Plant printing in clay with toddlers

There’s somewhat of a debate when it comes to making beautiful “keepsakes” with toddlers versus letting them experiment and play with mark making. For once I’m firmly on the fence with this. Of course if you have been following us for a while you will know I’m happy to let Arlo run wild and participate in mess making activities with no end game in sight, probably more so than most parents. I also love having a finished “make” and seeing Arlo so proud of his creations and being able to gift them to others has been one of our favourite things to do during lockdown. I wrote all about how different arts and crafts, amongst other things kept us sane here. Valentine’s Day gave us another excuse to get our craft on.

You will need:

  • A selection of natural materials
  • Air dry clay
  • A rolling pin
  • A wooden skewer
  • Heart shaped cookie cutter
  • Tinker bits
  • Grease proof paper
  • Ribbon
  • Card stock

All of the best activities we have done begin with a walk outdoors – it’s nigh on impossible for Arlo to sit down and concentrate on an activity without burning off some energy. We always take out a tote bag and end up bringing home an array of leaves and twigs from every adventure and nature inspires a lot of our craft projects, this air dry clay activity was a simple low prep and last minute plan for a rainy afternoon.

I always provide Arlo with a tinker tray when it comes to playing with dough. As we were approaching Valentine’s Day I had a rummage through the craft stash and found some heart shaped wooden pieces, some sequins and a few buttons for good measure.

This is as simple as it sounds – we rolled out our clay with a rolling pin and then cut our heart shapes. Arlo also decided he wanted to make giant cobra snakes entirely off topic but which we embraced as we had plenty of clay to play with. Some of our snakes did get coiled up in to hearts.

We placed the leaves we wanted to use in to the clay and rolled them in to the hearts with a firm pressure. I had to show Arlo a couple of times exactly how to do this and make a print but he picked it up quickly and began to use some of the tinker items to make his own impressions.

I poked holes in to our hearts and we left them to dry on a layer of grease proof paper. This air dry clay gets whiter as it hardens and makes for a beautiful rustic looking piece all on its own, but we have set some of our pieces aside to paint on another day.

Arlo was happy to thread a piece of ribbon through the hole and I helped him tie a bow and attach it to a piece of red card – which he then “wrote” inside to send to his Valentine (his nanny of course). The clay decoration can be removed form the card and kept as a treasured keepsake and I don’t think this takes away anything from the play experience which Arlo thoroughly enjoyed. We delivered the card alongside some of Arlo’s freshly baked love bug cookies to put a smile on nanny’s face.

How to dye chickpeas for messy play.

I often use rice and chick peas for indoor play activities. They provide the sensory fun element of play but as dry ingredients the clean up process isn’t as daunting as it is with slime.

You will need:

  • Chick peas
  • Poster paint
  • Vinegar
  • A pint glass
  • Sandwich bags

My process for dying the peas is very simple, and I use the same process for rice too. I pop a sandwich bag inside a large glass and then fill it about 1/3 full with peas. Then I squeeze in some paint and add a small splash of vinegar. Then I pick up the bag and scrunch it to disperse the colour around the peas, making sure they’re all evenly covered.

I tend to leave the bags open on the kitchen. side with the peas spread out as much as possible, giving them a scrunch every time I walk past to prevent them sticking together and they do dry fairly quickly. If you’re making a big batch you can spread them out on a tray. I like to prepare a few colours at a time and keep them stored separately in air dry containers to arrange some themed play trays – green for farm land and blue for the ocean etc.

Every so often it’s fun to play with colour and so the first activity we set up with these chick peas was a simple pouring and scooping game. I often use a transparent under bed storage tub for indoor play on a large scale which is about 8 inches deep and it’s great – the peas can be poured at height making a rattling noise. You can use scoops, funnels and all sorts to inspire play and this is more than enough on its own.

We do like to re-use our dry messy play ingredients for as long as we can. My black Halloween chick peas have been with us for three years and are still going strong. Once these neon chickpeas were all mixed together Arlo said they reminded him of a chameleon and so this inspired a whole new game. Arlo went to fetch his toy chameleon and so I went to fetch his favourite book and printed off a colouring sheet from Twinkl at the same time.

I love it when we can link our play to a story and this was a real success. We sat together at the table reading the book and every time a different animal was mentioned Arlo charged through the house looking for his miniature toy creatures, and proceeded to hide them in the sensory bin. While he was doing this I hid the colouring sheet under the transparent base and so when we eventually got to the end of the book I told him the chameleon had camouflaged and so he had to scrape and scoop the chickpeas away to reveal the picture.

