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?

Preschool at our house – ready for a new baby!

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Here is the latest change-over for the twin’s preschool activities for homeschool time each morning. We are currently taking a school holiday break for 2 weeks, leading up to the birth of our 7th blessing.

I have found from experience that everything goes much more smoothly if we continue with school, rather than take a break at the same time as the newest arrival. Too much free time and lack of structure and supervision creates cranky kids who bicker all day and drive me crazy! I have made sure that the activities for this term do not require a lot of 1 on 1 time with Mum and the older children especially are able to work through without requiring my assistance, other than for the occasional question etc.

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These handwriting books are the one item in the preschool cupboard that will need my 1 on 1 attention. The twins are asking me how to write certain letters now and are keen to write their names. My opinion is that if they are going to write letters, they may as well learn how to do it properly right from the start, rather than need to re-learn later and correct bad habits. I should be able to fit in the 15 minutes or so that is needed to complete 1 page per day.

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I picked up some old activity books with dotted pictures. Tracing these dotted lines to make the figures is great fine motor practise. I have removed the pages from their covers so that the twins can easily grab one page at a time.

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I also found some old sticker books. Again, I pulled all the pages out so that they can choose one at a time. Some paper to stick them on to and a packet of textas is all that is needed for some creative fun.

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I have had these pattern block puzzles out before but the children do not choose to do them unless directed to do so. I have made a list of each picture with space for a sticker or stamp next to each one. After finishing a puzzle they can mark it as completed by stamping or sticking next to the corresponding name. A little added incentive!

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Cutting and gluing are still exceedingly popular with both children. This box has some large plain paper sheets, wrapping paper pictures, glue sticks and scissors for free creating.

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A carry on from last month – matching upper and lowercase alphabet letters. More work is needed on this skill so I have just changed the presentation and popped it back out again. The large jewels have capital letters on them and the ice block trays have both upper and lowercase. It is a basic matching activity.

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Addition and counting skills will be something we continue to work on for a while. With the rocks as the manipulatives, the children solve the simple addition sum on each peg before clipping it to the correct segment on the paper plate. Using pegs means that this also improves fine motor skills as well. The circle in the centre is the inside of a used roll of sticky tape. I just glued it onto the paper plate which provides a great place for the pegs and rocks to be stored when not in use.

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Three letter CVC words are going to be out for quite a while. With the same letter tiles and a new set of pictures (free printables here) the twins already know how to do this and need only a little help. Last time I had them lucky dip the tiles out of a bag but I found that they wanted to be able to see all the letters and find the one they needed so ended up tipping them all out anyway. Having them in the plate means they can see the tiles and choose the sound they are up to.

 

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.

 

Preschool at our house; hands-on homeschooling

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Almost a month exactly has passed since I last updated the twins (4 1/2 years) preschool activities. Changing them out once a month takes me an hour or two at the most (without interruptions!) and with approximately a month until I need to do it again, isn’t too much of a burden. If I take the time to plan for interesting activities then I find I have a positive attitude to “school” time and of course, with something new and interesting to do, so do they. A little internet surfing and Pinterest pinning and I have more ideas than I could possibly put into practise.

The children have plenty of time during other parts of the day for play-based learning and some free choice, but school time has a little more structured. I like the activities to be hands-on where possible and try to keep in mind that we have years ahead for academic learning. Right now it is more of a priority that they learn to sit, focus, concentrate and obey my instructions than it is for them to learn a particular academic skill.

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This is what the school cupboard looks like this month. With the broad categories of mathematics, reading and writing in mind, we are focussing on adding small numbers, sequencing numerals to 30, identifying upper and lowercase letter names and sounds, sounding out 3 letter words, forming letters and fine motor skills.

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These addition strips are once of the free printables I designed to go with Mathusee Primer level. We are working on basic addition facts, this month: adding on 3 and 4.

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These plastic party spoons have the numerals 1 to 30 written on them. The child needs to put them in order and then post them into the right slot in the shoebox. If unsure of where to put them, they can lift up the red strip to see the numerals below.

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This is the favourite by far. The twins dig out the buried jewels from the rice sensory box and match the uppercase letters to the lowercase letters on the trays.

