16th October 2014Enjoy darker nights with glow in the dark art.
The nights are really drawing in now and it won't be long before the skies are dark by tea time. It's easy to think of this time of year in quite a gloomy way as the amount of daylight slowly dissipates, but we'd encourage you to embrace the cosiness generated by shutting the curtains in late autumn and winter.
One of the most fun ways of doing so with your children is to make an activity out of the reduced light by having fun with glow in the dark art. Kids love this and it's an ideal opportunity to get crafty and eliminate any residual fears about 'monsters' in dark bedrooms.
If you're pushed for time, there are lots of shops both online and on the high street that seek pre-cut, self-adhesive decals that can be stuck on bedroom walls to glow when the lights are switched off.
You and your little ones can enjoy getting them out and coming up with fun ways to adhere them in order to make cute pictures or motifs.
Make your own
However, if you do have a spare afternoon or two, we'd strongly recommend rolling up your sleeves and creating your own glow in the dark artwork, as youngsters will be really proud of it and the creation process keeps them occupied.
The most useful tool you can get hold of for this activity is glow in the dark paint, which is available from most hardware or art shops and can be used on walls, paper or card.
A great project is a canvas that can be hung on the wall. First, paint the entire canvas in your glow in the dark pain, then attach stickers such as stars, planets and other celestial bodies. Paint over the entire thing in black paint, leaving the stickers in place for now. Once the paint is dry, peel off the stickers and the shapes underneath will glow in the dark.
Painting directly on the walls is an option if you've got a steady hand and aren't too precious about the bedroom decor - again, you could stick to dots to create a starry night sky or animal outlines such as sheep.
For a really simple idea, emulate the star stickers that were really popular a few years ago for headboards or ceilings. It's easy to make your own using a template, stiff card, glow in the dark paint and sticky pads to adhere them.
You could even take this opportunity to learn more about the constellations with older children, affixing the stars in the shape of The Plough or Orion's Belt - get them even more enthused about this with the night sky projections from our Glow Pets.
It's really fun to do this kind of project and both kids and parents can really go to town in creating something fun and unique.
However, remember that if the resulting art is going to be on display in the bedroom permanently, it shouldn't be too busy or you could find little ones have trouble getting to sleep.
It's amazing how much luminescence some paints can give off, so remember you're aiming for a comforting glow as opposed to dazzling Psychedelia.
Another good point is ensuring the finished product is soothing to the very young and even older kids. We took a look around on the internet for glow in the dark bedrooms and while many were undoubtedly so clever they should probably be on display in art galleries, some were also quite sinister.
Therefore, consider if the tiny owls' eyes you were going to paint into trees or the shadows you'd planned to emulate lamplight could prove to be nightmare-inducing - and ditch them if the answer is yes.
Shapes can look creepy enough in the dark without adding even more monsters for them to worry about!
Having fun with darkness and light should help you to make this time of year more fun and eliminate boredom that could crop up when outdoor play isn't possible.
15th October 2014Why play doesn't need to have a goal.
We read so many books and articles and watch so many TV programmes that demonstrate how we can help our children learn or keep fit by getting them engaged in particular types of play.
For example, a game might ensure they've learnt their numbers by the time they go to school, another could encourage burgeoning writing abilities and more may aim to combat childhood obesity.
Research finds play is focused on goals
However, new research has suggested that sometimes, we should be letting our children play simply for the sake of it - because that could offer enormous benefits that don't have anything to do with education and fitness.
The study was carried out at the University of Montreal and involved a photography and interview project with 25 youngsters aged seven to 11. Each one was photographed and had a chat with their interviewer about their favourite ways to play.
First author Dr Stephanie Alexander said the findings revealed children liked to play in a variety of ways, with activities including knitting, movies, video games and having fun with family pets all especially popular.
Interestingly, these hobbies also had no particular goal to achieve while the participants were enjoying them.
Yet Dr Alexander also pointed out that when promoting play, many public health authorities now concentrate on the physical activity benefits of active play.
Co-author Professor Katherine Frohlich said: "By focusing on the physical activity aspect of play, authorities put aside several aspects of play that are beneficial to young people's emotional and social health. Obviously, we must ensure children's development and combat obesity. But to get there, must we distort play?"
The benefits of aimless play
For example, the authors discovered that playing without a goal is an end in itself for children, plus it allows them to have fun, experience excitement, and fight "boredom, sadness, fear, or loneliness".
Even worse, well-meaning authorities could be turning children off play, as forced games can remove the spontaneity, fun and freedom that should be involved.
Another factor the study authors noted was risk. Free play in which children were left to their own devices included a certain amount of perceived jeopardy, whereas controlled games didn't expose the youngsters to this.
Dr Alexander pointed out: "Allowing children to take acceptable risks while remaining vigilant is indeed beneficial to their development. An overemphasis on safety may contribute to the emergence of a generation of young people that is less and less able to cope with the unpredictable."
This demonstrates how vital it is to take children's perspectives into account when planning learning and development strategies.
