Most children love music and putting on a CD of kids' songs can be a great way to while away an hour or two as they get into the groove and dance enthusiastically.
However, their favourite tunes can get a little repetitive (for the mums and dads as well as the little ones!) and there isn't always something suitable on the TV music channels or radio with which to entertain them.
What about your own concert?
The answer to this problem could be to help them plan and host their very own concert - and then they'll have the instruments to play to themselves for ages afterwards. It could foster a lifelong love of music and maybe even get them interested in picking up a real guitar or violin when they're a bit older, as well as being hugely fun in the here and now.
It's really easy to do too, since you only need a few household items and a little forward planning to make it a roaring success. What's more, you can host a 'Proms in the Park'-style event for all the family if it's warm and sunny out, or swap it to an indoor concert if the weather takes a turn for the worst.
A concert could also be the ideal thing to do for a birthday party when all your child's friends are coming over and you don't want to book the same entertainers they've already had. Here's how to plan and stage yours.
Make the instruments
With a little creativity, a whole host of household items can become musical instruments. Get your little ones involved in a crafty session to build up a veritable orchestra in advance of the big day - all you'll need to do is supervise the parts that might be dangerous for little fingers.
For example, a painted tissue box with elastic bands stretched across the hole and a ruler stuck on one end will make a great guitar, while two cups filled with rice and taped together can be a cracking pair of maracas.
The traditional pans and lids can come out as drums and two empty coffee drums can be taped together for bongos to accompany them.
You might even consider heading to the pet shop to buy a handful of the bells typically used on cats' collars. These can be threaded onto a string or even sewn onto a pair of socks with a parent's help to be shaken with abandon as percussion. If they're attached to the edges of a sturdy paper plate, they can also become a tambourine.
A final idea is to fill empty plastic bottles with different amounts of water and line them up. When they are blown into, they will make a noise as nice as that of a flute. Don't forget to put them in some sort of rack to prevent spillages in the event of excitement, though.
Send out invitations
Another craft session is in order so that your guests will know when and where your concert is taking place. They don't have to be fancy or too formal - folded pieces of copy paper adorned with crayoned pictures and all the details will be fine.
Once they're finished, the children might enjoy walking around to drop them off at your relatives' houses, which also gets in a little extra exercise.
Have fun with the setlist
There's no need to get too carried away with the planning at this stage - it's not Sunday Night at the London Palladium. However, a little structure might be best to avoid the little ones getting bored. Perhaps some of their favourite tunes like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Wind a Bobbin Up could be chosen and practised, while each child could be given a solo piece to make them feel super-special. If there's a confident youngster, they would probably make a good compere, or mum or dad might step in to fulfil this role.
Sit back and enjoy!
All that's left when you've done all this for you to put out some chairs, sit back and enjoy the live action, whether it's in your back garden or the living room. It's something the kids will remember for a long time and it'll also make for some fantastic photo opportunities, so get the camera poised and your best singing voices at the ready as your little rock stars take to the stage.
16th September 2014How to make extra time to play - every day.
A common complaint from many people with busy schedules is that there just aren't enough hours in the day to cross off all the things on their to-do lists. Despite the fact that we all get 24, we're often left wishing there was just a little more time to achieve what we had intended.
This can often result in frustration, particularly among parents of young children. For example, you might have hoped to enjoy an evening of playing board games together when you got home from work, only to be faced with a mountain of bills to pay, emails to catch up on and phone calls to dutifully make. Before you know it, it's their bedtime.
This can be a bad thing for kids too, as they might be more likely to drift towards computer games and the TV if they find themselves at a loss for things to do. It may result in a feeling of missing out as well - a past poll by the Family and Parenting Institute discovered that 75 per cent of youngsters in London and the south-east would like to spend more time with their mothers and fathers, while 54 per cent and 45 per cent in the north of England and the Midlands respectively felt they did not see their parents as much as they would like.
It's not just an issue for parents who work full-time either. Even stay-at-home mums and dads can find their hours slipping away as they do jobs like cooking and cleaning.
