Sensory tubs; A rainy day and new baby activity

sensory table aerial shot all 6 IMG_0273

With a new baby on the way and wet weather kicking in, some plans for rainy day activities have become my priority. I have used mini sensory tubs in the past with great success as individual activities, but this time I want to keep several little people busy at once. After trawling the web and building up an inspiring Pinterest list of ideas, the last step in the plan was to find a suitable container.

sensory table empty IMG_0255

While a large, shallow plastic tub will certainly do the trick, as will a scrubbed out water play table, I was lucky enough to find a secondhand wooden under-bed drawer that is ideal. It is on castors so I can push it to wherever we want to use it and then simply cover it up and roll it back under the gamesroom table to get it out of the way. Being wood, it is also strong enough that if the children lean on the sides it won’t break.

sensory table set up IMG_0255

After raiding the pantry for some oats as the first play experience, I fished through the cupboard for suitable play accessories. Bowls, trays, scoops, tongs, measuring cups, ladles and jugs were laid out in an “invitation to play” as I have recently heard it termed. (Basically just placing materials in a way that attracts children to the activity.) I know some people don’t like to use food as play because they feel that it is wasteful, but I do keep my basic manipulatives (rice, oats, pasta etc.) and reuse them over and over again. I have rice in a container in the cupboard that has probably been used for 7 or 8 years now.

sensory tub all 6 better background IMG_0272

Initially all 6 children were excited to play (Yes, even the 11-year-old boy!) so I added some extra accessories (jars with clip lids, plates, jugs and teacups) to cope with the numbers. This turned out to be a little difficult to manage however and with friction developing (read bickering, arguing and annoying each other) I directed the older three to go and find another activity and leave the younger three in peace.

sensory tub 3 youngest sharing tea IMG_0285

This was a much more amicable arrangement and much baking, cooking and food preparation was enjoyed for almost an hour in total.

sensory tub clip top jar IMG_0289

Of course the 2 clip-lid jars turned out to be the favourite accessory so some patience and sharing practise was required! (Why is there always one item that everyone wants?)  Note that his hand is firmly attached to the top and I don’t think was removed for more than a second at a time to ensure that nobody else got hold of the jar!

sensory tub tongs IMG_0283

Tongs are such great practise for fine motor skills and help develop finger strength for pencil grip later on.

The one rule I made before we started playing was that the oats and containers had to stay in the tray, not on the sheet. This did require some reminding when all 6 were playing as there wasn’t enough room for them to spread out everything they wanted to do, but once three children were using the sensory tub I only needed to remind the youngest a couple of times to keep the oats inside. Any deliberate spilling would mean that the offending child was done with the activity.

I cover the box with a large sheet when it is not in use and it is this same sheet which is spread on the floor to catch any accidental spills. When play is finished, I roll the box off and pick up the sheet by the 4 corners, simply tipping the spilled oats back into the tub. There were a few strays left behind but as we have a new vacuum cleaner it was quite a novelty for the little boys to fight over take turns cleaning up the couple of oats that got away. On hard floors a quick swish with the dustpan would have done the job.

I can see hours of fun ahead throughout the winter season and we will keep this as a special rainy day only activity. I plan to change the accessories every week or so to keep interest up (leaving the oats in place) and completely change the entire contents about every month. With the amount of ideas I have listed for items to add to a sensory tub, I have enough to keep going for years!

What are your favourite rainy day activities?

(After using our oats tub for a week or so I have made a few adjustments; see here.)

 

 

 

Advertisement

Flowers of Godly character

flower pot Godly character reward chart IMG_0076

After holidays, sickness and general out of routine grumps hit our house recently, we needed something to lift the tone of sibling relationships. We have used several different systems for boosting kind behaviour and general character recognition in the past, but this time I wanted something similar to our praise plates; without a “prize” at the end. Our marble jar and treasure tree charts worked well although there was an end goal or reward that we were working towards – see the marble jar is full for a full explanation of the difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives.

Our treasure tree reward system.

Our treasure tree reward system with a slightly different ending than planned.

 

After reading “The Weed With An Ill Name” we have had a lot of discussions and prayer based on the concept of pulling the character “weeds” out of our hearts and replacing them with Godly character “flowers.” I decided to base our system around this idea and build on the interest that was already there by calling our chart “Flowers of Godly Character – Pull out those weeds!”

Each yellow centre is given the child’s initial who is “growing” the flower and as Godly character is displayed they are able to add a petal. Five petals complete a flower and another is started. Having each flower initialed means they are able to see the flowers they have grown, but the pot of flowers is something the whole family is working together to grow.

