Birthday Traditions

I've read many articles over the years about the importance of establishing family traditions. They have huge developmental benefits by giving children a sense of belonging and adding to self esteem. They also help to create a sense of family unity and culture. My husband and I have created a few traditions over the years as well as carrying on some from our own families.

My little girl celebrated her sixth birthday on Saturday and it really brought home to me just how important traditions can be and for the first time, I could see how kids benefit form them with my own eyes. Em is old enough now to remember birthdays that have been and gone, and given the fact that Ed had his birthday back in June, Em was able to remember a lot of the things we did for him and she was really excited that it was her turn this time.

I was quite surprised actually at what these little traditions meant to her and she was so keen and eager to be a part of them. It added to her excitement and she had a strong sense of feeling special and being a part of something bigger. It was a really lovely weekend for our family.

We don't do anything major, but these were the things Em was really looking forward to and couldn't wait to be a part of.

Some of our "Butler Family Birthday Traditions":
- Choosing a birthday cake - Growing up, whenever a birthday would roll around, mum would always let us look through her "Women's Weekly" birthday cake book and choose the cake we wanted. It didn't matter how difficult it was, mum would always have a go. I remember loving this as a child. It really did make me feel special and I loved knowing that mum would happily make whatever cake we wanted, just to make our day as special as she could. I've tried to do the same for my kids and my sister does it for her kids too.

- Presents on the coffee table - I didn't really mean for this to become a tradition, but it has taken on a bit of a life of it's own. The night before each child's birthday, I'll wrap the presents and collect up any that have come from family interstate. They all go onto the coffee table for excited little ones to find first thing in the morning. It comes with a very strict "look but don't touch" rule, which has worked well for us so far.

- "The last day I'm 5" - the night before the birthday, I take a photo of the children on the last day before they turn a year older. I always have a little chat to them about what has happened through the year just gone and encourage them to reflect on what they've enjoyed. I record this in a little notebook I've had since they were young.

- The Birthday interview - folowing on from that, since Em's fourth birthday, I've asked her some interview questions and written down her answers. I think she will enjoy looking back on them as she gets older and she can see how she is growing and changing. They're pretty simple questions like - Your favourite food, colour, friends, toys, but I may make them a little more involved as she gets bigger. I think self-reflection is such a lovely thing to nurture.

- Family time - whether we have a party or not, we always spend some time together as a family on the weekend before or after the birthday and try to have a special outing. In the past few years, we've taken Em to the Melbourne show but this year we went bowling.

- Birthday dinner - Again, regardless of what else has gone on, we always have a family dinner on Birthday night and the person who is celebrating gets to choose exactly what we have. This is always followed up by a cake, which means I am often stuck making two cakes for one birthday, but looking at that little smile as she blows out the candles, surrounded by the people who love her makes it all worth it!!

What birthday traditions do you have in your family? I would love to hear about them.

A House Not Just For Dolls

We have 4 dolls' houses at our house. One holds all our board books, the kid's have one in each of their rooms and the other is a lovely small wooden one that is in the playroom for everyone to use.

A dolls' house is great for development. It provides a lovely back drop for imaginative play games that work on fine motor and language development, cognitive skills and of course those very important social and emotional skills. It's such a lovely place for children to play out the social rules and norms they see going on in their everyday lives.

I found during my teaching years and with my own two kids, that not all children enjoy playing with dolls. But that doesn't mean they have to miss out on the great developmental opportunities the dolls' house provides.

Take my boy for example. The other day I went into Ed's room to find him playing with the dolls' house he had pulled out from under his bed. There was not a doll in sight mind you, his cars had taken over! I quickly gathered up some furniture for him to keep his game going, but snuck back in to take these pictures when he was having a toilet break. He played at this game for a really long time and the cars took on the roles that the dolls usually take.

I've substituted dolls many times for my daughter too, and added props to extend her play. Here are some great things to add to the dolls' house:
- an animal family - cats, dogs, elephants, lions etc
- fairies
- cars
- trucks
- buttons
- rocks
- glass stones
- small squares of felt and/or material
- small grocery boxes with one side cut out of them to act as extra furniture
- paddle pop sticks
- matchsticks
- bottle tops
- small patty pans

A Truckload of Fun

Ed seems to have a particular interest in construction vehicles at the moment. He is obsessed with the "Digger" book we got from the library a couple of weeks ago and loves to play with the 2 dump trucks from his Thomas the Tank Engine collection - Max & Monty.

We've been enjoying some much needed time at home this morning so I decided that instead of just leaving him to his own devices, I would take 5 or so minutes to collect up some materials that would help his imaginative play along a little. Here's what I came up with.

I've noticed he likes to be quite active in his play, everything needs to have something to do, so I thought I would collect up all of his dump trucks and construction vehicles form his various suitcases. I put all of these together in the wooden box. I then got some buttons, rocks and stones to act as "loads" for the trucks to carry and move around. I added the meat trays and container lids to act as places for the trucks to unload and the blocks and road signs to be included as buildings, bridges and well, signs. I didn't add the small squares of material for any particular reason, but I like to just throw things like this into their play and see what they do with it.

Ed had an absolute ball with this set up. I started him off by showing him what I had put out and talking him through what I thought he could maybe use the materials for. I then showed him how the dump truck could unload into one of the trays and left him to it while he got himself going. I find with Ed that if I get too involved, it stifles his creativity a bit, so I went into another room to leave him to it.

The activity provided lots of learning opportunities. He talked the whole time he was playing - to himself about what he was doing, creating voices for the trucks and bossing the vehicles around. He used lots of the technical, descriptive language to talk about the play - loaders, trays, ditches, flat beds, road trains. It gave him the chance to put into play the language he has learned from the books we have read and the shows he has watched about vehicles. This is a really important tool for strengthening what he is learning. He also talked about and explored lots of concepts like big/small, full/empty, loading/unloading, fits/doesn't fit. He also needed to work his fine motor skills when trying to get the small items in and out of the trucks. His brain got a bit of a workout too as he tried to determine which loads would fit in which truck and what cars were small enough and thin enough to fit under his bridge.

The wonderful thing about this sort of play is he could do it on his own. I only needed to set it up for him and then it's totally up to him what happens next and what direction his learning and exploring takes. In the meantime, I had a chance to tidy up, get the washing on and some dishes done. Of course I got lots of updates about what was going on as well as the occasional "this is so exciting". I also had to look at the ditch being built and the cars fitting under the bridge as I walked through the lounge room to put some things away but my involvement and feedback, however brief, sends a really powerful message of "I'm interested in and value what you are doing" which is also valuable for his learning and self-esteem. Can you believe we achieved so much in an hour of free-play with buttons, rocks and a couple of trucks?!

More Articles

I have a couple of articles out this month. In the August/September issue, I have "Boxing Day" on page 86 and in the Practical Parenting Annual "Your Toddler", I have re-prints of "Busy Boxes" and "Cooking Up a Garden Stew".

I've just been commissioned for a couple more to appear int PP in the next few months so I will keep you posted .....