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Wicken Toys Blog

  • Christmas Present Ideas To Inspire Outdoor Play

    It's the last day of November so by now you should be aware of the mominous tick-tock of the Christmas countdown clock.

    Is your Facebook feed stuffed with smug mum's celebrating Christmas shopping victory?

    Is your house already bursting at the seams with toys?

    Do you fear that the addition of another truckload of play things this festive season will cause your carefully organzied playroom storage system to buckle under the weight?

    Put your feet up with a nice hot chocolate and panic not - Wicken Toy have got this.

    This blog posts contains a list of ideal Christmas gifts for 2014.

    'What makes them so ideal?' - I hear you ask. Clever how the Internet works, isn't it? You think you're reading this in the privacy of your own home, when in reality I'm anticipating your every thought. Now where were we? Right, back to the idealness of our presents.

    1. They will make your kids go 'wowwwwwww' when they see them on Christmas morning. 2. They live in the garden / shed outside. Not inside your house. They'll be outside. Not taking up any space, because they are outside. 3. You can buy them by clicking a button on your computer. No need to drag your bones around the shops, elbowing other frantic parents out of the way in pursuit of the best bargain. Just point and click. And then your new outdoor toy will be delivered to your home.

    So enough with the tempting warm up waffle, here's the list.

    New Set Of Wheels

    Ketter

    In the colder weather, the trick is to keep moving, for parents and children. A new trike or balance bike gets children outside in the fresh air, and Mum & Dad have no choice but to trot alongside, so they get a good work out too. When it's time to come indoors and warm up, the bike / trike is stashed away in the garage or shed, taking up zero space inside your house.

    Messy Play

    TP

    Yes, that's a photo of a water play table, and no I haven't completely lost my mind. It's a little too chilly to be splashing about in the garden, but a water play table is a very versatile piece of play equipment. A water table can be used as the base for a range of different sensory activities. You can fill it with mud, sand, or even dry foodstuffs like pasta, lentils and barley. If you want to use it for water, bring it into the kitchen, then banish it back tot he shed when playtime is over.

    Their Own Home

    TP

    A playhouse stays out of your house and therefore requires no space at all. If you already have a toy kitchen, dinky table and other miniature version of real-life equipment, you can even migrate these toys into the playhouse and rediscover your living room carpet (briefly, before all the other new Christmas toys integrate with your existing collection).

    Got older children to buy for? Don't worry, we've got that covered in our next blog post.

  • 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.

  • Play Ideas To Make The Most Of A Cold Snap

    So far the weather has been pretty mild. But as sure as Autumn turns to Winter, this rain will turn to snow.

    In anticipation of the cold days still to come, we’ve pulled together this list of fun yet freezing activities to enjoy with your children. The weather is too mild for most of these ideas right now, but this early heads-up will give you plenty of time to gather materials and prepare.

    The weather outside might be frightful, but they’ve still got energy to burn so get your gloves on and head into the garden.

    #1 Ice Marbles

    This is so simple but can give you a good quiet hour in the garden having fun. Before bedtime, fill up balloons with water, add a drop of food colouring, and tie it shut. Don’t fill the balloons right up. As the water freezes it will expand, so an overfilled balloon will stretch and burst. Place in a tray in the garden, or better still suspend from the underside of your slide or climbing frame. Overnight (if it’s cold enough) the water will freeze in the balloon. Cut the balloon and peel it from the ice, and you will be left with a beautifully coloured ice marble. Children can have fun rolling them down the slide, bowling across the patio, or pushing them around with a hockey stick. Whatever they can think of.

    You can add an element of science education to this game by measuring around the circumference of the balloon in the evening, then taking the measurement again in the morning. Also measure the weight of the filled balloon on the kitchen scales both in the evening and the next day and note any changes.

    #2 Learn About Nurturing

    This is a great time of year to begin nurturing your local wildlife. In the winter many birds become totally dependent on friendly humans leaving food out. Birds need high fat foods to help them lay down the reserves needed to make it through the winter. You can buy ready made suet balls to hang in your garden, or if you’re feeling creative, you can mix up your own.

    For a super-quick, no-cook solution, all you need is some peanut butter, seeds and empty cardboard toilet rolls. Spread peanut butter all over the cardboard rolls. Spread the seeds out on the plate and roll the peanut butter covered tube over the plate until it is completely covered.

    These can be left on a table, weighted with a stone placed inside, or punch a hole in the top of the cardboard and hang with a piece of string.

    #3 Come Inside

    Far too cold to play outside? Bring the snow in. Fill up a sand or water play table with fresh snow and bring it into the kitchen. Just keep plenty of old towels to hand so you can mop up spillages.

    There are more play ideas to come, so look out for Winter Play Ideas Part II coming soon.

  • Wicken Guide To Buying A Slide

    What’s not to love about a slide?

    Not only do they provide a great prompt for imaginative play, they encourage physical activity and give young minds a full sensory workout at the same time.

