10 Homeschooling ideas for Lego or Mega Bloks Construx

When you are homeschooling, sometimes you just want to give your child something to do, that doesn’t involve a screen, and to know they are learning something.

Lego/Mega Bloks Construx/other building products are perfect for this. Just buy a big bucket of blocks and use these ideas to keep your child busy and learning without any input (or minimum input) from you.

Younger children are very easily attracted to Lego, but even older children will find a challenge with some of the tasks you can set them using blocks that push together.

For older children, using Lego to express extremely complex ideas from the maths and science curriculum can help compound their learning, or you can use it as a starter to introduce a new topic.

I have also made a printable which you can print out, which is a deck of 21 things to build with Lego, for when you need a quick draw activity to instantly engage your child. You can download the free printable here.

You can also use the printable cards as a reward, e.g. if they have finished the work on another task, let them choose a card, as inspiration for something to build with Lego or Mega Bloks Construx.

Set them a challenge like building the tallest tower that doesn’t fall down using only yoghurt pots, then when you come back ask them how many yoghurt pots made the tallest tower and what might make the tower stand up better, then giving them time to try other ways to get the tower to stay up (glue, making the base out of three yoghurt pots and building up, etc).

Here are 10 activities your child can do with construction blocks such as Lego or Mega Bloks Construx that you could turn into an investigation or lesson (and which will give you time to teach your other children or make yourself a drink):

  1. What is the tallest tower you can build? You could use this to teach younger children about how buildings stay upright and, for older children, centre of mass and balance for GCSE physics.
  2. Put twelve blocks together. How many different ways can they split it evenly (two groups of 6, three groups of 4, four groups of 3, etc)? You could use this to introduce factors for a maths lesson.
  3. Put twenty blocks together. How many times can they split it in half? You could use this to introduce fractions for a maths lesson.
  4. Make one row that is one block, the next row is one, the next is two, three, five… each time get them to add together the last two numbers in the sequence to find the size of the next row. You could use this to introduce the Fibonacci sequence, an important number sequence that can be found in nature.
  5. Can you make a circle out of Lego, if you have enough bricks?
  6. Design a car. It has to be different to the last one your child made. Ask them to make it out of a different type of brick, or with different size wheels, or similar. You can then use the Lego car to test out physics questions (especially if they can make a ramp) such as friction (how much do they need to tilt the ramp before gravity allows it to roll down).
  7. Older children could make a 2-D Lego model of a plant or animal cell (or both) to compare the features of the two.
  8. Make a scene out of Lego, complete with minifigures, and use it as a creative writing prompt for your child.
  9. Make a balance beam with a long piece of Lego. The child can attach bricks at different distances and find out when the beam tilts. For example, one block, six studs away, should be able to be balanced with two blocks on the other side that is three studs away. You can use this to teach children from age 11 upwards (even through A-level if they need the reminder) about forces and distances from a pivot point (these are called moments).
  10. Using minifigures, look at their faces. They often have different expressions. Your child needs to write down what emotion each character is expressing, and describe their face (such as “eyebrows are close together and diagonal”, for frowning). This is especially good for children who are struggling to interpret emotions of the people around them. You could take this further by asking (for example) “why might this figure be angry?” Once the child has thought of something that makes them angry, you could move onto, “What could you do to make them feel better?”

There are thousands more things you can do with Lego, these are just a selection of things that I think would link closely to the national curriculum. Lego can be far more of a learning tool than the boxes imply. The best Lego to get for education is a bucket with a good mixture of lots of different shapes and sizes of Lego.

If you are using Mega Bloks Construx, these are compatible with Lego, but some other types of construction block don’t stick to Lego due to being very slightly too big or small. In my experience, Mega Bloks Construx don’t stick as tightly to Lego as other pieces of Lego do, but if you’re on a budget, they are definitely worth considering.

We have some of the bigger baby-size Mega Bloks and our little one loves them, although they are not compatible with Duplo (the next size up of Mega Bloks is, though). The plastic on the baby-sized ones is softer and I think he likes them because they are very chewable, perfect for teething babies. The baby-size Mega Bloks also have the advantage of being suitable from age 1 whereas Duplo is age 2+. When it comes to the smaller bricks, however, they are largely identical to Lego (the Construx range by Mega Bloks is for ages 5+) and there’s a thriving world of Mega Bloks Construx out there which you can discover.

Need some Lego? Get a big box here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon (neither ships to Ireland but this smaller box does).

Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks and Mega Bloks Construx are registered trademarks of their respective companies.

The sudden explosion of Covid in children: Why is it being downplayed?

A news article earlier this evening about children with Covid was published on the Telegraph which was later, hastily removed again.

It stuck in my craw a little because it was about the hospitalisation rates of children. At the same time, well known UK discussion site Mumsnet was aggressively deleting threads discussing the same thing.

Why?

The latest news is that there are about 50 children a day being hospitalised with Covid. Teaching unions, councils and parents have been begging the government to shut the schools for weeks but they refused. Even now, it’s being treated as a massive inconvenience rather than a terrifying reality that our children could be threatened by Covid. The current narrative is that children can’t get Covid, but that, when they do get Covid, they don’t get very ill with it. It would appear this article is a direct contradiction of that.

