There's been plenty to stress and worry about this year, but I look back on the Lockdown months and cherish all the extra time I got to spend with my two girls. Yes there were times when Zoom calls were interrupted by noisy play and a barking dog, but this was just a part of Lockdown life that we had to deal with! And I certainly didn't miss the morning school run and the busyness of the working week.
The key to Mummy remaining sane was finding ways to keep my girls occupied every day. Luckily the weather was amazing during Spring and we grabbed every opportunity to spend time outdoors. I would set up our garden in the mornings like I would set up my classroom for play and bring all our toys outdoors. It’s amazing how toys can seem so much more appealing when you change the location for play!
When I set up a carousel of activities, my aim was to promote both cooperative and independent play. Thankfully my girls generally played well together, but they did have their moments of course! Areas of play included role play, small world play, construction, creative (arts and crafts), sensory and physical activities to promote gross motor skills. Throughout all activities I tried to incorporate elements of Literacy and Numeracy learning where possible.
My girls absolutely love role play activities and it is very entertaining to watch them! During lockdown, I often set up shop activities. We had a toy shop , ice-cream shop and fruit and veg shop amongst others. These activities are great for oral language development and it is also a great way to teach them coin values and simple counting with money. They also loved playing school (and pretending to be me!) They would set out all their teddies and dolls and make a classroom for them with desks and chairs. They would use a variety of their construction toys to build whatever they needed.
And of course we had regular tea parties. My youngest is a huge fan of pretend picnics and we spent many afternoons sitting in the garden eating cake (and Mummy wishing it was real!)
Small World Play
This type of imaginative play is a great way of letting children recreate and explore real life and fantasy scenarios in a safe and secure environment. I often set up small world play using books as a stimulus. They really enjoyed recreating and retelling their favourite stories and often they would extend and change plots and characters depending on their imagination!! In setting up a small world scene, I would provide a sensory base such as coloured rice/chick peas, pasta, sand or water, some figures/animals, open-ended construction toys, natural elements such as flowers, leaves, twigs, pebbles and other wooden loose parts. At times, I also included a cardboard box and paints to see what setting/building they might create.
Again this type of play encourages oral language development and helps children become storytellers. Although my girls would begin playing together, they often ended up playing independently as they became absorbed in their own little set ups.
My girls love to stack, balance and build. Quite often their construction play transformed into small world play as they loved to build houses, castles, farms and zoos and then created characters and animals to live in their constructions. Some of their favourite building sets include the rainbow architect sets
, the sensory squares
and the mirrored blocks
. Open-ended toys like these are such a wonderful resource in any playroom. We have some sets for over a year and they are still reached for regularly as they can be used in so many different ways.
I incorporated lots of arts and crafts activities into their daily play during lockdown. It started with rainbows of course. With the focus on supporting our NHS, we joined in with making rainbows to display in our front window. My girls loved walking around our neighbourhood and counting the rainbows they found too. Lots of our neighbours commented on our rainbow window (we painted a lots of rainbows!!) so I decided we would continue to decorate our front window during lockdown to give the children in the neighbourhood something to look at on their daily walks. I chose different themes for the girls to explore in their play and learning and found lots of arts and craft activities to accompany them. Paper plates and toilet/kitchen roll tubes became the most useful resources in our craft activities. We spent a few weeks exploring sea animals and life under the sea. We read stories, non-fiction books and poems about the sea/sea animals. They made a variety of sea animals using paper plates and I displayed these in our front window.
A few weeks later our theme changed to jungle/rainforest animals. They created elephants, sloths, snakes, ladybirds and parrots using paper plates. And they explored the concept of symmetry by making symmetrical butterflies. I also made use of natural materials in our art and craft activities. They loved to collect fallen petals and leaves on our walks and would use these to make pictures such as flower fairies, a summer scene and giant flowers. We also explored printing with leaves, leaf rubbings and printing with shells. I was constantly thinking of creative activities for them that could be done using everyday objects and materials. Other fun painting activities included fork printing, finger painting, printing with toilet rolls to make different shapes, painting with cotton buds and printing with cotton balls.
They also loved using food colouring to explore mixing colours. On one occasion, I set up a hair salon station in the garden which was a big hit! I simply glued different coloured card and tissue paper around the top of toilet rolls and they created faces using pompoms and googly eyes. Then they gave their toilet roll people hair cuts! A great activity for practising scissor skills (fine motor skills) and they really loved it.
I provided my girls with a variety of play trays for sensory play. So many kitchen cupboard staples are great for sensory activities. At the start of lockdown, I had a clear out of spices and dried goods that were no longer fresh. They had so much (messy!) fun exploring the old herbs and spices.
On a play tray in the garden, they mixed spices together, added water, food colouring, old dried pasta and created the foulest potion imaginable!! I also used dried oats, lentils, rice and chickpeas for sensory play. One of their absolute favourites was using shaving foam to make ice-creams. Definitely one for the garden!!
I was so conscious of getting my girls moving every day. Suddenly all their planned activities including swimming, tennis and gymnastics were cancelled. We joined in with so many other households doing their online PE lessons in the morning and we also discovered wonderful yoga for kids online which they loved. We played lots of games in the garden, sang action songs and I created little circuits for them using hoops, skipping ropes, bean bags and balls. I also had number hunts with our number bean bags in the garden and sound hunts depending on my eldest's phonics focus. When we were permitted to travel a little further afield, I would take them exploring in our local park.
They loved taking their magnifying glass
, bug catcher and magnifying pot to see what they could find. We usually took the mini beast checklist from their wooden minibeast blocks
to help identify different bugs. They always took a basket for collecting treasure and would return home with all sorts of leaves, flowers and berries to explore and add to their small world set ups.
It is only in writing this blog and reflecting on my time during lockdown that I realise just how much we packed into every day. Some days were definitely more challenging than others, usually when it was pouring rain, but I will always be grateful for the months we spent together, staying safe in our little bubble❤️🌈.
Written by Sheila O’Reilly, mum to two girls and a Primary School Teacher.
Discover more inspiring play ideas from Rascals_and _Rainbows here