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Outdoor play

  • 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.

  • Games, Crafts And Activities For Mother’s Day

    Straight up, hand this blog post over to the Dads.

    These are fun things to do on Mother’s Day, so Mums, you shouldn’t be doing all the prep for this.

    There’ a combination of crafts and games included here, so whatever the weather you’ll find something to keep them busy with.

    Make A Card

    Nothing says appreciation like a handmade cards. Older children can colour or paint whatever they like, but younger children may need a little direction. Cut out some flower shapes for them to colour and stick on, or use finger painting to make hearts and flowers shapes.

    Cooking For Mum

    The easiest thing to cook for mum is pancakes. Little ones can help crack eggs, measure ingredients and mix the batter. Older children can pour the batter into the frying pan. Dad’s in charge of flipping the pancakes.

    Cup cakes are also a good thing for children to make. As with the pancakes, mixing the batter is a child-friendly activity, and once the cakes are cooked and cooled, icing and decorating is super-fun, if a little messy.

    Kiss Chase

    The ultimate game of love and affection - kiss chase. But instead of Mum chasing the children, this time it’s their turn to run after Mum, capture her, and cover her with kisses.

    Heart Treasure Hunt

    Cut up little heart shapes and have your children hide them all over the garden - under rocks, on the climbing frame, under the trampoline, wherever they can safely reach. Make sure Mum doesn’t see what you’re doing. Now get Mum into the garden and time how long it takes her to find them. The children can help her hunt them down by giving clues of hot and cold. Repeat until Mum is exhausted, or swap over and hide the hearts for somebody else to find.

    Nature’s Gifts

    Go for a walk along the beach or the park, somewhere you will find plenty of pretty things lying around. Ask your children to hunt for a thing of beauty for Mum. When they hand it over, whether it’s a stone, a leaf, a conker, ask them to explain why they chose it. Mum will treasure that story every time she looks at the object.

    Guessing Game

    How well do we know Mum? This is like the old Mr & Mrs quiz. Ask questions like ‘what is Mum’s favourite colour?’ and ‘what is Mum’s favourite snack?’. If you have older children they can write down their guess before Mum reveals the answer. For younger children, have Mum write the answer secretly, then the children can guess outloud.

    Mum Says

    Like Simon Says, but it’s Mum giving the instructions. Imagine her joy when everyone just does as she asks for a whole 10 minutes without complaining.

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

  • Solar Eclipse Special: How To Watch AND Explain It...

    ...because you know all you'll hear is 'why? Whhhhhyyyyyy? But whhhhy Mummy whyyyyyyy?'

    On Friday 20th March, much of the country will be plunged into darkness as we experience the first solar eclipse in 16 years.

    Most areas will experience an 85-90% eclipse, but some lucky folk, right on the tip of the British Isles will see a full eclipse.

    Here are our top tips on watching the eclipse safely and explaining the science behind it.

    Watching Safely

    There are specially designed eclipse glasses available to buy online. Be sure you are buying from a reputable seller, and check there are no scratches or lens damage to the glasses before you use them. Make sure children fully understand that they should never look directly at the Sun, even when the majority of it is obscured by the moon.

    Even with the glasses on it is only advisable to look at the Sun for a few minutes before taking a break to rest your eyes.

    A safer way, especially for younger children, is to use a pinhole projector. This funnels the light through a small hole, then projects the image onto a piece of paper. Unlike the glasses which can only be used by one child at a time, you can have multiple children looking at the projector image at the same time. And they will have their backs to the Sun, making it much easier for you to supervise them and keep them safe.

    The Science Bit

    A solar eclipse is a wonderful opportunity for children and adults alike to come to fully experience their place in the Universe.

    A complete solar eclipse is possible because although the Moon 400 times smaller than the Sun, the Sun is 400 times further away from Earth than the Moon. So when the two are in perfect alignment, it appears as if the Moon and Sun are the same size.

    A scale model would take you a while to produce, but you can explain the principles using a few toys.

    Hold a tennis ball and a ping pong ball, one in each hand, and ask your children which is biggest. Now take have one child stand at one end of the garden holding the tennis ball out, and another children at the other end, looking as if from Earth. You stand in the middle holding the ping pong ball, slowly stepping closer and closer to the observer until the ping pong ball has completely blocked their view of the tennis ball.

    Another fun way to demonstrate the effect distance has on our perspective of size is to turn your children into giants. Now they know already that their thumbs are not as big as the cat, dog or Mum’s head. But send them to the top of the climbing frame and ask them to imagine squishing animal or human passers by with just their thumbs and see what happens. They should start giggling when they realize their hands look giant when compared to people on the ground a few metres away.

    For more science, fun, games and outdoor ideas, check out the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • 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.

  • How To Make Your Own Water Wall

    This maybe seems a little crazy for a February activity, but there’s a lot of good reasons to set your waterwall up now. Kids love playing with water no matter what the weather. And as there’s no need for them to get (too) wet when enjoying this activity, you can wrap them up warm so they won’t feel the cold. Plus if it's a rainy day, just looking at the rain’s journey through the waterwall is fun.

    If you’re still getting frosts where you live, it would be best to wait a few more weeks for the night’s to warm up. If the plastic gets frozen it may become brittle, creating a broken water wall and potentially sharp edges.

    Always give your waterwall a thorough inspection before use.

    Be Inspired

    The first step towards creating this cheap and easy play centre is to get inspired. There are some fab images on Pinterest you can use, but also look around at the water play centres available online for ideas.

    Pick The Perfect Spot Next you need to scout around your garden to identify the ideal location for your water wall. It needs a balance of light and shade. You don’t want your children to be standing out in the exposed sunlight for great lengths of time, but if the play area is in permanent shade it will be cold, uninviting and as it never dries out, it may cause algae or mould to grow. A good compromise is to pick a sunny spot, then use a parasol to shade the area when your children are using it.

