Developmental milestones: what to expect in your child’s first Year

Welcome to the incredible journey of parenthood! From those precious first smiles to those wobbly first steps, every moment just feels so incredible. The first year of a baby’s life is filled with remarkable milestones, each one marking a new achievement and a step forward in their development. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the developmental milestones you can expect during your child’s first year. But don’t worry too much if your child isn’t meeting every milestone at a precise stage. Every child is unique—some babies will reach certain milestones sooner and others later. We will provide insights into a child’s physical, cognitive and social-emotional growth.

Cognitive milestones

Beneath that beautiful chubby exterior, your baby’s brain is working continuously to absorb and process information around them. In the first few months, they’ll begin to recognise familiar faces and respond to sounds and voices. As they start to approach 6 months, you might notice them reaching for objects or exploring them with their mouths. This is a sign of their growing curiosity and them beginning to understand the world around them. Around 8 to 10 months, they may start to imitate sounds and gestures, starting the process for language development. Keep engaging with your baby through talking, reading, and playing to support their cognitive growth. We have some great books and learning resources that can help to develop you child’s brain. View our books and learning resources here.

Develop child's brain through reading books

Physical milestones

During the first year, your baby will undergo amazing physical transformations. In the early weeks, they will master basic movements like lifting their head and turning it from side to side. By around 6 months, they may start sitting up unassisted and at this stage they may even begin to crawl. As their muscles strengthen, they’ll start pulling themselves up to stand and eventually taking those precious first steps, usually around 9 to 12 months. Please remember, every baby develops at their own pace, so don’t be concerned if your little one takes a bit longer to reach these milestones.

Social-emotional milestones

Your baby’s social and emotional development is just as important as their physical and cognitive growth. From birth, they’ll seek comfort and security from you, forming a strong attachment bond. As they approach 3 to 6 months, they’ll begin to smile in response to your smiles and maybe even engage in games like peek-a-boo. By 9 months, they might show some signs of stranger anxiety, becoming wary of unfamiliar faces. This is a normal part of their emotional development. Try and encourage their social interactions by arranging playdates and exposing them to different environments.

The first year of your child’s life is an absolute whirlwind of growth and discovery. It goes by so fast! Your baby’s first year will be filled with endless moments of joy and wonder. By understanding the developmental milestones they’ll reach during this time, you can better support and nurture their progress. Remember, every child is unique, so celebrate their individual journey and cherish each milestone they achieve. As you embark on this incredible adventure together, may you find endless delight in watching your little one grow and thrive!

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Natalie is the co-founder and illustrator at Little Scholars Playground. She is passionate about literacy, learning, illustrating, women in STEM and the Montessori practice.

How to smash sensory play and why it’s important

Sensory play is a favourite in our house! We try to do some sensory play with our daughter at least a few times per week. We love watching our daughter develop and thrive through this type of play. Sensory play is a crucial part of a child’s learning and development but we know it can feel a little overwhelming. Whether its knowing what to do or worrying about the clean up afterwards, hopefully this blog will help you get started!

The benefits of sensory play for children

  • Cognitive development: sensory play engages stimulates multiple senses and enhances cognitive abilities like problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity.
  • Fine motor skills: sensory activities involving textures, pouring, scooping, and manipulating objects helps to develop children’s hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
  • Language development: sensory experiences provide opportunities for children to express themselves verbally, expanding vocabulary and communication skills.
  • Emotional regulation: sensory play can have a calming effect on children (and let’s face it, us parents will try anything to help calm our children), helping children to regulate emotions, reduce stress, and build resilience.
  • Imagination and creativity: sensory materials inspire imaginative play, encouraging children to explore, experiment, and invent new ways of interacting with their environment.
  • Scientific inquiry: Sensory exploration lays the groundwork for scientific curiosity, as children observe, hypothesize, and experiment with cause and effect. Our STEM Activity Cards are a great pack to get children involved in science activities early on. They’re simple, fun and can be created with everyday items from the supermarket. Shop our STEM Activity Cards here.
STEM Activity Cards
  • Self-Discovery: Through sensory experiences, children learn about their preferences, sensitivities, and boundaries, fostering self-awareness and self-confidence.

