Family night ideas – Family fun spot

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Depending on your personality, it can be easy to become too focussed on the mountain of tasks that surround us as Mothers (especially when you are homeschooling many children) to the detriment of our relationships with those children. With 6 children and a newborn in our house, life can get busy and with night feeds keeping me slightly sleep deprived it is easy to let all the fun leach out of life. Relationships take the back seat and jobs take priority.

In order to keep this somewhat in check we endeavour to keep our family “nights” going. Too often though we don’t get around to arranging anything and fall back on the old standby of movie nights. Despite having a very long list of ideas, I just wasn’t getting around to planning any of them. Introducing a family fun spot has addressed this issue for us. It gives us a place to write our family activities and keeps us accountable to actually getting around to doing some of them!

So how does it work?

The children write ideas of things they would like to do in a suggestions spot and Mummy and Daddy transfer appropriate ones onto the “coming soon” space on our whiteboard (adding our own as well) until we are ready to do them. We then transfer a couple at a time to the “fun spot” when we know they will be slotted in sometime in the very near future. We avoid giving a specific time as to when they will happen as a newborn can be unpredictable and we don’t want to make plans that keep needing to be changed and disappointing and frustrating the children. We simply wait for a good opportunity and announce the event as we are ready to go ahead. Once we have been there, done that, the idea is erased and a new one added in its place.

It gives the children something to look forward to with anticipation – a little sparkle in their day. It keeps them in front of me too so I can’t forget and am forced to plan the upcoming events – the children are very quick to point it out if there is nothing written in the family fun spot! The added bonus is that we do some of these type of things as part of our everyday life anyway and our children have it so good that they take them for granted, barely noticing the fun stuff that we do with and for them. Writing activities we were just going to do “because” on the family fun spot helps them to notice the good things we are already doing.

For more info on family nights (the why’s and a great list of ideas) see this post.

Preschool at our house – ready for a new baby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Routines: Table activity ideas

Following on from my post on table activities, I thought it might be helpful to include some ideas of the kinds of things I give my children to do at table time. The toddlers sit in their highchairs to do theirs (see highchair activities) and the older children sit at a variety of tables and occasionally on the floor.

  • Drawing
  • Playdough
  • Stamping (stamp pads and ink stamps)
  • Lacing, threading or beading
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Felt board
  • Construction toys
  • Pattern blocks
  • Contact collage
  • Water colour painting
  • Paper craft
  • Sticker books
  • Tea sets and teddies
  • Finger puppets
  • Mini whiteboard and eraser
  • Small chalk board and duster
  • Peg boards
  • Board games
  • Tap tap
  • Scrapbooking
  • Contact pictures
  • Dot-to-dots
  • Mazes
  • Magnadoodle
  • Colour-by-number
  • Stencils

I like to keep table activities separate from our other activities for a couple of reasons:

  • the children only use them during table time, which keeps interest levels high
  • they do not request activities that I do not want them to do at this time; those they may choose from are already set aside for this purpose
  • when I am choosing activities for the toddlers and younger children I don’t have to think of what to get or wander around looking for inspiration, I simply open the cupboard and choose from the selection there, rotating through those that are appropriate
  • the children have ready access and can pack up after themselves
Another time that we find table activities very useful is when we have visitors. We love having friends and family around but the children do get very excited. After some time to talk and play with the visitors (depending on who it is of course) I often direct the children to get out a table activity. It provides a focus, quiets down the excited behaviour and allows the adults to have a conversation. Sometimes Grandparents or other visitors will do the activities with the children (which of course they love) but we find it just gives them a great way to be around the adults and interact appropriately without dominating the entire evening.

Choices

Why do we need to teach our children to obey? The first reason for me to do so as a Christian is that God’s word tells me to:

Ephesians 6:1-3 Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honour your Father and your Mother, this is the first commandment with a promise.

Also, I believe that children who are taught to obey their parents are more likely to obey God as well. If a child cannot submit to the authority of their parent, how will they learn to submit to God’s authority in their lives as they grow?

If you are noticing many occasions during the day where you are having problems with a child who is reluctant to obey, whinges and whines while they obey or flat-out tantrums when they don’t get their own way, you may have a child who is becoming “wise in their own eyes.”

A child who is given too many choice begins to imagine that they are in charge and will question your authority in unpleasant ways during the day.

