child development · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting · play

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

I’ve previously written about Little Man’s first discoveries of the great outdoors as a newly-walking toddler. I thought it would be fun to follow up with some ideas for fun ways to play and explore the great outdoors when you have a young toddler – in the one year old to eighteen months sort of timeframe. I’m focusing on cheap and easy activities that involve household items you probably already have, or at least that don’t require purchasing anything worth more than about £1… Because fun shouldn’t be mega expensive!

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

Pebbles in a Pot

This idea came from my own lovely mum! When I was a kid we had a gravel area outside our kitchen door, and mum said I used to spend ages sat on the step happily putting little pebbles from the gravel into empty milk bottles.

We have a small amount of gravel in our back garden, so I thought I would try the same with Little Man, showing him how to put pebbles into an empty plastic bottle… And he loves it! (To be fair, it could be genetic – so I guess there’s no guarantee your kids will like it, buuut let’s just skate past that). He needs reasonably close supervision to ensure he doesn’t try to eat any of the pebbles, but as time has gone by, the frequency of attempted pebble-munching has greatly diminished.

Pebbles in a pot!

The pebbles in a pot game is great for fine motor skills as well as concepts like big and small, empty and full. And honestly, it requires so little parental input that it’s perfect for those mornings when you find yourself in your back garden with an energetic toddler much, much earlier than planned…

Interactive Plants

Okay, bear with me, because I didn’t really have a title for this one! While on our way to nursery one morning a couple of months ago, I introduced Little Man to the concept of dandelion clocks. He loved watching me blow away the seeds and having a try himself (mainly just aggressively blowing raspberries in the complete wrong direction, but he had a go!). Now he loves dandelions and asks for them whenever we go out – he calls them “bubbles” which actually kind of makes sense when you think about it.

But dandelions aren’t the only interactive plant out there! We’ve played with snapdragons (antirrhinums), squeezing the sides of the flower to make them snap, and Little Man really likes picking daisies and singing the Upsy Daisy song from In The Night Garden – and watching mama make daisy chains. There’s such fun to be had in simply exploring new flowers and plant textures like tulips, daffodils, poppies and strands of grass.

When we go out, Little Man also enjoys looking for daisies, dandelions, leaves and sticks, and later on in the summer I can’t wait to go foraging for blackberries and other fruit, and playing with popping the seedpods of bizzy lizzies (impatiens). There’s really so many fun and interesting plants that little ones can explore, it’s probably worth a blog post on its own!

Upsy Daisy, here I come!

Treasure Hunt

I thought this would be a bit too complicated for Little Man at just 14 months old, but actually thanks to Easter I discovered that you really can do a fun treasure hunt in the garden, even for really young toddlers.

First, pick something they’ll be really interested in finding (like, say, shiny chocolate eggs… Or toys wrapped in silver foil). Let them watch you “hide” them (pretty much in plain sight), and then set them loose! With a fair bit of help and prompting, it’s a really fun way to spend some time together. Little Man though did not trust us to look after the eggs he had found while he looked for others, which created a slight issue when he ran out of hands…

Easter Egg Hunt Champion 2021

Fun with Water

You don’t need to buy a paddling pool to have fun in the sunshine (when the sunshine actually turns up, of course). We have now invested in a pool, but before we did, we had loads of fun with a washing up bowl and a bucket of water in the garden! Little Man actually still managed to fit in a normal kitchen bucket at almost 18 months old, and really enjoyed watching the water spilling over the rim as he sat down, and stood up… And sat down, and stood up… Safe to say, the lawn got a good watering.

Setting up a few buckets of water and some cups and things to play with is super easy and a great way to keep cool on a hot day. Just make sure you don’t forget the sun cream!

Making Marks With Chalk

This is my last suggestion and unless you live near some natural chalk hills and can collect a pocketful of rock chalk while out for a walk, you’ll need to buy some chalks – I got a big packet for £1 from our local cheap and cheerful store (it’s not technically a pound shop so I don’t know what else to call it…)

Chalk is great because of course it washes away in the rain, so you can make a huge mess of a driveway, path, fence, some rocks or a wheelie bin… And not worry too much about the cleanup (if you live in the UK, anyway). Little Man is loving playing with chalk at the moment and it’s great for starting to learn the alphabet and numbers as well.

Your top tips for free and cheap outdoor play ideas

What are your top tips and ideas for fun outdoors with a toddler? I’d love to get more ideas and tips for me and Little Man this summer!

baby · parenting · top tips

Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Little Man has lots of lovely toys, but in the interests of trying to avoid our house becoming little more than extended toy storage for the wee fellow, we also try to ensure we supply him with common household objects to play with. Some household items make great free toys for baby, and not only do they save on storage space, but buying fewer toys is better for the planet too! So here’s my list of the top household items that will keep your baby entranced for hours…

common household objects that make great free toys for baby the sickly mama blog

Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

A Wooden Spoon

“Oh, that’s where it was,” said my husband in an accusatory voice, as I picked up a wooden spoon from the playmat in the kitchen and handed it to Little Man. “I was searching for that for ages while I was cooking.”

