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Sensory Activities for Babies & Toddlers
Sensory play ideas to help babies and toddlers during early learning and development.In our last post, we examined the importance of sensory perception in under-fives. It was clear how incredibly important such sensory perception is for young children and how their very survival relies on being in touch with their senses. Through these senses, they learn about the world and everything around them. This also trains their bodies and brains to recognise the stimuli and automatically react. It helps them to know what’s good or bad for them, keep themselves safe and be able to live and communicate successfully in the world. With that background in mind, we follow up today with a look at some examples of sensory play activities that can help babies and toddlers during their early learning and development.

SAFETY FIRST: Always supervise your baby or child, so they don’t hurt themselves, touch or ingest anything that could harm them.

Sensory Activities for Babies & Toddlers

Bubbles are a feast for the sensesBubbles

Watching colourful bubbles floating in the air is sure to be a big hit with babies and toddlers alike. You can almost see the sense of wonder in their expressions as they watch them float. To them, bubbles are magical as they hang in the air with their wonderful rainbow colours gently moving around on the surfaces. Babies will be even more delighted when a bubble lands on their skin. They’re a feast for sight as well as touch at the moment the bubble lands and delicately bursts.

Sensory Foil

Sensory foil is a massive hit with babies and makes a variety of sounds that they find fascinating.There is a type of safe sensory foil blanket on the market that you can buy for babies. It’s been a massive hit with babies and makes a variety of different sounds that totally intrigue them. What’s more, it doesn’t have the sharp edges associated with some types of paper. Babies can simply lie and roll around on the foil blanket to enjoy the sounds, or scrunch them with their hands to have more control or to hear louder sounds. It’s a great way for them to hone their hand-eye control, fine motor and listening skills. They’re also great visually, particularly if there are any coloured lights or objects in the room that will reflect on the foil in magical ways. Generally speaking, babies are mesmerised by sensory foil, so give it a try if you haven’t done so.

Parents can introduce babies to a variety of pleasant natural scents by securing things like herbs or lemon peel in muslin or gauze 'pods'.Scents

Parents can introduce babies to a variety of pleasant natural scents by securing things like herbs or lemon peel in muslin or gauze ‘pods’ (see photo example). Simply waft near your baby’s nose to let them enjoy the wonderful smell of lemon, mint leaves, and so on. Be mindful of possible pollen allergies and toxins, though, so do your safety research on any contents before exposing your baby to them.

Black & White/High Contrast Cards & Books

Black & white images will allow young babies to see and recognise shapes more clearly as well as synchronise those images in both eyes together.Did you know that high contrast images are great for young babies? That’s because lower contrast images, especially pastels, may be lost on them as their eyesight isn’t yet fully developed. Also, with relatively poor eyesight and eye coordination when they’re first born, high contrast black and white images will help babies to match the images they perceive in one eye with the same image in the other.

Babies will not recognise the full spectrum of colours that we see as adults until around five months of age. That’s another reason books or cards containing images in high contrast black and white are becoming more popular in recent times for this age group. They allow infants to see and recognise shapes more clearly than lower-contrast alternatives as well as having the aforementioned eye/image coordination benefit. This visual sensory stimulation is also thought to help their brain syntaxes to develop faster in a kind of beneficial ‘feedback loop’.

Sound Activities

Babies and toddlers will enjoy — and benefit from — sound-making.Babies and toddlers will enjoy — and benefit from — sound-making. This type of activity will allow them to experiment with different ways to make sounds, stimulating auditory senses as well as helping them to develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. It’ll also help them to understand cause and effect more clearly, i.e. to associate sounds they’re making with their causes.

In the most simple approach, babies and toddlers can use something like a building block as a ‘drum’ and a wooden spoon as a ‘drumstick’ and gradually learn to tap away. Babies aren’t born with great coordination, so this is a good first step to give them more control over limbs. Taking it a step further, a responsible adult can make them sound shakers by half-filling clean plastic bottles with dried rice, pasta or similar and then sealing securely. Once safely sealed, babies and toddlers can have fun shaking them to hear the different sounds that can be made through their own actions. Such sensory activities will help them learn in so many ways, both in terms of physical skills and coordination as well as making new brain connections and associations.

Different Materials & Textures

Your baby can also be introduced to different materials and textures like this feather example.Your baby or infant can also be introduced to different materials and textures (suitably supervised for safety, of course, and any choking hazards avoided). Whether it’s a piece of velvet, faux fur or a feather, babies and toddlers will be very intrigued by the look and feel. So, think about introducing them to a variety of materials, both man-made and natural, that perhaps contrast each other so the child can learn how to connect the look of something to the feel of it. These are basic skills, but ones we each had to learn at a very early age.

Food

Once your baby or toddler has been weaned onto solids (e.g. as purée or liquidised foods), they can explore different tastes and food textures. They may be more likely to do so if you give them a spoon, so they can learn to control which food they taste, perhaps from a variety of options that you have prepared for them to try. When they’re suitably dextrous, a variety of finger foods can also be given to them to try. Take precautions, of course, in regard to possible allergens, so choose food types with caution and do your research.

In these ways, various senses will be stimulated in new ways and fine motor skills will improve. Also, exposing them to a variety of different foods and tastes early may give them a broader set of food preferences once they’re older i.e. potentially make them less likely to become fussy eaters.

Nature

Babies and toddlers find nature simply wondrous.Babies and toddlers find nature simply wondrous. There’s something amazing to see, hear, smell, touch and feel everywhere (under close adult supervision, of course). Flowers, with their scents and beautiful colours, will amaze them. Or, have you ever noticed the different smells after it rains, or the warm breeze brush past your face on a sunny day? These will all be new to babies and a feast for the senses. Indeed, nature is the ultimate tool for sensory awakening for babies and toddlers. That’s one of the many reasons that Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery is also a Forest School (learn more about our Edgbaston/Birmingham Forest School here).

Sensory Activities at Leaps & Bounds Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16

At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, we fully understand the importance of sensory play, so build sensory-based activities into the learning and development plan for every child. Each child has access to multi-sensory play equipment and we even have a sensory zone. Stimulation of senses at this early age does so much to help in early years development. It helps integrate a comprehensive view of the world into children’s very beings and reinforces their safe place within it. It helps to build new pathways in the brain and vastly improves cognitive skills. It aids physical development including coordination and motor skills and so much more. We hope some of the sensory discovery ideas above are useful for parents/guardians to use as part of their child’s home learning activities. Next time we’ll look at sensory activities for preschoolers.

Nursery Places in Edgbaston/Birmingham

For more information about a nursery place at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, please get in touch. We’re a high quality nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham, near Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick.

22 Ways to Toddler-Proof Your Home

Young children naturally want to explore, but it can be dangerous!Any new parent will appreciate how important it is to ensure that the home is safe for the new arrival. It’s a little easier to keep them safe when they’re babies, but things quickly change once they start crawling and walking. Toddlers can be be into everything! They can also move surprisingly fast at times, so it’s important to ensure that they cannot access things like sharp objects, hard or rough surfaces, hot ovens and radiators, corrosive products, poisonous plants and substances, or places they could knock things over. They also need to be kept well away from places where there is a drop, from which they could fall, and places where they are in danger of something else falling onto them.

So, what steps can parents take to keep the home a safe place for their toddlers? Here, we’ll take a look at a few of the more obvious measures that can be put into place.

(The following should be a good place to start, but is not an exhaustive list, so please always do your own full risk assessment).

Smoke Detectors

Install smoke detectors on every floor and ideally in every room or space in the home.Install smoke detectors, if not already present, on every floor and ideally in every room or space in the home (halls, stairwells etc.). Ensure that batteries are tested regularly and replaced whenever necessary. Smoke detectors save countless lives every year when maintained correctly, so are incredibly important.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. Detectors for this invisible and scent-free gas are essential, especially in homes with any kind of heater or where there is an attached garage or even attached property or flat. The gas can travel into your home even if you don’t have a device that potentially emits it. Follow safety instructions and guidelines about positioning the detectors. Batteries should also be regularly checked and replaced whenever required. Carbon monoxide detectors are not generally as cheap as smoke detectors, but should last years (N.B. follow instructions in regard to replacement at the prescribed intervals).  These devices are real life-savers.

