Winter forest snow dough and nature sensory play

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This is a great activity for those days when it’s just too horrible to get outside, but you want to bring a touch of the natural world to play time.

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I used a basic no cook play dough recipe (like this one from the imagination tree), and added plenty of white and silver glitter. Then I set the dough out along with plenty of bits to play with – sticks, pine cones (we always have plenty at this time of year), and then some greenery in the form of left over herbs from the fridge.

The Monkey got right down to business making a wintery forest. He squashed down the ball of play dough and stuck all of the twigs upright into it. I suggested it looked like a hedgehog, but “no, Mummy, it’s a forest! Like in Gruffalo’s child! His Policeman (Nick) went tromping through the bare trees, smashing them around and making footprints.

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The pine cones and greenery added more sensory elements to the activity. The herbs were bendier than the sticks, so it was more challenging for the Monkey to get them into the dough. He experimented with pushing them in by themselves, trying to squeeze them into the same holes as the sticks, and finally with making finger holes for them individually.

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We experimented making different patterns in the snow dough too (he really enjoyed rolling with the pine cones!).

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Chocolate coin hunt

posted in: Outdoors, Quick and cheap | 0

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A coin hunt like this can turn an everyday walk in the park to a special, festive afternoon. It takes next to no prep so it’s a great one to have ready for those ‘I need to work off some energy’ days!

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Last week we had a couple of bitterly cold days that made we want huddle under a blanket (next to an open fire, if only we had one), but by day two the Monkey was starting to climb the walls. He threw things around. Had a meltdown when I wouldn’t let him use a shopping trolley as a train. The only thing for it was to get out and let him run off some energy.

So we wrapped up warm and I stuffed my pocket with some chocolate coins and Snowmen that we had in the cupboard. Once we got to the park we made a beeline for our favourite tree, a big old one with gnarly roots and plenty of crannies. By diverting him with some sticks I managed to start squirrelling treats away in the nooks.

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The Monkey’s face was a picture when he came across the first shiny gold coin hidden among the tree roots. He went round and round looking for the coins in the roots and crevices. I hid some high up too so that he’d have to stretch. After 15 minutes he’d collected all of the coins and put them in our bag, and I was ready to get warmed up with a cup of tea. Despite my efforts at subterfuge he’d cottoned onto the fact that it was me hiding the treats and shouted “hide them again, Mummy!”. Definitely a winning activity!

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Autumn leaf lanterns

 

lantern collageI saw these leaf lanterns over at Twig and Toadstool ages ago and we finally got around to trying them out. They’re so easy, and lots of messy fun from running around collecting leaves to slathering on glue. I confess, ours weren’t nearly as beautiful as those that inspired them, but they definitely add to the autumnal ambience on these chilly nights.

We spent some time out and about collecting the leaves, throwing armfuls and generally enjoying the crunchiness.

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Once we’d exhausted playing with leaves we set about the messy business of making the lanterns. We took a variety of glassware and slathered the outsides with normal PVA glue. It took A LOT and we ended up as sticky as the vases and bowls.

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Once liberally covered we experimented with the different size and shape leaves that we’d collected. The Monkey, ever the perfectionist, removed and added his leaves over and over again, but because the glue stayed wet for a while it didn’t matter too much and he could carry on until he found an arrangement he liked.

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Depending on the type of leaves you’re using you might find that some of them stick up from the glass, but the next step should make them flatter. Add another liberal layer of PVA over the top of the leaves. All that remains is to leave them to dry, which in our case took quite a while given the copious amounts of glue we used.

These looked beautiful once we had them lit up with candles. Although the PVA looked messy in the light of day, even when it had dried, once the candles were lit it gave the glass a lovely frosted effect. Candlelight through orange autumn leaves is so warming. The Monkey was over the moon when I called him through with the lights out and the candles lit to see his finished lantern, and they’re lovely things to have on when we all snuggle up under a blanket to watch movies.

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Snowy play dough and sensory fine motor practice

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I haven’t met a kid in a while that doesn’t like Frozen, and the Monkey is no exception. Of course this snowman became Olaf in 5 seconds flat even though it was never intended to be a Frozen themed activity! Play dough and a few bowls of bits are all you need for this fun sensory play session.

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The snow play dough is the essential bit, then you can add a handful of other bits and bobs depending on what you have lying around. Mix 250g of flour with 150g salt and 2 tablespoons cream of tartar. Then add 2 tbsp vegetable oil and stir. Add hot water, mixing, until the dough comes together (150-200ml). Turn out the dough and knead briefly (you’ll be doing more kneading in a minute!).

Next add the glitter. Lots of glitter. To make this dough I used half a tube each of gold, silver and blue glitter, and it wouldn’t have hurt to use even more. Flatten dough out so that you have a thick pancake. Add piles of glitter or sprinkle it on and then fold the dough up. Knead until the glitter is incorporated, stopping to mop up any glitter that escapes as you knead.

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Now you can set up your invitation to play. This can be anything that could be used as a snowman’s accoutrements. We had a jar of buttons, some googly eyes, some carrot ends (if left touching the dough the carrot juice will make it runny and horrible so don’t leave them together too long), and a handful of raisins. I also put out a pile of sticks that we’d collected from the garden that morning.

