Young Minds

Thoughts of an early childhood teacher…

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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