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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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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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Kids activities for when you don’t feel like adulting…

Here’s a quick guide to how we cope on sick days. This was a post I was going to write last week, but ironically I was feeling too ill to write it! It’s been a pretty rubbish few weeks in the Thomas household: first I was hit by a yucky virus, then the boy ended up in hospital with breathing difficulties. All of this meant that our usual schedule of days packed with process art, long walks, trips to the zoo and detailed play set ups went by the wayside.

Admittedly, it’s not been an easy few weeks. All I’ve honestly wanted to do is veg on the sofa whilst binge watching season 7 of Game of Thrones, but that just isn’t possible with a busy toddler by my side. As for the 8 year old, all he’s really wanted to do is watch Stampy Cat and iBallistic Squid videos on repeat which is enough to drive anyone insane. So whilst most of these activities are targeted at toddlers and preschoolers (who are more likely to be with you when you’re sick, a lot will work for big kids too!)

Whether you’ve got winter blues, flu or even morning sickness, here’s a few activities that have worked for us over the last few weeks. Although as a big fat disclaimer here, we do watch our fair share of Disney Pixar movies on sick days – I would hate to pretend otherwise!

Here are 10 activities you can try with the kiddos whilst you (or they) are sick, along with some sneaky educational skills that will take minimal effort on your part. That’s what I call a parenting win!

 

Small World Play

farm
Our old trusty favourite!

On a weekly basis, we change up our small world scenarios but on sick days we like to keep it simple. There’s probably nothing better than getting out the trusty Fisher Price Little People play sets. Zoey’s had hers for almost a year now and it’s still a firm favourite whenever we play with it.

This beautiful fairy grass from Little Sprout is another big winner: all you really need to do is add in fairies or woodland creatures and you’ve got a gorgeous play set up all ready to go.

fairy grass.jpg
Not everything we do is made from scratch. This fairy grass came ready made with flowers and toadstools. Just perfect for minimal fuss days!

 

Sneaky skills: 

Small world play is an important part of the early years curriculum. Here are some of the skills your little one will learn whilst playing: language development, fine motor skills, development of imagination, problem solving, independent play and cause & effect.

Tea Party

picnic
Who would’ve though pouring tea would be so interesting?

We absolutely love a good tea party in our house – the best thing about them is the fact you can sit down too! The dollies and stuffed animals join in for a picnic on the rug – Zoey pours the tea using her super cheap Fisher Price talking teapot and we all have a merry time pretending to eat cake. Although i’m all for real cake too, particularly on sick days!

Sneaky Skills: 

However twee a tea party might sound, this type of role play is again hugely beneficial for toddlers. It’s a way of learning early mathematical skills (learning to share out food and count); language skills also make a reappearance here – I swear Zoey says please and thank you in the right context because of all the tea parties we have! Again, this is also another way of boosting imaginative skills, fine motor skills and cause & effect too.

 

Stickers

Pre-toddler, I never particularly saw the point in stickers but now I see their endless entertainment value. They’ve proven their worth in cafes, on long plane journeys and on sick days too. Zoey loves nothing better than peeling them off and sticking them (repeat x100) With older kids, try something cool like a sticker scene or even a mandala.

Sneaky Skills:

Occupational therapists swear by stickers – in fact,The OT Toolbox  love them!Benefits include: boosting fine motor skills and hand strength, developing creativity and coordination.

 

Crayoning

If your toddler is anything like Zoey, then you’re gonna need an art option: the girl cannot go through a day without using crayons or paints! In this instance, we use Micador wax crayons along with a huge pad of paper. We just set up on a mat in the lounge room and have fun doodling away. For the big kid, colouring books always go down a storm.

Sneaky Skills:

Fine motor skills (which will eventually lead to pencil grip), concentration, colour recognition and hand/eye coordination.

 

Felt

The inhabitants of Thomas Towers absolutely LOVE felt. Preferably, we make up our own activity, but on the days where we just cannot face creating  something new, we turn to our Tiger Tribe safari set. This is a really neat little box that is also ideal for travel and cafes too.

Sneaky skills:

In a similar vein to stickers, felt is great for boosting hand strength, fine motor skills, creative thinking and coordination. The feel of felt also adds a nice sensory element too and if you’re making your own from scratch, you can include scissor skills into the mix.

 

Blanket Forte

blanket forte

Our little homemade tent went down an absolute storm with both kids. All I did was gather together some wooden poles with string and attach a bed-sheet with pegs – okay it didn’t last as long as  the store bought versions, but it was fun to make and provided a nice excuse to snuggle!

Sneaky Skills: 

Problem solving is a certainty here! We took quite a while figuring out how to keep the tent stable. It’s also a great way to work on team building skills too.

 

Lego/ Duplo

duplo

We are major Lego fans here. We always buy sets as birthday/ Christmas presents and on special occasions too. I don’t mind saying that after Harrison had his stay in hospital, I felt he deserved a little bit of Lego as a pick-me-up. Not only is Lego just brilliant as an educational toy (fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, following instructions), we love that it can be played with in so many ways too.

Sneaky Skills:

Lego and Duplo are undoubtedly great for working that hand strength and fine motor skills. It also helps boost problem solving and mathematical skills too. Moreover, it’s a great way of learning to follow instructions along with a lot of creativity too!

 

Outside Time

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Depending on the weather, getting outside might be the last thing you feel like doing on a sick day, but I’ve always found that it makes me feel much happier afterwards – even if it does just end up being a 5 minute respite.

