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Guest Post: Winter Shadow Box

Christmas means CRAFTS for us, so it has been my absolute privilege to be involved with the Craftmas project this year. Let me introduce you to Lisa Johnson from The Art Garden. Lisa is a former elementary art teacher turned stay-at-home-mum who makes the most beautiful creations. You can find out more about Lisa and her work by visiting her website, but for now please read on so that you can recreate this absolutely gorgeous Winter Shadow box.

Take it away, Lisa… 


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Hello and Happy Holidays! I’m Lisa, from The Art Garden, and Sian has invited me over to share an easy holiday craft with you all. My two daughters and I love nature inspired art projects so we created a winter tree shadow box featuring some simple triangle trees.

This is a fun project that children of all ages, as well as adults, can make! These lovely winter scenes will look great mixed in with your holiday decor so dig around in your recycling bin or pantry and grab a cardboard box for this easy project!

You will need: 

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  • A small cardboard box (such as a shoe or food box)
  • Scrapbook paper in a variety of patterns
  • Old book pages
  • Mod Podge or another medium for sealing
  • White and silver paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Toothbrush
  • Yarn and lace
  • Glue
  • Jewels
  • Clear tape

Step 1: Find some suitable boxes…

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We started this project by going through our stash of saved boxes and selected which ones we thought would work best. We wanted to work on a fairly small scale so we chose the ones that were kid’s shoe boxes and small packages that had come in the mail (with the flaps cut off). If your box has shipment labels, you may want to remove them first and paint over any text or logos.

Step 2: Collage…

Old book pages are fun to incorporate into your art for an interesting texture or pattern. You can find any old book from a second hand store, garage sale, or even those phone books that get delivered on your doorstep that no one uses anymore!

We tore some pages out of an old encyclopedia and collaged the background and sides with Mod Podge, a common waterbase sealer. Any mat medium or sealer would do.

Step 3: Paint…

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When our Mod Podge was dry we flicked some white and silver tempera onto our background for a snowy effect. Simply take a toothbrush (or a stiff bristle paintbrush) and scrape your thumb along the edge over and over to make little specks of paint.

Step 4: Cut out background details…

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While we waited for our flicked paint to dry, we began making our other details such as our snowy hill and trees. We traced our box onto some white paper to help us measure our background and cut out our snowy hills.

Step 5: Cut triangle shaped trees…

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We selected some fun patterned paper for our trees and cut out several different sizes of triangles. We left enough space on our triangles to fold a small tab. We also cut notches in the corners so the tab wouldn’t show when it was glued down.

Step 6: Make a jewel sky…

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Our winter scene wouldn’t be complete without a little bling for our sky so we added some hanging jewels for stars and a shimmery moon. We cut out a moon shape and painted it with silver paint and then glued our jewels to some thin yarn.

Step 7: Assemble the details…

The final step is assembling all of the details once everything is dry. We glued our snowy hill and trees down then hung our stars and moon to the top by sticking them down with some clear tape.

Step 8: Add lace detail…

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To clean up our rough edges of our cardboard box, we glued some lace and yarn along the sides.

The finished result…

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And that’s it! I hope you’ll give this craft a try and if you love nature inspired projects head on over to for more ideas and check out out my instagram account @theartgardenblog.

Be sure to stay tuned for more holiday ideas in this fun Craftmas collection to keep you and your littles busy creating this holiday season!

Happy Holidays,


Lisa’s beautiful Winter Shadow Box was created as part of the Christmas Craftmas project. You can find out more about the awesome bloggers involved by visiting our Instagram or Facebook pages.  Next head on over to the brand new Smocks On website for another Christmas craft idea!

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Three Ideas for Winter Themed Play

If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that we love, love, LOVE messy play. Zoey has reached the stage where toddler tantrums are on the rise and the calming effect messy (or sensory) play has on her is instantaneous. If you’re in a similar boat to me, give these ideas a try…

Winter Wonderland 

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Using our trusty tuff spot tray, we recreated a beautiful winter village complete with a family of reindeer. For the snow we used a combination of:

  • uncooked rice
  • flour
  • white tinsel confetti
  • cotton balls
  • pompoms

It was messy and it was wonderful because it occupied both children for ages! Definitely check out your local craft store for accessories such as the trees and wooden houses (which are actually tree decorations). We usually wait until the seasonal stuff goes on sale, so there’s a pro tip for you!

Shaving Foam Snow



This is such an easy option! Not only is it relatively quick to clean up (especially if you were to set it up in the sink) you don’t need a heap of resources either. For our version, we used:

  • Sensitive shaving foam (better for young skin)
  • Peppermint essence for a nice Christmassy feel.
  • Silver stars
  • An assortment of toy animals that would be at home in the snow and ice!

Not only does this set up have a calming effect, but it also smells so lovely too!

Polar Bear Rescue


So this option might depend on where in the world you live! As we’re in Australia and dealing with 30c days (it’s still officially Spring), this play idea comes as a welcome relief! To recreate this at home, simply put some miniature polar bears, or  animal of your choice, into a bowl of water and leave to freeze overnight.

Prior to play, leave the bowl to thaw out a little to remove the icy dome. This will take between 30 minutes and an hour so a little patience is needed!

This actually turned into a nice little STEAM based activity for my eldest too. He loved trying to figure out what would make the ice melt quickest. It’s always such a major win for me when activities can bridge the 6.5 year age gap!

Happy playing!

Sian x

As always, I love seeing your versions of these ideas so please tag me in on either Facebook or Instagram! 

For more reasons on why you should embrace the mess, check out the blog post ‘Why Mess is Best.’

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Christmas Activities for Toddlers

We absolutely LOVE Christmas here at Thomas Towers. It’s kinda a chaotic time of year (isn’t it for everyone though?!) as we go on our annual summer holiday and it also just happens to be Zoey’s birthday three days before! As a result, we don’t have time for crazy elaborate crafts and activities so here’s eight suggestions for keeping it relatively simple with the toddler in your life…

An invitation to create a winter wonderland…


After picking up this rather cute looking steel container in Kmart (I think it’s a planter, but not entirely sure?!) I decided to put it to good use for the important business of play!

You will need:

  • Uncooked rice
  • White glitter or confetti
  • Mini Christmas trees
  • Duplo or similar
  • Christmas themed animals
  • Fine motor tools
  • pompoms
  • Large tray (to contain the mess)

What to do:

  • Simply start off by filling the bottom of the container with white rice, then add some sparkly glitter on top.  We used the largest section of the container so that there was more room for play! The glittery bit is optional and you may want to avoid with younger children.
  • Add the wintery accessories into one side section of the container and fine motor tools in the other.
  • Invite your toddler to PLAY.


A Christmas themed sensory bottle…


We all know that toddlers can be super unreasonable beings: one minute they are totally happy and the next they’re screaming because you wont allow them to run in a busy car park! The temper tantrums are all part of growth and a sensory/ calm down bottle can help.

You will need:

  • A clear plastic bottle ( we like the Voss bottles because of the flat tops)
  • Pompoms
  • Glitter
  • Sequins
  • Glycerine
  • Water

What to do: 

  • Add a selection of Christmas themed sparkles and glitter along with the pompoms
  • Add 2 tbsp of glycerine.
  • Fill to half way and give the mixture a shake to test it out
  • Pour more water to just below the top
  • Secure lid with glue
  • Play!

You can find more sensory bottle options here.


Triangle Trees


This is a great little option for developing those fine motor skills. It’s a slightly ‘chunkier’ alternative to using yarn, making it easier for little fingers.

You will need:

  • Craft sticks
  • Chenille sticks / pipe cleaners
  • Glue gun or strong glue
  • Pompoms

What to do:

Before starting with the fun bit of decorating and wrapping the tree, you’re going to need to make a triangle! This is definitely an adult task – I wouldn’t advise letting a toddler wield a glue gun as even the ‘low-temp’ versions can burn fingers! Once the triangle is dry, invite your toddler to wrap the pipe cleaners around the structure. The results won’t look perfect, as you can see from the photo but it is fun!


