Outdoor activities: Painting


I have a confession to make. As a homeschooling Mum it’s difficult to admit it, but I really don’t like to paint. That is, I like to paint, I just don’t like setting up painting for my children to do. It takes time to set up, creates heaps of mess and takes ages to pack up again, all for a few minutes of colourful fun.

In an effort to overcome this dislike and occasionally provide this apparently vital experience for my children, we have developed a method that works for us… occasionally….when I can mentally gear up for it.

I have some large packing boxes that I keep folded down flat. We set these up outside on the lawn with the top flaps folded shut to hold them together and the bottom flaps bent outwards to catch the drips. Now that the children are a little older they set up the whole experience pretty much by themselves. They cart out the boxes, taping paper on every single side, 2 per side so that each child gets several pages to do. The children pull out the paint pots and brushes and even mix up the colours from the prime colours we own. (It’s amazing how their knowledge of paint mixing, creating a variety of  shades etc. has developed when they do not have the option of prepared colours and have to mix their own.)

Off come the clothes and on go the painting shirts and we’re all set. I plop a bucket of water out on the grass with some cloths and hands are washed here, as well as the brushes once they are done. Pictures stay taped to the boxes until dry, eliminating paint splodges from all over my clothes drying rack and everyone has a ball. They even seem to enjoy the clean-up time. If they are really covered in paint I line them up and spray them down with the hose before sending everyone inside for an early shower.

The children get to paint, I get to …. not do anything much at all except supervise and everyone enjoys the process. Obviously the weather must be fine but in winter we use tablet water colours at the table. These are far less drippy and messy and I can cope with them inside far better than liquid paints. My children will not be artistically deprived or have to see counsellors to work through the fact that they never got to paint and I don’t feel guilty when I see all those arty blogs about painting!
Other posts you may like:

Outdoor activities: Hopper races and obstacle courses

We are blessed to have a great backyard. Plenty of space and very child-friendly. We still however hear the occasional moans about not wanting to go outside and having nothing to do. While that doesn’t wash in our house and the children are sent out anyway, I am finding that they are not sleeping at night as well as they should be and I suspect it is because of lack of physical exercise. In the heat they tend to gather in the shady sandpit and while it is lots of fun, doesn’t give them the exercise they need.

My usual response to the “I have nothing to do” complaint is to tell the kids to sit on a chair and think of something. I let them know that in 5 minutes I will be coming back and if they don’t have a plan will be giving them something to do. The children all know this is code for WORK so usually they will quickly re-direct themselves. If not, a corner of my garden gets some weeds pulled out or the sand around the sandpit gets swept up. Good exercise for them and great for me!

One outside activity we have done together that was enjoyed by everyone was hopper races. We set out hoses, broom handles, ropes, sports equipment, mats and a bunch of items from around the backyard and arranged them into an interesting obstacle course. The children then hopped through with their hoppers, circling some items, jumping over others, hopping backwards in some sections and weaving through other parts. They helped design the course and decide on the level of difficulty. Handicaps for the younger and slower members were decided on and the races began. Lots of hot sweaty fun was had by all and what’s more, they were totally exhausted by the end of it. Mission accomplished!

Routines with a newborn

We now have a lovely updated colour-coded routine on our whiteboard. Of course, the 8th person included in this routine is a baby that hasn’t actually been born yet so things may need some tweaking once the reality hits 🙂 It is however, a very useful exercise to look over my current routine and to plan ahead for the multiple breastfeeding sessions I will need to fit into my day and the interruptions that will invariably come with a newborn.

We will be (and have done with all our children) following a flexible  feed, wake, sleep cycle with our little one which allows me to make a rough plan of approximately where the daily feeds will fall. Of course, some days will not go as planned and we will often have to switch activities that are side by side around to fit a feed in earlier or later than planned. That is where the routine serves us and our family needs, rather than the other way around.

For anyone who is interested, I would be happy to email you a copy if you thought it would be of any help to you and your family. I have been trying to upload it here without success and am sick of fighting with the computer!

Other posts you may like:

Highchair and mat activities: Montessori style practical life tong transfer activity for toddlers: Pom-poms, fruit and bugs

Over-sized pom-poms and tea bag tongs are a great starter set for tong transfer activities. The tongs are easy to manipulate and the pom-poms do not slip out.

