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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Trying to find interesting activities to keep older babies and young toddlers interested and focussed for any length of time can be a battle, but it is one that is worth persevering with. If you spend the time training your young children to sit, focus and concentrate and extend this time as they grow, you will be teaching them the self-control that is vital for all learning later. Not to mention the fact that you can go out to a friend’s house, to a restaurant, a school assembly or any other public event and take your child along, with the peace of mind of knowing that you will be able to enjoy some uninterrupted time in an adult situation. Toddlers need to be taught hand, voice and body control and this can begin at a very young age.

Here are a few ideas for home-made or readily available activities you can give to an older baby or young toddler during times where they are required to stay in a set boundary and play with the toys you have supplied (e.g. mat time (blanket time), room time, playpen time, highchair time and table time.)

Even quite young babies will enjoy pulling these dolly pegs out of the holes in the tissue box and carefully inserting them back in again. If they are pushed all the way in, the hole on the bottom of the box allows the child to pull the peg out from underneath. Posting and small spaces activities are great for developing fine motor control.

Stacking and unstacking objects is fascinating for toddlers. I was given these melamine plates for Christmas and my twins used them over and over again.

Cooking like Mummy is always popular. Go through your play food and cooking equipment and make up little sets. Don’t forget your kitchen junk drawer, pots and pans and any other smaller kitchen equipment that toddlers can safely use. Add small dolls and teddies for toddlers to feed.

My plastics are stored in a crate which I can plop out on the floor for little ones to unload and sort through. Stacking and unstacking, trying on lids and just exploring it’s contents is very absorbing. Perhaps you have a suitable cupboard that you can designate for young children to access while you are working in the kitchen.

I had trouble finding reasonably priced magnets that very young children could easily grasp. The flat, flexible style of magnet are not good for babies because they have trouble getting them off and end up peeling the edges back. I went to a $2 shop and bought 4 wooden jigsaw puzzles and a packet of strong round magnets. I glued the magnets on the back of the puzzle pieces and got a great, economical set of animals for the fridge, whiteboard, or metal biscuit try.

This very large bottle is a great posting container. Pegs, popsticks or any other thin object can be pushed through the lid hole and pulled back out through the open slot in the front. The edges are taped where they were cut to cover the sharp edges. I originally saw this used as a water pouring activity with a funnel in the spout and a large flat tray underneath to catch spills. The children were scooping the water out from the large front hole and tipping it back into the funnel at the top.

These oversized popsticks are placed into slots in the lid of the icecream container and can be pulled out and pushed back in.

A set of plastic chopsticks has been used in many different ways over the years in my house. Another small spaces activity; poking them into the holes in the side of this tissue box

I glued a bunch of cardboard tubes together for the little ones to put the chopsticks in and out of.

This quoits set amused the babies for quite a while as they took the rings on and off.

This Velcro fruit makes a great ripping sound as you pull it apart and stick it back together. Include the wooden knife for older toddlers to practise their early cutting skills.

I used some polystyrene foam covered in wide weaved fabric (burlap I think?) for this early hammering activity. (The foam has a tendency to crumble with use and I didn’t want any of the young children being able to get it into their mouths.) Golf tees and a selection of washers to bang into the foam have been well used by all of our children.

Outdoor activities: “There’s nothing to do!”

Choose toys that promote cooperative and group play.

Outdoor time is important for children. They need exercise and time to let out the energy and noise that has been building up inside them during quiet times indoors. In our family, it’s a time for all the children play together and I find it goes so much better if they find some kind of game, project or activity to do together rather than just milling about without a purpose.

Toys that can be used by multiple children at a time are more versatile.

Older children can usually make good decisions as to how they are going to use their time, but the younger ones need a little more direction of some appropriate play ideas. I find if I spend just a few moments getting them started I can leave them and they will happily play together for quite long periods of time. Friction and bad choices are more likely to happen when I send them all out at once without some guidance.

It’s a bit harder when the weather is wet (see wet weather ideas) but make the most of the fine days and be flexible with your routine. If the weather is fine in the middle of the day and may not be in the afternoon (when you usually send them out), make use of the sunshine when you have the chance.

Here are plenty of ideas to get you started. I’d love your ideas too, so please leave a comment if you can think of something to add to the list.

  • Weaving wall Bend and tape the ends of a piece of chicken wire or large piece of plastic garden trellis etc. Provide a variety of materials for children to insert and weave through like string, wool, fabric strips, ribbons, straws, feathers and nature items like leaves and sticks.
  • Washing dolls/teddy clothes Set up a tub with soapy water and a string washing line with pegs and set out the dolls clothes for children to wash and peg out to dry.
  • Washing the dishes Wash plastic tea sets and sand toys and anything else that will survive a good dunking. Provide wash cloths and T/towels to dry.

