Marvellous machines, creating kindness and bedtime stories…

Newark Book Festival 2021

Being able to lose yourself in a good book has always been a welcome opportunity so it is unsurprising that many people have chosen to escape from the past year’s uncertainty into less restrictive fictional worlds.

But celebrating stories as always been a shared activity too and one organisation working hard to make sure it can still honour this is the Newark Book Festival.

“Our 2021 festival may look a little different to what you are used to; our venues have changed to ensure we can provide a Covid-safe festival and they reflect changes in venue capacities and funding,” explains Newark Book Festival Artistic Director Sara Bullimore.

“But nonetheless we are delighted to bring you a varied, fun, informative and inspiring programme. With events online and in person, outdoors and (safely) indoors, there is something for everyone.”

And “everyone” most definitely includes mini readers.

The Tale of the Whale by Nottinghamshire author Karen Swann will provide the inspiration behind a Family Book Trail running throughout the festival weekend (July 8th to 11th).

Age 3 to 5 year olds can take their grown ups along to a storytelling session on Friday, July 9th at 10am at Beanblock Café where they can join Izzy Wheeldon and hear all about Clarence the Cockerel.

And a Schools Day, including Kerry Drewery and Jess Kidd, will take place online -contact the festival team for further information.

But, of course, it’s the Saturday and Sunday (July 10th and 11th) that sees lots of children’s events programmed in for when your mini ones have escaped the school gates for 48 hours.

Storytelling inspired by The Snail and the Whale, The Enormous Crocodile and time travel with Lincolnshire’s own Rhubarb Theatre, imagining what the world would be like if everyone was kind to each other with Nottinghamshire author Becky Goddard-Hill, following simple steps to build toys with Alom Shaha of Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines, visiting the book festival Wonderland at the Castle and winding down with some bedtime stories at the Palace Theatre are all activities welcoming mini audience members.

And, as the festival theme for 2021 is Our Stories, don’t forget to take the time for your young ones to share their stories, of home, how they stay happy and what they’ve been reading.

Booking for all events is recommended due to differing capacities. Visit www.newarkbookfestival.org.uk for further information.

#30DaysWild 2021 – Week One

It’s that time of year again when The Wildlife Trusts challenge everyone to do one wild thing each day throughout the month of June. “That’s 30 simple, fun and exciting Random Acts of Wildness“.

I always intend to be a lot more prepared than I am but as usual any structured planning didn’t happen for us so we’re definitely adhering to the “random” part of the brief.

The minis were on their half term break this week so we were able to start a day early with a Bank Holiday Monday trip to Sherwood Forest with friends. As well as taking in the sight of The Major Oak, that according to legend provided shelter to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, there was also leaf-shaded walks, tree climbing and den building to have a go at.

The challenge started officially on Tuesday with a Big Wild Breakfast so Willow and I enjoyed our morning meal in our back garden listening to the birds tweeting away at each other. Proclaiming it the “best breakfast ever” she then made sure the birds wouldn’t go hungry either by refilling some of our feeders.

Later in the week we met more friends at another beautiful wild spot, this time Whisby Nature Reserve. Just outside Lincoln, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust site has long been a favourite of ours and this week’s visit was as enjoyable as always, the lovely weather providing ample opportunity to savour the lake views from a high tower and to bury your brother in the sand in order to give him a merman’s tail.

A trip to Torksey park that gave Autumn the chance to play among the daisies (which she tried her hardest to add to her portion of the picnic we took with us), camping in the back garden, creature-based storytimes such as Everybunny Dance and Elmer the Elephant and entertaining friends in the garden all helped to bring us closer to nature during the rest of the week.

Let’s hope the glorious weather keeps remains during week two!

For further information about The Wildlife Trusts #30DaysWild challenge click here.

What random acts of wildness are you doing this year?

Summer season shows set to be back on stage!

Lincoln Performing Arts Centre announces theatre line-up

Mini theatre goers can finally get their hands ready to applaud the return of live theatre to indoor auditroiums as Covid restrictions begin to be lifted and the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre (LPAC) has an exciting line-up of much needed and long-awaited-for entertainment including several family-friendly shows.

Julia Donaldson’s wondrous tale of wanderlust, The Snail and the Whale, will be brought to life on stage by Tall Stories on July 24th (2pm and 4.30pm) and July 25th (11am and 2pm).

