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When your little one gets rather heavy for balancing on your hip throughout the day (once a favorite pastime of mine) and isnt content to sit on your lap for very long, there are different activities that can keep him happily occupied.
Three Brown Bags
My three children played so nicely together when they were young. I remember a certain September, however, when my little boy suddenly was the odd one out. Both his sisters were doing lessons. The younger sister was no longer free for morning play as she had been before. In order to homeschool my two girls and keep my three-year-old boy both busy and happy, I set up a system of three brown bags. I placed special toys in each one and kept them on a high shelf in the coat closetto be taken down only during morning lessons. This made their existence a bit more intriguing to him. Each day I would choose to bring down just one of the three bags. This way he would be presented with a different selection of toys everyday. By alternating their availability, there would be a hint of newness to them. At lunchtime these toys were tucked away in the bag and hidden until the next appropriate school time arrived. When the lunch dishes were washed up, we all took a change of scenery by spending some refreshing time outdoors.
Stacking Cubes or Nesting Cups
Build me a tower, Douglas. Like this, Mother says, demonstrating. She places the largest cube on the bottom. The cubes graduate in size. Each cube stacked in succession is a little bit smaller. The smallest ends up on top. Plastic nesting cups work the same way and can also be fitted inside each other. It may be days or weeks before the tower is made with the proper size cubes in each spot. The tower teaches size comparison. This is the big one, Mother teaches, and this is the small one. The next day she asks him to hand her the big one and then the small one.
Long shoelaces with plastic tips, purchased at the grocery store, can be used to string together empty spools. Because I didnt sew enough to accumulate more than a few spools, at a friends suggestion, I purchased two sets of large wooden beads. Two sets kept my youngster busy for a longer time, while I did some lessons with my girls. He would either make a very long snake or a necklace for a giant.
Matching Lids to Containers & Pouring Rice
This suggestion is from Ginia West, who wrote an article in my Parents Review some years back. Save up different sized plastic containers, like yogurt containers, soft cheese containers, etc. Give the child a pitcher or large container of rice to pour into the smaller containers, which he then covers with the corresponding lids. This can also be done with beans or elbow macaroni. Pouring back and forth with an aim not to spill is a good controlled motor activity that develops coordination.
Fill the Can
Ginia West provides us with another idea. You begin with a large can that has a plastic lid. A coffee can works well. Cover it with decorative contact paper. Then collect metal tops from frozen concentrate fruit drinks. Cut a slot in the plastic lid of the can. The tops, one by one, are then put through the slot in the lid, filling the can. An abundant supply of lids enables a little one to be occupied for a longer time. This helps to increase a childs powers of attention.
Sink or Float
My son loved to bring the stepping stool up to the bathroom sink and play with toys and things in a sink full of water while I taught my girls. I gave him a plastic ladle, an ice tray, spoons, plastic boats, a clean sponge, a funnel, a piece of wax paper, etc. He liked using the sink stopper and filling the sink himself. I would then ask him which things floated and which always sank. I was giving him the vocabulary with which to explain this phenomenon and make a comparison. While I was in the adjoining room with the girls doing arithmetic, he and the bathroom were getting soaked. One cant have everything, I thought to myself. But I really didnt mind, because he and it were easily made dry afterwards: he with a large towel and a change of clothes, the bathroom floor with a handy sponge. Eventually I got wise: a rubber-backed mat under the stepping stool provided needed absorption.
Something that wouldnt fit in a brown bag was my stack of wooden puzzles. I had collected these over the years, making sure I had puzzles of varying levels of difficultyfrom three pieces on up. On the flip side of each puzzle piece I had crayoned a letter to mark the pieces that belonged to each other. For example: all the panda bear pieces had a P behind them. If the pieces of all the puzzles somehow got mixed into a messy pile, they could be more quickly sorted. Mostly I would hand my child the puzzle trays that contained the amount of pieces most suited his ability.
