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)




Oi Frog (Kes Gray & Jim Field)

oifrogThis book has captured our whole family’s hearts. It’s a very funny book, in which a cat tells a frog that he must sit on a log, because he’s a frog. He can’t sit on a chair as hares sit on chairs. The cat goes on to explain all of the different, ridiculous pairings of where animals sit. I realised how much everyone loved this book, a little too late; we returned our bag of library books just before Christmas, and neither child asked to renew any of them, then at bedtime, Bean excitedly asked for “Oi, Frog” and collapsed in tears when I said it was one that had gone back to the library. She’d obviously thought it was one of our own. We’ll have to buy a copy soon.

Anyway, the activity for this has evolved naturally, and been very much child led. We’ll be wandering around and suddenly one of us will shout “Oi frog, sit on a log” and we’ll all start calling out animals and things for them to sit on. Bean (2) doesn’t get the rhyming, but has memorised couplets from the book and throws these out. Jumbles (4) is getting good at coming up with his own rhyming pairs, and trying to catch us out with things that are very hard to rhyme.

So for today’s activity, simply read the book and play the verbal rhyming game. Or print out the cards I’ve made.

oi frog cards

There are 2 ways to use them…

1) Just use the animal cards, go on a family hunt sticking them on things around the house which they rhyme with
2) Play matching pairs with the cards, turn them all upside down and on your turn, turn 2 of them over. If they rhyme, you’ve won that pair. Note there are a few which have more than one matching possibility.

I added names to my set, with photo’s of the children, as Bean’s real name rhymes with something. Jumbles’s doesn’t, so I called him Jumbles (and rhymed with apple crumbles) if your child’s name rhymes, add it in.



Buy “Oi Frog” from Wordery (affiliate link)

Borrow “Oi frog” from your local library

Diggers (Fiona Watt, Rachel Wells)

diggersAny building site book will do for this one, so if your kids are a bit old for a board book, why not try a non fiction book about diggers?

Basically for this activity you’re making something that your kids can use as mortar.

Mix wet play sand (we used orange sand as this is what we had) with cornflour in a 2:1 ratioish cement 017(I didn’t measure, but about twice as much sand as cornflour, just keep adding sand till it seems right). The mixing is great fun and you find that you go through various stages, all of which are fun to play with. My favourite is when it’s a lot more cornflour than sand and is very gloopy. Once it’s all mixed, if your sand was a bit wet, like mine was, you may find you have a layer of whitish water on top, just pour it off. You then have a very mouldable fun to work with substance, much like moon sand, which you can use to build sandcastles, or as we did as mortar to hold bricks together.¬† cement 024Put it in your sandpit, or play bin, add trowels, bricks and toy diggers. Jumbles enjoyed making a tower, though it would have been more satisfying if we’d had play bricks that weren’t interlocking. I tried giving him flat stones, but that didn’t inspire him. Bean wasn’t particularly interested in this activity and took her trowel off to dig in the garden instead.cement

We also experimented with making bricks using our lego brick mould. This was a bit tricky, they broke apart easily, but was still fun.

Borrow “Diggers” from the library
Buy “Diggers”
Buy lego moulds from Amazon
Buy mini toy diggers

Shark in the Park (Nick Sharratt)

sharkparkNot to be confused with the inferior Usborne phonics book of the same title (apologies to that book, but this one is outstanding); This is one of my favourite books for reading with young children, it works well both with individual child and with groups.

The basis of the story is that a little boy is in the park looking through his telescope, he keeps thinking he sees a shark through it, but it always turns out to be something else, not a shark’s fin. This is done through holes in the pages, so first you just see a small part of the picture, which looks like a shark’s fin, then you turn the page to reveal the big picture. The book works for quite a wide age range, from toddlers who just love putting fingers in the holes in the pages, to primary school kids, who get what’s going on and love spotting the shark that Timothy misses at the end.

When telling the story, I always get the children to use their hands to make a telescope over one eye, then as we do the “He looks at the sky, he looks at the ground, he looks left and right, he looks all around” bit, I get them all looking in the right directions.

As kids get to know the book, they will start to join in on the “Shark in the Park” bit. Encourage this, pause slightly and make it obvious when it’s time to say it.

The book has bold illustrations, it’s funny and has a great rhyme, which flows well, though children will chime in shouting “bird” instead of crow if they aren’t old enough to understand that it has to rhyme (and quite long after that actually).

I have done an activity for this in the past, when I used to work in libraries which was a simple character hunt in the park, I photocopied pages of the book, with the peephole page covered over them, so children run around the park searching for “sharks” they can only see if they are sharks or other things (crow, Dad’s hair, cat etc) once they lift up the top cover to reveal the full picture. Hiding sharks in the park is a great fun thing to do and should probably be the activity you take from this blog entry, unless you want to spend a lot of time struggling over bits of plastic and tubes and producing something that is not overly impressive and only keeps the kids busy for 10 minutes. If that sounds your cup of tea, then read on!

This time, I decided to make telescopes as our first activity. Now, it’s very easy to make a telescope for a young child, you get a kitchen roll, or the inner from cling film or wrapping paper or something, you tell them it’s a telescope, you get them to decorate it, they’re completely happy. For some reason though, I didn’t do that, I decided to try and be clever and make a telescope that actually folds the way a telescope does. This took ages, both kids got very bored and I ended up making it entirely by myself and it resulted in something that looks, not that much like a telescope, but Jumbles was pleased with it (though completely unimpressed by the fact that it closes up, and in fact being no more pleased with it than if I’d handed him a cardboard tube). I have decided to blog anyway, and maybe someone out there will be impressed with my effort, if not the result.

I used 3 different diameter tubes, cut to around the length of a toilet roll. Then I cut circles about a cm wider than each tube from a plastic milk bottle.sharkinpark (4) sharkinpark (5)I fringed the outside and the inside of the circles, being careful not to cut through. Then stuck the circles onto the ends of the tubes, the fringing on the outside just helps it to bend round and stick onto the tube, the fringing on the inside is to help it to grip the tube that slides inside it. This is the really fiddly bit, trying to get the circles stuck on and ensuring that the middles are fringed enough that the next tube can slide through it. I am sure there are countless easier ways to make the tubes slide within each other, but this was the only way I could think of. When it’s actually finished, the sliding mechanism is really satisfying.

Once all three tubes had the plastic on, I used parcel tape to properly secure it. sharkinpark (6)The plastic actually helps to add dimension to the telescope in the areas where Timothy’s telescope is coloured yellow. You will note I’ve also added some string. I did this so that the telescope couldn’t be over extended, I taped string through the inside, securing it at the end, so that you couldn’t pull the 3 parts apart. sharkinpark (16)It didn’t work very well, the tape is not strong enough to stop someone doing that and so it ended up with the string flopping down inside blocking vision after it had been pulled wrongly, so I wouldn’t bother with the string again. Just put it back together every time it gets pulled out too far.

After the telescope was complete, I covered it with white paper, so that Jumbles could decorate it, he never did. I’m not sure why I’m surprised by that, it was clearly my craft, not his! He did enjoy playing with it though. I think maybe it looked better before I put the white paper on.

sharkinpark (11)Just to prove that it does indeed telescope in and out, here is a pic of it closed:

I’m convinced that this method for creating a telescope could create a fairly realistic looking toy if executed by someone with more patience and better crafting skills. If anyone wants to have a go I’d really love to see your results. However, I am now rethinking using this as a craft activity for the 4-6s that I’m leading in our church’s summer club, which is why I was making this prototype.

