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Wicken Toys Blog

  • Best Outdoor Toys For Toddlers: What One and Two Year Olds Want To Play With

    Welcome to the first installment of our series on matching outdoor toys to children’s ages.

    January is a good time to start planning how you would like to use your garden when the weather improves later in the year.

    When you have children, it’s important that the play equipment you make available to them is a good match for their developmental ability. With that in mind this month we will be focusing on the outdoor toys most appropriate for a variety of age ranges:

    - 1 & 2 year olds - 3 & 4 year olds - 5 & 6 year olds - 7 & 8 year olds - 9 & 10 year olds - 11 & 12 year olds - 13 years +

    And to round off the month, we will finish with a blog post that focuses on toys and equipment that can help siblings with a large age gap play together.

    This post is all about catering for the needs of an adventurous toddler.

    A Word About Age Ranges

    No matter what age your child, you should be guided by the recommended age range, but more heavily rely on your own judgement about what is developmentally appropriate. All children differ in abilities. If you took two children who were exactly the same age what they enjoyed to do, found easy, struggled with, or could master with practice would differ greatly.

    When choosing outdoor toys you need to strike a balance between offering a little challenge to keep them engaged but not too much so as to cause frustration. Children this age grow and develop quickly, so what was a fun toy one month may be quickly outgrown the next. For this reason it is probably best to hold off buying expensive toys until their development has levelled out a little.

    Toddler Swings

    Many toddlers enjoy being swung back and forth, but are not yet steady enough to sit unaided on a regular swing seat. We sell a range of supportive seats and harnesses that can be used to adapt a children’s swing frame for toddlers.

    Tp

    Climb And Slide

    A climb and slide is an American term for plastic play equipment that incorporates a small, shallow slide with a gentle inclined climbing ramp. These are a great first introduction to slides and climbing frames. Even better, depending on the size of your living room, these can be easily moved indoors on wet days.

    Sand And Water Play

    Toddlers love to play with sand and water as it provides a rich sensory experience for them. When it comes to containers you have two options: a shallow splasher pool on the floor or a raised play table.

    Tables are only suitable for toddlers aged 2 years and up who can stand unaided and reliably. Gripping onto the side of the table for balance may cause it to tip, so it’s really important your child is a confident walker.

    If your child is a little unsteady on their feet, or likely to attempt to mount the table and get in the sand / water, a shallow splash pool on the ground will probably serve you better.

    If your child is an older two year old, big for their age, or a confident climber, take a look at the next installment in this series of posts matching toys to ages.

  • Why Your Garden Needs New Year Resolutions Too

    It’s that time of year when we reflect back on the past 12 months, some of us happy to wave it off, others misty eyed with happy memories. Then it’s time to look forward to the year to come. When making grand plans about what you would like to achieve in 2015, how you are going to be happier, healthier, and fitter than ever, don’t neglect your garden. This outdoor space is an integral part of your family-life and including it in your New Year’s Resolution making will put you on the right path to success.

    #1 In Your Ideal World Visualize your ideal outdoor space. What does it look like? What do you use it for? In the Summer? In the Winter? Is the play equipment out of view, or have you devoted the entire area to children? How much time would you like to spend maintaining it? Is gardening a pleasure or a chore. Now compare this ideal scenario with what you have right now. Some of the things you would like to change can be implemented easily and inexpensively. Tackle these first. Then later in 2015, repeat the visualization exercise and plan your next move. When you look at the gap from where you are now to where you would like to be, the amount of work needed can feel overwhelming. Focusing on the quick wins first makes it easier to get started.

    #2 What Frustrates You Creating your dream garden is as much about eliminating the negative as focusing on the positive. Make a list of the frustrations, time-sucks, and unpleasant chores that bother you about your garden. For each of these problems research potential solutions. Hate mowing the lawn? Get a gardener. Fed up of having an unusable boggy lawn 6 months of the year? Look into grass alternatives. Then once you have lined up your potential solutions, you need to make a commitment. Either the problem bothers you so much you are prepared to invest time and money in the corresponding solution, or you are happy to put up with it and move on.

