Two Can Learn Better than One!

Take a Trip to See Planes

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Days out , Tags: aircraft, airfield, airport, planes, public transport

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A fun day out with your little ones can be enormously rewarding all round; have you ever considered an outing to watch aeroplanes? You might think that airports are only for international commuters and holidaymakers, but they are often easily accessible to anyone to simply turn up and watch to explore what is going on.

Parking costs at airports can be prohibitively expensive, but they are generally well served by public transport, with buses and trains bringing people in. If getting to an airport by public transport is too complex from where you live, try driving to a nearby location where you can pick up a bus or train for the last part. Many airports have special recreational visitor centres, some with family activities running regularly.

If you don't live close to an airport, then do some research to see if there are any airfields nearby that allow you to enter and watch light aircraft coming and going. Airfields won't be serviced by the same public transport network that airports benefit from, but there is quite likely parking available on site and it may also be free. Airfields often have a public terminal which you may be able to access and may well have a nice coffee shop for you to sit in, overlooking the airfield.

The highlight of an airport visit will be watching planes take off and land, but airports offer plenty more to observe too. Watch planes being serviced - loaded with bags, meals and fuel; look at the check-in desks with bags flying everywhere; and watch the crowds of people coming and going. Use the day as a point of conversation to talk about air travel and worldwide destinations and undertake related activities on your return.

Do remember that airports and airfields are sensitive about national security, so don't park or loiter in places that you shouldn't be or you may well find you are moved on by authorities or the police.

Screen Time

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting , Tags: computer, phone, screen time, tablet, television

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When you and I were little, being sat in front of a screen meant watching TV, but today there are a whole variety of different screen based activities competing for attention. Common wisdom was to manage the amount of television that young children were exposed to. Whatever the agreed limit, impose it regularly and don't oversexpose your little ones to too much.

Today there are likely to be screens all over the house, in your bags and pockets, possibly in the car too, whether it be televisions, computers, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, games consoles or even hi-fi's and other entertainment systems. Our children are undoubtedly growing up in a very different environment to the one that we grew up in, and it's important that they gain the right exposure to the right devices in the right ways. Children will use computers at school from an early age, so early exposure to them is not necessarily a bad thing. They may soon be using tablets at school, so again, controlled access is probably a better policy than prohibition.

As much as you may dislike technology, or feel uncomfortable with the level of exposure in everyday life, you could place your children at a disadvantage in life if you prohibit them from accessing televisions, computers and even games consoles. As with television in days gone by, adopt a screen policy where you allow 'screen time' at certain times during the week. Make this time optional, that your little ones may sit in front of a screen if they wish, but they may choose to play or do something else instead, don't mandate that they must sit in front of the telly, or play educational games on your phone.

Whether you grant an hour or two each day, half an hour a week, or somewhere in between, the overall time isn't so important. More important is that you manage expectation, enforce the limits and try to make this time constructive.  Perhaps you might choose to watch a couple of regular programmes, or to play certain games on a television or computer. Try to steer your little ones' attention towards educational content and remember that even games can be construed as assisting development if they help develop coordination or understanding.

If you think our children have a shockingly different life to the way that we grew up, being exposed to electrical gizmos and gadgets at every turn, just spare a thought for the world that your grandchildren will inhabit!

Let them Speak for Themselves

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Child Development , Tags: behaviour, childminder, conversation, interaction, questions

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Child practitioners know how to interact with young children, they ask them direct questions and wait for a response. It's very easy for parents, standing with their child, to hear a question, whether it be asked by a childminder or teacher, or a friend or relative, and to answer the question on behalf of the child. It's so easy to do this that it can be pretty difficult not to. Try to avoid doing this though, it really is important that children learn to engage in conversation and that they learn to listen, interpret and respond to questions in their own right.

As a parent, you don't want to show up your child, or have them stuck in an awkward situation where they don't understand a question. This is such an important part of language development though that you really aren't doing them any favours when you respond on their behalf.

When granny asks 'What have you been doing today?', or the childminder asks 'Is it sunny outside?', there's a really high probability that they already know the answer. Adults are sympathetic to the knowledge of young children and don't ask searching questions requiring a comprehensive, in-depth, analytical response. They are asking in order to engage with the child, to help build a bond and in order to allow the child to practice language. The enquirer isn't usually looking for a definitive answer, they probably aren't even interested in the correct answer; instead they simply want to hear the answer in the child's own words. If parents wade in with the answer then they are denying the child the opportunity to speak for themselves.

If you recognise this behaviour in yourself then try to spot it in your interactions with those around your children. If you are aware that you are doing it, then you will be able to pause, think about it, and then stop before giving an answer. If it's a deep rooted habit that you have developed then it may take a little time to coax yourself away from it, but you will get there eventually.

Growing Vegetables

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Food, Drink and Eating, Kids Activities , Tags: beans, courgettes, diary project, dwarf beans, garden, gardening, growing vegetables, pak choy, patio gardening, potatoes, tomatoes, vegetables

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Despite suffering the coldest Easter on record, now is the right time to start thinking about growing plants in the garden - why not plant some vegetables with your little ones and track their growth through a diary project?

Many vegetables are surprisingly easy to grow and nothing tastes better on your plate than a serving of home grown food. Even if you don't have much garden, many vegetables can be grown in containers or pots, even on a patio. Start plants off in a greenhouse or shed, or on a windowsill inside, then plant out once the threat of frost has gone and when the plants are a couple of inches high. Below are some easy veg to grow for great rewards during the summer and autumn:-

Dwarf beans: 'Dwarf' refers to the height of the plant rather than the size of bean. Unlike most beans, the plants grow to just 18 inches (so don't require trellis) and produce copious quantities of long tasty beans. Plant now to crop through the summer.

Courgettes: Courgette plants grow with quite a wide spread, harvest regularly and you will be rewarded with between 10 - 20 fruits per plant so just one or two plants will produce a great crop. Cougettes are abundant and require very little care, you can even plant them in a pot on the patio.

Tomatoes: Traditional tomato plants are quite hard work because they require so much watering. Cherry tomatoes on the other hand are much easier and can be planted in small spaces, even in pots or hanging baskets. Pick the fruit in clusters off the vine and any that are under ripe will quickly ripen after harvest.

Potatoes: Forget the old fashioned way of tilling the ground, buy potato bags that can sit on the ground or patio. Fill them two thirds deep with soil and plant seed potatoes just under the surface. When the plants are established, add more soil to fill the bag. Children will love sifting through the soil at the end of the summer, discovering the potatoes. Plant several bags with different varieties to crop at different times in the summer and autimn.

Pak Choy: Not a traditional British vegetable but terrific in salads and stir fries, and really easy and quick to grow. Plant more seeds every fortnight and you will crop them throughout the summer.

Plant your seeds with your children and make notes. Look at them regularly and draw them at the different stages. Why not create a photo diary in ToucanLearn by photographing them and uploading the pictures to your Daily Diary?

Rewarding Children

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting , Tags: chores, jobs, rewards, sticker charts

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Preschool children love to be rewarded, if they do something good then heap on praise and offer a reward - in turn, you will be rewarded as you begin to condition their behaviour. Even the most trivial or trifling rewards can fill a toddler's pride. Sometimes you may reward with food, but try to coax with healthy foods rather than sweets and chocolate. Offer raisins or other dried fruit or perhaps rice cakes as an incentive for good behaviour or simply for being helpful.

Children will be just as stimulated by earning points or stickers. A sticker chart offers a simple visual reward mechanism. Even the youngest children will understand that when they do good or clever things, they will be rewarded with another sticker on the chart. If you don't have stickers, just draw stars onto a piece of paper. Even before they can count, young children will be able to sense quantity from the number of stars staring back at them.

Schools reward with responsibility; young children may take it in turns to deliver the register to the school reception, or to tidy away craft at the end of a session. Wiping the table after dinner may be seen as a privilege rather than a chore. See if you can instigate that same sense of importance and value by offering chores as a privilege. Invite your little ones to pair shoes or wellies by the door, to place their dirty clothes in the washing basket, or to collect waste bins from around the house before bin collection. There are a number of small jobs that young children will be able to take on around the house and by offering these as a reward for good behaviour, you will start to instil a sense of value and worth.

