More Everyday Play "You Tube" Videos

I've finally put the three play ideas segments onto You Tube that I presented on "9am wih David and Kim" last year. The video you can watch was originally presented as 3 different segments over 3 weeks. I have been trying for months to separate them and put them on You Tube separately, but have finally given up and decided to put them all on together, one after the other.

I love these segments. I feel a little awkward watching myself, but love seeing the video of my little ones when they were much, much younger. I wrote and presnted these segments on my own and given it was only my second time in front of a real life TV camera, I don't think I did too badly (if I do say so myself!). They also include some lovely, simple, everyday play ideas too.

You can watch the videos by clicking here or by clicking on the bottom video image in the side bar.

No (Dramatic Play) Toys for Boys

My Ed is big into dramatic play at the moment. He talks a lot about pretending and reflects a lot on what his dad and dads in general do. You can see him ticking over, processing the role men play as dads and what that means for him as a boy. This is one of the primary roles of dramatic play and it's lovely to see it in action in my cherished one.

I'm so frustrated at the lack of range of dramatic play toys for my him though. He gets terribly strange looks when he pushes his teddy around in his sisters' pram while we're out for a walk and he has begged me for his own pram. Problem is, I can't find one. I know the colour and style isn't really important and the fact that he's still happy to push it around proves that it's not, but it would be nice to have access to dramatic play toys that aren't so gender specific.

Why can't a kid's pram just be a pram without frills and flounces. Same goes for play cribs and blankets and pillows and dolls' clothes. In an age when men play a bigger role than ever in child rearing, wouldn't it be great if our boys could confidently play out this role without all the toys available being marketed to girls?!

There, that's my rant over .... the hunt continues ..

Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley

Have you read this book? If not, you really, really should. It's a great one to have in your home library. I've just written a review for Kids Book Review. If you wold like to read it, you can click here

Learning to Play

Things are changing in the Butler household. My Em is now 7 years old and in the last few weeks or so I've noticed I'm not needed so much at play time when she's around. It seems my years of hard work focussed on encouraging play have truly paid off and Em now runs around finding resources and coming up with play ideas for her and her brother that are above and beyond anything I'm capable of.

As regular readers of this blog would know, I've always put a lot of thought and effort into my children's play. I think about how I organise their toys, what toys they have accessible to them, what other props I can add, what they're interests are and how they like to play. I set up play scenes to stimulate learning and creativity. I love to listen in on their little play scenarios and think about things I can add or bring into their play so they can benefit from what they are doing even more.

I keep checking in on their play as I always have but where I used to offer ideas or help find materials, Em has it all under control now and I find myself hanging around on the outskirts, marvelling at the ideas they've come up with, but a little bit sad that I'm not included as much any more.

Though a part of me longs for the days I was in there with my sleeves pulled up, feeding off their creativity and ideas to make a play scenario bigger and better, I am bursting with pride at the creative, play-loving little girl my daughter has become.

All of those years of fostering interests, collecting resources, encouraging independent play and negotiating arguments have finally meant I can have a few peaceful hours to myself without lifting a single finger. Bliss!! Now I just have to work on the packing up ...........

Homemade Party Hats for Furry Friends

Once upon a time there was a three year old girl named Em who loved to throw birthday parties for all of her soft toy friends almost EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Her mum would help her to organise some 'party food' (using plastic food, real food or playdough), make invitations, blow up balloons, find a make-do cake and invent party games. Her mum would also buy her cardboard party hats for her party guests to wear.

Mum liked to encourage this sort of play because she knew:
  • it was a great boost to Em's self-esteem as she got to pretend to be the adult and boss her toys around
  • it helped her girl to practice pre-literacy skills as she 'wrote out' invitations
  • it was sometimes a great fun art and craft activity when Em felt like making fancy invitations
  • her daughter would talk and talk and talk the whole way through the party which was great for her language skills
  • it helped Em to process what she understood about social rules and interactions as she sorted out problems that arose between her furry friends
  • her little girl was building on all of her fine motor skills as she set things up and made the things she needed
  • Em's memory, recall and imagination were getting a big boost too as she remembered what happens at a party and invented her story for the day
  • once she was set up and happy with how things were going, Em would spend an hour or so playing on her own as long as mum checked in every now and then
  • and it was a whole lot of fun!!

