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outdoor play

  • Winter Play Ideas Part II

    I got so carried away writing the first installment of winter play ideas, that I only managed to describe three ideas. With plenty more inspiration available for cold weather play, I wanted to share it with you in this second part.

    #1 Coloured Snow

    What's better than playing with snow? Playing with coloured snow! There is creativity, science and fun all rolled into this one activity. All you need is snow (so fingers crossed the weather can provide this), and either food colouring, powdered paints, or a few drops of washable paint. Encourage the children to attack the garden with the paints to create a Jackson Pollock style masterpiece. Then mix all the snow together to see the colours that the different combinations create. After that it is a playtime free for all. Buckets used for sandcastles can make marvelous snow kingdoms, and with the added colourings it will look like a fairytale winter palace.

    #2 Ice Treasure Hunt

    Take little toys (not favourite ones, or their fate might be upsetting), and add them to small silicone cupcake cases. Top up with water and leave outdoors overnight to freeze. In the morning, pop out the ice blocks and hide them all over the garden. Then the race is on to find them before they melt. If the children do rescue the ice-hostages before the ice has melted, they then need to figure out how to remove the ice. This is a really interesting activity to watch, as your child attacks the situation with their own unique problem solving skills. Will they ask for a sharp tool to chip away at it? Or drop the ice from a great height? Maybe they will whizz the ice blocks down the slide? Or perhaps they'll play it cool and smart, place the blocks in a sunny spot and let nature do the work.

    #3 Mini Snowmen

    This is great for those days when there is enough snow to cover the ground, but not quite enough to make a snowman. Mr Potato Head accessories are perfect for making mini snowmen. They stick into the snow and stay put, but are easy to switch around to change their appearance.

    #4 Ice Bricks

    Remember those silicone molds you used up there ^^^. Time to get them out again. You'll need ideally three dozen or even more. They're not expensive. Consider this an investment. Part fill each mold with water and if you want added prettiness, a little dash of paint. In the morning the water will have frozen into circular bricks. Pop them out and they are great for stacking, or even just knocking around the garden.

    Hit The Pavements

    No literally because that would hurt. Even when the weather is bright, most lawns stay soggy throughout the winter, making outdoor play slippy and muddy. Take a tour of the neighbourhood on go-karts, bikes or rollerskates. The children get to spend time outside, and parents can stretch their legs too.

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

  • The Importance Of Incorporating Nature In Play

    We all know that getting outside in the fresh air and enjoying physical activity is good for our children. But did you know that nature is an integral part of this experience.

    Not all play spaces are created equal. Those that can incorporate natural elements provide the perfect environment for a play experience offering greater impact on physical development and emotional well-being.

    In this post we take a look at how playscapes that include nature are beneficial to our children, and how you might recreate these environments at home.

    Encouraging Curiosity

    Curiosity is the foundation of learning. A curious mind, hungry for information will seek answers. In this way children pull information from their care-givers rather than absorb what is spoon fed to them. This method of learning is not only more enjoyable, it is also more effective as the question and answer format helps new knowledge stick.

    Nature prompts endless questions in children.

    Unlike man-made materials and uniform play areas, nature is varied and unpredictable. It is these variations, like knots in the wood, or insects enjoying the climbing frame and evoke curiosity. Being surrounded by nature prompts children to notice things they don't understand or sights they find unusual, and they will then ask questions that the adults in their lives had never even thought of.

    When faced with an unanswerable question, adults can support the child to look for the answer themselves, either in a book, or online. In this way, children learn not only the answer to their question, but how to satisfy their curiosity in future.

    Multi-sensory Experience

    Playing in an environment enriched by nature provides a multi-sensory experience for children. The texture of wood, combined with the sound of leaves rustling or water running, and the smell of the flowers, all activate various centres within the brain. Being able to process multiple sensory experiences at the same time and make sense of them is a vital skill for young children. In school they will need to cope with the background noise of other children, will reading from the board, and suing their sense of touch to manipulate a pencil, for example. The more opportunities a child has to enjoy multi-sensory experiences, the more easily they will cope with these circumstances later.

    Incorporating Nature Into Your Play Area

    You probably already have some plants, flowers and grass in your back garden, which provides a great foundation for your play space. In addition to these, choose play equipment made of natural materials (wood) and add accessories such as a climbing rope or rope ladder. Consider feeding the birds to encourage them to play their background music of birdsong while your children play. You could also add a water play feature or a fountain, ensuring young children are supervised at all times. Old tree stumps make a great (natural) place to sit and rest, and bark chippings are a wonderful addition for making mud pies.

    Embrace the haphazard form of nature and shun the uniformity of the manufactured to create an interesting, nurturing play environment in your own back garden.

  • 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.

  • Halloween Decorations for The Back Garden

    If you are planning a Halloween party for the children, extend the fun to the outdoors by decorating your back garden too.

    If the weather is bad the decorations can be appreciated from the warmth of the house. and if you are lucky enough to have good weather on the day of the party you can turf the children outside where they can get up close with all your spooky designs.

    1. Incy Wincy Spiders

    These are so easy to make. Use black pipe cleaners to make the body and legs of a spider. You will need five pipe cleaners for each one. Then simply attach to your climbing frame, swing set or slide by wrapping the legs around narrower parts of the frame. These have extra scare factor as children are unlikely to notice them from a distance, so will get a real fright when they go to play on the equipment.

    2. Buried Bodies

    To make these you will need an old pair of trousers, some socks or shoes and plenty of newspaper. Fill out the trousers and footwear by stuffing them with scrunched up newspaper. Then position the half-body in such a way that it appears to be kicking out of the flower bed or sand pit, giving the appearance of a half-buried body.

    3. Ghost Lights

    If you have solar lights staked into the ground in your garden you can turn them into floating ghosts. For each ghost you will need a scrap of white fabric approximately 12 inches by 12 inches. Use a permanent marker pen to draw on a face and scary mouth, then drape the fabric over the light. These look great during the day and even better at night.

    4. Cobwebs

    Use white wool to weave webs all over the back garden. Wool works better than string because you can fluff up the edges giving it a more realistic web-like appearance. You can make a giant spider to adorn the web by stuffing a black bin bag with scrunched up paper, then cutting another bin bag into strips to use as the legs.

    5. Halloween Lanterns

    Collect glass jam jars. Make a stencil of a scary Halloween-inspired shape and attach to the front of a jar. Spray paint the jar, then remove the stencil to reveal a clear shaped window. Pop a tealight inside to create a spooky outdoor lantern.

    6. Creepy Cave

    Use an old bed sheet draped over the climbing frame or monkey bars to create a spooky cave. Hang cuts outs of bats and spiders inside for added creepiness.

    7. Creative Carving

    Get seriously creative with your pumpkin carving. Don't just stop at one Jack O Lantern. Create serious wow factor with a whole line of them. Or stack them to create a pumpkin snowman. Or leave dolls legs or arms dangling from their mouths so it looks like the pumping has just finished eating one of yoru children. A few pumpkins, a knife a splash of red food dye are all that's needed to create so truly hideous decorations.

    Be Inspired

    Hopefully that little round-up of Halloween nasties has inspired you to come up with yoru own ideas for spooky back garden decorations.

  • Autumn Sensory Play Ideas

    All children learn about the world around them through their senses.

    For many the most exciting play opportunities rely not just on one or two of these sense, but all of them together.

    With a riot of colour in the trees, the sensation of leaves crunching under foot, and the swish of the wind blowing through branches, a simple walk in the forest can provide your children with a sensory feast.

    For activities you can enjoy at home, be inspired by this list of Autumn inspired sensory-provoking play ideas.

    1. Autumn Gloop For the base of your gloop mix two parts cornflour with one part water. You should end up with a thicky, white, gloopy mixture that pours like a liquid but is stiff and sturdy like a solid. Add in natural Autumn gifts such as leaves, berries, acorns and conkers. Younger children can have fun pushing the items around in the gloop. Older children can use a pair of jumbo tweezers to rescue the objects, which is great for fine motor skills practice.

    2. Leaf printing painting Make a beautiful collage by applying paint to a leaf, then printing the pattern onto a piece of paper.

    3. Leaf Paper Mache When they get wet, leaves naturally stick to flat surfaces. Use a collection of brightly coloured leaves to create a pattern on the slide by pasting the leafs on using just water. On a sunny day, the leaves will dry quickly and you might be able to lift them as a complete sheet if you are lucky. For added tackiness you could mix in a little mud with the water.

    4. Autumn Fruits Exploration For this activity you will need a plum, an apple and a blackberry, all Autumnal fruits. For each fruit encourage your child to explore the texture and smell, notice the sound when it's cut and bitten into and the taste of the flesh. Older children can write down words to describe each fruit within a diagram of the fruit. For younger children you will need to scribe for them. Look at the collection of words and ask your child to notice the ways in which each fruit is similar and different to the others.

    5. Autumn Soup Fill an old paddling pool or water play table with water, mud, acorns, conkers, leaves and all the other lovely debris nature throws around this month. Add in some spoons, jugs and pots and your child can have an hour of fun making mud pies, autumn soup and leaf cakes. You can also make mud muffins using silicon cake cases. Fill them with wet mud, decorate with leaves, twigs and berries, then leave to back in the sun. Once the mud has dried out you will be able to peel off the silicon case.

