You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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Parc National Suisse

Just a quick one but the Swiss National Park is currently running a mini exposition at the Maladière Centre this week. It ends tomorrow but I would recommend doing your weekend shop there with the kids as they have some pretty cool mechanical origami structures of different animals which my 2 adored.

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Most of the structures are Swiss animals:

frog

But others are less so:

dino

They also have some Zeotropes which you will remember from your childhood as the spinning cylinder with slits in the side that produces a moving image. I was so thrilled that E got to see one of these as I remember them from my childhood and haven’t seen one since. Who knows we may try creating our own next!

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Butterflies, monkeys and other creatures

Just before the little ones got sick we went on an outing to Papiliorama in Kerzers, in the canton of Fribourg. Now despite the name it isn’t just all butterflies, it is so much more!

Papiliorama is a complex consisting of a restaurant, gift shop and 3 domes: Jungle Trek, Nocturama and Papiliorama.

We often start with Nocturama (a tropical nighttime environment). I think it just feels a nice calm way to get the kid’s attention. Also you have to be very quiet in there so at the start is best while the children have a bit more patience. On your way through you can see prehistoric-esque armadillos, spiky porcupines, sleepy sloths and plenty of squeaking bats (to name a few). Yes, if you don’t like bats this isn’t one for you! I love seeing the animals scurrying around in this environment. They do keep a fair few of the animals like the Pacas in the daytime enclosures too (in the main complex) but it certainly makes you see them in a different “light” in the dark.

Night and day

Once we were out of the Nocturama zone we headed to the Jungle Trek. This is a miniature recreation of the Shipstern Nature Reserve in Belize which Papiliorma protects 11’000 hectares (110 km2) of in Central America. It is pretty humid and I would definitely recommend wearing layers when you go so you can strip off once inside. The rainforest is filled with various birds, reptiles and plants. Although in all fairness (despite really trying) I still haven’t spotted a reptile yet. The birds are friendly enough though and there is a viewing bridge from which you can explore the canopy meaning you can get a glimpse of the smaller ones up there. E loves turtles and so we spent some time watching one who kept glancing up nervously at a bird sitting just above his head.

shipstern

After 2 domes the kids were hungry so we stopped to grab some lunch in the fair-trade restaurant. The food isn’t amazing but there is something for everyone from hotdogs to cheese and dried meats. I like the fact that the whole centre tries to be ecofriendly too. For example the kids glasses are reusable plastic ones with a 2 CHF deposit and the loos run on rain water. The place is just easy for children: their are plenty of high chairs available and there is also a picnic area if you want to bring your own lunch.

Finished with our lunch we decided it was time to explore the Butterfly dome. Not before we got waylaid by a sneaky coin spinning donation bank for the Shipstern Reserve. As E loves it so much and its a good cause we tend to get rid of all our loose change every visit.

Butterfly extras

Inside the Papiliorama dome you can see all 3 stages of the lifecycle of butterflies from caterpillar to cocoon to beautiful butterfly. There is a case filled with various cocoons of different shapes and sizes. You will also find an Arthropodarium right next to the entrance containing scorpions, various stick insects (phasmids), arachnids and other crawly creatures. We stayed out of there this time instead concentrating on spotting as many ducks, quails and butterflies we could manage. Last time we came we also saw a humming bird but no luck this time. We also spent some time watching the couple of Giant gourami (Maurizio and Frederica) in the fish pond.

Fish Collage

I have briefly mentioned all of the inside attractions now but I haven’t even touched on the outside ones. While much better in Summer there is also a Swiss Butterfly Garden, Petting Zoe “Zoe-Zoo” and the “Pongo plaza” play area. The kids seemed knackered though (probably an indication of the fevers that were to follow that evening) so we headed home for naps.

It really is a worthwhile outing and something you can enjoy year round; it only shuts 2 days a year (25th of December and the 1st of January). It is also really good value considering you can spend a full day there. Its free for the under 4s but from 4-15 it is half price at 9 CHF. I have a year pass which basically works out worthwhile on your third visit as it is only 50 CHF.

I think I have been at least 5 times this year as it is often where we take guests when the weather is bad or we are stuck for a Sunday activity – still not bored though!

Oh and one final warning: if you go with kids do not expect to make it out of the gift shop without buying something.butterflies


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Tribute to Miss Mayhem

We stumbled across the story of Angie and her daughter Mayhem this week. If you haven’t heard about them let me fill you in.