Electrical Outlets

Electricity outlets on walls, skirting boards, units and extension leads should always have covers/plates in place.Electricity outlets on walls, skirting boards, units and extension leads should always have covers/plates in place to protect access from tiny fingers (and anything in them). This is particularly important at the lower levels that will be accessible to the child and any higher ones they might be able to reach by climbing. Even with modern circuit-breakers fitted in electrical consumer units, nasty shocks are still possible before the circuit is broken should anything be pushed into one of the electrical points. Electrical covers/plates are cheap to buy and very quick and easy to install.

Electrical Wires & Connection Cables

Most electrical devices around the home have cables or wires of some kind. Some carry significant electrical currents, which are obviously a potential danger to young children, but even those that don’t could represent a potential strangulation or tripping risk. They could also be yanked by the youngster, resulting in something heavy falling onto them. So, always ensure they’re located securely out of reach of little ones.

Stair & Safety Gates

Installing stair gates is a no-brainer for families with young children. Ideally find a type they can't climb on.Installing stair gates is a no-brainer for families with young children. When installed and secured correctly, they will stop children falling downstairs, and stop them getting upstairs if a parent wants to confine them to the downstairs area, away from hazards elsewhere.

You can also get safety gates that will cordon off other hazardous areas like kitchens, as well as fireguard gates. Such levels of protection are highly recommended but always ensure products meet UK safety standards before buying.

Safety Locks & Latches on Doors

It's important to have safety locks on windows, doors and cupboards.Rooms, cupboards and storage areas can contain any number of dangerous hazards for young children. However, they can be easily secured by child-proof locks, latches or even lockable door knob covers. Such devices need to be easily opened by adults, however, for the sake of convenience and also in case of emergency. Children are naturally inquisitive, so it’s best for a supervising adult to decide where they can go, and ensure they’re locked out of everywhere else rather than letting them explore freely.

Door Stops

Doors can be a hazard to children, who can all-too-easily get fingers trapped in the hinged side, the opening side when a door is closed, or even underneath. Parents can purchase inexpensive door stops, wedges and holders to stop such occurrences and indeed a variety of such solutions are available on the market. These even include some simple ‘finger guards’ for doors, to stop little fingers being trapped.

Window Security

Windows represent a real hazard for children.Windows represent a real hazard for children. Not only do they contain glass that could cut them if broken, but they are also something a child could potentially climb through and fall from if not secured. That could be fatal. There are a number of measures that can be put into place for window safety, including window guards, safety netting and, of course, childproof locks or safety latches. It’s also important to ensure that there is nothing close to windows that would allow a child to climb up to it. Even if the window is closed, it’s feasible that they could break the glass and get injured.

Floor to ceiling glass is also a potential hazard, particularly when it’s perfectly clear. Young children may run around and not realise there isn’t a gap to run through, and slam into it. An example is patio doors, or tall glazed panes in conservatories. Safety stickers or strips on the glass, placed at a suitable height, are therefore essential so that children don’t slam into, and potentially through, such panes. Better still, such areas should be blocked off from access completely, using guards or similar, or particularly stringent adult supervision should always be in place in such areas.

Window Blind Cords

Pull cords on blinds and curtains are very dangerous if not secured, out of reach.Sadly, children have been known to perish after accidentally strangling themselves with pull-cords. If the pull-cord has a small toggle or knob on the end, these are also potential choking hazards. Cords can often be seen dangling down at the side of window blinds and curtains. Such things need to be secured, well away from the reach of children. Indeed, many window blinds these days are supplied with safety fitments that should always be used in houses that are homes to children.

Keep Phones Cordless

In a similar way, phones with cords are also a potential choking hazard. Wireless phones get around this issue more safely and also allow supervising adults/parents to move about freely while on a call. In this way they can watch what the child is up to at all times and not be confined to wherever the phone terminal is.

Bumper Covers on Corners

Furniture is a new hazard for toddlers who are newly mobile.Furniture around the home is fine for adults, but little ones, who are only just becoming mobile, will be unaware of how painful a fall against them can be. For example, the edge or corner of a coffee table (ouch!). A quick look on the Internet, though, will show up several results for corner and edge ‘bumpers’ of varying thicknesses, qualities and prices. There should be a solution for most budgets and these will soften the impact should a toddler fall against them.

Ovens, Hobs, Hotplates & Grills

The kitchen is a particularly dangerous area for children. It’s imperative that they are not allowed anywhere near sources of heat, particularly ovens, hobs, grills and hotplates. The door of an oven, often positioned at toddler level in modern kitchens, can remain hot enough to burn little fingers and hands, long after the oven has been switched off. It will not ‘look’ hot to a toddler, so parents need to be vigilant and, better still, keep toddlers well away.

Tablecloths & Table Runners

Avoid the use of tablecloths and table 'runners' when children are young. One tug and there could be a nasty accident.It’s also best to avoid the use of tablecloths and table ‘runners’ when children are young. Otherwise, they may grab an edge, fall backwards and any number of potentially heavy, sharp, hot or otherwise harmful things could then fall onto them.

Radiators, Heaters & Fires

Radiators, heaters and, of course, fires are sources of significant heat. So, it’s important to have fire guards in place, protective covers in front of radiators, or secure barriers in place to keep children away from direct contact with the heat sources like electrical or oil heaters. Many also have nasty, hard corners and some portable heaters can tip over easily, which could be potentially disastrous for little ones who don’t understand the dangers and could end up potentially bruised and burnt.

Sharp Objects

There are many sharp objects around the home and it’s important to keep children from accessing them. Knives, screwdrivers, scissors and even sharp pens and pencils are just a few examples. They can be potential hazards for toddlers, so it’s imperative that they’re kept well out of reach and also not placed on top of anything that could be toppled by a climbing child.

Small Objects Are Choking Hazards

Small objects are a potential choking hazard.Parents should also scour the house to ensure that small objects are kept out of reach of mobile toddlers, otherwise they represent a potential choking hazard.

Machines & Gadgets

Food blenders, vacuum cleaners, DIY power tools and even beauty products can be a danger to little children. So, it’s important to keep all these things out reach of the child. Once they’re mobile, they’re into everything and, if you’re not vigilant, they’ll be grabbing for things like hot hair straighteners without understanding the danger.

Household Products

Household products including cleaning products can be a real hazard.Household products including cleaning products can be a real hazard. So, bleach, abrasive, corrosive and poisonous products need to be locked well away. The same goes for things like dishwasher tablets, laundry pods, medicines and tablets. Many products around the house are highly poisonous and could even kill. Such hazards are best locked away rather than simply moved out of reach, because children soon learn to climb.

Gardens

Front and rear gardens are full of potential hazards for children. The hazard list is almost endless, in fact. From sharp objects, germs, thorns and garden tools to ponds, poisonous plants, weedkiller and tripping/falling hazards, it’s all there. Moreover, there are probably several escape routes where children could exit or others could enter. So, gardens need extra-special supervision whenever children are present, particularly the young. It would also be wise to ensure that boundaries and gates/doors are secure and any hazards made unavailable through the use of barriers, locked storage/sheds and suchlike.

Swimming pools and hot tubs

Hot tubs, swimming pools and ponds are a potential drowning hazard for little ones.Hot tubs and swimming pools are obviously also a potential drowning hazard for little ones, so adults need to take serious precautions to keep them away except under close supervision. Access should be possible only via the supervising adult and use of pool and tub covers carefully considered.

