Open-ended playtime

Open-ended play allows children the freedom to explore toys and objects with their own agenda. They are at the mercy of their own imaginations as they discover different ways to use the same objects. It’s not about counting or colors. It’s about rich language and creativity.

There are no rules about types of toys that are best suited to open-ended play. Anything goes: dolls, cars, blocks, boxes, shells and other finds from nature, even bits of cardboard and paper with glue and scissors.

Open-ended play is usually best when adults are not involved, but children with no siblings and children with language difficulties may benefit from adult company as long as the adult follows the child’s lead and gives themselves up completely to the flow of the game. There will be opportunities to support vocabulary and language development naturally through conversation. Avoid ‘testing’ questions.

Open-ended play is spontaneous and messy. Sometimes the games can continue for days and move from room to room. It’s important to stop worrying about the toys everywhere and take delight in your child’s imagination and communication skills.

Children continue to make up their own games through middle school if they have the freedom to do so. They might use craft materials more than toys to create dioramas, mouse mazes, racing tracks, and doll furniture. They might use stop motion Apps to create movies in which their toys or plasticine creatures talk with each other. They might make up playground games at lunch break or imagine they’re on a boat or sinking ship while playing in the pool. They might be kangaroos or frogs in the trampoline. The possibilities are endless!

Let your child be wild and free in their play. There’s plenty of time to get serious about learning when they’re older. 🤗


Concepts – up, down, all around

Do you need another excuse to take your kids outside? What about if it’s the best place to teach your preschoolers maths concepts?

Colour is the obvious concept to start with. Look around and talk about light and dark, shades of color, more complex words such as aqua and teal, and how the grass, sea, and sky change color with the changes in sunlight or when a storm comes through.

Concepts of size are all around in nature. Be sure to extend vocabulary using synonyms for the words your child already knows. Look at the trees and the mountains, for example. They’re not just big, they’re tall, giant, enormous, huge, large, or maybe even ginormous!

What can you feel and touch? Warm sun, chilly breeze, cool, smooth stones, rough, scratchy bark, spiky leaves, or soft moss.

Can you see shapes in the clouds?

How many mussels are on one post?

Are the clouds moving fast or slow? What else is moving? Describe how it moves.

Talk about the patterns you can see. Spots, stripes, zigzags, polka dots, etc.

Make comparisons between objects. Which blade of grass is longer. Look at the trees. Point to tall, then taller, and tallest. Find one shell or stone and then find one matching in size. Seriate some stones or shells or sticks, lining them up from smallest to biggest.

Find shapes around you. Circular stones. Spiral shells. Sea stars.

Lessons from far-away places

Some of us live to travel and feel strongly about sharing our love of far-away places with our children.

When I look at the price of trinkets and shiny things for my home, I judge their value by how many cups of coffee or overseas vacations I could purchase for the same amount. Would I rather have a new handbag or a day of skiing? Would I rather refurbish my bathroom or spend 2 weeks in Europe?

My daughter was a Traveller even before she was born thanks to a job that had me flying intercity in Queensland, and half the family living overseas. She travelled long distances in a baby backpack on my hikes, and in cars, trains, and planes. I think she’s learned so much more on her travels than she could learn some days in school.

The key to traveling with children is just that – traveling, rather than ‘touristing’. Take your time. Savor each city. Stay at least 3 nights in each place. Eat dinner in your room. Make time to rest. Find a playground everyday. Bring a few favorite toys and books. Bring some chalk and a scrapbook and crayons. Pack a plastic cutlery, cup, and plate for each person. Pack some laundry detergent. If you’re going to do a lot of shopping, pack light and wash often. Three of everything is probably enough, apart from a week’s worth of underwear. Pack clothes that mix and match and don’t show dirt.

Some ideas to help you plan…


Involve the little learner in planning the trip. Look on Google Earth and holiday images. Discuss:

• geography (shape of land, size of lakes, etc.)

• climate (rainfall, season, humidity)

• tourist attractions for both adults and little learners (theme parks, galleries, famous structures/buildings/statues, incredible landscapes, sporting events)

• kid-friendly attractions (playgrounds, beaches, parks, forests, swimming pools)

• Are you camping, glamping, staying in a holiday house/motel/apartment/hotel?


