Highchair time for two-year-olds

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Our cute little toddler has just turned 2 and needed some new highchair activities to keep her occupied for the 30 minutes she sits at the table after breakfast each morning. The reality of this age is that their attention span is limited and they will need a new activity fairly frequently. The more open-ended the task is, the longer it will keep a toddler engaged, but 15 minutes would be a really good long stretch for my little one. When she is loosing interest in something that I have had out for a while, 5 minutes would not be unusual. The reality is that to get through the half hour period I need to have a selection of 3 to 6 trays ready to plop out on the table for her to use.

I have an oversized egg-timer that I use to avoid her demanding a new activity whenever she feels like it – i.e. after 3 minutes! It gives a physical and visual understanding of time passing and a little child can quickly grasp the fact that they will not be given something new until the sand has all run through so they may as well play with what they’ve got until it does. Egg timers also have the added bonus of not being audible, so if she is well engaged when the time runs out, there is no interruption to pull her attention away.

Timers also work well for those little ones who throw everything on the floor when they are done after 2 minutes – I simply place the timer in front of them and tell them that they will not get anything else to play with until it is done. Once they understand that Mum is in charge and the timer dictates the change of activity they will not be so quick to dump their entertainment. Some take longer to learn this concept than others I might add!

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She is always asking us to draw her teddy so I think she will really enjoy cleaning off the window crayon teddy picture from this small mirror. I do not intend to let her draw with the crayons however as they are very soft (and expensive) and would be wrecked for sure. There will be plenty of willing volunteers to draw another picture for her to erase.

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Opening and closing containers and spooning, sorting, filling, tipping and pouring are still interesting tasks for her. A bunch of scoops, tongs and vessels to fill should keep her going for a while.

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Posting bottles still hold some interest although I expect this one will not keep her attention for long. 6 to 12 months ago this would have been perfect. With all of these activities the developmental stage is important. Too easy and they will master and put it aside after just moments. Too hard and they will be frustrated. If something is too difficult, pop it away and try again in a few months. Todays “no interest” activity will be next month’s favourite.

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In the past this wooden puzzle has been too difficult but I think it will be about right now.

IMG_1390Oversized threading beads with one anchor bead tied on the bottom to hold all the others in place. I’ve not given her threading before so it will be interesting to see how this goes.

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I have placed a piece of contact paper on the underside of this empty photo frame so that the sticky side is facing up. The pattern blocks can be stuck on and peeled off repeatedly. I had hoped to stand it up but it was too heavy so laying down will have to do. I can see the contact paper will need replacing after a few days but it should be interesting for a while.

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Just a different way to present magnetic construction blocks that she is already familiar with.

A bunch of interesting rocks and jewels with a large ice block container for transferring and sorting. You’ll notice the small wooden tongs abandoned on the side. I have not yet succeeded in getting her to try tongs despite the fact that I’m sure this easy to squeeze pair would be fine for her little hands. She didn’t bother to use the mini spaghetti spoon either – fingers all the way. In fact, the first pile she made was on the table rather than in the ice block tray.

Christmas Traditions 2015

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The Christmas season is in full swing for us as we begin our many special traditions again this year. As always, we have tried to keep the focus on Jesus and blessing others over this period, rather than on presents and “getting.”The Blessing Buddies have arrived with their acts of kindness  for others and the children are excitedly searching for them each morning to see what they are up to. (Full explanation, printable poem and many acts of kindness ideas here.)

We are opening one special Christmas book to read each evening. This year I have sewed 24 bags for the books that I can reuse year after year.

The child of the day rushes out each morning to open the advent calendar and place the nativity figure onto the stable. Rather than treats this year, our advent calendar has an envelope filled with a handful of Lego for each child to open on their appointed day.  I was able to buy a huge bag of secondhand Lego cheaply at an op shop and had my eldest make up little sets for each day.

The same child takes their turn to pull out the day’s Jesse tree reading. This year we are focussing on the symbols of Christmas, looking at their meanings and how they can help point us and others to God.

Decorating the tree was eagerly awaited as always and our youngest placed the star on top as is our tradition, despite the fact that Daddy had to hold her hand in place to do it.

Another morning search finds our “What’s in the box?” Christmas table activity tray for the day. These Montessori style trays are for the toddlers and young children to do while the older children work on more difficult crafts or activities.

After our morning devotion using the symbol of the day we look in the craft box to find a special Christmas activity for the morning. With carols in the background we create something special, often related to the blessing of the day and meant to be given away to bless others.

We will be cruising the canals admiring the Christmas lights soon and attending the living nativity in a couple of weeks, with one important difference this year – the girls are in it. Our high tea for the senior church ladies is all set for a couple of Saturday’s time and we have a full schedule leading up to Christmas.

Having asked the children some weeks ago what they remembered as special about Christmas in our family I was glad to see that they did recall most of the traditions we have started and were looking forward to doing them again. Hopefully they will look back on this family time with fond memories and a heart that is knitted to us and their siblings for life.

For a full list of all our Christmas tradition and family identity building ideas for the Christmas period, see this post.

Teaching preschoolers to read

Homeschool has started for the year at our house and with it our routine. As always, there is some tweaking and re-arranging to make the new schedule work for us and I am reminded that flexibility is important, but am also enjoying the more peaceful atmosphere that being back on a schedule has bought.

As we continue the journey to reading proficiency I have also been reminded that learning to read is a process with several steps that need to be mastered before children will become strong readers. Ear training is so important in the early stages and while they have both memorised their letter sounds without any trouble, they are not yet proficient in the skill of segmenting words into their individual sounds so that is the next step for us. (See this post for an explanation of the steps to successful reading with ideas for teaching each stage along the reading ladder.)

So here are a couple of ways to practise segmenting words; breaking them down into their component sounds or phonograms. These are for words which have two phonograms, but can be easily adapted to 3 letter words by moving 3 objects rather than 2.

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Parking the car into the garage. For example, the word “at” has two sounds or programs; “a” and “t.” Say the word slowly out loud, breaking it into 2 parts as each car is moved to represent the sounds heard.

 

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Sliding the sounds together; bears on a Lego slide.

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The horse jumps the gates as each sound is heard.

These ideas can also be used for learning how many syllables are in words. The word “candle” has 2 syllables; “can” and “dle” so the horse would jump 2 gates also. Don’t use the same game though interchangeably between syllables and sounding out phonograms as it may be very confusing to children. Candle has 5 sounds/phonograms; “c” “a” “n” “d” “l” (silent e), but only 2 syllables.

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Jump the frogs onto the lilipad.

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Jump the grasshoppers onto the leaves.

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Put the food onto the spoons.

After a 5 minute wander through the house I had a bag full of little objects that would do the trick. Even moving counters up and down the desk will do but I thought these were more fun.

 

A new year with 7 children

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Christmas is a time that I look forward to – making memories, continuing with traditions from previous years, special outings, celebrations, events and family times.  As I have found every year though, this special time comes with it’s own negatives. The freedom of unstructured days, lack of routine, too many choices, plenty of special events, junk food and late nights (this year coupled with sickness) has predictably resulted in tired, cranky children who are not getting along so well and are not using their free time wisely. What to do??

A new year begins, the celebration cycle eases off and ta da – enter ROUTINE!

I know from experience that the start of our homeschool year will solve many of these problems very quickly. The children’s days are filled with a balance of structured and unstructured times, responsibilities appropriate for their ages (chores) and a predictable flow of daily activities that allows me to get everything I need to do done in a timely manner as well. Less time together means that the children start to appreciate each other again and everything starts to run so much more smoothly. Life feels easier, the days are happier and we all benefit.

 

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Here is a peek into the newly sorted out activity cupboard for our 2 1/2 year old. We use these activities for table time straight after breakfast for around 30-45 minutes. In that time he will use 3 or 4 of the trays before heading off to room time for around an hour. It takes time, consistency and commitment on your behalf to teach a little boy (or girl) to sit and concentrate but it absolutely can be done. I do not have babies and toddlers who are/were just “naturally” able to sit and concentrate, it took work!

I have posted heaps of ideas for activities that work well for young children who are learning to sit and concentrate. Those pictured above are:

1. Do-a-dot printables with stickers to place inside the dots (or wherever!)

2. Beginner cutting tray (See my free Montessori style printable cutting patterns and how to teach a toddler to cut.)

3. Duplo ice-cream making set – a new Christmas gift

4. Textas, pencils and colouring books and paper

5. Potato head parts and playdough

6. A fine motor transferring activity tray (Small rocks, tweezers and a variety of bottles and containers to open, shut and fill)

7. Wedgits – another Christmas gift that I have had on my wish list for a while now. (See photo at top.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessing Buddies; What have they been up to?

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Making flour footprints with an invitation to cook something tasty for the ladies who meet in our house once a month.

Since their arrival on the first of December, the children have been enjoying searching for the Blessing Buddies each morning and finding out what their act of kindness for the day is going to be. Our 2 1/2 year old is also loving searching for his special Christmas activity box each day.

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The Blessing Buddies were found on the front doorstep on Dec 1, along with the special sparkly box with the day’s toddler Christmas activity and supplies for the first act of kindness.

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Baking biscuits was messy but fun – 6 children in pairs baking 120 biscuits was a bit crazy but we did it!

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My favourite blessing so far. We went down to the local shops and surveyed the shopkeepers of the smaller stores, asking them to name their favourite chocolate bars. We then went into Coles and purchased their choices and delivered them back with a note from the Blessiing Buddies explaining the real reason for the Christmas season. Lots of fun seeing their faces when they received their chocolate. We deliberately waited until they were busy to stealthily (not so much!) place the bags on the counters and dash out again before any reward other than their smile could be forthcoming.

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The children were outraged that the boy Blessing Buddy was being mean! I thought it was funny but they could only focus on the injustice! They don’t seem so concerned when they are doing similar things to their own siblings!

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The end result of the previous blessing craft. These felt trees were very easy to do (hot glue gun the bits together for the young ones and sew them on for the older kids) and the end result was really stunning. They look a lot nicer in real life than the photograph shows. They will make lovely Grandparent gifts this year.

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The Blessing Buddy bead ball-pit! The kids thought it meant we were going to an indoor playground! Had to disappoint them there and make beaded animals and other creatures to give away instead.

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Our church is collecting food for Christmas hampers so we added to the collection.

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One of our Christmas traditions is to buy a new nativity scene each year. The Blessing Buddies bought this one and were found worshiping Jesus.

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We made Christmas tree cross ornaments to give to the ladies who attend our yearly Christmas high tea so the Buddies were found swinging from the Christmas tree. The odd decorations they are on are our Jesse tree symbols.

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One of our children has a December birthday so the blessing for the day was all about them. The Buddies were found hanging out of her birthday gift.

 

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers – part 4

Today is the fourth instalment of our “What’s in the box?” Christmas activities for toddlers and preschoolers. My 2 1/2 year old searches each morning to find his sparkly Christmas box filled with a new Christmas themed activity. He works on these after breakfast while his older siblings are preparing their Blessing Buddy acts of kindness for the day. Combined with room time, this highchair time gives me 1 1/2 to 2 hours of time to either homeschool the older children or in this case, complete some more complicated crafts that need me to be available. As each box is opened it is added to his “school” shelves and can be rotated with the other Christmas activities to extend the time.

If you have trouble getting your little one to sit and concentrate, have a read through this post for some tips on the practicalities of getting started. While some children are naturally better at sitting for longer lengths of time and focussing on a given task, all children can be taught to do this and will improve with consistency and training. I now have 6 children who are (or have been) old enough for highchair activities and I can assure you that they were not all on board with the idea of highchair time from the beginning!

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Day 16

Tweezer star transfer. Practising pincer grip is important for young children who will need the finger strength and dexterity this develops later as they begin to write and draw. The card stars will be presented in a small container that holds them upright to make it easier to grasp the edges with the tweezers as they are transferred into the ice block tray segments.

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Day 17

These oversized popsicle sticks, pompoms and stars have magnets on the back so that they will stick to the baking tray.

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Day 18

All the children have quiet time books filled with dot-to-dots, colouring pages, puzzles and assorted activities. This is a toddler version of the same with stickers, stamps and texts for free creating.

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Day 19 

Even though this is day 19 of my activities, I actually introduced it right at the beginning of December when we decorated our large Christmas tree. Little children love to decorate without having to do it a certain way so we have this little tree set aside with a bunch of assorted decorations for the children to add on and take off as often as they like.

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Day 20

Poking toothpicks into the foam tree and adding large beads to decorate the tree will allow latitude for fine motor skills, colour sorting and matching and one-to-one correspondence.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers – part 3

Our first “What’s in the box?” Christmas highchair time activity was revealed today to our 2 1/2 year old who was excited to search for his hidden sparkly Christmas box. He enjoyed his Christmas sensory tub activity and will be keen to see what tomorrow’s box reveals. He played with his new activity while his older siblings worked on their act of kindness for the day, which came with the much anticipated arrival of our Blessing Buddies.

Here are 5 more of the Christmas activity trays for toddlers and preschoolers that I have prepared, ready to be revealed one at a time each morning in the special sparkly Christmas box.

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Day 11

These cookies are simply 2 circles of cardboard from a nappy box glued together (picture side in) with a variety of felt shapes to add as icing.

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The older children saw what I was doing and begged pestered asked me to let them have a go. They did such a good job that I handed the project over to them and went on to prep some other activities. Other than the flowers and a couple of bits and pieces, the designs in the photo above are all theirs. They can’t wait to play with them!

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 Day 12

A sensory tub filled with macaroni pasta and a variety of interesting bits and pieces to sort, scoop, tong, tip, pour and transfer.

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Day 13

One of our Christmas traditions is to purchase a new nativity set each year. This one we purchased a few years ago and has been well used. I will be putting a different new wooden set into the sparkly box but as the older kids are about while I am photographing I didn’t want to spoil the surprise!

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Day 14

Do-a-dot printables with stickers to place inside each circle. Great for fine motor skills and one-to-one correspondence. I will need to get some larger stickers though as these are too small for very little fingers to manipulate easily. You could add some stamps and drawing items to this box.

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Day 15

Pretend food play and colour sort tonging activity. A muffin tray filled with coloured silicone pattipan wrappers with pompoms and jewels etc. to manipulate and “cook.”