What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 1

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Our “What’s in the Box?” advent count down of Christmas preschool activities is a new tradition for us. While the older children are working on other projects for our Blessing Buddies acts of kindness, our toddler will be opening his special Christmas box to find his table activity for the morning. The sparkly box will be hidden somewhere around the house for him to find each day and will contain a new and exciting challenge for him to work on independently while I help with the older children’s more complicated projects.

Here are the first 5 days of “What’s in the box?”

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The first activity needs to be one that is guaranteed to hold his attention for a longer time span as it will be the only one available. As each new activity is introduced, I will place it onto our toddler activity shelves so that I can rotate between them when interest in the new tray for the day has worn off.

Day 1

This Christmas sensory tub will be filled with all the wonderful “Christmas” items in the photo above. (If it’s green it’s Christmassy right?) The items can be sorted, transferred with tongs or cutlery, hidden and found, tipped and poured and generally fiddled about with.

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Day 2

A new batch of green playdough formed into a rough Christmas tree with small lights cut from a plastic Christmas garland to poke into the dough. You could also use beads or any other small decoration.

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Day 3

A colour sorting activity with 3 colours of Christmas bows. I have included a toothpick with a large flat end to hold while sliding it into one of the loops of the bows to transfer them into the matching coloured bowls. We’ll see how difficult this is for him – it may be quickly changed to small tongs.

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Day 4

Simple pattern block puzzles.These free printable patterns are available here. I intend to laminate these for greater durability. My older children all jumped at the chance to fill these out for the photos and after watching me prep these trays throughout the day, my 11-year-old commented that he almost wished he was a toddler again, just so he could do the activities!

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Day 5

Threading bow-shaped beads onto coloured chenille sticks (pipe cleaners.) Make sure the holes are large enough so that this is not too difficult for little fingers. Older children could make patterns with the colours.

Stay tuned for days 6 to 24.

What are your toddler’s favourite Christmas activities?

 

 

 

 

Homeschooling with toddlers – independent learners

Monday is crunch time for me – my husband heads back to work and I am managing 7 children on my own, one of whom is a newborn. We have stayed with our usual homeschooling routine and daily rhythm while he has taken holidays and our newest arrival is slowly getting into a steady routine, so the transition shouldn’t be too drastic . Here is a glimpse into my toddler’s activity cupboard to show you what will be keeping him occupied in his highchair after breakfast each day while I feed our baby.

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Colour sorting. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that the younger children pick up so much from their older siblings just by being around to hear and see them doing their schoolwork. Basic skills like colour identification, counting and reciting the alphabet almost don’t have to be taught – they are “caught” from the constant exposure. Our two year old is a good case in point. He loves to count, constantly asks me if the squiggle he has just drawn is “an A that says a?” and holds up crayons while checking to see if it is indeed orange? This sorting tray was almost too easy for him but he quite enjoyed fiddling around with it and sorting and resorting the pieces.

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Gluing. We also find that the toddlers want to do the same kind of activities that they see their siblings working on so gluing is always in demand. I give him one piece of paper and 1 envelope filled with an assortment of paper shapes to glue. More often than not he uses the glue more like paint and sticks and peels off the paper pieces over and over again, leaving nothing but a soggy page at the end, but it keeps him going for ages.

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Threading beads. Good for fine motor development and also for sorting and colour matching activities. Make sure the string that you provide has a nice long stiff end to make it easier for little hands to poke it through the holes.

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Drawing with vibrant textas is a satisfying experience. While I don’t encourage heaps of colouring in book type drawing (I’d rather they free created) the little ones love the idea of drawing on a picture they recognise.

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Montessori style dry transfer with tongs. Pincer grip is important for writing later on. These golden rings are wedding favours from the local discount store.

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Basic puzzles. Matching two picture halves is an easy way to start with puzzle skills.

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Good quality wooden puzzles will last for years.

