We recently did a dig activity. I’ve seen this done by mixing damp sand and flour and leaving it to dry, but we just used soil from our (currently empty) flower pots.
My 19 month old quite likes dinosaurs, and although my 4 year old has never been terribly interested, he was having a minor phase. The older one also has an enduring enthusiasm for pirates and treasure, so I wanted to incorporate both ideas.
I buried a few dinosaurs and some silver coins made of shiny cardboard, used Shrek to make some footprints on the surface of the soil and left him in mid-discovery of a coin, just waiting for the kids to find and assist him. I also threw down a plastic sheet to catch spilt soil and make the clean up easier, and made sure to have an old towel to hand so I could wipe the kids down before rushing them through the house to the bath.
Once they noticed the box on the verandah they went straight for the invitation of nearby spoons and got stuck in.
Elly did a little bit of poking around, but was much more interested in the prospect of an impending bath. Zeph enjoyed it enough to tip it all back in and start over once he had finished digging all the soil out. He didn’t do a whole dig the second time round, preferring then to tip soil between the containers and climb into it.
I’m not sure what Elly thought he was up to this evening, but he commandeered Zeph’s mittens and Daddy’s toothbrush and he was practicing looking cute. He clearly didn’t want to be implicated.
My kids made salad tonight, mostly leaving me just to supervise. I did wash the foods before giving them to the boys, although I could, and probably should, have let them do it themselves: they both like taking things out of the fridge and they both love playing with water; moreover, it’s good practice and learning for them. But… I… was kinda tired and just didn’t think about it this time until it was too late. So the kids got given their salad ready to cut.
Zeph has been using sharp knives for at least a year now, and started cutting things around 16 months with a blunt dinner knife. He has a pretty good idea of what he’s doing, but we always start with a little chat about knife safety (holding the handle firmly, always pointing the blade down and away from you, always cutting on a board and never into your hand, never waving it around, putting it down carefully when you are not using it, keeping your fingers away from the blade when cutting) and I always supervise carefully.
Elly has also been trying to cut with a blunt knife for three or four months now. He’s adept at slicing banana, but these foods are harder so he preferred to pull the bell pepper apart with his fingers. He also wanted to take a turn with a sharp knife, so we held it together to cut a few pieces.
We took some time to identify the seeds inside each food and to compare their size and whether or not we eat them. And after cutting, tipping and mixing, the boys ended up with this:
Zeph didn’t say it in so many words, but I got the feeling he was really proud to have made salad for dinner virtually by himself. He was very enthusiastic about serving it to Daddy and I with salad dressing, and making sure that we enjoyed it all!
My every one consumed
By two small boys who make me the
center of their universe.
These exhausting tiresome menial days.
These on-a-loop glorious days.
Which will never come again.
With Tequila rabbit currently in residence on our verandah (my messy activity area), we have been focusing on more home-friendly things to do. So here is another super-simple, mess-free activity with little to no preparation or clean up required: the remote control car-dozer.
We used a set of foam blocks to build towers, and a new-to-us remote control jeep to knock them down. Absolutely fantastic for my oldest, who is both a car-enthusiast, and whose favourite part of any activity is when there is a breaking it up bit! This activity also gets them practicing fine motor skills, honing hand-eye coordination and gives an opportunity to explore the properties of gravity.
Blocks (can be substituted with anything else stackable – paper cups are a good option, and recyclable)
Remote control… anything (could also be substituted with a ball, or bean bags for rolling/throwing)
Elly did some good stacking – he found the cube shaped blocks the easiest ones to work with, but was too impatient to wait for the jeep to knock things down, preferring to do it by hand. After the first time or two Zeph was more interested in directing Mummy which colours to use and in driving his jeep than in actually doing a lot of building – I encouraged a turn-taking approach, one block each: good for getting him to engage, doing things for himself, and also social cooperation. After a while he decided to try building a wall around his car to turn it into a ‘car volcano’ instead of building a tower.
My boys love to help in the kitchen and I love to make as many opportunities for them to do it as I can. While it’s not always entirely convenient, while it can double (triple, maybe even quadruple) the workload, it’s a great way for them to explore and learn about food and cooking. I also think it’s a great way for them to contribute to the wellbeing of the household in a meaningful way.
Today we looked at pomegranates because Mummy was planning pomegranate and mackerel Bulgar wheat (recipe included at the end of the post because it’s amazing, quick and very simple. Elly agrees, though Zeph and Josh do not). First we looked at the outside and talked about how to cut them. Zeph noticed how the juice started to leak out as I cut, and then they got a piece each to look at and explore the inside of.
