Category Archives: play

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Playtimes: An Online Collection from the British Library Documenting 100 Years of Children’s Songs, Rhymes and Games.

Following my recent post about traditional playground games, by chance I came across this wonderful collection from the British Library.  For a play enthusiast like me, it equates to giving my kids free rein with the pick n’ mix.

The collection includes over 100 video and audio clips of children’s play, articles and video about the history of play and how it translates to modern times and teaching resources for KS1 and 2 (elementary age).

The Playtimes website is part of a wider research project entitled Children’s Games and Songs in the New Media Age.  The project sought to preserve play traditions and investigate how these types of play continue to be used in the modern age. The project digitised the Opie collection of games and songs created in the late 1960’s through to the early 1980’s, capturing the games and songs of children across the UK.  The majority of the recordings were made by Iona Opie as she travelled the country recording in playgrounds and schools, estates and parks. These visits were often unplanned and Iona described how she would simply wind down her car window and ‘follow the sound of children playing’.  The project also carried out a two-year study of children’s playground culture today.

Many of the videos are narrated by Michael Rosen and others are animations created by schoolchildren.

I’m fascinated by traditional games and their rhythmic quality so I have ordered Opie’s books of rhymes and games and some of her research findings to learn more.  What a treasure trove!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Minion Themed Party

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It was party time again recently and this time my six-year-old chose a Minion theme. On arrival they were given a Minion hat made from a builders hat with a pair of cardboard goggles attached.

Food

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Minions love bananas, so they had to be on the menu. My eight-year-old decorated each banana to look like a Minion.

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My six-year-old did the same with the cheese sticks.

I found Minion shaped fruit snacks and we had a selection of fruits and snacks.

It was all topped off with a Minion beach party cake.

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Crafts

Whilst we were waiting for guests to arrive, I printed colouring sheets for the children.  My daughter had requested cookie decorating, so we decorated mandolins ( a perfect shape for a minion) with blue and yellow icing, black icing to add detail and edible eyes to make a Minion cookie.

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I laid out pictures of Minions and gave each child a piece of yellow and blue polymer clay to make Minions. They added black and white for the eyes.  I love how they turned out and that they were all so different.

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Games

Pin the hat on the Minion

This was a pre-bought game and acted as a good time filler while I laid out the food.

Pass the parcel

A Minion themed gift was wrapped and then covered in multiple layers.  The parcel is passed around a circle to music and each time the music stops a layer is unwrapped.  In previous parcels we had an activity to complete in each layer but this time I simple placed a lollipop in each layer.  The person to unwrap the last layer, gets to keep the gift.

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Musical bananas

A variation of musical chairs. Lay out the same number of laminated pictures of bananas on the floor as there are children.  The children dance and move around the room and one banana is taken away.  When the music stops everyone runs to collect a banana and the child left without one is out (but gets a treat as consolation). The last child left in wins a prize.

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Races

Balance a banana on your head and walk to the other side of the room. Complete it successfully and win a prize. This was a big favourite. We ran out of time for more games but below are a few more banana games you may like to try.

  • Race to peel a banana wearing a pair of gloves
  • Hide bananas for a banana themed treasure hunt.
  • Stick pictures of bananas to a blow up palm tree and hold it high.  Jump up and pick as many bananas as you can in a given time frame.

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Cat Themed Children’s Party Ideas

IMG_5562.jpgMy daughter wanted a cat party for her eighth birthday.  I hosted a dog themed party for a friend’s daughter a few months ago, so we re-used some of the ideas and added a few new ones.

For their arrival, each child had a pair of cat ears and my eldest drew noses and whiskers on their faces.

Food

The food was simple. My daughter asked if they could have tuna fish sandwiches and I cooked a pizza cut into triangles to look like a mouse.  We had cheese triangles with slices of cheese string for mouse ears and tails and strawberries with strawberry lace tails. My daughter baked cat shaped cookies and cupcakes with paw prints made from M&M’s and Minstrels (British chocolates that are bigger than M&M’s). Goldfish and other snacks completed the ensemble.

Plain, black plates were decorated with cat ears and  faces and whiskers  drawn on black paper cups.

food

Crafts

One of the parent’s commented that it was the calmest party they had ever seen, as the group of mostly girls settled down to crafts.

  • First they coloured in wooden cat masks from Michaels, which gave us time to wait for everyone to arrive.

colouring-cats

  • Once everybody had arrived, we made cat faces with polymer clay.  At the dog party we made dog faces into necklaces but this time I decided to turn them into fridge magnets by attaching magnetic tape.

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  • Finally we made pipe cleaner cats.  The pipe cleaner was coiled around a finger, leaving  a piece for the tail. Pom pom heads were attached and ears and faces added.

