A few of my favourite things

A cancer diagnosis has many effects that impact both patients and their families. Stress, side-effects of medical treatments, and running to and from various appointments often leaves parents struggling to match their children’s energy levels. Part of the service Nanny Angels provide when they visit families is therefore allowing children to interact with an adult who has the energy to keep up with them. With this in mind NAN asked Connie Jones, a child development facilitator who works primarily with preschoolers, for her favourite activities to do with kids that are fun and educational. These toys and activities are perfect for either a parent who doesn’t have the energy to run around after their kids or for a Nanny Angel wanting to engage children in educational and fun play.

Below, Connie offers her advice on how to pick games for preschoolers and shares some of her favourites.

When choosing games for preschoolers, it is important to choose games that are age appropriate. All parties, adult and child alike, lose interest quickly when the game is too difficult or complicated for the players. Look for games which have simple, straightforward rules and game play. If the set up takes a long time, or there are too many things to remember, far too much energy goes into figuring out how to play the game. Adaptability to different ages and levels of play is also very important, especially when going to a home with multiple children of different ages. A great game can be modified easily to accommodate different skill levels and interests. Finally, factor in what interests the child. This is a big consideration if you have a reluctant or very new game player. Children are much more likely to be engaged and enthusiastic if it is related to something that interests them.

I have pulled out some example games from my toy cupboard. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does represent games that I play with children over and over again, 10 months of the year.

Zingo (ages 4-8) is a child’s bingo type game utilizing picture tiles. This game offers opportunity for image and vocabulary recognition, matching, memory, concentration, and turn-taking. It is a game that moves fast enough that even the youngest player can usually stay engaged while waiting for their own turn.

Zimbbos (ages 3+) is a wooden elephant and circus animal stacking game. This game promotes balancing skills, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. The elephants can be stacked in numerical order which offers opportunity for counting and number recognition. For younger players, colour recognition can be utilized. Children can be creative and imaginative in their solutions to making the elephant tower. Positional concepts can be discussed as to who is on the bottom, who is on the top, who is beside and so on. Be prepared, however, for the inevitable crashing tower.

Pigzup (ages 4 and up) is another stacking game that children really enjoy. Cards are used to match numbers and then the race is on to stack the pigs. There are 8 adorable pigs with little felt ears and curly tails. They are not as easy to stack as one might think. There is an option to play with a die that adds more challenge to the game. This game is great for fine motor development, dexterity, and number and colour recognition.

Spot it Jr.! (ages 4 and up) is a card game in a tin. There are a numerous variations of Spot It!, some much more difficult than others. I have been using the animals edition. Each player flips over a card and tries to spot the animal common to both cards. It is more difficult than you think! This is a fast paced game that helps to develop attention, visual perception, speech-language, and fine motor skills (flipping cards can be challenging!) It is also a very portable game, easily slipped into a bag or purse.

Lego, Duplo, or other age-appropriate building pieces (ages 3-4). Building blocks with a couple of little people or animals can provide hours of imaginative entertainment. Pushing the plastic pieces together and apart helps develop hand and finger strength. A couple of figures provides opportunity for imaginative dialogue and play situations.

Art supplies could be a very long list; however, an easy and portable solution is paper with a variety of different mark making implements. Offer crayons, chalk, pencil crayons, pastels, etc. If desired, include glue and a selection of objects for collage. I have found that when I sit and work on my own art, children are drawn to the activity. Once the piece is completed, you might ask the child to tell you about their picture.

Memory games can be found in many shapes and sizes. I have discovered a couple of good quality ones at local thrift shops. I have found that children are really good at them, much better than me! In most memory games one can use as many or as few pairs as one likes to make the game fun and successful for the child.

Puzzles choices are best made considering what is appropriate for a child’s age and skill level. Try to find puzzles that are flat and in good condition. It is frustrating and time consuming to cope with cupped and deformed puzzle pieces. Puzzles offer the opportunity to develop problem solving skills, memory, fine motor skills, pattern recognition, and patience.

Dolls and puppets offer opportunities for imaginative play and dialogue. When working with children in the health care setting, I found that they were often able to tell my puppet much more than they were willing to tell me. I also found that explaining procedures and expectations to the doll or puppet while the child looked on gave the child time to observe and digest information, giving them the opportunity to process the information and watch the procedure prior to them being part of the scenario.

Books, books, books. There are so many wonderful children’s books, it is impossible to choose favourites. I was looking for a book one day for a baby shower, having been asked to bring my “favourite” children’s book as a gift. The clerk asked what my favourite book was and I informed her that I hadn’t found it yet. She directed me to Sparky!, the story of a little girl who mail orders a sloth for a pet. Sparky isn’t very good at fetch, hide and seek, or the other games the girl tries to play with him, but he is irresistible. I brought Sparky! to the shower and have since given it to a couple more little humans.

Reading books to a child offers a special time to cuddle and share a story. This can be done in so many ways. The words can be read, the pictures can be looked at and commented on, children can ‘read’ to the adult. Questions can be asked. What do you think will happen next? Do you remember what happened first? You can also check in about a child’s understanding of the vocabulary.

Books can be chosen for their topics focusing on feelings, friends, kindness, and so on. It is wonderful if the book is appealing to both the adult as well as the child. That being said, I do find that I am always being surprised by books, and sometimes the ones that are not so appealing at first become new favourites. When children are not particularly interested in books, one can add interest or a ‘hook’ that might grab attention. For example, if reading a story about magic pebbles, one might offer the child a special, polished magic pebble of their own. I like to have little popsicle puppets or actual little scenes that add a play element to the book. After handling and playing with the manipulative, the child is often motivated to tell the story on their own.

If I had to pick one item to share with children above all others, I think it would have to be books!

Connie Jones is a former nurse who currently works as a child development facilitator on an early intervention team. She works with families who have three to four-year-olds with developmental delays, working both in children’s homes and in a preschool setting. You can find her online on her crafting blog.

Text: Connie Jones and Jensine Jones | Photos: Connie Jones
Books pictured: If You Plant A Seed by Kadir Nelson, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow, The Colour Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas.