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Discovery Table Week 9: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This is the penultimate week in our discovery table series and I couldn’t finish without featuring another of our favourite books: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle! We have LOVED sharing the tables on the blog each week but with a new baby on the way, these posts will finish after 10 weeks. Not to worry though, as we will be keeping them going in real life – just keep an eye out on our Instagram and Facebook pages! Continue reading Discovery Table Week 9: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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Why Mess is Best

Parents! I am writing this article mainly to persuade you to embrace the mess. Our modern lives can be chaotic: full-time work, chores, play dates, extra curricular activities. We humans are time poor: all of this can mean that additional, purposeful mess can be extremely unappealing!

BUT, I implore you to give in to your inner child and celebrate creative mess making  with your kiddos. In our household, at least twice a week, we give in to the gloriousness of creative play. We use paint, flour, rice, grains, sand and water (although not all at once!) to explore the senses through play*.

Sensory play is beneficial for your child’s development. Here are a few reasons why:

  • It helps to boost brain development via the nerve connections.
  • It boosts language skills, cognitive function, problem solving skills and social interaction.
  • It helps children to explore the world around them.
  • It stimulates the core senses.
  • It helps with development of both fine and gross motor skills.
  • It can help to calm anxious children.
  • It enhances memory function.

But if the mess makes you stress, here’s some advice:

  • Start off small. Don’t attempt a grand ambitious project if this is your first time with messy play. For example, try finger/ hand painting in the confines of the highchair.
  • Go outdoors if the weather allows.
  • ️ Choose the kitchen or bathroom for activities so you are close to the sink!
  • ️Always keep baby wipes on hand for the initial clean up – they are magic!
  • ️Invest in a giant paint tray/ tuff spot tray or use plastic sheeting to catch any spills
  • ️Close any doors to avoid an escapee (I speak from experience here! )
  • ️Choose old clothes or just a nappy if the weather is warm – the nappy is for the toddler, obviously not yourself!
  • ️If in doubt, use washable non-toxic paint and ‘taste-safe’ items

Some ideas to try:

Whipped cream and food dye…

messy art 5.jpg

Tip: put the mixture into muffin tins so that its more contained. This is a great one for younger ones to try!

Shaving foam and food dye…

messy art

Tip: the less food dye you use, the easier it comes off the skin!

Liquid watercolours and pipettes…

hands

Tip: Use only a tiny amount of watercolours to water if you’re worried about the clean up!

Items from the kitchen…

small world 3

 

Tip: Use unwanted items rather than making a special trip to the supermarket. Click here for more food-based play ideas. 

Printing with food…

food or messy art.jpg

Tip: use up old fruit or vegetables by turning them into a stamper. This print was created using orange halves. 

Craft materials…

craft materials.jpg

Tip: use older craft materials (such as the shredded tinsel shown here) and give them a new lease of life!

Paint with leaves…

autumn painting 2.jpg

Tip: both leaves and feathers make for great painting tools!

Get wet…

ocean 4.jpg

Tip: whilst this is the easiest to try, stick to outdoors or even the bath/ sink to minimise mess!

 

Happy playing!

Sian x

*Note: It goes without saying, but please make sure your child is developmentally ready before trying these ideas! Don’t use small objects if they have a tendency to put everything in their mouths and never ever leave your child unsupervised whilst they play!

 

 

 

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Puzzling it Out!

Here at Thomas Towers we’re kinda obsessed with jigsaw puzzles. Not only are they a brilliant learning tool but allow for some quality family time too. We were recently gifted the Janod hospital themed observational puzzle from Little Sprout Toyshop in Canberra so we decided to try it out over the long weekend – here’s what we thought:

First Impressions:

puzzle 1
Eye-catching packaging always gets a big thumbs up from us!

The puzzle comes in this really cute carry-case which would be perfect as a present for children aged 6+. The illustrations are super cute too which is always helpful when spending time putting a jigsaw together!

