Christmas morning is still my favourite time of the year. It is filled with a sense of magic, excitement and glistening in the eyes of all the children who wake up to see what Santa has left for them.
Christmas morning in my house used to consist of a tummy full of treats. Besides Easter, it was the only day of the year we were allowed to replace the usual healthy breakfast with lollies and chocolates.
My Christmas mornings used to go something like this…
Wake up when it was still dark outside (on a Summer morning in Melbourne that is well before 5:30am) and creep excitedly into the lounge room where our Christmas stockings (we actually had decorated pillow cases) were waiting, full, under the Christmas tree. My brothers and I had strict instructions not to wake my parents until a reasonable time (6am). We were allowed to open our stockings and use/play with/eat anything inside it. Once Mum and Dad woke we would then open the wrapped gifts.
The time from when we woke until when Mum and Dad would get up often felt like an eternity. We used to spend that time watching Christmas cartoons which was fun but could have been more fun if only Santa had left us each…a busy bag!
Busy Bags make the perfect stocking stuffers!
There are plenty of moments on Christmas Day when the kids need a little quiet time; some down time to focus and relax. Busy Bags are the perfect item to motivate little ones to sit in peace and play while they let their batteries recharge (or give you a little time to get things done).
Still not convinced? Here are a few more reasons why Busy Bags make great stocking stuffers (or more generally, fantastic Christmas gifts!):
They are light and portable
They don’t need batteries
They don’t make noise
Once the sugar high has worn off, a Busy Bag can be a great way to keep your child engaged and entertained
If your little one gets bored or impatient waiting for guests to arrive, they’ll have a fun and educational activity to keep them occupied
Busy Bags can keep your child out of the kitchen while you are cooking the Christmas feast
After lunch when everyone feels like napping the Busy Bags can give you some peace and quiet
The activities within the Busy Bags encourage play and interraction with with cousins and extended family
Travelling will be pain-free on Christmas Day with a Busy Bag; they are designed for travel after all!
Busy Bags include everything needed to complete the suggested activities, they are great to use while other toys are being put together or batteries are being sourced
You can find a great range of Busy Bags, including Christmas themed ones, right now here in the Flying Sprout store.
Stocking stuffers for preschoolers and budget friendly kids gifts are what I’m hunting for at this time of the year!
I’m always on the look out for presents costing under $20 (under $15 is even better!) so I thought I’d share some of my favourites to help you with your Christmas or birthday present shopping.
I dearly love supporting Australian small businesses (I am one myself after all), so most budget friendly gifts on this list you can buy from Aussie mums. Of course the big guys have some great gift ideas too, so they will also be mentioned. If you’re a DIYer, I’ve got a few great ideas for you too!
Busy Bags make a great gift. They are easy on the purse, educational, fun and can be taken anywhere. Flying Sprout (me!) has a nice big range to choose from.
Play Doh stamps are personalised name stamps, great for little ones learning to read, write and recognise their own names. Doh Stamp offer fast turn around times and a huge variety of coloured name stamps.
Play Dough is a wonderful gift that can be used again and again for fun and learning. Happy Hands, Happy Hearts have a range of beautiful smelling, handmade play dough options.
Shaped Crayons are a novel little gift that preschoolers are sure to love. Tinta Crayons make toxic free crayons in lovely bright colours and a variety of fun shapes.
Animal Figurines are great for play and learning. Oh Ivy stock a huge range of animals from all continents of the world.
Head Bands are fun accessories for little girls. Top Knot has a large range of styles, sizes and fabrics from sweet newborn and playful toddler through to funky adult. All styles are practical and fun.
Toy Necklaces are the perfect two-in one gift. Critterz create fun necklaces which are great for boys and girls! They can be worn as well as played with so there is entertainment anywhere your child goes.
Fidget Tools are great for developing fine motor skills and keeping restless hands occupied. Happy Me Shop stocks a range of fidget tools for little ones through to adults. These cute worms are actually little puzzles!