While you have the drill out, you might want to make some sewing cards. First cut some sturdy cardboard into pieces of whatever size you choose. Then draw some colorful pictures on themperhaps a big face, a cat, a flower, or any other object easily recognized by the child. Drill holes in appropriate places: beside the cats mouth for whiskers, around the perimeter of the object, etc. The holes will be threaded with shoelaces. If drawing is not your forte, glue on pictures from magazines. My childrens first sewing cards were pictures I drew on sturdy paper plates. You can also purchase sewing cards.
When story-time and song-time were over, an activity enjoyed by my Sunday school class of preschoolers was to match the mittens. At home, I simply outlined sets of mittens on some white paper. Holding several sheets of paper together, I was able to multiply my efforts by cutting out a dozen at a time. The mittens were made the size of the childrens hands. With colored magic markers I added stripes or poka dots, zig-zags or swirls to make matching sets. I cut more out of colored construction paper. A low clothesline was set up in class and I handed out clothespins. The children liked using the clothespins to match the mixed-up mittens. They scrambled around the line, very keen to pin them up in sets the way I had showed them. Fabric remnants can also be cut into mitten shapes for matching. A collection of real mittens would be even more wonderful, but I know these arent as readily available.
More difficult than matching mittens by sight is matching fabric swatches by feel. Collect a variety of fabrics of different textures. Cut fabric into two squares of the same size. The pieces I cut were about the size of my own hand. Ive used swatches of terry cloth, cotton muslin, flannel, corduroy, fake fur, shower curtain material, and two crocheted granny squares. To start, place two sets of fabric swatches into a brown bag and mix them up. Blind folded (or with eyes closed) the child is to reach into a bag to match a set of fabric squares only by feel and hand the set to you. Adding more sets to the bag to increases the challenge. This activity is good for developing concentration.
If preparing fabric swatches is too fussy a project for you at present, you can still keep to the blindfold and the bag idea. Instead of swatches, secretly place in the bag a few objects from around the house. A hairbrush, a fork, a tube of toothpaste, a matchbox car, an apple, are just a few suggestions. The child calls out the name of the items as he identifies them and hands them to you. Watch the smiles that come with his guessing.
Action Songs, Nursery Rhymes, Picture Books
Each of my preschoolers received his or her regular dose of nursery rhymes. The same rhymes and the same picture books were read aloud to them again and again . Children like to hear a familiar rhyme or story read to them. Consequently, after so much repetition, I didnt need to read all the nursery rhymes because I knew the short ones by heart. All I needed to do was to open the book, glance at the picture on the page and I could say its rhyme by memory. With my hands free of the book, I could do a few gestures. I only knew two action songs from my own childhood: The Itsy-bitsy Spider and Im a Little Tea Pot. These, too, I taught them.
Shades of Color
The older we get the more we recognize and understand shades of meaning. A writer can choose from a vast array of vocabulary to express just what he wants to say. An artist mixes on his palette just the right shades of color for a sunset. But when we are young, things, of course, are kept simple. A child learns the names of the basic colors. Upon reading about the Montessori color tablets, I decided to make my own sets. I had already taught my daughter the names of those basic colors found in a box of eight crayons. A step up from this is this shades-of-color activityan activity that isnt sold in toy stores.
This is another Montessori activity. Its purpose is to match containers by their sound. Eight identical empty containers are needed. Prepare the containers secretly. Measure the same amounts of rice, lentils, beans, salt, little macaroni, oats, buttons, tiny beads, or other small items, in matching pairs. To make them shakable the bottles should not be filled to the top. In one set you might even put the same size marble in each or a tiny piece of paper rolled into a ball. You can change the rattling objects monthly with a little creativity. Older siblings will take an interest in assisting you, or even think up new contents and fill the bottles entirely on their own.
Cut and Paste
One winter I was cutting out detailed patterns of paper snowflakes with my girls. My son watched with wide eyes and then nudged to participate. I didnt think he was capable at age three of what we were doing, but he wasnt content to just watch. He opened the pie safe where I kept supplies and took out a sheet of green construction paper from the lowest shelf. He brought it over to the table and folded it in half and then in half again, with surprising neatness. Whered he learn that? I wondered to myself. With a pair of blunt-edged scissors, he began to imitate our activity by cutting snips along all four sides of folded paper. Opening it up to see the myriad of holes must have been gratifying to him, because he repeated the activity with more sheets of paper. He was still quietly absorbed in his folding, snipping, and opening tasks for some time at a low table while I began lessons with the girls at the kitchen table. I like your green snowflakes, I told him after a while.
Since we are on the subject of paper, here is an activity that is a great help to the baby-sitter who needs something to keep energetic children busyespecially children who are bouncing off the walls on a rainy dayso my daughters have divulged. Thus the knowledge of paper chain making does comes in handy.
Walking the Trail
Run some yarn along an obstacle course through the house. Show the child how to follow the beginning of the trail, then let him carry on himself. Masking tape may be used if you have smooth floors. Where will the trail end and what will he find there? Would he like to make his own trail for you to follow?
I dont know what to tell you about finger painting, because we never did it. I guess it was something I avoided. I did, however, supply my children with a short easel and some paints and thick-handled paintbrushes to make pictures. You can also use the same paint to do potato stamping. Mother cuts the potatoes in half and then into various shapes on the flat edge. The decorated paper can be saved and used for wrapping paper.
Ill never forget the time we had a Canadian missionary to Pakistan stay with us. She was working in the missions headquarters in England, where we were stationed. My husband noticed how tired she looked after returning from Pakistan, and suggested she be our houseguest until she got some needed rest. Her apartmentfull of other female volunteerswasnt very restful.
Last week I laughed at a Family Circle comic that will make my most frugal readers cringe. A four-year-old red-haired boy was balancing on his knees on the edge of the kitchen counter, reaching out for the paper towel roll that was attached under the cupboard. The next scene pictured him walking away with a jolly face carrying what he wantedthe cardboard roll. Behind him was the kitchen garbage bin filled with billows of unrolled paper towels.
Order and Routine
Phew! These are just some of the routine times our little ones experienced daily. They are major activities for little ones. A pleasant home atmosphere prevents any of these times from becoming alarming or rushed. They are teaching timesreal life learning activities. They help in developing a childs character, his abilities, and his knowledge.
Childrens curious minds must be fed. They do not need, however, to be entertained every moment of the day. We ought to guide them and provide them with materials and opportunities. A simple sturdy dollhouse, for instance or a box of dress-up clothes gives children the opportunity to be imaginative and creative. It is okay for children to be bored sometimes. It is then that they will learn to rely on their creativity to occupy themselves, if you do not give in to whining.
When my first two children were of preschool age and kindergarten, we moved from one apartment to another. Each was surrounded by pavement. I remember trying to fill one bored moment with a math activity. We leaned over the back of the couch at the front window counting how many red cars would go by in three minutes. It didnt go over very well. Two blocks away from one apartment there was some grass and a set of swings and a long slide. We walked to this park every day we could. Later, when we rented a house with a back yard we made the most of it. Backyards are such a blessing when you have small children. I breathed a long sigh of contentment the day we entered our own backyard. In the fall we ate our lunches outside. The children raked, then jumped in piles of leaves. We collected colored leaves and acorns, and dug in the soil to plant daffodil bulbs. The bulbs were really for my own anticipation. They are not a particularly good project for very young children, as they take all winter to season. Therefore, come spring, for a quicker return on our labor, we sprouted seeds indoors. Our sunflower seeds soon came to life in their soggy egg-carton and we proudly transplanted them just outside the front door. What dramatic progress they made! By summer they stood taller than the children who planted them. Our zucchini seeds were just as robust and hardy and proved to be a rewarding first vegetable.