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Monday, September 21, 2020

The Best High Quality Wooden Toy Brands for Open Ended Play

Are you looking to invest in wooden toys for your playroom or daycare but want to make sure you get the best bang for your buck? The key is to invest in high quality open ended toys that will last for years and won't get boring as your children get older. Toys of heirloom quality that grow with your child as their skills and imagination develop. I've put together a list of the best high quality hand made wooden toy brands available here in Australia and worldwide.

little boy playing with wooden loose parts tray

WHAT ARE OPEN ENDED TOYS?


Open ended toys are toys that can be played with in multiple ways that also have no "correct" way to play with them. They're usually very neutral in design so children can use their imagination to bring them to life any way they want. Open ended toys aren't always wooden {think play silks, dolls, magnetic tiles} however, the majority of wooden toys are open ended. For example a simple wooden block can be just a block, or it can be a car, house, tree, person, rocket etc. The possibilities are endless and as your child's imagination and skills develop, the way they play with their toys will too.
Saturday, September 12, 2020

Looking to buy a musical toy? Here’s how to pick the right one.

As parents, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to the selection of baby and toddler musical toys. If we shop in the big department stores, we can become overwhelmed by the selection of flashing lights and battery-operated toys that promise to make musical maestros of our children. 

But what if these plastic fantastic toys aren’t the best when it comes to cognitive development and cause and effect skills? There’s science behind what we select for our children, and you may be surprised by what the data tells us. 

janod kids wooden musical instruments
Thursday, September 10, 2020

Where To Buy Official Bluey™ Merchandise: Clothes, Books, Toys and more

Do your kids love Bluey too? Bluey & Bingo have been firm favourites at our house since the show first launched. In fact I'll let you in on a secret.... I often watch it even when the kids aren't around!

bluey, bingo, bandit and chilli
Source: ABC TV


WHO IS BLUEY?


If you haven't been indoctrinated into the inner sanctum of all things Bluey, let me fill you in. Bluey lives in Brisbane Australia with her little sister Bingo, dad Bandit and mum Chilli. Bluey is a 6yr old blue heeler pup who loves to play, she turns everyday family moments into extraordinary adventures alongside her 4yr old sister Bingo {who's a red heeler pup like her mum}. The Heeler family love imaginary play and are experts at turning ordinary moments like bed time, grocery shopping and dinner time into fun games. Whether they're playing keepy-uppy, shadowlands or being flossing grannies, Bingo and Bluey are always having fun.
Friday, September 4, 2020

Spooky Sensory Spaghetti Invitation To Play

If your kids love Halloween and you want to involve them in some spooky fun, but don't want things to get too scary, try this fun spooky sensory spaghetti invitation to play. They'll have loads of squishy, squelchy, slimy fun exploring this bright {and a little bit freaky} spaghetti. They can search for creepy Halloween favours, squish it, roll it, cut it and even eat it!

spooky spaghetti halloween invitation to play for kids

In this post I'll show you how to create colourful Halloween sensory spaghetti in just a few minutes using basic items you should already have in your pantry. You can add as many or as few creepy props as you like. Keep in mind your child's interests, age and just how spooky you want your spooky spaghetti to actually be.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Creepy Crawly Halloween Sensory Play Tray

We love sensory play here and make sensory trays for pretty much any theme, including Halloween. This creepy crawly Halloween sensory play tray is a great way for toddlers and preschoolers to join in the Halloween fun without getting too scary. They can scoop, pour, touch, feel and investigate minibeasts and creepy crawlies until their heart's content.

child investigating bugs, bats and rats in halloween sensory rice

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Best Waldorf & Montessori Inspired Toy Shops on Etsy

Most parents searching for Waldorf or Montessori educational toys for their children naturally turn to popular and well known brands like Grimms and Grapat. What a lot of people forget is that there are plenty of talented artisans from all over the world creating high quality toys and resources on Etsy. I've spent hours researching on Etsy and have uncovered many hidden gems that I'm going to share with you in this post. If you want to skip the anxiety attack of restock nights, but still support family run small businesses, then Etsy is the place to go. 


the best etsy toy stores


THE BEST WALDORF AND MONTESSORI TOY STORES ON ETSY


I've compiled this list with what I consider to be some of the best Waldorf or Montessori inspired toy makers on Etsy. I've spent hours researching each store and finding products that are perfect for imaginary play and to use as educational resources. Whether you're after small world items, wooden toys, play silks, play mats or a pikler triangle, there's a store on this list that has what you want, or can take a custom order to create it for you.

