Wendel’s Workshop

30 09 2011

LBM loves this book – I’ve read it over and over again and it’s a book he asks for just after it’s finished. It’s a story that appeals to the inventor in children and LBM likes the robots that Wendel creates to overcome the mad tidying robot set on world domination. I’ve been thinking of some type of activity to do with this for a while and as I made some discovery bottle for BBL this week I also made one for LBM. It’s a Robot discovery bottle – a plastic bottle full of nuts, bolts, screws, washers, googly eyes, springs, wire and anything else I could find that was interesting and robot like. I don’t think he could quite believe he was being allowed to play with such interesting things but he was.

The aim was to give him the chance to invent his own robot so he was given a foil covered bit of cardboard to lay the parts on. I didn’t really have a plan though so just let him explore what was inside. Great for developing an understanding of how things fit together and work. There was a tiny speaker in there taken from one of those annoying birthday cards and it had a magnet in it. LBM spent time testing what would stick and what wouldn’t. A small spanner also intrigued him so once I’d had a new spring fitted to my finger he tried tightening it. A good way of developing fine motor skills because threading the spanner in between the coils was a bit tricky.

The best part though was his discovery that the wire could be poked through the holes in the nuts and washers. I hadn’t thought about this when I put the bottle together but I’m glad his curiosity helped him with this discovery. He shows very little interest in the threading beads we have so how cool is this for encouraging little boys to develop fine motor skills? It’s so much more motivating than a wooden bead. I think I’ll add a few more washers for threading because they were also great for resting googly eyes on.  He also spent ages talking to himself and inventing little stories about robots. All in all an engaging activity for him.


The Owl and the Pussycat

29 09 2011

Today we went to the Grandparents again to use their garden so I took a different bag of things – our outside play bag. As we don’t have a garden I’ve ended up having outdoor toys stored in a bag that can be taken to parks or outdoor spaces when we go out. It has a variety of things in it and they get rotated in and out if I have a plan (I removed kites, cones, balls and mini tennis rackets today as there was little chance of wind or me mustering up the energy to play football or tennis!) When we got into the garden I lay the parachute out and blew up the boat (I felt lightheaded so I must remember to add a pump which would also help with the balls). LBM happily played around pretending to be at sea whilst I made it ripple. Lots of fun. After raiding the Grandparents book collection for anything sea like I could only come up with a Secret Seahorse book – a nice one but it’s about under the sea stuff and we were sailing. I ended up having to recite The Owl and the Pussycat as best I could. LBM chose to be the pussycat and when BBL joined us he had no choice but to be the owl (I guess that makes me either a pig or a turkey – great)

They played in the boat together climbing in and out and feeling the rough seas of the parachute and had a lovely time. At least they packed a bit more sensibly than the Owl and the Pussycat as it looks like BBL had his mobile phone with him.

Explorer’s Box

29 09 2011

This rather unexpected warm weather means I had to reconsider my plans for an autumn walk with LBM and BBL because it’s just too hot to be thinking about conkers and leaves. I’m thinking about cool drinks with condensation on the outside and some form of salted snack whilst sitting in the sun…Anyway our house gets so hot in this kind of weather that we decamped to the Grandparents. I thought I’d still stick with some kind of nature investigation so took our Explorers Box – it has a items in it which mean we can have a good look at anything interesting we find when we’re out and about (by the way – if you’re scared of spiders you’ll be pleased to know that’s not a real spider in the magnifying box but the identification card underneath – the real spiders are in the next picture!)

The box includes a pencil and a pad, magnifying glass, bug collecting jar, magnifying box, tweezers and a pack of Usborne cards with things to find in the garden. (it also has handwarmers for cold weather exploring. Not practical this week!) There were surprisingly few bugs around though  so after we’d found one spider it became a bit a bit hard to keep LBM engaged. However, when it came to releasing the spider LBM perked up and immediately chose the drain cover to return Incy Wincy to his home. Whether he made it anywhere safely we’ll never know but I’m sure the large spider already living there was not best pleased to discover another one had just been thrown into his house. Whoops!

BBL also got to participate a little in the spidery activity after “reading” an Incy Wincy spider book with sounds. Reading books outside makes the experience very different and BBL is just starting to develop an interest in them. Take books with you whenever you go outside because it makes them a much more valued part of play. The Explorers Box also helps to encourage literacy as it includes the identification cards and a notebook for recording finds. Whether they can write or not any mark making in the book helps children understand the link between what you’ve found and how to record information. As long as you date and annotate it for little ones you’ll be able to keep a record of what you’ve discovered together. That’ll be spiders for us then!

Duplo Number Towers

25 09 2011

Duplo is one of those toys with endless uses – creating, building, sorting,  fine motor control development, counting …it’s brilliant for helping children get their heads round a very abstract concept. I recently subscribed to Junior Magazine and got a free gift which was a Duplo number set. I love it more than the children I think. Making number activities fun isn’t something I recall from my own childhood so I do try and add little twists to them to keep LBM’s attention. I got all the builder characters together, put the men at work sign up and told LBM we were going to build towers but first needed to put the foundations down. This then meant finding all the picture blocks and getting them in the right order. Then we put the door numbers on which meant finding the right numbers to match the foundations and finally we added the floors to the towers.

