FREE ONLINE SHORT COURSE ON THE BASICS OF THE EARLY YEARS

This short and simple course is a nice reminder of some of the basic principals that apply to the early years.

It is a free online program run by Open Universities and designed primarily as a short course for people who may eventually want to study further to work with young children in an educational setting.

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FIRE AND MARSHMALLOWS

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I grew up in a rather remote area of Tasmania. So did my husband. We could each make and maintain a pretty good fire by about the age that we could tie our laces. Living remotely meant that all our heating, hot water and cooking were reliant on a good fire – fires were simply a daily and essential part of life.

Respect for fire safety is not something that comes naturally to my own children. We live in a city, we don’t have a wood fire at home and we don’t light a campfire as often as we could… But this is going to change!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: BECOME A BUTTERFLY!

In the honor of letter M we’ll be mulling over the Magnificent Monarch Butterfly who migrates to Mexico each year.

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Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. Not all the generations migrate, but every year the generation that migrates will fly around 20,000km to find their warmer climate for the winter! (That’s a long way, as our butterflies discovered after they traveled part of it!)

There are lots of cool things to learn about butterflies in general, and the 4 stages of their life cycle is captivating for all ages:

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WHY CHILDREN ARE NOT DOGS

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This is me as a 2yo with my own beloved childhood family dog, Bandit. (A delightful Smithfeild pup)

We got a puppy. A cute ball of cuddly fur that grew into a mess making ball of energy.

People say getting a dog is like a ‘practice run’ or a ‘replacement baby’. There is a lot of truth in that, but there is one big difference that I think needs to be pointed out:

Dogs learn to obey. Children should not.

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: MUMMIFY AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN (APPLE)

Mummification is a great science and history lesson if you are willing to venture into the grim topic of death with your tots. Plus, it’s surprising less complicated than you might think:

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First pick an apple. We are lucky enough to have a very prolific crabapple tree, however if your apples are full sized you may wish to quarter the apple for a speedier result.

Once your apple is selected, carve a face in the skin (for ease we used toothpicks to carve ours).

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Grab the scales and measure some bicarbonate soda. (The exact amount you need will depend on how many apples you are covering, how large the apples are and how small the cups you are placing them are.) we used 140g of bicarbonate soda (as it was an easy number to multiply) and this covered 3 crabapples in coffee shot cups.

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Once you know how much bicarbonate soda you have, add twice as much cooking salt (the ratio of 1bicarb:2salt is a good one to work out with the kids – for our 140g of bicarbonate soda we added 280g of salt.)

Mix well. Then place your carved apple in the cup and cover in your powdery mixture.

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We also carved a second apple as a control for our experiment. This one will sit in another cup next to the covered apple (and will likely start to rot, while the salted apple dries out.)

Leave on the bench uncovered for about 10 days and then assess what has happened to each apple.

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You may wish to visit the real Egyptian mummy at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery while you wait for your apple to mummify. (While other little girls love the butterfly’s displayed in the central gallery, my girls stand next to them pointing at the casket in the dark and announce with pride that ‘there is a dead mummy in there!’ We have had a bit of explaining to do when other kids are with us…)

Here’s a brief history you may wish to share with your tots as you go through this process. (As always, if they have questions make a point of finding the more detailed information together, it is better to model the methods for finding out than to always know the answers!)

Back before the time of the pyramids it is believed that the Egyptians berried their dead in the hot desert sands and the bodies would dry out. At the time this was thought to be good because it was important to the Egyptians that the body remained intact… but there was a problem with wild animals eating the dead bodies (yuck!). It was decided to place the dead in cases so the animals couldn’t dig them up and eat them. This stopped the animals, but meant the body decayed in the box, rather than drying out. Because the Egyptians believed it was important to preserve the body after death they began to dry out the bodies – before burying them. Over time this developed into the sacred art of mummification. It was later that the Egyptians built huge pyramids to house the mummified bodies of their rulers.

A fun fact is that the Egyptians discarded the brain, during the mummification process, but kept the heart – thinking the heart was the organ responsible for thought, and like many religions today; only a pure heart would be allowed into the afterlife.

Now, as I have talked about before, (without my promoting) my kids think about far death more than I expect is average, and this is why I am happy to venture into this topic (to normalise something they already think about.) If you feel this kind of information is not beneficial for your young people, or that it will raise issues that they are not ready to process, then simply save it for another age. Otherwise, happy mummifying!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: ANCIENT EGYPTIAN JEWELS WITH BUTTONS

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Here’s a little activity to make your children more attractive to the gods!

It is believed that in ancient Egypt both men and women of all classes wore as much jewelry as they could afford. This was to show their wealth and status, but also because they thought it would make them more attractive to the gods.

We’re not quite up for working with real gold in our family (as the upper classes wore) or even copper (as the Middle classes wore) and while we probably could try our hand at a little bead work (as the lower classes wore) we thought we’d shake up history and make some historically inaccurate collars from paper plates, buttons, sequins and glue.

If you are keen to read a very brief overview of Egyptian fashion before you start, I suggest this link.

Then grab your supplies:

  • Paper plate
  • Any items to be ‘gemstones and jewels’ (Ie buttons, sequins, stickers, glitter, macaroni etc)
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • (Paints, pencils etc optional)

Cut a ‘neck sized’ off-center hole in your paper plate, with a cut across at the narrowest part. (This cut is the back of the collar, and will allow the collar to open and fit over the head). Test that it fits the young royals neck before you proceed. (This way they will better understand the finished result before they start decorating.)

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Sit the plate upside down on the work bench and cover in glue.

Decorate as you wish and allow to dry. Wear your creation with pride.

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Of course each child approached this differently; Evie was all about the pattern, Elka was totally into buttons etc. this variation is healthy, and also a good reason to leave any exact ‘how to’ demonstrations out of the picture to avoid mimicry.

You can expand your collection of jewels by creating an arm cuff (toilet tube is perfect) or even a cardboard headdress.

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With all these supplies on hand some of your tots might not be keen to make jewelry, and if they are inspired to create something else than that is even better- let them go forth and create! (Roman had many plans of what he could make, and in the end he chose to create an electronic button disk instead of an Egyptian collar – love the way this guy thinks!)

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PRINTABLE FOR A DIY EGG STORY!

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We were lucky enough to find a fresh chicken egg in our friends new chicken coup, but chickens aren’t the only ones who lay eggs.

First lets talk a little about the magic of finding an egg: Even as an adult, I am swept with joy if I find a little eggshell left behind by a wren. The whole prep class was mesmerised when a girl bought in a sharks egg that she had found. And, there is nothing quite like collecting chicken eggs. The other day we were introduced to our friends new pets: 3 stunning young chickens who (to our collective delight) had produced an egg! The girls took turns nursing the treasured egg all the way home, and tomorrow morning it will be used to make a small batch of our traditional celebration food: pancakes.

Birds eggs in themselves are a structural marvel. Calcium formed so perfectly that it is strong from the outside (particularly to vertical pressure) and weak from the inside (so that the small and weak new creature can break free with relative ease). Not only this, but all eggs contain everything the little creature needs to develop (regardless of what species – platypus, lizard, frog, shark or chicken!) they are amazing, and a marvel well worth sharing with your young ones.

This is a great free printable for you to create your own ‘Brown Bear’ inspired story. (And if your young literary nuts are anything like mine, you can probably recite ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’ backwards, while sleeping – yes, that book it well worn!)

Each page is designed by Mrs Wills Kindergarten so your tot can depict their own creature that starts life as an egg. Obviously the template isn’t necessarily the exact shape of a frogs egg, or a turtle egg etc. but the joy of making a little book  with the freedom to decide what will be included (rather than proscribed by the egg shape) makes up for this in my opinion.

If you are up for a full afternoon of craft you may like to layer tissue paper to create your works (Eric Carl style) or alternatively simply hand over a biro and your little artist can complete the book at the kitchen table while dinner is on!

SHOULD YOU STAY HOME WITH KIDS? REFLECTIONS ON MOTHERHOOD.

As I lay here listening to the secret footsteps preparing mothers day I thought I’d take the chance to reflect on motherhood for me: Address the advantages and disadvantages of choosing to be a stay at home parent during your children’s early years:

(Note that when I refer to ‘motherhood’, you can read ‘fatherhood’ or ‘stay at home grandparent’ etc – each of these have their unique relationship to the situation, but the situation is uniting. I am simply referring to ‘motherhood’ as it is my own experience.)

Motherhood is famous for being isolating (understandably: leaving your friends and colleges in order to stay at home and watch a little person who controls your every move can make you feel removed from the adult world that was once your home).

Personally I didn’t experience much isolation. Indeed (in a general sense) most of the connections and friendships that I formed with other parents after having children are probably stronger, more intimate, bonds than I had with my most of my work life friends. I found the commonality of having a little person controlling your life actually made parents more inclined to connect with each other at a deeper level. Of course, there are days when you are trapped at home with a child who is too sick and contagious for you to do anything, but these moments pass. Even now, standing in a park with my child playing independently I find myself making friends with the parents around me. It is not an intentional search for company, but rather – it would be ridiculous to stand next to someone for a couple of hours while our kids play and not talk to each other! I have met some of the most inspiring friends being a parent.

Gallery going becomes more of a question of finding a good gallery cafe, and interacting with your kids in a gallery setting rather than any deep appreciation for the works.

Motherhood is linked with loss of identity. (Leavening a well designed life and career of respect, to wipe bottoms and wear only jeans with glue and banana smeared on them.) Having been well respected and known in my previous life, I did notice this but for me it manifested initially as a frustration at the lack of time I had to live both lives. (As I mentioned before, due to flexible hours both my husband and I continued to work full time while caring for our first child full time, until our second was born when I took leave to stay at home.)

Once I chose to leave the workforce to care for my kids I initially felt quite empowered by the decision. Turning down well paid jobs (or referring work elsewhere) in order to spend quality time with my children meant that I knew I was needed in both worlds, and that I was choosing which one to spend this part of my life.

Travel with children is harder work, but it gives you the ultimate excuse to do things you wouldn’t otherwise have done. I could traveling with my kids to have so much more joy and purpose than traveling ever had before.

It was only when my children were a little older, and I considered going back to the workforce that I realized I had lost much of my identity as a worker. In an electronic since I have almost entirely vanished (when you Google my name there are no longer pages and pages of awards and media content about my career – all this content has expired over my time away parenting, only leaving the less impressive LinkedIn, Facebook etc). My work experience has frozen in time (technologies have changed, my connections have moved on, organizations have been born and others have died, funding has changed and things that I used to advise on have entirely different sets of criteria.) These are obviously things I can re-learn, re-forge a reputation etc, but it wasn’t until I had already taken time away from my work life that I realized the real extent of how that would effect my career. I had imagined that (having build my career at an early age to the point most people are 5-10 year my senior) that I could take 5 years off and still be in a good position – sort of returning to where I should be for my biological age! Instead I still have historical achievements under my belt, but I need to re-build from a far lower position than I hoped to return to.

It is widely believed at you bond more intimately with your children when you spend more time with them. This indeed is true, but not all the time is spent bonding. I love sitting on the couch at lunch time with a chopping board full of various snacks and a pile of kids books. Most days we’ll eat a lunch or afternoon tea in this way and it is a habit I look forward to, even on the tricky-everyone-is-screaming days. In this delightful moment I feel secure that I am nurturing my children (both nutritionally and mentally!) and I feel appreciated by my children as they snuggle in closer and look forward to taking turns choosing the next book from the pile. However this picture of parenting bliss is balanced by me spending a good deal of my life cleaning (not to have a spotless house, just a functionally clear one) and while I know my children love me, they do bark a lot of demands in my direction that (after about a month of it) can seem less than affectionate!

Renovation with kids is a challenge (and a half!), but the degree of satisfaction if you can simply build do something that lasts more than a few moments when you have kids (like just hang a picture or build some shelves) is so immense that is will keep you feeling a sense of achievement for about a week afterwards.

I had not planned to be a cleaner, errand runner, mediation councilor – but being the person at home I spend a lot of time filling this role. On the flip side I have far more picnics, conversation and cuddles than ever before.

Being a mother was an active choice for me, and while I still take the bait if anyone insinuates someone is ‘just a mother’ (indicating to me that I still feel the need to prove the value of my choice!) I think the way I am spending my one chance at life is ultimately fulfilling.

I may feel trapped when I just want to go for a jog (but the children are too snotty to sit in a cold pram) I may feel like I have lost my former self when I drop my husband at a swanky work do (and leave him there to drive home with the kids in my banana covered puffer jacket!) but I also feel connected when I make friends at a kids party and swap numbers, I feel valued when my kids bring home pictures of me gardening with them saying ‘well done’ in a badly written little speech bubble. And I feel loved as my children tip toe around the house making me a surprise treasure hunt for Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone!