Play! Have fun and learn

PLAY! A simple word with so much meaning. How unfortunate that as we get older we forget how important it is to stop and have fun. Play.

Play is how children learn. They learn movement through play; they build the core muscles and develop their large motor skills — essential before perfecting the small motor skills they will later need for holding a pencil and commanding it on paper.

Crawling, rolling, spinning, jumping, hopping and skipping are all part of big body play. Being messy while learning to feed yourself, creating with playdough (rolling, kneeding), finger painting, building with blocks and finger tapping to melodies are all part of small body play. For a child, all of these skills are critical to developing the muscle control needed for the rest of their lives. Children are not hardwired to sitting still. They need to be moving and using all of their senses to really learn from their environment and experiences. They need to touch, taste, smell, feel, hear and talk about what they are doing.

Play is fun! Play also encourages the brain’s creativity centre. Play promotes language skills. When we are playing we can be in deep thought as we are trying to build that tower or create that sculpture. We learn to keep trying when it doesn’t work out. We learn problem solving when we have to try again. We can be loud while pretending we are animals in the jungle or aliens in outer space, or race car drivers racing in our cardboard boxes. Whether your child likes playing aloud or quietly, you have the opportunity of using language with them. Get down on your child’s level and play alongside them. With very young children it is okay to narrate their play. You are building on their vocabulary as you comment on the colours, shapes, sizes or sounds around them. Don’t be afraid of making up stories and singing your own tunes. Your child adores the sound of your voice. Play encourages relationship building. Children won’t necessarily recall the meals they ate or the clothes they wore, but they will have memories of the days spent sitting on the floor singing, laughing, tickling, playing hide and seek, and being silly with their parents.

When children are playing together they are learning so much more than we can hope to teach them any other way. They are learning social awareness, emotional thinking, and more. They are learning to compromise, be in relationships, and to take turns. This all seems very simple on one level, but it really goes quite deep and is worth investing some time to ensure you promote play in your family life. With our busy schedules and hectic lives, we need to remember that playing is crucial and there is no substitute.

Sharing Books Creates Memories

Do you have a favourite memory of sharing a book with a child?

    

I have a favourite memory of my son’s love for these two books in particular. When he was nearly three years old we read them every day, often two or three times a day. It was never boring or dull to read the same stories over and over with him! His face would light up as if it was the first time every time. The stories he loved were easy to animate with their words that rhymed and great illustrations. What I didn’t realize was that he absorbed every word – memorized each phrase for each page. Then one day I needed to be away at his bedtime and his father did the bedtime story routine. After he read the first book with our son he called me to ask “when did he start to read?” I didn’t understand and said “he can’t read yet! What are you talking about?” Apparently my son knew exactly word for word the book my husband had shared with him – with such accuracy my husband thought he could actually read!

I was proud my little guy was able to fool his dad. I was also encouraged to continue to read with him every day, no matter what story he chose, no matter how many times he chose it. He began to “read” his stories to me as well, and even years later we would take turns and read chapter books to each other. We still enjoyed our story time together.

Reading, Then and Now

We have started a sort of a competition in our house to see how creative we can be in places to read. We have the basics covered: in bed, on the couch, on the floor, at the kitchen table, etc. But creativity has us thinking outside the box; we have read in a few spots in the yard, on the patio, in hammocks, at the pool, while grocery shopping, at our local coffee shop, and even upside down. It feels like a Dr. Seuss book many of us have read before…

It was always a special feeling when my children would bring a favourite book to me and ask if we could read it. We got extra time for cuddles, and it offered an extended discussion period of the stories we read and what we thought about them. I appreciate that these opportunities have allowed me glimpses of who my children are and who they are becoming.

Although they are all independent readers now, we still enjoy book sharing. Many times a good picture book is just too inviting to be read quietly or alone. Chapter books can still be shared as well: we take turns reading aloud a chapter each. It is one of my favorite times with my kids, as I hear how, as they read, the stories in their minds come to life. There is also something very peaceful about sitting together in a room, each enjoying our own books, just sharing in our presence as we have our own stories unfolding and our own adventures awaiting on each turning page.

Summer Challenge

The dreaded “I’m bored!” is just around the corner as school is already out for summer for some. Although many families still have a routine, albeit a different one for summer (work, daycare, or day camps), summer can also mean a lot more time spent at home and with family. Holidays are taken, grandparents visit, or some parents stay home with children all summer. As much as we look forward to the change in hectic life scheduling, too much free time can result in “I’m bored” coming up again and again. It doesn’t take long to realize that some sort of routine is needed. One of the things I am going to use in my home to combat that dreaded phrase is a Summer Challenge. My 7-year-old daughter and I put a list of activities into a jar and will pull them out whenever we need something to do. The challenge can be used on many different levels. For younger children you can keep it simple. Older children can be more involved in the planning of an activity, which we have learned can be more fun than the activity itself. What was that saying about the journey and the destination?

