learning through play

Salt dough Christmas!

Last year, I made salt dough for the very first time. I pressed the children’s hands into it, baked it and then packed it into a box and forgot all about it. And then this year, I opened up our Christmas decoration boxes and these tiny, beautiful little hands- that you think you will never forget!- spilled out and I knew I had to make salt dough again! And then I became a little obsessed…

I never realised how FAB salt dough is. We’ve been on a salt dough mission lately and loved every minute of it! I used a recipe from Red Ted Art’s book, Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids.

Basically, it is 2 cups of plain flour, 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of water. Add the water gradually as you don’t want it too wet and sticky. Mix the ingredients until you can mix no more, then get your hands in an knead until it’s smooth. We also made a green dough, using quarter of a teaspoon of green gel colouring.

salt dough Christmas: ghostwritermummy.co.uk

So what did we make? Of course, a hand print. And then, we got creative!


The preschooler has been fascinated with the story of Christmas this year. We are not particularly religious, but I was brought up attending church and Sunday school as a child and things that have gone on this year have led me to church more than once. The preschooler has also been learning about baby Jesus at preschool and so has been asking a lot of questions about it all. There is also the model nativity scene that he loves to play with at Nanna’s. So I thought we’d make our own!

Salt dough nativity: ghostwritermummy.co.uk

So so so easy to do. We talked about who was in the story and then we made them! Baby Jesus, a manger, Mary, Joseph, 3 shepherds, 3 crooks and 3 very large sheep. Into the oven at 100° for a couple of hours. When cool, we trimmed the bottoms so that they would stand up (salt dough ‘puffs’ out a little as it cooks) , painted them and arranged them in the stable. To make the stable, we used a Livie and Luca shoe box and added some hay. The finishing touch was a salt dough star on the roof of the stable!


These are SO easy to make. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface and use a star cutter to cut the stars. Place all on a baking tray (use greaseproof paper so they don’t stick) and bake at 100° until they’re hard. We poked holes through the tops of some of them, with a chopstick, so that we could use them to hang on the Christmas tree. We also painted them and sprinkled glitter and sequins on before the paint dried.

salt dough stars: ghostwritermummy.co.uk


Probably my favourite thing to do with salt dough now! Thanks Red Ted– these have been fantastic and I have SO many ideas for play with them! Here’s what we did:

Making salt dough beads: ghostwritermummy.co.uk

  • break the salt dough into lots of small pieces, of equal size (slightly bigger than a Malteser)
  • roll each piece into a ball
  • use a chopstick to press a hole through the ball
  • bake on a tray in the oven

This was great for the preschooler to do himself and he enjoyed making them. After about 5 minutes you need to pull the beads out of the oven, turn them over and poke the chopstick through again so that the hole doesn’t close up during cooking. Again, these are cooked at 100°

When they were cooked and cooled, we painted them- and this was not as easy as it looked! We used pipe cleaners to hold the beads so that we could paint all over, and then we hooked the pipe cleaners over the edge of a grill pan to dry. We also coated them in fine glitter before the paint dried so that they were nice and sparkly. We also made some beads with the green dough that didn’t need painting at all.

Painting salt dough beads: ghostwritermummy.co.uk

So, what are you going to make with salt dough this Christmas?



Messy Christmas tree play

I’ve had so many ideas for Christmas themed messy/ sensory play just lately, and so little time to do them in! Last week though, I made sure I was prepared and the preschooler and I finally got stuck in. Our first activity evolved from the preschooler’s over zealous desire to put up the Christmas tree. We celebrated his birthday last week and our family rule is no tree until his birthday is over, so instead I decided to give him a little tree he could decorate and play with. Messy Christmas tree play is also great if the little ones like to take baubles off the real tree, or if you prefer to decorate yourself!

Messy Christmas tree play: ghostwritermummy.co.uk

We used one part of an old artificial tree, but you can buy very small ones too. Or, if you’re feeling up to it, a small fir tree would be fantastic as you would extend the sensory element no end! I weighed the tree down with pebbles inside a plastic tub and popped it into the centre of the Tuff Spot. Then I added piles of things that he could use to decorate it:

  • fake snow and glitter- this was ‘magic snow’ that had dried over a few days, mixed with white glitter snow, both found in the pound shop.
  • beads and baubles- the preschooler’s favourite things from the Christmas tree!
  • angels and presents- these were all silvery decorations that we no longer use.
  • lights- simple coloured fairy lights.
  • wooden stars- these, again, are old decorations that we no longer use on the Christmas tree.

Messy Christmas tree play: ghostwritermummy.co.uk

Before we started, we talked about the different things we had to decorate the tree with, and we read the labels that I had written on the Tuff Spot with chalk. The preschooler wanted to have a go at writing the words too, so we rubbed out my labels and he had a go at writing them instead. He sounded out initial sounds and made very good attempts at the words- all were phonetically correct, which really made me smile. I was also pleased to see that his grip on the chalk had improved too! Later on, he also used his finger to write in the fake snow on the tray and wrote the word ‘hot’ ( we had been talking about the heat coming from the fairy lights) and made a great attempt at writing ‘mummy’ too.

Messy Christmas tree play: ghostwritermummy.co.uk

Messy Christmas tree play: ghostwritermummy.co.ukThe preschooler set to work straight away and absolutely loved being able to decorate the tree exactly as he pleased. He is not normally allowed to do this, and if he does, it soon gets re-arranged! He spent ages draping the beads around and hanging baubles and pine cones here and there. It was lovely to see him so absorbed and expressing his creativity freely!

He also loved sprinkling the fake snow over the tree, talking about our recent visit to the Winter Wonderland at Center Parcs, and remembering back to last winter with all the snow we had. We had some lovely conversations about winter and about Christmas, and quite unprompted we also talked about Matilda Mae. The preschooler told me that our angel was called baby Matilda and that she would be looking after us from the top of the Christmas tree. We then talked about baby Jesus and the Christmas story- he was very involved in it all.

Once the fake snow was on the tray, the play became very sensory and we brought in the dumper truck to move snow from one place to the next. I left the preschooler to play independently for a while, smiling at his imagination and the different voices he was using. We talked about how the snow felt, and how pretty the lights looked too.

Messy Christmas tree play: ghostwritermummy.co.ukThe preschooler then asked me to write some words in the snow, which I did. We sounded them out together.

Messy Christmas tree play: ghostwritermummy.co.ukThis play was set out on our Tuff Spot all week for all of the children to play with as they pleased and it was certainly a Messy Christmas tree play: ghostwritermummy.co.ukpopular one. The fairy lights gave an extra element to the play as the sun went down because the children found them quite magical and talked about them looking like fireworks and stars in the sky. I am pretty sure we will be bringing this one out again before Christmas is over because it is so easy to do- and it will save my Christmas tree from destruction too!



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My Toadstool Wishlist

Regular readers will know my feelings towards play and learning through play- and in recent months I have had the Toadstool wishlist: ghostwritermummy.co.ukprivilege to witness just how powerful child led learning can be. Despite teaching as my own year one class, I don’t think I really appreciated, until now, how a child learns. I have been so lucky to have been at home with the preschooler for the majority of his life and to have been the main influence in his learning too. He does attend preschool but he spends more time at home and I find the time we have together to be fascinating.

Toadstool wishlist: ghostwritermummy.co.ukWe don’t sit at tables with pencils and paper and whiteboards full of ‘things to do’. We are not formal. I am led by my son and the things he loves to do. We play. We learn. He has another year before he starts school and already he can count beyond 50, he can read many CVC words and he knows almost all of his letters and their corresponding sounds. He is inquisitive. He is enthusiastic. He asks lots of questions. He is creative, expressive and thoughtful. He has a thirst for knowledge and a fantastic imagination.