Ok, this company is not Australian but it is too good not to share! The Idea Box stock a huge range of these fantastic boxes. Each box contains many activity ideas to keep little ones learning, exploring and engaged.
Water Painting is a simple, mess free and totally relaxing activity. Emma and Doug’s Water Wow books are great for travel and quiet play. There are a wide range of these books and they are all great!
Wooden Toys are super cheap at Kmart. If you are after some big bang for your buck, Kmart is a great place to find wooden toys and activities that encourage learning and free play.
LEGO and Duplo is always popular. It is unisex and everlasting! You can now purchase small kits, perfect for budget friendly gift giving.
Other fun suggestions:
DIY Cubby kit – Consisting of rope, pegs and a strong material. You can buy your own supplies from Bunnings.
DIY Small world or sensory play kits – Include some water beads, a tub and animal toys for endless fun.
Books (is it possible to ever have too many!?) – We love the authors Julia Donaldson, Bruce Whatley and Aaron Blabey.
Activity Books and stationary – Crayola brand is great quality, child and budget friendly.
If you have any suggestions, please share them. I’m always keen to find out about wonderful gifts that won’t break the bank!
Learning times tables or multiplication facts can be a challenge. It is often a struggle for children to recall them and they can be very boring and tedious to learn. So I thought I’d put together a collection of tips, tricks and strategies to make recall of multiplication number facts faster and more accurate.
Usually schools start by teaching the 2,5 and 10 times tables, followed by the 3,4 then the 6,7,8,9s. I don’t believe the 11s and 12s are taught anymore.
My approach is more 2,5,10 (which most children learn early on), followed by 11,9. Then 4,3. After that they will be able to fill in most gaps when it comes to 6,7,8s. I find this easier because the 11s and 9s have some tricks that make them easier to learn and therefore boost the confidence of the student learning them.
Here are a few confidence boosting tips/tricks to help your child learn their multiplication facts:
4x Double 2s
5x Half 10 times tables
9x Using the finger trick (see trick below)
10x Write a zero on the end
11x Write the same number twice
8×8=64 – I ate (8) and (x) ate (8) until I was sick (6) on the floor (4).
56=7×8 – Consecutive numbers, 5,6,7,8.
6s are easy enough if you think about it being one set more than the 5s.
It is important to be able to instantly recall the multiplication tables and that is only made possible by practising them a lot. Here are a few ways of doing that:
Times Tables raps or songs – TV or radio adverts with jingles are effective because they stick in our head. Times tables raps are much the same. You can find songs on CD, i-tunes, YouTube or with a simple google search.
Rote learning – Though it is boring, it can be very helpful to write and re-write a set of multiplication tables until they are retained and can be instantly recalled.
Posters – You can purchase large posters of the multiplication tables to display in your child’s room but you can also have your child create their own set to display in a location that is regularly visited, such as the toilet.
Games – Online and off line games are a great way to make learning these important number facts fun. You can practise with flash cards, dice or simple playing cards. Hit the Button is a favourite online game of mine but there are many others that can be found with a quick search.
Real life practise – Asking your child to solve multiplication equations in real life settings helps them to understand the importance of learning their times tables. Whether you are preparing dinner, hanging washing or organising a birthday party, there are plenty of opportunities to multiply.
Modelling using various materials – Creating arrays and grouping everyday items is a great way to make the times tables come to life. Using play dough, peas, beads or toys to show the various sums might help to make the multiplication tables easier to remember because they can be linked to a visual memory.
Teaching others – Encouraging older students to teach their younger siblings or school mates a set of multiplication tables is a great way to cement the number facts in the older child’s mind while also helping the younger child.
I’m not much the home reno type so had never even heard of painters tape until two years ago.
I was reading a blog post on suggested items to pack for entertaining children on long haul flights and saw this tape recommended. It peaked my interest, I bought a roll and have since fallen in love with the stuff!
There are loads of fun activities kids can do with painters tape which, unlike regular masking tape, will not leave a sticky residue or be hard to remove. Here are a few winners:
Letter or number writing – Write numbers, letters and words on any surface, practise making sums or spelling key words.
Make a bridge – Your child might like to take up the challenge of creating a bridge using only painters tape. The challenge can be extended by testing the load limit of the bridge.
Create a road on the floor – Use the tape to draw out a road along the floor, you could include round abouts or make a whole town. Use toy cars to race or drive along the road.
Draw shapes on the wall – Young children can learn about shape properties, older kids might like to measure the perimeter and area.
Maze – Older children might like to plan out then create a maze using the tape. You might like to make a maze for younger children to drive cars or walk toys around.
Races- Instead of a maze, your child might like to create a race track. They could then use a straw and pom-pom, blowing the pom-pom around the race course.
Marble/rolling – As a children, my brothers and I would play marbles in the hall way room. Painters tape is handy to draw a circle and lines.
Create an obstacle course – Tape some kitchen or toilet rolls to the wall and have a marble race through the course.
Tape painting – There are so many options here, just search on Pinterest. The idea is that you stick tape onto a canvas in order to create blank space once it is removed. You may like to creates a geometric pattern or write your child’s name, they then paint, splatter or colour all over the canvas. When the artwork is dry, the paint is removed an voila! Masterpiece!
For many more great ideas and links to all the above activities, head on over to Flying Sprout’s Pinterest Board dedicated to all things painters tape.
I’d love to hear your experiences and suggestions, do you use painters tape with your little ones?
When I hear the word ‘puzzle’ I immediately think of a picture in pieces that needs putting back together. Then I think about logic puzzles, word problems, tangrams….there are lots of different puzzle types I have used with students in the classroom and many I enjoy doing myself. According to Wikipedia, ‘A puzzle is a game, problem, or toy that tests a person’s ingenuity or knowledge.’
Traditional wooden puzzles are a common sight in most homes with small children and for good reason; they are a great toy to engage young children in play. There are many, MANY more advantages to puzzles and, many different types of puzzles that are equally as engaging as those first wooden ones. Here are a few (all listed puzzle types are clickable links):
To see more great examples, head over to the Flying Sprout Pinterest page.
The Advantages of Puzzles
Some puzzles are great fun, others can be immensely frustrating but they all have their benefits. Here are a few:
Satisfaction of achievement
Completing a task is satisfying and often, the more challenging the task, the greater the feeling of achievement once it is completed. This sense of satisfaction is a great way for children to build an understanding that hard work pays off and brings its own reward.
Patience and persistence
Persisting and having patience when faced with a challenge is not always easy but, as mentioned above, it brings great satisfaction when approaching tasks with a level head and having success.
Problem solving strategies
Different puzzles require different approaches in order to solve them. When completing maths, word and logic problems at school children are often encouraged to think carefully about the right strategy to use. These include acting out the problem, drawing a picture, writing a list, looking for a pattern, simplifying the problem, creating a table, working backwards, guess and checking, writing a number sentence or using and using objects.
Hand eye coordination and fine motor skills
Physical puzzles are a great way for children to practise their hand eye coordination and develop those all important fine motor skills.
Fun and rewarding
Puzzles can be used to reinforce learning or they can be used as a fun, rewarding activity. Great satisfaction comes from completing puzzles and this is lots of fun.
Building dept of knowledge on a subject
Whether learning new skills, practising, revising or consolidating understandings, there is a place for puzzles.
Some children are naturally quiet, while others take a little more encouragement. Puzzles give all children an opportunity to work with quiet concentration, either on their own or cooperatively with others, to complete tasks.
Setting and achieving small goals is rewarding and reinforces the idea that, with hard work and focus, you can achieve your larger goals.
Many puzzles are, particularly physical ones, are self correcting. They are either right or they aren’t, so children can work out immediately if they have solved the puzzle.
Many puzzles encourage the use of skills that children aren’t necessarily using everyday, skills that are very important such as critical thinking, logical thinking and spatial reasoning.
