TP Toys Blog

13th January 2015Have fun with your kids using career role-playing game

Have fun with your kids using career role-playing game

Ask most parents what they want for their children when they grow up and the answer will - hopefully - include ensuring they are happy, healthy adults.

What many people seem afraid to admit to is that they also want their little ones to be successful in some or all spheres of life. Of course success can be judged in many ways - it could, for instance, relate to a person's home life (relationship, kids) or their profession.  

Learning about different jobs

Children are often most influenced by the toys around them and the subjects that they learn about at school, which is probably why many little boys often talk of wanting to be a fireman or an astronaut.

The truth is that what your child wants to do when they are five years old may differ greatly from their aspirations - or lack thereof - as a teenager and here is where problems can arise.

Actually, there are few professions that are fully understood, which is why people can often end up drifting into a job that may not suit them or make the most of their potential.

A theme park that aims to educate  

Few would argue that they want their little one's childhood to be filled with fun, but also with some direction and guidance as well.

The brains behind a theme park that aims to provide young minds with information about different occupations is clearly hoping to combine the two.

KidZania is a theme park designed for children aged between four and 14 and it is expanding to the UK (there is already a branch in Istanbul).

According to the company, it "will be the UK's first educational entertainment experience, offering kids the opportunity to learn over 60 unique and exciting professions - turning dreams into reality".

KidZania London will be situated at the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush and will consist of a mini-city with an airport, police station, A&E, theatre, sports stadium, shops, a bank and even a university.

Children will be given the opportunity to try out different professions in a fun environment. They will be paid in KidZos and a day at the theme park could see them playing at being a surgeon in the morning and a salesperson in the afternoon.

Encouraging role-play at home  

A trip to KidZania may be a fun day out, but there's also the possibility it could spark an interest in a profession that you or your little one previously knew little about.

The issue is how do you foster this interest when you get home, or what if you are unable to get to KidZania, are there ways you can encourage role-play at home? The simple answer to this question is yes. There are plenty of inexpensive ways to foster an interest in different professions.

Arguably the most obvious - and easiest - way to do this is by designating a toy box to dressing up items. You can add hats, jewellery, sunglasses and wigs to the box, as well as dresses and costumes.

If your kids are bored with the items in the box, you might also want to create a small box with specific items for them to try out.

Another good idea is a role-play game whereby children get to designate members of the family to various roles; you may end up as the child and they the parent.

If it's raining outside and you're stuck for inspiration, then why not try out a game where they pretend to be, say a doctor or a teacher? You could create a costume for them or find toys around the house that help them to develop their role. For instance, a Pillow Pet may be used as a prop for a vet, or a dolly might be used as a pretend patient for a doctor.

You could even encourage them to put on a play wearing the costumes they have designed. This is fun, but is also a great way to boost their confidence - an attribute that's vital for success in later life.

There's an opportunity to make everyday occasions a role-play situation too. For instance, you could help children to pretend they are waiters in a restaurant at dinner time.

Ways to inspire your young ones

TV shows and books often talk about professions and these can act as a catalyst to discuss different occupations.

You could also encourage your little one to discuss what they like and dislike, by sharing your interests with your child. All you have to do is to take it in turns to talk about the activities you enjoy - for instance reading, gardening.

Remember, with a little help, children can really let their imagination run wild and begin to explore more of the world around them.

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9th January 2015How to prevent the horror of head injuries

How to prevent the horror of head injuries

All children will unfortunately sustain injuries at some point, with scraped knees and cut fingers being part and parcel of growing up.

However, parents everywhere will hope to avoid more serious incidents - and in particular, knocks to the head. These can be extremely serious, potentially resulting in concussion and even damage to the brain in extreme cases.

And according to new research, parents and caregivers can play a key role in reducing the severity of any bumps to the head that do occur - and cutting the likelihood of them happening in the first place - by doing something as simple as protecting children in advance wherever possible.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at more than 40,000 cases of brain trauma in children and discovered that the most common cause is falling. This is something that mums and dads could act to prevent and therefore protect their little ones from harm.

Author Dr Prashant Mahajan said: "The good news for all of us is that [the findings] demonstrate clearly the importance of prevention in protecting children from brain trauma. Our study really emphasises the importance of educating parents as a key strategy for reducing the severity of such brain injuries among children everywhere."

So, what are the easy things you can do at home and in the garden to keep your child safe from falls and therefore cut the chances of the most common cause of head injury?

1.    Install child-proofing features

As soon as your child is old enough to crawl (preferably before, so you're ready in advance), install window guards on any windows that can be opened and put safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs. Also, ensure furniture isn't placed in a manner that's tempting to climb on - for example, underneath cupboards or shelves containing children's toys.

2.    Always supervise on play equipment

Items like climbing frames for the garden and even soft play equipment for inside look really safe and sturdy, but a fall can occur at any time and so parents should be ready to catch children while they're having fun on them. Don't be tempted to get distracted by other people's conversations; keep your eye on your kids and hover your hands just underneath really small toddlers, who tend to be more off-balance than bigger children.

