Mat time and sensory tubs

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Mat time is something we use with our little ones from around the age of 12 months. It teaches them to stay within a boundary and to be content with the toys they are given to play with. Focussing and concentrating skills are developed as they learn to stay with a couple of choices, rather than flit from one thing to another. When we go out I can set out a boundary and know that they will stay where I tell them to and play with whatever I have been able to bring with me at the time. It also means that when children transfer to a big bed they will obey Mum’s instruction to stay in bed, or when toilet training will sit and read a book while they do their business, rather than wanting to get off after just a second or two!

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I have used crates of toys in the past, but as our youngest can now play with small items without me having to watch his every move, I have introduced individual sensory tubs. I posted recently about our large sensory tub (currently filled with oats) but these smaller ones are filled with “clean” materials and are used by only one child at a time. Our two-year-old is using this most days, so I will probably need to change out the contents every week. Alternatively, I could have 4 or 5 on the go and rotate them which would make them last much longer, but I don’t have the storage space or the tubs to do that.

To give you an idea of how easy it is to change the contents, next week I will remove everything except the rocks and add more rocks of larger sizes and different colours, dinky cars and trucks, some card tubes, a couple of blocks of wood and some small shovels and scoops. 5 minutes later – new tub!

If you have trouble thinking of ideas, spend an hour on Pinterest and you will have enough to last you for months. My sensory tub ideas pinboard is here if you want to see some of my future plans.

 

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 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.

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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

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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!

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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

Toddler bags for out and about: How to get through a restaurant meal with a toddler.

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Any parent of young children knows that a meal out in a restaurant can be taxing with a toddler in tow. There are ways however to minimise the stress and make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

Firstly, train your child at home to sit in their highchair after meals for a period of time with a few toys or activities, or perhaps a book or two and include playpen time (or room time) and mat time in your daily routine. Having these daily periods where your child is used to happily playing with the toys you give them, whilst staying within a boundary, is excellent preparation for other occasions when they will need to sit quietly for a longer than normal stretch of time.

Spend a little time preparing some new and interesting activities that are kept aside for use while you are out. Either purchased toys and books or some simple (and cheap) home-made ideas like the ones that follow. Toddler’s generally do not have a well-developed imagination and tire of toys that don’t “do” something relatively quickly, so having to buy new things continually to keep up with their changing developmental needs and interest can become very expensive. These home-made toys are great for developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination and when introduced at the right developmental level, will be stimulating and interesting for your young child. If a task is too easy it will not hold their interest. Too hard and they will become frustrated and lose interest.

This is the bag of “toys” I put together for my 18 month old to use during a lunch we attended on the weekend. He only used a couple of them as I bought them out one at a time and only changed them over when necessary.

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Posting bottle: Posting noodles into an empty vanilla bottle and tipping them back out again.

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Posting box: Pushing pompoms into the hole in this twine box. Help is needed to open the box to tip them out again but as we are sitting right next to him this is not a problem.

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Small spaces jar: Posting earbuds into a spice jar with holes in the lid. He discovered after I had taken off the lid and tipped them all back out about 5 times that he could shake them out one at a time through the holes so that added a new dimension to the activity.

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Posting tin: Posting plastic poker chips through a slot into an empty baking powder container. Yes, I know, it’s another posting activity. But at this age, my son LOVES to post stuff so I’ll run with that for a while and change when he is no longer so fascinated!

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Surprise boxes: Opening and closing these little pill containers to find the small toy inside is great for fine motor development.

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Dolly peg and hair bands: Sliding hair ties on and off a wooden dolly peg may be a little difficult for him but we will give it a go and see what happens. I haven’t used this one yet.

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Dinky car: Having older siblings means that interest in cars has developed early and he knows how to play with them form observing his brothers.

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Pipecleaner box: Shoving them in and out and bending them into different shapes could be fun. (We haven’t done this yet either but I remember one of my older children using this idea as a toddler and spending a very long time poking the ends into the small holes in the chair he was sitting on.)

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This old bag is how we cart the activities around. The fact that it has several different compartments as well as zips means that it is an activity in itself.

Having children will certainly change your life, but it shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you love. Train your children and you will reap the benefits.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Mat time on the go

Activities to make for toddlers and babies

Buffet training

Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

Toddler busy boxes

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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.

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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.

Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

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Arsenic hour is that late afternoon time period where the short people in the household tend to have their meltdowns. Slightly hungry in the lead-up to dinner, tired from a day full of stimulation and unable to display the self-control necessary for “keeping it together” until dinner is served, young children (especially toddlers) tend to struggle during this time and easily tip over the edge. So how can we, as Mothers of young ones, structure our day to minimise the conflict and stress that is often experienced during arsenic hour?

