Snow Day Indoor Play

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Living in Canada, you quickly have to accept that winters are long and days are short. As great as it sounds to get outdoors with the kids everyday (it is possible!) it can be quite challenging.

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This winter, independently caring for two children who were on different nap schedules (as my partner worked long hours and took evening classes) while simultaneously trying to keep house and get dinner on the table was making us all a little crazy. We needed to find a way to get our move on while being trapped indoors.

The most challenging times were the early evening hours so here were some of the things we did at home the past few months to use up energy and share some giggles. My main focus was engaging in gross motor play (play that uses up large body muscles such as legs) since that’s what H was missing out on the most.

  1. Dancing – This is a staple in our house. When all else fails, I just put on music and we start dancing. In the early days of Y being a baby, this was a daily occurrence. He would be sleeping in the baby carrier and we would dance to songs like “Follow the Leader.”  Other times, we sing songs that have actions. Our favourites are “Penguin Song” and “Go Bananas” both of which my daughter started singing this summer  at camp. We love disney songs as well as various fast world music genres. Y loves watching and has started “dancing” along too.
  2. Races – It started as crawling races when Y started crawling, but other races we’ve had are crab walk, bear walk, slithering like a snake, potato sack (we used pillow cases) and scooting.imageAs adults, it may feel silly to be doing these things but it’s actually quite refreshing to not have to walk on your legs. Not only does it give you a new perspective and help you see things from your child’s point of view (literally and figuratively) but you have new realizations like “wow, it’s so dusty under the couch” or “that’s where all the baby toys are hiding!”
  3. Props– Add any prop and suddenly, every day movements become more exciting. One of my favourite things to do with children I work with is to tie a ribbon to a stick/twig and watch as they start to dance, and move their arms in new ways as they try to make the ribbon dance. Bonus: If you have an older child and an infant, the infant will be transfixed watching the older child and their colourful ribbon swirl about.
  4. Tape up the floor – Whether you use masking tape to tape different types of lines to the ground (straight, zig zag, giant spiral) or create a traditional hopscotch, sometimes creating a defined path for children helps invite movement.
  5. Pop! – Whether you reuse furniture packaging or buy a roll at the dollar store, bubble wrap taped to the floor can add novelty. I distinctly remember taping a roll of bubble wrap to the hallway between the kitchen and living room last month as I cooked dinner and my 4 year old and infant played happily for almost an hour.  What will start as just walking across will soon turn into running. image If your children start losing steam, ask questions like:
    1. What happens when you walk on your tip toes?
    2. How can you make a really loud popping sound?
    3. How can you make a quiet popping sound?
    4. What happens when you crawl across?
    5. What if you hop, skip, jump?
    6. Can you find ten bubbles that aren’t popped and use your finger?
    7. What if your wear your rainboots and walk across? How about your party shoes?
  6. Colours and Shapes – I cut different shapes out of different colours of construction paper and taped them to the floor. Then, we played a game where I said the name of a colour in French and my daughter jumped to it. We did the same in reverse. Then we did it with shapes. My daughter decided they should have numbers so she practiced writing numbers on the shapes and then practiced writing her name and “Mama” on the shapes. Not only was this a great gross motor activity, but it also had a cognitive component and helped with second language acquisition.imageI’m not sure how worthwhile or sustainable this would be in a home with mobile infants (it only lasted a few days in our house before Y tore them all off) but I just viewed it as an opportunity for him to practice his fine motor skills as he strengthened his finger and hand muscles by ripping up the paper. image
  7. Building – We used boxes, cushions, a play yard, dupattas/scarves, and a building toy to build a variety of tunnels and unique spaces such as forts and trains.
  8. Balloons and Bubbles – These were super easy items we had on hand that were equally fun for H and Y. As the months passed, Y went from just watching the bubbles in confusion to actively popping them. image

As Y is gaining more control with standing, I predict that he will be taking his first steps sometime this spring. I am excited to see how gross motor play between the children will change both indoors and outdoors, once that happens. I cannot wait for spring!

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Light and Shadow

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A lot of the play that goes on in our house stems from what the children are interested in. Sometimes, one moment leads to just minutes, hours, days or weeks of play. Other times, an interest that keeps resurfacing is deepened, developed and transformed into something that takes on a life of its own. My favourite play moments are spontaneous and are often happened upon by accident. This is one such “big idea”.

I can’t remember when exactly it happened, but sometime during stealthy middle of the night diaper changes, coutesy of my cellphone flashlight, I noticed Y noticing shadows on the ceiling. By the time he could make controlled movements with his limbs, I noticed him trying the cause and effect with his shadows. If I was holding him, he would often try to reach out and touch his shadow.

