Developing Motor Skills

All of my children currently have Next Steps related to their gross and fine motor skills, including encouraging tripod grip and using scissors safely, so this seemed a good opportunity to break in my new Flisat table with trays underneath for messy play.

I set up the following activities, which I will run you through now, along with my reasoning for choosing them (the current topic is Chinese New Year, hence the pigs and colour scheme!)

Motor Skills Whole

Coloured rice with chopsticks, bowls, pigs and pom poms
The rice itself is remarkably easy to make, if a little time consuming. Simply mix a little food colouring (gel gives a more intense colour than the watered down bottles) with vinegar in a bag and add the rice. The colour will intensify the longer you leave the rice in there for. Once ready, tip onto a baking tray and dry out in an oven on low heat, or leave to dry out naturally, though this can take a few days. Once dry, the rice will store for months in an airtight container; I tend to batch make a few kilograms in different colours, then it’s ready to use as and when

Motor Skills Rice

Younger children can make patterns in the rice with the chopsticks or their hands, older children can demonstrate fine motor skills in using the chopsticks to pick up the pom poms, and copying simple Chinese patterns drawn on the blackboard behind the table; I also encourage the older children to hold the chopsticks like a pencil when drawing shapes in the rice. My eldest is currently improving his letter formation as he writes certain letters backwards, and shaping the letters using large movements in the rice helps him to understand the shape of the letter more easily when writing on paper

Motor Skills Chopsticks

The pigs and poms in there can be hidden, collected or used in pretend play and give lots of opportunity for conversations, including counting, colour matching, size, shape, texture… the list goes on. They give lots of opportunities to ‘wonder’ aloud whilst the children are playing, for example, ‘I wonder how many green pom poms I can find’ or ‘I wonder why this pig is covered in mud’ and the children will also generate their own conversations with each other and with me

Motor Skills Fun

Coloured spaghetti with scissors
Again, the spaghetti is simple to make, simply add food colouring to the water when boiling the spaghetti. I would advise adding a drop of oil to the saucepan too, as this coats the strands of spaghetti and stops them sticking together. Once cooled, the spaghetti can be stored in the fridge for a few days, although if you have children who will eat it, use it sooner rather than later

Motor Skills Spaghetti

The main premise of this activity is for the children to cut the strands of spaghetti using the scissors provided. You will notice that there are two different types of scissors in the tray; the green and yellow pair are left-handed as I have one little boy who is already showing a dominant left hand at just over two years of age. I cannot emphasise how important left-handed equipment is for children who are showing a preference for their left hand, both in terms of safety and confidence, but that’s going to be a whole other blog post!

The emphasis of this activity is two-fold; holding the scissors correctly and cutting safely, especially if other children are playing nearby. Modelling good practice is recommended in situations like this, so I tend to sit nearby and start cutting the spaghetti myself to demonstrate the process safely. It also means I can give gentle encouragement and guidance at the same time. My daughter tends to turn her hand over whilst cutting, so sitting alongside and modelling correct procedure means I can support her to hold the scissors straight without her realising I am helping and going off in a strop!

Motor Scissors

One of the older children I look after is struggling with holding writing equipment with a tripod grip, and as he is going to school in September I am keen to work on this with him; this currently involves doing lots of different exercises to build up his hand muscles. Squishing and releasing the spaghetti in his whole hands is both beneficial and fun, and the activity can be extended to picking up individual strands in thumb and forefinger. His younger sister also enjoys the sensory experience of playing with the spaghetti, including eating it!

I obviously have to be careful when the children are using scissors and supervise the activity carefully, especially when the baby is playing at the same table. The Flisat table has lids which can easily be put on to cover the trays when not in use, or if I need to leave the children for a couple of minutes

Motor Skills Closed

Extension & Adaptation
The activities above are easy to extend and adapt depending on your children. You could add measuring and pouring tools. You might prepare different colours to match themes throughout the year, for instance, green for St Patrick’s Day. You could even hide objects in the food for the children to find, for example mini easter eggs or small magnets to find with a larger magnetic wand. One of my older children has a Next Step to sequence the numbers 1-5 and then 1-10; I could hide the numbers in the trays so that he finds them in a random order to sequence. The possibilities are endless!

The key is to adapt to the interests and Next Steps of the children in your care. Share your ideas below!

Motor Skills Family

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Toy Rotation: January 2019

Although this one is more about room rotation than toy rotation!

Over Christmas we FINALLY managed to move the piano out of the conservatory into the living room. This left us with a huge space in the conservatory, which doubles up as both playroom and dining room, which was crying out to be filled. So… Operation Playroom came into force, and this is the end result!

