A playbarn full of hay = some great sensory and pretend play!
Do you have any ‘go to’ places that you like to visit with your little ones? I have a few, although they have been under revision since having Baby E as I haven’t been sure if I could navigate them with two kiddies to worry about! Nearly eight months down the line, however, and I am gaining enough confidence to widen the net on our days out…
It’s great to rediscover old favourites – and even better to find that they have new and interesting spaces to explore. One of our local favourites has created a brilliant covered ‘playbarn’ area, with cheerful farm-themed murals along the wall, a generous variety of ride on tractors and cars, some trailers, wheelbarrows, brushes and – the very best bit – LOTS of hay!
This, it turns out, is a sort of playing seventh heaven for small children, including my own. Little Miss A was really excited to get stuck in, while Baby E found the whole thing absolutely fascinating.
First, Little Miss A gathered great big handfuls of the hay to fill a handy wheelbarrow…
Once the hay had been piled into the wheelbarrow, it was time to move it to the other side of the barn and dump it out all again.
Then came the serious business of ‘feeding’ the animals…
Farmer Baby E supervised the whole process from her dinky little tractor!
The pretend play continued for a while, with Little Miss A filling and emptying many, many loads of hay in her wheelbarrow. This was obviously a major draw, judging by the other children absorbed in doing the same thing!
After a while, the sensory lure of the hay proved too much and she ended up sitting on the floor, ‘burying’ herself in it. (It was pretty much just my child doing that…)
Baby E was equally as struck with it, enjoying the feel of the hay under her fingers and, of course, trying to grab whole handfuls to put in her mouth!
With UK weather being what it is, it’s wonderful to find a covered area that still allows for great fun outdoor play. And the hay clearly provides for hours of fun!
We’ve been having a great run of sunshine lately, which has meant lots of lovely fresh air and easy outdoor play for us.
When we woke up to yet another beautiful day at the weekend, we decided to head to the coast. I had visions of sandcastles and stretching out on the sand basking in the warmth… Despite the sunshine, however, when we got there it was both freezing cold and ridiculously windy!
We could see the waves racing along off shore and the kite surfers and wind surfers were out in packs, enjoying the blustery conditions. We marvelled at the kite surfers leaping into the air on their boards and had fun spotting all the colourful kites in the sky.
It was a bit too windy for us to venture onto the beach but, luckily, we had our own small kite with us, so we set off to a grassy area behind the sea road to fly it.
Little Miss A was so excited! We have done kite flying with her a couple of times before, but she lost interest very quickly. This time, she was fascinated by the whole set up process, ‘helping’ her Daddy and watching very carefully.
Then came time to launch it. After one false start, it was soon soaring and looked gorgeous with its bright tail streaming against the blue sky.
Little Miss A took the string, her face a picture of delight and concentration! The husband had made a ‘safety’ string so we wouldn’t lose the kite if she let go but she kept a really tight hold.
Her favourite bit was running along with the string in her hands, watching the kite swoshing and sweeping along with her.
There is something so joyful and exhilarating about watching a kite bounce along in the air and I couldn’t help but giggle along with Little Miss A.
After we’d had a good play, the husband brought it down and packed it away, while Little Miss A amused herself pulling up some clumps of grass. She held her hand up experimentally, letting the blades go into the wind. We talked about what we could learn from watching the grass blow away, with Little Miss A telling me knowledgeably: “It tells us which way the wind is blowing.” I was impressed with her conclusion. Since I’ve become a mum, I am so often amazed at the natural instinct of children to experiment with their surroundings through their play – and how much they pick up from this.
Kite packed away, we headed to a nearby playpark which was in a bit more of a sheltered spot. This is a really great place: part of the small nature reserve, it contains several pieces of play equipment designed to look like some of the insects that can be found in the reserve.
There are boards with information about each insect. Perhaps my favourite nugget was about the clouded yellow butterfly, whose creamy yellow colour supposedly gave rise to the name ‘butter-fly’. Whether it’s true or not, I love the idea of it!
