Sunday, 17 February 2019

Messy play- get creative!

If you’ve taken the plunge and had a go at a few simple messy play ideas that I shared in my previous post Messy play: the absolute basics you’ll hopefully be keen to try more. My children engage so much with these activities; they cooperate better with each other and me, they practice taking turns, they explore and it helps them gain confidence. Its not just my kids either, there is plenty of evidence and research to back this up too. So, to give you a few ideas to get creative with your messy play why not try the following: 

Coloured rice. Use uncooked rice, I dye mine with paint but if you prefer you can use food colouring and a splash of vinegar, this helps reduce the colour transfer to your hands. Leave to dry overnight and its good to go the next morning. Coloured rice can be stored in a box for months and reused for play so it’s a great resource to have ready prepared.

Coloured spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti for a couple of minutes less than normal, drain and rinse immediately with cold water to prevent it sticking together. Then mix with food colouring, in a bowl, and allow to dry. Prepare and use within 2 hours if possible and dispose of after you’ve finished playing. 

Coloured water. So simple, add a few drops of food colouring to water and it instantly becomes a little more exciting!

Coloured gloop. Make up gloop, one part water to two parts cornflour, then add a few drops of food colouring until you get the desired colour. You could also add glitter or small sequins.

Cloud dough. Mix 4 cups of flour and half a cup of oil (I use sunflower oil so its taste safe but you can use any oil including baby oil).

Why not try to following:

  • Coloured rice with sequins. Add in pots, pans and a tea set to let your little one cook up a special meal or treat.
  • Colour spaghetti two or three different colours. Add bowls or cups of the same colour with tongs, chopsticks, tweezers and scissors for some colour matching, fine motor fun.
  • Make a sensory colour bin. Look for items of all one colour such as cups, funnels, spoons or other items suitable to be played with in water. Add a few drops of the same colour food colouring to your water. 
  • Sparkly coloured gloop. Add glitter, pom poms and a colour of your choice to make the gloop really sparkle.
  • Coloured cloud dough. Add food colouring to the oil before mixing to colour your dough.

If you are looking to get more adventurous with messy play why not try looking through your kitchen cupboards and seeing what you’ve got stuffed at the back that is sitting going out of date. Some ideas for messy play; 

Baby rice mixed with melted coconut oil to form a baby taste safe cloud dough. If you want to colour use food colouring.  

Oats. Use oats, oats blitzed into oatmeal and water for a simple but fun messy play. 

Dried lentils. No need to colour as they come in a lovely orange colour, perfect for adding diggers and tractors to. 

Jelly. You can set things into jelly, like small toys or plastic gems or coins, give spoons and bowls and let your little explorer find some treasure.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Messy play - the absolute basics

When I first started looking for inspiration for messy play ideas, I found it all a bit overwhelming, so many of the setups I came across seem to be very elaborate and needed huge amounts of things I didn’t have. However, messy play or sensory play can actually be very simple especially for babies and young toddlers so there is no need to go out and buy lots of stuff, and often the simplest set ups will get the most play. I would also suggest another reason to hold back on your shopping in relation to messy play is that it’s best to observe your child(ren) first as with all things individual children will have their own likes and dislikes. For example, my toddler is not a big fan of being ‘sticky’ however my baby is all about textures and getting her hands stuck in. 

Before you start a messy play activity is a good idea to think about what you will place the activity in and where the activity will be carried out. If it’s the summer and you have a garden or some outside space this may save cleaning up time and it’s a nice excuse to spend more time outdoors. If you are looking to carry out the activity indoors consider a space that can be quickly wiped down, perhaps the kitchen or bathroom so you are not worrying about your carpets!

I use a garland garden tray which is basically a big seedling tray, its big enough to contain the activity but is compact for storage and has the added bonus of deep sides which is great for messy play. You can use any number of trays, so there is no need to get anything big or expensive unless you want to. For example; boot trays, cat litter trays or even just a large shallow storage box are all perfect for doing messy play activities in and should be fairly easy to clean up afterwards too.  There are of course tuff trays specifically designed for messy play which you can purchase in a range of colours with a stand they are large though so its worth considering where you would use it, store it and clean it after the activities. 

Messy play itself is very open ended and can be as simple or elaborate as you choose to make it. Personally, I’m a big fan of keeping it simple and letting the imaginations go wild! When setting up a messy play activity think about the materials, textures and themes you want to use. A good starting point is your child’s interests so if they love animals perhaps incorporate these into the messy play activity or if they love books you could choose one as inspiration for your play. Then look at the materials you have available, its probably more than you think! 

One of the best places to look for materials for your messy play is the kitchen. Some items I use a lot are; rice, dried lentils, cornflour, pasta in various shapes, oats, cocoa powder and, of course, water! Depending on the age of your child dried beans and pulses, such as black beans, chick peas and butter beans, are also great messy play additions.
Also look in your utensil drawer and cupboards- measuring cups or spoons, pots, pans, biscuit cutters, silicone cupcake cases, cups, bowls and jugs all make great additions to a messy play set up – just make sure nothing is breakable. Other places to look for items to add to your messy play is your recycling box; toilet roll tubes, kitchen roll tubes, empty yoghurt pots, egg boxes and plastic bottles especially with squeezy tops are great additions. Don’t forget to look in the toy box too; plastic tea set, animal figures, plastic character figures from books or tv programmes, small blocks or balls, play kitchen utensils and pots and pans there are lots of possibilities just make sure it’s something that can get messy and wet without getting damaged in anyway. 

Some easy messy play set ups to get you going are:

Gloop (or oobleck): cornflour and water in a roughly 2 parts cornflour to 1 part water. Put some spoons, jugs and cups in the tray too and let your little ones explore. 
Rice; this can be a really quick and easy set up which isn’t too messy either. In addition to the rice you could put in a tea set, spoons, pots, pans, cupcake cases, biscuit cutters, toilet roll tubes, egg boxes lots of possibilities with this one! 

Cooked spaghetti: pop in some cooked but cooled spaghetti (rinse with cold water immediately after cooking to stop it sticking together) some play scissors for toddlers, tongs, bowls, a colander. Lots of fun! 

    Muddy puddles: mix up cornflour, cooca powder and water. You can start with the same ratio as gloop and add more water or cornflour as you wish. Pop in your tray as a series of muddy puddles with farm animals, character figures (perfect for Peppa pig fans) and a small bowl of water with a cloth or sponge for cleaning up the muddy animals/characters after all that puddle jumping! 
    Water: the original messy play. You can add cups, squeezy bottles, jugs, spoons, balls, animal figures that are found in water such as fish or turtles. I’d suggest putting a few old towels under the container you use to make the clean up a little easier.

Messy play is a great way for child to explore in a safe way and doesn't have to look insta-worthy or need lots of special things for a child to enjoy it. I hope you and your child(ren) enjoy trying out some messy play very soon!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Sibling Play

Who else finds this hard to achieve when it comes to play? My girls are 21 months apart so very soon will be able to do lots of activities together but right now at 7 months and just over 2 years the difference in their abilities and interests feels big.
Before Christmas on my Instagram page I did a series of posts sharing ideas for sibling play,  #12daysofsiblingplay. This is a summary of these ideas as well as few tried and tested favourites. 

·         Messy or Sensory Play
Please remember, when doing messy or sensory play with a baby remember to consider that everything that is made available could be put in their mouth so make sure it’s not a choking risk or unsuitable to possibly ingest. 

I put together this tray of tissue paper circles/confetti, some containers and utensils. My youngest, 7 months at the time, did try to shove some confetti in her mouth, I was closely supervising throughout so just distracted her and took it out her hand. It’s a nice party or celebration activity. 
More of a festive one but could be adapted to make edible moon sand, baby safe fake snow. I really wanted to do fake snow in the run up to Christmas with the girls but didn't feel comfortable using anything that wasn't truly taste safe. So, in the end I made this.... baby rice and coconut oil! I did 1 cup of baby rice to 1/4 of a cup of melted coconut oil but I think next time I'll add a bit more so it holds a shape a little better. Needless to say, they both loved this and it was very messy although a quick hoover got the worst it does get everywhere!! 

Rice play. We love coloured rice; the girls spend ages playing with it and it's so nice to see them enjoying something like this together. Coloured rice keeps for ages in a sealed container, I dye mine with paint and it takes 5 minutes, and is a great resource to have for play. You can use it in lots of different ways, the tray below is a festive themed set up but you could add a tea set, pots, pans, utensils, funnels, different size containers, cupcake cases- there are almost endless possibilities!
Lights. I have a stash of glow sticks that I get out not too often so the excitement doesn’t wear off but its excellent for dark winter afternoons! You can play games by making them into hoops, pop them into a clear bottle or small box to act as a do-it-yourself light box or just get some music on and do some dancing!

·         Cars or Trains
Using washi tape set up you can make a road/runway for the cars using washi tape and extend play by making cardboard box garages or adding bridges or tunnels.  

·         Nursery Rhymes
Grab some prompts for nursery rhymes and musical instruments, to add a bit of interest for toddlers with a short attention span! As they get older, they can guess the song from the prompt too. For babies, there is lots to explore and singing can be enjoyed by even the tiniest of babies. Prompts could be things like; a star for twinkle twinkle little star, a sheep for baa baa black sheep, a rabbit for sleeping bunnies, farm animals for Old MacDonald etc. 
·         Blocks
Wooden blocks to build towers, duplo or mega blocks can all be safely enjoyed by babies as well as providing enough interest and stimulation for toddlers. 
·         Reading
We love reading stories together and it’s a really lovely way for children to share an activity right from day 1. I tend to have a mixture of books with lift the flap, noisy books and we also visit our local library regularly to try some different books. Story sacks, are also a great way to bring a book to life for a baby or toddler. I have done a few now and they’ve all been a big hit and take only a couple of minutes to put together. I put all the items linked to the story in a small cloth bag and then ask my toddler to pick out the items as they appear in the story. Some easy books to replicate this with are Oh Dear, The Gruffalo and We’re going on a Bear hunt. But you could adapt it to lots of children’s books. 

·         Teddy Bears Picnic
My two love this and the littlest gets served her own (pretend) food to eat at the picnic which she dutifully gnaws at.

·         Treasure baskets/trays
I love these as they can both explore as they wish. Choose a theme and remember if its for a baby everything will go in their mouth! They are also super quick to set up and tidy away. Colour based treasure baskets are quick and easy to put together, The example below is red and green, as it was December, add in a pair of jumbo tweezers for some fine motor skill practice for toddlers. I also added the muffin tin to give an opportunity for sorting and playing with sizes and space. 
They both enjoy treasure baskets and play in different ways which you expect given their ages. Baby was exploring, looking at things, putting them in her mouth, trying to pick things up etc. My 2-year-old had a go with the tweezers and then recognised some parts of a wooden caterpillar puzzle we had and went off to find the other bits. She then brought all the wooden blocks over and started picking out green ones. This could be adapted for different themes e.g. Other colours, different balls, different animals whatever you want to go with or follow your child(rens) interests.

What are your favourite easy sibling play ideas?

Things to do with 2 under 2 - A guest blog post

I was fortunate enough to do a blog post for the fabulous Claire at play hooray. You can read it here: