Ways to Play Together

It's school holidays here in Victoria and all over the state, children of different ages are coming together to play. I like to have lots of time at home while the kids are on holidays and love to find ways to get my two kids happily and busily playing together. Here are some of my best 'play together' ideas:

Find a common interest - my two just love to play games with their soft toys. So, I have all they need for their imaginative play games available to them always. That way, they can play as the mood strikes them and cater their play to the interest thay have at the time. They have their school, beds, clothes, food, textas, paper, pens all tucked away neatly in these baskets so they can pull them out whenever they like (without involving me - yipee!)

Like I said, my kids love tehir soft toys, but these baskets could be easily filled with rocks, animals, cars, blocks, rockets or dress-ups.

I like to set things up for them too. Sometimes it can take just 5 minutes to throw an open-ended activity together that the kids will play with for hours.

Our favourites are


I pour out some colours, put out brushes and a few other painting utensils, paper and a drying rack and leave them to it. Sometimes we use cardboard cut-outs we even like to use canvases sometimes too.


I've written about this before, but just taking a bit of time to set up Lego for 2 or 3 or 4 can make a big difference to how long children will play there. Of course this works well for all types of building materials

Sensory Play

We love water play here, but these containers could just as easily be filled with sand or mud or coloured cornflour and water. Now that the kids are bigger, I'll just pull out the container of water toys and plonk them in the middle. They need a bit more space now too, so I like to give them a couple of different areas to play in. It makes the play a little more elaborate and so keeps them busy for longer.

Dramatic Play

I think it's great to sacrifice a small area of lounge room to make a dramatic play space that can stay set up too. Our favourites are a zoo, a restaurant, a cafe, a doctors surgery a shop and of course, good old home corner! (my apologies for the grainy photos, but you get the idea!)

I'm going to take a little bloggy break for the rest of the holidays. I'll be back on October 10 with another "Play Moment Monday". In the meantime, Happy Playing!

Belinda x

Play Moment Monday: Baby Girl

Today's "Play Moment Monday" is devoted to my girl who today turns 8 (I can't believe it!)

These moments remind me of how much she has always loved to play and funnily enough, she still likes to do all the things she is doing in these photos. (She still likes to spend a lot of time in her PJs too!). I think play stays with you for life, we just lose touch with it every now and then. I hope she never does. Happy Birthday Big Girl x x x.

Taking care of baby dolls

Digging in sand and getting messy

"Dressing Up" - she would put those on all by herself as soon as she woke up (thankfully, we've lost the dummy!)

Do you have a play moment to share? Come on, you know you want to:

Capture a play moment that celebrates play
Write a post about it
Mention Play Moment Monday and add it to the list below

I'll read it and leave a comment, I promise!

'Focus on' Friday: Great Behaviour Guidance Resources

Behaviour Guidance is a tricky thing to negotiate. I've found it one of my biggest challenges as teacher and a parent. A great way to start wading your way through this topic is to do some research in two different areas -
  1. How children develop - so you know where your child is at developmentally and what to expect of their behaviour
  2. What different approaches there are out there to managing behaviour. If you're having a particular issue, it's great to research that specifically too.
It's important to find a 'fit' for you and your family when it comes to behaviour guidance. You need to feel completely comfortable with what you're doing for it to be effective.

Here is a great checklist for social and emotional milestones in the early years. It's a great place to start when thinking about your expectations.

The Raising Children Network has an enormous amount of info on what to expect in the Early Years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (from the US) also has some great info on milestones.

For info about Behaviour Guidance techniques, again, the Raising Children Network has some great info.

I just love Dr Tanya Byron's advice, I think she has so much common sense. She is the psychologist who advises families in the BBC series "The House of Tiny Tearaways". If you google her, you'll find some great links.

I think Michael Grose gives some great common sense parenting advice too, but he mainly focuses on older children (primary school and above. He has a great website called Parenting Ideas and I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter.

My favourite book about the topic is "Understanding Children" by Jeanette Harrison. This book has really helped me as a teacher and a mum.

I've just discovered Louise Porter. I read this transcript of an interview she did, here, back in 2002. Have a read and see what you think. I think she makes some really good points but I'm not entirely convinced yet. I've just put a hold on some of her books at the library. I'm looking forward to reading more.

What great "Behaviour Guidance" resources have you found?