Reader, we own a grand total of five wooden spoons (I counted for this article), but as it turns out, I had inadvertently selected my husband’s favourite spoon to give to baby as a fun new toy. Little Man loved it, and now the spoon has visible little gnaw marks on it from his two front teeth. Oops. So, although a wooden spoon is a great idea for an easy toy for baby, in the interests of marital harmony you should probably check with your partner before handing one over…

Egg Boxes

Every once in a while, our Sainsbury’s delivery will randomly substitute our chosen cardboard box of eggs for a plastic box instead. But not only are they less good for the environment, they’re also 100% less useful for their secondary purpose: entertainment for Little Man.

Just think about it. They’re made of cardboard, eminently chewable, not too heavy, an interesting shape and with a hinge that opens and closes. The perfect toy for a baby who’s interested in everything!

baby playing with a cardboard egg box the sickly mama blog household items toys
A twelve-egger in action

Packaging

One of Little Man’s favourite toys is known in our house as The Gold Floofer. It has been a favourite since he was a couple of months old. It’s actually made out of a shiny gold plastic envelope lined with bubble wrap, that contained a delivery for me. We’ve long since forgotten what was actually contained in the envelope, but I cut out a large strip from the envelope for Little Man, because I thought he’d like the bright shiny colour and texture. I was not wrong, and he’s been playing with it ever since.

Fruit and vegetables

Over the autumn/Halloween season, Little Man had great fun playing with a miniature pumpkin I used to create a seasonal display in the lounge. He’s enjoyed chewing on it and bowling it across the floor so much that we actually just started calling it his pumpkin!

Now he’s a bit bigger and stronger, I only let him play with tougher fruit and veg like pumpkin, that has a thick rind that he can’t do much damage to! But when he was younger, most fruits and vegetables made great play things, and he loved exploring the textures of different grocery items. The perfect eco-friendly, 100% biodegradable (and delicious) playthings.

baby on a mat surrounded by yummy fruit toys the sickly mama blog
Fun with fruit and vegetables!

Shakeable items

I’ve also had great success in making various shakers for Little Man (fancier parents than I will call them ‘sensory bottles‘). One favourite was a bottle part-filled with coloured water and dried lentils, which he loved shaking and rolling across the floor. My husband went to empty it out though when it was getting a bit old, and he reported that it smelled “like mouldy farts” by that point, so maybe don’t leave it too long before cleaning and changing the water!

Another great success has been the Shake Shake Box, an empty ice cream tub with some dried seeds and pasta in it so that it makes a satisfying rattling sound when you shake it, and the sides of the tub are clear so you can see it all shaking around in there. It’s been going for about six months now and still remains a favourite.

Cardboard Boxes

Okay, this one was so obvious that I almost forgot it! What child doesn’t love a cardboard box?

Your Ideas For Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Do you have any suggestions for other household items that make great free toys for little ones? Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, why not check out my blog post with top-tips for keeping the weaning process eco-friendly?

baby eating a banana common household objects that make great toys the sickly mama blog
baby · parenting

The Unbelievable Adventures of Little Man

One of my favourite things at the moment is Little Man’s conversations with my husband. Little Man is a mega chatty four month old, who loves making as much noise as possible. He loves “talking” with you, and often when he’s having a long chat/noisemaking session with his dad, my husband will “translate” his half of the conversation… And make it sound like he’s been up to the craziest adventures (fun adventures, not the rubbish keeping-you-up-all-night kind). Something like this:

Little Man: *gurgles*

Martin: You robbed a supermarket? What did you steal?

Little Man: *squeals*

Martin: You stole all the formula milk? Why did you do that?

Little Man: *makes a loud shrieking noise, farts*

Martin: Well, I know you love milk, but where are we going to store it all?

…And so on. According to my husband, the little chap has been on some very outlandish adventures, including a trip on rockets into space, a run-in with a pigeon which he threw his dirty nappy at, and a ride on a donkey made of springs. I honestly don’t know where he gets it all from, but baby loves it! Especially because listening to it makes me laugh, so we’re all just sat together giggling away and Little Man gets more and more excited (and consequently louder and louder) as the story gets more ridiculous.

It’s great fun and highly recommended. There’s plenty of advice out there for parents that emphasizes how important it is to talk to your baby, as an essential part of their language learning and development, but it can get a little boring when you’ve narrated your entire morning or told them for the five hundredth time that they’re the cutest little bubba in the world. This is much more entertaining, and it will let them enjoy being the centre of attention as well.

P.s. I should note that Little Man does have an actual name, but I prefer not to share it online.

the unbelievable adventures of little man sickly mama blog
baby · Just for fun · parenting

The Baby Olympics

I’ve been entertaining myself lately by speculating about what events Little Man could medal in at the Baby Olympics.
Most actual “Baby Olympics” events held around the world (notably including in Bahrain in 2018 and on the Ellen de Generes Show) include boring events like crawling races, as well as featuring participants up to five years old which, frankly, is cheating.
No, I’m talking about a REAL Baby Olympics, testing the athletic skills that babies really practice and hone every day at home. Events such as…

The Long-Distance Dummy Spit

Little Man is a champion at this. One minute he has his dummy, the next minute it’s flying past my ear in high velocity slow-mo like something out of The Matrix. How does he get it to fly so far with, seemingly, no effort at all? It’s a closely-guarded secret.

