Mobile Adventure Playground

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Since coming into the world of early childhood education and play, two of the concepts I’ve found most intriguing are loose parts and outdoor play. Calgary’s super cool Mobile Adventure Playground initiative marries these two ideas with some awesome implications.

As parents living in the modern world, when we think of parks and playgrounds, we (sadly) often think of permanent well-groomed areas covered in sprawling plastic structures meant to be played on (and not with!)

This mobile adventure playground challenges that concept. Instead of permanent fixed play structures, children (and adults) have access to a variety of parts (that would otherwise be lying in a landfill somewhere) and can use their imaginations, gross motor muscles, and cognitive skills (much of which can draw on science, engineering and math) to do with them whatever they’d like.

In my talk with one of the play facilatators, I discovered that thirty years ago, adventure parks and playgrounds could be found in Calgary and currently thrive in the UK, Denmark and other areas of Europe. Thanks to a grant from the Lawson Foundation, Calgary’s mobile adventure playground is one of three in Canada and grew out of a 2015 study on outdoor and play engagement and 2016 pilot period, when 2000+ people came out to play.

The mobile adventure playground is relatively easy to set up. Some of the items featured in this one were: tires, plastic crates, pieces of wood and cardboard, pipes, pieces of old play structures, kitchen items like bowls and colanders, scraps of fabric, logs, buckets, paper tubes, cable spindles and a wheelbarrow.

Like many great things, it’s not so much about product as it is about process. Initially, the children stood around not really knowing what to do but once they started exploring and imagining, their play really got going.

In my time there, I observed children create slides and fishing boats, obstacle courses and clubhouses, bunkers and moving vehicles.

There are so many great aspects of this playground:

  • it is mobile and will be set up in different locations throughout the summer (for a schedule, click here)
  • it is free to access
  • it reuses everyday materials in novel ways
  • there’s no one way or right way to set up the materials
  • the same materials result in different types of play depending on who is using them
  • the (big) size of many of the objects required children to work together to move them, fostering cooperative play
  • children that don’t know each other will probably interact, either by playing together or asking permission to use/share materials, helping to develop negotiating skills
  • socioemotional development: not only will children take pride in their play and creations, but they will also learn how to navigate more challenging emotions like loss (when someone might repurpose items they are no longer actively playing with as experienced by H and her friends); struggle and frustration (physically, cognitively and even emotionally) as children try to bring their visions to life;  and conflict when children may want to use the same materials or have different visions for what/how things should be done
  • the playground is set up outdoors allowing families to benefit from exposure to nature
  • the playground utilizes green spaces, temporarily transforming existing (neighbourhood) sites

This park is a break from the norm and would be a welcome change to summer play, especially in the case of children who:

  1. are very active and appreciate gross motor play
  2. love imaginative play
  3. enjoy using stem (science, technology, engineering, math) principles to bring their play into reality
  4. are bored of traditional park experiences

For more information on Calgary’s mobile adventure playground or to view the schedule/locations for the rest of the season, click here. If you’ve ever been exposed to an adventure park/playground, please comment with your experiences and location.

Happy Playing!

 

 

 

Drum for Fun!

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Last summer I happened upon a unique and creative gross motor program happening in my neighbourhood. It was a guided drumming and dance circle that used drumsticks and yoga balls on pails in a group setting. Due to prior commitments and the timing of Ranadan, I only attended it once with H who was 2.5 years old at the time. She loved it! But she was a toddler and lasted about 25 minutes before she wanted to play at the neighbouring park.

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H at the Drum and Dance program last summer at 2.5 years old

When I realized this program was happening again this summer, I was excited to take H, who now, at 3.5 years, would enjoy it even more. We planned for it, and when I returned after getting baby dressed (who H has now nicknamed Boomer), I found her asleep on the couch (this has literally never happened). After multiple failed attempts at waking her up, I decided to just go on a walk with baby. We walked by the park and while I wasn’t sure of the logistics of babywearing and participating, it worked out fabulously!

Baby Boomer (hahaha clearly not an intentional pun by my 3 year old) is not the best of nappers, but the one way he naps best is when I wear him. So in spite of some very loud Bhangra and Electronic music, the vibrations of the drumming and my various movements, he stayed asleep!

I love this program. It’s super family-friendly and combines basic music/dance skills like keeping time and following the beat with the opportunity to meet new people of various ages and circles and get a creative workout,  all while benefiting from spending time outdoors! The instructor is also super friendly and energetic; people drop in and out throughout the program. Best of all, this is an easy program to recreate – it can be adapted to meet the needs of daycare/preschool children, school-aged children, cultural groups and even corporate employees!

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I’m so glad I went out today, even though H wasn’t with me (she was the whole reason I was going in the first place). Being a parent (especially the mother) to a newborn can be very exhausting and isolating- this was exactly what I needed tonight!

For more info on this free program, check out the poster below!

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Ramadan 2017- Post #9: Happy Neighbour Day!

