Toy shop shelves are laden with toys claiming to be educational. For toddlers and babies, this usually means something noisy, requiring batteries. I have always held that there is little educational value in such toys. In my experience children play with them for a short period of time before moving on to something else.
Alison Gopnik discusses the manner in which children experiment with toys in her book the Philosophical Baby. A toy that worked by moving levers was presented to a group of 4-year-olds. The adults demonstrated to the first group, how it worked, while the second group were left to work it out for themselves. The second group spent significantly more time playing with the toy than the first, who quickly abandoned it once they understood its function.
Another recent study led by Professor Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University focused on children between the ages of 10 and 16 months old. She gave families three different kinds of toys to play with; books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and electronic toys. The toys that stimulated most conversation were books, closely followed by blocks. The families playing with the electronic toy shared very little conversation, allowing the toy to do the talking for them.
If you are considering which toys to buy for a young child, these points may help.
The most important resource we can give to babies and toddlers is ourselves. Spend time playing tickling games, singing to them, playing rhyming games, blowing bubbles or rolling a ball.
Other suitable toys for babies and early toddlers include small musical instruments for exploring sound ( saucepans, spoons and homemade shakers work equally well), a treasure basket or board and cloth books.
Think about toys that they will play with for a long time. The best toy investments for our family include magnatiles, wooden blocks, paper and pencil, a magnetic drawing board and play food.
Toys do not need to be expensive. Children can have hours of fun with a balloon, pot of bubbles, home-made play dough or a cardboard box.
The infographic below has many more developmentally appropriate ideas for play.
When I ask the girls where they would like to go, a popular response is the zoo. In the UK we were members of Bristol Zoo and visited there regularly. Having membership made our visits more relaxed, we didn’t have to run around trying to see every animal and if the children wanted to play in the playground all day that was fine too.
Woodland Park Zoo is more spacious than the zoo back home so we are able to see larger animals. Recently, we were invited to Woodland Park to see some of the activities available in the Zoomazium – a nature inspired play space for the under 8’s. To be honest we have always avoided Zoomazium during previous visits, expecting it to be a large, noisy soft play. I was pleasantly surprised however, to see a mix of play spaces and activities. There is a designated space for toddlers, fully enclosed and safe, with a library area to the side. The children can also explore the cricket exhibit.
The play area for older children has rope bridges, places to climb and lots of little caves that are perfect for hide and seek. There are also tables with toys for building, a stage area and a sensory area to explore.
Zoomazium is the perfect place to explore if you want to escape the heat (or cold) for a while but it is also a good starting point for your visit to the zoo. Creature Feature occurs every morning at 10.30 and encourages children to get close to some of the smaller animals at the zoo and learn about them from zoo staff. Our visitor was an armadillo.
My favourite Zoomazium offering was activity backpacks that the little ones can take with them around the zoo. Each one has a different theme and they are packed with activities, toys, books, magnifiers and things to look out for during your visit. After a lot of deliberation,the girls chose one each; the back yard and big cats.
I love the design of the backpacks, they look so cool and we had lots of comments as we wandered around. The backyard backpack had a number of activities to complete in the backyard of the Zoomazium or when exploring the rest of the zoo.
The big cats backpack was a good starting point for exploring the new Banyan Wilds exhibit.
Having the backpacks, encouraged us to take it slowly as the girls wanted to stop and take in the contents of their packs.
The squirrel puppet from the Backyard pack was a definite favourite and was a constant companion.
Completed activities can be traded for Nature points at Zoomazium’s Nature Exchange. The points can be exchanged for interesting, rocks, fossils and natural materials on display. Nature loving children can also create projects at home to earn additional points. Older children are not left out, there are activity sheets to suit all ages. My eldest chose a worksheet relating to the otter exhibit.
Our favourite part of the day was having the opportunity to feed animals. Bird seed on sticks can be purchased for $1 and the birds fly down to feed from your hand.
The best experience of all though was getting close to the giraffes and hand feeding them. The keeper was great at encouraging the children to ask questions and it was a truly memorable experience for all that I will definitely do again. Giraffe feeding is $5 per person and under 5’s go free with a paying adult.
A day at the zoo was perfect for my nature explorers.
Zoo membership is perfect for families with young children. There are a number of membership options to suit different needs and admission is free for children under 3.
