Birthdays and travelling with toddlers

Our wonderful twins turned two today. It’s amazing to look back at their birth photos and remember how it all began.

Our three eldest chose to make gifts rather than visit the Mummy and Daddy shop and as we are travelling via plane to Melbourne this week we thought activities to keep the toddlers occupied while travelling were a good idea. They will also be good to add to the homeschooling activities for when school starts again as there will be no morning nap to keep these little ones occupied while I school the older children anymore.

Our 6 year old used coloured contact paper to cover a small box to make this Montessori style practical life activity. A bunch of straws to post through the hole at the top and a small window on the side to shake them back out again did the trick. It was a hit immediately and I had to hide it away to ensure that the novelty hadn’t worn off before we even got to the plane as our youngest lady seemed determined to repeat the activity over and over!

Our 8 year old designed this one completely on his own without any input from me at all. He covered strips of cereal box on both sides to make them look attractive and pulled out a plastic money-box to post them in. Another Montessori style practical life activity for the plane trip.

This was the four year old’s creation. Strips of contact around a baking powder tin, several length of ribbon tied together and a cross shape cut into the lid to pull it through. Again, it was a great hit with the ribbon being pulled out and stuffed back in (by a grown-up) at least 5 times in a row. This one is more a baby activity but will keep their interest for a while. For many more ideas for keeping children happy and content during a plane or car trip, check out this post on travelling with young children. We will be making up our snack bags and pulling out the water painting, drawing and other ideas again and hopefully this trip will go as smoothly as the last one did.

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Outdoor activities: more water play ideas

How do you keep little ones entertained and playing happily outdoors for extended lengths of time? Opening the back door and simply sending several young children out is not always a very successful method. Without direction to their play it is very likely that you will be dealing with bickering, squabbles and otherwise less than useful use of their time.

Spending 5 minutes getting them started on an absorbing and appropriate activity very often makes for a harmonious time as they happily go about their play in a focussed way. This 5 minutes at the start of playtime often saves me many minutes umpiring disputes and redirecting poor choices. More ideas will follow under the heading of outdoor activities, but today it’s more water based ideas.

In the warmer weather I find it so much easier as all my children from the youngest to the oldest love water and sand based play. All water based activities require some supervision so I choose tasks to do that allow me to oversee what is going on either from a distance or close by depending on the activity. Our water table is a favourite, as are the following:

Water painting

  • Buy a couple of different sized house painting brushes from a hardware (the cheap sets are fine) and a small bucket. Fill the bucket with water, give some directions as to which outdoor areas; furniture, fences, paths, walls etc. can be painted with water and let them at it! My children, especially the younger ones, love water painting, particularly if I occasionally admire the lovely new “colours” they have painted everything.
Sprinklers
  • I know it doesn’t fit into the water saving category but if it is your watering day, set up a sprinkler on the lawn and let everyone run about in it. Old as the hills, so easy and great exercise.
Paddle Pools/sandpit shell halves
  • I’ve mentioned this before, but an inch of water or even a couple of pots and pans full of water for scooping, tipping and pouring while sitting in half of a plastic sandpit clam shell or paddle pool is good fun. Combine it with a little sand and it becomes great fun.
Sandpit
  • Point the hose into the sandpit and turn it on just a little so a trickle comes out. That’s it! Provide cars, boats or whatever else you have in your sandpit toys.
Puddle Kingdom
  • Sometimes we empty out our outdoor storage containers and put a bunch of them together on the grass. We then fill each one with a little water and again, free play! Jumping from one to another, making “houses” or whatever they fancy makes this an interesting pastime.
Water trampolining
  • We occasionally set up the sprinkler underneath or near  the trampoline for wet bouncing fun. This isn’t so good for the younger children though as it does get quite slippery. The 3 year old and up are steady enough on their feet to make this loads of wet fun.
Water slides
  • If your backyard has a slope, then a long sheet of black plastic with a little detergent and lots of water is a wonderful slide and wears those energetic youngsters out.
Water Chasey
  • Not quite our usual outdoor activity as this involves me, but when it is really hot we play water chasey with the hose. Simply put, the kids run around like crazy and I spray them with the hose, watering the garden in between.

Paddle pools and slide

  • Another one that requires adult supervision is the paddle pool properly filled up or with a small amount of water and the slide from our little plastic castle into it for the children to climb up and slide into the pool. When they’ve had enough sliding we bring the sandpit toys over and everyone sits down for a play.

Make your own baby and toddler toys: posting bottles

Babies and toddlers just love to put things inside small spaces and empty containers out. It is great fine motor practise and they will often concentrate for amazing lengths of time if the challenge level is just right. If a child is frustrated by their inability to do the task, simply change the activity for now and re-introduce it a little later. It should have an element of difficulty, but not so difficult that they cannot be successful. This is a great activity for highchair time, playpen timemat time or table time.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child posts the dolly pegs into the lid of the bottle and pulls them back out the bottom.

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Large plastic bottle with hole cut into the front. (Tape hole to cover sharp edges)
  • Dolly pegs or any other suitable object to post into the top of the bottle (regular pegs, wooden peg halves, popsticks etc.)

In this example the solid bottle adds a different dimension and the pegs are shaken out once posted.

The posting bottle can be combined with other skills. Sliding the dolly pegs on and off the edge of a sturdy cardboard box is a complete activity in itself. My children usually enjoyed taking the pegs off the box but did not choose to put them back on again. When they were finished with the activity we slid them back on to the box together as part of the packing up process and they happily practised this skill.

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Make your own toddler toys: teddy food play


Teddies, cooking equipment and food are such an easy activity to put together for toddlers. Little boys and girls love to pretend cook and feed their willing teddy companions. I use this kind of activity for highchair time, mat timeplaypen time or as a table activity and it’s open-ended nature lends itself to long periods of concentration.

It is easily updated and kept fresh by simply adding some different containers, cooking equipment, food or teddy. It can be a “new” activity every week without much work on your behalf.

Simply look around the house, gather up some interesting containers, plates, cups, cutlery and the like, some kind of “food”, a teddy and you are set. Keep in mind the age of the child and choking hazards. Beans, pasta and jewels are best used under supervision or not at all if a child is very tempted to stick them in ears, noses and mouths or anywhere else they shouldn’t be!

Sometimes I use doll-house sized teddies and doll-house furniture so the teddies can eat at the table, go to sleep in a little bed afterwards and even sit on the couch to relax. I have used plastic food, felt food, wooden food, dry pasta and beans, jewels and rocks and even pictures of food glued onto card from junk mail.

As soon as your little one has begun use their imagination (pretend play) you can introduce this activity. For the very little children, you might even sit and play with it with them first, teaching by your example what to do with each item. Children with older siblings have had this modelled extensively, but a first child will not always know how to play unless you show them. They will of course work it out for themselves, but if you want a young child to use this kind of activity enthusiastically for an extended time, some modelling will go a long way to extending their play.

 

Outside activities: Water play

The warm weather continues, which in some ways is wonderful and others not so much! Instead of enjoying outdoor time, my children start pressing themselves up against the glass sliding door and asking to come inside where it’s cool. Time to bring out the water play. We bought this water table secondhand for $5 last year and it definitely was a bargain. All the children, even the toddlers, enjoy standing around it and getting thoroughly soaked as they play with the sand toys in the water.

I like to use outdoor time to get some of my own responsibilities completed, so all water play needs to be set up so that it is safe – no deep containers for children to fall into. The swimming pool and slide etc. does not come out at these times – that needs high level supervision. I do keep an eye on the children but, as I am not right next to them, water levels are kept to a minimum. The water table is ideal as it is up high and only holds a few inches of water.

Before we owned it though, water play was just as enjoyable. We used the lid of a clam shell sandpit and filled it to a shallow depth (about an inch) and the littlies could sit in it and play – double the wet fun. The older children prefered containers like buckets and tubs filled to a deeper level so I put these up on benches away from the little ones. While I do not expect the older children to take on the responsibility of supervising their brothers and sisters around water, the fact that they are playing there means there are several pairs of eyes on the situation, including mine. I know I will be called very quickly if a toddler starts trying to get into the deeper tubs – particularly as it interrupts the older children’s games!

Babies and toddlers are happy with just a couple of containers of water to splash about in but as the main game seems to revolve around tipping the water out again, you or an older child needs to be available to constantly refill their containers. The bigger children don’t mind scooping a saucepan of water out of their tub over and over again as they have the freedom to access the hose and refill it to the agreed level as required.

If you can stand the sandy mess, add the water play to the sandpit and you won’t hear a single complaint for hours! Nothing much is better for young children to keep busy in than water and sand. When it’s time to come in, I just stand them in a line and hose them all down before sending them in for proper showers and baths.

5 Category Sorting: A Montessori style tray activity

(For a detailed introduction on how to introduce sorting to toddlers, it may be helpful to read this post first.)

4 colour metal patty-pan sorting.

After my toddlers have been introduced to sorting and have extended their skills to independently identifying 4 or 5 attributes or more, I continue to swap the materials that they sort, but keep the base tray or sorting containers the same. This means that I can change the material and present a “new” tray activity with little or no explanation. The children are immediately familiar with the type of activity and therefore already know what to do.

This is important for when I am teaching older children at the same time as a toddler is working on their Montessori style activities so that I am not constantly interupted. It also means that I am not having to demonstrate or “teach” every single new tray activity – once the format is familiar, I can change materials and off they go.

I set up each term’s worth of tray activities with chosen categories (transferring, sorting, matching, counting, pouring etc.) and simply update the materials as necessary without having to re-introduce each activity.

This wooden tray lends itself well to 4 or 5 attribute sorting and by simply changing the materials I can easily update it throughout a term with very little effort. I also add a pair of tongs, tweezers, scoop or spoon to incorporate fine motor skills and turn it into a transferring activity at the same time, which adds an extra level of challenge to the activity.

5 colour pony bead sorting. (The bowl needs to be moved off to the side to provide room for the 5th colour.)

5 colour jewel sorting. Most of these objects pose a choking hazard so take care with young children who still like to put things in their mouths. Jewels are so tempting for toddlers to suck on.

4 colour plastic flower sort.

5 types of dried beans.

5 kinds of buttons.

5 colours of Christmas craft bells.

5 kinds of pasta and dried beans.

5 coloured marble sort.

5 kinds of pasta.

5 kinds of shells.

5 kinds of farm animals.


Routines: Table activity ideas

Following on from my post on table activities, I thought it might be helpful to include some ideas of the kinds of things I give my children to do at table time. The toddlers sit in their highchairs to do theirs (see highchair activities) and the older children sit at a variety of tables and occasionally on the floor.

  • Drawing
  • Playdough
  • Stamping (stamp pads and ink stamps)
  • Lacing, threading or beading
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Felt board
  • Construction toys
  • Pattern blocks
  • Contact collage
  • Water colour painting
  • Paper craft
  • Sticker books
  • Tea sets and teddies
  • Finger puppets
  • Mini whiteboard and eraser
  • Small chalk board and duster
  • Peg boards
  • Board games
  • Tap tap
  • Scrapbooking
  • Contact pictures
  • Dot-to-dots
  • Mazes
  • Magnadoodle
  • Colour-by-number
  • Stencils

I like to keep table activities separate from our other activities for a couple of reasons:

  • the children only use them during table time, which keeps interest levels high
  • they do not request activities that I do not want them to do at this time; those they may choose from are already set aside for this purpose
  • when I am choosing activities for the toddlers and younger children I don’t have to think of what to get or wander around looking for inspiration, I simply open the cupboard and choose from the selection there, rotating through those that are appropriate
  • the children have ready access and can pack up after themselves
Another time that we find table activities very useful is when we have visitors. We love having friends and family around but the children do get very excited. After some time to talk and play with the visitors (depending on who it is of course) I often direct the children to get out a table activity. It provides a focus, quiets down the excited behaviour and allows the adults to have a conversation. Sometimes Grandparents or other visitors will do the activities with the children (which of course they love) but we find it just gives them a great way to be around the adults and interact appropriately without dominating the entire evening.