When I first described this idea to my daughter she was right on board! We love making lists, and pulling ideas out of a jar seems like a really fun way of checking off a To-Do List! We found a dollar store jar and decorated it for our ideas. I cut the strips of paper and she was so excited to read through each strip before she folded it and added it to the jar. She is already hopeful for her favourite ideas to be pulled first. Such anticipation!

She has asked me if it’s OK to add some of her own ideas to the jar. I think why not? (As long as I approve first…) She has already started her list of pulling weeds (what a wonderful idea!), going for a walk in the field with gopher holes, and chasing butterflies.

So we have begun. Lucky for us the weather cooperated for challenge #38: sitting around a campfire. Of course, we enjoyed s’mores and told stories as well. The age range around this fire is 7-38 years. That’s a lot of stories to tell! What an excellent kick-off to summer in a home full of kids!

Rain Rain Go Away!

Rain rain go away, come again another day

If you don’t, that’s OK, I built a blanket fort today!

 

Need something to do with the kids when it rains for days and days on end? Turn your cabin fever into a fun activity!

Supplies needed:

1. Imagination

2. Blankets (the more the better)

3. Furniture (coffee tables, couches, chairs, etc)

4. Rubbermaid totes, cardboard boxes, or recycled materials

5. People of all ages

6. (OPTIONAL) Flashlights, books, and teddy bears!

When I was a kid, we built many, many blanket forts. We learned so much from this activity: how to share, be creative, cooperate, compromise ideas with others, and many other skills. Some of my fondest memories are building forts or tents in the house. We had a large family so we often had boys only and girls only forts and created territories and borders. Our small stuffed animals became soldiers and sentry guards. We even learned how to booby-trap entries when the boys would invade our castle!

As much as I love to help and “take over” when my kids want to build forts, I really enjoy watching them problem solve and create their own masterpieces. It’s a great way to have fun, create memories, and bond with your kids.

What’s your favourite thing to do on a rainy day?

Family Favourite Books

One of my favourite books as a young child, and also as an early reader with three younger siblings was The Monster at the End of This Book.

I loved how silly this book was, and how each page had something we could point at and talk about with even the baby of the family. No matter how many times we read it, it still seemed incredibly hilarious that Grover could be afraid of a monster, the irony we understood even as small children. That family book was so loved it was read and ripped and taped and mended and sticky with fingerprints and probably drool. I got a lot of practice changing my voice for different characters when I read it aloud to them.

As an adult, my sister and I were given a box from our parents garage when they moved. It contained our Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake dolls and other miscellaneous things from our childhood. At the bottom of the box was the book! We both went for it at the same time and fought over it. We tried to arrange custody of this book in order to share it with our children. Then we realized you can still buy the book today! It even comes in different formats – I’ve seen it in board book style, paperback style, even with buttons that make Grovers voice. To this day, I still fondly remember time spent with this book ;)

My seven year old daughter has a well-loved book that she will read over and over again to herself, to the cat, to the dog, to anyone who will listen: Harold and the Purple Crayon. She secretly wishes for a purple crayon of her own, I am sure. Its a classic. I had forgotten all about this book until she brought it home from the school library over a year ago. SInce then I have found a complete collection of all the Harold stories for her. I had no idea that Harold had more than one story to tell, but then there is no end to what a boy can do with a magic purple crayon, now is there? Does anyone else remember Harold?

A favourite author of mine in childhood was Roald Dahl. Known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, BFG, The Twits, and Fantastic Mr. Fox to name a few.

Every year I volunteer to read to a variety of age groups in my children’s schools during wonderful Read In week (the first week in October). One year stands out to me because of the special gift I received afterwards. I had read The Twits and Esio Trot to a grade 5 class. They howled with laughter at the stories. This is not unexpected when reading Roald Dahl. What was unexpected was a few days later I received some thank you letters from the children in that class. In true Esio Trot fashion, each one was written completely backwards. What fun that must have been for the class to have to write their thank you’s and their favourite parts all backwards, and even more fun for me deciphering each one. I reflected back to when I was in school doing a book report on this author. If only I had been clever enough to compose the entire report backwards for my teacher!

