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Wicken Toys Blog

  • Top Tips To Prepare Your Back Garden For A Winter Storm

    Most of the UK north of London his faced with stormy weather this week.

    As Hurricane Gonzalo is set to make an unwelcome appearance, the Met Office has issue a Yellow Weather Warning for this Tuesday, covering much of the UK.

    Strong gales, with gusts of up to 60mph and torrential rain has the potential to cause damage to anything kept outside.

    Thankfully, we've had enough notice to make careful preparations before the turbulent weather arrives.

    Keep your home, garden and outdoor play equipment safe with these top tips.

    1. Remove Any Loose Items From The Garden

    Make a thorough inspection of your garden and notice any loose items. Some will be obvious, like toys left lying on the lawn, but others require a little more attention. Hanging baskets, bins, go-karts, bicycles, anything that could be moved by the wind should be secured in a garage. Anything lifted into the air by the wind can cause damage to your or your neighbours' property, or could potentially injure somebody by striking them.

    2. Check Anchor Points

    Large pieces of play equipment such as climbing frames and swing sets should already be anchored to the ground for safety reasons. Over time, as the equipment moves slightly during use, these anchors can work loose. Also heavy rainfall can wash away the mud the anchors are pushed into. Check every anchor point thoroughly to check it is capable of holding the frame down in the event of a strong gust of wind. After the storm has passed, re-check every point again before allowing children to use the equipment.

    Heavy

    3. Secure Loose Accessories

    If your play equipment includes hanging accessories such as a swing or trapeze bar, it may be possible to unclip these easily from the frame, and keep them indoors for the duration of the storm. If not, consider securing them tightly to the frame so they aren't crashing into each other in the wind.

    4. Keep Drains Clear

    If you have drains on the ground, make sure these are clear of leaves and mud so that rain water can flow freely away. If it is safe to do so, check gutters and down pipes are clear of leaves and debris so that rain water can flow away rather than flood into the garden.

    5. Bring Furry Friends Indoors

    Besides the risk of injury from flying debris, or the possibility hutches could be tipped over by the wind, storms can also cause psychological distress to pets. Keep furry friends safe by inviting them indoors for the duration of the bad weather.

    You can get more advice on how to prepare your property and cope during a power cut from the Met Office.

  • Top Tips For Keeping Fit On Rainy Days

    There are plenty of blog posts and advice articles on how to keep kids entertained on a rainy day, but many are focused on craft activities or build dens.

    With the British winter on it's way, many parents fear being stuck indoors for days on end, because without plenty of exercise, their children go just a little bit bonkers.

    To help you prepare for the impending bad weather, and forthcoming half term, here are some simple ideas for keeping fit and active on rainy days.

    1. Puddle Stomping

    Unless your child is at risk of melting in the rain, it's not compulsory to stay indoors when wet weather strikes. For many children a pair of wellies and an umbrella are all that's needed to turn a miserable afternoon into puddle stomping revelry.

    2. Timed Treasure Hunt

    Take a collection of small toys, such as metal cars or action figures, and hide them all over the house. Run timed trials to see how quickly all the toys can be recovered. This will be messy but should burn plenty of energy. Adding the time is crucial. Most indoor activities are carried out a fairly leisurely pace. Add a timer to encourage an extra burst of energy and your children can enjoy a good workout while having fun.

    3. Dance

    Find the biggest space in the house and dance. Play musical statues, musical bumps, musical chairs. Jazz it up anyway you like, but get moving to the groove.

    4. Bring Outdoors In

    Some outdoor play equipment can be used indoors if you have enough space. Basketball nets and football goals can be moved indoors. Just remember to put away any precious belongings and substitute the balls for a small foam ball instead.

    Swingball

    Swingball poles with weighted bases rather than spikes can also be used indoors if you have a room large enough. Make sure you have space to swing the bat comfortably without knocking anything over.

    5. Fitness Videos For Kids

    If you don't have a DVD suitable for kids there are some very entertaining videos available on YouTube. Alternatively most of the major games consoles sell at least one exercise based video game for kids.

    6. Balloon Volleyball

    Divide a room in two using a ribbon or piece of string, blow up a balloon and enjoy a match of balloon volleyball. The balloon travels so slowly even little kids can join in, and because it is so light it's unlikely to cause any damage.

    7. Hula Hooping

    Ideal for expending short sharp bursts of energy, hula hooping can be exhausting. Best of all it doesn't require much space, and the equipment is super-cheap to buy.

