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.

 

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Mega list of table activities for preschoolers

Following on from yesterday’s post (list of highchair and table activities for babies and toddlers), here is my collection of preschool ideas to use for any time a quiet, attention grabbing activity is needed. Please see yesterday’s post for links to articles on how to train your children to sit for an extended period of time, even at a young age. Even the most interesting activity will not stop a child from wandering about if that is what they are used to doing.

There were too many ideas to fit on the one page, so there are 2 pages to download. Please be aware that because of the large number of photographs on the posters, the downloads may take a long time to come through. Just walk away and have that cuppa!

I mentioned giving no choices for toddlers yesterday. My preschoolers are beginning to have some choice of activities. They are given a small selection to choose from and occasionally I choose for them. If they resist the choices I make, then they lose the freedom to choose for themselves until this attitude improves. (See choices post for a full explanation of why we do this.)

You’ll notice some activities are repeats from the toddler list. I have done that so those who do not have a toddler do not need to print out that chart as well as this one. Having said that though, you may find ideas from the older (coming next post) or younger category that I haven’t repeated may still be of interest to your child.

table activities for preschoolers master list download

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table activities master list for preschoolers download

For older posts with heaps more activity ideas, please follow this link; Workjobs & Montessori activities for highchair, mat or table time(mathematics, language, practical life & others)

Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

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Arsenic hour is that late afternoon time period where the short people in the household tend to have their meltdowns. Slightly hungry in the lead-up to dinner, tired from a day full of stimulation and unable to display the self-control necessary for “keeping it together” until dinner is served, young children (especially toddlers) tend to struggle during this time and easily tip over the edge. So how can we, as Mothers of young ones, structure our day to minimise the conflict and stress that is often experienced during arsenic hour?

Start by looking at your overall day. Who is in charge? You or your child? Who is making all the choices? Evaluate your overall day in light of this and see if some or much of the conflict is simply caused by you trying to get a reluctant toddler to do something they do not want to do after making their own decisions for the majority of the day. (See “choices” for a fuller explanation.)

Look at your routine. Do you have a flexible structure to the day with a good flow of events? It should include a mixture of time with Mum, time with siblings and time alone, physical activity, quiet time, structured play times etc. (See “routines” for ideas of what to include throughout your day.)

What time are you serving dinner? Are you expecting your young child to wait until Dad comes home in the late evening and trying to feed them when what they really need is to be getting into bed? Family meal times are a priority for us and very important, but if you husband is home later than is practical, consider feeding your toddler early and bringing them back to the table when Dad arrives for finger foods, a snack or a healthy dessert so that they can participate with the family. The bonus with this is that all your mealtime/manners training can be done on-on-one with the toddler, leaving the family table free from conflict.

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Bathtime can be difficult if left until after dinner. There has been seasons when I have bathed all the younger children at around 4.30pm when they are still coping relatively well and are unlikely to get into conflict situations. I can then pop them at the table, in the highchair or on their mat, with a suitable activity to keep them usefully occupied on a worthwhile task while I am free to finish dinner prep and serve them their meals.

Do not test your obedience levels during this time. What do I mean by this? Do not give directions to your toddler and expect them to obey. Rather than say, “Junior, go and get into your highchair please,” simply walk over to Junior, take his hand and cheerfully state “It’s time for highchair activities” as you walk hand in hand with him to the chair, pick him up and pop him in. When it is time for Suzie’s bath, rather than say “Suzie, go and get your PJ’s and go to the bathroom”, you grab the PJ’s and walk little Suzie to the bathroom, undressing her and plopping her in the bath. Don’t forget to give a 5 minute warning before making these announcements.IMG_7743

Having a good routine throughout the day, coupled with these practical suggestions will help make this time as enjoyable as any other period in the day.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Getting dinner on the table

Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Playdough for toddlers – no biscuit cutters please!

Sensory tub ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

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Sensory tubs are great for mat time (blanket time) or as a table activity and are excellent for when you need to school older children, cook dinner, or during any other time when you need your little ones well occupied and absorbed in a worthwhile activity.

They are quick and easy to put together, cheap or free (depending on what you already have lying around the house) and can be used daily as part of your flexible routine for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even older children. Obviously the materials you present will change according to the age of the child who will be playing with them, with safety always a factor for little ones who may put small items in their mouths.

