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  • Solar Eclipse Inspired Games For Children

    Today we understand that a solar eclipse is a natural phenomenon, an occasional reminder of our place in the Universe. We understand that whether we continue about our day, stop and observe it quietly, or run around shrieking like a headless chicken, after a few minutes the Moon will pass on by, the Sun will shine fiercely onto our planet once more, and normality will be restored.

    But for ancient civilisations solar eclipses were impossible to explain, and were often met with a sense of terror.

    Use these games to explain how solar eclipses have been understood over thousands of years.

    Ancient China - Bang The Drums

    In ancient China it was believed demons were attempting to steal the Sun. The people would flock together during an eclipse and bang pots and pans as loudly as they can to scare away the demons.

    To recreate this in a game you will need a big yellow ball or balloon to be the Sun, and whatever noisy implements you can find (saucepans and wooden spoons should do the trick).

    Your children can be the demons to start with. Their job is to try to steal the Sun from wherever you’ve chosen to display it. If you catch them, you must bang as loud as you can, and they will abandon their efforts. This is a great game because provided you keep an eagle-eye out for little demons, you can get on with some chores while the little ones are plotting their plan of attack.

    You could just play for fun, set up a points system or even offer yummy rewards for successful total eclipses.

    If your children fancy a turn banging the pots, just switch roles.

    Vietnam - The Giant Frog

    In Vietnamese culture it was believed that the Sun disappeared as a result of a giant frog taking a bite out of it. Of course the Sun was too powerful for the frog and after burning his mouth the frog let the Sun go free.

    Turn the classic ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ into the Giant Frog game.

    Your children are giant frogs and you are guarding the Sun (use a pile of yellow clothes or a Sun made from segments of yellow card). The children call out ‘what’s the time’ and when you answer them they must jump forward like frogs, instead of taking strides. Every time a child successfully reaches you they can take a piece of the Sun and run back to base. But if the Sun gets angry, you must chase the Giant frogs away.

    For older children you can make the game more challenging by putting the Sun on top of the climbing frame or at the top of the slide.

    Vikings - The Chariot And The Wolves

    The Vikings believed the Sun was pulled around on the back of a chariot, perpetually chased by wolves. Every now and then a wolf would catch up and take a bite out of the Sun, causing the darkness, before the chariot sped away, taking the Sun to safety.

    You can recreate this story with a simple game of chase, each taking turns to be the wolf or the Sun.

  • Slowing Down The Pace

    Being outside is not only good for little bodies, it’s great for young minds too. Connecting with nature can be an energising and relaxing experience, bringing about a sense of calm and stillness.

    Charging around playing energetic games are great fun, but kids also need an opportunity to slow right down and savor the moment.

    Here some garden games you can play to slow the tempo right down.

    1. Collaborative Eye Spy In a twist to the traditional version of eye spy, in collaborative eye spy the players take any letter of the alphabet and see how many items they can spot that begin with the letter. If you start at ‘a’ and work your way through, you can play this game 26 times before it gets old.

    To help collect more items, change your viewing angle. Get up on the climbing frame for an aerial view and you might spot some new things, or lie on your tummy looking across the lawn. This is a great way to show children that by looking at things from a different perspective you might notice things that were there all along, but you have previously missed.

    Younger children who are not yet able to handle letter sounds, can play the game with colours instead.

    2. Nature’s Orchestra Lie on a picnic blanket in the garden with your eyes closed. Listen carefully to the sounds of nature and the world around you. How many different sounds can you hear, and can you name them all?

    3. Cloud Monsters Stay on the picnic blanket, or lie on top of the climbing frame, open your eyes and stare up at the passing clouds. What shapes, animals, or images can you see up there. Notice cloud monsters in the sky, then make up a story about them.

    4. Storyteller Spend a little time noticing the creatures moving all around, then ask your child to choose one to be the central character in a story. You can then take turns creating a story about the animal’s day so far, the adventure they are on now, and what will be happening to it later.

    5. I Am The Wind Lie face down, take a big deep breath, then exhale slowly, blowing gently on the grass so as to make the blades rustle gently. Ask your child to do the same. Slowly breathing in and out this way is very calming, as is watching the grass dance about.

    Take Advantage Of Stillness After one or two of these games, you and your child should be feeling calm and relaxed. It is at this moment you will both be more able to tap into your background emotions and thoughts. Talk, in a playful way, about what emotions you can feel, and explain it in terms that are age appropriate for your child, like giving it a colour, or a name, or even a comic appearance. Hopefully your child will join in with this game, fostering their emotional intelligence and understanding of their own body.

  • New Water Play Ideas For Summer Half Term Holidays

    Playing with water is a great way to cool off during the half term holidays. Give your water play some direction with these fun, but educational water based activities.

    #1 The Leak Proof Bag The experiment involves filling a clear plastic food bag with water, then suspending it underneath your climbing frame or swing set. You then use very sharp pencils, or wooden barbecue food sticks to pierce the bag, from one side straight through the other side.

    Before you begin the experiment, explain to your children what you are going to do, and ask them to make a prediction about what will happen once the bag has been run through with the pencils. Most likely they will expect the bag to start leaking in water. In fact what actually happens is that so long as all the pencils remain in place, no water will leak out. This is because the polymers that the bag is made up of are flexible and hug around the pencil creating a watertight seal. When you are finished with the experiment, remove the pencils and the children can cool off under the homemade shower.

    #2 Filtering Water In this experiment you will take really dirty water, and filter it using materials you have at home, to turn it into clean water.

    Start by getting mucky making a bucket of clean water really dirty, mucky by adding bits of grass, plant matter, soil, and whatever else your children want to mix in.

    Then ask them one question: Can we get this water clean again?

    To clean the water, you will need to create a homemade filter. For this you need to take a clean flower pot with drainage holes in the bottom. Line the bottom with blotting paper, multiple layers of kitchen paper, or a very clean muslin style cloth. On top of this shovel in some sand, then top off with a layer of gravel at least an inch or two thick. The filter needs to be suspended above another pot to catch the water as it drips through. Pour the dirty water into the top, and after a few seconds of patience, clean (or at least cleaner) water will drip through. You can experiment with improving the cleanliness of the water by passing the mix through the filter a number of times.

    #3 Walking Water This is a really simple experiment that you can adapt to try out a number of different hypotheses.

    You will need some plastic cups, water, and good quality kitchen towel.

    The idea is that you put water in one cup, then an empty cup just a little below it, for example one rung down on a ladder or one step below, and connect the two with kitchen towel (which you may want to cut long ways). The water will travel from one cup to the other.

    There are a whole range of ideas you can try out: Race two sets alongside each other, one with hot water and one with cold (the hot water moves faster); try out different food colourings in the water to see if that changes how fast the water moves or what it looks like in the end cup; dissolve some salt in the water first and see what happens.

    For more fun outdoor play ideas, including water play activities, visit the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Hand Eye Coordination Games For Children Of All Ages

    The ability to use the hands in coordination with the visual images transmitted from the eyes to the brain is a vital developmental skill, necessary in the development of many other life skills.

    It’s obvious that many sports require good hand-eye coordination, but did you know that it also played an important role in reading, writing, and many life skills like driving and cooking?

    Developing good hand-eye co-ordination is also necessary to improve sports skills. In turn this boosts a child’s enjoyment of sport, which is good for their physical fitness and well-being, mental health and social skills.

    Whilst many children rapidly improve their skills in the early years of preschool and primary school, many benefit from continued practice at much older ages.

    At Wicken Toys we think all learning should be fun, so here our are top picks for entertaining, engaging and energetic ways to boost your ball skills, and get hands and eyes working together.

    #1 Shoot The Can Make your own version of the carnival game ‘shoot the can’ with some empty cardboard toilet roll tubes and a water pistol. Extend the life of the tubes by decorating them with parcel tape or duct tape, to stop the water penetrating the cardboard. For an added layer of educational fun, write scores on each ‘can’ and ask the players to add up their own totals.

    #2 Keepy Uppy Tennis


    A challenging game suitable for older children, the aim is to bounce a tennis ball on the racket as many times as possible without it hitting the ground. Keep track of the best records set on the day so improvements can be monitored over time. If you have more than one child old enough to play, turn the game into a rally, where the aim of the game is to bounce the ball back and forth the maximum number of times, rather than trying to blast the ball past your opponent. A game of swingball is also great for learning how to time a swipe at the ball.

    #3 Homemade Pinata Beating a pinata with a baseball bat, cricket bat, tennis racket, or any other stick is a great way for children to let off steam, and helps improve hand-eye coordination. Make your own pinata by layering paper mache over a balloon, then suspend it from the underside of the climbing frame. Instead of filling the pinata with sweets you could stuff it with a voucher for video games time, or a trip to the cinema, or something simple like an extra hour at bedtime.

    #4 Mud Soup This is a great game for younger children. Fill a washing up bowl or water play table, and add a liberal sprinkling of mud. Then add a selection of things that will float, such as leaves and daisy heads. Give your child a slotted spoon and ask them to scope out just a particular type of debris. This is great for testing the steadiness and accuracy of their hands.

    For more play ideas, see the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Outdoor Play Ideas Inspired By Frozen

    We're celebrating the DVD release of the hot animated film Frozen with this list of play ideas inspired by the story.

    Sometimes children need a little encouragement to get outside and get moving, so basing activities around a favourite film is a great way to get their attention. Earlier this month we came up with some LEGO Movie activities, and now it's the turn of Disney's latest blockbuster to get the Wicken Toys attention.

    Snow In April The main barrier to recreating scenes from Frozen has been the complete absence of snow this year. Luckily cans of super cheap bargain basement shaving foam make a suitable substitute. Experiment by adding glitter, or thickening with flour to get the prettiest snow you can. Use an old paddling pool or water play table as a work station and set your children fake snow construction tasks. 'Do you wanna build a snowman?' - then build one out of shaving foam.

    Silly String Freeze Tag Someone is Elsa and is armed with a can of silly string, ready to freeze everyone else. Run around hte garden trying to avoid Elsa's best shots, but if you get zapped you must freeze and stand completely still. Not forever though. Someone else will be playing Olaf and his magical warm hugs will set you free. The game continues until Elsa has frozen everyone, or her silly string powered freeze gun runs out.

    Pin The Nose On Olaf Make a giant snowman without a nose. Cut out a carrot nose from a separate piece of orange card, and place some sticky tack on the back. Each child takes it in turns to be spun around while blindfolded, then attempt to pin the nose on Olaf.

    Snow Painting You will need some warm water, Epsom salts, paintbrushes and black paper. Mix equal amounts of hot water and salts and stir until it dissolves. This is also an opportunity for a brief science lesson in how heating the water helps the salt dissolve. You could put some salt into a glass of cold water and let the children compare the outcome. Use the brushes to paint designs onto the black paper using the salt water mixture, and when it dries the salt crystallizes giving a really cool icy appearance.

    Coloured Ice Crystals Freeze some water beads in the freezer overnight, then put them in a bowl of water for younger children to play with. They will enjoy feeling the change in temperature and texture as the blocks melt, and can throw the beads around, roll them down the slide, or flick them at each other once they are completely melted.

    Build A Snowman Create your own Olaf with a roll of toilet paper, some black paper buttons and an orange card carrot. Tell the children to take an adult hostage and wrap them up until they look just like Olaf the snowman from Frozen.

    Frozen Scavenger Hunt Use lyrics from the songs, omitting key words as clues on where to find the treasure. For example 'Love is an open......' the missing word is door, so hang another clue or piece of treasure on the door.

  • Play Ideas For Science and Engineering Week

    In celebration of National Science and Engineering Week, we've come up with this list of games and activities that combine scientific learning with outdoor play.