These large jewels are the kind you find for displaying flowers/candles and are a very inexpensive way of creating your own Montessori moveable alphabet. A set of black letter stickers was all I needed to purchase and with the jewels came to a grand total of $4.50. The rice I had in the cupboard from my other large sensory tubs and the metal trays are a pencil tin that my daughter no longer needed.

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After mastering initial sounds, we have started work on 3 letter words. The bag holds the letter tiles which are lucky dipped and matched up to the correct space under the consonant-vowel-consonant  (CVC) words. There are no spare letters so the activity is self-checking. The answer could be written on the back of the cards too but I find that my little darlings like to turn them over and cheat check if I do that! The free printable CVC picture cards are available here.

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This salt tray has been on my to do list for ages. All you need is a tray of some sort with a brightly coloured but plain background. Rainbow stripes or large blocks of colour will work well, but avoid busy pictures and patterns. Place a thin layer of salt into the tray, provide a paint brush and let them at it. Allow plenty of time for free “painting” first and once the novelty has worn off somewhat, add some letter cards to copy. A cue tip/ear bud will work and some people suggested just using a finger but I didn’t think the salt felt very nice. My children don’t get to paint as much as they’d like so I figured the brush would make them feel like they were doing art!

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One drawback of the suitcase style was that my daughter closed the lid and picked it up by the handle to pack it away. Nope, not salt tight! Oh well, sweeping up mess is educational too.

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Starter Styles are a commercial educational toy that we purchased years ago. The older children remember them fondly and have all sat down for a fiddle at some stage or other since they came back out. The children sequence the number tiles then use them to answer questions in the book by placing them into the correct square. If their answers are right, the tiles will make a pattern when flipped over in the lid. The little books that go with them cover pre-number skills right on through to some more difficult concepts, as well-as pre-reading, reading and spelling. Not a must-have but a novel way of working on some basic skills. The logic required to work out how to place the tiles alone is quite difficult for little children.

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Threading is always good for fine motor skills. These blocks are numbered so it can be a sequencing activity also but as both my preschoolers are past this I won’t be worrying about whether it is in numerical order or not.

Last months preschool activities are here. The month before are here.

Coming up: The monthly overhaul of the two-year-old’s highchair activity cupboard.

What is your preschoolers’s favourite school-time activity?

Rainy day activities outdoors: Cubby houses

 

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When our cubby first arrived a number of years ago, it was a big hit. Meals on the verandah were frequent. Two years later a make-over is required.

Operation cubbyhouse make-over is finished!! Many friends and families I know complain that their cubby house is a white elephant. While our cubby is one of the first things in use when visitors come around, it has not been well-used by our own children recently. Like all things, the novelty has worn off and it is time for a “home improvement” project. (Particularly as the wet weather has arrived and it gives the children something to do outside even when it is raining.)

The following ideas will help make our cubby (and yours) an attractive play option this winter. Don’t forget to change the contents occasionally and limit what is available at once. Everything out together will make for one huge mess and actually works against producing worthwhile play.

Choose open-ended accessories and toys that promote imagination. How do you know if something is open-ended? Ask yourself what you can do with it. A toy vacuum cleaner can pretty much be used for vacuuming and that’s it, making it a closed toy choice. A pile of sheets can be princess gowns, bedding, room dividers and so on, therefore it is an open-ended play choice.

RECOMMENDED PLAY HOUSE ACCESSORIES:

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Blackboard and chalk. Buy some blackboard paint and make one whole wall a drawing space. Not a little square mind you – a whole wall. Either paint onto wood and mount across the wall or paint the cubby wall itself if it has a fairly flat wood surface. Screw up a bucket of coloured chalk and a duster and watch the many different ways it will be used. We find that a damp cloth often works better than an actual duster to remove the chalk. I also hung up two smaller blackboards that can be taken down to serve as menu boards and order tablets etc.

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Telephone. My Mum loves to tell us about the working field telephone they had when she was young, strung up between the cubby and their house for real two-way conversations. Unfortunately we don’t have this option but a pretend phone is a must. You could add some phone books to look up numbers. I came across a telephone station idea on the web that had a large mirror behind it. I have never considered a mirror being linked to phone play but apparently children enjoy watching themselves talk on the phone and it is great for language development. It seems to be true because the moment the mirror was up my son grabbed a phone from elsewhere (I hadn’t screwed them on the wall yet), pulled up a chair and sat down to watch himself chatting to imaginary family members.

