Toy rotation; less is more & what to buy

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When I was an early childhood teacher an experienced sales rep from a large educational supplies company used to visit me periodically. As I made my yearly purchases she gave me some advice which has been proven by my experience over the years to be true. She suggested that rather than purchasing a new construction set or toy, it would be a better investment to build on to a set that I already had.

While it was tempting to have the latest and greatest thing, adding something new to an old favourite sparked renewed interest and expanded the possibilities of play, rather than purchasing another frustratingly small collection that was limited in its uses. This principle has stayed with me as a home educator and as I am tempted to buy a new construction toy in particular, I remember that my children will be better served by a small addition to a much-loved activity that we already own.

Perhaps this will mean searching Pinterest for ideas of items to add to our wooden block collection such as some river stones and other found materials. Or some farm animals to expand our Duplo collection. Perhaps some mini fishing nets and plastic sea creatures to make a new display in our water trolley outdoors. A small, often inexpensive addition that renews interest and revs up the use of an activity that we already own will often prove to be a better long-term investment.

Toy rotation serves the same purpose. Having them all out at once makes for a lot of mess and clutter and often everything seems “old news” to the kids with nothing being used. Take 50% of what you have available and put it in storage. Set out some new combinations of old activities, and put a flexible routine in place that includes times when children are playing where you direct them to play, with what you tell them to play with. Often the unexcited moan will be quickly followed by a great play session with something that has not seen the light of day for quite some time when left on the shelf amidst a sea of other choices.

When it is time for what is available to be changed over and those activities you tucked away come back out, it’s like Christmas all over again as the children rediscover toys they haven’t seen in a while.

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The way toys are presented makes all the difference. We love this mirror as a backdrop to many different play set-ups and the green cloth covers the bricks at the base of a bricked-in fireplace that provides a natural frame for different invitations to play. I thought for a long time that our coloured small building  blocks were a white elephant, but since I have started presenting them differently they have been well-used.

 

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The grand teddy wedding of the year saw Pink Teddy and Honeybear tie the knot as the other stuffed toys watched from the church pews. No extra spent here, just bringing the teddy basket out with the blocks was enough for an afternoon of play.

 

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For some reason the girls prefer to set their dollhouse furniture on the floor instead of inside the dollhouse and consequently they were gathering dust. When I moved them into a cane basket and added them to the block area instead, the whole family (including the boys) ended up creating mansions.

 

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Magnet toys are great for little kids. They are not too hard to connect and don’t make too much mess or noise.

 

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2 mirror tiles from Ikea (4 for $10) taped together to make a free-standing backing and placed on top of another mirror creates another frame or invitation to play backdrop that we use regularly. I place one kind of material out for a while and as interest dies, rotate something new in. These pattern blocks are never chosen from the cupboard but most of the children played with them more than once while they were out at the mirror table.

 

Toddler activities: flower arranging

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My friend Kristy has come up with another simple and captivating activity for her 2-year-old to use for highchair timetable time or blanket time. An upturned colander, a couple of vases and containers and a variety of cheap artificial flowers gave her little one some creative fun while she practised her fine-motor skills as she carefully poked the flowers into the holes.

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I’ll be adding this one to my “to do” list for the future.

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Mini world invitation to play – dinosaur kingdom

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Imaginative play is important in the early years and small world play gives children plenty of opportunity for creativity in an open-ended setting. It also gives us a defined play area that can be included as part of our daily routine. As the rainy weather kicks in it is helpful to have an activity that the children can do when outside play is not an option.

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I let the little kids help me set it up this time, which they enjoyed immensely. We used large rocks from someone who was cleaning out their garden and small pebbles and river-stones I have previously purchased as the base of the scene. A small off-cut of artificial grass and some tattered bits of well-used artificial plants give it some greenery and green, blue and clear glass jewels serve as our swampy river area. The dinosaurs were the cheapest I could find in our local discount variety store and just to make it more fun, I hid them around the house for a dinosaur treasure hunt before we started.

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While the mirror background is certainly not necessary, it does give an added dimension to the set-up. It makes our world look twice as big, allows the children to see their play from a different perspective and they enjoy watching their own reflections! Plus, it just looks good and provides a nice backdrop while defining the space.