    1) Homemade Volcanoes When vinegar and bicarbonate of soda are combined the reaction generates carbon dioxide, creating frothing, fizzy, hissing fun. Children never get bored of watching this. Set up little pots of bicarbonate of soda and bottles of vinegar with equipment like medicine syringes, pipettes, or even volcano shaped cones, and allow the children to experiment with what delivers the best reaction.

    2) Cola Geyser This works best with mint flavoured mentoes and diet coke. When the carbon dioxide in the soda bubbles come into contact with the gelatin and gum arabic ingredients in the sweet, a reaction generating more gas occurs. Set up experiments with different flavoured sodas, diet and full sugar versions, and sparkling water to see what creates the most gas. You can also add rock salt which will make the explosion more impressive.

    3) Pendulum Play IF you have a climbing frame, monkey bars or swing set, use the frame to create a homemade pendulum. You will need to tie a cup to a piece of string, then tie the other end to the top of the frame. There are two ways to play with this. Firstly you can add stack empty boxes, almost like vertical skittles, and swing the pendulum to knock them down. You can experiment by adding weights, or altering the length of the string, and noting the affect this has on the path of the pendulum.

    A second way to explore the action of the pendulum is by adding paint to it. Poke a small hole in the bottom of the cup, and fill with paint which has been thickened slightly with flour. Add large sheets of paper, you could use newspaper or unwanted wall paper. Swing the pendulum, and the paint will make a pattern on the paper corresponding with its journey. Again you can experiment with this by adding weight to the cup (squish some playdough onto the outside), or changing the length of the string.

    4) Colour Wheel For this experiment you will need full fat milk, some washing up liquid and some food colouring. Pour enough milk onto a plate to cover the bottom of it, then add a drop of each colour, spaced around the plate. Take a small piece of cotton wool and dip it into the washing up liquid, then touch it to the plate of milk and see what happens. As the soap declares all out war on the fats within the milk, the colours will swirl around the plate.

    5) Sound Bingo Make up bingo cards of some of the different sounds you might hear outside. For younger children you may need to use photographs, or cartoons instead of written words. Then go for a walk, or find a quiet spot for a picnic and listen out for the sounds on your cards.

    These are just a few ideas to get your started, and hopefully they will inspire you to create your own back garden science experiments.

    For more outdoor play ideas, check out the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Make Your Own Forest School

    Forest School is a programme of learning, delivered outdoors, in specially designed environments, by qualified practitioners. They are based on the principle that many children learn better when they are outdoors, in direct contact with nature, and when they take the lead with the learning activities.

    Whilst you can't train yourself over night to be a Forest School practitioner, there are a few principles that you can use to guide the outdoor play you enjoy with your children.

    So head to the woods, local park, or even your own back garden with warm clothes, a thermos of hot chocolate and some tasty treats, and enjoy an entertaining, educational experience, with these ideas.

    Forest School Tips

    1. Get Outside Being outside stimulates the senses whilst relieving stress. Studies have shown that simply being surrounded by green leaves and grass can have a relaxing effect on adults and children. For some children who particularly enjoy sensory stimulation and find the classroom full of distractions, being outdoors in a meadow, woodland or even their own back garden, provides an ideal learning environment.

    2. Prepare Activities Have some activities in mind, and have the resources to hand, but allow the children to take the lead. You can explain the activities you have planned, and set the resources out, then respond to whatever interests the children.

    3. Every Game Is A Learning Opportunity It might be hard to see it at first, but every game is a learning opportunity. Step back and watch the children play, then notice what science, maths and even literacy lessons they are teaching themselves. You can help reinforce their learning by articulating what you see. By learning through play, and interacting with natural objects, the lessons are more easily learnt and recalled later.