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Door bell. Well mannered cubby visitors must learn to knock or ring right? Toddlers and young children will love ringing the bell every time they go in and out.

Letterbox. Add some paper, envelopes, drawing equipment, stickers for stamps and a sack to collect and deliver the mail with. Really cool letter boxes are the ones with a little flag to put up to let the children know the mailman has been. If Mum or Dad occasionally stick in a letter the excitement will be huge. Perhaps an invitation to afternoon tea?

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Curtains. I asked all the children what they would like to have added to the cubby. There were several usable ideas (pictures, letter box and curtains) and other not-so practical ideas (roller shutters, water piped from the gutters to a real tap, a real oven and a working light – there are no electricity points in our backyard.) I happily agreed to the curtain idea and sewed some up from an old sheet. A quick hem around each side and double over the end to thread the hanging wire through – about the limit of my sewing skills!

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Table and chairs. No cubby is complete without a child-sized table and chairs. Activities like the letter writing can be set up on it or use it for the more traditional restaurant, cafe and home kitchen play. There was enough sheet left to make a table-cloth to match the curtains.

Pretend cooking equipment. Items such as plates, cups, cutlery, tablecloth, napkins, pots, pans, muffin tins, cake tins, wooden spoons, whisks, egg flips, cutting boards etc. Children love to use real items so use old stuff from your own kitchen or visit the local recycled store for some cheap kitchen gear. While I prefer natural materials such as wood and metal, the reality is that outside these dishes will be covered in sand and water in no time, so I have re-homed some of the many plastic sets people give the children for Christmas and kept my nice natural equipment for pretend play indoors where it will survive for much longer.

Small bookcase, kitchenette or shelves. Set them at child’s height and use them to store the cooking equipment. Add some cup hooks and pegs to hang up the pans and what-not.

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Stove or oven. Even a box turned on its side will do at a pinch. A kid needs somewhere to bake his pies! I have kept ours out on the verandah for extra space and sandy baking projects as the older girls have been complaining that the sand messes up the cubby after they have swept it! Hmmm sounds a lot like my house….

Rocks, pebbles, glass jewels (the kind you add to vases), pieces of natural wood and other such items have unending possibilities for food based play. Avoid plastic pretend food items as these limit play. A plastic pizza is a plastic pizza. An attractive river stone can be a freshly baked bun, biscuit, muffin, piece of meat etc.

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Child-sized broom. Cut the handle off a regular indoor broom to make it child-sized and hang up a dustpan and brush. You will be surprised at how many times the children choose to sweep out their house.

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sheets IMG_0338Old sheets, cushions and some kind of bed. We picked up an old cot mattress and a large couch cushion during verge collection in our area that make great bed bases, along with the small decorative cushions for pillows. They are not too big or heavy and can be stored standing up against the cubby wall when not in use. More importantly, there are enough for several children to be “sleeping” at once; very important during hospital play. There is also a very large old-fashioned bassinet that fits the small children very well.

Dress-ups and a mirror. I don’t leave my dress-ups outside, but occasionally pop them into the cubby. Dressing up is enjoyed by all but if the children can see themselves in a mirror, the fun triples. While a couple of princess gowns are nice, a pile of old sheets, scarves, hats, shoes, fabric pieces and other accessories allow children so many more play options. Again, a princess dress will usually be used as a princess dress. A fabulous piece of cloth has endless options.

Themed pretend-play accessories. Set up a few extras for a doctor’s surgery, shop, restaurant, beauty parlour, pet store or more. See this post for heaps of theme ideas.

Water table. (Picture of ours here.) During cool weather, this can be filled with sand or rice or wheat or anything really. Add a few accessories and watch the play develop. Sensory tubs as they are often known are great for rainy days. See this post for lots of indoor ideas, or my toddler activities Pinterest page for heaps more. Some of them (the messy ones) lend themselves to outdoor play more than others.

SIX CUBBY HOUSE MISTAKES TO AVOID:

1.Using it as a store-all for all the outdoor toys. You can’t play in a junk pile people!

2. Leaving it empty. A box on legs is still just an empty box and unlike giant cardboard boxes which have endless uses, an empty cubby is just not that much fun.

