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Garden Games

  • How To Deal With Squishy Squashy Lawn Issues

    Half term has arrived. The children are pumped with energy and excitement, ready to get outside a play.

    And your back garden looks like a swamp.

    Here’s how to let the kids run free without obliterating the lawn.

    1. Give Up Decide now if you care about having any sort of lawn for the next three months. Not bothered? Great, let the kids roam free and get all muddied up. There’s nothing wrong with that. Come the summer you will have a patchy looking lawn - not pretty to look at but still perfectly fine to play on. Many of us have been brought up with a belief that well kept, vibrant green lawn means we are good homeowners. But there’s plenty more to life than green grass, so if your self-esteem can suffer the battering, give up on your dreams of a luscious lawn and let the kids have fun. Mud is great for their skin, and adds an exciting sensory element to their play experience. Plus, when they get really muddy, that’s a fab excuse for a bubbly bath then a hot chocolate, which is the perfect way to round-off a day’s playing.

    2. Zero Running Games Running across the wet grass will tear the blades up from their roots causing plenty of damage to the lawn. However, gently walking across the grass will cause much less (if any damage). There are lots of games you can play outside that don’t involve too much running.

    Skittles, hopscotch, and catch can all be played without running on the grass.

    3. High Traffic Areas If you have play equipment like a climbing frame or a trampoline, you could section off high traffic areas and simply accept these will be destroyed, while keep the rest of the garden as a child free zone. If the grass does get ruined in these walkways consider replacing it with something harder wearing like safety mats or bark chippings.

    4. Replace It If a swamp-like lawn is a persistent problem and it is impacting on the enjoyment you and your family get from your garden consider replacing it with an artificial surface, You can get something colourful and wacky, or a very life-like alternatives. Whatever you prefer, the range of artificial surfaces is now so wide, you will no doubt find something to suit your tastes.

    5. Aerate It You can encourage better drainage by repeatedly stabbing the lawn with a fork or aerator. This helps excess moisture drain through compacted soil, and helps relieve any tensions or frustration you may be experiencing during the school holidays.

    Don't Put down sheets of wood or cardboard in an effort to protect the grass underneath. The pressure and lack of light will destroy the remaining blades.

    Do Sprinkle on some lawn seed as we head towards the Spring and some food to encourage the grass to grow. You'll soon have a luscious looking lawn in need of a mow.

  • Games You Can Play In The Rain

    So half-term is here, and unless you’re prepared to embrace the rain, there’s a good chance you’ll be stuck indoors for the rest of the week.

    And indoors is no fun, so here are some outdoor games you can play that take advantage of the wet weather.

    Make A Rainbow Use coloured chalks to create beautiful patterns on a piece of paper, then hold it out in the rain and let the raindrops create a magical picture.

    Chase The Rain Watch where the rain collects and follow its journey as it flows down slopes and finds the nearest drain. This game is a great way to make going for a rainy walk around the neighbourhood more fun.

    Puddle Jumps Not in them. Try jumping over them. Find the biggest puddle you can and see if you can clear it in one jump.

    Listen Just stop moving and listen to the sounds of the raindrops falling. Can your children hear the difference between rain falling on a car and the rain falling on leaves. This is a great activity for the end of the day if you are wanting to calm the mood down a little.

    SideWalk Chalk Make chalk paintings by creating works of art on the patio and letting the rain blend the colours together.

    Mud Kitchen Go beyond basic mud pies to create a whole array of culinary earthy delights. Create a bespoke mud kitchen by taking cheap utensils and mixing bowls outside to a grassless patch of ground.

    Obstacle Course For older children you could add a little bubble bath into the mix and create a super slippery obstacle course. Avoid including climbing or activities at heights. Stick to slipping underneath obstacles and squirming around hurdles.

