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.
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?”
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).
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.
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.
She then undid her pattern and started arranging the parts in shapes saying things like “I made a square! I made a circle!”
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you read up on early childhood education (ECE), there is a lot of talk surrounding literacy and numeracy (I intend to do an overview of ECE jargon in a future post). Numeracy, in a nutshell is being literate about numbers. While traditionally there has been a big focus on mathematics, we know that children can start understanding numerical concepts at a very early age, and that deep understanding of concepts will hopefully lead to better success with mathematics later in life.
I am more inclined towards language arts so the way that I interact with H in our day-to-day life naturally highlights those aspects. Numbers and math do not come as naturally to me so I have to make more of an effort to think about how I can incorporate opportunities to focus on those elements. With this activity I wanted to deepen H’s counting skills and introduce her to measurement.
H has never done a worksheet. You have to understand that in the way I was trained, worksheet is almost a bad word. So I designed my own “worksheet” (I use the term loosely here) as a way to not only improve upon her (visual) literacy skills, but to provide a place to record information.
I chose three everyday objects and drew a quick picture of them. Instead of telling her what the objects were, I asked her to identify them (she thought my pen was a crayon and that’s okay). I asked her to find the objects in our house and bring them back to me. This was a fun mini scavenger hunt and in an attempt to introduce more french into our day-to-day lives, I shared the french names of the items with her. We then used pumpkin seeds (our unit of measurement) to measure length.
We had a conversation around what is longer or shorter; whether more seeds were needed or less and the consistent orientation of the seeds. H really enjoyed this experience and wanted to keep measuring. So this time I asked her to identify three objects she wanted to measure. On the back of the sheet I quickly drew them and she started measuring.
I took a more hands off approach, curious to see where things would go. She ended up measuring around the fish and the pom pom so I introduced words like perimeter and circumference.
If you were to ask her what those words meant today, she would not know. But by labelling things then, I have created a tangible memory she can refer back to the next time those concepts come up. Also, by adding a physical/sensory aspect to math and counting, it has impressioned her brain differently than simply talking about numbers (an abstract concept) would.
Ideally I would have left the container of seeds for her to explore on her own in the coming days, but I ate all of them. Blame the baby.
The third experience in our work with pumpkins focused primarily on “cooking.”
To be honest, getting my hands on some unprocessed pumpkin seeds was a big part of my motivation to buy a pumpkin in the first place. Not only was the experience personally sentimental (because it was reminiscent of my dad toasting seeds for us as children), but it was necessary given my daughter’s nut allergies. I was looking for something beyond raisins to add variety to homemade granola. I decided we would take on the task ourselves since it was proving challenging to find uncontaminated pumpkin seeds close to home (not to mention it was way more cost-effective to do it ourselves!)
Because this was such a simple recipe, my two year-old was able to take the reigns and I was the helper.
She simply transferred all of the seeds into the bowl. I helped by adding olive oil and then she used the salt shaker to season the seeds and mixed everything together. She then transferred all of the seeds onto a baking tray and then spread them out.
*Because this was our first time doing this, we decided to play it safe but in future years we will be experimenting with different seasonings and flavours.
Like many toddlers, she prefers using her hands to utensils, so I marveled at her patience as she transferred the seeds (by hand) through the different steps.
We then baked the seeds at 350 degrees Celsius until they were brown (next time we won’t toast them for as long). She’s been particularly excited to munch on these as a snack and share them with her Papa. Eating seeds has proven to be nice bonding time for them, since someone else has to extract the seeds for her (and I am terribly unskilled at this).
* We were also intending on bringing some for her seed-loving grandfather, but sadly after a night of Mama and Papa binge-munching, there weren’t enough left to share.
This experience was an opportunity for sensory play, fine motor development, and contributed to numerical and scientific concepts (related to measurement and transformation) and life skills (because knowing how to cook IS important). It also had great socioemotional benefits as my daughter was able to eat (and share) something that SHE had created – what a reason to be proud!
Now what happened to the rest of the pumpkin, you wonder? I roasted, puréed and stored it for the last part of our pumpkin experience.
The second part of our pumpkin adventure was getting to the good stuff: the ooey-gooey insides! This sensorimotor experience is fantastic for all ages. As an adult partaking in the experience, I was surprised by how cold, wet and stringy it was. I was also surprised my daughter didn’t make more of a mess (I dressed her in old clothes and proactively covered my floor, expecting an orange explosion).
This is also a great time to introduce more refined vocabulary and concepts or apply the ones you have already explored in your readings together. Use all five senses to interact with your pumpkin. The depth of your conversation will depend on your child’s age and their predisposed interests.
- What do you see? Does the inside of the pumpkin look the way you thought it would? Does it remind you of anything? What colours are inside? What shape is it?
- How does it feel? (Note: If your child uses an adjective like “gross” or “disgusting”, probe them further. Why is it gross? What makes it disgusting?) This is also a good time to contrast this fresh raw pumpkin to other forms you may have seen (in the previous post, there was a picture of my daughter touching the inside of a smashed pumpkin at the corn maze. That pumpkin was dry and hard since it had been laying in the sun for a while). Is it heavy? With older children, you can also estimate how much it weighs.
- How does the pumpkin smell? Does it remind you of anything?
- How does it taste? (you may have a child brave enough to try this one)
- How does it sound? It may be interesting to compare the sound when you knock on the pumpkin, pre and post-gutting.
You can also use this time to draw on other areas of learning. My daughter is particularly interested in fine-motor activities and numeracy – she enjoys handling small items one by one, making the seeds ideal for counting. With older children you can estimate how many seeds you think are inside of the pumpkin or estimate how many seeds are in one fistful. The nice thing about this approach is that you can count the seeds and adjust your estimate before trying again with the next fistful. If you have multiple pumpkins, you can work on sequencing (ex. arrange them by biggest to smallest etc.)
The next thing we did was wash the pumpkin seeds (we intended on toasting them later). My daughter has washed things in a basin on the floor before, but this time I decided to pull up a chair and let her stand at the sink. She was super excited for the change in view. Most toddlers love to play in water. To provide more sensory variation, you can adjust the temperature of the water, vary the force, and change the flow to the shower setting if your faucet has this feature.
Next, we lay the seeds out on a kitchen towel and allowed them to dry until we were ready for the next experience, a few days later.