One of the challenges I’ve faced with my boys recently is: there is always one who feels very strongly against an activity the other two have agreed on.
For many, this wouldn’t be a problem at all – just let them all do their chosen activity. Those of you with multiple under 5s will know that this isn’t always a wise choice. One might request painting (with ALL the colours) downstairs, while the eldest and youngest opt to play with toys upstairs. Watching these two interact is often incredibly proud for me as their parent, but then there are days when it is far from enjoyable. On these occasions, the toy in question is either the type that baby can destroy like a wrecking ball in a building site, whilst simultaneously being hit by a steamroller; or the type that contains several hundred tiny, hazard like pieces, that you can just about save from the grip of a little hand, only to discover another missing and remain paranoid about where it went until it mysteriously reappears a fortnight later amongst the ‘Megablocks’ or ‘Paw Patrol’.
It would also be fair to assume that, with the current lockdown, they’d be keen to get outside. At any given moment in daylight, I would say this statement is true for 2/3 of them. The refuser varies, but the outcome is the same: it’s very complicated getting out for a short walk or scoot. I’ve had all manner of interesting ‘small child’ reasoning in the past week.
“I can’t go out there’s no socks in my drawer.” (Solution: “Have the pair in my hand.”)
“The clouds are the wrong colour.” (I think he was trying to make the point that it might rain.)
“But he got to press the button!” (It would appear that the most exciting part of going out on your scooter is opening the garage door. If you can’t do that, then all the enjoyment of an outing is gone. Absolutely no point going.)
If they wouldn’t go to exercise, the exercise had to come to them. I decided to combine the classic instruction game ‘Simon Says’ with the action game ‘Port Starboard’, I added a modern twist and included some current affairs for good measure. Plus, the new hybrid game succeeded in its mission: to both entertain and exhaust the children. To play, all you need is four pieces of paper. I wrote a word on each (school, shop, hotel and home), then blu tacked each of them to the four walls of your play space. Introducing ‘Boris says’: you run as fast as you can to the location you’re told to go to, but don’t get caught out by running there if Boris doesn’t tell you to. Great fun. For the first time, we are enjoying the rules. By the time we’re done, my four year old may even have learnt to read a handful of new words as a bonus. I believe that’s P.E. Reading and Politics done in the space of 10 minutes. As someone who is finding juggling homeschooling with stopping the 1 year old destroying the house challenging, I’ll take that as a success.
Note: Locations can be added/changed as new restrictions come into play. My boys were very enthusiastic to be the ‘caller’. Their early suggestions included: ‘Boris says do a handstand’ and ‘Boris says go to the toilet.’ So glad my children are not running the country right now, or we’d have some very crowded portaloos.
On the 30th July I blogged that I intended to set up a different selection of toys/random items to amuse my big boys when the woke up on a weekday so I could get baby sorted.
It was going relatively well until the husband ended up working at the weekend and I lost the ability to identify what day of the week it was. Unfortunately, my son has recently acquired ‘days of the week’ socks. He wears these religiously. I can’t even begin to describe the problems that ensued when a ‘Wednesday’ sock got wet. I can reassure you that the solution was simply to wear only one (correctly labelled) sock for the remainder of the day.
I digress. This morning, eldest son’s foot warmer system informed him it was Monday morning. So at 7 o’clock exactly, I listened to the patter of feet heading for the playroom, closely followed by a, “wait for me” and a slightly louder patter of feet. Then a whimper sound could be heard, before both boys arrived at my side with heartbroken looks on their faces. “Mummy, where is today’s set up?” There was much guilt at this point. Imagine looking at the face of a lonely puppy dog shut outside in the rain. Quick thinking was required. Normally my brain prefers to work at tortoise speed, especially at this time in the morning. From somewhere, I managed to come up with, “Maybe this morning you could do the setup for me?”
They couldn’t contain their excitement. I watched as they turned towards each other, their eyes met, a wry smile crept across both of their little faces and they raced back to the play room. Anyone would think I’d just announced Father Christmas was in there! They successfully found an ikea box containing a group of toys not yet featured in previous days and worked tirelessly to make it look fun for Mummy. Once completed, it was necessary for me to engage in a game of Thunder Hollow demolition crazy 8s. I wasn’t entirely sure how to play this, but as it turns out, pushing a school bus into a toy car before raising the aforementioned car into the air and rotating it whilst making motor noises, is sufficient. Now to avoid forgetting again.
