Snowy play dough and sensory fine motor practice



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.


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.



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.


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.


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



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!


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.


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).


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.



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

outdoorsy pin


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.


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.


3. Cloud watching

The laziest of summer afternoon activities.


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!


5. Snail watching

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


Animals in ice scavenger hunt and fine motor play



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.


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.



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.


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


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.


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

shadow pin


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

spiky play dough pin

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.


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.


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


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!


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

painting with flowers pin


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.


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.


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!


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!

All about white sensory tray

white pin

I put out a sensory tray like this one quite regularly, and without fail the Monkey loves them. They’re full of new things to look at and touch, and he has the freedom to play in any way he wants. I decided to theme this one white thinking that I’d have plenty of white objects to choose from. In fact, it was quite hard to find white stuff and I didn’t want to put out five different types of lotion and all the paper I could find. You’ll notice too that there’s no play dough in there. Play dough is ordinarily our go to substance, but we don’t have any white so I had to do without.

As a result this tray had more new textures for the Monkey to explore than usual. I included shaving foam, white paint, rice, cotton wool, yarn and some toys that fit with the colour theme. A handful of boggly eyes were added because I’m sure that he will play with them if all else fails. I picked a few daisies, some clover flowers and grass heads from the garden. And I put some little piles of different sugars and flour on a plate (I didn’t add salt because I assumed he’d want to try them and I didn’t want him to eat a mouthful of salt).

With any of these trays he tends to go immediately for something that’s unfamiliar. This time it was the piles of sugar and flour. I told him what each one was and suggested he taste some from his finger. Then he swirled them all together and rubbed them between his fingers to feel the textures.

Then he moved onto more familiar territory – the animal toys. This poor zebra and polar bear had a bath of shaving foam and were then dunked into all of the other substances. He used them to make footprints on the paper, they stomped around sploshing shaving foam everywhere, and were then covered in bits of cotton wool.


By this point everything was pretty sticky, including the boy’s hands. He doesn’t like to have anything coating his fingers and in the end he demanded that we go and wash up, leaving a table covered in shaving foam and cotton wool for Mummy to clean up!


Sandy play dough

sand play dough pinMonkey is obsessed by the beach at the moment (our closest beach is on the north sea coast, not somewhere you want to hang out unless it’s the height of summer), and I’ve been trying to think of ways to satiate him with beach related activities until we can get out there.

I made this really easy sandy play dough that has a cheery colour and rough texture so that we can do some beach playing. Apart from the time he’ll spend free playing with the dough I’ll also set up some small worlds to play in too.

To make this beach dough you’ll need 200g plain flour, 100g sand, 100g salt, 2 tbsp oil (vegetable oil worked well), 2 tbsp cream of tartar, 3 tbsp yellow washable ready mixed paint (mine was £1 from Mothercare) and about 150ml of hot lemon tea (or just hot water).

Mix all of the dry ingredients together, and then add the oil and paint. Gradually add the hot tea, mixing, until the dough comes together. Then turn it out and knead for a few minutes (a stand mixer dough hook is even quicker). Adjust the consistency adding a sprinkle of flour if the dough is too wet, a splash more hot tea if it’s too dry, and a splash more oil if it doesn’t stretch well. I use paint in play dough quite a lot and have yet to have any problems with it staining hands and furniture, however, it’s probably best to avoid getting it on anything that you don’t want to be turned yellow!

The dough should be mouldable like normal play dough but also have a grainy, sandy texture that is perfect as a beach.


Fossil egg hunt

fossil egg pin


Make these rocky fossilised eggs, then let your toddler search for them and crack them open! It’s brilliant gross motor practice and so much fun.

Every time I set up some sort of hunting activity for the Monkey we have a whale of a time. Last time we searched for play dough dinosaur eggs and we had so much fun I’ve been mulling over what to do next ever since. My inspiration for this game came from projects for preschoolers, who made some amazing dinosaur eggs. I made rock hard eggs filled with chicken toys (we didn’t have enough little dinosaurs – something we’ll need to rectify), and hid them around the house for the boy to find.

To make the eggs you’ll need small plastic chicken toys, 300g flour, 300g compost/soil, 200g sand, 160g salt and some hot water. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Gradually add the water until you get a mouldable dough. I used warm water because I knew I’d have to get my hands in and I didn’t want it to be cold. Then cover each of your toys with a thick layer of dough, fashioning it into an egg shape. They don’t need to be perfect, in fact I think they’re better if they’re assorted shapes.



Then the eggs need to dry. Either leave them somewhere dry and warm for a few days to harden up, or put them in the oven on the lowest setting for a few hours. I popped mine in the oven after I’d finished cooking and turned it off.

Once they’ve hardened up enough set up the egg hunt. It was raining this morning so we couldn’t use the garden, so instead I hid the eggs around the house. Then I told the Monkey that I thought there were some rock eggs downstairs and gave him a basket to collect them in. He marched off happily to search for them and we had a lot of fun looking under the sofa and on top of cabinets for them (excellent gross motor skills). They’re really hard and he had a good look at and feel of the first couple of eggs that he found.


When we’d gathered them up all we had a look at our haul and practised counting for a few minutes. Then it was time to open them. With some trepidation I’d set out a real hammer and a play hammer (they are hard so the real hammer is necessary). Thankfully, he took one look at the real hammer and said “no, Mummy, need little hammer”. Phew. Instead, Daddy took the real hammer and the boy used his toy hammer on the same egg. Hammering is really good fine motor practice and encourages hand eye coordination.

DSC_0777 DSC_0779

It took quite a while to open up the eggs. He was so excited when the first chicken came into view and he didn’t get any less excited when the final one was revealed. He even went off to try and find some more when we’d finished and I had to promise that we could do another egg hunt soon!




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