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General

  • 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.

  • Go-Kart Inspired Garden Additions

    A go-kart is an awesome investment. Four-wheeled and low to the ground, they are slower than a bike so older children can ride them in the garden long after they’ve outgrown doing laps on their bicycle.

    But what makes owning a go-kart extra special, is the full fake car experience. Caring for it, washing it, filling it up with ‘petrol’.

    Here’s how to make a go-kart garage your children will go crazy for.

    Car Wash First of all you will need a safe space for the car to get washed-off. You could provide a simple bucket of water and a cloth, and that will certainly be fun for a couple of minutes. But if you want to go all out in the fun stakes, you need to build a car wash.

    Cut up cleaning cloths into strips and hand them using some string, along with sponges from the underside of your climbing frame. Make sure they reach all the way down to around 18 inches from the ground. Now take a bucket of water around and dunk each sponge and cloth in to give them a good soaking. Now your drive-thru car wash is ready.

    Petrol Station The go-kart will also need a place to fill up. You can make a petrol pump by stacking two boxes, one on top of the other, and writing a dial on the top box. Then use a length of garden hose, or any type of narrow tubing to create a nozzle to reach into the car. You can make a checkout desk for another child (or you) to join in the game. Set up a small table with a toy shopping till, and you could even add some cardboard mock sweets to tempt the customers.

    Garage Everyone knows the safest place to secure your car is in a private garage. Give your go-kart a worthy resting place for the night by constructing a shelter. This is practical as well as fun. To protect the go-kart and maximize its useful life, it should be sheltered from direct sunlight and the weather. However, lugging it in and out of a shed everything your child wants to use it can get tiresome. Instead you can create a small garage port they can drive their go-kart into and store when not in use.

    There small sheds or storage units that attach to the house’s outside wall you could use, or you could create a wooden frame and add some tarpaulin to shelter from the wet weather. You could designate an area at the side of the house a parking zone, or underneath the climbing frame is a well sheltered spot.

    If you don't have a go-kart yet, check out our go-kart buyer's guide.

    For more outdoor play inspiration, check out the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • 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.

  • Christmas Present Ideas To Inspire Outdoor Play

    It's the last day of November so by now you should be aware of the mominous tick-tock of the Christmas countdown clock.

    Is your Facebook feed stuffed with smug mum's celebrating Christmas shopping victory?

    Is your house already bursting at the seams with toys?

    Do you fear that the addition of another truckload of play things this festive season will cause your carefully organzied playroom storage system to buckle under the weight?

    Put your feet up with a nice hot chocolate and panic not - Wicken Toy have got this.

    This blog posts contains a list of ideal Christmas gifts for 2014.

    'What makes them so ideal?' - I hear you ask. Clever how the Internet works, isn't it? You think you're reading this in the privacy of your own home, when in reality I'm anticipating your every thought. Now where were we? Right, back to the idealness of our presents.

    1. They will make your kids go 'wowwwwwww' when they see them on Christmas morning. 2. They live in the garden / shed outside. Not inside your house. They'll be outside. Not taking up any space, because they are outside. 3. You can buy them by clicking a button on your computer. No need to drag your bones around the shops, elbowing other frantic parents out of the way in pursuit of the best bargain. Just point and click. And then your new outdoor toy will be delivered to your home.

    So enough with the tempting warm up waffle, here's the list.

    New Set Of Wheels

    Ketter

    In the colder weather, the trick is to keep moving, for parents and children. A new trike or balance bike gets children outside in the fresh air, and Mum & Dad have no choice but to trot alongside, so they get a good work out too. When it's time to come indoors and warm up, the bike / trike is stashed away in the garage or shed, taking up zero space inside your house.

    Messy Play

    TP

    Yes, that's a photo of a water play table, and no I haven't completely lost my mind. It's a little too chilly to be splashing about in the garden, but a water play table is a very versatile piece of play equipment. A water table can be used as the base for a range of different sensory activities. You can fill it with mud, sand, or even dry foodstuffs like pasta, lentils and barley. If you want to use it for water, bring it into the kitchen, then banish it back tot he shed when playtime is over.