To avoid coming across as a complete failure with this challenge, since I last posted I have remembered on 11 occasions (out of 12 weekdays). Some were very last minute, ‘I’m tired and I just want bed’ efforts. Others, I may have got slightly carried away with. My top three have been:
Duplo city. Once you’ve finished the standard set up, it’s a challenge in itself to make something with the leftover pieces.
Normally, when the boys are jumping around the living areas, bringing their toys downstairs in hordes and launching balls into the air like missiles; I get grumpy. Today I encouraged it. Pettit Playland is open for business.
Soft play has always been that activity with a bit of a reputation. My personal viewpoint has changed significantly over time. I remember the excitement when my elder sister invited me to accompany my nieces to one. Running around like a crazy thing, whilst taking on the role of the responsible adult was ridiculously fun – a great opportunity to relive my youth. Then I had a crawling baby of my own and soft play took on a new role: a safe place for him to learn new ways to move and climb. Watching my first born meet milestones and the memory of his little face as he took on his first ball pit, will stay with me. But associating these indoor cushioned playgrounds with magical excitement would not last.
Once my children reached the age where they repeatedly asked to visit soft play, was around the same time I began to dislike it. We always ended up going on the ‘everything is sticky’ day because it was marginally more bearable than the ‘super busy can’t find my child’ days. You’d be dragged by your offspring to a difficult to reach place, attempting to bend your 6ft+ frame around several corners. At the top of a slide, your child likes to start on your lap but soon abandons you and goes it alone when it becomes clear your wide, childbearing hips have you lodged. This is closely followed by the embarrassment of trying not to look like you’re stuck. After freeing yourself you scan the vicinity for your child, initially panic only to later find them by the vending machine pressing all the pretty lights while a small queue of other children wishing to purchase drinks is beginning to form. Then there’s the noise level. (I thought nowhere could be louder than my own kids’ playroom. I was wrong.) You zone out in the deafness and start to consider how many little hands have touched the frame and where else those little hands have been prior to this. In addition the odd used sticker or plaster was a particularly unpleasant discovery.
Then the lockdown came and went. Most other places opened up except soft play centres. They might be closed indefinitely. Maybe they are a thing of the past? Of course, it was at this point that I chose to miss them, mourn these little torturous pits of craziness. Youngest son would miss out on this little experience that his siblings had adored.
So today we converted the dining room to our own soft play centre. Youngest son discovered the joys of a ball pit (with a limited supply of balls) and took the opportunity to climb the wrong way of a slide, enjoying a cushioned landing when he slid down at a peculiar angle. Middle son decided to adorn the area by adding every soft toy he owned. Meanwhile, eldest son took the opportunity to market our softplay. He wanted to create a sign and a reading area. They all loved it and playing there filled all morning on a day when we had nothing else planned. So now, I no longer find soft play areas loathsome. If only I felt the same about the inevitable ‘Operation clean up’, which is bound to involve at least 33% of them bawling that their indoor playground has gone.
On too many occasions husband and I have said to each other, “How is it they have a playroom full of toys, yet the only things that take their interest are Daddy’s watch, a roll of toilet paper and the kitchen cutlery?”
I’ve narrowed it down to the following possibilities:
1) Things are more interesting if they are in front of you.
2) Things are more interesting if you haven’t seen them for a while.
3) Things are more interesting if you see someone else using them.
4) Things are more interesting if they don’t require any effort to start a game with them.
5) Things are more interesting if you know you aren’t allowed them.
A friend of mine set up all her duplo for her children and watched them play for hours. I decided this was an excellent idea and combined it with the idea of toy rotation. Every evening, after the boys are in bed I set up a different arrangement of toys for them. When they wake up in the morning they have a game ready to go, giving mummy some quality ‘lie in’ time. Well in theory that is. In reality, she is usually removing youngest son from the many peculiar predicaments he finds himself in.
This method gives them the chance to play with toys that they haven’t used for a little while. It also gives them new ideas for ways to use objects e.g. wooden blocks as garages (instead of car tracks or stacking towers). The best bit though is designated time to watch them play – something I find fascinating.