Luckily, the Telegraph article about this was hastily archived and you can find the full text here. I also have my own copy of this article, which I snapshotted. There was also a Radio 5 Live interview (clip available on Twitter here) with a nurse saying basically the same thing. And the Department of Health’s own statistics say 40-50 children are being admitted with Covid every day at the moment in England alone.

It’s hard to know what is true, these days, but there was some reason to believe, when lots of threads on the same topic were being hastily deleted on Mumsnet by moderators due to them allegedly containing “conspiracy theories” (they really didn’t), that this is being kept quiet.

I don’t know why the article was taken down but that, in itself, was enough reason for me to do something. I wanted to write an article about this, to keep the topic alive until more information comes out. Are they taking it down to get their story straight, or to minimise a real emergency, or something else entirely? I don’t care to speculate.

I will, of course, update you if I am asked to take this down (within the parameters of that request). It won’t be the first time I’ve been asked by an organization to take down an article. I guess that’s the problem with being an independent journalist who isn’t beholden to any given establishment.

How to get a Covid test with a baby

Three weeks ago, I was minding my own business when I got a call from my baby’s nursery (daycare). It was the last thing I’d expected to happen that day.

“You need to collect your child. He has been coughing non-stop today.”

He’s had this cough for about two months. He blatantly picked it up at the nursery. It’s not a “continuous, dry cough” and therefore wasn’t a Covid symptom. But they insisted we got tested and said he couldn’t return to nursery until he’d had a test and seen a doctor.

In this country, those are two very different things. You’re not allowed to go anywhere near a doctor if you’re suspected of having Covid.

So I booked the test. Last time I tried to book a test, they tried to book me into a testing centre in Dumfries and Galloway, which is across a sea, and given that you can’t use public transport with suspected Covid, and given that I don’t own a powerboat, this was utterly ridiculous. But the tests were not making it to Northern Ireland, just like the food didn’t, back in March, despite the fact literally no one here was panic buying.

It gets diverted to the South of England.

I was very surprised that this time, we were able to book two tests immediately (if baba boo had Covid, then my cough must be Covid, too), and not only that, but it was for about 30 minutes’ time.

So we went to the testing centre, which was in a big, empty car park. Everything was marked out with lots of orange cones and there were signs printed out from a computer saying “Covid testing” in black lettering.

Inside the deserted car park, we had to stop at a Portacabin where a member of staff stood at my passenger window and took my phone number then handed me two tests. Then, I had to roll up the windows and answer the phone, where the same member of staff told me, with the muffled audio of someone speaking through a facemask, how to take the PCR tests.

We were the only people in the whole place. You’re generally not allowed to get out of your car once you’ve parked to take a test. However, with a small baby, it is impossible to test him without getting out of the car.

The instructions said the best thing was to hold the swab in the back of your throat for thirty seconds, using the same swab to split that fifteen seconds on each side of your throat. I found that pretty easy. What was harder was following the instructions for a baby. See, for a baby, you have to stick the swab up their nose (“until you feel resistance”) for fifteen seconds per nostril. Only, after about two seconds, my baby, who had been fast asleep, woke up because his breathing was obstructed, then he used his excellent baby reflexes to fight the swab.

I was actually very proud of him for this, because it showed just how powerful his reflexes are when he perceives his breathing is threatened, even though he’d been asleep. But I could have lived without trying to get this sodding swab up the nose of a screaming infant.

Once you have swabbed, you have to break off half of the stick and put the half with the swab in it into a sealed jar in a sealed bag, which you should have written your name and date of birth on beforehand. So you need a pen. Not that they tell you this when you book the test.

We drove around to the place where you deposit the tests, and the man there checked I’d done it all properly. We had, so we were able to leave immediately and go home, where we had to self-isolate and wait for results.

Thankfully, we both came back negative.

Tips for easier Covid testing with a baby in the UK:

  1. Do yourself first. It’s really hard to count slowly to fifteen with a baby screaming in your ear.
  2. Take a pen to write on the sample bags.
  3. That’s it. It’s not a complicated process at all.

I am a little confused at the emptiness of the testing place just before Christmas, given that allegedly Covid cases were rising hugely at the time. Where were all these people getting tested? I have no idea. I’m just glad we only had to isolate until the test results came through.

Vibrant: Come and join the Thursday photo challenge!

Welcome to the new weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s topic is… vibrant.

Life is a sea of vibrant colour. Jump in.

A.D. Posey

Vibrant colours are all around us, lifting our souls and energising our senses. Studies have even shown different colours behave differently at a molecular level (colour chemistry is a whole branch of the natural sciences).

So join us in celebrating the many brilliant and diverse colours in the world! You can show a photo with lots of colours, one particular colour, or an absence of colour. Whatever the word “vibrant” means to you!

I can’t wait to see what you share!

My photo is of some tins of sardines I found in a supermarket in China. I thought it fitted this challenge in a sort of pop art way.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then I will be back in the New Year to post the next challenge!

Postcards to my baby: Cambodia

Dear Jellyfish,

I don’t think I will ever go back to Cambodia unless it changes enormously. It’s taken me three years to gain some perspective on my time there and to be able to actually write about it.

There’s an elephant in the room which no naive, bright-eyed twentysomething travel blogger seems able to write about.

Cambodia is grotesque. I’m sorry, but it is.

