Top Toys: 10 ways to play with a farm

Farms sets are a great toy for young children, and it’s really worth investing in a good one as they will be enjoyed for years to come. There are some which are more geared towards toddlers and young children, but we felt this one from John Lewis was suitable for a toddler and would stand the test of time. The only things to watch out for are the chickens and ducks, which are quite small and could present a danger for children who are still putting things in their mouths.

Farm toys offer many learning opportunities for children. So, here are my top ten ways to play with a farm set.

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1. Making animal noises. I’m no expert on speech development, but I have read that making animal noises is a helpful step in encouraging children to say their first words. Because of the enjoyment factor in making these funny sounds, children are keen to imitate them. They are also easier to say than many words, and so because the children experience success in saying these sounds, it encourages them to take the next step of ‘real’ words. So, while playing with your child, make animal noises and encourage them to do the same. Make sounds and ask them to find the correct animal. For older toddlers, you could hide an animal, make the sound and ask them to name the animal too. Make it more fun for you by making the noises as realistic as possible!

2. Storytelling. Any ‘small world’ play such as this offers great opportunities for storytelling. For very young children this might be very simple statements about what is happening, but as their imagination develops, they have the chance to extend the storytelling and create more complex storylines. Engaging in this kind of play with your child also really extends their language development as they hear new words and phrases in context. Having the opportunity to play is a really non-confrontational way of storytelling. It allows them to be completely unrestricted and wildly imaginative. For school-aged children, it allows them the freedom to try things out – different storylines, or adventurous vocabulary – without worrying about making a mistake on paper. If they later want to go and write down their story, they’ll be in a much better position to do if they’ve had the chance to act it out first!

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3. Sensory play. Adding a sensory element to a farmyard scene can really extend the play. A few months ago, I placed our farm set in a large tub and added some dried lentils. T loved scooping the lentils, filling the tractor with them, pouring them on the roof of the barn, and feeding them to the animals. This develops fine motor control, extends their understanding of the world (e.g. what happens to objects when poured; learning how sounds are made) and further develops the storytelling opportunities. (Warning: you will be finding lentils around your house for months afterwards!)

4. Sorting animals. The complexity of this can vary with the age of the child. To begin, you might ask a child to find one type of animal. Later, they might sort the animals by their colour, or perhaps by number of legs, or by features (e.g. beak/no beak). This can be initiated by you but children very often will naturally sort things when they start to see similarities and differences. This develops their problem solving skills.

5. Messy play. I love these two examples of messy play with farm animals (here and here). These are probably best with plastic animals which wash easily, rather than wooden ones which could become stained. This kind of messy play develops children’s understanding of the world around them and how it works. Involving slightly older children in the process of creating these messy play scenes (e.g. watching spaghetti boil, or helping to mix ingredients together and observing the changes that take place) encourages them to consider why things happen and how they work.

6. Learning about numbers. A farm set provides all sort of opportunities for number activities, such as: counting (the animals, their legs, etc); comparing quantities; using terms such as more, less or lots in context; finding a total; and learning about concepts such as addition and subtraction in concrete ways (“Oh, the cow has gone away. How many animals are left?”)

7. Baby animals. I don’t know about your children, but my little girl loves making families with any object she possibly can! We have had families of animals, playdough families, and even families of buttons! A fun activity is to match baby animals to their parents. It’s not too difficult to find a small, cheapish set of farm animals which, in comparison to your regular animals can be the ‘babies’. Alternatively you could use printed images. This extends their understanding of the world and also develops their language as you introduce them to terms such as lamb,  calf  or foal.

8. Animal food. Continuing with a matching theme, you could show children images of food for the different animals – or even better you could give them some real examples  – and match them to the animals. Alternatively, you could also provide a range of toy food and help the children identify which animals make it.

9. Make a film! Obviously this one is for the older children, and depending on their capabilities and how much help you give them, I’d suggest this for children aged 6-11. Take a series of photos of the animals, put them together in a slideshow and add a voiceover to narrate the story. Older children may be able to make a stop-motion animation by moving the animals a small amount at a time and taking photos. This kind of activity develops literacy, creativity, imagination, computing, and if the children were to make props for their story it would also include elements of art and design. A wealth of opportunities! There is plenty of software out there to help you do this  – Movie Maker on PC or iMovie on Apple computers, are both fairly easy-to-use software and come already installed on most computers.

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10. Play dough. Keep it simple by playing with the animals in dough and looking at the patterns they make. Make impressions of their hooves, of their faces, of their bodies. With older children, perhaps you could use plasticine and pour in plaster of paris to make a cast?! (Note: I’ve never tried this! I wonder if it works?)

