Toy Rotation: November 2018

All change this month… We have new toys! Brand new as well, which is very unusual for us, as I try and buy preloved whenever I can. But these wooden pretend play items were reasonably priced in Aldi and Lidl, so it seemed rude not to…

The toy kitchen is a permanent fixture in the playroom, but I do rotate the items that I put with it, and as all of my children currently love playing with the kitchen, it seemed like a good idea to go with their interests…

ROTATION

Smoothie Set (Aldi)
The whole set is wooden, and it also includes fruit and vegetables which Velcro together, plus a knife to ‘cut’ them into smaller pieces which fit into the smoothie maker. The fruit and vegetables are brightly coloured, and I am using them with younger children to reinforce the names of colours. Cutting the fruit into segments involves motor skills, and we are also counting the number of pieces. This toy also promotes healthy eating, and has led to discussions about our favourite, and least favourite, foods!

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Coffee Machine Set (Lidl)
Mainly wooden, except the cups and the head of the spoon (a little disappointing, if I’m honest, as could easily have been completely wooden). The lid of the coffee maker lifts for the children to put in the coffee beans; we have been using the coffee beans to count the numbers 1, 2 and 3, and the older children have realised that the colours get darker as the numbers get higher

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Pop-Up Toaster Set (Lidl)
Again, mainly wooden, except for the plate and the blade of the knife which are plastic. When the button on the side of the toaster is pressed down, the toast flies up! The slab of butter is a little unusual, but the children have been pretending it is cheese instead. The toast is a darker colour compared to the bread slices in the Breakfast Play Set, which is a nice touch. The only real issue is that quite a lot of items get posted into the toaster which I then need to rescue at the end of the day!

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Breakfast Play Set (Lidl)
As above, mainly wooden, except for the blade of the knife which is plastic. The knife can be used to cut the croissant into three, and the boiled egg can also be cut into two as well. Slightly unusual choices for breakfast (I don’t usually have lettuce, tomato and cucumber with my breakfast, do you?!) but this actually means it has been used to make lunches as well as breakfasts
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There are also a couple of items out which we have had for a while, but are still really popular!

Tea Set (Green Toys)
I don’t usually choose plastics toys, but I make an exception for Green Toys, as they are made with recycled plastics which are non-toxic and contain no BPA, PVC, phthalates or external coatings. This also means we can use it with actual liquids in too!

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Pot & Pan Set (Melissa & Doug)
This sturdy set is made of wood, and has taken a real battering from all the children. The children love cooking up dinner in the oven safely, using the oven mitt. My children particularly like that the spatula is very similar to the ones we use when actually cooking

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Cutting Fruit & Vegetables (BigJigs)
Fab for motor skills, but also encouraging healthy diets, colours, numbers, sorting, the list goes on! A particular favourite of my own children, we have used these in the kitchen while preparing dinner, so the children can feel like they are participating in the preparation

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What accessories do you put with your toy kitchen that your children love?

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My Favourite Hallowe’en Board Games

Favourite Hallowe’en Board Games

Hallowe’en is a great time to sit down with friends and family and play a few board games (perhaps dressing up in the process!) Here I will run you through my personal top three games to play at Hallowe’en, none of which I actually own, but have played thanks to WoBoGgers bringing them along on Wednesday evenings!

  1. Mysterium

In this game, one person takes on the role of the ‘Ghost’ while all the other players are mediums trying to establish who murdered him

The Ghost cannot talk, and can only communicate using vision cards, which have very abstract pictures on them (if you have played Dixit, think along those lines…) The mediums can discuss amongst themselves and work co-operatively in order to identify their allocated suspect/location/weapon combination, which only the Ghost can see, behind their screen

Mediums have seven hours (turns) to each correctly identify their personal suspect, location and weapon otherwise the game is lost, and the mystery remains unsolved. If all mediums DO correctly identify their personal suspect, location and weapon, then the Ghost has one final challenge… To lead the mediums to their murderer. The Ghost selects one vision card to represent the murderer, another to represent the room they were killed in and a third to represent the murder weapon used; the mediums have to interpret these final clues and work out who the murderer was, so the Ghost can rest in peace knowing justice will be done!

