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Creative play and learning in the early years!

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  • 10/07/12--14:48: Rainbow Alphabet Crayons
  • Create your own alphabet of crayons for a fun gift for preschoolers and a sneaky way to practise some early literacy skills at the same time!

     These beautiful, rainbow alphabet crayons are straightforward to make and there's some fun science to learn during the process too! Children helping out can watch the transformation from solid pieces, to melted liquid, which then solidifies again to form new shapes, and it all happens very quickly so it's satisfying for inquisitive young minds!
    To make these alphabet crayons you will need:
    • colourful, old, broken up crayons (or a couple of boxes of cheap crayons)
    • ABC ice trays
    • an oven set to about 150 degrees C (300 F)
    Simply chop the crayons into tiny pieces and use them to fill up the ice cube trays. Make sure each space is packed full and has a good mix of bright colours for the best effect. Put them in the oven on a tray and heat them up for just as long as it takes to melt them (probably no longer than 10 minutes.)

     When the crayons have melted completely, bring them out and leave them to cool down. You could get your child to predict what will have happened to the little pieces and what may have happened to the colours. Have they mixed together? Will the letters be solid or liquid?
     When they are completely cool, carefully push them out of the tray taking care not to break any parts off. Some of the letters are more tricky than others and we did have a couple of casualties!
    Then go ahead and give them to your little ones to draw and mark-make with!

     You could play all sorts of playful literacy games such as:

    • can you find the letters from your name?
    • which crayon shows the sound at the beginning of the word "cat"?
    • can you match the crayons to this little word? (spell a simple, 3 letter word on card)
    • if you make 2 sets you can ask them to match the letters together in an I-spy snap game
    • can you find the P crayon and draw as many things that start with the P sound as you can?
    These would make a perfect gift for a child starting at preschool, kindergarten or school for the first time! Or as a cute party favour take-home gift with a little notebook attached for some rainbow scribbles and daydreams!

    Find the alphabet trays here:

    Like this? Look at these too!

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    Create some beautiful Autumnal leaves using a simple marbling technique with shaving cream, paint and glitter! Beautiful for creating Fall displays at home or in the classroom!It's been a long time since we first had a go at shaving cream marbling! It's such a wonderful combination of sensory, art and colour exploration and is the perfect introduction to the marbling technique for young children. The results are always beautiful and can be turned into anything you like, from wrapping paper, to gift cards or seasonal garlands.

    First, spray a can of economy shaving cream into a shallow tray and spread it out. Squeeze yellow and red paint over the top and mix it in using a paintbrush. Pop did this herself, then sprinkled plenty of gold glitter over the top!
     We then laid pieces of paper onto the top of the foam and carefully lifted them off again. We used a piece of scrap card to scrape off the excess shaving cream and set them to dry. The scraping step is important or else the paper becomes logged with moisture and won't dry properly. Even with scraping, the marbled effect seems to stay on the paper really well!
    It feels absolutely wonderful and is well worth a squidge while waiting for the finished papers to dry out! Playing with shaving cream is a fantastic sensory experience by itself, as well as being a marvellous medium for practising mark-making and letter formation too! 

     Pop loved drawing in the leftover shaving cream after we had lifted the prints and you could probably lift off successful prints from marks and drawings that are made too, in much the same way as we made these Van Gogh style finger paint prints recently.
    When the papers were dry I cut out lots of leaf shapes and we stuck them on the wall to look like they were falling down from a tree. Then we read one of our favourite Lois Ehert books, Red Lead, Yellow Leaf and used it as a discussion starter about the Autumn season, why leaves change colours and what animals do when the weather gets colder. 

    This activity is packed with learning opportunities! Including:
    colour mixing, creativity, print-making, sensory investigation, mark-making, playful literacy, understanding changes in the seasons, weather and nature.

    Cakie: 4.1
    Pop: 2. 6
    Bean: 7 months

    More fun with shaving cream!

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    Here are some creative and fun ways to make art with paper from last week's It's Playtime! I love the colours, textures and dimension explored in each project and am feeling inspired to get the papers out and have a go too!

    Re-using art work to create beautiful stained glass pictures
     by At Home with Ali

    Mexican Paper Cuttings
    by Crafty Moms Share

    3-D constructions with rainbow paper 
    by Learners in Bloom

     Were you featured today? Grab a badge!

    It's Playtime is a collaborative linky hosted by: Anna  at The Imagination Tree, Rachel and Holly at Quirky MommaJamie @ hands on : as we growRachele @ Messy Kids and Jenny @ Let the Children Play. We're all about PLAY!

    Have you got a playful or creative activity to link up? 

    We'd love to see it!

    By linking up you are giving us permission to feature your post with one photo on an future featured post.

