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Creative play and learning in the early years!

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    Create a sensory, small world play scene to replicate the moon's surface and provide hours of space imaginative play for your little ones! Using recycled materials and homemade moon dust, it's easy to set up and can lead to plenty of learning opportunities and creative story-telling too.

    Make your own moon dust!
    6 cups fine salt
    large squirt of liquid black food colouring (or 1/2 tsp gel colouring mixed with few drops water)
    2-4 tbsp baby powder or flour
    generous sprinkle of silver glitter

    We also used this moon dust to practise early writing skills in this previous post.

    You also need:
    empty egg cartons
    tin foil
    bubble wrap
    a large tray or tub
    We lined a large, under-bed storage box (our sensory tub of choice at the moment, from Ikea!) with some sheets of tin foil. Then we stuck down some large egg cartons, some bumpy-side up and some the  right way up, using doubled over sticky tape. In some of the empty areas at the bottom and sides,  we glued down a few pieces of bubble wrap to create some variety in texture.

    Then we tipped in the moon dust, making sure it covered all the recycled craters and shiny foil, and added in some moon buggy and space station toys, complete with little astronaut figures! This set had previously belonged to the girls' boy cousins and is what has prompted a sudden interest in all things "spacey" recently!

    The moon dust feels so wonderful and is begging to be raked, sifted and dug into with little hands and the scoop on the moon buggy. They spent a while just feeling it and building mounds of it in the moon craters, then driving the vehicles over the bumpy surfaces and making the little astronauts go for walks. We talked about what they might be doing on the moon and Cakie began to invent stories about collecting rocks and dust samples to send back to Earth for further examination. 
    Cakie then declared that she needed aliens as part of her story, so together we found some green pom poms and googly eyes, and she independently created some and added them to the craters to peek out at the astronauts. I love that she added her own ideas to the play and was able to solve the problem of how to make them by herself!
    This sensory small world play has proved popular with their friends too, and has been played with for a few weeks now! When we are finished with it, the moon dust will be stored in a glass jar  and used for more sensory writing tray sessions in the future.

    Here are 5 great books about space to read with this project!

    Learning Links:
    fine motor skills, sensory exploration, new vocabulary, language skills, story telling, positional language, creativity, creating art in 3-dimensions, combining materials, creativity, imaginative play

    Cakie: 4.2
    Pop: 2.7
    Bean: 8 mos

    See all our sensory tubs ideas here
    See all our small world play ideas here

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    Create some stunning paintings to investigate colour, form and line with a little inspiration from abstract artist Paul Klee! A great art project for children with beautiful, open-ended results.

    Welcome to another round up of Kids Get Arty, a bi-monthly celebration of children's art work, hosted with Red Ted Art, Tinkerlab, Imagination Soup, Creative with Kids and Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas! We are all about promoting art projects for kids through the exploration of great artists from all eras, cultures and schools of thought. 

    Our inspiration for this project comes from the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, born in the late 19th C, whose art was characteristic for its abstract subject matter and use of thick black lines and flatly applied areas of bright colour. He was one of my favourite artists to study while I was learning History of Art and I was keen to introduce his art work to the girls. Here are some of his paintings that we looked at together online and in our art books.
    Using just black paint and large pieces of cartridge paper, we talked about making abstract, over-lapping lines by "taking the paintbrush for a walk across the paper." Cakie loved this idea and became wrote absorbed by creating intersecting patterns and seeing the spaces and enclosures that appeared as she did it. I encouraged her to take the brush all the way to the edges of the paper and to reapply with paint often so that the lines didn't thin out as the paint dried. I also asked her to look at the shapes that were being created with her brush as she worked, and she began to notice that she was creating art work with just lines!
    She loved creating the "black line paintings", as she referred to them, and painted at least 8 in a row until way after bedtime! The next day she needed no explanation about the next stage of the project and was very keen to start adding colour and bringing the pictures to life. I mixed up a range of colours from ordinary ready-mix primary colour paints, with white added, and she chose which ones she wanted to use, carefully applying the colour right up to the edges of the black lines. We talked about trying to hide the paper and leave none peeping through and this became a fun game too.
    The finished results on all the paintings were absolutely stunning, with bright colours bringing them to life and making them so happy and vibrant to look at! She was so thrilled with her own art work and actually carried on painting, on and off, for three days in a row. She held up her painting and said "Um, Mummy, don't you want to take a picture of the artist holding her artwork?!" So, of course, we took many! And she had them all lined up and ready to show Daddy when he arrived back from work.
     I love looking at abstract and modern artists with kids because there is no subject matter or end-product to aim for, therefore they feel less inhibited and more excited to have a go to create their own. This process has really captured Cakie's interest and it is now reflecting in her drawings too, where she has started drawing intersecting lines across the paper and colouring the sections that she creates with bright colours!

