Friday, January 17, 2020

Australian animal small world play tray

When my big girl started at school I noticed  there was an abundance of gum leaves, tiny gumnuts, flowers and sticks always strewn across the paths thanks to the wind. I love using nature in our play so I immediately had a brainwave to set up an Australian themed small world play tray. So I collected a few bits and pieces with my toddler on the way home and set up a surprise play tray for her big sister.

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- Play tray
- Australian animal figurines
- Coloured rice or edible dirt
- Gumnuts, sticks, flowers, rocks etc
- Wood slice or small chopping board
- Blue play silk

I like to set up most of our small world play in a tray because it gives the kids a defined play area and the high sides help to contain the mess {most of the time}. Using a tray also means it's portable and can be set up in any room, or moved up high away from tiny hands. It can also be taken away and brought back out later, for example if the kids are being too messy I'll remove it then if they want it later I'll bring it back out. We use the Kmart drinks tray but similar trays can be found at other homewares stores in the kitchenware section.

Being a nature based play tray most of the items needed can be foraged from the backyard, local gardens or parks. When we set up any type of nature play I usually give the girls a small wicker basket and we go on a nature treasure walk and collect bits and pieces that have fallen near footpaths near our house. We love collecting interesting leaves, sticks, small logs, gumnuts, flowers and seedpods. For this play tray all our nature items were foraged except the dried lotus pod which I already had at home.

I don't like mixing dry and wet sensory materials in the same small world because I prefer to reuse all our sensory materials. So in this case because I used coloured rice and natural wooden elements, I used a blue playsilk for the river, rather than water. I also find rice is easier to clean up than dirt or cocoa which is why I opted to use rice as the dirt base. However, you could definitely use edible dirt or even real dirt for this small world, it all comes down to personal preference and how messy you want things to get! If you're worried about it getting too messy set up an old sheet underneath the tray so clean up is easy {a stick vacuum comes in handy too} or simply set it up outside.

There really are no rules when it comes to setting up a small world tray. I usually start by working out where I want the ground sensory base/s to be then start building it up by adding the other elements {gumnuts, sticks, leaves etc}. If I'm using taller bits of branches as trees I'll put them towards an edge of the tray so they don't get constantly knocked over. I also use rocks or sticks to separate different areas like the water and dirt so the spaces are obviously defined at the start of play, however it all ends up a mess once the play starts anyway. Lastly I add the animals to wherever they look right. Basically just jump in and start placing things where you think they'll look good and move them around a few times until you feel it looks right {or at least similar to the idea you have in your head}. The kids are going to have their own ideas and make up their own stories while playing, the small world is just a starting point for their play.

For this small world I used our koala, platypus, tortoise shell butterfly and bearded dragon. I put it together quickly and these were the first of our Australian animal figurines I grabbed. We also have a kangaroo, ostrich, wombat and cassowary that could be used as well. All of our animal figurines are collecta brand, but their are similar ones available from Schliech.

This small world can be used to teach different Australian animal facts like animal names, different animal habitats, what they eat and different types of animals {mammals, marsupials, insects}. It's also a great bookish play activity after reading books about Australian animals like The Very Hungry Caterpillars Australian Friends. Of course it's also great for imaginary play. 

For more small world play ideas using animal figurines see our rock pool small world and animal figurine play ideas post and check out our animal play ideas pinterest board.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

12 picture books to make starting school easier for children

Starting school is a time of massive change and upheaval, and not just for the children heading off to school. There's new places to be, new routines to learn, new people to meet and new friends to make. All of that can be a little bit daunting for both parents and kids. Us adults are pretty good at coping, or at least pretending like we have it all together, but our little people sometimes need help to manage big feelings and emotions.

Will the other kids like me? Who will my teacher be? What will my classroom look like? Where is the playground? When do I get to go home? Why can't mum stay with me? There's so many questions and so many changes children have to work their way through. I've always been a big believer in books helping explain feelings, experiences and complex ideas to children, so it's no surprise we used picture books to help my daughter with the transition to school when she started prep. With another school year on the horizon I've put together a list of picture books that are great for helping children with the start of school, whether it be the start of kindy, prep, foundation, primary school, or changing to a new school, there's books for everyone {even the ones who definitely don't want to go to school}.

