Sunday 27 November 2016

The Snowman and Snowdog Festive Blogtour

Our annual Snowman blog tour is becoming rather a tradition in itself and it serves as a great opportunity to snuggle up and watch these beautiful classics, get in the Christmas spirit and indulge in a spot of creativity. Regular readers will know that each year we are set a creativity challenge with some of the inventive themed products out there, and this year - to the children's delight - we were invited to design our own Snowdog using a beautiful model and paint. Following some debate about whether we ought to replicate the classic character or emulate a famous artist (Mondrian-dog? Hirst Spotty Pooch?) the 5 and 3 year old Culturebabies over-ruled and declared that he would be of a rainbow sparkly variety. Ably project managed by Daddy, we all set to work. It was a really lovely activity to do together on a cold afternoon and we've produced something that we will be able to keep for future memories.

This challenge was also particularly interesting, as this year the producers of our kit Wild at Art have worked with Penguin to deliver two public art trails in Brighton and Newcastle. Living in London we've been lucky to experience several of these - they are such a brilliant way to raise money for charity, engage, introduce and display art, showcase talent and transform urban space. We loved the rhinos in Exeter over the summer, Paddington last year, and the BFG dream jars have been incredibly popular amongst many families we know. The Snowdogs in Brighton have their last day today...

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Photographs from the Brighton trail website
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Last year our challenge was to make biscuits with a set of Snowman and Snowdog themed cookie cutters. Despite me being a completely unseasoned baker, we really got into this and enjoyed it enormously. The children love little more than baking with Nanny, but armed with this year's welcome Snowman themed baking kits (pre-prepared ingredients and easy to follow instructions) I'm planning on giving it a go again - I'm told by the children, later today. I will share the results, or lack thereof...
Over the years we've had so much fun with the Snowman - to the extent that we've now accumulated a list of specifically themed activities to get you in the Christmas mood. These work for a range of children's ages. 

1. Snowman and Snowdog Christmas Cookies 
These simple Christmassy smelling and tasting biscuits are based on an extremely simple recipe. A golden syrup, ginger and cinnamon combination worked really well for the season.

Sift together 350g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Add 2tsp ground ginger and 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Add 125g butter and blend until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in 175g soft brown sugar.

Lightly beat an egg and 4tsp golden syrup together, add to mixture and blend until the mixture clumps together. Knead until smooth, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes or so whilst you preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4 and line baking trays with greaseproof paper.
 Roll the dough out to around 0.5cm on a lightly floured surface. Create shapes using the cutters.
Place on baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes. Leave to cool for 10 minutes. 
We then varied the recipe to suit tiny hands using roll-out icing to cover each biscuit (also using the cutters) and tubes of food colouring gel for decoration.  

2. Running a Snowman on the Shelf Advent

Lots of parents arrange an advent activity called  Elf on The Shelf, where a cheeky little helper is sent by Santa to keep an eye on the household and consequently gets into mishaps along the way. This isn't something we have ever done, but one year we decided that our large cuddly snowman might enjoy some elf-like antics. Given that he is the ideal companion for a child throughout this festive season, and he already loves exploring the house (and gets into a few scrapes along the way), he was the perfect messenger from the North Pole for us: our very own Snowman on the Shelf.

3. Create a Snowman Themed Christmas Play Basket

Imaginative play is one of Culturebaby's favourite activities, at aged between two and four she particularly loved a series of small-world Montessori-inspired play baskets I made for her. If you have an imaginative child who loves sensory play and small objects I'd highly recommend making these simple dreamscapes for them to explore. The Snowdog joined our already much-loved little Snowman in the basket alongside a tree for Culturebaby to dress with miniature decorations.The floor of the basket was scattered with items that can be collected, matched and counted such as wooden and felt snowflakes, stars, reindeer, small presents, miniature musical instruments and bells.

4. Explore the Story through Art and Modeling

Between 2 and 3, little ones are beginning to draw with clear intention and increasing ability. Using playdoh is another way to foster this interest, and three years ago we tried modelling the characters from the Snowman, and watching others do so - as well as 'melting' (squashing) the snowman afterwards. Creating the scene of the house from playdoh and acting out certain parts of the book was really effective.

5. Imaginative Play and Storytelling with Characters
This activity has been revived a couple of years on the run. The first year, 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. The second year, we set up a sheet of faux snow material and included the scenes with the dance of the snowmen, when Father Christmas gives James the gift of the scarf and the final morning. The girls are at the stage when they happily act out stories themselves, often together. I'm looking forward to setting this one up again this year and seeing how they use it.

6. First science experiments - Three years ago 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 the girls understand and discuss differences in temperature.

7. Experiencing the magic of Snowman Christmas theatre and live concerts - for recommendations see here.

Image courtesy of Sadlers Wells and the Peacock Theatre

 This year Penguin and associates have surpassed themselves with the range of gorgeous gifts to pop in the Christmas stocking of any child who loves these brilliant Briggs' classics. Or even start early with a Thorntons White Chocolate Snowman Advent Calendar 83g (£4.50)

Here's a selection:

Paint your own Snowdog
£25 from Wild in Art
This is the gorgeous kit we used above. The dog model is really high quality and, though it comes with a selection of paints, a child can customise these in any way they wish. I love how Mummy of 2 + 1 has handmade the ears on hers (here).

The Snowman and The Snowdog Wooden Dominoes
RRP £9.99   Available from Amazon
These wooden dominoes, which feature illustrations from the film, are really cute and will be heading straight into Culturetot's stocking. At three, she's starting to really enjoy simple board games and we had a lovely morning together this week playing dominoes together in a coffee shop. She also loves using them for building. Why not?

The Snowman and the Snowdog Shape Sorter
RRP £15.00  Available from JoJo Maman Bebe
We've written a lot about the importance and brilliance of shapesorters before and we've even made our own (see here). This Snowman-themed wooden shape sorter box with four shaped holes and eight coloured wooden blocks is a particularly lovely one - perfect to encourage hand-eye coordination and shape and colour recognition.

The Snowman Book and CD, and The Snowman and The Snowdog Book and CD
Each RRP: £7.99 Available from Amazon
These brand-new editions include original artwork and freshly written text and are accompanied by audio CDs - the Snowman features narration by Matthew Macfadyen and Benedict Cumberbatch reads the brilliant new Snowman and Snowdog. These two will be featuring in our Literary Advent Calendar, which we will be covering on the blog soon. A previous year's selection can be seen here (complete with other Snowman book choices).

The Snowman and The Snowdog Snowglobe
RRP £22 Available from The Brilliant Gift Shop
This is a gorgeous gift, and one I'm very much looking forward to surprising the girls with on Christmas morning. Children are intigued by snowglobes anyway, and this is particularly magical, as the snow swirls around a central Snowman. It's sold as for baby's first Christmas but I suspect my 5 year old will whisk it away to her room.

Thorntons Snowman white chocolate model 60g
RRP £3.00 Available from grocers and convenience stores
Fans, like me, of white chocolate will be delighted with this edible Snowman. If it isn't too traumatic to eat him after we've already seen him melt, this little one will be a great stocking filler. I just need two...

Disclaimer: We were sent the material mentioned in this review as participants in this year's blog tour. All views are our own and our love for the Snowman is, as always, unwavering...
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