The whole thing is a manufactured tourist trap designed (presumably by organized criminals) to appeal to the American “white saviour” complex that gets American tourists parting with as much money as possible at every point in their journey. I’m not American, by the way, so I know this will offend those who are.

I don’t think I had a single genuine interaction the whole time I was there. Every word people spoke was patter. The child selling postcards for one dollar apiece, that would have cost 20p in England. The museum, expensively decked out in stark contrast to the unpaved roads to Angkor Wat. The museum gift shop, full of $40 crocheted bags that you could pick up for $10 in Thailand. It was all purposely designed to appeal to fortysomething and fiftysomething Americans. The people with the money.

One thing that deeply bothered me was the fact no locals can afford in a million years to go and see Angkor Wat, despite the fact it’s their heritage that’s being exploited, sacrificed in a sickening cargo cult designed to lure in rich American tourists. It’s only full of tourists.

The entire country is just scam after scam. Looking around at all the people begging, and all the American tourists blithely handing over money thinking they were helping the poor, I wanted to vomit, because they’re making things worse.

Stop thinking with your heart and think with your head.

Let’s look at the floating village.

A bag of rice doesn’t cost $50 and neither does a 24 pack of pencils for the school.

But let’s imagine it does. How many dozens of American tourists on boats get whizzed past the same floating village, told the same tale of woe, and hand over $50 or $100 for a $5 bag of rice in ONE day? Why, then, have the villagers still not got any rice? Americans have been going there for about 15 years, now, and you’re telling me these people are still hungry? Why?

Because the money isn’t going to them. It’s going to organized criminal gangs.

How much money does the child flogging $1 postcards actually get? Nothing. He hands it over to his master.

How much does the taxi driver get when you give him a tip? Or the beggar when you give them money (and be sure, they’re not begging from other Cambodians, they’re begging from tourists)? Where is the museum entry fee going? Why are there still no paved roads outside the cities?

I am in no doubt the poverty you see in Cambodia is genuine, but everything about the way it is presented to you, the way it is exploited, and the way you are told you can “help” is fake. People who get drawn into the lie are not helping, they are part of the problem. Every time someone hands over $50 for a bag of rice or $1 for a 20p postcard, this justifies in the minds of the sellers that their scam has worked, so they keep doing it.

It’s painfully awkward being in Cambodia, seeing the scams, having to engage with people who see you as a big target. Whatever the country’s identity was going to be, tourism has ravaged it. I’ve seen scams before, but never anything on this scale. It’s just so well-orchestrated.

Tourism is a huge and very busy industry, but none of that money is going back into the local community, it’s being siphoned off.

Something in Cambodia needs to change massively at an organizational level.

I hope, little one, that by the time you grow up, Cambodia has sorted out its problems and works properly for the people who live there. But while “white saviours” are busy doing bad deeds to ease their own consciences, that’s not going to happen.

Come join the NEW Weekly Friday Photography Challenge: Beginnings

Announcing… the new weekly Friday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

So the Weekly Photography Challenge used to be an amazing way for photographers (amateur and professional alike) to take a prompt and turn it into a piece of artwork. You could search your files or go out and specifically take a photo for the weekly challenge.

“Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I was scared of participating at first, because I knew nothing about photography (I still don’t know as much as many people, but enough that I’ve sold pictures to national news outlets) but I enjoyed taking pictures and I knew what I liked seeing in a photo.

I was away in China, where I couldn’t update my blog as our internet in our apartment was too slow, when the final WPC came and went, and I only found out earlier this year that the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge has now passed.

Obviously it’s a big commitment, to put out a challenge for everyone every single week without fail and to go and look at everyone’s contributions, but I am going to take it on. I hope this new one will be one of many challenges to inspire people to share beautiful photos and to bring together the strong community we used to have a few years ago on WordPress.

Beginnings

From endings, there are always beginnings. Leaves fall to the ground at this time of year and in decaying, they become the nutritious soil that nourishes all plant life.

Late Autumn is a time for new beginnings, as the lifecycle of the earliest plants begins, months before we see anything happening above the ground.

This week’s challenge, then, is beginnings. Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Friday, I will post the next challenge!

Visiting the Terracotta Warriors

The first time we went to Xi’an, we thought it would be easy to organize a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors. Unfortunately, a catalogue of bad luck meant we had to return to Xi’an–when I was 7 months pregnant–to see the terracotta warriors.

On our first trip to Xi’an, I didn’t know I was pregnant (I just thought I was… late, y’know?). We’d flown from Nanjing Lukou airport, and stopped by the amazing Hello Kitty store, where I’d bought this beautiful (and VERY expensive, and totally unnecessary at that point as we were embarking on 2 months of wandering around the world and didn’t need more crap to carry) Hello Kitty carry-on suitcase.

When we arrived at Xi’an airport, the driver came to meet us and I took my Hello Kitty case but my husband insisted on carrying it (sweetly). We reached the airport’s underground car park and my husband was struggling to figure out where to put my new case. I tried to explain from inside the car but he couldn’t seem to understand, so in a hurry to stop him damaging this new case, I jumped out of my side of the car, ran around to where he was trying to put it in the car… and on the way, my foot caught on a 4-inch-high metal bar that served no purpose whatsoever and wasn’t marked or really visible in the dim car park. Because of the way my foot caught, I flew up in the air and landed hard on my hips, which were straight across the bar.

