What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 2

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Today is the second instalment of our planned “What’s in the box?” activities for advent as we count down to Christmas. Our hopefully very excited toddler will search the house for this sparkly Christmas box each morning which will contain his morning table activity. Previous activities will be available in his “school” cupboard for use while his siblings are working on their Blessing Buddy act of kindness for the day.

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Day 6

Using tweezers to transfer stars into an ice cube tray will be new to him so I’m not sure whether he has the dexterity for the tweezers or not. The tweezers can be easily swapped with small tongs if need be.

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Day 7

Pretend cooking play is always popular, especially if I come over for a taste of Christmas cookies now and then. These large coloured glass stones and oversized marbles are from our local discount variety store. A mini muffin tray and tea bag tongs promote one-to-one correspondence practise and transferring skills.

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Day 8

Dotting with bingo markers inside do-a-dot pictures is a semi-controlled way to present a painting experience. I am quite certain however that dotting in the circles will not be satisfying enough and that the final product will be well and truly smeared with paint! (Better cover the tray with newspaper for this one.) Free printable pictures to dot are here and here or google do-a-dot for hundreds.

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Day 9

Decorating playdough Christmas trees with beads and tiny bead strings will be fun. Toddlers find it very difficult to roll out dough though and may also need assistance with the cutter. Be prepared to cut a bunch out for them if necessary.

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Day 10

This toothpick Christmas tree is great for fine motor skills. The child pokes toothpicks with coloured ends into holes in the top of the box lid (use a skewer to poke them through.) I used coloured contact for the tree and punched holes with a single hole paper punch before sticking it onto the box lid as I know from experience that poking holes through contact on cardboard can be difficult and doesn’t always leave a nice clean hole.

How is your Christmas planning going?

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 1

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Our “What’s in the Box?” advent count down of Christmas preschool activities is a new tradition for us. While the older children are working on other projects for our Blessing Buddies acts of kindness, our toddler will be opening his special Christmas box to find his table activity for the morning. The sparkly box will be hidden somewhere around the house for him to find each day and will contain a new and exciting challenge for him to work on independently while I help with the older children’s more complicated projects.

Here are the first 5 days of “What’s in the box?”

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The first activity needs to be one that is guaranteed to hold his attention for a longer time span as it will be the only one available. As each new activity is introduced, I will place it onto our toddler activity shelves so that I can rotate between them when interest in the new tray for the day has worn off.

Day 1

This Christmas sensory tub will be filled with all the wonderful “Christmas” items in the photo above. (If it’s green it’s Christmassy right?) The items can be sorted, transferred with tongs or cutlery, hidden and found, tipped and poured and generally fiddled about with.

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Day 2

A new batch of green playdough formed into a rough Christmas tree with small lights cut from a plastic Christmas garland to poke into the dough. You could also use beads or any other small decoration.

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Day 3

A colour sorting activity with 3 colours of Christmas bows. I have included a toothpick with a large flat end to hold while sliding it into one of the loops of the bows to transfer them into the matching coloured bowls. We’ll see how difficult this is for him – it may be quickly changed to small tongs.

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Day 4

Simple pattern block puzzles.These free printable patterns are available here. I intend to laminate these for greater durability. My older children all jumped at the chance to fill these out for the photos and after watching me prep these trays throughout the day, my 11-year-old commented that he almost wished he was a toddler again, just so he could do the activities!

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Day 5

Threading bow-shaped beads onto coloured chenille sticks (pipe cleaners.) Make sure the holes are large enough so that this is not too difficult for little fingers. Older children could make patterns with the colours.

Stay tuned for days 6 to 24.

What are your toddler’s favourite Christmas activities?

 

 

 

 

Sensory tub: Animal habitat

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Our latest sensory bin is an animal habitat. This time I had our 3 youngest help me set it up and decide what we should add to it.

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We started with a bunch of tins and boxes for caves and hills and draped a green cloth over the top .

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To our basic landscape we added artificial leaves for trees (old Christmas tree branches work well for this), blue jewels for water, black stones and a bunch of assorted wooden beads – and of course the animals.

You could easily change this idea to a different environment with a different coloured sheet – white for snow, yellow for desert etc. and add the appropriate animals and accessories.

