Category Archives: holidays

The Making of a Harry Potter Fan’s Holiday – Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Diagon Alley

My twelve-year-old placed the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio tour firmly at the top of her list of places to visit when we were in the UK.  Following our visit to the Dr. Who Experience her younger sisters were more cautious.  Friends who had visited previously, assured them that it was amazing and not a bit frightening but I’m not sure they were totally convinced. Of course, their friends were right, it wasn’t a bit scary.  You are taken on a journey to see how the film was created and  seeing the special effects behind the film alleviated all their fears, especially seeing how tiny the dementors are in real life.

dementors

Warner Bros Studio Tour is located North of London so we stayed nearby at North Hill Farm. As a family of five it can be difficult to find hotels and B&B’s that allow us to share one room.  The family room at North Hill Farm slept five and was perfect for all of us.

Excitement mounted as we drove into the car park and saw the signs and statues outside.  All visitors require advance booking with timed slots and this allows for a wonderful experience where you never feel overwhelmed by crowds and everything is easy to see without queues.

Hogwarts great hall

I have to admit to feeling a little emotional watching the introductory film and completely awestruck when the doors opened onto the great hall. Groups are led by a guide into these first two sections, while the rest of the tour is self guided.

audio tour warner bros studio tour

As a Harry Potter geek, my daughter listened to the audio tour.  I knew she would appreciate facts and figures but without it most exhibits have a guide or video screen telling you more about it.  My seven-year-old was enraptured by the talk at the wig stand and delighted in telling me stories about Malfoy’ wig.

There are plenty of exhibits young children can interact with from making magic to wand workshops and riding on a broom. The guides were so good at encouraging the kids as seen in this video clip.

Next stop Platform 9 3/4. Inside the Hogwarts Express, the carriages move through the movies in sequence , decorated with appropriate props.

Platform 9 3/4

This takes you to the outside lot where you can sample butterbeer or butterbeer ice cream. The detail in Privet Drive is wonderful, each certificate on the wall depicting Dudley’s pointless achievements.

 

The final lot features special effects, illustrated by a series of clever videos and the art of Harry Potter.  The tour ends with a surprise that truly takes your breath away, so I’m not going to offer any hints to spoil it.

Olivanders
Olivanders

 

There is so much to see at the Warner Bros. Studio tour. I would plan to stay at least three hours and allow extra time  for shopping. There is a lot of exclusive merchandise and entry to the shop is not permitted without a ticket for the tour.  We found some cool stuff although sadly I ruined my husband’s Slytherin Quidditch top with bleach after he had worn it once.  Looks like I have the perfect excuse to return some time. If you visit the café, the kids lunches come in this really cool knight bus box.

knight bus lunch box

There was never a complaint from any of the kids that they had seen enough, the whole experience was utterly engaging and we wouldn’t hesitate to return.  If you are looking for a full, well organised and good value experience I would put this top of your list. When I asked the girls what their favourite part of our trip was, the unanimous response was Harry Potter!  In case you need further confirmation, just look at these faces.

happy childrenimg_2125-2

Disclaimer: No payment or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.

 

 

Hallowe’en Songs for Pre-schoolers.

When it comes to Hallowe’en my repertoire of songs is not as large as some other seasonal favourites. Tweaking a few nursery songs and finding a few favourites online,  I put together a small package of activities for a preschool music session.

Look at all these pumpkins
Look at all these pumpkins

 

5 Little Pumpkins ( A Popular Rhyme in the US)

5 Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate

The first one said “Oh my, it’s getting late”

The second one said “There are witches in the air”

The third one said “But we don’t care”

The fourth one said “Let’s run, Let’s run”

The fifth one said “Isn’t Hallowee’n fun?”

Then woooooo went the wind

And OUT went the lights.

And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

 


 

There’s a Spider on the Floor ( To the tune of ‘Put your Finger on your Head)

spider webs spun using sticks and yarn
spider webs spun using sticks and yarn

 

Move the spider up your body and make rhymes with different body parts eg There’s a spider on my tummy and I really want my mummy, there’s a spider on my knee and he’s very scary. Lyrics to the first verse are here.

 

 


 

If You’re a Monster and You Know It (Spooky Version of If You’re Happy and You Know It)

If you’re a monster and you know it then say ‘raaaaggh’

If you’re a witch and you know it say ‘HA HA’

If you’re a ghost and you know it then say ‘Oooooooo’

If you’re a dragon and you know it, breathe out fire.

