10 simple activities you can set up, using things you already have!

Sometimes all these Pinterest ideas can seem a bit far flung, or that you need a Blue Peter style cupboard of tricks to be able to set them up. This can put you off before you even get started. For me, there’s nothing worse, as both a parent and a teacher, than spending a long time setting up an activity for the children to use it for all of five minutes, or for it to take forever to clear up after that 5 minutes of fun. Here I’ve put together some quick to set up, minimal clean up activities you could do the minute you’ve finished reading this post because you will likely already have everything you need.

Colour Sorting

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Wonderfully simple. To set up you can use a large sheet of paper, lots of small sheets, hoops, starter objects – just something to mark where to put objects of certain colours. You can do as many or as few colours as you like. For very young children you could take them on a hunt for one specific colour, taking a basket or bag to fill along the way.

For pre schoolers you can begin to talk about which colour has more/less objects. You can count up and tally how many each group has. You can open up ideas about where to put an object that has more than one colour on. Lots of naturally evolving numeracy links – sorting, classifying, counting and comparison. Plus it’s so pretty!

Weaving

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Now I know not everyone have a box full of ribbons – but hold on! You can weave with anything really, so long as its long, thin and flexible. Strips of carrier bags or old unwanted t-shirts, wool, string, leaves, feathers…. go mad! We used our cooling rack to weave through, but a shelf from your oven will work just as well. You could always go bigger and weave through the garden gate.

There’s lots of fine motor practise in here for little ones, meaning all those little finger muscles needed to manipulate a pencil and other tools such as scissors are being exercised and strengthened. You can see in the last picture that Squidge is using both hands – perfect for pre writers who are yet to decide whether they are lefties or righties (not in a political sense ;)).

Water Play

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Water play is a really easy one, you need a tub – a washing up bowl is perfect, and something to put in it. Anything can be used, when Squidge was tiny and we didn’t have a collection of bath toys, I used to use any plastic containers I could find such as baby bottles and tupperware. You can add sieves, colinders, giant spoons from your cutlery drawer, ladels, whisks – anything so long as you deem it safe. I often colour our water with liquid food colouring, chuck in some glitter or just a squirt of soap.

My two always get in the tub – always. So be prepared with a towel and a change of clothes. If you try this one indoors put a towel underneath your tub so you’re not worried about the splashes. Boo loves water play and there’s a whole post dedicated to this session here.

Kite flying

Now you cannot get much simpler than this one. A carrier bag and some string – tie your two carrier bag handles together, tie a loop at the bottom as a little handle et voila, you have yourself an awesome kite. Can be made in a breath as soon as the wind picks up – or if you’re an avid weather watcher, you could make your kite in advance and give your little ones the opportunity to decorate it.

Squidge loved flying this one, and when the wind died down she would run the length of the garden to get it flying again. Great exercise and plenty of giggles. There’s lots of opportunity to talk about cause and effect and the weather. You could also talk about what happens to your body when you run fast – “Feel your heart beat, is it pumping fast or slow? What do you think is happening inside your body when you run fast?”.

Puzzles for letter and number recognition

This little activity took 5 minutes to set up and kept Squidge busy while I made tea. Squidge had completed this jigsaw quite a few times before I introduced this match up activity. She doesn’t know the name of many of the letters yet. We play with the sounds much more – ‘Oh look you’ve got k, k, k, can you say that k, k, k?’. Playing with and listening for sounds in the environment is the step before actual phonic knowledge. So have a play, make animals sounds together, stop and listen in different places, at home, the park, near a busy road, and ask what they can hear.

This activity will obviously work with numbers too. You could draw around different shapes, draw around the bottom of familiar toys and see if they can match them up. I’ve seen some great ideas for matching colour patterns with buttons and pegs (red, blue, red, blue etc). Just look what you have around you and see if you can turn it into a simple game – a new use for what you already have.

Jump the River

This quick and simple game came from Fiona over at Coombe Mill. They use two large sticks, each child jumps across the ‘River’ in turn. In Fiona’s video there’s a line of children, varying in age, and by using the sticks they were able to quickly adapt the breadth of the river for each and every one. We didn’t have any sticks, so I used a piece of fabric. We started with a slim river and I made it wider and wider. A great one for gross motor skills.

Washing Line

Do you have one of those drawers in your house, you know the one with all the odds and ends? Have a peep and see if you have any loopy picture hooks – we had a few so I used them and my never ending ribbon supply to make our washing line (String and drawing pins will work, but may be more temporary). I hooked it up to Squidge and Boo’s Wendy House so they could extend their role play (Boo is a bit little for this yet). I put out pegs and some of their old baby grows and more or less left Squidge to it. Using pegs is another great fine motor exercise working that pincer movement. Squidge did struggle at first, so this meant she had to persevere to get her clothes hung on the line.

I’ve also added a washing line to my slowly developing number area at the other side of the garden. We’ve used it a couple of times to hang flashcards on (which I got in a charity shop for 50p!). Hanging a certain number of pegs is another task we’ve tried.

Peg Number Match

Sticking with the peg theme, we used wooden pegs on a piece of card with numbers written on both. Admittedly if your pegs aren’t wooden ones you may find this more difficult – a permanent marker may work, but if not, you can pick up 100 pegs for just over a £1 in the bargain shops – then you don’t need to keep stealing them back for the actual washing!

The same applies to this activity with the fine motor skills as well as number recognition. You can adapt this activity in many ways, try putting coloured dots on and match patterns. You could add letters to match up their name or to spell simple words. We’ll definitely be trying other ways of playing.

Baking

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Now if you’re anything like me, this one may fill you with dread, but bear with me. When you do attempt baking do not set yourself up to fail by expecting to have Great British Bake Off worthy cakes. If you purely focus on the process – with so many maths opportunities, the chance to see the change as different ingredients are added and another change as it bakes – then the product at the end really doesn’t matter. Also have in the back of your mind, if they made it, they’ll love it anyway.

Back to the maths opportunities – counting how many eggs you need, weighing out ingredients (I like to draw a mark on the scales and get Squidge to tell me if I need more or less – she’s getting good at it, “More, more, a tiny bit more Mummy”), patterns with the bun cases if you happen to have coloured ones and possibly counting or pattern making with any decorations you add. Really worth it, even if your wares are not entirely edible.

Ice Attack!

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Another easy one assuming that your little person is as obsessed as Squidge is with teeny, tiny toys. If not you can use bigger ones in a larger tub – an old ice cream tub works great and I used one as well as the tray (that is a little Blue Petery – apologies). Throw in the toys, whack them in the freezer, you can forget all about them. Careful though, as anyone not in on the idea who looks in your freezer may think you’ve gone a little mad.

I got this one out on a hot day in the garden, less mess, virtually no clean up. I introduced it with a bit of a dramatic “Oh my goodness, look! Someone has frozen your little dudes!”, Squidge saw through this Oscar worthy performance in a nano second “It was you Mummy”. Gutted, I was fully prepared to carry out a whole drama about ‘Iceman’, a heinous villain with a dastardly plan to take over the world, but never mind.

The girls loved this one, they played for ages trying to rescue the little figures. They were delighted every time one was freed. They decided in the end that chomping and sucking the ice was the best way to get them out (obviously I was closely supervising). And yes, that is Boo climbing into a tray of ice cold water… she was perfectly content in there…

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So there we have it. 10 simple to set up, almost mess free activities that you can try. After looking through them, how many could you realistically have a go at? Which one do you fancy trying first? I’d love to know. I’d also love to hear about activities you’ve tried and loved in the past. If I’ve gained nothing else from joining the whole blogging community, I’ve definitely racked up a whole boat load of new ideas… maybe I’ll have to do a list of those I try and test!

As always, lots of love, Cat, Squidge and Boo Xxx

 
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Marble Painting

On a meander through the bargain stores the other day we picked up a huge bag of marbles for a pound. I wanted them for the Water Wall  and I knew we’d be able to use them for Marble Painting

For this activity you will need:

  • Paper (we used the last of our big roll from Ikea, but A4 will work just as well)
  • Tray/box
  • Paint
  • Marbles
  • Double sided tape (or my favourite trick, a short piece of normal tape, rolled back into a loop, so it’s sticky on both sides ;))
  • A bucket of soapy water and a towel (for the clean up)

I decided we’d use all the colours in the first go – I have a thing for rainbows. I thought if it came out as well as I was expecting it could fill some of the magnolia/beige walls in the playroom. This room has been dubbed the most liveable since we moved in a year ago, so it’s last on the list for decorating. This means Squidge, Boo and I have to jazz it up any way we can.