As I have been tweaking my routine this week in readiness for our latest bundle of joy (now 3 days overdue!) I have been setting up some new tray activities for highchair time. Having toddlers on the loose while I breastfeed (especially when there are two of them) is a recipe for disaster. These activities can be used in a highchair, on a mat, for table time or for playpen time , however because I am introducing them to young toddlers and need to keep a close eye on them to begin with , I use highchair time.

Tonging is a simple practical life activity for toddlers and is excellent for fine motor control. Try to find small tongs that are not too stiff or your little ones may not have the dexterity to manage them. Tea bag tongs are easy to squeeze, as are ice tongs. Check your local opportunity shop (secondhand shops, $2 shops etc.) for supplies. Two containers and something to tong are your only other materials and usually with a bit of imagination you can find something around the house that fits the bill.

When I set up my trays I have a category for each kind of activity so that I can quickly change them over every couple of weeks without a lot of thought. Tong transfer is one category that I use and these are some of the examples I have set up in the past.

Slightly smaller pom-poms with the same easy to manipulate tea-bag tongs take the activity to the next level of difficulty.

The easiest first experiences are soft items like oversized pom-poms, cotton wool balls, balls of wool, or anything else that will not easily slip out of the tongs. Put only a few items in the container to begin with to encourage success as toddlers may quickly tire of the concentration and control needed to manage the tongs. Our “rule” with tray activities is that they should be completed before they are packed away so I want to ensure that the toddlers can be successful right from the beginning.

Larger and longer tongs are more difficult to use. These are still easy to squeeze but their length makes them more unwieldy to handle.The fruit are plastic iceblock shapes from the $2 shop.

A small set of salad tongs and a bag of plastic bugs were all that was needed for this tray.

The reality of young toddlers and tray activities is that they will have a limited concentration span and the interest shown for each activity will vary. I try to make each tray so that they can be easily completed in around 5 minutes. This means that if you want 30 minutes of highchair time to be well occupied, you will need around 6 activities. Some will be very absorbing for the child and they will complete and repeat them over and over. They will find some very challenging and perhaps even difficult and may want to spend less time on these. Reduce the amount of material on these trays accordingly. If you see that an activity is too difficult for the child to complete successfully, simply remove it and re-introduce at a later date. The perfect activity has a bit of a challenge but not so much that the child is frustrated by their inability to complete it.

Other posts you may like:

Mega marble transfer

An introduction to sorting

Bucket of giant beads transfer

Please and thank you

Manners at times are becoming a lost art it seems. I am constantly amazed whenever we are around a large group of children how many of them simply do not think to say “please” and “thank you.” It horrifies me on rare occasions to catch my children amongst them!! Time for a clamp down and some re-training in our household!

As with most child training and behaviours, the failure of my children to use manners when it does occur can usually be traced back to my consistency in enforcing their use. When I let the standard drop, the children do too.

We begin training our children to say “please” and “thank you” as babies using baby signing. From the time they are starting solids we are saying the words for them and signing them at the same time. As they get older, we gently move their hands, helping them to copy the correct sign. At anywhere from around 8 months to 12 months we usually see the first signs being independently used by the children and from that point on will require them to do it before meeting their request.

Once they are able to sign independently, manners are always expected. If an older child forgets to say please or thank you, we may simply hold on to the requested item and make eye contact with the child. After a moment’s pause while they are wondering why we are not letting go, they realise what they need to say and say it, without us having to give a verbal reminder.

We also use a timer. After explaining once or twice what the timer is for and how we will use it, we no longer say anything at all. When a request is made without a “please” we simply grab the timer and turn it over in front of the child who immediately realises what they have forgotten to do. They may not make the same request again until the timer has run out and then it obviously must include the “please” that they forgot in the first place.

Once we consider that the training is complete and an older child is characterised by remembering their manners there may be rare occasions when they forget. For the once-off event, we may simply give them a verbal reminder. If it appears that they are slipping back into a habit of “forgetting” then we will simply tell them that they will miss out completely without the opportunity to try again. We find it interesting to note that our children NEVER forget their manners when there is chocolate involved!

Other posts you may like:

Birthday Letter tradition and memory keeping

Our gorgeous 5 on Christmas morning 2011.

Special events are always a reminder to me of how fast time is flying. In the future I will treasure memories of these occasions and I have to remind myself to take the time to make a record. We think that we will never forget important details about our children but it is amazing how much fades with time and sometimes in a very short time!

A new baby, especially your first, prompts us to ask our own parents all sorts of questions about our own birth and early years. Unless your parents were record keepers, you have probably found that the details are sketchy and if you are one of many siblings, may be very hazy indeed!