    Their Own Home

    TP

    A playhouse stays out of your house and therefore requires no space at all. If you already have a toy kitchen, dinky table and other miniature version of real-life equipment, you can even migrate these toys into the playhouse and rediscover your living room carpet (briefly, before all the other new Christmas toys integrate with your existing collection).

    Got older children to buy for? Don't worry, we've got that covered in our next blog post.

  • Top Tips To Prepare Your Back Garden For A Winter Storm

    Most of the UK north of London his faced with stormy weather this week.

    As Hurricane Gonzalo is set to make an unwelcome appearance, the Met Office has issue a Yellow Weather Warning for this Tuesday, covering much of the UK.

    Strong gales, with gusts of up to 60mph and torrential rain has the potential to cause damage to anything kept outside.

    Thankfully, we've had enough notice to make careful preparations before the turbulent weather arrives.

    Keep your home, garden and outdoor play equipment safe with these top tips.

    1. Remove Any Loose Items From The Garden

    Make a thorough inspection of your garden and notice any loose items. Some will be obvious, like toys left lying on the lawn, but others require a little more attention. Hanging baskets, bins, go-karts, bicycles, anything that could be moved by the wind should be secured in a garage. Anything lifted into the air by the wind can cause damage to your or your neighbours' property, or could potentially injure somebody by striking them.

    2. Check Anchor Points

    Large pieces of play equipment such as climbing frames and swing sets should already be anchored to the ground for safety reasons. Over time, as the equipment moves slightly during use, these anchors can work loose. Also heavy rainfall can wash away the mud the anchors are pushed into. Check every anchor point thoroughly to check it is capable of holding the frame down in the event of a strong gust of wind. After the storm has passed, re-check every point again before allowing children to use the equipment.

    Heavy

    3. Secure Loose Accessories

    If your play equipment includes hanging accessories such as a swing or trapeze bar, it may be possible to unclip these easily from the frame, and keep them indoors for the duration of the storm. If not, consider securing them tightly to the frame so they aren't crashing into each other in the wind.

    4. Keep Drains Clear

    If you have drains on the ground, make sure these are clear of leaves and mud so that rain water can flow freely away. If it is safe to do so, check gutters and down pipes are clear of leaves and debris so that rain water can flow away rather than flood into the garden.

    5. Bring Furry Friends Indoors

    Besides the risk of injury from flying debris, or the possibility hutches could be tipped over by the wind, storms can also cause psychological distress to pets. Keep furry friends safe by inviting them indoors for the duration of the bad weather.

    You can get more advice on how to prepare your property and cope during a power cut from the Met Office.

  • Top Tips For Keeping Fit On Rainy Days

    There are plenty of blog posts and advice articles on how to keep kids entertained on a rainy day, but many are focused on craft activities or build dens.

    With the British winter on it's way, many parents fear being stuck indoors for days on end, because without plenty of exercise, their children go just a little bit bonkers.

    To help you prepare for the impending bad weather, and forthcoming half term, here are some simple ideas for keeping fit and active on rainy days.

    1. Puddle Stomping

    Unless your child is at risk of melting in the rain, it's not compulsory to stay indoors when wet weather strikes. For many children a pair of wellies and an umbrella are all that's needed to turn a miserable afternoon into puddle stomping revelry.

    2. Timed Treasure Hunt

    Take a collection of small toys, such as metal cars or action figures, and hide them all over the house. Run timed trials to see how quickly all the toys can be recovered. This will be messy but should burn plenty of energy. Adding the time is crucial. Most indoor activities are carried out a fairly leisurely pace. Add a timer to encourage an extra burst of energy and your children can enjoy a good workout while having fun.

    3. Dance

    Find the biggest space in the house and dance. Play musical statues, musical bumps, musical chairs. Jazz it up anyway you like, but get moving to the groove.

    4. Bring Outdoors In

    Some outdoor play equipment can be used indoors if you have enough space. Basketball nets and football goals can be moved indoors. Just remember to put away any precious belongings and substitute the balls for a small foam ball instead.

