Heuristic Play: Activities for Toddlers

TextPicture20170414_1225

I am often asked to suggest art and craft ideas for toddlers. A toddler is not interested in making a product, they enjoy exploratory activities, where they can move around.  I suggest sensory experience where they can use their whole bodies. This might be using art materials like clay or paint but can just as easily be other sensory materials, like ice, water, bubbles, goop, sand or natural materials. I have a sensory play Pinterest board if you are interested in more ideas (I’m happy to have new contributors too, post a comment if you would like to be added).

Another great activity to encourage toddler exploration is heuristic play.

Treasure Baskets (Heuristic Play for Babies)

Treasure baskets are sturdy baskets filled with safe, natural and household objects, which stimulate a baby’s natural curiosity, through their senses.  They are presented to babies to explore from the time they are able to sit. The baby removes things from the basket to investigate the properties of the objects using their hands, mouths and eyes and ears .  The adult’s role is to sit near the baby to offer comfort or support when needed.  Treasure baskets could follow a theme like metal objects, wooden objects or black and white objects. You could choose things your baby is naturally curious about or try new objects.  Always check the safety of the items, make sure they are not small enough to be swallowed, can’t trap little fingers and look out for parts that could break off. Also choose things that can be easily cleaned or replaced at little cost

Suggestions for objects to place in treasure baskets

  • a lemon, lime or orange
  • natural sponges
  • wooden spoons
  • tins with lids or tape the lid down and put something inside to make a sound.
  • empty crisp packets
  • wooden or metal egg cups
  • napkin rings
  • a soft blanket, cloth or scarf
  • large shells
  • A string of large beads
  • laminated photographs
  • a pumice stone
  • large corks
  • wooden nail brush
  • shaving brush
  • small boxes
  • wooden bowls
  • bunch of keys
  • powder puff
  • lavender bags (or fill with other herbs).

What is Heuristic Play?

When young children begin to walk and gain independence they are driven by a natural curiosity and urge to handle things and find out what objects can do.  How often do we find ourselves asking them not to touch, finding that they have pulled things out of cupboards, emptied containers or posted raisins into the DVD player? Heuristic play allows toddlers to freely discover how things work, exploring concepts like posting, stacking and sequencing.

Heuristic Play offers children an opportunity to play freely with a large number of different objects and receptacles in a controlled environment without adult intervention (unless the child requests it). The term was coined by Elinor Goldschmeid and Sonia Jackson – heuristic coming from the Greek word ‘eurisko’ meaning to discover or gain an understanding of.

During a toddler session a variety of multi sensory materials (not toys)  are spread around an otherwise empty room, free from all other distractions. Each child is given a selection of containers with which to explore.

heuristic play

The Adults Role

The adults sit quietly around the outside of the room so as not to distract the child’s natural exploration,  they do not direct the play in any way and only support the child if they come to them for help, are distressed or they sense that their child has had enough.

At the end of the session children help to sort the materials putting them back in their correct bags with the support of the teacher. Objects are stored in labelled drawstring bags, for easy storage.

playing with loose parts
filling eggs with stones and glass beads.

We do not call this ‘tidy up time’ as this is an abstract concept; instead it is merged into part of the experience.

How Do the Children Benefit?

There are many benefits to play of this kind :-

  • Children will be engaged in self-discovery and test hypotheses
  • Cognitive development is strengthened by working out how things work and fit together
  • Develops fine muscle control
  • Develops hand/eye co-ordination
  • Encourages children to make choices
  • There is no right or wrong way to do things therefore it is therapeutic and fully inclusive
  • It sustains children’s natural curiosity
  • Children modify and change what they already know to gain new knowledge
  • Children become absorbed for long periods learning to explore without adult direction.
  • It supports children’s natural ways of learning through schemas.

toddler play activities

Materials I have used during heuristic play sessions

  • shells
  • pinecones
  • conkers
  • tins and boxes
  • poster tubes
  • curtain rings
  • poker chips
  • kitchen roll holders
  • the insides from sticky tape
  • scarves
  • handbags
  • ladles and large spoons
  • plastic fillable eggs
  • baskets
  • cd’s
  • socks
  • strings of beads
  • wooden blocks
  • jam jar lids
  • cotton reels
  • pegs
  • ribbon
  • bunches of keys
  • corks
  • ping-pong balls

 Is Heuristic Play the Same as Loose Parts?

