Saturday, April 10, 2010

day one hundred: links and ideas for activities for room time for toddlers

“Soon it was time for Jakie to play in his play pen, so Josiah and I got to play together. Next thing I knew, we were in trouble! Mommy came into the room and said that it looked like a tornado went through. We did it again! We got too many things out at one time. We had stuff all over the living room: Legos, cars and trucks, Duplo people, books, and stuffed animals. It took us FOREVER to clean it up---even with Kara’s help. Josiah and I had to each do an extra fifteen minute chore with Mommy because we forgot the rule about getting out too many things at one time. “*

Today I am going to put some links and create a small list of items we enjoyed having for toddlers—for room time or anytime. Tomorrow I will do the same for pre-schoolers. And next week—honestly—it’s on to chores for Positive Parenting 3*6*5!

1. Duploes—these chubby, safe-for-toddlers *Legoes* are perfect as first blocks for toddlers. Many of the sets have people, animals, and vehicles with them,; those make them even better for this age.

2. Felt books and felt activities—older toddlers/preschoolers may enjoy these. I reviewed the earlier on this blog. You can find information about them at

3. We loved the Hugg a Planet for ALL ages---even my high schoolers would toss it around and study it:

4. Measuring cups, pans, etc.--

5. One of my favorite Discovery Toys of all—the measure up cups!

6. Cars and trucks—I especially loved any cars and trucks offered from Discovery Toys since they were always so colorful—and always rolled correctly with no fear of wheels falling off, etc.:; another good set (which are also sturdy and colorful):

7. My next-to-the-favorite Discovery Toy for this age was the giant pegboard (I still have mine!). Now it has an additional pack for stringing, ect.:

8. Okay-Place and Trace may have been my next-to-the-favorite Discovery Toy for his age!

9. We loved our Marble Works for older kids (with regular marbles), so I can’t help but recommend the large one for toddlers, though this might be a better activity for Mom with the toddler than the toddler alone since he might become frustrated trying to run it alone:

10. Hammering and pounding toys, such as the one offered by Discovery Toys:

11. Beanbags:

12. Sensory blocks:

13. Activity centers:

14. Rhythm instruments:

15. Chubby animal and people (Fisher Price has nice chubby animal and people for this age group too—I especially love the ones the come in littl houses that children can carry around by a handle on the top of the house or barn):; Fisher Price noisy animals:

16. Anything kitchen!!! We loved plastic food and dishes especially:

17. Car and truck mats (oh, I loved these!):

18. Bead mazes—these are available at Walmart, Kmart, and most other department stores:

19. Dress up (don’t get me started—have I mentioned that every year for five years our teen daughters sewed dress up clothes for the boys for Christmas—knights, Minutemen, wise men, cowboys—okay, I’m crying now:

20. Activity items:

Hopefully, this list and the links will give you some ideas to get you started in creating your room time tub or basket. Look for items at garage sales, thrift stores, etc.

One final note about toddler room time activities: Be sure you get true “independent” activities. Avoid electronics, difficult to assemble toys, or other activities that require too much help in order for the toddler to play with.

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

**Benefits of room time for preschoolers and toddlers:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

day ninety-nine: the how to’s of room time for preschoolers

“Soon it was time for Jakie to play in his play pen, so Josiah and I got to play together. Next thing I knew, we were in trouble! Mommy came into the room and said that it looked like a tornado went through. We did it again! We got too many things out at one time. We had stuff all over the living room: Legos, cars and trucks, Duplo people, books, and stuffed animals. It took us FOREVER to clean it up---even with Kara’s help. Josiah and I had to each do an extra fifteen minute chore with Mommy because we forgot the rule about getting out too many things at one time. “*

A couple of days ago, I described the benefits of room time for preschoolers.** Room time for the preschooler is not that different from play pen time for toddlers except that (1) it is generally a longer time period; (2) it is not contained (like in a playpen or crib but is in a room that you trust the child to play in); and (3) more choices and activities are provided for the child.