Inside the case, the pieces are all neatly packaged so you’re less likely to be scrabbling around for that essential missing part! There’s also a poster of the puzzle included which makes it so much easier to put it all together, especially for the first few tries.

Age Range:

puzzle hand eye coordination
A little teamwork gets the job done!

The suggested age group for this observational puzzle is 6-9 which is pretty accurate; though we think the puzzle is best suited for upper end of this age range – this will also depend on the age/ ability of the child in question too! Harrison (aged 8) found it pretty challenging in the beginning but after encouragement to persevere, he was able to finish it with the help of dad. Of course, most puzzles are hard the first time around and that is partly why we love them!

What we loved:

puzzle finished
The objects around the outside border all need finding once you’re finished.

With an ordinary puzzle, you might simply sit back and admire your work before tearing it all to pieces again. Not so with this observation puzzle because once you’ve finished making it, there are 50 items that need finding! The objects in the hospital version range from stethoscope to crutches, meaning you could also have plenty of discussions around the items that are typically found in hospitals. In turn this means your kiddo will have a wider understanding of the world – big win!

Other observation puzzles in the range include firefighter, kitchen and school. 

Key Benefits:

puzzle 3
There are so many benefits to completing jigsaw puzzles.

There are so many reasons why you could add a jigsaw like this observation puzzle to the Christmas/birthday list:

Problem solving was the first thing that came to mind when putting this puzzle together. Whether to tackle it in sections or create the outside first was all part of the discussion, as well as working out which pieces fit in the right place – all of this helps logical thinking too.

Any puzzle will help to boost cognitive skills. As well as spatial awareness, the jigsaw helps develop a wider understanding of the world – this observational puzzle was particularly great for that skill!

By choosing a puzzle within the correct age range, there is also the correct level of challenge.  If the puzzle had been easier there wouldn’t have been the huge sense of achievement Harrison gained from finishing – a great self-esteem boost.

The above also ties in with perseverance: Harrison often prefers life to be easy wherever possible, but with encouragement he was able to complete the jigsaw even though he found it difficult in the beginning.

By using a pincer grip, Harrison was able to continue developing his fine motor skills.  This is also why more basic puzzles are really essential in the early years of a child’s development too.

Due to the size of the puzzle (208 pieces) and the level of challenge, it proved a great opportunity to spend some quality time together. This kind of teamwork activity teaches children to share, work together, overcome problems and compromise. Whilst we did the puzzle as a family, in another setting it would be a great social opportunity for children to work together.

By checking the poster and finding the pieces that fit, hand-eye coordination got a really great workout. The brain needed to decide where the puzzle piece went and manipulate it accordingly.

Puzzles are a brilliant way to enhance memory. Each time the image is recreated, it becomes easier because the brain remembers where certain pieces go.

Finally, jigsaws can be a great way to start goal setting. Perhaps first time around, the puzzle takes a few hours, then one and so on or perhaps the goal would be to finish independently.  All of this links in with a huge sense of achievement any time the puzzle is completed.

These points would apply to any age group – hence why we love puzzles so much! Just look at all of the learning happening whilst having fun at the same time 🙂 

Overall…

puzzle 2
Working out a strategy: the boys decided to conquer the outside of the puzzle first!

The hospital observation puzzle was a brilliant way of working on all of the skills mentioned above, with the added bonus of further play when finished. We will definitely be seeking out other puzzles in the range as part of Harrison’s Christmas presents this year!

Whilst the puzzle was gifted for the purposes of this article, all opinions are genuine and we had a brilliant time putting it together. 

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Canberra for Kids: Our Top Springtime Activities

We’re big fans of Canberra. We’ve lived here for almost 3 years now and it’s surely got to be one of the best places to raise kids. Now I know a lot of people bag out the nation’s capital, but not us – we might not be local locals, but we sure do love the place! Springtime, in my opinion, is one of the best times to visit as there is just so much happening. Read on below to find out our favourite spots…

 

Floriade

Ok, so an obvious choice here, but the start of Spring means the month long flower festival that is Floriade. Whilst there have been mixed reviews in recent years, we still think it’s worth a visit, especially since this year marks the 30th anniversary of the event.