3.    Choose safety-accredited equipment

Unsafe toys are an unnecessary risk, so always choose play equipment that has been tested and proven as safe. For instance, our trampolines here at TP Toys have unique Surroundsafe technology and also comply with the European safety standard (EN71-Pt14 Draft) for domestic trampolines, giving you added peace of mind.

Similarly, well-made toys like our Scuttlebug won't come apart as children ride on them, which is something that could happen with those from unscrupulous manufacturers.

4.    Be careful in the car

While car accidents are the main risk to children riding in motor vehicles, falls can also occur if youngsters are not provided with the correct safety equipment. For example, although booster seats are suitable for bigger kids, much smaller tots can wobble off them and hit their head on the hard plastic car door or even land in the footwell.

Always follow the age and height guidelines for child car seats to prevent this happening and reduce the likelihood of head injuries.

Falls are something that no parent wants to see, but these are all easy tips to follow and should lessen the chances of them happening to young children. And hopefully, that should cut the national rate of serious head injuries.

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7th January 2015Stay active with your children this winter

Stay active with your children this winter

When December ends and we welcome in January and a brand new year, there's usually a feeling of freshness and looking forward to a new start.

However, here in Britain, the climate means we're actually in for more of the same for at least a few more months, at least weather-wise. Indeed, January and February can sometimes be chillier than December.

This can make that new year motivation start to dissipate and any good intentions about physical activity in particular begin to fall by the wayside. Don't be tempted to let the kids veg out on the sofa every day after school though - there are still lots of activities you can do together that will get the heart-rate up.

Although many youngsters do get exercise at school during PE and breaktimes, NHS guidelines state they should be achieving 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, so there's always room for more.

Here are some ideas you can do with little ones in reception class right the way through to older kids to ensure winter is still a time for movement.

Pick-up Challenge

This might be better for your younger offspring than the older ones, but you can make a game out of tidying up just like Mary Poppins did. Challenge them to see how many objects they can pick up and put in a toybox in the space of 60 seconds, then offer a reward for the winner. You also get the satisfaction of a tidier playroom.

Afternoon disco

When the weather's really foul outside and you want to stay in, get everyone moving by setting up a CD player, dimming the lights and hosting your very own disco. You can even invest in some cheap glow sticks and get dressed up if you want to go the whole hog and make it really realistic. Try making a CD of really lively tunes with dance routines for maximum physical exertion.

Circuit training fun

This might sound a little fierce, but it doesn't need to be as strenuous as the exercise you do at the gym. Instead, set up a circle in a room with plenty of space and place different activities along the 'route'. For example, you could put a hula hoop in one position, then a card instructing players to do jumping jacks. Spend a minute or two at each one, then move on. Kids will love having a PE lesson at home and it's fun for you too.

Get out on scooters

If it's not snowing or throwing it down with rain, do try to get outside for some fresh air whenever you can, especially at weekends. Rug up warm and take youngsters out on their scooters, even if it's just for a few rides around the block. It'll raise your energy levels to get some daylight and should tire little ones out.

Make the most of the National Trust

National Trust properties around the country always have lots of activities on offer for families, so head to your nearest one and see what you can get involved with. For instance, they sometimes do trails that incorporate jumping in puddles with your wellies on, which are sure to go down a treat.

Lively video games

We tend to assume that video games are bad for us, but don't forget that consoles like the Wii and Kinect can be as good as a workout, plus children will get so engrossed and competitive that they won't even realise they're doing something strenuous. Dust off those controllers, load up a game and get playing.

Hide and seek

If all else fails and you are running out of ideas, you can't go wrong with a good old game of hide and seek. Kids of all ages love it and a lengthy session can while away a dreary afternoon - just make sure you set boundaries so the players don't wander off into hiding places they shouldn't.

Hopefully this article has given you some inspiration and you're now raring to get moving, no matter what the weather's doing outside.

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7th January 2015How to make bathtime more fun for kids

How to make bathtime more fun for kids

With most schools having re-opened this week and the Christmas decorations packed away once more into the attic, the chances are your family is now back into its old routine.

This can be a welcome relief after the frivolities of the festive season, but it can also feel a little tedious, especially with warmer weather still so far away. Mealtimes, bathtimes and school runs seem to merge into one as we struggle to get everything done before it's time for bed again.

If you've got a touch of the January blues, why not alleviate them for at least part of the day by making your children's bathtimes an opportunity for extra play? Of course, you'll still have been bathing your offspring over Christmas, but these ideas should ensure everyone has a splashing good time in the bleak mid-winter - and it's the perfect way of distracting tots who are somewhat reluctant to get into the water!