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We moved to our current neighbourhood almost four years ago, and we’ve met some incredible people since. We’ve been blessed with tremendous neighbours- the type I call upon when in a bind; who shower us with friendly smiles and kind gestures; who make us feel welcomed and loved. We’ve come to love our neighbours and are so fortunate to belong to such a friendly community.

As the years have passed, I’ve forced myself outside of my comfort zone (and taken H along for the ride). I want my children to feel like Ramadan is something they can share with the various communities they belong to, not just the Muslim ones.

This Ramadan I prepared soup jars that I thought might be appreciated as all one needs to do is add water! This was actually something I planned to do last year but ran out of time. This year I made it a priority and worked in increments (around everyone’s schedules).

To make these Moroccan Lentil Soup jars, I bought and washed a bunch of mason jars.

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Then I filled them with red lentils, layered with dehydrated onions and a spice mix as per the recipe.

 

Then added some more lentils and topped with a bay leaf.

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I spent a good deal of time looking online for pre-made labels (how I wish I was more graphically-tech savvy) before I gave up and decided to make my own with good old scrapbook paper, tags, a pen and a gold marker I happened upon while cleaning up. I wrote the cooking directions on the back of the tag.

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Originally, I wanted H to help me measure and prep but there was no time for that. She happily came out to deliver the jars.

A sense of community is very important to me. Taking care of neighbours is also a big part of our faith. In the Quran, God instructs us:

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I find it remarkable how it’s not just the neighbours we know that we are supposed to do good towards, but those who we don’t know either. Inshallah I plan to expand my efforts next year to include neighbours that I don’t know as well. It’s actually my dream to host an open iftaar for everyone in my complex!

I couldn’t believe how happy the elders I delivered the jars to were to receive them (and a visit from H)! They are honestly always so touched that they haven’t been forgotten about. I really love that my kids have access to these “next door nanas” in the absence of their biological grandparents.

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I am so grateful for our wonderful neighbours! And to a mayor who is cool enough to designate June 17 as “Neighbour Day” in my city to strengthen communities.

Happy Neighbour Day folks!

 

 

Ramadan 2017 – Post #8: Sharing Ramadan with Classmates

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A few months after starting preschool in December, H expressed interest in wanting to invite all her school friends over, have a party, and celebrate with friends. I suspect that this desire was sparked by becoming more familiar with the idea of birthdays through cartoons and real-life experiences (attending other children’s birthday parties). Since her birthday falls in November and we have so far been pretty minimal about how we celebrate, I told her that we could do something for Ramadan. Now i knew that by the time Ramadan rolled around, I would be pretty freshly post-partum so I went from entertaining visions of healthy, beautifully-crafted fruit skewers, to rice krispy treats shaped like moon and stars to good-old-fashioned treat bags when the reality of post-partum life with two kids, my mom leaving and Ramadan hit.

While we still might get around to the first two ideas for another group of friends during Ramadan/for Eid, I realized they weren’t going to work for H’s school setting as the fruit wouldn’t preserve well and I think there’s a school policy around bringing in homemade food. So instead, we decided to make treat bags that included some store bought treats (granola bars and “fruit” snacks) and included some novelty items like bubbles and tattoos and dates of course. Since nature of goody bag didn’t scream “Ramadan” , I included a “Ramadan Fact Sheet for Parents” inside the bag as well as a simple message in English and French on the outside for the children (thanks to my dear friend Lynn for proofreading the French part!).

Creating and assembling the bags was a process for H. We divided it up into multiple steps and I heavily involved her (I believe that if my kids want to do something, they need to put in the effort!)
Step 1: We used dollar store paper treat bags left over from a past event and brown paper bags. We didn’t have enough of either type so we used both kinds. We decorated one side of the bags with stars and moons. To do this, we used a start-shaped cookie cutter and a sponge, roughly cut up in the shape of a moon, to stamp with using paint. H chose the paint colours. We let the bags dry overnight.
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Step 2: I typed up, printed and cut the message from H and she glued it to the back of each bag. This allowed her to practice using a glue stick.
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Step 3: We filled the bags one early morning while we slept over at her grandparent’s house. Since her cousins were still sleeping and I was trying to to discourage her from making noise (the whole house tends to sleep in during Ramadan). I held baby with one hand which meant it was up to H to really fill the bags.  H carefully chose a bag for each classmate and decided which colour of bubbles and which tattoos each friend should get. I was surprised at how quickly she memorized the quantity of items to put in each bag. We slipped each friend’s name tag inside their bag so that I could finish off the bags at a later time.
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Step 4: I finished off the bags and we transported them back to our house. H took the bags to school and proudly distributed them. We made a list of other friends we wanted to give Ramadan bags too. I explained it may not be possible to make bags for everyone right now but depending on how things were around Eid time, we may be able to share some more things with friends we have missed. Regardless, I was pleased to see how caring and inclusive H is!
This process, which spanned a week, not only gave H the opportunity to practice fine motor skills through stamping, gluing and filling, but also allowed her to work on numerical concepts such as collecting, sorting, sequencing and distributing and contribute to socioemotional development as she got to connect her home life to her school life. She was able to share an aspect of her life that is important to us in a setting where it isn’t discussed (public preschool). She had the chance to do something nice as she thoughtfully created the bags and selected the contents and share them with friends- this was her favourite part! I was actually not planning to add names to the bags (I figured it was more work for her teacher) and randomly select who got what, but H insisted she wanted each child’s name on a bag. This demonstrates the joy and pride children feel when something is made especially for them and the joy and pride they feel in being able to do that for others. I hope H is always this excited and secure to share her identity and experiences with others.

Ramadan 2017: Post #7- Ramadan Mubarak!!

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A very special Ramadan Mubarak to our followers! May your month be blessed and abundant with opportunities for you to earn hassanat and serve your community. May you bathe in God’s mercy and find yourself under his protection. May the month be full of love and light and inspire you to be a better version of yourself!

We kicked off our first day of Ramadan by making cupcakes to share with family. This was at the top of H’s priority list. They are definitely not Pinterest-worthy and we actually cheated and used a box mix (I really hate using those) but desperate times call for desperate measures. In fact, it was my husband who ended up working with H to create the batter as Baby Gaga had other plans for me.

With the help of my awesome sisters-in-law, I also got to see my Ramadan treasure hunt come to life!

How did you welcome Ramadan into your homes? I’d love to hear about your first day and your children’s reactions in the comments 😊

 

Ramadan 2017- Post #6- Patterning and Paper Chains

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Making paper chains is an easy way to decorate for various occasions. Since I wanted to give H a chance to practice more patterning, I asked her to pick three colours to create a pattern with. She chose yellow, pink and blue. Originally, I had planned to give her some scissor practice, but I couldn’t find any child-sized scissors so I was the one to cut strips from the paper she selected.
I asked her to come up with a patterning sequence. She chose pink-yellow-blue-pink-yellow-blue. Older children can be challenged to come up with more complex sequences.
She sorted the the strips into three piles to reflect the different colours. I showed her where to add glue and she started by adding glue to the strips, and I created circles. After a few turns, we switched and continued trading back and forth. Baby Gaga watched happily from the couch.
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During this activity, we also were able to practice some french. Triggered by her comment, “Maman, fini!” we reviewed the colours she was using in french and I introduced new relevant vocabulary like “glue” and “paper.” In addition to patterning and sequencing, other mathematical concepts used during this process included counting (as she counted the rings and remaining strips) and measurement as she commented on the length of her chain saying “It’s like a long slithery snake!” This idea can further be extended by using the rings as a unit of measurement and asking children to estimate the lengths of various objects. For example, “how many rings do you think it would take to create a chain as tall as you?”
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Creating this paper chain was also a way to foster H’s socioemotional development as it helped to build her confidence to attempt and successfully do new things. She was proud of her efforts and excited to hang the chain in our home. She couldn’t wait to show her papa when he got home from work.
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Welcome Baby!

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One last announcement before we get back to the Ramadan posts. Please welcome the newest addition to our Discovery Dome family…

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Baby Gaga (as dubbed by H who refuses to call him by his actual name)

 

He joined us on May 16, 2017. And with a baby in the picture, you can be assured that I will also be posting some more baby-related content/play ideas.

The first thing I’d like to share are these three resources.

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I bought the Baby & Toddler Play book when I was pregnant with H. I used the play ideas in this book from birth to thirty months old. I love this book! It’s exceptionally well-organized! Each activity/play idea includes a description of how it’s done, what age it’s appropriate for, what kind of play it is, what skills it helps to develop, and a photograph (although dated). The book also features research reports, lyrics to rhymes and songs, a glossary and skills index.

Since I bought the Baby Play for Everyday book after H was already a toddler, I haven’t had the chance to use it yet, but it looks promising. It starts with a visual overview of the skills babies generally develop in their first year of life and the areas of development those skills correspond to. There are twelve sections that correspond to the first twelve months of baby’s life. The sections start with an overview on changes and development and a list of skills your child can probably do and some things that some babies may be able to do. It goes on to present activity ideas in visually attractive ways with a mix of blurbs, photos and fonts. What I like about this book is that the 365 activities are not just for babies but there are ideas in there that while include baby, are done more for the caregiver (for example, positions for birth recovery, healthy snack ideas, and exercise poses).

The Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos is actually a book I borrowed from my local library to prepare for a workshop I was doing in April. Although I didn’t have the chance to consult the book then, I did flip through it.  This book isn’t as well-organized as the others but still contains valuable information and insight, especially in the form of lists. Sections I enjoyed included “Fun things babies do while you read,” “Ten reasons to read to your baby or toddler,” “Featured books” as well as information regarding the ages and stages in young children’s development and implications for books and reading, and many many book lists organized by features (ex. “twenty-eight especially engaging, incredible interactive books,” “Can’t put them down storybooks: blockbuster fiction for the younger set,” “ten wordless favourites” etc.

I look forward to being inspired by the content of these books and sharing them with you!