However, don't despair - our guide below could help you discover some top tips that will enable your family to create more play time.
You don't need a military-style timetable, but a little forward planning can work wonders. Perhaps you could arrange to come home from work early one night a week, or do all your shopping in one day to leave the others free of top-up trips.
Similarly, having some games or toys on-hand and ready to play with might be helpful, as dithering when faced with hours of free time can be counter-productive and might result in youngsters wandering off.
Squeeze play into the everyday
If you just can't shoehorn play into one of your days, don't despair - fit it around what you're already doing. Waiting at the doctor's surgery could be the perfect chance to play noughts and crosses or a pocket magnetic game such as Ludo, for instance.
A walk to the shops or to school that you do every day can be turned into a play experience by getting little ones more involved. Try getting them to skip until they next see a red car, or start up a round of I Spy. It'll boost their developmental skills and prevent any of the complaints about tiredness that can arise during this type of trip too.
Have shared hobbies
If you enjoy doing something like scrapbooking or playing sports in your spare time, then why not make it a family affair? You could join a club with your kids or, if you're not that good, set up games in your garden or home. A net and a couple of bats is all you need to begin a badminton tournament, while a few crafty bits will keep little ones occupied for hours.
Another good winter activity is making paper aeroplanes, particularly if dad is an aviation enthusiast.
Work out what you can weed out
We all have our long-established routines and they're often quite comforting, but how many things do you do in a day just because you've always done them? If this is the case, they could be ditched in favour of play time.
For instance, you might always watch the morning news while the kids have breakfast, or check the websites of the daily papers. Addictive though this can be, you can easily stop. If there's anything vital in the news you'll find out about it anyway, plus your wellbeing could actually be boosted if you're not exposed to some of the depressing images prevalent in the media today.
Instead, you can play a five-minute game like Snap or the card version of Guess Who using the time you've saved. There are probably lots of these pockets of wasted time during the day, so take a look and see if you can whittle them down.
Make like Mary Poppins
Admittedly, we can't play all the time no matter how much time we free up. Sometimes, we have adult responsibilities like housework that can't be ignored. However, we can take a leaf out of Mary Poppins's book and include the children to make them fun.
Have a competition to see who can find the most rubbish for the bin or who can dust the most spindles on the stairs. If you need to do something non-child-friendly like bleaching, get them to sit nearby and challenge them to draw a picture in one minute.
It's amazing how much time can be made for play when you really take a fresh look at your day - why not give it a try?
15th September 2014 Free play could boost kids' social success - and more.
It's always funny when you've got children to poke your head around the playroom door and watch them bringing their toys to life or mock-acting with their friends and siblings.
However, while this might simply look like fun-time, it's vital that we as parents recognise just how vital play can be in terms of development.
A study from Germany finds social advantages
A recent study underlined this, adding to the growing body of research suggesting that it isn't just school that educates youngsters on the vital life skills they'll need as adults. A team at the University of Hildesheim in Germany polled 134 people and asked them to rate a series of statements.
Each one corresponded to their childhood, such as how often and where they enjoyed playing. A second set of tests was then carried out to measure social success in the present day - for example if they have a close group of friends - flexibility and self-esteem.
The researchers discovered that the more free play time people recalled, the more likely they were to be socially successful, flexible and to display high self-esteem as adults.
"Results suggest that freely playing in childhood promotes developmental resources, in particular individual adaptivity in adulthood, which, in turn, promote developmental success," said lead study author Werner Greve in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.
We might think we are giving our offspring all the opportunities they need to become successful, happy adults. After all, they've got lots of toys and they're signed up for plenty of extra-curricular activities.
However, it's likely that we're all guilty of confusing free play with structured play. A famous definition states that play "involves a free choice activity that is non-literal, self-motivated, enjoyable and process-oriented ... roles of the participants are all made up by the children playing. They are based on the child's sense of reality," (Wardle, 1987).
At a time when schools are expected to produce particular results and parents feel under pressure to pass on specific academic skills to children, could it be that we are engineering play time to the detriment of their development and enjoyment?
