Rings and Things Revisited

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When we went to India on a family vacation almost three years ago, I had purchased a few boxes of child-sized bangles to distribute to H’s friends on Eid. H, who was a toddler at the time, found the boxes when she was investigating my closet one day and the beautifully arranged sets became a collection (read mess) of multicoloured, different sized metal bangles. I decided to hold on to them because I figured I would be able to use them at some point in the future.

NThis week when I was home with Y and trying to get some time to finish vacuuming, I pulled out the bangles for him. He started exploring them.

 

And then, toddler that he is, he started squeezing the metal bangles between his little fists.

 

I didn’t want to reshape all the bangles, so I decided to get him the paper towel holder I had given him to play with last year when he was eight or nine months old. You can read about his past experience playing with rings here.

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It was intriguing to see how skilled Y has become. Now a toddler, Y was able to manipulate thin, small bangles and get them on and off the holder without help. Last year, he was only able to move big rings back and forth.

 

I was curious to see how long Y would keep at this. I extended his play by showing him how to take turns: I added some and waited him to add some. Then, as I expected, he started removing bangles and eventually picked up the holder and moved it around the room, complicating his series of actions. He would add a bangle, pick up the holder set it on the edge of the bed, move the bangles up and down and then bring it back to the floor and repeat the sequence. Toddlers are famous for their desire to transport things.

 

*Mind the chaos on the bed. In my house, the price of having a clean floor is to have a disastrous bed. But check out those vacuum lines.

The next day I added another piece of “equipment.” I have a rotating spice rack in his room that we use with loose parts from time to time. I was showing him how to hang bangles on the various hooks- it reminded me of tree decorating. But Y, found his own way to play with it. He would add the bangles to the top rack and then push them through the gaps until they would fall to the bottom. The sound of such delicate metal on thicker metal was making the most beautiful sound, like windchimes.

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Giving him these two seemingly random things to play with allowed him to investigate and problem solve while working on fine motor and gross motor skills. And I finished vacuuming.

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A loose parts kind of morning – toddler edition

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This has been one of those weeks when nothing has gone as planned. The kids have been sick, no one has gotten a decent  stretch of sleep, our dishwasher and laundry machine are out of commission and it’s hitting me that H is going to be on her way to school in a few short weeks.

All that being said, it’s been a lazy day lounging around the house (finally!) This morning, I saw Y play with all sorts of toddler-friendly loose parts. It’s exciting for me to see him sit for longer and longer periods of time as he manipulates things more intentionally and brings back fond memories of H at this age.

Some of the loose parts related play he was doing this morning:

He was feeling the heaviness of rocks and how this affects the way they fall, adding to his understanding of gravity.

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He was placing balls into cups.

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He was fitting rocks and small animal figurines into an old wet wipes container.

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He was filling items into an old egg carton.

He was hiding and finding rocks.

He was playing with hair curlers.

It’s also been interesting to see how he interacts differently with the same materials he has played with earlier.

Here he is interested in nesting these hair curlers and marvelling at the sound they make when he pulls and pushes one out of another.

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Earlier, he was fascinated by how they would roll.

He’s always been drawn to H’s collection of (small-sized) loose parts. Now that he’s over the “everything must go in my mouth as soon as I see it” phase,  I have started to feel comfortable letting him play with glass pebbles and beads. I know he will try to stick them in his mouth when he gets bored or is teething but soon, I suspect I will be able to give him dedicated times to this.

 

Ramadan 2018: Post 7- Learning Arabic Rocks!

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I had an idea a while ago that I was hoping to do sometime in Ramadan to surprise H with. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been dabbling with the Arabic alphabet for the past few years, but this year, I’m trying to reinforce what she already knows through various different games so that she can move on to start formally learning how to read the Quran.

So far, she has seen the Arabic letters in print (books and posters), on screens (often accompanied by a song) and on these cute wooden blocks I used to sell. (Note: I still have them in a variety of languages, other than Arabic so please contact me if you’re interested- the Farsi and Hindi ones are especially beautiful!)

I love the idea of a tactile resource so a few weeks ago, I finally decided to print the Arabic alphabet on rocks! I used paint pens I had previously purchased from Michaels.

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How cute would these be to make as a gift for someone? Slip them into a canvas bag and give a child in your life a unique and functional play resource.

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And because I like open-ended items and play things that can be used in multiple ways, I decided to paint moons and stars on the back of some of the rocks. I did this so that H could play a variation of Tic-Tac-Toe, a game she discovered a few months ago and loves playing on a dry-erase board.

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Someone could just as easily paint or draw whatever might capture the interest of their child: animals, geometric designs or just leave them in their beautiful, natural state. I love the variety of colour, shape and size!

H found these photos on my phone last week (before I had a chance to add them into her Ramadan Calendar) so we decided to play with them. She was so excited!

