Guest post: Busy Bags

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Kristy is back again to tell us about her experiences with busy bags. Over to her…

I am a HUGE fan of busy boxes. Thanks to Ang’s blog I have been able to get some wonderful age appropriate ideas for both my nearly 2 yo and 4 yo. I remember reading Ang’s blog with her little girl about the same age as mine and hearing how she can stay in a playpen for up to 45 minutes happily playing. How do you do this I thought?

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As I read on, I realised where I was going wrong. I was not giving my little girl age appropriate toys. She at the time was 18 months and I was still putting baby toys into her playpen and couldn’t work out why she was getting bored.

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When I read about the boxes Ang created for her baby at about the same age and what to put inside them, it made such a huge difference. Instead of resenting the playpen, my little girl would dive into it, knowing that she would be entertained for the next 40 minutes or so. IMG_4576

That’s when I thoughtfully and purposefully made 4 busy boxes/crates for her to rotate through mat time and playpen time with. Then after a month I would redo them all again as she would develop so quickly.

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I also had a look on Ang’s blog for the types of activities I could do with my children during highchair time/table time. It took me one week to buy a whole lot of cheap plastic boxes, collect items around the house and buy a few things to put in these busy boxes for both my children.

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With my 4yo I use the same activity but Angela suggested making little goals for him to complete/find instead of just playing with it. It was a lot of work to set them up at first, but it has payed off hugely. I love having a range of go-to boxes/activities for table time.

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For a whole bunch of ideas from Kristy’s latest busy bag swap that she organised, take a look here.

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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.

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.

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.

 

The dumping rule

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When there are 7 children in the house (or even just 1 or 2!) it doesn’t take long for a trail of destruction to threaten to take over. I do have systems in place to make sure it doesn’t get too out of hand but even with pack-up times built into our routine throughout the day there are certain areas that just seem to get cluttered with a pair of shoes here and a hairband or two there, plus a towel on the floor and a pair of knickers decorating the door handle… and so on.

I asked my worst trail maker what consequence they thought was appropriate for people who left their belongings laying about for others to pick up. They responded after some thought that they should pick up twice as many things as they had left behind. This was a brilliant answer as this happened to be exactly what I had been thinking of doing anyway (I love it when that happens), so I promptly instigated it as our consequence on the spot. One item left on the floor equals a consequence of picking up 2 more items, plus the original one you left in the first place.

It is amazing how quickly you can get the house tidied when there are a couple of bits and pieces strewn about. I just start at the front of the house and pick up the first item, identify the owner and point out it plus the 2 other items they will be required to put away. It a minute or two everyone is zooming about collecting stuff and the house is back to ship-shape. After a few days of this, I simply let everyone know that I will be conducting a dumping check in the next little while and they go scrambling off around the house madly putting their stuff away without me having to do anything.

It goes great with the 10 times rule for those who can’t remember to hang up a towel or shut the door.

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farm sensory tub – toddler and preschooler fun

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Our rocks sensory tub has been available for a month or so now and interest has waned, so it was time for a change. Within a matter of 10 minutes I had thrown together the farming bits and pieces we have around the place, (most of which were in our playdough toys) resulting in a new and exciting activity to keep my little ones interested and playing quietly during one of the many breastfeeding sessions that now take up much of my day.

Sensory tubs are great for a wide variety of ages (my 2 to 9 year olds LOVE them and even the 11-year-old boy will sit down and have a fiddle) and they are an excellent activity to assign an older child to do with a younger sibling for some brother and sister time. I find pairing the older and younger children means that the youngest learns how to play with the materials and I will often see them imitating the play of their older sibling when using the materials independently later on. I remember being quite surprised to find that my first child didn’t know how to play with some of the activities I gave him. I actually had to sit down and model pretend play with him to teach him what to do. Now, with so many older siblings, I no longer have this role – it is well and truly filled with the modelling of the older children for the younger ones.

A quick trawl of the web or an online site like Pinterest will give you an abundance of ideas and with a few tucked in the back of your mind you can keep an eye out for suitable materials whenever you happen to be out at the local discount store, op shop or supermarket. At the most, these tubs cost me $10 or so in loose materials to fill them (the rocks, pasta, oats, rice base etc.) and I then store these to be re-used in the future, with a different play accessory to keep it fresh. It is well worth the small investment for the peaceful play that results, allowing me to get the dinner cooked or feed our baby without interruption.

Our farming sensory tub includes plastic farm animals, plastic and popstick fences, milk bottle and yoghurt container lids for water holes and food dishes, craft matchsticks (hay), wooden beads (as corn cobs etc.)  plastic logs, wall panels, artificial leaves and the rocks themselves.