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 #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 #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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Ramadan 2017- Post #5- Easy Peasy Scavenger Hunt

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If you’re looking for an easier alternative to the treasure hunt I recently posted, you may appreciate this Ramadan Scavenger Hunt!

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Simply download and print the  Ramadan Scavenger Hunt and let your child(ren) find the items on the list.

A great feature about this hunt is that clues are visually depicted, making it developmentally appropriate for children as young as 18 months. Children will feel empowered being able to identify and find the objects independently. Moreover, the images help reinforce literacy skills (both visual literacy and language).

Many of these items will become naturally visible in and around your home during Ramadan (if they aren’t already on a regular basis). Print out the sheet and allow your young children to find the items on the list (note: they don’t have to collect the items- just point them out).

Another way this scavenger hunt can be used is to practice a second language. Either edit the document to include the words in a secondary language, or introduce the terms in whatever second (or third or fourth) language your child may be learning. Reinforce the terms when the items are found.

Happy Hunting!

Tools are Cool – Post #1: Bookshelf for Baby

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As some of you remember, H started expressing an interest in tools in the fall this year (you can read about it here). After observing her interest for some time, I started thinking of ways she could have more exposure to tools. Read about our experience in this four-part series.

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The first part of our work was to figure out what H already knew about tools. Through daily life, she understand what a hammer was and what a screwdriver was and had some ideas about nails and screws (although she would mix them up).

Back in January, I had received an Ikea bookshelf that I was planning on putting together for baby’s room. I thought this was something H would enjoy helping with, not to mention, I thought it would have positive implications for their future relationship.

We started by opening up the box and separating out the pieces. One of the great things about Ikea furniture is that their instructions are based on pictures (not words). This gave H the opportunity to practice interpreting visual literacy. By following the instructions, H had the chance to practice counting, matching and sorting small peices as well as improve her fine motor skills. She also had the chance to enrich her language skills. I marveled at how the word “allen key” became a part of her vocabulary.

While I’m a big advocate for open-ended experiences, I also see the value in completing projects that are more closed. Through this experience, H also got a chance to assit me, follow directions, make predictions and make connections to existing experiences.

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“It’s like a house,” H remarked. After putting together all four sides to make a frame, she commented that “It’s a rectangle.”

H stayed by my side and helped for the majority of the process. I distinctly remember how excited she was to help with the shelves and her reaction when I realized I had installed one of the shelves backwards. “Oh no! I made a mistake,” I had complained. And she responded by saying, “But Momma, why did you make a mistake?” So we had a brief (but important conversation) about the value of mistakes and learning from our experiences.

By the time it came to hammering in the sixty tiny nails, she lost interest after helping with just one nail. I expected this as she was tired so I finished on my own. However, she was still close by to pass me things. Later when she came into the room and saw the finished project, she said, “Wow!”

She was impressed not only with the shelf, but I could tell she was proud of herself. Not only did this experience boost her confidence and help create a positive image of herself, but it helped strengthen the bond with her future sibling, and create a sense of responsibility and ownership towards him/her.

Since this experience, she has proudly recalled the fact that she helped build a shelf for baby, and often advocates for baby during our shopping trips, insisting that we buy clothes, diapers, toys and whatever else she thinks the baby needs. This kind of empathy makes my heart swell. I am so excited for her to have a sibling and I pray that they will be the best of friends.

 

 

 

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.