Farms sets are a great toy for young children, and it’s really worth investing in a good one as they will be enjoyed for years to come. There are some which are more geared towards toddlers and young children, but we felt this one from John Lewis was suitable for a toddler and would stand the test of time. The only things to watch out for are the chickens and ducks, which are quite small and could present a danger for children who are still putting things in their mouths.
Farm toys offer many learning opportunities for children. So, here are my top ten ways to play with a farm set.
1. Making animal noises. I’m no expert on speech development, but I have read that making animal noises is a helpful step in encouraging children to say their first words. Because of the enjoyment factor in making these funny sounds, children are keen to imitate them. They are also easier to say than many words, and so because the children experience success in saying these sounds, it encourages them to take the next step of ‘real’ words. So, while playing with your child, make animal noises and encourage them to do the same. Make sounds and ask them to find the correct animal. For older toddlers, you could hide an animal, make the sound and ask them to name the animal too. Make it more fun for you by making the noises as realistic as possible!
2. Storytelling. Any ‘small world’ play such as this offers great opportunities for storytelling. For very young children this might be very simple statements about what is happening, but as their imagination develops, they have the chance to extend the storytelling and create more complex storylines. Engaging in this kind of play with your child also really extends their language development as they hear new words and phrases in context. Having the opportunity to play is a really non-confrontational way of storytelling. It allows them to be completely unrestricted and wildly imaginative. For school-aged children, it allows them the freedom to try things out – different storylines, or adventurous vocabulary – without worrying about making a mistake on paper. If they later want to go and write down their story, they’ll be in a much better position to do if they’ve had the chance to act it out first!
3. Sensory play. Adding a sensory element to a farmyard scene can really extend the play. A few months ago, I placed our farm set in a large tub and added some dried lentils. T loved scooping the lentils, filling the tractor with them, pouring them on the roof of the barn, and feeding them to the animals. This develops fine motor control, extends their understanding of the world (e.g. what happens to objects when poured; learning how sounds are made) and further develops the storytelling opportunities. (Warning: you will be finding lentils around your house for months afterwards!)
4. Sorting animals. The complexity of this can vary with the age of the child. To begin, you might ask a child to find one type of animal. Later, they might sort the animals by their colour, or perhaps by number of legs, or by features (e.g. beak/no beak). This can be initiated by you but children very often will naturally sort things when they start to see similarities and differences. This develops their problem solving skills.
5. Messy play. I love these two examples of messy play with farm animals (here and here). These are probably best with plastic animals which wash easily, rather than wooden ones which could become stained. This kind of messy play develops children’s understanding of the world around them and how it works. Involving slightly older children in the process of creating these messy play scenes (e.g. watching spaghetti boil, or helping to mix ingredients together and observing the changes that take place) encourages them to consider why things happen and how they work.
6. Learning about numbers. A farm set provides all sort of opportunities for number activities, such as: counting (the animals, their legs, etc); comparing quantities; using terms such as more, less or lots in context; finding a total; and learning about concepts such as addition and subtraction in concrete ways (“Oh, the cow has gone away. How many animals are left?”)
7. Baby animals. I don’t know about your children, but my little girl loves making families with any object she possibly can! We have had families of animals, playdough families, and even families of buttons! A fun activity is to match baby animals to their parents. It’s not too difficult to find a small, cheapish set of farm animals which, in comparison to your regular animals can be the ‘babies’. Alternatively you could use printed images. This extends their understanding of the world and also develops their language as you introduce them to terms such as lamb, calf or foal.
8. Animal food. Continuing with a matching theme, you could show children images of food for the different animals – or even better you could give them some real examples – and match them to the animals. Alternatively, you could also provide a range of toy food and help the children identify which animals make it.
9. Make a film! Obviously this one is for the older children, and depending on their capabilities and how much help you give them, I’d suggest this for children aged 6-11. Take a series of photos of the animals, put them together in a slideshow and add a voiceover to narrate the story. Older children may be able to make a stop-motion animation by moving the animals a small amount at a time and taking photos. This kind of activity develops literacy, creativity, imagination, computing, and if the children were to make props for their story it would also include elements of art and design. A wealth of opportunities! There is plenty of software out there to help you do this – Movie Maker on PC or iMovie on Apple computers, are both fairly easy-to-use software and come already installed on most computers.
10. Play dough. Keep it simple by playing with the animals in dough and looking at the patterns they make. Make impressions of their hooves, of their faces, of their bodies. With older children, perhaps you could use plasticine and pour in plaster of paris to make a cast?! (Note: I’ve never tried this! I wonder if it works?)
So there you have it. Ten ways to play with a farm for children across the primary age range. Have fun!