I had a good mama moment last week, where instead of leaving Zeph to play while I tidied the kitchen, I asked him what he would like to do while I was busy. I mean, he would have played happily enough – his ability and desire to play independently has come on in leaps and bounds since he turned four in January – but still, I felt like it was just the sort of thing one ought to do from time to time when one is doing this mum business well.
First I asked if he’d like the play dough out while I washed up after lunch… but I got that response ^^.
Super messy painting it is. Did he want to paint in the kitchen at the table where I was, or did he want to go by himself to paint in the conservatory? Outside by himself.
So we got out the paints and papers (actually opened up cereal boxes that I’d been saving for him to paint on) and off he went. After a while he called to me: Mum, come and see what I’ve done for you!
And, after finishing the dish I was on and drying my hands, off I went to see (like a good mama again). He’d painted me a cake, with candles, and cherries, and some juice. He called me back three or four times, showing me the pictures he was painting for me. Sharing all the thought and love that had gone into each one. Thoughts and love I might have so easily missed if I had prioritised finishing in the kitchen over going to see what he wanted to show me. And afterwards I went to sit with him, watching, without taking my phone or any other distractions.
Because the quiet moments together are precious.
We did this as a follow on activity a couple of days after trying out a bubbling mud kitchen. It was just as messy, but less structured.
I simply took the mud we’d already used and added a bunch of construction toys and cars for a child-led, messy, sensory play.Elly went back to filling his pots and had a little drive of a car, but distracted by Zeph taking a toilet break, he pretty quickly decided that a bath was the more interesting option.
Zeph meanwhile spent a good long time filling his trucks, creating roads and tracks for the cars to drive on and simulating earthquakes and mudslides to trap them.
This is a gloriously messy, strictly outdoors activity that I saw a version of on The Keepsake Co….Except we don’t have an outdoors and I really wanted to try it. So I threw down a plastic sheet and did it on the verandah – we have a wash-down floor out there which helps with clean-up.
Mud (I used a big plant pot full)
Baking soda (I used around 175g… I have no idea exactly what different proportions would do without experimenting, but we produced some fair bubbling)
Vinegar in squeezy/spray bottles
Optional, ideas of things to decorate the baking with:
Paint powder or crushed chalk
This was premeditated, believe it or not, so I had Zeph and Elly crush chalk for it a couple of days beforehand: we put our chalk sticks in a ziploc bag and bashed it with a rolling pin and a mallet. That went down very well.
For the mud kitchen itself we got out various kitchen utensils, pots, pans and baking tins and started out with the mud mixed with baking soda.Once they’d prepared a few cakes and pancakes and waffles I got out the crushed chalk and some flowers for decorating with.Next they took the vinegar in squeezy bottles and made their creations bubble!Finally, once we filled, refilled and ran out of vinegar, they dumpedthe mud out and played with it a bit more.And then I dumped them both in the bath, locking the verandah door behind us and closing my eyes to the mess for a day (okay, 2) so that we could use it again for this mud construction and race track activity.
This is great as an outdoor activity if you have paved paths or a patio in the garden, but can also be done indoors on tiled floors, walls or even on paper. All you need to do is throw some chalk sticks into water – the chunkier the better, and we use washed out yogurt pots.
The wet chalk draws much more silkily than if it is dry making it a completely different art process, and it is easily washed away after. Outside the clean up should be minimal to non-existent, and even inside (assuming there aren’t any major water spills in inconvenient places) it’s straightforward to wipe up. Another great thing about this activity when it’s done on the ground or walls is that it provides such a huge art space, encouraging crossing the midline and spatial awareness.
My two started out using a fairly conventional drawing style which progressed first to block colouring tiles and then to experimenting with their hands and feet.
Here’s a simple, engaging activity for practicing letter or number formation (with bonus sensory stimulation!). All you need is a tray of salt and some letter guides – I’ve written the ones Zeph is using here on card with a pencil line at the bottom of the letter, an orange dot showing where to start writing it and an orange arrow showing the direction of the initial pencil stroke. You could use flour instead of salt if you prefer, but I find salt is less messy.
Today we focused on the letters used to write Zeph’s name. First we sounded out the letters and blended them to read the word and then we took them one by one to try writing them in the salt. At the moment this is a hands-on activity for me, both showing Zeph how to form the letters and talking him through it again as he does it to make sure that he is writing them correctly. I like to take advantage of the times he has interest in learning letter formation and he enjoyed this, but it did pretty quickly transform into playing in the salt with cars!
Perler, or ironing beads are good for fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, focus and concentration. Let the kids make up their own patterns or use preset ones as a guide.
A couple of weeks ago Elly had fun dismantling some perler/ironing bead creations at a friend’s house… oops.
We’ve since seen them at the supermarket and in a couple of other places and Zeph was asking to try them. I wasn’t quite sure – he’s only four, would he manage or just get frustrated? Was it just something he wanted because he’d seen but wouldn’t care about anyway? We’d have to keep them out of Elly’s way both before, during and after or it would be disasterous…
Zeph remembered, so I ordered some for him online: he chose the flower pattern and was very excited about opening his box during nap time the day it arrived. I gave him some scissors and left him to it: that bought me a good 20 or 30 minutes to make lunch while he negotiated the sticky tape on the packaging, cut open the packet and made an initial exploration of the contents. The only intervention I ventured was to pass him a messy tray to spill the beads onto. (Though I did bite my tongue a bit to keep from mentioning the possibility of them spilling EVERYWHERE).
And after lunch we settled down together with it. I helped pick out beads and did one or two with him as he got started, but he intuitively grasped the idea by himself anyway. I did keep hold of the pattern for him under the pegs so it didn’t move around and by the end I’d probably contributed around two petals worth of beads, but he did most of it himself, preferring to use his fingers rather then the tweezers.
Finally we ran the iron over it together… I left it a bit long as it was a first for me: the beads ended up a bit more melted together than I think they ought to be, but he was pretty pleased with it and himself I think.
That was one of our books from the library this fortnight: Rhinos don’t eat pancakes, by Anna Kemp. The premise is that Daisy’s parents never listen to her, so they miss the fact that she is telling them that a huge, purple, pancake-eating rhino has taken up residence in their home.
My 4 year old rather likes it. So do I. But, and I might be being over-sensitive, I was also a little dismayed. Maybe because I’m not sure I want my son to have the negative thought pattern, ‘no one listens to me’. Maybe because it made me think about whether or not I am currently doing a good job of listening to him.
Listening, and communicating, is something I consider to be very important. It’s a way of showing care and respect for someone, and something my children deserve as much as anyone else. I try to stop what I am doing and focus on Zeph when he speaks to me, to show him that I am listening and that he and what he has to say is valuable to me. I try not to give him vague pat-answers like yes sweetie, that’s nice, or I think so because I am distracted and haven’t really thought about what he is saying. I try to answer all the four year old questions born out of insatiable curiosity and why why why. I try to repeat myself five times without taking an irritated tone when he repeatedly asks me what?
Some days I do better than others.
I want to be a listening mum.