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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 

winter wonderland 4.jpg

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

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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

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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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One Pumpkin: two invitations…

Okay so pumpkin carving isn’t exactly new, but it is an immense amount of fun! If you’re on Pinterest, and lets face it, who isn’t? You’ll see a myriad of pumpkin ideas ranging from easy peasy to super skillful. When you’ve got kids, you just have to go for the options that are accessible and fun so here are two activities you can try with just the one pumpkin – i’m sure you’ll all agree that this is a money saving win too! 😉

An invitation to play…

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In the beginning, I wasn’t going to carve the pumpkin at all, but then I started to think of all the wastage which made me a little sad! After I lopped the top off of the pumpkin (definitely an adult job!), I set the kids to work scooping out the flesh. They used scoops, spoons and their hands to remove all of the pumpkins innards for a real bit of sensory fun!

Great for:

  • Fine motor skills: using fingers to grasp at the pumpkin
  • Hand grasp: using the spoons/ scoops
  • Language: describing the texture of the pumpkin, what it sounds like etc.
  • Sensory development: everything from smell, taste, touch, sight and sound is covered in this one activity!

Side note: younger children should be under constant supervision due to the size of the pumpkin seeds.

 

pumpkin scoop 2
If you do a lot of sensory play, a tuff tray like this is a good investment. Ours is from Invitation to Play 

 

pumpkin scoop 4
Zoey really loved the texture of the pumpkin seeds and flesh.

 

pumpkin scoop 1
All of the seeds were ‘sorted’ into a pan – you could get older kids to sort the seeds from the flesh too!
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Once the kids had finished, I scooped out the extra flesh myself to avoid any mould.

An invitation to create…

pauline the pumpkin
This is Pauline – Isn’t she beautiful?

Have you ever tried to carve a pumpkin? It’s not that easy and certainly not a job i’d entrust to the kids. There’s way too much margin for error but compromises can be made if you want to get your creative on as a family. Like I said above, I was loathed to waste the flesh, so Pauline is a halfway house between a no-carve and carved creation. Here’s how she was made:

 

pumpkin scoop 6
1. Scoop out all the flesh! Just in case you missed the bit above – getting out every last bit of flesh is important so that the pumpkin lasts longer. Any extra pumpkin flesh tends to get moldy pretty quickly!
pumpkin 6.jpg
2. We used a binder/ sealant from Riot  as a base.
pumpkin 4
3. After the binder had dried, we set to work on the white acrylic. We used approximately 3 coats, but you might need more of less depending on the brand of paint!
pumkin 3
4. Once the white paint was dry, the kids set to work splodging neon paint all over the pumpkin – so much fun!
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5. We left the pumpkin a few days before I carved the eyes with a craft knife (in hindsight, this would’ve been best done prior to painting) Then we added in ‘Day of the Dead’ style drawings using Posca pens. The flowers have been recycled from a previous craft – you can find out how to make them here.

This activity is great for:

  • Expression: the kids went crazy with the neon paint.
  • Fine motor skills: drawing on the features.
  • Creative thinking: how could we all join in with the activity?
  • Teamwork: sharing out the tasks.
  • Historical research: with older kids, you can explore the background of the Dia de los Muertos festival for the ‘why’ behind the decoration.

 

Side notes:

  • Carving should really be done by an adult.
  • Be aware of the paint you are using if you want to light up your pumpkin with tealights. Although we used water-based acrylics (which are considered safe), we avoided any dilemma altogether by placing a mini torch inside Pauline.  Definitely do not use oil based paints!!!
  • And FINALLY, although Pauline was very beautiful on the outside, by the 5th day her insides were a totally different story. I suspect the paint caused her to get moldy quicker so if you want a longer lasting decoration, I would go for the no-carve option. As it happens, it turned into a fascinating STEAM experiment! 🙂

 

Have you got an accessible pumpkin idea you’d like to share? Either comment below or tag me in on Facebook / Instagram. 

