outdoor theatre’s  performance of Danny Champion of the World in the spectacular setting of the Old Hall and a late summer evening screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder.

There’s much to see and do with the kids at Tatton – we’ll be returning there very soon.

Disclosure: I was invited to Tatton as an ambassador for Roald Dahl at Tatton Park.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Planting a gobstopper tomato (Spring week at Wyevale Garden Centres)

Easter school holidays…many of us are into our last week of the vacation and there’s still a couple of days to fill with young children full of energy and raring to get out of the house.  Today it’s beautiful weather (for a change), making me think of gardens and the outdoors.

We’ve been doing a lot of work on our garden through the Autumn and winter ready for spring/summer.  We’ve been getting our two girls (aged 5 and 3) involved as much as possible, taking them with us to choose flowers, plants and shrubs and encouraging them to help us plant them.

Last week it was Spring Week at Wyevale Garden Centres across the country with many events taking place aimed at getting children involved in the hard and yet enjoyable work- the planting! Wyevale invited us to attend a ‘plant a gobstopper tomato’ activity at our local Wyevale centre in Altrincham.

What’s a gobstopper tomato I hear you ask? Turns out it’s a variety of tomato (and we’re looking forward to watching how they turn out!).

Our local centre is a great place to take the kids. It’s huge, has a soft play area and great cafe with packed lunch boxes for children.  We always take a trip there in the lead up to Christmas, when they have a huge variety of decorations available; they each get to choose one new decoration for the tree. They also love looking at the displays (there was a flashing unicorn last year which they were thrilled by).

The ‘plant a gobstopper tomato’ activity was well planned and we enjoyed it.  The girls were given their own pot and variety of stickers to decorate it with.  Once they’d finished this, they filled their pot with compost.

Then the best bit: they chose their gobstopper tomato plant, made a little well and hunkered it down.  Finally, they decorated and drew on a tomato ‘face’, wrote their names on and stuck this in the pot too.

We then left with two happy children with their own personalised tomato plants, plus some springtime colouring sheets.

I think it’s great to get kids involved in gardening.  It’s creative, it helps them to learn about their environment and surroundings and it gets them outdoors.

We’re leaving our plants in a sunny indoor spot while they get a bit more robust, after which they’ll be a welcome addition in our developing garden!

 

gardening tomatoes
Spot the rhubarb…and free space for tomato plants…

Disclosure: We were invited to attend Wyevale’s Spring week free of charge. All opinions are my own. 

 

Win tickets to Geronimo – the biggest children’s festival in the UK!

image

This year, I’m an offical ambassador for the Geronimo Festival which returns to Tatton Park in 2016 from May 29th – 30th and a new venue at Harewood House from May 1st – 2nd.

Geronimo this year sees a line-up jam packed with some of the biggest names in children’s entertainment, including TV favourites Justin Fletcher*, Mr Bloom, Andy Day, Alex Winters and Cook & Line from Swashbuckle.

Geronomites will also be able to enjoy a brand new theatre and literary zone with award winning productions and a second stage featuring live music. There’s also a craft marquee is bound to inspire and  Geronimo circus alongside 100 other crazy and unusual activities like giant Tortoise encounters, stone carving and a crime scene for kids to solve. Geronimo will also bring the beautiful woodlands to life with den building, high rope courses and a chance to tick off some of your “50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4”.

The whole programme is for the under 12s and tickets are on sale now priced £25.  Children under the age of two go free.

We’ve got one family pass (up to four people) to give away to one lucky family.  Enter using the options below:

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

T&C’s: The competition closes at midnight on Friday 1st April. We have one family pass to giveaway. Each pass admits 4 people, one person in the group must be aged over 18 (NB children under the age of 2 years do not require a ticket). The winning family can attend either on May 2nd (Harewood House) or May 30th (Tatton Park). The date must be specified at time of confirming the prize. Travel and accommodation are not included. The prize is non-refundable and no cash alternative will be offered. The prize is non transferable and ID will be required at time of collecting the ticket wristband upon arrival. The prize includes all events and activities at Geronimo but not food and drink from any stalls or bar. Winner chosen at random. 

*Please note, Justin Fletcher will be performing on Sunday 1st May at Harewood House and Sunday 29th May at Tatton Park only.

