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Wicken Toys Blog

  • LEGO Movie Inspired Party Ideas

    The LEGO Movie's been out for a couple of weeks and has received rave reviews from children and adults alike. After reigniting a love of LEGO across the generations, we think the film will also be inspiring a wave of LEGO-themed parties.

    We love nothing more than to get outside and play, so we couldn't resist coming up with these top x ideas for LEGO party games.

    Guess The Number Of Blocks In The Jar Fill a jar / water play table with LEGO bricks, then have each child make a guesstimate of how many bricks are present. To keep it fair, each child should write their guess down on a piece of paper and post it into a sealed box (ideally crafted to look like a LEGO brick). When everyone has made their guess, it's time to put the children's maths skills to the test. Tip all the bricks out and ask the children to arrange them into groups of ten, and place each ten in a grid or ten rows by ten columns. This will make it easy to calculate how many bricks there are in total, rather than counting them one brick at a time.

    Slide Racers Have each child build a racing car out of LEGO, then stage knock out racing rounds down the slide.

    Straw Transporters Give each child an empty bowl, a straw, and a ten small LEGO bricks. Challenge the children to transport the bricks one at a time to their empty bowl, without touching the bricks with their hands.

    LEGO Tower This works best with DUPLO or Mega Bloks bricks. Challenge the children to work as a team, to design a tower that will reach all the way to the top of the climbing frame. It's not as simple as stacking one brick on top of the other, as a tower with a narrow base will be too tall, whereas a wide tower will likely use up all the bricks before it gets tall enough. The ideal structure should have a wide base, be hollow, and gradually decrease in diameter as it climbs - but don't tell the kids that.

    Treasure Hunt Use LEGO bricks (that you won't be too upset to loose forever), scatter them round the garden in hidden places, then leave clues as to where they can be found. Create a list of the bricks that are in hiding for the children to tick off as they go.

    Memory Board Take around 20 very different LEGO pieces, for example a brick, a hat, a minifigure, an animal, a tree, and so on, and attach them to a LEGO base plate. Give the children one minute to memorize as many objects as they can, then cover the board with a towel and ask them to write down as many as they can. LEGO Spoon Race Who wants to waste good eggs on a spoon race? Not me, I like a dippy egg to much to risk one getting smashed on the floor. Stage a good old fashioned egg and spoon race, but instead of real eggs, use a small LEGO brick instead.

    Find more play inspiration on our Wicken Toys blog.

    And if you haven't seen the LEGO Movie yet, get to it - the adults will enjoy it more than the children.

  • Fun With Formula One Inspired Games

    The launch of the 2014 Formula One season is upon us, and it's a good excuse as any to blog about F1 inspired games.

    Make Your Own F1 Car Probably you should also involve the children, as they will get bored just watching you make it all on your own. Grab any cardboard, plastic, newspapers and other junk you have lying around, and spend a sunny afternoon creating your own racing car. It doesn't need to actually move, just the shell will provide the inspiration your children need for play.

    Red Light, Green Light This is a great game to play with younger children to teach them to pay attention and follow instructions (well you can try and teach them that). Make up a paddle board, with one side painted green and the other painted red. The idea of the game is they need to run around until you say 'stop', and show the red side, then they must stay still until you say 'go' and show the green side. When they can do this comfortably, make the game more complicated by giving them another task to concentrate on. For example, during the 'go' phase they could be moving blocks from one side of the garden to the other, or transporting water. Because they are focusing on the task at hand, it is harder for them to tune into your instructions. This level of multi tasking is exactly what will be required of them in a classroom, so it's good to practice it at home.

    Draw A Race Track Use chalk to draw out a race track on a quiet footpath or around your patio, to race around on scooters or go karts. Add tight turns, and extra challenges such as a pick up and drop off point.

    Pit Crew Set up a garage area and bring bikes or go karts in for the once over. Teach your child how to check the toy over for maintenance and repair issues, then encourage them to give it a good wash down with damp clean cloth. Talk about the safety importance of checking the bike over and what they should do if they suspect there is a problem.