At first I thought I’d broken something. My hips were screaming in agony, the impact had reverberated through my spine and my hands, which had hit the concrete at speed, were also making a lot of noise. I have sensory processing issues so I shut down and couldn’t move because everything hurt too much.

When I could take in anything at all, the Chinese driver and my husband were both trying to talk to me and help me up but I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone touching me right then. I dragged myself to my feet and stumbled to the car and on the forty-minute drive to the hotel, I cried all the way because, aside from the pain, it felt like something was really wrong inside me and I couldn’t figure out what.

I couldn’t walk properly for three of our five days in Xi’an. Add to that, the ladies running the hotel didn’t speak any English at all and my Chinese wasn’t enough to ask them if they had any contacts through which to book a trip to the Terracotta Warriors (almost everything in China gets done by someone who knows someone who will introduce you).

I know a lot of people will roll their eyes and wonder why we didn’t take a bus, but I don’t do coach trips because I get very, very bus sick and the amount of travel sickness pills I’d have to take would make me too drowsy to do anything when we arrived, so we only really do things we can walk, train or car to (please don’t email me with “cures”, I’m 33 and I’ve tried them all, thanks, so I won’t respond).

So we spent the whole week in Xi’an just exploring the city itself (which had some great finds in it) and never saw the Terracotta Warriors.

That story ended a week later in Kathmandu when I got rushed to hospital in the early morning because I was losing a lot of blood, and it turned out we had lost the baby. I know that if the fall in Xi’an had been responsible, the baby would have miscarried a week earlier, but I never quite got it out of my mind that this happened in Xi’an.

That made it very, very difficult to contemplate returning to Xi’an, especially now I was heavily pregnant with a baby we’d conceived exactly three months after the one we lost in Kathmandu.

When my husband got an unexpected vacation week in May 2019, about 14 days before I was due to leave China and fly to Ireland (with the intent of giving birth there), I was 27 weeks pregnant and we needed to pick one thing to do.

There were dozens of things I hadn’t done yet in China which I wanted to. But really the choice came down to two main things that were important to me: The Terracotta Warriors, or the pandas at Chengdu. I even looked at how viable it would be to do both in one week (the answer is you can, but not if you’re heavily pregnant because you will have less energy, move slower, and need more breaks).

We decided we couldn’t leave China without seeing the Terracotta Warriors (I’ve wanted to see them ever since we did about the First Emperor of China in school when I was 11), so even though I never wanted to return to Xi’an, I found myself planning this trip.

By this point, we had learned that we enjoyed our travels best when we did luxury travel, so we booked a Marriott (the Sheraton was our other fave). Some people think you miss out on the “real” destination by doing luxury travel but I disagree. I do truly believe you miss out on a lot of what a country has to offer when you don’t sample the haute cuisine or any of the high-end amenities that are on offer.

There’s a balance to be had, but China is a trip of a lifetime. I’ve said before I don’t think people who spend days and days on cheap coaches being zoomed from one place to another with no freedom to roam or explore gain a great perspective on this mysterious country.

When we arrived at the hotel, we asked the Concierge to book us a driver to take us to the Terracotta Warriors. When you’re pregnant, you really appreciate leather seats, air conditioning, extra legroom and someone to open your door for you.

The warriors were left where they’d been found, and someone has built a protective cover over them. There are three main buildings of them. Then there’s a nicely-landscaped area between them. I was very surprised to see few westerners there. I would have thought it was the number one destination in China for western tourists.

Getting around when pregnant was hard because the site is ENORMOUS! It took a full travel day to see everything. We had to keep stopping for me to sit down, and my ankles had done this thing where they wouldn’t do stairs properly so I had to take them very slowly. And there are a LOT of places where you need to go up or down stairs, here.

Throughout my travels while I was pregnant, I never experienced anyone pushing, shoving, or touching me at all until we went to see the Terracotta Warriors. The rest of Xi’an was completely fine, but here, the usual suspects (middle aged women, mostly, but also teenage boys) were pushing and shoving like their lives depended on it. Several times, I had to shout “excuse me!” (sarcastically) or “I am pregnant!” at people in Mandarin who were trying to walk through me, and I was glad I’d learned those phrases.

I will stress that this isn’t normal for China. Everywhere else, people were so lovely about the fact I was pregnant. For example, I never had to ask for a seat on the Xi’an Metro. People in China usually treat pregnant women better than a librarian would treat an original Shakespeare document.

Disabled access to the terracotta army

There is also some disabled access to parts of the Terracotta Warrior museum site, but you won’t be able to get the same views of all the warriors if you can’t do stairs, and you will absolutely need to take a carer with you to do basic things like open doors and get you up and down entry steps.

Seeing the Terracotta Warriors with a baby or toddler

With a baby or toddler, this is definitely a place to take a baby carrier or an umbrella pushchair, rather than a heavy buggy, so you can just carry your little one up and down those stairs.

Honestly, I don’t think this is a great experience for very young children, they won’t know what they’re looking at and there is basically nothing here for them to do and there aren’t any brightly lit or colorful displays.

Taking a newborn would be best, for you to see the Terracotta warriors yourself, or wait until your children are at least five years old so you can explain what’s going on (they will probably still get bored with the indoor areas at this age but you could manage this by doing them in chunks, mixed with time spent outdoors). The barriers around the warrior pits are quite high so anyone under 10 probably would struggle to see into the pits without help from an adult.