We’d advise showing up early before the car parking situation gets crazy, then grab yourself a takeaway coffee and spend the morning getting heart eyes over the beautiful blooms. Whilst Floriade itself is free, costs can escalate if your kiddo wants to go on the iconic ferris wheel or the fairground rides – personally I’d steer them towards the ferris wheel to get a birdseye view of the festival!

Details: Floriade is on now until the 15th October. Check the website for Night Fest info. 

Questacon

A place that has just won a place on the Australian Monopoly board definitely deserves a mention, right? Questacon is filled with STEAM fun and to be honest, is just as much for adults as it is for the kids you take! Now we’re annual pass holders, so we get to visit regularly, but a hot tip for those of you visiting in the school holidays, show up early to avoid the long queues!

If you have kids under 6, you must check out Mini Q. It’s the perfect place for some hands-on sciencey fun. During term-time, Zoey and I visit Mini Q once a week as its basically a better version of a soft-play centre. We love it for the rather fabulous role play zones: there’s a car garage, vets, bakery, space station and building site to try out.

Details: To find out about pricing and events, click here 

National Zoo

zebra
One of the newest members of the zoo!

 

We LOVE this place. I’ve been to a fair few zoos in Australia (including Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo) and I have to say, The National Zoo and Aquarium is one of the best. The zoo has recently doubled in size to include zebras, rhinos, giraffes and cheetahs so if you have a little animal-obsessed human like I do, then it sure is the place to visit!

The zoo holds special zookeeper experiences for children during the school holidays which is kinda perfect if you need some ‘me-time’ whilst the kids learn and have a generally awesome time. I’ve also only heard amazing things about the Jamala Lodge, but unfortunately Zoey is too young to stay (I believe the age limit is 6). Perhaps something to consider if you have a special occassion coming up?

Details: Visit the website for pricing and individual events. If you live locally, i’d thoroughly recommend a season pass. 

National Museum of Australia 

When we first moved to Canberra, The National Museum of Australia was one of the first places we visited. The clue is in the title, but you get a really good overview of historically significant events. There’s plenty of ‘hands-on’ stuff to keep kids interested. If that isn’t so appealing, K-Space is the place to be. It’s basically an interactive computer game which takes you back in time so there’s lots of sneaky learning happening whilst the kids play!

At the moment, the Towers of Tomorrow Lego exhibition is happening. It’s a chance to view 20 Lego skyscrapers and also have a stab at making one yourself. There’s also Lego themed workshops during the school holidays which are bound to be popular with any master builder!

Details: The museum itself is free although you do need to pay for car parking. Exhibitions and workshops are priced separately so see the website for more information. 

National Botanical Gardens 

We go to the Botanical Gardens at least once a month and every time we’ve visited the experience has been completely different. There are so many paths to explore – our particular favourite has to be the rainforest section as it geniunely feels like you’ve travelled back in time! There’s a fair few events that happen during the school holidays too – Bush Blitz Biodiversity Detectives workshops are happening if you have any mini Steve Backshall’s in your midst!

The new cafe Pollen is a top spot for a breakfast date, but if you have busy kids like us you’re probably best off grabbing a takeaway coffee and browsing the gardens at a leisurely pace!

Details: Whilst there are paths for wheelchairs and prams, I would recommend using a carrier for babies and toddlers so you aren’t limited to certain paths. For information on workshops, click here

National Arboretum 

The husband finds my obsession with The National Arboretum kind of amusing. Sure, most of the trees are still growing, but that means the views are pretty spectacular! We mainly go there for The Pod playground which I’m pretty sure is the best in Canberra (please feel free to disagree with me below!) What we love the most is that the playground is divided into different ages/abilities so both kids can happily skip off and play.

The holidays often mean special events for kids too such as kitemaking and storytime walks in the woods. Check out the website for more details 

Details: Whilst the centre itself is free, you’ll need some spare change for the car park. The centre is also closed on the 28th of September for a special event. 