Start by looking at your overall day. Who is in charge? You or your child? Who is making all the choices? Evaluate your overall day in light of this and see if some or much of the conflict is simply caused by you trying to get a reluctant toddler to do something they do not want to do after making their own decisions for the majority of the day. (See “choices” for a fuller explanation.)

Look at your routine. Do you have a flexible structure to the day with a good flow of events? It should include a mixture of time with Mum, time with siblings and time alone, physical activity, quiet time, structured play times etc. (See “routines” for ideas of what to include throughout your day.)

What time are you serving dinner? Are you expecting your young child to wait until Dad comes home in the late evening and trying to feed them when what they really need is to be getting into bed? Family meal times are a priority for us and very important, but if you husband is home later than is practical, consider feeding your toddler early and bringing them back to the table when Dad arrives for finger foods, a snack or a healthy dessert so that they can participate with the family. The bonus with this is that all your mealtime/manners training can be done on-on-one with the toddler, leaving the family table free from conflict.

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Bathtime can be difficult if left until after dinner. There has been seasons when I have bathed all the younger children at around 4.30pm when they are still coping relatively well and are unlikely to get into conflict situations. I can then pop them at the table, in the highchair or on their mat, with a suitable activity to keep them usefully occupied on a worthwhile task while I am free to finish dinner prep and serve them their meals.

Do not test your obedience levels during this time. What do I mean by this? Do not give directions to your toddler and expect them to obey. Rather than say, “Junior, go and get into your highchair please,” simply walk over to Junior, take his hand and cheerfully state “It’s time for highchair activities” as you walk hand in hand with him to the chair, pick him up and pop him in. When it is time for Suzie’s bath, rather than say “Suzie, go and get your PJ’s and go to the bathroom”, you grab the PJ’s and walk little Suzie to the bathroom, undressing her and plopping her in the bath. Don’t forget to give a 5 minute warning before making these announcements.IMG_7743

Having a good routine throughout the day, coupled with these practical suggestions will help make this time as enjoyable as any other period in the day.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Getting dinner on the table

Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Playdough for toddlers – no biscuit cutters please!

Magnetic pompoms

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Magnetic pompoms are a great idea for table time, highchair time, mat time, while travelling with children or any other time you would like a quiet activity for your toddlers or preschoolers.

Simply buy your pompoms and hot glue gun magnets on the back. I used the free flexible strip fridge magnets that come in the mail on the back of advertising.kissing man on fridge IMG_8450

For a sit down activity, use a small magnetic whiteboard, biscuit or cookie tray or any other magnetic surface. They could easily be adapted for sorting by colours and/or counting or simply combined to make creative pictures on the fridge as my daughter is doing in these photos. counting IMG_8285

My original plan was to use them with the multitude of “do-a-dot” pictures that can be found on the internet, so I printed out a stack and laminated them for durability. (These pictures have circles all over them that you can dot with bingo markers or stick on small stickers for a fine motor activity.) The fridge magnets however are not strong enough to hold the pompom on to the surface through the laminate so I am going to make a second set with stronger magnets for that purpose and leave these for free creating. pompom heart IMG_8284

Sensory tub ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

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Sensory tubs are great for mat time (blanket time) or as a table activity and are excellent for when you need to school older children, cook dinner, or during any other time when you need your little ones well occupied and absorbed in a worthwhile activity.

They are quick and easy to put together, cheap or free (depending on what you already have lying around the house) and can be used daily as part of your flexible routine for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even older children. Obviously the materials you present will change according to the age of the child who will be playing with them, with safety always a factor for little ones who may put small items in their mouths.

There is no limit to what you can put into your tubs. Ideally the materials will be open-ended; that is they can be combined and used in a variety of ways.sensory tub trains IMG_8187

Younger toddlers do not have a well-developed imagination and therefore need more hands-on options, rather than pretend play materials. For example, in the trains tub above, I included a variety of scoops and containers to fill, transfer, tip and pour as well as the trains themselves. A young toddler may examine the trains before setting them aside in favour of transferring the stones from container to container. The older children may go straight for the trains and set up a complicated rail system with rocks delineating the tracks and the containers used as sheds for the trains. Another may decide to serve dinner on the silver pie tins or set up a picnic for the trains.

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I find that the tubs themselves are not large enough for the children to play within. They like to sort through, put aside what they are not using and generally spread out, so I use a blanket or sheet for them to play on. When play time is finished, the corners of the sheet are lifted up and all the materials can be quickly tipped straight back into the tub without a tedious pack-up session.