    We are framing these in our new kids art gallery space in the kitchen, and giving some away to family members too as there are so many wonderful finished pieces!

    Want more art inspiration? Check out the wonderful list of art projects for kids that are linked below to Kids Get Arty! And visit my creative co-hosts Maggy at Red Ted Art , Tinkerlab, Imagination Soup, Creative with Kids and Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas to see their amazing ideas too!

    Have YOU got a post about creating art inspired by real artists? Link it up below!

    Cakie: 4.2

    See our other art projects:   Mondrian
                                                   Eric Carle 
                                                   Andy Goldsworthy
                                                   Klee & Kandinksy

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    Just two weeks to go until the beginning of the Christmas countdown, here are some fun and simple ideas for creating a memorable Advent with your family this year, from homemade calendars and wreaths, to activity trees and themed books. These great ideas were linked up to It's Playtime in the past, (with a couple of our own mixed in too!)

    Featuring [clockwise:]

    10 Homemade Advent Calendars [The Imagination Tree]

    Christmas Picture Book List [Life at the Zoo]

    Magnetic Advent Tree [Making Boys Men]

    Natural Advent Wreath [Sun Hats and Wellie Boots]

    Advent Activity Tree [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 a future featured post, thanks!

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  • 11/15/12--03:31: Christmas Ornament Exchange!
  • Here is a great crafty challenge to get kids excited about Christmas, while learning a little about geography and the joy of giving all at the same time! Have a blog and want to take part? Read on!

    Calling all Christmas Loving Crafty Bloggers!

    How this works:

    1. Make a Christmas tree ornament, it doesn't have to be a recent one.
    2. It can be made from any kind of material.
    3. Share our Challenge on your blog and your fabulous ornament and come link it up between Nov 15th -27th.
    4. If you want to be a part of the Ornament exchange PLEASE USE A LEGIT EMAIL WHERE WE CAN TOUCH BASE WITH YOU WHEN YOU LINK UP!
    If you don't want to be a part of the exchange DON'T leave an email when you link up.
    5. On the 28th we will pair you up with another blogger who linked up their fabulous ornament.
    6. Mail your ornament out to the person you were paired up with.
    7. Share on your blog the ornament you rec'd and the blogger who gifted it.
    Wait by the mailbox :) for your christmas ornament to come in. Yes, real mail!!!

    Can't wait to see what you will make and link up! It can be an old ornament if you don't have time!

    If you would like to follow us you can here: Inspired by Family MagRed Ted Art,

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    I am very thrilled to announce a brand new partnership  between The Imagination Tree and the fabulous educational resources site, Twinkl Resources! With so many free materials for you to download, print out and use at home or in the classroom, as well as incredible resources in the premium collection, I think you will be as excited as me when you take a look! What's more, they've just been shortlisted as a finalist for a BETTs 2013 award, woo hoo!

    Twinkl Primary Resources caters for Early Years, KS1 and KS2 (that's ages 0-11) and provides a wide variety of printable resources, teaching aids, wall charts, worksheets and more! It's handily divided into subject areas such as maths, literacy, SEN, topics etc as well as by age range to make searching for that all important resource really easy to do. There are also search categories for classroom management, labels (how seriously useful is that?!) and an area specifically for parents too. They've got the whole thing covered! 
    How I WISH this had been around while I was teaching, but never fear, I am already in the process of downloading and printing off loads of number lines, alphabet packs, nursery rhyme resources and more, to laminate and use at home with the girls. It's not just for use at school! In fact, this would be a BRILLIANT resource bank for all home-educators, day carers, childminders and everyday parents too.
    Many of the resources are free to download immediately, with a fantastic offer to get access to the full 67,000 for a pretty decent price if you become join the premium subscription too. Brilliant!
    Also on offer on Twinkl's site are some wonderful reward and motivation stickers at a very reasonable price. When I was teaching we used to race through these at an incredible pace as we were always (trying at least!) to catch the positive behaviour instead of constanty correcting the negative. I know some people have different opinions about sticker charts and rewards, but for the 300+ children I taught over the years, they were always a super simple yet encouraging way to keep everyone on track! And at this price you could have all the different themed packs to match each child's interests! )They'd also be a GREAT stocking stuffer idea!)

    I do hope you will go and visit and see what a great website this is and help yourself to some wonderful resources for home and school! I must say, the staff are all rather wonderful and extremely friendly which makes a big difference with an online venture!

     And stay tuned as, very soon, we are partnering up to bring you some fantastic activity ideas here on The Imagination Tree, using Twinkl products and a little bit of creative fun! I can't wait to share  with you! 

    Follow Twinkl on Facebook, Twitter and Google + for daily updates and special offers!

    This is a sponsored post written on behalf of Twinkl. All the opinions are my own (and very genuine!)

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    Here is a go-to list of great quality, tried and tested toys for babies and toddlers that provide plenty of opportunities for open-ended play and learning! Pin it and share with family and friends as a handy reference for future present buying for Christmas and birthdays, or as a guide to creating a baby and toddler room in a child-care environment!

    Following on from the very popular Top Toys for 2-6 Years + Post, here is a list of highly recommended toys and resources for young babies up to older toddlers. These are just suggestions and of course you should apply your knowledge of your own child when thinking what to provide for them to play with.

    Young Babies

     Manhattan Toy Wimmer-Ferguson Infant Stim Mobile

    Manhattan Toy Wimmer-Triangle Play Mat

    Lamaze Mix and Match Activity Blocks

    Tiny Love Double Sided First Book

    Manhattan Toy Skwish 

    Sophie The Giraffe Teether

    Manhattan Toy Classic Baby Beads

    Lamaze Activity Knot

    Manhattan Toy Winkel Teethers

      Heimess Beeswax and Wood Rattle

    Soft Baby Boing Ball

    Lamaze Freddie The Firefly

    Jungly Tails - Soft Baby Book

    Whoozit Photo Album

    Older Babies and Toddlers

     Classic Pop-Up Toy

    Peg Hammer Bench

    Farm Sound Blocks

    Large Wooden Play Blocks

    Floating 3D Blocks Bath Toy

    Colour Water Blocks

    Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks

    See Me Sensory Ball

    Wooden Magnetic Wobbly Stacker

    Rainbow Stacking Toy

    Animal Pushalong 

    Wooden Rainbow Sound Blocks

    Wooden Xylophone

    Shape Sorter

    I cannot say enough about the BRILLIANCE that is Playmobil! Yet few people seem to know about their baby and toddler range, called Playmobil 123. I've linked our two favourites but there are many more to be discovered too!

     Playmobil 123 Noah's Ark

    Playmobil 123 Train Set

    Fish Colours Mix 'n Match Peg Puzzle

    Farm Chunky Puzzle

    Orchard Toys: Transport Puzzles

    Galt Baby Puzzles

     LeapFrog Spin & Sing Alphabet Zoo Ball

    Vtech Red Playtime Bus

    Doll's Pram

    Natural Soft Dolls

    Baby Walker with Bricks

    Pintoy Wooden Trike

    Light Panel

    Safety Mirrors

    Shape, Model and Mould Set

    Jumbo Paint Brushes

    Homemade Toys and Games (cheap and just as fun!)
    Treasure Basket for babies and Toddlers

    Baby Discovery Bottles

    Baby Material Box

    Discovery Boxes for Toddlers and Preschoolers

    Fibre Optic Sensory Cave

    Crawl Through Play Tunnel

     Pin this post to keep it handy for future reference for all those upcoming birthday and Christmas gifts! If you are lucky enough to be blessed with family and friends who ask for hints for presents for your little ones, pass along this Top Toys for Babies and Toddlers list and you can rest assured that they will get something that is great quality and truly stimulating and engaging! If you like this list, please share it!

    Looking for toys for 2-6 year olds+? Check out this post!

    Coming Next! 
    Top Creative Toys and Resources
    Top Educational Toy List for 2-6+ Year Olds

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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's a magical invitation to play for children who is interested by fairies, princesses and sparkles! Combining play dough, sensory play, motor skills and creative storytelling in one play prompt, this Fairy Play Dough is a great way to engage little ones in learning and creativity as they play!

    fairy princess pink sparkle play dough play

     I set out an Invitation to Play for the girls based on one of their favourite current interests, fairies and sparkles!

    Here's what was on the table:
    pink, strawberry sparkle no-cook play dough [click here to read our recipe add pink and strawberry essence and glitter!]
    unicorns and fairies
    pink and purple sequins
    sparkly pom poms
    acrylic gems
    fairy wand
    a little door
    fairy dust in a bottle [click here to read our recipe]
    As with all our Invitations to Play, there was no intended way to play with these materials. Instead, they are simply a prompt to start off some imaginative and independent play time (which always result in some incidental learning along the way too!)
    The fairy dust was liberally sprinkled over all the dough and then a careful application of every single sequin, jewel and crystal took place (fantastic for those fine motor skills and co-ordination!) The necklaces were squished into the dough in various shapes, and then used to drape over other items that were stuck into the dough, as "decorations for a fairy party!"

