As school closures are upon us, we as parents now struggle to provide our children’s care and education. We may not be qualified school teachers, but we all know how to love and play, and especially in the under fives, this means you parents are experts! Try to embrace this time. It’s hard; we are worried about loved ones, financial worries, and feelings of isolation. Lots of the HSE’S latest reports are about fake news. Try not to believe all you hear and search out health reports and real news for information. Also remember little ears are listening more than we know. More so, children feel tension and worry. Perhaps keeping the news or social media times for after their bedtimes or similar plans that work for your house. It’s all about keeping the whole house happy, inside and out.
As you know, we follow the Aistear Curriculum. We could spend all of the school closure time exploring this, but I won’t do that to you. I’ll sum it up: in the under fives it’s all about play based exploring and learning! It’s about keeping it FUN and finding ways (often very basic ways) to bring meaning and learning into play. Also called purposeful play, it’s how children make sense of the world we live in. It’s about finding ways to extend this learning and adding new learning and ideas to the mix.
For example, Sarah plays with her blocks repeatedly. Sit and play with her. Ask her questions. “What are you making? Wow its so tall, how tall is it? How many blocks are in your tower? Can I make a tower with you?” Extensions: provide more building materials (recycled boxes and plastic items), duplo, lego, natural items like rocks and sticks. Show pictures of buildings around the world (big and small). Ask child to build one of them. Sort the blocks by colour. Measure a tower with a measuring tape. See how BIG your tower can be. Ask the child to make a tower the same size of themselves.
An ordinary toy may seem basic or even boring to an adult, but the learning, creativity, imagination, and extensions possible are immense.
Follow the child’s interest and bring Learning into it. A child loves the play kitchen. Can we get outside into a sand box and play kitchen? Add bowls, plates, spoons, forks, measuring cups. Watch and join the child as they measure, pour, and manipulate. A water table can be used in a similar way in warmer weather, or even at Bath time. Back indoors, baking can bring important skills such as pouring and transfering, measuring, and fine motor skills.
Whenever possible, it really helps getting young children outdoors. So much learning happens in the muck, and kids will come clean with a little soap and water 😉. Even a rainy day can be lots of fun with rain gear and wellies. Let them jump in the puddles! Let children’s memories of the covid 19 crisis be the most amazing, family memories! Join them in the puddle (🤫 you might like it!)
I find a rough schedule helps all (and probably me more than my children to be honest). For example:
9-11: outside play, possible ideas: water painting (give a cup of water and a brush and children can see their brush marks transform into works of art on concrete or various surfaces), sand box, sand/mud kitchen, ball games, nature hunts or walks, build with rocks and natural materials, writing/drawing in sand (exercise that developing writers grip), find all the colours of the rainbow in the back garden, tag, jump, dance, cycle.
11:30: painting, colouring, art. These don’t have to be masterpieces (though to your child they may be, which is awesome!). Save egg boxes, cereal boxes, cardboard and plastics. Different shapes, textures and sizes encourage thinking and fine motor skills when a paint brush and paint, scissors and glue is brought into the equation. Dress children in old clothes or use an apron. Relax and remember it can all be cleaned up following the activity, and get the children involved washing hands, brushes, and surfaces.
Playdough is another brilliant activity. Don’t have any? Utilyze those all important fine motor skills of pouring, measuring, transferring, and manipulating to make SALT DOUGH. Explore colours by adding food dye.
Afternoon: Go for a walk. Chat on your walk about ANYTHING. Maria Montessori called the child’s mind the ‘Absorbent Mind,’ they have a brain like a sponge especially in language development. So immerse children in spoken language, listening, and participating in conversation. What plants, animals or more can you find on your walk? Run, race, explore. Once home again show children books or media about the plants or animals they found. Again chat and reflect.
QUIET time: this is really important. And it won’t be hard if you’ve had lots of fresh air! Read with your children, as much as possible. The learning and bonding in this simple activity is HUGE. Don’t be afraid to repeat books, in fact many studies show repetition in books is natural and aids learning. Alternatively, if your child takes the lead with a quiet play activity or book, perhaps it’s time for mom or dad to get comfy and read their own story. It’s modelling healthy behaviour and guess what, we will probably feel really good having our own quiet reading time. Nourish yourselves whenever possible!
Other nice projects during this long school break:
°Make a Fort! Let the child take the lead in building, creating and problem solving. Have lunch or snack in it.
°Get children involved in meal preparation. Help mix or stir. Peal an orange. Butter toast. Encourage and watch children beam as you all eat the food they helped to prepare.
°Plant seeds, use both quick growing seeds (cress or sunflowers ect) and longer growing seeds. Perhaps vegetables? Carrots or herbs? Veg the children can smell and taste! This is a great time of year to start these plants off in windows. Use recycled materials like yogurt cups as pots. Paint or decorate the pots. Water them daily and encourage caring for their plants.
°Get children involved in daily chores or tasks. Empty and sort the cutlery, pair socks, tidy, wash. Take pride in their work.
°Choose a movie and wrap up in cozy blankets. Don’t forget the popcorn!
°Stick to regular bedtime routines and times.
°Bring food outdoors, have picnics in the garden or other areas (away from crowds).
°Embrace holidays such as birthdays, St Patrick’s Day, Easter and more in your own ways! Hold your own parade. Decorate your house. Dance, sing, play party games. Recognising and celebrating important days is important. Not to mention it can provide a refreshing change and bit of excitement during this isolating period.
Share what works for you with us please! We are all learning from each other and would love some inspiration. Let’s keep in touch!
Embrace this family time folks! Let’s keep it positive! Follow children’s interests. Let children realise their interests are huge, and exploring interests is very important! And that they should be proud of their explorations and learning. Let’s create lifelong skills, resilience, pride, work ethics, drive. We can do it, through the most simple, family based, warm and loving play experiences and days at home!