None of us expected that almost overnight we would have to become cooks, cleaners, workers and teachers. It’s something none of us were prepared for and I am sure, as with my family, it has been a struggle to adjust to our new normal. Through our own trial and error and discussions with many parents, teachers and homeschoolers, I have compiled a few tips that I hope you and your family will find helpful in this season.
1. You are your child’s best toy!
I am sure I am not alone when I say that the volume of content out there is overwhelming and can leave you struggling to know in which direction you should head. Add to that the constant household demands and it can feel impossible to connect with your child in the way that you want to. But a reminder that is valuable for each of us is that it is the small daily, in-between moments and interactions that count.
If you can take hold of just a few moments to connect intentionally and specifically with your little ones in the everyday tasks that you need to do, you can rest assured that you are creating all sorts of learning experiences for your child. Neuroscientists call these “serve and return interactions” and it is the quality of these interactions that count.
Here’s how to do it:
- Observe what they’re doing. Is your little one looking or pointing at something? Making a sound or facial expression? Moving those little arms and legs? Try and notice what your little one is focused on.
- Return the serve. This is done by copying the sounds, emotions or actions that they are doing or by saying “I see”. It is about them knowing that you have received their signals
- Name the objects/actions/emotions that you see. When you do this, you make important language connections in their brain even before your child can talk or understand your words.
- Watch and wait for their response. Make sure you allow your little one enough time to respond. If you wait, you can be sure that they will serve back to you, sending you another signal and then you can repeat these steps again.
Check this out for more information on serve and return interactions: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/serve-and-return/
2. Keep or start a flexible routine
This may be the only thing that communicates to your child that things are ‘normal’. It gives them a sense of safety and security and tells them what to expect. To do this, take a page and fill in wake time, sleep times and bedtime. These should be consistent and easy to identify and record. Then add in your mealtimes followed by other set commitment times, for example, a work Zoom call for you /partner.
Once you have that outlined structure you will see where the gaps are and then you can intentionally fill those with playtime (instead of just letting the days run away from you). These will include free play, independent play or planned activities. If you see that things are looking a little chaotic and there is little room for playtime (when you add in homeschooling and all the other commitments), don’t stress! You can then just be aware and intentional to incorporate play and learning into everyday activities. For example, reading before bedtime or singing together during nappy changes.
We have found in our house that it works well to have some activities on hand for after mealtime. We keep these in the pantry and bring them out for our little one to play with while we clean up after the meal.
Remember that this routine is flexible. Every day won’t look the same and that’s okay. The routine is there to help you and your little one and so it needs to suit your home and adapt to your circumstances.
3. Fill their tank early
It’s important to realise that our little ones pick up on our stress levels and the anxiety that we are experiencing at this time. This can lead to clinginess and behaviour difficulties. If you spend time early in the day focused on your child and connecting with them before the day unfolds, they tend to be more settled throughout the day and feel that they have gotten your attention.
This can be a simple walk together in the morning, a cuddle in bed or a biscuit in the lounge together. You know your little one best. Take some time first thing in the morning to give them some undivided attention and love. A close relationship will decrease the stress levels your child may be picking up on and leave them feeling secure and connected.
“Reading is really an activity that ticks all the developmental boxes. It is a simple, mess-free, prep-free activity that connects you and your little one while they learn!”
4. Read together!
Reading is really an activity that ticks all the developmental boxes. It is a simple, mess-free, prep-free activity that connects you and your little one while they learn! If your little one is under the age of three, follow your child’s lead. You don’t need to read the story and we refer to it rather as book sharing. The book is a tool to engage with your little one as we discussed in point one with the serve and return.
Point and name things you see when looking at pictures together, act out the actions, relate the character to your own child, pick up on the emotions. Just spending 15 minutes a day like this has been proven to increase your child’s attention span and that is the cornerstone to being able to learn!
Check out https://www.mikhulutrust.org/research for some more information and research on book sharing.
5. Ideas for play
Something that works well for us is having activity boxes that we can pull out for the kids to play with during those playtimes. It takes the work out of planning and it helps us to rotate toys and keep things interesting. Boxes help our little ones to clean up more independently too. Some ideas for boxes include:
- Sensory boxes filled with different textured items.
- Have a box with balls and bean bags for big muscle activities.
- An arts and crafts box for when you can make something creative with your child.
For more play ideas, download our Sensory Recipes booklet here: https://mailchi.mp/2c9e6b46c34c/sensory-recipes
Written by Sinead van Aswegen, occupational therapist and Pretoria Franchise Manager of Nanny ’n Me.