Coronation Street, egg painting competitions and a packed agenda!

tina o'brien coronation streetYes, you see correctly, that’s my 5 year old learning her life skills early:  learning to pull a pint with Tina O’Brien from Corrie.  Last weekend, we had a tour of the new Coronation Street set courtesy of The Drama Mob where my energetic 5 year old currently attends classes.

What a great experience for her, seeing the set of one of the country’s most famous and much-loved TV programmes.  She saw the whole experience, from the green room to dressing rooms, huge camera equipment and lighting.

I wasn’t sure if she would yet understand the concept of ‘pretend real life’ but she was really interested as we followed our tour of the individual ‘indoor’ sets of the Coronation Street Bistro, different houses (including my favourite: the Platt’s), the Kabin, sweet shop, beauticians, taxi place and of course the Rovers Return!

We also saw the very clever cobbled Coronation Street and Viaduct Street.   I remember doing the tour of the old set at Granada Studios and I can tell you that the new set is much, much bigger, incorporating The Bistro, Kebab shop, medical centre and more.

rovers

I’m unsure when you’ll be able to book a tour of the new set, but if/when it’s available I recommend it!   

coronation street set
My eldest at Corrie…she made herself at home!
 

Onto the Expression Confession household…it’s been a busy time recently.  After a quiet period post-Christmas, life suddenly exploded!

This morning, I was up at 6:15am helping my eldest girl complete her Easter egg-painting competition for school.  By 10am, now at work, I found myself thinking “Is it only 10am?!!” as I buried my face in yet another cup of coffee and contemplated a sugar treat to keep me going.  

I think tiredness has also sent me into a slightly delusional state, as I find myself checking my email every minute awaiting the weekly school newsletter to see if she won the ruddy competition we slaved over.  

egg painting easter
The best egg-painting competition entry EVER. FACT!
 

Easter is upon us already.  Is it me, or does it feel more like Christmas these days? Children seem to expect not only chocolate eggs, but gifts.  Family get annoyed if we don’t see them. Roast dinners and fancy desserts are expected. 

We’ll be doing some of the above, but I’m also looking forward to hunkering down as a family. Spending time together, working on our garden, going to church, family activities. It seems an age since Christmas, since we’ve had time to spend together.  Work, school, the day-to-day timetable of family life takes over.  I remember my new year’s resolution earlier in the year…to take more notice and be mindful.

Happy Easter!

Family days out: Geronimo Festival!

geronimo festival 2016It’s good to plan ahead when you have young children.  February half-term is nearly over and my mind is already wandering on to further holidays and activities for the year.

So I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been chosen as an ambassador for the Geronimo Festival 2016. We had such a fantastic time at Geronimo last summer that we can’t wait to go again. There were so many activities, it was a fantastic summer day at Tatton Park and my two girls were lucky enough to meet two of their heroes Cook and Line from CBeebies Swashbuckle.

The children’s festival will return in May 2016 at both Harewood House near Leeds on the 1st and 2nd and Tatton Park in Cheshire on the 29th and 30th.

In addition, Geronimo has announced its new partnership with Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens for 2016. Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens launched in January 2015 with the aim of raising money for research specifically into cancers affecting children, teens and young adults.

Geronimo will raise money for Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens through a series of initiatives including the Geronimo Festival Kids & Teens VIP Area, optional donations on tickets, merchandise, bucket collections and a clothes drive on site, all funds raised during the year will be donated to Kids & Teens.

There’s a huge programme of events lined up for Geronimo 2016 alongside an exciting array of acts, amazing experiences and lots of new attractions.

We can expect some of the biggest names in children’s entertainment, a brand new theatre and literary zone with award winning productions and a second stage featuring live music. There will be hundreds of other activities like giant Tortoise encounters, stone carving and a crime scene for kids to solve (my girls will love this!).

Here’s a sneak preview of what I know of the programme so far:

