Thursday 30 January 2014

Hooray For Bread: A Review (or Culturemummy Attempts Domesticity)

For those readers who know me well, this post contains rather shocking contents. Those cheeky chappies at Walker Books have managed to entice me using a failsafe weapon - lovely literature - into territories uncharted. Today Culturebaby, Nanny and I made bread.

Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman have produced a new and delightful literary feast for under fives with their inventive story of the life of a loaf of bread in their new book Hooray for Bread. The little loaf becomes immediately likeable for tots as it is 'born', dreams and journeys through its day. Festooned with a range of choice toddler fodder, this happy little loaf sustains a whole family, a dog, ducks, birds and a little mouse. None of it is wasted, and some is even saved for the reader. The text is rhyming and turns a simple tale into a joy to read. The illustrations are endearing, and the rousing chorus throughout of 'Hooray for Bread' cannot fail to capture a child's attention. Culturebaby loved that there were familiar images of a baby in a cot next to Mummy and Daddy's bed or on Mummy's shoulder in the kitchen making lunch, and as with all such things at present, she renamed each member of the family after us... conveniently ignoring the fact that the Baker's eldest is in fact a boy. The book is lovely and ensures mealtimes come alive for children. It makes them think about where their bread comes from, how it is used and how to be grateful for it - and not waste it (though someone really ought to tell Allan we aren't supposed to feed ducks bread any more, or chips for that matter - a peculiar problem in Birmingham apparently?!).

So, inspired by the book, a rare moment of culinary zeal, and armed with a recipe card sent by Walker Books which made the whole process look suprisingly manageable, we embarked on a fun hour or two of kneading, rolling and baking. And what a lovely, social and surprisingly satisfying experience it was. I'm far from filling out my application for the next series of The Great British Bake Off, and admit that in all the excitement we forgot the salt, but Culturebaby got really into it all, concentrated hard on the process, ate the bread (which was actually tasty), and had to have a little loaf extricated from her paws as she was shuffled into her cot clutching it after the 4th reading of the book. So all round a success (plus I got to play with my new laminator, a joy not to be scoffed at).

I really like stories that lead on to other lifegiving and creative activities such as this, and if it inspires families to bake and enjoy time together learning lovely skills like this then it is a real winner in my book. Plus I really do think it could have planted a seed of domesticity in me (or has at least instilled in me the intention to bake again).

I'd suggest that in the next print run the fab recipe is included at the back of the book, or even as a detachable laminated card. For now perhaps Walker Books can add it to their website and share the hurrah? Frankly if I can use it, anyone can.

*Disclaimer: Walker Books kindly sent us a copy of the book and a recipe card for review purposes. All views and culinary faux pas are all very much my own.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Let's Go Fly a Kite

We started an adorable ballet class just before Christmas and it is one of our new favourite activities. There is, I suppose, a slightly gimmicky element to it. The little girls are all dressed up in miniature pink tutus, there are wings and wands and props and it is all rather girly. There is, however, also the odd boy - not clad a tutu - attending (good on you parents, after all ballet is a hugely athletic thing when you get into it). I'm all for the tutus though and make no apology. First of all, it turns the class into an event, aided by the fact that we rehearse in a theatre and there are atmospheric black curtains and parents in audience chairs. The children love whirling round and wearing their ballet slippers. Secondly, it helps the children to see what they are working towards and relate to ballerinas in books and art, which really captures their imagination. Finally it is just ridiculously cute and good for a tired parent's soul!

I felt rather deprived as a child that I didn't learn to dance. This was, of course, my own doing. I was taken to a class, declared I didn't like it in my willful toddler way, and that was that. Fortunately Culturebaby loves it - to the extent that we have spent the last two weeks living in a musical. The part of the class that she liked the most was the music to Let's go Fly A Kite; performed with scarves. When we got home we showed her the clip from Mary Poppins and it has since been the continual soundtrack to our day. When quizzed about what she sang in her nursery music session she replied 'Let's go Fly a Kite' (of course they didn't), when asked which nursery rhyme we should sing the reply is the same...

