Silver Boxes – Words of life

The concept of silver boxes comes from a book I read recently by Florence Littauer, itself titled “Silver Boxes.” The positive, uplifting and loving words we say to those around us are like giving them a pretty silver box. Each time we use these powerful, positive words to speak life to our children it’s like placing another silver box onto their pile.

As I read I was reminded again of how powerful our words are and how careful we must be to guard our tongue. We have the ability to build others up or tear them down with only our words, to brighten a day and encourage someone or to make them feel flat and down. Our spouse and children are the first we should be considering when we use our words, but how often do we turn on the cheer for the person at the door or on the phone when moments before we have been barking and growling at the ones around us that we love the most?

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Formal certificates, stamps and other small tokens are a tangible form of silver boxes. Try to link them to character rather than just ability. One child can memorise and recite a poem in a few minutes while another has to apply themselves diligently for weeks. Praise the effort, not only the skill.

Deserved praise is one of the special ways we can give our children silver boxes. Again, focus on praising character rather than skill. When your child completes a puzzle, commend their focus, concentration, perseverance and effort in doing so, rather than just the act of completion. Otherwise the message becomes “You must be successful to earn my praise,” when it should be more along the lines of “If you work hard and try your best it is a commendable virtue.”

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If we praise a child for being a “good reader” for example, the sibling who is not gifted in this area cannot be praised for the same. However, every child can practise diligently, work responsibly, learn sight words with perseverance, be attentive to your teaching and refuse to give up. Praise them for these character traits even as they struggle with learning the skill.

Avoid over-praising. For many of us, giving too little praise is more of a problem, however make sure that the praise you do give is deserved. Do not go into raptures over mediocre efforts and achievements. Look for achievements that come after hard work and effort. Again, linking praise to character means you can give copious amounts of praise that is deserved, rather than false flattery. If your child has done a sloppy job of cleaning their room but you want to encourage them in their efforts, comment specifically on something they have done well. Do not say “Your room looks great!” when clearly it does not. Try, “Well done for showing initiative and responsibility in remembering to tidy up this morning without Mummy having to remind you.”

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Teach siblings the power of words. Encourage them to give each other silver boxes. Do not allow them to be harsh, critical or unkind to each other.

Praise plates are a great way of giving silver boxes in the form of written encouragement. They help those of us who need to remember to be intentional about praising the good things our children are and do, rather than always focussing on the negative. For a full description, see here.

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Giving children chores is a great way to teach them character, responsibility and a sense of achievement. Don’t forget to be thankful for the work they do and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. A child will often go the extra mile with pleasure after you have noticed the effort they put into doing a task.

Each year on our children’s birthdays my husband and I both write them a letter. Throughout the year, as the children achieve milestones, learn something new, lose a tooth or make a funny statement we make a note of it on our calendar. Anything that we want to remember is quickly jotted down right as it happens so we don’t forget it. As their birthdays come around, we use these calendar notes to write our letters. They are full of love and positive memories for the children to treasure – another way to give silver boxes. Read more about them here.

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My children love to have me take photographs of things they have created. It shows that I value their work, especially if I use the photo in a bog post for all the world to see!!

Mummy and Daddy dates are a great forum for silver boxes of quality time and uplifting words. We don’t do them all the time, but when we do, the children remember them as highlights. We keep the outings simple; breakfast at McDonald’s, a trip to the local op shop, a play at Jungle Gym or an icecream run once everyone else is in bed. Especially if there has been some conflict in our relationship, a “date” outside of the home removes all the conflict points. You are not expecting anything from them, you are doing something they love to do, no-one else is there to compete with and they have your full attention. Make sure you use the time to speak some uplifting words and tell them how much you like to spend time with them.

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If your child is always showing you something, pointing out what they have done and generally seeking after your praise, consider whether this may be their love language. If you withhold it from them their love tank will become empty and they will behave in ways you do not enjoy, just to get attention from you. Far better to supply deserved positive words than to be dealing with a child who is “needy” in this area.

