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!
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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!

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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!

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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.

Building Focussing and Concentrating Skills in Toddlers

Patrice Walker was one of the speakers at our big GEMS night recently and she gave an excellent introduction to developing focussing and concentrating skills in our toddlers and young children. She has kindly given me permission to reproduce her notes here and while there is a lot to read, I think they are well worth the time. I have added links to further information or explanations from my blog posts as they relate to what she has to say.

Focussing and concentrating skills are habits and skills which are needed for a lifetime, as they affect all areas of our lives. An impulsive child who is always looking toward what is next rather than enjoying what is in front of them, becomes an unsettled adult, unable to stick with a single task very long. Whether it is in the classroom or workplace, this impulsiveness will often result in work that is poorly or incompletely done. This child or adult will be unlikely to achieve any personal sense of accomplishment or have the confidence to tackle bigger projects; they can be easily discouraged and give up quickly. We can help our children to use all the gifts and talents God has given them, if we help them develop the virtues of attentiveness and self-control.

So, let’s begin by looking at encouraging focusing and concentrating in the toddler years. What will help you most as a parent is to understand the need to manage the freedoms your toddler is allowed, and therefore, the routine and structure of his day.

We know that God has blessed our toddlers with an insatiable curiosity for the world around us. It’s so exciting to see a little one’s eyes open with wonder as they see something for the first time, maybe an ant moving along with a crumb… They lie down on the floor and watch it, maybe pointing with their chubby little fingers or poking it and making “gooing” noises. Very cute, right? Would it be so cute if it was an electrical power-point which had captured their attention? Probably not, and you would be justified in wanting to remove your little one from the danger. While we do not want to suppress the natural, healthy curiosity of a toddler it’s clear they should not be allowed unlimited freedoms to come and go with no guidance; to explore without limits or to touch without restraint. The boundaries that a toddler needs, however, go beyond just the health and safety concerns.

The best way that parents can establish healthy limits for their toddler is by making decisions for them, and setting reasonable physical boundaries. You should make the most of your toddler’s curiosity, by helping them pay attention, focussing and concentrating on what is best for them. That means Mums that you decide who does what, when they do it and where they do it. So you are able to make good decisions yourself, it is helpful to have some order and structure in your day.

It’s important to understand that a routine is meant to serve you and your family. It should give you the opportunity to make the most of the days that God has given us, to do the work that he has appointed for us. Having some structure and predictability in the day provides security for your little ones and helps you use your time effectively enjoying and training your toddler. There are many activities that can be included in your day which give healthy boundaries, use their curiosity and  attention, and will therefore encourage a toddler to focus and concentrate.

I will be explaining some of the activities we have included in our toddler’s days that are useful for developing these skills. Most of these I have learnt about from reading the Growing Families materials and observing the results in families we know who use these principles in their own homes, with their own children.

I’m going to begin with the activity that most toddlers have a “love-hate” relationship with – the playpen or room time. This is a time, determined by Mum, for your little one to have some time to play on their own.  Learning to play contentedly for a period of time without having someone there to entertain him is an important skill for a toddler to learn. Playpen time can be used from a very young age for short periods of time, initially only 10 minutes or so but increased over time, particularly as the little one’s sitting skills develop. We have used wooden playpens, a portacot or sometimes, when space was tight, their own cot. We have also varied the location, depending on the child and our home, but as much as possible tried to make it an area that is reasonably secluded from the rest of the family, sometimes even using a playpen outside.

Playpen time transitions to room time around 18-20 months of age, when the toddler’s room is usually used as his play area. For some toddlers, going from a playpen to a room can be an overwhelming freedom, so a blanket placed on the floor as a visible boundary may help your toddler transition better. I used a quilt my mother-in-law lovingly made for our first to line the base of our playpen and then used that on the floor of their room during room time. Again, beginning with short periods of time, build up the time spent in room time as the toddler develops the skills of focusing and concentrating on their toys.

My children have all learnt to enjoy their room time for up to an hour by the age of two or so. When children are left alone it is amazing to see how content they can be playing with one simple toy after another, undistracted by the other people or noises in the home. I have, at times, had to encourage our other children to leave the little one alone to enjoy their play! Don’t confuse room time with a free play time in their bedroom – your toddler needs to learn to play in his room when you, the Mum, says it’s time to do so, for the period of time you decide.