    #3 Developmental Appropriateness You know how every day your child looks the same to you, until someone points out how much they've grown, then you suddenly notice the difference? It might be time to look at your play equipment with those fresh eyes too. Sure the slide posed a real challenge to your 5 year old, but now they are 8, perhaps they are looking for something new to attack. Take a look at the equipment you currently have and consider what needs to be adapted or replaced. Your garden should contain a mixture of toys that can be used with ease, be a springboard for their imagination, and which challenges them physically. Adding monkeybars to your climbing frame or swapping a ladder for a climbing net or rock walls are quick and easy ways to adapt existing pieces for older children.

    Take a look at our range of play equipment and accessories for inspiration on how you can create the ideal play space in 2015.

  • How To Grab Rock Solid Play Equipment At Rock Bottom Prices

    No sooner is the turkey eaten, the packaging disposed of, and the tree de-tinselled (untinselled, dis-tinselled, de-tinselfied, you know what I mean) than it’s time to start hunting out those clearance bargains.

    The week between Christmas and New Year is a time when many retailers slash prices in an attempt to shift their leftover Christmas stock.

    If you’re looking for a bargainous piece of outdoor play equipment. Not only are our products great value all year round, we also offer occasional clearance prices too.

    Here I’ll talk you through the why, when and how much when it comes to play equipment at knocked-down prices.

    Why The Clearance Prices? Are you naturally suspicious of clearance prices. You should be. When rummaging through the clothing rales, or surveying the shelves at the toy store it becomes quickly apparent why some items are sold on at massively reduced prices. They are rubbish. That’s not the case here at Wicken Toys because we only every stock toys we trust from suppliers we have long term relationships with.

    We slash prices for a different reason. End of line clearances.

    Every couple of years the equipment manufacturers like to update their models. Sometimes they discontinue models completely, other times they make small tweaks and adjustments based on retailer and customer feedback (sign of an awesome manufacturer, their willingness to respond to their customers). These changes may leave us with a few end of line unopened, still boxed-up, perfectly good items. We need to move these on quickly to make way for the newer models so we reduce the prices. Often there is very little difference between the new design and the older version, so you can buy an extremely similar product at a greatly reduced price. Take the Plum Pyramid Climbing Frame for example. Plum changed the slatted wooden ladder for metal rungs, so earlier this year we sold off a number of the wooden slat models at a much lower price than the recommended retail price.

    These still-in-the-box, new but no longer current climbing frames, slides and other toys can be found in our clearance section.

    Sometimes these model changes mean that the climbing frame we have on display in our jumbo outdoor showroom is no longer representative of the product available, so we need to move it on to a new home. These items are available in our ex-display section. Each item will contain details on how long it has been assembled for and what its current condition is like. When Is The Best Time To Buy? We don’t really have set schedule for slashing prices. We move in response to our suppliers and manufacturers. Right at the end of Winter, just before Spring, is a common time for models to be updated, in anticipation of Easter holiday sales. But we usually have clearance items available all year round.

    How Much? How much we knock off the price depends on the condition of the item, the number of similar items we have available and how quickly we need to make room. For new items you can save around 40%, while ex-display items are often priced at around 60% off.

    Come take a look around our online clearance section, or feel free to pay us a visit in Milton Keynes and try out the toys yourself.

  • Dreaming Of A White Christmas? Top Snow Play Alternatives

    There’s plenty on the blog about sledges, winter play ideas and snow-based fun, so we thought you’d be all set this December for icy activities. And then we saw the weather forecast.

    The long anticipated white stuff doesn’t look like it’s putting in an appearance anytime soon. For young children addicted to Frozen and conditioned by movies to believe it isn’t Christmas without a blizzard, this may come as a crushing disappointment.

    We can’t squeeze snow from the clouds, but we can help you cushion the blow with these top ideas for faking that wintery wonderland feeling.

    #1 Marshmallow Snowballs

    Marshmallows make a great snowball substitute. You can keep it simple by giving each player a small bag of fluffy marshmallows and letting them go all out. Or for older children (and adults, who will definitely want to be in on this game) set up a dodgeball-style game, where anyone hit with a marshmallow or has their throw caught, switches to the other team. Regardless of how you play, set a rule about not aiming above the shoulders. These are soft and fairly painless, but anything hitting you in the eye hurts so is best avoided.

