Category Archives: families

20 Outdoor Things to Do Before You are 5

 

outdooe pin.pngThese Ideas were originally written for Parentmap in 2013

When my eldest daughter was working through the National Trust’s list of ’50 things to do before you are 11 3/4′.  I was inspired to create a companion list for my younger children.  Some of the challenges on the National Trust list, like picking wild blackberries were easily completed by young children but I felt a list of basic foundational outdoor experiences for babies, toddlers and preschoolers could work alongside it.

I realise that we are fortunate to live in a house with a garden and nature all around us but I tried hard to make the experiences accessible to all, in all weather and without an outdoor space at home. There are many amazing things that young children can experience outdoors, these are the ones I believe are essential .

20 things to do before you are 5.   

  1. Splash in a puddle:  Put on your rain boots and/or waterproof trousers and splash in puddles large, small and muddy.puddles
  2. Blow a dandelion clock : counting out the hours of the day as you blow

    blowing a dendelion clock
    child blowing a dandelion clock
  3. Play in sand: In a sand box, at the park or at the beach. Playing with sand needn’t be limited to building sandcastles. Explore wet and dry sand, fill containers, hide things in the sand, draw in it with a stick or make a dinosaur swamp.

    sand play
    Sand play
  4. Walk through crunchy autumn leaves: You could also catch some from the trees as they fall, take them home and print with them or make a crunchy collage.autumn leaves
  5. Catch blossom from a tree.blossom
  6. Play in the snow:  If snow is thin on the ground head out to a snow park or if you live in a country where you don’t have snow, set up some icy play in the sunshine.

    lying in the snow
    I just want to lie in it
  7. Grow a flower from a bulb or a seed: Guess the colour of the flower that will grow or grow a tall sunflower and measure it as it grows.WP_20130718_004 (2)
  8. Ride a tricycle, bicycle or scooter.IMG_0513
  9. Make a mud pie: You could even build a mud kitchen using old pans and kitchen utensils.mud kitchens
  10. Walk barefoot on grass, mud or sand: Walking barefoot helps children to balance and strengthens muscles in the foot. It is also a great way to stimulate the senses and talk about different textures.IMG_0615
  11. Collect natural materials from the woods, beach or park: Collect shells, leaves, pinecones or seeds. Put double sided tape on a pair of boots or a hat and help the children collect items to stick on. Use them to make pictures, sculptures or for small world play.skeleton leaf
  12. Go on a bug hunt: Dig for worms, look in dark places or watch spider webs wet with dew.

    bug hunting
    I found a beetle.
  13. Play with a stick: Sticks can be swords, fairy wands or pencils. We have a huge collection outside our front door as our only rule is ‘No sticks in the house’.

    Y sticks
    Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.
  14. Go for a walk in the woods.
  15. Paddle barefooted in the ocean, lake or stream: If your budget or location doesn’t allow you to get to the seaside, lake or stream, paddle barefooted in a puddle.paddling
  16. Play Pooh sticks.pooh sticks
  17. Throw and kick a ball: Start with large balls and as children get older experiment with different shapes and sizes.

    fairground games
    Throw the ball at the trampoline and see if you can bounce it into the tub.
  18. Go fruit picking: At a farm or pick wild berries in the woods or park.strawberry picking
  19. Run in an open space.kite(1)
  20. Chase and blow bubbles.
    dr mazes farm
    small bubbles

    My little ones are over 5 now but still their favourite thing to do is climb the tree in our front garden,  make a mud pie or potion (my 8-year-old carried a pot of gooey mud home from school yesterday) or collect and create with sticks, petals and stones.

What would be on your list?

 

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How to Survive a Road Trip from Seattle to Yellowstone with Three Kids, a Dog and a Tent.

 

I love the idea of a road trip. It isn’t something people do that often in the UK, since it is such a small country and the main roads are really congested. With so many places here to explore and big open roads, I can’t wait to get out and explore. Perhaps it is a little unrealistic to expect it to be plain sailing with a three kids and a dog in tow, but I’m always eager for a challenge.  A few years ago we took a road trip to Curlew lake for our first family camping holiday, which was a really successful trip. Why not take the plunge and go for the long haul?