Some people require more silver boxes than others. Those who’s love language is words of encouragement need to hear those positive words. Some of us can give or take them, but others cannot feel loved without those verbal expressions of love, acceptance and praise. Negative words also cut more deeply for children to whom words of affirmation is their primary love language. Be aware too, that unkind, harsh or negative words can tear down that pile of silver boxes much more quickly than it was built up.

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An unthoughtful comment about a child’s appearance may be remembered for the rest of their life and knocks down many other positive silver boxes they may have been given in the same area. I can still remember a comment a primary school teacher made about my toes!

When you are having a bad day, take a deep breath and look around for something you can praise for. Catch that child doing anything positive and start to give some words of appreciation and encouragement. Even the tiniest silver box can turn the day around. A good rule of thumb is 3 positive comments for every correction you need to give. It’s harder than it sounds but so worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homeschooling with toddlers (and a new baby!)

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The arrival of a new baby will always cause some disruption to the family but can and should be an enjoyable and joyous occasion. A smooth transition is helped immensely by being prepared. Whether in the kitchen with menu planning and stocking the freezer, preparing the children for the arrival of their new sibling, setting up a new routine, teaching your homeschooled children to work independently,  or simply making sure there is a good selection of suitable activities for mat time, highchair time and table time will make life much easier for the whole family.

Today’s post is a peek into my 2 year old’s activity cupboard. He uses these trays after breakfast for highchair time while our preschoolers are doing their “school” work and the older children are completing their own school tasks. A good indicator that I have set up attractive materials is that both he and the twins have been pestering me daily about when they can do their school work! We are on holidays at the moment so while we do have some structure in our day, we are not dipping into the school cupboards until after the break so they are still fresh and interesting once the baby arrives. It’s killing them!!

The great thing about a lot of these activities is that the preschoolers are interested in several of the toddler’s trays and vice versa. This gives them almost double the number of choices and will help keep them interested for longer before I need to swap out their cupboards again.

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Sensory tubs are always a hit. So easy to prepare and with open-ended play possibilities they should keep little ones engaged for some time. A tub of jewels with a variety of tongs and containers (pill boxes, ice block tray  and chocolate box insert in this one) will be great for a week or two and can easily be made “new” again by changing the containers and tongs for something different. A variety of scoops, spoons, measuring cups, boxes, tins, jars, lids and anything else that can be tipped, poured, filled, opened and emptied will work well. Perhaps add a small teddy for pretend play fun.

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Our rice tray can be a sensory play tub or in this case a dry transfer activity. A small necked bottle, funnel and scoop are all that is needed for some filling and pouring play. Again, the contents can be very easily changed every week or two to keep things fresh.

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Threading, beading or lacing are all great for fine motor development. Young children find it difficult to push a floppy lace through. Starching the end of wool, using commercial threading laces with stiffened ends, tying the string to a thin dowel, taping the end or any other method of stiffening the thread will make it manageable for young children. This is a small piece of dowel with a hole drilled in the end. The shoelace is glued into the hole, proving a strong length that allows a chubby toddler hand to hold the wood and fit a bead onto it at the same time. Don’t forget to tie one of the beads onto the end of the string to stop the rest rolling off onto the floor.

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A small ball of dough in a plastic container  provides a steady base for some wooden skewers. A variety of coloured noodles and straws are available to thread onto the sticks. (Cut the pointed end off for safety.) This is one I found on Pinterest (see my toddler pinboard for more ideas.)

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Storing the dough in the small orange plastic container means the lid can be popped back on to stop it drying out. Once the toddler has seen it once, poking the skewers in will be part of the attraction.

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Basic puzzles are great. Matching picture halves make a good starting point for  a child who is too young to be able to complete a regular puzzle.

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These are laminated playdough mats. With another small tub of dough the child can add a face, hair etc. Free printable available here.