Overall, I had a blast in Xi’an aside from getting hurt. But if we returned to China now, with our fourteen-month-old baby, and we had only one week of vacation, I would go to Chengdu to see the pandas, or Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen, where there’s tons on offer for little ones.

Conclusion

I am glad we returned to Xi’an. Our luck was better the second time we went and I was able to get closure on the baby we lost, by safely exploring the city while I was pregnant. I highly recommend seeing the terracotta warriors if you are childless or taking older kids; what happened to me at the airport was just a very unlucky accident. I don’t think it’s a place with a lot to do for very young children but China in general is very kid-friendly so I can foresee this area changing in the future.

Photos

Top 20 things to do in Beijing with kids

Here I will share with you the best 20 things to do when you travel to Beijing with children.

Traveling to China with kids adds a whole new dimension to your planning. Moving to China with children is an even bigger undertaking. Beijing isn’t the most child-focused city in China (I’ve heard Shenzhen is) but there are still quite a few places to take the kids. There are other places that aren’t on this list which kids may enjoy, so be sure to check out my 101 things to do in Beijing list if you want even more inspiration.

Whether you’re a tourist or expat, if you are heading to Beijing with children, here’s a listicle of 20 activities and places that are child-friendly. Note, most places in China don’t provide English translations, so these activities are partially or entirely in Mandarin.

1. Beijing zoo

Who doesn’t love going to the zoo? While my favourite zoo in China will always be the Shanghai zoo, the Beijing one is also very well-respected. It has a lot of Chinese animals, including cute pandas!

2. Beijing aquarium

The aquarium is in the same area as the zoo, and is the place to go for an indoor family-friendly afternoon of fun.

3. Palaeozoological museum of China

If your kids are going through their dinosaur phase, they are going to LOVE the palaeozoological museum of China. It has dinosaur skeletons like you would not believe. I come from a country with no dinosaurs, so this place was very exciting for me to see!

4. China science and technology museum

A child-focused museum themed around cool science, intriguing technology, and plenty of hands-on displays for children to touch and learn from.

5. The Central Radio and TV tower

Kids will love the revolving panoramic restaurant at the top to get a bird’s eye view of the city!

6. The Great Wall of China

I recommend the Mutianyu section for kids, as it is less busy than Badaling, and Mutianyu section of the wall has a giant slide to come back down to the car park, which kids will adore.

7. Beijing botanical garden

In-season, the bright colours of the beautiful flowers will capture the imagination of adults and children alike. Not so great for children who run off by themselves at random.

8. Zizhuyuan Park.

This park and lake combo is great for burning off energy with older children after a trip to the zoo. You can also take mini-cruises on the lake.

9. Beijing Planetarium.

Near the zoo and aquarium, get there in the morning as there’s a ticket limit and they often sell out. Also, be sure to book for one of the shows or there’s not a lot to see.

10. Ice skating

There are several ice rinks around the centre of Beijing. My favourites are:

The All Star Ice Stadium skating rink (on the east side of town). They have a website (use Google Translate either from outside China or via a VPN to see it in English, or use WeChat Translate), find them here.

Century Star Ice Skating club (on the west side of town, in the North Star Mall). Another excellent rink for skating or taking lessons. Website here.

11. Happy Valley Beijing

A theme park with rollercoasters, a train and live shows!

12. Beijing international sculpture park

For older children, the sculpture park is sure to fascinate! It’s mostly outdoors so take an umbrella for rainy days or a face mask for pollution days.

13. Beijing Shijingshan Juvenile Children Library

If your children read Mandarin, or even Pinyin, they will love this children’s library!

14. The Chinese Museum of Women and Children

A museum specializing in the history of women and children in China’s past.

15. China National Children’s Theatre

A theatre focused on family-friendly productions for children to enjoy in Mandarin.

16. Ritan Park and playground

Ritan park has a decent play area for children and it’s free entry, perfect for little ones who would prefer running around to looking at the many historic buildings in Beijing.

17. Ritan miniature golf course

Around the corner from the park there’s crazy golf! Sure to be a hit with kids and adults.

18. Songqingling Children Science and Technology Hall.

Yuyuantan South Road, Haidian District

This is another science and technology museum for children. There is play equipment and educational displays. Fab for preschool kids and less busy than the other science and technology museum but not free to visit.

19. Beijing National Aquatics Center

A magnificent architectural building, this is the best place to go swimming and there’s also a water park. It was originally built for the Olympics. Perfect for kids!

20. Beijing Book Building

The biggest book shop in Beijing, offering a range of books including children’s books, English-language books and new publications. Five floors of books! Perfect for little bookworms.

What are your favourite places to go with children in Beijing? Share them in the comments so others can find them too!

At-home half-hour DIY facial for new mamas

The salons are closed in my country. We don’t know when life will get back to normal. That doesn’t mean compromising on beauty treatments, especially when you’re a new mama and need pampering after pregnancy and birth. Here’s my go-to facial. The steps are based on when I lived in China, where the K-beauty routine is basically standard. This facial takes about half an hour and includes plenty of time while treatments are taking effect to go sort out the baby. 😉

First, set the scene. Light some scented candles or get your oil diffuser going. Put on some relaxing music (I love Enya or Clannad, which is probably my Irish half). Get into your comfiest clothes or dressing gown. And let’s dive into the half-hour facial for new mamas.

Part 1: Cleansing

If you’re wearing make-up, sunscreen, fake tan or anything else you’ve already put on your face today, start with an oil-based cleanser. I discovered these when I was in Japan and they’re soooo good! This one is my current favourite.

Next it’s time for exfoliation. The key to keeping skin looking firm, hydrated and toned all starts with a good exfoliation. This can be a physical exfoliator, such as the St Ives apricot scrub, which I’ve reviewed here (although I don’t know if they’ve changed the recipe due to the microplastics ban… I really need to try this again), or a chemical exfoliator, such as the Nip + Fab glycolic fix exfoliating pads. If your skin needs some serious TLC, I really recommend the Nip+Fab glycolic fix exfoliating scrub, which combines the chemical exfoliator glycolic acid and physical exfoliation for a very thorough skin exfoliation.

Part 2: Face mask

The benefits of a good vitamin face mask cannot be overstated. My favourite is the Dermalogica multi-vitamin power recovery mask, which contains nourishing vitamins and the clinically-proven anti-ageing ingredient retinol (so avoid during pregnancy as it will burn your skin, but it’s fine afterwards). It’s a great dupe for Kim Kardashian’s favourite Chantecaille Bio Lifting Mask, and I haven’t yet found anything else that’s even a fraction as good as these two, so for me, the Dermalogica one is worth the splurge because retinol doesn’t just make you look younger, it actually reverses the effects of ageing.

Keep this on for at least 15 minutes and don’t get any on your baby (retinol, duh) e.g. by kissing them or snuggling them. If you can’t last 15 minutes without a cute baby snuggle, you would be much safer using my homemade breastmilk face mask recipe, which is especially good for acne-prone skin. If you’re not breastfeeding, my avocado face mask recipe literally just requires some mashed avocado. You can actually leave any of these on overnight (my last tube of the Dermalogica mask had this idea as a tip from a skincare expert inside the box and it really works). I have a Japanese silicon face cover for using with wet masks.

Part 3: Cleansing (again)

You need to wash off the face mask. If you’ve made my breastmilk soap recipe, this is the perfect time to use it, as it’s super nourishing and a gentle but effective cleanser. Otherwise, another homemade soap or plain water will work fine.

Part 4: Essence and serum

Grab your favourite K-beauty essence (mine is Innisfree soybean essence in light) and cover your face in it. I have mine in a spray bottle so I can use it as a facial mist.

Once this has dried, I add a thicker serum. I love the It’s Skin Q10 effector serum. I use the dropper to get some on my fingers then I pat it into my face, avoiding my eyelids.

Part 5: Moisture

The last thing is a replenishing moisturising cream. I have a bad track record for my favourite creams getting discontinued. It happened with my favourite Sanctuary Spa Covent Garden one, then the Manuka Doctor one, lastly the Innisfree Soybean one which I never even got around to reviewing, so I’m constantly wandering the beauty aisle like a nomad trying to find the next great cream. I still think there’s a lot to like about the Olay Regenerist 3-Point Cream, which contains matrixyl which is fab for under-eye dark blue circles, although for overall skin care, I prefer the Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, which I reviewed here in 2016 and, in 2020, my skin’s now four years older (33… wow that went fast!) and I think this cream is better for thirtysomethings than people in their twenties as you get the long-term effects as well as the short-term plumping and moisturising effect.

Finished?

If you haven’t put a lash conditioner on your eyelashes, now is the perfect time.

Don’t forget to pop some hydrating lip balm on your lips to keep them soft! I love using a bit of coconut oil as a quick DIY lip balm.

That’s it for my new mama facial. Did you try this? Let me know in the comments if you want more articles on at-home pampering!

What to get a baby for Christmas: Toy buying guide for baby’s first Christmas 2020

What should you get for a baby for Christmas in 2020? What are the best baby toys in the UK and Ireland this year for a budget? Whether you’re the new parents, grandma or an aunt, that first Christmas is hard to shop for. I remember last Christmas, my baby was only a few months old and I had no idea what to get! Then, amazingly, we were inundated with presents from relatives and somehow no one bought us the same thing twice. I’ve broken down the best toys and gifts for baby’s first Christmas by age and budget and reviewed them below:

0-3 Months:

At this age, babies are in the third trimester. They sleep a lot, wake up to feed and cry, and sleep some more. They have very little interaction with their environment and in the words of one of my friends (whose baby was born exactly one year earlier than my baby), “they don’t give a crap about toys”. So what to get for a newborn baby for Christmas? You have two options. You can either get them something they might enjoy in a few months’ time or get them something really, really simple. They are growing rapidly, and mama will probably appreciate some baby clothes in the 3-6 or 6-9 months size.

Best budget buys for newborns (under £20):

Lullaby toys tend to be enjoyed by even very young babies.

Baby Einstein in the UK do this super-cute star lullaby toy for £12.99. It attaches to the cot and features bright colors which babies love! It has motion activation so if your baby is over 6 months and alone in their cot, if they stir, they can be lulled back to sleep without you risking waking them up more by going into their room and turning the lullaby toy back on. At this price point, this is about the best lullaby toy you can get and the ideal Christmas gift for newborns this year.