He was delighted to eventually reveal the chameleon and then he spent quite a while covering the picture up with chickpeas to match the book cover illustration and decorating his features – pointing out his curly tail and boogely eyes. I sat back happy to see him utilising those fine motor skills and sorting out the colours and counting to himself independently. This gave me another idea and so I fetched a ice cube tray from the kitchen cupboards. Entirely led by Arlo we discovered another way to play with our chickpeas – counting and sorting them out in to the compartments of the tray. He’s getting quite confident now and so I’ve been showing him very basic addition, counting out four and then saying “let’s add one” and asking “how many did we make?” – I don’t sit down with the intention of encouraging reading, writing and counting but when you play like this, there’s often ways you can incorporate learning without even realising.

So there we have it – from one batch of chickpeas we have created a variety of different activities and every single time we do this we uncover more ways to play taking inspiration from different colours and themes. We have been playing with neon and glow in the dark colours this last month as part of our “light and dark” theme and I’ll be uploading more activities very soon. Check out how we used neon paints outdoors here

Painting outdoors with toddlers

Arlo absolutely loves painting, and playing with colours. He hasn’t stopped talking about the snow painting activity we did and every morning he looks out of the window checking for snow. We do of course get our messy play materials out indoors but there’s nothing better than having a giant canvas outdoors. Unfortunately the snow has all gone, but I had an idea and thought we’d kick half term off with something big.

You will need:

  • An old sheet
  • Washing line and clothes pegs
  • Squeezy condiment bottles
  • Water based paint
  • Mark making tools (the broom is optional)

I filled the bottles, using a generous squeeze of paint and topping them up with water before giving them a good shake. This was a very cold day and so my top tip is to use warm water for this. We’ve been playing with neon and glow in the dark colours recently but this is a great activity to try with the three primary colours for mixing and experimenting.

Arlo attacked the sheet with vigour at first, splashing and squeezing the bottles but not long after we began he decided to fetch the broom himself and squeeze colours on to it to apply his colours to the sheet. The wind was strong but this made it all the more fun. He spent quite a while running through the sheet with the broom and laughing at the splashes of colour. I think he was playing at jousting but at this point in time I was taking cover.

The best thing about this activity is that because we have used watered down water based paints, after we have finished I can pop the sheet in the wash and re-use over and over again.

We have been playing with neon colours as part of our light and dark theme recently – check out how we played with dyed chick peas indoors here

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.

Reading Eggs – App Review

This blog contains a review of an app which I was granted free access to.

Follow this link to get 30 days access free to try it yourself

I have begun to introduce Arlo to limited interactive technology during this lockdown as part of our home schooling activities, because let’s face it we can’t have PVA glue and poster paint out 24/7.

Reading eggs came highly recommended and I have been granted free access to the app for the purposes of this review. I have also been given a link to share to give my followers 30 days free access to try it out for themselves free of charge (click here).

So where do I start….. the sign up process is very simple, just like most apps it requires an email/password which gives you access to a parent dashboard to follow your child’s learning journey. Then you get going with a really simple user interface.

Arlo is almost three and so we have explored between the 2-4 and 3-7 age categories, and have really taken our time to get to know different features within the app.

The junior category for the youngest age takes you through to a menu where you can choose to read a book, participate in activities, watch videos or explore the lands.

Each of these options opens a multitude of different options for you – and the sheer amount of resources available is impressive. The videos are extremely child friendly and include educational content. The books feature common toddler friendly themes such as animals and vehicles – and a simple swipe interaction. The sheer number of titles available is worth the subscription fee, plus there books available in multiple languages.

The shining star in this app however is the activities. With fourteen different options to choose from, each focuses on different topics such as matching, sorting, colours and the alphabet , whilst also providing children with the skills they need to interact with technology.

Each activity has a pathway with clear levels, and once you complete an activity your child gets the chance to participate in sensory rewarding tasks and games such as colouring in and balloon popping, and then in turn you earn an egg, which you tap open to reveal a sticker.

The constant audio and visual feedback from the app when your child completes every single action is extremely rewarding and positive for Arlo, and I noticed that when we were going through the alphabet that alliteration was used to correspond to the letter we were working with – Amazing, Brilliant etc. That’s a subtle touch but shows the attention to detail within the design

Another thing I like about this app is that words are sounded out using phonics. This is something I do not know much about, but it’s the way kids are taught these days and so it’s fabulous to have the app teach me so that I can then work on this with Arlo outside of the app – for example sounding out “cuh” “ah” “tuh” when we see a cat.

Once your child completes a task/level this is logged in the parent menu and so you can track progress easily. After enjoying playing with the junior menus we decided to explore the 3-7 menus together.

The first time we accessed this section I noticed the difference in style but the menu layout and pathways idea was very familiar. Arlo instinctively knew where to press and how to interact with the screen to play the more complex games.

The first thing we encountered was a little pop up “quiz” – this is designed to check your child’s ability to guide you where might be best to start your journey. Please don’t worry this isn’t a test and obviously Arlo being not quite three was guided to start at the very beginning.