One day, Mum got sick of buying party hats and decided Em could make her own. So, Mum went out and bought a packet of plastic, disposable picnic bowls.

When Mum got home, she turned each of the bowls upside-down and punched a hole in either side with a hole punch. Then Em helped her mum tie some elastic onto each hat.

After that, Em got busy with her art and craft ideas (with a little help getting set-up) and decorated a hat for each of her friends. She put stickers on some and stuck flowers and ribbons on others. It was a great art and craft activity that kept her busy for quite a while.

Those hats are still in the dress-up box today, four years later and, luckily, those furry friends haven't grown a bit!

October PP - Growing Grass

I've been so busy lately, I haven't stoppped to tell you what I've written for Practical Parenting this month. It's an article about growing small patches of grass to include in imaginative play scenes.

I've done this loads of times with Kinder groups and my own kids and it really is a bunch of fun. If you get a chance, have a read and give it a go!

Learning to Relax

I think teaching children to become aware of their minds and bodies and giving them tools to slow down, unwind and relax is so important.

I was an anxious, shy, nervous child (and adult for that matter!) and discovered meditation in my early twenties. It's not an overstatement to say that meditation changed my life, helping me to relax and get control of my emotions. I only wish someone had given me some of those tools when I was much, much younger.

I try to pass on some of what I've learnt through meditation to my kids. I'm amazed at how receptive they are and how much they embrace the techniques we use. In my experience, kids have such an innate ability to just be in the moment as well as a wonderful sense of themselves. It's amazing what happens when this is nurtured.

I've also taught relaxation techniques to my Kinder groups over the years, so I thought I would share with you some of the exercises that have worked well with both my kids and my Kinder groups.

1. Counting

When Em was a baby, wiggling and complaining on the change table, I started to count to her rhythmically and slowly. She responded immediately, mesmerised by my words. Later, when she was having trouble settling at night, again I would count. Some nights I would get all the way up to 500, but eventually, she would unwind and go to sleep. The slow, even rhythm of sequential numbers is really soothing (and as a bonus, she could count to 100 at the age of 3!)

2. Guided Meditation CDs for Kids

I found this wonderful CD at a meditation workshop I did a couple of years ago. Em and I do it together sometimes and it is really, really good. It encourages the child to slowly relax each part of their bodies and then talks them through imagining gorgeous rainbow sparkles, falling all over them, making them healthy, happy and well. It also has a very nice "Parent's meditation" too. It's lovely.

3. Becoming Aware of the Breath

Encouraging your child to focus on their breath going in and out, filling and emptying their lungs is a lovely way to relax them. You can even encourage them to say words in their head while they do it, like inhale, exhale or in, out. Young children can't do this for too long, but it's amazing what a difference just 10 or so slow, deliberate breaths can make.

4. Touch

I've been doing a really great meditation course (which you can read about here) and we did an exercise a few weeks ago where we had to trace our fingers around our face and focus on the sensation of touch. Ed enjoys doing this. I slowly move just one finger over his face while he keeps his eyes closed. I talk him through it, talking about where I am tracing my finger. I encourage him to focus on how it feels on the different parts of his face.

5. Creative Visualisation

I've just reviewed a book over at Kids Book Review that is all about talking kids through guided meditations that boost creativity and help develop focus and concentration. You can read about the book here.

6. Watching a Flame

With one of my Kinder groups, we would light a candle and sit in a circle and watch the candle flicker and move for 5 minutes while being aware of our bodies and our breath. We would then often share our thoughts/feelings/observations. This was one of my first experiences of relaxation with young kids and I was amazed at how still they could be.

