Thursday, 5 April 2012

Toy Review: Birdwood Playhouses

Our new playhouse arrived this weekend!  Hurrah!  I've got big plans for this little house which I'll post about as I get it done, but for the moment it is being used empty and the kids are loving it.

I ordered it from Birdwood Playhouses for the bargain price of £250.  Their basic small playhouse runs less, but I had ours customised.  Andrew, the owner, added an extra window, window box, stable door and painted it for me which are standard customisations.  He also made the house taller and the door taller at my request as my boys are tall and I'd like them to get a few years use before they are stooping to get in.  The delivery was reasonable and the delivery company was fantastic.  It came as 4 walls, a floor, two pieces for the roof, the roofing felt and the trim.  There were basic instructions and the only tools I used were an electric screwdriver, hammer and stanley knife.   My only quibble was I would have found illustrations or more detail instructions useful.  Having never put roofing felt on a roof before I had to experiment to get it right (and I'm not entirely sure it is, but it keeps out the rain so far!).  
I didn't realise quite how tall the door would be and in hindsight would have made it a bit smaller as you can see that the shorter kids aren't going to get much use of the stable door until they grow a bit taller!  This doesn't seem to affect their enjoyment of the house though.

Overall I love, love, love it.  It is sturdy and well-built.  The customer service was excellent.  Andrew even phoned as he was doing the painting to explain the colour to me to check it was what I wanted (it is a light grey, not periwinkle as it looks in the photos).  I feel good that I was able buy one from a small UK business, rather than an off-the-shelf made in China from one of the chain stores.  I also love that it is wood - it wont still be around in a landfill in 500 years creating problems for future generations.  Great value for money.  I highly recommend Birdwood Playhouses - go check them out if you need an awesome playhouse too!  

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Sensory Bin / Discovery Box: Valentine's Day Hearts

A bit out of season, but this was one of my most popular sensory boxes and got regular daily play through the whole month.    

Included in the Valentine's box were 2 lined baskets, a couple of packs of plastic hearts, a pack of painted wooden hearts, a pack of red plastic jewels, some red wire balls and a couple of stray Christmas decorations.  The containers are small wooden bowls and an empty red bucket.  There are metal scoops in each of the baskets and a large pair of wooden tweezers and a small pair of tongs.

To extend the play I firstly added a mirror.

The following week I added a treasure chest.

I found the children used this in very different ways.  The younger ones enjoyed the sensory experience - running their hands though the hearts, listening to the different materials rattle in the the different containers, transferring and transporting using all the items.  
The older children used the materials for sorting and imaginative play - setting up shops and kitchens.  

Can't wait to use this one again!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Sensory Bin / Discovery Box: Gardening (with optional water station)

The weather has been glorious here in the West of England for the last week or so and all my attentions have turned outdoors.  I have a small stockpile of posts to write about some of the ways I've been making my tiny garden a haven for outside exploration and play.  I'll try to get a few more posts up in the next week to compensate for my bloglessness over the past couple of weeks (we've been sick here.  repeatedly.  annoyingly.) However, first I wanted to share the new gardening sensory box.  

After the Spring Birds sensory box, the contents of this one aren't particularly spectacular: compost, seed packets (fantastic fine motor skills practise - learning to tear delicately so as not to spill the seeds!), small recycled plastic pots, child-sized gardening tools, gloves and a watering can.  Great for kids of all ages. The baby likes to get his hands in the compost and explore the tools and pots and the older kids figured out how to plant the seeds in the pots with no adult instruction needed simply by looking at the materials available and figuring it out.  Love it when that happens!

This is a great one on it's own.  However, the addition of the 'water station' has seriously extended the scope of play with this sensory bin and I really recommend it. 

I don't have an outside water tap in my garden (don't get me started, it is the biggest gripe I've got about this house).  Rather than live without a water source this summer or let the kids run in and fill endless watering cans spilling through the house with every step, I've simply bought a portable water carrier.  It folds flat when not in use (crucial for those of us with no storage space) and holds 15 litres when full.  I specifically looked for one with a turning mechanism rather than a button to push in and hold.  I felt that a push button may be too difficult for the kids to use independently (particularly when filling bottles), whilst the turning mechanism is a great way to build up those hand and wrist muscles.  The downside is that the kids have to learn to turn off the water or it all drains out.  Next to the water jug, I've placed a spray bottle and another watering can.  On the other side of the sensory table (not pictured) is a shelf full of other items including scoops and containers which are always available for use.  I deliberately only put out a few items so that there isn't too much choice*.  

This combination kept them all busy and entertained for hours, which is a very long time indeed.

*It is my belief and experience that too much choice leads to overwhelmed kids who don't play deeply, but throw things around and bicker over ownership.  Life is too short to set myself up for this.  I'm too lazy to sort out all the wars over stuff.  They still argue with less stuff, just not as much.  And they are less likely to throw.  I can't stand the throwing.  Because then I feel compelled to tell them not to throw and to pick up the thrown things.  Sometimes they don't want to do this and whining commences.  I can't bear the whining.  Or the thrown things.  Or myself sounding like my mother.  So, I just put a few things out.