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Wicken Toys Blog

  • Learning How To Catch And Throw - Not As Easy As It Looks

    It's probably been a while since you learned how to catch a throw a ball, so you've probably forgotten how difficult it is. If your child is struggling to learn this vital sports skill this handy guide will help you give them the understanding and practical support they need to become a first rate ball handler.

    Why Ball Skills Are Important Most children learn how to throw and catch a ball in their own time. Some however will struggle with this skill until a later age than their peers. A simple game of throw and catch helps develop hand-eye co-ordination, and promotes bilateral co-ordination, essential for tasks that involve using both sides of the body at the same time (so most of them then).

    Children who are unable to throw and catch when their friends can may suffer from self-esteem problems and feel reluctant to join in games with their friends. As a result they miss out on opportunities to practice the skill they need to develop. for older children the ability to throw and catch a ball is an essential foundation for sports such as tennis, basketball and dodge ball. Without this skill they may struggle to participate in team games.

    Be Sympathetic Try to avoid uttering phrases such as 'when I was your age' and 'but it's easy'. Instead focus on the fact that we all have different things that we struggle with but eventually with practice overcome. If you can give an example of a simple skill it took you a while to master this will serve as great inspiration to your child and build the trust between you.

    It may also help if you save the practice activities outlined below for a private space such as your back garden, where peers won't be looking on.

    Making It Easy To teach your child how to throw and catch you need to make the process as simple as possible, then gradually increase the level of difficulty until you are able to stand 10 ft apart and confidently throw a tennis ball back and forth.

    A less challenging way to become familiar with the size and weight of a tennis ball is through rolling it back and forth on the ground to each other. Enjoy a casual conversation as you do it.

    All

    Another way to practice is to use a swing ball. You can use this together or your child can practice alone, standing in one spot and catching the ball in their hands each time it comes around.

    Now you are ready to try throwing and catching it. Start gently and relatively close together. When you have completed a number of successful catches, take a step back and so on. If a tennis ball is too tricky, use a larger ball with a little give to it (not a soccer ball) like a beach ball, volley ball or the type you cold play dodge ball with. For younger children, a balloon is great to practice catching skills with as it is large and slow.

    You can find more tips in our sports skills series of blog posts.

  • Helping Kids Stay Motivated With Sports

    There are lots of reasons why a child may struggle to stay motivated with physical activity. Some children are just more easily discouraged than others, regardless of their actual ability. Others find sports difficult due to a lack of fitness, or difficulties with co-ordination.

    A lack of motivation can set up a destructive circle. These children are more likely to walk away from the challenges offered by physical activity, making them less likely to develop sports skills, and therefore less likely to participate in the future, gradually falling further and further behind their peers.

    Being a gifted sports person isn't essential, but being able to confidently and competently enjoy sporting activities is the foundation for good physical health and an enjoyable social life.

    Here are some tips to help your little ones master the things that they find tricky, and help them stay motivated to keep trying.

    Meet Them At Their Current Level

    Work with the skill base as it currently is, not what it should be.

    Maybe they should be able to throw and catch a tennis ball by now. But they can't. And continuously making them practice a skill they have very limited success at is going to be very discouraging for them. Take the skill they are struggling with and break it down into its component parts.

    For example, to throw and catch a tennis ball they need to: - Be familiar with a tennis balls size and weight - Successfully apply force a direction to throw a ball - Successfully track the movement of a ball coming towards them - Position their hands appropriately - Apply the correct amount of force to catch it.

    It doesn't sound so easy when you break it down into all the different stages.

    Lucky for you your brain and body adapt to the situation in as little time as it takes for your friend to shout 'heads up'. For children it isn't that easy. So you need to make it easier for them.

    Inspired by this post, there will be a series of articles this month about tackling basic sporting skills with children. The first of these will be learning how to throw and catch.

    Part of making it easier will involve removing as many frustrations as possible. One of the worst things about learning how to play any ball sports is constantly loosing then fetching the ball.

    Swingballs are a great way to practice hand eye-ordination as the child doesn't have the frustration of scampering after an errant ball.

    Be Open About Your Own Challenges

    One of the most frustrating things for children who struggle with sports, is to see how effortless it is for those around them. They probably feel like they are the only one. It's important to be honest and share stories about the things you struggle at. Maybe you have always been a natural at football but couldn't swim until you were 18. Talk about how that made you feel. Children do not have a very large circle of reference. If everyone they see around them is great at sports, they might feel like the only person in the world who isn't.

    Mix It Up

    Mix up your activities with something you know they excel at. Maybe they suck at rounders but are great at football. Make sure you switch between the too. Or maybe sports aren't their thing, so switch between outdoor games and board games, running about and arts and crafts. Whatever gives them a healthy balance of challenge and boost to their self esteem.

    Nobody wants to spend all their time out of their comfort zone. Some of the time is great for personal development. All of the time would just about drive you crazy. As parents, you can help your children strike a healthy balance.

  • Revive Your Climbing Frame With Simple Add-Ons

    Climbing frames offer hours of entertainment and exercise, but just like any plaything, they can get taken for granted.

    After a summer or two you can inject some much needed va va voom with the addition of purpose-made climbing frame accessories.

    Here we run you through the options and how to choose the perfect add-ons for your family.

    Adapting Climbing Frames For Little Ones

    TP

    Most of our climbing frames are suitable for ages 3 years and up. However, with the addition of a more supportive seat, the swings can be made useable for babies and toddlers. Always pay attention to the age range suggested for the swing seat, and only use them for a child who can already support themselves in a sitting position unaided. You'll find a wide selection of baby-friendly swing seats in our swing accessories section.

    Another way in which you can make your climbing frame more appealing to younger children is to improve the accessibility. If there is a challenging rock wall to negotiate, add a rope, or swap it our (temporarily) for a simple step ladder.

    TP

    TP sell a ramp for toddlers to negotiate their metal climbing frame (pictured), and Creative Playthings sell a range hand rails to help children climb up onto the equipment.

    Add A New Dimension Of Play

    Many of our climbing frames can be enhanced with the addition of swing arms, dens, sandpits or all three.

    TP

    You can also make smaller adjustments to the climbing frame by adding accessories such as a periscope, telescope, steering wheel, telephone and more. Just a few simple and inexpensive additions can provide the imaginative spark needed to revive their enthusiasm in the climbing frame and invent new games to play on it.

    Make Your Climbing Frame More Challenging

    As your children get older, the play equipment they use must grow with them, offering a level of challenge suitable for their stage in development. Happily with a few changes you can adapt your current climbing frame to meet the needs of your now bigger children.

    Creative Playthings Chin Up Bar

    Creative

    Here are a few ways you can turn your child-friendly climbing frame into a challenging piece of play / exercise equipment: - Swap a swing for something the requires a little more effort, like a trapeze, tyre, ball, or spinning wheel. - Replace ladders for climbing ropes and rock walls. - Add a fireman's pole or chin up bar.

    With a little bit of imagination, and our help yo can revive your much loved climbing frame, create new ways to play, and generate many more hours of fun from your investment.

    Not all the accessories are compatible across ranges. Feel free to give us a call and discuss your ideas. We can advise on which items will work with your climbing frame, and we may be able to access accessories from the manufacturers not yet listed on this site.

  • Dodgeball Adapted For Even More Duck And Dive Fun

    If you don't know about it already, dodgeball is a team sport commonly played in US High Schools. It's rough, energetic and plenty of fun.

    Regular Dodgeball

    In a normal game of dodgeball the players split into two teams, one each side of a central line. Soft purpose-made balls, abotu the size of footballs are lined up along the central line. When the whistle is blown, play commences with both sides rushing towards te line to grab a ball. Once armed the aim is to hit a player from the opposing team. If you do that, the player is out. However, if they catch the ball, the thrower is out. The winning team, is the one with the most players after a pre-determined amount of time has passed, or play continues until all the players on one team have been eliminated.