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Light table play – our new toy

 

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We have been blessed this week to acquire a new  light table through our local secondhand buy, sell and trade list – for free!! It does have a crack along one edge of the glass (thus the piece of wood we clamped along one side), but other than that, all it needed was to have the legs cut shorter and a new fluorescent light fitted to make it a working entity (thanks Dad 🙂 )

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We added a couple of different materials for the children to experiment with to get them started and it was a hit. These magnetic construction tiles glow beautifully and pretty much anything plastic or acrylic looks attractive with the light behind it. Of course the boys had a car involved within the first 5 minutes and a Duplo man or two soon joined the mix.

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We tried a few different materials just to see what looked good and my 2 year old spent some time sorting out all the pink items; her “best ones” as she called them.

I wasn’t sure we would use it that much, but after searching through Pinterest I now have enough ideas to keep us going for a very long time. I’ll be posting some more of these as we change what’s available.

If you don’t have a light table but would like to make one, there are several simple “light table hacks” as they are usually termed on Pinterest. They range from altering an Ikea children’s table to putting strings of LED Christmas lights inside crates. They would all make a serviceable light box without too much fuss or cost, depending on your level of handyman ability.

We love it so far and it is just the thing to keep little people productively occupied while I am feeding my twin babies. When we get sick of it I’ll send it off for a vacation at one of my homeschooling friend’s houses.

 

 

 

A simple Christian Easter idea

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Usually we are well into our Jesus tree count-down in the lead-up to Easter, along with other special Easter traditions. This year, with the recent arrival of our precious twins, we have been somewhat disorganised and needed something quick and easy. I put together this discussion tray using a bunch of symbols representing parts of the Easter story and over a couple of meals we passed it around the table. The children took turns choosing one symbol and explaining to each other the bible events represented by each.

We usually read an Easter book each day, taking turns to unwrap one every evening after dinner. (We do the same at Christmas.) This year, the special Easter book collection is simply out in a box on the coffee table for the children to read through when we have a few spare moments.

We always try to have a bunny free Easter and this year is no exception, we have just scaled everything back and are keeping it very low key. Still fun and hopefully adding some more special family times to our children’s memories.

Hands-on maths; multiplying, clocks & time, sequencing and skip counting.

Here are the last couple of tray activities for our hands-on maths this term. While I have changed the way we are using the trays (Yes – again!) it has worked well to have the concepts we are covering in our Math-u-see books available for hands-on practise using concrete materials. As the children work through their books they are able to stop and spend extra time on a new skill using the trays if it is not immediately grasped from the instruction DVD that goes with the written material.

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Curtain rings and flat wooden beads work well to illustrate the concept of “lots of” or “groups of” as the children learn basic multiplication skills.

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These clock and time cards printed out from the internet start with a set of just the hours, then minutes, then half hours and finally a mixture of all 3. I googled clock/time worksheets and printed them before cutting them up. There are lots of options available online.

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Learning to sequence numerals is made easy with the use of a number strip to follow. Initially the children use only the numerals 1 to 5 then up to 10, then 30 and so on. Eventually the number strip is removed as well.

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Skip-counting and money concepts can be learnt by marking each interval with paper triangles and laying out real coins. I happen to have a bunch of one and two cent coins stashed away so we use those as well, although I do make sure the children know they are no longer legal currency.

Outdoor activities – Mud kitchens

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Outdoor time has not being going as well as it could lately so it was time to spend a little bit of thought on setting up some structured play opportunities to help the children use their time wisely. Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I perused my Pinterest board for outdoor activities and decided that it was time we had a mud kitchen.

Despite the fact that we have a very good sandpit, the little boys are continuously drawn to digging in the dirt, so after our recent weeding spree which resulted in a veggie garden with no actual plants in it we decided to dedicate one shady corner to the project.

IMG_3114Everything we set out we have had for a long time. Simply moving it all to a new location and adding dirt and water resulted in a whole new activity which was received with great excitement. The plastic oven above hasn’t been touched for months but was immediately put to use. 10 minutes to set up, a zero dollar outlay and the mud kitchen was ready for action.

IMG_3122It would have been a good idea to get all the children to put on painting shirts (Dad’s old work shirts) before they had at it but I naively thought they wouldn’t get quite so dirty as they did! Much fun was had and some (mostly) harmonious play was a nice change to the recent conflict we have been experiencing.

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Just don’t forget to set aside 20 minutes for the cleanup afterwards 🙂