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 your little ones don't have the best concentration, or seem to tire quickly from monotonous work, then spice up their involvement by choosing fun locations where they can do their colouring, shapes, letter practice and so on. Some children are naturally challenged with arduous tasks such as practicing their letters or colouring in pictures, others get bored rather too quickly. If you have difficulty encouraging your little ones to settle down to do their work then try doing it outside at a garden table, or in the park at a picnic table. Maybe create a camp from a few old sheets draped around bushes, or if the weather forces you inside, drape a sheet or towels over a clothes airer. No space is too small for your little ones to cram in. They will enjoy it all the more if they are hidden from you.
Tasks such as colouring, writing, constructing jigsaws and the like take time and concentration. Many children don't persevere at these tasks for the time required but they are really important activities in order to encourage fine motor skills and problem solving, indeed, to help with concentration.
Build your little ones an 'office' space and tell them that they are 'going to work', something that they see parents doing. Young children love to mimic grown-ups and this will give them a sense that they are doing what you do. Relocate to a cafe, the local library or the park. Make an adventure of basic tasks and you will find that your children quickly lap up the excitement of doing otherwise very ordinary activities in a different setting.
Take your little ones to a park and look and listen to see animals communicating with each other, talk about how we talk to each other to communicate, and describe what other animals are doing. Look out for dog walkers who might be talking to their dogs, shouting commands to them. Look at how the dog responds, how do they show that they are happy? How do they play with their owners?
Listen out for birds calling to one another. When birds sing they are often exchanging song with a partner or potential mate. See if you can stand near to where a bird is singing and listen to its bursts of song. Then listen in the gaps between and see if you can hear thesame notes repeated back by another bird at a distance. Birds often exchange song in this way for minutes, you must just be patient to listen out for this and recognise that the communication is not simply one bird singing, but two birds exchanging notes.
Ponds should provide more evidence of animals communicating, especially when young ducklings have hatched. Look at how parent ducks protect their young from intruders - they will squawk at other birds and even people that step too close to their brood. Look at how ducks might peck each other to 'fight' over a partner. At the right time of year you might also hear the sounds made by frogs who make a terrific mating call, using sound to attract a partner.
Listen to what other noises you can hear from the park thamight interrupt birds communicating over distance. Can you hear the sounds of traffic? ...trains? ...aeroplanes? All this noise pollution has a detrimental effect on animals being able to communicate. Talk with your little ones about how this will impact their ability to communicate and demonstrate how you have to talk louder yourself as you approach the noise of traffic.
Playing games is the best way to teach children and now the weather is so lovely it's even better to be out in the garden or park while you are learning. Here are some matching and sorting ideas to try out with grasses and seeds for you to find.
- Pick some grasses and see how many you can hold without dropping!
- Match the grasses: Find grasses with feathery seeds and interesting leaves. Try to get 2 of each sort. Lay them in a line and see if the little ones can pair them up, matching the same 2 grasses together.
- Counting: Count the grasses together. Take a few away and count them again.
- Put the grasses in order according to their length. Sort them by size and line them up to see the size differences.
- Sort the grasses by shade and colour (if you have some green, some brown, some dark green).
- Blow: Hold each grass and see what happens when you blow them. Do seeds fly off, do they bend or break?
- Bug hunt: Sit and watch the grass for a while and see how many bugs and spiders you can spot scurrying about.
- Shhh: Sit down and listen to the noises you can hear: cars, buzzing bees, laughter, a siren.
- Picture: Take the grasses home and make a seed and grass picture with them.
As a follow-up diary project, put some seed into a pot of soil and watch over the next few weeks to see if the seeds germinate and grow into new plants?
This weekend is dedicated to our garden birds - the country’s biggest survey takes place with families all over the country grabbing pens and paper to record what birds come to their gardens. Teach your children about the different birds to be seen in your garden, talk about the different colours and how to identify each type of bird.
To participate in the bird survey, simply go out into your garden or to a local park and sit for an hour (quietly!) and watch for birds. Note down what species you see and count them as you spot them. They must land in the garden or park rather than fly over.
When you have observed for an hour, and have your results, simply log your findings on the RSPB website (www.rspb.org.uk). There is a handy print out sheet on the site too to help identify the birds and, you can get a copy of last year’s results too. Why not have your little ones draw a picture of your garden or the park with the different birds they have seen too? Try making a map to show where you spotted each bird.
This event has been taking place for some thirty years. There have been results from nearly 280,000 gardens which gives experts an idea of how bird numbers are diminishing.
It is also great fun, good number practice and you'll feel part of a great effort to keep our local birds. Happy Twitching!
With summer seeming almost a distant memory, it's easy to feel that there's nothing to do at weekends but to cuddle up at home and entertain the children with craft and games. There are, however, plenty of attractions and days out that remain open throughout the year, and visiting such places on a fine autumn or winter day can be very rewarding. Tourist numbers are undoubtedly down, so you can gain a richer experience visiting attractions that remain open. Smaller crowds also mean it's less frantic with your baby and young children. If you don't have children of a school age, then you'll find that the weekends outside of school holidays and half terms are quietest of all.
Attractions with animals invariably remain open all year round because even though the crowds may be small, the animals require just as much as care and attention as they do on a busy summer day! Animal attractions include zoos and farms, also animal sanctuaries and wildlife parks.
Whilst the majority of National Trust and English Heritage properties close over the winter months, many privately owned country houses, stately homes and castles remain open. These can offer a wonderful place just to 'get away' and enjoy lovely outdoor walks. Many such properties offer garden and grounds only tickets which often suit younger children who may not endure a traipse around a stuffy home!
Lots of towns and cities have local museums that also remain open throughout the year. If you are looking for something different to do in your area, try to discover a new museum that you perhaps didn't know existed before! Use the internet to search for attractions new to you nearby.
Wherever you live, you're never far away from some 'great outdoors', perhaps a National Park, a country estate, a local park, the coast, a wildlife sanctuary, reservoir or industrial space such as docks. All of these can make for a fun place to walk and explore no matter how young your children.
Exposing your children to interesting places from an early age will impart a curiosity for interesting places and learning in later life. Just because the traditional tourist season is over, don't write off the idea of great days out in the autumn and winter!
Tweeting is bird-watching and some people are obsessed! They travel the country for a sighting of a rare hawk or a possible glimpse of a migrating finch. However, tweeting with children can be great fun and a good way of introducing wildlife to them.
We've been obsessed with birdwatching for centuries. There are shelves of books in the library all about the birds that reside in different regions of the country and those that migrate and spend just the summer or winter in certain places. There are also lovely birdy books for children with a smaller selection of birds illustrated and presented in an accessible way.
So, how do we go about staring birdwatching?
At this time of year, its easier than ever to spot birds because there are no leaves on the trees! This means they can't hide away as easily as in the summer. Winter also brings migrating birds through, so you might spot more unusual ones! Start in your own garden or around your home. Even cities have a great selection of birds that roost in the buildings or in parks.
What equipment do we need?
If you have a bird watching book that's great. Take it along to the local countryside or park and use it as you look for birds. If not, jot down the characteristics of the birds you see and you can look it up in the library or on the internet when you get home to find out what it is called. Older children might want to scribble blocks of the colour that they see on each bird and you can then look up birds with those colours and confirm their sighting with pictures.
Do we need binoculars?
If you have binoculars, it adds to the fun so take them with you! If not, make the play the part and make some pretend binoculars with kitchen roll tubes, stuck together and some string attached to hang around you child's neck.
What do we do?
Simply sit still in your garden or in the park and wait! You'll probably hear the birds before you see them. Then just watch! See what the birds do, observe their colours, are they in a flock or alone. Try to identify them if you have a book with you, show the pictures to the children and ask them if that is what they see.
When you get home try to draw them and find our their names. You could even log your sightings in your ToucanLearn diary, noting what you see and where you see them. Happy watching!
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!