How to make a (cardboard) real magnifying glass!

Make your own real magnifying glass (the cardboard version)

Whether they’re exploring the world around them or role-playing as adventurers or spies, kids love playing with a real magnifying glass. This cardboard, handmade, magnifying glass is just perfect for them to use, and they can decorate it themselves too. Read on to find out how to make them.

A real magnifying glass made from cardboard

A home-made magnifying glass that’s quick and easy to make.

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How to make a real magnifying glass

Make your own magnifying glass

A magnifying glass has to be one of the most useful, thought-provoking, and inspiring tools you can give to a child. This hand-made diy magnifying glass is both pretty and functional, and each one is also completely unique. And forget the kids, adults love these too! Read on to find out how to make them.

A fabric-covered diy magnifying glass

Lovely tools, like this home-made magnifying glass, make using them a pleasure.

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Grapat Free-Play Box Review

Playing in a Grapat Free-Play Box

Focus. Do you ever wish your kids had more of it? That they would concentrate more fully on the activity in front of them, rather than being constantly distracted by a million other little things? One answer is a play frame, and there is none more beautiful or practical than the Grapat free-play box. The marvellous One Hundred Toys were kind enough to send us one of these trays, so we could test it out for ourselves. Read on to see what we thought, and if it really did make a difference to our play…

grapat free-play box with building blocks inside

Simple, yet beautifully made and full of play potential.

The Toy Distraction

I love toys. Possibly, it’s true, even more than my kids. I try to make sure that (most) of the ones we buy are good quality and with an educational or developmental benefit. Yes, even the Peppa Pig ones. But when it comes to playing, more and more and more research is showing that having less toys around is actually better for our kids – they will play longer, with more use of their imagination and creativity, and exercising more social skills, the fewer toys available to them.

The Grapat Free-Play Box

The Grapat free-play box isn’t another toy; rather, it’s a tool to facilitate better and more satisfying play. As such, I think it’s fair to say that it’s one of those purchases that the grown-ups are always going to be more excited about than the kids – at least until the play starts!

Ours arrived charmingly wrapped in plain brown paper and string – not a plastic wrapper in sight. The only mark on the paper was a beautiful blue stamp of the rings of a tree trunk, hinting at what was inside, and a little tag saying simply ‘Felic Joc!’ – essentially ‘Happy Playing’ in Catalan.

grapat free-play box wrapped in brown paper packaging

Maria Von Trapp would appreciate this parcel – plain brown paper tied up with string, beautifully stamped with the rings of a tree trunk. Simple, lovely packaging worthy of what’s inside!

It feels almost bizarre these days to get a toy in such plain wrappings. There are no bright logos or pictures of grinning kids to show yours how the toy should be played with, and no instructions or suggestions either. But it’s also really liberating. There’s no right or wrong way to use this, and so it forces both kids and parents to think more carefully about what goes inside and what kind of play these might lead to.

Natural Beauty

Once we’d ripped off the wrapping paper (and, yes, I’ll admit we did cut out the log image to keep!), we discovered inside a large, shallow tray beautifully made out of beech wood and stamped with lovely images to evoke the four elements.

My favourites are the feathers for air, but they are all gorgeous – flames for fire, that also look vaguely like clouds for the water-raindrops; and the rings of a tree trunk for earth (the same image stamped on the wrapping paper). Simple yet evocative, these images can be incorporated into play and act as imaginative prompts, yet are subtle enough not to be distracting.

grapat free-play box interior images

Beautifully made out of beech wood, and stamped with elemental images.

And that’s all you get. A (beautifully made, simply but charmingly decorated) wooden tray. It’s lovely to look at and has great proportions, but there are no bells, whistles, rainbows or lights with this. It’s really up to you and the kids to make it something more.

The magic box

The funny thing is, though, that you hardly need to do anything at all. As soon as you put toys into the Grapat free-play box, it is instantly transformed. It becomes a frame that says to the kids ‘look inside, ignore outside’. It becomes a mini-playground where the kids are in control, free to set up play any way they want – a space they own. And it becomes a little world that has reassuringly defined limits – it can be moved if necessary so it won’t be hoovered over or accidentally trodden on, and they can make as much ‘mess’ within its borders as they want.

Natural materials and hand-painted peg dolls in a Grapat free-play box

The subtle images printed inside the grapat free-play box make a lovely prompt for imaginative play or pattern making.

I found it really amazing how something as simple as setting up play within this box has helped improve the kids’ concentration, merely by giving them defined space for their play. My two – and our guest baby tester – have played much longer and with greater attention when using it.

When I cunningly threw in a few unloved bits to see what would happen,the kids also played happily with those toys they haven’t looked at twice before. I’ve also found – much to my ever-lasting joy – that they’ve been much happier to tidy up after themselves too. I’m guessing perhaps that with a limited area to tidy away, it’s less daunting for them than when toys are strewn all over the place – it certainly is for me!

