No batteries required!

7 12 2011

photo credit Saaleha

My children are approaching teenagerhood and increasingly over the last few years, their Christmas and birthday wish lists have been populated by the latest electronic gadgets. On the other hand, there really isn’t anything they want for. They are well fed, well clothed and have the basic sporting and other equipment, so anything they are going to want is very much in the discretionary realm. It actually becomes difficult to find something for them that isn’t either wasting money, or supplementing their already advanced screens-addiction. Unfortunately they are well past the age when they are more interested in playing with the box it came in than the present itself.

However I remember when they were young I read a list of basic developmental toys for children. Playtime is learning time for small children, and the toys and equipment they need for this basic development is generally not very expensive and easily accessed. And no batteries required!

1. Building blocks. Children love to build things, see how things fit together, or just generally learn about gravity. One of the best games for very small children is for the parent or caregiver to build a tower and then the child knocks it over, scattering blocks everywhere. Hysterical fun that can be played over and over again! Great for fine (building) and gross (knocking over) motor skills as well as logic.

2. Dress-up clothes. These do not have to be costumes. Hand-me downs and unwanted clean clothing from parents are fine, but particularly hats, sunglasses, shoes and anything a bit showy. If you really don’t have anything, second-hand stores often have a range of clothing and accessories at reasonable prices. Children like to learn about other people by play-acting them – and some of the stereotypes can be hilarious, particularly if it is you they are acting out!

3. Books. There is evidence that shows that the number of books in a household influences the literacy level of the child. Now that is probably at least in part because a house with a lot of books means parents are literate and value reading, and probably read in front of the child.

4. Musical instrument. Yes, I know, shudder. As if they aren’t loud enough already. Who hasn’t been tormented by the toddler with a toy drum banging and banging for hours on end? But a variety of toy musical instruments can teach a child cause and effect, rhythm, and can help them learn to tune in to different sounds and pitches, and a range of other things. That’s why they like them! This can be simple as a rattle or shaker, a toy recorder, a toy drum or toy piano.

5. Bath toys. Learning confidence in water and learning to work with water (pouring, filling up cups, squirting) can aid with fine motor skills, sensory perceptions and an understanding of the properties of liquids. They are also enormous fun and a great way to distract them while you get them clean.

photo credit Steven Depolo

6. Puzzles. This can range from nesting cups, to fitting shapes blocks into corresponding holes,to jigsaw puzzles (appropriate for age). This teaches fine motor skills, spatial awareness and logic. Many of these things are available from second-hand toy shops.

7. Dolls & stuffed animals. Important for play-acting. Children often work out social relationships and interactions by play-acting them. Access to dolls and stuffed toys to “people” the action is important. Be careful of second-hand stuffed toys, they can be a haven for disease (pre-sucked and pre-chewed!)

8. Cars and balls. Teach children about motion and prediction. (The famous experiment of rolling a toy car behind a piece of cardboard and watching as the baby moves its eyes to the other side of the cardboard waiting for the car to re-emerge). Also great for gross and fine motor skills.

9. Ride-ons. Ranging from little plastic ride-ons to bikes, dependent on age and skill level. Good for gross motor skills, strength, fitness, balance and coordination. Also great fun, but make sure they are wearing helmets as soon as they graduate to a bike.

10. Arts and crafts. Can be as simple as paints or coloured pencils, and paper. The stationary department of your local store is always a great place to find things to keep children occupied and entertained, while they practice their fine motor skills, planning and creating, and maybe come up with a masterpiece for you!

Bonus! Well I wanted a list of ten, but I have suddenly remembered another favourite from childhood – bubbles! Who can forget the excited shrieks of the child who sees bubbles for the first time? A simple bubble loop and washing up liquid can create enormous fun, so long as you (or the child) have the puff to keep them going! try to do it outdoors though – that bubble mix goes somewhere when the bubbles pop, and when you have a sticky dirty mess on the floor you will know where that somewhere is!

(I’ll add my usual disclaimer – I am not a child development expert, the information presented here should be considered as pointers only, and I encourage you to do your own research if you want to know more about child development.)





Food for thought: Mindfire

27 11 2011

I recently bought a Kindle and rapidly realised I needed to have a WiFi modem in order to be able to download books onto it. OOPPPSSS!!!! I don’t have one. I have a plug-in modem so I can keep tight control over who is accessing the internet when and why. Welcome to Stalag 13. (If you don’t understand that reference…..well you missed a great TV program!)

