Autumn Foraging

Autumn

Over the weekend, we had a fantastic outing to Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/waddesdon-manor/). The grounds were bright with autumnal colours; we were surrounded by splashes of red, gold and amber. Inspired by the beautiful scenery, we collected some pretty leaves, conkers, pine cones and twigs covered in lichen.

It was lovely to bring a little bit of autumn into our house so my toddler could explore these interesting things in more detail.

Sensory autumn box

A sensory box is a safe and simple way for toddlers to explore new ideas and objects. This was extremely straightforward to set up. All you need is a plastic box, or a cardboard box would do. I filled the base of the box with bird seed, but you could also use rice, popcorn kernels or sand. I put in some of the leaves, pine cones, twigs and conkers that we had collected at Waddesdon.

Alongside these, I added some little toy containers, a funnel, a bucket and a little plastic spade.

You could also add a few cinnamon sticks to stimulate your child’s sense of smell. Pop the box on the floor on top of an old sheet/splash mat and your toddler can have lots of fun exploring! my toddler began by sorting all the pine cones into the bucket.

But her favourite thing to do was to play with the bird seed and transfer it into the different containers.

I actually added three more little bowls of various sizes for her to use.

my toddler loved this activity and was happily absorbed for over an hour.

Leaf hedgehogs

Next, we decided to use some of the leaves we had collected to create some foraging creatures of our own: hedgehogs! This is a quick activity to set up. Draw a hedgehog shape onto some brown card or sugar paper. Cut out the hedgehog. To make several identical ones, use the first as your template.

Your toddler (guided by you) can then stick some leaves onto the body of the hedgehog, pointy sides at the top to emulate prickles.

To finish, simply draw the eyes, nose and mouth onto the face of the hedgehog using a black marker pen.

my toddler enjoyed sticking the leaves down, but I think that an older toddler would probably get more out of this activity, as they would be able to do more of it themselves.

Conker Caterpillar

We were lucky enough to find some nice conkers at Waddesdon, which were perfect for our next craft activity. To create conker caterpillars, simply make a hole through the middle of the conker. You can use a skewer, scissors or even a drill. I used a skewer. Then, grab some pipe cleaners. You will need to twist the end of the pipe cleaner to stop the conkers from falling off and also to avoid the sharp end from hurting your toddler. Then your toddler can have lots of fun practising his or her fine motor skills, threading the conkers onto the pipe cleaner.

I put a little bit of sellotape around the top of the pipe cleaner to protect my toddler’s fingers from the metal tip and also to make it easier for her to thread the conkers. When enough are on the pipe cleaner, you can remove the sellotape and twist the other end to secure the conkers. Then simply stick two goggly eyes onto the first conker to make your very own conker caterpillar!

my toddler found the finished product fascinating and enjoyed playing with it. She managed to pull the goggly eyes off very quickly though, so this is something to watch out for.

Next time you and your children are out and about enjoying the autumnal surroundings, don’t forget to collect some treasures of your own. We hope you enjoy recreating these activities. Happy foraging!

Ladybird, Ladybird

Ladybirds

One of my toddler’s favourite books is What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson. For anyone unfamiliar with Julia Donaldson, she was the Children’s Laureate from 2011-13 and has written a host of children’s books, her most famous arguably being The Gruffalo. We discovered her books when my toddler was still a small baby and they were an instant hit, thanks to the wonderful rhyming text and imaginative storylines. my toddler particularly likes What the Ladybird Heard because of the different animal noises and the vibrant illustrations by Lydia Monks. On every page there is a small, sparkly ladybird, and my toddler enjoys finding and pointing to her while we are reading.

Inspired by the book, I created some ladybird-themed craft activities for my toddler.

Potato Printing Ladybirds

To prepare, I cut a potato in half then scooped out several small circular holes to create the distinctive spots on a ladybird. I used the pointy end of a potato peeler to do this.

I also cut out a ‘handle’ to make it easier to hold the potato.

I poured some red paint onto a paper plate and my toddler had lots of fun dipping the potato into the paint and printing ladybird shapes onto the paper.

We used black sugar paper so that the red paint would really stand out. Also, it would have been tricky for my toddler to separately paint in the black spots at her age (17 months), so this solved the problem! my toddler loved this activity and I would highly recommend it for any toddlers of a similar age.

