It’s mid-December and as a strange and busy year comes to a close, the Yuletide anticipation is building for my granddaughter Daisy: the decorations have gone up around her house and the streets around her are bright with dazzling festive lights.
Although Christmas will be a little different for children this year, for a four-year-old like Daisy it remains overwhelmingly magical despite this year’s unusual constraints.
During one bedtime recently she declared that she was “ready for Christmas!”. With 10 days still to go, I know that the excitement will come close to bubbling over during the waiting period!
With that in mind, this blog is intended to give some suggestions for quiet activities and ones which require little preparation from an adult.
Last week we looked at an easy festive papercraft activity and in this blog I’ll take a look at some fun memory games, the first of which involves snap cards. Of course, I’ve touched on the play value of snap cards more than once before.
If you have a set of snap or ‘donkey’ playing cards these can be used for a pair-matching game. The game requires two identical sets of cards and the number of cards that you include in each set will depend on your child and their age.
How to play
I will start with four cards in each set; as Daisy becomes familiar with the game I can increase the number of cards in each set and vary the images. Playing a game, matching pairs of cards and being successful all help to promote a child’s self-confidence.
The cards are mixed up and laid face down on the flat surface. I’m going to play the card activity with Daisy but it is possible to play with more than one child.
Each person has a go and turns over two cards. The aim of the game is to find matching pairs of cards. If the two cards turned up are not identical then they are placed face down again, in their previous position on the table, and the next player has their turn.
If a player finds two matching cards, they remove the pair. This is a memory game and relies on the child’s observation skills: remembering where each image is, even when it is turned face down on the table. The game continues until all of the cards have been paired up.
Taking turns and sharing are key skills that help a child’s personal, social and emotional development and this is an opportunity for them to practise their turn-taking with different children and adults.
Any set of children’s snap or donkey playing cards can be used and packs of these cards are widely available. WHSmith stocks most of the different Usborne snap cards and John Lewis have a ‘In The House’ set of snap cards that are bright and sturdy, with images that will be familiar to young children.
As it’s the festive season, we can also play this pair-matching game with the pack of Usborne Christmas snap cards that we have. Previously, Daisy has sorted and matched sets of the cards and she has also matched the card images to related Christmas items around the house.
Playing Kim’s Game
My second suggested activity to promote the skills of observation and memory is ‘Kim’s Game’. Kim’s Game is a classic that can be played all ages. Adults may remember playing this game themselves when they were young, especially if they were in the Scouts or Guides.
A variety of objects are placed on a tray and the player looks at them. The tray is covered and one item is removed. The player then looks at the tray again and uses their observation and memory skills to spot what has been removed from the tray.
This basic process can be adapted to suit different ages and different occasions, which means that you can play it at home over Christmas but equally in the summer on the beach. You can play versions of it on a train journey or even while waiting with a young child in your two-metre socially distanced queue!
When introducing preschool children to a version of Kim’s Game I recommend using a group of more familiar items rather than a random selection. An example would be to use some play food and set out a ‘meal’ at the play table.
I would talk to them about each item – naming it, talking about the colour, shape and encourage them to touch and handle each item. This kinesthetic approach should help them to make observations about the items which will, in turn, help them to remember the ‘meal’.
Cover the items with a napkin and remove one piece of play food, and then uncover the plate. Talk to your child about what they can see now on the plate: is it the same? What isn’t on the plate now?
My photo shows five items on the plate. If I was doing this for the first time I would start with three items of food and build a child’s skills and confidence by gradually adding more items. We should always ensure that the game is both challenging and achievable; too many items to remember will have the opposite effect.
Older children should have a set amount of time to look at the tray and memorise the items before it’s covered, and you could remove more than one item each time.
Now that Daisy is older, she is ready for the more traditional tray of random items, which can be themed around the festive season. Again, we will start by talking about each item and then the tray will be covered and an item removed. Daisy will try to name the item that isn’t there.
We can increase the number of items on the tray as Daisy becomes better at the game. I think that we might even be able to play a version of Kim’s game on our next Facetime call! But first, we get to enjoy Christmas together!
Granny Smith says…
A little piece of trivia: Kim’s Game comes from the 1901 novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling, famous for writing The Jungle Book, the Just So Stories and the poem If— among many other works. In the novel, the main character Kim plays variations of this game as part of his training to become a spy.