Playing in his room also doesn’t mean he is able to do whatever he chooses in that time. Mum chooses the toys which should be age appropriate, rotating them regularly, keeping them interesting and challenging. As we know, bored children quickly find trouble! I have found it helpful to spend time showing a toddler how to play with their toys during the day before using it in either the playpen or room time. I’ve also spent time learning about age appropriate toys and activities through books, the internet and talking to other mums. For a while we belonged to a toy library and this was great for exposing us to different toys that were often more educational in nature. They had a variety of toys and activities that were not available in the local toy shop or were beyond the range of our family’s income. It’s also great for those toys which little ones only use for a short period of time.  Another way we’ve found to keep the interest levels high without having to keep purchasing new toys is to swap and share toys with other families. It’s a good way to determine which toys last well and whether the interest in a toy is high enough to consider purchasing it.

It’s important to include some free playtime in your day. This is when your toddler has the freedom to choose what he plays with. It is still supervised because you decide when he is able to do it but it is free time because the child is making the decision about what to play with, based on his interests. This time should usually be short, around 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the age of your toddler. I have found it best to decide where the play is to take place and usually encourage outside play several times a day as it’s important for little ones to have the opportunity to get fresh air and use up some of their never-ending energy. I try to encourage my toddler to sustain his interest in his chosen activity by not allowing them to flit from one toy to the next, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Limiting the number of choices helps with this. For example, we don’t have all the toddler’s toys out in a huge box to be rummaged through but have several smaller containers of toys both inside and outside. We also teach our little ones to pack up one thing before moving to the next, meaning less desire to “chop and change” and less cleanup at the end of the day.

A structured, focused playtime with Mummy should be a priority for toddlers. Not only do they need your supervision, they need your love and attention. I’ve found that making a time each day for me to focus solely on the little ones really helps them feel loved and secure. Some days the time is shorter than other days and the activities are almost always chosen by me. We might read, play with toys or a game, do crafts, bake together, do a puzzle or so on. I have found with some of our children that spending this time with them early in the day has meant they are more content to play by themselves later in the day. When one of our children was younger they were becoming quite difficult in the early evening, but I discovered that if I spent a short period of time focussed on them in the late afternoon that usual fussy time was much less likely.  This time also provides me with the chance to encourage an older toddler with their attitude or behaviour we’re working on. The Terrific Toddler books by Mel Hayde are excellent resources for how you can build happy, healthy hearts in your toddlers – very practical, positive and encouraging.

A quiet reading or “sit time” is another essential element of our toddler’s day. During this time our little one is either in the high chair, on my lap or next to me on a couch with a few books. Starting with small increments of time, this can be increased as the child matures. Your toddler can learn to focus and concentrate, to love books and to develop the self-control to sit and read what, when and where he is told. This skill can be transferred to many situations outside the home, while waiting at the doctors, queues at the shops and especially at church. We do encourage our toddler to read quietly but this is an enormous task for some so I have found it helpful to concentrate on training our toddler to sit still first. Then, when they can demonstrate that consistently, I begin to train them to sit quietly. Separating the two skills has really helped those of our children who are chattier by nature. I will sit with them reading quietly myself, praising them and in time they learn that it is a quiet reading time. Sometimes, I’ve found that beginning this time by cuddling our toddler on my lap, reading a story to them first or perhaps asking them to find a particular character in a book for an older child, has helped those who have struggled to focus on a book for more than a minute or two. I also choose a quieter time in the day, usually after lunch, as a toddler is starting to wind down for an afternoon rest, sometimes the early evening works well too.

Attending our library’s storytime session was helpful for me in our earlier parenting years. We had an excellent storyteller who had a way of captivating the children’s attention by choosing only the best children’s stories and using her voice to really make the story come alive. I learnt many useful skills that have made more confident reading aloud to my children and also how to help them focus and concentrate on stories and their illustrations.

The virtue of attentiveness is one that can be greatly encouraged by expecting and maintaining eye contact and a verbal response when talking to your toddler. The best way to teach this to your little one is to demonstrate it to them. Show you care about what they have to say by stopping and listening properly to them when you can. This may mean getting down to their eye-level or bringing them up to yours when talking to them or listening to them. When giving an instruction to a toddler, don’t overtalk to them, explaining in great detail every little thing that they are probably not going to understand. You do need to speak clearly and make sure you tell, not ask. This could be as simple as picking up your one year-old and looking him in the eye and saying, “It’s time to go play in your playpen now” and then carrying him there. I would sometimes have to gently but firmly hold our toddler’s chins to encourage them to look me in the eye.

Another activity which encourages focusing and concentrating is a high-chair or table time. I use the high chair mainly for younger toddlers and a table time for the older ones. During this time the toddler is directed to an activity Mum has chosen in a place Mum has chosen– the highchair or table. Simple activities that will hold the attention of your toddler that don’t require much assistance or preparation from you mean that you can then do other things nearby. I often use this several times a day after meal times and particularly during meal preparation time, as the little one is then not likely to be needing too much of my attention while I’m handling sharp knives and hot food. Good activities for younger toddlers include a few small cars or dolls on the tray or mat, magnetic shapes or letters, wooden puzzles, stacking cups and rings, container of pegs or similar to put in and out. For older toddlers try paper and crayons or pencils, felt boards, play dough or threading activities. All my little ones have enjoyed playing with various kitchen items, mixing bowls, spoons etc copying me if I’m in the kitchen. Again, I start with small increments of time, but gradually, as your toddler develops the power of attention and self control, they can sit and play for increasingly longer periods of time. My good friend, Ang Pascoe has an excellent blog which has an abundance of articles and examples of activities and resources to use with young children. They are mother and child-friendly with lots of photo’s to encourage and inspire. Her blog address is angathome.com.

A few other factors to consider when planning your toddler’s day include deciding the best order of the activities, the transition times and the gender and personality of your child. I’ve found it’s best to keep to a similar flow of activities each day. This encourages the toddler to feel secure in what is expected of him throughout the day. I also think it’s best to alternate activities that our toddler does alone with those that he does with me or other children, those that are quiet with more active ones, and inside and outside activities. Watch the transition times between activities – don’t allow your toddler to wander aimlessly waiting for your directions. I would rather have my little one in the highchair, playpen or a stroller for a few more minutes while I organise what is happening next, than have them getting into all sorts of trouble because I’m not quite ready. I have often played a game with our older toddlers where I tell them they are my shadow, so they have to stay really close to me, this is very helpful during those transition times. I think it’s worth noting that, as a mother of four delightful boys I know very well that God made them all different to each other and also to my two lovely daughters. Rather than compare them, I do my best to accept that God has made each of our children with different needs, strengths and weaknesses. I need to be mindful of that when I’m choosing their activities and training them to focus and concentrate.

Please be encouraged that while it is hard work, it is possible to have wonderful days with toddlers! They can learn many positive skills and attitudes through playing and good direction of their time. The skills of focusing and concentrating are ones that will affect them for life and influence the development of virtues such as attentiveness and self-control. If most of this is new to you, don’t feel overwhelmed but choose one or two things which you can begin with. The small GEMS groups are a lifeline for many mums, myself included, to encourage and equip us by talking through issues and sharing ideas with others on the same parenting journey.

Montessori style hands-on maths workjobs: Counting 1 to 10

Following on from yesterday’s post about teaching children to count to 5, here are some ideas for extending counting to 10. Again, all you need is 10 of some kind of container, something to count and numerals to order (or already marked on the containers.) If the child is required to order the numerals themselves, then including a number strip to follow means that they can do it independently without already knowing the order.

Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands-on activities, however all young children need plenty of experience with manipulating concrete materials to develop early maths concepts. Workjobs are explained to the child (catering to auditory learners), demonstrated to the child (visual learners) and then completed by the child (hands-on or kinesthetic learners.) There is no need to use dry math work books in the early stages when these basic concepts can be so easily developed with materials that are enjoyable to use and simple to make.

For children who do not yet recognise their numerals, this workjob is very simple and requires them only to match the number on the plastic balls to the corresponding number on the iceblock tray. I would then alter it into a counting activity by using plain ping-pong balls (no holes) with dots or tiny stickers on each one to count and match to the correct number.

In this activity the child counts the number of stamps and pokes a matchstick through the hole underneath the correct group. The card is self-checking because when you turn over to the back, there is a circle around the correct hole.

This "Princess rings" activity is a favourite of my girls. 10 tiny white jewellery bowls are set out then jewels with the numerals 1 to 10 are placed in order next to each bowl and the rings are counted into each bowl. The rings come from the wedding favours section of my local discount store. We made up all sorts of extra stories about how the princesses shared their rings out and had a lot of fun with this. Sometimes a good story adds so much to the fun of the activity!

