If you want to keep my 7 year old son entertained for an hour; give him a bowl of jelly beans, a packet of cocktails sticks, show him the rudiments and watch him build all kinds of wonderful things. Welcome to the wonderful world of jelly bean architecture.
I confess, jelly bean architecture is not an invention of mine. When we went to the Just So Festival last year, my son spent a happy hour or so building with jelly beans. It’s something that we’ve revisited at home a few times since and it’s great fun; not to mention wonderfully educational and developmental!
You need two things to start building – lots of jelly beans (we get cheap bags of them from the petrol station, there’s no need to go gourmet with these) and lots of cocktail sticks. You will also need the knack. The first few times you try to spear a jelly bean onto a cocktail stick, chances are you will stab your finger instead. The trick is to hold the jelly bean on a flat surface and carefully press down, piercing the hard sugary coating.
You should think of each jelly bean as a corner piece. You can probably fit up to four cocktail sticks into a single jelly bean. Whatever kind of structure you’re building, the only limit is your imagination.
We find it best to warm up by building some simple 3D shapes, pyramids and cubes are great. How many cubes can you stack on top of each other? Can you fit a pyramid on the top? Who will eat the last jelly bean? You can then move on to more complex structures. In the picture here Ben has built a fire station.
Jelly bean architecture is perfect for budding architects and structural engineers. Anyone who is interested in building and construction, 3D shapes, maths, anything like that, plus it’s tremendous fun! It’s probably the most enjoyable STEM craft we’ve done together.
Christmas is a time for crafting and creating with the kids. We love doing Christmas crafts and we were excited when we heard that ex Blue Peter presenter and craft queen Konnie Huq, had partnered with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to create a selection of homemade STEM toys for Christmas.
Konnie Huq has put her Blue Peter powers to practice for a good cause, making Britain’s most popular Christmas toys at home for a fraction of the cost. The Christmas STEM toys she has created include –
Konnie, who spent over ten years craft-making on Blue Peter, is supporting a campaign by the Institution of Engineering and Technology to inspire more children to consider careers in engineering. The toys are designed to make learning about science, tech, engineering and mathematics (STEM) more accessible and affordable. These handmade STEM toys – which include a dissolving egg, magnetic slime, a kaleidoscope and even a smartphone projector – are educational, as well as fun.
Making your own slime is so popular right now, but we thought we would try something a little different. We really liked the idea of building our own living gingerbread house.
Make your own living gingerbread house
You will need:
A number of plain sponges
Spray bottle (clean)
How to make a living gingerbread house
Choose one or two sponges to be your base. Fix them together with a cocktail stick, remember these are sharp so be careful of your fingers.
Choose more sponges to be the walls. Cut one sponge in half across the longest
side (i.e. make two regular rectangles, not two long strips) and fix those onto the shorter sides of your base with cocktail sticks. Fix two sponges onto the longer sides of the base.
Take two sponges and cut them down their long side on an angle so that they fit together to form the apex of a roof. Fix them together with cocktail sticks, put on the top of your structure and fix into place with more cocktail sticks. You should now have a house shape made of sponges. Put your house onto a plate.
If your house is a bit wobbly, you can secure it using a glue gun or some craft glue. If you have used glue, allow time for the glue to dry and set before you move on to the next stage.
Next, you need to cover the house with seeds. You can use mustard or cress but
there are many fast sprouting seeds, so the choice is yours. We chose cress.
Dab some water onto the roof of your house and spread the seeds onto the roof.
Pour a little water onto the plate so the sponge base can soak it up. Check the
sponge is nice and moist. Then sprinkle the seeds onto the base.
Leave your house in a warm, bright spot for the seeds to germinate. Spray the house with water using a spray bottle each day, and pour a little water over the house if it feels dry. In a few days the seeds should start to sprout, in a week they should be thriving.
It’s so easy and lots of fun to make too!
Disclosure: We were sent a shopping voucher to buy the materials for this craft.
Interactive toys are starting to become really popular these days. We were sent the new Cognitoys Dino Interactive Dinosaur to try out. Given that the boy loves dinosaurs in all forms, we thought we’d be onto a winner. But what did we really think?
First of all, if you’ve ordered one of these from Father Christmas I suggest you carefully open the box, put the batteries in (you’ll need a small screwdriver) and then have a read of the instructions. You’ll need to download a free app to get your dino up and running. It’s probably better to do all this before you’re sat in a room with an impatient child who wants to play with their toy now, this instant, immediately!
The Cognitoys Dino is really easy to set up. The batteries (4AA’s if you need spares) just slot into the battery compartment underneath. You download the app and connect the dino to your Wi-Fi and then he’s good to go.
The mouth of your Cognitoys Dino will change colour to indicate what he is doing. If it’s blue he’s talking, if it’s yellow he’s listening etc. You press down the button on his tummy to talk to him and let go of the button when you’ve finished.
The Cognitoys Dino is meant to be an educational toy which helps to develop and improve problem solving skills; creative reasoning, social interaction and active play. He’s fun and funny; so when he asks you a question or asks you to solve a problem, it doesn’t feel overtly educational. The dino is aimed at children aged 5+. It’s designed to adapt to your child’s development and educationally ‘grow’ with your child.
My son who has recently turned 7 was pretty excited to be playing with the Cognitoys Dino. Style wise it’s quite a soft and cartoony looking dinosaur and I did wonder if he’d reject it for being too babyish, but he didn’t. He liked the look of it and gave it lots of cuddles.
The Cognitoys Dino is easy to activate, just press its button and say “hello”. The dino then randomly starts playing games with you, or tells you a story you have to interact with, and tells jokes or answers questions. He’s really quite good fun. I did like the storytelling, he stops every few minutes to ask you questions and check you understand tricky words. It’s all good age-appropriate stuff.
The app which you download to set it up and activate it also acts as a parent portal, meaning you can keep an eye on what your child has been doing with the dino.
I thought the Cognitoys Dino was an excellent tool to help a child’s development. I do have a couple of slight niggles I want to talk about. You may have noticed I’ve referred to the dino as a he, that’s because he speaks with a gruff male dino voice. I think it would be good to have different voice options to choose from. Helpfully, there are three volume settings underneath, so if your dino is a bit loud you can always turn him down a little.
My other slight concern is that many children have speech issues and I wonder how well the dino is able to process what the child is saying. It didn’t always pick up on what my son was saying. He tends to speak quite fast and sometimes blurs his words into each other. This did force him to speak a bit clearer, which is probably no bad thing.
I’m not that keen that it uses batteries, I think in this day and age it should probably have a USB charging option or a charging stand you can put it on to power it up. Batteries seem such an analogue way to power this interactive toy.
The other thing is manners; something we’ve relentlessly drummed into my son. When the Cognitoys Dino asked him if he wanted to play a game Ben replied “Yes please”, but the dino didn’t really understand what he’d said. I know this is a personal niggle, but manners are everything and it would be nice if the dino could recognise and reward good manners to help reinforce what we do at home.
The Cognitoys Dino currently costs around £104 from Amazon UK. It’s a clever piece of kit. We found it really simple to set up and my son found it easy and really enjoyable to use. It’s not perfect, but it is very clever, engaging and hopefully a tool we can use to encourage some good developmental activity at home.
This week the small-ish boy got very excited about a special delivery of Aqua Dragons. These were pretty special Aqua Dragons, they’d been up in space and even had a certificate to prove it! What with my son’s burgeoning interest in science, he was super-pleased when this new STEM set arrived, and so was I, it’s a pet I wouldn’t need to clean up after!
What are Aqua Dragons? They are live, aquatic pets which hatch out of their eggs once you’ve created the right environment for them. They grow, swim, eat and they can even reproduce. The dragons are very similar to triops or sea monkeys.
The Aqua Dragons in Space: Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit contains –
Asteroid shaped tank with LED Light up and glow in the dark base
Thermometer to monitor water temperature
Bubbler for oxygenating the water
Aqua Dragons Eggs that have been sent to space
Aqua Dragons Food
Glow in the dark feeding spoon
Set up and care instructions
Collector’s edition Authenticity Certificate with the space flight specifications
Aqua Dragons APP: including games, fun facts and your 360º space flight video
The set up is pretty straightforward and the instructions are clear. If you’re buying this as a gift for someone who will want to set it up straight away, it’s worth making sure you have a room temperature bottle of mineral water and two AAA batteries. Everything else is supplied.
Smaller children might need the help of a grown up when setting it up. The tank needs the batteries inserting (it lights up and illuminates the dragons as they swim about). Top the tank up with bottled water and add the sachet of eggs, giving them a little stir. Put the dragons in a light, warm-ish place (the ideal temperature is around 20-27 degrees and you get a little thermometer with the kit) and leave them to hatch. The life cycle of the Aqua Dragons is approximately 45-60 days long.
It was at this point we packed our bags and went on holiday for five days, leaving Dad in charge of feeding and caring for the Aqua Dragons. After a couple of days we received word that the eggs had hatched and teeny-tiny dragons were swimming about in the tank. When we got home we raced upstairs to see them for ourselves.
We discovered that Dad had done a pretty good job of looking after them. The tank had lots of little dragons swimming about and it was all very exciting!
Our Verdict on Aqua Dragons in Space:
The Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit was very simple to set up. It’s suitable for aged 6+ and my 6 year old had no problems setting it up (other than Dad putting the batteries in the tank for him). We also liked how low maintenance they were.
The Aqua Dragons are both interesting and educational. They’re definitely something which prompts discussions about life cycles and what the dragons actually are (they’re actually brine shrimp, or artemia). I think having these weird and wonderful creatures is almost a rite of passage and it’s certainly one my son is enjoying right now.
He was especially excited that the eggs had been into space, just like his hero Tim Peake. I really like that they come with a certificate to prove that they’ve been in space, something you can see in the video below –
The Aqua Dragons in Space – Live Astro Pets Deluxe Kit is available to pre-order here and costs £29.95. It’s suitable for ages 6+ and would be a great gift for science loving kids who are also pestering for a pet!
Note: We were sent the Aqua Dragons in Space for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.