    For more outdoor play ideas, take a look at the rest of the Wicken Toys blog posts.

  • Get Muddy With These Mucky Play Ideas

    Mud glorious mud.

    You might view mud as an unwelcome hazard associated with playing outdoors on a rainy Autumnal day, but it can be a really awesome way of cooling down in the Summer.

    Just add a splash of water to some dry baron ground to make this simple yet effective play substance.

    Reasons To Get Muddy

    1. Sensory Play Mud is a very tactile substance and provides a multi-sensory play experience. Sensory play is essential for the development of toddler and pre-schooler brains. Exposure to different substances gives their little brains plenty of practice in translating the sensations felt through the finger tips to make sense of what is in front of them. Stimulating multiple senses at the same time (touch, sight, sound and smell are all involved when playing with mud) requires the brain to become adept at taking multiple signals and decode them. This is all great preparation for the learning that takes place in school, where children must become skilled at listening to the teacher and watching what the teacher is doing, while screening out other stimuli.

    2. Hand Eye Co-ordination Walking is easy right? Walking on snow is a little bit trickier and requires greater concentration and physical effort. Now apply that logic to playing with small hand held toys. Dolls, cars and action figures are great for developing hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills. Now coat them in a layer of slippery slimy mud, and you will see your children testing those skills in new, challenging circumstances.

    3. Relaxation Because muddy play stimulates multiple sense at the same time and facilitates creative, flexible play, it has a calming affect.

    Ways To Play

    - Cooling mud: Mix ice cubes with dusty dry mud to create a seriously cool slipper substance to roll about in. - Mud bricks: Fill an ice cube tray with mud and leave it in the Sun to bake into hard mud bricks. This works best in silicone trays as they are easier to release the bricks from. You can also use a muffin tray as the sloped edges eases the hard mud out. - Mud sculptures: Hunt around the garden for sticks, stones, twigs, petals and leaves to add to a lump of mud and create a rustic nature-inspired sculpture. - Mud castles: Who says castle-shaped buckets are only for the beach? - Mud kitchen: Donate old cooking utensils and bowls to the garden so your children can make mud pies in their own garden kitchen. - Mud painting: Use decorators paint brushes to redecorate the fence, climbing frame and garden furniture with muddy paint. It should keep your children busy for hours and will wash away with the rain. - Mud cupcakes: Fill silicone cupcake cases with mud, then use leaves, petals and tiny stones from the garden to decorate the cupcakes with pretty patterns. - Construction site: Add trucks, tractors and cars to a patch of mud to create a muddy town or construction site. - Footprints investigation: In slightly wet mud, take some of your children's favourite toys and use them to make footprints. Then challenge your kids to work out who stepped where.

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

  • Teaching Tennis To Kids Part Two | Wimbeldon Edition

    Earlier this year, during the excitement of the Australian Open, we brought you some top tips for teaching kids how to play tennis. Now with Wimbledon well underway, we have even more tennis based activities to get the children outside and get you all active.

    Side Stepping Being able to run backwards and forwards along the baseline, without taking your eyes off the ball is an essential skill for any tennis player. Practice this lateral movement with a game of catch. Mark out two white lines, approximately 20 feet apart (you may want them closer together if you are playing with a young child). Each player must stay behind their white line and keep their eyes on the ball. Now play catch, but keep moving. Add an element of competition by keeping count of your longest rallies of successful catches to see if you can beat your own scores. Keep the pace slow for younger children.

    Mastering The Ball Have you noticed how the professional players bounce the balls over and over on the grass, then examine them before choosing which balls to serve with. They aren't doing this to show off (much), it enables them to get a good feel for the properties of the ball, and predict how it will behave in reaction to their serve. How embarrassing would it be if they bounced the ball on the grass then failed to catch it, or pinged it off their shoe? Tennis players must be masters of the balls, not at the mercy of their furry green unpredictable nature. Teach your children to calmly be the boss of the ball by bouncing it on the floor and catching it with one hand, and by gently bouncing it up and down on their racket.

    Varying Hitting Strength To be able to play a variety of shots, a tennis player must have great control over how hard they hit the ball. During the match they are thinking ahead to which shot they would like to play next, and must hit the ball with the corresponding amount of strength. Children can learn to hit with different levels of strength by playing this easy game, ideally within a fenced tennis court so you don't need to keep retrieving the balls. Devise a labeling system for three levels of hitting power, for example 'mouse', 'cat' and 'lion' or 'bike', 'car' and 'rocket'. As you through the ball to them, call out the level of strength they need to hit it back with.

    Volleying Secure a bucket to the top of the climbing frame and teach your children to volley the ball skywards, but in a controlled fashion, so the ball lands in the bucket.

