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  • Top Tips To Prepare Your Garden For Fireworks Night

    There are plenty of authoritative sources giving information about keeping safe on fireworks night, like this advice sheet from the Met Office.

    We’re here to offer a different perspective. We’re here to speak on behalf of your long suffering play equipment. Sure it doesn’t get nervous or stressed like the family pet might. Whatever is thrown at it, your climbing frame will remain stoically planted to the ground. But this time of year poses new risks to your beloved back garden toys.

    Keep Fireworks Away From Climbing Frames

    The audience exclusion zone should apply to any play equipment, such as trampolines or plastic toys, that could get scorched or damaged by a stray firework. If you have covers for your garden furniture and trampoline, use them, to protect them from falling firework debris.

    No Play Zone

    Play equipment should be out of bounds for spectators. It isn’t a good idea to be climbing around in the dark anyway and the damp air will make the play equipment slippery. Add to that the scares and distractions caused by exploding fireworks and you’ve got a recipe for a painful fall.

    Stay Grounded

    Safety distances on fireworks are calculated on the assumption that spectators will be on ground level. Want an aerial view? Watch from an upstairs window, not the top of your slide.

    Use A Suitable Launch Site

    Do not attach fireworks to your play equipment or use them as a launching platform. It may be tempting to place that fountain at the top of the slide to give the crowd a better view, or nail the catherine wheel to that handily positioned climbing frame ladder, but don’t. Follow the instructions to affix the fireworks in the appropriate manner. Your play equipment could topple and cause the fireworks to fly in all directions.

    Clear Any Kindling

    By now many of the trees have shed their leaves and your garden is most likely littered with dry, crumbling leaf litter. If the weather stays dry for a few days before Bonfire Night this natural debris could act as perfect kindling. Clear these away, especially where they have collected around play equipment and outside buildings, and store well away from any fire or fireworks.

    Neighbour Relations

    Keep friendly with the neighbours by giving them advanced notice of your fireworks party. They would probably appreciate a heads up about when the fireworks will start and when you expect to finish so they can plan their evening and keep pets indoors.

    Clear And Light Pathways

    If your back garden usually looks like an explosion in a toy factory, it’s a good idea to tidy up before the night. Put away any toys you can to remove trip hazards. Keep a light on at the back of the house, or put up some temporary lights for when people are travelling in and out of the garden.

    Have Fun

    With careful planning a preparation you can host a fun, safe Bonfire Night party for your family.....and still keep your play equipment looking ship-shape for the next day.

  • Halloween Decorations for The Back Garden

    If you are planning a Halloween party for the children, extend the fun to the outdoors by decorating your back garden too.

    If the weather is bad the decorations can be appreciated from the warmth of the house. and if you are lucky enough to have good weather on the day of the party you can turf the children outside where they can get up close with all your spooky designs.

    1. Incy Wincy Spiders

    These are so easy to make. Use black pipe cleaners to make the body and legs of a spider. You will need five pipe cleaners for each one. Then simply attach to your climbing frame, swing set or slide by wrapping the legs around narrower parts of the frame. These have extra scare factor as children are unlikely to notice them from a distance, so will get a real fright when they go to play on the equipment.

    2. Buried Bodies

    To make these you will need an old pair of trousers, some socks or shoes and plenty of newspaper. Fill out the trousers and footwear by stuffing them with scrunched up newspaper. Then position the half-body in such a way that it appears to be kicking out of the flower bed or sand pit, giving the appearance of a half-buried body.

    3. Ghost Lights

    If you have solar lights staked into the ground in your garden you can turn them into floating ghosts. For each ghost you will need a scrap of white fabric approximately 12 inches by 12 inches. Use a permanent marker pen to draw on a face and scary mouth, then drape the fabric over the light. These look great during the day and even better at night.

    4. Cobwebs

    Use white wool to weave webs all over the back garden. Wool works better than string because you can fluff up the edges giving it a more realistic web-like appearance. You can make a giant spider to adorn the web by stuffing a black bin bag with scrunched up paper, then cutting another bin bag into strips to use as the legs.

    5. Halloween Lanterns

    Collect glass jam jars. Make a stencil of a scary Halloween-inspired shape and attach to the front of a jar. Spray paint the jar, then remove the stencil to reveal a clear shaped window. Pop a tealight inside to create a spooky outdoor lantern.

    6. Creepy Cave

    Use an old bed sheet draped over the climbing frame or monkey bars to create a spooky cave. Hang cuts outs of bats and spiders inside for added creepiness.

    7. Creative Carving

    Get seriously creative with your pumpkin carving. Don't just stop at one Jack O Lantern. Create serious wow factor with a whole line of them. Or stack them to create a pumpkin snowman. Or leave dolls legs or arms dangling from their mouths so it looks like the pumping has just finished eating one of yoru children. A few pumpkins, a knife a splash of red food dye are all that's needed to create so truly hideous decorations.

    Be Inspired

    Hopefully that little round-up of Halloween nasties has inspired you to come up with yoru own ideas for spooky back garden decorations.

  • Autumn Sensory Play Ideas

    All children learn about the world around them through their senses.

    For many the most exciting play opportunities rely not just on one or two of these sense, but all of them together.

    With a riot of colour in the trees, the sensation of leaves crunching under foot, and the swish of the wind blowing through branches, a simple walk in the forest can provide your children with a sensory feast.

    For activities you can enjoy at home, be inspired by this list of Autumn inspired sensory-provoking play ideas.

    1. Autumn Gloop For the base of your gloop mix two parts cornflour with one part water. You should end up with a thicky, white, gloopy mixture that pours like a liquid but is stiff and sturdy like a solid. Add in natural Autumn gifts such as leaves, berries, acorns and conkers. Younger children can have fun pushing the items around in the gloop. Older children can use a pair of jumbo tweezers to rescue the objects, which is great for fine motor skills practice.

    2. Leaf printing painting Make a beautiful collage by applying paint to a leaf, then printing the pattern onto a piece of paper.

    3. Leaf Paper Mache When they get wet, leaves naturally stick to flat surfaces. Use a collection of brightly coloured leaves to create a pattern on the slide by pasting the leafs on using just water. On a sunny day, the leaves will dry quickly and you might be able to lift them as a complete sheet if you are lucky. For added tackiness you could mix in a little mud with the water.

    4. Autumn Fruits Exploration For this activity you will need a plum, an apple and a blackberry, all Autumnal fruits. For each fruit encourage your child to explore the texture and smell, notice the sound when it's cut and bitten into and the taste of the flesh. Older children can write down words to describe each fruit within a diagram of the fruit. For younger children you will need to scribe for them. Look at the collection of words and ask your child to notice the ways in which each fruit is similar and different to the others.

    5. Autumn Soup Fill an old paddling pool or water play table with water, mud, acorns, conkers, leaves and all the other lovely debris nature throws around this month. Add in some spoons, jugs and pots and your child can have an hour of fun making mud pies, autumn soup and leaf cakes. You can also make mud muffins using silicon cake cases. Fill them with wet mud, decorate with leaves, twigs and berries, then leave to back in the sun. Once the mud has dried out you will be able to peel off the silicon case.

    For more outdoor play ideas, take a look at the rest of the Wicken Toys blog posts.

  • Leaves: Seasonal Beauty Or Safety Peril

    As Autumn is making its presence known the trees are finally giving up their leaves for the year.

    As the foliage changes colour, and the leaves flutter to the ground like snow, our trees are putting on one of nature's most beautiful visual displays.

    But for keen gardeners and parents enthusiastic about outdoor play, leaves can be a scourge.

    To help motivate you to clear up nature's litter, here are five safety threats posed by leaves you've never even considered.

    1. Slippery When Wet

    Once coated with rain, wet leaves tend to adhere to the hard surfaces creating a slick coating to footpaths and driveways. This is a slipping hazard for anyone who might walk over them, but for young children who tend to run everywhere, they are even more dangerous. They can also cause bike riders to fall if ridden over. Leaves are much easier to sweep away when they are dry, so don't put off until tomorrow what you could do today. If it's a fine, dry, autumnal day, seize the opportunity and sweep those leaves away.

    2. Loss Of Grip

    Leaves don't only accumulate on the ground. They can blow against climbing frames, and will stick if the frame is wet, especially on metal equipment. They can also gather on the rungs of ladders. Children using play equipment covered with leaves are at risk of losing their footing or grip and falling. A quick way to remove wet leaves from play equipment is using a stiff brush, they type that usually comes with a dust pan.

    3. Blocked Drains And Gutters

    When gutters become blocked with leaves and debris, rainwater bubbles over and falls to the ground, instead of being directed to the down pipe. This can flood the garden and cause damp patches to the brickwork of the house. If a hard surface, such as a patio, is wet much of the time due to this overflow, a film of green algae can develop on the surface, which is extremely slippery and dangerous to walk on.

    4.Encouraging Rot

    If you disregard a pile of leaves for long enough it will eventually rot down into a mulch. If you a pile of leaves accumulates against a piece of wood, the same moisture and fungus that breaks down the leaves will begin to attack the wood. Our wooden climbing frames are built to withstand the British weather, but they will not enjoy being coated with rotting leaves. Keep the legs of wooden climbing frames, swing sets and slides clear of debris. This will allow air to circulate and discourage wet rot from attacking the wood.

    5. Creepy Crawlies

    None of the creepy crawlies that make fallen leaves their home are likely to be dangerous. If you enjoy bug hunting, then using some fallen leaves to make a bug hotel can encourage so interesting species to come and stay in your garden. However, if you have a sheltered play space such as a playhouse, allowing a build up of leaves inside will encourage mini beasts to make the space their home, and may deter your children from playing inside. Unless you intended the playhouse to be a luxury home for insects, keep the interior free of leaves.

    We have so many leaves to deal with here at Wicken, last year we put together this blog post for 101 things to do with leaves.

  • Outdoor Education: Making The Most Of Awesome Autumn

    Each new season brings new educational opportunities for our children.

    They learn a lot simply by outside, engaging with nature, and being aware of how their environment changes throughout the year.

    As much as the Wicken team like children to be playing outside, we appreciate you can only make an autumnal walk outdoors last so long, before eventually you need to return to the warmth and shelter of home.

    To help keep the kids entertained when you are at home this half term, here are some structured activities that make the most of the weather and time of year.

    Seasonal Taste Test

    Set up a food challenge that will encourage your children to try something new, as well as teach them about the seasonality of foods.

    You will need: * A six hole muffin tin; * A piece of paper with the muffin tin drawn on it and the holes numbered; * Some seasonal foods such as apple, blackberries, potato (cooked), plums, corn on the cob.

    What To Do: Fill each dip in the muffin tray with a different food. Then ask your children to first try to identify any foods they can by sight alone. Them encourage them to try each food in turn. Ask them to describe the food's flavour and texture, then take a guess as to what it is. You can then talk about where the food comes from, and why it is in season at this time of year.

    Go Bonkers With Maths Conkers

    Children are always collecting conkers and acorns, so embrace their hoarding tendencies and put their natural treasures to good use. Here are a few ideas for maths games you can play with your enormous conkers collection: i) Line the conkers up in a row according to size order. ii) Draw a grid of ten on the playground / patio, using chalk. Fill some of the squares with conkers, then ask how many more conkers are needed to fill the grid. Look online for 'numicon games'. Most of these games can be replicated with the conkers and a hand drawn grid. iii) Arrange the conkers in times table sets, and use chalk to write the sum above them. For example set out 3 rows of two conkers, then a pool of six, and write out "3 x 2 = 6".


    When Halloween has been and gone, the supermarkets often have a plentiful supply of pumpkins left over, and available at bargain prices. Entertain your kids by buying a small pumpkin, hollowing it out and using it as a volcano. Put some bicarbonate of soda inside the pumpkin, then add vinegar and watch the foam spew out. Measurements are pretty much up to you. The more bicarb you use, the more violent the reaction, and increasing both quantities will produce more impressive results. For a small mixing bowl sized pumpkin, I use 3 tablespoons of bicarb, and about 100ml of vinegar.

    Make A Pine Cone Bird Feeder

    This craft provides a good opportunity to talk about how birds survive the winter, and why they need extra help feeding themselves. The simplest way to make a bird feeder is to smother a pine cone in peanut butter, then dip it in bird seed. Hang the feeder well clear of any outdoor play equipment or suffer the consequences of bird poop on your slide.

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