Guest post: Structuring your child’s day

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Today I am excited to introduce Kristy to you. She has been inspiring me with the different activities she has prepared for her children and I have asked her to share some of her tips and ideas with us. Over to her…

Angela invited me to share with you on her blog. Firstly I feel very privileged to be doing this as I am a huge fan of Ang’s blog and it has helped me so much with parenting my two little ones. I hope what I share will help you also. Nothing I am sharing is my original idea, just how I apply it to my family life. I am so thankful to the Growing Families courses we have completed and also to Angela for her mentorship and encouragement.

Over the next 4 posts, I will be sharing things that I have found helpful. The first is structuring your child’s day, the second is busy boxes, thirdly sensory tubs and lastly I will be sharing a chore chart that has really worked for our family.

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STRUCTURING YOUR CHILD’S DAY:

We first heard about purposefully structuring a child’s day when our son was 18months old, after completing a toddler course from Growing Families. Now he is 4 and my daughter is nearly 2 and I have not looked back. It has been a huge help to myself and provides such a security for my children. They know exactly what is expected, they know what it means when a structured time is over (the timer goes off) and they know that Mummy makes all the decisions on how they spend their precious hours. It also helps me achieve things I need to get done in the day.

When I first began to structure my children’s day it was similar to when we first introduced couch time. At first it seemed a little fake, awkward and included lots of smiles while children either pined for our attention or were playing next to us very noisily. It seemed a little pointless, however we stuck with it and over time it was something my husband and I have started to crave. We can now catch up for around 15 minutes uninterrupted time while the children play near us. Even our son likes to remind us that “It is now couch time Mummy and Daddy.”

It’s the same with structuring your child’s day. It may seem pointless, loud, hard work and a bit of a joke when you start. But slowly as you persist with it, it becomes engrained into your everyday routine and in turn your children and yourself start to crave it. There has been many times in the morning when we have been in a little bit of a rush to get out of the door that a typical morning activity like table time has not been accomplished. My son begs for it now, so it’s used as an incentive once he has finished all his chores – if there is time left over he can do table time. I can really see the benefits of my children loving the structure and routine because of the security that comes with it. I have also found that trying my best to do certain structured activities at the same sort of time every day can help a lot. It saves the nagging and “What are we doing now?” questions.

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Our day comprises of breakfast, table time (4yo) or highchair time (1yo), chores, playpen time (1yo) or play room time (4yo), focus time (1yo), outing, morning tea, lunch, nap (1yo) or room time (4yo), tv time (half an hour), afternoon tea, outside play, sibling play, focus time (4yo) or mat time (1yo), chores, dinner, bath, couch time (parents) while children play on the mat or nearby, teeth, bed (2yo) story time (4yo) , bed (4yo).

This of course is very flexible and often certain times aren’t achieved. I just love having a ‘go to’ when I need to get things done. And because everything is thought out, it means I know that my children are spending their time well. You can add anything into your routine – book time, craft time, walk, errands etc.

How to start: I tried small amounts of time first and made sure I used a timer when their ‘times’ were over. They soon picked up that Mummy comes when the timer goes off, not in answer to their cries. Starting small and building up is the way to train your children in this and using praise, praise, praise when the timer goes off to indicate how proud you are of them. Verbally stating the time too with statements such as “Well done for doing PLAYPEN time. You stayed in your PLAYPEN the whole time. I’m so proud of you for playing happily in your PLAYPEN” etc. reinforces what the child has achieved and the word PLAYPEN will bring a new meaning and expectation into their little minds.

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Sensory tubs for babies and young toddlers

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Homeschooling with toddlers; a new year begins!

As our thoughts turn to the new year, it is time for an evaluation of routines and a sort-out of school cupboards. A major part of successfully homeschooling a large family is ensuring that the toddlers and babies have a well structured routine that includes some extended periods of time where they are able to play independently, leaving me free to concentrate on schooling the other children.

I spent a little time today changing over the playpen, mat time and highchair toys; boxing away baby toys that are now at the wrong developmental level and quickly making up some new and interesting activities as well as bringing out some I have stashed away from previous years. A big bottle, a box, some containers and bibs and bobs from around the house and I was all set with stimulating and educational toys that cost nothing at all.

The 12 month to 2 year range is difficult to cater for as they want toys that do something but are usually not yet ready for pretend play. Montessori style practical life tray activities are perfect and are cheap and easy to make. You can put them together in just minutes and throw them out when you are done. Better than buying new plastic fantastic dinging doodads that loose their attraction in a week or two.

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My husband didn’t realise that when he purchase his latest Christmas gift to himself he also bought one for his daughter. This box had the perfect design for a Montessori style object permanence box. Little ones drop the oversized marbles into the hole and watch them disappear and are then astounded as they magically reappear at the bottom. They eventually learn that the object is still there even though they can’t see it and begin to watch for the marbles to roll down into view. Simple concept but fascinating to the right age.

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All I need to do was glue two wood offcuts to the bottom to ensure a slope so that the balls rolled to the front of the box and tape the sliding inner piece in place. 1 minute = new activity. You can buy wooden versions for $40.00 but who needs one? You could use a toilet roll or anything else really to glue underneath to keep one end of the box elevated.

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A shoebox version of exactly the same thing. A hole in top to drop the balls into and a large slot to retrieve them again from the bottom.

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Drop bottles are always lots of fun. Fitting into the Montessori “small spaces” and “posting” categories they require some fine motor control and problem solving to get the objects into the hole at the top of the bottle and retrieve them from the bottom. Watching my 17 month old turning the block laboriously in her chubby little hands and repeatedly poking it at the hole until it dropped in was entertaining. Watching her clap herself each time she did it even more so.

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Something to pull apart is good for a few minutes. There is no way she will be able to put these back on again but she carefully removed every one and then stuffed them all into one of her honey tubs with a hole in the lid. (Yep, expensive toys around here – honey tubs as well!)

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Large garden stones to drop into a yoghurt pot with another hole in the lid. Satisfying clunk sound and weight. Eventually she will figure out how to turn the container upside down and shake them back out again.

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Pom pom posting container. The draw-back of this one is that once they are in they can’t be taken back out again. She does this one first every mat time and then sets it aside to focus on the other items.

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A pile of objects to fill and spill are a must. All the better if the container they go into makes a good metallic sound when they drop in.

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At the moment my youngest (17 months) has playpen time each morning for at least an hour four days a week – we are out for the 5th day. These are her baskets that she uses on a rotational basis. Because they only come out for playpen time once per week I will only need to change them again in a month or two. Using some basic categories that help me come up with ideas I walk around the house and plop items in. An hour or so (most of which is putting away the items from the old boxes) and I have playpen time sorted.

This month the categories were:

  • posting/small spaces
  • something to wear/put on/household object
  • books
  • something to stack/pull apart
  • something to cuddle

I’ll be posting about my other 6 children’s school time activities over the next little while. Next up – the 3 1/2 year old.

 

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

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.

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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.

Make your own baby and toddler toys

There comes an awkward age somewhere between 12 months and two years where it becomes more difficult to keep babies and young toddlers interested in their toys. They are no longer content to just shake and slobber on something that feels and look appealing, toys now need to DO something.

To complicate matters further, children generally do not develop imaginative play skills until around the age of 2. New toys are appealing but often lose that appeal quickly once they have been explored a few times and are too expensive to be constantly purchased. You can swap with friends, join a toy library or simply make your own. For me, the make your own option is the easiest, the possibilities are almost endless and they often turn out to be the long-term favourites. Here are some of my home-made baby toys that I use for mat time, highchair time, playpen time, table time and room time.

Find a bunch of small flat-bottomed toys, blocks, shapes, plastic figures or suitable objects and a base to stick them to; piece of smooth wood, plastic lid, small tray etc. Use self-adhesive velcro to attach each piece to the base so that children can stick them on and take them off again, enjoying that satisfying ripping sound as they do so. If you have enough, it is better to cover the base with the velcro so that objects can be stuck anywhere rather than only on a small matching dot. Older toddlers like this too if small people, animals or other figures are used and enjoy manipulating the pieces to play-act and tell stories.

Use an old baby wipes container and any flat objects that are slim enough to fit through the slot and not so small as to pose a choking hazard. Old credit cards, large plastic construction pieces, dominoes, poker chips, Jenga blocks  or anything similar will do. When interest wanes, simply change the material to post.

