Engaging children at home – the stress-free way!
Helpful tips and tricks to make learning at home successful.
This is part 2 of the series. Part 1 can be found by visiting https://www.catkintoys.co.uk/blog.
Children love to learn. I don't think anyone could dispute that, but what we also know is as children grow, they favour some areas of learning over others. This chapter is all about how we can use our children’s natural interests to foster a love of learning, especially in subjects which may otherwise be unappealing. After all, we are all more likely to pay attention if the topic interests us, right?
Not all of these activities will be suitable for every child. Choosing something too easy will result in boredom, while choosing something too difficult will result in frustration. Unfortunately, there is no exact science, just remember to go with the flow. If something isn’t working, ditch it and move on.
It is essential to keep things as stress free as possible for both you and your child. Even professional teachers who have taught for decades will tell you that some lessons just don’t go to plan. Try to be flexible and remember that it is okay to go off script. If you were planning to teach one thing, but your child takes the activity in a different direction, go with the flow! You never know what you might learn along the way!
Over the next few weeks, I will be covering a range of topics on my blog. If there is any topic in particular you’d like to see more of, let me know on Instagram at www.instagram.com/CatkinToys.
Following your child’s interests.
You may have heard the phrase 'follow the child' before. But what exactly does it mean? Well, it comes from the teachings of Maria Montessori who suggested that children should be at the forefront of what we do. The principle is that we should watch our children to discover what they can do, what they can't, what activities they favour, which ones are too easy and which too hard. We must be guided by their wants and interests in order to facilitate meaningful learning. It does not mean we let them do whatever they like, but rather we learn their natural rhythms and try to facilitate this where possible in order to maximise engagement. Even if you do not follow Montessori principles at home, it is still a valuable principle which will help make the most of the activities you create.
In short, we should always keep an eye on our children's natural interests. I cannot tell you how invaluable it is to not just learning, but behaviour management and almost every aspect of parenting successfully.
For example, Arlo (my son) is absolutely car obsessed, so when setting activities or choosing books, I will try to follow that interest. In doing so, I am increasing the likelihood he will engage with the activity and make the whole process less stressful. As he gets older, I will use his interests to spark engagement, particularly when the subject is something which naturally he isn't very interested in. An example might be: if he isn't very confident with counting backwards, I would include the use of cars to capture his attention. Perhaps by asking him to order a set of cars with numbers written on post-it notes. Or by completing the missing numbers on his parking garage.
To give you a better idea of what this might look like, I have compiled a list of activities you could try for a range of common interests:
· Write a care sheet on how to look after them properly.
· Match the sound a baby makes with how they are feeling.
· Use their dolls fingers to practice the 5 times table.
· Read a book to their doll.
· Can they use different objects such as blocks or leaves to recreate an outline of their doll?
· Can they design and make a new coat for their doll?
· Measure ingredients.
· Explore colours and textures from different food ingredients.
· Close your eyes: can you guess what the item is by the taste, smell, texture?
· Make something to eat and write a recipe or instructions.
· Press blocks or Numicon shapes into dough to make maths biscuits.
· Mix different food dye colours together.
· What different pancake colours can we make?
· Count marshmallows on hot chocolates, sort ingredients by size, weight, colour, texture etc.
· Make taste safe sensory play activities such as blending cereal to make edible sand.
· Science experiments: what happens to a slice of bread if we put it on the windowsill and leave it overnight? What if it was in water?
· Use pasta, rice or chick peas used for art creations.
· Read car themed stories.
· Building a track for a toy car.
· Exploring shape by examining parts of a car.
· Drive a car along a track and count in multiples of 2 or 5.
· Colour identification of different cars.
· Instructions on how to start a car.
· Map work looking at different places you could drive to.
· Sensory trays with rice shaped into a car.
· Sort different cars by size, weight, colour.
· Write a letter on the top of a car with a whiteboard pen – can they match it to the word with the same sound?
· Draw a race track in the shape of their name.
· Use algorithms (a set of instructions) to move around a track.
· Measure the height of different dinosaurs (measure the height in blocks for younger children or cm/mm for older children).
· Order dinosaurs by length
· Read a book to a dinosaur.
· Label the parts of a dinosaur.
· Build a dinosaur from blocks.
· Explore fossils by doing a dig in the garden.
· Make a dinosaur skeleton from straws or sticks.
· Match the sound to the dinosaur (e.g. t for t-rex).
Themed toys (Disney, LOL, Paw Patrol etc.)
If your child has a particular interest in one TV show or character, it is completely possible to adapt an activity to suit.
For example, Frozen fan? Explore hot and cold through ice and warm water. Which freezes faster? Why? What is Norway like? Can we do some research? Draw the flag?
Here are a few generic activities which can be applied to various themes:
· Draw an outline of a character. Fill in with dyed rice or pasta (fine motor control).
· Write a speech bubble for what a character is thinking.
· Draw an ‘opposite’ character. For example: an opposite of a princess may be a wicket witch. What would they be like?
· Draw a map (on paper or other mediums such as a stick in mud outside) of a character’s world.
· Mixing colours – try mixing different paint colours to create a dress/outfit for the character.
· Cut pictures into pieces to make a homemade jigsaw.
· Colour by numbers to reveal a picture. Print or draw an outline of a character and divide into pieces using a pencil (or using maths sums, for example: colour all answers between 1-10 red, 11-20 blue etc.)
· Design a new character to go along with the others. For example, a new Paw Patrol dog. A new character in Hey Duggee.
· Pause the show. Can you count how many fingers or toes are in the picture?
· Can you copy the outline of a character using shape blocks, or shape tiles?
· Weigh different character figurines.
Even linking an activity in a generic way can work for some children. For example, Buzz Lightyear wants to watch us do our Maths today! Or ‘when I got up this morning, I found this note from Winnie the Pooh! It says we have to help him with these addition sums! Do you think we can help him?’ Think along the lines of Elf of the shelf which helps to bring a character alive and engage children, even if not directly connected to the activity.
Maybe an activity could arrive by post with instructions to follow, or a mysterious object could be left in the garden overnight. These don’t need to be hugely labour intensive. A strange footprint in the mud or a old car part discarded on the lawn could be a missing part from an alien spacecraft. Make sure of whatever you have around the house and remember to be creative!
I really hope you found something practical here that helps engage and enthuse your little ones at home.
If you have any questions or would like to share what has worked for you, we have a private group on Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/CatkinToys) and an Instagram page (www.instagram.com/CatkinToys).