Category Archives: Imaginary Play

Being “Brave” at Bathtime!

The Disney film, “Brave” has had a huge effect on L and N.  When they first saw it at the cinema, they were terrified.  Mainly of the bears, and the loud roaring.  But since then, they have become its greatest fans, perhaps in processing the story and coming to terms with watching it, they have asked for the story version again and again, re-enacted the story, and talked endlessly about it over a period of months.  I like the story because it has depth.  And so we have been doing some “Brave” themed play recently.

The latest was a “Brave” themed bath, which all three children loved.




To create a forest scene on the wall, we used craft foam to make some basic tree shapes, rocks, the “Ring of Stones”, The doorway to the ruined castle, and cut out some purple stars to represent “will o’ the wisps”.  The castle doorway, with its crossed axes, just like in the story, particularly delighted L and N – in fact, I think that if I’d just put this on the wall by itself they would have been delighted!

We used our Happylands Castles and knights from the Early Learning Centre as Merida’s home, and the Lords.  And a Happylands wizard to represent the witch in the story.

We had to be creative with Mor’du Bear and Elinor-Bear, using a polar bear and a friendlier-looking brown bear.

We put a magnetic fishing set I had picked up in a charity shop into the bath, which made the bath itself the river, from the scene where Merida and Elinor-Bear fish and play in the river – and added green food colouring to the bath for extra effect.

I also gave the children some plastic aida, safety needles and scooby strings, so that they could “mend the tapestry” like princess Merida.

L and N were delighted, and it gave an extra dimension to their usual “Brave” play.  it was lovely to be able to help them develop the game and give them props to enrich their understanding of the story.


F enjoyed playing with the large foam pieces, and catching fish with her hands.



L enjoyed playing with the castles best, and it was a real novelty having them in the bath.  He hasnlt played with his castles for a little while so it was lovely to see how a fresh set-up could re-ignite his interest and develop the way he used the toys.


At the end of the bath, I added some glowsticks to the water as extra “will o’ the wisps”, and turned the lights out to follow them through the dark forest.


Ithe effect was extra special as I happened to break a glowstick, spraying glow in the dark spots all over the bathroom, which delighted L and N!  I’ll let you know whether it comes out!!


This was all a success, and we have kept the play scene in the bath to play with for a while.  We also have a few more “Brave” activities planned, so watch out for them soon!


Can We Fix It?

Here is a fun activity that passed a rainy Sunday afternoon for all of us – it was the most popular activity we have done for a while, and kept L and N occupied for well over an hour, which is amazing considering their concentration hasn’t been brilliant recently.  What we did was a simplified version of the “Fixing Station” from Teach Preschool.

They love to mend things, and play with a tool set, and also love building things with cardboard, so this activity was perfect for them.  We called it “can we fix it?”.


I cut paper plates of different shapes and sizes into pieces – some big, some small, some just in two, some into lots of tiny pieces.  I put them all in the middle of the table and told L and N there had been an accident in my kitchen, and all my plates were broken, and that I need their help to mend them.  They caught on to the game right away and were full of enthusiasm.


They enjoyed finding the right pieces to fit together, and found this easier than expected – next time I might try some 3D “mending” of boxes and cardboard tubes for an added challenge.

I had supplied them with lots of materials to mend the plates with – tape and scissors (this was insulating tape in different colours for added interest, from the pound shop), glue sticks, PVA and paperclips – to allow them to experiment with which worked best.

L went straight for the tape – and used it very effectively.  He quickly worked out that the best way to make it a strong join was to use several pieces of tape across the join, rather than one running lengthways.  He then decided he wanted to cover a whole plate in tape, and was very methodical about it, measuring lengths and cutting appropriately.


N experimented with the glues, and overlapped the pieces to join together effectively.  She found it more challenging to use the tape, but by the end she managed to use it very effectively, and got in some good practice at using scissors too.


There was some great maths going on here (shape and space), as well as problem-solving skills and fine motor skills.  It also allowed them to experiment with and practise using different materials for construction and craft.  they also got a great sense of achievement from completing the task and solving the problem.  I absolutely loved this activity and we will definitely be doing more mending activities!

White Play Dough and Snowy Playdough Mats

The snow here has melted, apart from the occasional pile of sludgy grey mess and all the snowmen are at best droopy and folorn, but it’s looking brighter inside as we are still going with our snow-themed activities.

The other day we made some of The Imagination Tree’s white play dough, made with cornflour instead of flour, which gives a really gleaming white rather than the off-white you get with flour.  We scented ours with peppermint extract, which seemed a fittingly cool scent.  We also added some tiny faux gems as we had run out of silver glitter, and I love these – they really remind me of the light reflecting on crisp white snow.



This afternoon seemed like the ideal time to bring out the playdough.  The days when both L and N are tired after school and playgroup seem to call for activites that keep them focused, occupied and channel their energy whist allowing them the freedom to do their own thing and relax at the end of the day.  Play dough seems to fit the bill very well, and I hoped that moulding the silky dough might be a relaxing activity.

