Playground we mostly visited at night

Our Playtime at Isla Mujeres

Our Playtime at Isla Mujeres


The Playgrounds

Islas Mujeres has great playgrounds and quite modern. 

Where we stayed near La Gloria was a new facility that had an outdoor stage, two soccer courts and a playground. We enjoyed going here when it was cool enough so that we could stretch our legs and play. The playground we visited almost daily had slides and see-saws and two pirate ships. It had slides for two days but the quality of materials being used on the playgrounds means that they do not last long. 

One of the great things about this area was that cleaners were in every morning cleaning up rubbish. That was important because a lot of people used the playground in the evenings and late at night so the bins would get full and then people would start dumping rubbish anywhere, in spite of all the “No tirar busar” signs.

There was one playground that was locked until after school hours and then it stayed open til well after 9pm. The locked one had toilets and sold snacks. We had to sign in every time we visited, which was often because it was opposite the laundromat I used.

The Soccer Courts

One of the outdoor soccer courts was covered which was great when it rained, or more importantly in the heat of the day, for us to play or exercise (although we probably could’ve done more of the exercise part 😉

On Thursday nights there was a soccer league in the uncovered soccer court which was a bit like indoor soccer rules because they were allowed to kick the ball off the side walls.

After school there were often kids hanging out here or playing soccer, it was definitely the most common sport we saw on the island.

Hometime Play

Because we spent a month on Isla we had a lot of downtime at home while the older two were studying. Being in such a tiny place we didn’t have much space to spread out so we had to be creative about how we entertained our little two. We also had the problem of using up a lot of plastic water bottles and having no recycling on the island. So most or our home play involved construction with blocks and designing vehicles with water bottles. I also called on my Playcentre forum to help with ideas. Heres what we came up with.

Waterfalls down the stairs where each bottle catches water from the step above. My daughter in her brilliance put a lid on the bottom bottle (not something I usually do when I have the hose constantly running) so the young ones learnt to take the bottle from the bottom step and carry it to the top to refill the waterfall. This saved me having to go back and forth from the kitchen tap for refills.

We tried drumming on the bottles, sometimes with water in bottles and mostly without. It was pretty noisey so we didn’t encourage this one much 😉

We made buckets out of the base of the bottles and used them in the shower. They often got into the shampoo bottle to make bubbles.

They requested lots of vehicles including submarines, air craft carriers, car ferries, planes and trucks. They also used my daughter’s creations as a light house and an air traffic control tower.

Outdoor excursions

Although we did beach trips, they were not frequent because we enjoyed our at home time. To keep ourselves moving about after being stuck in a tiny home, we would spend a morning or evening walking around the neighbourhood. We were close to the laguna (lake) which was shady from the mangrove trees and we could bird or lizard watch. Check out our wildlife post for more images. 

We also would do coastal walks and found a tiny nook of a beach on the east coast facing the Caribbean Sea where we could play on the sand with shells and rocks while having the whole beach totally to ourselves. The entrance is somewhere close to Isla Contoy and Calle Lizeta on the waterfront. I had so much time I checked out each little pathway to find a way down to the water.

Having said that, any of those pathways will take you to a rock where you can sit and enjoy the sunrise, at least until the little one gets restless and you have to start walking again 🙂

Our Glimpse of Playtime Around The World


Choosing toys for a Sabbatical

Choosing toys for a Sabbatical


When working out the 12 month sabbatical the topic of toys was one of the top priorities to pack for the kids. I couldn’t work out what to pack given my space restrictions and their current interests. Fortunately I had my Playcentre level one education to help me decide. Here’s a guide to help you decide what toys to pack for your children for any trip.  If you’re in a rush jump to the end to get a summary, otherwise read on for great inform on how to keep your little ones stimulated while on the go.

When I first began planning my toy list I assumed I’d be taking Paw Patrol toys and their favourite games and books. Plus both the 2yo and 4yo had had their birthdays which meant a whole heap of new presents (in spite of telling everyone not to purchase anything for them 🙂 But after ordering my one 80L backpack that was supposed to fit my belongings as well as those of my two youngest, I realised their favourites weren’t going to make it. 

Coincidentally, at TPoA Playcentre we were analysing our resources and considering what needs to be purchased. To do that we had to understand our values so that we knew how to prioritise the purchases and ensure we weren’t wasting money. The suggested values and the discussions with members really helped to change my mindset about how I packed. 
The first step for me was realising how small my bag was after squeezing in winter and summer clothes plus toiletries for us three. There was about two 2Litre ice cream containers left for superfluous items including toys.

In my head I thought that I needed to work out where we were going and what we would be doing there. We had outlined that in some places we would hop around quickly so most likely there would be more activities out of the house, whereas in other places we would stay long term and get some homeschooling done, so that meant more at home time. I had assumed that short term stays would be tourist locations therefore hardly a need for toys and long term stays would require a lot of home play time so a lot of toys. For the short term stays I didn’t want to pull anything out of my bag that wasn’t needed. This included toys. For the long term stays I planned to unpack everything. This thinking was all wrong. It didn’t matter how long we were staying, the kids pulled all their toys out. Living out of a backpack is not easy so I unpacked my whole bag at every stop. 


Play Schemas

The things I did analyse was what play schemas are my boys interested in and what skills would I like them to develop. Based on these two factors combined with space limits I worked out what I could pack. 

You may be asking, what are play schemas? Play schemas are categories for the ways a child likes to play. By knowing about these styles of play that they prefer, we can help their learning and development. It also helps us to understand why a child is determined to do something when we think they are “just being difficult”. At those times, if we recognise the play schemas then we can redirect their energy to something appropriate. For example, my son had the trajectory schema. This means he enjoys throwing and dropping things (including food) as well as climbing and jumping (even if it’s too high for him). By understanding this we can ensure we take him to playgrounds where he can climb and jump off where we can catch him. We can also ensure he’s throwing appropriate toys at appropriate times. It is also something that can change with the stage they are at. 

