A frozen arctic themed tuff tray

I decided to set up an outdoor tray to get a bit of fresh air – this one is not for the faint hearted! As the temperature has dropped so much I filled the tray with water late last night and i dropped in some snow flake decorations left over from Christmas, and it worked perfectly – frozen solid when I checked this morning.

You will need:

  • Water
  • Various tubs and containers
  • Snow flakes
  • Foaming soap
  • Animals
  • Food colouring

I popped a few bowls and tubs in the freezer overnight filling them with ice – plus one with blue food colouring mixed in with our beloved arctic animals. This was my “back up” just in case the tray didn’t freeze and these could have been an activity all of their own. The first thing Arlo said when he saw this tray was “we need more stuff” – running indoors for his tool set and bits and bobs to get stuck right in.

I covered the entire tray with foaming soap for added texture and colour, hiding lots of the ice at first. With it being so cold I added a couple of washing up bowls of warm water beside him and Arlo set to work – brute force worked to break up the ice with a hammer and picking it up to throw at the ground to smash – but he quickly realised it was also just as fun to add warm water and melt the ice making patterns and swirls.

I had made “igloos” by submerging one bowl of water inside another to freeze and I hid animals underneath these in the hollows and foam so there was plenty more to explore once he finished freeing the ice animals and checked out the rest of the tray – I decided take a step back at this stage and let Arlo lead the play and it became an ice rescue mission.

He was quite happy for a while playing with squeezey fish and trying to get me with water sprayed from their mouths. He rescued all of his arctic animals and ran to put them indoors at this point “for later” – and also decided that he needed to top up the tray with more water from the garden tap so ran back and forth with a washing up bowl for a while.

We ended up with a delightful soup of smashed ice, warm water and foamy bubbles – and mixing and pouring this concoction was fun for Arlo….. some of this ended up in the mud kitchen. I love seeing a tuff tray look well and truly obliterated at the end of a very busy hour. With it being so cold there is still lots of ice left over and so I’ve left this one in the garden to see if it re-freezes overnight and we can get more play tomorrow – maybe an ice rink?

Arlo hid all the animals in an orbee spa indoors and we settled down together to spend our Sunday afternoon watching an episode of David Attenborough’s frozen planet, chatting about all the different animals we have discovered this week. It’s been a fab start to the year with this winter theme – we aren’t ready to say goodbye quite yet so will continue exploring and sharing as we adventure though play – tap the image below to check out more of our fun activities.

Arctic indoor sensory bin activity

Continuing on with our Antarctic and winter themed play activities today I decided to make Arlo up a messy sensory bin of icebergs…. but instead of using a tuff tray outdoors I used a storage container which has a depth of about 20cm which is enough to contain the mess for indoor play.

You will need:

  • A storage box
  • Slime
  • Orbeez
  • Various plastic containers
  • Plastic Animals
  • Water

This was an activity which required a little bit of forward planning but because Arlo loves ice I’m in the habit of freezing things most evenings anyway. My initial idea was to just make huge ice blocks but I fancied a little bit of colour and so I threw some left over orbeez from a previous activity in to some plastic cups, cups, ice cube trays and as many containers as I had space for in the freezer.

They freeze quite nicely in to blocks and then it was simply a case of mixing up our slime stuff and popping our icebergs in to the container before placing the animals in and around, and the letting Arlo loose to play.

I know that Arlo loves this slime stuff and playing with water and cups etc as we usually use it in the bath – so I made this mixture up with half the water required and also provided cups and a jug of warm water – this meant that as water was added the ice bergs melted – the orbeez were released in to the mix and we ended up with a colourful sensory experience.

The best thing about using these under bed storage boxes is that they come with lids so after the play this morning we covered it all up, and then came back to it again this afternoon. I like to try and make the most of these big sensory bins when we use lots of materials so I’ll pop this stuff in to his mud kitchen or on his tuff spot outdoors tomorrow for some more messy play fun.

A snow dough tinker tray

Continuing on with our winter themed activities I have made a batch of snow dough, Thai is slightly different to our usual play dough recipe and has a texture which is a bit like kinetic sand. I added glitter and provided Arlo with a tinker tray and invited him to build snowmen with me.

You will need:

  • One cup of oil
  • Two cups of cornflour
  • Glitter

The secret here is to add the cornflour to the oil and not the other way round because it’s easier to mix it all up. Cornflour is the stuff we use to make oobleck and it’s non Newtonian texture means that it creates an unusual dough texture – its crumbly and flaky but makes fab snow balls. I use baby oil but if you have little ones who still mouth things then you can use vegetable oil just as well. Mixing the ingredients together is a part of the fun for little ones so roll your sleeves up together and get stuck in.

For alternative themes you can add food colouring and scents/flavours to your dough to create a more sensory experience.