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Apparently finding shelter and lining it with dry leaves so the animals would be warm and comfortable was the priority. We have been watching a lot of Bear Grylls survival DVDs recently and the conversation certainly revolved around his advice. (NB You know you have been watching TOO many Bear Grylls survival shows when your 4-year-old eats an ant, a bug and a daddy-long-legs spider within one week. Yes, I did say eats and yes, we have talked to him about the dangers of doing this and pointed out repeatedly that he is not starving nor in a life or death survival situation!)

 

 

Sensory tub: fun with cars, roads and rocks

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Our latest sensory tub was put together in 5 minutes flat using a bunch of cars, our rocks from the last tub and a basket of blocks that rarely sees the light of day. I replaced the oats sensory activity with cars with the two youngest boys in mind but was surprised to see that the girls also couldn’t keep out of it.

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I just tipped it all in but this is what it looked like after  my 4 1/2 and 9-year-old girls spent 20 minutes setting it up to their liking – I couldn’t have done it better myself!

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Everyone from the 2-year-old to the 11-year-old got in there!

Now, I would like to leave you with the false impression that everyone played together in perfect harmony while I sipped a hot cup of tea and smiled on my angelic brood. Unfortunately the sound track to the seemingly peaceful picture above went something like this:

He’s knocking down my building! Drive on the road! DRIVE ON THE ROADS! MUUUUUUUUM THEY”RE NOT DRIVING ON THE ROADS!!!! Don’t touch my rocks! He’s touching MY rocks! MUUUM, He’s wrecking EVERYTHING! – You get the picture. Pairs seems to be the ideal arrangement for our sensory tubs. Any more than that and the conflict starts.

The previous paragraph has been included for the benefit of some of my friends who operate under the delusion that our family is approaching perfection! 🙂

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This is what it looked liked a couple of hours later.

 

Farm sensory tub – toddler and preschooler fun

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Our rocks sensory tub has been available for a month or so now and interest has waned, so it was time for a change. Within a matter of 10 minutes I had thrown together the farming bits and pieces we have around the place, (most of which were in our playdough toys) resulting in a new and exciting activity to keep my little ones interested and playing quietly during one of the many breastfeeding sessions that now take up much of my day.

Sensory tubs are great for a wide variety of ages (my 2 to 9 year olds LOVE them and even the 11-year-old boy will sit down and have a fiddle) and they are an excellent activity to assign an older child to do with a younger sibling for some brother and sister time. I find pairing the older and younger children means that the youngest learns how to play with the materials and I will often see them imitating the play of their older sibling when using the materials independently later on. I remember being quite surprised to find that my first child didn’t know how to play with some of the activities I gave him. I actually had to sit down and model pretend play with him to teach him what to do. Now, with so many older siblings, I no longer have this role – it is well and truly filled with the modelling of the older children for the younger ones.

A quick trawl of the web or an online site like Pinterest will give you an abundance of ideas and with a few tucked in the back of your mind you can keep an eye out for suitable materials whenever you happen to be out at the local discount store, op shop or supermarket. At the most, these tubs cost me $10 or so in loose materials to fill them (the rocks, pasta, oats, rice base etc.) and I then store these to be re-used in the future, with a different play accessory to keep it fresh. It is well worth the small investment for the peaceful play that results, allowing me to get the dinner cooked or feed our baby without interruption.

Our farming sensory tub includes plastic farm animals, plastic and popstick fences, milk bottle and yoghurt container lids for water holes and food dishes, craft matchsticks (hay), wooden beads (as corn cobs etc.)  plastic logs, wall panels, artificial leaves and the rocks themselves.

Montessori style hands-on tray activities for toddlers and preschoolers

Activities for young children are cheap and easy to put together and the peace they will bring to your daily routine is priceless! Teaching your little ones to sit and concentrate for extended periods is one of the key skills every parent should be working on in the early years and one that will pay dividends in the future. Choose a variety of attractive materials that will stimulate their interest and be prepared to change them fairly regularly. It is important that the activity is not too difficult nor too easy. A little bit of a challenge will keep them interested – too challenging and they will be unable to succeed. If you present a tray that is too difficult, simply remove it and put it away for the future. Chances are they will love it in just a few short months.

I have written several posts detailing how to train your children to sit in their highchair, mat or playpen and the practicalities of when and how to change activities. Getting started takes a little extra time, but once you have built “tray time” into your day, it will become something your child looks forward to. Place them somewhere near you so you can chat and interact while you are cooking or doing some other task that enables you to encourage them in what they are doing when they need it and keep an eye on those smaller objects that they may find tempting to put in their mouths. Here are several ideas for the 2 to 5 age-range (approximately) that I have used in the past with my own children.

Sliding oversized paperclips onto matching coloured cardboard squares.

Matching clips to coloured popsticks. Great pincer-grip training for later writing. Make sure the clips you get have long enough handles and are not too stiff to open. These clips have one short and one long side and the children were not able to grip them properly.

Sorting popsticks by colour.

Tong transfer combined with colour sorting. The flowers came from a cheap plastic Hawaiian lei.

Duplo colour sort.

Tong transfer combined with bead colour or shape sort.

Golf tee hammering by colour. A piece of foam salvaged from packaging and a light wooden hammer from a Tap Tap game.

Colour and shape match combined with pincer grip practise while pegging.

Shape puzzle. This is a commercial set of attribute blocks. I remove all bar one set of the same colour and thickness and use it as a simple shape puzzle. Once they master this, I add other colours and thicknesses back in.

Pattern blocks are lots of fun. Leave them out on a small table and even your older children will not be able to resist putting a bunch together to make a picture. Young children enjoy the matching cards you can purchase to go with them.

Geoboard matching. Little ones just experiment with elastic bands but older children can do a variety of extension activities. Matching and copying geometric shapes is one.

Shape matching cards. You could use them for basic card games as well.

Good quality wooden puzzles are always attractive for children.

Chunky, simple puzzles are a good start for younger kids.

The concepts of heavier, lighter, full, empty etc. can be developed while playing with a set of balance scales.

Stacking and nesting objects develops the concept of size seriation; in this case, measuring cups.

This is a cardboard stacking box set that does the same as the Montessori pink tower. Not as nice but a lot cheaper!

Graduated wooden rings.

Picture to picture matching.

Matching picture halves is a good introduction to puzzles for those who get overwhelmed with too many pieces. Start with just a few pairs and work up.

Spinny Spellers

The twins are starting more of a preschool type programme this year. Lots of counting, letter sounds and recognition and the like and on to three-letter CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. A nifty little tool for teaching these three-letter words is the spinny speller. I have seen nuts and bolts versions and some very nice commercially produced Montessori products, but here is my home-made version. A little rickety perhaps but they will do the job!

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Often spinny spellers have a random assortment of consonants and vowels. The children spin the blocks and sound out the resulting combination to practise reading 3 letter words. I separated mine into one for each vowel so that every word will always have the same centre sound to make it simpler for beginners. The letter combinations I chose make as many real words as possible but occasionally nonsense word combinations will come up which is just part of the fun.

I used a small wooden craft dowel from Spotlight with 2 wooden beads glued to the ends to stop the blocks falling off. The cube blocks are cut from a length of wood and I hand-drilled the holes. (Thus the wonky alignment – couldn’t be bothered measuring the centres and just did it by eye – should have measured!) Just thread the blocks onto the dowel, leave a little space for them to spin around and glue the beads on the end. Write your chosen letters on with a permanent marker and you are done.

Mega list of highchair and table activity ideas for babies and toddlers

How do you keep toddlers and preschoolers well occupied while you homeschool older children, cook dinner or make an important phone call? In the interest of getting organised and answering this question for myself, I have created charts of activities for 3 different age groups; babies and toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children.

Every item on these lists is not necessarily a toy or activity that I would have chosen to purchase, or recommend that you do, they are simply what we already have. With 6 children in the house there are many birthday and Christmas gifts coming in and our collection of table activities is quite extensive. I have purchased some and do have my favourites, but it is very nice to be able to rotate constantly so that there is always something “new” and fresh to do.

The toddlers and very young children do not have a choice of activities. I set out what they will be working on and decide how long it will be before they are able to change. See choices, highchair activities for babies, routines & highchair time and Montessori style practical life tray activities for toddlers for practical explanations of how to get started and manage highchair time for little ones.

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Click here to download a free printable PDF of the activities for babies and toddlers poster

It is a large download so it take some time to come through (lots of photos!) I had to leave it and walk away! The next two posts will include the charts of activities for preschoolers and school-aged children, so keep an eye out for those. If you would like an explanation of any of the activities, please feel free to ask. I didn’t want to clutter up the lists with too much information.

I would love to hear what activities you like to give your babies and toddlers.