The child orders the silver stars (bought from a party supplies shop) from 1 to 10 then counts the stickers on each golden star before matching them to their pair.

Foam stickers on baby food jars and some cheap party bead necklaces cut into lengths make this a bright and attractive counting activity. After ordering the jars from 1 to 10 the child counts the number of beads on each string and drops them into the correct jar. Not a good one for absolute beginners as the beads are quite small and it is easy to miss-count as the higher numbers are reached.

Hands-on maths workjobs: Counting 1 to 5

If you are blessed with a kinesthetic learner, providing hands-on learning experiences is vital. All young child however need to move from tactile or concrete mathematical experiences (where they manipulate objects to develop mathematical understanding) to abstract (“on paper”) experiences.

There is no better way to teach children to count than to have them go ahead and count! The first step is to ensure that they are able to recite the number order. The next step is to develop one-to-one correspondence (matching one number to one object.) After that, let the counting begin! You will need to step them through the process initially with lots of opportunities to count. Use everyday activities around the house to introduce this skill; setting out 4 plates, counting 3 sets of cutlery, placing 5 sultanas on a celery stick, collecting 5 hats for outside play etc.

To transition to the tray activities, you will also need to teach the children how to recognise and order the numerals to 5. This can be done as they complete the activities with self-checking number strips to match the numbers (see the egg carton castles example below) or taught separately before you give them the tray activities.

For homeschoolers, or those who are wanting educational ideas for highchair, mat or table time, here are some hands-on ideas for presenting counting from 1 to 5. While children can easily develop this skill through their every-day experiences around the home, these workjobs will help them to develop concentrating and focussing skills and are a great introduction to more complicated workjobs and Montessori style tray activities that will extend their skills as they grasp each basic beginner skill.

My older toddlers begin with these simple counting activities which virtually guarantee their success and I am able to teach them the general concept of how the experiences are presented and what they need to do. I can then change the materials, extend the numbers and gradually increase the difficulty of the experience to match their developmental levels. They love to manipulate the materials and enjoy the sense of accomplishment once they are able to complete each activity.

Before expecting a child to do the activities independently you will need to spend some time teaching them how to set out the containers, order the numbers and add the appropriate number of objects. Depending on their previous experiences with counting, this may be a very quick or more long-term process. Once they have mastered one counting experience though, the skill is then transferred to the next new activity with only a quick demonstration from Mum.

Any kind of container can be used and with a bunch of something to count and 5 numbers to order you are all set. Ideally workjobs should be self checking so that the child is able to self-correct their own work without your assistance.

 

This is the first tray counting experience I use. The popsticks are first sorted into colours (with the child already having completed many colour matching and sorting activities previously) before being counted and popped into the correct cup. If children do not yet recognise their numbers they are able to count the small chunks of popstick next to the number to find out which numeral it is. Those who are just beginning can simply match up the colours to find out which cup to put them in. If they are completing the activity with colours rather than numbers, I simply spend time with them counting the number of popsticks in each cup as we pack away the activity until they are able to transition to relying on their counting skills rather than the colours.

Including a number strip for the child to match to as they order their numerals means they can be successful without already knowing the number order. The dots next to the numerals on the side of the castles mean they can count to check how many even if they do not recognise the numeral itself. The correct amount of holes are poked in the castles so that the castle must have the correct number of flags.

Milk bottle tops marked with liquid paper are the numerals here (you could include a number strip to match to if needed) and the size of the cups can be ordered as well for an extra dimension. The child sets out the 5 cups, orders the numerals, then counts out the correct number of pegs for each cup. Pegging is also an excellent fine motor skill.

Coloured pompoms are matched to the same colour sticker in the muffin tin. This is more a one-to-one correspondence experience as no numerals are included, however I have the child count how many there are in each hole before they pack them away.

The numbers are set out first (following the number strip if needed) then the  jewels on each popstick are counted to match the correct number. Popsticks are colour coded to the numerals to make them self-checking.

Check through your cupboards to find a group of containers, write some numbers on anything handy, add something to count and you have a simple counting workjob. Two dollar shops and other discount stores are great for finding appealing bits and bobs to count and manipulate and a multitude of activities can be set up with very little expense or effort required. Young children love to do “school” with their older siblings and this is the perfect introduction for them.