We like to take inspiration from our real life experiences. After a trip to Mollymook on the New South Wales coast over the weekend (and with another trip planned next week!), it was the perfect opportunity to create an ocean themed discovery table.
So what’s on the table this week?
A basket of sea creatures:
Baskets are a great way to present toys to little learners. You can choose a theme, like we’ve done here, or present an assortment of sensory items for little ones to explore. The idea of a ‘discovery basket’ is to let your child investigate and choose the direction of play themselves.
Purple, green and blue hues from our Grimm’s rainbow and a little house were perfect for making waves. What we love about Grimm’s is that the elements let the imagination go wild!
Have you tried a kid friendly magnifying glass? Both Zoey and Harrison love theirs. As well as exploring treasures at home, we also often taken them out and about when we go on nature walks.
Magic Beach by Alison Lester was a particular favourite with Zoey over the weekend. I think the fact we we’re visiting the beach everyday, then reading the story made it extra appealing!
The Usborne Mermaid sticker book is another go-to of ours, especially when visiting cafes. I’d recommend them for a screen-free way to entertain the kids when out and about.
Again, the important thing here is making use of resources that you already have or perhaps even go out and support your local library!
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:
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.
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:
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.
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 🙂
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.
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…
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.
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
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
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!
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! 🙂
Visiting a castle is surely a ‘must do’ activity when travelling in the United Kingdom? Warwick Castle, which is described as ‘Britain’s ultimate castle,‘ was our choice on one of the only sunny days we had!
Although we’re currently living in Australia, Warwick Castle is a place I’m very familiar with. As a child, I lived relatively close (only 45 minutes away) and would visit every few years. Whilst it has changed rather substantially since I was little, I love that the general magic of the castle is unchanged.
Here’s our 5 favourite activities from the trip:
1. Trebuchet Talk
If you time your trip right, you get to see all sorts of awesomeness. We got there just as the trebuchet talk started (11.30am). Now the title itself might sounds pretty dull, but it rather underplays the event itself! Essentially, the trebuchet is a gigantic catapult that was used during the 13th century to breach castle walls – I won’t say anymore about that so as not to spoilt the event but the launching of the trebuchet is something you shouldn’t miss!
Letting a kid loose with a bow and arrow might sound like a recipe for disaster, but thankfully the Bowman was used to unpredictable 8- year-olds! Although this wasn’t included in the ticket price, I’m all for encouraging new activities and Harrison was super keen to try this one. We paid £5 for 12 arrows: the extra spend proved worth it when it was declared Harrison’s ‘favourite activity of the day.’
3. Flight of the Eagles
Warwick keeps an impressive collection of birds of prey. One of the main-stays at the castle is the ‘Flight of the Eagles’ where you get to see the magnificent predator in action. There’s something rather wonderful about watching an eagle swoop the ancient grounds whilst its handler explains the hunting methods. If you really love your birds of prey, you can also book a special package where you can hold and even feed them – something we’d definitely do in the future!
4. The Horrible Histories Maze
The Horrible Histories Maze is one of the newer attractions at Warwick Castle. The aim of the game is to reorder the mess Rattus Rattus has made of time by collecting stamps of each era, then find the way out. At the age of 8, it provided Harrison with the perfect mix of challenge and learning.
Moreover, us Thomas’ are a competitive bunch: give us a challenge and we will go for it full-throttle. Whilst we didn’t get around to collecting the prize for completion, we were super thrilled with the stamps. As an added bonus, we also got to learn a fair amount about the six eras in a true ‘horrible histories’ style!
5. The Castle Grounds
Whilst this might seem completely obvious, walking around the castle grounds themselves is one of the best things you can do at Warwick – particularly if you’re more of an outdoorsy person like myself. Some of our favourites include: visiting the peacocks on the conservatory lawns, climbing the north wall to imagine life as a soldier and scaling the mound to view the spectacular grounds.
Also worth checking out this summer…
Unfortunately, we missed out on some of the big events that Warwick hold each year: Jousting and The War of the Roses as they are only held during the summer season. We’ve seen them both in previous years and I have to say that watching jousting is a memory that will last a lifetime. If you’re planning a visit, it’s really worth checking out the website to see exactly what’s on.
Another time we’d love to visit the newly opened Knights Village Lodges in order to fully immerse ourselves in the experience – I reckon that would make for a brilliant birthday present!
If I wasn’t currently living in Australia, I’d be trying to get my paws on a Merlin annual ticket as they currently have a sale on. This would get you entry into a number of memorable attractions such as Legoland, Alton Towers and Sealife.
We paid £26 for 2 adults and £23 for a child’s ticket. (Zoey at 18 months was free). It’s definitely worth checking out share packs of Cadbury’s chocolate because they have a ‘buy one adult ticket, get one free’ offer on all of the Merlin attractions.
There’s no denying that Warwick Castle is an expensive experience BUT I would say that it’s completely worth it. The trick is to be clever with how you approach the day:
Park in the nearby St Nicholas Park (£4.50 for all day versus £6 in the castle car park). Although it involves more walking, I personally think it adds to the atmosphere. You can always checkout the park itself afterwards!
Unless your kids are over 10, just buy the standard ticket. The dungeon is only suitable for those 10 and up, plus there’s plenty to see and do anyway. Don’t forget to check out the Cadbury’s packs too – any excuse to eat chocolate is surely a good thing!
Consider a packed-lunch. We personally felt the restaurant was a little overrated for the price and we’re pretty disappointed that certain stalls weren’t open during our visit (basically we’re still bitter that we couldn’t have a hot pork roll!)
Give your kids a maximum of £5 spending money for the gift shop. There’s a lot of gimmicky products that are fantastic for the day, but probably won’t see the light of day afterwards. Harrison bought a foam mace that he loved for approximately 2 hours and hasn’t used since!
Encourage the kids to choose experiences (e.g. archery lesson) over merchandise like refillable drink bottles. They will remember their arrow hitting the target, but I doubt they will fondly recall their third coca-cola!
We hope that you find this guide useful. Please comment below if you have any questions or indeed to add your own favourite Warwick Castle activities! Don’t forget to hit ‘follow’ for regular updates on education, travel and crafts with kids or like us on instagram and Facebook.
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!
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.’
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!)
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!)
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.
‘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!
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:
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Intermsofclassworkmissed, 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.
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.
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.
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!
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 🙂