He has achieved all of this himself, through play. He, to me, is the essence of teaching. I know if I were to go back into a classroom tomorrow I would be 100 times a better teacher because of him. He has helped me to understand teaching and learning.

Toys are very important in our house! Not a day passes without the children and I losing ourselves for a while in an imaginary world where we can just be. It seems Toadstool share my beliefs in the power of learning through play and already I see that many of the toys on their site are toys that we either own or have enjoyed at playgroup! But there are still many that we would love to get our hands on, so without further ado- here is our Toadstool wishlist!


The preschooler has owned a Brio rail-set since he was a year old but he very rarely plays with it. We use the trains to Toadstool wishlist: ghostwritermummy.co.ukpaint with more than anything else and it has truly helped to spark his love of creative artwork! However, the baby (whom I really should start calling ‘the toddler’ *sob*!) has started to develop a real love for the track! She has started to become transfixed with setting up the track (and helps too, flexing those fine motor skills nicely) and she loves making train noises as she chuffs them along. She has also added the word ‘train’ to her growing repertoire. She’d absolutely love the speaking station to add to our set.

Role Play

The baby and the preschooler both love role play. The preschooler has always loved fantasy role play with dinosaurs, dragons and knights, while the baby is increasingly displaying a love for domestic role play. It’s a rare occassion that I can hoover without her grappling the task from me! We have a wooden kitchen ready for her 2nd birthday in Febuary and so I just know she would love this beautiful wooden vegeatables play set to use alongside the wooden sandwich set we already own. The baby has already grappled the preschooler’s Eco House from him and she really loves playing with it, almost as much as she loves her dolls. I know Toadstool wishlist: ghostwritermummy.co.ukthat The Toadstool also stock this house and I can thoroughly recommend it- it is one toy that is played with every single day by the little ones. At the moment, we move the house around different rooms as the children like to make their mark on their territory! It would be lovely to have a dedicated area though and I think a play mat like this wonderful Haba rug could possibly help us find a home for our house. Which leads me to my next project…

Home Corner

As already mentioned, the preschooler and the baby are both huge fans of of role play and each love to emulate parts of the world around them in this way. The preschooler has a work bench and loves to potter around (admittedly, sometimes he take a hammer to doors, claiming to be ‘fixing’ but mostly he plays nicely!). He would absolutely love the Haba Tack Zap On Duty set because he would then have a safe place to hammer! This is a must for him this Christmas.

The baby loves domestic appliances and for some time now I have wanted to turn a part of the playroom into a home corner for her. This was always the most popular part of my classroom and the one area that never got changed- the kids Toadstool wishlist: ghostwritermummy.co.ukplayed there all year round. The baby would LOVE some play food for her kitchen- I love the Haba playfood Pizza  and the Haba play fruit and veg. I would also dearly love to get her a washing machine and a new pram (she is a pram lover!) that will last- like the Haba love hearts wooden pram. It’s gorgeous!


All the children love music and have lots of instruments already but we don’t have chimes, Clicker-clackers, Clapper sticks or musical eggs! We often have signing and music sessions and the kids love to dance too!


We have a set of wooden bricks that the preschooler got for his first birthday. They are the first things to come out most mornings and we have, as a family, spent hours playing with them. Last weekend we spent time with Jennie and her twins and the children played with beautiful Plan Toys Fairytale blocks, which are gorgeous. But I really think the preschooler would love the Haba Plug and Stack Master Builder- as would the baby! The Hape Bamboo Pallina game also looks great fun!

It’s safe to say that there is a LOT on the Toadstool site that the kids would love, and to find them under the Christmas tree would just be fantastic! They are toys that will last and take the place of bits and bobs that get put under beds and forgotten, or wrapped up again and gifted on (shhhh! ). I also love the fact that the toys are ethically made and perfect for enhancing learning through play. I’ve pinned all of these toys (and much much more!) on my TheToadstoolUK #TTXmas wishlist board- take a look!

What would be on your  wishlist?

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