Colour the water

This is a fun way of livening up boring old ordinary water and should have kids longing to cast off their clothes and jump in the bath. You can do it easily and cheaply with food colouring too - just add a few drops as you run the water for instant brightness. Alternatively, you could freeze a mixture of food colouring and water in an ice cube tray a few hours before and then drop the tabs in the bath for a melting blend of colour. And don't worry - the dye won't affect kids' skin and turn them into miniature Smurfs.

Have fun with foam

Foam is a great bath toy as it will get wet without disintegrating. You can buy foam letters that older kids can use to make words on the tiled wall, or stick to shapes for younger ones. You can even make your own using craft foam sheets, which as inexpensive and available from shops like Hobbycraft. 

Go fishing

This is a good one for toddlers who usually don't want to stay in the bath for too long. All you need is a plastic stick, some wool and a magnet, which you can easily turn into a fishing rod. Next, throw some magnetic fridge letters into the bubbles and ask your little one to see what they can fish out. It's a good way of ensuring they get a good soak - just remember to supervise closely when it comes to the rod to prevent injuries.

Glow a light show

Anything that lights up is usually a winner with kids, so why not get hold of some party glow sticks from the pound shop? You can crack them, toss them in the water, then dim the lights and watch them illuminate the bubbles from beneath. It might give you the chance to wash hair while the child is distracted.

Plenty of props

You don't want the bath so full of toys that there's no room for the child, but adding a few props will distract them from the rather boring task at hand and provide some really fun play opportunities. Anything that can pour water is ideal, so look out for mini watering cans and plastic cups in the sales. Sponge balls and tiny boats should also go down well, while goggles can double up as a useful tool to prevent the dreaded soap-in-eyes scenario. You can even make the toys educational by asking the youngster to guess which will sink and which will float, getting them to identify colours and asking them to pick one and then describe it for you to identify.

Bathtime is a great way to squeeze a little more fun into your day - and that's something we could all benefit from in January!

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7th January 2015Are children's stories too genteel in today's world?

Are children's stories too genteel in today's world?

We like nothing more than a good debate around issues that are important to us here at TP Toys, and the latest has been sparked by British actress and Hollywood darling Emily Blunt.

She will soon be appearing on our cinema screens again in a Disney movie adaptation of the musical Into the Woods - and she recently told the Guardian she was glad to see a dark story after too many years of sanitised entertainment.

Modern stories 'too coddling' 

The 31-year-old pointed out that tales for children used to be much darker than they are now, with even Disney 'cleaning up' what it presents to youngsters compared to its earlier offerings.

"Bambi loses his mother, Dumbo is wrenched away from his mother, who is chained up and tormented and bullied. It used to be darker and more challenging," Blunt insisted.

She added that she thinks sanitising stories is a trend that has gone too far, resulting in kids becoming too sheltered.

"Nobody goes through life unscathed. If you want to fairy tale the sh** out of everything, you're doing everyone a disservice. It's just sad that we're choosing to coddle our children that way, because no one's more perceptive than a child," the Devil Wears Prada star said.

Into the Woods might have suited Blunt's requirements for entertainment even if she didn't happen to appear in it, as it sees a host of different tales from the Brothers Grimm collide and intertwine, with Meryl Streep playing a witch, Johnny Depp playing a wolf - and one character's eyes getting pecked out not too far into the movie.

However, perhaps you disagree with Blunt and think it's a good thing that Disney stories no longer contain scenes that cause tears before bedtime.

Too much, too young?

Richard Dawkins recently sparked controversy by saying that he thinks we should be "fostering a spirit of scepticism" in children rather than telling them about supernatural themes, but most of the debate around fairy stories centres around them being - contrary to Blunt's belief - too scary.

According to a poll carried out by the TV channel Watch back in 2012, one in five parents has ditched classic tales such as Snow White in favour of more modern stories, with a third revealing their children have been left tearful because of the gruesome details in Little Red Riding Hood.

In addition, almost half of mums and dads have refused to read Rumplestiltskin due to its themes (kidnapping and execution, apparently) - and a quarter said they won't read a fairy tale to their kids until they are at least five.

General manager of Watch Steve Hornsey said at the time: "Fairy tales can be dark and dramatic tales so it's understandable that parents worry about reading them to young children."

Actually, if you go back to the time when the Grimm tales were first collected, they were aimed at adults as cautionary stories, not at youngsters. What's more, they used to be significantly darker than the versions most of us think we know, with the 1812 translation featuring Hansel and Gretel's mother abandon them because she can't afford to feed them and Rapunzel becoming pregnant.

Scary stuff - but who is right in the debate for and against? After all, didn't we read these stories (albeit not the most horrific ones) and enjoy them as children?

And couldn't their risque nature be doing our own offspring some good? In the 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim insists that such stories can help youngsters deal with emotional problems by providing them with a symbolic space where they can face their anxieties safely. 

So, what do you think? Are fairy tales outdated yarns that deserve to be consigned to history because they're too gruesome? Or should we be teaching our kids about the darker side of life, as Emily Blunt believes? We'd love to hear from you.

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