    #2 Or Paper Snowballs This is a top game to play on Christmas afternoon. Take all that leftover, ripped, screwed up wrapping paper and put it to good use. Assign each player a stack of paper and allocate a set amount of time (5 or 10 minutes for them to create their own paper snowballs). Then let the mayhem begin.

    #3 Make A Snow Scene This is best done in a large tub, old splash pool or a water play table. Use some cheap bars of soap and grate to create realistic snow. Add dolls and action figures, those around 5 inches tall work best, to create a snow scene. Then your children can play in the snow on a small scale. #4 Fake Snow Sensory Bin This one also calls for a tub or similar container. Mix 3 cups of bicarbonate soda (you can buy it by the sack load online, much cheaper than buying from the baking aisle), with ½ cup of cheap hair conditioner to create fluffy, squishable, moldable snow. Add arctic creatures, and glass pebbles or marbles that have been cooled in the fridge to create a multi-sensory experience.

    #5 Sledge On The Beach Thanks to the long and slender nature of our island, a good number of our readers are positioned near to the coast. If your children are desperate for a sledge ride, and you have good upper body strength, head to the beach. You should be able to pull a sledge along the sand provided it is dry and not too stony. To really tire them out, get your children to team up and pull you along.

    For more fun and festive blog posts, go to the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Creative Ways To Make It Look Like Santa’s Been In Your Garden

    In an ideal world, the Night Before Christmas, we’d receive a heavy sprinkling of snow, thus providing the perfect canvas upon which you could create plausible Santa footprints.

    But we all know that’s not going to happen.

    A genius idea I have seen on Pinterest shows snowy white footprints inside the house. Carpet powder (you do the shake n vac, to get the freshness back…) or talc is dusted around a wellington boot, giving the impression snow has sprinkled from Santa’s footwear and onto the floor.

    It looks magical.

    But alas is deeply flawed.

    If there’s no snow outside, how did Santa manage to bring snow inside.

    If he picked up the snow on his boots at the North Pole, why didn’t the heat from his feet cause it to melt.

    If the snow was sprinkled on the carpet by Santa visiting at midnight, why hasn’t it melted 6-7 hours later when the central heating has been on all night.

    So as festive as the sprinkled talc may look, it’s not fooling anyone over the age of 3. Worse still it’s likely to generate a whole load of questions you are just not ready to handle yet.

    In a bid to bring the presence of Father Christmas to our back garden, I have been on a research mission.

    Here are the top three clues to search for in your back garden, that prove Father Christmas has paid you a visit.

    #1 Mud. Lots Of It The ground is wet. Reindeer, a sleigh and a portly gentleman in wellie boots is sure to leave some lawn damage. For an authentic Santa landing use an unloved mug, turned upside down, to make hoof dents in the lawn. Then turn it the right way up and drag two lines about 5 feet apart, running backwards from the hoof prints to show where the sleigh landed. A nice scraping of mud on the back door mat will prove Santa was courteous enough to wipe his feet before coming in.

    #2 White Fur Trim Father Christmas is a jolly fellow, who likes to play as much as any child. If you have a climbing frame or swing in your back garden, chances are he had a little frolic on it before re-boarding the sleigh. A little white fluffy material caught at the top of the slide, or on the swing chains will be just the evidence you need to show your children.

    #3 Carrot So you put a carrot on the kitchen table, next to the mince pie and glass of milk. In the morning, there’s just the top left, proving beyond reasonable doubt that Rudolph has enjoyed a delicious snack. Wrong! Firstly, the reindeer are not coming in your house to eat. The carrot must go out to them. So why would Santa come back in the house, to put the leftovers (by now covered in reindeer dribble) on your lovely clean plate. Secondly, have you ever seen how messy it is when a reindeer eats a carrot? Make up some reindeer dribble with a little cornflour mixed with water, then add a sprinkling of carrot, and splosh onto your patio to recreate a realistic reindeer dining experience.

