Monday, 30 July 2012

The Most Versatile Toy


Cardboard Capers

I've never met a child who didn't love a plain and simple cardboard box and all the possibilities it holds. Its truly the most versatile tool for imaginative play but they can also be transformed into a wide range of educational toys that don't break the bank! Here are just a few examples of the things we've used them for.

Cereal boxes are probably the most common box to hand and can easily be transformed into a letter box. I chose to turn the box inside out to avoid Dylan just being interested in the bright colours but thats not necessary although doesn't take much doing. I originally planned to cut different shapes for him to post through the slot but came across his giant floor puzzle while looking for paper and the pieces fit perfectly so it made this activity even easier to set up. He really enjoyed popping a piece in, hearing it drop then peaking through the slot to see where it had gone but his favourite thing by far was shaking the pieces back out again!

With a baby/toddler around your bound to have an abundance of nappy boxes and heres a super easy idea to make a toy that will not only keep them entertained but also help develop key motor skills and hand eye co-ordination. I purchased these coloured pegs in a pound shop and the string I already had but that can be picked up for pennys as well. I simply cut the top flaps of the box and then made 1 inch slits down each side, then using the string create a random spider web pattern on top. I showed Dylan how to slide the pegs onto the string and left him to it, he found it very tricky at first but soon got the hang of it. He discovered he could pop the peg onto the string then spin it round and it would drop down into the box, this was very satisfying for him.

Every now and again you'll buy something big and be left with a massive box and oh the possibilities! Dylan has been really into dragons for a while now (he loves Mike the Knight) so when we came upon this big box we thought nothing would be more fitting than a castle to play in. I knew before it was finished it would be a success as while cutting out the turrets Dylan was already trying to climb inside. I added windows and while cutting them decided it might be fun to leave one side attached so he could open and close them and it made for hours of peek-a-boo hilarity so that was a definite win! He also really enjoyed being able to lift the door back up to hide inside, the only issue was the box wasn't very stable so ment one of us had to hold it up the whole time which kinda dampened the fun a little, for us that is!

The next day I was away to recycle the pieces left behind from cutting the turrets and don't ask why because I don't know but I thought they would make good stepping stones. So I laid out a little path leading to the castle and demonstrated to Dylan how to step from one to the next. He was far more interested than I had imagined and although he wasn't really managing to step between them he had great fun trying.

After playing on the path we explored the peices in lots of different ways including using them to build towers. This really helped Dylan as it made more of a surface area for him to place the blocks on and he was far more interested in building towers than he normally is, he usually just smashes mine to the ground!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Toddler Olympics


Going for Gold

The Olympics are upon us and theres no escaping them, wether your sporty or not (like me!) you have to admit its quite a spectacle. Not only that but its a great excuse to get up and moving and have some fun doing it! We set up a few different events in our house which used every day items and didnt cost us a penny unlike the opening ceremony which was out of this world.

The first event in our Toddler Olympics was the hurdles and for what took very little time to set up provided hours of entertainment. I simply rolled up 4 towels and placed them on the floor a small distance apart and thats really it! We didn't even have to explain to Dylan what to do he just took off running backwards and forwards, giggling and trying his hardest not to step on the 'hurdles', he roared with laughter as we cheered and clapped each length! This one even got mummy and daddy moving and we explored different ways of clearing the 'hurdles' like hopping, jumping, stepping and skipping.

Our next event was the shot put and wasn't quite as successful but fun nonetheless. For the shot put we decided to use splash balls which are absorbent balls designed to be used in swimming pools and water fights to splash eachother. The reasoning behind this was that Dylan would be able to throw the ball on the paper and it would leave a mark so he could see where he had thrown it but in the end the marks left where more fun than throwing the 'shot put'

In the end we just had fun making marks on the paper and exploring how manipulating the ball in different ways made the pattern on the paper look, for example when we squeezed the ball it made a puddle but if we dabbed it we where left with a circle. This lasted a long, long time and required several bowls of water but it was fascinating to be able to sit back and enjoy watching Dylan create his own game out of the materials we had provided. Its a fantastic way to nurture the imagination to allow your child to develop the play session to suit themselves and not be concerned about the final outcome or what you had originally envisaged for the project.

