We hope you’re enjoying the brisk sunny days and cooler nights this time of year brings - a lovely change from the scorching summers we can get here in Australia! This month we’re educating you on the difference between gross motor skills and fine motor skills, and explaining why they’re both an incredibly important part of early childhood development. Read on!
Topic of the month - The big winter activity check-list for families.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather… only unsuitable clothing”. A positive mindset to focus on throughout the winter months when cooler days can make us believe that activity options are greatly diminished.
Places like Scandinavia and Romania are known for their forest schools, where the entire day is run outdoors. They continue this throughout snowy winters with temperatures in the minus figures, where children even rug-up cosily and sleep outside. Why? Because the physical and mental health benefits of fresh air and being outdoors outweigh the inconvenience of being cold.
In Australia, most of us experience much milder winters, often with gloriously sunny days scattered throughout. So how can we ensure we’re making the most of this time, with a great balance of cosy indoor activities and outdoor adventures? We’ve put together a checklist to keep you on track with winter-appropriate activities and child-friendly adventures for your family, because let’s be honest… children don’t hibernate just because the calendar says it’s winter. They continue to buzz and bounce all year long. Let’s keep them active!
Explore - Your favourite outdoor places are often amazing all year round. Just because you might not be able to swim at the beach, lake or river in the middle of July, doesn’t mean that you can’t gather river stones, collect driftwood or build vast sandcastles with turrets and moats. Set challenges for them to find the most shells. Bring some binoculars to bird watch, or if you’re on the coast keep an eye out for whales as winter is when they migrate! Embrace the winter, just pack extra towels or bring a waterproof jacket for warmth.
Go swimming… indoors! - Just because the weather is cooler doesn’t mean your child needs to miss out on the joy of swimming. Find an indoor pool or aquatic centre in your area - some offer slides, rapids and great preschooler water-play areas. Relax in the temperature-controlled waters and make a day of it!
Visit the zoo - Often summertime at the zoo equals crowds and sweltering heat, which can mean it’s not always the most pleasant family day out. Avoid the queues and make the most of the cooler days with unobstructed views of the animals, and a more leisurely pace as you stroll amongst the exhibits, simply by visiting during the winter months.
Discover your local wetlands - Introduce your family to the local birds and plants of your area by visiting the closest wetlands. There are great photo opportunities and usually there is fascinating information about the variety of flora and fauna that surround you. Sometimes you’re able to feed the ducks too.
Message stones - Join the wave of people creating message stones. Bright, beautiful and made to uplift, inspire and motivate. Decorate with quotes, pictures or words - the choice is yours - then secretly hide them around your local neighbourhood for others to discover and be delighted by. Using paint or markers, get creative with your child and brighten a stranger’s day!
Host an outdoor playgroup - Invite some friends to join you and start an outdoor playgroup. Get each friend to suggest an activity - like a nature scavenger hunt - or favourite destination to visit every week then all participate together. Your child will have fun socialising with their friends and if everyone brings something small to contribute for morning tea, you’ll have a picnic to enjoy.
Bubble baths - If you have a bathtub, this is absolutely the season to make the most of it. Whether it’s adding a few drops of food colouring and lots of bubbles to make bathtime a fun activity for your child - or waiting until they’ve gone to bed then luxuriating the evening away with a hot bath and your favourite candle, both are options you should repeat all winter long.
Winter-themed craft - A day of crafting is just what’s needed at times. Be inspired by the cooler weather and use the opportunity to get creative with this selection of winter craft activities. You can even use the opportunity to open a conversation with your child about the seasons, and note the differences between winter and summer. Lots of great vocabulary can be introduced too… chilly, frost, temperature, etc!
Roast marshmallows over a fire pit - Often Aussie summers bring fire bans as everything is just that bit too dry. Winter brings perfect cool evenings to snuggle up around a fire pit - either in your backyard, or at a camping/picnic site. Keep your children close, and a safe distance back from the fire while you share with them the joy a melted marshmallow can bring! There’s also the added bonus that nighttime falls earlier in the winter months so you can get started earlier and it won’t interfere with bed time!
Family movie night - Gather all your cosiest blankets, pop some popcorn, pick a classic family movie and get all the family to join you. Turn it into an event by having your child decorate some tickets to the show beforehand.
Hiking - Often, if you do a little research you’ll find there are child-friendly hikes to be found everywhere. Depending on the age of your little one, this could mean a lap of the local wildflower garden - pram or no pram! If they’re up for a bigger challenge and you want to add in some gentler slopes or chances to see a beautiful view! We recommend you start with the Parks and Wildlife service in your state. This link is for Tassie, but any search engine will guide you to your own state’s service. Don’t forget to pack water and remember phone reception can be scarce, so tell someone where you’re headed to as a precaution
Make a blanket fortress - One of the true joys of childhood. Dragging every pillow, blanket, chair, teddy & torch to one designated area in the house and creating a master hide-away! Snuggle and hangout, read books, enjoy some cheeky snacks, play pretend, or even sleepout for the night!