    8. Unwind With Yoga

    Keeping fit doesn't have to be about sweaty foreheads and raised pulses. Yoga is a great way to increase strength and flexibility, key measures of overall fitness. For kid-friendly yoga instruction learn a few moves from YouTube videos.

    9. Indoor Snowball Fight

    Grab any (clean) used paper you have lying around and scrunch it up into snowballs. Create two bases and play an elaborate game of 'capture the flag' with paper snowballs as weapons.

    Fore more play ideas check out the other posts on the Wicken Toys blog.

  • Autumn Sensory Play Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Creating A Playscape In Your Own Back Garden

    The best play spaces are more than just play equipment.

    Take a moment to consider your child's favourite playgrounds. What do they have in common. Chances are they aren't just hunk of play equipment plonked on a safety surface.

    Instead, the best play spaces weave the equipment and surroundings together to create an inspirational environment for children to explore.

    In this post we take a look at how you can adapt the principles used by professional playscape engineer and use them in your own back garden to create a beautiful, creative play environment.

    #1 Add Natural Obstacles Smooth boulders, or mounds of dirt make excellent climbing apparatus, or shelters to hide behind. They are also relatively cheap, easy to install and require little (if any) maintenance. They are also low to the ground, making them especially suitable for younger children to explore.

    #2 Create Sections Use planting, grass, trees and natural materials to create sectioned areas, with a winding path leading from one to the other. This helps prompt imaginative role play games. It also makes the play experience much more interesting when the options are slightly concealed in this way rather than having everything fully visible at once.

    #3 Make Pathways Use different flooring materials like decking or cobble stones to create a variety of footpaths throughout the garden. Children love to trot over a bridge, but if you don't have a pond or stream to cross, create one out of flowers.

    #4 Sprinkle With Details Add tiny details to be discovered through play. Turn a tree stump into a fairy house, or hide some magic toadstools for perching on amongst the grass.

    #5 Make A Rubbish Corner Turn a small corner of the garden into nature's junkyard. Loose sticks, stones, pine cones, anything natural that won't rot quickly, will work wonders. This provides materials for imaginative play, and creates a sensory experience through the concentration of different sights, sounds and textures all in one place.

    #6 Choose Wooden Play Equipment A wooden climbing frame is much better suited to a natural playscape than a metal one. The wood will fade gently over time, blending beautifully with the surrounding garden.

    #7 Landscape Around Play Equipment After you've installed your play equipment, make changes to the garden around it to help to blend in. Cutting the surrounding lawn to echo the shape of the frame is a great way to incorporate the equipment into the garden, giving a professional look to the space.

    #8 Move Things About Include items such as tunnels and big boulders that can be easily moved. Children quickly lose interest when over familiar with their surroundings, and may cease to see the many play opportunities their back garden offers them. Help them stay creative by changing the look of the garden a little each season, and adding or removing smaller pieces of play equipment.

    #9 Vertical Spaces Don't forget to utilize vertical spaces. Not everything has to be a ground level. You can add a wall of music making pots and pans, or run lengths of guttering back and forth across the fence for water play.

    With a little imagination, planning and time you can create an inspirational play space that will keep your children occupied for hours.

  • Leaves: Seasonal Beauty Or Safety Peril

    As Autumn is making its presence known the trees are finally giving up their leaves for the year.

    As the foliage changes colour, and the leaves flutter to the ground like snow, our trees are putting on one of nature's most beautiful visual displays.

    But for keen gardeners and parents enthusiastic about outdoor play, leaves can be a scourge.

    To help motivate you to clear up nature's litter, here are five safety threats posed by leaves you've never even considered.

    1. Slippery When Wet

    Once coated with rain, wet leaves tend to adhere to the hard surfaces creating a slick coating to footpaths and driveways. This is a slipping hazard for anyone who might walk over them, but for young children who tend to run everywhere, they are even more dangerous. They can also cause bike riders to fall if ridden over. Leaves are much easier to sweep away when they are dry, so don't put off until tomorrow what you could do today. If it's a fine, dry, autumnal day, seize the opportunity and sweep those leaves away.

    2. Loss Of Grip

    Leaves don't only accumulate on the ground. They can blow against climbing frames, and will stick if the frame is wet, especially on metal equipment. They can also gather on the rungs of ladders. Children using play equipment covered with leaves are at risk of losing their footing or grip and falling. A quick way to remove wet leaves from play equipment is using a stiff brush, they type that usually comes with a dust pan.

    3. Blocked Drains And Gutters

    When gutters become blocked with leaves and debris, rainwater bubbles over and falls to the ground, instead of being directed to the down pipe. This can flood the garden and cause damp patches to the brickwork of the house. If a hard surface, such as a patio, is wet much of the time due to this overflow, a film of green algae can develop on the surface, which is extremely slippery and dangerous to walk on.

    4.Encouraging Rot

    If you disregard a pile of leaves for long enough it will eventually rot down into a mulch. If you a pile of leaves accumulates against a piece of wood, the same moisture and fungus that breaks down the leaves will begin to attack the wood. Our wooden climbing frames are built to withstand the British weather, but they will not enjoy being coated with rotting leaves. Keep the legs of wooden climbing frames, swing sets and slides clear of debris. This will allow air to circulate and discourage wet rot from attacking the wood.

    5. Creepy Crawlies

    None of the creepy crawlies that make fallen leaves their home are likely to be dangerous. If you enjoy bug hunting, then using some fallen leaves to make a bug hotel can encourage so interesting species to come and stay in your garden. However, if you have a sheltered play space such as a playhouse, allowing a build up of leaves inside will encourage mini beasts to make the space their home, and may deter your children from playing inside. Unless you intended the playhouse to be a luxury home for insects, keep the interior free of leaves.

    We have so many leaves to deal with here at Wicken, last year we put together this blog post for 101 things to do with leaves.

  • Wicken Guide To Choosing A Go-Kart

    Choose wisely and your child's new go-kart will provide them with hours of entertainment and exercise over the next few years.

    Alas it's not as simple as buying the cheapest model available in your son or daughter's favourite colour, but with the help of our comprehensive guide, we can make the selection process pain-free.

    What Size?

    Tempting as it may be to buy a jumbo go-kart your child can grow into, this is likely to result in majot disappointment when they first try to ride it. For a go-kart to be safe and enjoyable, your child must be able to maintain contact with the pedals throughout each revolution. Stretching to reach the pedals may cause backache or result in feet slipping off the pedals and losing control.

    Each model has an age range as a guide, but pay more attention to the suggested height range, as that is what determines how comfortable the go-kart is to use.

    Adjustable Seat

    If getting the exact right size is sounding like a nightmare, you'll be pleased to hear that Kettler go-karts come with adjustable seats. This extends the number of years your child and their go-kart are a good match. The seats are easily moved by simply lifting a handle and pushing the seat forwards or backwards, then replacing the handle to its original position. Once the handle is down the seat is securely fixed into place so it won't move around while the go-kart is in use.

    Free Wheeling

    When the go-kart is being pushed, or running downhill under its own momentum a free-wheeling feature will stop the pedals from rotating. Basically if the go-kart can freewheel it means that unless the rider is pushing the pedals themselves, the pedals aren't moving, so there's no danger of them hitting dangling legs. On some models this happens automatically, and on others, usually models for older children, there is a lever to activate the freewheel function.

    Dual Action Brake

    Dual

    Look for a go-kart that offers a dual action brake. This means that a brake is applied to both back wheels at the same time ensuring a controlled slow down or stop. If resistance is applied to just one wheel, especially when travelling at speed, the go-kart could spin, or veer off sideways.

    Tyres

    Typically go-karts for younger children have solid tyres, as these are more reliable (they can't get punctures). However, older children, who are naturally a little heavier benefit from air tyres which give them a smoother, more comfortable ride.

    Why Kettler?

    We pride ourselves on sourcing products from high quality manufacturers with reputations for reliability and value for money. All of our go-karts are made by Kettler, a company with more than 50 years experience making pedal go-karts. The range includes models suitable for children aged 3 to 12 years, with every kart built to last.

    Taking Care Of Your Go-Kart

    To help your go-kart stay looking good and functioning well, keep it stored in a sheltered location, especially over the winter months.

  • Turn Your Climbing Frame Into A Pirate Ship

    Ah hoy there me matey's a welcome to this pirate-inspired post for land-lovers everywhere.

    Today we are looking at how we can combine your child's love of pirates with outdoor fun and exercise.

    Pirate Inspired Climbing Frames

    If you don't yet have a climbing frame and you would like play equipment with a pirate theme, take a look at these options.

    TP Forest Pirate Galleon

    Suitable for children from three years and up, this play frame provides the ideal location for imaginative games. It features a captain's cabin, deck with ships wheel and ladder, a deck area to sit in, pirate sails and a gang plank.

    Plum Endeavour Playcentre

    This play centre offers the best features of a climbing frame, combines with a pirate ship. This play equipment features a boat''s bow, climbing wall and net, swings and slide. The boat can be whatever maritime vessel your child's imagination can conjure - a cruise liner, a lifeboat or of course, a pirate's ship.

    All Out Play Galleon

    This large playhouse features plenty of space to hold captives and store treasure. There's also the option of adding a slide and a fireman's pole.

    Pirating Your Climbing Frame

    If you don't want a pirate ship permanently in your back garden, you could buy a regular climbing frame and use some creative techniques to give it a piratical makeover.

    Add A Stern To add a stern to one side of your climbing frame all you need is a large, high-sided cardboard box. Two sides coming together at an angle of between 40 and 30 degrees will look very similar to the front of a boat, and create a temporary ground level play area.

    Accessorize Telescopes, periscopes and ship's wheels are easy and inexpensive add-ons for climbing frames that help add a new dimension to the way children play with the equipment.

    If we don't have an accessory for your brand of frame, get in touch to discuss your options as some of our stock may fit your equipment.

    Raise The Flag You could make just about anything look like a pirate ship by simply adding a jolly roger flag. Have fun making one together with an old bed sheet. The easiest way to paint the skull and cross bones is to cut out a paper template, attach to the fabric, then paint black around it.

    Add Hazards Another way to stimulate pirate-related games is to decorate the surrounding areas. Make the space underneath the swings shark-infested, either with soft toys or by cutting out sharks from cardboard. You can also use cardboard (magic things cardboard boxes) to create a gangplank to attach to the top of the climbing frame or slide, and gently push soft it.

    Dress-Up Finally, you can really set the mood with a stripey t-shirt, eye patch and a cutlass. If you have a stuffed parrot, even better.

    All it takes is a little imagination, some planning and plenty of cardboard and you can transform your back garden into a pirate-themed play space.

  • Learning How To Follow The Rules

    This is the last post in this month's series about sporting skills, and today we're focusing on following the rules.

    This is a really difficult concept to teach children. On the one hand, it's really important that children develop an understanding of the rules about t any particular game, and that they follow the rules so the play remains structured and fair. On the other hand, being overly dogmatic about adherence to the rules can suck the fun out of games, making children reluctant to join in.

    So how can you teach children what the rules are, and how to follow them, without turning playtime into a chore.

    1. Keep It Simple

    Adjust the rules of the game according to the age and developmental stage of your child. You shouldn't expect a four year old to have a good working knowledge of the off-side rule, but you can expect them to use their feet not their hands, and to play the ball not the person. Pick the essential rules from the game and teach those first. Then as your child gets older and more experienced you can gradually increase their understanding.

    2. Your Child The Referee

    It can be hard for children to remember the rules while trying to play to the best of their ability. Help them to focus on the rules alone by making them teh referee / umpire / judge. This works especially well if the players are Mum and Dad rather than a sibling, as natural sibling rivalry can cloud a young ref's judgement leading to arguments. Have your mini ref remember two or three important rules, arm them with the whistle and get playing. You may want to break the rules deliberately a few times to give them something to do. This is also a great way for children to experience a little power over the parents in a fun reversal of normal roles.

    3. Teach Sportsmanship Too

    Learning good sportsmanship is just as important as learning the rules. Nobody likes a sore loser or a boasting winner, so being a good sportsman is just as important as developing other sporting talents.

    One way to help children understand the difference between good and bad sporting behaviour is when the adults in their life act as good role models or play act the 'wrong' way. For example, two adults could challenge each other to a race, then when the loser throws an epic tantrum about the race not being fair or the track / shoes / weather being wrong, the children witnessing this fall out will get a good giggle, and a demonstration of how not to behave.

    4. Child-Led Rules

    Ask your child to invent a simple game, with a set of rules designed by them. It can be as simple as an obstacle course over the climbing frame, so long as the game has rules. This gives them the opportunity to see the importance of rules and how following them is what makes a game fun and challenging.

    Encouragement Over Criticism

    It's important that children are encouraged more than criticised in order to keep them motivated and engaged. This can be difficult to achieve when you are on the watch for rule infringements, so pay equal attention to all the things your child does well, especially when they demonstrate good sporting conduct.

  • Learning How To Play In A Team

    We mastered some of the more basic sporting skills earlier this month in the 'How To Catch' and 'How To Hit' guides.

    Now it's time to get our teeth into something I little more challenging: team work!

    From birth to pre-school parent praise is 100% focused on individual achievement. Sitting, crawling, walking, self-feeding, potty-training - these are all solo activities where the accomplishment of one child is lauded as if worth of a Nobel Prize.

    Little wonder then that by the time children hit the sociable ages of 3 and 4, working as a team to achieve a common goal is an alien concept.

