Sensory play with natural and recycled materials
Children use their senses – taste, touch, smell, sight and sound – to understand the world around them. Engaging in regular sensory play helps children develop important communication, motor, social, cognitive and problem-solving skills. Simply put, sensory play is any activity that enables a baby or child to securely discover their world using any combination of their senses in imaginative and spontaneous ways.
Creating a sensory play environment at home
Having a variety of sensory play activities and spaces at home is a simple and effective way to support your child’s learning. This can include spaces for active sensory play and areas without much stimulation. Here are some ideas:
- Give your child play dough, kinetic sand, sludge, mud or any other sensory materials.
- Keep natural and recycled materials for your child to use in their sensory play. Examples include recycled jars, snack boxes, water bottles, fabric remnants, baby wipe containers, etc.
- Find flexible indoor and outdoor areas for your child to use for quiet activities, active tasks, and wet and dry play. This can help children be calm or be inspired in play.
- Make separate spaces with soft furnishings such as cushions and blankets using different lighting for children to explore.
Resist doing what your children can do themselves. In today’s busy world, it's quicker and easier to do things for your child, but it will not teach them self-help skills. Young children like to feel independent, but sometimes they need a parent’s encouragement to feel they are capable and that adults believe that they ‘can’ do things. Preschool could be the last time your child will be able to spend a whole year focusing on these skills. Initially, it takes an adult’s focused attention to teach children these skills. But once a child learns how to do something independently, the adult can fade out of the routine completely. Always encourage your child to attempt things and ‘have a go.'
You can help promote self-help skills at home by:
Dressing: Can your child put on their shoes and socks? Can they remove clothing to regulate temperature? Can they put on their jackets?
Kinder bags: Is your child’s bag an appropriate size? Is it easy to operate? Does it provide enough room for all their belongings?
Giving your child tasks at home: Cook with them, get them to help with setting up the table, etc.
Lunch boxes: Can your child open their lunch boxes? Lunch boxes that are hard to open, you set your child for constant failure, and they will lose their confidence to give it a go. Lunchboxes with different compartments are best. These eliminate packaging and promote easy access by children.
If possible, arrive at kindergarten or early learning five minutes early to pick up your child. This is a key time for engaging and communicating with your child. Ask questions such as:
1. How was your day?
2. What do you love about your classroom?
3. What was your favourite thing about today?
This strategy also enables a smooth transition to home and supports children to be the focus of this routine time. Our language is important at these often tricky and pressured times. So take a minute to reflect on your child’s perspective at this transition time. Your work has finished for the day; this is a moment for connecting with your child. Have a bit of fun at the end of your day!
Diana O’Ryan - educator at Newport Gardens Early Years Centre.
Diana has been in the industry for 13 years and holds an Advanced Diploma in Children’s Services. Diana is a fantastic advocate for the ‘under threes’ in our industry. Diana is also highly committed to OH&S and supporting the everyday operations across the service. She’s a ‘Jackie of all trades’.
An idea to use familiar objects as a way to explore numeracy.
Using real life objects and props can give children the opportunity to transfer and adapt what they have learned from one context to another. This idea supports families to take note of letterboxes and the numbers on them in their day-to-day walks.
While families are on walks, they take note of the letterboxes they see.
Notice the numbers on your own letterbox.
What is on the letterbox next door?
What is next?
Educators can then ask the questions:
What do you think will be next?
Is there a pattern?
What numbers do you recognise?
Have we seen that number before?
Walking in and around your local area is a valuable way for children to connect with their local community. Also, letterboxes are everywhere and this idea can be used on any walk or exploration anywhere there are letterboxes.
Follow your child’s lead - to Observe, Wait and Listen (OWL)
A tool to understand that the interactions we have with children support the learning of language.
This tool supports educators by helping them to identify stages of language development, conversation styles and strategies such as (OWL) to support educator to follow the children’s lead- to Observe, Wait and Listen.
Reading is a great time for interaction-not just about reading the book out loud. Educators can use the OWL technique by:
- Observing-see what part of the book interests the children
- Wait- (use a slow pace) to give the children a chance to say or do something
- Listen-for what the children are telling you with sound, gestures or words
Through this children at all stages can become actively involved, whether its pointing, asking questions or making a comment
Parents can support their child's learning by taking advantage of everyday opportunities to enhance children learning language. Identifying what motives your child to interact-them read a story about their interest-learn a song-create a picture-try and keep the interaction going. Everyday routines that you go through with your child such as bath time for example is an opportunity to show your child how language is really important part of your world and theirs. In the bathroom you can pull up a comfortable chair-so you can sit and chat, this could also be the beginning of lifelong habit of singing in the bath, add kitchen equipment-such as measuring cups for children to experiment with fluids and volume.
Lifelong learning, reading is the key!
Families often ask me what they can do at home to help their children with reading, writing, and maths. Luckily, the answer is simple: read story books! Reading has endless benefits for children of all ages, providing early literacy and numeracy skills essential for lifelong learning. Don’t just turn the pages, play with the words, and bring life to the story through conversational reading.
Reading one favourite story and one new story each time you read with your child. Go back and forth with your child, chat and ask questions, pause for thought, and make it fun!
Ask questions such as, ‘What can you See?’ ‘What can you Show me?’ and ‘What can you Say about the story, characters or pictures?’ Don’t just stop at books either, recipes, the newspaper, signs and magazines are great too. Make your home a print rich environment, filled with letters and words – creating a love for learning.