There was a bit of mummy involvement with picking the colours because I think its more visually apparent how the numbers are broken down when the colours aren’t abstract themselves. I wish I’d been able to play with numbers like this when I was young because I really didn’t enjoy the maths as much as I do now!

8 Tips for Keeping Messy Play Contained

23 09 2011

Messy play is messy. It’s creative fun and it’s good for children to explore using all their senses. It means they can play with things how they want without having someone else impose their ideas on them. Children’s play tends to focus on toys or creating something recognisable by an adult and this misses out on the benefits children get from exploring materials with different textures and colours and using all their senses to do it.

It is also messy which a lot of people really don’t like. I made a decision a long time ago not to care about the stains on my children’s clothes or the drawings on the wall. They grow out of the clothes and walls can be repainted. Their development is more important than an appearance. However, like most people, having your children take over your house is not something you quite prepare yourself for and I do try and contain it where possible. Below are 8 tips for keeping messy play (reasonably) contained but letting children explore and develop skills that will help them understand their world.


These cost about £16 delivered and you can even get them from Amazon. They have enough space for children to play in but things don’t escape over the edges. I’ve used mine for sand play, moon sand, shaving foam, bark and plants, soil, imitation snow, oats, rice, leaves, as a car wash – its uses are limited by your materials! I use them indoors as I don’t have a garden and it contains many of messy things that spread around otherwise. I tend to put it in the kitchen and children are dusted down before they leave the room thus helping to contain mess further. A dustpan and brush, handheld hoover and on a mat also really  help.


I’ve found shower curtains to be a good investment as floor mats. Ikea do cheap ones and you can probably find them even cheaper. They’re big, waterproof and seem to fold up smaller than any of the splash mats you can buy at an expensive designer price. They can be washed in the washing machine which is a plus point as oilcloth can’t be.  Use them on the floor under the building tray or on a table and mess doesn’t get everywhere. Some of them are quite artistic looking too once they come to the end of their usefulness.


Having specific clothes to wear when painting is an easy one. T-shirts that are a couple of sizes too big are helpful or art smocks. The problem with those though are that little babies don’t always want to wear one or fit it comfortably. They can’t use their arms properly so the messy play experience isn’t as good. However, being mostly naked is best. Up until potty training you can strip a baby down to just their nappy. Skin is easier to clean, nappies are going to be changed at some point and they get to explore using more skin than just finger tips and face. Putting them in the bath afterwards is also extra water play especially if it’s not at bath time.


I do not advocate limiting a child’s creativity. Only giving children a small amount of materials to explore is a very unsatisfying experience. If you limit things you can’t expect them to ask for more to get a better experience. Pre-talkers can’t do that anyway and need to experience large volumes of materials to really get a feel of it. But you can limit some of the messy things you give to children like paint. You can always top it up if they have run out and seem to be engrossed in the activity.

Plastic cups, old fruit trays, bowls or muffin trays can be filled with items or liquids. It is difficult to let children have free reign with materials if it’s in your own house and you like things a certain way, so give them a quantity you and they can enjoy. This is more relevant to activities I’ve done such as the ice cream parlour. Only giving them a small amount of beads in a muffin tin is better than letting them have the whole jar and watching as beads bounce around the kitchen into the cracks in the flooring. It is very gratifying though to have children visit who start off appalled and then enjoy the freedom to make mess. LBM pouring his whole container of (my predetermined quantity) rice into his playdough was met with shock by another child recently. After she realised it was OK to do it in my house she followed suit telling me about how she wasn’t allowed to do that at home. Five minutes of pure child pleasure followed. Brilliant and not as messy as it could have been!


Consider washable kitchen or bathroom paint on your walls if you are prepared to relax your standards for a few years. I’ve discovered pink or red colours tend to stain more but most wipe off really well if you get to them quick enough. Any dry materials are easily hoovered or swept up too. You can often get the children to help too because for some reason they love sweeping or using the handheld hoover. Any old muslins you’ve got can be used to wipe children down and put in the washing machine. Cheaper than wet wipes and bigger for the really messy play.


LBM is not keen on wet messy play – he’s never shown an interest in playing with his food, doesn’t like getting too messy and asks for his hands to be wiped whenever they’re too covered in stuff for his liking. It’s just not his thing. He loves painting but it has to be with a brush. He’s much happier with dry messy play – sand or moon sand, oats, rainbow rice, beans or shaving foam which he doesn’t find as objectionable for some reason. If it’s the first time you’re trying messy play with your child or you don’t think they’ll like it then try dry first. All the things listed above give them a chance to start experimenting. You can then move on to food colouring or coloured ice cubes in a bath to introduce the idea of mixing colour or “mess” into the water.  Some children really don’t like getting messy so respect their preference and try other ideas where they make a mess but not a wet one.