    Time Trials If you don't want to risk igniting the flames of fierce sibling rivalry, you could run time trials against different modes of transport. Ask you children to make predictions about which will be quicker: running, the scooter, or their bike. Then time laps on each one to see if they were right.

    Practice Pit Stops This is a great game for teaching safe bike / scooter use, and an appreciation of how long it can take to stop when travelling at speed. Using chalk, mark out a pit box. The aim of the game is to get from the start line to the pit box as quickly as possible, but the bike / scooter must stop cleanly in the box. Your children might be surprised to find how hard it is to stop when travelling at speed.

    As the Spring approaches, stay tuned to the Wicken blog for more play ideas.

  • Garden For Footballers

    If you have a budding footballer int he family, convert your back garden into the stadium of their dreams with these play ideas.

    Equipment Ideas A set of goals would be the obvious choice for a football fan, or one will suffice if you have a small garden. Although positioning them against the fence might seem like the logical thing to do, your child won't hit the target every time and the incessant banging against the fence will likely drive your neighbours to distraction. You can avoid too much noise by either stringing a very taught net across the fence to bounce the balls back, or placing the goal in front of the back of your house, so the noise only troubles you and your family.

    TP

    If your child doesn't have anyone to go in goal, or prefers to play solo, look for a goal like TP Super Goal with Trainer, that comes with a target sheet to put across the goal mouth.

    If space is limited, you can get a football equivalent of swingball, which is essentially a football on a string, tied to a post in the garden. There are also training balls that are tied to a wrist strap, which are ideal for a round of keepy-uppy as the ball won't be able to stray too far away.

    Play Inspiration Besides a regular match of football, there are plenty of ways to practice the skills a budding young footballer needs.

    To hone dribbling ability, set up a small football assault course, and time how long each lap takes. Take a photo of the course so you can recreate it another day and try to beat the personal best.

    During a match a player needs to rely on their ears as much as their eyes. Develop listening skills by playing a passing game blindfolded. Before the game starts, pick one animal noise that indicates it's time to pass the ball. The blindfolded player remains in the centre of the lawn. They can turn on the spot but should not walk or run as they may trip and hurt themselves. The other players, who are not blindfolded, can walk around the centre player, quietly making different animal noises. The centre player must listen carefully to identify the correct animal noise, which means they need to pass the ball, and work out which direction the sound came from so they can successfully complete the pass.

    Re-purposing Stuff You Already Have Passing a ball successfully requires good directional skills, but also judgement about how hard to kick it. Practice judging the force required by kicking a ball up the slide with the aim of it coming to a rest right at the top and staying there.

    Practice chipping a ball by labeling the rungs on the climbing frame ladder with scores, and chipping the ball between the rungs. If you set a target score, or get your child to add up their own points, you can combine football practice with some maths questions.

    For more play ideas and garden inspiration, check out the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Choosing Your First Balance Bike

    Many parents opt to introduce their child to a balance bike instead of a normal bicycle with stabilizers. A balance bike, as the name suggests, encourages the rider to concentrate on developing their balance, before they learn how to turn a pedal.

    A balance bike looks a lot like a normal bike, but has no pedals or chain to drive the bike forward. In fact it's possible to make your own balance bike simply by removing the pedals, chain and mechanism from a normal bike.

    However, purpose built balance bikes are usually lighter and better proportioned, and are a worthwhile investment for training younger riders to balance on two wheels.

    Size Just as with a regular bike, getting the size right should be your number on #e priority. Your child should be able to get at least one, if not both feet flat on the floor while seated on the bike. Buying a bike they can grow into will typically lead to disappointment, as your child will be enthusiastic to get riding right away.

    Material Balance bikes come in a variety of designs and prices. Plastic bikes are usually the cheaper, and lightest, but least durable, whereas fiberglass is also lightweight, but will last much longer. Wooden bikes are popular as they are attractive. Larger balance bikes for older or taller children tend to be metal. Both wood and metal degrade if left outside in the rain.