12 picture books to help make starting school easier for children

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FIRST DAY | Andrew Daddo

A really popular book here in Australia to calm the nerves about starting school is First Day, by Aussie actor and author Andrew Daddo. Are you ready? It'll be fun! You'll make new friends. New BFFs! You might have to be a bit brave ... It's the first day of school, but who is the most nervous about the big day? Daddo has captured how the first day of school feels for children themselves and also for us as parents. This one is a great read for preparing the whole family for the transition to big school.

MADDIE'S FIRST DAY | Penny Matthews

It is Maddie's first day of school and she has everything ready - her uniform, shoes, socks and hat. But there is one special thing that Maddie can't leave behind - her blanky! The excitement of the first day of school, new experiences and making friends are the main themes for this book. Matthews focuses on moments throughout the day that might seem small and insignificant to adults, but are extremely important for children.


On my first day, I will meet new friends and learn new things... What about you? Whether big or small, feathered or furry, the first day of school can be a lot of fun! Using cute illustrations of different animals, My First Day at School captures the fun of learning and making new friends at school.


Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly are all off to school for the first time. Would you like to meet them and see how they go? There are new friends to make, fun ways to learn, and lots of different things to discover. Starting School focuses on the different experiences and feelings of the five children as they begin school for the first time. Each page focuses on a different area of the school and experience from the day such as making friends, snack time, the playground and in the classroom.

THE DAY YOU BEGIN | Jacqueline Woodson

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you. There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it's how you look or talk, or where you're from; maybe it's what you eat, or something just as random. It's not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. The Day You Begin is a great book about overcoming nerves and celebrating what makes everyone unique.


It's not just children who are going to school for the first time that may be experiencing some nerves. Kids who are changing to a new school will be facing the exact same fears as if they were starting school again for the first time. Similarly, some children get really anxious about starting a new grade at school after a long holiday break. Will their friends be in their class? Will they make new friends? What will the teacher be like? The start of the school year can be a daunting time even for seasoned school kids. The following books are really good for kids who are transitioning school, or moving up grades.


The Night Before First Grade follows Penny as she prepares for her first day of Grade One with her best friend Jenny. She's full of excitement as she knows she'll have her best friend by her side, but then not everything goes to plan. Fun rhymes and cute illustrations show how Penny overcomes her nerves and makes the most of the situation. This is the perfect book for children moving into first grade, especially if their best friend won't be in the same class. It's also great for any country where the school year starts in summer.


What happens when you're super excited for the new school year with all your friends, but when you get to school none of them are in your new class? Your tummy bubbling away with excitement suddenly starts squelching doing cartwheels. But it's not all bad, now there's a bunch of new friends to make and at lunch time the playground will be full of old friends too. Old Friends New Friends is a great book about being brave and has a lot of coping strategies for children when they're faced with unexpected change.


Some kids will be so anxious, or just completely disinterested, that they flat out refuse to go to school. To help them with starting school, or going back to school, try these picture books below. All the main characters start out refusing to go to school for various reasons, but they may convince your kids that school is fun after-all.


Let me start by saying this book is hilarious! Pigeon thinks he knows everything so why does he have to go to school anyway? The Pigeon Has to Go to School starts out with all the what if's pigeon thinks might happen at school. What if he doesn't like it? What if the teacher doesn't like him? I mean, what if he learns TOO MUCH!?! The hilarious illustrations and sarcasm will have kids rolling around with laughter, and by then end they'll probably want to go to school too. If you want even more laughs, check out all the other Pigeon books by Mo Willems.

I DON'T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL | Stephanie Blake

I Don't Want to go to School is the story of Simon the super rabbit and he won't go to school. No way! But, after his first day of school he changes his mind and there's no way he wants to go home. This is a good picture book particularly for little who boys who may be trying to hold in the fact that they're anxious to go to school.

DEAR TEACHER | Amy Husband

Dear Teacher is a hilarious collection of letters from Michael to his new teacher Miss Brookes explaining why he can't go to class. From traveling to the pyramids of Egypt to getting attacked by pirates and going to the moon in a rocket ship, each letter is increasingly outlandish and covered with Michael's incredibly funny sketches from his many adventures. When Michael's teacher writes back telling him how sorry she is he'll miss all of the exciting school activities planned for the year, Michael realises all the fun he'd really miss out on.


Not all picture books about starting school focus on the child's experience, some very cleverly convey messages about being nervous, learning new routines and making friends from the perspective of someone else.


It's not just kids who are anxious about starting school, the teachers will be too! With a class full of new little people to get to know your teacher may be just as nervous as you. How To Get Your Teacher Ready is an instructional style how-to book that gives students plenty of ways to help make the teacher feel welcome and ready for the year ahead. This adorable book shows children how to harness their nerves and handle situations that may go wrong. This book is quite long compared to others so would be great for kids who might be going into older grades, or who are nervous about going into a new class.