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    Use yarn and ribbons to wrap around pumpkins, for a bright and beautiful alternative to pumpkin carving this Autumn season! Great for fine and gross motor co-ordination skills, as well as encouraging creativity and the opportunity to work on a larger scale.

    We have been decorating lots of pumpkins over the past few weeks, for creating an Autumn display in our home. Pumpkins make a fantastic, three-dimensional art medium, offering plenty of ways to paint, adorn, decorate and wrap! They're also the perfect size for young hands to work on and take ownership of and the results are as open-ended as the imaginations working on them.
    C. and I took on this pumpkin decorating project together and she wanted to wrap her own pumpkin completely independently! So we sat side by side and I offered help only when she asked for it. Starting with a piece of tape over one end of the yarn/wool or ribbon, we attached it to the underside of the pumpkin and then she started to wind it around. 
    She needed some help keeping the tension tight as she wrapped, but loved the effect of criss-crossing and overlapping the colours and patterns. 
    Baby Bean adored the finished pumpkin master-pieces and rolled the yarn wrapped pumpkin on the floor, enjoying the soft textures and bright, sparkly colours! These are now displayed alongside the glitter and confetti pumpkin on the dining room table, ready for more Autumn fun ahead!
    This activity can teach your child:
    hand-eye co-ordination, working on different media, creating art in 3-dimensions, fine motor skills, gross motor co-ordination, exploring textures and materials, learning new vocabulary (over-lap, wrapping)

    Cakie: 4.1
    Pop: 2.6
    Bean: 7 mos

    You may also like our Drip Art Pumpkins!

    What other ways have you decorated pumpkins or seasonal fruits?

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    Create a travel size treasure basket for carrying in your bag to keep your baby busy and playful while out and about! Based on the Montessori and Reggio principles of heuristic play (playing with everyday objects), these baskets promote curiosity, open-ended thinking and plenty of investigative skills!
    baby treasure basket play montessori reggio emilia
    Have you ever made a treasure basket for your baby, or a group of babies in your care or classroom? To understand the theory, benefits and thinking behind this wonderful concept, please read this earlier post explaining what heuristic play is and how to create treasure baskets for babies.
     It explains what to include, what not to include and why each type of item is beneficial!
    baby playing with a treasure basket montessori reggio emilia
    We have been making and using treasure baskets since Cakie was a baby. They have evolved over the years to have many different contents, sometimes grouped by theme, but usually just containing a wonderful array of textures, colours, scents, shapes and natural materials. The baskets rarely contain any plastics and certainly don't have any electronic toys or flashing lights. They are simply full of everyday objects, ready to be explored and discovered by tiny hands!
    Baby Bean is very active now and keen to investigate absolutely everything she can get her fingers on! She has a treasure basket in the living room and our bedroom and we have just put together this small travel size basket for popping in my bag when we go out. The contents are being updated regularly to keep her interested, and so far she loves this one the most of all, perhaps because of the added wonder of a lid that comes on and off!
    This travel treasure basket contains:
    natural objects such as large shells and pine cones (cleaned first)
    lengths of silky and sheer ribbon, securely knotted together to create extra texture and interest
    a range of chunky bangles
    rounded, mirror blocks
    wooden shakers and bells
    large coloured pom poms
    shiny golden eggs
    metal jar lids

    These can all be explored and investigated using all of the senses, as well as manipulated, examined. stacked and sorted, depending on the age of the child.

    Please note, very clearly, to only use things you deem to be safe for your child. Nothing so small it could be a choking hazard, of course. And ALWAYS supervise your baby while they play, this is a key rule of treasure basket play. Read the original post for a full explanation.
    This basket is big enough to carry 10-15 small objects, and small enough to fit inside my bag when we are going out (amongst the huge amount of other detritus I carry on a regular basis too!) Bean is really enjoying rifling through the contents while we are at church, at our relatives' homes and in waiting rooms!

    These baby treasure baskets encourage:
    open-ended play, curiosity, investigation using all the senses, critical early thinking skills (what is this? what can it do?  what does it taste/ smell/ look/ feel like?) independence, confidence, hand strength, hand-eye co-ordination, concentration

    Have you made a treasure basket yet? How about making a travel size one too!

    Read more ideas about our treasure basket for 12 months + here

    Read how to create a Reggio and Montessori inspired baby play space for 0-6 months here

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    Put a new twist on the usual pumpkin decorating by incorporating some playful learning of letters and sounds! Perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, these alphabet pumpkins promote great fine motor skills, concentration, creativity and phoneme-grapheme correspondence!