Zeph was perfectly certain that he didn’t want to try tasting pomegranate, and quickly noticed that touching the fruit was causing a cut on his finger to sting. He decided that he’d had quite enough after about 30 seconds! But this time round Elly spent longer on the activity: he happily poked, pulled and waved it around, ate some, wiped sticky juicy fingers all over his vest and then tried to run away before being cleaned. So all in all I judge that to be a half-successful activity.
To make pomegranate and mackerel bulgar wheat
Bulgar wheat (approx. 75g per person, or substitute with couscous)
Pomegranate (remove the arils from the rind and membrane so you’re just left with the red bits. I use 2-3 tablespoons per person, but it’s really to taste)
Tinned mackerel (1 tin per approx 4 servings)
Salsa to serve (optional)
Cook Bulgar wheat as per instructions on the packet (or just wash and boil until tender).
Add pomegranate, mackerel and olives.
Mix with mayonnaise.
Serve alone or with salsa.
Birthdays! Anticipation, excitement, fun, presents! Friends and parties and sugar and noise! All a fantastic recipe for challenging behaviours from the little people.
Add to this parents who are possibly somewhat distracted and stressed by their efforts to make sure that
A. The toddler doesn’t smash his hand straight into the middle of the cake
B. The dogs/cats/children don’t eat all the food before anyone arrives
C. The perfectly thrown together presents don’t get crushed to pulp by a hyperactive preschooler jumping on them
D. Everyone makes it to the venue (if any) on time and alive
E. (Fill in gap with appropriately disastrous and destructive occurrence)
And the result? Explosive preschooler cupcakes with a side of volatile-parent mousse.
My oldest just turned four. Now, while we had a fairly low key, slow day sort of birthday, it was still a terribly exciting break from the norm, and I think this was the first year that he really ‘got’ it. The first year that he really had a sense of anticipation that something would happen in the next couple of days. The first year that he had a sense of expectation about what a birthday could mean: cake! presents! a party! And, predictably enough, given a 4 year old’s level of emotional control, reason and psychological development, we walked together through some challenging behaviour (screaming; emotional breakdowns over seemingly small happenings; hyperactivity in inappropriate places; lack of consideration, including in a way that could result in injury to himself or his younger brother). In this instance, my son did not always know how, or have the ability, to express his emotions in a way that was ok.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s ok that he experienced this. It’s even ok that he behaved like this. He will learn to regulate his emotions by experiencing them. It will happen repeatedly. And then again. And that too is ok. But the whole point here is to learn through it and to get to a point where thoughts, feelings and desires can be expressed gently, respectfully and considerately; where cooperation happens; and where no one is endangered!
So here are a few ideas I use to make birthdays smoother and more enjoyable for everyone:
- Plenty of sleep for EVERYONE! Mum and Dad function much better and are much less impatient if they get enough sleep too.
- Pay attention. When the kids come and ask the same million questions that they asked five minutes ago, give them attention. Look at them when they speak and when you respond. Take the time for them. When they ask you to come eat the pretend snack they made, go do it. Even when you are wadding waist deep through birthday preparations, dinner, the laundry that should have been done last week and the chewed up grapes that your 18 month old has decided to spit in little dollops all around the house.
- Give the kids something to do first. It could be anything: a favourite mess-free activity such as drawing, stickers, playing with balloons or dress up is ideal. Alternatively you could give them preparation ‘helping’ jobs (that won’t ruin any surprises) such as wiping down tables, fetching and carrying or choosing items for party bags if you give them. Sit down with them, get them started, and once they are focused make your escape.
- Limit pre-party sugar intake. A party is absolutely a party. I have no qualms about letting my kids eat a (slightly) excessive amount of cake on the odd occasion, but in the run up I need more calm that I would get if they were already sugared up.
- If your child does start behaving in a challenging way, stop, take a breath, be patient and spend some time with them. Play cars for 10 minutes, pop out into the garden and watch them jumping as high as they can jump, pretend to be superheros together, play a simple board game or go for a run around the block. This will help them to focus on something, and potentially channel a little bit of that energy into an activity.
- Have some calm-down tools close to hand. What works for one child may not work for another, but having a pre-prepared line of response in case of a full blown meltdown really helps. (I hope to write some more about calm-down techniques in the near future).
- Do as much as possible in advance. Pretty obvious really: the less you have to do in the minute, the better.
- Plan the party around nap times. As much as this is possible, it really helps, both if you have a toddler and if those invited are bringing a toddler. Sleepy toddlers do not add good things to the mix!
- Keep the rest of your schedule as normal as possible. A sense of predictability and routine helps everyone stay calm and know what is happening.
Let me know in the comments what you think, if any of these have worked for you or any extra ideas you have. Here’s to happy birthdays!