What to look for in Autumn; a guest blog by Grandpa Smith

Autumn is Grandpa’s favourite season so I’ve invited him to write this –

Daisy may be too young to understand the turning of the seasons but she’s not too young to savour the assault on the senses presented by the arrival of Autumn. It is the most sensory of the seasons providing stimulation colour and texture, sounds smells and tastes that herald the depart of summer and the promise of change.


I am of the ‘Ladybird’ generation, educated in part by those compact masterpieces that conveyed ‘grownup’ things in digestible collectible volumes. ‘The What To Look For’ series first published in 1960 deals with the seasons and the book on Autumn was, and still is, my favourite.


It will be a while before Daisy and I share E. L. Grant Watson’s succinct descriptions of C. F. Tunnicliffe’s evocative illustrations, but she is ready to get her yellow wellies on and experience the crackle of dead leaves, the glory of the red and white fly agaric toadstool (don’t touch!), the tang of early apples freshly picked from the tress and the contrasting textures of the conker’s prickly skin and its polished nut.


The many shapes, colours sizes and textures of leaves at this time of year provide an endless resource for tactile learning as well as a natural soft play area (always check for hidden hazards!).

Where we live she will also hear the honking of the geese as the form their V-shaped fly past and smell sweet woodsmoke in the crepuscular light.



Much of Autumn’s bounty can be brought inside for further examination and display (yes, I am of the ‘nature table’ generation as well). Learning Resources’ Sensory Tubes are perfect for storing this kind of scavenging  Such collections of leaves and twigs, nuts and berries, moss and bark can be enhanced by extras from Yellow Door; take a look at their Coloured Leaves and Wooden Tree Set. Their Natural Sorting Traysalso provide an opportunity for a little simple classification and make great display items.

With or without extra resources Autumn is a gift of sensory learning for all children and a magical time of sharing for grandparents.

Grandpa Smith says

Put some potatoes on to bake before you go outside!



Why keep all those cardboard boxes? Construction and imaginative play

If you are looking for inexpensive play activities for a toddler then this one should definitely be on your list.  You must remember a time when you gave a toddler a gift and once it was unwrapped they were more interested in the container than the contents.  So take the lead from the child and turn that fascination into an activity.

Cardboard boxes and containers provide a perfect introduction to construction play and an opportunity to explore construction processes with something that isn’t a ‘toy’.

During a recent visit I put out a stack of boxes, all different dimensions and shapes for Daisy to play with.  In a world that’s filled with toys, it’s a delight to watch a young child be stimulated into play with a stack of cardboard containers.

Daisy spread the boxes and investigated each one – lids on/off, open/close flaps, peering down the tubes, rolling the tubes and positioning the boxes on the floor.


All this investigation is also giving Daisy an early introduction to different shapes and also to some scientific principles.

After finding out about the boxes, then Daisy was ready to try stacking some of the boxes.

Along with the stack of boxes I’d added a very large box that I’d flattened and propped against her little table to make a ‘tunnel’.  Daisy discovered that she could roll the tubes down the slope and that her little cars fitted through the tube.


Daisy was then ready to construct her tunnel and started to give me instructions to help her to make a tunnel big enough for us both to sit under!  For a while we played under the cardboard tunnel before, in an instant, this play sparked Daisy’s imagination and become imaginative play as the tunnel changed to become a wall.  I had to help make a ‘house’ for us as Daisy moved the boxes to be ‘in a house’.  One box became a table and Daisy pretending to roll out ‘biscuits’ and then to eat a snack in her house.

This was the first time that Daisy had played with cardboard boxes.  It exceeded my expectations and Daisy enjoyed it so much that on the following day when I asked her if she wanted to play with water or boxes, Daisy asked for the boxes again.

Daisy hasn’t forgot about fun with cardboard boxes and when Mummy and Daddy had a large delivery at home, she was ready to test her little cars down the slopes of a very, very large box.


In the past, with our nieces and nephews, I’ve used empty boxes to made a shop and a double decker bus and it is a great introduction to role play.  We’ve worked on the creations together and created something that they’ve loved and repeatedly used in their play.  The joy of play with cardboard boxes is that young children can test out their ideas and see what happens as they try to fit things together.  The play can be extended and developed in so many different directions.