    The girls have been very busy with our pumpkin canvasses over the past few weeks, trying out a range of media and techniques to decorate them in creative ways! We had a whole bucket full of sticky foam letters and numbers in our creative area and used them to make alphabet pumpkins for some sneaky playful learning.
    Un-peeling, sticking and re-positioning the alphabet stickers is a great fine motor activity all of its own and proved a real effort of concentration for Pop (2.6) but very easy for Cakie (4.1).

    Once the surfaces were covered, we put the pumpkins in the middle of the dining room table and are now using them to play phonics games while we eat! Here are 5 fun games to get the playful literacy started!

    Pumpkin Alphabet Games!

    Spot the Letter: choosing familiar or important letters, such as those from your child's name, ask them to find a certain one as quickly as they can and point to it. "Can you find the letter at the beginning of Mummy?"

    Letter Sound I-Spy: Say "I spy a letter that makes the sound Sssssssss like a snake! Can you find it?" Emphasise the sounds not the names of the letters.

    Noisy Letter Buttons: Say "Find letter F and push it to make its sound noisy!" Child pushes on the foam letter F and says "fffffffff". Make sure they are making the sound not the letter name.

    Letter or Number? Point to a random foam sticker and say "letter or number?" Child has to quickly discriminate which it is, a good challenge for young children!

    Upper and Lower Case Snap! We didn't have any lower case letters (big shame as they are the best place to start) but if you have both on the same pumpkin, then point to capital D and say "find me his lower case partner!" Child looks for lowercase "d" and shouts "Snap!"Make it a race between siblings!
    Learning Links:
    literacy: phoneme- grapheme correspondence (linking the letter sound with its correlating letter name), letter recognition, naming letters, recognising and distinguishing initial letter sounds, matching upper and lower case graphemes, recognising familiar sounds from own name

    maths: recognising numerals, counting to 10, comparing and contrasting letters and numbers and knowing the difference

    fine motor: un-peeling, sticking, re-postitioning, hand-eye co-ordination

    creativity: using a range of combined media, working on a different scale and dimension

    Cakie: 4.1
    Pop: 2.6
    Bean: 7 mos

    Have you decorated your pumpkins yet? Please share your creative ideas and links!

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    Use natural items found on walks this Autumn to create some beautiful and creative art work with kids! These ideas were all linked up to It's Playtime last week, with a couple of our own thrown into the mix!

    Top to bottom, left to right:

    Conker or Chestnut Spiderweb from The Imagination Tree

    Leaf Print Canvas from Create With Your Hands

    Painted Pine Cone Hanging from Domestic Goddesque

    Autumn Leaf Crown from The Imagination Tree

    Discovering Milkweed from Simple Joyful Living

    Printing with Horse Apples from Play Create Explore

    Nature Adventure and Contact Paper Collage from Sugar Aunts

     Were you featured today? Grab a badge!

    It's Playtime is a collaborative linky hosted by: Anna  at The Imagination Tree, Rachel and Holly at Quirky MommaJamie @ hands on : as we growRachele @ Messy Kids and Jenny @ Let the Children Play. We're all about PLAY!

    Have you got a playful or creative activity to link up? We'd love to see it!

    By linking up you are giving us permission to feature your post with one photo on an future featured post.

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    Create an exploration basket with natural treasures to find out about Autumn, hibernation and hedgehogs!

    hedgehog hibernation sensory play autumn basket
     It's the perfect time of year for going on nature walks and foraging for fallen treasures to take home and explore! The girls found some spiky, round seed balls from a large Plane tree the other day and brought them home to add to our nature collection. As the days passed they started to soften and dry out a little, and began to perfectly resemble tiny hedgehogs! 
    Photo Credit:
    Hedgehogs are  common in the UK and often wander into gardens looking for food. We looked at some pictures and books to find out more about their habitat and behaviour and used it as a chance to introduce and explain about animal hibernation. 
    Using the Plane tree seed balls as the bodies, the girls glued some googly eyes and pom pom noses to create a little hedgehog family! We took all of the leaves that they've collected and created a little hibernation nest in a basket, then added the seed hedgehogs to their new home to explore and hide in. Pop added her cuddly hedgehog to watch over them and they began some wonderful imaginary play and storytelling with their new Autumn sensory basket!
    Learning Links:
    Science/ Knowledge & Understanding: understanding hibernation, habitats, nesting, animal behaviours, how hedgehogs look and feel, Autumn
    Creativity: making models and representations using combined media, using one object to represent another in play, imaginative play
    Literacy: introducing new vocabulary, storytelling through play
    Sensory: exploring multi-tactile objects from nature using all the senses

    Cakie: 4.1
    Pop: 2.6
    Bean: 7 mos

    See also: Conker Spiderwebs
    See also: 40 Fabulous Autumn Activities for Kids

    Have you been exploring nature this Autumn? Please share!

