Priorities

IMG_0009After people finish counting my children and comment on how I must have my hands full, the next thing they say is often along the lines of “How do you get everything done?” The honest answer is I don’t get everything done. I don’t work part-time, I don’t meet my girlfriends for coffee several times a week, I don’t attend MOPS, Mother’s Group, Toddler Jam, Jungle Gym and the local playgroup every week. I have to choose my commitments based on my priorities, knowing that it isn’t my list I need to get through, but God’s! I have enough time to do everything He has for me to do. Frustration kicks in when I try to take on more than He asks me to. Jesus reduces my responsibilities to those of today and today is all He asks us me to cope with.

We all have the same amount of time in our day and it is enough. If we start with God’s priorities we will be able to get everything that needs to be done and more abundantly than we expect. Perhaps we need to give up some good things to get on with the better thing of training our children?

So how do we choose these priorities? Because we do have to choose between the good, the better and the best – they won’t all fit in.

  1. PRAY
  • Give everything over to God – yourself, your home, possessions, time, body, mind, your children, your plans and projects, commitments, responsibilities – everything. Hand it all over and ask God what of these responsibilities He wants you to take back.
  1. TALK IT OVER WITH YOUR HUSBAND/WIFE
  • What are his priorities?
  • What is his/her vision for the family?
  • Remind yourself to be willing to hear the answer! Have a teachable heart that is open to the truth, even if you don’t see it quite the same way.
  1. PLAN AHEAD
  • Plan both short and long-term goals.
  • Make a routine. Routine is the key to it all hanging together. Our long-term goals of life are only met by the daily disciplines we follow. The daily grind is what takes us step by step either towards our goals or away from them.
  • Break large projects into day-sized chunks.
  • An immense “to do” list is overwhelming, day sized chunks helps us to see that eventually it will all get done.
  • Hold your plans loosely – be ready, willing and available for God’s plan B, acknowledging His right to alter your day.
  • What will it take? Time, money, mental or physical effort? All change will take a decision by you to make it happen and an investment of some kind.
  1. PREPARE
  • Your routine starts the night before. (Sleep, clothes, meal prep, clean kitchen, tidy space, gear at the door.)
  • Morning – get up early. Give yourself enough time for an orderly morning that includes time with God getting spiritually prepared for the day. We need time before the interruptions come to get God’s leading for the day and His perspective on what is most important, rather than letting the tyranny of the urgent take over.
  1. PROCEED
  • “Your success in life and work will be determined by the kinds of habits that you develop over time. The habit of setting priorities, overcoming procrastination, and getting on with your most important task is a mental and physical skill. As such, this habit is learnable through practice and repetition, over and over again, until it locks into your subconscious mind and becomes a permanent part of your behavior. Once it becomes a habit, it becomes both automatic and easy to do.” (Eat That Frog – 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time)

If we are honest with ourselves we know that we will achieve almost anything we really want to do and the same goes with our parenting. Sometimes the time, effort and commitment involved has us saying that we just “don’t have time” but really we do – we just don’t want to do it enough.

 

 

 

 

Homeschooling 6 year olds – maths

It is fairly well understood in the preschool years that children need many hands-on experiences as the best grounding for mathematical understanding. However, it is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that as soon as a child starts school he or she must “hit the books.” There is still a need to manipulate, play and explore concrete materials in the early years and rushing too fast into abstract concepts (ie. “on paper” solutions) to mathematical concepts can hinder a child developing true understanding.

So, with this in mind, do I use a maths programme for my 6 year olds? Yes, but as a spine from which other maths experiences flow. It helps me to know that I am not missing any skills along the way. Those children who have a good grasp of number concepts can skip through very quickly and often will plead to just write out their answers in the book rather than use manipulatives. If I can see that they truly grasp the skills (understanding the why and how of each problem) then they go ahead. Learning styles do differ after all and not everyone needs the manipulatives. However, other children will need to go through basic concepts such as one-to-one correspondence with manipulatives over and over and over and over again!

