Whatever Next (Rocket party)

whatever-nextThis is a great book about using your imagination, where baby bear goes on a space mission in a cardboard box.

Jumbles had got it into his head that he wanted a nighttime, space party with fireworks for his 5th birthday. As his birthday is just before bonfire night, we decided this would probably work quite well, so we went for it.

I must confess that we didn’t actually read the book during the party, the party was controlled (or possibly not all that controlled) chaos, with far more children than was probably safe to squeeze into our house, plus their parents, getting them all in one place long enough to listen to a story didn’t seem possible. I am not even sure if the party was fun, I was too busy running around organising things, but I got a lot of people saying they loved it, and we had a lot of fun practising the activities in advance, so I do know they work.

So, if you want to do an after dark party, or just want to try out some fun rocket activities, here we go, we did 5-6:30, with dusk being 5:45 on the night, so that arrivals and initial activities were all done in the light:

Starter activities:

Kids will always arrive at different times for a party, mostly they just ran around the garden, playing randomly, but I like to have a few easy activities for the kids as they arrive:

Biscuit icing – Premake some rocket biscuits, provide icing, sprinkles etc. This was perhaps a bit more effort than necessary, due to me not having a rocket cutter, so cutting rocket shapes out using a greaseproof paper template.
Junk modelling – Provide lots of tubes, boxes, bubble wrap etc. and ask kids to create rockets.
Lego competition – Nice simple one, just leave out the lego on a table, and ask kids to make space related models, provide a prize for the best one ( I always just have a bag of prizes for kids to pick from).
Drinking straw rocket: For a 5th birthday party, kids needed help with this activity, and only a couple gave it a go. However older kids could do this themselves and have a competition. It’s a nice simple rocket that goes onto a straw and is propelled by blowing. You can get the instructions and template  here (External link) If I was doing this again, I’d probably put the sheet and a straw in the party bags, instead of having it out as an activity.

Bottle Rockets:

This is the most fun thing, when practising it, Bean and I just couldn’t stop, we used up all of the vinegar in the house (and I keep quite a lot in stock generally) doing multiple test runs. You can pick different propulsion methods:

Diet Coke and mentoes
Vinegar and bicarbonate of soda
Pressure (water in the bottle, cork in the neck, bike pump to build up the pressure).

We used the vinegar and bicarb method:

20161012_090159.jpgYou need a bottle with a sports cap, or a bottle and a cork. Some sort of launching platform to hold the bottle in the right place, either tape legs onto it (pencils or straws) or use something like a mug or large yoghurt pot. vinegar, bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda), toilet paper

  1. Add vinegar into the bottle, up to the bottom of the label is about right.
  2. Create a “fuel capsule” this is about a tsp of bicarb of soda wrapped in a sheet of tissue paper (to give you time to put the lid on before the bicarb reacts, you can also use a small piece of cling film)20161012_090245.jpg
  3. Go outside now!
  4. tilt the bottle slightly so that you can place the fuel capsule inside the neck without it going straight into the vinegar.20161012_102809
  5. Place the lid on tightly (or push cork in)
  6. Tip so that the capsule drops into vinegar
  7. Shake vigorously
  8. Place upside down in your launch area and stand back20161012_103009




Sometimes the tissue of the fuel capsule gums up the sports cap, leading to failure to launch. For this reason I switched to using corks, when it will work every time. It’s also quicker to put the cork in than to try to tighten the lid.20161025_200240.jpg

Whilst we had loads of fun practising this, I must be honest, at the party we had some issues. The kids were a bit too close to the firing area, so to ensure that they weren’t hit by the rocket, I held the launching pot at an angle pointing away from them, in all of our test runs, the rocket shot high in the air, and travelled a couple of metres across the garden. At the party, we lost the rocket, it didn’t go as high, but shot over the garden fence, and across a couple of gardens. Quite exciting, but not quite to plan, and a couple of the kids got sprayed with “rocket fuel” (just vinegar, so not harmful, but it did upset one, as typically it sprayed the child who hates mess of any kind).

Initially, I had planned to get them experimenting in small groups with their own rockets, but we left it as it was a bit too chaotic. To do this best, I’d recommend smaller groups. It’s great with 1-6 children.


Keep it simple – We just did hot dogs (but proper sausages, not hot dog sausages, as many kids don’t like them) and crisps. Precook the sausages in the oven, then bung them on the barbeque for a bit if you want. Provide rolls and sauce. Hardly any leftovers, and not loads of hassle.


Definitely the best bit of the party, after it got dark, we lit a fire (we used a fire pit, to help keep it safely contained). In small groups, the kids toasted marshmallows over the fire. We also had some sparklers and a few small fireworks. Obviously you need to be very aware of health and safety for this, we had parents present, which helped and hubby is forest school trained, so used to teaching kids fire safety. Some left at this point as they weren’t keen on fireworks, others watched from the relative safety of the conservatory, or decking for the braver few. Again, for sparklers, we limited it to 2 kids at a time, with gloves on and high levels of supervision.