Next time that I have a big empty cardboard container I’ll show it to Daisy and see what she wants to make it into.  Of course Daisy might still opt her favourite use for large cardboard boxes at the moment – just to ‘hide, hide’ inside.  I’ll need to make sure it’s a extra large cardboard box as she usually asks Grandpa or me to join her in her hiding place!

Granny Smith says

This activity with the cardboard boxes was mainly child led play.  There are many other possibilities for activities with cardboard boxes, both structured ones and child led.  I’m sure I’ll be returning to play activities with boxes and Daisy.  The great thing about this play is that you don’t have to store lots of toys and these activities all depend on what boxes are available for your grand child’s next visit.

For safety’s sake watch out for loose staples and sharp edges before letting your grandchild play with used cardboard boxes.

Cooking Time with Toddlers; learning in the kitchen

While a lot of Daisy’s play and activities centre around toys and play equipment we’ve recently started to involve her in some basic food preparation activity; encouraging her to join in when we’re preparing vegetables for a meal, letting her stir milk into a drink and to use a small butter knife to butter her toast.


These activities help a toddler to practise hand-eye co-ordination and developing their dexterity.  By 20 – 24 months a toddler has the skills to try some simple cooking activities that last 5 – 15 minutes, depending on the toddler’s attention span and level of interest.


Wherever possible select an activity that the child can complete and participate in themselves.  They will learn more by doing than by watching an adult.  Planning and simple preparations are required for a cooking activity to be successful so that once you start a cooking activity you stay with the child until all is complete.

For our first two cooking activities with Daisy we used a sheet of ready-made puff pastry.  The first activity involved Mummy, Daddy and Daisy all cooking together.  To keep Daisy interested we had already cleaned the surfaces, prepared all of the equipment and the ingredients so that the activity would be quick.


Together Mummy, Daddy and Daisy unrolled the pastry and spread Marmite across the its surface.  Then, using her painting skills, Daisy spread beaten egg around all the edges with a pastry brush.


On top of the Marmite they all sprinkled the grated cheese.  Together they the rolled the pastry to a long roll.  Rolling something was a new technique so Mummy and Daddy did the majority of this but Daisy did join in.  The roll then needed to be cut into portions to make cheesy whirls.  Mummy demonstrated and Daisy copied, Daddy helped Daisy and the portions were put onto a baking tray ready to cook.


A quick hand washing and Daisy wanted to go off to play with her farm animals.  But before she did, Mummy showed Daisy the oven and explained that the cheesy whirls were going to go into the oven to cook.  Daisy signed ‘Hot’ and knew that she had to stay away from the oven while the cheesy whirls were cooking.  As they emerged from the oven we shared with Daisy that sense of achievement experienced by all cooks (well, most of the time).  Once the cheesy whirls had cooled we let Daisy investigate them and we all enjoyed tasting them.


Building on this start, Mummy did a second activity with Daisy, again using a sheet of ready-made puff pastry.  Daisy had a circular pastry cutter and a bun tin so she enjoyed cutting out circles  of pastry and putting them into the bun tin.  This time Daisy worked more independently and then helped Mummy to add savoury toppings.  Again the activity lasted just 10 minutes.


Another time we will vary the fillings and the cutters or use these skills to make a pizza.  From an early introduction to cooking, it isn’t long before a young child has a longer attention span and wants to make batters and bake cake mixtures.

Through cooking experiences a toddler will develop their basic skills, build confidence, stimulate their senses while we can enhance their vocabulary as we talk to them.

Cooking activities are also ideal for including some early mathematical understanding when we count, talk to them about more and less, large and small, even one-to-one correspondence.

Granny Smith Says

Remember that at this age the process is more important than the outcome; things probably won’t go according to plan (or recipe), the important thing is to have fun.

From Montessori to today; the enduring learning value of wooden blocks

The first pre-schools and nurseries began to be established in the nineteenth century and all of the children’s toys and play equipment in the pre-schools and nurseries were made from natural materials.

Plastic toys began to be manufactured in the twentieth century and today our homes and nurseries contain a wealth of toys and play equipment made from a variety of man-made and recycled materials with toys made from natural materials often in the minority. 

