Epsom salt snowscape mini-world

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Our latest mini-world invitation to play has been a hit with the children 6 and under. As is usually the case, the older children love setting it up but don’t actually sit and play with it.

IMG_1077Epsom salts spread onto a mirror gives the impression of snow and the mirror showing through appears to be ice. I purchased a selection of miniatures that are actually terrarium decorations very cheaply on eBay and added brushes and some jewels and rocks. I later added a small sweeping brush to keep the salt off the edges of the mirror.

Epsom salts can also be added to a sensory tub for imaginative play or tipping, pouring and filling activities.

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As interest wanes I’ll add a couple of extra items I’ve kept in reserve for further exploration.

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The folding mirror is a new ($10 secondhand!) addition to our school area. The moment it was on the table my two daughters were found seated side-by-side in front of it drawing self-portraits as they observed themselves in it.

Children just love to watch themselves in mirrors and including one behind pretend play areas adds another dimension. There are also lots of ways to use them for symmetry activities, multiplication and art projects where being able to see behind what they are manipulating  is an added stimulus. The Reggio educational approach includes mirrors in many of their classroom activities and I have a host of ideas pinned to try in the future.

Icecream sensory tub invitation to play

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We have been doing some op-shopping lately to collect bits and pieces for our loose parts activities and to set up a variety of invitations to play in our newly organised playroom. After hearing my plans to set up an ice-cream shop in the water trolley as our next sensory tub activity the children have been quite keen to get rid of the popsticks and matchsticks and move on to cotton wool ball ice-cream right away.

IMG_1020Cotton wool balls are a cheap base for a sensory tub and lend themselves well to being transferred by tongs, scoops or little fingers and the addition of some marbles, jewels and beads for toppings gave it a fun aspect. A few plastic Sundae cups, swizzle sticks, icecream scoops and sequins allowed for some interesting creations.

IMG_0990Having the sensory tub right next to the pretend play home corner area meant that the children could expand into dramatic play and they soon opened an ice-cream shop. There aren’t many play activities that can keep everyone from the 13 year old to the 2 year old happily occupied together, but this did the trick.

 

The addition of a menu board ($2 from Ikea), a roll of receipt paper from an old cash register, a couple of clip boards and some plastic tokens for money provided the stimulus for lots of copywork, writing and maths as the children wrote out orders and receipts and charged each other for their extremely expensive ice-cream Sundaes.

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An old squeeze honey container was amongst the favourite items, as were the dark brown beads for chocolate drops.

Extra products such as paper doughnuts and choc-chip biscuits were created to add to the repertoire and the menu was rewritten to include several new additions.

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When you charge for every ice block, choc drop, scoop of ice-cream and berry that goes into the Sundaes it makes for some good maths practice.

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This was the original sensory tub that was offered as a provocation for play. The children thought of the many other additions and made it far better by the time they had finished.

Mat time on the go

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Do you have occasions when you need to take a toddler along and keep them quietly playing in one place for an extended length of time? Whether you keep your children in church with you, need to go to an appointment where there is likely to be a long wait, need to take a homeschool class with other children or want to get through a meal in a restaurant in peace, mat time is invaluable.

The toys need not be fancy or expensive, but it helps if they are new to the child. Things to fill and spill, tip and pour, shake and rattle (not for quiet times!), stack and read, open and shut, will all be a hit. When I pack my take-along toddler toy bag I just walk around the house looking for a bunch of interesting containers and a selection of bits and bobs to put in them. A pile of brightly painted metal washers from the shed in a hinged tin, matchsticks and a container with a hole to poke them in, large stones and a munchie mug for posting, nesting blocks from a wooden puzzle, musical instruments and a tackle box filled up with odds and ends gave us around an hour of peace on a couple of different occasions before the novelty began to wear off.

Training children does take time and is not easy, but a young child who will contentedly play with their activities within a set boundary is a joy to take out.

 

Sensory tub: popsticks and matchsticks

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During the winter months many of us have a water trolley that is stored away unused until the warmer weather returns. Time to get it out and set it up with your favourite sensory materials! Ours has storage underneath for extra equipment and a lid so that I can keep it covered up to prevent little fingers getting into it and spreading the materials around the house after we have tidied up for the day.

Coloured popsicle sticks and matchsticks were the first material of choice. Along with them I set out coloured bowls and silicone muffin cups for sorting by colour, funnels and tubes and a couple of jars for posting, pouring, tipping and filling. No matter how large the container I find that the children ALWAYS want to put things onto the nearest surface, so this time the water trolley is next to our pretend play home corner set-up which includes a low table. Within minutes there were bowls and containers full of popsticks decorating this surface.

Sensory tubs are an open-ended play experience that will keep young children busy for ages. It provides many opportunities for fine-motor development and social interaction (those arms are my 13 year old boy’s!) and allows the rest of the family to get some uninterrupted homeschooling done.

