As libraries reopen, the Summer Reading Challenge begins

Local libraries across the UK have begun to reopen as lockdown restrictions, triggered by the pandemic, gradually relax. With this in mind, I began to gather up our library books (those I’d borrowed for Daisy, and my own), ready to return them when I had an opportunity.

As I collected the books together, I reflected that it’s usually through my regular visits that I keep in touch with events at the library, such as children’s reading challenges. It’s around this time of the year that UK libraries bring news of the annual Summer Reading Challenge.

As local libraries reopen, children can begin to enjoy a wider range of books.
Time to get reading!

As I’ve written before, reading challenges are a fantastic way to engage children with library services and it often encourages them to increase their rate of reading. Challenges usually have an eye-catching theme, the opportunity to use stickers to record every book the child has read, and the chance to receive a certificate of achievement for completion. This encourages a steady sense of accomplishment as your child progresses through, and hopefully finishes, the reading challenge.

Given the grim stream of news we’ve endured in recent months, the theme for 2020 is a welcome opportunity to relax and laugh: The Summer Reading Challenge 2020, will “celebrate funny books, happiness and laughter. Children taking part in the Challenge will join the Silly Squad, an adventurous team of animals who love to have a laugh and get stuck into all different kinds of funny books!’

Notably, this year’s Summer Reading Challenge has been set up digitally, to enable children to continue to enjoy books throughout the summer, which is appropriate given the degree to which children and their parents and carers have relied on digital resources during the pandemic. The digital challenge is free to access on the Summer Reading Challenge website. 

There are plenty of ideas for summer reading from ‘silly’ picture books through to books divided into chapters, for primary school aged children who are confident readers. The site gives ideas for how to access the books if you are unable to visit a library.

A parent or carer needs to set up an account for each child. When a child joins the reading challenge, a random screen name is assigned to them – I look forward to hearing what name Daisy receives! 

And to hearing about her first Silly Squad story…

Granny Smith says:

  • Given the stress and uncertainty that the pandemic has caused for families, guiding children to read for pleasure is arguably more important than ever: studies have found that those who read for pleasure are better able to cope with difficult situations; they have higher levels of empathy and greater self-esteem.
  • I’m encouraged that some reopening libraries will be offering ‘Grab & Go’ bags for children. These will contain pre-selected books that can be checked out as a set. On a similar note, check out my post on Story Sacks, these are wonderful resources that allow young readers to enjoy story-based activities.

Expressive Arts & Design

Weaving: a fun, flexible activity for preschoolers

Weaving is a fun, flexible and creative activity for children. Not enough preschoolers are exposed to this simple pastime, which helps to build vital skills that will support development through their early years. The basic skill of weaving will help a child to improve their fine manipulative skills and dexterity. Weaving strengthens the hand muscles and enhances hand and eye coordination.

Whatever the weather, this is a cost-free activity that can not only build creative expression but also foster an appreciation of nature. Best of all, when you complete this activity together, you and your grandchild will have a little work of art to appreciate! 

If a young child has never done any weaving, you should demonstrate it and support them closely at the start of the activity. Let the child make the choices and decisions while you stay on hand to make the activity possible. Keep it simple: at Daisy’s age (three), as she learns the technique of weaving, the language is more of “in and out” rather than “over one and under two,” or other complex weaving patterns. For a very young child, the pure pleasure of weaving comes from exploring the processes rather than completing what an adult would perceive as a ‘finished’ piece of work. 

Weave with lolly sticks, feathers or flowers
What should you use as weaving materials? Some readers may recall completing simple weaving projects during their childhood (perhaps creating narrow strips of fabric or woven paper patterns of weaving) but remember that there are lots of options, depending on your location and the season. Both you and your grandchild should let your imaginations roam!

For example, summer is the perfect time to wander the garden with a basket, collecting blades of grasses, stems, leaves, flower heads and pieces of grown-up pruning. In Autumn the options are no less interesting – why not experiment with dried leaves, feathers or twigs?

In fact, young children will enjoy trying to weave with anything that is available around them. If you’re stuck indoors for any reason, then gather items such as lolly sticks, leaves, ribbons, straws or even pieces of (clean) packaging. The only limitations arise if a piece is too bulky for the loom, but that’s part of the fun; your child will discover these qualities as she learns to weave.

Daisy in the frame
Daisy recently received a weaving frame, which Mummy threaded for her. After a successful trip around the garden in the sunshine, Mummy and Daisy spread out their collection of plant pieces chosen for the activity. Mummy encouraged Daisy to push each piece of material in between the threading on the weaving frame. Daisy was able to experiment with different plants, and Mummy helped her to fill up the frame.

As they worked on the weaving, Mummy and Daisy talked about the colours of the flowers, stems, and leaves, and even the names of flowers – this will help Daisy gradually develop her understanding of the natural world just outside her back door.

Daisy’s robust wooden weaving frame is from Yellow Door, and is available in a variety of shapes and sizes. (There is also a short film demonstrating weaving with this product). However, you can easily create your own simple weaving frame at home using leftover cardboard packaging (an empty cereal box is ideal). You can use a variety of threads on the frame, such as narrow ribbons, different thicknesses of knitting yarn or string/twine. The frame can be threaded up in a random configuration or you can use a more linear design; confident children can help with this process too. 

A homemade weaving frame made from cardboard and green twine

If you want to take a more advanced approach, then for older children you could use twigs and garden pea sticks for impromptu outdoor weaving opportunities. You can even use garden canes to create large pyramid-shaped weaving frames – the possibilities are endless!

Granny Smith says

  • Weaving is a perfect way for children to find out about colours, textures and patterns.
  • Each time a child does some weaving, the design will be unique and they will start to notice as patterns emerge.
  • It can be helpful to take a photograph of the finished frame, so that your grandchild has a record of their work, and so that your frame can be reused
  • Most Early Years activities can be adapted to be completed outdoors, as well as indoors; the key is having the right outfit for the season. During the summer, be sure to find some shade to set up activities and make sure that children have sun cream applied (with an SPF of 50) and are wearing sun hats.

Physical Development

Scooters and balance bikes; directed play for pre-school children

I have had several conversations with family and friends in the past week as we all begin to consider the easing of the lockdown.  Talk quickly turned to the results of our enforced confinement and a positive on which we all agreed was the one hour-a-day outdoor exercise.  It has been a regular opportunity for families to enjoy exercising together.  For pre-school children like Daisy these daily outings have given her the time and opportunity to develop confidence (and speed!) when riding her scooter.  This is true of balance bikes too.

The next step is to help her develop her ‘scooting’ skills; maintaining balance when going down slopes and manoeuvring around corners; and, as the streets and parks become busier, avoiding obstacles.

A fun way to help pre-school children to develop their spatial awareness and improve their manoeuvring skills while on their scooter or balance bike outdoors is to create trails for them to negotiate.  Use chalk, tape or rope to mark out the ground on a patio, on paths or in the park to create varied routes.  Give the route a start and finish point.  Include empty containers and cardboard boxes of different sizes so that they can practise steering and changing course as they go between or around these ‘obstacles’.  Add a ‘zebra’ crossing for their teddies or dolls to promote ‘braking’.  You could time how long your grandchild takes to complete the course and celebrate the ‘best time’.

Invite your grandchildren to help to create the tracks too.

With the current restrictions on accessible space at outdoor play areas and nurseries this kind of activity in the park or garden is a playful way to meet with the family, be with your grandchildren and enjoy their company.

Granny Smith says

Don’t forget the safety helmet!

Understanding the World

Take your child for a virtual walk; a guest post by Daisy’s Dad.

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown presents unprecedented challenges for children in the UK. Most of their comforting routines have been disrupted; many have disappeared completely. Familiar destinations such as schools, cafes and soft-play centres are off-limits and visits to beloved friends and relatives are forbidden. Even with some restrictions now lifted, travel is often limited and local.

One activity that can bring a little comfort and continuity to your child’s life is a virtual tour of some familiar – if currently forbidden – locations. To do this, you can use Google’s Street View option within its Google Maps service. Street View provides interactive panoramas from many streets around the world by using stitched images; users can navigate around these panoramas by double-clicking with their cursor on any available location or object they want to see.

Routines reimagined

Using Street View, Daisy and I located our house and ‘drove’ with the cursor around the corner to her childminder nearby. Then we visited her grandparents’ street and peered past their garden hedge toward the house. Finally, we visited the local retail parks where we go for coffee, lunch, shopping, and trampolining every weekend.

We struck gold when we navigated around the car park to the trampolining venue and, with a couple of mouse clicks, found ourselves inside the building, to Daisy’s delight. Some businesses have commissioned photographers to shoot interior panoramas of their premises, and we were lucky this was one of them! We couldn’t bounce on the trampolines, but we could navigate around the space and remind ourselves of a treasured ritual that we hope to return to when safe to do so.

Visit the virtual beach

In the days that followed, Daisy requested some more virtual walking, and asked if we could go to the beach. So, one morning, we walked the sands in Hawaii before visiting an Adélie penguin rookery in Antarctica and having a paddle in the Great Barrier Reef. These were fun destinations but in their own way, less exciting for her than seeing her grandparent’s house.

A female Lego minifigure sitting on a map of London

This activity also helped introduce a sense of scale to Daisy’s world; I’ve started to introduce her to maps and indulge her curiosity about where we live in relation to her friends and relatives. Her childminder lives half a mile away, her maternal grandmother lives 15 miles away, her paternal grandparents live more than 100 miles away. These are difficult ideas for a three-year-old to grapple with.

Daisy is still only three, so her concept of distance is limited. Last week, Daisy was in our back garden explaining the concept of the solar system to our (very patient) neighbour; without pausing, she pivoted in mid-sentence to explaining which side of the fence belonged to us, and which side belonged to the neighbour.

For Daisy, right now there is little meaningful difference between Neptune and next door. But that will change as her horizons slowly expand in the coming months.

Granny Smith says

If you’re new to Google Street View, you may want to check out this very simple two-minute tutorial.

There are many exciting and exotic locations to visit on Google Street View, besides those described in the post. You can find a useful list here.
Don’t forget that there are ways to make real-life walks more stimulating for your child.

Any of these virtual and real life activities are valuable and help young children to develop a sense of the world, their world and their communities.

Understanding the World

Where am I? A fun activity for grandchildren during ‘lockdown’; Guest Blog by Daisy’s Grandpa

It’s been eight weeks since we last spent time with Daisy.  We’ve learned, like so many grandparents, to navigate our way around Zoom, FaceTime and other ways of keeping in touch by sight and sound.  We all know that none of these technologies are any substitute for that hug administered in a tangle of bendy limbs, biscuit crumbs and sweet smelling hair.

But enough about us, what about our grandchildren and their feelings of confusion and separation?  How can we help from a distance, and provide that grandparently service of distraction to our children and their partners?

We know, and are very grateful for the fact, that Daisy really enjoys her visits to our house.  So today I decided to set Daisy a kind of remote treasure hunt.  Using a set of her little play figures I took twelve photographs of them in different locations in our house and in our garden.  I then sent these to her Mummy and Daddy so that they can show them to Daisy and ask: ‘where am I?’  to see if she can explain where her little friends are standing.  I use the term ‘explain’ because at her age the name of the room might not come to mind, but she’s old enough to talk about where she thinks the location is.

A small green and yellow fairy doll standing on wooden decking.

I think the most valuable aspect of this activity lies in the language development that it stimulates as children navigate around a familiar space and try to verbalise their thoughts.

I hope Daisy has fun doing this and that it provides a valuable respite to her parents who, like so many, are full time carers, teachers and playmates.

It’s a pleasant activity for a grandparent who has more time on his hands than usual and I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy the whole process.

Of the many ways that we can keep connected remotely and send little reminders to our grandchildren I like this one for it’s interactive nature.  Maybe Daisy’s parents will help her send us back a similar treasure hunt.

Meanwhile I am thinking of an audio version.

Granny Smith says –

An activity like ‘Where am I?’ gives our grandchildren an opportunity to explore their feelings and emotions.  Once Daisy has worked out where each little friend is located in our garden and house Mummy and Daddy can also chat to her about what she’d like to do next time she comes to stay here.  Perhaps if she’s feeling a bit melancholy this will give her an opportunity to talk to Mummy and Daddy about what she’s missing.


The Value Of Simple Board Games For Young Children

Now that we’re not all dashing about with appointments and work commitments we’re all finding we have more time to do things.  And although Daisy’s Mummy and Daddy have plenty to do each day with their various schedules, taking turns to participate in Daisy’s home learning gives them more time with Daisy each day than they had when she went to her childminder.

They have had time, after Daisy has concentrated on her focused activities, to work on Duplo constructions together and join in the imaginary play. More recently, inspired by a gift from Daisy’s other Granny, they introduced Daisy to playing simple board games together.

In a previous blog I wrote about helping our grandchildren to master numbers and counting out loud together.  And a while back I wrote about sharing and taking turns.  Playing a board game brings together simple maths and social skills; it is the perfect opportunity for a young child to use mathematical concepts, gain confidence using numbers and practice the valuable skill of taking turns.

A young child playing a board game of snakes and ladders

We observed a delighted Daisy unpack a Snakes and Ladders board from its box and watch as her Daddy set the game up.  He showed Daisy the die with its dots on each surface.  Dice are already familiar to Daisy as we have some large foam dice that she enjoys throwing down our stairs before we count the dots together.  Understanding how to use the shaker and pour out the small die resulted in a energetic start to the game!

A pair of die or dice, yellow with red dots

Counting the squares and moving her counter was an opportunity for Daisy to see numbers in action.  She was happy to watch Daddy have the shaker for his turn and there was a general excitement as the game progressed.  There was fun at the consequences of landing on a snake or a ladder and an awareness that the game finishes when one player arrives at the last square.

Concentration, chat, counting and taking turns all inspired by a classic board game.

Granny Smith Says

I’ve been thinking that we might be able to play a game of snakes and ladders together, through the wonders of Zoom.  But I’ve discovered that we don’t have a Snakes and Ladders set in our toy cupboard!

Physical Development

Managing Messy Play At Home

Messy Play is such an important part of the Early Years’ experience; in nurseries children will have plenty of opportunities for messy play using ice, cold pasta, jelly, sand, water, dough, compost…. they’re all enjoyably messy for young children!

When the weather is fine enough to be outside then you can also practise messy play at home with water, compost, jelly, mud and more: follow these links back to previous blogs for ideas.

Of course you may prefer not to encourage messy play indoors and maybe you have been limiting it to bathtime when you can just wipe up the puddles.  However you might like to give your children some uncooked pastry (a ‘dough’) to play with while you are baking.

When your biscuit recipe instructs you to roll the dough into a ball shape, of course you know how to do that and our under fives also need opportunities to develop these manipulating skills.

Messy play helps to develop muscles in the arms, hands and fingers, promoting hand and eye co-ordination and control.  Children like to experiment with dough and investigate all of it’s sensory experiences and it is useful for adults to sit with young children so that you can mould and model together (it’s quite therapeutic for adults too!).

We knew that Daisy would enjoy having some different indoor messy play while she’s at home so this Easter holiday we decided to order some Playfoam for her.  Playfoam has a different texture to other types of dough; its light, colourful and easy to shape and manipulate, making it ideal for pre-school children.  It’s also non- toxic and comes in a range of bright colours as well as sparkle and glow-in-the-dark versions.

A young girl using multicoloured play foam and straws for a session of messy play.

Playfoam doesn’t stick to clothing, hair or carpets and it doesn’t dry out children can model and leave their works of art out on display to share with others: it’s the answer to messy play at home without any mess.

Understanding the World

Making the most of the daily walk with your young children

Now that we’re all having to settle into a very different daily routine it means that we, like most grandparents, cannot spend time with our granddaughter.  So instead of describing activities that I’ve done with Daisy I’d like to share some of my ideas that Daisy’s parents are using at home with Daisy.  I hope these may inspire families at home where you might have limited resources.

Daisy’s parents regularly send us photographs of activities that they have done with Daisy; you can see them on the GrannySmithdiaryblog instagram page and on the GrannySmithdiary blog twitter page.

The Daily Walk

Part of Daisy’s family daily routine is to get out of the house for a walk, maintaining social distancing.  Daisy likes to take her scooter or her toy buggy with her on these walks and this gives her a sense of freedom and an opportunity to accelerate more than she can in their garden!

A young girl dressed in red, riding on a red scooter

On other days the family take a longer walk to the park and back.  With less traffic and aircraft noise in the background a walk to the park can become a listening walk; look back at my blog last year for more on listening walks.

Walks also provide an opportunity for children to become aware of their environment and their local area.  Make a game out of your planned walk around your immediate area.  Before setting out, decide on some features that you want your child(ren) to look for – this list can vary on different days, and will vary depending on where you live.

A few ideas –

count the trees on your walk/in your street

find a post box

look for street name signs

spot traffic signposts

count the red cars (you can decide on a different colour!)

look for houses with blue doors

find numbers on houses

look for a church

a bus stop

street lights

a garden with flowers

a gate

a park sign

and so on.

For slightly older children you could talk about the different buildings that you see on your walk.

On walks some children are happy just to count and observe while some children will enjoy making marks on paper as they ‘record’ what they have seen.  If you have your smartphone with you, your children might like to take photographs of some of the things they see.  Back home these marks, notes and photographs give you all an opportunity to talk about what you saw on your walk.

Then the next time you go out for a walk to can walk in a different direction or set off looking of different features.

Granny Smith says

For young children, knowing about their familiar local environment is part of early childhood education.  Our local environment changes through the seasons so whenever you go out for a walk together you’ll always find something to observe and talk about.