Invitations to play

Do you have unused resources taking up space in your cupboards? Perhaps there is an amazing educational set that your children just never seem to choose? Maybe it is time to try an “invitation to play.”

These pattern blocks have been available to my children for table time and room time for years and I can’t remember the last time a child voluntary took them out of the cupboard to play with. As our pretend play area was also laying dormant, I decided to pack the home corner equipment away for a while (toy rotation is a wonderful thing) and set out something new.

I originally started with 1 large mirror and 2 lids full of jumbled blocks, with the idea of giving my almost 2 year old something she could use while in the games room without getting into other areas that she does not have the freedom to access. The moment I unveiled the new attraction though, it immediately became obvious that I was going to have many children interested, not just one toddler! After the addition of another smaller mirror and a couple of wooden trays, most who were interested could join in, however I even had to pull out an old picture frame as another base so that everyone could be in on the action.

My 13 year old hasn’t touched a pattern block for years and yet there he was, busily building the Millennium Falcon, while his almost 11 year old sister methodically sorted the blocks into separate shapes and colours before commencing her building plan. The nearly 2 year old chose to pick out every single yellow hexagon during her first attempt (shape and colour recognition anyone?) and the little boys made random sculptures or bunches of Tie-fighters!

So what’s the point?

  • If toys are not readily available, then children won’t use them. Sets that are upended in toy boxes or buried in the back of a jumbled cupboard will rarely see the light of day. Store toys in sets in containers that make it quick and easy to set out and pack them away.
  • Toy rotation keeps things fresh. When a toy that has been out of sight for a while comes back out, it is like a new experience all over again.
  • Use toys that are not favourites in new and different ways to spark interest. These pattern blocks come with puzzle cards that I usually set them out with. This time the focus was free creating.
  • Free play time and age-appropriate choice as part of a flexible routine needs to be handled wisely. It is also important to teach children to play with what you tell them to play with, when you tell them to play with it and where you tell them to play it. A parent-directed routine will help you to raise obedience, self-controlled children who are not addicted to choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Homeschooling with toddlers; activities for two-year-olds

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After updating our preschool activities last week it was time to do the same for my two-and-a-bit year old. I was so thrilled when he was old enough to use some of our many table activities and they did keep him going for ages, but after almost two months with the same tubs, he was ready for a change.

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This is his activity cupboard after the change-over. We use these activities after breakfast while he is still in his high-chair and occasionally before dinner, also in the highchair. Learning to sit, focus and concentrate for an extended period is such a valuable skill for later in life and so helpful for those situations when you need a toddler to stay in one place and play quietly (think restaurant.) See this post for more information on highchair time.

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A gift from Nan and Grandad became our first new activity. Posting 50 cent pieces through the money-box slot, then removing the rubber stopper and taking them out again was a hit.

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This opening and closing containers activity tray was my favourite so I was pleased to see he like it too. Open-ended play opportunities will keep a toddler going for quite some time.

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I had placed a couple of the counting bears in each container to start with and part of the fun was opening each one to discover the bear hiding there.

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This tub holds different kinds of pegs to slide or peg on to containers or place into the popsicle mold. Pegging is another great fine-motor skill. Be sure to choose pegs that do not have a stiff spring or little ones will not have the strength to open them.

(This activity did not grab my little guy at all. Activities that are too easy or too hard will not keep young children going for long. Knowing where your child is at developmentally is important. If you aren’t sure, try it anyway but be prepared to leave it for later. I have tried certain skills that didn’t work at all, but within just a few months the same child found it riveting. This one will come back out in a little while.)

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Poking toothpicks into florist’s foam.  I have since been told that the grey foam should crumble less so if you are purchasing it specially for this purpose, then go grey! The green block I have is slowly disintegrating and does shed green dust.

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This activity is a little young for him but as the money-box packaging was perfect I decided to introduce it again. All he needs to do is poke the plastic sticks (penne pasta, straws etc.) through the holes then tip them out of the  box and go again. This is fascinating for babies once they have the hand control to do it and will keep a toddler interested for a little while. The fact that the box has a window adds so much more to the interest level as they can watch the items drop into the box.

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After watching older siblings draw and use stickers, he has an early interest in these.

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Tong transfer activities are another hand strengthening pastime that will help make pencil grip a breeze later on. Placing pompoms into a container like this ice block tray also develops an  understanding of one-to-one correspondence.

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Similar activity – tong transfer – but these toast tongs are a little harder to manipulate.

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Two hands proved necessary to achieve the task.

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This wooden puzzle set from Melissa and Doug uses basic geometric shapes to complete simple pictures. They are a bit easy for my little guy so are not holding his attention like they probably would have a few months ago.

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Fill and spill bottles are wonderful for younger babies. They just love to plop items in and tip them out again. At two, our toddler will still do this but it won’t keep him going for long.

While our two-year-old works on his activities after breakfast, the older children start their independent homeschool work and I work with the 2 preschoolers. The toddler then moves to playpen time and I work with the older children while the preschoolers do their independent activities on their mats. We all (except the toddler) get together then for circle time before the younger 3 head outdoors and the older 3 finish up their schoolwork if they haven’t already. All up, we are going for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. I am often asked how I manage such a large family and homeschool. This is how folks!