    For more fun, festive and frolicking ideas, check out the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

  • How To Give A Climbing Frame As A Gift This Christmas....

    …...because you know you can’t just wrap it up right?

    The Ideal Christmas Gift for Grown Ups

    A climbing frame makes a wonderful Christmas present.

    For starters you don’t actually have to bring it inside your house ever. This means that when all your friends are bravely attempting to exile old, damaged toys to make room for the new consignment of plastic arriving on Christmas Day, you can kick back, relax, sip some mulled wine, safe in the knowledge that the biggest Christmas gift received this year, will not be obscuring your carpet or invading your living room.

    Secondly, your school holidays have just become a whole lot easier. No more frantically planning play dates, trips to the park, or expensive excursions. Just open the back door and fling the children outside. This climbing frame will keep them occupied for hours. And they’ll be active, and using their imagination, so you can feel a little bit smug that they are spending their time doing something wholesome.

    So now you’re fully convinced to buy one, head over to see our range of metal and wooden climbing frames, buy one, then come right back to find out how you go about giving this jumbo gift.

    Flat Packed Or Fully Assembled The first decision you need to make is whether you are giving this gift in its raw, flat packed form, or unveiling it in the garden in its fully assembled state.

    Take it from someone who has spent Christmas Eve assembling a climbing frame, leaving it in the box is the easiest option. It is also far easier to invent a plausible story about how Santa managed to transport it to your house (more on that later).

    But the chances are a cardboard box with a photo of a climbing frame on it does not deliver quite the same ‘wow factor’ as a garden full of play equipment ready to be enjoyed.

    The Art Of Disguise While it’s in the box, the climbing frame can be stowed away in your garage. But if you decide to assemble it, it’s going to be much harder to hide. Waiting until the children have gone to bed on Christmas Eve is a no-no. Erecting a climbing frame in the dark is no fun at all. Ideally you should ask a friend or family member to take your children out for the afternoon, put the frame together in their absence, then when the kids return, whisk them straight upstairs to bed. Direct any Santa searches and scattering of reindeer food outside the front of the house. Repeat over and over that Santa lands out the front - that way it’s easier for him to reach the neighbours. This should discourage any peeking into the back garden.

    A Plausible Story Finally, you need to agree a plausible story about how the climbing frame made it to your garden, then attach ribbons, wrapping or transport hooks as appropriate.

    Your backstory will depend on the location of your property, difficulty gaining access, and whether you’ve put the climbing frame together or not.

    Options include: Santa has a harness that swings under the sleigh - he attached the climbing frame, then gently lowered it into the garden. A separate North Pole elf-staffed delivery service handle the transportation of large goods. Santa oversees their installation while he is delivering the smaller parcels. Santa delivered the box, then a small army of elves arrived and worked all night to put the climbing frame together.

    Whichever story you go with, make sure all significant adults are in on the plan, and deliver it with absolute authority.

    For more Christmas related posts, follow the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Keep Off The Grass - What's Left Of It Anyway

    So how’s your lawn looking? The grass here is starting to look a little shabby, so I’ve been looking in to what I can do to restore it to its former glory, but also considering some permanent less muddy alternatives.

    Where’s The Grass Gone? So here’s what’s happened (well here at least anyway). It’s rained. A lot. Not torrential downpours, but a good regular sprinkling, often for a few weeks. So why has that ruined the lawn? Don’t we look at a grey day and muster the positivity to say ‘ah well, it’s good for the garden’? Well it’s not. Because the moisture has been readily available in the soil, the grass roots are shallow. They’ve had no need to reach down deep into the soil. So the grass isn’t very strong.

    Ideally in its fragile state it would be left to recover. No one would walk on it. And certainly no trucks would clip the edges of it. I think we both know that the grass here has not enjoyed that luxury. So after a little rough handling, many of the blades have abandoned ship, and what we’re left with is some muddy gloop (which at least I don’t need to mow).

    How To Fix It There’s good news. There is hope for a revival.