This game is a favourite for several reasons:
Firstly I LOVE co-operative games, and this game allows for all players to participate equally in the discussions. Other players may spot details on the vision cards which you may have missed, or interpret the clues in a different way, and all players must correctly identify their allocated suspect/location/weapon in order for the game to be won. And the more players the better! 7 can play the base game

Secondly, I enjoy the challenge of being the Ghost. Don’t get me wrong, it’s blooming stressful not being able to talk for a whole hour (or however long it takes for the players to win or lose!); the pictures on the vision cards are really abstract and it can be difficult to send appropriate clues to your mediums without confusing them (a timer for the Ghost can be useful to speed the game along) Hearing the mediums go off on completely the wrong tangent is both frustrating and amusing at the same time, but the satisfaction when they are on your wavelength is totally worth it…

Thirdly, and this is a personal one… I am named in the rule book! Well, not specifically me, but ‘Stephanie’ is one of the players in the example game in the rule book, so that’s an extra reason for me to like the game!

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  1. Gloom

This aim of this game involves players competing to make their four characters as UNhappy as possible before killing them off; the most miserable family at the end of the game wins

In an unusual twist on traditional card games, the transparent cards in Gloom allow you to see through to the cards played previously, so modifications can either be obscured or allowed to show through. Players must attempt to make their characters miserable, whilst making their opponent’s families happy… Only characters which have been killed count towards your final score!

This game is a favourite for several reasons:

Transparent cards! Who doesn’t love an unusual component in a game? And they have a purpose, they are not just for aesthetics; if the cards weren’t transparent, then the mechanics of the game would be lost

The chance to tell a story… Each card has a small amount of text on it, which you can use to weave a story about your family of misfits. Perhaps Mister Giggles fell down the hill whilst chasing his bride before being married magnificently! Although the box says from age 13+, younger children can have fun making up stories to go with their characters. As can the adults, let’s be honest!

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3. Betrayal at House on the Hill
This game starts out as a co-operative game, where all players draw tiles to create a haunted mansion. Partway through the game, the tables turn once the Haunt is triggered, and one player betrays the rest of their party. Both the betrayer and the rest of the players have their own sets of conditions needed to win the game, which vary depending on which room and Omen triggered the Haunt

This game is a favourite for several reasons:

No-one knows who is going to be the betrayer at the start of the game. It may be the person who triggered the Omen, or it may be another player. Due to the random shuffling of the cards, you simply don’t know when the betrayer will be revealed, or who will actually be the betrayer… Until it’s too late!

The variety of scenarios once the Haunt has been revealed, and the end game conditions. These vary from half the heroes escaping to banishing demons, from killing all of the heroes to summoning a ghost. How you set up the mansion during the Exploration phase can have a massive impact on how well the Haunt phase goes; what you think might be helpful initially can turn out to be your downfall… I love the unpredictability of it!

But my absolute favourite memory of BaHotH involves shouting out random Shakespeare quotes across a crowded pub… To be or not to be, that IS the question!

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Happy Hallowe’en…!

Cloth Nappies & Childcare

One of the most common reasons I hear for people not trying reusable nappies is that nurseries and childminders won’t use them. In fact, there is no reason why childcare providers CANNOT use reusable nappies, and it actually is a good way for them to demonstrate that they are working in partnership with parents, something that Ofsted is hot on

I’m an Ofsted registered childminder whose own children were (eldest) and are (youngest) in reusable nappies; in fact, the youngest has never worn a disposable nappy. The nursery my youngest attends is more than happy for her to stay in reusables, despite this being their first experience of them

I have cared for children in both disposable and reusable nappies, and MUCH prefer reusable, as there is no risk of poo leaks up the back of the nappy! However, I understand that it is parent choice, and I would never expect my parents who use disposable nappies to switch to reusable, so why should the reverse be acceptable?