Not really, although they are clearly related.  The main difference is heuristic play is a deliberate attempt to engage children in exploratory play by putting the materials in a room free from all other distractions.  Also the goal is for the children to explore without adult intervention.  In loose parts play the objects are usually part of the pre-school environment and can be used in any way to enhance all aspects of play, the adults normally engage with the children to develop sustained shared thinking.  Children engaged in loose parts play will often explore many of the characteristics of heuristic play and vice versa but they are similar, not the same. Heuristic play will naturally evolve into loose parts play as the children become older.

Advertisements

How we Keep Head Lice Away the Natural Way.

You’ll be very lucky if you manage to escape the school years without at least one case of head lice.  We were lucky until this year when the whole of kindergarten were infested.  We tried stupidly expensive shampoos which worked for a while, but soon I would find an odd one in one of the children’s hair and we would be back to square one.  Combing daily with the nitty gritty comb helped to keep on top of it and I tried spraying their hair with tea tree but they didn’t like the smell.

We have salons locally that specialise in lice removal with a guarantee they won’t return, however at over $100 a head, that wasn’t really an option I wanted to consider.

For months I battled with just keeping on top of things by combing and catching them early until a friend suggested Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel conditioning spray. A blend of organic Rosemary, Citronella,tea Tree and Geranium oils help prevent lice. With all natural ingredients, I didn’t expect it to work, but even when they were running rampant through kindergarten, my daughter remained lice free.  The girls like the smell too, even though there is tea tree in the ingredients, the other fragrances mask it well.

I spray the girls hair every morning before we brush it and it has been a really simple and effective way to keep the lice away.  As a teacher of small children catching head lice is always on the cards, so I will be using it on my own hair too.

We recently used Fairy Tales Shampoo for added protection. My girls hair was beautifully shiny after using it. Fairy Tales offer a whole range of hair products too so I will be looking into those.

Fairy Tales also have other products useful for keeping other bugs at bay. Fairy Tales Bug Bandit – Deet Free, promises to repel fleas, mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies all with a mere spritz.  It is free of harsh chemicals, pesticides, toxins, parabens, sulfates, dairy, gluten and nut free. We haven’t tried this one yet because we haven’t quite hit mosquito season but I’ll definitely try it in the summer, when the girls avoid going out in the evening because they are afraid of being bitten by mosquitoes.

If Bed Bugs are your problem, Fairy Tales also have a Bed Bug Spray without harsh and unsafe ingredients.

Disclaimer: Though I was given sample products, I have purchased and used Fairy Tales products with success before being asked to review their products. All recommendations are based on personal experience. All links are Amazon affiliate links.

 

Questions to Encourage Sustained Shared Thinking

beachcombing

To be perfectly honest I hate that in my profession they keep inventing new buzz words for age old ways of working and interacting with young children.  It feels to me that it is a way to make some feel superior in their understanding to others.  If you don’t quite get what it means it is quite likely something you are already  naturally doing, but without giving it a name.

‘Sustained shared thinking’ occurs when two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity, extend a narrative etc.

Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the understanding. It was more likely to occur when children were interacting 1:1 with an adult or with a single peer partner and during focussed group work.  The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project (2004)

WP_20130621_054

If you are engaged with a child’s play, if you are working together, listening and sharing ideas, if you are helping a child to understand something, you are likely engaged in sustained shared thinking.  Imagine blowing bubbles for a toddler, they watch the bubbles and watch you blow them.  As the bubbles blow away, the bubbles pop and the child continues to look for them.  You might blow a bubble onto their hand so the child can feel it pop or show them how to pop it with their finger.  The child engages in a new game, popping the bubbles for fun. This is sustained shared thinking.

IMG_1329

I often see questions asked about suitable activities to promote sustained- shared thinking.  Any open-ended, creative activity will lend it self to sustained shared thinking – the key is the level of engagement and nature of interaction between teacher and child. Also any genuine discussions you have with the children when you are learning from one another and discussing in depth opinions, thoughts and ideas are examples of sustained shared thinking.  Take time to listen and understand what the children are thinking, before jumping in with our own ideas.

putting on lid

It might be helpful to think of these questions.  If you can use these questions in your interactions with the children then you will be engaging in sustained shared thinking.

 

Elaborating

That’s really interesting, can you tell me more?

Re-capping

So you think that…..

You started with…..

Offering own experiences

When I was little I thought that….

I like to listen to music when I am busy.

Clarifying ideas

So we think that the sugar will dissolve in hot water?

I think I understand let me just check what you said.

Suggesting

Can I show you another way?

How about if we try this?

Perhaps we need to think about it?