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The older girls were practically drooling over this jewel and miniature pony tub as I was putting it together – usually a sure sign it will be well-loved by the younger children as well! Again, a variety of scoops, containers, bottles and boxes with sparkly jewel squares and pebbles. (The kind used in vases or to fill bowls – from the discount shop.)

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Blue and green gem stones, plastic sea animals, shells, bowl, spoons, scoops and empty pill boxes. This tub covers opening and closing skills, spooning, scooping, tipping, pouring (all transferring skills) and could be extended to sorting and categorizing as well as the pretend play options.

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My youngest daughter used the pony and jewel tub this morning for the first time. She carefully removed all the ponies and put them back in the box before making a picnic for her teddy bear and the 12 disciples (!) with the containers and jewels. The older girls (6 and 8) have already asked to use it later and tell me they plan to set the jewels up as food for the ponies. The beauty of open-ended, attractive materials is that they will appeal to a variety of ages. My 15 month old can barely restrain himself and wants to dive straight in whenever he sees these tubs out. Unfortunately the pieces are just too small for him to use safely.

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This is the 15 month old’s sensory “tub” this week. He loved it and used the scoop (a large measuring spoon) to transfer from the large basket to the small bowl, filled and stacked the metal cups and filled and tipped out the basket numerous times. Provide a container or two and something to put in and dump right back out again and it will always be a hit with anywhere from an 8 month to a 2-year-old. 12 to 18  month olds particularly love to fill and dump.

For a stack of ideas to fill your sensory tubs,see this post. Many of the other ideas I have posted as table activities, highchair activities or mat time activities would all work in a sensory tub. See pasta play and teddy food play as examples.

Buffet training

Something we try to remember as parents is not to expect our children to do anything while out that they do not do at home. For example, if my toddlers are unable to sit at the table for any length of time after a meal, I wouldn’t ask them to do so in a restaurant. We think it is unfair to expect something from them that we have not trained them to be able to do in the first place.

Asher in his highchair

With long-term goals in mind, we include highchair time as a regular part of our daily routine and our little ones are used to happily staying in their highchairs after meals with a couple of small activities to play with for a reasonable amount of time. We can then go to a restaurant or meeting and set them up with something to do and know that they will be happy to sit for quite a while without expecting to get straight down. At home, it means that I have time to finish cleaning up the table and kitchen and leave the area without having a trail of mess that I need to come back to later.

A sitting up on the mat

There are times when we visit others or find ourselves in a situation where there are just too many tempting items for the baby to get into. A young child will only stay in your arms for so long! Mat time training can help here. See introducing mat time and mat time on the go for ideas and explanations. Using a partacot (portable crib) as a playpen can also work well for those china filled houses. (See also starting late.)

Take a look around your table during a meal. If visitors were present, would you be embarrassed? Table etiquette and manners are something we need to go over and over (sigh..) but one strategy that has really helped us is the “3 warning” system.

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We occasionally hold “buffet training” evenings. They are great for a family night activity and really very simple. All we do is put out a whole array of food on the kitchen bench in lots of bowls and have the children move along and serve themselves in the same way they would do at a buffet. We discuss etiquette at the same time and add our own rules to make it work for a home dinner. (For example, “You may skip over no more than 3 of the dishes” to ensure that the tomato haters are satisfied but the vegetable phobic children still end up with a few specimens of the veggie kind on their plate.) The children need to know how to take an appropriate amount, avoid wastage, to think of others coming behind them, use the tongs, general manners and so on.

waitressing

Hosting high teas and other special events in our home and having the older children act as greeters, seaters, waiters and waitresses is also something they love and helps them to learn how to show hospitality and serve others by making people feel welcome and comfortable.

backyard boundaries

Have you ever had a visitor’s child waltz through your house as if they owned it, helping themselves to whatever they like? If children are used to having complete freedom in their own home to go wherever they like, touch what they like and do what they like, then don’t be surprised if they do the same while they are out.

As well as having a routine in place, limiting inappropriate choices and providing verbal, physical or visual barriers in our own home, when we arrive at someone’s house or a play area, one of the first things we do is identify the physical boundaries for the children.

We also spend a little time on the way there discussing the kinds of situations they may face and have the older children remind the younger ones of the manners they need to remember (a good review for them as well!)

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To avoid having young children who will only sleep in their own cots at home, we occasionally put them to sleep in a variety of situations; in the portacot in another room, in the pram, on a sibling’s bed, in our big bed, at Grandparentss house for an overnight etc. While they never sleep as well when we are out, at least they will have part of a nap.

While far from perfect, the children are slowly growing and developing into young adults that we hope will be a blessing to us and to others.