As a degree student currently studying young children’s learning and development, I feel lucky that I have 3 children of differing ages at home. If I were a scientist, it would be like having 3 small lab rats. The only difference is that lab rats won’t ask you why green is a colour at 5.30am. As I work my way through the degree, I’ve found myself witness to theory in practice. I’m lucky to be able to see the theories we study unfold amongst my own children at home. As well as that, I can apply the techniques I am learning straight into practice and discover for myself what works and what doesn’t work for both me and my children.
So, when the country went into lockdown months ago, I decided to seize an opportunity and really throw myself into the whole home schooling experience. Well, what a rollercoaster it has been. My children being of differing ages created a problem straight away. My girls are aged 8 and 9 and while these ages are ideal for a home-schooling adventure, the 4 year old Master of Mischief became somewhat of a spanner in the works. As the girls were practicing times tables, he was charging around them in a cape. While the girls wrote letters and stories he was roaring like a T-Rex at the top of his lungs, you can see the pattern emerging.
The first week of the home-schooling was complete chaos. I had planned what activities we would do, however, I had neglected to factor in how to split my time between the girls and their academic work, and the energetic pre-schooler and his play. The other thing that really seemed to set me back was my resources. Before the lockdown, the Master of Mischief was in nursery 5 days a week. His entire routine was built around a free flow play environment, constant stimulation with amazing equipment and nursery staff on hand for any given thing. In lockdown, this is something that I didn’t have the time, space or funds to recreate.
After a little cry and a big glass of wine, I set about creating some at home activities that would be educational and stimulating for a four year old (for as little cost as possible). Websites like twinkl.co.uk have some amazing free resources for parents to download. They cater to children of all ages. I also put together a few enjoyable and stimulating activities with basic things I had at home, coupled with a few supplies I picked up from Poundland. I’ve listed a few of these below. They are great to whip out if the weather keeps you in and have helped me through numerous ‘mummy I’m bored’ moments.
I found this activity on Twinkl (which is free). It is great for teaching my son ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’ and he enjoys ordering the images and counting how many of each animal there is. Another activity that he has enjoyed is creating pictures with all the animals. Not quite what was intended, but it has been fun and engaging all the same. It is important that children are allowed to change and explore within any activity. I was amazed when he started positioning the cut outs to make a picture, it’s something that hadn’t even crossed my mind.
I managed to but a pack of number fridge magnets from Poundland when I last went shopping. We only have a small fridge, so I also bought a baking tray. This activity cost £2 to put together and is extremely effective. It helps with ordering numbers as well as simple addition and subtraction (maths symbols are included in the pack of magnetic numbers) It is cheap and educational and was very well received by the Master of Mischief.
Small World Dinosaur Swamp
At the moment, to say my little boy likes dinosaurs would be an understatement. It is a borderline obsession, an intense interest at the least. So he has really engaged and enjoyed this activity. It was a simple under bed storage box with a couple of handful of chippings, a few scoops of mud and a cup of water. Boom, we had a swamp! He found and added sticks and leaves to create his own jungle and then filled it with dinosaurs and diggers. He played for an insane amount of time in this. It was messy (oh so messy!) especially with all the wet mud. The imagination that came from it though, was well worth the clean-up. You can substitute the dinosaur toys for anything which means that this activity can be catered to the likes of any child. You may wish to create a farm instead of a swamp and fill your mud with pigs. You could also use larger rocks in the mud as ramps for cars creating a ‘dirt track’. The possibilities are truly endless.
This activity follows directly on from the previous. After spending a long time playing with the dinosaurs in the mud, they needed a bath. We filled a medium size storage box with warm soapy water. After covering his dinosaurs in mud, the master of mischief thoroughly enjoyed cleaning them all off. He used a spare toothbrush to scrub all the mud off. As he was playing, we talked about how important it is to keep clean. Again, this activity can be tailored for any toy. You could even skip the muddy part and just give your little ones some plastic plates and cups to wash. Nurturing their independence and imagination is really important at this stage. Doing it without having to spend any money is a massive bonus!
These activities have really helped keep the Master of Mischief ticking over. When he is not engaging in free play with his own toys, he is playing with one of these structured (homemade) activities. It seems to be a good balance. The steps I have taken over the past couple of months have really worked to our benefit. We have managed to get through this far without spending a fortune on expensive toys or equipment. I hope that some of the ideas and tips I have shared can help you too. I hope everyone is staying strong and coping to the best of their ability during these difficult times. Remember, we are all in this together.