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I squirted blobs of paint in a diagonal line to try encourage the girls to roll the marbles all over. It took them quite a while to figure this one out. I explained to Squidge that the marbles needed to roll through the paint, after some serious contemplation she picked up a marble and threw it in. I let her do this a few times so she could explore what happened. Boo was also keen to pick out the marbles (then run off up the garden with them! Cheeky monkey).

After some exploration (and a few laps of the garden chasing the marble thief) I pulled out my favourite starter ‘I wonder… what would happen if you lifted the box up?’. I’ve mentioned ‘I wonder…’ statements before but if you’re visiting for the first time, I’ll rave about them again. By thinking aloud as the adult, you are introducing an idea to a child, without them having to take it. There is no push, no command for them to do it, it’s their choice to take the idea and try it out or dismiss it. Most times children will give it a go and you’ll get a much better response than if you simply tell them what to do. These type of statements can promote and challenge children’s thinking in all kinds of situations. Give it a try, I’d love to hear how you get on.

Once I’d introduced the idea, Squidge did indeed lift the box. Both girls squealed as the marbles made trails through the paint. I helped Boo lift the box from the other end. Neither of them seemed to like it when the marbles got stuck in the blobs so they kept stopping to fish them out. I tried to reassure them that they’d roll out on their own eventually, but they were having none of it.

Squidge really got into it and was running from one end of the box to the other to lift it. Picking out marbles that got stuck and dropping them back in. Boo observed from the sidelines, encouraging Squidge with her giggles and squeals as the rainbow grew.

Once most of the paint had been rolled, we took out the marbles and washed them in the waiting bucket of soapy water and dried them on the towel. I asked if Squidge would like another go, she said she did. This time around I let her choose which colours she’d like and gave her a few options as to where she’d like the blobs.

Before we started Squidge wanted me to take a picture – she too is getting into this blogging frame of mind! Then she threw in the marbles. I left her to this one, no intervention or suggestions needed on my part at this stage – she was free to explore.

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When Squidge had finished I hung both masterpieces on the washing line to dry out. They looked fab blowing in the wind – even if my neighbours think I’m crackers. They are both now pride of place in the playroom. Hanging children’s work can be a good reminder of what they’ve done in the past. Sometimes you may need to draw attention back to it ‘Do you remember how you made this?’, as after a while anything hung on a wall will become wallpaper, no longer noticed.

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In hindsight, it may have been better to try this activity on a small scale first, so Squidge and Boo could really manipulate the marbles, rolling them in different directions. I think I will give it another try in a smaller container, perhaps with one blob of paint in the middle and only a few marbles. It would be nice to see the difference in what they produce. We could then move onto two colours, with a challenge of trying to mix them.

The idea with this activity is that they enjoy the process, it doesn’t matter what they produce in the end (even if I did make Squidge wash her hands half way through after she squashed her hand in the pink and I wanted it to look pretty for the wall…I think she forgives me now she can see it up there).

What do you think, will you give this one a go?

Lots of love, Cat, Squidge and Boo

If you enjoyed this post check out this messy play delight – squirty cream is involved 🙂 

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Something fishy…

We purchased some ‘Twirl Tubes’ for our new water wall the other day. If you’ve never seen them, they are  long, fluorescent bendy pipes – like a giant version of the bendy bit in a straw. Squidge decided that they were fishing rods (besides them being long, I have no idea why) and off she went about the house ‘fishing’.

Being a teacher (aka hoarder of all things crafty and/or reusable) and quite creative I decided I’d make her an actual fishing rod with fish to catch. I had in mind a plastic, wind up version from when I was little. The fish would bob up and down, opening and closing their mouths and you’d have to catch them with your magnetic rod. Obviously I couldn’t quite go that far, but the magnets and rods could be done.

For this activity you will need:

  • Drumsticks (or lengths of dowel)
  • Coloured foam and felt (coloured card would also work)
  • Paperclips
  • Magnets
  • Permanent marker
  • Fishing wire (or string)
  • Glue gun
  • Tray
  • Material for decorating/background

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Squidge watched me prepare this activity and was excited the minute she saw that I was cutting out fish. She helped me put the paperclips on each one. She is clearly getting used to me blogging our activities as before she dived in she asked me if I wanted to take a photo!