  • Mr Bloom will return to the Geronostage Zone
  • Favourite explorer, Andy Day will be performing his Dino Rap show filled with tales of his adventures to far away lands as well
  • Alex Winters from CBeebies will be hosting the main stage each day
  • Cook and Line from Swashbuckle will also make an appearance in a rip-roaring pirate adventure
  • The Adrenaline Zone will challenge even the bravest adventurers with tree climbing, den making and a thrilling zip line that will reach speeds of up to 60KPH
  • There will be fencing and archery taster lessons and Parkour sessions where Geronimites can learn how to jump and roll like a Pro
  • New for 2016 is the Arena Zone, an extravaganza of live displays featuring motorbike display teams, sheepdog shows and owls in a falconry show
  • In the Library Zone there will be dance classes to learn Bollywood or Zumba moves, a gigantic drumming session or for fans of Frozen, there will be a Frozen singalong and the talented Mr Yipadees show will be bringing instruments to life
  • We can catch award winning theatre productions in The Theatre Zone, with Pocket Story Theatre – winner of the primary times children’s choice awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.
  • A Circus Zone with a full circus show and Circus fudge will also be performing his show from Glastonbury festival
  • The Pasture Zone where kids of all ages can climb aboard for a ride on one of the donkeys or Shetland ponies. Crocodile Joe will be hosting his amazing reptile show and new for this year, there will be the largest collection of giant Tortoises coming to Geronimo
  • A 3ft and Under Zone, where little ones can join a fun class with Tumble Tots, take a ride on a balance bike or take a dance lesson with baby ballet. There’s also a baby yoga tent
  • A Bandstand Zone with popular acts on throughout the day
  • Funky Junk Zone with lots f craft workshops and activities
  • Fairground Zone with an old fashioned Helter Skelter, traditional carousel and steam powered swing chairs!

It’s a great family day out – we’re looking forward to it already.  Visit geronimofest.com for tickets and prices.

Disclosure:  I was chosen to be an ambassador for GeronimoFest 2016 and will attend the event free of charge.  All opinions are my own. 

Half term:Octopus Hideout at Sealife Manchester

sealife manchester

The plural of Octopus is, I can confirm, Octopus’ (i.e. “Octopusses”). Not Octupi or Octopod (however this is the word for a group of Octopus’).  I’m glad I got this one sorted as it was very bothersome to me…more on this later!

On Saturday, we were invited to Sealife Manchester to see the new Octopus Hideout.

My girls, aged 5 and 3, love going to Sealife.  It’s very accessible for us, too, being based at intu Trafford Centre just off the M60.

There’s lots for them to see and do.  We arrived early in the morning and began with Turtle Beach, where we heard the story of a new born turtle, brought to life with some fab technology that the kids found magical!

 

sealife manchester
Littlest one next to the magic turtle

Onto the main event…you travel on a journey around Sealife, seeing thousands of sea creatures along the way, with lots of interactive learning activities and fun stuff like this ‘Nemo fish tunnel’ as my girls call it, below.

sealife manchester
‘Nemo fish tunnel’

…and this tank that you could crawl under and feel like you’re swimming with the fish.

There are 11 themed zones and what I love as a parent about Sealife is the chance to learn about the environment the sea creatures live in and our own responsibility to look after our planet.  Visitors have the chance to hear about protecting local habitats, breeding vulnerable species and rescuing sea turtles for example.

The best bit for us is still by far the ‘shark tunnel’: a long tunnel under a giant tank with sharks and giant turtles.

 

Sealife Manchester
A shark I tried to capture as he swum by…

Onto the Octopus Hideout.  Hank the Octopus was a little shy on Saturday, clinging to the side of the tank in a desperate attempt to hide from my 5 year old’s battery of questions: “does he like to have friends?”, “what does he eat?”, “where does he live?”.  Dan the Octopus expert on hand told us that they unfortunately don’t like to have friends (he put it quite nicely in front of my 5 year old, but in short, if you put another Octopus in there, there would soon be only 1 Octopus again).  They eat crabs and only feed 3 times a week.  And he is a Giant Pacific Octopus.

Dan helped clear up my concern about the plural of Octopus once and for all.  Hooray. It’s also classed as a cephalopod and is quite brainy, with the ability to blend in with its surroundings and hide in small places.

sealife manchester
Hank. An elusive yet intriguing character

 

The children get the chance to stroke Starfish and other creatures, too.  They also get their own ‘log book’ to stamp at various stations throughout the centre as they complete each section.

Sealife is a great holiday activity of you’re looking for something to do. It’s open from 10am each day and has a programme of daily activities, including feeding times and educational talks.

And a chance to meet Hank the mysterious cephalopod.

Disclaimer:  We were invited to Sealife free of charge in return for this review.  All opinions expressed are my own. 

A November Christmas Tree

 

November Christmas Tree
It’s not still November. Honest.

The thing about leaving your 5 and 3 year old in a room with a box of decorations and an erect Christmas tree is that 10 minutes later you may well return to a fully embellished tree – albeit with all decorations in a specific area at roughly waist height.
The thing about having a 5 and 3 year old in the first place is that your brain no longer has sufficient logic and memory functionality to remember that it isn’t almost the first week in December at all.