7. A Relaxation Cave

I will still often encourage Em to rest on the weekends and, at 7, she sometimes strongly opposes the idea. To try and woo her, I made her bedroom into a "Relaxation Cave" and she loved it! To be honest, all I did was make her room quite dark and put on some beautiful classical music and close her door. She totally bought the idea though and it has since become a bit of a Saturday ritual. She lies in her 'cave' for around half an hour

8. Story CDs

Story CDs are great for little ones. My kids have really loved them from about age 2 til about 5. While listening to a story is not strictly meditation, I encourage them to lie with their bodies really still and floppy and tell them to close their eyes and imagine the story in their head. This engages their focus and concentration and makes them one with the story, forgetting their cares and troubles. I think it's a great introduction.

9. Using the Body

Tai Chi and Yoga have some great poses and exercises that are really good for getting children to become aware of their body and the way it feels and moves. There are some lovely books to get started with. It's great to start with some poses and movement and then move into a creative visualisation story or a few minutes focusing on the breath.

10. Meditation Books for Kids

To be honest, we are just moving onto this area as Em is that bit older. I found this lovely book called "Small Souls" and we have only just started using it. It guides children through a meditation, focusing on a particular feeling or idea. This type of book is probably best for children who have had some experience of slowing themselves down and becoming aware.

How do you relax at your house? I would love to hear about it

Setting Up Lego Play

Lego has been the toy of choice here over the last couple of days. I haven't met many kids over the years who don't love playing with those cheerful, colourful, perfectly-sized little blocks.

The benefits of building with Lego are enormous. It
- works the fine motor muscles really, really well
- develops eye-hand co-ordination and spatial awareness
- builds on planning skills
- helps concentration
- brings attention to detail
- works pre-literacy skills when kids follow instructions to build something specific
- can be a wondeful medium for building imaginative play elements

I like to set it up like this.

I find it is much easier to find specific pieces when I take a few minutes to put the Lego into baskets and plastic containers. That means there's not a massive bucketful tipped out all over the floor and the kids don't need to break out of their creative momentum to go searching. That leaves more time for building, learning and fun!

Lots of fun with a Marble Run

One of our all-time favourite toys would have to be our Marble Run. I remembered the kids at kinder absolutely loving this toy, so I bought one for Em (well, Santa delivered one) when she was around 2.

She has had hours of fun with it and in the past year or so Ed has started to really enjoy it too.

It is something that requires a reasonable amount of adult-help to begin with. I've taken the time to build some runs with the kids so that get an idea about how it works.

But, once they get the hang of how it works, it allows for lots of opportunities to problem-solve, plan, build, co-operate, negotiate, follow instructions, imagine and create on your own, hypothesise and then of course, there's the irresistible fun of sending lots and lots of marbles scooting down the run.

If you don't have one at your house, I highly recommend it. It's worth investing a bit of money on one with lots of pieces and sturdy construction and buy an extra bag of marbles for even more fun!

A Bloggy Break

I haven't been around these parts for the last couple of weeks. I was in need of a little break from my blog. Does anyone else feel like they need a break sometimes too?

I was just feeling a little bogged down by it all. Like my bloggy life was taking over my real life. I couldn't enjoy the kids playing without snapping a photo and thinking about how I could turn it into a post.

I was starting to plan things so that I could post about it, rather than planning things that my kids would enjoy and then turning it into a post. I started to see posts everywhere and I was constantly thinking about what I could write about next.

When I wasn't thinking about posting, I was checking emails, looking for comments or checking how many visits I'd had, then I was checking out other people's blogs all the time, reading, commenting and thinking about what it all means for my humble little space. I really felt like it was taking over. I was constantly distracted.

This was never what I wanted my blog to be. I wanted to use it to complement my life, not dominate it. Because I was thinking about my blog so much, my washing was piling up, my house was messy, my kids were getting their own snacks and making do with the toys left out from yesterday. Because I was thinking about my blog so much, I wasn't getting much paid writing work. I'd stopped thinking about articles I could write and be paid for.

So I needed to take a break and give myself some space and it's served me well. I love this little patch of cyberspace I have and I love writing for it. It used to be my favourite thing to do because I could write about what I wanted to write about, when I wanted to write it.

And now with some space, I have all those lovely feelings back again. And, from now on, I need to give myself set times to be online and this time I need to stick to it. It's really important I give myself the time I need to get things done and it's equally important that whatever I'm doing has my full attention. I just work better like that.

I love the way a little bit of space can sometimes give you some clarity and in the meantime I've cleaned out cupboards and reorganised a bunch of stuff around my house. It feels good to get so many things done that I just haven't been able to find the time for. I know life is often refered to as a juggling act, but I seem to work better when I don't have all the balls up in the air at the same time. I think as I get older, I've realised I just like to hold one or two at a time and put the others down. Just for a little while ...

When Baby becomes a Toddler ..

My lovely god-daughter is now 19 months old and, I have to say, looking after her is a much busier time than it used to be when she would sit exactly where I put her.

The first time I looked after her after she started confidently moving around was quite a challenge and I really had to re-think what toys I put out for her to use and where I put them. This led me to write an article that is feautured on pg 66 of this month's "Practical Parenting" magazine - called "Baby on the Move"

It's all about how life (and play) changes after baby starts to move around and includes some ideas on "play stations" to set up for a baby who has just become a "toddler". These play station ideas are really open-ended, so they suit children aged from around 9 months, all the way up to children who are almost 2. They can be varied according to the interests of your child.

When I did this for my little Ally, she played independently for over an hour, keeping herself busy with what I had set up. I just made sure I wasn't far away so she could come and visit and play near me if she needed to and I also made sure I checked in on her every now and then, asking her questions and showing her toys she hadn't discovered yet.

Here is what I set up for her:

A dolly to feed

Some furry friends

A place to hide (her favourite thing)

Some baby toys and musical instruments

Some noisy buttons to press

Interesting animals

Somewhere to sit

Some light reading

A basket of pegs

I spread everything out around the loungeroom so she could move about and explore

This was a couple of months ago now, but I looked after her just the other week and did a similar set up, with the play stations just a little more elaborate now she's older. She still had her cubby, but I added some blankets, food and a high chair for the baby and also set up a pretend cooking area for her.

The wondeful thing about these play experiences is they can keep little ones busy and engaged for long periods of time. Setting small staions up around the room like this allows children to go from one thing to another (as young children are prone to do) and then back to things they enjoy, without getting bored. It also gives them lots of opportunity to
- practice motor skills
- problem solve
- explore
- have an effect on their environment
- create and imagine
- concentrate
- use their memory
- practice language skills
- play out things they see mum and dad do

I'm looking forward to her next visit. I have some ideas up my sleeve taht I can't wait to try out. I'll keep you posted

Painting On A Sunny Sunday

How was your weekend? Ours was relaxing, quiet, low-key, lovely.

Sunday was a chilly but sunny day here in Melbourne and, inspired by a recent post by SquiggleMum, called "Playing Whatever the Weather", I decided to let the children play outside despite the cold. I am what my family refers to as a 'cold body', so I really don't like being outside in winter, but thankfully my kids are big enough (and the windows looking out the back are large enough) that I don't necessarily have to be out there with them.

They had a ball. They spent the morning chasing each other up and down the hill we have in the yard on their bikes. Then, after some lunch and a much-needed rest, Em asked to do some painting (Ed had fallen asleep).

I try to minimise mess and cleaning up after the kids paint, so I headed straight to my very messy art cupboard to raid the recycling items I keep there. I grabbed an egg carton to pour the paint into and a large glass jar to hold the water for the brushes.

Next I set up a plastic table I bought from a cheapy shop that can get as painty and grotty as it likes because it lives outside. That's where I put the paint, the jar and a dishwashing cloth for Em to dab her brush onto after she had finished washing it off. I set all of this up alongside her easel.