    The fairies and unicorns came to play and C. stuck the little door (from a play house) into the dough to make it into "a magic door that lets the fairies into the magical kingdom." Pop played alongside her, cutting, sprinkling, pushing, rolling and playing, while Cakie told an elaborate story about her fairy figures at their party. Creative storytelling at its best. 
    What they are learning:
    • fine motor skills through pushing, rolling, cutting, squeezing, pinching, balancing etc
    • counting and problem solving through counting out objects, comparing quantities and lengths, matching and sorting materials
    • language and story telling through using new vocabulary, inventing new stories, addigning roles to characters and toys, using voices to become a character in play
    • sensory development through smelling, touching and moulding the scented, sparkly dough

    Extend this activity!
    • Use this set up in a classroom/ home education lesson as a storytelling prompt
    • Provide pink and purple books and sparkly gel pens and stickers for writing and drawing the story after they have told it orally
    • Turn it into a maths activity by making it into a fairy birthday party with a set number of guests! Can you count out 8 jewels, necklaces, balls of dough for "cakes" etc. Add or subtract small amounts, compare sizes,  lengths quantities and weights etc Be creative!

    Cakie: 4.2
    Pop: 2.7
    Bean: 8 mos

    Read all about our Invitation to Play in this introductory post

    Join us on Facebook for DAILY Invitation to Play ideas!

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    Here are some great ways to learn about shapes with young children which are all are easy to set up and offer plenty of scope for creativity! Learning maths skills through play and art is the best possible way! Many of these ideas were linked up through It's Playtime, thank you to all who contributed and are featured here.


    Foam Shapes on the Window [The Imagination Tree]

    Shape Sticker Collages [The Imagination Tree]

    Giant Felt Shape Board [The Imagination Tree]

    Shapes in Play Dough [Come Play an Hour]

    IQ Shape Puzzles [Learners in Bloom]

    Matisse Shape Art in the Bath [The Imagination Tree]

    Shape Stamping [Mummy Musings and Mayhem]

    Paint Chip Shape Mosaics [Happy Hooligans]

    Triangle Fractals Community Art Project [Anjalicuric]

    Printing with Shapes [At Home with Ali]

    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 a future featured post, thanks!

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  • 11/24/12--07:58: Golden Cinnamon Sensory Tub!
  • Create an aromatic, golden sensory tub filled with golden, cinnamon scented rice for a truly multi-sensory play time with kids!

    It's fast approaching that most wonderful time of year again! This time last year we dyed some rice green and scented it with peppermint oil to create a perfectly Christmassy sensory tub, filled with all sorts of sparkly decorations and fun things to play and explore with.

    This year for our Christmas sensory tub we have dyed our rice with yellow colouring and added golden glitter and cinnamon for a really evocative, seasonal playtime. The whole house smells wonderful and with the addition of a few glittering extras it has become a real feast for the eyes as well!
    christmas cinnamon rice sensory tub
    Here's how we made our golden cinnamon sensory rice:

    • Simply tip one bag of economy rice (around 40p) into a deep baking tray and squeeze liquid yellow food colouring over the top. Stir the colour through with a fork until it is evenly coated, then leave it to dry. It doesn't take more than a hour or so and I've found it works perfectly well without adding alcohol hand sanitiser, and also remains safer if accidentally put into the mouth.
    • Once dry, sprinkle cinnamon all over the rice and stir it through, then invite your child to add plenty of gold glitter to make it sparkle!
    • Add in anything gold and shiny that you can find to really bring the tray to life! We added gold star Christmas tree decorations, glittery gold pinecones, gold bead strings, gold treasure coins, gold ribbon, golden eggs, gold wicker balls and the all-important scoops and spoons.

    The girls were really amazed at the sparkliness of this sensory tub and absolutely loved playing with the rice, scooping, tipping and transporting it between containers. Cakie found a way to turn one of the pine cones into a little Christmas tree and decorated it with bead strings and the hanging stars.

    This is also the perfect sensory tub to create along with the ever-popular nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! This has been Pop's favourite ever since she was a tiny baby and she automatically began to sing while she played.

    What they are learning while they play:
    sensory: investigating materials using all of the senses
    literacy: using new language to describe how things feel, look and smell , storytelling through play
    maths: counting out scoops and cups, comparing quantities e.g. full and empty
    fine motor skills: balancing, transporting, scooping
    creative: singing familiar songs and rhymes, imaginative play

    Cakie: 4.2
    Pop: 2.8
    Bean: 9 mos

    You may also like:
    Christmas Sensory Tub
    Flowers and Fairies Sensory Tub
    Lunar Lanscape
    Hedgehog Hibernation Basket
    Patriotic Sensory Tub
    Baking Sensory Tub

    Have you made a sensory tub? Tell us about what you put in yours!

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    Here's a collection of 20+ simple and fun activities, crafts, traditions and sensory play ideas for kids this Christmas season! Pin it now as a resource to return to as more activities will be added throughout the winter as we do them!


    Sensory Play
     Christmas Sensory Tub

    Gingerbread Play Dough
     Golden Cinnamon Sensory Tub
     Cinnamon and Nutmeg Play Dough Cookies
    Snow Play Dough

    Do pop back to visit this post often throughout the winter time as we will be adding all the other Christmas and winter themed activities that we get up to over the next two months too!

    If you have a post about your traditions in your home feel free to link it in the comments section below so we can see it!

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    Make some gloriously glittery snow dough for some wondrous sensory play this winter!
     Do you love cloud dough already? Me too! It's so soft and silky and yet can be moulded loosely into shapes. Best of all, it can be made form just 2 ingredients! So now that it's winter time I wanted to have a go at making some SNOW dough instead, based on the same simple recipe. And it's SO easy, bright white and even crunches between your fingers like snow! We experimented and it worked!

    Recipe for Snow Dough:

    2 cups corn flour (corn starch in US)
    1/3 to 1/2 of a cup vegetable oil
    3-4 tablespoons silver glitter

    [You can also use baby oil, which makes it smell and feel even nicer, but do NOT use with under 3s or any child who may put it in their mouth as it is dangerous if ingested. We stick to vegetable oil just incase!]

    This recipe does not create a huge amount of snow dough,  just enough to cover the base of a washing up bowl by about 2 inches. If you want more for a larger scale sensory tub, then increase the quantities accordingly.

    The girls made this nearly independently as it is so easy to do. Just mix the ingredients together with a spoon until combined, then use fingers to rub the oil right into the flour until its completely integrated. It should feel smooth, slightly damp and will take a form if moulded.

    They added their toy polar bears and some large chalk rocks and used their imaginations to create a fantastic Arctic small world scene. We had a go at forming some snow balls in our hands and the dough took the shape well. We piled them up then they threw them at the bears for a game of snow ball fights!
    Tip: This can get messy if played indoors, so use a large drop cloth or old table cloth under the tub to make cleaning up easier!

    What they are learning as they play:
    Sensory: exploring through sensory investigation, learning new descriptive language
    Literacy: story telling, vocabulary development
    Science/ Knowledge & Understanding of the World: combining materials, recipes, geography and habitats
    Creativity: imaginative play, forming sculptures
    Maths: counting out measurements

    Cakie: 4.2
    Pop: 2.8
    Bean: 9 mos

    See Also:
    Cloud Dough Seaside Play
    Pink Cloud Dough Cup Cakes

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    Here are 8 fantastic, original and creative Christmas card crafts for kids to make this season, linked up through It's Playtime!
    Coloured Paper Snowflakes At Home with Ali
    Splattered Cards Art Club Blog
    Cork Stamped Christmas Trees Mudpies and Sunshine
    Pom Pom Snowman Mummy, Mummy Mum!
    Collage Christmas Trees Rainy Day Mum
    Handprint Rudolph The Imagination Tree
    Up-cycling Kids Art into Cards Making Boys Men
    Photo Reindeer Red Ted Art

    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 PlayWe'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 a future featured post, thanks!

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    Set up a creative approach to developing early maths skills using play dough, matchsticks and wooden numerals! 

     I set out this mathematical Invitation to Play recently as a way to encourage some completely open-ended, hands on counting and number skills. If  you follow our Facebook page you may have seen it posted there. As is always the case with play invitations, there was no set outcome in mind and the children were encouraged to do whatever they wanted with the materials, with my role being to observe, prompt questions and interact when they wanted me to.

    What was on the table:

    I pushed a numeral into one ball of play dough and left the sticks and rest of the play dough to the side. Cakie (4.2) arranged all the little matchsticks the way that she wanted them, then started to stick them into the dough match the numeral that was there (5.) I asked her how she knew how many to put in and she said "becuae there is a 5 there so we need 5 sticks!" I asked her how she knew that she had put 5 in, and she proceeded to count the sticks using 1:1 correspondence (saying the number for each one as she touched/ pointed or moved it.) 

    She then made more balls of dough and asked me to make some too, and added the other numbers to each one. She went on the put in the sticks for each one, counting out to check she had the right number each time.
    When she got to the 0 she wasn't sure what to do and it was a great opportunity for some problem solving skills! How many sticks would she need? How could she represent zero? She realised that she would have to leave it empty with nothing added!
    What they are learning as they play:
    [Recognising numerals, counting using 1:1 correspondence, matching numbers and amounts, recognising small sets, fine motor skill and control, problem solving skills]

    Extend this activity!

