Young Minds

Thoughts of an early childhood teacher…

Picnics and tea parties! (with maths and colour-mixing…)

I was chatting to someone recently about “kid-people” and how easy or difficult it is to “entertain” a 3 year old when you’re looking after them….

I had to look after my niece for an hour and she is a BUSY girl. She always must be doing something and it is hard to keep up with her. Well, because it was sunny and Aunty Jo wanted to lie in the sun, I tried to think of an idea that would allow this to happen….

Note: it was a particularly gorgeous January Perth morning when I did this with my niece – you might not be as lucky!

I got an old sheet, her tea set, a large transparent jug and some food colouring and I announced we were going to have a picnic! We took our bits and pieces out onto the grass and she started to set up the picnic. As she did this I took a moment to close my eyes and soak in the warmth!

I then asked her what colour we should make the water. She enthusiastically announced PURPLE! as if no other colours existed. So, because I didn’t have purple dye, we tried mixing some colours. I let her do this part and I counted the drops with her to make sure she didn’t put too much in. Of course, unintentionally, she did anyway.

We made one colour, then another, then another and then what seemed to be a dirty purplish kind of colour. But the colour we made wasn’t important – it was the discussions we had during this. We remarked on the colours we were making and decided what colour we could add and then commented on how that changed the water.

She spent the better part of an hour pouring this water amongst the cups and then using those cups to pour into other containers and then back again. At one point she poured from a teacup into a sugar bowl and I could see her brows furrowing as she realised that it wasn’t all going to fit. She kept right on pouring though!

This was a great mathematical activity for her to do without even intending on it being “learning”. But then again, a simple episode like this proves that play is indeed learning for these little ones. We used words like “too much”, “not enough” and “more” and “less”. All of this mathematical language is important to communicate at this age.

So as I was at my parent’s house on this day, they got home, came outside and laughed at the “mess” we had created and the fact that my niece still looked insanely busy (although sitting down) and that I was lying down getting a bit of a suntan!

And in answer to your question – yes, she did try to drink the water.

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Stimulating and fun educational activities that give Mummy & Daddy a little break!

“I’m bored!”

“Play with me, Mummy!”

“But I’ve done that already.”

….are just -some- of the phrases you might hear at home trying to ‘entertain’ your little ones. Apart from the fact that it is my personal opinion that it is not a parent’s job to “entertain” their children, it IS my personal (and professional) opinion that it is an adult’s job (whether kindy teacher or parent or nanny) to prepare activities or an environment that will encourage imagination, learning, communication and problem solving.

It is VERY easy to pick out the children in a kindergarten that have no imagination – constantly looking for “something” to do, following the adults around (not searching for affection or attention, just not knowing what to do) and playing with imaginary toys, such as dinosaurs or trucks, a little bit awkwardly. Poor things – it’s not their fault! And not your or my fault either! We just need to help these little people find a little bit of imagination in their day.

But anyway, that is not what this post is about! It’s about preparing a few little activities for your little ones when you as a Mummy or a Daddy just need a few moments to put your feet up!

The first thing you will need is an area that is safe for your child to access. You’ll need some drawers or tubs or shelves or something to hold different activities.

You will also need an area for them to do each activity where they are FREE TO MAKE A MESS. This is really important. There is a time for cleanliness (ie. going to Aunty Katherine’s wedding) but it is certainly not during a child’s play. I have a child in my kindy at the moment who has not once gone home with her socks on – every time she wears them to kindy they are filthy/wet by midday and they go straight in her bag! Your child needs an area where their clothes can get messy, the floor can get messy and the table (if you use one) can get messy. It will really allow your child to open up in terms of their creativity and exploration of different materials.

Then it is just a matter of filling each tub/drawer with different materials. I have listed below my favourite examples.

Tub #1: Goop! 

Small packets of cornflour (better to create your own small packets by putting into zip lock bags), 1 plastic cup, 2 medicine cups, 1 plastic spoon, 5 popsticks, 2 meat trays (or other). Your child can pour in the cornflour themselves, get all the other materials themselves and they just need you to help them fill the cup with water. And if they make it too runny? Who cares, they will love it anyway!

Tub #2: Water play! 

1 kitchen sieve, a funnel, a few different sized plastic containers, some plastic boats, mini bottles of food dye. You will also need a tub or bucket to fill with water. I watched my 3 year old niece not long ago playing with some purple water we had made together and she incorporated her tea set. It entertained her for ages!