Party favours:

Buy mini keyring torches very cheaply and give them out when it gets dark. They spent ages just running around in the dark with them.

Apology on lack of activity pictures:

Sorry, for obvious reasons I can’t post pictures of other people’s kids online, so have no photos of the fire etc. Actually, we didn’t manage to get many good pics as we were too busy running things. I have tried several times to get a good photo or video of the bottle rocket, but have given up now, hubby is unco-operative and won’t take a pic and I can’t launch and hold the camera in time. Trust me though, it’s great fun and you should do it.

Rocket cake:

In case anyone else is tasked by their child with making them a rocket cake, I thought I’d post how I did it, as it was surprisingly simple and reasonably effective:


Make a cake in something oval (I used a casserole dish) either make 2, or one thick one and slice through and add buttercream and jam to the middle to sandwich together.Cut off the bottom of the cake and cut that piece in half, place them on either side as fins. Cut the ends off ice cream cones, push them into the flat edge of the cake to make boosters.

20161025_141515Cover the cake in a thin layer of buttercream or jam, to stick the icing to.


Cover the cake but not the boosters in white ready to roll icing.


Cover the boosters in black icing, I made flames using red icing, but you could probably do something more effective, I wasn’t too pleased with that bit. Add circles for windows (you’ll note I later decided they needed borders, and made slightly bigger circles from green icing) and cover the fins in green.

20161026_103333Add a coloured nose cone, cover a baking tray in black paper and stars. I added strawberry laces on the borders, which made a massive improvement and suddenly made it seem finished. Thanks to Julie for the suggestion!


Buy “Whatever Next” from Wordery (Affiliate link – free worldwide postage))

Drinking Straw rockets (External links)


006 and a bit (spy messages for learning to read)

006-and-a-bitSo, Jumbles (nearly 5) started Reception (first year of school) just over a month ago. He’s loving it, I don’t agree with homework at primary school, so was all set to refuse to do any. Except he keeps asking to do it. Well, I didn’t want to just sit and play with the flashcards he got sent home with, so we’ve been shaking it up a bit.

So today’s post is really a reminder to think outside the box if you’re given lists of words to practise or other similar homework:

balloon-sight-wordsWe are focusing on red “tricky words” this week (the ones you can’t sound out phonetically).

Game 1: Balloon Bash

(Unrelated to our chosen book)

Write pairs of words on balloons and play matching pairs. I matched colours as well as words (e.g. writing “said” on two yellow balloons) so that Bean could join in by matching colours. The only problem was, we had more words than colours, and it was annoying Jumbles when Bean matched balloons which weren’t word pairs.

You could also do this game with letters of the alphabet, or phonemes, start with just a few letters (pick the ones in your child’s name) and do 2 copies of each.

Game 2: Spieswax-resist

Read any spy book. 006 and a bit is a great, simple picture book about Daisy being a spy. Jumbles has loved it for a while.

Ideally pre-prepare some spy messages and hide them for your child to find. It adds to the spy game if they don’t see you creating the message. Plus, it can take a while to create the secret message, it’s best to do it when you aren’t being interrupted, yeah, you know, in that time when the kids leave you alone to get all of your jobs done (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha..) I managed to do mine with Bean sat pulling at my arm (she’s actually in preschool for 6 hours a week now, but I tend to book in appointments, meetings etc in that time) but you know, if you can create mystery, do try. Jumbles was at school, so it was a surprise for him.


Obviously, there are many different ways to do secret messages, but one very simple way is to use cheap white candles (I have lots from a previous activity I ran years ago with church) to write your messages, then felt pen to reveal them. I used some of his practice words to write a sentence (“She said yes to the dog but no to the cat” this lead to questions about why she said no to the cat, so maybe think out your sentence better – now I’m sitting here writing it up I realised I missed a trick and could have had the message send him somewhere to find a prize e.g. “she said go to the red box” though that wouldn’t have been as many tricky words). For Bean (3) I just wrote her name for her to reveal (I’ve faked up one with her nickname, to avoid putting her real name on here).

Our secret messages led to a simple spy game, with Jumbles and Bean hiding the messages they’d made for me to find before I could colour and reveal them.


Basically, just have a play with candles, paper and pens, keep yourself and the kids entertained for ages. You can also use paint over the top, instead of pens, but I wanted a quick drying idea today.


Buy 006 and a bit from Wordery (affiliate link)



Monkey Puzzle (DIY scratch cards)


This activity is so much fun and has so much scope for doing different things. Basically you’re making homemade scratch cards, so you can cover up whatever you want to.