"We hope that our findings will inform and improve the way authorities and indeed parents approach playtime," added Professor Frohlich.
How you can do it
Parents may find it especially difficult to trust their own instincts and simply let children play when they need to, as they are constantly subjected to mixed messages about their responsibilities with regard to providing experiences for their little ones.
Similarly, push and pull factors such as having to drop kids off at nursery and then only spending a certain amount of time with them later can inhibit our appreciation of play for play's sake.
It's tempting to want to take them to parent-toddler activities or play with them in a learning-based capacity, knowing as we do how competitive the world of grown-ups is.
But it is important to sit back sometimes and let children take the lead. Here are some tips on how:
• Encourage them to play with whatever they like (maybe limit the number to toys to a selection in a box to prevent confusion though) while you do a 'boring' job like wash the dishes
• Ask 'what shall we do now?' or 'what happens next' while you play with them
• Set them up with outdoor toys in warmer weather and watch how children interact with them - you may be surprised
• Ask them what they like about their favourite games, just as the researchers did
Not only should this ensure children experience the range of benefits outlined by the University of Montreal, but you could also discover a sense of relaxation as the pressure to constantly achieve is taken off.
Let's give it a try and bring back play for play's sake.
8th October 2014How to enjoy the autumn changes with your children.
The long, balmy days of summer are behind us and autumn is now well underway. Although it's always a shame to have to draw the curtains earlier at night and turn the heating on, it's important not to overlook the beauty of this very special season.
While spring is about nature bursting back into life again, autumn is a time when trees, plants and animals are getting ready for what could be a hard winter ahead - and it's therefore a period of rapid and fascinating change.
This time of year presents the perfect opportunity to entertain and educate your kids both outside and in, using materials straight from Mother Nature herself. There's still (hopefully) the possibility of some good weather and not-too-chilly temperatures ahead of us, so why not get your coats on and get your kids enthused about autumn?
Here are our best autumn-themed ideas:
Tell nature's story
Seeing something in action is always the best way of explaining how it works, so take this opportunity to tell youngsters all about life cycles. The trees are dropping their leaves and turning them wonderful colours, so explain that this happens for a reason.
Seeds are all over the ground, so show little ones how these tiny acorns and sycamore spinners will make brand new trees one day.
Another good tip here is to start a weather diary - they'll have fun and it will also present a fascinating glimpse into this particular period of time if you keep it, too.
Create beautiful art
Take inspiration from the natural world by collecting pretty leaves and either varnishing them to be stuck on patterned paper or rubbing them with crayons. For a more temporary piece of decoration, glue them on a big sheet of paper for a collage.
Older kids will also enjoy picking up things like acorns, seed heads and bare branches to make into candelabras using florists' foam or wreaths.
See how many animals you can spot
Animals will be busy at this time of year, so pretend you're Kate Humble or Chris Packham and watch them as they go about their business. Hedgehogs might appear in the late afternoon to fatten up ahead of hibernation, while squirrels might be around if you have trees for them to hide in during the worst of the winter.
Caterpillars may even be crawling along your paths in the last of the warm sunshine too - all you have to do is pick a comfortable spot on your climbing frame and get those eagle eyes ready.
Get lots of exercise
Just because it's turning chilly doesn't mean you can't play out. Get children's hats and scarves ready and go for long walks at the weekends, or head to the park in the short period of daylight after school.
Race around, kick through piles of leaves and see how many autumnal items you can collect before you go home - you could even make a scavenger hunt sheet for things like oak leaves and conkers. Oh, and speaking of those...
Prepare your conkers for battle
Many schools won't let their children play conkers in the playgrounds any more for fear of injury, but you can still hold battles at home, whether it's between siblings or kids versus parents.
The best preparation tactic we've come across involves putting the conkers into a quarter of a pint of vinegar for two minutes, then placing them in an oven heated to 250 degrees C for a minute-and-a-half.
This should ensure they're really hard and ready to be drilled ahead of threading onto a string. The only better way is leaving them in a warm place to harden for at least a year, but that's not much good for this autumn's fights!
You've no doubt got lots of other ideas for fun this season, so do share any favourites you have with us and our other readers. We'd also love to hear about fun days out you enjoy using our suggestions.
It'll be winter all too soon, so make the most of autumn with your little ones.
7th October 2014Don't let messy play disappear into the history books.
We recently read about a poll that caused us a great deal of consternation here at TP Toys - because it suggested that today's children aren't enjoying messy play for fear that it will clutter and litter their surroundings.
The survey of 2,000 people was carried out by Persil and it discovered that almost two-thirds of mums and dads are discouraging their offspring from carrying out tasks like baking and painting because they know it will create a lot of washing up and laundry afterwards.
Some 57 per cent of parents admitted they would rather see their kids playing with an electronic device than a paintbox as it keeps the house tidier - and it seems this is rubbing off on the youngsters.
Sixty-one per cent of the seven to 11-year-olds quizzed for the research said watching TV is their favourite activity, and a third insisted they don't like dirt and mess - we could be raising a generation of stainophobes.