Polar bear Playdough


Playdough is an absolute staple in our house: so simple, so fun and so many educational benefits too! Whilst we usually make our own playdough, for this activity we used the remains of an older pack of white dough.

You will need:

  • White playdough (store bought or handmade)
  • Food pouch lids and bottle tops
  • Sparkles and glitter
  • Toy polar bears
  • Rolling pin
  • Large tray

What to do:

Simply invite your child to play! Younger children might need some prompting before getting stuck in. As you can probably see from the photo here, we ended up unwittingly recreating the poor polar bears’ real life plight so you may want to talk about conservation and environment with older children.


Build a snowman!

Please excuse Zoey’s arms…we’d been painting!


Who doesn’t love a good felt craft? Its such a fabulous material (in our opinion) that doesn’t require gluing or sewing – a major win when working with young children!

You will need:

  • Felt in a variety of colours
  • Scissors
  • Sparkly pompoms
  • Googly eyes
  • Chenille sticks

What to do:

Cut the felt to shape and invite your little one to play. If they’re not familiar with snowmen, or need a reminder, demonstrate the activity first. This is a great one to bag up and take to cafes too!


DIY Gift Bag

Stamping is such a great activity for toddlers to try!

It wouldn’t be a Teach Investigate Play post without the inclusion of some messy art! Plus this doubles as a sweet gift bag for a relative too!

You will need:

  • A white paper bag (we save ours from shops throughout the year)
  • Non-toxic acrylic paints in Christmas colours
  • Foam stampers or you could try making your own potato stampers!

What to do:

The key here is to limit the colours on offer. More colour tends to equal a humongous brown mess! Simply demonstrate how to put the paint onto the stamper (we actually used the lids of our paints to do this) and stamp away! Please note that the end result wont look perfect – there will be splodges and smudges, but that’s really part of the fun!

If you stress about the mess, check out this blog post first!


Eye Spy Bottle


The Voss bottle is back again, this time to make an eye spy bottle! It actually also doubles quite nicely as a music shaker too…

You will need:

  • Voss bottle or similar
  • Uncooked rice
  • Glitter
  • Christmas sequins
  • Pompoms

What to do:

Fill your bottle with a mixture of the above ingredients, leaving space at the top so that that the items can move around inside. You may also want to glue the lid in place to avoid curious tots spilling the mixture everywhere! Then simply ask your child what they see as they move the bottle around. This is a great one for language development as you can talk colours and shapes too.


Recycled Christmas Tree

Food pouch lids make such a brilliant loose parts tool!

Loose parts play is possibly one of the easiest ways to participate in Christmas activities: there’s no gluing or mess and you can repeat as many times as you want!

You will need:

  • An assortment of food pouch lids
  • An assortment of pompoms
  • Fine motor tools (optional extra)
  • Paint tray or party platter

What to do:

Lay out all of the materials in a flower shaped paint tray and invite your toddler to make a Christmas tree. Again, younger children may need a little help with this first.


Some notes about the materials used:

Aside from the recycled products, here’s a list of stores… I have not been sponsored for this post, I just genuinely love the items enough to buy them 🙂

Animals: a combination of Schleich from Little Sprout and Collecta from Oh Ivy 

Large tray: ours is a ‘tuff spot tray’ from Invitation to Play

Craft materials: all from Riot Art & Craft 

Fine motor tools: available from The Creative Toy Shop 


I hope you’ve enjoyed the ideas I’ve shared! As always, please tag me in if you try any of these activities out as that make me super happy!


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Gift Guide for Toddlers

What to buy for that 2-3 year old in your life? Whilst there are plenty of options in the shops these days, a lot of it is rather plasticy and has limited appeal.  After learning this the hard way when Harrison was little, I thought i’d share with you my ultimate guide to gifts for toddlers…

Something timeless…


Grimm’s Wooden Toys might seem like an expensive option, but the products have endless appeal.

