Sensory play at Christmas – feat Hexbug

I think Christmas can be a brilliant time of year for sensory play. Earlier this week Joss and I spent an afternoon with a bowl of water, some ice-cubes and blue food colouring and had an amazing time playing with her plastic sea animals in the water and watching the ice cube ‘icebergs’ melt!

This year these are some of the gifts that Joss will be receiving, bath crayons, foam shapes to stick on the walls of the shower, and foam silly soap all intended to encourage more sensory play.

Image from Magic Toy Shop

Image from Magic Toy Shop

I’ve also bought a set of these sensory tubes for scientific explorations; I’ll be filling them with water, glitter and glue to make sparkly sensory tubes; Joss loves putting things in and out of containers so I know these will be a big hit.

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Now that she’s getting older I thought about other toys to support her learning. When HEXBUG contacted me about their range of robots for children I was really intrigued! By leveraging their robotics expertise HEXBUG toys launched a Micro Robotic Creatures product line designed to give children a positive experience with robotics at a young age – these are some of the coolest toys I have EVER seen!  Look at this Battle Bridge, a brilliant arena for HEXBUG toys robots to interact in.

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Our childminder has a selection of HEXBUG toys and Joss loved playing with them, so I was only too happy to add a HEXBUG toys review to this sensory play post.  The Aquabot range starts at a super reasonable £7.99 for a single Aquabot; a robotic fish that really swims, these totally delight children, and why not, they move with such realistic actions that it’s hard to believe they’re robotic!

We reviewed the Aquabot 2.0; this interactive environment provides the fun experience of having a pet fish, without all the messy clean-up or need to remember to feed the fish, perfect for us and even better Joss can get her hands in and get wet too!  The comes pre-set with batteries and spares, and with a small tank and stickers to decorate the environment for the fish! At £14.99 for the Aquabot 2.0 and bowl this makes a great all round gift.

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The Aquabot encourages kids to let their imaginations run wild as they care for their new pet. After five minutes without activity, the fish goes into sleep mode to conserve battery life, Joss found this utterly fascinating and even more fun as the fish can be awakened by tapping on the tank, and off it goes swimming again!

Other robots in the HEXBUG toys ranges react to light and sound or movement, these are brilliant little toys to introduce children to science and foster a love of engineering too; oh and they’re pretty fun for grown ups too!

Why not think about giving a fun sensory or scientific gift this Christmas?
Disclaimer: We were sent an Aquabot 2.0 for review purposes, all views are our own

7 ways to raise a reader

I’ve always loved reading and have some really happy memories of children’s books. My hands down favourite book was Hairy Mclary From Donaldsons Dairy by Lynley Dodd, what a rascal!

7 ways to raise a reader

Until recently Joss showed very little interest in reading, she liked books, sure, but mainly to transport around, stack and have the off flick through.  It’s only now, this week, at nearly 30 months old that she shown any interest in settling down to really take interest in a story (I have to say for a short while I was worried she might not love books!)

So in my two and half years of reading with a fairly disinterested child, here are 7 ways to raise a reader, or seven things I’ve learned about encouraging young children to read.

7 ways to raise a reader

7 ways to raise a reader

1) Take it out of the home

And into your local library, there are some great reading groups for kids that happen there, and they’re often lovely places for children to explore and start to get a feel for the kids of books they like the look of.  Mums’ Days wrote a brilliant post about taking children to the library from an early age, it’s a must read if you’re new to the library.  Make sure you ask for a library card for your littley and if you’re a reader yourself and don’t already have one then get one for yourself too, choose the odd read for yourself and that way your children get to see the whole library and not just the kids section.

2) Go for what is age appropriate

I think I probably aimed too high trying to settle down with my favourite Julia Donaldson with a five month old Joss!  I was just excited about it and forgot that books are about so much more than just reading together, they’re for bonding, exploring and chatting about too!  For younger children opt for very tactile fabric books like the one you can see in my photos above.  Then move onto board books with peek a boos and then onto longer stories and paperbacks too.