Little Miss A had a brilliant time clambering, climbing, running, sliding. When we last visited, she was only eighteen months old so she was able to get so much more out of the equipment now she is nearly four. There was’t much that was suitable for Baby E but she enjoyed laying on the basket swing with her Daddy.
We rounded off the day by finding a small soft play off the seafront and then treated ourselves to some delicious ice cream, perched on the beach wall watching the last of the kitesurfers with the sunshine sparkling on the water. Just lovely!
Hands-on science exploration, disguised as play!
We were in Sussex over Easter, spending some time with my family. As usual, we had a jam-packed time, catching up with friends and enjoying family days out. I love taking Little Miss A to places I visited as a child but on Good Friday we discovered somewhere completely new to me, the Observatory Science Centre.
I didn’t know much about it beforehand but I’m so glad we ventured there as it is the sort of museum every area needs: a fully hands-on, interactive experience where kids (and grown ups!) can have a go at everything and not even realise that they are learning in the process.
The centre has indoor galleries, domes with huge telescopes (that you can visit on guided tours) plus a lovely outdoors space featuring a discovery park and a water zone.
Although it was a grey, drizzly day, we took advantage of a break in the rain to explore the outdoors areas first. Little Miss A couldn’t wait to get stuck in – and her Daddy was pretty excited too! In fact, there were times when I wasn’t sure who was having more fun…
We found a circuit powered by water, with wheels and pulleys and pumps and an Arcamedes screw transporting the water round. Little Miss A found this fascinating, watching our demonstrations carefully, before insisting on doing it all herself, heaving the wheels around to make the various parts work.
“I is having to work very hard to make this move, Daddy.”
There was also a water table with several hands-on (or hands-in!) activities that Little Miss A loved exploring.
There were sections for building dams, constructing waterways to race ducks, turning taps to make fountains work…
… Or just for enjoying getting your hands wet!
The discovery park was equally as enticing. Little Miss A was possibly on the younger end of the suitable age range for this section but it didn’t stop her running around from exhibit to exhibit to try her hand at each one.
There was all sorts of equipment, including a giant ‘marble’ run, various sound tubes, a huge wobbly balance board and a fab climbing frame shaped like a DNA helix!
Once we pried ourselves away from the outdoor fun, we headed to the indoors exhibits, which covered topics such as light, the solar system, forces and magnetics. While Little Miss A is still a bit young to understand the explanations that went with every experiment, she had so much fun pushing buttons, pulling levers, building, knocking down, peering through microscopes… It was a great way to introduce science and I can imagine that she would get something different out of it with every passing year, as her understanding grows.
Baby E wasn’t left out of the fun, either! She was absolutely fascinated with many of the exhibits, loving watching various items moving and swinging and changing colour.
We’ll be back in Sussex in the summer and are already tempted to add this to our list of places to visit then, as we just had such a brilliant time and could have easily spent longer there. It’s also inspired me to start collecting ideas (on Pinterest, of course) for simple science experiments that we can do in the garden at home, now that Little Miss A has a taste for it!
We’ve had so much fun this week, playing outdoors and enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine.
It started while we were away on Easter Monday, meeting friends for a lovely, relaxed catch up at the park. The kids ran around and played (even together a little bit!) while we chatted and basked in the warmth after a chilly weekend. I was so totally unprepared that I even got a little burnt!
Back home, Tuesday saw us at our local park with some of my antenatal friends. Little Miss A has known this group since she was born, seeing them so often that they all now play together really nicely. After running around the play park, they settled into a game of collecting grass cuttings and making ‘birds nests’ to sit in! It was lovely to watch their imaginative play and listen to their conversations with each other. I stayed on a bit longer with my two and the nesting kept Little Miss A occupied for another 20 minutes or so while her sister slept. It’s always useful when it works out like that!
Wednesday saw us venturing further afield for a proper day out… I’m slowly getting a bit braver, taking both girls out on my own to places other than the park and toddler groups and friends’ houses! It’s only taken six months or so to work up to it, haha.
