Free the penguin! Investigating ice with a preschool child

A guest post by Daisy’s Dad

In recent weeks there’s been speculation about the likelihood of a chilly weather front reaching the UK, but freezing conditions have already taken hold in Daisy’s world.  This weekend, we had to free a penguin that had became trapped in the ice!

Messy activities with Daisy are usually the highlight of my weekend and this one did not disappoint.  The toy penguin in question came from the bottom drawer of our freezer.  He’d been encased in a disc of ice by Mummy, to provide us with a fun weekend activity; we got the idea from Daisy’s childminder, who had set up this educational play activity for Daisy recently.

Mummy froze the penguin (one from Daisy’s burgeoning collection of toy animals) in a small food container, leaving a nice round chunk of ice to play with.


Ice Ice, Daisy

We placed the ice on a foil-covered tray, arranged our materials – toy tools, a bowl of warm water, several pouring containers, and old tea towels for spills – nearby and dressed Daisy in her painting overalls (to try and avoid a change of clothes afterwards).  Then we went about trying to liberate the flightless bird.


Along with the penguin, Mummy had frozen some glitter and bright, shiny decoupage shapes (stars and leaves) into the ice. Including these extras makes the activity more engaging, because your child can see when she/he is being successful with their attempts to melt the ice. Daisy was still a long way from revealing the penguin in the centre of the disc, but she could see that she was making progress when these smaller elements began to come loose.

Thaw point

Daisy enjoyed hammering and chipping at the ice with her plastic tools, especially her hammer, but she discovered that the most effective way to melt the ice was with warm water.

We tried dribbling the water on with a beaker cup, pouring it on with a toy watering can and then with a toy teapot.  Every now and again, we’d see if we could prize the toy away from the ice.  The activity held Daisy’s attention right through until the penguin made his escape.


Setting the (snow) scene

To get into the mood for this wintery activity, I set up a video to play on the TV in the background, called ‘8 hours of snow falling on lake with relaxing music’ (we only needed 20 minutes of it to cover the exercise!).

Long-form videos like these are abundant on YouTube: they use static camera angles, calming music (or just ambient environmental noise) and a loop of minimal action.  In this case, there is only the persistent snowfall, the eddying water and the occasional duck paddling around.

If you want something that has a little bit more action but that still avoids the attention-eroding effects of many popular YouTube videos, the BBC Earth and BBC Earth Unplugged channels offer a good selection of slow-paced long-form nature videos (including oceans, jungles and grasslands) that can accompany, but not intrude on, long periods of free play.

Granny Smith Says

  • If you want to treat your child to a new toy, then provided it’s small and robust (like a hardy model animal) this activity can be a fun way to present it to them; at the end of the activity, they get a new addition to their collection. Toy animals offer excellent early role play opportunities.
  • The water you use should be lukewarm (not even ‘hand hot’); it will still melt the ice.
  • This should go without saying, but do not freeze anything electronic, nor anything that has moving parts that might be damaged by the freezing process.



Sharing and taking turns; a granny’s perspective

I started to think about writing this blog last month when I noticed that Daisy had begun to use the possessive pronoun “my”.  We heard her label everything as “My” – My Daddy, My Mummy, My teddy, My books.  She then began clutching an armful of toys or cuddlies, declaring “Mine”; she even referred to herself as ‘my’ as in ‘my do it’.
Mine, ours and yours
Daisy has now reached the stage of development where she is ready to learn that some things are hers, some things are shared, and some things belong to others. Of course without siblings, all the toys in the house are hers, but when Daisy has a playdate at her home or our house she will needs understand that some toys are for sharing.
Daisy also needs to understand that we all have things that we can call “mine” but that we can share them with others and those things will come back to us. So we try to reassure Daisy that when she plays with other children, and they play with some of her toys, they will leave her toys with her when they go home.
Playdate Sharing
For a recent playdate we put out Duplo bricks and animals, plenty of train track, two trains and two sets of carriages. This allowed the two 2-year olds to play in proximity and occasionally play ‘together’ while we sat close by on the floor and joined in with the play.
Before the visit we had put Daisy’s really favourite toys away in her bedroom and explained that her friend was coming to play with her toys but when he left, her toys would stay.  This is something that’s easy to do for any young visitor that you have to reassure them that you understand that these toys are special to them.
The intention is to help Daisy understand about belongings and ownership without any great conflict and frustration for her.  But it’s not a straightforward stage because the concept of sharing is very hard to understand when you are only two.  Sometimes we share things that are returned later, but we also might ask Daisy to share her raisins and those raisins aren’t returned later! One of the best ways for Daisy to have an understanding of sharing is see how we ‘share and take turns’.
Playgroup Sharing
The other opportunity to experience taking turns and the process of sharing can come at playgroup where the toys are available for all.  Children have to wait for their turn when the drink and snack is being handed out, they have to wait to take a turn on the slide or swing and they may have to wait to have a turn to play with a particular toy.  This waiting is the hard part to cope with.  We make sure we are close by to we help Daisy know that she can ask for a turn and also say ‘not finished’ if another child grows impatient about their turn.
Granny Smith Says
Taking turns and the process of sharing is something we can demonstrate in our routines and in play with children.
Include sharing language during activities and talk about taking turns such as stirring the cake mixture and putting a spoonful into the cake cases; sharing my glue stick with Daddy; Mummy sharing her hair straighteners with Granny.
When shopping for groceries talk about buying food that we will share with Mummy & Daddy.
Show how we share something that won’t be returned to us – a bag of crisps or some of the cakes we’ve just baked (with generosity and a thank you).