The sandpit seems to have a certain appeal to both kiddos. Whilst the traditional bucket and spade option are always fun, we do like to mix it up with small world scenarios. Both kids worked in harmony (no easy feat with a 7 year age gap) to create this beach rescue scene recently. It took Harrison’s mind off being poorly and meant he got some fresh air without really realizing it!

Sneaky Skills 

This is basically another addition to the small world play options, but you can also add the benefits of being outside in the fresh air which will give your wellbeing a boost!

 

Magnets

I promise you this is not an advert for Tiger Tribe, but my goodness they do make some awesome occupiers! All of our sets were predominately bought for travel purposes, however they are also brilliant on sick days too. The compact nature of the sets means minimal mess for you – so big thumbs up for when you’re not at your parenting best! Much in the same vein as stickers, there’s something super appealing about the on/ off aspect for toddlers.

Don’t have a Tiger Tribe set? Traditional fridge magnets and a metal baking tray will work just as well.

Sneaky Skills:

Again, really similar to stickers and felt with regards to fine motor skills and hand strength development. Depending on which activity you choose, you might also be helping to boost language and numerical skills. The animal set we’re just in the picture below, is pretty much a compact version of small world play too!

 

Reading

birds

If your voice feels up to it, snuggling up on a comfy bed with a stash of your favourite books always works a treat – especially if you can team it up with the nap-time schedule. It makes a nice welcome break from the wackiness of kids television (personally the noise and colours drive me a little cray-cray, especially if i’m the one who is sick!)

Sneaky Skills:

Reading is without a doubt one of the best ways to boost language skills. Just the very act of reading and pointing out pictures is one of the best ways of helping your mini one to learn.

 

So that concludes our activity guide of things to do when you’re feeling like absolute rubbish. Don’t by any means feel guilty if you only want to watch films all day (we definitely do that too). This is just here for those times when you are slowly being driven insane by the mundanity of being sick. Got any other suggestions? Feel free to comment below!

 

 

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May the Fourth Be With You! 

If you’re reading this on May 4th, Happy Star Wars Day! We simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate, especially since the seven year old is Star Wars crazy – so much so that I went completely overboard with his party theme last year!

Anyway, for those embracing the day with full abandon, here are 5 Star Wars activities to try with the kids.

1. Sith Slime 

Wicked fun and easy to make, this quick activity with a science element is perfect for a post- school activity.

All you need is:

  • 250g cornflour
  • 60ml shampoo
  • Purple or black food colouring
  • Glitter or stars
  • Star Wars characters
  • A plastic container or tray.

Method:

1. Measure out 250g cornflour

2. Add 60ml of shampoo and mix together

3. Slowly add some water

4. Mix again, lift the spoon out of the bowl to check. You will want it to be runny.

5. Finally add droplets of food colouring.

The science bit: 

The molecules of the starch react when mixed with water to give the slime its viscosity. So when you (gently) lift the slime, it will be runny like liquid. However, if you press the slime more firmly, it should feel solid.

Essentially, the experiment assists with learning around solids and liquids. Depending on the age of your child, you can introduce this scientific vocabulary to them.

2. Ice Escape! 

Getting fully involved with the latest experiment

Ok so remember with Darth Vader freezes Luke Skywalker in Carbonite? This experiment is losely based on that.

We froze several of our Lego Star Wars characters in an ice-cube tray (alas our Luke was nowhere to be seen!) and left overnight.

We then set about planning our experiment. We wanted to find out which Star Wars character could escape the quickest.

We placed them in 4 locations around the house and garden (heater, fridge, outside and window) then made predictions.

We monitored the characters over 10 minute intervals to find out their progress. Which location do you think proved the quickest for escape?

If you wanted to, you could get your child to put the final results into an ‘er’ sentence. For example, “The warmer the location, the quicker the escape.”

We placed the characters in small plastic containers around the house

3. Design your own spaceship

Make life easier with a Lego activity!

If you have more Lego than you know what to do with like us, challenge the kids to build a Star Wars spaceship.

We first did this activity at Harrison’s 7th birthday party and even made prizes for the winners. This is fantastic if you have some Master Builders in your midst. What’s more, it’s so simple – even if you’ve totally forgotten about Star Wars day, it’s an easy one to quickly set up.

4. Star Wars Small World 

We used red lentils for Jakku

This sensory experience is great for a range of ages- even Zoey joined in on this one!

Which planet you choose will determine the base of the sensory tray. We used flour, water and cornflour for the snowy habitat of Hoth. A few weeks later, we repurposed our ‘Red Centre’ small world to become Jakku.

To make this more educational, you could ask a range of questions:

Which countries/ habitats are the Star Wars planets similar too? 

Which Earth animals do you think could survive here? 

Alternatively, just let the kids play. Small world activities are brilliant for language development!

Flour, cornflour and water was used to form Hoth.

5. Read a Book!

So many Star Wars books to read!

There’s a plethora of Star Wars books out there – trust me, I think we have them all! From the brilliant Jedi Academy series to Lego Star Wars encylopedias, there’s certainly going to be something that will appeal.
On a more serious note, it was the DK Star Wars books that first got Harrison really passionate about reading. Tapping into interests is just so important in the early years and we embraced his enthusiasm wholeheartedly. In the first instance we read to him but now he has moved on to the more advanced Jedi Academy.

I hope you will try some of the activities I’ve suggested. Please comment below if you do, or share any alternatives you may have! Below are some photographs from our Star Wars party last year: 

The incredible BB8 cake!
Jedi Academy
Guess who?
Bubble wands make great lightsabers