Ways to Get Kids to Co-operate More

Wouldn't a bit more co-operation be nice? With some children (my Em included), co-operation doesn't come easy, so I've needed a repertoire of tricks and talents to motivate her to go with the flow. I thought I'd share some today:

Distraction -

It's amazing how well a "come over here and have a look at this" can work when a child is building up to a tantrum and getting to the point where they'll refuse to do anything you ask. My other distraction favourites are putting something funny on my head, pretending to eat a teddy bear, foot or shoe or pulling a funny face similar to the angry or sad one in front of me. I've always found that this technique works way better with Ed, who is more easy-going, then with Em, who is much more head strong and way harder to distract.

Keeping Kids Busy -

If kids have something to do, they are for more patient and easy-going than if they're bored and waiting. When the kids were little I would always time my grocery shops at lunch time, so they could sit in the trolley and eat their lunch while I would get my shopping done. Going to restaurants, I'd have a small bag full of things for them to do while we were waiting. Sometimes it was as simple as a tic tac box, a car, a notepad and a cream container with a hole cut n the top and some rocks inside, but I always made sure the activity fit where the kids were at and was easy and fun to do.

Making Your Communication Count -

Getting down to your child's level and asking them to look at your face when you are talking can make a huge difference to how what you are saying is received. I like to hold their hand or gently put my hand on their shoulder too, to give them some sort of physical contact. Really taking the time to let them know that talking to them is important to you helps kids to value what you are saying. It also lets you know your child is really listening. It's great to get them to repeat back to you what they've heard too.

Mind Your Language -

Don't use too many words. Keep your language very simple. Don’t go into lengthy explanations or detailed accounts of what is going on. Use the same words every time you want a particular thing to happen. Simply say ‘Stop’ when you want them to stop what they are doing. Say “listen’ when you really want them to focus on what you are saying.

Break Down Tasks -

Children can find tasks very overwhelming. They are yet to develop the skills to break down a task into small, achievable blocks. Instead of asking a child to eat their dinner, ask them to eat their carrots, then their meat, then their potato. Instead of asking them to pack up their toys, ask them to put their dolls away, then their cars, then their blocks. Instead of asking them to get dressed, ask them to put on their singlet, then their t-shirt, then their jeans. And try not to say general things like "Be good". Instead say "when we're at the doctors', you need to keep your voice quiet and stay close to mummy".

Always Have a Consequence You're Prepared to Follow Through With -

This sometimes requires a little forward thinking, it's hard to think of things in the heat of the moment. It's great if the consequence somehow directly relates to what is going on. In the above scenario for example, if your child isn't "keeping her voice quiet and staying close to mummy", you could remind her once - "Remember, at the doctors, you need to keep your voice quiet and stay close to me". Remind her again but with a consequence this time - "Listen, if you cant remember to stay close to me, you'll have to come and sit on my lap". And then follow through by bringing her to sit on your lap. After a couple of minutes, you might like to let her play quietly again, reminding her that if she can't, she'll need to come back on your lap again. A consequence isn't a punishment. I believe you need to give kids a chance to regulate their own behaviour and then help them if they can't manage on their own.

Make It Fun -

Appealing to a child's sense of play and fun is a great way to get things done and is one I use a lot. If we all need to go somewhere, we hop aboard the "Butler Bus". For a quiet, hassle free dinner we pretend we're in a cafe or restaurant and I'm the waiter and the kids are dining by themselves. When we have to be quiet, we pretend to be little mice. To get dressed or run toys to their room I'll time them and see if they can beat their personal best and I've written before about our packing up games. If you make it fun, kids don't even realise they're doing it.

Acknowledge Feelings -

Feelings can be very overwhelming for young children. Sometimes, they don’t really want to upset you, cause trouble or make a scene, it’s just that right at that minute, they are feeling something so intensely that they can’t control themselves. If you can try to be a little understanding when this happens, it can take you a long way. Try acknowledging your child’s feelings “I know this is making you really cross/upset/frustrated, you want to stay and play, but it’s time to go, we can come back on the weekend” or “I know you don’t really love eating vegetables, but they have so many vitamins and minerals in them that are good for your body”. Acknowledging how your child must be feeling gives them a little validation and makes them feel a little bit better about the situation. There’s nothing worse then when nothing is going your way and no-one understands how you feel.

Having Something to Look Forward to -

If I have errands to run, I'll always leave something til last that the kids will enjoy doing. This could be, choosing a DVD from the DVD shop, looking at the toy department, choosing something special for lunchboxes, getting a tasty bun for afternoon tea. That way, they look forward to it and are more likely to co-operate along the way. On the rare occasion they don't co-operate with the few things I need to get done, we simply don't get to do the fun thing at the end.