IMG_9625In the early years we use Math-U-See because it does include manipulatives, has a DVD lesson format which means the children are not dependent on me to give them one-on-one teaching to explain each lesson and has a clean and simple set-out with a good progression from skill to skill. Early writers are given enough space to write large numbers and opportunities to use their manipulatives throughout. When more practise is required, I provide Montessori style hands-on activity trays until the concept is thoroughly grasped before the child continues on in the book.

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Reluctant writers and maths:

When a child has difficulty with fine motor control and writing skills it can slow them down in all their subject areas. Maths however is one area that can be easy modified to eliminate this problem. Ask yourself – “Am I teaching handwriting or maths?” Do you want your child to progress in maths or hate every minute of it because they have to sit there laboriously writing numbers in their painfully slow style?

My son would take ages to complete this page if he had to write the answers down, plus I would struggle to read them anyway! Given this inexpensive box of wooden letters, he can work through the problems, calculating some in his head, putting out manipulatives for others and using the wooden numbers to “write” the answers. Quick and easy and demonstrating his understanding of the subject at hand, rather than his handwriting ability.

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When more experience is needed with a concept, he works on Montessori style trays such as the one above, giving him lots and lots of repeated practise of the same skill over and over again until it becomes second nature. We made up little stories about customers in restaurants who were sometimes greedy (according to the numbers on the spoons) and he enjoyed choosing the food (jewels) to serve.

With the combination of bookwork plus hands-on trays, my 6 years olds feel that they are doing real “school” like their older brothers and sisters and all ability levels are being catered for. One is zipping through the book at a great rate (she LOVES book work!) and the other is taking a more leisurely course with lots of hands-on experiences along the way. Individual children,  individual abilities, individual learning styles. This is one of the reasons why we homeschool after all isn’t it?

Next up: Homeschooling 6 year olds – reading and writing

 

Preschool at our house: Workbox system for 5 year olds

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Here is the latest workbox style arrangement for our 5 year old preschoolers which will allow them to get the direct instruction from me that they need as they learn basic reading and writing skills, while at the same time having some degree of independence in their other work. I have always invested some time in one-on-one teaching at this age because helping each child to become a proficient reader is one of the keys to independent learning and self-educating later on (one of my goals for all my children.) The children have access to plenty of creative play opportunities and lots of great hands-on learning tools at other times in the day but this morning period is slightly more “bookish” as we step into more formalised learning.

pp schedule

My older girls (7 and 9) both work from a written schedule for several reasons; they know exactly what to do, when to do it and how much they need to do before they are done for the day. My 11 year old son also works from a schedule, but is free to decide the “when” for himself, having shown responsibility in managing his time in the past. The twins (5 years) have a pictorial schedule to gently ease them into a more independent role in the future but don’t really need it because their boxes are numbered and they are under my direction anyway. (It’s more so that I can keep track of what they are supposed to be doing!)

I researched workbox homeschooling several years ago and most of the examples I found on the web involved nightly or at least weekly changing of the contents. I knew that wasn’t going to work for me so I devised a simple system that only needed to be changed out about once a month. (See details here.) There will be some items in the boxes that needs to be updated more regularly (Sight words as they are learnt for example) but this will require minimal effort as the sets of words etc. that I need are all ready to go.

Some advice that I always give beginner homeschoolers, especially those with a large family, is to set their homeschool up so that  it will continue to run without them as much as is possible. Life intrudes; an unexpected visitor, an unscheduled phone call, the baby is sick and on and on. Set things up so that you are not required to be “teaching” directly all the time or the pace may be too hard to keep up. With only one or two children you may be able to do it but not with the number of blessings we have!

So.. what’s in the boxes?

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Daily diary writing (See full explanation here.)

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Bob Books and a file folder game to practise sight words. As the child chooses a word it is read and fed to Mugs the dog through the hole in his mouth. (See this post for how to teach children to read and this one for some info on beginner readers.)

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Segmenting words game based on All About Spelling level 1. I am using this programme as a rough guide at this stage. We will get into it more next year but for now our activities are loosely base around the progression in this book which is very thorough. We are using the flip boxes to review the single sounds we already know before moving on to more complex phonograms.