This is how I set up a snowy play scene for them to come home to:


paw prints in the snow

paw prints in the snow

I also made some play dough mats especially to go with the snow-themed play dough.  We loved the alphabet play mats from Twinkl Resources which we reviewed last year, and so I decided to make our own variation on these with a wintry theme.


I used some leftover Christmas wrapping paper with a snowy design to cut out the shapes I needed.  Since L and N enjoyed making dough letters so much last time, I decided to make two playmats with snow related words.  I had an ulterior motive here too – L is becoming reluctant to write, and rather than force him I wanted to think up some activities that would build his writing muscles and stamina, and get him thinking about the process, without actually realising it!  Play dough is perfect for strengthening the hand muscles used to write, and developing co-ordination.

I also made a snowflake mat, by tracing a snowflake template onto the paper, and one larger snowflake made in the same way as our paper snowflake Christmas decorations.  I thought this one would be good for making more intricate patterns and shapes.

I stuck these onto plain white A4 paper, drew an outline in purple felt-tip to define them (and cover any imperfections in the cutting out) – and laminated the paper.  Easy, but effective, and can be used again and again.

All three children enjoyed the play-dough.  Because of the tiny gems we had used, I kept a closer than usual watch on baby F.  But she was a full participant in the game, sitting on the floor with her own play dough, strengthening her own little hand muscles and exploring the material by pulling it apart.


N was the busiest of all.  Despite all the snow-themed props, she reverted to her default setting of play-dough cookery, and I reminded myself this is a child-led activity and accepted the cakes and sandwiches she carefully prepared.  She did go on to make a snowy pine cone and cut out some snowmen, although they were snowman biscuits, she told me 🙂

cutting with scissors

cutting with scissors

using a knife

using a knife

snowy pine cone

snowy pine cone

L stuck to the snow idea, and made more animal footprints in the snow, with the animals, his fingers, and then the end of a pencil.  He made tracks in the snow, and told a part of The Gruffalo’s Child story.


A "Logpile House"

A “Logpile House”

Tractor tyre marks, printed with a pine cone

Tractor tyre marks, printed with a pine cone

Again, it is wonderful finding an activity that all three can join in at their own level, and thoroughly enjoy.  Here they are, all absorbed in what they are doing.

Three Cihildren Hard at Play

Three Children Hard at Play



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


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.


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.

Snow bath2

Invitation to Play: Play-Dough Cupcakes


This sprung from some play-dough sets N and I have been making for Christmas presents (shhh, don’t tell anyone!) – asking her to make play dough and not play with it seemed a bit unfair, so we cooked up a huge batch with plenty to spare.  I say cooked, but we actually used the no-cook recipe from The Imagination Tree, which is our new favourite – really smooth and pliable.  We also used some of The Imagination Tree’s ideas for adding an extra sensory element to the play, with colours, flavourings and glitter.

That morning, we had made three kinds of play dough: chocolate (with cocoa powder), pink and glittery, and spicy orange (orange food colouring with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon).  I set these out for N as an Invitation to Play – at making cup cakes.

I used a spotty tea tray and a miniature tea set as props, and added some biscuit cutters, small rolling pins and candles, along with some beads, candles, pom-poms and sequins for decoration.  I also set out N’s chef’s hat and apron which were part of a much-loved birthday present.

N adored this activity.  It was the single thing that has held her attention longer than I can remember.  N is a child who needs a lot of interaction to play, she rarely (read never) plays alone, and generally follows me around like a helpful little shadow, unless L is at home to play alongside or with.  With the play dough cup cakes, she was happy to play independently whilst I pottered in the kitchen within her sight.

She got so much out of this activity – and each time I thought she had finished, she would return to it and do something different.  There are endless possibilities, and she didn’t get bored of trying new techniques and designs (maybe she will grow up to love decorating cakes like me!)

Here are some of N’s creations:


You can see from the pictures what fun N had experimenting – and what great motor skills practice she was getting – there was rolling, pinching, moulding, cutting, making balls and sausage shapes and coils – I was really impressed by how hard she worked on her cakes.


She decorated them very carefully too, and came up with inventive ways of using the tools she had – like using the candle holder to make printed patterns on her icing


And after a while, I sat down and played, and we had a tea party together.  It was really good fun and went on for ages, with a huge variety of cakes being served.

F joined in and had her first experience of play-dough.  She didn’t try to eat it –  I was concerned about the salt content, and only hoped it would taste so unpleasant as to put her off!  but I did keep an eye on her obviously, and she was content to squish it and pull it apart – before moving on to banging two biscuit cutters together (they were plastic, without a sharp edge, again, she was supervised.  She also liked investigating the rolling pin.  And looked very cute indeed in a chef’s hat!


