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:

Messy beach play inspired by High Seas Hobbit

Since we returned from our glamping trip to High Seas Hobbit, the children and I have focused a lot of our conversation and our play on Scotland, and the things we did while we were there. One of the main attractions of the trip was the beautiful beaches we visited and I knew even before we returned home that we would be re-creating some at home!

We talked about what the beaches looked like and the preschooler became quite animated as he recollected the pebbles and seaweed! We decided to build a messy beach on the tuff spot, using some of the pebbles and shells we collected, as well as some waterbeads and Playmobil figures.

Messy beach play inspired by High Seas Hobbit

This is what we did:

We made rock pools by

  • filling tin foil trays with water and setting them on the tuff spot
  • we arranged pebbles around them to make them look like rockpools
  • added some sand and some water to give them an authentic look

All of this was dictated by the children and what they remembered seeing at the beaches. We had some fun counting shells and creating a sandy part of the beach too, before we moved on.

we made a sandy beach with rockpools and counted seashells


The addition of water soon made the state of play quite different. We noticed that some water was leaking from the rockpool and the preschooler was in charge of filling this up, practising important carrying and pouring skills. We also noticed that we needed to tweak our waterbeads a little to make them look more like seaweed. We scoured he garden for leaves and added some shredded bubble wrap too. If nothing else, the mixture felt nice!

We tried to make seaweed with black waterbeads, bubble wrap and leavesThe messy beach play was certainly very sensory. The kids, as usual, loved getting their whole bodies into the tuff spot and enjoyed exploring the different textures of the sand, water and waterbeads. As usual we were very careful with the baby and ensured she knew not to put the waterbeads in her mouth. We talked about how the different materials were grainy, soft, slippery, wet, dry, soft and slimy.

The different materials provided lots of sensory play


The kids like to bring toys into their messy plsy when they can and the Playmobil figures were a popular choice for this one!

We used Playmobil figures in out messy beach playThe Playmbil characters were a fantastic idea because it encouraged the preshooler to indulge in some imaginative play. I love watching him engage with the characters and invent scenarios for them!

messy beach play is great for imaginative play


Of course, the whole scene soon turned messy- and isn’t that the point! Sand and water are too traditional play materials that adults like to keep separate and kids like to mix! Today, I let them.

This was a lovely messy play activity!

I sat back and watched them re-live our wonderful glamping trip at High Seas Hobbit, because that’s the reason why we do these things. We build memories, and give our children experiences to draw on first in their play and then in their everyday lives. This was a great activity and one that has been repeated many times since!


Does that mean I have a normal baby?


I took the little ones to play group today and handed the baby’s red book in to the health visitors for weighing. She was weighed last week, but I’ve been on a bit of a detox (or, not eating lots of rubbish all the time) and I wanted to check that it wasn’t affecting her weight gain. It would be so fantastic awful to have to revert back to a diet filled with whatever I like.
Anyway, we were last in the queue but once I had waited that long I sure as hell wasn’t going to give up. And anyway, it was soon our turn! Yes, everyone else had left but the toddler loves an empty room to run around and I can be stubborn at times.
So the baby is now 10 lb 8! I am astounded. I had just fed her, bit still… that’s 11 ounces in 8 days!
Of course, I panic.
“she seems to be putting weight on really quickly,” I say, hoping I don’t sound too panicky. “its about half a pound a week on average!”
“thats absolutely fine!” The health visitor responds.
She looks curious so I explain that my eldest daughter never really fed much, slept through at 5 weeks and was still only 10 at 6 months. Then my son… he wasn’t thriving at all so by 4 months our consultant had him in formula and baby rice. I think the confusion I’d subconciously come to was:
” I always assumed my breast milk wasn’t all that good…”
“your breast milk is good stuff!” She laughed. “half a pound a week is exactlybwhat we want. It’s.completely normal.”
Um, ok. I’ve got a normal baby then? What does one do with one of those then? I’m used to the extreme. Average is alien to me! From one baby who slept so well, potty trained so early and easily and has never had a tantrum… to one who still doesn’t sleep, regularly has dirty protests and is currently on his 7th tantrum of the day… to now have one that does things by the book?
Goodness, what pressure!