For some families, especially with those one parent away on military service or working far from home, there is the added stress of a parent being absent for long periods of time. How best can you cope with this added complication?
Although it may be difficult and strange at first, the fact is that you can make it a positive time for the children as well as yourself. How? Here are a few tips.
Keep busy: establish a routine and try to stick to it. Keep yourself busy too and keep in touch with your friends and family during the absence. You may wish to keep a diary and note you experiences, feelings and how you cope... good or bad! It's a private journal, so be honest.
Stress: it's easy to say 'avoid stress', but you can help with regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle. You don't need to go crazy... a good brisk walk around the neighbourhood can do wonders for your stress level and help reduce tension.
Help: ask for help when you feel it is getting too much. Call in some favours and get friends round or ask to drop over for dinner. Organise an occasional night out with your friends... get a babysitter or call on family to mind the children while you have some fun with your own friends.
Phones and letters: communicate as much as you are able with your loved one: email, skype, text, phone, write; do whatever you choose best and keep it regular. It will help them as well as your little ones. Involve the children by sending packages together and letters with their drawings and pictures.
Talk: make sure you speak to the children and share your worries, and experiences with them. They will feel more involved and will be a great comfort.
Remember it's just as difficult for the absent parent, missing seeing their family, as it is for you. Good Luck!
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.
Over the last decade, more and more celebrity books are appearing on children's bookshelves in bookshops. Amazingly, the likes of Madonna (The English Roses), Dolly Parton (I Am A Rainbow) and Jennifer Anniston (The Prettiest Actress) considered themselves worthy additions to the creations of AA Milne (Winnie The Pooh), Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) and Dr Seuss (The Cat In The Hat).
I wonder in a "Blind Submission" whether a celebrity's book would still make the grade. Would Jamie Lee Curtis (Is There Really a Human Race?) make it to publication or Sarah The Duchess of York (Tea for Ruby), for that matter, without her name on the cover or the press attention it creates? Would a child or a parent choose a celebrity title when placed along side a new Eric Carle (Very Hungry Caterpillar) or Ludwig Bemelmans (Madeline)?
The publishers choose to accept the book because they know, sadly, that the general public will buy a book by a celebrity rather than a non-celebrity, but nonetheless excellent other author, despite the fact it may not be as good! The publishers, naturally want to make money!
It must be frustrating for genuine, hardworking, long suffering children's authors. The celebrities' books probably get the best spots on the shelves and zoom up the publisher's lists, demand greater advances and win more publicity. The celebrities probably get the best interview requests and go on the better tv shows to talk about their books. And, as they are probably not trained, they don't understand the "rules" of children's publishing so the end result is not that good!
For example, when writing for children it is vital that the author doesn't scare the children; they should create suspense without terrifying them. The words must be understandable but not patronising. The story must be structured but not so much that it is confusing. The writing shouldn't be too moralistic or try to teach too many lessons. Overall, and most importantly, it needs to be a good story! It's as simple as that.
Of course, some would argue that children don't know who Whoopi Goldberg (Sugar Plum Ballerina) is and she actually made it to the New York Times Best Sellers List! is. But the parents, the ones paying for the books, do! Julie Andrews has written children's books, but under her unmarried name. This is more like it!
A lovely way to get little ones involved and interested in reading and writing is to give them their very own letter box. This is a way to encourage them to send and receive notes between their friends and family.
Find a cardboard box and decorate it. Place it somewhere the little ones can reach (outside their bedroom door or by the front door) and post them some mail now and again. Normally it is best to do this overnight, so they wake up In the morning and find a note waiting for them.
It might be a note from the tooth fairy. Or you could write a note to say how good they have been at nursery. Its easy to print a certificate to say they have been good about going to bed or some other activity. Members can find personalised certificates in Fun Stuff at www.ToucanLearn.com.
The notes need not be long, complicated letters. Simply write a short message on a piece of paper, add a heart or a smiley face and leave it for them to find. They will be intrigued by what it says. You could leave a picture for them to colour in or a hand drawn dot to do for them to complete. A little special gift (a pencil, sticker or play ring) could be attached too as a special treat. If you are good at folding, you could leave a paper fan or a paper plane.
Always make time to read the notes to your child, even if you wrote them yourself, and encourage them to leave you notes, drawings, scribbles too. Then you will have an idea of how nice it is to receive them!
Colouring has to be the number one activity, entertaining children around the world on a daily basis, but what does it teach? As with so many baby and toddler activities, colouring assists learning across a broad spectrum of skills:-
- Fine motor skills: this is all about coordination, young children will learn to hold crayons and to control their hand movements. Such control is essential before your children can start writing so colouring is a precursor to being able to write.
- Knowledge and understanding of the world: exposure to different pictures to colour in will help to teach children about the world around them; talk about the scenes that they are colouring, and make sure that they know what each object in the scene is, this will broaden vocabulary as well as nurture a wider contextual understanding.
- Colours: colouring helps your little ones learn their colours. Children will also begin to learn the effect of mixing different colours.
- Concentration: colouring will help your children to concentrate on a project and to see it through to its conclusion.
There are so many lessons that colouring a simple picture can teach. Make sure you always have a small pack of crayons in your handbag, and a sheet or two to colour in (you can quickly find pictures to colour on the Internet, we have lots at ToucanLearn!). The next time you find yourself having to wait somewhere with your little ones, or stuck in traffic, you'll be grateful that you can just whip out some colouring, and your little ones will be improving themselves along the way.
'Mark making' is the action of making marks on paper with a writing implement and defines the beginning of the journey to literacy - the ability to read and write. Long before a baby is able to make marks there are skills that must be learned in order to control the body, developing both fine and gross motor skills, as well as a mental grasp of making marks on paper. Here are some ideas to help your child gain the confidence to make marks and some ways to encourage them at the various stages of development. From the earliest age babies and toddlers can be preparing to learn writing in later life, and the earlier they start, the more confident they will be.
Up to one year the adult needs to:
- encourage the child to explore
- encourage lots of large muscle control activities such as crawling, rolling
- join in with these activities
- show an interest in random marks
- provide toys that can be gripped easily
18 months - 2 years the adult needs to:
- show lots of interest in the marks made
- look at patterns and marks together and try out new shapes to draw and scribbles
- give your child the chance to see your writing and write in front of them (look at books, notes and cards etc)
- provide lots of materials to write with and to write on
- play with your child and imitate their marks and suggest they watch and copy your marks too
2 - 3 years the adult needs to:
- point out your child's name and look at other letters and words in your house/town
- look at shapes and the scribbles together and show a real interest
3 - 4 years the adult needs to:
- show your child how to write letters and words and read them back
- show how to use different writing materials
- talk about letters and pictures the child has drawn
- show how to write notes and cards and lists etc.
- show lots of interest in their creations
- show the child that writing is useful e.g. messages in cards, words in a book, instructions for a game
- encourage them to write their name on their pictures and displays
- identify familiar letters in names
- show them how to hold the pencil correctly
Up to 5 years old, an adult needs to:
- show how to read a book from left to right
- show them different names of people they know and talk about them
- encourage correct letter formation
- encourage a child to talk about their drawings and writing
It may look like scribbles to us, but from a very early age, the marks that children make on a page are an important step towards learning to write and communicating; through their marks children are communicating their ideas, showing us how they feel and developing their imagination. They are also being creative - however messy or scribbly their picture or words look. Having lots of opportunities to make marks is fundamental and every child should have the chance to draw, scribble, make lines and pictures when ever they want.
From the moment a baby holds a crayon and makes their very first mark on a page, their journey towards writing has begun. But it needn't be a conventional pencil they write with first on a clean sheet of paper. There are all sorts of other ways to get babies and toddlers used to the idea of mark making.
By a year old, a child can grasp and reach for objects by choice and at this age it is good to introduce all sorts of media to their world in order for them to be confident when using different materials. They can grip objects with the palm of their hand, use a pincer movement with thumb and finger and point. So once they can do this, they can begin mark making using things other than pencils.
Babies start mark making by:
- Making patterns in food (using a spoon to squash mash potato and make lines and curves)
- Putting their fingers in spilled baked beans and making patterns with their finger (messy, but it's a start!)
- Smearing jam over their arm and making interesting marks
Early stages of writing:
- Holding a pencil or crayon in the palm of the hand
- Making lots of random marks on the paper (scribbles!)
- Holding crayons more securely
- Making specific marks
- Making circles that they draw closed (ie a round circle that joins up)
- Combining circles and lines
- Copying adult's drawings
- Making lines of zig-zags or little circles more like lines of writing
Although it is only scribbling, those early marks made by a toddlers are the first steps towards writing... and its a long journey. The best way is to encourage and praise at every stage - even when you are presented with a mass of scribbles and you are told its a giraffe! To the little ones its clearly a giraffe. To us, its a smudged, messy page of lines and circles. So, try and be enthusiastic and encourage at every step.
Beginning legible Writing
- The child then begins to copy letters from their name - the first letter is usually their first one to choose.
- They understand that drawing and writing is different
- They are aware that words communicate a message
- They then form symbols and letters that they recognise (favourite letters they know well)
- They become aware of the left to right nature of writing
- They then begin to want to "read" their words and other words
Beginning to write Words
- They then are able with practice to start writing their name with upper and lower case letters
- They write sentences
- They use upper case letter at the beginning of the sentence and add a full stop at the end
- Start using words in play such as writing a list or playing schools and writing lists of names
It may look like scribbles, but from a very early age, the marks that children make on a page are an important step towards learning to write and communicate. Through their marks children are communicating their ideas, showing us how they feel and developing their own imagination. They are also being creative no matter how messy or scribbly their picture or words look to us when they have finished.