We met a friend and her two children at a nearby animal and adventure park. I didn’t get any pictures as I was too busy watching Little Miss A like a hawk! She had so much fun running around, bouncing on trampolines, whizzing down giant slides, watching ducks racing (really – the ‘quacky races’ with comical looking Indian Runner ducks), feeding goats, spinning on roundabouts and more. It was exhausting but great to widen the scope of my days out with the girls.
On Thursday, we woke to yet more sunshine, hooray! We headed to our local park again to meet friends for a picnic. Their kiddies are a bit older so Little Miss A couldn’t quite keep up with their games – and had to stay closer to Mummy than they did! But she loved trying out their frisbees (I think we might need to get her one of her own) and she did some brilliant kicking and throwing of her little football, which she is starting to get really into now. Plus there was time for digging in the mud round the trees!
Back home, we spent the rest of the afternoon in our suntrap garden. Little Miss A made potions while Baby E cruised around our deck, peeping out at her sister every now and then. I’m looking forward to lot more chilled out afternoons like that over the coming months (well, as chilled as it gets with two littlies, anyway!).
Today is Friday and amazingly there has been yet more sunshine. I decided to take the girls to a local farm shop that has a great outdoor play area, along with a few animals and a couple of short trails.
We picnicked first on some goodies bought at the shop (including delicious olive, pepper and feta foccacia – so bad for my diet but so good to eat!). Then I let Little Miss A loose on the play area, which has a ‘castle’ slide with small house underneath, a wiggly snake rope swing, some wooden climbing and balancing bits and pieces, and a tractor. It’s a really lovely space for outdoor play, especially now Little Miss A is older. Today, she spent most of her time on the tractor as the “farm girl who fixes it”. This involved taking handfuls of bark chippings and rubbing them on the wheels or stuffing them in the ‘engine’, and it occupied her for ages.
Baby E was getting rather grumpy but it turned out she just wanted a go too, sitting happily on the wheels watching her sister playing.
After I got fed up standing in the same spot for half an hour, we set off to explore one of the trails, which led to the small fishing lakes and bird hide. We haven’t done this before and, apart from me being slightly nervous that Little Miss A would dart off and fall in the lake, it was a good wind down activity as the spot was lovely and peaceful (until we arrived, anyway!).
We peeped out of the bird hide and spotted some geese and a swan, with Little Miss A much more interested than I thought she would be. Next time, we’ll take some binoculars for a better look.
On our way back, we found some “alarmas” (or llamas…) and had just enough time for a few swings on the wiggly rope snake before heading home for teatime.
Our week of sunshine has been fab and just what we needed to survive the Easter holidays, with no preschool to help with entertainment.
Fingers crossed there are many more sunny weeks to come now we’re in April!
Finding great outdoor spaces for racing and chasing in the spring sunshine…
There are a number of things that Little Miss A does that seem to be an ingrained part of her personality. One is her love of running. It started pretty much as soon as she was walking and she’s been a speedy little thing ever since.
We’ve had lots of running around the living room, more often than not kitted out in a special ‘costpume’ consisting of running shoes (could be her slippers, could be her jelly shoes), a pink winter hat with flaps over the ears and sometimes goggles.
There’s only so much sprinting you can do in the house, of course. Better still is when we can find a big wide space outdoors and let her run free. The look of pure happiness on her face never fails to make me smile. It’s running for the sheer joy of running and the exhilaration and sense of freedom she feels is infectious.
We found two brilliant places for running this month.
The first was at a nearby National Trust property. As we wandered around, we came across a huge circular croquet lawn enclosed by tall hedges which made a perfect running track. This proved irresistible for Little Miss A, who ran all the way round a couple of times before challenging Mummy to a race. We both giggled madly as I chased after her. Puffed out after a few laps, I realised a) how unfit I am! and b) how much fun running can be, understanding some of the appeal to Little Miss A.
The second location is in our local park, at her current favourite play area there, the mud mounds. I’ve written about these before: small hills of compacted mud, that make an ‘offroad’ track for older kids to scoot or ride bikes around. We love them simply as an interesting place to explore. They were great when Little Miss A was mastering walking, challenging her balance as she navigated up and down the inclines. Now she has discovered that they are brilliant for running on!
