5 Half Term Projects That Cost Less Than A Sausage

[This is a reposting of a blog I did for the Spring Half Term but with a Halloween update… enjoy!]

I’m really looking forward to half term week with my 6 year-old Biscuit-thief, and I’m determined not to watch Cbeebies even once, however much I miss it.

This is my top five list of things we’ll be doing that cost under £1! Yes! These activities cost less than a sausage and yet, are somehow priceless.

1. Do a mind control experiment

I seriously LOVE this experiment and can still remember doing it when I was 7. IT CHANGED MY LIFE and is the best possible way to teach children the power of positive thinking. Literally, mind blowing.

You will need:

  • A packet of cress seeds
  • Some kitchen towel
  • Three trays/old ice cream containers or similar
  • Three labels/stickers
  • Some thoughts
  • Some words

Pad the bottom of each container with kitchen towel then, with a measuring jug, pour equal amounts of water into each tray – just enough to dampen the towel, not soak it. Then, sprinkle roughly the same amount of cress seeds on top of the dampend kitchen towel in each tray.

Make three labels; one that says something nice like “love”, one that says something horrible like “hate” and leave the third blank. Put one label on each tray. Place the trays side-by-side so that they get equal amounts of light and heat.

Now, here’s the important bit: over the next week, encourage your Biscuit-thief to say or think really lovely things towards the LOVE tray. They can say and think equally mean things about the HATE tray and have to ignore the third tray. Every day, they need to pour equal amounts of water into each tray to keep the seeds moist whilst thinking and saying lovely or mean things to the relevant seeds.

You and they will FREAK OUT when, by the end of half term, the LOVE tray of seeds has grown faster with thicker stems than the seeds in the poor little HATE tray. It’s a bizarre, brilliant life lesson courtesy of cress. And watch the penny drop as your sproglets realize the damage they are doing when they call you a smelly fart head.

 2. Colour code the week

On Monday morning, decide with your sproglet what the colour theme of each day will be for example, Monday = Red, Tuesday = Yellow etc. Whatever you do that day, from the clothes you both wear to the food you all eat, there must be an emphasis on that colour.  They can count how many red cars, how many people they see wearing red jumpers etc on that day. The screams when they see a purple car on purple day… you have no idea. Not only will you realize that very few of us can really get away with that pastel orange Top Shop are trying to sell us, it’s also brilliant when the kids get to Friday and realize they have to eat lots of greens. Crafty eh?

3. Play Boredom Bingo

Boredom Bingo
Play Boredom Bingo this half term!

My 6 year-old is never happier than when she has a clipboard and pen in her hand. Maybe she’s going to be a polling officer or telly-offy type person when she grows up. I worry about her love of bureaucracy, it’s as if I’ve taught her NOTHING. Anyway, she makes lists in connection with whatever we’re doing. For example, on a trip to our local corner shop, the Biscuit-thief will make a list of ‘expected sightings’ to tick off like:

  • A woman crying
  • Some dog poo
  • Someone hugging a hoodie
  • An abandoned mattress
  • A really cocky urban fox

Apart from the fact that we REALLY MUST MOVE house, an average trip is transformed from boring milk run to fascinating detective trail. If she spots all five things, she has to shout, “BOREDOM BINGO” at the top of her lungs and wins a kiss from mummy. I really must copyright Boredom Bingo.

4. Make a sculpture from your tears

This is genius because you can turn your nervous breakdown into a science experiment:

You need:

  • A jam jar with a lid
  • Some string
  • A spoon
  • Some water
  • Some salt
  • Some tears

Make a small hole in the lid of the jam jar and put a piece of thickish string through it, tying a knot at the top so it can’t fall through the lid. Fill the jar with warmish water and add a few table spoons of salt. Mix with a spoon and let the salt dissolve. Every time you or your sproglets cry over half term, catch a few of the tears in the jam jar to add to the salt mix. Place the lid with the string onto the jam jar and behold as over the week, the salt clusters around the string to form a gorgeous, crystalline gem. The size of the crystal will depend on how many tears have been shed. BRILLIANT.

5. Make an Ancestor Tree

There is almost nothing that makes the Biscuit Thief happier than full permission to CUT THINGS UP or HUNT FOR STICKS. This timely Halloweeny activity is perfectly suited to her forager tendencies. First you need to find a nice big tree branch. If you can’t find a real one, draw a tree on a large bit of paper with lots of branches sticking out. Then you need to print off pictures of as many of your relations as you can, as far back as you can go, and stick them onto your tree or hang their photos from the branches of your stick. Even if you don’t have photos or much knowledge about your relations, it is amazing to jot down the family myths and stories you have inherited on post-it notes, and stick them all over the tree. It is a great way to engage your sproglets with their roots, bringing an element of storytelling and rembrance to this magical time of year. Obviously, you may need to edit the stories to be ‘age appropriate’. I’m not going to mention Aunty Stella’s over-fondness of gin to the Biscuit Thief just yet.

Top Ten Spookiest Places in Britain: A Pass the Brown Trousers Guide

Smelling SaltsI am of a delicate disposition. Utterly invertebrate. Had I been born in a different era, I would have been a wan-faced, smelling-salt fainter type prone to swooning into the arms of that blonde bloke from Downton Abbey. Instead, in this robust moment in women’s history, I am a secret scaredy-cat fortified by coffee whose daughters take the piss relentlessly.