 

 

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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 

 

 

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Travel with Kids

When you tell people you travel often with your children, it tends to provoke strong reactions. From the journey itself to fighting siblings and just the general amount of STUFF you have to pack, it can be a pretty daunting experience.

I can’t say that I’m a travel expert by any means, but as a family, we take a lot of flights. Through trial and error we have figured out what works best for us. So along with the help of some lovely Instagram friends, here is the Teach Investigate Play guide to travelling with kids. From the initial planning stages to the holiday itself, here’s everything  you need to know:

Do your research:

For now, unfortunately, your days of lounging poolside are well and truly over! Use Trip Advisor and pick locations based on how kid friendly they are. Trust me when I say, a luxury resort in the middle of nowhere just doesn’t work (for now!)

Our recent trip to Uluru and Alice Springs was the perfect family mix of adventure, discovery, learning and relaxation – we even got to ride Milo the camel, which was a memorable experience for sure!


Air BnB it:

Now it’s fair to say that some Air BnB properties are better than others, but 95% of the time, we’ve had a great experience. One of the major benefits of course is having a home away from home. Washing machines mean less packing and having a kitchen means avoiding stressful restaurant experiences.

On our latest trip to Alice Springs, we chose a property with a pool so we could cool off after hot mornings​ doing touristy things.


Time your flights:

OK so on long haul flights, this goes out of the window, but where you can, try and coordinate flights with naps or sleeps. In theory, this will make your life on board the plane a million times easier. This is very much an ‘IN THEORY’ piece of advice – a Qantas air hostess once told us that babies often fall asleep during landing!

Soon we will embark on Zoey’s first long haul flight. We have booked the first flight for 11pm, so we are hoping for a peaceful journey. I will report back with how that goes!

zoey plane
Wide awake on our flight to Sydney!


Prep first time travellers:

Flying for the first time is a huge deal, especially for little ones. There are plenty of ways that you can prepare for air travel, from reading books to creating an airport role play.

Whether you have a mini or junior traveller, one of the best things I think you can do is prepare them for journeys by reading. Now the type of book will depend on the age of the child in question: for Zoey who is 18 months, we have used one of the Usborne classics ‘That’s Not my Plane.’

plane thats not my.jpg

For pre-schoolers or those just learning to read, you can’t really go wrong with ‘Going on a Plane’ which is part of the Biff, Chip and Kipper Oxford Reading Tree series. In fact, we read this with Harrison when he was 5, ahead of our big trip over to Australia (and incidentally, the first time he’d ever been on a plane!)

An amazing book selection from @mygirlsmake on Instagram

The airport small world shown below helps mini travellers understand the airport processes. I’ve seen some great examples of role play online too. Both of these types of play will make the whole travel situation less daunting, especially if they already know what to expect at check in, security and even take off and landing (aeroplane seat belts are one of Zoey’s least favourite things!)

airport play
This airport small world was just drawn with chalk and took minutes to set up! 

 

Turn travel into a learning point:

Now that Harrison is 8 and a complete pro at flying, we have moved onto atlases and maps to study where we are going. We will look at the destination city or country to find out facts. We also like to calculate how long the journey will be so that he is prepared.

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‘Lots’ is fast becoming one of our favourite travel books, so many interesting facts and the illustrations are just gorgeous! Others to look out for are: The Atlas of  Animal Adventures, Wonder Garden, The Map Colouring Book and Mini Adventures. In fact, I feel inspired to write a whole new blog post! 

Lots by Marc Martin is a great read for little explorers


Prepare Activities in advance:

Whether you create handmade resources, or take a range of activity books, the key is variety at an age-appropriate level. In the past, we have bought travel activity pads only to find that they are far too difficult. The result, complete disengagement!

Jacinth from Our Little Playnest  makes fantastic resources for her kids. Here’s a sample from her travel bag:

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Pack Together:

The family that packs together, stays together… or something like that! I would never pack Harrison’s carry- on bag myself, nor would I allow him to pack entirely on his own (I tried that once and he came out with the entire contents of his room!)

