Posted on 2 Comments

Cute not Creepy: Halloween Activities for Little Ones

Whilst I was browsing the Halloween items in my favourite craft store, Riot*, with Harrison a few days ago, we had a little discussion around making Halloween cute rather than creepy. Now that Harrison is a big boy of, ahem, eight, he wants to purchase all of the sinister skeletons and bags of creepy hands (best not ask!) but I had to explain that this just wouldn’t be suitable with a two year old in the house! When I made a googly garland a couple of weeks ago, people loved that it was a bright and cute Halloween option, so here’s a round up of ideas that your little one will love!

You may also notice a reoccurring craft material running through this post 😉

Googly Garland

googly wreath final.jpg

Aside from being a little time-consuming, this garland is actually really easy to make. All you really need is some cardboard, heaps of pompoms, googly eyes and a glue gun! Here’s how to make your own version:

  1. Cut out a piece of cardboard into a circular shape with a craft knife (definitely an adult job!)
  2. Make an o-shape by cutting an inside circle.
  3. Use a glue gun to attach a variety of sized pompoms. I went for bright colours but you could choose a more traditional Halloween theme.
  4. Repeat process as above with a variety of googly eyes.
  5. If you want the garland to hang, attach a ribbon to the back with either a staple gun or glue gun.

Create a Monster

For the very young, try a playdough invitation to create. Zoey had a whale of a time sticking googly eyes onto her monster and even better still,  this is a great fine motor skills workout. These little monsters were made using store-bought playdough (we used the Tutti Frutti scented variety) but if you want to make your own, click here. 

You’ll probably notice throughout this post little ‘invitations to create’ – this is so that the final creation is really up to the individual. To do your own, either use a  circular paint tray (as featured above) or a plastic serving platter.

 

Potion Making

Got a Harry Potter obsessed kiddo? Then this is perfect! As any fan knows, there’s plenty of Halloween references in the film and Potions is one of the core lessons. We hunted the garden for supplies and added googly eyes plus glitter for a bit of a decorative twist. The pipette you can see Harrison using isn’t essential, but we added it for a bit of a fine motor / hand strengthening workout.

If this puts you in mind to make a more permanent sensory jar, click here. 

 

 Zack the Baby Zombie

baby zombie

Did you forget about Halloween altogether? Then my friends, this is the activity for you! Zack literally took 10 minutes to pull together – thanks in part to the gigantic bloodshot googly eyes from Riot! We actually used the inside circle of the googly garland for this activity, but here’s a quick ‘how to’ on creating your own:

  1. Cut a cardboard circle with a craft knife,
  2. Colour with either paints or pastels. We used a mix of black and white pastels to create the grey. This was only a quick job as the brown of the cardboard box kinda adds to his appearance!
  3. Use either gigantic googlies or make your own. We personally think he looks cuter with oversized eyes and a smaller head!
  4. To make him extra adorable, we added chenille stick hair and stuck the whole thing together with our trusty $10 glue gun.

Sensory Tub

halloween rice

Whilst Zoey is a little too young for some of the crafts we created, she definitely didn’t miss out entirely. I made up a neon rice tub for her and added in some foam bats, pompoms and googly eyes. To add a little skill  based dimension to play, I also included tongs and scoops so that her teeny fingers and hands could get a workout.

If you’re wondering about the colour of the rice, it is actually made from non-toxic pre-mixed neon paint from Little Sprout (no vinegar in sight – hoorah!), To make this version of coloured rice:

  1. Squeeze a blob of paint into a sandwich bag along with a cup of rice (adjust quantities according to your preferences)
  2. Use fingers to squish the paint into the rice or better still, get a small person to do it for you!
  3. Place on a tray covered in baking paper and leave to dry overnight.

If you have a toddler who likely to eat the rice, you may want to go down the food dye route. You can see our other method for dying rice here

 

Egg Carton Spiders

spiders

Zoey is kinda obsessed with eggs and as a result we have plenty of egg cartons in the recycling cupboard. After recently taking stock of the aforementioned overflowing cupboard, I realised that I had rather a lot of cartons that needed using up! Here’s what you need to do to make your own spiders:

  1. Cut individual egg holders and paint black/ colour of your choice. We even covered some of ours in washi tape.
  2. Once dry use a glue gun to add on the googly eyes.
  3. Cut chenille sticks/ pipe cleaners into quarters to use as legs and glue into place.
  4. Add decoration in the form of glitter, posca pens or pompoms.

 

Cardboard Cats

cats 1

When I saw that my insta buddy Cara from @raising.kinley had made super cute Halloween bats, I knew that we wanted to get in on the action so we made a cat version. Not only because we are a little obsessed with cats, but because our toilet roll collection is getting rather out of control! To make these quirky little Halloween cats:

  1. Paint tubes black / colour of choice and leave to dry.
  2. Push one end of the tube inwards to create pointy cat ears
  3. Use a hot glue-gun to add the eyes.
  4. Add a nose, mouth and whiskers with either chenille sticks/ pipe cleaners or a posca pen.
  5. Decorate with posca pens, washi tape or pompoms

 

As always, we’d love to see your own creations, so please post below or tag us in Facebook/ Instagram posts!

Some notes on the crafts: I haven’t included age suggestions with these activities because I always feel its best to leave that up to you, the parents. Your judgement on age/ ability will be better than mine, however obviously always closely supervise the very young as some of the materials used here are pretty small. Whilst we use a low-temperature glue gun, it can still feel pretty hot if it gets on the skin so please keep that in mind – even with older kids! 

 

*Although I mention Riot a lot in my blogs and on my instagram feed, i’m not actually sponsored by them. However, I am open to offers! 😉

Posted on Leave a comment

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. 

Posted on 1 Comment

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 

 

 

Posted on 1 Comment

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!