Have a think back over one of your typical days. Keep a look out for every single choice you are allowing your child. Who chose:

  • when to get up?
  • what to do when they did get up?
  • which clothes and shoes?
  • which cup and plate?
  • what food for breakfast?
  • what activity after breakfast?
  • which book for story time?
  • where to sit for story time?
  • when to go outside?
  • what to do outside?
  • when to come inside?
  • what to watch on TV?
  • which toys to have in the bath?
  • where to sit for dinner……
The list is endless and these are just a few examples. Are you making these seemingly small choices for your child or are they making them for you? Choices are closely linked with freedoms. The freedoms and choices a child is given should be in harmony with their age and moral and intellectual ability. A toddler is not able to handle the same freedoms as a preschooler, who is in turn not equipped to handle the freedoms and choice an older child can cope with.
Freedom and choices should be granted as the child ages and shows that they have the maturity and responsibility to make good choices and to use their freedom well. As moral responsibility is demonstrated,  more and more freedoms are granted until they reach young adulthood and are making almost all of their own choices and decisions.
As a rough guide, it is around the age of 3 that children are ready to make some choices (e.g. jam or peanut butter?) with freedoms gradually increasing from there. A 5 or 6 year old is ready to make more choices in their day and should be able to make appropriate choices because of the modelling you have been giving them over the previous years which shows them what good decision-making looks like.
This is not to say that a younger toddler can never have a choice, it just should not be a day-to-day, all day pattern of behaviour.
How do you know if your child is “addicted to choice?” Simply take away all choices for a day and observe what happens. If the child graciously accepts your decision-making then they are probably ready to handle those decisions themselves.
Be aware though, that a toddler who has had a lot of freedom with too many choices will initially have a very bad reaction to this loss of choice and behaviour will most likely be quite difficult for a couple of days. If you are calm and consistent and continue to make all the choices for your child they will actually be much happier and calmer in the long run too.
The concept of being “wise in your own eyes” comes from “On Becoming Childwise”  which is an excellent resources for parenting your 3 to 7 year old. It includes information on choices, freedoms, routines,  and many other parenting issues:
On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years
Mel Hayde in her book “Terrific Toddlers” covers choices and gives extensive information on how to set up a toddler’s day. My favourite book for 18 month to 3 year olds.

Mat time on the go

In my previous post on mat time I wrote about how to use and introduce mat time to your little ones, including the benefits that mat time brings to you and your child. Mat time allows you to go anywhere and place a simple boundary on the ground for your child to play quietly in while you can relax knowing they are safe, quiet and happy.

How do you cater for mat time when you are out and about though? I like to keep an activity bag in the car or near the front door with some special toys inside that are used only for this purpose to keep interest levels high when I do pull them out. I don’t have enough commercial toys to put a whole bunch out of circulation so I like these toys to be simple hand-made activities or items that won’t be missed. I have a small mat that also stays in the bag, acts as the boundary and gives the children something comfortable to sit on.

I put everything into little bags, containers or boxes as this doubles the interest factor. Once we have finished with the toys I do have to spend a few minutes returning everything to its own container but as I don’t use them all the time, I’m happy to do that.

I use the following categories to help me come up with ideas of what to include:

  • books
  • vehicle (dinky car, Duplo)
  • stacking toy (plastic containers, cups, bowls)
  • containers to open and shut (bags, boxes, zippers, flaps, press-studs, drawstring, handbags)
  • something to wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • something textured or unusual to handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • construction (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • posting toy (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • household (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)

With a small amount of preparation and some training at home, you can have a toddler who happily sits down for an extended length of time to focus and play quietly with their own toys. Perfect for Grandma’s trinket filled house or a coffee date with the girls.

Keeping the Sabbath – Duplo Bible charades

We have been spending some time lately helping the children to memorize the Ten Commandments using this children’s 10 commandments video clip. At the same time, we are discussing each commandment and how it applies to our lives and specifically, what each one requires of us. We have also focused on how the law acts as a mirror to show us both how God requires us to live and also our absolute inability to keep the law perfectly – therefore our need for the saviour that God provided through Jesus.

 

One of the areas we are working on ourselves as parents is keeping the Sabbath. We find it particularly difficult to make this a rest day and time of focus on God when we have many little ones to get to church, keep fed, dressed and entertained for the day. I will be writing more about this over the next little while, however today I wanted to share one family activity that we have started on Sunday afternoons that caters for all ages, has been thoroughly enjoyed and keeps the focus on God – Duplo bible charades.

 

Duplo bible charades is an absolute winner in our house. Everyone uses the bricks to build a scene depicting a bible event, story or verse. The scene can be still or require animation. Once everyone is ready, we take turns presenting the scene for others to guess. Little ones team up with adults or build their own if they want to.

We are starting to branch out into the more obscure stories now and attempting to make them more difficult to guess. It’s lots of fun and a nice family relationship building activity.

I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which stories are represented in the photos – bearing in mind that the children had no trouble at all working them out!