If you do attempt messy play then don’t leave them unattended as creativity will happen! You really do need to be around to wipe the floor, walls and anything else they cover…

Tip 8 – ENJOY IT

Enjoy messy play with your children and do it at home using some of the above tips. Question your own reasons for saying no if it is only about keeping the wall, floor or their clothes clean. I know some people recommend leaving it to a nursery or the childminder to do as it’s their job but you’ll miss out on the times your child tries something different and tells you “I’ve painted a new face”. This stage of a child’s life really is so short (even if it feels longer) and you’ll remember this more than you will the times they spend on a computer…blogging…

You Can’t Eat a Princess

23 09 2011

I won’t lie. This was a messy activity and involved lots of floor and children covering. I found the idea on the internet and thought it sounded like good creative mess. BBL is much more into messy play and is attracted to anything with texture that he can rub his hands through and over. LBM hasn’t ever really liked messy play but he likes the book You Can’t Eat a Princess who’s main character is called Princess Spaghetti. I thought this might help get him involved for a bit longer. After lunch (in the hope that BBL wouldn’t feel it necessary to eat that much of the spaghetti) we read the book and got the paint and spaghetti ready. I have other ideas in mind for activities with the book because it involves chocolate, aliens, rockets and princesses in the leading role – a great combination. I’ll hopefully try those soon too.

LBM is going through a green phase (following a pink one) where everything is green so most of the paint was green. I find limiting the palette of colours available in activities like this means it doesn’t end up brown and you get tones and colour mixing still. I covered the floor with a shower curtain, covered the baby in his art smock (but shouldn’t have bothered as he still managed to get it on his vest) and stuck the paper to the table. One big bowl with cooked spaghetti and a little bit of vegetable oil to stop it sticking and one to put the used spaghetti in. The paint bowls were BBL’s plastic weaning ones which I’ve had enough of using now. (A bowl works whether it’s called weaning or not so he’s onto real bowls now!) A packet of wipes and a muslin I use to wipe hands was also to hand because this is the kind of activity that gives messy play it’s name.

As I expected BBL loved it – there was lots of shaking spaghetti, eating it, rubbing his hands through the paint. He even let some hang off the edge of the table and watched it ooze itself down onto my well placed shower curtain. LBM tripped over the edge of the curtain before I could clean it up so the dropped spaghetti still ended up on the floor – as I said…this is messy! Their pictures are interesting and have hand prints in amongst the spaghetti. LBM didn’t stay for long but at least he tried it and actually made a big picture in a short space of time.

I think I will do this again (mainly with BBL) and possibly use runnier food colouring as paint to get a more layered effect as the ready mix and finger paint I used was quite thick so blended together. A good activity for babies though as the brushes are edible, if unpleasant with paint on. BBL didn’t try and swallow any which may have had something to do with feeding him after lunch.

For many people the effort of getting an activity like this organised and then having to tidy up afterwards would put them off. It does seem like a lot for the small amount of interaction I got out of LBM and BBL but if I thought like that I’d never bother to cook a roast dinner. And roast dinners are definitely worth the preparation and tidying up.

Handa’s Surprise

22 09 2011

Handa’s Surprise is a book which I’m just not that enamoured by. LBM likes it but I just don’t get excited about it. I think I don’t like it because of the quality of the  illustrations but I can see why it seems to be in every nursery or childminding setting. It’s a simple story, introduces some good vocabulary and has a funny surprise at the end. It does also lead to a sensory experience that even little babies can enjoy. As we walked home from the play cafe today we went to the market. It’s an opportunity to seek out unusual fruit and vegetables (I’ve got to find an activity to do with romanesco cauliflowers which look like they belong on a dinosaur’s back – spikey and green). Anyway we walked through the market and bought as many of the fruit as we could find from the book. The guava was impossible so I ended up having to add a fruit pouch that had guava in it. We have most of the animals except for the goat and a parrot but no-one was complaining when there was a giraffe and a monkey to stick in the spiky leaves of the pineapple.

BBL dived straight towards the banana and was satisfied with that mainly. After reading the story and feeling and smelling all the fruit (except the banana which BBL wouldn’t give up and didn’t want to share) we tasted some. BBL pulled faces at the orange but didn’t bat an eyelid at the passion fruit. We stopped after that because the avocado and mango aren’t ripe enough yet and the pineapple would be better investigated at the table. This activity was great for BBL because he could participate without making too much mess and there was nothing to worry about if he put anything in his mouth. I believe you need to be a bit cautious with unripe green passion fruit skin from wild fruit and wouldn’t recommend anything other than eating the seeds from a ripe passion fruit. There was an incident in the 1970’s in South America where a child died from eating the unripe skins which have cyanide in them. (It still makes them safe to eat now otherwise they wouldn’t be in supermarkets) As with all activities with food involved just check for allergies and keep an eye on the children to make sure they don’t eat bits they shouldn’t.