HarvestCal14 Inspirations: Little Ones

Good morning all, how was your weekend? Good, I hope? Ours was pretty soothing, full of plenty of outdoor time which was much needed for all of us I think. It really brought home the fact that Autumn is creeping in as all the leaves are starting to drop and change colour and we've been collecting conkers and pine cones everywhere we go. 

It meant that this morning, putting a list of toddler activity prompts together that were Autumn inspired has been spot on for my mood. Some of these have gone straight into the 'must try this week' category. I've been using Pinterest activities more and more and I think I'll do a Playful Parenting segment on the podcast again soon about handy things to stock up on so you're ready to go whenever you see an activity idea that you really like. I keep things pretty basic around here as I am pretty low on time to prep, tidy up or store tonnes of options for play so these activities are pretty low on equipment needs too. 

Sensory Play

This great list of ideas via This Girl's Canon includes one of my favourite sensory tub ideas. We keep in a tub from Ikea that I fill from time to time with different activities like Cloud Dough, water play or shredded paper begged from the Giant's office. This one seems low cost and mostly made up of found objects (ie free). Perfect. 

Have water, will play. The Tot just loves water play and this twist via b-inspiredmam is a great seasonal idea. Time to get out that splashsuit though- naked water play is something we shall surely miss from Summer!

Sowsproutplay.com- I'm would take this wonderful pinecone painting activity outdoors because there's no way on earth this mess would fly indoors. Working from home, I can't have too much mess inside as my "office" doesn't work well with glitter and sand and I hate worrying about mess when the Tot should be just exploring. I need hoses and a quick tub of things for speedy clean ups. Also? How big are these pinecones?!?!? I love the spiced paint element too. 


Outdoor Play

Leaves, a few pipe cleaners and welly boots is all this threading activity takes. I love it and have just text a friend for a play date where we do this with our Tots. Thanking How Wee Learn for the inspiration of taking our obsessive collecting a step further. 

Add a little scavenging to your nature walk with a colour focus via Glitter Muffins. With so much interest in matching and sorting, I think I will be making a version of this without the fancy artist palette. A sturdy piece of card and some felt tips should be enough to get us started with a prompt. A great morning's activity I'm sure. 

Mud Kitchens- have you discovered the magic of these yet? I have to admit, I had my reservations as mud felt stressfully mucky with the Tot but you know what? There's something intensely satisfying about your toddler being so at ease with getting their hands dirty (oh Imagination Tree how you inspire me). I recommend some sturdy togs for this one.  

Fine Motor:

The Toddler is very into posting, threading and sorting right now so I stumbled happily upon this post earlier in the week via NurturingLearning.com. Ideas I can see us doing straight away are the acorn transfer with tongs (we just discovered tongs are hilarious fun), acorn posting in a tin with a slot cut in the top (have tin, will slot) and more leaf threading only this time with a button and elastic which I think might actually be easier than the pipe cleaners. I'll report back once we've tried it, probably on Instagram

Oh this one looks fun via The Artful Parent- contact paper, leaves you've collected and paper plates to make sun catchers. It's a variation on sticking the contact paper to a glass door and letting your toddler add things to a tree shape etc. We don't have easy access to that so suncatchers would work really well for us. Nature walk to crafty activitiy in the afternoon? Perfect. 

There's another version here via Fantastic Fun and Learning with leaf shapes to keep it really themed. 

All those paper plates you bought for Sun Catchers are the perfect paint trays for Leaf Printing. Gorgeous colours (and pictures of concetnration- how absorbed are those two tots?!?) via Meaningful Mama. 


I hope these inspire you as much as they have me. I'm excited to get outside with the Tot now. More tomorrow for the adults- layers and layers of shoulder season outfit inspirations!

Don't forget you have until midday 30th September to jump in and join us for the #harvestcal14 and don't forget, you can win prizes too!

The Art of Play

Well I had to write a post dedicated to Play eventually right?

It's no secret I am devoted to Play (capital intentional) both as an adult and for children. For me, play is about learning, being free and giving yourself permission to explore. Having a small toddler has reinforced any thoughts I had that Play is really so much more than 'free time'. Watching my little scientist actively learn concepts, acquire language and develop her understanding of the world has been mesmerising. 

The confusing thing for me is a constant barrage of suggested activities that come up on my various social media feeds. On one hand I'm delighted by ideas of what I can do to occupy a little girl always hungry for fresh experiences but on the other I'm left wondering if constantly finding activities makes it hard to just be free and Play?

There are very few times in a toddler's life (or indeed any age) when free time is just that. No chores, no routines, no need to be somewhere, no instructions, rules or boundaries. My Tot is a strong willed little person which will shock many of you I'm sure. While taking her to swim classes tires her out and gives her a vital skill there's always an exhaustion on both our parts at the bag packing, changing, wrestling into the buggy, navigating transport and 'please for the love of god, let's not be late AGAIN'-ness to it all. 

