One of the joys of having preschool children is that you needn't be confined to your home - there are plenty of places that you can take young children that allow you the freedom to be out, and that extend their understanding of the world around them. When you think of places to go out with your children, some of the obvious places are the local park, playgroups and soft play - these are obviously child-oriented.
But consider also other places that might not otherwise spring to mind. Take them on a bus or a train - you don't need to head anywhere special, just take them for a ride. Take them to shopping centres not simply to shop, but to explore the spaces. Sit and talk with your little ones about what you can see. Go to your local library and swimming pool, visit any local museums or galleries.
Although you may not consider many of these spaces to be 'child friendly', preschool children will find plenty to keep them stimulated in even, what might appear to you to be, the most ordinary environments. Remember that the world offers so many new experiences for babies and toddlers and just being out and about will stimulate them far more than you might imagine. They are constantly taking in new sights, smells and sounds, and everything that they experience is building up their knowledge and understanding of the world. Babies and young toddlers will go wherever you take them and every day presents new adventures for them.
If you're not the sort naturally to be inclined to go on long walks, then make it into a great game and join the geocaching craze! If you've never heard of it, there's a whole secret world waiting to be discovered by you, and it starts just outside your doorstep! Take the kids out to your favourite parks and open spaces and you'll almost certainly find hidden treasure waiting for you - even in parks that you thought you knew like the back of your hand. The kids will quickly become addicted and you'll find yourself geocaching wherever you go.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt. All over the country, in fact the world, are thousands and thousands of little treasure chests. The majority are actually old film canisters (remember those?!) while larger ones might be small tupperware boxes. Inside you will find little toys and often a pencil and a log sheet. The idea is that you have to find them and when you do so, you are entitled to take one of the toys as a prize, but you must also replace it with something else for the next person. Small prizes might be a coin, marble, plastic soldier, rubber creepy-crawlies, or anything else.
How to find them? These things are, quite literally, littered across the nation. A central database has them all logged by GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude). If you have a smartphone then go along to your app store and you'll find a variety of apps to help you locate and navigate to these secret hideaways. Your mobile phone will help you arrive at the right place through its GPS system, you'll see your progress on an onscreen map as you close in on the cache. Coordinates are accurate to a few metres, and caches have a hint that helps you find them, often describing a tree or bench where the container will be found. Find out more and view the database of geocaches online at http://www.geocaching.com.
Going for walks is an ideal way to spend time with the family - it's free, it's healthy, it's outdoors, it's fun and educational and it's something you can all share together no matter your age or ability. You can do it with other families, on your own or with other family members. It can be a long, all day affair or just an hour trek. It can be in all sorts of different terrain: woodland, seashore, farm land or country paths. Most of all, it's something to enjoy!
- Getting the children out of the door: older children may have opinions on going for walks so do make sure you describe the walk as an adventure; an excursion or something exciting rather than just a walk.
- Think of activities to do while on your adventure: collect things (feathers, pebbles, leaves) or spot things (acorns, birds, animal tracks).
- Play "follow the arrow": take 3 sticks and arrange them in an arrow. Send the children ahead and get them to make the arrow shape that will guide you all home.
- Follow My Leader: get the children to decide on the route. Ask them which paths to take or which way to turn.
- Make a map: draw a map of the route as you go, marking on special land marks.
- Snacks: take snacks to keep energy high and moral positive! Offer snacks when they find things or spot something fun.
- Play camouflage: send the children ahead and get them to hide. When you are near get them to jump out and surprise you!
- Do other things along the way: if you see logs, try and climb them, if you spot a brook try and cross it and any good climbing trees must be conquered! Help the little ones to climb up - they will love it!
- Be prepared for weather changes: take waterproofs as you don't want to be caught in a shower!
- Take the right equipment: make sure everyone has wellies or walking shoes to avoid hearing moaning children (and adults!) if their feet get wet.
- Listen to the children: if they get tired, try not to force them to go on... it may put them off for ever!
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, its lovely to be outside in the warm weather but there are also some unwelcome bugs and insects that are beginning to show up too. Children are often afraid of wasps or bees as they buzz around and its hard for them to enjoy themselves sometimes for fear of being stung.
Try to explain that:
- on the whole, not many people are stung by bees and wasps when you think how many people are outside over the summer months.
- they should try to stay calm and still if one comes buzzing around
- wipe up after eating chocolate or ice lollies as the sugary smell will attract wasps
- don't wear perfumed sun cream
- always wear shoes outside even on the grass as bees and wasps do settle on the ground
- use non-perfumed shampoo and soap as the sweet smell is attractive
- use unfragranced baby wipes to wipe up spills/faces rather than the fragranced sort
If your child is stung:
- try to stay calm. Stings are painful but are rarely dangerous. Deal with the shock first so give plenty of support and comfort.
- elevate the stung area to reduce swelling and apply an ice pack or cold compress. A wet tissue soaked in water is good as the children can hold this to the sting themselves.
- if symptoms persist go to the doctor.
- if it was a bee sting, try to find it and remove it. Scrape the sting away side ways so no more poison is injected. Wasps don't leave a sting behind. The advice is not to use tweezers as if not done expertly, it can mean the sting goes further in and can be even more painful.
- if the sting is somewhere dangerous (mouth or throat) act quickly and get the child to the hospital as swelling could block their airway. Sucking on an ice cub or drinking ice cold water can help in the short term.
Young children, boys and girls, love camps - there's nothing better than a 'secret' place where they can hide from grown ups and feel inside a world of their own. As summer approaches, it becomes easier to build camps outdoors. Find a secluded spot in the garden and fashion some branches into a cover, or use an old sheet and drape it from the fence. You can even buy tents for next to nothing these days - the kids will go mad for that!
During colder months, and on days when the weather's not so good, you can build camps indoors. Erect your masterpiece in a spot where the children won't get in the way, bearing in mind that it may have to stay up for a few days! Use sheets or large towels, draped from furniture to radiators, or over clothes horses. Use clothes pegs to help secure your materials in place.
Young children love enclosed spaces in which to play. It really does become their own world set apart from the real one, and gives them a place that is theirs, where you cannot follow. They will quickly stockpile teddies, dinosaurs, dolls, tea sets, cars and all manner of kids' paraphernalia! Let them loose in their imaginative play, it's great for them to engage in pretend play, especially if they voice scenes between animals or teddies which helps them develop their language and thinking skills. Listen to them discretely from a distance and they will bring joy to your heart!
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!
It has been reported that teachers and carers who are afraid of spiders and creepy crawlies are stopping our children learning about the natural world! Children are not getting involved with nature because teachers and carers are afraid of getting mucky from soil in the great outdoors and are too scared of insects to teach about them.
Experts have said that natural history and nature in general is not being taught in schools. Not so for the childminders and parents who enjoy ToucanLearn! There are some great outdoors activities that introduce insects and teach children about their natural environment. We don't agree with the 'don't get mucky'! philosophy of learning and teaching! The whole idea is to get children involved. Get them interested and inspired! The muddier the better!
The Chairman of the Association for Science Education said teachers need more support to carry out experiments and take children outside. Perhaps these teachers should join ToucanLearn!
He also said that Parents should take their children outside to enjoy the natural world, to learn where their food comes from, what grows in the woods and what goes on in nature.
So, let's take his lead, pull on some wellies, grab a magnifying glass and get out there in the undergrowth! Have fun, explorers!
Sports day is a fun feature of summer, but toddlers who aren't old enough to attend school miss out on all this fun - why not hold your own 'Sports Day' for your littlest children and some of their friends?! Invite two or three other mum's round with their little ones, set up a picnic outside for everyone, and make up a few races for them to compete in. If it's hot, ensure there are plenty of drinks on hand!
Sports concentrate on improving motor skills and coordination, so think of some fun events that help do this. If your little ones are two young to walk or run, then many races could be held at a crawl instead. If you have a mix of ages and capabilities then introduce handicaps for the more capable children to give the littlest ones a fair chance of winning something. If you're tight for space then rather running races in parallel you can time each child one after the other. Here are some ideas:-
Flat race: have your little ones run from one end of the garden to the other, or in a loop around the garden.
Egg and spoon race: good old fashioned fun! Have your babies walk or run from one end of the garden to the other balancing a hard boiled egg on a spoon all the way. Afterwards you can add the eggs to your picnic!
Sack race: give each child a sack and have them jump from one end of the garden to the other. Shopping bags would make a suitable 'sack' but make your little athletes understand never to put bags over their heads.
Obstacle course: make up an obstacle course with your little ones having to run around, over and under objects placed around your garden.
Bat'n'ball race: have your little one hit a ball around a course in your garden - use a tennis racquet, cricket bat or any other makeshift bat.
Balancing act: if you don't have bean bags, find other items such as teddies, dolls or toy cars that your little ones can place on their heads and balance round a course.
Make up some certificates and award them at the end of each race. You'll have great fun holding your own sports day; you'll enjoy watching your children perform, and they'll have so much fun trying out the different races!
Getting active with the children is not always as easy as it sounds: how can you fit any more activity time in an already busy day? Here are some simple ways to increase the activity levels in your family. Remember, every little bit counts, so keep a note of all these activities and work out your daily total of minutes spent being active.
- Music Time - turn on some groovy music and have a good old dance together!
- Encourage your toddler to walk up the stairs or to the car rather than being carried. For older children, encourage them to tidy up after themselves or put away toys or washing at the end of the day.
- Walk to the shops and post box rather than take the car.
- Get the little ones involved with household chores: digging in the garden, sweeping the floor, washing down the garden shed.
- Go for a walk as a family - find somewhere with woods and climb up the trees or balance along fallen tree trunks.
- Have a time limit on TV watching.
- Think about some old fashioned games that are fun to play outside: hop skotch, skipping, chase, hide and seek, hoolahoop, flying a kite.
Children should do about an hour of physical activity each day. See how close you are and praise them each time they want to do something physical. It is so good for them to start out actively as children, because then they are more likely to stay active as they grow older.
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!
New research has found that one in ten children will be obese in the next five years - what a staggering statistic! Research carried out at the University of London studied statistics between 1995 and 2007. The health survey for England provided the data which takes a sample of UK households.
If the trend continues, then researchers predicted that 1 in 10 boys aged between 2-10 will be obese by 2015, and approximately 1 in 9 girls. In lower income families the statistic was slightly worse. They said 'these increases will affect the lower social classes to a larger extent'.
The research was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health - let's hope the predictions don't become reality. It's so important to get kids up and moving from an early age.
Children who are overweight at a young age risk greater likelihood of health problems in later life, including diabetes and heart disease. Children who are more active in their first few years are statistically more likely to maintain an active lifestyle when they are older.
There is so much that parents and carers can do and its one area where you don't need to spend much money. Going to the local play park, setting off on nature walks round your neighbourhood, heading off the woods and climbing on fallen tree trunks, even walking or scooting to school instead of driving. Enjoy an active lifestyle with your children and they will benefit for years to come. Premium Members of ToucanLearn can search for 'Physical Development' activities 'Outdoor' and find lots of fun games and activities to do outside, specifically aimed at the capabilities of their children!
Lots of families visit local parks frequently during the summer months. Keep things fresh and exciting by playing some new games. Take along a kite to fly or maybe a boat to float on a pond. Throw pebbles into the water or try to hit leaves of plants on the opposite side of the river bank. Make a 'secret camp' in the bushes. Don't forget the ducks - take along any stale bread and give the ducks a feast. Or, take along a picnic and enjoy your own feast. Perhaps try something new: pitta breads, or wraps for a change from sliced bread. Hunt for different leaves or special pebbles or pine cones, collect them up, take them home and make a collage from all the different things you find!