3. Putting it too far away from the action. Children occasionally like to hide away but as a general rule, they will be far more likely to consistently use a play house if it is located centrally to the rest of your outdoor area or close to the house. Joined on to a sandpit for example is excellent as the sand then becomes part of the play and opens a whole new dimension of pretend play ideas. Mud pies in the cubby oven are good for hours of entertainment.

4. Small, high windows. For much the same reason as above; children like to be able to pop in and shut a curtain etc. to feel like they have a little privacy but most of the time want to be able to see what is going on and not feel too shut in. Having a good, low window at the front to play shops, serve food through etc. is ideal.

5. Getting hung up about keeping the cubby tidy. It’s not your house or the kid’s bedroom! Let them make some mess. Let them bring in sandpit sand, pebbles from the driveway, leaves or whatever else is making for great pretend play that day. That’s why you include a broom and dustpan!

6. Buying a cubby that is too small. It’s handy if an adult can stand inside but not necessary of course. Think ahead though – if 2 little children fit well, what about when they grow or more children are welcomed to the family? Or when visitors arrive? If you are going to have a well-used cubby, there needs to be space for the mini kitchen, the bed, the blackboard and all the other great accessories that make or break a play house. Too small and you will be very limited in what you can do.

While I haven’t added every idea to our cubby as yet, I am done for now. When interest wanes and something new is required,  I’ll get back to the doorbell, letterbox and other items.

What great ideas do you have to make your cubbyhouse a great place to play?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sensory tubs; A rainy day and new baby activity

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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.)

 

 

 

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

IMG_0115 It was time for an update of the activities available for my preschoolers this week. This cupboard is only used for “school” time with Mummy once a day by the twins (4 years) and contains our more formalised school activities – number and letter work etc. (Last months activities are here.) We are making the most of the next 2 months before baby number 7 is due to work on preschool skills. Once bub arrives these activities will be changed to more play based choices and able to be used independently, rather than requiring my direct supervision. Please keep in mind that I am not suggesting all 4 year olds are ready for this level of work. I work steadily with my children, moving ahead as far as their understanding and development allows. I do not stick to teaching skills by grade or age, but rather follow each child’s development as far as they are able. This changes from child to child and the ideas here are more traditionally at pre-primary to year 1 school level. It is more important that children learn to sit and concentrate, follow instructions, learn Godly character etc. than a list of rote learning or academic skills. The twins happen to be able to cope with these activities and show an interest in them so I will go with that for now. If it becomes burdensome and onerous for them, we will take a break. IMG_0097 I found these plastic tiles at an op shop. I have no idea what their original use was, however they link together nicely for this number sequencing activity. Having 3 colours meant I could quickly separate out only the 1 to 10 blocks, then add the 11 to 20 and finally 21 to 30 as they were able to complete the “path” as we called it. I provided a coloured number strip to use as a guide while they were still learning the numeral sequence. IMG_0104 IMG_0099 This is the same activity using a different style of block. These came from a build-your-own 3D desk calendar I bought for $1. You could also purchase Coko bricks which are almost identical and can be used on Duplo base boards. The twins have learnt to count to 30 out loud and have fairly good one-to-one correspondence so we are now working on recognising and sequencing numerals to 30. IMG_0105 IMG_0119 We use Mathusee in the early years (moving on to Saxon math later) but as my preschoolers are not ready to do a lot of written work I used the sequence of skills from the Primer book to develop a bunch of hands-on activities. These block manipulatives also come from the Mathusee resources. In the example above, the children need to recognise the numeral and count to find the right block to place above it. Click  HERE for a FREE PRINTABLE. IMG_0120 IMG_0121 Another Mathusee based activity; basic addition facts using the manipulatives and numeral answers. The number strips I have out at the moment are plus 1 and plus 2. Learning basic addition facts now will help with more difficult mathematical skills later on. Click the links below for FREE PRINTABLES: Plus  1 Plus 2 Plus 3 Plus 4 Plus 5 Plus 6 Plus 7 Plus 8 Plus 9 Plus 10 IMG_0122 We have moved on from letter names and sounds and identifying initial sounds to 3 letter words. These are Coko bricks and each board has groups of consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words with the same endings to keep it simple. The children carefully sound out the words and find the matching bricks to make them. IMG_0123 IMG_0124 The back side of the card has the answers to make the activity self-checking. No printable for this one sorry – the pictures are not mine! IMG_0125 These alphabet sounds books were simply a book form of flashcard. We use them to review the letter names and sounds and sticker the letters they know. I found the school font I wanted to use online, enlarged it and printed them out. IMG_0126 This is an initial sounds activity. Free printable circle pictures and letters are available from this blog. I made a simple backing page to use them in a slightly different way than the original author intended. The sets are sorted into 3 or 4 initial sounds in each envelope to keep it simple and avoid having the whole alphabet mixed up together. For a FREE PRINTABLE of my circles backing page click here. IMG_0127 IMG_0128 I made these consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) 3 letter word matching cards using pictures from cheap sticker books. The children choose a picture and find the matching word card before turning the picture over to check their answer on the back. IMG_0129 A basic counting and/or colour matching activity from an activity bag swap I posted on a while back. The concept is far too easy for the twins now but I wanted something for fine motor skills so popped this one out again. The idea is to slide the correct number of paperclips onto each foot after ordering the numerals from 1 to 5. You may also require them to match the colours at the same time.

