Quality Time – Easter in Belfast

As a working mother, I occasionally get a dose of the guilts about not spending time with my children.

During the school holidays and at weekends, I try to spend quality time with them but at times they appear to have a better social life than me.

This Easter a number of their friends have escaped to sunnier climates so I’ve really enjoyed the Easter break thus far.

My eldest boy is reading Charlie and the chocolate factory so off we ventured into Belfast to Auntie Sandra’s Candy Factory.

This family run business runs tours of the factory explaining the history and how sweets are made. Uncle Jim dressed like an intriguing and entertaining older brother to Willy Wonka shares a number of the family secrets whilst making the traditional boiled sweets and lollies.

For those who hold a magic ticket can enter the quiz to win some of the freshly made goods. My two won a thousand lick lolly (more like a million like lolly its the same size as his face!)and an iPhone 17 sweet stuffed with brandy balls for apps. They then made candy floss before going into a sweet lovers heaven . Their shop is stocked with every type of sweet you could possibly imagine.

The kids both big and small adored it.

We also went to the cinema to see the Croods, tin pin bowling at the Odyssey had a game of Belfast monopoly, created thousands of Easter buns (none of which lasted to Good Friday), went for walks, got the bikes out, made crafts and the best thing this week… the snow at their Grandparents house.

Week one of the holidays – Quality time tick

Minecraft and Mathematics – STEM

Life for the average eight year old has changed, a new world has opened up…MINECRAFT.


Every evening around teatime, I have the joy of my son playing this game on the xbox with three of his friends from school. Now they don’t come round to play but meet up in a game world from the comfort of their own homes.

As a regular listener to the verbal exchanges, I am fast growing to see educational potential in this piece of software. In January, I read with interest that a post primary school in Sweden, as even incorporated it into the curriculum.

“Mummy, it is not violent or anything, there is no blood. Just mobs and zombies. You build things and sometimes get attacked”.
“Oh right sounds interesting….”

Fearing the worst, I subjected myself to supervising his gaming. I didn’t like the sound of zombies!!

For the first few months, I couldn’t understand the obession with it but now I get it … well I think I do.

A simple explanation for grown ups – or big kids

Minecraft is basically like a brick building game. The concept is very simple: players build with 3D blocks in an infinite “sandbox” world, with no specific goals or levels to beat. Everyone can experience success no matter what they create.

There are mobs who are tradition type bad characters who can wipe you out but not forever. In the beginning, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters.

Brave players battle terrible things in The Nether, which is more scary than pretty. You can also visit a land of mushrooms if it sounds more like your cup of tea.

You can invite friends into this world and you can build things (or destroy them). There are two modes survival or creative. My son likes to enable both when playing with friends but like just making things in creative mode when they aren’t available to play.

My child has built all sorts of things from shops to stadiums both individually and as a group. I am forever impressed with his creativity.

Although I must admit to downloading an app called CraftMC to fully understand what everything does.

When I was at school I loved Mathematics, especially when it is practical and I could fully engage with it. Looks like my boy is no different. He is able to apply his mathematical knowledge to solve all sorts of problems.

For any parent or perhaps adventurous teacher. Here are a few ideas to advance your children’s mathematical ability without them realising it!!


– Number Theory and Counting (blocks as units or items on your inventory)

– Addition and Subtraction of unit-blocks

– Basic Algebraic Equations e.g.

I have 60 wooden planks. How many doors can I make?

I have 64 Iron Ingots and 32 Redstone. How many compasses can I make?

– Times tables 3×3 grids to make chests and tables etc

Data Handling


Use Minecraft to create histograms for visual representation.


Giving children a set number of blocks to explore how many shapes they can make with a specific area, or volume, or surface area.


Using a scale like 1 block = 1m get your child or pupils to recreate something. Make it even more interesting by changing the scale.

You could explore other concepts, please comment below if you any other ideas.

Picture it

The beauty of this game is it available for the PC, Wii, Xbox and as a pocket edition.

One of the things I like about it on the iPad or as a pocket edition is the ability to take a snap shot of something you have made.


We do a STEM project on building bridges and this is one of my pupils favourite home learning tasks to write instructions to create a bridge in Minecraft, take a picture using their iPad and email it. Makes a wonderful wall display! Some even make movies of how they completed the task using iMovie complete with creeper music.

If you want further ideas check out the Minecraft teacher.


Noisy Literacy – Learning to read

“Babies are born with the instinct to speak, the way spiders are born with the instinct to spin webs. You don’t need to train babies to speak; they just do. But reading is different.”

— Steven Pinker

As a mummy who teaches here are some of my tips to assist you when your child is learning to read. I am not an expert but here are a few things that have worked for me.