If you love Hallowe’en then shout ‘BOO’

Charcoal Monster
Charcoal Monster

 

The Skeleton Dance

Doing the Skeleton Dance A slightly different version of the song ‘Dem Bones’

 


 

 

This is the Way we Carve a Pumpkin (to the tune ‘Here we go round the Mulberry Bush)

carving

This is the way we carve pumpkin, carve a pumpkin, carve a pumpkin,

This is the way we carve a pumpkin on Hallowe’en.

This is the way we cut off the top….

This is the way we scoop out the seeds….

This is the way we cut out a face…..

This is the way we light it up….

 

The Jack o Lantern keeps monsters away….

Monsters away, monsters away

The Jack O lantern keeps Monsters away

On Hallowe’en

 


 

I Hear Thunder (Use a spring drum for atmospheric effect)

I hear thunder, I hear thunder

Hark don’t you? Hark don’t you?

Pitter-patter raindrops, pitter-patter raindrops

I’m wet through

So are you.

Bats are flying, bats are flying

In the night , in the night

Watch out for the witches! Watch out for the witches

What a fright, what a fright.

Trick or treating, trick or treating

Door to door, door to door

Gathering our goodies, gathering our goodies

More and more, more and more.


Instruments and Movement.

after-dark-playing-in-the-dark2

Turn off the lights and give each child a flashlight/torch.

Play spooky Music – We chose ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Mussorgsky .

Encourage the children to make their torchlight dance to the music.

Help the children to choose instruments that might add to the atmosphere. (Deep drums, a spring drum, rainmakers and penny whistles are especially good).

Waiting for the Fish

dads gone fishing‘ Let’s just go camping for our Summer holiday this year’

Hold on a moment, did those words really come from my mouth?  Until my mid twenties I recoiled in horror at the thought of camping. After I left girl guide camp half way through the week because I hated it so much, I convinced myself that camping wasn’t for me. In truth, I didn’t hate it at all. A rumour that newcomers would be pushed in the cesspit if they didn’t pass initiation had worried me so much that I begged to go home.  My views changed after a few great camping trips as an adult but I’d never have considered a camping trip for my main holiday.

A yearning to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, good weather and the children’s eagerness to go camping, convinced me it was a good idea.  An eight hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, three young children, a dog and a heatwave; perhaps I had lost my mind?

Amazingly, the car journey was fine.  The first couple of hours were spent playing ‘would you rather….’ and guessing the names of characters from books or screen.  The rest of the journey we listened to cd’s of musicals and admired the view.

Our destination Curlew Lake State Park, chosen for its beauty, a place for the children to swim and for my husband and the girls to go fishing.  “Fishing!” I hear my 20- year-old self, with an irrational fear of fish exclaim, ” are you intent on sending me on the holiday from hell?”  Strangely none of those sentiments cross my mind as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of the campsite on the shore of the Lake.

curlew lake

Without a shop or a playground in sight, would the children be happy? For now the excitement of sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside and trying to catch their first fish fuelled their enthusiasm.

They were eager to go to the beach to swim. I was amazed that we were the only people on the beach.  The ground wasn’t soft like the lake at home but filled with slippery algae.  It didn’t put them off.  They used the algae and stones to create patterns on the ground and then set up their own foot spa, spreading the algae over their feet and washing it off.

curlew lake

The Foot Spa
The Foot Spa

I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me to. At that moment I knew why this holiday was no longer my biggest nightmare. The children were immersed in the moment, playing, discovering and sharing. In the distance, my husband was on the lake in the canoe and I was here in a rare moment of quiet. This wasn’t one of those family holidays where we rushed to cram in every little experience.   I’m sure that these unhurried moments are the ones they will remember most.

There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

WaltWhitman

They found magic in the simple things.

Eeyore's bbq

Look I think Eeyore has been here

Maybe it’s his barbecue?

Really! Do you think so?

musing over a blade of grass
musing over a blade of grass
curlew lake
building sculptures

My eldest had big girl time with dad, paddling the canoe at sunrise. Nights weren’t the most restful we had ever had, with five people and a dog in the same tent but there are few things more peaceful than the middle of a lake in the early morning.

canoe on curlew lake

It didn’t take us long to understand the rhythms of nature; the time of day that the deer would wander down the hill to visit,  geese would fly across the lake, fish would start to bite or that darkness would fall.