Monkey puzzle is a fun rhyming book about a butterfly helping a monkey looking for his Mum. She keeps taking him to the wrong animal based on his descriptions (e.g. when he says her tail coils round trees, she leads him to a snake). The end has him happily reunited with his Mum.

You need:

This sheet of characters from the book
Shire seal (aka contact paper/sticky backed plastic)
Liquid soap
Acrylic or poster paint


Mix a small amount of liquid soap (washing up liquid or hand wash works) with about twice as much acrylic paint (according to US websites, tempera works too, but I tried with homemade tempera – egg yolk and food colouring- and it didn’t work, I think commercial Tempera might be the same as what we call poster paint).
Paint your mixture onto shire seal (aka contact paper aka sticky back plastic)
Allow to dry
Add more layers until it is totally opaque
Cut into small squares, each one just large enough to cover one of the characters.
Peel off the backing of each piece and stick one over each piece, paint side up.

Alternative method:

You could also stick the shire seal to the sheet first, then paint squares directly over the pictures.

Give your child(ren) a coin and ask them to scratch the paint off one square at a time to see if they can find the monkey’s Mum. The set up is a lot more time consuming than the activity, but it was so much fun scratching off to see what they’d uncovered.dscn5003.jpg

The only point I’d make is that there’s a lot of set up, it took 3 or 4 layers to make it thick enough, and you have to be gentle or you can accidentally scrape the layers off when taking backing off.. So, set it up somewhere it can easily be added to through the day.

fb_img_1466886871250.jpgI’m not usually a fan of worksheets, but decided to try out some much more fun ones than normal for numeracy or literacy, with the answers covered up: I did a reading one, where the picture of the word is covered, alphabet, where initial letters are covered and counting one with the numbers covered, scratch to reveal if you’ve worked it out right or not.


Buy monkey puzzle from Wordery (affiliate link)

monkey puzzle character sheet

Squash the spider (or any other spider books)

tmp_30924-51zSq9VRCBL._AC_UL160_SR160_160_-1196575581This is a fun book in which a spider jumps out to scare people and everyone yells “Squash the spider” till someone actually goes to squash it and the boy rushes to save him.

This is Jumbles’ favourite spider book, so when I said we were doing a spider web activity, he asked to do this book. Really, a much more relevant book for spider webs would be either: tmp_30924-the_very_busy_spider-1692918224

“The very busy Spider” by Eric Carle, where a spider busily spins her web.


tmp_30924-5196BV5PG9L._SX258_BO1_204_203_200_-1496882885“Incy wincy Spider” by Keith Chapman and Jack Tickle – a beautiful book which creates an adventure for Incy wincy spider, the whole book is written to the Incy Wincy tune, with the spider being flicked around the farmyard. Each page has a raised, glittery spider’s web trail to trace, and the final page has a big silver web. Though Jumbles (4) is probably getting a bit old for this one, he still enjoyed tracing the trails today.

The activity:

You are basically going to make a large spider’s web, you need masking tape and some sort of frame to attach to. We used our mini trampoline, you could also use chair legs, a clothes airer, anything really.

FB_IMG_1463082252330Start by pulling out a large length of masking tape, attach one end to you frame, then twist it to make it into a long strip with the sticky side on the outside, attach it to another point on the frame, then continue, rolling the tape and making new lines across the frame, once you have a base network, start criss weaving your thread under and over. This gets very tricky as it will stick to the bits you’ve already made, but if careful, you should be able to pull it apart. Jumbles was able to help initially, even with the weaving, but once it got quite dense, he couldn’t do it anymore. My web wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it was good enough for us. If you want it neater, prep it overnight while the kids are in bed, but I liked including them in the setup, and the weaving is good motor skills practice for them.FB_IMG_1463082258872

Once you are happy with your web, give your child some “flies” to throw at it. We used coloured pom poms and scrunched tissue paper, as I thought the finished effect of colour would look nicer than black blobs, but you can choose whatever you like, it just needs to be something light enough to stick. Jumbles loved doing this, but Bean (2.5) was less bothered. She stuck a few on, then wandered off, so maybe this is an activity for over 3s. FB_IMG_1463082275737

We just enjoyed playing around, throwing the flies, but if your kids are competitive, you could probably make a fun game, give each child a different colour of flies and see who can stick the most to the web, or try throwing from further away etc as you can see from our photo, we threw from very close.FB_IMG_1463082264496

Affiliate links to buy Spider books:

Buy Squash The Spider from Amazon (affiliate link)

Incy Wincy Spider

The Very Busy Spider

What the Jackdaw Saw (deaf awareness)

61tQRblRM-L._SX258_BO1_204_203_200_Rather irritatingly after deciding to learn some sign language with the kids and blog about it, I thought I’d see if there was a deaf awareness week, so that I could schedule it for then. It turns out I’ve literally just missed it, so sorry that this post is just over a week late!

