Category Archives: Babies

A Rainbow Birthday

After what seems like a long break from blogging while we settled into our new home, we are back, with the news that little baby F is one!  And what better way to start than sharing her birthday celebrations.

The theme was decided by L and N.  We have been learning about the weather, and they have been captivated by rainbows.  We have made our own tiny rainbows with a glass of water and a torch like this, and by lucky coincidence seen this brilliant rainbow in the sky.

Rainbow

L and N requested a rainbow tea party, and so F’s birthday theme was decided.  L and N painted their own rainbow t-shirts to wear on the day, using fabric markers:

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And Mummy had fun making a special one for F!

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It worked brilliantly – bright, bold colours were perfect for a one year old, and it was such a fun theme to carry out.  This is what our playroom looked like:

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The decorations were:

  • A crepe paper curtain – literally just strips of rainbow coloured paper sellotaped to the door frame.
  • A rainbow banner – the letters of F’s name cut out of craft foam and threaded along a string.
  • Paper bunting – easy peasy triangles of coloured paper fixed to a stripy ribbon using double sided tape
  • A rainbow mobile – made of craft foam, PVA glue, and threaded onto yarn using a needle, and attached to two bamboo skewers tied together in a cross shape.

The “party” itself was quite low key – just ourselves and Nana, who was visiting.  I wanted to be able to focus on F, and give her attention rather than entertaining people – also, we thought she would probably be overwhelmed by lots of people.

So we had a trip to the farm, and a tea party with lots of colourful and sensory things to explore.

The toy tray was very easy, and brilliant in that it gave a new lease of life to toys that haven’t been played with for ages.  L, N and I sorted toys that were safe for F to explore, into the colours of the rainbow, and arranged them in an empty drawer.

I tried to give her a range of textures, noisy toys and shapes to investigate.  Some of the things we included were:

duplo blocks

large wooden numbers

pieces of fabric

an unused toothbrush

Rattles

toy cars

a bottle of coloured water

coloured paper

a hair scrunchie

wooden blocks

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We also put together some rainbow discovery bottles.  The beauty of this was allowing F to investigate some of the forbidden objects that fascinate her, in a safe way – hairbands, pipecleaners, pens, paperclips, beads, coloured rice… At first I found it hard to decide whether to group things by type (ie. a bottle of rainbow rice, a bottle of multicoloured pipecleaners etc) or to group them by colour.  I decided on the latter when a friend pointed out that we could then use them for single colour learning.  Another friend suggested a final bottle with an object of each colour, which I plan to do once we’ve emptied another plastic bottle!

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I was concerned that including a variety of objects in each bottle would be overwhelming and prevent F from focusing and investigating them fully, so I limited the number of things in each one, and tried to make the bottles different in terms of the sounds they made and the kinds of objects they contained.  There really are infinite ways of doing this and all of them good!

We ended up with:

  • Red pipecleaners cut to different lengths
  • Orange dyed pasta shapes
  • Yellow pom poms and pieces of drinking straw
  • Green bay leaves and dyed rice
  • Blue tissue paper and microbeads
  • Indigo pens, pencils, crayons and shiny fake gems
  • Violet beads and hairbands, plus a purple necklace of mine.

F has had great fun rolling these along the floor, shaking them, banging them…I wondered if shie might be frustrated by not being able to empty the bottles but so far she hasn’t tried (the lids are stuck down with strong glue).

We also had rainbow handprinting (I picked up the rainbow handprint sponge from The Works).

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…and F received some fantastic rainbow presents, including Melissa and Doug Rainbow Sound Blocks, a large colourful activity cube, and musical instruments including a rainbow xylophone.

Our present to F was a sand and water table, which will never be limited to sand and water – for the birthday, we filled it with strips of coloured paper, rainbow dyed rice krispies (an alternative to rainbow rice that’s safe if eaten), and shaving foam which we later added food colouring to for marble painting.

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We finished up with a rainbow layer cake.  This was actually easy if time consuming, although no more so than other birthday cakes we’ve had.  It just involved making a huge quantity of sponge mix, dividing it into separate bowls, and dyeing each a different colour using gel food colouring.  The gel gives a beautiful vivid colour with only a few drops, whereas liquid would be likely to ruin the cake batter as you’d need so much colouring.  The layers are then sandwiched together with buttercream.  We covered ours in fondant too, as no matter how much buttercream you make, it will never be enough for this cake!