There are many misconceptions floating around about reusable nappies, and most of them stem from ignorance of what modern reusable nappies are actually like, so I’d like to share a few tips to help get your childcare provider on board with reusable nappies

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  1. Education
    Using reusable nappies is still a relatively rare practice in our modern throw-away society, so a lot of childcare providers won’t have come across reusable nappies in their setting before. Ask your childcare provider if they have seen or used modern reusable nappies previously and be prepared to show them what they are like
    If you ask the majority of people in the UK what reusable nappies are, they will usually describe terry squares, plastic pants, soaking in a bucket until wash day… The reality of modern reusable nappies is very different, and by showing providers that no nappy pins or soaking is involved, then they will usually be more open to the suggestion
    Find out if your childcare provider has any preconceptions about reusable nappies, for example, that they leak, and be prepared to address those
  2. Communication
    Have a conversation with your childcare provider about how both you and they could manage reusable nappies in the setting
    Things to consider might include:
  • Preparation of nappies: could you send nappies already prepared, with all inserts, boosters and liners in place, ready to put straight onto the child?
  • Storage of dirty nappies: if the childcare provider has a double bagging policy could you provide small wet bags for individual nappies then another, larger, wet bag for these to go into afterwards?
  • Dealing with solids: I always suggest asking the childcare provider to leave any solids for parents to dispose of at home

    This communication shouldn’t happen just when your child starts childcare either; make sure you communicate regularly with your childcare provider, encouraging them to share any issues they may have

  1. Stick to what you know
    Don’t send in nappies you don’t normally use. Stick to nappies you know suit your child; nappies that you can demonstrate how to fit correctly because you use them every day, where you know how long those nappies should last between changes
    There’s absolutely no point in buying loads of nappies especially for nursery because they’re ‘easier’ when actually your child wees through them in half an hour and they aren’t a good fit on your child
    If it ain’t broke…
  2. Expect leaks
    Remember when you first started using reusable nappies on your little one and didn’t fit them properly into the knickerline? And that time you left the fleece liner sticking out and liquid wicked onto trousers? Oh, and when you did the poppers up too tight and got compression leaks?
    Your childcare provider will need to go through that learning process, and you will need to be patient
    Pack several pairs of bottoms. Be prepared to demonstrate how to fit a reusable nappy several times to several different people. Send in a picture to show how tight the Velcro at the waist should be. Write a brief set of instructions to leave in the change bag to remind the key worker. Send them a link to a fit video (fab one here!) Use Sharpie to mark the poppers that need to be done up… Do whatever needs to be done to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved
    You learnt to do this once, and you didn’t have 20 other children to look after at the same timeI suppose the main lesson to take away from this consists of two words…
    Be patient!

Anyone else got any more top tips to share when it comes to cloth nappies and childcare?

Christmas Traditions: Making Mincemeat

Don’t shoot me, but I can’t stand mincemeat. Yet every year I make jars and jars of the stuff! Why?! Sometimes I do ask myself that question, but other people seem to like mince pies, and it also makes for a fab gift for friends and family, so every year, during October half term, I find myself making the stuff. And it’s really simple!

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I’ve tried a LOT of recipes for mincemeat over the years, and experimented with them all; my current favourite (mainly because it doesn’t require ridiculous ingredients or any cooking) is derived from the Traditional Mincemeat recipe found on BBC Good Food, linked here. However, I have tweaked it slightly, so that it produces less waste and uses whole packets of ingredients rather than part packets, the rest of which would not be touched until next Christmas.

The following recipe makes approximately six jars. I say ‘approximate’ as I reuse jars collected over the year(s), so they are various sizes and shapes, and all lacking labels from multiple uses!