    Create A Weather Station If the wet weather is set to stick around for a while you could set up a weather station to measure the rainfall over the week. Use an empty jam jar and tape a ruler to the inside. At the same time every day go outside and record how much is in the jar and tip it out. If it’s raining really hard you could complete hourly checks. Plot your findings on a chart to look for patterns.

    Wet Weather Safety It’s great to get outside come rain or shine, but there are a few extra safety precautions you should take when playing in wet weather. If the ground was hard before the rain fall, the grass will be very slick, so children should be careful when running as their feet may slip out from underneath them. It is also worth mentioning to little ones that plastic and metal surfaces will be extra slippery so they may find it hard to climb slide ladders or hang on to monkey bars.

    For more play ideas, whatever the weather, check out the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • No Balls Please

    There’s no escaping it. When a ball bounces off a wooden fence it is loud.

    If you have restricted space in your garden (and a lot of us do) you may fear the dreaded crash caused by an errant football, or speeding tennis ball.

    But stopping these games altogether does you children no favours. Balls games give children the chance to develop hand-eye coordination skills, social skills as they interact while playing, and of course get much needed fresh air and exercise.

    So what can you do to prevent the bang crash wallop.

    We’ve got some suggestions here for ‘ball games’ without the wayward balls.

    1. Badminton Often overlooked in favour of tennis, but badminton requires just as much skill and concentration. Because the shuttlecock travels slowly it is unlikely to go far enough astray to hit the fence. And if it does, you’ll hear barely a tap as it is much lighter than a ball.

    2. Swingball Swingball is just like tennis, only the ball is tethered, so no chance of it escaping into the neighbour’s garden or bashing into the fence.

    3. Boules Played properly there is no chance of loud noises. These heavy balls plop soundlessly onto the lawn and stay there. You may hear a gentle ‘clink’ as two balls touch each other. This is a calm relaxing game requiring concentration so is ideal for taking energy levels down a notch if things get a little frenetic.

    4. Skittles If you don’t have a skittles set you can make your own with some sand filled [plastic bottles and a tennis ball. Help younger children aim by having them roll the ball down the slide towards skittles assembled at the bottom. Older children can add extra challenge by placing the skittles at the top of the slide and rolling the ball up it.

    5. Outdoor Table Tennis For the ultimate outdoor accessory, get a waterproof table tennis set. Designed to be kept outside (although best covered over the colder months), these tables are always set up and ready to go whenever the mood takes you. The lightweight ping pong balls will bounce all over the garden, but barely make a sound, so you there won’t be any loud bangs….unless you crash into the fence chasing after them of course.

    With a bit of imagination you can adapt traditional games and invent your own to provide plenty of outdoor fun with none of the noise.

    You may also be able to make small adaptations to your garden to help stop balls hitting the fence. A gulley around the edge of the lawn will catch ground skimming balls, as will borders filled with dense shrubs.

    If football is an essential activity it is possible to buy inflatable fully enclosed five-a-side pitches with high side netting.

  • Pancake Day Inspired Play Ideas

    Pancakes, perfect for breakfast on Shrove Tuesday, but then what do you do with the rest of the day?

    You can keep them occupied, outside and exercised with this selection of Pancake Day inspired activities.

    Pancake Pairs

    Cut pieces of cardboard into pancake shapes. On one side of each mark with a colour a number or a letter. Put all the pancakes face down and take turns flipping the pancakes over two at a time to see what’s written on them. When a player uncovers two pancakes that match they get to keep them. The winner is the person with the most pairs collected at the end of the game.

    Pancake Head Balance You can play this game with a piece of fabric, a cardboard pancake or even a real pancake if you’re feeling mischievous. You can line players up to race each other to the finish line, or see who can travel the furthest before the pancake falls off their head.

    Pancake Drop You’ll need those cardboard pancakes again. The aim of the game is to throw or drop as many pancakes as you can into a frying pan. For added challenge, older children can go to the top of the climbing frame and drop the pancakes from there.