I set this up while the boy was asleep and he did not wake in a good mood. I couldn’t do anything to cheer him, no cuddles, no cartoons, no stories would do the trick (not even watching Frozen for the 30th time made him feel better). That is, until he saw the snow dough. Miraculous! He jumped right in. I helped him to make the shape of the snowman and he practised shaping the dough into balls.

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He had a whale of a time giving the snowman arms, too many in fact, so that it resembled a hedgehog. Then he chose what he was going to use to give the snowman a face. The raisins were selected and then eaten as a snack. So he used the googly eyes instead. A piece of carrot went the same way as the raisins but thankfully there was enough left for the nose.

Next it was time for the snowman to get dressed. Monkey pushed buttons onto his body and then used the extra dough to make hats and scarves and gloves.

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This was a brilliant activity that the boy responded so well to (sometimes those post-nap funks can last for hours!). We got to make some lovely new dough, did some sensory play with the different objects and practised fine motor skills too. Oh, and we sang a lot of songs from Frozen as well.

 

Spaghetti and Cheerios fine motor skills game

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Dried spaghetti seems to be one of those things that my son can’t get enough of. He thinks Cheerios are sweets. So when he came down to find this game set out he was in 7th heaven!

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Roll some walnut sized balls of play dough (any variety will do – this is a mix of home made minty green, blueberry and bubblegum doughs). Stick pieces of uncooked spaghetti into the dough so that they’re sticking straight upwards. Then put out a handful of Cheerios or any other of those hoop cereals. I wanted to give my little one a hint so I slipped a few hoops onto one of the spaghetti strands.

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The Monkey went crazy for this activity (I think he may have been peckish). He started off by removing every Cheerio that I’d put on the spaghetti and popping them in his mouth. Then he made me refill the spaghetti so that he could eat more, I almost couldn’t keep up with the demand! Once he’d eaten a couple of handfuls he slowed down a bit and started to concentrate on the job at hand.

He delicately picked individual cheerios from the plate and threaded them onto the spaghetti. Sometimes when the spaghetti wobbled he held it steady with one hand and threaded with the other. It all took a lot of concentration (and this nee-nar was called on to help).

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When the Cheerio threading got old he pulled out and replaced the spaghetti, mixing up the number of strands in each dough ball. The Cheerios made a good crunchy addition to the dough too.

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The speed and dexterity he showed while playing this game was astounding to me, it didn’t take him any time at all to master it. It can be set up in half a minute using things that are usually lying around the kitchen and really was more fun for the little one than I expected.

 

5 free, no prep outdoor toddler activities

posted in: Nature, Outdoors, Quick and cheap | 0

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Summer is almost halfway done here, and so far it has been a summer of fun! We’ve done so many fun outdoorsy things, despite the weather being changeable in that characteristically British way.

To celebrate, here are our top five free and no preparation things to do outdoors. These are the things we like to do when we have no plans and nowhere to be. Enjoy!

 

1. Pine cone hunt

Hunting for pine cones and coming home with a bag full of nice specimens is one of our favourites. And you can use them for crafty fun later.

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2. Ladybird hunting

A brilliant activity for sunny afternoons, especially if you manage to find a good tree with lots of different types of ladybird on.

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3. Cloud watching

The laziest of summer afternoon activities.

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4. Shadow chasing

Playing with shadows needs a good sunny day, but it’s a great way to burn off energy and have fun too!

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5. Snail watching

Head out after a sudden downpour and you’re sure to find some little friends to watch for a while!

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Animals in ice scavenger hunt and fine motor play

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Monkey gets really into hunting for things, and smashing things (like these fossil eggs), so really we couldn’t go wrong with this activity. Add to the searching and smashing some ice to play with and he was in seventh heaven! These animals encased in ice are really easy to make. All you need are balloons, water, toys to put inside, and a way to smash them open afterwards.

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Start by getting your toys inside the balloons. I was certain that the sharp bits of the toys were going to pierce the balloons, but that didn’t happen once. The four legged creatures gave me the most trouble. I found the best technique was to gather the whole balloon up so that the toy was placed right into the main part of the balloon (the same way you’d put on tights). Don’t worry if a toy gets stuck halfway in, once you start adding water they’ll get pushed right down anyway.

Next fill the balloons with water by stretching the neck over a tap. If any of the toys got stuck now is the time to ease them into the main body of the balloon. Tie up the necks and then put them in the freezer. Depending on how big you made them they’ll probably take about 24 hours to freeze properly. We were impatient and took them out after 12 but that meant they gushed water when they were cracked. Much more dramatic! Once they’re frozen, snip the balloons with scissors and peel off the rubber.

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You should have something resembling an icy sphere with a toy encased inside. Hide them around the house or garden (in a bowl if they’re inside to protect whatever they’re sitting on). Now’s the time to decide where and how you’re going to open them. I put out a towel with some tools for smashing in the kitchen, but melting them in a sink of warm water or taking this part outside would both minimise mess.

