Where has the time gone, the children are almost back in their smart school shoes and ready for another academic year!
That means families all over the country will be trying to make the most of any time they have left - and any remaining warm weather - by taking youngsters out into the garden and allowing them plenty of playtime on their climbing frames, swings and slides.
Although this is fantastic because it improves their health, boosts coordination skills and encourages social interaction, it can also unfortunately result in bumps, scrapes and knocks as all that excited energy bubbles over.
It's an inevitable part of childhood and we wouldn't want to see kids wrapped up in cotton wool in order to prevent them - but at the same time, it's hugely important to take steps to prevent the more serious injuries that can occur in the garden.
By their very nature, children can be so absorbed in their activities that they don't see the potential dangers in their environment, so strike a balance; let them play, but make it as safe as possible to do so first. Here's our list of top garden play safety tips.
Climbing frames with towers and slides are great fun, but they can present a fall risk. Ensure little ones are supervised at all times - your hands will need to be ready to grab adventurous toddlers - and watch bigger children so they are following the safety rules. For example, enforce the instructions that nobody must climb up the slide or hang upside down from the bars - and tell them that anyone refusing to follow them comes off immediately.
When you're assembling bigger toys, always stick to the manufacturer's instructions and never be tempted to take shortcuts. Also, place climbing frames over soft ground like grass or deep bark chips, as falls onto hard surfaces can be deadly. Quality equipment is a boon here, as materials such as the wood used by TP Toys won't splinter and has been thoroughly tested for safety.
Swings will need to be placed somewhere really roomy so there is space to go both forwards and backwards without crashing into something. Again, only place them on soft ground in case of falls and always teach children not to walk in front of the frame - that swing arc is a lot bigger than it looks and a kick in the head can ruin a day's play or even cause a serious head injury.
In addition, no matter what kids might have seen on YouTube, never let them jump from the swing while it's in the air.
We've discussed safety relating to trampolines on these pages before and a lot of the risk can be reduced by buying quality models such as those from TP Toys - we always incorporate safety features including enclosure nets and padding covering the springs as standard.
However, a few extra suggestions include telling children they must always bounce in the middle, never leap from the trampoline and leave 'tricks' such as somersaults to the Olympians - these just aren't safe to do at home.
Elsewhere in the garden
It's worth taking a look at the garden away from the play equipment to make accidents and injuries less likely. Is your lawnmower in the shed? What about your clippers and other tools? If not, lock them away out of the reach of little hands.
Loose paving slabs and other uneven areas are also best addressing prior to playtime, as they're a trip hazard that small feet seem inextricably drawn to - and a fall onto stone is particularly nasty.
A final key thing to consider is water. Paddling pools are great fun if the sun comes out for a final fling, but remember that children can drown in less than 3cm of water - they must be under constant supervision when in or near any water and pools should be emptied when they're no longer being played with.
Remember The Four As: awareness; age appropriateness; assessment; and avoidance to reduce the likelihood of anything bad happening. Of course, some bruises and bumps are inevitable, but with this advice and some common sense, you hopefully won't have to spend any of your remaining summer sitting in the A&E department.
The summer holidays are sadly drawing to a close and you've hopefully all had a wonderful time, playing in the garden, jumping on trampolines, going on day trips and generally doing all the things that make great memories.
To keep your troops happy until it's time to pack up those pencil cases and fill lunchboxes once again, we've put together five of our favourite games that can be played in any garden without too much equipment or organisation - give some of them a try.
1. Mini golf
Mini golf course might look quite complicated, but it's actually really easy to recreate a simpler version at home. All you need is some coloured paper and garden cane to make the flags and some cups (or buckets if the kids are really little) to make the holes - it saves you digging up your nice lawn that way.
Construct some obstacles so it's not too easy - perhaps make a pathway through upturned plant pots, get someone to sit on a deckchair to disguise the route, or make a tunnel underneath a trio of bricks. All you need then are some balls and clubs (make your own or pick some up inexpensively from the shops) and your budding Rory McIlroys will be ready to go.
2. A treasure hunt
Children love hunting for things, especially if it's a competition to find them first. A treasure hunt is therefore ideal - and you don't have to come up with flashy prizes or complicated clues like in an organised game. A little riddle for each stage and a well-hidden final item will suffice. Alternatively, if you haven't time to write poetry, give the kids a list of everyday garden things to find, like plant pots, a sycamore leaf and an empty snail shell. The winner is the first to collect them all.
3. Sports day
Sports day is always eagerly anticipated at school, so why not host your own version at home? It's easy to make courses for an egg and spoon race and sack race, while a hula hopping competition is simple and fun. You can also add a water race for a longer game - just give each player a plastic cup and allocate two buckets per player. The first will be full of water coloured with food dye and the second will be empty.
Put the empty buckets at one end of the garden and the full ones at the other. The game is to run to the full bucket, fill the cup, run back and then empty it into the other one for a designated length of time. When that time has elapsed, measure the amount of water left - the player who managed to transfer the most is the winner.
