The Pre-school Learning Alliance Play Awards is held in association with Fisher-Price. The awards celebrate nurseries, pre-schools, early years practitioners, parent and toddler groups, childminders and parents who bring play and joy into children’s lives. We asked the five winners to share their favourite play ideas. Warning: this could get messy!


Water Play

1. Magic potions

Fill some clear containers with water, then add a drop of different-coloured food colouring to each. Your child will love watching the water change colour, mixing colours, sprinkling in glitter and making her own ‘magic potions’.

2. Fizzy bath time

Pop a ‘bath bomb’ into a bowl of water and watch it fizz. Your child can then wash her toys or even her feet in the water. At bath-time, use a bubble wand and some washing-up liquid solution to create giant bubbles for kids to play with.

3. Gloop!

Pour two cups of cornflour into a bowl, then add one cup of cold water, stirring constantly. The solution is fascinating to play with, yet will brush off clothing as a dry powder.

Creative Play

4. Nature-trail mobiles

Collect objects your child finds during a walk in the park, such as pine cones, leaves and feathers, as well as two sticks. At home, tie the sticks in a cross, then let her decorate her treasures with glitter and paint and hang them from the sticks with cotton thread to make a natural mobile that will remind her of your day.

More like this

5. Sand writing

Cover a deep-edged tray with sand or salt (about 2cm in depth). Give your child a spoon, chopsticks or toothbrush and let her experiment with making marks. You could even bury objects for her to find.

6. Dolly dress up

Cut a figure out of card and help your child draw a face and hair on it. Then help her cut ‘clothes’ out of coloured paper or magazines, sticking them on with Blu-Tack so dolly can change outfits to suit every occasion.

Outdoor play for winter

7. Puddle-jumping

Dedicate a morning to getting messy together! Dress up in old clothes and waterproofs and go in search of the deepest, muddiest puddles you can find. Take along a toy boat or some rubber ducks to join in the fun, before heading home for a hot bath.

8. Windy wavers

Take an old bangle or make a circle by taping a strip of card end-to-end. Tie on strips of paper, tin foil, string and ribbon, then take your waver out for a walk. Children will love running with their wavers and listening to the noise the tin foil makes in the breeze.

9. Wedding day

Buy a box of biodegradable confetti and take it out on a windy day. Throw handfuls up in the air and let your children run through it. Let them fling it around and watch the paper dance. Don’t worry about how far it goes, as it’s biodegradable it won’t harm the environment

Imaginative Play

10. Post it

Make a post-box out of an old cereal box painted red, then collect stamp-sized stickers, envelopes and paper, or even cheap Christmas cards. Your child can then ‘write’ letters to friends and family. The letters can be made up of pictures, letters or words cut from magazines – great for pre-literacy skills and good fun, too.

11. Bear hunt

Using the book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt! by Michael Rosen as inspiration, search for grizzlies around the house. Act out the story together – swishing through grass, tiptoeing through caves and jumping under the covers to escape the bear – and encourage your child to make up her own actions and sounds.

12. Spring clean

Fill a basket with sponges, dusters, rubber gloves and spray bottles filled with water, then let your child loose on your kitchen cupboards and floors. It’ll keep her busy for hours!

Sensory Play

13. Treasure basket fill

A basket with things your baby doesn’t normally get to play with, such as a potato masher or pinecones, or themed objects such as shiny, wood or metal things. She will love exploring the different shapes and ‘talking’ about her new discoveries.

14. Jelly on a plate

Make some jelly for your child to play with. When handled it melts and the texture changes. Use cups to pour it between containers. Sugar-free jelly is best if you don’t want your child getting hyped up, as a lot of jelly will end up in little tummies. This can be messy, so put down a plastic sheet first.

15. Rainbow rice

Mix some uncooked rice in a bowl with a little food colouring. Use the rice to make a ‘lucky dip’ and hide toys in it. Then, add the rice to a tub with a lid for an instant shaker. And when she’s finished playing, she can make pictures with the rice or feed it to the birds.

Mum's stories:

"We waddle round the garden with balloons between our legs"

“The minute the sun comes out, my daughter says ‘bloon!’ and I know what she wants. I blow up two balloons – one for her and one for me – and we put them between our knees or under our chins and have waddling races around the garden.”

Chandra, 35, mum to Elizabeth, 19 months

"We 'paint' the patio with water"

“My 2-year-old son and I love filling a bucket with water and getting a paint brush and ‘painting’ the patio, the shed and the garden gate. It’s never-ending fun as the water dries quickly leaving a blank canvas again.”

Mandy, 27, mum to Kyle, 2

"We do drawings of five items to collect in the garden"

“My friends and I give our children drawings of five different things to collect from the garden – then we sit back with a cool drink while they hunt for them. Make sure the list is a mixture of both easy and difficult to find items – too easy and they’ll be back quickly, too hard and they’ll get bored and give up.”

Fleur, 35, mum to Mya, 2

"My daughter loves to play outside with homemade jelly"

“Playing with homemade jelly can be fantastic outdoors fun. It feels great when you squish it between your fingers or toes and even if my daughter puts it in her mouth, it’s safe. It’s a really quick and cheap ‘toy’ to make, too.”

Anita, 34, mum to Premjyot, 4, and Ramjyot, 7 months

"Shaving foam can be fun to play with"

“When the weather’s good, we grab a big piece of card and a can of shaving foam from the bathroom. I spread out the foam on the card and then let the children draw pictures in it with their fingers. I also encourage Nathan to practise writing letters. I just have to remember to top up the shaving foam when I’m next at the shops.”

Cora, 30, mum to Nathan, 4, and Penny, 18 months

"Our son plays footie with Dad"

“My hubbie has hopes of our son becoming the next David Beckham, so he’s always got Dan out in the garden playing this game. My hubbie throws a football at Dan, shouting either ‘head’ or ‘catch’ to him and Dan has to do what he’s asked – either head it or catch the ball. His dad can be a bit tough though and tends to speed it up, so poor Dan can get a bit confused!”

Gina, 35, mum to Daniel, 3

"We enjoy welly throwing"

“When the weather’s warm and the kids don’t need their wellies for wading through puddles, we chuck ours around in the garden! I put a hula-hoop on the ground a little further down the garden from where we’re standing and we take it in turns to chuck one, seeing who can get theirs in the hoop. It usually turns into a free-for-all with shoes, slippers and flip-flops thrown in.”

Alexis, 27, mum to Tor, 4, Carys, 3, and Morgan, 2

"Blowing bubbles fascinates our son"

“Aaron stays occupied for ages when he’s blowing bubbles. He loves trying to blow big ones or as many as possible in one go. He’s even got a special straw which makes a noise when you blow, but an ordinary straw works just as well and might be easier for little hands to hold than the special wand that normally comes with the bubbles.”

Claire, 31, mum to Aaron, 3, and Eva, 10 months

"My children play 'poop the potato'"

“My children love this game, especially its name – so much so that they sometimes shout out rather embarrassingly, ‘Can we poop the potato?’ when they’re at other friends’ houses. To play, give each child a spud, put a bucket at the end of the garden, and the children then have to walk with the spud between their knees or thighs and drop it in the bucket. My two like to shout ‘poop!’ as the spud plops in.”

Jessie, 40, mum to Oliver, 4, and James, 2

"My son spends hours watering the garden"

“My son William loves water, so we bought him a spray gun for our hose and he happily goes round the garden watering all the plants (and everything else, including his little sister). We also make pretend birthday cakes out of leaves and grass and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to each other.”


Abi, 32, mum to William 2, and Jennifer, 18 months