    Why It's Awesome

    The game is simple to understand and can be adapted for all ages, so the whole family can play. You need limited equipment, and you can play in whatever space you have available. Because it is so fun to play, it can rapidly build endurance, as players forget how long they have been active for.

    It is also great for building balance and speed as players must be nimble on their feet and are required to change direction rapidly. It also develops hand-eye coordination and the ability to play in a team.

    If you play in your garden, you can use large structures like climbing frames as defense positions - just make sure both sides have a hiding place to make it even.

    And it's even better if you liven it up with one of these dodgeball adaptations.

    Dodgebee

    The game remains the same but instead of using balls, the players throw frisbees. These predictable discs won't roll away like balls, so you will spend less of the game time chasing them round to arm yourself. Choose the softer, foldable frisbees rather than the solid plastic discs to reduce the risk of pain or injury.

    Water Bombs

    If you are going to use water bombs instead of balls you will need to work on the rules first. If a player gets hit with a water bomb but it doesn't burst, are they still out? How about if they catch a bomb but it explodes in their hands? Does that count as a catch or have they been eliminated. This is a great way to add a bit of structure to a water fight. Warning: You will get wet.

    Star Wars Dodgeball

    When eliminated, instead of sitting on the side lines, players must lie where they are. One person on each team is a Jedi and can free the fallen players, but the other team doesn't know which player is the Jedi, so they must do their work in stealth mode. When the Jedi is out, there is no more saving of fallen players possible.

    Harry Potter Dodgeball

    All the balls get you out except one smaller ball of a different colour, which is the Petrificus Totalus spell. If you are hit by the spell ball you are totally frozen, and therefor a target for the other team, until one of your team mates unfreezes you by hitting you with the spell ball again.

    Minecraft Dodgeball

    For a Minecraft inspired party use green balls plus black duct tape to mark out a Creeper face.

    Mix It Up

    Use various size balls or mix in frisbees with the balls for a totally crazy game. Your brains will need to work super fast to figure out if that is a ball or a frisbee coming towards you, how fast it is travelling, and what you can do about it.

  • Get Muddy With These Mucky Play Ideas

    Mud glorious mud.

    You might view mud as an unwelcome hazard associated with playing outdoors on a rainy Autumnal day, but it can be a really awesome way of cooling down in the Summer.

    Just add a splash of water to some dry baron ground to make this simple yet effective play substance.

    Reasons To Get Muddy

    1. Sensory Play Mud is a very tactile substance and provides a multi-sensory play experience. Sensory play is essential for the development of toddler and pre-schooler brains. Exposure to different substances gives their little brains plenty of practice in translating the sensations felt through the finger tips to make sense of what is in front of them. Stimulating multiple senses at the same time (touch, sight, sound and smell are all involved when playing with mud) requires the brain to become adept at taking multiple signals and decode them. This is all great preparation for the learning that takes place in school, where children must become skilled at listening to the teacher and watching what the teacher is doing, while screening out other stimuli.

    2. Hand Eye Co-ordination Walking is easy right? Walking on snow is a little bit trickier and requires greater concentration and physical effort. Now apply that logic to playing with small hand held toys. Dolls, cars and action figures are great for developing hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills. Now coat them in a layer of slippery slimy mud, and you will see your children testing those skills in new, challenging circumstances.

    3. Relaxation Because muddy play stimulates multiple sense at the same time and facilitates creative, flexible play, it has a calming affect.

    Ways To Play

    - Cooling mud: Mix ice cubes with dusty dry mud to create a seriously cool slipper substance to roll about in. - Mud bricks: Fill an ice cube tray with mud and leave it in the Sun to bake into hard mud bricks. This works best in silicone trays as they are easier to release the bricks from. You can also use a muffin tray as the sloped edges eases the hard mud out. - Mud sculptures: Hunt around the garden for sticks, stones, twigs, petals and leaves to add to a lump of mud and create a rustic nature-inspired sculpture. - Mud castles: Who says castle-shaped buckets are only for the beach? - Mud kitchen: Donate old cooking utensils and bowls to the garden so your children can make mud pies in their own garden kitchen. - Mud painting: Use decorators paint brushes to redecorate the fence, climbing frame and garden furniture with muddy paint. It should keep your children busy for hours and will wash away with the rain. - Mud cupcakes: Fill silicone cupcake cases with mud, then use leaves, petals and tiny stones from the garden to decorate the cupcakes with pretty patterns. - Construction site: Add trucks, tractors and cars to a patch of mud to create a muddy town or construction site. - Footprints investigation: In slightly wet mud, take some of your children's favourite toys and use them to make footprints. Then challenge your kids to work out who stepped where.