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And she went about ordering the alphabet (though as you can see, she doesn’t yet know that Arabic is written and read from right to left).

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Y loves playing with them too. He turned ONE 10 days ago and loves filling and dumping things.

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P.S. I hope you appreciated my carefully crafted pun!

P.P.S. I confess that I ran out of rocks! I still need to complete the other half of the alphabet.

 

Beads as loose parts

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Many educators and parents view using beads as a natural step towards crafting and jewelry making. While H does enjoy making bracelets and necklaces with beads, perhaps what she loves more is to play with beads as loose parts. Her collection of beads has easily grown into the hundreds.

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Loose parts, at least as I refer to them in my blog posts, are essentially open-ended items, meaning they are objects (often a collection of objects) that can be used and played with, in a number of different ways.

Her love for beads started with sorting them. She would easily spend an hour sorting beads by different properties. For example, she might first sort them by colour, arranging them into distinct piles on the floor. Then, when I would come back to check on her, she would be arranging them by shape/form. Sometimes, she will arrange them using multiple properties or subjective categories like “beautiful,” often coming up with names for the categories based on  their attributes. Some examples of this include referring to parts of her collection as “butterfly beads,” “Christmas lights,” “keys,” “maracas,” “cactus,” and “raspberries.”

Often, she would try to house her organized beads in ice cube trays, but because she didn’t have enough compartments to reflect all the different categories, sometimes, she would combine categories (“this section is for red and green”).

One day as she was painting an empty styrofoam egg carton (it was for 18 eggs), I suggested she may be able to use that with her beads.

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Sometimes, H uses the beads as characters, giving them voices as she treats them as characters. This was a very distinct theme for her in the fall when she would play with plastic pop arty beads (the different shaped plastic/rubber beads click together so that string isn’t required to make jewelry).

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Building on the idea of using beads in dramatic play, she sometimes uses them as props for little figures in small world play, often acting as food, jewels etc.

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More recently, H has started using beads in combination with sensory materials like playdough to create things (not just to process). Here she is making sprinkle ice cream and chocolate chip and sugar cookies.

Last week, in collaboration with me, H used beads as a medium to create pictures. We started by creating what looked like a minion, a bird (kind of looks like a pigeon) on a branch, and a birthday cake.

Then, H worked independently. From literal representations (here is “a garden with flowers and grass and butterflies like a real garden”)

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…to more abstract complex ones (“I want to make a human with a silly face, a hijab, a bindi on its head over here [points to forehead], earrings and makeup on her lips.”)

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Sidenote: when H was creating the work above, I was not with her. I was putting Y back to sleep so this piece was conceptualized and executed exclusively by her. She even documented it herself (took the photo to share her work with me). It was an empowering moment for her and a proud moment for me. One of her favourite parts about making pictures with beads is destroying it after. She takes much joy in mixing everything together.

This morning, I had an idea for another activity: using beads to “colour” in existing pictures, more specifically mandalas. This idea appealed to her. I will include a photo once we get around to it.

For more information on loose parts, you may wish to consult these books, full of inspiring ideas and beautiful photo examples. Note: they may be available through your local library as well as in e-format.

There are some cool “loose parts” groups on Facebook as well as profiles on other social media platforms. Most recently, I’ve been benefitting from this podcast series on loose parts. You can also search for other “loose part” entries on my blog as it’s a common theme for us.

I hope that this post has helped broaden your perspective on the role of beads in early childhood play.

 

Infants, Grasping and Emergent Curriculum

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For many new parents, it’s one of the sweetest, earliest memories when their baby holds their finger. Thanks to the grasp reflex, babies are primed to wrap their palms and fingers around whatever is placed in their palms. As they grow, they lose this reflex and grasping becomes more intentional.

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I remember noticing Y’s fondness for grasping things that provided some kind of holes. Infants often start by grabbing into gasping rings but it became very noticeable to me when he was repeatedly drawn to items with multiple holes.

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I decided to intentionally provide materials he could weave his fingers in to promote his interest in a safe way.

One of the first things I did was hanging up a belly dance scarf within arms reach for him to explore during a diaper change.

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Then again with H as I looked on.

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Because of the small coins on the scarf, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone to play with it for long periods so I started thinking of what else I could create.

I remembered an idea from the book Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers where embroidery hoops were used with different textured materials. So I decided to use a mesh bag that previously housed babybel cheese as my fabric of choice. I left the tag on because infants are drawn to tags.

In addition to creating this toy for him, I also became more mindful about our environment and started thinking about things we had at home that he was drawn to grasping that perhaps weren’t independently accessible (artwork, towel holder ring etc).

I’ve been ruminating over how I can make his bedroom and the children’s play space more inviting and engaging. I will share the process and results of this in a future post.

Observing Y the past few months has been especially satisfying for me because while I have quite a bit of experience using emergent curriculum (planning play environments and learning opportunities for children based on demonstrated interests, needs and abilities), it’s mostly been with preschool-aged children. To witness the amazing progression of skill in infants is really something special and these days, I find myself more drawn to creating meaningful play opportunities and environments for Y.

In the 3.5 years that have elapsed since H was this age, my knowledge and understanding of play and development has not only deepened, but I’ve been able to connect to likeminded parents and educators which continues to serve as inspiration. This along with getting to live out my learning firsthand is a reason to get excited!

Rings and Things

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I remember seeing a photo on the internet somewhere of parents and educators using a paper towel holder as a stand for stacking rings, similar to the plastic or wooden rainbow coloured stacker toys commonly sold for babies. I did have a 5-ring plastic stacker toy that I bought for H in BC when she was a baby, although the middle ring has been living at my parents house in Toronto for the past 3.5 years. I thought I would give it a try for Y because we already owned a paper towel holder, and I’m all about repurposing things.

Most of the photos I had seen online used beautiful wooden rings or wonderfully beaded bracelets. Because I don’t vigilantly supervise my children when they play, I decided to pass on the beaded bracelets for now and I didn’t have any wooden rings. Coincidentally, all the rings I had were metal: curtain rings, mason jar lids and a few steel bracelets.

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Y doesn’t have the skills yet to stack the rings or pull them off of the paper towel holder independently yet (it’s quite tall compared to the commercial stacker toys) but he really enjoyed moving the rings up
and down.

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He knocked the paper towel holder over and started spinning the rings. I held it horizontally for him to give him more access, and not only did he spin them, but he discovered he could make a beautiful sound when they hit one another.

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He picked up the rings that had fallen off
the holder and proceeded to bang them together, amusing at the sound. To extend this idea, I gave him a metal spoon.

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The sound the metal parts made when they interacted is not too different than the sound Y makes when he uses a spoon or his hand over the metal grills in our house. This is all adding to his concept of
metal among others.

Another fascinating thing we discovered together that built upon the previous post was what happened to the paper towel holder when we rolled it. Cylinders typically roll straight but since this was more of a cone shape (one end was much smaller than the other) it actually rolled in big circles. Y and I were both intrigued, especially because it still rolled (albeit not as well) with the rings on. I think it would be neat to intriduce paint one day and see where the children take it.

Update: Y played with this again today and I noticed that when its lying on its side, he has figured out how to remove the rings.

He also continues to take great joy in holding a ring in either hand and hitting them together.

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By now he has figured out how to maneuver the holder with one hand.

As Y continues to master this, I will add other rings and experiment with size, colour and material. I intend on adding some chooriyan (traditional south Asian bangles) to the mix.

Round and Roll

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One of the earliest interests I noticed with my son when he became mobile, was his fascination for things that rolled and spun. He was constantly army crawling over to his stroller and spinning the wheels. He did the same with a trolley bag we had in our living room for a while. He loved balls and anything else that rolled including empty bottles and rolls of tape. I took this interest and thought about what else I could provide that would further allow him to experiment.

One afternoon, I gave him some plastic hair rollers. I had a new box of them that I bought forever ago and decided they would be much more useful as playthings for the children than they ever were for me. I liked that they could nest and gave him 3 sets to see what he would do. This was upstairs in my bedroom on a carpeted floor. Needless to say, they didn’t roll much, but that gave him the chance to explore other properties.

I laced them onto a scarf and swished them from side to side, as they disappeared, one inside the other.

Some point later, they ended up on our main level, which has laminate flooring. Here they could roll freely. I filled them in a clear container thinking Y might enjoy dumping them out, but he wasn’t yet there.

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Instead, when he threw one on the floor and it rolled away, he chased it, often pushing it forward when he went to pick it up, and then chasing it more. I saw him doing the same thing with plastic balls. I think it may have started off accidentally because he was learning how to grasp these objects but now he does it intentionally.

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A few days ago, I just added a muffin tray to the mix. Adding something with lots of compartments is a great way to enhance loose parts play. With my daughter, I often added ice cube trays and more
recently, the plastic inside part of chocolate boxes.

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But this was the first time I used a muffin tray- it had good size pockets for an
infant. I added a few curlers into the spaces and went to the kitchen. I was surprised when I came back and found he had started populating the spaces himself.

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My 4 year old daughter had done the same a few weeks ago (hair curlers with an empty egg carton) and I had actually introduced the muffin tray to Y with blocks the day before so it was interesting to see how their skills and approaches are evolving.

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I have a lot more hair curlers and have been debating adding some adhesive velcro to some of them so that the children can choose to stick them together and build with them. It would be great to find a large base with some kid me of pegs sticking out to see if Y can fit the curlers on top of the pegs (this requires more precision than placing them in pockets).