I took my clothes airer and some pegs out too to hang the wet paintings on.

Em asked for a pencil and eraser to sketch what she wanted to paint.

She must have been inspired by her beautiful outlook.

It wasn't long before sleepy Ed came out from his room and Em decided she wanted to paint his portrait. But Ed just wouldn't stand still long enough.

Then surprise, surprise, Ed wanted to paint too.

I was a bit stuck because I don't have 2 easels, but he soon decided he wanted to do "foldy" paintings, so we didn't need an extra easel after all.

I made a makeshift table for him using an upside down storage container with an esky lid as a table top.

I got him some cotton tips, a bag to throw the tips into when he had finished and some plain white paper which I pre-folded. Once they were set up, I headed back to my ironing.

It wasn't long before hands were being painted, so I went back out with some warm soapy water, a facewasher and an old hand towel.

The two of them painted outside by themselves for over an hour. Because the activity was so open ended, it suited both of their developmental needs and abilities. Em painted masterpieces and her hands and started to fold her large paper in half. Ed mostly experimented with colour mixing and colour squishing.

Cleaning up was easy, most of it went straight into the bin, then we left the paintings to dry outside. A simple, creative, fun afternoon.

Don't forget to checkout my "You Tube" video if you haven't already and play along at the Childhood 101 "We Play" link up.

We Play

"everydayplay" on You Tube - Pt 1

I'm not sure how many of you remember the play segments I taped for "9am with David and Kim" last year. Well, since the show was axed (nothing to do with my segments, I'm sure!), I've got permission to put the videos onto You Tube. You can hopefully view the first one by clicking onto my sidebar here or, you can click on this link to take you there

I'm not the most tech-savvy person, so it's taken me a little while to get them on (it's supposed to be simple, I know!). I have three more so I'll hopefully get them up and going in the next week or so.

Hope you stop by to have a look. I had so much fun taping them and it's great to look back on my little ones and see how much they've grown. Ed wasn't even 2 when this first one was taped. My how time flies ........

Tall Stories

Amanda (over at "HomeAge") has written a great post this week for the Childhood 101 "We Play" link up about a story her daughter told involving a make-believe cat who had gone missing. Her daughter made up stories about where he could have gone and even made some 'missing' posters to try and find him.

I am such a sucker for these sorts of stories. I just love the way a childs' imagination works and the novel, interesting details they put into their stories just make my heart sing.

My own boy was making up stories when we were all on holidays together. It seemed that while he had his dad to himself for a change, he wanted to fill dad in on all the ins-and-outs of the life of his favourite bear - Yarji.

Here are some of the wonderful facts he shared:

- Em is Yarji's mum and Ed is Yarji's dad
- Hamley (Em's bear) is his best friend
- He loves to eat nuts and apples
- He only drinks milk and boo-boo juice. Boo-boo juice is only for grey bears.
- He loves to make carrot soup. That's the soup he really loves. He doesn't like coconut soup or anything.
- He learnt to fly from a chicken (!!)

I've written these 'facts' down and I'm going to write them up on a sheet of paper, then print out some pictures of "Yarj" that Ed can cut and paste. It will be a custom-made Yarji fact sheet that I'm sure will be enjoyed for years to come. This is going to make a great addition to his "Learning Book"

What wonderful "Tall Stories" are being told by the kids you love? ....

Different Types of Play

When observing kids at play, I've always thought in terms of the developmental benefits of the play (cognitive, language, motor, social or emotional), or the kind of play being carried out (eg. art and craft, building, imaginative, dramatic etc.) As a Kindergarten Teacher (and a mum), these classifications really work when it comes to identifying play and it's benefits and planning for future activities.

I've just read a book by Dr David Elkind called "The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children ", which categorises play in a different way to what I've read before. It's really helped me to look at play a little differently and value it even more (which I didn't really think was possible!). Of course, the book raises a lot of important, valuable points about play, but these classifications have really stuck with me.

