There are some great playgrounds and play parks all over the country ranging from marvelous gated parks such as the Princess Diana Memorial Play Park in Kensington Gardens, London where the huge Peter Pan pirate ship play ground is surrounded by sensory gardens and a musical maze, to the tiny play park at the end of the round. Whatever facilities you have nearby, it's great to get out and enjoy the parks with the children.
However, there are thousands of accidents in play parks each year ranging from broken bones to concussions and sprains.
The age group at the highest risk are those between 6 and 9.
Play it Safe
Obviously you don't want to ban them from going to the playground, because you're scared they will fall over and hurt themselves, because its healthy to be out in the fresh air, exercising, practising physical skills and developing their social skills. However, you don't want to end up in A&E with a broken limb! Yes, there are risks, yes they may fall,but here are some tips to reduce the chance of accidents.
- Check the equipment: give a quick look round to check the apparatus looks sturdy and safe... especially if you are on holiday abroad in a new place that you don't know well.
- Talk about playground rules before you go in. Ask the children what they know already and make sure they understand how to play safely. This should include: not going near moving swings, holding on tight to swings and climbing frames, keeping shoes on etc.
- Make sure they don't touch anything they find that looks unusual or unfamiliar. Instead they should come and find you.
- If they break a rule, warn them they will be removed from the park if they do it again and explain why the need to play safely... and stick to it if they do disobey you!
- Report any breakages to the park authority.
- Have fun!
At this time of year there is so much going on in the garden - here are a few ways of introducing some wildlife to your outside space.
- Any bird-feeder whether the most expensive fancy gizmo from a garden centre, or just a plate of seeds on a table will encourage feathery birds into your garden. You may even see something exotic if you're lucky!
- Birdhouses: Fit a couple of bird boxes or reed bird houses in your garden to encourage birds to stay and move in! Site them fairly high and in well sheltered positions.
- Plant flowers that attract insects such as lavender, thyme and Buddleia.
- For bugs and ladybirds, and even frogs if you're lucky, keep a pile of old branches or logs in a shady spot. They will be attracted to the warm, dark, damp atmosphere and will set up home. Not one for those mums scared of spiders!
- A water bath can be as simple as a saucer of water and this will encourage birds to bath or drink in the garden.
- Worms and centipedes love compost so how about create a compost heap or compost bin and encourage some long, slithery worms to the garden.
- Throw some wild flower seeds on a patch of soil or grass. The pretty flowers will grown and provide a meadow-like patch which is really pretty and easy to maintain.
- Try not to cultivate all areas of the garden. Leave some damp leaves or grass cuttings in a pile to welcome bugs frogs, hedgehogs and spiders looking for a home.
- Take cuttings from friends and family and plant your own trees and shrubs for free! Just pop any cuttings into a pot of soil and see how your garden grows! Great fun!
Most of all, get the children involved and get them muddy too! Nothing is more exciting for a toddler or pre-schooler than dirty hands, mucky knees and a brown, muddy smudge on their nose! Start a diary project and draw what you do and what you observe in the garden.
Maths and counting and numbers may not be your preferred subject and it may bring back memories of dreading the maths lessons as school and struggling over homework, but it doesn't have to be like that! While hard sums are a long way down the line for our children, it's a great idea to get them in the swing of counting and using numbers, even when they are small, so they are confident when they get older. It will serve as vital building bock for future maths.
Here are a few simple way of incorporating numbers, counting and sums into your toddler's life. You'll see how easy it is!
- Count together at every opportunity: Count when drying toes and fingers, when marching up stairs, when passing trees, when stepping along the road to nursery, when passing cars in the street. Make it something you do at least once on every outing! It needn't be counting to 100; just to 10, and then 20, is a great start.
- Sort things: Arrange things in order and sort into groups. Mix coloured bricks or trains and cars and ask them to sort them into piles. All yellow bricks here and all red bricks there! Sort the washing together, sort the food after shopping: fruit here and vegetables here.
- Cooking: Make a cake together and mix in spoonfuls of raisins or cherries, measure and mix together to make a delicious cake. Or simply cut vegetables and count a few for each person at dinner.