With this in mind, last weekend, we decided there was only one thing for it. We wrapped up in numerous layers, jumped in the car and headed up to windy Dunstable Downs. We purchased a kite, constructed it, and Daddy headed out into the wind with Culturebaby. With her fist holding tight to the string of her kite, she bravely kept hold as she was pulled over. They gave it a couple more goes and then the tail of the kite got twisted round the string; round and round and round. Such is the true reality of kite-flying, whatever nostalgic memories we may harbour. So we then spent ages unravelling it indoors until it started raining and Daddy went out to fly the kite whilst Culturebaby gathered a rabble of random toddlers and pinned herself to the window alternating between declaring that 'there was her Daddy' (battling stalwartly against the wind) and singing rousing choruses of the song, much to the amusement of surrounding coffee-drinkers. Despite the rain (and limited time with an actual airborne kite), it seems the trip was a success. Culturedad seems to have found it cathartic, and Culturebaby is still obsessed with kites.

Culturebaby's favourite: Edgar Degas Blue Dancers
Culturebaby's favourite: Edgar Degas' Blue Dancers from Wiki Commons
File:Degas l'orchestre.jpg
L'orchestre de l'opéra, by Edgar Degas, from Wiki Commons
Something really unexpected and pretty wonderful that has emerged from the whole experience though, is that the scene from Mary Poppins, where they all jump into the painting, has really captured Culturebaby's imagination. She keeps talking about it, I've managed to tempt her to eat fish ('penguin food') whilst singing about it being a jolly holiday with Mary (whose super-nanny legacy lives on), and we have used the idea to really look at and discuss some relevant art. First of all, we have read over and over, Merberg and Bober's Dancing with Degas  from the clever Mini Master's series, which uses the paintings of Degas to walk us through a ballerina's day; from preparation and rehearsal to performance and rest. There are mixed reviews of the text of this book (some think the language could be better), but I think the book (and series) are a great idea and the text does the job - the rhymes help the book flow and remind Culturebaby of the paintings she likes. I would really recommend them as sturdy first art books for toddlers. We used the book to talk about which scene we'd like to jump into, we talked about what the ballerinas were doing and the instruments depicted (we are learning some of these at present - see our post here) and what they were wearing. Culturebaby had clear favourites, which she flicked through and found for herself again and again. She even read the book to her digger today. We've also been enjoying acting out the ingenious Matisse: Dance for Joy by Susan Goldman Rubin. This bright, shiny, beautiful little board book takes a toddler on a dancing journey through the use of Matisse's cut-outs - inviting them to prance like a pony and soar like a bird.

Following our kite flying escapades, we also used the wonderful website Your Paintings to look for images of kites to jump into... This excellent resource is a joint initiative between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation and participating collections and museums from across the UK. It aims to show the entire UK national collection of oil paintings, the stories behind the paintings, and where to see them for real. You can also search the site by topic. Perfect. We found a great range of paintings of kites (here) and we discussed them and our preferences. Culturebaby talked about what she could see, we counted the kites, named colours and identified weather and landscape. If you fancy doing the same sort of thing, here's a list of some suggested questions for a two year old you could use, and here are a couple of freely available paintings:

David Cox the Elder - Flying-the-Kite
David Cox the Elder - Flying-the-Kite from Wiki Commons
  • Which painting would you like to jump into?
  • How many kites are in the painting?
  • What colour are the kites?
  • Who is holding the kite?
  • Do they look happy?
  • Which kite would you like to hold? 
  • What is the weather doing in the painting?
  • Does it look windy?
  • What are the people wearing?  

Then just stop and listen to all the interesting things a two year old has to say... They never fail to surprise.

One Hundred Children Playing in the Spring
One Hundred Children Playing in the Spring from Wiki Commons

"With tuppence for paper and strings
You can have your own set of wings
With your feet on the ground
You're a bird in flight
With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite"

From "Mary Poppins"
Composed by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman

Friday 24 January 2014

Walking in the Air

Culturebaby was two in October, and this was the first Christmas when she really understood much of what was going on. For us this reawakened the full magic of childhood with its sherry and mince pies left beside the chimney, carols and dancing, stories of baby Jesus and renditions of the Night before Christmas. Culturebaby fell in love with it all and I almost began to believe that sleighbells really would ring through the air as Dasher and Danson delivered presents for my babies. Alongside the tree and nativity, which both really captured Culturebaby's interest (she still takes Mary and Joseph for a nap with her and gives baby Jesus rides on her toy carousel), our Christmas - despite a lack of snow - was utterly Snowman themed.

