Friday, January 20, 2017

An Updated Peek In Our Playroom

A current view of our toy/material shelves. I try to keep only
a few materials on each shelf. Heavier ones are kept on the
bottom for easier accessibility. Having some of our theme based
learning trays on top keeps them readily in view and the
 trays make for easy storage and transport. 
I recently came across a great article on the blog "Pocket of Preschool" about setting up and planning a preschool classroom art center. As a classroom teachers, my art centers often grew and transformed as my students did, and this natural flow was never something I struggled with. At home, I admittedly fell into a bit of a rut. I'd had a burst of inspiration right before my son turned two (after reading a different blog article) to start keeping some art materials at child level for him to access independently and took on the task of teaching him how to get the markers or crayons he wanted to use, bring them to the table (keep them at the table!) and put them away when he was done. Over time, I added a few things here and there, but it was still always the same collection of materials and many of the other art supplies and accessories we use daily were still out of reach. In our home preschool, I rotate and swap other materials, toys and books all of the time. After reading about the importance of doing this in a classroom art center, I was suddenly inspired again to revamp the way we were utilizing our art center at home. While checking out other posts on "Pocket of Preschool," I also came across this one on ways to incorporate and use more STEM related activities. The wheels were turning and it was time for a bit of a playroom/classroom revamp here!

My goals with the updates we made were:

  • to foster independent play and exploration by creating an inviting and accessible environment.  This is always a huge one for me! I want my play and learning space to truly be geared toward my target audience--my child! If he can't easily see or access materials, he will likely not use them at all, grow frustrated at trying to, or require my assistance constantly throughout the day. 
  • to inspire and encourage more child-led art exploration. We do a lot of artwork here--both process art/child-led activities and adult-directed projects. On occasion, my son will take out his crayons or markers, but then needed my help to get a piece of paper and an art mat. Most of the time, our art activities were initiated and set up by yours truly. He may have a hand in gathering the materials that were at his reach and much of the time that artwork is child-led, but he could not really do much completely independently with our previous set-up. As a result, he does enjoy doing art activities but does not often initiate them.
  • to incorporate more STEM/STEAM activities into our routine using the toys and materials we already have. As you know if you've followed my blog so far, we LOVE science here. Much of our science, technology, engineering, art and math experiences are incorporated into our free play and some of the time we also focus on these skills through our themed learning activities. I'm very big on using what we have and not reinventing the wheel. That said, organization and storage are often a challenge in our smaller space. I love an overall minimalist approach and for our shelves to not be too busy with too much stuff at any one time. My son has some toys and activities he loves to do all of the time, so I don't want for those items not to be accessible to him. Manipulatives and building toys in particular are so integral to the development of STEM based skills, so another major goal in our playroom revamp was to organize a way for these to be available consistently while still having a calm and inviting shelf space. Thus my "STEAM Cart" idea was born!
Our new drawer organizer with picture
labels to help identify what's inside each drawer!
I did make one purchase for this playroom revamp: a ten drawer organizer. These are available at a lot of craft stores, office supply stores and online. I am currently using it as my "STEAM Cart" to store a variety of manipulatives, building toys and and certain related art materials. Plastic drawers are such a versatile organizational tool. These would also make an amazing art cart, quiet box/work box center or homework center. My plan for now is to adjust, swap and rotate materials in our drawers as we explore new themes and units. In the beginning, I kept it pretty neutral as I wanted to introduce the concept to my son. 
I was curious how he would react. I do plan to use labels with pictures so he can identify from the outside what is inside each drawer. Sometimes when something is "out of sight" with my little guy, it is also "out of mind," and he may be less inclined to play with something that is not readily visible. I planned to take him on a tour of the STEAM Cart and show him how to open/remove drawers, combine certain materials, clean up when he's done, etc. He found them before I even got the chance and got right to it! I stand corrected... He loved opening each one to see what was inside and immediately took to this new set up. He was so excited by the novelty of it all (even though none of the contents are new) that he insisted on cleaning up his gears and putting the drawer away before we left for his playgroup this morning! He was so busy with it, in fact, that he's yet to notice the new art center. He will surely have an opportunity to explore that once his nap is over.

Here's a peek in our playroom right now with some of our favorite things:

Play-dough and dry-erase shapes and colors practice are great materials for inspiring fine-motor development while including building/engineering, math and art!
While I do often teach my son to put away one toy before taking out another, I also like to introduce the idea of combining a couple of toys together. Adding little people or animals, cars or blocks, even natural materials like rocks and stones to building activities can encourage new ways of building, exploring and encourage abstract/dramatic play.

We're also loving the drawers for smaller building sets, manipulatives and puzzles.

Combining a book, prompt/invitation or challenge card can inspire new activities with familiar materials. As part of our Around the World theme, we took on the challenge of building the Great Wall of China on
a smaller scale from the comfort of our living room!
Wall space at child-level is also a commodity that is often overlooked. I love rotating through a variety of activities to encourage vertical work, which is so very important to development. Craft paper, contact paper, felt, dry erase/chalkboards and more can be great ways to utilize such space. This is a simple set-up for a sticker wall--literally just craft paper taped to the door and an envelope with some stickers. Peeling and sticking are great for the development of fine motor skills!

And our art center...
Now paper, art mats, crayons & markers, and writing materials are
all readily accessible to my son. Additional materials (like the chalk
pastels, rubber stamps, chalk/chalkboard) might be rotated
and swapped out over time. When we don't want this area
to be readily accessible, we just drape a sheet over the front.

Our "Writing Center" is ready to go with pencils/colored pencils,
scissors and glue sticks, his journals and a few coloring books.
The materials in here, too, can be rotated or swapped over time
to introduce and inspire new ways of practicing and developing
fine-motor and pre-writing skills.
Hope you enjoyed our little tour. Happy playing!

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