Lock-down with a toddler: Part 2

As the weeks of lock-down tick on I remain on the lookout for new activities to keep (me and) Florence entertained. I was so pleased that a few of the ideas from my last blog post, Lock-down with a Toddler, proved useful to some readers, and so grateful for all of the activities that were subsequently shared with me.

I wanted to offer up a few more ideas here, as well as to name-check some of our favourite books, in case you too are running low on steam and are not sure how many more times you can fashion another play-dough monster or read Mog in Garden with the same enthusiasm you were able to muster seven (or was it eight?), weeks ago.

A lesson that I am rapidly learning is that there is no correlation between the time taken to plan or set up an activity and the amount of time that activity takes up. Let that be a warning to you for when you have grand plans for an afternoon of papier mache and an elaborate scheme of things you could craft and then find your child’s attention wanes after circa four minutes.

Painting – I have finally invested in some paints and paintbrushes for Florence and I have to say they have gone down a storm. I bought a pack of six Crayola washable paints and a cheap mixed paintbrush set and am pleased with both. So far we have been painting on cereal boxes as they hold together when bombarded with layers of paint and an aggressive painting style. I have also been able to cut up some of these painted boxes to decorate cards to send out to our family and friends.

Papier Mache – I used the BBC Good Food recipe for this of equal parts flour and warm water mixed to create a loose paste (adding a dash of cold water if required to give a smoother consistency). They called for a cup of each, but half a cup seemed plenty. We created a pencil pot from a gravy tub and parts of the Guardian review section and a flowery planter (which in time I hope we can give to my mum) from half an Oatly carton and the Guardian Weekend magazine! I loved it. Florence loved it for a while. We both got pretty messy but it was worth it.

Twig frame – another idea from BBC Good Food (believe it or not) and really fun and easy to do. The gathering of the sticks was as much of an activity as the fashioning of the frame – not least as Julia Donaldson’s Stick Man is one of our favourite books, so finding sticks is always a popular activity. Drawing a picture to frame also added to the activity. I ran out of string, but we had some red ribbon in the house, so I used that. It’s pretty ‘rustic’ but I’m arguing that that is the look we are going for!

Soil and seeds – this is slightly an adjunct to the planting seeds ideas in the last post, the additional fun being that Florence now uses the soil as if it were sand, digging it, putting it into her bucket and then back into the bag. We managed to get hold of a bag of compost from our local DIY shop for £2.50 and it has not only allowed me to re-pot the seeds we’ve grown, but it has also provided a goodly amount of entertainment for Florence, albeit quite messy entertainment.

My neighbour also built us this raised vegetable patch, which we like to water and ‘tend to’ each day (I’ve had to stop Florence from pulling out the new shoots on occasion as she ‘tends’ with a certain amount of zeal!). Still, it’s a good activity and will be even better if we can get a harvest out of it!

Toilet roll skittles – I was thinking of buying some toy wooden skittles but to save on money and ‘stuff’ we decided to make our own with toilet rolls! This picture was from early on in the lock down when we only had a few, but now we are replete with ‘skittles’ to knock down! We also decorated them, which was a good additional activity.

Pizza making – one of the pieces of advice from our nursery was to get our children involved in preparing meals. This isn’t always easy, but I’ve been trying to show Florence the food as I prepare it, and I encourage her to smell and taste new ingredients and to wash some of the vegetables ready for chopping and cooking (the Supertato books by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet are also a fun way to introduce lots of veggies).

One meal that she was able to make herself was this tortilla pizza. I chopped up courgette, peppers, tomatoes and vegan cheese for her to sprinkle on and put some tomato paste in a pot with a pastry brush so she could add it. She did nibble on some of the ingredients before cooking, but she really enjoyed making it and eating it properly when it was cooked.

What’s missing?’ memory game – for this you just place a number of items on a tray – I use things like a wooden biscuit, a small toy robot, a wooden carrot, a pencil etc. – and go through each one, pointing to it and saying what it is. You then cover the tray with a tea towel and whisk away one of the objects asking your child to guess which item is missing. At the moment we are only using four objects and Florence loves playing even if she very rarely can figure out which object has been taken!

Flobot the Robot – the big box became a robot this week, need I say more.

Yoga – We love the book Yoga Babies by Fearne Cotton and inspired by that we have watched a few episodes of Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube, which combines story telling with yoga positions. In terms of keeping focus (and keeping up!), I found that the shorter classes worked better for us, in particular, Florence like the We’re Going on Bear Hunt story/practice based on the Michael Rosen book, as this is another of her favourite books.

Puzzles – my mum and dad have been helping to keep Florence entertained, not only with their daily story reading on FaceTime but also by sending over lots of puzzles for Florence to do. I’m so proud of how much she has advanced with her puzzles over the past six weeks. She has gone from not being able to do them at all, to being able to complete them all. We do at least one of these Orchard Puzzles everyday. We love the ‘Big Red Bus’ and the ‘Big Wheels’ ones and the latter is particularly popular as Florence loves the book Tip, Tip, Dig, Dig by Emma Garcia.

Julia Donaldson on BBC iPlayer – we love the Julia Donaldson books and have been really enjoying watching the animations of them on BBC iPlayer. The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child are magical on cold rainy days, Stick Man is a firm favourite and great for inspiring outdoor fun. We also love Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale and Zog. They are all around 25 minutes and free to view in the UK. Ideal for lazy Sundays or those really early morning starts while the coffee does its work!

Stones and shells – who knew that my miscellaneous collections of stones and shells could provide so much entertainment?! Grouping by colour, size, type and shape, as well as just lining up in rows, the stones and shells are requested now as regularly as if they were a toy.

Castle building – more crafting with a big box, inspired by another of our favourite books, Julia Donaldson’s Zog. The castle is being guarded by flying doctor princesses, obviously.

Marble run – I definitely took more pleasure out of creating and playing with this than Florence, but it whiled away a good 30 minutes one Sunday morning and was revisited on numerous occasions before it eventually fell off the wardrobe!

Pasta threading – an old favourite with many, but it has taken us this long to get hold of some threadable pasta! Both Florence and the cat did try to eat the (raw) pasta and Florence’s patience with the threading was more limited that I had hoped for. Still, I hope we can revisit it again and that as she becomes more dexterous it may become more entertaining.

Books – as someone who works in the book publishing industry it makes me very happy that one of the activities that fills a large part of our time at home is reading. Florence absolutely loves books and can cite many of our favourites from memory. We are both really missing our weekly library trips, but we have a good stash of books in the house to keep us going, with many classics courtesy of Florence’s Great Aunt Louise.

I’ve mentioned a handful of our favourites above and having started to compile my list of other top reads I’ve realised that I could write a whole post on children’s books alone! I will leave you with one further book recommendation for now, which is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, which was a gift from my sister-in-law, and you will jut have to return for more book recommendations in my next post!

I hope some of these ideas prove useful, and that as lock down restrictions ease we can all enjoy more fun outside. Do keep sharing ideas of fun activities and do let me know if you try any of ours.

Until my next, happy playing.

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