Mat time on the go

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Do you have occasions when you need to take a toddler along and keep them quietly playing in one place for an extended length of time? Whether you keep your children in church with you, need to go to an appointment where there is likely to be a long wait, need to take a homeschool class with other children or want to get through a meal in a restaurant in peace, mat time is invaluable.

The toys need not be fancy or expensive, but it helps if they are new to the child. Things to fill and spill, tip and pour, shake and rattle (not for quiet times!), stack and read, open and shut, will all be a hit. When I pack my take-along toddler toy bag I just walk around the house looking for a bunch of interesting containers and a selection of bits and bobs to put in them. A pile of brightly painted metal washers from the shed in a hinged tin, matchsticks and a container with a hole to poke them in, large stones and a munchie mug for posting, nesting blocks from a wooden puzzle, musical instruments and a tackle box filled up with odds and ends gave us around an hour of peace on a couple of different occasions before the novelty began to wear off.

Training children does take time and is not easy, but a young child who will contentedly play with their activities within a set boundary is a joy to take out.

 

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.

 

Sensory tubs for babies and young toddlers

Our 17 month old is staying with her Grandparents (along with some of her brothers and sisters) for 4 days and they have requested some playpen toys to use while she is there. This sensory tub or “pile of entertainment” is what I came up with. Perfect for highchair, mat or playpen times, these household objects will keep her going longer than the flashiest new toy ever could. (See this post for more info on flexible routines and links for training little people to sit and concentrate for lengthy periods.)

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Containers filled with interesting things are always a hit with this age. Check for choking hazards and make sure nothing is easily breakable. Include objects to open and close, lids to take off and put on, things to fill and spill, stack and fiddle with.

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A pile of plastic picnic plates to stack, old jewellery containers to open and shut, play keys, magnetic wooden ice-cream cone, pretend food, magnetic construction blocks, swizzle sticks in a jar, T/spoon and cup. Wander around the house and pile stuff in. Check the older kid’s toys for anything suitable such as the potato head toy. While she won’t be able to build it, she will take a couple of minutes to pull it to pieces and examine it.

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Take notice of what they pick up and walk around with when on the loose around the house. Mum’s cooking spoon, sister’s comb, brother’s hat, Dad’s shoe – chuck them in.

Poking Q-tips into a spice jar takes some doing at this age (Montessori small spaces activity) and bright books are good, along with a small photo album of family members and other common objects (pets etc.)

All of my children have rejected baby board books at this age but have been particularly interested in paper books. Perhaps because they see everyone around them reading them all the time? I set aside some paper paged books that are not particularly loved in case they get wrecked and give them to the little ones. I find if they are in perfect condition they will rarely be torn, but the moment there is even a small tear it will have a powerful draw and little fingers will have that page ripped out in a flash. It’s irresistible, they just can’t help themselves!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

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

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Day 6

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

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Day 7

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

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Day 8

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

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Day 9

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

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Day 10

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

How is your Christmas planning going?

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

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

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

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

Day 1

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

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Day 2

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

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Day 3

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

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Day 4

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

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Day 5

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

Stay tuned for days 6 to 24.

What are your toddler’s favourite Christmas activities?

 

 

 

 

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.

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?