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Hopfest: Easter Week Egg-stravaganza!

 

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Do you remember all the way back to December when we did Craftmas? Well this is kinda the same and kinda different because now it’s all about Easter and springtime fun! There’s an awesome crew of kick-ass craft ladies involved again, you can find links to the Instagram feed at the end of this post. Continue reading Hopfest: Easter Week Egg-stravaganza!

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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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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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…

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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

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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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Small World Play: FAQs

How old should my child be before I start small world play? 

The answer to this really depends on a few things. Is you child likely to try and ‘mouth’ items provided? Are they able to sit unaided? Are the toys suitable for your child’s stage of development? Has your child shown an interest in imaginary play?

We started Zoey on small world play when she was 12 months old. In the beginning, we only used Fisher Price Little People (which are suitable from 12 months). She showed a real interest in imaginary play over the coming months so we proceeded to using rice, lentil and other items as a base – we also knew that she was past the stage of putting everything in her mouth!

Is small world play safe for my toddler? 

As with any activity that you decide to do with your toddler, keep them supervised at all times. Don’t use items that they are likely to choke on and try to use toys that are age appropriate.

I want to give small world play a try, how do I choose the themes?

Really, I just follow Zoey’s lead. If she’s been obsessing over her Little People farm, then i’ll relate the theme accordingly or if we’ve just visited the zoo, then i’ll create a small world based around our trip. The best thing to do is use this as a guide, but go with what your little one is interested in.

What kind of foods could I use?

Rice, lentils, flour cocoa and even Froot Loops have made their way into our small worlds. I never buy products specifically: it’s usually just what needs using up in the kitchen! If you want to make coloured rice, click here. If you have any concerns over choking or if your toddler is always putting things in their mouths, please bank these activities for a later date.

Food and play seems like a lot of mess, why should I create small worlds for my little one? 

Small world play helps both imagination and creativity. The act of moving the animals and people around whilst using a ‘voice’ is a fantastic way of developing language skills. For Zoey this is simply learning animal names and making their noise, but in time she will act out whole conversations from the perspective of the people or animals in her small worlds.

What toys can I use in small worlds?

Plastic toys that are easy to wash are best. Our absolute favourites are the Collecta animals from Oh Ivy. They’re durable, realistic and also ‘softer’ than competitors, making then perfect for toddlers. We’ve also used Little People, HappyLand and Star Wars characters!

 

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