Pictured is what we have packed for our latest trip. Note we’ve succumbed to the fidget cube trend. We have a good mix of games, toys, books and activities. Not pictured is his Nintendo 3DS which is a complete lifesaver on long haul flights or the spare clothes – ALWAYS pack spare clothes!

harrisons bag
We have a bit of a Pokemon fan!

Now Zoey is a lot harder to pack with, mainly because she can’t talk properly yet, but we give it a good go. Everything goes in, then gets flung out again but eventually we come to an understanding. In most cases, no matter how much I actually pack for Zoey, she is invariably more interested​ in the flight safety manual so let’s hope i’ve got this all right for our long haul!

zoey suitcase
Small World play on the go!


Take snacks: 

If you’re able, pack some food for the journey. My nutritionist friend Liz from Well Nourished Club, swears by organic pouches for pure ease. Also top of her list are homemade flapjacks and the humble banana – see it doesn’t need to be complicated! You can find more information on her recipes here.

If you’re looking for lunch box ideas for the journey, please follow Nourish and Move over on Instagram. If you’re a parent just follow her anyway as I’m in complete awe of her kids lunches on a daily basis!

plane food


At the Airport:

Many airports have tuned into the fact that waiting around for hours can be a little dull. Changi airport has a butterfly garden and Sydney has a Qantas museum – I’m sure there’s more that we haven’t discovered yet!

It’s worth finding out what the airports offer beforehand (along with the opening times​) so you can occupy the kids during longer waits. We’ll be heading straight to the Butterfly Garden in Changi airport when we reach Singapore! 

Harrison loved seeing the old planes in Sydney


Airport Safety:

Now, I swore I would never buy what is essentially a dog lead for my child but here we are! Zoey is at that rather difficult stage where she wants to walk most of the time, but absolutely does not want to hold hands. I relented and bought one of the Little Life backpacks which has been a real game changer at airports.

safety zoey

I’m pretty sure that older kids would not appreciate being on a lead rein, so here’s a nifty idea from @hmklambert over on Instagram. These genuis duct tape safety wristbands contain key contact information. Even better was the fact the kids helped to make them so we’re completely aware of what they were for.


Invest in a baby carrier:

Whilst most airports do provide complimentary strollers, we just find carriers heaps easier. Our sporty ergo baby carrier has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion, especially if Zoey ends up fast asleep as we’re due to leave the plane (which is most of the time!) What’s more, they’re also fabulous for exploring new places – we couldn’t have done most of our Uluru trip with a stroller.

If you don’t have one already and are now thinking of buying a carrier, it pays to do your research first. I’ve got a fair few slings, wraps and carriers, but we only tend to get on well with the Ergo Baby.  A good place to start is at your local ‘Sling Library’ where you can loan out different types of carriers to try.

Fast asleep at Alice Springs airport!

 

Pack homework for school aged learners:

Whilst I am a huge believer in learning through experiences, when we’re missing a lot of school, Harrison will complete daily homework tasks.

Every evening, we get Harrison to write in his journal – this is literally just a sentence or two along with a picture! This task is really so he can look back in years to come at his own experiences.

travel homework

In terms of classwork missed, we have a discussion with the class teacher and then i’ll plan out what to take with us. If you aren’t a teacher and don’t feel confident, most class teachers would be happy to photocopy worksheets for you, providing you give them enough notice!

We usually work on a skill whilst we’re away – this is normally something that doesn’t require many resources. For example, learning to tell the time. Whilst I much prefer to use a ‘hands on’ approach to learning, these workbooks are just so much easier when we’re on the go.

harrison homework

 

On the plane:

This is where all the preparation and packing comes into its own.  Rotate the games, books and activities you have packed – whilst Harrison has his 3DS, he’s not allowed to play it for an entire flight.

What to do with a cranky toddler? I find that distraction techniques work best. Again, constantly rotate the toys/ games you have and even go for a walk. Get out a few key items before take-off so you’re not constantly reaching for the overhead locker!

What I have found from experience though, is to try and stay calm even during meltdowns. Toddlers are like predators: they sense your fear and meltdown even further if you get anxious. On Pinterest I’ve seen parents make little party favours for fellow passengers, but it’s not something we’ve  personally tried.

Distraction in the form of fuzzy felt!

 On the holiday:

We tend to find that you need to balance tourist attractions and down time. Don’t go expecting to pack everything in as you will all invariably end up cranky and miserable. This is where the research comes in again: what is on your must see list? How much time do people typically spend at a particular museum, place or attraction? 

We split up our days so that we’re busy in the morning visiting museums, parks or going on long walks, then we’ll chill at the pool after lunch. It’s a formula that works well for our family, but you need to go with whatever is best for yours. 

Exploring K Space at the Australian National Museum

Finally, have fun! 

Travel is an amazing experience and personally, I think it’s even better with kids. The journeys we’ve been on create memories to last a lifetime. So don’t worry about your toddler melting down on the plane or your 8 year old having car sickness, because in the end, they won’t be the defining moments of your trip!

The Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs is our most memorable travel experience to date

Please comment below if you have any other words of wisdom for fellow parents. If you want to share to Pinterest, please link back to this website 🙂 

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Activities for ANZAC Day

With ANZAC Day just around the corner (25th April), I thought I’d share a few activities for you to try with the kids at home.

ANZAC Day is one of the most significant events in Australian and New Zealand calendars. It marks the first major military action taken by ANZAC forces in World War One. You can read more about it here.

But how to make the importance of the events that took place relevant to young children? It can be tricky to convey the significance when the wars happened such a long time ago. My best advice is via books, crafts and art.

Doilie Poppy Art

Poppies are the symbol of peace used for both Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day. The poppies grew on many parts of the Western Front as the battle-scared landscape recovered. 

Watercolour Poppies

This is our chosen poppy craft for ANZAC Day. After reading about the significance of the poppy, we set about using liquid water colours and droppers to create our poppies. Follow the photographs for instructions on how to make them yourselves:

Use a dropper to spread the watercolours. We used red, blue and black.
Lay doilies on top of one another
Pinch together and tie with a pipe cleaner – great for fine motor skills!

ANZAC Biscuits

Available at Target and Big W

This is a beautiful book by Paul Cummings and Owen Swan. It tells the story of a little girl called Rachel. She makes ANZAC biscuits for her father who is fighting in the trenches. This actually used to happen: ANZAC biscuits would be sent in tins to the soldiers because they could last the journey – amazing! I love that by reading, you can get a history lesson without realising!

We haven’t gotten around to making any this year yet, but why not try making ANZAC biscuits with your children after reading the book? To try a recipe, click here.

Usborne See Inside The First World War

Available on Amazon

You can always count on Usborne to make any subject appeal to children. This is a really informative read for slightly older kids – I’d say from 7 onwards.
Although the book doesn’t focus on ANZAC Day itself, it makes for a brilliant overview if your child begins to show more of an interest in what happened during the First World War.

Fingerprint Poppies

I first did these with a year 3 class to mark the 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day. They are simple enough to try with a range of ages – all you need is some paint and fingers!

As you can see from the picture, we created a display with our poppies by cutting them out and sticking them onto a green background.


Food Pouch Poppies

Simple enough for the little ones to do. We used our huge collection of food pouch lids to create some loose part poppies.

Food pouch lids are brilllaintly versatile for a whole range of activities. They also help with building strength in the hands and fingers for developing fine motor skills.

Clay Poppies

I can’t take credit for this one. Harrison made this clay poppy in school a few years ago. They formed part of an incredible outdoor display at his old primary school.

If you have some air dry clay and acrylic paint, this would be a wonderful activity to try with older children.

hope that you will be able to try some of these activities over the ANZAC weekend. Please comment below and let me know how you get on!