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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Animal Habitat Playdough Sort and Rescue Activity

Playdough is one of my favourite sensory materials to use with kids {and not going to lie, I love to play with it myself}. It's such a wonderful sensory experience {and fine motor workout} squishing, rolling, squeezing and splatting playdough between your fingers. Apart from it's tactile benefits, it can also be used in a number of educational ways to teach children other skills. I created this animal habitat sort and rescue activity for my daughter using playdough and animal figurines. One quick and easy to set up activity provided so many different learning opportunities and then she even extended on it herself.


< Please note this activity is not recommended for children under 3 as some items may pose a choking risk. Full adult supervision is required >


- Colour recognition
- Animal names & habitats
- Categorising {by habitat}
- Hand/eye coordination
- Hand strengthening
- Problem solving
- Pincer grip

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- Mini animal figurines
- Playdough {blue & green}
- Wooden tray {2 compartments}
- Tongs or plastic tweezers

I set up the habitat sorting activity in a two compartment monkey pod tray so that there would be one side for the land animals and one side for the sea animals. Having blue playdough in one side and green playdough in the other makes it really easy for kids to visually differentiate between the two different habitats. I have a huge collection of monkey pod trays I've thrifted, so I pretty much have a tray for every activity, but any two compartment tray would work fine for this invitation to play.

For the animals I used some of our mini wild animals and some of our mini sea animals. Our animal figurines are CollectA brand, but you can also get similar mini figurines from Wild Republic and Safari toobs. I added some wooden tongs for some fine motor practice, you can usually find these at thrift stores, dollar stores or online at Amazon for a few dollars {plastic tweezers are also a great alternative}.

When I first set up this activity it was as an animal rescue activity to practice her fine motor skills, so I set it up with the animals already stuck in the playdough, instead of making her sort them to begin with. I deliberately put land animals on the green playdough and sea animals on the blue playdough for some added categorisation, but didn't mention it to her because I wanted to see how she'd naturally interact with it. My only "rule" for the activity was that she had to use the tongs to remove the animals not her fingers {which she loves doing anyway, she even went and got a second bigger pair of wooden tongs to add to my set up}.

She rescued the animals from the playdough and then studied the footprints and imprints left in the dough. She repeatedly put the animals back into the playdough {on the correct habitat colours} and rescued them for about five minutes. She then asked me to play with her and created new games for me to play.

She put the animals in the playdough and deliberately mixed them up in the wrong habitat and told me I had to rescue them and put them in the right habitat. Then she did it again but put some of them in the right sides and some in the wrong habitat and told me I had to rescue the ones in the wrong habitat {I love that she tried to trick me and had no idea she was actually reinforcing her own learning}. After that she took all the animals out and told me I had to put them all back in, but I had to use tongs to push them into the playdough, no fingers allowed {like a reverse of what she did}.

I seriously love how she extended on the original activity and then tried to teach and quiz me! When the student becomes the teacher as they say. This was such a great activity for the learning opportunities mentioned above, but also because of the quality time we spent together bonding over a shared interest. If you click on the Instagram post below you can go through to the videos at the end to watch part of our play. 

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.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Chicken Playdough Tray Invitation to Play

One of my favourite activities to do with younger kids is a playdough tray invitation to play. They're one of the first activities I set up with my girls from a young age and they're so much fun to do together. I love that they combine loose parts with sensory play, so they get heaps of sensory input with lots of opportunities to work on their fine motor skills. I love setting up themed playdough trays and seeing what the girls come up with. The fun part is they could play with the same items over and over, and each time they'll come up with different results.

This invitation to build a playdough chicken is great as an Easter craft activity, but also great for any time of the year. We made these after my daughter's kindy kept live chickens for a few weeks so the kids could learn how chickens hatched and watch them grow. There was lots of pleading for us to get our own chickens during those weeks, but we can't have real ones at our place, so we made some playdough ones instead. 