The heart-warming adventure recommended for age 4+, sees an adventurous young girl and her seafaring father reimagine the story of the tiny snail’s incredible trip around the world. The sea snail hitches a lift on the tail of a great big, grey-blue humpback whale and the pair’s amazing journey is brought to life through live music, storytelling and lots of laughs as their tale proves that even the tiniest creature’s efforts can be hugely effective.

If you have older readers who are fans of the Terry Deary series Horrible Histories then they too can enjoy seeing the tales of Gorgeous Georgians and Vile Vivtorians come to life on stage on August 25th (1.30pm and 4pm).

“Are you ready to swing with a Georgian king? Can you see eye to eye with Admiral Nelson? Does the Duke of Wellington get the boot? Dare you dance the Tyburn jig? Will you be saved by Florence Nightingale? Find out what a baby farmer did and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria!”

Both those shows indoor shows will, of course, be Covid-restrictions compliant (and “if the situation changes and the roadmap to recovery is delayed ticket bookers will be offered full refunds for affected events and offered to rebook if events need to be rescheduled”), but it is still the summer too and culture seekers who are also fans of picnics can grab a blanket and enjoy theatre in the fresh air at the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC).

Supported by the Culture Recovery Fund, LPAC and the IBCC have teamed up to provide a Family Fun Day on Sunday, August 22nd. Highlights will include The Three Muskateers by Morgan & West (Winners of Penn & Teller Fool Us!), pop-up performances and storytelling by the much-loved Rhubarb Theatre to small family groups in the marquee, family-focused Bomber Command workshops and more activities yet to be announced.

Also on:
July 15: Mathematician-turned-World-Slam-Champion Harry Baker with his stand-up comedy show I AM 10,000 celebrating numbers, words and life itself.
September 3: Comedian Jenny Eclair confronts a new decade of decrepitude in Jenny Eclair: Sixty! (FFS!)
September 3 (at the IBCC): The Lord Chamberlain’s Men present Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
September 11 (at the IBCC): Folk, roots and acoustic music will be celebrated in a Folk Festival.

Visit www.lpac.co.uk for further information and to book.

Ways to inspire your mini ones for Hedgehog Awareness Week

Cute and snuffly, the hedgehog is one of Britain’s most-loved wild animals but sadly our only spiny mammal is now officially classed as vulnerable to extinction. Hedgehog Awareness Week 2021 (May 2nd-8th), run by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, is encouraging people to make their gardens welcoming for the little creatures to give them more safe havens to live in.

As well as on the charity’s website, you can also find some top tips at How to Take Care of a Hedgehog on Emma and 3 after a prickly visitor to their garden had them researching the best way to take care of it.

These adorable guests are not the sole beneficiaries of such efforts though as they can often lift your spirits in return. “The challenging coronavirus period of 2020 has been made much more bearable in our house by the visit of wild hedgehogs,” writes Deb from My Boys Club in Our Coronavirus Summer of Hedgehog Love. “Seeing them nest, drink, feed and play in our and surrounding gardens have really made us enjoy their company on lockdown evenings” and she includes plenty of tips you can to try to help hedgehogs thrive too including leaving fresh water out for them to drink and putting holes in fences to allow them to roam freely.

Pack the PJs‘s Tracey had a hedgehog house waiting in her garden for a new resident to adopt it but when no one wandered by she became a fosterer for hedgehog rescuers Hettie’s Helpers instead and you can read about the stories of Sonic, Womble and Arya in Hedgehog Awareness Week: Our Fostering Story.

Whilst you’re waiting for one to include your garden in its evening explorations then your mini ones might want to get creative using its iconic shape as inspiration.

In What to do with Conkers for Kids Play, Charlotte of Team Stein “made some hedgehogs using the dough, spaghetti for the spikes and the conker for the hedgehog face” and suggests “You could use craft matchsticks for the spikes or like us we used some dry spaghetti. This activity is great for fine motor skills as they are using their little fingers to work the dough and then to poke the pasta in. You could extend play by making a small hedgehog home for your conker animal.”

Sarah from Craft Invaders had her kids “foraging for natural materials” for a craft which appropriately advises the wearing of gloves for one step descirbed in How to Make an Adorable Teasel Hedgehog. “These little teasel hedgehogs only take minutes to make, but we think they are super-cute, and make a lovely autumn craft,” she writes.

Wendy from Daisies & Pie also uses natural materials in her Hedgehog Craft for Kids. “Inexpensive as well as fun”, fallen autumn leaves are used to make the prickly pattern of the spikes and lollipop sticks added to the back to make them into puppets or to decorate plants.