Right from the Start readers can benefit from a special offer.
Quote MOM15 at checkout to receive a 10% discount plus entry into a draw to win 2 giraffe feeding tickets and 2 tickets for a carousel ride.
Disclaimer: Complimentary tickets for 4 people were received. All opinions are my own and we were under no obligation to write about our visit.
My 4-year-old has just learned her first Welsh word ,’canu’ meaning to sing.
How does a child living in the US with non- Welsh speaking parents learn such a word? From the wonderful, bilingual album, the girls received as a gift. The album was created by a friend of mine who runs ‘Babi Bach’ a bilingual music group in South Wales. The girls are fascinated by this unfamiliar language and love it when I tell them the meaning of a Welsh word.
The songs are familiar favourites, including, row, row ,row your boat, incey wincey spider and one finger, one thumb and are sung by male and female voices, in both English and Welsh. The Welsh versions brought back distant memories of my days as a student teacher in Wales. As an added surprise, when browsing the cover, I recognised one of the singers as a child who attended my after-school club in the 90’s. My friend confirmed that it was him, all grown up and singing professionally. More happy memories of home.
Living in the US, my children are unlikely to hear the Welsh Language. I’m not a Welsh speaker but the Welsh language was at the forefront of my early school years. We had Welsh assembly once a week, played games in Welsh and learned the Welsh language. The girls are fascinated that there is this strange language that is only spoken in Wales.
The girls sing along in English and try their best to join in with the Welsh. Initially, they spouted gibberish, laughing hysterically at the complicated words in ‘head, shoulders,knees and toes. My Welsh isn’t really strong enough to help them but I point out the words I recognise. My next step is to print off the Welsh lyrics , so I can sing along. The songs are separated by enthusiastic conversations between a group of friends in both languages, so it is easy for them to follow.
After hearing the songs a few times, they are already beginning to sing along in Welsh even without my help.
I can highly recommend this for Welsh parents who have moved away from Wales. It is the perfect introduction to the Welsh language. Equally, it is a simple and fun way to learn Welsh for children living in Wales.
Digital copies of Babi Bach yr Albwm are available from Amazon Music and other digital music platforms.
Disclaimer :This is not a sponsored post no payment was received.
Most Pre-school teachers in the UK are experienced at teaching children aged 3-5. It is rare however, that graduates or teachers with Qualified Teacher Status are appointed to teach children of 2 or under. This may be set to change, as children from disadvantaged backgrounds are offered government-funded early education. There is lively debate as to the ‘best’ type of setting for these children but evidence shows that the quality of the setting is the most important factor. Graduate and teacher led settings have been shown to be the most effective at closing the achievement gap (Matters et al 2014).
‘Early Education’ have published an excellent briefing for school leaders considering offering provision to 2-year-olds. It also offers valuable advice to anyone considering teaching 2-year-olds. In the search for graduate teachers for this age group, it is possible that experienced and well qualified teachers will be asked to take on a new role of leading this provision. This may be daunting. It certainly was for me the first time I encountered this age group.
When I began working in a mixed age nursery environment for 2-5 year olds, I was used to teaching children who could sit on a carpet in a large group and listen, who could draw representational figures, talk and share ideas, were toilet trained and who played for the most part, cooperatively with their peers. Planning for the 2-year-olds terrified me at first but I soon learned that creating an environment in which they could freely explore and move around was the most important consideration.
Our mixed age setting was split into 3 rooms. Sometimes the 2-year-olds were in their own group (and always at small group time) but for a large chunk of time, they were mixed with 3 and 4-year-olds. Teaching in a mixed age setting comes with its own challenges.
Common Concerns About Teaching in Mixed Age Settings
If you are a parent of more than one child, begin by thinking about how you manage the challenges below at home. In a mixed age family unit, compromises have to be made but the youngest children’s experiences are enriched by the older siblings and the older children learn to nurture, guide and understand different needs.
How do you find activities that are appropriate for 2 year olds but also challenging enough for the older children?
Choose activities that are open-ended. Building blocks, small world play, painting, drawing, clay, water, sand and other sensory activities, imaginative play and recycled materials are perfect for all ages. Make sure there are times during the day when children are in a smaller group with same age peers. Build an engaging outdoor learning environment and allow the children to move freely between indoor and outdoors.
How can you ensure safety without denying the older children valuable experiences?
Tools can be kept out of reach of toddlers inquisitive hands but in a place where older children can reach or ask an adult to get it. It is important to me that my children have ready access to mark making materials but when my youngest was at the drawing on walls stage, these were pushed back on the shelf where she could not reach but her sisters could.
If younger children want to use scissors, clay tools or small loose parts don’t deny them the opportunity; simply ensure an adult is sat with them to support them. Keep the materials to one area which has adult supervision.
How do you stop the younger ones spoiling older children’s games by knocking down things they have built or taking toys they are playing with?
Learning to negotiate with younger children is important, learning that children of different ages have different needs and they do not mean to spoil things for the older children. Encourage older children to play at building and knocking things down with the younger children and allow the older children to place their completed models out of the younger children’s reach. Have special places for ongoing projects and ensure that there is some time with their own age group. Projects requiring a finished product or advanced skills are best for small group time.
Additional things I learned about teaching 2-year-olds
They like to move around and explore. Often, they will not stay at one activity for long and prefer activities with lots of space rather than at a table top.
They find large groups distracting. Do not expect them to sit for a story session with 3 and 4-year-olds as they will more than likely lose interest before the end. They would much prefer to be read a short book in a small group, or better still 1:1 on an adult’s lap.
They like songs that are simple and short with actions, puppets, props or simple instruments to maintain interest . Again this is best in a small group
They love messy, tactile or sensory play and are interested in exploring materials. They are fascinated by processes and how things work. This may mean they will use materials in unexpected ways – tipping, throwing or splashing, for example. Try to channel these investigations in positive ways. Do not expect them to create a finished art product.
Some are not yet talking, others may be difficult to understand. It takes time to build relationships with these children and understand their needs. Play alongside them and observe. Build positive relationships with parents and help the children to build a secure relationship with you
They are still learning to use tools and will need adult supervision when using scissors, small items and books.
They learn by repetition, so don’t be worried that your planning isn’t varied. Try to spot schemas and re-occurring fascinations and plan a variety of experiences to support them.
‘Art’ projects work best on a large-scale. Rolls and large sheets of paper, chunky crayons, blocks of clay, pavement chalk and large brushes are all perfect for this age group.
They will assert their independence. Give them plenty of choices – I need you to come and have a drink, would you like a blue or a red cup?
Below are a selection of activities for 2-year-olds or in mixed age settings.
Do not limit this to a home corner, use your imagination to create familiar experiences like shopping, new ones such as a vets or pure fantasy with pirates or fairies.
As adults, artists are generally referred to in terms of the product they create – painters, sculptors, musicians or dancers. When we create ‘art’ we might think about what we are going draw or make before we begin.
When children explore art there is much less emphasis on the finished product – they might say they are going to draw or make something specific but often this evolves into something else during the process.
As I watch my children involved in what we may traditionally term ‘art’, I find that creative expression isn’t their only interest and there is certainly very little focus on the finished product. Sometimes they are practising skills. My youngest for example likes to snip paper into tiny pieces but if I suggest she might like to make a picture with the pieces, she isn’t interested. As children get older the finished product becomes more important. My pre-schoolers will often remark that they don’t know what it is going to be yet, whereas my 9-year-old often has an idea before she starts. Does this change occur naturally or do adults teach them that this is what ‘art’ is?
My younger girls’ ‘art’ is about exploration. They ask questions like ‘what happens if?’ Through this exploration they see themselves as competent in the knowledge that there is no right or wrong way to do things. This give them the confidence to explore further.
The Salad Spinner Project
An example of a process oriented art project was inspired by a visit to the Children’s Museum where the children made pictures using a salad spinner. The directions were simple:
1. Put paint onto a paper plate
2 .Place the plate inside the spinner and put on the lid. Place the spinner onto a cloth or newspaper, the holes in the bottom of the spinner allow the paint to come through.
4. Check results
They watched as the pictures took shape changing according to the colours chosen and how much paint they put on.
There is potential for this activity to become a product oriented if the adult takes over. The key to making it process oriented is to offer choice and allow the children to freely explore the materials.
How the Project Evolved
The pictures the girls had made at the museum had colours that ran into one another producing a marbled effect but the paints we used at home were thicker so produced very clear lines with little mixing.
They explored all the possibilities:
I’m choosing two colours.
What if I just put a bit of paint on?
I’ve put lots of paint on this one.
Which one is your favourite?
The next time we got the salad spinner out I suggested they might like to add things to the spinner to see what happened.
I know lets put balls in.
First they tried a golf ball
They put it back in a number of times spinning the spinner at different speeds to see how the pattern evolved.
Next they tried marbles. The marble made tracks across the plate
The next attempt came out differently
Hmm, Maybe if I spin it faster
Still no change.
I could try more marbles
Still no change.
Suddenly my 5-year-old had an idea
I know; it’s because I used too much paint. The one with tracks on didn’t have so much paint on so I need to use less paint.
The learning and creative thinking in this project is clearly evident so why would we plan art with a finished product as our starting point?
Process v Product
Sometimes as early educators and parents it is difficult not to plan art projects in terms of the finished product. Certainly years ago when I worked with older children we would often plan workshops and sessions in terms of what we would make. We all like our children to come home from preschool with something they have made. Teachers sometimes argue that parents expect their children to come home with something at the end of the day. It is difficult to be enthusiastic about yet another drippy painting or cardboard box construction.
This is often given as a justification for producing heavily adult directed arts and crafts. Starting from an adult viewpoint in this way often means that the children don’t do very much themselves. I have observed teachers presenting children with pre-drawn templates, ready cut outlines and telling them what they need to stick where – sometimes the child isn’t even allowed to do the sticking themselves. The children may come home with something pretty to put on the wall but what have the children learned, how much enjoyment have they had and have they actually made it themselves? Furthermore, if we show children at a young age that there is only one way to do things we destroy their enthusiasm to do things for themselves. Is this why we often hear older children say ‘I can’t draw’, ‘ I don’t know what to make’ or ‘It doesn’t look right’.
When you allow children to freely explore materials they begin to understand the properties of media, they learn that art can be a series of explorations and they are allowed to become absorbed in the joy and relaxation of the artistic process. Sometimes they will want to make something specific but allow them choice in the materials and tools they use and encourage them to try out things for themselves.
Creative thinking isn’t neat and tidy. An artist will paint many sections of a painting exploring colour texture and shape before finally coming up with a finished product. Think about the work of an author who writes and rewrites many times with crossings out, arrows and notes all over the paper. A finished product will come eventually but it is a long way off. Allow children to explore in this way, let them make a mess and do things their own way.
As Peter Dixon puts it
Your children are at a stage where the process of doing things
LOOKING, SEEING, FINDING, FEELING, INVESTIGATING etc.
is far more important than the end product sought by some parents. …The process of their work – might look messy, scribbly or completely unrecognisable to us but to your children it is utterly meaningful and an essential part of their mental and physical growth and development. Please honour – please respect your child’s own way of thinking. It might seem unusual but it is their birthright. It is the foundation upon which they will build all future understanding.
The Adults Role
Process oriented art doesn’t mean that you leave children alone with a huge amount of materials. The adults role is to organise the materials so that the children can find what they need easily. Sometimes this means setting out particular materials for example you may want them to explore with charcoal and erasers. It can also mean setting up an organised art station with neatly labelled pots and drawers that the children can choose materials from.
If the adult works alongside the child creating their own projects then they can inspire children and demonstrate techniques. They will be able to encourage children to develop their projects by asking questions
What happens if…..?
Have you tried this……?
What else could you add?
persuading them to try different materials and techniques.
If you log children’s comments and questions, displaying them alongside finished pictures and photographs of the process, it will help to show the value of process oriented art.
The lead up to Christmas was a great time for writing messages in our house. Our visiting elf Christopher Poppinkins left notes for the girls and they responded with their own notes, we made gifts for the neighbours with a little note attached, wrote Christmas cards for the family, shopping lists and yesterday the girls helped me write a list of songs for my music class.
As children approach school age, parents are often anxious about their children’s emerging literacy and how best to support them at home.
When is the right time to introduce writing?
Does my child need to be able to write their name before they go to school?
How do I start?
Do they have to form letters in a particular way?
Writing is a complex skill involving much more than the correct formation of letters. I can’t guarantee that my girls will continue to love writing but I think we are headed in the right direction.
If you are interested in finding out how I encourage the girls to write and keep it enjoyable I am sharing some of my experience in a guest post for ‘What to Expect.’