It’s the depths of the school holidays, which means if you’ve got school-age kids, you’re rapidly running out of ideas, and if you haven’t, you’re SO fed up with all the usual classes and playgroups shutting up shop for summer. So, we thought it was a great time to invite Claire Russell, aka Instagram play guru PlayHooray, to chat to Supermushers. Claire’s a play coach and early years expert, so we knew she’d have tons of great advice and inspiration.

Supermushers are VIP Mush users who subscribe to the app to get expert advice, personalised content and access to exclusive live chats (you can give it a whirl here).

Here are a few highlights from Claire’s chat.

Q: What are some simple games and activities to play with one year olds and even younger babies? 

Claire: One of my favourite activities for slightly younger children is turning a laundry basket into an activity station, you can clip toys on, tie scarves on, anything for them to tag, pull, explore and play. If they aren’t quite sitting independently you can prop them up with cushions inside the basket or if they are starting to stand and cruise you can turn the box over for them to explore and use to push themselves up!

It’s a tricky age when they turn one as they no longer want to do the baby activities but haven’t quite developed the skills for some of the more advanced activities. At this age I would suggest lots of sensory boxes to explore like filling and emptying activities with pots and spoons in a big box of cereal or rice. Great for them to sit and do independently with support and ok if they decide to taste it too! And I know it’s an old one, but a big cardboard box is always a favourite! Fill it with cushions to make a den, soft toys for pretend play or chunky chalks for mark making! And of course lots of talking, reading and singing as always!

Posting activities are also fab! Any old box with a few holes cut in for little ones to poke things into or tug scarves out of! Treasure baskets are really lovely too, they can be a small collection of items for your little one to explore safely and independently. I also like to do this with books and gather a few props to go with the book as you read together!

Q: My 4 year old starts school in a few weeks, what can I do now to prepare them?

Claire: When preparing young children for starting school, lots of parents feel pressured to quickly teach the ABC’s and 123’s which is great but can often be pressure children don’t need and actually these aren’t essential for starting school, and trust me they will come when the child is ready!

Instead lots of activities that support their social skills like turn taking and sharing can be really helpful as they are suddenly going to be sharing the classroom with lots of other children. It can be useful if a child can recognise their name or at least the first letter as it is on their tray, jumper, water bottle etc this will help your child to become more independent and take ownership of their belongings. And finally I would highly recommend sharing books about starting school as it can help prepare your child and encourage conversations about anything your child is worried about. I think ‘going to school’ is such an abstract concept these help to go through parts of the day to help children to know what to expect! One of my favourite books for children who find it hard to sept from parents or carers is A Kissing Hand For Chester Racoon by Audrey Penn.

What are some general good rainy day activities for a preschooler when you’ve run out of ideas and money?

Novelty, kids like doing something new! So it can be the same old toys, just put them in a different place, maybe somewhere they’ve not played before; behind the sofa, under the dining room tables, in an empty bath! They will love that it’s new and will give old toys a lease of life.

And of course, the indoor assault course using all the cushions off the sofa, usually ends up with den building but a great way to get them active using their whole bodies.

And a little pretend shop using food tins and boxes from the pantry with a pot of coins and post it note price tags can entertain them for ages. 

Q: Do you have any tips on activities to entertain a toddler who hates car journeys?

Ahh yes, these are tricky aren’t they – I know, I’ve been there! Having a bag full of activities can be really useful. I love to take items that are quite versatile and can be used in a variety of ways to make up games so things like; sticker books, post it notes, threading games, washi tapes and little toys. The novelty of items they’ve not played with before can be really helpful! Also be mindful of the snacks you pack, things like apples take ages for a child to eat and can help occupy them a lot longer than a biscuit!

And I always have a large scarf or pashmina with me. They are great when you need to make an area dark for naps, wrap up anyone that gets cold or even make little dens when in need of a new play idea.

A portable little whiteboard is my favourite for lots of drawing and making games, things to spot etc!

Q: Are sensory classes important for babies under one? Or are they sometimes too much for little ones?

Yes they are great and have lots of benefits for children for all ages. I think it can be tricky finding the right time for babies, you want them to engage when they are fed and after a sleep so sometimes it may seem a bit too much if they are not in the right mood etc. It’s a tricky one but you can also do lots of the same sensory activities at home without needing lots of resources!

I think The Baby Club TV programme has been great for this to support parents to try new baby sessions! Always nice to meet others and get chance to chat.

Q: I’m a working mum and constantly feel guilty that I don’t do enough activities with my LO. After nursery I usually just put CBeebies on. What quick easy activities can I do to make me feel less guilty?

This is a really common conversation I have in our community group. I always say not to be hard on yourself, your child will love those snuggles on the sofa, they’re not comparing you to anyone else, you are their world!

And if you ever need a quick activity and can’t think of what to do I always say…if you’re stuck grab a book. And it can be any book, a recipe book! Sit down, snuggle up, read and talk about the book and more often than not it will spark an idea or your little one will think of something they want to play. Children need downtime and rest just as much as adults and trust me, they will value those cuddles with you much more than any fancy activity! Plus there are some fantastic programmes on CBeebies these days…

How much screen time is OK for little ones? 

Personally for me, my little boy is four and a half. We use TV as part of our daily routine. He watches short bursts, I am really clear about how much he will be watching, usually done in the number of programmes rather than ‘10 minutes’ as time can be so abstract. But then there are days when he watches more, or days we watch it together. I think it’s about personal choice, balance and also what they are watching.

What sort of age are babies able to play together so it actually makes sense to do play dates?

To be honest you will see children play side by side for a long time, until about 4 years old. But it is still really important to have play dates because even if the babies don’t necessarily play together they are still learning how to interact, socialise and see how the parents behave, talk, react to each other too. Socialising has lots of benefits for both children and parents!

Twice a week we do live chats for Supermushers with an expert (and a few special guests you might have heard of) on the topics that are keeping you awake at night (sometimes literally…). Find out more and sign up here.