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    Get your own copy of this wonderful eBook packed with Autumn crafts, art activities, baking and family traditions by the very talented Jean of The Artful Parent for a very special price this weekend!

    I am thrilled to be reviewing this wonderful eBook from The Artful Year: Autumn, by Jean from The Artful Parent! It is a 78 page, full-colour PDF eBook that can be read on your computer screen, iPad or other tablet, or printed out!

    Jean has put together a wonderful selection of her best ideas for creating a homely, artistic and memorable Autumn season together with your children and I really loved  every project contained in the book! As an artist, Jean really knows her stuff and has such an amazing way of making real art and craft activities easy and achievable by all. I throughly recommend this valuable book to everyone.

    Inside you will find:
    • More than enough autumn, Halloween, and Thanksgiving crafts, recipes, and ideas to keep you and your family happily crafting year after year.
    • Unique ideas that you won't find elsewhere as well as more traditional ideas.
    • Projects that are adaptable from the youngest toddler to the oldest grandma.
    • Interesting but easy-to-make crafts that will be enjoyed as much by the self-labelled non-crafty folks as by the supercrafters out there.
    • Ideas to celebrate the seasons and holidays with your family. Some of which may even become family traditions...

    If you want to take a sneak peek of some of the ideas in the book, click the following links to check them out! They're really wonderful:

  • Coffee filter spider webs
  • Felt bat garlands
  • Doodle leaves
  • Thanksgiving leaf banner
  • Jack-o'-lantern pancakes

  • Here's the really great part! The eBook was priced at $9.99 (roughly £6.17) but from Friday 19th to Monday 22nd, Jean is offering a very special offer

    You can choose whatever amount you like at checkout! WOW! Personally I still think it should be bought for full price (I know how hard she worked on this!) but she'd like everyone to benefit, so if you can't quite afford full price, just pay what you can! Isn't that awesome?! 

    Remember you only have until Monday to take her up on this very special offer!

    Click the link below to get your book today!

    Happy Autumn crafting and baking everyone! And thank you Jean for such a beautiful book.

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    Make some super-simple, sparkler snacks (say that 10x really fast!) as a tasty treat on Bonfire Night or for for a kids New Year's Eve party!

    This is really fun and easy way to create some edible sparklers for a really special treat. They are so easy that kids can do them completely independently- perfect! With Bonfire Night coming up here in the UK on November 5th, why not get the kids to make these for a little party? Or save the idea for New Years!

    You will need:
    bread sticks cut in half
    white chocolate buttons
    yellow shimmer sugar
    golden sprinkles/ sugar balls
    Melt a large bag of white chocolate buttons either the old fashioned way or by zapping them in the microwave for 20 seconds and stirring through. Lay out the bread sticks, melted chocolate, yellow sugar and sprinkles in a little series of bowls, and invite the kids to start by dipping the end of a stick into the chocolate to cover it. Then use that the dip and pick up the various sprinkles, creating a sparkly effect!

    Leave them to set by placing in a glass or cup, or, have a little taste straight away! They're really really scrummy!
    Don't like the idea of giving sugar and sprinkles as a special treat? How about dipping in chopped up dried apricots instead? Enjoy!

    Learning Links:
    maths: following a sequence and set order
    knowledge and understanding: talk about special events and celebrations and the associated traditions
    PSE: understand that we have traditions and how we celebrate these as individuals, familiars and communities, create something independently!
    Science: observe the change of states of materials from solid to liquid and then solid again

    You may like to see our fireworks spin art paintings too!

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    Create a simple yet stimulating baby play area using open-ended toys made from natural materials and incorporating some philosophies from Montessori and Reggio thinking.

    When baby Bean was newborn we put together a baby play space based on Reggio ideas of simplicity, light and real materials, and that included no plastic toys or electronic gizmos. Now that she is sitting up, crawling and pulling up to stand already (please slow down baby girl!) her play space has moved to a safe area on the floor with a few new additions, and both she and her sisters love playing in it.
     In a little corner of the room we laid a lambskin rug (which keeps baby warm in winter and cool in summer) and a few treasure baskets and open-ended toys within easy reach. Reggio philosophies talk highly of including plenty of mirrors and natural light, so we used some acrylic mirror tiles behind some toys and a large stand up mirror which can be moved and repositioned.
    The space includes:

    • travel size baby treasure basket
    • large oval treasure basket
    • an African drum
    • small basket of real musical instruments
    • basket of wooden tree blocks and mirrored blocks 
    • wooden, stacking rainbow
    • black and white high contrast images mat
    • Montessori style number bead stacker 
    • basket of sturdy, textured and lift-the-flap board books
    These are pretty much the only toys that she has now, after I cleared out 4 large boxes worth of plastic, brightly coloured, electronic nonsense a few weeks back! She is very happy with these items and plays mainly with real objects anyway, hence reiterating the good common sense behind the heuristic play argument. You can read more about that in my first post about treasure baskets here.

