What glorious weather it’s been this last couple of days, and I think set to stay like this for the weekend too. We’ve now survived two whole weeks of the school holidays (and my first time looking after 2 children all day every day for 8 weeks until Pip starts school in September) and been up to lots of things, which I am re-capping in a series for The Little Pip novelly entitled Things to do in the school holidays…  Sometimes I find even routine ideas can slip the mind, so I’ve been compiling a series of posts of ideas and things to do over the summer, or indeed, all the myriad half terms that will soon be on our radar.

Whilst we went to the ZSL London Zoo there are of course many other zoo/animal options all over the country

Pack an animal themed picnic and eat it at the zoo!

We were invited by Greggs to spend the day at the zoo and meet them at lunch time for a zoo themed picnic. Such a simple idea for a day out but we had a great time, and I would highly recommend this. I know the zoo is expensive, but Pip is still talking about it weeks later and we have had a great time since the trip playing with animal masks and also printing out the photographs and sticking them in our scrapbooks (I have got involved and am making her little brother one of his own!) printing out the photos using our Epson Eco-tank printer.

One of the things that I found daunting about a trip out to the zoo, particularly with 2 children in tow, was the logistics. Bringing your own picnic of course means extra packing, but it also means you can eat wherever suits you around the place. I was particularly impressed at the zoo at the number of benches and areas to eat your own food as well as water fountains to refill drinks bottles. Of course, there was plenty of food available too, but no-one makes you feel uncomfortable for bringing or eating your own, which does makes it a much cheaper proposition.

Because I was there on my own with Pip and LB, without another adult, I decided that I would let Pip choose what we saw when we needed to have a decision made, and base the day around that. I also roughly let her guide how long we spent looking at things – hence we spent a lot of time in the butterfly house (my photos didn’t really come out because my lens steamed up and with LB in the sling and pushing the car seat on the wheels loaded with our rucksack etc, I didn’t really have the opportunity to get a lens cloth out).

We both loved the penguins…

zoo picnic- The Little Pip

We also loved the new lion enclosure, Land of the Lions, in particular how child friendly it was. As we went in, a ranger approached Pip, inviting her to be a trainee ranger and gave her a worksheet and giving her a tag for her wrist (which I think signalled to the other rangers throughout the enclosure, as they greeted her as a trainee ranger throughout). We stuck to the lower walkways only as Pip wasn’t interested in getting closer and I didn’t want to drag her to places she wasn’t keen on – but she loved helping the rangers spot the lions through binoculars and answering the phone to a lion emergency (which rang as she stepped into the rangers hut). She also enjoyed stamping her card with her observations.
London Zoo Greggs picnic 2- The Little Pip

What to bring for your picnic

I usually take a small cool bag when we head out anywhere at the moment, with a couple of small ice packs wrapped in a tea towel in the bottom to keep everything cool. I love that all of these new bits from Greggs would easily fit in there. I particularly liked the old school picnic theme to the items we tried – I had a Honey Roast Ham and Free Range Egg Salad (although Pip immediately snaffled the egg) which came with a honey mustard dressing, and Pip had a simple ham filled milk roll (calcium & protein). As did I, having coveted hers – I know they are aimed at kids, but sometimes, nothing beats a plain ham roll. At £3 for the salad and 95p for the kids rolls, I thought these were really reasonably priced and would make the job of packing a picnic really easy. We also tried the fruit pots which were filled with ready to eat slices of fruit, again making things super easy. Pip loved the gingerbread that she had for pudding, and the cookies were also surprisingly delicious.

I have to say that I hadn’t thought of Greggs as an obvious picnic choice option before but having tried it, I do really recommend it for simple, uncomplicated picnic food. I do enjoy a fancy sandwich (and they have some of those too including a Cajun Chicken Flatbread which looked pretty tasty, and got a thumbs up from the other bloggers there) but for me, a picnic tastes best with simple tasty things which travel easily, and I think Greggs have got that down well.

I always pack napkins for a picnic, and even sometimes a tablecloth, and the zoo themed ones we used for this picnic were an easy addition to the theme. I think that this might also be a nice idea for a birthday party – Greggs had put out the picnic using zoo themed plates and tablecloths and it looked really effective. It wasn’t a private area though, so anyone could replicate the idea, and the kids loved it. The masks were also really popular (Pip has a tiger one and wears it pretty much every day at the moment).
London Zoo Greggs picnic 3- The Little Pip

Learning it is ok not to see everything & some things will end up being a highlight when you didn’t even know you wanted to see them …

In the afternoon we looked at some more of Pip’s choices – specifically gorillas, tigers and owls. I couldn’t leave without seeing the giraffes (we actually spent quite a lot of time peacefully watching them eat, as it also coincided with one of LB’s naps) but we also looked at some of the animals we saw in between walking to the various parts. I was delighted by an armadillo and Pip couldn’t stop exclaiming about the fascinating meerkats.

I usually want to make sure I’ve seen everything to get the most out of the day, or the best value from the ticket, but as I was on my own with the two of them, I knew that was never going to be possible. Making peace with that was such a good idea as it made me much less stressed.

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Remember some pocket money for a souvenir

The other thing that really impressed me about the ZSL London Zoo was the items for sale. I knew Pip was going to want to buy things, because (a) I love shopping and so does she and (b) she loves pencils, notebooks, soft toys – as do most little kids, and usually places capitalise on that. As we went around, I noticed that most of the animals were available in soft toy form, with the smallest ones being darling little bean bag type toys, modestly priced at £2. I let Pip choose one and I bought a baby gorilla for LB (both Pip and I enjoyed watching the baby gorilla being taught to climb and thought her little brother was somewhat reminiscent of the gorilla baby!) and I also let Pip choose a Land of the Lions notebook and lion topped pencil and was pleasantly surprised when the bill was less than £10 for them all.

Timings & other things to consider

We arrived at 10.30am on a Wednesday morning at the start of the school holidays and there was no queue – something to bear in mind if you are wondering about fast track entry. It probably helped that the weather wasn’t super nice in the morning (but it picked up to glorious sunshine later that afternoon) but it was still much more empty in the morning than the afternoon when it noticeably filled up and was more difficult to get around easily – although we never felt we were in a constant queue, and there was plenty of less popular enclosures that were free from crowds even mid afternoon. Buying tickets online in advance looks to be cheaper, and the place was actually pleasantly empty with no lines for food or drinks that I could see during the first part of the morning.

Talks & feedings – these were all available at the enclosures and online which could be used to guide you around if you want more information. We caught the 3pm feeding & talk in the rainforest part and it was chatty and informative and meant that some of the shyer animals had come out into the middle for the feeding which allowed us a better view. Pip also asked some of the rangers a million questions (particularly the poor lady in the butterfly house) and there wasn’t anything Pip asked that she didn’t have an answer for.

Ethics of zoos – I was hesitant to touch on this because obviously the real focus of the day and the piece was the zoo themed picnic, but, I am also recommending the zoo as a day out. I know that the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) which runs London Zoo is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats, and that animal welfare is a priority. Indeed, all the enclosures were clean and large and the animals all looked (so much as it is possible to tell) well cared for and ‘happy’. I haven’t included any photos of the gorillas because I found it hard to take any – the dad was sat there a little sad/angry at the front guarding his baby who was at the back top corner from a wall of humans taking photos – but by and large I felt that it was a worthwhile experience for Pip to be able to learn and mostly the animals were either away from the viewing platforms (lions and tigers were really only properly visible through binoculars) or not at all bothered by the human viewers. Obviously I know other zoos won’t always be like this but I was happy enough with our experience of a fantastic day out, learning lots, to recommend as a location.
giraffes london zoo greggs 6- The Little Pip
We were guests of Greggs at the zoo which included entrance and lunch.

We’ve survived the first week of the school holidays (and my first time looking after 2 children all day every day for 8 weeks until Pip starts school in September). Slightly intimidated by what I see as a rather daunting job of providing activities day in and day out, I’ve been busy planning. I’ve been putting together a new series for The Little Pip Things to do in the school holidays – posts about ideas and things to do over the summer, or indeed, all the myriad half terms that will soon be on our radar.

Horrible Histories - The Best of Barmy Britain

Reflect on Barmy Britain in the wake of the Brexit decision & watch the Horrible Histories in the West End!

Don’t write off the West End as a bad place to take your kids over the summer. One of our favourite activities at any time of the year is to head to the theatre, usually either going out for lunch first, or afternoon tea afterwards. Obviously in our dreams every day in England is the hot sunny weather of our childhoods (!) but there has been known to be the odd cooler day which is when a theatre trip can be perfect.

If you do fancy a trip, I can recommend Horrible Histories – The Best of Barmy Britain! at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Running from now until September, the Birmingham Stage Company is putting on Horrible Histories – The Best of Barmy Britain! This special production marks Barmy Britain’s 5th anniversary in the West End, holding its position as the longest running children’s show in West End history. This special instalment of Barmy Britain follows the sell-out successes of Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain – Parts One, Two and Three and features the horribly best bits from all three productions.

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Could you beat battling Boudicca? Will King John be a martyr for Magna Carta? Will you lose your heart or your head to Henry VIII? Can Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Light up your life with the great fire of London! Escape the clutches of Burke and Hare and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria!

It’s the history of Britain with the nasty bits left in!

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We went yesterday – I took along Pip, LB (buggy & sling) and LB’s godmother who is a secondary school teacher and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Pip’s highlight was the party queen Victoria (above, I won’t spoil it) played by the excellent Alison Fitzjohn. I loved her Boudica and enjoyed the Brexit jokes in the section about the black death. The format was a really compelling narration which evolved into various skits using costumes and props set up on the stage, involving singing, dancing, some gruesome actions and enough audience participation to keep people entertained but not so much as to be off putting.

