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buyers guide

  • Best Outdoor Toys For 11 And 12 Year Olds

    #6 Outdoor Toys For 11 and 12 Year Olds

    As I plough on with this month’s series of posts dedicated to finding age appropriate outdoor toys, I’ve now hit the impossible-to-buy-for pre-teen years.

    There’s no denying it - creating this list isn’t going to be easy, but here goes.

    Something To Aim For After a stressful day at school your child ,may be seeking some solitude. Many jump straight onto the video games to flood their brains with something fun. The problem with this is that their brains have already spent the day being flooded with information and emotion, and what it really needed in the late afternoon was the opportunity to process and store what it has already taken in. This continued flooding will postpone processing time until the next time your child is busy doing nothing, which will most likely be bedtime. And trying to process a whole day’s worth of data in bed does not lead to a good night’s sleep

    An activity like shooting hoops will help your child unwind at the end of the day without over stimulating their tired mind.

    Netball or basketball hoops, or goals with targets on are great for providing a degree of challenge and something to aim for.

    Something To Share Have you ever noticed how when you go for a walk with someone you can often enjoy a deeper conversation than if you sit face to face. Enjoying an activity side-by-side takes the pressure of the participants, defuses conflict and makes conversational pauses more bearable.

    Make opportunities in your garden for these side-by-side interactions to take place. Working on the same flowerbed, sitting on neighbouring swings, or a large swinging hammock all work well, require little investment, and don’t take up too much space.

    These have the added bonus of being in your own back garden. If you have younger children it can be difficult to get time away from them to be able to connect with your eldest. Sharing an activity in your own garden means you are still at home for younger children, but your older child can benefit from your attention.

    Somewhere To Relax Nobody ever grows out of a swing. Well, we may one day become physically too wide for a swing, but in our hearts we still love to swing.

    But at the age of 11 and 12, swinging is about relaxation rather than thrill seeking. Now is a good time to swap that old plastic swing seat for something a little bigger and more comfortable, like a tyre.

    You should also check the maximum weight limit of the swing frame, and double check it is well anchored to the ground.

    We’re nearly at the finish line now. There’s just one last age category to look at - the teenagers.

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Nine And Ten Year Olds

    Around this age, the amount of space you have available really becomes an issue. They can run faster for longer, kick and throw further, and crave independence.

    In this fifth instalment into our outdoor toys for all ages series, we look at toys to encourage outdoor fun for 9 and 10 year olds.


    Liven Up A Walk With Weaponry

    If your children have reached the age where a family stroll brings on a barrage of moaning and feet dragging, it might be time to liven things up a bit.

    Take your family somewhere quiet, with an arsenal of toy guns and turn your gentle meander into a high energy shootout. You’re outdoors. You’re all moving about. And best of all, everyone’s happy.

    For added impact, cap guns really get the excitement levels up.

    If you take guns (like Nerf) that fire foam bullets, set some rules about bullet retrieval. Leaving bullets outside is littering, and they could be a danger to local wildlife. Count them all out, then count them back in again before you go home. Can’t find all the bullets? Then retrace your steps. No-one's getting a hot chocolate until every last bullet is accounted for.


    Upgrade Your Existing Climbing Frame

    If you’ve already got a swing set or climbing frame, you can upgrade the accessories to add a new level of challenge relatively easily. Many of the main manufacturers like Plum and TP Toys sell accessories that can be used instead of a swing. Older children will enjoy twirling on a spinning wheel, or challenging their upper body strength on a trapeze.

    A word of caution first though. Check the weight guidelines for your play equipment against your child’s weight. Ten year olds come in all shapes and sizes. Just because the swing is usually suitable for a 10 year old, doesn’t mean it is suitable for your ten year old.


    Keep Them Close With A Go Kart

    Remember when your child was little and you could let them ride their bike while you walked at a gentle pace alongside.

    And then that triumphant day came when they could ride without stabilisers.

    And for about 60 seconds you were so happy for them. Then you realised how fast they could ride, and that you would never be able keep up, and you slumped to floor muttering ‘what have I done? What have I done?’ (just me?).

    You can get back those laid-back four wheel days with a go-kart. They’ll can put plenty of effort into pedal power, racing round the block like Fernando Alonso, and you can march behind, because no matter how hard they try, they will never get that go-kart to go as fast as a bike.

    Parenting win!

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Seven And Eight Year Olds

    They’re bigger, stronger, filled with energy, and yet suddenly they seem a whole lot more interested in TV and video games than in running around outside with their friends.

    But with our help you can still lure your seven or eight year old back out into the garden.