There were still 2 weekends left in November when we put our tree up.

Oh well. It was actually more of a palava than I remember. After spending some time ensuring the top of the tree didn’t feel left out, we attempted the lights. What a ball ache!! It takes two of you, doesn’t it? One has to stand holding the nether end of the lights so they don’t get tangled while the other tried to wrap them round the unforgiving branches.

If you’re a couple that’s not especially into DIY and who dread anything that requires a step-ladder, this isn’t good news and not necessarily conducive to ‘Christmas cheer’.

So, the upside of early treemanship is that it’s over and bloody done with, looks nice and we can sit and look at it, feeling smug.

And…it’s definitely Christmas now in the Expression and Confession house! The girls are bouncing off the walls with excitement and asking how many days until Father Christmas comes.  They love making their ‘den’ under the tree and they’ve also written their letters to Mr FC himself!

We’ve got quite a few Christmas activities planned already – Christmas here we come!

 

letters to santa
Father Christmas will thank us for being so early

 

Halloween vs SpongeBob?

halloween pumpkinA quick ask of what my 5 and 3 year old like about Halloween and I get a few shouts of:

  • Making pumpkins
  • Dressing up
  • Going to Halloween parties
  • Dancing around at home (that obvious Halloween tradition)
  • Pumpkin soup (that they have never, ever eaten)

It’s a weird old thing isn’t it, Halloween? Without going into stuff about Pagans etc it’s well weird letting our kids dress up as zombies and witches for a day.  But hey- SpongeBob SquarePants is weird, too and mine are totally obsessed with the series! Which is weirder, I ask myself, as I remember an episode where Spongebob’s skin falls off, revealing his skeletal form?

I was going to begin a list of what we have planned for Halloween this year when I realised that I’ve also just started writing a Christmas list.  Huh? Isn’t Halloween usually over before Christmas panic settles in?

Christmas aside (it’s over 8 weeks away isn’t it??) and back into Halloween, we’ve carved our pumpkin and sorted two black cat costumes (not as much gore, actually look cute).  My two girls have 3 parties to go to and there’s 1 more in the offing.  Last weekend, they went to a Harvest festival which they loved and a good alternative to the Halloween weirdity.  There was live music, apple pressing and lots of activities for the kids.

And me at Halloween? I love nothing more than a good old psychological horror film – sat in the dark, box of milk tray and glass of wine in hand.  That’s what I’ll be doing!

Parents evening shocker: she’s an angel 

IMG_1386Last week we had our first parents evening since our 5 year old started Reception.

I know that she’s happy at school.  Every day she enters with a smile on her face and every home time she leaves positively beaming.  Her reading in particular is coming on so fast she’s spotting words and sentences on her own when we’re out.

However I admit to feeling a bit of trepidation just before parents evening.  She’s been “a bit of a one” at home recently to say the least, with chatback/attempt to completely befuddle the parent being a favourite tactic.

Take this example:

Me: “If you don’t get dressed, I’ll have to confiscate your new kitty”

5 year old: “Well I’ve got other things anyway”

Me: “Pardon??? Right, sit on the step until I say so.”

5 year old: “I’m not sitting on that step, but I’ll sit on this one.  I like this one.”

…and so on.  “You had excellent control of that situation”, I hear you say!

So we sat through our chat with her teacher, as she told us our 5 year old had settled in really well, was happy, had made a really good start in reading, writing and maths and was especially shining in artwork at the moment.

…and we were sat there with expectant looks on our faces as if to say “…and anything else?”

But nope- wiley one is brilliant and compliant at school and saves her ‘negotiation tactics’ just for me and her Dad.

Do they have some magic discipline technique at school? Am I just a massive pushover? Or maybe it turns out a child’s behaviour can just be different in one setting than another.  Home is familiar and safer to misbehave in, maybe?  She loves her Reception teacher and wants to show them how good she can be and what she can achieve.  I know that already of course – so I’m fair game!

She can be an angel too, at home.  When she’s not thinking of ways to give me a dressing down, she helps tidy up, with cooking and will settle down to some reading time.

It’s comforting to know she’s so good at school, and feels so comfortable with exploring different boundaries at home. But I’m going to have to get some Scotland Yard training brush up on my own discipline tactics!