I like to use “tinker trays” when we play with dough, they are party platters from Asda. I fill the compartments with random bits and bobs to suit the theme – so with the idea of building a snowman in mind I rummaged around and I found matchsticks for arms, pipe cleaners for a scarf and then various buttons, plus beads and sequins for facial features – and some cotton wool and buds just because they were to hand.

When we do things like this it’s always interesting to see how Arlo interacts with the pieces. I like to make an “example” ready for him to copy and give him an idea of where to start. Sometimes he pushes me aside and wants to completely get involved. Other times like today he sat beside me and gave me orders…. but didn’t want to actually touch anything at first.

He asked for a dog and so I moulded a shape and then he took over and added the button nose, Google eyes and pom-poms himself. He’s come back to the table two or three times to have a play and quite likes the matchsticks but insists that he doesn’t like snowmen so we’ll have to see where we end up. I’m going to try a different type of dough with cornflour later this week so we’ll see how we get on with this.

Melted snowman cookies

Here’s a really simple way to incorporate winter in to your baking….. melted snowman cookies.

You will need:

  • Cookies
  • Icing sugar
  • Marshmallows
  • Food colouring pens

I made a batch of cookies using our three ingredient sugar butter and flour recipe but you could just as easily use a digestive or similar biscuit as a base if you’re short of time.

Simply decorate your marshmallows with your icing pens – orange for noses, black for coal mouths we used blue for eyes – unfortuanlty some of our snowmen didn’t make it last this stage and were consumed as they were!

Stick the marshmallows to your cookies with some icing made up as per the pack instructions and gently spooned over the cookies – the messier the better to create the dripping snow effect.

Winter themed eyfs messy play ideas craft projects for kids

Ice skating messy play tray

This is another really simple ice tray play and one which requires very little set up – inspired by our trip to Warwick Castle where we saw a real life ice rink!

You will need:

  • A flat baking tray
  • An ice cube tray
  • Water
  • Small plastic animals
  • Gellibaff slime
  • A large play tray

Overnight I froze water in a flat baking tray and popped some plastic animals in to an ice cube tray, with half submerged and half not. These set hard and in the morning I mixed up a sachet of gellibaff to create a base on our play tray and make a slightly raised hill to rest the sheet of ice upon. I used a bit of warm water to make the ice slippy and test out our skaters and then I let Arlo loose.

Of course Arlo wanted to race the ice skating animals down the slope and so he took them all neatly off to prepare, experimenting carefully comparing the flamingo to the gorilla and the walrus to the owl – I’ve no idea which animal ended up winning the ice skating race but it was fun trying. As the ice melted away this ended up being another small world environment for the animals and the play continued until we had to clear the tray away to eat at the table.

Holi Powder colour run party… in snow!

If you’ve been following our adventures for a while you will know we love colour – holi powder is one of our favourite things to play with. Last year we had an “over the rainbow” party for Arlo’s birthday at the end of the first lockdown and it went down a storm and so what better way to end the year than with another explosion of colour – even better when the snow arrived unexpectedly to provide an awesome blank canvas for us.

You will need:

  • Holi powder
  • Paper cups
  • Messy clothes
  • Wet wipes

It’s almost as simple and chucking colour at each other in an unorganised fashion. As we have done this so many times I know that it doesn’t last a very long time if you don’t have a little plan, so I’m going to share my top tips. First of all – make sure you have a big open space and give yourself as the adult a base to work from.

I order packs of Holi powder from Amazon in a variety of bright colours – I’ve used various different brands and prefer to go for the ones which are made from natural ingredients and dyes, as then wash away and cause no danger to the environment and also come out of clothing and Arlo’s blonde hair because he is always the one who ends up covered. Read the reviews and check the ingredients before hand – do a patch test if you need to.

The packs of powder go a long way if you divide them up and that’s where the paper cups come in…. in the past I have given kids whole packs and sprinkled it in to hands but it lasted about ten minutes but paper cups work best for us….. for this event I pre filled about twenty cups and placed them all around the area of ground so the kids when they arrived had to run and find the cups to throw them…. this made the play last longer and gave them more of a strategic colour war game to play – when you Chuck the powder in the air you get lovely clouds of colour, and the little ones can achieve this effect with cups too – once this first batch of cups was empty, at my base the kids could return cups for refills and then try and catch each other.

There is just something so fun about this and seeing the kids shriek and mix colours together in the air and on each other’s clothes is exhilarating. You can’t help but join in. The snow added another element as we picked up snow to make rainbow snowballs and continue with the colour experiments and just pelting each other for fun.

Like I said, Arlo is usually the one who ends up covered head to toe in colour and he just loves it! The kids had a little competition at the end to see who could collect all the cups back for a prize of some sweeties and then just like that our crazy hour was over. Just like 2020 and what a way to say goodbye to that year!