This is despite the fact that 41 per cent of parents acknowledged they got much more involved in messy play when they were young.
Steven Chown of Play England warned mums and dads that they could be causing their children to miss out of they insist on a sterilised, pristine environment.
"Many parents are becoming more risk averse yet getting messy is part of a happy, healthy childhood and such play is linked with a range of cognitive and developmental benefits," he pointed out.
Bring back messy play!
It may be worth taking a moment to consider the playtime you enjoy with your own children. While quiet time is important, so is exploring and using the senses - have you ever considered getting the finger paints out, only to decide against it because the task involves a lot of preparation?
If the answer is yes, then why not challenge yourself to bring back messy play at least once a month? This needn't be difficult and is sure to be hugely rewarding, plus it creates some great photo opportunities.
All you need to do is a little preparation and you don't have to worry about the furnishings, either. Remember to:
• Choose a large area that isn't surrounded by furniture that little hands will grab as they move around
• Get hold of some plastic sheeting - shower curtains from the DIY shop will work if you like
• Have paper towels and baby wipes close to hand
• Instruct children that messy play must remain within the chosen area
• Stock up on washable, non-toxic play materials - that way, it won't matter if some splashes do escape onto clothes or sofas
• Have messy play outfits (old clothes) ready
• Make tidying up afterwards part of the ritual - if kids join in, it's less arduous for mum and dad.
Ideas for messy play
There are dozens of ideas you can use to get messy and have fun with all age groups, as a quick internet search will reveal. One of our particular favourites is making your own finger paints with flour, water and food colouring, as the creation is part of the art.
You can also cook some spaghetti and put food colouring in it to encourage squidging, mixing and plenty of giggling.
Another popular idea is getting hold of some cheap, hypo-allergenic shaving foam and squirting it into a tray, then putting dots, lines and splats of paint on top. Mix it with a stick to create a fun pattern, then lie a piece of paper on top to pick it up.
Wipe off the foam and leave it to try - before long, you'll have a wonderful piece of marbling.
Let's share the love of messy play and get mums and dads all over the country enthused about letting their kids revel in it. After all, the thought of having a generation that's never known the joys of finger painting is too sad to think about. Do let us know about your own messy play sessions too!
Being active through sport is beneficial for young and old alike, but often, a passion for sports is fostered at an early age. Sport is a fun way for children to develop skills like coordination, while also burning off some energy and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
It's natural for youngsters to want to use up their energy trying new, fun activities; investing in some sports equipment designed especially for children can keep little ones busy and also identify any special skills they may have. As they get older, you might want to indulge their passion with regular sports lessons where they can develop their abilities further - in the meantime, focus on keeping sport fun by avoiding pressure. Read our top tips for fostering a love of sport among your offspring.
The saying goes: it's not the winning that matters but the taking part, and this is a valuable lesson to impart when introducing kids to sport. Helping youngsters understand that participation can be fun regardless of the results is the best way to ensure that sport is enjoyable, even if they don't always win. It's easy for competitiveness to sneak in when playing sports but reining it in can remove stress from the situation, making sport a fun learning experience for children.
Keep your cool
Teaching little ones to play sports can be a testing and sometimes frustrating process, but remaining calm and cool-headed can make all the difference to how your child feels about playing sport in the future. Resisting the temptation to shout or criticise youngsters can help them feel happy rather than anxious or stressed. Encourage them to try again if they're struggling with something and use positive reinforcement to identify what they're doing right, rather than focusing on what might be going wrong.
Know when to stop
Not all children take an interest in sport at the same age, and some kids enjoy certain activities more than others; with this in mind, avoid forcing youngsters into a sport they don't like, or that they're not ready for. Sometimes parents can push their own ideas on to their kids, often inadvertently, but children need to develop at their own pace. Kids will figure out their own likes and dislikes when introduced to different sports, so be child-led when selecting sports for them to focus on.
Slow and steady
Practice makes perfect and this is often the case when it comes to sport, but introducing kids to new activities slowly can be just what they need for their interest to grow. Children can become bored or fed up quickly when the novelty has worn off, so don't feel the need to overdo it by pushing too much. If your child is constantly asking to play a certain sport, why not set aside some specific time during the week when they get to play to their heart's content? A regular weekly slot can be more special than performing the same sport every day, giving youngsters something to look forward to each week.
For a child's love of sport to grow, they need the support of their parents to kindle their passion. You can show your support and encourage your little one in the sport of their choice in practical ways - such as by taking them to regular sessions and having their kit and snacks ready - and also through words and conversation. Asking how practice has gone, cheering on in the crowd and familiarising yourself with the rules of the game can all help you get more involved and support your child as they progress.
Do away with tradition
Sport has traditionally been taught with a focus on developing and honing technique, but doing away with tradition and making sport more about the fun of the game can boost enjoyment levels. Facilitating sport rather than directing it can be useful in letting children learn how to play games and develop their own strategies, working out how to play as a team and seeing what each person is good at. Playing to everyone's strengths ensures each child feels valued and has fun, as opposed to piling on pressure to achieve perfection in a specific technique.