After an exhausting morning of sport and a well deserved nap we headed for the pool, the imagination pool that is! This one was really simple all it took was a duvet cover and we where transported to the Olympic pool and it was time to get wet. We practised our back stroke, front crawl and who could forget the doggy paddle we gently shook the duvet cover as Dylan lay on top and it provided a brilliant sensory experience for him. This was fun but didn't hold his attention in the same way the other events had so we brainstormed and came up with diving! Now this was fun!

This one involved a lot of imaginative play as we climbed the steps to the diving board, walked to the end, bounced a couple of times and then jumped and swooped down into the 'pool'. Dylan thought this was hilarious and the build up created by the imaginary diving board ment that he was anticipating the dive and his giggles built up us he got closer to be being flown down into the 'water'. Again we added another sensory element by gently creating waves with the duvet cover and this caused Dylan to squeel as he got closer to the 'water' and that in turn made us all laugh!

Our final event was rowing and as you can see its a very fine vessel we chose to compete in! I have come to know that all children love washing baskets and Dylan is certainly no exception, every time I try to get the washing done we end up playing in the basket for hours so this activity was right up his street! We used wooden spoons for oars and I couldnt resist adding a little flag to his boat, daddy was on hand to provide a bumpy ride on the open water and I offered words of encouragement at the finish line.
Overall we had a great time recreating some of the Olympic events and I look forward to planning more sporty events for now and long after the Olympic buzz has died down!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Squidgy, squashy, splishy, splashy!


Water Beads

How beautiful are these little gems?! Water beads are actually designed to be used in flower arrangements and although not designed to be used as a toy are 100% non-toxic and brilliant fun! They are widely available in stores and online (I purchased these from Amazon) when you buy them they are tiny little crystals which you then soak in water to hydrate. I'm really lucky and my son isn't a big "taster" when it comes to sensory play but please make sure that when playing with these you supervise your child at all times. Now this post will be based around our second session with water beads as our first encounter was much less enjoyable and mighty stressful! I had not read enough about them to know just how bouncy these little balls of water are and within 2 minutes of starting the play I decided it would be a great idea to pour them from one container to another which resulted in them bouncing all over my living room carpet! Dylan thought this was amazing especially when he discovered they "exploded" when stood on and we couldn't pick them up as fast as he could smash them! Also in the scramble to pick them up the bowl was then knocked over another 2 or 3 times and the slippery little blighters ended up under the sofa, in the kitchen, behind the TV basically everywhere!!!

 This time we decided to opt for the safety of the water table and thankfully all the beads stayed in the table for the entire session. I was really pleased as after the disaster the first time around I was worried I would have to abandon water bead play until Dylan was older and that ment I couldn't play with them either and they really are amazing. They feel like really soft marbles and running your hand through them or even over the top of them is some how soothing and extremely hard to resist when "supervising" hehe. What I really loved about using them in the water table was being able to have one section with the hydrated beads and one section with water and beads as they look completely different when submersed, like bacteria on a slide or frogspawn even!

I felt this was a great sensory experience for Dylan as he could see how the beads appearance changed when he dropped them in the water or subsequently fished them out. Another aspect which I had not considered until we put the beads in the table was how the colour of the beads would change depending on there background, for example the beads seen here are in fact blue but when placed on the yellow table they appear green. All these factors made for a lot of discussion during this session and Dylan, although still unable to properly talk never shut up!

We then introduced a funnel to the session and let Dylan practise his fine motor skills by placing it upside down and showing him how to pop the beads inside. This for some reason was highly addictive and I found myself sitting filling the funnel long after Dylan had moved on to splashing in the other side! We also used the funnel to scoop them up and let them pour out, this was great fun to try and catch them as they flew out the bottom but unfortunately due to the uneven size it got blocked quite often. The great thing about these is they can be kept for future play and just rehydrated as and when needed, that is if they don't all end up smooshed and in a million pieces of course!

We kept ours and used them to set up this table in the garden this morning, water beads and shaving foam. I wasn't brave enough to attempt this one in the house and it turns out with good reason as it resulted in Dylan and daddy having a shaving foam fight and all of us ending up soaked but smelling lovely! This really did feel amazing but didn't really keep Dylans attention for nearly as long as just plain beads and water, I don't know wether this was due to the distraction of being outside or that despite feeling great it just didn't hold as many possibilities as the previous session, who knows!

As you can see it was definitely a messy activity and one I would save for the garden if possible but it genuinely got more fun as we got messier and we will be doing this again as long as the weather stays nice!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Get ready, get messy!