    And bad news. It’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

    As the cold weather sets in there will be frosts and maybe snow (Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!!!!). And then you / the children / the postman will stroll across, enjoying the satisfying crunch underfoot, totally oblivious to the fact that the fragile little grass blades are being decimated underneath.

    Then as the snow / frost melts, more water seeps into the soil.

    If your garden is lawn is looking as sorry a mine, it will seem unbelievable that it could get even more brown.

    So stay off the grass as much as possible. Even if that means having a polite word with the postman.

    Once the weather improves and spring is on the horizon, give the lawn a helping hand with some additional seed and plenty of fertilizer.

    Or Get Rid Of It For many families, simply staying off the grass is not an option. If you’ve invested in a climbing frame or other play equipment, you want your children to be able to play with it, even if it is at the expense of the grass. Even if half the lawn turns to mush, then gets tracked through the house.

    Artificial grass has improved massively in appearance in recent years, and is designed to withstand sporting activities and the British weather.

    Alternatively, if you’d rather avoid the faux appearance and commit to a non-grass-like appearance, there are a range of colourful rubberized play surfaces that can be laid instead.

    The most affordable way to make a big difference, is to install play surfaces in the areas around play equipment where the grass is currently taking the worst of the traffic. Then look after the lawn in the rest of the garden to keep the space looking green and natural.

  • Top Gardening Jobs To Do In December

    The festive season is usually all about fun and frolicking, but I thought I’d buck the trend by throwing in a quick post all about toil. Yep, this article is about hard work. It may be December and mighty chilly outside, but your back garden still needs a little tender loving care.

    #1 Look Out For Trampoline Trench With the wet weather we have been having your garden is most likely beginning to resemble a swamp by now. If you have a trampoline, watch out for trampoline trench (yes, I just made that term up, but it beautifully illustrates the problem, so go with it).

    As your children bounce up and down the trampoline feet are moving a little back and forth on the ground. As the ground is so soft at the moment, this may create a little groove, or trench, which can affect the stability of the trampoline.

    You can either pack the equipment away until the weather, and ground, improves. Or if you don’t have one already, attach a trampoline anchor kit to reduce the slippage.

    Although the long floor standing frames of trampolines are the worst culprits for this trenching, they are not the only guilty play equipment. Swings, especially, because they rock back and forth, can also work their way loose, as can climbing frames. Also as the ground swells and dries repeatedly, the movement can make any anchor points unstable. Put safety first and double check all your play equipment is well anchored to the ground on firm, flat ground.

    #2 Snuggle Containers Together Although we’ve had a relatively mild winter so far (thanks to the near endless cloud cover), things are set to turn colder shortly. If you have plant and flower containers scattered throughout your garden you can maximize their chances of survival by huddling them together. If you have a sheltered spot, cluster them there. You could even stand them on a piece of cardboard to provide a little insulation from the cold patio.

    #3 Take Care Of The Lawn You might imagine that lawn care is something reserved for the Spring and Summer, but alas, even in the Winter your little patch of green continues to need your attention.

    With all the rain and milder temperatures, most lawns are still needing a regular mow, but to prepare the grass for the Winter you should raise your blades to leave it a little longer than you would for the rest of the year.

    If there are any leaves on the lawn, scoop them up before the cause the grass to yellow, and use spikes to aerate the grass and allow it to drain.

    The good news is there’s less gardening to do in the Winter. The bad news is the gardening is less fun because it’s Winter.

    But once you’ve finished all that hard work, head over to the rest of the Wicken Toys blog where you will find some fun festive crafts, games and other ideas.

  • Top Tips To Help Your Back Garden Feel Festive

    Imagine what this time of year is like for your back garden. All through the spring, summer and autumn months you have lovingly tended to it, tidied it and bestowed it with your presences, In return it has provided a safe, peaceful environment in which your children can play freely.

    But now the cold dark nights are drawing in, you close your curtains as soon as you return home, and your back garden is well and truly out of sight and out of mind.

    If that wasn’t painful enough, you then erect a tree, an OUTDOOR thing, INSIDE the house, and decorate it lavishly with lights, baubles and tinsel.

    What is a garden to think?