This Manhattan Toy Lullaby Squirrel is £20. It attaches to the cot for safety and the squirrel slowly moves into his acorn as the music plays. There are also crinkles and textures for baby to explore, making this a good toy for when baby is ready to touch things.

Crinkle books with high-contrast images start to come into their own when baby is about 10-12 weeks old. My baby adores Bumble Bee. It’s £12 which is a bit on the expensive side for a cloth book but if our copy got lost, I’d buy it again because my jellyfish still loves this book at 14 months. As well as having high-contrast images, a brief, rhyming story that’s easy to read, crinkles in almost every page and even some textured ribbon pages and a shiny mirror, it’s a lift-the-flaps cloth book so it will stay interesting for babies for a lot longer than other cloth books. Just remember to remove the plastic from the mirror at the back of the book (I used a knife very carefully around the very edges of the mirror). Oh and did I mention Bumble Bee has a clip to attach it to the pram, which you can detach and give to your baby as a teething ring because it has two different chewy textures?

For a cheaper crinkle book with fewer features, Giraffe and Friends is a super-simple book. It has a rattle page and a crinkle page, but largely is pictures of animals with the only words being the names of the animals. I’d give this one 6/10 for engagement, interest and features but it’s £6.99 and you get what you pay for with rag books for babies.

For an indestructible twist on a British classic baby book, Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell comes in a cloth book version, perfect for little babies who like to chew the pages and rip the flaps off board books. And you can currently get matching outfits in Sainsbury’s, for your little zoo fan!

Another fantastic option for cloth books for newborn babies is the timeless Guess How Much I Love You by Northern Ireland author Sam McBratney, also available in cloth book (they call it the Guess How Much I Love You Snuggle Book). We have Guess How Much I Love You in French (Devine Combien Je T’aime) and my 14-month-old baby often brings it to me to read him.

And I have to give a special shout-out to Noises by Jo Moon because, although it’s now out of print and hard to get, this book gave us our baby’s first smile at a toy, on an 8-hour car journey to the south of England from Northern Ireland last November. We have now read it about 1000 times and sometimes he falls asleep with it. I wish, wish, wish the cloth books Noises and Patterns by Jo Moon were still in print because they are perfect for little ones. Ah, cloth books… I could buy every cloth book on Amazon and make a little library of them if I had the space in this tiny house!

Mid-range £20-50 toys for Newborns:

Toys for this age group tend to be either very cheap or very expensive, I think the only thing we had for a newborn that cost between £20 and £50 was bouncy chairs. We ended up buying two in the end because I tripped over the first one and broke it (also, OWWW), but also that one was only up to 9kg and we had a heavier baby who was born on the 98th percentile so we needed to upgrade by 6 months anyway.

Originally we got a chair like this one from Red Kite with the thin wire legs. Pros are it’s easy to bounce (you can even bounce it with your foot) and he liked batting the toys. Cons are it’s not going to last as long as a sturdier bouncer. If your baby is on the smaller side, however, you will probably find this fits your baby quite well in the early months.

If we were doing everything again, I’d opt straight for a chair that would last up to 18kg. We now have this Bright Starts one, which has a toy arch and the same vibrations as the bouncers for younger babies, although this one doesn’t so much bounce as rock, our 14-month-old still enjoys rocking it himself by kicking his feet. And it *says* 18kg but I’ve sat in it (I weigh 45kg) and it can take my weight, so if you have older kids, you don’t have to worry about them wrecking the baby’s chair. We also use our bouncer for weaning, as we have no space for a high chair or a dining table in our tiny home. 10/10 recommend this chair unless you have a tiny baby or a preemie in which case something like the Red Kite one above would be better.

High end toys over £50 for 0-3 months:

A baby rocker like the Ingenuity ConvertMe Swing2Seat is another fantastic option but never, ever, ever let your baby sleep in it unsupervised. The best ones vibrate and play soothing lullabies to get your baby to drift off.

3-6 Months

Ahh, this is where toys start becoming interesting and babies start interacting with things more!

Budget buys under £20 Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby

All of the toys for 0-3 months will still be interesting to a 3-6 month old baby, but babies will also be interested in rattles and crinkle mittens.

Our baby adored the Guess How Much I Love You rattle. He still plays with it at 14 months of age so we’ve had a lot of use out of it. When he was really little, we used to put his whole hand through the hole in the middle and he loved waving his hand and rattle it!

He also loves his Panda teething mittens! These come in a pair and they’re black and white. Young babies love high-contrast toys so this was really eye-catching for him. His hands never fitted inside (98th percentile baby problems haha), but he still chews on it and loves exploring the crinkle sounds. He has been teething since he was 4 months and a lot of teething remedies are for older babies so this was a great buy. Now his molars are coming in, he loves chewing it with his back teeth.

We also have a night light projector. These don’t need to be expensive (the baby won’t know or care) and this £15 one is fantastic! It doesn’t sing (that costs more money) but there are so many toys that make noises and not so many that can do a good light show!

Mid-range Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby (£20 to £50)

A basic baby gym requiring no batteries is a great investment. They fold up mostly flat for taking on car rides if you’re going to see family at Christmas and can keep babies occupied while they discover all the toys on the toy arches! This one is perfect. They’re also great for tummy time and as baby learns to sit.

All babies develop at different ages, but if yours is an early roller, an activity play mat might be a great choice at this age!