I caught on fire last night…

 

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Last night my husband was setting up in the lounge room for our stay-at-home date night. A table for two, tablecloth, ploughman’s platter, candles and more. As I stood there chatting I suddenly felt a sensation of heat on my back and realised that I was in fact on fire! Luckily my jumper was open at the front and I could simply slip it off and let it drop onto the nearby bricks without any harm to myself or the house, other than a small black charred section on the carpet. But it could have been worse and it happened so quickly.

As I talked about it with the kids today we reviewed our fire safety knowledge. Some time ago I realised that although I thought the older kids would be able to make sensible decisions if our house caught on fire, when we decided to do some role-playing it turned out quite differently. It bought home to me the need to discuss safety and emergency procedures with them, plan exit points and what to do if there was a fire and actually go through the whole thing more than once. Issues like younger children not being able to get locked doors open could become fatal in a real emergency.

We now have several little games that we play occasionally to remind the children what to do and keep the plan fresh in their mind.

Stop, drop, cover, roll

If your clothing catches on fire, this is the immediate and recommended response:

  • stop (stay still, don’t run or it will feed the fire)
  • drop (lay down on the ground)
  • cover (two hands over your face and eyes)
  • roll (roll back and forth to extinguish the flames)

Every now and then when we are out for a walk I randomly call out stop, drop, cover, roll and the children drop to the floor and practise rolling back and forth. We also add ‘come to Mummy’, ‘get out quick’, ‘sit down’ and ‘freeze’. We never know when obedience to these simple commands will be the difference between life and death.

The house is on fire.

On random occasions we deliberately set off one of our smoke alarms. We make a pile of our wooden blocks in different places in the house and the kids know that this is the “fire.” They have to practise yelling to alert us, “get down low and go, go, go!” (crawling under the imaginary smoke) and get their brothers and sisters safely our of the house to our designated meeting point. Sometimes we make the fire right at their bedroom doors so every child must exit their own room through the window. Sometimes it is at the end of the hallway and they can rehearse collecting everyone including the baby of the family and getting out the laundry door safely together. We add complications like setting the “fire” at each bedroom door to block the exit and turning the power off so that the roller shutters on their bedroom windows won’t open, leaving them no exit options. (Don’t hide, lay down on the floor, yell and wait for help.)

We also talk about never playing with matches, practice making emergency phone calls, learn their address and phone number, basic first aid responses and anything else that comes up along the way. We remember the time we accidentally left a Christmas candle burning for the whole night and came out in the morning to find that it did not appear to have burned down at all in the 12 or so hours it had been lit. Slow burning candle? Maybe. God’s miraculous protection? We gave Him the credit.

Running these pretend scenarios helped us to talk through the what ifs that we otherwise may not have thought of. The child who would have stayed stuck in their room because they didn’t realise it would be ok to break through the fly wire window. (We take these off from the outside when we practice so we don’t really break them.) The child who can’t reach the windowsill and didn’t think to drag over something to stand on. The little ones who know how to open our sliding glass doors and security doors in theory but couldn’t actually do it in practice. The kids who got outside but couldn’t reach the meeting place which was out the front – through the LOCKED back gate.

I’ve heard stories about children who hide in fear, making it difficult for fire-fighters to find them and other children who are accidentally forgotten in the rush to get out to safety. The possibilities are endless and we pray that we will never actually face any of these situations but hopefully the kids will know what to do if the worst ever does happen.

 

 

Home-made Montessori style toddler toy

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Wooden toys are expensive, especially if they are classified as educational or “Montessori” in nature, but there are so many items that you can easily and inexpensively make yourself at home. I found this wooden toy at an op shop recently and in 5 minutes had a new bead activity for my almost 2 year old toddler. All I did was cut off one of the wooden ends, gave it a quick sand and that was it.

I tipped the beads off into a little bowl and showed her how to look for the hole in each bead as she placed them onto the sticks. This was a challenge for her but she got the hang of it eventually. When she has finished with this fine motor activity, the beads can be used for colour sorting, lacing, loose parts play, scooping, transfer and a multitude of other ideas. Great for highchair play, table time, mat time or playpen time, it ticks all the boxes for me.

 

One-on-one focus time – how do you do it with lots of children?

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Spending one-on-one time (focus time) with our children is important, but how do you find time to do it with a large family?

1 to 3 children:

Focus time for us has changed a lot along the way. When I only had a couple of children I had it planned as a set timeslot every day with each child. It’s especially important for the toddler of the family that they have some attention early in the day before popping them into playpen time or other independent play. We would read a story or play with the dolls house, toy cars, Lego or whatever toy was a favourite of the child at the time. This daily filling of their love tank early in the schedule set them up for success with room time and other alone times later in the day while my focus was on other children or tasks. Later in the day I would spend some time with the older children.

