By: Marilise Nel (Intern Counselling Psychologist)
As winter is fast approaching, some parents wonder how they might go about entertaining their preschool child indoors. Many parents feel that they do not always have the financial means to do big outings with their child over weekend or school holidays. The great news is that all a child needs is some creativity, a bit of guidance from their caregiver, and an hour or two to play at home or in the neighbourhood. Children learn continuously through play, and by supporting them in this exploration, you as caregiver are encouraging their preparation for their school career.
There are many activities which can be done indoors or in the neighbourhood, and which are very well aligned to a child’s developmental growth. Children’s development can be divided into six main categories, which each contribute to their overall school readiness. These categories include:
Large muscle or physical development: the ability to run, kick, throw a ball and to walk upstairs with one foot after another.
Fine motor ability: the hand-work and visual ability of the child, and the coordination between the two. Examples of skills in this area include using a scissor to cut paper or the skills of stringing beads onto string.
Performance ability: Planning abilities, sequencing skills and working with speed, the ability to build structures, such as a puzzle, or building a structure out of individual blocks.
Practical reasoning: Numerical abilities and simple problem solving, including counting, comparing large and small items, or naming the days of the week.
Language: getting to know the alphabet, understanding everyday words and how to use them, as well as knowing similarities and differences between simple objects.
Social skills: knowing their family name, their date of birth and being able to help themselves with simple tasks, such as getting a glass of water, or communicating with friends during play.
Whilst keeping these developmental areas in mind, the following activities, which are very simple and inexpensive, can really assist in a child’s learning, whilst also creating heaps of entertainment during the cooler winter months.
Activities with a bit of movement
Whilst you are out and about
Walk in the neighbourhood or on the way to the shops and play a game of “I-Spy”. One person will name the object that they see being a certain shape, colour, or starting with a specific letter from the alphabet, and the other person gets to guess what it is. This helps to expand vocabulary and explore new words and meanings.
Use a small ball and play in any open space that is safe: practice kicking the ball with one foot, then the other, running up to the ball and kicking it, or passing the ball to one another.
Rainy day games
Put on some rain boots and splash in puddles outdoors. You can even tie two plastic bags around your usual shoes to keep them dry.
Talk about how water flows: down gutters, along sidewalks, down hills, down to where puddles form. Speak about the importance of water, or play a game of naming all the things we use water for in the house and outside, like cooking food, making tea, washing dishes, washing our clothes, watering plants etc. When you get home, ask your child to draw a picture about all the things he/she has learned about water.
Bring paintbrushes outside (or use branches or natural grasses), and use the water from the puddles of rain to paint on the sidewalk.
Activities with items from the home
Creativity can really be sourced right inside your home. Make a habit of keeping left-over items, such as toilet rolls, string, ribbon, old buttons, glass jars, colourful paper and so on to use for craft activities.
Paper plates and beads art: You will need some left-over wool, ribbon, buttons and beads, glue, a black pen, and a paper plate. Draw a picture such as a house or flower on the paper plate, and get your child to stick down some beads, buttons and wool inside the lines. This activity helps with fine motor skills, sorting colours and shapes, especially fine motor dexterity and a tip-to-tip grasp using the index finger and thumb.
Stringing fun: Use some string and dried pasta (such as macaroni), beads or old toilet paper holders. Create a necklace by stringing the pasta/beads/toilet rolls onto the string. The importance is that the child practices how to hold the string and manoeuvre the item onto the string. This really helps with fine motor development and hand and eye coordination.
Cardboard tubes and a marble race: Use cardboard rolls and create connections for the tunnels. Use one or two marbles and run these through the tunnel to see how far it will go.
Sorting coins: Take out some coins that you have and place them in a shallow container. Get your child to sort these into categories i.e. size and colour. The important part is also for the child to pick up the coin using his index finger and thumb. Lastly, make sure you help to count all the coins in the different groups. You can also use the coins to build a tower. It is recommended that everybody remembers to wash their hands after handling all the coins.
Building blocks: Gather small cardboard boxes (such as toothpaste/deodorant/medicine or pasta packaging) and a build tower or a fort from the items. You can also do this with plastic containers from the kitchen. Compare the heights of the towers or count how many items you had to use to build a fort.
Activities in the neighbourhood
Nature Walk: Walk around the neighbourhood and collect leaves, stones, twigs, pine cones and other objects from nature. Place them on a tray and guide your child in counting how many items there are, or compare their shapes and colours. You can focus on which ones look similar or different, and discuss the colours or textures that you can see. You can also stick these down onto a white cardboard and draw in the names of each item.
Leaf Stencils: Use leaves that you have gathered and paint them on one side. Use this as a stencil to imprint the leaf shape onto a piece of paper.
Growing beans: Children really enjoy learning about plants, water, the plant’s roots, and how we grow food. You will need an old glass jar, some cotton wool (or a bit of soil) and a few dried beans. Spend some time planting the beans in the cotton ball or soil, watering it and placing it on the windowsill. If you plant it about 1cm from the top, the bean should sprout in about 4 days. Watch it grow, and after a week or two, plant it outside in a sunny place.
Sorting Smarties game: Buy a box of smarties and use similar coloured containers or painted egg boxes. Have your child sort out all the different colours into each cup, for example yellow smarties into the yellow cup and so on. They can also count how many there are of each colour, and then get to eat them as a fun reward.
Paint colour puzzle: Gather some paint colour index cards from a local shop that sells paint. Make sure that you get two of each of the cards, and gather a variety of colours (green, red, yellow, blue and so on). Use one of the card samples and cut out the card, and glue it down onto a wooden clothes peg. Do so with all the other colours as well, creating a peg for each colour card. You can now play the colour puzzle game, whereby your child matches the colour to the remaining card by simply pegging it on.
Nurturing language activities
Create your own story game: The child gets to choose four or six things that he wants to be in a story, for example, a cat, a bicycle, a dinosaur and a rainbow. The parent then makes up any creative story with a beginning, middle and end using the named items. The child can get to say what they liked about the story, and get a chance to tell their own version of the story using the same objects.
In order to also improve language skills, a parent can read the child an age appropriate book, and in doing so spend one-on-one time with the child, whilst the focus falls on explaining the meaning of the words, pointing out feeling words and discussing the story and characters in the books.
Playing with your child is not only about the development of your child on a physical level, but also about building a relationship and growing emotionally. By delighting in your child through these fun activities, you will help your child to feel supported and assist in building his or her self-esteem. Children enjoy creative activities, but even more than this, children enjoy you spending time being with them whilst they explore their world and learn.
If you enjoyed reading about easy ways to entertain your child, and would like to find out more about using items that are readily available, you can source the internet for many website which foster creative developmental learning. Many of these websites offer activities that have been recommended by occupational therapists or educational psychologists. For further inspiration, feel free to visits www.sugaraunts.com , www.theimaginationtree.com or Pinterest for more ideas. Please note that the photographs posted here to illustrate some of the ideas are originally from the above websites.