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.


frog life cycle illustration from slow down by Rachel Williams


The girls love flipping through the pages looking at all the gorgeous pictures and my eldest will sit and read through the stories herself. I often pick it up to flick through the pages myself. It's also a great book to have on hand for homeschooling, or just for those moments when children ask questions about how or why things happen. My favourite story in the book is how a tadpole becomes a frog because it was a beautiful visual way to show the girls the frog life cycle and we used it alongside our frog life cycle small world. The book is a great way to spark a child's interest in the world around them and a great starting point for inspiring many nature adventures.


15 NATURE IDEAS TO TRY AFTER READING SLOW DOWN


If you're anything like us you'll be instinctively wanting to slow down and appreciate everything nature has to offer after reading this book. To get started here's 15 different activities you can do during the day and night to get the kids out into nature to experience some of the wonderful moments captured in Slow Down first hand.

1. Watch the sunrise.


Wake up early and watch the sunrise. Sunrise times change throughout the year depending on the season, so look up on a weather app or Google to see when the sun is estimated to rise the next morning.

2. Watch bees pollinating flowers.


If you have flowers in your garden, chances are you'll have bees at some point. Sit back and observe how they go from one flower to another. Just remember don't disturb them as they may sting if they feel threatened and a bee sting is not nice {especially if you're allergic like me}.




3. Build a butterfly feeder to attract butterflies to your garden.


It's easy to build a DIY butterfly feeder and set it up in your garden to attract more of them to visit your garden. You'll need some sugar water, flowers and some fruit. Read how we made our own DIY butterfly feeder here.

DIY butterfly feeder by Finding Myself Young


4. Close your eyes and listen.


Lay down somewhere comfy outside and close your eyes. What can you hear? Birds chirping? Leaves rustling in the wind?

5. Watch a ladybird walking or flying.


If you find a ladybird in your garden, don't pick it up. Sit and observe how it walks across the ground or plants. Where do you think it's wings hide when it's walking? If you're lucky you might see it fly as well.


6. Look at dew drops on leaves.


Look closely at plant leaves either first thing in the morning, or after it's rained {or the plants have been watered} and look at the shapes of the dew drops. What do they look like? How many can you see? What happens if you touch them?

7. Look closely at ants.


Look on the ground and find some ants. Watch them as they move around. Where are they going? Are some of them carrying food back to the nest? Where do you think their nest is?

8. Make a bird feeder


Make a bird feeder and hang it in your garden to attract birds to visit. You can easily make a bird feeder at home from recyclable items. Read how we made our own DIY recycled bird feeder here.

DIY bird feeder made from a recycled milk bottle

9. Collect leaves and study them.


Collect leaves from different plants and study their similarities and differences. What colours are they? Are they small or big? Long or short? Wide or skinny? Do some leaf rubbings with crayon and paper to get a better look at the differences in the veins of the leaves.


10. Look at the sky and watch the clouds.


Lay down somewhere comfy outside, look up and watch the clouds blow across the sky. What do the clouds look like? Which way are they blowing? Are they moving fast or slow?

11. Make a frog pond.


You can set up a little pond area within your garden to attract frogs. Make sure there are also rocks and somewhere for the adult frogs to seek shelter like a PVC pipe or pot laying on it's side. If you don't want to set up a real pond, you can make this frog life cycle small world I did with my girls.


12. Watch the sun set.


Look up what time the sun is expected to set and sit outside and watch the sun go down. If you're lucky you may even see a pretty pink sunset some days.

13. Look for bats flying at night.


Just as the day turns to dusk the birds go home and the bats come out to explore. Go outside and look in the sky to see how many bats you can see flying around.

14. Watch the night sky for shooting stars.


Look up at the stars in the night sky. Can you see any of them moving? You may be lucky and spot a shooting star! Don't be fooled by those tricky flashing plane lights though.

15 Look at the moon each night to see how it changes.


Go outside and look at the moon every night. Each night you will notice it's shape slightly changes. Sometimes there will be a full moon and sometimes it might only be a tiny sliver. Draw a picture of what you see each night so you can track moon's lunar cycle.




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. We were kindly gifted a copy of Slow Down from Walker Books for the purpose of review.
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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
*This post contains some affiliate links*


WHAT IS HEURISTIC PLAY?


Heuristic play allows children to freely explore their environment by handling everyday items in a controlled situation. Children are naturally curious explorers, they're drawn to investigate and have an innate desire to discover how and why things work, which is why heuristic play works so well with toddlers. Heuristic play is child lead and open ended as there is no right or wrong way to play with the objects, the way a child interacts with the items will be completely driven by their own imagination and curiosity.

You've probably set up a heuristic invitation to play for your baby or toddler already without even realising it. Has your child ever got into the tupperware drawer? Ever put out some pots, pans and spoons so they can bang and make noise? These are all types of heuristic play. While it may look like they're just banging objects around, heuristic play provides opportunities for investigation, fine and gross motor movements, sensory input, exploration of cause and effect and language development. While they're manipulating objects babies and toddlers are developing neurological connections and learning how to problem solve. What may seem like a simple basket or tray of everyday items to us as adults is actually a treasure trove of opportunity for a toddler.

HOW TO SET UP A POM POM HEURISTIC PLAY TRAY


pom pom heuristic play tray

*While heuristic play is ultimately child focused and lead, please ensure toddlers are still strictly supervised*

SUGGESTED ITEMS TO USE


  • Cups
  • Tongs
  • Spoons
  • Pom Poms
  • Egg cartons
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Grimms cups {optional}
  • Tray or tub



To set up our pom pom play tray I used items we already had around the house that I knew would work well together. I started with our papoose 2.5cm felted pom poms, which are quite thick and larger than regular craft pom poms, and then added items that she could use to move them, put them into or through. I raided our recycling stash for an empty egg carton and paper towel tube and then added a wooden spoon and a stainless steel jug we got from the op shop. Finally I added some of our Grimms bowls that matched the colours of some pom poms {to see if she would naturally colour sort} and a pair of Grimms wooden tongs. You can use any combination of recyclables and toddler safe utensils you have at home to set up your own tray.

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES FROM HEURISTIC PLAY


  • Fine motor skills
  • Cause & effect
  • Sensory input
  • Colour recognition
  • Language development
  • Hand/eye co-ordination
  • Imaginary play

I deliberately added items made from different materials with different textures so that she would get lots of tactile sensory input as she explored the items made from felt, wood, cardboard and stainless steel. Each material offered different properties and textures for her to explore like hard, soft, light, heavy, cold, smooth etc. They also allowed her to explore sound as she banged each one against the metal tray to see what happened.

toddler sorting pom poms into empty egg cartons


Manipulating the pom poms with her fingers alone provided a great fine motor work out as she squished, poked, picked up and pushed the pom poms through and into the other objects. Each of these movements required her to use her pincer grip {grasping an object between thumb and index finger} which is an important pre-writing skill toddlers and preschoolers need to master before developing a proper pencil grip later on. I also added in tongs and the wooden spoon to see if she would further manipulate the pom poms with tools. She loved exploring the tongs the most as she could hold them in one hand and put the pom pom into them with the other. As toddlers gain more control over their fine motor movements they'll be able to use tongs to properly grab and hold small items.

toddler using wooden tongs to pick up a pom pom


I added in some of our Grimms friends bowls because I noticed we had 3 pom poms that colour matched our bowls. They're also the perfect size for the pom poms to fit inside and easy for her to grasp and tip over to get the pom poms back out. Toddler years are the perfect time to introduce colours and start teaching colour recognition through play so this was an added opportunity for her to match the colours if she chose to. If you have coloured plastic bowls or egg cups they'd work just as well.

toddler colour sorting with pom poms and grimms wooden bowls
toddler pouring pom poms from a metal jug

Baby girl was 19 months when we did this activity and she had so much fun exploring the pom pom tray and learning how each one would react when she pushed them through the tube, put them in a cup, or poured them from the jug. She made pom pom tea with the jug and spent lots of time putting the pom poms into the Grimms bowls and empty egg carton. After a while she got into the tray herself and continued playing with the pom poms. If you watch the video below you'll see how I was describing what she was doing, which is a great way to aid language development, and she copied me and said out for the first time.




