Tag Archives: playtime fun

Lessons from a toddler: play and creativity.

For me, one of the greatest things about watching little ones is seeing how they approach new experiences.  For a while I’ve been wanting to find a better way to inject some fun practical learning and real life activities into her play.  Montessori inspired activity trays seemed the perfect solution, and I can change the activities every few weeks to keep things fresh and interesting.

I’ve had a week now to watch how the revamped play area has gone down with my little girl.  She woke up last Saturday morning to find the shelves, which were previously just a random collection of books and toys, arranged with an orderly collection of new activity trays.  They are all designed to be fun and bring a different element of play to her time at home. But I also wanted them to do more than that.  Between them, the trays help develop fine motor skills, provide a sensory experience, knowledge of colours, give basic counting opportunities, or allow her to explore everyday life skills.


What I’d expected was a straightforward ‘love it or hate it’ reaction to each individual tray. In our house at least, that’s the standard type of response to a shop bought toy.  Normally they have one particular use or purpose, and on that basis the toy is either the new favourite or is utterly disregarded. As a parent you hope you made the right choice in the shop! So I hadn’t been prepared for the far more creative approach our little girl took to the different activity trays.

Some of the trays were all out hits, exactly the way they were intended. For example the ‘tea making set’ was immediately spotted, and with cries of ‘tea! tea!’ she happily set about making me an imaginary cup of tea.  Even better when I put some cold water in to the teapot, put some sugar for her to spoon out of the sugar bowl, and allowed her to ‘really’ make tea.

Some of the trays were clearly just that bit too much for her to physically handle yet.  So the mini clothes pegs to secure on to lollypop sticks were too fiddly and too firm for her little hands to properly manage yet.  She was very curious about how to make them work and tried them in lots of ways to make them open, but all that happened was that a few of the clothes pegs got broken in the process.  It was an interesting lesson for me in building up to complex skills.

Although I am going to do another pegging activity next time, I will perhaps start with dolly pegs which should be easier for her to handle.  In the meanwhile I’ve swapped the activity with a small money box and a box of coins, which she spends long stretches of time playing with. Examining the coins and showing me the most shiny ones, putting them in the slot at the top of the money box, shaking the money box to hear the sound it makes with different amounts of coins in, tipping the coins out of the bottom, turning the money box upside down and putting them in that way.  This activity has definitely worked far better than the clothes peg one.

Other activities, like the buttons and felt squares tray, have been a massive hit, but have been used in a whole variety of creative ways.  I’d intended for the buttons and felt tray to be a colour matching exercise. The blue felt square with the blue buttons and so on. She does enjoy doing that.  But she also enjoys trying to stack the buttons on top of each other, lining the buttons up, and seeing what the felt squares will stick to (after she found that some clothes items do allow them to ‘stick’ quite nicely). I hadn’t expected so much from one little tray. Watching her independent creativity in action is such a pleasure as a mum.

I’d also expected that she would want to explore each of the trays at least once.  But actually, the flower arranging in a vase  – which I had thought that she’d really like – has been a total fail.  The only interest she has shown is in trying to peel off the blu-tack which I’d used on the underside of the vase to secure it to the tray for a bit more stability. You live and learn!

The books, puzzles and toys that she’s always had still get used too, but the activity trays have definitely been a successful experiment and a welcome new addition to playing at home.  I’m planning on changing the activities in the next two or three weeks, sooner if she gets visibly bored and stops going to investigate. But for the moment every day sees her going back and playing happily.  I’ve got so many ideas for the next set of trays I don’t know which ones to do first.  Not a bad position to be in!  And I guess it’s also a good thing that I’ve got plenty of ideas in reserve, so that if there are another few trays which don’t work so well I can easily replace them with something more suitable.

Happiness is a bunch of balloons.

Yes, I have travel photos that make me ache for a place or time.  Yes, I’ve got arty photos that capture an experience.  But if I were to choose a photo to use as cover art for something I personally would really like to read at this moment in time, it would be this one.

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The book would be on the art of simple fun with babies and toddlers.  Not a glamorous coffee table tome, admittedly.  But I bet it would be a well-thumbed favourite with stay at home parents and mums on maternity leave! Even ‘yet-another-rainy-weekend’ parents looking for inspiration would probably be quite grateful for a little peek at it!

The little girl is mine, absolutely beside herself with happy excitement when I surprised her with a big chain of balloons, tied together with string.  We played with it for a whole afternoon over the weekend.  Swooshing it up in the air and watching it fall, running around with it, spinning it round and round her until we felt dizzy.  She squashed it and pulled it and played peek-a-boo from behind it, and generally just had a brilliant time.  All for the cost of a packet of balloons.


‘I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things in life which are the real ones after all.’

(Laura Ingalls Wilder)

It can sometimes be hard to resist the pull of the commercialism of childhood.  I am not immune to it.  We absolutely do buy toys, books and games; probably a few more than really necessary.  But we also try to keep things simple and have fun with our imaginations.   Musical instruments made out of old water bottles, each filled with different materials like pasta, rice, toothpicks. Sensory exploration with jelly, blocks of ice made from glittery water, stodgy mashed potato. Hours of fun with a bowl of soapy water, two plastic cups and a whole heap of towels to mop up afterwards!  All cheap and simple to prepare, and so much fun for little people.

I love finding interesting ways to help my little girl learn, grow and have fun.  But I confess that it can be hard thinking of endless things, searching for age appropriate ideas.  Having favourite activities is great – balloons in our house are a guaranteed hit, and are a relatively lost cost, low effort endeavour for me.  But it’s good to ring the changes too and keep things exciting and engaging.

So a book with age specific chapters, crammed full of fun, simple, low-cost ideas to try, adapt and develop into family favourites would be a very welcome addition to my bookshelf.  I’d certainly spend a lot less time on Pinterest!


‘Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.’

Oscar Wilde


My entry for this week’s WordPress Weekly photo challenge, ‘cover art’.  An inspired theme by guest host, Pete Rosos of 2812 Photography.  Other interesting cover art entries can be found here.