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Duplo is a versatile construction toy and one that our whole family enjoys. Even the older children will still sit down and build together. This little set was a birthday gift recently so it is of special interest to our two-year old because it is his own set. As the big kids all have their own Lego sets in separate crates it makes him feel like one of the gang to have his own crate of building blocks, separate to the family collection.

Preschool at our house – work box homeschooling

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The twins (4 1/2) are now using a modified version of preschool workboxes. The way most people use workboxes requires them to change the contents every night in preparation for the next day. The way I use them means that the contents are changed approximately once a month. See this post for an explanation of how it works.

Workboxes allow the twins to work independently if I am caught up breastfeeding during the time when I would normally work with them. Having two sets of workboxes for two children working at the same level means that at the end of the month (or a couple of weeks) I can swap them over with each other’s boxes without having to refill and be set for another couple of weeks.

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We complete one page per day of a basic handwriting book as the twins are very interested in learning to write their letters at the moment and I would rather they learnt the correct shape and pencil grip first off than need to re-learn later.

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There is one workbox per day and in combination with the handwriting books that we work on first, there is enough to keep them going for around an hour. If they finish early, they pull out their Lego or a sensory tub to complete their school time. The older children attend a homeschool group on Wednesdays so we don’t use workboxes on that day.

Monday’s box:

  • Domino Parking Lot game (Free printable available here.)
  • Wikki sticks fine motor page (Free printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Tuesday’s box:

  • Dotted line tracing pictures (I pulled apart some pre-writing activity books)
  • Upper and lowercase alphabet letter match (Explanation here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Thursday’s box:

  • Addition cards (Count the pictures or use jewels to solve the sum then find the answer card.)
  • Playdough face mats (Free printables here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Friday’s box:

  • Cutting practise strips (Free printable here)
  • 3 letter word spelling cards (Explanation and link to printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Monday’s box:

  • Addition cards (3 possible answers are given underneath the sum with a hole punched through the card. The child uses the blocks to solve the addition sum and threads the string through the hole next to the correct answer.)
  • Simple puzzle
  • Cutting and gluing pages. (I pulled apart an activity book so that they can choose one page to push out the pictures from and then create their own drawing by gluing them onto a page.)

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Tuesday’s box:

  • 3 letter CVC (consonant vowel consonant) word and picture match. (Heaps of free CVC word printables on the web)
  • Dotted picture tracing (Another pre-writing book pulled apart.)
  • Simple puzzle

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Thursday’s box:

  • Plastic cutlery addition (The cutlery have basic addition sums written on them. The child uses the plastic fruits to solve the sum and finds the correct answer circle to place with the item of cutlery.)
  • Playdough skewer threading (Full explanation here.)
  • Simple puzzle

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Friday’s box:

  • 3 letter CVC word and picture card match (Link here)
  • Cutting practise strips (Free printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

 

Homeschooling with toddlers (and a new baby!)

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The arrival of a new baby will always cause some disruption to the family but can and should be an enjoyable and joyous occasion. A smooth transition is helped immensely by being prepared. Whether in the kitchen with menu planning and stocking the freezer, preparing the children for the arrival of their new sibling, setting up a new routine, teaching your homeschooled children to work independently,  or simply making sure there is a good selection of suitable activities for mat time, highchair time and table time will make life much easier for the whole family.

Today’s post is a peek into my 2 year old’s activity cupboard. He uses these trays after breakfast for highchair time while our preschoolers are doing their “school” work and the older children are completing their own school tasks. A good indicator that I have set up attractive materials is that both he and the twins have been pestering me daily about when they can do their school work! We are on holidays at the moment so while we do have some structure in our day, we are not dipping into the school cupboards until after the break so they are still fresh and interesting once the baby arrives. It’s killing them!!

The great thing about a lot of these activities is that the preschoolers are interested in several of the toddler’s trays and vice versa. This gives them almost double the number of choices and will help keep them interested for longer before I need to swap out their cupboards again.

