A Little Extra that made The Preschooler’s Christmas (plus how to throw a TMNT party)

Just before Christmas I was invited to take part in a campaign with the Halifax– a chance to buy a special gift for someone special. I was sent £50 Amazon vouchers and this is how it went:

I panicked. I wasn’t sure what I ordered would arrive in time. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance but I knew that Amazon was the only place I would be able to get a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cycle helmet from. I also knew that if I went with the helmet I would have to go with the bicycle too and that meant I was risking leaving The Preschooler’s main Christmas present til Christmas Eve and what if they were sold out or it couldn’t be built or it was too big or too small…

it was all too much. (more…)


Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers

If you’ve been making salt dough like we have, this is a great activity for you! We recently discovered how wonderful salt dough is, thanks to Red Ted Art’s Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids. In particular, we made lots of little salt dough beads and stars, which we’ve used in our Christmas Treasure Tray.

We’ve done Treasure Trays before and they’re basically a bit of a twist on traditional treasure baskets. The idea is to fill the Tuff Spot with items from around the home- items that babies can explore and play with, usually on a set theme. Our theme was, of course, Christmas. Some of the items are not suitable for smaller babies- Bella is 22 months now and left the ‘putting everything in her mouth’ stage a while ago. That said, supervising the activity goes without saying. So here is our Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers- a great activity to keep them amused today!

Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers: of the items we used were really easy to find and many of them, I’m sure, you will have already. The salt dough does need a few hours to make, cook and cool down but ordinary beads can be used just as well. We love the salt dough ones as they are nice and chunky for small hands! On our Christmas Treasure Tray we had:

Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers: to explore!

The baby immediately went for the pompoms- she loves transferring them from one pot to another, and I left a few empty pots for specifically for this. I chose the tiny pompoms to exercise her pincer grip and to work on fine motor skills too. She spent a long time playing with this, scooping them into the pot and letting them scatter on the tray and onto the carpet around her. She also had a good giggle when I buried her feet in the large pompoms and ticked her toes! Great fun!

Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers: salt dough beads were a HUGE hit. I showed the baby how to use a pipe cleaner to thread the beads and that was it. Tongue out, full concentration mode switched on. She LOVED this activity and was so proud when she managed to thread her beads! I spent some time showing her how to hold her pipe cleaner right at the end, like you would a pencil, for better control and she really took in what I was telling her. I also took the opportunity to tell her colour names- as she chose  a bead to thread, I told her what colour it was and she repeated the word. I also asked her to choose specific colours but we’re not quite at that stage yet! As an extension, possibly with the preschooler, the beads could also be used for making and continuing patterns, for counting and for simple addition and subtraction calculations too. The possibilities for these salt dough beads are endless and you will be seeing more posts from me soon!

For today, though, the baby was more than happy threading the beads onto pipe cleaners, so much so that we took a bagful out with us for a meal the next night to keep her occupied while we waited for our food. We have also been talking about how they feel, how they smell and how they look and the baby has learned new words “pink” “blue” and “round”.

Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers: of the materials on the Treasure Tray were great for sensory play, in particular the polystyrene pieces, which we used as snow. The baby loved diving her hands into the tray and laughed with delight when I scooped handfuls and let them fall onto her head. She quickly picked this up and copied me, letting the pieces scatter all around her. The Christmas baubles and tinsel were great too, she loved feeling the different textures and learned more new words- “bauble” and “star”.

Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers: speaking of stars… we are surrounded by them this Christmas and every day there has been an opportunity to talk about Matilda, our special star in the sky and the angel in our tree. I added a star shaped cutter to the tray for a visual sensory element but we soon found a fun way to play with it. The baby and I filled the star with different materials- salt dough stars, polystyrene pieces, beads and pompoms. We pressed the pompoms right down inside the star and when we lifted it they stayed in the shape which was lovely! The baby also remembered making sand castles in the summer and repeated “pat pat pat” throughout this activity.

Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers:

Because all of the materials on the Treasure Tray were ‘clean’ we were able to scoop them up easily at the end of the session to be used again. I store them all in a large disposable roasting tray and I’ve left it under the Christmas tree so that the baby can rifle through whenever she pleases. We also set them all out during our Christmas party yesterday. And I have to say that the salt dough beads are still the most popular items in there!

This activity was a LOT of fun and one of the first opportunities I’ve had in ages to properly sit down with the baby and observe her during play. It was amazing to see her learn new skills, new words and new ways to play. I cannot wait for the next stage in her journey! Most of all, this was a lot of fun… we can’t wait to do it again!

Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers:


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:

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:

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:


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:

  • 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:

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



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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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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