The space is large enough to have a good sprint around and contained enough to be able to do laps…
There are gentle slopes alongside slightly steeper ‘hills’ to be scrambled up…
And enough mud and dirt to please my little messy monster girl, perfect for poking a stick in when in need of a break from racing…
We had so much fun here on a beautiful spring day this week. Little Miss A incorporated some pretend play into her running, telling me that the mounds were her houses and I was the big bad wolf chasing her and blowing them down. She’s been doing the story of the Three Little Pigs at preschool and is fascinated by it. She loved turning this into a game of chase, hiding behind a slope until I had huffed and puffed and blown the house down, at which point she ran to find a new abode. She enjoyed it so much that some details from the original story were amended slightly: “This house is made of brick, Mummy, but the bricks aren’t stuck together so you can blow them really hardly…”
I’m sure Baby E wondered what on earth we were up to, as I pushed her up and down the mounds in her pushchair, running after her sister doing my best wolf growls. (Not to mention the other park users passing by!)
After a good play, we headed home for a snack, eyes shining and cheeks flushed from all the running around. I’m sure we’ll be making our way back there again soon…
Spring may officially be here but that doesn’t mean that rainy days have been banished unfortunately. While we’re able to get outdoors more often than during the winter months, there are still many hours to fill hanging around in the house.
ToddlerGirl is incredibly energetic and will literally run around in circles in our living room. Making the effort to channel this energy into an active game is much more productive for us both! Some of our favourite ways for getting moving in the house include:
- Creating a simple indoor obstacle course – using whatever I have to hand, such as DVD boxes, a beanbag, sofa cushions.
- Action rhymes to sing and dance along with – ToddlerGirl currently loves us to sing ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’ while marching round and round our dining room table!
- Rolling/kicking balls and throwing beanbags – either to each other or setting goal areas, such as tossing beanbags past a line or into a laundry basket.
These are all fun but for my #FiveForFriday links this week, I thought it would be good to mix up our indoor activities a bit with some fresh ideas. The activities below all look great for banishing the wiggles – and I’m thinking some may even be suitable for me to direct from the sofa, which in my current, exhausted pregnant state is a more than welcome thought!
1. Physical activity cube
This physical activity cube from Little Family Fun is a great idea for a DIY activity to get little ones moving. It’s a simple homemade, oversize dice with a different instruction for a movement on each face. We played with something similar to this at ToddlerGirl’s gym class and she really enjoyed it – the rolling of the dice and then following the instruction had huge toddler appeal. I will definitely be having a go at making one of these this weekend!
2. DIY easy catching game
ToddlerGirl has suddenly got really into throwing and catching. We’ve been having a lot of fun batting with balloons recently and I think she would really enjoy this DIY catching game from The Imagination Tree. The catch ‘mitt’ is made out of a plastic milk bottle and would make the catching element a lot easier for little ones.
3. Insect and bug themed movement game
I’ve seen quite a few different animal and other creature action cards on Pinterest and really like the idea for ToddlerGirl. This insect movement game from Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas is great as it combines getting active with learning about the various bugs (and I think it would pair perfectly with reading a book such as Mad About Minibeasts either before or afterwards).
4. Colour and shapes game
Use a large roll of paper taped to the floor and draw on various shapes of different colours for this fun learning and movement game from Toddler Approved. Then challenge your little one to walk across the paper only on certain colours or shapes, or they can run to a shape when you call it.
5. Animal sounds obstacle course
I absolutely love this twist on a standard obstacle course from Lalymom. Instead of the usual obstacles, take a selection of soft toy animals and lay them out. You then have to leap over each one, making the sound of the animal as you do! I can imagine ToddlerGirl having a lot of silly fun with this one.
Do you have any go-to games to get your little ones active when you’re stuck in the house?