Winter dough - Playdough is a winner in all seasons and a favourite activity in an educator's portfolio as it strengthens small hands and wrists with its intuitive fine motor exercises (think squeezing, rolling, moulding, rolling), plus it’s a wonderful sensory activity. Plus you can get really creative and make the dough in different themes to represent different aspects of winter. For example -
Dough coloured with blue food colouring with some added drops of peppermint essence can represent an icy small world. Add a few Antarctic animals, like penguins and seals, for hours of enjoyable play.
To represent the cosier side of winter, make dough in warm flame-like tones using red, orange and yellow colouring to create a bonfire feel. Choose to add warm spices like cinnamon or allspice, scents that evoke feelings of snuggling up on a winter’s evening.
Bake - The ultimate cooler weather activity… baking! Whether it’s cupcakes, cookies, gingerbread, or grandma’s secret recipe, make this a family activity to enjoy together. All that stirring and mixing is great for fine motor honing and strengthening little wrists… plus there’s the bonus of licking a beater or the even bigger prize at the end… afternoon tea is sorted! Here are some easy baking recipes to get started!
Have a family pyjama day - Pick a revolting day. One where the wind is lashing and it’s raining so hard you can’t even get to the letterbox without getting drenched. Choose that day to say no to the outdoors. Instead, announce that it’s P.J’s day and invite everyone to snuggle indoors, in their favourite cosy pyjamas, all day long.
Wildflower seedbombs - Originally these were the invention of guerilla gardeners in big, concrete-filled cities. They wanted to plant some beauty, but couldn’t due to strict rules and regulations, so they created wildflower seedbombs to throw clandestinely onto vacant lots or areas that needed an injection of nature and colour! Incredibly easy, fun and messy to make (so your child should love them!), all you need is a big plastic tub to mix everything in, some air dry clay, potting soil, native/local wildflower seeds and a little water to make the mixture easier to combine. You’ll want 4-parts clay to 1-part potting soil, add the seeds and a splash of water, then mix everything up with your hands until you get a sticky, dough-like consistency. Roll each ball into an approximate golf ball size and place in a sunny spot until the balls completely dry out. Finally, pick your destination to drop your seedbomb and wait for the results. Ideally they’ll need some water and sunshine. Seedbombs make great, earth-friendly, gifts too!
Visit a winter wonderland - If you’re not one of the lucky ones that live in an area where it snows, don’t despair, you can experience this wondrous phenomenon - sometimes even in the middle of a city! Do a little research to find a winter wonderland event your family could visit - some families may even choose to make a holiday of it! A few known winter wonderland options are hosted at Hunter Valley Gardens in the NSW Hunter Valley, and both Canberra and Sydney host winter festivals which have included ice-skating rinks set-up in the centre of the city, welcoming families with young children to experience skating, snow flurries, ice sculptures and more! So rug-up and enjoy the great outdoors in all its icy glory!
Build a nest - Building a bird’s nest is a great STEM challenge (Science/ Technology/ Engineering/ Maths) for children which will get them thinking creatively and applying imagination to science! Begin with a nature walk to collect items a bird might use when building a nest. Twigs, leaves, moss or dried grass, bark, small branches and feathers (available in craft shops if you can’t find them in nature) are all great building materials. Ideally, make sure the items are dry, then create a circular shape with twigs and grass, weaving in some feathers and leaves so that there’s a cosy space for a bird to rest and lay its eggs. Here’s a short documentary-style clip of a bird building her nest - opening a great discussion to have with your child about how birds create their nests without the use of hands!
Frozen suncatchers - Forage in your local park or back garden to find a selection of beautiful winter leaves, berries and flowers to create a magical winter-themed suncatcher. Fill a plate, shallow bowl or empty yoghurt container lid with water and lay out your selection of natural treasures. If you live in an area that gets super cold, you can choose to leave your suncatcher outside overnight to freeze, otherwise, pop it into the freezer for a few hours for the same sparkly effect. Once frozen, gently remove from the mould and hold it up against the sun to see the magic.
Catch a movie - There’s nothing as fun as a trip to the cinema. Sure, you can go all year round, but it’s even better if it’s a miserable day, and you can stay warm and dry inside with your little one and catch the latest movie. If you have smaller children, look for the mums-and-bubs sessions that are offered in many places now. You’ll likely relax more if you’re not stressed about your little one disturbing other people.
Go to a sports match - Winter sport is a tradition in Australia. Children as young as five play in organised sport, each weekend through the winter months. Everything from netball to soccer, rugby and AFL. If you have a friend or family member you can support, go along to one of their matches and cheer them on. If not, who cares, go along anyway! You may be laying the groundwork of a passion for your child, just by letting them start as a spectator.
Snail-mail - Write to a friend in the old-fashioned, traditional sense of writing. Let your child help compile the words and decorate the letter with some beautiful arty additions, then venture to the post office together to buy a stamp and post your package to someone special. Brighten someone’s day - snail-mail is a rare treat these days!
Outdoor noughts and crosses - Create an outline of your board with pebbles/sticks on grass (or chalk on concrete) in a nine-square grid pattern. Use pinecones for noughts and two sticks tied in the centre with garden twine to create crosses and it’s game on! If you pack everything into a cardboard box afterwards, you can play a re-match at any time.
Make a scrapbook - Scrapbooking is a popular pastime for many people, some who have turned it into quite an art form using stamps, stickers and fancy paper. Use this to inspire a family scrapbooking project that your child can decorate. Include favourite photos, family members and loved pets. Add notes to remember each person’s favourite interests and hobbies. A special book of memories for visitors to flick through on your coffee table, as a gift for grandparents, or for you all to look back on fondly in future years. If you want a little guidance, here’s a how-to-scrapbook guide.
Family games night - Who doesn’t love games night?! Easy fun and also a great way to introduce children to the concepts of winning and losing - or more importantly - trying your best and being a “good sport”, which is not always an easy lesson! Depending on your child’s age, there really is a game suitable for everyone. Hungry Hippos or Guess Who are great for younger children, moving onto old favourites like Monopoly or Pictionary as they grow. Consider teaming up adults with children if they need a little support. Some fantastic educational options are available, like Scrabble for literacy or Rummikub for numeracy. Your child might really surprise you with their vision!
So now you’re armed with a stack of ideas, run them by your family members and get cracking! Or even better, put the activity suggestions into a bucket and pull them out at random. Whether it’s one a week or one a day, you’ll definitely be making the most of winter!
0-12 month development
Baby poo: Everything you ever wanted to know
Author: Brooke Tasovac
Whether this is your first or second time being a mother, what is happening in your baby’s digestive system can be a confusing question. It can be difficult for mothers to tell when things are not normal.
As verified by Dr Scott Dunlop, a consultant paediatrician and the founder and director of Sydney Paediatrics, many things can affect a baby’s bowel movements. This ranges from whether breastmilk or formula should be given, through to changes caused by teething or sickness.
Babies’ bowel movements can differ in colour, odour, consistency, and frequency each day depending on their diets.
In this day and age, Ready-to-eat (RTE) foods for children are increasingly diverse with reasonable prices. However, the abuse of additives, as well as food hygiene and safety issues are of special concern to mothers.
Moreover, with the growing problems of childhood obesity and allergies, it is not surprising that most mothers are joining the trend to return to home-cooked baby food.
Brisbane mums have expressed their opinions and shared their experiences explaining why they have turned to homemade food for their families. It is not only about choosing the healthiest option, but also an awesome way to express your love.
In addition to a suitable diet, sleep is an important part of a child's daily routine. Mothers need to take make nap time a priority, as daily naps help children develop.
Although naps only last in a few hours, they can help make up for any nighttime sleep shortages. Even a one-hour shortage in overall sleep hours can negatively affect a child. A short nap can improve a child’s mood and reduce fussiness, crying, whining, and tantrums
However, your toddler can still fight naptime for a variety of reasons, making it difficult for parents to incorporate sleep into their children’s daily routines.
Teaching children manners is a process. It is not easy and will take years before your child masters manners. However, manners become increasingly important around the age of three, when toddlers begin preschool, start attending playdates and joining the birthday party circuit.
Most parents begin by teaching their children to say “please” and “thank you”. Although this is a great start, you will need to teach your child how to behave in a variety of settings and circumstances.
One tactic is to avoid lectures. Instead of engaging in long-winded explanations, use short, simple sayings such as ‘inside voices’ to get your point across.
Read on to learn exactly how you can teach your children manners.
A recent study, conducted by Dr Treiman and published in the journal Child Development, investigated how writing skills develop. It showed that children usually start to develop writing skills as early as three years old.
Learning to write starts the very first time a baby grasps something with his/her hands. This learning process accelerates when a child begins to understand the link between crayons and the lines they create on a page.
This is a long learning process that takes patience and determination. However, you can help your child by introducing writing and drawing at an early age. Furthermore, free play and exploring the world is also said to help children develop writing skills.
A rainbow-coloured cat seems like something out of a dream. However, your child can design a pretty, rainbow-coloured feline on their own. It is especially suited for pre-school children as it allows them to practice their motor skills. Let your children design and decorate their slinky cats.
Making 3D hot air balloons is a great way to encourage your children to tap into their creativity. The template makes this craft especially easy for children, who will be required to engage their fine motor skills while cutting, tracing, folding and sticking. Furthermore, these colourful hot ait balloons are useful. They can be used to decorate your children’s bedrooms or playroom.
Help your children make bookmarks with nothing but coloured paper, washi tape and ribbons. They can be used for their storybooks or even as a personal, handcrafted gift. To complete this craft, your children will need to have mastered colouring, glueing and cutting.
Read on to learn exactly how to make these adorable Flower Bookmarks.
Paper Quilling Flowers
Use nothing but paper to create intricate flowers. This more complex craft requires one to roll and shaping paper. Although quilling flowers look simple enough, they are tricky to make. For that reason, this craft will be more suitable for slightly older children (from 4 years old). And even they may need your help.