Baths & Bathrooms

Any source of water is a potential hazard for children. Baths and basins could hold enough water to drown little ones, scald them if water is too hot or be an electrical hazard if water is allowed to be transported or splashed anywhere near anything electrical. Adult supervision is therefore essential in such places and ideally they should be out of bounds and impossible for little ones to access at all other times.

Hot Water Safety

Even plants in the garden could be a danger if they turn out to be poisonous.Parents can take this a whole step further by ensuring that hot water in tanks and devices is never allowed to get to a dangerous level of heat in the first place. Careful selection of shower models, for example, may show up variants that are particularly child-safe, with a bypass that only adults would be able to use in order to increase the temperature. A local plumber should also be able to fit some precautionary devices, systems or settings to showers, shower heads, hot water taps and water tanks to give additional protection from possible scalding. This level of safety is, though, in a much more advanced and expensive league than the other precautions above.

A Final Word

No safety device or precaution is 100% childproof. Even if they were, it’s all too easy for a parent or sibling to forget to reinstate them, for example by closing a safety gate after passing through. The important thing, therefore, is for adults to always be close by and to supervise all activity. It only takes a second or two for a young adventurer to slip past a cordon and into danger territory. That’s all too easy if a parent gets distracted by a knock on the door or a phone call. Vigilance is needed at all times.

Our Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16

We hope this list of precautions is a good starting place for parents, guardians and carers. Of course, at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, we always follow best practice in regard to the safety and wellbeing of babies, toddlers and preschoolers under our care. Strict protocols are in place around safeguarding, risk assessments are taken regularly, and children are always well supervised. Our high quality childcare service is perfect for parents who live or work in Edgbaston or near Birmingham, Ladywood, Smethwick, Bearwood or Harborne. We’re also one of the few Forest Schools in the Birmingham area. To learn more about our wonderful nursery and pre-school, or to apply for a nursery place, simply contact us:

Apply for a Place Book a Tour Contact Us 0121 246 4922

The Importance of Early Years Education
If you are in any doubt as to whether to send your child to nursery/pre-school, then this post is especially for you. It will show, in no uncertain terms, that early years education is incredibly important for children, benefiting them throughout childhood and right through into adulthood. Study after study has reached this same conclusion and, in today’s post, we’ll take a closer look at the findings of just two of the key studies.

“What we found, quite convincingly in the study, is that pre-school matters. Pre-school matters for children’s short-, medium- and long-term development.” (Brenda Taggart, UCL Institute of Education & a principal investigator of the EPPSE study)

 The UK’s EPPSE Study

The Effective Pre-School, Primary & Secondary Education (EPPSE) study began in 1997. It followed the progress of a cohort of over 3,000 children, then aged around 3, from first attending pre-school right through their subsequent education at school up to the age of 16. It compares them to other children of the same age who did not attend high quality early years education/pre-school.
The results are crystal clear and have gone on to be referenced worldwide by such organisations as UNICEF and UNESCO. Indeed, they have helped to shape UK early years education ever since, including not only the curriculum itself, but also teacher training and pedagogy (the approach to, and practice of, teaching). What’s more, their impact has been so strong that it led to the UK Government introducing free early years education for all UK children aged 3 to 4 and also childcare funding for 2-year-olds from the poorest 40% of UK households.

Findings

Children who experienced a high quality early years education:

  • Are more likely to go on to higher education;
  • Attain better academic results including improved grades for English and mathematics;
  • Attain a higher number of GCSEs from grades A to C;
  • Tend to be more well-behaved, including improved self-regulation, better behaviour and improved peer relationships;
  • Are less prone to hyperactivity;
  • Are still positively benefiting from their pre-school educations;
  • With the better results and depth of education gained, children who attended pre-school are also statistically more likely to earn more during their working lifetimes.

“Children at 16 were still being influenced by their pre-school experience on many of their outcomes.”

In the video below, Brenda Taggart (UCL Institute of Education and one of the principal investigators of the EPPSE study) gives a brief overview of the study’s findings:

“Pre-school is not only good for children; it’s good for families, and it’s good for our country.”

 Society Also Benefits from Pre-School Education

It’s not only the children themselves who benefit from an early years education. Because of their increased earnings potential, children who attended pre-school will pay more tax to the UK Exchequer, which is good for the country and society in general. The American study below found even more benefits to society …

The American Study

A similar study in America followed a cohort of 1500 children from low-income families, right from pre-school through to the age of 28 so far. That study found similar benefits to the UK’s EPPSE study, along with several additional findings:

  • An early years education translated to lower rates of serious crime and less likelihood of prison incarceration in later life;
  • It also resulted in a lower likelihood of developing depression;
  • Every 1 dollar spent on early years education resulted in between $4 and $11 of economic gain over the life of each individual;
  • It also showed a reduction in the instances of neglect, child abuse and substance abuse;
  • The American study also clearly demonstrates the critical importance and long-term positive impact of ensuring school readiness by the time children are 5.

Early Years Learning & Development at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Birmingham

So, the message is clear — early years education at nursery or pre-school really matters. At Leaps & Bounds Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham, we’re well aware of this, of course. Every single thing we do has a purpose and our childcare professionals do everything they can to ensure that the early years education is of the highest possible quality. With a learning and development curriculum designed and tailored to each individual baby, toddler or preschooler, they naturally achieve personal bests in every area. That’s a powerful start for such young children. It means that they will be school-ready by the time they leave us around the age of five. They can hit the ground running and easily build upon the learning and development foundations gained during their time with us. In this way, they are likely to absolutely thrive during their school years and well beyond. The studies prove it!
Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16If you would like to explore the opportunity of your child attending our outstanding nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham, please get in touch. We may suit you if you are looking for the best nurseries and pre-schools near Bearwood, Smethwick, Harborne or Ladywood. Leaps & Bounds is also a Forest School setting, allowing children to benefit from learning in a natural environment during those sessions. Places are limited, so please call 0121 246 4922 or contact us here and we’ll be happy to tell you more or to show you/your child around.

Baby & Toddler Teeth Brushing Guide
We promised to publish a guide to brushing infant teeth in our article about fluoride for under-fives earlier this month. That time has now come, so we explain below what’s generally accepted as the best approach for brushing teeth for babies, toddlers and under-fives in the UK.

When to Start Brushing Children’s Teeth

First, though, it’s important to start brushing children’s teeth — and in the right way — as soon as your baby has any teeth showing. That’s the case even if it’s only one or two teeth initially. Getting the brushing approach right will protect your child from tooth decay and oral health problems, of course, but will also reinforce the importance of a good oral hygiene regime to the child. They learn from adults all the time so, when parents make a habit of cleaning children’s teeth at least twice a day, children are also more likely to continue to do so once they reach an age when they take over teeth brushing completely, by themselves. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to let them see you brushing your teeth too. Their totally independent brushing comes usually around the age of 7, by the way. However, they should be encouraged to actively brush teeth themselves — under close parental supervision and often with hands-on help — well before that. Let’s take it step by step:

Brushing Babies’ Teeth

Just a smear of the toothpaste is needed for babies & children up to the age of 3Babies’ teeth usually start to appear around the age of 6 months of age, although it varies. In fact, some babies are even born with one or more teeth that have already erupted, as it’s called, through their gums. Whichever age it is that they first appear, that is the age parents should start to brush their teeth.
So, how do you brush a baby’s teeth? Firstly, you need to ensure that you’re using the right toothpaste, with the right fluoride content, so ensure that you carefully read the label. For babies and children up to the age of 3, use either ‘children’s’ fluoride toothpaste that has at least 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride in it, up to a maximum of 1,500ppm if using a ‘family’ toothpaste (learn more about fluoride for children here).