The bonus of using gel colour is that  the gel can be used to dye fondant really smoothly.  Here is our take on the rainbow layer cake:

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We served the cake with a rainbow fruit platter (easier and more toddler-friendly than skewers):

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And here is the birthday girl, enjoying her day:

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A Snow-Themed Sensory Box for Baby

I often find that the children play with toys they haven’t touched for ages when they are presented in a new way.  I always intend to rotate their toys but I am not very good at it – so I am experimenting with organising them by theme.

This morning F (now 9 months) and I had some time to ourselves 🙂 so we made the most of it by putting together and playing with a  snow-themed sensory box just for her.

It couldn’t have been easier – collecting a few things we already had was all it took to set up a lovely, special playtime that F loved.  Here is what we put in:

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  • A tactile book – “That’s Not My Snowman”
  • A plastic snowman biscuit cutter
  • A wooden (snowy) christmas tree
  • A white and sparkly woollen teddy, hand knitted by a friend.
  • A snowman peg doll (hand painted by another friend – what clever friends I have!)
  • The Snow Queen’s glittery crown
  • A large “snowflake” (some kind of shower sponge, the kind that comes free with shower gel)
  • A light-up battery powered snow globe
  • A snow globe bottle that L and N made at a friend’s birthday party recently, using water, glycerine, glitter and plastic snowflakes inside an empty plastic bottle.
  • A crinkly, rattly penguin from a set of soft skittles.

The first thing F took out was the wooden tree – in fact she kept going back to this and found it really interesting to explore.  She spent quite a while showing it to me proudly and trying to work out how to collapse the tree.  She also enjoyed banging the tree against the side of the box to make a noise.

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Next she took out the knitted teddy, and whilst I took the penguin to demonstrate cuddling, F preferred shaking teddy vigorously up and down.

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She went on to explore all the toys in this way, feeling them, shaking them, finding out what noise they made.  Her expression of surprise at some of them was just brilliant!  I love seeing her so delighted at discovering something new, and it made me so glad I had sat down to play instead of seeing our free time as time for a cup of tea or to tidy the kitchen.

Usually I let the children discover and play with a sensory box independently, stepping back so as not to influence their play – at least, that is the case with L and N, who I want to encourage to enjoy the process of open-ended play without a set objective.  But with F, I’m conscious that she gets a lot of time to explore independently and not as much one to one interaction as I wish she could have – so whilst this was still led by F, I sat down with her and talked to her pretty much the whole time she was playing.  I asked her “what have you got?” and “what does it do?” and described the colours and feel for her.  But equally, she was in charge of deciding what we played with, and allowed to explore it however she liked.

It was also lovely to take the time to see what F was really learning, and watch how she approaches the world.  I noticed that she is very focused on the noises different objects make (banging, crinkling, squeezing, shaking) and on the way they move (rolling, throwing, pushing, pulling – at one point she even used one object to push another along).  This will help me tailor her play to her stage and interests, and to make suitable toys and materials available to her.

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working hard to reach the next object

working hard to reach the next object

handling a smaller object

handling a smaller object

pushing one object with another

pushing one object with another

And as I expected, big brother and sister also played with the box when they got home – toys they would otherwise have ignored took on new interest when grouped together like this, and again we had an activity that all three children enjoyed together.

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Snow Themed Sensory Bath

A warmer kind of snow play!!

Today, we have been in the only part of the country not to be deep in snow.  We also seem to be a minority in really, really wanting it to snow.  We can’t wait to play in the snow and have an unexpected day off to fill with snow-themed activities… so when a few token flakes fell this afternoon, it wasn’t enough to build a snowman, go sledging, paint the snow or have a snowball fight – but it was enough to get excited!

L and N enjoying our sprinkling of The White Stuff

L and N enjoying our sprinkling of The White Stuff

We did go outside to experience the snow, but without enough on the ground to play with, and with more bitter wind than crisp snow, we found another way to channel our snowman-making enthusiasm…

Snow bath

It has been a while since we have had a sensory bath.  We do often play with different colours in the water, and a coloured bath is a regular Friday night treat.  But today we went one better.