    Here we take a look at the benefits of incorporating a slide into your back garden playscape and how to go about choosing the best slide for your children.

    The Humble Slide: More Than Just A Fun Ride

    Sure a slide is fun, but it offers much more than that. In their eagerness to experience the thrill of the slide ride, your children will expend plenty of energy running around to the ladder and climbing back to the top. This raises their heart rate, which is good for overall health and well-being and works the big muscle groups in their arms and legs. Young children especially need to push and pull with these muscles everyday before their bodies are ready experience the stillness needed to achieve focus and concentration.

    The ride down itself also contributes to childhood development. In the few seconds it takes to ride to the bottom, your child is bombarded with sensory experiences - the feel of air rushing past, the sensation of their body moving over the surface of the slide, the sights of their surroundings zipping past them. Their brain works hard to process all these experiences and make sense of them. The more practice their brain gets in this type of processing, then more able it is to apply this processing skill to unfamiliar situations.

    So by now you should be well convinced that a slide will make a fun and useful addition to your garden. Now it’s time to decide which slide.

    One

    Space Considerations

    Not only do you need space for the slide, but you also need adequate room for children to access the ladder, and an exclusion zone around the slide, free from obstacles, that can be covered with safety matting to provide protection in the event of a fall.

    When planning the position of the slide you should also be wary of the temptation to reach for things from the top of the ladder. Make sure your slide is far enough away from playhouses and other play equipment, so your children won’t be tempted to hop from one item to the other.

    Finally, consider the route your children will take from the bottom of the slide back around to the ladder. Make sure they won’t be running directly in the path of the swings, or need to navigate around any obstacles likely to trip them up.

    Stand Alone vs Climbing Frame

    At Wicken Toys we sell stand alone slides and climbing frames with slides attached. For smaller gardens a climbing frame may be the best way to fit a variety of play features into the space available.

    Slides attached to climbing frames tend to feel more sturdy, although stand alone slides can be staked to the ground.

    Finally, if your child wants an unusual slide such as a tube or a wave, there are a greater number of options to choose from if you opt for a slide attached to a climbing frame.

    Whatever size your garden, Wicken Toys will have play equipment suitable. Browse through our selection of slides and climbing frames online, visit our huge outdoor demonstration area, or call us to discuss your requirements.

  • 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.

  • Reset Their Sleepy Clocks - Go Outside

    Are your children struggling with the clock changes.

    An hour back combined with disrupted schedules over half-term causes plenty of children to loose their natural sleep rhythm.

    Not Sleeping? They May Be Over Tired

    If your child isn't settling at night many children make the mistake of thinking that their child isn't tired. So then they plan a full day of activity to get them really tired. Often this is a MISTAKE - yes, bad enough to warrant capital letters. Often children have difficulty falling asleep because they are over tired. So making them more tired is making the situation worse. Their little bodies are exhausted, but their mines are totally wired.

    Turn Down The Lights

    Outdoor lighting is a lot brighter than natural daylight and can disrupt the bodies natural rhythm. Now the night's have drawn in, we tend to switch on bright artificial lighting to compensate for the darkness. These bright lights tell our brains that it is daytime. Then when bedtime rolls around and we abruptly plunge our children into darkness, they aren't sleepy yet. If you have dimmer switches, now is the time to put them to use. If not, use strategically placed lamps to provide the light that you need to function in late afternoon, but keep the environment dim enough to let your children's bodies get used to the idea that it's nighttime. This is the same reason that screens after dark are not a good idea. The bright white light is stimulating making it very difficult to wind down after prolonged exposure.

    Get Some Exercise

    Fresh air and exercise are great sleep inducers. To encourage plenty of running outside, go into the garden and set up a timed obstacle course around the climbing frame or whatever play equipment you have out there. Time trials are a great way to help keep children motivated and active, even if the weather isn't all that inviting.

    Nature Is Calming

    Getting outside brings your children closer to nature. And nature is soothing and calming. And being calm helps children sleep. Try to get out into a wide open space where there is plenty of green as the colour green is also soothing.

    Too Hot, Too Cold, Too Dry

    Along with the clock change came a rather abrupt change in weather conditions this year. For many families the central heating has been switched on over the last few days. This can disrupt sleep in a number of ways. Firstly, the heating will dry out the air and often when first used the radiators emit dust particles accumulated over the Summer. Improve a rooms air quality by rubbing down a warm radiator with a damp cloth. Secondly, if air gets trapped in your central heating system it can make knocking sounds that can be pretty scary for little kids. You can allay these fears just by explaining where the noise is coming from. Finally, as you snuggle down to watch TV after the children are put to bed, you might want the house to be toasty warm. Your children, however, will need a slightly cooler environment to sleep in, as our body temperature drops at night.

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

  • Top Tips To Prepare Your Garden For Fireworks Night

    There are plenty of authoritative sources giving information about keeping safe on fireworks night, like this advice sheet from the Met Office.

    We’re here to offer a different perspective. We’re here to speak on behalf of your long suffering play equipment. Sure it doesn’t get nervous or stressed like the family pet might. Whatever is thrown at it, your climbing frame will remain stoically planted to the ground. But this time of year poses new risks to your beloved back garden toys.

    Keep Fireworks Away From Climbing Frames

    The audience exclusion zone should apply to any play equipment, such as trampolines or plastic toys, that could get scorched or damaged by a stray firework. If you have covers for your garden furniture and trampoline, use them, to protect them from falling firework debris.

    No Play Zone

    Play equipment should be out of bounds for spectators. It isn’t a good idea to be climbing around in the dark anyway and the damp air will make the play equipment slippery. Add to that the scares and distractions caused by exploding fireworks and you’ve got a recipe for a painful fall.

    Stay Grounded

    Safety distances on fireworks are calculated on the assumption that spectators will be on ground level. Want an aerial view? Watch from an upstairs window, not the top of your slide.

    Use A Suitable Launch Site

    Do not attach fireworks to your play equipment or use them as a launching platform. It may be tempting to place that fountain at the top of the slide to give the crowd a better view, or nail the catherine wheel to that handily positioned climbing frame ladder, but don’t. Follow the instructions to affix the fireworks in the appropriate manner. Your play equipment could topple and cause the fireworks to fly in all directions.

    Clear Any Kindling

    By now many of the trees have shed their leaves and your garden is most likely littered with dry, crumbling leaf litter. If the weather stays dry for a few days before Bonfire Night this natural debris could act as perfect kindling. Clear these away, especially where they have collected around play equipment and outside buildings, and store well away from any fire or fireworks.

    Neighbour Relations

    Keep friendly with the neighbours by giving them advanced notice of your fireworks party. They would probably appreciate a heads up about when the fireworks will start and when you expect to finish so they can plan their evening and keep pets indoors.

    Clear And Light Pathways

    If your back garden usually looks like an explosion in a toy factory, it’s a good idea to tidy up before the night. Put away any toys you can to remove trip hazards. Keep a light on at the back of the house, or put up some temporary lights for when people are travelling in and out of the garden.

    Have Fun

    With careful planning a preparation you can host a fun, safe Bonfire Night party for your family.....and still keep your play equipment looking ship-shape for the next day.

  • Halloween Inspired Science Activities

    Halloween is a great opportunity to teach children that spooky, scary occurrences can usually be easily explained by science.

    Help them see the science behind the supernatural with these clever Halloween-inspired science activities.

    1.Dissolving Experiment For this experiment you will need three cups, some cooking oil, milk, water and three identical gummy sweets from your collection of trick or treat wins.

    Pour a different liquid into each cup, just up to about three inches high.

    Science experimentation is all about explaining yoru method, making predictions and recording results, so first have your children write up the plan and then ask them what they think will happen. Will the sweets float or sink? Will they stay the same or will they change? Then put one sweet in each cup, and over the course of the day, keep going back to check on their progress. At the end of the experiment, pull the sweets out and write up what happened.

    2. Flying Fire Ghosts This experiment is best conducted on your patio. Snip the top off a tea bag adn dump the contents out. Then draw a ghostly face onto the bag and stand it upright on a inflammable surface. Light the top of the tea bag and as the bag burns it should lift off the ground, giving the impression of a flying ghost. As the air inside the tea bag gets hot it expands and rises. Cold air rushes in from underneath, lifting the bag up into the air.

    3. Exploding Ghost Rockets For this experiment you will need a handful of old-fashioned camera film canisters (which you can still buy on eBay), some Alka Seltzer tablets, cornflour and a little water. Firstly, turn each canister upside down and use a permanent marker to draw on a ghostly face. In each pot mix a teaspoon of cornflour with some water to make a gloopy paste. Crumble in some Alka Seltzer tablet, quickly replace the lid, place the ghost down and stand back. Yoru ghost will explode, shooting right up into the air, leaving a trail of white gloop behind them. The white paste will be easy to wash off so you can make your ghosts jump off the climbing frame, picnic table, swing, whatever you like.

    4. Expanding Ghost Balloon Hang on to some of those Alka Seltzer tablets. You'll need a small bottle, half filled with water. Draw a ghostly face on a balloon, plop the Alka Seltzer into the bottle and very quickly stretch the neck of the balloon over the neck of the bottle. As the mixture bubbles away the rising gas will cause the balloon to expand.

    5. Skeleton Jigsaw Time for some biology. Draw / print out a skeleton and cut into jigsaw pieces. Combine this lesson with a little physical activity by hiding the pieces all over the garden or all around the house. Make sure you count up the pieces before you hide them so you know when you've found them all. Just by collecting the pieces and putting them together your children will learn a lot about the human skeleton.

    For more play ideas, check out the Wicken blog.

  • 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.

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