This set of activities will need to be changed fairly quickly (possibly after two weeks?) as there is no way they are going to keep his attention for a whole month. Next month I will move to more involved tasks that take more time and provide open-ended options. With my basic categories in mind, it’s really very easy to come up with a new set of tasks and the beauty of this style of play is that often the toddler and the preschoolers can share the same activity. This will definitely be the case with our next change-over when I get ready for our new baby with activities that do not need to be changed frequently or have help to complete. Stay tuned!

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

How do you store children’s jigsaw puzzles?

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The “after” photo. All those melancholy organisation junkies out there say aaahhhhh!

After unsuccessfully searching for a suitably priced storage solution for our woefully disorganised jigsaw puzzle cupboard, I decided to come up with my own system. I have been frustrated at constantly having puzzle pieces mixed up, missing and the whole lot in an untidy jumble and sorting the mess out had finally risen to the top of the project priority heap! After looking at several different options that were going to be way too expensive for us, (we own a LOT of puzzles) I settled on clear plastic containers from Kmart.

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The “before” photo. The really scary thing is that I had already taken out about 15 puzzles when I thought to take a photo of what we started with.

We had a marathon puzzle session where the children completed every puzzle we owned and I photographed the finished result. I threw out any that had been missing pieces for years and were unlikely to suddenly be found and those that were broken or very tattered. We gave several of the least loved away to friends and that still left a rather extensive collection, gathered from secondhand stores and markets over the years at a dollar or two each.

I taped the photo of the finished puzzle to the front of the boxes so the kids can see which puzzle is in the container and choose what they would like to do. I also photographed the base boards from puzzles that had a back and attached these photos to the lids of the boxes so they knew to look for the matching board when they took the pieces out. The boards are now standing at the end of the bottom shelf.

I separated the puzzles into three age or difficulty groups so that I can simply direct the twins for example to take any puzzle that has a white dot on the front. (Very frustrating for them to tip out and start a puzzle they have no hope of completing.) Finally, each box is numbered and every piece inside the box is numbered to match so that when a stray piece is found we can easily see which box it belongs in.

I cut the pictures off the boxes of the more difficult puzzles, folded them and stored them in the box too so that the children can use them as a guide if they need to. (The pictures on the front of the box do the job for the simple puzzles but are not large enough for the very complicated ones.)

The peg puzzles are stored in plastic bags that zip or press-stud together that I have kept from blankets, grobags and other gifts that come in suitable packaging. If they get accidentally tipped off the shelf, at least the pieces will stay in the correct bag.

It cost a total of $62 for the containers which was more than I had hoped but a lot less than some methods I came across. It also means that the children are now regularly choosing to sit down and do a puzzle which had not been happening at all in their jumbled state. Plus, every time I walk past I give a little sigh of satisfaction at that organised shelf! One more thing to cross off my list. Now for project 982….

Other posts you may find useful:

Overview of several chore systems; House tidy and spring clean continues

Chores and responsibility: Suggested chores for every age

Fussy eaters and 2 plate dinners

Oh the things you can do with a box!

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We had a new oven delivered last week after ours decided to stop working a while back and of course the most exciting part about that was the box! When you get the chance to keep one of those extra-large cardboard boxes, grab them and marvel at the entertainment it will give your children.

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You can:

  • fill it with sensory box materials (I tipped in a bag of popsticks – that’s it!! The kids were in there for ages with nothing but popsicle sticks, posting them in and out of the side flaps.)
  • use it as a cubbyhouse by cutting door and window flaps
  • make a shop, restaurant or cafe and “cook” inside it

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  • put a set of crayons, pencils or textas inside for some drawing fun
  • paint it (outside on the back lawn!)
  • leave it outside for some imaginative play
  • join it together with other boxes to make a maze of tunnels. (I remember as a child having a stack of smaller boxes all joined together in our garage for us to crawl through. There were flaps in the tops so that we could stand up and look out.)
  • make a puppet theatre
  • use it as a quiet time place with some pillows, books, teddies and quiet toys. (Good for after lunch rest times when older children are no longer napping.)

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Masking tape vehicle tracks – quick, cheap and lots of fun

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I saw the idea of using masking tape to make vehicle tracks a while ago and have since seen many people’s examples. Some have the tape going up and over chairs, mats, couches and all through the house. All you need is a roll of masking tape and some cars to drive on it. Let your imagination go wild as you design roads all over the place or in a more civilised fashion in just the one room.

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We added our wooden construction blocks for houses, bridges and buildings but you really don’t need to have anything like this, the tape alone is interesting. Allow your budding builders to design the layout with you and they will be hooked. Apart from the visual display, there is nothing to trip over so the roads can be left out indefinitely. Having said that, after a long time masking tape does get a bit trickier to get off. We played it safe and pulled ours off in under a week but I’m sure it would have been fine for longer than that. j car under bridge IMG_8617

This is a great activity for a rainy day or during quiet time when younger siblings are napping, or perhaps younger children could play while older siblings are being homeschooled. We did it as a family activity with all the children together and constructed a whole city. The younger children returned to it over and over again in the next couple of days and were disappointed that we had to take it off. We will definitely use this again another day.

(I have also seen a role of masking tape with a small car attached and instructions for this activity as a birthday party gift. It would make an inexpensive gift that any young boy would love. Or put it on your stocking stuffer list!)

Other posts you may like:

rainy day activity: balls and stockings

101 mostly stay at home family night ideas

sensory tub ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers