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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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Our New Play Space

With only 10 weeks left until baby number 3 arrives, I’m in serious nesting mode! After the introduction of new toys and books over Christmas, it was safe to say that our play space was looking a little chaotic. Worst still was the fact toys just weren’t getting played with!

Taking inspiration from the wonderful world of Instagram, I decided to clean up our act. There are some amazing educational accounts that regularly share tips on toy organisation and toy rotation, so I recommend you follow these lovely ladies:

Finding Myself Young

Playful Little Learners

Invitation to Play

The Paige Diaries

Little Life Long Learners 

We don’t have space for a playroom in our house, so our play space is situated at the back of our lounge/ dining room area. If you’re in a similar situation, try picking a corner or area in your house that you can dedicate to toys. That way, there’s less chance of being bombarded by kid stuff wherever you go!

The Main Play Space: 

Now, I sincerely wish that i’d taken a before and after photo of this. Before, everything was piled on top of a unused coffee table, but now it feels calm and organised.

We hot-footed it to IKEA one Sunday morning (sorry, husband!) to buy the Kallax units that basically everyone has, along with some colourful drawers to hide the loose toys. The beauty of these units is that they are cheap, clean looking and it’s also easy enough to buy more when needed!

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To take you through the space, (from top to bottom) we have:

  • A gorgeous illustrated map of Australia by Tania McCartney 
  • An assortment of Grimm’s wooden toys
  • A blue basket full of sensory toys
  • A red cube containing play food for role play
  • An assortment of puzzles
  • A green cube full of Duplo
  • A green cube containing wooden blocks
  • Board books
  • A red cube full of miniature animals
  • Books plus a basket of finger puppets and dollies

This organisational exercise also made me realise that I need to introduce toy rotation. Now that Zoey is two, I feel like she is old enough for some more focused play so using the coffee table that we originally used as the play space, we’ve introduced a weekly discovery table.

The Discovery Table

I’m super excited about this because the discovery table is  going to become part of a regular blog series both here and on my Instagram. I always follow Zoey’s interests when we play and learn, but the time has definitely come to make it a little more focused. So every Sunday, i’m changing up the table ready for the new week.

The important thing here is to make the table accessible. This coffee table is the perfect height for Zoey so she can get what she wants, whenever she wants. The first discovery table is very appropriate right now, but i’ll be talking through it in a separate blog post!

 

Zoey’s Room

The issue of space when bubba number 3 arrives, hasn’t exactly been addressed yet but it’s likely he’ll be sharing some room space with Zoey. We bought a smaller Kallax unit for her room to showcase a combination of toys and books:

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Harrison’s Room

This room was the most problematic because as an eight year old boy, Harrison has major issues with keeping his room tidy! In fact, it’s taken me a few days to recover from the mass clean up of his room on Sunday – lets not even talk about the pile of dirty washing, books and toys that I found under his bed! In fairness, the kid did help although he was slightly more preoccupied with playing with the toys he’d totally forgotten about!

Again, we bought some Kallax cubes to house his massive book collection, although in hindsight, I perhaps need to buy more as the unit is 2-3 layers deep in books! Before he literally just had an untidy stack of books on the floor, but now it looks like this:

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I also decided to use the white table that was previously in his sister’s room to make a basic Lego table. This is simply a base plate glue-gunned onto the table (this was also from IKEA a few years ago). There are way better versions than mine on Pinterest that feature drawers, but I know that is completely wasted on my son!

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Sidenote: organising Lego into colour/ size is a huge waste of time. Don’t attempt it unless you know your kid is going to put it all back properly. Twice in the last few years I’ve spent whole weekends categorising Lego by size, shape and category but it just doesn’t work! Instead, this is what Harrison’s Lego cupboard looks like:

The entire shelving unit of his built-in cupboard is full of Lego (I couldn’t quite get the angle of the photo right). This is a result of getting Lego for every Christmas and Birthday since he was 4, as well as inheriting his Dad and Nana’s Lego collection. Some of this is from the 1960’s which is pretty cool! I’ve never been tempted to give away any of the collection because his siblings will get just as much use out of this, so we do our best to cope with the organised chaos!

Why we’re keeping everything…

Both kids loved helping during our weekend of organisation!

I’ve seen many great ideas regarding toy recycling on Instagram and I think it’s brilliant that many parents get their children to donate toys to charity prior to the Christmas build-up. Some of you might be thinking, ‘Why not giveaway some of this stuff to charity?’ Well, since having Zoey we’ve got to a stage where we focus on quality over quantity. This is partly as a result of moving so many times in the last 10 years and partly because we’re trying to minimise wasteful purchases. The toys and books we have will all come in handy for younger siblings in the future. If you want to read more on toys for toddlers, check out our Gift Guide for Toddlers. 

Hopefully this post will help in some way with the organisation of new toys and books post-Christmas. To get more updates on the Discovery Table series, please hit ‘subscribe’ or follow along on Instagram and Facebook. 

 

Sian x

 

 

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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. 

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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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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.

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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.

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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:

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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

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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 

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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