MORE FUN TODDLER PLAY ACTIVITIES




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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
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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.

SUPPLIES YOU'LL NEED


  • Milk {full fat}
  • Cotton buds {Q-tips}
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Liquid food colouring
  • Shallow dish or tray

We had everything we needed to do this experiment already on hand at home, but if you don't have everything you can find all of the items at your local supermarket. We did our experiment in a clear plant saucer, because it was the shallowest tray we had and I liked that it was clear, however any shallow dish or tray will work well. If your children are likely to splash in the milk then you may also want to use a plastic tablecloth or art smock.




HOW TO DO THE MAGIC MILK EXPERIMENT


The magic milk experiment is so easy to do older children can do it unassisted and younger children can do it with limited adult assistance. It's important to ensure children are supervised as you don't want them to accidentally consume the milk once the dishwashing liquid has been added {and also it can get messy quickly if a toddler decides to splash around in the milk}.

1. Fill the shallow tray with milk ensuring the whole tray is covered.
2. Drop a few drops of food colouring into the milk, leaving space between each drop.
3. Dip the end of a cotton bud into dishwashing liquid {you can use multiple cotton buds if you want a separate one for each drop of food colouring}.
4. Dip the cotton bud into the food colouring and watch the magic happen.

Dipping q-tip into food colouring during magic milk experiment.
When we did the magic milk experiment we added four different drops of food colouring into the milk; blue, green, yellow and red. As my daughter dipped the cotton bud into each colour the food colouring repelled outwards from the detergent and the colours eventually became intertwined as they floated and moved about. Watch the video further below to see how the colours danced about as the dishwashing liquid was dipped into them {she did go a bit crazy with it after a while}.

magic milk experiment finding myself young
magic milk science experiment dancing colours






HOW DOES THE MAGIC MILK EXPERIMENT MAKE COLOURS MOVE?


While it may not require complex equipment, there's still a chemical reaction going on behind the scenes during the magic milk experiment. Milk is made up of water, vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats. When the dishwashing liquid touches the milk it reacts with the fats. The soap molecules from the dishwashing liquid are trying to attach to the fat molecules in the milk which causes movement in the liquid as the molecules in the fat and soap bond together and expel the water and food colouring. Usually the chemical reaction occurring between the milk fats and the dishwashing liquid would not be visible to the naked eye {e.g. when you're washing up a cup that may have some milk residue in the bottom}, however the addition of the food colouring makes the movement from the reaction visible.

OTHER FUN SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS TO TRY AT HOME



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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Colourful Witches Potion 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
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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.

WITCHES POTION SUPPLIES


  • Spoon
  • Small bowl
  • Shallow tray
  • Mini cauldrons
  • Bicarb soda {baking powder}
  • White vinegar
  • Food colouring
  • Spooky creatures {bats, spiders, rats etc} 

I have a small stash of Halloween items in a box that we seem to add to each year. We don't go all out with decorating the house and don't trick or treat, but I do love all the mini decorations for play activities. Our collection includes things like mini plastic skeletons, pumpkins, creepy crawlies like spiders, rats, bats, eyeballs and fingernails, skulls etc. You can usually pick them up for relatively cheap in September & October from department stores, dollar stores and even supermarkets. The little plastic figurines are great for sensory play and small world props, we keep them and reuse them each year {just wash and dry before storing them away}. For this activity you can add any creepy crawlies you like {or none if that's not your thing}. If you want to do this activity when it's not Halloween there's usually items still regularly available on Amazon. 


witches cauldron and sign on tray


When I presented the potion pots to my daughter I put three of them onto the tray with bats, rats and spiders scattered across the tray. I also added a the witch is in sign that we had to the tray. I then gave her a small bowl of bicarb soda with a spoon. What she didn't know was that I'd filled the cauldrons with vinegar, a few drops of food colouring and some spooky eyeballs and spiders. It was a complete surprise to her when she added the bicarb to the cauldrons and different colours bubbled out.

BUBBLE BUBBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE


girl making a chemical reaction in a witches cauldron


When the bicarb soda {also commonly known as baking powder} touches the vinegar in the cauldron it immediately causes a chemical reaction which results in carbon dioxide bubbles forming and erupting to expel the gas as fast as possible. The reaction is quite quick and can bubble and foam out of the cauldron and across the tray in a few seconds, which is why it's best to set this experiment up on a tray with a lip so it doesn't flow everywhere. The cauldrons can continue to erupt by adding more bicarb, until there is no vinegar left inside.

child doing bicarb and vinegar reactions
baking powder and vinegar reactions in a mini cauldron



My big girl loved making the witches potions bubble and boil over to see which colours would erupt out. As they erupted some of the little spiders would come floating out and she could see the eyeballs spinning around inside the cauldrons. She kept making them erupt until there was no bicarb soda left. The tray does end up becoming a bit of a mess {and can end up a muddy brown depending what colours you use} however it's perfectly safe for kids to play with as the chemical reaction results in water and carbon dioxide {which is released through the bubbles} so the liquid is safe to touch. It's also easy to clean up by washing away under a tap. The food colouring shouldn't cause staining, however if you're worried only use 2-3 drops for each cauldron.

colourful witches potions for halloween



OTHER SPOOKY IDEAS TO TRY




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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.
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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.

Small world play can be as basic or intricate as you desire, so no two small worlds have to look the same, even if they're the same theme. I'm quite partial to setting up more detailed small world scenes because I just find anything miniature so irresistibly cute and I want to add all the things. However, there are no hard and fast rules, so when planning a small world simply choose items you know are age appropriate {no tiny pieces for children who still mouth} and that your child is interested in. I've included items below that we specifically used for our fairy village, as well as similar suggestions, and the process I use when setting up a small world.

*Please note that some items included in this small world can pose a choking risk for small children. The items depicted are intended for children over 3yrs of age and to be used under strict adult supervision*

SUGGESTED SUPPLIES


  • Fairy figurines
  • Artificial grass
  • Tree house {or similar}
  • Artificial trees
  • Mossy rocks
  • Felted rocks
  • Vine garland
  • Animal figurines
  • Fairy furniture



HOW TO SET UP AN INDOOR FAIRY VILLAGE


To begin creating a fairy village it's easiest to have an open ended neutral structure you can build your village around. Something that has a few different levels which will blend in well with other small world items will make the small world visually appealing and entice children to play. A wooden barn, small doll house, log cabin or tree house would all work well. For our fairy village we used the magic wood classic tree house as it's carved out of thick tree branches with the bark still on the outside, so it lends itself perfectly to small world play, especially scenes that involve forests.

magic wood classic tree house

We've had the magic wood tree house for a few years now and have used it for countless small world set ups as it's so versatile. It can be taken apart into separate single levels or used connected altogether. I was originally drawn to it because it's quite a sturdy tree house and it's fairly toddler proof {which is what I really needed at the time}. We got ours from Works at Play but you can also find it at The Creative Toy Shop and Entropy Toys.

When setting up a small world I always set up the main items {in this case the tree house} and then layer up the scene with nature pieces and finally add in the smaller details like miniature furniture and figurines. We use the top of our Ikea kallax cube shelves as our small world shelf so I'll usually set up all of our small world scenes on top of that. My big girl played with this particular small world up on our dining room table before I moved it over to the small world shelf so it could be left set up for the week.

