Guest post: Busy Bags

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Kristy is back again to tell us about her experiences with busy bags. Over to her…

I am a HUGE fan of busy boxes. Thanks to Ang’s blog I have been able to get some wonderful age appropriate ideas for both my nearly 2 yo and 4 yo. I remember reading Ang’s blog with her little girl about the same age as mine and hearing how she can stay in a playpen for up to 45 minutes happily playing. How do you do this I thought?

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As I read on, I realised where I was going wrong. I was not giving my little girl age appropriate toys. She at the time was 18 months and I was still putting baby toys into her playpen and couldn’t work out why she was getting bored.

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When I read about the boxes Ang created for her baby at about the same age and what to put inside them, it made such a huge difference. Instead of resenting the playpen, my little girl would dive into it, knowing that she would be entertained for the next 40 minutes or so. IMG_4576

That’s when I thoughtfully and purposefully made 4 busy boxes/crates for her to rotate through mat time and playpen time with. Then after a month I would redo them all again as she would develop so quickly.

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I also had a look on Ang’s blog for the types of activities I could do with my children during highchair time/table time. It took me one week to buy a whole lot of cheap plastic boxes, collect items around the house and buy a few things to put in these busy boxes for both my children.

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With my 4yo I use the same activity but Angela suggested making little goals for him to complete/find instead of just playing with it. It was a lot of work to set them up at first, but it has payed off hugely. I love having a range of go-to boxes/activities for table time.

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For a whole bunch of ideas from Kristy’s latest busy bag swap that she organised, take a look here.

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Sensory tub: popsticks and matchsticks

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During the winter months many of us have a water trolley that is stored away unused until the warmer weather returns. Time to get it out and set it up with your favourite sensory materials! Ours has storage underneath for extra equipment and a lid so that I can keep it covered up to prevent little fingers getting into it and spreading the materials around the house after we have tidied up for the day.

Coloured popsicle sticks and matchsticks were the first material of choice. Along with them I set out coloured bowls and silicone muffin cups for sorting by colour, funnels and tubes and a couple of jars for posting, pouring, tipping and filling. No matter how large the container I find that the children ALWAYS want to put things onto the nearest surface, so this time the water trolley is next to our pretend play home corner set-up which includes a low table. Within minutes there were bowls and containers full of popsticks decorating this surface.

Sensory tubs are an open-ended play experience that will keep young children busy for ages. It provides many opportunities for fine-motor development and social interaction (those arms are my 13 year old boy’s!) and allows the rest of the family to get some uninterrupted homeschooling done.

Home-made Montessori style toddler toy

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Wooden toys are expensive, especially if they are classified as educational or “Montessori” in nature, but there are so many items that you can easily and inexpensively make yourself at home. I found this wooden toy at an op shop recently and in 5 minutes had a new bead activity for my almost 2 year old toddler. All I did was cut off one of the wooden ends, gave it a quick sand and that was it.

I tipped the beads off into a little bowl and showed her how to look for the hole in each bead as she placed them onto the sticks. This was a challenge for her but she got the hang of it eventually. When she has finished with this fine motor activity, the beads can be used for colour sorting, lacing, loose parts play, scooping, transfer and a multitude of other ideas. Great for highchair play, table time, mat time or playpen time, it ticks all the boxes for me.

 

Moveable art with loose parts – an invitation to play.

Moveable art with loose parts as an invitation to play has continued to be a hit in our house this week. The theory of loose parts in layman’s terms is that the more bits and pieces you have to muck about with, the more you can interact and be creative with the materials. I like it because it promotes creative and artistic skills while being easy to work into our daily lives. It’s quiet, (good for afternoon nap times) doesn’t require a lot of time to set up or clean away and children of all ages can participate once they are past the stage of popping everything into their mouths. The pieces can be used over and over again endlessly and the end product is a beautiful art work.

There are so many kinds of materials you can use to stimulate artistic play. Last week I set out pattern blocks, this week I pulled out all the glass and acrylic shapes I have collected over time. I find these in discount variety stores in the vase or candle section for a couple of dollars a bag and they are such an attractive material that the children just love to handle them. We use them for maths with my early learners who are working on basic counting skills with manipulatives and in sensory boxes with all kinds of accessories.

I present loose parts play to my toddler in a different way than the  older children. While she does at times have access to the table and loves the materials, she tends to frustrate the older children by messing up the designs they are working to create, or dumps the bowls on the floor and carts them around the house rather than creating art! So I simply pop her up for highchair time with a smaller mirror and a couple of containers of jewels to choose from. She loves copying the big kids and does sit there for a little while carefully arranging them on the mirror as she has seen the others do, before tipping out the entire bowl and just enjoying handling them for their own sake. The restraint of the highchair helps her to focus and develop self-control and concentration skills and gives her the opportunity to use the material in a way she would not have done had I let her wander about the house with them.

How do you encourage creativity in your children?

 

Sensory tubs for babies and young toddlers

Our 17 month old is staying with her Grandparents (along with some of her brothers and sisters) for 4 days and they have requested some playpen toys to use while she is there. This sensory tub or “pile of entertainment” is what I came up with. Perfect for highchair, mat or playpen times, these household objects will keep her going longer than the flashiest new toy ever could. (See this post for more info on flexible routines and links for training little people to sit and concentrate for lengthy periods.)

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Containers filled with interesting things are always a hit with this age. Check for choking hazards and make sure nothing is easily breakable. Include objects to open and close, lids to take off and put on, things to fill and spill, stack and fiddle with.

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A pile of plastic picnic plates to stack, old jewellery containers to open and shut, play keys, magnetic wooden ice-cream cone, pretend food, magnetic construction blocks, swizzle sticks in a jar, T/spoon and cup. Wander around the house and pile stuff in. Check the older kid’s toys for anything suitable such as the potato head toy. While she won’t be able to build it, she will take a couple of minutes to pull it to pieces and examine it.

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Take notice of what they pick up and walk around with when on the loose around the house. Mum’s cooking spoon, sister’s comb, brother’s hat, Dad’s shoe – chuck them in.

Poking Q-tips into a spice jar takes some doing at this age (Montessori small spaces activity) and bright books are good, along with a small photo album of family members and other common objects (pets etc.)

All of my children have rejected baby board books at this age but have been particularly interested in paper books. Perhaps because they see everyone around them reading them all the time? I set aside some paper paged books that are not particularly loved in case they get wrecked and give them to the little ones. I find if they are in perfect condition they will rarely be torn, but the moment there is even a small tear it will have a powerful draw and little fingers will have that page ripped out in a flash. It’s irresistible, they just can’t help themselves!

 

 

 

 

Homeschooling preschoolers – a new year begins.

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One more homeschool cupboard has been cleaned out and set up ready for the new year. Our 3 1/2 year old little man has joined the ranks with his older brothers and sisters to do “school” after breakfast each morning.

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Now I know how important it is at this age to keep school relaxed and enjoyable and not to focus on too much bookwork. Plenty of time for creative, open-ended and active play is an absolute necessity, along with character training as a firm foundation for all other skills. However… there is a place for teaching little boys to sit and concentrate on a task for a good length of time. For some this is more difficult than others but it can be done and dare I say it, must be done. You are doing your sons no favours if you do not teach them the self-control necessary to sit still and achieve a task that is set by someone else. Think ahead to a work or classroom situation – hard as it may be, they need this skill.

This training ideally starts early, with sit time in the highchair, mat time while you prepare dinner, playpen time as babies and all the other parent-directed periods that are so vital to a balanced routine. If you have had all these in place since babyhood then starting some kindergarten activities at the table will be a breeze. If not; it’s not too late – start now! Start small and build on it until it is easy for your little one to sit for a while and finish an activity that you set for them to do.

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I use a workbox system for my younger students and find it works well. It takes a little time to set up but pretty much runs itself once you are going, with change-overs only necessary every couple of weeks as skills are mastered or interest wanes with particular activities over time. We do “school” at home four days a week so there are 4 shelves of 2 boxes per day. The first box holds the “work” that is done with my supervision and the second box holds independent activities that are completed with some choice once the set tasks are done.

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We have already been working on basic counting skills and our little man is familiar with the alphabet and knows most of the sounds. To build on this, his work for the day will be a Montessori style maths counting tray followed by an initial sounds worksheet involving a little bit of writing practice.

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The counting trays all follow the same principle to keep it simple; place the numbers in order, then count out the correct number of objects. Pasta dinosaurs will drink at the watering hole, flowers fill the love heart dishes, coloured bead “food” is served at the number restaurant and coloured tiles line up above the bottle tops. All made with household objects for almost no cost and with visual and tactile appeal to a small person who needs to practise the same skill over and over and still be interested in the task at hand. They are also self-checking in that there is exactly the right number of objects to count and in some, like the plates and watering holes, the items can be matched to the dots to check if the right number has been counted out. (Check out the “Workjobs and Montessori Activities” category on the left for many more ideas for hands-on tray activities.)

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These initial sounds worksheets are so quick and simple but give that bookwork feel that my little kids love because it makes them think they are doing real school just like the big kids. They have to review the letter name and sound then say the name of each object slowly to see if it starts with the right sound. They circle the ones that do and cross out the ones that don’t before tracing the large letter in the middle a couple of times in varying colours. Just a little bit of pencil work to practice but nothing too taxing.