Now when I started this activity my intention was to provide a stimulating and educational play session where we would learn about seeds and how things grow. In reality what took place was a mud bath! I think Dylan is still too young for this kind of thing but we had great fun nonetheless. I just used indoor potting soil that I already had and the seeds are cat grass which can be bought easily from any garden centre. I chose cat grass as it grows very quickly (only 2 to 3 days from planting to growth) and I naively thought we would actually have a chance to let it grow! Firstly we raked the soil and played around with digging and transferring it from pot to pot which is right up Dylan's street so this step lasted a while. Then we sprinkled over the packet of seeds, then put them back in the packet, then sprinkled them again, then put.... I think i've made my point! Dylan loved examining the seeds by squeezing and pinching them and when I showed him he could push them down in the soil so they dissapeared his face lit up and he eagerly copied something which i'm sure must help with hand eye co-ordination.

The next step was without a doubt the cause of my downfall! I decided that it would be a really good idea to let Dylan water the seeds while I explained how we had to give the seeds a little drink to help them grow. A toddlers definition of "a little" is very different from my own and that endearing need toddlers have to repeat an activity which is enjoyable is something I had not taken into account. Dylan loved watering the seeds and I was forced to fill the watering can 3 times at which point the seeds began floating and I became fully aware that my "lesson" had not gone as planned!

Unwilling to add anymore water to the mix we then began pouring the water back into the can and re-watering the soil this activity kept Dylan's attention for a very substantial time and really
wasn't as messy as you might imagine. Saying that my partner who was home at the time was not quite as relaxed about the whole thing, he has been present at all other messy sessions and I have never seen him react the way he did to the mud! I had not anticipated this reaction and I can only assume it was psychological but something about the mud in the house made him very uncomfortable so I decided to throw him in the deep end! Now I didn't do this because i'm mean (well not entirely) I did this because messy play is important as it introduces your child to a huge range of textures and helps develop important motor skills. If a child senses a negative vibe from a parent during an activity such as this then they will begin to develop anxiety and associate mess with an unpleasant experience and in the future will avoid getting messy altogether. So to avoid this I persuaded (read- forced) Andy to assist Dylan in exploring the mud with his feet, letting him squelch it between his toes and gently splash it inside the trough. I had to keep reminding Andy not to constantly try and wipe any mud of his trousers or hands but in the end I think he started to actually enjoy it! I know for a fact he enjoyed the final step...the shower!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Texture Time


Using all the senses...

A lot of my friends and family have asked me how I have the energy to do all the different things that me and Dylan do together and the truth is I find it harder not to do them. When we sit idle with only the same toys and no new stimulation we both begin to climb the walls and the clock seems to only go backwards! I find introducing a new activity into the day lifts both of us and we literally lose track of time. Here is an activity which is so easy to set up and is one that we enjoy at least once or twice a week.
In the above photo you can see Dylan with a lint roller tube, a strange one I know but the sticky surface offers an amazing sensory experience for little hands. I have to say this was not intended to be a part of this texture session but once his little eyes saw me rolling it up and down he just had to have it. I ran the tape over my clothes a few times so it wasn't too sticky for him and then let him examine it, I have to say watching him explore the feel of the tape on his hands was really, really amusing and seeing him problem solve when it became stuck to his clothes was just fascinating.

Now im pretty sure everyone has been given a gift for christmas or a birthday which has included a shower puff (for want of a better word!) and if like me you don't use one then here is a great use for it. The material these are made from has a brilliant texture for sensory play with its rough but tickly feel and not to mention the pretty puff shape is great for squashing and throwing! I first let Dylan have a play himself to get him accustomed to this strange new object and then I softly stroked his arm then his hand and so on while telling him the name of the body part. My personal favourite was cheeks and i'm sure you can guess why from the above photo.

Now for the easiest texture tool in any stressed parents arsenal, fruit and vegetables. These healthy snacks also double as baby distraction devices and have been a godsend on many a day in my household. They are so easy as you can guarantee on almost any given day to have at least one variety to hand. It's also a great opportunity to discuss colours as well as textures. Although Dylan enjoyed playing with the apple and giving it a good licking he really enjoyed the satsuma when he clamped down on it to be rewarded with sweet orange juice! Those gums really are tougher than you might think! We sadly had to tear the satsuma from his grasp though when we discovered it contained a ridiculously large amount of seeds, one was not impressed.