Monday, August 24, 2020

DIY Tradie Hi Vis Fathers Day Card

Is your dad or granddad a tradie? I've got the perfect Father's Day card for them! You can make this hi vis tradie shirt card in any colour to match dad's work shirt! I'll show you how to make these hi vis tradie cards in just a few minutes using a few basic craft materials.

hi vis diy fathers day cards

Father's Day, like most holidays, has a habit of sneaking up on me each year. Does it creep up on you too? Instead of rushing around the shops trying to find the perfect Father's Day card at the last minute, the kids can have fun making their own unique hi vis shirt card for dad at home. It's a great craft activity for kids at daycare or school too. Whether dad {or granddad} wears an orange, yellow or even lime green shirt, you can change the cardstock to make this card exactly like dad's work shirt.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Learn & Grow vs Connetix: Which Magnetic Tile Brand is Best?

Are you wanting to add some awesome open ended magnetic tiles to your playroom or classroom, but you don't know which brand is best? Don't worry I've done the hard work for you and compared some of the leading magnetic tile brands so you can make an informed choice about which set is perfect for you. In this post I'll compare the size, strength, quality and value for money of Connetix and Learn & Grow magnetic tiles

connetix and learn and grow tiles side by side

Magnetic tiles are what I call a unicorn toy, because quite frankly they tick all of the boxes. They're a completely open ended resource, they can become anything your child imagines and there's no wrong way to play with them. You can stack them, create with them, count them, colour sort them and use them on multiple surfaces, along with many other play ideas

They're also a stem toy, so they help teach children science, technology, engineering and mathematical concepts through play. While playing children will be using their fine and gross motor skills, improving hand/eye co-ordination, hypothesising and problem solving as well as exploring many other developmental skills. And perhaps the best benefit of all, for those who have multiple children, is that they're great for children of all ages, toddlers, preschoolers and school kids all love getting creative with magnetic tiles.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Best Picture Books to Read with Dad this Fathers Day.

Looking for the perfect Father's Day gift idea for dad? Something personal, with sentimental meaning, but that can be used over and over... I've found the perfect picture books to celebrate Father's Day 2020 with dad. Picture books are a great way to convey feelings and they can be read together with dad for years to come. Whether you're after heartfelt, hilarious or heroic stories, there's something on this list for every type of dad young or old.

dad reading a picture book with child for fathers day

When our first daughter was born I started the tradition of giving picture books to her dad for Fathers Day. I go with her to pick a new one each year. We usually try to pick books with characters that match her dad's personality or storylines that correlate with something that's happening in our lives at the time. We also include a little handwritten note to dad inside the cover. When she was really young I would write it for her, then as she got older she told me what to write and this year will be particularly exciting because she can write it herself. 

I love that it's a tradition she looks forward to each year and it also means we're building our own little library of dad related books. I can just imagine their dad in the future looking through the books after the girls have moved out, remembering reading together when they were little. If you want to start your own Fathers Day book tradition, or you just love books, these are our current top picks.
Friday, August 7, 2020

Turtle Life Cycle Small World Play Tray

This sea turtle small world is a great hands on way to teach turtle life cycles to young children and is also a fun sensory experience exploring the texture and feel of sand and water. It's a fun way to explore science either in the classroom, or at home.
turtle life cycle small world invitation to play in a tray

Some children learn best by reading information, however my children definitely learn best hands on through play, so I introduced the life cycle of a turtle using a small world play tray with animal figurines. I find my children definitely learn and absorb so much information by being able to touch and manipulate figurines while playing. They're also big sensory seekers so anything with a sensory element is a big win, which is why we love small world play so much!
Sunday, August 2, 2020

DIY Playdough Stamps

Making DIY resources is a great way to get creative and the perfect use for that recycling stash we all have put away for a rainy day.  In this post I'll give you step by step instructions to create cheap and easy to make DIY playdough stampers your kids will love. An added bonus is they only take a few minutes to make.

diy wooden playdough stamps

I must confess I probably spend far too much time browsing toy shops on Instagram and online, so I spend quite a few hours window shopping and admiring lots of gorgeous toys and resources. I love all the fancy wooden playdough stampers that are available like these ones from The Creative Toy Shop, Let Them Play and the amazing designs available at Etsy. While I'm a huge fan of wooden toys, sometimes we just don't have the extra cash to splash around on new purchases, so when I work out a way to make essentially the same thing for much cheaper, I'm totally going to give it a go. The great thing is the kids didn't even know the difference and were just as happy with the DIY version.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Slow Down: Bring Calm to a Busy World with 50 Nature Stories

One of the biggest lessons 2020 has taught us, if not forced us to learn, is to slow down. Take note of the world around us and pay more attention to nature. Realise the little moments are the big moments and the seemingly insignificant moments are the most important. If ever there was a children's book that perfectly encapsulates this message, it's this one, Slow Down by Rachel Williams.


