The national response to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has changed daily life for many of us as we’ve transitioned to working from home, isolating with our families and homeschooling in order to protect the vulnerable members of our community. While life as we know it has paused, child development has not and supporting our children is as important as ever.
We have enlisted local Child & Family Therapist, Cara of Mummamaze and Makeplayexplore, to help us in sharing some tips for engaging your children in fun activities at home to help you through this challenging time.
Photo credit: Kikki-K
As adults we have a sense of internal structure so when the external world is a bit more unpredictable, we still have our internal anchors. The top part of our brain, the cortex is mature enough that we can manage disruptions to our daily rhythm. Our children however, are still being organised internally by their world so if normal routines and predictability are gone they might feel anxious or have a sense of internal drifting, therefore, having a rhythm and structure to the day is important for our kids and helps us too.
You can make planning your days together a fun family activity, I like the A4 Weekly Planner Pad from Kikki-K for organising the week ahead and these rainbow pens from Smiggle are fun for the kids to use while also giving you the opportunity to encourage them to name and change colours while you focus on what needs to be written down.
Start by identifying anchor points in your day, for many of us this will be meal times; commit to having breakfast, lunch, dinner together as a family. You might also like to start each day at the same time and have a simple routine of making the beds and changing everyone out of their pyjamas each morning. Don’t place added stress on yourself by thinking you need to excel at homeschooling or create Pinterest worthy activities.
Enlist your children to help you come up with some of the things you can do each day. You can set parameters around this that fit with current health protocols and your capacity with work, for example, you might ask them to share ideas for activities you can do for your brain, your body, and for fun and then you have the final say as to which ones you do and when, or give them a choice between two. Also ask them what they’re interested in learning about, for younger children you might help them explore that topic in-depth and for older kids you might task them with a project to learn all about their interest and get them to teach you all about it on Sunday night.
Did you know that play has its own neural circuitry and that when children feel safely connected to others, the circuitry of play is naturally activated? It’s normal for our children to want to be near us which can be challenging when you have work to complete. Setting up invitations to play in your home can help you to manage your time while also encouraging their capacity for independent play. It also allows your child to engage in creative play without agenda or rules and to feel free to use the materials you’ve provided in an open ended way.
An invitation to play is as it sounds - inviting your child to discover, explore and play with resources you’ve set up. Think about the areas of your home you’ll be working from and set up invitations to play near your workspace, this might give you an extra few minutes or even an hour or more to complete your task at hand depending on the activity and age of your child. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Group Duplo pieces together on a piece of paper and trace around them to form a puzzle your child can put together. Create a rainbow using Lego pieces as a symbol of hope joining in on the #LetsBuildTogether community on Instagram. Leave a basket of Duplo or Lego nearby so they can keep building after they’ve finished. If they require some extra encouragement you could give prompts by saying “how high can you build a tower?” or “can you put the blue blocks together?”. If you have children aged 4 and over, you might surprise them with some Lego City construction available from Big W.
Photo credit: Dymocks and Make Play Explore
Centering play around the theme of a book can be a fun way to explore characters in more depth while encouraging creativity and imagination. A great book with endless possibilities for extended play is The Ultimate Book of Vehicles available from Dymocks. After you’ve read and explored the book a few times with your child, you can set up invitations to play based on different scenes throughout the book by using tape to make a road or a runway on the floor, pairing this with a variety of toy cars or planes from Big W.
If you have a baby, you can encourage tummy time and movement by setting up books at eye level in a circle around them for them to look at and, as they get older, knock over, pick up and explore. Dymocks, Robinsons Books, and QBD Books all have a great range of titles. Some favourites for babies and younger children include Dear Zoo, That’s Not my Puppy and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?
Photo credit: Make Play Explore
If you tend to work from your dining room table or simply need some time to prepare and cook meals, set up some sensory play activities nearby for your children to explore. The next time you get your groceries, pick up the following ingredients for some inexpensive sensory play:
~ Bicarb soda
~ Dishwashing liquid
~ Food colouring
~ Cotton tips
With these ingredients on hand, you can make any or all of the following:
Make some oobleck by mixing together cornstarch and water 2:1 with a little bit of food dye. This feels like slime and can get messy but is easy to clean up and doesn’t stain furniture or floors.
Potions and explosions
Mix together bicarb soda, vinegar and some food dye to make explosions and volcanoes. Kids also love using bath bombs for a similar effect with Lush stocking a great range with different colours and shapes including butterflies and dinosaurs.
Pour a thin layer of milk into the bottom of a dish or tray, let your kids add a few drops of food colouring, dip a cotton bud into some dishwashing liquid then dip it into the food colouring and watch it expand.
Photos credit: Gorman Clothing and Make Play Explore
Often, painting can hold your child’s attention for longer if it’s part of a project or solving a problem. Painting a picture for a loved one or to go on the fridge or wall can be fun for little ones while experimenting with colour mixing and patterns is a good challenge for older kids. For colour and pattern inspiration check out the range from Gorman, these bright colours, varied shapes and hidden animal patterns serve as endless inspiration for kids, also teaching them to think creatively about where to source ideas for activities from. Place their finished works in a frame from Country Road and check out their tutorial on how to hang a frame wall to display them all together. You might also like to mix up the medium, painting cardboard boxes to make buildings, milk cartons to make animals and sticks to make wands or wall hangings.
Taking some time each day to get outdoors and reconnect with nature is great for both our kids and ourselves. When given the opportunity to play freely, children will explore their limits physically by seeing how high they can climb and what weight they can lift. They’ll grow emotionally as they experience joy, explore the depth of their courage and build self-confidence. Socially, they’ll practice cooperation, sharing, leading and negotiating while cognitively, they’re developing their creativity, logic and problem solving.
Nature play moves beyond outdoor play; it involves playing with nature. For young children it might look like running through the Autumn leaves that are falling this time of year, making mud pies, digging in the sand, throwing rocks in the water or floating leaves down a stream. It can also occur indoors where we bring natural materials inside the home; a stick can become a wand, acorns used as little people, rocks for counting and flowers turned into art.
If you’re worried about your little one getting too cold or wet you can rug them up in some extra layers. I really like the Bambino Kids Jumpsuit from Kathmandu for keeping kids warm and dry while the light up gumboots from Seed are lots of fun.
Cara Toynton is a child and family therapist, photographer and mum of two amazing boys. She writes about maternal health and wellbeing and child development at @mummamaze and shares activities for kids at @makeplayexplore.