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The art of entertaining children in small spaces

In days gone by the great Australian dream for most grandparents typically involved a quarter acre block, a white picket fence and if you were really lucky a dog, a cat and perhaps a swimming pool were thrown in for good measure.

But while the decision to trade their spacious family home for new digs usually less than half the size, is appealing to many downsizers for a variety of reasons, including financial, what many fail to consider is the impact on family members. In particular, those of the pint-sized variety.

According to the Productivity Commission, about 20 per cent of people aged 60 or over have sold their home and purchased a less expensive one since turning 50. Another 15 per cent have “strong intentions” to do so in the future. But with increasing pressure on baby-boomers and seniors to help out with child rearing and child minding duties, what this means in real terms is there is a tonne of strata residents out there struggling to entertain younger family members on limited budgets and in limited spaces.

However the Australian government’s parenting website Raising Children says young children don’t need access to excess space or expensive toys for their learning and development.

It argues homemade games and free activities involving open-ended play are a great way to keep children entertained, costing little money, and helping to spark the child’s imagination and creativity.

Raising Children says that when the child in your care is a newborn, you are the toy they will enjoy the most.

“Your touch, the sound of your voice, being rocked in your arms, or staring at your face is more than enough entertainment for a new baby. Your newborn will also love being outside when the weather is good, feeling the wind, hearing sounds of birds, and experiencing new outdoorsy smells.

Newborn babies respond to music, but it’s your voice that they enjoy most. Hold your baby, sing, talk and make eye contact. These activities will keep your baby entertained, and help your baby learn and get to know you all at once.”

When minding toddlers, it helps to consider them as little scientists, the network suggests as their play is often about “experimenting, observing, testing, trying out ideas and figuring out how things work”.

To help keep them entertained, consider offering them some pegs and a peg container or put together a box of old clothes for dress-up or pretend play.

Other options include cutting pieces of cardboard into small envelopes and decorating them, making a pretend post box by cutting slits into the front of an old ice cream container or using playdough to make pancakes or towers.

For older pre-schoolers consider making a sock puppet using old socks, turning old boxes into a shop counter or cubbyhouse, or taping some scrap paper together to help them make their own book.

For school age children, the network suggests stimulating the children in your care by heading to the kitchen to share with them your favourite recipes, inviting friends over for a playdate or playing word games involving making up silly rhymes or word association.

With excess energy to burn, you could get out a stopwatch and challenge them with bootcamp-style exercises whilst making use of outside grounds, encouraging them to improve their time with each effort.

Children of this age also respond well to being given small household chores to complete. Consider sending them to take the rubbish down to the communal bins or arm them with some garden implements and guide them to the communal garden space to rake up any spare leaves.

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