Invitation to play is the new sensory box!

I used to love sensory boxes. I’d make them up for Squeak while Quibble was at school and she would happily play with them alone and then share them with Quibble when he came home. I bought cheap shaving foam, small animal figures and all sorts of pulses, I dyed rice and collected little pots or any other junk that could be useful in exploring the different textures and I was generally very enthusiastic about the whole thing.

And then, I stopped.

I don’t remember when, or why. We just didn’t do them for a while and in that time Squeak grew up. Now she’s three (and loves to remind me she will be four on her next birthday), she seems too old to be interested in a toddler activity. And if she isn’t interested, then Squeak (with his constant requests for Pokemon cards or iPad games) certainly isn’t. And now I am left with all the stuff taking up space in our not-big-enough utility cupboard.

A few days ago I came across this idea from Picklebums, and I suddenly realised that I could use all the same things, presented as an Invitation To Play, which would make it TOTALLY different for them. Of course, I only have two ice cream tubs, but I managed to come up with this Halloween play:

image  Halloween play

I didn’t manage to take a ‘before’ photo, but I snapped these just as they started playing. Each tray has been covered with foil and has on it an ice cream tub with some shaving foam in, pom poms, lolly sticks, popcorn kernels, loom bands, pipe cleaners, paintbrush, plastic spoon, chopstick and a sheet of black paper. (Honestly, this was more than they needed.) It was loosely Halloween themed with the colours I chose – red, black, orange and green – but neither child seemed to do Halloween themed play, so perhaps this was more for my benefit than theirs! They used the shaving foam as glue, paint and ice cream. They made things and decorated things and wrote things on the silver foil.

Halloween playHalloween play

It kept them entertained for nearly an hour and I can see that the same simple set up (tray, tub with a sensory base and some bits) will work again and again. I’m thinking of using ice and glitter as a ‘Frozen’ theme, lentils and animal figures for a ‘farm’ theme, play dough and cupcake cases for a ‘baking’ theme. In fact, just unrelated stuff put together because Quibble and Squeak will find a way to put them together. These are definitely the new sensory box!

Hand in hand on the edge of the sand

Quibble and Squeak are holding hands, dancing around in a circle, giggling. Suddenly, they break apart and begin to run from one end of the lounge to the other, one arm outstretched shouting, ‘Superman! Superman!’. Quibble announces that it is time for the Big Ending and they both fall to the ground, legs in the air, waiting for their applause.

I blame myself. My love of Strictly Come Dancing predates both of my children. When the first series aired in 2004 I considered myself somewhat of an expert, having been a member of the Latin American and Ballroom Society at university. I tried to judge the celebrities fairly, as someone who understood a (dangerously) small amount of the technical aspects, but I usually just let myself get carried away by the beauty of the outfits and the magic of the dancing.

This year, for the first time, Quibble is old enough to stay up on a Saturday night to watch the first few dances with me. I tell Stanchion that seeing the scores adding up improves Quibble’s numeracy skills, that the exposure to different styles of music and dancing aids his creativity and self-expression and that it is good for him to see people responding to feedback. And I do believe that, I do. All those things are important… but, well, really, I love seeing him love the same things I do. On Sunday morning, after breakfast, we sit with Squeak at the iPad to show her the best dances. There is commentary from Quibble (who has an excellent memory for the judge’s comments), while Squeak points out all the different bright colours, and, in between the dances, they demonstrate their own unique interpretations of what they have seen. I usually just let myself get carried away by the, ahem, beauty and magic of the moment.

In twelve years of watching Strictly, I’ve never found anyone else who loves watching the dancing in the same way I do – except now I have. I’ve found two little people who like it so much they are currently attempting a mash up of a Waltz, the Superman Paso and what I can only assume is some sort of jazz ending.