    Climbing Frame

    Don’t have a climbing frame yet. still not sure. Procrastinate any longer and you will lose valuable play opportunities. Every day you spend thinking about it is another day your child could have been climbing it.

    Look for a climbing frame that offers challenging climb and scope to be played with in a variety of ways. For example the Plum Pyramid features a rock wall, climbing net and a camouflage den, making it a more attractive plaything for older children.

    Goal, Net, Hoop, Any Kind Of Target

    By this age children have grown in confidence when it comes to ball skills and will be playing games like football and netball in school. Installing a goal, net, basket or hoop at home provides the opportunity to practise shooting skills either with friends or even with mum or dad. There aren't many outdoor games parents will enjoy playing, not least because they would break the equipment (have you ever seen a grown man snap a swing in two? It’s not a pretty sight). But a ball and something to aim at is all that’s needed to pass a pleasant afternoon.

    All

    Swings

    By this age a child should be willing and able to swing themselves. You will still need to supervise from a safe distance. For tips on teaching your child how to swing solo check this blog post from the archives: Teaching your child how to pump the swing. Make sure you position your swing away from any structures that your child could hit while swinging back and forth, and out of the line of play. For example if your children usually run a certain way from the bottom of the slide to the back of the climbing frame, keep the swing clear of this route so they don’t run right into the feet of someone on the swing.

    Plum Gibbon Swing set

    Plum

    Messy Play

    You may imagine a water play table to be suitable for younger children, but older kids will get good use from it too. Children this age love to explore nature, collecting bugs and leaves. Use a water table to create a home from home habitat for their new best friends, before repatriating them back to their original hiding place at the end of the day.

    For more ideas on matching your outdoor play equipment to your child’s age and stage of development, check out the rest of January’s blog series.

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Five And Six Year Olds: What School Aged Child Wants In Their Garden

    This is the third post in January’s series about which outdoors toys are best suited for each age and stage.

    In this post we’re looking at the play equipment 5 and 6 year olds will enjoy playing on.

    A Mention For Milestones

    Around this age children are able to climb and use a slide comfortably, keen to play together and some may be able to use a swing without an adult’s help.

    Choosing the right toys for this age is a careful balancing act. The play equipment needs to be enjoyable to play with, yet at the same time offer scope for learning and an appropriate level of challenge.

    Invest In A Climbing Frame

    This is a great age to invest in a climbing frame. Choose a high quality wooden climbing frame and you will get many years of use from it, and hundreds of hours of play.

    Look for a frame that offers opportunities to swap accessories in and out. These small, inexpensive changes will help keep your child interested in the climbing frame, and enable you to update the features to match your child's developmental ability.

    For example, for a five year old you might start out with a frame that as a simple step ladder. as your child gets older this will become easier and easier for them to use. By about the age of seven, you could swap the ladder for metal rungs or a rock wall. Then a year or two later update it again with a climbing net. If you have a climbing frame in mind and want to discuss the accessory option, please contact us and we can talk you through what’s available.

    Funtime

    Some climbing frames with swing arms also allow you to swap the swings out for other hanging toys like a trapeze or rings. This is great for updating the climbing frame as your child gets older, but also enables you to adapt the frame if you have children of wide variety of ages.

    Being Sociable

    As previously mentioned, at this age children become more interested in playing together and enjoying each other's company.

    Some climbing frames can have gliders or boats attached to them so that two children can swing together. The benefit of these types of swing is that parents have the opportunity to listen in on conversation the children are having while they gently push the glider, which will no doubt include some priceless gems.

    As their hand-to-eye coordination develops they may also enjoy a swingball set. Gently batting a ball back and forth provides the opportunity to play with a friend or a parent and enjoy a conversation at the same time, something that five and six years olds are very keen on.

    Although they may need to duck to get through the door, at this age many children still enjoy playing in a playhouse. You can update the look as your child gets older to keep them interested. For example, the playhouse may start out as a cosy miniature home but with the addition of some camouflage netting, green paint and Nerf guns it can become an army barracks for older children.

    All

    For more outdoor toy ideas check out the rest of January's series on matching play equipment to your child's age.

  • Why Your Garden Needs New Year Resolutions Too

    It’s that time of year when we reflect back on the past 12 months, some of us happy to wave it off, others misty eyed with happy memories. Then it’s time to look forward to the year to come. When making grand plans about what you would like to achieve in 2015, how you are going to be happier, healthier, and fitter than ever, don’t neglect your garden. This outdoor space is an integral part of your family-life and including it in your New Year’s Resolution making will put you on the right path to success.