No reward other than being able to see the flowers you have planted being added to the pot is given, but even so, the children have huge smiles and are very happy to be awarded a petal.

For more ideas on building character and family identity see:

Sizzlers and grace

Filling their love tank: the 5 love languages of children

Spoiled walls; bickering and sibling conflict

101 family night ideas Relationships – joyful or difficult, they all need the 5 A’s

Sharing bedrooms; pros and cons

IMG_6286 4 in mummy and daddys bed

To share or not to share? Bedrooms, not beds that is! Some of us have a choice and others have children sharing bedrooms as a necessity. Over our parenting years we have experienced both – siblings in separate rooms and bunking in together.

Some of the benefits of sharing we have seen are:

  • closer relationships and bonding between brothers and sisters as they share their space together.
  • a sense of responsibility and big brother/sister pride (in a good way) as the older children take care of younger siblings. We heard a great story a while back about a younger child who thought of their older brother as his ‘guardian in the ceiling’ during the night. My eldest son commented at the time that he couldn’t wait to be his little brother’s guardian.
  • older siblings are aware of issues in the night and can get help from Mum and Dad without the entire house needing to be woken up or in some cases solve the problem quickly themselves. In the event of a disaster (fire etc.) young children have an older child to help get them safely out. We also discuss and role-play what to do in these situations because it is abundantly clear to us through our own experience that even children who you think would react well in a crisis don’t necessarily have any idea of what to do. (But that’s a post for another day!)
  • a sense of security. Our children dislike being in their rooms alone now if a sibling is away for some reason and are much happier sharing .
  • character flaws come to the forefront and need to be dealt with! It doesn’t sound like a plus but it really is. Children who have their own little private world can hide a lot of selfish attitudes and other problems because they are not challenged in this area. My children’s flaws are out there on display! Hopefully these will be much improved in the long run because they are forced to face them and work on them now. Learning to share your space and respect others is a skill.
  • extra room. We know families who choose to have several siblings sharing in each bedroom so they can use another bedroom as a toy room, computer room, office etc. to give the family more living space during the day. For some, the bedroom is simply that – a room for beds and sleeping and nothing else. The family is then together in the common spaces of the house which leaves no problems with a child (particularly a teenager) isolating themselves from the rest of the family.

IMG_6642 4 reading in s bed

The negatives we have faced are:

  • changing sheets on top bunks.
  • having to deal with behavioural issues at night when you just want to sit down and relax. (Children talking and keeping themselves or others awake. Early risers waking others up in the morning.)
  • sorting out fights over who made the mess and who should be cleaning it up.
  • one child disturbing another during the night going to the toilet, sleep talking etc. (Most of ours sleep through anything, or fall back to sleep in seconds if woken.)

Looking at these two lists, we still feel that the positives outweigh the potential negatives, but we have had to work on overcoming the issues. We have used several different methods over the years, depending on circumstances (age of children, mix of personalities etc.) that have been helpful to us. Some of these are:

  • getting Daddy to change the top bunk sheets on a weekend when they need doing, especially when I am pregnant 🙂
  • proactively managing our morning routine right from the time a child first moves from their cot into a big bed. See this post on moving to a big bed and managing morning routines for a full explanation of how we do this.
  • teaching children to respect each other’s belongings. They are not allowed to take their brother or sister’s personal items without getting permission first.
  • ensuring that every child has their own space and some belongings that are off-limits to others. Each child has a private area in the form of a desk and shelving, bookshelves or cupboard.  Sometimes this space is in their bedroom, sometimes in another room.
  • staggered bedtimes so hopefully the first child is asleep or at least very dopey by the time the second gets to bed.
  • allowing some quiet talking in the dark for a short period after lights out. (Also a great way to build positive relationships between siblings.) One of us will say goodnight and turn out the lights. The children are allowed to talk quietly to each other until the second parent comes to say goodnight, then quiet is expected.
  • playing an audio bible CD, an audio story or music on a portable stereo very quietly so that they have to be quiet to hear it.
  • setting consequences for those who simply won’t stop disturbing the other child(ren.) Sometime this does mean chastisement, but we have also used other consequences such as the offending child having to pay back sleep time lost with interest! This can take the form of a compulsory nap the following day, going back to bed during play time the next day or going to bed much earlier the following night. Children who wake others up in the morning may also pay back sleep time, be chastised, do all the morning jobs of the children they have woken up, or perhaps sit in the laundry during morning reading time instead of staying in their beds to read with the others. Ours very quickly get to the stage they want to share a room and REALLY don’t want to go back by themselves so if we have the luxury of a spare room sometimes the consequence was that they went back out alone for the night. They hate that!