    Forest School Activities

    Here's a few ideas to inspire you and the children: * Take a ball of string and use the climbing frame or a tree to create a spider's web. * Drape a sheet or some tarpaulin over string held between two posts to create a den. * Rub a crayon over paper held over different textures like stones and bark. * Turn over logs and stones to hunt for bugs. * Make mud pies by adding water to mud. * Collect as many natural colours as you can, by hunting for brightly coloured leaves, berries, stones and sticks. * Paint faces onto the trees using mud. * Make crowns from the treasures you find in the woods. * Use potato peelers to whittle sticks (under supervision) - great for toasting marshmallows on a fire. * Make nests from twigs, leaves and grass cuttings for your soft toys. * Use flour to either mark out the path where you've walked, or to lay a treasure trail for the children to follow. * Collect conkers, then paint them different colours, or better still, dip them in glue and roll them in glitter. * Do the same with leaves. * Or sticks.

    The only limit is your imagination. Head out with some string, sheets and craft supplies and you can make use of the outdoor classrooms nature has given us for an hour or more.

  • Getting The Right Balance: Games And Activities To Develop Balance Skills

    Getting the right balance isn't easy. Being able to balance on a bike, or perch on a stool is something we take for granted as adults, but it's a skill that takes patience and practice for children to master.

    Earlier this year I wrote about whether a balance bike or regular bike was best way to learn to ride. Besides practicing on a balance bike, there are heaps of other games and activities you can play with your children to help them master their balancing skills.

    1. Wobble Board

    These boards are a fantastic investment and you can use them indoors or in the garden. Simply standing on them will develop balancing skills and core stability, for children and adults. Once your child is confident on the board, begin throwing and catching a ball or bean bag to really test their balance.

    2. Heel-To-Toe Walking

    Draw a circuit on the patio, or mark out a route on the grass, and ask the children to shuffle around like cautious penguins. They should put their hands out to the side (like wings), and literally put one foot in front of the other, with the heel of the front foot, touching the toes of the foot behind.

    3. Balance Beam

    You'll need something long, flat and about 4 inches wide, like a plank of 2 x 4 wood for the children to walk along. For older children who can do this confidently, make the task more difficult by dotting items along the beam that they need to bend down and pick up.

    4. Bean Bag Carrying

    Bean bags are often used to practice good posture, with children balancing it on their head and keeping it in position with an upright, head forward posture. But perching a bean bag on a shoulder, or an upturned, open palmed hand, is also a good balancing trick.

    5. Musical Statues

    Play this game just like musical statues, but instead of freezing when the music stops, children must adopt the awkward position that you call out, for example, 'right elbow on left knee', and hold it there while you count down from five. This activity develops listening skills, the ability to follow instructions, body awareness and balance.

    6. Flamingo Catch

    Tuck one leg up and stand on the other - just like a flamingo. Once your child is able to comfortably hold this position, challenge their balance skills by playing a game of throw and catch with them in this position. Then to really make it difficult, start a conversation. This develops the ability to multi-task, balance, and bilateral co-ordination.

    7. Hopscotch

    Simple but effective. Draw your hopscotch pattern on the ground then show your children how to hop and jump through it. Add some extra difficulty by tossing a bean bag onto a square, which you then have to avoid.

    8. Sit On A Ball

    Sitting on a ball, whether it's a football or a gym ball requires balance and builds the core abdominal muscles, which in turn give greater stability.

    9. Ride A Horse

    Probably not something you can just do in your back garden, but if your child has problems with balance and poor muscle tone across their back and abdomen, horse riding can improve their core stability.

    10. Leapfrog

    Use some round mats of large circles of paper, or even draw jumbo lily pads on the patio. The idea is to jump from one to the other, making a controlled landing, without wobbling off the pad.

  • Come On Out! The Weather's Freezing

    The nights are drawing in, and the weather has been positively awful. Snuggling under a blanket and watching a DVD cis a cosy and relaxing way to spend the afternoon, but don't make it your go-to activity every day after school. Despite the freezing temperatures and blustery winds, it's still important to play outside.

    Here we take a look at why time spent playing outdoors is important, and ways to incorporate outside time, even on the coldest days.

    Changing Seasons

    Children learn best when they have first hand experience. Putting on wellies and jumping puddles, or jumping through the fallen leaves and noticing the bare branches above, provide valuable learning experiences. Talk about the weather, how it changes through the year, and the affect that has on the plants and animals in the environment around us.

