Playing at the science park

Hands-on science exploration, disguised as play!

Racing ducks

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.

Water circuit

“I is having to work very hard to make this move, Daddy.”

Water circuit experiments

There was also a water table with several hands-on (or hands-in!) activities that Little Miss A loved exploring.

Water table

There were sections for building dams, constructing waterways to race ducks, turning taps to make fountains work…

Water fountain

… 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.

Sound tubes

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!

DNA climbing frame

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.

Indoors at the science centre

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!

Learning for Life

Soapy spring cleaning outdoors!

Bubbles, water and spring sunshine make the perfect ingredients for some easy afternoon outdoor play…

Soapy spring cleaning

I have always loved springtime but, now I’m a parent, I feel like turning cartwheels at the first whiff of warmer weather. Why? Because I know that my life at home with children is about to get that little bit easier. For a start, being able to go out without having to wrap up like Michelin men means we can shave valuable minutes off the mission that is Getting Out Of The House. Plus it is much simpler to entertain little ones when you can stay and play outdoors for a good while without extremities going numb with cold. And, best of all, you don’t even have to venture too far afield – the back garden, in fact, was as far as we went this afternoon.

With the sun shining and our deck lovely and warm, I decided it was a perfect time to get Little Miss A to do some spring cleaning outside. I set her up with a bowl of water (with lots of bubbles for good measure), a scrubbing brush, a washing up sponge and her plastic chairs, table and step for washing. She couldn’t wait to get stuck in!

Soapy spring cleaning fun

The chairs and table actually did need a bit of a clean. The table had some grass cuttings stuck onto the top from our recent afternoon playing in the garden, so Little Miss A got to work on it, giving it a very thorough scrub with both the brush and the sponge.

Outdoor spring cleaning toddler fun

As she moved onto the chairs and the step, she started to sing a little song she had made up:

Scrub a dub dub
Rub a dub dub
Cleaning cleaning
Cleaning is fun!

She added some verses as she went along, which were basically a narration of what she was doing (“And now I scrub the step so cleeeeeaaaannnnn…”). I was just inside the house, rocking her sister to sleep in the baby carrier and giggling to myself as I listened. I just love how she sings or narrates her actions these days :)

Spring cleaning

Once she’d given the table, chairs and step a good clean, she wiped them dry with a towel (the one I’d left for her to dry herself with before coming back into the house, but nevermind!). She then moved onto the decking before deciding that everything had been completed to her satisfaction. As she headed indoors, she gave me a happy smile and declared that she needed a snack and a drink after all her hard work!

Outdoor spring cleaning

Little Miss A loves cleaning at the moment, so this was a great activity to keep her entertained this afternoon, and one I can see us repeating over the spring and summer with all sorts of plastic toys and equipment. The list is endless… When the weather warms up properly, it will also be a lovely activity to modify for Baby E to join in with too.

Playtime Pinspiration: Coloured water play

Create a coloured water station in the garden for your toddler to explore. Mixing the colours and pouring the water into various containers will keep them entertained for ages.

Playtime Pinspiration - Coloured Water Play

This brilliant Playtime Pinspiration comes from the Happy Hooligans’ colour mixing laboratory. I spotted it a while back and pinned it for the summer, as I knew it was something I wanted to do outdoors…! It’s part of my giant summer sensory and messy play activity list and I’m so glad we got a chance to do it. ToddlerGirl had a lot of fun and, by taking the activity into the garden on a hot summer’s day, there really was minimal clean up involved afterwards.

The set up is very simple. All you need are a few containers for the water (I used differently shaped Tupperware boxes plus a couple of old water bottles and a jug) and the coloured water itself. I just used our normal food colouring from the kitchen cupboard but you can also get liquid watercolours, which Happy Hooligans suggests as they produce a more vibrant colour. I did have to shake in quite a few drops of colouring so that it showed up but this wasn’t a problem.

ToddlerGirl was very excited when I explained to her what we were doing and helped me set up her workbench in the garden with the containers lined up along the top. We made up four different containers of coloured water: yellow, red, blue and green. They looked gorgeous in the sunshine and I’m not surprised that ToddlerGirl couldn’t wait to get her hands on them!

