Today’s invitation to play: Little Pea’s sensory bin filled with an Autumnal playdough tree and leaves scented with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and complete with cinnamon sticks, leaf-shaped biscuit cutters, oak leaves, acorns, sycamore seeds and conkers.
Autumn has always been my favourite season. The colours of the leaves, the harvest loaf, Halloween, conkers and acorns hidden in the wet grass while sycamore seeds pilot all around you. I just love it. Even in the early Autumn, there’s something subtly different about the quality of light which is just so much nicer than the brash summer sun…
We’ve already been hitting Autumn hard by taking Little Pea for long walks in the countryside and collecting items for our Autumn season tree. On the way to one of our walks, Little Pea had fallen asleep in the car so we took a detour past the farm shop to let her nap a little bit longer and so I could fondle some mini pumpkins.
I thought the sensory appeal of a variety of veg all laid out with a range of colours, textures and scents would be something that Little Pea would enjoy too, so when she was having her morning nap today, I laid out some of the more robust vegetables from our weekly shop (and some lemons, they are the only fruit that wouldn’t go straight in her mouth…) as a farmer’s market for her to play shop with.
She loved picking up the different items, putting them in her basket and feeding them to her fox. When she didn’t recognise something (the corn and the leek were real puzzles) she would bring them to me and make her “Whada?” noise to ask what it was.
When we’d finished playing, we took one of the carrots and the lettuce out for our guinea pigs, which is always the highlight of her day. She took a bit of persuasion to relinquish the carrot though. She was delighted that the guinea pig liked it too, but didn’t want to give it up!
The other night, when Little Pea had gone to bed, I was feeling a bit frazzled and fed up. Little Pea had been really unwell with a virus which terrified me, and I’d missed a really important week at work which left me trapped in a cycle of guilt at missing work and feeling guilty for feeling that way when Little Pea was so ill… I decided that I needed something to focus on to take my mind off it, so I grabbed my craft knife, card and glue to set up an activity I’ve been meaning to do for a while now.
Peepo! By Janet and Alan Ahlberg is one of those children’s books that everyone knows. Like their other books for young children, it is beautifully illustrated, with a wonderful rhyme scheme which encourages the little reader to look for and identify objects within the illustration. The thing that makes Peepo! really special is the circular holes cut out of each page that give you a glimpse of what the baby in the book is spying and allow you to peek at more and more and more of the scene as you turn the page, until you have the whole image laid out in front you. Little Pea has found this incredibly exciting since she was very small, and her copy of Peepo! is showing signs of having been vigorously loved by a toddler.
Given how much she loved peeking through the circles in the book, I wondered what she would make of a game of peepo which used the idea of spying an image through cut out shapes with pictures of objects that she is passionate about, like the baby in Peepo! who keeps coming back to his Teddy and his ball.
Using some coloured card, a glue stick, a craft knife and some pictures, I made mini cardboard books to turn our wall into a lift-the-flap, Peepo experience. Inside the mini-books I stuck postcards of an old teddy bear and a stripey piglet, photographs of our guinea pigs and Little Pea with her Daddy and cousin, and a picture of a dog that I had cut out of a magazine. She was very curious about it as soon as she spotted it, and was excited to lift and open the flaps in various directions. When she saw the photograph of her cousin and the photograph of the guinea pigs, she giggled and tried saying their names, which was something I hadn’t heard her do before so was definitely worth the set up.
It didn’t take her too long to pull the books off the wall as they were held on with masking tape (which she’s fascinated with) and she carried them around the house with her for the rest of the day. They were a little bent by the end of it all, but I’m planning to smooth them out and bring them back out to play with new images inside in the near future.
Little Pea has started walking and it is exhausting. For me, not so much for her. She only stops running when she’s asleep, so is probably the fittest person I know.
I decided to
earn myself some respite channel Little Pea’s new-found love of walking by helping her make tracks like the animals in one of her favourite stories, The Gruffalo’s Child. We have the sound book, and I always seem to accidentally lean on one of the buttons when I’m trying to sneak her into bed. But she loves it, does a wonderful snake impression and is fully on board with the lines, “Aha! Oho! A trail in the snow!” so was quite excited to be making her own footprints.