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

  • Happy Birthday George: First Birthday Presents Fit For Royalty

    Today Prince George, our future King, hits the ripe old age of one year.

    It's hard to imagine that a full 12 months has passed since the press crowded outside St Mary's Hospital, London, eagerly anticipating news, any news at all, on the arrival of the heir to the throne.

    Now as the first pictures emerge of the royal toddler taking his first tentative steps, we have pulled together this list of truly awesome presents fit for a King.

    #1 A Climbing Frame

    One day baby George can enjoy playing in one of our enormous wooden forts. Until then, he needs a climbing frame suitable for his age and developmental stage. As he is taking his first steps at 12 months, we can assume it won't be long before His Smallness is able to mount a few steps.

    Height

    In just a few months time George will be able to clamber up the TP Explorer 2 Frame, hide in the enclosed den and whizz down the wavy side. Most of our climbing frames are for ages 3 years and up. However, thanks to the Explorer's adjustable deck height, when placed on the lowest setting, it can be used for children as young as 18 months.

    #2 Swing Set

    Plum

    The royal garden wouldn't be complete without a swing set, and swinging back and forth helps develop a baby's awareness of where they are in space. Little George won't have the strength in the trunk of his body to sit in a regular swing seat yet. Instead he needs a bucket style seat that will support his back, and hold him securely in place. This model from Plum can be attached to any of their swing sets as a replacement for a standard flat seat, and is suitable for children aged 6 months and up. TP toys make a similar seat for their products called the Quad Pod.

    #3 First Trampoline

    TP

    Jumping on a trampoline is a great way to develop those all important gross motor skills. Younger children benefit from having a handle to hang onto as they master the art of lifting both feet up at the same time. The TP Bubble Bouncer encourages little ones to get jumping by releasing bubbles every time the mat is pushed down and release. When the bouncing stops so do the bubbles.

    #4 Sand And Picnic Table

    Plum

    With this sand play and picnic table from Plum, Prince George can invite his little friends over for afternoon tea, before sliding back the table top and revealing the sand tray beneath. The table is suitable from 18 months, and children need to be well balanced and able to sit up unaided to use it safely.

    Congratulations Prince George from all of us here at Wicken Toys. We hope you have a marvellous birthday and wish you a happy, healthy future.

  • Survive And Thrive In The Summer Holidays With A Family Schedule

    The Summer Holidays are upon us, and whilst it may be tempting to kick back, relax and let the children run wild, you may find the six week stretch more enjoyable if you implement a routine. Why Routines And Schedules Are Important Children thrive on predictability, feeling more secure when they have an idea of what is coming next. You can flex your daily schedule as required but if certain milestones throughout the day, such as meal times and quiet times, remain the same, you may find their mood and behaviour is better.

    It's also important to remember that even when school is out, children still need plenty of sleep. If your children rise early regardless of what time they crash out you will need to maintain a sensible bedtime each evening.

    What's Important To You Depending on the ages and temperaments of your children you may want to create a detailed daily schedule, or a simple outline of the key points throughout the day. The most important thing is to start by defining what is important to you. Do you want the children in bed by a set time each night so you can complete housework, homework, or relax in peace? Are meal times set or flexible each time? Will there be nap times or quiet reading times? Is it all fun, or is there some school work to get done. The things that are important to you will form the basis of your schedule every day. Collaborate Brainstorm with your children some fun stuff they would like to try out during the holidays and places they would like to visit. Pinterest and parenting sites are awash with ideas for arts, crafts and educational activities to do, but don't assume your children will love every single one of them. Let them join in the planning by giving them a preview of what's on offer and asking their opinion.