 

Never Give Up

This is a story of never giving up…

After one year at the Africa Centre doing Rhymes That Bind, I’ve finally broken the ice with a little boy. He’s been my toughest challenge yet. Not because he’s a difficult child. He is shy, he began coming with speech difficulties, and English is not his first language. He has an older brother who comes and loves to run, and challenges his mother. Mom has her hands full with two older children in school and these two boys a year apart in age. There were many times where you could see her on the verge of tears, her older son pushed her limits to the end. She persisted in coming to RtB and other programs that ran out of the Africa Centre. With the help of staff at the Centre and some friends encouraging her not to give up, she continued doing all she could for her boys. She knew it was important for her older one to learn social skills before he starts school. She also knew it was doubly important for her younger one to have the benefits of the oral language we offer in our program.

I am so pleased with how this story has turned out. The older child now sets a better example for the younger ones. He has shown great improvements in how he talks to his mother, and other adults. He HELPS me in the program!!! but…the biggest moment for me was the little shy guy: with limited verbal skills, and mild speech delay (not sure if it was because he chose to be silent). He has begun talking to me, we have found things in common (he likes spider man), and he started giving high fives. Now he insists on hugging me and wants to be my partner for the RtB hour. I love listening to him talk, he has an adorable accent, but his speech is so clear. What a change!!!! Their mother is now beaming with pride most days. She is my most consistent participant!! Even when the weather is bad, the roads are icy, and it’s freezing cold, often the Africa Centre will not run their programs in those conditions because their families don’t come out. Not any more, this mom does! This mom wants to be there! So do her boys, and now I look forward to each week when I get to see what else they will share with me.

I know in our program we are modelling for our parents, we are helping them bring skills to their homes and encouraging them to enjoy teaching their children. However at this program, this mother has taught me so much. She is an inspiration. She is who I think of when I think, never give up…

A Spooky Halloween Treat!

So it’s Halloween, let’s have some fun! I found this on the internet and immediately wanted to try making them for my older children’s halloween parties. Just think of the possibilities! Just use sugar cookie dough, shape it to look like fingers, add toasted almonds and cinnamon or cocoa for effect and what an interesting treat!

Has anyone tried this? Or do you have another favorite Halloween treat you would like to share?

Rhyming Anytime!

I have been teaching families over the past year a rhyme that I had just learned in the springtime. I love it, kids love it and parents quickly fall in love with it as soon as their wee ones utter the words tap tap tap.
It goes like this:
One little finger, one little finger, one little finger, tap tap tap
Put your fingers UP
put your fingers DOWN
Put them on your NOSE (and you repeat changing body parts)
A mom shared their version this past week, she is a mom of 2 girls that LOVE their barbies.
While driving in their vehicle she heard the girls make up their own version, it goes like this:
One little barbie, one little barbie, one little barbie, tap tap tap (as they hold up their barbies and tap them together)
Put your Barbies up
Put your Barbies down
Put them on your toes…  (repeat with a different body part)
hashtag: #RTB_Edm

Fall Rhymes

Fall brings the return of many things that fill our schedules, making life hectic once again. There is back to school, back to work, back to daycares, sports, piano lessons, etc.
Here is a favorite rhyme I share with the families in our programs. I’ve done this with my children since they were small to wind them down when they needed to get ready for bed, or even just needed some cuddle time (they still enjoyed it as they grew older and would not turn down an offer for a “treasure hunt”).
TREASURE HUNT
(Start by lying down next to your child, and gently rubbing their backs. then you trace your fingers up their spine as if they are “walking” fingers while saying)
We’re going on a treasure hunt,
X marks the spot (trace a giant X on child’s back)
Boulder here, boulder there (make a small circle on one side, then repeat on other)
Dot, dot, dot (trace 3 tiny circles across their back)
Crabs crawling up your back (now run hands up gently up their back like a walking crab)
Bubbles rolling down (roll hands and fingers down their back)
Tight squeeze (give them a hug)
Cool Breeze (gently blow on the top of their heads or on their backs)
Now you have the shivereeze ( now rub their whole backs like giving them goosebumps)
You will hear “again, again” every time!!!
 
And just for fun, here’s a Thanksgiving themed rhyme!
CHICKENS IN THE BARNYARD
(this one can be similar to Round and Round the Garden)
Chickens in the barnyard (make your fingers like the chickens running circles around your childs tummy)
Staying out of trouble
Along comes the turkey(now use pointer finger and thumb like they are creeping up to get the child)
ANDDD, Gobble Gobble Gobble!! (tickle your child while saying gobble gobble-what a turkey sounds like)
hashtag: #RTB_Edm