Sent from my iPad

Using Usborne Snap Cards for matching, sorting and language skills

A New Year and now that we’ve packed up from the festive session I have time to return to sharing more of my experiences as a grandparent.  Spending most of the festive holiday with our granddaughter we had plenty of play time together and those times have inspired ideas for this blog.

I purchased a pack of Usborne Snap cards for Daisy.  Our pack of Usborne Snap cards contains 52 cards with four sets of each of the 13 different images.  Each image is labelled in lower case lettering.  The cards are a good size for small hands and are bright and colourful.  I know that Daisy is too young to play a game of Snap but the set of cards are a great resource to help Daisy develop other skills. 

New Vocabulary

It was Christmas so we have the Christmas Snap cards and began play with just one set of the images.  I showed Daisy one card at a time and this enabled her to become familiar with each image and for us to name any unfamiliar images for her, helping to develop her Christmas vocabulary.  We then spread the set of cards out on her table so that she could look closely at all of them.

This is something that you can repeat until your grandchild is really familiar with the images.


For the next step playing with Daisy, I took out a second set of the images to see if Daisy could name each card again and see if she could also match each of the second cards with the ones on the table.  Daisy loved doing this activity.  Daisy also loves singing as she plays and these card games inspired her to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the chorus of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer as we played. 



Another time when we played with the cards, Daisy started to sort the cards in a different way as she decided to put the fairy on the tree card and the Santa and the presents cards together.

When Daisy had played with the cards several times we also tried a memory game using just 4 cards to see if Daisy could turn over cards and make pairs (pelmanism) but we discovered that she’s too young for this game too and quickly changed the play. 

This set of cards has been packed away, ready for next Christmas when I hope we will be able to play games and Christmas Snap with Daisy.  I’m even wondering if we can also use the cards to make up stories together. 

Granny Smith says

These card games don’t have to be seasonal and Usborne do have different sets of Snap cards that can all be used to develop sorting, matching, memory and language skills.  I think we’ll buy another set of Snap cards – we just have to decide which set to choose.

Fifty Blogs Later

It’s a year since I wrote my first Granny Smith blog!  Fifty blogs later, those warm elephant socks that I wrote about are now worn by Teddy and Daisy only uses baby signing when she’s really tired.  We continue to use the local library regularly but now Daisy enjoys looking through the story boxes to make her own selection.  When I visit her, it’s a new pleasure to be asked by Daisy to read her stories and share books with her. 


Daisy’s bedtime routine has changed now that she sleeps in a bed, has a duvet and a pillow and chooses which of cuddly toys she wants in her bed alongside her.  The toy pram and buggy are still popular and Daisy has mastered going round corners and avoiding people’s ankles – mostly!

This week Daisy shovelled compost as she helped Mummy to plant bulbs into pots.  More messy play continues through mud club and play on the builders tray outside in the garden.  She’s a bit of an outdoors girl, investigating in the park and enjoying running in the open spaces.



The cooking activities that Daisy enjoys in the kitchen like helping Mummy prepare vegetables or buttering toast or icing Daddy’s birthday cake are all reflected in her imaginary play with her kitchen and her tea parties for her teddies.  Last week I watched Daisy search for her small tea towel so that she could take something ‘hot’ out of her play oven.

At some point each day Daisy will pull out her building bricks, wooden blocks and track.  She has started laying the wooden train track herself, making the noises of the trains and animals as she recreates some of her favourite stories.  


Now Daisy chatters, sings her favourite nursery rhymes as she plays, she listens attentively to readily soaks up vocabulary and expressions from the world around her.  Last week she joined in with the current train announcement “See it.  Say it.  Sorted”! 

