Archives for posts with tag: play

Christmas Treasures

It was our staff Christmas party this weekend, the culmination of a good year’s work and lots of home baking! The tree was up and looking majestic, nibbles arranged and glasses ready to be charged with mulled wine. With adults happily ensconced on sofas and children playing nicely, a knock on the door bought the arrival of our youngest guest, a gorgeous 1 year old who I have been observing playing for the last 6 months. Raring to go and making an instant beeline for the peanuts, chocolates and glasses on the coffee table, adults sprang into action removing everything to a safer level. This little girl was clearly in exploratory mode and so an empty table was simply not going to do. Grabbing a treasure basket for her to play with kept her happily occupied for the next three hours picking up objects, taking them to the other guests and doing a circuit of the ground floor, always with object in hand. Even hardened skeptics would have been converted to the joys of treasure baskets seeing this toddler happily occupied and clearly on a mission to toddle and explore. Now you might be forgiven for thinking that she only played with the treasures because there was nothing else to do, but this was not the case. With a splendid real tree bedecked in sparkling lights and decorations, a growing mound of brightly wrapped presents under the tree and stairs to climb, there were lots more obvious distractions to be had.

Clearing up later, a warm glowing feeling pervaded. Not just because of the lovely company and tasty food but because this little 1 year old had poignantly reminded me of the importance of what we do, providing children with the opportunity to do what they do best, playing.


You’d have to be hibernating not to notice the carpet of autumnal coloured leaves transforming the world outside. Vibrant and springy, now is the time to gather handfuls of freshly fallen leaves for a host of fun activities. Pick the leaves carefully to avoid urban litter or other hazards. If needed, wash in soapy water and leave to dry, then you’re ready to start. My quest for leaves was driven by the challenge to make times table revision fun for my 8 year old son!  But once we got started we were inspired to do and make lots of fun things, suitable for children young and old. Here are some of the things that we did, if you come up with your own ideas don’t forget to share them!

Times table games

We played lots of times table games with the leaves, all of which were a great hit. To play any of the following games you will need 12 leaves and a pen. Write the numbers 1 to 12, one on each leaf. We wrote the numbers on the back of the leaf but either side is fine.  All these simple variations proved to be a lot of fun and due to their physicality, resulted in the children doing their times tables but with the main focus on catching or picking up the leaves!

Leaf Race

Arrange the leaves in a pile with numbers face down. Pick a times table to focus on, say the three’s and the challenge is to turn over each leaf one at a time and work out the resulting sum. So if you pick the number 4 leaf the sum is 3 times 4. You can add further excitement by doing this against the clock or using a sand timer. We also used counters on a 100 square, so he could cover the answer to the sum.

Falling Numbers

An alternative to this involved me standing on a stool and one at a time dropping a leaf for him to catch. He then worked out the number sum and positioned a counter on the 100 square grid before repeating with another leaf number. We did this against the clock which really added to the challenge and excitement.

Number Pick

Another variation involved spreading the leaves out on the floor, number side up. The challenge was to pick up the leaf and put it in a large bowl saying the answer to the sum, without using their hands. Children experimented using their elbows and feet and we also tried this with large tongs instead.

Catch a Leaf

The final variation involved throwing all the leaves up into the air for two children to try and do as many times table sums as they could with their leaves.

Here are some other fun things to do.

Leaf Masks

Make simple leaf masks by cutting eye holes in large leaves, (sycamore leaves would work well). Use the leaf stalk to hold the mask with. Decorate if wished with pens.

Leaf Boats

To make the boat hull you will need to either find a boat-shaped leaf or cut a boat shape from the centre of a large leaf, ideally with the central line of the leaf skeleton forming the centre of the hull. Cut triangular boat sails from another leaf, decorating with pen if wished. Use a small twig to create the mast and secure the sails and mast in place with sticky tac. Once finished, make more boats for a sailing race using straws to blow the boats across a tray of water.


