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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.

  • Pancake Day Inspired Play Ideas

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

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

    Pancake Pairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Gardening Chores For February - Fun But Productive

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

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

    1 - Get Muddy

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

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

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

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

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

  • Anyone For Tennis?

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

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

    Learning To Rally Over A Net

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

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

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

    Keeping In The Lines

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

    Swingball

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

    See

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

    Just Play With The Balls

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

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

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

  • 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 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.

  • 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!

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Seven And Eight Year Olds

    They’re bigger, stronger, filled with energy, and yet suddenly they seem a whole lot more interested in TV and video games than in running around outside with their friends.

    But with our help you can still lure your seven or eight year old back out into the garden.

    Climbing Frame

    Don’t have a climbing frame yet. still not sure. Procrastinate any longer and you will lose valuable play opportunities. Every day you spend thinking about it is another day your child could have been climbing it.

    Look for a climbing frame that offers challenging climb and scope to be played with in a variety of ways. For example the Plum Pyramid features a rock wall, climbing net and a camouflage den, making it a more attractive plaything for older children.

    Goal, Net, Hoop, Any Kind Of Target

    By this age children have grown in confidence when it comes to ball skills and will be playing games like football and netball in school. Installing a goal, net, basket or hoop at home provides the opportunity to practise shooting skills either with friends or even with mum or dad. There aren't many outdoor games parents will enjoy playing, not least because they would break the equipment (have you ever seen a grown man snap a swing in two? It’s not a pretty sight). But a ball and something to aim at is all that’s needed to pass a pleasant afternoon.

    All

    Swings

    By this age a child should be willing and able to swing themselves. You will still need to supervise from a safe distance. For tips on teaching your child how to swing solo check this blog post from the archives: Teaching your child how to pump the swing. Make sure you position your swing away from any structures that your child could hit while swinging back and forth, and out of the line of play. For example if your children usually run a certain way from the bottom of the slide to the back of the climbing frame, keep the swing clear of this route so they don’t run right into the feet of someone on the swing.

    Plum Gibbon Swing set

    Plum

    Messy Play

    You may imagine a water play table to be suitable for younger children, but older kids will get good use from it too. Children this age love to explore nature, collecting bugs and leaves. Use a water table to create a home from home habitat for their new best friends, before repatriating them back to their original hiding place at the end of the day.

    For more ideas on matching your outdoor play equipment to your child’s age and stage of development, check out the rest of January’s blog series.

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Five And Six Year Olds: What School Aged Child Wants In Their Garden

    This is the third post in January’s series about which outdoors toys are best suited for each age and stage.

    In this post we’re looking at the play equipment 5 and 6 year olds will enjoy playing on.

    A Mention For Milestones

    Around this age children are able to climb and use a slide comfortably, keen to play together and some may be able to use a swing without an adult’s help.

    Choosing the right toys for this age is a careful balancing act. The play equipment needs to be enjoyable to play with, yet at the same time offer scope for learning and an appropriate level of challenge.

    Invest In A Climbing Frame

    This is a great age to invest in a climbing frame. Choose a high quality wooden climbing frame and you will get many years of use from it, and hundreds of hours of play.

    Look for a frame that offers opportunities to swap accessories in and out. These small, inexpensive changes will help keep your child interested in the climbing frame, and enable you to update the features to match your child's developmental ability.

    For example, for a five year old you might start out with a frame that as a simple step ladder. as your child gets older this will become easier and easier for them to use. By about the age of seven, you could swap the ladder for metal rungs or a rock wall. Then a year or two later update it again with a climbing net. If you have a climbing frame in mind and want to discuss the accessory option, please contact us and we can talk you through what’s available.

    Funtime

    Some climbing frames with swing arms also allow you to swap the swings out for other hanging toys like a trapeze or rings. This is great for updating the climbing frame as your child gets older, but also enables you to adapt the frame if you have children of wide variety of ages.

    Being Sociable

    As previously mentioned, at this age children become more interested in playing together and enjoying each other's company.

    Some climbing frames can have gliders or boats attached to them so that two children can swing together. The benefit of these types of swing is that parents have the opportunity to listen in on conversation the children are having while they gently push the glider, which will no doubt include some priceless gems.

    As their hand-to-eye coordination develops they may also enjoy a swingball set. Gently batting a ball back and forth provides the opportunity to play with a friend or a parent and enjoy a conversation at the same time, something that five and six years olds are very keen on.

    Although they may need to duck to get through the door, at this age many children still enjoy playing in a playhouse. You can update the look as your child gets older to keep them interested. For example, the playhouse may start out as a cosy miniature home but with the addition of some camouflage netting, green paint and Nerf guns it can become an army barracks for older children.

    All

    For more outdoor toy ideas check out the rest of January's series on matching play equipment to your child's age.

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Preschoolers: What Three and Four Year Olds Want To Play With

    This post is part of January’s series of guides on which outdoor toys are suitable for each age range.

    The first post in the series looked at toddlers. Now it’s time to turn our attention to a more feisty bunch - preschoolers.

    A Word About Developmental Milestones For 3 And 4 Year Olds

    All children develop at different rates, but as a general rule between the ages of three and four most children reach the developmental milestones described below. Understanding what your child is currently capable of and what they will be learning next is a great start on your quest to find outdoor toys that are both engaging and challenging.

    Milestone: Playing Ball Games

    Around this age children learn to catch and throw a ball. Start out with a big but relatively light ball (a football will likely knock them clean over). Keep a stock of different sized balls in the garden as learning to cope with the variety will help develop their ball skills.

    Milestone: Make And Recreate Shapes

    All you need to facilitate this huge learning leap is chalk and a willingness to watch your back garden and patio be covered in scribble. Another fun way to incorporate mark-making into play is by providing a paintbrush and water on a sunny day and have your preschooler make shapes on the fence then watch as it dries out and disappears like magic.

    Milestone: Follow Three Part Commands

    Ideally a four year old would be able to remember three steps and carry them out without prompting. This will be an essential skill once they have started school as instructions from the teach may come in multiple stages and they will be expected to work independently.

    You can help your child develop this skill through play. Start with two commands (go down the slide then hop on one foot, for example) then add another, and another. You could turn it into a game by timing them, or seeing how many instructions they can string together, or what commands they remember from one day to the next.

    3 And 4 Year Olds Love Role Play

    This is the age when the world of fantasy really comes alive for children. They want to be just like mum and dad, and they will play with anything that gives them the opportunity to act out these roles. Play kitchens, ironing boards, ride in cars, anything that replicates the adult world in preschooler size will be a big hit.

    This is a great age to buy a playhouse. To your little preschooler this small addition your garden will be a perfectly proportioned portal to a whole world of imaginative play.

    Plum

    For added interest, we sell playhouses mounted on stilts that have a slide to play on and a challenging ladder to climb.

    The rest of this series on choosing the right outdoor toys for your child's age will be published throughout January.

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