    Pancake Relay Race Divide the players into teams. Each player needs to run the length of the race track, flipping their pancake as they go, then hand the frying pan to the next player when they reach the end.

    Pancake Toss Set a timer and see who can flip their pancake the highest number of times in one minute.

    Pancake Memory Game Put pictures of different animals on the back of each pancake. Show three face up, then turn them face down and see if your child can remember where each animal was. You can make the game harder by adding more and more pancakes, or by shuffling the positions of the pancakes, or by doing both.

    Pancake Topping Treasure Hunt Around the garden, hide symbols or pictures of different toppings that could go on top of pancakes. You can set various challenges, offering cryptic clues, or set the timer and see how many toppings can be collected in a minute.

    Pancake Cooking When all the fun has been had outside and it’s time to come back into the warm, there’s a lot you can do with simple pancake batter. To start with have your children notice how the texture and appearance of all the ingredients changes when you combine them.

    Then (being careful with the hot pan) you can drizzle the batter into different patterns to create differently shaped pancakes.

    Ask the children to predict what will happen if you add chocolate drops or ice cream to a freshly cooked pancake. You can make this a science lesson and cookery lesson all in one.

    Above all be inspired to have fun. And once your children have started a game, they’re sure to come up with their own. Don’t get too hung up on the outcome. Go with the flow and you can all have a Pancake Day to remember.

  • Gardening Chores For February - Fun But Productive

    Let’s start the month with a list of chores. Maybe not the most fun thing to begin with, but as this is the shortest month of the year, we thought we’d better get started.

    As always, because we love outdoor play, these tasks are designed to be family friendly and fun.

    1 - Get Muddy

    There’s probably plenty of leaves and twigs and all sorts of scrumptious organic debris scattered across your flower beds. Dig it in to help prepare the beds for Spring. This is a great job to delegate to little ones. All they need ot a trowel and a love of mud, and they will be kept busy for hours turning the soil over.

    2 - Protect From Freezing If you’ve got some plants that are a little confused by the milder weather, they may already be showing some new growth. If the weather continues to warm up then this early start will mean ad glorious spring. However, if (as is often the case) Mother Nature is luring us into a false sense of security before blasting us with yet more chilly conditions, that new growth could get damaged. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and if cold weather is predicted, nip outside and wrap your plants up toasty warm. Dry mulch sprinkled over the flower beds will help protect the roots from frost, and garden fleece wrapped around larger plants will help keep their extremities safe. 3 - Plan Your Veggies If you are growing your own vegetables this year, now is the time to start planning what you want to plant. Use a year planner to work out the best combination of vegetables, and when each variety should be planted and harvested. Then get digging so your vegetable plot is ready for its first guests.

    4 - Keep A Bulb Diary When the first shoots appear from bulbs, start a diary with your children. Bulbs are great for getting young children into gardening because they grow so quickly. Every day measure and record the height of your shoots, and make a note of the weather. Over the next few weeks you and your children can study the records to notice any influence the weather has on growth patterns.

    5 - Safety Inspection Carry out a thorough safety inspection of your play equipment. With half term approaching your children will want to play outside, and its important to check it is safe for them to do so. Pay attention to any parts that may have been shaken loose by wintry gusts. And look out for slime caused by algae, fungus or damp mud that could be a slip hazard of ladder steps and footpaths. You should also make sure that rainwater hasn’t accumulated in any upturned toys or containers. Young children can drown in as little as two inches of water.

    6 - Have Fun Together If you’ve all been tucked up indoors away from the wintry weather, your back garden may seem like foreign terrain to your children. Get them familiar with outdoor play by going out there and joining in the fun.

  • Anyone For Tennis?

    Inspired by Andy Murray's success in making i to the final of the Australian Open (he plays Djokovic at 8.30am tomorrow), we're in the mood for some tennis.

    However, as much as we love to play outdoors, we don't like frost bite. So to keep all of our fingers and toes warm and toasty, we've come up with tennis inspired games that can be played indoors.