It's not just school kids and teachers who get nervous about the first day of school... the school is nervous too. School is used to it just being him and janitor, but now he has to meet teachers and children too. What will the children do? Will they like him? School's First Day of School starts out a bit rough, but then he learns new things and realises it's not that bad being a school at all.

Disclosure - This post contains some affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, should you make a purchase. All books purchased from Book Depository come with free worldwide shipping.
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Thursday, January 9, 2020

DIY Sticky Heart Card

Ever since my girls were toddlers they've loved making home made cards for family and friends for any and every occasion. I mean every occasion, like say Wednesday... Most of the time they draw random designs, but sometimes we make purposeful designs like this sticky heart card I came up with originally for their grandma for Valentine's Day. We've also made the same design for her birthday and for their dad for Father's Day. It's quite a versatile design and can be used for a number of occasions. Follow the steps below to create your own DIY sticky heart card.

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- White paper or cardstock
- Coloured tissue paper
- Stickers {optional}
- Rhinestones {optional}
- Contact paper
- Crayons/pens
- Scissors

The majority of the items needed to make these cards can easily be found at local dollar stores, Kmart, Big W, or online at stores like Catch and Etsy. You can create the cards with any coloured paper/cardstock and tissue paper combination you like. We prefer to use a white background and choose red and pink tissue paper for Valentine's Day cards and usually use the person's favourite colour if we're making them for a birthday or Mother's Day/ Father's Day.


1. Fold your white paper or cardstock in half so it makes a card

2. Draw a heart shape on the front of the card. Gently fold the paper inside the heart then cut to make a slit inside the heart then carefully cut around the outline until the entire heart is cut out.

3. Stick contact paper to the back of the heart cut-out so the sticky side is facing the front of the card. This will create a sticky heart window.

4. Decorate the heart window with scrunched tissue paper. Tear the tissue paper into thin strips then scrunch them into small balls and press each one onto the contact surface.  You could also add stickers and jewel embellishments.

5. Write a cute saying on the front or inside of the card. Some ideas are:

  • Let's stick together
  • I'm stuck on you
  • Stick with me
  • You make my heart shine
  • You stole a piece of my heart
  • I love you to pieces
  • Be my Valentine


If you have OCD tendencies {like me} and want your hearts to be perfect, or you want multiple different coloured hearts without mixing colours together; try this easy variation. Instead of hand drawing a single heart on the card, use a small heart cookie cutter and trace multiple hearts onto the card. Follow the same steps as above and you'll have some cute cards like these.

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Friday, January 3, 2020

9 Picture books that celebrate Australia

What plants and animals are in the rainforest, or the desert, or The Great Barrier Reef? 

Is pavlova Australian? 

Does Vegemite really taste good? 

What does ANZAC mean? 

What does it really feel like to be Australian?

These are just some of the questions young children may have about Australia... how will you answer them?

I've always believed in the power of books for explaining big {or new} concepts to children in an age appropriate way, which is why my house is overflowing with them and we use them all the time. If you look hard enough there's a book for anything and these are my favourite books to introduce and explain Australian animals, places, icons, diversity and culture to children

Each one celebrates and captures quintessential parts of modern day Australia. Whether it's learning why a koala isn't a bear, where a wombat sleeps, when Australia was colonised, what vegemite tastes like or who calls Australia home... these books have the answers {and some pretty cool illustrations too}. 

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Australia has a diverse range of animals from the down right deadly to the quintessential marsupials, like koalas, kangaroos, wombats and wallabies that are synonymous with the land down under. There's also the weird and wonderful like the cassowary, platypus and quokka. But where exactly will you find all these creatures, and what do they eat? These picture books introduce kids to all the colourful creatures we have roaming the land and sea in Australia.

A - Z of Australian Animals | Jennifer Cossins

Jennifer Cossins is a Tasmanian artist and writer famous for her stunning non fiction books and beautiful illustrations. A-Z of Australian Animals is an anthology packed full of interesting facts about 26 of Australia's animals, one for each letter of the alphabet. The book features iconic animals such as the kangaroo, koala and Tasmanian devil, but also has abstruse animals like the quokka and numbat. Jennifer Cossins has a number of other animal books including A-Z of Endangered Animals, 101 Collective Nouns, The Baby Animal Book and The Ultimate Animal Counting Book.