Leaf snowflakes

Create snowflake decorations using leaves. Simply cut geometric shapes in the folded leaves and hang by the leaf stalks from the ceiling or a window. Sycamore leaves work particularly well, as these can be folded and cut along all three lines of the main skeleton.

Creepy Crawlies

Make leaf spiders and bugs using leaves for the body, pipe cleaner legs and pen or bead eyes.

Hide & Seek

Play a game of hide and seek by spreading out the leaves and hiding treasures or mini creatures under these. Use for an unusual game of pairs, with matching pairs of items (e.g. coins, beads, numbers or pictures) hidden under different leaves, for the children to remember and pair up.

Fairy Leaf books

Gather together several leaves of the same shape and size. Pick a special one for the top and bottom of the pile, dark colours work well as they look like leather. Create mini leaf books by sewing or stapling the pile of leaves along one edge and cutting the leaves to book shape. If you’re lucky when finished the cover of the book will look like well worn leather and the pages will curl as the leaf dries out.

If you’re inspired to make the most of nature’s abundant treasures, don’t leave it too long as before you know it they’ll be transformed into a brown mushy squidge!

If you heard me speak last year at the fabulous Lincoln Birth to Five Conference (taking place this weekend in case you’re interested), then you probably know what a big fan I am of bygone containers! Not in the Antiques Roadshow sense, but watching the play ignited by the discovery of a collection of interesting shaped glass bottles, the play potential and open-ended appeal were clear. The ramshackled bottles spawned not just deeply enriching play but the children aged five and eight years, picked a name for their business,  Bottletastic of course, developed labels and receipts – real writing for a purpose and created a product range, initially petal perfumes before diversifying into wines too. Together they solved problems, role-played and had fun.

Observing this wonderfully rich play unfold, the value of children accessing open-ended resources with a wow factor was evident. But it also highlights a functional role of these bygone containers as the shape and colour of the bottles gave important clues to their contents. A poisonous substance or medicine would often be found in a blue or brown coloured bottle (please correct me if I’m wrong!) while perfumes typically came in fluted, miniature or ornate bottles. The closest we get to this today is bright yellow plastic bottles with crosses on for bleach and brown bottles for TCP, calamine lotion, marmite and some medicines! Given our greater understanding of brain development and the mind boggling process of neural filing taking place in children’s brains, the value of such visual clues to an object’s purpose is clear. Much like some of the toys and mechanical gadgets of bygone days that children could strive to understand by taking apart, the bottles themselves helped children decode and make sense of their world.

Allowing children to play with glass will not be for everyone, nor should this be taken lightly. These children were deemed to be old enough to act responsibly; the glass was thick and robust; the children’s response to the bottles conveyed awe, wonder and respect; and they were supervised, but cast your mind back to your own childhood and see if any of your most vivid or exciting play memories involved doing things that today would be shunned? I’d love to hear your views on offering resources like these to children and your own childhood memories.

I was reminded of these old-fashioned glass bottles at a charity fete this weekend, where my children and I were fascinated by a collection of amazing tins.  Some of these had iconic shapes or detailing now synonymous with the product or brand, others had a wow factor by virtue of their unusual shape and design, like the tins shaped like Gladstone bags, watermills, a globe (for teabags in case you’re wondering), vehicles, a grandfather clock etc.  Like the contents of a carefully sourced treasure basket, the basket itself appears to perform an important role in focussing attention and adding a treasure-like feel to the contents.  Picture the same treasure basket objects in a cardboard box and I doubt they would have the same quality appeal, although they would probably still attract interest, much like a 20p rummage box!

Later at a charity stand my little boy spotted a treasure chest shaped money box tin. On opening it he discovered it was filled with a collection of stickers, football coins and transfers. Like that well-sourced Treasure Basket, simply by virtue of them being in the ‘special’ tin seemed to confer a specialness to the objects themselves. The tin now sits proudly in his room ready to receive tooth fairy coins or more likely the hoards of little ‘treasures’ that my children love to collect!