As fall approached, the days were getting shorter, and darkness quickly descended upon our house. We spent many evenings cozy indoors on nights my husband had an evening class. We started playing with shadows regularly.

We lay in our king-sized bed and wiggled our hands and feet towards the ceiling. Y was entranced: so many wiggly fingers and toes!

Being attracted to shadow seems natural for infants and toddlers. It’s exciting and stimulating to see interesting shapes appear on spaces- often distorted or in a different size. I still remember when H was 2 years old, I was pushing her along in her stroller outside. The moon was following us as we walked and H was revelling in the novelty of a night landscape since we usually went for walks during the day. We passed by a wooden fence, and with genuine concern she said ” My shadow is broken.” Because of the way the wooden slats were arranged, her shadow, did indeed, appear broken. She was relieved when her shadow returned to normal when we passed by a solid wall.

As the months passed and the children sustained an interest in light and shadow play, I realized that this would be an accessible play opportunity for both kids, despite their age gap and vast difference in abilities. It was super fun for me too! I felt like my inner scientist was coming out to play.

I gathered objects I thought would create cool shadows (thinking about texture, size, colour, and shape).

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H was intrigued at first but wanted to get back to her play so Y and I went to his room to continue the experimentation. I was blown away at how focused he was. I didn’t have to do much. I just set up objects at different heights and distances from the light sourced and he marvelled. We were able to experiment with things built into his room, like mirrors.

Now that he’s mobile, I’m curious to see how he would engage with this idea.

We tried again a few weeks later and H was much more intrigued. She incorporated her figures and other objects from her room. It was great! Stories started forming around riding bikes and friends on a boat stuck at sea. It was so cool to see tiny things appear as big as my children!

My favourite was the effect created by a pink and silver sequinned pillow.

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We introduced other light-based play by including a globe toy that lit up (thanks for the awesome birthday present Auntie G!), her humidifier, as well as a “night sky” projector I had picked up for her as she became interested in outer space.

More recently, Y has been playing shadows created by the sun- trying to engage with his reflection and catch the light I reflect off of mirrors.

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating some sort of light table or purchasing a light pad for the children. Perhaps that will be the next extension of our play.

Note: if you enjoyed this post, I will be posting more baby play ideas. Subscribe to the blog or like the Facebook page for updates!

Bye Bye Basket: deconstruction and loose parts

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There is lots I’ve been wanting to blog about. My phone gallery is full of photos I’ve taken over the last 6 weeks but instead, I’m here to take you on a visual journey of what happened in our house today.

We have a basket on the shelf with Y’s playthings. As those things have increased, the contents have gotten heavier and one side of the handle started coming undone and finally broke.

Today, as Y pursued some playthings, he found himself trapped.

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I decided to snap the handle off of the basket and gave it to H who I figured would find an imaginative use for it. She quickly got to work.

image.jpegIt wasn’t long before she had pulled apart the entire handle.

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“Mama, can I have a bowl for my spaghetti?” Then she found a mixing spoon.

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Perhaps some of the pieces didn’t fit in the bowl because soon she was creating a circle on the ground.

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“Look mama, I made a face!”

I brought over some twigs and pine cones with the hope that she would enhance the faces, but she had other plans. She grabbed the container full of art utensils, eyeing the highlighter and got ready (to colour all over the floor). Unfortunately, it was time for lunch and nap so I promised her that when she woke up she could continue at the table after we covered it.

So after her nap (and costume change because what fabulous 4 year old doesn’t change their clothes at least 5 times a day?) we each started colouring a piece. Notice her grip, experimentation with holding multiple markers and her rearrangement of marker lids.

After surprising her Papa with her creation, she found me and started singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (we went to go see a production of The Wizard of Oz yesterday).

imageI remember reading somewhere about how taking things apart can also be considered an aspect of creativity. After 7 years of marriage to an engineer, I’ve come to appreciate this form of creative expression and was overjoyed to see H’s process unfold over the day- how she deconstructed part of the basket, played with it in different ways and then created something new and personally meaningful. Wow.

October Round Up

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October has been a busy and interesting month! We spent the last few days of September outdoors visiting the farm and exploring the neighbourhood.

 

Good thing because the beginning of October brought snow! Fortunately, it was temporary so we could enjoy fall some more.

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As we found ourselves settling into more of a routine, we started spending more time indoors.