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Games

Fishing

The first game was a magnetic fishing game.  I made a fishing rod with a magnet attached and cardboard fish, labelled with numbers and a paperclip attached. Each guest caught a fish and then were handed a package with a corresponding number.  Inside the package was a cuddly cat and a certificate for them to adopt the cat and take it home.

img_5577-2Pass the Parcel

Pass the parcel is a traditional British party game and one of my kids favourites.  A gift is wrapped in multiple layers and passed around a circle.  When the music stops the child holding the parcel unwraps one layer.  Inside each layer was a cat themed action that the children had to perform, if they performed it correctly they received a treat.  The child who unwraps the final layer wins the gift.

pass-the-parcelMusical Cat Beds

Following the same rules as musical chairs but using cushions as cat beds.  When the music stopped, the children had to find a cat bed to sit on. Each time one cushion was removed.  When a chid was out, I let them choose a sweet from the bag and the winner chose a larger prize from our goody bag.

Silly Races

We played this game at the dog party and it was a big success, so decided to use it again.  Two bowls with a small amount of chocolate cereal are placed side by side (the cereal looks like pet food).  Two children race each other to see who can finish the cereal first, by only using their mouths.  The winner received a prize from the goody bag and the runner-up a sweet treat.

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The second silly race, was to push a ball of wool/yarn across the floor to the finish line, using their nose.  Some children worked out very quickly that if they gave it a significant nudge, it would roll a long way.

Pass the flea

I found a glow in the dark bug to act as our flea. This was an adaptation of hot potato.  The children pass the flea quickly around the circle to music. When the music stops, the child holding the flea is out.  The last child left in, is the lucky cat not to catch fleas and wins a prize from the goodie bag.

The party was a great success – I think the birthday girl would agree.

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Jerome Bruner and Early Education

 

Jerome Bruner

Photo credit Poughkeepsie Day School

This week one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Jerome Bruner, died at age 100. If you have studied psychology or education you will most likely have come across his teachings. It’s easy to forget what we have been taught once college days are over, so I have been reminding myself of his teachings and their importance to early childhood educators.

  1.  Scaffolding   

Bruner proposed the concept of scaffolding. Scaffolding is the action that an adult performs to assist the child in learning something that would otherwise be beyond them. Examples of scaffolding include modelling, making suggestions,or structuring learning into manageable parts. As the metaphor suggests, the scaffold supports the child as they build skills so that it can eventually be reduced and removed completely.

The following video illustrates a number of points about scaffolding. Notice how the amount of scaffolding from the adult is minimal or non-existent for the eldest child (aged eight). Some scaffolding is offered to the three-year old in the form of suggestion and answering questions but lots of scaffolding is required by the one-year old.  The children themselves also offer scaffolding to each other, as they watch what the others do and  try things for themselves.

2. Bruner believed that learning was an active process and that children could discover complex concepts at any age.

“Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child,” he wrote in “The Process of Education,” “providing attention is paid to the psychological development of the child.”

This concept heavily influenced the view of the capable child in the schools of Reggio Emilia.  Bruner was a regular visitor to the schools even into his 90’s.

 

3. His work was fundamental in raising the profile of early education and his ideas contributed  heavily to the development of Head Start.

4.  Spiral curriculum

This method focuses on revisiting learned content at set intervals and re-teaching it at a more refined and difficult level. Eventually, learned content from one subject informs more in-depth discussion of content in another subject. Learning through play allows us the luxury of visiting concepts multiple times in different contexts.

Studies are not isolated but intrinsically linked with a common thread running through them all. Bruner believed that learners should go beyond the information given and understand the process in order to generate ideas of their own.

With over 70 years of research, this list only scratches the surface.  I found this video useful for understanding his key contributions.

 

 

 

 

Big Rock Park

We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an area where there are lots of great parks. Last week saw the grand opening of Big Rock Park, so we took a trip to see what it was like.

I liked that it didn’t have the same old playground equipment.  The slide was built into a hill, with a natural climb up to it and the zip wire was low enough for young children to climb on independently. There were also a number of climbing posts made from tree stumps and plentiful building blocks crafted from branches.

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They have really tried hard to maintain this as a nature park.  The fences are all crafted from rough cut wood and they are still cultivating the meadow around the slide complete with little peep holes. In collaboration with STEM High School, Big Rock Park will design an environmental education programme and promote renewable technology.

Beyond the playground you can head down to the nature trails.  On the way admire the giant nest built by local families last year.

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At Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, in England, the playground (wellyboot land)  had giant bouncy eggs. This nest is crying out for some of those.

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As you head into the trails you have a number of paths available, all well signposted.  The trails aren’t very long, so perfect for little legs to explore.

Leading towards the trail is another little guest.

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Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?

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This was easily the main attraction. The trails circle around the rock and lead back to this wonderful natural climbing area.

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We loved the new park and will be heading back soon with the older children, who were sad that they missed it.