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The Open School of Creative Arts

The Open School of Creative Arts
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Even Better Bubble Dough

So, a few months ago we made Bubble Dough. Its fabulous. But this version is even better.... read on! 
I was making some yesterday, and decided to add some cooking oil to it, to see what it did. Well it didnt seem to do a whole lot to start with, except make it sticky, but I kept kneading it in and it started to stop being sticky, and turned into a lovely dough, just like the bubble dough we made before, but the oil made it so soft and even stretchier than before. Here are some pictures so you can see how gorgeous and fun this sensory material is:
Super stretchy...
... and goes all swirly!
 You can see how soft it looks...
...and its not sticky and messy at all! 

Then we added purple glitter, because purple glitter makes everything better.
 You can see here how its very dough like... 
 and totally mouldable, like playdough... 

The ratios I've found works best is 1 cup of cornflour/cornstarch : half a cup of washing up liquid/dish soap : 2 tsp olive/cooking oil.  However, I also think it's best to add the ingredients slowly, knead well; and if it's too sticky, add more flour, if its too crumbly add more liquid.

If you have tried this and it doesnt work, try using handsoap or shower gel instead. People have reported issues using Dawn dish soap in particular. 

I hope you enjoy playing with Bubble Dough, and if you do please come and share your pictures on our facebook page.

You can sign up for the August session of our Connecting Family through Creative Play workshop - pay what you want, and enjoy a month of daily emails with prompts to play and creative connections, a community of like minded parents and guidance from Gina and I - find out more here

See more of our play recipes hereand stay connected with us here:

Five Ways to Encourage Free Play

If you struggle to let your kids just be bored, and play free, then I hope this post will help you! As part of the Petits Filous Play Free Campaign and their Let Them Be Bored Challenge,  I want to highlight the importance of free play for young children by sharing with you some tips to help you embrace the ideas behind letting children be bored, hands off parenting, and just letting them play free!

The Let Them Be Bored Challenge is simple. 

"Instead of jumping in and directing your child’s play (even when they 
mutter the dreaded “I’m bored”) simply step back and let them work through their boredom and Play Free, making sure they don’t reach for the tables, smart-phones or TV as a boredom filler!"

For some families this is not unusual, and for others it really is a challenge. Either way, you are bound to see the benefits of free play for your children, whatever their age. So, what are the benefits of free play??


I’m working with Petits Filous and BritMums promoting the #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign 
about the importance of free play.

Check out this awesome video, as seen on Petits Filous' Facebook Page,  highlighting the benefits of free play!

Be sure to check out my first post for this campaign too, Five Things to Do in the Woods, for some fun ideas for outdoor free play. And check out the hashtag #PetitsFilousPlayFree on twitter for more awesome posts and chats about this challenge!

The Benefits of Being Bored and Free Play

Anita Cleare, founder of the Positive Parenting Project, says, "Boredom is good for children because it stimulates curiosity and fires the imagination. At its best, boredom is a creative state that leads to new ideas and new play. And we know that good quality play drives children’s development and builds intelligence."

Here are just a couple of the benefits of free play...

- Free play allows children to relax and unwind after a day at nursery or school; pretend play in particular can give opportunities for children to process events, such as a challenging social situation, or learning a new skill.

- Playing with open ended toys (toys that have multiple uses, rather than a single prescriptive use), or even "un-toys" (things that children love to play with, but that are not toys, like a cardboard box, clothes pegs, keys, etc) can lead to wonderful creativity and imagination.

- Imaginative and creative play often promotes language development; using descriptive language to talk about what they are doing and making, learning new words, and developing expression and intonation as they talk to themselves or each other.


I was lucky enough to have a chat with Anita about how my children play, how I could further encourage free play, and how it benefits them. I described how Poppy, by 5 year old daughter, loves to play with her dolls; they talk to each other and she acts out little scenarios with them... not uncommon in young children at all! I was curious to what she was getting out of this type of play, apart from all the fun!

Anita explained that at 5 years old Poppy would be really developing her cognitive and social skills, and that by playing with dolls, dressing up, or playing make believe, she was starting to imagine what it is like to be someone else, and therefore hugely aiding in the development of empathy and compassion!

Anita and I also talked about the bigger physical play that Poppy and her older brother Jake often engage with. This usually involves dressing up, chasing each other, hiding, pretending to be animals and "flying", or pretending to spies and quietly creeping round the house, hiding from the grown ups, and pretending that we can't see them at all! Anita discussed how they would both be expanding their spacial awareness, mental rotational skills and logical framework. Poppy would also be learning a lot from Jake! 

 It was great to be reminded of all these things! I am not a particularly hands on parent when it comes to their play, now they are older. I do let them just get on with what they want to play with, especially after school, when they are tired and have had plenty of structure in their day, so I didn't struggle with the boredom challenge, however it is so easy to forget all the wonderful things that they are learning and developing while they are playing, and that they are not JUST having fun!

Five Ways to Encourage Free Play

1. Ditch the screen time.
Yes, I know you are probably bored of hearing it, but it is true! Screens and devices definitely have their place in education now; there are important skills to be learned for future study and work opportunities, however as far as early childhood development goes they are unnecessary; there is nothing a child can't learn playing with toys and nature, than they can on an Ipad. (I do understand that they are convenient at times, and am not berating any parent for using them with their children!)

HOWEVER, if you turn off the TV and put the Ipads and mobiles away, children will have to find other things to do, and that is where the magic can happen. Whether it's simply scribbling and drawing, or playing outside for hours, playing hide and seek with their siblings, or building lego or wooden blocks they will be learning so much, and having a lot of fun, once they get going!

2. Leave them to it! I know some parents find this really tricky, especially with a single child, however you will both reap the rewards! Most of the time, there is house work or cooking to do, other children or animals to see to, phone calls to make, or work to do. So try and take twenty minutes, or whatever you are comfortable with, to go and be busy with whatever you need to, and let your child know that they are in a safe space to play however they want. 

This obviously varies with the age of your child, if they are very young you will not want to leave them entirely unsupervised, and the toys or things they have need to be safe and appropriate! 

3. Provide Loose Parts. Loose parts are fantastic "toys" that allow your children to play freely and creatively. You can find a list of loose parts ideas here. They are things like pebbles, sticks, shells, beads, wooden shapes or letters, play silks, bricks. For babies or toddlers that need bigger (non eat-able) things, you can provide cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, wooden spoons, mixing bowls, cups, wooden disks, balls... For older children, you can offer tinker trays; a box or tray full of screws, bolts, washers, old casette players and tapes, keyrings, pegs... all sorts. Playdough is also a great addition to any loose parts, at any age!

All ages will have so much fun building, making, creating, often without end, but that is great! These loose parts provide so much opportunity for fine and gross motor development, spacial awareness, pre-maths and engineering, creativity and artistic skills... oh the list is endless!

4. Offer Imaginary Toys. Toys like dolls, puppets, teddies, playmobil, lego sets, animal figures, dolls houses, train tracks, etc...

Probably all quite self explanatory, but many children do not have access to these types of toys any more! They provide hours of free, open-ended play. My children have created entire worlds out of book platforms and wooden blocks,  filled with lego creations, playmobil people and animal figures!

Some of these toys can seem really pricey, but there are plenty of selling sites where you can buy second hand, and charity shops nearly always have dolls, teddies, cars and animals for sale at crazy cheap prices! About 70% of my kids' toys have come from charity shops, and I am proud of it! :P

5. Give Creative Materials. Messy play is many parent's worst nightmare, and I totally sympathise; I am an artist myself, but I am not a fan of the clean up after a kids' painting session!! However, there are loads of creative materials that your children can access all the time, without the worry of mess!!

So, some messy options are paint, pastels, oil pastels, playdough, gloop or Oobleck (cornflour and water), glue, eco friendly glitter, and clay. The fun speaks for itself, I think :)

The Non-Messy options include - paper, chalk, coloured paper, card, crayons, pencils, pens, highlighters, watercolour pencils, stickers, stencils, scissors, glue stick, tape, washi tape, books (all sorts of picture books, non-fiction, art books, etc for inspiration), an old camera is also a great creative tool... I'm sure there are lots of other things you can add to this list!!

I remember spending hours as a child drawing and writing, and I loved it (still do!).

Creative play for children can help with language development, fine motor skills, self expression and self awareness, empathy and social skills, pre-writing and pre-maths skills (mark-making, colours, shapes, pen control...), and of course developing imagination!

I really am passionate about the benefits of free play for both children and parents, and I really recommend trying the Petits Filous Let Them Be Bored Challenge! And I would love to hear how you get on. What do you find most challenging about leaving kids to get on with play? What do you enjoy most? What do your children like to play with the most? What do you see them getting out of it?

