Play time is the way a child learns about the world. Aside from food and shelter, there is nothing more important than to allow children to touch, smell, taste, hear and see the world.
As a child carer, you are given the task of making sure children are safe, clean and fed.
But beyond that, you can also spend your time with children providing a stimulating environment so they can learn and grow.
This section of the course will explore the age-appropriate activities you can do with children to keep them entertained and happy–who knows, they might even learn something while they’re at it!
Each age group includes suggestions to engage the Five Senses.
Even when babies are small and not able to move freely on their own, they still need gentle stimulation. Just being held close and hearing a soothing voice will make many babies content.
Laying a soft blanket on the floor and getting down to their level is always a great way to engage a baby in play. “Tummy time” is essential for babies that aren’t sitting up on their own yet, so put the baby on a blanket on their tummy to help strengthen their back and neck muscles. Just be sure that you monitor the baby the entire time.
Here are some suggested activities to engage the Five Senses for babies:
Toys with different textures such as soft, bumpy and rough
Body awareness with songs such as “Pat a cake” and “This little piggy went to market”
Milk- breast or formula
Baby food (if started) Sweet and savoury
Not recommended for this age group
Lullabies and music, talking and cooing
Playing with percussion such as rattles, bells and drums (or pots and pans to improvize)
Mobiles and baby books with simple colours and patterns
Make funny faces and games such as “peek a boo”
Watch this great video on engaging babies in age appropriate play and learning activities
For toddlers, everything around them is a potential playground. Take advantage of these learning experiences by following their lead. If a child thinks watching an ant crawl on the footpath is fascinating, encourage them! If they want to read the same book 5 times, go along with it. If you’re making cupcakes, let them lend a helping hand, as long as they’re safe!
Below are some suggested activities to engage the senses of Toddlers:
Sand play- bring out the bucket and spade
Pushing buttons, turning knobs, learning how things work
Fruit platter- offer healthy snacks and see which they like best
Baking project – make it fun to mix and measure and see how it tastes
Stop and smell the roses (and other flowers)
Scratch and sniff books, try to get toddlers to smell lots of different foods
Learning songs such as “heads shoulders, knees and toes” and “where is thumbkin”
Story time- go to the local library for storytime. Practice and repeat simple stories with expressive voices and sounds
Picture books, board books for toddlers provide hours of visual fun
Art- finger paints, crayons, chalk
Here is a great video on how to engage toddlers in play and learning
Like toddlers, preschoolers are still finding their way around the world through play and engaging their Five Senses. Encourage creativity through learning as preschoolers continue to improve their social skills and emotional awareness. Consider the following suggested activities when working with children ages 3-5.
Playdough is a great activity with endless possibilities
Dress ups – how does it feel to be someone else?
Veggies and dips – do a taste test!
Make a pizza – lay out all the ingredients and let them make their own dinner
Bubble bath, use some gentle bubbles in the bath to smell delicious
Scratch and sniff stickers or textas/markers
Dance party, get on the dance floor with some of your favourite tunes, make musical instruments or use household items to make your own band
Make up a story- use your imagination … you say one line, then the child in a made up story
Collage making, try using scissors and glue to cut out magazine pictures
Outside art- draw pictures with chalk outside or trace the child’s body for a life-size image
Here are some great ideas for playing with 3-5 year olds
School aged children also still need to play as it aids their ability to understand how the world works and engage socially. You can follow their lead as schoolchildren often know the kinds of activities they like to do, just be sure it involves using their brains and their bodies – not just passive TV time.
Bead a necklace, keychain or bracelet
Create your own band with instruments (make your own or use toy) piano, drum , guitar or wind instruments.
Taco night- lay out all the ingredients and let the kids make their own tacos
Cupcakes- help to bake them and decorate with icing and sprinkles
Guess what it is. Use a blindfold and have children smell different items
Perfume Factory- use essential oils to make nice smelling lotions and potions
20 questions! Let the kids ask you about you and find out more about them
Pump up the volume- listen to the latest hits. You probably like the same music!