Slow down: Bring calm to a busy world with 50 nature stories by Rachel Williams {book cover}

Slow Down: Bring Calm To A Busy World With 50 Nature Stories

BUY HERE: Book Depository | Amazon | Dymocks


Slow down is not your typical children's picture book. Filled to the brim with many, many beautiful stories and gorgeous illustrations, Slow Down is more like a nature encyclopedia for both children and adults alike. Instead of one single story, it includes 50 different nature stories, explaining how at any given moment there are many different significant events happening in nature all around us. The stories include a duck teaching her ducklings to swim, an ocean wave forms, crests and breaks, a tadpole becomes a frog, a snake sheds it's skin, water lilies open on a pond, plus 45 other tales about how the weather, animals and plants survive and interact on a daily basis.

All around us, nature is turning, growing…and working. Every day, hour by hour, magical transformations happen right in front of you. But it's not always easy to see them… Slow Down implores us all to take stock of life and how we spend our time, in order to slow down and really appreciate everything that is going on all around us every single day. To pay more attention to nature and realise the seemingly insignificant moments are the most important and what may appear to be small to us, is actually a really big deal.
Monday, July 20, 2020

Pom Pom Heuristic Play Tray for Toddlers

Are you looking for a quick, low prep activity to keep your toddler entertained? In this post I'll show you how to put together a quick heuristic play tray using pom poms, utensils and recyclables that's sure to keep your toddler intrigued and entertained.

Toddlers are notoriously fickle with their attention spans and can move from being super excited about a toy or activity to completely over it in a matter of minutes. This is completely normal age appropriate behaviour, so don't be discouraged and let it put you off creating play experiences for them. As a general rule of thumb toddlers will be able to concentrate on a task for 3-5 minutes per year of age. It's important to keep this in mind when setting up play invitations for toddlers, don't set up overly complicated activities as they probably won't play with them for a long period of time.

My mantra for toddler play is keep it simple! Try not to spend too much time setting up activities as it's entirely possible they'll play for less time than it took you to set up. One of the best activities to set up for toddlers is a heuristic play tray {similar concept to treasure baskets} as they're quick to set up and will often hold a toddler's attention for longer as they're directing their own play.
toddler playing with pom poms and cups in a tray


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Magic Milk Science Experiment

If you want to introduce your kids to science concepts in a simple and interactive way then this magic milk science experiment is perfect! Toddlers, preschoolers and even school children will be amazed watching the colours magically move across the milk. Best of all you can create this experiment with just four common household items you probably already have in your kitchen right now.

Magic milk experiment

My daughter has been interested in science since she was quite little so we love to do simple science experiments at home. You don't need complicated equipment like microscopes, test tubes, Bunsen burners or dangerous chemicals to create science experiments at home. There are so many simple science experiments that can be made with common household items that are both fascinating and fun. Magic milk is one of our favourite experiments to do at home because it seemingly turns science into magic right before your kids eyes.
Thursday, July 9, 2020

Colourful Witches Potion Science Experiment

Kids will watch on in awe as these bright witches potions bubble and brew to life. This colourful witches potion experiment is a fun activity to do at Halloween or for a Harry Potter or spooky themed birthday party. With a twist on the traditional bicarb and vinegar science experiment, these witches potions combine science and creepy crawlies into one spooky, fun activity kids will love.

witches potions erupting with creepy crawlies


Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.  - Macbeth

With this magic witches potion recipe all children can experience what it's like to create potent potions in seconds. The question is will they be wicked witches or white witches? Only joking, there's no malevolence here, we're all good witches of the north.
Monday, July 6, 2020

How to Create a Fairy Village Small World

Over the past few weeks, as children have spent more time at home than usual, fairy gardens have experienced a huge resurgence in popularity. It seems everyone's setting up a fairy garden or fairy house. What if you want your children to experience the magic of fairies, but don't have a backyard or garden to create a permanent fairy garden in? A fairy village small world is a great indoor alternative to bring fairy magic to life in your home. In this post I'll show you exactly how to create an enchanting fairy village small world invitation to play for your children.


Fairy village and animal small world invitation to play.
*This post contains some affiliate links*

Small world play is my daughter's favourite type of play. She's always had an active imagination and small world play gives her miniature life like environments in which her imagination can run wild. As her play has evolved over the years our small world play set ups have gone from simple trays to more detailed layouts that cover an entire shelf.
Monday, June 22, 2020

50+ Connetix Magnetic Tile Play Ideas

Are you looking for the perfect open ended toy for children of all different ages? Maybe you already have magnetic tiles and want to know just how many ways you can play with them. In this post I'll show you why Connetix magnetic tiles are an amazing open ended resource you need in your house or classroom. With over 50 different play ideas, that work on numerous cognitive and physical developmental skills, you'll find play activities for children of all ages and abilities.