Antenatal Classes

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Health , Tags: antenatal classes, maternity unit, nct, nhs, playgroups

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If you're expecting your first baby then it's a really good idea to attend antenatal classes - not simply because you will learn so much about the birth process, but also because you will meet other local mum's and couple's all going through the same experience as you. Antenatal classes are offered nationally by the NHS and the NCT.

NHS antenatal classes are offered for free in most areas and are open to both expectant parents although it's more usual just for mum's to attend. Classes are held by midwives and cover the birth procedures within a hospital environment. You will usually be able to attend a tour of the maternity unit where you are planning your delivery which is highly advisable so that you can familiarise yourself with the surroundings.

NCT classes are held by trained adult educators either in their own home or at a local venue.  It's common for partners to attend these informal classes which run for several weeks prior to your expected delivery date. The NCT offers a variety of classes in addition to antenatal ones but your first contact will probably be for antenatal classes. You must pay to attend NCT classes but there are significant discounts (90%) for under 18's, students and those on support. The cost of NCT classes also includes optional NCT membership which you can choose to opt out of.

You don't have to choose between NHS or NCT classes - you can attend both.

As well as learning about the birth process and getting the inside track on your local maternity unit, antenatal classes give you the opportunity to meet other expectant mother's who live locally to you. It's common for these mum's to become close friends in the months following birth as you'll seek advice from each other, and start seeing each other in local playgroups, at the doctor's and you'll keep bumping into them in town. Use the opportunity to develop a local support network of other new mum's, it's an opportunity that you won't regret.

Eating with Cutlery

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Food, Drink and Eating , Tags: cutlery, eating, fork, highchair, knife, spoon

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As children grow older you'll make the transition from feeding them every mouthful, to the point where they can eat their own food. Most babies will give you clear signs that they are wanting to try to learn to use cutlery. Give them a spoon and they will be keen to dig in themselves having watched you eating for some time. They should be able to use a spoon to feed themselves from around 9 months old and in time can move on to a fork and then a knife and fork.

Learning to use cutlery requires many different skills to be honed. They need the fine motor skills required to pick up a spoon or fork, and the skill and co-ordination to load it with food and raise it to their mouth, all without dropping the food load! Remember that they can't even see their mouth so arriving there is largely down to trial and error. Babies bones are still developing at this early stage, remaining soft and flexible, not hardening until around 18months. This compounds the problems in mastering control.

Be patient and encourage children as they demonstrate the will to learn to feed themselves. You will have to tolerate the mess that is bound to end up everywhere. If you have a hard floor where they eat, in the kitchen or in a room with bare floorboards, then clearing up is that much easier. If you have carpet then you may want to put down a highchair floor mat to give you an easy-clean surface all around. You will also find that a plastic bib with a pocket to catch spilled food is practical at this stage.

Choosing cutlery is partly down to your own preference. Most children start on cutlery with broad plastic handles which are easier to grip, but you may prefer to go straight to stainless steel cutlery with easy grip but slightly less bulky handles. All-plastic forks, with plastic tines, tend to be difficult to use to pick up food and we would recommend avoiding these - look for cutlery with stainless steel heads at the very least.


Celebrate World Book Day

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Learning Play, Kids Activities

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World Book Day falls today and is celebrated in more than 100 countries - it really is 'World' Book day! Publishers around the world come together to promote reading and literacy in a special day designated by UNESCO. Why don't you join in the fun at home with your little one's? It doesn't matter if they're too small to read, you can read with them or you can enjoy looking through picture books together. Why not take it further and have some bookish fun:-

  • Read a story and then take it in turns to tell it again yourselves
  • Make your own book - a picture book for young children or a story book for older ones
  • Act out a story that you are familiar with
  • Dress up as a character from your favourite stories
  • Use a scanner to make a black and white copy of a picture from your favourite book and have your little ones colour it in

Encourage your little ones to enjoy books and stories and that will help them learn to read in time...

EYFS 2 Year Progress Check

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Preschool Children, Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) , Tags: eyfs 2012, eyfs progress check, parents, prime areas of learning, progress check

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One of the new requirements introduced in EYFS 2012 was the need to conduct a progress check at some point during each child's second year. The exact timing of the check is left open - the government recommends that it is undertaken at a suitable point that the child moves setting, or at another point by agreement with the parents. The check may even be undertaken after their third birthday but ideally it will be done between 24 and 36 months.

There is no prescribed format for progress checks, indeed they should very much be unique for each child. The purpose is to clock the developmental progress of the child and ensure that any issues are identified and flagged. This will help child carers concentrate on areas that may be lacking, or even to build further on strong areas. The assessment helps to inform parents of porgress and allows both parents and carers to plan for future activities with the child.

The child carer should assess each of the prime areas of learning: Personal, Social and Emotional Development; Physical Development; and Communication and Language. Only one assessment is required so if a child attends more than obe setting, the check should be done by the setting that the child spends most time in. The check should be undertaken by the key person who has most exposure to the child and who knows them best.

The report should be drafted in a manner that is easy for parents to understand and that informs them clearly of any action the carer would like the parents to undertake. It would be a good idea to encourage parents to write their own brief response to file with the report to demonstrate that they have read and understood the report. The better you document future actions, the easier it will be to refer back to them and ensure that progress is maintained as planned.

While the check forms a mandatory part of the EYFS, it is only relevant for children who spend time with a child minder or carer. Children who are raised by 'stay at home mums' will not be affected.

Train Spotting

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toys and Games, Days out, Kids Activities

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There's something about trains that just captivates young children, a fascination that can even last well beyond childhood! What is it about trains that children find so fascinating?

Toy trains are almost as old as the railways themselves. Young children, especially boys but also girls, enjoy lining up carriages into a train and pulling it along the floor or along a railway track. Children enjoy the sense of order that making a train offers. Trains have long played an important role in popular culture, first with books and then with television programmes featuring anthropomorphic trains such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Ivor the Engine and Chuggington. Real trains can bring excitement to young children - they will point out trains as they pass over a bridge in the distance, or when they see them from a car window.

If you live near a railway line or a station, take the children out for a walk and wait at a point where you can spot some trains. Talk with your little ones about what they are and what they do. Explain how lots of people can travel on a train. Make the noises that a train makes, point out and mimic the clickety-clack that the carriages make as they pass over joins in the rails. See if you can see signals and explain what they mean.

Seeing trains is an outing in itself for your little ones. What might appear to be perfectly mundane to you may create deep impressions on your children that last for many years to come.

Horsemeat Scandal

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health, Food, Drink and Eating , Tags: food, food quality, horsemeat, nutrition

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The continuing scandal surrounding horsemeat in the British food supply chain serves to show that although we pride ourselves on food labelling, there seems to be a huge disjunct between what the label says and what our food products contain. Food labellling has arguably never been clearer but clearly there is still room in the suply chain for malpractice.

While in Britain we don't usually eat horsemeat, there's nothing dangerous about this meat per se, except for the fact that if it has entered into the foodchain illegally, then it's unlikely that any high standards of farming have been applied. The greatest danger in this instance is that horses can be treated with veterinary medicines that may be dangerous for human consumption and must not be allowed to enter the food chain.

It turns out that a supplier in Poland provided meat to a supplier in France who gave it to a supplier in Ireland who sold it to our supermarkets. If ever there appears to be a case of 'too many cooks' then this has to be it!

To make a beefburger, buy some steak, mince it and round it into patties.

Our food doesn't need to travel through several countries, being part processed along the way until we arrive at a product that really doesn't take long to prepare from fresh. Even Lasagne can be made in 30 minutes and left to cook for 40.

What we have seen is the logical conclusion of consumer demand for maximum convenience for just a few pennies. Didn't we ever wonder how supermarkets managed to supply 'value' meals so cheaply? Do you remember 'mad cow disease' that resulted from animals being fed the remains of other animals? Where will the horsemeat currently being sold in the UK as burgers and lasagne end up once it has been halted from our food supplies? Will it enter into animal feed next?

If you want to ensure that your little ones are eating nutritious and healthy food, then find the time to prepare the best meals. Source your food from local providers whenever possible, and buy ingredients rather than processed foods when you can.

Comparatively Speaking

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Learning Play, Preschool Children , Tags: abstract concepts, chicken, egg, ostrich, size

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As adults, we can quickly pick out the longest, tallest, shortest, heaviest and smallest items but as with so many abstract concepts, these have to be learned by our little ones. Learning about comparative size is made all the more complicated because objects seem to change. For example, take an egg and a chicken - the egg is small, the chicken is large. Now add an osterich, suddenly the chick is small and the osterich is big.  How did that happen? The chicken didn't suddenly shrink!