Memory lane- look at photo albums of the kids when they were babies together
Do a skit – have the kids dress up and act out hilarious scenes
Did you notice that none of the above suggested activities include anything to do with TV, computers, iPads or smartphones? There actually are lots of things to do aside from screen time!
Children may be used to babysitters or au pairs who plop them in front of the TV until mum and dad get home but you can dare to stand out from the crowd! Take this opportunity to engage the kids in hours of fun and learning!
Overuse of screen time has been proven to affect children negatively in the following ways:
Less physically active
More consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks
Less social interaction
Reduced sleep time
If you are going to use screen time as part of your routine, bear in mind these recommended screen time limits for children per day:
Ages 0-2 years: no screen time
Ages 2-5 years: 1 hour limit
Ages 5+: 2 hour limit
Make it count!
Use TV time to help entertain the kids whilst you are busy doing other essential tasks, like cooking or perhaps giving the baby a bath while the older watches a movie.
Be sure to follow the rules given by the parents regarding what types of shows, movies, computer games the children are allowed to watch and play.
Enjoy the treat! Watching a good movie can be a great activity to do after a long, busy day!
In place of screen time, burn off some of that energy with physical activity. Below are some suggested outdoor activities:
Tummy time on a blanket or towel,
Stroll through the park in the pram
Swing in the park once they are stable sitting up
Throw, roll, kick, catch the ball
Slides and swings at the playground
Jumping and splashing in a wading pool on a hot day with supervision
Nature walk (even in your backyard) Notice leaves, burrows, insects, flowers along the way
You can still be physically active even in the case of inclement weather. Here are some great activities for a rainy day:
Tummy time on a blanket or rug
Crawling across the room after a ball
Dance party, obstacle course
Walking up and down stairs ..make a game of it
Build a fortress or a castle with blocks or pillows
Game “Simon says”
Make a teddy bear picnic
Cooking in the kitchen
Mirror image game- one person moves, the other tries to perfectly mirror movement
Cooking in the kitchen
You can still get outside
As long as the parents are in agreement, you don’t need to limit outside time to perfect weather days.
We all need fresh air and there is great fun to be had on wet and cold days too. Just don’t forget to rug the kids up on these days in appropriate clothing like hats, coats and gum boots.
jump in muddy puddles like “Peppa Pig”
search for rainbows
take a spade to dig in the mud
put baby in the pram with a waterproof cover
Engaging 9/10-12+ year olds
We have covered a whole range of activities and ways to engage 0-8/9 year olds but what about those up to the age of 12 or even older? In some countries, it can be considered neglect to leave a child under 12 years old unsupervised so you may find yourself in charge of older kids at times, too. By this age, kids begin to form their own ideas and likes and dislikes.
Adolescence is like gravity, It is much easier to work with it than against it.
The secret to success with engaging adolescence is being able to relate to them. Teenagers seem to know a lot about topics that adults have very little knowledge or interest in. The only thing teenagers like more than being able to show off they know something, is being able to show off they know something adults don’t. Giving teens permission to be the expert on subject matter is an excellent and affirming way to engage their interest and getting them participating.
Use Pop culture
It is through their identification with various music, fashion styles, celebrities, and other cultural icons that adolescents explore and express their identity, their sense of who they are. You don’t have to be an expert in the areas they are interested in but being able to engage and listen is all you need as teens will most likely have more than enough of their own opinions to share.
Teens just as kids, particularly boys need exercise. Skateboards, walks, bikes, scooters, any type of ball game!
Getting the job done
Once you have their interest you are more likely to be able to engage them in what needs to be done. Teens even more so than younger children need to feel their independence. Try as much as possible not to give direction but rather choice of 2 options so they can feel in control. For example, ask “Would you like to do your homework before or after dinner?” This is an open-ended question, giving older kids the sense of control they need over their own actions and decisions. In the end, their homework will get done, one way or the other!
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