Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Georgians at Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace on the River Thames in Middlesex was once owned by Henry VIII and is a magnificent Tudor and Baroque Palace. I know some of this because I was given a brief guide by the seven year old who apparently has been learning about such facts via some programme called Jedward's Big Adventure which I had banned and which he disobeyed me and watched anyway. How was I to know it was educational?

This year marks 300 years since George 1 ascended the throne and to celebrate this Historic Royal Palaces have some brilliant things up their sleeves. We were really kindly invited along to have a look at their new exhibition at Hampton Court Palace before it opened to the public. A private view! Now I longer work in museums these invites are few and far between, I couldn't resist a trip along to Hampton Court Palace with the kids to check it out.

The Glorious Georges exhibition showcases some of the brilliant Georgian objects in the historic collection and gives a bit of a potted history of the dynasty and its influence at Hampton Court. Its a sort of added bonus to a day trip there as you get to wander through the building looking at things you've never seen before and learn a little about life there during the Georgian period and who would have been in residence.
Scratching and Sniffing

There has been some thought about how to engage children with the exhibition and my kids were really excited to be given a scratch and sniff sheet to use around the displays. Each room had a particular item with a smell for them to find on the sheet. I think this sort of thing works brilliantly for children but personally I think I would have done it slightly differently. A point in the room where they had to go to sniff and a tick sheet would have worked better as it would have helped guide the children around. Nonetheless, they all got the impression that it wouldn't have been a fragrant as we would like today.

Whilst the boy scratches and sniff's the ghostly mannequins look on...
The other impressive thing in the exhibition for us was the display of costumes made from Tyvec (I imagine) which were placed in each room and supposed to represent characters as court, with a little bit of information about each person.
Beautiful reproduction costume (note they wouldn't have been this colour!)
We learnt some interesting facts from these ghostly mannequins and they were genuinely very interesting. However, although they looked beautiful on closer examination the costumes were of about 3 different types. It would have given a more useful impression, especially for the children if colourful costumes and portraits of individuals were used. In fact to be honest, cardboard cut-outs of portraits  rather than the beautifully made costumes would have been better for explaining the ideas and concepts to my kids.

The Georgians did some amazing table settings from napkins!
In terms of exhibitions that I've seen over the years, I'm disappointed to have say I didn't think it was a child friendly space and it really did require a lot of adult input to make it interesting for them. In turn this meant that as adults we didn't get as much out of it as we could have.

Don't let this put you off though, Hampton Court Palace is an absolutely fascinating place for children, there is so much to do and explore and they have some amazing activity sheets available. Children can even dress up in costume as they go around. The whole palace itself is exciting and inspirational, my eldest now has a fascination with all things ghostly and this has encouraged him to read everything he can about ghosts which can only be a good thing!

The gardens are absolutely stunning at Hampton Court I don't think we have ever been anywhere quite as beautiful this time of year and I think I'm going to take the children back in the next few weeks just to draw what they see and talk about flowers.

Our trip to Hampton Court has inspired me to make an effort to revisit all the Historic Royal Palaces, which I'm slightly ashamed to say I haven't been to since I was a child. This year is a great year to do it because there is a while Glorious Georges Season and absolutely loads of different activities taking place. I quite fancy the Georgian Masked Ball and Sleepover at Kensington Palace (if I can persuade the seven year old he might spot a ghost) and the Georgian Food Day at Kew Palace looks right up my street. There are also Georgian Family Festivals at Kensington Palace, Kew Gardens and Hampton Court in the summer which would be a brilliant thing to do in the school holiday's. You'll find all the information via the website here, if you don't live locally I'd really consider booking a break to go along to one of the events, they should be magnificent.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Just Like Being in the Famous Five!

Going for a walk with the family is one of the nicest things you can do, not only is it free and you're getting some exercise but it is a time when you can talk and explore together. For us, it’s always memorable.

Like everyone, there are some areas which we go to time and time again. Despite the changing seasons it can be a challenge convincing the children to visit again and so I've started thinking about different ways to engage them. There are loads of free resources and ideas out there and we like to use:

The other thing which works very well is to read a book and then use that as a source of inspiration. So for example, we have taken walks where we have hunted for Julia Donaldson's Stick Man and members of his family whilst  Eric Carles amazing books and activity sheets  have inspired us to collect stuff to make collages of animals. Walks over the varied landscape of Hatfield Forest have turned into adventures using Michael Rosen's We're Going on  Bear Hunt  and more recently Shouty Arthur  has reminded us not to be too noisy on our quests.