After the Dementors in Harry Potter reduced me to tears, my girls prescribed me some serious jitter therapy; a trip to Harry Potter World where I learned that Dementors are in fact just rubbish bags on a piece of string dangled about by an intern.

Although I am semi-cured of my wibbly-wobblyitis, I still have a love/shit-my-pants relationship with this time of year and occasions such as Samhain, Halloween, All Saint’s Day and Bonfire Night. Many of the festivals taking place over the next few weeks are, at heart, celebrations about finding light in the darkness of winter as well as being a time to honour those no longer with us. In short, it’s spook season and I spend quite a lot of it hiding behind the sofa, peeping between the fingers of my 6 year old.

However, I’m feeling brave, and in the spirit of not being a lily-livered, malingering pant-wetter, here is a list of the spookiest most atmospheric places in Britain I can think of. They have either sent chills down my spine, filled me with awe or caused me worry wind. What would you add to the list?

A Pass the Brown Trousers Guide to Britain 

1. Glastonbury Abbey

Even more than the Tor or Chalice Well, an autumn afternoon spent at Glastonbury Abbey in the South West of England is a magical experience. An original church was built here in around 63AD and the detailed archeological findings on the site take you through the whole tumultuous history of Britain through myth, legend and artifact. You can almost feel the legendary ghost monks rubbing up against you in their sackcloth and oiling their baldy heads.  There is nothing like an old ruin to give you the chills. (Insert ageist, sexist joke about Joan Collins here, think better of it and decide to leave it out). http://www.glastonburyabbey.com/arthur.php

2. The British Museum’s Enlightenment Room is filled with intriguing artifacts but the most compelling were once the property of Dr. John Dee, occult magician and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee’s black obsidian mirror and wax discs covered with magical and alchemical symbols make fascinating viewing. After getting the willies here, you can then nip up to the Egyptian mummy exhibit or go see some shrunken heads. Awesome. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/d/dr_dees_mirror.aspx

3. The Rosslyn Chapel located 7 miles south of Edinburgh is a medieval church at the centre of many grail novels, Knights Templar tales and mysteries. Whatever the truth behind the legends, there is no doubt that, even when crowded with visitors, the wall-to-wall carvings of the building are totally engrossing. I don’t know quite what it was that gave me the shivers here; the atmosphere, the freezing weather or the thought of Dan Brown’s I-could-buy-an-island bank balance. http://www.rosslynchapel.org.uk/

4. Highgate Cemetery This stunning Gothic/Victorian graveyard covers miles of land in North London and is the burial place of Karl Marx, Christina Rossetti and Max Wall among others. It’s particularly atmospheric at dusk and on cold autumn days when stone angels peek through mounds of red ivy and golden leaves. My old primary school is located opposite the entrance on Swain’s Lane and, as a child, I was terrified of the huge willow tree that spewed out over the cemetery wall, it’s long gnarled branches beckoning like the bony fingers of the dead. No wonder I wet myself on the trampoline. http://www.highgate-cemetery.org/index.php/home

5. The Whispering Knights in Warwickshire are four Neolithic dolmen dated to around 4000 BC. Set against a sunset, the weathered stones actually look like knights huddled together conspiring and there is almost nothing scarier than rocks that look real people. Just say “no” to animated granite.

6. St Enodoc Church This church in Trebetherick, Cornwall was buried under sand dunes from the 16th-19th centuries and is said to be the location of a cave where the hermit St Enodoc lived. The building still has the appearance of being engulfed by the land and with a vast sea view behind, it is a memorable and rather eerie place according to my mate Charlotte. I’ve never been. The idea of being engulfed by sandunes is too much.

7. Wayland Smithy located near the White Horse of Uffington in Oxfordshire is a Neolithic tomb associated with the Saxon god of blacksmiths. Gnarly trees, crumbling stones and gory archeological findings make this one of the most knee-knocking ancient sites I have ever got the fear in. It puts the “oo” in spooky. http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/wayland.htm

8. London’s Ghost Stations ~ London’s underground tube network includes several disused railway stations which invoke bygone eras and ghosts of the past. A quick Google search will guide you to ones you can still catch glimpses of such as the old open air platform at Highgate now overgrown with ivy and buddleia. One of the scariest things is the smell of urine in the abandoned tunnel between Muswell Hill and Highgate. http://www.abandonedstations.org.uk/

9. The German Military Underground Hospital in Guernsey in the Channel Islands was built by slave workers during the Nazi occupation of the Island in 1940. It is an icy, concrete hell of echoing eeriness constructed during an appalling time in European history. With such desperately unhappy foundations, it is unsurprising that a tour still gives most visitors the heebeegeebies for weeks after. Grim.

10. Willy Wilcock’s Hole on the Cornish coast is one of the many of the dark craggy caves in this area associated with ghostly pirate ships, phantom sea folk and distressed damsels whose cries are carried on the howling coastal wind. Luckily, the name Willy Wilcock helps me to laugh in the face of my phobia of ghostly gammy-legged, halitosis-ridden pirates that possibly only Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow could cure. Also, for smuggly, piratey, contrabandy atmosphere par excellence, I’ve got to mention the little fishing village of Polperro where my brother -in-law once dropped his trousers in public. Magic. http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/cornwall/folklore/willy-wilcocks-hole.html

I’d love to hear what you would add to my list.

Now, what was that noise?