    Learning To Rally Over A Net

    You'll need something that moves really slowly, and won't cause any damage when it inevitably bashes in to furniture and the TV.

    Bashing a balloon back and forth works really well. You can use your hands, short tennis bats, or even large circles of cardboard to hit the balloon.

    Add a little extra challenge by creating a net to hit the balloon over. You can tie a piece of string across the room and drape a light sheet over it. You could also use sticky tape and empty cereal boxes to make a wall and stand it between you.

    Keeping In The Lines

    Learning the scoring system for tennis, and whether a ball is in or out can be a challenge on an outdoor court, with a moving ball. If you don't sport where the ball lands immediately there's no Hawk-Eye or instant replays to help you out. Use masking tape to mark out a court in your kitchen or front room. Use marshmallows to play this game instead of balls so that when it lands, it stays put. The aim of the game is to get the marshmallow into your opponents side of the court. They must hit it back with a tennis racket, before it touches the floor. If the marshmallow lands outside of the lines, the person who received it score the points. If it lands inside the lines, the person who hit it score the points.

    Swingball

    Obviously not the type of set that must be staked into the ground as that would make a terrible mess of your carpet. But if you have a Swingball set lingering in your shed that has a box base, why not fetch it indoors.

    See

    Sure you'll be cold for a few minutes while you make the dash across the garden, but you could count it as your morning workout and reward yourself with a hot chocolate once safely back inside.

    Just Play With The Balls

    You could just play with tennis balls instead. Line up some empty plastic drinks bottles for a game of tennis ball bowling. For added fun and a little injection of addition practice, you could write scores on the bottles.

    Or you could line up empty boxes or buckets and take turns trying to land tennis balls inside without them bouncing back out again.

    With a few tennis balls to hand and the right intention you'll be able to come up with plenty of your own tennis-inspired games.

  • Outdoor Halloween Party Games

    Whether you are throwing a small party just for your own children, or you've invited all their class mates too, the combination of excitement, energy and sugar will need burning off.

    If the weather is in your favour, get the kids out to the back garden, and keep them entertained with this spookily inspired Halloween activities.

    1. Mummy Wrap An old favourite.

    Divide the children into pairs.

    One person is the mummy, the other is the mummifier.

    Using nothing but a toilet roll, the mummifier needs to completely wrap the mummy in 'bandages'.

    The winner is the team with the best coverage.

    2. Apple Bobbing No Autumn party is complete without a spot of apple bobbing.

    Give your fruit-based game a Halloween twist by using red squishy jelly instead of water. Bobbers will look like vampires when they come up for air.

    3. Eyeball Spoon Race To create the eye balls you can use hard boiled eggs, ping pong balls or styrofoam balls. Colour in a pupil, iris and red veins for an authentic look.

    4. Bones Relay Race Create a bone shaped baton for each team using an old kitchen roll and wrapping it in white paper. Ghost Race

    5. Make Races More Interesting And race can be spiced up by adding obstacles. Instead of running in s straight line, create a course that goes over the slide, under the climbing frame and around the playhouse. Work any outdoor play equipment into the game.

    6. Gutsy Treasure Hunt Spaghetti cooked in red food dye, tossed into an old paddling pool can look alarmingly like discarded guts. Hide Halloween related trinkets amongst the faux intestines, and time how long it takes each child to retrieve one, two, all of them, or as many as you like. Toss the pieces back into the pool ready for the next child's turn.

    7. Ghost Ring Toss Stake styrofoam balls a few inches from the ground, and decorate with a face adorned scrap of white material. These are your ghosts. Use hoops to capture these ghoulish garden invaders. You can allocate a points score for each ghost by writing it onto the fabric scraps.

    8. Skeleton Hunt Break up small plastic skeleton into individual bones and scatter them all around the garden. Time how long it takes for the children to recover all the pieces.