    #1 In Your Ideal World Visualize your ideal outdoor space. What does it look like? What do you use it for? In the Summer? In the Winter? Is the play equipment out of view, or have you devoted the entire area to children? How much time would you like to spend maintaining it? Is gardening a pleasure or a chore. Now compare this ideal scenario with what you have right now. Some of the things you would like to change can be implemented easily and inexpensively. Tackle these first. Then later in 2015, repeat the visualization exercise and plan your next move. When you look at the gap from where you are now to where you would like to be, the amount of work needed can feel overwhelming. Focusing on the quick wins first makes it easier to get started.

    #2 What Frustrates You Creating your dream garden is as much about eliminating the negative as focusing on the positive. Make a list of the frustrations, time-sucks, and unpleasant chores that bother you about your garden. For each of these problems research potential solutions. Hate mowing the lawn? Get a gardener. Fed up of having an unusable boggy lawn 6 months of the year? Look into grass alternatives. Then once you have lined up your potential solutions, you need to make a commitment. Either the problem bothers you so much you are prepared to invest time and money in the corresponding solution, or you are happy to put up with it and move on.

    #3 Developmental Appropriateness You know how every day your child looks the same to you, until someone points out how much they've grown, then you suddenly notice the difference? It might be time to look at your play equipment with those fresh eyes too. Sure the slide posed a real challenge to your 5 year old, but now they are 8, perhaps they are looking for something new to attack. Take a look at the equipment you currently have and consider what needs to be adapted or replaced. Your garden should contain a mixture of toys that can be used with ease, be a springboard for their imagination, and which challenges them physically. Adding monkeybars to your climbing frame or swapping a ladder for a climbing net or rock walls are quick and easy ways to adapt existing pieces for older children.

    Take a look at our range of play equipment and accessories for inspiration on how you can create the ideal play space in 2015.

  • How To Grab Rock Solid Play Equipment At Rock Bottom Prices

    No sooner is the turkey eaten, the packaging disposed of, and the tree de-tinselled (untinselled, dis-tinselled, de-tinselfied, you know what I mean) than it’s time to start hunting out those clearance bargains.

    The week between Christmas and New Year is a time when many retailers slash prices in an attempt to shift their leftover Christmas stock.

    If you’re looking for a bargainous piece of outdoor play equipment. Not only are our products great value all year round, we also offer occasional clearance prices too.

    Here I’ll talk you through the why, when and how much when it comes to play equipment at knocked-down prices.

    Why The Clearance Prices? Are you naturally suspicious of clearance prices. You should be. When rummaging through the clothing rales, or surveying the shelves at the toy store it becomes quickly apparent why some items are sold on at massively reduced prices. They are rubbish. That’s not the case here at Wicken Toys because we only every stock toys we trust from suppliers we have long term relationships with.

    We slash prices for a different reason. End of line clearances.

    Every couple of years the equipment manufacturers like to update their models. Sometimes they discontinue models completely, other times they make small tweaks and adjustments based on retailer and customer feedback (sign of an awesome manufacturer, their willingness to respond to their customers). These changes may leave us with a few end of line unopened, still boxed-up, perfectly good items. We need to move these on quickly to make way for the newer models so we reduce the prices. Often there is very little difference between the new design and the older version, so you can buy an extremely similar product at a greatly reduced price. Take the Plum Pyramid Climbing Frame for example. Plum changed the slatted wooden ladder for metal rungs, so earlier this year we sold off a number of the wooden slat models at a much lower price than the recommended retail price.

    These still-in-the-box, new but no longer current climbing frames, slides and other toys can be found in our clearance section.

    Sometimes these model changes mean that the climbing frame we have on display in our jumbo outdoor showroom is no longer representative of the product available, so we need to move it on to a new home. These items are available in our ex-display section. Each item will contain details on how long it has been assembled for and what its current condition is like. When Is The Best Time To Buy? We don’t really have set schedule for slashing prices. We move in response to our suppliers and manufacturers. Right at the end of Winter, just before Spring, is a common time for models to be updated, in anticipation of Easter holiday sales. But we usually have clearance items available all year round.

    How Much? How much we knock off the price depends on the condition of the item, the number of similar items we have available and how quickly we need to make room. For new items you can save around 40%, while ex-display items are often priced at around 60% off.

    Come take a look around our online clearance section, or feel free to pay us a visit in Milton Keynes and try out the toys yourself.

  • Wicken Guide To Buying A Slide

    What’s not to love about a slide?

    Not only do they provide a great prompt for imaginative play, they encourage physical activity and give young minds a full sensory workout at the same time.

    Here we take a look at the benefits of incorporating a slide into your back garden playscape and how to go about choosing the best slide for your children.