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All of the toys and resources I own for childminding are in the 5×5 Kallax, with the exception of crafty bits in a small chest of drawers, as they are hard to store in large boxes. Currently we only have 10 boxes, but we plan on adding more to make the place look less cluttered and more appealing visually. Within the Kallax, resources are organised into similar themes, for example puzzles, board games, motor skills, Lego, dressing up, construction, musical instruments and so on, so finding appropriate resources to suit the children’s interests and next steps is simple. Can you tell that we love Orchard Toys?!

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The toy kitchen and easel are permanent fixtures in the playroom and I rotate the items within the kitchen to maintain children’s interest. For example, one week we have the breakfast items in there to play with, another week we might have pizza making resources, on another we might have fruit and vegetables to discuss healthy eating. I find that rotating resources in this area engages children more effectively than having all of the kitchen resources out at once, and means that they play imaginatively with them. Once enthusiasm is waning, or a child asks for a particular kitchen item, I will swap resources over

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The doll house bookcase is fantastic to display large toys that have been selected for the current rotation; the shelves are roomy and having different widths and heights of spaces means that pretty much any resource can be placed on here. All children can easily access the resources on the shelves, although I tend to put resources tailored to babies on the bottom shelf, simply for ease of access

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The toy box unit is a very recent acquisition and its purchase stems from a recent problem I have encountered; while the bookcase is great for displaying larger single items, it is less useful for smaller items, or resources with lots of ‘bits’ (for example toy animals, building blocks and Duplo) I experimented for a few months with small baskets on the bookcase for these items, but these took up lots of space and limited the amount that could be put out. So when I spotted this unit on a local selling page I snapped it up! The boxes allow me to display and store smaller items so they can still be accessed easily by all the children, whilst freeing up the bookcase for larger items. The children love tidying toys up into the boxes before we sit down for meals, and have learnt how to remove them safely using both butterfly ‘handles’

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So, what still needs to be improved?

Firstly, to sort out the other end of the playroom! Since I was concentrating on getting the main play area up and running ready for the children after Christmas, the other end has turned into a bit of a dumping ground. The children sit at the big table for mark making and craft activities, although I am considering a small table and chairs specifically for these activities in the playroom. My only concern would be babies being able to access the craft items like pencils and scissors, so this one needs a lot of thought…

Oh, and yes, that is a dalek! She’s called Delilah…

room other end

Another aim for 2019 is to incorporate a reading area into the playroom itself; books are currently available in the living room, but I would love to create a comfortable space with cushions and blankets in the playroom. All of the children love their books and I wasn’t to make reading an even more enjoyable experience for them!

room books

What would you change about my playroom? Share your ideas with me!

A letter to our friends and family: please no ‘stuff’ this Christmas

Firstly, I do want to say how grateful we are that people want to buy our kids (and us!) gifts at Christmas; we are lucky to have such generous friends and family! This post is not meant to sound ungrateful or like we’re preaching to you, but we would like to share with you some of the changes we have made this year, and how you, our friends and family, can help to support us with those changes

We have now reached a stage in our life where we have so much ‘stuff’ that we don’t actually need, and Christmas adds more to the pile. This year we have decluttered a LOT (even Paul has got involved with this one, and cleared the loft space a little!) got rid of excess furniture, knick-knacks, duplicate toys and household items which we used once years ago and then never again (who needs a salad spinner, really?!)

We are now reaching a stage where everything in our house falls into two categories; useful or sentimental. The rest is expendable

And this is where YOU come in, our friends and family. We don’t need more stuff to fill the gaps we have created in our home this year and will NOT be offended if you don’t get us anything at all! What we do want is time together as a family, so if you want to get us anything, could you consider popping a fiver in an envelope which we can put towards family days out throughout the year. For example, last July we took the kids on the train to London to see Uncle David, and would love to do the same again this year

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Due to the nature of my job, we have loads of toys already, so there are very few things we actually need; but if you REALLY feel that you want to buy the kids something to open, we have a list of a few select toys at Wise Owl Toys (ask behind the counter for the list) Some of these won’t be used immediately for our kids, but I plan ahead for the whole year. For instance, we have just cracked open the See & Spell that was bought for Thomas’s third birthday as he is just learning to read at preschool; so even if the items seem too advanced for our kids currently, they will get full use when the time comes!

We are also trying to reduce our waste this year, particularly plastic waste; we have introduced reusable straws, reusable cups and beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm into our household. We also utilise the new zero waste shop that has opened in Worcester, buying plastic-free deodorant, refilling containers instead of buying new and continuing to use reusable nappies, wipes and (me personally) CSP

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Christmas adds a lot of unnecessary waste to our house including foil wrapping paper that can’t be recycled. So, would you consider using brown paper to wrap? It is cheap to buy, and we will reuse it is possible, recycle if necessary. You can even get the kids to decorate it for a personal touch! Or could you reuse those gift bags from last year, make labels from old cards and consider homemade gifts for other people where they would be appreciated?