“And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon.”
― Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat

5 things I’ve learnt about long car journeys with small children…

Thirteen hours in a car with two small children does not sound like fun. Unfortunately, (or possibly very fortunately) I didn’t think about this before I booked our holiday in the Vendee… a thirteen hour drive away. I spent a long time researching ways to entertain a two year old and a five year old (and had two willing volunteers to test them) and here’s five things I learnt:

1. It is important to know where you’re going – printing off a map of the journey with the route on seemed to give Quibble a sense of ownership because he could see where we were. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ was replaced with the slightly less annoying ‘where are we on the map?’
2. Busy hands make for quiet mouths – Both kids love play-doh, so to make it child friendly I put it in balloons making a stress-ball that could be squashed into simple shapes (although Squeak’s bananas bore little resemblance to the actual fruit). Another favourite was fiddling with pipe cleaners – Quibble made me a crown, a bracelet and a snowman and Squeak, well, she mostly just squashed them.
3. I Spy gets old very quickly – we were bored of it before we left Derbyshire, but we got a lot of mileage from a ‘Who can see..?’ variation and the kids excelled at ‘What am I?’ where we tried to guess the object, person or animal from a noise (Squeak always roared, even after Quibble tried to explain the rules to her). As Quibble loves counting, we tried counting how many of a certain thing (e.g. cow or tractor) we saw in a given time, sometimes trying to predict the answer first. I brought a couple of EyeSpy books with us, and although the kids are too young to start ticking them off and working out their point score, they quite liked going through them and announcing what they had seen.
4. Bags of toys rock – I gathered up all of their smallest toys (many were freebies from magazines) and found two little homemade cloth bags (previously given to them as party bags) to give out special treats whenever they really were bored. Lots of parents recommended wrapping toys, but putting them just a couple at a time in the little bags to pass back required less forward planning, created less mess and meant the same toys could be re-‘presented’. Their favourites were finger puppets, toy phones (they liked to phone each other) and old wallets filled with pretend money and out of date business cards.
5. If all else fails, snacks can save you – We had bottles of water, breadsticks, snack bars, boxes of raisins, biscuits and kinder treats, but the most popular snack by a long way was the fresh baguette we’d bought for lunch eaten Lady and the Tramp-style.

French bread is the best snack!
Baguette babies!

Here comes the sun (please)!

Last week had several sunny and warm(ish) days in a row and I was hit with a sudden need to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Unfortunately, my children don’t seem to share my enthusiasm. To be fair to them, the toys and TV are inside, whereas the garden is a relatively dull square of grass and a small plastic slide, so their reticence isn’t entirely unreasonable. I’ve tried quite a few ways to persuade them outside and these are the top five I’ve found:

1. A picnic – for some reason Quibble and Squeak think this is against the rules, so lunch, or even just a drink and snack, on a rug becomes an illicit treat.

2. Tunnels – we have a few pop-up tunnels in the shed and they are great for hide-and-seek, crawling (and chasing) through, rolling round in, squashing down and popping up… and anything else they can think of.

3. Water play – I’m not great with messy play in the house (luckily they get lots of it at nursery), but water outside doesn’t require cleaning. In full summer heat, we have the paddling pool and sprinklers, but in the spring-time warmth, I gather all sorts of jugs, bottles and bowls, paint brushes and spoons onto a towel on the patio or straight onto the grass.

4. Bubbles – ever since they were babies they’ve both loved watching bubbles. We now have a little bubble machine that I can set up for them to chase, but they are very keen to produce the bubbles themselves, so I also have some big sword wands and handheld bubble-makers for them to use. This summer I have big plans to use string and straws to create a giant bubble wand like this one for Quibble.

5. Box of toys – a little bit like a cheat sensory box, I like to grab a plastic box and throw in some toys and books at random, then take them into the garden with a blanket and some pillows. The kids are always a bit intrigued by what might be in the box and end up playing with the toys in a different way just because they are outside. This week we’ve had cars racing down the slide and Tre-Fu Tom fighting dinosaurs in the jungle (or lawn as it is usually known).

Of course, today it is back to rain and I should probably admit that I have bought them matching all-in-one waterproofs, for those rainy days of summer!