Just a smear of the toothpaste is needed, up to the age of 3. You can use an infant’s toothbrush, a ‘finger brush’ or even simply a small piece of clean gauze wrapped around your finger. The easiest method is to sit your baby or toddler on your knee, facing away from you with their head resting on your chest, with their head tilted backwards a little. Taller toddlers can stand, but the same approach works. Facing a mirror is an excellent way to do it, since you can then both see how you are brushing your child’s teeth — and the child will learn from this. Use small circular movements to smear the toothpaste on all areas of their teeth and also on their gums. They should spit out any foam that’s been generated but they do not need to rinse. Indeed, not rinsing means that the fluoride will continue to protect their teeth for longer.

Once they’re used to this happening at least twice a day, you can start to encourage them to use their own hands, which you can help to guide. They will soon pick up the idea, but you’ll need to continue to closely supervise.

Brushing Teeth from 3 to 6 years of age

The same approach works fine for children once they reach the age of 3 upwards, except now they should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Clearly this will generate more foam, so it’s important for them to spit out the excess foam but, again, they do not need to rinse as not doing so will continue to protect their teeth from plaque and possible decay.

Brushing Teeth from the Age of 7

By the time they reach the age of 7, children should have picked up exactly how to brush their own teeth unaidedBy the time they reach the age of 7, children should have picked up exactly how to brush their own teeth — unaided — and should be doing so at least twice a day. They should use children’s or family toothpaste containing between 1,350 and 1,500ppm of fluoride when doing so and, again, a pea-sized amount.

Tips for Terrific Toddler Teeth!

  • One of the daily times for teeth brushing should be at the end of the day, before they go to bed. In this way, children’s teeth and gums will be protected overnight — quite a few hours of protection when you think about it.
  • Dental treatment for children is free under the NHS, so make the most of this; for example, if your child needs a check-up for possible treatment. Going to the dentist regularly for check-ups also sets a good example that they can follow. Going from an early age is more likely to put them at ease at such visits.
  • Give teeth individual attention when brushing. Ensure front, sides/edges and back are all thoroughly brushed along with the adjoining gums. If this approach is used, every tooth will get a great clean. There’s even an app for teeth cleaning, which makes it thorough, educational and fun (available on IOS and on Android).
  • A typical teeth brushing session should last no less than 2 full minutes. That way, each tooth and all gums should get ample attention.
  • Teeth brushing should always be supervised for young children. Don’t let them play, walk around or run with their brush in their mouth — it would be very dangerous for their safety.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and anything with added sugar contentAvoid added sugar in drinks and unnecessary added sugar in food as this leads to plaque build-up and eventually to decay. Moreover, the longer sugar is in the mouth, the worse it is likely to be. So, check labels, avoid added sugar, sweets, and sugary biscuits etc. except, perhaps, as occasional treats. Even with fruit juice there will be lots of natural sugar, so this can be diluted with water to reduce its concentration. 1 part fruit juice to ten parts water is a good guide. Generally speaking milk and water are, of course, the best drinks for young children. Even though natural milk contains sugars, it’s far less likely to cause tooth decay.
  • Brush teeth immediately after meals or any sweet drinks if at all possible, especially if anything sugary has been included or if fruit juice was drunk. This will stop the build-up of plaque in its tracks at an early stage and, in the case of fruit juice, also wash away the natural fruit acids (which can otherwise also harm teeth).

The Benefits of Good Oral Hygiene

Achieving a good approach to teeth brushing and oral hygiene, right from an early age, is great for children. It sets up a good habit for them to continue independently and protects their teeth and gums from decay as well as from unsightly discolouration — or worse. Regular teeth brushing also gives children fresher breath along with great-looking teeth — and that’s also great for their self-confidence. What’s more, studies show that there is a link between good oral health and general health.  People who have poor oral hygiene are statistically at greater risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, so looking after teeth and gums is incredibly important.

People who have poor oral hygiene are statistically at greater risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

About Our Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16We, at Leaps and Bounds Day Nursery, hope you find this guide useful. We offer the highest quality childcare for babies and children aged up to five in our outstanding nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Our nursery and pre-school is near Bearwood, Smethwick, Harborne and Ladywood, making it convenient for anyone living or working in those areas. We even have our own Forest School, which gives children wonderful learning experiences in nature. Do get in contact as soon as possible if you are looking for weekday childcare for your little one in the Birmingham area, as spaces are limited. We’d love to tell you more, so please call 0121 246 4922 or contact us here and we’ll be happy to answer any questions or to show you and your little one around the lovely setting.

Fluoride for Under-5s: Facts & Myths
Fluoride helps protect against tooth decayIn this article, we look at fluoride use and its importance during children’s early years in the fight against tooth decay. This includes useful facts and guidelines for parents, the recommended fluoride content in toothpaste for babies and under-fives, as well as dispelling a common myth around unproven fluoride health concerns.

Fluoride

As well as being found in commercial toothpastes, fluoride is naturally found in several foods, including fish and tea, as well as in the drinking water supply. It’s a natural mineral that hugely benefits the population by significantly reducing tooth decay. This is achieved through a reduction in the effects of acid produced by bacteria in the mouth, as well as by strengthening tooth enamel.

It’s interesting to note that children whose teeth are regularly exposed to fluoride when their young teeth are developing tend to have a reduced amount of grooving in the surface of their teeth. This allows harmful plaque to be removed much more easily, again helping to fight tooth decay.

“Research over 60 years shows that 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million of fluoride in the water supply reduces tooth decay by between 40 and 60%”

For that reason, where the natural water supply falls below this fluoride strength, additional fluoride is often added by the water companies, in order to make up the shortfall. The amount varies from place to place, though, and can be checked by contacting your local water supplier.

Fluoride in Toothpaste – How Much is Right for Your Child?

How much fluoride is right for babies and under-fives?The correct fluoride content in toothpaste usually* depends upon the age of your child.

For babies and toddlers aged under 3, use a children’s or family toothpaste containing at least 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride, but no more than 1,500ppm. Just a smear is enough for children of this young age and the little one does not need to rinse their mouth afterwards. Indeed, leaving a tiny bit of toothpaste residue in the mouth will protect their teeth for longer. Their teeth should be brushed at least twice every day from the moment the first tooth appears.

Children aged between 3 and 6 should also use toothpaste containing between 1,000ppm and 1,500ppm of fluoride, but this time they should use a pea-sized amount on their toothbrush. As with babies, the children do not need to rinse (so that the effects of the fluoride last longer) but they can, of course, spit out after brushing. Again, they should brush twice a day as a minimum.

* If a child has a higher risk of tooth decay for any reason, a dentist may recommend a higher strength toothpaste.

Brushing Should Be Supervised

Children’s teeth brushing should be closely supervised by a parent or responsible adult until they are at least 7 years old. This is to ensure that teeth are being brushed properly and thoroughly, as well as for safety reasons. Children must never associate toothbrushes with playing, and certainly must never run around with them in their mouths.

Fluoride Varnish

The NHS suggests that children aged 3 or more would benefit from a coating of fluoride varnish two or more times per year. This is something that’s available from dentists and involves a coating of varnish being applied to the teeth. The varnish contains high levels of fluoride and helps the teeth to resist decay and it also strengthens enamel. Even baby teeth can be protected by fluoride varnish. The varnish is particularly useful to anyone who is particularly at risk of developing, or is naturally prone to, tooth decay, or who suffers from a condition called dry mouth.

Does Fluoride Do Any Harm?

Learn the facts about fluorideFluoride has been of enormous benefit to millions of people around the world, significantly reducing tooth decay in rich and poor communities alike, even when present only in the water supply. According to both the Oral Health Foundation and the NHS, fluoride is absolutely safe for both children and adults. While there are some that say it can be linked to a variety of health conditions, there has been no compelling evidence to scientifically back up the claims.

One exception to that rule is the possibility of developing dental fluorosis, which is a condition caused by exposure to too much fluoride when young teeth are developing (typically below the age of 7). In mild cases, it may cause flecking or white lines on the surface of the teeth. In more severe cases, pitting and discolouration may occur. However, in the UK, the condition only rarely occurs in a way that adversely affects the appearance of teeth, not least because fluoride levels in water supplies are carefully monitored by an official body set up to do so — the Drinking Water Inspectorate (‘DWI’).

A Note About Sugar

This article is geared towards increasing parent knowledge around fluoride use and its importance during children’s early years. Before we sign off, though, it would be remiss of us not to mention that one of the best ways to avoid tooth decay is, of course, to avoid added sugar in both food and drinks. When sugar coats teeth, plaque is likely to build up and then your children are more at risk of tooth decay. It’s even worse when the sugar coating and subsequent plaque are left for longer periods. Hence, it’s important to both avoid unnecessary sugar in the first place and to brush children’s teeth regularly to remove it. We cover this and related brushing guidelines in our separate teeth brushing guide for babies, toddlers and young children, here.

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16This article was brought to you by Leaps and Bounds Day Nursery, a high quality nursery and pre-school in Edgbaston, near Birmingham. We’re one of just a few nurseries near Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood and Smethwick, so would suit parents living or working in any of those locations. We’re also one of the rare Birmingham nurseries with a Forest School, which will allow your child to benefit from everything that nature and the outdoors has to offer. We offer daytime childcare and early years education to babies and children aged up to five, Monday to Friday, for 51 weeks of the year. Healthy food, drinks and snacks are all a part of this.

For more information about about a possible nursery place for your child here at Leaps & Bounds, please call 0121 246 4922 or contact us here and we’ll be very happy to help.

Childhood Obesity Matters
There are many dangers posed by obesity in childhoodHere we look at the dangers of obesity in very young children, why it’s crucial to avoid it and how parents and carers can help. Some statistics will help focus the mind on why this is so important.

Childhood Obesity – the Shocking Statistics

Virtually one in every three children aged 2 to 15 is overweight or obese.

More and more children are becoming obese at younger and younger ages. Statistics show that, once obese, children are far more likely to remain so longer term.

Obesity DOUBLES the risk of dying early.

What’s more, people are more likely to suffer from depression and heart disease if they are obese.

The risk of obese adults developing Type 2 diabetes is SEVEN times greater.

That’s another shocking statistic. Here’s another:

Under-fives from low-income families are TWICE as likely to become obese. Eleven year olds are THREE times more likely to do so.

That’s why children living in deprived, low-income areas tend to experience an unfairly high level of weight issues, along with the health problems that are associated with them.

It’s clear that childhood obesity needs to be avoided if at all possible. So, what can be done?

Avoiding Childhood Obesity – How to Help Little Ones

Generally speaking, the avoidance of childhood obesity comes down to a good balance between two key things; regular exercise and a healthy diet. Parents can help children in both areas.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy bodyRegular exercise is a great tool in the fight against obesity in children, as well as in adults of course. Excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat can be burned off through exercise. Exercise, when done regularly, is more likely to speed up the metabolism, making the burning of calories more efficient (i.e. easier).

Exercise also has a number of additional, important benefits including improving general fitness, building stronger bones and muscles, reducing the risk of heart disease, depression and Type 2 diabetes as well as improving sleep quality. Perhaps surprisingly, research suggests that regular exercise and sport is also likely to improve academic performance. And, of course, active sports and group exercise opportunities are great for social interaction and bonding with peers — that’s beneficial for children of all ages.

So, the message for parents and carers of young children is to encourage them to get active. Too much sitting looking at electronic screens like tablets, phones, computers and TVs is detrimental to their health. Regular, energetic, physical games and activities are good and, of course, sport is a great way to exercise while having fun. Getting children outdoors is also a way to encourage more active play.

A Healthy Diet

Junk food and sugary food/drink should be avoidedIn tandem with regular exercise, children’s diets need to be balanced and healthy. So, they need to eat healthy foods and in the right amounts. Junk food should be avoided. Indeed, the Government’s “Plan for Action” to help fight childhood obesity aims to reduce children’s exposure to the advertising of junk food. The scheme has also included measures to cut sugar levels in food and soft drinks and even to stop unhealthy foods from being displayed near supermarket checkouts. The scheme was launched in recent years to combat the childhood obesity issues that seem to have become so prevalent in the UK in recent years. Another key aim is to reduce the strain on the NHS caused by obesity, which is significant:

The NHS spends more on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than it spends on the police, fire service and judicial system combined.

A healthy diet is crucial to avoid obesity in childhoodSo, parents and carers of children can help by carefully choosing what their children eat and drink. Junk food is to be avoided. Sugary drinks too. High-sugar foods like biscuits, cakes, ice cream, confectionery and sugary cereals should only be given as occasional treats, if at all. Portion sizes should also be right for the size and age of the child in question. In regard to food groups, 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day are much more suitable, along with some protein, dairy and some starch. The balance of the food types children eat needs to be right for them. We’ll write a separate, more detailed post about healthy eating for little ones in due course. It’ll include guidance on portion sizes, food groups and more, so watch this space.

How Leaps & Bounds Nursery Helps to Combat Childhood Obesity

Leaps & Bounds Nursery understands all of this and indeed you can read all about our healthy eating and exercise mission in our Healthy Eating & Getting Active post from last year. In a nutshell, it explains how we ensure that children accomplish just the right amount of physical activity every day, avoid sedentary activities, eat healthy food and drink and even any snacks are carefully chosen, healthy choices. Our incredible equipment, facilities and Forest School also, of course, encourage active play, much of it in the outdoors to keep children’s minds and bodies at their most healthy.

An Outstanding Nursery, Pre-School & Forest School in Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16If you are looking for the very best start for your baby or child under five, look no further than Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery. We are an outstanding nursery and pre-school in Edgbaston, Birmingham, near Ladywood, Bearwood, Harborne and Smethwick. We also have our own Birmingham Forest School so children have ample access to the Great Outdoors and everything that the natural world can offer a young child. Our weekday childcare services are on offer from Monday to Friday for babies, toddlers and children under five. Call 0121 246 4922 or book a visit or call-back here for further details.

Home-made Bird Feeders – Ideas for Kids
Earlier this month, we published a detailed article about making gardens wildlife-friendly for kids. We promised to follow up with a post showing a variety of ways for children to make home-made bird feeders — and that is the subject of this article today. We hope toddlers, young children and their parents enjoy making the feeders and seeing all the new feathered visitors that will subsequently come.

A robin with fresh bread in a treeThere are hundreds of types of bird in the UK, so if you leave tasty food out for them, a variety are bound to visit. Be patient though, because birds are rightly suspicious of ‘new’ objects, so may take a few days to build up the courage to take a closer look.

Editor’s note: In our garden, we regularly see Robins, Sparrows, Starlings, Blue Tits, Cole Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Great Tits at our bird feeders. Blackbirds, Pigeons and Thrushes also peck at what falls beneath them. However, now that our bird feeders are more established and ‘trusted’ by the birds, we’re seeing Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Black Caps regularly too (they’re really cute!) and, occasionally, brightly coloured Bullfinches.

A Greater Spotted WoodpeckerOnce they’re convinced that the new feeders are safe, birds will visit regularly if you continue to leave out tasty treats for them and keep your distance, out of sight. You will soon learn which foods are the most popular, so can fine-tune your bird offerings as time goes by. It’s extremely rewarding seeing who will come and which of the birds will become ‘regulars’. We have a pair of Robins (both called Robin!), a blackbird called Norris and a Woodpecker that we call Woody (what else!). Naming regular bird visitors is all part of the fun for kids. Feeding birds is also educational for young children, who will not only get to know the different species, but also grow their appreciation of the outdoors, nature, and our impact on it. Often, an early exposure to nature and some of its wonderful creatures can lead to a life-long appreciation. This can help the creatures living nearby and the mental wellbeing of the children themselves as they develop a deeper appreciation of the natural world.