We began with lesson one which was all about the letter m. The same kind of interactions, (swipes and taps) as learned in the junior menus are required but this time the letters of the alphabet take centre stage and here the repetition of the phonics is even more apparent.

We have alphabet magnets on our fridge and a couple of days after using the app Arlo decided to point out the letter m to me on his own accord and this shows to me that through using this app to play he is learning not only about the sound of letters but their visual appearance in a way which is helping his memory recall.

There is a lot more to this app, we have only just scraped the surface with its features, because I limit screen time. For people who also do the same I have to say I really appreciate the menu design – activities are taking us about 5-10 minutes to complete before earning a sticker, and returning you a menu rather than automatically sending you to the next activity. This provides a natural pause for you to end the screen time if you wish.

Follow this link to get 30 days access free to try it yourself

Nature painting tuff tray

A really simple painting invitation to play.

You will need:

  • Paper plates
  • Brushes
  • Paint
  • Collected materials – pinecones and leaves etc.

We have been collecting all sorts of random bits and bobs on our nature walks, from pebbles, to pinecones and leaves because Arlo takes his scavenger hunting very seriously.

So finally putting all of the bits and bobs to good use I covered Arlo’s tuff tray in brown paper (it’s bright blue and I wanted a neutral canvas) and I then gave him a box with all the materials he needed.

I helped him squeeze out all the colours on to paper plates

Mum tip: I always split the paint colours up like this to help avoid the almost inevitable brown splodge effect when complimentary colours get mixed up.

Then Arlo dived right in with a brush and a pinecone. Painting pine cones is actually really hard work as you have to get the brush in to all the little books and crannies. So this kept him busy for quite some time.

We also moved on to painting other found materials – these giant leaves made a beautiful canvas and we all got involved, sitting around the tray and painting with all of our colours.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon in the garden!

Jam jar candle holders

This is a really simple but effective way to brighten up a garden on summer nights.

You will need:

Jam jars

Tissue paper

PVA glue

Water

This really is a simple craft, preparation is key. Make sure your jam jar is thoroughly clean and free of label gunk, and get your tissue paper cut in to small squares.

We used animal print tissue papers we had in the craft cupboard and then contrasted these with bright plain colours.

Use a lot of glue, in stages to different areas of the glass but be delicate applying tissue as it can tear easily once it absorbs moisture.

You need quite a lot of glue, once our jar was covered I started dabbing the brush in a little water to make sure all the edges were smooth and added extra squares to fill the gaps. The layering of tissue in different areas helps create a more interesting glow.

Once you have finished use a brush to make sure the entire surface is covered with a layer of PVA and then you just need to wait for the glue to dry.

Here’s a video of the entire process – this is literally one of the easiest crafts. Add in a tea light and you have a lovely lantern for the garden ….. please be careful with candles around kids! You can use battery powered candles to be safe.

Toilet roll Peacock activity

This is a really simple craft activity which will be enjoyed by kids of all ages.

You will need:

Toilet roll

Paper plate cut in half

Paint

PVA glue

Bits and bobs

Googly eyes

Small yellow felt or card for a beak

When I say bits and bobs, you can use pretty much anything you have in the craft cupboard. We were going for a rainbow theme to match our window but you could easily divide up the resources and make this a specific colour theme. Think buttons, beads, sequins, lollipop sticks, feathers, pom-poms and tissue paper!

The first stage is to cut your paper plates in half and paint them, I provided just blue and green to make our peacocks tail.

And then you also need to paint your loo roll too. We didn’t waste any time and started to add our bits and bobs without waiting for the paint to dry, we don’t mind getting messy, but at this stage it could be good to pause for a snack or a walk.

Then it’s time to introduce the PVA glue, I pout a bit in a little dish and gave Arlo a paint brush and full access to the bits and bobs to do his thing.

We used glue and a bit of tape to secure our loo rolls to the plates.

Mum tip: for activities like this I sit beside Arlo with my own materials and create alongside him, he likes to imitate and so when I started arranging my feathers he copied me and we were talking about all of the bits and bobs we were choosing and why.

This final thing is to add googly eyes and a beak to your peacocks to give them a face, and voila, there you have it.

The Rainbow Trail

A little project we have been working on recently is to give something back to our local community. I have been using all sorts of inspirational quotes as captions on our Instagram page and I also recently designed a rainbow t shirt for Arlo.

You might have also read some of our scavenger hunt activities which have been going down a treat during lockdown – keeping us very busy.

So here we have our new Rainbow Trail – I have taken some quotes from our favourite films and laminated them with a rainbow. Over the next few weeks we will be hiding these in places we visit on our daily exercise.

We are now allowed to travel further afield for our daily walks and so we will be blogging about our favourite outdoor places to visit now that our amazing adventures can recommence and so if you happen to find a rainbow with our Instagram tag then please do get in touch.

This page will be updated as we hide more rainbows.