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The fun boxes hold activities that can be done without help but still have educational value. Fine motor skills, problem solving, language development and more are included here on a rotational basis.

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Monday has magnetic dressing dolls, playdough and letter stamps and our “Day and Night” puzzle that requires the children to match the silhouette or picture in the direction cards.

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Tuesday has finger puppets, regular cardboard puzzle and lacing beads. The large wooden lacing stick makes it easier for little fingers to put the beads on.

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Thursday’s workbox has another puzzle, magnetic pictures and magnetic white board and number lacing beads.

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The Friday box includes a puzzle plus magnetic alphabet letters and and magnetic whiteboard, along with some paper, scissors, glue, texts and Star Wars wrapping paper (saved from the Christmas presents) to create with.

Our little man was already asking to have a go at bits and pieces as I was putting these together so that’s a good sign. Keeping school toys out of the general rotation means that these are almost like new and he can’t wait to start.

Next up; the 6 year old twin’s cupboards. Year 1 here we come!

 

Homeschooling with toddlers; a new year begins!

As our thoughts turn to the new year, it is time for an evaluation of routines and a sort-out of school cupboards. A major part of successfully homeschooling a large family is ensuring that the toddlers and babies have a well structured routine that includes some extended periods of time where they are able to play independently, leaving me free to concentrate on schooling the other children.

I spent a little time today changing over the playpen, mat time and highchair toys; boxing away baby toys that are now at the wrong developmental level and quickly making up some new and interesting activities as well as bringing out some I have stashed away from previous years. A big bottle, a box, some containers and bibs and bobs from around the house and I was all set with stimulating and educational toys that cost nothing at all.

The 12 month to 2 year range is difficult to cater for as they want toys that do something but are usually not yet ready for pretend play. Montessori style practical life tray activities are perfect and are cheap and easy to make. You can put them together in just minutes and throw them out when you are done. Better than buying new plastic fantastic dinging doodads that loose their attraction in a week or two.

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My husband didn’t realise that when he purchase his latest Christmas gift to himself he also bought one for his daughter. This box had the perfect design for a Montessori style object permanence box. Little ones drop the oversized marbles into the hole and watch them disappear and are then astounded as they magically reappear at the bottom. They eventually learn that the object is still there even though they can’t see it and begin to watch for the marbles to roll down into view. Simple concept but fascinating to the right age.

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All I need to do was glue two wood offcuts to the bottom to ensure a slope so that the balls rolled to the front of the box and tape the sliding inner piece in place. 1 minute = new activity. You can buy wooden versions for $40.00 but who needs one? You could use a toilet roll or anything else really to glue underneath to keep one end of the box elevated.

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A shoebox version of exactly the same thing. A hole in top to drop the balls into and a large slot to retrieve them again from the bottom.

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Drop bottles are always lots of fun. Fitting into the Montessori “small spaces” and “posting” categories they require some fine motor control and problem solving to get the objects into the hole at the top of the bottle and retrieve them from the bottom. Watching my 17 month old turning the block laboriously in her chubby little hands and repeatedly poking it at the hole until it dropped in was entertaining. Watching her clap herself each time she did it even more so.

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Something to pull apart is good for a few minutes. There is no way she will be able to put these back on again but she carefully removed every one and then stuffed them all into one of her honey tubs with a hole in the lid. (Yep, expensive toys around here – honey tubs as well!)

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Large garden stones to drop into a yoghurt pot with another hole in the lid. Satisfying clunk sound and weight. Eventually she will figure out how to turn the container upside down and shake them back out again.

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Pom pom posting container. The draw-back of this one is that once they are in they can’t be taken back out again. She does this one first every mat time and then sets it aside to focus on the other items.

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A pile of objects to fill and spill are a must. All the better if the container they go into makes a good metallic sound when they drop in.

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At the moment my youngest (17 months) has playpen time each morning for at least an hour four days a week – we are out for the 5th day. These are her baskets that she uses on a rotational basis. Because they only come out for playpen time once per week I will only need to change them again in a month or two. Using some basic categories that help me come up with ideas I walk around the house and plop items in. An hour or so (most of which is putting away the items from the old boxes) and I have playpen time sorted.

This month the categories were:

  • posting/small spaces
  • something to wear/put on/household object
  • books
  • something to stack/pull apart
  • something to cuddle

I’ll be posting about my other 6 children’s school time activities over the next little while. Next up – the 3 1/2 year old.

 

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers – part 4

Today is the fourth instalment of our “What’s in the box?” Christmas activities for toddlers and preschoolers. My 2 1/2 year old searches each morning to find his sparkly Christmas box filled with a new Christmas themed activity. He works on these after breakfast while his older siblings are preparing their Blessing Buddy acts of kindness for the day. Combined with room time, this highchair time gives me 1 1/2 to 2 hours of time to either homeschool the older children or in this case, complete some more complicated crafts that need me to be available. As each box is opened it is added to his “school” shelves and can be rotated with the other Christmas activities to extend the time.

If you have trouble getting your little one to sit and concentrate, have a read through this post for some tips on the practicalities of getting started. While some children are naturally better at sitting for longer lengths of time and focussing on a given task, all children can be taught to do this and will improve with consistency and training. I now have 6 children who are (or have been) old enough for highchair activities and I can assure you that they were not all on board with the idea of highchair time from the beginning!

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Day 16

Tweezer star transfer. Practising pincer grip is important for young children who will need the finger strength and dexterity this develops later as they begin to write and draw. The card stars will be presented in a small container that holds them upright to make it easier to grasp the edges with the tweezers as they are transferred into the ice block tray segments.

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Day 17

These oversized popsicle sticks, pompoms and stars have magnets on the back so that they will stick to the baking tray.

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Day 18

All the children have quiet time books filled with dot-to-dots, colouring pages, puzzles and assorted activities. This is a toddler version of the same with stickers, stamps and texts for free creating.

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Day 19 

Even though this is day 19 of my activities, I actually introduced it right at the beginning of December when we decorated our large Christmas tree. Little children love to decorate without having to do it a certain way so we have this little tree set aside with a bunch of assorted decorations for the children to add on and take off as often as they like.

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Day 20

Poking toothpicks into the foam tree and adding large beads to decorate the tree will allow latitude for fine motor skills, colour sorting and matching and one-to-one correspondence.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers – part 3

Our first “What’s in the box?” Christmas highchair time activity was revealed today to our 2 1/2 year old who was excited to search for his hidden sparkly Christmas box. He enjoyed his Christmas sensory tub activity and will be keen to see what tomorrow’s box reveals. He played with his new activity while his older siblings worked on their act of kindness for the day, which came with the much anticipated arrival of our Blessing Buddies.

Here are 5 more of the Christmas activity trays for toddlers and preschoolers that I have prepared, ready to be revealed one at a time each morning in the special sparkly Christmas box.

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Day 11

These cookies are simply 2 circles of cardboard from a nappy box glued together (picture side in) with a variety of felt shapes to add as icing.

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The older children saw what I was doing and begged pestered asked me to let them have a go. They did such a good job that I handed the project over to them and went on to prep some other activities. Other than the flowers and a couple of bits and pieces, the designs in the photo above are all theirs. They can’t wait to play with them!

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 Day 12

A sensory tub filled with macaroni pasta and a variety of interesting bits and pieces to sort, scoop, tong, tip, pour and transfer.

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Day 13

One of our Christmas traditions is to purchase a new nativity set each year. This one we purchased a few years ago and has been well used. I will be putting a different new wooden set into the sparkly box but as the older kids are about while I am photographing I didn’t want to spoil the surprise!

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Day 14

Do-a-dot printables with stickers to place inside each circle. Great for fine motor skills and one-to-one correspondence. I will need to get some larger stickers though as these are too small for very little fingers to manipulate easily. You could add some stamps and drawing items to this box.

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Day 15

Pretend food play and colour sort tonging activity. A muffin tray filled with coloured silicone pattipan wrappers with pompoms and jewels etc. to manipulate and “cook.”

 

What’s in the box – bonus toddler Christmas activity trays from Gail

My friend Gail has been creating her own Montessori inspired Christmas activity trays for her preschoolers and has kindly given me permission to share them with you all. So here’s a bonus collection for you in addition to my own 24 that I am currently in the process of sharing during my “What’s in the box?” series.

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Jingle bell two colour sorting and tong transfer

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2 colour bead threading and pattern making

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Pretend cooking tray and colour sort

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Bingo dotter do-a-dot pages

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Christmas sensory tub

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Linking chain patterns. Gail is thinking of making some pattern cards to copy and extend.

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Playdough gingerbread man and star cutting and decorating

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Geoboard elastic band shapes. You could add some picture cards to copy as well.

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Read and green Duplo with base board

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Lacing or sewing cards

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Posting matchsticks into a spice jar

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Threading coloured beads onto chenille pipe cleaners

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Gluing Christmas shapes and wool

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Blank book for drawing, stamping and stickers

 

Thanks Gail, love your work!

Has anyone else been inspired to make their own trays? We’d love for you to share.