    Swingball

    Swingball poles with weighted bases rather than spikes can also be used indoors if you have a room large enough. Make sure you have space to swing the bat comfortably without knocking anything over.

    5. Fitness Videos For Kids

    If you don't have a DVD suitable for kids there are some very entertaining videos available on YouTube. Alternatively most of the major games consoles sell at least one exercise based video game for kids.

    6. Balloon Volleyball

    Divide a room in two using a ribbon or piece of string, blow up a balloon and enjoy a match of balloon volleyball. The balloon travels so slowly even little kids can join in, and because it is so light it's unlikely to cause any damage.

    7. Hula Hooping

    Ideal for expending short sharp bursts of energy, hula hooping can be exhausting. Best of all it doesn't require much space, and the equipment is super-cheap to buy.

    8. Unwind With Yoga

    Keeping fit doesn't have to be about sweaty foreheads and raised pulses. Yoga is a great way to increase strength and flexibility, key measures of overall fitness. For kid-friendly yoga instruction learn a few moves from YouTube videos.

    9. Indoor Snowball Fight

    Grab any (clean) used paper you have lying around and scrunch it up into snowballs. Create two bases and play an elaborate game of 'capture the flag' with paper snowballs as weapons.

    Fore more play ideas check out the other posts on the Wicken Toys blog.

  • 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 Toy Storage Ideas

    The Summer holidays are nearly upon us which means it's nearly time for your garden to become littered with toys. If you are tired of looking at a landscape of metal and plastic, and fed up of picking up toys for hours before you can mow the lawn, then take your pick from this list of outdoor toy storage ideas.

    Bike Racks If your children are in and out all day playing on their bikes, you may find yourself constantly dragging them in the house to keep them secure, or tripping over them while they lay sprawled out on the front lawn. By installing a floor or wall mounted bike rack in the garden you can give your children somewhere to store their bikes during the day. No more propping bikes against walls, and getting in a tangle with one bike buried beneath the other. Riders simply wheel the front tire into the rack and the bike is stored in an upright position until it is needed again. Add a combination lock to the rack so your children can learn about the importance of security and practice locking up their bike when it's not in use.

    Storage Bins What's biog, plastic, waterproof, comes with a lid, and best of all, is super cheap! A dustbin. They may not look attractive, but a brand new, never used for rubbish dustbin is perfect for storing toys in, especially long objects like rackets, cricket bats and spades. If you don't want your garden to look like the local rubbish tip invest in some plastic-friendly spray paint and decorate your bins in a range of colours. If you like to be super-organised you could allocate each child with their own coloured bin, or categorize toys by type: water play, balls and so on.

    Laundry Baskets Plastic holey laundry baskets can be lashed to any upright post and are ideal for storing smaller toys like tennis balls, toy cars and water play items. Tie one onto each leg of the climbing frame and the toys stored inside will be sheltered from the worst of the weather.

    Bike Sheds Small and shallow bike sheds are ideal for storing toys. The problem with larger sheds is they quickly become filled with clutter, making it hard to reach he toys stored at the back. They can also be intimidating for younger children to enter. Bike sheds tend to have large doors and are only around half the depth of a regular shed making it much easier to access all the toys stored inside.

    Take the time to tailor your toy storage to the age and stage of your children and you will save yourself hours of effort over the course of the summer. Children are much more likely to play outside if they can readily access their toys without your help, and tidy up time will be a breeze if your children can reach all the storage options.

  • Be Inspired By The London Marathon

    At Wicken Toys we love nothing more than encouraging children to get out and get active.

    This weekend the sun will be shining on enthusiastic amateurs and professional athletes alike as they take to the 26 mile course around London.

    Whilst dragging your children through an endurance race won't make for a fun family weekend, there's lots you can take from the Marathon and use as inspiration for your own activities.

    Here are some ideas to kick-start your Marathon fun and learning session.