    • Put the sticks into the dough first and ask the child to count them, then find the numeral to match
    • Take some sticks away from the dough ball and work out simple subtraction problems practically
    • Use a larger piece of dough to stick in two numerals, find the correct sticks for each and then add together to solve simple addition problems

    Read more here about Invitations to Play, what they are and why they're brilliant!

    You may love these other playful numeracy ideas!
    Handprint Measuring
    Paper Plate Number Spinner
    Play dough Learning Mats
    Egg Carton Colour Sorting
    Homemade Rain Gauge

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    Here are some really easy home made wrapping paper activities to keep the kids busy in the run up to Christmas, that require minimal input from adults and almost no additional materials!
    I am thrilled to have been invited to take part again this year in the wonderful Creative Chiristmas Countdown, hosted by Red Ted Art and Creative with Kids! This is a daily simple activity guide from 24 fantastic bloggers, one for each day of Advent, all inspiring easy, achievable and economical ways to get creative this December. Read all about the initiative, see a full list of materials needed to join in and sign up to receive each activity in your inbox here. I hope you will play along with us!
    For Day 3 of the countdown, we are showing how simple and easy it is to make some homemade wrapping paper! Using cookie cutters dipped into a shallow tray of acrylic or thick ready-mix paint, invite your child to print shapes all over a large roll of brown packaging paper. Choose Christmassy shapes such as stars, trees, angels, snowmen and reindeer! Get creative by drawing details or colouring inside the printed outlines when they are dry. 
     Another simple way to decorate papers is to cover a table top or the whole floor with a large roll of butchers paper or wallpaper liner. Set out pots of crayons, oil pastels, pens and stickers as an Invitation to Play, and sit back and watch them get creative! A truly collaborative effort and an opportunity to work on a large scale.

    Use the finished papers to wrap gifts or to cut out and thread ribbon through to make gift tags!

    Check back to Red Ted Art and Creative With Kids each day this month for more simple, fun and creative ideas!

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    Make some easy, homemade white clay and use it to make ornaments and decorations for the tree and around the home! Add some sparkle to make it looks like snow and ice!
     I've had this wonderful white dough on my to-do list all year and I'm now wishing I'd tried it earlier as it's fabulous, versatile and offers a fun alternative to the usual salt dough. It can be used to make ornaments for Christmas, decorations, handprints and clay models and we will definitely be using it a lot more in the coming months for all sorts of art and learning projects together!

    I found the recipe for this baking soda [bicarbonate of soda] white clay dough via Busy Bee Kids and then altered it a little so that it worked for us.

    How to make white clay:
    2 cups corn flour (corn starch)

    1 cup bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

    3/4 cup of warm water

    silver glitter

    Mix the dry ingredients in the pan then stir through the warm water. Mix over a medium heat, stirring as it starts to bubble and come away from the sides of the pan. When it has started to dry and resemble a soft play dough consistency, take it off the heat and leave it to cool for a few minutes. Turn it out onto the counter and knead it for a couple of minutes to make it super soft and pliable. It should look and feel like bright white play dough!
     We kneaded the warm dough and rolled it out straight onto the table, then sprinkled glitter over the top to make it sparkle! The silver glitter mixed with the pure white dough looks so simple and stunning that no other decorations are really needed. They used reindeer shaped cookie cutters to cut shapes, then stuck a straw through the top to make a hole for threading twine through later on.

    We then popped them straight onto a baking sheet and dried them in the oven at 100 degrees C (or 200 F) for an hour. They also dry perfectly if jut left out in the air at room temperature for a day or so, depending on the thickness of the dough. Ours were thin and dried very fast (not really even needing the full hour in the oven.)
    Once they were hard we threaded twine through the holes (great for fine motor skills, concentration and perseverance!) and hung them from a branch in a vase. When we get our Christmas tree we will hang them on it, and give away some to friends and family wrapped in tissue paper.

    This clay can also be coated with varnish or mode podge, painted using acrylic or metallic paints or covered with glue and dipped in glitter. It would also take colour very well if it was mixed in during initial pan cooking stage. We are trying that next!

    Here's what they are learning while they play:
    motor skills: mixing, kneading, rolling, cutting, squeezing the dough; threading the twine; hanging carefully by the loops
    maths: measuring quantities
    science: observing change in state of materials from dry to malleable to hard
    literacy: following instructions, reading recipes

    Cakie: 4.3
    Pop: 2.8
    Bean: 9 mos

    See our other ornaments too!
    Handprint and Footprint Keepsakes
    Easy Salt Dough Ornaments
    Salt Dough Initials

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    Here are 12 fantastic play dough recipes that will be perfect to make and play with this Christmas and winter! In fact, many of them would be easy, homemade and frugal (not to mention original and fun!) gifts to give to the kids in your life too. How about one play dough recipe for each of the 12 days of Christmas?! Please check out each link and pin and share the ones you love.