    Number Of Wheels Some balance bikes are convertible from trikes. Starting out on a trike helps the child learn about propelling themselves forward. Then once a decent amount of speed is achieved, the two rear wheels are pushed into the centre, to create a two wheel balance bike.

    Steering Younger children may benefit from a locked front wheel. The wheel spins at the same rate as the back wheel, but the handlebars don't turn to change direction. This is useful for younger children for a number of reasons. First, holding handlebars straight on regular boles, requires a lot of upper body strength and concentration. Taking this out of the equation lets younger kids concentrate on just balancing the bike upright.

    Value For Money Depending on the age of your child when they receive the balance bike, they may not be using it for long before they are ready to progress to a regular cycle with pedals. Investing in a durable balance bike, will enable you to pass it along to a younger child, or sell it on, once the bike has been outgrown. All of our balance bikes come with a three year warranty.

    Brakes Some balance bikes come with brakes, others don't. There are two ways of thinking about this. Perhaps you don't want your child to get used to stopping their bike with the tips of their shoes, and want them to learn how to use the brakes from day one. On the other hand, maybe you know you're child will use stop by putting their foot down, so would rather wait and introduce them to brakes when they are old enough for a normal bike.

    Once you're balance bike arrives, check out our earlier blog post on how to ride a balance bike.

  • Ideas For Storing Outdoor Toys Within Easy Reach

    Where are your garden toys right now? Crammed into a garage or a garden shed to protect them from the bad weather. Good for you. Keeping them dry and protected over the Winter will help extend their useful life and keep them looking presentable.

    But in a few weeks' time, that strategy is going to fall apart. On the first sunny day of Spring your little one will ask for a bike, or scooter, or go-kart to be wrestled out of its storage space so they can spend a few hours playing with it. And at the end of the day, you will diligently return it to its protected storage area. This will work fine until the good weather really kicks in and your children want all of their toys out all of the time.

    Then you've got a choice to make. Do you keep returning all the toys to the shed at the end of the day, creating even more work for yourself, or do you risk leaving the toys out overnight?

    So before we get to that point, now is the right time to begin planning some child-friendly garden storage.

    Here are a few ideas to keep toys tucked away from rain and wind, but still within easy reach of the little people that want to play with them.

    Climbing Frame Car Port If you have a climbing frame with a large platform, it will make an excellent shelter. Encourage children to park their bikes and scooters underneath every night to protect them from the worst of the rain.

    Sandbox Tidy Pockets Wall mountable moon-shaped flower baskets make great tidy pockets for sand toys when mounted on the outside of sandboxes.

    Ball Pots Jumbo flower pots are ideal for storing balls, as the drainage holes in the bottom lets any rainwater flow out. You can paint them yourself or buy glazed pots that match the colour scheme of your garden.

    Re-purposed Recycling Units Stackable recycling boxes, with tilted front openings are designed to be accessible even while stacked one on top of the other. This makes them ideal for storing small outdoor toys in, especially as they are also weatherproof. There are also weather proof, enclosed shelving units designed to store garden tools or recycling bins, which make great toy storage units.

    Flexible Plastic Trugs These flexible buckets are designed for use by the building trade, so they can certainly withstand anything your children have to throw at them. They are available in a wide range of colours, so you can sort toys into categories, and ask your children to dump their toys in the right coloured bucket. The buckets will fill with water if left outside in the rain, so ideally they need to be moved to a place of shelter, but since they are lightweight and flexible, this shouldn't bee too difficult.

    Organizing your garden toys into a system that is accessible to your children will make tidy up time quicker, and help them gain independence over toy selection and retrieval. When they have the freedom to get out whatever toys they want without bothering you first, you might be surprised by the games they come up with.

    For more outdoor play ideas, visit the blog.

  • February Gardening Planting Ideas

    If one of your New Year's Resolutions was to give your garden a bit more TLC, then getting your children involved will be a step in the right direction.

