Lockdown has been a challenging time for everyone, especially for parents who are working from home as well as caring for their young babies and toddlers. Having to juggle everything… being a loving parent, becoming your child’s “teacher”, working from home, maintaining the house and doing all chores and duties that come along with running your home, and balancing an already stretched budget due to the economic strain this pandemic has left the world in is not easy. It leaves little time for patience, rest, and motivation to play and engage optimally with your little one.
This article provides activity ideas that incorporate basic everyday tasks which are essential in daily life so you won’t need to expend extra energies and resources; however, you will still be able to reap the benefits of optimal bonding experiences as well as speech and language development opportunities. Furthermore, these functional tasks help to encourage independence and development in all areas including gross motor, fine motor, sensory processing, cognitive, social, and behavioural skills.
The best thing about using daily activities is the opportunity for repetition, repetition, repetition. Nothing aids learning better than practice. And if you do not have time to focus on an activity on one day, you still get multiple opportunities to do the same thing on another day. These same activities can be graded to meet the needs of different age groups, simplifying them for younger children, whilst still being able to make them more complex for older children. It also aids in providing children structure and routine within their day and this helps them to feel secure and safe.
The activities provided are by no means exhaustive and your family can include other activities relevant to your family, cultural and religious needs e.g. pet care, prayer times, and festivals/celebrations. Often adults forget that these can be fun learning opportunities, but children LOVE doing them and consider it play. Many of these activities are also multi-sensory, meaning that children are learning through different sensory mediums at the same time. This also allows information and learning to become integrated and consolidated more easily. Children also have more motivation to communicate and learn through fun and functional activities. Finally, the most important thing to remember: it is not about the number of different activities you do or the number of toys you have but it is about the QUALITY of your interaction together that makes the difference!
Meal Prep and Cooking
Cooking is great for language stimulation! For older children, you can also pretend to be on a cooking show and use simplified verbal directions. Get them to help you make simple meals using hand-over-hand facilitation such as:
- Toast and sandwiches: your little one can put the bread in the toaster and push down the button. Toddlers can start helping with buttering the toast, and older children can start putting/preparing condiments on the toast e.g. grating cheese and sprinkling the cheese on the toast, cutting the sandwich in half.
- A bowl of cereal: Pouring and scooping the ingredients into their little bowl and mixing it. For babies and toddlers, you can measure out the ingredients beforehand into smaller cups. For older children, you can increase complexity by letting them cook the porridge.
- A cup of hot chocolate/milkshakes/smoothies.
- Muffins, cupcakes, or biscuits and decorating them.
For times when your little one cannot physically help you with the cooking, be it due to time constraints or complexity of the task, allow them to be with you in the kitchen and watch what you are doing. Comment on everything you are doing, talk about how you are preparing the food, what dishes you are making, the ingredients you are adding, and explore how ingredients smell, feel and taste. Also, talk about safety issues in the kitchen like how a knife is sharp, and the stove and oven are hot, etc.
Encourage your child to take part with clearing up the dishes as well as washing their plastic dishes. You can get them to wash dishes in two buckets in the garden so that cleaning up is minimal for you. Use some plastic dishes that are dirty and get him to practice washing, rinsing, and drying the dishes. This is a fun talking activity e.g. Dirty cup…let’s wash…soapy sponge…time to rinse…water warm…take it out…dry cloth…wipe cup…etc. repeat this for as long they will tolerate. Smaller children will probably need hand over hand facilitation.
- What child does not enjoy water play! You can get them to water the garden while you comment on what they are doing. Make the water inaccessible, so that when he fills his small bucket, jug, or cup he has the opportunity to ask you for more water. Remember to model the request for more water e.g. Water please!
- Plant some seeds, flowers, fruits, and vegetables and get them to water their plant every day, harvest from your fruit and veggie garden, and use those in the kitchen later!
- Collecting things from the garden and talking about the different collection items: different flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks, bugs. How do they feel, look, smell?
- Get your little one to put their clothes in the laundry basket after bath time. You can say ‘get clothes’…’ put in the basket’.
- On laundry days, get them to help you load the washer. ‘Put clothes machine…inside, more clothes, smelly clothes, dirty socks…etc. let them help with putting in the washing powder, sta soft and pushing the start button. You can also sing, “the washing machine goes round and round, round and round, round and round, the washing machine goes round and round, all day long!”
Keeping Toys Inaccessible and Packing Away After Playing Each Game
- Keeping toys locked away or where they cannot access them easily is beneficial on various levels. Firstly, it provides a good opportunity for communication as they will have to ask you for the toys that they want. Even if it just means that they start taking you to the cupboard and pointing. You can always then model what they should say e.g. Oh I see! You want your cars! Cars, please! Wait for him to respond and then give him the cars. This will need lots of modelling before your little one starts using verbal responses. Do not be discouraged too soon and do not stop modelling! Secondly, when toys are packed away it allows less distraction around them and they can focus on one activity at a time. This helps to build attention and concentration for longer periods.
- For younger children, you can leave two or three activity/toy options visible for a few days at a time and rotate them with other toys/activities.
- Packing away the toys: get your little one to help pack away their toys. You can always sing a tidy up song that you know or this one: tidy up, tidy up, everybody, everywhere, tidy up, tidy up, everybody do your share! And then ask them to pick up…put in box…etc.
Wiping, Sweeping and Cleaning
- Get your little one to help you sweep the floors or clean tables using a rag. You can say “look! Table dirty! Let’s wipe clean. Fetch the cloth, wipe the table! All clean!
- Similarly, you can get him to help you wash your car, sweep the floors, or vacuum the house!
Bath Time, Dressing Time, and Brushing Teeth
These are also other great times for talking as you are in close proximity. Talk about body parts, and what he must do e.g. Lift your arm, put it in the sleeve, water warm, splash water, warm towel, stinky toes, etc.
For littles ones, use a picture book and talk about the pictures using 2-3-word sentences. For older ones, read short stories that have a repetitive theme e.g. “The Three Little Pigs.” You can also make up stories e.g. Tom’s busy day: Tom woke up. He ate breakfast. He washed the dishes. Tom played cars. He played with dad. Dirty Tom had a bath. Sleepy Tom went to bed. Good night Tom!
Books and stories help to build vocabulary, create opportunities for conversation, make children aware of sounds and build preliteracy skills.
You can use singing in any of the above activities. Using common songs and transforming them into songs that you can include in the activity e.g.
- Wheels on the bus for the washing machine going round and round
- Tidy up song
- Brushing teeth song
- Head shoulder knees and toes for bath time or dress time
- Old MacDonald for pet care. Old MacDonald had a farm…and on that farm, he had a dog…and on that farm, he fed the dog…and on that farm, he washed the dog…