Being a teacher, I have always been so excited from the moment I set foot in university, to one day to be able to teach my own children. I don't mean at school I mean using my skills I have learnt + being able to implement them at home. I remember whilst study, thinking to myself, it should be mandatory for all parents to do this degree or at the very least a course on childhood development and psychology.
Hunter is starting to get to an age I can start and do more structured activities. I have been teaching him the day he was born and have been adjusting according to his age. Even though he is still little there are certain things we can do. My learning approach at school is the same at home. A Montessori philosophy which is based on life skills (developing and nurturing the child as a whole firstly - manners, emotional intelligence, empathy, problem solving, kindness) and activities that relate to the real world, focusing on the child's strengths whilst creating an arena that supports and works on their weaknesses (yep! Even at 15months old!). I will do a blog post soon on our Montessori-inspired playroom and toys we use (mainly wooden - not just for aesthetics).
Today I want to share how to start activities for younger children whether it is a play date or an activity with your own child at home. We had a play date with my two nieces and nephew and the theme was Father's Day. Hope you find these tips useful!
Be organised + have a schedule:
I am all for creative + imaginative play and allowing children to direct their own learning. Playing for hours in the dirt, in the pool, in their playroom, riding bikes etc. But today I am talking about a structured activity or play date. Where you have a clear learning intention and goal for your child or their friends to complete. If you are having guests, let them know what time you would like them there. It is important for structured activities to have a time frame especially for younger children who still may have naps. It is important to stop for snacks as children use a lot of energy. Also rule of thumb - attention span is based on their age. Eg. A 2 year old has an attention span of 2 minutes, 5 year old = 5 minutes. Have all your materials organised and set up and food prepared before they arrive, as this makes the day flow easier and accommodates for accidents or new learning opportunities. Even though it is important to have a schedule, be flexible for the activity to go in its own direction. Watch how your child responds, if they are really enjoying something don't stop, go with it.
Have a theme + focus:
This just helps to create excitement for learning plus allows you to focus on what you want your child to achieve. It doesn't have to be complicated, it can simply be, to use scissors, to share resources or to make a Father's Day card!
Be clear and set expectations:
Kids love to know what they are doing and what is expected of them. It creates a safe environment. When they arrive or when you start your activity, tell them what the theme is and what they will be doing/making and how you expect them to behave. For example; we will be making Father's Day cards (4 each, one for Dad, grandfathers and an uncle). When you have finished with paint on your hands, put your hand up and an adult can help you wash it off, only one person can use the scissors at time etc. For older children (from 3+) I use a traffic light system which I will write a seperate blog post on later.
Provide examples of your activity:
This is so important and often skipped (at home and in the classroom). Whilst it is important to remind kids that they can do their craft how they like, providing an example is a visual example of what you are teaching them. Learning shouldn't be a 'guessing' game, it should be an opportunity to practise a new skill. For Father's Day craft, make or print out examples of different options they can make, remind them they aren't limited to these though!
Protective clothing + wipes:
Make life easier and have kids in smocks, plastic table clothes, old towels, buckets to wash hands and wipes all readily available! This will save your life. You want a fun and relax environment for play and learning, not a chaotic one.
Snacks + Food:
Have snacks and lunch prepared. Depending on the length of activity and age of child, I usually like to stop for morning tea but if your activity is short and lunch will be served soonish, have a plate of healthy snacks with some treats (optional). Have them scattered on the table with drink bottles. Sometimes children get distracted because they are just simply thirsty. In the classroom I always let kids have their water bottles on their table. Imagine if you weren't allowed to have a drink bottle on your desk at work and only allowed to eat or drink when you were told to. This keeps energy levels up and allows for the shorter attention span. Have a healthy lunch prepared! Have the table set nicely seperate from the activity area. Watch them ate, after a full morning of learning!!!
Know activity level according to age but don't restrict! Open-ended tasks:
For this particular activity we had 2x 4 year olds, 1x 2 year and 1x 15month old. So very varied. But very manageable. With the younger children still show them the end product and let them choose colours (language development is a must) and pointing out tools (scissors, glue, paint). The older children let them choose what they want to make. Cleaning up is definately part of the activity. Just because children are the same age doesn't mean they have the same abilities, strengths or weaknesses. One child might get overwhelmed with all the cleaning up, give them a specific task and praise them when they complete it. For example, pack up all the red items rather than all the paints. Also remember don't restrict children's learning. Let them take the lead. Rather than saying colour in the card, allow them to choose the materials, or how they want to create the card (example they may want a circle or heart shaped and paste pieces of paper together). And let them do it, assist but don't do or over take!
Provide choice but not too much:
Don't go out and buy every piece of craft activity in Kmart. Less is more. Allow children to choose how they want to create or make but don't overwhelm them. This is really important with toys too. When children have too many choices, they don't learn problem solving as if something doesn't work they will just move onto the next and it limits creativity. It also encourages greed. Teach them sustainability from a young age.
Get dirty!!! Let them get covered in paint. Let's them play in the dirt. Let the play room or activity be a mess. Part of the activity is cleaning together after. Know their limits. Obviously a 15month old can't write therefore let them have fun creating, scribbling, painting and you can write the message for them later, don't think they have to do it all.
Share their work:
Probably one of the most important steps. Whether it is for a gift or a scribble drawing. Share their work with each other, wrap it together in a gift, take a photo of it or put it on the fridge. When children see their work is appreciated and has a purpose, learning becomes meaningful and worthwhile.