Odds and Ends

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We’ve been doing a lot of play and exploration with light and shadow (post forthcoming) but in the meantime I thought I’d share some photos of the other things we have been up to. It’s fascinating for me to be back in the baby years and witness how quickly physical, social and cognitive skills are developing. It’s also been interesting to see changing dynamics and relationships within our house.

 

 

 

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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.

Fall Faces and Feels

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At our house, we’ve made playdough quite a few times but this was the first time we made scented playdough. And how wonderful it smells…I seriously want to eat it!

We made pumpkin spice playdough a few days ago and have been playing with it in old ways and new. Basically, just add a few tablespoons of pumpkin spice mix to your favourite playdough recipe.

We combined it with found items (bits of nature I had collected on a walk last week) and made faces.

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We used an assortment of rocks, pinecones, twigs, bark, berries, seeds, and plants.

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Perhaps more interesting was what happened when H started deconstructing the faces. She noticed the imprints the different textures were making in the playdough. Her favourites were pinecone impressions used on their heads (I had only thought to use it on its side).

Talks about the wonderful smell of the playdough led to reminiscing about the last time we used the pumpkin spice mix. It was in December to make gingerbread cookies. So we decided to make a playdough batch of cookies and decorate with natural “gummies and m&m’s”.

This led to making sprinkle cupcakes and chocolate chip muffins.

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H has a a tote box full of plastic playdough tools and cutters that we’ve amassed over the past few years but it was great to be able to use these natural materials to process our playdough. We tried using them with clay last week but this seemed to be better received.

An afternoon of apple pie and autumn play

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A few days ago,  the kids and I were reading a book called “The Apple Pie Tree” and before we even got to the end,  H was asking if we could make an apple pie.

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Fortunately, there was a recipe at the end of the book. It looked easy enough. I’ve never made a real pie before so I was hoping it would be half-decent.

The next day, H went grocery shopping with her papa and they bought extra apples. She was not going to let this apple pie thing go.

Today was the day. I told her we could get to work after nap. She helped measure and combine the ingredients for the dough, started rolling out the crust and helped to season the apples and assemble the pie. Y wanted an up close and personal view of what was going on so I put him in the baby carrier and he watched from there.

For a first attempt, I think it turned out pretty decent!

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She just couldn’t wait to eat it. Since we had to let it cool, we went for a walk. I gave H a plastic bag to collect things of interest. When the wind blew she said, “the wind makes my bag big like a balloon.”

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We decided to have the pie at the park (mainly because I wanted to play in the leaves hehe).

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I also wanted to give Y a chance to observe and experience the season out of the stroller and baby carrier. He really enjoyed watching the wind blow the big yellow leaves to the ground.  I’m relieved that he enjoys being outdoors!

This time is a favourite of mine.  It passes so quickly. I do hope to get outside some more before the trees become bare.

Hands on Patterning and Loose Parts Play

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For the past few months, I’ve noticed H has been showing an increased interest in patterns (which she so endearingly pronounces “pattrins”). She points them out in clothing, when we walk outside, in food and in her play.

While she still has a simple understanding of patterns, not having quite realized the full definition or complexity of what constitutes a pattern, she shows pride in being able to recognize them.

To deepen her knowledge and understanding, we’ve read these books which are part of my personal collection.

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I’ve been wanting to give her a hands-on way to create her own patterns and further investigate the concept. This morning, I finally set out a very simple activity for her on the still-crumb-covered kitchen table. By sharing how our experience unfolded, I hope to show you all the potential of loose parts (basically collections of items that can be used in many different ways).

I provided a tray that had two elements: dried kidney beans and yellow crystals. Originally I was not planning on prompting her and just wanted to see what she would do, but I thought some guidance might help, so all I did was ask her, “Can you make a pattern?”

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I was pleasantly surprised by her attention to detail as she carefully ensured the kidney beans and the gems all faced the same direction (she turned the kidney beans so that they would all be vertical and placed the gems on the widest side).

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When I saw that she was able to successfully create a pattern with two elements, I introduced a third: pink milk jug lids. She adjusted her pattern to incorporate these.