    Here we take look at the skills needed to be a successful team player, and how you can help your child develop them. You don't need any fancy sporting equipment, just the play equipment you have to hand in your own back garden.

    Teamwork: Why Bother?

    Team games offer far more benefits than the simple thrill of a win. By regularly participating in team activities, children: - learn how to communicate with others - develop self-esteem through their contribution - develop trust in others - learn how to share and co-operate.

    Team activities are an integral part of the school experience, so being able to play in a team will help create positive experiences for your child.

    Many children also find it beneficial to play in a team outside of school, facilitating the development of new friendships.

    The Art Of Teaching Teamwork

    Before you bravely embark on any of these team building activities, here are a few tips to help you on your way.

    1. Like a good Scout or Girl Guide, you must always be prepared. Before even suggesting an activity, consider how well the task fits with the children who will be playing, and make sure you have all the equipment needed to hand. Nothing sucks the fun out of playtime like wasting ten minutes raiding the garage for a ball, or having a child sulk on the sidelines because the game is too complicated for them to take part.

    2. Pick your battles. If the purpose of the game is to teach teamwork, focus on this rather than improving your child's sporting prowess or knoweldge of complex rules. There will be plenty of time to teach those skills later.

    3. Talk about the game later. Draw attention to the times you noticed teamwork skills to help you child understand what playing in a team is all about.

    1. Identifying Strengths

    The most effective teams make best use of the individual talents of team members, so it's important children are able to recognize their own talents and the abilities demonstrated by others.

    A fun way to work on this skill is to set up an obstacle course in the back garden. There should be different challenges like kicking a football up the slide, or throwing a bean bag onto the top of the climbing frame. Challenge the children to figure out who will be best at each task. One person leaves the base at a time, completes their task, then returns to the base to tag a team mate relay-style.

    2. Team Communication

    This is a fun game to play in the Summer. Put the children into pairs and provide each pair with an empty bucket, and a bucket filled with water. One child climbs to the top of the climbing frame and must pour the water into the bucket held by the other child. However one child must be blinded (you decide which) can is guided by the directions of their team mate.

    3. Trusting Team Mates

    Create an obstacle course. The children hold hands and complete the obstacle course as one unit. The twist is that all but the lead child is blindfolded, so the rest of the team rely completely on their leader.

    What Next?

    You can get more tips and tricks in the rest of our sporting skills series.

  • Learning How To Hit Something - No Not Your Brother

    Hot on the heels of our post on learning how to throw and catch, we're taking a look at how to hit something.

    Why Hit Things?

    Establishing these sporting skills in younger life will help your child to participate in team sports both in and out of school, which is great for both physical and mental well-being.

    In addition to the sporting element, being able to hit something is immensely satisfying in itself and a great way to relieve stress and release tension. One of the earliest lessons parents learn is that it is much more effective to show a child what you would like them to do, than tell them what they shouldn't. If you have a little ball of energy intent of bashing siblings or something in the house, taking them outside for a game of bat and ball can really help refocus their attention.

    Make It Easy

    It's easier to hit: - something large than something small - something moving slowly than something moving fast - something that moves predictably than something erratic - something with your hand than something with an item held in your hand.

    Start by patting a balloon back and forth between you and your child using just hands.

    When they are ready to move on to using a tool and ball, start by rolling the ball along the ground. Your child will only need to judge horizontal movement and speed and can forget about height.

    Increase The Difficulty

    Once your child is able to knock a ball back and forth with a racket, or hit a bowled ball with a bat, it's time to start honing those skills.

    To develop the ability to hot with the correct level of force, practice hitting a tennis ball up a slide with just enough force so it stops on the climbing frame platform.

    Practice putting by laying plastic cups horizontally on the grass and assigning points to each one.

    To develop accuracy, practice chipping balls through the gaps in the climbing frame ladder. If more than one child is playing you can give this game a competitive edge by giving each gap a points value.

    Practice

    Swingball or an adjustable height net are both inexpensive items of sports equipment that can make playing with a bat and ball more fun, and won't take up too much room in your garden.

    Alternatively, a table tennis table can help older children practice hand-to-eye coordination and speed up their reaction times, which will help improve their abilities in other sports too.

    Ketter

    Link With Other Skills

    The ability to hit something relies heavily on hand-eye co-ordination, as does throwing and catching. These skills don't need to be learnt in any particular order, so let your child take the lead and go with what they enjoy.

    What Next? You can get more tips and tricks in the rest of our sporting skills series.

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