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Sensory tubs are always a hit. So easy to prepare and with open-ended play possibilities they should keep little ones engaged for some time. A tub of jewels with a variety of tongs and containers (pill boxes, ice block tray  and chocolate box insert in this one) will be great for a week or two and can easily be made “new” again by changing the containers and tongs for something different. A variety of scoops, spoons, measuring cups, boxes, tins, jars, lids and anything else that can be tipped, poured, filled, opened and emptied will work well. Perhaps add a small teddy for pretend play fun.

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Our rice tray can be a sensory play tub or in this case a dry transfer activity. A small necked bottle, funnel and scoop are all that is needed for some filling and pouring play. Again, the contents can be very easily changed every week or two to keep things fresh.

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Threading, beading or lacing are all great for fine motor development. Young children find it difficult to push a floppy lace through. Starching the end of wool, using commercial threading laces with stiffened ends, tying the string to a thin dowel, taping the end or any other method of stiffening the thread will make it manageable for young children. This is a small piece of dowel with a hole drilled in the end. The shoelace is glued into the hole, proving a strong length that allows a chubby toddler hand to hold the wood and fit a bead onto it at the same time. Don’t forget to tie one of the beads onto the end of the string to stop the rest rolling off onto the floor.

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A small ball of dough in a plastic container  provides a steady base for some wooden skewers. A variety of coloured noodles and straws are available to thread onto the sticks. (Cut the pointed end off for safety.) This is one I found on Pinterest (see my toddler pinboard for more ideas.)

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Storing the dough in the small orange plastic container means the lid can be popped back on to stop it drying out. Once the toddler has seen it once, poking the skewers in will be part of the attraction.

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Basic puzzles are great. Matching picture halves make a good starting point for  a child who is too young to be able to complete a regular puzzle.

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These are laminated playdough mats. With another small tub of dough the child can add a face, hair etc. Free printable available here.

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Free experimentation with a basic set of scales and blocks will develop a child’s understanding of heavier, lighter, more, less, up and down and other mathematical language. Older children will tend to count, predict and experiment in a more sophisticated way.

What does your toddler love to play with?

Preschool at our house – ready for a new baby!

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Here is the latest change-over for the twin’s preschool activities for homeschool time each morning. We are currently taking a school holiday break for 2 weeks, leading up to the birth of our 7th blessing.

I have found from experience that everything goes much more smoothly if we continue with school, rather than take a break at the same time as the newest arrival. Too much free time and lack of structure and supervision creates cranky kids who bicker all day and drive me crazy! I have made sure that the activities for this term do not require a lot of 1 on 1 time with Mum and the older children especially are able to work through without requiring my assistance, other than for the occasional question etc.

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These handwriting books are the one item in the preschool cupboard that will need my 1 on 1 attention. The twins are asking me how to write certain letters now and are keen to write their names. My opinion is that if they are going to write letters, they may as well learn how to do it properly right from the start, rather than need to re-learn later and correct bad habits. I should be able to fit in the 15 minutes or so that is needed to complete 1 page per day.

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I picked up some old activity books with dotted pictures. Tracing these dotted lines to make the figures is great fine motor practise. I have removed the pages from their covers so that the twins can easily grab one page at a time.

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I also found some old sticker books. Again, I pulled all the pages out so that they can choose one at a time. Some paper to stick them on to and a packet of textas is all that is needed for some creative fun.

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I have had these pattern block puzzles out before but the children do not choose to do them unless directed to do so. I have made a list of each picture with space for a sticker or stamp next to each one. After finishing a puzzle they can mark it as completed by stamping or sticking next to the corresponding name. A little added incentive!

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Cutting and gluing are still exceedingly popular with both children. This box has some large plain paper sheets, wrapping paper pictures, glue sticks and scissors for free creating.

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A carry on from last month – matching upper and lowercase alphabet letters. More work is needed on this skill so I have just changed the presentation and popped it back out again. The large jewels have capital letters on them and the ice block trays have both upper and lowercase. It is a basic matching activity.

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Addition and counting skills will be something we continue to work on for a while. With the rocks as the manipulatives, the children solve the simple addition sum on each peg before clipping it to the correct segment on the paper plate. Using pegs means that this also improves fine motor skills as well. The circle in the centre is the inside of a used roll of sticky tape. I just glued it onto the paper plate which provides a great place for the pegs and rocks to be stored when not in use.

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Three letter CVC words are going to be out for quite a while. With the same letter tiles and a new set of pictures (free printables here) the twins already know how to do this and need only a little help. Last time I had them lucky dip the tiles out of a bag but I found that they wanted to be able to see all the letters and find the one they needed so ended up tipping them all out anyway. Having them in the plate means they can see the tiles and choose the sound they are up to.

 

Homeschooling with toddlers; activities for two-year-olds

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After updating our preschool activities last week it was time to do the same for my two-and-a-bit year old. I was so thrilled when he was old enough to use some of our many table activities and they did keep him going for ages, but after almost two months with the same tubs, he was ready for a change.

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This is his activity cupboard after the change-over. We use these activities after breakfast while he is still in his high-chair and occasionally before dinner, also in the highchair. Learning to sit, focus and concentrate for an extended period is such a valuable skill for later in life and so helpful for those situations when you need a toddler to stay in one place and play quietly (think restaurant.) See this post for more information on highchair time.

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A gift from Nan and Grandad became our first new activity. Posting 50 cent pieces through the money-box slot, then removing the rubber stopper and taking them out again was a hit.

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This opening and closing containers activity tray was my favourite so I was pleased to see he like it too. Open-ended play opportunities will keep a toddler going for quite some time.

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I had placed a couple of the counting bears in each container to start with and part of the fun was opening each one to discover the bear hiding there.

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This tub holds different kinds of pegs to slide or peg on to containers or place into the popsicle mold. Pegging is another great fine-motor skill. Be sure to choose pegs that do not have a stiff spring or little ones will not have the strength to open them.

(This activity did not grab my little guy at all. Activities that are too easy or too hard will not keep young children going for long. Knowing where your child is at developmentally is important. If you aren’t sure, try it anyway but be prepared to leave it for later. I have tried certain skills that didn’t work at all, but within just a few months the same child found it riveting. This one will come back out in a little while.)

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Poking toothpicks into florist’s foam.  I have since been told that the grey foam should crumble less so if you are purchasing it specially for this purpose, then go grey! The green block I have is slowly disintegrating and does shed green dust.

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This activity is a little young for him but as the money-box packaging was perfect I decided to introduce it again. All he needs to do is poke the plastic sticks (penne pasta, straws etc.) through the holes then tip them out of the  box and go again. This is fascinating for babies once they have the hand control to do it and will keep a toddler interested for a little while. The fact that the box has a window adds so much more to the interest level as they can watch the items drop into the box.

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After watching older siblings draw and use stickers, he has an early interest in these.

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Tong transfer activities are another hand strengthening pastime that will help make pencil grip a breeze later on. Placing pompoms into a container like this ice block tray also develops an  understanding of one-to-one correspondence.

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Similar activity – tong transfer – but these toast tongs are a little harder to manipulate.

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Two hands proved necessary to achieve the task.

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This wooden puzzle set from Melissa and Doug uses basic geometric shapes to complete simple pictures. They are a bit easy for my little guy so are not holding his attention like they probably would have a few months ago.

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Fill and spill bottles are wonderful for younger babies. They just love to plop items in and tip them out again. At two, our toddler will still do this but it won’t keep him going for long.

While our two-year-old works on his activities after breakfast, the older children start their independent homeschool work and I work with the 2 preschoolers. The toddler then moves to playpen time and I work with the older children while the preschoolers do their independent activities on their mats. We all (except the toddler) get together then for circle time before the younger 3 head outdoors and the older 3 finish up their schoolwork if they haven’t already. All up, we are going for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. I am often asked how I manage such a large family and homeschool. This is how folks!

This set of activities will need to be changed fairly quickly (possibly after two weeks?) as there is no way they are going to keep his attention for a whole month. Next month I will move to more involved tasks that take more time and provide open-ended options. With my basic categories in mind, it’s really very easy to come up with a new set of tasks and the beauty of this style of play is that often the toddler and the preschoolers can share the same activity. This will definitely be the case with our next change-over when I get ready for our new baby with activities that do not need to be changed frequently or have help to complete. Stay tuned!