4. Get creative with chalk
Coloured chalk is hugely under-rated, so get creative with it outdoors. You can chalk out a hopscotch grid on the patio or establish a chalk picture art gallery, just like Bert's in Mary Poppins. If you want to make the latter competitive, mum and dad or nana and granddad could judge the 'paintings' once they're done. Simply wash everything away with water or a brush once you've finished playing.
5. Archery tournaments
We're not going to suggest getting hold of real bows and arrows, as that would obviously be far too dangerous for the back garden. However, you can still set up target practice games. All you need to do is draw targets on big pieces of paper and stick them to the wall or put them on an easel. Children can take turns to throw balls at them for points.
If you don't mind getting messy, you could use balls dipped in washable poster paint, or substitute balls for wet globs of paper that will stick. Water balloons might also be an option if it's hot.
Prizes for any of these games can be anything from little toys to an extra 15 minutes of time downstairs before bedtime - and you'll also benefit from occupied children who are getting plenty of exercise too. Beat boredom and make the most of summer!
One of the most exciting things about going away on a child-friendly holiday is seeing what outdoor play facilities the resort has provided. More often than not, there's a huge adventure playground - and the kids are straight on it, where they usually stay for the duration of the trip.
However, we know that lots of you won't have the opportunity to squeeze in a holiday this summer and will instead be opting for the great British staycation - time off spent pottering around the home and garden.
Maybe you've got a new baby and don't think it's feasible to travel with him or her as well as your other children yet, or perhaps you want to redecorate the house and therefore need to stop at home and get it done.
Whichever way, don't feel as though you need to kiss those dreams of adventure playgrounds and thoroughly entertained children goodbye just because you aren't going away - we're here to show you how easy it is to create your very own adventure playground right in your backyard - literally. All you need is a few toys and some sturdy infrastructure to be the envy of the neighbourhood.
There's something magical about a swing, so this is an essential in your new play area. Multiple seats will prevent arguments about whose go it is, so TP Toys' New Forest Double Swing could be an ideal investment for an easy break. Don't forget to place it where they've got plenty of room to zoom high into the sky.
Remember the excitement of having your own 'den' when you were little? It still applies for both boys and girls, so do include a secret clubhouse. You can get them to decorate something like our Kingswood2 Tower or a tent with pictures and 'treasure' once it's up and include games to play inside it - out of the grown-ups' eyes, of course! It'll keep them occupied for hours.
A climbing frame of their very own will not only thrill children, but also aid their balance, strength and agility, so it's a winner for parents too. Monkey bars across a central frame will aid the 'circuit' feel and provide a challenge for older kids, but younger ones can also gain a sense of achievement if they manage even a few rungs - or if Mum and Dad hold them up and provide assistance!
Incidentally, we can cover all of the above bases in one go with our TP Kingswood 2 Tower with Swing Arm and the TP Kingswood 2 Climbing Bridge Set with TP Pirate Boat and Deluxe Swing Seat - it offers the full works and is suitable for children right up to 14 years old.
Things on the ground
Of course, an adventure playground isn't just about the larger equipment. Bits and pieces on the ground will keep them entertained when they want a break from swinging and climbing too. A sandpit always goes down really well with tots, while budding footballers will love target practice on their very own Giant Goal with Trainer.
Tunnels are sure to be popular with boys and girls of all ages - and if the weather permits, you can never go wrong with one of our original Aquaslides. They have a foam-edged reservoir of water at the top so there's no need to connect them to the hose - just place one down and off the children go.
A few of these items will result in hours of fun throughout your staycation - you can even have your children's friends over so you can enjoy a chat with their mums and dads as they play happily together.
And the best part about creating your own adventure playground instead of using a holiday resort's? It's still yours long after summer is over!
28th August 2014How to beat boredom on rainy days.
The summer holidays are a glorious time for children - after all, don't some of your favourite memories date back to those halcyon days when the weeks stretched out ahead of you with no school in sight?
Unfortunately though, summer holidays don't always mean sunshine, as the recent storms and torrential rain we've been getting in Britain prove. And rainy days can herald the comment every parent or grandparent dreads: "I'm bored!"
Rather than tearing your hair out, try coming up with some easy games and activities that can be enjoyed indoors and that will leave kids feeling like they've had a great day even if they never set foot in the garden.
In case you're having trouble, we've put a few ideas together below to help you out.
1. Make a movie
Children will love the idea of emulating their favourite stars of the silver screen by starring in their own movie or TV programme. All you need is a camcorder or even a camera phone and you can play director and get that camera rolling. If they want to go into detail, try writing a short script and gathering some props first. When you've finished, they can even have fun editing themselves on the computer. Don't worry if you haven't got a camera or PC with the right software though - kids will enjoy putting on a play in a cardboard theatre just as much.
2. Start a scrapbook
We've all got photos we never look at, so why not create a keepsake and ensure youngsters are occupied at the same time by laying them out on pretty papers in a display book? Supplies are available from craft stores, or you can make your own using coloured paper from junk mail, crayons and accessories like scraps of fabric and buttons (take care with small pieces though).