Egg Carton Ladybirds

This activity requires parental help and takes a little longer to complete, as you have to wait for the paint to dry, but it is worth the effort to create your very own little ladybirds!

  • You will need:
  • An egg carton
  • Black pipe cleaners (for the ladybird’s antennae)
  • Black pom poms (for the ladybird’s head)
  • Goggly eyes
  • Red paint
  • Black paint/marker pen/circular stickers (for the ladybird’s spots)
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Cut the cups out of the egg cartons.

Paint each of the cups red and leave to dry. For a sparkly ladybird, you could add some red glitter or use red glitter paint.

Once the cups are dry, add black dots. You could use a marker pen, black circular stickers or black paint. Next stick or glue the goggly eyes onto the black pom pom.

Cut some black pipe cleaners into about 4 cm long strips and bend them into “L” shapes for the antennae. You will need two strips per ladybird.

Finally, glue two pipe cleaners and the pom pom onto the red body, and your ladybird is complete!

Next, we needed to create somewhere for our ladybirds to live!
For the base of the sensory box, I used white rice that I had dyed green to give the illusion of grass.

To dye the rice, I used the following method:
• Pour 500g uncooked rice into a plastic container which has a lid.
• Add green food colouring and 1 ½ – 2 tsp of white vinegar.
• I also added a few drops of lavender oil to eradicate the smell of vinegar.
• Pop the lid on and shake the container to evenly distribute the colour.
• Finally, tip the rice mixture onto a baking tray/into a roasting pan, and leave to dry for at least 24 hours. It actually took longer than this for my rice to dry, so I put it into the oven on a low heat for about an hour to speed things up.
• Once dry, the rice can be used and re-used. Just make sure you store it in an air-tight container.

Once the ‘grass’ was dry, I added the egg carton ladybirds, some pine cones, fir tree twigs and conkers to the box.

Next to the box I placed some containers, a mini muffin tray, a little plastic spade and a rake.

my toddler had lots of fun with this activity but it was rather messy, so I would definitely advise you to put down a large tablecloth/old sheet on the floor to catch the rice. my toddler spent most of her time picking up the rice and letting it trickle out of her hand into all the different containers.

Ladybird Music

The perfect accompaniment to our activities was Marienwürmchen (meaning ‘Ladybird’) by Brahms from Seven Children’s Songs:

This song is in German and was written in 1857. The lyrics of the song are similar to those of the old English nursery rhyme, Ladybird, Ladybird:

Ladybird, sit on my hand -
I will do you no harm.
No harm shall come to you;
I only wish to see your colourful wings:
your colourful wings are my joy.

Ladybird, fly away,
your house is burning, your children are crying
so much, so much.
The evil spider is spinning her web around them;
Ladybird, fly home,
your children are crying so.

Ladybird, fly to the neighbour's children,
They will do you no harm.
No harm will come to you:
they only wish to see your colourful wings,
and greet them both for me.

We hope you and your children have lots of fun creating some ladybirds of your own and you enjoy these activities as much as we have.

Toddler-Friendly Bonfire Afternoon

Fireworks

my toddler and I had lots of fun getting ready for Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night as it is also known, this year. At 17 months, my toddler is still a little young for an evening of bonfires, sparklers and fireworks, so I decided to create a toddler-friendly Bonfire Afternoon for her to enjoy with four different activities.

Foil Sparklers:

First, we made Foil Sparklers. These are incredibly easy to make. All you need is a rectangle of kitchen foil. Tear or cut horizontally in strips about 1cm apart from the left side into the middle until you have a fringe.

Then carefully roll the foil from the bottom upwards, taking care not to damage the fringe. Twist to keep it all together and then give it to your toddler to play with!

my toddler loved her foil sparkler, and particularly the exciting noise it made when shaken!

Sensory Bottles:

Now my toddler had a sparkler, it was time to recreate some fireworks! For this, we made sensory bottles.
We used:

  • Two empty water bottles
  • Water
  • Sunflower oil (or vegetable oil)
  • Food colouring
  • Effervescent tablets (you can use Alka Seltzer or Sterident)

Add equal quantities of water and oil (you can add a little more oil than water if desired), then add some food colouring. Finally, pop between 1 and 3 effervescent tablets into the water bottle and enjoy watching the reaction!

I only used 1 tablet in each bottle but if I were doing this activity again I would use more, as the reaction was not as powerful as I had anticipated. Nevertheless, my toddler found these bottles mesmerising and played with them for ages!

We finished with two painting activities.

Fireworks painting with pipe cleaners:

my toddler began by painting fireworks using pipe cleaners. This was very simple to set up. I took 3-4 pipe cleaners, twisted them at the middle point and then fanned the ends out like a star. This creates the effect of fireworks exploding.

I also put out three different colours of paint, but you could use as many colours as you like. As my toddler is still quite young, I showed her what to do first but she got the hang of it quickly and was able to dip one of the pipe cleaner ‘fans’ in the paint and then press it down onto the sugar paper. We used navy sugar paper to create the effect of the night sky, so the bright colours of the fireworks would stand out on the paper.

Bonfire painting using toilet paper rolls:

To prepare, I cut strips along a toilet paper roll to about the middle and fanned the ends out. We were going to use these in the same way as we did the pipe cleaner ‘fans’.

The original idea was to create more firework-like shapes but the overall effect ended up being more similar to that of a bonfire. my toddler had great fun splattering the paint over the page with the toilet roll tubes.

We used red, orange and yellow colours, which were perfect for creating flames.

Next time we do this activity, it would be good to try to create the effect of the wood burning at the bottom of the page. We could do this by painting logs, either with brown finger paint or dipping pipe cleaners into paint and pressing onto the paper, or possibly by sticking brown pipe cleaners onto the page. Let me know what you decided to do if you recreated this activity.

my toddler and I thoroughly enjoyed our Bonfire Afternoon and we hope you all enjoy Guy Fawkes Night, whatever you choose to do. Have a wonderful and safe time!

Three Penguin Craft Activities

Penguins

Penguins are synonymous with the cold and, now that winter is here, they make the perfect theme for a seasonal craft activity. my toddler and I decided to create three different types of penguin.

Potato Print Penguins

This was a really fun activity. It was easy to do and you could adapt it to create as many penguins of different shapes and sizes as you like. We decided to make a little family of penguins: a mummy, daddy and baby! First of all, cut a suitably-sized potato in half and cut handles so it is easier to pick up. We used a larger potato for the adult penguins and a smaller one for the baby.

Dip the potato in black paint and print onto the page.

When this has dried, cut a smaller potato in half and print a white circle on top of the black one.

Finally, add in eyes (either painted or you could use stick-on goggly eyes), an orange beak and orange feet.

This year, we used our penguin design to make our family Christmas cards. We scanned it onto the computer and then uploaded it to http://www.snapfish.co.uk to create our cards.

Paper Plate Penguins

Begin by painting the back of a paper plate black.

my toddler had lots of fun painting paper plates!

When this has dried, turn your paper plate over so the white section is facing upwards and fold in both sides and the top. Glue or staple into place. I used pva glue but I had to put a book on top of the folds while it dried so that it stuck in place properly.

Using orange sugar paper or card, cut out a beak and two feet shapes. If you are making several, it’s a good idea to use your first as a template so they are all the same.

Glue these onto your plate.

Finally, draw around a small circular shape (I used the lid of a Pritt Stick) onto white card for the eyes, and then a smaller black shape (I used the top of a Sharpie marker pen). Glue the black circles onto the white.

Finally, glue the penguin’s eyes into place.

This is a fun family activity, and your children could make one each! my toddler enjoyed helping me with this, and when she is a little older she will be able to make one all by herself!

Toilet Roll Penguins

These are easy to make and look fabulous as festive decorations in your home. Begin by painting your toilet roll tube black, leaving a large section for the penguin’s distinctive white breast.

Once the paint is dry, paint your penguin’s breast white. Also paint two white circles for eyes.

When this has dried, paint on an orange beak and add black pupils to the eyes.

Cut out wings for your penguin using black sugar paper and feet using orange sugar paper. Use the first one you cut out as a template for the others.

Stick the feet on the bottom of the penguin using sellotape.

Finally, stick on the wings using glue.

These were super fun to make and my toddler loves playing with her penguins!

We hope you have lots of fun creating these festive penguins! I would love to hear how you got on.