January brings the snow messy tray play

Kicking the first Monday in January off with an icy themed tray play. A really low prep activity using resources we already have and adding a twist.

You will need:

  • A flat tray
  • Water
  • Freezer space
  • Tin foil
  • Paint
  • Brushes
  • Animals
  • Loose parts
  • Paper plate

So it’s as simple as adding water to a tray the night before you intend to play. I opted to line a tray with tin foil as I wanted to make sure it was going to look icy and shiny. My top tip here is to pop the empty tray in the freezer and add water with a jug rather than spill water everywhere.

I set Arlo up with some cool paint colours (blue, purple and white) on a paper plate along with some brushes and some Antarctic animals. We’ve been watching lots of David Attenborough as we can’t get out to our favourite places being in tier 4 right now so we have an odd mix of creatures to play with.

We learnt that as we applied paint to the ice it “dried” or froze instantly – we could make animal tracks and tap/slide across the ice. Then we began dipping brushes in water which made some lovely drip effects and patterns in the ice, as well as decorating some stars with the colours too.

Eventually the ice cracked and we did some pretend play with a “naughty walrus” smashing and breaking up the ice – eventually were left with a tray of icebergs and sheet ice for penguins to jump off, polar bears to slide down and a whale shark to hide underneath just like our ice rink before Christmas.

This provided a decent hour of play before the ice melted, with lots of different layers of interaction and independent play. I’m going to repeat this with different variations of colours and accessories to see how we get along.

Christmas dinner 2020 style

Is there a more important meal than Christmas dinner? It’s the one time of the year when everyone pulls out all the stops, but it also creates so much pressure too when really it is just a glorified roast….. which most of us enjoy once a week anyway.

Let’s begin with the table…. this year we had diner for five instead of ten due to the rules around gatherings and so we didn’t have to pull out the wallpapering tables from the shed and ask guests to bring over extra chairs and rearrange the living room furniture. My kitchen table was just the right size for us all in its usual place and so I went a bit over the top decorating the shelves with garlands and making the window look beautiful with all of our crafts.

Our place setting stars were created by Arlo, hand stamped with our initials from terracotta clay, right back at the beginning of December and I fastened a bell to each star with a piece of red wool tied in to a bow. I don’t know why I spent half an hour of my Christmas Day folding napkins, but it was fun to stand in the kitchen with the smell of the food roasting away and sing along to a Festive playlist.

I realised that we didn’t have a “centrepiece” on Christmas Eve and this gave me undue stress – I’ve no idea why but I felt like I just had to have one and so I scrambled around the house to find some little bits and bobs lying around – eventually settling with pressing a little old wreath over a glass jar and then poking in some berries, draping over Arlo’s star Garland and then balancing some of our gold leaf pinecones around on a board for good measure.

When it came to doing the Christmas food shop we decided to head to Aldi, I’d picked up a brochure a week before and literally every time I felt hungry I flicked through the pages and marvelled at all of the pictures. With four adults all off work we had plenty of time and know how between us to make things from scratch, I even bought cranberries with the best intentions but for a relaxed day and with such great value I bought almost everything pre-prepared. When it comes to starters we all have different tastes. Arlo’s was delighted with us huge platter of fruit.

My absolute favourite starter is pâté – served with chutney, chunks of butter and a selection of crackers you can’t go wrong. I ended up going back in the evening for more. My mum adores salmon and so we also served this to complete our trio of starters.

These did require a little bit of preparation, piling on crème fraîche to blinis and then decorating with fresh herbs and lemon. Like I said I bought everything in Aldi, and because the main foods were such great value, I didn’t mind going and getting fresh herbs for everything to give that extra whack of flavour. Would you believe it if I told you that I got our potatoes, carrots, parsnips, swede and sprouts for less than £1? I love the super six offers!

One thing that makes life easy for us is Sharing the work. My mum cooked the turkey in her oven, stuffed with sausage meat and cooked upside down to begin with wrapped in foil to prevent the juices draining from the breast meat. Then flipped and draped with bacon to crisp up and left to rest for a good while before carving. This left us plenty of time to prepare the veg and make everything extra tasty. The pigs in blankets and stuffing balls we bought in pre prepared and so it was simply a case of popping them in the oven in the morning.

We sliced and prepared everything on Christmas Eve whilst Arlo played with a messy play tray we set up for him. The potatoes are the centre of everything, par boiled and then after you drain the water from the pan if you give the potatoes a good shake then it ruffles the edges which makes them go all crumbly and crispy. Throwing in fresh Rosemary and thyme and a couple of cloves or garlic works well, and because it’s Christmas these get roasted in goose fat. Don’t forget to season! We prepared ours just like this and left them in the fridge overnight in an air tight container, ready to go straight in the oven.

The carrots and parsnips were given the same kind of treatment – carrots sliced and sprinkled with thyme and also some fennel seeds as well as seasoning. The parsnips are a simpler affair – we like to drizzle these with honey but do this ten mins before they come out of the oven to avoid them getting burnt.

My red cabbage was made loosely following a Janie Oliver recipe – with bacon, red onion and sliced apple, all mixed in together in a saucepan on a low heat for a long time. I add in star anise to the pan too. I literally never have this any time other than Christmas and every year I question why but I never cook it any other time. Same as sprouts…. although this year was an exception.

The carrot and swede mash is one which can also be made in advance – boiled together and then smashed with lashings of butter and some seasoning – it’s as simple as that. You can make this ahead and then microwave it to serve piping hot. The more butter you add the richer it is, and you can even add double cream too.

The sprouts get a similar treatment, pan fried with bacon and red onions but for an extra kick of flavour I like to add in pomegranate seeds. I don’t know why but it just works and before I discovered these I hated sprouts but these I like to whip up and enjoy as a snack as soon as the sprouts begin to appear in the shops.

As a family we all like to serve ourselves and so everything gets served on big dishes with spoons so that we can dig in, we all pass around the plates and it’s quite a busy affair, and then once people start eating silence descends where everyone is so busy enjoying the food. We all like to raise a glass and a toast wishing each other a merry Christmas and then just like that the meal ends with everyone saying they couldn’t possibly squeeze any more food in.

Christmas pudding comes along much later in the evening, we watched the new Disney movie “Soul” together before even contemplating more food and then it was fun trying to set this alight. The brandy wouldn’t ignite at first and so we added more and more until “whoosh” – I’m not a fan of it myself and I prefer my snacks and savoury nibbles.

I threw together a grazing board for us all to share, with extra pigs in blankets, pate, crisps, olives and all sorts of other bits and bobs and despite the insistence after dinner than none of us could possibly manage another mouthful; the entire plate cleared and we had to top up the snacks several times. It did make a change this year having this rather relaxed evening as usually it’s the time we invite the extended family and end up prepping a buffet for everyone with cold meats and crusty cobs and all the chutneys and cheeses.

This year I put all of the leftovers from Christmas dinner in to a pie dish…. stripping the turkey down to use some of the dark meat and then adding sprouts, stuffing, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and the last of the gravy before covering in a puff pastry. This was our Boxing Day dinner and we also sliced the breast meat for sandwiches too. The best thing account Christmas is the food.

What a year it’s been

Christmas Day has been and gone, I sat looking at the Christmas tree on the evening of 27th December feeling down that Christmas was over and that we have nothing to look forwards to. The news has rumours of another lockdown and tiers with more restrictions and there’s even talks about school closures. For a long time I’ve been waiting to see the back of 2020 but it seems as though the start of 2021 is going to be bleak.

I couldn’t quite motivate myself enough to take down the decorations, even though most of my tree was scattered on the floor, and some of the branches arched down to the floor. It served its purpose, and filled up a corner of our home with rainbow filled festive cheer. I’m glad we got the tree early because December has been a lovely month for us, creating welcome distraction at home with crafts and baking despite having our own personal curve balls thrown in to the mix.

It was wonderful to wake up on the 28th and see snow outside our windows. We abandoned our plans to stay indoors all day (again) and threw on layers of clothes to get out and have a stomp around the local park in some fresh air and boy did it feel good. Arlo hasn’t seen snow like this since he was a baby and so this is his first real experience and it was such a delight to see him so excited, and also see so many families throwing caution to the wind and getting out to do the same.

We threw snowballs, built a snowman and I’ve even ordered a sledge on Amazon prime in the hope that snow comes again and that we are allowed out of the house to enjoy it! I didn’t even mind it when Arlo decided to smash a snowball right in to my face – sometimes you need a day like this to abandon all worries and just enjoy the simple things in life. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to spend so much time with my son, he’s becoming such a funny little personality and I hope that he remembers snippets of days like this forever.

I felt so refreshed that once we got home and warmed our toes I began the task of taking down the tree ornaments and carefully placing all the baubles away for next year. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here… I didn’t manage to clear anything else around the house but it’s a start. I’m going to miss our tree, but now we have space in this room and if we’re going to be home all through January then it’s my plan to try and make this space more interesting for us all.

Now it’s time to prepare to welcome in the new year, and take a look back at some of the positives from 2020. I used a website called top nine to generate (you guessed it) – nine of my top pictures from Instagram and suddenly memories of our summer came flooding back.

I started to scroll through my pictures and realised that even though it felt like we didn’t achieve much or do anything of note this year, we have actually done more together than ever before, I will treasure my rainbow filled pictures of this year and I think it’s time now to get them printed off and create a scrap book to store our memories forever. What a year it’s been!