Mayhem is a little girl who is probably more interested in fashion than the average 4 year old girl. She was never a fan of the princess dresses her mother bought her and preferred instead to steal her Angie’s clothes. Angie had the genius idea of trying to make a dress out of paper for Mayhem on afternoon and they have never stopped since.

When I read their story it rang so many bells for me so I thought lets give it a try. I showed E some of Mayhem and Angie’s dresses and she was instantly drawn to the idea and wanted to make a Minnie Mouse dress. Great I thought and started googling some Minnie Mouse images and set about rummaging in the paper box.

E and I examined the Minnie mouse images together. I found a standard Minnie image and E found one she preferred… Maybe I should have known then how it would turn out.

We initially started with some coloured drawing paper. E found this too uncomfortable so we took out a roll of red crepe paper. I thought lets do the main bit of the dress in red and then I can puff the skirt and add some puff sleeves. E let me do the body of the dress in Red but then she took over directing me as to what she wanted where and what colours. I was told she needed black legs. I thought that maybe she would like a bow on the dress but no only in her hair. Did she want ears like Minnie? “No, I’m Scooby Mummy!” (Scooby is her self adopted nickname). That was me told so I just stayed “mum” and followed her instructions for “black socks”.

I was allowed to add some white dots at the end giving it a more Minniesque twist and E was thrilled with the result and spent the next 30 minutes running around like a mad creature until the dress was totally shredded.
minnie E
behind E

Now E is an impatient 2 year old not a 4 year old and I am nowhere near as gifted as Angie but I am quite pleased with the result. I expect we will attempt it again sometime but not in the near future.

Hats off to Mayhem and Angie!
lipstick


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Roses are Red, Violets are Blue?

Over the past few days we have had some fun with food colourings and roses seeing if we could manage what the Queen on Heart’s gardeners failed at and turn the white roses red in time for Valentine’s Day.

This is a good fun activity and a great excuse to have lots of flowers in the house. On the more practical side it is also a great visual aid for learning about water uptake in flowers.

roses and red colouring

We tried initially with some large white roses that were going cheap as they had already opened. I added about a quarter teaspoon of gel colouring for 500ml of water. We had red, pink and purple colouring to see the different effects. The purple was the first to show after only an hour in the tips of the petals. It did come out more blue than purple though and the pink colouring flowers didn’t show at all.

blue roses

The red started to show a faint blush after a few more hours and the tips of the petals had already changed. The next day the flowers looked beautifully speckled but were definitely past their prime and so we decided to try and find ourselves some slightly more closed roses to try agin with the red.

big rose

I found a bunch of small white roses barely opened and we tried again – this time using the shops special flower feed solution. They certainly looked much healthier as the red started to give them their blush.

mini roses collage

Today we woke up to this beautiful red:

red rose

Nope, only kidding!

I think there might be a limit as to how red the roses will go though, as they haven’t actually turned any redder than the large ones, but they do look very pretty.

While at the florists I spotted some beautiful blue orchids. When I quizzed the Florist about them she quickly admitted that they had put food colouring in the soil while they were growing. So maybe that is the way forward? I may reattempt in the future with potted flowers.

My house smells lovely and E was amused so win all round.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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Eggsperiments

We have been learning about science this week by playing with eggs.

I was a bit of a science geek at school and even dabbled a bit a university before I settled on my French degree. It is fascinating to me knowing how the world works and I hope I can pass on this awareness to my children. We do experiments because seeing science in action makes the whole thing more understandable. I do explain everything as best I can (without fabrication) so that E knows what is actually taking place. Even if she doesn’t appreciate it fully now the memory will stick with her and the spark of interest is there for later life. It is also just good fun getting to make a mess!

What you will need for our eggsperiments:

  • 1 Jam jar
  • 1 egg
  • water
  • vinegar
  • Syrup/Molasses

We started by decorating our jam jars. This is us we talking about – we can’t do anything without decorating first. For this task we used glitter glue and marker pens. There was a general egg theme going on but sometimes E requested stars. Once we had finished with the decorating E filled our jars with vinegar. We had cider vinegar, which wasn’t very strong, meaning we had to change the vinegar for some fresh vinegar half way through. I would suggest using household vinegar instead as it is more acidic and making sure your jar is nice and roomy for your egg so it has plenty to react with. Then we added the eggs and watched them start to bubble as the reaction started.

eggsperiment prep

It is a very simple reaction between the acidic vinegar and the calcium carbonate which is found the shells of bird eggs.