For The Mini Mes and Me‘s Emma it’s pine cones that form the body of her creature creations. Adding air-drying clay and googly eyes, the best instruction in the method outlined in Pine Cone Hedgehogs is the final one – “Play!”

If your minis need a bit of a rest after all that crafting then why not sit down and share a suitably-themed book? The Happy Family Hub‘s Emma suggests one that “is a good example of a factual book that helps children think about the world around them” in Book Review: Roly the Hedgehog (and Friends). By Frances Rodgers and Ben Grisdale, the book is “primarily suited to age 2-6 year old children” and is part of the How can I help series which “aim to inspire children to help and nurture wildlife and teach them what they can do to help”.

We could all do with a little nuturing right now and whilst hugs with friends still can’t be physical perhaps you could send them a hedgehug instead with one of Chameleon and Co‘s Letterbox Pin Gift. Or you could just treat yourself or your mini ones and wear it to declare your love for the both furry and prickly ones that need a little helping paw right now.

Find out more about the awareness week at www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/hedgehog-awareness-week-2021/

Create, play, read and craft – but, above all, imagine

Newark Book Festival Imaginarium

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Losing yourself in a good book can provide all sorts of benefits as any avid reader knows but a good dollop of escapism has to be one of the biggest advantages in current times for story lovers both young and old.

One Saturday, February 27th, the Newark Book Festival will be helping to engage those imaginations keen to fly into fictional worlds with a series of free online events designed for families.

The Imaginarium festival will see Rhubarb Theatre presenting its adaptations of Addy Farmer’s space travel adventure A Place Called Home and the classic fairy tale The Ugly Duckling.

Nottinghamshire-based author Frances Stickley will be sharing some of her stories including What Will you dream of tonight? and The Mouse’s Apples and introduce you to the characters in her story sack.

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Budding illustrators can join prize-winning Bunnies on the Bus author Philip Ardagh for stories, drawing and fun and older children can take part in a writing workshop exploring magical worlds with LD Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series.

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Thomas Taylor will be sharing more about his book Gargantis, set in the mysterious Eerie-On-Sea, and Jenny McLachlan will be inviting you to welcome dragons, unicorns and mermaids into your living room as she introduces The Land of Roar.

The fun doesn’t have to start and stop on the 27th though. Get those imaginations warmed up by creating a model of your favourite character from a book to enter the festival’s craft competition beforehand and afterwards families local to Newark can download the Barry the Bookworm exercise trail and look out for Barry in shop windows across the town throughout March.

All events are free (donations are welcome). Find out more about the events on the Festival website, visit www.iaminprint.co.uk/newark-book-festival to book your free place online and visit Newark Book Festival Facebook Page for regular updates.

Chakraji and Calm Callum

The state of children’s mental health has been a growing concern in recent years and it is unsurprising that the pandemic’s continuing effects have seen the problem grow even worse.

Hansa Pankhania, who founded AUM Wellbeing Consultancy, has plenty of experience as a corporate wellbeing expert, speaker and author but it’s not just adults that she feels could benefit from her skills.

“For a few years, I have been concerned about the rising levels of stress and anxiety in children and young people. Just like all life skills, it is imperative for children to have the skills to overcome stress, otherwise it builds up and causes mental health issues in later life,” she writes on her company’s blog.

“My forte is to pass on simple natural techniques that do not cost anything and are easy to integrate into everyday life.”

Her concern has led her to publish a children’s picture book called Chakraji and Calm Callum (Sohum Publications, £7.99).

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Illustrated by Anne-Marie Sonneveld, it is the first in a planned series of six titles that incorporates these “natural techniques” in imaginative storytelling to introduce mini readers to mindfulness and stress relief techniques.

Integrating Eastern and Western influences, the short tale essentially presents a breathing exercise and affirmation. But encapsulating it in a story of a young boy upset by his parents arguing, complete with magical flamingo ride to see the mystical maternal Chakraji seated on a rainbow, enables parents to introduce these ideas and techniques in a less direct manner. Accompanying Callum on his colourful journey allows for discussion of feelings in the third person.

The eldest two minis are very used to joining in with actions suggested by a book and reenacting the story in different ways (see Everybunny Dance! and A Busy Day for Birds), so no verbal prompting was needed to get them to copy the instructions Callum is given by Chakraji, as soon as I put my palm on my tummy they started physically following along too. And, in the couple of days after our initial reading, my six year old was also keen to repeat the magic words the flamingo teaches Callum “to make you feel happy inside” to prove to me she remembered them.