Tub #3: Rice play! 

Again, it is easier to store the rice in ziplock bags so that your child can get to it him/herself, a large container to hold the rice (like a cat litter tray), various containers for pouring, maybe even some little characters (Lego or similar).

Tub #4: Collage!  

Various collage materials (think texture & colour – sandpaper, cotton wool, shiny paper, coloured matchsticks etc) , prepared glue (flour & water in small cup with lid, Clag or ‘cell mix’ from educational suppliers), glue brush, plain paper, old wrapping paper (and child-safe scissors) salt shaker with glitter inside.

Tub #5: ‘Whiteboard’ drawing!

A3 blank page (laminated), whiteboard markers, erasers. If you want to buy an actual whiteboard (though it won’t fit in the drawers or tubs unless it is a mini one from an educational store) try to find the magnetic ones, then you can add all sorts of magnets – letters, numbers, shapes, etc.

Tub #6: Painting with water!

Different sized paintbrushes, small bucket. Your child can ‘paint’ anything they can find in the backyard! It’s the simplest thing but you should see their face when they try this for the first time. They are amazed! I love it! The only they will need from you is an easily accessible hose (I leave the tap done up loosely so they can easily turn it on and off themselves to fill up their bucket)

These are just a few examples of some ways you can give your child some enjoyment, stimulation and incidental learning with minimal effort on your part. I am in no way encouraging you to spend less time with your children, nor am I endorsing any sort of “children should be seen and not heard” garbage.  I do think you deserve that (however short) frame of time to put your feet up and (somewhat) zone out!

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Speech development in little ones

A mother recently asked me: “What is ‘normal’ speech development?” and that is really hard to answer. In my kindy, I can tell the children who are delayed in their speech, I can tell which ones will most likely benefit from speech therapy and I can tell the ones that will most likely ‘grow out of it’  but it’s a difficult developmental skill to assess (unless you are a speech pathologist).

The information below is some that I have been given by Speech Pathology Australia which may give parents a few guidelines.

By the age of ONE, your baby should be able to:

  • respond to familiar sounds, such as the telephone ringing, the vacuum cleaner or the car in the driveway
  • understand simple commands, such as ‘no’
  • recognise their own name
  • understand the names of familiar objects or people
  • say ‘dad’, ‘mumma’ and a few other words
  • enjoy songs, music and books
  • try to make familiar sounds, such as car and animal noises

By the age of TWO, your toddler should be able to:

  • say the names of simple body parts, such as nose or tummy
  • listen to stories and say the names of pictures
  • understand simple sentences, such as “where’s your shoe”
  • use more than 50 words such as ‘no’, ‘gone’, ‘mine’, ‘teddy’
  • talk to themselves or their toys during play
  • sing simple songs, such as ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ or ‘Baa Baa Black sheep’
  • use some pronouns instead of names, such as ‘he’ and ‘it’
  • try simple sentences, such as ‘milk all gone’

By the age of THREE, your child should be able to:

  • understand how objects are used – a crayon is something to draw with
  • recognise their own needs, such as hunger
  • follow directions
  • use three to four word sentences
  • begin to use basic grammar
  • enjoy telling stories and asking questions
  • have favourite books and television programs
  • be understood by familiar adults

By the age of FOUR, your child should be able to:

  • understand shape and colour names
  • understand some ‘time’ words, such as lunch time, today and winter
  • ask who, what and why questions
  • use lots of words, about 900, usually in four to five word sentences
  • use correct grammar with occasional mistakes, such as “I falled down”
  • use language when playing with other children
  • speak clearly enough to be understood by most people

Don’t forget that if you suspect a delay in speech it doesn’t hurt to get their hearing tested. That is how we learn to speak! So if their hearing is a little off, their speech will be off as well. Same goes for if your child has recurrent ear infections as a young child.

Some things you can do to help and encourage speech development:

1. Repeat back to your child what they have said to reinforce correct enunciation. For example, a child I know said the other day, “Des, Mum dives me doddies.” to which I responded “Your mum gives you lollies? Well aren’t you lucky!”

2. If you have a very quiet/introverted child, present opportunities for them to speak, explain and describe.

3. Avoid ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions or questions where they can nod/shake their head or give you one-word answers. Ask them to tell you what they did at kindy, to explain what is in their painting or to describe what one of the stories that was read was about.