Top Tips

1. Read to your toddlers early and often. Songs and nursery rhymes are a great way to attract children’s interest. Make it fun and get children involved in the plot and characters. Role play can be a great way to get them involved. Twinkl have some brilliant resources to support this type of activity.

2. Introduce children to a range of books e.g. cloth books, colourful books, pop-up books, picture books and other kinds where they can explore the story through a variety of media (audiobooks or iBooks or apps)

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

3. Model reading for your children. Let them see you read on a regular basis. Discuss the books you read. If you read newspapers or magazines share suitable content with them.

4. Build reading into the bedtime routine. This habit will last for a lifetime if you invest in it during the early years.

5. Make reading part of play time e.g. build a reading den, use torches to read in the dark or write signs for the pretend shop/ restaurant/vets etc.

6. Go to the library, make getting a book a family trip out. It’s free and often libraries have excellent free activities on. My local library has a rhyme time and a bedtime reading session once a month.

7. Create a reading book. Make them a book about themselves. Use pictures of your child accompanied with simple sentences describing what they are doing e.g Robert is playing with his teddy. The book creator app makes this easy to do and children adore reading about themselves or people they know. My older children still enjoy looking at these special books.

8. Use their drawings as a stimulus. Get the child to tell you what they have drawn, write it down and attach the words to the drawing. Then read it together.

9. Draw their attention to print in the environment e.g. Put an alphabet in their bedroom and make an effort to sound out the letter sounds as well as teaching them the letter names. Teach them to recognise the letters in their name. Point out shop names and other signs.

10. As children move into primary school, encourage them write their own short stories, mark making is all art of the learning process.

My biggest and most important tip make it pressure-free and fun!! If you immerse children in the world of print early, they will enjoy the power and pleasure of the written word for a long time to come.

See my other posts in the Noisy Literacy section in my archive.

Number Bonds against the clock

Gurgle apps have developed a great numeracy app.

As parents they realised that few apps assisted with the teaching of number bonds. So they decided to create one.


Gurgle Numbers for iPad is a fun Maths game that will quickly help teach your children basic Maths skills including their Number Bonds

It certainly does what it says on the tin. I like that it encourages children from a young age to use quick mental recall to answer each question. It is bright and engaging for both foundation and Key Stage One pupils.

Gurgle Numbers for iPad allows you to add as many players as you like and keeps track of the number of stars

This app is ideal for teachers wishing to track pupil progress. My assistant reviewer found it quite addictive, she enjoyed trying to get more stars and beat the clock.


Times Tables

The app also provides quizzes for times tables. I do like how they give the user the choice of which ones to test up to 12 (which is great as many only go to ten). This app would be ideal for any child requiring reinforcement. I used it with my eldest (aged 8) for practice on a Thursday night before the big Friday test.

There are lots of Maths apps on the market but I really like the feature of each child being up against the clock. It encourages quick mental recall and at 69p, it is well worth the cost. A good buy for parents and teachers alike.

NB It is suitable for a teacher working with one iPad in their classroom.

Bored? Not on my watch… Ideas to develop creativity

We’ve all said it as children

I’m bored

My children say it too despite the house being filled with toys and technology.

As I read the BBC website the findings of Dr Belton, I was delighted to see that being bored develops and nurtures creativity.

The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children’s writing, said: “When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
…..children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.

I love my gadgets and devices, as do my children but we all know sometimes the best fun can be derived from boring situations. We should actively pursue time out to observe the world around us and playfully engage with it.

For the sake of creativity perhaps we need to slow down and stay offline from time to time

Good old fashioned play!

Cardboard boxes, blankets and a few chairs can produce hours of fun with a bit of creative thought. Climbing trees, beach walks and digging up worms all have a place.

As a parent, this may fill you with dread. If you need a bit of help of get your creative juices going the websites below should give you a few ideas.

Imagination Tree

The imagination tree will transport you into a creative world full of ideas.

This website is run by a teacher who shares her love for play on a daily basis.
It is fabulous example of how simple household items can be used to spark creative play.

Her play dough recipes are easy to follow and there are plenty of craft ideas that would keep any child happy for an hour or two. This site is easy to navigate and ideal for those seeking inspiration.


An excellent new website by a Northern Ireland mummy whose teaching past should inspire all. She has plenty of tried and tested ideas that should keep little minds busy. Although the website is in its infancy, I think it will be one to watch. Her Facebook page is updated regularly and is worth a like. http://m.facebook.com/dinkytotpage?id=408517129203707&_rdr

There are hundreds of ideas on pin interest. This is my favourite http://m.pinterest.com/raspberrypop/craft-ideas-for-preschool-children/

If you can think of further examples of good sites free to leave a comment.