Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Encourage Budding Artists

Through the courses that I have taken and the books that I have read these past few months, many of them have reminded me of how simple it can be to inspire your child's artistic abilities as well as the many benefits of keeping art simple and open with no preconceived end. When an example of what you want the child to create is shown, which is typical of early childhood programs and often expected from parents in order to bring home a 'finished' product, the child's creativity is often lost while they try to replicate the teacher or parents work. Offering a single colour of paint with a variety of materials to use in order to paint can lead the child to expand their creative abilities and imagination at the same time. Their art then becomes a life experience for them and a means of self expression. Quite often a child will spend more time in an open ended art area as they can explore until they have reached completion on their own terms.

This year, children in the Nursery School program will be exposed to the writing centre each day where they can choose to colour or write at will as well as an art room before and / or after snack time. The children will have free choice as to whether they would like to have snack or begin art and then can freely move between rooms as they are finished either their snack or their art project. My hope is that this will encourage those children who really are not very interested in art to dip their toes into various art mediums and find which techniques do inspire them. Likewise, those children who can spend all day being creative will have greater opportunity to do so. A variety of art mediums will be presented to the children throughout the school year for them to explore each day.

A key aspect in encouraging creativity lies in how a parent talks to their children about their art. When these masterpieces are shown to the families at the end of the program the most powerful question you can ask is "Can you tell me about your art?" This leaves the child open to explaining exactly what it is they see - some days it can be as simple as a line or other days it might be an entire scene from their imagination. Please try to avoid guessing what your child has made, this can only end with the child feeling self conscious or negative about their abilities.

Another important aspect of encouraging creativity is displaying your child's art supplies and their art work. For art supplies, the more you can leave at the child's level, the easier it is for them to choose art as an activity when they are looking for something to do. Likewise having a cupboard or shelf with art materials organized can make starting a project quick and easy. There really are many creative ways to display your child's art in your home. From picture frames on a wall in your home for an ever changing gallery, to hanging wires with clothes pins to hang art or taking pictures of the art and creating a digital album, the ideas are endless. For some ideas on organizing your art area and displaying art check out this link.

I am so very excited about seeing some of the creative ideas that come from the students this year! I would also love to hear how you encourage art as well as display art in your home. I am still looking for the perfect wall to display all of Ewan's creations!

Just a reminder, there are still a handful of afternoon Nursery School Spaces available and classes begin next week. For more details click here.

Also, there are three weeks left in A Gym Tale's IPad and Drop In Pass Giveaway - keep those likes coming!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Toilet Training - Round two!

So I am undergoing some toilet training with Isla - I say I, because it is as much training for me as it is for her - probably more for me actually. I am following more or less the same strategies for Isla as I did with Ewan - you can read about my experience with Ewan here . (The post about toilet training Ewan is actually the most popular post I have written - I think it must be because they look so darn cute sitting in the Bumbo seat!)

Isla is now 7 months old and as of the last two weeks she is regularly peeing on the toilet when I bring her! My hope is that as she get older I will need fewer and fewer diapers as we work together in learning her 'schedule'.

Now how did this experiment work with Ewan, you might wonder? Well, he has been peeing on the toilet regularly since he was one year and he has been out of diapers for the past year, more or less around when he turned two. But it is only really this summer that he will actually go to the toilet on his own initiative, ie. me not having to tell him to go and try. I am not sure if it has taken this long for him to begin telling me that he has to go because we developed the habit where I always told him when he should go or if it is because he is a boy and simply too busy to take the time out of playing to go himself.

So, I am trying it again with Isla to see if it is any different with her.

I would love to hear about others experiences with Elimination Communication and any tips you could offer.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Our Biggest Giveaway Ever!

In celebration of all of the new improvements to A Gym Tale, especially the addition of wireless internet during all Drop In Play times, Alan and I have put together a Give Away package that will let you enjoy A Gym Tale to the fullest!

We are asking our 'friends' that already like A Gym Tale on Facebook to help us spread the word about  A Gym Tale and all that we have to offer families. Every new 'like' on A Gym Tale's Facebook during the next month (until September 20th, 2012) we will enter that individual into the draw. Please have your friend post on A Gym Tale's wall who referred them (only one referral name) and every time your name is mentioned you will also be entered into the draw.

Now for the giveaway - one individual will win a 5 pass Drop In Play card as well as an IPad 2 so that you can take full advantage of our free wireless internet!

So again, the more referrals that post your name on A Gym Tale's wall, the more times your name will be entered into the draw. An example post on your Facebook page could be - 'Like A Gym Tale for your chance to win an Ipad 2 and a 5 Pass Drop In Play card - but be sure to mention my name on A Gym Tale's wall so that I will be entered as well!'

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Big Things are Happening at A Gym Tale!

Now if you thought the front entrance was impressive this past Spring, just wait until you see what we have been up to this summer!

I have already been blogging about the new Nursery School Program - check out the program and availability here. Registration has also just begun for the Gym & Music classes for infants 3 months up to children 3.5 years of age and lots of new props, songs and activities will be integrated throughout the session. Check out our classes and schedule here. I really am so excited for Isla to experience the play classes just as Ewan had the chance to enjoy!

As for your experience as a guest when at A Gym Tale we are striving to make it more relaxing for parents, stimulating for babies and toddlers and just as much fun for the kids on the move!

To begin with, new flooring is being put down around the indoor playground. The soft foam tiles have been looking a little rough, so I think this will be a huge improvement. Seating in the eating area is also being updated - no more folding chairs and tables (yes, I will admit we definitely skimped in this area in order to meet our original budget!). A Gym Tale now will have real tables and chairs for adults! Furthermore, A Gym Tale will also have free internet access during the week! Although I am told there are still a few security kinks that need to be worked out (anyone with any advice on this please email me!). Just imagine - sitting at a sturdy, non-folding table, surfing the net on your Ipad (or whatever you use) while your little ones run themselves to exhaustion on the playground! That would be amazing.

As for babies and toddlers - space is limited at A Gym Tale, so I often recommend the New Magic, Enchantments or Wee Wonders classes to entertain your little one with songs, gymnastics, parachute games and bubbles as opposed to the Drop In Play. I do still highly recommend the Gym and Music classes for the younger age group, however, now when your class is finished or before it begins bring your little one over to our updated toddler area! This area will have baby bouncer seats and Bumbo seats for our littlest guests as well as a new ball pit. Yes, a ball pit that will not fall apart if your little one moves while they are in it! I will also have a variety of stationary activities available within the eating area to amuse the youngest guests while you perhaps enjoy a coffee.

Last, but certainly not least, A Gym Tale will very soon be offering online booking for birthday parties. That is right - you no longer need to call A Gym Tale and leave messages while programs are in session. You will be able to book parties at your convenience and receive follow up calls from us to ensure that all of your questions have been answered and to leave you feeling confident that your child will have the very best party ever!

I would like to invite everyone to see and enjoy all of these updates this Fall season. A Gym Tale will be hosting a Guest Appreciation Day on Sunday, September 9th from 10am-6pm! All Drop In Play guests will be half price:) Come and visit us, and maybe get an autograph from some of our friends - Spiderman, Wolverine, Sleeping Beauty and Jasmine!

We look forward to hosting the most fun Fall activities and Birthday parties in a bright and stimulating environment for the children and offering a place for parents to play with their children and sit back and relax!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Instilling a love of reading

Instilling a love of reading will take our children very far in life. From enhancing their language skills early on to contributing to later academic success. The very best way to encourage reading is to read to our children. And to enjoy reading to our children. Children can very much pick up on subtle signs when we are reading, so an enthusiastic voice and making comments throughout the story really help drive home that you too love to read. Even older children will benefit from simply listening to a parent read a story to them and just enjoy the story itself. 
An easy way to help young children grasp the concept of letters, words and sentences is to simply follow the the words with your finger as you read them. You will soon notice your child doing the very same thing as they are 'reading' which gives the children more of a sense that they are actually reading. Also, children love to hear the same story over and over - so keep on reading that bedtime book that now makes you nauseous at the thought of reading it one more time. The ability to read a book from memory is one of the first steps in learning to read. Furthermore, hearing a book on cd or an Ipad is also a valid form of reading and can sometimes spark an interest in kids.

For preschoolers there are a few practices that you can put into place to really encourage a love of books. The first is to have books around the house. Creating cozy reading nooks will invite children into these spaces. Ewan has a reading nook in his room as well as in his playroom. In the playroom (above picture) we have a few shelves that are our central library and hold the majority of books sorted by holiday themes, baby and board books and books for Ewan. Sorting books by author or theme is also a great way to be able to quickly find the book your child may be looking for. Displaying some of your books by facing them forwards can also bring more attention to the books. In Ewan's playroom, the tall book shelf is used only to display books facing forward. In Ewan's bedroom, I choose only six books to have displayed at one time. This really encourages Ewan to read many of the books that might go unnoticed when they are all lined up with only the spines visible. Again, making the space simple and inviting plays a large role in getting the children to the area. So displaying only a few books, so that it is not overwhelming to look at and adding in some soft blankets or pillows can make a big difference. 

