Early years love faces! Babies especially love the faces of their parents and caregivers, but they also enjoy seeing all types of faces whether they are in books, faces of friendly visitors, or you guessed it – in the mirror!
Mirrors are a great way to help early years explore. They may even reach out to touch the “baby” in the mirror. Eventually, they will learn they are seeing their own face and start to recognize their reflection.
While looking in the mirror with your early years, you can use this chance to help develop their vocabulary and understanding that they are an individual! Say the different parts of the face as you point to them on your face and their face and use teddy and dolls too.
A mirror is also a great way for early years to practice visual tracking. Make silly faces at baby in the mirror and see if they imitate you or make a different face back. Get siblings involved too for fun, bonding time! Use hats and dress up.
Using Mirrors in creative play as a base for play dough, painting, drawing and small world play offer plenty of opportunities to explore and investigate the environments, but also provide added interest to other traditional elements of play.
Dolls are some of the oldest toys that children have ever played with. Their earliest use was documented in Greece around 100 AD. There’s good reason for these toys to be so long lasting through human history. They are a representation of the child themselves, and allow for a child to gain a greater understanding of themselves as well as those around them.
While traditional gender roles dictate that dolls are a toy mainly for girls, playing with dolls can provide important growth for children, regardless of gender. Here’s how playing with dolls can help you child’s development:
Playing with dolls solidifies social skills that are gained in a child’s early developmental years. When children play house, they learn to communicate with one another kindly and cooperate. By taking care of a doll, they learn how to take care of one another.
By learning important social skills at an early age, children are learning responsibility as well. They learn how to take care of a doll by playing with it. Learning this skill can help children learn to care for their pets, or older siblings more readily understand how to care of their younger siblings.
Empathy & Compassion
Another important social skill that children learn when playing with dolls is how to process emotions such as empathy and compassion. Just like caring for their doll teaches responsibility, it teaches them to empathize with those around them and allows them to grow up into caring people.
Dramatic play, the kind of play that happens when children play with dolls, helps develop a child’s imagination as they encounter creative, imagined scenarios with their dolls and other children.
Playing with dolls as well as their friends, children run into new and unique situations for their games. Communicating between one another can strengthen their vocabulary by filling it with practical language. By communicating in this way with their friends, children gain insight into home routines that may be different from their own. In this way they discover the world around them.
Set the dolls and teddy out in play instruments, read to them, eat with them and share with them.
Giving children a puppet to engage with, act on behalf of, and talk to can do wonders for their confidence.
For many children who aren’t yet fully comfortable opening up with other children or teachers, a puppet can be a great middle-man. They can really explore ideas of role play with them, taking on new personalities, and sharing stories and ideas. For many reasons, a puppet can often feel more trustworthy than one of their peers.
There is a huge range of effects that puppetry can have on emotional development.
They’re able to use the puppets to rehearse strategies and ideas that they don’t feel ready to try out in the real world. They’ll follow storylines through and try out different endings to see how they work out. It’s a great way of exploring different types of interactions
They’re also brilliant for developing empathy. A puppet can have a wide range of emotions and children can learn how to deal with their own emotions by comforting the puppets. It can also teach them to recognise and support other children who might be having difficulty too.
Be aware of puppets as a non-judgemental figure for children. If a child is still developing how they share their feelings with others, sometimes it might feel easier to share them with a puppet than with a friend or teacher. You can learn a lot from these interactions.
Make sure that you go through a range of emotions with your own puppetry. It can help the children to recognise and empathise with those same emotions in other children as well as in themselves.
That’s why using puppets can be particularly effective – giving the children the ability to hide behind a puppet and express themselves through it can be a great way to get them to talk more regularly
What’s more, listening and engaging with teacher/parent-led puppetry and the role plays put on by other children, can be a great way to develop their understanding and
Make sure there’s plenty of action in your puppetry, and that the content is relevant from the actions too. This can help the children to get the whole picture even if they don’t always understand the words that you’re using.
With puppetry, children are able to immerse themselves in a completely new world.