Preschool at our house; hands-on homeschooling

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Almost a month exactly has passed since I last updated the twins (4 1/2 years) preschool activities. Changing them out once a month takes me an hour or two at the most (without interruptions!) and with approximately a month until I need to do it again, isn’t too much of a burden. If I take the time to plan for interesting activities then I find I have a positive attitude to “school” time and of course, with something new and interesting to do, so do they. A little internet surfing and Pinterest pinning and I have more ideas than I could possibly put into practise.

The children have plenty of time during other parts of the day for play-based learning and some free choice, but school time has a little more structured. I like the activities to be hands-on where possible and try to keep in mind that we have years ahead for academic learning. Right now it is more of a priority that they learn to sit, focus, concentrate and obey my instructions than it is for them to learn a particular academic skill.

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This is what the school cupboard looks like this month. With the broad categories of mathematics, reading and writing in mind, we are focussing on adding small numbers, sequencing numerals to 30, identifying upper and lowercase letter names and sounds, sounding out 3 letter words, forming letters and fine motor skills.

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These addition strips are once of the free printables I designed to go with Mathusee Primer level. We are working on basic addition facts, this month: adding on 3 and 4.

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These plastic party spoons have the numerals 1 to 30 written on them. The child needs to put them in order and then post them into the right slot in the shoebox. If unsure of where to put them, they can lift up the red strip to see the numerals below.

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This is the favourite by far. The twins dig out the buried jewels from the rice sensory box and match the uppercase letters to the lowercase letters on the trays.

These large jewels are the kind you find for displaying flowers/candles and are a very inexpensive way of creating your own Montessori moveable alphabet. A set of black letter stickers was all I needed to purchase and with the jewels came to a grand total of $4.50. The rice I had in the cupboard from my other large sensory tubs and the metal trays are a pencil tin that my daughter no longer needed.

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After mastering initial sounds, we have started work on 3 letter words. The bag holds the letter tiles which are lucky dipped and matched up to the correct space under the consonant-vowel-consonant  (CVC) words. There are no spare letters so the activity is self-checking. The answer could be written on the back of the cards too but I find that my little darlings like to turn them over and cheat check if I do that! The free printable CVC picture cards are available here.

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This salt tray has been on my to do list for ages. All you need is a tray of some sort with a brightly coloured but plain background. Rainbow stripes or large blocks of colour will work well, but avoid busy pictures and patterns. Place a thin layer of salt into the tray, provide a paint brush and let them at it. Allow plenty of time for free “painting” first and once the novelty has worn off somewhat, add some letter cards to copy. A cue tip/ear bud will work and some people suggested just using a finger but I didn’t think the salt felt very nice. My children don’t get to paint as much as they’d like so I figured the brush would make them feel like they were doing art!

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One drawback of the suitcase style was that my daughter closed the lid and picked it up by the handle to pack it away. Nope, not salt tight! Oh well, sweeping up mess is educational too.

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Starter Styles are a commercial educational toy that we purchased years ago. The older children remember them fondly and have all sat down for a fiddle at some stage or other since they came back out. The children sequence the number tiles then use them to answer questions in the book by placing them into the correct square. If their answers are right, the tiles will make a pattern when flipped over in the lid. The little books that go with them cover pre-number skills right on through to some more difficult concepts, as well-as pre-reading, reading and spelling. Not a must-have but a novel way of working on some basic skills. The logic required to work out how to place the tiles alone is quite difficult for little children.

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Threading is always good for fine motor skills. These blocks are numbered so it can be a sequencing activity also but as both my preschoolers are past this I won’t be worrying about whether it is in numerical order or not.

Last months preschool activities are here. The month before are here.

Coming up: The monthly overhaul of the two-year-old’s highchair activity cupboard.

What is your preschoolers’s favourite school-time activity?

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