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Preparing children for starting school - the humble puzzle!

3/19/2018

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January 29th is National Puzzle Day.
Jigsaw puzzles are often an underrated resource that has particular benefit for children who are starting primary school. They help children develop physical, cognitive and emotional skills. These skills are crucial in helping children to achieve a flying start to their education.
So how do these skills benefit children within the classroom environment?
Physical Skills
As children flip, turn and remove pieces of the jigsaw, they are refining their hand to eye coordination and developing the muscles in their hands and fingers, thereby improving their fine motor skills. These skills are crucial for drawing and learning to write. Floor puzzles which have larger pieces foster gross motor development including coordination and balance as children move around the puzzle to select pieces and fit them into place. Good gross motor skills are needed for children to navigate the classroom successfully and achieve independence.
Cognitive Skills (ability to communicate, think, and problem solve).
Jigsaws give children one of their first experiences of shape, from recognising the shape required and finding the corresponding piece that fits. Adults can informally use the language of colour, shape and size whilst supporting children which is an important element of early number. Equally this process requires memory skills as children have to recall the size, colour and shape of pieces. Memory is crucial when children are learning to read and write.
Puzzles teach children problem solving and logical thinking. The first goal is to solve the puzzle, the next goal is a series of strategies to solve the puzzle. Problem solving and critical thinking skills contribute to children’s learning, independence and confidence. In addition children develop resilience if they encounter difficulty and then persist to complete the puzzle.
Puzzles offer adults the opportunity to increase the vocabulary of the child through discussion of the picture and tactics. Working with others to complete a jigsaw encourages communication and can help strengthen relationships. Language and communication skills are key to learning, making friends and being independent.
Emotional skills
Slowly working through a puzzle teaches children patience, perseverance and resilience and they are rewarded on completion of the picture which gives them a sense of achievement. All of these skills contribute to a child’s self-esteem.
Puzzle building develops many aspects of the characteristics of learning targeted in the first year of school.
So there you have it - a one-stop cognitive development and character building activity all in a box!
The next time you share a puzzle consider our top 5 tips
·        Choose jigsaws that suitably challenge your child’s ability
·        As the adult model little tricks and tips such as sorting the corners first, colour / pattern matching
·        Talk about the finished image
·        Revisit favourite puzzles to build confidence and independence
·        Try creating your own puzzles from old birthday cards and pictures of favourite characters
 
 

 

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Fine motor skill development -Finger play fun!

3/19/2018

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Any activity that involves using fingers develops hand to eye coordination and develops the muscles in hands and fingers, thereby improving fine motor skills. Children need to develop good fine motor skills so that they can manage their zips and buttons when getting dressed, use cutlery, cut with scissors and begin drawing and writing.
Colouring in, threading and lacing activities are often undervalued but are in fact really valuable for improving children’s hand to eye co-ordination and fine motor skills. They require no special resources and can be fun activities to do at home.
Colouring in
So what are the benefits?
·       Hand and eye coordination are developed as children are required to colour within a specific area and hold the crayon in a comfortable grip. Sharpening their own crayons can further develop this skill.
·       Fine motor control which are necessary for children to manipulate the crayon on the paper. The muscle control and dexterity they develop will help when children start to participate in mark making and early writing.
·       Concentration and patience are both needed to complete a colouring. Children can return repeatedly to a favourite colouring sheet building up the time spent on it and completing it over a period of time. Once a sheet is completed children can experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
·       Knowledge can be extended if colouring sheets can be tailored towards a particular interest or topic.
·       Children can experience patterns, colours and shapes within their colouring and an interested adult can use this opportunity to introduce a range of vocabulary and concepts to the child within a relaxed and fun context. So colouring can help children develop their language skills and early concepts.
·       Confidence and self-esteem can be boosted as children's skills improve and they experience a sense of accomplishment.
·       Opportunities for creativity and self-expression as children select colours and add embellishments. They may also create stories around the picture that they are colouring.


Sewing, Threading and Lacing
There are many variations of this activity that can be used to widen the scope of learning.
·       Try threading with beads, buttons, coloured pasta shapes, Cheerios or sections of drinking straws to make necklaces and garlands. A pipe cleaner provides an alternative to a string and is a more stable threading tool for younger children.
·       Use a lacing card and thread string in and out of the holes. These lacing cards are easy to make using your own picture such as a cut-out birthday card and a hole punch.
·       Threading beads onto a string provides the opportunity to introduce children to colour names, counting, concepts and the language of pattern, size, shape and matching.
·       Try putting the letters of your child’s name onto beads and then using a threading activity to order and name the sound.
 
Enjoy and have fun together!
For more tips and ideas join our ‘Starting BIG school in September’ Facebook group
 

 

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Food glorious food!

3/19/2018

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Morning snack
Reception classes incorporate a snack as part of their daily routine. Snack time is a social occasion which encourages sharing and gives children the opportunity to sample fruit and vegetables they may not have tasted before. Some schools will offer whole fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, small apples and carrots.
Next time you offer a healthy fruit snack at home
·        Encourage your child to eat a whole small piece of fruit
·        Practise peeling bananas and satsumas independently to exercise fine motor control
·        Talk about how the fruit looks, tastes, smells and feels
And the ultimate treat…visit the local fruit market together to explore the variety of fruit available and let your little one select a range to make a simple fruit salad. Invest in a child friendly safety knife and have fun chopping, halving and peeling together.
 
Fingers to forks
Staying for a school lunch can be a great opportunity for socialising with a range of different aged children and trying new tastes and textures of food. Schools have their own tried and tested methods of delivering lunches to the children in their care which may not be the same as the ones adopted in your home. For example some schools use flight trays and children collect their food from a hatch. In many schools the main savoury course is served alongside the sweet course and in these schools children are encouraged to eat the savoury element before the sweet.
When little ones start school they will be expected to use a knife and fork for their main course and a spoon for dessert so it is well worth mastering this skill well in advance.
This skill may not seem like a big milestone, but children need to get to grips with a whole range of essential skills before they can move on from sticky fingers to cutlery, including hand-eye co-ordination, body stability and stamina and visual perception.
Once children get the hang of self-feeding using a spoon, introduce a fork for stabbing and spearing food to use together with the spoon.
Knives are trickier to master for little ones so introduce them gradually. Soft foods like scrambled egg or mashed potato are ideal for initial practise.
Always begin with safe toddler knives, there’s a great range of fun and friendly designs now on the market to help progress this skill.
Encourage little ones to practise knife skills by helping you in the kitchen - buttering toast, chopping soft fruits and vegetables like bananas. Play dough activities are a fun way to practise manual dexterity with tools by cutting, spearing and chopping.
Always remember that learning to use cutlery, as with any skill, can vary widely from child to child, so be patient and be prepared for plenty of mess along the way.

Jon Stoney