Anything that might help young people’s resilience during these strange times is definitely worth embracing and, even if it’s not retained and just works when you’re reading it, a calming story for bedtime is always welcomed too.

Today is the start of Children’s Mental Health Week 2021 (February 1-7). This year’s theme is Express Yourself.
And it’s also National Storytelling Week 2021 (January 30 – February 6).

Baking, time travel, natural exploration and crafting fun delivered directly through your letterbox

2020 has been the year of staying in and the toys mini ones receive under the tree this year may have a greater opportunity to be played with this festive season if schools are delayed in returning next term. But many parents will still be searching for suggestions of worthier Christmas gifts than the adbundantly available one-trick-pony plastic lumps in shiny boxes (or at least someting to go alongside them…)

So, as they’re delivered directly to your door mat, a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year, containing a variety of activities designed to keep your mini ones’ hands busy and minds engaged, it’s no wonder that letterbox subscription services are experiencing a surge in range and popularity.

Mini number two would be looking forward to the launch of Lincoln’s The Back Garden Bakery Bakers Club if she knew it’s been ordered for her for Christmas – read more about it at Inspire your mini baker with lots of membership incentives and, if we manage to harness her enthusiasm into making anything that looks vaguely edible, then be sure to check the blog again in the new year to see what she thinks of it.

We’ve already had lots of fun reviewing Mud + Bloom’s nature-inspired activity box here – Educational, fun and easy ways to inspire children to connect with nature. And Jo from A Rose Tinted World is also a fan of this one – “It is so full of really good information and a really good prompt for learning about nature with your child. It is fun whilst being educational,” she writes in her post Mud + Bloom Subscription Box Review which includes some very pretty ice decorations. 

And there are lots of different boxes to choose from too as some more of my fellow bloggers are keen to recommend.

“The Mysteries in Time box is fantastic,” says Jennifer who writes at Mighty Mama Bear. “It’s a brilliant way of making history accessible and interesting for kids. You get a lot inside the box and my kids loved it”. Find their full review of the box aimed at ages 7 to 11 here – History for Kids: Mysteries in Time Subscription Box Review.

Small House Big Trips’s Kelly thinks that The Learning Club (aimed at ages 3 to 5) is “fabulous”. “This box incorporates the full 7 different Early Years Developmental Milestones into fun activities through the use of 7 unique and fun characters,” she writes – find her full review at The Learning Club.

In her Positivity, Self-Care, and Mindfulness Gift Guide, The Less-Refined Mind’s Kate includes the Letterbox Anxiety Mindfulness Craft Kit from The Breathing Buddy. “This letterbox kit is really, truly lovely,” she writes. “I adore the simplicity of the crafts and the way it has all been put together. Because it’s a small business, it’s not overly commercialised in terms of packaging or items – it all feels very authentic, and the concepts – both individually for each craft, and in its entirety as a product – are wonderful.”

If your minis ones are particularly crafty you might want to consider a toucanBox, recommended by both Shel from The Willow Tree and Welsh Mum Christy.

In ToucanBox Review – A Kids Craft Box, Shel epitomises why these subscriptions are proving so popular at the moment: “With the second lockdown leaving us and being in a Tier 3 area, staying at home seems to be on our agenda more than ever.  Therefore, sourcing arts and crafts kits to keep the kids entertained is high on my agenda at the moment!” Aimed at children aged 3 to 8, Shel praises it’s unboxing appeal – complete with secret compartment – found it very engaging and liked that you can choose the crafts for each box. 

And Christy has had a similar experience, writing in Craft Subscription Box ToucanBox Review that “when we were forced inside this year and I wanted to keep my three year old entertained and educated in a similar way to nursery, crafting seemed ideal”. Opting for a bee and a crocodile craft, Christy found it “stress and hassle free” which is definitely a winning statement for any parent.

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“Being a working mum, I don’t have much time to organise kid’s activities” writes Rowena from My Balaning Act. “That’s why a kids subscription box is perfect for my lifestyle! It means that I can still do cooking and crafts with my son but without having to worry about the time it takes to plan and prepare.” In her post Kids Subscription Box UK: Foodini Postal Club she praises it for teaching kids about food and encouraging them to get creative in the kitchen.  “It is perfect for fussy eaters as it will give them a new appreciation of food, allowing them to explore new flavours and seasonal ingredients.”

Will your mini one be unwrapping something to unbox this Christmas? Let us know your favourite subscription boxes in the comments.