First, she just had fun pouring the water into the various containers, letting it slosh over the top. Then she noticed that when she mixed the colours together, they made a completely different shade. We have talked a little about colour mixing before when painting but not for a while, so it was interesting to see that this activity triggered her memory of our previous conversations. She informed me that yellow + blue made green and red + blue made purple and then gave a little demonstration, which I loved!

Coloured water play for toddlers

She did manage to get through the first batch of coloured water much more quickly than I anticipated, so I ended up doing a couple of trips back to the kitchen to replenish the supply. I’m not sure how to avoid this as it seems inevitable that some of the water will get lost in the pouring and mixing. To keep the activity going, it is either a case of topping up the water as you go or, to make it a bit less work, perhaps having a couple of larger bottles of water ready for when the first lot runs out.

The Happy Hooligans version of this activity uses a lot more implements and utensils than I had to hand, including things like droppers and syringes, as well as a wider variety of bottles. I would definitely try to collect up more items like this to use the next time we try this as it would give a lot more scope for exploring the transferring of the liquid.

You could also use the activity as a basis for talking about measuring, from the gauging of filling a container without the water overflowing to actually making some marks on the containers and challenging your little one to fill to the marks etc. I think ToddlerGirl is ready for this, so I may try chatting about it a bit next time.

For there will definitely be a next time! This activity was a real hit with ToddlerGirl and very easy for me to set up and supervise in the garden. Thank you Happy Hooligans for such a fun Playtime Pinspiration!

Garden fun for toddlers this summer

Summer is nearly here (well, I hope it is anyway!) and I am making some not so grand plans. Last year, I had three seperate ‘bucket lists’ of things for ToddlerGirl and I to do: outdoor activities to try, exciting day trips to enjoy, and local events to go to, a whole summer of fun. This year, heading into my third trimester and feeling more waddley by the minute, I am keeping it much less ambitious!

Great garden fun for toddlers

We will hopefully make the odd outing and festival but my main focus is much nearer to home: our back garden. Fingers crossed for sunshine as it makes entertaining a toddler at home so much easier. OK, so I wasn’t exactly lying on a sunlounger sipping cool drinks last summer while ToddlerGirl amused herself happily all day (despite what I may have been envisioning this time last year!) but it was about as relaxing as I can get with my super active little girl.

Here are a few of the back garden activities that went down well with her last year – and that I shall definitely be repeating in the months to come!

Water play

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, mix toddlers with water and you have hours of entertainment…

Water play for toddlers

1. Create a themed paddling pool
ToddlerGirl adores simply splashing around in her paddling pool but adding a few extras really helped extend the play. We had a sea-inspired pool, with shells and all sorts of underwater creatures which she loved. And a flower themed pool, with lots of fallen petals and leaves, which were scooped out and stirred back in many, many, many times!

2. Set up a water wall
I saw a few of these on pinterest last year and knew ToddlerGirl would have a lot of fun with one. We used a few recycled plastic bottles and let her loose. It’s amazing how much entertainment can be had from this.

3. Painting with water
So, so, so easy! This activity was wheeled out several times over the summer and kept ToddlerGirl quietly occupied for ages. (See my post Playtime Pinspiration: Painting with water for more details.)

Messy play

Toddlers love getting stuck in to anything remotely messy (well, mine does at least!). But messy play isn’t always that appealing in the house. Taking it outdoors makes it much more manageable.

Outdoor messy play for toddlers

4. Construction themed sensory bin
Very simple to put together: some rice, pasta, a couple of containers and utensils, plus a Happyland construction set featuring three vehicles and little people. This provided scope for imaginative play as well as some general fun with scooping and pouring.

5. Playing in the mud
A variation on the construction sensory bin, this time in her mud box, which went down really well!

6. Mud kitchen
More mud – and so much fun for ToddlerGirl. She loved this, playing happily for well over an hour. Now the sun’s out, I’ve created another mud kitchen for her to enjoy; read all about it in my blog post Marvellous mud kitchen.

7. Really, really messy whole body art
This was possibly one of ToddlerGirl’s favourite ever painting activities. She started with the paintbrushes, quickly moved onto using her hands, then her feet came into play and soon there was paint everywhere! We got some lovely hand and footprint pictures out of it and she also really enjoyed coating her legs and arms, just for the sake of it. I had the paddling pool out and just dunked her in it afterwards to get rid of the majority of the mess so it wasn’t tracked into the house.