High end Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby (over £50)

If you want to spend a lot of money, the Fisher Price rainforest baby gym is a fancy-schmancy hi-tech baby gym with sounds and lights, which will captivate your little one from birth and last through the 3-6 month age range, although don’t expect them to do more than fall asleep in it for the first couple of months (at which point you’ll probably want to move them due to safer sleeping).

The perfect Christmas toys for 6-12 month old babies

By this stage, they’re probably sitting, maybe crawling, and definitely waking up every day ready to play, play, play!

There are so many more options at this stage.

Budget Christmas gifts under £20 for babies 6-12 months of age

Baby keyboards are where it’s at for 6-12 month old babies. During tummy time or sitting time, they will love pressing the buttons and hearing the sounds. We have this one from Baby Einstein, who really lead the way in innovative musical instruments for babies.

Cars are another big favourite at this age. Babies discover wheels sometime around 6-12 months and that’s it, cars have their attention forever. It happened to all my cousins’ babies, my friends’ babies, and then it happened with mine, too. Finding toy cars suitable for 6-12 month old babies can be hard. These ones are age-appropriate.

Grandma and granddad also have this Fisher Price baby piano at their house which our baby loves because it also does funny sounds like ducks quacking and cows mooing.

A ball pool! If you have the space in your house, a pop-up ball pool will provide so much fun and wonder for a 6-12 month old baby (and beyond… who doesn’t love a good ball pit). We have a modular one from Tesco that cost about £20 for the pool and the matching crawling tunnel, but they aren’t doing them right now (they class them as a summer toy), and the downside is, the balls fall out through the hole for the tunnel, which is annoying as we don’t have enough space to set both up indoors, so it hardly gets played with now. This £7.99 ball pool would be a great budget alternative. Or, if you have a travel cot, just buy about 3 or 4 packs of play balls from anywhere for about £10 for a pack of 100 (or get one mega pack of 300 from this place for £20) and put them and the baby in the travel cot in your living room, which is what I do when I need to contain the baby e.g. to make tea (which is why we don’t use our ball pool)! I know that adds up to over £20 for the pool and the balls, but you can get started with one pack of balls and a pool for around £16 together, and buy more later, or get relatives to each buy a pack of balls, and the baby will still love this!

Mid-range Christmas gifts for 6-12 months of age (£20 to £50)

The baby Einstein touch piano is a great upgrade if you have £24.99 to spend on it. We’ve played with one but not bought it because we wanted one with buttons to press, for cause and effect. It’s a 2 in 1 keyboard and xylophone and I’m going to get it once my baby outgrows his current keyboard.

Sit-me-up baby sitting support:

About 5 or 6 months, your baby might start sitting. At this point, you will want some way of supporting them. With a very long baby (98th percentile for height and weight) we found that by the time he was ready to try sitting, he was too big/heavy for a lot of the sitting toys to work properly, and they just tipped over with him in. We tried LOADS (this was January and February, before the playgroups all shut down).

Our favorite, and the one we ended up buying, was a horseshoe-shaped cushion support type of baby sitter. This one is very similar to the one we got (ours was from Mothercare who are now bankrupt).

The other type he got on well with was this donut-shaped sitting support, which he used several times at playgroup. The thickness of this one was quite good for my baby’s size. We avoided the seat-type ones because when he fell sideways, the seats fell with him which meant disentangling him from them. Anyway, I have an especially wiggly baby who hates being fastened into toys and not moving around, so the cushion sitting supports for babies were much better for him as he could use them independently and roll around on the floor for a bit when he got bored.

For travel, this infant sitting support would be a great option. It’s inflatable and the play tray is detachable, and it has extra neck support.

Baby Walkers:

I’m not a big fan of the type of walkers where the baby is stuck inside it. I’ve heard of them tipping after getting stuck in doorframes, going down staircases, and generally not being very safe. My health visitor also said to avoid them and while I know health visitors aren’t always a fountain of knowledge, mine really is so I believe her about the number of injuries she’s seen from the Dalek-type baby walkers. From a child development point of view, they don’t teach proper walking or posture, either, which can lead to later back trouble.

Instead, I recommend the sort of walker where the baby pushes it around independently. My baby was very very late to start cruising so we’ve just bought him this Nuby push-along walker which is suitable from 6 months and Nuby are a reputable brand (I’ve seen some really worrying reviews of imported walker toys, so while I am usually happy to buy things from abroad, I would only go with a known brand for this type of toy).

High end Christmas gifts for babies aged 6-12 months (over £50)

Jumperoo: About 6 months, you’ll be ditching the baby gym. Jumping is where it is at for 6-12 month olds. We love this Fisher Price rainforest jumper! For us, this was absolutely worth spending £75 on, even though it takes up most of the floor space in our living room. Just remember babies can’t use them for more than 30 minutes at a time because their hips are still developing as they learn to walk. Benefits of jumping include leg strength, co-ordination and gross motor control. But really, babies shouldn’t be doing any activity for more than about 30 minutes to keep their developing brains stimulated and to avoid over-tiredness.

So that’s it for my top gifts for baby’s first Christmas. What are your favourites? Let me know in the comments! P.S. Sorry to my American readers, this article is all about British baby toys available in the UK, but if you head on over to US Amazon I’m sure you could find some of the toys I’ve linked to above!

Note: This article may contain affiliate links. It does not affect the price you pay or my opinions of products.