I’ve been feeling so bad about neglecting my little space here on the internet since falling pregnant; I don’t know why I’ve gone completely blank about what to write about or what to share (any suggestions always welcome) but one of my besties gave me a few suggestions last week so I’m back.
I want to talk about at home play (and outdoor play too I suppose) because it’s something that my good friend Emma has really opened my eyes to over the last few weeks. Unlike me; and this is my disclaimer; Emma is early years trained and is a professional teacher. I am NOT and it’s important to state that very clearly. I have zero experience other than playing with my own child.
Recently Emma has been showcasing how she plays with her toddler at home to ensure that she is not only engaged and enjoying the activities but also learning something from them as well. I’ve been amazed by just how simple actives can be but toddlers find so much joy and entertainment from the simplest of play as long as they’re given a little direction and then left to explore on their own.
I’ve tried to incorporate some of this into our play times recently so I thought I would share some of the things we’ve been doing and how I’m doing it a little differently now compared to a few weeks ago.
I bought Amelia a Happyland set for her birthday and she’s loved it so I decided to add to it with a set of farm and wild animals and I’ve been amazed just how much she loves to play with them.
I store them in a zipped bag when she’s not using them and every time we get them out I do the same routine with her; I take one animal out at the time and ask her:
- what’s this? pig, lion, monkey etc…
- what noise does it make? oink oink, roar, moo etc…
- what colour is it? this is a little more tricky for her because everything is green when you ask this question but she will say the colours back to you when I tell her and she’s learnt that the pig is always pink so that’s progress.
By the time we’ve done all of that and put each animal on the table I just let her play freely with them for a while; her favourite thing to do at the moment it so lie each one down on it’s side and then go looking for a blanket to cover them up saying “shh mama, sleeping”. In her own way she’s putting all her animals to bed and tucking them in, she will then get each one up shouting “wake up” and stand them all up again.
Sometimes I will encourage a little scenario; like an animal drinking water on the blue section of the table or eating grass on the green part. She will share her food with her animals and then clean them with wipes if she gets her food on them.
Amelia loves drawing; I can’t even use a pen in the house without her wanting it and asking for her paper. She has a whole box of coloured crayons but she’s just as happy with a biro which I’m sure is because it’s what I was using and she wants to copy.
If left to it, she will make swirls and circles on the paper, sometimes she will make lines and call out ‘mummy, daddy, nana, grandad’ as she makes each line which her nursery have told me is a good sign that she’s assigning characters to her drawings so I’ll take their word for it.
Another firm favourite in our house are stickers; they don’t even have to be nice play stickers either; she’s just as excited by a price sticker on something we bought in the food shop. If you look around my house you’ll find stickers everywhere; stuck to the stairs, on the bedroom mirror, on the living room floor. It’s not that I don’t want the house to look tidy and more than I think of them as harmless until I realise just how difficult they are to remove when they’ve been stuck down for a few days. At least Amelia is filled with joy eery time she finds one dotted around the house.
I’m trying to encourage her to make something with her stickers these days; putting them on paper to create a picture which she enjoys and she will ask for help to remove the stickers from plastic paper so as not to rip them.
We also do some role play at home too; her favourite is to carry her dolly around or push it in the pram saying she is the mummy and she’s going to give baby milk or get the dummy. She loves her dolly so much; she takes the clothes off and wipes her bottom; shares her food and always gives her the baby dummy.
She will bring baby to me and say “baby sad” and give cuddles and kisses and she can recognise facial emotions too. For example she knows that Piglet (photo above) is smiling and always tells me that “he’s happy” to which I always reply “of course he’s happy, he loves you. Do you love Piglet?” Yes and a big hug is always the answer.
Amelia was bought this doctors kit for her birthday and we play with it every weekend; sometimes she will use it on her teddies, on me and my husband and sometimes she’s goes completely off book and starts checking the heartbeat on the door, table, TV always says “boom boom”. She has an understanding of what’s in the medical set, she will say things like “he’s poorly” and then get one of her instruments out. Some of them have interesting uses; like the dental mirror which she thinks is for blowing bubbles and the scalpel which is for buttering toast but that’s just her association with things of that shape and I encourage her to play with it however she chooses.
Bringing this ball pit in from the garage was one of the best decisions; she’s obsessed with coloured balls. Mostly in throwing and kicking them but that’s ok.
We’ve been practicing throwing and catching; catching needs some work but every now and then a ball will land on her arms and that’s a victory to celebrate. She’s happy to tip the balls out of the pit and put them back (even if she does leave most of them for me) but it’s been her understanding of colours that has amazed me the most.
I had no idea she could tell different shades apart until this activity. She did tell me these balls were brown so we’re still working on that but she was able to pick out this specific shade of blue ball and collect them in her bowl.
She was able to stack them, carry the full bowl around without spilling them and differentiate between these blue balls and darker ones in the ball pit that she realised she didn’t want.
This activity took me by surprise because I didn’t encourage this at all, in fact I think I might have just been sat on the sofa scrolling Insta when she got started. The bowl she’s using is actually my peg bowl and we were using the pegs for another activity (more on that in a moment) and she tipped all the pegs out on the floor and took the empty bowl.
I was about to get a bit annoyed about the mess and ask her to put the pegs back when I realised what she was doing, I just sat there and watched her. I didn’t get involved or try to manipulate her with any instructions. I just waited for her to bring the bowl over to show me when it was full.
This activity really made me aware of what I was about to interrupt; had I told her to pick up the pegs she wouldn’t have had the chance to explore the balls like this, I would have never known she could separate these shades of blue and I would have hindered a learning opportunity for her. I wasn’t even mad that she refused to pick up the pegs and left them for me to do.
As I just mentioned, the peg bowl was for an activity of sticking pegs on a ribbon. This one is to encourage her grip and understanding that if she opens the peg she can attach it to the ribbon and it will stay there.
She did really well with it, I had to show her a couple of times but she was able to copy me. After a few pegs she started to rummage in the bowl, swirling her hands around and moving the pegs, she told me she was “mixing the cake” and so I asked her if she remembered making the cakes with Aunty Lizzi when she mixed the cake mixture in the bowl. She said she did and told me again she was mixing the cake.
Then she poured all the pegs out and we know what happened from there…
I’m trying to get out more with Amelia at the moment too, mainly because I’ve realised how much entertainment there can be on a simple walk around the neighbourhood and also because I’m aware the weather is going to turn soon and we’ll be stuck indoors.
We’ve been taking walks around the streets; discovering plants, looking for puddles, throwing leaves and collecting things to take home and show Daddy.
She loves to collect stones but I remind her that we can only take the ones that are on the pavement and not from people’s gardens or driveways. She’s learning and will point to a stone or leaf or flower and ask if she can have it before picking it up.
We’ve taken all sorts home in our pockets; fallen leaves, feathers, stones, sticks.
She’s fascinated by the fact that leaves are falling from the trees and will pick them up and try to put them back on the branches. We have a tree near our house that is covered in little red berry looking things (no idea what they are) and she will stop to point at them and ask what they are. I don’t want her to pick them up or eat them so I tell her they’re food for the birds to eat and she waits to see if a bird will come to take them.
A lot of our walks end up at the park; parks are tricky at this age because other than swings and the slide there’s not really much she can do but she’s actually perfectly happy just going up and down the slide a hundred times.
The slide in our park has little cloud shaped steps you can climb up and this is what we’ve been practicing recently, she’s currently torn between not wanting my help but needing it so I just stand with my hands out looking like some crazed over protective parent in case she loses her footing and falls but she never does.
I used to think that getting to the park was the most important thing; that’s where the fun is, but actually I’m learning that the walk to the park is the real excitement. We pass the tree with the bird food berries and we have to stop and look for birds in the branches, we pass the VW camper van that’s covered in stickers and have a chat about why you can’t take the stickers off the car, we practice crossing the road safely (which often just ends in me carrying her), we play hide and seek with the large trees along the path and point out squirrels, cats in windows and dogs on their walks.
I’ve realised it doesn’t even matter if we never make it to the park, the time is Amelia’s to do what she wants, to play and learn in her own way. I’m just along for the ride and I think that’s something I’ve learnt a lot of over the last few weeks.
I don’t have to spend money on new toys or trips out to make her happy, she doesn’t need loud flashy electronic toys that talk and sing at her. She’s just as happy with a bowl of pegs or a biro and paper.
I’m hoping to try some new activities with her as we get more into winter and going out isn’t so easy so I’ll keep you posted on how that goes and please let me know if you have any suggestions of things we can do at home.
If you’re interested in checking out Emma’s amazing Facebook page dedicated to the actives she does with her toddler and her explanation of how each activity helps her development then give her page a follow. She’s also just launched an Instagram account for her page too if that’s more your thing then give her a follow there.