There is no limit to what you can put into your tubs. Ideally the materials will be open-ended; that is they can be combined and used in a variety of ways.sensory tub trains IMG_8187

Younger toddlers do not have a well-developed imagination and therefore need more hands-on options, rather than pretend play materials. For example, in the trains tub above, I included a variety of scoops and containers to fill, transfer, tip and pour as well as the trains themselves. A young toddler may examine the trains before setting them aside in favour of transferring the stones from container to container. The older children may go straight for the trains and set up a complicated rail system with rocks delineating the tracks and the containers used as sheds for the trains. Another may decide to serve dinner on the silver pie tins or set up a picnic for the trains.

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I find that the tubs themselves are not large enough for the children to play within. They like to sort through, put aside what they are not using and generally spread out, so I use a blanket or sheet for them to play on. When play time is finished, the corners of the sheet are lifted up and all the materials can be quickly tipped straight back into the tub without a tedious pack-up session.

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The older girls were practically drooling over this jewel and miniature pony tub as I was putting it together – usually a sure sign it will be well-loved by the younger children as well! Again, a variety of scoops, containers, bottles and boxes with sparkly jewel squares and pebbles. (The kind used in vases or to fill bowls – from the discount shop.)

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Blue and green gem stones, plastic sea animals, shells, bowl, spoons, scoops and empty pill boxes. This tub covers opening and closing skills, spooning, scooping, tipping, pouring (all transferring skills) and could be extended to sorting and categorizing as well as the pretend play options.

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My youngest daughter used the pony and jewel tub this morning for the first time. She carefully removed all the ponies and put them back in the box before making a picnic for her teddy bear and the 12 disciples (!) with the containers and jewels. The older girls (6 and 8) have already asked to use it later and tell me they plan to set the jewels up as food for the ponies. The beauty of open-ended, attractive materials is that they will appeal to a variety of ages. My 15 month old can barely restrain himself and wants to dive straight in whenever he sees these tubs out. Unfortunately the pieces are just too small for him to use safely.

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This is the 15 month old’s sensory “tub” this week. He loved it and used the scoop (a large measuring spoon) to transfer from the large basket to the small bowl, filled and stacked the metal cups and filled and tipped out the basket numerous times. Provide a container or two and something to put in and dump right back out again and it will always be a hit with anywhere from an 8 month to a 2-year-old. 12 to 18  month olds particularly love to fill and dump.

For a stack of ideas to fill your sensory tubs,see this post. Many of the other ideas I have posted as table activities, highchair activities or mat time activities would all work in a sensory tub. See pasta play and teddy food play as examples.

Getting dinner on the table

Highchair time at our house – 3 in a row!

I like to cook for fun. It’s enjoyable to potter around testing new recipes and trying them out on friends and family. I don’t so much enjoy having to get dinner on the table at short notice, with a bunch of hungry, cranky children getting on each other’s nerves as we battle through “arsenic hour” as I have heard it termed. So, how do I get a nutritious and delicious meal on the table on time every day that will please everyone from the baby, right up to Dad? Well, to tell the truth, that’s almost impossible – with 8 people sharing a meal on a nightly basis, someone is bound to disagree with the delicious part! However, let’s concentrate on the nutritious and “on time” part. We haven’t eaten cereal for dinner yet, although baked beans on toast is the equivalent as far as I’m concerned and we’ve had that a few times!

There are some practical ways that I have gone about structuring my days and time so as to make this touchy time of the day run smoothly and happily for all of us and still have a nice meal on the table. Strategies have changed over time, depending on the ages of the children and what time my husband is due home, but here are some of the ways we have structured the late afternoon period that have worked for us in the past.

Flexible routine. Having a routine running throughout the day makes a big difference at the end of the afternoon. If the children have spent too much time together, especially unstructured time, they will invariably be at each other by the end of the day. A good balance of time with me, with each other, time alone and indoor and outdoor time, all work together for a smooth afternoon. More on routines here.

Feeding toddlers and/or babies early. I prefer it when we all eat together, but there are seasons when that is just not viable. The was a time when 4.45pm was like a “switch” for my toddlers. Happy before, exceedingly cranky afterwards. My options were either to feed them a large afternoon tea earlier (and have problems at dinner with them not wanting to eat well) or to simply give them their main meal earlier. When the rest of the family came to the table they were given some finger food or perhaps fruit or dessert to enjoy with us before moving on to a highchair activity while we finished up. This allowed them to still be a part of the family, I could focus on feeding them and training table manners away from the family mealtime and enjoy my meal relatively peacefully later on.

