Thankfulness and gratefulness

We all want thankful children who notice the things others give to them or do for them and express this thankfulness freely and without being reminded to do so. We love it when others are grateful for the things we do for them and let us know. How intentional are we though when it comes to teaching our children the character quality of thankfulness?

Before Christmas, we talked a lot about receiving gifts, thankfulness and good manners in relation to receiving gifts. I have tried to take this one step further with the children by instilling in them the importance of giving thankyou cards. It’s almost a lost art these days. A quick email or phone call is easy to do and better than nothing, but it is so much more personal and special to receive a handwritten card of thanks.

A friend of mine always sends thank you cards, (well done Miss Jaq!) even after a visit for dinner. They are so pretty and such a bright spot in my day and I have endeavoured to make it a habit for myself and the children with varying degrees of success; in busy seasons it just sometimes gets away from me.

Yesterday we all sat down and had a card making session together (minus the baby and toddlers.) It was lots of fun and we all enjoyed creating a variety of designs. We used a bunch of pretty papers, some silver thank you stickers, flowers and butterflies and some coordinated card. My scrapbooking shape cutters came out, a stick of glue and some flowers and leaves we had previously pressed.

The result is a lovely collection of pre-made cards that will be ready and waiting the next time we need to thank someone. Now all I need to do is get better at actually posting the cards we do make…

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Book review: Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

Whether your children are obedient, rebellious, believers or non-believers, well-behaved or difficult to control, models of virtue or endlessly trying, this book is an eye-opening read for every Christian parent. Rather than a list of how-to’s, Elyse Fitzpatrick in her book “Give Them Grace”  focuses on our children’s need for a saviour and what we as parents can say and do to point them to Jesus.

I highly recommend listening to Elyse’s talk here. This free recording will give you a good understanding of the major themes in the book and if, like me, you find what she has to say is worth a deeper look, read the book to dig further into what she has to say.

Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Trying to find interesting activities to keep older babies and young toddlers interested and focussed for any length of time can be a battle, but it is one that is worth persevering with. If you spend the time training your young children to sit, focus and concentrate and extend this time as they grow, you will be teaching them the self-control that is vital for all learning later. Not to mention the fact that you can go out to a friend’s house, to a restaurant, a school assembly or any other public event and take your child along, with the peace of mind of knowing that you will be able to enjoy some uninterrupted time in an adult situation. Toddlers need to be taught hand, voice and body control and this can begin at a very young age.

Here are a few ideas for home-made or readily available activities you can give to an older baby or young toddler during times where they are required to stay in a set boundary and play with the toys you have supplied (e.g. mat time (blanket time), room time, playpen time, highchair time and table time.)

Even quite young babies will enjoy pulling these dolly pegs out of the holes in the tissue box and carefully inserting them back in again. If they are pushed all the way in, the hole on the bottom of the box allows the child to pull the peg out from underneath. Posting and small spaces activities are great for developing fine motor control.

Stacking and unstacking objects is fascinating for toddlers. I was given these melamine plates for Christmas and my twins used them over and over again.

Cooking like Mummy is always popular. Go through your play food and cooking equipment and make up little sets. Don’t forget your kitchen junk drawer, pots and pans and any other smaller kitchen equipment that toddlers can safely use. Add small dolls and teddies for toddlers to feed.

My plastics are stored in a crate which I can plop out on the floor for little ones to unload and sort through. Stacking and unstacking, trying on lids and just exploring it’s contents is very absorbing. Perhaps you have a suitable cupboard that you can designate for young children to access while you are working in the kitchen.

I had trouble finding reasonably priced magnets that very young children could easily grasp. The flat, flexible style of magnet are not good for babies because they have trouble getting them off and end up peeling the edges back. I went to a $2 shop and bought 4 wooden jigsaw puzzles and a packet of strong round magnets. I glued the magnets on the back of the puzzle pieces and got a great, economical set of animals for the fridge, whiteboard, or metal biscuit try.