Reminding

Don’t forget that you said the sugar would dissolve in warm water

Let’s just go back to what you did/said/thought.

Encouraging

You thought really hard about where to put the door, now where could you put the windows?

Speculating

If we try this what might happen?

What other ideas might work?

Are there any other possibilities?

Do you think the 3 bears would like Goldilocks to be their friend?

Asking Open Questions

How did you…?     Why does this…..?   What happens next?

What do you think?  Where would you?

Offering Alternative Viewpoint

Let’s pretend we are…… What might we do?

Perhaps Goldilocks didn’t think she was being mean when she ate the porridge?

Disclaimer: these questions came from training delivered by North Somerset early years team but may originate from another source.

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning.

 

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning  supports practitioners in planning and resourcing topics based around popular themes in the early years. Each theme is introduced through a ‘spark’. The ‘sparks’ are an object, or group  of objects, found in the classroom, for example a magic seed.  The projects then develop by presenting letters, posters, postcards etc. from a characters ( these can be found in the appendix of each section).  The characters in the book have been invented by the writers, Jo Ayers and Louise Robson but I see no reason for not utilising other familiar, book, TV or film characters.

Each chapter introduces a new character and theme, including pirates, knights and castles and people who help us.  For those settings who revisit these themes every year, the sparks and resources presented in the book would offer an exciting new angle for engaging the children.

Who is it for?

The book is targeted at teachers in the 3-5 age group, personally I felt some of the themes and activities were more suited to the upper age group, but I would still use the sparks with a younger group and adapt activities to their level and to fit the classroom environment.

How Does it Work?

The book emphasises planning with the children after igniting the initial spark, gathering evidence from comments, questions, observations, photographs and recordings.

The introduction states that topics were chosen based on gathering children together and asking them about their favourite interests.  I would have liked clearer descriptions of the  children’s involvement in the planning, as some of the topics felt more adult directed than others.  In a session which began by finding a mysterious seed, an alien is grows in the seed but it is also mentioned that this could also be an insect.  I would have liked to have seen a description of the thought process behind the decision to make it an alien. Did the children decide it was an alien?  There is a good mind map in the appendix showing the children’s comments and questions which explains this to a certain extent, but I would have liked a little more clarification as to how these comments and questions fed into planning.

The Activities

The chapters are clearly laid out and contain plenty of photographs and support materials.  I would have preferred to see the support materials alongside the description of the activity rather than in the appendix ,as I found flicking between the two distracting. The scenarios weren’t always easy to visualise without reading the materials in the appendix.

I particularly loved the Nancy the Knight and Lord Lawrence chapter for a meaningful approach to the topic of castles. I felt the description of this topic flowed well and the activities were hands on and playful.  I could also see how the children led the learning in this topic.

Who would Benefit Most From this Book?

The book would be a great resource for settings following a topic based approach. It would add wonder and awe to familiar topics and I can see it working really well in reception, kindergarten or year 1 classrooms.  I love the idea of the sparks and think these could also be useful in settings that use more in the moment planning.  With a bit of imagination, one could listen and observe the children, discover their interests and invent a character and scenario that would help them answer questions or develop their interests further. This book would be a great starting point for doing that..  For a theatre person like myself, I can easily imagine adopting this approach in the classroom but it may not be for everyone.

What Did I Think

I love the approach but wish the book was laid out a little differently. I really wanted to hear the story of how each project developed, to hear the children’s voices and see how the children’s ideas and questions led to the next stage of the project or even perhaps how different classes adapted the same scenarios but in different ways.

There is plenty in the book for those who would like to try this approach by following scenarios that work for others or for those who want to try this fun approach but adapt it in their own way.  I think it would be a great addition to a teaching library for new teachers, teachers looking to add a but of fun to their curriculum or those looking for a different approach to topic based learning.

The authors are keen to see how settings are adapting their approach on their social media channels  – Facebook and Twitter

 

Personalised Books for Your Easter Basket

If, like me you like to find a gift for Easter that isn’t chocolate, a book is always a great option.  Put Me in the Story have gorgeous personalised books, available as stand alone books or gift sets with a soft toy, making an extra special Easter gift.

I Love You Honey Bunny & Plush Gift Set

 

I often shy away from personalised books because the stories are a bit dull, but these are sweet stories with your child appearing as a character in the book. The stories are well written and include favourites like National Geographic, Pete the Cat, Curious George and Lemony Snicket.  You can add a dedication on the cover and a photograph of your child if you wish.

Put me in the Story offered me a book to try out – I chose “An Easter Surprise”.

An Easter Surprise

AN EASTER SURPRISE / AN EASTER SURPRISE AND PLUSH GIFT SET

$19.99 paperback, $34.99 hardcover ,$44.99 gift set

This takes your little one on an egg-hiding adventure around the world.  An Easter Surprise gives your child the chance to plan his or her very own Easter mission. Soaring as high as the moon in a hot air balloon, delivering eggs all over town, and stashing tasty treats all down the streets, your little one will be thrilled at the surprise twist in this Easter adventure.

The story is a simple, sweet, rhyme and features your child  as the Easter bunny. There is a challenge to find all the hidden eggs in the book  that I know my six-year-old is going to love. I think this could be a book that will be returned to time and again.

There are sweet books for slightly younger children, I LOVE YOU HONEY BUNNY is a lovely book to remind children how much you love them and for those who would rather celebrate Easter as a religious festival there is MY FIRST BOOK OF PRAYERS.

You can also personalise colouring books for older kids KEEP CALM AND COLOR ON: FOR YOUR INNER CREATIVE  and KEEP CALM AND COLOR ON: FOR STRESS RELIEF

 

Keep Calm and Color On For Your Inner Creative

There is still time to order for Easter but if you miss the boat, there are many other options for celebrating other occasions.  Personalised books are available for delivery to the US, Canada and the UK.

Disclaimer – a sample personalised book was provided for writing this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The March of the Vegetables in Duvall

This weekend we were invited to the March of the Vegetables, a community event in Duvall to support Snoqualmie Valley farmers.

IMG_4243

The event began with a parade for vegetables. My family found the idea of dressing as a vegetable suitably hilarious and loved the comment on the website – What if I don’t want to be a vegetable?  Local artists have been working with the community over the past few weeks, to create costumes and props – some were really imaginative and some simple, such as a man covered in branches to look like a tree.

IMG_4227

A kind lady handed us some beetroot seeds. I love beetroot so will look forward to planting them.

IMG_4324

The parade made it’s way to Depot Park where local farmers and artists had stalls.  There was live music and a fire pit to keep warm, beer, wine and hot apple cider and lots of smiling faces.

IMG_4343

The kids made their own entertainment by rolling down the bank which quickly got muddy.  I observed two boys lying face down in the mud, smearing it over their faces.

IMG_4280

My daughter enjoyed making a hat and puppets with a local artist and the little ones made a puppet theatre to put them in, when they got home.

IMG_1059

I love these little community events as we all need an excuse to get out and celebrate during rainy March.  We’ll definitely head back next year.

 Photographs by Michael McClary

Holi – The Festival of Colour

I used to work with a wonderful teacher who celebrated Holi with the children every year by covering their clothes and throwing powder paint around our art room.  It was always a favourite time of the year but we thought him very brave for taking it on indoors.

Holi

Since then, I’ve always thought my kids would love to be involved in the celebrations.  This year I took them to the Festival of Colour at Redmond City Hall.  This is how they describe the festival,

The festival does not recognizes any bars of caste, class or creed. Drenched in colors, everybody comes to resemble each other losing their original self. This is the beauty of this festival. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that this festival treats everybody at par, all differences dissolve in the colored water that flows in plenty in it.

Holi calls to put an end to any hard feelings that might have cropped up during the year. People apply color and give each other a friends hug as they greet Holi, the tradition is called, ‘Holi Milan’. It is strongly believed that even enemies turn friend on the day of Holi.

Holi announces the arrival of spring and the passing of winter. The festival breathes an atmosphere of social merriment. People bury their hatchets with a warm embrace and throw their worries to the wind. Every nook and corner presents a colorful sight. Young and old alike are covered with colors (red, green, yellow, blue, black and silver). People in small groups are seen singing, dancing and throwing colors on each other.

Two bags of coloured powder costs $5 on the day and slightly cheaper if you book in advance.  Other packages are also available, for those who want additional colours, t-shirts or food.  We chose two bags each which was plenty for at least an hour of fun.

Holi

Wading in mud, music and dancing and throwing coloured powder at each other – it was pretty much my kids idea of Heaven. Strangers greeted them with cries of Happy Holi as they daubed colours onto their face.

They competed to see who could get the most colourful hair.

And their favourite part was the countdown.

All topped off with a bit of dancing.

 


Mess, music, fun and friendship, essential ingredients for the best festivals .

Play, Early Education and more…

%d bloggers like this: