How to make an easy and cheap instrument at playgroup (Musical Maracas)

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

What you need

  • Paper plates (small).
  • Felts, crayons, paint, stickers etc.
  • Wooden beads, sea shells, bells etc.
  • Stapler.

Directions

  1. Help your children to decorate the outside of the plates (don’t forget to write their names on!).
  2. Fold the plate in half (like an empanada) and staple along the edges. Leave a gap at the top.
  3. Hold it upright with the gap at the top. Help your children to drop beads, bells, shells etc. inside their musical instrument; one big toddler sized handful will be about enough.
  4. Staple up the gap, put on some music, and shake!

Note: This is a great activity to do on a rainy day or with a playgroup. For younger toddlers choose larger items to put inside and play with under supervision only; i.e. keep choking hazards in mind.

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Gingerbread / Spice Cookies (Allergy Free)

Gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain flour (I have also used Healtheries GF Bread Mix)
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 150g butter or allergy free spread (I use Nuttelex)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp Maple Syrup or Golden Syrup
  • Drop vanilla
  • Pinch salt

Note: These make a light more-ish spices gingerbread cookie (as opposed to one denser and chewier). Maple syrup will provide a more delicate flavour, golden syrup a more traditional one. The flavour notes are easy to experiment with, you can add more ginger and a pinch of nutmeg. I’ve made these a lot as my daughter loves them and this is her favourite combination.

Allergies: dairy free*, gluten free*, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Cream ‘butter’, sugar, maple (or golden) syrup, and vanilla.
  2. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
  3. Knead everything together. It will gradually turn from breadcrumbs to a soft cookie dough. Add a little water if you need to but just a tablespoon at a time.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 – 60 mins. You can leave it in a ball or roll it out. It’s tempting to try cutting it but (and I speak from experience) it doesn’t work very well at room temperature.
  5. Preheat oven to 180’C while rolling out the cookies.
  6. Place cookies on a baking sheet / lightly oiled baking tray.
  7. Bake for 12-15 mins.
  8. Take out from oven and allow to cool briefly before placing on cooling rack to continue cooling.

Tip: If you want a fancy (and easy) dessert reserve some of the cookie dough. Serve balls of French vanilla ice cream with little balls of cookie dough and a warm gingerbread cookie.

Note: These cookies are soft coming straight out of the oven and will harden overnight. They are delicious either way. They also freeze well.

Gingerbread cookies with chocolate icing

Gingerbread cookies with chocolate icing

Making playdough insects (portable playgroup fun!)

Playdough and straw caterpillar

Making playdough insects

Why not spend a rainy afternoon making homemade playdough and designing your own insects (or animals, or monsters!). It’s a cheap activity that’s also easily transportable to playgroup. Younger toddlers will have fun pushing the legs in and pulling them out again; preschoolers will have fun making their designs happen. Think about putting out some library picture books to help give them ideas!

What you 

  • Playdough (try making your own!)
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Knife (bamboo or wooden ones are great!)
  • Optional: Googly eyes (from craft stores)

Why should I be worried about natural colour annatto?

Annatto Seeds

Annatto Seeds

I was surprised recently to discover that a popular brand of frozen fries uses food colouring – natural colour annatto. There’s something wonderfully reassuring about ‘natural’ when it’s marketing products despite how ambiguous it is; nature is full of things, from lions to mushrooms, that will kill us with ease.

What is annatto?

Pungent red seeds from the annatto tree are used to provide a golden colour and tangy flavour in many processed foods; it can also be used as a colouring agent in cosmetics. This colouring is often referred to as natural colour (annatto), annatto extract, or colour E160b.

They are also used in Mexican, Latin, and Carribbean cooking as a culinary spice, to make achiote oil, and to make adobe paste.

What are its benefits?

The seeds have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years in Caribbean and Latin American cultures. It’s believed that they can have a number of benefits including helping digestion, eye health, bone health, and aging.

Why should I be concerned?

Annatto as a colouring agent can have just as much of an adverse effect on children as artificial food colours. As a parent you might keep a watchful eye to see if artificial red colouring will make your child hyperactive but most of us won’t be aware that a natural colour, that can be found in everything from butter spreads to fries, can cause just as strong an adverse reaction (across the spectrum from neurotypical to autistic). It can also be tricky to become aware of the link between food and behaviour because there can be a time delay, of a few hours to next day, before a normally bright, bubbly, sociable child becomes a  screaming, angry, yelling, defiant and hysterical one. It’s particularly useful to be aware of if you have an atopic family where food sensitivities, allergies, and eczema are a issue.

Families with children sensitive to annatto have reported side effects such as:

  • Irritability
  • Grumpiness
  • Headaches
  • Headbanging
  • Hyperactivity
  • Oppositional behaviour
  • Extreme mood swings (that are out of character)
  • Irritable bowel symptoms
  • Hives / Rashes
  • Asthma
  • Severe allergic reactions

 

Where can I find more information?

I started looking into annatto while reading Sue Dengate’s Fed Up; the most useful online source that I found was a Fact Sheet from the Food Intolerance Network which includes references to scientific studies and personal experiences from a number of affected families.

Cinnamon Playdough

Cinnamon Playdough

Cinnamon Playdough

Making playdough is something I love to do. Home-made playdough keeps better, is easier to wash out of carpet, and is better for your child. Until recently I’ve been using a few drops of food colouring;  after realizing how sensitive Miss 2 is to artificial colouring,  she does persist in eating little bits of salty dough, and reading Sue Dengate’s book about the impact of chemicals on child development – I’ve realized that I need to make a change.

It’s possible to buy ‘natural’ food colouring if you look hard enough but it’s expensive so instead I decided to experiment with what I already had cheaply and readily available in the kitchen.

Cinnamon makes a lovely light brown and is gently scented. Add ground ginger and you have Gingerbread playdough!

Ingredients

  • 1c plain flour
  • 1/4c salt
  • 1T cream of tartar
  • 1T oil
  • 1T cinnamon
  • 1c boiling water

Note: This makes a small batch, just double if you want a big batch.

Directions

  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Mix in oil.
  3. Slowly add boiling water. (You may not need all of. It should be smooth and pliable not sticky).
  4. Store in air tight container.

What methods can I use for potty training my toddler?

Potty Training

What methods can we use for potty training?

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

 

Slow

The slow method is great if you’re wanting to stretch toilet training over a number of months.

Maybe it’s winter and you want to wait for warmer weather before fully embracing nuddy time; maybe you have an eldest only child who is showing signs of being ready but isn’t ready to embrace going nappy free; maybe you have a spirited child who responds badly to pressure, or a your family frequently faces change, or your child has health concerns or other stress factors.

I note this is the method I’m using with stubborn and spirited Miss 2!

  1. Regularly embrace talking about bodily functions. Talk about needing to wee or poo. Read stories about potty training.
  2. Storybots have a great video for toddlers about how the human body works, including how food gets turned into energy (and waste products!).
  3. Buy a potty and place it somewhere in the house where it’s easy for your toddler to access.
    • I was resistant at first to having it in the lounge but toddlers really do only think about what’s right in front of them. It’s good to put it next to their picture books, or in front of the tv, or by a window they can look out of. It’s also useful to have a plastic mat under it if you have carpets!
  4. Encourage your child to sit on the potty regularly. It helps if you read them a story to keep them occupied.
    • Try giving them regular naked time. This helps them get accustomed to their body and it also means they don’t have to grapple with clothes when they get to the potty. Watching themselves accidentally wee or poo can also help them form a connection in their mind between how they felt beforehand and what then happened (it’s not like they can see when it’s all conveniently happening in the nappy!).
    • Make a happy fuss about buying them underwear. Keep in mind that although different brands will use the same sizing on their labels, the real size and the way they actually fit will vary hugely. It can also help to buy underwear with decorative bows or buttons at the front so that they can easily see which way to put them on!
  5. See what works for you and your child.
    • If they’re having lots of accidents and you’re getting frustrated cleaning up messes, you may want to have them out of nappies just for a set time each day (i.e.  nappies in the morning and undies in the afternoon).
    • Maybe your child took an interest in potty training for a week or two and then adamantly decided they wanted their nappies back. That’s fine! Keep gently encouraging them to use the potty and offer them the choice each day of whether they want to wear nappies or undies.
    • Have a think about whether you want to use nappies, nappy pants, training pants, undies; or a mix. Some toilet training experts advise against nappy pants and say that they delay things but they are really useful as a parent and if you’re taking the slow approach anyway….
  6. Take time off and try again later.
    • Some toddlers won’t be ready on the first try.  You may need to wait 4-6 weeks and then try again. LOTS of parents find that their eldest will take the longest to potty train and that younger siblings will be much quicker (a big part of that is because they really, really want to be like their big brother or sister!).

Medium

Ideally, this method will allow you to toilet train in the space of 1 – 2 weeks. You do need to plan for it in your schedule but there’s a bit more flexbility in it. Make sure that your child is showing all the signs of readiness and they have good bladder control (1-2 hours).

It’s a good idea to do this during warm weather when your child doesn’t need to wear a lot of clothes. You can even put the potty outside and encourage them to use it while running around the garden naked.

It’s helpful to start this once your child shows clear signs that they are getting ready to do a poo. Some kids might have a ‘poo face’ that they start to make, some kids might have a corner they go and hide in (like in a closet or behind a chair), some might assume a squatting position.

Make sure that you stay at home for the first 3 – 7 days so that your child can relax into the change without the stress of accidents and distractions.

Have a think before you start about whether you want to use rewards as a potty training incentive.

  1. Make sure that you are starting at a settled time when there are no big changes to the family routine (like a new baby, moving house, starting kindy).
  2. Immerse your child in toilet training preparation. Go shopping for a potty and undies. Read potty books. Watch videos about using the potty. Talk about the steps for using the toilet.
    • You can even take photos of them practising each step and print these off. Encourage them to talk about each of the steps they need to take.
  3. Have your child in underwear all the time (except when sleeping). Encourage your child to sit on the potty at regular intervals each day and build these into your routine (i.e. when they wake up, 20 minutes after meals or bottles, before the bath, before bed etc.). Make sure that you stick with these every day so that your child comes to expect the reminder.
  4. Praise them when they’re successful and don’t make a big fuss when there are accidents. There will be accidents at first but these should decrease quickly if they’re ready.

Fast

In theory, this will help your child toilet train in a day or two. It is very reward orientated and won’t suit every child (or parent!)

Make sure that your child is showing all the signs of readiness and they have good bladder control (1-2 hours). Also, make sure that they are confident removing clothing and can easily pull pants up and down.

Decide in advance what rewards you will use.

You will need to be at home for a few days and may want to wait for warm weather so your child doesn’t need to wear lots of clothes.

  1. Make sure that you are starting at a settled time when there are no big changes to the family routine (like a new baby, moving house, starting kindy).
  2. Immerse your child in toilet training preparation. Go shopping for a potty and undies. Read potty books. Watch videos about using the potty. Talk about the steps for using the toilet.
    • You can even take photos of them practising each step and print these off. Encourage them to talk about each of the steps they need to take.
  3. The Day Before: Tell your child that tomorrow will be a special day and that you will be having a toilet training party. Practice the steps of toilet training with a special doll that can pass water. Explain that the aim is to stay clean and dry, and to do all wees/poos in the potty. The night before show them the special treats they will get the next day.
  4. The Big Day: Give them lots of fluids when they wake up and at breakfast. Take off the wet nappy and put on new undies/knickers. Introduce a reward chart and tell them they will get stickers on the chart for keeping their undies/knickers clean and dry by using the potty.
  5. Roleplay with the doll straight after breakfast. Go through the steps of toilet training. Have your child feel inside the doll’s underwear to check if they are clean and dry. Praise the doll and clap. Ask your child if they are clean and dry; check and if dry, praise them and put a sticker on reward chart. Give the doll a drink and then have the doll wee in the potty. Praise the doll and give the doll a treat.
  6. While sitting next to the potty, ask your child if they need to wee or poo. Have your child sit on the potty. You may need to read a story or sing a song to encourage them to stay on. Praise them for practising sitting on the potty. If they do a wee or poo, flush the waste down the toilet, wash hands, and then give them an instant reward.
  7. Set a timer and sit them on the toilet every 30 minutes. Praise them if they have stayed clean and dry, put a sticker on the reward chart. Praise them for sitting on the potty. If they do a wee or poo. give them an instant reward.
  8. Give your child lots of fluids, foods that will make them thirsty, and foods with lots of fibre. Keep practising with the doll. If they accidentally wee or poo in their underwear, don’t make a fuss just quietly clean them up and remind them to do wees/poos in the potty.  Let them associate receiving attention with using the potty.

Make your own rainbow crayons!

Making rainbow crayons.jpg

Making rainbow crayons

Have you ever seen those PinInterest posts where they talk about how easy it is to make your own crayons? They tell the truth! These are a great idea for a special & personalized gift, or as favours in homemade christmas crackers (bonbons), or just because it’s a rainy day!

Ingredients

  • Silicon mould tray
    • Be careful to choose one that can go in the oven.
  • Crayons
    • This can be a great way to use up spare crayons or crayon ends.
  • Optional: glitter & sparkles!

Directions

  1. Break your crayons into small pieces (i.e. adult thumb nail); you may need to use a knife.
  2. Pop them into the silicon mould. Have a think about what kind of colours you want (i.e. rainbow? ocean theme with various shades of blue & green?)
  3. Add sparkles & glitter shapes if you want.
  4. Bake in the oven at 200’C. Keep a close eye on them as you only need it in there until the crayon has melted into a thick liquid (i.e. you’re not trying to get it to bubble & boil).
  5. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  6. Pop out of the moulds and have fun!
Rainbow heart crayons.jpg

Rainbow heart crayons

Hint: Wondering what to use the silicon mould tray for afterwards? It’ll probably need to get relegated to your arts & crafts box (rather than cooking in the kitchen). The good news is that it’s great for paint!

Silicon moulds as artists easel.jpg

Silicon moulds as artists easel

Gluten Free Cupcakes

Gluten Free Cupcakes with all natural pink icing

Gluten Free Cupcakes with all natural pink icing

I love experimenting with gluten free baking! As well as this vanilla cupcake recipe, I also have different recipes for chocolate cupcakes and berry muffins.

Ingredients

Cupcakes

  • 1c superfine white rice flour
  • 1T glutinous rice flour (also marketed as ‘sweet rice flour’)
  • 1/2 fine cornmeal (polenta) – use finely milled.
  • 1/2c sugar
  • 1 tsp guar gum
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/3c neutral oil (i.e. Rice Bran Oil)
  • 1 egg (or egg replacer)
  • Vanilla
  • 2/3c water

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free, egg free*, soy free, nut free.

Makes 8-10 cupcakes.

Directions

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
  2. Whisk the egg (or egg replacer) until fluffy and pour in.
  3. Add the oil and vanilla. Mix.
  4. Slowly pour the water in while mixing.
  5. Spoon into cupcake cases and bake at 180’C for approx. 25 mins until golden.
  6. Allow to cool and ice. I used a Blood Orange icing with no artificial colours!

 

Tip: My current preferred method for cooking cupcakes is to fill a large cake tin with silicon cupcake cases (so that they are touching). This helps them to keep their shape and is super easy to get in and out of the oven.

 

Icing 

The icings that I use don’t have any artificial colours, glycerin, additives etc.

Easter according to Miss 2

Allergy Free Easter Egg

Allergy Free Easter Egg

For the last week, I’ve been talking to Miss 2 about Easter. I used ‘How to explain Easter to kids‘ as a starting point and also the Easter story from “The Big Little Bible”. (Check out this review of the free storybook bible app which is free to download from Apple and Google app stores). She was also very excited because an awesomely kind friend dropped off an allergy free easter egg (i.e.dairy free, soy free, gluten free, nut free). She ate the chocolate buttons straight away and we went for an Easter egg hunt on Easter. We’ve also been painting and decorating eggs to eat.

So I asked her what she thought about Easter:

Miss 2: eggs!

Mum: Yes, we’ve decorated eggs for Easter.

Miss 2: chocolate!

Mum: Yes, we eat chocolate at Easter. Why do we eat chocolate at Easter?

Miss 2: Yum! Num num num. Yummy chocolate.

Mum: God loves us. God is awesome. Chocolate is awesome. We eat chocolate at Easter to celebrate that God is awesome.

 

Yup, chocolate and God is awesome, that basically sums up Easter this year 😛

Breaded Fried Chicken Nuggets (gluten free)

Gluten free breading mix.jpg

Gluten free breaded kumara chips & fried chicken

This is a quick and easy meal to use up leftovers from a roast chicken! It’s easy to make kumara fries or zucchini chips at the same time as the chicken nuggets; serve with salad.

Tip: Remember that you can also use the juices from the chicken to make a beautiful pumpkin soup!

Ingredients

  • Emulsifier (choose one of the following)
    • Egg (whisked)
    • 1/3c coconut milk + 1 tsp lemon juice
    • 1/3c rice milk + 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • Neutral oil.
    • I like rice bran oil personally and it has the advantage of a high smoke point.

Allergies: soy free, dairy free, gluten free, egg free*, nut free.

Directions

  1. Whisk up your choice of emulsifier in one bowl.
  2. Pour your breading mix into a second bowl.
  3. Dip each piece of chicken into the wet mix and then coat it in the dry mix.
  4. Cook in batches in a neutral oil until golden and crisp. This took about 8-10 mins.
    • Don’t worry if you don’t have a deep fryer; I did a shallow/medium fry in the electric wok! Alternatively, bake in a preheated oven, @ 180’C, until golden and crisp. Turn once during baking.