Amid a frantic schedule of piano lessons, organised play dates and more, where is the time for child-centred learning-based play?
The benefits of play
The German study above highlights a number of benefits of free play, but there are many more. For example, as kids master games they have developed themselves, they progress cognitively, effectively resulting in their own curriculum.
Little ones putting on plays have the advantage of experimenting with language and finding new ways to express themselves, while those poking around under logs explore ecosystems could foster a lifelong love of nature and science.
And as if those weren't positive enough, there's also the point that many of the best (and most economically viable) ideas have come about out of creativity - including the Silicon Valley successes like Facebook and Google, to name but two.
Take back play time
If you've looked at your timetable and realised your little ones might not be enjoying the free time you did in your own childhood, then why not take some easy steps to reclaim play time?
For instance, have a look at some of the playgroups they attend that have a structured regime; are they really all essential? Of course, you don't have to ditch them all, but eliminating one or perhaps two from the weekly schedule might be a good thing.
The next thing to do is set up a space where your child can play imaginatively and creatively, whether it's indoors during the winter or outdoors when weather permits. All you need is a few toys or props and plenty of time to get to grips with them and a little magic should occur.
For example, a sand pit with cups, spoons and small cereal boxes could turn into a Martian landscape, while a set of Pillow Pets and bigger boxes may easily become a zoo in which the little ones are the keepers.
Free play doesn't mean no supervision at all, but keep in mind that you shouldn't be too restrictive or intrusive - when little ones are playing with their friends, only intervene when undesirable behaviour like name-calling or fisticuffs occurs.
If your child is playing with you, resist the urge to set directions no matter how tempting it is - follow their directions, even if it results in totally zany scenarios.
Finally, set limits on screen time so their free play doesn't result in them wandering off to watch TV or play on the family's tablet.
Giving kids time to address boredom and learn how to entertain themselves will allow them to develop the foundations they need to become successful adults - and they just might gain a love of learning while they're at it.
8th September 2014How to wind down after a busy day's play.
We're all keen to get our kids as active as possible during the day, whether it's bouncing on trampolines or running around the park with a bat and ball. However, this boundless energy can become problematic if it spills over into bedtime.
Hyped-up children might be less likely to stay in bed when they're supposed to - and that could add up to a recipe for grumpy little ones the following day, not to mention fed up parents. It's therefore important to incorporate some winding down activities into a busy day's play so that sleep time is sacrosanct.
It can seem hard to think up even more things to do when you've already been inventing games left, right and centre, but these bedtime pursuits don't have to be complicated at all - in fact, they mostly focus on creating a routine that will lead to yawns and an association with tiredness. Here are a few suggestions to get you started off.
Stop the exercise in good time
Getting toddlers in particular to stop running around can be a challenge, but try to avoid anything too physical for at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, get youngsters doing quiet things such as building Lego, making friendship bracelets or writing about their day in a journal. This will settle their mind down without making them think they're being bundled off for bed too soon, as well as providing developmental skills while they're busy. We know it's tempting to want to tire them out whenever possible, but remember that you'd probably find it hard to sleep after doing a session at the gym - it's just the same for them, even if said gym is actually a back garden playground or indoor trampoline.
Avoid electronic gadgets
Today's kids are proficient in gadgetry from an early age, but research has shown that the light from things like games consoles and tablets can interrupt the production of sleep hormones and keep even us adults awake. Set a time (again, preferably a good hour before bed) when computers and the like have to be packed away until tomorrow - and stick to it. If they're used to electronic things not being around after a certain time, they won't even question the matter and you'll get some peace from the bleeping and blinking.
Do the ten-minute warning
If you want your little ones in bed around seven, gently warn them around ten to that they should be finishing up what they're doing because it's nearly time for bed. Springing it on them can result in tantrums, which in turn can hype them up and make sleep difficult. Everyone likes an advance warning, after all.
Establish an off-to-bed routine
Kids love structure, so try to do the same or similar things each night so they associate them with being quiet and falling asleep. Brush their teeth, then put their sleepwear on if you haven't already, then choose a book from a select few on a shelf near the bed - too many can cause 'playing for time' - and get them to climb into bed.