During the past year we’ve seen the rapid changes in Daisy’s physical skills, walking, running, kicking, manipulating.  Suddenly Daisy is two and already this year is proving to be the year that her cognitive skills flourish as she makes connections. 


Through songs, chat, play and some tv shows, Daisy is learning the names of colours, is counting up to ten and is beginning to count back from ten to one.  She  uses the language of numbers to express herself “One more please Mummy” which shows that she is now understanding how we daily use numbers.  Daisy has continued to use ‘Daddy, Mummy and Baby’ to differentiate sizes and she lined up three different sized snowman decorations for me in the shop last week.  

Be it first thing in the morning or at bedtime, whenever there’s a ‘spare’ moment, one of the greatest joys of being one of Daisy’s grandparents is being able to have a conversation with her.  In the past month we’ve noticed that Daisy has started to talk in the first person and talk about ‘my bed, my teddies; it’s mine’ instead of the third person, ‘Daisy’s teddy’ etc.  We’re making sure that when we talk to Daisy, we’re setting an example by actively using the first person ‘Shall I help you’ rather than ‘Shall Granny help you’…

In the year, I’ve continued to knit for Daisy.  I made that green chunky jacket (bulb photograph) for her second birthday and I’m currently working on a cardigan; target date – Christmas!

Although Daisy is our only grandchild, her parents have ensured that she spends time with other small children and one of the biggest changes in recent months is to watch Daisy become aware of other children.  Daisy likes the company of other children whether they are older or younger and we see her starting to mimic what the other children are doing.  

Granny Smith Says

I’m looking forward to another year, recording more of Daisy’s experiences, play ideas, our crafting together and all the rest that comes from being a grandparent.

Making meaningful marks: getting ready to write

Messy play for Daisy regularly involves paint and different papers.  She has paint brushes and sponges and sometimes she just enjoys the paint itself, tracing her fingers through the paint.  Sometimes I see her ‘play’ with her food in the same way, running her fingers through the sauce.  Daisy’s hard at work ‘mark making’, using her senses and the physical sensations to investigate.

Mark making develops in different situations and with different equipment. It gradually develops into meaningful mark making that eventually becomes writing.


From toddler through to preschool age we can give our grandchildren different opportunities to develop their skills and it doesn’t always require stationery equipment.

Some ideas –

Squeezy water bottles, droppers, pipettes, paintbrushes and a container of water for outside mark making present opportunities to develop muscles for gripping and controlling.

Mud with sticks; spray foam, foam soap, spray cream with wide-toothed combs, straws and small brushes all give mark making opportunities that help to develop manipulation skills, strengthening wrists.

Toy vehicles, a large home-made stamp pad and a left over piece of wallpaper to make wheel tracks marks will develop co-ordination skills.

Chunky chalks  – we gave Daisy a set of chunky chalks which she enjoys using on the patio and on pavements where we chalk together, making and copying patterns.

Pens and crayons – if you want a quieter play time with your grandchildren, they will enjoy scribbling on scrap paper with chunky felt tip pens (make sure they contain washable inks).

Our grandchildren’s pretend play is based on what they see around them and this applies to writing too.  I know that it is often easier to use our smart phones for writing but children also need to see us actually doing some writing and using a variety of pencils and pens – write a shopping list on a piece of paper and take it to the shop together, write your message in a greetings card and invite them to add their ‘signature’.

Meaningful mark making by your grandchild is their way of expressing themselves and we should show that we value their work by putting it up where they can see it on display.


Granny Smith says

Word of warning – if your grandchild has recently enjoyed participating on a vertical colouring wall and also enjoyed using chunky chalks on the garden wall they have become aware that vertical art work is possible.  And they will be tempted to do more mark making by that clear area of emulsioned wall, particularly if crayons are accessible.

If you decide to leave crayons and felt tips out, be sure to leave out some paper for them to colour on and if your grandchild is interested in creating large pieces of art work, I recommend buying a roll of lining paper which can be spread out and cut to the desired length.

Grandparents and toys: the time and means to buy and play

As you may already know my husband works in the toy industry.  He shared a report he had seen (from the USA) that said: Grandparents account for about one-quarter of sales, or nearly $7 billion, within the $28 billion U.S. toy industry

Most readers of my blog won’t be surprised with this news and will probably agree that the same is likely to be true in the UK.  I think that as we grandparents are doing the toy buying ‘second time around’ we may be a bit more discerning about what we buy.  Certainly, as many of us have the luxury of spare time to spend with our grandkids, I believe we are even more interested in their development and education.

The report also says that 50% of grandparents report that they spend time playing with toys or board games with their grandchildren; no mention of screen-time there!  This just confirms to me what an important job it is to be a grandparent, and what it is fun watching them play, grow and learn.

Here is a link to the press release.