I started by sticking a large sheet of paper to the floor with masking tape so that it was secure enough for Little Pea to walk on without it slipping. In a plastic tray, I put a selection of paints, brushes and things that she could make prints with: a plastic snake, some sponges and some good old potatoes that I had carved mouse and owl footprints into.
We started after nap time by re-reading The Gruffalo’s Child while she had her snack, then hopped into some old clothes to get down to making art. At first, we walked back and forth across the paper without any paint on her feet so that she could see that there were no prints left. I then asked her to pick a colour and she chose the orange paint, which we put onto her feet with a tickly sponge. She loved looking down at her feet leaving prints on the white paper until the paint had worn off.
After that we chose an object at a time, with Little Pea selecting a colour and me saying the name and asking her about her choices until we had some red mouse paw prints, yellow owl claw prints and a green snake’s trail. As you can see, she thought it was great fun and has maybe gained a better understanding of what the Gruffalo’s child is following in her hunt for the Big Bad Mouse 🙂
‘We were in a bad mood. Aunt Amelia was coming to look after us. We didn’t know who Aunt Amelia was and we didn’t want looking after.’
Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cobb
One of my favourite books to read with Little Pea is Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cobb. We borrowed it from the library and read it so many times that I bought it as soon as we had to return it.
Two grumpy children are told that their Aunt Amelia will be coming to look after them. Their parents tell them that they met her once when they were very small… When Aunt Amelia arrives, she is something of a crocodile-lizard hybrid dressed in a Mary Poppins’ style Victorian frock. The children’s parents provide her with a list to help her look after the children and as soon as the parents are out of sight, she takes them out to exploit every loop-hole and break every rule on the list in the pursuit of pure unadulterated fun.
It’s important to me that Little Pea understands as much as possible of the books that we read and the songs that we sing, so I always try to link them to concrete concepts. Most of the activities that the children undertake in Aunt Amelia were ones that she was familiar with, but when I saw the double spread page of the carousel I knew that we had to go and find one. I’m glad we did, she loved it and is even more excited when we come to the page in Aunt Amelia now.
When she’s a bit older we might have to have a full-blown day of Aunt Amelia style chaos ourselves. In the meantime, we love vicariously enjoying the siblings cheeky fun with their very special auntie through the parents’ earnest list and Rebecca Cobb’s charming illustrations.
Little Pea and I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar, though reading it has not been without risk. At ten months old her chubby little fingers were exactly the right size to get their little tips caught in the holes the caterpillar has nibbled through his five-a-day when she flicked through the book by herself.
Back in May, Little Pea was watching with fascination as I sowed seeds for our raised beds in seed trays and directly into the soil, and I thought it would be lovely for us to make her a little garden of her very own that would show fairly instant results. She probably won’t remember any of it when she’s older, but it was a lovely thing for us to do in the here and now and we can revisit it next year, and the year after, and the year after that… after all, who’s ever grown tired of the greedy little fiend?
To make our planter we used an old egg box cut in half and some cornflour paint coloured with green Wilton food colouring. I usually use yogurt with food colouring mixed in, but wanted something with a bit more staying power since it would be getting watered regularly. The cornflour paint did the job, giving great coverage and drying to almost a plastic finish. As you can see, she loved smearing the paint everywhere with a variety of brushes and sponges. She seemed to love the slimy texture, and by the time she had finished she’d painted the egg box, the blanket, the grass, her baby grow, her hat and her Mammy. Amazingly none of this stained.
When the caterpillar’s body had dried, I cut a head out of red cardboard and drew a face on it. Little Pea was very excited to see the caterpillar had escaped from her book and watched in fascination as I filled him with cotton wool balls soaked in water (tip: I added green food colouring and this allows you to see if the cotton wool is drying out very easily) then sprinkled some cress seeds on each ball.
We inspected the caterpillar every morning watching the seeds germinate and grow into tiny cress plants. I’m not sure how much she understood what was going on but she seemed very enthusiastic about the ritual and she was delighted when the cress had grown enough for her to help (well, she was trying to be helpful) picking it.
She then enjoyed the cress snipped up on her scrambled eggs. Great encouragement to try some new food.
At the moment, Little Pea is fascinated by flowers. Her favourites are dandelion clocks, which she loves to try to blow, closely followed by dandelions which make her giggle loads when she feeds them to our twitchy nosed guinea pigs.