Tips to win at sensory play

Keeping sensory play simple can be both effective and practical.

  • Use everyday materials by utilising common household items like rice, pasta, beans, water, sand, flour, and oats.
  • Limit the materials: Offer a few sensory materials at a time to avoid overwhelming children. This allows them to focus more deeply on the experience. –
  • Focus on one sense: while sensory play often engages multiple senses, sometimes focusing on just one sense can simplify the activity. For example, playing with different textured fabrics or exploring various scents.
  • Open-ended play: Provide materials without specific instructions. This helps to allow children to freely explore and create their own experiences. This encourages creativity and problem-solving.
  • Minimal setup: keep your sensory set up simple and easy to clean. Use trays or containers to contain messes and consider using materials that are easy to sweep or wipe up.
  • Outdoor exploration: nature around us provides a rich sensory experience for children. It offers wonderful textures, sounds, smells, and sights. Take children outdoors to explore natural elements like dirt, leaves, grass, and water.
  • Sensory bins: use sensory bins or trays to contain materials, making cleanup easier and more manageable. These can be as simple as a plastic tub filled with sand, water, or rice.
  • Rotate materials: introduce new materials periodically to keep sensory play fresh and exciting. Rotate through different textures, scents, and colours to maintain children’s interest.
  • Follow the child’s lead: In the words of Maria Montessori “Play is the work of the child”. Observe children’s interests and preferences and tailor their sensory play experiences accordingly. Let them guide the play and follow their cues.

Go with the flow when it comes to sensory play. We often spend so much time setting up a sensory activity that it can then be hard to sit back and watch our kids grab anything but the items we originally set up. What’s your favourite sensory activity you like to do with your child? Let us know in the comments below

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Natalie is the co-founder and illustrator at Little Scholars Playground. She is passionate about literacy, learning, illustrating, women in STEM and the Montessori practice.

How to celebrate World Earth Day with kids

Our planet is such a beautiful, amazing place, but it needs our help to thrive! That’s why every year on 22nd April we celebrate World Earth Day, a day to demonstrate our support for environmental protection. Celebrating World Earth Day with children is a great opportunity to teach them about the importance of environmental conservation and how they can contribute to protecting our planet. Here are some fun and educational activities you can do with kids this World Earth Day:

Plant Trees or Flowers

Plant a tree or do some gardening with kids. Teach them about the importance of trees and plants in absorbing carbon dioxide and providing oxygen.

Go on a nature walk

Go for a nice walk in nature, you could go to your local park or nature reserve. Encourage children to observe and appreciate the beauty of nature while discussing ways that we can protect it.

Recycling Craft Projects

Time to get creative with recycled materials! Help kids make art or crafts using recycled items like paper rolls, egg cartons or plastic bottles. This activity will reinforce the importance of recycling and reducing our waste.

Earth-themed Games

Play games that teach kids about environmental conservation. For example, a scavenger hunt for items like leaves, rocks, and flowers can help them learn about biodiversity and ecosystems.

Educational Videos or Documentaries

Watch age-appropriate documentaries or videos about environmental issues with kids. Once you finish you can discuss what they learned and brainstorm ways to make a positive impact.

Earth Day Pledge

Have kids make a pledge to do something good for the environment, such as reducing water usage, picking up litter, or turning off lights when not in use. Get them to write down their pledges and display them as a reminder.

Story Time

Read books about our world and nature, wildlife, and environment. This can spark meaningful conversations about the importance of protecting the Earth and its inhabitants. Our books Zara’s Caribbean Adventure and Emmanuel’s African Adventure are great books for getting younger children ready to learn about the world around them. Click here to shop our books.

Outdoor Clean-up

Check if there are any local neighbourhood clean-up activities happening around World Earth Day. Kids will get the opportunity to pick up litter in parks, beaches, or streets. Make it fun by turning it into a friendly competition or offering rewards for the most trash collected.

