30 June 2020

How to have an amazing birthday party at home for kids

Here are ten tips for how to still make a fantastic birthday party even with the restrictions of social distancing and lockdowns.

I have always had big birthday parties for our girls, with often close to 15 kids and their parents in our house or garden. Lots of food and drink and party games galore. But this year my daughter's seventh birthday happened during the lockdown - so instead of a big birthday bash we had a socially distanced birthday party online. 

The restrictions were easing just a little bit and I did not feel comfortable with trying to organise a birthday party for her and her friends in a park or anything - and figured the other mums might feel the same. So I organised an online party but I also got her in the party mood by making her day home special.

I've written down some of my own experiences of what worked and what didn't and I've also asked fellow bloggers for their experiences. Now as lockdown eases, it is likely that social distancing will continue for a while and many parents will feel uneasy with their kids meeting other kids, so hopefully these tips will help in making the most of the big day in these unusual circumstances!

lego friends party bags

party bag goodies

1. Let them be the boss for the day! My daughter is going through an Egyptian phase so she wanted to be treated like a pharaoh for the day - so we did all the kinds of things she wanted on the day. This included letting her skip homeschool and letting her choose the evening meal, even if it did in the end involve a 1h wait in the McDonald's queue... 

2. Host a virtual birthday party! This is exactly what we did. I organised a Google Hangout session for my daughter and her five best friends, with party games and a party bag with snacks and a crafting activity. We also had her extended family members belting Happy Birthday and joining in on a present opening session in the morning of her birthday.

Yvette from Uplifting and Inspiring Content did something very similar and had a whole extended family joining the party via Zoom, dressed up and drinking and eating together, sharing jokes and singing. Rowena from My Balancing Act on the other hand got her son's pre-school friends and parents together to sing Happy Birthday and throw balloons via Zoom. 

3. Play a game during the virtual party. We did hide and seek, which worked surprisingly well but did need the assistance of a parent. Each child got a turn at hiding somewhere in their home. The children would then guess where in the house this was, and their parent would give hints and reveal where the child was when the right answer was shouted. The kids loved this activity!

Scavenger activity, where you ask everyone to find an item or a specific colour item from their home works well for a virtual party as suggested by Jennifer from Rice Cakes and Raisins. Quizzes could work for older kids or adults, or if you are sick and tired of quizzes, Emma from Emma and 3 has shared a scattergories games idea, often played in her family. Bingo could also work, and memory game, where you show a set of items to all, then cover the camera and remove one, and everyone has to remember what item that was was suggested by Katie from Mum of 2.5.

online birthday party

4. Have a joint crafting activity at the virtual party. I ordered my daughter and all her party friends matching bracelet sets from Cotton Twist, easy for kids to complete on their own. They were a great hit! Leyla from This Day I Love ordered pottery kits from a local company who delivered them and the children loved the activity. 

5. Have a socially distanced meeting or wave from the window. My daughter went out on a socially distanced bike ride with her best friend, and that was the highlight of her day. Carla-Marie from My Bump 2 Baby on the other hand had the grandparents pop by their window to see presents being opened and say congratulations - with Zoom cake later. Now that social distancing rules have been relaxed even still you might be able to meet up with one or two additional friends, especially outdoors!

6. Bake a cake together. We made a chocolate cake, and Michelle from The Willow Tree made a  special "lockdown birthday cake" with her daughter. Both our kids loved the activity even if the cakes didn't end up looking too great...

7. Enlist the neighbours in on it. We didn't do this, but a surefire way of making a birthday extra special is to get friendly neighbours joining in. Clare from MyTunbridge Wells neighbours hang Happy Birthday posters and pictures on their windows, and let the parent know their house number so they can walk past the display with the child. Amy from All About a Mummy had all her neighbours come out and sing Happy Birthday - and said this really helped lift the community spirits.

bracelet craft

8. Make a video message! I enlisted PrincessMessage.com to send my daughter a short Happy Birthday message, which she loved! Or you could get friends to help - Jenny from Peak District Kids asked the friends of her 5 year old to send a 30 second happy birthday message and a joke on Whatsapp, making the birthday very special indeed. 

9. Do something out of the ordinary. You could build dens, or have a foam party, or maybe a home disco, with blackout lights and Kids Bop!