50 connetix magnetic tile play ideas



Although we have a deep seeded love for wooden toys in this household, there are a few plastic toys that I would never part with because they're just so valuable to play. Magnetic tiles are well loved in this house and will be here to stay for many years because they're a toy that continues to grow with your child. As their imagination, physical and cognitive skills develop the way children play with toys will change, however magnetic tiles are one of those rare unicorn toys that are fantastic for children of all different ages. 

If you have a big age gap between your kids like I do, they're one of the best investments ever, because both kids can play with the one toy in many different ways. There's no need to have different toys for each age group as they can both play with them at the same time. They also wont get bored with them because the play possibilities are endless, continue reading for over 50 different ways to play with magnetic tiles.

Zoo Cutlery Tray Small World

Do your kids love imaginary play? Looking for new small world play ideas? The great news is you don't need expensive toys to create the perfect small world, I'll show you how to create an epic zoo small world with a cutlery tray, some animal figurines and sensory bases. Keep reading for step by step instructions to recreate this zoo for your kids at home or in the classroom.
zoo small world invitation to play in a cutlery tray


WHAT IS CUTLERY TRAY PLAY?


I have this odd habit where I'm always looking at household objects and thinking about how I could repurpose them for play. I can find play items in all different places like kitchen shops, op shops, hardware stores like Bunnings, dollar stores and garden, stationary or homeware sections of department stores. Play items are everywhere, you just have to think outside of the box, which is how cutlery trays became my second favourite type of play tray {besides my beloved kmart play tray}.

Cutlery trays are perfect for small worlds because each compartment is a ready made predefined space for different animal enclosures or areas within the play scene. Cutlery trays are quite inexpensive and come in various colours, sizes and materials like plastic and bamboo. We've used them for zoos, aquariums, farms and construction sites. They're also great for loose parts play. I even started a hashtag on Instagram #cutlerytrayplay which you can search for inspiration.
Saturday, May 30, 2020

Magic Fizzing Colour Bicarb Soda and Vinegar Science Experiment

Are your kids interested in science experiments but you don't know where to start? Want a really easy experiment you can do together? In this post I'll show you how to create an easy chemical reaction using three simple household items you'll find in the kitchen. It's a fun way to teach chemistry to young children and create some real life magic.

One of the simplest and safest chemical reactions to create at home is the reaction between bicarb soda {also commonly known as baking soda} and vinegar. Both of these items are commonly found in a household pantry as they're both readily used for baking and cleaning. To take this experiment to the next level and add in even more magic, add some food colouring to create magical fizzing eruptions of colour.

*This post contains some affiliate links*


Before you start your experiment get your child to hypothesis by asking them what they think will happen. What will happen to the liquid when we add the bicarb powder? Will it make a noise? Will it make something new? Come up with a list of ideas then perform the experiment to see if they were right.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED


  • Spoon
  • Container
  • Vinegar
  • Small bowl
  • Shallow tray
  • Food colouring
  • Bicarb Soda {Baking Soda}



We used a plastic mini cauldron as the container for our reaction because we have a heap of them saved from Halloween and I thought it was fitting to make a fizzing potion in a witches cauldron. You can of course use any container you have, we've done the same experiment before in glasses and cups, however if you want the colour eruption to be a surprise it's best to use a dark coloured container. Also be aware that the mixture will bubble over so you'll want a tray or plate underneath to catch the run off.

To do this experiment I filled the plastic cauldron with vinegar and mixed in a few drops of food colouring, while my daughter wasn't around, so she didn't know what colour was going to come out. Because the container was black even with it right in front of her she couldn't tell that the liquid mixture inside was coloured so it was a complete surprise to her. 

I gave her a small bowl of bicarb soda for her to spoon into the cauldron to cause the chemical reaction. As you can see from the video below, it didn't take much bicarb soda powder to set off a pretty impressive eruption. Once the fizzing has stopped and the bubbles have calmed down you can add another spoonful of bicarb to make the eruption happen again.

STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS FOR COLOURFUL BICARB & VINEGAR REACTION


1. Half fill a container with vinegar.
2. Add a few drops of food colouring to the vinegar.
3. Fill a small bowl with bicarb soda powder.
4. Set both on top of a shallow tray and add a teaspoon of bicarb powder into the vinegar container.
5. Add more bicarb as needed to create subsequent colourful bubble reactions.




This experiment is a fun hands on way to teach colours as well as chemical reactions. Use different pots for different colours if you want to do more than one. The same experiment is also how the popular erupting volcanoes come to life {just use red food dye to create lava}. The experiment can also be done starting with the bicarb and food colouring in one pot and adding the vinegar, the reaction is exactly the same. We chose for her to spoon in the powder as it was the less messier option {in case she spilt a whole lot of vinegar while pouring it out}.


WHAT'S HAPPENING WHEN THE BAKING SODA AND VINEGAR REACT?