- Shapes: Go round the house naming shapes, or when out for a walk spot things that are a particular shape: rectangle letter box, round, sign, square garage.
- Compare Size: Find the big book and the small book. Ask which is widest, which is longest? Sort books or other objects into size order.
- Patterns: Teach patterns and talk about patterns. Sort coloured blocks and make patterns with them or look at patterns on clothing or in books.
- Bath time: Even in the bath measure and pour water into little jugs. Talk about full and empty.
Making learning fun is the fundamental ideal of ToucanLearn, it's fun and learning for you and your little ones!
Watching your little one skip and prance around a church hall wearing a sweet ballet skirt and pretty little ballet shoes is undeniably cute. However, why should we bother introducing ballet or any kind of dance into the lives of pre-schoolers?
- Ballet is fun: The children's dance routines and exercises are made to be fun. So they all enjoy the dance and stories that are told by the ballet teacher.
- Exercise: It is great exercise!
- Musicality: Listening to and dancing in time with music helps withtheir musicality. If they may learn an instrument one day, being aware of music and timing when dancing will be fo great help.
- Strength: It is physically demanding so therefore a great way to build strength and fitness and indeed flexibility.
- Posture: They learn how to stand and walk correctly, which is a great lesson to learn early with regards posture and avoiding back pains from poor posture. They also learn co-ordination and how to use their bodies.
- Balance: They learn all about balance and how to correct themselves when unbalanced. This is a great skill to have for dance but also for other sports and physical activities.
- Mentally challenged: Those who find school difficult often excel in ballet because they feel they can express themselves more freely and easily when moving than when sitting still in class. They are mentally challenged in a ballet class, but in a different way.
- Social Skills: Ballet is a great chance to make new friends and to have fun with other children in a like minded environment. They communicate about different things and work together as a team.
- When to start?: Children can start as soon as they want to and if there are classes available from as young as three, then enrol them! They may not display much balletic prowess at this age, but they will begin to watch and learn from others.
Choose a class that is fun focused and that it is an accredited school either the Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) or Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).
Messy Play is a fun and important part of play - babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers are always delighted to get their hands stuck in to some messy play. They get to feel and touch items and substances they wouldn't normally handle. But, it is also useful for the beginnings of mark-making and ideal for observing their world and how different ingredients change when mixed up. Most importantly - it is fun!
Get a large tray such as a baking tray with fairly deep sides to use when doing messy play. Add some ingredients to the tray and encourage the little ones to mix and feel and play with the substances.
- Flour: Place some flour on the tray. Get some small toys to drive through the flour to make tracks. Mix with spoons and sprinkle with glitter to make it sparkly.
- Flour and water: Add some water to make it slushy and really messy! Great fun!
- Oats: Add three spoon and bowls and some washable teddies and act out the tree bears story!
- Shaving foam: A cheap can of shaving foam can be sprayed on the tray and used to make patterns and marks with spoons and tools etc.
- Jelly: Make up some different colours and cut them up with blunt knives, mix them and squelch them together.
- Pasta: Different shaped pasta and rice can be mixed, sorted and sprinkled. Let the children use their imagination. Make necklace by threading onto string if you have time.
- Cornflour: Mix cornflour and water to make a heavenly gloopy, sticky messy substance to play with.
- Sand: Make a beach, add water in a bowl for sea and mix it all together. Make letter shapes and patterns in the sand or drive through some favourite toys or cars.
- Water play: Put some water in a sink or old baby bath and use it to play! Fill containers, make showers, sprinkle with glitter, use spoons and ladles and have fun! Add ducks or some dolls to wash.
Remember to protect clothing, floor, tables and keep any valuables away from the mess. Have fun!
Whether they are learning to read, just looking at the pictures or starting to sound out letters, whatever stage your child is at, it is vital to get them enthusiastic about books. No matter the style of book, whether it is the latest release or an old favourite from your own childhood, or if it is from a book shop, a library or is borrowed - get them excited about books. Here are some easy ways!
Bring it alive: That doesn't just mean fun voices and emotion in your voice when you read... why not introduce some sensory experience too. If it's a book about a fish, swimming in rough water, panting to get to the party on time to eat cake... why not get them to take their socks off and paddle in a few inches of water in the bath, then run on the spot and have a mouthful of cake for them to eat along with the characters!
Pictures: There are some super illustrations in children's books, so sometimes just look at the pictures. Spot things, talk about what's not mentioned in the story but that feature in the pictures. Focus on one thing and make up your own little story.
Familiar books: If you have read a book too many times for your liking, talk about changing the ending and decide what else could happen. Change the character and discuss how different animals or people would make the story different.
Other means: Try all sorts of books, cloth books, out sized books, ones with lots of words or just a few. No matter the age of your child, they will get something out of looking or reading a new book, even if its not officially aimed at their age.
Get everyone involved: If you have family visiting get them to read a book or if your little one is starting to read, get them to read to your family or act out their favourite book. Do a puppet show with teddies or dress up in the characters and do a version as a play.
Library: The library will have books in different forms: A book you may have read may also be available in audio CD/spoken word format or as a cartoon or film on DVD. Use these formats too.
Write your own story together: Take some photos of things and print them. Then create your own story. Write the words in a book, stick in the pictures and it will become your own, unique masterpiece!
There are lots of ways to liven up story time, both for you and your little one! Try some of these tips!
- Do the voices! You may think you sound silly, but children LOVE it when you do the funny voices for different characters in the story you are reading! Make them laugh, and they will enjoy reading, words, communicating and the story itself even more!
- Have a special time of day for stories. This means you won't forget to have stories and you'll both get used to the time slot as part of your routine.
- Read in different places as a treat. Hide in the shed and read a story or go out to the park with warm coats and some warm milk and read there!
- Theme your stories. If you know your little one likes farms, then get some farm or animal books and read them one day at a local farm! Go look for pigs as you read about them in the book etc. Bring it all to life!
- Keep them alert! Ask questions as you go along: how many sheep in the field; What colour is the ball? etc.
- Recap at the end of the story. Go over the story together to make sure they have understood.
- At the end, go back through the book together and find out which bits were best, which pictures were most fun, what happened next?
- Don't force them. Encourage them to want to hear a story, but don't force them if they are overly reluctant otherwise they won't enjoy stories!
- Let them make choices! Get them to choose the book themselves. Look at it together and make sure its a good one etc!
- And, most importantly... have fun!
It's great to get outside whatever the weather, and winter outdoor activities take on a whole new meaning as we are wrapped up warm and have different things to focus on and play with. However, there are still dangers at large and here are a few pointers when it comes to making outside play safe and fun for children.
- Even if it's chilly and you don't fancy going outside into the garden with the children, do go out and check first that the garden is safe and free from any animal debris or faeces. Foxes can bring in all sorts of things (other people's shoes, rags, soft toys) that they have found in neighbouring gardens. So clean up any mess first using disposable gloves.
- When going out in the country, make sure children avoid any fresh manure. It may be interesting (!) but it should not be touched or dug up.
- Similarly, don't let the children wander too far into ditches or boggy land that may lead to problems.
- Be aware of what may have been put on the park flowers or indeed your own garden (manure, fertilizer, animal repellent etc.) Even though you may not be able to see the chemicals/treatment, they may still be present and can be dangerous if consumed.
- Make sure that kids know they can play in mud, but they must NOT touch their faces and MUST wash their hands thoroughly afterwards. If they are too young to understand these rules, they cannot be allowed to play in mud.
- Keep children away from water such as streams, ponds and lakes, especially when it becomes colder and they freeze over.
- Keep an eye on them, even if it's your familiar garden they are playing in.
Have, good, clean and safe fun!
Children love playing games: it's fun, it's easy and it's a great way of learning without even knowing it!
Early on, games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake and other nursery rhymes form the basis of children's games. This is how the idea of games actually starts. The little ones laugh and smile and begin to understand cause and effect: ie. each time teddy pops out from behind the cushion, it will make them jump and they will laugh! It sounds simple, but it's an early form of game-playing.
They will then progress to all sorts of other games: easy box games, then number, colour and letter games and eventually board games. At each stage they are learning different things and experiencing different ideas. The notion of a winner and loser; the notion of practising at something to get better; the idea that you need to make an effort and try hard at something to then enjoy the feeling of doing well etc.