    Featuring Ideas from: 

    Candy Cane Play Dough [Love Play Learn]

    White Snow Play Dough [The Imagination Tree]

    Chocolate Box Play Dough [The Imagination Tree]

    Christmas Pudding Play Dough [Sun Hats and Wellie Boots]

    Gingerbread Play Dough [The Imagination Tree]

    Scented Snowman Play Dough [Sugar Aunts]

    Peppermint Play Dough [The Fairy and the Frog]

    Pine Scented Winter Woods Play Dough [Small Potatoes]

    Oranges and Lemons Play Dough [The Imagination Tree] link to follow

    Pie Play Dough [Little Moments]

    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 PlayWe'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 a future featured post, thanks!

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    Welcome to Focus on the Nativity, a collaborative collection of fabulous ideas from over 25 talented bloggers, all about celebrating the Christmas message with children! 
    I am thrilled to be hosting this special event this year as the message behind the Christmas story is so important to us as a Christian family, and we aim to make that a focus of the holiday season each year.
    It can be SO easy for the ever increasing commercialism of Christmas to creep up and over-take the whole reason for our celebrations and we are trying to build up our own simple traditions to make sure we keep our focus on Jesus, not just as a babe in the manger but as a perfect Saviour, the servant-King.

    Here are 4 simple ways we are trying to do this at home:
    [No doubt we will adapt and add to these as the girls get older!]

    Nativity Story Advent Calendar
    We love advent calendars (in fact I think I might be a little obsessed by them) but we make sure that whatever type we have, be it chocolate or a toy one, we also use our gorgeous bible story book version called The Story of Christmas. This has 25 little numbered hardback books in it that tell the story slowly and carefully, including a lot of details that are often skipped over in today's retelling. The girls love finding the right number each morning and hearing the new part of the story over breakfast! Here is the link below.

      Activity Nativity
    This is a new activity this year that we are currently working on together. It is designed like our Advent Activity Tree from last year, but with a more Biblical emphasis on the nativity story. Each day there is a  star shaped paper hanging on our tree branch with a Bible verse on one side and an accompanying simple activity on the other. For example, on Day 2 we read a few verses about who Mary is, then made a little character of Mary from a cardboard tube, fabric and pens. We are building up a whole set of characters for story telling and it is really helping to bring it all to life! When we have completed it I will out together a full post of 25 activities for you.

    Nativity Story Telling
    Setting up the crib scene with all the characters and a little straw lined box is one of my fondest memories from childhood of the build up to Christmas. Last year when the girls were 3 and nearly 2, we made this Nativity Scene Small World Play box together, using Playmobil characters and simple props. The girls played with it and retold elements of the story that they had been learning in our family devotions and reading time. This sort of retelling helps to consolidate the important events and to teach it in a meaningful way through play.

    Nativity Stories & Singing
    We have put all our Bible story books about Christmas into a story basket for reading together and talking about throughout the month of December. These books don't just come out at Christmas time, of course, as the message isn't confined to one month per year, but this is a particular focus for these weeks. We try and read these together when daddy is at home, in our family devotions time. They also serve as a great springboard into questions and further discussions. At the same time we sing some favourite hymns and choruses, taking time especially to learn Away in a Manger and Who is He in that Poor Stall? 

    These are our simple, achievable and adaptable ideas that we are focusing on at the moment. As the children grow up I'm sure the list will adapt and we will be inspired to try new activities too!

     Speaking of which, check out the linky list below for a wonderful collection FULL of incredible ideas for activities, traditions, books and more ways to take time to teach the nativity story and it's message to our kids. Please take a look at all of the efforts of the amazing bloggers who have linked up and visit their sites to leave a comment too!

    Here are the 28 fabulous bloggers taking part in the Focus on the Nativity event today!

    The Imagination TreeLiving Montessori NowKindergarten & Preschool for Parents & TeachersMy Nearest And DearestLife At The ZooCreative Connection for KidsThis Reading MamaAdventures in MommydomTrain up A ChildRainy Day Mum3 DinosaursCrafty Mom ShareThe Magic Of PlaySun Hats and WelliebootsThe Fairy and The FrogHousing a ForestThe Iowa Farmers WifePreschool Book ClubCraft To ArtThe Golden GleamHere Come The GirlsMamas Like MeIn Lieu Of PreschoolKids Creative ChaosMy Small PotatoesLove Play And LearnKids World Citizen

    Do YOU have a post you have written about any aspect of the Nativity story? It could be an activity, a play, puppet show, storytelling, lesson idea etc. Link it below so we can all find you too!

