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

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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 .......

We Play - With Matchboxes and Tiny Things

I bought some matchboxes from the craft store quite a few months ago now and Ed found them the other day while he was going through one of our toy cupboards.

He stuffed the matchbox with some other tiny treasures he found and came to find me. I had to guess what was in the matchbox. In the beginning, he made it multiple choice. Once I'd guessed correctly a couple of times, he changed the rules so that I got no clues.

Realising this was something he was quite taken by, I quickly collected up some more tiny treasures and displayed them near where he was originally playing.

You can see in the photo I gave him some buttons, pom poms, fairy stones, small babies, nuts and bolts and some small pieces of felt that we had cut up to use as baby blankets.

He kept playing the guessing game for almost half an hour and then got a few of his dump trucks out to carry the small items around as 'loads'.

With these little lovelies he was giving his development a workout too. He was building on his:
- fine motor and manipulative skills
- eye-hand co-ordination
- language skills
- ability to develop strategy
- problem solving

Little things are so much fun!

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

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Some Tips to Encourage Independent Play

Following on from my last post, I thought I would share with you a response I gave to someone who contacted me about some tips to encourage her child to play independently.

The little girl in question was around 2 years old, a lover of dinosaurs and a confident, secure child, except when she was at home with mum. Her mum was doing all the right things. She was very in-tune with her daughter's interests, took her to the library, rotated her toys and had always encouraged her to play for periods of time on her own. But lately she had been particularly clingy and was wanting mum to play with her ALL THE TIME!

Here is what I suggested (with a few little tweaks). I've also changed names, because in these times of extreme privacy it seems like the right thing to do.

Hi Sally,
It's pretty normal for Bella to enjoy playing more with you than with herself at her age. From what you've told me, it sounds like she is really starting to enjoy imaginative play and when she plays with you, the stories and characters you make up are probably quite creative and involved. Then when it comes to playing by herself, she may just be having a little trouble keeping herself amused with her own imagination and it's easier if mum does it! This is perfectly normal because her imagination is only just starting to develop. There are lots of things you can do to help her along.

Firstly, don't feel guilty about saying 'no' to her. Teaching her to play independently is a wonderful skill to learn. You're helping her to develop her inner dialogue, her imagination and creativity as well as the confidence to feel comfortable with her own company. Not to mention the self-esteem that comes with working things out and accomplishing things independently. These are great gifts.

The hard part is weaning her off of playing with you. A nice way to go about it is to use a timer. You can say something along the lines of "Mummy has some jobs to do, but I'm going to put this timer on (use the oven timer or a wind up one if you have it), and when the timer goes off, it's going to be Mummy and Bella time and we can do something together".

Then set the timer and go about some jobs as best as you can until the timer goes off.
It's best to ignore resistance as much as you can and just keep reassuring her you will play when the timer goes. It's probably best to set the timer for ten or twenty minutes to start with (whatever you feel she's ready for), so she gets the hang of how it works, then gradually make the time longer and longer. Don't worry too much if she doesn't play at first while she's waiting, she will eventually go and play once she realises you mean business and she gets bored. You could set up a little play scene with her dinosaurs close by and suggest she play there while she waits for you.

For the time being, I would perhaps avoid playing pretend games with her when the timer goes off and use your time together to do a puzzle or play a simple board game. That way, she will associate these things with time spent with you, rather than the imaginative games. It makes pretend play games her domain, which will encourage her to develop these games on her own, becoming less reliant on you.

The other thing you can work on is helping her to develop her imaginative play stories. I do this a lot with my kids. When you are in the kitchen or the family room and catch her involved in her dinosaur play for example, it's great to ask her questions about what is going on to help her develop the story. This also helps to reassure her that you are close by and interested in what she is doing. For example things like "How are the dinosaurs today?" "What's the orange one up to over there", "He sounds cross, what's happened?", "Is she having a swim in the water?". Questions and comments that observe the play Bella is involved in and encourage her to develop the story more on her own.

Another thing I would suggest is perhaps seeing how Bella goes having her toys rotated less frequently. At her age, she will probably enjoy going back to the same toys over and over again. I have found with both of my kids that once they got to around 2, they would play with "pretend play" toys every day and it would be the same ones over and over again.

Children love to re-visit things they've done, pick up where they've left off and recall stories they've made up before. It's a really important part of their brain development. Toys that are great to leave out all the time are basically ones that have unlimited uses - things like plastic animals and dinosaurs, cars, trains, babies and baby accessories, dress-ups and "home corner" play things. You'll know when she is getting bored with these things because her play will stop being as constructive and that's when it's a good time to find new things to do by rotating toys or adding new props.

I hope these tips are helpful. You sound like a switched on mum, very in tune with her little girl and from what you've told me, it sounds like you have a great relationship. As I mentioned earlier, playing independently and enjoying your own company is a wonderful thing to learn and I'm sure it will be only a matter of time before Bella is spending hours playing on her own and you're seeking her out to find out what she's up to. I'd love to hear how you go.

Kind Regards

I've had some feedback from 'Sally' and apparently, after some persistence and a few months of sticking to these tips, 'Bella' is again enjoying busy, independent play. Hurray for everyone!