What are the benefits of playing games? Does it really help in any way other than passing the time?
- Patience and fair play: they can't interrupt or snatch when playing a game. They need to learn to take turns.
- Fine motor skills: moving counters, placing items on a board, balancing things on a horse. Most board games help improve fine motor skills.
- Sportsmanship: they should congratulate the winner rather than get stroppy at not winning!
- Gross motor skills: many outdoor games involving balls, hoops, balancing etc. help with gross motor skills.
- Develop relationships: playing games helps improve and develop relationships between families and friends. Laugh, play and chat about the game together and see how much fun you all have!
- Thinking: as they play games, young children will begin to learn strategy - high dice rolls mean moving further, which squares to avoid because they have penalties etc.
- Keep games easy and short at the start. Don't make it too complicated or long winded.
- Don't let them win all the time! It is tempting but does them no good in the end.
- If they look tired or bored don't force them. Make games fun, not a chore.
- If ever they ask to play a game with you, try to say yes! They need as much encouragement and support as you can give.
- Try to play enthusiastically. You may not be in the mood to play, but try to make the games fun!
Surely, once children begin to read or learn their numbers they should be doing that in their spare time, rather than playing? This couldn't be further from the truth! In fact, children that play tend to become better and more attentive learners on average, and what you must remember is that when chidren are playing, the are learning the whole time too! This is what ToucanLearn is all about... sharing ideas of games, activities and crafts that are GREAT FUN, but we show you the learning elements too so you can see exactly what your little ones are actually learning about. As they are doing the activities with you, they are learning even more (Two CAN Learn much better than one)!
Do you need special equipment at each age stage in order to encourage your child to play?
NO! Play can involve anything (more or less!). From wooden spoons and saucepans, to folded socks and a washing basket! It can mean jumping in puddles to learn counting or throwing gloves to see how far you can get them or posting junk mail into a shoe box made into a letter box. All sorts of things can be used as long as you are there to help the game along!
What do children learn through play?
They learn about the properties of objects and how they work. That if you throw something hard, it will go far. They learn about their own limitations: they may be great on the scooter but not so confident on a bike. They learn about their environment (stairs and steps) and other places (on a walk to the park). They learn how to play with other children and how to interact with adults.
Will playing make them better at school?
Many studies have concluded that children that play with their parents are more curious and interested in learning. Playing is a great way to get them active and interested. It may also help their social skills and helps develop healthy relationships with other children.
Plus, possibly most importantly, by playing with your children, you are developing and securing your won relationship with them - which is absolutley vital.
So, just get out there and do some ToucanLearn activities, fool around, have a laugh and enjoy these special years when playing can be so much fun for your both!
Baby showers, long popular in the USA, are becoming increasingly common in the UK and other European countries - for those new to this tradition, we offer some fun ideas for games and activities. Before that, a word on protocol!
What is a baby shower?! Contrary to common belief, a baby shower does not take its name from showering the expectant mother with gifts. The name arises from Franz Schauer, a German immigrant and silversmith in New York who encouraged gift-giving amongst mothers-to-be. You should bring a gift along for the lucky expecting mother, but much of the rest of the evening harks back to 'hen night', with frivolous games and much fun! You may also be lucky enough to leave with a bag of 'favours', a goody bag to remind you of the event.
Here are some fun ideas for games that you could play at the next baby shower you're invited to:-
- Blind Tasting: Guests are blindfolded and made to sample a teaspoon of various baby foods - can they guess the flavours?
- Whos Who? Invite guests to bring along a photo of themselves as a baby - everyone must then work out who is who in the pictures.
- Dirty Nappies: Smear smelly sauces and foods into different nappies. You could put one 'smell' in each, or mix three different ones for a greater challenge! Blindfold the guests and have them guess the flavours. Try ketchup, HP sauce, coffee, peanut butter, mashed banana, mint sauce, chocolate sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and anything else that comes to hand! Catch out the mum to be with some really nasty odours - stilton cheese, garlic, chillies, tuna, Marmite and anything festering in your cupboards!
- Mummy Tummy: Pass a toilet roll around the guests, each one tears off a length as to how wide the expectant mother's girth is. The winner is the one tearing off the best fit!
- Nappy Brain: Bring out a tray of up to 20 items relating to babies (dummy, nappy, cream, socks, toy, rattle, bottle and so on). Everyone looks at the tray for one minute, then it's taken away, three items removed, and the guests must say what items have gone.
- Cotton Balls: Get two mixing bowls, a wooden spoon, cotton wool balls and a blindfold. Blindfolded guests have one minute to transfer the cotton wool balls from one bowl to the other with the wooden spoon. Sounds easy? Go try it out!
- Pillow Talk: As the mother-to-be opens gifts, one of the guests must secretly note down all the remarks made as she opens each gift. At the end, the observer reads out the list of remarks, telling all the other guests that these notes were made from outside the expectant mother's bedroom on the night the baby was conceived!
- Famous Babes: Prepare two sets of cards, one with celebrity's names and the other with the names of their babies. Guests have to match the celebrity with their baby!
- Down in One: Well, down in lots is more likely! Fill a series of baby bottles with equal quantities of drink - milk or water for purists and expecting mum, wine or beer for the more adventurous! Have guests quaff the drink as quickly as they can...leaving the teats intact!
Have fun, this could be the last fun evening the expectant mother has for a while!
The weather is warmer, the kids want to go out, but what can you do and why bother doing physical activity when you can just stay indoors? It's important to encourage youngsters to get active and get used to the idea of doing physical activity. Here are a few reasons why its important to do activities with children of all ages, because it helps them to:
- Be happy and have fun
- Sleep well at night
- Pay attention and learn at school
- Keep fit
- Grow strong and healthy
- Make new friends and try new things
- Become less stressed and anxious
- Control their behaviour
- Express themselves
How much exercise you do depends on you, but the advice is that it should be about an hour a day. Sound a lot? It's not really when you look at what's included:-
- Walking to school
- Swimming lessons
- Sports and dancing
- Physical games e.g. skipping rope, trampolining
- Climbing, physical play at a park
How can you help?
- Undertake activities together: try and do a family walk in the woods, or a family cycle ride every now and then
- Set tasks and challenges for your children to achieve, eg. run on the spot for 2 minutes, run between 2 chairs 10 times, throw and catch a ball 5 times
- Use your imagination: try doing some funny running or walking; run like a penguin with your legs together, waddle like a duck, gallop like a horse etc
- Try something unusual: let your children choose something new, eg. yoga, rugby, tumble time
- Help your child with basic skills so they feel confident and happy to build on those skills eg. ball throwing, skipping, running and jumping
- Praise and give lots of positive feedback
- Get some simple equipment to help them eg. scooters, skipping ropes, hula hoops, skittles
So, get outside and have some fun!
Toddlers can't read, so why do we bother with reading them books? The answer is simple: one day they will have to learn to read and if they like books, associate them with fun and good experiences, they will be more inclined to want to learn about letters and sounds and eventually reading.
Being able to read a book is a huge and marvelous gift. It opens the world up for little children and allows them to enjoy the fantastic stories that are available and help them learn at school. So, by reading to the toddlers and even babies, you're helping them for when they need to learn to read at school and indeed helping on their journey through school. Plus, even more important at this stage, introducing them to a wonderful world of stories and adventures!
So, what to do to make books fun! Here are a few tips:
- Read as often as possible! You can read a book in bed, while on a journey, in the morning. Have some cuddly time together when you read and make it cosy and comforting for you both!
- Try and bring the stories to life by using lots of expressions and funny voices! It will make your child laugh and will help you get through all the kiddie books without getting bored yourself!
- Talk about the stories together and try and guess what is going to happen.
- Let your little on choose the books. Read the favourites as many times as they want! Children love things that are familiar so they love hearing books over and over again!
- Try and encourage the children to say the rhyming bits with you or the catch phrase.
- Try and get as many book as you can! Go to the library, book sales, car boot sales and get a wide selection.
- Allow children to handle books all the time. Yes, teach them to be careful, but get board books if they are heavy handed and let the look at the pictures, feel the pages and turn the pages. You don't need to have a shelf of pristine books that no one is allowed to touch. Better a shelf of books that have been used, and read, and enjoyed for many years!