We’re fully paid up members of the Grimm’s fan club! (I don’t think it’s actually a thing, but it sure should be!) These open-ended products have limitless appeal for both children and adults alike. We  love to use ours for small world play, where a rainbow stacker can become a bridge, seesaw or indeed anything you want! Head on over to our Instagram feed where you’ll find lots of ideas for play.
There are heaps of benefits that result from choosing wooden toys over their plastic counterparts, including: supporting problem solving, encouraging interaction, developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills – perhaps I should write a separate blog on this? Send me a message if you’d like to see a post on this subject!
Our own collection of Grimm’s products are from Little Sprout. 

 Something musical…

IMG_20171115_125854.jpg We love the bright simplicity of this Janod xylophone

Parents, don’t hate me! I know there’s a ‘thing’ about giving children noisy toys, but this is definitely different. From a rainbow shaker to a drum kit, there are just so many options to suit any budget. For Zoey’s 2nd birthday, we opted for the Janod xylophone pictured above as I thought it would be a great way to develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Whilst toddler music can be interesting to say the least, letting them explore sound has so many educational benefits. Music helps boost cognitive ability and enhances memory, as well as being a great way to develop creativity so please don’t ignore the musical section of the toy store!

Click here to buy your own Janod Xylophone. 

Something special…

Customised dolls make for a special present

Zoey’s birthday is just 3 days before Christmas, so while we can get away with it, this year we’ve gone for a combined present of a Le Toy Van dollhouse. I hope you all don’t think too badly of me for that – she definitely doesn’t miss out on anything!

Anyway, to go with that dollhouse, I ordered some custom made ‘ZOEY’ dolls from Jill at Tinkertime along with the whole Thomas family in miniature. The quality of these handmade dolls is beautiful and they are just perfect for small hands too!

To buy your own dolls, visit Jill’s Instagram page.

Something educational…

We love the versatility of both the alphablocks and balancing blocks from Hello Pear

A gift that aids learning? You can’t go far wrong with these gorgeous Alphablocks from Hello Pear. We use ours in a range of scenarios, including as a spelling aid, for alphabet recognition and in small world play as shown in the photo above.

As well as the benefits mentioned in the Grimm’s section, these wooden Alphablocks have a wonderfully tactile feel to them. This sensory element actually helps young learners to better process what they’re doing, meaning the blocks have a bigger impact than those ‘all singing and dancing’ phonics tablets.

To buy your own set of Alphablocks, visit the Hello Pear website. 

Something creative…

There are so many fun activities in each Happy Explorers play kit! 

We’ve received a few of these Happy Explorers* boxes now and cannot recommend them highly enough. Each play kit is curated to be an expert blend of play, learning and exploration which really does take the guesswork out of activities.

The play kits are the perfect alternative gift for when you’re looking for something a little different. If you want to get more of an idea of what’s inside, head on over to my recent post.

You can choose your own Happy Explorers themed box by visiting the website. 

Something small…

Miniature animals are perfect for small hands.

There’s something about the little things that really appeal to toddlers. Zoey is utterly besotted with her collection of miniature animals and whilst they initially appear rather expensive for what they are, I promise you they are worth it for quality and durability alone!

We use our collection as a take-along in cafes, for small world play, when we travel and for a whole host of learning based activities including sorting, matching and counting. I’ve even seen them used as amazing cake toppers which would make for a brilliant birthday cake!

Our collection comes from both the Schleich and Collecta ranges. We tend to opt for whatever looks the most lifelike! 

Something to read…


Honestly, you can’t really go wrong with a beautiful book! We are utterly obsessed with finding bright, new and appealing reads for both kids. We tend to browse art galleries and independent book stores for something a little different.

Sharing books with your toddler from an early age has so many educational benefits from boosting language development to aiding social and emotional skills. If you’re not too sure which books to try, check out the board book blog post to see some of our favourite toddler reads.

Happy Shopping!

Sian x


*Indicates items that have been gifted. In some instances I have been kindly given a store discount, however all of these products are items that we’ve chosen as presents for Zoey. Please email me if you would like further information.