Children love to have the opportunity to experience messy play; many children love to experience getting really, really messy - even playing in the dirt. In our clean environments we now sadly worry about this. However, there is a school of thought that indicates that getting dirty is actually quite important for children and something that children are actually programmed to do for reasons of survival. The publication “The Dirt on Dirt” by the US based National Wildlife Federation summarises the benefits of playing in the mud for developing the immune system and preventing allergies. The Forest School movement advocates that playing outdoors also decreases children’s stress levels and improves their concentration abilities.Many nurseries have developed “Mud Kitchens” where children can play in a hands on way, get stuck in and as messy as they like. As they get absorbed in squishing, moulding and mixing, their imaginations roam free. They spontaneously make potions, mud pies and develop their own little worlds. If you have the opportunity to have a space in your garden to make a digging area where your child can also do this they will develop their own way of playing that will help them problem solve and encourage their own creativity. If you have no garden, go for walks in green spaces and gather natural materials to bring back and make potions on the kitchen table. Blossom trees and wild flowers are starting to spring up and these can be used for “magic”!Different ways of learning emerge as we mature but learning through our senses is not something that we entirely lose throughout our lives; who hasn’t been reminded to use oven gloves by touching a hot pan? We don’t want children to learn everything this way but experiential learning does have an important place as it helps to develop understanding and skills and gives the brain important feedback.For more information go to:http://www.muddyfaces.co.uk/download/Making%20a%20mud%20kitchen.pdfhttp://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Kids-and-Nature/Why-Get-Kids-Outside/Dirt-is-Great.aspx
Sand - or a sunny beachA stick or index finger
Use a stick to make marks in the sand - vertical and horizontal lines, circles and crosses are good to start with.Encourage your child to copy you then ask him/her to make marks for you to copy.Talk about the marks and letters you make and the movements you do to make them. “I’m starting here, then going down, then stop”. “I’m starting here then going round and round and round”. “I’m going to make M for Mummy”
This helps your child develop skills and confidence in forming and connecting the curves, vertical, horizontal and zig-zag lines that form the bias of letter shapes.Starting big then gradually working down to smaller develops as your child’s hand and eye co-ordination skills and manual dexterity skills mature and integrate.As your child associates the language of the mark or letter shape with the action of forming these, he/she will be getting kinesthetic feedback which is essential for any motor action. Kinesthesia is the knowledge of where each body part is and direction in which it is moving.It is an important component of motor control for legible handwriting.
A note padA pen or pencil
When you sit down to write your shopping list provide your child with a shopping list note pad and pen and sit together writing your lists.As you write talk about what you are writing down “We need more milk”. “I need some tomatoes”. Ask your child to write down what he/she thinks you need to buy.Take your shopping lists with you when you go shopping and refer to them as you go round the supermarket. “This says I need to get some tomatoes”. “What does your list tell you to get”.Don’t worry if your child’s marks and squiggles don’t look like words, your child will be able to recall what his or her marks mean.
When children see adults writing they perceive that writing is important. This this creates a inspiration to be a writer and to be part of this fascinating world of writing and reading.By sitting at your elbow as you write, your child will see how spoken words are converted to words and will imitate what you are doing. This is an important element of creating a desire to write for a purpose.This activity will help your child develop an understanding of the instrumental function of writing and how it helps to him/her to obtain goods and services.
Use Sensory Toys/ObjectsDangle objects for your baby to touch, eg hang toys over the cot or changing table, or place little one under the play gym. This encourages their reach.Move objects in front of them such as a toy or rattle, or blow bubbles. Try objects that make a noise, move, are colourful or are black and white. This helps develop their eye movement and strength.Sing Songs or lullabies and nursery rhymesAny actions songs and nursery rhymes are fine. Show them the actions, eg clap their hands, clap their feet, bicycle their legs. Encourage them to look and play with their hands and feet.Do the actions yourself and others such as wiggling fingers, pulling funny faces, clicking fingers and waving. This encourages body awareness.With your baby on their back, hold each hand in yours and cross their hands in front of their body (so they're hugging themselves) and then uncross their hands. Repeat several times and do the same with their legs. This is important for developing coordination.
Spring is with us and it is the time of year to get outside and think about brightening our outside spaces. Even if you don’t have access to a garden or balcony, you can still do a lot with pot plants inside and on your window sills. Gardening with children is a really gratifying activity. It helps children to learn about where our food comes from and the cycle of life. A sensory garden enables children to explore the properties of plants, their look, feel, texture, smell and taste.Take a trip to the garden centre. For a child, this is a novel and colourful experience. It gives you the chance to show children a wonderful variety of plants. Talk about the differences between them, the shapes and shades of leaves, the fact that some plants are good to eat but others would taste bad and could make you ill. This teaches them to be cautious about the things they may see in the wild and to be careful about picking and eating.Look for seed packets of herbs and spices. Good ones to choose are the many varieties of mint, parsley, oregano, basil, marjoram. Read the backs of the seed packets out to the children to get them to think about what we need to do next and what other equipment you may need to plant the seeds in. In many cases it is best to plant the seeds in pots indoors to “chit” them. This is when you start the seeds sprouting before you transfer them to bigger containers or to the garden. A good and immediate way to show children what will happen to the seeds, is to plant cress. Place the cress seeds on damp cotton wool or paper. If you keep them in the warm and damp they quickly sprout and develop and soon the children can put the cress in their sandwiches.Happy gardening!