Close to 700 miles seems an awfully long way to drive so we broke up the journey with a camping trip with friends in Eastern Washington and an overnight stay in Missoula.

Packing

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We have camping packing down to a fine art. We decided not to take the kayak on this trip but everything else in the picture was loaded into the Suburban.  Our tent is an Alaknak with an added vestibule. It has plenty of room for our family of five to walk around inside and is quick and easy to put up. We sleep on camping cots and pack a camping kitchen but to be honest on this trip we didn’t use it a lot. The best time to see wildlife is early morning and evening so we rarely got back to the campsite before it was dark.  I was told it was cold at night so packed plenty of warm clothes. We didn’t need many warm weather clothes at Yellowstone. Yellowstone is mountainous territory so has considerably cooler temperatures than surrounding regions, we mostly wore long trousers and layers.

On the Road

After our weekend camping we headed through Eastern Washington( I saw tumbleweed for the first time) towards Spokane where we took a lunch break. We then crossed the State line into Idaho.  To keep ourselves amused, we accepted a friend’s challenge to spot  licence plates from different states. This was the perfect challenge for a trip like this. Yellowstone is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, so there were plenty to find. We managed to find 45 of the 50 states by the end of our trip.

We then crossed another state line into Montana. There were lots of roads like this,

montana-roads

They don’t call it the blue sky state for nothing.

Overnight Stop

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For our overnight stop we had pre-booked a cabin at KOA Missoula. I was really impressed with how neat and clean this KOA was. There were floral displays everywhere and a man who ventured out every morning to water and feed them.  The staff were really friendly and the shop well stocked.  Ice cream  was served in the evening (much to the delight of the girls) and breakfast in the morning. The girls enjoyed a dip in the pool before it got too dark.

Travelling to West Yellowstone

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The next leg of the journey, through Montana was really beautiful.  We stopped for lunch along the way and then another rest break (conveniently at a consignment/antique store) made the journey around six hours. Arriving at West Yellowstone KOA, the girls headed off to the indoor pool while Dad put up the tent.

Tips for Camping in Yellowstone

 

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Tips for Camping at Yellowstone

  • Our first concern regarding camping was that we were in grizzly bear country. The owners at the campsite assured us that they rarely see any wildlife on site except for foxes, but to keep any food locked in the car to be safe.  We also had a bear proof food container which was almost human proof too.
  • Even in the height of the summer, Yellowstone gets pretty cold at night often reaching below 0 degrees centigrade.  My advice would be to get good quality winter grade sleeping bags, lots of layers and hats for night-time.  We also bought a camping gas heater and with this on we were warm enough.  If you have very young children or are not seasoned campers I would recommend staying in a cabin or RV. Campfires are permitted at West Yellowstone KOA.
  • During the daytime, campsites are pretty quiet as all the guests are out exploring.  The pool and hot tub was very busy in the evenings when people returned.  We chose to stay at the campsite and use the facilities in the morning when it was quiet and head out after lunch. This gave us plenty of time to drive to the best places to view wildlife in the evenings.

How Easy is a Yellowstone Trip with a Dog?

dog-camping

  • Dogs are permitted in Yellowstone but there are a number of restrictions.  Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails or boardwalks or on the roadside.
  • We were fortunate to have cooler, cloudy days so that we could leave the dog in the car when visiting big attractions like Old Faithful.  On warmer days we took the trails and boardwalks in shifts. I went with the younger children and then my husband and my eldest went when we got back.
  • Yellowstone is huge and a lot of the sites you can see from the road, particularly the wildlife.  I think we would probably had a different experience if we had used the trails more but it is perfectly reasonable to take a dog and do the trip in the car.