Home-made Bird Feeder Ideas

Bird seed comes in several varietiesIn our last post, we mentioned some commercially-available bird food, but here we’ll take a look at some home-made bird treats that children, parents and guardians can make for the birds at home. They’re pretty quick and easy to make and can often be made from materials and ingredients that are available in the home kitchen. Children may need to ask an adult to buy some seeds, as these are very popular with wild birds. Garden centres and supermarkets usually offer a variety of seeds that are suitable for birds, including different bird seed mixes.

First, a safety note: Children should be supervised by a responsible adult at all times, including around any tools that are required (e.g. scissors and knives) and also around any ingredients that might cause an allergic reaction (e.g. some children may be allergic to nuts).

With a little imagination, lots of things can be made into bird feeders; from empty cartons, used Easter egg boxes (but remove all trace of chocolate as it’s poisonous to birds), empty plastic bottles, the cardboard core from kitchen towel/toilet rolls and so on. Here are just a few ideas, though, that we’ve tried ourselves:

Pine Cone Bird Feeder

Pine cone covered in peanut butter or lard plus seedsThese are quick and easy! Here are the steps to making your own pine cone bird feeder:

  1. When you’re next out walking near pine trees, pick up one or two nicely-shaped pine cones whose ‘seed scales’ are opening. It’s important that they’re open, as that’s where much of the bird food will go (described in steps 3 & 4 below). If they’re only open a little bit, bring them indoors into the warm house for a few days and they’re more likely to open more fully.
  2. Tie some string to the one end (whichever is easiest) and that will later be used to hang the pine cone feeder outside for the birds.
  3. Cover the pine cone with peanut butter or lard using a suitable implement from the kitchen A pine cone bird feeder stripped of food by birds(e.g. a spatula or blunt knife — under close adult supervision, of course). This should be pressed into the open scales.
  4. Roll the sticky pine cone into a tray or flat plate of bird seeds, which should easily stick to the peanut butter or lard. Try to ensure that some of the seeds get pressed into the seed scale openings of the pine cone. Birds will enjoy the process of digging those out.
  5. Tie the seeded pine cone somewhere suitable* for the birds outside.
  6. Once they’re used to the new addition (and it can take a few days), birds will start to come for the delicious seeds, so long as they feel they are safe*.

Hanging Bread Feeder

A slice of fresh bread, ideally brown or granary bread, can be used in a similar way to the pine cone above. An end crust may work best as it’ll be stronger when held Hanging bread bird feeder (N.B always remove it if it starts to go mouldy)by the piece of string (alternatively garden wire can be used so long as no sharp ends are left protruding otherwise they birds can be caught up in it or become injured). So, the bread needs coating with lard or peanut butter (both sides) and then the seeds need to be pressed into that sticky coating. Once coated, it can be hung outside* using a similar approach to the pine cone feeder above. Simple! If children want to get even more creative, by the way, they can use bagels, with the string being threaded through the hole in the middle. N.B. Never allow bread or other bird foods to become mouldy as the mould is very harmful to birds.

Carton Bird Feeder

Home-made carton bird feederWho would have thought it; a milk or juice carton can be made into an excellent bird feeder! It requires the use of scissors or a knife, so it’s best for this one to be made partly by an adult:

  1. Take an empty juice or milk carton (a ‘Tetra Pak’ type with the waxy folded card – see image), or indeed an empty plastic water bottle would do;
  2. Unscrew the cap and wash it thoroughly and allow to dry.
  3. An adult should pierce a hole near the top. This will later be used to attach string, from which it will hang.
  4. Using pointed scissors or a sharp knife, a responsible adult should then carefully cut the shapes shown in the accompanying image. The idea is for there to be an area at the bottom of the carton/bottle, about 2 to 3 inches from the base, which will eventually be filled with bird food.
  5. Children can also thread ground nuts, cereals, grapes or apple on string for birds to eatThe feeder can be just a feeder or it can be made to look like an owl or other creature using a little imagination. For example, some flaps cut on the sides could look like wings.
  6. Some carton types can be painted by the child, so it looks attractive. Acrylic paint is best as it’ll stay put, once dry, even if it rains. It can be bright but more natural colours are much less likely to frighten off the birds.
  7. A stick or stiff straw can be pierced into the feeder near the bottom (not shown), for the birds to land on, or some flaps can be left open (shown right) for the same purpose. Ensure there are no sharp ends or edges anywhere otherwise birds (or humans) may be injured.
  8. Fill the bottom section with bird seed, small pieces of fresh bread or other bird food and hang up somewhere suitable* for the birds. Once they’re used to it, they should soon be landing and poking their heads inside to peck at the tasty treats.

Apple Bird Feeder

Children can ask a responsible adult for help with this one. There are a few ways apples can be used to feed birds; they can be placed on the ends of twigs, branches or sticks (see image, right), cut into slices and threaded onto hanging string, or made into a fully-fledged ‘feeder’ as outlined below …

  1. Apple feeders are very popular with blackbirdsFirst, the adult will need to carefully remove the apple core from a whole apple, so there is a neat hole right from the top of the apple to the bottom. It’s important, though, to ensure that the remainder of the apple remains in one piece.
  2. Then, get some string and make a knotted loop in one end and pass that loop from the top of the apple almost to the bottom, through the hole.
  3. The adult should then pierce the apple with a thin (e.g. 5 or 6mm thick) stick near the bottom of the apple, at right angles to the central hole.
  4. As it pierces the apple through the centre hole, the loop of the string can be threaded over the stick before it’s pushed through the second half of the apple. In this way, it’s trapped. A second stick can be pierced through the apple, ideally also passing through the loop in the string, at right angles to the first. In this way, there will be a ‘cross’ perch, with four protruding perches for birds to land on and sit at when eating.
  5. Pointed seeds can even be pierced into the skin of the apple to coat it lightly (if too fiddly, an adult can make little holes in the skin for the seeds to be pushed into).
  6. The whole thing can then be suspended by the string outside, somewhere suitable*.

If you want to be more creative, you can thread more fruits, grapes or ground nuts (peanuts in their shells) onto the same string and perhaps give them seed coatings too.

* Siting Your Bird Feeders

Sparrowhawk - a bird of preyBirds are under pretty much constant fear of attack from predators, so it’s important to locate your bird feeders where birds are safest and most likely to feel secure enough to eat. Therefore bird feeders should be:

  • high enough off the ground to be safe from predators like cats. 1½ metres off the ground would be a good minimum height, for example.
  • low enough for children or their parents/guardians to be able to refill or change them once all the food has gone (so it’s a balance);
  • suspended or sited ideally under cover from the canopy of a larger tree, bush, roof or building overhang of some kind. This is so that the birds are less likely to be attacked from above by birds of prey like Sparrowhawks (shown right). People are often unaware that such birds are even around, but they’re silent and cunning and often lurk inconspicuously without anyone realising. However, once they attack, they come rapidly out of nowhere, usually from above, and are then gone in a flash along with their bird or rodent dinner. Bird feeders situated under some kind of canopy or overhang will therefore generally be more popular with feeding birds than those exposed directly to sky above.

Birds will also appreciate some fresh, clean water, by the way. They also love a bird bath. Take a look at our previous post for more information.

Learn More About Our Forest School at Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery is located in Edgbaston, near Birmingham. It’s is a childcare nursery as well as being a Forest School setting. This gives under-fives access to the natural world and to nature in the local Birmingham area and it teaches them so much. We’re keen for children to also enjoy nature – including birds – at home too, so these home-made bird feeder ideas should allow families to enjoy birds, even if they don’t have a garden. Learn more about Forest School in our comprehensive guideIf you are interested in a place for your baby, toddler or under-5 child at a nursery, pre-school or Forest School in Edgbaston, or near to Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood or Smethwick, call 0121 246 4922, contact us, or book a visit here. We’ll be very happy to hear from you.