    The girls have really been enjoying playing here together in this new space and the lambskin rug has become a favourite spot for reading together. I look forward to seeing how the space evolves over the next few months!

    Do you have any play spaces in your home? Please share your ideas! 

    Coming soon in the play space series: 
    • setting up a creative area
    • setting up a writing table
    • creating a cosy book nook

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    Here is a collection of fun leaf themed activities and crafts for kids, from It's Playtime, with a few of our  own thrown into the mix! These should keep your little ones busy as the leaves fall!

    Top to bottom, left to right:

    Fall Leaf Embroidery Hoop Stained Glass [A Childhood List]

    Making Leaf Prints [Buggy and Buddy]

    Shaving Cream Marbling Autumn Leaves [The Imagination Tree]

    5 Learning Activities with Leaves [The Educator's Spin on It]

    Autumn Leaf Crown [The Imagination Tree]

    Autumn Leaf Spin Art Garland [The Imagination Tree

    Gross Motor Play in Leaves [3 Dinosaurs]

    10 More Leaf Projects [Reading Confetti]

     Were you featured today? Grab a badge!

    It's Playtime is a collaborative linky hosted by: Anna  at The Imagination Tree, Rachel and Holly at Quirky MommaJamie @ hands on : as we growRachele @ Messy Kids and Jenny @ Let the Children Play. We're all about PLAY!

    Have you got a playful or creative activity to link up? We'd love to see it!

    By linking up you are giving us permission to feature your post with one photo on an future featured post.

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    Do you know any kids who love bugs and all things creepy crawlie?! Here are over 50 fantastic activity ideas for keeping kids busy with their favourite topic, from art and crafts, to learning activities, tasty snacks and really icky sensory play! 

    [Conker/ Chestnut Spiderweb Weaving: The Imagination Tree]

    Learning Activities:
    [Top to bottom, left to right]

    Learning with The Very Noisy Cricket [The Educator's Spin on It]

    The Very Hungry Caterpillar Play Dough Storytelling [The Imagination Tree]

    Incy Wincy Singing Song Sheet [The Imagination Tree]

    The Very Noisy Cricket I- Spy Jar [The Golden Gleam]

    Bug Spotter Sticks [Sun Hats and Wellie Boots]

    Name Caterpillars [No Time for Flashcards]

    Art and Craft:

    Handprint Bee [Red Ted Art]

    Blotto Painted Bugs [The Chocolate Muffin Tree guest post on The Imagination Tree]

    Egg Carton Spider [Creekside Learning]

    Miss Muffet [Toddler Approved]

    Spider Web Canvas Art [Sun Hats and Wellie Boots]

    Glow in the Dark Spiderweb [Living Life Intentionally]

    Spider Craft [NurtureStore]

    Fingerpaint Ladybirds [Rainy Day Mum]

    Wire Dragonflies [Sun Hats and Wellie Boots]

    Spider Pumpkins [Here Come the Girls]

    Design a Spider Prompt [Little Wonders Days]

    Spider Masks [Creative Family Fun]

    [Centre] The Very Hungry Caterpillar Giant Collage [The Imagination Tree]

    Science Activities:


    Lay a Sheet and Shake a Tree [Wildlife Fun 4 Kids]

    Choice Chambers [Science Sparks]

    Insect Mirror Discovery Box [Sun Hats and Wellie Boots]

    Make a Light Up Bug [Mama Smiles]

    Sensory Play:
    [Top to bottom, left to right]

    Jelly(o) Worms [Taming the Goblin]

    Bug Slime Spaghetti [The Imagination Tree]

    Spider Cider [Momma's Fun World]

    Butterfly Sensory Tub [No Time for Flashcards]

    Spiders and Snakes Sand Tray [My Buddies and I]

    Bug Sensory Bin [Smiling Like Sunshine]

    Frozen Bugs [Exploring Stories]

    Motor Skills:
    [Top to bottom, left to right]

    Silky Spiderweb Weaving and Snipping [Boy Mama Teacher Mama]

    Spider Web Gross Motor Game [No Time for Flashcards]

    Fine Motor Paper Plate Spider [Momma's Fun World]

    Hula Hoop Spiderweb [Craft to Art]

    Spider Web Obstacle Course [Wildlife Fun for Kids]


    [Top to bottom, left to right]

    Catching bugs [Rainy Day Mum]

