Homemade hot air balloon for toys

A DIY hot air balloon toy made from recycled packaging for hours of pretend play!

Little Miss A came home from preschool the other day determined to make a hot air balloon. I’m not sure where she got the idea from, whether it was in a book or something they’d been learning about but she was quite obsessed, talking about it all the drive home!

“I was having a good idea, Mummy,” she said as I got her out of the car. “I can make the hot air balloon with my pink muzzy and tie it on my broom handle.”

I took Baby E up for her nap as soon as we got in but the husband reported that Little Miss A did indeed try very hard to make a hot air balloon using the broom handle and her material, getting a tad frustrated in the process when it didn’t go according to plan!

I came back from putting Baby E down to find that Daddy had stepped in and suggested using an actual balloon. This met with Little Miss A’s approval and he had found a balloon plus an old Ella’s Kitchen packet to use as the basket. The result was a very cute hot air balloon, perfect for a selection of her small toys.

Homemade hot air balloon for toys

She flew them round the living room several times and told me they were going on holiday to Africa.

“It takes twenty years to get there, Mummy.”

We decided to recreate the plains of Africa on our dining room floor using a selection of our Happyland and wooden animals. Well, it was a fairly loose recreation: the lion and giraffe were friends who lived in the same cave and the elephants had an entire house with beds… But it made for a whole afternoon of entertainment.

Eventually, all the animals piled in the hot air balloon to go to Spain. That journey only took eight days.

I love watching Little Miss A at play, especially seeing her imagination at work. It’s a wonderful thing to behold. The homemade hot air balloon led to hours of fun and has been returned to many times during the week with various different toys enjoying flying around in it! Sometimes the simple things really do provide the most play value!


Pretend play camping

Take advantage of the dark winter evenings and set up a fun pretend play camping adventure in your living room!

ToddlerGirl will often come up with random ideas for games she wants to play. Don’t get me wrong, I love that she has such a great imagination and is able to concoct these ideas, but I do sometimes wonder where the inspiration came from!

Today, she decided that she really wanted to play camping, complete with a campfire, ‘roasting’ (as opposed to ‘toasting’!) marshmallows and turning off all the lights to make a night sky. As I was about to prepare dinner, we made a deal that she if she let me concentrate on that, I’d help her set up her camping game afterwards.

This turned out to be a really fun and lovely post dinner activity. It was easy to set up. Her Daddy used a clear Duplo bucket to make the campfire, lining it with orange sugar paper and placing a torch in the middle to give a sort of flame effect that worked surprisingly well.

We set a few of her toys round our campfire, turned all the lights off and used her sister’s elephant toy to project stars onto the ceiling.

Luckily, we even had some marshmallows in the kitchen, so we chopped a couple up for a teeny taste (as bedtime was looming and we didn’t want a sugar filled girl!) We popped them on forks and pretended to toast them, ToddlerGirl taking it very seriously and BabyGirl on my lap studying the ‘campfire’. We even sang a few songs, although neither I nor the husband could think of any traditional campfire songs off the top off our heads so lullabies had to do!

ToddlerGirl got up to do a special ‘camping dance’ (there’s always a dance involved in her games!) before deciding that of course you can’t go camping without a tent, so we flung a quick den together using a chair, the sofa and a throw. She piled her toys in, while the husband and I leaned back and looked at the stars on the ceiling. There is something very relaxing about turning all the lights off and, sleep deprived as we are, we had to be careful not to nod off!

This was such a lovely and calm family activity, perfect for that after dinner, before bedtime portion of the day. I don’t know what made ToddlerGirl think of camping but it was an inspired choice for a dark winter evening!

The power of simple play

There is a cliché that a child will receive an expensive toy and spend more time playing with the box it came in.

As is often the case, the cliché has sprung from a universal truth. While ToddlerGirl has quite a few toys, and she has lots of fun playing with them, I have definitely noticed that she will often be most absorbed in a game when it involves ‘non toys’: items or treasures that she has come across and seized triumphantly to incorporate into all sorts of interesting games.

The power of simple play

This is most obvious when we are playing outside. On our recent holiday, she found three differently shaped leaves while we were around the pool. A long frond from a palm tree was turned into a bracelet amongst other things and the smaller two leaves became a mummy and a baby. This kept her busy for a good fifteen minutes or so! We then had to take the precious leaves with us to lunch as she couldn’t bear to leave them behind…

Back at home, she has been enjoying playing outside with a small selection of wooden blocks, off cuts from a project her Daddy is working on in the garden. They are rough, cheap wood and really not much to look at, yet earlier this evening she was happily occupied with them out on our decking for a good while after dinner.

During this time, she played with them in several different ways:

First, they were placed in a long line and she tried to balance on them.

Then, they were carefully stacked to make towers. She was incredibly pleased with herself when she managed to make one that was seven pieces high, and she even counted them all out herself, much to the delight of her mummy and daddy!

Once she was done making towers, she set the blocks up to make “a little family”, naming her own family members in the process. (I’m sure her aunt would be really pleased to find out she was assigned the slightly wonky block…!)

And after this, she laid them out to make “mick-mack” patterns. What “mick-mack” is I have absolutely no idea, despite her explanations when I asked! But it was interesting to see the symmetry forming in the patterns as she carefully placed each block.

The power of simple play

I realised that, in a relatively short space of time, these wooden off cuts had been used by her for all sorts of different play, both imaginative and physical.

Of course, I’m not going to suddenly ditch all of her actual toys! But it did strike me that these non toy objects give ToddlerGirl something extra: the opportunity to take them and transform them through her own imagination into whatever she likes. And the power of such simple play really is quite fascinating and wonderful to watch.

Making shadow puppets

We accidentally ended up at a great activity session at our local library recently. We were just there for our usual weekly visit and had no idea that it would be heaving with children busy crafting shadow puppets on sticks. And, even better, they had set up a small puppet ‘theatre’ to show off the puppet creations and record short action sequences. Well, of course we had to join in!

Making shadow puppets

ToddlerGirl loved it and was very proud of her puppets, even queuing patiently (or as patiently as a two and half year old can…) to take her turn at the puppet theatre. Seeing how fascinated she was by it all, I decided to carry on the activity once we got back home.

I cut a few simple shapes out of a cereal box – very simple, as my artistic skills are not wonderful! We had a couple of fish, a butterfly and a bird. ToddlerGirl then decorated them with a few bits and pieces I had in our craft cupboard: sequins, torn paper, feathers etc. Once she had finished, I taped craft sticks onto the back of each one and our stick puppets were ready.

Shadow puppets montage

Next, we needed a shadow box theatre. I used the rest of the cereal box, cutting a piece out of the centre of the front and sticking a sheet of white paper over this. It was pretty rudimentary but I didn’t want to spend too much time making something until I could test whether it worked and whether ToddlerGirl was interested in it!

I then stuck the box onto a small coffee table with blu-tak to make sure it stayed standing, and popped a torch on another table a short distance behind. Lo and behold, we had a shadow box to act as our puppet theatre!

Shadow puppets montage

It worked brilliantly and ToddlerGirl and I took it in turns to wave the stick puppets around while the other one watched the shadows dancing across the paper. ToddlerGirl had so much fun with this and got completely absorbed in playing with the puppets and watching the shadows. We acted out a few ‘scenes’ with the puppets and I kept the shadow box up for the rest of the day, so she could return to it when she wanted.

The puppets have had a lot of play value, as she has been incorporating them into lots of other games. I’ll definitely revisit both puppet making and shadow puppets with her as this proved to be an easy and entertaining activity for us both.