Wooden toys have unique sensory qualities – to see, handle and even smell.  They’re environmentally friendly, durable and long lasting.  One wooden toy that has endured, unchanged from the nineteenth century to today and has retained it’s play value and enjoyment is the classic container full of wooden blocks.


These blocks have a range of play values throughout early childhood.  Initially a toddler enjoys the process of placing one block on top of another.  This requires co-ordination and concentration, releasing that grip on the block as it’s placed into position on top of the other.  Daisy has practised this skill for several months now and is competent at stacking blocks on top of one another. 

She enjoys making a tall tower of blocks and also enjoys practising that other equally enjoyable skill of then knocking down the tower.

 Daisy has now extended her stacking skills to experiment with stacking blocks of different shapes and dimensions, investigating the physical properties of a wooden block tower.  Through repeated play with the wooden blocks it’s possible to see what Maria Montessori called the ‘self-correcting process’.  Without an adults’ help, a child develops their independence and problem solving by re-stacking and re-positioning the blocks. 

 Recently, Daisy has begun to use the blocks to create walls and bridges for her small cars and characters.  During this pretend play, we’ve begun to introduce ‘position’ words into the play – on, under, next to, in, behind.  On other occasions we’ve enjoyed counting with the blocks.


Daisy’s play with the wooden blocks continues to evolve as she continues to explore their play potential. I don’t think it will be long before she is creating more complex structures with the blocks or starting to use the blocks together to play games of matching patterns and shapes. 

 Maria Montessori is said to have remarked that children only need two toys – a special teddy or doll and some stacking bricks.  That may not apply today but I think that the favourite teddy and the wooden blocks have already outlasted some of the plastic toys that were in Daisy’s toy boxes.

Granny Smith says

Years ago I had a student who created her own set of wooden blocks.  She collected offcuts of 2 x 2 timber, pieces of chunky dowelling and small sections of skirting board. These she rubbed and sanded down to create a unique set for her nursery group. 


Messy play: take your toddler to mud club

A guest post by Daisy’s Dad.

Has your toddler made their first mud pie yet?

With depressing statistics suggesting that children’s daily lives have become increasingly domestic and digital, the popularity of activities like mud clubs and woodland nurseries seems set to rise, as parents attempt to introduce some balance into their children’s play options.

As Granny Smith has covered in several posts, Daisy’s mum and I have always encouraged messy play and outdoor exploration, and last weekend we combined the two in our first family outing to a mud club.


This mud club offered different stations and zones for toddlers to experience messy play, much of it via natural materials (water, plants, mud, leaves) with liberal use of childsafe additions such as suds and washable paint.

Our excursion was another reminder that Daisy rarely plays, or learns, in the ways that we expect. I tried to draw her attention to how water, when poured down a funnel in one location, will make its way via zig-zagging drain pipes, and emerge in another location (in this case, right above a boggy pit). But Daisy wanted to learn about hydrodynamics in her own way…

We’d discovered a bucket of pine cones to play with, and Daisy wanted to see what would happen to her pine cone if she pushed it into the same drain pipe that the water came through. Would it move at all? If so, how far would it go? And then what would happen if repeated the process with a smaller pine cone?


Whenever a pine cone made it to the end a section of drainpipe, she retrieved it and threw it into the mud pit in triumph.

Noisy, messy, wobbly

The mud club provided easily enough activity to engage Daisy for over an hour. Beyond the expected mud pie bakeries there was a large mound of decomposing leaves (and wheelbarrows to shuttle them around in), a washing line strung with old saucepans to bang on, paints to mix and apply to wooden posts, flower beds to water, and wobbly wooden planks to practice balancing on.

With all this stimulation, it’s a good thing that the organiser provided a couple of quiet areas for children (and parents) to chill out in, and read a story or two. Daisy stayed calm throughout her visit, apart from objecting to some boisterous splashing at one oversubscribed station. In fact, her only moment of real anxiety came at the end of our visit.