Reading the book to them in a gentle voice should make children feel nice and calm, meaning they have no trouble dropping off. If you find your child tends to still be restless or can be a worrier, it can help to give them something to play with in their hands - our Pillow Pets are great for this, as they're not too stimulating and will provide added comfort when you've gone, yet will also satisfy that need for movement.
When the book is finished, you might want to sing a quick lullaby or say a sort of sleeptime mantra (it can just be as easy as 'night night, sleep tight, see you in the morning'), which will again become associated in their mind with sleep. We know lots of families always finish the day with the same poem or song and it really is surprisingly effective, so it's well worth a try.
Winding down after exciting activities is important for everyone, no matter what their age, so you may find that applying any of these tips results in your evenings being more relaxing too!
1st September 2014Top tips for garden safety when children are playing.
Where has the time gone, the children are almost back in their smart school shoes and ready for another academic year!
That means families all over the country will be trying to make the most of any time they have left - and any remaining warm weather - by taking youngsters out into the garden and allowing them plenty of playtime on their climbing frames, swings and slides.
Although this is fantastic because it improves their health, boosts coordination skills and encourages social interaction, it can also unfortunately result in bumps, scrapes and knocks as all that excited energy bubbles over.
It's an inevitable part of childhood and we wouldn't want to see kids wrapped up in cotton wool in order to prevent them - but at the same time, it's hugely important to take steps to prevent the more serious injuries that can occur in the garden.
By their very nature, children can be so absorbed in their activities that they don't see the potential dangers in their environment, so strike a balance; let them play, but make it as safe as possible to do so first. Here's our list of top garden play safety tips.
Climbing frames with towers and slides are great fun, but they can present a fall risk. Ensure little ones are supervised at all times - your hands will need to be ready to grab adventurous toddlers - and watch bigger children so they are following the safety rules. For example, enforce the instructions that nobody must climb up the slide or hang upside down from the bars - and tell them that anyone refusing to follow them comes off immediately.
When you're assembling bigger toys, always stick to the manufacturer's instructions and never be tempted to take shortcuts. Also, place climbing frames over soft ground like grass or deep bark chips, as falls onto hard surfaces can be deadly. Quality equipment is a boon here, as materials such as the wood used by TP Toys won't splinter and has been thoroughly tested for safety.
Swings will need to be placed somewhere really roomy so there is space to go both forwards and backwards without crashing into something. Again, only place them on soft ground in case of falls and always teach children not to walk in front of the frame - that swing arc is a lot bigger than it looks and a kick in the head can ruin a day's play or even cause a serious head injury.
In addition, no matter what kids might have seen on YouTube, never let them jump from the swing while it's in the air.
We've discussed safety relating to trampolines on these pages before and a lot of the risk can be reduced by buying quality models such as those from TP Toys - we always incorporate safety features including enclosure nets and padding covering the springs as standard.
However, a few extra suggestions include telling children they must always bounce in the middle, never leap from the trampoline and leave 'tricks' such as somersaults to the Olympians - these just aren't safe to do at home.
Elsewhere in the garden
It's worth taking a look at the garden away from the play equipment to make accidents and injuries less likely. Is your lawnmower in the shed? What about your clippers and other tools? If not, lock them away out of the reach of little hands.
Loose paving slabs and other uneven areas are also best addressing prior to playtime, as they're a trip hazard that small feet seem inextricably drawn to - and a fall onto stone is particularly nasty.
A final key thing to consider is water. Paddling pools are great fun if the sun comes out for a final fling, but remember that children can drown in less than 3cm of water - they must be under constant supervision when in or near any water and pools should be emptied when they're no longer being played with.
Remember The Four As: awareness; age appropriateness; assessment; and avoidance to reduce the likelihood of anything bad happening. Of course, some bruises and bumps are inevitable, but with this advice and some common sense, you hopefully won't have to spend any of your remaining summer sitting in the A&E department.