    Make It Balanced Each day should provide a balance of outdoor games, rest and relaxation, time spent together, and opportunities to be alone. Some scheduled activities will help avoid boredom-induced poor behaviour, but it is also important to allow plenty of time for little minds to wander and hands to explore without intervention.

    Reinvent The Familiar If you've had the same garden play equipment for a while, liven things up by adding a new piece, or think of new games to play with the existing structures. A few old sheets thrown over the climbing frame make an excellent den, and the slide can be turned into a high speed bowling alley.

    Put It On Display When you've written up your plan for the day, put it on display where the children can see it. It will give them clear expectations of when they are expected to amuse themselves, when they need to be ready to leave the house, and when their next meal will be ready.

    A Help Not A Hindrance Above all else remember that your daily plan should be a help not a hindrance. There's no need to stick to it slavishly every day at the expense of and spontaneity.

  • Outdoor Toy Storage Ideas

    The Summer holidays are nearly upon us which means it's nearly time for your garden to become littered with toys. If you are tired of looking at a landscape of metal and plastic, and fed up of picking up toys for hours before you can mow the lawn, then take your pick from this list of outdoor toy storage ideas.

    Bike Racks If your children are in and out all day playing on their bikes, you may find yourself constantly dragging them in the house to keep them secure, or tripping over them while they lay sprawled out on the front lawn. By installing a floor or wall mounted bike rack in the garden you can give your children somewhere to store their bikes during the day. No more propping bikes against walls, and getting in a tangle with one bike buried beneath the other. Riders simply wheel the front tire into the rack and the bike is stored in an upright position until it is needed again. Add a combination lock to the rack so your children can learn about the importance of security and practice locking up their bike when it's not in use.

    Storage Bins What's biog, plastic, waterproof, comes with a lid, and best of all, is super cheap! A dustbin. They may not look attractive, but a brand new, never used for rubbish dustbin is perfect for storing toys in, especially long objects like rackets, cricket bats and spades. If you don't want your garden to look like the local rubbish tip invest in some plastic-friendly spray paint and decorate your bins in a range of colours. If you like to be super-organised you could allocate each child with their own coloured bin, or categorize toys by type: water play, balls and so on.

    Laundry Baskets Plastic holey laundry baskets can be lashed to any upright post and are ideal for storing smaller toys like tennis balls, toy cars and water play items. Tie one onto each leg of the climbing frame and the toys stored inside will be sheltered from the worst of the weather.

    Bike Sheds Small and shallow bike sheds are ideal for storing toys. The problem with larger sheds is they quickly become filled with clutter, making it hard to reach he toys stored at the back. They can also be intimidating for younger children to enter. Bike sheds tend to have large doors and are only around half the depth of a regular shed making it much easier to access all the toys stored inside.

    Take the time to tailor your toy storage to the age and stage of your children and you will save yourself hours of effort over the course of the summer. Children are much more likely to play outside if they can readily access their toys without your help, and tidy up time will be a breeze if your children can reach all the storage options.

  • Water Play Without The Fight

    A water fight is a fun and energetic way to cool down on a hot sunny day. But as it's a messy activity, wastes a lot of water, and can run up your water bill, it's not something you want to encourage your children to do every day.

    To kick-start your Summer holidays, we've come up with this list of calmer, less chaotic ways to cool down.

    Ice Blocks For this activity you will need some action figures or plastic animals, an empty margarine or ice cream tub, and plenty of room inside your freezer.

    To make the ice block, partially fill the tub with water, and leave in the freezer for 2-3 hours. Then add the toy, and top up with water, before returning the tub to the freezer.

    You could do the same thing with tiny toys, such as LEGO minifigures and an ice cube day.

    On a hot day, place the ice blocks onto a water play table, or another clean, smooth flat surface, and challenge your children to free the toys. Provide tools that will help, like spoons and salt to sprinkle on. Encourage older children to experiment with adding salt or sugar and noticing the effect that has on the speed the ice melts.

