Tag Archives: play

Outdoor Play Round Up

I have been out of the habit of blogging what we’ve been up to, having coasted through December writing only about books.  It felt easier to do that when I was so busy, and didn’t have time or space to reflect on anything.  It’s been nice to look back through the photos, though, and realise that there were some good moments in what was a fairly stressful month.  I’m starting with an outdoor play round up, because I have missed being part of Coombe Mill’s Country Kids linky recently, and I don’t want to miss another week.  If I manage it, a round up of Christmas-related things will follow.

garden football

We took the opportunity to play in the garden as much as we could, even in the colder weather.  One morning in early December, the big three went out to play football while Tiddler was at Pre-School.  I resisted the temptation to leave them to it, and went out with them (cup of coffee in hand) and I was glad I did.  We had a lot of fun, and I think they stayed out there longer because I joined them.

garden play one

When they had finished playing football, they got the sledge out and tried as hard as they could to pull each other around on the grass.  They can’t wait for it to snow.  Monkey also took the opportunity to check that he could still get in the Little Tikes car – he can, just about.  Owl is a bit jealous!

garden play two

The sledge occupied them for a long time, and then they moved on to the swings and climbing frame.

garden play three

They played together for a long time in an imaginative way that was lovely to watch.  The top of the climbing frame became a bed, and Monkey and Rabbit were waiting for Father Christmas (Owl) to bring them presents. This was reenacted several times!

garden play four

A few days later all four children were out in the garden again.  Tiddler spent a long time riding on the fabulous Didicar – one of our best garden toys.

garden play five

Other than that it was the sledge and the swings that kept them busy for a very long time.

garden play six

I have really been enjoying spending time outside with the children.  In previous Winters I haven’t really been out there that much, but I’ve been trying to lead by example this time and it has worked.  It’s always easy to get the little ones out there, but with a bit of encouragement the big boys have had a lot of fun too.

garden play seven

On another occasion it was bubble blowing that got Rabbit outside.  Tiddler was happy with his scooter, and Monkey with his stick lightsaber.  And Owl agreed to come out as long as he could bring his book!

playground one 1

One of the best bits of outdoor fun in December was an unplanned trip to the park on a beautiful sunny day, to fill in time between a party and trip to the theatre.

playground two 2

This park is usually very crowded in the Summer, so we really enjoyed having it more or less to ourselves for a change.

playground three 3

The children had a wonderful time and burned off some energy before going in to the theatre.

park run december

Another highlight was the park run at Nonsuch Park, with my dad, and my brother who was over from Australia.  Well not exactly with them, as they shot off into the distance very quickly.  Owl and I managed to run it properly this time though, and I was very proud of his time, 42 minutes and 30 seconds.  I think that is pretty good for a nine year old.  I just about kept up with him!  Monkey, Rabbit and Tiddler walked with daddy and we all met up at the end.

There were a few other outings over the Christmas holidays, but I don’t have very many photos, so I think I’ll leave it at that.  Country Kids, it’s good to be back and I’ll try not to be a fair weather friend 🙂


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Edtoy Magnamobiles

In my recent post about Play Merrily Toys, I mentioned that we had been given two Edtoy Magnamobile vehicles to review.  We received the police car and the fire engine, and the range includes an ambulance, a bulldozer, a helicopter and several more vehicles.  They are made from wooden pieces which fit together with rotating magnets, so they can be combined in a variety of ways and the pieces will not repel each other.

edtoy magnamobiles 1

Tiddler and Rabbit decided straight away that they should have one each – the fire truck for Tiddler and the police car for Rabbit – but they did manage to share with the big boys who were keen to try them out too.  They were perfect for my children as they are suitable for age three upwards, and with supervision I would say that younger children would enjoy them too.

edtoy magnamobiles 2

We started off by playing with them on the dining room table so that the children could focus on the new toys first, because I knew that as soon as we took them into the playrooom lots of other toys would be added to the game.  They went to get the Budkins fireman and policeman straight away though.  We discovered that the ladder of the fire engine does not stand up well enough to hold the fireman.  You can make it stand up straight but it’s a bit wobbly.  Daddy thinks he can fix it, but in fact the children didn’t really mind and have played with it quite happily as it is.

