Whether you have no time or too much time on your hands for early learning activities, there is a way for you to comfortably, efficiently, and effectively create an early learning environment for your child or children in your home.
By: Mercedes Bender
Before I had two children less than a year apart, I was a Jr. High School teacher who was a perfectionist and I set high expectations for myself. I quickly learned after my children danced with the baby-to-toddler-age transition, these qualities, while being great in certain areas, are unrealistic when dealing with my small family circus that is my so-called current life. I had created these awesome lessons in my mind that would take place in this perfect learning space that I was going to create in my homeschool preschool room, aka the basement, much with the help of one of my favourite Instagram feeds: @simplylearning. This preparation became daunting especially with all of the out of the house activities that we were doing.
To turn things around, I began to spend more quality time at home. I quickly realized that if you build a decent stock of supplies, you could throw something together in 10 minutes that can last for either an hour of peace and quiet or absolute excitement! This made those activity inspirations piling up in my iCloud albums go from possibilities to actual experiences. I also began to follow accounts on Instagram that were created by moms and dads in similar situations or with even busier circuses than mine. I mean if someone with 4 kids from 1-5 years old can homeschool preschool, so can I…I think!
The Importance of Learning Style
One thing that I find important when working with not just toddlers, but anyone in general is that you need to figure out how they learn. What makes that person engaged? disinterested? invested? learn? Toddlers, just like us adults, won’t love every texture, or excel at every learning style. They will have certain times of day when they are engaged and others when productivity just isn’t going to happen. I recommend that you figure this out for your own individual children. You of course, need to continue to expose them to what they don’t like, however it’s important to them that you know how they explore best. For example, I have a child who could read books and sit at a sensory bin pouring beans and rice all day long. She is also the child who could watch CBC kids all day long. She dislikes slimy and dirty textures. She is a memorizer. She needs to be shown what to do and then memorizes and repeats. She also has Cerebral Palsy so many of our activities have therapeutic motives at play as well. Then I have a child who could run, ride bikes, and throw beans and rice all day long. He is also the child who wrestles with his sister as she’s trying to watch CBC kids because he can’t sit still. He dislikes having dirty hands and doesn’t like being wet unless it’s bath time. He is the destroyer and the repairer; the one who needs to figure out how and why things work all on his own. What matters is that I know this and I can adjust and improvise activities when needed.
Here are some of my favourite creations and learning activities:
- My felt creations are some of my most prized creations. A little felt and Velcro can go a long way. I find it easiest to create felt stations centered around holidays and seasons. For example, I have a Christmas Tree with ornaments and presents, a snowman who you can undress and dress, a Valentine’s sensory felt theme, and an Easter Bunny centered around numeracy. I also recently created a felt piece centered around number recognition and counting. My all-time favourite felt creation is my garden. I had to ensure that this was made prior to my son being born, as I knew it was not going to happen with a second child added to the mix. If you can shop with coupons, Michaels is the place where I find all of my felt center supplies. They have an excellent selection of 3’ by 3’ felt pieces as well as individual 8.5” x 11” sized sheets in a variety of textures and prints. Another option for felt would be a fabric store, such as Fabricland.
- I’m a sensory bin fiend. For me, the possibilities with a sensory bin are endless. Once introduced to Val who owns the local company Born2Create, I was hooked. I shop with my eyes peeled for what can be added to sensory bins. I find that my most successful and thrifty shopping places for supplies are Superstore (for filler like beans and rice, as well as scoopers and trays), Homesense, and Michaels (with coupons). Sensory bins can be as little or grand as you want them to be. A bin of plain rice, a couple of scoops, and some cups are all that a toddler needs to stay engaged for long periods of time. You can however, begin to include sorting, searching (I Spy), classifying, textures, scents, etc into the mix. My most recent use for bins has been “letter bins” where the contents are centered around a certain letter. If you’re a “sensory bins are great, just not at my house” kind of a person, you could always register for a class with Val! The mess stays at class and all you need to worry about is possibly doing laundry after.
- I took a box, wrapped it in paper, cut slits in it, and coloured around those slits with colours that match Popsicle sticks for colour sorting. (See photo) I varied the orientation at which the popsicle sticks need to be inserted and created a bilingual version of @ohcreativeday’s creation. This kept both children busy for hours on end.
- Printables! At the end of the day by the time you print, cut out, laminate, and prepare the activities, sometimes it was more worth it to purchase it already done. Other times if you’re in need of something fast, printables can help pass the time or be a part of a bigger plan. One of my favourite feeds for printables is You Clever Monkey.
- Locks & keys matching activities. You can gear this to shapes, colours, letter recognition, etc. Motor skill development definitely comes into play with this type of activity.
Stay tuned for my next post where I will be sharing my favourite stores, websites and Instagram accounts for my inspiration! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to send me a message on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.