I’ve now set myself a challenge to try a different set up every weekday this summer (excluding the week we’re on holiday). It’s a great way of addressing points 1 to 4 (of the list above) at the same time. If anybody has any tips for how to get round point 5 then I’d love to hear them.
I often think how great it is that my boys are close in age, as they share many interests. However this often means many disputes too. Today they elected to bake a cake but completely disagreed about which cake to make.
My solution was as follows:
1) Let child 1 choose the picture/recipe they fancy. Let child 2 choose the colour and edit recipe to include closest matching food colouring.
2) Take it in turns to press the ‘reset’ button on the weighing scales.
3) They get a wooden spoon each. If you only own one wooden spoon in your kitchen, I suggest entering a quiz or competition (and losing).
4) Divide the top of the cake using Kit Kat fingers so they can decorate their own section.
Child 1 chose blueberries (because it matched the picture). Child 2 chose banana and sweets. I went for strawberry and chocolate chips. That left us with one quarter left. Baby is too little for cake so we let Grandma decide on the last topping. She was most unoriginal with her idea, copying my strawberries but leaving off the chocolate element.
If anyone ever needed evidence to justify why we have maternity leave, I’ve probably gathered a significant amount in the last fortnight. Home schooling – whilst enjoyable at times – resembles a baptism of fire once you add the baby into the equation. Youngest son has a habit of crying when middle son and eldest son are thoroughly engaged in an activity. Of course, Mummy is not allowed to go and comfort him; that would result in them doing everything in their power to disengage themselves in aforementioned activity.
The boys were excited about about learning at home. There were two reasons for this. 1) They chose their own class name. We are lobsters class for those of you who may be interested. 2) Middle son finally gets to achieve his lifelong dream of being in his big brother’s class at school. Some of the most successful activities we’ve done so far include our senses game and scavenger hunt, our giant mixed media food table, our minibeast hunt (with obstacles), and our making our sequences.
Middle son is still preschool age, so we’ve had to find the balance between basic pencil control and letter sounds and his brother’s investigations that he’s so keen to be a part of. Eldest son constantly insists on ‘harder’ work. Then there’s my youngest one, who grizzles when he wants a bit of a cuddle. Pleasing all three is certainly more of a differentiation challenge than I’m used to. On one occasion, I did attempt to sit baby on my lap at the table so I could interact with all three. Then there was the blue crayon incident. It started when I became aware of a wet patch on my arm. A quick inspection confirmed baby dribble; except this had a significant blue tinge to it. Youngest son has very stealthily selected a crayon and is munching on it. He looks like a smurf with a slush puppy. The hand is blue. The mouth is blue. The tongue is blue. And all this in a time period less than 30 seconds.
Day 21: Stickers. This was a challenge eldest son completed with Daddy. I don’t really know what it involved nor do I have any pictures – largely because I have pittakionophobia. However, it seemed only fair that he was able to experience playing with these.
Day 22: Washing up. He explored forces with the sponge – twisting and squeezing. He played with the bubbles in the water. He had lots of fun splashing about. But most importantly, he did Mummy’s job for her 😉
Day 23: Sensible meals. Using the tummy ache games, I asked eldest son to select food that he thought would go well together. We did some early learning about healthy eating too. When I repeat this with youngest son I’m planning on getting the play food out too.
Day 24: Aluminium foil. We investigated. We used the foil as a mirror, tore it, folded it and rolled it into little balls. We looked at which piece was the largest and which one was the shiniest.
Day 25: Letters of his name. I can’t take any credit for this idea. A friend of mine – who was following my challenges – sent me the link and I couldn’t resist. Preparation took much longer for this one but eldest son spent significantly longer using it too. Hopefully the pictures are fairly self explanatory.
Day 26: Shreddie sculptures. This was basically Jenga but without the bricks. It was inspired by the Cheerios challenge that had gone viral on Facebook that year.
Day 27: Matching letter shapes and sounds. We played snap with the letter cards then we saw if there were any of our magnetic letters that also matched.
Day 28: Tower building/Turn taking. It was eldest son versus Daddy for this challenge. We had the excitement of who could build the highest tower but it was all about learning to wait for the other person before you could have your go. Lots of repetition required for this one.