This very large bottle is a great posting container. Pegs, popsticks or any other thin object can be pushed through the lid hole and pulled back out through the open slot in the front. The edges are taped where they were cut to cover the sharp edges. I originally saw this used as a water pouring activity with a funnel in the spout and a large flat tray underneath to catch spills. The children were scooping the water out from the large front hole and tipping it back into the funnel at the top.

These oversized popsticks are placed into slots in the lid of the icecream container and can be pulled out and pushed back in.

A set of plastic chopsticks has been used in many different ways over the years in my house. Another small spaces activity; poking them into the holes in the side of this tissue box

I glued a bunch of cardboard tubes together for the little ones to put the chopsticks in and out of.

This quoits set amused the babies for quite a while as they took the rings on and off.

This Velcro fruit makes a great ripping sound as you pull it apart and stick it back together. Include the wooden knife for older toddlers to practise their early cutting skills.

I used some polystyrene foam covered in wide weaved fabric (burlap I think?) for this early hammering activity. (The foam has a tendency to crumble with use and I didn’t want any of the young children being able to get it into their mouths.) Golf tees and a selection of washers to bang into the foam have been well used by all of our children.

Developing Fine-Motor Skills in Toddlers and Young Children

Self-control, concentration, following instructions and fine motor skills are very important foundational skills for all children. Teaching your young child to sit and focus on an activity and see it through until completion will go a long way towards preparing them for later learning – whether that be in the homeschool or traditional school environment. Some children seem to be naturally better able to do this, others need training and practise to do it. Children who do not develop these skills early will find it much harder to learn and you will find it more difficult to teach them!

Here are several Montessori style tray activities for toddlers and preschoolers that will help to develop their fine motor skills. Many parents of young children say that their children will not sit still long enough to attempt, let alone complete an activity like these and that may be the case right now. It is however most certainly possible to train them in this skill so that sitting and focussing becomes something they readily cope with, both at home and when out.

Putting a flexible routine into place and teaching your child to stay where you want them to stay will be an important first step. Introducing playpen or room time, highchair time or table time, mat time and other periods of planned activity to your child’s day will reap the rewards of a child who is able to sit and focus and learn from the materials available to them. Self-control will begin to grow and the benefit will spill over into all parts of their lives. Time for some free play with age-appropriate choice making is also important, however if a toddler’s whole day is unstructured and contains many choices you will be seeing many “sticky patches” as Mel Hayde terms them in her book “Terrific Toddlers.”

Start with very basic activities like the first couple below that do not take very long to do and are not too challenging to complete. Help the child to learn the process first: take the tray out, sit in the designated place, complete the activity in the same way you have demonstrated it, place everything in the same place on the tray as it was found before returning the tray to where it belongs.

You may like to attempt only one tray to begin with so as to finish on a positive note. Praise your child for their attentiveness, perseverance etc. Five minutes for a toddler who is not used to this kind of task is a beginning. Work up from there until they can sit for an extended block of time. My twins at 2 1/2 years can sit for 20-30 minutes with activities that change every 5 to 10 minutes, depending on what it is. My other three children would have spent 30 to 45 minutes working on these at the same age and even up to an hour at times.

Threading and removing large wooden beads from these giant pipecleaners can be extended to pattern making for an older child. (Yes they are giant {about 40cms long} you just can’t tell from the photo!)

The chopstick is placed into the neck of the spice jar and large beads threaded onto the end.

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Toothpick flags are stabbed into the oasis. (Florist’s foam.)
Small beads are threaded onto the pipecleaners which are then put into the holes in the lid of the spice bottle. (These smaller beads require a higher level of fine motor control and accuracy to thread.)
It takes quite a bit of coordination to operate an eyedropper. Transferring liquid from one small container to another is a challenge for many toddlers. Perhaps use uncoloured water to begin with and provide a sponge for spills.
Yes, they will probably taste the angel hair pasta as they feed it into the small holes in this spice bottle but it’s only pasta after all!
This is a piece of polystyrene packaging with a loose weave hessian cover. You could include a set of numbers and have an older child set out the correct number of birthday candles.
Another spice jar with toothpicks – don’t throw out those old spice shakers!
Stretching hair elastics over a jar is surprisingly difficult for young children but they enjoy it anyway.

Making pack-away time fun

Junior spy!

We do have chore systems in place and regular daily responsibilities but some days the house just looks like a bomb has hit it and needs a concerted family effort to pick-up and tidy away; a “house sweep” as we like to call it. (A house sweep is also useful when visitors call unexpectedly to tell you that they are just around the corner and will be dropping over in a couple of minutes.)

A house sweep is when we all start at one end of the house and sweep through every room one at a time, picking up and putting away everything that is out of place. Little ones are sent off with simple objects to deliver, middlies are given a specific task in each room and adults and older children work on whatever else needs to be accomplished to get the room looking good. It is not deep cleaning or vacuuming/mopping type of stuff, just tidying, straightening and delivering until it looks good at a glance.

It is quick and easy and with everyone working together it is not too tedious or difficult to do. Some rousing music to sing along to while we work helps to make a positive atmosphere.

A while back though we tried a different variation on the house sweep which was lots of fun and we must do again sometime soon. After a spy birthday party was attended there was lots of talk about spy missions and spy-type activities, so I capitalised on this interest and held “the spy games.”

First mission: Collect ammunition for subsequent missions (aka pack up time.) I had the children wait around the corner while I hid their ammunition (Nerf bullets) all throughout the mess in the games room. The rules were that every item they touched while searching for bullets must be returned to its proper place regardless of whether ammunition was found or not. The spy with the most bullets when the room was tidy was promoted to head spy. The room was picked up in record time – amazing!

Second mission: Defuse the bombs. Moving on to the next mess; the toddler toys, which after mat time were spread half way around the kitchen and dining area and had not yet been cleaned up by said toddlers. (2 toddlers = 2 mats = 2 times the toys to clear up.) Although we usually require the twins to pack up their own mat toys, it can be a long process and as mat time comes just before dinner, we sometimes skip it in favour of everyone getting up to the table while dinner is still hot. The spy mission was to collect all the bombs (toys) in each spy’s designated area before they detonated and place them inside the super strong bomb proof boxes (The toy crates and/or shelves.) The egg timer came out (counting down to detonation) and the bombs were set. Again, clean in record time.

Third mission: Couriers. Spies are given top secret information disguised as ordinary household objects and must deliver it to contacts in a variety of locations before safely returning to the collection point. The contacts of course must remain anonymous so the top secret info has to be delivered to it’s usual place for collection at a later date.

Fourth mission: Bug sweep. You never know where enemy agents have left their listening devices. Areas must be meticulously clean in order to spot the tiny bugs left  for spying on the spies. Blue glass jewels hidden throughout the room provided the impetus for tidying up with the same rules as mission number 1 – if you touch it you must put it away regardless of whether there was a bug or not. The spy with the most jewel bugs is rewarded with a spy knighthood.

Fifth mission: Under attack. This one was just for fun but with a devious purpose. These rainy winter days and coughs and colds mean that no one is getting much outdoor time and excess energy always seems to show up just around bedtime. This one wears them out so we can get them into bed early to catch up on much needed rest. Out came the beanbag missiles (small, hand-held bean bags like you used to use at primary school.) Your mission; to make it from the lounge to the kitchen door in safety while Mum and Dad launch beanbags in all directions. We moved couches out from the walls to create some cover and had at it. The kids giggled uncontrollably the whole time and we had a ball bombing them with beanbags as they crawled, ran and weaved their way through the furniture to safety. We will definitely do this one again, it was a blast.