I’m definitely not a history expert but it did seem to be pretty accurate, with a few fart jokes thrown in where possible for the younger members of the audience to enjoy. Some of the scenes went a little over Pip’s head, but the little boys in the row in front of us who must have been somewhere between 7 and 10 roared with laughter throughout.

The Apollo Theatre is a Grade II listed Edwardian West End theatre which has been showing plays since it opened in 1901. It feels small and perfectly formed inside, complete with red velvet seats and curtain. We sat in the dress circle, several rows back, and still had an excellent view of the stage. It’s also very handily close to Piccadilly Circus station, so you can literally come in and get out again afterwards, if the West End in general is not your thing but is also really near to lots of cafes, shops and restaurants and hotels if it is.

I can’t recommend the place that we went to for lunch beforehand but I can recommend the afternoon tea at Liberty Cafe which is where we went for a birthday tea for LB’s godmother afterwards – post coming up soon.

We got the tube down and had lunch first before the 2pm showing. We could have been back on the tube well before rush hour but we went out for tea, then met M after work and went out for dinner as well.

The Best of Barmy Britain is at the Apollo Theatre until 3 September 2016

Monday and Friday 2pm
Tuesday and Thursday 2pm & 4pm
Wednesday 11.30am
Saturday 10am & 11.30am

Tickets: £22, £19.50 and £15

We were invited to the press screening. All words and views my own.

Almost one week into our first ever school holidays (and my first time looking after 2 children all day every day for 8 weeks until Pip starts school in September). Slightly intimidated by what I see as a rather daunting job of providing activities day in and day out, I’ve been busy planning. I’ve been putting together a new series for The Little Pip Things to do in the school holidays – posts about ideas and things to do over the summer, or indeed, all the myriad half terms that will soon be on our radar. This time round, I’m not at my day job as I’m still on maternity leave, so this summer, the series will be about things to do as one off days to entertain with your child(ren). Some will be local to me, some London centric but others are available nation wide or just things to try at home, and I’m trying to include a mix of different price points.

Rainy day art activities 2- The Little Pip

Rainy day projects – keep a summer scrapbook

Pip has been enjoying keeping a scrapbook or diary of the things that we’ve been up to this summer. I bought a cheap scrapbook type notebook (sugar paper type thing – I got these buff sugar paper ones as a neutral background but these multicoloured scrapbooks look good too) and she collects things from the days out that we’ve been on.

I have always enjoyed this, particularly on interesting or notable holidays. I kept one on our honeymoon, for instance, noting down all sorts of things including what we ate and cooked, what wine we drank etc.

Pip always loves to collect leaflets, receipts and postcards, so this is the perfect use for them. We sit down on a quiet or rainy day and she uses a glue stick and sometimes scissors, and then I help her write things like the day, or where we visited, and what the weather was like.

We have also just been sent an Epson Eco-tank printer to try and I’ve bought some photo paper for it, so we will be printing some of the many photographs we’ve been taking using the wifi option to print from my phone. I’ve been letting Pip use my phone camera when we’ve been out, taking photos of things she is interested in, for her to print.

Painting cards for upcoming birthdays or invitations

Who doesn’t love to paint? We are big fans and very much enjoy using various paint boxes and art sets that we have – sometimes at an easel that I inherited from my artist grandfather, and sometimes just at the kitchen table. We always cover it with newspaper, which I stick down using masking tape. We always have jam jars and paint brushes handy in the kitchen so we don’t have to go hunting for them (they live on the windowsill by the sink).

I find all the painting for paintings sake a little pointless though, so we often try and come up with things that we need to make – such as invitations for a party, or a card for a birthday or to say thank you. For the invitations below, Pip painted a series of big pieces of paper and I used my little guillotine to cut out A5 sized pieces which I then wrote on the back, however, you could also run them through a printer.

Copy of Rainy day art activities 3- The Little Pip

Something which always worked well when I was younger was using a roller rather than a paintbrush to achieve more interesting patterns, or to put paint/ink on a tile using a roller, then scratch a pattern in and press paper on to the top of the tile for a quick print. Those would make lovely thank you cards, or invitations.

Rainy day art activities - The Little Pip

Heads, bodies, legs – paper and pen game for 3 or more

If you don’t fancy getting paints out, or want something for a situation where you’ve only pens and paper to hand, this little game is really fun with little ones that can draw. You need a piece of paper per person participating and a felt tip pen. It’s a bit like the word game consequences (also fun, but requires participants to write, so this version is better for littles) but with body parts.

  • Everyone starts off with a head, then folds the paper over (may require assistance) leaving the stalks of the neck showing.
  • Pass paper to next person, who draws a body (or, for 4 players, the torso), fold as above
  • Pass paper to next person who either draws legs (3 players) or bottom part of torso etc, fold etc
  • Pass paper to next person who draws feet (3 players) or legs etc.

Papers are then unfolded, usually to much hilarity.

What about you? Any art projects you recommend for a rainy day?

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