Depending on their ages, the kids may not be interested in the science beyond knowing that mixing bicarb and vinegar together makes an exciting fizzy eruption. I know my toddler would only care that I magically made bubbles appear, however older kids may ask more questions, so it's always good to understand the chemical reaction going on behind the smoke and mirrors of the exciting fizz or volcanic lava.

Baking soda and vinegar react in what's known as an acid-base reaction when an alkaline solution reacts with an acidic solution. Baking soda {bicarb soda} is chemically known as sodium bicarbonate. The sodium bicarbonate which is alkaline reacts with the vinegar, which is acidic to form sodium acetate and carbonic acid which quickly dissolves to water and carbon dioxide gas. The fizzing bubbles are a result of the intensity of the reaction and the quick rate at which the carbon dioxide gas is expelled. For a more detailed insight into the chemical reaction have a look at the equations for the bicarb and vinegar reaction here.

baking soda and vinegar experiment reaction


OTHER FUN SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS FOR KIDS






Disclosure - This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience, which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, should you make a purchase.
Monday, May 25, 2020

How to make a Lava Lamp Experiment Sensory Bottle

Do you want to create all the fun of a lava lamp for your kids without the risk of heat that could burn or glass that can smash? Thankfully it's easy to create a magical lava lamp sensory bottle that's completely safe for kids with this Alka-Seltzer science experiment using four household pantry staples. Follow the tutorial below to make a lava lamp sensory bottle in less than five minutes.



Probably my most favourite thing about my bedroom when I was younger was having a lava lamp. It was so mesmerising watching the oily blobs float up and down. Of course I didn't really have any concept at the time of how dangerous it was due to the heat it emitted. Looking back now I can see how much of a hazard lava lamps are, not to mention the huge amount of electricity they require and all of the big fire hazard warnings make me much more nervous now as an adult. So, when my daughter found my lava lamp stashed in it's box and begged me to show her, I decided it was the perfect time to do the Alka Seltzer lava lamp experiment I'd been meaning to try for ages. I took it one step further and together we created some lava lamp sensory bottles that she can use over and over again.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Baby Doll Bandaid Shape Matching Play Activity

Last time I cleaned out and reorganised our medicine cupboard I  discovered we had a heap of really old homebrand bandaids at the back of the cupboard. They'd obviously been there for a while and had started to lose stickiness, but instead of simply throwing them out, I decided to use them for a fun fine motor activity

My girls are obsessed with bandaids and always say they've hurt themselves purely so they have an excuse to get a bandaid, because they know they're special and only get them if they're really hurt. So I decided to put together a quick doctor themed invitation to play using their two favourite things, a baby doll and bandaids. This baby doll shape matching activity was a fun way to reuse the old bandaids and I snuck a fair bit of learning in too.
Baby doll shape matching bandaid activity.
Sunday, May 17, 2020

Dinosaur Egg Small World Sensory Play Tray

There seems to be many phases kids go through with toys as they're growing up, but one that's almost certain for both boys and girls is the dinosaur phase. When I was little this was all thanks to The Land Before Time cartoons. Little Foot, Petrie, Cera, Ducky and Spike were soooo cute I used to watch the movie and cartoons on repeat.

When I had my girls and they first started getting into animal figurines I thought dinosaurs would quickly become favourites, however it took them a little while to get interested. Once Dinosaur Train was on ABC Kids however they got into dinosaurs in a big way. Then when Dino Dana and Andy's Prehistoric Adventures were added it just cemented their love for dinosaurs and the history of them. We've done many dinosaur play activities now, but this Dinosaur Egg Small World Tray we did recently has been a firm favourite.

DINOSAUR EGG SMALL WORLD PLAY TRAY


Do you ever come up with awesome ideas at the most random of times? It happens to me all the time {probably because my brain never switches off}. This dinosaur small world idea popped into my head while I was cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast. I had an idea to do a dinosaur small world in the back of my mind for a while, but when I started cracking the eggs for breakfast it's like a light bulb suddenly went off in my head. 

Straight away I knew if I carefully cracked them right I could keep them and set up an awesome small world complete with real hatching eggs. So the rest of the eggs I cracked right down low near the base and carefully got the egg out then thoroughly rinsed them and put them aside. I wanted to set up a dinosaur nest loosely based on the intro to Dinosaur Train where Tiny, Shiny, Don and Buddy hatch out of the eggs as the theme song plays.

Dinosaur sensory small world play tray with chocolate flavoured mud.
*This post contains some affiliate links*


SUPPLIES YOU WILL NEED





We didn't have to buy anything to do this activity as we have a tub of small river rocks that we use for all sorts of small world set ups and we have a growing collection of CollectA dinosaurs. I was going to set up the dinosaur nest on the rocks, but because we had 6 eggs to use I decided to go on a nature walk with the girls and collect other items so I could set up two different nests in two different dinosaur habitats. We found some bark in our garden and picked some fern fronds, curly leaves and a big leaf that reminded us of the tree stars in The Land Before Time.

We don't have any real dirt in our backyard so every time we need mud or dirt for small world play I make my own edible version. It's edible purely because I make it from pantry staples, not because I actually want my children to eat it {especially in a play tray like this where it will mix with leaves and bark}. However, it does mean if your children are curious and sneak a taste it won't do them any harm.

EDIBLE CHOCOLATE MUD RECIPE


1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Water {add as needed}

To make edible mud it's very similar to oobleck. I simply started with flour and then added cocoa powder until the mixture was brown enough to look like mud. The flour does make it a lot lighter than the normal dark brown colour of cocoa powder, however you can just keep adding more powder until you get the colour you're happy with. Once the powder is mixed together, slowly add water while stirring until you get a mud like consistency. 

DINOSAUR PLAY TRAY LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES


Pincer grip
Hand strengthening
Hand/eye co-ordination
Tactile sensory stimulation
Hypothesising {what babies will hatch}
Dinosaur names & facts
Imaginary play

Dinosaur small world kmart play tray

I set up the dinosaur play tray inside while the girls waited outside. As soon as I decided to add chocolate mud to the small world I knew this would 100% be an outside activity, but I wanted to surprise them. They were so excited when I put the tray down and it had dinosaur eggs in it. When we went for our nature walk they knew we were collecting things for a dinosaur small world, but they had no idea I planned on adding eggs and babies

I gave them a little wooden mallet we have so they could crack the eggs open to make the babies hatch. Hitting the eggs was a great way to sneak in lots of fine motor practice while they gripped the mallet. They also had to concentrate and try to hit the eggshell in the right spot with the right amount of pressure to make them crack. This was of course quite easy for my eldest at almost 7, however it was a good way to get my 2yr old to work on her hand/eye co-ordination.

Children hitting egg shells in dinosaur play tray

Brachiosaurus close up in small world tray with other dinosaurs in the background
Both girls played together really well with this small world, despite their big age gap. Some of the activities we do descend into arguments pretty quickly or need to be done separately due to their different skill levels, however this play tray entertained them both for a long time. They even took turns sharing the mallet and smashing eggs one at a time.

Toy dinosaur baby figurine hatching out of an egg shell.

Using real eggshells made the hatching process look quite realistic. The baby dinosaur figurines looked so cute emerging from the cracked shells. The girls also had lots of fun guessing which dinosaurs would hatch out as I'd hidden them so they didn't know which mini figurines were under each egg. The eggshells also ended up providing lots of sensory stimulation as they cracked and crushed them while playing.

Baby stegosaurus dinosaurs hatching from eggs in small world play.
Children playing with chocolate sensory mud and toy dinosaur figurines

The chocolate mud was a huge hit, especially with my sensory seeking big girl. She loves getting her hands dirty and squishing, splashing and splatting any type of sensory material. She especially loves it when we use liquid based ones {which we don't do as often because of the extra mess}. She loved scooping up the mud then dripping it all over the dinosaurs.

Eventually it all descended into a big sensory play mess of gooey, slimy mud and crushed bark and eggshells. It actually looked quite reminiscent of a fancy body scrub when they were finally finished playing. Despite all the mess, it was really easy to clean up and the girls even did most of the clean up themselves washing all the rocks and dinosaurs in their mud kitchen. They've since asked on more than one occasion to repeat the play tray again.

Child's messy hands in chocolate mud sensory play.


DINOSAUR LEARNING RESOURCES ON AMAZON


If your kids are as inquisitive as mine then this dinosaur play activity may spark an ongoing interest in dinaosaurs {or maybe they're already firmly obsessed with them} so I've added a selection of dinosaur learning resources available on Amazon. There's lots of dinosaur books full of fun facts for children of all different ages and reading levels. There's also puzzles for toddlers through to older children and our favourite dinosaur shows The Dinosaur Train and Andy's Prehistoric Adventures.


Dinosaur small world play tray with real eggs.




Disclosure - This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience which means I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, should you make a purchase.
Monday, May 11, 2020

Alfoil Puzzle Piece Fine Motor Activity: Learn ABCs and Phonics With This Simple Invitation to Play

Did you know puzzles can be great open ended toys? Although they appear to only have a single purpose, to match the correct piece into the correct slot, you can use them in many different ways. One of our favourite ways to use older puzzles is an alfoil wrapped puzzle piece invitation to play. It's a game, fine motor and sensory play activity combined.

