When all the world's an old curiosity shop...

Who needs television to entertain bored young children when there are inexhaustible (and educational) supplies of fascination and fun all around us?
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The Independent Online

1 Travels in a basket

Make a collection of things from a particular country. This could include foodstuffs, clothes or any other objects you may have in your house – perhaps things that you brought back from your last summer holiday.

Using an atlas or globe, show your child where that country is in relation to ours, and talk about how long it would take to travel there. If you have actually visited the country, discuss how long it took you to get there. You can then move on to talking about how long it would have taken if you had used other forms of transport, giving your child some idea of the actual distances involved.

2 Home-grown activities

Visit an allotment or a neighbour's vegetable garden and discuss the foods that are being grown. What sort of things has the gardener chosen and why? Obviously they like to eat them, but it will lead naturally into a discussion of the constraints of our climate and soil type and therefore the kind of food we can grow.

On your next visit to a supermarket, you can then look at the range of fruit and vegetables on offer. What can you buy that you cannot grow in this country? Obvious examples include bananas and oranges, and vegetables like aubergines and yams. All the foods on display in the grocery section will include details of which country they come from. Make a note of what comes from where.

Back at home, cut out various pictures of the fruit and vegetables in question from old magazines, then stick them on the appropriate countries on a large map. You could also discuss which foods you commonly eat in your family and where in the world they have come from.

3 History in photograph albums

Photo albums provide an ideal way of getting young children to think about the past. Try to get pictures not only of yourself as a child, but generations even further back. Most grandparents should be able to help out here.

Look at the pictures together and ask your child if they can see anything different in the older photos compared to the more recent ones. They will probably point out that the older photographs are in black and white rather than in colour, so that gives you the chance to talk about how modern technologies have made colour techniques cheaper and easier to achieve over the years.

You can also use the opportunity to talk to them about why there are no photo- graphs of anyone prior to 150 years ago. Mention how inventions are constantly creating new objects such as digital cameras, which do not even need any film.

4 Costumes through the ages

Your child is also likely to notice that clothes and hairstyles in the past differ from nowadays. If your pictures cover a few generations, you can point out that styles are constantly changing. Discuss what the fashions are now and how, in a number of years, even those will seem old-fashioned, too.

Other things they may notice are the different styles of buildings, cars and other vehicles. Photographs of historical events are particularly interesting for young children. They may have heard a bit about the Second World War, but if you've got a picture with some relevance, such as a great-grandfather in his uniform, then it really helps to bring historical events alive for them.

5 Coin and stamp collecting

Children enjoy identifying pictures on stamps and the shapes and colours of foreign currency. This is a great way of exploring different parts of the world with them.

Stamps, coins and banknotes usually show images such as wildlife, scenes from history or national figureheads, specific to their country of origin. Make posters for different countries, using stamps, coins and anything else you may find.

Research the people, inventions and environments which seem to interest your child most. Some will attach to key people – a monarch or national hero, others will perhaps be drawn to unfamiliar landscapes such as rainforests and deserts. Let their imaginations and interest roam free. Encourage your children to feel proud of their work by making a display, grouping the posters by continent.

6 Pond life

Ponds and streams are great places for children to play and discover the natural world. Collect pond water in a jam jar and examine the plants and animals, describing them by sight. Most children will prefer just to look and talk about them. Encourage your children to draw what they see.

Discuss what each creature might eat and which animals might eat them, explain why some pond creatures have gills, group what you find into categories such as plants, animals with tails, animals with shells, etc. If there are tadpoles, talk about the process from frogspawn to tadpole to frog. This is a magical transformation for some children.

Equally, if you are on a seaside holiday, go beach-combing for crabs, fish and shells. Always discuss what you find and encourage your children to draw and label what they see.

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