I tend to plan activities around the children’s interests. Unlike having four children of varying age groups, I only have to deal with the 5 and 3 year old age group and it gets even narrower than that because my 3yos really look up to their 5 yo sister and whatever she likes, they will automatically like as well, so I end up really only catering to a single interest. Call it a happy problem.
Right now they are really, really, obsessed with flowers. It started with Livia learning about Vanda Miss Joaquim in school and she kept asking lots of questions about flowers and wanting to draw flowers so I thought, okay I guess we are moving away from insects (their prior interest) and moving on to flowers. I don’t really have a timeline with these interests, you just have to see what grips your children at that moment and run with it. You have probably seen all our activities on Instagram lately have centred mostly around flowers.
So I started brainstorming activities around flowers. On a related note, Livia goes to MOE Kindergarten and if you are familiar with MOE Kindergarten’s curriculum, they steer away from traditional rote learning. Teachers are only facilitators and the kindergarteners more or less take charge of their own learning. So their curriculum is heavily inquiry-based and project-based learning. Literacy, numeracy, science and mother tongue language are integrated into ‘activities’ so for example, if the theme is around insects, they do investigative work about insects, ask questions about the relevance of insects to human beings, know the different parts of the insects and during these investigations, English, Math, Science and Mandarin/Malay/Tamil language learning are seamlessly integrated. The kids don’t even realise they are picking up basic Mathematical operation skills when they are doing these activities because so much of it is play-based. I really love their curriculum (no spelling, no homework and no rote learning) and I decided to follow the same style at home as well. So when the girls show an interest, I plan engaging activities around that theme and these activities typically naturally incorporate preschool languages, math, science, art, etc.
I tend to have a few books and websites that I use to inspire ideas (see below for links), and I consult lots of Youtube videos, especially for art activities. The reason being sometimes the books recommend activities that are suitable for 5yos but not 3yos so I go on Youtube to figure out ways to scale the activity down for 3yos so that I can have all four children do the same activity suited for their development. So I will just start listing all the activities I feel would be fun for my children to do that relate to flowers and I will schedule them into my weekly planner.
My weekly planner is just a super long check-list of outdoor play venues and at-home-activities. I don’t have like specific activities for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc. I would prepare the materials that are not readily available at home by Sunday night and throughout the week I would just follow the list of activities in my weekly planner in random order, depending on my mood and my children’s interest level and energy.
One point to note: I do not do much DIY-ing. Sometimes I make Montessori nomenclature or 3-part-series cards from time to time, but I never, never do activities that require me to craft this and that for them to learn-and-play like those you see on Instagram often. Even the Montessori cards that I cut and laminate are downloadable online (see links before). The reason being: I don’t have time nor energy! So we do mostly open-ended art activities and I rely on a lot on guidebooks (see below) to give me easy to execute activities that requires very little prep from me. The second reason I don’t do this is because it takes away the fun from the children doing things on their own and being spontaneous. Generally in my world, time is precious and the opportunity cost of having to over DIY is too much.
I am not a perfect person so there are weeks I am just down and out and I will tell the kids, sorry mummy has no activities for us today so just go play by yourselves and they will just have unstructured free play in their play room or at the playground. So I do have times where I completely abandon my weekly plans or shelf them for another week till I feel that I am in a better mood. I don’t beat myself up over this. I think parents are generally overdoing it with how much time and effort they put into their children. I feel that if your kids are already in a good preschool, you can really just take a backseat and do activities with them just for some parent-child bonding.
So generally, the way I plan it is:
- At least 2-3 hours outdoor time (that includes grocery shopping or window-shopping if I don’t feel like sweating it out outdoors).
- At least twice or thrice a week of full outdoor days, at the zoo, doing nature walks, or beach days – my husband typically helps me fulfil this requirement easily on weekends when he takes them out.
- And for indoor, at-home activities, I divide activity times into ‘activities after lunch’ and ‘activities just before dinner’. There is typically a break between ‘activities after lunch’ and ‘before dinner’ where they do unstructured free play and for me to laze around a bit or prep meals.
I have to also emphasise that I don’t plan for any tangible outcomes from doing all of this. I have no desire in ensuring they can read, count, or be bilingual at a certain age. Everything I do is about learning and having fun. If they still can’t read by the time they get to Primary 1 then so be it because every child is different and learns differently. I place much more importance in the more intangible outcomes: having a sense of imagination, enjoying learning, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, creativity, social skills, independence….you know stuff like that.
So I think there isn’t need to feel stressed about not doing enough for your kids. I am pretty sure almost everybody I know is doing above and beyond.
Books/Websites that guide my brainstorming
Explode the code series
Let’s play math: How families can learn math together and enjoy it (she has other books worth reading as well)
Bedtime Math series
Playful learning: develop your child’s sense of joy and wonder (her website has many beautiful printables that follows on the concept of inquiry-based learning)
For all the art ideas, please consult the books/websites from my blog entry on Art supplies. Sometimes a simple Youtube search, like eg. how to use clay with kids will yield plenty of exciting ideas you can do with your kids at home.
Info Montessori is a website that gives you step-by-step on how to use Montessori learning aids