    The easiest way to practice tennis in the back garden is with a swing ball set. There's no hassle setting up a net, and no need to run around retrieving balls from the neighbours gardens.


  • Choosing A Paddling Pool

    As the weather warms up, you may be considering buying a paddling pool, or even larger above ground swimming pool for your garden.

    At Wicken Toys we sell a range of pools, in a variety of sizes, and have the expertise needed to help you choose the right model for your family.

    What Do You Need?

    Before you begin to browse our selection, ask yourself a few questions to help scope out your requirements.

    1. What will your pool be used for? This question isn't as daft as it sounds. Deeper pools are suitable for climbing into, and enjoying being immersed in the water. Shallower pools can be used for paddling in, or as a container for water play while the child is positioned outside of the pool. Also consider who will be using the pool. Does it need to be big enough to accommodate multiple children and / or adults?

    2. Do you want a semi-permanent structure? Our large above ground pools are designed to be left up for a number of weeks. Once erected they require minimal maintenance, and do not need continuous refilling, provided the correct cleaning process have been put in place. On the other hand, if you have a small garden, then a temporary pool, which can be emptied and put away at the end of use, then refilled the next time you wish to use it, would be more appropriate.

    3. Budget Vs Convenience A cheaper inflatable paddling pool can be a false economy. Emptying it, deflaiting it, then getting it back out on the next sunny day, gets old fast. There will also be times when, for example after school, you could grab 20 minutes or so in the pool, but it's just too much effort getting it out to make it worth while. With an above ground pool the fun is set up and ready to go as soon as you want to play.

    Types Of Pool Explained

    We stock a range of pools, constructed in different ways.

    Plastic Hard Sided These are fixed shape pools made from injection molded plastic. They are usually small and easy to fill, and light weight so they can be moved around. They can often be used as sand pits too. AS the shape is fixed they do not reduce in size for storage.


    Designed to be stored flat, then inflated as needed. We sell hand pumps and electric pumps to make inflation a lot easier.

    PVC Sided

    Intex 10ft x 30 Easy Set Swimming Pool


    These have an inflatable ring at the top to hold the shape of the wall, then filling it with water is what makes it expand to full size.

    Metal Frame Used for larger above ground pools, metal tubes slot together, to support a large soft sided pool liner.


    Pool Alternative For a fun, affordable way to cool off, consider getting a slip and slide. These are best suited to older children and young-hearted adults.


  • World Cup Fever In Your Back Garden

    The World Cup kicked-off last night, the land is awash with England flags, and children and adults alike are buzzing with football fever.

    The tournament is a great excuse to get outside and play with the children.

    Here are some ideas for hosting your own World Cup at home.

    1. Get Crafty If your children tend to shy away from arts and crafts, using a football theme can really help get their buy-in. Not everyone is going to grow up to be a Van Gogh, but craft activities are important across all ages for developing fine motor skills, creativity and imagination. Ask each child to invent a country name for themselves, and a fill an A4 piece of paper with a flag to represent their nation.


    2. Warm Up All athletes need to prepare their body thoroughly before exercising. Watch some clips of players stretching and jogging before a match and explain what they are doing, then head outside to complete a warm up drill.

    3. Draw Up Your League For each of the activities listed below, decide on a points allocation for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. Your World Cup will be a league rather than a knock-out tournament. At the end of the games, whoever has the most points wins.

    4. Balloon Keepy Uppy Test hand eye co-ordination by setting out a small course for players to walk around, while playing keepy-uppy with a balloon. They can use their hands, feet, head, shoulders and knees to keep the balloon off the ground, while walking the course in the shortest possible time. If the balloon touches the floor, they need to go back to the beginning.

    5. Perfect Placement This game works best if you have a slide attached to a generously sized climbing frame platform. The aim of the game is to kick the ball up the slide, hard enough for it to reach the top, but gently so it stops on the platform rather than shooting down the other side. The winner is the person who takes the fewest attempts to balance the ball.

    6. Penalty Shootout For this you will need a football goal, or create goal posts using jumps, flags, or whatever else you have to hand. Start just a few feet from the goal and shoot. Everyone who scores is still in the penalty shoot out. Now mark out a new penalty spot a few feet further back, and everyone has a turn shooting from here. Again, everyone who scores is still in the competition, and can take another shot from a goal even further back. This continues until there is only one person left, or you can't get any further away from the goal.

    You can make up as many activities for your league as you like, and for an additional element of maths learning, have the children add up their own totals (with your supervision of course).

    While the current sunshine and high temperatures make a welcome break from the storms experienced in the water, it can make playing outside an uncomfortable affair. Get in the garden before 11am, or after 4pm, to avoid the worst of the heat, and get the most enjoyment from your planned activities.

  • 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.

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