I already use toy rotation to try and make sure the girls don't lose interest in their toys, however when we've had a puzzle for a long time and they've done it numerous times it can become boring. Before thrifting them or buying new puzzles, I use this activity to spark new interest and make the puzzle exciting for the girls again. My big girl loved this alphabet puzzle activity that helped her practice letters and phonics.

Aluminium foil wrapped puzzle fine motor, phonics and letter activity.
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ALFOIL WRAPPED ALPHABET PUZZLE ACTIVITY FOR CHILDREN


Wrapping puzzle pieces in alfoil is a really easy way to make an old resource feel new again for children of all ages. By wrapping the individual pieces it adds an element of surprise not knowing which letter they'll unwrap each time. It also makes doing the puzzle into an interactive game.

To set it up you'll need to individually wrap each piece with alfoil while your child is not watching. I chose to use alfoil because it adds sensory input as it crinkles as they touch it and it also sticks to itself so it doesn't require any tape. It can also be easily unwrapped and reused to wrap the letters again if you want to repeat the activity. However, if you don't have any aluminium foil you could use tissue paper or newspaper as they scrunch and unscrunch easily, or wrapping paper and tape.



Once all the letters are wrapped up present them in a tray or container alongside the empty puzzle board. If you want to make it easier {or think your child might lose interest after a few letters} you can leave some letters on the board in their correct spot and wrap the remaining letters. When we first did this activity I prompted her so she knew what to do by saying oh look at the presents, let's unwrap them and see what's inside. Once she realised they were letters we tried to guess which letter it would be by feeling the shape of the package before opening each one. 

It's worth mentioning that although my photos only contain an uppercase puzzle {because that's the first letter puzzle we had}, we've since got a lowercase alphabet puzzle too and this activity works well with both options. When I first started teaching her letters I naturally taught uppercase because it was easier for her to learn, but since she started school I've realised teachers place much more importance on learning lowercase letters so it's important to expose children to both options if possible.



Alphabet puzzle pieces wrapped in alfoil


*This activity is intended for children who are no longer mouthing and should be done under strict supervision*

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES


  • Fine motor skills
  • Concentration
  • Hypothesising
  • Problem solving
  • Letter recognition
  • Phonics {extension ideas}


Although this invitation to play is essentially quite simple, it has so many developmental learning opportunities. The most obvious one being the many opportunities for fine tuning fine motor skills. As children grasp each piece and work to remove the alfoil they're using their pincer grip which is imperative for good pencil grip development later on. If they decide to repeat the activity and wrap the letters back up again then they'll also be building hand strength as they push the alfoil together tightly.

When they guess what each letter is before unwrapping it, and while they try to find the correct space on the puzzle board to place each letter, they're hypothesising and problem solving. These are cognitive skills which will help exercise their brain, improving their ability to process information. Doing activities that involve thinking skills like reading, playing games and solving puzzles will help children strengthen neurological pathways and improve their attention span, memory and reasoning skills.

The entire activity is great for letter recognition and matching the pieces to the empty puzzle spots also helps with letter formation as the kids need to analyse the shape of the letters before placing them. Extending this activity to include phonics practice is also really easy, simply use some of the prompt questions below. 
aluminium foil wrapped puzzle invitation to play

EXTENDED PHONICS PLAY FOR PRESCHOOLERS AND SCHOOL CHILDREN


When I last set this activity up my big girl was 5 and I initially had it out as a fun fine motor activity for her to come home to after kindy, however once she started playing with it she extended the activity herself. I left it out simply for her to find assuming she would unwrap the puzzle pieces and find the correct spot as we'd done with other activities before, but as she opened each letter she said the letter and then started saying the sound they make and a word starting with the letter. I'm really passionate about following the girls lead when setting up any play activities for them so the fact that she loved it to much she extended her play herself made me so happy.

She also surprised me with the word choices she came up with as they weren't the standard default words I expected her to choose. For example for L I expected her to say lion, but she said L lah, lah love. At the time she hadn't started school yet and was only in kindergarden so she hadn't done any formal phonics learning, we'd only practiced words from books and objects we owned at home. To extend the activity like this if you have preschoolers you can simply ask them to sound out the letter and think of a word that starts with that letter, e.g 'What sound does S make. Can you think of a word that starts with S?' If they're only just starting to explore sounds and words you could give them examples e.g 'B says ba like ba-ba-ball'. It's easiest to start using examples of items they're familiar with in their everyday lives.



Please note these are very simple ways to introduce the concept of phonics to preschoolers before formal schooling. The way schools teach phonics will vary between each school {for example some use Jolly Phonics and others use S2L programs here in Australia}. Once your child has started formally learning a specific phonics program I recommend consulting with their teacher and doing activities that align with that particular teaching method.