Cook Earth-friendly Meals

Prepare meals together using locally sourced, organic ingredients. Talk to kids about the benefits of eating sustainably and how it helps reduce their carbon footprint.

Remember to make the activities engaging and age-appropriate. Encourage children to ask questions and share their ideas throughout the celebration, by involving them in hands-on experiences and meaningful discussions, you can instil a lifelong appreciation for the Earth and a sense of responsibility to protect it. Happy World Earth Day.

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Natalie is the co-founder and illustrator at Little Scholars Playground. She is passionate about literacy, learning, illustrating, women in STEM and the Montessori practice.

How to teach children phonics

What is phonics and why is it so important?

Phonics means using letter sounds to help you read words. It can be a bit daunting to work out how best to teach children their phonics.

Decoding the phonics buzzwords

Phonics: using individual letter sounds and groups of letters to read words.

Decoding: using phonic knowledge to sound out and read words.

Grapheme: a written letter or group of letters, like ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘she’ or ‘air’. Some graphemes are single letters like ‘b’; others are digraphs like ‘ck’.

Digraph: two letters that make one sound together, like ‘sh’, ‘ai’, ‘oo’.

Phoneme: the sound a letter or group of letters make – e.g., the word ‘sat’ has three phonemes, ‘s’, ‘a’ and ‘t’. The word ‘book’ is longer, but it also has three phonemes, ‘b’, ‘oo’ and ‘k’.

Sounding out: using your phonic knowledge to help you say each sound within a word, e.g. ‘p-a-n’ or ‘k-i-ck’.

Blending: running the sounds in the word together to read the whole word, e.g. ‘b-a-t, bat’, ‘s-o-ck, sock’.

High-frequency words: these are important and very common words which we all use a lot. However they aren’t always decodable using phonics. This includes important words like ‘where’, ‘one’, ‘the’, etc. Children should be taught to recognise these words by sight.

The different phonics phases

Phase 1 phonics starts from nursery/ preschool. Here children begin developing their listening skills, develop their memory and improve their speaking skills. It also includes understanding different sounds, rhythm and rhyme and oral blending and segmenting.

Children typically start Phase 2 phonics learning close to the start of their first year at school (reception). This is when they start to learn the letters of the alphabet. Children learn the letters’ names, and they also learn the sound for each letter of the alphabet. So for example, the letter ‘b’ is introduced with a hard ‘b’ sound as in ‘bat’, not the soft sound it has in ‘climb’. Children also start to learn a short sound for each vowel (a, e, i, o and u) – for exampe ‘bat’, ‘pet’, ‘sip’, ‘hot’ and ‘cup’.

Phase 3 phonics introduces children to the last of the letters. Including the less common letters like ‘x’ and ‘j’ – and also some digraphs – letter pairs that make one sound together, like ‘sh’, ‘th’, ‘ai’, ‘ee’, ‘igh’ ‘oa’ and ‘oo’. Phase 2 takes around 12 weeks (but remember every child is different and will go at their own pace) to work through Phase 3.

In Phase 4 (commonly in the first year of school) children learn about words where there are two or more consonants together – like ‘stop’, ‘dust’, ‘stamp’, ‘splash’, etc. Now is the time to really encourage children to read things outside, such as road signs and street names or get their imagination going by getting them to write a short story based on a picture or drawing.

Phase 5 of phonics usually takes all of year one. This is because it includes a large number of different sounds and letter patterns. There is a lot for children to learn at this stage before children take the phonics screening test (UK) – but with your patience and support, they can do this! Here children begin to learn their graphemes and alternative ways to pronounce them, such as the difference between the OW in BOW and COW. By the end of phase 5 and year one, most children know enough phonics to be able to read the most common words in English.

Phase 6 begins in Year Two. Children begin using all of the phonics knowledge that they have now gained, to now help them become fluent readers and accurate spellers. By Phase 6, children will be able to read. They will also learn prefixes, suffixes, tenses, punctuation (where to put an apostrophe in words like I’m), how to use a dictionary, spelling rules and how to proof-read their own work.

Our new Phonics print is focused on the first sounds children will learn in phases 2 and 3. It acts as a reminder and a fun way to learn phonics as they progress through their Phonics journey. Click here to see our new Personalised Phonics Print.

Make learning phonics fun

The goal of phonics is to get children reading as quickly and easily as possible. So they can go onto reading lots of interesting books! Don’t make learning phonics become a boring chore, make it fun. So don’t forget:

Aim to stop before your child gets bored. So keep phonics sessions focused and short. Keep sessions no longer than ten minutes.

Make learning phonics fun! There are lots of phonics games that you can play. Check out some YouTube videos.

Don’t practice phonics when your child is tired. Find a comfy quiet place where they won’t be distracted by things like screens or other noise.

Don’t stop reading to your child when they become an independent reader. Keep on reading stories. Reading is also a good opportunity to spend some quality time together.

How to teach tricky words

Encourage children to sound out the parts of the word they know and then give them some support with sounds that they don’t know.

Teach children more letter-sound correspondences. For example, the letter ‘a’ is pronounced differently in ‘pan’ and ‘was.’ If children recognise both letter-send correspondences, then it makes it easier for them to read new words.

Below is a list of tricky words. You can make learning these words fun by writing them out using colourful pens, write them in sand or use play dough. Practice and repetition are important when teaching tricky words in phonics, so pick activities your child can repeat and remember.

See the most common tricky words below:

It’s worth learning how to pronounce the letters in the way children are taught them at their school. Your child’s teacher will be able to help you with this, or there are lots of guides online. It’s important to remember that not all children learn at the same pace. We have created a personalised phonics art print to help you teach your child phonics (it’s also great for classrooms too!). Shop our new Personalised Phonics Print here.

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Natalie is the co-founder and illustrator at Little Scholars Playground. She is passionate about literacy, learning, illustrating, women in STEM and the Montessori practice.

Benefits of science activities for kids

Children always have fun taking part in science experiments. They help to stimulate curious minds and offer a great introduction for young children to the wonders of the world around them. The early years is an important time to encourage curiosity and exploration and science experiments can help to do that.

Engaging children in science activities offers a plethora of benefits. Here are some of the fabulous benefits of science experiments in the early years.

Curiosity and exploration

Science activities helps to nurture children’s natural curiosity about the world around them. Taking part in science activities and experiments encourage children to ask questions, explore, investigate and helps to foster a lifelong love for learning.

Critical thinking and problem solving

Through hands-on challenges and experiments, children learn to think critically and solve problems creatively. Science activities and experiments helps young children to develop analytical skills by observing, hypothesising, experimenting and coming up with a conclusion.

Develops STEM skills and prepares children for future careers

Science activities integrate concepts from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). They help children develop foundational skills in these areas, preparing them for future academic and career pursuits. Engaging in science activities lays the groundwork for future career paths in STEM fields. It exposes children to various scientific concepts and disciplines, helping them explore their interests and passions from an early age.

Science for kids

Creativity and innovation

Science activities often involve designing and building, which helps to encourage creativity and innovation. Children learn to get creative and think outside of the box, experiment with different ideas and find unique solutions to the problem.

Teamwork and collaboration

Many science activities are group-oriented. This helps to promote teamwork and collaboration. Children learn to communicate effectively, share ideas, and work together towards common goals.

Resilience and perseverance

Science experiments don’t always go as planned, teaching children the importance of resilience and perseverance. They learn to embrace failure as a natural part of the learning process and to persist in the face of challenges.

Environmental awareness

Many science activities focus on topics such as sustainability, conservation, and environmental science, fostering an appreciation for the natural world.

Science for kids. Environmental awareness for kids

Confidence building

Successfully completing science activities boosts children’s confidence and self-esteem. They feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, motivating them to take on new challenges.

STEM activity cards for children. Science for kids

Start your child’s science journey with our STEM activity cards or our ABC activity flashcards. Both include simple science activities and experiments using items from around the home or from the supermarket. Get your little scientist started today and shop our STEM activity cards.

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