Baths. Everyone preschool aged and under (i.e. all those who require my assistance during bath time) are all bathed around 4.30pm rather than after dinner when everyone is tired and likely to be fractious and uncooperative. Bath time is then an enjoyable experience for all and bedtimes are not held up if I am caught up feeding a baby or dealing with unexpected circumstances.

Table activities. For around half an hour before dinner, all the children do highchair activities (some ideas here, here, here and here ), table activities (some ideas here, here and here), mat time (some ideas here, here and here), puzzles or books. There is nobody roving about getting into trouble and plenty of interesting activities to do. I am then free to get the last-minute dinner preparations done.

Sibling time. Sometimes the youngest children are unable to play independently at this time and need someone with them. This is when I assign an older sibling to spend some time with the little ones, reading them a story, playing on the mat with them, helping them with a simple puzzle or something similar. The eldest enjoy the responsibility and it helps build positive sibling relationships. They do not resent this time because it is not something they are required to do throughout the day in a random way or for large blocks of time.

Menu plan. Having a plan of which meals I will be making throughout the week is so important. Getting to dinner time and realising the meat is still in the freezer and trying to come up with plan B on the spur of the moment is never a great way to have a smooth afternoon period. Knowing what I am going to cook means I am prepared and can plan ahead, often using a few spare minutes here and there throughout the day to get some prep work towards dinner done. More on menu planning here.

Night time preparation. While I am caring for babies, homeschooling and looking after several older siblings, trying to fit cooking in during the day can be very difficult. There are usually several months after the birth of a new child when I do all my meal preparation in the evenings. And I do mean all. I set out breakfast dishes and ingredients and cut up fruit, bake or pull out frozen or pantry snacks for morning tea. I do all the peeling, chopping, grating, salad making or whatever other prep is needed for lunch. Dinner meals are pulled out of the freezer, ingredients are put in the slow cooker and veggies are washed and chopped – even to the point of putting the veggies in a saucepan of water in the fridge. It sounds over the top but, especially with the twins, I just didn’t have a moment to spare during the day. Being able to pull the crock pot out of the fridge and flick it on at morning tea time, knowing there would be a hot meal ready by dinner, was such a blessing. Even when things were going pear-shaped, I could throw a saucepan full of veggies on the stove as I walked past. Older children could set out prepared lunch or morning tea for everyone to help themselves if I was caught up feeding.

At other times, I didn’t have to cook at night, I used the time immediately after breakfast to get the dinner made. Everyone is fresh in the morning and it was a good time to get the household chores and dinner preparations under way. Now that I have older children to homeschool, this time is used for our more difficult subjects that require the most concentration, so dinner making is not a possibility.

Instant meals. For days when, menu plan or not, I have nothing ready for dinner, all supplies are frozen solid and my mind is blank, I am endeavouring to build up a collection of meals that are very quick and easy, that use ingredients I can keep on hand in the pantry or freezer without them going off and throw together in a matter of minutes. My rice cooker fried rice is a family favourite and assuming I have prepared my ingredients earlier, can be thrown together in literally 3 minutes. I haven’t timed it yet but I’m going to!! Ideas for nearly instant meals and pantry mixes are here and here.

Shopping lists. As an extra tip, shopping lists are a must to make life run smoothly around here. I have a shopping list pad with a magnet back that lives on the fridge. As I notice we are running low on an item, I immediately jot it down on the list. When I make out the menu for the following week, or check through the monthly menu, I add the items we will need to the shopping list too, after checking through the pantry first to see if we have what I think we have. It stops the random buying of stuff we don’t need and the irritating need to continually run to the shops to pick up one or two items here and there because they have just run out or I thought we had some.

Now the kids are older, they often come and tell me if something has run out or ask for small items like lead refills for a click pencil that we would never in a million years remember to get when actually at the shops. I also have multiple copies of a printed shopping list hanging inside the pantry. This list is all the items I buy on a weekly basis. When we are actually ready to go to the shops, a quick look down the list to cross off what we don’t need and to add the odd ingredients from the fridge list saves time and means we should get everything we need.

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:

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.