Culturebaby has only recently started watching television, and we have been really selective about it, but nothing could have been a higher quality or more magical baptism than the film of the Snowman. Even now in January, this or its sequel The Snowman and the Snowdog, are still viewed almost daily. So many of Culturebaby's current points of reference relate back to this little work of art; satsumas, coal, hats, the fireplace, refrigerators, anything to do with aviation, little boys in general... It has prompted art projects, imaginative play, primitive scientific experiments and a host of conversations on everything from loss of a pet to why we get Christmas presents. For a good few weeks I was also instructed by my tiny front seat driver to sing 'Waa-in-air' as I puffed up our local hill pushing our behemoth of a double pram as Culturebaby pretended to fly. Mothers can have no inhibitions...

The Snowman is wonderful on so many levels as an educational tool. First of all it is beautifully illustrated - essentially an animated picture book. It also has no words and therefore allows conversation throughout. Culturebaby chatters away and narrates the story or points out items and events to everyone around, especially to 10 week old Culturetot. Then there is the amazing classical score that is so distinctive and dynamic that it alone can paint pictures in the mind's eye. I was absolutely stunned that as we listened to the audio soundtrack in the car for the zillionth time, Culturebaby began to narrate what was happening in the story accurately from the music alone. Our little sponges take so much in at this age that it is so exciting to witness the development of a visual and audio connection like this. Then of course there is the associated original storybook which, again with its lack of words, is able to facilitate conversation and stimulate observation in a unique way. Interestingly the original story is different and involves a trip to Brighton and the sea, and not the snowmen's ball, but this hasn't really phased Culturebaby and has provided additional material for conversation as we have looked at it. We've also been lucky enough to play with a sequence of wall posters Nanny got hold of for us. These really excited Culturebaby as she was able to peruse these large images at leisure, look at them while she was eating or playing, and narrate key parts of the story.
Finally, the story is moving and instructive on so many levels. Ultimately it is a tale of belief, living life to the full and dealing with loss. It has prompted different thoughts for me as an adult than I gleaned from it as a child, and Culturebaby at two can clearly not understand it all. However, there have been moments when she has watched the melting scene with tears in her eyes and my explanation that the Snowman could perhaps come back one day when it snows again gave her hope - which was fortunately corroborated (no doubt to the relief of hoardes of the middle aged who have always had to deal with the loss of the original Snowman) by the sequel released last year: The Snowman and the Snowdog. This sequel is also wonderful. Though the soundtrack is rather less distinctive, the film takes a similar format to the Snowman. A new little boy moves into the cottage and shortly after his old dog dies. He discovers a box under the floor containing the Snowman's attire and a photograph, which he uses to recreate our old friend, and - missing his pet - he also shapes a snowdog. These characters come alive and go on adventures, this time including an aeroplane and a snowman winter olympics. The greatest kindness of this wonderful sequel is that, though we again lose our eponymous hero to the sun, the snowdog is transformed by a Christmas gift of a collar into a real puppy. The little boy is no longer left alone.

As Culturebaby has been so in love with the theme, we have worked with this interest and done a number of really enjoyable toddler activities related to The Snowman, and I wanted to share them here as they have been a brilliant accompaniment to the film and book.

 1. Snowman hunting - The National Trust have done themselves proud this winter with toddler friendly activities, bringing the houses and gardens to life. One of the simplest and most effective was a snowman trail around Disraeli's house Hughenden. Hidden amongst the rooms, which were atmospherically dressed for a Victorian Christmas, were a number of little snowmen for children to discover. Culturebaby is at the age where one of the best museum activities for her is finding things, especially repeated sightings of the same object, and this trail was perfect. She talked about it for days after, and mentions the snowmen every time she looks at a photograph of the front of the house. If she gathers these sorts of memories and associations of joy in every cultural location she visits I'd be thrilled. Of course, this simple activity could be set up anywhere - even in the back garden. Culturebaby has also really enjoyed spotting snowmen everywhere and anywhere (on buildings, in books, on Christmas decorations). We even made a surprise sighting of a retro soft toy at the V and A Museum of Childhood, which really impressed her.

2. Art and modelling- Culturebaby is just beginning to draw with clear intention, and produce shapes, which slightly resemble the things she says they are! Almost everything she draws at present, when quizzed, is identified as The Snowman or the little boy. Using playdoh is another way to foster this interest, and she has really enjoyed modelling the characters, and watching others do so - as well as 'melting' (squashing) the snowman afterwards. We have also really enjoyed creating the scene of the house from playdoh and acting out certain parts of the book. Making the footprints in the snow was particularly satisfying!

3. Imaginative play with Happyland toys - We created a snowy landscape with a large white towel and, listening to the audio soundtrack, used one of Culturebaby's play cottages and characters, with her toy snowman, to act out parts of the story. I also filmed her creating certain scenes and she loves watching these again and again on my phone.

4. First science experiments - We took a few ice cubes and let them melt in a bowl at room temperature. We talked about what was happening and why - and of course why the Snowman had started to melt when he sat too close to the fireplace. Practical activities like this have also helped her understand and discuss differences in temperature. She's shown much more awareness of this since.

5. Dancing and flying - There is little better than dancing with a joyful toddler. We have, on many occasions danced together to the musical box and the Snowmen's ball, and my arm muscles are bitter but better for the amount of flying around the room Culturebaby has requested in recent weeks. It is rather tricky however to perform in all situations when no was not an acceptable response Mummy!  Passers-by on the motorway, for instance, must have been rather amused by us all repeatedly moving our heads and shoulders or re-enacting a upper limbed version of the highland fling (driver exempted for the latter) in sync to the soundtrack.

6. Other reading - I've been really impressed by the associations Culturebaby has made with other books on the topic. She took a long time over examining a melted snowman in the fabulous Snow is my Favourite and my Best by Lauren Child. Midway through this story she got up, retrieved her book of the Snowman, found the melting scene and looked from one book to the other a number of times and earnestly said to me "they melted Mummy". She then went back and back to this same part of the book several times before we were able to get through the story. She has since been spotting snowmen in many other books from the genius The Jolly Christmas Postman by the Ahlbergs, to Scheffler's Pip and Posy's The Snowy Day, Hubery and Ball's Christmas with You, Moss and Kneen's The Snow Bear and others. It has been really interesting and enjoyable to see and hear the connections she has been making between these different stories.

And finally, and most obviously, we keep talking about and can't wait for the real thing... some snow to really bring it all to life. I have a stock of satsumas on the go, but I'm rather worried that anything other than a green hat and scarf won't cut the mustard. Time to trawl the charity shops perhaps? And let the magic begin...

Monday 20 January 2014

All that Jazz

Back when Culturebaby was 9 months old, I wrote a post (here) about introducing her to music and talked about how right from the day we brought her back from hospital she's always shown a real interest in it. Since then we've done wonderful dance and music classes together, visited interactive exhibitions of musical instruments, listened to varied music and done a lot of singing and playing of instruments. She seems to be showing a real ear for it these days and never ceases to amaze me with the way her face lights up when she sings and dances, how she improvises and creates songs (even if they are entitled Poo Poo Everywhere), and how she can describe exactly what is going on in the Snowman from just listening to the audio soundtrack. Consequently, her new little sister Culturetot must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of nursery rhymes ingrained in her psyche, absorbing them in utero as her hyperemesis-inflicted mother curled up with Culturebaby in bed and sang them over and over, (and over), on request. Our well thumbed copy of the stunning Nursery Rhymes by Nicola Bayley was the first book my mother ever bought for me, and is now an absolute favourite.

We have been sent a couple of musical resources in the last few months that I want to review here because I think they are genuinely great. One of Culturebaby's, perhaps unexpected, favourite activities is playing with a musical instruments educational TOOB created by Safari toys. As soon as we opened them, Culturebaby began to incorporate them into her imaginative play. It has been rather amusing to watch her Happyland characters each be assigned an instrument and organised into a band. She's also been enjoying learning the names of the various instruments and the positions in which they are held, and I've been pointing them out in the music we hear. I think these educational resources are absolutely brilliant. I was planning to incorporate them into some planned learning activities over the next year (and still hope to) but I hadn't necessarily expected them to be a hit just in themselves - they have really captured Culturebaby's attention. Between 18 months and 4 years is Montessori's 'sensitive period' for interest in small objects (the time our little sponges really show an interest in and concentrate on this area). This is so evident with Culturebaby's play with small models like these. She lines them up and orders them, uses them in imaginative play and carries them around with her. Though the TOOBs are small and warn against being used by under threes, a supervised two year old can also get a lot out of exploring them. They come in a wide range of sets and feature everything from accurate representations of landmarks and animals to Egyptian and Roman characters and gods. They are handpainted and really well made. I can imagine that these TOOBs will be versatile enough to be used throughout childhood for a large range of educational activities, which makes them great value and a wonderful resource to collect.