They are accessing different characters, different personalities, and challenging themselves to think imaginatively about how other people might react. In essence, puppetry is the perfect blank canvas.
Get the children involved in creating the puppets too. It’s great for their craft and motor skills and they’ll feel more involved with the character that they’ve created.
Make sure that you give the children a chance to play with the puppets too as well as engage in teacher/parent-led storytelling. Once you give them the tools to get their creative juices going, their brains can run wild.
This gives the children a chance to explore new personalities, new ideas, and develop their creative imagination
It’s natural for children to be drawn to this type of play, and that’s why puppets can be so powerful. They’re a great vehicle for role play, and offer children a blank canvas to explore new ideas.
They’re also invaluable for children who lack a little confidence in their role play and can be a great entry-level for children who are keen but perhaps a little shy.
When you’re putting on puppet shows for the children yourself, it’s a great opportunity to model behaviour. This might be about how to play with others fairly, how to work together, or how to help out other children who are struggling.
Teaching them behaviour by modelling it on something they’re more familiar and closely connected to, like a puppet, is bound to be more effective than trying to dictate behaviour or even modelling it yourself as the teacher.
Given that many children are so highly engaged by the puppets, they can also be very useful for transitions and certain changes. Bring out Croc the Cook before lunch or The Big Grizzly Cleaning Bear when it’s time to tidy up and you’ll get the children’s attention much more easily.
The puppets can be comforting to children who are struggling too. Be aware of what puppets certain children really associate with and bring them out when a child needs to talk or needs some cheering up.
Developing ideas around how to deal with conflict is another skill we can learn from the puppets. Children who might not yet be adept at dealing with difficult situations can learn a lot from trying their ideas out on puppets first.
For one, you can model great conflict resolution ideas through your own puppetry. Once you’ve done that, the children may find that they’re exploring the same themes of conflict resolution in their own role-playing with the puppets, and exploring ideas on how to deal with difficult situations as they go.
Try out a diverse area of disagreements in your own puppetry, through problems with sharing, and arguments about who gets to play what role, up to what to do when the other children don’t want to play your game.
This will also naturally come round to some of the ideas we talked about with emotional development, helping the children to recognise their own feelings and sympathise with others more easily.
They love it!
This is the real clincher. Children just naturally love puppets. It’s something they find engaging, and the role-playing aspect of what’s going on is naturally attractive to them as well.
This is obviously important because you want the children to be having a good time. When they’re having fun, they’re going to be paying attention and learning all the great lessons that they can learn from the puppets.
Be aware that the concept of what’s going on may be lost on some younger children or children with SEN. It also may not be for everyone. Make sure that you’re taking each child into account and not creating an activity that some children are unable to fully take part in.
When you’re doing the puppetry, let the children lead the way and build on their feedback during the performance. Sticking to a tight script or storyline is unlikely to really resonate with them.
For young babies use puppets if possible with faces and moving mouths.
Pass the Bag around
Fill a bag with items and play pass the bag around the adults, siblings, teddy’s and dolls. Sing “Pass the bag around, pass the bag around, If the bag stops with you tell me what you have found?” Each word of the song can be a pass. Each get to take one item out of the bag. The item could lead to a song, story or sensory touch and feel description depending on the age of the child. This activity will help with sharing and patients and anticipating. You can even play this activity over a video call with family and friends and they could have a bag that they can only open when it is their turn.
These kinds of interactions are really important for you as well as your child. They won’t make up for seeing people in real life but they’re a great way to maintain networks of support. And don’t underestimate the benefits for a young baby too: they recognise voices and hearing your conversations will help their language skills.
To get the most out of your long-distance exchanges, plan an activity with your child and build a sense of anticipation beforehand. Preparing and talking about the call is another great conversation opportunity. Get your child excited by asking simple questions like ‘we’re going to ring granny; what do you think she will be wearing? Or ‘what should we sing with her?’.”
And after a call, you can talk about what happened and plan your next one. If you take screenshots during a video chat, you can show your child the pictures afterwards and talk about who you spoke to. Or if your friend or relative did puppet show or told a story, record it and then replay and talk about at bedtime.
Using video chats and picture messaging
One key thing to remember is turn-taking, so there’s no one person doing all the talking, everyone is getting a turn.
In face-to-face conversations we read other person’s facial expressions and body language, which you can’t do as easily during remote chat. So, make sure you pause during the conversation to give your child a chance work to work out what those cues are, which might be more subtle on a screen. And if your child is a reluctant talker or has a stammer, don’t force them to ‘perform’ onscreen. Get them involved non-verbally to start with; you could encourage them to wave rather than talk or sing.
‘What am I?’ game
Ask your caller to pick a prop or object and do a slow reveal to amuse your little one on the call. Show a small amount of the item to the camera and see if they can guess what it is. Then maybe give them a clue and show them a bit more. Children think it’s hilarious when it finally appears on screen. It isn’t just about the prop, it’s about the voice you use, the build-up and anticipation.
This classic party game is ideal for video calls – guess the animal is an easy one – and you can adjust the level of difficulty according to the age of your child. “If they’re under 2, you could use a prop and ask the children to guess from this clue.”
Send photos to family members of the children doing silly things around the house using props and ask them to recreate the scenes. The children love seeing the grown-ups being silly and getting challenges back helps them to still 'play' with family who are far away.
All have the same list of ingredients for a chocolate cake, then each household adds one special ingredient inside and one topper. Have a head chef showing all the children how to make the cake, while adults help with the difficult stuff like the oven. Family members can then safely drop off slices of all of their cakes to the head chef’s house so they can be judged.
Send homemade bingo cards to your loved ones with pictures instead of numbers for younger children and nominate a caller in your group.
Send a list of recycling items ahead of the call and think of a theme, then once everyone’s online, challenge them to make something spectacular and talk about what they’re doing.
Come up with a simple list of things for your callers to find – first person back to the screen with all the items wins the round.
Video call friends or family while you’re on a sensory walk with your little one and talk about what you see and hear. Or record video and pictures on your walk, and do a show and tell session with your friend or family member afterwards.
Send a second copy of our children’s favourite book to their grandparents, and they read it over video call while you read along at home.
Letters and cards
Technology is brilliant but don’t forget the simple joy of drawing a picture, placing it in an envelope and putting it in the post. Encourage friends and family members to write back and create something that your child can understand. They should use very simple words and language, draw pictures, put stickers on the letter. It’s very exciting for a young child to receive a letter with their name on it.
Make handprint flowers, draw pictures together, insert photos, use potato stampers together to personalise the stationery. Enjoy the shared experience; talk about everything you are doing together, the shapes, colours and textures and listen when your child talks back – it’s really great for their language learning.
Children love music, so why not incorporate that interest through singing or playing songs. These songs can involve fun hand gestures that babies can start practicing and later master as toddlers. Children will love hearing a familiar tune, especially coming from a loved one.
Whomever is chatting with your child get them to get moving? The movement will help keep your little one’s attention and provide so many opportunities for doing fun things around the house, like looking at pictures, finding fun objects to tell stories about, playing I Spy, or taking a tour of familiar rooms like the garage or guest room (where your son or daughter likely stays during visits). It’s so much more captivating for your child than simply sitting and talking aimlessly. So ask your chat buddy to pick up that smartphone or tablet and walk around while they narrate.
At Wriggles and Giggles North East we are holding live interactive zoom sessions for 30 minutes every weekday at 10 am. These give your early year’s opportunity to see and hear others and interact in popular action songs and activities that will help with all areas of development as well as regular routine and familiarity building. We also help parents with tips and ideas on parenting techniques and activities to do at home. Videos are also available on the website to watch and interact with at any time. Resource bags are also available to purchase. Face to Face sessions will return soon in the community in Yarm, Stockton, Darlington, Hartburn, Ingleby Barwick & Newton Aycliffe. For more information on joining any of these send us an email or complete a contact form or click on the tabs on our website.