Spinny Spellers

The twins are starting more of a preschool type programme this year. Lots of counting, letter sounds and recognition and the like and on to three-letter CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. A nifty little tool for teaching these three-letter words is the spinny speller. I have seen nuts and bolts versions and some very nice commercially produced Montessori products, but here is my home-made version. A little rickety perhaps but they will do the job!

spinny spellers

Often spinny spellers have a random assortment of consonants and vowels. The children spin the blocks and sound out the resulting combination to practise reading 3 letter words. I separated mine into one for each vowel so that every word will always have the same centre sound to make it simpler for beginners. The letter combinations I chose make as many real words as possible but occasionally nonsense word combinations will come up which is just part of the fun.

I used a small wooden craft dowel from Spotlight with 2 wooden beads glued to the ends to stop the blocks falling off. The cube blocks are cut from a length of wood and I hand-drilled the holes. (Thus the wonky alignment – couldn’t be bothered measuring the centres and just did it by eye – should have measured!) Just thread the blocks onto the dowel, leave a little space for them to spin around and glue the beads on the end. Write your chosen letters on with a permanent marker and you are done.

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

Hand commands and missionary minded children

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It has come to my attention recently that we apparently have been reading too many heroic missionary stories that end in martyrdom or less than idyllic life situations. My three older children emphatically stated that they “never wanted to be missionaries!” and “Why would anyone want to?” Never mind what God’s plans for them were….

I decided to address this less than positive attitude by commencing the 40 day Mission minded family challenge by Ann Dunagan. We watch a 5 minute YouTube clip each morning that includes a quick geography lesson on locating countries around the world, some inspirational quotes by missionaries, a couple of thoughts from Ann herself and a related bible verse. While the quality of the film is less than professional, what she has to say is worthwhile listening to and has been a great springboard for mission related discussions. She offers a daily missionary challenge for you to do as each segment concludes to start you on the path to becoming more missionary minded.

After the first session, I printed out a free geography quiz and made a velcro label the continents and oceans activity and the eldest 3 had those memorized in a couple of days. We spent half an hour or so watching clips about the floating Mercy Hospital Ship and the amazing work they do around the world and got them all fired up about medical missionary work. Interestingly, this was followed by a couple of days of outdoor time when all the children decided to play “Mercy ship” in the back yard and doctored each other, complete with making the patients line up to be treated!

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I printed out the ocean and continent maps (one blank, one control map) and laminated them before adding velcro to the labels. In 5 minutes a day, with minimal effort, the children had the continents and oceans memorised. Kids love velcro!!

Day 6 to 10 has seen us learn Ann’s “Hand Commands” for the ten commandments. Genius!! I thought Ray Comfort’s visual number version on YouTube was brilliant (and it is) but you always have your hands with you and these are even better! While the children already had the 10 commandments down after watching Comfort’s video a couple of times, Dunagan’s Hand Commands had them practicing the moves and all ready to share them with others. Definitely worth a look. There is a written explanation here or watch the 5 clips from day 6  (the first screen and voice-over says day 11 but it is actually day 6 ) to day 10 to see it in action. I recommend the live recording because the movements, especially for number 8, are very clever.

I am not sure what the next 30 days of the challenge will have us doing, but the children’s attitude has already shown a great improvement.