    Sure your garden is a valuable play space, but if you want it to be more than a playground, your children will need to be a part of planting and caring for the flowers or vegetables you want to grow.

    Here are some gardening ideas for February that all the family can contribute to:

    1. Make A Note For The First Signs Of Life Every year when you get a new calendar, you mark out important anniversaries and birthdays. For children these dates help them mark time throughout the year, but can seem a long time apart, and are a little abstract to understand. Use your garden to fill the calender with dates of events for which they will have first hand experience. If it snows, write down when and how much. In February you can also look for the first signs of snowdrops breaking through the soil.

    2. Sow Hardy Vegetables Broad beans, spinach, shallots and early carrots can all be sown outside at this time of year, with some protection against late frosts. Children can help sow seeds, erect protective coverings, and create labels so they don't get forgotten about.

    3. Weeding And Clearing As the weather warms up, any weeds will burst into life, so now is a good time to evict them, long before they take over. Use this opportunity to explain to your children why some plants aren't good for the garden, but that they must only remove plants with your supervision.

    4. Feed The Birds If you aren't doing it already, put some food out for the birds, who will be short on reserves as we reach the end of Winter. Children can make a simple feeder by rolling an empty cardboard tube in peanut butter, then covering with bird seed. Once you start feeding birds in your garden, you need to continue to do so regularly, as they will become reliant on you for food. Take care to hang the feeder away from play equipment to avoid it getting covered in mess.

    5. Check Play Equipment Is Safe To Play On If you haven't done so already, carry out a thorough inspection of your outdoor play equipment. The worst of the winter weather should be over by now, during which your play equipment has ensured high speed gusts and low temperatures. Follow this guide for inspecting play equipment to check it's in a safe condition to be played on.

    6. Clear Debris With the worst of the storms behind us, now is a good time to clear away the sticks and leaves littering the garden. Use the larger sticks stacked in a corner of the garden to create a bug hotel. Some leaves can be incorporated into your new bug home and the rest can be used in a compost heap.

    Tempting though it may be to tackle these jobs alone, in the long run it is better to get the children involved in the garden Learning how to take care of their outdoor play spaces will help them respect the garden, and equip them with life skills they will need in later life.

  • Mud Glorious Mud

    Back in October last year, we wrote a post about 101 things to do with leaves, because the Wicken Toys demonstration area was buried in them.

    We now the leaves are long gone, having dried into dust, been raked up, or blown away over the winter, and now we have lots, and lots, and lots of mud.

    While you may shudder at the idea of letting your children covered in mud, there are lots of good reasons to do it. Mud play offers a therapeutic sensory experience, which for many children has a calming effect. During the winter months children spend a lot of time indoors surrounded by man-made materials and away from natural light. Getting outside in the slimy mud gives children to reconnect with nature, and break away from the rigidity of indoor rules. Playing with mud will help develop creativity as they come up with their own games to play, and helps with the development of both fine and gross motor skills.

    If you have concerns over the safety or hygiene of the mud in your garden, you can make your own mud pit using an old splash pool, some soil from the garden centre and water.

    Once your children have discovered the joys of mud, they most likely will prefer to play freestyle, but here are a few activity ideas to help get them started.

    1. Mud Sliding The best thing about mud is how slippery it is. Create a mud track for skating across, or performing knee slides. If you don't mind your children getting completely covered in mud, let them pile it over the slide for a messy mud slip and slide ride.

    2. Mud Castles Buckets and spades aren't just for the seaside. Create mud kingdoms, with moats and decorate with grass, sticks and stones found in the garden.

    3. Mud Bricks These will only work if the mud isn't too wet. You can make mud bricks using old margarine tubs, ice cream tubs, or the boxes that laundry capsules come in. Use the bricks to build bridges, tunnels, forts, whatever you can think of.