For example, Erica from Incidental Parent organised lots of special activities for her child - with den building and playing with bubbles - which sounds like a great fun day in! Naomi from Not a Perfect Parent on the other hand planned a home cinema, and a hot dog and ice cream stand for the kids, and even allowed his kid to sleep downstairs, and Raimonda from Cosmo Mum decided to go camping in the garden! Sophie from Mama Mei organised a Zoom disco for her kids, and decorated the house just for them. For the littlest ones, a cake smash suggested by Nita from Mummys Wishes would be great fun...

10. Make a theme out of it! Kellie from My Little Babog on the other hand made quarantine the party theme for her one year old and had the funniest images of her little one in the play pen! On a more traditional note, Kerry from Blissful Domestication had a pirate-themed party (and here she shares lots of tips for that theme!), and  Jennifer from Mighty Mama Bear did a sports-themed party for her 11 year old with football, basketball, and egg and spoon races.

Our theme was Lego Friends -I decorated the party bags with Lego Friends stickers and stuck loads of Lego Friends figurines on the cake - easy!

birthday balloons for seven year old

So all in all - you can totally have a great birthday party even if you can't be present in person! My personal favourites include a virtual party and a shared party bag, with a craft activity or a virtual party game, and also gathering video messages from friends. Lots of idea to choose from, so I hope you have a great party!

You might also like: 10 simple and easy ideas for a toddler Paw Patrol party and 10 quick and easy ideas for a bunny party

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

How to have a fantastic birthday party home, even if it is online or restricted due to the lockdown or social distancing.

28 June 2020

My first virtual bloggers evening with Moonpig!

Few weeks back I attended my first virtual bloggers evening with Moonpig - an online card and gifts delivery service. I've attended quite a few blogger events in the past - living in London it has been easy to arrange, and seeing blogger buddies and learning about new products and services has always been one of the highlights of blogging for me. 

Now I got to attend my very first virtual Zoom blogger party and we had loads of fun, learning first about the Moonpig app and all that Moonpig offers. We then had a masterclasses on making drinks and arranging flowers, using some of the products you can actually order from Moonpig as gifts which was pretty cool. 

Moonpig products for blogger party

Learning about the Moonpig app

We got testing the Moonpig app. Everyone probably knows Moonpig.com and has that annoying ad jingle ingrained in their brain - I know I do! I don't go on my desktop all that much anymore though, so using apps on my phone makes things so much easier when you have a busy life on the go. It is well worth downloading the Moonpig app for any of your card / gift needs and there are good money off deals currently too! 

There were a few features I really liked about the app - 

  • you can schedule and pay your cards for at least a few months ahead so if you are a seriously organised person (unlike me) you can tick this off your to-do-list!
  • you can set scheduled reminders - quite useful for us mere mortals!
  • you can send cards abroad as well, so this helps people like me with friends and family outside UK;
  • for the cards you can search by all kinds of categories, personalise them with names, special messages, your own photos and size, and can even see the final product in a VR setting to know exactly how big and beautiful it'll be;
  • and for kids cards, if you select "activity" cards, you can find those ones with colouring sheets inside;
  • you can add a message using your hand-writing - write a note on a blank piece of paper and take a photo of it and it scans inside the card! This was very cool, although available on iOS only at the moment;
  • and I didn't actually realise that in addition to the card, you can also order flowers and other gifts too!

gin and cocktail ingredients and shakers

zoom party with moonpig and bloggers

Making gin cocktails and learning bartender skills

After testing the Moonpig app we got on with the masterclasses, starting with a cocktail masterclass. In this class we were taught by James from Mix & Twist three different gin drinks, using a very nice bottle of Silent Pool gin (actually available on Moonpig gift selection too!). These were so tasty, and despite only making two of these on the night I was getting a bit tipsy by the end of the class. These can be made alcohol-free as well by the way - just replace the gin with equal amount of cranberry juice. The recipes below. 

  • Gin Garden:  45ml Gin, 25ml lime juice, 25ml sugar syrup, 1 inch piece of cucumber cut in pieces, crush in glass, add 6-7 leaves of mint and ice, and top with soda. 
  • Elderflower Collins: 45ml Gin, 25ml lemon, 25ml sugar syrup, shake with ice, and top with Elderflower soda.
  • Strawberry Gimlet: 3-4 strawberries, 45ml Gin, 25ml lime, 25ml sugar syrup, 25ml cranberry juice. Shake with ice and strain.