Once the photo was done, she went straight for the biggest fish in the ‘tank’. She had reasonable control over the rod and line but after about a minute, maybe two, she got annoyed and tossed the rod to one side. This is a fairly regular occurrence at the minute, she gives up really quickly and decides she can’t do it – when we both know full well with a bit of effort she could. Putting on her socks is the one that springs to mind.

At this point I calmly told her it was a difficult game and she had two choices, she could cry or she could try. If she cried, she definitely wouldn’t be able to do it. If she tried, she’d at least have a chance. I then left her to think about it – removing my attention from her paddy. I’d given her clear choices, the rest was up to her. I use this tactic a lot to manage behaviour and the majority of times it works a treat. Two options, the two consequences, leave to simmer and nine times out of ten they come to you with the right choice.

Squidge soon picked up her rod and decided to give it another go. Within a minute she’d caught the elusive fish, her satisfaction ever greater after the initial struggle. Fish after fish was caught, delight on her face every single time. Her level of concentration was so high. There was a little bit of cheating here and there, but I let it go, she was going to need some practice before playing against an all time magnetic fishing champion – Me of course.

With our game faces on, we were off! In this family (my husband’s side in particular – all of them!!) you play to win. This is a good thing to learn early. Hubby took me out of the legendary ‘Hat Game’ at my first major family Christmas Party, being new to it I was an easy target. I’ve never forgiven him. With this competitive spirit in mind I let Squidge believe that I was trying my best. Even if it wasn’t strictly true, she is only 3 and I do have a heart.

She was so excited, you can see it in her face. Every time she caught a fish she was counting up how many she had. Needless to say she beat me several times. I made sure I won a couple – winning every time is no fun either, and learning to be a gracious loser is also an important skill. This particular session lasted a good 40 minutes if not longer. We played again in the afternoon and as soon as Daddy got home she challenged him to a game. She set it all out her self and told him what he had to do. It was lovely to watch.

 

This simple game created plenty of opportunities to practice early maths skills. Counting up how many each person had and comparing more than and less than. When Squidge wasn’t sure who had more (usually 4 / 3) we laid out the fish in two columns side by side so she could see, visually which column had more in.

Since that initial game the other day we have played several times at Squidge’s request. You may have noticed I have drawn different shapes and patterns on the fish. I’ve casually dropped in hints at this so far ‘Oh look that one has stars on it’, ‘I think I might catch the one with zig zags next’. The idea being that at some stage I could ask her to catch a particular fish. Eventually we could add some kind of points system – double points for the fish with stars – whatever we fancy!

An idea when using this with slightly older children would be to have 10 fish. This way you could work on number bonds to 10. You have 4 fish, so how many are left in the tank? We’ve caught all the fish, you have 7 so how many do you think are on my plate? You could also number the fish and use this in different ways. Catch them in order (forwards or backwards), catch all the even ones, give them a calculation and they have to catch the fish with the answer. Anything goes, so long as it’s fun!

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If you have any other suggestions for ways to build on this game feel free to share in the comments.

Lots of love, Cat and Squidge Xx

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Just add water

Boo loves water! I’d love to think it was because she was born in the pool (second time around I got my dream birth plan – I must’ve earned extra birthing points after Squidge’s birth). However I think it is more likely linked to the trajectory schema she is displaying constantly in her play.

When it’s warm enough I like to let the girls loose in the water. I’ve had a few blow up paddling pools and they never last long. This box is a perfect size for water play and so many other things – it fits under beds, it fits over my sand tray to actually keep it dry (the lid is completely useless), I use it for sensory activities too. If you’d like one, this one is from a certain scandinavian furniture store you may or may not have heard of. Knowing full well she’ll end up in the water, I’d usually strip Boo off beforehand, but with a blogpost in mind I kept her covered up. She did end up totally nudey dude by the end!

As you can see I’d got a few of our water toys out, they’re some of the bits we’d normally have in the bath. Boo went straight for the cups. She selected the cup she wanted and pushed it into the water, letting it fill from the hole in the bottom. She tipped it out and filled it several times and also had a few sips! The water is coloured with food colouring so it’s perfectly safe to drink. She then gave the cup to me.

I knew she wanted me to lift the cups for the water to trickle out. This is her favourite thing to do in the bath, just look at her little face. When the water is falling her face will light up, she puts her fingers into the stream. When we first used to do this she would try and catch the stream with her fore finger and thumb, in a pincer. It took her a while to fathom that she couldn’t hold it like a piece of string.

