We are a couple of weeks into the Summer holidays now and the rainy weather means that we are stuck indoors more than we would like. To entertain the children between the Olympics and the occasional trip to the beach, I have been relying on our collection of toys and games to keep us occupied. All of the kids obviously have their favourite TV and movie characters and so a lot of our toy space is taken up with Toy Story toys and Disney Cars. However lovely those toys are, they tend to become more of a collection than a plaything and I have been encouraging the children to play more and more with ‘proper’ toys. As far as I’m concerned, the best place by far for perfect toys is the Early Learning Centre.
My eldest child is 8 years old and so we have a fairly extensive range of ELC toys that we’ve accumulated over the years. One of the lovely things about them is the classic design. Louis’s old toddler toys don’t look at all out of place with the bits that we bought from ELC just last week. As well as encouraging the kids to play nicely together with their toys, I want to try and help Thurston to learn some important skills through play ready for his start at school in September.
ELC kindly sent us an amazing bundle of toys and art supplies, all chosen with helping Thurston with his creative and imagination skills which is something he really struggles with as a result of his Autism. Thurston tends to have a very literal way of thinking and his play generally involves lining things up or games which pop up and give immediate gratification. I wanted to push him to explore other ways of playing.
Firstly, I wanted to help him to enjoy art and crafts. Having attended a ‘school starters’ group recently where Thurston was supposed to join in with a group art project, I knew this wouldn’t be straightforward. He clung to me at the very sight of paint and PVA glue, and became very distressed at any mess that got on to him or felt sticky on his clothes. He needs a more gentle approach to arts and crafts and the ELC Mini Artist range is ideal for this. In our Mini Artist bundle was the My First Scribbler, My First Messy Mat, My First Aquamagic Mat, My First Load & Stamp Dough Set, My First Brushes and My First Chalks. The brushes and chalks have fantastic chunky handles which make them ideal for kids who are still learning their fine motor skills. Thurston has a ‘grab hold’ still and so it is much easier for him to make pictures with this range than other ranges, which means that his confidence is growing as he sees the results of his work!
My First Scribbler and My First Aquamagic Mat are great options to introduce children into art and craft in a mess-free way if they are nervous of new textures. Thurston found this really reassuring, especially with the scribbler and has really enjoyed stamping the animal footprints on the screen without the risk of getting sticky. Although I do also encourage messy play, sometimes it is difficult at home especially with an Autistic child as he doesn’t understand why sometimes he can make mess and others he can’t. The Aquamagic mat is a great alternative, as it has that ‘messy’ feel but the water loaded pen won’t do any damage to the house!
Thurston really enjoyed playing with the dough set and it helped us to play together too. He was initially nervous of the texture of the dough and so I sat behind him and guided his hands for reassurance. This is something I learned on our Earlybird course and it really does help to show children that things aren’t scary and reduces their fear of new things.
Another thing I have been very keen to help Thurston develop is his imaginative skills. Until recently, Thurston hasn’t showed any interest in imaginative play and I expected it to stay that way for a long time. However, I bought him the ELC Complete Baking Set for Christmas, and having ignored it for 5/6 months, it is suddenly one of his favourite toys. He loves the feel of the blender whizzing around and pops the cakes in the cases for us to have a tea party. ELC sent us 2 toy barbecues to try and help him expand his imagination, and it’s really grabbed his attention and inspired him to cook and grill for the whole family. The Sizzlin Barbecue is a really bright fun toy with lots of food and tools, and it also lights up and makes sizzling noises while you cook which Thurston loves to mimic. It also has folding legs which makes it really compact for storage. The Wooden Barbecue is really sweet and looks lovely. It has a wooden layer of coals, a grill and a spinning rotisserie for all your spit roasting needs! Thurston loves to turn the rotisserie with the wooden sausages!
Thurston has a real flair for numbers and letters and the Magnetic Play Centre that ELC send us has really helped him learn some new words. His absolute favourite thing to do is spell “20th FOX” with magnets. I think this is because of the symbol at the end of The Simpsons! He also loves to spell out CBBC! It makes him so happy to stand back and look at what he has spelled out. Obviously, his handwriting is going to be a long time in coming, and so magnets are a great form of communication for him in the meantime!
Something which has had a key role in Thurston’s learning, especially in his speech therapy sessions is the toy post box. ELC sent me their Pop it in the Post game and the kids have all loved playing with it. There is so many ways to play with this game. You can use it to learn matching, to help fine motor skills, to learn colours, identify animals. I mostly use it to encourage Thurston’s listening skills. I ask him if he can find a certain animal and he looks for the letter with the corresponding animal and pops it in the post! It’s really simple but effective.
My absolute favourite thing about ELC has got to be the Happyland range! This little world of adorable figures, buildings and vehicles is one of the only things that my children can play with happily together. We’ve got a lovely collection of Happyland toys now and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon! Thurston was sent the lovely Happyland London Bus which has been a real hit. It is currently being driven by the Queen, with Santa and a pirate as passengers! Happyland really does inspire Thurston to use his imagination which is so wonderful. A few days ago, I saw him making 2 of the figures have a conversation. It may not have been real words, but it was an amazing breakthrough for him.
Early Learning Centre has such a brilliant range of toys and games that are really great at inspiring little imaginations and creative sparks. I can’t imagine motherhood without it!
Thanks for reading!