Ikea kallax shelves toy storage and fairy small world village.

For our fairy village I laid our artificial grass runner out and positioned the tree house on top of it allowing ample room in front for animal figurines and other small world items to be added. I built up the scene with papoose trees, artificial plants and a leaf garland around the outside edges of the tree house to create a forest vibe. I then added even more nature props by scattering felted rocks and mossy rocks around the grass and tree house. I also used a blue scarf as a waterfall running from the felted pond on top of the tree house to the grass below {Sarah's playsilks are great for this, or you can use old fabric or thrifted scarves}. I then added in some little wood slices as a pathway and a small terracotta pot on its side to add a little more whimsy.

FIND SMALL WORLD ITEMS ON AMAZON



How to create an indoor fairy village small world


THE FAIRY VILLAGE - ALL THE ADORABLE DETAILS


My favourite part of setting up a small world invitation to play {apart from watching how my children play with it after} is definitely adding all of the teeny, tiny details. I just love bringing the fantasy lands I'm imagining in my head to life. Because we do small world play quite a bit in our house, I have a never ending collection of small world items, so there's always bits and pieces I can use to bring scenes to life. Collecting teeny little items has become somewhat of an addiction though, so I'm constantly adding to our collection.

I've bought pieces over the years from various places like op shops, dollar stores, Kmart, pet shops, hardware stores and even garden centres. Pretty much anything small can be used as a small world prop, so I always keep my eye out for new pieces. I also buy small world items from many online toy stores, my favourites are Growing Kind, The Creative Toy Shop, EntropyEtsy and I've also added a small world play section to my Amazon store.

FAIRY VILLAGE ITEMS ON AMAZON




I love to work my way down from top to bottom when I'm decorating the tree house so I started by setting up the pond scene on the very top. We have a small wet felted pond play mat that's pretty much the same size as the top of the tree house so it's perfect to create a little stream pond that cascades down into a waterfall over the edge {our mat was from Works at Play, but you can find loads of gorgeous wet felted play mats on Etsy}. I surrounded the edge of the play mat with small branch offcuts, mossy rocks, tiny mushrooms and added a fairy bridge at the front {which conveniently hides the start of the scarf waterfall}. I then added in some of our Wild Republic fairies and some cute Collecta ducklings {because a pond is the perfect excuse for ducklings!}.

fairy village small world play scene
fairies playing in a pond with ducklings



Once the rooftop was done, I added more fairies to the stairway and the first floor of the tree house. I used blu tack to secure the fairies onto the stairs and our fairy bench seat as they don't stand upright on their own. Of course once my daughter started playing they quickly got moved around anywhere and everywhere as they went on their various adventures. As an alternative to the Wild Republic fairies, Safari have a friendly fairies super toob which has culturally diverse fairies that appear to be freestanding.

fairies in a tree house




I was so excited to add in a mini terracotta pot {which I bought in a set at Kmart} because I knew it would make the perfect hiding spot for one of the seated fairies. It totally reminds me of when I was a child and fully believed that fairies were secretly hiding everywhere all around us. Even now as an adult my inner child still holds onto a tiny hope that just maybe there really are fairies among us. Can you tell I was as excited about this fairy village small world as the girls?!

fairies hiding in a pot in the forest
miniature fairy village and forest sign post

The final touches were the cute ceramic fairy signpost and some more Collecta woodland animals. I always add animal figurines to our small world play, even if we're using other figurines, because they're a great springboard for imaginary play and I just love watching how the girls make each different animal interact together.



Our fairy village ended up being set up on our kallax shelves for a good three weeks with pieces being added and moved around as the girls played with it. The beauty of small world play is that they can come and go and each time they interact with it they come up with different scenarios. I really love watching their play transpire and getting an insight into how they perceive things by overhearing the little conversations they make their toys have.

OTHER SMALL WORLD PLAY IDEAS


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