Dr Elkind categorises play into the 'types' of play children engage in and what I like about these categories is that they look at play from the child's perspective and why the child is personally motivated to play in that particular way.

The types of play Dr Elkind outlines are
1) Mastery Play
2) Innovative Play
3) Kinship Play and
4) Therapeutic Play

I've been looking at my kids' play with different eyes over the last couple of weeks as I bear these in mind and it really has helped me to value play even more.

For example, Ed was turning the 'lazy susan' (a rotating plate) I have on my dining room table a couple of weeks ago. He asked if he could play with it and I said yes. He started to experiment with it, turning it quickly and then slowly. This was "Mastery Play" at work.

Mastery play is when a child is using play to help them to master a new skill or object and this is what Ed was doing here. He was experimenting with the 'lazy susan' to find out how it worked.

Once he had that worked out, he moved on to "Innovative Play". Innovative play is what children do once they have mastered a skill or object. They then engage in play that is imaginative and creative, with new variations on what they have already learnt. Ed started to put things onto the 'lazy susan' and spin it really fast so that the objects (cars mostly of course) would fly off in all directions. Then he would load on as many as he could and see if he could get them all off with a spin.

Normally I would have looked at this play in terms of the cognitive and motor benefits this kind of play was providing, but seeing it as Ed's way to master something new and then innovate with what he had learned, made me value the play even more.

"Kinship Play" is something I'm seeing with my children more and more as they get older. Kinship play is when children invent games or play for the purpose of developing a friendship or relationship. If you watch children who don't know each other, you can see this type of play in action. Often the play doesn't involve talking, but will involve some kind of gesture to get a friendship up and running.

With children who know each other, you can hear it in the games they develop to just be together. Looking at this type of play in this way has really helped me with my two kids. As they get older, they play more and more games that to this grown up looking in, seem a bit silly really.

Their current favourite is to play "Tom and Jerry" or "Tweety and Sylvester" (they love the cartoons). I have to admit, this play was driving me a little crazy before I read this book. It all seemed a little pointless and just involved a lot of screaming, loud noises, running and talking in funny voices. Looking at the play as their way of bonding and strengthening their relationship has given me a new tolerance for it and even helped me to encourage it along.

I love the classification of "Therapeutic Play". I've often watched kids at play and thought about how peaceful and happy and 'in the moment' they looked. I've also listened to a lot of dramatic and imaginative play and marvelled at the social and emotional insights and development going on. I love that Dr Elkind has identified the value of this and called it children's therapy.

When Ed lies on his car mat and just brrmms his cars backwards and forwards or when Em comes home from school and plays out her day in her own pretend 'school' or when they sit in a lovely warm bath at the end of the day and gently pour water from one cup into another, they're undergoing a type of therapy that helps them. What a lovely thought. Hopefully all these hours of therapy I've provided them in their Early Years will save them from hours of therapy when they grow up.

So, there you have it, Dr Elkind's ideas about the types of play children engage in. What do you think and what types of play are going on at your house?

If you'd like to read a review of Dr Elkind's book, I like this one.

A Shoe Box Garage

Over the weekend, Ed was 'brrming' his cars around his car mat and had invented a story about how the cars were all looking for parks.

I remembered a garage I had made back when I was doing my teaching rounds for some other little boys who were car-mad and decided to make one for my boy.

It really couldn't be simpler. I turned a sturdy shoe box upside down and made two parallel cuts into it at a couple of centimetre intervals (6 cuts in all). I then lifted the piece of cardboard between the cuts and presto!, instant garage doors and ample parking space for cars.

When I originally made the garages for those boys all those years ago, I made the garage openings different widths and heights and gave the boys a selection of different cars so they could experiment with size and fit.

This eventuated with Ed too because he wanted a garage for his long rocket-launcher truck and "Charlie" (as he is called) wouldn't fit in the original garages I made.

So, after a bit of discussion and problem solving, we found a fit for "Charlie".

Find other great play ideas at the Childhood 101 We Play link up

Link is Working

The link to my "Learning Book" guest post wasn't working thanks to holiday-brain and a very dodgy computer I was working on in Far North Queensland. I'm back in Melbourne and out of holiday mode (and very cold!), so I've got the link working. You can click on "here"in my earlier post to read my post over at "Little People Books" or click here now!

Guest Post - Little People Books

I'm a guest at "Little People Books". I've written a post about making a "Learning Book", a great thing to do for kids aged 2 and up. Click here to visit and have a read.

Positive Puzzle Play

My little boy got some money for his birthday and do you know what he wanted to buy? A puzzle. They are his absolutely favourite thing to do at the moment and he keeps trying to challenge himself further and further.

The puzzle he wanted was one he spotted a couple of weeks ago and it made a big impression. It was 100 pieces and I was a little worried it would be a bit out of his league and put a dampener on his enthusiaism.

I had nothing to worry about, he did it in a couple of sittings. He is really proud of himself and he should be. It's proven to be a great boost for his self-esteem as well as providing the wonderful benefits doing puzzles provides.

Being able to do puzzles is quite a specific skill and I thought I would share with you some of the tips and ideas I use to encourage positive puzzle play.

1. Start young - the kids have both had puzzles since they were very young. Most baby puzzles are the kind with large knobs that involve the skill of matching shapes to a particular space. This is one particular skill, but the type of puzzle that involves putting a picture back together is a different skill again. It's great to get your hands on 2, 4 and then 6 piece puzzles where younger toddlers can work on recreating a picture to complement the "matching shape" type puzzles.

2. Don't have too many out at once - too many puzzles are confusing and messy. Try to have just one or two out for young children and three or four out for older children. That way children don't get confused for choice and the puzzles pieces don't get messed up. I tend to have the easier puzzles on an accessible shelf for everyday play and then harder ones put away for times when the kids are looking for something to do.

3. Give children time to do harder puzzles - it's great if you can leave harder puzzles set up somewhere undisturbed so that children can keep going back to it. Ed's puzzle was on his toybox in his room

4. Choose puzzles that have interesting pictures - I'm not a huge fan of "character" toys and branded items, but puzzles are one case where I make an exception. If kids are really interested and excited by the picture, they're far more likely to do the puzzle.

5. Try not to take over - Some of my more frustrating teacher moments have been whilst sitting at the puzzle table with a child attempting puzzles for the first time. It's so easy to take over, but it's really important to let them work it out for themselves.

Lots of kids will ask "Where does this piece go?", but it's great to encourage them to look at the pieces and see which ones look like they go together and start there. You can ask the child to look for all the pieces of a certain colour, or choose a particular part of the picture to re-create. I find this works really well and if children work on a small piece at a time, the puzzle ends up coming together.

I know as adults we tend to do the edges and corners first, but I find this is quite complicated for a young child to understand. It is possible to explain that some edges are smooth and others are bumpy, but I find the picture/colour technique works better.

Puzzles are great fun and work on spatial awareness, observation, perception, recall, memory and fine motor skills. They also provide opportunities for problem solving and language development.

Ed has his eye on a 300 piece puzzle his Dad had when he was a boy. It's a picture of a 1970's race car and the pieces are tiny. I'm not convinced he's quite ready for it, but I have been wrong before ............

We Play - With a Mirror

When I found Ed heading up to my bedroom with an armful of cars the other day, I got a little curious.

"Where are you going with those, mate?" I asked

"Oh, I'm going up to your bedroom to play with them" he answered.

"Uh-oh" I thought, "that can only lead to mess and trouble!" Instead of jumping in with a, "No, you're not!" I decided to get to the bottom of why playing in my bedroom was so appealing. I'm glad I ignored my first instinct ...

"Why do you want to play with the cars in my bedroom and not in the lounge or your room?"