Now you can make up a story to start off the hunt if you want to. We told the Monkey that an Ice Monster had got in during the night and frozen some of his toys! Help your toddler to search for and collect all of the ice spheres. They’re heavy and slippery so they will probably need help carrying them. Searching in this way is great gross motor skill practice, especially if you encourage them to stretch to look high and crawl to look underneath things. You can also encourage colour recognition by saying “it’s by something blue” for example.

Once they’re all accounted for it’s time to get smashing! My son is really good with a hammer and needed no encouraging at all, but obviously he was still closely supervised.

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Ours were still slushy inside so every time he succeeded in breaking one there was a flood of water.

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Some of the globes he daintily tapped until they cracked, showing some excellent fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. DSC_0896

 

Others were given a really good whack leaving an animal surrounded by a pile of ice and water. He used his favourite kitchen tongs to pick up the animals and ice chunks and put them into a big pan.

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We carried on playing with the remnants of the ice for ages. He smashed some into oblivion, swirled other pieces around in the pan like soup and (despite me trying to stop him) had a good munch on the ice too. This was a brilliant way to spend the morning, and I know he enjoyed it because he asked for more ‘eggs’ when they were all cracked!

 

 

 

Shadow chasing

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Shadow chasing as an activity for us came about completely by accident (as I’m sure it must for many families). We were out for a walk when the boy looked down and pointed, confusedly, at his shadow. Since then it’s become a common game for us, and can make the walk to nursery or a trip to the shops much more interesting for him.

The first thing you need, of course, is a sunny day. When you manage to find one of those you’re away with no preparation required. You can take the opportunity to talk to your toddler about shadows and how they’re made. Then dance, run, make shapes, wave and try to catch each other’s shadows. We have the most fun trying to chase our shadows and we’ve burnt off some serious energy that way! We also look out for the shadows of other things that we pass: trees; people; buildings; birds. In the past we’ve talked about how clouds passing in front of the sun make a really big shadow.

I love that there’s no preparation needed and no pressure to be doing anything taxing, looking at shadows feels really relaxed. Definitely time well spent!

Pasta and play dough fine motor practice

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Ever wondered what to do with those last scraps of pasta in the bag? This quick set up activity puts them to good use and lets your little one practice their fine motor skills at the same time.

Setting up the invitation to play for this activity was one of those “what can I put together while I’m waiting for the coffee?” affairs. I know Monkey loves trying to pick things up with tongs and fine motor practice usually keeps him happy for a good stretch of time. I stuck spiky penne pasta into play dough and set out a variety of grabbing tools so that he could experiment however he wanted.

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First make a play dough ball. I used a hand full of old dough that is now multi coloured and smells like it might once have been blueberry and bubblegum play dough. This is a good way to use old play dough because it doesn’t really matter what colour it is!

Then push the pasta into the dough ball all over until you have something resembling a creepy hedgehog. Leave some extra pieces of pasta in a bowl so that your kiddo can put more in if they want to. Add whatever tools you have that can be used to pull the pasta from the dough.

I didn’t have to show the Monkey how to play this game and he got right to it with his favourite kitchen tongs daintily plucking the quills from the dough.

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He tried out all the different tools, and even turned them into hammers to put more pasta into the dough.

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He really enjoyed pushing the pasta right down inside the dough ball and then experimenting to find out how to get it back. The texture of the pasta was a great talking point. He touched the ends and said “bit spiky”, and chatted about how some of it was too smooth to grip with the tools.

Once he had finished the tweezing, plucking, squashing and hammering we turned to more imaginative play with the dough and pasta. He made wonderful dough clothes for some of his animals adorned with pasta quills!

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I loved this activity because of the opportunity my toddler had to experiment with the different tools to find out which worked the best. He practised his fine motor skills, talked through his findings with me and then had the chance to use his imagination. Plus it was great fun!

 

 

Painting with flowers toddler art

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

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We love painting, and we love getting out in the garden to see what we can find, so this art project ticked all the right boxes for us. First we headed to the garden. There’s a patch right at the back that’s overgrown and wild, and there are hundreds of these pink lilacs growing there. We collected a good bunch of the heads along with stalks and leaves.

We set out our trusty painting sheet (it makes me so happy that the boy gets excited by the sight of the painting sheet coming out!) and some paint and paper.

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To start with the boy wanted to use a brush, and that’s ok, we did a few pictures of dinosaurs to warm up. Then grasping a flower head by the stalk he spent a while mixing the paint with this unfamiliar tool. I’d put two colours of paint out in a bowl and he used the flowers to swirl them together, adding orange pollen to the mix too.

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When he was finally ready to do some painting with the flowers he used them like he would a brush to start with. He covered a few sheets of paper this way. Then I started to dip flowers in paint and drop them onto the paper. That’s when he really got into it!

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He loved loading on the paint and then letting the flowers splat down onto the paper and started shouting “SPLAT!” when they hit. He did a lot of stamping and experimented with hitting the paper with variable force to see what patterns he could make. We also tried painting with the leaves and stalks to see what we could create. Towards the end of our painting session he started to pull parts of the plant apart and stick them onto the wet paint to make a flowery collage.

What a fun messy way to practice gross motor skills, do something arty and get out in the sunshine too!

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