Category Archives: parenting

Heuristic Play: Activities for Toddlers

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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.

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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.

 

Alex and Eliza: A Love Story – Young Adult Novel for Hamilton Fans

Alex and Eliza is a young adult novel, documenting the love story between Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler.  Written by best-selling author Melissa De La Cruz, it is likely to be a popular choice for young Hamilton fans. Netgalley  offered me a sneak peek of the first 4 chapters. Will Hamilton fans be disappointed?

The prologue gives an interesting historical insight into the Schuyler family history. As a  prologue should, it left me wanting  to read more . The opening chapter introduces the Schyuler sisters.  Their portrayal is different to the girls presented in Hamilton the Musical.  Eliza is the central character and the author clearly has a strong emotional attachment to her . She is presented as both clever and beautiful, very principled and caring little about the common frippery of young girls seeking a husband. Angelica, certainly in the first part of the book, does not appear to be the leader of the sisters (although she is also described as beautiful, intelligent and the boldest of the sisters) and seems more interested in looking beautiful and attracting men than more intellectual pursuits.  Eliza is independent of her sister in the novel in comparison to her portrayal in the musical. This is also reflected in her initial meeting with Alexander, where her clever use of wordplay puts Alexander down a peg or two. The characters are immediately likeable and interesting and have enough depth to make you care about them.

I was interested in my teenage daughter’s view, as an avid Hamilton fan who has researched the history behind the Hamilton story intensively.  I personally like the way the Schuyler sisters were portrayed but wasn’t sure how close the representation would be to her understanding of the sisters.  She liked it and didn’t find the different portrayal from the musical annoying, as I had wondered she might. She said that she found the switch between the traditional use of language used by the characters and the more modern narrative voice strange at first, I personally didn’t notice a strong switch in tone. My daughter liked it and wanted to read the rest of the book but wasn’t chomping at the bit because she only had the first four chapters.

To be honest that was also my opinion, I liked it, the characters were compelling and I would like to finish reading the book but I wasn’t desperate to read it in one sitting which is always my benchmark for my favourite books. Perhaps only having four chapters and already knowing the main plot was a factor, so I’m still looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Alex and Eliza is available to pre-order with a release date on 11th April 2017.

 

Pre-order on Amazon.com

Pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

 

This post contains affiliate links. No payment or product was received for review purposes.

Picture Books: Future Releases to Look Out for in 2017

A Pattern for Pepper by Julie Kaulis

 Click on image for link for US readers.
 Click on image for link for UK readers

I absolutely love this one. Pepper visits a dress-maker who is making her a dress for a special occasion.  Pepper can’t decide which pattern she should choose for the fabric, so the dressmaker shows her different patterns, explaining their origins and meanings.  Julie Kraulis’ illustrations are adorable; delicately drawn with a simple colour pallet of blue, white and red. The patterns form the background to the illustrations as they are explained in the text, merging text and illustration beautifully. This would make a wonderful read-aloud story to introduce pattern to young children.  I learned a lot!  Available for pre-order, release date 1st August 2017.

Further Activities

1. Bring in different fabrics – can the children identify any of the patterns in the story?  Are there any other patterns? Do all patterns have names?  Make a matching or sorting game.

2. Ask the children to create their own pattern (limit the colours so they focus on the pattern element).  What do you call your pattern and why?

3. Creative writing : what is the story behind your pattern – this could be done orally for pre-writers.

4. Discover fashion designers, look at sketches and photographs of fashion shows. Create designs from pieces of material and scrap materials and role-play a fashion show.

5. Investigate how textiles are made both in modern times and in the past – visit a mill or find a visitor who can spin wool.

6. Practice cutting out pieces for a pattern, laying them on fabric and drawing and cutting around them.  Perhaps try sewing the pieces together with small groups of children or cut them in paper and see if the children can piece them together with tape to make a garment.

Different? Same! by Heather Tekavec illustrated by Pippa Curnick

 Click on image for link for US readers

Link for UK Readers

This non-fiction title, highlights  differences between animals and then asks the reader to stop and think about how they might be the same.  The simple repetitive pattern of the text encourages children to look closely at the animals and predict their  similarities, before it is announced in the text.  This makes it a lovely interactive  book to share with young children.  The illustrations are bright and bold.  At the end of the book, you will find additional activities and further descriptions of the animals featured in the book.

Available for Pre-order: Publication date 2nd May 2017.

Further Activities

  1. Sort other things into same and different groups e.g. fruit and vegetables, transport, natural materials, household objects.
  2. How are you the same as other children in your class/family? How are you different?
  3. Play a guessing game – show four objects and work out how they relate to one another.
  4. Explore animal skins, shells and /or feathers or choose two objects of the same category and describe them orally for young children and in writing for older children.

Where Will I Live by Rosemary McCarney

Click on image for link for US readers

Click on image for link for UK readers
This powerful photo-based picture book for young readers, written by Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, tells the story of the hundreds of thousands of children around the world who have been forced to flee their homes due to war and terror.  The photographs are stunning, and depict the hardships these children face and their resilience without being disturbing to young children.  The text and photographs work together to explain the plight of refuges to young children in a completely age appropriate manner.  A perfect book for introducing a difficult topic to young children.

Available for pre-order: publication date 4th April 2017.

Future activities for this one will undoubtedly arise from the children’s questions.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links

Mud,Mud, Glorious Mud: Why you Should Embrace Mud Play.

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I’ve never been able to avoid playing in dirt with my kids, nor have I ever wanted to. From the youngest age the girls would pick up small stones from the ground or carry sticks.  I would walk the dogs at the local park and my daughter would gravitate towards a dirt patch and spend the whole time absorbed with the dusty dry mud. At other times, she would stop at every mole hill in the meadow, exploring it with her fingers.

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As for muddy puddles – regardless of footwear they are just too tempting to resist.

puddles

muddy

I was very lucky to find a preschool for my youngest that embraces mud play.

ducklings

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The swamp

 

playing in mud
The mud patch – building rivers and streams

 

If you can’t enjoy getting dirty when you are a child then when can you?

planting

international mud day
I want it to have hair like mine.
dr mazes farm
digging for worms

footprints in mudWP_000447mud kitchens

Mud play isn’t just fun, it is also great for children’s health and development. Check out my article in Parentmap to find out more.

Preserving Traditional Playground Games

wp_20160324_009Four years ago, all of our worldly goods were packed onto a container to make the journey to our new home in the US.  We wouldn’t see them again for 10 weeks.

The children packed a small case each with colouring pencils, paper, a few books and a cuddly toy. They were without any other toys for the whole of the summer.

This was an amazing opportunity to be creative with things around the house.  We decorated pistachio nut shells, made pictures with coffee filters, built a mud kitchen and hosted our own Children’s Olympics. In some ways I wished it could be like this all of the time and once the toys arrived I was selective about what I unpacked.

The most popular activity however, was learning playground games from my childhood. I explained how  I didn’t have equipment or toys in my school playground, when I was a child. We played our own games, which we would also play in the street at home.  I am very conscious that if we don’t pass games down to our children they may be lost forever and I’m glad that our lack of toys gave me an opportunity to resurrect them.

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There has been concern for some time that children no longer play outside. The good old Seattle or British weather doesn’t help. Couple this with the constant lure of TV and electronic media and it can be hard to get kids outdoors. Teaching them  a new game was a great way to get my children outdoors and they often ask me to teach them more. I really must make a point of doing that now that they are a little older.

One of my  play sessions for pre-schoolers involved teaching them simple games, like What’s the time Mr Wolf?, Please Mr Crocodile and the Bean Game.  I was surprised at how many were new to local families. After seeing how much my children enjoyed traditional games I was intrigued to see if any other parents remembered games from their childhood, most didn’t.

We played some of the more popular games; hopscotch on the driveway, skipping rhymes, What’s the time Mr Wolf but also some less well known games.

 

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Polo

Polo

This was my kids’ favourite.

  • One child is it and stands at one end of the garden (as kids we used to play it in the road and run to the other side of the street).
  • They call out a category to the other players on the other side of the garden such as animals or colours.
  • Each player quietly chooses something from that category and a nominated player calls them out – let’s say dog, pig and cow.
  • The player who is  it chooses one, e.g. ’dog’ and the player who is‘ dog ‘races them  across to the other side and back.
  • The first player back to their place shouts ‘polo’ and is it the next time.

 

Red Letter

  • One child is it and the other children stand at the opposite side of the playground.
  • The person who is it chooses a red letter and tells the players what it is.
  • She then calls out a letter – the players take one step for each time that letter occurs in their name.
  • The first player to get to the caller is  it the next time.
  • If the caller calls the red letter, she chases all the players back to the start, if one is caught then they are it.

 

Ice-cream

  • The person who is it stands with their back to the other players.
  • The other players stand on the opposite side of the garden and edge closer to the person who is it.
  • The person who is it turns around at intervals.
  • The players freeze when she turns around. If they are caught moving they go back to the start.
  • If anyone reaches the other side, they touch the person who is it, on the back and shout ice-cream, she then chases the players and if anyone is caught they are it.

 

Please Mr Crocodile

  • One player is the crocodile. The other players stand on the opposite side and recite

Please Mr Crocodile May we cross the water, to see the queen’s daughter, who fell in the water, 100 years ago. Which colour must we wear?

  • The crocodile chooses a colour and any children wearing that colour have to run to the other side without being caught by the crocodile.
  • If they are caught, they become the crocodile.

I’m sure that there are many other playground games that I have forgotten over time. Many of them will be unique to British childhood so perhaps I should write them in a book to preserve a piece of British heritage for my children.

 

pooh sticks
Pooh Sticks

If we can’t remember the rules to our childhood games then they are in danger of being lost forever. I’d love you to share any games you can remember and if there are any lunch supervisors out there perhaps you could make it a mission to bring traditional games back to the playground.

I have a list of games I’m going to teach to my kids this spring particularly mob, and elastics (we got the elastic from Ikea recently) now that they are old enough to play.

 

 

 

 

 

Valentines for All or for Special Friends? Does it Matter?

American Valentine Traditions

When I first arrived here, I was shocked by the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated at school.  Parties and giving little bits of pointless paper to every child in the class seemed completely meaningless to me.

When I was a child we all made a card at school.  Some took it home, some gave it anonymously to someone they ‘fancied’ and some gave it to their best friend. Most of the class didn’t get a Valentine, usually one boy and one girl received loads, it didn’t really matter, that’s life.

I do however understand the policy of all or none when giving out these odd tiny Valentines they have here. Nobody wants to be the child who receives nothing.  I buy into it because the children want to give, but they ask all kinds of questions.

  • Why do I have to give something to that person if I don’t really like them?
  • Can I give something more special to my best friend or will everyone else think it is unfair?
  • It takes too long to write cards for everyone can’t I just send a few?
  • Why should I give something to someone if they are horrible to me?

The answer to most of these questions is ‘because school says’, which is always the worst kind of answer in my opinion.

I think there is a better way. Can we spend time talking with children, discussing the issues and then let them decide for themselves?

  • What would it be like if we could choose who to give Valentine’s to?
  • Could we make a few really special Valentine’s with thoughtful messages instead of a piece of paper with a name on?
  • How about if all Valentine’s were anonymous – if we gave a Valentine to the people we care about but we don’t tell them who gave it?
  • Would that make it more about seeing a smile on someone’s face rather than how great  a gift we could give?
  •   How does it feel to be the only child without a Valentine?  Think about those people, perhaps you would like to send them one so that they wouldn’t feel left out? (My daughter said she was going to send a card to the girl in her class from learning centre, even though she didn’t know her, because she thought otherwise she might not get any.) 
  • Do you feel that you should send a card to all the class to make it fair?  If you do then go ahead.
  • If we only send to some people what message are we sending? Are we saying you are the most special people in my life or I don’t like these other people?

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and friendship. We don’t care about all people equally and that is perfectly normal. Giving to all in my opinion makes it thoughtless.  Rather than celebrating how we care for everyone, it degenerates into an automatic exercise that is expected of us.  We send cards without sentiment because we have to, not because we care about those people. We can’t write special messages to our friends because that wouldn’t be equitable and to write a long message to the whole class would take too long.

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I like the exercises where the children have to think of one good thing to say about each person in the class but even then I have had my child in tears because there are some children she doesn’t really know and can’t think of anything good to say.  Even at that level then, it is false sentiment.

I wonder how much this is thought about at school before they decide on an all or nothing policy as a matter of fairness? Is it really fair and can’t we trust our children to show kindness and know right from wrong without imposing our own ideas on them?

I wonder what the children would say if we had these discussions? I think we might be surprised.