Monday, May 28, 2012

Learning to Listen

Listening is as important as reading, talking or writing. Everyone can hear, but to be a skilled listener you have to practice. Education requires good communication skills from an early age. See here and here for some facts. Children who listen well often do better in school, and of course being a good listener means being a good friend.

Learning to listen well takes only a few minutes of focussed practice. Try some of these:

1. Stand still. Stop talking. Close your eyes for 10 seconds. What can you hear?
This is a great one to do if you go to a park or a beach but is just as interesting in the street or shopping center (you can always find a corner to do this for a few seconds). A busy street might have too many sounds, especially for small children.

2. Put some music on. Move your body to match the sounds you hear.
Some children just have to move and this actually helps them focus. Once they have practiced listening a little with movement, they will be able to sit still better at school.

3. Collect different substances such as rice, oats, beans, beads etc. Put each in a paper bag. Hold closed and shake. Listen to the differences in sound.
This can provide lots of opportunity for conversation about different materials and how sound is made.

I’m planning to post a listening activity every week, so come back and visit if you find this useful. Please comment with suggestions or thoughts.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Quick Finger Puppets

I got this idea from Red Ted Art, a place jam packed full of wonderfully creative ideas for little children.

Cardboard finger puppets
Material: small piece of cardboard, tape, pen

1. Find a piece of card and cut it into a long thin strip, about 5cm long. Anything will do, we used the sides of an egg carton, but any packaging box would work.
2. Draw a face on the strip. We had a happy face and a sad face, but any face which suit’s the current phase would increase the fun: dinosaur, animal, Dr. Seuss etc
3. Tape the strip onto a finger. Using a different inger each time would work the muscles in all fingers, but some would be hard work for little ones.
4. Play. You could role play, tickle, fight, chase, chat, dance…

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Underground Train

We live in a big city with an underground train. My son loves it. He loves anything associated with trains. He must spend 90 percent of his time playing alone ordering his trains, cars and buses around the room. I decided to do something to add to his playtime which we could work on together. So we built our own U-Bahn (underground train in Berlin).

A while ago I spent an early Saturday morning drawing on a dissembled cardboard box to make a road and car park for all his cars. We took this, some empty toilet rolls and some tape, and started talking about how to go about it. It took a while to put enough rolls in place (it was a big box), and I had to do most of the work as it was a little tricky for a two year old. He started playing with something else in the room as I finished, but once I was done he was very pleased with his new toy.

The rolls looked a little like the pillars we see in some stations, and it was pretty dark under the cardboard so it looked quite realistic. It was a little wobbly, but this made him think carefully about his movements in and around the structure. The road on top became the way into the space inside the train track, where there was a shopping centre and a bus stop, according to him.

I loved watching him move around - on tiptoe, bending this way and that, peeking through the tunnel, reaching in to move the train. He made up a story about a man in a van. All in all, he practiced quite a few skills. These are some I noted:

  • He used his limbs in different ways developing his fine and gross motor skills.
  • He created stories by himself expanding his imagination and vocabulary.
  • He watched me make a whole new level to his play area with a bit of card and some tape increasing his capacity for creative thinking.

We spent the next few days improving on the underground train to make it stronger and more adaptable to changes in the track.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Definite Boundaries

When reading about encouraging creativity, a common theme is allowing kids to make mess. This is not something I am against. In fact I actively encourage it, but then B is not particularly messy. Even so, I like the idea of allowing mess within boundaries, as all art needs a frame - especially a two year old’s first attempts at abstract art.

One lovely sunny afternoon my son was being the artist with his diggers and trucks on the balcony. The dirt I had given him was finding it’s way across the whole area. It was the first time I’d managed to get out there this Spring so I really wanted to give it a good tidy and clean. The mess spread, my sweeping became pointless and my patience was waning.

Then I found the chalk. The previous few days had been all about shapes, so I drew some more for him. A very big square. I called it his mess box and swept all his dirt into it. He then insisted on boxes for all his vehicles. It was a serious task as all vehicles need a good parking place, don’t they? And after that he was happy to play in his mess box long enough for me to clean the balcony.