Anyway, once I’d made the telescope, the idea was to look through the telescope at things and try to guess what they are from just a small part of them. This is quite tricky, because obviously your child will just use his other eye, unless you cover it up, but that is often disliked, your other option is to utilise the method of the book and obscure most of the item using a piece of paper or such like. In the end, I had taken so long to make the telescope, I couldn’t really be bothered to come up with an inventive way to view small parts of things, so we just ran round with the telescope looking at things and pretending to see sharks. If you want to do a bit more. Why not prepare a few pictures of just a small section of a well known object and get them to guess what it is, enlarged is even better. I’m thinking something like this: Extreme close up quiz

There is a sequel to this book “Shark in the dark” which is the same premise, but Timothy is looking out of his bedroom window at night time and sees things that he thinks are shark fins, sadly as is often the case, the sequel is not as good as the original, the rhyme doesn’t flow as easily. However, that is partly made up for by the fact that it is glow in the dark.

External Links:
Buy “Shark in the Park”
Borrow “Shark in the Park”

Carlo Likes Reading (Jessica Spanyol)

carloI wasn’t too sure about this book, but Jumbles really liked getting me to read all of the labels and then I thought the logical extension would be to label things in the house. Jumbles loves asking what things say and pointing out words when we see them. He’s not reading yet, but has a love of the written word, so it makes sense to surround him with words as much as possible.

So, I thought of simple words that would be good to make labels of, you could then just label everything yourself, but I think getting the kids to put the labels on the right things makes more sense. luggage tag page1luggage tag page2You can do as many labels as you like and might choose different things than we did.¬† I was thinking of every day items, some of his favourite toys etc. you could also do labels for children’s names and Mummy and Daddy.

luggage tag3If you just want to use the same ones as me, I did them as pictures so you can just print and cut them out (they are set to print 9 labels on an A4 page, I apologise if you’re in the US, I believe your paper size is slightly different, so you may have to adjust).

carlo 001Warning, if you ask your child what to label, you may find s/he suggests quite complicated things to be labelled, so I’d definitely recommend that you do a few simple ones first, all of Jumbles’s suggestions were specific lego models e.g “flying bad cop car” I managed to get him to choose single word items eventually, the third set of labels are his choices.

Once you’ve printed, simply cut them out, punch a hole in and thread string through, then run about the house with your kids, labelling things. I’m not sure how necessary the string is, with a 1 and 3 year old, they weren’t going to tie the string themselves, Bean mostly wanted to eat the labels. Jumbles just balanced them on things, or sometimes tucked the string in.

External links:
Borrow “Carlo likes reading”
Buy “Carlo likes reading”

Robot Rumpus (Sean Taylor & Ross Collins)

robotrumpusThis is an entirely child chosen and led activity. Jumbles is starting to get into this whole doing an activity based on a book thing, yesterday when we were at the library he chose his books and really liked this one, we had to read it twice in the library and again as soon as we got home. Then he insisted we did an activity on it, he wanted to make robots. Thankfully, making robots seemed fairly easy. Though I’m not sure I did quite the scale he had in mind, he was talking about giant robots for us to get inside, but whilst we have a lot of giant boxes, that is due to the fact that we are imminently moving and I didn’t really want to sacrifice any of them, maybe we’ll do that after we’ve moved. So for now I made him rummage through the junk modelling collection, which is great as we could really do with chucking it all in the recycling before we move.

robot (3)Anyway, for robots, boxes and tubes are perfect. I was quite pleased, Jumbles selected everything that he wanted to use, choosing yoghurt pots for feet, tubes for arms, and deciding to repurpose a creation that he’d made at preschool to become the robot’s head, I have no idea what the thing from preschool was originally, and Jumbles doesn’t seem to know either. I quite wanted to add dials using some of the lids that we’ve been collecting, but he didn’t want to. He glued the boxes together with PVA, but I wanted it to be playable with immediately, so I reinforced the joins with parcel tape. I was then hoping we could do some papier mache over the top of the whole thing and paint it. However, Jumbles said he loved it just as it was and didn’t want to do any more to it. He has named the robot Emmet (after Lego movie Emmet) and zoomed him around all evening (apparently the feet are rocket feet).

Robot making is such an easy and fun activity, even for kids like Jumbles, who aren’t that keen on craft, we did this after dinner, while Bean read books with Daddy, it took about 15 minutes, but led to a long play session with the robot. You could make mini robots, giant robots, whatever. Just remember, it doesn’t matter what the finished robot looks like, my gut instinct is to try to make crafts look realistic, but it is much more important to let your child have ownership of it. He probably had a lot more fun with his robot that if I’d made it look better, not to mention that he’d have had to wait for it to dry overnight if we’d done papier mache on it.

As to the book itself, I didn’t think it was anything remarkable, but obviously Jumbles enjoyed it, but any robot book would be fine.

Oh, also, while you’re doing this, why not try pretending to be robots, this is something we do as a family a lot, sing songs as robots, do robot walking etc. very amusing to small children.

External Links:
Borrow “Robot rumpus” from your local library
Buy “Robot Rumpus”

“Biscuit Bear” by Mini Grey (or Use The Gingerbread man)

biscuitbearChoosing this book is a bit odd really, as there’s no reason why you wouldn’t do this activity with the Gingerbread man. However, this is the book we used, so it seemed dishonest to write it up as the Gingerbread man.

The story is about a boy who makes a bear shaped biscuit and decorates it, every time he tries to eat it his Mum stops him (it’s too hot, it’s nearly dinner time, he’s just cleaned his teeth). So instead of eating it he goes to sleep with it on his pillow. Then Biscuit Bear gets up while he’s sleeping and has adventures.

Blogging this is a bit silly really, because it’s just such an obvious activity. However, I was quite excited that Jumbles actually asked to do baking, he normally refuses, but we’d read this book earlier in the day and he wanted to make some biscuit bears himself. Plus I thought it’d be a chance to share my favourite easy biscuit recipe. I love this recipe for a few reasons:

1) Unlike gingerbread, you don’t need an egg – I’m not too worried about the kids eating raw egg anymore, but often we are unprepared and have accidentally used all of the eggs when we decide to bake.

2) These biscuits don’t spread when you bake them, so they keep the shape that you were aiming for. We use cutters, but we also love using chocolate moulds, I have a collection of interesting shaped ones, our favourites being the lego man moulds. We do make gingerbread a lot, but it does spread quite a bit.

3)There is nothing complicated to do, you just mix everything together

Easy non spreading biscuits:
150g plain flour
50g caster sugar (or whatever sugar I can find at the time)
100g marg (butter tastes nicer, but it’s much easier for kids to rub marg in)
Optional flavouring, this time we used a big squirt of butterscotch flavoured syrup, but you can add vanilla, cocoa, choc drops, raisins, nuts etc.

1. Rub the main ingredients togetherduckmuck 005
Yes, that really is it, you can then just roll it into a ball and break bits off to bake if you like.

2. Add optional flavours

3. Squash into a ball. Then roll out flat.

4. Use cutters or chocolate moulds. If using moulds, just push the dough into the moulds, then either bake in the mould, or turn out onto a baking tray, they should stay intact.

5. Bake at 170/Gas mark 3 for 15-20 mins

6. Cool

7. Decorate – the method used in this house is to make a few bowls of coloured icing and spoon it over the biscuits, while not very secretly also eating lots, then pour an entire packet of sprinkles on topduckmuck 008. I also tried this time with a couple of cocktail sticks, for adding detail, this didn’t really work, but Bean liked poking the icing with hers.

You may note in the photos that Bean was not involved in the baking, I did feel a bit guilty about this and did baking with both of them a few days later to make up for it, at the time Mr Monkey Juggling and I had decided to take a child each for an hour. She rejoined us for the icing. I have to say though, baking with one child is much less stressful than having both of them, I am not very good at baking with them both, it all tends to get a bit hectic.

After you’ve made your biscuits, you might like to do some imaginary play with them, we just ate them though.

External Links:
Borrow “Biscuit Bear” from your local library
Buy “Biscuit Bear”