edtoy magnamobiles 3

All the children enjoyed taking the vehicles apart and rebuilding them.  It was easy for the big three, and Tiddler only needed a very little help from Owl.

edtoy magnamobiles 4

Next, we moved into the playroom as Monkey wanted to build a city.  He discovered that the boxes the Edtoy vehicles came in made good buildings and he added his Lego minifigure house too.  With some Tomica road and a few other vehicles, they made a play scene which kept them all occupied for a long time.  It should have been bedtime but they were all playing so nicely that we let them carry on!

edtoy magnamobiles 5

While Tiddler was occupied playing with some of his other cars, Rabbit had a good chance to play with the Edtoy vehicles without interruption, and she took them apart and rebuilt them several times.

edtoy magnamobiles 6

The vehicles cost £17.95 each and I think that is good value because they have lots of play potential as construction toys, as well as vehicles, and they are very good quality.  They also appeal to a wide range of ages, probably from about 18 months upwards.  Owl is nine and he enjoyed building them, so if they were bought for a young toddler you could expect to get years of play out of them.

We were sent two Edtoy Magnamobiles by Play Merrily Toys for the purpose of this review.

Play Merrily Toys

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the Keepsake Teddy we have recently ordered, and I said I would write about some of the other small businesses we love.  So this is the second one, and it is our favourite online toy shop.  Play Merrily is a family run business which sells excellent quality toys, and the customer service is exceptional.  Everything we have ordered has always arrived very quickly, and if there are any problems with the order they are dealt with efficiently.

We have many Play Merrily toys in our house.  We love our doll’s house, which was a very special present for Rabbit last Christmas.  This year she is hoping for a Ruben’s Barn doll – Monkey already has one and she doesn’t want to be left out.  All our children enjoy playing with toy food, and we can never resist adding to our collection of wooden and soft play food. There are so many wonderful things to choose from, we always find it difficult to decide what to order.

I had already planned to write this post when the lovely Merry (of the Merrily empire) offered us the chance to review some Edtoy magnetic vehicles.  A full review will follow, but here is a sneak preview.  We were sent the police car and the fire engine, and Rabbit and Tiddler quickly decided they should have one each.  Luckily, they agreed to share and all four children enjoyed playing with them for a long time at bedtime on the day they arrived.  It was one of those situations where they were playing so nicely that we let them stay up quite a lot later than we intended!

edtoy vehicles

So if you are looking for good quality toys this Christmas, and would like to keep your money out of the hands of the big companies, Play Merrily would be a great place to start.

Next up in our small-businesses-we-love series, a great place to buy books for little ones online.   Watch this space!

Design and Drill – Review

It’s taken me a little while to get around to reviewing the second item we received at the Junior Scholars event which was a few weeks ago.  We quickly reviewed the Magic Science kit, which we loved, and then we took the Design and Drill set away with us when we went to stay at my mum’s house.  I was really looking forward to this one, as I’ve wanted to try it for a long time.  The children were all very excited too, and we had to work hard to get them to take turns as they couldn’t wait to get started.  We had a little trouble with the drill at first, as it was wired up incorrectly so forward meant reverse, and vice versa.  However, once we realised what was going on it was easy to work around.  Unfortunately though, after about ten minutes of playing, the drill stopped working.  The children were obviously disappointed, but I told them I would find out about getting a replacement drill and that we would probably be able to try it out again at home.

I emailed the team at Junior Scholars and got a very prompt and helpful response.  They mentioned that it was unusual, as Learning Resources products are generally very reliable, and in my experience that is certainly true.  It was obviously just a faulty batch, and they quickly arranged for a replacement drill to be sent out.  We received it over a week ago, and tested it out the weekend before last, so most of the delay has been caused by illness, being too busy and me struggling to keep up with my mountain of overdue posts.

The Design and Drill Activity Center is aimed at children aged 3 to 7, and it certainly appealed to Monkey, Rabbit and Tiddler (aged 7, 5 and 3).  Owl (aged 9) liked it too, although it didn’t hold his attention for quite as long.

The set includes an activity board with 100 holes, 10 double-sided pattern cards, 100 plastic bolts in 5 bright colours, a combination spanner, a junior power drill with reverse function, a hand drill and 3 different drill bits.  The power drill requires 3 AA batteries, which are not included.  At £29.95, I think it is really good value for money as there is a lot of things that the children can do with it, from simple drilling to complicated designs, so they won’t get bored of it easily.

design drill contents one 1

design drill contents two 2

design drill contents three 3

Second time round, it was a great success.  All the children loved it, and this time there were no problems with the drill.  Tiddler really enjoyed using it and spent some time practising putting the bolts in and taking them out.  The older children were quite patient while he did this, and they used the small hand drill to add and remove some bolts as well.  After a while, Tiddler had had enough, and then Monkey and Rabbit had a chance to create some pictures.  (Owl had a go too, but couldn’t wait for Tiddler to finish, so he went and found something else to do.)

design drill one 1

They used some of the picture cards, to create a flag and a flower, before designing their own picture of a train for Tiddler.  They worked really well together on this, and it was clear to see that this toy has a lot of potential for a wide range of ages, as it can be used in different ways.

design drill two 2

Despite our initial false start, we are really happy with this set, and I’m sure it will be used by the children for several years to come.

We were given the set for free by Junior Scholars.  All opinions are our own.



Garden Makeover – our Grand Designs?

We love our garden – it’s more than half the reason we bought our house – but it won’t win any prizes for beauty.  It’s more of a practical play space at the moment, but even for that purpose there is room for improvement.

This post is a collaborative effort, in an attempt to get all the family’s views about how we would like to transform our garden.

First up, here are Suburban Dad’s ideas.  I love this photo he took last summer of all four children helping him in the garden.

garden one1

The people at Activity Toys Direct have set us a challenge – how would we make over our garden if we had £750 to spend? Well, we can’t make it look pretty in the classic sense of the word “makeover”! Our garden is lots of things: a square patch of overgrown grass flanked by nettles, a playground and vegetable patch to our home-educated children, a source of cooking apples (thanks to the foresight of the first owners) and home to the “talking bush” – the overgrown hawthorn and holly at the bottom of the garden that mysteriously talks to the children whenever daddy is in it.

But, unless we can teach the children how to manicure the lawn (we have at least got them weeding, as you can see from the first picture), or find an extra 3 hours a day, any makeover has to be both practical, and give the children more chance to play. Choosing play equipment is easy – we’d start by getting a trampoline like this one.

We’d also look at the TP pirate swing.  Our TP swing and climbing frame is much loved, as you can see from the picture below, so in a fit of eBay enthusiasm we bought a second frame that has two single swings on it. The result? The second frame is hardly used. Our children love single swings when they find them in a park, but give them the choice and they choose two-seater swings.

garden two2

So what else would we do? Well, we’d put in a path around the edge of the lawn – not for us, mind – for the kids to cycle around it. Once they’ve left home we might turn our thoughts to ornamental borders, but for now we’re delighting in watching them run past the weeds and dig in the mud.

Now here are the children’s ideas

garden design one 1

This is how the conversation went with Tiddler.

Me You can draw a picture of how you would like your garden to be.  You can put in anything you like.

Tiddler (decisively) Blue grass.

Me Okay – and what else?

Tiddler Green sky…and a brown tree with brown leaves and brown apples.

Me Anything else?

Tiddler Nope!

garden designs two 2

The older three children had a few more ideas.  They looked at the website and all agreed that they would like a Forest Lodge and a Zip Wire.  Rabbit had trouble fitting in all her ideas, but they had to fit round a very large central pond with a miniature railway going around it!

garden designs three 3

For Monkey, the tree house was very important.  We have been talking about building one in our big apple tree for a long time, and the children want it to be a meeting place for the Silver Sword club which they have started with some of their friends.

garden designs four 4

Owl’s designs were quite complex, and covered both sides of the paper.  I’m not quite sure how it all fits together but there’s an underground passage involved!

garden designs five 5

They all want chickens, an ice rink, a skate park and plenty of swings and slides, in addition to the tree house, pond and railway.  Their plans may be a little ambitious, but maybe we can make some of them happen.  Probably not the ice rink…

As for me, this is what I love about our garden so far.

garden produce

The amazing bounty is not much down to our own efforts, though we did manage to grow the pumpkins.  We’ve managed more in previous years, and I hope we’ll do better next year.  I’d love to have a row of vegetable beds down the side of the garden, and in my fantasy plan there’s a chicken run at the bottom.  If we could have a path for the children to cycle around, it would double up as an easy access route for vegetable tending and egg collecting.

Whatever we do, there also needs to be room for plenty of this…

oats 2

…and this.

Paint 1

Play will be the main focus for what goes on in our garden for a long time to come.  Quiet play.  Noisy play.  Messy play.  Water, paint, sand, mud, oats and whatever else comes to hand.  I’d really love the children to have a sandpit that’s big enough for them all to get in together.

And somehow, amongst everything else that’s going on, we have to make sure there’s enough space for the children to play football.  I’d like them to have a goal, like this one, to focus their efforts in one direction (preferably not over the fence!)

I do love the railway idea too.  This is the one that has inspired the children, in the garden of some friends from our church.  I hope we manage to build our own eventually – I think daddy would have as much fun as the children.

train garden 1

Whatever we do with our garden in the future, it has to stand up to some heavy usage by lots of children of all ages.  As well as having friends round to play, we also have some of our home education group meetings here and the garden is a wonderful space for them to play and learn in together.  We often have art and craft activities, science experiments, messy play and sports going on outside.  We are also planning to start a Forest School group with our home educating friends.  Initially we will probably be meeting on another family’s smallholding, but if it takes off we would like to be able to extend the number of sessions, and our garden would be needed too.

As you can see, we are not short of ideas.  If we are lucky enough to be chosen for the garden makeover, the only problem we will have is trying to decide between them all!

This blogpost is an entry into the Tots 100/ Activity Toys Direct garden makeover competition.

The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat – Review

The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat

Written by Coral Rumble and illustrated by Charlotte Cooke

Published by Parragon, £5.99

owl pussycat 1

We received this book last week as part of the Parragon book buddy scheme, and it has been an immediate hit.  The older children read it themselves straight away, and then I read it to all of them together.  We enjoyed the imaginative illustrations and the simply, beautifully written rhyming text.

“The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea

In a box on the living room floor,

They sailed away for a year and a day

And these are the things that they saw…”

So begins the adventure of two curious children whose cardboard box boat takes them out to sea where they meet a “wiggly, squiggly eel”, a ” cheerful seal”, a “swordfish in a fight/ With a pirate late at night” and many other characters.  Eventually they arrive at a “cave on the shore/ With a green seaweed door…” before sailing home again where they fall asleep “by the light of the moon.”

It was bedtime when I read the story to the children, but it sparked off such an imaginative game that I let them stay up far too late.  It was the kind of deeply involved play that you just can’t interrupt!

owl pussycat 2

Two armchairs became a boat, a blue blanket the sea, and another blanket draped over chairs formed a cave.  Provisions and teddies (and cuddly broccoli!) were packed, and they set sail.

owl pussycat 3

After eating a picnic or two en route, they arrived at their destination and explored the cave, where they found a treasure box.  They carefully loaded it into the boat and sailed back home, fending off a pirate ship on the way.

owl pussycat 4

The little ones then spent some time playing with the treasure, while Monkey re-read the book, and then it really was time for bed.  We all gathered together to listen to Daddy reading the original version of The Owl and the Pussy-cat, by Edward Lear, which was a lovely way to finish off what had turned out to be a rather special evening.

We were sent the book free of charge for the purpose of this review.