H came across this tray and literally begged me to fill it with things for her (she remembered the last time we had used it), so in a five minute hussle, I filled it with things from my kitchen (isn’t it amazing how many different types of pasta there are?!)

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H got to work, adding in her own loose parts like bracelets.

 

This month, she spent a lot of time dressing up. Sometimes she used ready made costumes and sometimes she used her imagination.

 

I love H’s knack for symbolic play. I think she would be great at improv. Here she is with her bicycle helmet, a bunk bed she made for her dolls and putting her babies to sleep in their bassinets.

 

We voted in the municipal elections and that raised a discussion about mayors. So far the only mayors she knew about were Mayor Goodway and Mayor Humdinger. She was very curious about Mayor Nenshi.

 

H played with old loose parts, building homes and having picnics.

 

And explored new ones too.

We read. We ran up hills. We went to go see a play.

 

We did experiments and yoga.

Our car broke down and we ended up stuck at her school for a few hours. It was nice for me to have a deeper look at her preschool environment. I know I’m the keener parent- the one who is always looking at the lesson plans, remembers spirit days and peeks to see what new centres have been added to the room.

 

As Y has been growing older, it’s fascinating to see what captures his attention. Not only does he love watching his sister at play, but he has started to express his own preferences. He was really drawn to this bicycle-printed hijab of mine so we used it over his play gym and suspended from the swing. He also tried catching his shadow.

 

I spent time learning this month. I found some inspiring Facebook groups and attending virtual workshops I had signed up for last winter. This exposure to seeing Reggio in practice got my gears turning and reignited my passion for self-growth and reflection.

When I look back at some of what we did this month, I feel exhausted! But I also can’t help but smile at all of the synapses (brain connections) that must have been made. Play, is after all, the work of the child.

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!

 

 

 

Tools are Cool- Post #4: Cardboard Construction

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Anyone with a young child has probably learned a few things about children and play. One of these revelations is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to entertain or engage children. This moment is probably most acutely realized after you hand an infant a new toy and they spend more time playing with the box the toy came in, than the toy itself.

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Boxes hold beautiful potential and offer a world of possibility for children. Similarly, other materials like paper, cardboard and paint can often help support children’s ideas of what the box should be.

This packaging from Ikea provided weeks of play for H in the months of January and February. It was almost like a five-sided box that had natural creases on two of the sides. H instantly declared that this was her boat and began fishing. Some time later, by simply undoing the sides, it became her rocket ship.

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Her rocket ship play lead to a discussion about direction and soon she was heading east to Montreal. She transferred this knowledge to our car rides and started asking/suggesting what direction we should drive in.

Sometimes she went on solo trips and sometimes she went with friends. Sometimes only her friends went and she bid them farewell.

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I extended her play by providing paint and stickers so she could decorate her rocket ship the way she wanted. There’s nothing exciting or captivating about this. This is my way of engaging her with everyday things on short notice. That being said, I know it’s empowering for her to make things her own.

The next day, while I napped, she quietly decided to take matters into her own hands…and legs. It was another one of those magical moments where I stood frozen wondering why this always happens to me! After our last few food colouring disasters in the fall, I stored the paints and food colour in the basement (out of reach) but thought leaving them in the kitchen for less than the one hour we were home before we had to go to swimming would be no big deal. Lesson learned!

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A trip to Costco gave us another box. This one became her official boat.

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While none of these experiences required special tools, I was really excited to provide H with this cool tool set I came across online. We bought it locally from Lee Valley Tools.

I knew she would still be a little young to really make the most of it, but it was really empowering for her to use the scru-driver and actually watch the
“screws” turn into the cardboard.  She looked at the packaging and said that she wanted to make a dollhouse, so we used yet another Costco box and an old pull-ups box.

As I expected, H wasn’t fully engaged in this process because it was challenging (and she got distracted by playdough). She helped with attaching some of the pieces and provided her input, for example, when I was trying to add in stairs she said, “How about we use a string instead?” So we did. But she does enjoy playing with it. It’s currently on display in our playroom. To further extend this process (and to distract her when I needed a few minutes), I gave her stickers to decorate the house.

 

Then of course, her imagination soared. I happened upon this scene later and could only to try to guess what had happened here…image_2.jpeg

There are a variety of tools designed for various purposes and to carry out various functions. The tools we explored in this series had to do with building and construction because those are the ones H was interested in when we started, but I look forward to introducing other types of tools related to art, cooking and gardening as the year progresses since she has also grown to be quite interested in those areas. Hopefully it can help broaden her perspective and understanding of tools and provide her for more opportunities for fine motor development.