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:-
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:
18 months - 2 years the adult needs to:
2 - 3 years the adult needs to:
3 - 4 years the adult needs to:
Up to 5 years old, an adult needs to:
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:
Early stages 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
Beginning to write Words
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:
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:
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:
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!
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