    Happily, Wicken Toys are here with some top tips for getting your outside space into the festive spirit without causing any further damage to your bank balance (beyond what buying up half of the toy shop has anyway).

    1. Santa Pots Paint a flower pot bright red, wrap one length of black electrical tape around the middle, then use a silver pen to make the buckle. You have a santa pot.

    2. DIY Signs Want a cute little sign asking Santa to ‘Stop Here’ or pointing the way to the stockings waiting to be filled? Make one for yourself. You’ll need a stick of bamboo, or similar supporting pole, a scrap of wood (take care to sand down the edges) and some outdoor paint. No need to stop at helpful signs. Feel free to knock up a faux snowman or realistic Santa face to go alongside them.

    3. Paper Mache Models Do you know how easy it is to make giant 3D models from paper mache? Pretty easy. And I should know. I’ve made a 6ft killer whale and two 5ft sharks.

    Cut out the shape of the creature / person you want to create from a piece of cardboard. OK, so it’s looking pretty flat to begin with, but we’ll work on that. To create the 3D shape, scrunch up balls of newspaper and tape (with masking tape) down onto the cardboard. To build the skin layer, soak strips of newspaper in watered down PVA glue (about 50:50) and drape over the scrunched paper. Leave to dry. It should feel pretty solid once the glue’s set. Next you want to create the outer later. You can do this either by repeating the last step with coloured tissue paper, or use white paper and paint to the chosen colour.

    Finally when everything feels dry and solid, apply a layer of waterproof varnish. This creation isn’t going to survive a hurricane, blizzard or flooding, but in a sheltered spot of the garden it should at least see out December.

    4. Just Add Baubles Use plant / wire ties instead of string and you should be able to secure your baubles to any plant in need of a festive makeover. Try to choose one in a more sheltered position, and steer clear of tinsel and ribbon which will quickly go soggy.

    5. Outdoor Christmas Tree There’s no reason why Christmas trees must live indoors. Invest in a tree with a root ball, plant it in your garden and you can watch it grow from one Christmas to the next.

    For more Christmas-inspired posts, follow the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Christmas Present Ideas For Older Children

    Buying for children towards the end of their Primary school years can be challenging. They tend to be more interested in tech than toys, but we're still clinging on fiercely to their childhood, not wanting them to grow up too soon.

    At Wicken Toys we understand the importance of play for children of all ages (including grown ups).

    Be inspired by this list of present ideas that will have even the most cynical 10 year-old bouncing with joy on Christmas morning.

    Their First Car

    Berg

    Who could fail to be impressed with one of these? We stock a range of Berg and Ketter go-karts suitable for children from 4 years old, right up to adulthood. You might even find a car for yourself. Their styling makes it clear this is not a toy, this is a serious piece of equipment, built for speed.

    Slam Dunk Present Success

    All

    Shooting some hoops is a great way for older kids to move around, loosen up and clear their head. Some of the best conversations between parent and child have happened while each takes their turn to throw the ball. Our basketball and netball sets can be packed away and stored when not in use, protecting them from the worst of the winter weather and extending their useful life. What we also like about these is that because they are freestanding, rather than mounted to a wall, there's no reverberating noise through the house every time a shot is played.

    Back Garden Battles And Film Re-enactments

    All

    This mighty construction is not a climbing frame. This is not a piece of play equipment. This is a stage. A set. A backdrop. Home to might battles waged between cowboys and Indians, knights, trolls, pirates and princesses. As children get older they are no longer captivated by the challenge of scrambling up a ladder and whizzing down a slide. Traditional climbing frames may seem a little young to the over 8s. A fort, or castle, or whatever you want to call it sets the scene for imaginative play lasting for hours.

    Gooooalllllllll!!!!

    TP

    An obvious choice, but often overlooked, the humble football goal. For added play value, consider getting a model like the one pictured above, with optional targets. This makes it possible for children to play with the goal on their own, or for more than one child to play without the need to take turns being goalie (which rarely, anyone wants to do).

    Got younger children who need encouraging outside? Need ideas for presents that won't take up valuable floorspace in your home? Head over to yesterday's blog post about Christmas Presents To Encourage Outdoor Play.

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