• Emma

Stocking up on ideas for Christmas...

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

As Christmas rapidly approaches, we are all madly trying to pack a million and one things in to our days; shopping for presents, preparing food, attending Christmas parties, sorting out the house, decorating the tree, planning trips to see family .......

In the midst of all this festive chaos, our little people often seem to be craving attention even more than usual! As the house is full of new smells, strange packages, visitors and, for some reason , a tree (why? they ask) it can all be a little overwhelming and so a bit of calm one to one play is just the thing to reassure them that all is well in the world, despite how it may appear to them! So, if you feel in need of a few ideas to spend some quality time with your little one over the festive period, here are a few of our favourite activities for you to try:


1. Sparkly Sensory Tray


If you haven't got one of these trays, which, let's face it, are not really traditional toddler toys, they are brilliant for all sorts of sensory play and can be found online for under £20 (just search for builder's tray). Whilst we were decorating the tree we added a few strands of tinsel and then raided the kitchen cupboard for silver, shiny bit and pieces to explore (always thinking about safety such as sharp edges and choke hazards). Grouping together items which have something in common (in this case, shiny) helps little ones to make judgements about similarities and difference without being over-complex. It also looks very tempting!

We arranged the items in a way that would provoke interest by, for example, lining up some spoons to suggest pattern and adding a ladle to a colander to encourage exploring sounds. Our little one was straight in there, swishing, banging and experimenting with putting objects in and out of each other and spent a good chunk of time playing and being totally absorbed. Exploring materials like this in an open-ended activity helps little ones to explore with confidence, express their own interests and discover the shape, texture and size of different objects and how they can work together.

This activity literally took seconds to set up and provided interest long enough to get the tree balanced in its bucket - why does that always take so long?!! - and add most of the decorations. Winner all round!




2. Christmas Dough

This is a perfect activity for babies who are sitting up and toddlers, appealing to their desire to copy adults as well as using their senses to explore. You can either buy some ready-made play dough (we have some lovely natural dough in some of our boxes .... just saying!), use pastry scraps when you're baking or have a go at making your own; just google play dough recipe. Be aware, though, that play dough often contains a lot of salt so although a tiny taste is unlikely to do your little one any harm, munching away on chunk after chunk is not a good idea! Then add some Christmassy shape cutters if you have some, if not, any items which will make marks in the dough is fine. In the past we have used spoons, pastry wheels, pencils, party candles, shells, brushes, pine cones etc .......

Show your little one how to flatten the dough with hands or a small rolling pin and demonstrate how to use the cutters to make shapes before letting them have a go on their own. Using their hands to manipulate the dough is perfect exercise for little fingers, building fine motor control which is key to later skills used in operating moving parts and making marks using paints and pens. They will also be gaining an interest in the fact that they can make changes to materials through their actions and become increasingly aware of their own body and building self-esteem.




3. Sticky Dotty Christmas Tree

There are so many lovely ideas online for all sorts of really sweet Christmassy craft ideas for little ones (just look up footprint reindeer if you don't believe me!) and they are sure to delight friends and family with their cuteness. However, they do tend to entail a lot of adult input and not much creative freedom on the part of the little artist in your life. A simpler activity such as this will allow your child to make their own decisions about how their piece of art should look, ultimately giving them a sense of pride in what they have created. Any kind of art with children should be more about the process as the finished article and should therefore be manageable for them to create independently.

This simple Christmas tree picture works really well for toddlers from around 12 months; all you need is to cut out some tree shapes (or something else Christmassy your child has shown interest in), add stickers and they're set. You will probably need to show them how stickers work at first but then let them get on with it! Older toddlers should be able to peel the stickers off the backing themselves, younger ones may need help; we found sticking them on little chubby legs to peel off worked a treat! Don't worry about all the stickers ending up in one big pile, or being removed as much as they are added; to your child, they are not interested in creating a product, so this is all about exploring the materials.

Stickers are really great for encouraging concentration, perseverance and fine motor control; the actions used for peeling will one day be used for peeling their own satsuma, turning the pages of a book and ... sorry ... picking noses!




4. Matching Cards to Objects

This is one for older toddlers, from about 18 months and takes a little preparation. Collect a few Christmassy objects in a bag; we used a satsuma, a string of tinsel, a bauble, a Father Christmas hat and a bell. Choose items which are not too similar if possible. Next, take a photo of each and print onto paper or card.

Choose a time when your little one is calm and find a space free from other distractions on a plain surface. Lay out the photos in front of your little one , naming each as you do so. Then let them choose one item at a time from the bag and ask them to find the picture that is the same. If they are finding this difficult, put it away and try again another day, this time with only two items. They will probably not match all objects at first but try not to correct them (it's really hard not to!) as it is important that they see this for themselves and will, over time, set it right.

This activity is a simple way to introduce and reinforce new vocabulary; as well as the names of the objects, your little one is also learning the meaning of "same", "find" and "picture". Matching objects to pictures is also an early introduction to the abstract; in other words, objects can be represented by symbols; a concept which will, one day, become writing!


(Please ignore the bowl of snacks which are featuring centre stage in this photo .... needs must, haha!)


5. Buried Treasure

This is a lovely, simple sensory activity suitable from around 4 or 5 months. We used some fake snow but if you have a little one who is still in the mouthing stage, try making your 'snow' using flour or flaked rice. Half bury some Christmassy items which have a clear colour contrast and let them use their hands to find and retrieve them.

This type of activity gives your little one high levels of satisfaction as they pull out the objects and is so lovely for tiny, sensitive finger tips to refine an understanding of different textures. It is so easy to set up (not quite so quick to clear up afterwards!) and can be varied by using different objects, depths of containers and sensory materials such as shredded paper, sand, jelly, shaving foam (test for skin sensitivity), rice, pasta ..... the list goes on!


Hopefully that has given you a few ideas to entertain your little ones with a touch of festivity thrown in.

We'd love to know what you think ...... share your photos @smallbrightlearning !


small + bright 2019


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