Toddler busy boxes

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Toddler busy boxes are part of our flexible daily routine. They help me to homeschool  older children or get some chores done while my toddlers and preschoolers are well occupied on a worthwhile task.

busy box cupboard IMG_8556Our busy boxes (and ziploc bag activities, tot school, workjobs, shoebox tasks, preschool or Montessori style tray activities) are only available at certain times in the day to keep them fresh and interesting and to stop them getting spread throughout the house. We use them during school time in the morning and for table activities while I am getting dinner on the table in the evening. That way I do not need to change them too often because the children’s interest stays high and I can also keep some degree of supervision over the messier trays to avoid major pack up sessions afterwards.

They are also excellent to use for buddy time when an older child is assigned to play with a younger sibling. This is useful for example when the younger children have already finished playpen or room time and I just need an extra 20 minutes or so to finish working with one of the older children to complete their school activities. Turning toddlers loose to wander unattended throughout the house is bound to end in trouble, so some time with an older sister or brother gives the older children a break from their school work and builds good sibling relationships at the same time. The older children enjoy the responsibility because they do not get asked to do it all the time or for very long periods of time. It also gives them an excuse to play with all those attractive tubs as well!

This set of busy boxes is for my 3 year old twins, but many could be adapted to suit toddlers and older babies too. There are heaps of ideas on my other posts for the younger age group.blocks and animals IMG_8554Plastic animals and wooden blocks for building corals, zoos, farms and houses. Jenga blocks work well too.

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The 3 year olds have been learning how to recognise the numerals 1 to 5 and count small items. Combining building with Duplo as well makes this counting tray attractive, particularly to boys.geoboards IMG_8547Geoboards are a commercially produced mathematics tool. Great for exploring geometric shapes, perimeter, fractions or just for making pictures with elastic bands.dry erase board IMG_8546Personal dry erase boards (whiteboards) with pens and an eraser. sewing cards IMG_8543Sewing and lacing cards. These have a shape drawn for the children to copy. There are plenty of sewing and lacing shapes around to buy or make your own by punching holes around a cardboard picture using a hole punch.button sorting IMG_8542Sorting buttons into muffin trays is a hit with all ages. There is just something about handling all those different shapes and textures. The twins haven’t even gotten their hands on these yet – the 6, 8 and 10 year olds have been monopolizing them! cutting box IMG_8540Teaching toddlers to cut provides them with an absorbing activity that is great for their fine motor skills. The twins have had experience with all the materials in this box so this is just an assortment to chop up any old way they like. Paper streamers, card strips, beads, straws and other oddments such as tinsel or curling ribbon could be included. We let the bits fall back into the box and they can eventually be used for collage later on. The cutting box with free printable patterns I prepared a little while back was too advanced for them so I have put it away to use later on. wood puzzle IMG_8536A collection of good quality wooden puzzles is a good investment. This one came with a variety of patterns for the children to copy, making it much more  long-lasting.gluing IMG_8534Teaching toddlers to glue is another open-ended activity that they will love. Using a glue stick makes it a lot less messy to begin with. A selection of coloured card pieces and diecut shapes from a Kmart scrapbooking assortment pack made this very easy to prepare.rice box IMG_8531Sensory tubs have so many applications. Finding puzzles pieces hidden in rice is pictured above. See here for many more ideas.do a dot IMG_8530Do-a-dot pictures are great for fine motor skills. Bingo dot markers can be used to dot inside the circles or provide small stickers to peel and stick into the dots.  There are tonnes of free printable do-a-dot pictures around if you do a quick google search. teddies IMG_8528Imaginative cooking and doll/teddy play is always a hit. Small teddies, mini pillows, sheets and blankets, along with marbles, jewels and wooden button food makes an interesting selection. Bottle top plates and an old polly pocket toy as well as some screw-top jars finish it off.beads IMG_8526Pony beads and pipecleaners are great for threading and can be made into bracelets or tipped off and re-used next time. dinosaurs IMG_8523Our dinosaur tub includes play dough, plastic dinosaurs, popsicle sticks and popstick fences, a rolling-pin and plastic knife and some artificial leaves for plants and trees. The green bowl has been used to make a pond, cave and home for them as well.

Make sure you choose activities that are age appropriate, can be used independently, include attractive materials, are easily accessible, and easy to pack away. Being able to throw everything back into a robust plastic tub makes it easy for children to keep the activities together and tidy up after themselves.