We as Mothers often think we’ll remember those funny or special moments and family times but they do fade so easily. Even now the kids ask me things about their own birth (bought on by all the talk of the impending birth of their new baby brother) and I am unsure of some of the details or even which child it was. Luckily I have it all safely recorded and we can pull out their baby albums and have a read through together, which they thoroughly enjoy.

I have made it a real priority to at least get the first year of each child’s life into their own album with their diary of their pregnancy (short notes along the way, what the siblings have said etc.) birth story, measurements, first bath, first roll-over, when they first sat, stood and walked etc. I have also tried to take photos of all these milestones along the way.

I figure they’ll be able to share their own baby years with their children and their children’s children, even if for some reason I’m not around to share it with them. I’d like to think that when I’m gone these albums will give them a link to memories they may otherwise forget.

Sometimes you just need to capture the day-to-day events. Morning tea on the sandpit edge, holes in tights and all.

Even if scrapbooking is not your thing, take a moment every now and again to make a note (on the calendar or in a diary or special book) of each child’s milestones, habits, interests, favourite sayings, achievements, funny events, likes, dislikes etc. At each child’s birthday I use these notes to write out their “reflections” for the year. All the things that made that year memorable. I use the following headings to remind me of all the things I want to include; songs & sayings, food, eating, likes & dislikes, sleeping, toys, games & activities, school & achievements, outings & events, when I grow up, fears, brothers & sisters, books, clothes & friends.

My husband also sits down and writes a letter to each child on their birthday. What a treasured possession I am sure these letters will be to our children one day. Imagine having a letter from your Dad for every year of your life. Reflections, joys, events, happenings, expression of love and as they get older he may include words of wisdom, advice, blessings and prayers etc.

This is a wonderful way to ensure that they know you love and appreciate them and everything that  makes them who they are. They will know and have a record in writing of your love and feelings about them and the special things you shared along the way.

Put it on your “to do” list today!

Routines: Room time

Amazing things can be created in room time!

At around 18 months to 2 years of age, a toddler is ready to transition to room time instead of playpen time. Having said that, my two and a bit year old twins still have playpen time rather than room time for a number of reasons – space and lack of available rooms being two!  The following are some ideas for how to go about room time. My next post will help you to transition to room time smoothly. (It may be helpful to have a quick read through these posts first: playpen time, toys and starting late, choices)

What is room time? A time each day that is set by Mum when a child plays in their room (or a designated room) for a period of time determined by Mum. Do not confuse room time with a child choosing of their own volition to spend time playing in their room. This is a time chosen by you, with toys chosen by you (or a limited choice for older children) for the length of time chosen by you.

Tips for successful room time: 

  • try to arrange the room so that you can check on the child but they can’t see you.
  • start with 10-15 minutes and work up to longer time periods over several days. Even children who have been contentedly spending an hour in their playpen need smaller time increments to start with. This is a new freedom and you want to be able to praise them for their success in staying in their room and making wise play choices. Once the transition has been made and all is running smoothly you can increase the time again.
  • get the child started on an activity they enjoy before you walk out.
  • do not plan to use this time for the first week or so. Hover nearby, check on children frequently and deal with situations before they get started. Remember, the purpose of the short time period to start with is to finish while it is going well and praise, praise, praise! Do not be tempted initially to extend the time because it is going well and leave it until a problem happens – end on a good note.
  • start when you know you will be able to be home for a few days in a row
  • for young children, consider doing it through the weekend until well established
  • have it at a similar time each day
  • set out the toys you want a toddler to use or provide a limited selection of toys for an older child to choose from – not unlimited access to everything in the room.
  • introduce packing away from first use – demo, help, then independent. Have an easy storage system such as open crates. Sort toys out. One large toy box for everything not a good idea. Toys get lost, pieces are mixed up, toys are buried and forgotten and children can’t be bothered digging through to find what they need.
  • The success of room time depends on the focus and control that you are modelling and teaching throughout the whole day. A child who has too many freedoms and will not obey you during the day will not suddenly obey you when it comes to room time. Using a gate in the doorway can be useful for little ones during the initial transition and takes away the temptation to keep coming out. However a child who is not being trained in obedience will find a way to get out if they REALLY want to, despite the barrier.