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  • 12/07/12--15:11: Spin Art Christmas Trees
  • Create a beautiful garland and some unique Christmas cards by making some funky spin art Christmas trees!
     Have you had a go at creating some simple, vibrant, open-ended art using a salad spinner yet?! It's so easy that even a toddler can have a go, yet fun enough for adults to love it too!  We've made lots of different spin art projects over the past couple of years, after first discovering the trick back when Cakie was just 2 years old, and now we thought we would add Christmas trees to the repertoire too.
    How to make spin art trees:
    Simply cut some Christmas tree shapes from green card to fit inside the bottom of a salad spinner. Fix the card in the middle of the basket using a piece of blu-tac and let your child squeeze as much liquid paint on top as they like. In fact, the more the better! We also use runny glitter glue to add a big dose of sparkle and fun! Close the lid and spin as fast as possible (what a great gross motor skill to practise!) Then take a peek at the creation inside! We often add more paint at this stage, or sprinkle some glitter over the picture, then put the lid back on and spin again. The layers that build up by doing this can look really stunning!
    We strung these trees across the window by sewing through the back of the card and sticking the thread with tape to stop them slipping along when lifted up. The rest we used to stick straight on the front of some Christmas cards for Cakie's friends. Simple, fun, effective and virtually MESS FREE! (that's got to be a bonus at this crazy-busy time of year!)

    More spin art to browse!

    First Spin Art with Toddlers
    Spin Art Easter Egg Garland
    Spin Art Fireworks Pictures
    Spin Art Autumn Leaves

    Cakie: 4.3
    Pop: 2.8
    Bean: 9 mos

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    Here's how to create an Arctic small world in a suitcase for imaginative play on the go! Perfect as a creative gift for kids this Christmas that you can make yourself with minimal effort but maximum wow factor! The possibilities for what you can create are as limitless as your imagination.
     As you will know by now, I am a huge lover of all things miniature and small world imaginative play is one of my all time favourite types of play for children. The learning opportunities linked with small world play are awesome, including storytelling, creative writing prompts, scientific discovery and social skills (to name just a few.) I thought how great it would be to organise some of our many small world toys into themed sets in little boxes, not only to keep them sorted and accessible, but also so that they can become portable and great for taking to restaurants and on long journeys.
    So I did some research and finally found the exact mini suitcases that I was after at this craft shop on eBay, made from a hardened type of paper mache that is a perfect blank canvas for painting and decorating the inside of! Oh the possibilities, what to choose and where to start?! An Arctic scene for winter, that's where!

    I started by simply painting the inside of the box with ordinary, washable white paint to represent the snow and ice. Then I squeezed some PVA/ white glue into a simple wiggly outline and covered it with silver glitter, shaking off the excess when dry. On the opposite side I used blue glitter glue to create a frozen lake and left both to dry overnight.
    Into the box I added some highly tactile and visually appealing materials that will offer open-ended and creative play opportunities, without being overly prescriptive. 

    These included:
    cotton wool balls
    shredded iridescent plastic/ paper (I found this in the gift wrap section)
    silver ball bead garlands
    various silver plastic baubles

    I deliberately made sure all of the elements are loose and not stuck down into a diorama so that they can be played with in any way that the girls choose, without the restrictions of my own imagination.
    The materials simply go into the box and wait to be arranged and played with during small world play imaginative games!
    I am leaving the outside of the box completely plain as I think it looks lovely as it is, with no clue to the surprise mini- habitat contained within it! You could alternatively paint a little scene on the outside or write a title if you are planning to make a whole collection (which I am!)
    I can't wait to give this to them on Christmas day! I have 3 more suitcases just waiting to be turned into other habitats and imaginative play-scapes! I am currently making one for my nephews which I will also share with you soon.
     What would you put into a little suitcase like this? 

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    Tis' the season for sensory bin play! Here are 10 fantastic ideas for ways to enliven your sensory play areas this Christmas and Winter time, using all the wonderful scents and tactile, sparkly materials that are so readily available! These activities were linked up to It's Playtime, as well as a few from our own collection. If you love them, share them!

    Christmas Sparkle Sensory Tub [The Imagination Tree]

    Golden Cinnamon Sensory Tub [The Imagination Tree]

    Peppermint Scented Oatmeal Bin [Train Up a Child]

    Treasures Sensory Bin [My Nearest and Dearest]

    Red and Green Christmas Sensory Bin [Fantastic Fun and Learning]

    Christmas Sensory Bin [Frogs and Snail and Puppy Dog Tails]

    Nativity Story Sensory Tub [The Fairy and the Frog]

    Shiny Treasure Tin [Laura Ingalls Wannbe]

    Sensory Snow Dough [The Imagination Tree]

    Arctic Sensory Small World [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 PlayWe'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 a future featured post, thanks!

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