Friday, July 11, 2008

Stimulating language, literacy & learning in holidays - Part 1

It's the school holidays in Sydney (in fact in most of Australia) and so there are lot's of parents and caregivers trying to stimulate their children, in order to keep them busy and out of mischief. At the suggestion of my daughter (Nicole) I've written a post with some ideas for parents. This has become bigger than I had anticipated (and could have gone on forever). So I've decided to do it in two posts. One today and one tomorrow.

A few basics first:
  • Have a strategy for the holidays - try to plan a few significant events and think through the general structure of each day.
  • If you have younger children still at home, being joined by school kids on holidays, try to think about how you will cope with all their interests and think about varying daily routines a little.
  • Pace yourself - don't use all your best ideas in the first few days (you'll wear them and yourself out and you'll struggle to keep up the variation later).
  • Expect bad weather - think about some ideas that will work in rainy weather as well. It's called the "Law of Holidays"; expect lots of wet weather and a day or two of sick kids.
Some ideas basic ideas (not meant to be comprehensive)

1. Books with a difference

a) Refresh your stock - While many parents read books constantly to their children try to vary the content during the holidays:

Visit the library together (check if your local library runs any special holiday events for children) - choose books together, read some there, let each child borrow one toy and a DVD.
Take home a supply of fresh books (fiction and non-fiction, maybe even branch out into poetry if you're not already there).

Visit an Op shop together and let each child choose a few books to keep (you'll be able to afford the prices). See my post on book exchanges, op shops and web exchange sites here.

b) Do some different things - You might let the book act as a stimuls for craft or other creative play (you don't want to over-use this). For example:
  • After reading Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things are" go outside and dramatise it. Let one child be Max and let others take turns at being the wild things. Make a boat out of bits of wood, or even have a go at making one out of a large cardboard box (or several).
  • After reading Jeannie Baker's book "Where the Forest Meets the Sea" (a book about the Daintree Rainforest in which all the pictures are collage) encourage them to make a collage out of natural materials (and maybe some wool, straws etc to supplement) in response to Baker's pictures. Or read a second book and have them use collage in response.
  • After reading Rod Clement's hillarious book "Counting on Frank" get your children to create an experiment in response - how many jelly beans in the bottle type guessing game, how many rocks does it take to overflow the birdbath (or the bucket).
  • After reading Shigeo Watanabe's book "I can build a house" get the kids to build a house from boxes (cut the windows, doors, paint it etc). Again just cardboard boxes are needed.
  • After reading Graeme Base's "The Waterhole" get them to paint the waterhole (they cam draw the aimals, cut them out and paste them around the waterhole).
  • After reading Stan & Jan Berenstain's book "The Bear Detectives" give your children a note pad each and send them into the back yard to solve a mystery (e.g. What happened to the second pink sock? Who dropped that mess on the lawn? Which bird is making that noise?

As a variation from reading why not try a read aloud book (book with a DVD or tape) - great in the car but good for variation at home.

You might also consider looking for DVDs or videos of the books. Op shops are great places to pick up old videos for about $1 each. We've picked up some wonderful videos that bring new and different life to the books (some are hopeless of course, but others are excellent). WARNING, WARNING! Our family can still recite "Green Eggs and Ham" 25 years after a trip across America with a taped copy of the Dr Seuss classic which became my youngest daughter Louise's favourite at the time.

c) Dramatisation

I've already mentioned dramatisation above but it is an excellent way to respond to a book. If you have a dress-up box all the better. Let your children either re-tell the story through dramatisation or improvise. Get involved to help set the pattern for turn taking etc. I play a mean wolf, and an even better Grandma!

2. Writing - Writing is greatly under-utilised.
  • Encourage all chidren (even as young as 1 year-old) to 'write'. Give them some paper and ask them to write. Write with them.
  • Make up some lined books with a cover and suggest that that they tell a story in words and pictures. Even 3-4 year-olds will give the words a go.
  • Introduce older children to diaries or holiday journals.
  • Tech savvy mums and dads might even set up a family blog that can be read by friends and relatives (even if only for two weeks).
  • Start a joke book - give them some jokes as models ("Knock, knock", "Why did the centipede cross the road"....).
  • Try a riddle or poetry book.
  • Write letters and send postcards to relatives and friends.
3. Language experience - read my previous post on LEA here.

It is essentially draws on children’s firsthand experiences that become a focus for discussion and exploration and eventually is recorded as a written text in some way. The experiences can be as simple as a trip to the local creek, an insect hunt in the yard, an excursion somewhere (e.g. a fish market, ferry wharf, airport etc).

4. Outings

In a two week holiday I'd aim to plan 4-5 outings. A few ideas:

a) Those that cost money
  • If you're in the city the zoo takes a lot of beating. It's expensive one-off, but a Zoo Friends' program (e.g. Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney) will enable you to go whenever you like for about the cost of 3 family trips.
  • If you live in Sydney a cheaper option (but a good one) is Featherdale Wildlife Park at Blacktown, where you'll pay $57.50 for a family pass (2 adults and up to 4 children) and the kids will get VERY close to the animals (and will be able to feed them) in a small and friendly park with lots of free parking.
  • A good museum - in Sydney we have many including the Australian Museum in College Street, the Power House and the Museum of Sydney. The Australian Museum has a wonderful dinosaur exhibition on right now (it is incredible!).
  • An historic site (there are some free ones and some that charge) - e.g. La Perouse including Captain Cook's landing place is free, Elizabeth Farm, Old Government House (Parramattta), the Hyde Park Barracks (one of my favourites) will cost something to enter.
  • Again in Sydney there is the Aquarium and the Maritime Museum.
  • The movies - Tuesday is usually half price at many theatres.
Above: Hyde Park Barracks Sydney

If you're not in Sydney this is no excuse, most towns of 10,000+ people have significnat places to visit. For example, the Australian Mineral and Fossil Museum in Bathurst (NSW) is a stunning museum that will get any child interested in rocks!. Sovereign Hill is a replica of an early Australian gold rush town and its in regional Ballarat (Vic). You'll find Timber Town, that re-creates an early Australian mill town in the 1800s, at Wauchope (near Port Macquarie) on the NSW mid-north coastal region.

Above: Rebecca and Jacob enjoying the dinosaur exhibition at the Australian National Museum (Sydney)

b) Those that cost little
  • A beach - John Wells has documented all 150 of Sydney's beaches complete with public transport advice and things to do - this is a classic non-commercial website. You can have fun even in winter. Rug up and collect shells, rocks and just fossick.
  • Visit a different park/playground with lots of equipment or open space. Every town or city has a good one. Big cities like Sydney have lots (e.g. Bicentennial Park; Centennial Park; Mount Annan, Paramatta Park, The Spit and many community playgrounds) There are websites that offer information on some major parks (for a great site with things to look for, photos etc check this out here).
  • Visit a National Park
  • An observatory (e.g. Sydney Observatory has a full holiday program including a 3D space marathon) - many universities have observatories that are often open during holidays or for major astronomical events (e.g. University of Western Sydney at Werrington). It's even better if they have a planetarium as many observatories do.
  • A trip on public transport to an interesting place, e.g. train trip to Katoomba, Central Coast, ferry trip to Manly - the Zig Zag railway at Lithgow and the Thirlmere Railway Museum are worth a trip (the latter is stunning and is a must see for any Thomas the Tank Engine fan). Both are about 90 minutes drive away but can also be reached by train (sometimes there are special steam trips).
  • Visit a pet shop at the local shopping centre (take the time to enjoy it).
The above ideas are not meant to be comprehensive; just a start.

Tomorrow's post will cover:
  • Craft
  • Creative play
  • Other random ideas
  • Some good kids' websites

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