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.

Busy Bag Swap Night

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I have just been blessed by a lovely assortment of table time activities for toddlers and young children from a busy bag swap organised by my friend Kristy. You will be hearing more from her in the next couple of posts, but today I wanted to share the photos she took of all the quiet time tasks put together by the many women who attended. It was so popular in fact that she needed to form 2 groups. For those who are not familiar with how a busy bag swap works, take a look here for some more ideas and an explanation.

Kristy’s cute toddler feeding the tennis ball with a little help from Mum. A great finger strength activity, this is one for the 3 to 6 year olds to do independently. My 4 and 6 year-old boys loved filling Mr Ball to then turn around and have him puke everywhere.

Mix and match superhero picture strips, foam sewing cards, pipecleaner and straw threading and shape matching plate.

The fact that this pizza came in a cute little box was the highlight for my children. The order cards gave lots of options for the children to follow as they completed different customer orders. Other bags included a wipe-off tracing page, mask and stickers and paint chip colour matching.

Open-ended tasks are best for toddlers as far as keeping their interest for the long haul. This pasta and bean scooping tray was popular although it did create a bit of mess. An assortment of plastic lids, frogs and bugs was another open-ended activity that kept my little one going for a while.

This mini eye-spy bottle had some interesting bits and pieces inside. Another idea I have seen is to have a recording page for the children to tick off each tiny item as they find them. My 2-year-old was too young for this as she found it frustrating to not be able to open the container. She did enjoy the pom-pom transfer tray although still refuses to try tongs. The last task was taking elastic bands on and off a cardboard tube with some pattern cards to match and extend for the older children.

Having a bunch of engaging tasks prepared is a must for successfully including highchair time in your flexible routine and the self-control your toddler will learn is invaluable.

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.

Home-made Montessori style toddler toy

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Wooden toys are expensive, especially if they are classified as educational or “Montessori” in nature, but there are so many items that you can easily and inexpensively make yourself at home. I found this wooden toy at an op shop recently and in 5 minutes had a new bead activity for my almost 2 year old toddler. All I did was cut off one of the wooden ends, gave it a quick sand and that was it.

I tipped the beads off into a little bowl and showed her how to look for the hole in each bead as she placed them onto the sticks. This was a challenge for her but she got the hang of it eventually. When she has finished with this fine motor activity, the beads can be used for colour sorting, lacing, loose parts play, scooping, transfer and a multitude of other ideas. Great for highchair play, table time, mat time or playpen time, it ticks all the boxes for me.

 

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 2

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Today is the second instalment of our planned “What’s in the box?” activities for advent as we count down to Christmas. Our hopefully very excited toddler will search the house for this sparkly Christmas box each morning which will contain his morning table activity. Previous activities will be available in his “school” cupboard for use while his siblings are working on their Blessing Buddy act of kindness for the day.

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Day 6

Using tweezers to transfer stars into an ice cube tray will be new to him so I’m not sure whether he has the dexterity for the tweezers or not. The tweezers can be easily swapped with small tongs if need be.

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Day 7

Pretend cooking play is always popular, especially if I come over for a taste of Christmas cookies now and then. These large coloured glass stones and oversized marbles are from our local discount variety store. A mini muffin tray and tea bag tongs promote one-to-one correspondence practise and transferring skills.

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Day 8

Dotting with bingo markers inside do-a-dot pictures is a semi-controlled way to present a painting experience. I am quite certain however that dotting in the circles will not be satisfying enough and that the final product will be well and truly smeared with paint! (Better cover the tray with newspaper for this one.) Free printable pictures to dot are here and here or google do-a-dot for hundreds.

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Day 9

Decorating playdough Christmas trees with beads and tiny bead strings will be fun. Toddlers find it very difficult to roll out dough though and may also need assistance with the cutter. Be prepared to cut a bunch out for them if necessary.

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Day 10

This toothpick Christmas tree is great for fine motor skills. The child pokes toothpicks with coloured ends into holes in the top of the box lid (use a skewer to poke them through.) I used coloured contact for the tree and punched holes with a single hole paper punch before sticking it onto the box lid as I know from experience that poking holes through contact on cardboard can be difficult and doesn’t always leave a nice clean hole.

How is your Christmas planning going?

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 1

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Our “What’s in the Box?” advent count down of Christmas preschool activities is a new tradition for us. While the older children are working on other projects for our Blessing Buddies acts of kindness, our toddler will be opening his special Christmas box to find his table activity for the morning. The sparkly box will be hidden somewhere around the house for him to find each day and will contain a new and exciting challenge for him to work on independently while I help with the older children’s more complicated projects.

Here are the first 5 days of “What’s in the box?”

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The first activity needs to be one that is guaranteed to hold his attention for a longer time span as it will be the only one available. As each new activity is introduced, I will place it onto our toddler activity shelves so that I can rotate between them when interest in the new tray for the day has worn off.

Day 1

This Christmas sensory tub will be filled with all the wonderful “Christmas” items in the photo above. (If it’s green it’s Christmassy right?) The items can be sorted, transferred with tongs or cutlery, hidden and found, tipped and poured and generally fiddled about with.

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Day 2

A new batch of green playdough formed into a rough Christmas tree with small lights cut from a plastic Christmas garland to poke into the dough. You could also use beads or any other small decoration.

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Day 3

A colour sorting activity with 3 colours of Christmas bows. I have included a toothpick with a large flat end to hold while sliding it into one of the loops of the bows to transfer them into the matching coloured bowls. We’ll see how difficult this is for him – it may be quickly changed to small tongs.

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Day 4

Simple pattern block puzzles.These free printable patterns are available here. I intend to laminate these for greater durability. My older children all jumped at the chance to fill these out for the photos and after watching me prep these trays throughout the day, my 11-year-old commented that he almost wished he was a toddler again, just so he could do the activities!

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Day 5

Threading bow-shaped beads onto coloured chenille sticks (pipe cleaners.) Make sure the holes are large enough so that this is not too difficult for little fingers. Older children could make patterns with the colours.

Stay tuned for days 6 to 24.

What are your toddler’s favourite Christmas activities?

 

 

 

 

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.

Homeschooling with toddlers – independent learners

Monday is crunch time for me – my husband heads back to work and I am managing 7 children on my own, one of whom is a newborn. We have stayed with our usual homeschooling routine and daily rhythm while he has taken holidays and our newest arrival is slowly getting into a steady routine, so the transition shouldn’t be too drastic . Here is a glimpse into my toddler’s activity cupboard to show you what will be keeping him occupied in his highchair after breakfast each day while I feed our baby.

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Colour sorting. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that the younger children pick up so much from their older siblings just by being around to hear and see them doing their schoolwork. Basic skills like colour identification, counting and reciting the alphabet almost don’t have to be taught – they are “caught” from the constant exposure. Our two year old is a good case in point. He loves to count, constantly asks me if the squiggle he has just drawn is “an A that says a?” and holds up crayons while checking to see if it is indeed orange? This sorting tray was almost too easy for him but he quite enjoyed fiddling around with it and sorting and resorting the pieces.

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Gluing. We also find that the toddlers want to do the same kind of activities that they see their siblings working on so gluing is always in demand. I give him one piece of paper and 1 envelope filled with an assortment of paper shapes to glue. More often than not he uses the glue more like paint and sticks and peels off the paper pieces over and over again, leaving nothing but a soggy page at the end, but it keeps him going for ages.

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Threading beads. Good for fine motor development and also for sorting and colour matching activities. Make sure the string that you provide has a nice long stiff end to make it easier for little hands to poke it through the holes.

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Drawing with vibrant textas is a satisfying experience. While I don’t encourage heaps of colouring in book type drawing (I’d rather they free created) the little ones love the idea of drawing on a picture they recognise.

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Montessori style dry transfer with tongs. Pincer grip is important for writing later on. These golden rings are wedding favours from the local discount store.

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Basic puzzles. Matching two picture halves is an easy way to start with puzzle skills.

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Good quality wooden puzzles will last for years.

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Duplo is a versatile construction toy and one that our whole family enjoys. Even the older children will still sit down and build together. This little set was a birthday gift recently so it is of special interest to our two-year old because it is his own set. As the big kids all have their own Lego sets in separate crates it makes him feel like one of the gang to have his own crate of building blocks, separate to the family collection.