• Are you visiting someone? Show your little learner photos of them and tell how you know them

• Which famous people lives in the city?

• Learn a little about the culture, traditions, National dress, common foods

• learn a few keys phrases in the other language


• What do different hotels cost?

• What does each hotel offer? Self-catering Apartments, or at least those with a fridge and kettle are preferable when traveling with a little learner

• Make a packing list including a few toys selected by the children. Draw pictures if they are too young to read. Straws, bandaids, string, and stickers are cheap, fun travel games.

• Give each little learner a small backpack to carry

• Plan What you will do if you get separated or lost. Have little learners memorize their hotel room number. Perhaps write it in their arm, along with your phone number, or make a wristband for each new place. Make sure your little learner doesn’t get into the lift or train too far in front of you.


• What Transport will you use?

• How do you pack light?

• How are you prepared? Pack Bandaids, antiseptic cream, sunscreen, antihistamines, Ibuprofen, etc. Sometimes these things are difficult to find in foreign countries. Will your child suffer sore ears on aeroplane descents or when you drive up and down high mountains? Bring chewy sweets or snacks to help pop their ears.

• Other handy things to pack are a headlamp/torch and sarong/pashmina (can be used for a curtain, toilet screen, picnic blanket, towel, dress ups)


• Which season?

• What time Train/plane etc.? Carrying sleeping children on and off public transport is very difficult.

• Are there Public holidays in the city you are visiting?

• Are some trains busier than others? Do you need to book your seats?


Are you going there for a conference, event, exploring, vacation, adventure??

Are you a tourist or a traveler or a bit of both?

Even if the holiday you have planned is just a ‘staycation’ the benefits of family vacation time are incredible. Little learners thrive on the family togetherness time and being part of the planning and problem solving. Best of all, they learn about similarities and differences between people of other cultures and themselves.

‘To live is to travel’ HCAndersen

Following Directions & Child Development 

This activity is fairly advanced when it comes tofollowing  directions, and it links following multi-step directions sequentially with some articulation work on voiced/voiceless cognate pairs. 

Before the family came in to the therapy room, i hid the pictures around the room. After we’d done our listening and learning at the table the 4-year old little learner needed to wriggle. This activity was a fun way to get down from the table and move around the room. 

We bombard our little learners with lengthy and complex directions on a daily basis, and in educational settings the directions are non-stop. Put your shoes in your locker and go and sit on the mat. After you wash your hands, line up by the big door. Before you get your lunch box, put the blocks away and wash your hands

Listening is the core ingredient in a child’s ability to follow directions and there are many parts to the listening process. 

The little learner first has to clearly hear what is being said (auditory acuity and perception), and thisnis more difficult with a hearing loss, when the speaker is further away, cannot be seen, or is talking in background noise. 

The little learner also has to understand the meaning of the sounds and words (auditory comprehension and receptive vocabulary). Lastly, the little learner has to interpret the collection of sounds and words into a sequence of events and tasks.
What are the building blocks necessary to develop following instructions?

Besides being able to hear the speaker, developed listening ability, receptive vocabulary, and sequencing skills, little learners also needs to be able to complete activities without distraction.

Working memory plays a part in following directions because the little learner has to temporarily retain and manipulate information involved in language comprehension, while carrying out various parts o the sequence.

Start with asking your little learner to do one thing. Wave bye-bye. Blow a kiss. High five. 

The next step might be to ask the little learner to take something to someone using a lot of context. Give this to mama. Get your shoes. 

Gradually build up the number of things to be done and add more complex language and concepts, aiming for the ability to follow a minimum of 3-step time order directions before the age of school entry. Please put this container on the top shelf between the cereal and the honey after you wipe the sides of it. 

On average children at:

1 – 2 years of age can follow simple 1-step directions

2 – 3 years of age can follow 2-step directions 

3 – 4 years of age can follow 3-part directions 


Day, Night, Wait Time, and Executive Function

This little learner’s goal was to sort activities onto daytime and nighttime posters. It became a collage craft with glue, paint, and cotton wool. We chatted about what we see in the night and day skies and discussed positioning of the pictures, as well as what we saw on the pictures. 

