Blessing Buddies and “What’s in the Box?” for holiday routines

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Our little one is enjoying the new and exciting Christmas tray activities that have been arriving each day with the Blessing Buddies. Even during the holiday period, a flexible routine is essential for toddlers. While we break out of our usual day-to-day activities, I still try to make sure that my 2-year-old has some structure to her day and she enjoys doing her table activities after breakfast while her siblings work on their crafts and gifts throughout December.

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This tinker tray of loose parts was a hit today as she used it to decorate the felt Christmas tree. After decorating our actual Christmas tree recently she understood exactly what this concept was all about. Of course they don’t all end up back in the tray quite the same way at the end!

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Gingerbread men “cookies” to decorate plus a Christmas tree ice block sorting tray to use with the oversized tweezers or spoon. We will make gingerbread biscuits some time soon so this will make more sense to her after that experience.

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While not too Christmassy, she loves these mini erasers so I have made them available for decorating the coloured rice Christmas tree, again with oversized tweezers to help with hand strength for pencil grip later on.img_2209

The Blessing Buddies have decided it’s too difficult to bring a new activity each day with so many nighttime commitments at the moment so for today’s blessing they set up a “What’s in the Box?” cupboard instead. They will add some new activities to it during December but  it gives the children more time to play with and enjoy the special Christmas activities (plus it takes the pressure off me to remember to hide a new one each night!) The other children like to use some of the same activities for table time as well.

So “What’s in the Cupboard?”

img_2228The craft at the moment is hand-sewing designs onto plain red tea-towels from Ikea which we will use as gifts. Even our 4 year old is managing a decent running stitch.

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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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Busy Bag Swap Night

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I have just been blessed by a lovely assortment of table time activities for toddlers and young children from a busy bag swap organised by my friend Kristy. You will be hearing more from her in the next couple of posts, but today I wanted to share the photos she took of all the quiet time tasks put together by the many women who attended. It was so popular in fact that she needed to form 2 groups. For those who are not familiar with how a busy bag swap works, take a look here for some more ideas and an explanation.

Kristy’s cute toddler feeding the tennis ball with a little help from Mum. A great finger strength activity, this is one for the 3 to 6 year olds to do independently. My 4 and 6 year-old boys loved filling Mr Ball to then turn around and have him puke everywhere.

Mix and match superhero picture strips, foam sewing cards, pipecleaner and straw threading and shape matching plate.

The fact that this pizza came in a cute little box was the highlight for my children. The order cards gave lots of options for the children to follow as they completed different customer orders. Other bags included a wipe-off tracing page, mask and stickers and paint chip colour matching.

Open-ended tasks are best for toddlers as far as keeping their interest for the long haul. This pasta and bean scooping tray was popular although it did create a bit of mess. An assortment of plastic lids, frogs and bugs was another open-ended activity that kept my little one going for a while.

This mini eye-spy bottle had some interesting bits and pieces inside. Another idea I have seen is to have a recording page for the children to tick off each tiny item as they find them. My 2-year-old was too young for this as she found it frustrating to not be able to open the container. She did enjoy the pom-pom transfer tray although still refuses to try tongs. The last task was taking elastic bands on and off a cardboard tube with some pattern cards to match and extend for the older children.

Having a bunch of engaging tasks prepared is a must for successfully including highchair time in your flexible routine and the self-control your toddler will learn is invaluable.

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.

 

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.

 

A new year with 7 children

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Christmas is a time that I look forward to – making memories, continuing with traditions from previous years, special outings, celebrations, events and family times.  As I have found every year though, this special time comes with it’s own negatives. The freedom of unstructured days, lack of routine, too many choices, plenty of special events, junk food and late nights (this year coupled with sickness) has predictably resulted in tired, cranky children who are not getting along so well and are not using their free time wisely. What to do??

A new year begins, the celebration cycle eases off and ta da – enter ROUTINE!

I know from experience that the start of our homeschool year will solve many of these problems very quickly. The children’s days are filled with a balance of structured and unstructured times, responsibilities appropriate for their ages (chores) and a predictable flow of daily activities that allows me to get everything I need to do done in a timely manner as well. Less time together means that the children start to appreciate each other again and everything starts to run so much more smoothly. Life feels easier, the days are happier and we all benefit.

 

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Here is a peek into the newly sorted out activity cupboard for our 2 1/2 year old. We use these activities for table time straight after breakfast for around 30-45 minutes. In that time he will use 3 or 4 of the trays before heading off to room time for around an hour. It takes time, consistency and commitment on your behalf to teach a little boy (or girl) to sit and concentrate but it absolutely can be done. I do not have babies and toddlers who are/were just “naturally” able to sit and concentrate, it took work!

I have posted heaps of ideas for activities that work well for young children who are learning to sit and concentrate. Those pictured above are:

1. Do-a-dot printables with stickers to place inside the dots (or wherever!)

2. Beginner cutting tray (See my free Montessori style printable cutting patterns and how to teach a toddler to cut.)

3. Duplo ice-cream making set – a new Christmas gift

4. Textas, pencils and colouring books and paper

5. Potato head parts and playdough

6. A fine motor transferring activity tray (Small rocks, tweezers and a variety of bottles and containers to open, shut and fill)

7. Wedgits – another Christmas gift that I have had on my wish list for a while now. (See photo at top.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.