Messy painting outdoors for toddlers

Take indoor activities outside

The novelty of being outdoors can breathe new life into every day activities.

Taking indoor activities outside

8. Drawing on cardboard
We did a lot of drawing outside last year. Most of the time, I simply moved her little art table into the garden but ToddlerGirl also really enjoyed using a large piece of a cardboard box to sit on and scribble on.

9. Pasta ‘n’ playdough
Again, it was really easy to set ToddlerGirl up with this on her little table outside. She was absorbed in sticking pieces of dried pasta into the playdough, making patterns and sculptures, and I got to sit in the sunshine as she played. Win-win.

10. Make a book den
It’s really not summer unless you make a den, is it?! We made several, mainly using some garden chairs with white blankets thrown over the top. Nothing at all complicated – but ToddlerGirl loved them. After the first time, she would often start hauling the blankets outside by herself to get me to make her a new den! We piled cushions inside, had some tea parties, and chilled out reading lots of books. Lovely!

Get active

There are, of course, lots of simple opportunities for toddlers to be active outdoors – and you don’t need lots of special play equipment.

Outdoor obstacle course for toddlers

11. Outdoor obstacle course
We do quite a lot of indoor obstacle courses to burn off excess energy when the weather isn’t great. This took the idea outdoors, with several different ‘stations’ laid out as a circuit for ToddlerGirl to explore. I used whatever I had to hand: a few mats laid out to create ‘islands’ for her to jump onto; her step and a ramp to walk up and jump off; her mini bowling set; and, best of all, a balance beam put together using a left over plank of decking.

I can’t wait to do it all over again this summer!

For more great ideas for outdoor play this summer, take a look at my Outdoor Play board on Pinterest. Some of my favourites include making a DIY sprinkler, creating amazing outdoor play spaces, taking art outdoors, and physical activities for toddlers and children.

Playtime Pinspiration: Painting with water

Hmm, what to do on a hot summer’s evening to keep ToddlerGirl amused while I make dinner? Something quick to set up. Something (relatively) mess free. Something that requires minimal supervision.

Of course, we all know that Toddlers + Water = Hours of Fun! But watery activities aren’t usually the things to consider when needing to leave your toddler to it, for obvious safety reasons, as well as the more-than-likely irresistible temptation for creating a huge watery mess.

Playtime Pinspiration - Painting with water

Luckily, I remembered Rainy Day Mum’s no mess fence painting blog post that I spotted on Pinterest a while back. I knew ToddlerGirl would be in heaven with this one and have been waiting for a chance to do it.

It was a very quick activity to set up: a couple of very small bowls of water and our paint tray, plus an assortment of our little paint rollers and paintbrushes. I knew ToddlerGirl would get pretty wet, so I made sure I had a towel and change of clothes for afterwards. And then I let her loose!

She didn’t need any introduction to this one, although I did give a quick explanation of where it was OK to put the water (on our patio windows and the fence posts) and where it was most definitely not (in the house). She really took this all in and didn’t bring any of the water into the house, standing at the patio doors to call for me to refill the water bowls when she had used (tipped out) all the water. I was actually quite surprised at how well she listened to the ‘rules’ of the game and it’s made me think I should make more of a point of doing this before other activities.

Our outside decking area is very safe and contained, so I was happy to leave ToddlerGirl to play by herself and pop in and out every few minutes as I prepared dinner in the kitchen. There wasn’t enough water for her to do any harm to herself and not enough to get really messy with either. ToddlerGirl busied herself carefully rolling the water onto the windows and the step, making it all nice and ‘clean’. Then she went along the fence, painting the water on with the brushes. Unfortunately, I only had our little paintbrushes to hand; I think this would be even more fun with some proper adult sized brushes.

Of course, the water was also transferred from bowl to paint tray, bowl to bowl, bowl to ground, bowl over self… I was prepared for this and, let’s face it, it was probably half the fun for ToddlerGirl! As it was such a hot day, it really didn’t matter and the clean up afterwards was pretty painless – wet clothes whipped off, quick towel dry and dry clothes on, ready for dinner.

This was a great fun activity that ToddlerGirl absolutely loved. The seriousness with which she undertook her ‘painting’ (or cleaning, which is what I think she actually felt she was doing), was so sweet to see. Definitely a hit! Thank you Rainy Day Mum for our Playtime Pinspiration!