Sometimes though, nature takes you by surprise.  One night, as we were snuggled in the porch of the tent telling stories, the poles holding the porch open, fell down. As if from nowhere,  the winds whipped up and tugged at the tent. Before we knew it dad and big sister had us zipped up inside while they battled against the wind and dust to secure the tent. I tried to drown out the rangers talk of trees blowing down, by telling the story of  ‘My Favourite Things’  from the ‘Sound of Music’ and singing.  Enraptured, the little ones soon forgot about the storm. They implored me to tell the story of ‘The Sound of Music’- the whole story, all 3 hours of it complete with every song. Thankfully the storm was short, the tent and trees survived and unlike my 11-year old self, I didn’t get the urge to run home.

One of the reasons for choosing Curlew Lake was the fishing, so in the early evenings we took the canoe out to explore the lake and try to catch fish.  The girls had only ever caught small fish and were eager to catch one they could eat. Our family trips in the canoe lacked the quiet and patience needed to catch anything of note.  However, on the last day their wish came true. Our neighbouring campers, who visit every year to fish, offered to take us out in their boat and help the girls to catch trout.  The fish came one after the other.

Here we go
Here we go
My first fish
My first fish

Then the fish got bigger

fishing
They were so proud of their catch.
trout

After the holiday, fishing has become a regular pastime. When dad goes out on his own, the girls greet him eagerly to see if he has caught anything we can eat. Other times, we all go to the lake together and mix up fishing with swimming and playing.  On a recent trip, we explored the river bank , a place we probably would never have visited if it weren’t for fishing .  Watching the girls excitement at their discoveries and creating with sticks and stones was magical. We returned home with a pile of sticks and ideas for making things with them.  Moments like this are important for all of us. Resting our minds through daydreaming and play increases productivity and creativity says Daniel Levitin author of ‘The Organized Mind’. Without time for spontaneity, children lack the mental space to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.

It makes a big splash. Plop!
It makes a big splash. Plop!
Drawing with sticks on rocks
Drawing with sticks on rocks
building a xylophone
building a xylophone
Let's see how many 'Y' sticks we can find.
Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.
Look what it can do.
Look what it can do.

As I looked out across the river at the jumping fish, the blue skies and the green trees, I could picture an old couple; man fishing, wife painting the landscape or writing in a notebook.  I suppose fishing isn’t so bad after all.  I’m happy to spend many more years waiting for the fish.


9 Water Gun Activities for Summer Fun

We recently acquired a set of water guns because the girls love a water fight. On a hot day a water fight is great fun but it isn’t always warm enough. When a water fight isn’t the best option, here are some other water gun activities you could try.

1. Ping-Pong Blast

fun with a water gun

Line up golf tees with ping-pong balls placed on top.

Ready, Steady, Blast…….

How many can you knock down?

water gun

2. Fireworks Display

“Come outside, we’ve got something to show you”,  the girls called out one evening, shortly after July 4th. They treated us to a watery firework display, creating shapes with their water guns and giving each one a different name.

water gun play

3. Skittles/Bowling

Using a set of garden skittles (or in our case bottles, tin cans and cups) line them up and see how many you can knock down by squirting water at them.

garden bwling

4. Ball push

Lay out different types of balls.

Which ones do you think you can move with the water gun?

ball push
It moves just a little bit.

5. Duck Race

Race ducks in the paddling pool, using the water gun to move them from one side to the other.

duck race

6. Ring the Bell

Hang a bell , saucepan lid or other metallic object from a bush and investigate the sound it makes if you squirt it.  You could try a variety of objects and listen to the different sounds.

cowbell

7. Trampoline Splash

My youngest decided to spray the trampoline and invited me to bounce. As we bounced the water splashed into the air like jumping in a puddle. Great for bouncing on  a hot day.

spraying the trampoline

8. Water the plants

If you are looking for little helpers, why not let them water the plants with their water gun?

watering

9. I’ve challenged the older girls to design a water gun obstacle course and race against each other or a timer.

water_gun_activites.png

Christmas Decorations and Crafts to Make with Young Children

Looking across the street at our neighbours wonderful light displays makes our house look a little inferior.  I really don’t mind because our decorations are a labour of love.  Almost everything is homemade and those that are not have been bought very cheaply from charity shops or dollar stores.  We may not set the street alight but the decorations are for the children and have had the children’s full involvement.

We have a cherry tree outside our front door and have been gradually adding decorations to it. They are not as beautiful as many of those you may see on Pinterest but they are all the children’s own work.

Here are some of the things we have been doing over the past month.

1.Lolly/Popsicle Stick Snowflakes.

lolly stick christmas decoration

2. Snowmen

Join polysterene balls together with cocktail sticks and decorate with push pins or sticky tape.  This activity took on a life of its own as my daughter’s let their imaginations run wild.