3) Repetition, repetition

So you’ve been looking at the Hungry Caterpillar ten times a day for weeks now and it’s wearing thin?!  Children learn lots of new words through repetition and so tend to like books with a lot of repetition, rhythm and rhyme too.   Try to be animated in your reading and look for books similar to the ones they tend to like to add interest.  The first book Joss really showed interest in about three weeks ago now was Room on the Broom, then we moved to Tabby McTat which I really like too, this morning in the shower Joss said really clearly “Tabby McTat is a Busker cat” which was so adorable, shows that she is enjoying the books we’re choosing together and highlights something that I find really interesting too – she’s starting to show a love for word play which I really find fun too!  She’s been rhyming and making up daft words like basket lasket, grinny binny and pocket mocket, this tells me that we’ve a rhymer on our hands!

4) …and something to add interest

I noticed early on that lots of kids books have loads of details in the illustrations that add interest and give us more to talk about.  We noticed in Fox’s Socks that there’s a sweet little mouse on every page and that ducks seem to crop up a lot around Mr Fox’s house, you start to spot stuff that kids don’t to add interest for you, and then you can ask them to look out for these ‘extras’ too!  Is there anything you’ve spotted or noticed about the books you like to read?

5) Share a book you love

Let your children see you reading to share the love, but also show them books you liked as a child to bring reading to life, chances are you’ll be really enthusiastic about reading an old treasure, which is how I reacted when we read Dogger with a tear in my eye recently!

6) Follow their interests even if it means looking at non-fiction

I wouldn’t have thought about looking at non-fiction in the library until Joss showed an interest in the ‘big boys and girls books’ and I’m so glad we looked!  After our trip to Druridge Bay we got out ‘My First Book of the Sea’ and she loved looking at and talking about the treasures we found on our holiday.  Non-fiction can really appeal to their interests, look for books about vehicles, animals, wildlife etc, things that are of relevance to your children’s lives, you might find that it really sparks their love of books too!

7) It’s no big deal

If your littley is disinterested and wriggles away either start with very short books and build up or simply put the books away for another time, Joss loves motor activities at all hours of the day but I’ve noticed that her quiet time comes at about five when we’re prepping dinner, picking up a book at this time has really worked well for her, it’s a time when she’s tired but concentrates well, a good time for a book whilst waiting to be fed!  It means we don’t yet do a ‘book before bed’ but 5pm is a time of day that we both enjoy for now.

Mums' Days

5 ways to overcome common toddler fears

Common Toddler Fears

I recently did a straw poll of over 50 mums and dads with toddlers to identify a list of common toddler fears; the following were identified as common:

Hand driers

Dogs

Mannequins or people in fancy dress

Bugs and creepy crawlies

Public toilets

Lawnmower

Vacuum cleaner or hoover

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Not so common toddler fears

As this was an unscientific poll it did throw up some really interesting fears, some very specific and as a precursor to saying that we shouldn’t belittle our little one’s fears later in this article there are some that were too funny not to mention.  These included:

“My daughter 2 year old is scared of the toilet because it has eyes on the inside of the lid…And she is scared of mannequins, especially the ones that don’t have any facial features… in a nutshell- if it has a face she probably won’t like it and if it doesn’t have a face she’s not happy either..”

“Fat men he doesn’t know. Not even joking. It’s embarrassing when he starts getting upset and hiding because of the big fat man”

“Oh and the wheat bag thing you stick in the microwave. He’s 2″

“The wobbly shed! PS it doesn’t wobble”

“Big mega poos until they come out”

5 ways to overcome common toddler fears

We had a spell recently where Joss started asking ‘what’s that noise’ and asking to be carried or hugged if we heard a hoover, lawnmower, loud roadworks, car alarm etc.

More concerning for us as parents though was a really tough time where she was scared of M.O.N.S.T.E.R.S (yep monsters, we had to spell it out to avoid using the word for a good month and a half).

From the scary – “there’s a monster in my bed Mammy, it’s purple and I don’t like it” –  to the ridiculous – hearing “what’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster, is it a monster” by The Automatic in a charity shop and Joss needing to leave the store NOW to get away from it! – it wasn’t an easy time as it really disrupted her sleep and disturbed her.