If you have a few spare minutes and enjoy a challenge, have a go at this collection of puzzles.
Having a bath is more than a necessity for most kids, its a fun time to relax and play.
When we don’t have early morning activities i’ll often let my son have a long bath and and some watery fun. There are many things we do to make bath time special, here are a list of them:
Bath crayons – I remember having special crayons when I was little and I’ve bought them for my son too. Kids can draw on the glass, the tub, tiles or on them selves and the colour washes off easily. They can draw and scribble, write letters, numbers, practise spelling words or solving sums, play Pictionary, Hangman (or the child friendly version I call ‘The Ladybird Game’), Noughts and Crosses…they can write and draw as they would on paper. The bath crayons pictured below are available here.
Bubble bath – A bath full of bubbles is just good, clean fun! Of course it’s nice to sit in mountains of bubbles but your children (and you) can also put the bubbles on their face and head to give the appearance of facial hair, fill small plastic container with bubbles to make cappuccinos or cup cakes and play shops, hide as much of themsleves in bubbles as possible, scoop up hand fulls and blow them off or clap to make the bubbles scatter away.
Food dye – I saw a friend of mine comment on her son loving blue water in his bath and was instantly inspired to try it out. We’ve had blue water, green, purple, red (not my choice!) and everything in between. It’s great fun and all it takes is a few drops or regular food colouring. Adding the colour and watching the water swirl and dye disperse is a great experience for the little ones too.
Measuring capacity – taking a few, various sized containers into the bath and pouring water from one to another is a great way to develop an understanding of capacity. Encouraging your child to predict, order and test out theories as to which container holds the most water, how many cups it might take to fill the rectangular container etc is great fun and real-life learning.
Find and seek underwater – Taking toys into the bath is great, but losing them under the bubbles and having to find them is even better. Your child might like to search with their hand under water or they could wear goggles or even a snorkle while they go exploring for the lost ‘treasures.’
Washing toys – Whether its giving a doll a bath or scrubbing a dirty monster truck, washing toys is far more fun for the little ones than washing themselves.
Sea themed toys – Fish, animals, boats, mermaids and pirates are great toys to play with in the bath. Of course any waterproof toy would be fun but these ones are especially good because they encourage small world play. The pictured toys are available from here.
Melting ice blocks -In Summer we made coloured ice cubes with a dinosaur in each. Once the ice cube was added to the water it melted fast, the colour of the water changed and the dinosaur was free. You can use ice to discuss the different states of water, different coloured ice and water to discuss primary and secondary colours or frozen creatures in big ice blocks to make bath time last a little longer.
Eating – When babies start eating solids it is a messy time in most house holds. Ours was no exception! Spaghetti was especially fun and particularly messy! I once heard of a mum (or maybe it was a dad?) who put their young one in an empty bath with a bowl full of messy food. The child could make as much mess as they wanted and cleaning up was a breeze!
Singing – I must admit, I’ve never really been much of a singer (trust me, that is a good thing!), however I do love to break in to song at bath time….’Splish splash I was taking a bath, all about a Saturday night….’ I sing, my son splashes, we act it out and have a crazy good time. If you have any great bath time songs please share them below! I’d love to add a few to my list!
As you can see, the bath can be much more than a place to wash. It can be a place to play, explore, learn and relax. What are your child’s favourite bath time activities?
Finding the right babysitter can be a bit of a challenge…Do I ask the neighbour’s teenage daughter, find someone off Gumtree or use an agency to organise it for me? How do I ask for references? How much will it cost me? Worry not, I sat down with some of the lovely ladies from Mini Nanny Agency to answer all your questions.
Q. What should I look for in a babysitter?
A. Someone who is fun, responsible and reliable. The simple answer here is ‘someone who lines up with your values.’
Q. I’m a bit nervous about leaving my child with a stranger, what can I do?
A. I feel you! I was very reluctant for a very long time to leave my precious little boy in the care of someone I hadn’t known for years. There are a few simple things you can do to help ease your nerves. First and foremost of course is to choose someone you trust! Let your babysitter know you are nervous and seek reassurance from them, a few comforting words should help you feel a bit better. Asking them to keep you updated with texts or photos may also put your mind at ease, you can see what your child is doing and (hopefully) see they are smiling and having fun.
If you aren’t in the position to choose a babysitter that you know and who knows your child well, using an agency can help. If your babysitter has been referred through a nannying agency, you can trust they have had a thorough background check completed. Mini Nanny Agency has been operating for 10 years so have thorough processes in place to match parents with carers. Knowing the process is thorough, choosing a babysitter you can connect with and relate to, as well as keeping clear lines of communication open will help ease your worry.
Q. How much should I expect to pay?
A. For a babysitter you’re looking at $20-$25 per hour. $25-$30 per hour is the going rate for experienced nannies while high school students might charge considerably less. The pricing would need to be discussed with your sitter and would depend on things such as experience level, household chores they might complete, the age of the children, whether the children would need to be transported to and from different locations, the number of hours and how regularly you would need the babysitter etc.
If you are using a nanny agency like Mini you can expect to pay $55 for a babysitter referral, which includes a thorough background check on the individual.
Q. What will they do with my children?
A. If you were hiring a babysitter during the day she might do craft activities with your children, take them to the park, cook with them, help them with schoolwork, play with play dough or engage them in imaginative play. It depends on what you have agreed upon before hand. Some nannies undertake house duties too. If your sitter will be putting your children to bed then you can expect her to follow the normal routine which you would have communicated with her.
Q. What about tricky issues; things like diet or discipline?
A. Making any dietary requirement, requests and rules clear from the beginning is very important. If your child has allergies, make sure you inform the babysitter. If you are a strict sugar-free household, make that clear too.
Discipline is a tough one! Perhaps you know your child will test the boundaries and display some rather challenging behaviours. The key here is to choose a babysitter you believe will be comfortable dealing with such behaviours. Warn her before hand and give her some strategies and suggestions you know (hope) work. Make it clear what you are comfortable with, what behaviours you are happy to let slide Follow up with any inappropriate behaviours your child may have displayed.
Q. Where can I find a babysitter?
A. There are a multitude of places you could find a sitter. Be mindful that you will be trusting this person with your children so be sure to do your homework. Nannying agencies can find the perfect carer for your child without you having to do the work. Michelle from Mini says, “agencies eliminate the time pressures. They know the industry inside out, have a good name and ultimately do a good job.” Trusted friends, family and neighbours are also great people to ask, perhaps they have people they use and recommended. If your child goes to day care some staff there might babysit after hours. You could also search on Gumtree or local Facebook pages. Just be certain you do a thorough check…..
Q. How do I ask for references without seeming rude?
A. Just ask. Your children are your most valued possession (for lack of a better word), no babysitter should be offended if you were to ask for references, they’d expect it! If you choose to use an agency, they will have done all the back ground checks for you and will provide you with all the references you need.
Q. What experience should my babysitter have?
A. This is totally up to you. If you want your ideal carer to have specific skills or experience then make that known from the beginning. If you’re asking for recommendations from friends, going through an agency or placing an ad, specify what you are looking for. If it matters to you that your babysitter be of a particular age, speak a particular language, has a background in teaching, is athletic or has experience working with babies or children with special needs then say so from the beginning.
How do I select the perfect carer for my child?
Think about your top 3 must haves and consider this…what will keep them with your family long term? Is there a connection there or not (between you, the sitter and your kids)? If not then they may not be the right sitter for you.
Once you have settled on the right babysitter for your family trust them to do a great job and take the opportunity to enjoy some precious adult time for yourself!
Travel is a wonderful thing. Whether you’re exploring the world or a local town, travel can open your eyes to new ways of thinking, amazing experiences and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Travelling with young children can make small trips seem like big adventures (or big adventures seem like mammoth expeditions!) but the advantages of taking those trips far outweighs the negatives.
I never thought I’d be road tripping through Europe with a toddler, let alone on my own with him. From that experience I learnt never to pass up an opportunity to travel with my child.
Don’t let the thought of travelling alone with your little one put you off. With a few tweaks to your ideal itinerary and some extra time planning, travel with a toddler can be an amazingly rewarding experience.
When my son was 18months old we headed over to Europe for a fantastic 6-week holiday. We travelled as a family of three for most of the trip but for a week it was just my little boy and me. I knew in advance this would be the case so spent plenty of time before the trip researching locations, accommodation choices, tips and travel tricks.
I thoroughly enjoyed that week. On the one hand, it was like I was travelling solo in that I had complete control of where I went and had to rely on my own capabilities. On the other hand, I never got lonely. My little person was always with me (often strapped to my body), he was great as a conversation starter and he helped me find joy in the most simple of things.
When it comes to travelling with a toddler (solo or otherwise), I have a few tips to make the adventure memorable for all the right reasons:
Don’t worry too much before hand
Choose child-friendly locations and accommodation
Slow down and allow for rest times
Research and prepare thoroughly
Avoid queues where ever possible
Make it obvious you have a toddler at airports
Don’t forget to pack toys
Baby wearing is awesome
Worry is a misuse of you imagination
While I spent a lot of time researching and preparing for our holiday, I also spent a fair amount of time worrying about what could go wrong. And you know what?… Nothing did! Don’t let fear, doubt, anxiety or worry stop you from travelling alone with your child. (You can read more about my pre-travel anxiety here)
Choose child-friendly options
I’m not a thrill seeker so was happy to have a relaxed time while it was just the two of us. I did my research and stayed at places where children were welcome and provided for. I deliberately booked self contained, modest units with kitchenettes so we had space to play and spend time indoors without the fear of breaking something or falling off a balcony. We also stayed a few nights at a bed and breakfast on a working farm, that was a great experience for a child.
Slow down and soak things in a little more
If we were all together as a family we would probably have gone for long day trips, booked restaurants at particular times…we would have been on the go. Instead, when travelling solo with my toddler, I spent afternoons walking through the forest, milking cows or splashing in the lake. I also allowed for plenty of chances to have a rest or nap. Making the effort to slow down and look at the world in wonder, through the eyes of a child made the quiet activities even more special.
Preparation is key
That old saying if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail repeated in my mind while planning the holiday and I’m so glad it did. I wrote lists, pinned articles, read reviews and packed all the right things. I felt prepared and I was! I had all the ‘things’ organised and it served us well because we didn’t need to worry about where to find something, what number to call, what to wear etc. It was all taken care of in advance meaning fewer things could go wrong.
Skip the crowds
I’m not a fan of crowds (my son likes them even less), so my advice would be to avoid them if at all possible. Booking tickets ahead of time and visiting tourist destinations early in the morning or late in the afternoon might be a better bet than lining up and risking being stuck in a queue with a cranky toddler.
Airport Queue Jumping
In every airport we visited in Europe we were invited to cut to the front of the queue. For a family not used to VIP treatment this was quite a thrill! At one stage we were at the back of a long line and our little one started to squirm, we knew it would be a very uncomfortable wait for everyone around us, so I sat him on my shoulders and in less than a minute there was an airport employee ushering us to the front of the line. This privilege is reserved for parents with young children.
Pack some favourite toys and new activities
It’s super important to keep your child amused on flights and long drives, but it also pays to think about what they’ll need when you reach your destination. I spent plenty of time pre-holiday researching appropriate toys to take with us. I wanted to make sure everything I chose would hold my child’s interest, were age appropriate, versatile, lightweight and compact so they don’t take up too much room in our travel bag. If you’re stuck for ideas on which toys to take, I have a few suggestions here.
Baby wearing is a life saver
Little legs can’t be relied on to do much walking and pushing a pram around all day is hard work. Having a baby carrier meant I could have my hands free, my toddler could nap whenever he liked and we both felt safe and secure. (Read more about the advantages of baby wearing here)
Don’t pack more than you need (besides nappies. Always pack extra nappies!)
Think long and hard before leaving home about what is absolutely necessary while travelling. Especially if you’re travelling solo, remember that you’ll be responsible lugging it all around while also looking after you child (see previous point about baby wearing 😉 )
Travelling with a toddler was easier and more fun than I expected. While I prefer travelling as a whole family, I’ll never again shy away from travelling alone with a little one, and hope you wont either.
If you have any great family travel experiences or tips I’d love you to share them below!
Playing with play dough is a wonderful tactile experience that is a treasured part of childhood. Manipulating, moulding, rolling out and cutting the colourful dough is not only fun and relaxing, it is assists with building vital life skills too!
Manipulating play dough strengthens those all important fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are those that involve the use of small muscles in hands, fingers and thumbs. By strengthening these motor skills children are then more able to hold a pencil and write, cut with scissors, do up buttons, tie shoelaces and correctly use a knife and fork….all fundamental skills they’ll use throughout their lives.
As well as being a fabulous material for building fine motor skills, play dough play allows, even encourages, freedom of expression and imagination. Children can create anything they like when playing with the mouldable dough. There are no rules when it comes playing with play dough (except maybe keep it off the carpet!).
Play dough is also a great activity to have on hand for times when your child might be getting tired, frustrated or just generally in need of some quiet time. It is a safe way for them to express them selves and take out frustration in a productive, harm-free way. Tactile stimulation with play dough can be calming and has great benefits for children with hyposensitivity.
Children are able to engage all their five senses when playing with play dough. They can see the different colours and creations, feel the play dough change shape as it is moulded, smell the unique fragrance, hear what it does when squeezed or thumped and…lets be honest, as kids most of us had a taste of that salty home made play dough when we were little! Sensory play encourages curiosity as children explore the world through their five senses. Investigating and exploring what play dough can do is, in some ways, even an early scientific investigation.
Having play dough available is great when it comes to building numeracy and literacy skills in a fun way. Children can represent different numbers, letters and make sums by using number stamps, forming small balls or rolling out long, thin snakes which can be twisted to form the desired shape. Play dough is also handy for alphabet and spelling activities with letter stamps.
Play dough is also useful as a tool when learning about colours and shapes. It comes in a huge range of colours so can be helpful when your little one is learning to identify different colours. Primary colours can be mixed to create secondary colours too. Children can make shapes, either flat or 3D, easily with the use of play dough. Flying Sprout’s Tomato Busy Bag uses plasticine, rather than play dough, to build colour and shape skills.
Play dough play lets adults be kids too. Playing freely with your child is a wonderful bonding activity and play dough allows you to be working on the same level. Unlike Lego for example, there are no ‘right ways’ of connecting pieces together and any play dough creations made by you are likely to still have a child-like quality to them.
This simple product makes a wonderful gift! Of course there is the popular brand we all know, Play Doh, but I have recently come across a glorious small business which creates beautiful smelling play dough, Happy Hands, Happy Heart. If you’re on Instagram, be sure to check out Emma from Happy Hands, Happy Hearts, she has an amazing Instagram feed featuring very clever play dough art!
If you’d prefer to make your own at home, here is a great play dough recipe that doesn’t require cooking!
As you can see, I’m a big fan of play dough and believe it definitely offers your child more than a few minutes of quiet play time!
In addition to making awesome Busy Bags 😉 I am primary school teacher with 8 years experience and currently work as a tutor so I know a thing or two about helping students learn outside the classroom.
Now that the school year is underway your child has probably come home with some kind of homework that they’re expected to complete. While I don’t love the idea of homework as a whole, the importance of reinforcing skills, particularly reading, cannot be underestimated.
You might find it hard to make time to do anything other than read with your child each night and the burden of homework might rest heavily on your shoulders. What ever you do though, please don’t ignore it completely. Provide your child with a quiet space for them to complete their reading and homework. If spending an hour a week sitting down with your child to work through their homework sounds too challenging, consider blocking out smaller amounts of time. Four 15 minute sessions is much easier to manage than one whole hour of uninterrupted learning.
If you and/or your child are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of homework, please talk to their teacher, they may be able to work out some alternative arrangements.
There are many things, besides structured homework, you can do with your child to help their academic development that are incidental, don’t feel like ‘work’ and are fun for both of you.
Many of the recommendations below are suggestions I wrote in reports for my Year 1 students. They are simple activities that can be done in a stress-free way and may be of great help to your child.
Reading skills should be supported through nightly reading of the take home book. When reading with your child, encourage them to use different strategies. Help them to read for meaning by asking questions about the text. If a word does not make sense, suggest they re-read the whole sentence/passage to try and understand what the word might mean.
Borrow a variety of books from the library. You can check out levelled texts to correspond with the books they are bringing home from school but be sure to also borrow books that are of interest to them. Developing a love of reading opens up a world of possibilities.
Read a variety of texts together and at every opportunity. Read newspapers, brochures, menus, shopping lists, catalogues, information on TV adverts, cereal boxes etc. The more your child is exposed to different text types in real life environments, the more value they’ll see in learning to read.
Provide your child with fun and entertaining opportunities to trace, colour and write. These activities should help to develop their fine motor skills, in turn leading to better letter formation and neater writing.
Practise letter names and sounds with your child by making play dough letters, writing with crayons in the bath or cutting out letter shaped cookies.
Help your child practise pronouncing, sounding out and spelling words they regularly use as well as new words they come across.
Place word lists in a position at home where they will be seen regularly. Practice reading and spelling from word lists, play games and identify sounds.
Encouraging them to write cards and journal entries gives a meaningful way to practise writing well punctuated sentences.
Encourage your child to practise writing detailed and interesting letters or postcards to friends and family. You might also consider giving them a scrapbook in which they could write, record thoughts and collect memories.
Use Flash cards of letters or common words to build familiarity and help your child to learn sight words.
Consider using magnetic letters on the fridge to form words and sentences.
Practice basic number facts through quizzes, flash cards and questioning when there are a few spare minutes, such as while preparing meals or during car journeys.
When opportunities arise, ask your child to assist you to work out real life problems modelling the solutions e.g. “If I we have 25 grapes to share between the 5 of us, how many will we each get?”
Support your child’s numeracy development and number fact recall by encouraging them to play board games like snakes and ladders and work through online math activities such as Mathletics*
Practise counting and mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) using counters, paddle pop sticks or beads. I have a large collection of Busy Bags targeting specific mathematical skills. You can find them here.
Find mathematical opportunities everywhere; add the digits on number plates, measure ingredients when cooking, read the time on analogue clocks, count down to events on the calendar, look for shapes and numbers to read in every day locations.
If your child is finding a concept challenging, borrow some books on that particular theme e.g numbers, colours, time.
Mathletics and Reading Eggs
Most kids love having access to an iPad or computer and there are many great apps or programs that are both fun and educational. Reading Eggs and Mathletics/Mathseeds are paid programs but are definitely worth the investment. Your child can work through short, engaging lessons at their level and develop base level literacy and numeracy skills before building upon them. You might find your child already has access to these programs through their school. I highly recommend signing up for a free trial to see if you and your child likes the program. (After your free trial you will be offered a discounted rate to subscribe, though maybe not immediately so hold out a little while if you’d like to save a few dollars.)
It doesn’t need to be stressful or overwhelming when it comes time to help your child with academic learning outside of school. Hopefully you can see from the suggestions above that there are are plenty of opportunities to extend everyday activities to make them richer learning opportunities.
If you’re after more ideas and pre-prepared activities to help your child with their learning, head on over to Flying Sprout’s online store to browse the full range of fun and educational activities.