IMG_5088 g and c bunk together

Some other points to keep in mind:

  • Make sure day sleeps are not too long (or need to be dropped entirely) so that they are ready for bed and sleep straight away.
  • Make sure they get adequate physical exercise during the day.
  • Ensure children drink a lot of water earlier in the day. Children who do not drink enough will have trouble falling asleep, want to drink a lot at night/just before bed and end up needing to get up repeatedly to go to the toilet (or wet the bed) later in the night. Don’t focus on getting them not to drink before bed, focus on getting them to drink in the morning and throughout the day instead.
  • Some children (especially older babies/young toddlers) put themselves to sleep by having a little chat and sing to themselves or teddy in the dark on their beds. This isn’t a problem when they have their own room but it does drive older children who are trying to sleep crazy! For us it really did seem to be more a developmental stage than outright disobedience – a voice control issue rather than defiance. Working on voice control during the day by having some set times where they read books or do an activity when they are not allowed to speak helps with this.
  • Some people say that having children sharing right from the beginning eliminates many problems. We have never done this, always having our babies in their own rooms so that they do not disturb other children when waking for feeds. Each child has transitioned to a big bed around the 2 year mark (a few months before the next baby arrives) and so far we have always had the luxury of this being in their own room. We can then work on staying in bed, morning routines and all the rest without disturbing older children. They shift into shared arrangements somewhere between 3 and 5 depending on the arrival of subsequent babies! We will eventually run out of space to do this but so far so good.

The blessing we have received in our many children far outweighs the inconvenience of having to share bedroom space. After all, God tells us that children are a blessing. He doesn’t mention needing their own room as a prerequisite to welcoming a large family!

IMG_4048 twins in cot

Preschool at my house – large family homeschooling (with toddlers!)

finger painting cleanup IMG_9912

Fingerpainting – 5 minutes of actual finger painting (in the bottom of the tubs) then 45 minutes of cleaning up! First the tubs, then the kids. They did seem to have fun though.

I have been asked a few times recently what I am doing for preschool with my 4-year-old children. There have been no major changes to how we have always done things; we just take the sitting and focussing skills they have already been learning during mat time, playpen time, room time, highchair time and other periods of focussed play and apply them to the next level of hands-on learning.

We have been focussing on basic counting skills, learning our letter namessounds and identifying initial sounds (moving on to 3 letter words) and other hands on activities that promote fine motor skills. (Plus some other kindergarten style activities that are pretty much just for fun.) I work with just the twins for 20 minutes each morning, which gives them some focussed time with Mummy before I go on to the older children while the twins do independent activities on their mats.

This short period of time I know by experience (coupled with the learning they receive during our daily flexible routine, reading times etc.) is enough to give them a strong start in all the learning areas as they get older. Preschool need not be particularly complicated, formal or arduous to be effective and it does not need to take all day. We do some more formalised work at this age because they are ready for it and enjoy doing “real school” like the big kids. If these two factors were not in place I would back off until they were ready.

Here is a snapshot of the activities we have been doing over the last 2 weeks.

twins school cu0pboard 2 IMG_9839

Our preschool activity cupboard for “school with Mummy” time.

mat activities IMG_9858

Mat time activities cupboard – Lego, counting button puzzle, pattern blocks and puzzle cards, button sorting, cutting and magnetic pompoms.

numbered lids counting 1 to 10 IMG_9917

Counting 1 to 10. Spice jar lids marked with metallic pens and some plastic tiles to count.

hair lacky counting IMG_9833

Hair elastics and swizzle sticks marked 1 to 10. The number strip is to follow until they know the order of the numerals.

jewels and creature cards counting IMG_9926

Another number sequencing and counting to 10 activity, combined with some tong work for pincer grip strength.

glass slippers IMG_9923

Counting golden rings to match numbered “glass” slippers (wedding favours.)

initial sounds worksheets J IMG_9973

Initial sounds activity sheets. Just a bunch of pictures to decide if they do (circle them) or don’t (cross them out) start with the correct sound. Large letter in centre of page to practise letter formation in. Doing some written work makes them feel like the big kids – they love it! Takes 5 minutes so not at all taxing for me or them.

plate addition 2 IMG_9966
Addition tray. Now the twins can order numerals to 10 and display reasonable 1-to-1 correspondence we have started basic adding and subtracting activities.
plate addition IMG_9965

Ideally the plate for the total would be bigger than the other plates! The idea is that the two plates are tipped together into the last plate to find the total. I find however that having the blocks in a line makes it easier for them to count without re-counting the same block repeatedly.

twins doing addition trays IMG_9971

These school activities are definitely not independent as yet. The moment I left to take a couple of photos, my son started building trains with the blocks!

duplo 3 letter words IMG_0001

The twins have developed their ability to hear the initial sound in words and we are now working on 3 letter consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. The next sound most children hear is the last sound in the word, followed by the middle sound. These letter tiles are Coko bricks that are compatible with Duplo boards. Good for beginning activities for non-writers or those who find writing tedious.

s sunflowers IMG_9870

Art – 4 year old’s version of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. We actually got around to doing a proper picture study. Forgot to take photos of the older children’s work, but some of them were better than mine!

j sunflowers IMG_9868

Who cares about sunflowers? I can mix all my colours into a great brown sludge!!

a sunflowers IMG_9873

Toddler version of sunflowers. He actually didn’t want to paint anything at all. I practically had to make him do it just for the photo 🙂 Doesn’t like dirty hands!

twins school cupboard IMG_9859

What do you do with a toddler while you homeschool? Heaps of things!! Here are just a few and if you follow my blog at all you know there are many more ideas to be had. Step one – train them to sit and focus. Step 2 – find some engaging activities. Step 3 – pop them in the playpen when they have had enough of highchair time, followed by a good session of running around outside to burn off energy. That’s just the current morning routine while the older children get the bulk of their work done. It has changed many times.

magnet activity a IMG_9830

Magnetic blocks in a metal box. Stroke of genius to store them this way – NOT!! This was the only container I had and when I put them in it occurred to me that it would make a great building platform. Pure luck!

asher dressed up IMG_9937

What has this got to do with school time? Nothing at all! Just another one of those great embarrassing photos we are storing up for our kid’s 21st birthdays. Plus, he’s so cute! For those who are worried about the girlie outfit, please note that he is carrying 2 trucks!

     

Mega list of table activities for school aged children

Here is the last post in a 3-part series of table activities for babies to school-aged children. Today’s chart of ideas is for the older group. By this age, my children are usually free to choose their own activity (within reason) as long as they display a good attitude on the few occasions I do choose for them. (See choices.) Much of what is on this list are items that are owned by individuals (birthday gifts etc.) so they are not out for public access, but having them on a list prompts them to get out items they may forget for a while.

As with the baby and toddler ideas and preschool children’s ideas, this is a large file and will take some time to download.

table activities for school age children – click here for free download

table activities for school aged children

Mega list of table activities for preschoolers

Following on from yesterday’s post (list of highchair and table activities for babies and toddlers), here is my collection of preschool ideas to use for any time a quiet, attention grabbing activity is needed. Please see yesterday’s post for links to articles on how to train your children to sit for an extended period of time, even at a young age. Even the most interesting activity will not stop a child from wandering about if that is what they are used to doing.

There were too many ideas to fit on the one page, so there are 2 pages to download. Please be aware that because of the large number of photographs on the posters, the downloads may take a long time to come through. Just walk away and have that cuppa!

I mentioned giving no choices for toddlers yesterday. My preschoolers are beginning to have some choice of activities. They are given a small selection to choose from and occasionally I choose for them. If they resist the choices I make, then they lose the freedom to choose for themselves until this attitude improves. (See choices post for a full explanation of why we do this.)

You’ll notice some activities are repeats from the toddler list. I have done that so those who do not have a toddler do not need to print out that chart as well as this one. Having said that though, you may find ideas from the older (coming next post) or younger category that I haven’t repeated may still be of interest to your child.

table activities for preschoolers master list download

table activities for spreschoolers p1

table activities for spreschoolers p1 1

table activities master list for preschoolers download

For older posts with heaps more activity ideas, please follow this link; Workjobs & Montessori activities for highchair, mat or table time(mathematics, language, practical life & others)

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.

table activities for spreschoolers p1 2   

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 bag exchange

IMG_8810

A good friend of mine recently hosted an activity bag exchange for young children and toddlers. Each Mum involved made 13 copies of an activity of their choice. We all got together for a chat and to exchange our bags with each other, leaving us all with 13 different activities to use with our own children. Here are the wonderful bags the ladies made. (While none of these are original ideas, they can be found in so many places across the web that I haven’t tried to give credit to sources in most cases.)

IMG_8819

Pizza factory. The children follow the order cards to custom-make each pizza according to their customer’s preferences. (Links to free printable order cards and other busy bag swap ideas here.)

IMG_8816

Popstick pattern match. Use the coloured popsticks to copy the picture patterns. Several of the cards have plain colours on the back to convert  the activity to a colour match instead.