Inspire your mini baker with lots of membership incentives

Businesses having to innovate during the pandemic is hardly unheard of but one Lincoln woman seems to have particularly honed the art of adapting to our ever-changing Coronavirus circustances.

Helen’s The Back Garden Bakery was both successfully supplying cakes to local cafes and teaching decorating technique workshops before lockdown struck, taking away the majority of her existing trade.

Bouncing back from such a ruinous outlook, Helen had soon not only launched “Quarantine Cupcakes”, delivering sweet treats directly to customer doorsteps in a socially-distanced manner, but also took her in-person workshops online, beaming her creative tutorials virtually into people’s homes via whichever screen worked for them.

Now the cook is launching her third innovative service just in time to vie for a place on mini ones’ Christmas lists. Not content to settle for our doorsteps and our internet connections, Helen is looking to share her love of baking through our letterboxes too, creating a club that could welome members from across the country as well as locally.

“The Back Garden Bakers Club came about in the midst of COVID, when business was all about adapting to stay afloat,” she explains.

“During lockdown I ran online tutorials for children and had such an amazing response I started to think about how this could grow and become something that wasn’t just about lockdown. In a world where our children have technology thrust in their faces on a daily basis, I wanted a way to use that to lead to a positive, creative experience.”

And so the idea for subscription packs evolved.

“Every month there will be a new recipe card to try and two online tutorials to follow at your leisure,” she says.

“Full access to The Back Garden Bakers Club members-only website jam packed with helpful hints, tips, tutorials and a gallery space for all club members creations will be included along with full access to a private Back Garden Bakers Club Facebook page with weekly competitions to win amazing baking goodies.”

And if eating the results of such inspiration isn’t enough in itself, Helen’s club provides plenty of extra incentives to keep your litle bakers reaching for their rolling pins.

“In month one you also receive a Back Garden Bakers Club logo apron and a Back Garden Bakers Club Challenge Wall Chart – complete both monthly challenges and receive prizes at three months and six months.

“In month two you receive The Back Garden Bakery Cupcake Recipe Book and a fabulous folder to keep all your recipe cards safe.

“And in month three you receive a Back Garden Bakers Club Baking Journal filled with spaces to design your own creations and recipes, to put in pictures of your work, a calendar to keep check of all your birthday and anniversary baking dates and a fab fun sticker sheet.

“And, if that wasn’t enough, from month one you receive a 10% members’ discount card that can be used for Back Garden Bakery Workshops, one-to-ones and any cake orders.

“All through December there are fantastic discounts for three monthly, six monthly or 12 monthly passes – it’s £14.99 per month, for three months paid in advance it’s £40, for six months paid in advance it’s £75 and for 12 months paid in advance it’s £145.”

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For more information please visit The Back Garden Bakery, email Cakeme@backgardenbakery.co.uk or call 07958 045243.

Lincoln mum expands her focus to find more family fun

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Lockdown has given us all the chance to think about doing things differently in our lives whether we’ve wanted to or not. For one Lincoln mum of two it’s proved a great opportunity to expand her horizons from the city’s walls to the much wider county’s borders.

Emma Crellin owned and ran Lincoln Mums for the last five years but has used the strange time the pandemic period has afforded her to create the new brand Lincs Kids, taking her experience of running the parent-foucsed city community county wide.

The newly launched website aims to encourage Lincolnshire families to explore, visit and shop locally within the county.

“Lincolnshire has so much on hand for local families,” says Emma. “Now more than ever, people are shopping and visiting more locally.

“By launching Lincs Kids we have created a hub which allows people to see at a glance what is around for them to do and see, and to create some great value offers for local families.

“We will be there to support local businesses during this second lockdown time and afterwards as people get out and about again.”

Lincs Kids focuses on Lincolnshire’s activities, classes, retailers, food and drink, services, health/fitness providers and green spaces. Emma wants it to bring information together in one place with an events calendar, regular what’s on guides, social media pages and a blog with local parents contributing their reviews and views.

The Lincoln Mums discount card can still be used to access all the promotions offered to the community’s members and parents and carers new to the area and/or Emma’s work can now request a free Lincs Kids Family Card. It already provides more than 50 discounts off local attractions, eateries and services and the number of participating business partners is growing and is now expected to expand rapidly.  Card holders can also subscribe to a newsletter providing monthly updates on new offers and promotions.

Find out more at www.lincskids.co.uk, email emma@lincskids.co.uk or follow @lincskidsuk on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.