    If you can't find a skeleton, you could cut up an image of a monster to create a jigsaw puzzle, then scatter those pieces around.

    9. Make a Scarecrow This will require input from an adult on each team. Supply each team with a shirt, trousers, two bamboo sticks, some string and a bundle of newspaper. They will also need a balloon for the head and some craft materials for decorating. Each team needs to construct the scariest scarecrow they can.

    For added fun, take a look at our tips for decorating you back garden with a Halloween theme.

  • Learning How To Follow The Rules

    This is the last post in this month's series about sporting skills, and today we're focusing on following the rules.

    This is a really difficult concept to teach children. On the one hand, it's really important that children develop an understanding of the rules about t any particular game, and that they follow the rules so the play remains structured and fair. On the other hand, being overly dogmatic about adherence to the rules can suck the fun out of games, making children reluctant to join in.

    So how can you teach children what the rules are, and how to follow them, without turning playtime into a chore.

    1. Keep It Simple

    Adjust the rules of the game according to the age and developmental stage of your child. You shouldn't expect a four year old to have a good working knowledge of the off-side rule, but you can expect them to use their feet not their hands, and to play the ball not the person. Pick the essential rules from the game and teach those first. Then as your child gets older and more experienced you can gradually increase their understanding.

    2. Your Child The Referee

    It can be hard for children to remember the rules while trying to play to the best of their ability. Help them to focus on the rules alone by making them teh referee / umpire / judge. This works especially well if the players are Mum and Dad rather than a sibling, as natural sibling rivalry can cloud a young ref's judgement leading to arguments. Have your mini ref remember two or three important rules, arm them with the whistle and get playing. You may want to break the rules deliberately a few times to give them something to do. This is also a great way for children to experience a little power over the parents in a fun reversal of normal roles.

    3. Teach Sportsmanship Too

    Learning good sportsmanship is just as important as learning the rules. Nobody likes a sore loser or a boasting winner, so being a good sportsman is just as important as developing other sporting talents.

    One way to help children understand the difference between good and bad sporting behaviour is when the adults in their life act as good role models or play act the 'wrong' way. For example, two adults could challenge each other to a race, then when the loser throws an epic tantrum about the race not being fair or the track / shoes / weather being wrong, the children witnessing this fall out will get a good giggle, and a demonstration of how not to behave.

    4. Child-Led Rules

    Ask your child to invent a simple game, with a set of rules designed by them. It can be as simple as an obstacle course over the climbing frame, so long as the game has rules. This gives them the opportunity to see the importance of rules and how following them is what makes a game fun and challenging.

    Encouragement Over Criticism

    It's important that children are encouraged more than criticised in order to keep them motivated and engaged. This can be difficult to achieve when you are on the watch for rule infringements, so pay equal attention to all the things your child does well, especially when they demonstrate good sporting conduct.

  • Learning How To Play In A Team

    We mastered some of the more basic sporting skills earlier this month in the 'How To Catch' and 'How To Hit' guides.

    Now it's time to get our teeth into something I little more challenging: team work!

    From birth to pre-school parent praise is 100% focused on individual achievement. Sitting, crawling, walking, self-feeding, potty-training - these are all solo activities where the accomplishment of one child is lauded as if worth of a Nobel Prize.

    Little wonder then that by the time children hit the sociable ages of 3 and 4, working as a team to achieve a common goal is an alien concept.

    Here we take look at the skills needed to be a successful team player, and how you can help your child develop them. You don't need any fancy sporting equipment, just the play equipment you have to hand in your own back garden.

    Teamwork: Why Bother?

    Team games offer far more benefits than the simple thrill of a win. By regularly participating in team activities, children: - learn how to communicate with others - develop self-esteem through their contribution - develop trust in others - learn how to share and co-operate.

    Team activities are an integral part of the school experience, so being able to play in a team will help create positive experiences for your child.

    Many children also find it beneficial to play in a team outside of school, facilitating the development of new friendships.