Whatever your children love to get up to while they play free, they will play happier if they are full up! (hunger never aids play well!!) So a healthy snack or lunch is essential! Petits Filous are a delicious easy snack, that can be given at home with the Little Pots, or out and about in Pouches (which can be kept out of the fridge for up to 5 hours and you don't need to worry about a spoon!), they are fortified with Vitamin D, giving 50% of the daily recommended allowance, helping those growing bones and aiding free play! 

Plus, Poppy thinks you can even play with the pot and spoon, turning it into a musical instrument! Well, why not?! :D 

Five Things to Do in the Woods

We love going to the woods, after school or at the weekend for some exploration, free play, and a hit of nature... We often go and just walk through and back with the dogs, noticing interesting wildlife or fungi, but not particularly being present within the space. However, sometimes we will go to the woods to spend time playing and exploring, rather than walking, and I wanted to share our 5 favourite things to do in the woods.

The wood, like many outdoor areas, are a perfect playground, and provide so many opportunities for gross motor development, fine motor development, learning about cause and effect, developing spacial awareness, language development, science, numeracy, creativity, environmental awareness, and lots more!

I’m working with Petits Filous and BritMums promoting the #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign about the importance of free play.

Check out this awesome video, as seen on Petits Filous' Facebook Page,  highlighting the benefits of free play!

The #PetitsFilousPlayFree project is about embracing free unstructured play. Free Play is critical
for children’s development, tapping into their imagination and encouraging creative thinking. It
helps their negotiation skills, teaches them cause and effect and helps with team playing. It’s
essential for every child, not to mention fun and inspiring!

1. Build a Den 

Building a den is so easy to do in the woods; you have everything you need right at your fingertips, and it is so much fun!! All you have to do is find some fallen branches, and a solid tree helps as a base, and build however your kid wants to! Even if your children need some help with any heavy branches, they can still be in control of the design, build, and outcome!

Den building offers opportunity for developing gross motor skills, creativity, engineering, spacial awareness, self esteem, and a whole lot of fun, not to mention team work and communication skills!

2. Jump in the Stream 
Jumping in the stream (where safe!), is just like jumping in puddles. It's a sensory overload; sound, feeling, sight, and sometimes even taste if the splash is really big!! I have never met a child who doesn't like splashing in water! Some grown ups find it hard to let kids get messy and wet, and that's fine, so if that's you, try waterproof clothes and a great pair of wellies. But even when the water spills over the wellies, it's a great learning experience of cause and effect!

3. Hunt for Nature
This can be a nature treasure hunt, an identification game, or just simply exploring. The woods are a perfect place for looking for nature, however old you or your kids are! Depending on the season, you can find fungi (mushrooms and toadstools), fauna and flora, trees, birds, mammals, fish, frogs and toads, insects, and fruit.

Hunting for natural treasures helps us connect with our surroundings, and can provide children with skills in investigation and identification, it can develop fine motor control and hand/eye coordination whilst lifting leaves and twigs or using tweezers to collect specimens. This type of activity can be fantastic for language development, early science, and numeracy.

My kids love discovering flowers and fungi the most, so its also a great opportunity to talk about safe foraging; the uses and dangers of wild nature!!

4. Make Anything! 

In addition to dens, there is a lot of stuff to be created in the woods! Art with sticks and leaves, leaf crowns, leaf and twig boats, fairy houses.... really anything your child can imagine! You have a multitude of materials available to you; solid sticks and twigs, bendable twine and stems, shapely leaves, malleable mud and clay, loose soil, bark, empty snail shells, feathers. Let your kids get creative!

Creativity always provides opportunity for self esteem, confidence, self expression, language and communication, team-work, all round learning, and of course the development of imagination. All these things lead to creative things, which is so very important in all aspects of life!

5. Climb and Balance 

Climbing trees seems one of those taboo subjects these days. Some people are still all for it, others think schools and other organisations are right to ban it due to health and safety precautions... personally, I am all for it!

Tree climbing is not only fun but it teaches risk assessment and spacial awareness, it develops so many gross motor skills; strength, balance, coordination;  it offers sensory experience not found in many other situations, it offers a new perspective for small children who are nearly always looking UP at their surroundings. Its a brilliant psychologically and physically beneficial activity for children (and grown ups) of all ages!

For much smaller children, even balancing on a fallen branch, or hopping from tree stump to tree stump, still offers many of the benefits!

The best thing about playing in the woods is the freedom! Freedom to play, explore and choose! Children learn so much when they are given the time to just play, free!

While you're still out adventuring, or when you get home, there is no doubt your kids will want a snack! In August and September, you might be lucky enough to have picked your own blackberries or apples, which make a great snack! You might find hazelnuts and have a go at making roasted hazelnuts or even chocolate spread... otherwise a small snack like some chopped up fruit, some nuts, a yogurt, or some crackers will always be a great pick me up!

Petits Filous fromage frais are a delicious and nutritional snack, with 50% of your child's daily Vitamin D allowance, which is great for these winter months, when sunshine is hard to find, no matter how much time you spend outside!! Even better are the Petits Filous snack pouches, which are perfect for taking out and about as you don't need a spoon and they can be kept out of the fridge for up to five hours! Perfect for boosting energy and calcium for fun adventures in the woods!

Let me know what you and your kids love to do in the woods, or your other ideas for outdoor free play! 

Stories for Life

A couple of weeks ago I received this beautiful package in the post.

I was very excited to open it, who doesn't love getting stuff in the post?! On opening I was even more excited, because inside were 3 gorgeous hard back children's books from Penguin Random House!

I received these books as part of the BritMums and Penguin Random House Christmas Present Challenge, which means I get to give these books as presents this christmas! 

Without a doubt, I knew immediately that Jake (now SEVEN years old by the way, how did that happen?!) would just love Terry Pratchet's The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner. Its full of fourteen fantastically funny stories including pirates, wizards, elephants on wheels, food fights, and mysterious vacuum cleaners!

Next was Clover Moon by the wonderful Jacqueline Wilson. Jake's friend, Sara, who lives back in Jersey is a keen reader and is a curious and adventurous little girl, so Clover Moon sounded like a story she would love to read with her Mum! Clover Moon is about a girl who tries to escape a world full of grief with her imagination, and then a real possibility of escape to a place that really feels like home... 

The third book we received is Tom Fletcher's Christmasaurus - well this could easily be another favourite for Jake, so I think it will probably end up under our tree with his name on it this year, however I think that my 9 year old  nephew would also love this, along with most of Jake's friends! A great magical adventure set on Christmas Eve, with an elf, Santa Claus, a bad guy and an unusual dinosaur! As it is set on Christmas Eve it would be a lovely addition to a Christmas Eve Box, if you do this for your kids. 

Sharing stories at Christmas, well any time of the year, is always wonderful, especially with our children. Books, unlike the fast pace media that saturates our society nowadays, stay with us for life; many of the stories are timeless and wonderful. I have childhood favourites from toddlerhood, to early childhood and onwards; including The Very Hungry Caterpillar - by Eric Carle,  The Owl who Was Afraid of the Dark- by Jil Tomlinson, The Suitcase Kid - by Jacqueline Wilson, and of course, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and The Hobbit by Tolkien.  

The first 3 books I have already shared with my children, but we have yet to read the Narnia books. Jake is now Harry Potter mad, but I am loathe to go past the first 3 books yet as I think he is too young, so it will be great to switch over the Narnia books, and we have just started The Hobbit, and so far he is really enjoying it. I can't wait for the school holidays so we can all snuggle up in front of the fire with hot chocolate and read some more! Yes that sounds cliche', but sometimes cliche is OK, especially at Christmas. 

Massive thanks to Penguin Random House Children's Books for sending these gorgeous books to us. I also have to give a coincidental shout out to my partner's dad, Mr Kevin Clark, who is an engineer for Penguin Random House! :D

Lego Stacking Hearts

Jake and Poppy both love lego, and they both love things like hearts, flowers, and stars. So when I sat building lego with them and decided to make a heart, they thought it was great and asked me to make lots of hearts, so I did! 

I made some, and Jake copied the pattern to make some more. 

Then Jake realised that you could slot the hearts together as the bottom fit of one heart fit right into the top of another... 

 I then just watched him play and stack them for the next hour or so...

He found many ways to fit the hearts together.  

And then he realised that they even fit together upside down and the right way round! What a great Maths and Science investigation for him! :) 

The patterns and towers are just endless, imagine if you had twice as many hearts! And they are so simple to make, it takes 2 minutes to make one heart.

Jake even realised that he could build upwards and outwards to make different shapes. He loved playing with the hearts and we make them a lot! Poppy always asks for the red and purple ones and displays them in her bedroom, while Jake builds, and re-builds, and is learning to make them without copying now! 

This is my first post back on Creative Playhouse for a while, and its nice to be back! I hope you liked this post; do feel free to share it, and comment below if you've done the same, or similar with lego - its such a good learning tool as well as being wonderful for free, creative play! 

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