    4. Mud Kitchen Some old plastic pots and wooden spoons are all that's required to set up your very own mud kitchen. Challenge your children to recreate your favourite dishes using whatever they can find in the garden. But be very clear that this food is strictly for playing with only, no eating allowed.

    5. Mud Painting Add some water to make the mud runny, then use artist brushes, or decorating paintbrushes to create beautiful artwork on the fence or patio or even brickwork. 6. Mud Treasure Hunt Use decorative glass nuggets as diamonds, and bury the treasure in the mud patch (when your children are busy doing something else), then send them on a treasure hunt.

    7. Insect Hunt Very gently sift through the mud and keep a log of the number and type of creepy-crawlies discovered.

    8. Free Play Simply take a step back and see where their imagination takes them. Playing with mud in this way feels liberating as it is against many conventional rules.

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

  • Valentines Games

    When it's cold and miserable outside, we all need a little inspiration and motivation to get up and get moving. Valentine's Day isn't just for adults, it's a fantastic excuse to enjoy some games together and expend some energy.

    Spread the love in your family with these Valentine's inspired games for inside and outdoors (weather-permitting).

    1. Heart Hopscotch Use pink chalk to mark out hearts on the patio, or cut heart shapes from paper or fabric to scatter across the lawn. The hearts need to be approximately six inches across, and scattered like stepping stones. Just like hopscotch, throw a small stone to block out a heart, then hop, skip and jump across the remaining hearts to the end of the course, and back again, retrieving the stone as you go. This game is great for gross motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination and bilateral co-ordination.

    2. Get Their Hearts Pounding Valentine's Day is a great opportunity to talk about the role our heart plays in our body. Get everyone moving with a running race or some skipping for just a few minutes, then ask them all to place a hand over their heart and notice how hard and fast their heart is pumping. Explain how hard that muscle is working to pump blood, and therefore oxygen, around their body. Then ask the children to sit for a minute and notice how their heart slows down again.

    3. Cupid's Arrow Make an arrow by adding a pointy cone to an empty kitchen paper tube, and attaching some tissue paper streamers to the back. Then make a large heart target, with a smaller heart cut out of the centre, and attach it to the climbing frame or swing frame. The aim of the game is to launch the arrow through the heart.

    4. You Won My Heart This game works their mind and muscles all at the same time. You'll need a small beanbag, ball or even teddy, ideally something that looks like a heart. Group all the players into a circle. The first person throws the beanbag to someone and tells them why they've won their heart. For example: "You won my heart when you fed the cat yesterday" or "you won my heart when you were kind to your brother earlier". There's no defined end to this game, just try to make sure everyone gets a turn and hears something to make them feel good about themselves.

    5. Heart Stamping Not a game, but a fun love-inspired craft activity. If you take an empty toilet roll, or kitchen paper tube, and pinch it so that the bottom of the circle pushes out, and the top of the circle bends in, you will create a heart-shape to use as a stamp. For outdoor play, mix up some washable sidewalk chalk and stamp hearts all over the fence, patio or brickwork.

    6. Love Struck For this game you will need some chalk, and at least one foam-dart firing gun. Use the chalk to mark out on a wall or fence, a large heart, with smaller hearts inside. Mark each heart with a points value, then take turns to shoot at them.

    By now you should have enough inspiration to make up your own games, which can be called Valentine's themed so long as they involve a heart in some shape or form.

  • How To Make Your Own Play Catalogue

    Do you have a climbing frame standing unloved in your garden? Or a swing set roundly ignored by the children?

    Don't fret. You're investment hasn't been wasted. There are still hours of fun to be had from this play equipment, but your children need a little help reengaging with it.

    Your children have become accustomed to seeing this play equipment everyday in their garden and as a result they don't really see it.

    This happens to adults too. Perhaps you bought a cupcake maker, and when you first got it you enjoyed making batches and batches of cupcakes and decorating them in elaborate styles. And then one day, you put the cupcake makers away and forgot all about it. Even though you see it every time you open the kitchen cupboard you don't think to get it out and use it. And then something, a memory, a photograph, or a comment from a loved one, jogs your memory, and you remember how much you enjoyed using that cupcake maker, and you start using it all over again.