Wildlife-Friendly Gardens - for Kids
Robin enjoying a makeshift watering holeWe previously wrote about the amazing benefits of nature for children and we’ll now continue the nature theme with a guide to making gardens wildlife-friendly for kids. From bumble bees, blue tits and butterflies to hedgehogs, lizards and mini-beasts, there are a myriad of fascinating little creatures that will come to visit if the conditions are right. And kids can help!

You Don’t Even Need a Garden

It’s important to note that you don’t really even need a garden. Many of the suggestions below work for those without gardens too, so long as there is access to an area outdoors that’s unlikely to be disturbed by other humans. Even just a windowsill, window box, balcony or area of common ground will potentially do. You never know who will visit when you put food out for the birdsAllotments are also perfect, so long as there are no pest-controlling chemicals or measures being used there as these might harm unintended visiting creatures. Any of these areas can be used to attract wildlife so that children and parents can enjoy the sight, sounds and fascinating behaviour of a variety of delightful little creatures visiting through much of the year.

The Benefits of a Wildlife-Friendly Area

Simply put, getting regular visits from little creatures will bring joy and wonder into children’s lives. As well as learning about the different creatures living nearby, children will get to learn about nature itself and the world around them. With encouragement perhaps from adults, they’ll also learn to respect the visiting wildlife, recognising that each is an individual being, with its own character, feelings, preferences and needs. Insect houses can go just about anywhere, even without a gardenExposure to such little beings may even help children to understand the importance of ecological matters and greener lifestyles. That in itself is becoming ever-more important as the Earth warms more with each passing year.

Children will benefit from nature in so many other ways too. They’ll get exercise, build up muscles and improve coordination skills when they work the soil etc. They’ll reduce stress being out in the fresh air too. Making the outdoors wildlife-friendly will also get them away from screens like the TV, tablets, phones or computer games and that’s virtually always a good thing.

Of course, it’ll also benefit the little visitors themselves, in the form of much-needed food and, indeed, that is the real key to attracting the most wildlife.

How to Attract Wildlife

Bees, dragonflies and many other flying insects simply love BuddleiaAfter a long, often cold lock-down, Spring is pretty much here at time of writing. What better time, then, to start attracting wildlife to gardens and nearby spaces, however small some of them might be. Birds are returning from foreign lands, other animals are coming out of hibernation and more bees and butterflies will soon be travelling from flower to flower in search of nectar.

Food and sustenance is the real key to attracting most wildlife …

Bees, Dragonflies & Damselflies

Bees love poppies & wild flowers. Don't forget that they need water to drink, particularly on hot daysBees will love it if children leave out a little dish of water among any flowers that they regularly visit. It’s important to put something like pebbles and stones in the water so the bees have somewhere safe to land, where they can then sip at the water slightly beneath them. Without the landing stones, the water will be a real danger to them, so that’s an important detail. If they’re lucky, children may even find that dragonflies and damselflies also visit the watering holes that they’ve left out.

Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies will enjoy ripe fruit drizzled with sugar solutionSimilarly, butterflies and moths and maybe bees too, will be delighted if children do something similar to the above except, this time, mix water 50:50 with sugar and the resulting sweet-tasting solution can be drizzled over pieces of ripe fruit or spread over a clean piece of sponge. Either of these can then be placed into a small dish which can be left in amongst flowers outside. If you don’t have access to a garden, a windowsill or balcony will be just as good so long as there are flowers in bloom there.

One of the most popular shrubs for butterflies is ‘Buddleia’, which is available with white, deep purple, pink, blue and even yellow flowers. Butterflies absolutely love Buddleia and most Buddleia bushes will attract some amazing-looking butterfly varieties. Buddleia is extremely popular with butterfliesThese can be fantastic photo opportunities for kids as well as a chance to learn the names of the different species and perhaps build up their own wildlife photo album. Buddleias are relatively inexpensive shrubs and are available at most nurseries. They can be planted and will thrive virtually anywhere, although sunny spots will attract the most butterflies. Parents should usually hard prune them (well, most varieties) in early Spring, in mild weather.

For those with smaller spaces for plants, poppy seeds or mixed wildflower seeds are easy and fun for children to grow too, and will also attract butterflies, bees and many other insects to their pollen once they flowerBirds will love it if children/parents put up bird boxes around the garden or on outside walls of buildings. Wildflower and poppy areas can also look absolutely beautiful too.

Birds

Birds will love it if children/parents put up bird boxes around the garden or on outside walls of buildings and so on. Watching birds pair up, move into bird boxes and raise families of babies is one of life’s joys and can be quite magical for children to witness. It’s even wonderful when the babies finally leave the nest and children can watch them learning to fly and subsequently being taught how and where to feed out in the natural world.
You can even get window feeders if you don't have a garden or want a close-up look

Care needs to be taken, though, as to exactly where to put the bird boxes. They should be out of reach of predators like cats and foxes and also never be in a south-facing position. The reason for that is that, if they face South, they will become too hot in the Summer and babies will not survive under such heat.

Nursery centres usually have a great variety of bird boxes, some for specific species such as blue tits or robins, and they come in a variety of different forms, many of which are inexpensive. Alternatively, they can be made out of scraps of wood — under close supervision of an adult, of course, or purchased online.

Birds will also love bird baths. Here, they’ll be able to bathe (which is enormous fun to watch) as well as to drink. Bird baths need to be shallow and ideally have somewhere safe for the birds to stand, e.g. rocks or stonesThe water should be shallow and children should be encouraged to change the water regularly, for the health of the visiting birds. It’s also a great idea to put a rock of upturned pot or pot base in the water so the birds have somewhere to land safely and to sit if they don’t want to be in deeper water.

Bird feeding stations are also a huge hit with visiting birds. They can be purchased or fabricated from scraps of wood and suchlike (again under supervision of an adult). Birds will prefer it if bird tables or stations are placed under the canopy of an overhanging tree branch as they’ll feel safer from possible attack from above, from birds of prey. There are also some bird feeding stations that will stick to the outside of your window using little suckers; those are a great way for kids to see birds really close up. Fat balls and seed cakes are popular with a whole host of different birds (these are long-tailed tits)Whichever style is used, parents or carers can encourage children to refresh the bird food regularly and to keep the feeding station clean, to protect the health of the birds.

Hanging ‘fat balls’ or ‘seed cakes’ are another convenient option. In our own garden, National Trust branded ‘Robin Peanut Cake‘ continues to be an enormous hit with not only Robins but also with Blue Tits, Cole Tits, Long-Tailed Tits, Starlings and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. We buy ours through our local supermarket delivery service and, considering how much the birds adore it, it’s reasonably inexpensive. For those on a tighter budget or who are more creative, fat balls and seed cakes are easy for children and parents to make from scratch. Indeed, we may follow up with a separate guide to making those in the future.

Insects, Reptiles & Mini-Beasts

Compost heaps and piles of rotting logs are great places to attract insects and mini-beastsCompost heaps and piles of rotting logs are great places to attract insects and mini-beasts like woodlice, bugs, centipedes, millipedes and even the more unusual types of slender wasp, which like to burrow holes into rotting logs and, by the way, are absolutely harmless if left in peace.
Wilderness areas with long, uncut grass or sewn wildflowers will be a great haven for shy slow worms and lizards — or frogs and toads if it’s a damp area.

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs need somewhere warm and dry to hibernate over winterHedgehogs will hibernate in undisturbed piles of autumn leaves, under sheds, compost heaps or undergrowth and even beneath unlit bonfire stacks. You can also make or buy hedgehog houses to nestle in quiet, secluded areas outdoors. You stand the most chance of having hedgehogs visit if your fences and boundaries have occasional gaps underneath, where hedgehogs can enter and exit your garden. Seeing hedgehogs, particularly baby hedgehogs, is an absolute delight for children and adults alike. They really are the cutest of garden visitors. Parents or carers need to ensure that children know not to feed hedgehogs milk or bread — it’s very bad for them.