Roses are great in her book, because they smell nice and the petals are silky when you pull them off. They are also a win in my book because they are edible and we have a rampant dog rose that flowers wildly with pretty tatty looking petals, so I don’t mind picking them and letting Little Pea do her worst.
This rose playdough contains rose water to echo the smell of the flowers themselves.
- Two cups of white flour
- Half a cup of vegetable oil
- Half a cup of hot water
- 1 tablespoon of rose water
- Gel food colouring
- Optional organic rose petals to decorate
- Optional edible glitter
I began by mixing the flour, vegetable oil and rosewater in a mixing bowl but found that the oil and rosewater combination meant that the dough was very crumbly and didn’t combine properly, so I stirred in hot water (about half a cup) until it achieved a consistency that I was happy with. I then worked some Wilton’s food colouring gel through the dough.
I laid it out on a plate with rose petals and edible glitter for Little Pea to play with which she seemed to find very exciting, she approached it very cautiously, checking that it was okay to touch and play with the petals before getting stuck in with wild abandon. Without the rose petals, I think that this would keep very well for a few days in the fridge. But a word of warning, with the rose petals, the dough became a bit of a sticky sappy mess by the next day so I decided to dispose of it. On the whole though, it was definitely worth it because Little Pea loved poking the petals into the dough and pulling them back out.
I looked after my friend’s little girl for an hour the other day while her mother went to an appointment, and while we were doing some drawing we made this Incy Wincy Spider Rhyme Wheel which Little Pea has been loving ever since (she points at it and shouts Dee Die Der!).
You will need:
- Two paper plates
- Crayons/Pencils/Felt Tips
- Split pin paper fasteners
- Some sticky tape to secure the back of the split pin
By cutting a section out of a paper plate and drawing four scenes from Incy Wincy Spider on the paper plate underneath, the top plate can be rotated to show a different picture for each key moment in the rhyme: the spider climbing the spout, the rain falling down and washing the spider away, the sun drying up the rain and the spider recovering from its ordeal.
This worked really well for a nursery rhyme storyboard but I reckon the idea would be great for illustrating the changing seasons for an older child as well. Can you think of any stories or concepts that would work well in paper plate form?
A little while ago, it seemed like it was raining all the time so I decided that Little Pea and I needed a beach holiday. Lacking any money because, maternity leave, and being more than a little pale of skin anyway, a winter sun break was out and we had to improvise.
I knew that Little Pea loved a sand pit because there was a great one at a community farm we visited with her older cousin a few months ago. However, since then Little Pea has been actively teething and everything goes in her mouth so I needed to make sure the sand was edible. I came across a great recipe for edible play sand at Clare’s Little Tots and it couldn’t be easier to make. All you need is five parts wholemeal flour (I used some bread flour) to one part vegetable oil, mix them up until you have a crumbly texture and, hey presto! You have edible sand which is safe for babies to play with.
I popped on a seaside playlist that I’d made on Spotify to create the mood, and Little Pea loved pushing the edible sand around with her fingers and feet, as well as burying her toys and digging them back out. She tasted a little bit of the sand, but on the whole was more interested in scooping, spooning and throwing it, so I was happy to keep it in a bowl in the fridge for a week and to keep adding it back into the sensory bin when we were ready to play with it again.
This did leave a slightly oily residue in the base of the sensory bin when it was cleaned out, but a little duck water play with lavender bubble bath cleaned it out with lots of fun and no effort at all.
Little Pea’s favourite thing in the whole world is splashing in water. Whether it’s in the bath or in a pool of water she’s tipped from her sippy cup, if there’s water she loves it. She also loves ducks. It didn’t take a huge mental leap to know that she would love a chance to play Five Little Ducks in her sensory bin.
I put warm water, lavender baby bubble bath and a tiny drop of dark blue food gel into the sensory bin (a 32 litre storage box that I repurposed for such things) and set this up on her oil cloth with a towel to catch any drips. As well as the five rubber ducks and their mother, I added paper straws for interest.
We had a great time singing Five Little Ducks and I think having the ducks in the sensory bin helped Little Pea make the link between the abstract words of the rhyme and the concept behind it, as we removed a duck for each verse and then I counted them while handing them to her to start the new verse. I think Little Pea was even more relieved than Mother Duck when all of the little ducks came back!
She also loved watching me blow bubbles into the water using a paper straw and got bold enough to touch them with her toes and then her fingers.