We used snowmen cut out of craft foam to decorate the walls (the foam sticks to the walls when wet, opening up endless possibilities for bathtime play).  Our dress-up snowmen were inspired by this Christmas themed bath from Growing a Jewelled Rose (the veritable Queen of sensory baths, which I thought I’d invented until I discovered her beautiful blog).  We adapted the Christmas tree decorating idea, and I prepared some snowmen for L and N to dress up, with hats, scarves, gloves and buttons in different colours.

L and N played beautifully and creatively.  I like the fact that the bath keeps them focused on the activity, in one place with no distractions, they stay creative and engaged for longer.

Rudolph with Snowman

Rudolph with Snowman

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Rudolph with Snowman

Rudolph with Snowman

There was imaginary play happening, with a snow people’s picnic.  There was a re-enacting of the Snowman and the Snowdog film we watched at Christmas.  Fine motor skills were being developed (I purposely made some of the pieces tiny, with instructions not to give the little pieces to baby F).  There was sorting by shape and by colour, there was ordering of pieces from big to small.  It struck me how much hidden learning is happening in an open-ended playful activity like this.

For an added sensory element, I added blue food colouring to the water, and topped it with shaving foam.  We haven’t played with shaving foam before, so it was a completely new material to play with.  Initially, L and N were suspicious of it, and L was scared to get into the bath!  But he soon learned to love it.

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They used the shaving foam as paint, and as a material to mould – L called it “pudding oil”, and served it to everyone for supper, whilst N used it to further decorate her snowy wall-art.

Little F is now fully involved in bathtime fun.  She enjoyed watching the other two playing, and also explored the shaving foam, felt the foam shapes, and was fascinated by watching them float.  She spent some time taking a piece of foam in and out of a plastic cup.  She was thoroughly enjoying exploring these new and interesting materials, as well as having fun playing with her brother and sister.

F explores the shaving foam

F explores the shaving foam

Investigating foam shapes

Investigating foam shapes

Another activity enjoyed by three children of different ages, with different personalities and interests – and a lovely warm-up and wind-down activity before bed.

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Involving Baby in our Playtimes

This is the thing I always find the most challenging with any of our playtimes – how to involve little baby F whilst still challenging the older two?  L and N are old enough to enjoy the same activities and even (shh, don’t jinx it!) co-operate on occasion.  I don’t want little F to be watching from the sidelines – she is 8 months old now, and old enough to want a part of the action.  And she is so delighted to be included.

Babies love, and need to investigate new materials.  they need to explore them with their senses, find out what they do, how they feel, as a part of working out how the world around them works.

So this is how we have helped F to join in some of our playtimes recently.  Some of these ideas have been included in previous posts but I still thought it might be worth putting them all together in one post.

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While big brother and sister made paper snowflakes, F played with paper.  We started with the offcuts of the snowflakes, then gave her crepe paper and card for some different textures.  She enjoyed crinkling, ripping, banging, rubbing, and generally exploring.

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To involve F in our Christmas preparations, we have put together a collection of Christmas things which act as a very basic sensory tub for her to explore.  It includes:

  • a felt stocking with a textured snowman
  • our winter themed discovery bottle
  • Some shiny baubles
  • A length of tinsel
  • A plastic Christmas mug
  • A wooden spoon (for Christmas baking)
  • A ribbon from our wrapping box
  • Some wrapping paper

She has also played with pom-poms, coloured sparkly pasta beads, and glittery pipecleaners.

practising that pincer grasp with pom-poms!

practising that pincer grasp with pom-poms!

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F has very recently enjoyed being given a lump of play dough to investigate, whilst big brother and sister are busy using it in their own play.  Here, she is exploring play dough whilst N plays tea parties.  F enjoyed the tools as much as the dough – we gave her cutters (plastic, not sharp), a small wooden rolling pin, and a chef’s hat to make her part of the game.

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Sometimes, it pays to be creative, and since F doesn’t like playing with ice (brother and sister have spent a lot of time investigating ice this winter), she has preferred exploring winter hats and scarves.

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Plenty of “touch and feel” type books in our Christmas book box have ensured that it is just as much for F as the other two.  Our favourites are That’s Not My Snowman and The Usborne Touchy Feely Nativity.