The problem was, Joss was unable to say what a monster was or where she’d heard the word or got the idea to be scared so it was hard for us to tackle.  Here’s what we found worked after some research, these form our 5 ways to overcome common toddler fears

1) Recognise the fear

Don’t belittle their fear, it’s very real for them however imagined or surreal it might seem to us big people.  We acknowledged that Joss was scared of monsters and talked about them in a way she could understand, I said that I could understand how it felt to be afraid – “it’s hard when something is scary, I understand you don’t want to go into the living room, let’s hold hands and go in together”

2) Talk about the fear truthfully, use books or other tools

Rather than saying that there’s no reason to be afraid or that monsters are not real we talked about them instead.  She had some books about monsters, we talked about how they looked silly, what colours they were, that they made us laugh.  She still had this dialogue of ‘monsters are scary’ but that slowly started to be replaced by ‘monsters are silly…’  We had some tough decisions about whether to start with monster spray or clear the room rituals that Id read about, I am glad we avoided these as I think they may have sustained or reinforced the fears instead, I think it helped more to be consistent and offer lots of repetition and praise.  For slightly older children asking them to draw a monster or another fear might be a useful tool

3) Use lots of praise

I praised Joss’ efforts to overcome her fears, we had a spell where she insisted there was a scary monster under her chair, I encouraged her to point to the scary monster and say you’re not scary, you’re silly, and when she did I used lots of praise and encouragement, when she started to get scared of loud noises we did the same.

4) Use humour but don’t laugh about it if they’re upset

Children can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary so don’t laugh at them when they’re afraid, help them talk their way through the fear with you instead.

5) Make nighttime less scary

At the height of our time exploring monster fears Joss started to show signs of becoming afraid during bedtime, we did a lot of work to reassure her that Mammy and Daddy are here for her and we kept the hall light on for a few evenings.  Over time her fears started to subside.  Then we noticed that at times of change, my working away for a few days or her grandparents going on holiday and not seeing them for a little while seemed to unsettle her and bring back the fears again.  With lots of praise and reassurance we have been helping her to understand change and prepare her for change by talking to her about where she is going for the day, what we are doing and building a strong sense of attachment.

As her fears decrease she has become bolder, sometimes shouting monster, run! She has also started to draw monsters and give them names so we’re moving away from something she’s too scared to speak about to her being able to be much more vocal about the fear and work it out for herself.

Do your little ones have any fears?  How do you help them through?

Mums' Days

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Toddler Printable Library in a Box!

If like me you have a child that absolutely adores libraries, stickers, stamps and books then I have the perfect Toddler Printable Library in a box for you!

Joss loves our local library and asks to help stamp the books when we pop in on a Saturday, I wanted to recreate this as a play activity we could do during her quiet time at home.  She’s really into role play so this will make a nice change from playing  ‘shops’ for a while!

I made Joss a little Library Box with bookplates, a date stamp, library cards and stickers and other stamps so that she can play ‘librarian’ at home, and now you can too!

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These Toddler Printable Library cards and labels are free for you to download and print as many times as you like!  Just paste the label onto a shoebox, cut out the cards and bookplates and fill your box with stamps, ink, pens, stickers and hey presto, your little one is a Librarian!

Library label

library cards Printable cards

I’d love to see what you add to your own library boxes, if you print them pop back and let me know how your library play goes!

 

Getting crafty with The Creation Station!

This is the first in a series of posts about getting crafty with your kids, and where better to start than getting crafty with The Creation Station’s founder Sarah Cressall!

As well as running a growing business Sarah is mum of three boys and so I’m very grateful to her for taking time out of her busy schedule to be interviewed about crafting with children; her passion for nurturing creativity and design shines through!

Sarah Cressall and family

Sarah Cressall and family

Offering children’s arts and craft classes and parties The Creation Station is all about encouraging children to have a go and to try out their own ideas encouraging sensory play, experimenting and interacting with others through art. With franchises nationwide there’s sure to be a class near you!

I asked Sarah five burning questions about craft with kids and here’s what she had to say:

1) Do you have any advice to offer mums and dads or carers who feel they’re not very creative in getting started with craft with their children?

It can feel overwhelming to know where to start. The best advice is really to just see creativity as a journey of learning. It’s really helpful to see creativity as just exploring and experimenting rather than focussing on a specific end product. That helps take pressure of trying to teach, and turn it more into enabling a fun opportunity to learn together though play. With some newspaper and old clothes and some creative materials it’s amazing to see what happens. A relaxed atmosphere really helps the ideas, creativity and giggles to flow.

2) What are your favourite ideas for summer themed craft activities?

Ooo! I’ve loads! I love children being able to enjoy doing creative stuff together. I love having friends round and letting the children get out all the painting tools and buckets of water and water painting the garden!