    If you have a climbing frame with a redundant side, filling this in with a bit of board can create a water wall on one side, and a den effect on the other.

    Gather Materials Collect plastic bottles, guttering, tubing, anything waterproof that can guide the path of water either through it or over it. You will also need a large peg board or fence panel, even an old painted door will do, to attach the pieces to.

    Get Building Sketching out a design and then buying the materials to make it can prove expensive. A more affordable way to create your own wall is to pile up all the materials you have, leaf through the inspirational images you have found, and find the best way to fit it together.

    Open Ended Play Leave plenty of scope for imaginative play. You could leave some of the areas unfinished and keep spare building materials in a bucket so your children can experiment with completing the path with different pieces. You can also use loose fittings, for example a single nail will act as a pivot, so the children can move the pieces on the board into different positions.

    Recycle Don’t forget to finish your water wall with a bucket to collect the water at the end. Rainwater can be collected and used on the plants. And on sunny days your children can use a single bucket of water over and over again, rather than pestering for the garden tap to be turned on.

  • 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.

  • Valentine's Day Themed Fun For Kids

    Coming up with fun outdoor activities to keep small people entertained is a lot easier when you work with a theme.

    Thankfully there seems to be some sort of celebration or festival in just about every month of the year and February is no exception.

    Which brings us to Valentine’s Day. It’s probably not advisable to turf the kids outside and tell them to invent their own Valentine's themed games (unless you don’t mind them playing kiss chase all day). We’re here to rescue you, with a selection of V-Day games for all the family.

    1. Heart Hunting Cut some heart shapes out from coloured card and hide them all over the garden. Make the shapes smaller for older children. If you want to add a competitive edge you could leave a different colour out for each child, then have a timed race to see who can find all their hearts the quickest, or who can collect the most hearts within a set amount of time.

    2. You’ve Got Love Mail Set each child up with some pens and coloured paper and ask them to write a love letter, or draw a picture to each member of the family. You could even create a family postbox to put them in. Then when you are together, nominate a postman to empty the box and deliver the letters.

    3. Valentine’s Balloon Games Did you know you can buy heart shaped balloons? Well you can. So for an easy afternoon’s entertainment, buy a pack, blow them up and leave the children to use their imagination.

    4. Cupid’s Arrow Make a jumbo heart, with smaller outlines inside to use as a target. Tape it to the ladder on your slide or climbing frame so it’s held up by something sturdy. Then use foam bullet guns to shoot at it. Alternatively you could cut a heart shaped hole out of an old sheet, secure that in an upright position and try to throw balls through the gap.

    5. Valentine’s Sensory Play You could make a Valentine’s themed sensory play station. Use an old splash pool or a water play table and fill with anything pink, white and red. Water beads, jelly, shaving foam, food colouring, flour, anything that feels icky, is non-toxic and doesn’t stain. Put each ingredient in a separate cup and let the children experiment with different combinations.

    Often to get the party started (even if it’s just you and your kids in attendance) a small amount of structure and a gentle suggestion is all that is needed. You’ll probably find that your children quickly deviate from the activities you had planned. When this happens you should congratulate yourself for inspiring them, and take a moment to admire their fertile imaginations.

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Ages 13 And Up

    Buying presents for a teen is no easy task.

    By now most children have outgrow the outdoor play equipment they enjoyed when they were younger.

    They may also now start to feel self-conscious about charging around the garden with the wild abandon like they used to.

    Never Too Old For Outdoor Fun

    But don’t assume your teen is too old for toys. Playing outside provides an important opportunity to unwind from school, and enjoy some fresh air and exercise. The toys you buy now are an invitation to play, permission to continue enjoying fun activities.

    You will have more success coaxing your teen into the back garden, if you focus your efforts on activities you can enjoy together.

    Just Bounce

    Springfree

    A trampoline is an ideal piece of play equipment for all ages. It can be difficult to find outdoor toys that serve all of your children well, but a trampoline does the job nicely. You can even have a bounce on it yourself.

    Larger trampolines allow for me freedom when bouncing about, allowing your teen to burn off energy without crashing into the sides.

    Always choose a trampoline with a purpose-built fitted net.

    Tempting as it may be to load a large trampoline with all your children at once, don’t. It’s not that the mat can’t take the wait. Trampoline manufacturers advise one person at a time only as smaller jumpers can get bounced about by bigger jumpers, and any collisions may result in injury.

    Used solo, however, a trampoline can be a great way for your teen to get some exercise without having to stray too far away from home.

    Start Driving

    Berg

    Adults buy our top-end go-karts, so they certainly are suitable for teens. These are designed to be pedaled fast, by older children and adults. The Berg’s are especially suitable for teens thanks to the Brake Freewheeling System. When you stop pedalling at speed, the pedals stop turning round, so although the go-kart will continue with the momentum, the pedals don’t keep smacking the rider in the back of the legs. Then to slow down, simply put a little backwards pressure on the pedals and the go-kart starts to scrub-off speed.

    Outdoor Shelter

    If you’ve ever considered getting a summer house or gazebo, now would be a good time. Providing a quiet space for your teen to meet friends, out of the house, but not away from your supervision, gives them the independence and freedom they crave, without compromising on safety.

    Water Pistols

    For the summer months, keep an arsenal of water pistols to hand. Nobody ever outgrows water fights.

    If you also have younger children, checkout the rest of <a href="http://www.wickentoys.co.uk/blog/tag/matching-toys-to-ages/"January’s series on outdoor toys for all ages.

  • 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!

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