Since we started reading The Famous Five we have decided to be the Famous Five and re-create their adventures in which picnic's feature heavily. This has added a whole new dimension to country walks and to be honest has enabled me to pretend that I’m little again.

Getting out and about in the countryside is often hungry work and Yeo Valley has some great recipes that are suitable for a whole range of outdoor pursuits. Our favourite is the Campfire Sausages with Cider sauce which is the perfect warming, tea time treat when we’ve been busy exploring all day. They’ve also just launched their latest on-pack promotion where from March to July you can win one of two classic VW Campervans. So if all this talk of exploring and adventures has got you thinking then why not enter for a chance to win!

Disclaimer: I'm a Yeo Valley Brand Ambassador. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review: The Desolation of Smaug

Stretching a kids book that's shorter than any one of the three volumes of Lord of the Rings into 3 movies was always going to be a task and a half and there is plenty of padding and a bit of silliness in The Desolation of Smaug but the very fact the trilogy isn't hell-bent on taking itself too seriously makes everything all right. The best manifestation of this is Bilbo, played ably by Martin Freeman. There is such an understated level of humour in Freeman's performance, something so obviously absent from Elijah Wood's Frodo in Lord of the Rings, that anything that's maybe a little too ridiculous is seen as such with Bilbo's fine sense of the ridiculous.

There are some wonderful set pieces, such as the barrel riding escape from the elves, or the battle with Smaug under the mountain but they are all intentionally laced with humour, counterpointed rather well with Thorin Oakenshields complete lack of humour and humanity. Or should that be dwarfity?

The film isn't perfect, it's a bum numbing two and a half plus hours long and it shows with plenty of extra material that those familiar with the book might not recognise. Gandalf's encounter with Sauron while the companions get tangled up with spiders is a bit at odds with the tone of the rest of the film (it's mentioned in passing by Gandalf in the book) and it finishes on a rather unfair cliff hanger but that's to be expected of the middle film in a trilogy.

The burning question is how does the Desolation of Smaug work as a family film? The Hobbit trilogy is much lighter in tone than the Lord of the Rings, and there is plenty of slapstick to make the kids laugh. Counterpointing this is the spider sequence which is quite sinister, and the overall running time. Younger children may baulk at the running time but slightly older kids, heading towards teens, will love it and it will set them up nicely for Lord of the Rings in a couple of years time.

Review: Walking With Dinosaurs; The Movie

You cant go wrong in our household with a dinosaur movie. As a family of fossil hunters we all have a keen interest in dinosaurs and ambitions to actually find one in the future. I think this movie uses some of the footage from the BBC television series and frankly it looks awesome.

Walking With Dinosaurs; The Movie tells the tale of a little boy who doesn't like dinosaurs, he discovers a dinosaur tooth thanks to a bird pointing it out and then the world around him turns into the dinosaur world. Well, this is my seven year olds take on it. I actually couldn't get much of a look in because I used the digital download code on my ipad! The children then sat glued to the screen and I was occasionally allowed the chance to look at some of the bits which they considered super awesome.

From what I saw my only criticism was that it does come across as rather American and I did find the use of the world 'mom' rather grating. I thought that the whole movie was brilliant in that it was really educational for the children and they were really glued to the whole thing (they are aged 2, 5 and 7).

Afterwards at dinner we were discussing it and I was told that the best place to be in a herd is in the middle and that's where the kids would aim for if they were dinosaurs. I thought that was brilliant, I was really impressed.

 This is a totally watchable, great educational movie. It really makes a change to find something where the kids passively learn without even realising. Yes, its quite American and from what I heard and saw some of the scripts could have been a little bit more polished, however if you think of it like you would any other animated movie then they don't seem bad. I think its because the dinosaurs look so polished and real you expect a BBC natural history style documentary and as an adult its quite hard to get your head around that. As I say though, my kids had no issues at all and they are all keen to watch it again. I reckon this might be the movie by which we remember this Easter Break.

Ive been given some games to go with the film, I thought this Memory game was quite good:

Review: Zinc Scooters

The five year old scooter expert
One of the things which my children seem to excel at is scooting. Little Fifi in particular is an expert and we've had to swop between a two wheeler and her mini-micro scooter on the reception school run because she's so good at it. We were asked to have a look at a fantastic Zycho stunt scooter by UK company Zinc.