So there you have it. Ten ways to play with a farm for children across the primary age range. Have fun!

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30 Comment

  1. Ah lovely. I had a farm when I was little – my dad made me the farm yard and then I bought the animals – I can remember going to Toymaster with my mum every few weekends and being able to get a new animal. So much fun 🙂

    #fortheloveofBLOG

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Ah what a lovely memory. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  2. vicky says: Reply

    Some lovely tips here, a great insight from a teaching perspective too!

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Thank you!

  3. I can’t wait to buy my daughter a farm play set. We live near farms and I hope she’ll learn to enjoy and appreciate them. You listed some good tips which I’ll be sure to incorporate into the play. #KCACOLS #TribalLove

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      I’m glad you found it helpful! We love visiting farms. We’re city-based but there’s a fab city farm nearby and a bigger country one not too far away. They are some of our fave places to visit!

  4. I loved this! Thanks so much for sharing. I have a little boy who loves to play with toys resembling animals and this gave me a few ideas. At this point his favorite thing is to make the different noises and arrange them around his train set. They all look like a lot of fun though!
    #KCACOLS

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      I am SO glad you enjoyed it! My daughter isn’t too fussed by her train set just yet but I always enjoyed setting it up as a kid with little houses and ‘fields’ nearby with my animals too!

  5. This is a fab list of great ideas – thank you. With this glorious (ahem) weather we are having this half term, I might crack open our farm tomorrow. Inspired!
    x Alice
    #kcacols

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Haha, yes typical half term weather isn’t it?! Glad you found the post helpful! X

  6. This post really is so useful! My middle one is farm OBSESSED, and whenever he asks to play with it, out it comes, and we set up the barns and the animals and then we sort of fizzle out. I love all these ideas, especially the lentils and the muddy pig bath. Brilliant!

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Really glad! We did the kiddy pig bath this week and it went down very well!

  7. Very helpful and great to have different options to play with the one toy. Sometimes it is really hard to think outside the box so this had given me food for thought X #kcacols

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Glad you found it helpful!

  8. Ah I love this – I want to get Emma one as she only has the odd figurine at the moment. You’re right, they are so useful and would tie in well with the baby signing course we are doing at the moment to practise the animal signs xx #triballove #KCACOLS

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Oh yes that would be a great use for them!

  9. Jade says: Reply

    I love all the different things you have don with one farm! The lentil idea is simple but fab! My little lad has a bit of a bigger boys farm but he loves it for counting and we repainted it all the other day which he loved! These are such beautiful pics too. #KCACOLS

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Thanks! Oh I bet you had so much fun repainting it. I can see us doing that in a few years time!

  10. Having put down a toy farm on my daughters first birthday present list, I am definitely getting one now. I hadn’t realised that there were so many educational and developmental uses instead of just trotting the animals around. All of these activities can differ as your child gets older too which is great fit keeping your child interested in the farm. I’m now going to start googling toy farms I’d like a wooden one. Thanks so much for sharing your post at #fortheloveofBLOG this week. Claire x

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Oh I’m so glad you found this interesting! Hope you find a farm you like. We have a John Lewis one and one from George (both gifts) and they are both lovely.

  11. beautiful bright and friendly readable post – mine are big now but I love the style of your blog #triballove

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Thank you! Really nice to have the feedback 🙂 x

  12. I love the idea of putting it in something like dry lentils. I would never have thought of that, and I can imagine that children would love it. I’ll have to wait until mine is a bit older unfortunately ): x

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Yes we attempted it for the first time around two years old I think! It is fun but I will warn you again…lentils everywhere! Also works with chickpeas, pasta, beans, or anything else you can find in your store cupboard! Thanks for reading.

  13. That’s such a nice looking farm! And I love all of these ideas, especially the one about making it into a sensory play experience. x #KCACOLS

  14. I have wasted the time we have spent with our farm so far! I love the lentils/sensory idea and the messy play options with paint and dough. Really good ideas here. You are fast becoming the go to toy expert! #KCACOLS

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      That’s my dream job, haha! Do you think people would pay me to source toys for their kids? 😉

  15. This is fantastic! Such an informative post. Super useful for parents. So many times we run out of ideas to keep our kids happy and busy and you have here so many ways to play with them using the same toys which is amazing! I love the sensory play idea. I would definitely be trying this at home! Great list! Thanks so much for sharing this at #KCACOLS. I’m so happy to have you for the first time. I hope that you enjoyed it. I would love if you can join us again tomorrow, 🙂 xx

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Thank you for having me! I have written a couple of new Top Toys posts so will link them up.

  16. This is such a great idea. I hadn’t thought about using play dough for making prints…. will be trying this next week. Thanks so much for linking up to the #DreamTeam

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