At A Gym Tale, books are read in circle time to the whole group, in the reading nook during free play and used in various play centres. We have incorporated big pillows as well as a canopy over the book shelf to create a soft, quiet space for the children to go and read. A teacher is always ready and willing to read a book. It never ceases to amaze me to see a child ask a teacher to read a book, only to have 16 of 24 children sitting around her within minutes. Books are also included in various learning centres depending on the themes. Children love field guides about various science themes. Ewan's current favourite read is a guide of native plants in canada. Including books on rocks, bugs, birds - or whatever your child may be interested in is a great way to incorporate books into learning. In addition, felt board stories or finger puppets let children play out the stories again and again. The more interactive reading can be, the more children will be drawn to the activity.

I also have baskets around the house with themed books in each one. I have a basket in my bedroom for when Ewan wakes up early (trying to buy myself a few more minutes of sleep!) as well as a basket in Isla's room to give Ewan a quiet activity when I am trying to get Isla asleep. Having these baskets around the house is a sure way of always having a book readily available. His jungle themed basket has various stories with jungle animals - ranging from board books or disney books that he has memorized and can 'read' to himself to new books that he will look at the pictures or make up a story. I also try and include a few themed toys to encourage him to interact with the stories - such as a barrel of monkeys and some Lion King figurines. 

And don't forget the babies! Isla also has baskets of books in her room as well as the living room. Many of these books are soft picture books or board books. However, with her teething and chewing she is quickly melting the board books. But she is also learning to turn pages, look at the pictures and enjoy listening to the stories as they are told.

Reading to your child every day really is one of the most worthwhile activities that you can do with your family. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Inspiring Writing in Young Children

I believe that when you entice children to write at a young age it helps to lay the foundation for an understanding of the importance of language development and reading later on. When I say 'write', in reference to preschoolers, I am not meaning letters, tracing or worksheets. Simply using various mediums (crayons, paint, markers etc.) to allow children to express themselves and to connect with others is a form of writing.

The best way to encourage writing is to offer meaningful writing experiences. When writing your grocery list, offer your child the tools to write their own list. When going through the mail, suggest your child 'write' a letter to a family member or friend and actually mail the letter. Even having your children dictate to you what their picture is all about is a great way for children to see you put their thoughts into words.

Providing opportunities for children to 'write' anytime they wish is also helpful to encourage young writers. Now leaving writing tools out in the open and accessible at all times may sound scary to many of you - I have to admit, I have not done this in the past with the Nursery School program. I always pictured children adding their own details to my wall murals and decorating my padded floor! However, when I have thought more about this idea and having seen how my son, Ewan, interacts with his writing materials I think the benefits far outweigh the risks. In addition, providing the right tools can also make all the difference. I have created a writing caddy for both Ewan and the Nursery School writing centre that includes crayons, pencil crayons and markers (all washable of course, let's not get too crazy!), as well as a variety of paper (coloured, lists, letter paper), envelopes and stamps (even just penny stamps to add to the imaginative factor). With all of these items at his finger tips he never strays far from the caddy and always has plenty of inspirations as opposed to getting bored and moving to the walls. The caddy is also just a basket that is portable and can be moved from one room to another and even outside if that is where his inspiration strikes.

I also include an alphabet chart in the caddy just so that Ewan is exposed to the letters of the alphabet. In past years, the students in the Nursery School program have created alphabet books over the course of the year to demonstrate their progress in writing skills. However, I will not be continuing this practice this year as I feel there are more effective hands-on activities to allow children to explore the concept of letters. This year, students will be exploring letters by identifying them around the class, and making the motions in various mediums such as sand, paint, sensory bags and creating the letters using natural materials found all around them. Again, all children develop at their own pace and by no means need to be 'writing' letters at the preschool level. But, I do feel it is important to create a print-rich environment where children are exposed to letters and words. 

I would encourage everyone to create a space dedicated to writing in their home, even a basket with plain paper and a few crayons, and observe any changes that may arise in your child.

Several spaces are still available in the afternoon program, so please pass the word to family and friends. For more information on the Nursery School Program, please visit http://www.agymtale.com/Nursery_School.htm. This is going to be an exciting year filled with new experiences!