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.

Umberslade Farm Park Pony Experience

We find ourselves in the midst of tier three right now just before Christmas and many of our planned activities have been cancelled. I’m heartbroken for all of the businesses struggling right now amidst the chaos of 2020 and am also delighted to see places such as Umberslade Farm try to make the most of things.

During the summer we visited and went on a 5k trek around the grounds and I noticed recently they are offering a one hour toddler pony experience for £35. This is a completely unique experience and I haven’t managed to find any horse experiences in Birmingham for children Arlo’s age and he is animal mad so of course I jumped at the chance to book this up.

The £35 booking fee is for the entire family and this can include up to six people. I organised this for a day we would be taking care of Paloma, and they both loved every second. Prior to arrival Charlotte had sent us an email to remind us to wrap up warm and prepare for mud. The thermometer was reading just one degree today but we set off out for our trek regardless.

Just before we met Charlotte at our agreed time slot we had a chance to grab a drink from the cafe and a quick run around in the park. The pigs were also nearby to say a quick hello and then it was time for our experience to begin. Charlotte led us to the main barn, the goats we had fed when they were tiny back in February were jumping up to say hello, as were the donkeys…. the llamas looked like they could take or leave us if I’m honest and as we walked past their fluffy turned up noses we met our pony for the first time.

Peppa our beautiful white pony was chosen by the kids because she looks just like a Unicorn. Charlotte gently encouraged Paloma and Arlo to take the reigns and lead her out of the barn and across the yard to a stable where we got properly acquainted. We were the only family and so had the entire place to ourselves, which meant the kids got a really special experience.

Peppa was given a good brush and then dressed with her boots, saddle and matching bridle – this experience enabled the kids to get up close to the pony, and so by the time it came to put their helmets on they were feeling extremely confident and rearing to go.

It was Arlo’s turn first to leave the stable yard on Peppa and head to the bottom of the famous Umberslade estate drive, we walked along chatting away happily together before we paused for a swap, and Paloma then got in the saddle to take the lead on the trek up the hill through the muddy puddles – eventually we discovered a breathtaking view just in time for the sunset.

We had a chance to take some pictures together at the top before changing for the kids to take a second turn each riding as we head back retracing our steps. Peppa seemed delighted to splash through all the muddy puddles and walked faster back because she knew she had a carrot to look forwards to. Having the chance to view the estate from this vantage point at sunset was just magical.

We returned back to the yard safe and sound at the end of our hour and said our goodbyes to Peppa, both Arlo and Paloma were entirely overwhelmed and sat in the car all the way home chatting about their experience. We had such a beautiful time and we really hope that we can come back and continue to visit Umberslade and all of the other animals in the not too distant future.

December is sold out but keep an eye out on their Facebook group and website for updates

Bug Hotel

Welcome to Rainbow Towers! Our bug hotel was an amazon find, the basic wooden box arrived flat pack and had to be glued together which didn’t take too long at all. Then is was just a case of doing a little bit of interior design. I set up a nature tuff tray and we set to work.

The straw, pine cones and bamboo sticks all got the rainbow treatment before being wedges firmly in to the bug hotel and we nestled it in one of the borders of the garden amongst some leaves.

Arlo is absolutely obsessed with bugs and mini beasts after our mini beast scavenger hunt activities and has been delighted to check the hotel and find little creepy crawlies have already taken up residence behind the bamboo straws.

I’ll come back and update with pictures when I dare to get closer!

Toilet Roll Airplane Craft

Our little spitfires were made during our busy VE Day celebrations, using toilet rolls and a bit of scrap cardboard.

You will need:

  • One loo roll
  • Cardboard
  • Paper fastener
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors or scalpel
  • Paint

First things first you need to cut your wing, propellor and fail shapes out of some scrap card. I used a template to do this.

Then score some horizontal lines in to your roll to slot the wings and tail in. I checked everything fit together at this stage, the marked the spot for the tail piece to slot in vertically before making another small cut.

I used a paper fastener to secure the propellor to the circular piece of card and then used masking tape to attach this circle piece to the loo roll, making sure that everything rotated well.

I gave Arlo all the pieces and a selection of green and brown colour paints to go wild. He really nailed the camouflage print without me even helping!

We went off out for a walk leaving everything to dry before coming home to assemble all the bits.

It’s as simple as that! Here’s a little 15 second video tutorial:

Osmo: The little Genius Starter Kit – Review

Disclaimer: We received the product featured in this blog free of charge

Introducing kids to technology is a divisive parenting choice. Finding the right screen time for children is such a difficult challenge, and there are many parents out there who understandably want to avoid it as much as possible. I think Play Osmo have developed an innovative new product which addresses the need to introduce children to technology but also encourage imaginative play.

During this lockdown period we have all experienced the benefits of technology, from PE with Joe Wickes to family quizzes over zoom, and the safari park live stream of an animal birth. Trying to keep Arlo amused for any length of time is exhausting and I’ve been looking for activities which keep him occupied for long enough to effectively work from home.

So…. what is Osmo? In a nutshell it’s an interactive accessory for a tablet such as an iPad (a full list of compatible devices is available here).

In the little genius starter kit there is:

  • a base for a device
  • A clip on reflector
  • A play mat
  • A container of 19 costume pieces and a model.
  • A container of 38 silicone shapes

The containers of accessories are compatible with four different apps and you can also purchase add on’s so as your child grows this toy develops with them.

Prior to introducing this to Arlo I removed the contents from the box and installed the four apps compatible with this kit, plus the parent app too. This was a fairly intuitive process. The user interface is simple to navigate, it took about ten minutes to register with my email and become acquainted with the layout. I waited for Arlo before attempting a game walkthrough together.

The containers within the little genius start kit are compatible with two apps each. Arlo is at the younger end of the 3-5 age for this set and rarely gets to see my iPad so I wasn’t quite sure how well he would respond but as soon almost as soon as we opened the “stories” app a friendly bear like monster named Mo appeared on to our screen to introduce himself, and beckoned Arlo to tap the screen to choose from three stories.

We placed our character out on the map carefully in line with the reflector and the same character appeared in front of us on the screen and asked Arlo to choose him an outfit for his adventure. We had spread all the different costume pieces out on the table in front of us and Arlo spent quite a while making his first decision.

Each costume piece is extremely well designed, with what appears at first glance to be a crazy combination of accessories, for example there’s some legs in a boat, hands holding a guitar and a squirrel in pink hair!

Arlo chose an outfit from the puzzle pieces and we slotted them on to our character on the play mat. Almost instantly the character on screen was dressed in the same costume, and he happily bounced along until he met a penguin who was in a predicament and needed us to help him out.

Here’s where the educational bit comes in – instead of directing Arlo to look for the squirrel, guitar or the boat – every encounter on screen created a problem which required solving. We were asked to find a way to wake up a sleeping polar bear – Arlo wasn’t sure at first what to do and so we had a little chat about what would wake you up if you’re sleepy, and he eventually pointed out the costume with the parrot because they’re noisy – I directed him to change his characters costume on the mat which in turn changed his appearance on screen and then the accessories all flashed on the screen and so we could tap the parrot to select it.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the right solution, but the character politely suggested we perhaps try using one or two other objects, so we hunted around to find the costume which featured the suggested items – eventually our on screen bear was woken up with our character playing a gentle guitar tune. The bear revealed a reward and we carried on our way. The story consisted of four or five different problems to solve before coming to a natural conclusion.

No sooner had the story finished, Mo the monster appeared congratulating us on the adventure and offering up three more different story themes – I’ve seen penguins, pirate treasure and space rockets appear amongst other things already. Arlo happily went through seven stories the very first time we used this app.

He wasn’t quite ready to use it independently immediately but his confidence is growing rapidly with every interaction. Each of the four apps utilises the interactive technology in a different way – the use of the silicone shapes within the ABC’s app is fascinating and we have only just scratched the surface.

The parent app allows you to see how much play time you have experienced and within the storied app lets you know how many obstacles have been solved. This ability to track progress and really understand how your child is utilising play time is extremely valuable to me to ensure I am able to stay in control of screen time and make sure we are maximising the opportunity to learn.

I shared a little video walk through of the stories app on my IGTV if you would like to take a look:

Gifted product post “You can either run from it, or learn from it” – Rafiki Toddlers and tech – up until recently I’ve been avoiding too much screen time but I have decided to embrace toddler technology after our experience with this little genius starter kit gifted from @playosmo. Working from home and trying to entertain Arlo non-stop has been exhausting. I’m constantly looking for activities which keep him occupied for longer periods of time and was intrigued to learn about this new award winning concept. I’m in the middle of writing a full blog post about our experience but in a nut shell the accessories provided in this set work alongside a series of educational apps. Quite unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered, the physical aspect of play is the key focus here – in the stories app for example Arlo has to solve problems his character encounters by selecting the right costume pieces and placing them on the play mat and as if by magic…. the character on the screen suddenly changes in to the same costume and uses the accessories within the story. We still have so much to explore within the four apps compatible with this “little genius kit” and this gives me confidence that despite missing out on all this nursery time, he’s going to be ahead of the game with his phonics and letter recognition without even realising he’s learning. The real beauty is that Arlo very quickly picked up the user interface and will play independently exploring the Osmo world with Mo the monster. #osmoathome #osmosocialclub

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Experimental Rainbows

I decided to try out a little science experiment with Arlo after seeing the idea float around Pinterest and this captured his attention for an hour – a parenting win!

You will need:

  • Food colouring
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • Vinegar
  • Baking tray
  • Pipettes

To prepare all you need to do is add a few drops of colouring to each section of the baking tray and then cover with powder. I provided three pipettes with vinegar in a little bowl and only had to demonstrate what to do once.

First of all Arlo was happy to see the bubbles begin to emerge as soon as the vinegar touched the baking soda. I wasn’t quite sure how much I would need so used rather a lot and the colours didn’t appear at first.

As soon as the colours began to emerge Arlo’s interest peaked and this offered a new aspect to the activity – Arlo was using two pipettes at a time to make bigger explosions and find more colours.

It didn’t take too long for Arlo to figure out that the colours could be mixed and this bought us even more time to play with this tray of magic!

I consider this activity as a success HOWEVER … next time we will be doing this outdoors because the smell was extremely overpowering but we need more vinegar to make bigger bubbles! I’ve also heard that adding washing up liquid might create a better effect so we’ll be trying this out too!

John Adams Play Stuff Review

I was given products free of charge to review on Instagram.

It’s been a challenge trying to get hold of flour to make my own dough during this lockdown – and to be honest once I’ve added in food colouring and other ingredients it all adds up, which is why I was delighted when I was asked to review some “play stuff” which is currently available to order from Amazon.

I love using this kind of toy with Arlo, I think it’s really great to develop manual dexterity and enhance those all important fine motor skills.

We received two sets in the post, each of which comes in really unusual packaging. The box has a small yellow clip which once released drops down the two sides to make a little play surface.

Both kits were designed in the same way, with hidden images within the bright illustrations. The Pizza and pasta set had lots of little peas to find and the picnic set had lots of creepy crawlies.

This helped inspire play – we opened up the picnic set first. The dough and tools are neatly stored away in the middle section. I was pleasantly surprised with how bright each colour was and also with the scent of the dough as it wasn’t over-powering at all.

Both kits contained the same five colours but had their own unique tools and moulds relevant to the theme of the play mat – having the illustrations and themes helped us be more exciting than usual – I’ve never made cheese and salad from dough before!

We spent a while playing with both sets and the texture of the dough itself was firm but extremely malleable. We found that if small pieces touched it was easy to separate the colours, but also when working together some blue and red we were able to make a lovely purple.

Arlo got stuck in and was sitting on a handmade crochet blanket but there was no residue left behind or any colour transfer of the products to his clothing. We played for over an hour and the dough didn’t dry out or change in texture. We really enjoyed these sets.

Arlo was also very happy to help put all the stuff back – choosing the right coloured lids for the dough and then popping them all back in the centre storage space before closing up the sides. I helped him snap the clip back on and he made sure to pick up the set and run to put it away too.

Sugar Cookie Solar System

After commencing our salt dough solar system project Arlo seemed disappointed that the planets were not edible and so whilst waiting for our paint to dry we set about making a batch of sugar cookies. This is an extremely simple recipe and one which can be adapted with all sorts.

You will need:

150g plain flour

100g butter

50g caster sugar

A few drops of vanilla essence to taste

(You can add chocolate chips, nuts, berries, fudge pieces – pretty much anything you want to this basic dough!)

This is a baking project which Arlo also very much likes to participate and I created a short tiktok video as we went along.

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and then bake at a medium heat for approx 12 mins – this can vary based on the size and thickness of shapes you cut out.

If you do not have cookie cutters then use things you have in the kitchen – a tumbler makes perfect circles and a pizza cutter is always great fun.

Whilst these are in the oven get your decorations prepped. Follow the instructions on the icing sugar box to mix it up, use squeezey tubes – melted chocolate is always nice too.

Mum tip: use an ice cube tray to put a small selection of sprinkles out. I give Arlo a few cookies on a baking tray with a bowl of icing and then leave him to it…. if I gave him the whole lot there would be none left!

By the time out cookies were finished, the paint on our salt dough solar system was set too and we had two versions of our solar system.