Outdoor play for a rainy day! Turn splashing in puddles into a great afternoon’s activity for toddlers with our puddle hunting rhyme – then continue the fun at home with our indoor puddle jumping game and book choice.
There is nothing that pleases ToddlerGirl more at the moment than splashing in puddles. It is the perfect rainy day activity, if you don’t mind the chance of getting a little bit wet! Even with wellie boots and an all in one waterproof suit, ToddlerGirl invariably gets damp feet due to her incredibly enthusiastic jumping causing the water to get in over the top of the boots…
Of course, there are some days when we just don’t have the time or the appropriate clothing to go splashing in puddles. Having had a few of those recently, plus a very rainy morning stuck indoors, I decided that our afternoon activity would be given over to pure puddle jumping fun. We were going on a puddle hunt!
ToddlerGirl was more than a little bit excited when I told her my plans. To get us into the mood (as if this was needed…) we first of all read our library book, Peppa Pig and the Biggest Muddy Puddle in the World. In the book, it rains so much that everyone needs to get around by boat, which is quite fun. But it is even more fun when the flood water recedes leaving a giant muddy puddle! ToddlerGirl loves Peppa Pig and I do hold her partially responsible for the obsession with puddles. This book was an absolutely perfect find for us, therefore, and a great prelude to finding our own giant muddy puddle.
Wellie boots and waterproofs on, we then headed over to our local park to begin our search. With the amount of rain we’d had, I didn’t think it would take too long but the puddles were nowhere to be found. Uh oh. ToddlerGirl started getting a tad grumpy, reminding me of the dangers of promising your little one something that may be out of your control! Luckily, just as the toddler grumps were threatening to ruin our lovely afternoon in the park, I spied our local tennis courts glistening with the sheen of several large puddles. Phew!
I quickly pointed them out to ToddlerGirl and we marched towards the courts. I made up a little rhyme as we went that she joined in with enthusiastically:
We’re going on a puddle hunt
We’re going to find a big one
It’s been a rainy day
But we’re not wet
(You may recognise my inspiration for this!)
ToddlerGirl let out a whoop of sheer delight when we made it into the tennis courts:
Uh oh, a puddle
A deep, wet puddle
We can’t go over it
We can’t go under it
We’ll have to go through it…
Splish splash, splish splash, splish splash
She spent a very happy hour sloshing, jumping, splishing and splashing her way through them all, pausing only to examine her reflection every now and then. It was chilly but beautiful, with some unexpected late afternoon sunshine turning the puddles into mirrors reflecting the clouds and bare branches of trees.
I end up pulling ToddlerGirl away from puddles so many times, either because I don’t have the time to spend standing there while she splashes away or because I don’t want her to get all wet and muddy. This time, the whole purpose of our trip was to find puddles and enjoy them and it was very liberating for both of us. I loved watching ToddlerGirl revelling in the freedom of being able to do exactly what she wanted. Her pure joy was infectious. I hung back and let her go wild for a little while, then I joined in and discovered that puddle jumping is a lot of fun as an adult too. We giggled and splashed and tested out every single puddle we could find on the tennis courts until the light started fading from the sky and it was time to head home.
Once we were back and in dry clothes, we snuggled on the sofa with a snack and read The Biggest Muddy Puddle in the World again. I then set up a quick indoor puddle jumping game using some brown towels of various sizes. ToddlerGirl had to jump from one ‘puddle’ to the next, which she really enjoyed. Soon, a number of her soft toys had been drafted in and it turned into a lovely pretend play session, giving me a chance to sneak off to make dinner.
All in all, it was a pretty perfect afternoon and one I will definitely look to repeat.
Tips for puddle jumping with toddlers:
- Wear appropriate clothing (wellies are essential; waterproof trousers or all in one suit are a good idea)
- Have a change of clothes to hand for afterwards or be within an easy walk home – even with waterproofs on, ‘serious’ puddle jumping is likely to result in wet feet!
- Be clear about your puddle ‘rules’ – we only splash in puddles when we have our wellies on, for example, which helps me to keep ToddlerGirl dry when she is in her normal shoes!