Family Room Activities
There are many things you can do in the Family Room to make this space more of an Active Learning environment for your child. Since this is a place where the whole family gathers, you need activities that the child can do independently and also things that other family members can do with the child. Here are just a few ideas.
An Independent Activity Area
Independent play time is very important for all children. This is where they explore and experiment without interference from an adult. However, it is very important that SAFETY is first and foremost in your mind. Never give your child something to play with without some supervision. Check all materials to make sure there are not broken parts that might cut or small pieces that could be put in his or her mouth that could cause choking. If possible, locate this space next to an area where you typically sit or work so you can have your child in eye sight.
Set up a corner of the room or other location that your child can play in regularly. You can use hooks or even Command Strips™ to hang position and scratch boards on walls, railings or cabinet doors. If possible, have a hard surface for your child to lay on since the feedback from movement will be amplified. A Resonance Board is best and can be made at home if you have the time and materials.
The directions for making a Resonance Board may be downloaded from Active Learning Space. Hard wood, laminate or tile floors also work if you don’t have a handyman available to make a Resonance Board. If you have carpet, consider placing a 4′ x 4′ plywood square in an area or use leftover tiles to create a space on some part of the floor where the child can play for periods of time. Soft surfaces are very familiar to most children and may signal time for sleeping rather than being active. Lying on a hard surface also allows the child to become accustomed to the feel of other surfaces he or she may encounter once they become more mobile. If you don’t have wood or tile, consider using cardboard which not only has an interesting texture, but also an interesting smell.
In this area you could keep a container of various interesting objects and materials that would interest the child. You can use any container, but an old suitcase can work well and be moved out of the way when they child is not playing. It is fine to include a few toys, but make sure there are plenty of common everyday objects available, too.
Include things made from metal, wood, paper, cloth, rubber, as well as, items made of soft or squishy materials. Your child probably has a preference for certain textures and materials, but offer a few new textures and materials in the collection. Include common household items or things found in nature like shells, rocks, and sticks. For example, maybe your child prefers to play with a plastic, electronic musical toy by pushing on a button. What is something else that uses the same hand movement to achieve a sound and is not made from plastic? Do you have a wooden toy piano he could explore? What about poking a disposable aluminum pie pan? Dry leaves make an interesting sound when poked or patted or grasped. This is where your creativity and your ability to figure out what motivates your child to explore comes into play. You never know what will appeal to your child until you try it.
It is also important to think about specific fine and gross motor skills your child currently uses when creating an independent activity space. How does your child currently use hands, feet, arms, legs, head, mouth, and torso. Focus on play that lets the child practice the movement again and again to that it will become automatic to him or her. The overriding goal is to get your child moving in anyway possible. What we know is that movement of one part of the body typically leads to movement in other parts of the body. This is what Dr. Nielsen called kinesthetic movement.
Playing with Other Family Members
When the family is gathered in the room, they can join in the child’s play. Their role will change based on what the child is able to do on his or her own. For example, a child who cannot reach or grasp yet, may need someone to simply hold an object near the child for them to interact with by touching, banging, scratching or licking. Some children will enjoy having you imitate the way they explore the object with a similar or identical object of your own. Depending on their vision and hearing, you may need to be in contact with the child’s body for them to become aware of your movements. Other children will enjoy playing simple turn-taking games centered around an object or toy. For example, taking turn shaking shakers made from empty bottles and dry beans or rice. Other children may be ready for constructive play such as taking apart and putting together, sorting, stacking, taking things out and putting things in containers. (See Cognitive Skills.) The adult or sibling helps to facilitate the movement the child cannot yet complete. For example, you might need to stack things like dominoes, blocks, or plastic cups and saucers for the child to knock over.
Throwing things into containers is another fun activity that a child might enjoy with the help of others who can be there to replace the items that are thrown. Make sure the thrown object provides auditory feedback when the it lands inside the container. Here is a simple throwing activity using a laundry basket, cookie sheet, and coins. You could use a variety of small objects such as whole nuts, metal washers, dry sponges, pine cones, etc. to let the child compare the sound the various objects make when they hit the cookie sheet.
Laundry Basket Throw
In this demonstration you see how a laundry basket can be adapted to make noise when objects are thrown inside simply by adding a metal cookie sheet in the bottom.
Another throwing activity can be done by the child using a Position Board with longer elastics. This allows the child to throw the object attached to the elastic and have it return so the child can find it to throw again.
Kneeling, Standing, Cruising
You can also work on skills like pulling to stand, cruising, climbing stairs, rolling, crawling, and walking. There are many ideas for these activities that you can see in the Motor Development section of the Implementation tab of this website.
Objects on a Stair Rail
Below Jessica McCavit from Penrickton Center for Blind Children demonstrates how a child who is coming up to kneeling might play with objects attached to a railing. This might also be an activity that a child who is sitting independently or starting to cruise could do as well.
Place a variety of objects on a low table, shelf, or sofa for the child to discover who is beginning to pull up, stand or cruise. You may want to sit at the opposite end of the sofa and play with a toy just beyond the child’s reach to help him or her become aware and curious about the object so they start to move toward it.
Create tunnels, dens, forts and obstacle courses out of boxes, blankets, pillows and rugs encourage all of your children to play in the Family Room. Here are a few examples of these that Jessica McCavit created in her home.
Demonstration of Indoor Obstacle Course
Here is a video of Jessica McCavit playing on an obstacle course made from pillows, rugs and yoga mat.
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Pull to Stand and Climbing Stairs
Children love stairs, and as much as it may frighten adults, they need opportunities to explore them. With adult supervision, when your child is ready to pull up or climb, spend time together on the stairs. Let your child take the lead in the exploration, but provide motivation for him or her to reach or try to climb by placing interesting objects along the stair treads. The adult’s role in this activity is 1) to be the “spotter” to keep the child from injury and 2) to replace or add new items that may be tossed off the stairs.