EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MAKE SIMPLE BUTTON CASTANETS.

Simple button castanets are a delightfully easy way to bring a little spanish culture into your home.

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Ask your tot to choose 2 large buttons.

Give them some elastic to thread through the holes.

Tie off the back of the elastic and attach to fingers.

This takes just a few moments, then they’ll want to make a set for the other hand!

We then held a little dance performance where each child showed us their moves. What we intended as a simple fine motor skills activity with some cultural background (making the castanets) turned into a full body improvisation of spanish dance and the kids couldn’t have loved it more! (Even Anica, who typically shys away from any performance, allowed her whole body to become a proud spanish dancer – see her take the stage with gusto below!)

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Allowing children to act (and excell) out of their usual comfort zone allows those parts of the brain that are rarely accessed to get more of a look in and build stronger connections for other areas of their life. What triggers this will be different for each child, just as will the skills that are outside their comfort zone! Anica in this instance showed all the traits of a percussive, passionate, extravert in her Spanish solo – where as previously she has told me she is the best at ‘staying in the middle and not being seen’! Anica is likely to always be a little more shy than her outgoing sister, and we don’t want to change this about her, but the more she has the opportunity to choose to venture outside her comfort zone, the more she will be able to function with her whole brain in day to day life.

Without getting carried away talking about the plasticity of the brain, this applies to a variety of what we deem to be inbuilt ‘personality traits’ – Our brain changes to physically become stronger at what we are told we are and what we are allowed to do. As parents, carers and educators we have a huge responsibility to the young ones around us to explore all the possibilities of who they could be, rather than predict or label their personality and limit their ability to grow into the well rounded adults we all want to see in our future!

As an ex-dance teacher I was also delighted to see how this simple prop changed the way the children moved from a technical movement point of view. Having watched a video as part of our research last week (that showed some spanish dancing) the children instantly changed their default flowing movement (influenced by their friends mimicking ballet) into a staccato passionate movement that they had seen in the flamenco dance. Their feet stomped, their arms held power and their little castanets went wild!

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THINGS TO SEE AND DO: TRY SPANISH SWEETS WITH YOUR KIDS.

I’ve talked before about my mission to cook food from every country around the globe with my kids, so with Spain as our feature country how could I resist a bit of Spanish cuisine. Paella is perhaps the most famous dish that is surprisingly easy to cook (a rice dish that comes in many variations to suit almost every taste), but alas – once made, it was not a favourite with my own children.

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Churros however, is a chocolate dipped treat that no child could resist. We had plans of cooking this but then stumbled upon it on the tapes menu at a lovely little coffee shop. We enjoyed ours very much, if you would like to make it yourself then here is the recipe (tried and tested by a friend and her children as a great success) or if you’re in Hobart and want an excuse to get out then Rain Check Lounge in North Hobart currently have it on their menu – invite a few friends and make a afternoon of it!

COOKING AROUND THE WORLD

Last year my children and I embarked on a culinary adventure around the world, with the vastly ambitious goal to cook food from every country on the planet (that’s almost 200 countries, just incase you were wondering!)

The exercise (still far from complete!) has proved very successful in terms of capturing their imagination, and indeed opening learning across a divers range of fields.

Measuring the ingredients for Anzacs from Australia.

Measuring the ingredients for “A: Anzacs from Australia.” Also a great opportunity to talk about the amount of sugar in sweets like this.

It comes as no surprise that cooking is a wonderful educational tool in itself: It is tactile (pouring, stirring, needing), sensory (taste, smell, sight), draws heavily on numeracy skills (weighing, counting, timing), scientific reactions (dissolving, heating, cooling), and literacy (from recognising the simple word ‘cup’ when measuring, right through to being able to read recipes independently) … Plus you get the satisfaction of creating something that you can eat at the end. This is probably the benefit my own 3 and 5 year olds enjoy most!

When we embarked on our culinary adventure around the world, we didn’t buy a plane ticket – instead we looked at what was in our own cupboard. From making Vietnamese rice paper rolls in the park, to investigating the origins of the pancake. Each county we ‘visited’ on our cooking journey we added a little geography, and a lot of discussion, and play surrounding that county. As a result both of my children have an expanded world view.

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BIG HISTORY FOR LITTLE PEOPLE

The stories we tell about our being (both public and private) are a cornerstone to our developing sense of identity – for an individual child, and indeed for the community as a whole.

After watching a presentation by David Christian (a key mover and shaker in the Big History movement) I am further inspired to incorporate ideas of ‘Big History’ (that is; history understood form a big picture perspective) into play based learning for early childhood.

My own daughter, Elka 3yo, insists that everything before now is ‘last year’ (yes; yesterday is a very long time ago when you are 3!) So with this daily reminder I fully understand the realities of a developing mind struggling to grasp the concept of time passing. Research shows that neurological pathways in Elkas young brain are forming to understand the complex idea of time, but the extensive process of developing that understanding will only be fully accomplished with the experience of time passing.

With this unquestionable evidence noted, even 3yo Elka can tell you (with some genuine understanding) that ‘dinosaurs lived a long time ago, and they’re not alive any more’. This is a concept that has been built upon by the numerous references to dinosaurs around her (from dress ups, toys, and stickers, to book and even all out dinosaur birthday parties). While history is usually reserved for older students, it is not such a giant leap to conclude that other milestones in our ‘big history’ could equally be as engaging subjects for play based learning in these early years!

From imagining the world of ancient civilisations to looking at how our landscape was formed (volcanic eruptions and a century of erosion is as simple as sand play with some added baking soda and vinegar!)

While I am yet to experiment on my darling offspring, I believe that her being able to understand a vague order of chronology (ie dinosaurs before kingdoms, pyramids before Nan and Pop etc) is well with in her abilities and would be aided by a general time line in her environment that we can refer to when we make new discoveries.

This sense of belonging (and owning a place in time as well as physical space) is something that will enhance all aspects of the growth: from empathy and understanding, to exploration and a desire to invent the next thing to change the course of history.

Now, on the topic of history: the Yoyo is believed to be the second oldest toy in human history. (Without google) do you know what the oldest is? (Note your answers in the comments below, future post will show how we made the oldest toy in history.)