Anyway, this book is written by Julia Donaldson, with a group of deaf teenagers. She’s written two books, that I know of, aimed at raising awareness of deafness. The other is “Freddie and the Fairy”, which teaches the importance of speaking clearly, looking at the person, and not covering your mouth. This book (Jackdaw) introduces British sign language (BSL) teaching a few signs through the story. This post is all about BSL, so if you live in a country that uses a different sign language, my apologies, but you could find signing apps for your country and still do the activities.


Learning signs from pictures can be tricky, it’s much easier to watch someone signing. So download a sign language app. I used Sign BSL  a very simple app, where you search for the word you want to sign and it shows you a list of videos of different people signing that word. Some of the people are more animated than others, try to avoid the really dull ones for your kids! Do check what they’re signing though in the text under, sometimes they’re signing a related word to what you searched for.

Before you read the book, double check that you can sign all of the featured signs in the book, either using This youtube clip of the signs, or by searching for the signs in your app.

As you read the book, sign the words with your child as it teaches you. If your child is showing interest in knowing more, as Jumbles was, open up the app and ask your child what they want to sign. Practice together with your child. Remember, when signing you still say the word at the same time. Your child is likely to want to know how to sign their name, so potentially learn to finger spell their name beforehand, as learning the whole alphabet might be tricky. I thought Jumbles might find his name tricky, but he enjoyed doing it and remembered some of the letters later.


Learn together the signs for various objects around the house. Play a scavenger hunt. Sign things for your child(ren) to race to collect. Have your child challenge you to find the things they sign.

Suggested items:

Apple (note, in the first video on sign BSL, she is signing an apple computer, so pick a different one to watch!)


A great way to learn signs is through songs. Check youtube for loads of BSL songs, maybe your child’s favourite is there. Or check out Cbeebies BSL nursery rhymes

links to apps/videos:

Sign BSL – search for words, see videos of those signs.

“What the Jackdaw saw” signing video

Cbeebies BSL nursery rhymes

Free online BSL course (for adults, putting it here in case you’re interested in learning more yourself)

Affiliate links to buy from Wordery (free worldwide shipping):

What the Jackdaw Saw

Freddie and the Fairy



Whale gets stuck


My apologies for the extended absence. I have been struggling with motivating myself to blog, particularly since my laptop broke, and trying to blog on a touchscreen is so tedious. We have a PC, but I don’t want to sit in the office. Anyway, this is an activity we did a few weeks back, it’s very simple, but requires set up the day before. This is a great activity for a warm day and can be done with or without being linked to a book.

The book we used isn’t anything amazing, so don’t go trying to find it just for this activity, it’s about a whale who gets stuck on top of a sheet of ice. His friends try various things to free him, until eventually the warmth of the sun and their bodies melts and breaks the ice. So it lent itself perfectly to an ice melting activity.

Prep in advance:
-Grab a large container (I used a silicon cake tin) and fill it with water and sea animals (or other toys, e.g use dinosaurs and do some dinosaur excavation)
– Freeze the lot
– Wait for a warm enough day (I prepped this approx 6 months in advance and kept forgetting and then being annoyed at the freezer space it was taking up).

Set up on the day:

Tray with your ice block of frozen animals
Blunt knives
Pot of salt
Jug of warm water

Basically, just let the kids play around, hammering etc. trying to release the animals from ice. Mine loved watching the ice crack and melt when I poured hot water on (have them stand back for safety reasons). Using the salt wasn’t fast enough for my kids, but you could set this up as a proper science experiment, with one lot of ice with salt on and one without so they can see the difference.

This was a crazily simple activity for now, to try to get me back in the swing of blogging, I’ll do something more creative soon.

Buy Whale Gets Stuck – affiliate link


Oi Frog continued

Having played with our oi frog cards this week, I’ve refined and come up with games that work best for toddler-preschool age:

Rhyming bingo:

Split cards into 2 piles (one – things that will sit on, second pile, the things to be sat on)

Divide the animal pile (things that will be sitting on) between the players. Around 4 each works well.

Spread the second pile face down on the table. Laying them in a grid can help memory.

Take it in turns to turn over a middle card, if it rhymes with one of your cards, then keep it, if not, put it back. Other players remember where the cards they need are, so they can pick on their turn.

Look and find:

Again, split the cards into 2 decks (ones to sit and ones to be sat on) spread one deck out face up on the table, take it in turns to turn over the top card of the other deck. Look for something that rhymes with that card, as soon as you spot it, grab the rhyming card from the face up grid and shout the pair (e.g. you turn over Yoda, scan the table looking for something that rhymes, spot Skoda and put your hand on it, or grab it, shouting “Yoda sits on a Skoda”) you can play as a competition, winning hands, or work together, seeing how quickly you can get them all.