If you began playpen time with your child when he was younger, room time will likely become a logical, easy transition. When you can trust your preschooler (or older toddler) to play in a room alone (or with a sibling) without getting other things out, etc., he can probably move from playing in the playpen or crib to playing in his bedroom or other room that is near where you will be during that time.

If you have a scattered preschooler who does not play well alone or does not focus well, you might want to follow the steps below for implementing room time:

1. Create a “busy basket,” closet, or cupboard in which you will store his room-time-only activities and toys. (This weekend I will review some sites and activities to consider putting in your room time area.)

2. Build your preschooler’s curiosity and appetite for this special time by making a big deal out of your preparations. Let him have a “sneak peek” of things you pick up at yard sales, thrift stores, etc. As you are preparing to begin implementing room time, explain to your preschooler that you are gathering activities that he might enjoy doing by himself uninterrupted that will help him get ready for kindergarten—and be lots of fun. Be sure you do not act as though you are preparing punishment for him (i.e. “room time”)—especially if he is used to getting sent to his room for punishment.***

3. Tell him a couple of days before you begin that “on Monday, we’re going o start your room time,” so you do not just spring it on him suddenly and expect him to be okay playing alone (if he is not used to doing things by himself).

4. Choose the second-most-intensive time of your day in terms of time needed to get things done, and get him all set up with one or two activities and tell him that you will be back to check on him in ten minutes or so. (We used audios for our children at all ages, and usually had a story tape playing for the child too, unless he was playing alone while he listened to our read aloud time.)

5. Have him play for however long he can be content—without pushing it. Then help him clean up his activities and put the basket away. (Keep the “room time” activities out of reach except for during room time.)

6. Praise him for his focusing skills and independence.

Note about room-time activities: When our kids were little, I had a set of activities and toys that they used for room time (i.e. “busy basket”) that they could do alone. I also had another basket or tub filled with things that the older kids could do with them. The latter was filled with things that were either two-people activities or that the younger child could not necessarily do alone but would enjoy doing with someone.

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

**Benefits of room time for preschoolers and toddlers:

***Note: If you use “time out” in your child’s bedroom for punishment, you may or may not want to use his bedroom for room time. We rarely used time out (except for rare occasions in which we were trying to fit the consequence of isolation with anti-social behavior, such as fighting, not sharing, etc.—if you do not treat others kindly, you will not have any friends). We felt the benefits of time out were extremely limited—and continue to see this as parents tell us “When I send him to his room, he says, ‘Fine. I like to be alone anyway.’” If using his bedroom is a potential problem, use a den or your bedroom.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

day ninety-eight: the how to’s of playpen time for toddlers

“Soon it was time for Jakie to play in his play pen, so Josiah and I got to play together. Next thing I knew, we were in trouble! Mommy came into the room and said that it looked like a tornado went through. We did it again! We got too many things out at one time. We had stuff all over the living room: Legos, cars and trucks, Duplo people, books, and stuffed animals. It took us FOREVER to clean it up---even with Kara’s help. Josiah and I had to each do an extra fifteen minute chore with Mommy because we forgot the rule about getting out too many things at one time. “*

Yesterday I described the benefits of room time and/or play pen time for toddlers and preschoolers (for children AND mom!). Today I will explain how we went about having a daily play pen time for toddlers. (And tomorrow, we will give tips on having the daily room time for preschoolers.)

When our babies started playing more and doing more “toddler” types of activities, we provided many enrichment toys and opportunities for them. I mentioned in earlier posts** about you, the parent, deciding when the baby goes to bed and gets up, when he takes naps, etc. I also described how we helped our little ones love learning and books early on. One way that we did this was to sneak into his room in the morning before he awoke and put a toddler-safe basket of “baby books” in his bed for him to look at when he first awoke (until we were ready to get him up). Another thing we did was teach our toddlers to play quietly and contentedly in their play pen or crib—thus, “play pen time” (or “crib time” if you prefer not to use a play pen).