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Free experimentation with a basic set of scales and blocks will develop a child’s understanding of heavier, lighter, more, less, up and down and other mathematical language. Older children will tend to count, predict and experiment in a more sophisticated way.

What does your toddler love to play with?

Preschool at our house – ready for a new baby!

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Here is the latest change-over for the twin’s preschool activities for homeschool time each morning. We are currently taking a school holiday break for 2 weeks, leading up to the birth of our 7th blessing.

I have found from experience that everything goes much more smoothly if we continue with school, rather than take a break at the same time as the newest arrival. Too much free time and lack of structure and supervision creates cranky kids who bicker all day and drive me crazy! I have made sure that the activities for this term do not require a lot of 1 on 1 time with Mum and the older children especially are able to work through without requiring my assistance, other than for the occasional question etc.

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These handwriting books are the one item in the preschool cupboard that will need my 1 on 1 attention. The twins are asking me how to write certain letters now and are keen to write their names. My opinion is that if they are going to write letters, they may as well learn how to do it properly right from the start, rather than need to re-learn later and correct bad habits. I should be able to fit in the 15 minutes or so that is needed to complete 1 page per day.

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I picked up some old activity books with dotted pictures. Tracing these dotted lines to make the figures is great fine motor practise. I have removed the pages from their covers so that the twins can easily grab one page at a time.

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I also found some old sticker books. Again, I pulled all the pages out so that they can choose one at a time. Some paper to stick them on to and a packet of textas is all that is needed for some creative fun.

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I have had these pattern block puzzles out before but the children do not choose to do them unless directed to do so. I have made a list of each picture with space for a sticker or stamp next to each one. After finishing a puzzle they can mark it as completed by stamping or sticking next to the corresponding name. A little added incentive!

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Cutting and gluing are still exceedingly popular with both children. This box has some large plain paper sheets, wrapping paper pictures, glue sticks and scissors for free creating.

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A carry on from last month – matching upper and lowercase alphabet letters. More work is needed on this skill so I have just changed the presentation and popped it back out again. The large jewels have capital letters on them and the ice block trays have both upper and lowercase. It is a basic matching activity.

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Addition and counting skills will be something we continue to work on for a while. With the rocks as the manipulatives, the children solve the simple addition sum on each peg before clipping it to the correct segment on the paper plate. Using pegs means that this also improves fine motor skills as well. The circle in the centre is the inside of a used roll of sticky tape. I just glued it onto the paper plate which provides a great place for the pegs and rocks to be stored when not in use.

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Three letter CVC words are going to be out for quite a while. With the same letter tiles and a new set of pictures (free printables here) the twins already know how to do this and need only a little help. Last time I had them lucky dip the tiles out of a bag but I found that they wanted to be able to see all the letters and find the one they needed so ended up tipping them all out anyway. Having them in the plate means they can see the tiles and choose the sound they are up to.

 

Mat time and sensory tubs

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Mat time is something we use with our little ones from around the age of 12 months. It teaches them to stay within a boundary and to be content with the toys they are given to play with. Focussing and concentrating skills are developed as they learn to stay with a couple of choices, rather than flit from one thing to another. When we go out I can set out a boundary and know that they will stay where I tell them to and play with whatever I have been able to bring with me at the time. It also means that when children transfer to a big bed they will obey Mum’s instruction to stay in bed, or when toilet training will sit and read a book while they do their business, rather than wanting to get off after just a second or two!

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I have used crates of toys in the past, but as our youngest can now play with small items without me having to watch his every move, I have introduced individual sensory tubs. I posted recently about our large sensory tub (currently filled with oats) but these smaller ones are filled with “clean” materials and are used by only one child at a time. Our two-year-old is using this most days, so I will probably need to change out the contents every week. Alternatively, I could have 4 or 5 on the go and rotate them which would make them last much longer, but I don’t have the storage space or the tubs to do that.

To give you an idea of how easy it is to change the contents, next week I will remove everything except the rocks and add more rocks of larger sizes and different colours, dinky cars and trucks, some card tubes, a couple of blocks of wood and some small shovels and scoops. 5 minutes later – new tub!