It was a damp day so the children made a “waterproof” cubby with our outdoor sheets.

  • Camping & sheet cubby houses Old sheets and curtains that can be draped over outdoor play equipment, chairs or a rope tied between 2 poles are a great open-ended activity. Have snack time or lunch in the tent. Provide tea sets and other pretend play equipment to add variety.
  • Watering Children love to water pot plants and gardens. A hose turned on very low (just a trickle) will keep a toddler going for ages.
  • Boats Place end caps on a length of gutter, use a plastic crate, half a shell sandpit lid or whatever else you have on hand to fill with water. Sail boats or float objects in the water. These can be actual boats (bought or those that the children have made) or just leaves, sticks and other nature item.
  • Bird watching/animal care Install a nesting box with viewing flap or birdbath to encourage birds in the backyard. Avoid feeders that encourage birds to become dependent on you providing food. Keep pets.
  • Water painting Provide house paint brushes and containers of water for children to “paint” paths, patio floors, walls etc. Make clear guidelines as to where the water may be used. Most hardware stores have very cheap sets of large brushes.
  • Pavement chalk Available through most discount variety stores, pavement chalk can be the stimulus for many other games. Designate surface to be used that will be washed clean by the rain to limit cleanup or provide brooms and water as part of the activity. My children like to draw road signs, arrows and directions on the paths around our backyard which then leads on to many other creative vehicle games.
  • Paddle pools, water tables, sprinklers and other water play activities in warm weather. (See here and here.)
  • Hoppers (see here.)

Sand play will always be a favourite and is great for a wide variety of ages.

  • Sandpits Shade will make these more attractive in summer. Add water for instant (but messy) mud fun. A toy oven or even a cardboard box oven and some old kitchen equipment (eg pans, pots, utensils, plastic plates, cups etc.) promotes pretend play. “Shops” is a popular game and some kind of shop front such as a small bench, limestone block etc. will spark interest. Children can collect nature items to “sell” and pay with leaves etc.
  • Herb and veggie gardens Planting, watering, weeding, tasting and other fun to be had here.

  • Blackboards use blackboard paint or prepared board and make coloured chalk available. Good for shops and many other pretend play games. Also paint brushes and water work well on blackboards.
  • Woodwork Provide real tools and the oportunity to use them in a safe way. An old tree stump or large block of wood with hammer and nails to pound in. Lengths of wood to cut in a vice. Small wooden wheels or bottle caps with holes drilled in to hammer onto wooden blocks for vehicles. A designated workbench and good selection of tools and materials to work with will be well used.
  • Wheat tray Large bags of wheat are available from places like City Farmers for a reasonable price. Use sand or water toys and many of the ideas in the sensory table post. Caution – it does attract mice and birds so keep in an airtight container and teach children to sweep up spills.
  • Jumping Provide an old mattress for children to jump and bounce around on and perhaps a low, safe launching place to jump from. A waterproof covering is ideal but not essential.
  • Trampolines are a standard favourite and buying one with a safety net reduces the associated risks.
  • Balls and skittles Weight plastic bottles with sand or wheat and glue closed.
  • Hoops, buckets, bins and beanbags Hang hoops or create other targets (eg. buckets) to throw beanbags through or into. Older children can use a scoring system.
  • Vehicle tracks Make oversized road signs (stop/go sign, traffic lights etc.) and set out markers (beanbags, rocks, sticks etc.) for a race track for children to use their bikes or ride-on toys around.
  • Cardboard boxes Old large boxes can be cubbies, forts, boats and a myriad of other things. The bigger the better, just let the imagination run. Adult help to cut windows, viewing flaps, insert card tube telescopes etc will add to the fun.
  • Bubble blowing A variety of blowers adds to the interest. Provide small containers so that spills do not waste your entire supply. There are many homemade recipes for mixtures on the internet – glycerine is usually needed for good bubbles.
  • Stocking ball  (See here.)
  • Treasure/scavenger hunt Bury “dinosaur bones” in the sandpit (bleached chicken bones) or give children a list of items to collect around the yard – make it pictorial for young children. Spray-paint rocks gold to make wonderful pirate treasure and hide them in the sand or around the yard. Kids love to search for treasure.
  • Kites & parachute men Easy run-along kites in windsock style can be used without help. Parachute men can be made from garbage bag plastic attached to toy men or popstick people for dropping fun if children are able to climb up on playground equipment or similar.
  • Spray bottle water tag Choose small spray bottles for little hands.
                                          Yes, that is my eldest SON on the right!
  • Dress-ups & mirror Spread out a sheet so that clothes can be looked through without getting too dirty. Providing a mirror enriches dressing-up games and makes them so much more appealing.
  • Window washing Provide a small amount of soapy water and a window squeegee for lots of fun.
  • Finger painting/soap painting Lux soap flakes mixed with warm water and a little food colouring and whipped makes good finger paint that washes off quite well. (Be careful about the kind of food colouring you use and possible staining of clothes.)
  • Musical noise maker Hang pots and pans, old tools, cutlery or anything metal that will make a satisfying sound when banged and tapped.

  • Butchers paper wall art Mount a large roll of butchers paper on the wall with a smooth surface behind. Child pulls down a new length to paint or draw on before cutting off their finished creation.

Send out the dolls, teddies and prams and lots of “family” type play takes place. My eldest son likes to role-play protecting the “family” from many and varied dangers and going out hunting in the vein of Little House on the Prairie.

Rainy day and wet weather indoor activities

Now that the wet weather has begun, there will be days when we are inside most of the day. Energetic children need some outlet and without outdoor time to let off steam, some energetic indoor activities are a must. That surplus energy has to go somewhere and that “somewhere” will not be good if we don’t channel it appropriately. Here are some ideas for winter days to keep a variety of ages well occupied and to help create a peaceful (although not necessarily quiet!) and productive atmosphere in your home.

Dressing up Pull out the dress-ups and let the creative juices fly. A mirror low enough for them to see themselves full length greatly enhances the joy of this activity and once dressed up many other imaginative play activities can follow. Stock your dress-up box with pretty, spangly, sparkly bright things for the girls, but don’t forget to cater for the boys as well. While commercial costumes are great, they somewhat limit creativity. Op shops are a great source for props and perhaps the best items are a selection of large fabric pieces that can be used for anything that takes the children’s fancy. Choose different fabric types, colours and textures to promote different kinds of pretend play. Eg. chiffon is good for veils, stiff netting for tutus, red satin for hero capes etc. Don’t forget to take photos of the wildest outfits. Keep them for their 21st birthday parties!

Some specific ideas are scarves, hats, shoes, belts, beads, bangles, gloves, handbags, crowns, wigs, men’s ties, workmen’s safety clothing, old dancing costumes, bridesmaid and flower girl dresses and a variety of men’s and ladies clothing. Cut clothing down to suit younger children (eg. shorten sleeves in a men’s jacket, cut off the length in a ladies nightie etc.)  Raid Mum and Dad’s and the Grandparents’ wardrobes for the brightest, most “out there” items that you will never wear again and chances are they will be a hit. Take the kids with you to an op shop, swap-meet or market and let them help you pick out the most interesting items they can find. They may surprise you with what they like.

Our Doctor’s surgery. Certain children prefer to be patients, rather than Doctors or Nurses!

Pretend play Dressing up links in beautifully with pretend play and there are so  many options available. The children may be able to come up with their own ideas but I find that if I offer a little structure to begin with, the play is more purposeful and has a sense of direction. That usually takes the form of setting out a selection of objects to suit a theme, rearranging the furniture with the children’s input and spending a few minutes getting play started by joining in. Often I will model a couple of ways to “pretend” with the objects I have provided which sparks off ideas of their own and I then leave them to it.

There was a lot of pirate related pretend play while we were reading Peter Pan. The old street directory got a great workout as the ship was navigated about.

Some of the play ideas we have set up are:

  • Washing day Strong card box with flap as lid, filled with shredded paper or cornstarch packing beans. Milk bottle lids glued on as nobs, empty washing powder box and scoop, dolls clothes to wash and string line and pegs to hang clothes out. Maybe even real soapy water in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry if you are game and don’t mind a little mess!
  • Doctor’s surgery (See photo above) Pillow slip coat (cut hole for head and two holes in sides for arms or use an old white business shirt), doctor’s bag, identity badges, bandages (strips of old fabric/sheets) film canisters, empty bottles and containers for medicine, old mattresses/dolls bedding for human or toy patients to sleep in, notepads, telephone books, appointment pads, clipboards, pencils and pens. A huge hit for my children is a supply of currants to use as sugar pills after reading the Little Golden Book “Nurse Nancy.”
  • Shopping centre Pretend food, household items, money, tray for cash register, shopping bags and baskets. Making their own pretend money and items to sell keeps them occupied for a while.
  • Beauty salon/hair dresser Old clean bottles, jars, empty make-up containers, cotton wool balls, brushes, combs, sheets, curlers, hand mirrors and stools or chairs. You may like to warn children that there will be no real cutting of hair under any circumstances!!
  • Office/post office Computer keyboard/typewriter, variety of papers, files, clipboards, pens, pencils, scissors, telephone, envelopes, contact paper “stamps”, cardboard box with slot and back flap for posting letters, calculators and mail bag.
  • Fix-it shop Play tools, safe real tools like screwdrivers, old electrical equipment with cords removed for tinkering with, Mecano or other construction sets.
  • Icecream shop Card cones, pompoms, cotton balls or small bouncy balls, icecream scoops, empty icecream containers, felt, cardboard or other pretend toppings, squeezy bottles, paper cups, spoons, small bowls, pretend money etc.
  • Shoe store Chairs and foot stools (could be just a box), lots of shoes and shoe boxes, mirror.
  • Restaurant/cafe Tea sets, pretend food (felt, wooden, plastic, salt dough or pictures from food junk mail glued onto paper plates), paper or thin card to make menus, pens and pads of paper to take orders, table cloths, napkins, place mats, coasters, empty clean food containers (cereal boxes, milk cartons, coffee jars etc.) vases, aprons, trays. Making salt dough or cutting and gluing pictures of food onto paper plates to make meals is an activity in itself.
  • Vet clinic or pet shop Stuffed animals, vet outfit and doctor’s kit (see doctor above), box cages/beds, collars, leads, bowls, brushes and blankets.
  • Florist Artificial flowers, a variety of vases and containers, ribbons, block of florists foam to stick stems into. (The grey foam crumbles less than the green.) Make your own flowers with popsticks and pattypans, paper cut-outs, small branches from the garden etc.
  • Car wash (Outdoor idea) Turn the hose on low and add buckets, sponges, suds, “polish” cloths and empty container. Use to clean ride-on cars, trikes and other outdoor toys.