Tips for Play Pen Time:

1. Create a “busy basket” of items that the toddler only uses during his play pen time. (I will be reviewing some products for this busy basket this weekend, so stay tuned!) You might want to alternate the items in this tub or just get out one or two per day, however your space and budget limits dictate. (I was an avid garage saler—and I also spent more money on books, toys, and educational pursuits for my children than I did clothing, home d├ęcor, and personal items (like jewelry, make up, etc.) combined! I can buy those things later; my kids were only little for a short time.)

2. When you need the second-most-uninterrupted time of the day (I used naptimes for the most interrupted-free times), place the toddler in the play pen or crib with the busy basket or one or two activities from the busy basket. (We personally used play pen time for toddlers and room time for preschoolers during our morning read aloud time since that was the time that nobody was available to run and get the little one out of whatever he or she might get into—and the time that we wanted to be the most free of distractions.)

3. Set the timer for ten minutes (or fewer if he or she is not used to playing alone). I recommend that if this is all new, you help your toddler start playing with the activity, getting him or her interested in it, etc. Then tell him to play for a few minutes until you get back.

4. At the end of the time, go in and help your toddler learn to put the activity back in the basket/tub, working with him as needed and take him out of the bed/playpen. Praise him if he played well, etc.

5. Note: If he cries, you might want to go in and check on him and tell him to play with the blocks for a few minutes, then go back out.

6. Increase the time by a few minutes each day until your toddler can play well all by himself for thirty to sixty minutes.

7. Note about using the bed for play time: We never had a problem using the crib for the toddler’s playpen time since it was a completely different atmosphere than bedtime. He knew when we got the busy basket out that it was play time—and when he laid him down with blankets; no toys; and his lullaby tape, praise music, or story audio, it was sleep time. It probably depends on when you begin it.

The older kids and I have fond memories of Josiah and Jonathan’s room time and play pen times especially—mostly because they were so incredibly cooperative! We used to have Jonathan have his room time in the same room we were reading in—but on a blanket in the corner. He had to keep all of his activities on that blanket and play quietly, then he could remain in and listen to our morning reading. At the same time, Josiah was a toddler and had his room time in a porta-crib (pack and play?) in the room we read in. It was actually quite comical, but if he screamed or fussed, we would pull his porta crib into the other room and shut the door. When he got quiet again, someone would pull him back in with us. And this continued—he eventually quieted down and played nicely because he didn’t want to be in the other room all alone.

I’m smiling as I type this as I have this picture of one of the girls zooming Josiah’s play pen through the doorway, telling him that “when you’re ready to be quiet, you can come back in with us.” Wowsie…those were sweet, wonderful days.

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

**Links to only baby and toddler posts:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

day ninety-seven: benefits of playpen time/room time for preschoolers

Soon it was time for Jakie to play in his play pen, so Josiah and I got to play together. Next thing I knew, we were in trouble! Mommy came into the room and said that it looked like a tornado went through. We did it again! We got too many things out at one time. We had stuff all over the living room: Legos, cars and trucks, Duplo people, books, and stuffed animals. It took us FOREVER to clean it up---even with Kara’s help. Josiah and I had to each do an extra fifteen minute chore with Mommy because we forgot the rule about getting out too many things at one time. “

Jakie went to his playpen, and the two preschoolers went to their room to play. Recipe for disaster or thirty minutes for Mom to get something done—and thirty minutes of focused activity time for the littles? Well, you can see that Jonathan and Josiah had a little trouble with getting too many things out at one time, so I won’t act as though room time and/or play pen time is always a breeze, but I will share what I think are the benefits of such times in a toddler’s/preschooler’s day—and tomorrow I will share a few how-to’s for those who desire to learn how to implement these times in your littles’ schedule.

First, the benefits of having a daily (as much as possible) room time or play pen time:

1. Increase in focusing skills—Preschoolers are busy people! Add to their “busy-ness” all of the technological distractions, and it becomes obvious why attention spans of children seem to be getting shorter and shorter. According to Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle who studied 1,300 toddlers and preschoolers using a television survey and comparing that to a behavior checklist, frequent TV viewers in early childhood were most likely to score in the highest ten percent for concentration problems, impulsiveness, and restlessness. His survey went on to show that every added hour of watching TV increased a child’s odds of having attention problems by about ten percent. Kids watching about three hours a day were thirty percent more likely to have attention/focusing trouble than those who did not watch television. (This survey also accounted for many other factors besides television that could be linked to problems concentrating; however, the television connection continued.)

We tried to build extensive attention spans in our children at young ages (as much as it was in their control!). We did this through many means discussed on this blog—limiting electronic stimuli, reading aloud to them, providing daily audio listening time, maintaining a schedule that is conducive to learning and healthy intellectual development, exposing them to a variety of activities—AND instituting room time/play pen time for them. When children are given one activity (or a few choices) to do in a small space (without distractions and other choices), they can actually do the hard work of concentrating. (See future posts for the link between this and natural readers from a graduate school study I did many years ago!)

2. Builds many preschool skills naturally—we had a loose family policy that, even though we homeschool, we would not teach anything formally to our young children that could be taught informally. This meant that we would not use workbooks day in and day out to teach letter recognition; we would just use signs along the road and on stores. This meant that we would not have our littles complete worksheets matching the letter to the picture of the beginning sound—but we would instead point out letters and sounds everywhere—as we read aloud to them, as we drove…as we “were in the way with them”! If we offer educational activities for our littles during room time/play pen time, we give them opportunities to learn naturally and at their speed. This can be done through puzzles, blocks, book and tape sets, matching activities, beads, etc. etc. (I will provide links for some suggested activities tomorrow.)

3. Provide a small amount of time for Mom to get something else done—room time, when carried out consistently and followed through on as needed, can give Mom thirty to sixty minutes to get other things done, knowing that her littles are safe, learning, and contained! I always used room time for the second-most Mom-intensive thing on my agenda that day. (The most Mom-intensive things were reserved for nap times.)

Now that you know a couple of the benefits that we found to room time/play pen time, stay with us tomorrow as I share tips on implementing this beneficial time in the life of your little ones.

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

day ninety-six: involving preschoolers with older kids and younger kids

“During breakfast clean-up, we listened to a story tape, which I LOVE. After breakfast, Mommy, Josiah, Kara, and I read some animal stories since that is what Kara is studying in our homeschool. I love animal stories and begged Mommy to read another one, but she didn’t have time because my big brother needed her help on his math. She said maybe we would read an extra one tomorrow—I’ll be sure to remind her.

I had to help with Baby Jacob. He can be so grouchy sometimes! Luckily, Mommy let me give him Cheerios to quiet him down, so I got some too.”*

Today’s excerpts from “Jonathan’s Journal” show Jonathan enjoying interaction with older siblings and younger siblings. Preschoolers love to be a part of what is going on! As homeschoolers, we found that each of our preschoolers, from number five through number seven, wanted to “do cool” like their older brothers and sisters. They wanted to do what everybody else was doing. Thus, we have found that including them in what is going on in the family is a healthy thing for them (that sense of belonging) but also helpful for Mom when the preschooler is taught to interact appropriately with babies and toddlers.

Whether you are a homeschooler or not, there are many things that you do all the time with older kids—take them to the library for a school project, help with homework, do an art or craft for expo at school, etc. Consider including your preschoolers whenever possible. While, as homeschoolers, there are many times in which the preschooler simply has to entertain himself (and sometimes little brother!), there are many other times in which we can include the preschooler in what we do. These obviously include reading aloud, art, music, crafts, etc. As indicated in the lengthy read-aloud posts, preschoolers love to listen to us read to older ones (while they learn to “make the pictures in their heads”).**

Preschoolers can be outstanding “babysitters” for toddlers, as Jonathan was in today’s passage. We helped strengthen the bonds between our older children and younger ones by providing opportunities in which the older was “responsible” for the little for a short time. Depending on the age of the older and the little, this could be a time in which the older read to the little or played a game or built Legoes, etc. or it could have just been a time in which the older got out the little’s “busy basket” and played with him or her (or fed Cheerios to the toddler!).