Wooden dolly pegs have dozens of uses. Young children find it challenging to slide them on and off objects and enjoy the sound of plunking them into tins and containers. My youngest loved to take them off the sides of containers like the ones above but not to put them back on again. They only did that part once – when they packed the activity away! Posting bottles and tissue box posting are other ways to use dolly pegs.

Formula tins have a large number of uses. They are great as rattle cans for crawlers to push about and with a hole, slot or cross-shaped cut in the top, act as posting tins for any number of small objects. Pegs, popsticks, dominoes, wooden shapes, milk bottle lids or whatever you have will do.

Toddlers are fascinated with Mum’s purse although most of us will agree that it is not a toy and it is unwise to allow toddlers to access it in that way. Because of that, some parents feel that even providing a similar option is not a good idea, fearing that children will not know the difference and think it is ok to touch Mum and Dad’s. I wondered about this too but in my experience have found that by the time they are able to manipulate cards and photos in and out of a purse or wallet, they are old enough to tell the difference between the play version and the real thing.  Find a bunch of old family photos, some fake credit cards (the display version that comes in junk mail trying to get you to sign your life away) and any other small objects that will slide in.  An old handbag is another version that toddlers love. Pick one up from an op-shop with as many zippers, pockets, divisions and press-studs as you can find and fill it with a bunch of small items. This works great for mat time on the go and can be re-stocked with different items on a regular basis to keep interest high.

For more toddler and baby activities, click on the “toddlers and babies” or “workjobs and Montessori activities…” categories on the left hand side bar.

Routines: Room time

Amazing things can be created in room time!

At around 18 months to 2 years of age, a toddler is ready to transition to room time instead of playpen time. Having said that, my two and a bit year old twins still have playpen time rather than room time for a number of reasons – space and lack of available rooms being two!  The following are some ideas for how to go about room time. My next post will help you to transition to room time smoothly. (It may be helpful to have a quick read through these posts first: playpen time, toys and starting late, choices)

What is room time? A time each day that is set by Mum when a child plays in their room (or a designated room) for a period of time determined by Mum. Do not confuse room time with a child choosing of their own volition to spend time playing in their room. This is a time chosen by you, with toys chosen by you (or a limited choice for older children) for the length of time chosen by you.

Tips for successful room time: 

  • try to arrange the room so that you can check on the child but they can’t see you.
  • start with 10-15 minutes and work up to longer time periods over several days. Even children who have been contentedly spending an hour in their playpen need smaller time increments to start with. This is a new freedom and you want to be able to praise them for their success in staying in their room and making wise play choices. Once the transition has been made and all is running smoothly you can increase the time again.
  • get the child started on an activity they enjoy before you walk out.
  • do not plan to use this time for the first week or so. Hover nearby, check on children frequently and deal with situations before they get started. Remember, the purpose of the short time period to start with is to finish while it is going well and praise, praise, praise! Do not be tempted initially to extend the time because it is going well and leave it until a problem happens – end on a good note.
  • start when you know you will be able to be home for a few days in a row
  • for young children, consider doing it through the weekend until well established
  • have it at a similar time each day
  • set out the toys you want a toddler to use or provide a limited selection of toys for an older child to choose from – not unlimited access to everything in the room.
  • introduce packing away from first use – demo, help, then independent. Have an easy storage system such as open crates. Sort toys out. One large toy box for everything not a good idea. Toys get lost, pieces are mixed up, toys are buried and forgotten and children can’t be bothered digging through to find what they need.
  • The success of room time depends on the focus and control that you are modelling and teaching throughout the whole day. A child who has too many freedoms and will not obey you during the day will not suddenly obey you when it comes to room time. Using a gate in the doorway can be useful for little ones during the initial transition and takes away the temptation to keep coming out. However a child who is not being trained in obedience will find a way to get out if they REALLY want to, despite the barrier.