If you have trouble thinking of ideas, spend an hour on Pinterest and you will have enough to last you for months. My sensory tub ideas pinboard is here if you want to see some of my future plans.

 

Homeschooling with toddlers; activities for two-year-olds

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After updating our preschool activities last week it was time to do the same for my two-and-a-bit year old. I was so thrilled when he was old enough to use some of our many table activities and they did keep him going for ages, but after almost two months with the same tubs, he was ready for a change.

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This is his activity cupboard after the change-over. We use these activities after breakfast while he is still in his high-chair and occasionally before dinner, also in the highchair. Learning to sit, focus and concentrate for an extended period is such a valuable skill for later in life and so helpful for those situations when you need a toddler to stay in one place and play quietly (think restaurant.) See this post for more information on highchair time.

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A gift from Nan and Grandad became our first new activity. Posting 50 cent pieces through the money-box slot, then removing the rubber stopper and taking them out again was a hit.

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This opening and closing containers activity tray was my favourite so I was pleased to see he like it too. Open-ended play opportunities will keep a toddler going for quite some time.

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I had placed a couple of the counting bears in each container to start with and part of the fun was opening each one to discover the bear hiding there.

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This tub holds different kinds of pegs to slide or peg on to containers or place into the popsicle mold. Pegging is another great fine-motor skill. Be sure to choose pegs that do not have a stiff spring or little ones will not have the strength to open them.

(This activity did not grab my little guy at all. Activities that are too easy or too hard will not keep young children going for long. Knowing where your child is at developmentally is important. If you aren’t sure, try it anyway but be prepared to leave it for later. I have tried certain skills that didn’t work at all, but within just a few months the same child found it riveting. This one will come back out in a little while.)

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Poking toothpicks into florist’s foam.  I have since been told that the grey foam should crumble less so if you are purchasing it specially for this purpose, then go grey! The green block I have is slowly disintegrating and does shed green dust.

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This activity is a little young for him but as the money-box packaging was perfect I decided to introduce it again. All he needs to do is poke the plastic sticks (penne pasta, straws etc.) through the holes then tip them out of the  box and go again. This is fascinating for babies once they have the hand control to do it and will keep a toddler interested for a little while. The fact that the box has a window adds so much more to the interest level as they can watch the items drop into the box.

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After watching older siblings draw and use stickers, he has an early interest in these.

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Tong transfer activities are another hand strengthening pastime that will help make pencil grip a breeze later on. Placing pompoms into a container like this ice block tray also develops an  understanding of one-to-one correspondence.

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Similar activity – tong transfer – but these toast tongs are a little harder to manipulate.

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Two hands proved necessary to achieve the task.

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This wooden puzzle set from Melissa and Doug uses basic geometric shapes to complete simple pictures. They are a bit easy for my little guy so are not holding his attention like they probably would have a few months ago.

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Fill and spill bottles are wonderful for younger babies. They just love to plop items in and tip them out again. At two, our toddler will still do this but it won’t keep him going for long.

While our two-year-old works on his activities after breakfast, the older children start their independent homeschool work and I work with the 2 preschoolers. The toddler then moves to playpen time and I work with the older children while the preschoolers do their independent activities on their mats. We all (except the toddler) get together then for circle time before the younger 3 head outdoors and the older 3 finish up their schoolwork if they haven’t already. All up, we are going for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. I am often asked how I manage such a large family and homeschool. This is how folks!

This set of activities will need to be changed fairly quickly (possibly after two weeks?) as there is no way they are going to keep his attention for a whole month. Next month I will move to more involved tasks that take more time and provide open-ended options. With my basic categories in mind, it’s really very easy to come up with a new set of tasks and the beauty of this style of play is that often the toddler and the preschoolers can share the same activity. This will definitely be the case with our next change-over when I get ready for our new baby with activities that do not need to be changed frequently or have help to complete. Stay tuned!