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Montessori style counting activity tray. Developing one-to-one correspondence is crucial before any real maths skills can be developed and these simple counting activities give heaps of practise while also working on fine motor skills. In the top activity the expresso cups are set out with the numbers in order from 6 to 10 and the child uses the tongs to add the correct number of sugar lumps to each cup. In the second activity the small tongs are used to transfer the correct number of marbles to the suckers on these soap holding shapes – the kind that suction onto your sink to stop the soap slipping away.

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We use Math-u-see for the first couple of years and Primer is the first book in the series. I cover all of the concepts with  hands-on tray activities first and once they are well mastered the children can work through the book as a bridge to the bookwork they will be doing the following year. We also have the Dive CD’s which have videos for each lesson in the student books so some added “teacher” instruction is given as well to help fill any small gaps that may still be there.

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Tracing letters and numbers. I try to supervise handwriting practise to ensure that the correct letter formations are being made. There are heaps of free worksheets on the net. Look for some in your preferred font and laminate them if you choose for repeat practise. For children who find fine motor control difficult, the channel writing (bubble letter style) are the best because it allows more leeway than dotted letters for wobbly pencil paths. It can be very discouraging for children who try so hard and yet cannot stay on that dotted line. The “fat” letters to keep inside are somewhat more forgiving.

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The last workbox contains a selection from some free printable worksheets to go with the Bob Books that I have found online, mainly for my daughter who finishes all her school work in nanoseconds and wants to know what else there is to do. She loves to do “real” school work like her older siblings so the more books and worksheets I supply her with the happier she is. My son will do them if he wants to which will translate to not doing any at all except possibly using the bingo dotters to follow the word paths simply because he wants to randomly dot paint everywhere 🙂

 

The dumping rule

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When there are 7 children in the house (or even just 1 or 2!) it doesn’t take long for a trail of destruction to threaten to take over. I do have systems in place to make sure it doesn’t get too out of hand but even with pack-up times built into our routine throughout the day there are certain areas that just seem to get cluttered with a pair of shoes here and a hairband or two there, plus a towel on the floor and a pair of knickers decorating the door handle… and so on.

I asked my worst trail maker what consequence they thought was appropriate for people who left their belongings laying about for others to pick up. They responded after some thought that they should pick up twice as many things as they had left behind. This was a brilliant answer as this happened to be exactly what I had been thinking of doing anyway (I love it when that happens), so I promptly instigated it as our consequence on the spot. One item left on the floor equals a consequence of picking up 2 more items, plus the original one you left in the first place.

It is amazing how quickly you can get the house tidied when there are a couple of bits and pieces strewn about. I just start at the front of the house and pick up the first item, identify the owner and point out it plus the 2 other items they will be required to put away. It a minute or two everyone is zooming about collecting stuff and the house is back to ship-shape. After a few days of this, I simply let everyone know that I will be conducting a dumping check in the next little while and they go scrambling off around the house madly putting their stuff away without me having to do anything.

It goes great with the 10 times rule for those who can’t remember to hang up a towel or shut the door.

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.

 

toddler school cupboard

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Homeschooling with toddlers – independent learners

Monday is crunch time for me – my husband heads back to work and I am managing 7 children on my own, one of whom is a newborn. We have stayed with our usual homeschooling routine and daily rhythm while he has taken holidays and our newest arrival is slowly getting into a steady routine, so the transition shouldn’t be too drastic . Here is a glimpse into my toddler’s activity cupboard to show you what will be keeping him occupied in his highchair after breakfast each day while I feed our baby.

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Colour sorting. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that the younger children pick up so much from their older siblings just by being around to hear and see them doing their schoolwork. Basic skills like colour identification, counting and reciting the alphabet almost don’t have to be taught – they are “caught” from the constant exposure. Our two year old is a good case in point. He loves to count, constantly asks me if the squiggle he has just drawn is “an A that says a?” and holds up crayons while checking to see if it is indeed orange? This sorting tray was almost too easy for him but he quite enjoyed fiddling around with it and sorting and resorting the pieces.

