Toy Rotation: January 2019

Although this one is more about room rotation than toy rotation!

Over Christmas we FINALLY managed to move the piano out of the conservatory into the living room. This left us with a huge space in the conservatory, which doubles up as both playroom and dining room, which was crying out to be filled. So… Operation Playroom came into force, and this is the end result!

room all

All of the toys and resources I own for childminding are in the 5×5 Kallax, with the exception of crafty bits in a small chest of drawers, as they are hard to store in large boxes. Currently we only have 10 boxes, but we plan on adding more to make the place look less cluttered and more appealing visually. Within the Kallax, resources are organised into similar themes, for example puzzles, board games, motor skills, Lego, dressing up, construction, musical instruments and so on, so finding appropriate resources to suit the children’s interests and next steps is simple. Can you tell that we love Orchard Toys?!

room kallax

The toy kitchen and easel are permanent fixtures in the playroom and I rotate the items within the kitchen to maintain children’s interest. For example, one week we have the breakfast items in there to play with, another week we might have pizza making resources, on another we might have fruit and vegetables to discuss healthy eating. I find that rotating resources in this area engages children more effectively than having all of the kitchen resources out at once, and means that they play imaginatively with them. Once enthusiasm is waning, or a child asks for a particular kitchen item, I will swap resources over

room kitchen

The doll house bookcase is fantastic to display large toys that have been selected for the current rotation; the shelves are roomy and having different widths and heights of spaces means that pretty much any resource can be placed on here. All children can easily access the resources on the shelves, although I tend to put resources tailored to babies on the bottom shelf, simply for ease of access

room bookcase

The toy box unit is a very recent acquisition and its purchase stems from a recent problem I have encountered; while the bookcase is great for displaying larger single items, it is less useful for smaller items, or resources with lots of ‘bits’ (for example toy animals, building blocks and Duplo) I experimented for a few months with small baskets on the bookcase for these items, but these took up lots of space and limited the amount that could be put out. So when I spotted this unit on a local selling page I snapped it up! The boxes allow me to display and store smaller items so they can still be accessed easily by all the children, whilst freeing up the bookcase for larger items. The children love tidying toys up into the boxes before we sit down for meals, and have learnt how to remove them safely using both butterfly ‘handles’

room unit

So, what still needs to be improved?

Firstly, to sort out the other end of the playroom! Since I was concentrating on getting the main play area up and running ready for the children after Christmas, the other end has turned into a bit of a dumping ground. The children sit at the big table for mark making and craft activities, although I am considering a small table and chairs specifically for these activities in the playroom. My only concern would be babies being able to access the craft items like pencils and scissors, so this one needs a lot of thought…

Oh, and yes, that is a dalek! She’s called Delilah…

room other end

Another aim for 2019 is to incorporate a reading area into the playroom itself; books are currently available in the living room, but I would love to create a comfortable space with cushions and blankets in the playroom. All of the children love their books and I wasn’t to make reading an even more enjoyable experience for them!

room books

What would you change about my playroom? Share your ideas with me!

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A letter to our friends and family: please no ‘stuff’ this Christmas

Firstly, I do want to say how grateful we are that people want to buy our kids (and us!) gifts at Christmas; we are lucky to have such generous friends and family! This post is not meant to sound ungrateful or like we’re preaching to you, but we would like to share with you some of the changes we have made this year, and how you, our friends and family, can help to support us with those changes

We have now reached a stage in our life where we have so much ‘stuff’ that we don’t actually need, and Christmas adds more to the pile. This year we have decluttered a LOT (even Paul has got involved with this one, and cleared the loft space a little!) got rid of excess furniture, knick-knacks, duplicate toys and household items which we used once years ago and then never again (who needs a salad spinner, really?!)

We are now reaching a stage where everything in our house falls into two categories; useful or sentimental. The rest is expendable

And this is where YOU come in, our friends and family. We don’t need more stuff to fill the gaps we have created in our home this year and will NOT be offended if you don’t get us anything at all! What we do want is time together as a family, so if you want to get us anything, could you consider popping a fiver in an envelope which we can put towards family days out throughout the year. For example, last July we took the kids on the train to London to see Uncle David, and would love to do the same again this year

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Due to the nature of my job, we have loads of toys already, so there are very few things we actually need; but if you REALLY feel that you want to buy the kids something to open, we have a list of a few select toys at Wise Owl Toys (ask behind the counter for the list) Some of these won’t be used immediately for our kids, but I plan ahead for the whole year. For instance, we have just cracked open the See & Spell that was bought for Thomas’s third birthday as he is just learning to read at preschool; so even if the items seem too advanced for our kids currently, they will get full use when the time comes!