The Sights of Yellowstone

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Day 1. Artists Paintpots – We underestimated quite how big Yellowstone is and how much there is to see. On the first day we headed to artists paintpots, passing a few smaller sights on the way. We took it in turns to walk the trail and boardwalks around the hydrothermal basin, so we could leave the dog in the car. Artist paintpots is full of coloured pools and mudpots that bubble like a witches cauldron, perfect for making up fantasy stories for little ones. Yellowstone wildlife greeted us for the first time in the guise of a chipmunk and a coyote walking out of the woods past the car.

For the rest of our stay we decided we should plan the things we really wanted to see and work out a manageable route. This was our list and route.

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Day 2-Old Faithful – The times that Old Faithful is likely to erupt can be found on an app. The signal in the park is very poor, so once you get in you may find that it doesn’t work but the times can also be found in the shop. Next to Old Faithful is a display of photography and old cameras.  This was fun to visit.  At the shop we picked up Yellowstone Jack – a very cute friend to carry around and include in your pictures.  He can then be tagged on Instagram to win prizes.  The girls thought this was great fun. If geysers are your thing, there is a whole trail of different geysers around old faithful, but by this point we were a bit geysered out.

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Day 3Wildlife spotting   Our main destination for day 3 was the Hayden Valley, a good place to spot wildlife. Along the way we stopped to see an Elk, walking along the edge of the river. At the Old Faithful gift shop we bought a book,”Who Pooped in the Park”.  The book is a children’s guide to animal tracks and scat that might be found in the park. The girls were fascinated and walked around the meadow trying to identify all the different types of poop.

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We also stopped to admire many of the views and arrived at the valley at dusk.  We saw a whole herd of Bison, some walk along the road but mostly you watch them coming out to graze as daylight falls.

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We spotted a group of people looking out over the valley, so stopped to see what they could see.  They had set up very powerful scopes and showed us a pack of wolves, too far in the distance for the naked eye to see. We were hoping to see a bear but unfortunately not this time although we were assured there was one travelling down the hill.

Day 4-  Waterfalls .Our  first destination was  Canyon Village, where we stopped at the store before heading to view the Lower Falls.  The view was spectacular and you could clearly see the yellow rocks that give Yellowstone its name. Even the little ones were absorbed in a few moments of quiet contemplation.

img_0838-2 The girls amused themselves by climbing the rocks, travelling in different ways around a tree.

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Our next destination was the Lower Falls, a short distance away. We were a little cautious when we saw  bear warning signs but the girls soon found a tree trunk to amuse them.

girls on log yellowstone.jpg

There is a longer walkway that takes you above the falls but it was a little late in the day to try that.   When we left it was beginning to get dark.  We saw a sign for Artist’s Point but debated whether it was too late to stop.  We decided to take a quick look and I’m so glad we did.  This was the biggest surprise of the trip, the view was so stunning that it almost didn’t seem real. The whole trip was memorable and full of new experiences but I think this is the view that will remain imprinted in my memory forever. It left me lost for words. I can clearly imagine sitting there for hours writing or painting, it certainly lives up to its name.

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I could have stayed here forever. The little ones thought the view was amazing too and they studied the rock faces with the binoculars.img_0972-2

Day 4 Final Day – The Quest to Find more Wildlife

We decided to cut our stay at West Yellowstone KOA short and booked a cabin in Deer Lodge, Montana, for a slightly warmer night and to shorten the journey home the next day. After packing up and letting the girls choose homemade fudge from the campground store, we headed back to the park for the last time. After 3 days of spotting bison, the girls were really keen to find different wildlife. Our first discovery was a mountain goat sitting in a ditch along the side of the road.

mountain-goat

We climbed the high ground to reach the Loire Valley.  The views as we climbed were magnificent and we stopped many times to take photographs.

highland-yellowstone

We were really keen to see bears, and stopped to use the binoculars to see if the dots in the distance might be bears, but sadly just bison.

loire-valley

Our intention had been to drive some of the valley to spot wildlife and then turn around to  exit the park.  After driving for some time we  realised we had driven the whole valley and reached an exit to the park in a little town called Silvergate, where we stopped for a drink at a small café.

silverdale-and-yellowstone-bus

I overheard the owners saying that they had been visited by a bear on recent nights and often it could be seen on the hill in front of us foraging for wild strawberries. We sat staring at the hill, but didn’t see any wildlife.

The lady told us that in the park there was a dead Bison near the old ranger station and you could often see bears feasting on the carcass.

As we headed back into the park it began to rain and as we looked to the side we were greeted by the most magnificent full rainbow, one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

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The rain soon stopped and we carried on until we saw crowds of people along the side of the road.  The people pointed out the location of the Bison carcass and invited us to look through their scopes.  You could clearly see a pack of wolves feasting on the carcass. The girls thought this was really cool.

Finally we travelled to the exit of the park at Mammoth Springs. Mammoth village was a pleasant surprise. It houses the parks headquarters, hotel, lodges and a historic fort. Deer were grazing everywhere and I wish we’d had time to get out and explore.  This will definitely be our first destination if we return to Yellowstone.

mammoth-hot-springsPoints to consider when visiting Yellowstone with children

  • Expect a lot of driving.  The park is vast and getting to the main attractions often involves a few hours drive.
  • Pack snacks and drinks. There are places to eat at Old Faithful, Mammoth Springs,  Canyon, Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake but they may take a while to get too and are often busy. If you travel to see wildlife in the evening as we did it will be dark by the time you leave and more difficult to find food.  There are plenty of restrooms throughout the park.
  • A lot of the wildlife is far off in the distance –  the Loire Valley has lots of bison for  close up wildlife, or Mammoth Springs for deer.  If you want to see wildlife in the distance invest in a scope (a good pair of binoculars helps but you will only see wildlife clearly with a scope).
  • Go to a visitor centre on your first day, here you can pick up junior ranger activity booklet to keep the children occupied during their stay.  The stores also have some great books for nature-based activities, facts and figures and things to spot on your journey.

We stopped overnight at Deer Lodge KOA – a small KOA perfect for an overnight stop. Our final stop was Couer D’Alene in Idaho, where we stopped for lunch, a play in the park and a swim at the beach before heading home.

couer-dalene

Driving itinerary

Alta Lake State Park to Spokane – 3-4 hours (with a short stop at Grand Coulee dam)

Spokane to Missoula 3- 4 hours (overnight stop)

Missoula to West Yellowstone approx. 5 hours ( we also stopped twice;  for lunch at the Smiley Moose Deli in Bozeman and to browse antique shops between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, I can’t remember exactly where ).

Return

Mammoth Springs to Deer Lodge KOA approx. 3 hours (overnight stop).

Deer Lodge KOA to Couer D’Alene  3-4 hours.

Couer D’Alene to Eastside Seattle – 4-5 hours. (one short food stop).

The children on this trip were aged 12, 7 and 5. The trip was taken during late August.

Photographs by Michael Mcclary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is my Responsibility as an Early Educator in the Wake of the US Election?

Yesterday, in the wake of the US election, I was filled with  questions.  These were not questions about my role as a parent or about my future as a resident of the US but about my role and responsibility as an educator.

My core educational philosophy is to encourage children’s critical thinking and creative expression. Children should be valued for who they are and children, teachers and parents should work collaboratively, in an environment of respect and dialogue.  I draw inspiration in my thinking from Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the preschools of Reggio Emilia.  He worked with the community, to create  new schools in the aftermath of World War II that would bring hope for a new generation. He created an environment that encouraged critical thinking and creative expression, and a culture of working together with respect for one another.  Malaguzzi achieved his goal with a community of like-minded individuals.

Yesterday, a key question for me was; if I only work with liberally minded families is there really anything to change and  am I really making a difference? If I want to encourage a different way of thinking, shouldn’t I be helping children who have not been encouraged to think in this way?

I struggled with the juxtaposition between encouraging critical thinking and respecting family beliefs and cultures. I believe that it is our duty to create an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness, and to promote a culture of children who think for themselves and whose opinions and emotions are valued. However, I also believe that we should work alongside families, respect their beliefs and work together for the good of the child.

More questions arose.

Can you do both and is it even possible to foster a new way of thinking if there are opposing values at home?

If a family believes something is a fundamental truth should I give the child the tools to question their world or would this be disrespectful to the families beliefs?

Perhaps it is my own issue and not theirs and I should instead seek to understand them better and why they uphold those beliefs?

Yesterday, that is where I left it, but today things are clearer, particularly in regard to the final question.

When there is hatred, unease and unrest in the world it is because of misunderstanding, ignorance and lack of knowledge. I can criticise people if they believe in things that I find fundamentally wrong, but should not condemn them until I have listened to their story, understood why they feel that way and looked into the contexts of their beliefs.  America is divided; there is a clear feeling of them and us, but who is looking to understand why the other side holds their beliefs and the reality of their lives?

I grew up in Wales. In Wales we dislike the English because we are fed a history of English wealthy landowners who treated the working classes badly and took away our language.  We see the English as arrogant toffs who think they are above us.  Of course this is ludicrous and there is as much diversity in England as there is in Wales,but if you rarely cross the border, ignorance prevails. The same is true here. Liberals see Trump supporters as racist, bigoted individuals and people outside of the cities, see city people who are ignorant to their way of life and take away their values and livelihoods.

I think I now know my role. All children should have their minds opened.  This isn’t only about questioning and critical thinking, it is also our duty as educators, to partner with other educators from other parts of the country and the world, to help them understand what the world is like for others. Show children the diversity of the world, teach them to ask questions of one another. Do they have the same questions? Do they think the same things as me? How are they different and how are we the same?  We have a new opportunity in the world of the internet and social media to open children’s eyes so that they will not grow up in ignorance and fear.

We are all different but in many ways we are also all the same – let’s celebrate that for a while instead of trying to outdo one another all the time.

 

 

 

The Making of a Harry Potter Fan’s Holiday – Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Diagon Alley

My twelve-year-old placed the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio tour firmly at the top of her list of places to visit when we were in the UK.  Following our visit to the Dr. Who Experience her younger sisters were more cautious.  Friends who had visited previously, assured them that it was amazing and not a bit frightening but I’m not sure they were totally convinced. Of course, their friends were right, it wasn’t a bit scary.  You are taken on a journey to see how the film was created and  seeing the special effects behind the film alleviated all their fears, especially seeing how tiny the dementors are in real life.

dementors

Warner Bros Studio Tour is located North of London so we stayed nearby at North Hill Farm. As a family of five it can be difficult to find hotels and B&B’s that allow us to share one room.  The family room at North Hill Farm slept five and was perfect for all of us.

Excitement mounted as we drove into the car park and saw the signs and statues outside.  All visitors require advance booking with timed slots and this allows for a wonderful experience where you never feel overwhelmed by crowds and everything is easy to see without queues.

Hogwarts great hall

I have to admit to feeling a little emotional watching the introductory film and completely awestruck when the doors opened onto the great hall. Groups are led by a guide into these first two sections, while the rest of the tour is self guided.

audio tour warner bros studio tour

As a Harry Potter geek, my daughter listened to the audio tour.  I knew she would appreciate facts and figures but without it most exhibits have a guide or video screen telling you more about it.  My seven-year-old was enraptured by the talk at the wig stand and delighted in telling me stories about Malfoy’ wig.

There are plenty of exhibits young children can interact with from making magic to wand workshops and riding on a broom. The guides were so good at encouraging the kids as seen in this video clip.

Next stop Platform 9 3/4. Inside the Hogwarts Express, the carriages move through the movies in sequence , decorated with appropriate props.

Platform 9 3/4

This takes you to the outside lot where you can sample butterbeer or butterbeer ice cream. The detail in Privet Drive is wonderful, each certificate on the wall depicting Dudley’s pointless achievements.

 

The final lot features special effects, illustrated by a series of clever videos and the art of Harry Potter.  The tour ends with a surprise that truly takes your breath away, so I’m not going to offer any hints to spoil it.

Olivanders
Olivanders

 

There is so much to see at the Warner Bros. Studio tour. I would plan to stay at least three hours and allow extra time  for shopping. There is a lot of exclusive merchandise and entry to the shop is not permitted without a ticket for the tour.  We found some cool stuff although sadly I ruined my husband’s Slytherin Quidditch top with bleach after he had worn it once.  Looks like I have the perfect excuse to return some time. If you visit the café, the kids lunches come in this really cool knight bus box.

knight bus lunch box

There was never a complaint from any of the kids that they had seen enough, the whole experience was utterly engaging and we wouldn’t hesitate to return.  If you are looking for a full, well organised and good value experience I would put this top of your list. When I asked the girls what their favourite part of our trip was, the unanimous response was Harry Potter!  In case you need further confirmation, just look at these faces.

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Disclaimer: No payment or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.

 

 

A Spring Day Out with Kids at Alki Beach

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You might only consider visiting Alki Beach in Summer when the children want to swim and soak up the sun, but there are many things to do when visiting out of season. Alki beach is more than just a beach, it also has great  historical significance. Alki Beach is the site of the landing of the first white settlers in Seattle on a cold, stormy day in November of 1851. Chief Seattle and his tribe greeted them and helped them build their cabin to stave off the cold, wet winter.

You may be lucky and end up with a surprisingly warm, Spring day as we did.  Some attractions, like speciality bikes, aren’t available until Easter and the ferry to Seattle only runs on weekdays but in some ways this gives children more chance to stop and take in the simple things. Here are some of the things my children enjoyed.

  1. Build a sandcastle

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The first thing my kids want to do when they see sand is build a sandcastle.  They found shells and feathers to decorate it and we had to judge whose was the best.
2. Climb on Driftwood
climbing on driftwood at Alki

 

Alki Beach has an abundance of driftwood and uprooted trees for little climbers.

3. Let the Air Vents Blow your Clothes and Hair

air vents at Alki

4. Visit the Miniature Statue of Liberty

liberty alki

The Statue of Liberty, a small replica of the original “Liberty Enlightening the World” in New York City, was a gift from Reginald H. Parsons and the Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 1952. The statue has become such a symbol of liberty and courage that it became a place to mourn, to reflect, and to leave mementos after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

5. Follow the Avenue of Stars

Avenue of stars Alki

if you continue along the path past the lighthouse you will reach a stretch of path where all the constellations are marked along the path. Great for an evening stroll as in the spring as you won’t have to wait too long for the stars to come out.

6. Search for Signs of Marine Life

seal statue Alki

All along the trail are signs outlining the wildlife you may find. Seal pups are common between June and September but even in March you may see evidence of seals, sea otters or whales in the water.  The girls were excited to see seagulls and enjoyed pretending to be seals.

7. Stop for Ice Cream

ice cream at gelarto alki

Not just any ice cream, Italian fair trade, organic gelato from Gelarto

8. Find the Little Lighthouse

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Lighthouse tours are available during the Summer at weekends.

We’ll definitely head back soon with our bikes, scooters and roller blades for a safe and beautiful place to practice.

What Toys Should I Provide for Babies and Toddlers?

Toy shop shelves are laden with toys claiming to be educational. For toddlers and babies, this usually means something noisy, requiring batteries.  I have always held that there is little educational value in such toys. In my experience children play with them for a short period of time before moving on to something else.

Alison Gopnik discusses the manner in which children experiment with toys in her book the Philosophical Baby.   A toy that  worked by moving levers was presented to a group of 4-year-olds.  The adults demonstrated to the first group, how it worked, while  the second group were left to work it out for themselves.  The second group spent significantly more time playing with the toy than the first, who quickly abandoned it once they understood its function.

Another recent study led by Professor Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University  focused on children between the ages of 10 and 16 months old. She gave families three different kinds of toys to play with; books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and electronic toys. The toys that stimulated most conversation were books, closely followed by blocks. The families playing with the electronic toy shared very little conversation, allowing the toy to do the talking for them.

If you are considering which toys to buy for a young child, these points may help.

  • The most important resource we can give to babies and toddlers is ourselves. Spend time playing tickling games, singing to them, playing rhyming games, blowing bubbles or rolling a ball.
  • Other suitable toys for babies and early toddlers include small musical instruments for exploring sound ( saucepans, spoons and homemade shakers work equally well), a treasure basket or board and cloth books.
  • Think about toys that they will play with for a long time.   The best  toy investments for our family include magnatiles, wooden blocks, paper and pencil, a magnetic drawing board and play food.
  • Toys do not need to be expensive. Children can have hours of fun with a balloon, pot of bubbles, home-made play dough or  a cardboard box.

The infographic below has many more developmentally appropriate ideas for play.

Helping Your Child Develop Through Play
Helping Your Child Develop Through Play by Wooden Toy Shop

Why Singing and Dancing Promote Social Skills and Friendship

singing kidsResearch has shown that singing increases happiness and emotional well-being.  People feel happier after singing than simply listening to music, probably due to the release of neurochemicals in the brain.

It isn’t news to me that singing lifts your mood.  The quiet teenager that would skip along the road after my weekly singing lesson, head held high and ready to conquer the world is testament to that. When I sang I came alive, through singing I could truly let go. I grew up loving musicals, perhaps because it is perfectly acceptable to sing and dance down the road in a musical and everyone is always happy.

Singing as a group has additional benefits, according to recent research from Oxford University.    Singing in a group encourages social bonding, and singing groups form friendships more quickly than in other group activities. Group dancing also produces similar results, suggesting that a shared musical experience and working together are key factors.  Many of my closest friends were made during my musical theatre days and joining choir was the perfect way to meet people and make friends, when moving to a new country.  A large proportion of the ladies in my choir joined because they were new to the area and wanted to meet new people, whilst sharing their passion for singing. Perhaps if we mix in a little dance we will be even closer?

Singing is a natural way for parents to bond with babies .  As a singer, I instinctively sang to my newborn babies when I was alone with them for the first time.  Often a parent will get their first reactions from a baby when they sing to them. Smiles, laughter, calming, eye contact or gesture can all be encouraged through singing.

When my eldest was born, I felt privileged that as an early education teacher, I  knew lots of songs to share with my baby. With this in mind, I started a baby music group with my antenatal group. My aim was to reach out to others and introduce them to songs that they could share with their babies.  With hindsight, this not only helped the babies but also gave this group of new mothers the chance to socialise, at one of the most vulnerable times of their life. As new mothers singing to their babies, it didn’t matter if they felt they ‘couldn’t sing’  and we quickly built strong friendships.

Group singing was an important part of my teaching day and something I was very comfortable leading.  This confidence wasn’t shared by all the teachers but some approached singing time with enthusiasm and energy, even if they believed their own singing voices to be terrible. The children responded to the teachers who could have fun and draw them in, musical proficiency was never a factor. Singing in a group is a fundamental part of many preschool settings and is one of the ways in which children learn to work together. In order to create a unified sound the children have to listen to one another and share in the experience together.

Young children are instinctively drawn to music and dance and sing without restraint. This usually remains with them until the age at which they become self-conscious and concerned about whether they are good enough. Reluctance to sing may also arise as singing becomes  performance focused rather than purely for pleasure.

One of my favourite memories of Christmas time, was the year my great aunts came to visit my grandparents. The sisters sat around the keyboard as my Auntie played and we all sang for hours.  That family togetherness is difficult to replicate in other situations. My great aunts grew up in the era before television, when singing around the piano was part of everyday life.  I believe that it is important for children to see that singing (and dancing) isn’t about winning a talent show.  Sing along to the radio on car journeys, make up silly songs or fire up some karaoke videos and sing along.

When we have friends around it nearly always ends up with a round of karaoke and it has paved the way to some of the best parties. I love that young and old, singers and non-singers join in and it is always accompanied by laughter and friendship.singing