 Toys:

  • You may like to keep room time toys only for room time so that the interest level stays high. Alternatively, toys can be sorted into crates for each day of the week or changed on a monthly basis.
  • Have a system in place to put the crates/boxes etc. into. A low bookshelf or cupboard that the child can reach is ideal. A few shelves that are out of reach can also be handy for those toys that are not for general playtime but are saved only for room time or for playing with Mummy and Daddy etc.
  • Clear plastic crates allow you to see contents at a glance.
  • Remove lids and simply have open containers that slide onto shelves. Remember, the easier it is to pack away, the more likely the child will do it without a fuss.
  • Sort toys out into smaller containers of similar sort (as children get older, toys become more complicated and have more pieces – mixing sets or kits with other toys makes it difficult to access.)
  • Do not store toys in draw-string bags, cardboard boxes with lids etc. until the child is able to manage those by themselves. If they have to ask you to take a lid off for them, they will be coming out of their room to do so and/or unable to pack up without your assistance.
Transitioning from playpen time to room time:
  • Put the playpen in the bedroom to begin with.
  • Use a mat or some other kind of blanket/carpet etc under the playpen that will become the designated play area in the room once the playpen is removed.
  • Have the toys sorted out and in the same places you will put them when room time begins without the playpen.
  • Take down only one crate at a time and say every day that this crate must be packed away before another one can come out – while in playpen one crate is all they get, so include enough variety to last the entire session. This means that later there should be a controlled amount of mess – no more than the contents of one crate should ever be out at one time.
  • Pack up with the child to begin with, one kind of item at a time, in a methodical way – remember you are teaching them how to pack up for all those times later they will do it themselves. Say out loud what you are doing, “First lets put away all the cars, now lets find all the books” etc.
  • Once the child is used to helping you, do some together then leave them to finish a set amount. No consequence for not packing up is needed, they are simply not free to come out until it is done.
  • If  there is a lot to pack up, simplify the pile into perhaps one or two kinds of toys – too many items from different containers/kits will be confusing and children often end up sitting there packing away nothing at all. For example, if a box of Duplo is out, along with books and a puzzle, perhaps clean up the books and puzzles for the child and require them to do only the Duplo.

Removing the playpen:

  • Explain that they need to play on the mat or other area you have designated.
  • Remind them of the toys that they may choose from – the same system you have well established while still in the playpen.
  • Initially, continue with the crate system. As children get older and toys become more complicated, begin to slowly hand over the choice to the child eg. you choose 3 items from the shelf, I will choose the rest.
  • Pack away most of the toys in the bedroom to begin with and only have out a few options that the child can choose from. More can be added later.
  • Remove any treasures or irresistible things that shouldn’t be touched.
  • Always have a set place for items. Teach how to pack away every toy as it is re-introduced back into the bedroom or a new toy is added.

Troubleshooting:

  • Try to ensure that household traffic is not passing by the door of a child who is having room time or they will be constantly distracted and more likely to want to come out.
  • Keep activities that sound like a lot of fun away from the sight and hearing of a child in room time. If they love to paint and you use this time for the older children to paint, it is much more difficult for them to be content knowing what they are missing out on.
  • In large families where children share rooms there may not be enough room time rooms to go around. If you are homeschooling and have older children at home, they could perhaps use this time to complete school work and have their room time at a different time of day. I prefer to have everyone in room time together so I get a break therefore we use almost every room of the house. Toddler and baby nappers go in portacots in rooms other than those they sleep in. Middle ages have their own desks and toys set up in separate bedrooms, including their own sleeping room and the baby room. The eldest is the most mobile as his interested are more portable. A crate with wheels makes his Lego set moveable and books are easy to pick up and cart about. Any other project is collected before room time begins and moved to where he will be. This may be the family room or loungeroom or even outside if the weather is nice.
  • Make sure that the toys are age appropriate, interesting and provide enough stimulus to last the whole time. Older children move away from just toys and in my household are given their own desk around the age of 4. We give them a mini set of drawers stocked with all manner of craft and drawing items, scissors, glue, construction paper and all sorts of bits and pieces and they have a wonderful time creating with these every day. Construction toys are pretty much essential for boys and good books are great for all.

Having room time for everybody every day leaves me with a chunk of time every day to recharge and gives the children a much-needed break from each other. They are often refreshed and in much happier moods when they re-emerge. Those personality types who crave time alone are rested and recharged and the more sanguine children benefit from learning to be by themselves and using their time in a worthwhile fashion. The projects the older children get up to are often quite amazing and the time is rarely wasted.