Ingredients

  • 500g raisins
  • 700g currants
    I also substitute in sultanas if I don’t have enough raisins or currants; I’ve never really worked out the difference between the three things!
  • 400ml brandy
    You can never have enough alcohol in there, right?!
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 200g suet
    I always use veggie suet as I’m veggie, but no reason why you can’t use the meaty stuff
    This stuff generally comes in 200g boxes, so none is left over from this recipe
  • 500g dark brown sugar
    I have also used light brown sugar, if that’s what I have, with no difference in taste
  • 200g chopped mixed peel
    Again, this ingredient tends to come in 200g containers, which I then reuse for the small amount of leftover mincemeat that won’t fit into the jars at the very end
  • ½ grated nutmeg
    You can use the powdered stuff, but nothing beats the smell and taste of freshly grated nutmeg to get you in the mood for Christmas. I pick my whole nutmeg up for pennies from my local Zero Waste shop, which also means I can buy single

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Method

  1. Soak the raisins and currants (and/or sultanas!) in the brandy, lemon juice and lemon zest for a minimum of one hour, overnight preferably. The fruit soaks up most of the juice and plumps up nicely. I find giving the mixture a stir periodically helps to rotate the topmost fruit to the bottom, meaning everything gets a chance to absorb that brandy
  2. While the fruit is soaking, sterilise the jars in the dishwasher on a hot setting. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you can sterilise in the oven or microwave. Full instructions here
    The main thing to note is to let the jars cool before adding the mincemeat as adding cold mincemeat to hot jars may cause the jars to shatter. No-one wants to waste good mincemeat (or jars, for that matter)
  3. Add the other ingredients and stir well
    I add them a little at a time, as they can be hard to distribute evenly throughout if added all at once, especially the suet and the sugar
  4. Spoon the finished mincemeat into the sterilised jars and press in firmly to exclude any air; you will be surprised at how much you can pack into those jars if you squeeze the air out as you go
  5. Store for at least a month before use, the longer the better
    The original recipe says use within six months, but I’ve used up jars from previous Christmases in mince pies without poisoning anyone yet…

Enjoy, people!

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Time for a Change! Toy Rotation: October

As I have said before, I practise toy rotation within my setting; toys are rotated for a variety of reasons, including:
– when I feel that play has become repetitive
– skills covered by the current toys have been mastered so further challenge is needed
– selected toys are TOO challenging, and a step-back is needed
– children ask for certain toys
– to follow the interests of the children
– to work towards individual children’s Next Steps
And the list goes on…

Last months set-up has gradually been adapted, and this weekend was time for an overhaul, so now the following is available for the children:

WOW Toys vehicles
These are pretty much indestructible, and suitable for under 1s (I have a new crawler, so this is very important!); they have friction motor engines (no batteries required!) and moving parts which can be operated by the children; the rotor on the helicopter should be the perfect challenge for one particular CM child to master. The figures and vehicles are also great for small world play, encouraging speech and interaction between all of the children.

Le Toy Van Noah’s Balancing Ark
The wooden pieces are chunky and tactile, so suitable for very young children to play with, whilst older children learn how to balance the animals on the ark itself. But beware, one false move, and the boat will tip the animals off! My eldest is beginning to realise that balancing is easier if you make each side the same, so this toy also encourages processing skills, and the idea of cause and effect as well as motor skills.

Melissa & Doug wooden clock
This is a current favourite with all my CM kids, so is the only toy that has remained from the last rotation. My nearly two year old CM child is beginning to acquire the patience to rotate the pieces to fit the spaces, and my 3 year old CM child is learning to recognise numerals, so this toy fits in well with others I am using with him on a one-to-one basis

Schleich animals
The basket contains a variety of toy animals; they can be used in a variety of ways, not just your standard pretend play
We can count them, sort into size and height order, talk about where they live, what they eat, even play hide and seek with them! So much learning from such a versatile toy.

Random selection of baby toys
The second basket contains a variety of ‘baby’ toys, which squeak, stack and roll. The toys in this basket will be rotated each week at an absolute minimum in order to maintain the interest of the baby I currently look after for four days each week. Being in a basket also means I can easily move them into the front room if the playroom is getting noisy and the baby wants some time and space away from the older children.

Magnetic Mix & Match: Jungle Changing Room
This was a new purchase at the weekend; the children can match up the animals correctly, or make up their own weird and wonderful creations. Great for language development and positional language e.g. below, in the middle, this versatile toy comes in a box for easy tidying away. After schoolers also love this toy!

I look forward to seeing how the children react and play with the new selection of toys on offer to them, and will evaluate their effectiveness over the coming days.

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Time for a Change! Toy Rotation: September

I operate a toy rotation system in my setting; I find that if I have EVERYTHING out at once then nothing is played with, and pieces are lost

I follow the children’s interests and Next Steps when choosing the activities which are readily available, and they are easily interchangeable if these change or the children want something different

Currently, the following are readily available:

Shape sorter
One of my CM children loves posting objects through holes; this allows them to do so, while also adding extra challenge to get the shapes back out again! Add in colour and shape names, and this simple toy covers a lot of bases

Peg puzzles
The same CM child also loves attempting to fit puzzle pieces in. These are a small selection of the available puzzles, and are rotated every couple of days. They cover a range of challenge, and the pieces of the Janod woodland puzzle are also used by the older children in pretend play

Dinosaurs
Several of my CM children [and my own kids] are currently dinosaur mad, so these are out to follow their interest. Cue lots of roaring!

Wooden clock
Again, this is an extension to the peg puzzles mentioned earlier, but this is also aimed at a CM child’s next step, which involves recognising the numerals 1-10. The child in question is able to count past 10, but currently has no concept of the physical numerals. We are also looking at a lot of house and bin numbers, and playing hopscotch down the park!

Wooden blocks
I always have some kind of construction toy out, to allow the children to build freely and use their imagination. As they progress through the EYFS framework, their constructions become more sophisticated. They are also fab for colour sorting activities, counting and more complex 3-D shapes with older children

Wooden animals
This is a current interest of my youngest, so these are a recent purchase which she loves! We make lots of animal noises, and use them in pretend play. She also likes to build fences using the wooden blocks to keep the animals contained

The kitchen and easel are always out, plus a large pretend play item; this is currently the garage, but a request was made for the castle today, so that will make an appearance next week…

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Katherine’s First Day at Nursery

Today was Katherine’s first day at nursery

3.5 hours

Doesn’t seem like a long time, does it? But this one tugged at me; Katherine is my youngest and doesn’t technically need to go to nursery yet. She was two in May, and as I am a childminder, she spends her days with me. Thomas started nursery just a few days before he turned three, and I knew he was ready to go. With Katherine, I wasn’t so sure…

Katherine is a sociable little bear, but she does have a temper (I only have myself to blame for that one!) and although she is used to being around other children, both at home and at the various playgroups we go to each week, I wasn’t entirely sure how she’d react with a roomful of strangers. She is also very much NOT placatable; if something isn’t to her liking, the whole world knows about!

I also wondered about sending her to the same nursery as Thomas. Would he be jealous, as this was HIS space? Would she settle properly if he was there? Would the staff expect her to be the same as Thomas, when in reality they are chalk and cheese?

But I needn’t have worried…

Daddy dropped them both off at 8am, and she toddled off into the room as if she owned it, plonked herself down for breakfast and asked for apple juice. She played with the toys inside and found herself a pushchair with a dolly outside. She played with Thomas and the other children. She co-operated (and for those of you who know Katherine, you will know how unusual that can be!) and didn’t have a single tantrum. Thomas was protective over her and kept trying to reserve toys for her to play with (which obviously she had no interest in at all!) preferring to make her own choices – Little Miss Independent!

The staff at nursery were fab and sent loads of pictures. I’ve done this myself as a childminder, reassuring parents that their child is absolutely fine, but it wasn’t until today that the real impact of those hit me. Knowing that she was safe, having fun, making friends (and not stropping!) meant the time passed quickly. Plus, I had other child-minded kids to occupy me, so definitely no time to dwell

Pick up was time for cuddles, and home for lunch then bed. One very tired Katherine, who can’t wait to go back next week. One comment the staff did make was how good her speech was, which made me very proud. Paul says she’s like me and just won’t shut up…!

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