Child playing with toys in a Grapat free-play box

Whatever they choose to play with, the Grapat free-play box can be the perfect playground.

Tray Work

All this has been understood by teachers for a very long time. Montessori educators, for example, use trays to contain and define the activities that the children in their settings work on, and this approach has spread to many mainstream education establishments too. It makes perfect sense to bring this idea of contained and framed play-space into the home, where, let’s face it, there are likely to be just as many distractions around.

Child building a castle in a Grapat free-play box

Children are able to construct their own worlds within the borders of a Grapat box.

There is no limit to the ways in which the Grapat free-play box can be used, so here are just a few of the ways we use ours, to get you started.

Sensory Play

Those tall-but-not-too-tall sides are the perfect height to contain materials like sand, rice or pasta, though I must admit I’d be worried about using anything dyed in there, as I’d worry about colour transferring to the wood. On the other hand, I can see that would probably just add to the beauty. Once the newness has worn off, I’m willing to bet there’ll be some coloured rice, dyed pasta or – gasp – bright play dough finding its way inside our box.

Baby playing with natural materials in Grapat free-play box

Babies love simple sensory play with natural materials.

For now though, we’ve stuck to all natural materials. Bright green and yellow split peas were not only colourful, they also felt wonderful too. Our guest-baby absolutely adored sitting at the side of the box and just running her fingers through them. A few simple extras kept her busy for ages – just some peg dolls (you might guess from the expert paint job – courtesy of my youngest – that these are not Grapat Nins!), pine cones and pebbles. All equalling one happy baby!

Baby grabbing dried peas in Grapat free-play box

With a play frame, even everyday objects become the focus for play.

Baby touching pebbles in Grapat free-play box

A few finds from the garden or a walk in the park, and you’ve got the contents of a fabulous sensory play session.

Small World Play

While older children love a bit of sensory play too, I find that to hold my guys attention it helps to incorporate it into a play set-up that’s just a little more involved. Those same yellow and green dried peas become a grassy meadow and sandy beach just by adding a strip of foil for a river and a boatful of toy mice.

Maileg mouse on toy boat in Grapat free-play box

The best small world set ups are simple – allowing kids’ imagination unlimited potential for play.

Again, the key here is not to swamp the play with too many toys, accessories, or details. A character or two, or a vehicle, or prop is great for building a story around, but they don’t need much more than that. Most kids will happily take it from there, bringing in anything extra as the play requires.

Girl playing with toys in grapat free-play box

Large enough for a pretty big ‘small world’, yet still easily portable.

Looking down onto small world play in a grapat free-play box

It’s amazing how many adventures you can fit in a wooden box!

Building and Constructing

The Grapat free-play box is also absolutely perfect for building inside, as its smooth, solid base is perfectly flat. Wooden blocks are an obvious choice, but it works brilliantly for any type of construction play (*cough* Lego… *cough*), as any little bits are prevented from wandering by those high sides.

Child building with blocks in a Grapat free-play box

Building blocks go perfectly with the Grapat free-play box.

The box is also a great size for more than one child to play at (or in!) at a time, so is a lovely way to introduce co-operative play. Mind you, my two are quite competitive builders. Building together rather than in the vicinity of each other is something we’re still working on!

Child building a castle from blocks in Grapat free-play box

As well as enclosing play to give kids a sense of security, a play frame can provide a solid base on which to build!

Pattern-making and Puzzles

As well as building, my guys also love pattern making. We use all sorts of random things for this, mostly just things gathered from around the house. We’ve used everything from curtain rings to dried beans and pasta, but the kids’ favourite is a bit of pirate treasure. The Grapat free-play box makes a perfect frame for laying out a pattern, and I’ve noticed this is something my youngest especially will come back to time and time again. Something we’ve yet to try in this box is drawing patterns and letter shapes in sand. I have a feeling that will be a popular one!

Making patterns with treasure in a grapat free play box

Pattern-making with loose parts is a great activity for kids – you can use anything for this, but who doesn’t love a pile of sparkly jewels and gold coins?

The box is also great for doing puzzles in – especially as the kids graduate onto more complicated ones. Lots of room for laying out the pieces but those sides keep anything from getting lost. In fact, that’s true for any kind of play in the Grapat free-play box – containment really is a wonderful thing.

There must be a million other things that can be done with or in the Grapat free-play box. These few categories probably cover the basics, but it also depends on what toys or bits you use with it. I’d love to know what else you use yours for, so drop me a line in the comments!

Felic Joc!

Wooden building blocks in a Grapat free-play box

Sometimes the simplest things really are the best.


 

We were very grateful to receive this Grapat free play box from One Hundred Toys for the purpose of this review. All opinions in the review are our own. If you’re looking to buy an open-end toy or a play frame like the one reviewed here, check out One Hundred Toys Grapat’ selection to see the full range of Grapat toys they stock.