Give your child regular opportunities to make marks, draw, scribble, make lines and create pictures - at home, in the garden, in the park, at the restaurant, in the car. There are lots of times you can settle them down to draw and write and keep themselves entertained at the same time!
From the moment a baby holds a crayon and makes their very first mark on a page, their journey towards writing had begun. It may not be a conventional pencil used to write on a clean sheet of paper, but there are all sorts of other ways to get babies and toddlers used to the idea of mark making. Here are a few ideas to begin with:
- Salt Tray: Sprinkle salt into a tray and let your child make swirls and lines and marks. Put some tools in there too so they can use those.
- Cornflakes: A tray of cornflakes makes a crunchy media to play with and make marks in. Listen to the noise as you crunch them and let them fall between your fingers.
- Flour: A tray of flour is great for mark making as the lines remain. When they want a clean tray to write in, just shake it flat. Or add water making it gooey and slimy. Great fun!
- Textured messy play: Add lentils, beads, pasta to wet flour and make it more textured.
- Finger paint: Draw pictures and make marks with finger paints.
- Sky write: Get children to make letters in the sky.
- Back writing: Draw shapes on a child's back and see if they can make it out.
- Sand tray: Draw a shape or letter in a tray of sand and get your child to trace over it. Shake the sand flat to start again.
- Chalk: Draw letters and patterns on a chalk board or pavement
- Pencils and crayons: Get lots of different and fun crayons and pencils for your child to experiment with. Each feels different and makes different marks.
- Paper: Get different types of paper, colours, textured, lined etc and have fun working with each sort.
Writing is a vital skill that children will eventually use over and over again in all subjects at school. Whether writing up an experiment in a science lesson, writing a story in an English lesson or writing about their favourite sport, writing is unavoidable. But, learning to write can be tricky to start with and some children are simply put off by all the complications of writing. This is easily avoidable and because writing is so vital at school and indeed in the adult world too, it's important to introduce children to writing in a fun and positive way. Then, these early skills will be built upon and writing will be the next step.
Some ideas to make learning to write a positive experience:
- Spend lots of time talking to your child and listening to them.
- Read lots of stories - whenever and wherever you can. Try all sorts of books with all sorts of pictures. As they get to school age, introduce non-fiction books: how things work, children's books about topics they like such as cars, trains, dancing etc.
- When writing yourself (shopping lists or notes to school or nursery) encourage your child to watch and see you write words. Encourage them to write too.
- Get some fun paper to practice writing on: different sizes, textures, colours etc.
- Get some good (and fun!) pens and pencils for them to use.
- Give lots of praise if they do manage to write and don't focus only on their mistakes.
- Break down the letters when they are learning, so they an see how to build the letter shapes. (ie. a P is a straight line and a circle at the top.)
- Once they are beginning to learn, leave messages for your children or post it notes on their bed or door Write on their chalk board say hello!
- Put together a photo album and caption the pictures.
- Send yourselves a postcard if you go away or out for the day.
It can be fun and with a little thought, you'll find that your little ones enjoy writing and begin to make great progress. Perhaps one day they'll be writing their own blog!
It's common for toddlers not to be sure which hand is their dominant hand - they may scribble with their right hand one day and their left hand the next! All babies and toddlers develop at different rates and most use both hands to begin with. At about 18 months, their dominant hand will become evident to you: they'll draw with it, use it for eating and for brushing their teeth. By 4 or 5 years, most children will have one favourite hand that is used for writing etc but as the brain is still developing and their co-ordination is still being established, it may not be always consistent.
What to look out for:
- Which hand do they use to reach for a toy or pencil that's put in their reach in front of them?
- Which hand do they use when eating?
- How do they stir if playing with water and sand? Left handed children tend to stir in an anti-clockwise direction.
- When learning to write a left-handed child may prefer to start writing on the right of the page rather than the left. This is more natural for them.
- When playing physical games, the left-handed child will prefer to stand on their left rather than right leg.
Should left handed children be encouraged to use their right hand? Not at all! A few generations ago this was the case: left handed children were made to use their right hands. However, they must be allowed to use which ever hand is easiest in order for the task to be completed. Being left handed is not a conscious decision. It is dictated by the brain and therefore should not be contradicted.
There are various problems that may arise if a child is left-handed, but all the obstacles can be overcome with a little patience and some left-handed equipment if necessary. Schools and teachers are sympathetic to the extra care needed by left-handed children and can help with learning to write and using scissors.
Just remember to be as patient as possible!