 

Lake Burley Griffin: The National Library to The National Gallery of Australia

During the holidays, we often park up at The National Library and walk to the National Portrait Gallery or the National Gallery of Australia (sometimes even both!).  If you’re doing a fly by visit to Canberra, this is a great way of seeing some of the big attractions when you’re short on time. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you could even visit Questacon on the same day as all four attractions are practically next to one another!

Alternatively…

Park up close to the Nara Peace Park and take photos of the gorgeous cherry blossoms whilst they are in bloom. According to Time Out, much of the gardens were a gift from Canberra’s Japanese sister, the city of Nara. Afterwards head on over to Snapper on the Lake for some fish and chips – just watch out for the crazy cyclists!  If you’re visiting in late October, definitely go and check out the incredible Canberra Nara Candle Festival – you can find out more details here. 

Details: Car parks around the lake are ticketed – the car parking officers tend to be on the ball too! Please check the website links for special events. 

Also worth a mention…

If you have slightly older children (6+), chances are that they’ll enjoy The Australian War Memorial – it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Australia after all.

We also absolutely love Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve – you’ll just need a car to get there! 🙂

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Happy Explorers Activity Box

I’ve always been tempted by the lure of activity boxes for kids, so when  Julie and Lisa from Happy Explorers asked if they could send me one of their feelings boxes, I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

Happy Explorers is a brand new activity box and is aimed at children aged between 3-6. The whole design is based around the early years framework (Julie is an experienced prep teacher) so as parents, we can be rest assured that the activities are both fun and educational.

As a teacher mum myself, I could immediately see the benefits of buying the box. With my ‘teacher’ hat on, I knew that it would be carefully planned by experts. With my ‘mum’ hat on, I felt confident that I would be doing fun and engaging activities that would also help the kiddos learning.

The box was kindly gifted for the purposes of this review, however the post isn’t sponsored. 

Initial Impressions:

Our feelings box arrived just in time for the weekend – I don’t know about you, but weekends can sometimes leave me desperate for some structured activities! The box itself was beautifully presented and both kids were excited to open it. You can visit my YouTube channel to view the full unboxing.

happy explorers
Our Happy Explorers box arrived in a beautifully presented box on Friday afternoon.

The presentation was spot on: each activity was packaged separately with its own prompt card, but there also wasn’t an insane amount of plastics that needed recycling either – win! With the exception of glue, you don’t need any extra resources to complete the activities as everything is included. In total, there were 6 different activities to try under 3 main categories (explore, create and communicate), which we’ll go through in more detail below.

happy explorers box
Here’s a closer look at what is inside the Happy Explorers feelings box.

It was apparent right away that the resources included were of good quality and carefully selected, however the items that I was really drawn to were the prompt cards. I absolutely loved the fact that the guesswork was taken away and I didn’t have to think of questions or activities that related to the resources.  As you can see from the photo, the cards are beautifully designed without a complete overwhelm of information:

prompt cards

The Happy Explorers box is broken up into 3 main categories: Explore, Communicate and Create.

1. Playdough Faces:

faces 1
Who is fed up and who is shocked?

Whilst Harrison is a little older than the core demographic, we had a fun playdough session after school. First we chatted about different emotions using the prompts as a guide . I asked questions like: ‘How do you feel on your birthday,’ ‘How do you feel when you’re sick?’ ‘What makes you confused’ and ‘What makes you frustrated?’

It was actually really interesting because I tend to assume I know what makes Harrison happy/sad/angry/confused etc, but we’ve rarely really discussed it together. The activity prompted us to open up a dialogue about our feelings – something which is vital for a good relationship.

Materials included: 2 colours of playdough, mini wooden sticks, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, create prompt card. 

 

2. Paper-plate Masks

faces 2
Which face is angry and which is confused?

We decided to use the paper-plates to make mini puppet faces so that we could act out our emotions. We chose different scenarios that might make our puppets feel happy, sad, confused, fed up and angry. This was a really safe way of talking about emotions that can sometimes seem confronting. Harrison isn’t one to share his feelings all that often, so the role play helped him to open up.