    All Weather Play Equipment

    Most of our outdoor play equipment is suitable for us all year round. Your children might need to wear some extra layers of clothing, but the climbing frame, swings and slide are just as exciting in the winter months as they are in the summer. Trampolines can be used throughout the year, but be sure to take precautions during especially windy weather.

    Be Loud, Be Wild, Be Children

    It's only once children get outside, with space to run around, and permission to be loud, that they can really express themselves, go wild, and generally behave like children. School days require hours of concentration and good behaviour. If all this pent up energy is brought home and dumped in front of the TV, you may well have a house full of whirling dervishes by bedtime. Stop off at the park, or walk home from school to give them a chance to get it out of their systems.

    Green Spaces Improve Mood

    Research has shown that time spent in green spaces can improve mood and bring about feelings if calm and relaxation. Being outside for just short spells can have a positive impact on your child's mood and well-being.

    Many Children Learn Better Outdoors

    For some children, time spent outdoors is the key to their education. When it comes to the winter months it is tempting to rush home from school, put the heating on, and complete homework at the table. But many children will not be in the right frame of mind for learning now. If your child struggles with homework, try setting up a homework club in a den or tent in the garden, or spend time playing outside, before coming in to sit down and work.

    Replace Water With Sand

    Children love sensory play, and in the warmer months this often takes the form of a water play table. Obviously in the winter we don't want their little hands to freeze, so the water tray gets packed away in the shed. For a warmer sensory experience, try filling the play table with sand, or even rice or lentils. Children can still use buckets, cups, funnels and most their water play equipment, but they won't get wet. You could even bury a hot water bottle in the bottom of the tray to warm their fingers up.

  • Family Friendly Fun With Fireworks

    At Wicken Toys we're all about outdoor play, safe outdoor play.

    So inspired by the whizzing and banging of the slightly premature fireworks going off outside tonight, here are some ideas for family friendly firework fun.

    1. Draw Your Own Fireworks If the weather is good enough, you might want to do these outside, as they are all quite messy. There are a few ways to draw your own fireworks:

    Sparkly Fireworks: If you have black craft paper, give your child some glue to cover the paper with. Ask them to imagine the direction fireworks move in, and recreate the path using the glue. Then just add glitter, lots and lots of glitter.

    Waterproof Fireworks: Take a large piece of white paper, and use different coloured wax crayons to draw the shapes that fireworks make. Then wash over the paper with black paint to create the night sky, and watch the fireworks emerge from behind the paint.

    Blow Painting: For each firework you will need to blob some watery paint near the top of the page, then use a straw to blow the paint outwards, and create a long downwards tail. Recreate with different colours as many times as you can fit on the page.

    2. Make A Guy It's probably safest if you don't teach young children to set fire to scarecrows, but even if you don't plan on burning your Guy at the stake, you can still make one. Modern day fireworks displays are quite detached from the history of bonfire night, so by making a Guy together, you will have the opportunity to talk about the Gunpowder Plot and who Guy Fawkes was. For double educational value, give Guy a lesson on how to behave around fireworks, by handing him a sparkler, then theatrically telling him he should be wearing gloves, or standing him to close to where the fireworks will be lit, and then marching him back to a safe distance.

    3. Glowing Fireworks You can buy a dozen glowsticks for around £1. Tape a few together, like spokes of a wheel, to create glow in the dark fireworks. Then when the Sun's gone down, the children can throw them in the air to create their very own fireworks display.

    4. Make Rockets You'll need some empty kitchen roll tubes and coloured tissue paper. Use the tissue to make streamers for the tail of the rocket, and top it off with a cone made from rolled paper. Then climb to the top of the climbing frame or slide and launch the rockets skywards.

    5. Edible Sparklers This is my favourite activity, not just because you get to eat it, but also because it's so simple for little children to join in. You'll need a box of chocolate fingers, a pot of sprinkles and some icing. Then all you need to do is dip the end of the chocolate fingers into the icing, then dip into the sprinkles. This works really well if you use coloured sugar crystals.

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