 


One Hundred Toys is an online toyshop, based in the UK. Their ethos is to provide a carefully curated collection of the one hundred essential toys, games and DIY things-to-do that will engage and delight your child. The website also includes lots of free activity ideas and a great blog, so check them out at www.onehundredtoys.com.

One Hundred Toys logo

Looking for more great toy and play ideas for your kids? Take a look at some of the other reviews we’ve done for One Hundred Toys.

Maileg Mouse - Big Sister - sitting in oversized matchbox bed

Big Sister mouse is a beautiful, heirloom-quality toy from Danish company, Maileg. One of a whole family of mice, rabbits and other stuffed toys, we reviewed this pocket-sized darling for One Hundred Toys.

Box of HABA's Terra Kids tools on workbench

One Hundred Toys supplied us with some HABA real woodworking tools for kids – find out what we thought, and why woodworking is a great hobby for even very young kids, in our review

 


 

Grapat free-play box - sensory play

For better, more focused play, play inside the box!

Grapat free-play box - wooden block play

Play inside the box – for better, more focused play!

 


 

Grapat free-play box - sensory play

For better, more focused play, play inside the box!

Grapat free-play box - wooden block play

Play inside the box – for better, more focused play!

Peaceable Kingdom Board Game – Co-operative Play

‘Race to the Treasure’ Board Game Review

Have you ever wondered why we get kids to play board games that pit them tooth and nail against one another, when we’re otherwise so keen for them to work and play together? I certainly have! Often, playing board games with my kids makes me feel less like I’m raising the Brady Bunch, and more like I’ve birthed the next Addams Family. While the thrill of a win can raise one child up, inevitably another is cast down into deep disappointment and rage (oh my goodness, the rage!).

Thankfully the lovely One Hundred Toys has come to our rescue – sending us a game by the ‘Peaceable Kingdom’ board game company to review. Peaceable Kingdom create co-operative games requiring kids to work together, rather than competing against each other, to win. How intriguing – and possibly sanity-saving! Perhaps with these games we could find that nirvana of family harmony I’ve heard so much about. Read on to find out what we thought, and if both siblings are still alive to tell the tale…

Peaceable Kingdom board game 'Race to the Treasure'

No, you don’t get our big pile of treasure with this game (sorry!) but the kids do get to have lots of fun working together to win.

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HABA Terra Kids – Real Woodworking Tools

We love a bit of woodwork with the kids – whether out in the woods, at forest school, or at home with a bit of softwood, so we were very happy when One Hundred Toys asked us to test out a pile of fabulous-looking, kid-sized real tools from HABA. Read on to find out why we’re now eschewing pretend tools for the real deal.

Boy using saw at a worktable in a forest

HABA’s folding saw is kid-sized and just right for taking to forest school.

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Marvellous Maileg Mouse Review!

Have you heard of Maileg? Maileg (pronounced “My’lye”) are an award-winning Danish toy company that produces gorgeous, swoon-worthy soft toys with a nostalgic, storybook appeal. We’ve been ogling them for quite a while, so we were beyond thrilled to receive a parcel the other day containing a beautiful Maileg ‘Big Sister’ Mouse, complete with matchbox bed, that was kindly sent to us for review by One Hundred Toys. If it’s possible to create Hygge in toy form, a Maileg Mouse must be it! Read on to find out why.

Maileg Mouse - Big Sister - sitting in oversized matchbox bed

Maileg’s Big Sister mouse comes complete with her own giant matchbox bed!

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How to Magic Up a Perfectly-Imperfect Mud Kitchen Today!

There are images of some amazing mud kitchens out there on the web, and it’s very easy to fall down a rabbit hole of great ideas without actually ever making one for your child. I was certainly guilty of it, until one day my sister stopped by and interrupted my description of the great mud kitchen I was going to make (one day), by pulling together a few things lying around in the garden and making one in about thirty seconds! My kids have been playing with it ever since (we’re talking for years now!), and though I still dream and plan of a more beautiful and robust solution, they’re out there having fun today – and they really couldn’t care less that it’s not perfect.

So read on to see what you need to make a mud kitchen right now, and I guarantee that you’ll have enough stuff already to get your kids playing today!

child pouring muddy water into saucepan in mud kitchen

Mud kitchens are great for kids so get them playing dirty today!

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Our Top 10 (or 11) Favourite Play Food Toys to Buy

Our kids love playing with their toy kitchen (yes, it is the ubiquitous Ikea Duktig play kitchen; and no, it has not, alas, been pimped).  Over the years we’ve amassed a fair few bits of play food to go with it – some inherited, some gifted, a few picked up in the sales.  But if we could do it all again, these eleven sets are the ones I’d make sure to get!

11 best toy play food and accessories

These are our top choices for stocking up a play kitchen!

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