 Toys:

  • You may like to keep room time toys only for room time so that the interest level stays high. Alternatively, toys can be sorted into crates for each day of the week or changed on a monthly basis.
  • Have a system in place to put the crates/boxes etc. into. A low bookshelf or cupboard that the child can reach is ideal. A few shelves that are out of reach can also be handy for those toys that are not for general playtime but are saved only for room time or for playing with Mummy and Daddy etc.
  • Clear plastic crates allow you to see contents at a glance.
  • Remove lids and simply have open containers that slide onto shelves. Remember, the easier it is to pack away, the more likely the child will do it without a fuss.
  • Sort toys out into smaller containers of similar sort (as children get older, toys become more complicated and have more pieces – mixing sets or kits with other toys makes it difficult to access.)
  • Do not store toys in draw-string bags, cardboard boxes with lids etc. until the child is able to manage those by themselves. If they have to ask you to take a lid off for them, they will be coming out of their room to do so and/or unable to pack up without your assistance.
Transitioning from playpen time to room time:
  • Put the playpen in the bedroom to begin with.
  • Use a mat or some other kind of blanket/carpet etc under the playpen that will become the designated play area in the room once the playpen is removed.
  • Have the toys sorted out and in the same places you will put them when room time begins without the playpen.
  • Take down only one crate at a time and say every day that this crate must be packed away before another one can come out – while in playpen one crate is all they get, so include enough variety to last the entire session. This means that later there should be a controlled amount of mess – no more than the contents of one crate should ever be out at one time.
  • Pack up with the child to begin with, one kind of item at a time, in a methodical way – remember you are teaching them how to pack up for all those times later they will do it themselves. Say out loud what you are doing, “First lets put away all the cars, now lets find all the books” etc.
  • Once the child is used to helping you, do some together then leave them to finish a set amount. No consequence for not packing up is needed, they are simply not free to come out until it is done.
  • If  there is a lot to pack up, simplify the pile into perhaps one or two kinds of toys – too many items from different containers/kits will be confusing and children often end up sitting there packing away nothing at all. For example, if a box of Duplo is out, along with books and a puzzle, perhaps clean up the books and puzzles for the child and require them to do only the Duplo.

Removing the playpen:

  • Explain that they need to play on the mat or other area you have designated.
  • Remind them of the toys that they may choose from – the same system you have well established while still in the playpen.
  • Initially, continue with the crate system. As children get older and toys become more complicated, begin to slowly hand over the choice to the child eg. you choose 3 items from the shelf, I will choose the rest.
  • Pack away most of the toys in the bedroom to begin with and only have out a few options that the child can choose from. More can be added later.
  • Remove any treasures or irresistible things that shouldn’t be touched.
  • Always have a set place for items. Teach how to pack away every toy as it is re-introduced back into the bedroom or a new toy is added.

Troubleshooting:

  • Try to ensure that household traffic is not passing by the door of a child who is having room time or they will be constantly distracted and more likely to want to come out.
  • Keep activities that sound like a lot of fun away from the sight and hearing of a child in room time. If they love to paint and you use this time for the older children to paint, it is much more difficult for them to be content knowing what they are missing out on.
  • In large families where children share rooms there may not be enough room time rooms to go around. If you are homeschooling and have older children at home, they could perhaps use this time to complete school work and have their room time at a different time of day. I prefer to have everyone in room time together so I get a break therefore we use almost every room of the house. Toddler and baby nappers go in portacots in rooms other than those they sleep in. Middle ages have their own desks and toys set up in separate bedrooms, including their own sleeping room and the baby room. The eldest is the most mobile as his interested are more portable. A crate with wheels makes his Lego set moveable and books are easy to pick up and cart about. Any other project is collected before room time begins and moved to where he will be. This may be the family room or loungeroom or even outside if the weather is nice.
  • Make sure that the toys are age appropriate, interesting and provide enough stimulus to last the whole time. Older children move away from just toys and in my household are given their own desk around the age of 4. We give them a mini set of drawers stocked with all manner of craft and drawing items, scissors, glue, construction paper and all sorts of bits and pieces and they have a wonderful time creating with these every day. Construction toys are pretty much essential for boys and good books are great for all.

Having room time for everybody every day leaves me with a chunk of time every day to recharge and gives the children a much-needed break from each other. They are often refreshed and in much happier moods when they re-emerge. Those personality types who crave time alone are rested and recharged and the more sanguine children benefit from learning to be by themselves and using their time in a worthwhile fashion. The projects the older children get up to are often quite amazing and the time is rarely wasted.