Day 29: Subtraction rhymes. As eldest son was unable to join in with the singing we built a visual picture of some of the number rhymes for him and he was involved by physically removing bottles from the wall. We also playing using a tree and apples. “On the farmer’s apple tree, five red apples I can see, some for you and some for me, take one apple from the tree…”
Day 30: Dancing sultanas. I gave eldest son a glass of lemonade and asked him to add some sultanas. I just loved watching his face when he saw them move about on their own. He was so amazed. Little things
Day 31: Sock sorting. Another sneaky way of getting my toddler to do my housework here! I gave him all the dry socks from the line and asked him to find the matching ones to sort into pairs.
Day 32: Playdough worms and snakes 🐍. This involved lots of rolling. I helped him make the tails and put on little eyes, he made them slither about.
Day 33: Animal rescue. Eldest son expressed genuine concern when he realised that lion and hippopotamus were stuck in the jelly quicksand. Luckily he saved them both using only two spoons and a tea tool. P.S. Jelly quicksand is tasty.
Day 34: Treasure hunt. In contrast to our previous sensory activities, eldest son loved letting the rice run between his fingers (much better than using the spoon). Not quite sure if he understood the concept of finding money but the coins he uncovered were fun to put in a bowl, fun to clink together and fun to line up.
Day 35: Saucepan music. Eldest son loved today’s challenge (the neighbours probably didn’t). He found lots of ways to make music 🎶 I forgot to photograph the colander flute. The baby (middle son) joined in today. He mostly preferred to eat the drumsticks. Clearly he felt they were chicken drumsticks 🍗!
Day 36: Fastenings. Eldest son made firm friends the the caterpillar 🐛. His favourite fastening to open was the zip and his favourite one to match up with a real world object was the shoelace.
Day 37: Acting out a story. Eldest son liked matching the animals and people to the pictures in the book. He was a little more fussy than Noah as to who he allowed on the ark though. One of the poor giraffes had to lie down to fit and an elephant fell of the back. My boy also used his signing to show the weather on the page when the rain came pouring down. Middle son didn’t think there should be two of each animal so tried to eat one of the bears.
Day 38: This challenge involved taking it in turns with Nanny and Daddy to pick an object out of a covered box. Eldest son then had to sort them into their groups. Animals, trains, cars and shapes. He really enjoyed it.
Day 39. Eldest son’s challenge was to find out what Daddy and Nanny had hidden in the duplo box and how to get it out. 😌He was very quick at the challenge this morning but he liked looking through the windows to see what he could see inside.
Day 40: Memory. I broke all the rules for this challenge. Eldest son had an early breakfast, before I was home, so we completed the challenge a little later 🙁 The challenge involved hiding objects behind a screen then adding a new one at a time. Eldest son had to identify which the new object was – basically Kim’s game in reverse.
When eldest son was a toddler and middle son was a baby, I used to find days could be overwhelming. When I stimulated my toddler’s little brain early on in the morning, it some how ended up being less chaotic. He also wanted to be ‘moving around’ all the time so it was a good opportunity to try sit down activities. That’s when breakfast challenges were born. I knew my child had a shorter attention span than other children his age. Therefore, the aim was to try and create/find engaging activities that would require less time to prepare than they entertained him for. He was also non verbal at the time but had excellent receptive language so we also looked for opportunities for him to communicate his thoughts. The challenges we used were a combination of my own ideas, friends’ recommendations and some internet research.
Day 1: Car shaped ice cubes. At age 2, eldest boy loved anything with wheels so it seemed fitting to have a go at making these. He liked to push them across the table and loved it when they started moving faster (as the ice melted). He was not as keen on how cold they were.
Day 2: Magazine destruction. A really simple one – I gave him a selection of old magazine and he practised turning the pages, pointing out objects I asked him about. We also had a go at tearing. As my child refused to mark make, I needed to find other ways to improve his fine motor skills.
Day 3: Animal tracks. We used different coloured Play-doh (to make the ground) and a selection of plastic animals. Eldest son enjoyed making footprints with the animals. I made some trails for him and he had to guess which animal made them.
Day 4: Shaving foam. This was a sensory activities that only required a tray and some foam. We learnt that our child will probably have a beard when he’s older. He really didn’t like touching the stuff.
Day 5: Story stones. We had a selection of rocks that were painted for him by his Auntie. (If you have older siblings then they could paint the rocks in advance instead.) I asked eldest son questions e.g. Which one might you find in the sea? He would choose the stones accordingly. He then pointed out five favourites and ordered them, allowing Mummy to make each one feature in a home made story.
Day 6: Balls, sausages and arches. Out came the Play-doh again for this challenge. We worked on rolling out sausages and the more advanced skill of using two hands to roll out the balls. The activity became child led and he opted to aim the balls at the sausages, so I took this idea further and bent them into arches for him.
Day 7: Wheels or no wheels? We presented eldest son with a selection of his own toys and a hoop. I asked him to find the toys which had wheels and put them in the hoops. It was interesting to watch him checking for wheels by spinning them.
Day 8: Pasta and play dough. I gave my boy different types of pasta. He made the very quick discovery that dry pasta does not taste as nice as its cooked counterpart. I showed him how different parts of the pasta leave different imprints. He then had a go at making his own sculpture.
Day 9: Fuzzy felts. I loved watching him dress the people. He was good with positioning shoes, but put hats on first and was then unsure where to put the hair. Next, he placed trousers on upside down. The skirt was a tricky item. He had no idea what to do with it!
Day 10: Faces in the mirror. We used a portable bathroom mirror. I asked him to show me a happy face or an angry face. He found this very tricky. We then used the opportunity to practise action songs and pointing out facial body parts.
Day 11: Colour sort twister. Another selection of items and a twister board. He organised. I watched. Interestingly (over 3 years later), my boys had the twister set out in their playroom and recreated this activity independently – except they were just sorting trains. They have a lot of trains!
Day 12: Finger Puppets. We lay out a range of finger puppets. I put a silly voice on to talk to eldest son when he wiggled his finger. This activity very quickly descended into the puppets being on my fingers and tickling him behind the ears and chin.
Day 13: Cake cases. This was another one designed to practise developing his fine motor skills. Eldest son needed to separate the cake cases and place one over each ‘hump’. The tray was then turned over and this time he was trying to put the cases in each ‘hole’ the right way round. We also had a look at making repeating patterns with the blue and pink cases, although I’m sure most people would use it as a good excuse to start baking.
At this point we went on a family holiday to Spain but decided to continue with the challenge. We were now eating breakfast outside so that’s why the next activities are outdoor ones. It was particularly useful for the following flour challenge, as mess was avoided.
Day 14: Flour. Like with the shaving foam, eldest son was not keen to get his fingers dirty by making lines and patterns with his fingers in the flour. However, once we introduced the ‘trains in the snow game’ he loved it. He was happy to play with this for a while, content to manipulate the flour as long as he was using a spoon or other object.
Day 15: Sticking with glue. We used a few prepared pictures from the old magazines (used on day 2) and let him arrange them as he wished. The hardest point of this one was developing an understanding that the glue goes on the back of the picture. In the end, we encouraged him to put the glue on the background and then hunt for where he’d made it sticky in order to attach his picture.
Day 16: Bottle tops. Being in Spain, we were drinking a lot of liquids, including bottled water. This produced a lot of lids. You can do all manner of things with these, such as sorting or stacking or even decorating a caterpillar.
Day 17: Circles, triangles and oblongs. A little bit more preparation was required for this one. Luckily for me, my boys have a Grandma who is amused by cutting out circle, triangle and oblong shapes. We asked our boy to match up each shape in the correct place.
Day 18: Foam tray. We equipped eldest son with a golf tee and he used it to make dents in a food tray. It was an excellent excuse to eat the food on it. To make the activity more interesting, we drew a letter on the tray and he tried to make his marks somewhere on that letter.
Day 19: Coloured pegs. This was just a round piece of card with different coloured sections. While hanging out the towels on the washing line, we gave an assortment of clothes pegs to eldest son and asked him to peg them onto the matching colour. He found it quite challenging manipulating the right part of the peg but we were hopeful it would be useful in the future for his handwriting.
Day 20: Counting. The bottle tops came out again. Our son has had a love of numbers from well before he could say their names, so he grouped them together: one lid, two lids, three lids, four lids and five lids.
I’ve decided that my children wriggle too much. Even when they are playing a favourite game or watching a favourite program they can’t sit still. I can glance over at something else for a second and when I turn back again they’ve moved. This can be particularly amusing when they are asleep and we go into their room to whisper goodnight. We’ve discovered them in all sorts of silly poses. One day they might be curled up in a little ball like a cat (foot end), while a teddy has occupied the prime position in the main part of the bed. Then the next day limbs might be everywhere, an arm draped across the face and a leg half hanging out the side of the bed.
So when their Grandma won a photoshoot and decided to take the boys along I wasn’t especially optimistic about getting them to stay still long enough for a good shot. For once we had adults outnumbering the children so we decided to make a day trip out of it anyway. The studio was a hit with the boys instantly. Clearly, in their minds it resembled a play room and they were quick to notice a selection of toys on a shelf. These proved to be quite a distraction. When you are a small person, why wouldn’t you prefer to look at the shelving unit then the camera?
Trying to get an image of the three boys together was interesting. Eldest one was having difficulty interpreting the photographer’s instructions, middle one was pulling peculiar faces to get a reaction and youngest one could only be positioned for a second or so before he realised he wasn’t being held and needed to cry accordingly. At one point I was singing him ‘The Grand old Duke of York’ – which makes him very smiley – then attempting to back away quickly after the lyric ‘down’. It was usually in this spilt second when one of his older brothers happened to have an itchy nose (or make a detailed exploration of the nostril). They weren’t particularly keen to interact with each other either – almost like they knew the whole thing was staged. There are occasions when my boys show genuine affection to each other – of course on these occasions I either don’t have a camera to hand or I’m not fast enough to capture the moment before it passes.
Trying to get an image of our whole family was even more of a challenge. When you’re supposed to be in the picture yourself its really hard to remember to smile and look at the camera yourself before checking what the children are up to. It meant relying on the Grandparents to tell the boys a joke. Unfortunately their Grandad’s idea of humour would be a bit beyond them and of course Grandma couldn’t think of anything quickly enough. We resorted to calling out random food items instead. Sometimes nothing beats a good old fashioned call of ‘cheese’.
Despite all of this on top of multiple clothing changes, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the results. Now we just need the boys to sit still long enough to see our chosen photos themselves.
There’s very little a warm bath can’t fix. When he’s got a brother to play with, marshmallow bubble bath, Noah’s Ark, the Octonauts and some new squirter toys, middle son is in his happy place. Five minutes earlier the story was rather different.
Taking every opportunity to use his new bike, middle son had cycled up the hill (without stopping) on the school run. He’d then attended his playball class and run around like a crazy thing, then I’d taken him swimming. He’d practically completed a triathlon and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! After allowing only a short period of time to enjoy calm and tranquil activities like stories, mazes and spot the difference, he was keen to be on the move again so it was get the bicycle back out again for a pit stop at Auntie’s house before the afternoon school run. As expected, the rain was getting heavier – especially to mark the occasion.
Despite everyone getting absolutely drenched (with the exception of youngest son – who was sensible enough to remain under his raincover for the duration), we all seemed in good spirits. Then middle son suddenly stopped. He’d worked out that he was cold and the amount of energy he’d used throughout the day was beginning to catch up with him. He wasn’t moving – no matter what. It was kind of like playing musical statues with a child when they’ve already won the game, but they still refuse to move in case you are trying to trick them.
After retrieving an item from his Auntie’s place, it should have been a short, simple return journey. Not to be. Middle son still hadn’t moved. I was starting to wonder if he has shares in a superglue company or something. He wanted me to push him home. Not an easy feat when A) You’re over six foot tall and the bicycle in question is significantly nearer the ground B) You’re also pushing a pushchair leaving only one hand free to support the bike C) The bicycle does not have stabilisers so is wobbling all over the place at the slow speed I was attempting to tug it along. Luckily for me, eldest son was in ‘giving citizen’ mode and obligingly surrounded his scooter to his younger brother and cycled the bike home for him. Now the dripping statue – that was my child – was safely on three wheels (with a high handle) and could easily be transported home with a single hand.
By the time we arrived home, we resembled a family who’d decided to go swimming fully clothed – with coats on. After the earlier swim and the more recent precipitation, the day seemed to be following an ‘aqua’ theme, so more water activities seemed the best course of action. Bath time it was – if only Mummy had time to relax in one of those!