One station featured the familiar builder’s mixing tray filled with a lather of suds and a very large and battered ornamental silver ball, to provide additional sensory play opportunities. This ball, Daisy decided, was the Moon, and so she wasn’t happy to discover, on our way out, that it had been knocked onto the muddy floor, and was now being passed around like a football. In fact, she wasn’t satisfied until the Moon was recovered from the floor and the natural order of the universe was restored.


Maybe that sums up the joy of mud club: no matter what happens, everything comes out in the wash.

Granny Smith Says

Play with mud, at home or at a Mud Club, gives young children many opportunities for sensory exploration and physical development using tools and equipment that aren’t usually found in their toy box.

If you’re concerned about the quality of the soil in your garden you could use a sterilised bag of top soil for mud play.


Green Toys to the rescue!


Have you noticed that when your young grandchild goes to play in someone else’s house, she quickly discovers the toys that are different from the ones she has at home and she starts to play with them?  We noticed that, on a recent visit to relatives, Daisy enjoyed playing with all kinds of vehicle and transport toys. At home Daisy has a few small cars but she didn’t have anything that she could play with around water and you know how much Daisy enjoys playing with water!

We found the perfect toy for her indoor and outside play in the Green Toys Rescue Boat with Helicopter and mini figures.  The helicopter fits securely into the back of the rescue boat and the duck and bear mini figures fit snuggly into place on seats to ‘pilot’ the helicopter and the boat.


During the summer, Daisy has enjoyed hours and hours of creative small world play with her boat and helicopter, floating the boat on water at the seaside, in her paddling pool at home, in the paddling pool on the Common as well as indoors in her bath.  And Daisy is just as happy playing with the boat and helicopter sat on the lounge floor surrounded by other favourite toys.

Green Toys make a unique range of robust toys that are chunky and easy for a toddler to hold and to play with.  There’s no metal parts and the designs make them easy to clean.  The toys are attractive in design and in their excellent eco-friendly credentials.  Green Toys are made from 100% recycled plastic and packaged in 100% recyclable cardboard.

PS Today Daisy made Captain Duck a bed – using a Hema brick.  This toy rescue boat and helicopter are toys which will give Daisy months of play and as her play skills develop, they have the potential to be used in more complex role play.

180D0162-3D45-4D00-8992-775ED8FD9224Granny Smith says

It’s useful to occasionally review your toddler’s toys and consider which toys are still played with and which are left at the bottom of the toy box.  She may have out grown some of those toys so it could be time to add some new ones.  Of course when I say ‘new’ I don’t necessarily mean brand new !

Links This is a link to the Green Toys website where you can find out more about the company and their range of toys.  Green Toys are available online from bigjigstoys and Learning Resources as well as from Amazon.

Knitting Flop, it’s a Bing thing!

I can’t go on holiday without a craft project.  I needed something not too bulky and something not too complicated for our family holiday.  I settled on a knitting project, choosing to knit Bing’s Flop for Daisy.

I’d discovered a knitting pattern for Flop on the CBeebies Grown-Ups site and packed pattern, yarn and knitting needles.

The pattern is easy to follow but there’s no yarn details or knitting needles size included in the instructions.  Flop can be knitted in any thickness of yarn, using the correct knitting needles for the selected yarn (suggested on the yarn band).  The finer (thinner) that the yarn is the smaller Flop is when completed.

I did test pieces before I started and preferred the effect of knitting two strands of double knitting yarn together and knitting using 4.5mm (UK size 7) knitting needles.

On holiday I managed to knit Flop and his ears, arms and feet.  But I didn’t construct Flop until we were home from holiday carefully stitching together and stuffing to create the shape of Flop.  I also looking at illustrations of Flop online and in Bing books so that I could work out where to attach Flop’s ears, feet and arms.  Not forgetting the embroidered red line of stitching on his body and head.  Embroidering his facial features was the most challenging bit. 




My version of Flop seems to be a success.  As soon as Daisy spotted Flop on my suitcase she giggled ‘Flop’, took Flop by an arm and toddled off with him.

Flop is now completely integrated into Daisy’s group of cuddly toys.


Flop isn’t difficult to knit.  He’s a bit fiddly to construct but he’s worth it to give your grandchild a lovely homemade cuddly toy that they know of through CBeebies tv programmes, books and even in Bing magazines.