3. Do crafts in general
It's a well-known fact that little ones love cutting and sticking of any sort, so set up a craft table and really go to town. There's fingerpainting if you want to get messy - the results can make surprisingly good artwork for your walls too; we know someone whose child created something that looked so much like abstract rhubarb, it was revered for ever after. Printing also serves as a reminder of tiny hands in years to come. If you don't fancy it, there's also macaroni pictures, making your own play dough and creating a time capsule to consider, none of which will break the bank.
4. Share a book
The simple pleasures are often the best, so don't rule out just sitting down and reading together as the rain pours outside...
5. Write a story
...Or if you've got a budding author, fold some paper and get them to come up with their very own story. Prompts such as a selection of objects might help, or writing aids like Rory's Story Cubes. This is not only fun, but it helps them to practise their National Curriculum activities without them even realising.
6. Pen a letter to a celebrity
Forget Twitter - get youngsters to pick their favourite celebrity and then write them a letter on real paper. They're likely to have a fan club you can send it to later - and their jubilation if they get a reply will be priceless.
7. Dig out your old board games
There's nothing like playing a real game like Operation or Hungry Hippos, so look in your cupboards and see what you can find. Children will love the novelty after swiping away at apps on screens and you'll enjoy some quality time together while boosting their communication skills.
8. Do some baking
This is a classic, as little ones just adore getting messy in the kitchen. Cakes are always a good option, but you can try making healthy treats too - Sainsbury's has some good recipes at the moment for making apple crisps and fruity yoghurt buttons, for example.
9. Dance like nobody's watching
Get them to burn off some steam during long periods cooped up inside by putting on your favourite songs and dancing together. You can even make up routines if you're so inclined - but you might want to close the blinds if you're on the shy side!
10. Bring the outdoors in
Don't feel as though you can't use 'outdoor' toys when it's raining - okay, it might not be plausible to bring in the entire jungle gym, but a junior trampoline or seesaw won't take up much room and can keep them active in the living room.
Hopefully some of these tips will prove useful when you're in charge of children's entertainment this summer - and if all else fails, you can always give them a duster and get them to help with the cleaning!
20th August 2014Easy ways to get your toddlers more active.
If you're the parent of a toddler, you might assume that getting him or her to sit still is more of an issue than encouraging them to be more active. After all, what mum or dad hasn't sat down exhausted at the end of a long day, having been run ragged by a little one with boundless energy?
However, even if you think your toddler is achieving plenty of exercise, it's vital to get them moving even more regularly if they're to reap the benefits and stave off health problems later in life.
Research has shown that active kids not only tend to maintain healthier weights, but also sleep better and feel happier than their couch potato peers. Furthermore, a recent US-based study found that youngsters who were always on the go were consistently brighter than obese children.
Experts recommend that children who can walk unaided should be physically active for at least three hours throughout the day, and that they shouldn't be sedentary for longer than an hour at a time. Broken down further, at least 30 minutes' worth of adult-led, structured physical activities is recommended for tots aged between 12 and 36 months each day, on top of another minimum of 60 minutes of free play.
Fortunately, that doesn't mean shipping them off to the gym to pound a treadmill; there are lots of fun ways of ensuring toddlers don't spend too long sitting down.
Fit exercise into everyday activities
Get into the habit of walking with your child whenever possible, for example, on a trip to the shops instead of taking the car. You can enjoy pointing out objects on the way and help him or her practise their language, balance and coordination skills. If you go into a department store, take toddlers up the stairs rather than jumping straight onto the escalator too.
At home, you can dance to the radio together, get involved with some simple gardening and play games in which you they have to retrieve particular objects after you name them.
Play together imaginatively
Simply running around the park or garden is always an option for upping physical activity levels, but playing specific games will hold their attention for longer, not to mention being more fun for you.
Why not spend some time leaping around with a bat and ball, or hold races with them on ride-on toys and you running alongside?
Installing a climbing frame is another really easy way of getting toddlers out into the garden, because they will be itching to clamber around it and test their newly acquired skills - you'll simply have to help them up and down.
Don't forget the allure of a slide either, as youngsters will happily spend hours going up and down, exerting their bodies without even realising.
Up the stakes with rewards
Of course, playing is hugely rewarding for toddlers in itself, as they'll be learning new skills, having fun and spending time with you.
But if you want to ensure they stick at their activities and aren't even tempted to wander off to do something else, you could always offer them rewards for completing tasks.
On a summer's day, it would be really exciting for children to see a mini assault course set up in their garden, which they had to complete as though they were little Olympians. It's not difficult to do either; simply establish a circuit and specify tasks at each stage.
For example, you could start with a slide, then move on to a tunnel that tots have to wriggle through. The next stage might be a mat on which you instruct them to do 15 star jumps, stand on one leg or bounce a ball for ten seconds, followed by a hopscotch course marked out with chalk (or colourful markers on grass).
A final lap around the garden on a scooter before arriving back at the slide is all it takes for children to feel a real sense of achievement. The reward doesn't have to be too complicated either - a bedtime 15 minutes later than usual, a packet of crayons, a comic or the chance to do some baking of biscuits will suffice for the 'winner'.
Keeping toddlers active will help them develop healthy habits as older kids and into adulthood - and parents will benefit from sleepy offspring when bedtime rolls around!