Next Boo chose two different cups and filled them in the same way, then lifted them high to watch the water drip, drop. She repeated this several times over. She went on to pour from one cup to the other, over and over until there was none left and she had to fill up and start again.

After a good 20 minutes worth of scooping, pouring and transferring Boo carefully inspected the bottom of a couple of the cups. I’ve never seen her do this before. She could be making a link to how quickly the water trickles out, or why some only have one stream of water and others are more like rain – but I can only speculate. She went back to pouring for a short while, but as you can see, by now the water had seeped right up her top and she wanted to strip off.

Boo uses these methods of pouring in other forms of play. I can’t leave any drink, even her own, unattended as the minute she gets chance she’ll pour it out! I’ve tried different cups, even the ones with the twist up tops – she works them out faster than I can find a replacement. She was pouring left over tea from one cup to the other the other day. This idea obviously fascinates her at the minute.

To move her thinking forward I plan to build a small water wall for her to play with. There’s a few ideas on Pinterest which I like. I have bought a piece of trellis already. Next I need to source some tubes, pieces of guttering, connectors, funnels, buckets, watering cans – and anything else I spot! The plan is to attach the trellis to our existing fence panel at a good height for Boo. Then attach the pieces with cable ties. The tray or washing up bowls can be placed at the bottom to catch the water.

I’d also like to make another version to attach to the fence near the large shed where all our pebbles are so she can try the same process with the pebbles. We could try putting lots of different materials down if she finds it just as fascinating!

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I’ll be sure to write a blog post all about it!

Lots of love Cat & Boo xx

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You gotta roll with it!

Some days you can have activities planned out, but the small people have their own agenda. That’s the magic of free play. Like I’ve said at the top, you’ve just got to roll with it. It’s the same as an early years practitioner and as a Mummy. The moments where children discover something new for themselves is like magic. Those moments were the reason I loved my job and why I love watching my own children learn. If you can see them unfolding and sensitively intervene to extend their learning, you’re onto a winner.

This particular piece of magic had actually begun a couple of days before. If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure who started the fun. If you pressed me, I’d guess it was Boo due to her current trajectory interest, but we’ll never truly know. I found Squidge and Boo rolling stones down the slide. Squidge collecting them both from the bottom, giving one back to Boo and encouraging her to roll it again. They were playing together and sharing. Their friendship is really beginning to blossom and I love seeing it happen.

This play lasted around 10 minutes, but the idea must’ve stuck. A few days later, after our new lawn had been laid (it’s lovely, and oh so green!) Squidge returned to this activity. This time around she used the plastic balls from the ‘Pic ‘n’ Pop’ walker (you know the one that clicks incessantly as they push it around and refuses to actually pick up the balls, yeah that one). With the garden being on a gradient and the grass to run on to, the balls rolled so much further than the stones had. This delighted them both. Squidge rolled them over and over while Boo ran to collect them, returned them and watched them roll again. They were having a great time!

When intervening in play, timing is vital. Leave it too long and the moment passes, their interest wanes. Interrupt at the wrong moment or worse still, take over their play and you spoil the fun. At this point while they were heavily engrossed, I darted inside to collect a few other objects for them to roll.

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I chose a larger ball, a plastic egg, cars with different sized wheels (one being the pull back type) and some giant reels (these were from our local scrap store – magical treasure troves if you have one I urge you to go!). I introduced them with my favourite starter ‘I wonder what will happen if you try these’. ‘I wonder…’ statements are a great way to pose a question without actually looking for an answer. They leave the idea open for children to explore, but don’t put them under any pressure.

Squidge and Boo both got stuck straight in. Taking turns rolling, collecting and running back to try again. Boo had a few goes, then a few turns actually going down the slide herself before she moved on. Squidge stayed with it and got involved talking about the distances the objects were travelling “That one went really, really far!”. She was keen to predict which would travel furthest. She was utterly unimpressed when the blue car (the pull back type) got stuck half way down. Just look at her face…

The girls really enjoyed this activity. I’m pretty certain they will revisit it over and over. Hopefully next time Squidge will choose her own variety of objects to try. We could start to think about ways of measuring distance, ranking which object went furthest or what happens if we alter the ramp. I’ll wait and see which way their interest goes…

Thanks for reading.

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Lots of love Cat, Squidge and Boo Xxx

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