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It’s worth mentioning that babies are never too young to enjoy a good story.  Even when they can’t follow the story, they still seem to love the attention and the rhythm of the words.  By now, F is old enough to explore and investigate books, and enjoy pictures too, so board books with bold or textured illustrations are perfect – but she still enjoys listening to longer stories, even though she will not understand the content for a while.  L and N enjoy reading to her too, and I think it is a great way of involving her, to involve the older ones in looking after her and teaching her.11112012(035)

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Nature walks are another activity that can be enjoyed by all ages – F just loves being out in the fresh air, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, but I especially like getting her out of her pushchair to play, letting her explore the surroundings freely just like the others can (which is why a warm, waterproof suit is a must!)

Autumn leaf play

Autumn leaf play

exploring the frosty grass

exploring the frosty grass

Exploring with brother ans sister

Exploring with brother and sister

Indoors, whilst we played and learned about the Autumn, F played with leaves, and investigated her own pumpkin:

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While we read Flat Stanley and made our own Stanleys to send off around the country, F investigated a range of flat objects:

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While we painted, she made handprints:

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While we made music, she joined in with rattles, bottles of dried pasta, jingle bells, and a xylophone:

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L, N and F's band!

L, N and F’s band!

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When we learned about the water cycle, F played with some coloured water:

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And she loves to get in on the action with themed sensory baths – the bath is another great leveller in terms of play, with all three children being entertained and playing at their own level.

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I think the golden rule with babies is that doing something is better than doing nothing – getting them out of their pram or sling, encouraging them to get active and interact with their environment, including them in the family’s activities rather than carrying them around as a passive observer – well, that is the valuable thing, and all experience is a learning one when you’re this tiny.  A tiny bit of extra thought to including F in our playtimes has made the whole juggling act much easier and meant that we are all focused on the same thing rather than my having t6o divide my attention between different activities.  I also think it is better for the older children to see F as a playmate rather than an unwelcome interruption to their activities, and better for her self esteem too!  And also, we’ve all had a lot of fun!

Multi-Sensory Christmas Cloud Dough

Getting us in the mood to begin our Christmas crafting (even though to me it feels early to be starting, I know that the time from here to Christmas will fly) – I decided to spice up our cloud dough with a Christmas theme.

This is the second time we have played with cloud dough (you can read about the first here) and this cloud dough had kept beautifully for several weeks, in a sealed tupperware container.  The basic cloud dough recipe is 8 parts flour to one part oil – we used baby oil.  It looks like sand but the texture is silky, lovely and a bit addictive!

We added some Christmassy spices – cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves, to scent the cloud dough – it smelt amazing! We also added red and green glitter, and some little Christmas ornaments.

We threw in some Christmas baking moulds and cookie cutters, plus spoons for digging and scooping.  L and N couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

 

They filled the moulds and N decorated her Christmas tree with tiny ornaments.

They both enjoyed exploring and feeling the texture of the cloud dough, crumbling it and squidging it, discovering how it moulds.

Then decided to hunt for buried treasure, digging for the little ornaments.

Baby F did have a feel of the cloud dough, but I soon retired her to a box of christmas ornaments on the floor so that I could get on with dinner (one of the best things about L and N no longer being toddlers is that they don’t need that constant and direct supervision).  F enjoyed watching them play and exploring some shiny baubles (she seemed surprised when they rolled away!), along with a felt Christmas stocking, and our winter themed discovery bottle.

This kept F entertained for quite a while (I suspect my life will get a bit more difficult when she is no longer happy not to join in L and N’s activity).

L asked if he could have some baubles to play with.  I was just about to say “no, you’ve got plenty there”, when I corrected myself and said “yes, of course” – and was glad I did because he used them in a really inventive way, to make imprints in the cloud dough that acted as “moon craters”.  A lesson for me – say yes unless there is a good reason not to, you might thwart their creativity without knowing it!

I also used this opportunity to remind them to practise co-operation, with the promise of a leaf on our kind hands tree for playing nicely together.  I reminded them of the phrases they have practised using –

  • “Please can I have it after you?”
  • “Please could you help me?”
  • “Have you finished with that?”
  • “I was using that”
  • “Please don’t do that”

Having been reminded of this before starting, and emphasising how special the activity is seems to work, I tried hard to notice and praise them every time I heard them co-operating and using their phrases.  This is one of the reasons I am pleased with the location of the craft area right outside the kitchen, which was more by accident than design, being improvised in the lobby of our little house.

They did play reasonably happily with a couple of reminders!