    Or chess. Do you like playing chess? But why has it been so long since you last played it? You sort of just forgot how much you enjoyed it didn't you?

    Are there times you have taken a neglected toy, that has been untouched for months, and hidden it away. Then the next time your child sees it, they are more eager than ever to play with it (this is usually right about the time you are trying to through it away).

    Sometimes obvious things get forgotten about, until they are put away and then rediscovered.

    This is why toy rotation systems work so well, as periodically toys are hidden from sight, and then rediscovered when it's their turn to be out.

    However, with big outdoor play equipment, it's not possible to hide it away for a while.

    Instead, you can inspire play ideas with your own catalogue of garden activities.

    Make a list of all the things your child has enjoyed doing in the garden, ideas you have seen that you would like to try out, like the soldier training ground acitivies, and toys and play equipment they enjoy using.

    Now photograph the equipment, or the game in progress, and use the images to create your own play catalogues, which you can use to inspire play ideas with your children. Before it's time to play outside, sit down together and flick through the photos to help you decide the games you want to play.

    You can use a simple ring binder to keep the images together. Storing the pictures in this way will help you adapt the catalogue to suit the situation. For example, if you want your child to play independently in the garden, show them only a selection of games and activities that are suitable to play without adult help. Or if the weather is cold, take out the images of unsuitable activities like water play.

    As your children grow out of the activities, or no longer need the system to inspire their play, you can keep the photographs as a reminder of the games they enjoyed when they were little.

  • Winter Olympics Inspired Play Ideas

    With the Opening Ceremony just days away, you can get your children into the Olympic-mood with these Winter Olympic-inspired activities.

    1. Edible Olympic Torch These snacks are easy to make and look really effective. You will need waffle cones, some ice cream, and some red, or orange coloured sugar. If you can't find the right colour ice cream decorations, you could add a drop of red food colouring to regular hundreds and thousands and give them a good stir. To make the torches all you need to do it pile ice cream into the waffle cone, then roll it in the coloured sugar.

    2. Ice Skating Action Figures If the weather outside is more wet and windy than icy and snowy, you'll need to make your own ice skating rink. Fill a plastic tea tray or baking tray with approximately two inches of water and leave in the freezer over night. The next day your children can use their action figures and dolls to put on their own ice skating tournament.

    3. Slide Bob Skeleton Each child (or adult) gathers together their own team of bobsleigh riders from their soft toy or doll collection. Record how long it takes each toy to reach the bottom of the slide. This game has plenty of learning opportunities built in. Firstly the children can make predictions about which toy will go fastest and why. Then there are maths skills in ordering the places from fastest to slowest, and working out the average speed traveled, by dividing the toy's time by the length in metres of the slide.

    4. Snowball Shot Put We're combining the Winter and Summer Olympics for this one. Use a big sheet of cardboard to draw out a target, and thrown snowballs to see who can score the highest with three shots. If snow is in short supply, marshmallows make a good substitute.

    5. Ski Jump/strong> This is another one for the toys, as it's really not a good idea to try ski jumping in your own back garden. Use cardboard and junk plastic to model a ramp for the end of your garden slide. Then use balls or toy cars, or anything else that will roll down the slide, and see which can jump the furthest.

    6. Cross Country Skiing This is an indoor activity, and you will need a goo long stretch of short pile carpet. Make a set of skis from a strip of cardboard. Your children can either go barefoot to help them grip onto the skis, or use a piece of string or ribbon to tie the skis on. They then need to shuffle forwards as fast as they can.

    7. Curling Use lawn bowls or a petanque set to play a game of curling. If there's snow on the ground the children could clear a path to the jack, or if the grass has grown long over the winter months, they can trample down the route that ball is travelling.

    When the weather is cold and glum, playing outside can be pretty unappealing. For more winter outdoor activity ideas check out the Wicken Toys blog.

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