    The Humble Slide: More Than Just A Fun Ride

    Sure a slide is fun, but it offers much more than that. In their eagerness to experience the thrill of the slide ride, your children will expend plenty of energy running around to the ladder and climbing back to the top. This raises their heart rate, which is good for overall health and well-being and works the big muscle groups in their arms and legs. Young children especially need to push and pull with these muscles everyday before their bodies are ready experience the stillness needed to achieve focus and concentration.

    The ride down itself also contributes to childhood development. In the few seconds it takes to ride to the bottom, your child is bombarded with sensory experiences - the feel of air rushing past, the sensation of their body moving over the surface of the slide, the sights of their surroundings zipping past them. Their brain works hard to process all these experiences and make sense of them. The more practice their brain gets in this type of processing, then more able it is to apply this processing skill to unfamiliar situations.

    So by now you should be well convinced that a slide will make a fun and useful addition to your garden. Now it’s time to decide which slide.

    One

    Space Considerations

    Not only do you need space for the slide, but you also need adequate room for children to access the ladder, and an exclusion zone around the slide, free from obstacles, that can be covered with safety matting to provide protection in the event of a fall.

    When planning the position of the slide you should also be wary of the temptation to reach for things from the top of the ladder. Make sure your slide is far enough away from playhouses and other play equipment, so your children won’t be tempted to hop from one item to the other.

    Finally, consider the route your children will take from the bottom of the slide back around to the ladder. Make sure they won’t be running directly in the path of the swings, or need to navigate around any obstacles likely to trip them up.

    Stand Alone vs Climbing Frame

    At Wicken Toys we sell stand alone slides and climbing frames with slides attached. For smaller gardens a climbing frame may be the best way to fit a variety of play features into the space available.

    Slides attached to climbing frames tend to feel more sturdy, although stand alone slides can be staked to the ground.

    Finally, if your child wants an unusual slide such as a tube or a wave, there are a greater number of options to choose from if you opt for a slide attached to a climbing frame.

    Whatever size your garden, Wicken Toys will have play equipment suitable. Browse through our selection of slides and climbing frames online, visit our huge outdoor demonstration area, or call us to discuss your requirements.

  • Wicken Guide To Choosing A Go-Kart

    Choose wisely and your child's new go-kart will provide them with hours of entertainment and exercise over the next few years.

    Alas it's not as simple as buying the cheapest model available in your son or daughter's favourite colour, but with the help of our comprehensive guide, we can make the selection process pain-free.

    What Size?

    Tempting as it may be to buy a jumbo go-kart your child can grow into, this is likely to result in majot disappointment when they first try to ride it. For a go-kart to be safe and enjoyable, your child must be able to maintain contact with the pedals throughout each revolution. Stretching to reach the pedals may cause backache or result in feet slipping off the pedals and losing control.

    Each model has an age range as a guide, but pay more attention to the suggested height range, as that is what determines how comfortable the go-kart is to use.

    Adjustable Seat

    If getting the exact right size is sounding like a nightmare, you'll be pleased to hear that Kettler go-karts come with adjustable seats. This extends the number of years your child and their go-kart are a good match. The seats are easily moved by simply lifting a handle and pushing the seat forwards or backwards, then replacing the handle to its original position. Once the handle is down the seat is securely fixed into place so it won't move around while the go-kart is in use.

    Free Wheeling

    When the go-kart is being pushed, or running downhill under its own momentum a free-wheeling feature will stop the pedals from rotating. Basically if the go-kart can freewheel it means that unless the rider is pushing the pedals themselves, the pedals aren't moving, so there's no danger of them hitting dangling legs. On some models this happens automatically, and on others, usually models for older children, there is a lever to activate the freewheel function.

    Dual Action Brake

    Dual

    Look for a go-kart that offers a dual action brake. This means that a brake is applied to both back wheels at the same time ensuring a controlled slow down or stop. If resistance is applied to just one wheel, especially when travelling at speed, the go-kart could spin, or veer off sideways.

    Tyres

    Typically go-karts for younger children have solid tyres, as these are more reliable (they can't get punctures). However, older children, who are naturally a little heavier benefit from air tyres which give them a smoother, more comfortable ride.

    Why Kettler?

    We pride ourselves on sourcing products from high quality manufacturers with reputations for reliability and value for money. All of our go-karts are made by Kettler, a company with more than 50 years experience making pedal go-karts. The range includes models suitable for children aged 3 to 12 years, with every kart built to last.

    Taking Care Of Your Go-Kart

    To help your go-kart stay looking good and functioning well, keep it stored in a sheltered location, especially over the winter months.