Somewhere in Australia | Marcello Pennacchio

Somewhere in Australia is a beautiful picture book that uses rhyming and descriptive language to count through different Australian animals up to ten. The book is great for young kids to learn counting and one to one correspondence and is also great for acting out the various sounds and movements mentioned on each page.

Wombat Stew | Marcia K Vaughan

Wombat Stew is the story of a clever dingo who caught a wombat and decided to make gooey, brewy, yummy, chewy wombat stew. However, wombat's friends band together to help him by adding all sorts of weird ingredients into Dingo's stew. Wombat Stew is a colourful celebration of Australian outback animals and the bush tucker they all eat. It's a great way to teach young children about Australian wildlife and also a wonderful story of friendship and comradery.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar's Australian Friends is a lift the flap board book the explores typical Australian habitats like the beach, rivers, rainforest and the desert. Readers can lift the flaps to discover different Australian animals that live there. Eric Carle uses fun rhymes and his famous vivid illustrations to bring Australian landscape and animals to life. This book is perfect for toddlers and younger children.


Here in Australia we're lucky enough to have such a diverse range of landscape that provides shelter for ourselves and our native animals. From the harsh, dry deserts in central Australia to the lush rainforests and coral reefs of North Queensland, each part of Australia creates a unique ecosystem. The following picture books aptly describe and celebrate the varying landscape found across Australia.

Why I Love Australia picture book by Australian author and artist Bronwyn Bancroft

Why I Love Australia | Bronwyn Bancroft

In Why I Love Australia, Bronwyn Bancroft uses vivid pictures and expressive language to convey the beauty and magic of the Australian landscape. Bancroft is a proud Bundjalung woman and has illustrated the book with her modern version of traditional aboriginal paintings. The book is both an acknowledgement and celebration of Australian's traditional culture as well as an exploration of it's beautiful and varied landscape.

A is for Australia | Frané Lessac

In A in for Australia, author and illustrator Frané Lessac takes readers on a tour across Australia. What is the Fremantle Doctor? Where is Qui Qui? And why are some islands named after days of the week? Uncover these exciting facts when you explore from Bondi to Kakadu and all the way to Taronga Zoo. Discover why Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world!


Australia is a multicultural country combining descendants from the original aboriginal inhabitants with descendants from the colinisation in 1788 when the first British fleet arrived and many immigrants from all over the world. We have national holidays and events such as Australia Day, Anzac Day and NAIDOC week and are also heavily influenced by other cultures. 

Around the world we're known for the BBQ, Hills Hoist clotheslines, thongs {for our feet, not our bums}, Anzac biscuits, tim tams, fairy bread and often the most divisive of all, Vegemite.  We have iconic structures and places to visit like The Sydney Opera House, Uluru and The Great Barrier Reef and everyone recognises famous Aussies Steve Irwin, Chris Hemsworth and Ned Kelly {even though two of them are no longer with us}. The following picture books do a great job of capturing what it means to be Australian for today's kids.

I'm Australian Too Mem Fox picture book celebrating Australia

I'm Australian Too | Mem Fox

In I'm Australian Too, Mem Fox celebrates Australia's diverse and multicultural heritage. She talks about all different parts of Australia and many reasons why families come to make a better life in Australia. The book is a wonderful age appropriate way to encourage a discussion about immigration and how sometimes people originally come from other countries, but now call Australia home. I'm Australian! How about you?

Australia Illustrated | Tania McCartney

Australia Illustrated uses intricate illustrations to explore iconic places, landmarks, flora, fauna, foods, people and events in each state. Australia Illustrated is like a pictorial encyclopedia and tourist guide of Australia for kids and adults alike. It would also be great to send to relatives overseas who want to learn more about everything Australian.

kids picture book an aussie year by tania mccartney

An Aussie Year | Tania McCartney

An Aussie Year gives a glimpse into what it's like being Australian, featuring modern day culture and celebrations as well as long standing traditions. The book follows five Australian kids Ned, Lily, Zoe, Kirra and Matilda throughout an entire year and highlights multicultural festivals, national events, foods, celebrations and every day experiences that make up a typical Aussie year. Swinging on clotheslines, wearing thongs, eating meat pies and icy poles, Tania McCartney has captured the essence of an Aussie childhood, while also paying homage to important cultural events like NAIDOC week and Anzac Day.

Disclosure - This post contains some affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, should you make a purchase. All books purchased from Book Depository come with free worldwide shipping.
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