3. Decorate old Cd’s

home made christmas decorations

4. Ice ornaments

ice decorations

5. Pine cone reindeer

pine cone reindeer

6. Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread cookies

7. Wreath

homemade wreath

We bought a cheap tinsel wreath in dollar store and re-threaded it with items we had collected from the garden.

8. Hula hoop weaving

Christmas decoration using hula hoop

Using old Christmas decorations and our spiderweb we had made for Hallowe’en.

9. Snowflakes

paper snowflakes

I’d recommend using thin paper with young children as they found them hard to cut.  In nursery we used to use kitchen paper, thin packing paper works well too.

10. Salt dough decorations

salt dough

 

11. Recycling Christmas Cards

 

My favourite.  I left out a basket of old Christmas cards, scissors, tape and glue sticks and this is what the girls came up with.  We also used them to make gift tags for family presents.

12. Table Centre

table arrangement christmas

Using items we collected in the autumn, scented with oil, dusted with fake snow and adding a few finishing touches.

Snow Day

snow day

What a treat to have a snow day on the last day of term before Christmas. On a snow day we receive an automated message from our school district. Initially the message said all schools would open 2 hours late but this soon changed to ‘closed for the day’.

Sledging

In preparation for the Winter Olympics we tried bobsledding. The girls lay on their front while their sisters pushed them down the hill shouting oy,oy,oy. I can’t wait for the Winter Olympics to show them real bobsledding – I loved watching it as a kid.

Snowmen

The girls started the make a snowman.  I suggested we see if we could roll a really big ball to make a body.  My 9-year-old found it difficult as the snow kept crumbling so I started it off for her and then everyone joined in to help.

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Once we had perfected the art of making snowmen they made a baby one to pull on the sledge.
baby snowman on sledge

He soon ended up with his friend.

mother and baby snowman

Snow Painting

After a break for cookies and hot chocolate, I filled some glitter sprinklers and herb containers with powder paint.  The little ones enjoyed sprinkling around while my eldest drew pictures in the snow with her fingers and coloured them in.

They made a snow angel and coloured it with paint.

coloured snow angel

Other Snow Fun

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Mount Ranier National Park and The Santa Express

I love the Winter holidays here.  There are long bank holidays on festivals we either don’t celebrate or have a quiet time at home because there are no family visits to pack in.  This gives us a lot of time to explore the area. The weather isn’t warm but there is so much to see and do here that looks beautiful in any weather.

For Thanksgiving weekend we took the family on a trip to Mount Ranier National Park and for a ride on Mount Ranier Scenic Railway ‘s Santa Express.

We entered the park at Longmire rather than the larger entrance at Paradise.  At Longmire there is a restaurant, a small gift shop and a museum (this wasn’t open).

The girls were very excited to find snow, every few feet my youngest would stoop down to pick it up.

Snow at mount ranier National Park

We then went for a short walk along the trail. My adventurous family hate to stick to the path, so soon we came across a river and we slid down the bank to see if we could get across.

My husband carried the little ones across but it wasn’t long before they were wading through the water themselves, just about managing to keep their clothes dry, even if their feet got a little wet. What a beautiful place it was, the wide expanse is so different from anything you get in the UK.  My husband (followed by the dog) soon practised his balancing act on a tree stump closely followed by my eldest.

mount ranier

The twilight was drawing in so we made our way back across to the path.  We walked back to the car holding hands as we felt it getting darker around us.  The girls were a little scared and a little excited to walk while it was getting dark but were reassured by the road nearby with its comforting lights.

The boots and socks were dried out overnight and we headed to Elbe for our train ride.  We gathered a few provisions in the local store.  I loved the sign explaining the demographics of Elbe  ‘population – not many’.

We soon saw the train arriving.

IMG_1354Mount Ranier Scenic Railway

Once the train departed the guard informed us that we could see Santa, we made our way through the many carriages trying hard not to fall and passing the many Christmas trees. Santa was in his grotto and the girls each had a nice gift and a candy cane.

santa collage

By the time we arrived back from Santa we had almost reached the mid-point of the journey. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the views. I expected stunning mountain views but instead we saw forest, farms and rivers. The girls watched out for wildlife whilst playing with their new toys.
mount ranier scenic railway

The train ride lasted around 2 hours which seemed to pass very quickly. A lovely start to our Christmas festivities. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mount Ranier when the weather is warmer.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall