…You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!
This post is mainly about a little activity we did recently. My hubby had bought us a gingerbread man decorating kit from the supermarket, and it turned out to be a really great thing! Apart from it being good fun, it combined aspects of multi-sensory stimulation, fine motor skills, rythm, counting, oral motor skills, communication, and social interaction. It also centered around things that Penguin already likes, and as I’ve mentioned previously (here), building on existing interests and preferences is key in making learning activities feel meaningful to the child.
In this case, the scent of the gingerbread provided an enjoyable olfactory aspect to the project. Penguin likes gingerbread, a lot, so that was a great start. As a kind of framework for the activity, I got his old Ladybird book of The Gingerbread Man out, and we looked through it together, with me reading the story out loud.
As Penguin got on with the decorating, there was a whole range of sensory input: Flavours, tactile input with a variety of textures, and visual stimulation (looking at illustrations in the book as well as performing the activity). There was also movement and motor planning, and the reading of the nursery rhyme gave auditory input, with the “chorus” of the story playing a leading role. The phrase “Run, run, as fast as you can, you cant catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man”, which is repeated several times throughout the story, is one that is very familiar to Penguin, as this is a book he’s had since he was a baby.
Actually, he knows it well enough to help me read it out. In the same way that he can fill in words (or parts of words) in songs that he likes, he’ll say “Ma” if I say the gingerbread “chorus” and stop before the word “Man”. And if I pause before any other word, he’ll try to fill that one in. I like the way nursery rhymes usually have a clear rythm to them, giving them music-like qualities (see my post on “Sweet Music” for more on music and learning). They also offer great opportunities for interaction, playing around with different voices, volume, animal sounds etc.
Towards the end of The Gingerbread Man story, the sly fox tosses the poor title character “up, up, up in the air”, and he then falls “down, down, down” into the fox’s mouth (“And that was the end of the gingerbread man.”). Me and Penguin did a little dramatisation of that part of the story, with one of our freshly decorated gingerbread men, raising him up in the air, with Penguin saying “up, up, up”. When we came to the moment when the little man falls into the fox’s mouth, I pointed at Penguin’s mouth, and he said “mau” (for mouth). I’m describing this in some detail here as I’m hoping that it might serve as inspiration for others, for working on oral skills and social interaction, as well as basic concepts (up/down), body awareness (identifying the mouth, raising arms up and down) etc.
When adding eyes, buttons and other features to our gingerbreads, we also looked at what the character looks like in the book, and counted how many buttons he has in the illustrations, and how many buttons Penguin had put on our gingerbread men. That could of course be developed further, by playing around with adding and subtracting buttons, or practising multiplication and division by splitting nine buttons between three gingerbread men, and so on.
The story of the little gingerbread man, who runs and runs, unaware of possible dangers, also carries extra significance for us due to Penguin being a bit of a “runner”. To not set off without thinking, and to develop some awareness of what could happen if you do, is something that is with us continuously. Everyday and everywhere we go, there will always be some running, and we run along with Penguin, keeping him safe. We don’t want to stop him from doing something that he obviously enjoys, and which I would say is an actual physical need for him. So you’ll find us running on the beaches, through parks, past monuments, in forests, etc. Even through supermarkets, if the need arises and it’s not too crowded.
To finish up, I’d just like to mention motor skills. Penguin used to have quite poor fine motor skills, but has recently taken a leap forward in that respect. It’s still definitely something for us to continue working on, in many different ways, and this gingerbread man activity was obviously a great exercise for that purpose, too. If you’re interested in learning more about how motor skills are connected to cognitive development, why not start by taking a look at this text.
And as a final image to leave you with, here’s Penguin exercising his hand muscels, doing something more that he really enjoys (and which may or may not become the theme of a later blog post): Squeeeeeeezing!