I've since made the Strawberry gimlet quite a few times... 

pink peonies

Arranging flowers with a florist

The final class we had was a flower arrangement class with Moonpig's own florist Roxanne - and we were sent the Luxury Peony and Rose bouquet from Moonpig selections. I've recently been a big fan of sending flowers as gifts, and indeed, been a big fan of receiving them as gifts too. It was useful to hear some tips on how to make them last longer, such as 

  • removing leaves that would be underwater when the bouquet is in a vase;
  • cutting an inch or so off the stems in a 45 degree angle;
  • using the flower feed and refreshening the water every two to three days;
  • when arranging your own bouquet, you start with the main items (in our case the peonies), then add the supporting flowers (roses in our bouquet), and as a final touch all the other flourishes, like little flowers and foliage;
  • if you arrange the stems in an interlocking fashion, so let them cross when arranging, the bouquet stays in place properly. 

woman with two gin drinks

All in all - a fun and quite the educational evening with Moonpig - thanks for inviting me!

17 June 2020

10 inspirational black women I want my daughter to know about

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about ten inspirational women I wanted to teach my daughter about. That was just ten, and there are so many more courageous and inspiring women I would like to talk about. 

This time I wanted to talk about black women specifically. As the Black Lives Matter movement is growing, it is more and more important to have those discussions with our kids where we acknowledge racism and introduce diversity. This post has been long in my drafts but as I have been learning more about systemic racism, it has become increasingly clear to me that I should ensure our homeschooling acknowledges heroes of a diverse nature, not just what my Eurocentric education has me automatically turn to.

I have to admit, I did ponder for a while if I should be writing this post. Who am I to be choosing black heroes? But I decided it doesn't really matter. They are inspirational women who should be shouted about from the rooftops, regardless who is the one sharing the message.

So here are ten fantastic historically impactful black women, some of whom you might not have heard of, but ought to.  These women made their mark in history, against the odds. It was not just their gender that was holding them back at the time, but also the colour of their skin. Despite the difficulties they stood their ground and persisted, tenacious, graceful, just and courageous. And it is a shame that all too often their contribution is forgotten, in preference to their better-known white contemporaries.

1. Rosa Parks. OK, I know, I know, everyone knows about Rosa Parks. She was the woman who was too tired to get up and refused to give her seat to a white man, getting her arrested, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott which led to nation-wide protests against racial segregation in public facilities in the United States. 

She was tired, and didn't want to get up for a white man. That's the way we are often taught the story but this downplays the significance of her moment. For Rosa Parks was not tired. She was a fit, 40 year old woman. She herself says in her autobiography that "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically ... No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in".

Here is a good video on Rosa Parks suitable for primary school students. 

2. The person you probably don't know about however is Claudette Colvin. Claudette was the teenager who inspired Rosa Parks to stay seated. 

Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat, there was Claudette Colvin. She was 15. Her dream was to be the president of the United States. When the bus driver told her to get up for a white woman, she refused. She was thinking of a school paper she wrote about blacks not being allowed to use dressing rooms in the department stores, being unable to try clothes before buying them, and she decided to stay seated.

She said later: "History kept me stuck to my seat. I felt the hand of Harriet Tubman pushing down on one shoulder and Sojouner Truth pushing down on the other". As she was dragged from the bus by police she shouted her constitutional rights were being violated. She never became the poster child for the civil rights movement however, as she was a teenager, unmarried and got pregnant a few months after her arrest, and was not considered to be of the right image.

For kids a good learning point might be that Rosa Parks did not exist in a vacuum - lots of people were standing up for their rights and Rosa Parks was just one part of a wider movement. For older children an interesting learning point might also be that history we know is never the full picture and history is a collection of stories, sometimes curated to tell a certain viewpoint. 

3. Harriet Tubman was born a slave in the 1820s. She was often beaten and when she was thirteen a slave owner threw a metal weight at one of his slaves, and the weight hit Harriet. It fractured her skull and caused her life-long headache and dizzy spells. She escaped in 1849, and after a long and dangerous journey using the Underground Railway (a route of safe houses escaped slaves used to hide when on the run), she reached Pennsylvania.

After a law was passed in the US that made it legal to capture escaped slaves from other states and return them to their owners, Harriet wanted to help slaves reach Canada, and started helping them along the Underground Railway. She led 19 escapes from the south and helped around 300 slaves to escape. She never lost a slave and was never caught. She became famous in the underground movement and was called Moses, as she led her people to safety just like Moses in the Bible.

Here is a good video on Harriet Tubman, suitable for primary school kids. 

4. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, "the Godmother of Rock'n'Roll", was an American singer, guitarist and a songwriter who was particularly popular from her gospel recordings in the 1930s and 1940s. She pioneered electric guitar techniques, and influenced Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, and later also Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Meat Loaf, Katherine Carpenter and many other diverse artists have also cited her as an influence.

At this time female guitarists were very rare, and playing guitar was often linked with masculinity and she was often told she "played like a man". At the time segregation was also rife, so she had to sleep on the tour bus and come in to venues through the backdoor as black people were not admitted. She has also been referred to as a lesbian artist. After her second marriage ended, she toured with Marie Knight, who many speculated to be her partner, although they dismissed this as rumours.

5. Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to become a pilot. She was born in the 1890s and she was one of 13 kids. The family was very poor and she had to work from an early age. When she was older she became interested in flying and applied to flying school, but was rejected because she was black. Determined to learn to fly, she moved to France and attended flying school in Paris, and got her pilots licence in 1921 - becoming the first black woman in the world to qualify as a pilot. She returned to US and performed in air shows doing many daring and dangerous stunts - including jumping out of her cockpit and walking on the wing, while the aeroplane was in the air. She tragically died when she was 34 year old of a flight accident. 

6. Josephine Parker - a world-renowned performer, a World War II spy and a civil rights activist. Some referred to her as the Beyonce of her time. She hailed from a poor family. Her grandparents were former slaves, and she never knew her biological father. For a while she lived on the streets as a child and performed on the streets. She was tenacious and got parts in vaudeville theatre but was mostly a background dancer. Eventually she moved to France in 1920s, where she became a huge success in dancing and entertaining.

During the second World War Josephine became a French Resistance agent. As a successful entertainer she got access to parties at embassies and ministries, charmed officials and reported back what she heard from high-ranking Japanese and Italian officials. After the war she was awarded metals of honour for her contributions.

She was an outspoken campaigner against the racial segregation in the US, and refused to perform to segregated audiences. In fact, after Martin Luther King was assassinated, she was approached to take on the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement but she declined it saying her children "were too young to lose their mother". She had twelve adopted kids, from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds, and she referred to her family as "The Rainbow Tribe" and used them as an example of an anti-racist community. 

7. Katherine Johnson was a mathematician whose work was critical to the success of NASA's first space missions. She loved maths from an early age, and wanted to count everything. She began to work at a data entry person, a usual lower-skilled position for women in the 1950s, but she soon proved herself in the aeronautics and space program.

She was assertive, and started to attend meetings and to insist being heard, and as she was so good at mathematics, she started to work on different space programs and over time became very influential and well-known scientist. When NASA first moved on to using computers only for calculating spaceship trajectories, some astronauts refused to fly before she had verified the computer calculations herself. Her story is also covered in the acclaimed film Hidden Figures - very much recommended!

8. Mary Seacole was a nurse in the Crimean War. She was from Jamaica, and her father was a Scottish soldier and mother a Jamaican nurse and a healer. Mary had an interest in medicine and nursing from an early age, and she loved traveling too and was business minded.

After traveling and working in many countries in the world she had heard of the bloody battles and wanted to help - so she went to the War Office in London and requested to join Florence Nightingale and her team of nurses in the Crimea. She was turned down, but determined Mary would not be swayed, and with her friend she set sail to Crimea in 1886 with a boat stocked with medical supplies. She set up the "British Hotel" near the front-line, where soldiers could rest and buy food and drinks. With that money, she treated sick and wounded soldiers. She was also incredibly brave and used to ride horseback to the frontline, even under fire, to treat wounded soldiers of both sides.

Here is a good video series on Mary Seacole, suitable for primary school students. 

9. Maya Angelou was a world-renowned poet. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, many poetry books and contributed to many television shows, plays and movies. She had also worked as a journalist, and actor and a lecturer.

When she was eight years old she was sexually abused and raped by her mother's boyfriend. After she told her family about it, the man was murdered - probably by her uncles - and Maya stopped speaking for five years. She believed that it was her voice that killed him, and that her voice could kill someone else too, so she stopped speaking completely.

For kids a good learning point in my opinion would be that even if something bad happens to you, you can overcome it with time. Over time Maya Angelou was able to have a voice again and her voice became very influential and heard by many.

10. Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She was a political and environmental activist and lived in Kenya, and she fought for democracy, human rights and conservation of the environment. She set up the Green Belt Movement in 1970s, an environmental organisation, that encouraged and funded planting trees across Kenya to combat deforestation and to improve women's lives. Even after the former repressive government  of Kenya started to harass and ultimately arrested and beat her, she continued her work.  

Some fantastic and interesting women from history, who have contributed so much to the betterment of humankind - and they are fantastic for any child to learn about. 

Who would you include in this list in addition to the above? 

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