"Oh Mum, when I brmmm my cars in front of your mirror, it looks like they're going up the hill and then down the hill" he replied.

What an interesting thing he had observed. I wanted to help him explore this, so I moved my full length mirror down into our loungeroom so he could have some fun experimenting.

He "brmmed" his big car up the hill and down the hill. Then tried lots of different cars in front of the mirror. Then tried those roads I made, that I've talked about before. Then played peek-a-boo with himself, pulled some funny faces and then looked all around the mirror from many different angles.

He played for quite a while, checking in with me and reporting what he had discovered. All the while he was working on his:
- motor skills while he pushed the cars along
- cognitive skills as he tried to determine how the mirror works
- memory skills as he remembered what had happened when he played in front of the mirror before
- language skills as he talked to me about what was going on; and
- self-awareness as he checked himself out in the mirror

Come over and play at the 'Childhood 101' 'We Play' link up

We Play


I joined the fun of the nuffnang Family Day at Federation Square yesterday, thanks to nuffnang (and Nicole from Planning With Kids) Unfortunately I missed the first part of the day, the Rupert Bunny exhibition, due to some Kinder commitments, but we made it along to the second part of the day where we had great fun at ABBAWORLD.

If you're an ABBA fan (like my 6 year old), ABBAWORLD is a must-see. There's loads of information, photos, costumes, album covers and also heaps of interactive displays. We got to take an ABBA quiz, sing-along karaoke style with some ABBA classics and perform in a music video. We could have gone up on stage to bang out a tune in front of live audience too, but little Ed wasn't up for that.

The exhibition goes over 3 levels and takes a good couple of hours to get around. I am not a huge ABBA fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, helped along by the fact Em had such a good time. At the beginning of the tour, we were supplied with headphones and a small device that when swiped over information points at each display, supplied information through the headphones. Em really loved this feature. In her own words "it was great to get so much information".

Nuffnang have been generous enough to also supply me with 2 guest passes to the display to give away to my readers. The tickets are valid until July 4th and are for the Melbourne exhibition. They are not transferable for cash and obviously, you need to be able to get yourself to Federation Square in Melbourne before July 4th to use them.

To be eligible for the giveaway, just leave me a comment below before Thursday June 24th. Tell me your favourite ABBA song. Mine is 'Waterloo', Em loves 'Dancing Queen', Ed also likes 'Waterloo' but according to him, he "really just likes rock and roll"!

Ed turns 4

My sweet little boy is four today and as this important milestone passes for him, I'm reminded of how different my two children are and how important it is to be mindful of this.

Em loves birthdays - the presents, the traditions,the phone calls, the fanfare, the attention. She'll spend ages writing lists of what she wants, pawing through cookbooks to find the perfect cake, thinking about ways we can celebrate. She already has her September birthday worked out.

My little boy, not so much. I was waiting for the hype today, but it just hasn't happened. I know he's younger and things might change, but he's not big on the fuss. He doesn't want a party or any celebration with friends, he chose his cake in record time, wanted very little in the way of presents and when it came to spending a special day with his mum, he just wanted to stay home and play and have a nap cuddled in my arms because he's tired. So we did.

Sure, we've carried out all the traditions I've written about before, but in more of a low-key sort of way, because that's what suits him. It hasn't come easily for me, but letting children be who they are is so important. So I've taken a step back and let things be how he wants them to be.

Here are 4 of photos of my easy-going boy who once was my baby, but now is big. It's such a pleasure and delight to watch him unfold. Happy Birthday Fred x

His First Birthday

Carrying "Yarji"

We called this face "Evil Baby"

Is that your foot?

The Fairies Have Landed

It's not often I post two days in a row, but I just had to share this.

You know how we're always looking for treasures? Well, nature has landed a fabulous gift on our doorstep!

It's a real-life fairy toadstool!!!!!

In my all of my 30-something years, I've never seen a real one, have you?

It's very beautiful.

I'm tempted to host a fairy tea party underneath it .......