Grown-ups move fast these days! There are cell phones, emails, fax and the hidden remote control! Do you remember what happened last time the lights went out and you hunted for the candles in the dark, thinking of something for the kids to do? That is the beginning of a wonderful bonding process between you and your little one. Children need so many little boosters along the path of learning and parents can help build their confidence and show them how it is all done!
1. LOOKING AND SEEING
Look at that ship on the sea, you say to your child-genius. The child says, “Where? I can’t see it”. And of course, they will never find the socks in their drawer under their noses.
Here are some games to help them “see”:
*Matching pairs: match identical pairs, or which items go together, like the toothbrush and toothpaste, fish and bowl, egg and nest etc.
*Spot the difference: see how many differences children can find in the pictures. (If they struggle, narrow the field by telling them to look in a particular place.)
*Find hidden stuff: take any magazine picture and ask the child to find things you name.
*Hide and seek: you can hide a person, or a thing for them to find and say “warmer”, “colder” as they get closer or further away.
*Dot-to-dot: if a child struggles to see the consecutive numbers, give them boosts along the way to encourage them to finish and then say, “Well done!”
*Odd one out: which things don’t belong? Like kitchen utensils and a sock – ask which one doesn’t belong and why?
*Treasure hunt: give children clues, (written or verbal depending on age), or post sign directions pointing where they must go, so that they can learn what you mean when you say: “right”, “left”, “up”, “down”, “under”, “on top” etc. (Sometimes adults assume children know these directions when in fact children have no idea what is backwards or forwards or where an arrow is pointing.) Directional skills come into play a lot when children learn to write from left to right or form their letters from top to bottom.
*Traffic safety: this crucial observational game can be played with toy cars on a mat using pieces of chalk to mark out areas, or on the road as you walk or drive with your child. Teach them what signs mean so that they look out for them and identify them the next time. Ask questions like, what are those bumps in the road? Why did that man stop? Why do we drive fast on this road and slow on another? Anything to do with observation of traffic will help. Don’t assume they will know what a stop sign means!
*Cloud/stars game: lying outside on the grass looking up at the clouds during the day or the stars at night – what shapes do they see? What do the clouds look like? Are some stars brighter than others? Is the moon always the same shape?
*Collecting ripe fruit/vegetables/flowers/shells: children can be taught to look for different colours or sizes. They can identify different shapes, see if something is broken or bruised, count how many they have and make their own arrangements or designs. It doesn’t matter if a shell or flower is not perfect. It is still beautiful!
*Water goggas: if you live at the coast, show children sea life in the rock pools, or if you live near a river or lake, look at the little creatures in there. Try not to pass on a fear of goggas! Teaching children respect for the life of little creatures helps to engender a respect for all life forms.
*Garden goggas: if you don’t have a garden, a nearby park or green space will still show quantities of caterpillars, ladybirds, butterflies etc. Ask questions – what is the creature doing? And try to point out how things change at different times of the year. You can collect leaves of different shapes, sizes and colours and press them in the pages of a book. You can point out different colours and shapes of flowers. These could be used to make patterns or designs at home later. Be guided by the child’s interest – if he is following a butterfly, follow it, if she wants to sort pebbles, go ahead, be artistic!
*Bean/Sunflower tent: it is never really too early to show a child how living things grow. Beans and sunflowers are favourites because they grow quickly and dramatically. Most children will probably remember watching a bean sprout in wet cotton wool before transferring it to the garden and another fun way to watch beans is to grow an outdoors “tent”. Plant about twelve runner beans in a circle, then when they sprout, drive staves into the earth and bind them at the top so that the beans can climb the tent-frame. Children will be able to harvest and eat their beans after watching them grow. You can do the same thing with sunflower seeds by planting them in a square or circle to make a “house”. You can grow a creeping plant like a morning glory around the stronger sunflower stems. Sunflowers can grow as high as their roots are deep – possibly twice the height of your child.
*Shadow creatures: also a way to get children into bed before sleep time! Get a torch, switch off the light and make shadow creatures in the torchlight. Ask, what does that look like? What are you making?
2. HEARING AND LISTENING
There is so much background noise today; from traffic to TV, radio, kitchen or household appliances, computers and Play station games, that it is hard sometimes for children to learn to focus on particular sounds. Help children learn to listen.
*What’s in the closet? Is it a woset? Children love the funny rhymes of Dr Seuss, so make up your own rhyming game using place names. Ask the child, “What’s on the rug?” If they can’t think of an answer, give your own, “Is it a slug? Or a bug?” until they get the idea. Rhyming games help children to notice similar sounds when they come to learning phonics and are also just an excuse to have fun and make children laugh.
*Clapping to the beat: help children hear the beat in a tune by stamping or clapping to he rhythm. You can also listen out for the chorus and sing along with gusto.
*Picnic in the garden/park: tell the child to close his/her eyes and listen while you make sounds like unscrewing a cap or opening a can of soda or crunching an apple an see if they can identify the noise. Alternately, lie very still outside and listen for sounds – what can you hear? Birds singing, a lawnmower, a cricket?)
*Listen-and-seek: variations on hide-and-seek! Someone hides then calls out and moves their position so the looker is listening out for where they are, or hide in a darkened room and keep absolutely still so that the finder does not hear where anyone is.
*The kitchen band: kitchen implements make great instruments, so experiment – what does a wooden spoon on the pot sound like? What does a whisk sound like on its own? Make up your own song, or accompany a favourite tune with your percussion band.
*What do you sound like? Children find it great fun to make tape recordings of their own voices singing or talking. They can also make sound effects for a story that they make up along the way. Relatives who live abroad might love to receive a spoken letter. (And you can always keep the recording to play on their 21st birthday!)
This can be great fun!
*Blindfolded tasting: the blindfolded player has different “mystery” things to taste (nothing nasty!) See if she can identify chocolate, cheese, juice and then explain about how it tastes and how it feels in the mouth eg. smooth, lumpy, cold, sticky, wobbly etc
*Sweet-sour-salty-bitter: give players tastes of foods and ask if it is sweet, sour, salty or bitter. Children may also come up with their own descriptions! Some children may never have wanted to try different tastes and when it is presented as a game, there will be squeaks and squeals, yucks and yummys, but they may like some of the varieties.
*It tastes different with chopsticks: explore international cuisine with different implements. A simple stir-fry or noodle dish is different when you try to eat it with chopsticks. Try a cheese/chocolate fondue – fishing with fondue forks, or a fruit salad kebab by skewering chunks of fruit onto wooden kebab sticks. Go dipping with pieces of carrot into different dips and have children judge whether they are nice or yucky, burny or sweet.
What does it smell like? Can you smell this? Is it lovely or horrid?
*Blindfolded smelling: This gives a child a chance to guess what something is by its smell – is it an orange, perfume, baby powder? Also ask what they think of when they smell it – we often make associations with smells. It smells like mommy, or it makes me think of trees or the sea.
*Herbs: children can be taught about the smells of herbs that are usually more pungent when fresh. Crush lavender leaves, or mint, thyme, parsley and ask them what they think of the smell. Tell them the kinds of things that herbs can be used for.
It is wonderful to share these experiences with your child. When she first touches a baby chick and it is so soft beneath her fingers. Try to teach about and show textures everywhere, encouraging your child to respond.
*Testing touch: ask, what does it feel like? The rock is sharp, the bark is rough, the sand is silky. Children can also have fun feeling with their toes! Beneath their feet, is the grass springy or hard? What does mud feel like between your toes, or clay in your hands?
*Fingerprints/Footprints: a favourite of many schools! Show children what their hand/finger/toe/foot prints look like by using water colours or play dough. Explain that their prints are unique.
*Touch and guess game: an assortment of items can be placed in front of a blindfolded child while they try to guess what the thing is by touch.
5. THINKING – REMEMBERING
Why is it that children forget where they left their jersey, fishing net, purse, book etc, but they always know where to find the toy or sweets’ aisle in the supermarket? They remember what channel their cartoons are on. They know that they don’t want to go into mom’s clothing shop and they remember the way to their friend’s house.
*TV recall: after a favourite show, ask questions about it, “what colour was Noddy’s hat? Which is Tinky-Winky’s favourie toy?” Start off simply and build the complexity of the question to “what was your favourite part?” and listen to the re-telling, no matter how drawn out it may be. Children need to find and assemble information and know that you have the patience to listen, whether in the car, or while making supper or in the bath.
*Identifying people: ask children if they remember specific things about a person. “What colour are your best friend’s eyes? What did your teacher wear today? Does the lady in the library wear glasses?” Then reinforce that with, “Well let’s see what she wears tomorrow” so that the child is thinking of taking more of a mental note.
*Memory game: put 10 items on a tray, look hard and try to remember them, then cover the tray and see how many you remember.
*In my granny’s basket: the first person begins by saying, “In my granny’s basket I put…” and says one thing. The next person repeats this and adds another item. The list grows and because it is an oral game, the memory is exercised without visual aids. In many cases, what people expect, they will receive. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “my child can’t…” and go into their home expecting children to disappoint. Encourage even the smallest blossoming of ability and children will feel empowered to do their best and will surprise their families and even themselves with what they are able to achieve.