When I looked at my two youngest ones, at the time I was packing, I saw:
Rotation– things that go round and round like wheels or propellors, drawing circles, rolly-polly’s, orbiting, spinning things around, etc. 
Transportation – 
Enveloping– hugs, colouring in so that everything is covered completely, 
Positioning– putting things in lines, tidying up, organising 
Connecting & Disconnecting– puzzles, lego, construction, block towers, destroying, 

This helped me to identify what I might need to create environments that allowed for:

  • spinning things around like cars or helicopters or string to tie a weight on the end and spin it around
  • vehicles or buckets to move things around
  • colouring-in tools or a blankie for enveloping
  • any toys that can be organised such as figurines, vehicles, blocks
  • puzzles, lego, blocks
From this list I could definitely see some common resources emerging that looked like must-haves such as vehicles, felts / crayons, paper, and blocks. Given space considerations smaller vehicles would have to suffice. I was not going to pack buckets but these could easily be substituted for boxes and other junk from any purchases we made. Turns out 5L water bottles are great for transportation. The cars I could use for positioning and the blocks too. I was unsure about how many blocks to take that would be worthwhile versus take up too much space. Puzzles were tricky because I wasn’t sure which ones and how many.

Skills To Develop

The next area I looked at was what are the skills they are still developing or that I would like them to develop while we are away. This first required me assessing what was working well. I could see music in the form of dance and singing was coming to them naturally. Role playing was something that had been enhanced by Playcentre and they were thriving in this area. They loved reading books, counting and naming symbols. Using blocks for construction came naturally to them. They loved playing with balls so I knew they would naturally develop that skill. One of them loved climbing and jumping and he loved painting while the other one didn’t so much. They also enjoyed puzzles. Because their older siblings and dad loves drawing, they loved drawing too. 

This helped me to see that some of my gaps were collage and crafts, messy play, play dough, and junk play. I could see that developing fine motor skills and strategy was important. It also meant that I would need to create environments that allowed for:

  • music which could mean songs on my phone, instruments, and action songs
  • ball play which could mean packing a ball
  • books for reading
  • blocks for construction or puzzles or lego
  • art supplies such as paints, drawing equipment such as felts and paper
  • scissors, rope, glue, hot glue gun and sellotape for junk play, crafts and collage
  • baking ingredients for making play dough or messy play
Some common resources listed here I could pick up on my travels rather than pack such as the baking ingredients. I thought hand-ball balls would be great because they are small. Books, just like puzzles, are tricky: how many, which ones, what size and weight would they be. Art supplies came up again but to take paints might be cumbersome. Craft materials sounded exciting but a hot glue gun would take up more space than it was worth carrying for the amount of times we would use it. I didn’t see any instruments making it unless it was a drum or maraca, both of which could be made from junk play.

Existing Resources


At this point I looked at all the toys and materials we already owned and wondered what would facilitate play, what I could make along the way and what could I pick up later if required.

On a side note, I’m very attached to repairing things so I decided I’d bring my computer tool kit. I filed this under necessary tools for junk play because it had pliers and screw drivers (wish I’d packed screws and nails).

In the lead up to our final pack we had been gifted some toys for the young boy’s birthdays so I decide to use some of these. Plus I had been gifted a Jenga set that friends had written quotes or messages on and some had drawn pictures. I decided these were small enough to be able to put in a tote bag and pack for the trip plus there were enough of them to be able to create some cool buildings. As a bonus they could be used as a board game.

When I was packing up my daughters art section which was huge, I put aside wool, scissors (kid friendly and adult ones), felts, crayons, colouring pencils, pens, markers, sharpener and rubber. I packed a container of water paints but this accidentally ended up in the long term storage boxes 🙁

I had books my two loved but they were heavier board books which would take up weight and space allowance. We were gifted some Hairy Maclairy books which were super thin so I decided this set would work. They also had dogs and cats which my kids love and could role play the story line.

I decided no instruments were worth packing and I hoped that we would pick up souvenir type instruments small enough to pack that were made local to the place we were in.

Calculating Down Time


The only other point that is important to factor is how much down time you will have at your destination. If you are doing a short holiday most likely you will be out and about visiting sites and eating out so you may not have “home time” where your child will play indoors. In this case you just want some small key items to keep them occupied for in-between time or when you are eating out or on a plane.

On sabbatical you can assume you will find more down time since your kids get sick of constantly travelling and eventually want time to do “normal stuff”. It’s the long periods of down time that require greater stimulation – the type that helps them to learn and grow so that they don’t end up pushing, snatching, hurling, screaming, etc 😉

If your accomodation is by some outdoor feature that is useable, for example a beach or a playground with moderate climates, then outdoor play helps to keep your child stimulated, fulfilled and content. However, if it rains or if you have to keep your child indoors because you have older kids homeschooling, for example, then you definitely want to be prepared with well thought out activities.


Use these questions to help you prioritise what toys to pack:

  1. What are your luggage weight and space allowances? 
  2. What are your child’s play schema(s)?
  3. What skills do you want them to develop?
  4. What do I already own, what could I make on the way and what could I pick up on the way?
  5. How much down time you are likely to have in your hotel /airbnb /accomodation?

Based on the above choose the most common toys and materials that pop up as suitable for these questions. 

Ideas For Home-Based Activities

Check out some of our posts to get some ideas on what you can do with your child, remember to check our site menu under For the Kids => Playtime

Our Glimpse of Playtime Around The World