Taking Time Out -

Sometimes, the only way to deal with a situation that has gone to far is to have some time out. I know not everyone is a fan of "time-out", but I think it depends on how you use it. If a situation gets me fired up, I like to remove myself from it, calm down and then discuss it rationally, with a clear head. I explain this technique to the kids to and that's how we see it. I never say, you've got a time out, I always say, "I think you need to go to your room and calm down a bit". A lot of the time I will say "You can come out when you feel calmer and we can talk about this then". But sometimes I say "You need to stay in there for 5 minutes and I'll be in to see you then". This works well with Em whose emotions can sometimes get the better of her and she actually finds it a helpful technique. She'll often take herself to her room and say "I just need some time by myself". Because we've consistently used this technique and had this dialogue over the years, she's now able to recognise her feelings and regulate her own behaviour. Which I think is the ultimate goal of any behaviour guidance.

What tips do you have to get more co-operation at your house?

Play Moment Monday: Learning about "Behaveya"

A corner of our lounge room has been a "school" since Em started prep way back in 2009.

I couldn't resist snapping this photo. It shows just how valuable this school area has been in helping my Em process what happens in her school day.

She was teaching her soft toy pets with help from Ed and, obviously, they were having a lesson on behaviour. Playing out this scenario puts Em in charge of what "behaveya" is expected of her pupils at this home school, rather than Em having to conform to what is expected of her at her school.

In doing this it helps her to process school rules and expectations. Because the shoe's on the other foot and she is the teacher, she can now see how 'behaviour' might effect her classroom.

I love her reflections on what behaviour means and how she has drawn it in an easy to read diagram for her furry pupils. I also love the fact that she has said it means "doing what you're asked as long as it's safe". It shows that in her mind, you don't just blindly comply with what's expected of you, you have to actively reflect on whether it's the right thing for you to do. I don't think I would have had the same insight at almost 8.

Do you have a play moment to share, I hope so .....

If you do, snap a photo of your favourite play moment, write a short post about it and leave the URL in the link list below. I would love to come and have a read about the wonderful learning going on at your house.

'Focus on' Friday: Sensory Play

I once worked with a boy who was a little challenging, let's say. He would come to our room every morning straddled by his mum so he didn’t run into traffic. When she let go of him, he would run around the room, messing up what the other children were playing with and generally causing havoc and unsettling everyone.

I set up a big trough full of warm soapy water and added some plastic dishes, a dishcloth and a scrubbing brush. That little boy loved it. He stopped running and spent over an hour at the trough every morning. He’d wash the dishes and dry them and then wash them again. He wouldn’t let any one else play with him. It was his little space.

He came from a busy family and had a young baby brother. I think the water was extremely soothing for him and for me, this is the biggest benefit of sensory play. It’s soothing and fun and nice and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, it just is.

Of course, sensory play has a lot of other great benefits too:

Pouring, scooping, digging, squelching and scraping is great for fine motor skills

Answering questions like how does that feel, smell, taste or sound? encourages descriptive language and encourages your child to reflect on what she is experiencing.

Experiencing the world through her senses helps brain development as each new experience builds new neural pathways. Providing a great foundation for all future learning.

And getting messy is fun, fun, fun!

(By the way, if you'd like to read more about brain development, there's a great article by the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities called "Brain Development in Early Childhood". You can read it here)

So what are some great sensory play ideas?

Sensory play is not always messy of course. Playing games where you guess a smell or a sound or a taste are fun and no mess is needed.

Dancing and moving and playing instruments uses many of the senses and doesn’t get too messy either.

Having a bowl on a table with different objects form nature to look at and feel and smell is pretty contained too.

But my favourite sensory play experiences do involve a little bit of mess. Things like:

Water Play

Sand Play




Goop (cornflour and water)

Slime (soap flakes and water)

Shaving cream and


Or letting babies loose in their high chair with yoghurt, fruit and vegetable purees or simple spreads (like Vegemite here in Australia) on toast. Here are some photos of my messy babies in times gone by

For Toddlers and Preschoolers you can add the following for extra messy play fun:














Plastic animals


Wash cloths

Don’t forget bath time is a great time for sensory play and cooking provides some great sensory experiences too.

We like to get messy and make schnitzels, meatballs, gingerbread, chocolate chip cookies, cakes, pizza dough and this tasty bread and blueberry pudding together. To name just a few.

What are your favourite sensory play moments?

Ways to Make Messy Play Not So Messy

In "'Focus on' Friday" this week, I’m going to talk about the benefits of sensory play and what I think are the best sensory play experiences. Today I wanted to suggest some ways to make this sort of play a little easier to clean up. I’ve found many parents are reluctant to give messy play a go at home because it’s just so, well, messy.