Chalk drawing on the patio is fun especially if they make a draughts board or hop skotch, or drawing a target to throw balls into.

As my boys have got bigger origami water bombs have gone down really well. Also letting the children paint each other faces – and the grown ups is great fun. Important to remember to wash your face if your popping out to the shop though!  Really it’s about finding creative play opportunities that they can really get involved in and have fun.  The magical thing about creative fun is it inspires all ages. We find our family fun sessions work really well for families who maybe have a 2yr old a 5 yr old and a 8 yr old cousin who’s visiting. Everyone does it in their own way – and that’s how true creativity is nurtured and developed.

Brilliant butterflies from Creation Station

Brilliant butterflies from Creation Station

3) I get really excited about all the possibilities for crafting with my daughter but sometimes feel she’s a little too young for them, what would you say is the best way to introduce babies and toddlers to craft and messy play that’s age appropriate?

What’s lovely is your passion and enthusiasm will come across – and that’s a wonderful way to play with babies, toddler and children of any age! The sensory development through hands on creative play is a wonderful way for babies and toddlers to learn about their world. So some ideas are to introduce a range of safe materials and textures. It’s helpful not to have any expectations of making things. Just sharing, talking about and exploring the different shapes, sounds, textures, colours, smells is a wonderful fun, bonding experience that you can both enjoy and grow through.

Fun for all ages with The Creation Station

Fun for all ages with The Creation Station

4) Many of my readers have children of different ages and at different stages, are there ways to involve children of different ages in the same activities?

That’s such a great question and one that many families naturally have to deal with. Our approach to nurturing creativity is a bit different to others. Instead of starting with the end in mind we encourage a journey of thinking.  One of the magical aspects of arts and crafts is that every person can use materials in a way that inspires them. So a 2 year old could create with card board boxes and paper and glue in a completely different way to an 8 year old, and they both feel really proud of their creations.

5) And finally do you do any ‘grown up’ crafting in your spare time, and if so what do you like to do?

I love design and the arts and still love making things myself. As a family we are trying to build an outdoor cinema in the garden- well, the plan is a deck and roof and a projecter. We’ve had great fun knocking down the old shed, sawing and building the deck and roof and painting it. As far as smaller projects go I’m often inspired by what I see within our franchise network. We’ve been working on our favourite top tips and and ideas and are now writing them up and sharing them through our soon to launch Creative Sparks site (Ed.- sounds exciting, watch this space!)

Huge thanks to Sarah for sharing her crafting insights, she gave me real food for thought about a journey of thinking that I would extend into other areas of my parenting and our play and learning together.

I’d love to here from readers about the activities they try out with their little ones – what activities does your family enjoy?

Disclaimer: I interviewed Sarah to gain ideas for my readers, this is not a sponsored post but a post for the love of craft!  All photos were supplied by The Creation Station

Taking Baby for their First Haircut and Other Adventures

Real life

What a change in the weather, back to grey skies and rain but it’s been a lovely week nevertheless. Last weekend started with a child-free day to myself, a rare treat and time for a haircut and spot of shopping. The weekend saw the arrival of mr sunshine and the building of a garden bench, then we had a lovely Tuesday seeing Hannah and Reuben from Mumsdays in the morning and a first haircut for Jossy too.

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At the Hancock

I was delighted to be handed her first curl for our tots memory book, it completes her book and though I feel sad that we’re drawing a close on the ‘baby’ months this little girl is a joy to be around!

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The hairdresser was brilliant with Joss, I recommend going somewhere you go yourself, I love our stylists at my local salon, friendly and bubbly they really put Joss at ease, they asked her about her day and talked to her like she was a grown up which she loves, then when she was relaxed she had a quick trim to get her used to the experience, there were no tears, no need for distractions and a lot of smiles!

Blog life

In blogland I had a really popular post on making a summer garland this week, if you’d like to make one yourself details are here!

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Inspiration

I also lost a few hours this week on a bit of a bloggy jaunt which started with this beautiful book, following some of the blogs it mentions somehow led me to find the blog Junkaholique for which I am very grateful, what a treasure-trove of inspiration and loveliness!

homemade

Mums' Days

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Helen Stephens’ Betsy Makes A Splash Review

“My name is Betsy and I have a mummy, a daddy and a Rufus”

Egmont UK sent us the most glorious book to review; Besty Makes a Splash! by Helen Stephens.  A sign of a good book is that I can’t photograph the cover for little hands!