Reading corners When we set up this little reading nook with child and teddy sized chairs, blankets, cushions, pillows, foot rests and crates of books, the children sat and read for hours! Books that they hadn’t had off the shelves in months caught their attention simply because they were put out in full view again and it was like re-discovering old friends. The netting is a mozzie net for a queen sized bed that I loved the idea of and never used in our bedroom because the ceilings were not high enough. It has served as a room divider for countless pretend play areas and the kids love it.

Puppet theatres Hand and finger puppets are easy to make using socks, paper bags, wooden spoons, toilet rolls, felt, fabric, wool, ribbons, stuffed toys and many other readily available items or widely available for purchase. Set up pairs of chairs, use a broom or mop handle to hang the front sheet on and let the creative juices flow. Have periods of rehearsal and performances with the rest of the family acting as the audience. Older children could even write scripts and cooperate together to act out stories or find scripted plays already written by surfing the net or borrow from the library. Video the performances and watch them again later for another rainy day activity.

Teddy Bear’s Picnics Everyone has dolls and teddies and when all the favourites are pulled out it makes for quite a crowd. Get out all the pretend food (see ideas under “restaurant” in pretend play above) and provide non-messy snacks like sultanas and Cornflakes for the kids to enjoy as well.

Sheet tents, cubbies and camping games Get out the sleeping bags, pillows, sheets, doonas, suitcases, backpacks, bags and torches and clean off the table for some fun tent making. Couch cushions and lounges also work well, as do chairs. Once the camping area is set up, packing the bags with tonnes of camping necessities will keep them occupied for quite a while. If you have real camping items like billies, folding chairs, 2 man tents etc. let the kids incorporate these into their games. Of course the next question will be “Can we sleep in our tent tonight Mum?”

Jumping mattresses It needs some planning to keep it safe, but some mattresses or piles of pillows and cushions on the floor in an open area and something stable to jump off is a great way to get rid of extra energy. Teach the kids how to do forwards and backwards rolls and award points for the most interesting jumping styles.     

Dancing and moving Don the dress-ups, put on some boppy music and get moving. Double the fun if Mum joins in and great exercise for you too. Play musical bobs, statues, follow-the-leader or other games to keep interest going.

Stocking balls You need a covered back veranda or patio for this but it is a great activity for all ages, particularly older boys. See instructions here.

Chalk boards and table activities Not for energy releasing, but when you’ve moved around a bit and want something quieter to do, here is a list of ideas to sit down and do at the table. Surf the net for unlimited art and craft ideas for older children.

Bubble-baths Plop the little ones in a nice deep hot bath and toss in some bath toys, containers, scoops, watering cans and cloths and let them tip and pour to their heart’s content. Set the older children up just outside the bathroom door and read aloud from a good book or listen to an audio book while you supervise the little ones from inside the bathroom. There are thousands of free audiobooks available to download from www.librivox.org (Be aware that most bubble-bath liquids have toxic substances in them. If you are going to use one, do your research and buy a product that is not harmful to your children, especially girls. The suds won’t be quite as good but their health is more important than good bubbles!)

Our pasta play sensory table.

Sensory trays Again, not a physical activity as such but so many ideas to use that will keep all ages going, however many are directed at the toddler and preschooler ages. It’s this age that I find harder to keep well occupied for lengthier time periods anyway, the older children are able to direct the use of their time much more productively. Heaps of ideas and a full explanation here.