I don’t like mess any more than the next mum and I hate cleaning up even more. I’ve got enough to do around the house without giving myself another job. But messy play is important so I’ve come up with a few ways to minimize mess and still let the kids enjoy the wonderful benefits of sensory play.

Invest in some plastic

These tables cost around $10 and are great because they clean down really easily. I either wipe them or squirt them down and let them dry in the sun. They're not the prettiest tables, but they live outside and if they get a bit ruined or something won't come off, it really doesn't matter.

Keep disposable containers that can go in the bin

I recycle some of my recycling to use as paint pots, glue containers as well as sand and water play toys. I find fruit, yoghurt, jelly and cream containers work the best but I'm also partial to butter containers, glass jars and the measuring scoops you sometimes find in washing detergent boxes.

Always wear old clothes

I keep those old, scrappy stained clothes that are a little too small for messy play days. That way, they can go straight in the bin if they get too wrecked. If you've already thrown everything out, second-hand shops are a great place to find clothes to muck around in.

Clean up outside

I like to include a couple of bowls of warm soapy water so the kids can clean up while they're still outside. I'll have a few old towels and face cloths handy as well. That way the mess stays outside and the kids come in relatively clean. It's a good idea to head straight to the bath or shower too.

Use a drop sheet

A plastic table cloth or old sheet can double as a drop cloth too. Again, a second-hand shop is a great place to pick up a cheap sheet and discount stores often have plastic table cloths for just a couple of dollars. They can both be cut to size and then thrown away if they get ruined.

Use the kitchen or bathroom if the weather is bad

When the weather's bad, I'll bring the plastic tables inside and put them in the kitchen or the bathroom. The kitchen and bathroom floors are much easier to wipe down if the mess overflows.

What's your best messy play tip?

Play Moment Monday: Times Gone By

My moment today is actually from a long time ago now. It's the first time my kids dressed up together. Em was 4 years old and Ed was around 20 months. I was in the kitchen, busy doing kitcheny things when the two of them appeared at the door with these lovely grins on their faces. They'd been raiding the dress up box together for the first time. Seeing them like this was my first glimpse into the wonderful playmates they would become. It also shows how imaginative and resourceful and capable even young children can be when they have great materials available all the time. They've even thought through details like Em's headband and wings and Ed's stethoscope and doctor's bag.

I'm devoting Mondays to sharing play moments and why they're valuable and important. Would you like to share your special play moments on Mondays too? I would love to see them. Here's what to do.

1. Take a photo from a 'moment' at your house that shows just how clever and resourceful and creative and lovely kids can be when they're involved in play.

2. Write a post about the moment and link it back to me

3. Include your details in the link below and add yourself to the list.

4. Leave me a comment so I know to look for you.

Let's celebrate play!

Dressing Up in September Practical Parenting

I have an article in this months' Practical Parenting all about dressing up. There's great suggestions on how to put together relatively inexpensive dress up outfits but also details on how to put together prop boxes to go with the clothes.

I've always found that 'dressing up' doesn't last too long if kids don't have something to do while they're dressed up. I always like to collect up items from around the house and source out cheap props from discount stores so that when the costumes are on, kids can pretend play too.

For a post on some fun my kids have had with extra props when dressed up as doctors, have a look here!

'Focus on' Friday: Fine Motor Skills

On Fridays from now on, I’ll be focus on specific topics relevant to the Early Years that I think are important.

Today I want to focus on fine motor skills.

I found this definition at http://k6.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/linkages/ContentLinks/links_fmskills.html and I think it sums these skills up beautifully.

"The components of fine motor skills can be considered to be:

  • Grasping -eg using a crayon, pencil, brush, glue stick, beater, blocks
  • Manipulating - eg playdough, clay, unifix, centicubes, paper, sewing, scissors, fingerplays
  • Hand-eye co-ordination - eg writing, cutting, threading, moving a cursor, using a glue gun"

I’ve always thought of fine motor skills as having two components –

  • strengthening and building up the muscles in the fingers, wrists and hands; and then
  • training the brain to manipulate those muscles effectively.

These muscles develop according to how much they are used and which means it’s really important to think of ways kids can use fine motor skills everyday. Of course, the best way to do this is through fun, open-ended play.

Some play activities that are beneficial to fine motor skills are quite obvious. Like






Using scissors

But there are loads of other activities that use fine motor skills too ...

Playing with plastic animals and toy cars

Playing with playdough

Digging in sand

Squelching messy goop, slime or yoghurt

Serving pretend ‘food’ with spoons and tongs


Putting on dress up clothes

Doing puzzles

Building with small blocks

Dressing dolls

Feeding dolls and giving bottles

Pouring water

Turning the pages of a book

Singing songs that involve actions like “Where is Thumkin?”, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, “Open, Shut Them” and “Incy, Wincy Spider”

Doing puzzles

The best way to build fine motor skills is to practice, practice, practice and when this practice is linked in with a play scene, game or activity your child really enjoys, he won’t even realize he’s doing it.

Unfortunately, poor fine motor skills can have a devastating effect on your child’s self-esteem. The inability to write and draw along with friends or perform basic tasks like putting on jackets and doing up buttons can make a child feel terrible, I’ve seen this first hand. The best way to help a child overcome this is to get them involved in one of the play ideas above as often as you can and to find the help of an Occupational Therapist to assess your child and help him fine-tune his skills.

To get an idea of what fine motor skills are developmentally appropriate and different ages and stages, there’s a great “Fine Motor Development Chart” on the Sensory Processing Disorder website which you can look at here. The “National Childcare Accreditation Council” and “Fingergym” both have some more detailed info on fine motor skills if you’d like to read more too.

"Ways" on Wednesdays - Different Ways to Get Kids Drawing and Writing

I've decided it's time to get a little more structure and routine around here, so from now on, Wednesdays will be devoted to talking about 'ways' - ways to get certain things happening in your child's life or ways to use different materials and objects.

Today I'm looking at ways to include drawing and writing in children's play.

Drawing and writing is a great way to build on fine motor skills, eye-hand co-ordination and to get children enthusiastic about expressing themselves on paper.

Some children will happily sit down and draw for hours, relying only on their imagination and creativity. Other children are reluctant drawers and need a reason to pick up a pencil and a piece of paper.

I’ve found one of the best ways to get texta-shy kids drawing is to include pencils, pens, textas, paper and notebooks in their games.

This week I’ve put together some race sheets for my Ed. His favourite thing to do is to line his cars up in a race and talk about the order the cars have finished in. I thought a great way to get him to build on his written literacy skills would be to document the outcome of each race onto a “Race Sheet”. I set out a rough grid and he got together the coloured textas he needed to record the event.

Then he put the races together and coloured in the squares according to the order the cars finished in.

He adopted a letter code for his cars because sometimes he used two cars the same colour.

While he is technically not drawing in a creative, imaginative way, he is practicing some very basic writing skills and using his cognitive skills to record his cars in the order they race in. One of the biggest benefits is that he is just getting used to using textas and paper and recording his experiences. This will stand him in good stead for starting school next year.

There are other great benfits in this play too. He is:

Learning about ordinal numbers (eg. first, second, third)
Problem solving (eg. what to do when 2 cars have the same colour)
Documenting patterns
Using basic graphing skills

Here are some other great ways to include writing and drawing in play:

Encourage children to draw plans before they build with blocks

Always include a notepad and pen in dress up boxes

Cut small pieces of paper to make ‘tickets’ to include in play

Set up a post box with letters, envelopes and stamps

What creative ways do you include drawing and writing in your child’s play?

Play Moment Monday

If you look closely at where a child has been playing, you might be lucky enough to see what has really been going on. You might see something well thought out or extremely imaginative, maybe an example of caring and nurturing or something so creative and innovative it makes you laugh out loud.

When I see these things, I love to take a moment and reflect on the power and beauty of play. If I'm lucky enough to have a camera nearby, I'll take a photo too. I like to think of these photos as capturing a "Play Moment" and I've shared these on my blog many times.

Most of these moments have been play scenes or things I've discovered when packing away at the end of a long day. What may seem like a jumbled mess of random objects can be a real insight into the power of play and how a child's mind works.

Remember when Em had her "Littlest Pet Shop" toys crowded around the TV in a lounge room she had put together?

Or when Ed covered all his cars neatly in a blanket for rest time?

Or when both Em and Ed had been playing babies and had carefully thought of all the things they would need to keep the babies happy?

These moments show care and empathy and thoughtfulness at work. They also show the power of memory, organisation and an attempt to make sense of how our word works. For me, these little moments really capture why play is so lovely and important and should be valued and celebrated. Kid's are totally in the moment when they play and I don't think there's another time they are more truly themselves.

I'm devoting Mondays to sharing Play Moments and why they're valuable and important. Would you like to share your special Play Moments on Mondays too?

Just take a photo and write a post about a little play moment you've discovered that makes you go "Awwwww!" and include it in the link-up below. Don't forget to write about why it's a special moment for you. I look forward to discovering your favourite moments too ....