Since the Kindle has a cord that plugs into the computer, I am not sure why this is – possibly user-error. If anyone knows the answer, please leave instructions in the comments section of this blog. Thanks. Meanwhile if you see me sitting on the neighbour’s front porch with my Ipad, I am hijacking their Wifi connection.

Meanwhile, I happen to have Kindle-reader on my Ipad so I have been indulging my love of reading by purchasing some cheap Kindle books. I think it has made me more adventurous in my book-purchasing because if I buy a book that turns out to be a dud – well it was only a few dollars instead of $30, and I can always download another so I am not without reading material. (For those without Ipads, I believe you can get Kindle-reader for computer as well. Not quite the same as curling up in bed with your Ipad…sorry, good book, but an option to consider.)

I happened across one which was recommended by WordPress (the blog host).

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds

This book, based on a blog by Scott Berkun, is really interesting. Set out in short chapters, it retains the joy of the blog – a complete thought or idea contained in a short amount of words. A thing of beauty really. (He justifies the brevity of the chapters in Chapter 6: There are two kinds of people: Complexifiers and Simplifiers. The chapter is short because he is a simplifier.)

As well as appealing to my short attention span and brief amount of reading time available, it also contains a lot of really interesting ideas.
– How to be a free thinker.
– How to detect bullshit.
– Dr Suess and Wicked Constraints.
– Why Smart people defend bad ideas.
– The cult of Busy
– Why the world is a mess.
– How to make a difference.
and loads more.

The great thing about this book is it builds on little kernels of ideas that might occurred to you but builds them into proper fully-formed logical thoughts. And it makes you think more. Chewing gum for the mind.

So if you are looking for something that is well written, easy to read, and thought provoking, maybe this is your book. It may make you thik about your assumptions.

And in my dreams, I write a blog like this. Please stay with me while I get there!

If you liked this post you might also like Read-a-holic.





read-a-holic

23 09 2011

licensed under creative commons by gadl http://www.flickr.com/photos/gadl/91539531/

I am a voracious reader. Always have been.

As a child when I was sent to my room to get ready to go to school, guaranteed I would pick up a book and half an hour later I would still be in my pyjamas.

I can still remember the first reader I had at school. It was called Big and Little, and had a picture of a large and a small child on a seesaw. By the time I had finished Prep (as it was called then) I had read all the readers up to Year 3, and hence I was allowed to read library books for the rest of Infant School. As it was called then.

I still have some of my favourite books from childhood, but as all my children are boys, they aren’t into the same books. Even though I don’t re-read the books now, just looking at the covers can bring back fond memories.

And yes, I am a hoarder. I hoard books. We have six very large bookshelves in our house, jam packed with books. And several baskets, and a large pile next to my bed. I am incapable of walking out of a bookshop without buying a book, and I like to keep the books I have read for future rereading. Occasionally I can be persuaded to loan books to friends, but it has to be a pretty awful book for me to throw it out.

I go through phases with book subjects. For a while there it was fiction – I went through a strong Mary Wesley stage, adore F Scott Fitzgerald, and some of the Waugh brothers (but not all). And of course the incomparable Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe and Dirk Gently fame.

Then there was my biographical phase – mostly women writers (plus several on Douglas Adams), but it also intersected with my 1920s phase (biographies of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, the Waughs and the Mitfords featured strongly here).

More recently there has been a pseudo-science phase with Freakonomics, Super-Freakonomics, The Psychopath Test (all of which I loved) and the book from the Blog Dear Raed. Then there was the midlife crisis phase, where I picked books about people who completely changed their lives – One Red Paperclip, Eat Pray Love, Emergency Sex.

Now I am in a French phase. I am working my way through a pile of books about Australians who have moved to France to live for work, love or long-held passion, and the culture shock they have experienced. I suspect this is an extension of my mid-life crisis phase.

I am thrilled to find that my children seem to have inherited my love of reading. One is now found most often with a book in his hand when he should be getting ready for school. Child after my own heart!

Reading is one of the great loves and skills I wanted to hand on to my children. If you can read and don’t find it onerous, then you always have access to information. More important than knowing information, if you can read and you want to learn something, you can. It opens up horizons and opportunities.

I don’t really mind if we are running late for school.

What type of books do you read? Who is your current favourite author?

If you liked this post, you might like Food for Thought: Mindfire.