While I can’t say that this daily time together was THE main component of strengthening the relationships between the olders and youngers in our home, I will say that something did it—and this had to at least contribute to it. Even to this day, our nineteen, twenty-two, twenty-four, and twenty-seven year olds think that their “little brothers” (ages eleven, fifteen, and seventeen) are the most incredible teens and preteens. It seems like there isn’t an instance that goes by in which I am talking to one of the older kids and he or she doesn’t mention something about how awesome one of the “little guys” is. I feel certain that the daily interaction and part in their care that the older ones had (and the fact that the little had to obey their older siblings, which caused the olders to love caring for and being around them) has been a contributing factor in their love and respect for their younger siblings.

Include your preschoolers with the older kids—and the younger kids! Challenge them in things that are in their control. And enjoy them.

We have a full week lined up for you—room time/play pen time for preschoolers and toddlers. Applying the “expectations and reality discipline” to your day.” And…ending with chores, chores, chores, including a lengthy list of ages and appropriate chores. Thanks for joining us!

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

**Read aloud posts start here:

Monday, April 5, 2010

day ninety-five: challenging preschoolers in non-stressful ways

“Mommy read out loud from a chapter book while we ate. I’m starting to kind of like chapter books, even though they don’t have any pictures; I can make the pictures in my head now.”*

I have talked at length in this blog about expectations of our children (and will likely continue to do so!). Specifically, I discussed the concept of having high expectations of our children in the areas that they CAN control (i.e. kindness, obedience, diligence, etc.) and limiting expectations in the areas that they can NOT control (potty training, learning to read, penmanship, spelling, etc.).**

While children often do not have control over whether they are ready to learn to read or be potty trained, we can challenge our children in many areas in non-stressful ways. Today’s excerpt (which was also the excerpt from a couple of days ago) describes Jonathan listening to me read aloud to him from a chapter book (while the children ate—always the efficiency expert, here!). It also described something that I loved to hear my kids tell me: “I can make pictures in my head now.”

While we are waiting for readiness to develop in children in their “uncontrolled areas,” we can challenge them and help them build up to the readiness of those things. While Jonathan, as a preschool non-reader, could not read chapter books, I could read them to him, and challenge him mentally to develop the pictures in his mind, build his listening comprehension (which tremendously affects reading comprehension later when the child becomes a reader), and much more. This is a prime example of challenging children in a non-stressful way.

Here are a few ways to challenge your young children in non-stressful ways to get you started. Since my family has convinced me to continue PP 365 in the year 2011 too, I will likely add many more examples of challenging our children in academics and diligence (two other blog ideas I was considering for next year) right here on PP, so “stay tuned”!

1. Read above their readability level—This is what I described above. When our children are non-readers (or even limited readers—just learning and/or only reading phonetically-controlled materials), we can read above their reading level to increase their listening comprehension—and help them “make pictures in their minds.” (More on this when we talk about reading, elementary kids, and tweens—honest!)

2. Discussing everything—the best way to challenge our children in academics in a non-stressful way is to discuss everything. (PP 365 has several posts on this!) Just because a child cannot read it for himself yet (in the case of a young child or struggling reader) or just because he cannot experience it for himself (i.e. taking a trip to the moon!) does not mean that he cannot learn about it from you, the parent, through discussion. Don’t be afraid to embark on conversations about everything. Bring library books home about “school” subjects and discuss the books after you read them to him. Discussion is the best way to build a background of experience that a child can bring with him into all of his future learning experiences. (See Learning Hooks post earlier this year.)

3. Build attention span—One way to build a child’s attention span in a non-stressful way is to provide audios for the child to listen to—and, especially, replace some video/television time with them. I will be reviewing several audio recommendations throughout the year, but to get you started, consider the following for the preschool/elementary child:

a. Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue story tapes (i.e. Your Story Hour)—outstanding story tapes with sound effects, voices, etc. for young children—start with the Bible stories and true life character stories (available from Library and Educational Services)

b. Adventures in Odyssey radio drama—the best audio stories (Bible, true life, history, etc.) for ages six through fourteen we have ever seen, hands down. Available from Focus on the Family. (Also available to listen to online at )

c. Book and “tape” sets—book and tape sets, available at your children’s library, usually in bag and cd/tape pairs, are outstanding ways to have your child go through hundreds of picture books on his own. (We personally had our preschoolers do a book and tape set every day on their “daily checklist.” They especially enjoyed re-listening to stories that we had read together during story time.)

d. Audio books—if you are just making the transition from picture books to your child listening to chapter books, and you want to do more than what you have time to read to him, consider audio books or talking books. If he is just starting out, you can do some easier ones like Magic Tree House, Boxcar Children, American Girl, Aesops’ Fables (or other story “collections”), etc.

4. Focus on skills and behaviors that he does have control over. I have mentioned this like a broken record, and, believe it or not, I have more to say about it in “readiness for school” coming up sometime in the future! For now, I just want to reiterate the common sense idea of spending your time and energy on controllable things for your child. Your four year old can learn to be helpful, kind, obedience, cheerful, and more. Do not be concerned if he can say his ABC’s backwards or skip ten feet. Focus on the really important stuff now—“it will all shake out in the end”! smile….

*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link:

**Link to expectation post from earlier this year:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

day ninety-four: make easter story cookies with young children

                                                   Easter Story Cookies

Since it is Easter Sunday, I am going to diverge from our toddler and preschool talk and share a recipe that has been floating around the internet and various groups I subscribe to for a number of years. It is an excellent hands-on project for young children and parents (or grandparents) around Easter time—and is especially good for family devotions.

1 cup whole pecans

1 tsp vinegar

3 egg whites

pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

Also needed: wooden spoon, zip-type bag, Scotch type tape, and Bible


1. On the night before Easter (or the night before you will unveil them with your children), preheat oven to 300’ F. (Do not do halfway through recipe; do it immediately upon starting.)

2. Place pecans in zip lock bag and let the children hit them with a wooden spoon until they are broken into small pieces. READ John 19: 1-3 and explain that after Jesus was arrested, he was beaten by the Roman soldiers.

3. Open vinegar and allow children to smell it. Put 1 tsp vinegar into mixing bowl. READ John 18:28-30 and explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar.

4. Separate eggs, and add egg whites to the vinegar (discard or save yolks for another use). READ John 10:10 & 11 and explain that eggs represent life—and Jesus gave His life in order to give us eternal life.

5. Sprinkle a little salt in each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. READ Luke 23:27 and explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers—and the bitterness of our own sins.

6. Explain that the ingredients in the bowl so far are not very tasty. Add 1 cup sugar. READ: Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16 and explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us and wants us to know and belong to Him.

7. Beat mixture with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. READ Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3 and explain that the color white represents purity that God sees in those of us who have been cleansed by Jesus.

8. Fold in the broken nuts. Drop the cookies by teaspoon full onto waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. READ Matthew 27:57-60 and explain that each mound of cookie dough represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was placed.

9. Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door, and turn the oven off.

10. Give each child a piece of tape and allow them to seal the oven door with the strips of tape. READ Matthew 27:65-66 and explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed.

11. Explain that just as they would like the cookies tonight and might be sad having to leave them in the oven overnight, so Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. READ John 16: 20 & 22.

12. Go to bed.

13. The next morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. READ Matthew 28:1-9 and explain that Jesus’ followers found the tomb empty the next morning. Have each child take a bite of his or her cookie—and see that the cookies are hollow—just as the tomb was hollow on Easter morning because Jesus had risen.