Second part in our serices of school holiday activities

Last week we posted our first part in our series of school holiday activities. We trust that you and your families have had fun experimenting with these activities. Here is the next list of activities for you to try in the second week of the school holidays.

School Holiday Activity "Play dough"

In a recent blog, we talked about how OT's love play dough. Here are some additional ideas about using play dough and a different recipe for you to try to make your own.

Play dough is an old favourite but a great activity that is cheap and kids can learn so much from it. Your child can learn action words, concepts of size, shape, texture and colour, develop pretend play skills and develop hand skills in preparation for writing, all while having fun. You can buy play dough from toy shops and even larger supermarkets quite cheaply or you can make your own. Making it is fun and cheap and your child can help with the making process. Be careful though if your child eats play dough, as the high salt content can be dangerous for young children. If you think your child may put it in their mouth or eat it, choose non toxic play dough from the shops and always supervise your child carefully.

Here is a recipe to make your own

Uncooked Play Dough

  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 4 tablespoons of cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons of cooking oil
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • food colouring

Put it in a bowl and mix well. Tip it out on a bench and kneed until smooth.

You can also add glitter for colour or sand for texture or essential oils such as lavender or peppermint for a delicious scent. If you want to make a couple of different colours choose colours that look nice when mixed together, as this is sure to happen. Red (or pink) and blue will make purple, yellow and blue will make green, but red and green will make something that looks pretty awful. Keep your play dough wrapped tightly in cling wrap in the fridge.

As you play with young children talk about the different actions you do as you roll, pat, squeeze, cut, squash, slice. With preschoolers and school aged children try using different things from around the kitchen to make shapes and patterns and talk about the shapes and textures that you make. Use a tea set or toy cooking set to do some pretend play. You could be a chef or have a restaurant or just have some teddies around for afternoon tea. You can make balls and sausages and talk about concepts; such as long, short, thick, thin, heavy, light, big, little, middle sized. You could try comparatives and superlatives; big, bigger, biggest, long, longer, longest. You can also practice counting skills. Why not make letter shapes either by rolling sausages and shaping the letters or by using alphabet shaped cookie cutters or stencils. Start with your child’s name and then try other letters or words to develop phonological awareness skills. Make a simple word then change the first letter to help your child understand rhyming. All that pushing and squeezing develops muscle strength and control in little hands and fingers to help prepare for writing too.

School Holiday Activity "Make a cubby"

Cubbies are great for developing pretend play skills and pretend play is great for developing language and social skills. Cubbies don’t have to be a house; they can also be a shop, a cafe’, a post office, a fire station, a doctor’s surgery, a pet shop, a vet surgery, whatever hold’s your child’s interest. All you really need is an enclosed space, such as a large cardboard box (try asking a shop that sells furniture or white goods if they have one to spare) or a blanket or tarp spread over some chairs, a table or a clothes airer. Pop up tents are cheaply available in toy shops and “cheap shops” and are portable, easy to put away and can be used inside and outside for a wide range of activities.

Once you have your “cubby” you need to fill it with “props” and “characters” to get the pretending going. Props can be dress-ups, pretend toys such as tea sets, empty boxes and containers from groceries. Op shops can be a cheap source of dress ups and other props. Characters can include dolls, teddies, stuffed toys, puppets, Mum, Dad or grandparents, maybe even a cooperative pet.

Props and characters are ways of introducing new words into your child’s vocabulary. Changing the theme of your cubby every few days allows you to add new words. A shop cubby may teach your child “cash register, pay, change, pack, deliver” while a doctor cubby might teach “appointment, medicine, prescription, heart, lungs and other body parts”. Remember to include action and describing words into your play to further develop your child’s vocabulary. Include paper and pencils in your props such as notepads for adding prices, writing prescriptions, taking orders, etc. to develop early literacy skills. Counting, adding, weighing and measuring can be included to develop number skills.

Joining in the play with your child is a great way to develop language and extend your child’s play. If you are not sure how to best do this there are some ideas you can download in the “early language” section of the “plus for families” part of our website. This has a large amount of information and it is available to everyone, not just Talking Matters clients. You can sign up for free and download information at

School Holiday Activity "Painting ideas"

Kids can learn a lot from painting, including language skills and concept development as well as developing fine motor skills needed for writing. Making marks on paper is the beginning of developing literacy skills. Learning to make those marks represent something, a picture, is a step towards making marks represent something using written words. It is also lots of fun.

There are lots of different ideas for painting. You can use water colours with brushes but remember the smaller the child, the bigger the brush, so short chunky brushes are best for little hands. You can print or stencil with paint using things from around the house such as kitchen utensils, sponges cut into shapes, cotton balls and buds or even fruit and vegetables.

You can combine different mediums. Why not try;

  • painting water colour paint over a crayon drawing
  • soaking chalk in water then drawing over coloured paper
  • painting with plain water outside on walls or paths
  • face paints or soap based body paints in the bath
  • adding glitter or sand to paint for texture
  • adding cornflour to paint to thicken for finger painting
  • adding spices or scented oils for delicious smells
  • boiling pasta such as spaghetti in water with food colouring then making pictures on black paper while still wet, warm and sticky. (Lie flat to dry.)
  • folding the picture in half so the wet sides touch, smooth together with your hand then open up to make a mirror image. You can make great butterflies this way.