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Helen Stephens has written and illustrated lots of books for babies, toddlers and older children, remember Michael Morpurgo’s JoJo the Melon Donkey? Helen illustrated it!

I just looked up her beautiful website too, you know some illustrators just appeal to you?  Well for me her work just ‘sings’ – she captures expressions beautifully!

WP_004869 This is just one of the books in a lovely series about Betsy, they’re all about first experiences, swimming and school, visiting the doctor, and with more to follow in 2015 it’s clear these books are aimed at preschoolers getting to grips with new things, seeking reassurance and dealing with lots of emotions.

Joss often says to me ‘I’m not sure’ when we’re doing something new so it was lovely to read Betsy saying ‘I wasn’t sure’ about jumping into the pool!

She soon sees that swimming is fun and of course she doesn’t want to leave.

Joss is really pondering this page whilst I was getting my work bag ready today!

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Look how brilliantly Helen captures this moment that we’ve all experienced, bet they’ll be stood their for half an hour popping 10p pieces in!

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With a soft padded tactile cover and well spaced text, lots to look at and spot on each page and a new experience to chat about I see the Betsy series growing with Joss; one for us to read together and chat about as well as for her to pore over!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book for review purposes, all views are my own

Misheard lyrics

I love when people totally mishear lyrics, this list by Clash Music is brilliant, of course at number one is Hendrix’s Purple Haze, “scuse me while I kiss the sky” often heard as “scuse me while I kiss this guy”

It seems we have our own little mishearer of lyrics, thinking about it, some of the words in songs are so complex that children must pick up the rhyme and rhythm way before they understand the words, hence this beauty of Joss’ that I’ve tried to write word for word – ladies and gents, I give you, the Grand Old Dupalork!

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This cracked me up as I had been having a rough day and needed a good chuckle but I was so proud to hear her have a bash, it took place whilst she was wearing these excellent pipecleaner glasses Daddy made, couldn’t get a good pic though as she was marching up and down again!

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What about your little ones, any good misheard lyrics from nursery rhymes?

Ethans Escapades

the outtakes

Wot So Funee?

Never to young for a rainy day craft box!

At school I loved a rainy playtime, stuff came out of the cupboard that you only got to see on a rainy day, the novelty factor was high!

I started a craft box for those days when Joss and I needed a distraction.

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It’s something new and different from the usual or for grouchy days where something she hasn’t seen for a while takes her interest and calms her. Teething days can be especially tough as she seemingly goes from one dangerous activity to another because she feels frustrated! On days like that I find it hard to concentrate so I have stuck a list in the box lid with ideas for messy play:

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It includes the ingredients for playdough and mentally prompts me to remember something I read a while back, that children are the opposite of gremlins and find water calming so if she starts to get a bit ‘gremliny’ there are some bath activities on there too!

how-to-really-love-a-child

Anyway, what’s in the box?

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I buy the contents from charity shops, discount stores and supermarkets, if you’d like to stock your own here’s our rundown of the things we like:

Felt pens, pencils and crayons
Pipe cleaners
Pom poms
Tongs and small pots for picking up pom poms and sorting
Googly eyes
Nice pieces of scrap papers
Blank card
Glitter
Shredded paper
Sponges and paint rollers
Paint
Stickers

And what we currently have:
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We’ve been doing a lot of painting recently
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But we’ve also been exploring, mainly pom poms and pipe cleaners at the moment, pipecleaners pushed in the holes of a colander are a big favourite, as is picking up and sorting pom poms with tongs!

What’s in your rainy/grouchy day activity box?

Easter Egg Eyes Printable Game!

As part of my toddler play series we’ve been looking at new ideas for play at home, especially on a rainy day.

Joss and I have been drawing faces recently, as she knows most body and face parts now.  We’ve been playing with a set of googly eyes I picked up in a local craft shop for 50p this week and have progressed from these drawn pictures and I’ve been making printables for her to put the eyes on.

They started off all over, now she’s starting to put them in the right place!

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On my list of things I never thought I’d say – “put your eyes in the pot now Joss it’s tidy up time!”

I made an easter egg printable for her and thought others might like to use it either with googly eyes or just circles of paper with eyes drawn on!  For older ones try a ‘pin the eyes on’ style blindfolded version!

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Happy Easter Folks!

Ethans Escapades