Creative Storytelling using Magnets

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About 3 years ago, when I was first introduced to the world of Facebook buy and sell groups, I came across a product that essentially changed the way I thought about storytelling. I put in a bid for a math game called “Ten Little Penguins Stuck on the Fridge.” I knew there would be some time before my daughter, then about 1.5 years old would be able to play with the product in the way that it was intended, but I saw different potential for those magnets.

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Photo from earlygeniuses website

Around the same time, I started designing the space that would become our playroom. I opted for a blackboard wall where I saw future creativity blossoming. I wanted the wall to be magnetic so that it could be used in different ways. I thought ahead to a time where one day, my children, could stick word magnets on the wall as they learned to write and create poetry.

Because of the way the wall was made, it wasn’t as magnetic as I was hoping, but it still worked with light magnets, like the ones from the penguin game. My 2 year old was ecstatic as she started creating stories on the blackboard wall.

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Encouraged by her enthusiasm, I pulled up a Microsoft Word document and asked her what other magnets she wanted. We sat together, finding pictures and using dollar store adhesive magnet sheets to create custom magnets that she could use for play and storytelling.

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The following year, I started seeing magnets at the dollar store: bunny magnets at Easter, Cinderella dress up magnets so I started collecting them to add to our collection. I continue to keep my eye out for magnets and we still continue to create some at home.

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Our blackboard wall has been used in a number of ways.

It’s used for for decor:

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It’s used to hang posters and for planning purposes:

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It’s used for mark making, drawing and literacy:

 

It’s still used for storytelling! Now that H is 4, she uses it in a collaborative fashion, often creating stories with me as we use both chalk and the magnets to create our stories.

 

Y also loves sticking magnets onto the wall. I anticipate creating a new set of magnets for him as his language skills continue developing.

 

Even if you don’t have a magnetic wall or whiteboard in your home, fridges and dishwashers work great!! This is a great option for my kids when I’m cooking and they want to be close by.

 

 

For a more portable option, using a cookie tray works well. My daughter uses this when we travel or when she wants to play with magnets in her bedroom.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Tools are Cool – Post #2: Books and Play

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A natural step in our approach to learning is to read books related to H’s interests. In the book Tools Rule, we were introduced to various tools and how they worked together to build a tool shed. H really enjoyed identifying the tools she already knew and learning the names of new tools. Naturally, she had questions about their purpose (we explore this in the next post).

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Another tool related book we read was Monkey with a Toolbelt. This book sat around our house for a few weeks before H weas ready to read it. She enjoyed the main character (Chico Bon Bon) and was particularly fascinated by his tool belt. In the story, Chico Bon Bon is a handy monkey who helps repair things in his community. One day, he gets captured by an Organ Grinder (essentially a Circus owner) and has to cleverly rely on the tools at his disposal to escape. H enjoyed the plot as it involved capture, escape and clearly definied heros and villains.

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Following building the bookshelf, H also helped out with other little tool-related tasks at home. She helped me wash our dining rooms chair frames  before we used a screwdriver to change the seat covers. She was quite helpful and kept an inventory of the screws and washers and passed me things as required. She also helped to loosen/tighten screws and we recited the easy (but helpful) rhyme: “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” as a reminder of which way to turn the screwdriver. Since I am right-handed and she is left-handed, I find it challenging at times to teach her how to do fine motor tasks with her hands.

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Play is a central part of our lives, even the boring day-to-day tasks. After we had cleaned the chairs, we moved them to our living room (where the light is better) to change the covers. I commented that they kind of looked a bus and H agreed. She rounded up a bunch of her stuffies and declared that I was the bus driver and we would be driving to the top of “tallest mountain” (a Dora the Explorer reference) and would change the chair covers there.

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A few weeks later, she worked with her dad to change the batteries in her dinosaur toy. She rifled through his tool bag to find a screw driver that matched the shape of the screws. Her dad also pointed out the plus and minus sides of the batteries and supervised her removing them and changing them.

(*Every parent knows their child best and can be the best judge of what is safe for their child to do. We keep our batteries out of reach and have talked to H about safety – she knows this is not something that is safe to do by herself). 

H enjoys dressing up (a characteristic we both share!) Over the winter holidays, I saw her using pretend tools and used this observation as evidence of her emerging interest. After the holidays ended, I brought our costume box back down to the basement, but recently brought the hard hat and tools back up. She was so excited to find them and instantly started playing with them.

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She went around the house looking for things to fix. Her father handed her a magazine and said, “My computer is broken. Can you fix it?” She brought it to the couch and started using all of her tools to fix it. It was quite interesting because while she knows an axe is used to chop wood, she made it relevant by saying she was using her axe “to chop the computer.” She also doesn’t know the correct verbs yet so invented her own way of describing what she was doing. “I have to wrench it. And screwdriver it.” She also commented on what type of screwdriver it was (based on her dad’s lesson) saying it was a “star screwdriver.” She then moved onto to fixing her dinosaur. I saw her look for the screws and use her play screwdriver to pretend to open it up (like she had with a real screwdriver when they were changing the batteries).

As an educator, it’s fascinating for me to see H deepen her own knowledge about concepts. I’ve been watching how she integrates and assimalate new knowledge into her existing schemas and how she adapts those schemas so that the new knowledge fits. The remaining posts in this series will look at additional ways we deepened our knowledge surrounding tools and how she applied this knowledge to her own creations.