Calcium carbonate (C03) + Acid (H+ ions) -> Water (H2O) + Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

The carbon dioxide is given off as a gas hence the bubbles that form around the egg. If your reaction has stopped due to a lack of acid there will be no more bubbles visible.

We had good fun poking our rather slimy eggs as they fizzed away and turned over and over in the vinegar fuelled by the bubbles. E kept dipping her crackers into the vinegar saying how yummy it was. It took about 2 days for our shells to dissolve completely (changing the vinegar after a day) leaving us with some rather funny looking eggs.

eggs and mess

After breaking a couple we had one left which we thought we’d learn about osmosis with. Osmosis is the process by which water passes across a membrane. The membrane that was left around the shell was perfect for this. When the egg was placed in water water diffused through the membrane into the egg which had a higher concentration of salts and sugars (or lower concentration of water). The egg started to expand until it looked like it might burst after only a few hours.

Osmosis into and out of our egg

Osmosis into and out of our egg

Then we tried the egg in some molasses syrup mixed with a splash of water. The syrup was far more concentrated than the inside of the egg and so the water started to diffuse out of the egg and into the syrup. After 24 hours we had a rather black shrivelled looking egg that we proceeded to prod and poke until it too eggsploded.

molasses egg collage

What I found really interesting in the molasses egg was that the black of the molasses had also diffused across the membrane into the albumen but not the yolk. Rather the yolk had gone hard and seemingly crystallised. I guess the sugars must have been able to cross over in the opposite direction to the water by active uptake (as to get to that concentration it must have gone against the concentration gradient).

All very simple but good fun. You can choose just to make a mess and explain as little or as much as you want to your children depending on their ages so its good for big brothers or sisters too.


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I love you!

I know this is a bit early but we’ve been preparing for Valentine’s Day and making our gifts. I’ve also been explaining what the whole day is about and making sure that the children know how much they are loved.

While Valentine’s day is originally about lovers it has evolved into more of a general celebration of love. We are probably more spiritual than religious but I like the idea of a day which is all about those closest to you. There is no need to spend a huge amount but it nice to give a token that will last. Sometimes we forget to tell the people who we love how much they mean to us as we see them on a regular basis so its great to have the occasion to make a big thing of it.

all wrapped

We have been decorating candle holders for family members. I found some cheap candle dishes in Ikea for less than 1 CHF  a piece and a pack of 4 candles for 2.50 CHF. I have some markers which you use to draw on glass or porcelain then you fix the design by baking for one hour in a 180°C oven. I’ve heard you can use permanent Sharpie markers too in the same way but you can’t buy them near me.

I started by writing out our messages and drawing a heart on the plate. E’s has recently decided to call herself Scooby so insisted on signing them with her new name. What was great was giving E a real incentive to colour within the lines. She has real attention problems sometimes and never normally manages it so I didn’t know how well she would deal with the task but she really rose to the challenge.

candle plates

Next we tried a few different ways of decorating our candles. First we tried with glitter glue but unfortunately this isn’t very durable as it tends to come off once it is dried. A more impressive finish was achieved with tissue paper and ribbon.tissue paper candles

You could use normal wrapping paper too or even create your own heart print using celery like here:Celery-Heart-Cards

We were both quite proud of the results. I really hope they like their gifts!
finished product


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Stuck for ideas?

We all lose inspiration sometimes. Its raining outside and the motivation to do something is there but can you figure out what you want to do? Nope! Or what about those days where you have absolutely no motivation and it would be so easy to pop the kids in front of the TV and watch a film but you know you should do something with them? I have a solution.

A very clever friend of mine introduced me to the concept of an activities jar and I have adapted it for my kids. We now have two jars: one for rainy days and one for sunny days. When you are feeling inspired after a particularly good day out, maybe even a chat with other mums or perhaps just a good old browse of pinterest write down your ideas on slips of paper and sort them into your jars. I have colour coordinated our activities (because I am like that) into red for E, white for both kids or green for M.

They can be as simple or adventurous as you choose. I have a total mix but here are some of my first scribblings:

jars with some ideas

Its almost like a forfeits jar. Go on I dare you!

jars