Culturetot has also been sent some rather fabulous albums. I read an article about a really interesting project by a Jazz bassist called Michael Janisch, who, when his wife became pregnant and unhappy with much of the music he found out there that had been produced for babies, created his own high quality jazz recordings with other professional musicians. Like Michael, I've always been keen to expose my little ones to quality music from the start, and he kindly sent me a set of his fabulous cds for us to try. I think they are inspired and I really wish that I'd had these when Culturebaby was tiny too. Each album is focussed around a lead instrument (piano, guitar, trumpet, saxophone and vibraphone) and features a range of slow and relaxing interpretations of old classics and some well known newer tracks too. When Culturebaby was little I did have some great classical music that I shared with her, but it is wonderful to find other genres that are not irritating, aimed at babies with some real thought behind them and hugely relaxing too. I'm sure you too have stumbled across some of the truly horrendous recordings out there for children, and as much as we love Fisherprice and pals, there are many times when I've been sorely tempted to to throw one of their electronic items out of the window. The Jazz for Babies series aims to introduce children to the right kind of music at the earliest age, believing that this will help them to "become calm and serene as well as develop creativity and individuality". We certainly need calm and serene (especially while we are edging around our perennial builders)...

A while ago I wrote about the evidence indicating that babies can hear and are affected by music played to them in the womb, and can remember it up to a year after birth. From around 20 weeks, babies can hear, although this will be muffled by the liquid and tissue around them (like listening to music while underwater). There is certainly rather a lot of debate on the internet about whether playing classical music to babies pre and post-birth helps their brain development. Some believe that it does, others question the evidence, but it is believed that listening to music reduces stress for a pregnant mother, which (if anyone had as sickness-ridden a pregnancy as me) can only be a good thing for mother and baby (for an interesting article on this see here). Plus, of course, listening to and playing music as a child, while it may or may not make you better at map reading or maths, is likely to make you more musically adept, and develop a love for it - which is of course the most important thing. Towards the end of my utterly rotten pregnancy therefore, receiving the Jazz for Babies cds and listening to them with my little bump could not have been more welcome, and I was reminded of this again these last couple of weeks as I've been playing them to Culturetot in the evening after long busy winter days. I particularly love the piano and guitar ones, and the more traditional jazz tracks. I'm less keen on the vibraphone personally, but it is still a really interesting sound for the Culturebabies to learn.

There are a number of reasons why I think these albums are great. Firstly they are really very relaxing for me. I need this at the moment. I love Jazz and really miss the days when I sang in a big band. There are some brilliant songs included and some of the versions are really emotive (the guitar rendition of You Are My Sunshine tipped Culturegrandma over the teary edge - her mum's lullaby for her). I'd happily play these albums at a dinner party of adults not just to my children. Last week I also really observed Culturetot turning her head to listen to the music as she smiled and cooed at me, and then eventually she drifted off to sleep. I love that, because they are instrumental, I can sing along to the tracks for her. There are some beautiful melodies recorded - including lullabies and love songs. Just the sort of thing that I'd be prompted to sing or say to my children anyway. Culturetot really looks at me and mirrors mouth movements as she lies on my knee when I sing. It feels like real quality time for us. I also think it it important that there is quite a lot of improvisation in the recordings as it is really good for little ones to hear this creativity and variation in the music they listen to. I use these cds for bedtime, in the car, and as background to playing in the day...

It seems others are also impressed with them - they have won a number of accolades and international awards recently. I'd really like to see Michael produce a Christmas album, and, given Culturebaby's penchant for dancing, I think that a fabulous next step for Jazz for Babies could be some excellently recorded faster and more vibrant recordings to inspire little ones to dance. I've noticed Culturebaby really start to move to jazz rhythms and she seems to really enjoy the quicker tracks we listen to (recently some Stephane Grappelli and Glenn Miller). Perhaps some Jazz for toddling next?

You can listen to 5 of the tracks here. Number 4 is particularly lovely:
Disclaimer: We were sent the music TOOB by Safari via their UK distributor, Alyss Toys, for review purposes. Jazz for babies also sent us the cds to review. However, I approached them first and think the products are genuinely great.

Friday 10 January 2014

Magnetic Montessori

At the start of a new year that will be significantly maternity flavoured, it seems most sensible for my new year's resolutions to be of the more manageable sort (get through each day with two children in tact and preferably happy and interested; cook healthy food for aforementioned children etc...) and with a few aspirational ones thrown in (try not to be grumpy with Culturebabies or long suffering husband, read more, write more, finally learn to drive, send thank you cards before everyone disowns me), but then of course it wouldn't be fun without a few tricky ones too. I'm always rather overawed and inspired by the range of creative and well organised mothers out there in the blogosphere, who seem to be able to balance several children with making extremely beautiful and educationally stretching home-made activities AND post comprehensively about it all too. Plus they can bake and sew. I'm certainly not one of those mummies, but I plan to take a dab of inspiration from them to get as organised as I can and actually implement some of the ideas I've accumulated.