Inspiring Play

Some of you might be surprised to learn, I don't really play with my children very much. Sure, I've been known to put on the odd dress-up and I've certainly eaten a lot of pretend food and drunk many cups of pretend tea, but it's not very often I sit and play with them for long periods of time.

This is completely deliberate. I think child's play is and should be a child's domain and too much involvement by grown-ups can actually remove a lot of the benefits play can provide.

Don't get me wrong, I always keep an ear out to hear how they're playing and I think a lot about what they play with and how they might use it. I also 'check-in' often to ask about what they're doing and offer help and suggestions if it's needed. I guess I try to inspire play and help the kids to build on their own ideas. I think it's really important for their problem-solving, imagination, creativity and ultimately their self-esteem

A great example of this happened on the weekend. The children were busy building with some 'mobilo' close to the kitchen where I was preparing dinner.

Em came up to show me some of what she'd been doing. She had made a perfectly working see-saw. Always keen to extend on what they're doing, I said to her "that would make a great see-saw for one of your 'Littlest Pet Shop' toys, wouldn't it". "Yeah" she yelled and ran back to where she was working to share this new information. "Ed", she said "my 'Littlest Pet Shops' could fit in this see-saw and in all these other things we made". "We could make Littlest-Pet-Shop-Town" he said.

So, they set about it with a new purpose to their building and an extra dimension to their play.

This idea turned a couple of hours of building into an imaginative play game that grew and evolved and blossomed for the whole weekend, giving so many areas a developmental work out. The kids were building on many, many skills including:
- imagination
- creativity
- problem solving
- fine motor skills
- eye-hand co-ordination
- planning
- negotiation
- language skills
- story-building/literacy skills
- concentration

I'm still not allowed to pack it up today

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

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5 Fun things to do with Junk Mail and Magazines

...that help with development too!

Do you get lots of junk mail or buy lots of magazines?

Well, we get loads and I buy loads, so we always end up with plenty of recycling.

But, before it goes out to the bin, there are lots of ways to use print material to help development along. Here are just a few really simple suggestions:


Suitable for: All ages
Work on your child’s language skills by looking at the pictures together. Point to things and label them. After a short while point to something your child knows and ask them “Do you know what that is?” Encourage him to take the lead and start identifying things he knows by asking “Can you see anything else you know?” Children will soon be volunteering information and asking questions. Your baby will benefit from looking at objects he is familiar with, a toddler will enjoy talking about what he already knows and a pre-schooler will enjoy learning new words and also a little bit about the world he lives in as well as volunteering what he has already worked out.

How this helps development:
Children learn language primarily by listening and practicing. This activity gives your child a chance to practice words he already knows and also gives him the chance to learn new ones.

Suitable for: Toddlers and Pre-schoolers
Cut out pictures from a catalogue of food and grocery items. Get two pieces of paper and some glue. Toddlers can sort the items into “Things you can eat” and “Things you can’t eat”. Pre-schoolers can sort the items into “Healthy foods” and “Unhealthy foods” or “Fruits” and “Vegetables” or “Grains” and “Meats”, any categories that are of interest.

How this helps development
This helps develop your child’s ability to sort and classify objects which is a very important mathematical skill. It also helps him to think a little about the world and how it is organsied. It is also a great opportunity for him to learn and think about nutrition and where foods come from.

Suitable for: Older babies, Toddlers and Pre-schoolers
Look at the faces of people in magazines. Talk to your child about the different expressions on peoples faces. You can start a conversation about it by saying “That person looks happy/sad/angry/embarrassed” Ask your child why they think the person looks that way. Offer some suggestions yourself. Try to look at a wide range of emotions and encourage your child to talk about them. After a little while ask your child “What makes you feel happy/sad…etc”. You could also ask him to show you what he looks like when he feels those things. You could pull some funny faces yourself if you're in the mood!

How this helps development
Being able to identify, label, express and manage emotions is a crucial part of your child’s emotional development. Looking at the emotions of others teaches empathy and helps your child to think about the fact that everyone has feelings that are influenced by outside influences. Seeing the feelings of others also makes him feel better about his own feelings. Also, a secure, non-threatening conversation about feelings with you makes him aware that feelings are important and can help him to feel safe to discuss feelings at other times.


Suitable for: Older Toddlers (with supervision) and Pre-schoolers
Give your child scissors, glue and paper and allow him free reign to cut and paste things that are interesting to him. Talk to him about what he's cut out and why they have chosen certain pictures. (Make sure you supervise younger children when using scissors, but remember, the best way to master a new skill is to practice, practice, practice)

How this helps development
This helps the development of the smaller muscles in your child’s fingers and hands which are very important when your child comes to learn to write. It also helps with eye-hand co-ordination and builds on your child’s confidence as he works on mastering a new skill.

Suitable for: All ages but particularly babies and toddlers
Allow your child to flick through the pages, feeling the textures, crinkling and tearing the pages. The pages of magazines and catalogues have many different finishes to them, some are glossy and some are matte, some pages are hard to tear or turn and others are easy but all pages make a great noise when they are crinkled or torn.

How this helps development
Your small child uses his senses to explore the world. Allowing him to use these senses is very important to his sense of security and comfort and is really important for brain development. Ripping and tearing paper and turning pages provides him with many different sensations and allows him to explore his environment. This activity also does wonders for strengthen fine motor muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists

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

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