As if January isn’t enough of a drag already parents of three and four year olds need to apply for places in primary school. With that first foray into the world of formal education looming on the horizon we’ve been trying to incorporate more educational play at home. I’ve always believed that all learning should be through play for at least the first 5 years of a childs life so don’t worry, we’re not being pushy, just trying to use our time more consciously.
Luisa absolutely loves arts and crafts – something we enjoy too but I never really thought about just how beneficial these kinds of activities can be. After speaking with my friend Sarah, an early years expert and blogger, my attitude to creative play changed again.
Through chatting to Sarah I really began to appreciate how opportunities to learn about science, maths, emotions and the world around us are absolutely everywhere. Even the simplest play can be extended with the right open questions – encouraging our children to become explorers, problems solvers and critical thinkers. Art isn’t just colouring, sticking and making a mess. It’s mark making, developing coordination, decision making, exploring creativity and can be used to talk through emotions and even incorporate STEM language.
Some of Luisas favourite activities incorporate her tuff tray. One day we might make coloured rice or get out the flour and make shapes – talking about size, colour, texture and exploring senses. Tomorrow we’re planning to set up some farm animals in ‘mud’ and provide a washing station. We’ll chat about the names of animals, relative size and colour, sounds they make, times we’ve seen them before and more. Other days I’m not in the mood for mess or I’m tight on time so we play different games together or Luisa reaches for the Playmobil. There are some fantastic options from Orchard Toys – Luisa loves the Lunchbox game and Llamas in Pyjamas.
Both Matt and I are quite conscious that we don’t want to make excessive waste at home or spend a lot of money so we always use what we have in the first instance. For example cardboard that is due to be recycled can be coloured in first and kitchen utensils are amazing for play in water, sand or slime. When making templates for Luisa to trace shapes and form letters we decided to design and print our own, then laminate them so they can be reused. This is more cost effective and environmentally friendly than buying books or downloading templates repeatedly. It also saves you money in the long run, especially if you check if you can save further by using compatible ink cartridges in canon printers or split a ream of paper with a friend.
Now that we’ve made some templates incorporating lines, shapes and letters we play with these by offering Luisa dry wipe markers to trace as well as pieces of wool, beads and pipe cleaners to follow the lines with. I think laying out a few options makes it a much more engaging activity and allows her to be more creative. It allows you to extend the learning too, by talking about relative size and texture as well as colour.
I hope this has been helpful and provided some ideas about how you can support your little ones learning at home. Before I spoke to Sarah and started learning more about early years I felt totally out of my depth and didn’t grasp how easy it could be to add real value to play. Now I’m no expert, but I do feel a lot more confident and we have more fun. Definitely check out her blog for more learning though play activities for 0-5’s.