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Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills, referred to in primary school as ‘fundamental movement skills’, are important to develop in young children. They are based on the movement of the body on a larger scale, for example movement and manipulation of the legs, feet, hands, arms, head or body as a whole. They help your child to develop knowledge of the left and right sides of their body, balance and which movements will affect equipment in various ways. Gross motor skills also help children to learn to control their bodies and assist with coordination.

Some common gross motor skills covered in a kindergarten programme are as follows, together with activities you can do together to nurture these skills.


Jumping involves using two feet together, like a kangaroo, as opposed to leaping with one foot and having the other foot follow. Most will master this skill by the end of kindergarten.

Tip #1: Invest in some hoops! Jump around like kangaroos in your backyard and have them hop into hoops or hop over other obstacles.

Tip #2: I find music games the best way to nurture jumping. Tumble Tots have some fantastic songs on iTunes.

Tip #3: Throw a little jumping into everyday life! As you go for a walk with your little one, have them jump over the cracks in the pavement. Or put on some wellies and have them jump over the puddles (they will love you for it!)

Hopping & Balancing

This is a two-part skill. The first thing they have to learn is how to balance on one foot; the second is having to jump on that foot without falling over. It is difficult for a child to do, but important to practise. About a third of kindergarteners I have seen can hop by the end of kindergarten.

Tip #1: As with jumping, I find music games the most effective way to help children practise the skill of hopping. I like the song “Skipping Time” by Tumble Tots which involves skipping, marching, jumping and hopping.

Tip #2: To help them balance on one foot, give them something to stare at on the wall or in the distance. This should be something specific and something at their eye level.

Tip #3: It is good practice to have them balance objects on parts of their body. I use a song by Tumble Tots called “Bean Bag Time” which is excellent at having children balance a bean bag on their head, arm, foot, hand, back, etc.

Throwing and Catching

Children should first be taught underarm throwing as opposed to overarm throwing, unless they are learning it as training for a particular sport.

Tip #1: Have them practise swinging their arm like a monkey to get to know the action of underarm throwing. Overarm is the action done by a lot of kindergarteners by default).

Tip #2: Start with beanbags! I love beanbags!

Tip #3: Invest in a couple of balls. If your child has difficulty gripping the ball, places like K-Mart and toy stores have balls that have bumps all over the ball to make it easier to grip. Obviously the bigger the ball, the easier it is to catch – children need to keep their eyes on the ball and have their hands ready to catch and both of these things are going to be easier if the ball is bigger. You can decrease the ball size as your child gets more adept at catching.

Tip #4: Have a washing basket or other large container and draw a line in chalk on your pavement. Have them throw the ball into the basket and see how many times they can get it in. As they get more skilful, you can decrease the size of the container they throw into, swapping the washing basket for a bucket for example.

Crossing the Midline

Another important skill to foster in your young child is the bilateral skill, or crossing the midline. This means that your child learns to use their right hand on their left side of the body, and their left hand on their right side of the body. The same goes for their feet. It is a crucial skill for several everyday life skills, such as reading and getting dressed.

Tip #1: I used to use a lot of streamers in kindergarten and have the children draw circles on one side and then on the other side of their body using the same hand. They would then swap over.

Tip #2:  I used to also have them lie on the ground, belly facing up, and lift up their right leg and left arm simultaneously and vice versa (this will be effective regardless of whether or not they know their left from right).

Tip #3: Anything that involves your child reaching over one side of the body to reach the other side will be practising crossing their midline. For example, offering them a piece of fruit on one side of the body and asking that they take it with the opposite hand. Or having them use only one hand whilst painting and requesting that they use the whole page. This will force them to go over the left side if painting with their right hand and the right side if painting with their left.

I came across a fantastic website that not only describes the bilateral skill, but also how it affects every day life skills and activities you can do to develop it in children:


Definitely worth a look!

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Comprehension & Questioning for Kindergarteners

Reading a book to a child is more than just reading the words on the page – unless of course it is ‘quiet time’ and you are using a book as a calming method!

As children develop their literacy, they move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” and for this reason it is really important to identify what they comprehend from what they have heard or read. It is not only important in terms of literacy, but also important in everyday life, such as listening to and following instructions, exercising their memory and learning the difference between ‘listening’ and merely ‘hearing’.

So how can you recognise what your child comprehends at a young age like three or four? A lot of children will share their immediate thoughts with you whilst others need prompting. The most effective way to work out what a child is getting from a book is quite obviously questioning. There are several different types of questions you can ask when you are reading to your child (or when they are reading to you!):

1.Prediction – ask before you start to read what they think will happen in the story. They should be able to identify the picture on the front and say something reasonable…the rest will be their imagination. If there is a picture of a dog they will likely say that the story will be about a dog but they might elaborate, for example “I think the dog will run away from home and they try to catch it but they don’t.”

2.Knowledge – this is a comprehension question where the answer is right in front of them. For example, if the text plainly says that the dog’s ball is red, you might ask, “What colour is the dog’s ball?”

3.Inference ­– this is a comprehension question where your child will need to read into the text in order to infer the answer. For example, if the text explains that “Sally got her umbrella, went outside and opened it up” you might ask your child, “Do you think it was a rainy day?”

4.Opinion – This is an open-ended type of question and quite often my favourite to ask kindergarteners! You are asking your child their personal thoughts. You might ask them what they would’ve done if they were in the same situation as one of the characters, how they would’ve felt if they were in the same situation, or whether they liked the story and why or why not.

5.Memory – As the name suggests, you are seeing what your child can remember from a book that you have already read. As an example, if you read to your child The Very Hungry Caterpillar, you might ask, “Can you remember all the different food he ate? What happened to the caterpillar after he ate all that food? What happened at the end?” If you are questioning them about a book that you have read yesterday, you might ask them, “What book did we read last night? What happened in the story? Do you remember the name of the boy?” etc.


Generally three year olds will be able to predict and answer knowledge questions if the question is asked at the end of a small piece of text (4-5 lines). Some three year olds may be able to at least have a go at answering an inference question. Try asking anyway and then explaining the answer. They will also be able to give you an opinion of the story itself in a ‘liked it’ or ‘didn’t like it’ format.

Four year olds will be able to predict and answer knowledge and inference questions after a small piece of text. They may start to form their opinion of the story beyond ‘liked it’ or ‘didn’t like it’ and they may give you a reason and start to relate to the characters. For example, “I didn’t like Cinderella’s sisters because they were mean to her”.

Five year olds should be able to predict, often in great detail and particularly when you point out various parts of a picture. They should be able to answer knowledge questions, often after an entire page, and answer inference questions. They will begin to apply knowledge, for example if a character goes out in the rain and gets wet they may tell you what they would do if they were the character – “I would take an umbrella!”


Please understand that every child is so different; this is only a guide and taken from my own experience in kindergartens. Children develop at different rates! Also, keep in mind that if your child is not particularly verbal, less so around their teacher, they will be harder to ‘assess’. Some like to talk your ear off, others are naturally very quiet!

Please send me an email if you have specific questions! (

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“Reading” for 3-5 year olds

I love books! And I try to instil in the children I teach that same love of literacy. In a world where iPads and Kindles are the new softback novel and most houses have 2-3 televisions, it is important that we introduce to children that feeling of opening up a book, feeling the pages in our fingers and admiring the illustrator’s work.

I believe that children should be experiencing books from very early on in their lives. Before they know how to hold a book they should be having one read to them. My sister has an eleven month old and since six months, possibly earlier, she was incorporating literacy into his bedtime routine, reading to him before bed at night during ‘quiet time’.

I am also a firm believer that children should be taught how to treat books. Unlike a Nintendo DS, it is made of paper, relatively fragile, and many children I have taught recently don’t seem to understand their value. We may know that they tear easily and can be quite pricey but a 4 year old may not.

So what do kindergarten teachers look for in terms of reading-readiness in 3-5 year olds? The number one issue is ‘directional tracking’, that is, opening a book at the front and turning the pages in the correct direction. This concept also incorporates “reading” a book starting with the left hand page and moving on to the right hand page.

Secondly we are not interested in whether or not your child can read a word, although if they can recognise any word then of course they are well on their way. We are more interested in how they use the pictures as cues for the words. Do they see a picture of a cat and know that somewhere in the text something involving a cat is happening?

Another common query is about the most appropriate books for 3-5 year olds. Of course any picture book is ideal, especially when it has underlying themes of values, friendships and individual differences. But from a ‘learning to read’ perspective, the best books will have the two R’s: rhyme and repetition.

Repetition, where text is the same on many, if not all of the pages, allows your child to join in reading with you. For example, “I have a dog. I have a cat. I have a horse.”  They will quickly notice that the first part of the sentence is repeated, so they’ll  know they’ve got that part right, whilst the second part of the sentence is (in a reputable children’s book) given away by the picture. So again if they are using the picture cue strategy I mentioned earlier they will also get that part of the sentence correct. This means that although they are not actually “reading”, they are still able to “read” along with you.

Great children’s books often have rhyme. It doesn’t have to be the whole way through, but if there are parts where you can have your child finish the sentence – the rhyming word – they will feel a great sense of accomplishment. Just please make sure you read the text so as to make the rhyming obvious! I can’t tell you how irritating it is when rhyming text is read but the rhyming words don’t match up! Emphasis should be placed on the rhyming words, as rhyming is a very important pre-cursor to formal reading. I always make sure a child can give me rhyming words, even if they are made up, before they are taught to read.

Lastly, books should have pictures that relate well to the text and make sense.  Try picking up a child’s picture book in a foreign language and have a “read”. They have them at your local library. You will soon see how important the pictures are for beginning readers!

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How much is too much and how much is not enough?

I hear mums all the time ask how much help to give your child. Do you teach them to read as soon as they reach for a book? Or do you let the school take care of that? How much do you need to help them and how much do you let go and let them control the learning?

So many three and four year old kindergartens out there these days have the same philosophy – child-centred, child-led and child-oriented learning. Let the children guide the learning, let the children set the standard, let the children be the controller of their education and you, the parent, or I, the teacher, merely facilitate that learning.

I have to say I disagree with the way education in the state of Victoria is headed…I don’t know if it is taking the same path in other states. I see myself as a teacher and that is what I am there to do. I see you as the parent and the most important influence in your child’s life. Together, without this opinion that we “let the children lead the way”, we could do so much more for them and with them.

I believe that as children grow older, we should facilitate their learning of concepts more and expose them to more. A toddler will not know what a piano is if they are not shown one, shown what it is used for and shown how to use it. A three year old will not know the correct way to hold or treat a book if they have never been shown. A four year old will be completely overwhelmed if the first letter they learn about is in school.  We need to teach children, not just let them show us what they know, which is the most recent early childhood belief gaining increasing popularity.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe in a previous life I was a tough-as-nails headmistress from 1912?

But let’s face it; the most rapid phase of a child’s development occurs in their first five years of life. We have such a short time to expose children to so much of the world. I’m not saying they need to learn everything by the time they are five. I’m saying that if this is when this child is developing the most, why not take advantage of that and show them how a calculator works? If they pick up what you’re “teaching” them, they pick it up. If not, fine! Why can’t I teach my kindergarteners the names of the planets instead of waiting for them to ask me and “lead” the learning? Is that not my job?

All that said, I don’t believe in pushing a child to learn and I don’t believe in forcing them to learn something they have no interest in. You might’ve been netball champion for seven years running but it doesn’t mean your child will be. I certainly don’t think I’m alone in that viewpoint.

So I guess what I’m saying is exposure and facilitation of learning is paramount if you are to teach your little ones and prepare them for life. A lot of this happens incidentally so don’t stress! But there are so many other things you can do along the way. Here are a few ideas:

  1. If you play an instrument, show it to them, sit with them when you play it, show them how to use it and what happens when you push this button or pluck that string or hit that cymbal. Let them try it on their own as they are able.
  2. Have books around the house. In the age of computers, iPads and Kindles we want children to still grow up surrounded by pages. Read to them often and sit with them when they want to ‘read’ to you – even if they get every word wrong or if they’re reading so slowly it gets painful! Encourage trips to the library where they can choose their own books and let them have a little ‘library’ in their own space.
  3. Point out numbers – on the microwave, on the clock, on licence plates, on tv. As they grow older, start to talk about what the numbers mean and begin to ask them questions that involve a bit of problem solving. What number comes next? What number comes before it? Add on two more…etc etc. If they don’t know the answer, that’s fine! Count with them and find out together!
  4. Go on outings with your child – to the zoo, the aquarium, the farm, the city – and point out various things and ask lots of questions. Let your child explore, discover and spend time at the areas they are interested in.

For other ideas, or for suggestions on blog topics, please email me at

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