This would also be a great classroom activity for preps or kindy students to do while learning about farm animals, studying the chicken life cycle or in the lead up to Easter {even though the Easter bunny gets all the credit for the eggs at Easter}.

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<< Please note this activity is intended to be done under strict adult supervision >>


- A monkey pod tray or dip tray
- Yellow or orange playdough
- Craft feathers
- Googly eyes
- Acrylic gems
- Mini nests
- Mini eggs

I set our playdough tray up in my favourite monkey pod dip tray because it's the perfect shape to have playdough in the middle and the loose parts separated around the outside. Our monkey pod tray was a lucky op shop find, but you can find a similar wooden compartment tray online here. You could also use a plastic dip tray which can be found at most supermarkets and dollar stores, however they will crack over time. 

When we made these playdough chickens we used orange playdough and yellow gems, because that's what we had on hand at the time, however I would of preferred to use yellow playdough and orange gems {for the beak} to make them look more realistic. Playdough, acrylic gems, googly eyes and craft feathers are relatively easy to track down at dollar stores all year round. Mini nests and mini foam eggs are usually available at dollar stores in the lead up to Easter {I just buy in bulk so I always have some}, however they're available year round online from Etsy or Amazon.

The best part about a tinker tray style playdough invitation to play is that although there's generally a goal, in this case to build a chicken, there's no right or wrong way for kids to reach that end goal. In fact they don't even have to do what we as adults intended the activity to be. I like to think of tinker trays as the process art version of the play world, because it's more about the fun had throughout the process of playing rather than the outcome. This activity could also easily be turned into a bookish play idea by reading That's Not My Chick before playing.

We played alongside each other building our own chickens and although we started with exactly the same materials, we ended up making completely different chickens. I was really surprised because I thought she would naturally build a 3D chicken like I did, but then she made a 2D version. Even though I nicknamed it roadkill chicken {not out loud}, I actually kind of love it, because it's just another reminder of how kids see the world differently to adults.

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.
Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Very Cranky Bear Small World Bookish Play

In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on a cold and rainy day, 

Four little friends found a perfect place to play.... 

None of them had noticed that someone else was there. 

Sleeping in that cave was a very cranky... BEAR!

Do your kids love The Very Cranky Bear too? I'm pretty sure it was one of the first picture books we ever bought and it kicked off a long standing love affair with Nick Bland books

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Nick Bland's books are anything but bland! The Very Cranky Bear is a clever, humorous, rhyming story that subtly teaches children about friendship, empathy and the importance of thoughtfulness. It also shows them that you don't need to be the biggest or the best at something to be able to solve problems. He gets the message across in a fun way with hilarious cartoon style illustrations and simple rhyming text. Our girls have loved this book for years and it's still often requested as a bed time story.

When setting up play invitations for the girls I always use the kids interests and bring them into our play. Two of their favourite types of play are bookish play and small world play, so I often combine them and set up small world's based on stories we've read. They particularly love small world play that involves animal figurines, so The Very Cranky Bear small world ticked all of their boxes.


The Very Cranky Bear
Bear, moose, zebra, lion and sheep animal figurines
- Artificial grass or a felt playmat
- Cave {or aquarium ornament}
Trees or artificial plants
- River rocks

Most of the animal figurines we used in our small world are CollectA brand, however there are similar ones available from Schleich and Safari. Our animal collection is 95% CollectA because I love the detailed features and they're also generally much more cost effective than other brands. We have the papoose spring trees, however you could easily make your own DIY trees using artificial plants with this tutorial from Little Lifelong Learners. Our river rocks, mossy rocks and grass runner were all purchased at dollar stores and I just used some fern fronds from the garden to camouflage the cave.

I often make small worlds quite elaborate, especially when they're just for my big girl, but because I wanted this one to be suitable for both of them I deliberately kept it quite simple. I pared it right back to just a jungle set up with the five animal characters. This way my big girl was able to retell the story if she wanted to and my littlest was able to explore it as she wanted {which mainly included stomping all the animals around making noises}. I love small worlds because they're so open ended and play can go in so many different directions based on your child's imagination. They also provide lots of learning opportunities as questions come up during play... for example What noise does a zebra make? Why is the bear standing on two legs? Why do bears sleep in caves? Also thankgod for google because sometimes I don't know the answers.

I set up the very cranky bear small world on top of our kallax cube shelves that we have laying horizontally in the lounge room. The top of our kallax is dubbed our small world shelf because I'm constantly changing over the top to different small world set ups. I use that area to set up ones that I want to leave out for a week or more and they're always ones that don't include sensory bases {therefore no mess to constantly clean}. I leave them set up for as long as the girls are interested in them, sometimes it's a week and sometimes they last up to a month. Below is an example of another small world I had set up.

The Very Cranky Bear is the original book in Nick Bland's widely popular series. There are now 7 different books with The Very Super Bear being released last year. We have all of them except The Very Super Bear {and that's purely because I haven't had a chance to buy it yet, it's definitely on our list to get}. The girl's absolute favourite one is The Very Itchy Bear, they read it so often their dad knows it off by heart. You can find all of the books in the series, plus all of Nick Bland's books on book depository with free shipping.

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. For international readers, The Creative Toy Shop offer international shipping and all books purchased via Book Depository receive FREE WORLDWIDE SHIPPING.
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

15 Leprechaun crafts to make this St Patrick's Day

Leprechauns are mythical fairies from Ireland who've been around since the 18th century. While they were originally well known for being tiny tricksters who mended shoes by night, they're more popularly known now for their pots of gold hidden at the end of a rainbow. There's also a widely popular legend that if you catch a leprechaun they'll grant three wishes in return for their freedom. And of course they're one of the most popular characters when it comes to St Patrick's Day.

I've found 15 of the best leprechaun craft ideas to try with the kids. Whether you're looking for fun classroom craft activities or cute projects to display for St Patrick's Day, there's something for everyone.

leprechaun crafts to make for st patricks day
Saturday, February 15, 2020

St Patrick's Day Pot of Gold Sensory Bin

When I think of St Patrick's Day I think of green everything, shamrocks {or four leaf clovers}, the luck of the Irish and, most importantly, leprechauns hiding at the end of rainbows. It's probably the most whimsical holiday of all! 

Is there really a leprechaun hiding at the end of a rainbow? Nobody knows for sure, but I do know there's a pot of gold at the end of this one!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Jelly Boy bookish play activity: teach children about the dangers of plastic in the ocean through small world play.

I've always been passionate about the environment and like to think that I do my bit to reduce our waste and footprint on our planet. I'm not a full on eco-warrior by any means, but I do make sure we recycle everything possible, including soft plastics via Redcycle and cans and bottles through Containers for Change. Not to mention the four hundred and twenty two art projects we've made from hoarding rubbish and recyclables to reuse {not even joking, my garage is full of bubble wrap, boxes, toilet paper rolls, bottle lids, magazines, newspapers etc}. 

I'm hoping that my efforts rub off on my girls and they become environmentally conscious too. Now that they're getting older I'm finding more obvious ways of teaching them about the environment and my favourite way to do this is through play. We recently received a copy of Jelly-Boy and subsequently set up some small world bookish play.

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Jelly-Boy is a brand new Australian picture book which aims to inspire the next generation of readers to protect our oceans. An inquisitive Jelly-Girl falls in love with Jelly-Boy and follows him everywhere. But who is Jelly-Boy? He's not a boy at all. In fact he's not even a real jelly fish! Jelly-Girl doesn't believe the truth about her beloved Jelly-Boy, until she finds out just how dangerous he really is. Is it too late? You'll have to read the book to find out {no spoilers here}.

I love how Jelly-Boy uses simple text and vivid illustrations to teach children how dangerous plastic and other rubbish can be for animals in the ocean. Being written from the perspective of a jellyfish gives children a different insight into environmental issues. By developing empathy for Jelly-Girl it's easy for children to understand her struggles and realise how important it is that we keep our oceans clean. I love, love, love {did I say it enough?} using picture books to explain complex concepts to children and Nicole Godwin and Christopher Nielsen have done an amazing job with this book to take a somewhat abstract concept for kids {because they're not really swimming out in the ocean with rubbish often themselves} and explain it in a story they can really connect with.


Jelly-Boy is the type of book that is literally begging to be turned into a bookish play activity. Bookish play is a general term for any play based activity that is centered around a particular book. Its a great way to extend the story or main theme of a book beyond the pages and onto the craft table or into the playroom. There are many jellyfish crafts that could be made about Jelly-Boy, however I decided to get hands on and use some small world play to act out the scenarios featured in the book.

<<< Please note this activity may pose a choking risk to children under 3yrs of age due to small parts. This activity is intended for children aged 3+ and to be done under strict adult supervision >>>

What you will need

- A play tray
- DIY jellyfish and plastic bag {instructions below}
- Pieces of rubbish
- Animal figurines
- Aquarium plants
- River rocks
- Water 

I used one of our Kmart play trays for this small world because I wanted it to be portable so I could easily take it away if the girls started to get too messy with it. I used real water {with a dash of blue food colouring} to make the ocean as realistic as possible and then added in some aquarium plants and rocks {both can be found quite cheap at a dollar shop}. If you don't want to use water, you could always use a blue playsilk as the water instead. For the rubbish I used some real rubbish as well as some of our Coles Little Shop minis

Jelly-Boy is a mini shopping bag {made from a real one, see instructions further down}. I also made Jelly-Girl myself as I didn't have a jellyfish figurine {instructions are also further down}. I then added in some other sea animals that appear in the book.


You will need:

- an egg carton
- a plastic bag
- sticky tape
- black pen
- scissors

1. Cut out one section of an egg carton and trim the edges so it's in a circular shape.

2. Put part of a plastic bag over the egg carton piece and twist it tight underneath the egg carton. Use sticky tape to hold the twisted part together.

3. Use scissors to cut slits into the long part of the plastic bag to form tentacles.

4. Use a permanent marker to draw eyes and a mouth onto the jellyfish.

1. Cut a rectangle approximately 15cm long across the bottom seam of a plastic bag. Ensure the seam is in the centre of the rectangle.

2. Fold the rectangle over at the seam. Cut out 2 slits about 1cm in from each edge {these will become the handles}. Also cut straight edges to make the bag symmetrical if the outside of your rectangle doesn't already match up properly.

3. Cut a straight line across between the two slits to make the bag shape.

4. Sticky tape the 2 outside edges of the bag and the top of the 2 handle sections.

After we read the story and talked about what happened and why it's bad to throw rubbish into the ocean, we reinforced it through play. Both girls picked up on how the plastic bag looks kind of like a jellyfish and how it could be dangerous for sea animals to get trapped in it. They both tried putting animal figurines into it to see how they'd get stuck. They also found all the pieces of rubbish and took them out of the water because as my youngest said "eww yuck that's naughty rubbish goes in da bin not water". Judging from their reaction it was a pretty successful play tray. We then spent another 40 minutes engaging in loads of imaginary play.

Disclosure ~ We were kindly gifted a copy of Jelly-Boy from Walker Books Australia for the purpose of review. I did not receive compensation for this post, however 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.
Monday, February 3, 2020

21 FREE Valentines Day printable cards and activities

Valentine's Day is a great excuse to get creative and do some themed crafts and activities in the classroom. I've scoured the internet and found these 21 free printable valentines crafts and activities that are perfect to use at home and in the classroom. I've found colouring in pages, printable games, cards and gift tags that are all 100% free and can be downloaded in seconds!