And in case you were thinking that pink sparkly cakes are just for girls, L was delighted when he came home to find the tea party going on, immediately joined in, and the two of them played really nicely together, which is always to be encouraged!  The play dough tea party is ongoing and is one of the first things they ask for.  We also managed to package up a few sets to send to friends for Christmas:

Play Dough Cupcake Gift Set

Play Dough Cupcake Gift Set

I hope they will have as much fun as we have!

A Winter Landscape

This idea was taken from Mister Maker, which N and I were watching the other morning and decided to copy there and then.  It’s a simple idea but a delightful one, and whilst ours was quite basic, this is something that can be taken as far as the limits of childrens creativity and enthusiasm!

The basic idea is to create a wintery scene using sicks painted white and sprinkled with glitter.  Mister maker stood his trees in airdrying clay before painting them.  We made salt dough instead – using the basic “half:half:whole ratio of water:salt:flour.  This meant we had to leave our sticks standing in the dough overnight while the dough dried, and even then had to speed up the process in the micropwave (I’m taking no responsibility for anyone who also decides to put sticks in the microwave – I watched them very closely!).

Sticks, Standing in Salt Dough

Once they were dry, L and N painted them white:

We then used a silver foil tray for the base, which they painted with PVA glue before sprinking sugar on top:

We added the trees, with the paint still wet, and sprinkled liberally with silver and blue glitter.  We used purple paper for the background, decorated with sticky stars:

We kept ours deliberately simple, so that L and N could use their imaginations and add fairies, winter creatures, snowmen etc from their playmobil, lego and happylands collections, but the basic idea could be used as elaborately as you like – I think this allows for lots of small world / imaginary play 🙂

Dealing With Feelings

Today, we looked at a book I had picked up in a charity shop, called How Do You Feel? It is a beautifully simple book introducing feelings, and some situations that might evoke them, and a very useful basis for discussion.  I feel it is worth a blog post, as I definitely understand my children better for our conversations around it.

First of all, we read the book through.  Then we went back through the pages and talked about the different emotions.  L and N practised expressing the feeling in front of a mirror, and to each other, and I took photos of them to print out and use again.  I could see the difference in their ages and understanding here – N had difficulty in labelling some more complicated secondary emotions (proud, shy), and with these feelings her faces all looked the same, which I wouldn’t have known without trying this.  L had no trouble at all.

N’s Happy Face

L being shy

L makes a sad face

N’s crying, sad face

L looking “proud”

Jumping up and down to show “excited”

Running away, being “scared”

Tired and Sleepy N


I think next we might play this as a game of charades, acting out different feelings while the others guess which one.  It seems to me that the feelings N had difficulty with are the ones we don’t talk about as much, and hopefully making a conscious effort to label them for her and with her will help her recognise them and understand the terms.  I think we could also talk about degrees of feeling – really sad as opposed to a bit sad, and for L introduce some more descriptive terms and synonyms.

We talked about the things that make us happy, sad, angry, proud, etc – and I learnt the following things that I didn’t already know about my children:

  • Both L and N denied ever feeling shy, and saw it as a negative emotion, the opposite of brave.  “I’m not shy because I’m a big boy” – L; “I’m not shy, I’m friendly” – N.
  • Writing makes N cross – “because the letters won’t go right, and I go like this…” (bangs table) – I hadn’t realised she was feeling frustrated by trying to form letters, something she voluntarily practises a lot.
  • “When someone hurts me I don’t feel sad, I feel angry” – L

We focused on angry feelings in particular (my ulterior motive for all of this was to deal with some lashing out that has been happening) and made a list of things we can do when we are angry, apart from hitting.  They came up with all of the following for themselves, which I was surprised and impressed by:

  • Tell a grown up
  • Ask for help
  • Stamp my foot
  • Say “no” and “don’t do that to me” in a loud voice
  • Go and find someone else to play with
  • Say “I’m angry”
  • Cuddle a toy dog (this is N’s toy dog who goes pretty much everywhere)

It did surprise me that such young children already had these resources and coping strategies, and hopefully just need to be reminded and encouraged to use them (as we all do!).

We used the aforementioned dog, and a kangaroo to act out a “fighting” type scenario and the possible outcomes.  L and N both really enjoyed this and it was clearly something they related to.  I started the game – with one toy pushing the other, and L finished it in two ways: –

  1. The second toy hits back, they fight, and the teacher sits them both on the naughty chair
  2. the second toy tells a grown up and asks for help, the first toy goes to the naughty chair and the second finds someone else to play with.

I really like the fact that he worked out for himself the benefits of not hitting back, and hope that this game might help it stick in their minds, especially if we repeat the role play regularly, and prompt them to remember.

We did try role playing the scenario involving people, but it led to some enthusiastic pushing, a bit of crying and a real-life illustration of the above…

This has definitely inspired me to make a concerted effort to talk about feelings beyond happy/sad, and reminded me that since they are going to experience complicated feelings, they need to be given the language and tools to express them, and healthy ways of managing them.  We will definitely be doing more of this.