Depending on the age of your own child, you could also try putting the opposite feeling on the reverse of the plate. We used confused/ confident and angry/ joyful as our opposite feelings.

Materials included: 2 mini paper-plates, shape stickers, paddle pop sticks, googly eye stickers ( we also used some of the materials left from the playdough activity)

 

3. Hippo is Happy

hippo is happy
I love it when Harrison is able to share a story with Zoey – one of the benefits of a 7 year age gap! This kind of shared story benefits both children.

We read Hippo is Happy to Zoey for story-time several times! She loved the vibrant illustrations and the cute animals.  At the age of 20 months, she’s just starting to understand the concept of happy and sad. Whilst she’s a little too young to discuss the story, she can on a very basic level share when she is sad and the book helped her to explore those feelings further.

For older readers, I thought the prompt card was a brilliant way to discuss the story. Comprehension is such an important part of reading and the card definitely takes the guesswork out of the process.

Materials included: book, communicate prompt card.

 

4. Finger Puppets 

This is such a great resource! Not only for exploring feelings, but to take a look at family members too ( grandma, grandpa, mum, dad, brother and sister are included). As mentioned above, drama and role play are really important ways of conveying feelings and big emotions in a non-confronting way.

Harrison and Zoey both made a beeline for the finger puppets.With this activity, I just sat back and watched them play rather than get involved too heavily. However a prompt card is included if your mini one needs a little nod in the right direction.

Materials included: 6 finger puppets, explore prompt card. 

 

5. Feelings Hunt 

feelings hunt
A big thumbs up for this resource – you could even try a ‘guess the emotions’ game by covering up the words first.

Do you ever struggle for cafe friendly activities? I thought the Feelings Hunt card would be good entertainment whilst out and about. Although I guess a conversation would need to be had about being discreet first! With the school holidays fast approaching, we intend to take the feelings card out with us so that we can continue our conversations about emotions.

Materials included: laminated feelings hunt card. 

 

6. Happiness Notebook 

happiness notebook

Last up is the mini happiness notebook. I’ve seen a lot of posts about ‘100 Days of Happiness’ recently, so this little book would be perfect for noting down or drawing feelings. Harrison is actually pretty obsessed with writing journals (thanks in part to Diary of a Wimpy Kid!) so he will make good use of the notebook.

Materials included: communicate prompt card, small notebook. 

 

In Summary…

What we loved about the Happy Explorers Feelings Box was the nudge towards having some quality together time whilst being creative. As Harrison’s sister is almost 7 years younger than him, it often gets difficult to spend real time as ‘just us’ so the activities we did together felt special.

The box meant we both learnt new things about one another – like what makes the other person fed up, shocked, happy or sad. It made me realise that I don’t always know exactly what triggers Harrison’s emotions and as he grows older, it becomes increasingly more important to have that open dialogue.

I would wholeheartedly recommend ordering a Happy Explorers box – even if your child is slightly outside the suggested age group. It’s a brilliant way to have some side by side creative bonding time with some core early years skills thrown in!

 

Ways to use the Happy Explorers box: 

When I started to really think about it, there are just so many ways to use the Happy Explorers box. Here’s just a few that would get me ordering:

  •  We travel a lot and I thought the box would be ideal for road trips. Even if your days are busy, chances are you’ll have afternoons/ evenings where you’ll want to entertain the kids. The fact that everything is included takes the stress out of packing.
  • We tend to do so many crafts during the school holidays – the box would be a great way of exploring a particular theme without having to come up with activities.
  • The box would be fantastic for rainy days (whether that be actual rain or a sick day!) when leaving the house is difficult.
  • If you’re in part-time work and need ideas or themes to explore on the days you have the kids at home.
  • If you’re a grandparent and the kids are coming to stay for the weekend!

 

The Happy Explorers box retails at $39.95 and postage is free Australia-wide. You can buy a box here