There are some more ideas on this website:

As you paint, talk about colour, size, shape and texture. Mix colours together and talk about the new colour you have made. Make faces, people or animals and talk about the names of body parts. Talk with your child about what their painting means. Help them write their name on their painting and write what their picture is about to develop literacy skills. Take photos of the stages of their painting as they make it to develop sequencing skills and practice describing procedures.

Encourage your child to show and talk about what they have made with people that were not there when they made it, such as Grandma. This helps develop “decontextualised language”; the ability to talk about something that happened in another place or time. It is an underlying skill for literacy development that is difficult for many children with language difficulties. Having something concrete in their hands to talk about that they have experienced is a great way to help develop this skill.

School Holiday Activity "Collage"

If you enjoyed any of the painting ideas and are in a crafty mood why not try some collage. Collage involves gluing all kids of things onto paper to make a picture. It is a great way to develop concepts of colour, size, shape, texture, categories, descriptive words, sorting and more. It is also fun, easy for little hands and inexpensive. You can use things from around the house such as coloured paper, cotton balls, fabric scraps, magazine and catalogue pictures, dried pasta shapes, dried beans and seeds, confetti, glitter, foil shapes, alfoil, pop sticks, cellophane, dried flowers and leaves, and more. Make sure that the things you use are safe for your child’s age and won’t be put into little mouths.

You can begin by drawing a shape onto paper then helping your child stick things onto it. Make your shape fit the concept you want to teach. You could draw a cat and paste on soft things such as cotton balls and fabric. You could draw and apple and paste on all kids of red things. You could start with a paper plate and glue on all kinds of food pictures from catalogues to develop describing words and categories. You could make an “I like” and “I don’t like” plates or “healthy foods” and “sometimes foods” or a “fruit plate” and a “vegetable plate”. You could draw large outlines of numbers and stick that number of things on each one to develop counting skills.

Older children can make more complex scenes to develop more complex vocabulary. You could draw a beach scene and glue on some sand, cut out fish, boats, people and blue cellophane water. You could make a farm scene and paste animal shapes and make a farm house with pop sticks. You could make a garden scene with flowers from patty pans and cotton balls. Choose a theme that interests your child. Make a crazy dinosaur or vehicle.

This website has lots and lots of collage ideas for kids:

This website has printable templates and instructions to make a collage alphabet book. Great for developing early literacy skills.

School Holiday Activity "Dress Ups"

Dress ups are a cheap and fun way to develop language skills, pretend play, imagination, creativity and social skills. Dressing up with other children can develop turn-taking and cooperative play. You can buy commercially made costumes. These are good for characters that your children like and can be used to act out scenes from movies, TV and books. You can add extras like hats, wands, and pretend jewellery. It is also fun to make your own dress-ups. Try op- shops for some real bargains. As well as interesting clothes, look for belts, hats, scarves, shoes, handbags, wallets, sunglasses and cloths that can be used for capes. Kids also love to dress up in mum or dad’s clothes, shoes, sunglasses and handbags and pretend to be “adults”.

You can use the theme ideas from the “cubby house section” to make scenes to go with your dress-ups and act out roles such as shopkeeper, doctor, teacher, vet, policeman. Think about new words and concepts your child can learn while playing out these roles and maybe borrow a non-fiction book about your theme from the library to learn more. Take photos and use them to develop a storybook or slide show, or video your children acting out a scene to make a movie to show family members.

School Holiday Activity "Playing shops"

To build further on the ideas in the “cubby house” and “dress ups” blogs why not make a play shop for your child. As well as developing pretend play, creativity, imagination and social skills, shop play can be used to develop literacy and number skills. You can set up a shop in a cubby set up or just use a children’s table or coffee table as a counter. You can uses empty packages or even full ones from your kitchen cupboard as stock for your shop. You can add plastic fruit and vegetables or play food from cheap shops too. Help your child to arrange their “stock” talking about size concepts. Which boxes are big, small, heavy, light, wide, narrow, tall or short? You can arrange them in order and talk about comparatives “big, bigger, biggest”. You can also practice vocabulary and categories by sorting foods into different types. Next you will need some money and a cash register as well as a note pad for adding up. You can include some dress-ups such as an apron, some gloves for handling food or a funny hat or two. You can use box to make a cash register or you can buy pretend ones in toys shops. You can also buy play money or you can make your own.

Once you have your shop stocked you can practice literacy skills by making signs. Put some numbers on paper and attach to your groceries and make price tickets. You could make a list of specials to put on display or a shopping list. Young children can copy words from boxes to make their list and as they do so you can talk about the letters, talk about beginning sounds, ending sounds, look for the letters in their name, count letters, sounds and syllables. Older children can have a go at making signs and even use a camera and computer to make their own catalogue.

Then you need some customers to serve. These could be Mum, Dad, Grandpa or even some bargain hungry dolls or teddies. Practice social skills as you request things, ask for information, use please, excuse me and thank you and give help. Practice counting skills and recognising numbers as you serve your customers. Older kids can practice adding or using a calculator. Once you have a basic set of props you can keep these in a box, play with them time and time again, add to them and reuse them in different ways as your child grows and develops.

If you are concerned about your child’s development check our website to see how speech pathology and occupational therapy may help if you are still concerned. If you suspect that your child is having difficulty with their development, it is recommended to consult a speech pathologist or an occupational therapist to discuss your concerns further.

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