    1. Beat Your Personal Best For many athletes, continuously improving on their personal best time helps keep them motivated and focused. Do you have a route or journey that you complete regularly. A walk to the shops, cycling to school, anything where the route stays the same each time can be used to measure your child's (or family's) personal best time. Create a chart to record timings on and track progress. After you have collected a dozen of more entries you can write up the results and present them in a line graph to show progress.

    2. Fundraising Talk about why many people take part in the Marathon and how they are raising money for charity. This is a good opportunity to talk about any charities that are important to your family and what those charities do. You could even plan an event to raise funds. It doesn't need to be a running event, you could bake cakes, do a sponsored silence, or even complete small odd jobs to raise money.

    Build

    3. Endurance Endurance is a concept many children will not have come across yet, but now is as good a time as any to teach them. Talk about how athletes, with practice and repetition, can build up how far they can run. Ask your children what they would like to be able to do for longer. Maybe they would like to be able to complete more rungs of the monkey bars, or hang on one bar for longer. Perhaps they would like to have the stamina to walk further, or swim more lengths of the pool. As with the personal best activity, you can write a goal, and keep a record of progress on a chart. This is teaches a valuable lesson that improvements might not come straight away, but with perseverance you can see progress emerge over time.

    4. Team Work This is more appropraite for older children. Notice how the elite athletes run with a pacer. Or how many of the amateur runners run in teams. Talk about the reasons why this might be, then ask you child to apply it to their own life. Is there anything where a little team work or support from another party would help them to do better?

    5. Go For A Jog Map out a route around your neighbourhood, then take a jog around and time yourself. If you want to keep your child close to you rather than letting them run off at their own pace, take turns being the runner and the coach. One person jogs the route, while the other cycles alongside providing moral support and keeping track of the time. Then swap over roles and complete the course again to see who has the fastest time.

  • Gardening With Kids: Ideas For March

    March is one of the busiest months for gardeners. Many hands make light work, so get the little ones togged out in wellies and gardening gloves and set them to work with you on this list of March must-dos.

    The daylight is lasting a little longer so some smaller jobs can be done after school rather than waiting until the weekend.

    Weed Control As the weather warms up and the Sun spends more time with his hat on (hip hip hip hooray), the first flora to take advantage will be the weeds. Stay on top of weed control before the blighters take over your flower bed. To help children identify weeds, make a chart with photographs or even actual leaves to look out for. Use a hand trowel to get down under the roots for permanent removal.

    Vegetable Patch If you already have a vegetable patch, now is the time to harvest winter salads, leeks, kale, brussel sprouts and rhubarb. If you are new to growing your own veg, you need to get the patch established this month. Consider a raised bed which will stay warmer over winter months, is easier to dig over, and is less prone to attack from weeds and pests. Carrots, parsnips, broad beans, spinach, lettuce, peas and early potatoes can all the sown now.

    Get Composting March is a good month to establish a compost bin if you don't already have one. After all your weeding and pruning you will have plenty of greenery to fill it with, and by summer you will have access to some lovely soil improver to dig into the earth. Position your composter away from any play equipment, and out of direct sunlight.

    Daffodil Trimming As lovely as they are, daffodils don't last forever, and once they've been battered by the British wind and rain they can start to look really tatty. To keep the bulbs flowering year after year, cut the dead heads off, but allow the leaves to die back naturally. Encourage Wildlife If you have been feeding the birds through the winter they will be very grateful for your kindness, but will also have become quite reliant on your as a food source. As the weather starts to heat up you may think they are ready to be self-sufficient, but they will really benefit from a steady supply of food while they are nesting and nurturing young. If you really want to give mother nature a boost install a nesting box in a quiet area of your garden.

    You can also encourage butterflies and insects by sowing wildlife friendly flower seeds such as verbena or honesty. These will flower in the summer, luring beautiful butterflies into your garden and providing the birds with fresh tasty insects.

    Check Play Equipment While you are out making your garden ship-shape, take a few moments to inspect climbing frames, swings, slides and trampolines. Look for any obvious signs of damage, or loose parts that need fixing, and make sure any safety mats are still in the correct positon. Teach your children what to look out for so they will know to bring any problems to your attention.

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