Last week I had two fun experiences that left both of us refreshed and content all day. I wanted to share them with you as I think sometimes simple, self directed Play is overlooked in value. I'm not here to preach, by all means work those pipe cleaners into an Easter scene and bake a million cookies (share them with me though, ok?). I just wanted to show what fun you can have by letting your child lead the way. 

We visited the V&A Museum last week as we had visitors from overseas. As soon as we got there, the Tot was keen and ready to point, discuss and explore. We initially tried to keep up with our friends who were having that kind of 'check things off a list' whirlwind visit that left me exhausted. However, the Playful Tot has a way of making things clear that she has her own agenda....

Yep. This is a zoomed in picture of my Tot, point blank refusing to keep up. She tottered to a doorway and stood for a long time enjoying the different lights between the rooms, the shadows that fell and of course, lots of people watching. I waved our friends on and instead crouched at her eye level and asked 'where shall we go next?' What followed was 2 glorious hours of a toddler tour of the museum. I honestly had no idea that there were so many plugs, or how wonderous those low fences are to a child of diminutive stature. She slept like a log and woke to babble away about the sculptures we saw and the magic truck we discovered. 

Pleased, I applied the same rules again but this time omitted the epic journey across London. Suited and booted with pockets ful of snacks and drinks, I took us just outside the house and plonked her down. With a little trolley to steady her or collect treasure with, we spent a good hour or so mooching along the path near our house. The thing that struck me most was the language that developed. Given the complete freedom to stop and comment or ask questions about things at her eye level, we talked about all sorts of new things. In the buggy or sling, we talk about things I can see or I deem interesting enough but from her position as leader, the Tot was able to open up a whole new world that I might otherwise have overlooked. 

It's a scary thing to just do nothing. We're programmed to feel we need to do MORE. The Tot however, is showing me and everyone else that if we trust her, she'll develop her own understanding just fine. 

Here's my top tips for self directed play:

- Take your time- This isn't something you allow 15 minutes for before you move on to the park. You might not make it to the park but that's ok. 

- Don't interrupt- This is key. We feel a need to narrate, explain or intervene at the tiniest frustration. It's ok. Learning doesn't need to be in a straight line. When we interrupt to add our explanation, we're changing the experience from theirs to ours. 

- Make safe- Toddler freedom comes with its risks. A busy roadside is not the best place to let your toddler be completely in control. Make sure things start off on the right foot by carefully choosing where you start your toddler led journey. 

- Permission- The Tot constantly looked up for reassurance, permission and guidance. I tried very hard to communicate to her that it was her choice. As time went on, she got bolder, stronger and more accomplished with her decision making. 

- Food and water- No toddler (or tired parent) functions well on low rations. Make sure you're well stocked so you don't have to pause when fully immersed to hunt out rice cakes. 

- weatherproofing- rain or shine, we go out and I take a splash suit and a jumper just in case. There's no reason a little rain should get in the way. Quite the opposite, the Tot is fascinated by raindrops on things. 

- Change your point of view- Ever sat in the floor at your gallery? Do it. See what your toddler sees. You'll honestly be amazed how different things look (or how many plug sockets there are). 

It's a weird skill to learn: the art of doing nothing. It's a vital one. Go forth and Play!

In Praise of Scones

Yesterday was another miserable wet day. I sighed, pulled out the waterproofs and we headed to the park muttering the words 'hopefully it won't get too wet'. When the rain started coming down horizontally, we retreated to cover and munched rice cakes while we gloomily surveyed swings we weren't going to go on again that morning. 

This is having a toddler. Wet days become about the less horizontal parts you manage to grab before retreating to whatever fun you can find indoors. Rain, unless it's 'soak you through to your knickers' wet is not necessarily a deterrent. However, I draw the line at horizontal and soggy knickers. 

Instead, we tried baking......

For our toddler sized baking session I chose scones for 2 reasons: no raw egg, and you can hide goodness in them such as sweet potato, courgette or in this case, Marmite and cheese. I also learned that anything you mix with your hands then 'cut out' is a hit too. 

I use a basic scone recipe but sub in a little wholemeal flour (about 50g) and if I have it in I also use buttermilk too. It makes for delicious fluffy scones. 

Having had a complete success with this activity, here's some top tips for cooking with toddlers:

- Food safety- think dry goods rather than raw eggs or cross contamination. Hands go everywhere and often in mouths!

- Simple tasks that we found easy: greasing the tray, squashing butter, sieving flour, stacking bowls and measuring spoons. 

- Have everything you need ready before you even start- even the washing up bowl of soapy water!

- Make a game of washing up. Washing up is great water play and helps you deal with the tidy up. I use sensitive washing up liquid anyway and she loves the bubbles. 

- Don't wear anything you care about getting dirty (see picture above for further explanation)

- Allow enough time. Flour is great sensory play so let it fly safe in the knowledge you don't have to be anywhere soon

- Secure seating: balancing acts and hot stoves/ flour are not a good combo. We used the tray of the high chair which made clean up easier too. 

Most importantly though is enjoy the scones together afterwards. That's surely the best bit about baking??

You can find a sugar and salt free recipe, suitable for toddlers and babies here