Surviving new babies, sick kids and interruptions

My child, who is normally a very light sleeper, slept on and off throughout the day on the couch in the middle of the gamesroom surrounded by siblings. He must be sick!

The larger your family grows, the more important it is to have some standby plans for managing those days when you have a sick child, the baby cried all night or unexpected interruptions take away all your usual “keeping things running” times in the day. It requires some preparation and planning ahead, but that investment is well worth it when one of “those” days arrives. Many of these tips are also useful if you are preparing for a new baby.

Here are a couple of my ideas to get our family through a day or two when life is just too difficult to even think about what you are going to cook for dinner.

Meals

  • Meals should be healthy – avoid takeaway if possible or sick children’s already overloaded immune system will be fighting off the effects of bad food on top of everything else.
  • Keep a supply of freezer stock meals to defrost for “those” days.
  • Make an emergency menu – meals that you or older children can put together in minutes and ingredients that are always on hand.
  • Put the crockpot/slowcooker on in the morning when sick children may be less likely to need your attention.
  • Have your regular menu already planned so that the meals do not require thought.
  • Teach your children to cook. In a pinch, my 6 year old can put together a salad, the 8.5yr old can prepare a simple main meal and the 4 year old can get the table set and water glasses set out. If your emergency meals are simple enough and you spend some time teaching your junior cooks how to make them without assistance, they will be well prepared and love to step up and help Mum out. It gives a child a great sense of accomplishment to be able to announce to Dad and the family that they cooked dinner all by themselves. (Obviously there are safety issues to consider – Mum may need to be the one who slides the casserole into the oven.)

Toddlers/preschoolers

  • Have a list of suitable toddler activities that can be pulled out from an easily accessible place with a good storage system (Ziploc bags, shoeboxes, crates etc.) Set it up so that an older sibling can get them out for your younger child.
  • Create a flexible routine that includes activities such as playpen time, table time, mat time and highchair time so that you know you will be free to attend to the children who need it. Implement it on a daily basis so that it is a usual part of your day and well established before “those” days hit.
  • Today it is ok to watch TV.
  • Today it is ok to play outside a lot (the well ones!)
Homeschooling
  • Teach your children to work independently.
  • Leave the subjects you absolutely must teach yourself for another day or a suitable moment throughout the day.
  • It generally works better if we go ahead with school regardless of sick children. Well children mixing with cranky sick children without a lot of structure is a recipe for a bad day.
  • Have systems in place so that all children, regardless of age, know what they should be doing on a daily basis and in what order, whether you are there or not. (Workbox systems, a shelf of activities per weekday, Ziploc bag tasks, workjobs in a shoebox, Montessori style tray activities, pictorial or written timetables and schedules or whatever system suits your children.)
  • Read aloud a lot while children colour/play quietly/fold laundry or simply rest.

Housecleaning

  • Train older children to help out with regular daily chores.
  • Do only what is essential (if today is washing day – skip it or use the dryer. You don’t have time to hang out those loads.)

Afternoon quiet time

  • This time is precious to me – older children have room time, younger children nap and I can then have a nap too (assuming the sick child does not require attention at this time.)
Remember that every day will not be like this and it is ok to just let it all slide and simply survive! Routines and schoolwork can all be quickly re-established, especially if your children are used to having a fairly structured day. With a new baby, you may be tired and lacking the drive to get things started, so perhaps putting in the preparation and endeavouring to keep things ticking along will be more successful than allowing it all to fall into a great heap that needs a lot of time and energy to get back out of later!
Mat time was uneventful this week – too tired to sit up, let alone play!
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Homeschooling with toddlers: Duplo copy and build

Here’s another fun yet educational activity for your toddlers or pre-schoolers to do while you homeschool the older children (or just get some dinner cooked!) It works as a Montessori style tray activity, table activity, playpen activity or mat time (blanket time) activity and can be adapted in difficulty to suit a wide range of ages.

Assuming you own Duplo (or any other suitable construction toy) and a digital camera, it costs almost nothing to make and is simple to put together. Older children could be enlisted to make the models required.

Simply make a selection of small models, photograph them individually and put only the pieces needed to construct each one into separate containers. Print the photos (laminate if you want them to last) and put them with the corresponding model and that’s it! The child simply uses the blocks supplied to copy the photo. The activity is self-checking in that there will be no spare blocks left at the end if they have copied correctly.

The easiest model for a 2 year old to copy might simple be a stack of 3 or 4 square Duplo blocks. Each set given from then on can increase in difficulty by adding more blocks and changing the complexity of the designs. It may need some teaching at first for the very young children to grasp the concept, but once they understand what to do they will be off and running. After each model is created children can play with the little set of bricks and try to make something different with it. Little boys in particular love to build, however my girls have enjoyed the challenge of making the colours and shapes of the blocks match exactly.

Homeschooling activities for toddlers: Pasta play

Cleaner than water and sand – but just as much fun – pasta play is a great activity for busy toddlers. Useful for mat time and any time that you need to keep little ones happily occupied. If you have trained your toddlers to stay on a designated area for blanket time (mat time) then they will happily spend time tipping, pouring, filling, scooping, posting and otherwise manipulating pasta shapes.

All you need is a couple of bags of dry pasta, a variety of containers and a bunch of scoops and ladles and you are all set. Spread a sheet out on the floor to catch the dropped pasta and clean-up is a breeze. Simply collect up all the accessories into a container or tub of some sort, flick the pasta onto the sheet and pick it up by the four corners. If you will be using it regularly then find a container big enough to put the sheet bundle straight into (rather than tipping the pasta off the sheet) and you are all picked up in seconds. Of course, teaching little ones to help pack up is an important skill and if everything is being tossed into an open container then it is an easy matter for them to help you clean up.

Yes, they will probably have a bit of a chew as well, but it is just pasta! Keep an eye on them as always because  pasta could pose a choking hazard for toddlers but all in all, this is a very easy activity to set up and by simply changing the containers and accessories you put with it you can renew interest and keep the activity fresh.

It works well as a sensory table activity and can be adapted and set up as a Montessori tray activity for practical life posting, scooping, sweeping, pouring etc. The photo above shows pasta play set up at my sensory table in two plastic crates, however for toddlers I prefer the sheet method as they tend to spread it far and wide around the sensory table.

Homeschooling activities for toddlers: Cutting, gluing & stickers

We survived our plane trip to Melbourne despite our flight being cancelled and having to travel in the middle of the night.  All those carefully planned activities for the children (ideas here, here and here) weren’t even touched as the youngest 3 were snoozing both on the way there and on the way back! Oh well, there were plenty of times during the conference itself that the twins enjoyed their activities while having some quiet mat time during the day.

We were home just in time to finalise all our new year school plans for our moderator visit this week and to continue getting organised for our new addition as that due date is looming ever closer.

If you are looking for ideas to keep a toddler well occupied while you school older children, then stickers, glue and cutting have always been a big hit in our family.

The stickers and coloured paper are separated into separate sheet protectors so the toddler can take out just what is needed for that morning (and to stop all the stickers being used in one day!) After the stickers are stuck they draw on the paper as well and some quite interesting scenes have been created.

For a younger toddler, I set stickers out in individual zip lock bags with an interesting item to stick them on to. This is for the age where just getting the stickers off the page and onto something is quite time-consuming and absorbing in itself.

This picture shows 10 weeks worth of sticker activities. One morning a week was designated as "sticker day" and that kept the activity fresh and interesting. Card tubes, paper plates, bottles and any other interesting containers are great.

Another quick and easy to prepare activity is gluing. I filled old photo envelopes with an assortment of pre-cut paper shapes (from the scrapbooking isle at K Mart) and put each with a sheet of coloured paper. A glue stick completes the activity (I use the blue glue sticks so the toddlers can see where they are putting the glue) and away they go.

10 used photo envelopes, 10 sheets of paper and a bunch of paper shapes to glue equals 10 weeks worth of happy toddler fun during school time with the older children. Again, one morning a week is "Gluing day" to keep it fresh and interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cutting activities I used this year came from a variety of sources on the web. I googled “free printable cutting activities” and just printed away! Lots of dotted lines to cut on, pictures to cut out etc. For a younger toddler, see “Teaching toddlers to cut” for ideas on how to set up their cutting activities.

Birthdays and travelling with toddlers

Our wonderful twins turned two today. It’s amazing to look back at their birth photos and remember how it all began.

Our three eldest chose to make gifts rather than visit the Mummy and Daddy shop and as we are travelling via plane to Melbourne this week we thought activities to keep the toddlers occupied while travelling were a good idea. They will also be good to add to the homeschooling activities for when school starts again as there will be no morning nap to keep these little ones occupied while I school the older children anymore.

Our 6 year old used coloured contact paper to cover a small box to make this Montessori style practical life activity. A bunch of straws to post through the hole at the top and a small window on the side to shake them back out again did the trick. It was a hit immediately and I had to hide it away to ensure that the novelty hadn’t worn off before we even got to the plane as our youngest lady seemed determined to repeat the activity over and over!

Our 8 year old designed this one completely on his own without any input from me at all. He covered strips of cereal box on both sides to make them look attractive and pulled out a plastic money-box to post them in. Another Montessori style practical life activity for the plane trip.

This was the four year old’s creation. Strips of contact around a baking powder tin, several length of ribbon tied together and a cross shape cut into the lid to pull it through. Again, it was a great hit with the ribbon being pulled out and stuffed back in (by a grown-up) at least 5 times in a row. This one is more a baby activity but will keep their interest for a while. For many more ideas for keeping children happy and content during a plane or car trip, check out this post on travelling with young children. We will be making up our snack bags and pulling out the water painting, drawing and other ideas again and hopefully this trip will go as smoothly as the last one did.

Make your own baby and toddler toys – ball posting

Ball posting is another very basic activity for babies and toddlers. Plonking the balls in through the hole and learning how to shake them back out again is absorbing and clear containers add to the interest. Ball posting is great for  playpen time and mat time, but not as good for table time or highchair time simply because the balls fall off and roll away.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child posts the balls through the hole and tips them back out again by shaking the container.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Practical life

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Container with lid (cut a hole into the lid slightly larger than the balls)
  • Balls or other objects to post and shake out again

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Make your own baby and toddler toys: posting bottles

Babies and toddlers just love to put things inside small spaces and empty containers out. It is great fine motor practise and they will often concentrate for amazing lengths of time if the challenge level is just right. If a child is frustrated by their inability to do the task, simply change the activity for now and re-introduce it a little later. It should have an element of difficulty, but not so difficult that they cannot be successful. This is a great activity for highchair time, playpen timemat time or table time.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child posts the dolly pegs into the lid of the bottle and pulls them back out the bottom.

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Large plastic bottle with hole cut into the front. (Tape hole to cover sharp edges)
  • Dolly pegs or any other suitable object to post into the top of the bottle (regular pegs, wooden peg halves, popsticks etc.)

In this example the solid bottle adds a different dimension and the pegs are shaken out once posted.

The posting bottle can be combined with other skills. Sliding the dolly pegs on and off the edge of a sturdy cardboard box is a complete activity in itself. My children usually enjoyed taking the pegs off the box but did not choose to put them back on again. When they were finished with the activity we slid them back on to the box together as part of the packing up process and they happily practised this skill.

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.