    Touch a Tarantula [52 Brand New]

    Bug Playdate Activities [The Educator's Spin on It]

    Keeping Grasshoppers [Mommy With Selective Memory]

    Watching Worms [taming the Goblin]

    Studying Insect Camouflage [Mama Smiles]



    Spider Cupcakes [Here Come the Girls]

    The Very Quiet Cricket Breakfast [Famiglia and Seoul]

    Spider Web Pancakes [Inspired Housewife]

    Dirt and Worm Treats [No Time for Flashcards]

    Spider Muffin Tin Lunch [JDaniel 4's Mom]

    Books and Printables:

    [Top to bottom, left to right]

    Minibeast Stories [The Imagination Tree]

    Cricket stories  [Here Come the Girls]

    Butterfly stories [Sun Hats and Wellie Boots]

    Free Bug Pack [3 Dinosaurs]

    Never miss another play idea! 
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    Create beautiful stained glass lanterns using recycled glass jars, tissue paper and sequins! Perfect for an afternoon art activity on these dark Autumn and Winter afternoons and they look so beautiful glowing with candles on the mantlepiece!

    Over on my Facebook page I regularly share photos of our daily Invitations to Play (simply a set up of materials to prompt creativity, thinking or play!) Last week I shared a photograph of an invitation to create luminaries, and many readers asked me to write a post to share instructions.

    They are VERY easy to make and look so beautiful, with the added benefit of offering completely open-ended interpretation and creativity so that no two will look the same.
    PVA/ white glue
    old glass jars (baby food, jam and coffee jars are great!)
    tissue paper in any colour
    sequins/ plastic gems/ glitter
     Paint the surface of the glass jar with the white glue and layer tissue paper directly on top. Add more than one layer and overlap to make the colours look like stained glass, which is really effective and pretty when the candles are lit! When the layers are finished, paint another coat of glue over the top to harden it and make it slightly glossy.

    Cakie chose to add sequins and glitter over her tissue paper layers of her own accord and they really did make the luminaries look even more stunning.

    Pop was aboslutely determined to decorate the jars in her own way, so she painted glue on the INside of her one, then stuffed various shades of paper inside and sprinkled in liberal amounts of sequins! I explained that she couldn't light a candle inside, but she was happy with her alternative, 2 year old version and I, of course, didn't intervene as she busily created her artwork. She later came back to it and stuck more on the outside, then added the detail of a googly eye peeping through the tissue layers which I just love!
    When the glue was dry we placed a tea light candle inside and turned out the lights as the luminaries glowed on the mantlepiece above our fireplace. They make the room so atmospheric and cosy, just perfect for warming up a Winter's night!

    Learning Links:
    fine motor co-ordination, hand-eye co-ordination, creativity, working in 3-dimensions, understanding about glow through candlelight

    Cakie: 4. 2
    Pop: 2.7
    Bean: 8 mos

    More examples:
    See also this lovely post about a St Martins Day lantern tradition from Red Ted Art. Winter Candle Holders from Rainy Day Mum and more tissue paper lanterns from Sun Hats and Wellie Boots. I particularly love the wire handles on these, making them perfect for carrying outside on a dark night!

    Have you ever tried making lanterns of any kind before? Please share your ideas!

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    I love these fun and easily achievable cooking projects to do with kids that were linked up to It's Playtime! Special treats and seasonal goodies for the whole family that promote a lot of learning skills as well as providing special together time for parent and child.

    [Top to bottom, left to right]

    Alien Cake Pops [Se7en]

    Sparkler Treats [The Imagination Tree]

    Easy Lemon Forkies [Life at the Zoo]

    Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies [Inspired Housewife]

    Poached Pear Cobbler  [Little Wonders Days]

    I can't wait to give these recipes a try!

     Were you featured today? Grab a badge!

    It's Playtime is a collaborative linky hosted by: Anna  at The Imagination Tree, Rachel and Holly at Quirky MommaJamie @ hands on : as we growRachele @ Messy Kids and Jenny @ Let the Children Play. We're all about PLAY!

    Have you got a playful or creative activity to link up? We'd love to see it!

    By linking up you are giving us permission to feature your post with one photo on an future featured post.

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    Make a fun, creative and stimulating sensory play experience for baby using spaghetti flavoured naturally with fresh raspberries! Fantastic for promoting curiosity, investigation and exploration for babies and toddlers.

    As usually happens in this house, I cooked a little too much spaghetti the other night. So instead of throwing it away, we turned it into a wonderfully tactile, sensory play invitation for baby Bean, inviting a full hands-up-to-elbows investigation (the absolute best kind of sensory play if you ask me!)
    To increase the sensory element of the play I added a few drops of vegetable oil to make the spaghetti slippery and prevent it sticking together. We also squeezed the juice and pulp from a few fresh raspberries into the pasta to give it a hint of colour, smell and taste!