I understand that our lifestyle changes aren’t to everyone’s taste, but we would love it if you could join us in making our Christmas a sustainable one

Merry Christmas everyone!

Toy Rotation: December 2018

All change again this month! The new pretend play toys went down really well, and I gradually swapped them out for other items over the course of November

A lot of my children have recently achieved their Next Steps and now have new ones, so this is a good time to rethink the options available to play with

This month’s range comes from Melissa & Doug, Hape and Magformers, and were all purchased from Wise Owl Toys (an independent toy shop in Worcester)

Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads
These chunky beads are useful for a variety of reasons. One of my older children is struggling with holding his pencil in a tripod grip, and threading toys like this will help him to practise that motor skill before moving onto holding an actual pencil properly. Another of my children loves to organise them into the different shapes and colours, and we also use them for counting activities. The beads have even been used in the toy kitchen in place of toy food! These are safe for smaller children as they are very chunky, but obviously the laces need to be used under strict supervision

Melissa & Doug Primary Lace & Trace Wild Animals
Again, a great activity to refine motor skills; these offer a greater challenge compared to the Primary Lacing Beads as more concentration and finesse is required to thread through the smaller holes. I encourage the older children to use these while the younger play with the larger beads

Hape Creative Peg Puzzle
I love this puzzle! Colours, shapes, counting, dexterity, this puzzle covers a lot of bases. I encourage younger children to count and identify colours (we also discuss lighter and darker shades) whilst older children can attempt to put the pieces on the correct pegs; this is more challenging than it sounds as the pieces need to be rotated in order to reach the bottom…

Magformers
These are out on request from my own children. Younger children can experiment with the basics of magnets, and I encourage all the children to use the words ‘attract’ and ‘repel’ even at this age (I blame my seven years of teaching Science for that!) whilst older children can follow the cards to make simple shapes

Melissa & Doug Spin & Swipe Cash Register
This reinforces the basic colours that the younger children are learning, but also the numbers 1, 2, 3. One of my childminded children counts down from five to one every time we do any counting activity, so I will use this to encourage her to slow down and count UP rather than down. Number recognition is also a Next Step of a three-year-old, so this toy also promotes that skill. The coins are also different sizes, which helps to introduce the concept of comparison, such as big and bigger, small and smaller, wider and narrower, etc

Melissa & Doug See & Spell
This one is mainly for my eldest; he is learning to read cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) words at preschool, so this is to consolidate his learning there. We use these to firstly find the correct letters, then sound out the word. I have also made extra cards with other cvc words on to extend his learning further

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Toy Rotation: November 2018

All change this month… We have new toys! Brand new as well, which is very unusual for us, as I try and buy preloved whenever I can. But these wooden pretend play items were reasonably priced in Aldi and Lidl, so it seemed rude not to…

The toy kitchen is a permanent fixture in the playroom, but I do rotate the items that I put with it, and as all of my children currently love playing with the kitchen, it seemed like a good idea to go with their interests…

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Smoothie Set (Aldi)
The whole set is wooden, and it also includes fruit and vegetables which Velcro together, plus a knife to ‘cut’ them into smaller pieces which fit into the smoothie maker. The fruit and vegetables are brightly coloured, and I am using them with younger children to reinforce the names of colours. Cutting the fruit into segments involves motor skills, and we are also counting the number of pieces. This toy also promotes healthy eating, and has led to discussions about our favourite, and least favourite, foods!

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Coffee Machine Set (Lidl)
Mainly wooden, except the cups and the head of the spoon (a little disappointing, if I’m honest, as could easily have been completely wooden). The lid of the coffee maker lifts for the children to put in the coffee beans; we have been using the coffee beans to count the numbers 1, 2 and 3, and the older children have realised that the colours get darker as the numbers get higher

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Pop-Up Toaster Set (Lidl)
Again, mainly wooden, except for the plate and the blade of the knife which are plastic. When the button on the side of the toaster is pressed down, the toast flies up! The slab of butter is a little unusual, but the children have been pretending it is cheese instead. The toast is a darker colour compared to the bread slices in the Breakfast Play Set, which is a nice touch. The only real issue is that quite a lot of items get posted into the toaster which I then need to rescue at the end of the day!

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Breakfast Play Set (Lidl)
As above, mainly wooden, except for the blade of the knife which is plastic. The knife can be used to cut the croissant into three, and the boiled egg can also be cut into two as well. Slightly unusual choices for breakfast (I don’t usually have lettuce, tomato and cucumber with my breakfast, do you?!) but this actually means it has been used to make lunches as well as breakfasts
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There are also a couple of items out which we have had for a while, but are still really popular!

Tea Set (Green Toys)
I don’t usually choose plastics toys, but I make an exception for Green Toys, as they are made with recycled plastics which are non-toxic and contain no BPA, PVC, phthalates or external coatings. This also means we can use it with actual liquids in too!

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Pot & Pan Set (Melissa & Doug)
This sturdy set is made of wood, and has taken a real battering from all the children. The children love cooking up dinner in the oven safely, using the oven mitt. My children particularly like that the spatula is very similar to the ones we use when actually cooking

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Cutting Fruit & Vegetables (BigJigs)
Fab for motor skills, but also encouraging healthy diets, colours, numbers, sorting, the list goes on! A particular favourite of my own children, we have used these in the kitchen while preparing dinner, so the children can feel like they are participating in the preparation

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What accessories do you put with your toy kitchen that your children love?

Time for a Change! Toy Rotation: October

As I have said before, I practise toy rotation within my setting; toys are rotated for a variety of reasons, including:
– when I feel that play has become repetitive
– skills covered by the current toys have been mastered so further challenge is needed
– selected toys are TOO challenging, and a step-back is needed
– children ask for certain toys
– to follow the interests of the children
– to work towards individual children’s Next Steps
And the list goes on…

Last months set-up has gradually been adapted, and this weekend was time for an overhaul, so now the following is available for the children:

WOW Toys vehicles
These are pretty much indestructible, and suitable for under 1s (I have a new crawler, so this is very important!); they have friction motor engines (no batteries required!) and moving parts which can be operated by the children; the rotor on the helicopter should be the perfect challenge for one particular CM child to master. The figures and vehicles are also great for small world play, encouraging speech and interaction between all of the children.

Le Toy Van Noah’s Balancing Ark
The wooden pieces are chunky and tactile, so suitable for very young children to play with, whilst older children learn how to balance the animals on the ark itself. But beware, one false move, and the boat will tip the animals off! My eldest is beginning to realise that balancing is easier if you make each side the same, so this toy also encourages processing skills, and the idea of cause and effect as well as motor skills.

Melissa & Doug wooden clock
This is a current favourite with all my CM kids, so is the only toy that has remained from the last rotation. My nearly two year old CM child is beginning to acquire the patience to rotate the pieces to fit the spaces, and my 3 year old CM child is learning to recognise numerals, so this toy fits in well with others I am using with him on a one-to-one basis

Schleich animals
The basket contains a variety of toy animals; they can be used in a variety of ways, not just your standard pretend play
We can count them, sort into size and height order, talk about where they live, what they eat, even play hide and seek with them! So much learning from such a versatile toy.

Random selection of baby toys
The second basket contains a variety of ‘baby’ toys, which squeak, stack and roll. The toys in this basket will be rotated each week at an absolute minimum in order to maintain the interest of the baby I currently look after for four days each week. Being in a basket also means I can easily move them into the front room if the playroom is getting noisy and the baby wants some time and space away from the older children.

Magnetic Mix & Match: Jungle Changing Room
This was a new purchase at the weekend; the children can match up the animals correctly, or make up their own weird and wonderful creations. Great for language development and positional language e.g. below, in the middle, this versatile toy comes in a box for easy tidying away. After schoolers also love this toy!

I look forward to seeing how the children react and play with the new selection of toys on offer to them, and will evaluate their effectiveness over the coming days.

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Time for a Change! Toy Rotation: September

I operate a toy rotation system in my setting; I find that if I have EVERYTHING out at once then nothing is played with, and pieces are lost

I follow the children’s interests and Next Steps when choosing the activities which are readily available, and they are easily interchangeable if these change or the children want something different

Currently, the following are readily available:

Shape sorter
One of my CM children loves posting objects through holes; this allows them to do so, while also adding extra challenge to get the shapes back out again! Add in colour and shape names, and this simple toy covers a lot of bases

Peg puzzles
The same CM child also loves attempting to fit puzzle pieces in. These are a small selection of the available puzzles, and are rotated every couple of days. They cover a range of challenge, and the pieces of the Janod woodland puzzle are also used by the older children in pretend play

Dinosaurs
Several of my CM children [and my own kids] are currently dinosaur mad, so these are out to follow their interest. Cue lots of roaring!

Wooden clock
Again, this is an extension to the peg puzzles mentioned earlier, but this is also aimed at a CM child’s next step, which involves recognising the numerals 1-10. The child in question is able to count past 10, but currently has no concept of the physical numerals. We are also looking at a lot of house and bin numbers, and playing hopscotch down the park!

Wooden blocks
I always have some kind of construction toy out, to allow the children to build freely and use their imagination. As they progress through the EYFS framework, their constructions become more sophisticated. They are also fab for colour sorting activities, counting and more complex 3-D shapes with older children

Wooden animals
This is a current interest of my youngest, so these are a recent purchase which she loves! We make lots of animal noises, and use them in pretend play. She also likes to build fences using the wooden blocks to keep the animals contained

The kitchen and easel are always out, plus a large pretend play item; this is currently the garage, but a request was made for the castle today, so that will make an appearance next week…

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