With all the uncertainty facing our global community, imagine what might be going on in the mind and little world of our children? As schools have begun closing around the world, families are being faced with the need to alter their day to day routines to ensure their little ones continue to be exposed to high quality educational activities. As a community, we can continue to provide safe and nurturing environments where our children can thrive and grow as little humans, through play and learning at home, using everyday materials. A play based routine provides certainty and comfort for children in these uncertain times.
Being a trained educator and mother of two (soon to be three) young boys, I have a passion for play based, hands on activities that not only teach them skills, but fosters creativity and independence in their learning. One of the most important aspects of learning through play is routine and repetition. Children (and adults) thrive on routine and repetition. Setting up a daily routine where children are exposed to a variety of activities, allows them to build their independence through play. Repeating the same skill (e.g. number recognition or letter identification) but changing up the medium, also gives them the variety they need to stay engaged.
Here are a few of our favourite simple activities that we use as part of our daily play routine:
Go on a nature walk or explore your backyard to collect any foliage, leaves or wilting blooms to make some nature soup. Imaginative play builds vocabulary and social skills which occur naturally when children engage in pretend play.
Shaving Cream Soft Serve Stations:
For those who embrace messy play, shaving cream and water beads provide a mesmerizing sensory experience. Give them some scoops and bowls and let their creative juices flow.
Use food colouring and a splash of vinegar to dye uncooked food such as rice, pasta and chickpeas. Depending on the age of the child, big pieces of pasta will help little fingers to manipulate it easier. Penne pasta can also be used for a threading activity, eg threading onto skewers in playdough. Store it in an airtight container to be used for sensory play over and over again!
Similar texture to sand but homemade using 2 cups of flour (bake it first to reduce any risk of harmful bacteria) and 1⁄4 cup of oil. Mix it together and stir well until the oil mixes through the flour and it becomes moldable.
Literacy Through Play
Foam Letter Spray:
Get your bath foam toys for some outdoor play with a water spray. If you have alphabet foam letters, write on the window using a dry-erase marker for children to match upper and lower case letters. Pressing and releasing a spray bottle strengthens the little muscles in their fingers, preparing them for using scissors later.
Kinetic sand not only makes a great sensory bin filler, they also work well with making imprints using molds and puzzle pieces. This can be easily adapted to anything in sand or playdough too.
Paddle Pop Letter Matching:
A simple DIY using paddlepop sticks, dot stickers and an old cardboard box. Write uppercase letters on the paddle pop stick and lowercase letters on the box for children to match it.
Nothing like having a comfy place to sit and indulge in some picture books.
My tips for reading are:
Have a variety of books available and accessible to them (e.g. on a shelf where they can easily see and reach the books).
Choose topics or stories they are interested in.
Select age appropriate books such as fabric and board books for infants, lift the flap and picture books for toddlers.
Numeracy Through Play
Playdough Number Imprints:
Use the numbers from a number puzzle to make imprints into colourful playdough for children to match. A fantastic way to reuse puzzle pieces and reinforce number recognition!
Use simple shapes or magnetic tiles to introduce symmetry. Begin with a simple shape and once children get the hang of it, create more complex shapes for them to complete the other half.
DIY Ten Frames:
Cardboard Ten frames are such a simple visual aid for teaching counting, developing number sense and helping to form the basis for understanding place value later on (eg the number 15 is 1 ten and 5 ones). Pair this up with colourful counters, pebbles or anything else you can find around the house.
Dot Sticker / Dot Marker Counting:
This is a fun, hands on way to develop number recognition while working on finger and hand muscles, from screwing and unscrewing the lid to pressing the marker down along a targeted line. Draw numbers, patterns, letters or words and let them dot away. Once complete, hang up their creations in an art display. As visual learners, this can help with number recognition and ordering. Showcasing your child’s work also conveys the message that their work and learning are important and worthy of display.
Chalk wall artwork:
Place strips of painters’ tape in a geometric pattern on a fence or piece of cardboard and use chalk to colour the shapes. Remove the shape when you’re done to create a chalk wall artwork. This tape resist artwork works with crayons, paint or any other materials you’ve got.
Mix washable paint with water and freeze them in ice cube trays. Wrap a piece of foil on top and cut slits in it for the paddlepop sticks to stay in the ice. When the frozen paint is set, run it under a bit of water and they’re ready to paint!
Foil provides a unique and shiny experience for little artists. I wrapped foil on our table and taped it down with painters’ tape to stop it from sliding. Instead of using paint brushes, you could try q-tips for painting on foil.
Give leftover flowers a second life by using them for making floral imprints. They make the perfect brushes for little hands!
Other play-based learning
Fizzy colours experiment:
Place drops of food colouring and baking soda in a muffin tin. Provide children with vinegar mixed with water in a squeeze bottle or water droppers for fine motor development. Watch their reactions as they see the colours fizz and overflow!
DIY lava lamps:
Fill a clear bottle with 1⁄4 water, 3⁄4 vegetable oil and a few drops of food colouring. Drop small pieces of alka seltzer (under close supervision) into the bottle and watch the lava lamps erupt!
Fine motor counter picking:
This is a great fine motor activity by pulling out counters as they practise hand eye coordination, increased concentration and steady control of tweezers. If it’s too challenging, children can colour sort counters by poking them into playdough instead. Poking, squishing and rolling with playdough all help to develop strength in the little muscles in their fingers and hands, making them ready for pencil and scissor control later on!
DIY sort and post:
A simple DIY that can be adapted to teach sorting by posting paddlepop sticks into a tube. Print some images of things that interest your child to make this fun and engaging for them. We matched this one up with our favourite book at the time, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. No printer? No worries – just colour in the paddle pop sticks for a simple colour sorter!