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When she could no longer reach one end of her pattern, she started working at the starting end. It was interesting because she did not know how to reverse the pattern since she was working in the opposite direction. I had to prompt her with saying the pattern out loud in the opposite direction – by drawing her attention to this fact, she was able to extend her pattern in the opposite direction correctly.

I was further impressed when she created a little game. She removed the milk jug lids and asked me, “What’s missing?” I said, “the lids!” and she said, “You’re correct!” She proceeded to removed the beans and then repeated her question.

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She then undid her pattern and started arranging the parts in shapes saying things like “I made a square! I made a circle!”

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After making shapes she decided to sort the pieces on the table and said “My bean collection is all done!” Even though I haven’t used the term “collection” in my dialogue with her, I marveled with what an intuitive term it was for a three year old to be able to refer to her loose parts as “collections”. After separating the three elements, she proudly exclaimed that she had three collections.

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H really enjoyed playing with the loose parts. She looked at the tray and noticed there were empty spaces so asked me for more. I went on a hunt around the house trying to find a jar of pennies I knew we had somewhere but was unsuccessful. I returned after ten minutes half-hoping she had lost interest, but she hadn’t. She was still sitting there. I checked the pantry and gave her some raw pasta and a pouch of blue beads. She happily announced that she had five collections and then said, “I’m mixing them up. They are having a big party. Tada!”

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After this, she loaded the tray back up, sorting the loose parts and said something about the parts going for a train ride. She noticed that one space was still empty so again asked for something to fill the space with.

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At this point it became clear that her play was transforming from being a mathematically inclined activity to open-ended dramatic play. She said the parts were soup for her friends that were sick. I offered her a pot and wooden spoon which she gladly accepted. She added blue beads to the pot commenting that they looked like rice.

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She asked me for some bowls for her soup and went on to pour some “soup” and feed her stuffed toys. She declared that they felt better after eating the soup but still needed to rest.

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When she was done playing, she resorted the pieces and left the tray on the floor. Seven hours later when she woke up from her afternoon nap, she approached the tray again and this time, mixed various elements in the pot. She poured the soup into the bowls and let her friend Lammie have a taste. She also fed me with the wooden spoon and then pointed it at my stomach so that Baby could get a taste too.

Loose part play is promoted by play advocates all around the world. It’s something my daughter really enjoyed in her toddler years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to provide as many opportunities for it as I would have liked this past year (however it’s always in the back of my mind). By looking at how her play evolved over the day, I hope that you too, can see the value, depth and potential of this type of experience. She started with something more structured (but it was still based on her interests and initiative) and explored patterning, sequencing, geometry, counting, sorting, fine motor development, language and dramatic play. I’m curious to see what she will do next and how a broadening understanding of various patterning sequences will translate into her play.

 

Snow Play

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One of the best parts of winter is getting outside and playing in the snow. I’ve come across quite a few people (cough* adults* cough) who hate winter because it’s cold. I admit, winter is cold. But it can be a lot more enjoyable for you and your family if you find reasons to get outside.

You don’t have to be a “ski family” to take advantage of winter (although, I do aspire to become one at some point). Something as simple as just going for a walk and stopping to observe changes can make winter more pleasant. Not to mention that winter is full of rich opportunities for learning and development across various domains. Here are some photos of us at play in the winter.

1.Take a walk: Sometimes the simple act of walking outside can lead to discoveries and rich exploration.

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Earlier this winter when we were playing in our local playground, my daughter became entranced by the sheer number of geese that kept flying overhead. Soon she started making the association between honking and geese flying above so as soon as she heard the honking, she would stop and say, “Momma! The Geese are coming!” She hypothesized about where they were going (to work and to look for food, specifically waffles). These ideas prompted us to borrow a book from the library called Honk, Honk, Goose!

In the past, one of H’s favourite things to do was to pull at snow-covered Evergreen tree branches and get a face full of snow.

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As temperatures started to drop and rise, H discovered icicles. Here she can be seen breaking off icicles and using them to draw in the snow.

In the past, she has also drawn with twigs and marveled at how big her shadow becomes on the beautiful white canvas that freshly fallen snow leaves behind.

One of H’s favourite discoveries from this winter was to see how as ice forms and melts, it creates routes for water to travel. She became fascinated by this “river” that was flowing outside of our house and checks regularly to see if has come back.

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She made similar discoveries when she went under the slide at our local park and watched ice dripping.

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She was also captivated by the water flowing out of the eavestrough/gutter. She insisted it was water for Dora (her snowman) to drink.

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Another fun thing children are usually drawn to while outside is making and looking for footprints. It’s fun to retrace our own steps as we walk in a circle or try to determine what animal created the footprints we see while on our walk.

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There is a lot of opportunity for rich discussion while going on walks. Children will point out things that you may have never noticed and share their theories with you. The following exchange happened with us as we passed by some bare trees:

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“Plants grow. There are very different plants. Big ones and small ones. Momma ones and bushy ones. Don’t you love how they grow?”

2. Visit the Park: The reality that it is covered with snow will add an extra layer of novelty and challenge.

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H loves going to the park, no matter the weather. While this year she discovered it’s quite difficult to swing in the winter with the snow being so high and the swing being so low, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year.

She did, however, find other reasons to love the park this year: she loves the gross motor challenge that climbing over snow banks provides. She spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to climb over and slide down walls of snow.

She also enjoyed cleaning off the slide and didn’t mind landing on her bum. What ordinarily might cause tears resulted in hysterical laughter as she tried to get up off the snow.

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I also introduced some basic physics to this experience – I made a snowball and let it slide down the hot slide on a sunny day. H had fun racing against the snowball while she pondered about how smoothly it slid and how it became smaller by the time it reached the bottom. We raced different sizes of snowballs.

3. Create: There is something so beautiful and inviting about a blanket of white snow- like a canvas beckoning.

Snow is one of those versatile mediums that can be completely empowering or very discouraging depending on other weather conditions and what you are trying to achieve. H wanted to build a snowman for so many days but the conditions just didn’t work for us. Finally as temperatures started warming up, the snow started packing together and we were able to finally build a snowman this year. Mind you, it melted by the end of the day and she was a little sad.

Other classics include snow angels and forts. This winter we brought sand toys to the park and used them as molds.

We also found this cool structure at a different park although we didn’t hang out too long since the floor was all iced over and H slipped as she tried to run across.

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Other fun ideas could include using coloured water in spray bottles to paint pictures on the snow. I remember going on a field trip as a child in Ontario (which is full of maple trees). We tapped sap and added it to fresh snow to make (and eat) taffy. It was a great experience!

4. Travel through the snow and ice: Many modern winter sports seem to have originated from people simply trying to travel over snow and ice. Even though we have found more efficient ways of doing so, these activities have become great hobbies.

Our family is not particularly athletic so here are some ideas in case your family isn’t either!

Pull your child through the snow on a sled. While sledding downhill is fun, with younger children, a pull sled may be easier. Last winter before my daughter was comfortable (and fast enough) to walk long distances in the snow, I would strap her in the sled to take her to playdates in our neighbourhood. This worked out well for me since I was usually carrying food.

Snowshoeing is an easy winter activity. Last year, we rented snowshoes from the University of Calgary and headed over to Confederation park. We brought extra rope and attached my daughter’s sled to a caribiner on our backpack to pull her along hand’s free. This year, I hope to get H to try out snowshoes for herself!

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Dog sledding was another easy winter activity we tried last year. H really enjoyed this activity. She got to sit cozily in the sled and quickly learned the commands. It was quite cute to hear her yelling “mush!” She also got to interact with the dogs which is something she enjoys doing (but doesn’t have much opportunity to in her daily life).

Next winter (post-pregnancy), I hope to be able to go skating and cross country skiing with H. By then, I can push baby along in the stroller (and lean on the stroller for support as I brush up on my skating skills) or use a covered ski pull during cross country skiing.

5. Bring in the snow: If all else fails, bring some snow indoors!

Depending on how much snow you use, how particular you are about mess and whether you have a water table at your house, you can structure this experience to meet your needs.

When H was about 14 months, I would bring snow inside the house for her to play with. You can use a shallow container, but I just used a table cloth near the entrance of our door. You can add tools (I just added things from around the house) and other loose parts depending on if your child will mouth them. H was pretty good about fine-motor play and didn’t try to eat everything. On this day, she played with dried kidney beans and stayed engaged for a long time.

In Calgary, we are also blessed with chinooks. This means that the temperature can get ridiculously warm while we still have snow on the ground. On those kinds of days, we would bring H out to the porch and play with the snow there. Here she is exploring and making snow muffins with her dad.

Here are some photos of children I worked with exploring snow in an indoor setting (at a water table).

Along with bringing in snow, you can freeze ice all year long to use for sensory play. Here are some photos of ice blocks I froze over the summer with my students. I froze small items in big blocks of ice so multiple children could play at once.

This was just an overview of the easy winter/snow play we did over the past few years. I hope it has given you some ideas to make your winter more enjoyable!

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

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The holidays were a really nice time for our family this year. The break from work, preschool and other day-to-day activities afforded us the opportunity to host and entertain. Our house saw its fair share of pint-sized visitors as H’s social circle continues to grow. While each playdate was special in it’s own way, this one was particularly meaningful because it felt just like the “good old days” when these friends used to live just next door.

I can’t quite remember how H become acquainted with the Gingerbread Man. I know she’s heard of him indirectly through some of the media she has consumed, but perhaps it was the purchase of a Gingerbread Man cookie cutter that really set things in motion for us. Since then, we have read the book and continue to find other ways to bring the story to life.

I’ve never made gingerbread cookies before but followed this simple recipe that can be found here. I adapted it by cutting out the spices and just using a club house pumpkin spice blend. I made the dough just before the girls arrived because I knew time would be tight considering the energy levels of the 6, 4 and 3 year old I’d be spending the day with.

Basically, after a family-style breakfast of homemade pancakes and fruit, I called the girls, one-by-one to wash their hands and roll out the dough. My reason for doing in one-on-one was simple: my extra rolling pins were being used for playdough at Grandma’s house so we only had one. I also thought it might get chaotic trying to help all 3 of them at once so instead we took turns. While I worked independently with one child, my husband played soccer with the others. I remember how patiently and eagerly the girls waited for their turns, peeking at what was going on. They each picked cookie cutters that appealed to them and cut out some shapes. I had made sugar cookies using cookie cutters with H earlier that month and knew how much she loved using them. Fortunately, this dough was definitely easier to work with.

I was surprised by how all of the girls jumped right in – they did not wait for instruction and just started rolling and cutting. It was a bit of a learning process and I was okay with this guided learning since I knew the decorating portion would be free.

As the cookies baked and cooled, the girls engaged in dress up play. Once again, my husband’s playful nature made the experience so much fun! When the cookies were finally ready, I tried to present the various elements in a beautiful way, as to invite the children to interact with them.

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The invitation worked! I was so intrigued as they worked so quietly and carefully decorating their cookies. I looked at how they had a vision of what they wanted, which candy they prefered to use, how they held the icing tubes and their intentional design choices like patterning. Given the variation of age and developmental levels, it was valuable for me as an educator to see the different approaches and think about all of the different skills this process was helping to develop and reinforce. Also, given the open-ended nature of this part of the process, I was able to just sit back and observe- something I love to do!

Along with the differences, there were commonalities: all of the girls were so excited to make, decorate, eat and share their cookies. They were all so proud of their creations –  they were literally beaming and that moment of self-validation was so rewarding for me to see.

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The cookies were yummy. The girls had them for snack with milk and took home the leftovers. Now a little secret to share with you about children and eating (especially for picky eaters): INVOLVE THEM IN THE PROCESS! Children have an affinity towards eating something they have helped cook. For some reason, it just tastes better to them if they’ve stuck their ooey-gooey fingers in it (lol okay so that’s not the scientific reason; their desire to eat is more of a socioeomtional one because they feel ownership over the outcome). As for our the rest of our work with the Gingerbread Man, I will post updates as things shape up.