  • How To Choose Your New Climbing Frame

    A new climbing frame can represent a substantial investment, so it's worth taking the time to consider your purchase carefully. As experts in outdoor play, we are well practiced in helping parents decide which model is best suited to the needs of their family and garden. If you need any assistance, please feel free to contact us.

    We have a large selection of metal and wooden climbing frames available to buy online, for delivery to your home. To help you narrow down the field and create a shortlist, here are some key questions and features to consider.

    How old are your children? As a general rule, the full sized climbing frames are suitable for use from 3 years.

    If you have younger children you might like to consider buying a smaller, temporary climbing frame, before upgrading to a full-sized model later. Installing a climbing frame that is not age appropriate will lead to frustration for your child, and stress for you as you constantly need to keep an eye on them.

    TP

    The TP Explorer frame is ideal if you have young children. It can be set with a toddler friendly platform height of just 64cm, then reconstructed at a later date with the platform reset to 114cm high.

    Buy it all now or add on later? You don't need to buy the complete set in one go. Many of the climbing frames we stock can be enhanced with swings, or den areas. Adding these at a later date will help give your climbing frame a new lease of life, and recapture your children's interest in it.

    Metal or wood? Generally metal frames tend to be cheaper, and can be more easily taken down and reassembled elsewhere, which is useful if you may be moving home. Wood lasts longer, looks nicer, and since the material is more versatile, there is a larger selection of wood frames than metal. More information can be found on our Metal vs Wooden Climbing Frame Guide.

    Space Considerations When planning out where the climbing frame will be positioned in your garden, don't forget to make allowance for room in front and behind swings, and behind any climbing areas.

    If you have an awkwardly shaped garden that doesn't lend itself to one large climbing frame, consider buying individual pieces of play equipment, like swings and slides, separately, to allow for more layout options.

    Adequate Challenge Make sure the climbing frame offers an appropriate level of physical challenge for your child, now and as they get older. Look for interesting climbing features like cargo nets, and rock walls, and for equipment that offers a chance to progress as they get older, like monkey bars.

    Making your Budget Stretch Further You can make your budget stretch further by taking a look at our selection of ex-display and clearance items. When a manufacturer releases new models and discontinues the older version, we move the remaining stock into the clearance section, creating bargains for customers who are happy to take an older model.

    Versatile

  • Balance Bike Or Stabiliser: The best route to learning to cycle

    The traditional way to learn to ride a bike is to start with a small bike with stabilsers on it. It worked for us, so why wouldn't it work for our children?

    It Was Good Enough For Me

    Well there are a lot of things that worked for our generation that turned out not to be such a good idea, like strapping your baby into a carry cot on the back seat instead of carseat, or eating turkey twizzlers every day after school, so perhaps a different method for learning to ride would work better.

    Stabilisers Do Not Teach Cycling

    Stabilisers give children the opportunity to learn how to pedal, and that's about all. Everything else when riding a bike will be totally different once the stabilisers are removed: * The bike will move faster; * You need to use your core muscles to balance the bike; * You need to lean when steering; * The bike falls on you when you stop, if you forget to put your foot down.

    Stabilisers Are Not Fun

    Besides from the fact that training wheels aren't the best educational tool, they also suck the fun out of riding a bike: * They make you go really slow; * Whenever you come up to uneven ground the bike rocks scarily from side to side; * You can get beached with the stabilisers on the ground but the back wheel slightly off it, spinning around with no traction. All these interruptions to the fun of riding could put your child off cycling altogether.

    Balance Bikes Give Freedom

    Using a balance bike is comparable to riding a scooter. There's no learning to be done, or instructions needed: children sit on the seat and instinctively swing their legs to scoot along the floor, while using their body to balance the bike. Balance bikes glide over bumps in the road, and never need a push from mum or dad to gather momentum. Compare this effortless freedom to the stop-start ride offered by training wheels and you can see why more and more parents are turning to balance bikes for their child's first set of wheels.

    Balance bikes offer young kids the opportunity to move at the same pace as the adults and older children, which is great for enjoying a family bike ride, or speeding up an on-foot commute to school.

    Handlebar Safety

    Besides balance bikes being more fun, many have a built in safety feature for young children. When riding a regular bike fixed with training wheels, it is possible to turn the handlebar too sharply and wither come to an abrupt stop, or topple the bike over. Many training bikes are built without this full range of movement in the handlebars, so you can turn it enough to change direction, but can't swivel the bars back on themselves and crash. This is great for when young children are learning to ride, but remember when you upgrade to a regular bike, your child will need to familiarise themselves with the new range of movement in the steering.

    Wicken toys stock a range of Kettler balance bikes here >>>

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