If you are like me you are always looking for fun and simple activities for your kiddos that do not break the bank. “Learning stores” are full of great toys focused on language, math, coordination, art, you name it, but they are each packaged separately with a price tag to match their appeal. This can be super intimidating for a budget conscious or just frugal person to handle, not to mention all the clutter that they bring with them. Maybe one day we can have an unlimited budget and 2000sqft bonus playroom to store it all in, but for now we must try a less is more approach.
I frequently fantasize that I am raising the next great world leader, scientist, or engineer so I want to be sure I am providing the most advantages for success. I want them to know their letters and numbers, reading and spelling, mathematical principles, colors and get the opportunity to create something original. So the question becomes, how can you give them the opportunities to learn important skills with a simpler set up? (and maybe less stuff everywhere)
Enter the Whiteboard
I highly recommend picking up a whiteboard like this one. We invested in a larger board because multiple children were using it simultaneously. When I was selecting a board I checked to be sure it was magnetic, had a sturdy frame, came with hardware for hanging, and a shelf for keeping markers up off the floor. If it comes with an eraser that is great too, but most likely one will be available with the writing utensils you choose, but I am getting ahead of myself.
The versatility is amazing: you can set up your white board as a calendar, message center, draw a scene for them to finish, create a timeline, post their other artwork for a gallery show, lay it on the floor for coloring time, use magnetic letters and numbers for spelling, reading, and math.
I know, groan, you are thinking about markers. Yes, a traditional wipe off marker is perfect for this application and available four for a buck at the dollar store, but have you heard about white board crayons?
No?? You may just fall in love with me now. There are several companies that have white board or dry erase crayons, I recommend these as we were able to get them super on sale and they work great. Now, specialty crayons may seem like a total disconnect from my previous statement about budget and simplicity, but hear me out.
White board crayons are easy to remove from the board but they are also easy to remove from, wait for it, walls. We had a few little Picassos that felt moved to color on many a medium around our house. Wipe-able crayons came right off while their standard counterparts or, ahem, marker buddies, were stubborn and required the use of cleaning supplies.
There are lots of different magnets on the market, letters, numbers, words, pictures, and they come in wood, plastic, metal, and all things in between. We started out with a great wooden set like these with the larger magnets on the back that were recommended as they posed less of a choking/ingestion of magnets risk. These were, however, short lived as they were also the favorite chew toys of our sneaky dog. My parents have a whiteboard and beautiful set of wooden magnets at their home that they continue to use without issue and the kids still love those best.
We are currently using the plastic letters and numbers found in the dollar section at Target. Our set came with some math symbols as well, which we enjoy using from time to time. In addition, see what I did there, to these we have some magnets with pictures on them we can use for storytelling or in drawings.
That’s it, all you need, for 6 engaging activities:
1. Map the Alphabet Song
This one is great because it incorporates vocal expression with physical movement and problem solving. Start by layout your letter magnets on the floor next to the board; this is an activity in itself sometimes. Next sing through the entire alphabet song and finish with, “this time will you map with me.” For the younger ones you may need to prepare the board by placing lines to show how to line up the letters ( 4 in the first row, 3 in the second, 4 in the third, 5 in the fourth, 3 in the fifth, 3 in the sixth, 4 in seventh) whereas older kiddos should be able to put them in a line. This time as you sing try to put the letters in order and switch lines at the pauses in the song. Note: if you use a variation of the traditional alphabet song your letters per line will be different than listed above, so adjust for your song.
2. Finish this Picture
Your kiddo will enjoy flexing their creative muscles on this one. Start by either placing picture magnets around the board and ask your child to fill in the picture with their drawing. If you do not have picture magnets, you can start by drawing a few familiar objects on the board with crayons or markers. You will find that the more you do this one the sillier things get. While once a horse and a bale of hay led to a beautiful farm scene it may morph into a horse floating through space and the bale of hay captured by an alien spaceship. The sky is the limit.
3. Plan Your Day
This one is for your anxious offspring. If you have a child who is always concerned about what is going to happen and trying to keep track start doing this with them in the morning, or even at bedtime for the next day. Set up the board and write the day of the week on top, you could even do the date if they are old enough to understand. Next plan out your day, a simple list of activities is good for some, but others may want times for each entry. I also like to utilize symbols next to the words for the little ones who cannot yet read.
Start by asking them what day of the week it is, and the date if they know it. Next decide if you are making a wish list for the day or a set plan. A wish list is less strictly enforced and more of a guideline than a schedule. Starting with “wake up” go through the day adding the words and symbols, lunch, nap, whatever they feel needs to be on the list. If you are near the list most of the day the child can check things off as they go or you can use it as a tool to discuss how the day went in the evening. This can be helpful if you have a child that has a difficult time transitioning between activities or frequently asks when something is going to occur.
4. Spelling Challenge
This one can be adjusted to suit children of differing abilities. Bring in those letter magnets again. Choose or have your child choose a book or object with words on it from around the house. Challenge them to spell the word on it using the letters on the whiteboard. You can use any words; it could be a nametag from school or a box of pasta from the pantry. The ability to see a word and recreate it will help with reading and writing later on and builds familiarity with the words around them. As children grow you can ask them to bring objects without words and spell them independently. As they are able you can ask them to spell the word with their own written letters. Encouraging engagement with written words is paramount to building a healthy relationship with learning.
5. Beginner Math
Understanding numbers using tangible objects can help form a good foundation for success in math. If you have number magnets you can choose a number and place it on the board. Ask your child to draw that number of circles around it, or another shape. Alternatively you can draw a number yourself as a hollow, bubble, or number and ask them to draw the shapes inside it. As their counting improves you can switch and draw a number of objects or shapes and ask them to select the number magnet and place it next to the objects. If they are working on writing you can ask them to draw the number. Eventually you could write the words for the numbers, but that may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit.
Schools are all about encouraging storytelling as a tool for reading, writing, and general problem solving. The truth is, storytelling engages children on multiple levels by providing them space for exploring interpersonal relationships and feelings. You can learn quite a bit about a child through the stories they choose to tell. The trusty whiteboard can come in handy here. Drawing out the parts of a story with characters, scenery, conflict, and resolution can take on several forms. You can choose to use picture magnets, writing utensils or both. Starting with a simple timeline approach will suit simple stories while older children may choose to create a comic book style story. Some may add words for setting or dialogue. Other children may choose to use the board to hide behind for a puppet or stuffed animal show. If your child struggles to create an original story you can ask them to draw or act out their favorite book or song to get them started. This will allow them space to build their confidence and imagination.
I hope these activities inspire you to start a playtime revolution of your own and engage your little one in fun, yet meaningful activities. Those pricy activity kits from the toy store have nothing on a parent armed with a simple set-up and creative spirit.
If you have more suggestions on how to use a simple setup to do great things I would love to hear them.
Please comment below or send me a message so I can add them to the list.
My children and I chose The Lion King for our movie night and I was thoroughly entertained. Yes, it is a movie I have seen several dozen times in my life and one that has spawned the Disney show, Lion Guard, which I have also viewed. The heartwarming tale of redemption and leadership centered on life of animals on the Pride Land is well known to me. This time it was not so much the story line that entertained me; it was watching it with the commentary of a 6 year old critic.
Several portions of the plot caused him exclamation, particularly when straightforward communication would have circumvented conflict, but where is the fun in that? I am hoping to interview him about his views on the overall plot another time, but for today I am sharing his main and most frustrating point: “The hyenas are the real heroes.”
I have to admit, this statement gave me pause. I glanced at my spouse to gauge his reaction before asking, “what?” Thoughts were spiraling through my mind about this child. Perhaps he was not paying attention to the story and the redemption of Simba and his return to his rightful place in the pride? No, he understood all of that, but he pointed out that the hyenas were the characters left to deal with the villain, Scar. The conflict with Scar was not over when he was thrown off the rock.
“You see, when scar told the hyenas that they (the lions) were the enemy, they (the hyenas) thought they were on the good side and they attacked the enemy (lions). Then, scar was mean to them (the hyenas) and switched sides so the hyenas knew the lions are not the bad guys but now they (hyenas) are good guys because they got rid of scar, who was the bad guy all along. “
Okay, so much to unpack here. We have long joked that this child will either be a great mind that many books will be written about or he will be an enormous pain in the butt that many books have to mention due to his infamy. So, where are we on that spectrum?
Perhaps we can start with the hyena characters and their role in the story. They are introduced as loyal followers of Scar helping him with the goal of receiving a part of the bounty of the land he will rule. Okay, sounds good, they have that creepy song with all the shadows and whatnot and then harass young Simba at Scar’s request. Got it, they are in the league of bad guys and we do not like them. Everyone in our house agreed to that point.
Cut to: Scar bad-mouths the hyenas whilst pleading for his life to Simba (sorry if I spoiled this for you, but the movie is nearly 25 years old). Scar reveals that he is not loyal to the hyenas and he, in my son’s mind, is then alone as the bad guy. So, when he is tossed off the boulder and encounters the hyenas they stop him, and most likely eat him. Thank goodness those hyenas were there to rid the Pride Land of such a dangerous, flip-flopping, charismatic menace. This is where he breaks away from the previously decided view of the hyenas: noting their assistance in the decimation of the villain the hyenas were not and should not have ever been classified as “bad guys.”
I love a redemption story as much as the next guy and appreciate that people can change and evolve as they grow and learn. But, this idea that the hyenas have been painted with the wrong brush seriously messed with my head. What crazy ideas led my child to believe that villains can be rehabilitated or that evil actions do not mean evil intentions? I am glad he did not feel Simba should have eaten the hyenas or something, but, do they really deserve the designation as “heroes?” I always thought of hyenas as mangy, ruthless, nasty animals that would turn on even their best friends. I saw them as living up to this reputation when they attacked Scar, not as released from their contract with him and acting for the good of pride society.
The hyenas, to my son’s point, do the Pride Land and its leader a huge service by dealing with Scar. Yes, they are the fixers of the story. If this was a mob movie they would be the family thugs. They do the jobs not meant for the good clean folks in leadership. I picture them in their tracksuits discussing cold cuts and the sturdiest brand of brass knuckles. So now I wonder, if those hyenas had not been there would Scar have continued to trouble the lions and other animals in the Pride Land? Are their ruthless ways integral to the balance of society? Simba climbed the rock and united the animals of the land with his promise of protection, but who is really protecting them? Where would all of those animals, including Simba, be without the brave hyenas? And can we judge the hyenas as evil or good depending on whom their actions benefit?
So, I ask you, do the hyenas have the qualifications to be classified as “heroes” in The Lion King?
Is there a worse sound in the world than the high-pitched screech of an angry toddler? If there is, I cannot remember such a noise. Toddler tantrums may be distressing on the best days; you know the ones: you are at home with nothing planned but doting on your adorable small human all day. But they become downright oppressive on those full days, or, gasp, when they occur in eye and ear shot of others.
Now, I am not new to the tantrum, I throw a few myself from time to time, and survived a double whammy of terrible twos with my twins, but they still slow me down. The twins have all but grown out of these displays but my youngest is deep in the thick of emotional turmoil on most days.
Some days begin with battles over clothes, screaming through the walk to the car, an extended battle at the carseat, and tears over having to get out again. Here are my tips to survive these terrifically awful moments in parenting. I am not an expert in child behavior but I have learned a few things about myself in these situations.
Top 5 tips for surviving even the worst:
1. Take a Moment
Just what it says, take a deep breath, look at the ceiling, whatever it takes to shake yourself out of the tantrum. There is nothing that undermines your position of authority like letting a tiny human dictate your mood. Plus it allows you a moment to remember the cute words you read in “What to Expect” and how useless they truly are. Then decide how to proceed. Picture your parents or partner trying to handle this without you, try to imagine how you would look stomping and pouting, picture your child as a tiny baby; Whatever inspires you to keep a cool head.
Sometimes just your child seeing you smile can make them happy, or maybe confused, but it can snap them out of it. Try to remove the stoic face you make when sternly telling your child something, who cares if the other moms think you are a wuss, don’t let a little toddler trouble bring out your inner meanie. Unless the tantrum is putting them in the way of direct harm, I try to steer clear of the “no” or the stern talk. Reserving the angry/loud voice for dangerous situations is one trick I carried over from dog training. Now, I am not advocating laughing at a child’s tantrum, which I would view as an undesirable choice, but just a kind smile that says “I love you, even when you are a stinker.” Smiling can also remind you that you are in a good mood.
3. Make their concern into a song
This is my favorite thing to do, sing a song back to your kiddo about the issue they are facing. I suppose this comes from so many hours of Daniel Tiger (the show that tells us that singing is for everyone and every lesson). This tip pairs well with the other two and allows for you to communicate in a less intense way. Just a simple “We need to go into the store or we will be all out of food, all out of food” sung to a fun tune can really help. Adding an additional, ”if we can get this done then we can play/have a treat/cuddle” can also help. These songs can become silly when older siblings join in, but often times that can stop even the most stubborn toddler short.
4. Offer affection
Sometimes tantrums are just due to an overstimulation and not a disagreement, try out a hug and kiss for size to see if the situation improves. Perhaps offer the hug in a quite corner. This allows them a detour option, like an exit ramp on the highway. They don’t have to turn around and go your way, but they are also okay with not heading full speed in the opposite direction. I usually carry a small book, snack, or favorite toy in my pocket or bag just in case we need a distraction from a hairy situation. Plus, the opportunity to cuddle your kiddo while they are small should not be missed; your small human will be big before you know it. A hug, kiss, and “I love you” can be just the thing to turn your day around.
5. Quick exit
in the case of the disruptive tantrum, know your options for stealing your child away to an undisclosed location for further action. In all seriousness, toddler size makes them portable and sometimes the best option is to abandon ship. No one wants to leave a full cart of groceries or sacrifice a paid admission, but this is life with a toddler. I recommend the fireman carry for this maneuver as it allows less movement and decreases the chance of dropping a squirmy screamer en route. In the case of the grocery store, employees have been extremely understanding: one cashier even loaded and scanned all my items and then waved me back in the doors to pay. Toddler tantrums are a familiar sight for many a parent or caregiver and most understand the stress you are feeling. Someday these struggles will be a guilt trip you can hold over your child when you need them, just joking.
Have great tips of your own? Share them in the comments below. Raising great children takes a village, or online community.
Good luck on your parenting journey!
I am a highly opinionated and sassy mother of three and wife to one. I hope you enjoy reading about my efforts to tackle the infuriating obstacles of life using straight talk and humor. If I say it, I mean it, or maybe I am being sarcastic. I like to focus on topics from my everyday life: parenting, cooking, crocheting, and a whole list of other things that inspire my rage.