From the moment the scooter arrived the children were really excited, the fact of the matter is that this scooter just looks super cool. They all wanted a ride, even the husband. Such was the competition over this scooter that I decided to set up a scooter riding competition. This was a bad idea, as I immediately realised it would inevitably lead to tears. However, once the idea was floated it had to be enacted, I just hoped that the hubby would do enough to 'win' so we could continue with a shared scooter.
Fantastic deck on the scooter

In many ways for testing a scooter this wasn't such a bad thing as it demonstrated that the scooter could be used by our (admittedly exceeding good) five year old, the seven year old and the thirty nine year old (incidentally 6 ft 5 tall). Its made from incredibly sturdy aluminium which seems to deal with the variety of weights and strains each rider placed upon it.

The deck of the scooter is ideally designed with rounded edges and a really grippy deck (unlike our other scooters). This is brilliant for stunts but in my humble opinion also incredibly useful for the scooter crazed child who likes scooting in even the wettest of weather.
The seven year old has a go

I'm really impressed with this scooter, I think it will last a child for a good few years realistically from about seven years all the way through teenage years which makes it a very good buy. As long as your child is wearing appropriate safety gear you could do a lot worse than to encourage them to really get into scooting and trying out a few stunts, these days children spend far too much time sedentary indoors. Something like this is the perfect way to encourage them that sport and outdoor activity is really cool.

If you fancy one yourself you can get hold of one here:
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Disclaimer: We were given a scooter to review

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

How a child sees the world

I'm often hunting for my camera, the children seem to view it as their own and use it to take random photos of their world. In a way it seems a shame to try to prevent them doing this because I'm left with a rather unique record of things. Here are the latest offerings:

My brothers...
Earmuffs on my lap

The view from the dining room table
Self portrait in cat costume

Featured Post: Top UK Family Holiday Destinations

Deciding where to take the children for a holiday can be stressful. There are so many places to choose from, each with their own merits, so it can make it really hard to narrow it down to just one perfect holiday destination. They key is to find somewhere that has something for all of you - you'll find some great tips for family holidays on  Travelodge's blog and a few more suggestions below to help you work out where to spend your next family holiday:

China Town in London's West End

England's capital city, London really packs a punch when it comes to things to do with the kids. With everything from beautiful parks and open spaces like  Greenwich Park, Royal residences like Buckingham Palace and the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Kensington Palace, historical sites like The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, attractions like the London Dungeons and the London Eye, along with family friendly eateries The Rainforest Cafe and Sticky Fingers, London really is a wonderful place to visit with children of all ages. There's so much to see and do here! You of course have all of the attractions and sites of historical interest to visit. Add that to the amazing shows like Shrek and The Lion King that you'll find in the heart of the West End and the numerous child friendly events that take place throughout the year and you have a city break that can't be beaten. 


On the Sussex coast, Hastings was originally a fishing village surrounded by beautiful lush green countryside. Still true to its roots, you'll find evidence of its history as a fishing village everywhere you look, from the boat yard to the fishing museum and pirate caves. There are some great beaches to enjoy, a pier packed with amusements, arcades dotted along the seafront and a seafront funfair. It's a classic British seaside resort and one that never seems to go out of style. You'll find donkey rides, crazy golf, trampolines, shops selling donuts and sticks of rock, fish and chips restaurants and a pretty old town packed with historic buildings and antiques shops. Board the tram up the cliff and enjoy the views over the town and out to sea from the cliff top fields, or perhaps even take a wander up the country lanes and visit one of the farms selling homemade ice cream and cakes along the way. 

The New Forest

This beautiful part of Hampshire was once the private hunting ground of King Henry VIII. The deer remain even today and you can see them if you venture into the forest along the many paths through the centuries old trees. You're surrounded by wildlife here, and it's not uncommon to spot donkeys, horses, cows and even pigs wandering through the forest, open spaces and even up the local high street! The houses and buildings here are so pretty you'll see why they make it onto postcards. It’s a great place to get back to nature, explore the pretty woodland and coastal villages and towns, enjoy a market or two and maybe even try your hand at horseriding. 

Wherever you decide to visit this year, with a little planning you're sure to have an amazing time. 


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