    Bean thought her ship had come home when she first plunged her chubby wrists into the cool, slimy mix. She pulled it apart, examined it, dropped it, flung it, broke pieces off, squished it into her face, licked it and tasted it. The look of concentration and curiosity on her face really showed how much thinking and wondering was going on as she played and explored this new substance. She enjoyed her new "toy" and stayed absorbed in the experience for an extended period of time, crawling away and then back again to explore some more, repeatedly.

    It also made for a tasty afternoon snack! Now that's what I call a full on, multi-sensory play experience! Yum!

    Learning Links:
    [sensory play and exploration, by exploring textures, temperatures and tastes using all of the senses]

    Bean: 8 mos

    See other ways we have played with left-over spaghetti!

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    Here is a list of my favourite toys and resources for young children aged 2 to 6, which all promote open-ended play, curiosity, independence and creativity!

    Over on my Facebook page recently many readers asked me to put together a list of all my favourite toys and resources for young children. This has been really fun for me to create as I'm passionate about truly good quality, creative and intelligent toys for kids. Having taught with fairly energetic classes of Reception kids for many years, as well as having my own now, I've bought, handled and played with a LOT of toys over the past decade and have a good idea of which ones are the best types for creative play. This list either contains products that we own, I have used in the classroom or I have currently on my wish list for my own children.

    There are way too many for one post, so I'm starting with a general, go-to supply list for toys, and will follow up with other themed lists soon, including art and sensory products, baby toys and educational materials. I have stated that this collection is suitable from age 2, even though many of the products themselves are recommended from ages 3 and up. My own have been fairly reliable from age 2 and don't habitually put things in their mouths after this age. Please use your own knowledge of your child
    when thinking what to buy.

    Construction toys

    Natural Wood Tree Blocks

    Branch Wood Blocks

    Stackable Wooden Rainbow

    Mirror Blocks

    Colour Window Blocks

     Castle Blocks Play Set

    Magnetic Blocks

    Imaginative Toys

    Schleich Toy Animals

    Schleich Fairies and Elves

    Animal Hand Puppets

    Bake and Decorate Wooden Cupcakes

    Rainbow Scarves

    Melissa and Doug Dressing Up Costumes

    Wooden Cakes Set

    Wooden Ice Creams and Lollies

    Farmyard and Animals

    Wooden Castle

    Wooden Kitchen

    Rosebud Dolls' House

    Dolls House People

    Wooden Train Set

    Wooden Pirate Ship

    Toy Cars

    Playmobil Play Sets

    Role Play Toys

    Corolle Baby Doll

    Wooden Doll's Pram

    Doll's High Chair

    Wooden Tool Kit

    Wooden Fire Engine

    Market Stall and Wooden Food

    Construction Vehicle Set

    Games, Puzzles and Beads

    Pattern Blocks and Boards

    Tummy Ache Game

    Shopping List

    Wooden Peg Puzzles

    Farm Floor Puzzle

    Latches Board

    Snakes and Ladders and Ludo

    Sensory and Investigation Toys

    Ultra Slim Light Panel

    Magnetism Kit

    Sand Pit/ Box

    Water / Sand/ Messy Play Table

    Large under-bed storage boxes

    Wooden Rainbow Sound Blocks

    Mirror Exploratory Box

    Safety Mirrors

    Musical Instrument Set

    Discovery Bottles

    Shaving Cream Paint

    Play dough

    Salt dough

    Cloud dough

    Water Beads

    Finger paint

    There are probably many more things that I could add to this list, and may come back and do so after we have tried them for ourselves and can attest that they are fabulous!

    Coming soon! (be sure to sign up for posts to be sent to your email so that you don't miss these!)

    Top Educational Toys and Resources for 2-6 year olds

    Top Creative Resources and Materials for 2-6 Year olds

    Top Toys for Babies and Toddlers

    Best Books for Babies and Toddlers

    Best Rhyming and Interactive Books for Preschoolers

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    [This post contains links to Amazon via my affiliates account. That simply means that if you buy anything after following a link, it will make no difference to you but I may earn enough to buy a cup of coffee, as a tip. Thanks!]

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    Here are some inventive and fun ways to nurture gratitude in your kids, and to celebrate Thanksgiving together, from book suggestions to thought-provoking thankfulness activities for all. These were linked up to It's Playtime last week- please do visit the sites to read more and be inspired!
    [Left to right, top to bottom]

    Teaching Gratitude with Thankful Postcards [The Good Long Road]

    Give Thanks Jar [Bowdabra Blog]

    Thankful Turkeys [Train up a Child]

    Thankful Heart Turkey [Craft to Art]

    And here are 5 books to get you started on the subject of thanksgiving and gratitude too:

    5 Books about Thankfulness [The Imagination Tree]

     Were you featured today? Grab a badge!

    It's Playtime is a collaborative linky hosted by: Anna  at The Imagination Tree, Rachel and Holly at Quirky MommaJamie @ hands on : as we growRachele @ Messy Kids and Jenny @ Let the Children Play. We're all about PLAY!

    Have you got a playful or creative activity to link up? We'd love to see it!

    By linking up you are giving us permission to feature your post with one photo on an future featured post.

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     I'm very excited to be welcoming a new sponsor, Bed-e-Byes nursery interiors online store, here on The Imagination Tree this month, and to be able to offer an exclusive discount code just for you all!
    'Purfect' Room in a Box

    I've just recently discovered Bed-e-Byes and absolutely love the genius behind their Room in a Box product, which is quite literally a fully co-ordinated, complete set of nursery bedding, blankets, sleeping bags, shades, curtains, wall art and much more, all ready to go in one! It is a great time saver when picking out all those essential items during pregnancy and also ends up saving you money too. Just the way we like it! If only I'd known about this before having Cakie it would have been so helpful (and baby Bean would have a more co-ordinated room than the one she's putting up with right now!)
    Baby Sleeping Bag 0-6 Months

     There's a special offer for all readers of The Imagination Tree this month, with a 20% discount off all Bed-e-Bags Sleep Bags!  All of my girls have slept soundly in sleeping bags from the post-swaddle stage up to nearly 2. They are a life-saver for tired parents as they ensure that the covers never fall off in the middle of the night, and they give peace of mind that baby is always kept at a safe temperature too. I definitely recommend them to all new parents!
    Baby Sleeping Bag 6-18 Months

     If you would like to take advantage of the special offer, just type IMAGINATIONTREE at checkout and claim your discount. This offer expires in one month so take advantage while you can! Did I mention there's FREE shipping, on all products, all of the time?! Fantastic!

    Do pop over and take a browse around this lovely online nursery interiors store and show our new sponsors some love! Thank you!

    This is a sponsored post.

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    Create some magical, sparkly moon dust for use in early literacy, mark-making and writing activities! A creative, original and fun way to get kids excited about learning, as well as being a great, Montessori style sensory experience too!

    pre-writing montessori activity salt tray

    A few months ago we made some pink sensory salt in a mark-making tray, for drawing and writing in. The salt feels so soft and runs so smoothly through the fingers and we fell in love with it as a new sensory material and have been making lots of different types ever since! We used lavender oil to create a calming lavender sensory salt for pre-bedtime wind down which has been enjoyed ever since by both girls.

    writing in salt tray montessori activity
    Recently Cakie has been totally absorbed with the desire to learn to write her letters and we have been trying lots of fun, hands-on ways to do this together (no worksheets necessary!) So we made another tray for practising letter writing, this time using magical MOON DUST!

    To create this we simply used one bag of economy salt, a squirt of black food colouring and a large sprinkling of silver glitter. Stir the colouring through the salt until evenly dispersed and allow it to dry before adding the glitter. It shouldn't take too long before being ready to use!
    writing and mark making in salt tray
    I lined a Melissa and Doug packaging tray (how many of these do you have in your home?!) with shiny silver card, then spread a thin layer of the moon dust over the top. The dust shouldn't be too deep or else the finger marks won't show through to the shiny layer underneath.

    For fun we stuck a sparkly yellow sticker on her writing finger to represent a whizzing comet, and she took her finger on a journey through space to land on the moon! We talked about making patterns, marks, pictures, shapes and dots and had fun making the underneath layer appear and shimmer through.
    Then she moved on straight away to wanting to practise writing letters, so she wrote all the ones she knew and looked at an alphabet chart on the wall for the ones she couldn't remember.

    She independently sounded out and wrote the word "cat" and then helped herself to a jar of acrylic gem crystals and used them to carefully line up over the letters, making them stand out and look magical!
    When we were finished we tipped it into a storage jar for using another day. Since making this we have already made 3 other exciting sensory salt trays, which both girls are loving to use quite regularly. I will share them here soon!

    Learning Links: sensory and tactile exploration, mark-making, forming letters, recognising and naming phonemes and graphemes, fine motor finger control

    Cakie: 4.2
    Pop: 2.7
    Bean: 8 mos

    Have you tried any creative ways to get your little ones interested in writing and mark-making?
    See also:
    Pink Sensory Salt Tray
    Calming Lavender Sensory Salt 
    Search the rest of our Playful Literacy series here

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