Don’t be put off if wildlife doesn’t come straight away. Animals are rightly timid, particularly around humans, and sometimes it can take a week or two before they begin to trust any new addition to the neighbourhood.

These wildlife opportunities for your garden, windowsill or balcony are just the tip of the iceberg — there are many other ways to attract wildlife for the benefit of both children and the creatures themselves, but we hope this article gives parents and children some ideas for making a start.

We are Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham

This guide was brought to you by Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham. As well as offering weekday childcare, we are a Forest School setting, which gives children lots of experiences surrounded by nature. That’s especially important for those children who do not have gardens or nearby outdoor spaces to play in. Learn more about Forest School in our complete guide, here. If you are interested in a place for your child at a nursery, pre-school or Forest School in Edgbaston or near Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood or Smethwick, call 0121 246 4922, contact us, or book a visit here. We’ll be delighted to tell you more and to meet you and your little one(s).

Top 10 Nature Activities for Children
Following our November article, “Nature & it’s Amazing Benefits for Children”, we thought we’d follow up with some wonderful nature-based activity ideas for children to enjoy. As we saw in the aforementioned article, nature has enormous and incredibly varied benefits for children; even more so in their early years. Without going over previous ground in too much detail again here, nature benefits children’s minds, spirits and bodies and improves mental and physical health. The range of benefits is huge.
Slow worm found in the garden undergrowth on a sunny dayWith this in mind, we have put together our top ten list of activities that parents and carers can organise for their children in the natural environment.

1. A mini-beast hunt!

Whether undertaken in the garden, park or countryside, a mini-beast hunt is always a popular hit with young children. Fun and educational, a hunt for little creatures in a natural environment will always give children a real sense of discovery, adventure and accomplishment. See if they can find a bee, a spider, frog, ladybird, worm, ant, slug, snail, a slow worm. Or they could look for larger animals like birds, foxes and rabbits. Teach them to respect the creatures (even the scary ones) and to handle them with great care if touching them or picking them up. They’ll hopefully learn that each of these is a little being that’s going about its life and has its own needs and wants, just like humans, only a little different.

2. Feeding birds

Feeding birds is a great activity for childrenLeaving out suitable food for birds in the garden, balcony or windowsill can be a wonderful opportunity to see the different varieties of birds that live in the neighbourhood. A fun, creative way to do this is to save your used kitchen roll tubes and spread peanut butter onto them (so long as it’s the type with no added salt or sugar) and then that can be rolled in bird seed, which should stick. The finished rolls can be threaded with string and hung out for birds in suitable places. The best locations are off the ground (to protect from any cats) and ideally under the shade of a larger tree or overhang of some kind (so that they’re safe from birds of prey above). Note, too, that birds often take several days to begin to ‘trust’ any new addition to their neighbourhood, so don’t worry if they don’t come straight down for their new food — it may take a while. Feeding birds in this way can help children to learn the different types of birds as well as being a ‘natural’ activity that’s suitable in all weathers. After all, only the birds actually need to be outside in this case!

3. Gardening & Growing

If you have access to a garden, balcony, allotment or even windowsill, gardening can be immense fun for little ones. Tending to seedlings, planting seeds and even weeding can be an entertaining and worthwhile pastime for them. Children will also love watering them, picking flowers to make a nice bouquet or even harvesting fruit, vegetables and herbs to add to meals later on. Gardening is educational on so many levels and also gives children a useful sense of responsibility.

4. Building activities

Pebble stacks and other building activities are great fun for kidsThe outdoor world gives children wonderful opportunities for building things. For example, children can use sticks and small branches to build dens or camps. Another fun activity is to build wood block, rock or pebble ‘stacks’. These can look almost mystical when several are built. Take a look at the photo of our example. Remember, though, that health and safety is paramount, so young children will need supervision.

5. Creative activities

Gardens, hedgerows and the countryside can also give children excellent opportunities to be creative. For example, they can collect petals from different types of flowers. There are a few different, fun, things they can then do with them:

  • Mix them all together into a kind of natural confetti.
  • Make them into scented water by immersing them into a bowl of water and leaving them to soak.
  • Put them into a thin, plastic beaker, fill with water and then leave to set as ice in the freezer. These look fantastic when popped out after freezing — almost like a ‘frosty’ paperweight with the lovely petals showing through. Leave in the garden to gradually melt – they look wonderful.

Other fun, creative pastimes in nature include making daisy chains, threading leaves with rustic string (this is called ‘leaf threading’) and the resultant leaf chains can then be displayed indoors or hung up outdoors somewhere. Another fun activity involving leaves is face-making. Grab some paper plates, then harvest some leaves, small twigs and petals and then make them into faces on the plates (the plates forming the head).

6. A country walk of discovery

Baby rabbit spotted on a country walkIntroducing children to country walks or walks in the park during their early years will be enough to give many a lifelong interest in nature and the natural world. Walking can be a real adventure as you discover new places, sometimes amazing views and a variety of interesting flora and fauna. Walking in nature can be a real feast for the senses and it’ll help keep children more fit, both physically and mentally. It’ll also educate them gradually as they learn to recognise different types of trees, flowers, birds, animals and insects. Here’s a photo of a baby rabbit that we discovered on one of our walks.

7. Cycling

Similarly, cycling can get children out into the natural world and make it great fun. Whether it’s a toddler using a tricycle or a preschooler using a scooter or two-wheeled bike, this is an opportunity for all ages so long as the terrain is carefully chosen — ideally fairly flat, smooth and not muddy, especially for the young. Parks can be great as they tend to have decent trails and routes to follow, but respect walkers and give them the right of way, particularly on paths.

8. Picnics

In the spring, summer or autumn, there will be ample opportunities to have a picnic outside instead of eating at home. This can be in the garden, local park or countryside. Picnics can be immense fun and are an easy way to get children interested in the outdoor environment. Setting down a picnic on a grassy area also gives you all a ‘base’ around which children can play and explore after eating. A game of hide and seek will be an obvious extension of this. When they’re older and more self-sufficient, this can be developed further by expanding to more adventurous locations like riverbanks (so long as they can swim confidently) and more rugged countryside.

9. Camping

Fun with shelters at Forest SchoolUnder supervision, camping out in the garden or in the countryside can take picnics and country walks to the next level. You can combine them with an overnight stay under canvas. This can be as formal or ‘wild’ as parents see fit. Overnight camping, and all that goes with it, opens up a whole new world to children who will be able to enjoy new adventures under the stars, immersed in the elements, perhaps even learning how food or even toasted marshmallows can be cooked away from home on a natural, foraged log fire. Don’t forget, though; safety first!

10. Join a Forest School

Our top tip is for children to join a Forest School. At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, we run a Forest School for children aged up to five years of age in the Birmingham area. For people elsewhere, there are many others dotted around the country for children of all ages. Forest School gives children access to the natural environment, giving children the chance to enjoy nature, discover new skills, enjoy all the benefits of ‘The Great Outdoors’ and have enormous fun whilst doing so. It can positively change children’s outlooks on the world and this can benefit them mentally and physically for the rest of their lives. Learn everything you need to know about Forest School in our “Complete Guide to Forest School” here.

For those who don’t have a Forest School nearby, our activity ideas above may be useful for parents and carers. With these, they can help children have fun, learn and benefit from everything nature has to offer in gardens, parks and natural outdoor spaces nearby.

Contact our Birmingham Nursery

Leaps & Bounds would love to hear from you if you have a baby or child under five and are looking for suitable nurseries in the Edgbaston, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood, Smethwick and Birmingham areas. Contact us or book a visit here, or call 0121 246 4922 to speak to our staff. We’ll be happy to discuss a suitable childcare place for your child, to arrange a tour or to answer any questions that you might have.