4 & 5 children:

Once we had our twins it became too cumbersome to fit one-on-one time into every day so we moved to having an “hour of power” one afternoon a week. Whenever the children asked me to do something with them that I could not accomodate then and there, I would tell them that that was a wonderful idea for our hour of power. We would add it to a running list that we kept so that we didn’t get to the special hour and have no ideas. The kids were happy that it was a delayed “yes” rather than a no and I was able to do it at a time that was suitable for me. The toddlers still had some focus time early in the day on a daily basis.

6 children:

As the older children were getting to an age where playing with toys at home was no longer suitable for focus time, we changed to fortnightly dates with Mummy or Daddy. The babies and toddlers in the family still had their focus time built into the daily routine early in the day and the older 5 were on a rotating schedule to go out on a Saturday for a couple of hours – 1 child per fortnight. Of course there were still plenty of incidental times along the way when we spent time with the children other than these special dates.

Some of the issues that we found with this was that 10 weeks was a long time to wait for the next special date and having these set times seemed to bring with it a sense of ungratefulness and entitlement rather than thankfulness that we were taking the time to do it with them. A lot of talk went into how long it was until the next date, with almost a depression after their turn as they realised how long it would be before they went again. It put a lot of pressure onto us to keep it up and not skip a turn and life tended to get in the way. The dates also needed to be something bigger which often came at a cost financially. We decided that as a long-term strategy it wasn’t working for us or the kids.

The next method we call date cramming. We would take a couple of days and take every child out on a date with either Mummy or Daddy all one after the other. We liked this because everyone got a turn very quickly and the children did not know when we planned to do it – we would just announce it unexpectedly and they were very excited and thankful that it was happening. We took the younger children first and then the older children as they had a better grasp of time and were able to understand that their turn was coming soon. All done and dusted in 2 or 3 days with no drawn-out waiting. We still do this as we find it works well for us – family holidays are a great time to fit it in.

7 children

7 children later we have settled into a very informal system. Except for the toddler, we don’t have it written into our routines (no expectations, no crummy attitudes) but are mindful that it is important to proactively build relationships. It’s different for every child and age. The holiday date cramming is still happening a couple of times a year, with the rest of the alone times balancing out informally in a a whole variety of different ways.

  • Our nearly 2 year old comes into our bedroom as soon as she wakes in the morning for some snuggle and tickle time with Mum and Dad before we start showers.
  • Homeschooling starts after breakfast and provides opportunities for the 4-year-old and our 6-year-old twins to have some individual attention as they have their turn to sit on my lap and do some reading or maths or other subjects I save for this time.
  • Our 8 and 11-year old girls are involved in a church dance group and the 11 year old in a girl’s choir. The trips to and from these events, plus occasional extra rehearsals etc. provide some one-on-one time connected with something that is special to them.

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  • Our 13 year old is up later than every other child and naturally gets lots of informal time with Mum and Dad as we chat while doing dishes, play board games, look something up on the computer or whatever comes up as a topic of interest. He will often accompany one of us if we head out to the shops in the evening or just sit about and chat.
  • Whenever my husband or I run an errand over the weekend we make a point of taking along just one child for some special time – usually the 4 or 6 year olds as they do not have as many other opportunities that naturally crop up without planning.
  • We have started some traditions connected to birthdays such as going camping alone with a parent when they turn 7 or horse-riding when they turn 9.
  • We occasionally have girls/guys day out – when I take all the girls to a special event or Daddy takes all the boys. Our next event will be a winter showcase concert that the girls are looking forward to seeing. While this is not strictly alone, it still gives us opportunities to focus on individuals within the group.
  • Daddy has been hiking with the older 3 children a couple of times in the last year which involves long walks (plenty of time to chat to individual children) and overnight camp-outs before hiking back.
  • Coming up to holiday periods I will sometimes get the children to make a list of all the things they want to do with me alone while we don’t have school work to get through. If something needs to be done like purchasing new sneakers for someone then we will turn that into a date opportunity and the occasional birthday invitation or other special event involving only one child also gives us some time alone. I frequently have a helper work in the kitchen with me to prepare a family meals and there are other times when we sit and simply read a story or work on a project with a child.

Keeping love languages in mind is very important when thinking through focus time. The older children wanted help making Jedi capes to use for their home movies so this was a good opportunity to tackle a small project together – acts of service children all happy! A quick trip to the local shopping centre for some new socks has the “gift” child showing the world and overflowing with joy. Piggy backing my “physical touch” boy to bed and taking 5 minutes to tickle and cuddle before lights out each night fills his love talk. The “quality time” kids need just that – time and lots of it. They are the hardest to fit it and the ones we have to most proactively work to accomodate.

So yes, our children are not going on amazing Princess date with Daddy every weekend or heading out to expensive all day experiences with Mummy every other week, but they are well loved. I think we need to take a step back from the pressure to heap money and experiences on our children and ask ourselves what they need. Perhaps you just need to go and play a game of Monopoly or fix the toy you’ve been promising to get to. Filling their love tanks and letting them know they are special and loved is what its all about for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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