Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Free Secret Missions for Pretend Play

Download this free activity page for your child to pretend to be a secret agent on a special mission. Want more secret agent ideas (i.e. secret handshakes, codes, more missions, lie detecting and more) for pretend play? Check out Playing Pretend - Secret Agent.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Teaching Bicycle Riding

One of the milestones I love to teach my children is learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels. For some children it comes easier than others. Since I am a mother and a pediatric physical therapist, I have taught many children besides my own to ride a bicycle. If you are currently teaching your child to ride a bicycle or will soon be teaching the skill, take the time to read this wonderful, comprehensive article on teaching bicycle riding. It is full of tips and suggestions to help your child achieve this milestone.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Keeping it Simple - Real Simple

It doesn't get much more simple than this.  Using painter's tape, we put up a rectangle on the wall, about 8 feet high, for the kids the shoot the ball into.  This simple box has truly created hours of entertainment.  The kids practice throwing the ball into the box, dribble and shoot and play one on one.  It has expanded to horse and games of knock out.  They play it before school, after school and after dinner.  It provides short bursts of physical activity in a small amount of space.  Here's to keeping it simple! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rock and Roll

Here is a fun activity combining the outdoors, crafting and gaming! Oh yeah and it incorporates a holiday theme - Valentine's Day. You could change it up by changing what you paint to match any holiday. You can read or watch the video for how to make the game.

Head outdoors and gather up 10 smooth, flat stones about 1/2" to 1 " in diameter.


Paint one side of each of the stones. For this example, we painted hearts on the ten stones.

We painted a coat of clear nail polish over each of the stones to give them a nice, shiny finish.

Put the ten stones in your hand. Roll them onto the ground or floor like you would dice or jax. Count the stones that are face up (heart side showing). The first player to get 30 stones face up is the winner. Each person gets one roll per turn. If you are playing by yourself, count how many rolls it takes you to get to 30. Prefer the watch the video?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Snow Cookies for the Birds

With just a little bit of snow on the ground we were able to make these cute little snow cookies for the birds using some inspiration from Active Kids Club. Making the snow cookies was accompanied by some great pretend cooking play outdoors. This would make a nice activity indoors just bring the snow inside in a big bucket.

Put some snow on a cookie sheet. Using cookie cutters create different shapes. Sprinkle the snow cookies with birdseed.

Place your cookie sheet into a pretend oven outdoors - we used the picnic table but if you had more snow you could dig a small cave for a fun outdoor oven and add stones or sticks for pretend on/off or temperature buttons.

Once the cookies were done, she took them out of the "oven".

Then onto the snow to serve to the birds.

This activity encourages:
  • pretend play
  • imagination
  • fine motor skills
  • bilateral coordination (using both sides of the body)
  • FUN!

Need more activity ideas to encourage pretend play? Check out our ebooks.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Family Cooking Wars

With fickle weather in upstate New York, our family has come up with some crazy ideas to keep us busy indoors. With five children ranging in age from 11 years to 16 months, you have to get creative to keep everyone interested. One thing that we all love to do is to participate in a bake off, just like the popular television shows where contestants have to create the best edible creations.

Our last bake off was a cookie contest. The first step is to make some plain cookie dough using a traditional recipe such as chocolate chip cookie dough (leave out the chocolate chips) or sugar cookie dough. You could also just purchase store bought cookie dough from the refrigerated section. Now you will need to decide what to mix into your cookies. Gather up all different ingredients that you have in your kitchen. Left over candy from treat bags, raisins, nuts, sprinkles and cinnamon work well. Try to use unique items that you would not normally find in a cookie such as licorice, chewy candies and sour gummy worms. Divide the different treats into paper cupcake liners. Once the dough is ready and all the ingredients are set the bake off can begin.

The children each get a small bowl with a tablespoon of cookie dough. Each child then selects different ingredients to put into their very own cookie creation. The younger children always seem to select as much candy as they can. Who would think that you can fit several pieces of sour chewy candies along with pieces of a chocolate bar into one cookie! The older children think more along the lines of what will actually taste good. Each child made a few cookies. Remember to organize the cookie creations on the cookie trays so that everyone knows who the creator is when they come out of the oven. The cookies bake in the oven for 9-11 minutes. Once they cool the tasting and the awards begin.

We like to give different awards for some of the baked goods. There are presentation awards such as most beautiful, most colorful, grossest looking and messiest. The second category of awards is for taste. We all taste the cookies and vote which ones taste the best and the worst.

We have done several different bake offs. You can modify the activity for whatever ingredients you have in the house. Try starting with white bread dough, plain muffin mix, vanilla ice cream or pizza dough.

Don't they look just delicious! (I just noticed some Pez candy in one - now that adds come crunch). We all agree that the most fun of the bake offs are the crazy recipes we all come up with. Until we had our bake offs, who knew that peanut butter cups tasted so good in bread, that licorice cookies are quite tasty and marshmallows muffins are delicious!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Indoor Snowballs

Here in upstate New York we have had a very mild winter. This is great since we can still play outside without a few feet of snow on the ground, but the kids are definitely missing the snow.

I made some indoor snowballs that stored in a handy snowman container (recycled baby puff cereal container).

We experimented with different fabrics and colors. The snowballs are just strips of felt or fabric with one larger strip of felt tied tightly around the middle. Then the snowball fights started. First the kids just threw them at each other. Then they created some relay races using spatulas as shovels, who could get the snowball shoveled across the room the quickest. They practiced throwing the snowballs up and catching them. It was interesting to observe how the different fabrics effected how far you could throw the snowballs. Finally, they tried juggling them with a partner.

If you want to practice cutting skills, it was fun to give the snowballs a haircut to even out the circular form.

If you don't have any felt or fabric you could just ball up some white socks. The nice thing about the felt snowballs was now matter how hard you threw them they did not hurt when you hit someone with them. The balled up socks do hurt a bit if someone throws really hard.

Enjoy the snow ball fighting!!!!

If you are looking for more physical activities with a winter theme check out Sensory Motor Activities for Winter.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pretend Shops

Recently on a weekend morning, the children thought up to play pretend shops. Each child created their own shop where they created prices for various services or items. They set up different stations in separate areas. I gave each child $0.50 to spend at the different shops. This lasted for hours. Here is what they came up with:

1. Spa - I visited this shop a few times. Foot massages were only $0.10!

2. Hair Coloring - I saw somewhere on Pinterest that you could use oil pastels to temporarily color strips of hair. It worked pretty well and washed out easily.

3. Cafe - hot chocolate and cookies were sold in this shop with waitress service. This was a hot spot to hang out.

4. Carnival Games and Rides - the baby loved all the rides at this shop. Prizes of recycled stuffed animals were awarded for throwing balls at different targets.

5. Face Painting - I don't think they even charged for this shop they enjoyed doing it so much.

If you need ideas for Pretend Play check out all of our ideas to grow play even further.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Word Cloud for Pretend Play

Have fun "playing" around with this word cloud of words associated with pretend play. Drag your mouse over the words to highlight them. Nice visual to remind us of all the benefits of pretend play and imagination.

Get Adobe Flash player

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Push Children to Be Creative

Technology offers us information at all hours of the day bombarding us with knowledge. With everyone having access to "google" at anytime, children need to be taught to think outside the box. Parents and teachers can provide opportunities for children to be more creative. One way to do this is to provide challenges that can be solved in different ways. Sometimes as adults we provide too much input or steps to complete a project. Next time you plan an activity try just putting materials on a table but don't say how to get to the end result. Let the child explore the materials and create what they like. You can do this with art materials such as glue, paints, paper and decorative items. You could also try it with kitchen items to create a science experiment environment. Regardless of what you set up initially remember to not offer suggestions or request an end result. Just let the children express their creativity. For older children you could offer a challenge such as create a musical instrument using recycled items. If you are outdoors, you can provide loose parts for children to create obstacle courses or whatever they like. You will see it is very hard to stay in the room and not comment. But you will greatly appreciate the end result when you see the pride in your child's face because they created something truly all by themselves.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Play Outdoors Flag Hunt

This is a favorite outdoor game - flag hunt. Here is how you play:

1. Preparation: To make the flags, cut up four different colors of fabric or felt. Make sure you have one of each color strip for each team. We play with two teams so you need 2 of each color. If you are playing by yourself, you obviously only need one of each color.

Make matching cards. On index cards draw circles to match the colors of the strips of fabric. So for our example we needed orange, yellow, green and purple circles. Do each card in a different order. Create 4 cards. Now you are ready to play.

2. A person who will not go on the hunt hides the flags within a designated area. You can tie them to trees, stuff inside a bush or put on the ground but most of the flag has to be showing.

3. Each team (or individual if only one player) picks a card. You have to go find the flags in the order on the card. So if the circles are yellow, orange, green and purple then, you have to find the yellow flag and run it back. Return to find the orange flag and bring that back. Find the green flag and bring it back. Finally, find the purple flag and bring that back for the win! You must bring only one flag back at a time.

Happy Flag Hunting!
Shared this on the Get Kids Moving Link Up

Thursday, January 12, 2012

DIY Scratch Off Cards for Kids

The kids can make their own fortunes, game cards or activity ideas using a simple recipe of paint and liquid dish soap. After seeing this idea at Oh The Lovely Things blog, I thought this would be a great activity for the kids. You can either have them make their own or print our suggested activities for outdoor play. Regardless, it adds creativity and novelty to children's play. Give it a try.

You can download the template at Growing Play.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sidewalk Chalk Puzzles

Here is a fun way to add some challenges to using sidewalk chalk. One person draws a puzzle on the ground. For example, I started by drawing a square, triangle, a hat and a random shape colored yellow. I provided the children with this clue... "The squirrel had yams". The children had to guess what the pattern was by stepping on the shapes and pictures in the right order. Therefore, they would move to the different objects and check if they were right. Finally they figured out that the pattern was - triangle, square, hat and yellow. The pattern matched the first letters of the words.

Then each of the children created a pattern. Some were harder than others - shapes and the clue was a "preschool song". We finally whittled that down to the ABC song. And then figured out that you had to walk through the shapes in alphabetical order - circle, rectangle, square and triangle. Some children drew rhebus puzzles (where pictures represent words). Can you guess what the picture is at the top of the post?

It is a banana split! Get it? It is a banana and the shape is split.

This playful activity encourages:
  • logic
  • physical activity
  • creativity

Need more sidewalk chalk games? Check out our ebook - Sidewalk Chalk Fun and Games.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Going Outdoors to Improve Attention Span

An article in the Journal of Attention Disorders, reports on the benefits of walking in a park to increase attention span. A small group of 17 children with ADHD, participated in a study comparing walks in a park, downtown and a neighborhood. The walks in the park resulted in a significant difference in concentration as scored on the Digit Span Backwards (DSB).

The article also discusses Attention Restoration Theory (ART). The basics of this theory is that interacting with nature results in a type of restoration for the body and the brain. Try to remember a recent event when you spent time outdoors in a natural environment. You may walk slowly and attend to all of your visual surroundings - a bird chirping, a sunset, the green grass of Spring. When you return indoors, you feel relaxed and calm. Now to try to remember that last time you were outdoors in a busier environment, perhaps a city. Your attention may be focused on planning when to cross a street, avoiding cars and other city obstacles. These two environments rely on your brain to use two different types of attention - involuntary and voluntary. Concentrating on topics that interest you or something that grabs your attention involves involuntary attention. Concentrating on blocking out distractions to focus on the topic at hand involves voluntary attention (which can fatigue easily). When the brain experiences involuntary attention it allows voluntary attention to rest and recover.

The authors of this study question whether children with ADHD experience deficits in voluntary attention resulting in the fluctuating attention span that you see in children with ADHD. Therefore, the Attention Restoration Theory when applied to children with and without ADHD can perhaps be very beneficial. Walks in nature are simple to carry out on a daily basis. The "restorative" action of the walks which call upon involuntary attention can possibly help to improve voluntary attention.

With the amount of television and computer time that children are exposed to daily, more time spent outdoors is essential. Here are several ideas to encourage increased nature time for all children:

1. Take hikes and short walks in the woods.
2. Go letterboxing - Letterboxing is a great family activity for people of all ages. You can go to www.letterboxing.org for a list of clues throughout the USA. You print off the clues, walk to find them and stamp a marking in your log book. Try geocaching if you have a GPS or smart phone.
3. Gardening - plant a garden with children. Plant seeds in pots so that all children can assist.
4. Go on scavenger hunts for outdoor materials - check out Scavenger Hunts e-book for ideas
5. Allow children to play outdoors in dirt, mud and puddles.
6. Go on a bug hunt - see how many different bugs you can identify
7. Start a nature collection such as rocks, acorns, leaves or pine cones.
8. Go fishing, frog hunting, horseback riding or birdwatching.
9. Build a structure out of natural materials i.e. fort, collage made out of sticks or leafs.
10. Encourage teachers to plan lessons outdoors.

Fresh air makes everyone feel healthier, relaxed and perhaps improves attention. It is a simple way to improve concentration with no side effects (except skinned knees).

Faber Taylor, Andrea, Kuo, Frances E. Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park J Atten Disord 2009 12: 402-409

Cimprich, B Attention Restoration Theory: Empirical Work and Practical Applications Retrieved from the web on 4/17/09 at http://www.umb.no/statisk/greencare/meetings/presentations_vienna_2007/cimprich_cost_pres_71007.pdf

Friday, January 6, 2012

Good 'Ol Fashioned Tin Can Stilts

The other day we decided to make some good 'ol fashioned tin can stilts. This was super simple to make just not so super simple to walk on.

All we did was remove the labels from some tin cans (actually 26 ounce cans). Use a can opener to make two holes in each can. You can put the holes in the side or the top. I recommend that you put them in the top. We tried in both ways and the side ones tended to rip the string whereas the top ones did not.

Just thread some string or rope through the two holes and tie both ends together tightly. The top of the rope should be at about the child's hand when relaxed at their sides.

Now, time to practice walking on stilts. It does take practice. I recommend for younger children, try using smaller cans (tuna cans) and progress to taller cans.

Some nice indoor active play on a cold day.

Want to expand the play - create a pretend circus and this can be one of your acts!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lack of Physical Activity in Preschoolers

USA Today printed an article entitled, Study shows preschoolers spend too much time on sedentary activities, in today's paper about the lack of physical activity in preschoolers. Some research shows that preschoolers only spend 2-3% of the day in vigorous physical activity! An analysis was done by holding focus groups with early childhood educators to determine what was influencing this decline in physical activity. The educators reported that the following barriers existed:
  • fear of injury
  • strong focus on academics
  • budget constraints (lack of outdoor space or equipment).
Here is my comments to this story...
This is ridiculous. How can preschoolers only be spending 2-3% per day in vigorous physical activity??? This is shameful. Children need to move to learn properly. They need active free play for physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth.

In the United States we have a humongous obesity problem (no pun intended). The government seems to blame McDonald's Happy Meals for this and has essentially forced fast food restaurants to change their menus. Commercials for sugared cereal have had to change in an attempt to decrease obesity. This is so frustrating to me when no one will address the lack of physical activity. If children were moving more throughout the day, a serving a fries would burn right off.

Now to address the educators reported barriers -
1. Fear of injury. I understand that parents hover over children like never before. But really we can not promote physical activity in preschool for fear of a skinned knee? That too is shameful. One thing mentioned was that playground equipment has so many regulations that it is not challenging for the children (so then why would they get hurt). Not to mention, research has shown children move more with jump ropes and playground balls versus playground equipment.

2. Strong focus on academics - The push for children to learn to read at an early age just keeps getting stronger. Educators may want to slow down and read themselves. Research has shown time and time again, physically active children are smarter! Again, children need to move to learn. The brain body connection is amazing. Exercise gets children's brains ready to learn.

3. Budget constraints - Really? Really? Come on. A playground ball cost $1 maybe $2. Tag costs nothing (oh wait they may skin a knee). So how about duck, duck goose? Simon Says? Mother May I? Last I checked there were very few emergency room visits following these games. Children do not need a ton of space to get exercise. Move furniture to the perimeter of the classroom and you have some space to move around. Geesh, children can move at their little desks if necessary. There are so many physical activity ideas that require little to no equipment therefore cost next to nothing. This "excuse" makes me the most frustrated.

Now here is my humble opinion on why children do not move in the classroom. It is a lot of behavior management. It is easier for teachers to keep children seated than let them move. Teachers have told me that they don't like the kids to move around because it is too hard to get them to settle back down. I always recommend to establish a routine and rules for movement and it usual works. In addition, there is a rough time when you start introducing movement. If children are truly sedentary all day, then you let them move...yes they might go a little crazy. Can you blame them? Once the routine is established of movement time followed by a cool down time to getting children ready to work the behaviors decrease. I can not think of a better way to teach self regulation either - move, calm the body down and be ready to work. Oh yeah, research has also shown time and time again, that children who exhibit good self regulation in the early years are the most successful in life.

We need to get our children moving more from birth through adulthood.

Reference: Hellmich, N. Study shows preschoolers spend too much time on sedentary activities. Retrieved from the web on 1/4/2012 at http://yourlife.usatoday.com/parenting-family/story/2012-01-03/Study-shows-preschoolers-spend-too-much-time-on-sedentary-activities/52367890/1?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&dlvrit=205764

Monday, January 2, 2012

Block Play with Motorized Toys

Since I have young daughters we have a few Zhu Zhu pets in the house but you could use any motorized animal or car. Set up some blocks on a table or the floor for obstacles that the Zhu Zhu pets have to move around. We played that each person picked a color Zhu Zhu pet and you had to cheer them on while they attempted to get the other side of the table around all the blocks. We set up ours on a train table which was perfect because there is a lip around the edges to keep the motorized toys on the table. If you set it up on the floor you may want to create a border using large blocks or books to keep them in a certain area.

For remote controlled motorized cars, you could set up small blocks as obstacles or targets. Try driving the cars around the block course. Set up the blocks as race tracks for motorized cars to see which lane wins first.