The Fussathon

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Some babies, trying to keep their parents up at night, go for the Explosion Of Fury approach. Now, Little Man is a proponent of that approach, but he knows it’s hard to keep up over the long term, without just ending up tired. Instead, the true connoisseur baby keeps his parents up while simultaneously remaining asleep himself, by fussing, thrashing around, and making loud grumpy noises in his sleep. Now that’s something that can be continued almost indefinitely. What a pro.

The Baby Biathlon

An event where top prizes are awarded for simultaneous eating and pooping. Little Man is a true champion at this, but I recommend against volunteering to be part of the stadium clean up crew afterwards. Let the Japanese do it.

Kneeplechase

Little Man loves being bounced on my knee on an imaginary horsey ride. Weirdly, it is sometimes the only thing that will calm him down. We even have a special horsey ride song we sing (well, okay, I sing). The Olympics don’t currently feature a steeplechase, but I think the Baby Olympics should introduce it as an event.

Greco-Roman Bunny Wrestling

Up until very recently, Little Man has not really been interested in toys. But all that has now changed and he will sometimes grab Mr Bun Bun a.k.a. Peter Rabbit, and suck on his leg or bash him repeatedly into the ground. No doubt about it, he could definitely take Mr Bun Bun in a fight.What events do you think your baby could medal in? Let me know in the comments!
baby · Just for fun · parenting · Uncategorized

How I’m Staying Busy Without Having To Put Down The Baby

OMG being in lockdown can be boring! As I can’t take the baby out and about, I’m trying to keep busy even while he’s curled up in my lap. And a lot of the time, he refuses to chill out anywhere else. But what to do?

1. Learn A Language on Duolingo

Duolingo is a great app that lets you learn a new language or brush up on an existing one – for free! You can practice for a few minutes a day and set up reminders so you don’t forget. I’m trying to learn some basic Japanese, to help us when we’re in Japan visiting my husband’s Japanese family. And I’m also trying to remove the cobwebs from my dusty old German skills. It’s easy to fit in a few minutes when Little Man has a catnap.

2. Read and Drink Tea

For Christmas, my father in law bought me a subscription to the Tea and Book Club by Bookishly, kindly suggested by my husband on the quite logical basis that I love both tea and books. It’s great getting a classic book and delicious fancy tea through the letter box every month, and it’s a simple pleasure that can be enjoyed while baby is napping on me (because obviously napping in his basket would be ridiculous). Bookishly are still open for business during the pandemic, with appropriate social distancing measures in place, and I can highly recommend them.

In these times of quarantine, I should probably be trying to read books to improve my mind, but other than the Bookishly classics, I’m mainly reading a tonne of Agatha Christie, because I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery!

3. Bake

But you can’t bake without putting down the baby!” I hear you cry! Oh, but you can. Sometimes Little Man is happy to chill on his mat in the kitchen with me while I bake, but if he doesn’t want me to put him down, I just pop him in his baby carrier and carry on baking! I can’t really do anything involving the stove while he’s in his carrier, obviously, but all the mixing of cakes etc. can be done just fine. So far we have made banana bread, brownies, blueberry muffins and raisin and oatmeal cookies. His dad is gluten intolerant and can’t eat a lot of baked goods from the shops, so it’s nice to make gluten free versions at home!

Quarantine tip: a lot of baked goods can actually be frozen for later, if the batch you make turns out to be too big for your household. If they have a high fat content they usually freeze well.

Baby naps while mama bakes

4. Play Catan Universe


This is the app version of the board game Settlers of Catan. It’s not free, but there is an extensive trial version so you can try before you buy! It’s perfect if you have a baby, because you can play a game against the computer slowly over the course of a day and just put it down if he starts fussing and needs attention. I recommend, especially if you’ve enjoyed the board game version.

I should probably also give an honourable mention to my husband’s app game of choice, Football Manager, which he loves and which is on my ‘to try’ list!

I’m hoping at some point I might manage to fire up the PlayStation 4 and finally get around to completing The Witcher 3, but thus far I’ve not worked out how to do that with a baby in my lap…

5. Write this blog


I’ve really enjoyed starting this blog and again it’s given me something to do that I can easily pick up when Little Man is chill enough, and put down if he starts kicking off. I used to have a blog (Pituitary Ademoaner) about my health issues years ago, and it’s great to get back to writing again. This is a free site on WordPress, so if you’ve ever thought of starting a blog, why not?

6. Watch Netflix


I’m not made of stone, obviously all this mental activity is pretty exhausting and sometimes me and the Little Man just want to zonk out in front of the TV. I’m currently watching Gilmore Girls for the first time and loving it, but I’ve also watched a lot of Friends and Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Tiger King (obviously) and loads of nature documentaries.