    The Art Of Teaching Teamwork

    Before you bravely embark on any of these team building activities, here are a few tips to help you on your way.

    1. Like a good Scout or Girl Guide, you must always be prepared. Before even suggesting an activity, consider how well the task fits with the children who will be playing, and make sure you have all the equipment needed to hand. Nothing sucks the fun out of playtime like wasting ten minutes raiding the garage for a ball, or having a child sulk on the sidelines because the game is too complicated for them to take part.

    2. Pick your battles. If the purpose of the game is to teach teamwork, focus on this rather than improving your child's sporting prowess or knoweldge of complex rules. There will be plenty of time to teach those skills later.

    3. Talk about the game later. Draw attention to the times you noticed teamwork skills to help you child understand what playing in a team is all about.

    1. Identifying Strengths

    The most effective teams make best use of the individual talents of team members, so it's important children are able to recognize their own talents and the abilities demonstrated by others.

    A fun way to work on this skill is to set up an obstacle course in the back garden. There should be different challenges like kicking a football up the slide, or throwing a bean bag onto the top of the climbing frame. Challenge the children to figure out who will be best at each task. One person leaves the base at a time, completes their task, then returns to the base to tag a team mate relay-style.

    2. Team Communication

    This is a fun game to play in the Summer. Put the children into pairs and provide each pair with an empty bucket, and a bucket filled with water. One child climbs to the top of the climbing frame and must pour the water into the bucket held by the other child. However one child must be blinded (you decide which) can is guided by the directions of their team mate.

    3. Trusting Team Mates

    Create an obstacle course. The children hold hands and complete the obstacle course as one unit. The twist is that all but the lead child is blindfolded, so the rest of the team rely completely on their leader.

    What Next?

    You can get more tips and tricks in the rest of our sporting skills series.

  • Learning How To Hit Something - No Not Your Brother

    Hot on the heels of our post on learning how to throw and catch, we're taking a look at how to hit something.

    Why Hit Things?

    Establishing these sporting skills in younger life will help your child to participate in team sports both in and out of school, which is great for both physical and mental well-being.

    In addition to the sporting element, being able to hit something is immensely satisfying in itself and a great way to relieve stress and release tension. One of the earliest lessons parents learn is that it is much more effective to show a child what you would like them to do, than tell them what they shouldn't. If you have a little ball of energy intent of bashing siblings or something in the house, taking them outside for a game of bat and ball can really help refocus their attention.

    Make It Easy

    It's easier to hit: - something large than something small - something moving slowly than something moving fast - something that moves predictably than something erratic - something with your hand than something with an item held in your hand.

    Start by patting a balloon back and forth between you and your child using just hands.

    When they are ready to move on to using a tool and ball, start by rolling the ball along the ground. Your child will only need to judge horizontal movement and speed and can forget about height.

    Increase The Difficulty

    Once your child is able to knock a ball back and forth with a racket, or hit a bowled ball with a bat, it's time to start honing those skills.

    To develop the ability to hot with the correct level of force, practice hitting a tennis ball up a slide with just enough force so it stops on the climbing frame platform.

    Practice putting by laying plastic cups horizontally on the grass and assigning points to each one.

    To develop accuracy, practice chipping balls through the gaps in the climbing frame ladder. If more than one child is playing you can give this game a competitive edge by giving each gap a points value.

    Practice

    Swingball or an adjustable height net are both inexpensive items of sports equipment that can make playing with a bat and ball more fun, and won't take up too much room in your garden.

    Alternatively, a table tennis table can help older children practice hand-to-eye coordination and speed up their reaction times, which will help improve their abilities in other sports too.

    Ketter

    Link With Other Skills

    The ability to hit something relies heavily on hand-eye co-ordination, as does throwing and catching. These skills don't need to be learnt in any particular order, so let your child take the lead and go with what they enjoy.

    What Next? You can get more tips and tricks in the rest of our sporting skills series.

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