As he played in his box, I saw how he had to find solutions to his games: Roads had to be rerouted, building sites contained and footsteps carefully placed. I’m not sure, but maybe he made more mess than usual because he had his very own mess box.

B did these things:
  • Talked about shapes and sizes when measuring all the boxes we drew
  • Found a way to play within a restricted zone
  • Moved his body in news ways as he navigated the small(ish) space
  • Created new storylines for his diggers, cars and buses
  • Gained some confidence in his own independence while he played alone
  • Enjoyed making a mess within a set boundary

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Painting in a Tub

We got more than we bargained for with this project, all mixed up with a lot of fun.We played with paint yet didn't get too messy, we talked a lot about colours and what we expected to happen, and we moved around all over the place.

I saw some great pictures on teaching 2 and 3 year olds of kids rolling a huge can around the room. Inside was paint and golf balls. We get yogurt in one litre plastic tubs from the supermarket and always have too many table tennis balls lying around, add paper and paint, then I just had to hunt down the scissors to cut the paper down to size. We quickly had a mini version of the one I had seen. I love anything with such simple preparation.

He chose blue and white for the first colours. Once everything was sealed tightly in the tub, we rolled it around the floor. Then we threw it, kicked it, bounced it (this got lots of giggles), spun it, and he sat on it before opening it up to see the surprise.

The balls matched the paper with an interesting mottled pattern which impressed us both. He immediately wanted to have another go. We ended up with all the colours in the tub and beautifully decorated table tennis balls.

These are things we did that B benefited from:

  • Measuring the paper to make it fit in the tub
  • Choosing which colours to squeeze in and what effect the might have
  • Pushing the lid on tightly
  • Moving the tub around in different ways and talking about what it was doing
  • Expectation of a result and comparing that to what we saw
  • Experiencing transference of liquid onto different surfaces
  • Practicing handling tricky objects (paint covered ping pong balls)

So what I thought was just going to be throwing around a tub full of paint actually turned out to be an opportunity for extended conversation and practicing numerous movements. And we loved the final products.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Paint Bags

My son is going through a phase of not liking messy hands. My image of enjoying crazy painting, gooey play and sticky craft with my two year old has been shattered. It is also making me think differently about crafts and how to make it fun for him - not just for me!

We tried using ziplock bags for mixing paint and enjoyed it, until the bag developed a hole. However, my son seemed a little disappointed about not having something to keep at the end.

As it is Spring, most of the craft ideas I see are about flowers and butterflies. These are things he likes, but what he really loves is vehicles. So I cut three pieces of card to fit three bags, drew a (very basic) picture of a car, a bus and a train on them and we were ready to go.

The first bag, the car, got all the colours sqeezed in - red, blue, yellow and white. The second was only given blue as it was a train and that is what colour Thomas is! We didn't get round to doing the bus. We did them one at a time, pressing down on the paint so it spread across the picture. The colours on the car didn't mix quite as much as I had hoped, but the effect was interesting as we cut open the bag and pulled the plastic away. The paint on the train soaked right into the cardboard showing the pattern underneath.

Sometimes I think he enjoys preparing the activities more than doing them. He talked a lot about the measuring and cutting, and then was quiet during the spreading of the paint. I have to really hold my tongue to stop myself telling him what to do. I always have an idea what I want to achieve but have to remind myself that it is his actions and not the finished work that counts!

Some things we achieved:
  • talking about size and shape when cutting the cardboard to fit in the bags
  • discussing different vehicles that he wanted me to draw, and parts of the vehicles
  • choosing colours for the vehicles and how much paint to put in the bag
  • using fingers and palms to move the paint around
  • learning about colours mixing and liquid moving
  • I had practice in not telling him how to make his art

The results are pretty good and look interesting on the wall. It's a really simple and quick activity. I was disappointed that we couldn't see the pictures well underneath the paint, but maybe we can find a solution to that through a brain-storming session beforehand, hmm. It's something we can do often and find different techniques.