When googling ideas for day and night theme work, I came across an article by Ling, Wong, and Diamond which explained a day and night task that they performed with preschoolers. Every time the researcher said ‘day’ the child had to say ‘night’, and vice versa. They investigated whether cuing the learner to listen and think or saying a random sentence before the learner gave their answer helped the learner give the correct answer. Their findings were interesting and I’d like to try this task myself with children aged 4 or 5. I learned that little learners need wait time to take a moment to formulate their answers or responses. 

Wait time is one strategy taught to parents in listening and spoken language (Auditory-verbal therapy) sessions. Perhaps the information in this article is useful to share with parents.  

The researchers found that:

• Preschoolers tend to have better memories and worse inhibitory control than adults realize

• Preschoolers’ impulsivity often leads them to quickly give the first response that comes to mind rather than the correct one. 

•Preschoolers can respond correctly if some way can be found to get them to delay responding for just a few moments.

• Having little learners delay responding helps them generate the correct response more often because by the time they are allowed to respond less inhibition is needed, i.e. the incorrect response that popped into mind first has had time to fade

Reference: Long, D. S., Wong, C.D., & Diamond, A.  Do children need reminders on the Day-Night task, or simply some way to prevent them from responding too quickly? Published in final edited form as: Cogn Dev. 2016 January-March; 37: 67–72.!po=74.3243

Why Barrier Games are so Fab

Barrier games are a fab way to work on listening, thinking, and spoken language skills for little learners of any age. Barrier games combine questioning, answering, explaining, clarifying, and describing. The possibilities are endless to work on adjectives, prepositions, concepts, and vocabulary. 

Barrier games can be played on the floor, at the table, or via face-to-face technology such as Skype. They are simple to set up and don’t require any fancy equipment. Players need an identical set of objects and some way to hide their objects from the other person’s view. One player selects or creates something from their objects and describes what it looks like to the other player. The other player can ask questions about it. When they think they’re done, they lift the barrier to see if their objects are identical. If not, they have a laugh and discuss where they went wrong. 

For very little learners single objects can be named (one-item Auditory memory). Perhaps have 3 toys on each side of the barrier. Ask, ‘Where’s the monkey ee-ee-ee-oo-oo-oo?’ Players hold the monkey up. Model a reply say, ‘Boo! Here’s the monkey ee-ee-ee-oo-oo-oo.’ Sing a song about a monkey. Describe the monkey. 

On the floor you can use a chair or box as the barrier. Perhaps string up a sheet between 2 chairs for extra fun and language extension, not to mention thinking skills as you work with your little learner to figure out how to stop it falling down. The objects you use could be buckets and pegs, pots and pans, large blocks, DUPLO, dolls or toys cars. You could even use shoes and socks!

At the table, use a large book or a tray for your barrier. Work with sets of smaller toys, DUPLO, LEGO, felt pens and paper, colored counters, cutlery and crockery, calendars, and cut-up pictures. How about play doh with little objects to stick in it? Yes!

Via Skype the barrier is whatever you cannot see on the camera. Props probably have to be picture, pen and paper based. I have used non-matching sets of toys with older children. 

Barrier games are also great boredom-busters on long car trips. Use magnetic boards with pictures or words. 

Have fun!

Reference – 

Listening, language, and learning while cooking. 

Cooking and baking together is such a wonderful weekend or  vacation activity for the whole family. 

I can’t think of anything more fun to do to shake off that ‘cabin fever’ on a rainy day. It takes working together to choose a recipe, find the ingredients, put it all together, bake it, and then gobble up something delicious. 

Reading recipes is like reading another language. To begin with, just think of all of the new verbs your child is exposed to: chop, slice, dice, Püree, mix, soak, boil, stir, melt, etc. 

There are numerous mathematical terms in baking, including fractions and measurement by Grams and Milliliters. Talk about these units of measurement. Weigh a few more things around them home while you’re at it and predict whether things will weigh the same, less, or more. 

Discuss temperature, floating and sinking and how ingredients change form, texture, or colour. 

Have your child find the ingredients you need by reading the labels and following directions around the kitchen, e.g. The flour is in the largest tin on the top shelf. It’s to the left of the rice. Flour starts with /f/. What else starts with /f/? What does flour rhyme with?

This BBC blog has summarized the benefits of cooking with your child beautifully.