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Gluing. We also find that the toddlers want to do the same kind of activities that they see their siblings working on so gluing is always in demand. I give him one piece of paper and 1 envelope filled with an assortment of paper shapes to glue. More often than not he uses the glue more like paint and sticks and peels off the paper pieces over and over again, leaving nothing but a soggy page at the end, but it keeps him going for ages.

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Threading beads. Good for fine motor development and also for sorting and colour matching activities. Make sure the string that you provide has a nice long stiff end to make it easier for little hands to poke it through the holes.

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Drawing with vibrant textas is a satisfying experience. While I don’t encourage heaps of colouring in book type drawing (I’d rather they free created) the little ones love the idea of drawing on a picture they recognise.

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Montessori style dry transfer with tongs. Pincer grip is important for writing later on. These golden rings are wedding favours from the local discount store.

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Basic puzzles. Matching two picture halves is an easy way to start with puzzle skills.

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Good quality wooden puzzles will last for years.

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Duplo is a versatile construction toy and one that our whole family enjoys. Even the older children will still sit down and build together. This little set was a birthday gift recently so it is of special interest to our two-year old because it is his own set. As the big kids all have their own Lego sets in separate crates it makes him feel like one of the gang to have his own crate of building blocks, separate to the family collection.

Preschool at our house – work box homeschooling

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The twins (4 1/2) are now using a modified version of preschool workboxes. The way most people use workboxes requires them to change the contents every night in preparation for the next day. The way I use them means that the contents are changed approximately once a month. See this post for an explanation of how it works.

Workboxes allow the twins to work independently if I am caught up breastfeeding during the time when I would normally work with them. Having two sets of workboxes for two children working at the same level means that at the end of the month (or a couple of weeks) I can swap them over with each other’s boxes without having to refill and be set for another couple of weeks.

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We complete one page per day of a basic handwriting book as the twins are very interested in learning to write their letters at the moment and I would rather they learnt the correct shape and pencil grip first off than need to re-learn later.

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There is one workbox per day and in combination with the handwriting books that we work on first, there is enough to keep them going for around an hour. If they finish early, they pull out their Lego or a sensory tub to complete their school time. The older children attend a homeschool group on Wednesdays so we don’t use workboxes on that day.

Monday’s box:

  • Domino Parking Lot game (Free printable available here.)
  • Wikki sticks fine motor page (Free printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Tuesday’s box:

  • Dotted line tracing pictures (I pulled apart some pre-writing activity books)
  • Upper and lowercase alphabet letter match (Explanation here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Thursday’s box:

  • Addition cards (Count the pictures or use jewels to solve the sum then find the answer card.)
  • Playdough face mats (Free printables here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Friday’s box:

  • Cutting practise strips (Free printable here)
  • 3 letter word spelling cards (Explanation and link to printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Monday’s box:

  • Addition cards (3 possible answers are given underneath the sum with a hole punched through the card. The child uses the blocks to solve the addition sum and threads the string through the hole next to the correct answer.)
  • Simple puzzle
  • Cutting and gluing pages. (I pulled apart an activity book so that they can choose one page to push out the pictures from and then create their own drawing by gluing them onto a page.)

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Tuesday’s box:

  • 3 letter CVC (consonant vowel consonant) word and picture match. (Heaps of free CVC word printables on the web)
  • Dotted picture tracing (Another pre-writing book pulled apart.)
  • Simple puzzle

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Thursday’s box:

  • Plastic cutlery addition (The cutlery have basic addition sums written on them. The child uses the plastic fruits to solve the sum and finds the correct answer circle to place with the item of cutlery.)
  • Playdough skewer threading (Full explanation here.)
  • Simple puzzle

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Friday’s box:

  • 3 letter CVC word and picture card match (Link here)
  • Cutting practise strips (Free printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

 

Sensory tubs – mermaids and beautiful beads

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Assorted beads, scoops, spoons, jars, bowls, and cups make an attractive Montessori style dry transfer sensory tub.

Now that our long-awaited baby has arrived, planning for uninterrupted breast-feeding times has moved up in priority. We have chosen to keep our flexible routine going throughout these early weeks, rather than taking holidays as we find the children get along so much better with the structure in their day. With Daddy home for a few weeks and a new sister, there is enough change without taking away their daily structure at the same time.

With that in mind, I have overhauled the school cupboards with new preschool activities (photos coming soon) in preparation for Daddy heading back to work next week and created a couple of new sensory tubs for quiet afternoon table or mat play.

Training my little ones to sit in one place and play with what I give them has paid dividends on many occasions, but especially in times such as these. Knowing that I can sit down and feed with everyone happily occupied means no mess to clean up later and no bickering to deal with.

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Rice, mermaids, fish tank plants, blue plastic shells, bowls and sea creatures allows much scope for pretend play and imagination. My girls have been drooling over this since they saw me putting it together!

Homeschooling with toddlers (and a new baby!)

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The arrival of a new baby will always cause some disruption to the family but can and should be an enjoyable and joyous occasion. A smooth transition is helped immensely by being prepared. Whether in the kitchen with menu planning and stocking the freezer, preparing the children for the arrival of their new sibling, setting up a new routine, teaching your homeschooled children to work independently,  or simply making sure there is a good selection of suitable activities for mat time, highchair time and table time will make life much easier for the whole family.

Today’s post is a peek into my 2 year old’s activity cupboard. He uses these trays after breakfast for highchair time while our preschoolers are doing their “school” work and the older children are completing their own school tasks. A good indicator that I have set up attractive materials is that both he and the twins have been pestering me daily about when they can do their school work! We are on holidays at the moment so while we do have some structure in our day, we are not dipping into the school cupboards until after the break so they are still fresh and interesting once the baby arrives. It’s killing them!!

The great thing about a lot of these activities is that the preschoolers are interested in several of the toddler’s trays and vice versa. This gives them almost double the number of choices and will help keep them interested for longer before I need to swap out their cupboards again.

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Sensory tubs are always a hit. So easy to prepare and with open-ended play possibilities they should keep little ones engaged for some time. A tub of jewels with a variety of tongs and containers (pill boxes, ice block tray  and chocolate box insert in this one) will be great for a week or two and can easily be made “new” again by changing the containers and tongs for something different. A variety of scoops, spoons, measuring cups, boxes, tins, jars, lids and anything else that can be tipped, poured, filled, opened and emptied will work well. Perhaps add a small teddy for pretend play fun.

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Our rice tray can be a sensory play tub or in this case a dry transfer activity. A small necked bottle, funnel and scoop are all that is needed for some filling and pouring play. Again, the contents can be very easily changed every week or two to keep things fresh.

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Threading, beading or lacing are all great for fine motor development. Young children find it difficult to push a floppy lace through. Starching the end of wool, using commercial threading laces with stiffened ends, tying the string to a thin dowel, taping the end or any other method of stiffening the thread will make it manageable for young children. This is a small piece of dowel with a hole drilled in the end. The shoelace is glued into the hole, proving a strong length that allows a chubby toddler hand to hold the wood and fit a bead onto it at the same time. Don’t forget to tie one of the beads onto the end of the string to stop the rest rolling off onto the floor.

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A small ball of dough in a plastic container  provides a steady base for some wooden skewers. A variety of coloured noodles and straws are available to thread onto the sticks. (Cut the pointed end off for safety.) This is one I found on Pinterest (see my toddler pinboard for more ideas.)

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Storing the dough in the small orange plastic container means the lid can be popped back on to stop it drying out. Once the toddler has seen it once, poking the skewers in will be part of the attraction.

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Basic puzzles are great. Matching picture halves make a good starting point for  a child who is too young to be able to complete a regular puzzle.

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These are laminated playdough mats. With another small tub of dough the child can add a face, hair etc. Free printable available here.

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Free experimentation with a basic set of scales and blocks will develop a child’s understanding of heavier, lighter, more, less, up and down and other mathematical language. Older children will tend to count, predict and experiment in a more sophisticated way.

What does your toddler love to play with?