IMG_8830

Button snake. Great for learning how to do up buttons; excellent for fine motor control. The felt pieces are pushed on and off the “snake” using the button head.

IMG_8828

Pipecleaner bracelets. Thread the cut straws onto the pipecleaners to make patterns and jewellery. You could do this as a colour matching activity if you have the right straws and pipe cleaner colours

IMG_8827

Sandpaper and wool pictures. Again with patterns to follow and copy, placing the pieces of wool onto the sandpaper to make pictures.

IMG_8826

Paper clip feet. Slide the paper clips onto the toes by colour or write a number on each foot for counting practise as well as fine motor skills. Young children can just pile the paperclips on top if it is too difficult to push them on.

IMG_8825

Tissue paper pictures. Tear pieces of tissue or crumple into balls to decorate the pictures or make you own with the blank paper and glue. Stickers and crayons are added for extra fun as well.

IMG_8824

Paint swatch pegging. Pincer grip (necessary for writing later) is exercised by opening the pegs to match them to the correct colour swatch.

IMG_8823

Shape puzzle. A simple make-your-own puzzle with foam sheet cut into geometric shapes

IMG_8821

Pop-pom push jar. Push the pompoms through 2 sizes of holes into the plastic container. (Tip: Use a drill to make the holes.)

IMG_8812

My youngest enjoyed the pompom posting and soon figured out that he could shake the small ones back out again – saving me the trouble of taking the lid on and off for him!

IMG_8818

Felt chains. Perfect timing for Christmas! While the rest of the family are producing reams of paper chain to decorate the entire house (or is that just my children?) the youngest can be practising with felt and velcro, to be made and re-made over and over again.

The last 2 bags were mine and I made sewing and threading activities and a basic gluing bag. Sorry, no photos, but check here and here for some gluing and fine-motor ideas.)

Other posts you may find helpful:

Ziploc activity bags for toddlers and preschoolers

Toddler busy boxes 

Sensory tub ideas

How do you store children’s jigsaw puzzles?

puzzle cupboard after IMG_8719

The “after” photo. All those melancholy organisation junkies out there say aaahhhhh!

After unsuccessfully searching for a suitably priced storage solution for our woefully disorganised jigsaw puzzle cupboard, I decided to come up with my own system. I have been frustrated at constantly having puzzle pieces mixed up, missing and the whole lot in an untidy jumble and sorting the mess out had finally risen to the top of the project priority heap! After looking at several different options that were going to be way too expensive for us, (we own a LOT of puzzles) I settled on clear plastic containers from Kmart.

puzzle cupboard before IMG_8607

The “before” photo. The really scary thing is that I had already taken out about 15 puzzles when I thought to take a photo of what we started with.

We had a marathon puzzle session where the children completed every puzzle we owned and I photographed the finished result. I threw out any that had been missing pieces for years and were unlikely to suddenly be found and those that were broken or very tattered. We gave several of the least loved away to friends and that still left a rather extensive collection, gathered from secondhand stores and markets over the years at a dollar or two each.

I taped the photo of the finished puzzle to the front of the boxes so the kids can see which puzzle is in the container and choose what they would like to do. I also photographed the base boards from puzzles that had a back and attached these photos to the lids of the boxes so they knew to look for the matching board when they took the pieces out. The boards are now standing at the end of the bottom shelf.

I separated the puzzles into three age or difficulty groups so that I can simply direct the twins for example to take any puzzle that has a white dot on the front. (Very frustrating for them to tip out and start a puzzle they have no hope of completing.) Finally, each box is numbered and every piece inside the box is numbered to match so that when a stray piece is found we can easily see which box it belongs in.

I cut the pictures off the boxes of the more difficult puzzles, folded them and stored them in the box too so that the children can use them as a guide if they need to. (The pictures on the front of the box do the job for the simple puzzles but are not large enough for the very complicated ones.)

The peg puzzles are stored in plastic bags that zip or press-stud together that I have kept from blankets, grobags and other gifts that come in suitable packaging. If they get accidentally tipped off the shelf, at least the pieces will stay in the correct bag.

It cost a total of $62 for the containers which was more than I had hoped but a lot less than some methods I came across. It also means that the children are now regularly choosing to sit down and do a puzzle which had not been happening at all in their jumbled state. Plus, every time I walk past I give a little sigh of satisfaction at that organised shelf! One more thing to cross off my list. Now for project 982….

Other posts you may find useful:

Overview of several chore systems; House tidy and spring clean continues

Chores and responsibility: Suggested chores for every age

Fussy eaters and 2 plate dinners

Toddler busy boxes

b and J using animal busy box IMG_8561

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.

counting Duplo blocks IMG_8550

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.