    Ice Boats Make tiny ice boats by pushing a tooth pick into an ice block, then adding a sail. Use tin foil or cling film to make a river down the garden slide, and around the garden, then sail the boats down stream. Bunch the foil or film together at the sides to make edges to the river and stop the boats straying onto the grass.

    Sponge Water Fight If you want to limit the amount of water used during a water fight, this is a great way to do it. Give each child a bucket of water, and a dozen cheap washing up sponges. Set the limit, stating that is the total amount of water they have to play with. Now they can get each other wet with less wastage as they throw the wet sponges.

    Water Balloon Boules Instead of throwing water balloons at each other, draw out an archery style target on the wall, or on the patio, with points allocated to each circle.

    Perfume Mixing Collect flower petals and lavender heads, and provide mixing bowls and spoons so your children can mix up their own tubs of homemade perfume.

    Water Pistol Skittles You will need some lightweight plastic skittles and a water pistol. If you don't have any skittles, you can decorate empty drinks bottles. Stand the skittles on a garden table, or line them up on the climbing frame ladder, basically they can go on any flat surface that you don't mind getting wet. Make the rules up to suit the age and stage of your children. You could give each person a maximum of three squirts to see how many skittles they can get down, or time how long it takes to knock the full set over. The rules don't matter so long as everyone is having fun.

    For more top tips take a look at our ideas for keeping cool and alternative ways to play with water.

  • Commonwealth Games In Your Own Back Garden

    This year the start of the Summer holidays coincides nicely with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

    Tempting though it may be to flop out on the sofa while your children are immersed in vidoe games, there's a whole lot of fun to be had when you play together outside.

    Kick-off your Summer break with these fun ideas for bringing the Games to your back garden.

    Fitness Training

    To excel at any form of sport, children must first develop the basic sporting skills of running, jumping, throwing and catching, balance and cooridnation.

    Elite runners don't hone there skill by running alone. They develop a range of skills to support their chosen sport through an extensive training programme.

    In the same way, for your child to attack a sport, they need first to be equipped with these skills.

    Set up an obstacle course in the garden incorporating your slide or climbing frame, and practice running the course and improving the time taken to complete it. This is a fun way of testing stamina and exercising all the main muscle groups.

    Improve coordination skills by playing in pairs. Throw a ball to each other, taking a step back after every successful catch, to increase the level of challenge. Or play a tennis rally, seeing how many times you can successfully hit the ball between each other.

    Younger children, or the young at heart, can chase and catch bubbles, either clapping them between their hands, or balancing them on the bubble wand.

    You should also develop a warm-up routine with basic stretches. Your children might already use one at the start of their PE lessons so this is their chance to teach you something.

    Commonwealth Back Garden Games

    If you have access to a park or beach, those are great places to re-enact the Commonwealth Games, as there is plenty of space to run, jump and throw things. If you don't mind the children having a later bedtime, head out around tea time when there will be less people around, and you can enjoy the space to yourselves.

    If you don't have a wide open space nearby, you can host Commonwealth Games style activities in your back garden, with these events especially adapted for smaller spaces.

    1. 20m Narrow Track Sprint You know runners have to stay between the lines right? Doesn't that look just a little too easy? Liven things up by making the lines really close together. In order to stay in lane your athletes will need to concentrate hard. Space the athletes a few feet apart, but make each track lane no wider then 4 inches. They will need to put one foot in front of the other, as if balancing on a tightrope. This will test speed, balance, coordination and patience.

    2. Super Safe Discus Hold a discus / shot put style throwing event, using a bean bag instead. You don't need as much space and it won't hurt if someone gets in the way of the flight path. You can measure each throw if you like, or mark out score zones and total up points. Either way this is a great way of incorporating some maths into your sporting afternoon.

    3. Long Jump Use cushions, pillows, blankets, whatever you can find to soften the landing. Use coloured tape to mark out distance lines, with each zone scoring a certain number of points.

    Hopefully these ideas have inspired you to create your own sporting events for the back garden.

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