Puppet playhouse theatre

One of the most successful presents we gave Rabbit for her birthday was this puppet playhouse theatre from Manhattan Toys which I chose online at the last minute, not quite sure if it would arrive on time.  Luckily I ordered it from PlayMerrily who are always reliably quick to deliver, so she got it on the day.  The description said there would be room for two children inside, so I thought they would have to take turns but all four of them have managed to squeeze in quite happily.  They have spent a long time planning and rehearsing shows, designing and making props and scenery, and performing for family and friends.  It has been really nice to see them all working together and having so much fun.

The pictures above are of the scenery for their jungle show, complete with palm trees, a snake and a teddy dressed as tarzan.  I love the ideas they came up with and the way they organised it themselves.  It was the perfect present for a five year old girl, but has been enjoyed just as much by the boys (aged 2, 7 and 8) so if you are looking for a birthday present for a child who loves imaginative play, it is highly recommended.  Especially if you are cutting it fine.  Thank you PlayMerrily for saving the day again!

Just playing

It’s probably going to be hard to explain why this picture means something to me.  It’s just a load of toys on our saggy old sofa, a scene you might see any day in our house.  Quite a nice little arrangement of dolls perhaps, but nothing special.  Just one of Monkey’s many creative play scenes which he loves to make.  The thought that he put into it, the care he took over the details, his satisfaction when he had achieved what he had set out to do…these are the reasons why this picture sums up childhood for me.

Some would say he was “just playing” but I think that is missing the point.  It’s easy to be influenced by the world around us, with its constant messages that our children need something more.  More structure, more organised activities, more early education, more targets, more testing… Loud and clear we hear it, if you don’t give your children all this, they will fail, they won’t be able to compete, they won’t get in to a good school, college, university, they won’t have a future.  How many of us stop to question it?

But we should.  We should question the idea that play is something to be fitted in only if the work is done.  Even though it has become more fashionable to talk about “learning through play” this has made little real difference.  Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult for teachers to plan opportunities for “learning through play” without taking a lot of the joy and creativity out of it.  Children learn best when they have the freedom to lead the play themselves, and to develop it as much or as little as they need to at that time.

As a home educator it is easy to pick out examples of our children learning through play, and it is very satisfying to be able to report that they have, for example, set up a cafe, written menus, taken orders and worked out the cost and the change.  It is tempting to jump up and down with glee, and say “Look, here they are, doing English and Maths, and they think they are just playing!”  But if we only recognise that they are learning through play when their play happens to coincide with a neat and tidy list of subjects (the National Curriculum perhaps), then we really don’t know the half of it.  We may not know what they are learning, perhaps we don’t need to, but when children are given the freedom to play in a stimulating environment, and allowed time to develop their play and sustain it for as long as they want, we can be sure they are learning.  This is the kind of childhood that I want my children to have, and in this country we are lucky to be able to give our children this freedom.  We are also able to choose whether they are educated in school or at home, but it is accepted without question that every child has a right to an education.

While I was thinking about this post, I had an interesting conversation with Owl and Monkey.  It started with a rant about tidying Lego, and how we should look after our toys as many children don’t have any.  We talked about the situation in West Africa, and our involvement (with other bloggers) in the World Vision sponsorship scheme; about how it would feel to be hungry all the time, to work very hard or walk a long way to get a little water or food, and not to have time and energy to play; about how charities are working to provide food for the children who need it, but they need our help.  Owl suggested that we should get some of our toys and send them to the children, so we had a discussion about the cost of sending toys to West Africa!

Most of us have comfortable homes, warm clothes, enough food and an abundance of toys, books and other possessions.  Many children and families in West Africa have very few of these things.  We may feel helpless, but in reality we are not.  In our own small way we can each make a difference to one child, one family, and collectively we can make a bigger difference by sharing our efforts.

This post was written for a blog hop to raise awareness of World Vision’s West Africa Appeal, and the DFID matched funding they are receiving until 30th August.  Any amount you are able to donate via the World Vision website will be doubled and will go towards long term projects to help build a better future for the children of West Africa.

I am tagging two other bloggers to join in to the blog hop if they wish, to help spread the word.

1.  Holly Blog

2.  homeschoolingmiddleeast

This is a blog hop hosted by Patch of Puddles.