A few years ago I might have shuddered at the thought that I'd relish selecting a laminator or designing toy shelving, but these days I've embraced the inner boffin. In an earlier post I wrote about the wonderful Horniman Museum and Frederick Horniman's poor wife who reportedly said that 'either the collection goes or we do'. They moved house soon after (and Frederick's collection stayed with them). Following months of building work I'm loathe to ever move house again, so given my similar penchant for hunter-gathering in the educational department, I've commissioned giant shelves. I have promised Culturedad they WILL fit our books and toys. The megalithic book cases are currently in construction (I'm informed they are around half a ton) and I intend at least to order them, keep them that way, and use them to ensure that I can actually find things. I also plan (one of those aspirational ones again) to provide Culturebaby with only a few toys at once so that rather than the lounge looking like a post-apocalyptic landscape, she will be able to really focus on what she is doing.

Check out these bad boys:
Culturebaby is lucky to be attending an outstanding Montessori nursery two mornings a week. She is clearly enjoying both the activities and environment and is also being stretched by the opportunity to learn alongside children who are older than her. It is really inspiring to walk through the door and experience the atmosphere of content concentration that exudes from the children that is so very different to a playgroup. This year as Culturebaby is now two, I'd really like to try to produce some planned trays and busy bags for her to investigate at home too, especially if these can follow a theme she is interested in. So *with all the best intentions to continue* here's our first attempt at a Montessori-style tray: exploring magnetism. 

There are some helpful ways to structure this sort of activity, whilst bearing in mind that children will choose to manipulate materials in ways we might not consider and their play will inevitably take directions we wouldn't wish to predetermine...

First set up the activity and demonstrate it to the child, then leave the child to investigate and play (though I do join in when invited), then finally ensure the child leads the all important tidying up. Don't be disheartened if they don't seem interested initially, as sometimes toddlers just aren't in the mood for a certain task. I've found Culturebaby comes back to things and has moments of intense concentration on new projects and other times when the same activity won't flick her switch.

Our first tray was based around a large learning magnet Culturebaby received in her stocking. I've noticed she has been very interested recently in joining all her Brio trains into long snakes of carriages. Through trial and error she has also been working out that one side of the carriage will stick to another, while the other stubbornly refuses to. With this in mind I set up a very simple tray using a wide range of materials for her to investigate using her large Magnet. I also provided two pots for her to separate the materials into - those which are magnetic and those which are not.

The tray featured all the usual materials: wood, plastic, vegetable, metal, fabric, playdoh, paper, foil, etc... Some are rather obviously metallic and others not, but for additional interest I also threw in a few unexpected materials such as a silver spoon and metallic-looking plastic (not magnetic), pipe cleaner (magnetic) and other magnets such as brio carriages so she could test attraction and repulsion.

Culturebaby has enjoyed the task and played with it a number of times in small bursts. She's learned a number of the names of items on the tray too and has been using the large magnet to move train carriages along through magnetic repulsion. I was also delighted to see that other visitors to the house were caught exploring the tray too, including adults!
We made a trip last week for the first time to the wonderful V&A Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green. This East End wonderland deserves its own future post but we were very pleased to discover, amongst the plethora of brilliant hands-on areas, a magnetic drawing table filled with iron filings for Culturebaby to explore. She concentrated on it alone for quite a while and was clearly making the connection between this and the tray she had at home. Likewise, in helpfully timely fashion, at GalleryOldham this week we encountered a magnetic fishing game as part of an exhibition, complete with artificial pond. I'll have to unearth our excellent Melissa and Doug fishing puzzle from amongst the boxes at home again as this follows the same principle - useful not only for its exploration of magnetism but also for the practice of steadiness in handling objects for toddlers.

At this stage I haven't gone into complicated explanations about magnetism and its causes, nor have we looked at books on the topic or used written words in the activity yet. It seems enough for a just two year old to have the opportunity to look at everyday materials in a new way and enjoy making them stick together or move away like magic. It's a simple activity that, after testing, I'd really recommend for a two year old. It only took 10 minutes to pull together and has provided rather a lot of enjoyment. Plus once you've done it, you begin to notice magnets everywhere - and so does the toddler...

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