The key to using these kinds of activities with your young children successfully though is training. No amount of pretty materials will keep a fidgety toddler with the attention span of a flea sitting in one spot for any length of time on a day-to-day basis. As soon as the novelty wears off they will be up and off again.

Take the time to train your children to stay in a designated area. (See mat time/blanket time and highchair time.) Introducing young babies to playpen time that transitions to room time later on is an excellent way to begin (see starting late) and the highchair and table make excellent places to sit a child with an engaging activity while you are nearby. Some children will naturally sit still for longer than others, but all can be trained to do so for a reasonable length of time.

If you are too busy to train your children to sit and concentrate then you are too busy!! Give up some of those good things you do and take on the better thing of training your children. They will need these focussing and concentrating skills in later life, especially at school and your home and others will be blessed by a self-controlled toddler.

For a list of toddler table activities, see here. For preschool ideas see here. For many more ideas for children of all ages, have a look around! For some more sensory tubs, try here.

Montessori multiplication trays: Hands-on mathematics

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Wooden peg-board (the kind you use to hang tools from in the garage) is a cheap and simple alternative to purchasing a multiplication board.

Continuing on with my mathematics tray ideas this week (introduction and addition trays here, subtraction trays here), here are some multiplication ideas for learning times tables. We made our own homemade Montessori multiplication board using pegboard wood for a cheap alternative. For another easier method using a rubber bath mat, see this post. While the Montessori multiplication boards are an excellent idea, my children found it quite tedious placing the beads into each little hole every time, preferring to use the blocks from our Math-U-See sets, MAB’s or other manipulatives instead.

Whichever way you choose to present multiplication, make it visual, tactile and concrete to begin with, before moving to abstract concepts. The following tray ideas are for children who already understand the concept of multiplication and simply need some more practise of their basic facts (their times tables) in order to commit them to memory.

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Threading beads onto pipe cleaners (bend the ends to keep the beads from slipping off) is a home-made alternative to the Montessori bead materials. They become the manipulatives, with the multiplication problems written on popsicle sticks. The popsticks are laid out, making sure that the word “start” and all the answer sides are upright. The child turns over the “start” stick and uses the bead strings to solve the problem on the other side. They find the answer to that problem on the next stick and turn it over to reveal a new sum on the other side and continue on in the same way until they reach the “finish” stick. If at any time they turn over the finish stick before they have completed all the other sticks, it indicates they have made an error along the way.

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Wooden MAB’s (multi-based arithmetic blocks) are the “old fashioned” mathematics manipulative that I grew up with. They can be used in place of bead chains for many math concepts. Here they are set out for learning the 10 times table (multiplying by 10’s.) The sum is on the left and the small circles show a running total, with the large circle answer at the end of the chain. A small pad is included for recording the answers.

count by 10s MABs

These plates are actually set up for skip counting in the photograph, however with the addition of some multiplication problems, lend themselves very well to practising times tables.

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Popsicle sticks with answers are matched to multiplication problems on an icecream container lid.

egg carton 8 times table

Popsicle sticks with the problem are slid into slots with matching answers on the egg carton.

multiplication times table puzzle

A cheap (yet difficult) puzzle was a fun way to practise. Answers are written on the back board to match the puzzle piece with the corresponding problem. The puzzle must be difficult enough that the child cannot easily cheat by just following the picture, rather than working out the sums. (Not that any of your children would ever do that!!)

white ball to iceblock tray match 1 to 10

Plastic balls with problems are matched to the answers in an iceblock tray.

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Pegs with problems are pegged on to the answer segment on the container, which doubles as a storage place.

mixed operation bingo

Dice are thrown (you need 3) to create any combination of addition, subtraction or multiplication problem and the answer is covered on the board. The idea is to continue until all answer squares have been covered. This is for children who already have a fairly good mastery of their basic number facts and tables.

4 times table multipication jewel cont

Each square container holds 4 little plastic shot glasses for practising the 4 times table. Jewels are counted into each glass and totalled to find the answers.

pattipan in box 4 times tables

A plastic lunchbox filled with pattipan answers to match problems on circle.

castle flag multiplication

The correct number of flags are inserted into the castles, with the castles showing how many groups.

pink plate plastic pegs 6 times

Pegs are slid on to the matching answers on the paper plates. A manipulative is needed for working out the problems unless the child is able to complete them mentally.

ping pong ball egg tray 5 times table

Ping pong ball problems are matched to the answers in an egg holder from the fridge.