We are exposed to different sized objects every day. Talking about different sized objects will instil these abstract concepts. Many picture books also explore concepts of size. Look out in your stories and in the real world for examples and talk about them with your toddlers. Play games - take different toys and sort them by size, sort pieces of string or balls. Talk about the size order of food items on your plate - sliced carrots are bigger than peas, but smaller than boiled potaties. All of this will help them to cement their understanding.

The Naughty Step

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Parenting , Tags: discipline, naughty step, punishment

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When children do something wrong, even very young ones, it's important to have a way to instil discipline, and the 'Naughty Step' offers a good way to do this. The 'Naughty Step Technique' can be used for children who are old enough to understand when they do something wrong, and you explain why it is wrong. When this happens, take the child aside, explain what they have done wrong, and place them on the bottom stair where they must wait for a set duration.

You might use a fixed duration such as two or three minutes, or perhaps have them stay for one minute for each year of their age so that the punishment increases as they grow older. During this time, make sure that they receive no attention as this will encourage them to play up to the crowd.

Explaining what they have done wrong is essential, and try always to be consistent in meting out the punishment. Lack of consistency can lead to confusion and mixed signals. Make sure that once relieved of their post ofn the naughty step that you ensure you child apologises for their behaviour to the relevant party, and end with hugs to show that although you have disciplined them, that you still love them.

If you want to use this technique when you are away from home, then you could take a small mat with you as a portable 'Naughty Mat'. When needed, put it down in a quiet corner and have them stand for the same duration that you would use at home.

Becoming a Childminder

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Childminders and Childminding , Tags: career, childminding, local authority, ofsted, profession

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In the UK, the role of a childminder offers a career path that requires certain professional qualifications and a continued commitment to learning. There's no quick, informal entry into the role. Anyone working for more than two hours a day, and working for reward (ie. payment or in return for other services) must register with their local authority and will be subject to OFSTED inspections to ensure the quality of your childcare provision.

There are no qualifications required before you can apply to register as a childminder, but you must undertake certain training before you are allowed to operate, and you will have to gain a paediatric first aid certificate.

In addition to having to train for the role, if you operate from your own home then you must also work to make your home suitable for bringing other children inside. You will need to buy toys, safety equipment and you must buy insurance to cover your services. You are not required to make your entire house safe for children, but you must secure any areas where children will be, including routes to bathrooms.

Some local authorities offer grants to help with the start-up costs of becoming a childminder so see if you're eligible for help.

If you are considering becoming a childminder then contact your local authority as early as possible. Entry into the profession isn't necessarily rapid, so the sooner you register your interest, the sooner you can comply with the requirements and start your business.

National Storytelling Week

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Kids Activities , Tags: knowledge, library, national storytelling week, stories, storytelling

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This weekend marks the end of the 13th annual National Storytelling Week, organised by the Society for Storytelling to promote the oldest art form of oral storytelling. Before humans were writing, all knowledge had to be passed down orally and storytelling formed a fundamental part of knowledge transfer. Even with writing, storytelling plays an essential role in learning for our little ones - children learn through stories long before they are able to read or write.

Make sure that you are telling stories to your little ones all the time, and not just during National Storytelling Week! Even babyies who are too young to understand what is being said will benefit from constant exposure to oral communication. They will hear words and they will hear expression, and this all helps on that long journey towards being able to communicate themselves.

Find time in your daily routine to sit down with children and read stories. Make up stories and retell familiar tales in your own words. Older children might have fun by telling you stories in return, or by changing tales they are familiar with to give them a surprise outcome.

If you haven't done naything for National Storytelling Week so far then see if you can catch any activities at the weekend. See if your local library has some events on and go and join the fun...

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Hi! I'm Tikal the Toucan, the mascot for ToucanLearn. Follow my blog to find out interesting things relating to babies, toddlers and preschool children!

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Fill in our Daily Diary to log progress against the EYFS and add photo entries instantly simply by sending them straight from your phone. You can share diaries back with parents or childminders so that everyone can enjoy watching your children develop.

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