We are also trying to reduce our waste this year, particularly plastic waste; we have introduced reusable straws, reusable cups and beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm into our household. We also utilise the new zero waste shop that has opened in Worcester, buying plastic-free deodorant, refilling containers instead of buying new and continuing to use reusable nappies, wipes and (me personally) CSP

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Christmas adds a lot of unnecessary waste to our house including foil wrapping paper that can’t be recycled. So, would you consider using brown paper to wrap? It is cheap to buy, and we will reuse it is possible, recycle if necessary. You can even get the kids to decorate it for a personal touch! Or could you reuse those gift bags from last year, make labels from old cards and consider homemade gifts for other people where they would be appreciated?

I understand that our lifestyle changes aren’t to everyone’s taste, but we would love it if you could join us in making our Christmas a sustainable one

Merry Christmas everyone!

Yes, I babywear my toddler: What’s your superpower?!

This is Katherine. She’s two and a half. And she LOVES being in the sling. But I do get a lot of negative comments, so I will address the main ones here:

KATHERINE Group

Yes, she can walk
And she does, when she wants to and when she isn’t too tired. But when she does get tired, the sling allows me to carry her safely, so we are both happy. And anyone who knows us will tell you, an unhappy Katherine is not a good thing to be around!

BABYWEARING Games Expo

Yes, we have a buggy, several in fact!
And yes, she goes in it. But there are also times where a buggy isn’t practical, or when I already have two other children in the double buggy, so Katherine would need to walk without a break. We have used the sling at the seaside (have you ever tried dragging a buggy across wet sand… We have, and we don’t care to repeat it!), walks in the wood, and trips to town on the bus. I even carried Katherine at the Games Expo at four days old; a buggy doesn’t fit through the gaps in a crowded hall, believe me! The London Underground is also not designed with buggies in mind either… A buggy can actually be very limiting with where you can go, and a sling allows for hands free flexibility

BABYWEARING London

No, this is not hurting Katherine
A well fitted ergonomic carrier will support your child and hold them in a comfortable position. The wide base supports Katherine from knee to knee and keeps her knees higher than her bum. If this was hurting her, believe me, she’d let me know!

BABYWEARING Zoo

No, this is not hurting my back
In fact, if you invest in a good ergonomic sling, then you shouldn’t feel the strain in your back at all. Our Lillebaby has a back panel for support when wearing front-facing, plus wide padded straps which distribute the weight evenly. I can carry Katherine for hours in the sling, could you carry your child on your hip or shoulders for hours?

BABYWEARING 1st Birthday

Yes, she does have a secure attachment
Slings can actually help children to develop secure attachments. A secure attachment develops when caregivers respond appropriately to a child’s needs, promoting security, regulating their emotions and offering a secure base from which to explore. Young children need cuddles and reassurance, and a sling can enable parents to do that whilst remaining hands free (important when you have other children to look after too!) Even as adults, we need comfort and reassurance when upset, angry or frustrated, so why should we expect toddlers to be any different?

No, I am not a helicopter parent
This comment REALLY made me chuckle! Not much more to say to this, apart from all of our friends know that this is the complete opposite to my parenting style!

BABYWEARING Walking

No, she does not have a disability
And why would she?! Although ergonomic slings which support fully to the knee joint can actually be used to help correct hip dysplasia in young babies by holding their hips in the correct ‘m’ position…
Read more about that here

BABYWEARING Beach

No, she is not obese
Again, why would she be?! She is a perfectly average toddler in every way (50th centile for every measurement at her 2-year HV check). Katherine walks, runs, jumps, climbs exactly the same as her peers. Also, as we use the sling in place of a buggy, even if we didn’t use the sling, she still wouldn’t be walking anyway, so pretty much an invalid comment…

BABYWEARING Costume

So why do I sling Katherine…?
The main reason is that we both want to! She loves it, and even asks for it. I enjoy the cuddles (I don’t get them very often now from Little Miss Independent), and it’s convenient, practical and allows me to get on with my day whilst still providing for my child’s needs

So… for all the nay-sayers out there, here’s what Katherine says to you! Seriously though, please don’t knock what you haven’t tried! Find your local sling library and try some out…

BABYWEARING Dalek

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!

Mysterium

  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!

Gloom

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!

BaHotH

Happy Hallowe’en…!

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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