ANOTHER EASY PUZZLE PIECE GAME FOR TODDLERS


Four years ago when my big girl was only 2 and a half years old she was learning the letters of the alphabet and I was coming up with some fun play based activities to help her learn. Being a toddler still she only had a short attention span, so anything interactive and play based was the key to getting her interested and learning for longer. One of the games she loved to do was pulling puzzle pieces out of an empty wipes container. 

To do this you'll need a plastic wipes container {we used an old Huggies one} so you can fill it with letters and then they can pull them out through the dispenser lid. Just like wrapping letters in alfoil, pulling the letters out of the container adds the element of surprise and suspense into learning letters. She loved pulling them out, guessing which one they were and then finding the matching spot on the puzzle board. I shared this video of us playing the game on Instagram way back in 2015 {her baby voice is so dam cute}.




ALPHABET GAMES AND RESOURCES FROM AMAZON




FOR MORE FINE MOTOR FUN TRY THESE ACTIVITIES






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Friday, May 8, 2020

Tape Resist Animal Rescue Activity for Toddlers

Once my daughter was over 12 months old she developed a strong aversion to being strapped into her highchair. Toddlers short attention spans + disdain for being restrained means sooner or later the highchair is going to morph from a place of excitement to a place of resentment. Unfortunately for me the highchair was the only way I could keep her safely contained beside me while I prepped dinner during the witching hours. I used to give her some toys to play with on her tray, but she soon learned she could just chuck them on the floor and scream. So, I had to get a little more creative.

In order to keep her happily sitting in her highchair I started doing tape resist activities on her highchair tray. It was a great way to keep her occupied next to me while I got meals safely prepared. Her favourite was a tape resist animal rescue using our animal figurines. It's super easy to set up and as an added bonus it has loads of developmental learning opportunities.

Tape resist animal rescue fine motor activity for toddlers.
*This post contains some affiliate links*

SUPPLIES YOU WILL NEED


- Animal figurines
- Washi tape {or masking tape}


You can use any animal figurines you have on hand for this activity, just make sure that they are large so that they don't pose a choking risk to mouthing children. We have an extensive collection of CollectA  brand animals so I picked out our manta ray, lion, tiger and zebra because they were easy to tape flat to her high chair tray. We also have lots of the CollectA mini figurines which would be ok for this activity if it's being done with a child over 3 years old who's no longer mouthing. Schleich, Wild Republic and Safari also make great animal figurines.

I used washi tape for our activity because we had it in lots of plain bright colours that I knew would draw her attention and it's relatively easy for her to peel off. Masking tape works just as well. Regardless of which tape you use, ensure this activity is always done under supervision as some children may be inquisitive and try to eat the tape once they have peeled it off.



Animal figurines taped down with washi tape for a fine motor rescue activity.



LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES


- Pincer grip
- Hand strengthening
- Hand/eye co-ordination
- Language development
- Colour recognition
- Cause and effect
- Animal names


This activity is great for helping younger children to develop pincer grip by trying to remove the tape and also when they grasp the animals to pick them up. Pincer grip is an important fine motor skill needed in order to pick up small objects and in order to hold a pencil properly later on at school. At first kids may just try and grab the animals off the table, however they'll soon realise that they're stuck down and they need to work at getting them free. 

This activity is also great for learning cause and effect and helping to improve concentration as they'll have to concentrate on picking up the edge of the tape in order to pull it all the way off to release the animals. You might have to pull up the very edges of the tape at first so that they can grab onto it, but once they've done it a few times they should be able to work it out themselves. You can also add in some language development by saying the animal names as they're removing them.
Fingers peeling green washi tape off of a plastic zebra animal figurine.


Don't be discouraged if your child pulls off a few pieces of tape and is then done with the activity. Remember that young children only have very short attention spans and often won't sit and concentrate on an activity for longer than five minutes, so this is totally normal. Even if they only remove one piece of tape it's still great fine motor practice.

You may be lucky however, and they may want to take the tape off and keep doing it over and over. My daughter took the tape completely off each animal and inspected it trying to figure out why one side was sticky and the other wasn't. She then stuck the tape back down over the animals and rescued them again. Sticking the tape back down was also great for hand strengthening as she had to push it down around the animals to get it to stick. She did this multiple times until the washi tape started to have trouble sticking down properly.

Child peeling washi tape off of tiger and stingray fingurines.
Child sticking yellow washi tape onto a plastic stingray animal figurine

The animal tape rescue activity was great for keeping her entertained in her highchair while I prepped dinner {she was always set up right beside me in the kitchen so I was watching her the whole time}. This activity can be done on any flat surface so you could do it on a table top or the floor. It can also be done vertically on a wall or window to help practice standing with younger children. You could also use other objects like foam letters or numbers, lightweight blocks or matchbox cars {always ensure children are supervised with small objects}.


MORE ANIMAL PLAY IDEAS






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