The tears quickly dried up though when he was presented with a kiwi fruit, not something he had seen before. After his success with the satsuma he instantly crammed as much of the furry fruit in his mouth as he could without really pausing to thoroughly investigate its texture. I can honestly say I would struggle to recall another occassion when I have laughed so hard! His wee face contorted into a series of ever funnier expressions but he repeatedly chose to explore the fruit with his tongue. By the end of this session my sides ached from laughing and I must have taken a hundred photos, I hope you enjoy my favourite one above!

As the months have passed and Dylan has grown we have progressed our texture play to a more advanced level. His current stage of development means we are able to avoid him ingesting inedible/unsavoury play items thus making the list of possibilitys endless. In the above session we explored cous cous, white rice, arborio rice and porridge oats. Again all items easily found in most kitchens and once the activity is done they can be simply stored away seperate from the kitchen supply ready for another day. We discussed the differences and similarties each item shared including for example "the porridge oats and rice are the same colour but one is soft and one is hard" We also examined each bowl through a magnifying glass and discussed the difference between big and small. 


Dylan is a huge dumper. Sounds pretty rude doesn't it but what I mean is he loves nothing more than to dump whatever we're playing with all over the floor, bed, table well you get the idea. When this happens with texture play its great as it means we can get the feet in on it to. He loves kicking his feet and watching the *insert random item here* fly around. Our ultimate favourite though is sprinkling, this is a great developer of that all important pincer movement and its great fun watching your child try to copy you and seeing that look of pride and achievement cross there face as they succeed! One down side to teaching my toddler to sprinkle that I had not anticipated however was the need to then crumble and sprinkle every biscuit, cracker or cake that was placed in front of him!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Rainy days!


Indoor activity table

If like me your wondering where the sun is and exactly when he's going to put that hat of his on then you'll probably also be wondering what to do with the little ones and all those exciting garden toys you bought in anticipation of summer. I have simply brought those toys inside and am making the most of what we have to hand to keep Dylan amused as I personally find that the noise of frustrated whinging is 100% more effective at grinding down my nerves when trapped within the same four walls for any length of time. Here I am gonna share some ideas we have explored using our sand/water table, minus the sand!

First of all the most obvious and straight-forward use, water. I added an extra visual element using bath water colour tablets which can be purchased at Tinti along with some other fun bath things.
I purchased these water changing tablets as I was concerned about food colouring staining the bath and more importantly my son! I certainly didn't want to have to explain to a passing stranger why my son was bright blue or face concerned mum's when I turned up to class with a scarlet Dylan. I have since discovered that only a miniscule amount of colouring is needed to colour a bath and we have experienced no staining of the tub or otherwise but please check your own before diving straight in as it where.
We explored all shades of red by letting Dylan pour different amounts into the two halves of the table with a watering can which he got very, very excited about and which now needs to be hidden out of sight when water play isn't an option! I tried to show him the difference between objects that sink and those that float but splashing was far more interesting and not every idea I have is "fun" in his eyes!

 Now for something all together less wet. We uhm'd and agh'd for some time about wether to put sand in the table indoors but decided it would not only be easily trod into the entire house but it would also be near impossible to transfer out of the table when we felt the need for something else. After searching the web for ideas I came across coloured rice it was perfect, it would be easy to remove and store and also let me play with food colouring again! I found several conflicting ways for colouring the rice and in the end settled on vinegar and food dye. Its a really easy method and gave great results, all you need is a ziplock freezer bag (there slightly stronger than regular food bags and trust me you don't want to find out why that is important, its messy) approx. 1 tbsp of vinegar, some greasproof paper and a few drops of colouring. Lay the paper out ready to put the freshly dyed rice on and then pop everything in the freezer bag and shake till its all evenly coated. Its that easy! The instructions said to dry overnight but we found it only took a few hours and surprisingly didn't smell too strongly of vinegar.


We made 2 colours, one for each side of the table and then chucked in some beach toys - a rake, a spade and some moulds.  The colours didn't stay seperate for long but thats ok and the great thing about this is we can just pour the rice into an airtight container and store it away till the next time. I have to say I really enjoyed this activity as the rice feels really nice to run your fingers through and although we spent a lot of time the first day saying "On the table!" and "Keep it in the table!" it was really good fun and we have returned to it many times since.

I couldn't finish this post without mentioning that these tables are also great to have in the house purely to be used as tables as silly as that sounds. We use ours daily for arts and crafts such as painting, drawing and play-doh. Dylan also occassionally demands a layed back breakfast as you can see below...