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winter

  • Why Your Garden Needs New Year Resolutions Too

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

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

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

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

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

  • Dreaming Of A White Christmas? Top Snow Play Alternatives

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

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

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

    #1 Marshmallow Snowballs

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

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

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

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

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

  • Top Gardening Jobs To Do In December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Mud Glorious Mud

    Back in October last year, we wrote a post about 101 things to do with leaves, because the Wicken Toys demonstration area was buried in them.

    We now the leaves are long gone, having dried into dust, been raked up, or blown away over the winter, and now we have lots, and lots, and lots of mud.

    While you may shudder at the idea of letting your children covered in mud, there are lots of good reasons to do it. Mud play offers a therapeutic sensory experience, which for many children has a calming effect. During the winter months children spend a lot of time indoors surrounded by man-made materials and away from natural light. Getting outside in the slimy mud gives children to reconnect with nature, and break away from the rigidity of indoor rules. Playing with mud will help develop creativity as they come up with their own games to play, and helps with the development of both fine and gross motor skills.

    If you have concerns over the safety or hygiene of the mud in your garden, you can make your own mud pit using an old splash pool, some soil from the garden centre and water.

    Once your children have discovered the joys of mud, they most likely will prefer to play freestyle, but here are a few activity ideas to help get them started.

    1. Mud Sliding The best thing about mud is how slippery it is. Create a mud track for skating across, or performing knee slides. If you don't mind your children getting completely covered in mud, let them pile it over the slide for a messy mud slip and slide ride.

    2. Mud Castles Buckets and spades aren't just for the seaside. Create mud kingdoms, with moats and decorate with grass, sticks and stones found in the garden.

    3. Mud Bricks These will only work if the mud isn't too wet. You can make mud bricks using old margarine tubs, ice cream tubs, or the boxes that laundry capsules come in. Use the bricks to build bridges, tunnels, forts, whatever you can think of.

    4. Mud Kitchen Some old plastic pots and wooden spoons are all that's required to set up your very own mud kitchen. Challenge your children to recreate your favourite dishes using whatever they can find in the garden. But be very clear that this food is strictly for playing with only, no eating allowed.

    5. Mud Painting Add some water to make the mud runny, then use artist brushes, or decorating paintbrushes to create beautiful artwork on the fence or patio or even brickwork. 6. Mud Treasure Hunt Use decorative glass nuggets as diamonds, and bury the treasure in the mud patch (when your children are busy doing something else), then send them on a treasure hunt.

    7. Insect Hunt Very gently sift through the mud and keep a log of the number and type of creepy-crawlies discovered.

    8. Free Play Simply take a step back and see where their imagination takes them. Playing with mud in this way feels liberating as it is against many conventional rules.

    For more outdoor play inspiration, see the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

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